I would like to personally thank a long-time family friend, a man I have watched grow up for many years, Andrew Diamond for helping me with some great football (soccer) conversation. It’s World Cup time (in case you didn’t know), and Andrew is one of the most knowledgeable fans I know. So without further delay, Mr. Diamond’s piece on the 1-1 tie between those damn Red Coats, and us Yanks:
The U.S. Finally Stands Up to its Big Brother
The U.S. was very fortunate to get the goal in the way they did. Robert Green’s “Hand of Green” error will forever be remembered as one of the all-time blunders in World Cup history. Although they were gifted that fortuitous break, the U.S. was able to stifle Wayne Rooney, hit England on the counter-attack and was well deserving of their draw. While the English will put all of the blame for the draw onto their keeper’s mistake, the real reason that the United States drew with England was that U.S. manager Bob Bradley won the tactical battle over his England counterpart.
English coach, Fabio Capello made tactical errors that cost his team two points. He played James Milner on the left side of mid-field despite the fact that he was coming back from a virus. Obviously he was not fully recovered because he played poorly for the first 30 minutes, got beaten several times by Steve Cherundolo, and following a yellow card he was replaced with Shaun Wright-Phillips in just the 30th minute. This is a mistake that managers with Capello’s experience should not make. Also, the decision to play Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard in central mid-field together was the wrong option. While they are both very talented offensive-minded midfielders, the reason why they should not be played next to each other is that they play almost the identical role. If both of them are pushing up to help score, then there is going to be no one holding in deep mid-field. This left gaps in front of the England defense that enabled the U.S. to create several scoring chances on the break.
But the worst tactical mistake made by Capello was playing Green in the first place. He had a more experienced option and a younger more talented option he could have gone with. In the end he chose the player that had neither experience at the world stage nor good recent form for his club.
Bradley resisted the temptation to tamper with the formula that has worked for the team in the past and it was the right call against England. The only changes from the line-up that did so well in the Confed Cup was at forward and right back. The more experienced Cherundolo played in defense over the younger-but-less-experienced Jonathon Spectre, and Robbie Findlay filled in for the injured Charlie Davies. The only other big decision for Bradley was whether or not to play Oguchi Onyewu.
Many managers wouldn’t trust playing a center back that had not played for seven months, but Bradley did just that. I was one that felt it was suicide to play Onyewu against the likes of Wayne Rooney. Fortunately, playing Onyewu worked out as his size, strength and steel in defense negated much of Emile Heskey’s physicality. Many questioned if he could go the full 90 minutes, but Onyewu actually played much better in the second half as he shook off some of the accumulated rust and played like we have come to expect from him.
With this opening draw, the U.S. has yet again exceeded expectations under Bob Bradley. This game against England has been the focus of attention for most of us but the next two games will decide if we can progress to the knockout phase of the tournament. Slovenia and Algeria will present an entirely different proposition from England. The U.S. is considered the favorite in both games, not a position they are used to. The real challenge for Bradley will be getting the tactics right to break down and score against two well-drilled and disciplined sides that play a much more cautious style than England.
(This is where Andrew Diamond’s story ends and my addition begins)
One of the giant reasons the United States was able to earn the draw was the cool-head of Keeper Tim Howard. The last-defense on a team is the keeper. He’s the one who gets the blame for a loss (or tie in Green’s case), and Howard was every bit the last defense the U.S. needed. After the early goal by Steven Gerrard in just the third minute, it’s easy to get on-edge and make mistakes. Howard did the exact opposite. He stood tall and kept the U.S. in the match until Clint Dempsey was able to make good on a chance in the 39th minute.
And in the second half, Howard was tested multiple times as both teams started stretching the field. There were three different times in the second half where the English offense bested the American defense, only to be stymied by Howard. He made key save after key save to help the United States earn a 1-1 tie. I just wanted to make sure he got his due in this story.
Thanks again to Andrew for a well-written piece. Look for more work from Mr. Diamond as the World Cup continues throughout the month of June and into early July.
So you wanna play rough, huh? No problem. Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Ron Artest and the rest of the Los Angeles Lakers seem to like that just fine.
In game one of the 2010 NBA Finals, the Lakers took it inside, crashed the boards, got second-chance points and just out-muscled the rough-and-rugged Boston Celtics for a 102-89 victory at Staples Center. And it wasn’t even that close. It was 84-64 after three quarters. It took a semi-run by the C’s in the fourth to get it to a 13-point defeat.
And while it was Kobe’s 30 and Gasol’s 23 that will get the main credit for the win. It was Ron Artest who set the tone from the jump, getting into it with Paul Pierce just 27 seconds into the game. Locking arms with Pierce as they fought for position and they both went down. They got double-technicals for the scuffle, but it sent a message to the rest of the Lakers.
This is why you brought me in, now let me show you how defense is done.
Artest’s stifling defense aggravated Pierce and took him out of his game. Yes Pierce finished with 24 points on 6-for-13 shooting and 12-for-13 from the free throw line. But he was essentially a non-factor in game one. And for someone to lead his team with 24 points and be a non-factor, you know something was up. What was up, was Ron Artest’s tenacity. He forced bad passes defensively, made a few steals, and really showed the Lakers how you need to play if you’re going to defeat the Celtics. Plus scoring 15 points himself, including a big three-pointer in the 3rd quarter to give the Lakers a commanding 84-64 lead with 28 seconds left in the quarter.
Of course 30 points from the Greatest Player in the NBA helps as well.
Kobe Bryant continued what he’s done all post-season. Dominate offensively, and leading the way for the L.A. Lakers. He had 12 points at the half, but came out with 14 in the 3rd quarter to give the Lakers a 20-point lead heading into the final frame. He finished with 30 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists. His 12th 30-point game of this post-season. Yes, that would be 12 out of 17 games. Just a complete game by the most complete player in the league.
And of course there was “soft” Pau Gasol. He admittedly was pushed around by Kevin Garnett in the 2008 Finals. Not in 2010. Different year, different Pau. This is a Pau Gasol with two years of playing with Kobe. Two years of learning what it takes to be a Champion. He doesn’t slink away from physicality anymore. He dishes it out. Kevin Garnett finished with 16 points and 4 rebounds. The Celtics finished with just 8 offensive rebounds as a team. The same amount as Pau earned by himself. His line, a fantastic 23 points, 14 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 blocks. Just a monster game for Gasol.
So the Lakers, who lost game one of the ‘08 Finals in Boston 98-88, have taken game one with their 11th consecutive 100-point game. And while it is just one win, it’s a very big win. A win that brings up a very big number.
That is what Phil Jackson’s teams are after taking game one of a series. And yes, every series is its own entity, this is still a number that gets a lot of recognition around the league. And you can bet the Celtics know it. They may not speak about it, but they know it exists.
And while Laker fans will be jubilant tonight. (And yes I am quite happy myself, because I was very nervous for this game). There is one big thing I have to speak about negatively. A 6-foot-10-inch thing to be exact.
Lamar Odom, where the hell were you tonight? Because you certainly were not in the NBA Finals. In 21 minutes of work, you took just 6 shots, one that was from about 28 feet away, and scored just 5 points, grabbing only 4 rebounds and dishing out one pathetic assist. That is NOT okay. This is a power forward who can handle the rock like a point guard, drive like a shooting guard, and block like a center. Yet he was nowhere to be found.
So while I will take the 102-89 game one victory. I need to see more out of the most important sixth-man in the NBA. And the Lakers are going to need more out of Odom if they are going to win this series.
Now I want to say something to the referees: Let them play.
There were entirely too many ticky-tack fouls called in this NBA Finals game. There were 54 fouls called, leading to 36 free throws for the Celtics and 31 for the Lakers. That is too many whistles in a Championship game. They’re grown men, let them play.
All in all, it was a sloppy, yet great game one. The Lakers got exactly what they needed out of their starting-five. Kobe looked in control and in sync with his teammates. Pau looked like a MAN in the paint. Artest was inside Pierce’s jersey all night. Derek Fisher hit some big shots and some big flops (best flopper in the game I say). And Andrew Bynum out-dueled Kendrick Perkins, 10 points to 8 and 6 rebounds to 3.
The Laker defense held the Celtics to just 1-for-10 shooting from behind the arc. Held Boston to ZERO second-chance points. And held the Celtics to just 29-for-67 from the field.
Wait, i’m confused. Wasn’t L.A. supposed to be the soft team?
The Los Angeles Lakers are going back to the NBA Finals for the third straight year and a record 31st time as an organization. And I will get to that plenty, but first I want to congratulate the Phoenix Suns on a very well-fought Western Conference Finals.
Heading into the 2009-10 NBA season most people, myself included figured the west was the Lakers, the Denver Nuggets and then everybody else. But then the Suns started the year 14-3 and the world took notice. Until they followed that up with a 12-18 record heading into late January. But the Suns finished strong, going 28-7 From January 28th, to head into the playoffs with a 54-28 record and the three seed in the Western Conference.
They took down the upstart and injured Portland Trailblazers in six games to set up a rematch they’ve wanted for a long time. The San Antonio Spurs. And the Suns got that sweet taste of revenge in the form of a 4-0 beat-down. Which brought them to the door-step of the NBA Finals.
But in their way were the defending champs, who had revenge on their mind as well. Kobe Bryant remembered the first-round losses in 2006 and 2007. And his game showed it. In the Western Conference Finals, Bryant averaged 34 points and 8 assists in a six-game victory over the Suns.
So to the Suns, I say great season, but it had to come to an end. The Los Angeles Lakers have dreams of their 16th NBA title, Kobe Bryant has visions of his fifth and Phil Jackson is working on number 11.
But there’s a familiar foe standing in their way. A foe going for their 18th NBA championship. The leprechaun-green and ghostly-white of the Boston Celtics. A team that is kryptonite to the Los Angeles Lakers. Ask Wilt Chamberlain, ask Jerry West, heck, ask Kobe and Pau from 2008.
You know those 10 titles in 11 years that the Celtics won back in the 50’s and 60’s? SEVEN of them were at the expense of the Lakers. In fact, nine of the Celtics NBA-record 17 Championships have been over the Purple and Gold.
Including two years ago. A Finals that sticks in every Laker-fan’s memory bank like a sore-thumb. All the talk before the Finals that the Lakers were unstoppable. They would run circles around the Celtics and win this in six. Well what happened? The Celtics punched the Lakers in the mouth and never looked back as they won their 17th title in game six on their home floor in embarrassing fashion.
They out-muscled, out-hustled and just out-played the Lakers. Kobe Bryant, exhausted from having to guard Paul Pierce, was overwhelmed by the Boston defense. Pau Gasol was bullied by Kevin Garnett. And the Laker bench could not keep up with the Celtics reserves.
But this is not 2008. And this is not the same Laker team. That team had not won a title. This team has. That team was soft. This 2010 team, with the addition of Ron Artest, is definitely not soft. Pau has learned toughness from Kobe. Andrew Bynum, though not 100 percent, is definitely more of a factor than in 2008… when he was on the bench in street-clothes.
So, in this 12th meeting between the best two franchises the NBA has to offer, how do I see it coming out? Glad you asked.
I see Gold and Purple-rain in the weather forecast and I’ll tell you why. The addition of Ron Artest is about to pay off huge dividends. It hasn’t really shown much up until now, but it will.
Because Artest, one of the best defenders in the NBA, is going to be on Paul Pierce instead of Kobe Bryant. Which frees Kobe defensively to guard Rajon Rondo, who is young and quick, but is still an easier cover than Pierce. And it will free Kobe offensively, because he won’t be exhausted from having to guard Pierce on the other end.
And since Artest is still an offensive threat (25 points in game-six’s clincher over the Suns), the Lakers will have more points on the board as well. Pau will not be bullied this time around and neither will Lamar Odom. Bynum will be on the floor to cancel out Kendrick Perkins. And I see the benches (minus Odom) basically being a wash.
So with all that said, I’m going with the Lakers in six. They’ve won their last five playoff series on the road, but with the Celtics playing so strong right now, I don’t see this ending in Beantown in just five games. I see a great battle between the two best franchises.
I see Kobe Bryant realizing his greatness, and how much that fifth title means to his legacy. It would tie him with Magic Johnson, THE greatest Laker, and it would be over their most-hated rivals. It would put him one behind Michael Jordan, his biggest comparison.
And it would set up yet another chance for a three-peat next season for Kobe and Phil Jackson.
Of course Boston could mess all that up by reminding L.A. why they won the title in 2008. With heart and muscle.
But I feel the Lakers are tougher this time around. They are definitely more battle-tested this time around. And in this Lakers/Celtics rivalry turnabout is fair-play. Like in the 80’s when Bird’s Celtics defeated Magic’s Lakers in 1984. What happened in 1985? Magic got his revenge. And then the Lakers did it again in 1987. So the Celtics used old-fashioned true-grit to win in 2008. But it’s 2010.
And I’m betting Kobe and the Lakers learned their lesson.
Okay, I know the Lakers are hated by everyone outside of Los Angeles, but this is ridiculous. Even the refs are in on it. Now before you go and call me biased, I have evidence.
Before I get to it, let me explain where I am going with this. And I’m not going to pull punches. If it wasn’t for the obvious involvement by the referees, the Los Angeles Lakers would have just completed a four-game sweep of the Phoenix Suns. But apparently Commissioner David Stern wants a longer series. He needs the exposure. And if this crap he pulled costs the Lakers their rightful shot at defending their title, then he’s going to have a lot of explaining to do.
Now let’s take this game by game. In game one, the Lakers used their size advantage to dismantle the Suns, 128-107. That and Kobe Bryant playing like the best player on the planet (40 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists). And this was despite the 32-to-22 edge in free throw attempts for the Suns.
In game two, the Lakers once again went inside and defeated the Suns, 124-112. This time Pau led the way with 29 points and Kobe played the role of Magic, 21 points and 13 assists. In this game, the Lakers had a 34-to-26 free throw advantage.
So now we head to Phoenix with the Lakers up 2-0 in the series, something no one comes back from against L.A. And in game three the Suns took down the Lakers 118-109. This despite Kobe’s almost-triple-double of 36 points, 9 rebounds, 11 assists. The Suns had a 42-to-20 edge in free throw attempts.
A 42-to-20 edge in free throw attempts?! Are you kidding me? And the Suns connected on 37 of those free throws. 17 free points. Really? So the Lakers became dirty in Phoenix and the Suns played clean? Come on…
And tonight, game four. A complete miscarriage of justice. A horrible display of obvious bias toward the home team. The Suns went to the free throw line time and time again, as well as got extra possessions, due to fouls, which lead to points. And tonight the Suns went to the free throw line 32 times, compared to 13 for the Lakers. Kobe Bryant did his again with 38 points, 7 rebounds and 10 assists. But even the best in the business can’t fight the referees.
A 32-to-13 free throw advantage. A 74-to-33 free throw advantage in two games and you’re surprised this series is tied at two?!
I’m not surprised, I’m disgusted. This isn’t sports, it’s politics. And it doesn’t belong in the NBA, NFL, MLB or NHL. The better team should win, plain and simple. It should be a fair fight, and tonight was not. And neither was games three. The referees have stripped any credibility to these Western Conference Finals by sticking their whistle where it doesn’t belong. Time and time again I saw the Suns drive the lane and either make a shot or get bailed out with a foul. And time and time again, I saw the Lakers drive the lane and„. nothing.
No foul, no shot, just a turnover. Right…
CAN I GET A FAIR FIGHT?!
This sound fair to anyone else out there? The Los Angeles Lakers are now forced to go home with a series tied at two instead of going home to plan their title defense.
Now if it was fair, if the referees let the teams play and the Lakers lost these two games, I’d have no problem with it. But it’s such an obvious cheat that I cannot stay quiet on this one.
Yes, the zone has caused problems. Yes the Suns bench stepped up huge. And yes the Lakers have forgotten to go down low. But when you’re playing against a team with an Ace in the hole, it causes you to change your game-plan. The Lakers have been forced to play a different style because they are not getting any calls. And I don’t mean some of the time, I mean they were out-shot 74-to-33 in free throws! They aren’t getting any of the calls!
Because the referees have decided to step in… Excuse me, they were instructed to step in and blow their whistle where it doesn’t belong. Actually, they pocket their whistle plenty of times… When the Lakers have the ball.
Hey Ref, I got a place you can stick your whistle. It’s where the SUN don’t shine.
The Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers will meet in the Western Conference Finals next Monday. These two Division rivals have not met in the post-season since 2007. And although that was only three years ago, a lot has happened in that time. Back then, the Suns were the dominant team, defeating the Lakers in the first round in back-to-back seasons.
But things are different in 2010.
Los Angeles has a 7-foot-1-inch Spaniard in Pau Gasol. They have a 7-foot-1-inch young center in Andrew Bynum. And they have one of the best defenders in the game in Ron Artest. And speaking of defending… The Lakers are the defending champs. They finished with the best record in the west. And they are looking to repeat. The Suns, meanwhile, shocked a lot of people with the season they had. I knew they would be a solid team. But when you spoke about the teams who could possibly de-thrown the Lakers, Phoenix was not on the list.
But now they are.
And they earned the right to get there. The Suns, led by the crafty Canuck, Steve Nash, outlasted an upstart Portland squad in six games and then did what NOBODY believed possible. They swept the San Antonio Spurs. The Tim Duncan-Manu Ginobli-Tony Parker San Antonio Spurs! (and if you say you called it, you’re full of it).
Now, I’ll admit, I picked the Spurs to persevere and I was wrong. Congratulations to the Suns for that feat. But the party stops here. You’ve run into a wall of a team. A team you can’t out-run, can’t out-shoot, can’t out-play.
The Los Angeles Lakers are the defending champs for a reason. They have a great coach in Phil Jackson. Maybe you’ve heard of him. They have athletic big-men in the aforementioned Gasol and Bynum, as well as 6-foot-10-inch-Lamar Odom coming off the bench. And they have Kobe Bryant. I know you’ve heard of him. He’s only owned the NBA for the last decade. Going to six NBA Finals, winning four titles, including a scoring title, a Finals MVP and regular-season MVP.
And he’s back for more.
After struggling against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round. Kobe righted the ship and the rest of the crew followed in a four-game sweep….excuse me… the FIRST four-game sweep ever of the Utah Jazz. That’s right. No one had ever done it before. And when you think of the Jazz’s long, extensive, playoff history, that is impressive. And Kobe led the charge, averaging 32 points and 6 assists in the sweep.
And now we wait a week for them to play. So here’s some knowledge for you to pass the time. The Lakers remember the Suns beating them in 2006 and 2007. Well, the one’s on that Laker team remember. Which would include Kobe and Lamar. And I’m not one to say that Kobe Bryant holds a grudge, but… Oh who am I kidding.
KOBE BRYANT HOLDS A GRUDGE.
And he is not a man you want to play when he’s determined. Especially when he’s got the better team… Which he does. The Lakers are better than the Suns. They have a better coach, better star player and better starting-5. I’ll even make it 6 and include Odom. As for the Suns… Yes they have a better bench. But besides that, they are worse than the Lakers. And they are worse than they were in 06-07. Actually, in some cases, they are the same. Both teams (‘06-07 and ‘09-10) lead the NBA with 110.2 ppg. But this year’s Suns allowed 105.3 ppg, compared to the 102.9 that ‘06-07 team allowed.
The ‘06-07 Suns got an avg. of 89.3 ppg from their starting five. This years Suns got an avg. of only 77.8 ppg.
The ‘06-07 Lakers got an avg. of 78.4 ppg from their starting five. This year’s Lakers got an avg. of 82.1 ppg. And in 2006, the Lakers defense was 25th out of 30 teams at 103.4 ppg. This years Lakers… 9th with allowing only 97 ppg.
What I’m trying to pound into your head is that the Suns are done. They will not beat the Los Angeles Lakers. On paper, L.A. is just better.
"But you don’t play on paper!", you argue.
You’re right, you don’t.
So let’s take a look at this years head-to-head match-ups:
The Los Angeles Lakers beat the Phoenix suns 3-games-to-1 in the regular season. The Lakers averaged 108.5 ppg against Phoenix. Shooting 49-percent from the field and 42-percent from the 3-point line. The Suns averaged 101 ppg, while shooting 43-percent from the field and 33-percent from the 3-point line.
Oh yeah, and the average margin of victory on both sides was 15 points. The Suns won their one game by 15, the Lakers won their three games by 20, 19 and 6.
And if you want a little history lesson, i’ve got one for you. The Phoenix Suns joined the NBA in 1968. Since that time, the Suns have been to two NBA Finals. The Los Angeles Lakers? They’ve WON 11.
So what do I make of this? Simple. The Suns are a great story. a “last-hurrah” for Steve Nash. But that’s exactly what it will be.
A last hurrah.
The Suns have been here before and have crumbled under the pressure. As for the Lakers, they are taller, better, and they have that championship swagger.
Something the Suns know nothing about.
The second round of the NBA playoffs have begun and before we get too far into round two, I wanted to prepare you for what is to come and recap round one.
In the East, the top four seeds advanced… ho hum. But in the West, we had some very interesting drama. Let’s start at the top:
(1) Los Angeles over (8) Oklahoma City in SIX games. I guess the only “surprise” here was that it took the Lakers six games to defeat the upstart Thunder. But is that really a surprise? This is the same Laker squad that went to seven against Houston last year. Houston without Yao Ming or Tracy McGrady. It boggled your mind last year. It shouldn’t have this year. You should’ve known better. Yes the Lakers are talented enough and tall enough to win in five or maybe a sweep. But that’s just not this Lakers’ style. They toy with their food. They get bored until they are slapped in the face. Then they stop playing and start PLAYING. But they won and that’s what matters…advancing.
(7) San Antonio over (2) Dallas in SIX games. Another great series between the Texas powerhouses. The Spurs have been the class of the NBA for many years. Winning titles in 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007. But last year they were over-matched by Dallas in the first round of the playoffs. This year was different. It was San Antonio taking control. Stealing a game in Dallas before holding their home court three times. Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli and Tony Parker did what was expected of them. And sadly, so did Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks. I feel bad for Mark Cuban. He cares so much about his team. But his team will never be good enough….scratch that, they are good enough. They will never be smart enough to win it all. At this point, it’s time to take a serious look at your team’s leader and make a decision. Nowitzki is fantastic on offense… by himself. But his team around him does him no good and vise-versa. Think Dominique Wilkens and the Atlanta Hawks. Spurs are tested. They passed and move on.
(3) Phoenix over (6) Portland in SIX games. I tip my hat to the Portland Trailblazers. With no Greg Oden and no Brandon Roy, the Trailblazers gave the Suns a great fight. Stealing game one behind Andre Miller’s 31 was just the wake-up the Suns needed to remind them it’s playoff-time. Roy eventually rejoined the team, but it was not enough. The Suns are back in the second round of the playoffs. No D’Antoni, no problem. They still have Steve Nash. They still have Amar’e Stoudemire. And they have a rejuvenated Grant Hill, who, at 37, is one of their most athletic players.
(5) Utah over (4) Denver in SIX games. (anyone else see a trend?) Now this one was an upset. I know it’s a five over a four, so not really, but look at the teams. The Denver Nuggets were in the Western Conference Finals last year. They had another year with Chauncey Billups at the helm, Carmelo Anthony at the wing, and the same core players salivating at the mouth with a chance to get there again. And then you look at Utah. A team known for making the playoffs… but that’s about it. They play well at home, they suck on the road. Have for years. And this time, they were missing Mehmet Okur. But the Jazz took it to the Nuggets on their home court twice. Which makes sense if you think about the fact that Denver and Utah play in similar altitudes. But the fact that Denver fell apart toward the end of the year and let it carry into the post-season, shows me that they are still as much of a headcase now as they were before Chauncey joined them. And that surprises me.
So there you go, the odd-seeds (1, 3, 5 and 7) prevail in six games each. Two of them expected, two of them “upsets” So now to my predictions: I’m sticking with half-and-half and six games.
The Los Angeles Lakers will take down the Utah Jazz in six games. (maybe five). The Jazz and Lakers have done this before. Five times before, but only two recently. The Lakers took down the Jazz in the second round in 2008 and in the first round last year. They know the Jazz cannot handle the height of Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. Add in the fact that they haven’t won in Los Angeles in forever AND that L.A. knows how to play in Utah… Well, sorry Utah, you are to the Lakers what the Knicks were to the Bulls in the 90’s… A stepping-stone. Lakers in 6.
The San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Suns… now this is a fun one. Remember Horry checking Nash into the boards? The Suns do. And even though Horry is now retired, the Spurs still know how to play mind-games with the Suns. And I believe that will play a factor. The Suns are good. The Spurs are better head-to-head. I believe Tim Duncan & Co. will overwhelm Steve Nash & Co. The Suns are headcases in the playoffs, just like the Nuggets and Mavericks. The Spurs are playoff-tested, and more importantly, playoff-approved. Some will call it an upset. But I call it knowing your opponent. And unfortunately for Phoenix, the Spurs know how to beat the Suns more than the Suns know how to beat the Spurs. The Spurs and Suns have met in the playoffs five times since 2003. And the Spurs won four of them. San Antonio with the “upset” in 6. (maybe 7)
And with the second pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, the Detroit Lions select… To change for the better.
And it’s about time.
For decades the Detroit Lions have had a couple of obvious problems. Problems that were so blindingly obvious, you wondered how they missed them for so many years. The problem is they’ve only been obvious to their die-hard fans.
Let’s take a quick trip back in time. To the mid-1990’s. The Detroit Lions had the best running back in the game in Barry Sanders. They had the second-best wide receiver in Herman Moore. And they unfortunately had Scott Mitchell who had, what seemed like, a 2-to-1 Interception-to-Touch Down ratio. (It wasn’t that bad, he actually threw 79 TD’s to 57 picks while playing for the Lions).
But in the Sanders-Moore Era (1992-1997), they had a winning record four times, and none were dominant. They went 10-6 in ‘93, 9-7 in ‘94, 10-6 in ‘95 and 9-7 in ‘97. And since 1997 they have had ONE winning season.
One… in 12 years.
Now let’s get an embarrassing statement out of the way: Yes I am a Detroit Lions fan. I always have been and I always will be. No matter how many times I’ve beaten myself over the head with a tire iron, I can’t forget that I love this team. And for all the years I’ve been a fan, I’ve said the same thing… Well I’ve said a lot of things. Most I cannot type for you on here. But the gist of it is: “The Lions are miserable in the trenches.”
And they have been for many, many years.
They had the best running back the game has ever seen and they squandered him. Barry Sanders ran for 15,269 yards in 10 years. That’s an average of over 1,500 yards a season. And he did it with virtually no help from the offensive line. If he had had the offensive line Emmitt Smith had in Dallas he would’ve demolished Walter Payton’s record in about 8 years…
Sorry, I’m getting off-track.
The point is, the fans of Detroit have known for years that it doesn’t matter how many skill-position players you have. If you have nobody to block for the quarterback and nobody to make the opposing-team’s quarterback’s life hell… Well you’re going to end up with one winning season in 12 years.
So this is what makes Detroit’s pick of Ndamukong Suh so important. It’s a sign that finally, FINALLY things are changing. And it has to be for the better because it cannot get worse. I’m not wishing. I’m stating a fact. It literally cannot get worse.
Before the last two drafts, the Lions were trapped under the ignorant-grip of Matt Millen. A good football player, a good football analyst… a miserable general manager. The man just has no idea what to do with a football team. And unfortunately for the fans of Detroit, the owner of the Lions, William Clay Ford, was too old and too ignorant himself to notice it. In fact, after five years as General Manager, Millen’s record with the Lions was 21-59. And you know what Ford did?
HE GAME MILLEN A FIVE-YEAR EXTENSION!
You’re joking right? 21-59?! An average of going 4-12, and Millen get’s five more years?
But I digress. We’re talking draft. So take a look at the drafts under Millen’s helm, starting with 2002:
They took Joey Harrington out of Oregon, with the 3rd pick. Nice guy, probably one of the nicest in football. But he was too wet-behind-the-ears to take over a miserable team. And in the end his confidence was shattered and his career was ruined by playing for the Lions.
In 2003, the Lions started with the wide receivers. They stayed at home with the 2nd pick and took Michigan State’s Charles Rogers. The man who beat every one of Plaxico Burress’ records at MSU, also smoked himself out of the league.
In 2004, they stuck with the wide receivers and took Roy Williams from Texas with the 7th pick. This one i’m torn on. I don’t believe it was a busted pick. I think Roy is still a talented receiver. But with no one to protect Harrington, he could barely get the ball to anyone, let alone Roy and his career faltered in Detroit.
In 2005, what a surprise, another wide receiver! This time it was Mike Williams from USC with the 10th pick. Now what happened with Mike Williams is not the Lion’s fault…somewhat. He got screwed over by following in the footsteps of Maurice Clarett and tried to leave as a sophomore. At first he was allowed, and then the NCAA changed their mine and Williams was forced to miss a year of football before becoming a pro. And consequently ate himself out of football. But they should’ve known better than to take a wide receiver who hadn’t played for a year…Oh wait, Matt Millen was in charge. No chance of him knowing any better.
In 2006, the Lions went away from the offense altogether and drafted Ernie Sims, a linebacker from Florida State, who produced somewhat for the Lions, but as of two days ago, isn’t even a Lion anymore as he was part of a multi-team trade that sent him to Philadelphia.
In 2007, with the 2nd pick, another wide receiver, this makes four in five years, Calvin Johnson from Georgia Tech. This one you have to like. The man’s a beast… when he gets the ball. Which is still a work in progress. But at 6’5”, the man has great hands, can leap a small safety with a single-bound and is faster than most on the field.
In 2008, Millen’s last with Detroit, the Lions didn’t pick until 17th, so it doesn’t matter. Mercifully that was Millen’s final year and the Lions are in the process of digging their way out of his hole. But it’s a hole the Lions had been dealing with before Millen came along and added to it.
But now, in 2010, I can see a change. A change for the future of the most futile franchise in all of sports. Last year, I didn’t see it. I didn’t think Matthew Stafford was a good pick. Hopefully I’m wrong. But with the off-season acquisitions of Pro-Bowl defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, defensive tackle Corey Williams, wide receiver Nate Burleson and now drafting Suh. It’s a step in the right direction.
Coming into the draft, there were many options for the Lions. The 2nd pick in this years draft was much more appealing than the 1st pick in last years. But a lot of it depended on who was taken first this year. And when the St. Louis Rams took Sam Bradford with the first pick, my heart skipped a beat. And when the Lions actually did the right thing and took Suh, my mind went numb. (I’m not used to the Lions doing the right thing.)
Suh was the prize of the draft this year in everyone’s eyes. And the Detroit Lions are now the proud owner of him. Now I might be getting ahead of myself. But it’s nice to see someone with half-a-brain is making decisions in Detroit.
And trust me, after years of dealing with a man with no brain… I’ll take half-a-brain anyday. So here’s to the hope that after seeing the Arizona Cardinals make the Super Bowl, and seeing the New Orleans Saints win the Super Bowl in back-2-back years…
Maybe, just maybe, the Detroit Lions are making the right steps to do that themselves someday.
The 2010 Masters are complete and what a weekend for ESPN, CBS, The PGA Tour, Augusta National and the fans of golf.
What started as a circus surrounding Eldrick “Tiger” Woods, ended with Phil Mickelson and his wife Amy crying on the 18th green and the rest of the world wiping away tears.
And you should have. Because it was quite a story.
Eleven months ago, Phil Mickelson’s world was turned upside-down. His wife Amy, the mother of his children and love of his life, had been diagnosed with breast cancer. And then, on the week of his wife’s first surgery, his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer!
Now, let me make something clear. I love Tiger Woods. I always have been and always will be a huge fan of Tiger. And being his fan involves certain responsibilities. Like not rooting for Phil, his biggest rival. But in a week that saw me rooting for Tiger on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Saw me rooting for Phil and Amy on Sunday evening.
Now I’ll get back to Phil and his accomplishment. But I have to address the circus. How do you not talk about the ginormous white elephant in the room. And in this case it’s a Tiger.
Tiger Woods hovered all week. Before the Masters in the headlines and during the Masters on the leader-board.
I wish I could say I was surprised, but I wasn’t. You know how media is. If there’s something to talk about, they will. And even if there isn’t anything to talk about, they’ll find something. I should know… I am the media. But this was ridiculous.
Tiger Woods made a huge mistake and is trying to move on. And no one is letting him. Why did we have to talk about it this week? I didn’t want to. I wanted to enjoy watching the best in the business do what he does best. And he did his part on the golf course.
(Although, that part about him working on his antics needs a little more work.)
But is anyone surprised that A) Tiger was in the hunt and B) that he still has hissy-fits when he messes up? I’m a golfer, and I can tell you first-hand that you can talk all you want about having a better attitude on the course, but when you hit that shot that matters and you shank it, or flub it, or thin it, or chunk it, all the talk goes out the window.
You’re using four-letter words and they aren’t “Fore!”.
So i’m not surprised Tiger Woods is not an angel on the course and you shouldn’t be either. But lost in the craziness was a spectacular return by golf’s chosen son. The man who makes you shake your head in disbelief was back and he didn’t miss a beat. Yes he didn’t win the Masters, but come on… first tournament in over half a year and he places tied for fourth… at Augusta.
But not as impressive as Phil.
This is a man who has had to struggle with being downgraded again and again because he’s going against Tiger Woods. But let’s look at the numbers and maybe now you’ll appreciate just how good Phil really is:
He’s technically been a pro since 1992. But we’ll start in 1996, the year before Tiger started mowing down the competition and see how Phil’s been keeping up. It was also Phil’s first successful year as a pro. He won four times on tour, had eight top-10 finishes and made over $1 million in earnings for the first time. Since that time, he’s won a total of 33 times, and now four majors, including becoming just the 8th person to put on the green jacket 3 times.
His total victories stands at 38 now. Here’s some of the great names he’s ahead of: Lee Trevino (29 victories, 6 majors), Johnny Miller (25 victories, 2 majors), Gary Player (24 victories, 9 majors), Raymond Floyd (22 victories, 4 majors), Hale Irwin (20 victories, 3 majors), and I’ll throw in everyone’s favorite, Fred Couples (15 victories, 1 major).
Phil Mickelson is No. 12 all-time in total victories, which means only 11 golfers in history have had more successful careers than Phil. And yes he used to be known as the greatest to never win a major, but he’s won four out of the last 25 majors. So that title has long been stripped away.
He’s a three-time Master’s Champion. It’s time he got his due.
And the story that is his life is making it easier and easier to like him. His emotions on Sunday were as real as it gets. The hell he’s been through is so much worse than Tiger’s infidelity. And it isn’t getting one-half of the attention. But that’s the way the media works. We surround the gossip like vultures and ignore the feel-good stories until they are thrown in our face so hard, you cannot possibly ignore it.
And this Sunday we saw a man fight through his own personal hell and return to the top. It wasn’t Tiger, it was Phil.
And his wife was by his side.
Okay… I know this will come out petty. Some may even call me a Hater. But I’m sorry, when I see a huge case of injustice, I have to say something about it. And no I don’t care that I’m a week late with it: The Duke National Title is a fraud. It was handed to them by the committee and I’m disgusted. And I’m sure most of you didn’t even notice how easily it was done. So before we even get to the title game, we have to deal with the Final Four.
The Final Four took place in Indianapolis. This you all know. And the Butler Bulldogs play about 5 minutes away. This most of you know. Now here’s the scenario:
The Butler Bulldogs have won their region. They are playing in the Final Four in their own backyard. The first team to do so since the UCLA Bruins in 1972. What a story it would be if they were to play in the National Championship game in their own backyard. Well, thanks to the referees, they were able to do just that…
Now before you call foul (oh yes, a pun is intended), here’s the facts:
Butler was playing Michigan State, a team that has become synonymous with the Final Four (six in 12 years). And they had just been there last year, playing in the Championship Game just 40 minutes from their own stomping grounds.
So to the committee, they’re thinking “We’ve seen them recently, let’s have a more interesting story.” And they made sure they had one.
Raymar Morgan, MSU’s lone senior, was hit with two fouls before you could blink. And Michigan State was hit with four before Butler had one. Both teams play an aggressive style of defense. Rather similar actually. Yet Butler is the only team being allowed to play theirs…Or Michigan State played dirty.
And the placement of the fouls was interesting as well. Morgan, State’s lone leader after Kalin Lucas went down with the Achilles-injury, had three at halftime. He finished with 4 points in 23 minutes of play, after averaging 30 minutes for the tournament. A non-factor in what would be his final game. And Delvin Roe, who stepped up in Lucas’ absence, had two. Meanwhile, Butler’s leaders, Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack, have a combined ZERO FOULS. Guess Michigan State was just playing dirty.
At halftime of this game I knew Butler was going to the Title Game. It was obvious. And sad. Because it ruined what could’ve been a great game between Michigan State and Duke. Two of the best programs for the last decade. But it was taken away.
And in the second half, it gets worse. Roe picks up his third foul less than three minutes into the contest (Hayward had a steal for Butler, but no fouls yet). Morgan picks up his fourth with 12:38 left to play. (But Hayward picked up his first mere minutes before!) Delvin Roe picked up his fourth with 2:23 to play. And yes Hayward still only has one foul and Mack has none. But then Hayward picks up his second with 56 seconds left in the game!
See in the end, the fouls were close to even: Michigan State had 21, Butler had 17. But it’s who the fouls were on that made this game so obviously handed to the home team: For Michigan State three of their four best had a combined 13 fouls. For Butler, their two stars had a combined two fouls.
It was disgusting to watch. It was a travesty of justice. And I knew it was going to happen by halftime.
Now for the National Championship “game”.
It’s the hometown David versus the Goliath’s of Goliaths.
And we all know how much the referees love Duke.
But they also love Butler this year.
But you and I both know that Butler cannot be champions. It would ruin the NCAA. They would be called the worst champions to ever win it. But Duke… That’s a different story. It’s Duke. It’s the brand name.
So the committee has a problem. How to keep everyone interested in an uninteresting title game. Well, Step One: Keep it close. People love close basketball games. Especially people with no team to root for. Then-again most people are Duke-haters, so they’ll root for Butler.
Step two is to make sure Duke wins, however possible.
In the first half, things go as planned. Couple of fouls to the no-name players, but none really given to the big boys. (Butler’s Hayward and Mack have ZERO. Meanwhile Duke’s Brian Zoubeck has zero, Jon Scheyer has two and Kyle Singler has one). And the score is 33-32 Duke. Just what the committee ordered.
But in the second half, problem occurs. One big problem. His name is Brian Zoubeck. He is 7-feet-1-inches tall, and he went from having no fouls in the first half to having four fouls in just 8:39 of game-time in the second half.
This is a big problem, because Duke needs him to be where they are, up 47-43 with 11:21 to play. But the refs take care of that, because from 11:21-1:42, yes almost 10 minutes of game-time, Butler scores one field goal.
ONE FIELD GOAL!
But it’s just 60-57 Duke, so Butler is still in it. The people are still watching. And the Duke-haters are still hoping.
And now for my favorite part. The exact place in this game where the referees gift-wrap the title for Duke without anyone noticing. Here’s the scene:
The score is 60-59 Duke, with 36 seconds left. Singler comes up short on a 15-foot jumper from the elbow. It hits the front of the iron and shoots straight down. Brian Zoubeck is there, but so is Matt Howard of Butler. Zoubeck throws an elbow that knocks Howard to the floor, right in front of the referee. Obvious foul.
But wait….Zoubeck has four fouls. Five means “you’re gone” in college. We can’t give him the foul. Luckily the ball goes off his foot, so we can just give the ball to Butler.
The problem is: That’s a foul! It’s Zoubeck’s fifth, he should be gone. Instead,he’s allowed to stay. And with five seconds left, Hayward drives to the baseline and puts up a jumper. A shot that could win the game for Butler. But Zoubeck is there to get in Hayward’s face and causes Hayward to shoot the ball higher than normal (remember, Zoubeck is 7’1”) and the ball goes off the back of the iron instead of dropping for a 61-60 lead. Zoubeck gets the rebound, gets fouled and seals the win, 61-59.
So there you have it folks. A gifted-on-a-silver-platter National Title for Duke. The fourth championship for Mike Krzyzewski and a highway robbery of a National Championship Game.
But hey, at least it was close, right?
Hey all, sorry for the delay. Just uprooted and moved across the country. Getting settled in has taken a little bit. But i’m back, and the stories are coming. Gonna take a look at the NBA and NHL playoffs. Gotta talk about Duke getting gifted a National Championship on a silver platter. And the boys of summer are back in business. The B-A-double-S-I-N is back at work. Enjoy!