The NBA and NHL playoffs continue to be the highlights of the sports world this week, though an unsurprising announcement has grabbed some headlines. Two playoff games in both the NBA and NHL were played on Wednesday night and three teams grabbed the first victory of their respective series. A full night of MLB action yielded little in the way of excitement, but an injury situation has popped up for one of the favorites in the National League. With a big golf tournament on tap on Thursday, the Six Pack is fully brewed and ready to go for May 6.
Wizards Hit The Proverbial Wall
The Washington Wizards were 5-0 in the playoffs entering Game 2 of their series against the Atlanta Hawks. After stealing away home court advantage with a Game 1 win, the Wizards tried to sneak in a night of rest for John Wall, who is dealing with a wrist injury. For a while, the Wizards were able to stay in the game, but the Hawks pulled away thanks to a 26-15 fourth quarter in a 106-90 win to even up the series.
Ramon Sessions actually played very well in Wall’s absence with a team-high 21 points and four assists. Bradley Beal had 20 and Paul Pierce had 15 in the loss. Otto Porter had 15 points, eight rebounds, five assists, and three steals with a very strong performance off the bench. The Wizards shot 54.5 percent from beyond the arc.
This game was decided at the free throw line, though. The Hawks were 22-of-25 at the stripe and the Wizards were only 8-of-14. DeMarre Carroll led five Hawks in double figures with 22 points. The Hawks did struggle to shoot from distance again, with a 10-of-29 performance. Kyle Korver led the team with four made threes on 11 attempts.
The Hawks won the game, but they cannot feel comfortable about their current position. For the better part of four quarters, the Wizards were right in the game without their chief distributor and best all-around player. The free throw discrepancy was the only thing that turned this game into a rout. Looking ahead, as long as Wall can return to the series, it’s hard to see the Hawks coming away with a series win. They have too many issues right now and if they can’t shoot from deep, they can’t win. Wall’s injury, if serious enough, will have a major impact on this series, especially because Beal already has a sprained ankle.
Don’t Feed The Bears
The Golden State Warriors committed an egregious error in their Game 2 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. That loss effectively ensures a long series. Mike Conley’s return to the Grizzlies was as big offensively as it was defensively. Conley led all Grizzlies with 22 points and he only committed one turnover. Conley was also instrumental in Steph Curry’s 7-of-19 shooting performance and 2-of-11 accuracy from beyond the arc.
Curry is the go-to guy on this team, but it was clear that he was frustrated and took too much of the burden on offense. Curry chucked several contested threes in the game. He led the Warriors, and five others in double figures, with 19 points, but it was clear that Conley was bothersome throughout the night. It didn’t help the Draymond Green was just 3-of-11 shooting and that the Warriors shot 42 percent overall and 23 percent from three.
But, that’s what the Grizzlies want to do. Memphis is at their best when the score is in the low-to-mid 90s for both teams. Memphis forced 20 turnovers, made 90 percent of their free throws, and really controlled the game when their starters were on the floor. The Warriors are in for a dogfight now and that’s not what they wanted. Golden State should still win the series, but a long series against a tough, scrappy defense like Memphis’s will have lasting effects throughout the playoffs.
How The West Will Be Won
Both Western Conference NHL playoffs series were in action on Tuesday night. The Chicago Blackhawks extended their series lead to 3-0 over the Minnesota Wild with a 1-0 win. The Wild outshot the Blackhawks 30-22, but it never felt like the Blackhawks were in danger. Minnesota never got a lot of pressure going against Corey Crawford and Crawford looks like the goaltender he was earlier in the season. After some tough playoff appearances, Crawford is back to challenging shoots confidently.
This series could be over in four games. Minnesota’s lack of talent is coming to the forefront. They don’t have enough players to deal with Chicago’s depth. Minnesota is a very good team with a lot of players that complement each other nicely, but that’s not enough in the playoffs. Patrick Kane scored his fourth goal of the series and the star players for the Blackhawks have been all over the scoring summary in the first three games.
In the other series, the Calgary Flames were 20 seconds away from falling into a 3-0 hole. As he has so many times this season, Johnny Gaudreau sniped one home to tie the game at 3-3. Just over four minutes into overtime, Mikael Backlund’s shot through traffic beat Frederik Andersen and the Flames players and fans celebrated a series-saving victory.
It was Calgary’s first home playoff victory since April 22, 2009. The series takes on a bit of a different look now thanks to the comeback victory. The Flames looked dead and buried after Game 2 and they were close to falling into a 3-0 hole. Only four teams in NHL playoff history have come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a series.
One area of concern for the Flames is in net. Karri Ramo did not look particularly good in this game. Ramo fell victim to a bad bounce on Corey Perry’s goal, but he was well out of position on Matt Beleskey’s goal in the second period that gave Anaheim the lead just over four minutes after Calgary tied the game. The Flames also lost 40 of the 59 faceoffs in Game 3. While this win is nice in that it creates some drama, the Ducks are still far and away the better team.
MayPac Part Deux
It seems that the wheels are already spinning for a rematch between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather. In light of Pacquiao’s torn rotator cuff diagnosis, Mayweather and his camp have thrown out the possibility of a rematch next September once Pacquiao’s shoulder is fully healed.
Mayweather is striking while the iron is hot here because Pacquiao is facing legal action and fines from not disclosing the injury before his $400M fight with Mayweather. Many pay-per-view buyers were disappointed in the fight and the way that cable companies handled the demand. The announcement of Pacquiao’s debilitating injury has not sat well with those people. Not that Pacquiao would turn down a rematch, but he has absolutely no choice now. There was a lot of public support for Pacquiao based on Mayweather’s serial abuse of women and other factors and then Pacquiao ended up being the deceitful one for the fight.
It remains to be seen if people will be willing to pony up the cash to buy the next pay-per-view fight considering what the backlash has been about this dud. Time heals everything, however, so promoters should expect a similar amount of buyers for a rematch.
Strasburg Leaves Start
Stephen Strasburg left following the third inning of his start against the Miami Marlins on Tuesday night. Manager Matt Williams acknowledged that Strasburg has been dealing with a minor problem in his shoulder blade area. Strasburg told reporters that he could have pitched through, but wanted to air on the side of caution so that he could keep his mechanics in order.
In looking at Strasburg this season, his velocity is down very slightly, based mostly off of the cold starts he made in April. His release points, which changed dramatically late last season, are gradually moving closer to the ones he had earlier in his career, but his horizontal release point is still around where it was back in early part of 2012. His vertical release point is up around his career average after dropping in July and September of last season. Strasburg has had some command problems, as over 25 percent of balls in play against him are line drives this season.
It would not be a surprise to see Strasburg miss a start or two while dealing with this shoulder issue, simply because it’s still early in the season and a lingering problem could effect his mechanics for a long time.
The PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass
The PGA Tour descends on one of the world’s best courses this week in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida for the PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass. Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy are big favorites at 7/1. McIlroy is coming off of last week’s win at the WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championships. What’s interesting about this week’s action is that Spieth and McIlroy are actually paired together on the first two days. If these two get locked into an “anything you can do, I can do better” type of mindset, they may run away and hide from the field by Friday night. Jason Day, a pretty solid player in his own right, will join them.
Tiger Woods is playing in The PLAYERS Championship just a few days after his breakup from Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn. Woods is listed at 28/1 at Bovada. Woods’s second-to-last PGA Tour win came at this event back in 2013. His last win came at Firestone CC in Akron, OH at the Bridgestone Invitational.
Last season’s PLAYERS Championship champ, Martin Kaymer, is listed at 70/1 to repeat. Kaymer and Woods are grouped together along with Adam Scott.
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