Thursday, April 27, 2006
1. The stars come out. NBA playoff games are either won or lost by the best players on the team. Players that you know who, when the win is on the line, they are the go-to guys or goats. In the NHL the hero of the game is rarely the face of the team. Usually it’s just some guy who that night happened to score the big goal.
2. Games are over fast and if there is overtime, it’s short and sweet - and if it ends in a tie, there is just another short sweet overtime.
3. Playoff officiating allows the games to take on a new dimension of toughness. Seeing the chosen one, Lebron James, in full whine mode and completely taken out of his game after facing actual post-season body contact for the first time gives the second season of hoops a great added dimension.
4. Hubie Brown.
5. Back when the NHL had Gretzky, every playoff game with him was required viewing due to his mind-numbing creativity. He’s gone but the NBA’s got that now with another Canadian, the MVP Steve Nash.
6. The schedule is genius. The start times are staggered allowing you to see the starts and finishes of up to three games a night and four on the weekend.
7. With the games on so many networks, you only have to hear Bill Walton occasionally now.
8. Dance packs.
9. Star vs. Star. Each series has a built in head-to-head matchup between the best players. Forget the teams, in the first round we’re all watching Kobe vs. Nash and Arenas vs. James.
10. Charles Barkley.
Ten reasons why the NHL playoffs are better TV than squeak, squeak, swish:
1. Upsets. With parity, there are no “sure thing” series in hockey. Each one is up for grabs the second the puck drops. Detroit had the best record in the NHL, yet they are facing elimination in the first round against the Oilers who made it to the playoffs on the last regular season weekend.
2. In my humble opinion, there is only one play more exiting in all of sports than a NHL playoff series-winning goal in overtime. (I’ll let you know what tops the list the next time it happens.)
3. Hitting. The refs are letting the boys go, and unlike in the regular season, when guys get hit, they get up (if they can) and just keep on playing.
4. Fox isn’t covering it.
5. For the first time, the games are being broadcast in Hi Definition and for the first time watching hockey on the tube is almost as good as seeing it live. Almost.
6. Pierre McGwire. If you haven’t heard him explain hockey yet, tune in an NBC broadcast, because it’ll be worth it. He’s the voice of hockey for TSN in Canada and is now working the post-season for the American national audience.
7. NHL players are nice.
8. Fighting. Once upon a time, the NHL was plagued by this sideshow. However with the rule changes, the goons are gone and in the post-season, due to the penalties counting for so much more, fighting is very, very rare. So when one does break out, you know its for a good reason, and since it is so rare, it shouldn’t be missed.
9. The toughest championship grind in sports is the Stanley Cup playoffs. For a team to win, first they have to survive.
10. Don Cherry.
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
In basketball, home court is often the ultimate decider. In fact, since the NBA instituted it’s current 16 team format, the higher seed has advanced out of the first round 70 percent of the time and 82 percent of all Game 7’s have been won by the home team.
It’s not always that way in hockey. Home ice in the NHL playoffs is less important than any other sport. That’s because a series in other sports usually is not decided by a single position player. That’s not the case in hockey where a red-hot goalie will take precedence over home ice advantage.
It happens almost every year. Some No. 6 seed’s goalie catches fire and stands on his head night after night as his team advances against seemingly insurmountable odds.
Neither of this year’s NHL top seeds, Ottawa out of the East and Detroit out of the West, has dominating goaltending. The Senators got off to a brilliant start behind the Dominik Hasek. However, the ‘Dominator” has not played since the Olympics. Ray Emery, his replacement, is just 14-11-4 after setting an NHL record for winning his first nine starts.
The Red Wings had the best record in the league and won the President’s Trophy. The team’s 124 points was a full 12 points ahead of the second-place Senators. Though Detroit starting goalie Manny Legace was third in save percentage, he is an unknown quantity with the money of the line.
A list of goaltenders that could help their respective teams capture the Stanley Cup appears below.
Martin Brodeur (New Jersey Devils)
Brodeur, who has already won three Stanley Cups, led the league in wins with 43. He’s also currently playing his best hockey of the year. The Devils trailed the Rangers by 19 points on Feb. 1 before winning their final 11 games.
Miikka Kiprusoff (Calgary Flames)
Kiprusoff burst onto the scene in 2004 by leading the upstart Flames to the Cup finals. The Fin has had a tremendous year this year with 42 wins, a league leading 2.09 goals against average and an incredible 10 shutouts. Calgary has significantly more offense and defense than it had in its 2004 run.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere (Anaheim Mighty Ducks)
Giguere was impenetrable in leading Ducks to the 2003 Cup Finals where they lost in Game 7. Despite the loss, he was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy (playoff MVP). Giguere sports 30 wins, a 2.77 GAA and a .911 save percentage.
Friday, April 21, 2006
NHL San Jose @ Nashville
Many believe the story of this series will be the absence of Preds goalie Tomas Vokoun. A more telling sign with be the parade (or lack of) to the penalty box in this series. The sharks come into the playoffs as one of the most disciplined teams while Nashville is on the polar end of that as they are the 3rd worst in the league for PIM. With that being said, defense wins cups and both clubs should play the opening game close to the vest and provide us with a low scoring affair. The sharks have gone under 6 of their last 9 overall and 5 of their last 6 on the road. Nashville meanwhile has gone under 16 of the last 23 overall. As a matchup, 4 of the last 5 meetings have gone under. 2-1 or 3-2 final tonight as we find value and cash in on the under in game 1.Play on: Under 6
NHL Playoffs - First Round
Anaheim Mighty Ducks @ Calgary Flames
Friday, April 21, 2006 (10:00 ET)
Current Total: 5 u15
These teams went UNDER in all three meaningful head-to-head meetings during the regular season, and playoff games are generally even tighter checking and lower scoring.Yes these teams went OVER in a 4-3 Ducks victory in the regular season finale, but that was nothing more than an exhibition game with both teams having their playoff positions sewn up. The previous three meetings averaged just a combined 4.0 goals, with none of those games exceeding five goals. We expect nothing differently tonight as Calgary is the best defensive team in the league. Thanks to the combination of a stiff Flames defense and the world class goaltending of Miikka Kiprusoff, Calgary allowed just 2.35 goals per game for the entire season. Moreover, that average dropped to a miniscule 1.71 goals per game at home, where Flames games averaged a combined 4.34 goals, by far the lowest combined home average in the NHL.Anaheim also played well defensively all year allowing 2.71 goals per game and the Ducks allowed slightly fewer goals on the road (2.66). The UNDER went 23-15, 60.5 percent in all Anaheim road games this season, as well as an incredible 28-10, 73.7 percent in Calgary home games, and we think these teams will be hard-pressed to exceed four goals combined tonight with so much at stake.
We recommend a play on DUCKS/FLAMES UNDER 5 -115.
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
I had a conversation with Barry Greenstein today. Barry’s been very gracious with his time in answering questions for me on occasion over the last half-year. This time around, I left a message for him asking for some thoughts on Puggy Pearson. If you’re reading this blog, you probably know that Puggy passed away a few days ago.
Barry gave me a lot of information with permission to post it here. The most shocking revelation to come out of the conversation was that while Puggy was enormously proud of his 1973 World Championship, he should have won the previous year also.
The ’72 championship was down to three players; Pearson, who was more or less the king of the Vegas poker world, Doyle Brunson, then the usurper to Johnny Moss’ Texas throne, and Amarillo Slim, the aw shucks-con man/pool hustler/road gambler. Doyle and Puggy wanted no part of the title; it would prove to be a tax burden, and for Doyle, who comes from a Christian family, it would be seen as a dubious honor. An agreement was struck that saw Doyle drop out for his cut of the pot, while Puggy would ‘play out the final, agreeing to fold at opportune moments so Slim could take the title in front of the cameras.
Slim and Pearson started playing and good to his word, Pug folded the winning cards in key moments in order to throw the match. Slim, always a showman, celebrated his “bluffs” by turning his rags over and showing them off to the crowd, which didn’t sit too well. It was what came after Slim’s victory that really hurt.
Carrying the crown with him, Slim made the rounds, appearing on the Tonight Show and other mainstream outlets. The exposure gave organized poker its first major dose of public attention, and Slim got a lot of credit for that attention. Of course, Puggy realized that could have been him. He spent a good part of the rest of his life celebrating the Series, showing up in costume, regaling spectators with stories and even wallpapering his home with Series news clippings and the like.
In addition to his win, Pearson was Vegas’ dominant poker player at the turn of the seventies, the first non-Texan to take the championship and the possible creator of the freezeout. Wednesday, April 12th, 2006 will go down as a day on which poker lost one of its pioneers. R.I.P. Pug,
Monday, April 17, 2006
We're not talking about high scoring games just in a few particular ballparks, or with a few pitchers. It's happening EVERYWHERE to EVERYONE! The scoreboards have already lit up in great pitcher's parks in San Diego, Washington, Los Angeles and Detroit. Ace pitchers with great career ERA's look like they're throwing batting practice. And, if you put back-end pitchers on the field in a hitter's park, the sky's the limit!
What's going on and what should handicappers do about it?
First, let's keep our heads on straight. Two weeks doesn't prove anything. I've heard people say that the balls are definitely juiced. I've heard a few people say that global warming is causing an unseasonably temperate spring in the northern cities. I've heard people say that the muscle contingent has uncovered a "new" steroid that doesn't trigger positive tests. These kinds of conspiracy theories are famous for making Las Vegas sports books rich.
Don't make the mistake of betting because you've seen some weird scores in the first couple of weeks. This stuff happens all the time. You're just paying more attention than normal because everything that happens right at the beginning of a sports season is under the microscope. Let's study this high scoring phenomenon for a few more weeks before drawing firmer conclusions.
I'm not going to a full scale ‘over’ strategy right now. But, I can tell you what key factors I'm examining.
The early warning signs for steroid use in past seasons brought about this category. Abnormal spikes in production basically announced that something was going on.
The temperatures did warm up quickly this year, particularly in many of the day games up north. Also worth noting, the wind was blowing out in many of the high scoring games this past week. If the home runs stop once the wind does, then much of the mystery will be solved.
This is where you'll first see a return to normalcy. If we don't start seeing gems soon when the top of the rotation is on the mound, then something is definitely up. We'll still see high scoring games when rag arms are throwing. But if the big name guys still have ERA's over 4.50 at the end of April…we'll have very strong evidence that we need to devise some handicapping adjustments.
For now, I'm watching the scoreboards and these items very closely. I've made some minor tweaks already that have served me well. I can tell you for sure that these high scoring games caught the oddsmakers napping. You barely saw an increase at all in the posted totals even when the wind was blowing out in great hitting parks.
How can we take advantage if we determine that the offense will continue? A variety of ways appear below.
Most simply, playing the ‘over’ wherever there's value. It could turn out that's more in the pitcher's parks than the hitter's parks because the adjustment will be slowest there. It could turn out that we only get involved when the forecast has the wind blowing out. I've already got these early results logged from a variety of perspectives.
Play UNDERDOGS with home run potential. Outside factors that promote offense often serve as an equalizer in baseball. The differences between best and worst most likely involve pitching. Anything that lessens the impact of pitchers rewards underdogs.
Play SLUGGING TEAMS when they match up against "small ball" teams. Last year's Chicago White Sox were mischaracterized a bit as a "small ball" team when they won the title. They had power too. But there are some teams that decided to rebuild themselves in the "small ball" mode on the assumption that steroid testing would take power out of the game. If the power is back in, those teams will be in big trouble.
Thursday, April 13, 2006
Thursday, April 13, 2006 (7:00 ET)
Current Total: 10 o15
Matt Clement can be as nasty as any pitcher in the American League when he is on, while Ted Lilly seems to save his best outings for when he faces the Red Sox.In fact, Lilly has now posted an amazing six consecutive Quality Starts vs. Boston! He has a miniscule 1.85 ERA and 1.15 WHIP over those outings, and unlike many other southpaws, the Fenway Park Green Monster in left field has not intimidated him. Lilly has allowed just three runs in 12 2/3 innings in his last two starts here in Boston, and a case can be made that the Boston offense is not as imposing this year as in past seasons without Johnny Damon setting the table.
Now Clement was touched up for four runs on nine hits in his seasonal debut, but keep in mind that he was staked to a huge lead and he still got the win in a 14-8 Boston victory. He did have seven strikeouts in seven innings in that contest in Baltimore as opposed to just one walk, so he did have good command of his pitches and probably would have had a better game line had he not tried to avoid walking people with a big lead.
We recommend a play on BLUE JAYS/RED SOX UNDER 10 -105.