With the 2014 NFL season just around the corner, here’s my take on which teams (by conf) to watch this upcoming season. I’ll throw in a “sleeper pick” for fun.  Up first, the AFC:

Patriots: We all know the Pats start and end with Bill, Brady, and Kraft. While the lore surrounding this team is most deserving, for all of who the Patriots are supposed to be, this squad having won 3 out of 7 Super Bowl appearances is paltry according to the ” Patriot way.” With Brady, Pats’ are a sure bet to get back to the playoffs, but I can’t honestly say the Pats’ are the sure bet they once were in winning it all.

Ravens:  Putting the unfortunate Ray Rice situation aside, Ravens are, and will always be a force in the (AFC) North. They don’t rebuild, they reload! A down year for the Ravens would be a season ticket sellout for the Cleveland Browns- unfortunately. The Ravens “infrastructre” is a rarity  shared by only a few teams in the NFL, which is why they seem to always be- without fail- in the post-season conversation. Although I’m still a Browns fan (for entertainment purposes only),  I believe the Ravens will come out of the allways tough AFC North. Even with the much maligned Flacco, Ravens are more than a solid pick to represent the AFC in this year’s Super Bowl.

Broncos: No doubt Peyton deserves the adulation for all his ” statistical accomplishments”, but it’s very alarming that said stats don’t measure up come post-season time. Twice during his tenure has he put up phenominal regular season numbers, only to have it all disappear when it it matters most. His lone Super Bowl victory is undeniable, but his 8-point offensive output against the Seahawks was deplorable! If he truly is as good as advertised. I don’t dislike Peyton, but too often have I seen him make gradeschool mistakes (throwing back across his body) that a palyer of his caliber just should not do. Can the Broncos’ get to another SB?  Yes.  Am I  thoroughly convinced because they have Peyton that they will? Absolutely not; Broncos’ title hopes for this season goes as Peyton goes.

Colts: Luck, Luck, Luck, AND MORE LUCK!  With Andrew, Colts’ have a legit shot if nothing else, on making the playoffs. This cat is a pro’s pro simply because of his work ethic and understanding of what it takes to play quarterback at the NFL level. With some quiet talent at the skill positions (Hakeem Nicks, Ahmad Bradshaw, T.Y. Hilton), and possible return of the ” more often than not” reliable Reggie Wayne, this Colts squad is solid and durable. Besides, one can’t find a villanous reason to root against them. Don’t know har this team will go, but watching them this season will be worth the price of addmission.

Chiefs: It’s now, or never for the Andy Reid express down in the K.C.; There’s enough talent on this squad on both sides of the ball that last year’s playoff exit should’ve not only left a bad taste, but an eagerness to make amends. Time for Alex Smith to take the next step, and Anthony Fasano could end up being one of the top fantasy picks of the season.

Sleepers:

Jets: If Rex and co. can figure out the qb situation, Jets will be a tough out for just about anybody they play.

Dolphins: Now that the Incognito/Martin fiasco is in the rearview, Phins’ can get back to the business of developing the likes of Tannehill, Wallace, and Lamar Miller.

Jags: My favorite of the sleepers, I’m biased when it comes to Bortles; I feel the Browns (my team) should have found a way to get this guy instead.  Nonetheless, if Jags some how manage to come out on the plus side of their early season contests against Eagles, Skins, Colts, and Chargers, fans beware!

 

Those are my teams’ to watch, who are yours?  Let us know at http://www.theshopreport.com

UP NEXT: The NFC

 

Seahawks wideout Doug Baldwin on winning another Super Bowl:” To the outside world, we have arrived, but to us we’re a long way away from that mountain top called, ” arrival.”

Now to the casual fan, like a DC-10 (tan), that went right over their heads. But to the purist, it speaks directly to what winning a championship – on any level- is all about, and that he (Baldwin) is a by-product of a championship culture. A culture on talked about in Cleveland since forever. At least 1999 anyway.

If the owners of Cleveland’s three major sports’ franchises (Browns, Indians, Cavs) -especially the Browns- spent the same amount of effort into putting a championship product on the field field as they do in selling ” season tickets”, this town would have experienced a “major” championship long before now, instead of being champions in nothing more than hype (LeBron/Manziel) and headlines!!

Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll told his players at the beginning of their Super Bowl season that every week was championship week, stating week 1 of the pre-season. Which would indicate that there is a mindset that must first be established and shared by everyone in the organization in order to become a champion. Adding names to a roster can make you a “Paper Champion”, but not an actual champion.

Here in Cleveland, all you have to do is win a Heisman or be mentioned – ad nauseam- on Sports Center, and you get not only keys to the city, but a 3 year extension to boot!

I don’t know about you, but this season i’m takin’ my cue from the folks in Mizzou- THE SMALL MARKET CITY THAT DOESN’T HAVE A CASE OF THE ME TOO!!

…This should be the response to anyone who finds it noteworthy that a woman has been hired as a coach (assistant be damned) for an NBA franchise.  Becky Hammon, the new assistant coach for the 2014 NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs, should be congratulated for being selected to the premier coaching staff of sports, not simply because she’s the first female on a sideline not named Violet Palmer or Beyoncé Knowles-Carter.  The fact that this is groundbreaking in 2014 should be appalling – not lauded; women have long proven themselves to possess the acumen to be successful leaders of women and men alike for quite some time (reference Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, Oprah Winfrey, Chancellor Angela Merkel or a well-mannered child raised by a single mother in your neighborhood).

Coaching has absolutely nothing to do with ability, and everything to do with mentoring, analyzing and creating opportunities for players on the court.  It is accessing the game and developing methods to succeed at that game.  Becky Hammon stated this herself, “But when it comes to things of the mind, things like coaching, game-planning, coming up with offensive and defensive schemes, there’s no reason why a woman couldn’t be in the mix and shouldn’t be in the mix.”  Mental aptitude in a sports game is not – nor has ever been – gender specific.  Moreover, the NBA has plenty of male coaches who exemplify the adage that “those who can’t do, teach”.  Rick Carlisle, Doc Rivers and former NBA coach Larry Brown – with successful tenures and 4 NBA titles as coach between them – were measurably better drawing up plays from the sidelines than wearing a jersey.  Meanwhile, the struggles of Isaiah Thomas and Michael Jordan as mentor/coach/GM/Owner are in stark contrast to their careers on the court.

The Spurs, with their mix of young and seasoned talent, are the definition of precision basketball.  In 2013-2014, the Spurs boasted – rather did not boast about – just four entries in the top ten for any major statistical category (blocks, blocks per Game, three-point percentage and steals).  As a team, the Spurs shot and assist percentages, combined with their lack of offensive rebounds as well as low number of team fouls solidify that they clearly are the masters of execution and smart play.  Precision like this befits a team that does not have a player with the physical presence of an LBJ, KD or D12, akin to WNBA players who overall lack the physical presence of their male counterparts, even of their own contemporaries.  This is why the women’s game is more fundamentally sound.  This is why Becky Hammon is already prepared to excel; she transitioned from a head smart player to a coach on a team with a similar approach to the game.  Her gender will not be the reason why she fails or succeeds; it’s her ability to understand basketball.  The Spurs have a history of acquiring talent who understand basketball, and this is why sustained success remains in the forecast for the Spurs by adding Becky.

What’s up sports’ fan? It’s ya’ main man Barbershop J here to give you my “winners” for week 4 of the 2013 NFL season. Why do I wait until the fourth week you ask? Because unlike most pundits, I don’t think one can make accurate predictions without having a big enough sampling size. Making predictions at the beginning of a season may work for some, but not for those who pride themselves on getting it right the first time! Thursday night’s match up between the 49ers and Rams was already a done deal at the time these predictions were made. So, without further ado, here they are.

(1) Ravens @ Bills: While I think E.J.Manuel has the poise and moxy to be an NFL starting QB, he is still a rookie. And like all rookies that make their way to the NFL, Manuel must take his lumps before before blossoming into a bona fide QB. Ravens in a close one.

(2) Bengals @ Browns: Dalton & Co. are no slouches by any stretch. I get the feeling though that the Browns may have found their starting QB in Hoyer. Regardless, it’s high time the Browns start winning heir home games, and doing so against division opponents; Browns are 21-60 vs. the division since 99′. That has to change if fans are to stop with skepticism and start taking them seriously. Home cookin’ prevails, Browns by 3

(3) Bears @ Lions: We know what to expect from Stafford/Megatron, but Lions running game is paltry without Bush. On the other hand, I didn’t expect the Bears to be this good so early after losing Lovie and Urlacher. Bears’ D is still Super Bowl caliber, and Cutler to Marshall just may be enough to see them through. Bears by 7

(4) Seahawks @ Texans: Tate wants out Foster had choice words for the NCAA, and Schaub looks ordinary. Seahawks can beat anybody, anywhere, anytime; Lynch’s fumble inside the 5-yd line of the Divisional rd against Falcons cost them — I believe– a Super Bowl appearance last year. Seahawks won’t make the same mistake twice. Seahawks by 10

(5) Colts @ Jaguars: On the Jags side of thing’s, where’s Tim Tebow when you need him? Jones-Drew has got to be boiling in his own stew. Luck and Co. beat Frisco in Frisco. Who the he!@ ya’ think I’m pickin! Colts’ in a yawner.

(6) Giants @ Chiefs: Still hard to imagine the Giants being 0-3; nt so much when you see them play. Chiefs’ are probably one of the most underrated teams’ in the league this season. Don’t be surprised if Andy’s boys get to the dance this year. Chiefs’ by 6

(7) Steelers @ Vikings: Boy oh boy, this battle between 0-3’s is a hard one to call. How often do you hear o-fer with either of the two? Especially the Steel Curtain! I’ll let you decide… Pick em’.

(8) Cardinals @ Buccaneers: Josh Freeman is starting to look like a bust, and a brat; not a good combination for a guy who wants out and another NFL QB job. Dissention and Dysfunction are the Bucs'; Arians’ will have Cardinals’ more focused and fed up with losing. Cardinals’ by 3 (or more).

(9) Jets @ Titans: Say what you will about the Jets, but New Yorkers’ (in general) seem to have a resiliency when ever someone tells them that they can’t. Jets’ embody that so far this season. Titans’ play good ole’ fashion football from the both sides of the trenches. Whoever wins this matchup could very well end up with an AFC Wildcard. Jets or Titans by…

(10) Eagles @ Broncos: Welcome to the NFL Chip! no matter how many plays you run, or how fast you are, NFL defensive players hit hard enough to slow down any type of gimmick; so my friend, you’re gonna have to try again. Peyton is playing this season like he’s mad about what happened to the Broncos’ in their lose to the Ravens last year;- AT HOME! Where I’m from we call that man on a mission. This version of the Broncos’ is darn good. Super Bowl good. Broncos by a spanking!

(11) Redskins @ Raiders: No need to be RGIII drama redundant; Skins’ finally get of the snide. Raiders’ are an accident waiting to happen. Although at home, I’d be surprised if Raiders pulled this one out. Redskins’ by 7

(12) Cowboys @ Chargers: Jerry might finally have a team to validate the cost of building “Jerry’s World.” Dez Bryant is the real deal, and Romo doesn’t appear to be in a hurry to mess it up like usual. Redgular season is not the Boys’ problem; it’s the playoffs I’m waiting to see. Rivers is overrated; can’t blame Norv for what is starting to feel like yet again, another season down the drain. Boys’ get r’ done– by 7

(Pats @ Falcons: Despite throwing the ball to Larry, Curly, and Moe, Brady continues to prove why he is one of the best (ever?) and a passing surgeon to boot. Falcons lost a tough one to Dolphins late, and their defense is susceptible on the edges. That being said, Matty Ice may have just enough to beat Tom in the dome. Falcons by 3

(13) Dlphins @ Saints: Cameron Wake’s absence could be a key in this duel at the dome. Phins young talent is playing well and could challenge Patriots for division crown, but Brees and Payton are hard to over come down in the Bayou. Who Would’ve thought that Rob Ryan could actually coach a top ten defense? Doplhins in a stunner… by 3

Well, those are my week 4 winners. If you disagree or think you can do better, e-mail theshopreport@yahoo.com and voice your displeasure!! Until next time…

D. Gulley for TheShopReport –

There was a familiarity in what I experienced on Saturday night’s boxing pay-per-view and the WWE event that followed on Sunday.  The familiarity isn’t in the price-tag (the WWE event was cheaper by around twenty dollars – when, if ever could one say that about a WWE event?), but in the culmination of events that led through the conclusion of the bouts – Mayweather vs. ‘Canelo’ Alvarez and Randy “The Viper” Orton vs. Daniel Bryan.  It was after about round 4 that I realized, “I’ve seen this before”; and based on the current state of affairs in boxing, I’m very likely to see this at least another 4 times (the remaining obligation of Mayweather’s fight deal with Showtime).

Mayweather being Mayweather  – a worked-shoot

In pro-wrestling lingo, a work is an arranged event presented as if it were in fact real.  In contrast, a shoot is an event that is truly authentic.  For casual and semi-informed wrestling fans, think of a typical back stage argument as a work and the “Infamous Incident in Montreal” that occurred at the 1997 Survivor Series as a shoot (arguably the most famous shoot ever).  A worked-shoot is a hybrid of those events, whereas elements both real and arranged are combined.  Mayweather does a masterful job of presenting all three facets through the span duration of the All-Access episodes leading up to the fight.  ‘Money’ Mayweather performs the work – trash talking his opponent during his training.  Floyd Mayweather performs the shoot – speaking candidly about how De La Hoya’s blueprint has never delivered a victory to anyone he offered it to, and defending his lavish lifestyle as a celebration of hard work and dedication to boxing and not the pursuit of nefarious ventures (no argument here).  Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather performs the worked shoot – showcasing the shopping spree for the ladies of ‘The Money Team’ (TMT), and the shopping spree for his daughter in nearly equal time.  It would appear as if Floyd resigns himself to knowing that he’s the heel (wrestling term for bad guy) of boxing even if he’s the featured attraction.  This reminds me of a guy named Paul Levesque (more on him later).

Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez – is this his moment?

Young, strong, fast, powerful, determined, hungry are just six words to describe the upstart challenger.  At just 23 he was a prime formidable challenge for a still great – and aging – 36 year old Mayweather.  In my analysis, Alvarez posed a greater threat to win than Miguel Cotto before him.  Alvarez has a similar fighting style to Cotto – which clearly gave Mayweather more trouble than anyone in recent memory – and unlike Cotto, he was only partially battle-tested but yet not war-weary.  A photogenic face with a personality that appears in stark contrast to the champion makes it him a better face (aka babyface, wrestling term for good guy) than WWE’s Daniel Bryan compared to Randy Orton.  A look at the trail of destruction that Canelo left (e.g. the punishment he delivered to Austin Trout in April) is a solid case that Mayweather’s undefeated streak was near its long and illustrious end.

The Direct Link – The World Awaits & WrestleMania XXIV –

The World Awaits – Mayweather’s 2007 (not-so-surprising but lackluster) victory over Oscar De La Hoya – wasn’t Money’s (then nick-named as Pretty Boy) first main event, but it was arguably his first significant headliner.  To clarify by comparison of pro wrestling, there’s a distinction between the main event of WWE Raw (weekly), compared to Night of Champions (monthly pay-per-view) moreover compared to headlining WrestleMania (the preeminent pay-per-view).  The Mayweather fights against Jose Luis Castillo and Diego Corrales were compared to Raw, his Night of Champions Moments were vs. Zab Judah and Arturo Gatti, and The World Awaits was Mayweather’s first WrestleMania.  There was significant build up to this fight, the constant disclosure about the purse of the fighters, the first incarnation of a 4 part mini-series leading up to a fight, and the beginnings of ‘Money’ Mayweather – the worked shoot.  However, during the promo to The World Awaits, something went awry.  The main idea of the promotion is that the case for both fighters winning is supposed to be made, the ambiguity of the finish should be ever-present; not the logical winner.  The little doubt that I had of a Mayweather victory prior to the promotion was completely gone before fight night.  It could’ve been due to De La Hoya who has historically has trouble with faster (or better opponents) like Hopkins, Mosley and Felix Sturm [but I digress].  It could have been due to actions of Floyd Mayweather Sr. – Oscar De La Hoya’s former trainer – that led to De La Hoya choosing Freddie Roach for this bout.  This situation gave a the heel (wrestling term for bad guy) a sympathetic element – which was good for family but horrible for promotions.  On a minor note, Mayweather’s claims (later somewhat substantiated) on De La Hoya’s character also aided in sabotaging the contrast of character which was a foundational element of interest in the fight.  Mayweather would learn quite a bit from these missteps by working his match against WWE superstar ‘The Big Show’ in WrestleMania XXIV in 2008.  A rarity in crossover matches that feature athletes from other sports, Mayweather actually played the heel against the massively larger seven foot, four hundred pound pro wrestler.  “Money” Mayweather was by now fully defined – the arrogance, swagger, dedication and preparation that made him boxing’s biggest attraction crossed over rather convincingly to the world of sports entertainment.  Working with the talent of WWE, primarily Triple-H on how to sell a match, particularly the building of a match paid off well.  Let me note, the match itself was not that great, but the building of the match was remarkable.  Mayweather and WrestleMania XXIV is an often overlooked event that foreshadows the discontent that even some Mayweather fans have with the era’s greatest fighter.

Throw Some Game Into the Money

“Triple-H” or “The Game” (the Paul Levesque guy mentioned earlier) is name likely to be exclaimed from the mouths of anyone in awe of seeing WWE’s current COO accompany Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather to the ring in 2009 vs. Juan Manuel Marquez and 2012 vs. Miguel Cotto.  The Game has built quite a legacy for himself from his in and out of ring moves (his wife is the daughter of WWE owner Vince McMahon).  Paul Levesque has quite a bit of creative control behind his Triple-H character and other talent in the WWE.  Most significantly, Paul has a keen awareness of the perception of both Triple-H (the character) and Paul Levesque (the person) as a heel and has made a career of using this to his advantage.  Interestingly enough, Mayweather’s post fight scuffle with Shane Mosley occurred after the Marquez fight where Triple-H first accompanied Mayweather to the ring.  Since this incident, I argue that Mayweather’s pre-fight promotions have been measurably better, each eclipsing the former, and the only missteps have been the chosen opponents (more on that later).  Mayweather stays consistent in making sure that he’s the heel of the match, and the opponents are viewed as the face.  Like his boxing prowess, he’s turned a flaw in the “Money” character into a strength of that very character.  The sympathy for repairing an estranged relationship with Floyd Sr. has evolved into a repaired relationship where Floyd Sr.’s trash-talking has only helped to further push “Money” Mayweather has a heel.  This is akin to the disclosure of the budding romance and eventual marriage of Stephanie McMahon to Paul Levesque (Triple-H) during a time when Triple-H was involved in a feud with a tyrannical owner – and father-in-law – Vince K. McMahon.  The Levesque-McMahon family has been able to work the relationship into its current state where COO Triple-H and his wife are the heavy-handed, manipulative, heels of the company.

All Will be Revealed – Why am I Surprised?

Of all that I knew and have known, I didn’t connect the dots until the fourth round of the Mayweather-Alvarez fight.  Once it became apparent that Alvarez was not going to get around the straight left jab of Mayweather, and Alvarez’ boyish haircut would tell the tale by waving every time he was hit, I felt a sense of Déjà vu.  This sense of Déjà vu that made me think back to this year’s WrestleMania XXIX where The Undertaker defeated CM Punk to extend his undefeated streak at WrestleMania to 21-0.  My logic and decades of following the sport (such as it is) of wrestling dictated to me that I knew the result before the match began; The Undertaker would win.  Nonetheless, the match was a capstone of masterful promotion that captivated an audience by making the best case that each competitor could win the match; CM Punk, the era’s longest reigning WWE Champion vs. The Undertaker  a former WWE Champion that has always found a way to win at WrestleMania, if nowhere else.  The idea of CM Punk winning defied and compelled me against my logic, and I bought in (and paid $59.95 for it).  And in the fourth round of Mayweather-Alvarez, I found the familiar element; I realized that I was being duped into believing that Alvarez posed a serious threat to dethrone a fighter of Mayweather’s skill much like believing that CM Punk would be able to end the Undertaker’s legacy when he has not matured into his own.  Like The Undertakers streak, the product of a decades-long push (wrestling term for a scheduled program/story), Mayweather’s undefeated record is one worthy of history books.  The difference is that Undertaker – the sports entertainment athlete – appears to have faced greater tests than Mayweather – the combat sport prize-fighter.  And this is unfortunate for Mayweather.  He has the utmost respect for his profession and his work ethic defines as such.  I shall clarify, as I am encroaching on making an argument that Mayweather’s fights have been somehow fixed, that I do not suggest that Canelo and/or any of Mayweather’s preceding opponents took a dive.  I firmly believe that Mayweather, Alvarez or any of the aforementioned boxers in this piece have too much self-respect to force a conclusion to a match.  I submit that the field of competition in professional boxing is incredibly fragile, even far weaker than the field of WWE champion candidates.  This is the reason why Alvarez and before him Robert Guerrero, and before him Victor Ortiz – but not Miguel Cotto – have all disappointed; they were never a match for Mayweather.  Most smart marks (pro wrestling term for fans who allegedly have sense of the inner-workings of the enterprise) of boxing realize this, and this is why they rather look at what could’ve been compared to what actually was.  The smart marks of boxing state that Mayweather should’ve fought Cotto prior to Cotto’s controversial wars with Antonio Margarito, or perhaps should’ve given Paul Williams a shot. More persistently, the echoes of the Filipino sensation-turned-politician-who-must-not-be-named still remain, however faint, considering that his most recent year proves that he has lost any advantage to pose a threat to Mayweather.

The Ultimate Choice

Ultimately, Mayweather dictates his destiny, and deservedly so.  Like it or not, he’s undefeated, unblemished, and has never been knocked down as a professional.  He has the power and notoriety in the sport unmatched by any other active fighter.  With this power, he can stay the current course, selecting the fighters that showcase Mayweather’s best talents rather than their own.  He can also force and influence the type of change by an athlete most recently expressed in 2010’s infamous “Decision” that changed the landscape of franchise building and contract negotiations in the NBA.  Mayweather has accomplished a great deal in his career and his willingness to do things by Mayweather’s own terms is understood and respected.  Though, his accelerated work rate in this stage of his career is a sign that he does acknowledge the murmurs of his fans and detractors.  It is within Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather’s ability to create the type of fights with challengers that truly possess the skill to give Mayweather the challenge he deserves.  Otherwise, I will continue to have more belief that an arranged decision in a WWE match between Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton is less certain than the outcome of the next fight between Mayweather and his next opponent.

Playoff time is here, and the West is the best when it comes to matchups fans really want to see. Seeds are in parenthesis.

(1) Oklahoma City vs.(8) Houston: Thunder have a dynamic 1-2 punch in Durant and Westbrook. Problem is, Westbrook’s style of play can be asymmetrical to the offensive flow. Instead of working with K.D., Westbrook seems to work against him. The Rockets would win this series if they played any kind of D! Because they don’t, OKC wins 4-2.

(2) San Antonio vs.(7) L.A. Lakers: This one is hard to call believe it or not. Both Teams are playoff savy and experienced. It doesn’t matter that the Lakers roster has not been together for a long time, or that the Spurs are dealing with a rash of recent injuries as of late. This is a pick em’ series all day long.

(3) Denver vs.(6) Golden State: Denver was a league best 38-3 at home! Not having Galinari put a severe dent in their attempt to go all the way, but that won’t be a problem against the Warriors. Golden State has improved significantly on both ends of the floor under coach Mark Jackson and have one of the league’s most dangerous player’s in Curry. It’ll take more than that to win this series. Denver wins 4-2 in a series that will be played better than the end result.

(4) L.A. Clippers vs.(5) Memphis: Although the Griz’ have been playing well in the absence of Rudy Gay, I still think at some point it will come back to haunt them. Slow it down is the recipe for the Grizzlies. The Clippers outside shooting has been up and down this season, and the interior is inferior to the Griz’ despite Blake Griffin. Memphis wins 4-3; they better not make a fool out of me.

Well, that’s a wrap for this year’s predictions… Let the Madness begin!!

Now that both the East and West contestants of what is the 2013 NBA Playoffs are set, here’s my take on the winners/losers of each matchup starting with the East. Seeds are in parenthesis.

(1) Miami vs. (8) Milwaukee: LeBron (DNP), Wade (DNP), and Bosh (DNP); Miami still wins 4-0. The Heat have 3 of the Olympic starting 5; Bucks have Jennings, Ellis, and a bunch of no names. The Heat should have been granted a first-round bye. That’s how horrible this series will most likely turn out.

(2) New York vs. (7) Boston: The Celtics should not be underestimated because of their age. Doc Rivers knows all to well – as do his players- what playoff basketball is all about. Only the Spurs Popovich is better at getting the most out of his squad. As long as health is not an achilles heel, Boston has more than a puncher’s chance of winning this series. The Knicks have 2 of the league’s premier shooters in Melo and Smith, but need Chandler to balance everything out. Sometimes when the shots are not fallin, the Knicks get caught holding the ball to long and standing around. The lack of ball movement in halfcourt sets will be their undoing and exactly what the doctor ordered for the Celtics. The Knicks should win; I won’t be shocked if they don’t.

(3) Indiana vs. (6) Atlanta: Pacers are to inconsistent; one minute they look as though they could beat anybody, and then turn around and look as though couldn’t compete with the recently crowned state champ Mentor Cardinals. Hibbert’s production is critical to the Pacers advancing to the next round. 8 points and 5 rebound type numbers will not get it done. Horford and Smith can tip the scales in favor of the Hawks if Josh stops poutin’ and start playin’ up to his ability. Al will bring it every night; will Smith help him out? Indiana wins 4-3 by default.

(4) Brooklyn vs. (5) Chicago: Lopez, Johnson, and Williams make up a nice core for the Nets, but Carlesimo and inexperience may count against them in the end. The Bulls are battle tested like no other. Chicago needs to only put points on the board; everything else will take care of itself. Rose’s return (off the bench) would be a huge bonus. Bulls win this series 4-2 on grit alone.