Cavs vs Warriors Rematch in 2016 NBA Finals (Preview and Predictions)

The basketball gods have blessed us again with another great match-up in the NBA Finals.  #1 seed Cleveland Cavaliers vs #1 seed Golden State Warriors.

This should be a great series and the first time since 2008 that both #1 seeds have made the finals to play each other.  What should we expect from this year’s match-up….a healthy Cavs team should be a big change in this year’s series.  
Lebron James will likely continue to be great and this year he will have the likes of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love by his side to take on the splash brothers.   Last year’s finals, James averaged 35 PPG and the 2nd highest PPG on the team was Timothy Mosgov at 14 PPG.  He should see help from Love and Irving to average it out.  He was the first player ever to lead both teams in points per game (35.8), assists per game (8.8), and rebounds per game (13.3) . He has a 27.2 Game Score, a usage percentage of 43.3%, and an assist percentage of 53.1%. The King is put this young Cavaliers team on his back and carried them to a potential Finals upset. Sure, the Warriors came out on top, but LeBron’s ability to play at such a high level, and make those less talented players around him that much better, is otherworldly. If he can lead somehow lead Cleveland to a title in 2016, it will easily be his greatest Finals performance ever.
Then you have the 73 record setting win Warriors team who just went through 7 tough games against Oklahoma City.   With their back against the wall 3-1, Steph and the Warriors battled back to win Games 5,6, and 7 to advance.  Tough to do, but if anyone could do it….it was the Warriors.  
So ahead to the 2016 Finals……  I am taking the Cleveland Cavaliers to win and Lebron finally win one for the city of Cleveland.  You have to believe that the Cavs were sitting at home and watching the Western Conference Finals and getting tips and ways to slow down the Splash brothers.  If you look back to last year, WITHOUT Kyrie and K-Love,   Lebron had his Cavs up 2-1 with Game 4 in Cleveland, but Lebron was a one man show and couldn’t shell the load himself against the team ball of Golden State.  Let’s look at the phenomenon known as Lebron James. He’s been to the NBA Finals 6 straight years, with 2 NBA championships.  Yes he is 2-4 in career NBA Finals but for a player at that caliber to be at 6 straight Finals is amazing.  Even if he wins this years, there will still be doubters and complainers about him being below .500 in Finals appearances, but Lebron will finally win one for Believeland !.   
X-Factor : Channing Fyre will be a x-factor this year with his rebounding and stretching the floor with his 3 pointer.  Lebron will continue to be Lebron and lead the Cavs.  Kevin Love needs to live up to his $102 million dollar contract his series and I feel that he will. Kyrie needs to play better defense than offense for the Cavs to win.  JR Smith who is known for his shooting, has done better defensively this year and will likely be running around chasing Klay Thompson.    Game 1 starts Thursday June 2nd in Oracle Arena.  

Outlook :   Cavs win 2016 NBA Finals  (4-3)  The key for the Cavs is if they can steal either Game 1 or 2 in Golden State like last year.  If they can do this, they will have a better chance to claim the title with Lebron having his two sidekicks with him this year.




NBA FINALS MVP : Lebron James  (The King brings one home to Cleveland).




Let’s sit back and hopefully enjoy a great NBA Finals no matter the outcome ! 

Alexander Rossi has just enough to capture the 100th Indianapolis 500

The rookie who just came to Indianapolis on Easter weekend and seen Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first time drove like a veteran today and captured the 100th Indianapolis 500.   Rossi was one of my “dark horses” I selected as to watch to win.  Coming over from Formula One, Rossi teamed with Bryan Herta and Andretti Racing to drive the #98 car.   This is the same car number and owners that were with Dan Wheldon in 2011 when he won his 2nd Indy title.

This year’s race came down to a fuel mileage race.  There were several surprising incidents on pit road today.  Andretti Motorsports teammates Ryan Hunter Reay and Townsend Bell took out their own chances to win the race when they made contact.  3 Time winner Helio Castroneves was making his late charge when he made contact with Josef Newgarden and had his bumper guard jar loose.  This ended Helio’s bid for a four title.

I was fairly surprised by the performances by Team Penske and Ganassi Racing.  Both teams were nearly silent all race long.  Scott Dixon made it to as high as 6th place but mainly ran between 9th and 11th all day. Charlie Kimball ran well today through the field and had another solid top 5 performance.  Montoya got loose and wrecked in turn 2 and Will Power was no where to be found today for a guy that runs very well at Indianapolis.

Andretti Autosport was on their game today and dominated the race with Bell, Hunter Reay, Munoz, and Rossi all leading at one point.  Marco ran as high as 5th but he wouldn’t stay there long.

Carlos Munoz was my pick to win the race with a 2nd place by Josef Newgarden.  They ended up finishing 2nd and 3rd.   (round of applause) !

Overall I think Doug Boles and the crew at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway knocked it out of the park and had a great ending with an American getting the win.  Rossi is marketable and will be interesting to see if he stays in Indycar or if he gets another ride and jumps to Formula One next year.  Andretti should do everything he can do get him to sign a contract ASAP.   How about Napa just signing on as a sponsor 2 weeks ago and now they are Indy 500 champions.  (Good Investment)

Well Done Indianapolis and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  It was a great buildup to the race with the promotions, signage, big marquee on JW Marriott, and events around the city celebrating the 100 years of racing.

Bring on the 101st Indianapolis 500…….Who’s ready !!!!

My Drivers to watch : 100th Indianapolis 500

  

“The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” continues this weekend with the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.   Qualifications are in the books, and the final touches are ahead on Carb Day before race day.  

Canadian James Hinchcliffe has the pole for the race after last year’s near death crash during a post qualification practice.  It is a Hollywood story for Hinch coming back and sitting atop the scoring pylon after qualifying.  Three Americans are starting in the Top 4 this year (Newgarden 2nd, Hunter-Reay 3rd, and Towsend Bell 4th).    Below are my drivers to watch for this Sunday’s race and my prediction at the end.

Ryan Hunter-Reay
Ryan Hunter Reay – The 2014 champion has had a fast car all month and followed up with a great qualifying run and will start 3rd on Sunday.  Hunter-Reay has had 2- Top 5 performances and will look to give Andretti Autosport another Indy 500 title.  Hunter-Reay currently sits 9th in points and has a rocky start to the season due to the numerous road courses but now coming to an Oval and one that he’s won at….the former champ will factor into the end.

Carlos Munoz

Carols Munoz-  Carlos has been one of my favorite’s to watch ever since he came into the Verizon Series.  During his rookie year in 2013, Munoz qualified 2nd and finished 2nd and took home Rookie of the Year honors.  The following year he finished 4th.  Carlos starts this Sunday in 5th and he has been fast all month and has a swagger about him that to me fits winning the 100th running of the 500.  Watch for Munoz to be at the top of the standings on Sunday.

Will Power
Alexander RossiWill Power –  You can’t look at potential winners for the Indianapolis 500 without looking at Team Penske.  Will Power is the golden boy who has yet to taste the milk for Team Penske.  Teammate Helio Castroneves has won 3 times and Juan Pablo Montoya has tasted the milk twice (including last year).  Will finished 2nd last year to JPM and had his best month of May last year.  Will has been plagued by bad luck in previous years but this could be the year that Will gets his face on the Borg-Warner
Trophy.

Alexander Rossi (R)- This guy is my dark horse pick to win the Indy 500.  The rookie ran well during the Grand Prix and has had a good month of May.  Rossi will start 11th on Sunday and I predict him to win the Rookie of the Year award.

Josef NewgardenJosef Newgarden-   Newgarden has been FAST all month of May and came within seconds of winning the pole for Sunday.  He will start 2nd and will be driving for Hometown team Ed Carpenter Racing.  What a great way to celebrate the 100th running with a Hoosier State team winning ?   The young driver has the skill and determination to get it done on Sunday if he can avoid the mistake that has plagued him in past 500’s.  Newgarden’s best finish is 9th in the 500.

Marco Andretti
Marco Andretti –  Can an Andretti win another Indy 500???  Can Marco finally move past the close finish in 2006 when Hornish beat him to the line…..unfortunately not this year.  Marco hasn’t had the speed or car all month.  I expect Marco to be around 11th-17th range on Sunday.

James Hinchcliffe
Pole Sitter- James Hinchcliffe –   What a great story book ending it could be if Hinchtown can capture the Indy 500 after a near death crash last year at the Speedway.  As much as I want Hinchcliffe to win this race, I’m sure he will run well on Sunday and due to a lengthy late pitstop, I think Hinch finishes towards the back of the Top 10.

Brandon’s 100th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race Prediction :  I know it’s a longshot to call 1-33 but will be fun to see how close I am on some of them.

1.    Carlos Munoz   (2016 Indy 500 Champion)
2.    Josef Newgarden
3.    Will Power
4.    Ryan Hunter Reay
5.    Scott Dixon
6.    Juan Pablo Montoya
7.    Helio Castroneves
8.    James Hinchcliffe
9.    Simon Pagenaud
10.  Graham Rahal
11.   Tony Kannan
12.   Alexander Rossi  (Rookie of Year Award Winner)
13.   Charlie Kimball  
14.   Marco Andretti
15.   Sage Karam
16.   Ed Carpenter
17.   Towsend Bell
18.   Mikhail Aleshin
19.   Takuma Sato
20.  Sebastien Bourdais
21.  Conor Daly
22.  Gabby Chaves
23.  Oriol Servia
24.  JR Hildebrand
25.  Matt Brabham
26.  Max Chilton
27.  Spencer Pigot
28.  Bryan Clauson
29.  Pippa Mann
30.  Buddy Lazier
31.  Alex Tagliani
32.  Jack Hawksworth
33.  Stephan Wilson

Lady and Gentlemen…..Start Your Engines…… Enjoy the 100th running everyone !!!!

Pacers Free Agent Targets

So we are a little over 40 + days away from NBA Free Agency starting and with the Pacers naming their coach yesterday, its time to start looking towards the NBA Draft in June and free agency starting in July.  Where will the Pacers brass start looking to improve this team?  Will it be with another big man, or a much needed point guard ?   The Pacers will have plenty of cap space for 2016-17, BUT the rest of the league will get a lot of cap room as well to lure those free agents.  

I have mentioned in previous blogs about where the Pacers need to go in the draft.  A must would be a point guard to develop in the 1st round.  There isn’t much talent this year in the point guard position in this draft and not much will be available for the 20th pick ?   Will the Pacers trade up in the draft to get a point guard or role player ?  I could see a 20th pick overall and George Hill going to a team in the top 12 for their pick.

A few of the options at point guard in the draft that will be around the 20th pick are Demetrius Jackson (Notre Dame) and Tyler Ulis (Kentucky), Gary Payton II (Oregon St) and Yogi Ferrell (Indiana).  Do I think Yogi will go in the 1st round…..highly unlikely.  I wouldn’t mind seeing a Gary Payton II here in a Pacers uniform. He has the pieces that Bird is looking for in a point guard 6’3  190 lbs.  It would be a learning experience where I think he could develop into a quality point guard, but the Pacers will likely have to look at the point guard position in the draft before the free agency comes around.

So as the clock strikes 12:00 AM on July 1st, which free agents will the Pacers go after and try to bring to Indianapolis?    Below I will go position by position at quality names the Pacers should go after in free agency to improve this team.

Point Guard –  Mike Conley (1st priority), Brandon Jennings (not fond of), Mario Chalmers, do I dare say the trouble maker (Rajon…..nah I wont )

Shooting Guard – Jamal Crawford ( was almost a Pacers 3 years ago during free agency), Courtney Lee (local product of Indianapolis), Eric Gordon (another local product),  Lance Stephenson 2.0(Do we bring him back, he was close with new coach Nate McMillan) ???

Small Forward-  Kevin Durant….ok ok….Lebron James ?!  What team wouldn’t want either of these two players.  Realistically the Pacers have only a few options at the SF position : Kent Bazemore, Allen Crabbe

Power Forward – Ryan Anderson ( can spread the floor and shoot the 3 well), resign Jordan Hill to small contract, Brandon Bass, David Lee (Bird loved David Lee in the past)

Center – None to target

It’s going to be an exciting next forty days and I’m anxious to see who the Pacers take in the draft and in free agency.    Thanks for reading and please feel free to comment !

Go Pacers !

Pacers hand reigns to Nate McMillan as new Head Coach

Late last night, Yahoo.com reported that Pacers are expected to name Nate McMillan head coach.  Yes, the same Nate McMillan who was two seats down from Frank Vogel.  Larry Bird mentioned last week during the press conference that he was looking for a fresh face, new voice for the players. 
Larry wanted a up-tempo, high scoring team and felt that Frank couldn’t get it done.  So who do you go with, someone already within the system and someone who is defensively oriented.  McMillan’s teams while he was in Portland and Seattle scored an average of 92 PPG and were ranked 17th in offense each year.  
Pacers fans, don’t frat….we were never going to get Mark Jackson (never had interest in job), or D’Antoni or Van Gundy.  McMillan is someone who knows what Larry expects and has built a rapport with the team.  McMillan was with Pacers GM Kevin Pritchard in Portland and was “his guy” so it is easy to see why they went with McMillan over the other candidates. While at first I wasn’t too “excited” that the Pacers signed McMillan, in the end he is a experience coach who has what it takes to build a winning team (see Portland during the Roy and Aldridge era).  
McMillan has won over 50 % of his games and has lead his teams to the playoffs five times.  He’s coached two teams to 50 + wins.  The pressure will be on McMillan to win and do what he can to keep Paul George here after 2 years.  
I honestly can see a scenario where McMillan in the next two years doesn’t get past a 6 seed in the East and gets fired,  Paul George bolts for LA, and Larry Bird resigns from his position, which would leave the Pacers at rebuilt mode and hurt this fan base.  
In conclusion, Let’s give Nate a chance and see what he can do with these players. Yes it isn’t flashy but flashy doesn’t always win championships.  I’m anxious and excited to see what culture change he has for the Pacers and also what Bird and Pritchard do this off season to get the pieces that McMillan needs to be successful.  
Larry & Kevin, get the right pieces here and a true  Point Guard for Coach McMillan and let’s see what happens.  Yes it’s not a sexy pick by Larry but it may just be the right one at this time.   Time will tell.  
Welcome aboard Nate & Go Pacers !! 

5 Years Later….Gone but Not Forgotten Dan Wheldon

It’s hard to believe it’s been 5 years since Dan Wheldon came off of turn 4 and passed JR Hildebrand on his way to his 2nd Indianapolis 500 victory.  Wheldon was running all day in the top 15 and started making his charge up to the front in the last 20 laps.  Right Place…Right Time.

The question that was brought up to me was Where does Dan Wheldon rank with the greatest in the Indianapolis 500 ?  In my opinion, Dan Wheldon ranks in the top 10 maybe as high at 5th or 6th all-time at the speedway.  Wheldon in the 9 years racing at Indianapolis, has dominated unlike any other in a nine year span currently.  His stats speak for themselves and whether it be right place right time, or running with a great team,  the man could drive.

2 Indianapolis 500 Wins (2005, 2011)

6 Top 4 finishes

5 Top 3 finishes

2nd Place back to back 2009, 2010 followed by his victory in 2011.

In recent years at the track, the memory of Dan Wheldon has lived on through keepsakes and stories told.  This year they are selling a Dan Wheldon book where proceeds go to charities in his name.

My fondest memory was every year heading out to the track in May with my best friend Shawn Daugherty ( who at the time) was Dan’s #1 fan.  We went through Gasoline Alley, pits, along the fence looking for Dan, or finding a huge crowd around him.  Year after year, the greatness of Dan grew on me myself and I started cheering for him back in 2006 and knowing he always took the time to talk to his fans and sign autographs.  The famous white sunglasses he wore with Target racing that Shawn and myself wanted so bad.  Dan was a legend at Indianapolis and his racing record backed it up. He is absolutely in my opinion in the top 10 all-time there, and maybe as high as 5th or 6th.  Every time the track opens up in May, it hurts knowing that Dan isn’t with us anymore and we don’t get the chance to see him chase down another title.  I would love to see the speedway create a statue or some kind of memorial or building named after Dan who came to Indy every year and raved about this place.  

When you go out to the 100th running this year, stay hydrated, enjoy the racing and tradition of the Indianapolis 500 and remember the greats like Dan and others that we lost too soon who loved to put on a show at Indianapolis for us fans.  

God Speed

Where do the Pacers go this offseason ?

These two above (Kevin Pritchard & Larry Bird) have a very busy offseason ahead.  Hiring a head coach to fill the void of Frank Vogel and finding suitable and economically friendly players to join this team.

When you look at this team, there are several areas where they need improvement.  Whether is finding a suitable Power Forward to finding a playmaking Point Guard.  It very obvious the Pacers need to bolster the bench asap ! This Pacers bench finished 23rd in the league in average points per game with 33.4 (according to hoopstats.com).  When you look at the Pacers roster and cap space, they will have 4 Free Agents to decide on (Jordan Hill, Solomon Hill “Pacers declined team option”, Ty Lawson, and Ian Mahinmi.  I personally think if you can get Solo and Ian back on the cheap around $4 mill for Solo and $6 million for Ian, that will leave the Pacers with roughly $38 million in cap space to use this summer.

Do you look towards the draft for a Point Guard at #20  (Demetrius Jackson from Notre Dame, or Tyler Ullis from Kentucky) are two players who most likely be there for the Pacers to look at. Or do you go with a free agent hometown guy Mike Conley who will be a unrestricted free agent this summer ?  I personally like the Conley pick and then look towards a PF or backup PG with the 20th pick in the draft.  Yes Conley is a hometown boy like George Hill, but he is a better ball handler and shooter from the point guard position.  Hill was put in the position and had to adapt his game to that role which was different when he was in San Antonio.

Oh and most importantly………who is going to lead this Pacers team this fall ??  With a slew of coaches as possible candidates….which will be the “perfect fit” for Indiana?  I have to think that Larry Bird has had an idea of who he wants as coach for awhile now.  He wouldn’t have just gotten rid of Frank Vogel if he didn’t have “his guy” in mind.  The spotlight will be on Larry now because if this coach he brings in and this roster that Larry assembles falls flat in 2016-17, there will be no scapegoat for Larry hide behind.    The ball is in your court Larry Legend……let’s see who you bring in.    Thanks for reading and always like and comment !

Fun Fact : Ian Mahinmi is the only player on the Pacers roster who has won a NBA Championship. (2011 with the Dallas Mavericks)

Goodbye Frank, Bird looks towards new direction

Earlier today, Larry decided to part ways with Frank Vogel and take the Indiana Pacers in a different direction.  Personally, (as i mentioned in my last blog), Vogel should have stayed and the way and wording that Bird announced in the presser was not good.  Saying to the media that “Frank begged for his job” is something you just don’t say, even if it was true.  Larry didn’t even give Frank the decency to meet face to face to fight for his job.  After 5 1/2 years, 2 Conference Finals appearances, 1 Central Division title…..and you don’t even get a face to face meeting…….ouch.   This doesn’t surprise me though, remember the way Larry and Bob Kravitz last year handled the way David West not optioning went down.  Bob said David didn’t contact Larry, but Larry saying he did.    I feel the time has come for Larry to possibly look towards retirement.

Maybe Larry has his sights set on a coach that will take this Pacers team to the next level.  There are only a handful of prospects out there that could help this team.  My short list of coaches I like are :

1. Mark Jackson (highly unlikely)
2. Nate McMillan ( would know the players and what’s need, but too Defensive minded.
3. Randy Whitman (IU Alum and Bird loves Randy)
4. Brian Shaw  (former coach here and players liked and respectful Shaw)
5. Jeff Van Gundy (shot in the dark)
6. Jeff Hornacek  (apparent frontrunner)

Does Larry go with one of these guys or does he go with someone that we all least expect?

Thank you Frank Vogel for everything you have done in the past 5 1/2 years.  You made it fun in April and May again.  You brought swagger and toughne to this Pacers team that they were lacking. You finished the 2nd highest amount of wins as a Pacers head coach and a 31-30 playoff record.  Thank You Frank for all of your hardwork and dedication to this program and to the community.  He won’t be out of a job long I believe.

Your move now Larry.  

Like it or not, Vogel needs to stay…at least a year or two

24 hours after the Pacers game 7 loss to Toronto, the topic on everyone’s mind is what is the status of Pacers coach Frank Vogel ?   Throughout the season with the last second losses and bad coaching decisions, I thought Frank had to go. Then while the season was winding down, I started to notice players taking plays off and just being flat out lazy.  As much as people think ( I myself at one time) Frank had to go……there isn’t any great coaching candidates out there who could do a better job than Vogel.  The hot ticketed coaches, Scott Brooks and Tom Thibideau have already been claimed and George Karl isn’t the right guy for the Pacers.  With the talent pool slim,  it is in the Pacers and also in Larry Bird’s best interest to resign Frank Vogel to a 2-3 year extension and see what we can do with the talent and style of play.  I believe a 2 year extension is right and let’s let him sink or swim.  A 2 yr contract would match him up with Paul George to opt out if things don’t go right over the next two years.    Give Frank a chance…or at least another year or two.    GO Pacers !