2018 NLCS/ALCS Predictions

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And then there were four. In last week’s action, I got burned for sticking with my April pick to win the World Series, but I can’t be upset with correctly picking the other three finalists, predicting the first six games winners, and even getting the winning score correct in the first four of those games. I’ll try to keep it rolling. Let’s take a look at who’s moving on to the Fall Classic.

 

Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Milwaukee Brewers

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Things kick off tonight with the Dodgers visiting the Brewers. Both teams cruised through their respective division series with the Brew Crew shutting down the Rockies’ offense, and doing their job to advance, while the Dodgers were one grand slam away from doing the same to the Braves in three games instead of four.

I mentioned before why I love this year’s Brewers team. They actually remind me of the 2003 World Series Champion Marlins. There is just nothing special about them. No superstars, no perfect pitching, not the best coach in the world, but everyone does his job. They consistently manufacture three or four runs a game, and the pitchers can grind out quality starts without giving up the big inning.

The Brewers are a team that doesn’t beat themselves, and when the opposition tries to do too much, Milwaukee’s small ball prevails. They are riding an 11-game winning streak, one shy of the franchise record, as they look to march on and claim their club’s first ever Commissioner’s Trophy. With everyone else having won a championship before, one could argue that the Brewers want to advance more than any of the remaining teams.

The problem is, I don’t see a glaring weakness in Los Angeles. They do have superstars, great pitching, and one of the best coaches in the League. Justin Turner, Max Muncy, and newly acquired Manny Machado lead the way, but I truly believe every hitter in that dugout is dangerous in the right spot. They have a good balance of power and contact that can break down most pitchers and be successful over 9 innings.

The pitching staff is obviously headlined by Clayton Kershaw, who is still looking for his first ring. Arguably the greatest pitcher of all time, Kershaw needs to put his postseason struggles behind him to solidify his legacy. Next in line is rookie Walker Buehler, who was shelled by Ronald Acuna, and Rich Hill, who has been in the NLCS a time or two.

That’s the key for L.A.- experience. The Brewers haven’t seen a spotlight like this in a long time, and the Dodgers were here last year. Manager Dave Roberts has done a fantastic job managing his players through injury and hot streaks, and this series should be no different. He knows his team well, and the outcome of this series is on his shoulders.

PREDICTIONS:

Game 1 – Clayton Kershaw @ Gio Gonzalez, Dodgers win 5-2

Game 2 – Hyun-Jin Ryu @ Wade Miley, Dodgers win 6-3

Game 3 – Jhoulys Chacin @ Walker Buehler, Brewers win 4-2

Game 4 – Junior Guerra @ Rich Hill, Dodgers win 4-3

Game 5 – Brandon Woodruff @ Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers win 3-1

Dodgers in 5.

 

Houston Astros vs. Boston Red Sox

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Easily the two best teams in the American League this year, it’s only fitting that these two titans would clash with a trip to the World Series on the line. The clubs meet for the second October in a row, as the Astros took down the Sox in four games in last year’s ALDS en route to their first World Series in franchise history. Now the question is, do they have the hunger to do what no team has done since the ’98-’00 Yankees and go back-to-back?

The Red Sox boast a dangerous lineup of studs. Mookie Betts leads the way in my AL MVP voting in part due to his deadly combination of power, contact, and speed in the field. J.D. Martinez is a straight slugger with no fear, and it looks like even utility guys can come off the bench and hit for the fist cycle in MLB postseason history like Brock Holt. As good as Houston’s pitching staff is, they have their work cut out for them.

The ALCS most likely depends on the play of Boston’s starting pitching. The bats are there and so is the bullpen, but the starters all have a record of being shaky in the playoffs. Sure, the Yankees can make anyone look bad on any given night, but it’s been a trend for too long from guys like Chris Sale and David Price. It will be interesting to see what first-year manager Alex Cora does if these guys start to struggle early versus late. I’ll bet he wants to beat the Astros more than anyone else, as he was a part of that team that won it all last year.

Minus Cora, the Astros bring back virtually the same team, and in virtually the same form from 2017. If anything, they got better with the addition of former Pittsburgh Pirates ace Gerrit Cole. The pitching staff was lights out against the Indians, taking care of business in a quick three-game series. The Indians’ lineup isn’t mild by any stretch, but the Red Sox are on the next level. Cole along with my Cy Young pick Justin Verlander will have to prove that they are among the best throwers in the MLB if they want to get back to the Fall Classic.

Another great thing about Houston is their patience at the plate. Jose Altuve, George Springer, and Alex Bregman could not be more composed in any given situation. With their leadership and experience, the pressure is on Boston to force a swing-and-miss. As long as the rest of the lineup follows suit, I don’t see the Red Sox doing that four times a game. Then, it’s all about a shootout. These teams are so evenly matched, it’s anybodies guess what happens game-to-game.

PREDICTIONS

Game 1 – Justin Verlander @ Chris Sale, Red Sox win 3-2

Game 2 – Gerrit Cole @ David Price, Astros win 5-3

Game 3 – Nathan Eovaldi @ Dallas Keuchel, Astros win 4-3

Game 4 – Rick Porcello @ Charlie Morton, Red Sox win 7-5

Game 5 – Chris Sale @ Justin Verlander, Astros win 3-0

Game 6 – Gerrit Cole @ Nathan Eovaldi, Red Sox win 5-4

Game 7 – Dallas Keuchel @ Rick Porcello, Red Sox win 2-1

Red Sox in 7

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2018 ALDS/NLDS Predictions

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On to the next one. After one anticlimactic victory in the Bronx and an absolute heartbreak at Wrigley, we have narrowed the field to eight. I do feel for Chicago. One day they’re one big hit away from the best record in the National League, and 24 hours later they find themselves out of the playoffs just as it gets started. After a grueling 163 games, their season is as over as the Orioles’ season is… but the validity of the Wild Card game is a discussion for another day. Let’s take a look at the best-of-five Division Series.

 

Cleveland Indians vs. Houston Astros

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The Astros’ journey to repeat as World Champions makes its first stop against Cleveland. One of the first teams to clinch their spot in the postseason, Houston nearly gave up the division lead before ultimately finishing off the final two weeks with a commanding six-game difference. For the Indians, there was hardly any doubt that they would finish at the top of the AL Central. As weak as every other team in that division was, it’s hard to figure why the Indians have the worst record of all playoff teams besides Atlanta… perhaps we are about to find out.

The Astros are the same powerhouse that they were last year, but they are missing one thing: hunger. They have a convincing 103 wins on their resume, but they don’t have the feel of a dominant win-at-all-costs mentality when it counts. A.J. Hinch has proven that he is one of the best managers in the MLB, but he has not instilled the same drive as he did when the Astros claimed their first title in franchise history last year.

The talent is there at the plate with perennial superstars Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa, and Alex Bregman. Arguably more impressive is their starting pitching staff, as my AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander takes the hill in Game 1 following one of the best seasons of his long career. His 2017 playoff exploits are well-documented and he should be a force in 2018 as well. The rotation rounds out with aces Gerrit Cole and Dallas Keuchel along with all-star Charlie Morton. They have all the pieces, but do they want it enough?

The Indians have been surprisingly lackadaisical in their own right…basically the Patriots of the MLB.  There isn’t any reason the Indians shouldn’t have run away with their division, and granted, they did by 13 games, but staying under 100 wins worries me. Preseason, I had the Tribe just behind the Astros for the best record in the MLB, so this match-up is very high-profile, and will be very difficult for the Indians to take on without home field advantage.

Cleveland boasts some big bats too. Of course there’s Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor, and Edwin Encarnacion, but now there is the controversial addition of former AL MVP Josh Donaldson. For those unfamiliar with the situation, Donaldson was on the DL for the Blue Jays when he was reinstated to the MLB roster before being immediately traded and put back on the DL by the Indians. It’s against MLB trade rules to deal an injured player, so this was met with some ire around the MLB. In any case, the man is here now, and we are yet to see what he truly brings to the table for the Indians.

The key for this series is starting pitching. The Astros have the better all-around lineup, and the Indians can control the game beyond the 7th inning. That gives Houston 5 or 6 innings to take a lead and try to hold it. Houston can definitely be confident in their rotation, but Cleveland’s is a question mark. Sure Corey Kluber is one of the best pitchers in the game, but he has yet to play great postseason baseball. Carlos Carrasco is the obvious number two, and he famously missed out on the 2016 World Series run with an injury, so his playoff experience is limited. Beyond that, injuries have left the Indians scrambling for innings, and that will ultimately cost them.

PREDICTIONS:

Game 1- Corey Kluber at Justin Verlander, Astros win 4-2

Game 2 – Carlos Carrasco at Gerrit Cole, Astros win 6-5

Game 3 – Dallas Keuchel at Mike Clevinger, Indians win 5-1

Game 4 – Justin Verlander at Corey Kluber, Astros win 2-1

Astros in 4.

 

New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox

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This is what baseball is all about. The best rivalry in sports in an abbreviated best-of-five playoff series. It’s hard to believe the last time these two giants met in October was the infamous 2004 ALCS that saw the Red Sox come back from an 0-3 hole to win the pennant. The Sox and the Yankees have had two of the best seasons in the MLB this year, and neither wants to have their work undone by their bitter rival. Let’s get into it.

The Red Sox haven’t played a game in five days, and that could be a huge factor in Game 1. Too much rest is definitely a bad thing, especially when they face a Yankees team that has maintained some hot bats as the season came to an end. However, new manager Alex Cora has led Boston to their best regular season in their long franchise history, and there are countless factors to explain it.

First, they have a nearly unstoppable lineup. From top to bottom, Boston has a deadly combination of contact, power, and an ability to get the important hit. I could single guys out like my AL MVP Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez, but truthfully there isn’t a single guy on that roster that I wouldn’t trust with the bat in his hand. The Yankees pitchers will have to do their homework.

The likes of Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, and even Eduardo Rodriguez have been superb throughout the summer, but their postseason track records tell a different story. We already saw one of the greatest pitchers of all time get benched in Game 1 for his lack of postseason success, but by the looks of it, the Red Sox are going to try to power through. Either these guys find their form in some of the most heated ALDS action in years, or their legacy is already written in stone, and they crumble under the playoff lights.

This is great news for the Yankees, as their biggest weakness is easily starting pitching. They’re down an ace after Luis Severino started the Wild Card game and spun a gem through four innings before Aaron Boone quickly pulled him from the game. I initially questioned the move, but it worked out in the end as Dellin Betances eliminated the threat and the Yanks cruised into this matchup.

J.A. Happ and Masahiro Tanaka aren’t major steps down, though on paper they are inferior to the Red Sox’s rotation. So, with a small advantage going to Boston’s bats and the pressure on the ace pitchers to play like it in the playoffs, the pressure is on the Red Sox to win. This is sure to be another exciting chapter in this great rivalry, and we are all lucky to see it unfold starting tonight.

PREDICTIONS:

Game 1 – J.A. Happ at Chris Sale, Red Sox win 5-3

Game 2 – Masahiro Tanaka at David Price, Yankees win 7-1

Game 3 – Rick Porcello at Luis Severino, Yankees win 6-3

Game 4 – Chris Sale at C.C. Sabathia, Red Sox win 8-5

Game 5 – Masahiro Tanaka at David Price, Yankees win 4-2

Yankees in 5. (I have to go with my preseason World Series Champions)

 

Colorado Rockies vs. Milwaukee Brewers

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I’ll be honest, I never really thought I’d be making a playoff prediction between the NL regular-season champion Milwaukee Brewers and the Colorado Rockies. Both of these clubs have had absolute fairy-tale seasons and it’s going to be a shame to watch one of them bow out now. Before going any further, I know Game 1 happened yesterday, but it hasn’t influenced my overall series prediction.

An advantage that the Brewers have, unlike the Red Sox, is that they haven’t had to wait quite as long for their next game. However, the Rockies haven’t gotten much time to breathe and take in the moment having to play in some extremely important baseball games over the past week. Well, now Colorado made it. How do they respond?

Ironically, it’s been stellar pitching. They are known for the hitter-friendly Coors Field and dangerous bats of Charlie Blackmon, Nolan Arenado, and Trevor Story, but they have failed to truly produce so far this week. Luckily, the Rockies have played great defense and kept their dreams alive by silencing their opponents’ bats as well. I don’t really expect that to continue, as last night was proof that the Rockies will need to string runs together to win ball games at this level.

The Brewers lucked out last night as they were virtually shut out but for a Christian Yelich two-run homer to give them some comfort. With a pitching staff like Milwaukee’s, who didn’t even have a true starter for Game 1, it’s probably only a matter of time before the Rockies wake up at the plate.

I love the style of the Brew Crew. Yes, Yelich is probably the NL MVP, but even he isn’t truly a “big name”. You have the Bryants, the Altuves, and the Trouts, but the Brewers don’t really have a true star. Across the board they do their job and contribute. Cain, Yelich, Moustakas, Shaw, Aguilar… they do what they’re good at, and they do it well. That wins you an even-matched playoff series.

PREDICTIONS

*Game 1 – Antonio Senzatela at Brandon Woodruff, Brewers won 3-2

Game 2 – Tyler Anderson at Jhoulys Chacin, Brewers win 4-3

Game 3 – Wade Miley at Kyle Freeland, Rockies win 9-2

Game 4 – Gio Gonzalez at German Marquez, Rockies win 4-1

Game 5 – Antonio Senzatela at Jhoulys Chacin, Brewers win 3-2

Brewers in 5

 

Atlanta Braves vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

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I saw the score for Game 1 here too, but it only reaffirmed my belief that the NL is the Dodgers’ to lose. They have by far the best and most experienced batters, pitchers, and coaches. It really is that simple. The Braves are young and have had a tremendous season out of nowhere, but they have the worst record among playoff teams, and they just aren’t ready for baseball like this. The nothing-to-lose attitude is great, and maybe they can steal a game from L.A. with that mentality, but it isn’t sustainable in a must-win format.

I don’t really have much more to say on the matter. The Dodgers held out Kershaw from Game 1 due to his postseason miscues, and they were still all over Atlanta from the first batter… literally. This should be quick and painless for the Dodger faithful, and at least Atlanta can say they made it this far. Congrats to the NL East Division Champions, it was well deserved and it’s only the beginning with guys like Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies, and Freddie Freeman sticking around for the long haul.

PREDICTIONS:

*Game 1 – Mike Foltynewicz at Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dodgers won 6-0

Game 2 – Anibal Sanchez at Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers win 2-1

Game 3 – Rich Hill at Julio Teheran, Dodgers win 4-3

Dodgers in 3

2018 MLB Wild Card Predictions

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We may have finished the regular season a day later than some anticipated, but we don’t have to wait any longer for postseason baseball. Before I get to my predictions for the midweek games, indulge me as I detail my MLB predictions since creating Sports Thoughts: 6 division winners in 2017 and 3 in 2018 (75%), 7 of 10 playoff teams in both 2017 and 2018 (70%), as well correctly predicting that a Game 163 would occur in 2018. If it wasn’t for the Cubs dropping to the Brewers at home on Monday, I’d be 83% effective when picking division winners, the only misses being a disappointing 2018 Nationals campaign, and a historic Red Sox season that saw them outlast the Yankees for the AL East title.

Last year, I also correctly predicted both Wild Card games and both Conference Championships, but my Achilles heel was a 1-3 record in the Division Series, and so I finished with an improvable 56% postseason record. We’ll see if I start just as hot as last season with my picks for Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Let’s take a look at my 2018 Wild Card predictions.

 

Colorado Rockies at Chicago Cubs

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Unfortunate scheduling sees the two tiebreaker losers playing the very next night to keep their seasons alive. The Cubs were looking at the #1 seed in the National League 24 hours ago, and now they’re facing elimination. The Rockies made it interesting against the Dodgers late, but still suffered a tough loss. Now they hop on a plane to Chicago with their season on the line. It was an emotionally draining day for both clubs, so who can pick up the pieces first?

The pitching matchup features the veteran Jon Lester for the Cubs taking on an upstart young pitcher in Kyle Freeland. I wouldn’t say either can necessarily take over the game, thus I expect the bullpen to make the difference late. Both lineups are pretty much equally dangerous at the plate. The likes of Charlie Blackmon, Nolan Arenado, and Trevor Story get help from a red-hot David Dahl and a steady DJ LeMahieu for the Rockies. The Cubs return all of the crowd favorites to the postseason as Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, and Ben Zobrist.

The X-factor for Chicago is Daniel Murphy, the former Mets second baseman who nearly single-handedly crushed the Cubs’ World Series dreams in 2015. Now, he can change the North Side’s opinion of him if he can deliver for Chicago on Tuesday night. Additionally, with the luxury of staying home for a good night’s sleep on Monday, the Cubs have a huge advantage in not only rest, but a raucous home crowd in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field. Despite struggling in the 8th inning against the Brew Crew, I think the combination of a relentless, experienced lineup and a rested pitching staff gives the Cubs a best-of-five rematch with Milwaukee.

Cubs win 5-3.

 

Oakland Athletics at New York Yankees

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The story is far different for the American League Wild Card game. As the seeding was locked in way before Game 162, the A’s and Yanks could afford to go into cruise control as they prepared for their upcoming elimination game on Wednesday night. It’s hard to predict how the players and coaches will deal with the emotions that come with playoff baseball in Yankee Stadium, and without announced starters at the time of this article, it’s even harder to foresee how the early innings will go down.

I’ll be blunt: the Athletics’ starting pitching is pretty abysmal. Luckily, they boast one of, if not the best bullpens in the MLB. Mike Fiers is really the only starter that has a shot in this game, and he was just shelled by the Angels in his last start. Meanwhile, word has it that Liam Hendriks, who hasn’t allowed a run since September 1, may throw the first inning or two before turning the game over to the rest of the pen. It would be a smart move to play to their strengths, but that puts a lot of stress on Oakland’s bullpen not only on this game, but down the road if they are fortunate enough to advance.

For the Yankees, I’m giving the start to ace Luis Severino over J.A. Happ, who is 7-0 in a Yankee uniform. While Severino hasn’t been the Cy Young candidate fans were expecting, he has a pretty superb 3.39 ERA on the season, and he has held opponents to three runs or less in his last six quality starts. However, it’s worth mentioning that in the middle of that span he had his worst start since July. On September 5, he allowed 6 runs on 6 hits in 2 2/3 innings to.. guess who? The Oakland Athletics.

With all of that said, the pitching isn’t the story of this matchup. The A’s and Yankees have two of the best offenses in the MLB and it’s going to be feast or famine at the plate. There really isn’t a single guy I’d want to face on the Yankees roster, as they bring sluggers Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Andrew McCutchen, Gary Sanchez, and Luke Voit who is absolutely on fire. If Oakland goes with their bullpen strategy, I expect double-digit strikeouts, but also at least three home runs.

The A’s aren’t as dangerous from top to bottom, but they sure can swing it at the heart of the lineup. Khris Davis has crushed 48 home runs while playing games at a very deep Oakland Coliseum, Jed Lowrie has 99 RBIs to trail only Davis’s 123 on the team, and Matt Chapman and Matt Olsen seemingly always come through in the final innings when Oakland needs a rally. In a hitter’s park like Yankee Stadium, it doesn’t matter who is on the mound… the A’s will take them deep.

The flow of the game will echo their respective seasons. They feel each other out for innings 1 and 2. The bottom of the Yankees order hits Fiers after he comes in for Hendriks, and the Yankees finish the 3rd up 3-0. Severino gives one or two back, but that’s it through 5. The Yankees go hitless until the 6th when they string a few together to take a commanding 7-2 lead by the 7th inning stretch with a couple of long bombs. However, when the mighty A’s closers come in, they are unable to extend the lead as Oakland starts their comeback. Two runs in the 7th, another in the 8th, and an RBI double with one out in the 9th. Now clinging to a one-run lead, manager Aaron Boone opts to leave in Aroldis Chapman who strikes out the final two batters and strands the tying run in scoring position.

Yankees win 7-6.

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.