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Don't bet against the Spurs (at least in Game 1)

May 12, 2017 01:40 PM
Gregg Popovich is reason enough not to underestimate the Spurs' chances against the Warriors in the West finals.
© USA Today Sports Images

LAS VEGAS--Think back for a moment. Remember the Golden State Warriors?


Yes, they are still around. And they are still very much the odds-on favorites to win the NBA championship. Coming off their break since they swept away the Utah Jazz, the Warriors are about to take on the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday afternoon in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.


Remember this: The Warriors did not play the Spurs either of the last two years when they made consecutive runs to the Finals. After being eliminated by the Los Angeles Clippers and the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Spurs were prevented from facing the Warriors, even last year when their club-record 67 wins were overshadowed by Golden State’s league record of 73. Those last two years San Antonio beat the Warriors three times and lost four. This season the Spurs won 2 of 3 from Golden State, including a stunning, 129-100 victory at Oakland on opening night.


Here is a betting lesson: This series will not be a four-game sweep by the Warriors. Yes, Golden State should and probably will win. But when my guys in the desert put up double-digit spreads, take the points and run – hopefully back to the window to cash a winning ticket.


Right now Spurs plus-10 is the consensus here in Las Vegas for Sunday’s Game 1 at the Oracle Arena. Let me give you three reasons to buy the Spurs:

1. Popovich.

2. Popovich.

3. Ask James Harden about reasons 1 and 2.


As for the last series still going on in the second round, it is as simple as home-court advantage. With the Celtics leading the Wizards 3-2 it has held through the first five games, and the home team has covered the number every time. That trend also held in all four regular-season meetings between these two teams.


Game 6 is Friday night at Washington with the Wizards opening the day at minus-5. The home-court pattern is a strong reason to back the favorite and force a Game 7 in Boston on Sunday.


If we dare to look ahead it is hard to imagine the Celtics losing a deciding game at the TD Garden. Boston won the last seven times it has been home against the Wizards. Just in playoff games the last time the Celtics lost at home to Washington – it was to the Bullets in 1982 at the old Boston Garden.




I was all in on the Spurs on Thursday night. You might have caught that Twitter video that one of my wise guys in the desert shot when I ran out during a commercial break to bet on them. That was right after we found out Kawhi Leonard would not be playing – and the Spurs were suddenly getting nine points.


I believed the Spurs would find a way to rally around one another in the absence of their best player, but I must admit I did not see a 39-point massacre coming.


On the way home Thursday night from the VSiN Studio I listened to the Houston Rockets broadcast on SiriusXM. The hometown announcer was and probably is still mortified by the Rockets’ collapse. He seemed so perplexed by their performance that he did not even bother to blame the referees, which is the normal conclusion of local radio broadcasters.


I still find it hard to believe that MVP candidate James Harden, who averaged 29 points a game during the regular season, was held to 10 points. He did not attempt a shot in the first quarter – and only two in the first half. He did not make a two-point basket the entire game, meaning he found no room to drive to the basket.


Before I bury him completely, I am suspicious about whether an injury or two or three may have slowed up Harden. He just did not look like himself for significant stretches during the six-game series.


But let’s not forget to give a round of applause to LaMarcus Aldridge – and a tip of the fedora to VSiN Vinny. South Point oddsmaker Vinny Magliulo came on “My Guys In the Desert” yesterday and forecast a strong game from Aldridge, who poured in a season-high 34 rebounds and grabbed 12 rebounds. During the current three-point shooting revolution in the NBA, Aldridge has made the two-point jump shot a lethal weapon again. Shades of Tim Duncan.


And let’s also give a nod to Jonathon Simmons, who stepped into the starting lineup when Leonard’s ankle kept him from taking the floor. Simmons scored 18 points Thursday night to help knock out his hometown team. Not bad for a 27-year-old who went undrafted out of Houston, played for the Sugar Land Legends of the ABL, paid $150 to get a tryout with the Austin Toros in the D-League and eventually landed with the Spurs thanks to an appearance in the Las Vegas Summer League two years ago.


As Simmons and Aldridge and a presumably healthy Leonard move on to face the Warriors, we must not leave the Spurs-Rockets series behind without pointing out what a complete coaching mismatch this was. It was Mike D’Antoni’s job to get his players back up for Game 6 after they played their rear ends off in a Game 5 that went overtime.


Maybe we should have seen this coming. Gregg Popovich has now met D’Antoni five times in a playoff series. Five times Popovich has won it.




Somewhere out there the Cleveland Cavaliers are waiting. And waiting. And waiting some more. If the Wizards win Friday night, their Eastern Conference Finals series will not start until Wednesday. Even if the Celtics were to win Friday night, Game 1 would not come until Monday. Either way that is more than a week off for LeBron James and Co.


Yes, the Cavs are going to be favored. But beware of backing teams that are idle for a long time. It would not surprise me if Cleveland loses Game 1 and then wins four in a row. You lose the edge when you don’t face opponents other than your teammates in practice. The rest helps the aches and pains, but it does nothing for a team mentally.




I must thank everyone for all the kind words about the Lifetime Achievement Award I was fortunate enough to get Tuesday night in New York at the 38th Sports Emmy Awards.


The best thing for me was seeing a lot of old friends, many of whom I worked with at CBS, ABC and ESPN. Us announcers rarely saw each other in the course of our work, because we were all traveling different directions. So it was great chatting with Bob Costas and Mike Tirico and Dan Patrick and Cris Collinsworth and John Smoltz and Kevin Burkhardt.


Drew Esocoff did a great job introducing me. He is the immensely talented director on NBC’s Sunday Night Football. But before that he and I were together for years at ABC and ESPN.


He reminded one and all Tuesday night of a time that Dick Vermeil and I were working together on a college football game at Michigan. As the game went on in Ann Arbor, I would call the play, and then I would pause to let Dick do his thing.


But down in the production truck Drew said he noticed the pauses were getting a little long at one point. He asked camera 2 to turn around and take a shot of us in the booth to see what was going on. He discovered that I was keeping an eye on one particular monitor – the one showing the horses being loaded for a Breeders’ Cup race going on at the same time.


That is when Drew learned that I could multitask. And when he also imposed a ban on monitors showing horse races while I was calling a football game.


It was indeed a great night in New York, but it is good to be back here in Vegas to be with my guys in the desert.


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