IT’S five years since the two most talented basketballers on the planet met on a court in the NBA playoffs, which have reached the conference semi-final stages (or quarter-finals in our currency).
For the first time since 2018, LeBron James and Steph Curry face each other in a seven-game series. The two NBA legends met in the finals four years in a row from 2015-2018, and now they will battle for the right to reach the Western Conference decider. The Golden State Warriors won the 2015, 2017, and 2018 NBA finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers (when LeBron returned to his hometown club) while Cleveland beat the Warriors in seven games in 2016. Kevin Durant, now with the Suns, joined the Warriors in the following off-season, making their side close to impossible to beat the next two seasons.
James’ LA Lakers knocked out the Memphis Grizzlies in six games in their initial playoff game. The Warriors needed a seventh game on Sunday against the Sacramento Kings and Curry had to score 50 points to help them through, the first time anyone has done that in a game seven in NBA history.
James is coming off one of his worst efforts in a playoff series in his career. He overtook Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to become the highest scorer in history this season but in the six-game win over Memphis he averaged 22.2 points and scored just 20% from the three-point range. An injured leg is to blame, but if he’s held below 25 points in this series, the Lakers are probably going to lose. The Warriors are 4/5 to progress and the Lakers 11/10.
The Boston Celtics, who are 2/9 to overcome the Philadelphia 76ers in their quarter-final, are 11/8 favourites to be crowned overall champs an 18th time and overtake the Lakers as the most successful team in history. The Lakers are 9/1 to take that accolade.
The Warriors are third in the roll of honour and in the hunt for an eighth title and are 6/1 second favourites alongside the Denver Nuggets and Phoenix Suns who meet in the Western Conference semis (Denver are 1-0 up) are looking for a maiden championship win.
WE GOT GAAGO the weekend before last, if only so we can see the cruel ways in which our accumulators can crumble late on in games.
That opening weekend of action was fun. There was something up with the sound and viewers heard more from the producers than the presenters to begin with. For three games in a row that I watched, pre-match pundits’ mouths were moving but no noises were coming from the TV speakers. The camerawork wasn’t much better, or maybe it was simply avant garde. At one stage in the build-up we kept zooming in and out from the brow of presenter Grá¡inne McElwain, close-ups someone not so conventionally attractive would not have appreciated.
Following this our intrepid auteur left his lens open as he wandered off the pitch, out a gate and proceeded to get some footage of raindrops plopping into a puddle (zooming in and out again of course).
The weekend just gone these issues seemed to have ironed out and there was less mise en scéne and more conventional talking heads we could actually hear. In fact, other than it being frustratingly slow trying to rewind or forward action you have paused or recorded, it is pretty good for a streaming service just set up and is already more user-friendly than the dreaded RTÉ Player.
LOUTH are 9/1 to beat the Dubs in the Leinster final in a fortnight and capture their first title since 1957.
They should of course have been crowned champs in 2010 when they were robbed of the title in the last throw of the game.
They kicked 27 points on Sunday against Offaly after extra time, while Dublin were pushed all the way by a Kildare team with an All-Star sideline, but with few on the pitch who anyone considered would push their neighbours all the way.
Cluxton returned between the posts for the Dubs and familiar faces (Jack McCaffrey and Paul Mannion showed flashes but nothing too spectacular) all over the pitch for the men in Blue makes you wonder if they are not trying to squeeze too much from their golden generation. They remain 5/2 to lift Sam despite the uninspiring showing.
LAST year’s Champions Cup finalists had perfunctory semi wins to set up a repeat in Dublin on May 20. Ronan O’Gara’s La Rochelle ran in seven tries against Exeter (who scored three late on to put some respect on a 47-28 score) and are 11/4 to defend their title against a Leinster side looking to put recent European blips behind them and capture a first title in five years. The Blues are 4/11 to do so at Lansdowne Road following their last-gasp defeat last May in Marseilles.
Both sides have enjoyed 100%-win records in this season’s competition, topping their pools before marching through the knockout stages, but It’s difficult to see Leo Cullen’s side messing up at home following their 41-22 defeat of Toulouse.
CAMERON YOUNG was runner-up last year, albeit on a different track, but can go one better this year at the Wells Fargo championships in Charlotte. It’s about time he broke his duck on the PGA Tour at 25/1.