Will it be Showtime for Laker opponents this season? ... The battle of the Justins, Verlander vs. Turner, really does merit the Fall Classic label. ...The Blazers hit the boards, LeBron plays the point.
We have prime handicapping settings across all sporting fronts on Wednesday, with World Series Game 2 naturally coming to the forefront, and if it is the middle of the week you know that means time for the Hector Mendez NFL team category ratings. But we start with what may prove to be a fascinating case study across the NBA hardwoods this season.
Item: It’s "Showtime" for John Wall (and why the Lakers may become a better team, yet many nights have worse results)
The Lakers had a miserable 2016-17 campaign, and some of that was detailed here last Thursday, a historically bad defense that might have been even worse than the dismal numbers showed, because on many nights the opposition let up against them. Playing a bad team often means the opportunity to take a breather across the long NBA grind.
Now comes Lonzo Ball, and we do start with the fact that it will mean an upgrade for the team, and something to legitimately build off of. But there is a problem. Because of Ball’s star power and media attention, and because his father lacks an awareness of how his bizarre publicity stunts can impact his son’s fortunes now that he is in The Association, teams are going to take the Lakers far more seriously.
My particular focus in the early part of the season will be on how the elite point guards around the league get up for the matchup, and while Patrick Beverley of the Clippers does not belong in that category, his spark for the season opener against Ball last week went into the files: “I just had to set the tone, man. I told him after the game man, due to all the riffraff his dad brings, he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. He has to be ready for that, and I let him know after the game.”
Tonight comes one of the elite in Washington's John Wall, and there has already been plenty of talk before the teams take the court. It started with the elder Ball being captured in a video clip saying: “Washington coming in here Wednesday? They better beware. Because Lonzo ain’t losing again! Not in the same week!”
This being 2017, naturally that went a bit viral, and there was a retort that garnered a lot of attention across social media, from Wizards center Marcin Gortat, with the appropriate smiley face emojis:
man..... pleaseeeeee!!! @JohnWall will torture him for 48min
Gortat followed up to the more traditional media with: “I’m just sticking up for my teammate and my team. The guy is going to go public and say stuff like that. It’s funny because he’s not even playing and he’s saying all this stuff, you know. He’s just putting his son in a spot.”
How much fun is this? But there is some serious handicapping focus that goes into it. As the first elite point guard gets his showcase against Ball, is Wall ready for it?
“Nah, no mercy. Certain matchups you really get up for. Like when you play Steph [Curry], you definitely want to have a good game. I’m playing against Ball. His dad has been talking. … That makes me want to go out there and lead my team and play the best I can play.”
Now it is a matter of finding the best way to take advantage. The setting lays out well for the Wizards, only their second game in five nights on this road trip, and it does bring one of my favorite settings into play – when the superior team is taking a weak opponent seriously. The problem is that the Washington bench is among the worst in the NBA, and with Markieff Morris out it forces Kelly Oubre into the starting lineup, which leaves even fewer bench options. Washington has opened 3-0, but none of those wins came by more than five points.
Want a serious indictment of the bench? The Wizards are +28 with Wall on the court and -14 when he has been taking a breather, Tim Frazier the only option in reserve at PG so far.
There is also a slight adjustment to be made in terms of the LAL home-court advantage – might the distraction of Astros-Dodgers Game 2 mean a lesser crowd at the Staples Center? Despite that, I only made the Wizards a “go” at -5, which we may not see in the Wednesday marketplace. I will be searching for some other way of getting involved, but you can at least be sure that while I am watching the World Series Game 2 unfold any flashing of the screen will be noticed.
Item: And on to World Series Game 2, where a true Fall Classic could unfold
Notions of heat impacting Clayton Kershaw and Dallas Keuchel did not get me in the hunt with an Over ticket in Game 1 of the World Series, both starters handling the pressure of the setting well. Kershaw threw so many unhittable pitches in a dominating performance, striking out 11 of the 23 batters he faced, and only needing 83 pitches to get through seven innings. Meanwhile, Keuchel was solid, but the issue brought to the forefront yesterday was in play again – his home-run rate away from Minute Maid Park is an ongoing issue.
It was Justin Turner who came up with the big blow, which really isn’t anything all that new, despite him not getting much attention as Mr. October yet. Turner is up to 110 career plate appearances in the postseason now, with this performance line:
Where does that place him in terms of MLB history when it comes to postseason OPS (of players with at least 100 plate appearances)?
1. Babe Ruth
2. Lou Gehrig
3. Justin Turner
That is rather nice compnay, isn't it? Turner will be getting his swings at Justin Verlander this evening, and that is where this one will merit the moniker of Fall Classic for a baseball purist. Verlander has worked to a remarkable 9-0/1.38 since joining the Astros, including two dominant outings against the Yankees in the ALCS, and the game-inside-the-game doesn’t get much better than his current stuff into the Dodgers lineup.
Here is why. A big part of the LAD offense finishing #2 in WAR this season was a 10.5 BB%, which led the league by a wide margin. To put that into a better context, it was the highest count since the Colorado Rockies generated a 10.6% in 2008, and naturally that one comes with the * of Coors Field playing a part in that.
That might lead some to project that the Dodgers would try to wear Verlander down, with another hot day slated in Los Angeles, but there is a problem with that – taking pitches against his current form only puts you behind in the count. That is what the Yankees had to deal with, 163 of 223 pitches in those two outings finding the strike zone. Fall behind 0-2 against Verlander the way he is dealing, and you might as well start walking back to the dugout.
And before anyone gets carried away with the Verlander 0-3/7.20 history in the World Series, which is likely to make the rounds of the Sports Mediaverse today, I wouldn't pay much heed. Two of those three games came back in 2006, and with the veteran right-hander sporting an 11-2/2.24 in the playoffs, there isn't any reason to believe this pressure will bother him.
On the flip side tonight, lefty Rich Hill remains a wild card. Dave Roberts has seen enough from him to confidently place him in the #2 setting when he really doesn’t have to, Yu Darvish having shown more than enough. Hill’s two playoff outings have been a mixed bag, lasting a total of only nine innings.
Is this really a home/away decision by Roberts? Hill worked to a 2.79 in Dodger Stadium, allowing 1.0 HR/9, compared to a 4.06 and a 1.6 on the road. Meanwhile, Darvish has worked to a crisp 4-1/2.16 over six career starts at Minute Maid, while wearing a Rangers uniform, and shouldn’t be bothered by that environment.
I get chimes to the Astros at +110 or higher, which is not available in the current trading, but as is the case in Wizards-Lakers I will be following the alerts up to first pitch – the local money here in Nevada was a little LAD heavy on Tuesday, so there may be the outside chance of that price point showing up down the street as game-time approaches.
About Last Night, NBA
A lot of the early-season tracking goes towards finding emerging patterns that go against the grain, and that made New Orleans-Portland a focus on Tuesday, the Trail Blazers opening with some dominating rebounding numbers while having Jusuf Nurkic around for the full training camp, after he joined the team late in the 2016-17 season.
Why such an interest? Because of Nurkic potentially being a missing link to what had been a perimeter-oriented team, that guard combo of Lillard/McCollum being good enough to play into May, and perhaps even June, but the frontcourt lacking. And sparks were created with the early rebounding numbers, Portland leading the league by a wide margin prior to last night.
Now the Trail Blazers lead the NBA by even more, after dominating the glass 63-41 against the Pelicans. That individual game has to be taken with a grain of salt because Anthony Davis only played 5:01 before leaving with a knee injury, but the four-game tally does have me taking notice:
2017 49.8 (18)
2018 58.6 (1)
It’s early, but that 58.6 is so far ahead of the #2 team (Spurs at 55.9) that it is worth paying some attention to.
Then there was the matter of LeBron James officially playing point guard for Cleveland. The role of ball-handler and playmaker is one he often assumes with the Cavs, but last night it was also a lineup issue, James starting alongside J.R. Smith in the backcourt, and Crowder/Love/Thompson filling it out. vs. Chicago.
James put up big numbers in the role, with 34 points and 13 assists, but that grouping had a lot of difficulty on defense, allowing one of the league’s worst teams to score at a 114.6 PP100 rate. In particular they did not guard the perimeter well, the Bulls knocking down 17-for-33 from 3-point range. How bad was the defense? Even with that game included Chicago rates #28 in the league at 95.7 PP100.
It creates a rather intriguing setting tonight, Brooklyn #5 in scoring at 110.4, and #2 in pace. It promises to be one of the rare games in which the weaker team does not try to slow things down and reduce possessions vs. the favorite, but instead tries to push it to take advantage of the lack of Cleveland options in the backcourt. It will be the Cavs looking to slow things down, which they did last night, playing to only a 95.7 pace.
Imagine Tyronn Lue in the pregame talking about the pedestrian Nets roster and having to say “Hey guys, if we are going to win we really have to slow it down against them …”
The Hector Mendez files
As you sort through the various options on the Wednesday board you can also be looking ahead to the NFL weekend, and here are the latest team category ratings from Hector, who generously shares his work with the PB community (you can also ask him particular questions about these ratings -- the grey balloon in the upper left gets you into the daily conversation):
You can find the Point Blank archive here.
And if you want to know when PB is ready to go each day, as well as following along for some of the most important Sports Betting news as in unfolds, make @Vegaspointblank a part of your routine.