<![CDATA[NBC New York - Sports]]> Copyright 2015 http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/sports http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/4NY_Horizontal.jpg NBC New York http://www.nbcnewyork.com en-us Wed, 06 May 2015 14:35:21 -0400 Wed, 06 May 2015 14:35:21 -0400 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Mayweather's $2M Penthouse for Sale]]> Wed, 06 May 2015 13:28:41 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/050615+mayweather+south+florida+condo+for+sale+2.jpg

Welterweight champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. is ready to give up the South Florida high-rise life for good.

Still undefeated after Saturday's victory against Manny Pacquiao, the champ is asking for a cool $1.999 million for his 3,020-square-foot luxury penthouse condo in Sunny Isles Beach, according to a listing on Zillow.

That's actually a discount from the $2.599 million asking price last July.

The immaculate and professionally designed condo features four bedrooms, five bathrooms and comes fully furnished. It includes its own elevator and a sports court, and for good measure, a pool cabana is included in the sale.

According to Miami-Dade county records, Mayweather bought the penthouse in 2010 for $1.5 million through his Las Vegas company.



Photo Credit: Zillow/Insert: Getty]]>
<![CDATA[Top Sports Photos 2015]]> Wed, 06 May 2015 08:43:49 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/topSports-472286222.jpg Click to see dramatic sports photos from the NFL, to basketball, baseball and more.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Flames Roast Ducks, 4-3, In OT]]> Wed, 06 May 2015 03:40:27 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Flames-Ducks-5-May-2015.jpg

The Calgary Flames scored with just 20 seconds left in regulation to force overtime in Game 3 of their series against the Anaheim Ducks, and Mikael Backlund scored on a delayed penalty in the extra session to give his team a 4-3 victory on Tuesday night. 

The win leaves the Ducks up in the series by a two games to one margin, but the Flames will have a chance to tie things up when the teams re-convene for Game 4 on Friday night in Calgary. 

The Flames needed to get off to a quick start in the game, and that’s exactly what they did as they scored less than two minutes into the contest. Mason Raymond made a smart play along the boards as he feathered a pass across the ice to Brandon Bollig, and he fired a shot past Frederik Andersen to give the Flames a 1-0 lead early on.

Undaunted, the Ducks had a great possession by their first line result in a goal that tied things up. Sami Vatanen made the play happen as he stopped a Kris Russell clearing attempt along the boards, and his pass went to Ryan Getzlaf. Getzlaf then ripped a pass across the ice to Patrick Maroon, and the forward buried it to tie things up at 1-1.

The Flames continued pushing hard as the period wore on, and they were rewarded with a 5-on-3 power play as a result. The Ducks made a couple of nice plays to kill the man-advantage off, and they scored a short time later to take a 2-1 lead. This time it was Simon Despres who made the play happen, as he put a pass out to the front of the net that ricocheted off of Corey Perry’s skate and into the back of the cage to give Anaheim the lead after 20 minutes of play.

The two teams traded power plays early in the second period, but ironically it was a Calgary short-handed goal that tied things up. Hampus Lindholm fell down as he handled the puck at the blue line, and Joe Colborne skated in with an easy breakaway. His double move completely fooled Andersen, and when he slid the puck across the goal line the Flames tied the game at 2-2.

About eight minutes into the period, the Ducks scored yet another goal to seize the lead. Karri Ramo made a huge save on Ryan Kesler to keep the game tied, but the center was undaunted as he worked hard to get the puck back and put a pass out to the front of the netmouth. Matt Beleskey picked up the loose puck and ripped home a wrist shot past the Calgary goaltender to make it a 3-2 game.

The end of the second period was short on scoring chances, but the Flames picked up two power plays early in the third period as they tried to tie things up on home ice. Unfortunately for them, the Ducks were the ones who got the best scoring chances of either man-advantage as Andrew Cogliano and Getzlaf each had opportunities, but Ramo was able to keep them both out of the net.

With about six and a half minutes to go, the Flames got a tremendous scoring chance as Sam Bennett fired a shot in on net, but it appeared that Andersen kicked it out before it crossed the goal line. After a video review, the officials ruled that there was no conclusive evidence that the puck went in, and the Ducks maintained their lead by the slimmest of margins.

In the game's closing minutes, Flames forward Matt Stajan was whistled for running into Andersen in the crease, but Simon Despres followed him into the box after a post-whistle fracas. Sami Vatanen complicated matters for the Ducks when he was sent to the penalty box for a delay of game infractions, and ultimately Johnny Gaudreau fired a shot in past Andersen with 20 seconds remaining to tie things up at 3-3. 

Getzlaf and Perry each had chances to score early in the ensuing overtime period, but Ramo made a couple of big saves to keep things tied. A short time later, Granlund's shot from the point found its way through traffic and into the back of the Ducks' net, giving the Flames a much-needed win and snapping Anaheim's six-game winning streak. 

The Ducks will try to start a new streak on Friday night when the teams meet again in Calgary for Game 4 of the series. 
 



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Isiah Thomas Returns to the Garden]]> Tue, 05 May 2015 19:12:33 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/e+79728299.jpg

At least Isiah Thomas isn’t back in the Garden to run the Knicks.

But as the old saying goes, never say never. Never say never, especially when it comes to a couple of old pals like James Dolan and Isiah Thomas.

For now, Thomas is back as part-owner and president of the WNBA Liberty, although it’s always been well known that Thomas never really completely left the Garden. Even after running the Knicks into the ground as team president from 2003-08, he always remained a close friend with Dolan, the Garden chairman, and continued to be Dolan’s most-trusted basketball advisor.

So while this latest move inside the World’s Most Famous Dysfunctional Franchise makes no absolutely sense from a PR standpoint, it’s classic Dolan.

“We’ve agreed that it is time for him to take a lead role with the team as president, and through his ownership interest,’’ Dolan said in a statement announcing Thomas’ hiring. “He’s an excellent judge of talent, and I’m confident that he will put all of his energy and experience into making the Liberty a perennially competitive and successful team.’’

Dolan is loyal to his inner circle and always make sure to take care of the chosen few. He’s already brought back Steve Mills, who was also part of the horrific Anucha Browne Sanders sexual harassment scandal that brought Thomas down in his first official stint at MSG.

Once Thomas’s boss, Mills now works under team president Phil Jackson.

Now, Isiah has returned, officially, although he’s busy telling everyone he has nothing to do with the Knicks. But who do you think Dolan is going to run to the next time he’s looking for a new leader for his NBA team? And that could be sooner than you think.

We’ll see how long Jackson lasts as team president, even with a five-year deal that pays him a record $60 million and goes through 2019. During his first 14 months on the job, the Zen Master has found his first try at building a team to be more than he bargained for. The Knicks won only 17 games this past season, setting a franchise record for losses (65) and were non-competitive in most of their games.

As an exec, Jackson made a series of head-scratching moves that all either backfired or aided and abetted the teams he did business with, including the Mavs and Cavs. 

This summer, Jackson will get a top pick in the draft and have $30 million to spend on free agents. So the Knicks can't help but be better next season. But the feeling around the league is that Jackson, nearing 70, likely will look to head back to his Playa Del Rey beachfront home out in Southern California long before his contract expires.

At that point, we can easily see Dolan wasting not a second and going right to Thomas to once again head up the Knicks.

Sure, it makes not a bit of sense. How can an executive who was found guilty of sexual harassment in the workplace and cost Dolan almost $12 million manage to move back into his executive suite?

Simple, Dolan loves him. You notice that Isiah has never found another job in the NBA. Twenty-nine other teams won't hire him, not after he ruined the Knicks with several disastrous trades, a few bone-headed free-agent signings and a multitude of impetuous moves. But he's always got a home in the Garden with Dolan.

Although Dolan conceded in 2013 that Thomas might never be able to work in New York, he went on to admit to the New York Post in a rare sit-down that Thomas deserves a second chance, and raved about his ability at “finding basketball talent.’’

Now, more than ever, the Knicks need to find talent and if there’s someone Dolan implicitly trusts to do just that, it’s Thomas.

It’s as if he never left. After he was fired in 2008, Thomas was quietly brought in by Dolan in July, 2010 in a last-ditch effort to help the Knicks recruit blue chip free agents LeBron James and Amar’e Stoudemire.

In 2011, he instructed Dolan when the owner engineered the Carmelo Anthony trade with the Denver Nuggets. Make no mistake: There was a Thomas-led “shadow government’’ operating in the Garden when Donnie Walsh was ostensibly running the team after being foisted on Dolan by then commissioner David Stern.

Even when Thomas was coaching Florida International University a few years back, Dolan tried to hire him as an official advisor. But at the time, the NBA stepped in and refused to allow the move.

Thomas has always had Dolan under his spell and now he’s only steps away from returning to the job he once had and continues to covet.

You think it’s crazy?

Knicks fans, don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Longtime New York columnist Mitch Lawrence continues to write about pro basketball, as he’s done for the last 22 years. His columns for NBCNewYork.com on the Knicks, Brooklyn Nets and the NBA, along with other major sports, will appear twice weekly. Follow him on Twitter 
 



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Draft Recap: Collins Needs to Come Through for Big Blue]]> Tue, 05 May 2015 10:52:57 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Collins-Giants.jpg

Landon Collins may have been the Giants’ second-round pick in this past weekend’s NFL Draft, but he was their most important addition.

Despite surrendering 400 points last season, Big Blue did little to improve their shaky defense in free agency. Then, with the ninth choice in the draft, Jerry Reese chose Ereck Flowers, a massive offensive lineman from Miami whom the GM likely could’ve landed if he’d traded down another 10 spots.

Undoubtedly, the Giants can use a shot in the arm on the offensive front and Flowers should provide that. But the primary reason the team went 6-10 last year was a defense that couldn’t stop anyone -- at least no one good. They played eight games against playoff teams, and didn’t win a single one, while yielding an average of 33 points per contest.

Can Collins, who was widely regarded as the best safety in the draft, help change that? Reese better hope so, after dealing his own second-round choice (No. 40 overall), as well as his fourth-round and seventh-round picks to the Titans to select Collins with the first pick of the second round (No. 33 overall).

At 6 feet tall and weighing nearly 230 pounds, Collins is nearly as big as your average linebacker, and basically played as one at Alabama, with his best work done in the box and against the run -- an especially weak spot for the Giants. In 2014, the team’s run defense ranked 30th in the NFL in terms of yardage, and they gave up the most yards pers attempt in the entire league.

However, Big Blue’s pass defense wasn’t exactly stalwart either, even as their 47 sacks were among the league’s best. Collins’s 4.5 second 40-yard-dash time ensures that he’ll be faster than many of the running backs and tight ends he’ll be asked to cover in passing situations. Opposing wide receivers may well be more of a challenge, particularly for a player who didn’t get much practice in covering them while in college.

Reese made other moves to shore up the defense this weekend, including the third-round selection of UCLA defensive end Owa Odighizuwa, who the team is hoping is the new Osi Umenyiora -- and not just because of his similarly near-impossible-to-spell name. In the fifth round, the Giants picked up Mykkele Thompson, a safety with size and speed nearly identical to Collins, but a much thinner resume than the Crimson Tide All-American.

But make no mistake: if Collins becomes one of the better safeties in football over the next few years, and Flowers proves worth his lofty draft slot, then the Giants’ 2015 draft will be regarded as a resounding success. But if the two rookies don’t make an immediate impact -- especially Collins -- there may be someone other than Reese calling the shots in the not-too-distant future.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Draft Recap: Maccagnan Shows He Belongs]]> Tue, 05 May 2015 10:03:59 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/maccagnan.jpg

It’s nice to have a professional in charge.

I didn’t like all of Mike Maccagnan’s moves during the 2015 NFL Draft. I don’t think he should’ve drafted a defensive lineman with the sixth overall pick when the Jets are already strong at that position and weak at many others. And based on what I saw of them in college, I’d take UCLA’s Brett Hundley over Jets fourth-round selection Bryce Petty any day of the week -- especially on Sunday.

But after the abominable John Idzik era, where it seemed like Gang Green’s personnel decisions were being determined by a Magic 8 ball, the Jets’ new GM has quickly proven that he knows what he’s doing.

I would have liked to see Maccagnan trade down in the first round, in order to get more prospects to fill areas of need, rather than make a play for depth. Still, Williams undoubtedly possesses great size, skills and potential. Remarkably, he’s still young enough that he couldn’t legally celebrate his entry into pro football at a bar. The fact is, at six, Maccagnan got a guy many think is the best player in the 2015 draft class.

With his second pick, the Jets got the deep threat they so sorely need in Ohio State’s Devin Smith, who averaged an eye-catching 21 yards a reception for the Buckeyes. With Gang Green already flush with big targets in Eric Decker and new addition Brandon Marshall, Smith should be a pace-changer that can stretch the field for QB Geno Smith.

Third-round selection Lorenzo Mauldin arrives in New York with an incredible story, having lived in more than 15 foster homes while growing up in astonishingly challenging circumstances. Mauldin now faces another herculean task: generating much needed pressure on opposing QBs from his outside linebacker slot.

Trading up to get Petty didn’t grab me. The signal-caller obviously put up impressive numbers at Baylor -- 8,200 yards, 62 TD and just 10 INTs in two years as a starter, for a team that went 22-4 during that time -- but so did Nick Florence, the guy who was under center for the Bears between RGIII and Petty. What, you’ve never heard of Florence? That’s my point.

Petty seems like a “system quarterback” to me, while Hundley -- who ended up going in the fifth round to Green Bay -- put the Bruins on his shoulders over the past few years. But again, to get Petty in the fourth round seems like a good value move.

One move I really did like was the trade of RB Zac Stacy from the Rams for a 7th round pick. Yes, Stacy is now low on a depth chart that includes Chris Ivory, Stevan Ridley and Bilal Powell, and he’s coming off a serious knee injury. But he was very productive as a Rams rookie two years ago, and there’s no position in the NFL where depth is more important than running back.

Maccagnan clearly has game. If only he could play QB.  



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Warriors' Curry Named NBA MVP]]> Mon, 04 May 2015 02:37:00 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/203*120/2015-05-04-steph-curry-mvp.jpg

As if he weren't likeable before.

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry became the darling of the sports world on Monday during a news conference surrounding his new Most Valuable Player award, choking up with humility as he discussed how faith and family made him the player and man that he is today.

"It's a tremendous honor," Curry said, dressed in a blue suit and tie, noting that Jesus, his wife and his parents are the reasons for all the good that's ever happened to him. "I love playing basketball."

Curry, who set a single-season record for three-pointers made and led the league’s best regular-season team in scoring, assists and steals, won the 2014-15 Kia NBA Most Valuable Player Award, the NBA announced on Monday. He scooped up 100 of the 130 first-place votes from a panel of 129 sportswriters and broadcasters throughout the United States and Canada, as well as the Kia MVP fan vote on NBA.com. In all, Curry won with a total of 1,198 points.

As the 27-year-old waited to speak at a Monday news conference in Oakland, he waved a gentle "hi," and received a standing ovation.

In his comments, he first thanked Jesus, and then his family, especially his wife, Ayesha, whom he met as a teen, before addding: "This hasn't sunk in at all. I'm on cloud nine. Today is a celebration for sure." He also thanked every teammate individually, as well as the Warriors' equipment manager and the PR assistants.

The 6-foot, 3-inch guard becomes the second Warriors player to win the award, joining Wilt Chamberlain, who was honored in 1959-60 when the franchise played in Philadelphia. 

"It doesn't take long after meeting him to know he's a special person," said Warriors General Manager Bob Myers, speaking with emotion in his voice. Meyers noted "he does a lot when no one's watching."

Meyers also gave a special nod to Curry's parents, Dell and Sonya, whom he credited with raising an "amazing person." In February, for example, Curry was at the White House, helping with the president's Malaria Initiative. For the past three seasons, he's donated mosquito nets for every three-pointer he made to the United Nations "Nothing But Nets" Campaign.

"Forget about the three-point shots," Myers said. "The best part about him is off the court."

Curry made 286 three-pointers, breaking his own NBA record of 272 set in 2012-13. He shot 48.7 percent from the field and ranked fourth in the league in three-point field goal percentage (44.3). Curry also led the NBA in free throw percentage (91.4), converting a career-high 52 consecutive free throws from March 9 to April 4.

At the news conference, Warriors coach Steve Kerr added that Curry is just so "quiet and humble off the court," which are qualities that  make him a great leader.

Curry will be given the MVP award, formally known as the Maurice Podoloff Trophy, on Tuesday at the Oracle Arena before Game 2 in the second playoff round against the Memphis Grizzlies.

Curry beat out Houston's James Harden, Cleveland's LeBron James and Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook, among others, for the league's most coveted individual award.

Curry helped the Warriors win a franchise-record 67 games by averaging 23.8 points (sixth in the NBA), 7.7 assists (sixth), a career-high 2.04 steals (fourth) and 4.3 rebounds, according to the NBA.

With Curry leading the way, Golden State became the 10th team in NBA history to win at least 67 games in a season. The Warriors scored 920 more points than they allowed with Curry on the court, the highest plus/minus for any player this season and an average of 11.5 points in his 80 appearances.

As part of its support of the Kia NBA Most Valuable Player Award, KMA will donate on behalf of Curry an all-new and more capable than ever 2016 Kia Sorento LX CUV to the East Oakland Youth Development Center, which develops the social and leadership capacities of youth and young adults.


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<![CDATA[Ducks Beat Flames 3-0]]> Mon, 04 May 2015 00:47:42 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/161*120/5-3-15+Anaheim+Ducks.jpg

Matt Beleskey scored early in the game, and Hampus Lindholm added a critical insurance goal in the third period as the Anaheim Ducks picked up a 3-0 victory over the Calgary Flames on Sunday night in Game 2 of their best-of-seven series.

Nate Thompson scored his first goal of the postseason to seal the shutout, and the Ducks took a 2-0 lead in the series as they won their sixth consecutive playoff game.

The Ducks got off to a white-hot start in the game as they racked up a slew of scoring chances early, but Karri Ramo was up to the task as he started his first ever playoff game for the Flames. Ryan Getzlaf had a great chance early on a 2-on-1 rush, but a glove save from Ramo kept it out of the net. Andrew Cogliano and Ryan Kesler each had chances as well, but neither one would go as the game remained tied.

About seven and a half minutes into the contest, the constant pressure finally resulted in a goal for the Ducks. Kesler broke into the offensive zone on a 2-on-1 rush, and his saucer pass across the ice landed perfectly on Matt Beleskey’s stick, and he buried the easy wrist shot to give the Ducks a 1-0 lead.

The Ducks got two power plays as the first period wore on, but they ultimately weren’t able to capitalize. Hampus Lindholm and Cam Fowler each got good scoring opportunities on the man-advantage, but neither could convert as the Ducks maintained a one-goal lead through 20 minutes of play.

In the second period of play, the Ducks’ dominance of the game’s tempo went out the window, and the Flames took control of the pace. They got two power plays and racked up 12 shots on goal during that period, but Anaheim goaltender Frederik Andersen made several spectacular saves as the Ducks kept their lead intact despite the onslaught.

The third period opened with the Flames still on a power play, but Anaheim was able to kill it off with relative ease. The two teams traded early scoring chances in the period, with Corey Perry getting the best chance of all through a screen from the high slot, but Ramo made a great save with his arm and kept the Calgary deficit at one.

With about eight minutes to go in regulation, the Ducks got a critical insurance goal to take a 2-0 lead. Lindholm received a gorgeous pass from Perry in the offensive zone, and he did the rest as he ripped a shot past Ramo to give the Ducks a two-goal edge in the contest.

The Flames pulled their goaltender with about two and a half minutes to go in regulation, but the move quickly backfired as Nate Thompson was able to get the puck in the neutral zone and flip it down the ice into the cage to put the Ducks ahead by a score of 3-0.

The Ducks will try to take a commanding 3-0 series lead on Tuesday night as they head up to Calgary for Game 3 of the best-of-seven series. Puck drop is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. local time.
 



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Kane Scores Twice as Blackhawks Beat Wild 4-1]]> Mon, 04 May 2015 12:00:09 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/hawks+kane+game+2.jpg

The Chicago Blackhawks got two goals from Patrick Kane as they knocked off the Minnesota Wild by a score of 4-1 on Sunday night in Game 2 of the teams’ best of seven series.

Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp also scored goals for the Blackhawks as they won their third consecutive postseason game.

The Blackhawks started out the game with some incredible defense as they only allowed one shot attempt in the first seven minutes of the game, and their offense did some good work of their own. Teuvo Teravainen generated a scoring chance with a quick zone entry, but Patrick Sharp’s shot was snared down. Patrick Kane nearly picked up a breakaway a few minutes later, but Michal Rozsival’s stretch pass slid just out of the forward’s reach.

A Thomas Vanek penalty gave the Blackhawks a power play later in the first period, but they were unable to score as they generated just one shot on goal. Kane and Brad Richards got even strength chances a few minutes later, but neither would go as Devan Dubnyk continued to stay strong in net.
Andrew Shaw got a chance as the horn sounded to end the period, but Dubnyk was able to knock it away with his leg pads to keep the game scoreless through 20 minutes of play.

The second period opened up with both teams tightening up considerably on defense, and scoring chances were few and far between. Niklas Hjalmarsson had a great one near the midway point of the period as his shot was stopped by Dubnyk, but the momentum for the Hawks was short-lived as Andrew Shaw committed a cross-checking penalty during his pursuit of the rebound, and the Wild got their first power play of the game.

Unfortunately for Minnesota, Chicago was able to seize momentum right back as they took the lead. Ryan Suter turned the puck over at the half-boards, and Marian Hossa was able to fly down the ice and retrieve it to set up a 2-on-0 rush. Jonathan Toews got a feed across on the play, and while his initial shot was stopped, the puck bounced off of Dubnyk’s stick and rolled across the goal line to make it a 1-0 lead for the Blackhawks.

Minnesota responded perfectly with some tremendous scoring chances of their own, but Corey Crawford made a couple of his best saves of the playoffs to stop them. Kyle Brodziak got in on a breakaway that Crawford was able to stymie, and then Matt Dumba put a shot on net a few moments later that Crawford stopped. Zach Parise looked as though he would score on the rebound, but Crawford kicked over at the exact right moment and stopped that shot as well to keep Chicago in front.

With about 20 seconds remaining in the period, a careless turnover by Thomas Vanek turned into a Chicago goal. Duncan Keith retrieved the loose puck and fired a gorgeous stretch pass up the ice to Kane, and the Hawks’ sniper ripped a wrist shot past Dubnyk to give the Blackhawks a 2-0 edge after two periods of play.

Michal Rozsival’s late penalty in the second period ended up coming back to bite the Blackhawks as they surrendered a power play goal early in the third. Matthew Dumba did the honors on the play as he fired a shot over the glove of Crawford to make it a 2-1 game about a minute into the frame.

With about 12 minutes to go in regulation, the Blackhawks got a huge insurance goal to put some distance between themselves and their opponents. Teuvo Teravainen chipped in a gorgeous pass near the blue line, and Patrick Sharp skated freely toward the net. His wrist shot evaded Dubnyk on the rush, and in the blink of an eye the Hawks were up by a score of 3-1.

Kane added an empty net goal with about two minutes remaining in the game, and the Blackhawks took down the game and grabbed a 2-0 series lead over Minnesota.

The Blackhawks will try to extend their series lead again on Tuesday night when the teams meet again up in the Twin Cities. Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m.
 



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Warriors Look Like Team to Beat as NBA Playoffs Hit Round 2]]> Sun, 03 May 2015 12:05:50 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/q0erah5o.jpg

Breaking down the NBA’s second round of playoffs, starting today in Atlanta and Golden State:

Eastern Conference:

No. 1 Atlanta vs. No. 5 Washington

In advancing to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2011, the Hawks struggled with the 38-win Nets and hardly looked like a 60-win team. Now they have to make a quick turnaround with one day of rest to play the Wizards. Hawks G Jeff Teague did not get untracked until the clinching win vs. Brooklyn in Game 6, while Al Horford had problems with a dislocated finger injury that impacted his lethal mid-range jumper. DeMarre Carroll is the hottest Hawk entering the second round, with four straight 20-point games. The Hawks pounded the Wizards in the regular-season, winning three of the four games as the Wizards averaged 18 turnovers and Atlanta won by an average of nine points per game. But this is a different Washington team. After losing 21 of their final 36 regular-season games, the Wizards found their offensive groove and found a real leader in veteran Paul Pierce to shred the Raptors in their first-round sweep.

Prediction: Wizards in 6.

No. 2 Cleveland vs. No. 3 Chicago

Starting tomorrow night in Cleveland, this is the heavyweight matchup we’ve waited all season for, but no one expected to see it until the Eastern Conference Finals. The Cavs swept out the Celtics in the first round, but it came at a costly price. Kevin Love, the Cavs’ third option and one of their top board men, is out for the season with a shoulder injury suffered in Cleveland’s Game 4 win. They’ll miss Love’s 17 points and 10 rebounds a game and his ability to stretch the floor with his three-point shooting, but they still have the league’s best player, LeBron James, and Kyrie Irving, who starred in his playoff debut against the Celtics. Ex-Knick J.R. Smith is out the first two games, serving a suspension and further weakening the Cavs. The Bulls have never beaten James in a playoff series in three previous tries, losing 12 of 15 games. There’s a lot of bad blood between these two teams. In Round One the Bulls needed six games to close out the inexperienced Bucks after going up 3-0. Chicago’s top concern is Derrick Rose’s inconsistent play. Against Milwaukee he set off alarms by failing to assert himself during some stretches, shooting too many three’s and committing too many turnovers. The Cavs won the season series, 3-1.

Prediction: Cavaliers in 7.

Western Conference:

No. 1 Golden State vs. No. 5 Memphis

The Warriors hit the court in Oakland today looking like the top team among the final eight after rolling through the first round and sweeping the inexperienced Pelicans. After winning a league-high 67 games, Golden State pulled off a miracle comeback win in Game 3 against Anthony Davis and Co. after trailing by 20 points entering the fourth quarter. Stephen Curry, the favorite to win the MVP award, averaged 34 ppg and put himself in the franchise scoring record books with immortals Wilt Chamberlain and Rick Barry. Counting the regular-season, the Warriors are now 41-2 at home and 71-15 overall. They’ve struggled with big, physical teams like Memphis in the past, but the Warriors get a major break as Grizzlies’ playmaker Mike Conley Jr. likely will miss the opener, if not the first two games, after having to undergo facial surgery to repair several broken bones suffered vs. Portland in the first round. Except for the Conley injury, which is a huge blow, the Griz easily handled the Trail Blazers in five games, with Marc Gasol averaging 20 points, nine rebounds and five assists. The Warriors and Grizzlies are two of the NBA’s top defensive teams, with Golden State taking two of the three games in the regular-season.

Prediction: Warriors in 5.

No. 2 Houston vs. No. 3 L.A. Clippers

The series starts in Houston tomorrow night with the Clippers coming in with only one day of rest off their epic Game 7 win over the defending champion Spurs on Saturday night in L.A. With James Harden looking like an MVP candidate and Dwight Howard overcoming foul trouble, the Rockets took out the Mavs in the first round in five games. Houston advanced out of the first round for the first time since 2009 and for only the second time in the last 18 years. Harden averaged 28 points on 65% shooting and eight assists per game against the Mavs. Capping off arguably the greatest first round series in NBA history, the Clips advanced to the second round on Chris Paul’s last-second shot in Game 7 against San Antonio. Paul’s heroics came after he suffered a left hamstring injury and his status for Game 1 against the Rockets is questionable. Blake Griffin capped off the Spurs series with a triple-double and will be a tough match-up for the Rockets. The two teams split their four games in the regular-season.

Prediction: Rockets in 7.

 

Longtime New York columnist Mitch Lawrence continues to write about pro basketball, as he’s done for the last 22 years. His columns for NBCNewYork.com on the Knicks, Brooklyn Nets and the NBA, along with other major sports, will appear twice weekly. Follow him on Twitter @Mitch _ Lawrence
 

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<![CDATA[Clippers Defeat Spurs]]> Sun, 03 May 2015 04:05:29 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Clippers-Spurs-Game-seven_5-2-15.jpg

In a down-to-the-wire Game Seven, the Los Angeles Clippers defeated the San Antonio Spurs 111 to 109 Saturday night to advance to the second round of the NBA playoffs.

In the first quarter, the visiting Spurs got off to a quick start and jumped out to an eight-point lead within the first six minutes of the winner-take-all finale to an incredibly entertaining series. However, the Clippers fought back with Matt Barnes and Chris Paul leading the way.

Barnes would hit four of his first six shots to finish with 10 points in the opening quarter. However, Paul's five points and three assists, which helped the Clippers regain the lead just shy of nine minutes into the game, were immediately overshadowed by the point guard grabbing his left hamstring and looking distraught on the bench.

Paul would spend the final couple minutes off the court, and the Spurs would again take hold of the lead with San Antonio's bench starting to find a rhythm. When the first 12 minutes expired, the Clippers trailed by two points with their star point guard in the locker room.

However, LA managed to stay in the game with Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford stepping up to fill the void. Griffin and Crawford contributed 13 points and 12 points, respectively, in the first half to lead the home team to a two-point advantage at the intermission.

With regards to Paul, the point guard managed to return to the contest about halfway into the second quarter. He was diagnosed with a strained left hamstring, and the 29-year-old managed to add another four points and two assists at the end of the first half. At least in the first half, Paul and the Clippers appeared to avoid disaster.

For San Antonio, Tim Duncan scored 13 points to lead a balanced attack that featured five Spurs tabbing at least eight points in the first half.

In the third quarter, Paul continued to find his range and quickly hit a couple three-pointers to give the Clippers a six-point lead. Almost immediately, the Spurs responded with a couple shots from distance. The seesaw act on the scoreboard that had occurred all series long appeared would continue into the second half of the deciding Game Seven.

With about four minutes to play in the third quarter, Paul would again grab his hamstring. Clearly, the star point guard was playing through the injury, but a buzzer beating three-pointer to end the third quarter proved the point guard could still shine.

With the shot at the buzzer, the Clippers would lead by one point entering the final quarter. The back-and-forth would continue in the final chapter to a memorable series. With 10 minutes to play, the Clippers and Spurs were again level on the scoreboard. Spurs guard Danny Green, who had struggled for most of the series, finally found his shot in the deciding game. His 16th point on the day put the visitors up by four. After 26 lead changes on the day, the Spurs would take a four-point lead into the final six minutes of Game Seven.

Just about a minute later, J.J. Redick would hit a three-pointer and the Clippers and Spurs would enter the final straightaway tied at 97-97. With the game nearing its conclusion, a couple of suspect foul calls set the stage for the Clippers to get a final shot. Paul hit an incredible banking floater that would account for the 31st lead change of the game. The Clippers took a 111-109 lead with 1.0 seconds to play.

The Spurs would get a shot up, but that shot would not fall, and both coaches spoke graciously of their opponents following the game. 

"It was a great stuff, a great series," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said following the game. "So, congratulations to them. I'm really happy for them."

Notes: Griffin finished with a triple-double: 24 points, 10 assists and 13 rebounds. Clippers coach Doc Rivers said he would guess Paul would not be ready to play for Game One of their second round series. Next, the Clippers face the Houston Rockets.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Mayweather-Pacquiao Fight Causes "Electronic Overload"]]> Sat, 02 May 2015 23:47:08 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/20150501+Concussion+Fights.jpg

Cable providers of one of the biggest television events, the much talked about Mayweather versus Pacquaio boxing match, is having some problems.

Boxing fans went to Twitter to express frustration when they weren't able to get the $100 pay-per-view on their television.

Time Warner Cable and Charter both tweeted that they were addressing the problem immediately.

HBO's Jim Lampley announced that the much anticipated boxing match is being delayed due to an "electronic overload," according to the New York Times.



Photo Credit: Getty Images
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<![CDATA[International Star Scratched From Derby]]> Sat, 02 May 2015 14:41:33 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP206080702346.jpg

International Star was scratched from the Kentucky Derby early Saturday, leaving 18 horses to run for the roses.

Owner Ken Ramsey said a problem was discovered in the colt's left front foot, likely an abscess. The veterinarian who checked out International Star didn't like the way he jogged inside the barn and once the blacksmith removed the colt's shoe, a warm spot on the inside of the foot was found, Ramsey said.

International Star topped the point leaderboard that determined the 20-horse field for the Derby, having swept the three major preps at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans. He is trained by Mike Maker and was to be ridden by Miguel Mena.

"It's a devastating blow to come this far," Ramsey said in a statement. "I thought I had a decent shot at winning the race."

Ramsey and his wife Sarah are among the sport's leading owners and breeders.

"There's nothing major wrong with the horse whatsoever," he said. "We think we'll probably have him ready to come back for the Preakness, but time will tell."

The second leg of the Triple Crown will be run May 16 in Baltimore.

Five of the Ramseys' horses set to run Saturday were scratched, including three in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on the Derby undercard. One of them was Stephanie's Kitten, trained by Chad Brown. The others were Scrumpdilicious (trained by Joe Sharp) and Coalport, also trained by Maker.

"That's an issue between me and Chad Brown," Ramsey said. "I won't get into that in the press but none of the three in the Woodford Reserve will be running in our colors today."

The Ramseys have three others set to run, including Thankyou Marylou in the Humana Distaff and Luck of the Kitten in the American Turf.

The No. 1 spot in the Derby starting gate will be left open and all the other horses will move over so there are no gaps in the gate.

International Star is the second Derby horse to be scratched. El Kabeir dropped out Friday because of a sore foot. Earlier in the week, the owners of Stanford decided not to run their colt.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Another Disappointing Nets Season Raises Same Old Questions]]> Sat, 02 May 2015 12:50:38 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/TLMD-deron-williams-nets-st.jpg

The image of Lionel Hollins putting his hands up to his face and not choosing to look at his Nets as they were run out of Barclays Center by the Atlanta Hawks will be the one Brooklyn fans take into the off-season.

Indeed, the Nets were very much an unwatchable team in 2014-15, even if they did sneak into the playoffs.

Once they got to the post-season, they won two games, had chances to win three others against a top-seeded Atlanta team that hardly played like a 60-win team, and ended up finishing the season at 40-46.

Yes, another very disappointing campaign for a team boasting an $88-million payroll.

For the second straight season, they didn’t live up to their paychecks. Now what?

There’s not a lot of wiggle-room for a franchise that unwisely put itself in a straitjacket by dealing all of its own No. 1 draft picks until 2019, and again will have to carry the big-ticket contracts of Joe Johnson and Deron Williams into another NBA season.

“Both of them are unmovable,’’ one Eastern Conference GM told me during the first-round playoffs series. “They might try to trade to both of them, but who wants those guys? It looks like they’re stuck with them again.’’

Williams had one shining moment against the Hawks, scoring 35 points in the Nets’ Game 4 win. Other than his one standout performance, he was a poor performer and non-factor -- averaging 11.8 points on 39 percent shooting for the series. For his part, Johnson did nothing to make teams want to call GM Billy King and start making offers.

In a lot of ways, the team across the East River, dysfunctional as the 17-win Knicks are under Phil Jackson, have the chance to get things turned around a lot more quickly than Mikhail Prokhorov’s team. They have two assets the Nets sorely lack: A No. 1 pick that could be No. 1 overall in the lottery and $30 million in cap space to spend on free agents.

Hollins will be back for his second season and it promises to be better than his first campaign in Brooklyn. He was too late figuring out what his players could do and couldn’t do. He probably should give thanks that he now operates in the East, where even if it takes 65 games to realize that you can’t pound the ball into Brook Lopez like he did in Memphis with Zach Randolph, your team can still make the playoffs.

Hollins disappointed us with his post-game tribute to his team, throwing bouquets when the Nets hardly accomplished what they had set out to do. But at least they won’t go through another coaching change as they try to figure out how they can get better if they are forced to come back with essentially the same team next season. Which probably is the case.

“I don’t think Lionel is going anywhere, so that’s definitely reassuring,” Williams said after Game 6, reflecting on the fact he’s on his fourth coach since the 2012-13 season. “You never know what’s going to happen in the offseason, but it’s good to know you’re going to have the same coach and if we keep our same guys we’ll have something to build on for once.”

We don’t think there can be a lot of building done with this group, even if free agents Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young choose to return, as expected. The old problems aren’t going away. There’s no leadership on the court. The lack of togetherness is apparent on many nights. The team often lacks heart and there are too many games when the lack of talented, young athletes puts the Nets at a distinct disadvantage when they take the court.

They just got done playing a team that hardly looks like world-beaters, but at least the Hawks provide a blueprint of how the Nets should play.

“They’re a better team than us right now,’’ Williams said. “They’ve been together and they’ve learned how to play consistently the right way. That’s what we’re trying to do. We’ve had moments where we’ve done that and we’ve had moments where we’ve tried to do it on our own, and we’re not very successful when we do that.’’

They took a step back after going to the second round last spring. The absentee billionaire owner, Mikhail Prokhorov, vowed that he’d force himself to give up bachelorhood and take a bride if his five-year plan to win the NBA title didn’t come to fruition.

Here we are at the conclusion of the five-year plan and the Nets haven’t come close. When the playoffs ended last year, Prokhorov issued a statement to fans saying, “Next season we’ll pick up right where we left off!’’

The Nets fell short, but what else is new?

Longtime New York columnist Mitch Lawrence continues to write about pro basketball, as he’s done for the last 22 years. His columns for NBCNewYork.com on the Knicks, Brooklyn Nets and the NBA, along with other major sports, will appear twice weekly. Follow him on Twitter @Mitch _ Lawrence
 

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<![CDATA[Bruce Beck Handicaps the Derby: American Pharoah Will Triumph]]> Fri, 01 May 2015 22:37:33 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/bruce+beck+belmont+2014.jpg

The Kentucky Derby is known as the greatest two minutes in sports, and for good reason. It's more than a horse race: it is a festival. It is a gigantic cocktail party. It is a part of Americana.

From the Twin Spires to the mint juleps to 19 of the best 3-year-old horses in the world, Churchill Downs will be alive and jumping on Saturday. A crowd of over 160,000 is expected, and millions more will be watching the coverage live on NBC Sports.

The field that has been assembled in 2015 is the best in years, and you could make a case that as many as eight horses can win this race. But in my mind there is only one superstar, one horse that has championship timber. His name is American Pharoah and he will likely be the post-time favorite at odds of 2-1 or 5-2.

The son of Pioneer of the Nile, he is trained by Bob Baffert, who's won this race three times. American Pharoah is ridden by Victor Espinoza, who has two Derby wins to his credit, including one just last year, aboard California Chrome.

Anyone who knows me understands that I do not like favorites. But this time I have to endorse The Chalk. American Pharoah is two for two this year, including impressive victories in The Arkansas Derby and The Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park. He has won on a fast track and a sloppy track. Last year, he won the Eclipse Award for 2-year-old male.

But it's more than stats and honors that makes this horse super. He just looks the part. His stride is the envy of all horsemen. He has charisma and speed, a dynamite combination.

Espinoza said recently that "American Pharoah been winning so easily that I really haven't had a chance to push him, to see what he's really got." Well, we'll all find out on this first Saturday in May what happens when Espinoza lets him loose.

There are other standouts in this field of 19, including the second half of the incredibly tough Baffert-trained one-two punch. Dortmund is a perfect six-for-six lifetime and has won from both off the pace and on the lead. His sire Big Brown won the 2008 Run for the Roses.

Carpe Diem is four-for-five lifetime, with his only loss coming in the Breeders Cup Juvenile, where he finished second. He is trained by Todd Pletcher, who sends out four runners in the 141st Running of the Kentucky Derby. Materiality is another Pletcher hopeful. The undefeated colt captured the Florida Derby impressively. He looks to become the first horse since Apollo in 1882 to win the Derby without a race as a 2-year-old.

There are others who figure prominently in a race that even my mother loves to watch. Frosted comes off a victory in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. International Star won his last three races, including The Louisiana Derby, by a neck. Firing Line, with Hall of Famer Gary Stevens comes in off a victory in the Sunland Derby by 14 1/4 lengths.

Upstart, who was second in the Florida Derby, has been "in the money," seven for seven lifetime. And then there's the invader, Mubtaahij from Ireland, who dominated the Grade 2, UAE Derby. No one really knows how good that field was -- and know one know how good this horse is.

It is a fiercely talented and deep field and yes, it's easy to fall in love with one of these regal colts. But there's only one who will win The Run for the Roses on Saturday --and that is American Pharoah. He has the look, dare I say, of a Triple Crown horse -- and that's a lot to say. Affirmed was the last Triple Crown winner, way back in 1978.

Remember, the Kentucky Derby is a cavalry charge, and racing luck is a huge ingredient needed for success. Plus, these horses are going a mile and a quarter for the first time in their career. But even with lots of question marks and lots of variables, class will rise to the top: American Pharoah wins thoroughbred racing's most electric race in electrifying fashion!

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<![CDATA[Bob Baffert Has Two Race Horses in Derby]]> Fri, 01 May 2015 18:34:29 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/bob_baffert.jpg

Bob Baffert hopes he's celebrating in the winner's circle at the Kentucky Derby. He just doesn't know which horse or owners would join him.

After all, the trainer has the two top favorites for Saturday's race.

American Pharoah, owned by Egyptian Ahmed Zayat, is the early 5-2 favorite for the 141st Derby off an eight-length victory in the Arkansas Derby.

Dortmund is the 3-1 second choice. He's owned by India-born Kaleem Shah, now a U.S. citizen whose pride for his adopted country is evident in the red, white and blue silks his chestnut colt wears.

"Coming in here we feel really strong," Baffert said. "If you get beat, the fall is pretty steep."

American Pharoah dominated his competition leading to the Derby, winning his last four races by a combined 22 1/4 lengths. Baffert calls him "brilliant," but he's yet to be tested in the kind of fractious conditions the Derby offers. He will be ridden by Victor Espinoza, who won last year aboard California Chrome.

"If American Pharoah breaks a step slow, he's going to find himself in a situation that he has not faced before," said Mark Casse, who trains 30-1 shot Danzig Moon.

Dortmund stands an imposing 5 feet, 8 inches from the ground to near his shoulder blades and is a son of 2008 Derby winner Big Brown. He is undefeated in six races against tougher competition than his stablemate faced. Martin Garcia works out American Pharoah in the mornings but rides Dortmund in the race.

"This is an exciting, exciting field," Zayat said. "It's fun to have the best of the best running against each other."

A full field of 20 was reduced to 19 for 1 1/4-mile race after El Kabeir was scratched Saturday. His left front foot was bothering him Friday and the colt trained by John Terranova was sore coming out of his stall the next day. His absence means Calvin Borel, a three-time Derby winner, won't ride.

Todd Pletcher brings three horses to the race: Carpe Diem, the 8-1 third choice; Florida Derby winner Materiality; and Itsaknockout, fittingly running on the same day as the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Manny Pacquiao fight in Las Vegas.

"We're ready," Pletcher said. "Let's go."

Materiality didn't run as s 2-year-old and no horse since Apollo in 1882 has won the Derby without racing as a sophomore. His pedigree suggests he could overcome the jinx: his sire Afleet Alex won the Preakness and Belmont in 2005.

Blue Grass winner Carpe Diem cost $1.6 million and a win in the Derby (worth $1.4 million) would help his owners recoup most of their investment. John Velazquez clearly saw something in the colt because he chose to ride Carpe Diem instead of Materiality in the Derby. But he will have to overcome the No. 2 post; getting away from the starting gate quickly could minimize the chance of getting trapped inside.

This year's field is deep and talented, and absent Baffert's dynamic duo, there are other horses with solid credentials who in a different year would be more highly regarded.

Among them:

—Mubtaahij, an Ireland-bred trying to win the Derby by preparing outside the U.S. and then traveling halfway around the world to reach Louisville. He won the UAE Derby by eight lengths and his South African trainer Mike de Kock is highly regarded.

—Firing Line, a colt that twice had photo-finish defeats to Dortmund before winning the Sunland Derby by 14 lengths in track-record time.

—International Star, a versatile colt that swept the trio of Derby preps at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans. He has tactical speed to get good position, helpful in a crowded race. "He's razor sharp and rarin' to go," trainer Mike Maker said. "Show up at 5:45 tomorrow and he'll put all your questions to bed."

—Frosted, the Wood Memorial winner, is owned by a member of the ruling family of Dubai. Godolphin Racing is 0 for 7 in previous Derby tries, but this time Sheikh Mohammad had his horse prep in the U.S.

—Upstart beat Frosted in the Holy Bull and finished second behind Materiality in the Florida Derby.

Baffert jokes that it's been so long since the last of his three Derby victories in 2002 that he doesn't remember. He knows, though, what a horse must do if it is to wear the garland of red roses.

"You need to get a decent post, break well, get the trip," he said. "It's the toughest field I've been involved in since Silver Charm (in 1997)."

American Pharoah, Dortmund, Carpe Diem and Materiality have combined to win 17 of 19 races, including a 10-0 mark this year.

"The hype is over with," said Ken Ramsey, who owns International Star. "It's time for potential to develop into performance."

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<![CDATA[Giants Mess Up by Not Trading Down]]> Fri, 01 May 2015 15:51:07 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/464096214.jpg

OK, I’ll admit it, like you, I never really watch offensive linemen. Neither do any other football writers-- they just say they do because, well, linemen do occupy nearly half of the 11 spots on the offensive unit, and it makes us seem like we know more than we really do.

The problem with watching them is two-fold: 1) it makes watching paint dry seem like a Six Flags trip; and 2) focusing on them means not focusing on the ball.

Like a referee, a secret service agent, or your home’s plumbing, you really only notice a lineman when he’s not doing his job well. He’s the 340-pound guy trying to look invisible near the edge of the TV feed while the guy who trampled him is front and center mid-sack dance.

I’ve never watched Ereck Flowers play football, both because, as I said, I don’t watch linemen, and since his school, the University of Miami, basically dropped off the gridiron map at the end of the 20th century.

I do know Flowers, whom the Giants selected Thursday night with the ninth overall pick in the NFL Draft, is enormous -- 6 feet 6 inches tall, 329 pounds -- and that he runs the 40 faster than I can. In my defense, I’m twice his age. I’m half his size.

I also know that the Giants shouldn’t have drafted him, at least not with the draft pick that they did. I understand that the lineman they wanted most, Iowa’s Brandon Scherff, was gone by their turn (though that was hardly a surprise), and that general manager Jerry Reese and coach Tom Coughlin are very high on the potential of the just-turned-21-year-old Flowers.

But there’s simply no good reason to draft a player at nine that you can get at 19. A host of teams didn’t have Flowers ranked as one of the draft’s top 20 prospects. So why not trade down with one of them, accrue additional picks and/or players -- something a team coming off a 6-10 year sorely needs-- and draft Flowers at a later slot?

By not doing so, Reese committed an unpardonable sin: surrendering value at the most important time of the year for team-building.

Of course, if Flowers turns out to be the kind of player the GM and coach expect, no one will care in a few years when he was drafted. But if the Giants played it right and traded down, they’d have come out of it with several young prospects to pin their hopes on, instead of just one. 

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<![CDATA[Head-Scratcher: Jets Draft for Depth With Top Pick]]> Fri, 01 May 2015 15:45:55 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/leonard+williams.jpg

Yes, I know, Mel Kiper loves Leonard Williams more than life itself. In fact, the rumor was that the draft guru considered swapping his trademark pompadour for an afro for Thursday night’s broadcast as an homage to the defensive lineman.

Williams was the top-ranked player on Kiper’s draft board, as anyone who’s been watching draft coverage over the past few weeks has heard at least 12,000 times, and so new Jets GM Mike Maccagnan appears to have gotten solid value out of the sixth overall pick.

But while Kiper will soon be retreating back to his draft cave until he emerges again next spring, Gang Green fans are still here -- with a team that won only four games last year, yet decided the best course of action with their first-round pick was to add depth to a defensive line that’s one of their few strong points.

By all accounts, Williams is expected to be a great pro, and even if he doesn’t jump out on film -- granted, it’s much more mesmerizing to watch a fleet-footed pass-rusher than a 300-pound stalwart whose best asset is occupying two blockers -- I’ll defer to those who’ve watched him play a heck of a lot more than I have.

But you don’t pick sixth in the draft unless you’ve got a lot of holes, and the Jets didn’t fill an important one with the selection of Williams. Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson -- arguably two of the Jets’ three top players last year (along with Pro Bowl center Nick Mangold) -- are both very similar to Williams: versatile, athletic DLs who can basically man any spot on the defense’s three-man front. Wilkerson is 25. Richardson is 24. And 350-pound Damon Harrison, who was solid while manning the middle last season, is 26.

So, basically, Maccagnan was drafting for depth -- in a spot where Gang Green was in dire need of a game-changer.

The Jets’ 3-4 base D cries out for outside ‘backers who can rush the passer, something the team sorely lacked in 2014. Calvin Pace, while dependable, just got his AARP card, and Quinton Coples hasn’t been anything resembling an impact player since being drafted as a mid-first round pick three years ago. Yet Pace and Coples are still at the top of the team’s depth chart.

On offense, meanwhile, the Jets need … everything. A big-play receiver to stretch the field. A young lineman to buttress that aging and not-that-effective unit. Oh yeah, a franchise quarterback.

Trading up to get Marcus Mariota appeared unlikely, given how sold Tennessee appeared to be on the Oregon QB, apparently rejecting an offer from Chip Kelly that made the Herschel Walker haul appear modest. But how about trading down, and getting a pass-rushing LB like Kentucky’s Bud Dupree or Missouri’s Shane Ray, along with additional picks to address other needs?

Drafting for depth is great -- if you’re a deep team. If the Jets were that, they wouldn’t be drafting so high.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA["A Bit Experimental": 1st-Time Derby Trainer Faces Extra Challenges]]> Sat, 02 May 2015 18:23:01 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/ky-derby-467883162.jpg

One wildcard contender in Saturday's Kentucky Derby didn't have an easy journey to Churchill Downs. Mubtaahij's entry into the race touched off a 24-hour trek from Dubai to the U.S., with plenty of hurdles along the way for him and his trainer, Mike de Kock.

De Kock, one of South Africa's premier trainers, has won races on four continents, but Saturday will be the first time he'll have a horse race at Churchill Downs. If that weren't challenge enough, de Kock cannot give Mubtaahij his regular food, and it's the first time the colt is racing in the U.S.

“I don’t think there’s a massive amount of expectation,” de Kock, 51, told NBC of his 3-year-old thoroughbred, whose name means "elated" in Arabic.

Mubtaahij is considered a wildcard, but his trainer and experts say he deserves to be running in the field headed by champion American Pharoah and unbeaten Dortmund, along with strong contenders like Frosted, Carpe Diem, Materiality, International Star and Firing Line.

"This is definitely one of the toughest Kentucky Derbys that we’ve seen in quite some time, but Mubtaahij still deserves to be in the field," NBC Sports' racing analyst Randy Moss said. "The way he won the UAE Derby, the ease with which he won it, the acceleration that he showed made it pretty much a no-brainer that at least they ship him over and give him a try. I don’t think it’s an impossible task at all."

But running in the Derby's crowded field of 20 horses will be a new experience for Mubtaahij. The colt has only ever run in much smaller fields, so it's anyone's guess how he'll fare in Louisville, de Kock said.

“I don’t know what he’s going to do. I can’t even venture a prediction," de Kock said. "But he does have a very sound mind, and I’m relying on that."

Long Voyages With New Food

Mubtaahij, owned by the Dubai emir's cousin Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa bin Saeed Al Maktoum, arrived at Churchill Downs Monday night after an epic trans-Atlantic journey that began April 15. After a 24-hour trip from the United Arab Emirates to Amsterdam to Chicago, the horse spent the last few weeks quarantined and training for a few days at Arlington Park in Chicago.

"It's just a long time on the road," de Kock said. “He’s coming out of 37 degrees Celsius [about 98 degrees Fahrenheit] in Dubai into Chicago, where it was one or 2 degrees overnight."

And now that the colt is in Louisville, he has to adjust to a new diet; he can't eat his regular feed in the U.S., because it's not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). De Kock says the change in what he's been eating since he arrived stateside hasn't affected his mood or appetite, but there's no way to tell now how it may affect his run Saturday at the Derby.

Mubtaahij will also be the first horse in a decade to compete in the race without Lasix, the blood-thinning drug that all other Derby thoroughbreds are given to protect against exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage. If he should win, he'd be the first Lasix-free Derby champ since Grindstone in 1996. De Kock says Mubtaahij doesn’t need the medication.

"I don’t see it as disadvantage, and it wouldn’t be an excuse, either,” de Kock said. “I feel that the horse doesn’t have a problem with bleeding, and I just don’t want to give the medication because everyone else is giving it."

The colt has also never raced on a track in the U.S., though he has run five times in the past five months, capturing the $2 million U.A.E. Derby on March 28 and earning a chance to compete across the Atlantic. He has four victories in five starts on dirt, after performing poorly in his first two career starts on turf.

Intense Pressure in Louisville

Still, the pace of the Kentucky Derby will be a challenge for Mubtaahij, according to Moss, because it and other major horse races in the U.S. are run at a faster pace than the races in Dubai this year, the U.A.E. Derby in particular. Jockeys at the Kentucky Derby get more aggressive in the first part of the race than they might ordinarily in a mile-and-a-quarter race.

"When you have a 20-horse field, there’s added pressure on the riders to get positioned and avoid being put in a situation where they run in a middle of a big crowd of horses, and you get bumped around," Moss explained." It definitely will be faster — much faster than what Mubtaahij has encountered in Dubai."

The speed and the large contender field aren't the only challenges. The level of noise at Churchill Downs on the day of the race can be overwhelming to any horse. They can get stressed and frazzled, becoming more quickly fatigued.

“There is no way to prepare a horse for it,” Moss said. “For the most part, race horses are trained in pretty bucolic settings, without a lot of stress. There aren’t very large crowds anymore even for a lot of the major races, so when they get to Churchill Downs and they hear 150,000 people on the Kentucky Derby day, it’s a completely foreign experience for the racehorses.”

De Kock joked that he’s probably picked the worst year to attempt to run in the Kentucky Derby, but he considers it a fact-finding mission.

“If this works really well, we hope to repeat it,” de Kock said. “It’s all quite a bit experimental, but we do know we have a lovely horse.” 



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Betting on an Underdog? Try These 5 Derby Hopefuls]]> Sat, 02 May 2015 09:18:03 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/160*126/AP648411810136_0_Derby.jpg

Hoping to unearth a Kentucky Derby winner at a price?

We got your long shots right here.

We're talking the next Giacomo, who won at 50-1 and returned $102.60 for a $2 win bet 10 years ago. We're talking Mine That Bird, who won at the same odds in 2009 and paid $103.20. We're even talking Animal Kingdom in 2011, who won at 20-1 ($43.90), and I'll Have Another, who won the next year at 15-1 ($32.60).

Favorites Orb and California Chrome came through the past two years, and 5-2 top choice American Pharoah could make it three in a row Saturday.

The 20-horse field is said to be one of the toughest in years, but there are five horses at 50-1 odds, six at 30-1 and two at 20-1 — 65 percent of the field.

Here goes nothing — or maybe something big:

1. Frosted, 15-1: If trainer Kiaran McLaughlin is right, he's got his horse pitch perfect at the right time. So many issues all seemed to clear up when this gray colt won the Wood Memorial by two lengths under his new rider Joel Rosario — who won the 2013 Derby with Orb. Good post (No. 14), good trainer, good rider and very wealthy owners, Godolphin Racing. Not your ultimate long shot, but double-digit odds are always tempting.

2. Far Right, 30-1: We were loving El Kabeir in this spot, but tenderness near his left front foot discovered Friday morning knocks him out of consideration. So we're turning to Far Right, winner of the Smarty Jones and Southwest and a distant second to American Pharoah in the Arkansas Derby. The upside is three-time Derby winner Mike Smith has the mount. He's among the most tenacious riders in the business, and knows his way around Churchill Downs, even from post No. 19. Smith's Derby win came aboard Giacomo in '05 and he'll be riding in his 21st Run for the Roses. Trainer Ron Moquett is a Derby rookie but has seemed even-keeled all week.

3. Itsaknockout, 30-1: Sold on the name. Plus, don't you have to go with at least one of trainer Todd Pletcher's horses? His top horse is 8-1 with a lousy post, the other is 12-1 with only three previous starts ... so here we are. Plus, who can resist the cross-promotion with the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight? Luis Saez aboard? Not great, but he's 3-for-4 with the bay colt if you include the victory in the Fountain of Youth after first-place finisher Upstart was DQ'd to second for interference in the stretch. He was a distant fourth in the Florida Derby, but that's why he's a long shot.

4. Mr. Z, 50-1: Why would Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas even enter this colt, who has only a maiden win to his credit? Well, as rival trainer Nick Zito likes to say, "If you don't run, you can't even lose." And with that logic, Lukas' long shot becomes intriguing. The colt seems to be his own worst enemy — he lugged outside in a race, veered out in another, and what may have been a last-gasp measure, has been fitted with blinkers to keep focused. While he has lost 11 in a row, he's finished in the top three in seven graded stake races, most recently third in the Arkansas Derby. And, two of Lukas' four Derby wins came with long shots — Charismatic (31-1) in 1999 and Thunder Gulch (24-1) in 1995.

5. Firing Line, 12-1: Caught! Technically not a true long shot — but we're hoping his odds increase once betting begins. If not, oh well. Cashing in at current odds won't be hard to take. The colt was beaten twice by a nose by Dortmund, then won the Sunland Derby by 14 1/4 lengths. Jockey Gary Stevens is looking for his fourth Derby win, and first since 1997 with Silver Charm.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Ducks Roast Flames 6-1]]> Fri, 01 May 2015 01:52:14 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/209*120/471743258.jpg

Corey Perry had two goals and two assists and the Anaheim Ducks routed the Calgary Flames 6-1 on Thursday night in Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal series.

Ryan Getzlaf had a goal and three assists, and Matt Beleskey, Patrick Maroon and Emerson Etem also scored for the top-seeded Ducks, who had a seven-day layoff following their first-round sweep of Winnipeg.

Game 2 is Sunday night back at Honda Center, where the Flames haven't won since the 2006 playoffs and have lost 20 consecutive regular-season games since January 2004.

The six goals tied a Ducks playoff record. Frederik Andersen made 23 saves, losing his bid for his first NHL playoff shutout when Sam Bennett ended the scoring with 10:44 remaining.

Jonas Hiller, who was pulled by coach Bob Hartley in Games 2 and 6 of the Flames' first-round series against Vancouver, stopped 11 of 14 shots before he was yanked again with a 3-0 deficit after Perry carried the puck out from behind the net and jammed it past Hiller's stick at 2:13 of the second period.

The game was still scoreless when the sellout crowd of 17,174 unleashed derisive chants of "Hill-er! Hill-er!"

Hiller spent his first five NHL seasons with Anaheim and became a free agent last summer after the Ducks decided not to re-sign him. The Flames inked him to a two-year, $9 million contract, and he finished the regular season 26-19-4 with a 2.36 goals-against average.

Hiller appeared in 26 postseason games with Anaheim and started 22 of them, going 12-12 with a 2.29 GAA and three shutouts. But he was edged out on the depth chart by Andersen and John Gibson after the Ducks were bounced in the second round last year by eventual champion Los Angeles.

Just 2:05 after the opening faceoff, Andersen stopped center Josh Jooris on a breakaway after Jakob Silfverberg lost control of the puck inside the Calgary blue line and fell down.

Beleskey opened the scoring at 10:17 of the first period after overcoming two penalties that were called against Perry less than 4 minutes apart for cross-checking and high-sticking.

Defenseman Hampus Lindholm's wrist shot from about 5 feet inside the blue line went wide of the left post, but Kyle Palmieri played the carom off the end boards and quickly backhanded the puck to an unchecked Beleskey in front of a wide-open net with Hiller out of position.

Maroon, who plays on the Ducks' top line with Perry and Getzlaf, made it 2-0 less than 3 minutes later when he redirected Getzlaf's backhanded centering pass from the left corner with David Jones checking him in front of the net.

Etem converted a rebound of Beauchemin's slap shot from the right point at 10:11 of the second after Karri Ramo replaced Hiller in goal. Perry and Getzlaf ended the scoring with power-play goals 1:18 apart during the first 2:32 of the third period.

Anaheim was 3-1-1 against Calgary during the regular season and finished 12 points ahead of the Flames in the conference standings. The only other time these clubs met in the playoffs was in 2006, when the Ducks won their opening-round series in seven games.
 



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>