There’s only one game that matters in the daily sports docket for Thursday, and it’s the last Battle In Miami, as the Heat and the San Antonio Spurs meet in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, at 9 PM ET on ABC.
This is only the fifth Game 7 since 1985, that year selected as the benchmark because it’s when the league went to the 2-3-2 format. If you’re main interest is just a good game then the track record is good. The previous instances—1988 (Lakers-Pistons), 1994 (Rockets-Knicks), 2005 (Spurs-Pistons) and 2010 (Celtics-Lakers) have all been compelling games.
They’ve also all gone to the home team, as the Spurs will seek to be the first team since the then-named Washington Bullets won it all on the home court of the Seattle Supersonics (today’s Oklahoma City Thunder) back in 1978. Maybe the fact that neither franchise exists under the name it played under in ’78 illustrates better than anything how long it’s been since the road team won a Game 7.
But all streaks come to an end eventually, and it’s easy for me to see this one breaking historical patterns. I won’t be shocked if San Antonio wins, but I also won’t be surprised if Miami wins going away, and breaks the trend of close games. And my actual prediction is that the Heat will probably win a close game. How’s that for hedging for your bets in every way possible? It underscores that these Finals have been so compelling, so evenly contested—each team has won two games decisively and one in a thriller—that you can envision most anything unfolding and have a realistic chance of being right.
Baseball action will be the Red Sox-Tigers on the MLB Network at 7 PM ET, and in the College World Series it’s a grudge match between top-ranked North Carolina and ACC rival N.C. State. The loser is knocked out of the tournament, while the winner will then have to defeat UCLA two times in succession in order to reach next week’s national final. On the other side of the bracket, Mississippi State gets two chances to defeat Oregon State, starting tomorrow, in order to make the best-of-three championship round.
TheSportsNotebook has NHL analysis coming up in a little bit, as we shake out Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals last night. If you still haven’t recovered from Tuesday’s extraordinary Game 6 of the NBA Finals, you can check the NBA commentary that followed that game yesterday. MLB coverage was updated over the weekend, and will have some fresh installments coming up at the back end of this week.
The legacy of LeBron James begins a two-part test tonight in Game 6 of the NBA Finals. If the Miami Heat lose tonight, and the San Antonio Spurs wrap up the NBA title in six games the blame in this series will be placed on LeBron’s shoulders. Unlike a lot of cases, where that blame is woefully misplaced and rooted in absurd expectations, there’s no denying that LeBron’s on-again, off-again play is the biggest reason his team has lost three of the first five games to the Spurs.
Game time is 9 PM ET on ABC. I’ve still got a hard time thinking Miami is really going to lose this NBA crown, especially on their home floor, but as I wrote inyesterday’s NBA commentary following Game 5, there’s no denying this Heat team has lost its claim on historic greatness.
Baseball is the other action on Tuesday’s daily sportsschedule. A high-profile interleague game between the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers goes at 7 PM ET on the MLB Network. It’s the return of Dodger manager Don Mattingly to New York, the place where he starred in the 1980s and early 1990s and also served as a batting coach in the Joe Torre years. Mattingly is still revered in the Big Apple—rightly so, for being a class act at a troubled point in franchise history and a loud ovation would seem a certainty.
College baseball’s #1 team begins the first of what would be four straight must-win games. North Carolina lost its first game in the College World Series on Sunday. Now they and LSU play a knockout game this afternoon (3 PM ET, ESPN). The winner would play the loser of tonight’s UCLA-N.C. State game (8 PM ET, ESPN2) in another elimination game. Then the winner of that game would have to beat the Bruins-Wolfpack winner twice in succession to reach the national final, which is best two-of-three.
Speaking of Bruins, TheSportsNotebook’s main feature today will be a focus on the hockey Bruins from Boston and their Stanley Cup Final with the Chicago Blackhawks. NHL analysis will look back on last night’s Game 3 and ahead to the rest of the series. We’ll have NBA commentary tomorrow to either celebrate a champion or look ahead to Game 7. And MLB coverage had a double feature this weekend, with closer looks at the successes of the Oakland A’s and the failures of the Washington Nationals.
If the first two games of the Stanley Cup Finals have been any indication, get ready for a long Monday night. The Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins hook up for Game 3 of the Finals, and the first two have seen a combined four overtime sessions. The series is tied at a game apiece, and tonight’s battle in Boston will begin at 8 PM ET on NBC Sports Network.
Those who aren’t into hockey have a nice set of options on Monday’s daily sports menu. You can catch the team with the best record in baseball, the St. Louis Cardinals, as they host the Chicago Cubs at 7 PM ET on ESPN.
And don’t overlook college baseball. ESPN2 carries Mississippi State-Indiana (8 PM ET) in a game where the winner will guarantee themselves a two-to-win-one opportunity to make it to the national final. Matinee coverage earlier in the day on the same network has Louisville-Oregon State (3 PM ET), where the loser will be out.
Moving outside the box, there’s stuff for both draftniks and history buffs. You can get set for the NBA draft later this month with a look at the combine workouts (7 PM ET, ESPNU). At the other end of the spectrum, the NFL Network will show a replay of one of the best and most significant playoff games in recent history.
It’s the 2006 AFC Championship Game between the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts, where Peyton Manning rallied the Colts from 21-3 down to finally win a postseason game over the Pats and ultimately set up their Super Bowl win. The program starts at 8 PM ET and is followed by a half-hour show that looks at the Colts season as a whole.
TheSportsNotebook will have NBA commentary coming up a little later on, as we look back on last night’s Game 5 of the NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs. Yesterday’s NHL analysis looked at the Cup Finals after two games, and over the weekend there was a double dose of MLB coverage, with a special focus on both the Oakland A’s and the Washington Nationals.
Friday has a pretty quiet schedule for TV daily sports. Unless, that is, you’re a golf-lover, and you can spend all day watching the second day of the U.S. Open on ESPN. Or, if you’re stuck at work, just make sure you don’t know the results and then tune into the same network at 8 PM ET for a “Best of the U.S. Open” feature.
Baseball offers San Francisco-Atlanta on the MLB Network (7:30 PM ET), and we’re otherwise waiting for the opening of the College World Series. College baseball’s final eight teams arrive in Omaha for an opening day celebration today, which is mostly some hype during the afternoon. The games themselves start tomorrow. The eight teams are split into two fields of four for double-elimination play, and then the winners will meet in a best-of-three for the national championship.
TheSportsNotebook will have NBA commentary coming up today, as we look back on Game 4 of the Finals, and look ahead to Sunday night’s fifth game. Yesterday’sNHL analysis looked at the opener of the Stanley Cup Finals, and ahead to Saturday night’s Game 2. MLB coverage returns tomorrow, with a lot of catching up to do in both the American League and National League.
There is also an extensive collection of sports history articles here at TheSportsNotebook, and there was a new addition yesterday. As part of a developing series that looks at the highlights of each sports year, starting in 1976, we added 1983, a year that saw two shocking upsets highlight championship action in college sports.
The Stanley Cup Finals get underway tonight, as the Boston Bruins pay a visit to the Windy City. NBC has to be loving the matchup, with the nation’s third and fourth-largest markets involved, and both having large and passionate hockey fan bases. The puck drops at 8 PM ET. TheSportsNotebook’s NHL analysis previewed the Finals yesterday.
Wednesday’s daily sports menu is subordinate to the Bruins-Blackhawks, but there are other options. ESPN will have baseball action, with the Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers meeting at 7 PM ET. The Tribe is really slumping right now, and while I love Terry Francona and believe he’ll get the job done over time, there’s just no starting pitching depth. I think things get worse here before they get better.
ESPNU will have its focus on the University of Miami football program. A 30 for 30 documentary looks at the rise of “The U”, and that starts at 7 PM ET. Then you get a little more down to earth and modern, with a replay of the school’s spring game from this year. TheSportsNotebook did a historical featureon the Hurricanes back in December 2011.
And for the completely silly feature of the night, NBA-TV is actually going to give out social media awards, for what players best engaged on social media this season. Does Kobe Bryant’s critique of his Lakers on Twitter as he sat out the playoffs injured qualify for an award?
I should admit that I don’t know if the league is giving these awards, or if it’s just a network show. If it’s the latter, then it’s the kind of goofy, fun thing that makes for good TV. If the league is really giving out awards, then somebody has blown a fuse. I suspect it’s the former.
TheSportsNotebook’s focus today will be our NBA commentary, as we look back at last night’s Game 3 between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs. The last installment of MLB coverage came over the weekend with a look at the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The NBA Finals come back tonight, with Game 3 of the battle between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs being the lead item on Tuesday’s daily sports docket. The series shifts to San Antonio tonight and will be here for the next three games, as the Finals use a 2-3-2 schedule format that differs from the previous three rounds. Tip time is 9 PM ET on ABC.
Baseball action will focus on the National League wild-card race, as the San Francisco Giants visit the Pittsburgh Pirates (7 PM ET, MLB). If you haven’t followed baseball closely to this point, be aware that it’s the Pirates, not the Giants, who are getting great pitching from all facets of their staff. Frisco is hurting, with Ryan Vogelsong first looking terrible and now being on the disabled list to the end of July. This is in addition to Barry Zito reverting to mediocrity, Matt Cain struggling and Tim Lincecum showing no signs of recapturing his Cy Young form.
The Vince Lombardi-era Green Bay Packers will be a feature on TV tonight in two different spots. ESPN2 airs “Lombardi’s Legacy” at 8 PM ET. Then, one hour later, you can jump over to NFL Network where their feature “America’s Game” focuses on Lombardi’s1966 team in Green Bay that won the first Super Bowl.
College baseball still has its Super Regionals dragging out, as North Carolina and South Carolina can’t get their decisive game in because of the weather. The Tar Heels are the top-ranked team in the country, and the Gamecocks a recent national champion, back in 2011, and then made it back to the College World Series last year. The two proud programs will take another shot at getting their game in today at noon ET (ESPN2). Winner goes to Omaha for the CWS, which begins on Friday.
TheSportsNotebook’s NHL analysis will have its Stanley Cup Finals preview coming up later today. Yesterday the focus wasNBA commentary, and you can get ready for tonight’s Game 3 with a look back at what we learned from Miami’s rout on Sunday night that evened up the series. MLB coverage looked at the Arizona Diamondbacks over the weekend and will have both an American League and National League feature coming up later in the week.
One team joined the party in the NHL’s Stanley Cup Finals, when Boston beat Pittsburgh to complete a four-game sweep. The other spot can be filled tonight, when Chicago hosts Los Angeles in Game 5 of their Western Conference finals. NBC Sports Network has the call at 8 PM ET, and it marks the biggest game on the daily sports schedule for the weekend.
Of course folks in South Beach might beg to differ. Game 2 of the NBA Finals might not have the same do-or-die quality that the Blackhawks-Kings game does, but Miami absolutely needs to treat this game as must-win. After losing a crusher in the opener, the Heat simply can’t go back to San Antonio in an 0-2 hole, especially not when the Finals 2-3-2 schedule format gives the Spurs three successive home games in the middle. Game 2 will be on Sunday night and be on ABC at 8 PM ET.
Surrounding the prime-time NHL and NBA action is a lot of baseball. Saturday afternoon its matinee time on the MLB Network, with either Minnesota-Washington or Cleveland-Detroit at 4 PM ET. Prime-time tonight is Fox’s slot at 7:15 PM ET. There are five games being shown around the country, but St. Louis-Cincinnati is the best of the group.
The Cardinals-Reds were on MLB Network last night, they’re on Fox tonight, and they’ll complete the trifecta with an appearance on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball at 8 PM ET, getting media love normally reserved for the Red Sox-Yankees. Although speaking of the Red Sox, their home game with the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday afternoon will be the TBS feature (1:35 PM ET). And where are the Yankees? This is going to be five full days they won’t be on national television somewhere.
College baseball’s Super Regionals are going this weekend. This is eight different best-of-three series that are settling the berths in the College World Series. LSU and UCLA won openers on Friday night and get to Omaha with wins today. Two other openers were postponed, and four more were scheduled to open Saturday to begin with. Super Regional action goes through at least tomorrow and likely Monday.
Racing has action in both the cars and on horses. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series goes to the Poconos on Sunday (1 PM ET, TNT), and of course the final leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes runs this afternoon at 6:30 PM ET on NBC.
TheSportsNotebook will have NHL analysiscoming up shortly, as we look at how Boston swept Pittsburgh and assess Los Angeles’ chances of rallying against Chicago. And at some point over the weekend, there will be MLB coverage, with a yet-to-be-decided National League feature. NBA commentary was updated yesterday following Game 1 of the Finals and will be back again on Monday.
The NBA Finals start tonight, with Game 1 of the San Antonio-Miami series being the highlight of the Thursday daily sports schedule. It’s a relatively late tip, 9 PM ET, and all Finals games will be shown on ABC. I like the Mike Breen-Jeff Van Gundy broadcast duo that has the games. They’re not Kenny The Jet and Sir Charles from TNT, but Breen is one of the best play-by-play men around and Van Gundy has mastered the art of being the angry coach on TV.
NHL action will also start at 9 PM ET, with Chicago looking to regain control of the Western Conference Finals in Game 4 at Los Angeles. Coverage will be on the NBC Sports Network.
If you’re looking for something to watch prior to this fairly late starts, you have to go outside the lines. MLB coverage is matinee stuff today, with Baltimore-Houston at 2 PM ET. I’m not sure why the Astros would ever be put on national TV, at least not this year. Maybe this game is being marketed as the Ed Reed Bowl, in honor of the longtime Ravens free safety, who shifted over to Houston in free agency this year.
But if there’s no MLB action in the present on today, you can look the future. The amateur draft gets rolling tonight and MLB Network has pick-by-pick coverage starting at 7 PM ET. And if it’s the past that’s your passion, get into the mood for the NBA Finals, with a couple replays of past Game 7s on ESPN Classic. Los Angeles Lakers fans can spend the day reliving better days, with showings of their Game 7 wins over the Pistons in 1988 and the Celtics in 2010.
TheSportsNotebook’s focus today will be hockey, with NHL analysis on the conference finals returning this afternoon. Yesterday, our NBA commentary previewed the Finals, and MLB coverage was updated earlier this week and has another installment coming soon.
TV cameras will be honed in on the city of Boston tonight, as hockey and baseball coverage goes to the Hub for the two highlights of the Wednesday daily sports schedule.
The more important game is hockey, as the NHL’s Eastern Conference Finals resume in Boston Garden for Game 3 of the Bruins-Penguins series. Pittsburgh will try to follow Los Angeles’ lead from yesterday, and cut into a series lead, but the Pens have to pull it off on the road in front of a hockey-crazy fan base. NBC Sports Network has the game at 8 PM ET.
One hour earlier is when baseball from Fenway gets started. The Texas Rangers are in town to continue their series with the Boston Red Sox, with a 7 PM ET start. It completes both ends of the Boston Parlay for tonight’s TV viewing. I might have to throw in one my old DVDs of Cheers reruns to complete the theme.
If you don’t want to watch Boston teams, there’s not anything in the way of live games, unless you have a subscription package. But there are a few good features out there. NFL Network has a feature on former Chicago Bears’ running back Walter Payton. It starts at 7 PM ET and is called “A Football Life.” Payton belongs in any conversation about the greatest running back of all-time and won the MVP in 1977.
NHL Network has the 2012 Stanley Cup video that was released in honor of the Los Angeles Kings. After last night, Los Angeles fans still have a reasonable hope of a sequel being cut to honor this year. The video airs at 8 PM ET.
Here at TheSportsNotebook, the focus today is about basketball. We’ll have NBA commentary previewing the Finals, as the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs get set to open on Thursday night. NHL analysis was updated yesterday, and will return again tomorrow afternoon once both series have three games in. MLB coverage focused on the Baltimore Orioles this past Monday, and will take a National League tack later in the week.
The NBA Finals tip off tonight, as the Oklahoma City Thunder host the Miami Heat. For all the difficulties the Heat encountered in each of the last two series, for how good the Spurs looked in the West, it almost seems like this was still the matchup that was supposed to be happen, as LeBron James and Kevin Durant each go for their first ring. TheSportsNotebook previews the Heat-Thunder final battle…
You can look at the scores from Oklahoma City’s playoff run and those of Miami and presume the Heat are more defensive-oriented, while the Thunder are geared to offense. That would be false. The Western Conference has faster teams—and frankly, most would say better teams—than the East. If you factor in pace of the game, the defensive numbers come out fairly equal, with Miami still slightly better, but even that can wiped out once you adjust for strength of schedule. If you listen to the media, you might presume the Heat like to get out and run the break. That would also be false. Miami ranks about the middle of the league in terms of game pace, while Oklahoma City does play at a fast clip. LeBron James will undoubtedly fill the lane for some big dunks that will get on SportsCenter, but both he and his team are at their best when running a good halfcourt offense.
Running a good halfcourt offense does not mean indiscriminately firing up three-point shots. If you saw the highlights of Miami’s Game 7 win against Boston, you saw LeBron’s 30-foot trey, along with Chris Bosh stepping up to hit 3-of-4 from behind the arc. You may recall Shane Battier knocking some three-pointers down. But the volume of threes the Heat are shooting must come down in this series. In the seven games against the Celtics they shot 155 times behind the arc. They only made 32 percent. Simple math says you have to hit one percentage point higher just to break even on the shot and simple math can’t factor in for what’s lost by not having LeBron and Dwayne Wade take the ball to the basket.
Miami had only one game in the conference finals where the three-ball was an asset, and that was Game 6, when they hit nearly 50 percent. That was also the only game they kept their attempts under 20 (16 in all) and made sure guard Mario Challmes, the best shooter on the team got a disproportionate number of attempts, as he hit 3-for-4. Call me crazy, but I see a trend there. Miami can’t get lazy on offense and jack up threes against Oklahoma City, because unlike the previous series, they aren’t going to chase down nearly as many long rebounds.
Oklahoma City is strong on the interior, with Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins working the glass and their athletic ability is significantly higher than what Miami just faced. The Celtics were the equivalent of old Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield floating everything up there. This is the equivalent of the Heat having to turn around face Josh Beckett’s fastball one day later. Oklahoma City pushes the tempo and they do it with efficiency—even after you adjust for the pace, they still finished second in the league in offensive efficiency, and in the Western Conference Finals, they beat the team that finished first. The area I’m watching with OkC is how well they defend in the halfcourt.
San Antonio shot 45 percent or better three times in the six-game series, the benchmark I generally use to see how well a defense is playing. If Miami get hit 45 or better consistently, the Thunder are going to have problems, particularly when you factor in that made shots take them out of transition opportunities. The positive for OkC here is that only one of those 45+ games from San Antonio took place in the final four matchups of the series when the Thunder suddenly had everything click. And none took place on their home floor, where they get to open and close the Finals.
The LeBron-Durant showdown is getting the hype and while these are both immensely talented small forwards playing very well right now, there are some differences. Durant is a better pure shooter—a reason he can be more confident taking shots in the end game. LeBron’s a better rebounder, and a little bit better passer, a reason people shouldn’t knock him so much when he gives up a shot at the end.
Russell Westbrook and Dwayne Wade represent another battle. The Thunder guard is playing better right now and is younger, as Wade fights what are obviously nagging injuries. But the flip side is that Wade, as he demonstrated down the stretch in Game 7 has a proven champion’s ability in these moments, while Westbrook still has to show he can make it through an entire playoff run without allowing a bad shooting night to affect the rest of his game. If Miami wins this series, Wade needs to outplay Westbrook.
Each team’s third best player brings us to the stylistic differences between the two. For Oklahoma City its James Harden, the shooting guard who officially comes off the bench, but plays starters’ minutes. Harden is the three-point shooter that the entire Miami team thinks they are—he hits 45 percent behind the arc. Whereas Miami has Chris Bosh, who is obviously healthy again, and just as obviously can’t let his 3-for-4 from three-point range in the Celtics finale become fools’ gold. Bosh is the only consistent answer Miami has in the post and he has to play well for the Heat to execute in the half-court.
If it’s just about the Big Three, I would give a slight edge to Miami, not so much for anything to do with LeBron or Durant, then for the fact I’d prefer an inside-oriented team rather than a perimeter one. But of course we play five-on-five and Oklahoma City is much better at filling in its role spots than Miami. Serge Ibaka is a defensive force at power forward and able to kick in some help offensively, as a surprise 26-point night against the Spurs proved. Perkins hits the glass hard and does dirty work inside, and also has a championship ring as a starter with the 2008 Celtics. They both combine to give the Thunder a substantial edge on the interior, an edge that will get even bigger if Bosh decides the Finals are a time to hone his three-point shot. Whereas with Miami, they’re waiting for Challmes to get untracked in the backcourt. He’s got to have more games like Game 6 where his three-point shot can consistently open up the lane. He’s got to hit better than 70 percent of his free throws, something Wade and LeBron also need to improve on.
Therefore, if Miami wins we need to see them play good halfcourt defense, assume their solid defensive numbers against the East can translate into play against the West. They need to run the halfcourt offense and not play street ball, where they start launching three-pointers, and instead get LeBron and Wade driving to the bucket and Bosh hitting some jumpers either on post-up or near the elbow.
For Oklahoma City to win, we need the kind of defensive effort they brought to the last four games of the San Antonio series, we need Ibaka and Perkins to close those possessions with the rebound and we need Westbrook to realize that even if he doesn’t shoot well, he can still distribute the ball.
Both of those are realistic scenarios. Oklahoma City opens as a decent favorite at (-160), meaning you have to bet $160 to get a profit of $100 if you take the Thunder. You can bet Miami at (+140), meaning a simple $100 bet returns $140 in profit. We’ve got a situation where a betting line underdog playing without homecourt advantage is the team with all the pressure on them, which brings us to the final intangible that I think is going to decisive. Is Oklahoma City going to be just happy to be here, while Miami is determined to shut the critics up? In the end, that’s the only reason I would have to pick against the Thunder. They’re the one team that can match Miami in star power, they have better role players and they have the homecourt edge. But no one’s going to call them a failure if they lose. Their motivation will have to come from within.
I don’t make final predictions based on these kinds of intangibles because I have no way of knowing the mindset of each team or even how that mindset will affect their play. I know what I see on paper and when I’m watching the games. I like the Thunder to win the first two games of this series at home. Then for Miami to take two of the next three (remember in the Finals, it goes 2-3-2 for homecourt), with OkC coming home to close out a championship in Game 6.