Saturday, August 21, 2010

NCAA College Football Predictions 2010

Since I'm never one to let my opinions go unheard, I decided to post up my predictions for this coming college football season. More than anything else, I just enjoy talking about college sports. Plus, if any of these are right, I can say I told you so. While if they're wrong-- like any other self-respecting sportswriter-- I'll just claim that preseason predictions mean absolutely nothing. Sound good?

Below will be a list of the top four teams per conference (save MAC, Sun Belt & WAC), just so you can get a sense of how I see things panning out. I'll also list my top 25, as well as BCS bowl predictions.

1. Miami (FL) (8-0) (11-1)
2. Boston College (7-1) (11-1)
3. Georgia Tech (7-1) (10-2)
4. Virginia Tech (5-3) (8-4)

Big 12
1. Nebraska (8-0) (12-0)
2. Texas (7-1) (11-1)
3. Oklahoma (7-1) (11-1)
4. Missouri (6-2) (10-2)

Big East
1. Pittsburgh (7-0) (10-2)
2. West Virginia (6-1) (10-2)
3. Cincinnati (5-2) (9-3)
7. Syracuse (2-5) (5-7) *had to put my alma mater on here somewhere

Big Ten
1. Ohio State (8-0) (12-0)
2. Wisconsin (7-1) (11-1)
3. Penn State (7-1) (10-2)
4. Iowa (6-2) (10-2)

1. Houston (8-0) (11-1)
2. ECU (7-1) (9-3)
3. SMU (7-1) (8-4)
4. UCF (6-2) (8-4)

Navy (10-2)
Notre Dame (8-4)
Army (6-6)

1. Temple (8-0) (10-2)

1. TCU (8-0) (12-0)
2. Utah (7-1) (11-1)
3. BYU (6-2) (10-2)
4. Air Force (5-3) (7-5)

1. Oregon State (9-0) (10-2)
2. Oregon (7-2) (10-2)
3. USC (7-2) (10-2)
4. Arizona (6-3) (8-4)

1. Georgia (8-0) (12-0)
2. Alabama (7-1) (11-1)
3. Florida (6-2) (10-2)
4. LSU (6-2) (10-2)

Sun Belt
1. Troy (8-0) (10-2)

1. Boise State (8-0) (12-0)

Predicted Final Top 25
1. Ohio State (Big Ten)
2. Boise State (WAC)
3. Alabama (SEC)
4. Miami (FL) (ACC)
5. Nebraska (Big 12)
6. Georgia (SEC)
7. Oklahoma (Big 12)
8. Wisconsin (Big Ten)
9. Boston College (ACC)
10. Texas (Big 12)
11. TCU (MWC)
12. Houston (CUSA)
13. LSU (SEC)
14. Florida (SEC)
15. Oregon State (Pac-10)
16. Penn State (Big Ten)
17. Pittsburgh (Big East)
18. Iowa (Big Ten)
19. West Virginia (Big East)
20. Utah (MWC)
21. Arkansas (SEC)
22. Oregon (Pac-10)
23. BYU (MWC)
24. Missouri (Big 12)
25. Cincinnati (Big East)

BCS Bowl Games
Rose- Wisconsin over Oregon State
Orange- Miami (FL) over Pittsburgh
Fiesta- Boise State over Texas
Sugar- Alabama over TCU
National Title- Ohio State over Nebraska

Ryan Mallet, QB/Arkansas

Monday, June 14, 2010

NCAA Division 1-A (FBS) Less-Than-Super Conference Realignment

Now that everything has sort of slowed down on the conference expansion front (we all knew Utah was going to the Pac-10 for the past three days at least), we can proceed to sit back and examine what's happened, and what will happen as a result. The Pac-10 has 12 teams. The Big Ten has 12 teams. The Big 12 has 10 teams. The Mountain West has nine teams again. And the WAC is still in what outsiders have described as panic mode (understandably so). With that, I'll amend my post from last week, and realistically reexamine the issue of conference realignment as is currently presented, rather than the eight 16-team conference doomsday scenario. And yes, I'm much happier with this arrangement than what could have been (namely a disintegration of the Big East and its status as best basketball conference in the nation). Enjoy below:

Big Ten
East- Indiana, Ohio St., Michigan, Michigan St., Penn St., Purdue
West- Nebraska, Minnesota, Northwestern, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa
North- Washington, Washington St., Oregon, Oregon St., Utah, Colorado
South- Arizona, Arizona St., USC, UCLA, Stanford, California

Big 12
Kansas, Kansas St., Iowa St., Missouri, Oklahoma, Oklahoma St., Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Baylor

East- Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, South Carolina
West- Alabama, Arkansas, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi St., Auburn

Atlantic- Clemson, Boston College, Florida St., Wake Forest, North Carolina St., Maryland
Coastal- Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Duke, North Carolina, Miami (FL), Virginia

Big East (*football only)
East- Syracuse, Rutgers, Connecticut, South Florida, Navy*, Army*
West- Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Louisville, Memphis, UCF

Mountain West

North- BYU, Air Force, Wyoming, Colorado St., Boise St., Hawaii
South- TCU, Fresno St., Nevada, UNLV, New Mexico, San Diego St.

East- ECU, Southern Miss, Marshall, UAB, Louisiana Tech, Tulane
West- North Texas, Rice, UTEP, Tulsa, SMU, Houston

East- Ohio, Temple, Bowling Green, Kent St., Buffalo, Akron, Miami (OH)
West- C. Michigan, N. Illinois, W. Michigan, Toledo, Ball St., E. Michigan

Idaho, Utah St., New Mexico St., San Jose St., Sacramento St., Portland St., Montana St., Montana, UC-Davis

Sun Belt
Troy, Middle Tennessee St., La.-Monroe, La.-Lafayette, Arkansas St., FIU, Western Kentucky, South Alabama, Florida Atlantic

Further Expansion Explanations:

*The Big East could add Army and Navy as football-only counterparts (similar to their C-USA arrangement in the 90s-2004). Then UCF and Memphis to shore up the Orlando and Memphis markets, respectively. Basketball could and should toss DePaul and Seton Hall (DePaul much more likely than Seton Hall to fly with the other schools, of course).

*To try and gain back some of the numbers for BCS inclusion lost with Utah going to the Pac-10 (12), the Mountain West could add Hawaii. From there, they could either stay at 10, or grab Fresno St. and Nevada to both add more western destinations for Hawaii, and for UNLV and San Diego St. as well.

*Seeing the ship sinking around them, and realizing how little sense it made for them to be in the WAC in the first place, Louisiana Tech could go to C-USA to fill one of the holes left by UCF and Memphis's departure. The other whole could be filled by North Texas, who has spent $100 million on athletic renovations since 2004, and has always been out of place in the Sun Belt as the only Texas team. For both schools, travel costs would be reduced drastically.

*With just four teams left, the WAC could decide to bring in five teams to complete their membership. FCS powers Montana and Montana St. would be the top targets, along with Sacramento St., Portland St. and UC-Davis in order to grab some larger television markets (Sacramento, Portland and San Francisco, respectively). Another option would be re-merging with the Mountain West for the nation's lone superconference, but the MWC might not even take the four teams left in the scrap heap if it came down to it.

*After competing with eight teams for two years, the Sun Belt would (as scheduled) add South Alabama in 2013. Merging with the four remaining WAC teams really isn't an option due to travel logistics (the closest Sun Belt team would be in Louisiana-- not really an option).

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

NCAA Division 1-A (FBS) Superconference Realignment

I've decided to return from my blogging hiatus to weigh in on a topic that threatens to possibly shake the foundation of college sports as we know it. The talk about the seemingly imminent conference shakeup in the following weeks and months has become as omnipotent as its ramifications. Anyone involved in college sports, from players, coaches and administrators, to fans and bloggers have no choice BUT to care about each and every slight development, because no team will be unaffected if the dreaded "superconferences" become a reality. As an avid fan, and recent Syracuse alumnus, I can't help but also consider what it will mean for my school and its conference, the Big East. Though there is no doubt one or both will be shuffled in the aftermath, I've come up with a best-case solution for the conference and school, as well as the remaining entities as well. Check out my "least damage possible" eight superconference scenario below for the would-be 131 schools of Division I-A (FBS), and a possible postseason format to go with it. Also note that the only way this could ever shake out is if one of the biggest dominoes (Notre Dame) fails to fall. The next blog post will detail the restructured Division I-AA (FCS).

Big 16
East- Indiana, Michigan, Michigan St., Penn State, Ohio St., Purdue, Illinois, Northwestern
West- Iowa St., Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas, Kansas St., Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin

East- Arizona, Arizona St., Texas, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Baylor, Oklahoma St., Oklahoma
West- Washington, Washington St., USC, UCLA, Stanford, California, Oregon, Oregon St.

Mountain West
North- BYU, Utah, Boise State, Air Force, Wyoming, Colorado St., Colorado, Utah St.
South- TCU, UNLV, San Diego St., New Mexico, Nevada, New Mexico St., San Jose St., San Diego St.

East- Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Florida St., Miami (FL)
West- Alabama, LSU, Mississippi, Arkansas, Auburn, Mississippi St., Georgia Tech, Clemson

East- Boston Coll., UNC, Duke, Syracuse, UConn, Maryland, NC State, Wake Forest
West- Virginia Tech, Virginia, Cincinnati, West Virginia, Rutgers, Louisville, Pittsburgh, USF

East- Houston, SMU, Tulsa, UTEP, Rice, North Texas, North Colorado, Weber St.
West- Idaho, Hawaii, Montana, Montana St., Sacramento St., Eastern Washington, Idaho St., Portland St.

East- Temple, Ohio, Bowling Green, Toledo, Buffalo, Akron, Miami (OH), East Carolina
West- Kent St., Western Michigan, Northern Illinois, Eastern Michigan, Central Michigan, Ball St., Marshall, Memphis

Sun Belt
East- Mid. Tennessee St., FIU, Florida Atlantic, Appalachian St., Western Kentucky, UCF, Southern Miss, Jacksonville St.
West- Troy, La.-Monroe, La.-Lafayette, Arkasnas St., Louisiana Tech, UAB, South Alabama, Tulane

Independents- Notre Dame, Army, Navy

From here, the BCS standings could still work-- alleviating any potential legal or logistical issues there. The winners of each of the eight conference tournaments would be seeded by their BCS ranking, along with four at-large schools, one of which could be Notre Dame if they win 10 games and have a BCS ranking above 12. These schools would then be placed into a 12-team single-elimination tournament, with the top four seeds getting a bye. Similar to the past rule, no more than two teams per conference can enter the tournament. All games would be held at current bowl sites, no team can face a conference foe in the first round. An example of what last year's postseason would have looked like under this format:

1. Alabama (SEC)
2. Texas (Pac-16)
3. Cincinnati (ACC)
4. TCU (MWC)
5. Florida (SEC at-large)
6. Boise State (MWC at-large)
7. Oregon (Pac-16 at-large)
8. Ohio St. (Big 16)
9. Houston (WAC)
10. Iowa (Big 16 at-large)
11. Central Michigan (MAC)
12. Troy (Sun Belt)

Round 1
(5) Florida over (12) Troy
(6) Boise st. over (11) Central Michigan
(7)Oregon over (10) Iowa
(8)Ohio St. over (9) Houston

(1)Alabama over (8) Ohio St.
(2)Texas over (7) Oregon
(6) Boise St. over (3) Cincinnati
(5) Florida over (4) TCU

(1) Alabama over (6) Boise St.
(5) Florida over (2) Texas

National Championship Game
(1) Alabama over (5) Florida

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Luis Castillo Helps Me Set New Standard For Misery

Yup, anyone who's ever read this or knows me figured that it was just a matter of time before I had to talk about my beloved New York Mets and their oh-so-very special way of murdering my hopes and dreams for them. Of course, you probably also figured that there's no way it would happen this early. I was waiting for at least September. But alas, here we are. A moment so simple for any other team becomes another source of heartbreak for a fanbase which (please no!) soon enters the Misery Hall of Fame (current occupants: Sabres/Bills, Chicago Cubs, Indians/Cavs/Browns). We should have owned this city throughout this decade. Yet, here we are, with one division title, one pennant, one loss to our crosstown rivals in a World Series, and the same little brother complex. Ugh.

With all of this in mind, and my immediate thoughts that Castillo's play last night would probably enter the pantheon of "worst moments of my career as a baseball fan," I had to ask myself- what are my absolute worst moments as a baseball fan? Well, self, I'm glad (not so glad) you asked. The following are my top five worst moments in the 21+ years I have been a fan of "America's Pastime". Enjoy, because I surely won't.

Maybe it's just because I was in a room full of Yankees fans. Maybe it's because I could have made the same play, as could have any other fan over the age of five, easily. Point is that it never should have happened. Really. Never. Plus, I feel like that will unfortunately be the defining moment in a Mets season that's not even halfway over. I pray I'm wrong here, but I'm sure other fans of the team will begrudgingly agree with me. It's a very bad omen for the outcome of yet another season (that's four in a row now) that started with so much hope. WHY?!?!

The only moment that did not directly involve the Mets. Honestly, I should have been rooting harder for the Red Sox to win the American League last year. For some reason though, that Rays story got me, just like so many others, and the result was calamity for me. Just a few months later, the same Philthydelphia fans would get to punch me in the mouth again when the Eagles beat my Giants in the playoffs, so maybe this is made worse by that. Regardless, watching the Phillies win the World Series before my more-deserving Mets could was an exercise in misery to the highest degree. Not sure what's worse- this decade of the Mets underperforming or the 90s, when I had to watch the Yankees and Braves win every year. It's a toss-up really.

The final straw in a season full of heartache, heartbreak and literally, one of the worst things a fan can ever experience. We Mets fans lost the "Ya Gotta Believe" mantra for good that day. A sad and somber thought. Things like this don't happen to us. We were the ones who did this to other people on a stroke of luck. Here, we sat the victims of the worst September collapse in the history of the modern game. God. What's worse is that the team gave us false hope by handing us one more shot with just a game to play. Then Tom Glavine decided that he would resurrect all the hate from his Braves days, which we had put away. He gave up seven runs in the first inning of that final game and we just knew it was over... with eight-and-a-half innings to go. A lot of people lost a lot of faith that day, myself included, and we've yet to get it back.

Jesus Christ. If 2007 was the hit that had us staggering, then 2008 was the knockout. Same situation, same results. For the second straight year we played ourselves out of first place, and for the second straight season, we had a shot to get ourselves into the playoffs on the final day. And we blew it. Against the Marlins. Again. Now, given the result of the Brewers game that afternoon, it wouldn't have mattered what we did anyway. But the point is that we did it again. The "Amazins" became the "Amazinly Bad at Maintaining Leads In Septembers," until proven otherwise. And to top it all off, Shea was closing. Beloved Shea Stadium. I don't care how bad it was, and almost every other real Mets fan will say the same thing. There wasn't a dry eye in that stadium, nor on my couch. Just a sad day all around.

Yadier Molina. Aaron Heilman. OhmyGodkillme. For the first time possibly ever, we Mets fans were riding high as can be. We were the best team in baseball. We won the NL East for the first time in 18 years. Murdered everyone all year. Pedro was lights-out. David Wright and Jose Reyes were our two fun-loving stars who would lead us to the promise land for years. We ran away with the division. The Dodgers couldn't even touch us in the Division series. The Cardinals were 83-79, a whopping 14 games below us going into the NLCS. We weren't the underdogs, we were the favorite. And no, I didn't look up a single one of the stats. The Mets cannot function as the favorites. It doesn't work. We paid the price, dearly, as did the wall outside of my room. After Endy Chavez's catch, which is still, without a doubt, the greatest catch in MLB playoff history, we BELIEVED. It was the METS we were talking about. The MIRACLE METS. The AMAZIN' METS. YA GOTTA BELIEVE. Well, we did. And then Aaron Heilman showed up on the mound. And Yadier Molina in the batter's box. And you, and I, and everyone else knows the rest. We were robbed of the World Series title that should have been ours. We couldn't even get ourselves to the series to win it though, which makes it all the worse. I don't want to talk about this anymore. At all.

When was I inspired to write something that would inevitably send me into spiraling depression and anger? Last night, while I had my head up against a wall, five seconds after staring in disbelief at a television screen. We'll leave it at that. Just know that there are other moments that gained consideration too. The 1999 bases-loaded walk. The day we traded Scott Kazmir. Piazza's shot to center at the end of Game 5 of the 2000 World Series.

The fact that last night got itself into the top 5 speaks some real volumes about it. I hate you, Luis Castillo. I've never
really liked you since you came to the Mets. You have rightfully earned your place amongst the greats in my collection of Mets whom I will always want to throttle. So say hello to Kenny Rogers, Armando Benitez, Heilman, Victor Zambrano, Mo Vaughn, Roberto Alomar, Guilermo Mota, Benny Agbayani, Braden Looper and Brian McRae for me. I'm sure I'm forgetting somebody, so please, feel free to let me know. I'm sure I'll get over this... eventually.

Monday, June 8, 2009

A Look Back at the 2009 NBA Finals

I know, I know, it's only been two games.  But it's over.  If you've caught any portion of Game 1, and the final quarter and overtime of Game 2, you see it just like I do.  I'll avoid harping too much on Game 2's collapse exclusively, but still, some points need to be made in regard to it.  What follows, as much as it pains me to say it, is my case for why these NBA Finals (which never should have happened this way) are now officially over, in favor of the Los Angeles Lakers.

1. Things like Courtney Lee's miss at the end of regulation just don't happen to championship teams- or even teams that have a shot at a championship.

To me, this is the strongest point to be made, probably because it requires the least statistical qualification.  How many teams that have won a title in any sport have you ever seen something like this happen to?!  I can't think of one, unless you try and make a case for the 2004 Boston Red Sox (which you might be able to pull off).  Still, that Red Sox team closed the door when they had to- the last four games of that series.  The Orlando Magic, with that single play, created a microcosm of their playoffs as a whole, save the Cavs series.  How many times could they have put away the Philadelphia 76ers, but collapsed?  The Celtics?  Numerous.  Those series could have been over a lot earlier than they lasted.  The Magic were the better team, yet failed to capitalize on that fact.  In this series, they may not be the best team on the floor, but still, had a chance to even the series at one game apiece.  Instead, they proved that they are just not ready for this.  At all.

2. Even with Rashard Lewis (and Turkoglu to a point) playing out of their minds, Orlando still can't beat the Lakers.

If this playoffs has done nothing else, it's elevated Rashard Lewis' stock to a level I, nor many others, could have ever imagined.  Ignore the first game's stats (the entire Magic team had a horrible line) and look at what he pulled off in Game 2.  He finished up with 34 points, 11 boards and 7 assists.  He hit clutch shots.  He did everything you could possibly ask of a so-called "number two" guy, and yet Orlando still lost.  The only thing that can explain it is...

3. Dwight Howard has been a virtual no-show, furthering everyone's perception of him as overrated.

I'd say that I could take some heat for this, but well, I just don't see that happening.  The proof's right there for everyone to see.  Actually, it's been there for quite a while- Howard's entire career to be exact.  Howard can consistently put up double-doubles.  In that regard, I'll admit, he's a virtual machine.  But, how much are those double-doubles actually worth?  Do his, in particular, actually impact the game, or are they just statistics that pile up due to minutes and positioning, rather than actual skill?  Not to say that Howard isn't skilled.  He's probably (definitely) the best center in the game currently, but what does that really say?  

I won't tear up his game like others, namely ESPN's Bill Simmons, have , but I will whole-heartedly agree with these voices.  Howard has no moves in the post, and he does nothing better than anyone else.  he's simply a very large human being who sits under the net, on both offense and defense, and the results of said tactic allowed for him to put up 20 and 13 all year.  He's 6 of 16 shooting in the Finals.  He's turned the ball over nine times, and as a matter of fact, has made it a habit of turning it over two or more times per game this playoffs (it's happened in 16 of the 21 games).  If he's truly the best at his position, and one of the best young stars in the game, where is he now?  Stars pick their teams up.  He's not even a LeBron James who has to do it himself.  He has not one legitimate supporting cast member, but TWO!   Unless he picks it up, he doesn't look like much of a star to me at this point.

4.  And this is the worst: The Lakers are simply... (ugh) Better.

This is probably the most brutal point I've had to make yet in this space.  I hate the Lakers, as many know.  So if I'm saying that they are, indeed, the best team in this series, without a doubt, I'd bet they are.  Kobe Bryant's not even playing up to snuff by his own standards, as even Lakers coach Phil Jackson said himself.  That doesn't mean he's not having a good series.  He's playing pretty damn well, actually- 69 points in two games, all while getting covered pretty thoroughly.  But it's still not the type of play we've come to expect from Bryant at this juncture of his career.  Still, and this is the scary part- it doesn't even matter.

Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom are absolutely tearing it up out there at the moment.  They're taking advantage of defensive focus on Bryant, and the Magic have no answer.  The fact that I've said "Lamar Odom is one of the most important players in this series" with a straight face is already the most mind-blogging quote of the month, and it's only the eighth.  Plus, did you see Kobe at the post-game press conference?  Theatrics or not, he was stoic after that big win.  (I'm paraphrasing here) "Nothing to be happy about.  We've still got work to do." Sounds like somebody who wants to win an NBA championship.  Now.

As much as it pains me to say it, it's about time, Kobe.

I'm going to say Lakers in five games, but I wouldn't mind seeing it go a few more.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The King Has One Royal Game As Cavs Stay Alive

Excuse the corniness, but I was looking for something witty to use as a title.  

There are very few players who, when called upon to be the deciding factor in their team's fate, can actually deliver consistently.  LeBron James is, without a doubt, one of those chosen few who can, in fact, take over a game all by himself.  In the fourth quarter alone, the man had 17 points and four assists.  I won't make any assumptions, but if The King has anything to do with it, this series is going back to Cleveland for a Game Seven.

Perhaps you remember that Game Five two years ago.  The game that LeBron finally lived up to his royal nickname and played himself into the history books as the best player of his generation.  The main criticism of James to that point was that he mailed it in.  He had two different gears.  Sometimes he would be the greatest player on the court, and other times, he would just sort of sleepwalk through games.  For some reason in that series, everything changed.  LeBron suddenly realized his potential and, in one of the greatest individual performances in NBA history, single-handedly demolished the Pistons, scoring 29 of Cleveland's last 30, and the final 25 points, en route to a two-overtime win.  I, just like everyone else, was in awe.  It was a once-in-a-lifetime performance, maybe once-in-a-century.  Jordan and Wilt took over games with finesse.  Kobe can do similarly.  But nobody- and I mean NOBODY- can take over a game physically like LeBron James can.  It's a sight to behold, and once again tonight, just like that evening two years ago, I have no words to truly describe the type of game I just witnessed.

Enough of the LeBron homerism however.  As much as his triple-double, and huge fourth quarter carried the Cleveland Cavaliers to a win they had to have, you can't forget the contributions from his teammates in this game, who were MIA up until this point.  Mo Williams put up 24 points tonight, the first time he scored over 20 in the series.  Zydrunas Ilgauskas scored 16 points, the most he's had this entire playoffs.  Daniel Gibson came up huge with three three-pointers, the first time I've really heard his name called in weeks.  Yes, LeBron is the star here, but like I said two nights ago, he can't do it all on his own.  He has the ability to carry a team if necessary, but he can't be expected to do it game in and game out without some help.  Cavs coach Mike Brown talked about an unexpected guy stepping up late.  This game, that surprise was Gibson.  Next game, it could be anyone else, I'm sure.

Though the overall numbers aren't staggering, you've also got to love the defensive intensity and rebounding by the Cavs in the deciding fourth quarter.  The quarter started as somewhat of a disaster mirroring the previous two stanzas, poor shooting, defensive lapses, and an inability to capitalize on second-chance opportunities.  Around the six-minute mark however, things changed.  Cleveland began to capitalize on Orlando Magic turnovers, draw smart fouls, and take care of the ball.  LeBron, in particular, employed some real heads-up play on the boards, creating more scoring chances that ultimately led to them taking the lead for good.  The entire  team, but specifically James, also did a great job of spreading the ball around and catching the open man, for a total of 21 assists.  As I said two days ago, multiple players would have to become a factor for the Cavs to claim a victory in Game Five, and the results showed how much better they are when they're not a one-man show.

Going into Game Six, the pressure is still on Cleveland, specifically LeBron's supporting cast, to get it done.  For the most part, Orlando has played a fairly complete style of basketball, using some real tight defense to force the ball to the perimeter, and not allowing James to run roughshod in the paint.  They've had some real clutch shooters, and if not for some unfortunate cold streaks in Game Five, could have pulled it out.  The Cavaliers, on the other hand, still have adjustments that must be made.  Once again, they were up big (22 in this one) before letting it all slip away, and eventually playing from behind.  They need to find a way to translate that initial intensity into game-long success, and if that means spreading minutes out more, and keeping everyone a bit fresher for the home stretch, so be it.  I'll tell you this: If Game Six comes down to LeBron having to carry Cleveland on his back again like he did in the first four contests, the Cavs will ultimately fail.  Perhaps they've learned their lesson, and are refocused.  We won't know, though, until they get back to Orlando.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Nuggets Give Game Away in Fourth

One of the things that defines a championship-caliber team is its ability to close out a game in the fourth quarter.  From what we saw here tonight, the Denver Nuggets just don't seem to have it.

A tie game at 76-all after three quarters, the Nuggets suddenly let the wheels fly off, allowing the Los Angeles Lakers to put them away within the first six minutes of the fourth.  They'd been sloppy all game, but lucked out, and had managed to lead most of the game.  Things like this happen when the only guy on your team hitting a field goal for eight minutes is Linas Kleiza.  

If anyone caught the live blog, I was puzzled while watching the Nuggets at numerous points, especially in the final quarter.  The aforementioned Kleiza was the only guy taking legitimate shots from the 12-minute mark up until there were about four minutes remaining.  Carmelo Anthony was refusing to take shots, besides off balance leaners while in double coverage.  Chauncey Billups relegated himself to hail mary three point attempts.  Kenyon Martin decided he was a jump shooter.  I can't even recall a shot attempt by Dahntay Jones or Birdman.  JR Smith chucked up one three.  Nene, before fouling out, was about as effective as a corpse on the floor.  Why, with all of these stars, and significant role players on the court, do you not run plays for them?

Does the blame go towards coach George Karl?  Karl has been part of multiple teams that choked mightily, namely all of the Denver teams he's coached that could have achieved so much more, as well as the 1993-94 Seattle team that lost to an 8-seed in the first round, and the 2000-01 Milwaukee Bucks who could have, and probably should have played in the Finals.  We don't know what was going on in the huddle throughout the fourth quarter tonight, but based on the sound clips I heard with about three minutes to go- "You guys are fine!"- something tells me the playcalling was less than superb.  Use the players you have on the court to make things happen.  Use their respective skills to get results from them individually, which leads to collective success.  Players were out of their elements, and their roles on the court, and that, in part, is why they lost.

Of course, Denver also was not the only team on the floor.  For all of the terrible turnovers by Denver (14 in all), a lot were a product of some great defense by the Lakers.  What drives me nuts about this fact though is that the Nuggets beat L.A. on the boards (43-42), in steals (11-5), and had one less turnover (14-15), yet still could not capitalize.  Regardless of how much I lambasted him throughout the game for his inability to shoot free throws (still true, by the way), Lamar Odom still had one hell of a game.  Odom scored 19 points, grabbed 14 boards, and had four of the team's 12 blocks.  His presence is critical to the Lakers' press on inbound passes late in games, and without him, maybe the Nuggets get back into this one in the closing minutes.  Both Odom and Kobe Bryant made their presences felt in this game, and without a Denver star showing up to neutral one or both, the Lakers will take this series.

Now the Nuggets are in quite a hole here going into Game Six.  They're playing shoddy defense, and allowing the Lakers to penetrate on every possession.  They're ignoring their stars, and instead allowing role players to decide their fate.  They're forgetting their respective roles on the court, and instead, are just chucking the ball at the net in the hopes it goes in.  If they want to win this series, they're going to have to reverse that.  The Nuggets are a faster, more athletic team than the Lakers.  Use that to your advantage.  Denver's at its best when they are pushing the ball down the court and scoring on breaks.  If you play the type of ball that L.A. wants you to, you will lose.  The Lakers will use the entire shot clock every possession and grind the game to a halt if you let them.  Carmelo sometimes seems to know his role as one of the superstars on this team, but he still needs to embrace that more with the game in the balance.  Billups, on the other hand, needs to be more aware of his role as a point guard, and only take smart shots (unlike the threes he was tossing up at will late in tonight's game).

For the Lakers, if they do what they did tonight, they could still lose Game Six.  Though they still won, they made a ton of errors that would have come back to haunt them had Denver been more focused.  Kobe and a interchangeable spare part of Pau Gasol/Andrew Bynum/Odom can carry this team in a game like this, but at least three players need to step up if they expect to beat Denver on the road again.  On the bright side, however, this game also proved that the team can win without Kobe putting up 35 points, something the Cavs have yet to prove this round when it comes to LeBron.  The way the Lakers are playing late in games, it's hard for me to see them losing this series, but I do think we're headed back to Los Angeles for a Game Seven.  At least I hope so.

Nuggets-Lakers Live Blog, 4th Quarter

11:09: Absolutely pitiful shot by Martin.  Stick to what you're good at and hammer inside.

11:10: Sadly, this seems like a replay of Game Three.  A lot of Chauncey Billups tossing up terrible threes.  If JR Smith gets in on the act, it'll be an exact replica.

11:12: You've got to hate when you can see the wheels coming off in front of your eyes.  Nene's done, and if the Nuggets don't get it together, so are they.

11:14: I'm sure everyone's seen the new Heineken commercial encouraging using a taxi after drinking.  "OH BABY, YOU- YOU GOT WHAT I NEE-EED!"  Good stuff.

11:17: 'Melo just mugged Kobe.  The Birdman looked concerned.  I am too, about this game getting out of hand.


11:20: Stupid fouls, stupid shots, and stupid turnovers.  The Nuggets are handing this game to the Lakers right now.

11:22: Why is 'Melo trying to dunk from 15 feet out?  You can't make poor decisions like that this late, especially down 10.

11:25: Why does everyone hate the Kobe/LeBron Nike puppet commercials?  I think they're kind of entertaining.

11:26: Kleiza's had the last two FG's for Denver.  Sign #75 why you're losing in the fourth.

11:27: Nene Fail.

11:28: The Lakers are trying to let Denver back into this one, yet they refuse to capitalize.  In other news, George Karl just said "you're fine" to his team.  I couldn't disagree more.

11:29: Why is Kleiza suddently The Guy?  I mean, it's working to a point, but what about 'Melo, Billups, Martin, Smith, Jones, etc.?

11:31: What a flop by Nene.  The Nuggets are going to miss him as a physical presence on the court, even though he's done nothing on the offensive end.

11:33: Ariza's about to make me eat my words again.  Really poor rotation by the Nuggets there.  Not sure what's going on with their D for the past few minutes.

11:35: And on cue, Odom misses a free throw in the fourth quarter.... Make it two.

11:36: The Nuggets are playing too sloppy for words.  "This is well officiated playoff basketball!" exclaims Van Gundy.  Probably the only time you'll hear that all month.

11:37: Side note- can't stand the shameless cross-promotion the NBA does with movies.  They are not related in anyway, so stop trying to pretend they are.

11:40: Another Billups misfire.  Based on the shot, you'd think there were two seconds left on the shot clock.

11:41: I'm pretty sure the Nuggets do not want to win this game.  Also, don't let 'Melo's box score fool you.  His 28 points are on 8-22 shooting.

11:43: Game: Blouses.  The Nuggets just didn't have it tonight, and they've paid the price.  When you don't take care of the ball, and don't capitalize on open looks, you're going to lose, no matter who you face.

11:44: Successful inbound by the Nuggets!  At least that's something different than the other games.

11:46: The Nuggets are now 0-3 when I catch any portion of the game.  Hmmm... something tells me I won't be tuning in for the next (hopefully) two contests.

11:47: Analysis of the game coming up.  Stop back within the hour.

Nuggets-Lakers Live Blog, 3rd Quarter

10:35: "21st Century Breakdown," says my brother, sarcastically, as Jeff Van Gundy drags the images of the players across the screen.

10:37: Trevor Ariza, once again, you are the worst player on the court at any given moment tonight.

10:39: I'm not taking it back yet, even after that shot.

10:39: I feel like that's the first time I've heard Kenyon Martin's name all night.

10:41: As much as I hate Kobe, I cannot deny how good the man is.

10:41: 'Melo really should have put that shot up when he was underneath the hoop.  And yes, Martin's shot is hideous.

10:43: The second-worst player on the court fouls the worst.  We won't see Nene until the fourth quarter.

10:44: Grammar correction, Van Gundy- "most obese states".  Not "biggest obese states".

10:45: I feel like everyone on the Nuggets has a "great ability to contort their body".  I've heard it said about almost the entire team during the last few games.

10:47: Why is it that no one has mentioned Birdman's haircut yet?  What's the deal, Van Gundy, Jackson and Breen?!

10:49: Green tea and ice cream... bad scene.

10:52: Did Progressive plan to have "Flo" be their permanent spokesperson?  Hmmm...

10:54: "It's about to get tragic..."  Turnovers are killing Denver.

10:56: That was one of the worst shots I've ever seen Kobe Bryant take.  Ever.

11:00: Hugh Hefner...BALLER.

11:01: I feel like Hugh should get a lifetime achievement award.  I'm not sure what for, but we all know he deserves some kind of prize given what he's been able to pull off in his old age.

11:03: The television's been highjacked once again for a limited time.  I may miss the beginning of the fourth quarter.

Nuggets-Lakers Live Blog, 2nd Quarter-Halftime

10:02: Back, for the time being.  Both teams seem incredibly sluggish and disorganized on offense.  Missed layups, more shot selection- hope both teams can pick it up.

10:03: Billups picks up his third foul now- this isn't good for Denver's chances.  At all.

10:05: Kobe's got four points thus far.  Looks like my prediction from earlier was a bit short-sighted/just bad.

10:07: What the hell is wrong with Trevor Ariza tonight?  Seriously.  The guy is just throwing himself at people and making bonehead play after bonehead play.

10:10: Sweet stroke by Anthony!  Oh, and for those following, Kobe's scored seven since I mentioned him not being as much of a factor as I thought he'd be.

10:12: Real stupid fouls under the basket by Denver.  In an unrelated question- what do we attribute 'Melo's maturity and improvement to?  Shaving the cornrows, or Billups?

10:13: What year was The Osbournes last on television?  And why is it that I feel like Ozzy's been peddling every product under the sun lately?

10:14: As much as Odom sucks, he's pretty much the best inbound pass defender I've ever seen.  Tie game at the half seems about right.  Real evenly-matched game thus far.

10:17: What does Amway do?  Seriously.  I have no idea.

10:20: Los Angeles may be lucky, but not much more than Denver.  There have been a lot of lapses on both sides, in my opinion.  

10:21: Wilbon, if you told me Odom would have twice as many shot attempts as Gasol, I wouldn't be surprised, since he's Lamar Odom.

10:22: Did we just coin a new nickname for Rashard Lewis- "Mr. Clutch"? Please.  Spare us all.  God.

10:23: Why does The Postal Service provide the music for the US Postal Service's top competitor, the United Parcel Service?  I though part of the settlement between the two was the the band lets USPS use their music in ads.

10:30: Scooping ice cream should not require as much effort as I just had to put forth.

10:33: Green Day's new album just came out, and I'm already sick of it.  Remember when that band didn't suck?  Yeah, I know, it's kind of hard for me to recall 1993 too.