Professional Sports

SPORTS DIGEST: Warriors will win title with or without Durant

The Golden State Warriors will prevail in the NBA Finals that begin May 30, with or without Kevin Durant.

The Toronto Raptors might win two games in the best-of-seven series, but they won’t win more than that. If the Warriors aren’t too rusty from resting for 10 days after sweeping the Portland Trailblazers in the Western Conference finals, they might win it in five games.

The Raptors may have Kawhi Leonard, who has been the best player in the playoffs this year even when Durant was healthy, but they don’t have enough scoring options.

And believe me, the Warriors will take turns defending Leonard with Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson taking turns trying to stop him. They will wear Leonard down eventually.

Another championship will give the Warriors three in a row, a feat last accomplished by the Lakers between 2000 and 2002. Only the great Celtics, who won eight straight titles between 1959 and 1966, ever won more than three straight NBA titles, so another title would put the Warriors in select company.

If the Warriors have a weakness, it is their lack of depth. Coach Steve Kerr has been using an eight-man rotation with Durant and center Boogie Cousins out of the lineup.

Durant will probably miss the first two games at least with a strained calf muscle he hurt during the Portland series. Cousins has been out longer with a torn quadriceps muscle, but he is closer to returning than Durant is.

The Raptors will need big series from point guard Kyle Lowry and center Mark Gasol if they stand a chance against the Warriors. Leonard won’t be able to carry the load himself, the way he did most of the series against the Bucks.

Serge Ibaka, who has played in some big playoff games when he was in Oklahoma City, also will need to be a force off the bench and Fred VanVleet will need to make some three pointers.

Leonard is one of the top five players in the league and will make some team very happy in the offseason when he decides where he wants to play next season (he’s from Riverside).

A fine defensive player who did a fine job on Giannis Antetokounmpo in the Eastern Conference finals, Leonard can’t shut down the Warriors by himself. Steph Curry is too quick for Leonard to chase around all night, so Leonard will get stuck guarding Thompson or Green most of the time.

Both teams have proven in the playoffs that they can come from behind so early leads won’t mean much and the games will be contested well into the fourth quarter.

But the Warriors will prevail in five.

NO RELIEF IN SIGHT: The Dodgers bullpen is horrible, but it doesn’t matter. The 7-3 loss to the Mets May 28 rests firmly on the weak shoulders of the Dodgers’ relief pitchers.

It took four pitchers to record three outs in the seven inning, which started with the score tied 2-2.

Starter Rich Hill had gone six innings, giving up two runs on six hits while striking outs six and making 104 pitches.

Manager Dave Roberts’ first move was to bring in right hander Yumi Garcia, who promptly walked the first batter he faced. That’s the last thing you want a relief pitcher to do, especially in a tie game.

Roberts showed little patience with Garcia, quickly replacing him after the one batter with Dylan Floro. Until recently, Floro has been the Dodgers most consistent reliever, but he was shelled last week in an appearance that saw all four batters he faced get base hits and then score.

Floro also walked the first hitter he faced and then compounded the situation by making a throwing error on a bunt attempt that gave the Mets the bases loaded with nobody out.

Roberts left Floro in to record an out before he went with a lefty-against-lefty matchup and brought in Scott Alexander to face Mike Conforto. The matchup advantage blew up in Roberts’ face when Conforto lined a grand slam home run into the left field pavilion.

Ross Stripling came on to get the last two outs of the seventh inning, but he gave up another run in the eighth inning. Joe Kelly, who has been the worst Dodgers reliever this year, pitched a scoreless ninth inning, only the third time in 19 appearances that Kelly hasn’t given up a run this year.

He gave up two runs May 27 but the Dodgers won 8-5 and that’s why the bullpen woes don’t matter. The Dodgers have enough hitting and starting pitching to overcome their bad bullpen.

The bullpen’s earned run average is ranked 11th in the National League. That means only four teams are worse.

Floro has the best ERA at 2.57, but that was under 1 two weeks ago.

Pedro Baez, who used to be booed by Dodgers’ fans whenever he stuck his nose outside the bullpen gate, has the second best ERA at 2.94

Closer Kenley Jansen’s ERA is 3.52, not bad until you compare it to his career ERA which is 2.25.

Outside of closers, most relief pitchers are flawed pitchers. They don’t have enough good pitches to start a game and face a lineup three or four times.

In these days, most teams are seeking guys that throw the ball 97 miles an hour and hope the other teams can’t adjust to the heat. But when every team has three or four guys who can reach 97, the players adjust and catch up.

As for the Dodgers’ starting pitching, it has been lights out lately. The five pitchers currently in the rotation — Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Kenta Maeda, Walker Buehler and Rich Hill — are a combined 24-5 on the season.

In the last 16 games, the Dodgers have gone 11-5. In those 16 games, the starter has pitched a quality start (six or more innings with three runs or less) 13 times.

In those 16 games, the one blowout was against Tampa Bay last week. That game was a 1-1 tie into the seventh inning and the bullpen yielded seven runs in two innings.

With Cody Bellinger having a most-valuable-player season on offense and the rest of the Dodgers offense prowess, the Dodgers will be able to survive the regular season.

But team President Andrew Friedman better make some deals in July to shore up his bullpen, or it will be the reason the Dodgers fail to win a World Series.

RIP: The sports world lost a couple of giants over the weekend.

Bart Starr, who led the Green Bay Packers to victories in the first two Super Bowls, died May 26 at the age of 85.

For some reason, Starr is never mentioned in the discussion of greatest quarterbacks ever. Counting the Super Bowls, he won five NFL championship games in a seven-year period. He was 5-1 in championship games.

During his career, Starr played in the shadow of Johnny Unitas, who won one NFL title. Granted, it was a different era than and most teams —particularly the Packers — relied on the running game to set up the pass.

On the Packers, Starr was overshadowed by head coach Vince Lombardi and halfback Paul Hornung. He threw for 24,718 yards during his career with 152 touchdowns. A 17th round draft pick out of Alabama in 1956, he sat on the bench for most of his first two seasons with the Packers, until Lombardi was brought in in 1959 as coach. He played in an era when most quarterbacks called their own plays and he ran Lombardi’s offense to precision.

He made the decisive call when he scored on a quarterback sneak to defeat Dallas in the 1967 NFL Championship, even though the Packers didn’t have a quarterback sneak in the playbook. In the huddle, he called a fullback run into the line, but never gave the ball to the fullback. He followed guard Jerry Kramer into the end zone.

When it comes to championship quarterbacks in the NFL, Starr ranks with Otto Graham, Joe Montana and Tom Brady.

The other death was closer to home. Bill Buckner, who died May 27, was part of the Dodgers draft class in 1968 that included Steve Garvey, Ron Cey, Davey Lopes, Joe Ferguson, Tom Paciorek and Doyle Alexander.

That draft set the Dodgers up for three World Series appearances in the 1970s and the 1981 championship.

Buckner should have been a part of those teams, but he was traded to the Chicago Cubs in 1976 for Rick Monday. He went on to play in parts of four decades: the 1960s, 70s, 80 and 90s.

Unfortunately, Buckner is best remembered for the ground ball off the bat of Mookie Wilson that went through his legs in the ninth inning of the sixth game of the 1986 World Series that allowed the Mets to tie the series at 3-3. The Mets won the World Series the next day.

Buckner started his career as a left fielder with the Dodgers. In 1975, he severely injured his ankle and his outfielding days were done. With Garvey entrenched at first for the Dodgers, the best thing management could do was trade him where he could play first base.

With the Cubs, he won the 1980 batting championship. Never much of a power hitter (his 18 with the Red Sox in 1986 was a career high), he ended up with a career batting average of .289 with 2,715 hits, 498 doubles and 1,208 runs batted in.

By comparison, Garvey hit .294 with 2,599 hits and 1308 RBI.