Professional Sports

SPORTS DIGEST: Injuries keep the NBA Finals closer than expected

For those of you wondering why the NBA is spacing out the finals so it takes two and a half weeks to play seven games, realize that ABC, which pays big money to televise regular season and playoffs games has more to do with the scheduling than the league office does.

That being said, the first two games of the finals have been enjoyable to watch. The Toronto Raptors are competing better with the Golden State Warriors better than many people thought they would, the games have been close and Toronto has more good players than anybody realized.

I still think the Warriors will win it all but if they lose any more players, they are going to be in big trouble.

Klay Thompson injured his hamstring in the fourth quarter of game two and was a game-time decision leading up to game three June 5. Kevon Looney also went down with a rib injury in the game and is out for the rest of the series.

With Kevin Durant still sidelined and the Warriors bench not as deep as it was in previous title runs, the Warriors are starting to be spread thin, just what the doctor ordered for the Raptors.

The first two games were predictable. The Warriors were rusty after a 10-day break between games and it showed as the Raptors jumped out to a 64-49 halftime lead. The Warriors cut the lead to seven going into the fourth quarter but the Raptors, who got 32 points from Pascal Siakam and 20 from Marc Gasol, held off the Warriors down the stretch for a 118-109 win.

Kawhi Leonard added 23 for the Raptors and Fred VanVleet came off the bench to score 15 to help the Raptors

Steph Curry scored 34 for the Warriors and Thomson had 21, but Draymong Green was the only other Warrior in double figures. He had a balanced triple double — 10 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists — but Andre Iguodala scored only six points in 29 minutes while trying to cover Leonard most of the night.

The Warriors started sluggishly again in game two but closed out the second quarter with a rush that reduced the Raptors lead at the break to five.

The third quarter was all Warriors as they went on an 18-0 run that the Raptors could recover from.

Iguodala, using much of his energy defending Leonard scored only eight points but he hit a key three pointer with five seconds left to seal the victory.

Thompson led the way for the Warriors with 25 points before leaving with his hamstring injury. Curry added 23 points and Green just missed a second triple double, scoring 17 points, pulling down 10 rebounds and passing for nine assists.

DeMarcus Cousins played 28 minutes in his second game back due to injury and scored 11 points with 10 rebounds.

Quinn Cook added nine points off the bench and back-up center Andrew Bogut added six.

Leonard was forced to carry the offense for the Raptors in game two. He scored 34 points and added 14 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough.

Siakam went from 32 points in the opener to 12. VanVleet was again sharp off the bench with 17 points, but Kyle Lowry could manage only 13 points and two assists.

The Raptors are going to need more from him if they are going to win the series. Game four is June 7 and then we have three more days off before game 5 June 10. Games six and seven, if necessary, will be June 13 and June 16.

CRUISE CONTROL: The Dodgers have won six straight National League West Division championships and are well on their way to a seventh. After a 9-0 win June 4, they lead the Colorado Rockies by 10 ½ games.

They have won seven straight games, 11 out of 12, 13 of 15 and 17 of 20. They haven’t lost two straight games since April 23 and 24 when they lost two to the Chicago Cubs.

BaseballReference.com says the Dodgers are a 100% lock to make the playoffs and have a 28.4% chance to win the World Series.

Manager Dave Roberts’ team is clicking on all cylinders lately. Even the bullpen is coming through, although the Dodgers haven’t played a lot of close games lately.

The pitching staff had a rough stretch over four games May 26-29, giving up 27 runs. The Dodgers won three of the four.

There are only three players on the current roster that were there in 2013 when the division streak began: Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen and Hyun-Jin Ryu.

Justin Turner joined the team the next year and Joc Pederson was a September call-up. Yimi Garcia and Pedro Baez first arrived in the major leagues in 2014 as well.

Corey Seager and Austin Barnes were late-season call-ups in 2015.

Chris Taylor, Kike Hernandez, Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill, Ross Stripling and Julio Urias were added to the mix in 2016.

Cody Bellinger, Alex Verdugo and Walker Buehler first appeared on the scene in 2017.

As the roster has evolved, the Dodgers have become a better team. People who watch the Dodgers up close every day say this team is the closest-knit team in several years.

As much as the fans loved Yasiel Puig, he was a distraction at times in the clubhouse, often putting his own interests ahead of the team’s. Cody Bellinger, who has replaced Puig in right field would be the most valuable player in the league if the season ended today. He is second in the league in home runs, first in batting average, runs scored and runs batted in.

He also has eight assists in right field and has made several outstanding catches.

During the Dodgers’ current seven-game winning streak, their pitching staff has recorded three shutouts, and given up 15 runs. Eight of those came in one game, a 9-8 win over the Mets in which the Dodgers rallied for four runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to win.

In those seven games, the starting pitcher has failed to pitch into the sixth inning only once. As the starters have pitched deeper into games, the maligned bullpen has pitched better.

And the hitters continue to blister the baseball. Four players — Bellinger, Pederson, Hernandez and Max Muncy — already have 10 or more home runs and as many as five more players could surpass that figure by the end of the year. Five players have 30 or more runs batted in.

Hernandez is the lowest hitting regular with a .224 average, but he has 10 home runs, 32 RBI and plays flawless defense at two or three positions.

There are still almost four months to play, but for now the Dodgers are on cruise control and waiting to see who they will face once the playoffs get here.