Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Game 7 of Stanley Cup Playoffs Is One of Sports' Greatest Treasures


I'm not what you would call a big hockey fan. Oh, I appreciate the game, catch a few games during the season and have a pretty good grasp of what's going on. But it isn't as if I live or die with or without it.

But the Stanley Cup playoffs roll around and my head perks up. The Stanley Cup playoffs are one of the true treasures in sports. Everything is magnified, games are a lot more physical and each goal is is a triumph. And no accessory is cooler in sports than a playoff beard.

So when a Game 7 rolls around, I'm all over it.

There were two of them last night and both show why these things are great. The Carolina Hurricanes somehow scored two goals in the game's final 80 seconds to shock the Devils in New Jersey. The Devils were just a minute or so away from advancing to the next round, then a soft goal sends them packing.

Over in Washington, the New York Rangers completely owned the Capitals. However, "owned" doesn't matter unless you cash in. Despite outplaying the Caps, the Rangers only scored the one goal. Washington tied the game up with a freak goal that hit a defender's stick, then his body and then curved in. They tacked on another goal and advanced to the second round.

Game 7s in any sport are great. A World Series Game 7 has so much intensity on each pitch and in baseball, no lead is mathematically impossible to overcome. A Game 7 in the NBA Playoffs has a ton of emotion on each play as well.

But in hockey, fortunes can turn on a dime. If the game is tight down the stretch (as both games last night were), who knows what can happen. One bad pass, one bad misstep, one bad read and your season could be over. Like the Rangers, you can dominate your opponent all you want, but if you turn the puck over in your zone and give them a 2-on-1 ... you could be watching the rest of the postseason at home.

The best Game 7 I've ever seen was the Red Wings and Blues back in 1996. That game was just filled with amazing saves from both goalies. Pucks hit the cross-bars and the game was 0-0 for 81 minutes. In double overtime, Steve Yzerman just slapped a 60-foot shot to set up a shift change and the puck actually scooted by for a goal. Just like that, the Wings eliminated the Blues.

Yzerman's goal was fueled by a turnover by the Blues' Wayne Gretzky.

Unlike the NBA, NFL, MLB, college football or basketball ... you don't have time to assess what is going on before it happens. In basketball, usually a timeout is called and a play begins. You have time to step back before seeing the outcome. In baseball, you have those times between pitches. In football, there is a play clock. Hockey is fluid and game winners can happen when you least expect it.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

ESPN.com Decides to Kill Content For Spaces For Huge Ads

I saw this last night and thought it was just a freak thing. But I saw it again today.

ESPN.com now has huge ads slapped on their front page. Normally there was the "SportsCenter Highlight of the Night" with the top stories bulleted on the right side. Those bullets have been moved below the highlight (where you have to scroll down to see it) and a huge ad is spanked it its place.

Now, far be it for me to whine about ad space on websites. If you look to the left, you'll see a nice, big one that you need to click. That's how the internet chugs along and it helps get great content out there for people to see.

But I (or many other sites) didn't decide to veer from what we were doing to bow down to ads. ESPN must feel that having ad space there is more important than having sports content. Ya know, the entire reason I go there. I know it seems petty since all I have to do is scroll down to get my info. But couldn't I do the same to see the ad?

MIKE LEACH: The Texas Tech head coach had a lot to say about Michael Crabtree falling all the way down to No. 10 (poor, Michael) and Graham Harrell not getting drafted at all. He threw gas cans all over the place and smacked on Browns coach Eric Mangini and Texas A&M running back Stephen McGee.

My problem with this is the NFL draft tends to work itself out. If you are good enough to play in the league, you'll have a job. Jake Delhomme and Kurt Warner weren't drafted either and things seem to have worked out for them. And whining about Crabtree only going tenth is stupid.

It seems as if Leach just wants to get out the impression that he's got his guys backs no matter what and will use it in recruiting.

Again, Can We Get Some Scoring in These NBA Playoffs?

I love the NBA playoffs despite the length of the rounds and the fact that we've seen some dead weight. But there needs to be a bit more scoring, right?

I know that playoff-time means defenses tighten up, offenses slow down and nerves get a hold of you but these guys can do a bit better than this.

Atlanta: 78, 81 pts
Cleveland: 79 pts
Detroit: 68, 78, 82 pts
Miami: 64, 71 pts
New Orleans: 63 pts
Philadelphia: 81 pts
Portland: 81, 83 pts
San Antonio: 67 pts

That's ridiculous. Yeah, there have been some nice scoring outputs, too (notice none of the Jazz-Lakers or Bulls-Celtics series made the list). But much of the high scores come on the same night as the low scores.

Is it me or does everyone seem tired? It looks like there are teams that are just spent and have no gas left in the tank. The Pistons looked that way for pretty much their entire series (save the fourth quarter in Game 2). The Jazz looked that way against the Lakers until they were down 20. The Hornets all but quit last night.

One glimmer of hope is that the teams scoring these low numbers shouldn't advance. I know that seems obvious, but either the Heat or Hawks will be fodder for the Cavaliers next week.

When You Lose a Playoff Game By 58 Points ... Quit


The Denver Nuggets beat the New Orleans Hornets ... 121-63.

Yes, the Nuggs beat the Hornets by 58 points in New Orleans. That is extremely embarrassing and matches the worst playoff beating in NBA history.

I think there should be a rule that if you lose by 58 points at home in the playoffs ... the series is over. Just end it. Take the ol' girl out back and put her out of her misery.

I know, I know. It is just one loss and a loss by 58 points is worth the same as a loss by 1 point. You are right, but losing by 58 means you shouldn't even be on the same court as your opponent. You'd do everyone a favor by just forfeiting the rest of the series.

I'm not trying to be mean. This is the third time in this series that Denver blew out New Orleans. And it isn't like the Hornets didn't quit tonight. They scored a grand total of 24 points in the second half while Denver scored 60. Denver had a first quarter lead of 36-15.

I just finished watching the Lakers eliminate the Jazz in five games. At least Utah ... who faced big defecits late in every game this series ... fought back. They scrapped and hustled and at least when down swinging. N'Awlins looked like a team that was capping off a 15-67 season.

It is amazing when you think that the Hornets were a buzz team to challenge the Lakers for the Western crown when the season began. At that time, the Nuggets were perceived to continue their stretch of squeaking into the playoffs and bowing out quickly. Now six months later, Denver will be moving on while the Hornets bow out with their stingers between their legs.

How Much Of the Unwatchable NFL Draft Did You Really Watch?


Yesterday ... Monday ... everyone went back to work and the main topic of conversation was what their teams did in the NFL Draft. What you liked, what you didn't like, making fun of certain teams and where you watched the Draft.

But, seriously, how much of the draft did you really watch? Really?

Me? I think it was about a total of two hours. I caught the Lions taking Matt Stafford and caught up to the Bengals pick at No. 6. I had it still on but was doing some stuff as the draft continued. When the Broncos picked at No. 12 (meaning my Redskins were next), I sat down and watched. All I really wanted to see was Washington's selection and I was fine. I probably watched another pick or two and then hung it up.

I did go on ESPN.com to see the progress of the draft (namely where Hakeem Nicks would be picked) and a Day 1 recap. Since the Redskins didn't pick until the third round, I really didn't care too much. I watched none of the Draft on Sunday, electing to follow the picks on ESPN.com a couple times during the day.

That's it. Months of hype, predictions, mocks and rumors and I only cared to watch about two hours of it.

I just can't watch it. It is too overblown. From Chris Berman huffing and puffing through the telecast, to Mel Kiper shouting about how smart he is, to the 50 analysts telling me what I just watched. With the cameras covering all these draftees all day, even the actual DRAFTING OF THE PLAYERS stunk. I mean, well before Roger Goodell announces the pick, we see someone and his family on a cell phone celebrating.

That brings me to a bigger point: does ESPN even cover the draft? I mean, they send all those people there but scoop Goodell on the picks. On Day 2 ... aka Rounds 3 through 7 ... they don't even bother telling you who is picking whom. It just rolls across the bottom of the screen as they spend a second day telling you about what happened on the first day.

Here is a dirty secret. The NFL Draft really isn't very television friendly. Back when ESPN started to televise the draft, nobody at all gave a crap. It was like watching C-SPAN or a series of cubicles at a telemarketing firm. Boring.

Yes, it gained momentum and ESPN started putting some more bells and whistles to it. I love the actual visual production of the draft with the tons of information on my screen. I love Trey Wingo as a host. That's about it. You have Steve Young telling me that every team needs to draft a QB, Keyshawn Johnson talking about guys that weren't on those teams anymore (Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce aren't St. Louis Rams anymore, Key) and Tom Jackson telling me how tough everyone is.

Only 360+ days left until next year's extravaganza.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Carl Edwards Flips Car; Thinks He's Ricky Bobby at Talladega



If you haven't seen the end of the Aarons 499 at Talladega yesterday, you missed something amazing. As you can see in the video above, Edwards' car flipped into the fencing, ricocheted back onto the track and caught on fire.

Edwards then got out of his car ... amazingly okay ... and ran across the finish line to a standing ovation.

We all thought it and the announcer said it: "shades of Ricky Bobby". It did look a bit like the finish to "Talladega Nights" during this race ... uh ... in Talladega.

It is also amazing that nothing really bad happened to any fans during that crash. Several people were harmed, but none were life threatening. To me, that is just unreal. That was a race car going hundreds of mph and hitting a fence with people on the other side.

Redskins Sign Chase Daniel. Does This Count, Jason?


Just before the draft, there were reports that Redskins QB Jason Campbell would demand a trade if the team acquired a quarterback on draft day. At the time, there was buzz that Washington was smitten with USC QB Mark Sanchez and wanted him to be the next guy.

That didn't happen, nor did the Redskins draft any other QB.

But they did sign undrafted free agent Chase Daniel. Daniel, if you remember, was a Heisman finalist two years ago when he nearly led Missouri to the BCS Championship game. Interestingly, Redskins Insider says that the Redskins were smitten with Daniel too. They weren't smitten enough to draft him, but quickly plucked him off the free agency heap.

So, does Jason Campbell's threat still apply? The Redskins did acquire a QB on draft day ... albeit one that will probably not see the field all season long. I seriously doubt it, but you know some people (like me) are thinking it.

What Daniel's signing does (it is a two-year deal) is put Todd Collins on notice. The Redskins are going into the season with four QBs on the roster. Campbell is the starter, with Collins his backup. Colt Brennan, who has become the darling of the Redskins, is the third-stringer.

But does the signing of Daniel push Brennan to the No. 2 spot and Collins as the odd man out? Money-wise, that makes sense. It's kind of crappy since Collins didn't cash in on his somewhat high value last offseason to stay in Washington. It also would mean that the Redskins are cool with having two completely unproven players backing up Campbell. If Campbell gets hurt (after all, the Skins didn't draft anyone to protect him), you won't have Collins to step right in and do his thing.

Grading the Redskins Draft

ROUND 1: Brian Orakpo, DE, Texas: I told you yesterday that I loved this pick. He can immediately help the Redskins as a pass rushing DE or hybrid OLB. Putting him next to Albert Haynesworth will only open things up for him more. Seriously, I have to go back to the days of Dexter Manley/Charles Mann when remembering what a great defensive end looks like in burgundy and gold.

ROUND 3: Kevin Barnes, CB, Maryland: Well, I wasn't expecting them to take a cornerback. Still, it is a position that could use some depth. He isn't big, but he's really smart. From what I've read, he's outstanding at reading what the offense is doing and what route his receiver is running. He's also a big hitter, which is a plus on this defense.

ROUND 5: Cody Glenn, LB, Nebraska: Interesting that a team that fielded the NFL's 4th ranked defense spent their first three picks on defensive players. Still, Washington needed some linebacking help with the age and injury issues we have there. The only problem is that I don't see him being much more than a special teams guy who could be a Joker-type LB/S.

ROUND 6: Robert Henson, LB, TCU: Another defensive player. I like this pick better than the Glenn pick. Yeah, Henson will most likely be a special teamer, but that's not bad with a 6th round pick. He looks like a guy with size that can contribute at LB at times -- moreso than Glenn. This pick makes me wish we had selected an OL instead of Glenn.

ROUND 7: Eddie Williams, FB/TE, Idaho: I'm not understanding this, unless this was just a "highest ranked guy on our board" pick. The Redskins have All Pros at TE (Chris Cooley) and FB (Mike Sellers). We used a 3rd round pick on TE Fred Davis last year. I just don't see where this kid fits in.

ROUND 7: Marko Mitchell, WR, Nevada: Man, we've been loving those mid-major western schools, huh? Guys from TCU, Idaho and now Nevada. I think this kid could have a future with the Redskins. He's 6-4, 218 pounds and is an excellent leaper. Still, it's kind of rough to bring in yet another young receiver.

So, how do I see the draft as a whole? Decent. I love the Orakpo pick as well as Barnes. What bothers me is that we really failed to add anything offensively. I'm a big supporter of drafting an offensive lineman in the middle rounds. Those guys usually have a better chance at sticking to a roster and you didn't waste a draft pick. I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention we used our 2nd round pick in a trade for Jason Taylor ... who is no longer in Washington. That factors into my grade.

So does getting Orakpo and not getting Mark Sanchez. Before the draft, I wanted either Orakpo or OT Michael Oher. I figured we could/should move back, gain a 2nd round pick and draft Oher. But when Orakpo fell in our lap, I was ecstatic! It also means Jason Campbell is still our QB. I can't wait to see how this plays out. Will Campbell be disgruntled (especially now that the Redskins would be in a bind if he wants out) or will be have a bust-out season with another year with Jim Zorn, a contract season and a huge chip on his shoulder?

My grade is a B-. I love the first day of picking but not too thrilled about the second day. Still, I think we've drafted our first star since Sean Taylor.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Independence High's Hakeem Nicks Goes No. 29 to Giants


WR Hakeem Nicks, formerly of the University of North Carolina (my favorite team) and of Independence High School in Charlotte (where I went to school) is now a New York Giants.

Now, as a Redskins fan, I hate the Giants. But I will be excited to see what Nicks does in New York.

Now we wait as another Independence High School receiver gets picked: Georgia's Mohamed Massaquoi.

Brian Orakpo Makes This a Great Day For Redskins


Draft day for Redskins fans is always nerve racking. You just worry that Daniel Snyder, Vinny Cerato and Co. will find a way to overvalue something. The mere fact that the Skins' brass were apparently so enamored with USC QB Mark Sanchez, I fully expected them to trade seven picks to move up seven spots in the draft.

With all things considered, I entered this draft hoping that Washington would select DE Brian Orakpo or OT Michael Oher with the 13th pick. Both can immediately help the Skins and could be around for quite a while. Also, their names aren't "Mark Sanchez".

The lynchpin was when the Raiders selected WR Darrius Heyward-Bey in a shocker. That re-shuffled some decisions of people picking behind Oakland. Still, I was worried that either Buffalo or Denver (the two teams picking directly in front of Washington) would take Orakpo in a heartbeat.

Buffalo picked a defensive end, but it was Penn State's Aaron Maybin. Denver took RB Knowshon Moreno. By the time commissioner Roger Goodell walked off the stage after announcing the Redskins were on the clock, Washington made their pick. Orakpo.

Awesome pick. We haven't had a pass rushing defensive end in 20 years. Andre Carter has him moments, but I think this kid takes us back to the Dexter Manley/Charles Mann days. Ya know, the days when Washington played in big, big games.

With the depth of offensive linemen in this draft, I'm hopeful we can find something good in the 3rd round. It just pisses me off that we dealt away our 2nd rounder for that one unspectacular season from Jason Taylor.

Ovechkin Is Becoming My Favorite NHL Player



I don't really like the Washington Capitals. Never cared one bit about them. But Alex Ovechkin has become one of my favorite players in the NHL ... or in any sport. I enjoy his moxy, his confidence and his Jordan-esque way he plays the game.

This goal of his last night against the Rangers was freakin' amazing!

Doug Williams' New Video Game Has Some Claiming Racism


There will be a new game coming out this June called "Black College Football: The Xperience -- Doug Williams Edition". It is designed to compete against EA Sports' "NCAA Football" series.

The game takes 36 HBCUs (that's Historically Black Colleges and Universities for the layperson), their stadiums and their bands and place them in what looks like a cool game. They will also feature Black College legends Williams, Jerry Rice, Eddie Robinson and Mel Blount. Growing up in North Carolina where there are more HBCUs than anywhere else, I can appreciate where this game is coming from.

They also have a cool thing involving the drum line where you can use your Rock Band gear to perform halftime shows. The game seems to be very interesting.

Which is why is really surprised me when some gamers would consider this racist and used it as an excuse to expose their own racism.

C'mon people! You act like HBCUs have just sprouted up or something. And spare me that tired old argument about "what if there was a white football video game, then everyone would go crazy." If you want, we can have the Ivy League put out a video game for you.

Can Someone In the NBA Playoff Score Some Points?


I know that defense amps up in the playoffs. Teams slow it down and try to get the most out of each possession. That's cool and all, but why the change? Why not play like you did all season?

So everyone has played their Game 3 now. The venues changed and the teams are getting very familiar. So familiar that we are seeing a lot of very, very low scoring games.

Thursday night, we saw the Utah Jazz beat the LA Lakers, 88-86. Not horrible but it is a far cry from the triple digit scores both teams put up in the first two games of the series. Also, Dallas beat San Antonio, 88-67. The Spurs scored just 67 freaking points!?!?!? That is the lowest in franchise history.

On Friday night, we had two more duds. The Houston Rockets stuffed the Portland Trail Blazers, 86-83. In Game 2, Brandon Roy scored 42 points by himself. In Game 3, that would've made up more than half Portland's output.

And the clunker of them all, the Cavaliers beat the Pistons, 79-68. The third quarter saw the Pistons outscore the Cavs -- get ready for this -- 16 to 9. Are you serious?

In the last two days, we've seen these great shooting nights:

Kobe Bryant (LA): 5 for 24
Mo Williams (Cle): 1 for 11
Derrick Rose (Chi): 4 for 14
Ben Gordon (Chi): 5 for 13
Hedo Turkoglu (Orl): 2 for 12
Drew Gooden (SA): 2 for 12
Travis Outlaw (Por): 2 for 11
Geroge Hill (SA): 2 for 10
Kyle Korver (Uta): 4 for 13
Ronnie Brewer (Uta): 4 for 12
Tony Parker (SA): 5 for 13
Big Baby Davis (Bos): 5 for 12
Tim Duncan (SA): 2 for 9
Yao Ming (Hou): 2 for 7
Jason Kidd (Dal): 1 for 6
Delonte West (Cle): 0 for 7
Tayshawn Prince (Det): 3 for 10

Friday, April 24, 2009

Jason Campbell May Not Want to Be a Redskin Anymore


Word is that Washington QB Jason Campbell will request a trade if the Redskins acquire a quarterback in the draft. If the Skins do draft Mark Sanchez, I'm pretty sure Campbell will get his wish.

It is a shame. Around Week 8 of last year, some people were throwing "MVP" at Campbell. He had a very effective first half of the season and led his team to a 6-2 start. It all came crashing down in the second half of the year and there were fans yelling that Campbell isn't the answer.

There is the issue. Is he the answer? Can he be a QB that can lead his team into the playoffs and, ultimately, the Super Bowl? Most Redskins fans aren't so sure about that and it seems that neither are the Redskins power players.

So now we are at the major crossroads. Campbell has one year remaining on his deal and it is obvious that the Redskins aren't convinced that he is the answer. They've already tried to bring in Jay Cutler and now are the buzz team to trade up for Sanchez. All this isn't sitting well with the man who Washington traded up for to be the franchise quarterback several years ago.

It shouldn't sit very well. Campbell has been completely disrespected and undermined. Your QB has to be a leader on the team and what player will fully follow a guy that the people upstairs don't trust. Campbell has been under three different offensive systems since he's arrived in D.C. and he hasn't been given the chance to grow in any of them. If there is one thing we've seen from the successful teams in the NFL it is that there is a bond between the quarterback and the offensive coordinator and/or quarterbacks coach. That hasn't happened here.

I feel bad for Campbell since I'm one of the Redskins fans who think he can be a nice QB in this league. I don't see him being an elite guy, but I think he can be solid enough that the Redskins can win a lot of games.

Cutler may already be an elite guy, so I was cool with the Redskins expressing their interest in him. But Sanchez? There is so much debate about the kind of career this kid will have. Even his coach at USC, Pete Carroll, didn't support Sanchez coming into the draft. Hard to change horses midstream.

And why would I believe Daniel Snyder about Sanchez? Didn't the Redskins trade up to get Campbell? Didn't the Redskins trade back to get Patrick Ramsey?

I just hope this all works out.

Tar Heel Bounce: Out With the Old, In With the New

Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington put their names in the NBA Draft pool, meaning their time at North Carolina has ended. I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to both for their efforts over the past three seasons. I wished they would stay one more year, but I understand why they are leaving. I wish them the best of luck.

But it is time to move on.

This isn't the first time ... nor will it be the last time ... that UNC has lost guys early to the NBA. They recovered after Michael Jordan left early. They recovered when J.R. Reid left early. They recovered when Jerry Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace, Antawn Jamison, Vince Carter, Joseph Forte, Sean May, Rashad McCants, Raymond Felton, Marvin Williams and Brandon Wright left early. It's Carolina. It happens.

While everyone should still be celebrating the Heels' lastest title, it will soon be time to look at what's coming back (and coming in).

It will be a young team. The class of 2005 is almost all gone (Tyler Hansbrough, Danny Green, Bobby Frasor; only Marcus Ginyard remains). The class of 2006 (Wayne Ellington, Ty Lawson, Brandon Wright) has only Deon Thompson and Will Graves remaining. There was no class of 2007.

So most of what UNC has coming back will be rising sophomores and freshmen.

PG-Larry Drew II
SG-Dexter Strickland
SF-Marcus Ginyard
PF-Deon Thompson
C-Ed Davis

BENCH: PF/SF-John Henson, C/F-Tyler Zeller, PG/SG-Leslie McDonald, PF-David Wear, PF-Travis Wear, G-Justin Watts, SF-Will Graves.

One thing about this team is that they are stacked up front but kinda thin in the backcourt. They have virtually no experience back there. Drew had spot duty last year as a third string point guard. Strickland and McDonald are freshmen. Ginyard is versatile enough to play lead guard and the two wing positions.

I think Henson should be in the starting lineup, but I don't see how that can happen. He won't knock Davis or Thompson out of the lineup. If he starts at small forward, that would kick Ginyard to the off-guard spot. Doing that will mean that UNC will have no perimeter threats, which is why I am projecting Strickland as a starter.

Of course, this could all change if a certain point guard chooses to stay close to home and become a Tar Heel.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

What NBA Playoff Mascot Would You LEAST Want Loose In Arena


You've probably have seen footage of the live Atlanta Hawk mascot getting lose in Philips Arena last night. The hawk flew up to the top of the backboard and chilled for a while before getting reeled in by his trainer.

Thank god it was just the Hawk. Imagine if any of the other playoff mascots got loose in the arena.

16-Lakers: Well, there is no real thing like the Lakers so we should be cool here. Unless Jack Nicholson decides to go postal or something.

15-Sixers: Same thing with the Sixers.

14-Jazz: Having some Jazz break out during a game wouldn't be too horrible.

13-Mavericks: I guess John McCain could get loose in an arena and no one would care.

12-Nuggets: It depends on the nuggets. Gold nuggets? Everyone would love that. Chicken nuggets? Well, everyone would love that too. Uh ... butt nuggets? Not so much.

11-Pistons: A piston by itself just isn't scary.

10-Spurs: Unless someone is wearing them, they are pretty harmless.

9-Heat: How much heat? Making the arena warm would just help drink sales.

8-Blazers: Trail Blazers always are trying to go against the norm and go places they shouldn't. They would be rather disruptive to fans and players.

7-Magic: Black magic can be awful. Imagine a spell that just got out of control and started screwing with the fans and players!!!

6-Celtics: Not too bad. But a leprechaun running around the arena would scare the heck out of anyone.

5-Hawks: We saw this one already, but it could have gotten a lot worse. The hawk could have attacked someone and it could have gotten out of hand very quickly.

4-Cavaliers: Arrrrggg! Lets' plunder!!

3-Hornets: Man, imagine if a swarm of Hornets got loose in the arena. It would be complete chaos in the arena.

2-Bulls: I think this is pretty easy to figure out.

1-Rockets: If a rocket got loose in the Toyota Center, it is just over. This is the only mascot that would actually explode.

Some non-playoff teams that could scare? Bobcats, Warriors, Grizzlies, Timberwolves and the Raptors.

NBA Playoff Series Change Venues and Things Will Heat Up

Every NBA playoff series has played their first two games. Three series are at 2-0 while the remaining five are locked up at 1-1.

I always think Game 3 of any series is vital. For the teams up 2-0, it is a great chance to stomp out your opponent. No NBA team has recovered from an 0-3 deficit ... so the teams down 0-2 know that their season is on the line. A win by the trailing team puts a ton of life back in the series.

For those locked in the 1-1 battles, obviously a win gives them the series' lead. For the teams heading home, a win puts a lot of pressure on the better seeded team.

So I want to check out my excitement level of each of the eight playoff series:

1-Celtics at Bulls: Great, great series thus far. The Bulls could easily be up 2-0 right now (so, too, could the Celtics). Great performances so far. Now Chicago gets to host the C's and a tight series could get even tighter. A Chicago win will bring out all the people screaming down Boston.

2-Blazers at Rockets: I knew this would be a great series, I just didn't know if I'd want to really watch these games. Um, yes I do. Despite getting the tough time slot on Saturday and being relegated to NBATV for Game 2, I've loved watching it. Now, will Houston be as wild as Portland was??

3-Hawks at Heat: This is a scary series. Atlanta just dominated Miami in Game 1 while Dwyane Wade got off in Game 2. So which team has the advantage? This has the makings of going the full seven games.

4-Nuggets at Hornets: This is the one series where I'm surprised about the domination of one team. Denver has pounded New Orleans in each of the first two games and has a ton of momentum heading to Louisiana. Still, the Hornets can turn this around at home. The fans will be rabid and I'd like to see how the Nuggets deal with the road. They haven't held a 2-0 series lead since 1985.

5-Spurs at Mavericks: Old. This series just seems old to me. I've seen these two before and there is nothing injected into the series. We need a good ol' fashioned duel between Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan circa 2006. Parker has been magical but the rest of the series just seems stale.

6-Magic at Sixers: This has been a decent series, but one that I just can't get with. It just doesn't interest me. Orlando seems like the better team (they built up huge leads in both games) but have been exposed a bit.

7-Lakers at Jazz: I think the Lakers roll in this series, but I can see Utah giving them some trouble. The Jazz are a great home team and the Lakers haven't enjoyed their trips to SLC. What I want to see here is Los Angeles' killer instinct. The team obviously tried to cruise in the first two games and will have to put together a full 48 to win Game 3.

8-Cavaliers at Pistons: Yes, the Detroit scrubs made a valiant comeback on Tuesday night. But this hasn't been close and probably won't get close. LeBron James seems to be on a mission to crush the Pistons and I think this series has the least amount of drama.

Stephen Curry Leaves Davidson For the NBA


Stephen Curry's awesome college career has come to an end.

Curry announced that he is skipping his senior season and going pro. He will hire an agent, effectively ending his college career.

This is a smart move. The 2009 NBA Draft class is perceived as much weaker than 2010 when there should be a ton of one-and-dones. Curry has a great shot at being a lottery pick this year and can't really do much on the college scene.

There are two parts to this equation: How high is your value and are you ready for the League. I don't think he's necessarily ready for the league yet, but his value probably won't be any higher. He still needs to work on his ballhandling skills and bulk up his body ... but that should come in time. His shot is already there and he should have a fine career like his dad did.

His legacy at Davidson will last a long, long time. He put that tiny school just outside Charlotte on the map. They had big dogs like North Carolina, Duke and UCLA scheduling them. The run in the 2008 NCAA Tournament will go down as one of the most memorable events in tournament history. Beating Gonzaga, Georgetown and Wisconsin before scaring eventual champion Kansas will be the highlight of that program.

As will Curry. He was a good kid who was a great player. Davidson isn't losing Curry for one year -- they enjoyed him for three.

Jaguars New Unis Don't Do Anything For Me, But I Like the Helmets



[Hat tip: Uni Watch]

The Jacksonville Jaguars showed off their new duds yesterday. They didn't reinvent the wheel with their unis. The logo stays the same as well as the color scheme.

The uniforms have that "modern look" of edgy numbers and what I call "pit stripes". The font used for their name is a big improvement over their old one. My big gripe here is that the uniforms look a lot like the Philadelphia Eagles. If they could only keep the gold in their logo, I think it would make it zing.

But the dazzler is the helmet. It looks the same but is a bit different. While it will look like their normal black helmet with the jaguar's head, it turns teal when the light hits it.

Check it out here.

Overall, I approve of the change. The Jaguars uniforms weren't one of my favorites to begin with so any change would be met positively.

Kid Skips Senior Year of HIGH SCHOOL In Order to Play In Europe


Here is an interesting sidebar to the NBA draft, "testing the waters" and the normal college recruiting.

Jeremy Tyler has dropped out of his San Diego high school so he can play in Europe. Tyler, a 6-11 forward who verbally committed to Louisville, will forgo his senior year of high school ball to play in Spain.

This is risky but could be more of the norm in a few years. With the NBA's draft rules, high school seniors must kill one year before going to the NBA. Some, like Greg Oden, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, O.J. Mayo and more have gone to college for one season and then bolted for the NBA. Brandon Jennings decided to not go to college at all and signed with a Greek team for one year.

Tyler isn't even going to wait for the opportunity.

It is risky because any time you hear "dropped out of high school", it just makes you cringe. I can get with the belief that not everyone needs college ... but pretty much everyone needs high school. Tyler better hope this pays off into an NBA career or he'll be hurting in the real world.

Basketball-wise, it is a smart move. You get to play against men instead of boys. You will get to live the professional life. You get paid.

In two years, Tyler will put his name in the NBA Draft and ... he's hoping ... will get drafted in the lottery. Maybe his time in Europe will help him when he gets to the League. Maybe it will mess with his head a little bit.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sports Could Actually Practice What They Are Preaching About Earth Day


So, I'm watching ESPN and I'm sure I'll catch a few baseball, NHL and NBA games tonight. All will have something about today being Earth Day on their telecasts. ESPN has the Stanford tree going around helping people recycle.

That's great and all -- it truly is. But maybe these sports could practice what they preach.

While preaching Earth Day, ESPN has a gazillion TVs, lights, computers and really unecessary uses of power. I know that much of it is useful for the production of the show, but if you want to tell me about conservation and our planet, maybe you could chip in by turning off some of those monitors for a day.

Same goes on the field. It is Earth Day, yet every NBA and NHL arena will have tons of video screens, TVs on the concourse and bells and whistles that they really don't need. Have the guts to shut any of these down? Of course not. Will they set up shuttle buses to their arenas for mass transit? Of course not.

And why isn't every baseball game today being played during the day? I know that weekday games don't draw as well as at night, but this is just one day of a 162-game season.

I'm no where near the Earth Day fan as I should be. But I'm not going around preaching it. Maybe if the sports world actually believed in it, I would take their suggestions a bit more seriously.

We Will Miss Not Having Dikembe Mutombo Around Anymore


Early in the Houston Rockets' Game 2 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, backup center Dikembe Mutombo suffered what will most likely be a career-ending injury when his knee bent in a way that knees aren't supposed to.

Mutombo's numbers won't get him in the Hall Of Fame. He was magical in his first few seasons, solid in the middle of his 18-year career, and held the role of mentor over the last third of it. Most guys like that won't hang on for an extra three or four years because their career averages tumble. Mutombo wanted to play; to contribute. And he did so is many, many ways.

He was an outstanding shot blocker who brought us the finger-wave. To this day, I'll bust out the finger wave whenever I block somebody from trying to shoot a balled up piece of paper into a trash dumpster. When Mutombo came out of Georgetown, I pulled for the Charlotte Hornets to use the No. 1 pick on him. Was he the best player in that draft? No, but he's the only one that has been still playing the past few years.

The funny thing is that Mutombo's finest scoring season was his first. Many people felt he was a project on the offensive end but could contribute immediately on defense (the same rap Hasheem Thabeet has right now). He averaged 16.6 ppg in his rookie year and didn't get close to that for the rest of his career.

Those first years with the Nuggets are best remembered for their amazing upset of the top-seeded Seattle SuperSonics. The image burned in most people's minds is Mutombo laying on the floor with the ball, screaming with glee.

Whether he was in Denver, Atlanta, New Jersey, Philadelphia, New York or Houston, he was a defensive force when he played, a positive member of the team and was in the playoffs for 14 of his 18 seasons. He also got to the NBA Finals with the Sixers and Nets.

He won four Defensive MVP awards. He was voted to 8 All-Star games. He ranks second in blocks in NBA history. He won two rebounding titles.

None of that will be his lasting legacy. None of it. He continues to go back to Africa and help with aid for the continent. His biggest contribution to the world is his humanitarian effort for Africa and his home country of Congo. He has raised money for a $29 million hospital in his home country. He has won the President's Service Award and was mentioned in George W. Bush's State of the Union address for his efforts.

He should be a Hall Of Famer for his entire body of work. He's been a very good player for most of his career and was still contributing in his last few years. The fact that he is an international guy should help him get in.

Thanks for everything Mr. Mutombo.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Detroit Lions New Logo


One of my favorite things is when a team hits rock bottom and decides to revamp everything about the franchise. That usually starts with their No. 1 pick in the draft, a new logo and some new uniforms.

And that is what we have in Detroit.

The Lions are changing their logo from a normal Lion to a ... well, more detailed Lion. They kept the Honolulu blue and silver colors and there is nothing drastic changed in their uniforms and helmets.

It follows the logo changes of the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks, where their mascot makeover made them a bit meaner.

It worked for the Cleveland Cavaliers. They went from those hideous sky blue and orange uniforms to the wine-themed color of today. Oh and they drafted LeBron James.

There is no LeBron in the Lions future but at least they will look a little better.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Washington 'Natinals'???


Boy, if I made the mistake of typing "Washington Natinals" (instead of "Nationals"), then I'd be killed for it by the commenters. So imagine the kind of fits going on in D.C. when the freakin' uniforms of the team itself are spelled incorrectly!

Adam Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman both were missing the letter "O" on their jerseys.

Maybe all those "O"s have come up missing in their move from Montreal. Ya know, when they were the Exp-O-s.

Yahoo! Holds "Ultimate NFL Mock Draft"

Yahoo! put out an Ultimate Mock Draft where they act as if every player is a free agent and must be re-drafted according to this year's draft order.

Interestingly, the Detroit Lions used the No. 1 pick on Larry Fitzgerald. No offense, but the St. Louis Rams (who drafted Peyton Manning at No. 2) has to be jumping for joy.

The highest drafted Redskin is Albert Haynesworth. He was taken at No. 8 by the Jacksonville Jaguars.

According to this, the Redskins draft ... ta-da ... Jay Cutler.

I don't like this UMD since it has a lot of spotty picks. You are telling me that Mark Sanchez would be selected at No. 31????? Matt Ryan goes No. 4.

Shark Bitten: Can San Jose Really Choke Again?


The "home ice advantage" in the NHL is a joke. It always has been just because it is the nature of the game. Still, you'd think that a team that has held on to the top regular season record could find a way to quickly dispose of their first round opponent.

The top seeded San Jose Sharks find themselves down 2-0 in their series with the Anaheim Ducks. Both losses came at the HP Pavilion in San Jose.

This was a series targeted by many hockey experts as a possible upset. The Ducks are just two years removed for a Stanley Cup championship while the Sharks have been notorious choke artists in the postseason.

Last year, the second-seeded Sharks lost to No. 4 Dallas in the second round. This was after the Sharks survived a 7-game series with Calgary. In 2007, the also lost in the second round ... but this time they were the underdogs against Detroit. In the 2006 playoffs, the West saw all four underdog seeds win in the first round. That meant that the No. 5 Sharks were the conference's top remaining seed. They promptly were beaten by the 8th-seeded Edmonton Oilers. In 2004, the No. 2 Sharks lost in the Western Conference Finals to No. 6 Calgary.

All this playoff heartbreak is funny when you think that in the Sharks first ever playoff series, they shocked the top-seeded Detroit Red Wings in 7 games. Now the Sharks are facing the same embarrassing level of defeat.

Of course ... as I mentioned above ... home ice advantage means squat. The same way that the Ducks went up the coast to smack the Sharks twice, San Jose can do the same in Anaheim. Still, there is a gorilla sitting on San Jose's back.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Instead of Waiting For Cavs-Lakers, Enjoy the Rest of the NBA Playoffs


I was watching ESPN's "The Sports Reporters" today (the show that spawned pretty much every bit of originial programming on the network) when Bob Ryan complained that we need to "hit the fast forward button" to get to an anticipated Cavaliers-Lakers Finals.

As a Laker fan, I can get with that. Still, that doesn't mean you don't have to enjoy the journey there.

Have we learning nothing from the NCAA Tournament? Yeah, we had North Carolina, Michigan State and UConn in the Final Four ... just as many people figured they would when the college basketball season began. Yeah, much of the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament are really useless in the big picture of the dance. Yet it is the best part of the actual experience.

Same goes in the NBA. While the Lakers and Cavaliers are thrashing through their series, there are some interesting things going on elsewhere.

Road teams are stealing games. Dallas went into San Antonio and stole Game 1. Chicago stunned everyone by beating the Celtics in their series' opener. Philadelphia got a huge shot by Andre Iguodala to capture Game 1 in Orlando. Houston went up to Portland and completely smoked the Blazers.

Every series has played one game (the Nuggets-Hornets series is beginning as I type this). Half of the series have already seen the homecourt advantage flip. Two of the series where the home team won ... were those heavily favored Lakers and Cavaliers.

That Sixers-Magic game was awesome to watch. That Bulls-Celtics game was darn good, too. Even the Lakers-Jazz game got a bit lively and chippy. The Cavs, Rockets and Hawks blew through their opponents and making those games afterthoughts, but we saw those teams playing at a high level.

The point is that we need to slow down sometimes. Yes, the NBA playoffs seem like they last forever, but you'll miss it once it's over.

New Yankee Stadium Is Apparently a Bandbox


The new Yankee Stadium is less than a month old (and just three regular season days old) but it already is getting a reputation.

Forget Coors Field or the Ballpark in Arlington. Go home Great American Ballpark and Minute Maid Park. New Yankee Stadium seems to be the new launching pad.

In the first three games of this Indians-Yankee series (the first regular season games played at the new yard), there have already been 17 home runs. Twelve of those were hit to right field. Counting the two preseason games played at the new digs, there have been a total of 25 home runs. Amazing.

It seems that the wind blows to right field. So a few warning track pops are turning into round-trippers. A few innings see 14 runs scored in them.

What sucks for the Yankees is that this isn't the team they built. In the old ballpark, you either hit it out in right field or you needed to hit the gaps. This ballpark won't hold many of the pops that were warning track shots across the street.

So what does this mean? Despite all the money thrown into the stadium, it is next to impossible to move the fences back. The outfield seats are up against the right field wall, so to move back the fence would mean eliminating some prime (read: moneymaking) seats. Unlike old Yankee Stadium, there isn't a bunch of foul ground behind home plate where you can move the infield back. This just may be the way it is for now on.

What it may do is totally disrupt their personnel. Pitchers don't like to sign with the Rockies, Rangers or Astros if they can help it. That could be the case at Yank-It-Out-Of-the-Park stadium.

Friday, April 17, 2009

I Love the NFL ... But I'm Not in Love With the NFL Draft


I'm going to say something sacrilegious: I don't care too much about the NFL Draft.

Yes, I follow it. Yes, I do care about it a little. I typically pay attention to it until my Redskins make their first pick. Then, I may go online to see who else Washington selected and where various players went in the draft. A few years ago, I wore my phone battery out hitting the refresh button as Aaron Rodgers was falling down to my Skins (Green Bay, of course, snapped him up the previous pick and we ended up with Jason Campbell).

But I'm not as balls deep about it as some people. I don't watch the scouting combine on NFL Network. I don't buy a draft guide. I don't participate in a ton of mock drafts (I sometimes get involved with one, but not this year).

As much as ESPN has built up the draft, they may have killed it for me. It is unwatchable. The time between picks just doesn't do it for a TV audience. They have 70 people on air to guess who the picks may be and tell us how this pick will develop. Go watch some old drafts (or record this one to review in a few years) and see how many times they swing and miss.

It isn't their fault. Drafting in any sport is an inexact science. But it bothers me that I now have two draft experts out there telling me about these kids.

Those experts and all the other NFL guys will have spent months analyzing this thing.

The other thing I hate is the sliders. There are guys that slide down the draft (think Brady Quinn) that the ESPN honks were hyping. So, we spend a few hours hearing about how the team who does draft him will be getting a steal. It's fine to say it once or twice, but making it your main story is grating.

Usually the sliders get the Tom Brady Story run alongside them. "Remember that Brady was a 6th round pick". I know. You keep telling me that. And just like every NFL team was wrong several times on that one ... so were all of you. None of you went out of your way saying that Brady deserved to be a first rounder. So shut up!

And when they say that the Patriots made a great pick of Brady ... they didn't. They got lucky. If they really knew about how great Brady could be, do you think they would have waited for the 6th round to draft him?

And let's move this draft around, eh? I know the NFL loves New York, but this thing has become bid enough that they can bring it to other cities around the league. All we get now are Jets, Giants and Eagles fans howling over their picks and booing anyone else's. They are not wrong at doing this, but let's let other fans have the same opportunity. Move the thing to Pittsburgh or Detroit and watch all the Lions, Steelers, Browns, Bears, Colts, Packers and Bengals fans make the trip there. Have it in St. Louis or something. Hell, have it in New Orleans or Miami!

I do like the shots of the War Rooms. I do like when they pull the owners, coaches and/or GMs out and interview them on their picks.

I would also enjoy it if they took something from the NHL Draft. When they pick, the GM, coach and owner come up to the stage with their jersey and make the selection themselves. The NFL stays with the stuffy commish move of "... and with the 10th pick in the draft ... ". I want to see Detroit's braintrust up there handing their powder blue jersey to their newest player.

I know that will never happen. The braintrust is usually holed up in their war room in their team's complexes. But they could have one of their star players up there announcing their pick. Let the Lions send up Calvin Johnson to announce that they are picking Matt Stafford. I'm sure Calvin would love to see a real QB with a Lions jersey.

I Will Actually Miss Stephen A. Smith at ESPN


Now that the news of Stephen A. Smith leaving (or not being asked back to) ESPN has made its way around, people are piling on. I do understand, but I must say that I may miss the guy.

Yes, he is very, very, very grating. He has that problem of trying too hard to use huge words to show how smart he is. I'm not saying that intelligence sucks, but to express it without forcing it is to use it wisely. He also has his "going to the well" saying. The classics like "at the end of the day" and "quite frankly" are used waaay too much.

I did like the fact that he was one of the few talking heads that was actually opinionated and willing to call out certain players. Unlike Skip Bayless, when SAS does it, it doesn't sound like "hating". I like that.

Unlike many people, I get the hyperbole. He, like Bayless and Jim Rome, know that they rub people the wrong way and their sarcastic behavior just infuriates their critics even more. I'm fine with that.

That being said, he hasn't really brought anything to ESPN over the last year or so. His show, "Quite Frankly", failed miserably. His contributions to NBA coverage has been scaled down to next to nothing (dude was on the ABC set for the Finals in past years). He doesn't break any news and he's only been good at his debates with Bayless on "ESPN First Take". I also liked his articles on ESPN.com and ESPN the Mag.

He'll catch on somewhere, maybe at my old stomping grounds at FanHouse.

Sportz' NBA First Round Playoff Picks

My hockey picks are doing okay, but I'm not as well versed on the teams as I am in basketball. NBA is one of my loves and I think I'll have better luck here.

LAKERS OVER JAZZ (5 games): The Lakers were clearly the best team in the West this year. Utah has been horrible over the last couple of weeks and there are rumblings that their free agents have their bags already packed. Salt Lake City is just so tough a place to play that I think Utah will squeak out one win. But the Lakers take it back to Staples to finish it.

BLAZERS OVER ROCKETS (7 games): This could be a great series. I'm siding with Portland just because of the overall talent level. But there are some great matchups here. Ron Artest will guard Brandon Roy a bit. I'd like to see how Greg Oden and Yao Ming hold up. Rip City vs Rose City. I just don't think that Houston has the horses to advance.

SPURS OVER MAVERICKS (5 games): This is a dream matchup for San Antonio. They play the Mavs well and it means they don't have to face the Hornets.

NUGGETS OVER HORNETS (7 games): I want to pick the Hornets here. Badly. But I can't trust them for anything. The postseason is just so physical and N'Awlins has had so much trouble keeping guys healthy. Of course, this means I trust Denver ... which I don't. But I do trust Chauncey Billups and the fact that the Nuggets have been playing well over the last month.

CAVALIERS OVER PISTONS (4 games): I don't see any way that Detroit hangs with Cleveland. The Pistons have dragged all season long and this should be the end of the road for the Pistons as we knew them. Cleveland gets a first round bye.

HAWKS OVER HEAT (6 games): I hesitate about it being six games (that means Atlanta clinches in Miami). I love what Dwyane Wade has done this season, but he is going to have to carry this team in this series. Joe Johnson has quietly had a fantastic season and Atlanta just has a better team around him. Wade will drop our jaws, per usual. I just don't think it will be enough.

MAGIC OVER SIXERS (5 games): I love Orlando and think they could topple Cleveland in the Eastern Conference Finals. But first thing's first. Philly has struggled down the stretch and look like a bad mismatch against the Magic. I think this one goes away quickly.

CELTICS OVER BULLS (6 games): People are counting Boston out due to Kevin Garnett being done for the playoffs. This is still a decent team without him. Decent enough to beat Chicago. That being said, Chicago will bring some heat on the C's and will leave 'em bloodied and battered.

Yes, I picked all the favorites. So what? They are favorites for a reason. The No. 4 vs No. 5 series are all golden and I love the Nuggets-Hornets battle. But all this should be an appetizer before we get to a course where we could see Lakers-Blazers, Spurs-Nuggets, Magic-Celtics and Cavaliers-Heat.

Eagles and Peters Reach Six-Year Deal

The Philadelphia Eagles and newly acquired OT Jason Peters have reached a six-year deal that will could pay him $60 million. The deal sees that Peters is guaranteed $24 million.

The Eagles sent their 2009 first (No. 28) and fourth round (No. 121) picks as well as a sixth-rounder in 2010. Philadelphia still has 10 picks in this year's draft, including

This is a big addition for an Eagles team that will have to face guys like DeMarcus Ware, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora as well as a revamped Redskins front line with Albert Haynesworth.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

John Madden Retires


John Madden has announced his retirement from broadcasting. While this news may be shocking to some, it shouldn't be a huge surprise. Last year, he broke a 476-week string by taking a week off in October.

For 30-somethings like me, Madden was NFL broadcasting. In the beginning, he was the fun guy who was excitable during the game and made noises to describe action ("boom").

He first was on CBS (1979-1994) where he quickly became their number one analyst. He was pared with Pat Summerall, who was an icon in his own right. Both moved to Fox (1994-2002) where his legend grew. When Summerall retired after Super Bowl XXXVI, Madden moved on to ABC's Monday Night Football (2002-2006) and pared with Al Michaels. The two moved to NBC's Sunday Night Football together in 2006.

His style became the norm for the business. Analysts suddenly became more empassioned in their calls. Attention to lineman grew. He was the only sportscaster to work for each of the "big four networks".

He was the "touch actin' Tinactin" guy. He was the Ace Hardware guy. He did Miller Lite and Rent-A-Center commercials.

But he also was a brand name. His Madden football video games have been part of my life for over two decades. I had Madden on Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Playstations 1, 2 and 3. I remember the days where all the players looked alike and the only differences was the color of the uniform. Now Madden has become nearly lifelike and one of the top selling video games in the world.

Yeah, Madden could be grating at times and sometimes turned into a characture of himself. But I've always felt strongly about his contributions to the game I love and its popularity.

Sportz' NBA Postseason Awards

MVP-LeBron James: I'm a big Kobe guy, but LeBron was the man this year. He had an outstanding season and his Cavaliers had an unbelievable year. He has been nearly unstoppable. His numbers are great and that doesn't even factor how many 4th quarters he sat during blowouts.

COACH-Mike Brown: It's odd to have the Coach of the Year and MVP on the same team. But Brown did an amazing job turning this Cavs team into a defensive juggernaut. He's also done a masterful job at running his team.

ROOKIE-Derrick Rose: The Rookie Award tends to have someone shoot out of the gate as the favorite, but they hit a wall and the award goes to the guy who finished strong. The media tried to do this with Rose, but it's not going to work. He's been the best rookie all year long and he, as a point guard, got his team into the playoffs.

DEFENSIVE-Dwight Howard: He won the rebounding and shot blocking titles handily.

SIXTH MAN-Jason Terry: Terry would get some run from Lamar Odom, but I think a lot of people will feel Odom started playing well once he filled in as a starter when Andrew Bynum was injured.

MOST IMPROVED-Chris "Birdman" Andersen: I've watched several Nuggets games over the past month and have been amazed at the impact Andersen has had. This was a guy who was out of the league for two seasons while he served a suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Now he's a shotblocking machine who allowed the Nuggets not to miss Marcus Camby at all.

Kobe Bryant on Sesame Street



Kobe has come a long way, hasn't he?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Who Would the Lakers Pick As Their Opponent ... If They Could


David Stern mentioned that the NBA may look at allowing division winners to pick their opponents in the playoffs. The conference's top team would get the first pick, followed by the next highest, followed by the final one. The two teams left would face off in the other matchup.

So, if this rule were in place this year, do you think that the Lakers would pick the Utah Jazz (their real matchup) as their opponent this year? Maybe not.

There are a couple reasons for this. The Lakers and Jazz have a bit of a history between each other. Their games often get chippy and the Jazz have had success at home. Utah may be the most talented No. 8 seed in the history of the NBA.

The Lakers probably would pick Dallas ... even though the Mavericks are entering the postseason on a hot streak. Dallas can't win in Los Angeles, while the Lakers have been very successful in Dallas. There is a better chance of a short series here.

It would be interesting to see how the NBA's rule would extend. Would the second round be the same way where the highest seed remaining gets to pick its opponent? If so, then you know that the Lakers would pick anyone but Portland in that round.

I'm one of the people that is actually intrigued by what this possible change.

NFL Schedule 2009: The Fantasy Impact

Two things get people's attention when the new NFL schedule is released. One is what your favorite team's skeddie looks like. The other is the impact on fantasy football.

Two things: byes and fantasy playoffs force people to adjust their ratings and who they may draft. Let's take a quick look:

WEEK 4 (Atl, Phil, Ariz, Car) - Pretty big names that will be on fantasy benches. Just look at the running backs of Turner, Westbrook and DeAngelo Williams that won't be playing that week. Great WRs, too.

WEEK 5 (Chi, GB, NO, SD) - There will be some prime QBs out this week. Brees is a fantasy stud while Rivers and Cutler are in that next tier.

WEEK 6 (Dal, Ind, Mia, SF) - Two studs; two duds. The Cowboys and Colts are always pillaged by fantasy owners. There isn't much that gets taken from the Phins and Niners.

WEEK 7 (Den, Det, Tenn, Sea, Jax, Balt) - This is the first week of six byes. What is interesting is that despite the many teams that will be out this week, it should be too damaging to fantasy owners. Other than a few players (really, Brandon Marshall, Houshmandzadeh and Calvin Johnson), there really isn't a big problem this week.

WEEK 8 (Cin, KC, NE, Pit, TB, Wash) - Another six team week that doesn't look too bad. Yes, those Patriots and Steelers players will be missed. This is a bad week for QBs to be off (Palmer, Cassel, Brady, Roethlisberger) and there are some WRs that will be missed. But this six team week doesn't take as big of a hit as it could.

WEEK 9 (Buf, Clev, Oak, StL, Min, NYJ) - Another six team week? That hasn't happened before. But, again, this isn't a horrible thing. They aren't going to be too many of these guys gone. There are big names of Adrian Peterson and Terrell Owens that will be gone. But there will be plenty of those "guys who could turn it around" this week too (Marshawn Lynch, Darren McFadden, Steven Jackson).

WEEK 10 (NYG, Hou) - I don't understand why the NFL has three weeks where six teams are off ... and then this week when just two are. It doesn't make sense. Shouldn't be too much damage to your draft here.

Reviewing the Redskins 2009 Schedule


The NFL released the 2009 schedule last night and football fans everywhere are excited.

My beloved Washington Redskins have a very interesting schedule coming up. Let's take a quick look at it.

WEEK 1-Redskins at Giants: For the second straight year, we open the season in New York against the G-men. Hopefully it will go better than it did last year.

WEEK 2-Rams at Redskins: Another rematch that didn't go well last year. The Redskins were one of the lowly Rams only victories.

WEEK 3-Redskins at Lions: Yet another rematch against a bad team from '08. So far, nothing exciting and new.

WEEK 4-Buccaneers at Redskins: Last year, these two didn't meet in the regular season for the first time in what seems forever. Should be a very interesting game. There is a great chance that the Skins could be 3-1 after this week.

WEEK 5-Redskins at Panthers: My game I have circled (well, outside of a couple later on). Hopefully I will make my way down to Charlotte (my hometown) to see this one.

WEEK 6-Chiefs at Redskins: Battle of the teams activists hate. And yet another game against a team that wasn't good last year. But this team has Matt Cassel now. This will be the Chiefs second trip to Washington since 1983.

WEEK 7-Eagles at Redskins: Always an interesting battle. Washington swept Philly last year. This one will be on Monday Night Football.

WEEK 8-Bye: The bye week is nearly smack dab in the middle of the season. Pretty advantageous.

WEEK 9-Redskins at Falcons: Another interesting game featuring two young QBs, two great running backs and teams who will be fighting for a wildcard berth.

WEEK 10-Broncos at Redskins: Two teams that don't have Jay Cutler as their quarterback. This will be Denver's first trip to Washington since 1998.

WEEK 11-Redskins at Cowboys: The first trip to the new Cowboys Stadium.

WEEK 12-Redskins at Eagles: For the second straight season, the Redskins have back-to-back games in Dallas and Philly. This year, the order is reversed.

WEEK 13-Saints at Redskins: These two met in a shootout last season. I remember this game since it happened during a horrible windstorm here which knocked out my power for most of the day. I had a handheld TV (a Watchman) that I caught the rest of the game on FOX.

WEEK 14-Redskins at Raiders: I can't remember the last time Washington travelled to Oakland for a game (it was 1998). Another bad team from '08.

WEEK 15-Giants at Redskins: This starts a hellacious final stretch for Washington. This is a Monday nighter.

WEEK 16-Cowboys at Redskins: This is tenatively the Sunday Night game. Hopefully ... for the Redskins sake ... NBC will still want to show this game.

WEEK 17-Redskins at Chargers: Just like last year, the Redskins will end the season on the west coast.

John Wall May Be Eligible For 2009 NBA Draft


NBADraft.net has an interesting rumor going around the internets: top high school basketball prospect John Wall could be headed to the NBA. Now.
The NBA collective bargaining agreement says an American player is eligible for the draft if:

"The player is or will be at least 19 years of age during the calendar year in which the Draft is held, and with respect to a player who is not an international player, at least one NBA Season has elapsed since the player's graduation from high school (or, if the player did not graduate from high school, since the graduation of the class with which the player would have graduated had he graduated from high school)" -- Article X, Section 1(b)(i).

Wall will turn 19 in September, so he's clear there. The question is: When did Wall's class graduate? If he's truly a fifth-year senior, then it was last year, making him eligible for the 2009 draft.
This news is big. NBA teams would love to get Wall now instead of next season. The addition of Wall puts a little stank of the upcoming draft.

The fact that he would threaten the NBA's interpretation of their rules is outstanding in its own right. David Stern doesn't want those high school kids in his league and if Wall actually gets into the draft then it will be hard to get the worms back in the can.

It also scares the heck out of fans from Kentucky, Memphis, Kansas, Duke, North Carolina, Baylor and NC State. All of those schools are dying to bring Wall in to make a run at a Final Four.

Want a NBA Rebirth? Then We Need a LeBron-Kobe Finals

Last year, all the NBA honks kept telling us that the Celtics-Lakers series signalled the next step in a great rivalry. Not me. Sure, my introduction to the ways of the NBA was during those epic battles between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson in the 1980s but that has nothing to do what is going on in the minds of the youngsters who are being introduced to the league now.

Think about this: if you are 22 years old, last year was the first time you saw Boston win an NBA Championship. There is a whole generation of people who didn't see those battles of the '80s and don't remember Boston really ever being good.

What made that rivalry was the stars. Yes, the Lakers and Celtics were great teams but there were Hall of Famers all over the place. Magic. Bird. Kareem. Parrish. McHale. Worthy. Obviously, Magic and Bird were the top two players around during those years and they were the faces of those franchises. Since they tangled so long ago, it has been rare to see the game's two best players face off in the Finals.

My favorite battle may have been in 1994. The Rockets and Knicks may have taken advantage of a briefly retired Michael Jordan, but they also wielded Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajawon. They were the No. 1 picks in the 1985 and 1984 drafts, respectively. They were among the best centers in the game and both were the cornerstones of their franchises. They also had history since they met for the 1984 NCAA Tournament championship (Ewing's Georgetown won).

Here are some other star battles in the Finals since Magic/Bird.

1991-Bulls/Lakers: Michael Jordan was reaching his prime; Magic was at the end of his.
1993-Bulls/Suns: Jordan again; MVP Barkley on the other side.
1994-Rockets/Knicks: Hakeem vs Ewing ... just like they did a decade ago.
1995-Rockets/Magic: Hakeem vs Shaq. Hakeem was in his prime while Shaq was just getting started.
1997-1998-Bulls/Jazz: Jordan was going for G.O.A.T. Karl Malone was trying to get a title to Utah.
2001-Lakers/Sixers: Back then, Kobe wasn't regarded as a great. Shaq was, but his battle with MVP Allen Iverson wasn't one-on-one.
2007-Spurs/Cavaliers: Tim Duncan had done it all before. LeBron was just scratching the surface.

As you can see, there have been some great matchups. But the only one that can hold a candle to what a LeBron James vs Kobe Bryant Finals would be that Hakeem-Ewing. The other ones didn't feature players that actually guarded each other. In their two matchups this season, Kobe and LeBron faced off for much of the game.

Seeing those two in the Finals would be awesome. A great thing for the NBA and us, the fans.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

How Does Mike Tomlin Keep His Beard So Neat?


Awesome blog post about Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin's beard.

http://www.catsandbeer.com/sports/mike-tomlins-beard

Ranking the NCAA Champions of the 00s


10-Florida 2006: Of all the teams that won a title, no one saw this team doing it. They were a bunch of sophomores who got helped by a tournament that saw freakin' George Mason get to the Final Four. There seemingly was one one "elite" team that year -- UConn -- who lost to George Mason. This was also the last season that high school seniors could enter the NBA Draft, so there wasn't the big influx of great freshmen.

9-Maryland 2002: Hard to believe it has only been seven years since the Terps won their title. This was a very talented team but the first to have no McDonald's All-Americans in over two decades. Steve Blake and Chris Wilcox have become solid NBA players. Still, this team doesn't stack up against much of the rest of this list.

8-Michigan State 2000: This wasn't the most talented team Tom Izzo had, but it featured a lot of hard workers who did a variety of things. State also got to head one of the worst Final Fours in history. Sure a Final Four featuring Michigan State, North Carolina, Florida and Wisconsin looks good. But UNC and Wisky got in as No. 8 seeds. Florida was a No. 5 seed. Their 51-44 win over the Badgers in the national semifinals was the worst Final Four game I ever watched.

7-Syracuse 2003: This wasn't a great team, but it had a great player. Carmelo Anthony carried this team to their first title. He is probably the best player to have won a title this decade. The Orangemen got to the Final Four by playing in Boston and Albany. One interesting note is that the Cuse beat four Big XII teams en route to the title.

6-Florida 2007: Now, I dumped all over the Gators of 2006, but this team ... although the same roster ... was different. They defended their title despite having a huge bullseye on their back. This team was stoic in returning to win the championship and beat a very, very good Ohio State squad in the title tilt.

5-Kansas 2008: Kansas is the only team to win a championship in which the Final Four was comprised of all No. 1 seeds. Just one year removed and you really see how loaded this team was. No one really knew of Cole Adrich until he bothered Tyler Hansbrough in the semifinals. This team was both talented and complete. They were big, quick, strong frontcourt, strong backcourt. They had everything.

4-North Carolina 2005: This team has four guys picked in the first 14 selections of the NBA Draft. Marvin Williams (who was picked No. 2 overall) didn't even start. Sean May dominated this tournament. In their title win over Illinois, it was the first matchup of AP ranked No. 1 vs No. 2 teams for the championship since 1978.

3-UConn 2004: Looking back at that roster: Wow! The Huskies had Emeka Okafor, Ben Gordon, Charlie Villenueva, Josh Boone, Hilton Armstrong and Marcus Williams. Yes, they stomped Ga Tech in the finals, but this team will be remembered for it's great game against Duke in the Final Four. That was the only close game during UConn's dominant run.

2-North Carolina 2009: Trust me, I'm not getting caught up in the Now Factor. This Tar Heels team probably has five guys that will play in the NBA. None may be stars (aside from Ed Davis), but they can play at the next level. You had a very experienced team that housed two ACC Players of the Year and one National Player of the year. They are the only team in history to win all six of their tournament games by at least 12 points.

1-Duke 2001: Even though I hate Duke, I must say that this is the best champion of the decade. This team boasted Shane Battier, Jay Williams, Mike Dunleavy, Chris Duhon and brought Carlos Boozer off the bench. They crushed everyone in their path.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Harry Kalas Passed Away


Harry Kalas passed away today at the age of 73.

One of the great things about being a sports fan nowadays is how much of it you can get. Back in the day, you maybe got to see one or two games a week. With MLB Extra Innings and the other sports packages, you can see pretty much every game that is being played for the entire season.

A great thing about that is people all over this country can share what regional fans covet. We all can watch and listen to Vin Scully call a Dodger game. I got to hear Chick Hearn do Laker games. And I got to hear Harry Kalas do Phillies games.

He could never mean as much to me as he does to the fans in Philadelphia. He was loved by them, the players and his contemporaries. The first time I heard him call a Phillies game was when Keith Olbermann used to impersonate him during the Phillies highlights. I'd be bent if anyone else did those clips.

That voice. That voice. That voice was golden. Slow, deliberate and deep, that voice didn't need catchphrases (though "Outta here" turned into one). It never sounded panicky. Most announcers call home runs as if they were doing an auction. Mr. Kalas' voice just gave you that easy "long fly ball and it's outta here"

So when I got the MLB Extra Innings package from DirecTV many moons ago, I actually made a point to watch some Phillies games just so I can hear him call it.

I'm more of a football guy, so I will really miss Mr. Kalas during the NFL season. He would do many NFL Films segments, including the highlight packages on HBO/Showtime's Inside the NFL. He also was the voice for those Campbell's soup commercials and Animal Planet's Puppy Bowl.

To the fans in Philly, my heart goes out to you.

Jesus Shuttlesworth Elbows Anderson Varejao In the Pills



The Cavaliers-Celtics game really had no drama to it. Cleveland jumped all over Boston and cruised to a win. But one moment in the third quarter got some buzz as Jesus Shuttlesworth decided to elbow Anderson Varejao in the bean-bag. How Varejao didn't fall to the floor is unbelievable and no one anywhere would have faulted him for it.

First Round Stanley Cup Predictions

The Stanley Cup playoffs get underway this week which means one of the most underrated events in sports is near. I'll have another post delving into my feelings on the NHL and the Stanley Cup.

For now, I'm going to do my very unscientific picks for the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

No. 1 Boston Bruins over No. 8 Montreal Canadiens (4-1)
No. 2 Washington Capitals over No. 7 New York Rangers (4-2)
No. 3 New Jersey Devils over No. 6 Carolina Hurricanes (4-1)
No. 4 Pittsburgh Penguins over No. 5 Philadelphia Flyers (4-3)

I know that it looks like I'm just picking the favorites, but I see the top three seeds as heavy favorites. The Battle for Pennsylvania should be a great one, but I think the Pens are playing a bitter better right now and they've had success against the Flyers this year.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

No. 1 San Jose Sharks over No. 8 Anaheim Ducks (4-0)
No. 2 Detroit Red Wings over No. 7 Columbus Blue Jackets (4-2)
No. 6 St. Louis Blues over No. 3 Vancouver Canucks (4-2)
No. 4 Chicago Blackhawks over No. 5 Calgary Flames (4-1)

There are some great series over here. The Sharks-Ducks series should be lively out in Cali. The Wings-Jackets series has a very short proximity factor and should be a very intense series. Columbus will be bumping for their first postseason series. I'm taking the Blues over the Canucks because, well, I dunno.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Angels Beat Red Sox as They Continue to Mourn


Friday night was a tough night in Anaheim. The Los Angeles Angels played their first game since the death of pitcher Nick Adenhart.

There was Adenhart's picture on the outfield wall. Next to it was a black circle with his name and his No. 34 on it. That number was also painted behind the pitcher's mound. There was a video tribute before the game that visibily moved both the Angels and Red Sox players and coaches.

A moment of silence followed as Torii Hunter and John Lackey stood on the mound holding up Adenhart's jersey. Flags were at half-staff at Angel Stadium just as they were around the rest of the major leagues.

The Angels still had his locker the way he left it. There was a makeshift memorial outside the gates of the stadium. Tears were shed on and off the field.

They would actually play a game tonight ... just two days after Adenhart pitched a brilliant game on that same field. Anaheim beat the Red Sox, 6-3, and it provided just a small release from what has been a very tough time for the team and fans.

Can We Get "Roy Williams Court" at the Dean Smith Center?


Normally I wouldn't agree with bestowing a huge honor to a guy that has been with your team for just six seasons. But it seems a bit different with Roy Williams.

Can we rename the floor at the Dean E. Smith Center the "Roy Williams Court"?

Again, Williams has been the head coach at Carolina for just six years, but he now has two National Championships and three Final Fours in those years. He also served a decade as an assistant under Dean Smith and was on the staff that won the 1982 National Championship.

His career marks are staggering, even if 15 years of it was from his time at Kansas. His six years (and he should have a few more) at Carolina has created a bridge to the Dean Smith days as well as creating new, fantastic memories. Former players like Michael Jordan, Vince Carter, Antawn Jamison and Julius Peppers were in attendance for Monday night's title tilt.

Most importantly for Tar Heel fans, he has wrestled away the ACC, the state of North Carolina and the Triangle away from Duke.

Maybe wait a year or so but Ol' Roy deserves the honor.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Should College Kids Still Be Allowed to "Test the Waters"?


First off ... to answer my question ... yes, college kids should be able to test the waters of the NBA Draft. It allows these kids to actually see what their value is at this time and the kinds of things they need to work on.

For this post, I'm going to look at the three UNC Tar Heels that tested the waters last year: Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green.

All three learned what their games needed to expand on. All three took those lessons to heart and built on their games. Lawson became more assertive offensively and defensively this season. Ellington became more that just a shooter. His slashing and defense really rounded out his game. Green improved his three-point shot. Even Tyler Hansbrough, who didn't test the waters, knew that the NBA scouts weren't sold on his total skill set and showed us he has a decent mid-range jumper.

Working with the NBA coaches, scouts and players helps put a realistic spin on what your value is. Some guys, it knocks them down a few pegs. With the current rule, you can just go back to school ... provided that you didn't hire an agent. I have observed that most of these kids come back much better for the experience.

That's why I'd advice most college juniors to test the waters. Everyone gets one shot at it and you may as well use it. That's what Green did last year even though he pretty much knew he wasn't going to crack the first round.

My only problem is the length of time a guy has to make this decision. A player can put his name into the draft right now and doesn't have to pull back until a week before the draft (the second to last week in June). That is over two months of having things up in the air for the player, his school and the NBA scouts "wasting their time" bringing you in for a look-see.

Lawson, Ellington and Green took until the deadline day before committing back to school. For those two months, the Tar Heels didn't know what kind of team they would have coming back, if there were any scholarships to use or what kind of players they needed to find. If that happened this year, would Roy Williams try to lure John Wall to replace Lawson at the point? What happens then if Lawson returns? Then the school wasted their time with Wall and Wall wasted his time with them.

It also undermines these kids. No one believed that Danny Green was seriously thinking he'd be a first round pick. But how can Green approach this? He has to say that he's committed to being in the NBA right now or the scouts won't bother dealing with him. Would you? Would any employer bother with someone who really didn't know if they wanted the job? Even if you know you don't, you better say you do.

I'm all for these kids getting as much information as possible in order to make one of the biggest decisions in their lives. These kids are giving up the comforts of college in favor of the cold, hard reality of basketball being a job. I know that sounds great, but not all these kids will be making a ton of money and being stars. Many will be journeymen between teams, leagues and countries.

Cut the "testing" time down to a month. Give these guys until mid-May to make their decision to stay or bolt.

SoCon Tournament Coming to Charlotte

The Southern Conference tournament is headed to the home of the conference's most notable school: Charlotte, NC.

The SoCon tournament will be held next March 4th through 8th in the Queen City. The first two days will be played at Bojangles Arena ... formerly known as the original Charlotte Coliseum. The final two days will be played at Time Warner Cable Arena.

TWC Arena will be scaled-down to hide about 12,000 of the arena's 20,000 seats.

Charlotte is an ideal city to hold the conference tournament as eight of the 12 schools are within 200 miles. With the economy the way it is, having a site that is accessible a great number of fans is desired. It is also the "home" city of Davidson, the most popular team in the SoCon.