2018 NBA Finals Reactions

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The end of an era and a dynasty cemented. After a really good Game 1, the 2018 NBA Finals became a lot more of what I expected. LeBron James and the Cavs had hope for the first quarter up until halftime in each game, but when Golden State came out of the locker room, there was no way Cleveland could keep up with them for the full 48 minutes. While Games 1 and 3 were closer, I never had a doubt that the Warriors would pull away in a very quick four game series. Let’s take a look at how they did it.

Game 1- To be honest, luck. The Warriors came out expecting to be able to beat the one-dimensional Cavaliers in four games pretty easily, but James’ 51-point performance proved it would take a little more than showing up to the arena to win the trophy. Nevertheless, the Cavs made mistake after mistake down the stretch as they unraveled after an admittedly bad foul call. A Cleveland road win to kick off the Finals would have changed everything, but no matter which way you spin it, JR Smith’s infamous blunder at the end of regulation ultimately spelled the end of the Cavaliers’ season.

Game 2- Persistence. After escaping disaster in Game 1, the Warriors were not about to be embarrassed on their home floor. They came out strong out of the gate making their first seven shots, and the Cavs never even got close. You’ve probably heard about how good the Warriors are in the 3rd quarter, so I found it interesting that the Cavs actually made some decent adjustments and won the period by 3. Still, Golden State stayed strong and continued to shoot well. Cleveland was torched by 19 by the final whistle, but there was still hope to get one back on their home floor.

Game 3- Grit. I missed the majority of the Game 3 battle because I was working, but I got to a TV just in time to see Kevin Durant bury his 41st, 42nd, and 43rd points of the night on a late 3 to put the dagger in the Cavs. Despite trailing for the entire first half, the Warriors kept the Cavs close and were able to finally finish off the comeback in their deadly third quarter. However, the war wasn’t over as Cleveland wasn’t about to let Game 3 slip away that easily. In a back-and-forth second half, the Warriors never lost sight of the prize, and leaned on a crucial performance from Durant to put the Cavs in a seemingly insurmountable 3-0 hole.

Game 4- Closing. Apparently, the series was over before this game started. With the way the Cavs approached this game, despite their false confidence in the press conferences, it was simply a formality for the Warriors to just show up and play an average game to close the door. While, granted, Curry had a spectacular showing, GSW won by 23 despite only scoring 108 points. Make no mistake, that’s harder than it looks. Up 3-0, it’s easy to play lazy with such a big cushion. But with the Cavs chucking 3s and failing to build chemistry or any kind of momentum, fans were treated to a pretty boring Game 4 that gave a steady build to a series sweep.

Luck, persistence, grit, and an ability to close. Add it up and you have a winning formula for a dominant NBA championship run. Now winners of the Larry O’Brien trophy for the third time in four years, the city of Oakland officially has an NBA dynasty. Better yet, they’re not done. With all of the big pieces returning next year, the only drama in the organization is how long they will be together and how much money it will take to keep them there.

On the other hand, Cleveland’s time with LeBron James is sure to come to an end. After a Herculean year for The King, James made it back to his 8th straight NBA Finals before being undone by his own players. With frustrations mounting, he broke his own hand in the locker room after Game 1, and is sure to sever his ties with the city he loves… for now. The world waits to hear who the greatest basketball player of this generation will take to the NBA Finals next year.

This closes the book on Golden State v. Cleveland IV. The Warriors are on top of the world once again, and the other 29 teams will try to figure out a plan in the coming months to cut this dynasty short.

Congratulations to the Golden State Warriors, 2018 NBA Champions!

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2018 NBA Finals Game 1 Reactions

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Me too LeBron, me too. Game 1 of the NBA Finals was a whirlwind to say the least from a historic performance from The King that went by the wayside to another referee controversy. There’s a lot to discuss as everyone in the country tries to catch their breath and prepare for Game 2. Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s take a look at what just happened.

First things first: we got a basketball game on Thursday night, huh? Overtime in Game 1?? Check out my full predictions and you’ll notice I pegged the Warriors to win by 22 on their home floor. If not for that weird technical foul at the end, Golden State would have played all 53 minutes without so much as leading by double digits. So who stepped up for the Cavs to help make this a competitive showing? Well, still no one. LeBron James just decided to go off for a NBA Finals career-high 51 points… and he still lost. If nothing else, a close game shows that maybe, if everything were perfect, one man could just do it all by himself.

Now, let’s walk through those final moments of regulation. I’m sure you’ve read all about it by now, but I’m going to throw my two cents in there. There’s 37 seconds left and James draws the charge according to the on-court officials in the heat of the moment. Regardless of whether or not that was the right call, it has to stand. Going to replay and overturning wasn’t only the wrong call, I’m pretty sure it’s not allowed. The refs blew the call. Period. However- and listen closely– The refs did NOT cost the Cavs the game. Bear with me, and I’ll get back to that.

So, the call is overturned and Kevin Durant sinks his two free throws. Ball don’t lie or whatever you want, the Warriors tie the game at 104. Here come the Cavs with a 2-for-1 to win the game, and sure enough, James makes an easy driving layup to take the lead with enough time to get the ball back if the Warriors were to score. No harm, no foul. In fact, the Warriors did score. Steph Curry waltzed right up the middle and Kevin Love gave him a slap on the face to give him an extra point. Strike 1. 

Again, the Cavs have the last shot here. James predictably walks it up the floor, and he’s predictably blanketed by a Curry. There is no way he is getting a good shot off. In a moment of underrated brilliance that has now been overlooked, he gives the ball up. James finds a driving George Hill and forgoes his last shot in favor of his teammate. The greatest basketball player of this generation gave up the last shot in an incredibly trusting and unselfish act… and it worked. George Hill was fouled with 4.7 seconds remaining with a chance to take the lead.

You know what happens next. Hill misses his chance. Strike 2. On a call that surely would be disputed if the game went the other way, the refs called Klay Thompson for a hold, and put the Cavs at the free thrown line to virtually win the game pending a possible last-second shot from Golden State. Unfortunately for Cavs fans, Hill was short on his second free throw and JR Smith got the rebound. Strike 3. 

Actually, there’s more. Five minutes more. The Cavs had 300 seconds to go out and win the game. They lost by 10. Strike 4. So, lets rewind the clock. Yeah, there was a controversial call with 37 seconds to go that went against the losing team. So be it. There was a call with 5 seconds to go that went against the winning team. Who took more advantage of their opportunity? That’s right.

The Cavs had 4 chances to recover from that call. Yeah, it would have been nice if the refs made the right call but they didn’t. That’s basketball. That’s every sport. If you put yourself in a position to have the refs decide a game for you, it’s your own fault. They had 47.5 minutes before the call to build a lead, and they had 5.5 minutes after to get it back. They didn’t do it. A sincere congratulations on a close game Cleveland, but you’re pointing the fingers at the wrong people. That won’t get you any closer to a Game 2 victory.

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Alright, Game 1 is in the books. Judging by the scrappiness and frustration at the end, I think we’re going to see a very physical Game 2, and a lot of Draymond Green. Contrary to popular belief, Sunday’s showdown is very much up in the air. James may not get 50 again, and he still may not get help, but this series just got emotional. When emotions are in play, the secret is keeping a level head.

James has done this more than a few times. Granted, so have the Warriors, but they have Green so you know. Who can get in their opponents heads without crossing the line? Who can do their job and frustrate the opposition with real basketball? Who is going to say, “To hell with the refs calls, we can still win”? I honestly don’t know.

I’m sticking with my prediction for the Warriors for Game 2, and I recommend everyone out there do the same. We will see if this was their wake up call as they come out firing, or with Cleveland play like they have each other’s backs and avenge the mistakes Love, Hill, Smith, and even James made down the stretch. It was a team loss for the Cavs. Make no mistake, despite how close it was on Thursday, it will take a team to win on Sunday.

2018 NBA Finals Predictions

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I was tempted to copy-and-paste the format I used last year, but while this is the 4th year in a row that the Cavs and Warriors have faced off, this time will be much different. Unfortunately for fans, it’s also not nearly as unpredictable. The entire story is just how much one man – LeBron James – will be able to do to give his team another championship before he leaves for good. Let’s take a look at how many more wins he can give Cleveland in the last series of the 2018 NBA season.

First of all, how did we get here? Unlike in the last two years, this wasn’t inevitable. The Celtics had a legitimate shot at taking Cleveland out for much of the season, and the Raptors ran away with the Eastern Conference. The Pacers gave them everything they could handle in an early upset bid, but nevertheless, the 4-seeded Cavaliers fought and clawed their way past each of them (well, past the Pacers and Celtics) when it mattered most.

Wait, did I say Cavaliers? I really meant LeBron James. My pick for MVP this year had arguably the best season and playoffs of his 15-year career. He literally accounted for over 50% of the team’s offense in the playoffs, averaging 34 points, 8.8 assists, and 9.2 rebounds per game. Falsely assuming that all 9 or so assists were two pointers, that is generously saying that James is responsible for 52 of the Cavs’ 101 ppg this postseason. Now just imagine if he were to play a defense that was focused on getting the ball out of his hands…

Hey, I’ll be honest. The Warriors are no juggernaut. People expected a tough battle with the Spurs in Round 1, but without Kawhi Leonard and later sans head coach and mastermind Gregg Popovich, it became pretty easy for Golden State to advance. In the Conference Semis, the Pelicans’ interior offense was no match for the Warriors’ perimeter shooting, and they again advanced in 5. Then, the toughest test came against a motivated Houston Rockets team that was the favorite all season long to knock off the defending champs. However, even after huge 1st half leads in Games 6 and 7, it wasn’t meant to be for the 2nd most valuable player James Harden and an injured Chris Paul.

Golden State’s tenacity and resolve to come back from huge deficits is commendable, and a huge reason why it’s going to be nearly impossible for one man to take them all down. They have a seemingly endless energy tank and laser focus that lasts all 48 minutes each and every night. With the Larry O’Brien Trophy again within their grasp, it would take a miracle for the Warriors to let it slip away after they’ve come this far.

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So here’s the scoop this year: it’s James vs. Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson. Each of those four aforementioned names is capable of guarding James 1-on-1, which leaves three excellent defenders on the other Cavs players. If I’m Steve Kerr, unless Andre Igoudala returns, I would pick Durant to go against James. He has had a marvelous season defensively, leading all small forwards in blocks per game with 1.8, and suffocating his matchups both on the perimeter and on the drive… both of James’ strong suits. Thompson is equally known for his aggressiveness with his back to the hoop too, as well as his sharpshooting. Green can get in the mind of anyone who dares to step in his path, and of course there is Curry who can do it all in crunch time. If that seems overwhelming, then you see my point.

In order to bring Cleveland their second championship and to even the Finals series with the Warriors at 2-2, James’ team has to step up. J.R. Smith needs to start hitting threes, Kevin Love needs to be healthy and become a second threat, and Tristan Thompson is going to have to dominate the boards on both ends of the court. It won’t be easy, but the Warriors don’t have the pressure on them. James does. So who is going to step up and finally help take some of that off of him?

In my eyes, LeBron James needs four more wins to officially become the greatest of all time. He has already had the best season of his career, and that is no thanks to his mediocre, if not subpar, team that probably finds themselves out of the playoffs without him. The fact that he has dragged them into June is an incredible feat in its own right, but the history books will only remember him for how he ends this season. With an impossible series win against the Warriors, he would undoubtedly be the best to ever play the sport. With a loss, he would move to 3-6 in the Finals, and 7 of those appearances (record of 3-4) have already come with a comparable amount of help as Michael Jordan had (who was 6-0). The only way to pass the legend that literally every athlete of every sport is compared to is to single-handedly knock off the Goliath of Golden State.

Predictions:

Game 1- Cavaliers 90, Warriors 112

Game 2- Cavaliers 103, Warriors 115

Game 3- Warriors 108, Cavaliers 110

Game 4- Warriors 117, Cavaliers 104

Game 5- Cavaliers 97, Warriors 109

The Warriors aren’t dropping a game at home, and if not for a buzzer-beater from James, they don’t drop a game on the road either. This time, they don’t blow a 3-1 lead. Warriors in 5.

MVP: Draymond Green. He’s already having a terrific and consistent postseason, and I expect his play to be pivotal in times of struggle and a success throughout this short series.

Bonus Prediction: With this, the Cavaliers-Warriors Era finally comes to an end. The Warriors ironically win the four-year war 3-1, and LeBron James is forced to take his talents elsewhere. I’m not one to predict his landing spot, but if he’s not in Houston, I’d like to think he’s speaking with Paul George on who they should take to the Finals next year.

2018 NBA Conference Finals Predictions

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Disregarding my inexplicable change of heart last week, I must say I’m pretty happy to have correctly predicted the Conference Finals way back in October. (If you’re curious, check that out right here: 2017-2018 NBA Predictions). Frustratingly, I even called the Cavaliers beating the Raptors in the Semifinals pretty easily… but anyway, it’s time to move on. Let’s take a look at who we’re going to see battle for the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

 

(1) Houston Rockets vs. (2) Golden State Warriors

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I’ve been waiting all year for this series to begin. There was little doubt throughout the season that regardless of how competitive the Western Conference was, it was a pretty sure thing that these two titans of the NBA would ultimately clash for a spot in the NBA Finals. Unlike the past three years, the Warriors enter as the underdogs, having lost the top seed to Houston this year. However, I don’t think home court will play a huge role in this series.

This is not an overhyped series. I definitely think we are capable of seeing Game 7. Chris Paul is finally over the hump and playing in his first Conference Finals of his long and stellar career. James Harden might not be at the MVP level of LeBron James right now, but he’s still averaging a ‘measly’ 29 ppg this postseason. As good as the Warriors are at scoring, make no mistake- the Rockets are dangerous.

For Golden State, I don’t think they have to do anything differently. They’ve carved through their first two opponents with and without Stephen Curry. They’re built to win big games, and Steve Kerr has his team relaxed and confident. With the pressure on Houston to pull the upset, the Warriors just need to keep their foot on the gas and let the Rockets make the mistakes… which they will inevitably do down the stretch.

Prediction: Warriors in 7

 

(2) Boston Celtics vs (4) Cleveland Cavaliers

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I must admit that I did see the result of Game 1 already. However, I remain undeterred with my prediction. Until last week, I had been riding Boston and Cleveland all season long, but I have gone back and forth on who I think will win this series. With a fully-healthy Celtics team, I believe they are capable of beating anybody. But without Kyrie Irving leading at the point guard position, the Celtics have been inconsistent at times… and the Cavs love to exploit those runs.

It’s important to note that the Celtics aren’t all that crippled. Gordon Hayward has missed the entire year and they’ve gotten this far, so that’s a non-factor. In fact, Boston has done pretty well without Irving too. Unlikely heroes like Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Terry Rozier have stepped up big-time for the young Celtics team, and they are playing like there’s nothing to lose. If they can continue to hold James to 20 points or less, it’s their series to lose.

I know the Cavs just lost by 25, and I know I just made the mistake of going against my previous research last week, but a big loss can be expected in Game 1 in a tough environment on the road. This Celtics team is different than the ones Cleveland has faced all season, and I expect them to adjust and respond at home. Game 2 may go to Boston as well, but once the Cavs get a couple of games back and put their young opponents on the ropes, LeBron James will lock in and close out the series strong to make it to his eighth straight NBA Finals.

Prediction: Cavaliers in 6.

2018 NBA Conference Semifinals Predictions

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After LeBron James finally finished off the Pacers last night, I can now post my predictions for the second round of the playoffs. I assure you that I had this prepared in advance, but in any case, dominating wins by the Rockets and the Warriors in their first games is hardly a surprise. As we are already behind, let’s quickly take a look and who’s moving on to the Conference Finals.

 

(1) Houston Rockets vs. (5) Utah Jazz

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The rag-tag group of Jazz got by the star-studded Thunder to prove my preseason point. Oklahoma City had way too many egos on one team to succeed, and when they played a selfless team like Utah, it burned them. Meanwhile, James Harden and the Rockets quickly disposed of a Timberwolves team that got healthy just in time. Unlike their Texas counterparts, Chris Paul is a master of distributing the ball. So, with the Jazz and Rockets playing similar brands of basketball, Houston should take care of business pretty easily.

Prediction: Rockets in 5.

 

(2) Golden State Warriors vs. (6) New Orleans Pelicans

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For those excited for a good series between a Steph Curry-less Warriors team and a very technically sound Spurs team, I’m sure you were disappointed. After a dominating start at home, the Warriors took care of San Antonio with ease without head coach Gregg Popovich and look to do the same for a hot Pelicans team. New Orleans hasn’t lost a game yet (Update: they lost Game 1 to the Warriors on Saturday), but it’s going to be tough to keep that streak alive against the defending World Champions. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are a great backcourt, but they are no match for Kevin Durant and a returning Curry. I expect the Warriors to keep on rolling to a date with destiny against the Rockets.

Prediction: Warriors in 5.

 

(1) Toronto Raptors vs. (4) Cleveland Cavaliers

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Over the past few years, the Cavaliers have been the Raptors’ big brother… but this year it’s different. This year Toronto comes in as the top seed and must face a gassed Cavaliers team that just played seven games with LeBron James accounting for over 50% of the entire Cleveland offense. Meanwhile the Raptors took out the Wizards a little easier than I thought they would in a methodical six-game effort. James won’t give up on his legacy easily, but I think the dual guards of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan will be too much for James to keep up with by himself. The Raptors finally escape the Cavs.

Prediction: Raptors in 7.

 

(2) Boston Celtics vs. (3) Philadelphia 76ers

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Arch-rivals meet again in the Eastern Conference Semis. The Celtics proved their toughness by outlasting the Bucks in 7 without Kyrie Irving, while the blazing hot 76ers dispatched the Heat in fairly easy fashion. This one is very hard for me to pick because I’ve been riding the Celtics all season long… but the injuries are piling up. Without three of their premier stars, and with the way the 76ers are playing on both sides of the ball, it’s going to be tough for Boston to knock off their southern neighbors to say the least. Long story short, I love how this 76ers offense works right now, and I can’t wait to see them continue to exceed expectations.

Predictions: 76ers in 6.

2018 NFL Mock Draft

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Here we go, the 2018 NFL Draft. Like last year, I have to start off by saying that this is not my first round predictions. Instead, I will be selecting every team’s best possible selections based on team needs and position availability irrelevant of what they will probably do. Later, I will give draft grades on these same criteria, and analyze their decision-making process. So, let’s take a look at what should happen when your team is on the clock tonight.

1      Cleveland Browns – Josh Allen, QB Wyoming

The only question facing the Browns with their first pick is which of the five quarterbacks they’ll choose. Personally, I only think one of these men can be an immediate franchise quarterback…and that’s Lamar Jackson. However, I didn’t choose him here because of Cleveland’s move to get Tyrod Taylor in the offseason. There is no need to have two dual-threat quarterbacks on the same team, so he’s out. Josh Rosen is NFL-ready, but he has been outspoken about his unwillingness to play for the Browns, so he’s out. Baker Mayfield is a solid quarterback, and probably my second pick for the job, but his emotions and off-the-field behavior isn’t something the Browns need to deal with right now.

Lastly, Sam Darnold is just not ready to take over a team yet. He has by far the best potential and skill set, and when we look back at this draft 10 years later, I think Darnold will be the best QB of the bunch. However, he is not going to win in the NFL if he is forced to start right away. He struggled to win consistently at USC, and he was shut down to the tune of just seven points (via a rushing score by his running back) by an NFL-caliber Ohio State defense in the Cotton Bowl. In my opinion, Darnold should’ve stayed at USC for one more year, so I hope he gets the Jimmy Garoppolo treatment and learns the game behind a veteran before being thrown into the fire and burning out early in his career.

So, simply by process of elimination, Josh Allen should be the #1 pick of this draft. Have you seen his hands?

2      New York Giants – Saquon Barkley, RB Penn State

This is an easy one for me. I was getting so angry hearing all the experts predict that the Giants would find Eli Manning’s successor with pick #2. I guess they forgot about Davis Webb getting picked just 12 months ago. Anyway, the Giants are about to get the best player from college football by a long shot. To be honest, I thought Barkley was a bit over-hyped as I got to see him firsthand living in Big Ten country. He is an exceptional runner with strength to bounce off of college defenders, but the NFL will be different. As flawless as his combine was, Barkley needs to improve his vision in close quarters, and fans need to be prepared to see that he won’t be as good when there isn’t so much open space in front of him. Not to mention, I have seen him drop a ton of balls for a “pass-catching running back”. Don’t get me wrong. I think Barkley will have a long NFL future, but taper those expectations.

3      New York Jets – Josh Rosen, QB UCLA

The Jets traded from pick 6 to 3 for one reason only- to get a quarterback. Again, I believe Jackson is the best candidate to win immediately, but by signing Teddy Bridgewater in the offseason, I have to eliminate him again. Same note for Mayfield- he’s a great talent, a worthy Heisman Trophy winner, and a solid teammate on the field, but he is too much of a distraction off of it for a team like New York. With Darnold not ready, that leaves Josh Rosen. Though he barely won games in the NCAA, he has all of the tools of a good NFL QB. He probably won’t win in the Big Apple right away, but if he gets some pieces around him, maybe they can pick up a couple in a few years. At least he’s not on the Browns, right?

4      Cleveland Browns – Denzel Ward, CB Ohio State

Well, now what? They have their quarterback, they have Carlos Hyde behind him and Josh Gordon and Jarvis Landry out wide. Their defense wasn’t the problem last year. I say trade it. This is a very valuable pick that Cleveland can use as leverage to get first rounders when the draft has more talent in the future.

However, if I can’t be so bold, I’ll pick the hometown kid Denzel Ward. After dropping Joe Haden last offseason, I guess they think their secondary is pretty solid. I would prefer the picks of Bradley Chubb or Minkah Fitzpatrick, but since they just got Myles Garrett at the edge and Jabrill Peppers at safety last year, I’ll spread it wide and go with the Ohioan fan-favorite Ward.

5      Denver Broncos – Bradley Chubb, DE NC State

Again, Ward wouldn’t be a bad pick here, but since he is off the board the Broncos will probably go for a lineman instead of reaching for a cornerback. With the same logic that they went with an offensive lineman in the first round of last year’s draft, I advise that they go defensive this year. Thus, Bradley Chubb is a stud that should match the pro-bowler Von Miller in terms of agility, size, and production. There isn’t an offense in the country that would look forward to squaring off against those two. (Now imagine the Texans’ and Broncos’ defensive lines going at each other)

6      Indianapolis Colts – Quenton Nelson, OG Notre Dame

The Colts were happy to trade down three spots as they were not in the market for QBs. As it turned out, neither were the Broncos, but the Jets didn’t know that at the time of the trade. This pick is interesting because if Quenton Nelson is off the board, I think they will go with the best edge rusher available in Marcus Davenport. That said, I think the formula to getting Andrew Luck back on track is a good offensive line, and Nelson is the perfect guard to help with that.

7      Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Minkah Fitzpatrick, S Alabama

This is a match made in heaven. The Bucs’ only problem last year was their secondary, and Fitzpatrick is an absolute ball hawk. If it wasn’t for so many defensive injuries, Tampa Bay could’ve won any shootout the way their offense was playing. So, adding depth to their safeties is just what the doctor ordered, and it doesn’t get better then this playmaker from Bama.

8      Chicago Bears – Mike McGlinchey, OT Notre Dame

I really wanted to go with a linebacker, but the Bears’ defense was incredible last year. Shutting down offenses like the Falcons’ and Steelers’ isn’t easy, so I think they can hold off on depth there until round 2. What they need is to protect their young core in Mitch Trubisky and Jordan Howard. So, I went for the best offensive tackle available in “The Big McGlinchey” (copyright pending).

9      San Francisco 49ers – Marcus Davenport, DE UT San Antonio

For years the 49ers have had one of the worst defenses in the NFL. With their offense finally coming together, it’s time to address those needs. I’m starting in the trenches with the best edge rusher on the board. Honestly, I won’t be upset as long as the 49ers pick someone on defense, but Davenport’s agility and quickness for his size is unmatched.

10      Oakland Raiders – Roquan Smith, OLB Georgia

Speaking of defense, the Raiders are just as bad as San Fran. That is in part due to a couple of injuries in their secondary, and little help around pro-bowler Kahlil Mack. The gaping hole is linebacker, so I’m going with an athletic Roquan Smith. While a bit undersized, I think he has a high ceiling comparable to the likes of Ryan Shazier. If Smith drops this far, the Raiders cannot miss out on the future cornerstone of Oakland’s defense.

11      Miami Dolphins – Vita Vea, DT Washington

With Nadamukong Suh out the door, the Dolphins need a replacement defensive tackle. In comes big-bodied Vita Vea. He’s absolutely massive at 6’4″ 350 pounds, and somehow he is incredible at putting pressure on quarterbacks. The Dolphins need some help all around, and Vea can be a huge weapon on the defensive line.

12      Buffalo Bills – Lamar Jackson, QB Louisville

Yes, still no Sam Darnold. Lamar Jackson is a better version of Tyrod Taylor, and he’s just what a struggling Bills offense needs to get over the 8-8 / 9-7 hump. While he has a tendency to run a little more than pass, it is perfect for the powerful RPO that is sweeping the NFL. If Jackson and LeSean McCoy build chemistry in the shotgun, they can be deadly all the way through January.

13      Washington Redskins – Da’Ron Payne DT Alabama

Da’Ron Payne is perfect for the Redskins. They need run stoppers to go with their impressive secondary, and Payne can do just that. He’s big and strong, and impossible to bring down. He’s not much of a pass rusher, but the athleticism is still there as seen by his big time pass-catching in the CFP last year. With the proper training, Payne can develop his pass rushing, but regardless, there is no way anyone is going to run through him.

14      Green Bay Packers – Calvin Ridley, WR Alabama

All of the Packers’ needs are a reach at this point. If I’m Green Bay, I would probably trade down a couple of spots before taking a bigger need at cornerback or offensive line, but since they went with Kevin King last year, and there aren’t anymore elite offensive tackles, I think they get the best receiver in the draft in Ridley. Much like Amari Cooper, Ridley has great hands and good lateral movement, and Alabama has a history of producing elite NFL receivers. He’s a very safe replacement for Jordy Nelson.

15      Arizona Cardinals – Sam Darnold, QB USC

Finally, the Cardinals cannot pass on Darnold. I still don’t think he’s the starter, but with Sam Bradford on the roster, who has a very similar style as Darnold, I think the USC product can learn a lot about life in the NFL. Again, hopefully he isn’t thrust into the starter role right away, but given time to develop, Darnold can be one of the best Cardinals of all time alongside Kurt Warner.

16      Baltimore Ravens – Tremaine Edmunds, OLB Virginia Tech

Joe Flacco loves a big play tight end, but there is no scarcity in the position. The Ravens have historically had a rough and tumble defense and in recent years have been unable to live up to those expectations. In order to get that back, Baltimore goes with a hometown linebacker from Virginia Tech. He’s a strong athlete with great vision and leadership who can drop anyone in his path. Anyone crossing over the middle better beware of this guy feasting on tackles.

17      Los Angeles Chargers – Rashaan Evans, ILB Alabama

The 4th member of the Crimson Tide to go in the draft is a feisty inside linebacker. As the Chargers picked up a stud in Joey Bosa at the edge, they can complete their defense with Evans in the middle of the field. I wouldn’t mind seeing an offensive tackle go here to help out Melvin Gordon, but since there isn’t much first round talent in that position, I think L.A. can wait until round two or three to address that need.

18      Seattle Seahawks – Will Hernandez, OG UTEP

Speaking of offensive line, here you go. Russell Wilson is a guy that loves to run and make plays on his own. That’s a nightmare for an offensive line because they can’t just hold the pocket. Luckily, Hernandez is not one of those uniform guys. He can make the opposition move and loves to block at the second level, which is exactly what the Seattle running game needs.

19      Dallas Cowboys – D.J. Moore, WR Maryland

No Dez Bryant? Potentially big problem. Receiver needs to be addressed with this pick, and if Ridley is indeed off the board it has to be Moore. He’s small like Cole Beasley, but very strong with his hips and hands. In all my time watching him in the Big Ten, I haven’t seen him drop a good pass. Obviously, he’s no Bryant, but he’ll do for now.

20      Detroit Lions – Derwin James, S Florida State

I will be happy as long as the Lions don’t waste this pick on offense. They are one of the highest-scoring teams in the league, and the air-raid doesn’t need much beyond a steady, cannon arm to get going. What it does need is help on defense so every game isn’t a shootout, so I picked Derwin James. Honestly, it’s a shame he’s had to fall this far, but no team has needed a safety beyond the Bucs to this point. So, kudos.

21      Cincinnati Bengals – Baker Mayfield, QB Oklahoma

Who else? Cincinasty has a history of picking the most skeptical characters in the first round, and Mayfield is that guy. With the defense good enough, if not undisciplined, I think the Bengals should go offensive line. But for the third time, there aren’t that many good offensive tackles, so why not get AJ McCarron’s replacement as Andy Dalton’s backup if he’s available? Mayfield will be a great quarterback for the Bengals in time, and maybe some time behind Dalton can help him gain some humility.

22      Buffalo Bills – Billy Price, C Ohio State

This one is hard, and I admit that I am a little biased as an OSU student. I have seen Billy Price grow and play in all three interior lineman positions, and become one of the best captains in Ohio State history, and you know that’s saying something. This man’s leadership and experience is vital to any organization, especially one desperately needing help on the offensive line. The only thing holding me back is his pectoral tear in the combine, but if anyone is going to come back strong, it’s the man who never missed a snap for the Buckeyes.

23      New England Patriots – Jaire Alexander, CB Louisville

Talk about a guy just falling into your lap. The Patriots had to let Malcolm Butler go over the offseason, and need someone who can bounce around the secondary. Well, here you go. Alexander has experience at corner out wide and in the slot, so coach Bill Belichick can rework his defense any way he wants to.

24      Carolina Panthers – Josh Jackson, CB Iowa

The Panthers could use a receiver here, but with Bashaud Breeland failing his physical, Carolina is forced to address their cornerback spot first. Luckily, Josh Jackson is a supreme talent with great hands and good cover ability. He doesn’t have a ton of high-class experience, but with time in Carolina’s system I think he can develop into the next Josh Norman.

25      Tennessee Titans – Sam Hubbard, DE Ohio State

Excuse my bias, but I love this guy. He loves to win, he’s strong and has textbook fundamentals on the edge. He’s one of the best athletes I have ever seen, and an even better leader on the defensive front. I know he isn’t projected to go until the second round, but the Titans won’t be sorry if they take a risk on this future star.

26      Atlanta Falcons – Taven Bryan, DT Florida

The Falcons need a defensive tackle. Plain and simple. They will be taking the best one available regardless of his particular skill set, and in this case, it is Taven Bryan. Even better, Gainesville is only a couple of hours from Atlanta to help the #1 pick gain some traction with the fans.

27      New Orleans Saints – Hayden Hurst, TE South Carolina

Ever since Jimmy Graham left, the Saints have struggled to find that extra weapon for Drew Brees in the red zone. Having Coby Fleener on my fantasy team helped me understand that he was not the guy. So the Saints will pick up the best tight end in the draft by a long shot and see if the wrecking ball can stick in their high-powered offense.

28      Pittsburgh Steelers – Leighton Vander Esch, ILB Boise State

I really think Pittsburgh needs a QB, but with the top 5 off the board, they can afford to wait around to find Ben Roethlisberger’s successor. Furthermore, with Ryan Shazier’s future uncertain, inside linebacker just became a priority for the Steelers. What could be a better fit then a workhorse and former walk-on from a mid-tier football school? Vander Esch isn’t a household name, but leave it to Mike Tomlin to make him one.

29      Jacksonville Jaguars – Kolton Miller, OT UCLA

Say what you want about Blake Bortles (and I do), he wins football games. So while I could see Mason Rudolph coming off the board here, I think Jacksonville can go ahead and try to shore up their outside offensive line. Miller is a big guy with experience with a Bortles-type passer in Josh Rosen. He does well to block the run and can move outside the pocket for righties. I think he fits the Jags’ game well as he makes the transition from the west coast to the east.

30      Minnesota Vikings – Connor Williams, OG Texas

The Vikings need an interior lineman to support Kirk Cousins and Dalvin Cook. There are a few good options, including center James Daniels, but I went with the natural guard to get the process going. I won’t be surprised if they pick up another in round 2 to lock their offense in, but Williams is the safer pick here.

31      New England Patriots – Harold Landry, OLB Boston College

This is a tough one because the Patriots’ needs are hard to come by beyond the secondary. With Miller selected a couple of picks ago, it’s too soon to reach for help on the offensive line, and with plenty of average quarterbacks left, they don’t need to go for Tom Brady’s back up right now. So, with linebackers a little thin, I took Landry to give Kyle Van Noy some competition for the starting job.

32      Philadelphia Eagles – Mike Hughes, CB UCF

What do you give the team that has it all? I chose someone on defense. Everybody was questioning that Philly defense all postseason long, including myself, but in the end they were just good enough to get the Lombardi Trophy. Time will tell if they are lucky enough to hang on throughout 2018-2019, but an athletic cornerback will help the secondary stay strong in times of struggle.

Others to look out for:

James Daniels, C Iowa

Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, RBs Georgia

Frank Ragnow, C Arkansas

Isaiah Wynn, OG Georgia

Christian Kirk, WR Texas A&M

Mason Rudolph, QB Oklahoma State

Josh Sweat, DE Florida State

Malik Jefferson, OLB Texas

Rashaad Penny, RB San Diego State

Shaquem Griffin, ILB UCF

 

 

 

 

 

 

2018 NBA Playoff Predictions – Round 1

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After months of anticipation, we’ve finally made it past Game 82 of the NBA season. Unlike in years past when the Cavaliers’ and Warriors’ paths have been primarily predetermined, 2018 promises to pose some problems. With many of the teams’ seedings getting clinched on the final day of the regular season, the winners of this wide open field are anyone’s guess. Let’s take a look at mine.

(1) Houston Rockets vs. (8) Minnesota Timberwolves

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The Timberwolves have one of my favorite rosters in the NBA, and it’s always so strange to me that they never make the playoffs. Well, after 13 years of torture, they finally did it. They are healthy and hungry, but unfortunately they square up against one of the most dangerous backcourts in the NBA in Chris Paul and James Harden. As with most of the series across the playoffs this year, it won’t be a runaway, but I don’t see Harden going down this early. Also, maybe this is the year CP3 finally makes it to the conference finals for the first time in his career.

Prediction: Rockets dominate home court; win in 5.

 

(4) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (5) Utah Jazz

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It was heartbreak for the Jazz on the last day of the regular season as they went from a 3 seed ready to take on OKC with home court, to a 5 seed taking on the Thunder from the road. As much as I hate the Thunder’s dynamic, and as right as I was that they would be nowhere close to people’s preseason expectations, I think April 11 was indicative of both teams’ potential this week despite the excellence of Donovan Mitchell. I don’t think the egos in Oklahoma will last too long, but Russell Westbrook can take it over for the time being.

Prediction: Thunder sweep the only team that I had outside of my top 8.

 

(3) Portland Trailblazers vs. (6) New Orleans Pelicans

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This one should be very interesting. Of course, a healthy Demarcus Cousins would add an interesting layer to the opposing strengths of the Blazers and Pelicans, but Anthony Davis vs. Damian Lillard will have to do. It’s a little difficult to predict exactly how this series will go because Portland is guard-oriented with plenty of 3s and jump shots, while the Pelicans prefer grinding out points in the paint. They will both find success throughout the series, but in the long run I’m picking the Blazers’ backcourt to stay hot.

Prediction: Blazers have to battle, but win in 6.

 

(2) Golden State Warriors vs. (7) San Antonio Spurs

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Right, neither of the faces above will be playing in this series. Kawhi Leonard has been dealing with a nagging quad and ankle since last postseason, and Stephen Curry will miss the first round with a sprained MCL. For me, this keeps the intrigue at net zero. The Spurs haven’t missed the playoffs since the Mesozoic Era, and the Warriors have been NBA Finals favorites for the last 3 years and counting. Even without two of the league’s stars, we’re going to see a chess match between NBA coaching’s finest in both Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich. But when the dust clears, it’ll be a quick exit for the team from Texas.

Prediction: Warriors return to full strength after ousting Spurs in 5.

 

(1) Toronto Raptors vs. (8) Washington Wizards

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Believe it or not, this is the series that I’m most excited for. We have two of the best guard duos in the NBA going head-to-head at full strength: John Wall and Bradley Beal for Washington vs. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan for Toronto. Every game will be high-scoring, the fans will be insane, and the action on the court will be riveting up to the final seconds of Game 7. The difference will be the fact that the Wizards have struggled without Wall as of late, but he is a guy that can jump back in and jump start the Wizards at anytime. However, it is so difficult to win up in ‘The North’, and when this thing ultimately goes the distance, we will see another D.C. playoff crumble.

Prediction: Raptors survive and advance in 7.

 

(4) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (5) Indiana Pacers

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What a mismatch. I don’t know how we got so unlucky with the 4-5 matchups this year, but LeBron James and Co. are going to tear through Indiana. The only question will be if they can do it in 4 games or in 5. Victor Oladipo is the catalyst for the Pacers, but he’s not the kind of guy that can carry a team through the playoffs. When you’re going up against the best player on the planet, and a city that wants to prove the world wrong and reclaim a title, things are going to get messy,

Prediction: Cavs start Spring cleaning; sweep Pacers.

 

(3) Philadelphia 76ers vs. (6) Miami Heat

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If there’s a team in the NBA hotter than the 76ers, I’d love to see them. Winners of 16 straight, ‘The Process’ has paid off big time. Ben Simmons is playing out of his mind, Joel Embiid is back on the floor, and everyone in Pennsylvania is excited for a historic run from the red, white and blue. In their way stands playoff veteran Dwayne Wade, but at this stage in his career, he will not be able to carry more than a leadership role for Miami. Hassan Whiteside can definitely play with Embiid, but the Heat are going to be very outmatched in this one.

Prediction: 76ers stay hot and move on after 5.

 

(2) Boston Celtics vs. (7) Milwaukee Bucks

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No Gordon Hayward, no Kyrie Irving, no problem? Well, not exactly for the Celtics. They have a diverse group of talent including future stars Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, but they aren’t playoff-tested yet. Their first exam is the freak-of an-athlete Giannis Antetokounmpo (first time I spelled that correctly on the first try). The Bucks’ big man has so much length, and he is dangerous anytime the ball is nearby. It’s going to be a grind-it-out-battle for Boston, and overall it probably won’t be the playoff run they were looking for in the preseason, but I have to go with my pick for NBA Champions for at least one round.

Prediction: Celtics manage to stave off the Bucks in 5.

 

*Yeah, I picked all of the favorites. Sue me.