Monday, April 30, 2012

NBA, Tigers, and Vin Scully

I apologize for my absence.  I've been a bit busy with work and my music-related projects.  I've been watching sports (well...baseball), but haven't found much time to write about them.  I'll try to be better about it.

I might as well give my NBA playoff picks here, even though I'm chiming in a bit late.  I won't have nearly as many notes as you did, mainly because I know less about the NBA this season than I have for a while now.  The only games I was able to watch this year were on ESPN3 (or WatchESPN, as it is now called), and they just showed the same teams over and over again.  So I saw a number of Clippers and Thunder games, but not much beyond that.  Sad, really.  One day I'll get cable again.  One day...

Bulls over 76ers in 6.
Heat over Knicks in 5.
Pacers over Magic in 6.
Hawks over Celtics in 6.
Spurs over Jazz in 5.
Thunder over Mavs in 6.
Lakers over Nuggets in 5.
Clippers over Grizzlies in 6.

Apparently I don't see a single series going 7 games.  I hope I'm wrong.

My Tigers are struggling a bit.  After 22 games, they're sitting at 11-11.  Besides Verlander and Smyly, their starting pitching has been pretty bad (although Fister should be back in the next week or so, which will definitely help).  Besides Below, their bullpen hasn't been much to speak of, either.  Their offense is spotty at best.  They were swept by the Mariners (THE MARINERS!) at home.
Still, I know they're a good team, and I know they'll round into form.  The fact that they're severely underperforming and are sitting at .500 is a pretty good sign.  There really aren't any other teams in the division with the talent to keep up with them through the entire season.  They'll be fine.  But it has been a bit of a depressing start.

I decided that I wanted to keep track of a West Coast team this year.  I like staying up late to watch baseball games.  Since I already have the Tigers in the AL, I thought I would pick an NL team.  So that gave me a choice between the Dodgers, Giants and Padres.  I figured I would watch a game of each, then go from there.
I didn't make it past the Dodgers.
I put on one of their games, and it was the first time I ever really listened to Vin Scully call a game.  The man is a master.  He's funny.  He's insightful.  He's knowledgeable.  He's engaging.  He definitely brings you into the game with him.  He's a rare talent, and I'm sorry that it took me so long to sit down and listen to him call a game.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

NBA Playoffs and NFL Draft

Rejoice! The NBA playoffs is back again!

76ers-Bulls: I originally had Bulls in 5, but the game just ended and Derrick Rose went down after he landed awkwardly on his left knee. The injury itself didn't look bad, but Rose laying on the court and being helped immediately to the locker room is concerning. The Bulls will beat the Sixers with or without him, but I really hope that injury was nothing serious. I'm hearing early reports that he tore his ACL and MCL. Nothing confirmed yet, so I really hope that isn't true.

Knick-Heat: This should be magnificent. Melo has been on fire for the last month, so he and LeBron going at in on both ends of the court will be great. The Knicks also have Chandler to man the middle and Iman Shumpert/Landry Fields to throw on Dwyane Wade. I believe the Heat win, but I think/hope it goes to 7 games.

Magic-Pacers: Ugh. Dwight is out. Big Baby just turned an ankle, but is expected to play. Hedo Turkoglu just came back after missing 10 games. Daniel Orton will be prominently involved. This could get ugly. Oh well, homer pick alert: Magic in 4.

Celtics-Hawks: A surprisingly good matchup for the Hawks. Larry Drew announced he will start Josh Smith at center to matchup with KG, which is a much better idea than trying to give Jason Collins minutes here. Avery Bradley doesn't really have anyone to shut down, as Rondo will be on Teague and Joe Johnson is too big for him. Ray Allen has a bum ankle, which hurts an already weakened Boston bench. The Hawks are far from world beaters, but this is a good matchup for them. I'll go with the upset here: Hawks in 6.

Jazz-Spurs: The Spurs have zero players averaging 20 points, but have 10 players averaging at least 8 points per game. That type of depth hurts you in the playoffs, as your bench players see less minutes, but still that's impressive.  Spurs win in 5 and win the series I have the least amount of interest in. Congrats, gentlemen.

Mavericks-Thunder: Allow me a brief Bill Simmons related rant: In his most recent column, Simmons ran through a fake conversation between Dirk Nowitzki and Mark Cuban. It involved Cuban telling Dirk to tank this season in hopes of adding Deron Williams and Dwight Howard next season. In this conversation, Dirk was unimpressed because of William's rep as a coach killer and everything that happened with Dwight Howard this year. Give me a break. Howard is the best center in the league and Williams is the second best PG (by my count). That's why people want them. It'd be great if they were both model teammates, but that doesn't appear to be the case. Nonetheless, they stay out of legal trouble, make All Star games and sell tickets. After playing the year with Brendan Haywood and Jason Kidd as his starting C/PG, you bet your ass Dirk wants Deron and/or Dwight to join him in Dallas. Cut it out, Simmons. Oh yeah, Thunder in 6.

Nuggets-Lakers: The Nuggets are another team with great depth, and another example of how it won't help them in the playoffs. I can see Denver winning a game or two, just because they have so many guys that can get you 10 points, but Bynum/Gasol should be able to have their way with the Denver bigs. That is, unless Kobe decides to shoot them out of the series. Lakers in 6.

Clippers-Grizzlies: Second best series in the first round. I think the Grizzlies could make some serious noise. They may be the most complete team in the playoffs. They have post defense (Gasol), perimeter defense (Tony Allen), post scoring (Randolph), perimeter scoring (Rudy Gay), talent off of the bench (OJ Mayo) and experience (from last year's playoff run). Griffin can't guard Randolph. Tony Allen will probably be assigned to Chris Paul. This could be a short series for the Clippers. Grizzlies in 5.

I chose Miami before the season to win it all so I will stick with it. I don't feel that great about it, but nobody else really jumps out at me. I don't think the Thunder have enough scorers. Ditto for the Bulls. The Lakers fall off a cliff after their top three. Dallas lost too much from last year. The Spurs? Grizzlies? I have no idea. I love it.

Barring any trades, the Bengals have finished drafting and I am pleased. Our biggest needs were offensive line and cornerback, and they were addressed in the first round. We picked up a couple of defensive lineman for depth, and wide receivers to replace Jerome Simpson/Andre Caldwell. We picked up a RB in the 6th round, but I'm still a little concerned about the position. Hopefully there is a Steven Jackson trade coming up. It's only on paper, but ESPN and NFL Network have sung the Bengals praises for a great draft. I am pleased.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

More Cat Talk

Still coasting off the Cats championship. I've got the newspaper from the day after the game laid on my counter, so everyday I wake up and see it. When that wears off, I figure I'll order roughly two paychecks worth of UK Championship apparel to get my rocks off. Feeling good.

With the addition of ESPN #1 recruit Nerlens Noel, the Cats look ready to defend the title with another talented young bunch. Joining the Cats are Noel (#1, C), Alex Poythress (#13, SF), Archie Goodwin (#15, SG) and Willie Cauley (#40, C). Returning for the Cats are Kyle Wiltjer (#19, PF from a year ago and with a year of playing time under his belt) and Ryan Harrow (PG, Transfer from NC State, #39 overall player from 2010, with a year of starts from NCSU and a year of practicing with last years Cats). I've heard that Davis, Jones, MKG and Teague are all expected to declare shortly but no word on Lamb yet. I was really hoping Shabazz Muhammad would join the Cats but I can't fault him for picking UCLA. They have the tradition, the weather, the women, it's close to his home of Las Vegas and they have a great recruiting class coming in as well. I've said it before and I'll say it again: If I know that I'm a 5 star/one-and-done basketball player, the list of my schools is Kentucky, UCLA, USC, Miami, Florida, Texas and Georgia Tech. Other schools need not apply. I'm looking for a chance to win, great weather and a nice city to spend a year in. That's it. Kentucky doesn't fit the great weather/city requirements but you make that up by being treated like professional athletes in every aspect.

The Redlegs are off to a slow start, to no one's surprise. I haven't had a chance to catch a game yet, but the numbers outside of Cozart, Cueto and Chapman don't look promising. Let me catch a game first before I call for Dusty Baker's job...I mean, analyze the strengths of weaknesses of this team.

Dwight Howard has a herniated disk in his back that will probably cause him to miss the last two weeks of regular season games. There are reports that there is no return date scheduled, but I can't imagine him missing the playoffs. There are rumors that he is shutting it down intentionally in hopes of Orlando missing the playoffs. I can't see that. Dwight has been an iron man, and it may be too little too late as we have a 3 game lead over the 7th place Knicks with only 7 games left to play. I'm hoping we can stay at #6 and meet up with the Pacers, as they are probably our best shot of making it out of the first round. Still, the back injury does seems strange. He hurt it against Dallas, missed two games, then came back to play 40+ minutes in two games (throwing up a 20-22-6 assist night in the process) before being all but shut down for the regular season. The timing does seem strange, but no stranger than the rest of this season. I do hope he gets well though, because I need to see (potentially) 7 games of Dwight Howard against Roy Hibbert.

If he doesn't play another game this season, he finishes the year averaging 20 PPG (57% FG shooting, 2nd in the league), 14 RPG (1st in the league) and 2 BPG (3rd in the league). I've watched enough Dwight Howard to know that he didn't play to his max this season, and he still put up numbers like that. That's why this entire circus matters. It's completely fair to point out that he's made himself look like a clown in the process, but now I'm reading about why would a team even want him. Be serious. He's one of the few players in the league where if he is on your team, you have a legit chance of winning a championship. It's that simple. I've heard a lot out of Chicago that they wouldn't take Howard even if he wanted to play for the Bulls. By all means enjoy Joakim Noah's great attitude and 9 points per game. A Clippers fan (I know) told me they wouldn't take Dwight because he's a whiner. Yep, Deandre Jordan's 7 points per game is absolutely justifying that $10 million/year salary. Give me a break.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Cats: 2012 Champs!

What a great feeling this is. This is the last championship for one of my teams since the Cats won it all in 1998. I remember watching the Championship, wearing the "Champions" shirt and hanging the newspaper on my wall and that's about it. I remember just about everything about this season. After the North Carolina game in early December, it was apparent that Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were the real deal. Probably my favorite UK duo ever, over Tayshaun Prince-Keith Bogans. Doron Lamb was a known quantity and that was about it. Terrence Jones was still sulking sporadically. Marquis Teague hardly looked like a starter, nonetheless a one-and-done guy. Darius Miller was never quite able to put it together and keep it together for a full season. The bench players behind them were non-existent. Even Calipari was a little shaky. He had plenty of talented teams but was never able to win the big one, despite numerous 30 win seasons. The Mississippi State game in February did it for me. The Cats went into halftime in Starkville down 13 points...and won by 9 points. That's an amazing turnaround in 20 minutes. Miller turned it on late in the game and the rest of the Cats followed suit to put Mississippi State away. I really hate to go all Bill Simmons on you (I obviously knew something after the fact, because I have supernatural powers and can feel it and you cant), but after that I knew we had a chance at winning it all.

I'm so happy for everyone on this team. Anthony Davis dominated the season from the start. I haven't seen a defender like him, and his offensive game has come a long way from the beginning of the season. I've heard NBA projections about him ranging from a ceiling of Marcus Camby/Tyson Chandler (Too low) and Tim Duncan/Kevin Garnett (Probably too high), but if I had to bet, he falls closer to TD/KG than Camby/Chandler. Outside of bulk, he doesn't have a weakness. He's still learning the post moves/footwork of a big man but his improvement throughout the season and work ethic leave me convinced he will be able to add one. Kidd-Gilchrist hit a slump in the middle of the season, but his effort never wavered. If he didn't score a point, you could count on him hitting the boards and playing lockdown defense. It's rare you get a college player that can impact the game without scoring. Having two of them in Davis/MKG is special. Jones started bringing it more consistently after the New Year and kept it up throughout the tournament. I still believe he could be the best player in college basketball if he wanted it badly enough. I don't think he does, but he quit mailing it in every three games. I can live with that. I'm praying he slips to a coach that knows how to get the best out of him in the NBA. Gregg Popovich would do wonders with him. I feel like Lamb is one of the most slept on players in college basketball. A dead eye shooter, who adapted to backup PG duty on the fly, defends bigger than his size and runs a solid fast break. I think he can be a rich man's JJ Redick in the league, just because he's more athletic than Redick and can handle minutes at backup PG. I thought Marquis Teague would be the death of this team, and my old man back in December. He just didn't get it, and I wasn't sure what discernible skill he could get by with until he did get it. Then he slowly started putting together, realizing he could get to the basket at any given time. I don't know how many times he bailed UK out by getting to the bucket with 5 seconds or less left on the shot clock. He also has a handle that is beyond his years. He had a few highlight moves, but the ease with which he broke the full court press never ceased to amaze me. He had a phenomenal tournament and this team doesn't win it all without him. I've had a love-hate relationship with Darius Miller. I saw him play twice in high school. One time, he was lights out and I couldn't wait for him to join the Cats. The other, I believe he finished with like 8 points in a very forgettable performance. For three years, he was a guy that had every skill but had no idea when to use them. He finally put it together this year and became a great leader for a young bunch. I couldn't be happier to see a guy get a ring. I'm going to miss the hell out of this team.

Last of all, I feel great for Coach Cal. It was an obvious fit after the Billy Gillispie era, but I still had my reservations. The cheating allegations and the used car salesmen vibe left me uneasy. I also didn't feel like he was a good coach and was coasting on his excellent recruiting skills. I have no gripes with his coaching this year. He did a fantastic job from beginning to end. The only nit I could pick, is that he leaves his starters in too long during blowouts and he took his foot off the pedal during the 2nd half of the Championship. 2012 Cal seemed to be more personable than he was in the past. He admitted free throws do matter, after refusing to alter his practices to include more FT time after the Memphis-Kansas debacle. He admitted losing hurts, but he would take all of the blame for his guys and actually meant it. Every year he takes a group of relatively new faces (most of them stars coming out of HS), and gets them to sacrifice for the team and play together. No matter how talented the kids are, it's difficult. If it was easy, everybody would do it. Everybody can't, so they blame Coach Cal for making the best out of a weak rule that he didn't make. I've already heard the jokes about, "When will this one be vacated?" but I don't think it will. I imagine Cal's recruiting does itself these days. It's one thing selling guys to come play for UMass or in a weak Conference USA at Memphis. One year at Kentucky almost guaranteeing you a spot in the first round in the NBA really does all the talking. Congrats Cats. 2012 Champions.

More good news with Votto re-signing with the Reds for 10 years/225 million. It's always risky to give anyone 10 years, especially a 28 year old in the NL where he can't be hidden defensively at DH, but I still love this move. Votto is one of the best in the league, he's gotten better every year and has proven to be pretty durable. Most importantly, he wanted to be here. I'm not too worried about the money he'll be making because if he is on the field, he will be worth it. The 2010 Division Champion Reds made the playoffs with Arroyo/Cordero/Harang making over $34 million combined. If we can stay away from deals like those, money shouldn't be an issue. Kudos to Cincy's front office for opening up the wallet to keep Votto.

News recently broke that LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne scored a 4 on his Wonderlic test. Though I'm usually one of the first to crack jokes at others expense, something didn't seem right. I told a friend that there must be some sort of learning disability. I took a sample of the test, and there's no way an able minded adult could score a 4 out of 50. Not surprisingly, Greg Gabriel of National Football Post wrote this,

"When Claiborne came out of high school, the schools that recruited him knew he had a learning disability. I don’t know much about his disability other than it has to do with reading"
I hate things like this getting out to the public. Apparently, it was leaked by a team outside of the top 5 hoping it would make Claiborne drop. I get the strategy, but Claiborne knows he has a learning disability and was probably assured that test scores wouldn't see the light of day. Now he is going to have to answer questions about this, and maybe even lose some money if a team feels he no longer warrants a top pick. I hate how everything gets out in this society. Test results, 911 calls, accident photos. There's nothing I can do about it, so I'll quit bitching but I am not a fan.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeah!

More tomorrow.