NBA Monday Previews and Baseball Notes

THE NBA REPORT: THE REGULAR SEASON WRAPS UP WEDNESDAY BUT LOTS OF DRAMA STILL PLAYING OUT

It's in sight ... the NBA Playoffs are set to start on Saturday / Sunday and take note that there's only 27 games remaining in this 2017-18 regular season. But, hey, there's plenty of big hoop showdowns between now and Wednesday night and let's spend a few moments on Monday's action on the hardwood:

Tonight, it's ...
OKLAHOMA CITY (46-34) at MIAMI (43-37) - 7:35 p.m. ET
Okay, so who would have ever thought the OKC Thunder would be fighting for its playoff lives with just two games remaining? The three-headed monster of Russell Westbrook/Paul George/Carmelo Anthony has been - so far - a major bust and did you know that Okie City is a dreary 33-46-1 ATS (against the spread) this season? At last check, the Thunder's a 2.5-point betting favorite for this bash in South Beach but it won't be cut any slack here 'cause the playoff-bound Heat is in a feverish fight to finish ahead of Milwaukee and Washington for the East's #6 spot - Miami may need a 30-point night from G Goran Dragic here.

SACRAMENTO (26-54) at SAN ANTONIO (46-34) - 8:35 p.m. ET
The Spurs could finish anywhere between the Western Conference's fourth seed ... and out of the post-season altogether and that's shocking stuff. Okay, so Gregg Popovich's crew is a "two-TD" betting fav for this one and you might look for another big off-the-pine night from Spurs' veteran Rudy Gay (16 points against Portland last Saturday night).

PORTLAND (48-32) at DENVER (45-35) - 9:05 p.m. ET
All the heat's on the Nuggets here as they enter play this evening tied with Minnesota (also 45-35) and Denver's arrow is pointing up: The Nuggets have won their last five consecutive games and G Jamal Murray (19 points on 8-of-10 FG shooting in Saturday's 134-115 win at the playoff-out-of-it Los Angeles Clippers) has stepped up his game and ditto for big man Nikola Jukic who was a stat-sheet stuffer against the Clips with 23 points / 11 rebounds / 11 assists in just 34 minutes of play. Can Denver stay in the hunt with a "W" here?


BASEBALL NEWS & NOTES

There was plenty of talk this past winter/early spring regarding Baseball's "Haves and Have Nots" - MLB Network talk show host Chris "Mad Dog" Russo even was so inclined to call what he felt were baseball's best teams the "Super Seven" - that's Washington, the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League; Boston, the New York Yankees, Cleveland and Houston in the American League.

Okay, hard to argue with naming these squads elite teams but here we are less than two full weeks into the 2018 MLB season and the Pittsburgh Pirates - yes, the left-for-dead Pittsburgh Pirates - are sitting atop the NL Central with a sparkling 7-2 won/loss record and mind you that's without traded star OF Andrew McCutcheon (San Francisco Giants) and star-on-the-rise RHP Gerrit Cole (Houston Astros).

What ... You never heard of SS Jordy Mercer (hitting a team-high .333) or LHP Steven Brault (2-0 with a 1.13 ERA after a relief win and a winning start against Cincinnati)? Fact of the matter is these here-and-now Buccos have been major money-makers this early portion of the '18 sked despite the "under construction" sign out front - and we did the math and based on $100 per-play wagers the Pirates are a sweet plus $465 and note that Pittsburgh's averaging a nifty 6.4 runs per game with names such as Mercer, Gregory Polanco (11 RBI and a .441 on-base percentage) and Josh Harrison (10 runs scored) all leading the way for a team that currently ranks second in the senior circuit in runs scored and second in batting average. Va-va-va voom! Let's keep a close eye on Clint Hurdle's crew as it heads into Wrigley Field for a four-game series beginning Monday afternoon - if the Buccos can nab a split in this set in Chitown then maybe Baseball will start sittin' up and taking notice.

In other MLB News / Notes ...
The New York Mets' 6-5 win in 12 innings on Sunday night wrapped up a three-game/four-day sweep over the hurtin' Washington Nationals and no doubt first-year Mets manager Mickey Callaway continues to push all the right buttons - how about intentionally walking back-to-back hitters to force a bases-loaded, one-out situation that reliever Seth Lugo escaped while leaving RF Bryce Harper stranded on third base? The Mets' born-again bullpen allowed only one run in seven innings after RHP Matt Harvey (4 runs, 9 hits allowed in 5 innings) again staggered in his second start of the year. Don't look now but Lugo and Robert Gsellman - one-time starters under former manager Terry Collins - are proving to be uber-valuable members of this Mets team that now heads into Miami for a three-game series. Did anyone say a 10-and-1 start for the M-E-T-S, New York Mets?