Sunday, June 7, 2015

NBA Finals Predictions - Game 2 (and coaching thoughts)

  Yankee Hall of Fame pitcher Lefty Gomez said “I’d rather be lucky than good.” I’ll echo that sentiment as far as my NBA Finals Game 1 predictions. I made three bets -110 on the over of 203, -12.5 on LeBron James making more than seven free throws, and -11 on James scoring more than 29.5 points. The game was at 196 points at the end of the fourth quarter but in a stroke of luck the points were arranged just so at 98 apiece which led to an overtime where 12 points were scored and make me $100 on the over. James scored 44 points on 38 shots which boosted my profit to $110 but only made 6 of 10 free throws to drop my Game 1 final winnings to a mythical $97.50. Needless to say, if the King has made one more free throw I wouldn’t have lost $12.50 but the Cavaliers’ might have won the game in regulation and made my over 203 points prediction a loser so I’ll take my stroke of luck and my mythical winnings.

  I thought the Warriors shot very poorly and were lucky to get the game to overtime much less win it. James was as unstoppable as I predicted and Cavaliers’ point guard Kyrie Irving was the X-factor I thought he would be but Irving fractured his kneecap in the overtime and will miss the rest of the Finals. I don’t think the Cavaliers can win the series without Irving but I’m not predicting a Warriors sweep either. The Cavaliers beat the Bulls and Hawks without Irving and have practice in playing without him. I expect the Cavaliers to attempt to out-muscle the Warriors because their only advantage other than having the unstoppable James is their big man duo of Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson. has the Cavaliers as an eight point underdog in Game 2 with an over/under of 201. I expect the game to be close but will ride my streak with the over/under and go with the over for a $110 bet to win $100. I expect the Warriors to execute their offense more efficiently and score more points now that the players have dealt with the nerves of their initial NBA Finals appearance. The Cavaliers will miss Irving but I expect more scoring from the bench than the nine points the group scored in Game 1. Those nine points all came from J.R. Smith’s 3-13 performance from the three point line and I expect more production from Smith and the rest of the bench. Since I'm predicting a better performance from Smith I'll make him the subject of my Game 2 proposition bet and bet $20 to win $10 that Smith will make more than 3.5 three pointers in the game (-200).

  The Warriors took a huge gamble in the off-season by firing successful coach Mark Jackson and replacing him with Steve Kerr. Kerr was the General Manager of the Phoenix Suns for three years last decade but had no head coaching experience. The gamble paid off as the Warriors took a huge leap forward. They won a franchise record 67 games in the regular season and are now three games away from the franchise’s first championship in 40 years. The success of the Warriors’ bold move has led to some copycat coaching changes this off season. The Oklahoma City Thunder fired longtime coach Scott Brooks with one year left on his contract after the Thunder had their worst season in six years (45-37 and missing the playoffs). To take Brooks’ place, the Thunder hired Billy Donovan the two time championship winning college coach from the University of Florida.

  The Thunder’s 'poor' season was one many other teams would be thrilled with and can be traced to season ending injuries to superstars Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka while all-star guard Russell Westbrook also missed a number of games to injury. Brooks lost his job in part because he failed to win the championship during his tenure despite championship level talent and in part because the Warriors bold move paid off so handsomely. If the Warriors had regressed or had the same season as the last two years (50 wins and a playoff series or two before exiting) I can’t imagine Thunder GM Sam Presti making such this move. Even though Donovan has had great success at the college level he has never coached a game in the NBA and there is no way to know if he will be able to adapt to the professional game.

  Another successful coach who was fired was Tom Thibodeau of the Chicago Bulls. Thibodeau has had disagreements with the front office for some time over how many minutes he was playing the Bulls’ best players and how the team seemed to underperform in the playoffs after overachieving in the regular season. Thibodeau coached for the Bulls for five years. His team won the division and made the conference finals his first year, won the division but lost in the first round after reigning MVP Derrick Rose had a serious knee injury, finished second in the division the next three years with Rose either not playing or barely playing while he suffered more knee injuries. The Bulls were expected to be a championship contender this year but Rose was once again hurt, all-star Jimmy Butler also lost time with an elbow injury, and all-star Joakim Noah was hobbled by plantar fasciitis. Despite the injuries, the team had their entire roster available for the playoffs but squandered a 2-1 series lead against a Cavalier team that was missing two of their top three players.

  Clearly the Bulls underachieved this postseason and Thibodeau was shown the door despite having two more years left on his coaching contract. I think Thibodeau's dismissal is fully justified but don’t think it would have been made if not for the success of the Warriors coaching change. Like the Thunder the Bulls hired a coach from the college ranks in 9 year NBA veteran Fred Hoiberg. Hoiberg coached at Iowa State University for the past five years and has close ties to Bulls General Manager Gar Forman. Unlike Billy Donovan, Hoiberg hasn’t won two national championships. ISU did win two Big Twelve postseason tournaments and Hoiberg has won four NCAA tournament games in five years, making the Sweet Sixteen in 2014 as a three seed. In March the ISU Cyclones were a chic pick to make the Final Four as a three seed but lost in the first round to UAB in a big upset. Time will tell but I think the Bulls have gotten a college coach whose teams underachieved in the postseason to replace their current coach whose teams underachieved in the postseason.