The NBA Finals and Belmont thoughts
THE WAY I SEE IT
Now that the entries are in place, let me tell you how I see it. The NBA Championship Series, the Heat and San Antonio Spurs, opens tonight in Miami. Don’t expect this series to be played at a crawl, both teams like to go up tempo. On paper that would give the Heat an advantage over the older Spurs, who rely heavily on 37 year old Tim Duncan, but the Spurs are much better rested. They waited around a week while the Heat were pressed through seven games by the Pacers, and Duncan has been the one player on the Spurs who has carried his regular season consistency through the post season. The Spurs have transitioned from Duncan and Manu Ginobli’s team to Tony Parker’s team and he has them running. The Heat have their own big three, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, only James playing consistently night in and night out, Wade and Bosh both five or six points below their season averages in the playoffs. Because of the tempo don’t expect the starters to play 40 minutes a game, so this could come down to benches and, with Ray Allen topping the bill for the Heat, with his ability to bury the three point dagger from the corner, which is likely to come up big in this series, I’m making two predicitons. One, it will be the best series of the NBA post season, two, Heat in seven. As for the third jewel of throroughbred racing’s Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes, Saturday at Belmont Park, with no Triple Crown on the line, a 14 horse field is in place and the post positions were drawn yesterday. Only the field of 15 in 1983 had more horses running for the final jewel than this year. Frac Daddy, a 30-1 long shot, has the rail, while the favorites are right where they want to be, in the middle of the pack. Kentucky Derby winner Orb is 3-1, the early line favorite, and coming out of the fifth gate. The middle gate, number seven, goes to Preakness winner and, at 5-1, number three favorite Oxbow, again ridden by veteran Gary Stevens, the 50 year old who came out of retirement for this series and showed the wisdom of his years with his ride in the Preakness. Coming from inside the pack he took Oxbow to the front right out of the gate and barely looked back while running him wire to wire to the finish line. Can he do the same thing over the mile and a half at Belmont? Breeding says he might be able to. Oxbow comes from a pedigree of stamina and Gary Stevens has a better handle on his horse now than he had going into the Triple Crown and they’ve never been in better sync with each other. The 145th Belmont Stakes comes with a carry over story line, but on a different horse. Rosie Napravnik has moved from Mylute, who’s not running, to Unlimited Budget, the number four favorite, at 8-1. She’s still looking to join Julie Krone as the only female jockeys to win Triple Crown races, and three horses that didn’t run in either of the first two jewels could add an air of uncertainty to this one. Orb is likely to carry the favorite’s status right into the race but Gary Stevens showed at the Preakness that the experience and wisdom of the jockey can be a major factor. I’m going with Oxbow. With the way I see things in the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.