Joey Backdoor’s Worst Gambling Beats of 2020, Part 1

Narrowing my list to 20 wasn’t easy. It has been a brutal year. Here is the first 10 of my top 20 bad beats from 2020.

1. LSU-Clemson:

In a battle of the Tigers, LSU prevailed to become champions. I should have loaded up on LSU after riding them all year. A guest on WFAN talked me into betting the total early in case it went up. 67 points were scored. Not over 69. Somehow, the total was bet down and closed at 66. I also could have gone for insurance by popping an LB on the under. Bet more on the lower number. Done a teaser. Total debacle. Literally, since it involved the total. Great way to end the season and start my year. 

2. Kings-Bucks:

Getting in early burned me again. Milwaukee beat Sacramento by 12. The line went down to 10, but that was after my bet went in. Giannis skipped the game. Apparently becoming a father is somewhat important to people. 

3. San Francisco-Gonzaga:

A late three by the Zags gave them a 71-54 victory. Some people won on -16.5, but I had 17.5. Bet it too soon. The line went down. This story seems familiar. Another problem with early wagers is I’m not able to buy points. I am great at finding ways to lose. 

4. Iowa-Michigan State:

MSU defeated Iowa 78-70. I had the Spartans -8.5, and Cassius Winston missed a late free throw to cover. Teasing with the over would have worked. It especially hurt because Winston was shooting free throws at an 87 percent clip.

5. Braves-Mets:

Edwin Diaz blew a save, and the Mets fell to 1-1. They were one out away from starting 2-0 against Atlanta in the shortened 2020 campaign. This set the tone for their entire season, and mine.

6. Mets-Braves:

I could not leave out the Mets losing 11-10 to Atlanta. It was 8-2 Mets. They also were ahead 10-5. Atlanta scored once in the sixth inning, but still trailed 10-6 in the eighth. Travis d’Arnaud doubled in three runs against his former team. That capped Atlanta’s five-run eighth, and the comeback was complete. Or, choke job. Depends on your point of view. 

7. Rockets-Mavericks:

Dallas squandered a 138-131 lead with under 50 seconds remaining. Seth Curry’s late miss at the free throw line gave Houston hope, but James Harden was shooting two free throws with less than 4 seconds left and the Rockets still trailing 139-136. Harden made his first. The second was missed, and Robert Covington’s tip forced overtime. Dallas went up by four in the extra session, but Houston went on to win. Could have loaded up on the over. Even at halftime.

8. Jazz-Nuggets:

The NBA postseason kicked off in fine fashion. Denver covered the game in overtime despite 57 from Donovan Mitchell. Another example of me not jumping in on the over and turning it into a profitable game. This was also another example of overtime not being a friend of the underdog bettor.

9. Mavericks-Clippers:

Hours after Denver and Utah’s overtime game, Dallas took on the Clippers. Kristaps Porzingis was ejected, and things turned. Dallas scored 13 points in the third quarter. 135 combined points were scored in the first half. It ended 118-110. Not over 229. Tim Hardaway missed the game’s final shot. Could have covered and put it over. I didn’t tease the two. Lost them both individually. Two bad losses, but I’m going to combine them. Not getting over 229 had to be the real bad beat.

10. Indiana-Rutgers:

It appeared the Scarlet Knights had scored on a wild play to cover that featured a number of laterals. Replay overturned the touchdown. A Halloween disappointment. That’s what I get for letting Joe Benigno and others talk me into liking Rutgers. 

2020 Official NBA Mock Draft Featuring Coach Trager and LordTreeSap

The Lakers hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy less than six weeks ago, the NBA Draft is less than 48 hours away and its November, the season is getting ready to tip off in just over a month, but at this point it is par for the course when it comes to 2020.

The 2020 draft class has garnered a middling reputation, but will be stronger as the round goes on with solid depth. With a ton of unpredictability at the top, there’s still no consensus No. 1 overall pick as the time continues to tick on Minnesota. We’ve already seen a ton of wheeling and dealing in the league, which doubles as an Academy Award-winning drama when the off-season rolls around.

Luckily for you, Brandon “Coach T” Trager and LordTreeSap are here to walk you through the entire lottery for Wednesday’s NBA Draft. Take a look at our predictions and keep it locked on the Daily Mix Report for draft coverage from LTS, while Trager lives the life of luxury in the green room with Obi Toppin.

1. Minnesota Timberwolves

Coach T: LaMelo Ball, Australia

The most mysterious, yes unmysterious, tantalizing prospect of the draft. If you’re a hoops fan, we all remember what seems like yesterday a young freshman LaMelo pullin’ up from half court in video clips gone viral. Fast forward a few years, LaMelo is a 6’7″ do-it-all PG. I am beyond happy LaVar has shut his mouth and just let his boys have a normal professional career. It was funny at first, but it got old pretty quick.

However, I will give him credit, he said LaMelo would go No. 1, and be the best of the three Ball brothers. He’s made a lot of promises that have yet to come true, but it’s amazing that some of them have. In a draft with no certain No. 1 pick, LaMelo may have the best upside with his size and playmaking ability. Just like big bro Lonzo, he looks to make everyone around him better. I’m not sure how the Ball – Russell Dynamic will look, but if he pans out, a two-guard backcourt alongside KAT doesn’t sound too shabby. I see the Wolves going Ball here.

LordTreeSap: Anthony Edwards, Georgia

Anthony Edwards has been billed as the top prospect for months now, so I don’t think the Wolves will ultimately pass up on the opportunity to pair him with D’Angelo Russell for an explosive back court and potential big three forming with Karl-Anthony Towns. During his best moments, AE looks like a young James Harden without the elite court vision, but a bulldog going to the rim just like the school he reps.

NBA Draft 2020: Anthony Edwards Opens Up on His Surreal Experience With  Michael Jordan and Golden State Warriors - EssentiallySports

2. Golden State Warriors

Coach T: James Wiseman, Memphis

Let me rant quick then I’ll stop, WHY DO THE WARRIORS NEED TO GET REWARDED AT 2!? Yeah, it stinks their two studs were essentially out for the season, but the NBA Gods hand them the No. 2 pick, when the Knicks can’t catch a break. Ok I’m done. The Warriors need a big, and Wiseman offers the best upside. 7+ footer, incredibly athletic, and will eventually step out and shoot, he may be the gem of this draft. Steph, Klay, Wiggins, Green, Wiseman, yeah, the Western Conference forgot about the Warriors. Here we go…

LordTreeSap: James Wiseman, Memphis

This is the layup of the draft. GSW has played it coy as a contender picking at the top of the draft who would probably prefer to flip the pick and assets for a third star alongside the Splash Brothers. If that doesn’t come to fruition, the athletic rim-running Wiseman gives the Dubs another weapon at their disposal and an inside presence they’ve lacked.

James Wiseman Says He Would Be A Great Fit With The Golden State Warriors –  Fadeaway World

3. Charlotte Hornets

Coach T: Anthony Edwards, Georgia

If Edwards slips to three, there’s no way the Hornets can pass up on him. If you look at this dude in a uniform, you may think he’s been in the NBA for 3-4 years. Explosive wing who can get to the rim and shoot the ball. He has that slasher wing in him looking like a young D-Wade at times. MJ may make up for all of his failed drafts with this pick here. Look for the Hornets to go with my favorite player in this year’s draft, Anthony Edwards.

LordTreeSap: Onyeka Okongwu, USC

We never know what Michael Jordan and the Hornets are going to pull when it comes to drafting, we just usually know it’s going to be the wrong decision. Onyeka has soared up draft boards as a versatile big in the mold of Bam Adebayo and everyone saw how valuable he was inside the bubble on Miami’s Finals run.

4. Chicago Bulls

Coach T: Deni Avdija, Israel

These European dudes are so hit and miss, but I feel like these have been more hits than misses of late. Basketball has really stepped up its game overseas, and you’re seeing the product translate to the NBA. Avdija is a strong 2-way player who is very experienced and has played against supreme talent.

The Bulls have a young roster, and he should fit in nicely next to Lavine, Markkanen, Carter, and some of the other Bulls young talent. I think anyone who passed up on (or traded) some guy named Luka would tell you they regret not honoring his dominance overseas. Look for the Bulls to continue to grow their young roster under new coach Billy Donovan with Deni Avdija.

LordTreeSap: LaMelo Ball, Australia

LaMelo Ball, the most polarizing prospect in this draft. You ask five different “experts” about his career trajectory and you’ll probably get five different answers. The final Ball brother has a good chance to be the best of the bunch with the way Lonzo has stumbled out of the gate. Chicago didn’t extend a qualifying offer to Kris Dunn, so a ball handler spot opens up alongside sniper Coby White to form the backcourt of the future. I’m still trying to figure out why Billy Donovan took this job though.

5. Cleveland Cavaliers

Coach T: Obi Toppin, Dayton

This next player is special because I had the opportunity to be a part of his path to the NBA coaching both him and his younger brother Jacob (University of Kentucky). Obi has grown from a 6’1″ high school senior, to a 6’9″ rim-running monster. The reigning National Player of the Year may be the most “NBA ready” prospect. He is incredibly athletic, savvy in the post, and can step out and shoot the 3. He is a prototypical NBA Big.

He needs to improve his perimeter defense/lateral quickness and continue to get stronger. However, he is going to be a consistent NBA player with a long career. From knowing Obi personally, he’s one of the most likable, humble people you’ll ever meet, and everyone who comes across him loves him. Being he played for Dayton in Ohio, I don’t see him slipping past six. I don’t love this spot for him, because this is probably my least favorite team picking in the top 10. However, look for Obi to make an immediate impact wherever he goes.

LordTreeSap: Deni Avdija, Israel

I’m not going to act like I’ve watched Deni Avdija play a full game of basketball, but he’s been on the NBA’s radar for some time. Checking out his skillset, I could easily see a Danilo Gallinari type of career coming his way, which would be a win for Cleveland.

6. Atlanta Hawks

Coach T: Isaac Okoro, Auburn

Full disclosure, I hope Okoro doesn’t get picked here, because I want the Knicks to draft him. Anyway, let’s pair up the talented young hawks with an athletic versatile 2-way wing. Okoro plays hard and will be an elite NBA defender. If he can develop a jump shot, he’ll end up being the highly coveted “3 and D” stud that every NBA team is looking for. Young, Okoro, Collins and co. sounds like a nice young core to me.

NBA Draft news: Auburn star Isaac Okoro to declare for draft

LordTreeSap: Obi Toppin, Dayton

Coach T put Obi on my radar a couple years ago and he’s played his way into a bona fide top 10 pick in that time. Although he’s already 22-years-old, Toppin is a sure-fire fit at the four in the NBA with great athleticism and a capable jumper.

I still feel bad for his Dayton Flyers season being cut short; who knows when they’ll be a potential one-seed again? Atlanta could use Toppin if rumors flying are true that they plan to test the market on John Collins if the two sides can’t agree on a fair extension.

7. Detroit Pistons

Coach T: Patrick Williams, Florida State

Williams seems to be fling up draft boards as a modern NBA big. 6’8″, versatile defender who can shoot the three. The Pistons are in the midst of a rebuild and Williams may be able to learn a thing or two from Blake Griffin, who has had trouble staying on the court.

LordTreeSap: Isaac Okoro, Auburn

Okoro will be a great fit and culture changer for Detroit on the wing for a barren roster that needs a lot of help. A tenacious defender, and if his jumper comes along, he’ll be the type of versatile defense-first wing that just about every team is starving for. We just saw the Trail Blazers pay two firsts for Robert Covington this week. This pick might finally right the wrong of selecting Stanley Johnson in 2015, who I really liked coming out of Arizona.

8. New York Knicks

Coach T: Tyrese Haliburton, Iowa State

I can’t invest myself emotionally into the Knicks. It’s a yearly heartbreak that I can’t handle. We kill ourselves, and seemingly find no luck on our side. Mini-rant over. Let’s go with Tyrese Haliburton here, a nice combo guard who is a nice playmaker and can shoot the basketball. He plays hard and I think would be a great fit next to RJ Barrett, and in NY in general.

The Knicks have DESPERATELY needed someone to step in and man the PG position. They have a solid foundational core, and a point guard to help accelerate the rebuild would be huge. Pair Tyrese with RJ Barrett, and Mitchell Robinson, the Knicks two best prospects, and we may be headed in the right direction (at least I have to say that). 

LordTreeSap: Tyrese Haliburton, Iowa State

Coach T and I are on the same page here. The Knicks have been searching for a point guard to power the offense since Stephon Marbury ate Vaseline on a live stream. Haliburton has won me over as a sound decision maker, explosive enough to get to and finish at the rim, and still nail his funky jumper. Sign me up to see if Tyrese can finally fill the lead guard void that has plagued us for eons.

9. Wizards

Coach T: Onyeka Okungwu, USC

Considered by some to be the best true “big man” in this draft, he is already an excellent defender and rim protector. With a healthy John Wall and Bradley Beal this year, the wizards should be an improved team. Look for them to improve their front court with Onyeka.

LordTreeSap: Patrick Williams, Florida State

When early mocks were coming out, I kept seeing Vassell as the top FSU prospect, but P-Will has shot up draft boards in recent months to become the top Seminole available. Williams is oozing with potential as a gritty, do-it-all forward on the floor who makes the right play. Boasting a nearly seven-foot wingspan and still being 18-years-old always helps as well.

10. Phoenix Suns

Coach T: Devin Vassell, Florida State

Okay Suns, no pressure. You have one of the best young talents in the league in Devin Booker who reportedly wants out. Don’t screw this up. Vassell is another one of those potential 3 and D players you can surround Booker with in order to help the Suns be successful. They have some nice young talent with Ayton. Add Vassell to the fold and see what happens.

LordTreeSap: Killian Hayes, France

Another very intriguing prospect who opted for the professional overseas route. My good friend at The Ringer Kevin O’Connor has Hayes as the top player on his big board and he should be in consideration for the Knicks as well. The push in his jump shot does scare me a bit, but he can create and has good size. What a situation this would be to walk into and learn behind Chris Paul as Phoenix makes a push for the post-season.

Why Killian Hayes Is the Best Prospect in the 2020 NBA Draft | The Restart  | The Ringer - YouTube

11. San Antonio Spurs

Coach T: Saddiq Bey, Villanova

Who knows who the Spurs will pick, but whoever they pick, will make an impact at some point, like they ALWAYS do. Bey comes from a great program in Villanova and is a nice complimentary player. He’s 6’8″ and is highly versatile on the floor. I’m sure Pop will find a creative way to make the most out of him.

LordTreeSap: Devin Vassell, Florida State

I’m always looking for 3-and-D players in the draft. Just inject them into my veins — every good team needs them to surround stars with shot making and doing the dirty work defensively. Vassell fits that mold and should be a nice fit with the Spurs. Two FSU Seminoles in the top 11 gives me a chance to just remind the people coach Lenny Hamilton has never made a Final Four.

12. Sacramento Kings

Coach T: R.J. Hampton, New Zealand

In my opinion, this is one of the most interesting players in the draft. One of the most highly rated prospects coming out of high school, Hampton took the Ball route playing overseas this past year. Hampton didn’t get to showcase much of his talent, but he sure has a lot of it. He’s raw, but if he develops, he won’t have many flaws in his game. He’d be a nice piece next to Fox as a 1-2 punch.

LordTreeSap: Aaron Nesmith, Vanderbilt

With the Kings moving on from Bogdanovic and Buddy Hield wanting out, Sacramento needs to find another two-guard/wing to supplement their losses and give Fox some help. Enter Vanderbilt’s Nesmith, who is the best shooter in the draft and should be a sniper in the NBA.

13. New Orleans Pelicans

Coach T: Aaron Nesmith, Vanderbilt

SVG! Great young core that should start to make waves soon. Let’s go with Nesmith here, who is one of the best shooters in the draft and would fit nicely next to Ball, Ingram, and Zion. Pelicans like to push the pace (whether SVG will want to or not) and this would be a great spot for him stretching the floor for Ingram and Zion to operate inside.

LordTreeSap: Kira Lewis Jr., Alabama

Goodbye Jrue Holiday, hello Kira Lewis Jr. I debated Kentucky’s Maxey here as well, but the speedster out of ‘Bama heads to the NOP. The Pelicans are in a great spot and add their potential point guard of the future here, who plays with reckless abandon when attacking the cup, if they decide to move on from Lonzo Ball.

14. Boston Celtics

Coach T: Killian Hayes, France

There’s a good chance he won’t be available here, but it’d be a nice pick here for the Celtics. He could play behind the likes of Kemba Walker, develop, and potentially be a long-term replacement down the road for Boston.

LordTreeSap: Jalen Smith, Maryland

Anyone that watched Boston knows they need help down low. Jalen Smith was a beast at Maryland. Anytime I watched him play Michigan he seemed to be a lock for a double-double and addicted to cleaning the glass. He could get away with being a smaller five if he bulks up a bit because he’s already a strong defender with a nonstop motor.

Joe Benigno’s WFAN Departure Leaves Huge Void: A Tribute to One of My Radio Heroes

After 25 years on the airwaves of WFAN, Joe Benigno calls it a career on Friday with his final show.

I will never be able to properly describe the impact that Joe Benigno has had on my life, but I’ll do my best. He has been a major part of my routine for many years. Joe became the WFAN overnight host in 1995. I was an avid listener, but rarely called the station.

That changed in 1998. I started calling Monday-Friday. Most of the callers were regulars. You could name them, and even predict when they would call. We were a family. You know how that goes. Think of a holiday gathering. There are some people that occasionally get on your nerves. Perhaps you make up with them and move past disagreements. Other people annoy you to no end. It was like wrestling. One feud would eventually fizzle out, and another would develop.

I was pretty shy before becoming a regular caller. It was big for my confidence. I felt comfortable. People were often given several minutes. Especially if they could contribute something interesting. I would talk about betting. Maybe antagonize one of the callers. Joke around. Get into basketball and football or baseball. Some people would say I was their favorite caller. Others hated me. You might think getting through was easy at about 2:45 in the morning. Far from it. You could spend an hour or two trying to get through, and then wait a long time on hold. The wait was worth it.

Many people either stayed up to catch the start or woke up early for work. There were also a lot of older people who had retired and would wake up during the show. Having just left my job, I was able to stay up through the overnight and hear Joe’s entire program. He even inspired me to attend CSB (Connecticut School of Broadcasting) so I could land a job in the sports world like he did. Older folks were impressed with somebody who was decades younger than them but knew his sports.

WFAN's DraftKings pitchman Joe Benigno on fantasy football: "I want nothing  to do with it..." | Bob's Blitz

Yes, I was actually a youngster back then. Just 20 years old. I had a great memory, but could look up things on a computer as well. This wasn’t true for everybody before 2000. It also wasn’t that easy to find things back then. There were far fewer sites. Information was pretty limited compared to today, so I mostly went off my general knowledge and memories. 

Lots of people enjoy reality TV. Well, Joe’s show was reality radio. Kind of like a show where different people are crammed together in a house. Like I said, some of us went after each other. People from Canada even listen and call WFAN. Joe tried to fix me up with somebody from Nova Scotia. She talked about betting on sports. We never ended up meeting, but there were times when callers seemed more interested in discussing us than the games and teams.

Joe watched Lennox Lewis fight Mike Tyson with me at my Sportsphone job in 2002. I think my boss was jealous when I eventually told him about it. My former boss and I rarely keep in touch these days. He recently sent a text about Joe. It was the first time he sent me a text in years, with the last one also pertaining to Benigno. 

After nearly a decade of hosting overnights, Joe was promoted to middays in 2004. It hit me like a ton of bricks. Life would not be the same. He now had a partner. There were more guests. Shorter show. Additional commercials. Phone calls from callers were measured in seconds instead of minutes. Overnights were also not the same. Some hosts were better than others, but nobody was Joe. Even today you can hear fans fondly remember his overnight days. Not just the epic rants. It was a show for the callers.

Although the number of times I called Benigno had been drastically reduced, we remained close. Even before leaving overnights, Joe had started to host a Monday night football show with Tony Siragusa at Tiff’s in Pine Brook, NJ. Meeting up with him before the show gave us time to chat off the air. I ended up making it my hangout spot for the next 15 years. Joe’s last time there was probably 2005 or 2006, but his shows there had an indirect impact on me for many years to come.

His popularity continued to grow with the daytime shift, and he made numerous appearances. Some were in Yonkers, but he popped up in various locations. New Jersey. Long Island. I followed him around. A number of callers would show up, but I was his most loyal follower. John from Glen Cove was one of the callers I met. We often joined Joe at Buffalo Wild Wings or Dave and Buster’s. Again, Joe helped me without knowing it. I was getting out and enjoying myself. Meeting new people. Changing and growing as a person. 

Joe And Evan Appear On 'Good Morning Football'

There is talk that Joe might do some part-time work on WFAN in the future. One can only hope. Joe will never understand the impact he has had on people. Especially me. We will treasure whatever time remains. Oh yeah…thanks for including me in your book!

Is the NBA Luka Doncic’s League Already?

He has arrived. The first chapter in Luka Doncic’s legacy was written Sunday afternoon, as he rose up over Reggie Jackson with his signature stepback move to sink a game-winner at the OT buzzer to even the series at 2-2. Oh, and that 43pts-17rebs-13asts stat line was without Kristaps Porzingis on the floor and less than 48 hours after badly spraining his ankle.

Doncic powered the Mavs to erase a 21-point 2nd quarter deficit with some help from an unlikely supporting cast that included a combined 46 points from Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. One point Kenny “The Jet” Smith has made on TNT I agree with: Look at this restart with a clean slate like it’s Luka’s third season, rather than thinking of it being a continuation of his sophomore campaign.

How often do we see the superior team win that type of game? I’d argue about 90%. But Luka, being the transcendent talent he is, just wouldn’t let that happen. The 21-year-old is coming along far quicker than anyone expected, and my jaw drops just thinking about what his game is going to look like in just another 3 or 4 years.

A few nuggets on how special that performance was from Luka yesterday: He became the youngest player to drill a buzzer-beater in the playoffs. He joined Oscar Robertson and Charles Barkley to record 40-10-15+ in a playoff game. Doncic is now in the same breath as basketball royalty with Magic Johnson and LeBron James as the only players to put up multiple triple-doubles in the post-season at 21 or younger.

His vision and feel for the game are LeBron-esque. No matter the situation, Luka is totally in control at all times. What’s impressed me most has been his emotional makeup and moxie, as the Clippers have tried to intimidate Doncic on multiple occasions throughout the first four games. This isn’t 2007 anymore; you’re not going to bully the Europeans coming over who have played professionally since they were 16.

Game 1 saw Marcus Morris try to rough up Doncic, which unfortunately led to the ejection of Kristaps Porzingis. We’ve seen Montrezl Harrell call Luka a “Bitchass white boy,” which he’s also apologized to him for (please relax right wing Twitter), and it’s only made Doncic raise his game to another level. He’s even engaged in the trash talk a bit himself, as Luka hasn’t been afraid to scream “And 1” in Morris’s ear or call out Harrell for his flopping.

I don’t know if the Mavs can actually pull this thing off and eliminate the title favorite Clips (shoutout Pandemic P), but Dallas has to be giddy about the future with Doncic and Porzingis at the helm. If I was starting a franchise today, Luka would undoubtedly be my number one pick, and that’s something I don’t know I would’ve said in January.

Game 5 should be fun Tuesday night.

 

 

 

Previewing Round 1 of the NBA Playoffs Inside the Bubble

Take a look at our predictions for every first-round matchup in the playoffs.

The NBA returned inside the Orlando bubble at the end of July and things couldn’t have gone much smoother. Gameplay’s been intense, presentation for the fans feels like real games, and most importantly, ZERO players have tested positive for COVID-19 since August 5th.

The regular-season games have given us plenty of storylines, as the Blazers have been carried by Damian Lillard’s heroics playing as a man possessed, the undefeated Suns became basketball’s darlings, Russell Westbrook’s thigh injury has thrown a wrench into the Rockets championship dreams, and title favorites Lakers, Clippers, and Bucks don’t seem to be as much of Finals locks as we once thought back in March.

With the Blazers clinching the right to take their shot at the one-seeded Lakers on Saturday to fill out the playoff picture, check out our predictions for the entire first round below. Tip-off is slated for Monday at 1:30 pm ET with game 1 of the Nuggets-Jazz series.

NBA-playoff-bracket-2020-Updated-standings-Round-1-projections

Eastern Conference:

(1) Milwaukee Bucks vs. (8) Orlando Magic

The bubble hasn’t been too kind to the hometeam Magic. Orlando, who went 3-5 in the restart, lost the promising Jonathan Isaac to a torn ACL, which should sideline him through next season. Milwaukee hasn’t exactly been firing on all cylinders since the restart, but cruised to the one-seed and now the real pressure is on for the favorite Bucks to roll through the Eastern Conference. Giannis has been on a mission this season (he’s the favorite for MVP and DPOY) and the Magic should be a light tune-up for him as Milwaukee sweeps.

Bucks in 4

(2) Toronto Raptors vs. (7) Brooklyn Nets

The 2019 champs are a bonafide threat to defend their throne and possibly repeat. I, for one, didn’t believe the Raptors would be this good (finished with the best winning percentage in franchise history) with Leonard heading to the West Coast, which should be a credit to my COTY Nick Nurse and the supporting cast taking their games to the next level.

As for the Nets, nobody could’ve seen a 5-3 bubble trip with a makeshift roster possible. Fans have to be thrilled with the team’s effort, but we know this is all about next year for them. Toronto’s size and depth should give the Nets fits all series, who shouldn’t leave Orlando with their heads hanging low.

Raptors in 4

tenor (2)

(3) Boston Celtics vs. (6) Philadelphia 76ers

I want to throw up every time I think back to my pre-season prediction of having the 76ers coming out of the East, as Philly couldn’t be further from contenders right now. A logjam in the frontcourt and a coach that doesn’t know how to deploy his talent, and now minus Ben Simmons combined with a banged-up Embiid, this is the recipe for disaster in Philly. Tatum and Brown have evolved into a dynamic duo on the wing to lead the C’s. As long as Kemba and Hayward stay healthy, this team has a shot to make some noise in the East.

Celtics in 5

(4) Indiana Pacers vs. (5) Miami Heat

This will be the most competitive series in the East. A pair of teams that overperformed this year. Most people will be drawn to the theatrics of Jimmy Butler vs. Bubble MVP T.J. Warren, but my focus is on MIP candidate Bam Adebayo’s ability to control both ends and sharpshooters Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson pushing the Heat over the top to take a hard-fought 7-game series. Miami also has the coaching advantage with Spo > Nate McMillan.

Heat in 7

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Western Conference:

(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (8) Portland Trail Blazers

This isn’t your typical 1-8 matchup. Every Blazer game has felt like a playoff game, as they roll into the post-season on a four-game winning streak. At times, their defense has been dreadful against lesser competition, so I fully expect LeBron to dominate this series and get whatever he pleases when exploiting Portland’s forwards. On the flip side, the Lakers don’t have anyone to answer for Dame, who should be able to steal a game or two by himself with his Bubble MVP heroics. Let’s just hope his tank doesn’t run out of gas (Blazers were a -13 on Saturday against the Grizzlies during his THREE MINUTES on the bench).

Lakers in 6

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(2) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (7) Dallas Mavericks

A lot has been made of this juicy series with the dazzling future MVP Luka Doncic writing the first chapter in his playoff journal. In his way stands the title favorite Clippers, who have yet to be at full strength inside the bubble, as Sixth Man of the Year candidate Montrezl Harrell is expected to make his debut.

Even with a historically good offense (highest offensive efficiency rating ever), Dallas has been atrocious in late-game execution, as they rank in the bottom of the league in games decided by five points or less. This should be a great learning experience for Luka, Porzingis, and co. but the Clips dispose of Dallas in five.

Clippers in 5

(3) Denver Nuggets vs. (6) Utah Jazz

If this series is anything like their earlier double-OT thriller in the bubble, it should be a classic. Two-man chess matches between Donovan Mitchell and Gobert clashing with the Joker and Jamal Murray are going to be the focus for both coaches, but look for the emergence of Michael Porter Jr. to lift the Nuggets. Injuries to both teams make for a bit of uncertainty, as the returns of Gary Harris Jr. and Will Barton are still up in the air, while Mike Conley just left the bubble to see the birth of his child and will miss at least the first three games most likely.

Nuggets in 6

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(4) Houston Rockets vs. (5) Oklahoma City Thunder

It’s pretty simple; how long is Russell Westbrook out with his thigh injury? If he’s back by early next week, Houston is in good shape. If he’s out for the entire series, the Rockets are in deep trouble. We all know how much Chris Paul wants to stick it to Houston for trading him and how ironic would it be for the Thunder to finally get out of the first round now instead of the Russell Westbrook-PG era.

James Harden is going to put up astronomical numbers, but will he get enough help? Mike D’Antoni is fully committed to the small-ball experiment, so my x-factor for the Thunder will be Steven Adams. Does he get exposed and need to spend a lot of the series on the bench, or does he wreak havoc as a bully on the offensive glass?

Rockets in 7

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Dame Time: With the World at a Standstill, Lillard Finally Getting the Respect He Deserves

“Put some respect on my fucking name,” Lillard barked after leading the Blazers to another crucial 134-131 victory over the Mavs to keep their playoff hopes alive. With the stakes higher than ever and the public microscope gleaming on him, it’s only brought out the best in No. 0.

Lillard tied his career-best with 61 points (22 in the 4th quarter!!) and made history by joining Wilt Chamberlain as the only NBA players ever to post three 60+ point efforts in one season.

Following his missed free throws as part of the Clippers debacle last week, Dame Time has been fully in session, as he’s carried Portland with back-to-back 50+ point games and a pair of victories to keep the Blazers in the driver’s seat to clinch the 8-seed with a win on Thursday vs. the Nets. That’s 112 points in 81 minutes for those keeping score at home and the 10 and 11th 50-point games of his career, which ties him with Allen Iverson for 8th most all-time.

“When I first came here, I told you I didn’t come here to waste my time. They gave us a chance to get in like we asked for, and that’s what we’re here to do. The job still ain’t done, but I said, ‘You know what I’m here for.’ Our work ain’t done yet, but we fighting for it,” he told TNT’s Chris Haynes after the win.

As someone who lets his game usually do the talking, unless he’s in the studio, it’s been awesome to see Dame unleash on detractors while backing it up on the hardwood (averaging 37 points and 9.3 assists inside the bubble).

After calling out Paul George for switching teams and “running from the grind,” Logo Lillard then turned his focus to ethering the fraudulent Skip Bayless with an absolute haymaker on Monday. Not many things this pandemic have made me happier than seeing Skip getting put on his ass with an eviscerating knockout punch of a tweet from Lillard. Take that, old man!

The 30-year-old’s had several prolific “moments” in his career, as walk-off shots to defeat the Rockets (2014) and Thunder last year in the playoffs come to mind when the basketball world was in his palms. With Portland playing on the West Coast, it’s easy for Lillard’s late-night heroics to be reduced to an Instagram clip for followers to take in the next morning.

But this feels different, as the world’s stuck in a five-month standstill, every Blazer game has been must-watch cinema, and Lillard is the A-list star of the show. He seems to finally be getting the mainstream praise and collecting the accolades he’s quite honestly deserved for years. I have him on my All-NBA first team in the guard spot alongside Harden and conversations of him usurping the point guard throne from Steph Curry are bubbling on social media, as Steph and the Warriors have taken a gap year.

The job isn’t done just yet, as the Blazers still need to defeat the Nets on Thursday then win one of the possible two play-in games over the weekend to have the right to face the one-seeded Lakers. If all goes according to plan, Lillard should be the regular season Bubble MVP. This also wouldn’t be your typical 1 vs. 8 matchup, as L.A. has issues of their own to sort out. Being a student of the game, LeBron’s definitely taken note of Dame’s run and knows they don’t have any sort of answer for Lillard at the guard spot defensively.

Oh, and as a gift to fans, Dame and Adidas teamed up to make his Dame 6 sneakers on sale for $61 just for Wednesday in honor of his performance last night.

 

 

Remembering the Late Wrestling Superstar ‘Kamala’

Another great has left us. The Ugandan Giant Kamala, whose real name was James Harris, died this weekend at age 70. Despite being from Mississippi, he had many fans convinced that he was just an uncivilized savage. A lot of people who got to know him had nice things to say. It seems that most considered him a gentle giant.

Kamala feuded with the biggest (literally and figuratively) stars in wrestling. His first WWF stint featured matches against Andre The Giant. In 1986, Kamala returned to the World Wrestling Federation. Again, a string of three bouts against a rival at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens culminated with a steel cage match. This time, the opponent was Hulk Hogan. These two wrestled twice at Madison Square Garden. Both cards were sold out. A match between Hogan and Kamala at Boston Garden also brought a sold-out crowd. There were even bouts between Kamala and King Kong Bundy. It was very odd for two major stars who were both bad guys to battle at that time, but this only added to the intrigue.

I can remember being on vacation in 1987 and watching wrestling from a store television as Paul Roma and Jim Powers were on the receiving end of top rope splashes from Kamala. My eyes were glued to the action. Kamala’s team was counted out, but it didn’t matter. The message was sent. This man needed to be feared. Hulk Hogan had a title defense on NBC against Sika less than two months later. It seemed like an odd and random match.

Years later, I found out that Sika was a substitute for Kamala. This would have been an awesome match with incredible hype. That was the night when Hulk Hogan became friends with Randy Savage after Elizabeth ran back for help. She was brutally shoved down by the Honky Tonk Man. Hogan came out and was triple-teamed before gaining the advantage. I remember a comment about how Hogan could possibly lose his title after he already had been worn down. You couldn’t really buy in. However, if Kamala was his opponent, you could believe!

In September of 1987, Kamala left the WWF over frustrations with his pay. He claimed that they would tell him none or only a small amount of his action figures sold. Between the crowds he drew with Hogan and his action figures, Kamala should have been well compensated. I wish he had stuck around longer for selfish reasons. His third WWF stint was much different. Kamala became a good guy, but lost most of his matches. The character became a joke. It made no sense. The character didn’t know how to roll over opponents and pin them. He had been doing it for years. Pretty ridiculous. Even for wrestling. There was one other major feud before his face turn. Kamala battled the Undertaker. Their match at Survivor Series was the first-ever televised casket match. They also met a few months earlier at Summerslam. Kamala claimed that he was paid $13,000 for that bout, while Undertaker’s pay was $500,000.

Although his wrestling run as a good guy was awful, there is one funny moment that lives on. Kamala learning to bowl is pretty funny.

There were numerous health battles in Kamala’s life. Each leg was amputated below the knee in recent years. Last week he was diagnosed with COVID-19. Four days later, he was gone. His death apparently took place in Brooklyn. I had no idea that he was there. If his health was better and we were in different times, it would have been very cool to see him. Definitely one of my favorite characters ever. Rest in peace, big man.

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Sabrina Ionescu is Already a Superstar

On April 17, 2020 36 names were due to be called for the WNBA draft. There was a lot of tension and even more mystery. Who would be the steal? What playoff contender was going to get THE piece to push them to the top? Would there even really be a season with the COVID-19 pandemic running virtually unchecked throughout the country?

There were so many questions, it was good to know there was one certainty: Sabrina Ionescu was going to be the first name off the board. The Oregon star shocked a lot of people when she went back to school after a junior season in which she essentially rewrote the record books and wanted to fulfill her dream of winning a national title. She was primed to do so alongside a historically great Oregon team, and then the world went berserk and the season was finished, leaving a dream unfulfilled. She finished her career as the first player of any gender to attain 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists in their careers.

With the draft over, and Sabrina a member of the Liberty, it was now a matter of how good she was going to be. Yes, you can dominate the college game but it’s easier to get assists when you’re flanked by the #2 (Satou Sabally) and #8 (Ruthy Hebard) overall picks. It’s also easier to score when defenses can’t collapse on you because they have to respect everyone around you more. We heard it all. Most importantly, Sabrina heard it all too, and she took notes.

It can’t be easy making your mark as a rookie in any league. When your star is as bright as Sabrina’s, you often get some…err, tough love, and this was no exception.

Could you imagine showing up to your new job in IT and the guy who’s been there forever and who is friends with everyone in the office comes right at your neck like this? It would be easy to be intimidated. And who was her first game against? Look no farther than Sue Bird’s Seattle Storm. Ionescu went 4-17 from the floor as Seattle refused to give her an ounce of space. This would become a recurring theme over their next few games. Was Sabrina just nervous? Was there a simple solution to shutting her down? Had the riddle been solved?

Let’s ask the Dallas Wings for a consult on that, who were the victims of Sabrina’s breakout game. Ionescu went out and dropped a 33-7-7 line without a second thought, and captivated the basketball world. This was it – the moment that a generational talent finally arrived. This was history incarnate – it felt significantly more “LeBron goes for 25-9-6 in his first career game” than it did “Brandon Jennings going for 55 points in his 7th career game” – the next WNBA Superstar had arrived. Ionescu tore up the Wings with the savvy of a 10 year vet, and did it putting the weight of the entire team on her back, flashing everything in her bag that made her worthy of the #1 overall pick – distribution, control, energy, a hyper awareness and game sense years beyond her age – it was something that a 22 year old rookie shouldn’t be able to do. Ionescu just has IT. Whatever “it” is, Sabrina has it in spades, and you can see that in all it’s glory in this 12 second clip:

This is the look and effort of someone who knows that one of the game’s biggest stars called her a pussy for the world to see. This was only the beginning of something special. Then, in a flash, it wasn’t.

Ionescu suffered a potentially season-ending ankle sprain in the Liberty’s matchup with the Atlanta Dream, in only Ionescu’s third career game. The Dream would go on to win by 6. Under normal circumstances, she would miss about a month or so and it would not be a death knell to her year. The Liberty have looked absolutely lost without their floor general and best player, and at this point you can feel comfortable saying that the season is not going to be salvageable for this team. The best they can hope for is to remain competitive and try to find out who’s good enough to earn minutes flanking their new superstar. Even if Ionescu is back before the end of the season, how much is that development going to help her if she’s not 100% or if the team has checked out?

Now that the Liberty have their superstar, the easy part is over, as the Liberty look to rebuild after an offseason in which they traded Tina Charles and fired their head coach Katie Smith. The return of Asia Durr next season should be a significant boost, but to quote Hamilton here (yes, this is a humble brag that I paid $7 for a month of Disney+ before cancelling my subscription so I could understand your tweets), “fighting is easy, governing is harder”. The here-and-now of the Liberty is in place, now it’s all about the future. How do you manage and build around a player who’s skillset is unlike almost anything ever seen in the WNBA? Time will tell. You only needed 3 games to tell that Sabrina has it. It will take longer to get the rest in place.