Tuesday, September 22, 2009


It was midnight and I could barely sleep with the bitter taste of the Dolphin’s defeat at the hands of the Colts still festering in my mouth. Good thing I had the first episode of season five of How I Met Your Mother to cheer me up. And then 17 minutes into the episode Megavideo.com said that I used my allotted time and I could watch no longer. So I again was left with the terrible reality of the Dolphin's miserable defeat. How do you thoroughly dominate a team like that and still lose? I say the coaching is clearly to blame.

The catch is that if we win this game, Jaws and John Gruden are sitting up in the booth yammering on about how Tony Sparano and the Dolphins staff crafted one of the finest game plans in the NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE (got to say it like that if your cool) to stop Peyton Manning and the Colts. But the players need all the credit for how the Dolphins played. Our offense dominated the line of scrimmage, the running game flowed and Chad Pennington was picking apart the defense at will. Pennington was 22-33 passing but the stats don’t tell the whole story. Pennington was able to make the key throws to extend drives and keep Peyton and the Colt's offense off the field. So how did we lose then? .

First off, Miami was 15-21 on third downs. Chad Pennington was 9-12 on converting 3rd downs throwing the ball with a completion percentage of 75%. That is unheard of. You can’t do better than that unless Jacory Harris is your quarterback. How can you be that efficient on third down and still lose a football game? Well, I guess the answer would be a combination of the following: giving up big plays, not making big plays and terrible coaching in specialty situations.

Giving up big plays and not making big plays is pretty self explanatory. The Colts scored on an 80 yard play action pass to Dallas Clark and a 48 yard bubble screen to Peirre Garcon. The Dolphins not making the big play can pretty much be summed up by an overall lack of talented skill players. Yes, Ted Ginn could have made that catch at the end but overall we lack the big play threats and the quarterback to make the big plays. But as much as these two factors impacted the end result of the game, they are nowhere near as egregious of errors as the Dolphins coaching mistakes.

The first thing that we did terribly was stall out our own drives. Thank you Dan Henning for trying to impress instead of trying to win the game. There were a number of occasions where we were moving the ball at will on a crappy Colts run defense (without Bob Sanders) and then the coaching staff tried to get too cute turning great drives into long field goal attempts. Let me give an example.

Look at the first drive to start off the third quarter. We spend the entire drive in either our base package or our wildcat package to perfection picking up one first down passing and two first downs running, moving the ball all the way to the 36 yard line of the Colts. Then inexplicably the wildcat or the base package wasn’t working well enough for the Dan Henning and we had to bring in the Pat White package, which is him, Ricky and Ronnie in the shotgun for the triple option. Mind you, the triple option doesn’t work in the NFL and it didn’t work here. We gained zero yards on the play and brought Chad Pennington back in the game with a 2nd and 10 rather than a 2nd down with more manageable yardage. Big shocker was that the drive ended up in a missed 49 yard field goal.

It’s easy to second guess this play now but at the time I was first guessing this play. When you have a defense that isn’t stopping what you do well, why do you have to run something that you haven’t run well one time all season? I’m all for the Pat White package to mix things up when our offense is getting stagnant but this entire game our offense was looking dynamic and our offensive line was dominating. We never needed to mix things up and we shouldn’t have tried.

The other obvious coaching blunders were our third down calls. I said earlier that we were 15-21 on third downs and Pennington was 9-12 throwing, so that means that there were 9 first downs that we didn’t try to pass for. Actually, Pennington was sacked on one of his throws so only eight where we tried to run for. Running the ball on third and short is fine with me but running the ball on 3rd and 6 with 5 minutes left, Peyton Manning on the other sideline and the game on the line could be worse than Lane “I have Mangina” Kiffin running the I-formation and just running the ball when his team was down 23-6 with under ten minutes left in the Gator-Vols game this past Saturday. But seriously, does that call make any sense when your quarterback is almost perfect on third down to that point and the defense has been sucking wind and hasn't stop your offense all game. If we pick up that third down, we can leave Peyton with less time and maybe even try to score a touchdown. Seriously, I don’t even have a working analogy to vent my frustration. Maybe I do but this is a family friendly blog, actually this might be a family only blog, who else even reads this but I digress. But seriously, the prevent offense is something I thought the Dolphins lost at the end of the Dave Wannstedt error… typo I meant to write era … but now all the memories of the Wanstache are flooding back.

I guess the big shocker of this post to this point is that I am almost at 1000 words into my rant and I haven’t even mentioned our two minute whatever you call it. That was not a drill. The definition of a drill according to dictionary.com is “any strict, methodical, repetitive, or mechanical training, instruction, or exercise.” It’s called a drill because it is supposed to have structure and be practiced and be very methodical and not be players running around and coaches looking at each other not having the faintest clue of what is going on. That’s why I am calling it a 2 minute whatever because it was just that terrible. I’m going to write in normal lettering the drive and then put my comments in italics.

Let’s start off with us getting the ball back with 3:13 and two timeouts.

If I’m Tony Sparano and Dan Henning I’m thinking, “How can we pick up a huge chunk of yardage before the 2 minute warning without burning any timeouts? Maybe a screen pass or maybe we’ll use the middle of the field now while we still can. But the last thing we want to do is gain very little yardage while burning clock.”

(3:13) R.Brown left tackle to MIA 19 for 1 yard (D.Freeney).

Great start now let’s look around like we don’t know where we are and burn our 2nd timeout so the play clock doesn’t expire. Sweet, so we just got 1 yard in 40 seconds and cost ourselves a timeout. Hey, at least we’ll have a timeout now to draw up two or three really good plays before the two minute warning. Right????

(2:26) R.Brown right tackle to MIA 24 for 5 yards (E.Foster).

Sweet, we just burned that timeout so that we could run up the middle again. Hurry, let’s try to get another play off… damn no luck I guess we can be content that we just wasted over a minute, 1 timeout and got 6 yards. This has been a great two minute drill so far.

The rest of the drive was pretty by the book 2 minute drill stuff. Pennington did the best he could with the time he had and we came up just short. But here in lies the problem with the 2009 Dolphins up to this point. We aren’t talented enough to be this stupid. If we were the Arizona Cardinals with Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldan and their assortment of playmakers on offense we could run inefficient 2 minute drills and call terrible plays and have a chance of winning but we aren’t an explosive big play offense. We are built to take up chunks of yardage at a time and dominate time of possession, not make big plays down field. This limits us in the plays we call and is why we have such a hard time against attacking defenses like the Baltimore Ravens and this is also why we need to run more efficient 2 minute drills. We can’t just bail ourselves out with a big play, we have to play smart.

This is the difference between the 2008 and the 2009 Miami Dolphins to this point. The 2008 Miami Dolphins overachieved because they did everything right and didn’t let mental mistakes cost them games that they should have won. The 2009 Miami Dolphins are nothing but mental mistakes and poor coaching. It will be hard for this team to turn it around because of how well they played last night and how tough of a loss this will be. However, if anyone’s leadership can right this ship it will be behind the ownership group of Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Marc Anthony, Jimmy Buffet, and Gloria Estefan. Come on guys, it is time to show why Miami is so lucky to have you guys as part owners of our team.

Just joking… but in all seriousness, Chad Pennington is a great leader and should be able to right this ship. At least I hope so.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

We're back, Not Quite Wearing the 4-5

When we first started writing this blog, we were just two guys and we were having a good time. This entailed being at college, watching sports, writing about sports, and drinking whiskey because we like the taste (forgot to add in the part about girls looking better in Gainesville which is very evident after one trip to the Dead People... I mean Delray Beach Publix). Now some time has passed and we aren’t in college anymore (we’re unemployed at home living with our parents but keep that on the dl). This may seem like a bad thing to some but now we can fill our roles as bloggers better. That is if bloggers are supposed to sit in their parents basements and criticize coaches and athletes who they wish they were. Well, our parents don’t have basements thank you very much.

Last I wrote, I previewed an almost inevitable Tiger Wood’s victory at the US Open, until David Duval contended and Lucas Glover ended up winning. Who saw that coming, Duval contending, Mickelson contending after dealing with his wife’s breast cancer and Glover winning? I guess those odds were about as good as Tiger missing the cut at the British Open and Tom Watson losing in a playoff after leading going into the final hole. Well, I guess that happened too. So we're already halfway to an apocalypse but to top it off Tiger lost a final round lead of a major to an Asian born player. Tiger was 14-14 in holding final round leads at majors and Asians were 0 for oh herro at winning majors and correctly pronouncing words like sprinkles. But YE Yang came back from a 2 shot deficit to topple Tiger in his bid for his 14th major. So yea, there was craziness in golf.

I guess I just wrote entire paragraph about golf which most out there probably find about as interesting as say baseball or maybe Matthew Fox, you tell me. But football the greatest sport ever is about to start so expect much more… I guess any writing would be much more… so expect some regular entries from Guys Who Like Sports and Don’t Care Who Knows.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

US Open Preview

Any tournament Tiger Woods plays in he is the prohibitive favorite. Always, no matter what. He won last year's US Open with one leg. If someone asked, would you take Tiger or the field, most times it would be smart to take Tiger. This week it isn't even close. I'd bet 20 dollars to win 10 dollars on Tiger (not that I illegally gamble or anything), he just has all the makings of a clear cut favorite.

Let's start with his performance two weeks ago at the Memorial. Tiger won Jack's tournament hitting 49 of 56 fairways. That is 87.5%, a staggering 25.6 percentage points over his season average of 61.9%. Did I mention yet that a major key to winning US Opens is keeping the ball in the short grass.

Not only does Tiger have this new found weapon in his driving accuracy but every other conceivable indicator has him winning this week too. Let's see... he won last week, he won last year's US Open and he won the the last time the US Open was played at Bethpage Black. Basically, if he is anywhere on the leader board at anytime this week, every other player is trying hard not to make a number two in their pants. Tiger's game is built to win majors, especially US Opens and if he has his “A Game” he wins again this year.

If the inconceivable happens and Tiger doesn't win this year, what other players are going to contend? Let's look at the criteria it will take to win. First off, the winner has to be a very long hitter. This year there are three par 4's coming in at over 500 yards, so distance will be at a premium. In addition, hitting fairways will be very important because the rough will be long and hard to manage. That being said, players will inevitably be in the rough so it will also take a very strong player to be able to play out of the rough. Adding all these factors up, it is going to take a long accurate ball striker to be able to contend in this tournament.

The first two guys on the list of contenders, Paul Casey and Geoff Olgilvy, are close friends who will be playing together in the first two rounds. Starting with Paul Casey, nobody has more worldwide wins going into the tournament than Casey and he is due for a breakthrough in a major. He is a very solid ball striker, who's game is well suited for a long course like Bethpage Black. His playing competitor Geoff Olgivy, a very trendy pick this week, is a past US Champion at Winged Foot in 2006 and is currently leading the PGA tour money list. He fits the bill as a long accurate ball striker and he already knows he has experience winning. His smooth calm demeanor and temperament will be a major asset battling down the stretch this week.

Since Tiger won the US Open in 2008, the past three majors have been won by Padraig Harrington, who won the 2008 British Open and 2008 PGA Championship, and Angel “El Pato” Cabrera, who won this year's Masters. Both guys have all the tools to win at Bethpage: long hitters and accurate ball strikers. Also, both guys get to play their first two rounds alongside Tiger. Padraig always seems to find a way to make the huge putts and hit the big shots. On the other hand, Cabrera can really drive the ball long and he can really rip through a carton of cigarettes, so he has that going for him. In golf you can never count out the fat guy who waddles like a duck and can hit mammoth drives. In any other game maybe, but in golf being a fat, out of shape, cigarette smoker bodes very well. If he gets hot, watch out because El Pato might win another US Open.

Another group of players that I see being major contenders are the pretty boy heart throbs of the tournament. Sergio Garcia (a golf spy who drinks Michelob Ultras at his pool in his spare time) makes his return to Bethpage with hopefully a shorter pre shot routine and more crowd support. He has shown that he has the overwhelming talent and ability to win at majors, but he just needs to put it all together and play a complete tournament.

Camilo Villegas is his pretty boy counterpart who will be in his group for the first two days. Besides being a member of the gator nation, Camillo is a long ball striker who will have the ability to play strong shots out of the rough and contend in this tournament. The thing I am worried about with Camilo is that he has never really contended before in a major and it might not be his time yet.

The big name that I obviously overlooked is the world's number two golfer, Phil Mickelson. It would be a great story if he won or even contended this week but with all that he has to battle and deal with emotionally, it might be too much for him to take on the major test of Bethpage Black mentally. We all know that the crowd will be behind him trying to carry him to victory but the US Open is golf's toughest challenge even with nothing weighing down your mind. Having the weight of his wife's breast cancer treatment on his mind will make it very tough for Phil to compete.

After highlighting all these potential contenders My final prediction is that Tiger finishes in first at 2 under with no other players under par this week. But if I had to pick someone other than Tiger to win this week, I would take Angel Cabrera, because he is everything that I value in sports: an out of shape, chain smoker who can't speak English without a translator. If you can't get behind a guy like that than move to a communist country or something because America doesn't want you.


Thursday, June 4, 2009

NBA Finals Predictions: Part 2

The Orlando Magic are kind of like that college guy in a bar you see that is completely hammered, stumbling around, but is still somehow the life of the party. Some hot Lindsay Lohan type (before the drugs and eating disorders) who is completely out of their league is hanging on them but they barely even know where they are. That is how I would describe the Orlando Magic since Game 6 of the Boston series. So how does this connect to the LA series?

Well, I think Orlando is about to go from that really drunk guy that is the life of the party to that really hungover guy who can barely get out of bed (not that I have ever been there before). To make matters worse, he is about to blow it when he sees the girl again. Maybe that isn't the best analogy but bear with me.

Orlando has been great since that game 6 in Orlando. The question is are they the Justin Bobbie type (sorry Dylan McDermott for those that don't watch the Hills), truly the life of the party or are they just that guy who got hammered and took advantage of the hot but still really drunk girl. Yes, they have talent. Yes, they are well constructed... but they are shooting well over 40 percent from behind the arc. And they have yet to face a team that can match up with them athletically and dominate them on the boards but they are about to. LA will be able to match up with them and expose them for all the weaknesses they have.

Orlando plays very unconventionally and is hard to match-up with. They actually run offensive sets instead of just isolations and pick and rolls and they have really tough swing men, Turkoglu and Lewis, who can be really tough match-ups for defenses. That being said, a team like LA with Gasol, Bynum, Odom can not only match up with Orlando on the defensive end, but can punish them on offense. Throughout these playoffs, Orlando has been the team that has presented match-up problems for their opponents, but this series LA will be the ones causing the match-up difficulties. LA has three players, Kobe, Gasol, and Odom, who Orlando has no one to match up with. On the other end, Bynum will be able to match-up better than anyone with Howard, and Odom will be able to match up with Lewis so there won't be any glaring mismatches.

In rounds two and three, Orlando was never punished for their small lineups because they were going against the poo-poo power forward platter of Big Baby Davis, Brian Scalabrine, Anderson Varejao, Ben Wallace, and Joe Smith. Now they'll have a steady dose of Pao Gasol and Lamar Odom to defend. There needs to be a new stat in the NBA that measures each one-on-one positional match-up. It could be as simple as one player’s points while he is in vs. the guy he is guarding. Or you could do this position by position. For example, Orlando was +15 at power forward that game and -14 at small forward. Based on this new statistic, Rashard Lewis and the Magic will definitely have a minus differential with Gasol and Odom at the power forward position. Throughout the playoffs, Orlando has never been punished for going small and LA will be able to punish them. Add the fact that Orlando will have no one who can stop Kobe one on one and they could be in for a very tough playoff series.

All that being said, Orlando has a chance in this series. If they are still that drunk guy for another week and Howard really elevates his game, this could be a great series. If Howard is dominating, LA will have to choose between helping down on him and leaving their shooters open, or just leaving him single covered. This dilemma is worse than having to decide between an afternoon with Spencer Pratt or an afternoon with migraine headaches.

Another possible set back for LA could be the 2-3-2 format, with three straight games in Orlando. LA has a lot of players who are really front runners and play well when they are up and have big leads but play poorly when things aren't going well. If Orlando gives LA a punch in the mouth and takes game one or two in LA, LA fringe players like Jordan Farmer, Trevor Ariza and Lamar Odom, who lack mental toughness, might fold. Then, this could really be an interesting series. In the end, LA's overwhelming talent and experience advantage will win out and with a consistent effort they take this series in 6. All the while Kobe might even do some work for a change.

NBA Finals Predictions: Part 1

Another series for the Magic, another round of doubters. Like the previous match-ups, everyone’s counting out the Magic in the finals…Not everyone though…Quick question: What has two thumbs and knows Orlando’s going to win? THIS GUY!!! They’ve thrived as underdogs throughout the playoffs, and after this series, they'll have Kobe doing work again after another finals defeat.

Now let’s break down why the Magic will be hoisting the trophy at the end of the day.

First off, the Magic have Superman. Much like no one could stop him in the Cavs series, no one will be able to stop Dwight Howard in the NBA Finals. Seriously, who on the Lakers can guard Dwight? Andrew Bynum and his shaky knees? Pao Gasol and his thin frame? D.J. MBENGA???? The Lakers have no kryptonite on their side in this match-up. In fact, all they have are a squad of Jimmy Olsens to try to stop Superman. This is a huge advantage for the Magic and they’ll look to exploit it the entire series. For the Lakers, they’ll have to decide whether to double team Howard like Cleveland did and see if the Magic finally cool off from behind the arc, or single cover him and take their chances. Either poison the Lakers pick, the Magic will exploit.

When breaking down all the nuances of why Cleveland would beat the Magic, the pundits forgot to look at one area in particular: What happened when the teams played each other. The Magic won the season series 2-1 over the Cavs, yet everyone convienently avoided that stat. Now as we break down the Finals, people are conspicuously leaving out one stat when declaring why the Lakers will easily win the series: The Magic beat them both times they played this year. It's just like the NFL draft experts who avoid 3 to 4 years of actual college tape for 40 yard dash and shuttle times. I’d like to think actual head-to-head comparison playing experience means something, and this year Orlando has beaten the Lakers both match-ups. We can analyze the match up on paper all we want, but the Magic have proven they can beat LA and more importantly KNOW they can beat the LA.

Despite winning the season series, Orlando’s dangerous in the finals because they have the us-against-the-world mentality. No one thought they’d beat the defending champion Celtics. They did. No one thought they’d beat Lebron and the Cavaliers. They did. And right now, no one thinks they’ll beat Kobe and the Lakers. Simply put, Orlando has thrived on being the underdog and has the benefit of everyone doubting them yet again. Make no mistake, the pressure is all on the Lakers in this series. Orlando has nothing to lose in this series, as no one expects them to do anything.

As for the Lakers? They’ve got all the pressure in the world, mainly in the fact that Kobe Bryant’s legacy is at stake. It’s been well documented that Kobe has three rings, but none have come without the Diesel at his side. The pressure and media attention will be squarely on his shoulders in this series as the elite player on the favored team, so we’ll have to see how he’ll respond. If his past two final appearances are any indicator, the results won’t be good.

The X-factor in the finals will be the return of Jameer Nelson. The All-star point guard has missed all of the playoffs with a shoulder injury, but believes he’s ready to play now. He’d certainly be a welcome addition as he torched the Lakers in the regular season, averaging nearly 28 points in the two match-ups. The old maxim has always been, “don’t mess with what’s right,” and in this case, reinserting Nelson could be a risk. However, Nelson is a team-first player who doesn’t need to play 40 minutes a game immediately. He’ll do whatever he needs for the Magic to prevail, and Stan Van Gundy is a good enough coach to manage this situation properly.

Bottom line, the Magic will take home the title after a hard fought battle, and Kobe will look for another director to spin yet another finals defeat.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

NBA Playoff Awards: TV Edition

As the NBA Finals get ready to tip off, we’ve decided to look back and hand out some of our own awards for the NBA Playoffs so far. Instead of giving out conventional ones, we've decided to base them off of current TV characters. So without further ado, let's hand out the hardware!

The Andy Bernard Award: NBA Referees

This award is dedicated to the Nard-Dawg’s infamous overreaction of punching a hole in the wall after Jim and Pam stole his cell phone. In honor of our favorite Cornell grad, we give this award to the NBA refs, for overreacting to every skirmish and hard foul during the course of the playoffs. Thanks for dropping flagrant fouls like its hot and calling 58 fouls during Game 3 of the Cavs/Magic series. I can’t wait to see Kobe shoot 25 free throws a game in the finals.

The Jack Sheppard Award: Mike Brown

Just like Jack’s decision to blow up a nuclear bomb on the island was questionable at best, so was Mike Brown’s refusal to play small against the Magic’s quicker, more athletic line-up. Really, Mike Brown? You thought it was a good idea to have Ben Wallace’s corpse try to cover Rashard Lewis? I mean, that didn’t backfire at all. But let’s be honest, it’s not like the Cavs had a big athletic swingman who could cover Lewis at the 4…Oh wait, they did. His name’s LEBRON JAMES!!!

The Brian Austin Green Award: Chris Andersen

This award is given to the player with the most unlikely comeback. In B.A.G.’s case, who would have thought the former 90210 star would come out of nowhere and turn in a stellar performance as resistance fighter Derek Reese on Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. For Birdman, after a two-year drug suspension from the NBA, (I prefer to think he got secretly suspended for ruining the dunk contest) Andersen was able to invigorate the Nuggets and their fanbase throughout the playoffs. Despite the fact Denver got eliminated, Birdman will fly again next season. The same can’t be said for Green though, as Terminator got cancelled. But don’t feel too badly for the guy; he is dating Megan Fox.

The Peter Griffin Award: Glen “Big Baby” Davis

The next award goes to Big Baby for his now infamous push on a young Magic fan following his game winning shot in the second round. We couldn’t help but think of the time where the also chubby Peter Griffin got into an altercation with a teenage neighbor. Although in this case, Peter left much more of a mark on his victim.

The Vinny Chase Award: Lebron James

This coveted award goes to the superstar who continually gets bailed out on a regular basis. On Entourage, after being fired from the set of Smoke Jumpers, the talent derived Vince was bailed out in the season finale, by being offered a role in the new Martin Scorsese movie. For Lebron, he was the master of the bailout in the postseason as the refs would always call fouls on his ill-fated drives to the hoop. While he didn’t get bailed out in the end (maybe he should call the Prez) he’ll always have his puppet commercials, just as Vinny will always have Aquaman.

The Prison Break Award: Detroit Pistons

With Prison Break, the show peaked after its excellent first season. For the Pistons, they peaked with an NBA Championship after they acquired Rasheed Wallace. The next year, they both sustained great success, but couldn’t quite live up to the previous year, with the Pistons losing in the Championship, and Prison Break falling a bit below season 1. Then, it was clear that both would never return to form and everyone got tired of watching. No NBA fans wanted to see the Pistons eek out 70 points a game, and certainly no fans wanted to watch Michael Scofield and company break out of a another prison. (In Panama no less…seriously) Fortunately, both of their runs have ended and fans of entertaining basketball can rejoice.

The Jack Donaghy Award: Stan Van Gundy

This final award goes out to the guy with the best impromptu motivational ploy. In 30 Rock, Jack was able to get Tracy out of his funk with his ridiculous, spot-on impression of Tracy’s family. For Van Gundy, no longer the Master of Panic, he riled up his team with his “You are all Witnesses” speech during halftime of game 1 in the Cleveland series. The Magic responded big time as they knocked off the heavily favored Cavs, as Ron Jeremy most certainly nodded approvingly somewhere in the distance.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

What's Next for Cleveland?

Magic 103, Cavaliers 90. I guess amazing isn't happening in Cleveland this year. What ha-ha-happened? (Sorry, I should have taken out this line but I used to think Stuart Scott was cool)

Some are saying that Cleveland was over matched by Orlando and they just didn't have the talent. Others are saying that Stan Van Gundy just schooled Mike Brown on how to effectively coach a playoff series. (From previous posts, you should know my stance.) But let's not look back and point fingers on why Lebron fell short and how the NBA misses out on their dream match-up. Instead, where does Cleveland go from here?

First off, Cleveland’s in a very precarious position with Lebron’s contract expiring after next season. The problem is they’re going to have to decide between two competing ideologies. Do you construct your 2009-2010 team around James as if he is an aging veteran who needs to win now, or do you construct your team around the fact James is only 25 and needs players to build around him for the future. The key will be finding a balance point between these two ideologies. They need to treat next year like its must win, but can't mortgage their future to do so.

No matter what mindset they take, they have next to zero cap room. This past season would have been the year to use Wally Szczerbiak's expiring contract to make a big move for a player like Shaquille O'Neal. Apparently they were happy with what they had and thought they were ready to win a championship. The fact the Cavs did nothing to build upon their team with Szczerbiak’s expiring contract, who was about as useful as Juwan Howard in the conference finals, only adds salt to the wound.

Now with their current cap situation, Cleveland probably won't have the flexibility to make the big kind of move they need to make. They do have the expiring contracts of Ben Wallace, Anderson Varejao, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas, but these contracts will be almost worthless because they will want as much free cap space for 2010. So the Cavs will want to keep these contracts so they can to make sure they can resign Lebron. Also, you can wipe out any team that thinks they have a chance in the Lebron James sweepstakes from being a Cleveland trade partner. Even if Cleveland does make a Godfather deal, teams will have the mindset, “Does this make Lebron more or less likely to stay.” While teams that feel they have no chance to land Lebron would probably still make the trade, that is only a real small portion of the league. Most teams are either competitive and not willing to trade with Cleveland, or are freeing up cap space to enter the Lebron sweepstakes themselves. So unless Cleveland finds some unsuspecting GM to dupe, trading is probably not an option.

In addition, Cleveland doesn't really have good options in free agency either, so they'll have to use the mid-level exception where they can go over the cap and pay any player the average league salary. For the Cavs, the type of player that could be the biggest bang for buck would be a versatile swing man. Number one on my list would be Ron Artest, who fits all of Cleveland’s criteria. He is a free agent who would be highly motivated to win a championship and could put them over the top. Artest has always had the reputation as a loose cannon but that helps Cleveland here because it brings his value down. Also, with Lebron being probably the best teammate in the league, chemistry shouldn't be an issue.

Artest would give them the ability to present match-up nightmares. They could go small with Artest and James at the 3 and 4, or they could go huge with James and Artest at the 2 and 3. Either way, Artest gives them the ability to completely dictate play with their opponent. There are other versatile swing men available like Trevor Ariza or Lamar Odom, but I don’t see them taking the pay cut to the mid-level exception.

If you are to take anything away from this article it is this: THE CAVS ARE IN TROUBLE NEXT YEAR!!!! (Especially under the assumption that they lacked the talent in 2009). No matter what happens, they still have another season of Lebron, so they’ve got that going for them…which is nice. But still, total consciousness aside, they’re going to have to be very creative and thrifty to improve their personnel this off season in order to keep Lebron, while at the same time having enough money to pay him.

But don't worry Cleveland. Even if you don't win the Championship next year or resign Lebron James, at least your not Detroit.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Timely NBA Preview

Kobe/Lebron was almost a certainty at the beginning of the playoffs. The coronation of King James would be almost complete and Kobe could take his transformation to pure evil with a unanimous crowd favorite to go against. It would be like Darth Vader vs. Luke Skywalker (or Austin Powers vs. Dr. Evil for non nerds). But with Kobe leading 3-2 and Lebron down 3-2, there is an increasing possibility that it won't be LA/Cleveland, Kobe/Lebron, Good vs. Evil, Jack vs. Locke (Sorry, had to get a Lost reference in somehow.)

The question that remains is whether this would be all that bad for the NBA if the LA/Cleveland match-up doesn’t happen. While there is still the chance that the Lakers and or the Cavs still make it in, what if both don’t make it? From a basketball perspective, Orlando and Denver have the ability to be every bit as compelling as LA and Cleveland. Putting Kobe and Lebron aside, Denver and Orlando both play much more interesting styles than LA and Cleveland. As far as LA is concerned, I think we all have seen plenty of the triangle offense, and with Cleveland the same can be said for the pick and roll.

Over the playoffs, the Orlando Magic's offense has grown on me. They really spread the court out and almost always make the extra pass to the open guy. Denver is interesting in their own right with the cast of characters they have. They may be running the same high screen and roll with Chauncey Billups, or isolation play for ‘Melo, but somehow it’s more interesting when the other guys out there sport faux-halks, lipstick tattoos, and little infants during post game press conferences.

As far as star power’s concerned, this is where the NBA will take a hit short term. The ratings will most likely slide a bit without their big guns. (and Nike surely won't be happy when they can't have 10 Kobe vs. Lebron Puppet adds.) But with Orlando and Denver, the league will have the ability to promote two of it's budding stars Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony. Howard is ready to go to the level of Lebron, Kobe and Wade, while Carmelo is ready to be in the conversation. While the NBA won't get the same hype and mileage out of Carmelo and Dwight this year as they would out of Kobe and Lebron, having them in the finals would definitely pay dividends in the future.

Whether David Stern wants to admit it or not, the NBA has become a star’s league. Over the years, the league and networks have been more focused on promoting individuals, rather than teams. Carmelo and Dwight are on the verge of bursting the superstar bubble, and if they’re both in the finals, then they’d get that much more exposure. If the finals play out with competitive contests, future Dwight/Carmelo match-ups in the future would have more hype and exposure. Having two more stars vs. furthering the Kobe/Lebron hype might actually be a positive for the NBA. And ... Kobe and Lebron can’t face off every game (Depsite ESPN’s best wishes.)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Guess Who Wants in the NFL?

On the heels of Michael Vick deciding he wants to come back to the NFL, another current convict has declared his intentions as well. This time it’s former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett who wants in the league. (Considering he never played a down in the NFL, I guess we can’t call it a comeback.) Clarett expressed his thoughts recently on his blog “The Mind of Maurice.” (The fact that he has a blog is pretty intriguing in itself.) This brings up a few questions. How many people knew he had a blog? How do you blog in prison? Can this please be a reality TV show? He's shown before that all he needs is a little Goose to get loose, so why not let him get loose and blog in prison. In one of his recent entries, Clarett said:

“I can’t hold these feelings in anymore. I want to play football again. I have a deep desire to play. I love the game. I have so much penitentiary aggression pinned up inside of me. I want to hit someone. I want to run the ball. I want to tackle someone. I want to play. I am going to play somewhere. I cannot accept how things ended. I won’t accept how they ended.”

First off, if you’re trying to encourage NFL teams to take a chance on you, the phrase “penitentiary aggression” probably isn’t the buzzword prospective NFL General Managers are looking for. “Having penitentiary aggression” makes it sound more like you want to shank someone than run over a linebacker on the football field. Free advice Mo: You want people to think of you as a reformed individual, not a character from “Oz.”

But back to the issue at hand: Can Maurice Clarett play in the National Football League? (saying it like Jaws for emphasis) He’ll most likely be released in over a year, so he could be ready by the 2010 season. The question is, would anyone want him now as an ex-convict, when no one really wanted him in the first place? Right now, he’s 25 years old and hasn’t played a full season since his freshman year at Ohio State in 2002. While he was a standout player on that Buckeye Championship team, he really hasn’t done anything else to prove he should be in the NFL. Compound that with the fact you could be looking at almost a decade worth of rust. At best, Clarett would be a major project for a team. But hey, even Greg Paulus got a tryout with the Green Bay Packers, which proves NFL teams are willing to take chances to scour talent from the most unlikely places in order to gain a competitive edge.

One of the big issues with Clarett is the last impression he left on the NFL. After his freshman year at Ohio State, he had a two year layoff while trying to enter the NFL draft. Despite sitting out for two years, the Denver Broncos shocked the NFL by drafting the enigmatic star in the third round of the 2005 draft. Clarett proceeded to reward the team by showing up at training camp looking like Fat Albert at a robust 248 pounds. Needless to say, he was let go by the team after an unimpressive preseason.

Despite all of this, Clarett says he can compete in the league. In his blog, he claims to be “rock solid” at 220 pounds and wants to play because he “knows how to play really well.” I’m as skeptical as the next person, but if he honestly reformed himself, then he’s definitely worth a look in someone’s training camp. There’s no arguing he was a beast during his freshman year at Ohio State, and if he can regain the athleticism he displayed there, then who knows? However, that’s a king sized IF, and considering his history, it’s doubtful he’ll be able to put it all together. Regardless, it’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out in 2010. Will any NFL team take a shot at him or will he be headlining a resurgence of the AFL in 2010?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Cornell Falls in Title Game, Andy Bernard Weeps

After two blowouts in the Men’s Division 1 Lacrosse Semi-finals, Syracuse and Cornell put on a game for the ages today, as the Orangemen knocked off the Big Red in overtime, 10-9. For Cornell, this one definitely stings as the Big Red blew a 3 goal lead with under four minutes to play. I can’t confirm if Andy Bernard was in the audience, but I can say there won’t be a post game performance by “Here Comes Treble” for the Cornell faithful.

It must be disappointing for Cornell as they turned into Cor-NOT in the final five minutes, allowing a furious Syracuse comeback.

For non-lacrosse followers, I’ll break down the game using more mainstream analogies. In this contest, game-planning played a huge role as Cornell head coach Jeff Tambroni turned into a combination of Dave Wannstedt and John Calipari (circa the 2008 NCAA Championship) in the 4th quarter. Cornell held a 1 to 2 goal lead much of the second half, but instead of going for the jugular, The Big Red took a page out of Dave Wannstedt’s book and played not to lose. (Surprisingly, Jay Fiedler was nowhere to be seen.) Cornell had opportunities to score, but instead of trying to add to the lead; they decided to hold the ball and try to run the clock down. It’s been proven in football and basketball that when you play not to lose…well, you often put yourself in a better position to lose.

As a result, Syracuse roared back and cut the deficit to 1 goal with under a minute to play. This brings us to our second point, as Tambroni decided to take another page out of the non-award winning book, “How to Lose a Game in 10 Minutes.” In this instance, he re-enacted a not-so-great moment in John Calipari’s career by not using timeouts. In the 2008 NCAA Championship, Memphis held a 3 point lead over Kansas near the end of the game. Calipari elected not to use a timeout before the Jayhawks final possession, and Mario Chalmers hit a three to send the game into OT. This backfired, as conventional wisdom shows when up by 3 late, you should foul the opposing team so they can’t attempt a three point bucket. By not re-iterating this to his team, he hurt their chances of winning.

Today, with Cornell holding the ball in their own end with twenty seconds to go, they were in immediate danger of turning the ball over. Instead of calling a timeout and instructing his team to throw the ball as high and deep in Syracuse territory, Tambroni did nothing. As a result, Cornell lost the ball and allowed the Orangemen to score with four seconds to go.

However, despite Cornell’s mistakes in the end, you’ve got to give a ton of credit to Syracuse for valiantly fighting back in this contest. In an ending that strongly resembled the 2008 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship, the Orangemen never gave up, and were able to capture another lacrosse title. For Cornell, this was a team that overachieved through the postseason and has nothing to hang their heads about. They played fantastic for 55 minutes, but fell apart in the final five. It’ll be tough to get the taste out of their mouths from this loss, but Cornell will still be there in the future if Tambroni decides to take a page out of Bill Belichick’s book, instead of Dave Wannstedt’s.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Memorial Day Weekend NBA Ramblings

With two games down in the Eastern and three games down in Western Conference Finals, it is definitely time for another NBA column. I can't remember a string of nights where there were so many great games back to back to back. All I can say is that I am thankful.

Speaking of things that I am thankful for from this past weekend:

Lebron James, Beer (even Keystone), Marv Albert's “YES” call, that new Dos Equis commercial, the NBA having 69 year old refs who are good at evening up series, Whiskey, Ron Jeremy (the NBA coach), NCAA Lacrosse Final Four Memorial Day Weekend (especially Quint Kessenich, with his insights and coaching corner), Cornell upsetting UVA in the semifinals (hopefully they can win one more for the Nard DAWG) and last but least Mike Brown...for being incompetent.

Thanks, Mike Brown for making games 1 and 2 so close. On this site we may already be notorious for giving certain people a continued hard time on the regular, but certain individuals give us no choice. Let me give a hypothetical situation. Say you’re a coach in the NBA with a rebound machine on your roster that has little to no offensive skill, but can be a good defensive match-up for the other team's best player.

How would you use this guy? Well, if you’re Mike Brown, you bring him in to stop the other team's power forward who plays more like a small forward. Yes, I'm talking about Rashard Lewis who spends most of his time away from the basket, effectively taking away player X's biggest strength of rebounding. In addition, now Lewis can take a breather on defense until it comes time to box out player X. So by playing player X, you are not effectively defending the Magic's small lineup, and at the same time you do nothing to punish the other team for going small against you. Rather, it is almost like you’re saying, “We know your main advantage is playing small, what other lineups can we play that take no advantage of this and encourage you to do this more.”

By the way, Player X is Ben Wallace but I could have tricked you and said player X was Anderson Varejao. At this point in his career, Ben Wallace is just a poor man's Anderson Varajao. Both Varejao and Wallace don't effectively guard Lewis, while subsequently doing nothing to challenge him on the other end either. How about going small with LBJ at power forward? This way you can rest your big guys and keep them fresh throughout the game.

The other thing I don't get is having Lebron James guard Rafer Alston the whole game. This is a clear case of Mike Brown trying to out coach himself. We know you’re a good defensive coach, but when another team has two swingmen (Lewis and Turkoglu) that can hurt you, why not put the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year on one of them. Seriously, this is about as smart as pinch running with Harold Baines (for non Orioles fans maybe I should have gone with pinch running with Mark McGuire). Lebron is your best defender and you’re using the logic that he is also your best help defender to use such an asinine strategy.

However, this raises a more important question: WHY ARE YOU ENCOURAGING YOUR TEAM TO HELP AGAINST ORLANDO. They have a bunch of guys who just want to sit back and shoot threes. Look at Hedo Turkoglu, he relies on a stepback jumper as his only move, almost as badly as Seth Rogen relies on his dice move to knock up Katherine Heigl. Cleveland's defensive strategy should be to play up on all of Orlando's players and to help as little as possible. Don't let them play to their strengths and shoot 3's. Make them beat you off the dribble. You have 3 serviceable centers with 6 fouls to give each. So rather than help on Howard, single cover him and put him on the free throw line to earn it because he shoots terrible from the line.

I haven't talked about the LA/Denver match-up in a while and I have to admit that I was wrong. I thought that Denver was going to win because LA wasn't going to bring it. Now I think Denver is flat out better, and if they don't win, it will be either because they blow it like they did in game one or because Kobe takes it from them like he did in game three. Kobe isn't going to make me take everything I said about him back after one game, but if he continues to dominate in the crunch like he did last night, I might have to. He has a chance right now to throw himself into the stratosphere of great players and Kobe realizes how much is at stake for his career. There is no one on the court that wants it more than Kobe and you can see this during crunch time of games. It will take a superb effort to beat him, even from a better team. Compound Kobe's play with the mistakes they’re making and Denver may have an uphill climb. It’s clear that Carmelo will have no problem scoring this entire series but they need to get him the ball. The Nuggets have shown throughout this series they are the aggressors, ready to take it right at the Lakers but they need to finish games. I said two columns ago that Denver is capable of beating LA, but if the Lakers flip on the switch that Denver can’t take this series. However, I am convinced that Denver is capable of winning regardless of how LA plays; they are just more talented. But they need to play smart at the end of games and take care of Kobe.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Vick is back...Now what?

With Favre Watch ‘09 at a temporary standstill, the media has decided to focus their attention on another inactive quarterback: former Leavenworth inmate Michael Vick.

Now as a low-wage construction worker, where does he go from here? After a lengthy hiatus, teams will definitely be more hesitant to sign the former superstar turned manual laborer (if he is even reinstated to the NFL at all). A factor that will deter many teams will be the negative publicity that will ensue. Vick is without a doubt public enemy number one on PETA’s hit list, and they will definitely do what they can to go after him. This likely entails PETA going after the sponsors of Vick's potential team in order to send a message. We’ll have to see if NFL teams gives in to the eco-terrorist’s demands.

NFL teams considering Vick have to ask themselves: What does Vick have to offer at this point in his career? He’ll turn 29 in June and has been out of the league for two seasons, so he’ll clearly have a rust factor going against him. Personally, I think Vick is a situational player at best. During his career Vick has not demonstrated he can be a great pocket passer despite his great athletic abilities. During one of his “Pro Bowl” seasons, Vick threw only 14 touchdowns to 12 interceptions. In addition, he also had 16 fumbles... Are you going to pay a player 100 million dollars to fumble all over your million dollar field: I mean COME ON!

Luckily for Vick, however, Dolphins Head Coach Tony Sparano has provided him with a golden ticket in the shape of the Wildcat formation. (I don’t know if they have TV in prison, so he may need an instructional video.) Miami has shown the package can work well with a running back utilizing it, so it should work even better with an athletic player like Vick who has much better passing skills. Vick's competitive advantage his whole career as a QB was his ability to run. However, his team was always worried about risking their prized 100 million dollar asset out of the pocket. Considering he will now be anything but a prized asset, rather some second hand retread, playing in the Wildcat as a dual threat will give Mike Vick the chance to reignite his career. It's ironic that he was in jail for treating dogs poorly and his career might be ignited once he is treated like one of the pit bulls he used to fight.

So who will have the opportunity to trot out Michael Vick? Miami seemed like an ideal situation, but the Dolphins drafted Pat White, so that’s out of the question. In determining where Vick will go, there are three factors that need to be evaluated. First, the prospective team needs an owner who's willing to take a chance on a wild card like Vick. (Jerry Jones does love headcases and the Cowboys do need someone to back up Mr. Jessica Simpson...It might not make the front page of US Weekly, but it would be a big deal.) Secondly, you need a head coach who can keep troublemakers in line. (Marvin Lewis: Don't bother applying) Lastly, you need to have an innovative offensive coordinator who can best maximize Vick's abilities. (Don't bother Detroit.)

After examining these factors, one intriguing team meets all of the criteria: the New England Patriots. If anyone could reign Vick in, it would clearly be Bill Belichick. He's always looking for an advantage and he would be best suited to unleash Vick's potential. The Pats took Randy Moss when everyone was down on him, and he subsequently turned in one of the best seasons for a wide receiver ever. With Tom Brady coming off ACL injury, Vick would be a decent insurance policy who could take 5-10 snaps a game to take the heat off Brady. It's honestly doubtful the Patriots will take the chance on Vick, but it's definitely an intriguing possibility.

Regardless of where he goes, I think everyone is excited for the first time Vick gets serenaded on the road with everyone's favorite, “Who Let the Dogs Out.”

Thursday, May 21, 2009

NBA Eastern Conference Ramblings

(Editor’s Note: This column was written before Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals…Honestly.)

We got it a week ago and now we get it again. That's right, another edition of Guy #2 NBA playoff ramblings. This iteration of the ramblings column is going to focus mainly on the Eastern Conference with a little Kobe bashing thrown in for good measure (I just can't help myself).

To breakdown the match-up between Orlando and Cleveland, we first have to mention one of the most interesting subplots. On one bench is Stan Van Gundy who many thought should have won Coach of the Year and on the other end is Mike “Caretaker of the Year” Brown.

This series is all going to revolve around two main questions. First, how will Mike Brown answer to Stan Van Gundy's small front court of Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis, and Dwight Howard? Second, how much help-defense will Orlando use to stop Lebron, and how much help will Cleveland use to stop Dwight Howard? This second question could end being the difference maker but we'll start with the small ball debate. We know from playoff history, especially with the Mavericks-Golden State round one series in 2007, that if you are the favorite you really shouldn't play into your opponent’s hands. But would going small if you’re Cleveland in this scenario really be playing into your opponents hands? I think Mike Brown needs to realize a couple of things: A) I have Lebron James on my team. So rather than thinking of how I can win this series, I need to NOT be thinking of ways I can lose this series. B) I have Lebron James on my team. Who on Orlando is going to stop him...HEDO TURKOGLU...RASHARD LEWIS...JJ REDICK? Yea, I can see that happening. C) Mike Brown, you can't out coach yourself, so don't even think about it.

I know I didn't answer the question but let me elaborate.

If you’re Cleveland, go with what got you here, but at the same time don't be afraid to go small. Coach based on feel and what's working. Lebron at the four might be your best line up, so don't be afraid to go with it. There are two main examples of how not to combat sneaky lineups that go small. One would be how the Boston Celtics played Orlando last round. They didn't really adapt to the small lineup and were left with Glen “Big Baby” Davis guarding Rashard Lewis in crunch time. Anderson Varejao might be more up to the challenge, but if he isn't you need to adjust, especially if you just won coach of the year and even more so if you look like Mr. Potato Head.

Another futile attempt at combating small ball was what Avery Johnson and the Mavericks did in 2007 against the Warriors. From the start of the series, they went small instead of playing the way they had all year. By the same token, if you’re Mike Brown, you're sending the wrong message to your team if you come out with Sasha Pavlovic, Wally Szczerbiak, or Daniel Gibson in the starting lineup in place of Ilgauskus or Varejao. Your best lineup to combat them going small might end up being small, but I think you may give Orlando the mental edge by saying: We can’t stop you with our normal lineup.

Of course this all comes down to my second question: How much help will Cleveland give to stop Howard, and how much help will Orlando give to stop Lebron, as both teams have virtually no answers for each player. This will be key because although both Lebron and Howard have immense skills, their true worth will be in creating offense for their teammates. Cleveland has the advantage here because as mentioned before, Orlando has no one who can guard Lebron so Orlando will need to help. This will free up Cleveland shooters, who will need to perform for the Cavs to advance. On the other hand, Cleveland should want Dwight Howard as Orlando's main option, because their three point shooters are deadly and as good as he is, Howard's offensive skills are underdeveloped.

Another thing before these ramblings end. Orlando won the season series 2-1 and in their last game on April 3rd, Orlando won by 29. They did shoot 48% from behind the line and Cleveland only shot 37% from the field, but you have to think that Orlando is comfortable with this match-up. They can play without fear and they know if they play to their ability they are capable of winning any game.

The big question in the end is who do I pick to win this series. The more I look at it the better Orlando looks on paper. But I think therein lies the problem... PARALYSIS BY ANALYSIS. I could probably talk myself into Orlando and make an interesting article about it, but why do that when Lebron is on the other team. As much as I think this is a tough match up for the Cavs dealing with the small lineup on paper, with Lebron, the Cavs are just better than they look on paper

Also in unrelated news, Kobe is not doing work, the refs are doing work for him. That's right I said it. Way to get an undeserved documentary about you and then have the refs give the game to you.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Road Less Traveled

Going into the playoffs, everyone was more than sure that a collision course was set between LA and Cleveland, and to be honest we didn't really like the inevitability of it all. We forgot one thing however, this is the NBA. Isn't amazing supposed to happen? Isn't Houston supposed to push LA to seven games, even without their two stars? Isn't Lebron supposed to make it through the first round without even sweating out a less than double digit victory... I guess not. After two rounds, everyone, me included, is ready to coronate King James and label LA the third round underdogs to Denver... but as Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast my friend.”

If there is one thing that I learned about the NBA, it's that the playoffs are a grind and almost entirely dependent on match ups. Kobe and company had a terrible match up against a team that had a great defense to throw at them. As long as your team advances to the next round without injury, your season basically starts fresh. Yes, rest is important and getting better from nagging injuries is also. But so is being sharp and ready to play. We could argue for days the merits of not playing a couple of games the first two rounds and staying fresh and I'm sure that history would back us up. However, if you look just a year ago, Boston would give us a good argument for the contrary.

Everyone was doubting them in the earlier rounds because they were taken to seven games by the Hawks and Cavs. This may have seemed like a hindrance to Celtic title hopes but this gave the Celtic's big three much needed playoff reps together under pressure. It was almost like Doc Rivers, KG, Pierce, and company needed that shot in the arm to get them playing game seven basketball from then on.

After their series with the Rockets, now Kobe and this iteration of the Lakers know what it's like to experience a game seven and win. I know Houston was a wounded dog and I was overly critical of the Lakers for lacking the killer instinct to kick a dog when it's down. Hopefully, now they realize that they must play that way for all seven games against the Nuggets to have a chance.

More than anything this playoffs can serve as a case study to solve the argument of what is the best way to go through a playoff run? On the one hand is the Western Conference number one seeded Lakers who got almost as much as they could chew from Utah and Houston in their first two rounds. On the other hand is the heavily favored Cavs who have yet to play a close or meaningful game. It's a common theme among analyst that a team needs a loss or a bump in the road to make them ready for tough games down the stretch. The question then is do you want challenges and bumps in the road to keep you sharp and hungry like the Lakers? or do you want smooth sailing like the Cavs? This playoffs can go far to answer this question.

I have already said that I think LA loses to Denver but what if they don't. What if we do have the Kobe vs. Lebron, LA vs. Cleveland match up that everyone so desired? Then all these questions can be answered and we'll have a little bit better of an understanding of the NBA...

Or at least Vitamin Water will finally be able to answer the great debate between Kobe and Lebron.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Denver-LA Premature Breakdown

With the Dallas vs. Denver series at a premature end and not heading back to Dallas (at least Mark Cuban won't have to give up a luxury suite to K-Mart's mom) and the LA vs. Houston series almost certainly ending tonight in Houston (do I really believe this or am I trying to jinx the Lakers?) it's time to run my Denver vs. LA preview prematurely because that's what I do.

After seeing a few more games I have basically come to two conclusions. Number One, the Denver Nuggets are more than capable of beating the LA Lakers in a seven game series. Number two, if LA flips on the switch, they aren't. I know the two above statements sound contradictory, but bear with me.

Unlike Houston, Denver will have a much tougher time matching up with LA defensively. Since George Karl has been Denver's coach they have always had a tough time on the defensive end. This year really isn't any different. The Chauncey Billups trade has brought over some of the team mentality from Detroit and kept most of Denver's knuckleheads in line; however, LA is so talented offensively it will probably take an extraordinary effort from Denver to hold the Lakers in check.

Denver will not only face problems in their overall lack of defensive chemistry but also in every defensive match up. Houston had Battier and Artest to give Kobe all he could handle. Dahntay Jones is a vastly improved player but he is nowhere near the defensive level of Battier or Artest. The Rockets also didn't have the answers when LA went small because they didn't have the ability to leave anyone on the court wide open when Odom and Gasol were playing in the post. When Bynum, Gasol, and Odom were in they could make Odom beat them from the outside but once LA went small, Gasol and Odom were too talented with interior passing and scoring to be stopped by Houston. This trend should repeat itself in the Western Conference Finals as Gasol and Odom will be too quick, too athletic and too good for Nene and Kenyon Martin if they continue with their smaller lineup (which LA should). Compound this by the fact that they play far worse team defense so the help and defensive schemes won't be there and Kobe, Odom, and Gasol should all be in for big production this series. To have a chance Denver is going to have to make the other guys (Ariza, Farmar, Vujajic, Fisher, Bynum, Walton) beat them while trying their best to contain Kobe, Gasol and Odom. With the Lakers' offensive superiority they will be next to impossible to beat IF they turn on the switch defensively.

We have yet to look at how Denver's offense matches up with LA's defense but I really don't think we have to spend that much time on it. It basically comes down to this: do the Lakers turn on the switch or not. They clearly have superior talent, superior coaching but do they have superior chemistry? If Kobe is able to have his alpha dog competitive nature rub off on his team at all, that will be enough to do better than Denver. But can Kobe do this? I have written and maintained all along that he can't. He is a great scorer, talent, etc but this LA team has become too overconfident and complacent. The fact that a supposed all-time great like Kobe has let this happen to his team does not bode well for the Lakers. If Kobe rises to the occasion, elevates his team and proves me wrong, I think LA will dominate this series. The two keys for them defensively are to keep JR Smith and Carmello Anthony in check and not let the tempo of the game get out of hand. If the Lakers can do those two things, big IF, I can see them taking this series in 6 games or less.

I have mentioned multiple times in this column that the Lakers' need to turn on the switch to beat Denver. I just don't see this happening. The Lakers have all the talent in the world but they just don't have IT. By it, I mean that team chemistry that just takes great teams and makes them unbeatable. They gave Utah hope and let them hang around, then, they did the same with Houston. As good and as talented as they are, it just looks like they are working out there, not having fun.
On the other side of the ball, there is a young hungry star ready to be mentioned with his draft class (Lebron and D-Wade) and I think his performance in this series will put him on their level. Carmello will turn into the star of this series as Denver pulls off the huge upset and takes LA in six games.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Go Away Brett!

During the summer, few things in sports remain constant: Al Davis will make stupefying football decisions, there will be way too many baseball highlights on Sportscenter, and we’ll have endless Brett Favre retirement talk.

Unfortunately, this year is no different, as the annual Favre drama is back. The will he or won’t he retirement saga once again comes back into full swing. Congratulations Brett, I thought nothing could ever be as annoying as the Ross/Rachel will they/won’t they drama in the 90’s…I was wrong.

I won’t get into specifics regarding this year’s Favre drama, as it has already been told ad nauseum, and would be hypocritical, considering the whole point of this post is to criticize the non-stop Favre talk.

As story-after-story keeps turning up on the World Wide Leader, I can’t help but ask: What do you want Brett? You’re out there jumping around in your wranglers, and I’m just sitting here with my beer. TELL ME WHAT YOU WANT!

Well, I don’t know what he wants, but apparently fading into oblivion in Hattiesburg, Missisippi isn’t something that interests him. With all of the Vikings talk, Favre clearly has an axe to grind with the Packers. Did Ted Thompson and company give him a raw deal? Maybe. Did Favre, however, put them in countless awkward positions? Yes. Honestly, this all could have been avoided if he had just been up front with the Packers. Instead of mowing around every off-season debating whether he should retire, Brett should have told Green Bay from the start if he planned to come back. By not doing so, he essentially held the franchise hostage, as they didn’t know whether to plan for the future, or attempt a Super Bowl run with an aging Favre. He only has himself to blame in this saga, as he could have ended it himself.

The sad thing here is that I used to enjoy watching Favre play. With his passion and unbridled enthusiasm, he one of the best players in the league to watch. Seeing him throw a 50 yard bomb and then run downfield and throw his receiver over his shoulder was always something great. But as time went on, the media OD’d on Brett Favre. (Particularly a certain video game pushing announcer.) Everything would revolve around Favre, even as his career went downhill. Then as the annual retirement talks kicked in, fans started more and more to despise him.

It’s gotten to the point that if he’s on TV, I’m changing the channel. The only time I want to see him is if I happen to catch There’s Something About Mary on TV. That’s it. And I especially don’t want to see him during those horrible wrangler commercials. Which brings me to my final point: NO ONE PLAYS FOOTBALL IN JEANS!!!)

NBA Western Conference Ramblings

“There is absolutely nothing to say after that.” That was Mark Cuban's twitter last night referring to the no call on Carmello Anthony's three pointer.

Now that is how you effectively use twitter. You see, what he did here was display his feelings via a short little quote for everyone to see what he was thinking/doing at that point in time. Not that I have a twitter or know how to tweet but if I did, I probably would have tweeted the same thing.

I want everyone to see exactly what I wrote prior to Game 4 of the Houston vs. Los Angeles series while I was on route to watch my brother play lacrosse in New Jersey.

"With Yao Ming's broken foot and the worst last-second missed call that I can remember, round two of the Western Conference playoffs is all but over. Just pencil in LA and Denver for the Western Conference finals. It's to bad, because these two semifinals match-ups had a lot of promise. Competition in the NBA is so match up driven, and Dallas and Houston both matched up well against Denver and LA; giving these series the potential to be great. Injuries are unfortunate, but what happened in Dallas was egregious. I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but the NBA and its refs must really hate Dallas. In a game that is as subjective as basketball, it's easy to see what you want to see, and psychologically, it's hard not to have a rooting interest. So I have come to the conclusion that no one in the NBA likes Mark Cuban, especially the refs. This trend will only continue because as he moans and complains more and more, refs will continue to be biased against him. No one likes complainers. Just look at Melissa Rivers on Celebrity Apprentice. Bad example...I shouldn't even admit to watching that, but let's roll with it.

I know Dallas can be blamed partly because they had an opportunity to close out the game, but instead put it in the refs hands down the stretch. Even so, the refs blew that game plain and simple. In that situation, they should be looking for a foul knowing Dallas had a foul to give. The Tim Donaghy incident blew open the NBA's already well-known officiating problems over the years to the public, and calls like last night's make you think that the league is far from solving its officiating woes. There needs to be some level of public accountability for refs. If players are getting fined and being assessed flagrant fouls after the fact, then NBA refs should be fined and suspended publicly for missed calls. The ref that blew the call in the game last night should be suspended and fined pay for one game.

Now with Dallas in a 3-0 hole and Houston down 2-1 without Yao, we can almost start to break down the match-up between LA and Denver. Actually, this is the NBA, "where amazing happens," so I don't want to be on the record as a complete idiot and say Houston has no chance. So here is my official stance on the rest of the Houston vs. LA series: “Houston has a real outside chance but it will be really tough to win three of 4 especially with 2 games being played in LA.” The only way that Houston can come back in this series is to go small with Aaron Brooks and Kyle Lowry in the back court, and take advantage of the suspect point guards of LA. I honestly can't see this happening so I'm going to go ahead and break down the Denver/LA series... because I can."

Then I go on to prematurely break down the LA/Denver series like an idiot, which I will save for a future column. I didn't get to see all of the Houston's upset of LA, but here are the few things I took away from the game.

Games like Houston's upset of LA in game 4 are why we watch sports. It goes to show, you can never count anyone out. As a complete unbiased fan, I felt proud of how Houston took the game right to LA, despite having the deck stacked against them. In the end, heart, character and toughness can trump talent any day.

Further, this is another hit on Kobe's case as a top tier all-time NBA player. He is probably the best, if not second best, player in the world right now, but I think he is in the second tier all time. To be considered among the first tier of all time great players, you make sure your team handles a wounded team like Houston, missing their top two players, and don't give them any life. You also don't blow twenty point leads in must win games during the NBA finals like Kobe did last year. You also don't demand to be traded when your team isn't putting the players around you that you want. I'm not saying Kobe isn't a great player, because he clearly is; he scored 81 points in a game. But there is so much going against Kobe that I don't put him on the level of the Jordan, Bird, Magic and dare I say Lebron. If you're Kobe, you just can't let these things happen. That's what separates the greatest ever, from just great.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Just Manny Being Manny... Not This Time

I have always heard and always thought that Manny was too dumb to keep up with a steroid cycle. Apparently, he is also too dumb to NOT take women's fertility drugs that are on the banned substances list. The drug Manny took, human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), is used to generate normal testosterone for steroid users once they stop. Before we label Manny a steroid user it must be noted that people can be prescribed this for medical reasons. Hitting home runs and misplaying fly balls in right field probably aren't considered medical reasons to take HCG. So taking HCG doesn't necessarily mean that Manny took steroids, even though he probably did. The hilarious thing about Manny is that he didn't get caught using steroids or actually even test positive for anything. Rather he had heightened testosterone so officials began to snoop and found that he had taken HCG.

To many, this suspension is a smoking gun to cheating and steroid use over the course of Manny's career. Everyone, myself included, has become overly skeptical and cynical about steroids, relating any minor statistical abnormality to steroid use. Any player that had a career year or a statistical anomaly had to have been on steroids if they didn't repeat the success. Now that there is a smoking gun, naturally the steroid implication and connection has to be made for Manny too. While most will argue that this cements Manny's legacy as a cheater and everything he has previously done is void, I think this only heightens the legend of Manny being Manny.* Who else in the league cuts off his center fielder... while playing right field, makes routine plays seem anything but, doesn't hustle out ground balls, and presumably takes steroids, gets away with it but later gets exposed as a cheater for taking woman's fertility pills... This is just another case of Manny being Manny.

When I woke up yesterday and saw the story, my first thought wasn't “wow, Manny is getting suspended that ruins his legacy and career,” but rather, “I wonder who gave Manny some stupid GNC pill or how did Manny screw this one up without actually taking steroids.” It's not that I believe Manny's story, it's just that he is probably too stupid to lie about it or to even care enough to lie about it. I haven't the slightest idea what motivates Manny, nobody does. This is a guy that stuffs million dollar paychecks in his locker. I don't even think I remotely understand him. But I do know that he is not motivated like other players. He is a pro hitter, he hits baseballs because that's what he was born to do. So I was shocked to see that he cheated. I just never thought he was smart enough to or cared enough to do it. But hey, maybe that was just the era or steroids and maybe we shouldn't be asking “who did it,” but rather “who didn't.”

*When athletes talk and they say someone is being themselves, for example “that is just Arod being Arod”, it means that the person is an A-hole.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Baseball Post Steroid Era

With the economy in the tank, ticket sales down, and baseball season in full swing, one story has more or less flown under the radar. Through just the month of April, Home Runs have been noticeably down... hmmm I wonder why. Could it be that players are worried about getting caught for taking steroids and other performance enhancing drugs. Maybe it's because A-Rod is out with a hip injury (secret suspension from the league if your a conspiracy theorist) and isn't hitting home runs. Maybe the steroid witch hunt did work. Whatever the case may be, my perspective on steroids in baseball is unchanged.

The honest truth (or should I say Stark Truth)is that I couldn't care less about the implications of steroids on history, records, cheating, or players health. I'm not Mike Lupica, George Mitchell or my Poppy. I'm not going to go on the sports reporters and cry about it, I'm not going to go around the country on a witch hunt for steroid users and I'm certainly not going to deduce that Barry Bonds is a worse hitter than Larry Walker or Todd Helton just because his numbers were skewed by steroids. The history of baseball just isn't that important to me. I'll concede that it will be sad when the next generation doesn't learn 61 and Roger Maris or 745 and Hank Aaron like I did growing up but rather 73 and whatever meaningless number Barry Lamar Bonds is currently at. However, what I do care about is how steroids devolved the strategy of the great game of baseball.

When the steroid era was beginning, the league needed to bring the fans back after the strike in 1994. As a result, the commissioner, the owners, the organizations, and the players all turned a blind eye to steroids. Players were hitting home runs, fans were coming back to the game and everybody was happy.

Not so fast. Because of this steroid use and home run focus the entire complexion of the game was changed and would be for years to come. Teams began to rely on the long ball instead of manufacturing runs with small ball. Need proof, look at the total home runs hit per year from 1993 to 2007. In 1999, arguably the height of the steroids era, the league total in home runs was 5,528 while a year later it rose to 5,693. Home run totals in 2000 were up 42% from 1993 when there were only 4,020 total home runs hit. Just seven years later in 2007, home runs league wide were down to 4,957. That is a decline of 13% in just seven years. It would be unfair and illogical to reason that this trend was only a result of steroid use because there were certainly other factors at play. Newer hitter-friendly ball parks were being built and the overall pitching was on a decline; however, steroid prevalence was clearly at the center of the increase in home runs, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize this.

I'm not one to cry about home run hitting; home runs are about as American as watching a game with a cold beer and a hot dog. However, I enjoy all aspects of baseball, not just home runs. It's fun to see the cat and mouse game between speedster at first, pitcher trying to hold him and catcher trying to throw him out at second. I loved watching the Florida Marlins in 2003 not only because they are my favorite team but because they we're able to achieve success with small ball. Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo wreaked havoc on the bases and along with great pitching, the Marlins were able to overcome the Yankees in the World Series. This victory was even sweeter because they took down the Bronx Bombers who had known steroid users A-Fraud and Roger Clemens on their roster. They displayed that there still can be so much subtlety and strategy to baseball besides hitting the long ball which for years it had become. I won't name names but certain players could take half swings and muscle pitches out of the park to achieve historic offensive seasons with .609 OBP, .812 SLG, 45 Hrs, 232 BBs and a .362 batting averages while they shouldn't have even be elite hitters to begin with; all the while letting their trainers rot in jail because they supposedly didn't knowingly inject themselves with anything and the cream they rubbed on their body that caused their feet to grow 3 shoe sizes and head to grow 5 hat sizes was flaxseed oil. Sorry for the rant but I mean Come On.

But that brings me to my next point. Steroids had an effect on pitching too, especially with power pitchers. Power pitchers used to have a no fear attitude when going after hitters but facing roided up power hitters changed this: effectively erasing their cocky, no fear demeanors. Nowadays, most power pitchers no longer have the confidence to blow the ball past hitters and just throw strikes. Instead they have developed a new technique in which they try to hit perfect spots around the plate like control pitchers, becoming what my friend Bill Simmons would call a power nibbler. I have no statistics to back up this trend, rather general observation and analysis these past couple of years. Some may say power nibbling is an independent event that would have come up with or without steroids but I see a causal relationship. For a number of years pitches that for the most part should have worked to get strikes and outs did not get cheaters/steroid users out. As a result, pitchers developed new mind sets to get out cheaters that carried over to now. They didn't adjust back to the present day where every batter in the lineup isn't capable of hitting a hard fastball into the gap or out of the park. Rather, they come in from the bullpen or start an inning with the mindset that they have to make perfect pitches. I'm sorry but a player like Juan Pierre couldn't even hit a home run off of Susan Boyle let alone major league pitching... so please, do not let walk him or players like him when the worst he could do is hit a double. I'm sick of pitchers who are too afraid to pitch to contact and think they have to throw the perfect pitch (I'm especially looking at you Marlins Bullpen). Pitchers have yet to readjust and realize that they're better off making hitters hit it into play then putting runners on base, especially with three run leads.

The problem with the steroid era is that there is no real way to realize the impact it had until we wipe out this generation of cheaters. Even though players don't cheat anymore (or cheat less), there are still players like A-Roid and many unnamed others who used steroids at one point or another and are stronger and still hitting beyond their natural abilities. When this generation of cheaters is phased out and a new generation of players who were thoroughly tested comes we will be able to see the true impact of steroids on the game. We are like the Israelites wondering in the dessert awaiting our trip to the promise land. When the steroid users and cheaters have all retired and left this great game we will be able to enter the promise land where baseball will be pure again. Until then, all we can do is look at history and guess the impact that steroids had and will continue to have for years to come.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Great Debate: Part 2

With the draft over, it’s time to make the way-to-early predictions on who will be the standout quarterback in this class: Matthew Stafford or Mark Sanchez (Sorry Chase Daniel, you have to be drafted to be in this discussion…And be over six feet tall…You should also probably avoid doing this too.) When debating the merits of these two quarterbacks, it’s clear that Mark Sanchez will be the better pro.

First, let’s look at the pedigree of the two quarterbacks. Over the past few years, USC has sent Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, Matt Cassell, and John David Booty to the pros. Palmer has been to multiple pro bowls, Cassell had a spectacular season last year, Booty is still developing after being a rookie last year, and Matt Leinart…well at least he’s having fun. As for Georgia, let’s just say that David Greene and D.J. Shockley haven’t exactly been standouts. Also factor in that Mark Sanchez is better equipped to being in the spotlight. With no NFL team in Los Angeles, the Trojans are the main attraction. As a result, Sanchez knows what it’s like to be top dog in a huge market and has a greater maturity and understanding due to this.

An argument against Sanchez is that he only started one season in college. While he could have benefited from another year, he’ll still have the better career than Stafford. USC alum Matt Cassell started a grand total of 0 games in college, yet had a great year last year. While Stafford has started three years at Georgia, he hasn’t exactly been a dominant player. In his three years as a Bulldog, Stafford threw 33 interceptions. He’s simply way too inconsistent to be a top level NFL quarterback.

Even further, in his biggest game of this past year against the Florida Gators, Georgia got manhandled 49-10. In that game, Stafford threw 3 interceptions and 0 touchdowns. To add insult to injury, Georgia’s one touchdown came after Stafford left the game. Simply put, Stafford hasn’t come through in the clutch. On the other hand, Sanchez has excelled in the spotlight. In the Trojans three biggest games against Ohio State, rival UCLA, and Rose Bowl opponent Penn State, Sanchez threw 10 touchdowns, and only two interceptions.

One of the biggest variables in this equation (Sorry, had to throw in a Lost reference) is the NFL teams each player is headed to. Sanchez gets the win here in an absolute no-brainer, as he gets to play with an established franchise in the New York Jets. As for Stafford, he gets the pleasure of playing for the winless Detroit Lions. While they do have a stud receiver in Calvin Johnson, they’re lacking in about every other position. They have a horrible running game and one of the worst offensive lines in football. Detroit might as well line up a turnstile at offensive tackle, as it’ll produce the same results. With no help in the running game, Stafford will take a beating on a weekly basis, as teams will consistently put him on the ground. It’ll be as one-sided as Ivan Drago pummeling Apollo Creed. On the other side, the Jets have a much more established line, and a playmaker at running back in Thomas Jones. As a result, Sanchez won’t feel as much pressure as Stafford surely will experience.

Lastly, look at the motivation each player has. Stafford will get 48 MILLION DOLLARS guaranteed while he plays for the Lions. It doesn’t matter how bad he plays…the money is his. How much motivation is there for him to push himself when he doesn’t need to? For a guy with questionable intelligence, this might not be a great situation. On the other hand, Sanchez will have more of a chip on his shoulder, as he’ll have the motivation to prove he should have been the first pick in this year’s draft. Bottom line, when you look at all these factors, there’s no doubt that Sanchez will be the superior pro.