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.