Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : April 15th 2017 Contents A52 sports
guardian.co.tt Saturday, April 15, 2017
at Bahrain GP
SAKHIR—Sebastian Vettel topped
both practices at the Bahrain Grand
Prix yesterday as Ferrari showed im-
pressive pace heading into its qualify-
ing showdown with Mercedes.
Vettel beat Mercedes driver Valtteri
Bottas by .041 seconds in the second
session under floodlights, having been
comfortably ahead of Red Bull’s Daniel
Ricciardo during the roasting-hot first
practice in the early afternoon.
Ricciardo was third in P2, followed
by Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen. Mercedes’
Lewis Hamilton was fifth.
“In race trim (Ferrari) seem a couple
of tenths quicker, so I’m expecting a
great battle tomorrow and then again
on Sunday,” Hamilton said.
Ferrari was quick despite problems.
Raikkonen was hit by engine trouble
in P1 and Vettel ground to a halt with
about 40 minutes left in P2 due to a
“complete shutdown.” Vettel was in the
lead at that point, and still had time to
go back out late in the session.
“We still need to improve the car. On
one lap it was OK,” Vettel said. “(On
a) long run we might be quite a bit
behind, but I am sure we can improve
“During P2, Hamilton had to take
evasive action to avoid hitting Nico
Hulkenberg’s slow-moving Renault
on a corner.
“These drivers are so dangerous,
man,” Hamilton lamented over the
radio to his engineer.
Hamilton and Vettel are level on
points in the title race with a first and
second place each. Vettel won the
season-opening Australian GP and
Hamilton, who has secured both pole
positions, won in China last weekend.
In the first practice, Hamilton saved
his pace and did not push for a leading
The second session, which started
at 6 p.m. local time (1500 GMT) was
in considerably cooler temperatures
and closer to the conditions expected
in Saturday’s qualifying, which comes
after a third practice run. Sunday’s race
also starts at 6 p.m.
When drivers took to their cars at
2 p.m. for P1, the track temperature
was 46 degrees (115 F). Red Bull’s Max
Verstappen was third in that, Hamilton
10th, and Bottas 14th.
“It was incredibly hot early on, with
some of the very toughest conditions,
both physically and in terms of working
with the tires,” Hamilton said. “Then it
was much cooler, giving us a much bet-
ter representation of what qualifying
and the race will be like.”
Raikkonen’s session ended early af-
ter his Ferrari sustained engine damage
before he completed a timed lap.
He pulled over, climbed out with his
helmet still on and started walking back
to the paddock despite the intense des-
ert heat. Raikkonen, whose nickname is
“Iceman,” eventually hitched a lift the
rest of the way on a scooter. Mean-
while, Ferrari said the car problem was
overheating in the turbo area.
Westbrook vs Harden
—Highlight NBA playoffs opener
Russell Westbrook against
James Harden is a sensational
start to the NBA postseason.
Golden State against Cleveland no
longer looks like the certain finish.
The playoffs open this weekend,
highlighted by a must-see match-
up in the first round between re-
cord-setting guards who are former
teammates and now leading MVP
They swapped spectacular high-
lights during the regular season:
Westbrook averaging a triple-dou-
ble in carrying Oklahoma City after
Kevin Durant’s departure; Harden
leading the league in assists for
a high-octane Houston offense
that shattered the NBA record for
“As great of a season as LeBron
(James) and Kawhi (Leonard) have
had, the two main guys on the card,
the main draw, have been James
Harden and Russell Westbrook,” Hall
of Famer and TNT analyst Reggie
Miller said. “And to have both of
those guys go at one another in the
first round — former teammates,
great friends, the two leading scorers
in the Association — from our side
... this is a dream matchup to sit and
have a chance to watch.”
Now one of them will be gone by
Super stats give way to tremen-
dous teams in the playoffs, and the
Warriors look the part after going
67-15 in their first season with Du-
rant, now healthy after a late-season
The question mark is the Cav-
aliers, the defending champions
who were just 10-14 after February,
yielding the No. 1 seed in the Eastern
Conference to Boston while James
sat out the final two games during
their late-season slide.
The Warriors and Cavs were over-
whelming favourites to meet again
after splitting the last two NBA Fi-
nals, though Cleveland’s struggles
have thrown that into doubt — out-
side of Cleveland, anyway.
The answers start arriving Satur-
day, when the two-month chase for
16 wins begins.
The Cavaliers open against No. 7
Indiana, while No. 3 Toronto hosts
No. 6 Milwaukee. In the West, it’s
seventh-seeded Memphis at No. 2
San Antonio, and the No. 4 Clippers
against the No. 5 Utah Jazz.
On Sunday, the Warriors open
against Portland, before the
third-seeded Rockets and No. 6
Thunder play the other Game 1 in the
West. The East openers are Boston
against Chicago, and No. 4 Wash-
ington against fifth-seeded Atlanta.
Just five years ago, Westbrook,
Harden and Durant were young guns
on an Oklahoma City team that lost
to Miami in the NBA Finals. All three
may have been worthy MVP winners
this season had Durant not hurt his
knee in late February.
He’s back now, with perhaps his
best chance yet to win something
better than a second MVP award: a
Capsules and predictions for the
NBA’s first-round playoff series, start-
ing this weekend:
No. 1 BOSTON CELTICS (53-29) vs. No.
8 CHICAGO BULLS (41-41)
Season series: Split, 2-2.
Story line: It’s Boston’s first time as the
No. 1 seed in the East since 2008 — which
was also the last time the Celtics hoisted
the Larry O’Brien Trophy to end the season.
And the Bulls, who seemed seriously
dysfunctional at times this season, now
get new life and a chance to enjoy Dwyane
Wade’s playoff savvy.
Key Matchup: Isaiah Thomas vs. Rajon
Rondo. Thomas got his points in the regular
season (averaging 24.8 vs. the Bulls), but
the matchup will be crucial between the new
Celtics star and the last point guard to take
the Celtics to a title.
Prediction: Celtics in 6.
No. 2 CLEVELAND CAVALIERS (51-31)
vs. No. 7 INDIANA PACERS (42-40)
Season series: Cavaliers, 3-1.
Story line: LeBron James starts his bid
for a seventh consecutive trip to the NBA
Finals, and will meet the Pacers in the
playoffs for the fourth time in that span.
The defending champions went 23-23 in
their last 46 games, tied for the 15th-best
record during that stretch. Can they flip the
switch, or does Indiana bask in playing with
nothing to lose?
Key matchup: James vs. Paul George.
They may not guard each other much, but
it’s no secret that Indiana’s most logical path
to an upset is for George to get hot and
stay hot. He’ll likely have to match James’
production for the Pacers to have a real
Prediction: Cavaliers in 5.
No. 3 TORONTO RAPTORS (51-31) vs.
No. 6 MILWAUKEE BUCKS (42-40)
Season series: Raptors, 3-1 .
Story line: Toronto reached the East finals
last season, have Kyle Lowry back from a
second-half wrist injury and a likely All-NBA
performer in DeMar DeRozan. They know
what the playoffs lights are like. Milwaukee
All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo is going to
get his first taste of the postseason, and
he’ll have to adjust quickly.
matchup: Who guards
Antetokounmpo? Probably a handful of
Raptors will be involved, and that’s the
matchup to watch. If the Greek Freak gets
on a roll, Toronto could have issues. Contain
him, and the Raptors shouldn’t have much
problem getting to the second round.
Prediction: Raptors in 6.
No. 4 WASHINGTON WIZARDS (49-33)
vs. No. 5 ATLANTA HAWKS (43-39)
Season series: Wizards, 3-1.
Story line: Washington was a great
comeback story this season, shaking off a
2-8 start like it never happened and putting
together the best regular season for the
franchise in nearly 40 years. Atlanta is
looking for a third consecutive trip to the
second round, and finished the season on
an uptick after a seven-game slide in March.
Key matchup: How the Wizards guard
Dwight Howard. Washington knows it won’t
have Ian Mahinmi to start the series because
of a strained calf, and his 6-foot-11 frame
will be sorely missed.
Prediction: Wizards in 7.
No. 1 GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS (67-
15) vs. No. 8 PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
Season series: Warriors, 4-0.
Story line: With Kevin Durant back and
healthy, Golden State’s quest to get to a
third straight NBA Finals begins against
an opponent it dominated this season.
Golden State averaged 125 points and had
its biggest win ever over Portland with a
135-90 rout on Dec. 17. But all the games
were before the All-Star break, and the
Trail Blazers played their best basketball
Key Matchup: Stephen Curry and
Klay Thompson vs. Damian Lillard and CJ
McCollum. Perhaps the best backcourts in
the West go head-to-head. All four guards
are capable of putting up huge numbers,
but Portland’s probably can’t afford any
bad nights given how much more help the
Warriors’ duo has.
Prediction: Warriors in 5.
No. 2 SAN ANTONIO SPURS (61-21) vs.
No. 7 MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES (43-39)
Season series: Split, 2-2
Story line: This is the fifth time these
teams have met in the playoffs in the last 13
years, so the familiarity is there. The Spurs
have kept rolling along after Tim Duncan’s
retirement, getting an MVP-caliber season
from Kawhi Leonard and another masterful
coaching job from Gregg Popovich to win
61 games. But the Grizzlies are no easy out.
They held the Spurs to 90.5 points and 43
percent shooting in their four meetings this
season. It will be a dogfight.
Key Matchup: Tony Parker vs. Mike
Conley. Even though he’s past his prime,
Parker remains integral to the Spurs’
chances for a deep playoff run. If Conley
can dominate the matchup, Spurs could have
their hands full.
Prediction: Spurs in 5.
No. 3 HOUSTON ROCKETS (55-27) vs.
No. 6 OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER (47-35)
Season series: Rockets, 3-1.
Story line: Only the most intriguing
matchup of the first round. Houston’s James
Harden and OKC’s Russell Westbrook, former
teammates with the Thunder, are the two
leading candidates in an air-tight MVP race.
Each have put together historic offensive
seasons to carry their teams to unexpected
finishes, Harden helping the Rockets
rebound from a massively disappointing
season last year and Westbrook single-
handedly allowing the Thunder to move
past Kevin Durant’s departure last summer.
Key Matchup: Harden vs. Westbrook.
Westbrook owns a decided statistical
advantage in the series this season,
averaging 36.3 points, 9.3 assists and 9.0
rebounds while shooting 44.7 percent from
the field. Harden averaged 20.5 points, 12.3
assists and 7.3 rebounds while shooting 34.3
percent, but won three of the four games.
Prediction: Rockets in 7.
NO. 4 LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS (51-31)
vs. No. 5 UTAH JAZZ (51-31).
Season series: Clippers, 3-1.
Story line: Same as the last few years
with the Clippers, only with a little more
urgency now given that Chris Paul and
Blake Griffin can become free agents. Are
they good enough to make a deep run in
the West, and will the core of their team be
broken up if they don’t? Their three victories
over rising Utah gave them the season series
tiebreaker and home-court advantage in this
Key Matchup: DeAndre Jordan vs. Rudy
Gobert. Gobert is the dominant man in the
middle and potential defensive player of the
year for a Jazz team that allowed an NBA-
low 96.8 points per game this season. But
he can’t roam around the paint too much
and ignore Jordan, who turned Paul’s passes
into a 71.4 percent field goal shooting mark
that led the league.
Prediction: Clippers in 7.
FILE: In this December 9, 2016, file photo, Houston Rockets guard James
Harden, left, is defended by Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell
Westbrook on a drive to the basket during the second half of their NBA
game in Oklahoma City. AP PHOTO
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