What’s a team to do? Do the underdogs have a chance in the Conference Finals?

May 18, 2016 by

Early in the NBA Playoffs, when there are 16 teams and 8 different series going on, there are so many games that we’re forced to be a little bit patient with our game to game reactions.

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What’s a team to do?

Now that we’ve pared down the number of teams, there’s so much more time to look at things that we make grand statements and overreact on a daily basis.  Everyone is jumping onto the Thunder bandwagon and completely writing off the Raptors after the respective Game One’s, and there is some validity to the reactions that people have, but it’s important to remember how we reacted during the last round. After the Spurs’ blowout win over the Thunder, every story was about how screwed the Thunder were and whether this was the end of Kevin Durant’s time in OKC. Fast forward a week and a half, and the narrative has shifted to where people are practically inking his signature on Thunder letterhead for him. Similarly, the Raptors were written off multiple times in the series against both Miami and Indiana. When DeRozan and Lowry were doing their best old-Kobe Bryant impressions, they were a franchise that needed to blow things up. Now, they’re the resilient team that finally broke through into the Conference Finals. Like I said, there’s a chance that the Thunder have unlocked their potential, and a very strong chance that the Raptors are toast against Cleveland, but let’s look at how things could potentially play out moving forward. Read the rest of this entry »

May day- MLB Check-in

May 12, 2016 by

Spring felt like it was a long time in coming this year.

After a relatively mild winter, we got a taste of warm weather back in March, and just when everyone had packed up their muk-luks and thermal gear, we got hit with a fresh batch of freezing temperatures and blowing snow. Thanks to the weird weather, it’s just now starting to feel like spring, which naturally, means it’s time to start taking baseball seriously. I don’t believe in overreacting to early results on a serious level, and even at this point of the year, it’s easy to cry out “small sample size”, but as crazy as it seems,  we are 20% of the way through the season, which is plenty to go on for our purposes.

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My happy place.

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What’s on the line? Another look at legacy.

May 5, 2016 by

Every year, in every walk of life, people start careers and retire, work hard or quit and succeed or fail. From the beginning of an endeavor until the very end, everything we do contributes toward our reputation.

If you’re an actor, every role you take gets added to your IMDB page. For better or worse, if your name’s on it, it’s there forever. Robert De Niro is one of the greatest actors of all time, with roles in Godfather Part II, The Deer Hunter, Goodfellas and the Untouchables (among many others), but even De Niro has a few things on his resume he’d probably sooner forget. He’s great, but I don’t know if Dirty Grandpa and Meet the Fockers are going to be ones he remembers fondly on his death-bed. The good news for De Niro is that we tend to forgive actors for the terrible projects they’re a part of. When we look back at careers, we don’t care about the awful movies or shows, we just look at the things we love.

Fockers? What Fockers?

Like actors, athletes are judged based on what they produce throughout their careers. Unlike actors, we don’t forgive and forget  athletic failures quite as quickly and easily. We look at individual legacies in every sport, but with the exception of starting quarterbacks in the NFL, nobody is judged nearly as harshly as an NBA player. Karl Malone and Charles Barkley combined for 60,685 points and played significant roles on playoff teams throughout their careers, but they’re the first two players mentioned when lists of players without championships are put together.  Despite all the highlights and dominance, all we remember is Karl Malone clanking free throws against the Bulls and Charles Barkley’s forlorn expression as Jordan celebrated another title. With the end of Kobe Bryant’s career and the dwindling lights of Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan, legacy has been at the forefront of this whole season, and the playoffs are no exception. Every players’ reputation is going to be altered forever, but there are a few guys or teams who have more at stake than the rest.

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Fave 5: Hope Springs Eternal

April 27, 2016 by

For the second consecutive year, I went through and highlighted a group of five players that I liked coming into this MLB season.

This wasn’t necessarily based playing ability, star status or sometimes even active status. It was simply a guy I found interesting and found worthwhile to pay attention to. For the second consecutive year, it appears that I’ve given the kiss of death to most of, if not all the guys I’ve highlighted. Last year, I picked Buddy Carlyle, Torii Hunter, Mike Olt, Brandon Morrow and Manny Machado as my five favorite players to watch for the season. With the exception of Manny Machado, who had a breakout season, I owe all of them a fruit basket and an apology card. Carlyle appeared in 11 games with the Mets, posted a 5.63 E.R.A.before being sent to the minors and was released this spring, effectively ending his career. Torii Hunter had a solid season based on traditional numbers, with 22 home runs and 81 RBI, but he posted a negative WAR rating and retired after Minnesota missed the playoffs last season. Mike Olt appeared in a total of 30 games between the 2 Chicago teams, batted .191 with 4 home runs and 5 RBI and has been fighting for a roster spot in baseball purgatory in San Diego. Poor Brandon Morrow started off 2-0 with a 2.73 ERA and looked strong last year. Then he tore up his shoulder and had season ending surgery. He’s currently working his way back through the San Diego minor league system.

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I said “I’m sorry”, Mike!

This season is off to an equally inauspicious beginning for my highlighted players. Now, the very nature of picking out of the ordinary players to watch does carry some risk, since they’re typically out of the ordinary for a reason, but I also don’t pick guys I think are total bums. It’s not any fun watching guys who totally stink, unless it’s blatantly bad baseball and you can treat it like Mystery Science Theater or Sharknado and celebrate the badness. It’s still early, and I haven’t given up yet, so let’s take a look at how my hopeful heroes are doing so far this season. Read the rest of this entry »

The road oft traveled: The ballad of Steve Clevenger and Scott Feldman

April 22, 2016 by

Every year in Major League Baseball, there is an average of 137 trades made involving 276 players, millions of dollars in salary and occasionally dinners and even broadcasters. Legendary Tigers’ announcer Ernie Harwell was once traded from the Atlanta Crackers to the Brooklyn Dodgers for minor league player/coach Cliff Dapper. My favorite trade of all time happened when Dave Winfield was traded to the Indians for a player to be named later at the trading deadline in 1994. But, two weeks later, before Winfield could play for the Indians, a strike ended the season. Winfield never played for the Indians and a player was never named. To settle the trade, executives from Minnesota and Cleveland decided to go out for dinner and the Indians picked up the check. It’s not often that players get traded for a fancy dinner, but the fact that it happened at all is just one more reason to love the zany game that is professional baseball.

While most trades don’t have long last impacts on the history of the game, every once in a while we have a trade that restructures the fabric of the game. The recent passing of long-time pitcher Milt Pappas prompted me to tell my wife about the Frank Robinson/Milt Pappas trade between the Orioles and Reds in 1965. Reds’ General Manager, Bill Dewitt labeled Robinson “an old 30” and shipped him to Baltimore. They got journeyman pitcher, Milt Pappas in return, and while Pappas was solid, going 30-9 for the Reds, Robinson reshaped the American League. He won the Triple Crown and MVP in 1965, and led the O’s to World Series’ wins in 1965 and 1971 on his way to the MLB Hall of Fame.

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R.I.P. Milt; it’s not your fault.

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Early Returns

April 19, 2016 by

It’s no secret that our society has the attention span of a juvenile squirrel. We’ve condensed everything down as far as possible. We had Facebook posts and when those got too long, we switched to Twitter and when 140 characters became too much, we switched to Snapchat to get our message out even more quickly. Similarly, we live our lives seeking as much instant gratification as possible. This doesn’t just affect our social (or social media) interaction, it bleeds over into our interests as well. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and all the other ways we have to watch TV has changed how we consume media. We binge watch shows because we can’t stand waiting for another new episode; if the show is currently airing, it drives us absolutely crazy having to wait a WHOLE WEEK to find out what happens. When it comes to the consumption of sports, its common practice to watch a game while simultaneously tweeting your reaction in real-time. It’s not enough to just see the play happen, you want to share your opinion and know the opinion others have of what you just saw. This shift in viewing habits has matched up perfectly with football’s condensed schedule, basketball’s uptempo play and even golf’s shot by shot importance. The one sport that could seemingly left behind is baseball.

 

Between the slow pace, relative lack of scoring and ridiculously long schedule, baseball definitely lends itself to a longer term way of consuming entertainment. In a world built around immediate reactions and judgements, the game preaches patience and dedication. With that being said, it’s still possible to glean some nuggets from what we’ve seen so far and also have some absurdly early reactions. So after two weeks, here are some way too early reactions, as well as my top and bottom 5 teams in the league.

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Baseball; it’s supposed to be fun

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Round 1- The West

April 15, 2016 by

The balance of power between the two conferences has been fully slanted toward the West since Jordan’s retirement,

and while this type of thing is cyclical in nature, it’s been extreme enough and consistent enough to cause conversation about whether conferences should be eliminated completely, and playoff seeding assigned strictly based on record. While this idea is a bit intriguing, we’re a long way away from it becoming a reality, so it was a relief this year to see that while the top teams in the league were in the West, the East was the stronger conference from top to bottom. One area where the conferences are equal is in the amount of intrigue that the playoffs provide. These teams are going to beat the holy hell out of each other, and it’s going to start from day 1.

Dunk you very much, Blake. 

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Round 1- The East.

April 15, 2016 by

The NBA season is a marathon, a slog, a death march or a victory lap.

It can be any or all of those things depending on what part of the season you’re in or what team you follow. As a fan of the Chicago Bulls, this season never lived up to any expectations. Despite a few solid streaks, the team never felt like a contender and everything from the All-Star Break on was like watching a beloved family pet at the end of their life; it hurt to see them in pain and while I still loved them, I just wanted to put them out of their misery. If you’re a Warriors’ fan, this entire year was one big victory celebration. I’ve lived that life before with the 1990’s Bulls, and can say that there’s no better sports experience than watching your team celebrate a title while simultaneously kicking the crap out of everyone they played. Whether your team is great, awful or something in between, the season is too long. That’s a discussion for another day, but what really matters is that all the pain and drudgery of the long regular season is behind us and it’s time for the good stuff to start.

Round One match-ups have a tendency to be less than exciting,

the bottom half of the playoff bracket is obviously less strong than the top, and you end up with some horrendous mismatches and very quick series. Occasionally you’ll get an upset in the first round, but normally things play out according to plan. In order to make these first few series more watchable, it helps to do a quick look at how each set of teams matches up: the key factors, the most important players and maybe a fun fact or two for when it’s a 30 point blowout. I’ll also highlight what my favorite match-up in each series is. So, without further Adu, let’s dive in:

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Go hard, or go home.

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The Stoppers

April 14, 2016 by

“Defense wins championships”. The saying is as old as the game itself, and for the most part, it’s been true.

The Celtics were a run and gun team that never won anything until they drafted Bill Russell and dominated defensively. NBA fans drool over the 1970’s Knicks with their passing and ball movement, but they really made their money with big stops on the defensive end and led the league in points allowed multiple times. The Showtime Lakers dominated offensively, but their titles were earned on the backs of Michael Cooper and A.C. Green and their ability to slow down elite scorers. Phil Jackson’s Bulls were famous for the triangle offense, but they didn’t win because of their scoring; they won because they could unleash a defensive troika of MJ, Pippen and Grant for the first run and MJ, Pippen and Rodman the second time. While MJ was the greatest scorer in basketball history, the biggest key was the fact that his teams finished in the top-10 in defensive rating every year from 1990-1998. That’s dominance.

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Play defense, get rings.

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The Microwaves

April 13, 2016 by

The Microwaves:

The Detroit Pistons of the late 80’s and early 90’s were successful primarily based on their defense and toughness of Bill Lambeer and Rick Mahorn as well as the leadership provided by Isaiah Thomas and Joe Dumars. However, they did have to find scoring in an era where the run and gun style was in vogue.  One often overlooked aspect of those teams was their spark-plug off the bench: Vinnie Johnson. Nicknamed “The Microwave” for how quickly he could heat up after coming into the game, Johnson was never shy about shooting, averaging 18 points and 16 shots per 36 minutes for his career. Like any other prolific bench scorer, he occasionally drove his coaches crazy, but he also carried the team offensively when the rest of the lineup couldn’t get it going. He provided them with consistent offense throughout his career, but his finest moment came in Game 5  of the 1990 finals when he hit the series clinching shot with .7 seconds left and cemented his Detroit legacy for all time.

Dating back to the 1950’s era Celtics, nearly every title winner has a microwave type of guy on their roster. Bill Simmons refers to them as “Irrational Confidence Guys”. They have no reason to believe that they’re superstars, but in their own mind, they’re equal with the best players in the league and assert themselves on offense accordingly.  Oddly enough, the Warriors don’t have any guys like this since the entire Golden State system is based on the players all having a permanent green light; with the understanding that too many bad shots will get you benched, but aside from the them, the rest of the contenders have at least one Microwave on the roster. (Author’s note- JR Smith is the ultimate Microwave, but he’s a starter now, so he doesn’t qualify.)

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Linsane in the membrane

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