Reid Fischer's World of Rants

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Archive for the ‘basketball’ Category

What Are They Thinking?

Posted by mizzou1028 on July 16, 2008

Wow, what a bang up offseason so far for the Nuggets!  Not only have they done nothing to make the team better, they’ve actually gotten worse.  Last night at dinner I wasn’t sure I was seeing things correctly and was briefly wondering if I shouldn’t visit the eye doctor when I glanced at the TV on the other side of the restaurant.  Was that a headshot of Marcus Camby with the Clippers logo behind it?  Couldn’t have been, he’s not a free agent.  Before the idea of Camby as a Clipper sunk in, I saw the next graphic showing details of a trade: Clippers get Marcus Camby.  Nuggets get a second round pick in 2010.  What???  Not only that, but later i find the Nuggets simply got the rights to swap second round picks with the Clippers in 2010, they didn’t even get an extra pick!  This after the team already lost Eduardo Najera to New Jersey in free agency. 

So let me get this straight: a team that has been awful on defense gave away its one consistent good defender in Camby for essentially nothing.  They have also lost one of the few players on the team in Najera that consistently hustled and provided energy on the court.  It is obvious the team made this deal purely for financial reasons to try and avoid paying the luxury tax.  I get why they wouldn’t want to pay that for the results they’ve been garnering, but it is appalling that there don’t appear to be plans (at least at this point) to try and make the team any better.  It appears as though they are throwing away the 2008-09 season in hopes of trying to clear cap room and reshape the team for the following year.  While perhaps a sound strategy in the long run, it still doesn’t make any sense to get NOTHING in exchange for Camby.  This is a team that already has not achieved, losing in the first round for five straight years.  Instead of trying to make the team better, the Nuggets are worse today than they were they day they lost their final playoff game to the Lakers in early May.  I suppose you could say (and unfortunately it’s not a joke) that the team defense can be just as bad without Camby in the middle as it was with him, but I shudder to think of just how bad it will be without Camby’s shot blocking ability covering up for the lazy effort of Anthony and Iverson on the defensive end. 

The Nuggets are fooling themselves if they think they are among the elite in the Western Conference.  With the improvements made by the Warriors and Clippers this offseason, plus the potential emergence of other young teams, the Nuggets are squarely so far behind the elite of the conference they can’t even see their taillights.  Perhaps they’re trying to ride out the last year of Iverson’s contract to try and clear cap room to make a run next offseason.  Maybe I should give them the benefit of the doubt and see if there is something coming this offseason I’m unaware of.  Based on the track record though, it certainly doesn’t seem likely that any improvement for the team is coming this offseason.  Between management’s lack of effort in the offseason and leftover fallout from the referee scandal, I am continuing to sour more and more on the NBA.  Point is, I’m not planning to waste money on tickets anytime soon.  If the team isn’t going to try to improve, why should I finance the product on the court?

Speaking of which the call I got this morning was very comical: It was from a representative of the Nuggets front office asking if I was interested in purchasing advance tickets for the coming season.  Seriously, you give away a key player for nothing while simultaneously making a call asking me to buy tickets????  You have got to be kidding me.  There is about as much chance of me buying tickets to see the Nuggets this winter as there is the team winning a playoff series.  That is to say a zero percent chance.  That is, unless something dramatic happens to where the team actually has a semblance of a chance of putting together a solid product on the court.

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Is the NBA’s Image in Jeopardy?

Posted by mizzou1028 on June 13, 2008

For a variety of reasons my interest in the NBA has gradually waned over the last few years.  There have been several recent NBA Finals where I watched little to none of the action, including last year’s Spurs-Cavaliers series.  This year I have to admit I have watched at least 90 percent of the series so far between the Lakers and Celtics.  I even have to admit that last night’s game four was an absolute thriller, with the Celtics erasing a 24 point deficit to win at the Staples Center.  During this series, and even during the regular season this year, I have started to see something that the league had been missing: real, genuine defense.  Make no mistake about it, it was the Celtics intensity on defense that allowed them to make that comeback.  As excited as I am to see at least some semblance of defense return to the NBA, my increased interest may be short lived if it turns out that ex-referee Tim Donaghy is even remotely accurate in his allegations against the league. 

For those of you who don’t know about Tim Donaghy, here is the background.  In a nutshell, he has basically admitted that he wagered on games that he officiated.  As if that’s not bad enough that a referee would actually wager on a game he’s working (no conflict of interest there!), check this out.  If his suggestion that the league was going to any lengths to make sure a series got extended to seven games, or (gasp!) make sure No. 2 TV market Los Angeles would be in the finals instead of Sacramento, well there would be zero difference between the NBA and the WWE.  If, and I emphasis IF, for there is no proof yet, the NBA has truly made any attempt to fix even one game, ever, than there is absolutely nothing legit about the league.  While Donaghy’s official letter doesn’t specifically mention any games, it’s not difficult at all to deduce that he’s referring to the Lakers-Kings series in 2002, and specifically game six of the series, won by the Lakers 106-102.  Sacramento fans are still fired up over mention of that game, which had the Kings won would have earned them their first ever trip to the NBA Finals.  This video courtesy of KOVR TV in Sacramento shows why: Check out Mike Bibby getting elbowed in the face by Kobe Bryant without a call.  Just the fact that the Lakers shot 27 free throws in the fourth quarter alone is enough to make you go hmmm…..was something out of whack here?  For years there has been a belief that stars get preferential treatment from the league, but even with that consideration it seems ridiculous that Shaquille O’Neal would get called for just four fouls (especially after seeing some highlights of his action in the paint that night) while those guarding him (Vlade Divac, Scot Pollard, Chris Webber and Lawrence Funderburke) got called for a combined 20. 

There is another game that I recall vividly that looking back may have been the beginning of my gradually waning NBA interest: game six of the 1998 Finals between the Bulls and Jazz, won by Chicago 98-97 for their sixth title in eight seasons.  This game is famous for Michael Jordan’s winning shot which turned out to be his last as a Bull.  Thing is, Jordan clearly pushed off on the play.  The video is a little grainy, but you can see for yourself his push off on Bryon Russell here.  Now, I am generally for refs swallowing their whistles at the end of a game and allowing players to decide things, but this was a very blatant push off and gave Jordan a tremendous advantage.  That aside, there were two other plays in that game that at the very least can be described as referee incompetence, and at worst a blatant attempt to slant the game in favor of Chicago.  The first was a 3 pointer by Utah’s Howard Eisley in the second quarter that clearly beat the shot clock but was waved off by referee Dick Bavetta.  (Is it a coincidence that Bavetta is named by Donaghy in his written statement in regards to the Lakers-Kings game? Maybe, maybe not).  Had the three counted, Utah would have taken a seven point lead.  Instead the Jazz were up four.  Fast forward to the fourth quarter, Jazz up 79-77, and this time it’s Chicago’s Ron Harper that beats the shot clock with a jumper.  Or did he?  The replay clearly shows the ball still Harper’s hand with the shot clock at :00, and yet this time the refs count the basket.  So, the game at this point is tied at 79 with roughly four minutes to go, where the Jazz should have been up by five (assuming they count Eisley’s three and disallow Harper’s jumper).  Had these calls been correct the game would never have come down to Jordan’s shot at the end.  Full disclosure: I was rooting for the Jazz, mainly because I wanted to see Karl Malone and John Stockton win a title together, but I also generally root for the underdog if my favorite team is out.  That being said, I clearly felt the referees stole that game from the Jazz, and maybe the series.  Utah would have had home court advantage for game seven.  In this case, we’re not talking about subjective foul calls, we’re talking about whether or not a shot beat the shot clock and should have counted or not.  There shouldn’t be anything subjective whatsoever about that. 

Now, all this being said it does go with the territory that referee error is a part of sports and especially in the NBA, where definition of what is and isn’t a foul is subjective at best.  Then again, that’s probably what bothers me most about the NBA: it is obvious that games are not officiated the same in the fourth quarter as they are in the first quarter, and it is blatantly obvious that superstars do receive special treatment.  If, and again I emphasis IF, in fact it is true that there has even been the slightest attempt by the league or its officials to manipulate games, than the NBA will have been exposed as a complete joke in every way.  If, again keyword IF, the allegations by Tim Donaghy are somehow proven true, which will be certainly be difficult, you can mark it down that I will never watch an NBA game again, ever.  If it is true, and again the key word is IF, I would expect ESPN to dump the NBA like a hot potato, for if the NBA has indeed manipulated, or dare I say fixed games at any point, than there is no point in watching a game that is not legit.  Frankly, I have been skeptical about the league’s refereeing over the years but have yet to go as far as to say there was blatant game fixing.  It is still difficult to say definitely what indeed happened in these or any other games, but it is enough to be skeptical at the very least.  If Donaghy turns out to be right, well maybe there is still hope people will pay attention to another winter league that frankly is more exciting in just about every way: the NHL. 

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The Glass is Half Full

Posted by mizzou1028 on May 2, 2008

I guess it’s not really a surprise that things came to such an abrupt end for the Nuggets and Avalanche this week.  The Nuggets at least gave something resembling effort in their final game on Monday night, and even though they didn’t win at least they seemed to have a desire to not go down quietly.  I still stand by what I said that changes need to be made in the offseason, although I am somewhat encouraged by George Karl saying he’s going to change his approach next season and be more demanding.  It will be interesting to see what direction the Nuggets take as they try to take that next step.  As much I want them to start by unloading Kenyon Martin, it is also realistic to say that no other team will want to absorb his ridiculous contract.  While the team’s quick exit is disappointing, it is better than the 11-71 days.  Hopefully with Karl’s new approach they can figure out what it takes to win a playoff series. 

On the surface it may seem like the Avalanche gave up last night as they got swept by Detroit.  To think I had (only very very briefly) contemplated shelling out $100 a seat last week to see the renewal of the Avs-Wings rivalry.  The Avs do get a pass in many respects for their quick exit against Detroit because they were after all missing half their team in game four.  Heck, just the Avs scratches on Thursday night would be a pretty darn good team.  I don’t think it’s at all a stretch to say that the series could have easily turned out differently if the Avs had a healthy Forsberg, Stastny, Smyth, Wolski and Svatos.  None of them were anywhere near the ice last night because of injuries.  It is also fair to say that Jose Theodore trying to play game one while battling the flu did nothing for his confidence the rest of the series.  That being said, the Avs were clearly not in the same league as Detroit.  The Red Wings were clearly the best team in the Western Conference all season and that has not changed in the playoffs.  It will be interesting to see what roster moves the Avs make this offseason, starting with Theodore, who does have a big contract.  It is hard to say whether or not he is the answer in goal because he did such a fabulous job in the first round against Minnesota and then did a complete 180 against Detroit.  I also hope that Joe Sakic elects not to retire and comes back for another season because he still is a terrific player and has a lot of hockey left in him.  The Avs took a step forward this season after missing the playoffs last year, and hopefully next year with a healthier roster they can take another step. 

I had promised some thoughts on the NFL Draft.  The pessimistic side of me is slightly annoyed that the rival Chiefs and Raiders seemed to clean up.  The Raiders scored a terrific running back in Darren McFadden, but it will be interesting to see if he actually helps them win more games.  The Raiders have certainly made a big splash with a number of their offseason moves, but it remains to be seen whether they have the leadership to make things work.  I still say the game has passed Al Davis by and that somehow all of their flashy new pieces will not fit together to make a puzzle.  As for the Chiefs, I am still trying to figure out how Glenn Dorsey fell into their lap at number five.  Dorsey seemed to be the unanimous choice for best player available, a defensive tackle who dominated the line of scrimmage at LSU and is expected to make an immediate impact in the NFL.  That steal highlighted what many seem to think is a great draft for the Chiefs.  As for the Broncos, most of the so called experts don’t seem to think they did as well.  While it may not have been a flashy draft, I think they did a good job drafting for need and filling holes.  Mike Shanahan seemed genuinely excited about this draft class, and while of course every coach is going to say they got the guys they wanted all along, Shanahan’s statements somehow seemed more believable this time.  For him to declare Ryan Clady the starter at left tackle from day one is unusual.  Shanahan is typically of the “let them come in and compete” mode.  That right there tells you how much Shanahan is sky high on Clady.  The pick made tremendous sense in the first round because the Broncos need to replace the retired Matt Lepsis at left tackle.  Not to mention Lepsis had a down year last year, so the Broncos want to be sure their franchise QB is protected.  Their second pick also made a lot of sense in Virginia Tech wideout Eddie Royal.  While the Broncos signed Keary Colbert and Darrell Jackson in the offseason and seem crowded at the position, Royal is a great pick because has the speed to make an impact as a kick returner.  The Broncos’ dead last ranking in starting field position had as much as anything to do with their 7-9 record last year.  Now, I’m not saying Royal is going to be Devin Hester, but if he can help the Broncos improve in that area, it will go a long way toward making them a better team.  I also love the selection of Arizona State running back Ryan Torian in the fifth round.  Torian slipped because of health issues, but if he can get healthy, he is the perfect fit the Broncos’ running scheme.  He’s a no nonsense runner and isn’t afraid to get tough yards late in a game.  With Mike Shanahan’s track record at finding running backs, there is no reason to suspect that Torian couldn’t be a huge steal in this draft.  

Truth be told though, the bottom line when trying to evaluate a draft is you can’t.  It will be minimum three years before we can go back and really evaluate how good or bad the Broncos or any other team did in this draft.  I remember hearing great things about Marcus Nash when the Broncos took him in 98, or hearing how George Foster was supposed to be the anchor at left tackle, or how Willie Middlebrooks was supposed to be the cornerback the Broncos were missing.   The draft is a small part in the overall picture of building a championship team, although it is becoming and more important to be able to find guys that will fit into your plans for many years so you don’t have to fill all those holes through free agency.  Call me crazy, but I am starting to get optimistic about the Broncos’ prospects in 2008, even if they still do need to find a kicker. 

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UGH!

Posted by mizzou1028 on April 28, 2008

This has been as bad a sports weekend for the teams that I follow as I can remember.  This does not take into account the Broncos draft, which I am actually fairly pleased with (more on that later – but it might have to be in a future post).  The events in the Denver sports landscape this weekend might not really stand out on an individual basis (think the Broncos’ loss to Jacksonville in the playoffs in January ’97 – none of these single events, or even as a group, come close to comparing to THAT debacle).  That being said, it cannot be argued that anything went even remotely right this weekend for the Rockies, the Nuggets or the Avalanche. 

The Rockies have not had a great April.  Of course, they had an awful April last season and made the World Series, so it’s way too early to hit the panic button.  However, this team has now lost 7 of 8 after getting swept by the Dodgers in LA this weekend.  On Friday night starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez couldn’t even make it out of the third inning in a game where the Rockies’ offense had given him four runs of support in that time frame.  The Rockies eventually lost the game in 13 innings after many failed opportunities offensively (including Matt Holliday hitting into an inning ending double play with two runners in scoring position in the 9th).  On Saturday Mark Redman got lit up for TEN runs in the first inning!  Imagine walking into a bowling alley, thinking to yourself that it’s a  nice bonus that TVs everywhere you look are showing the game while you’re going to bowl, then seeing a Dodger grand slam sail into the night sky the first time you look at the screen.  That’s a glimpse of my Saturday night.  The second time I looked at the screen I saw it was still the bottom of the 1st and the Dodgers had already put up a 10 spot.  Needless to say I wanted to throw up.  Then there was today’s game.   Jeff Francis pitched extremely well, surrendering just two runs in seven innings while striking out six, and the Rockies had chances to win.  Thing is, the offense never capitalized.  In a 2-2 game, Troy Tulowitzki continued his struggles (batting a whopping .157 – OUCH) by grounding into a double play with the bases loaded in the 8th, and then the Rockies left runners at 2nd at 3rd in the 10th.  Enter Manny Corpas, who was given a contract extension in the offseason after doing a great job in the closer role last year.  He has lost it this season after blowing four saves already.  Corpas actually pitched a scoreless ninth today after giving up two singles, so it wasn’t entirely unreasonable for Clint Hurdle to leave him in there for the 10th.  This proved to be a bad idea: a four pitch walk to Rafael Furcal, a walk to Mark Sweeney (who has exactly 0 RBIs and is batting a horrid .063 this season), then runners at 2nd and 3rd after a sac bunt.  After Hurdle elected to intentionally walk the red hot hitting Russell Martin to load the bases, Corpas could have redeemed himself with a double play groundout.  Nope, he gave up a sharp single to James Loney, and the Rockies got swept.  Now, a 10-15 record is certainly no reason to hit the panic button especially after last year, but right now they can’t even see the taillights of the division leading Diamondbacks.  It’s no coincidence Arizona made a big offseason splash in adding elite starter Dan Haren, while the Rockies made no big moves to the roster.  Granted, the Rockies did spend some money to keep their own players, including Tulowitzki (who will rebound).  Still, it seems like maybe they stood and watched while other teams around them got better.  To be fair, they’ve been on the road much more often than they’ve been at Coors Field, and that 22 inning marathon in San Diego can’t have helped.  Maybe a friendlier May schedule will be the catalyst for a turnaround.

As for the Nuggets, I feel bad saying this but I really don’t care to watch Monday night.  There were times this season where this team had really re-awakened by NBA interest.  They have the ability to compete with anyone in the league, and a 50 win season is an impressive accomplishment.  As tough and competitive as the Western Conference is, I really thought it didn’t matter where anyone was seeded because all eight teams were good.  It is clear though that this team will never win when it counts unless major changes are made.  The Nuggets have given three lackluster performances against the Lakers in this playoff series.  Check that, lackluster may be a kind way to describe game three at the Pepsi Center.  There is no reason for Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson to go 10 for 38 from the floor in a playoff game, many of the shots from point blank range.  The players’ body language says this series has been long over, right from the technical fouls  Iverson took in game one due to frustration.  From what I have seen, there are only three players who have consistently played hard in this series: Linas Kleiza, Eduardo Najera and J.R. Smith.  It is not a coincidence that Nuggets have held up best when these guys have been on the floor, even if that’s not saying much.  Anthony has given absolutely no effort whatsoever on the defensive end, and while Iverson has shown up offensively for the most part, his defense hasn’t been much better than Anthony’s.  There is a reason why Anthony’s draft class mates LeBron James and Dwayne Wade have both reached the NBA Finals while Anthony has never made it out of the first round.  They are leaders, and he is not, pure and simple.  Anthony has never understood that being a complete player means giving full effort in all areas, including the defensive end.  I’m wondering if it’s time to chuck out Anthony, let Iverson finish his career with a true contender, and try to put the team’s resources into building a true winner.  For the Nuggets to have the kind of payroll invested that they do, they need more results than an annual first round exit.  The Nuggets are missing a true veteran leader who can bring the talent together, a guy who does not constantly need the ball in his hands to succeed, someone who can lead by example.  It is clear that the Anthony-Iverson experiment isn’t working.  Both guys continually need the ball, and while they both get their points, their presence together has not led to the same results as other top duos in the league.  Or better yet, think of the Duncan-Parker-Ginobili trio in San Antonio.  The Spurs have stockpiled championships because these stars can all play together and each understands his role.  Maybe it’s time for the Nuggets to blow up the roster with the exception of Kleiza, Najera and Smith and start over.  They have way too much money tied up in Anthony, Iverson, Kenyon Martin and Marcus Camby to settle for these kind of results.  Maybe George Karl isn’t blameless either, but I’m never one to think a new coach will solve anything, especially in the NBA, where the players run the show anyway.  I remember when the Nuggets were 11-71 and a complete embarrassment, so I do appreciate a 50 win season and a playoff appearance.  I also expect some semblance of progress, and this will be the fifth consecutive first round playoff exit, with the Nuggets never winning more than one game in any series.  I know there’s another game left, but it’s clear the chance of the Nuggets winning this series is zero percent.  Let’s just say if I was a season ticket holder, there would be zero percent chance of me renewing my seats for next season unless major changes are made this offseason.

Now, surely Avalanche-Red Wings should be fun right?  For years this was the premiere rivalry in sports.  Not just the NHL, but in sports.  Every playoff series these teams squared off in during the late 90s and early 2000s was extremely intense.  The rivalry had everything: bloody fights, close games, great players on both sides, nasty trash talk and a true hatred among the fans.  In recent years as the Avalanche have faded into relative mediocrity and the NHL has faded into complete obscurity, the rivalry has died.  Despite the fact the Avalanche don’t stack up well with the Wings as a six seed this year, I still couldn’t contain my excitement for this rivalry to be renewed with another playoff meeting.  Surely an intense Avs-Wings series could at least be some small help in getting the NHL back on the mainstream sports landscape right?  How could you not get excited about Sakic, Forsberg and several of the old names squaring off against their nemesis?  Well, that too is short lived.  Forsberg has missed the first two games of the series with an apparent groin injury, and the Avs have been outscored 9-4 in losing the first two games of the series.  Jose Theodore has proved he is no Patrick Roy, having been angrily yanked from the first two games after giving up four goals in each one (all in a total of less than four periods of playing time in the two games).  The Avs look hopelessly outmanned, and while I was not at all familiar with the Wings’ Johan Franzen, I now despise him as much as I despised Darren McCarty in the old days after Franzen has lit the Avs up for five goals in the first two games.  Maybe a return to the Pepsi Center Tuesday will help the Avs, after all this is still a seven game series and the Avs have a chance to even things with a couple of wins at home.  It’s not quite like the Nuggets where the chance is zero percent.  Still, goaltending is what wins playoff series, and Theodore is shaky at best right now.  As great as he was in the first round against Minnesota (and he basically won the series for them) he has been awful in round two.  Will Peter Budaj be in net for game three?  The fact that this is even a question does not bode well for the Avalanche.  One thing in hockey though is that a playoff series can turn on a dime.  It actually happened for the Avs against Detroit in the 1999 second round.  Detroit blasted the Avs in the first two games at old McNichols Sports Arena, only to see Colorado win four straight, including three at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.  The Avalanche can only hope that history will repeat itself this week, and that they don’t end up following the Nuggets by getting unceremoniously broomed out of the playoffs. 

At least the Broncos had what appears to be a good draft.  That discussion will be saved for another time, because it doesn’t seem quite fair to lump that with a depressing weekend of bad sports all the way around.  That is, unless the rest of the weekend is an omen and these guys all prove to be busts in three years.  Hopefully that won’t prove to be the case. 

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An exciting sports time

Posted by mizzou1028 on April 9, 2008

Big game Thursday night for the Nuggets, as they play on the road at the Golden State Warriors.  The Nuggets find themselves in what amounts to a play-in game for the playoffs, tied with Golden State for the eighth and final playoff spot in the west, with four games to play for each team.  After Thursday’s head to head meeting, the Nuggets are at Utah and finish with Houston and Memphis at home, certainly not an easy schedule.  The Warriors host the Clippers and Seattle and have a road game at Phoenix.  Connecting the dots leads to the clear conclusion the Nuggets are pretty much toast if they won’t win at Oracle Arena on Thursday.  The Nuggets find themselves in this position because they blew two games they should have won over the weekend to Sacramento and Seattle.    I still maintain they can do some damage if they do manage to get in the playoffs, but they are going to have to shore up their defense, and they can’t take any more nights off.  Ownership has invested too much in this team to see them crumble this way.  Thursday’s game could even go a long way toward determining the future of coach George Karl as well as some members of the team.  There is simply too much talent for them to miss the playoffs, but it’s looking like that could end up happening. 

………….

For those of you who claim not to be fans of hockey, I recommend you start watching tonight.  The Stanley Cup Playoffs are one of the best experiences in sports.  In hockey, more so than any other sport, there is a tremendous difference between the regular season and the playoffs.  Not to say that the regular season isn’t important, because it is, but the playoffs take on a whole new intensity.  Guys have to practically be on their death bed not to play.  Players are willing to sacrifice everything for their teammates.  I certainly realize that it’s hard to find the channel that carries the games, and it’s hard to find coverage with ESPN shoving highlights way behind the NBA and whatever else they carry on their network.  Just do yourself a favor and watch a game involving Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin.  I for one am very excited to see my Avalanche back in the playoffs after a year absence, which could be a good thing as the Nuggets may miss the NBA playoffs.  Seriously though, take a look in at some of the NHL playoff action this year, for it is as exciting as any other time in sports.  I’d like to see any sports fan who actually gives the Stanley Cup Playoffs a chance and still tries to pretend they don’t enjoy watching hockey.  Anyone who would claim that is simply not a fan of sports, period. 

………………………

I am definitely excited for the start of baseball season, especially after the amazing run the Rockies made to reach the World Series last season.  I do find everyone’s expectations for the team amusing however.  Just because they made the World Series last year doesn’t mean they’ll get there every year, or even be assured to be in the mix.  There are a lot of other good teams out there that improved themselves this offseason, including the other contenders in the NL West (Arizona adding Dan Haren, the Dodgers adding Andruw Jones).  That being said, the Rockies do have a lot of talent and should field another competitive team.  It was certainly encouraging to see them invest some payroll to keep guys like Tulowitzki and Corpas this past offseason.  I just hope that when Matt Holliday becomes a free agent in 2009, that the Rockies will make sure they keep him.  Unfortunately with MLB’s economic structure, the odds are Holliday will cash in big with the Yankees or some other big market team.  Here’s hoping that the Rockies will stay committed to keeping this team together and can figure out a way to keep Holliday for the long haul.  He’s already delivered a pair of clutch home runs in this opening homestand alone, and appears to be on track for another great year.  Regardless whether the Rockies make another run at the playoffs or not, this will (hopefully) be a fun team to watch for a number of years, and that makes it much more fun to follow baseball season during the summer.

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How’s your bracket?

Posted by mizzou1028 on March 25, 2008

Have I mentioned how much I love the NCAA Tournament?  Have I also mentioned how it can be maddening, frustrating, and annoying while simultaneously entertaining and exhilarating?  That about sums up the first weekend of the tournament for me.  Of the 16 teams remaining in the tournament, I had only nine advancing to this point in the tournament.  How could I have thought that Clemson would make a run into the Elite Eight?  Turns out the ACC was more mediocre this year than I thought, with only North Carolina remaining in the field.  I clearly also overestimated the strength of the Big East, getting burned by Marquette, Pitt AND Georgetown, who I had going to the Final Four.  At least my championship matchup, North Carolina vs. Texas, is still intact. 

Despite my bitterness about my bracket, which is about as useful as kindling these days, it is impossible not enjoy a team like Davidson.  It is the Davidson Wildcats that are responsible for me losing a Final Four team (Georgetown).  I had heard through the grapevine that Davidson had a nice team, that they had played North Carolina and Duke close during the season, and that they were a team to watch.  I had them winning one game, which they did against fellow mid-major Gonzaga, but I didn’t think they would have a chance against the mighty Hoyas, arguably the best team from the Big East.  Perhaps my thinking might have been different had I gotten a chance to see Stephen Curry play this season.  For all the talk about sensational players around the country like Michael Beasley and Tyler Hansbrough , Curry should rank right up there the way he played in Davidson’s two tournament games.  He lit Gonzaga up for 40 points, 30 in the second half, and then scored another 30 in the upset of the Hoyas.  An acquaintance of mine who happens to be a KU fan actually uttered, “I’d much rather play Wisconsin than Davidson if we happen to beat Villanova.  I don’t think we can stop Stephen Curry.”  Never mind that Davidson is a 10 seed from the mighty Southern Conference that has a loss to Western Michigan on its resume, although granted that was early in the season.  It’s a team like Davidson that makes the tournament a special event.

We also saw something we’ve never seen in the tournament before: A pair of 12 vs. 13 matchups in the second round.  This after Western Kentucky blew a 16 point lead against Drake, than rallied to win on a 38 foot buzzer beater that will no doubt go down in tournament annals.  Meanwhile, San Diego stunned 4-seed UConn in overtime, while 4-seed Vanderbilt got run out of the gym by Siena – SIENA!  Honestly, how many of you out there had Western Kentucky, San Diego and Siena all advancing past the first round?  I actually did pick a 13-4 upset, just turns out I picked the wrong one.  I thought I had something when Winthrop was tied at the half against Washington State, but than the Eagles scored a grand total of five points in the first 15 minutes of the second half and got blown out.  Oh, and then we almost saw another 15-2 upset, and had it not been for an errant inbounds pass, Belmont would have upset powerhouse Duke. 

This year I was fortunate in that I got to see some of the tournament in person this year, attending first and second round action at the Pepsi Center in Denver.  It was just my luck though that I didn’t see any buzzer beaters or fantastic finishes or crazy upsets.  No, I sat through five blowouts and one semi-competitive game that Drew Neitzel took over as Michigan State pulled away against Pitt.  The most excitement in the day of first round action on Thursday was about 20 of us huddled around a two inch cell phone screen trying to watch the end of the Belmont-Duke game.    That being said, it is still an amazing experience to be there.  The atmosphere of an NCAA Tournament is a unique, one of a kind sports experience.  In one fell swoop, you can feel exhilaration and frustration.  It is possible to enjoy the excitement of the games while at the same time bemoaning how worthless your bracket has become.  It doesn’t matter which teams are on the court, or even who ends up winning.  The NCAA Tournament is sports at its best because of the atmosphere surrounding the event and the intensity of the competition.  I can only hope that someday soon my Missouri Tigers will once again make an appearance in this event.  Five years is a long time without your favorite team being good enough to participate.  Oh well, there is always next year. 

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It’s Tourney Time!

Posted by mizzou1028 on March 18, 2008

One of my favorite times of the year is almost here, the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament.  Will this finally be the year a 16 seed upsets a 1? (Personally I’m rooting for Portland State against Kansas – that would more than make up for Missouri’s mediocrity this season.).  I am sane enough to realize that the odds of that happening are about the equivalent of me winning the Powerball jackpot.  Oh wait, I never have.  The odds should be better that all four number one seeds will make the Final Four, especially with this year’s talented quartet of North Carolina, UCLA, Memphis, and aforementioned Kansas.  Thing is, that’s not very likely either that all four teams will go through the bracket unscathed.  See, there has never been a year where all four number one seeds have reached the Final Four, not one.  That’s what makes this event a truly unique one on the sports calendar.  You never know who is going to get hot.  We’ve seen four 15 seeds win games against 2 seeds since 1990.  We’ve seen upsets over the years the likes of Weber State over North Carolina, Bradley over Kansas, Vermont over Syracuse, Virginia Commonwealth over Duke and Bucknell over Kansas (can you tell who I like to see go down?).  My Missouri Tigers made the Elite Eight in 2002 as a 12 seed.   George Mason of course made their spectacular run two years ago to reach the Final Four as an 11 seed.  Villanova won the national title as an 8 seed in 1985, I could go on and on.  The point is, between all the buzzer beaters, fantastic finishes and upsets, it makes it virtually impossible to predict how the tournament will go.  This makes winning a bracket challenge or office pool extremely difficult.  Chances are, the winner won’t have seen a single hoops game all year or will win because they confused George Mason with George Washington.  Perhaps their alma matter happened to get hot out of nowhere.  It just becomes harder and harder every year to win that office pool.

Some will have success with the mascot theory, picking games based on who’s mascot would be more likely to win an actual fight.  This worked well for those that rode the Florida Gators the past two seasons.  Some people try crazy ideas like inverse graduation rate, famous alumni, coin flip or some other such crazy exercise.  While there is no theory that will guarantee success, there are some simple actual basketball points that can at least prevent you from finishing last in your pool or getting embarrassed.

– Remember a 16 seed has never defeated a 1 seed, so Mississippi Valley State is not bumping off UCLA, let alone advancing to the sweet 16

– As mentioned above, all four number one seeds have never made the Final Four.  Fill out your bracket accordingly.

– Keep an eye out for teams that will be enjoying home cooking, playing close to home and in front of partisan crowds.  Last year UCLA defeated top seed Kansas in the regional final in large part because they were playing in California.  Syracuse took advantage of regional games in Albany when they won the national title in 2003 as a three seed.  North Carolina will be helped immensely this year by playing their first two games in Raleigh (less than 30 minutes from their home court, the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill) and two potential regional games in Charlotte, where they just won the ACC Tournament.  Sure, they have a bracket with tough foes in Tennessee, Louisville and Notre Dame, but the hometown feeling is a huge advantage.  UCLA will play its first two games in nearby Anaheim before potentially heading to Phoenix, which isn’t that far from LA.   Texas, should they get through their first two rounds in Little Rock, will get regional games in Houston, giving them a huge edge against the South’s top seed, Memphis.  How about South Alabama, a 10 seed getting to play in Birmingham against 7 seed Butler?  To a lesser degree, Kansas and Kansas State will benefit from playing first and second round games in Omaha, just a short drive from Kansas City.  Also, 10 seed Davidson will be much more comfortable in Raleigh than their first round opponent Gonzaga, which must travel cross country.

– Don’t get sucked into picking too many upsets.  Not all of the top seeds are going to go down.  Pick your upsets in spots, but remember that by and large the better teams will be advancing deep into the tournament.  It is especially important to remember that the odds of the national champ being anything other than a top three seed is highly unlikely.

– If your alma matter or favorite team is in the tournament, try to pick with your brain instead of your heart.  That being said, feel free to pick them a round farther than you normally would if they weren’t your favorite team.  It sure worked for George Mason alums two years ago.

– Don’t get swayed by tradition rich programs with poor seeds, such as Arizona (10) and Kentucky (11) in this year’s bracket.   If a traditional power is seeded double digits, they probably didn’t have a good year by their standards and may not be your best choice for an upset pick.

– Pay attention to how teams finished the season.  Pitt, a 4 seed, won the Big East Tournament after being seeded seventh in that bracket.  Clemson, a five seed, beat Duke in the ACC semis and played North Carolina tough in all three meetings this year.   Memphis earned its top seed in part by breezing through the Conference USA tournament.  You can argue all you want about their league not being strong, but their strong run at the end of league play gives indication they’ll be up for the challenge in the NCAA Tournament.

Just remember, there is no perfect formula for picking these games.  Something will happen that is completely unexpected, it is just not possible to tell what it will be.  Above all, this tournament is fun.  If Portland State does beat Kansas, I will be on cloud nine, even if I have Kansas picked to go deep in the tournament.  If your bracket goes down in flames, don’t worry, chances are everyone else in your office is experiencing the same thing.  If they’re not, the tournament is still fun to watch for its unpredictability and excitement.  For the record, my Final Four picks are North Carolina, Georgetown, Texas and UCLA, with the Tar Heels winning their second title under Roy Williams.  You know what this means, for heaven’s sake stay away from those four teams!

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The frustration of watching the Nuggets

Posted by mizzou1028 on March 11, 2008

At the start of the season it seemed impossible to think that the Denver Nuggets were going to miss the NBA playoffs.  They possess two of the top scorers in the NBA in Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson.  They have the reigning defensive player of the year in Marcus Camby.  They have a sharpshooter coming off the bench in J.R. Smith who can provide instant offense.  They’ve even had Eduardo Najera and Linas Kleiza emerge during the course of the season to fill in key roles.  Their record isn’t even that bad, 37-26, which in any other year would put them in easy playoff position.  Heck, if they were playing in the Eastern Conference instead of the West, the Nuggets would be seeded fourth in the playoff bracket if the season ended today.   Because they play out west however, the Nuggets find themselves in the number nine position in the conference, two and a half games out of a playoff spot.  The fact is this year’s playoff race out west is shaping to be more competitive than possibly any other in league history, and the Nuggets are finding themselves on the outside looking in with less than 20 games remaining in the regular season.

It’s easy to use the competitive field as an excuse for the Nuggets being ninth in the conference right now, but the bottom line is a team that talented should not be missing the playoffs, period.  What makes them so frustrating to watch at times is they’ve shown they can beat anybody, they just can’t seem to do it consistently.  Last week they blew out the Phoenix Suns and then overcome a double digit deficit to beat defending champ San Antonio.  Granted, both games were on their home court at the Pepsi Center, but they were great efforts against great teams at the right time of year.  The efforts were essentially rendered moot however, when the Nuggets followed them with a listless performance in a key division game at Utah, getting hammered 132-105.  Last night the Nuggets daunting schedule continued with a visit to San Antonio.  Somewhat surprisingly, the Nuggets held a three point lead at halftime, and led by as many as nine in the third quarter.  Despite losing the lead partly because they lost their composure, with Camby and Anthony each picking up technical fouls for arguing calls,  the Nuggets regrouped and found themselves tied with the Spurs at 100 apiece with two minutes to go.

The rest of the game illustrated much of what has been plaguing the Nuggets all year.  The Nuggets actually toughened up on defense, forcing a missed shot by the Spurs’ Tony Parker.  As has been the case many times this year, the Nuggets stood around and watched the Spurs get the offensive rebound.  Then another shot, another miss, and another offensive rebound.  The Spurs looked discombobulated on offense, and Tim Duncan drove the lane awkwardly.  He threw up a wild shot which was blocked by Kenyon Martin, but Carmelo Anthony fouled Duncan in the process of trying to help out.  For those not keeping track, the Nuggets allowed two offensive rebounds on the biggest possession of the game, and ended up putting Duncan at the foul line.  After Duncan sank the two free throws to put the Spurs up two, Allen Iverson kept the ball on the next possession and threw up a wild fadeaway jumper with a hand in his face.  Not surprisingly the shot missed the Spurs got the rebound.  Mind you there was still more than a minute remaining, so the Nuggets would have had plenty of time to get into their offense and get a good shot.  Instead, Iverson jacked up a fadeaway before even 10 seconds had elapsed off the shot clock.  After the Spurs made two more free throws following a Nuggets foul, J.R. Smith jacked up a wild three before the Nuggets could get into their offense.  The Nuggets ended up losing a game they had a chance to win, and missed a chance to make a statement by beating a top team on the road.

The other underlying theme from last night’s game was the fact that Anthony was essentially absent in the entire fourth quarter.  Looking back at the stats last night, Anthony didn’t score a single point in the fourth quarter, and I’m not even sure he got a shot off in the frame.  For all that Iverson has done since coming to Denver, and he has done more than he’s gotten acknowledgement for, Anthony is the leader of the team.  For him to be that unproductive in the fourth quarter of a key game is inexcusable.  There is a reason why he doesn’t get the accolades that fellow draft class members LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have received.  Those two have led their teams to the NBA Finals.  The Nuggets have not made it out of the first round since Anthony’s arrival.  The way they’re headed this season, they could go down as the most talented team ever to miss the playoffs.  They still have 19 games remaining in the regular season, including several coming up against teams they should easily beat.  Will they step up and get it together?  It’s a question of whether we’ll see the team that’s defeated the Suns, Spurs and Celtics in recent weeks, or whether we’ll see the team that blew a 23 point lead to hapless Milwaukee and didn’t show up in Utah.  The Nuggets have the talent to be a playoff team and should be a playoff team.  That is, if they stop getting in their own way while trying to get there. 

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Random Thoughts for March

Posted by mizzou1028 on March 4, 2008

So the calendar has turned into March.  Never mind that it’s hard to fathom that we’re already two months into 2008.  This means one thing and one thing only: this is the best time of year for college basketball.  It is this time of year that reminds me why the college game is considerably better and more entertaining than the pro version.  I’m well aware that I recently wrote that I’m paying more attention to the NBA these days.  That still holds true, especially this season when the Nuggets may end up holding the distinction of the most talented team ever to miss the playoffs.  However, there is one thing the college game has that the NBA will never have, and that’s the passion involved in each game.  Have you ever once seen NBA fans charge the court to celebrate a big win?  No.  Do NBA fans arrive at a game three hours early to secure the best seats? No.  Do NBA games have raucous student sections that turn even the most mundane of matchups into an electric atmosphere? No.  

As much as I despise Kansas basketball, and the hatred is evident if you get to know me for five seconds, I had to give a tip of the cap while watching their game against Texas Tech last night.  It was senior night at Allen Fieldhouse, and as usual the place was packed.  That atmosphere is what makes college basketball so great.  Students at KU camp out for days to make sure they get seats for the next game, and regardless of the score (last night KU walloped Tech by 58 points) no one leaves the game early, ever.  I’ve been to NBA games where the score is tied with three minutes left and people are heading for the exits to beat traffic.  Seriously, how absurd is this?  People don’t leave movies early, so why do they leave games early, even when it’s competitive at the end?  That’s a rant for another time, but the point is you don’t see that kind of casual fan behavior at a college game.  Every college game has an electric atmosphere, virtually anywhere in the country, that is simply not duplicated at the professional level.  Even in a year where my Mizzou Tigers are just hovering over .500 at 15-14, I still pay much closer attention to the college season and in particular the Big 12 this time of year than I do any other sport.  The NCAA tournament is a unique event on the sports calendar partly due to its unpredictability, but it’s the passion of each game that makes the event special.  For me, the final few weeks of the regular season and the week of conference tournaments also provide the same intensity and excitement.  No matter who your team is, no matter how poor a season they’ve had, there’s always that minuscule chance they could win their conference tournament and make the big party.  That small chance alone makes the next few weeks of games worth watching.

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Have you seen some of these deals being shelled out in the early period of free agency in the NFL?  I know it’s always a time where teams want to show their fans that they’re doing something to try and improve the team, but some of these deals are insane.  How many of you out there have heard of Tommy Kelly?  He’s a defensive tackle who last year had 30 tackles and one sack for the Raiders, and didn’t play a down after suffering a season ending injury in week 8 against Tennessee.  The Raiders shelled out $50.5 million over five years to re-sign him.  That’s an awful lot of money to shell out for one sack.  Reports had some NFL GM’s saying, “Who is Tommy Kelly?”  How about Justin Smith, defensive end formerly of the Bengals, getting $45 million over six years to sign with San Francisco?  Smith had a whopping two sacks last year, and while talented, doesn’t seem like he’d be considered the so called missing piece to justify that kind of signing.  The Jacksonville Jaguars clearly thought that two interceptions was worth $6 million a year, as that’s what they’re paying former Charger cornerback Drayton Florence.  Seems as though the New England Patriots still have confidence in their more low key formula.  They elected not to re-sign WR Donte Stallworth (who went to Cleveland), CB Asante Samuel (who got a 6 year $57 million contract from Philadelphia, although he at least intercepted six passes last year) and CB Randall Gay (who signed with New Orleans).  These can be added to the list of big name players they have jettisoned in the past (David Givens, Deion Branch, Ty Law, Drew Bledsoe among them), and it’s a philosophy that seems to work for them.  As successful as they’ve been, maybe the answer isn’t to spend every dime you have on free agents every winter.  Then again, maybe the Patriots are just good at bargain hunting.  Their 3 year $27 million re-signing of star receiver Randy Moss seems like the biggest bargain of the winter. 

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Tonight Peter Forsberg returns to the Colorado Avalanche.  I really hope that this isn’t just a public relations move to bring him back.  If he is even 80 percent of the player he was before he left the club, then the Avalanche are about get a huge boost.  Right now they are on the cusp of playoff contention, but if he can contribute, then they might just make a run.  Last year felt weird without the Avalanche in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but if they make it back this year with Forsberg and Adam Foote having just returned to the team, it will be just like old times. 

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Why I might once again watch the NBA

Posted by mizzou1028 on February 20, 2008

Last night I spent my evening at the Pepsi Center, watching the Denver Nuggets host the Boston Celtics.  It’s not necessarily rare for me to attend an NBA game, but over the years, my interest in the NBA has generally declined compared to what it was in the mid-90s.  One reason for this is my interest in the college game has increased during that time, plus I rapidly became more of a fan of the NHL than the NBA.  I think a large part of my decline in NBA interest is the way ESPN continually shoves it down my throat whether I want to hear about it at that moment or not, and I have simulataneously come to resent the network’s lack of coverage of the NHL.  There isn’t one reason in particular for my NBA interest waning, but over the years I’ve come to appreciate the college game more.  There seems to be more team play, less emphasis on superstars (especially stars getting calls from officials), and certainly a more fun atmosphere in which to attend a game.  Half the time I would attend a Nuggets game at the Pepsi Center, and it seemed like a great environment for a nap.  Conversely, every college game I went to at Mizzou was a great atmosphere, even if they were playing some no name Division II school.

Now I don’t mean to imply that I stopped following the Nuggets altogether.  I’ve rooted for them and followed them as much as any of the other teams in this city.  In fact I’m probably one of the few that can say they attended at least 10 games during the memorable 1997-98 season when they threatened the worst record in league history, finishing 11-71.  I’m simply saying my interest over last 5 years or so doesn’t compare to what it was in the mid-90s.  That being said, what I saw last night gave me a feeling I hadn’t experienced at an NBA game in quite some time.  There was actual excitement in the crowd, much like a playoff atmosphere or dare I say it a college atmosphere.  There was quality play on both sides, and I’m not talking about three guys standing around observing the action while one guy posts up.  I’m talking actual team play, guys actually moving without the ball!  There were even signs of actual, genuine defense!  This is the NBA basketball I had remembered growing up, when the games were fast paced, exciting, and often times featured thrilling finishes.  It seemed like the game had evolved into a slow fest, where everything was one on one and traveling was seemingly allowed if you were considered a star. 

Last night the Nuggets didn’t win because of the effort of one or two guys, although it certainly helped that their star players Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson combined for 57 points.  Those two also combined for 14 rebounds and 13 assists, meaning they were interested in things other than scoring points for themselves.  They got nine (NINE!) blocked shots from Marcus Camby, who came oh so close to a triple double, and everyone on the bench contributed.  After last night’s win against the best team from the east, the Nuggets are 33-20, which is a very good record.    Thing is, it’s only good enough for 8th place right now in the Western Conference, and that’s what really piqued my interest in how the rest of the season could unfold.  There are so many good teams in the west, that it’s shaping up to be an amazing race.  The Nuggets record would be good enough for a three seed if they were in the Eastern Conference, but there are enough good teams in the west that it will be a dogfight simply for them to make the playoffs. 

At the top of the conference there are six teams within two games of one another: New Orleans (which has to be the surprise this year), Phoenix (having just acquired Shaq), the Lakers (who just swung a deal for big man Pau Gasol, a trade that may have more impact than Shaq going to Phoenix), Utah (which is quietly and consistently good), San Antonio (the defending champs) and Dallas (having just made a big splash by acquiring Jason Kidd).  Just two games behind that group you have Houston (owning one of the game’s best duos in Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming), Golden State (playoff darling from last year and only getting better) and the Nuggets.  If you do that math, that’s nine teams with enough talent to win the conference, all of whom are better than a majority of the eastern playoff teams, and only 8 playoff spots to divvy up.  That will shape up for a very exciting last few months of the season,  and that’s first time I can remember using the word exciting to describe the NBA in many years.  It should lead up to a playoff year that will be very interesting, a year in which there will not be much difference, if there is one, between any of the 8 teams in the western bracket.  Any of the first round matchups in the west will be a toss up, and seeds will have to be ignored with this much talent among all the teams.  It’s not enough yet that I would readily watch an NBA game over a college game, or possibly even an NHL game assuming I can find one on my TV, but I won’t be as likely to completely ignore an NBA game if I happen to scroll past one.  The bottom line is if what I saw last night at the Pepsi Center is any indication, I just may find myself watching more NBA games than I had planned on in the coming months. 

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