Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Jeff: Brady, Manning...and everybody else

When Denver kicker Jason Elam booted a field goal to tie the game with 1:47 left in the 4th quarter, my roommate Kris and I looked at each other and said "Too much time." The cameras then panned to the sideline showing Indianapolis Colts QB Peyton Manning standing with offensive coordinator Tom Moore. And honestly? They could have been two guys standing beside a grill in the tailgate lot or by the water cooler, or at their kids' baseball game. They were calm and cool and confident as could be. They were faced with one of the most difficult things to do in sports- the 2 minute drill- and they had no doubts they would get it done. None. It wasn't a question of WOULD they be able to get into field goal range, it was more deciding which way to do it this time? Something different to spice it up maybe? I could have sworn I saw Manning say "too much time!"

Giving Manning 1:47 to set up a game-winning field goal with all 3 timeouts? It just wasn't fair, and anybody watching knew it. SHouldn't there be a new rule (for regular season games only, of course) that Manning should only be given under a minute and 1 timeout, just to make it interesting? But the NFL allowed him to keep all that time and all those timeouts and Manning surgically ripped the heart out of the Broncos in one of the toughest venues to win in sports: Mile High at night. A dump pass here, and handoff there (a handoff!! See now that's just getting cocky), and then a couple of passes to Reggie Wayne (he of the 3 TD day who abused poor Bronch CB Derrant Williams all game) and they were in range. IT was bad enough that you knew Manning would get them in position, but to have the greatest clutch kicker in history jogging off the sidelines to seal it? And of course he did. Colts win again, and remain undefeated.

Manning looked like the best QB who ever lived in that game, and yet last night proved for me yet again that Tom Brady is still the best. BRady did what he's rarely allowed to do in the Patriots team-first system, which was go out of the shotgun and pick teams apart. Last night it was a good Vikings D he carved up (at another time we'll delve into why Belichek IS the best coach in the game. With 2 good running backs he could have tried to pound the ball against a good run D. Instead? He airs it out all game long. Even up 24-7 in the 3rd, he continued to let Brady go shotgun, and Brady continued to complete passes. Anyway, another story for another time but just wanted to mention it). We're so quick these days to want to name everything the best or worst ever, to name instant greatness when one of the hallmarks of greatness is of course longevity and consistency, two measures that can't be judged or granted instantly. But we continue to make the ridiculous comparisons, like one of the guys in NBC's Sunday Night Broadcast saying with a straight face that new Cowboys QB Tony Romo reminded him so much of BRett Favre. And Joe Montana. Really? Why leave out Roger Staubach, Bart Starr and Johnny Unitas? Ridiculous.

But for all the overhype we have to endure, the Brady/Manning rivalry is every bit as good as Montana/Marino was. Manning with the gawdy stats and the playoff failures, and Brady with the 3 Super Bowl rings. These 2 teams play Sunday Night on NBC (thank god it's not on E!SPN) and you're going to get these 2 guys shoved down your throat for the next 5 days, but no matter how much they overhype it, these two are the real deal: and nobody else is even close. That more than anything is what I took away from their two impressive performances, that as bad and mediocre as NFL quarterbacks are these days, Brady and Manning are head and shoulders better than anybody else (sit down Mr. Favre. Sit down). I would still take Brady over Manning 7 days a week and twice on Sundays. I still need to see Manning get to the Super Bowl to put him ahead of Brady. I think Manning will take Marino's place as the greatest statistical quarterback in history, but like Marino I don't think he wins a Super Bowl. I'd like to be proven wrong because it would only enhance the rivalry, and let's be honest, after last year's gawd-awful Steelers/Seahawks Super Bowl, we NEED somebody like the Colts in there to give it some juice.

Manning does have more talent around him than Marino ever did (just the fact alone that he's had a running game around him), and I wonder if Manning's slowly learning from what happened to Marino and Montana, and now Brady. After his incredible record-setting 2004 season when his Colts still fell flat in the playoffs, I think the light went on for Peyton. Marino tried all those years to win it by himself and it never happened. But I think he looks at Montana and BRady, who are great when they need to be, but don't have to put up the gawdy stats, and is starting to take a page from them. Will he throw more than Brady will or Montana did? Absolutely, and with that arsenal of receivers, he should. But Manning's proved the last couple years that he's willing to put his ego and big passing numbers aside to win ugly if that's what it takes, because a win's a win no matter how you get it- especially in the playoffs. I think Manning's taking what the defenses give him more than ever, and like Brady, can turn it on and take over when need be. If he had Vinatieri kicking for him last year against the Steelers instead of "The Drunk Kicker" we be talking about him as a Super Bowl champ instead of doing another A-Rod impression. Look no further than the Broncos game for an example. He was 14-17 for just 132 yards and no TD's in the first half. The game was close and Manning was taking what he was given. IN the 2nd half he decided to make Derant Williams his personal biatch, throwing again and again to Reggie Wayne. It resulted in the Colts victory.

Am I openly cheering for Goliath, for Peyton, for the guy that's being shoved down our throats as the new Face of the NFL? I am. For the sake of good and watchable football in an age of inconsistency and mediocrity, I'm dying for a juggernaut and a dynasty and a rivalry. The folks at E!SPN and other outlets are doing everything possible to make us believe in contrived rivalries and "great" players, but there's nothing forced about the Pats and Colts. Contrasting styles meeting twice a year (hopefully anyways) to battle for football supremacy. Can Peyton shake the "A-Rod of football" tag? Can Brady continue to be the best quarterback on the planet? We'll get a glimpse of it this Sunday night, and I know I'll be watching, because in today's NFL, it's Brady, Manning...and everbody else.

Jeff: NBA Preview Part IV

8. Boston Celtics, Atlantic (33-49)
Over/Under 36.5 wins: OVER

The C's are young and they don't have a great coach, but Paul Pierce will be an allstar again, rookie PG Rajon Rondo has the makings of a star (as well as a new Boston cult hero), and this COULD be the year Al Jefferson and Kendrick Perkins finally put it all together. Or most of it. Or some of it. Hey come on, it's the East. They've got enough to get in. I'd say something nice about Wally Szczerbiak, but you know I'm not capable of it.

7. Detroit Pistons, Central (64-18)
Over/Under 50.5 wins: WAY UNDER

No I'm not kidding, no I'm not drinking as I type this, and yes this prediction would make me less popular in Detroit than Matt Millen (and yes this would be assuming anybody reads this hahaha). The Pistons lost Ben Wallace who was the one guy they couldn't afford to lose, and I can't believe more people aren't making a bigger deal of this. Let's see, the guy was your leader, your best defensive player, one of the league's best rebounders AND set the tone for everybody else by being tough and unselfish on a team that relied heavily on him to do all of those things. He was also the glue that kept Ra-weed Wallace in check, allowing him to free lance and play pressure-free (how do people forget what a complete and total space-cadet the guy was in Portland? That Ra-weed will resurface this season. I guarantee it). People also seem to forget that what made DEtroit great was their CHEMISTRY!! As individuals none of them were high draft picks or all-NBA type guys, but together they were truly one of the league's best teams. Now their heart and soul is gone, and I'm telling you, that's a REALLY BIG DEAL! Nazr Mohammed doesn't fit their style at all and does not provide a defensive presence in the middle (the guy couldn't beat out Rasho Nesterovic last year in San Antonio for pete's sake), so the team's best players are all guys who want to play on the perimeter and there's nobody left to rebound or do the dirty work on the inside.

Oh but that's not all. Big Ben ripped coach Flip Saunders apart on his way out of town, and there's a mutiny on the horizon here. These guys, who had won a title without Flipnosis, were quick to point the finger at him at the first signs of trouble last year. Why'd they not make it back to the Finals last year? Because of Flip they said. Well they'll be more trouble this year, and the players will be throwing all the blame at Flip's feet. Add to this the FACTS that the Pistons have been extrememly fortunate when it's come to injuries during their run (they've had ZERO to their key guys. That will change), and that they have no depth whatsoever (honestly after McDyess, who in their bench rotation is decent? Anyone?) this spells a recipe for well, maybe not disaster, but there's no way Detwah gets anywhere close to 50 wins this year. None. In a watered-down East they're still a playoff team, but the end of the Pistons run is here. Call me a Pistons-hater, but this is how it will happen.

6. Indiana Pacers, Central (41-41)
Over/Under 43.5 wins: OVER

2 of the following 3 things will happen for the Pacers this year: Al Harrington will make a big splash in his return to Indy, Jermaine O'Neal makes a big return from being chronically injured, and Stephen Jackson will try to stop shooting people. IF 2 of those 3 go right, this is definitely a playoff team. Not to mention more PT and maturity for 2nd year forward Danny Granger, and as little reliance as possible on Jamaal Tinsley would also be a good thing.

5. Orlando Magic, Southeast (36-46)
Over/Under 38.5 wins: WAY OVER

Yeah I'm in love with Dwight Howard. Deal with it. The New Moses Malone will add more offense to his already stellar game, and we might even see more from Darko this year than just waving a towel on the bench and giving awkward hi-5's to guys as they're coming off the court. Grant Hill might be healthy (ok so his chances of being healthy are as good as Horatio Sans chances of leaving SNL and being a movie star), and Jameer Nelson will continue the rebirth of the point guard in the NBA. What's Orlando missing? Vince Carter, that's what. This is the best team in the East with Vince. Where will he go in free agency next summer? Probably Charlotte. Too bad.

4. New Jersey Nets, Atlantic (49-33)
Over/Under 46.5 wins: OVER

Just not sure about this team. I think Jason Kidd's play will drop this year, and although Marcus Williams has looked good in preseason, is he really ready to handle a lot of NBA minutes? We'll see. Richard Jefferson is consistent (well as long as he's not playing for Team USA that is), and Vinsanity's in a contract year, so he should be a monster. Still they have little to nothing in the post, and still no real depth coming off the bench. All of that should be good for an easy division title in the worst division in the league, but I'm not even sure they get out of the first round.

3. Miami Heat, Southeast (52-30)
Over/Under 51 wins: UNDER

Well I've already pissed off Pistons fans, so why not continue with Heat fans too? Although really everyday in Miami it's 80, sunny, there's a nice beach, there's a lot of pretty plastic girls down there, AND your team are the defending champs, so how upset can you really get as a Heat fan? They had the perfect storm to win it last year, where EVERYTHING (including the commish's office demanding Dallas be called for fouls on DWade as soon as he got of bed in the morning) went right for them. This year? Yeah not so much. The only 3 guys you can really count on doing more of what they did last year are Wade, Udonis Haslem and James Posey. Everybody else is a wildcard heading into the season. GP and Zo were running on fumes last year, so I'm not sure how much they contribute this season- and remember, it was Payton not Jason Williams, who was getting the crunchtime minutes in the playoffs. JWill and Employee #8 played nicey-nice to get a ring, but I have a hard time believing they'll buy in again. And Shaq? He might as well wear a Hawaiian shirt for a jersey and sip mai tai's during timeouts (I got a maitai but I ordered a margarita. And I asked for no salt. NO SALT but there were big grains of salt on the rim). What else does the man have to prove? More importantly, what else does the man WANT to prove? History shows dominant centers DO NOT get better once they hit their early 30's, especially 7'1, 350 pound former dominant centers who haven't been in shape for the regular season the past 4+ years, got his title without Kobe, and has a nice fat contract in one of the countries coolest cities. You tell me, what does Shaq have left to prove? Heat fans will be lucky to see him repeat last year's averages of 20 pts and 9.2 boards a night. I hope DWade was working on his shoulders in the offseason, because he's going to be carrying this team all year.

2. Chicago Bulls, Central (41-41)
Over/Under 48.5 wins: OVER

See here's an example of where chemistry matters, and where when everybody buys in, they're a pretty damn good team. I think the Bulls are clearly behind Dallas, San Antonio and Phoenix in the West (and maybe the Clips and Lakers too for that matter), but in the East they should be fighting for top spot. This was already a hungry scrappy team that played solid fundamental basketball (and yet were somehow strangely enjoyable to watch), and now they get a guy in Ben Wallace who does more of those things. Big Ben's got a chip the size of the Hancock Tower on his shoulder, and the rest of the Bulls think they should have beat Miami in the opening round series last year, so motivation will not be an issue. These guys will run, D up, and will win 50+ games. They're still missing a go-to scorer (although I think in the right circumstances Ben Gordon can be that guy), or at least a go-to post scorer, but even if they don't make a move at the deadline, they'll be in the hunt for the Finals. Well at least until the semi's or conference finals when suddenly anytime a guy in a Bulls uniform so much as thinks about breathing they call a foul on him and send Lebron or DWade to the line. But hey until then, enjoy Bulls basketball.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers, (50-32)
Over/Under 49 wins: OVER

This isn't as much about Lebron, as it is his supporting cast. Here's a list of things that went right for the Cavs last year: Lebron and Side Show Bob. A list of things that went wrong: everything else. AND THEY STILL WON 50 FREAKING GAMES!!!! And in a tougher conference last year with better teams!! We know Lebron will be better (which might be the scariest thought of any this Halloween. I mean good gawd, how good can this kid be?!?!) and his teammates can't be any worse. THeir big free agent signings last year were all terrible. Larry hughes because of injury and Damon Jones because of well, maybe he was worried more about his fashion sense than shooting %. I don't know, but he was awful. Donyell Marshall? No explanation either but he was unwatchable. Drew Gooden was mostly hurt or mostly inconsistent and Big Z's main contributions were a neck beard and looking European (and by the way, I STILL think they should have moved him in the offseason. He does not fit their style at all, takes touches away from Lebron, and well, did you see the guy's playoff neckbeard? Cavs fans were getting trapped in it on his way to and from the locker room! It was a travesty. A Sham-trave-mockery!) So Lebron will be better, his team will be better, and with homecourt advantage and Stern and the refs on their side throughout the playoffs, I don't see how the Cavs aren't in the NBA Finals this season.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Jeff: NBA Preview The Third: The East

If the National League is being called AAAA baseball (and of course an 83 win team from the Senior Circuit looks primed to win the World Series) in the NBA what do we call the East? The NBDL II? NBDL Sr? NCAAA? Unlike the West, where there are at least 3 elite teams, there's not one here. Not one. And yes Heat and Piston fans, I realize that both Miami and Detwah are still in the conference. Let me say again: NOT ONE SINGLE ELITE TEAM IN THE EAST!!! But somebody has to win it, and chances are that one of those somebodies will win the NBA Title. Why? Because of the 1-on-5 playoff factor and that the East has two of the best players in the league in Lebron James and Dwyane Wade and David Stern and the refs LOVE superstars. Just love 'em. Mark it down, one of those two gentlemen will be in the Finals. You'll have to wait till tomorrow to find out which one. First, the non-playoff teams in the East (and by the way, according to my calculations if we seeded the playoffs as the 16 best teams in the league regardless of conference, the NBDL2 would get 4 teams, maybe 5. Seriously.)

As an added bonus for the NBDLEast preview, I'll be throwing in each team's Vegas win projections for the upcoming season. The idea here is to pick the over or under for how many wins Vegas predicts a team will get. Who doesn't LOVE playing the Over/UNder game? Exactly! Keep in mind Vegas sets odds and projections like this to get as much action as possible on both the overs AND unders for each team. So for example the defending NBA Champion Miami Heat are predicted to win 51 games. The Vegas wiseguys might not necessarily believe Miami will win 51 games this year, that's just the number they think will get the most people betting on both sides. Remember, Vegas makes money by you losing money.

Two from the East that really surprised me: Detroit at 50.5 and Cleveland at 49. Let's just say that if I were a betting man, I'd be betting the farm on the over for one and the under for the other. You'll find out soon enough which one's which. And oh by the way, no team in the league was predicted to win 60 games. Miami was predicted to win the most in the East at 51, and in the West Dallas had the most at 56, with Phoenix and San Antonio right behind at 55.5. Alright on with it then!

15. Atlanta Hawks, Southeast Division (2005 record 26-56)
Over/Under 28.5 wins: UNDER

I mean, what can you say about the Hawks? Well other than more people in Atlanta would show up to hear Gilbert Gottfried read the phone book than watch a Hawks game. It's that bad. They had a great trading chip in Al Harrington. He was the only young-allstar-caliber player available this summer, and what did the ATL get for him? Draft picks, and considering that lately they've used draft picks on Shelden Williams and guys not named Chris Paul, that's not a good sign. And before all 4 Hawks fans who still give a damn start saying they've got the best chance to win the Greg Oden sweepstakes, let me say this: the worst team never gets the 1st pick (see every draft since 2000 when the Nets got KMart) and even if you DID get the 1st pick with your luck Oden would either go back to school or more likely, come out and the Hawks would draft another small forward. Draft time for Hawks fans, or really just being a Hawks fan, must be a lot like Will Hunting getting a beating from his foster dad: he'd just lay out a wrench, a belt, or Gilbert Godfried and say choose. I think Gilbert's supposed to be reading at the Barnes & Noble in Buckhead on Thursday! Go Hawks!

14. Philadelphia 76ers, Atlantic (38-44)
Over/Under 34 wins: UNDER

In one of the most intriguing races in decades, we're now essentially down to 2. What race is that you ask? Why who can be the most incompetent NBA GM the longest of course! It's been a 4 horse race for awhile, but Isiah Thomas in NYC and Billy Knight in Hotlanta should be out of jobs by this time next year. That leaves us with Minnesota's Kevin McHale (and believe me, my money's on him) and Philly's Billy King. It's hard to choose right now, really. Both men have done an excellent job of putting the most over-paid non-talented players around a superstar, and both have made some awful trades, but McHale really excels when it comes to drafting. His draft record is uglier than me in a speedo. Knight's strength is killing his cap with a ballooning payroll, which at $94 million, is 2nd highest in the league. Sure he could have dealt Allen Iverson this summer for relief and a chance to start over, but why ruin a good thing? Not when you've got Sam Dalembert and Kyle Korver locked in until 2036. Chris Webber? He's owed $43 million over the next 2 years. And hey to top it all off, King is paying almost $18 million this season to Jamal Mashburn and Todd McCulloch, two guys who've been out of the NBA for years! Yes it's a race that should go right down to the finish folks, so don't miss it! For Sixers fans, um yeah, you might want to miss it.

13. Toronto Raptors, Atlantic (27-55)
Over/Under 34 wins: UNDER

Sorry but I'm just not buying the Raptors hype. I know Bryan Colangelo helped put together that fiesty Phoenix Suns squad, and that now the Raptors are supposed to be Phoenix East (well except for the difference in climate, currency, and number of times somebody will yell "take off eh!" when you knock over their beer). Although I think Bryan's on the right track and the team could be better, last time I checked the Raps don't have Steve Nash. Or Shawn Marion. Or Amare Stoudamire. Or Raja Bell, Barbosa, or the rest of the Suns roster. Is Chris Bosh one of the game's most underrated players? Definitely, and Bargnani should be a good rookie. But otherwise there's just not much talent here, and even in the NCAAA that's not going to be good enough. And TJ Ford? Yes he's quick and likes to run, but he can't shoot, doesn't pass as well as Nash (nobody does but just throwing it out there) and he breaks easier than a soda cracker. They're going in the right direction and Colangelo will have them in the playoffs soon enough, but not this year.

12. Charlotte Bobcats, Southeast (26-56)
Over/Under 32.5 wins: OVER

Speaking of teams that are going in the right direction, the Bobs (or the Shats. Yeah I like the Shats better) have amassed some good young talent and could put together a nice season. They don't have anyone as good as Bosh, but with Emeka Okafor, Sean May, Ray Felton, and Adam Morrison they not only have the college allstars, but a young nucleus that will make some noise this year. And don't forget about the league's most underrated player, Gerald Wallace. I think these kids will be 10 wins better (think about it: they won 26 last year with Okafor and May out for most of the year. Wallace had to play center!!) at least, but with youth comes inexperience. Morrison will be the scorer they've craved, but for all the game-winners and big baskets he'll score, he'll have some 2-11 shooting nights too. Ray Felton could be an allstar this year, and May and Okafor are a formidable low-post combo. If they can find a solid veteran leader (i.e. NOT Vince Carter) and add one more lottery pick next offseason this is a dangerous team for 2007, and one that at the very least will be fun to watch for 2006- if you're not blinded by the blaze-orange jerseys first. Good lord those things are uglier than Morrison's stache.

11. New York Knicks, Atlantic (23-59)
Over/Under 31 wins: OVER

What would I do if I coached the Knicks this year (obviously I'm not qualified because I haven't bankrupted a semi-pro league and decimated a Canadian basketball franchise, as well as America'a most storied one, but bear with me)? I'd give half my roster the "Tim Thomas": last year the Bulls sent Thomas home. They told the guy they've got no room for somebody with his attitude and sent him home (again Clippers fans, THIS is the guy you'll be seeing at Staples Center. Not the one from the playoffs last year. I'm not sayin I'm just sayin). Marbury, Francis, Jalen Rose, Mo Taylor, and Jerome James- send them all home. Curry, and Crawford,you're on notice. Channing Frye, David Lee, Jared Jeffries, REnaldo Balman and Nate Robinson are your future, and the further you keep the cancers away from these kids, the better. And I know, I know I KNOW!!! Knick fans wouldn't stand for it. Well let me tell you something: ALL those guys I'd send home are "Me First" guys, and no matter how talented they are, they're not taking you to the playoffs because they refuse to play together. PLay them all and you're not going to the playoffs. Send them home and you're not going to the playoffs but your young guys get better. You tell me which option is better. And I don't believe for one second The Cancers will rally around Isiah. No way. They're getting huge guaranteed dollars. That's all they care about. If they didn't rally last year, they won't do it this year. But since Isiah brough in all the Me Firsts, they'll play and they'll probably get close to 40 wins and the playoffs, but not close enough.

10. Washington Wizards, Southeast (42-40)
Over/Under 39.5 wins: UNDER

DO NOT doubt Gilbert Arenas. Not for a second. The man loves revenge more than Chuck Norris, Rambo and Max Cady combined. Last year the East coaches didn't vote him as an allstar reserve, so he spent the 2nd half of the season putting on camoflauge and a red bandana and made it his personal mission to make those coaches pay for what they did to him in Nam! Now he got cut by Team USA this past summer. Who's on his revenge list? USA Hoops director Jerry Colangelo? Coach K? Every player on the roster? Try every damn person who gets in his way, that's who! You think you're better than Gilbert? You think Gilbert's not good enough? You think Gilbert's going to take this! You'll get what's coming to you! And you'll get it good!!!
Too bad the rest of the guys on the Wiz don't care this much. If they did they might be a playoff team. In the meantime Colangelo, Coach K and hell every single one of you better watch your back! Gilbert says you'll pay!

9. Milwaukee Bucks, Central (40-42)
Over/Under 40.5 wins: UNDER

Have I mentioned I'm really starting to like Milwaukee? A great baseball town (whose team needs to go back to the old jerseys), good beer, lots of brats, grown men wearing mustaches like it's 1973, hell there's even a river running through town out to Lake Michigan. It's really growing on me. I just wish I could say the same for the Bucks. The jerseys are new and yet old at the same time, and really that's Bucks basketball for you. They've got the big white center (or BWC as I like to call them. A Bucks staple. Somewhere Brad Lohaus and Frank Brickowski are smiling), no stars, and a bunch of guys who hustle and do all the little things- well except Charlie Villaneuva who is as new to the concept of effort as Katie Holmes is to the idea of "natural birthing." I think he's accepting the idea about as well too. Oh and just for spice the Bucks have registered sex offender Rueben Patterson too. Does he have to walk around to every fan at every game and tell them his name and what's he done? Ok that was just mean. Sorry, not enough beer or brats this morning. I get cranky like that. I have no other real analysis (why start now?) here. The Bucks will be good, but not good enough to make the playoffs.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

JEff: NBA West Part Deux

8. GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS, Pacific Division (05-06 record: 34-48)
This is all Don Nelson- well ok mostly Don Nelson. He's won here before and has won everywhere he's been, and this current Warriors team will respect that. I still haven't figured out why teams don't just hire a psychologist as their coach, and then get some assistants to do the X's and O's stuff. I mean, NBA coaching is 90% babysitting and 10% X's and O's. EVERYBODY in the league is talented, it's just a matter of chemistry and getting millionaires with guaranteed contracts to give a sh*t every night. Why couldn't you hire a guy with a psych degree (a basketball background would be preferred but not mandatory), and give him an assistant coach with a name like "Wex Tinters" and Wex could come up with some crazy offense with a shape name like "The Octagon" or "The Rectangle" or maybe even "The Triangle". Then Psych Coach can coddle and baby all the players and Wex tells him all the plays to run. Just make sure Psych and Wex go to a team with 2-previously-uncoachable superstars. I think this combo could be worth, what- 8? Maybe 9 championships? Just a thought.

7. LA CLIPPERS, Pacific (47-35)
I think the Arizona Cardinals choked against the Bears MOnday NIght because really, what would happen to the planet if the Clips make the playoffs 2 straight years AND the Cardinals start looking functional? Would the sky turn red and rain frogs? Would the seas boil? Would Jessica Simpson become intelligent? I just don't think the world's ready for the Clips AND Cards to be good. I have trouble believing the Clips will equal their 47 wins from a year ago. Yes they should get a whole season out of Corey Magette, Chris Kaman is a good center, and Shaun Livingston (if the kid would ever learn to shoot) could be the conference's breakout player. But Elton Brand can't possibly duplicate last year's MVP-like numbers, Sam Cassell will be the unmotivated "non-contract-year" Sam Cassell (and oh by the way he's 37), Cuttino Mobley's already 31, and they replaced the outside shooting of Vlad Radmonovic with Tim Thomas. Chances of seeing the Tim Thomas from the postseason instead of the one that he's been the rest of his career with a fat contract? Let's just say the Royals are going to the World Series before that happens.

6. LA LAKERS, Pacific (45-37)
I don't particularly like Kobe Bryant, and apparently I'm not alone. I read in Sports Illustrated's NBA preview issue (I needed something to do on my lunchbreak) that Kobe has the 6th highest "negative Q" rating in all of sports (the top 5? Barry Bonds, Terrell Owens, Ron Artest, Peyton Manning and Bode Miller. OK I made Peyton up because I couldn't think of the 5th one). Before being very unsurprised that Kobe was on this list, I wondered who voted on this and why have I not seen this kind of thing before? I don't read SI's print copies much anymore, so maybe I missed this, but did they publish a whole list of who has the highest and lowest Q ratings? Because THAT'S a list I'd want to see! Anyway, despite my dislike for Kobe I still believe he's the best all-around player in the league (if Lebron wants that title he'd better start playing D), and that he alone is worth a playoff spot. Surround him with a good 2nd banana in Lamar Odom and a developing supporting cast, and this will be a VERY feisty team come playoff time.

5. HOUSTON ROCKETS, Southwest (34-48)
Why aren't more people talking about the Curse of Tracy McGrady? The guy goes to Orlando along with Grant Hill and they look to be a dynasty in the making. Of course Hill's foot explodes while T-Mac carries the team for a few years, and he finally forces a trade to a contender with another superstar, Yao Ming. Another dynasty in the making, right? Of course not. T-Mac's back becomes worse than Rockstar Supernova and the Rockets limp to a spot in the lottery. So do things finally change this year? I just don't see it. Sure, IF T-Mac's healthy for all 82 and Yao plays like a house-a-fire (and stays healthy), this could be the best team in the West. But bad backs are like annoying ex's- they just don't go away, and I can't see McGrady playing more than 65. The Battier addition was good (I'd like to tell you they'll regret trading Rudy Gay but I can't. He'll either be great or a journeyman. THere's no in between), and Bonzi was a steal, but I'm still not sure they have enough shooting, a point guard, or depth for if/when McGrady goes down.

4. DENVER NUGGETS, Northwest (44-38)
Ok ok I'll admit it: I have a man-crush on Carmelo Anthony. He's my favorite player in the league to watch right now, and I think he makes the superstar-leap this year. In the only Timberwolves game I attended last year, I watched him torch the Wolves for 30, including the game-winner on an impossible fade-away 3 from the corner. I STILL believe he's more Bernard King than Glenn Robinson. I do agree with the pundits who said that his dominance in the World Championships this summer was due to the fact his game translates better to the international game than the NBA. However, I also think that experience and further bonding with Bronbron and Dwade will get the competitive fire burning more than ever. Wade's got a title. Lebron looks on the cusp. Melo does not want to be left behind. The Nuggs division title hopes rest largely on other factors however: one is low-post health. For Marcus Camby (used to be mentioned in the same sentence as Fred Taylor and Grant Hill when it came to frailness) and Nene (missed all of last year with knee injury) it's physical health. For Kenyon Martin, it's mental. The other factor is getting something- ANYTHING!- out of the shooting guard spot. The Nuggs may have stole JR Smith from the Bulls. I say MAY because the kid has the talent to be a star, but he hasn't proven yet he's got the desire. This is where Melo's leadership will be needed more than ever.

3. PHOENIX SUNS, Pacific (54-28)
One of these days I'll have to delve into "The Curse of the Power Forward." Think about it, starting with Lenny Bias' death we've seen at least 4 transcendent talents at power forward fizzle in the L: Bias, Derrick Coleman, Chris Webber, and Shawn Kemp. All had ridiculous game but for one reason or another they never lived up to their mountainous potential. I'm worried we could be adding Amare Stoudamire to that list soon. "Micro-fracture surgery" has become the scariest phrase in basketball, especially for a guy like Amare who depends so much on explosiveness. The guy who before his surgery I had rated as one of the top 3 guys in the league I'd start a team around, now is fighting just to play again. Personally, I think Stoudamire never fully returns to his pre-injury form. For Phoenix, even if they get Amare at 80% of what he was, they're the best team in the league. However, I don't think you're going to get even 80% of him for a full 82 games. Not only will he be trying to work his knee back in shape, you're now trying to work a guy back into your offense that needs the ball. With 2-time MVP Stevie Nash (seriously that's STILL surreal to type- and keep in mind I'm Canadian, you hosers!) running the show, sharing shouldn't be a problem, but it's the small stuff like this that can tweak a team's chemistry just enough to change things. If Amare's back to 80% by the end of the year, this is the favorite come playoff time, but I have my doubts that happens this year- or ever. The other thing working against Phoenix? Nash cut his hair. Has he not heard the story of Sampson?

2. SAN ANTONIO SPURS, Southwest (63-19)
Honestly, I've got them in 2nd only because of the "nobody's had the conference's best record 2 years in a row" thing. Tim Duncan had an "off" year by his standards, Manu was never quite himself, and Big Shot Bob's age might have finally caught up with him. And they STILL won 63 games!!!! Duncan will have a monster comeback, Manu will be feisty and annoying as ever, and I'm sure teams will inexplicably continue to guard Tony Parker like he has a jumpshot (even though he obviously doesn't), allowing him to drive and slash and dish and score. I hate the Spurs, but this is my pick to win the whole thing- which means another boring, methodical NBA Finals. Oh well, at least it will mean plenty of shots of Eva Longoria. Mmmmmmmmm hi Eva.

1. DALLAS MAVERICKS, Southwest (60-22)
Well we'll definitely see what Dirk Diggler Nowitzki is made of now. He finally broke the Euro-stereotype of disappearing in the playoffs- well at least until the Finals. Dirk became human against the Heat, and that (well besides the fact the Mavs were getting called for fouls on Dwyane Wade the moment they got off the bus) was one of the main reasons a title eluded the Mavs. How do they respond? Will the be as fiery as ever? With the Little General Avery Johnson, I say yes. They resigned Jason Terry, which was HUGE for their chemistry, and these guys know what to expect now from each other and from a long playoff run. Dirk will be in the MVP-running again, Devin Harris SHOULD become a bigger factor, and with another deep bench the Mavs will have no shortage of scorers. By the way, LOVE the Maurice Ager pick. The Mavs are too deep for him to be in the rookie-of-the-year conversation, but he'll still be one of the league's best rooks from day 1. Still, I think the Spurs will be just a bit better when they meet in the conference finals.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Jeff: NBA West Preview Part I

Well here we go with the 3rd Annual MWSR NBA Preview. I'd like to say I'm a year older and a year wiser in making my predictions, but you know that's not true. A 4 part preview as before: non-playoff teams in the West, West playoff teams, and then the same for the East. We start with the 7 teams who won't be making the postseason, and who's only solace is knowing that all those teams except the one from Portland would be in the playoffs if they were in that other conference. Seriously. The West is that loaded.

Scarily enough, I did some research this year on the 7 seasons leading up to this one, from 1999-2000 to 05-06. Here's some things to keep in mind about the Western Conference:
* only two teams have made the playoffs the last 7 years: one's the Spurs, and I bet you won't get the other one (they won't make the playoffs this year, and are somewhere in today's preview, so you've got some time to ponder that because this is going to get wordy!). 4 others have made it at least 5 times.
* Never have more than 3 teams made the playoffs when they didn't make it the previous year, but there was always at least 1 new team every year. What does that tell you? That there's certainly parity in basketball, but not to the extent of football, where almost half the playoff field changes from year-to-year. In basketball one player can dominate a game more than in any other pro team sport, so it's not suprising that teams with dominant players stand a good chance of making the playoffs for as long as that guy is dominant (well unless of course that guy is Kevin Garnett and your GM is incompetent).
* No team has had the conference's top record two years running.
* The Don Stern refused to get rid of his moronic 3 division conference format, but he at least tweaked it a little bit. Unlike last year, where the Nuggets had the 6th best record but got the 3rd seed because they won their division, this year the division winner is guaranteed no worse than 4th. So if two teams from the same division (oh like say Dallas and San Antonio) have the 2 best records, they will get the top 2 seeds.
* Just for a point of reference, here's how the team's finished last year:

1. San Antonio* 63 19 0.768 0.0
2. Phoenix* 54 28 0.659 9.0
3. Denver* 44 38 0.537 19.0
4. Dallas 60 22 0.732 3.0
5. Memphis 49 33 0.598 14.0
6. L.A. Clippers 47 35 0.573 16.0
7. L.A. Lakers 45 37 0.549 18.0
8. Sacramento 44 38 0.537 19.0

9. Utah 41 41 0.500 22.0
10. NO/Oklahoma 38 44 0.463 25.0
11. Seattle 35 47 0.427 28.0
12. Houston 34 48 0.415 29.0
13. Golden State 34 48 0.415 29.0
14. Minnesota 33 49 0.402 30.0
15. Portland 21 61 0.256 42.0

On with the preview then...

15. PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS, Northwest Division (2005 record: 21-61)
Not sure how things get worse for Portland. They took one of the most passionate and loyal fanbases in the country and killed them with pot-smokin' gun-totin' dog-fightin' thugs who were much better at getting arrested than making the playoffs. Now owner Paul Allen is complaining about a horrible arena lease THAT HE WILLINGLY SIGNED, and wants to move the team. And the final straw was passing on Adam Morrison, a guy that would have actually brought fans back to the Rose Garden, for Lamarcus Aldrige, who I said last year and will continually say is soft and will make Sto Swift look consistent. The Brandon Roy pick was a good one, but they could have had him and Morrison. Just another day at the office for the Blazers.

14. MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES, Northwest (33-49)
KG had a good year last year, and this team still only won 33 games. Now they're counting on Mike James, who magically came alive during his free-agent-to-be year, and a rookie in Randy Foye to help Garnett carry this team back to the playoffs? Really? Have I mentioned they have NOTHING in the post and a $34 million dollar European nothing at point guard? Garnett could have an MVP year, James could average similar numbers to last year and Foye could win rookie of the year and they're STILL not going to the playoffs. Minnesotans, catch KG while you can because he won't be here next year. But don't worry, Kevin McHale probably will be.

13. OKLAHOMA CITY SONICS, Northwest (35-47)
Poor Howard Schultz. The Starbucks founder and BILLIONAIRE just couldn't doop the fine folks of the Emerald City into building him a brand new arena. So what'd he do? Slammed down his triple espresso skim latte in a hissy fit and sold the team in a huff to buyers in Oklahoma that will move the team down there in 2007. Oh and poor Howard, the guy who claimed the team was hemorraging money in Key Arena, got $250 million more than he paid for the Sonics. Thanks for ruining my basketball team, Howard. What's left is a decent core with Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis, and Chris Wilcox, but there's not enough front-court depth to keep this team in the playoff hunt. It'll also be hard for the guys to concentrate when the new owners are telling the players "no no you'll LOVE Oklahoma! We've got wind and rodeos! And cows! And cowboy hats! You'll love them!" Oklahoma will make Utah look like Vegas in comparison.

12. MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES, Southwest (49-33)
No Pau Gasol for the first two months means no playoffs for the Grizz. Even I can do that math. But as will be mentioned 9,482,765 times between now and draft day 2007, this is one of the best drafts in decades, so it's not the worst year to take a one year hiatus from the playoffs. Oh and quick, can you name another Grizzly besides Gasol? Didn't think so. Mike Skinny Miller will keep bombing threes, and the transition year should give good experience for rooks Rudy Gay and Kyle Lowery. Definitely a team with a bright future...well as bright as can be for a team that will be owned by Dukie's Christian Laettner and Brian Davis. Who else is in that ownership group? Alaa Abdulnaby, Thomas Hill, and Cherokee Parks?

11. NEW ORLEANS HORNETS, Southwest (38-44)
Here begins the list of 11 playoff teams in the Western Conference. The problem for 3 of them is: they're only taking 8. The Hornets were last year's surprise team, right in the playoff hunt before losing 11 of 14 in March to knock themselves out of contention. A good young team saw some breakout years from power forward David West, and Rookie-of-the-Year point guard Chris Paul. Now with the big additions of small forward Peja Stojakovic and center Tyson Chandler, the Hornets should be all set to continue their rise into the playoffs right? Wrong. New Orleans played over their heads for most of the year, and came back to earth late in the season. Chris Paul will be an allstar, and David West will be solid, but there's still way too many holes in this lineup. Bobby Jackson won't be as good for this team as the departed Speedy Claxton was, and although Peja Stojakovic is a nice addition on the perimeter, he's not the player he used to be, and brings nothing else to the table besides shooting and a beard. Tyson Chandler? People are acting like the Hornest picked up the next Bill Russell. Please. The guy averaged 6 pts, 9 rebs, and 1.5 blks last year. He's a decent NBA center but not a guy who's going to propel you into the playoffs. THe Hornets are going in the right direction and should be around the 40 win mark, but they'll miss the playoffs this year.

10. SACRAMENTO KINGS, Pacific (44-38)
Here's your trivia answer: yes the Kings have made the playoffs every year of this century, but it looks like that nice run will come to an end in 2007. They've got all-star caliber players in C Brad Miller, PG Mike Bibby, PF Shareef Abdur-Raheem, and of course SF Ron-Ron Artest. A couple of problems in Cali's Capital though: 1st is Artest. I LOVE Ron-Ron when he decides to play, but the guy is a walking circus, and you just can't count on him to behave for 82 games. 2nd was letting Bonzi Wells go. Was he asking for too much? Yes, but who are they going to have replace him? Wells carried the Kings in the 1st round, and almost upset the Spurs. Now he's gone to Houston, and the Kings are going to try and replace him with Francisco Garcia, who's a nice role player, but not an NBA starter. The 3rd problem is depth-- the Kings don't have any, especially in the front court where they have Kenny Thomas in a rotation with Miller and Shareef- and that's it! Injuries or fatigue will take its toll here. The Kings will be around .500, but just out of the playoffs, meaning the Maloof brothers will have more time to spend at their casino in Vegas. Not that they need it.

9. UTAH JAZZ, Northwest (41-41)
I REALLY want to put this team in the playoffs, and in the weak Northwest Division, where it's basically just them and Denver, they've got a good chance. They won 41 games last year while only getting 33 games out of PF Carlos Boozer, using a rookie point guard, and missing their best shooter, Matt Harpring for most of the year. That rookie, Deron Williams, looked much improved by year's end, and Harpring should be back at full strength for the opener. They also added an athletic SG in the draft in Corey Brewer, who should help fill a gaping hole at the 2guard (well that's IF they can get coach Jerry Sloan to trust a rookie). And I haven't even mentioned the NBA's best defender, SF Andre Kirilenko, or underrated C Memet Okur. So what's holding the Jazz back? Let me put it this way: they make the WNBA look athletic, and in a conference that's getting faster and will be running more than ever, that's a problem. There's nothing wrong with slow, methodical, fundamental basketball (other than being painful to watch), and should get the Jazz at least back to .500, but they just don't have enough fire power to run and gun in the wild West this year.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Jeff: Twins Extend Hunter for $12 Million

Your Hometown 9, those fiesty, pesky, pirahnas, the scrappy, gutty Little-Engine-That-Could have picked up the $12 million option on centerfielder Torii Hunter's deal that will keep him in Minnesota for 2007. As Strib baseball scribe La Velle E. Neal explains according to the language in the deal, Twins GM Terry Ryan had 5 days from the end of the Twins season to exercise option, and he chose to do so. Both sides may come to an agreement on a long-term deal over the winter, but we now know Hunter will be roaming centerfield under the big white plastic bag for at least one more summer.

My take? Ahem, I'll need a moment here...to remove my rather large foot from my rather large mouth...hold on...it's WAY in there...in the meantime don't forget to check out the Fire Glen Mason site...ok almost got it...WHEW! There it is! Hey thanks for your patience. Still a piece of shoelace down there but I'll tough it out.

Ok then, this was a move Terry Ryan had to make. Had to. I've been Hunter's biggest detractor since I found out late last year that this $12 million option was a possibility for 2007. I just didn't see the point in overpaying a 31-year-old centerfielder who's a .268 lifetime hitter that had never hit 30 HR's in a season. I especially didn't see a point in overpaying for a team with Carl Scrooge Pohlad calling the shots. When you've got a very limited budget (Pohlad's one of the richest men in baseball with a team in a top 15 market, yet the payroll is not in the top 15. I'll keep mentioning this as long as I have to), it might not be wise to overspend on a #6 or 7 hitter in your order who's calling card, his defense, is going to start to slip as he approaches his mid-30's. I still think he's overpaid, but it was a move Ryan had to make. Torii's loved in the clubhouse and in the community, he busts his ass every day he's out there, and although his defensive skills will start to slide as gets older, he's still an excellent outfielder and nobody knows the, shall we say, "intricacies" of playing the outfield in the quirky Metrodome.

It helps that he had a career year at the age of 31, which to some makes this extension a no-brainer. Here's his 2006 stats compared to his career #'s:
2006 .278/.336/.490 31/98/86
career .269/.323/.463 21/76/72

As you can see, his numbers are up across the board, and his HR/RBI/Runs totals are WAY up! Unless you're a lefthanded-hitting outfielder in the Bay Area who magically gains 30 pounds of muscle and an increase of like 8 inches in your hat size, you're not going to get better as you get into your 30's. Torii's much more likely to regress closer to his career averages next year than hit 30 HR's and hit over .275 again. As a matter of fact I'm willing to bet on it:

Torii WILL NOT hit 30 HR's AND hit over .275 again next year!!!! Write it down!

All of this isn't to make myself feel better for saying all along they shouldn't sign him to a big extension (ok maybe a little bit), it's just to say that Terry Ryan didn't give him the extension just because of his numbers. THey certainly helped, but Ryan knows what he's got in Hunter, and the team and players know, which is why he's coming back. Keeping this nucleus together is important, and although Torii's overpaid for an aging #6 or #7 hitter, he'll probably look like a bargain compared to what Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Lee will get in free agency this year.

I'll delve further into the Twins offseason in the next few weeks, but for now, this was a good move by the Twins. I just hope they don't stop here in looking for more hitting. Now if you excuse me, I have to go dislodge that shoelace.

Jeremy: "Fire Glen Mason" is back

Well, the loss to Penn State put me over the top. We were thinking about allowing the Fire Glen Mason blog to fall by the wayside, to go the way of the defunct if you will. But Saturday's game got my ire up again...
(And to respond to Jeffrick's query, it took me roughly 27 hours to begin to formulate a rational response to the Gopher's loss and to Mason's playcalling.)
Please visit Fire Glen Mason and share your opinions.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Jeff: The Monday Musings

One helluva sports weekend. Let's get to it...

New York Yankeess manager Joe Torre has won 4 World Series, more than any other active manager. He's won 1079 regular season games in his 11 years in the Bronx, that's an AVERAGE of 98 wins a year!!! Just think about that for a minute. He's great with his players and even better with the press, and yet today, Torre probably gets canned. Why? Because he hasn't won a title in 6 seasons. So it goes in New York.

I heard an explanation for why Torre's taking the fall today, and it was actually applied to Ty Willingham at Notre Dame (who, by the way, has my Washington Huskies at 4-2, and ALMOST pulled off the upset against USC). In college football, if you FEEL like a top 10 program (and feel's the key word there), then only a National Title will do. Ty Willingham's a good coach. I'm grinning ear-to-ear that he the Irish fired him, because he's going to do some good things at UDub. But ND felt like Willingham wasn't the best coach out there (Urban Meyer was. Remember that the next time a Golden Domer sings Weis' praises. He wasn't their first choice. Or 2nd. Or 3rd...Luck o' the Irish). Despite a very good record, both in the standings and academically, he wasn't in the title hunt every year, so he got the axe. Frank Solich averaged 9 wins a year at Nebraska and got fired. Ron Zook is the laughing stock of Gainesville. Know how many wins a year he averaged before the Gators pink-slipped him? 8. 90% of the college programs out there would kill for that. Not at Florida.

And the same applies for the Yankees. With the highest payroll in baseball, their goal is a World Series title. Every year. And because Torre hasn't won one in 6 years, they're going to find somebody else. Torre's the best manager in baseball, and Lou Piniella or whoever replaces him won't be as good. So it goes in New York.

1) Good Pitching Still Beats Good Hitting
The Yankees had the best hitting lineup ever. Ever. And they lost to Detroit. The Tigers pitching was awesome. Kenny Rogers had the game of his life, and maybe the most important game for the Tigers since 1984, with his win in game 2 in the Bronx. The Yankees pitching was suspect all year, and in the end it got them. Talk all you want about the Yankees payroll and that's why they won their 4 Titles. It also helped they had good starters and a lights out bullpen- something the Tigers seem to have now. And so do the A's. Should be a good series.

2) A-Rod will never, EVER win a World Series
I started saying this about 3 years ago, how A-Rod and Peyton Manning could go down as the greatest regular season performers ever in their sports- but they'll never win the Big One. With The Greatest Lineup In History around him, and no other Goliaths in the postseason, I thought A-Rod would prove me wrong this year. Nope. The guy just doesn't have "It". He just doesn't, and the Yankees know it now. Honest to goodness I think he gets moved in the offseason. I have no idea where he goes, but I think he will, for the same reason Torre's gone. He is the best player in baseball, but not in New York, and he hasn't produced AT ALL in the postseason. I know the Yanks are getting a good deal on his contract (Texas is STILL paying for a good chunk of it) but the guy was a huge distraction this year, and it seemed like he's lost the respect of some of this teammates. He proved this year he just can't handle the world's brightest media spotlight, and that he'd be better off being the game's highest paid player somewhere else. Where that somewhere else is, I don't know, but I'd be surprised if he's still in Pinstripes for spring training come March.

your Minnesota Golden Gophers football team. What an awful, awful loss. Bad enough that the Gophers kicker misses an extra point (the Sports Guy has made this comment, and for good reason: with all the bloody soccer players in the world, and we can't find 119 guys to consistently make extra points and 35 yd field goals in college?!?!?), but what's worse is he should have been off the hook. That pass intereference call on 4th down against Trumaine Banks was just plain lying. THERE WAS NO PASS INTERFERENCE!!! I'm not sure when Jer will be able to rationally talk about this. His hatred for Mason may have just eclipsed mine for Kevin McHale. Since I wasn't born into the Wolves, I have the option of no longer following them to maintain my sanity. Jer? Not so much. Hang in there fella.

Rosie O'Donnell in a bikini, or the Minnesota Vikings offense? GO GET JERRY PORTER! NOW! The Raiders season is finished and Porter, a big-play WR, can be had for pennies on the dollar. This offense stinks. Any defense can play the run AND the pass by simply bringing your safeties up 5 yards off the line of scrimmage. Why? Because Brad Johnson can't or won't throw it any farther than that. They have no weapons on offense. They've got less than 2 weeks to go get one before the trade deadline, or there'll be no playoffs for the Purple. By the way: that Buffalo team that beat the Vikes last week? Got demolished 40-7 by Chicago yesterday. Just keep that in mind.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Jeremy: Unfortunately...

*You gotta feel for Johan Santana and Boof Bonser. Both men pitched well enough to win the Twins first two playoff games, but unfortunately they got absolutely no run support. If you're like me you kept expecting the bats to come alive in game one, you were waiting to "smell those runs." But it just never happened. We saw a very short glimpse of it in game two with back to back homers from Cuddy and Morneauzy... but after that nothing.

*Nobody wants to blame the Game 2 loss on Torii, and really, they shouldn't. It's true, Torii botched the play, but you really can't blame him for his aggressive nature in the field on that play, because his aggressiveness is the very thing that has made him a Gold Glover for most of his career. Nope, Torii didn't lose the game for the Twinks. Like I said before, lack of run support for two great pitching outings lost these games. It's just unfortunate that Torii's error took the wind out of the proverbial sails.

*Lost in the Twins lack of offense and a couple of mistakes in the field has been the fact that the A's, baseball's best team in the second half of the season, is playing ridiculously solid ball. The reality is that the A's, in the first two games, have been beating the Twins at their own game. Solid starting pitching, good relief efforts, a little bit of power, and a little bit of small ball. Those are Twins trademarks, but this week they have so far been the Twins undoing.

*I'm fearful that with Brad Johnson at the head of the Vikings offense that they will continue to sputter throughout the year. I'm not blaming BJ for the Vikings woes, but it seems to me that with such mediocre talent at all of the offensive skill positions, a quarterback who can create some opportunities for people would be very valueable to Brad Childress. Brad Johnson is not that guy.

*The Gophers kept it close against Michigan last weekend, losing 28-14, and I have no idea how they did it. For the third time this season, in as many losses, the phrase "the score was not representative of how lopsided the game really was" applied beautifully. Just how the Gophers lost by just two touchdowns while the Wolverines had almost 200 yards more offense, and the Gophers converted only 3 of 12 third downs, I'll never know. The fact is that Michigan did exactly what it wanted to do with the ball all night long. The Wolverines came out on their first drive and ran six strait times, all to the left side, asserting their will on the Gophers, before they threw a pass. They then ran two more times to the left, before throwing into the endzone for a touchdown. It was as if they were saying to the Gophers "this is what we are going to do... try to stop us." They then came out on their second possession and I turned to Jeffrick and said "watch them run to the right every play this drive." Michigan proved me to be prophetic as they ran 4 strait times to the right. Although Michigan did not score on that drive, they still continued to run all night long, and run where they wanted, racking up 234 yards on the ground to go with 284 through the air.

*An interesting fact that I was not aware of came out while I was reading a Star Tribune article this week about the possibility that Glen Mason's staff may have used improper tactics after Gary Russell was dismissed from the U. To quote the article: "Mason's football program brings in more athletes with low standardized national college entrance exam scores than four other programs in the Big Ten, including Wisconsin and defending champion Ohio State."

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Jeff: The NBA is coming! The NBA is coming!

With Twins Fever sweeping the nation, the Vikings scoring less than and the Gophers football season essentially over, you know what that means: it's NBA preview time!!! Sure nobody but me cares or is all that interested, but we're gearing up for the 2006-07 season that could be the most wideopen in decades. Literally. The 3rd Annual MWSR NBA Preview is forth-coming, but first, some things you should know for the upcoming year...

This was one of the most boring offseasons in memory. The free agent crop was weak, and the draft, although deep with decent players, provided no impact guys. When guys like Al Harrington or Peja Stojakovic switching teams are considered the big moves of the summer, you know there just wasn't much available. Honestly, I was going to give you the 5 biggest/most important offseason moves, but I could only find 3! The teams you saw last year won't look much different on opening night.

Big Ben Wallace going to Chicago from Detroit was THE move of the offseason, but it actually made the conference worse, not better. East Coast fans will shout about how the East has won 2 of the last 3 titles, and they have the game's 2 best players in Lebron and DWade. While true, it can't hide how average the conference is, and once again how far behind the West they've fallen. Big Ben makes the Bulls better but it DOES NOT make them the favorites in the East (they're KG away from doing that). Losing Wallace in Detroit brings the Pistons back to the pack, now giving them no inside presence and still no bench. Miami got a year older, and since they were old to begin with, that means they got worse (and in Shaq's case, a LOT worse), so DWade is going to need the refs on his side more than ever to get the Heat back to the Finals.

For the first time in a long time there's no dominant team. There's no preseason juggernaut like the Spurs of past years or the Shaq/Kobe Lakers. 14 of the 15 teams out here have legitimate postseason aspirations. Seriously. They break down like this:
BEST RECORD: Dallas, San Antonio, Phoenix
THE 4th SEED: Houston, LA Clippers, LA Lakers
A PLAYOFF SPOT: Everbody else but Portland
Everybody's got issues, everbody's got flaws, so all the little things will make the biggest difference in who makes the playoffs out West. Oh and so does David Stern's stupid 3 division format, meaning SOMEBODY in the Northwest has to make the playoffs.

I can't tell you how I know this, but I do: the regular season should be the most fun to watch since the mid '80's. Stern's going to give hardcore basketball fans like me the run and gun beauty of how basketball should be played in the regular season. Thanks to Mike D'Antoni, Steve Nash, and the Phoenix Suns, the point guard, play-making and the fast break has become relevant again. With the success of Dallas' wide-open attack, more teams will be going that route this season, including Toronto, Milwaukee, and Chicago out East. With only one true dominant center left in the game (surprise! It's Yao, not Shaq), teams are finally realizing that putting their best 5 guys on the floor and going is a recipe for success. Well at least until the postseason, that is...

Because when the playoffs roll around we're going back to the 1-on-5 basketball we saw Miami play last year. Stern knows that superstars still drive his ratings. High scoring basketball is all well and good but for average or casual fans to watch in the playoffs, Stern knows you need DWade or Shaq or Lebron or Kobe. And he'll get them. Wade and King James will be parading to the free-throw stripe like the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. The East is so watered down this year, I am GUARANTEEING either Miami or Cleveland goes to the Finals this year. That's right, you're getting an iron-clad MWSR guarantee. Wade and Lebron are two megawatt stars on average teams. In the West they'd be fighting to get in, but in the East they'll be battling for a spot in the Finals. Actually, do you want me to ruin the ending, and tell you who'll be representing the East? Hint: he'll be assuming the throne as the "King" of the NBA.

That one guy would be Mr. Kevin Garnett. Although the Wolves have a playoff shot because of their division, a LOT has to go right for them to have a chance, and I just don't see all of it coming together. For KG's sake, hopefully he realizes that this is his best year to win a championship somewhere else. This coming summer there'll be plenty of free agents and impact kids in the draft so the NBA landscape will look dramatically different a year from now. Wolves VP Kevin McHale is too gutless to deal Garnett because it will prove what most of already know: McHale's tenure running the Wolves has been a complete failure. He's had 11 seasons to put a quality team around his Garnett and he hasn't done it. They're further away from a championship now than when Garnett came to the Wolves in '95. So he'll hang onto his superstar until he forces his way out. IF KG forces a trade by the deadline, teams will line up with offers because in a wide-open season, a player of Garnett's caliber could vault a ton of teams into the Finals. The Bulls are the most obvious example, as he's the perfect fit there AND they have the draft picks/young players/cap room to make it work. KG in Chicago automatically makes them the best team in the East. Still, I see McHale locking himself in his North Oaks mansion until season's end, his eyes closed and hands over his ears, pretending the KG era in Minnesota isn't over. It is, and if KG forces a trade by the deadline, it's going to make this wide-open year even more exciting.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Jeff: It's a Twins Town Now!

Do we even need to review the Vikings or Gophers losses? If you read this site Friday, you'd have known it was going to happen. The Gophs season is essentially over, and if the Vikings don't find a way to get some offensive touchdowns, there's could be as well. But the Twins? My goodness the Twins!

This just feels like the year of destiny, doesn't it? I've been sitting here all morning trying to rationalize their strengths and weaknesses, but what this team has done and is still capable of doing defies logic. There's really no other way to say it. Tied with the Tiggers going into the weekend, I would have said a Gopher win over Michigan was more probable than the Tigers getting swept by the Royals, a team I pointed out on Friday (as did everybody else) that were just OWNED by Detroit. And yet it happened. The Twins took 2 of 3 from a White Sox team that had to feel like it was playing in the Twilight Zone instead of the Metrodome. They had a playoff team down there on the SouthSide, and a team that on paper was better than the Twins or Tigers, yet they'll be watching the playoffs from home instead of defending their title. And I think that's the point: it takes more than talent to win a World Series. You have to have luck and chemistry, and since June the Twins have had a ton of both.

The chemistry, with the "Smell those Runs" campaign started by backup catcher Mike Redmond, is the best in baseball. Seeing them on the field after the game, watching the Jumbotron to await the DEtwah/KC finish, they just looked like a team of guys that really liked each other and really got along. The Yankees are unquestionably the best team in the postseason. That shouldn't be argued by anyone. They have flaws, sure, but that offense alone is enough to overcome any pitching woes they have. But don't they seem like a bunch of hired guns forced to work together? Like every guy there wants to win for himself (well other than Jeter), not for the other guys in the room? Sure there's an "I" in Minnesota, but there's also t-e-a-m!
And that's what gives your hometown 9 as good a chance as anybody to win their first World Series since 1991.

Now back to logic. DO NOT, for one second, take this Oakland team lightly! I know the Twins won't, but I worry there's a lot of fans out there who are already dreaming about a Twins/Yankees ALCS (let's be honest, if the Tiggers take a game, I'd be surprised. I won't bore you with the breakdown but they don't match up well at all with the Yankees. Not that anyone does, but you know). Don't. Worry about the guys in Green and Gold first, because they're a very good team and have been just as hot as the Twins down the stretch. This is a Billy Beane "Moneyball" team to a tee: solid pitching, good defenders, and patient hitters. Their lineup doesn't get much respect (then again neither does the Twins outside the Land O' Lakes), and the only offensive category they're better than MInnesota in is homeruns (and this isn't exactly the Reggie Jackson A's of the 1970's or the Steroid Boys of McGwire and Canseco), but they've still got some veteran hitters that can hurt you.

The Twins have baseball's best bullpen (scroll halfway down this column by Jason Stark to see other teams raving about the Twins pen), but the A's have starting pitching, something the Twins are very thin on. Both clubs fit the "Little Engine that Could" tag, so it should be a great series, but the A's don't have Santana, Mauer, Morneausy (who, by the way, was sporting a Todd Bertuzzi Vancouver Canucks t-shirt during postgame fesitivities. Kind of brings a tear to the eye watching the local kid), or any ability to "Smell those Runs" so the Twins get the edge.

HOWEVER, Minnesota has to win the opener tomorrow. Let me repeat that: they HAVE TO WIN THE OPENER. And just because Santana's on the hill tomorrow, doesn't make Game 1 a gimme. Zito is not only a lefty, which makes it tough on Mauer and Morneau, but he's also a soft-tosser, which seems to give the Twins fits this year (see Redman, Mark as an example). As Buster Olney points out in his blog (I'd link to it but if you don't have Insider there's no point), if Zito gets the fastball over for strikes early, he's going to make life difficult on Twins hitters because his big curveball, maybe baseball's best, becomes almost unhittable.

The pen will be the key here, and as Olney also points out, not only is the Twins pen better, but the A's don't have a lefty to neutralize the M&M Boys. If the Twins can get to Zito early, or at least battle him and get him out by the 5th or 6th, their chances look pretty good.

OF course as this Twins team proved over the weekend, they don't worry too much about logic or matchups or strengths and weaknesses: they just go out and win. And they're 11 more away from a World Series Title, no matter how improbable that may seem.