Posts by dhillmu7

March Madness Final Four could be one for the ages

Does Wisconsin have what it takes to stand in the way of Kentucky's perfect season?

Does Wisconsin have what it takes to stand in the way of Kentucky’s perfect season?

It’s usually at this time of year that the NBA plays second fiddle in the basketball world for the duration of the NCAA tournament. Fans tune in to see the stars of the very imminent future in a tournament which provides the kind of drama that has often dissipated in the later stages of the NBA, where playoff seeding is the only real incentive left.

The NBA has been holding its own this year thanks to one of the most enthralling MVP races in history but be assured – this year’s Final Four will steal the attention right back. We are set up for an incredible 3 games with 3 great teams and, quite frankly, one solid team with a great coach. There are reasons that all 4 could take home the Championship but it seems only fair to start with the team that could well go down as the best college team ever.

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Men’s NCAA Basketball Betting Odds – Outright Winner

Kentucky -150
Duke +325
Wisconsin +450
Michigan State +800
(All odds provided by Intertops.eu are accurate as of today and subject to change)

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Betting Odds: Kentucky (-238) vs Wisconsin (+200)

At first glance, saying this Kentucky team could be the best college team ever sounds like an exaggeration. Yet the facts are simple: they have a chance of being the first team to ever go undefeated, they are already only the second team ever to go unbeaten through the regular season and they’ve matched the record for most wins in an NCAA tournament already. Not only that, they have most experts’ number 1 pick for the NBA Draft and may have 3 of their players going top 10 and 7 being drafted.

Intertops Sportsbook Final Four free bet contest

Last year they played Wisconsin at this stage of the tournament and beat them – Wisconsin’s roster has stayed relatively similar whilst Kentucky is much improved. It honestly feels picky to try and give reasons why Kentucky will lose but Notre Dame gave them a hell of a game in the Elite 8 and frankly, had they not abandoned the strategies that got them so close, we may be talking about another famous CBB upset. That’s really all you can aim at Kentucky – they have an experienced roster backing up the Twin Towers of Towns and Cauley-Stein with Aaron Harrison’s clutch play engrained in Wisconsin minds from last year’s encounter. They simply have to be favorites but this is no walkover, far from it.

Wisconsin come into this game with revenge on their minds and boasting the best offense in the country. All the talk is of Kentucky but it cannot be forgotten that Wisconsin have the best college player in the country in their midst. Frank Kaminsky has an NBA-ready body of skills – he can shoot the ball all the way out to three and boss down low. He doesn’t have the ceiling of an Okafor or a Towns but he is the most technically gifted player in the tournament right now. When he goes to the NBA he may struggle with the extended line and most certainly will struggle with the quickness of NBA athletes but those are questions for the future – right now you can guarantee Kentucky are trying to figure out how to stop him.

Just one problem: Sam Dekker. It is true that Wisconsin’s roster has stayed similar to last year but their players are improved with Dekker right at the forefront. He has been one of the best players in the tournament so far, average 21.7 points and 5.5 boards. Dekker has made his name off his smart cutting ability but showcased his range in the Elite 8 against Arizona as he led Wisconsin through a tight game. Much like that game, we know Frank Kaminsky will get his but can Dekker step up as a secondary scorer again? It will be especially important against two great defensive big men who will play Kaminsky as well as anyone.

Betting Odds: Duke (-235) vs Michigan State (+195)

The Blue Devils are back again, led by possibly the best coach in CBB history and an absurdly gifted young big man who, frankly, is becoming more underrated as people see more of him. Jahlil Okafor is suffering from a common problem – as people realise just how good certain players are, they start to try their best to find their flaws and pick holes in their games. It is part of the reason players like Dante Exum and Emmanuel Mudiay have seen their stock remain so high in recent years – we simply don’t see as much of them as others.

The simple facts with Okafor are that he is nearly unstoppable in the post one on one. He hasn’t had a great tournament and yet has been vital to Duke’s success, he cannot be left on his own, commanding a nearly automatic double team. His post game is superb, his footwork incredibly clean for such a young player and he rebounds well. Of course he has his faults but they tend to be focused on by the same people who decided Blake Griffin could only dunk.

Besides, Okafor’s relatively mediocre tournament has merely allowed another superb prospect to shine through. The lack of Winslow talk has been a little bizarre – his NBA comparison is perhaps Michael Kidd-Gilchrist but he is much more polished offensively than MKG and brings the quality defence. He has put up some great lines in the tournament including possibly the best stat-sheet stuffer of a performance so far with 13 points, 12 boards, 5 assists, 4 steals and 3 blocks. He brings absolutely everything. Between these two great prospects (and Tyus Jones, who on another team would shine a lot more) and Coach K, it’s hard to see past another Championship game for Duke.

When compared to the other 3 rosters in the tournament, Michigan State looks incredibly average. It is nearly unanimous on all Big Boards that they won’t have a single first round pick in the upcoming Draft. This is not to say that Michigan don’t have any good players. Travis Trice has scored well throughout the tournament and in Denzel Valentine they have a player who will fill up the stat sheet – an efficient scorer who will get boards and assists. However, they don’t come close to the gifts of an Okafor, Towns or Kaminsky. They have taken out the 2, 3 and 4 seed in their own Conference to get here so they haven’t been lucky with their draws. Yet they went an unremarkable 24-11 in the regular season and are the only non-1 seed in the Final Four. So how have they managed to get here? It all comes down to one man – Mr March, Tom Izzo.

Izzo is one of the finest coaches in CBB, wanted by the Cavs during LeBron’s first stint, and earned his nickname for good reason – his teams always come alive in the tournament. He has been to the Final Four 7 times – and though he only has one national Championship, he has rarely had the riches of a Duke or Kentucky. When looking at the rosters, it is nearly impossible to bet against Duke. Yet, Izzo has proved time and time again he thrives upon the underdog status.

This promises to be one heck of a Final Four. Strap in, it’s going to be a fun ride.

 

  DIARMAID HILL (@dhillmu7) is a basketball and football fan who plays both even worse than he writes  about  them. He supports the LA Clippers and Manchester United and yes, he’s heard every joke about both.  Follow  him on Twitter.

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Miami Heat proving that there is life after LeBron

Dwyane Wade has kept things ticking over for Miami in the post-LeBron era, but how long will it last?

Dwyane Wade has kept things ticking over for Miami in the post-LeBron era, but how long will it last?

With Friday’s line-up of games looking about as appealing as any Adam Sandler movie since Happy Gilmore, we’ll take a look at the 2 that might, just might, be passable viewing. And no, Kobe vs his urge to kill his teammates is not one.

Heat @ Hawks:

The Heat count as a surprise team this year mainly because everyone assumed D-Wade was done and that Bosh had forgotten how to play basketball but this team has looked really good so far. They’re 4th in Offensive Rating and though their defence isn’t quite there, with a coach like Spoelstra at the helm they should form a coherent strategy before too long. This team would be a prime candidate for dark horse Eastern Conference finalists with a little luck but it’s always hard to make such calls this early, especially when the Heat are reliant on Wade staying healthy and big contributions from the corpse of Danny Granger, Shawne Williams and Justin Hamilton (your guess is as good as mine). The Heat will just be happy to prove that there is life after LeBron.

The Hawks were fun last year, with Coach Budenholzer bringing the Spurs’ ways on board with some beautiful ball movement. That was without Al Horford, the Hawks’ franchise guy, and making the Playoffs without your best player is always a great sign, East or not. Again, there’s a problem with making calls too early but the Hawks haven’t quite meshed yet. To be 3-3 without playing your best is never a bad thing but there always remains the threat of the Hawks being stuck in that corridor of mediocrity in the NBA. Their defence has been fine but their offense hasn’t quite worked out yet. However, in Teague, Korver, Millsap and Horford they have four really good offensive starters and this team on paper looks like it’ll make the Playoffs with little bother. The main question is whether this team’s ceiling is a first round exit.

As for this match-up, I like the Heat – the Hawks have question marks over two key pieces, DeMarre Carroll and Mike Scott, and the Heat are playing pissed off this year. This is probably the tightest game of the night to call: if the Hawks have those two guys fit, it should be a great game but the Heat’s extra rest could prove key.

Betting Instinct tip – Miami Heat to win the Southeast Division is +185 with AllYouBet.ag

 

Cavs @ Celtics:

The Cavs could pretty much have come out and won every game by 30 and we’d still probably criticise them for not fulfilling expectations, but in the early season they have undoubtedly had problems. They’re .500 but their wins have come over an awful Nuggets side, a Bulls team without Jimmy Butler and finally a picture of what we all expected from them against Anthony Davis and Co. Let’s face it – what we saw against New Orleans is what will surely become the norm for this team but the picture is far from perfect.

Dion Waiters isn’t a great fit with the Cavs’ starters and even with Marion starting, they’re still starting two pretty awful defensive players, two good defenders in Marion and LeBron who aren’t what they were on that end and a big question mark on Varejao and his health. The bench doesn’t hold much hope for them either, Waiters should keep running that unit whether he likes it or not but even with him, the bench unit doesn’t have much going for it.

When Matthew Dellavedova’s injury is a problem, you have a depth issue, but Erik Spoelstra showed with the Heat that a good scheme can cover up many problems defensively and this is a potentially historic team on the offensive end. The Cavs will be in the Eastern Finals unless they get some serious bad luck with injuries but my bet would be on a healthy Bulls team to best them – though betting on Derrick Rose to be healthy is never too safe…

The Celtics are going to be entertaining this year. Rajon Rondo is playing like national TV Rondo right now and that means he’s a great bet to lead the league in triple-doubles and between he, Avery Bradley and Mahcus “Wicked” Smaht (if that makes no sense to you, you are fortunate to have never come into contact with a Boston accent) they have the potential for the best defensive 1-3 (the Celtics have ran the 3 together with Bradley at Small Forward) in the league. Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger are talented big men and Jeff Green will either be LeBron or D-Leaguer depending on the night and Brad Stevens is a legit NBA coach. We all know the Celtics aren’t going to storm the Eastern Conference but grabbing the 8th seed wouldn’t be the strangest thing that’s happened. There will come a point where they have to decide how dedicated they are to tanking and a Rondo trade remains the most likely scenario but there are the makings of a bright future here for Boston.

For all the criticism of the Cavs and the positivity surrounding the Celtics, this game really shouldn’t be in question. We might get Rondo guarding LeBron which is one of the most entertaining defensive match-ups in the league but no matter how good Bradley and Rondo are on D (Smart will miss the game through injury), the Celtics lack of rim protection will cost them against two of the best finishers at the rim in the league. If the Cavs manage to play at 75% of their second half against the Pelicans, this game will go to them.

Betting Instinct tip – With a few question marks over them at present, now could be a good time to snap up the +100 price on the Cavs to win the Eastern Conference with Intertops.eu

 

  DIARMAID HILL (@dhillmu7) is a basketball and football fan who plays both even worse than he writes  about  them. He supports the LA Clippers and Manchester United and yes, he’s heard every joke about both.  Follow  him on Twitter or Google+.

NBA Conference Finals: Momentum Swinging in Spurs’ Favour

Tony Parker's return to fitness comes at the perfect time

Tony Parker’s return to fitness comes at the perfect time for the Spurs

And so, after all the shouting and the noise about “the best playoffs ever”, we’re left with the 1 and 2 seeds in each conference. These will be two hard fought series, two slogs and we may well be in it for the long haul.

 

Oklahoma City Thunder vs San Antonio Spurs Series Betting Odds:

OKC to win series +180

Spurs to win series -220

(All odds provided by intertops.eu are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

On the 16th May, this series took a seismic shift in the Spurs’ favour.

Both teams awaited news on key players – Tony Parker and Serge Ibaka. Whilst the Spurs expect Parker to be fine and play in Game 1, the Thunder haven’t got quite so lucky. They expect Ibaka to miss the entirety of the post season and that is massive. Ibaka did a great job on Blake Griffin and presumably would have got the Tim Duncan match-up. Kendrick Perkins is a really good post defender but he’s not very good at much else and the Thunder haven’t played him all that much (21 MPG for a starter) so it leaves him as a black hole on offense, especially galling when we take into account the Nick Collison will be the likely starter in Ibaka’s spot. Collison is a really under-rated player, another great post defender and a sneakily good passer but again, his offense leaves something to desire. When 2 of that pair and Steven Adams are on the court, the Thunder’s offense descends into hero ball with whichever of their superstars they have out. Well, slightly moreso.

This Thunder team leaves a real feeling of having another rung to go to, one that might never be reached with Scott Brooks. Durant and Westbrook are two top of 5-7 players in the league depending on who you ask and that means they are a threat. But a Clippers team with an injury hampered Chris Paul took the Thunder 6 games and might well have got them to a game 7 if it weren’t for a couple of bone headed plays from Paul and some poor officiating. The Spurs are a step above the Clippers. They are a joy to watch when they have it going and vitally, in Kawhi Leonard, they have a superb perimeter defender, vying with Paul George and Tony Allen as the best in the league. Kevin Durant averages 26.3 PPG against the Spurs, less than against anyone else (as an aside, how damn good do you have to be that over 26 PPG is disappointing?). Tony Parker is in the LeBron category of finishers at the rim, a supremely gifted scorer who will get his points. They have two 3 point threats in Kawhi and Danny Green and then one of the league’s best big pairings, the forever young Duncan and Tiago Splitter who is a great defensive presence and a really nice finisher in the pick and roll. The team doesn’t leap off you on paper but it works, in no small thanks to Coach Popovich who is arguably the best ever. Add in the best bench in the league, led by a resurgent Manu Ginobili and the Spurs are scary. OKC has been a really bad match-up for the Spurs, who have struggled to cope with their athleticism, but with no Ibaka drawing a defender from the rim with his great mid-range game, the Spurs may well just pack the paint and dare Westbrook to try.

This is a series that is tough to call but I personally would go for the Spurs in 6 due to Ibaka’s absence. The Thunder need to take advantage of some nice little wrinkles like Perry Jones and heavy small ball minutes to keep the Spurs guessing and I don’t think they will have enough in them. Durant and Westbrook will not go down without a fight and it is tough to bet against them but the Spurs are just a juggernaut that looks even scarier than usual.

Betting Instinct tip – Spurs in 6 is +450 with intertops.eu

 

Miami Heat v Indiana Pacers Series Betting Odds:

Heat to win series -189

Pacers to win series +165

(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

These two team’s paths to this stage could hardly have been more different. The Heat have barely been mentioned as they obliterated the Charlotte Bobcats and then came up against the team that had been mentioned as “Heat killers” for months – the Nets, who were handily dispatched. The Heat have D-Wade who still isn’t quite himself but you can almost feel him coming to the boil at the right time. They have Chris Bosh, a great third option to have, not just on offense but on D. And then there is the small matter of the best player on the planet. LeBron has stomped all before him this postseason, and has handily been the best player in the Playoffs. But this Heat team is far from perfect. The Greg Oden experiment was made for this match-up but right now, it looks like the gamble won’t pay off, Oden hasn’t been seen in the post season. Mario Chalmers has played fine, just what the Heat need from the PG spot, but aside from he and the Big 3, there are legitimate concerns here. Ray Allen is still as clutch as they come but his shot still isn’t falling consistently. Shane Battier looks more and more like a man who should have retired last year and their only 3 point bomber comes from James Jones who is a walking neon sign saying “Iso on me”. There is a sense that this team has got a little lucky thus far but it remains that they have breezed through these Playoffs so far.

Then there are the Pacers. Taken 7 games by a Hawks team without their best player and scared by the Wizards, this has been legitimately 3 months of scarily bad 1 seed basketball. Yet here they are. This team is built to scare the Heat. In Paul George they have a player who looks like a superstar in the post season and who can guard LeBron as well as anyone, including in the post. Then front court pairing of David West and Roy Hibbert is enough to give the Heat nightmares if Hibbert plays like he has done the past few games. Hibbert is the key to this series. If he plays like the Defensive Player of the Year as he was for the first half of the season, the Heat will not have a good time – LeBron will be limited and D-Wade almost ineffective. But that’s a mighty big if. It’s hard to shake the form of this Pacers team of late and it’s slightly frightening how reliant they are on Lance Stephenson when the paint is being protected.

Even before the Pacers took the first game, there were far too many saying this would be a sweep. Beforehand my prediction would have been the Heat in 6, and that may well still happen. The Heat might get their first real test here, particularly given the Pacers slow starts earlier in the playoffs, and this could end up going to game seven.

 

  DIARMAID HILL (@dhillmu7) is a basketball and football fan who plays both even worse than he writes  about  them. He supports the LA Clippers and Manchester United and yes, he’s heard every joke about both.  Follow  him on Twitter or Google+.

Western Conference is wide open as NBA Playoffs begin

Chris Paul needs to be on form for the Clippers to stand a chance

Chris Paul needs to be on form for the Clippers to stand a chance

While the Eastern Conference may be easier to predict on paper, there are a number of big stories that could emerge as we prepare for the Western Conference Playoffs to begin.

The Miami Heat might be championship favorites, but of the six franchises with the shortest odds, four are from the West. One thing’s for sure, there’s plenty to look forward to over the coming weeks.

 

NBA Western Conference – Outright Betting Odds:

San Antonio Spurs +140

Oklahoma City Thunder +165

Los Angeles Clippers +450

(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

1) Who is favourite – the Spurs or OKC?

It seems utterly bizarre to ask this question when the Spurs have won 62 games despite no player playing over 30 minutes per game. The fact remains that this team is really, really good. They have had an obscene amount of injuries, got a year older and were written off yet again. But here they are again. They face Dallas in the first round, a team they swept in the regular season and even with Dirk being Dirk, it’s hard to see that series go beyond 5. Then it gets interesting.

Their next 2 series’ would be against two teams that swept them in the regular season. Obviously this is all ifs and buts, the Rockets face a very good Portland side and it’s hard to take too much from the Spurs in the regular season given how often they sit big players. But the fact remains, it is two really tough match-ups for the Spurs on paper. They struggle with athleticism and Houston match up very well with them. Howard can do a job on Timmy and Patrick Beverley is a great perimeter defender for Tony Parker. Smart money would still be on the Spurs but that series could be a long slog. Not what they want going into the seemingly inevitable Conference final with OKC.

This is a big problem for the Spurs. No-one can stop Kevin Durant. He will get 30 points 9 nights out of 10 and often much more than that. Durant on his own will need to be doubled and with Westbrook and Ibaka, the Thunder have the best 3 pronged attack in the league. I would back the Thunder in this series and honestly, I’d also back them to do it in 6. There is one minor problem for the Thunder. Though the Grizzlies are an awesome team, a sleeper team, the one match-up they didn’t want was this one.

Still, Kevin Durant is Kevin Durant. I reckon he could average about 35 for this series. His presence alone makes OKC instant contenders but an athletic roster and two superb back-up stars in Westbrook and Ibaka arguably makes them favourites. They will just pray they can stay healthy.

 

2) The Clippers – are they for real?

The Clippers have been superb this season, no doubt. Doc Rivers has done a great job, the leap in Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan is testament to that. They have 2 of the best 5 players in the league right now. It all seems awfully rosy for the Clippers. But this team has fundamental flaws.

The other contenders all have one thing in common – a perimeter stopper. The Spurs have Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green as a bonus. The Thunder have Thabo Sefolosha and Durant, tall, rangy and under-rated on the defensive end. The Heat have LeBron, the best perimeter defender in the game when he wants to be. Wade is also a fine defender when fit, though that is a big if. And the Pacers have Paul George, right up there with LeBron and Kawhi Leonard as the best stoppers around.

The Clippers have two options – Matt Barnes, a severely underrated player and defender but not quick enough and with a notably short temper, and Danny Granger, a really good defender… 2 seasons ago. He is due to return in game 1 but he hasn’t looked healthy yet. Having no-one to stop scorers is a big problem when out West and, if by some miracle they get to the Finals, in the toughest series in basketball.

Then there is offense. It seems crazy to question the best offense of the regular season but in Playoff basketball the game slows down and two things become crucial – a go-to scorer and 3 point shooting for when that player gets double teamed. The Clippers have got a scorer in theory – Blake Griffin is insanely good. But his jumper does not fall enough to make it a consistent weapon in the playoffs. The Thunder let Griffin have his jumper against them and it worked well. Blake is one of the best post players in the league and will get points there if left one on one. Therein lies the problem, he won’t be. He needs players to kick out to. Chris Paul’s 3 pointer is starting to fall and this is great news for the Clippers. If he shoots the 3 at over 40%, they look a lot scarier. But this season, they are 22nd in the league in 3 point shooting, with only two playoff teams (the Bulls and the Bobcats) below them. It will take big, big contributions from CP3, the returning JJ Redick and Matt Barnes from outside for the Clippers to top the Thunder. And that’s assuming they get through round 1. On that note…

 

3) Who are we sleeping on?

So we know the Spurs, the Thunder and the Clippers are supposedly our contenders. But there are two teams getting very little coverage who will be just fine keeping it that way.

It seems bizarre to single out only one team from a 4 vs 5 match-up that could go 7 as a sleeper and not the other but the Houston Rockets have 2 players in or around the top 10 of the league and two really good perimeter defenders in Beverley and Parsons, as well as the fascinating wrinkle of the Asik – Howard twin towers. This Houston team is just one of those match-ups that teams hate. If they top Portland, they have a shot against the Spurs as mentioned earlier. They have a player in Harden who can get hot and win games and an elite inside presence in Dwight Howard. This might come one season too early for the Rockets, especially with the unconvincing Kevin McHale in charge, but keep an eye on them.

A team with an awful lot in common with the Rockets is my other sleeper for very similar reasons. Golden State have Steph Curry, one man heat check and perfectly capable of winning games on his own. They have Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala (here is their Kawhi / LeBron / George) on the perimeter to guard tough assignments. They look like a nightmare for any team.

The problem comes with Andrew Bogut. Bogut is kind of Dwight-lite. He isn’t anywhere near as good on offense but both are elite inside forces. The problem is, he’s injured, and it becomes clear an injury is bad when Bogut won’t play through it. There is no schedule for his return as of yet and this is what might well decide the series against the Clippers.

Without Bogut the Warriors lack rim protection but may become even deadlier on offense. All logic points towards a Clippers win in this series but it’s probably the most reluctant I’d be to put money on of the first round match-ups even with Houston-Portland seemingly geared for a long one. Of these teams, the Rockets are perhaps the better bet but people aren’t so much sleeping on the Warriors as they are forgetting them completely. That’s an ill-advised strategy when Steph Curry is around.

 

Betting Instinct tip – OKC are +165 with Intertops.eu to win in the west, and that represents good value with Kevin Durant in his current form

 

  DIARMAID HILL (@dhillmu7) is a basketball and football fan who plays both even worse than he writes  about  them. He supports the LA Clippers and Manchester United and yes, he’s heard every joke about both.  Follow  him on Twitter @DiarmaidHill

Miami Heat v Indiana Pacers: Crunch Time in the NBA brings more questions than answers.

The fitness of Dwyane Wade could be crucial in determining top spot in the East

The fitness of Dwyane Wade could be crucial in determining top spot in the East

It’s the time of year in the NBA again – there are as many NBA GMs watching March Madness and scouting  and salivating as there are sweating over Playoff position. It’s been a season ridden with injury, tanking and teams running hot and cold but here we are, the final stretch as some tantalising West match-ups are taking shape and everyone is cursing the fact that the Suns and the T-Wolves aren’t Eastern conference teams. In spite of many of the lesser teams trying to out-suck each other, some fascinating storylines have emerged and many will be on show on March 26th with a great set of games, led by one in particular…

 

Miami Heat v Indiana Pacers Betting Odds:

Heat win +125

Pacers win -145

(All odds provided by Intertops.eu are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

These are two teams who are coasting. People may not like this phrase but it’s the truth. As of time of writing the Pacers are 5-5 last 10 and the Heat are 4-6. The Heat remain 3 games behind the Pacers and it seems reasonable to say this game is a must win if the Heat want to grab the top seed.

Both teams have question marks over their heads – we’ll start with the reigning champs. The first problem is their starting 5. Mr Reliable Shane Battier hasn’t been all that reliable, shooting 33% from 3 and struggling on defence on occasion. Those are two pretty big problems for a 3 and D specialist. Coach Spoelstra has responded by declaring Greg  Oden will start at centre for the team from now on. It’s an interesting move – Oden won’t play any more than 10minutes even if he is starting but he remains an interesting X-Factor.

 

Perhaps the bigger impact on the Heat is how it affects LeBron. Last year, the self-proclaimed King played most of his minutes as a power forward in spite of being listed as a small forward. This was feasible because Battier could guard quicker players, one of the most under-rated defenders in the league and the master of taking the charge. With Battier struggling, it will be interesting to see if his minutes are cut and if so, what do the Heat do with LeBron?

One situation to watch is Dwyane Wade. LeBron is incredible, he’s possibly the second best basketball player ever depending on who you ask. He will not win the title without Wade, even with the massively under-rated Chris Bosh. Wade has looked very nice when he has played but concern is still growing. Will he be able to handle such intensive series over such short spells?

 

The Heat certainly have issues but in happier news, Ray Allen appears to be leaving his slump. It was a big concern for the Heat. Two of their major issues are the trouble with great offensive rebounding teams and the lack of shooters and with Battier cold, Allen’s 35% from deep was a major concern. However, since the ASG, Allen has found his touch, shooting a much more impressive 41%. A man of RayRay’s talents has to be in that ballpark as he was last year.

There’s a tendency to ignore the Heat struggling because we know how good they are, but there are one or two little doubts creeping in. The push for a Threepeat will be brutal. The minutes will take their toll (are they already?). There’s a reason only an Mikan led Lakers in a diluted league, Russell’s Celtics, MJ’s Bulls (twice) and the Shaq and Kobe Lakers are the only teams to do it – it’s really hard. But this is a team capable of it, and in spite of the questions, if it was my money to put on the Champions this year, it’d be on this Heat team or the Spurs.

 

The Pacers, meanwhile, came out crushing every team in their path. They’ve been excellent this year, but much like the Heat there are nagging questions. The problem for the Pacers is that they don’t have the last two titles to fall back on as an excuse.

This Pacers team is built on defense. In most positions they have an above average defender, they have toughness and they have a centre allowing a shade over 41% at the rim. They lead the league in Defensive Rating, which means the concerns come on the other side of the court.

 

The general rule of thumb for contenders is that the team should be in the top 8 or 9 in both Offense and Defence. Three teams fall in these parameters – the Spurs, the Thunder and the Clippers. Notable by their absence are the Heat and the Pacers. The difference is, as previously mentioned, we know that the Heat can turn on their defence when it matters (their offense leads the league). The Pacers’ offense is a bigger question.

Paul George has been tremendous this year, improving on both sides of the ball. Earlier in the season, he was playing great basketball – making 48% from the field and 41% from deep. He put up 28PPG in October. However, since the All Star Game, George is shooting under 42% from the field and in March, he has made under 30% of his 3s. His PPG have fallen to a hair over 20.

 

The Pacers made their move on trade deadline trying to acquire another scorer but Evan Turner has thus far failed to pan out. Seen as a Jamal Crawford / Nick Young offensive spark, he has averaged under 9 points (not awful given the minutes he plays but more concerning when his usage rate is taken into account). The Pacers don’t need to be the Clippers and score 110 a night, they are a far superior defensive team but their offense needs to be better than it is. They rolled past two good teams in the Hawks and Knicks last year and held the Heat below 95 points per game in their series. But their offence let them down again against the Heat. Having a go-to scorer is essential and that is where my doubts lie. Make no mistake about it, this Pacers team will not be easy to beat. They will give the Heat a hell of a series should they meet but the smart money goes with the Heat.

 

Wednesday’s match-up will be easier to call when the health of Wade is known. For now, smart money goes to a tight spread. These games rarely have more than 3-8 points between them due to the defence played and I can see Coach Spoelstra experimenting with his line-ups as usual in the regular season before rotations tighten. My tip would be Pacers with the aforementioned tight spread.

 

Betting Instinct Tip – Pacers -2.5 is -110 with AllYouBet.ag

 

 DIARMAID HILL (@dhillmu7) is a basketball and football fan who plays both even worse than he writes about  them. He supports the LA Clippers and Manchester United and yes, he’s heard every joke about both. Follow  him on Twitter @DiarmaidHill