March 26, 2013

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The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Sweet 16 set in the NCAA Tournament: The first week of the NCAA Tournament is complete and, as usual, there were a fair share of big upsets. The big ones in the first round were tiny Florida Gulf Coast shocking the world by beating No. 2 seeded Georgetown and No. 3 seed New Mexico being ousted by Harvard. Lots will be made about some of those weaker teams being underseeded, but the fact is that if you played the tournament a dozen times, you might have a dozen different champions. Any team is capable of losing on any given night and if a team like Florida Gulf Coast played Georgetown ten times, it’s difficult to believe they’d win the majority of those games. But that’s the beauty of March.

Brian Urlacher appears to be on his way out of Chicago.

Brian Urlacher leaving Chicago: A bit of a surprise in NFL free agency was that the Chicago Bears didn’t re-sign longtime linebacker Brian Urlacher. Urlacher, a mainstay on the team for the past 13 years, couldn’t come to terms with the team. He had come down considerably from his initial asking price for the 2013 season, but that still wasn’t enough to get the Bears to move from their $2 million offer, as reported by ESPN. Reportedly, his agent has already talked with the Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings, and Arizona Cardinals. Now at 35, Urlacher is surely slowing down – his tackles have dropped each of the past two seasons. But the bet here is that some team will take a chance on him. With no other options, his asking price may have to come down, though.

Denver Nuggets dominating with 15-game winning streak: With everyone focused on the Miami Heat’s remarkable streak, the Denver Nuggets have gone under the radar. The Nuggets won their 15th straight game this past weekend, beating Sacramento on Saturday. As a result, Denver has soared up to the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference, passing the Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies in the process. The Nuggets have been winning this year on youth and depth. The team has only three players over the age of 25 and only one of those, Andre Miller, is over 30. Also, nine players average more than eight points a game, but none average more than 17. With so much youth and balance, if the Nuggets keep their core together, this is a franchise that could compete for years to come.

Hanley Ramirez out for two months: The Dodgers got some bad news with Opening Day just around the corner. Star shortstop Hanley Ramirez had a torn ligament in his thumb and required surgery last week. Because of it, Ramirez will miss about eight weeks recovering. That’s a tough break for the Dodgers, who picked him up in a trade last season. In 2012 splitting time with the Dodgers and Marlins, Ramirez hit 24 home runs and drove in 92 runs, having one of his best offensive seasons of his career. Not having him until close to May could mean the Dodgers get off to a slow start.

Sergio Garcia hits golf ball … from tree: The final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational was on Sunday. You might assume that the real news was that the event was suspended due to weather, but you’d be wrong. The big highlight came from Sergio Garcia hitting a golf ball while atop a tree branch. Don’t believe me? Here’s the video. Whatever your interest level is in golf, there’s no denying that shots like these make it interesting. Still, I’m not sure Garcia’s move was all that wise. A slip of the foot could have meant a nasty fall and possibly even an end to his season. Not to mention that Garcia double-bogeyed the hole anyway and later withdrew. Still, if we’re going by entertainment value, this one’s a ten all the way. And as a spectator, I’d much rather see Garcia take a gamble like that.

U.S. Soccer wins match over Costa Rica despite snow protest: You read that right. The U.S. Soccer team defeated Costa Rica 1-0 in the qualifying for the FIFA World Cup in the snow in Denver. Costa Rica protested during the match and also filed a formal protest immediately afterwards. Typically, this is where I’d say that both teams had equal playing conditions so Costa Rica should suck it up. But I also understand the point in protesting. Soccer isn’t like, pardon the pun, (American) football where snow is considered as a part of the playing conditions. When you think of soccer, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? For most of us, it’s not white stuff falling to the ground. I don’t mind a match being played if it’s a little bit of snow, but the field was covered to the point where Costa Rican players were complaining that they couldn’t even adequately see the lines. Keep in mind, this is also the qualifying for the World Cup – it’s not a meaningless preseason MLB game. With so much at stake, postponing the game would have made more sense. Similarly hilarious is the fact that a qualifying match was even scheduled in Denver when there’s always a chance of spring snow.

March 11, 2013

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The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Tiger Woods wins 76th PGA Tour Event

Golfer Tiger Woods is off to a great start in 2013. Woods won his second event of the season this past weekend, dominating at the Cadillac Championship for his 76th PGA Tour victory. He kept all other players at least three strokes away on Sunday until the final hole when he picked up a bogey. Woods was victorious by two strokes over Steve Stricker on the final leaderboard. Thing is that while Woods is off the radar of many casual fans, his five wins in the past year are the most of any other golfer on the tour.  And while this isn’t a major, with the Masters on the minds of everyone, Woods should be considered a favorite by that time.

If the NBA regular season ended today the Lakers would be in the Playoffs.

Manny Ramirez to sign with Taiwan team

Manny Ramirez tried to get back into the majors in time for the 2013 season, but that doesn’t look like it will be happening. According to ESPN, Ramirez will sign with a team in Taiwan in the China Professional Baseball League. Ramirez last played a full season in 2010 with the Tampa Bay Rays, but has been out of the league since retiring in 2011 after violating Major League Baseball’s drug policy. Ramirez played winter ball this year and even put up solid numbers, but it wasn’t enough to convince an MLB team to take a chance on him. And at 40, Ramirez may have played his last game in the majors. If a team wasn’t willing to gamble on him with a spring training invite this year, he may not get another look.

Chicago Blackhawks finally lose

The Chicago Blackhawks were easily the most dominant team in hockey over the first half of the NHL season. The team went more than 20 straight games without a loss in regulation until the Colorado Avalanche defeated them 6-2 on Friday. The Blackhawks followed that up with a 6-5 loss to Edmonton on Sunday and have now lost two in a row. Chicago is one of the few teams in the league that excel on both sides of the ice. The Blackhawks rank 6th in scoring with just over three goals a game and are tied for the league lead in defense, giving up fewer than two goals per contest. Make no mistake about it – the Blackhawks will be a tough out in the playoffs. Even if the offense isn’t there on certain nights, their defense should be able to pick them up a bit.

Lakers among NBA’s hottest teams

Don’t look now, but the Los Angeles Lakers are moving up in the NBA’s Western Conference. Eight teams in the conference will make the playoffs and for much of the season, the Lakers have been on the outside looking in. But fast forward to this week, and L.A. would be in the eighth spot if the season ended today. At 8-2, Los Angeles is one of the league’s hottest teams. Unfortunately for them, so are many others in the west. The top five teams in the conference, the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, and Denver Nuggets, have all won at least seven games in their last ten contests. If the Lakers keep winning, they could conceivably move up a few more spots. But it will be difficult to overtake some of those top teams that are just playing so well right now.

15-20 Liberty makes NCAA Tournament

March Madness is officially here and what better way to kick things off than with a 15-20 team making the Big Dance? I give you Liberty. The Flames won the Big South title despite losing 20 games this season and promptly punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament. Liberty is only the second team with 20 losses to make the tourney. Now, I’m all for the little guys getting their moment in the sun, but these are the types of teams that make me question if there should be a minimum record to play in the tournament. I’m not quite sure a team that struggled all season long should be rewarded for winning a few games in a conference tournament and getting hot for a single week. While it’s going to be a great experience for Liberty players to go, a worthy major-conference team that’s been more consistent throughout the year will be sent off to the NIT.

August 6, 2012

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NBA Schedule Full Of Intriguing Matchups (Part 2)

By: Anson Whaley

The 2012-13 NBA schedule was released recently and, as always, there are plenty of interesting matchups on the slate. Last week, we took a look at some of the intriguing matchups from the first half of the season. This week, we’re back with some of the highlights from the second half after the All-Star break.

Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers (February 20th) – This matchup is one of the first games after the NBA’s All-Star break. The Lakers and Celtics are still viable title contenders, but have shrinking windows of opportunity with aging stars. The Lakers, so far, anyway, are relying largely on Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Steve Nash. The Celtics, meanwhile, are anchored by Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. The teams do have some key pieces a bit younger such as Rajon Rondo and Andrew Bynum, but the two franchises are both considered older teams. Time is running out for each of them and this game will be a good barometer to decide which of the two has the better chance to compete for another championship.

Rajon Rondo provides the Celtics with some much needed youth.

Chicago Bulls vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (February 24th) – If both teams stay healthy, this has the potential to be an NBA Finals preview. The game features two of the best point guards in the league in Chicago’s Derrick Rose and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook. The two teams have opposite styles of play as the Bulls are more defensive-oriented and the Thunder like to score points. Lots of them. This is a true matchup of offense vs. defense and could be a sign of things to come in the playoffs if the two happen to meet.

New York Knicks vs. Denver Nuggets (March 13th) – Believe it or not, but this will be Carmelo Anthony’s first trip back to Denver since he was traded to the Knicks in the 2010-2011 season. He was dealt in the middle of the season and the team had already played against New York at home by that time. And with the strike-shortened season last year, Melo never had a chance to suit up on the road in Denver. Anthony will finally make his long-awaited return to Colorado to face the team that drafted him, and don’t look for him to get a particularly warm welcome. He reportedly asked to be traded out of Denver and while some fans might cheer him, you can bet that most won’t be as cordial.

Miami Heat vs. Boston Celtics (March 18th) – If the Boston Celtics want a statement game late in the year, here’s their chance. Boston will host Miami in this contest in March and should get the Heat at full strength, barring injuries to key players. The game is late enough in the season where teams will be playing hard, but not too late for them to be resting players for the playoffs. The Celtics couldn’t defeat the Heat in this year’s playoffs, and while a regular season loss at home in this game wouldn’t be the end of the world, it would be a setback. Boston can talk themselves into saying the regular season doesn’t mean all that much, but if Miami is able to defeat them on the road it will be a bit of a confidence booster for the Heat. And if that’s not enough to get excited about, future Hall of Famer Ray Allen will make a trip back to Boston after spending several seasons with the Celtics.

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Los Angeles Clippers (April 7th) – Last year when the Clippers traded for star point guard Chris Paul, it was with the hope that he would again make the franchise relevant. With Blake Griffin on board as well, that mission has been accomplished. The Clippers still aren’t top dog in the City of Angels, but they are a viable threat to do some damage in the Western Conference. Hosting the Lakers, they can make a statement with a win late in the year as they will likely be battling for playoff seeding.

June 4, 2012

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Will Phil Jackson Return To Coaching?

By: Anson Whaley

It would have been the perfect ending. Phil Jackson was supposed to guide the Los Angeles Lakers to another three-peat and with that, would have ridden off into the sunset with a tidy 12 World Championships – all of the back-to-back-to-back variety. Things didn’t exactly work out as the Dallas Mavericks went on to win the title last season and Jackson was forced to settle for ‘only’ 11 rings.

Could we see Kobe Bryant reunited with Phil Jackson in the future?

That was supposed to be it for the Zen Master, but apparently, Jackson may be getting the itch to get back into the NBA again. The most recent example of this was his recent flirtation with the Orlando Magic for a front-office job. He eventually pulled his name out of the running, but the fact that he was even mentioned as a strong candidate means he may not be done with the league … or coaching. His girlfriend, Jeanie Buss, added fuel to the fire last week saying that Phil’s not doing all that well coping with retirement.

So with that said, would he consider a return to the NBA?

For starters, while Jackson’s primary motivator may not be money, it’s always a big priority. Any team that wants his services will have to make sure he’s well paid. Another factor for Jackson is that the chances are slim of him coaching a rebuilding team. If he’s going to go through the trouble of traveling with some aches and pains (in addition to hip issues, he also just underwent knee surgery), it’s not going to be with a team stacked with rookies trying to find its way. Once you’ve coached MJ and the Mamba, it’s pretty hard to settle for a young or struggling roster.

There aren’t many contending teams looking for new coaches, but one jumps to mind – the Los Angeles Lakers. If Jackson is evaluating his options, would he indeed consider a return to the Lakers?

Los Angeles hired Mike Brown and suffered a second-round exit this season despite having a talented team. What’s more, the Lakers barely got out of the first round, going seven games with the Denver Nuggets. One thing to remember is that the franchise hired Brown without consulting their star – Kobe Bryant. Kobe appeared to get along with Brown this season, but he’s made it clear that playing for Jackson has always been his preference in the past.

Most intriguing is the fact that the Lakers underwent a similar scenario in 2004. When Jackson retired at the end of 2003-04, Los Angeles struggled under head coaches Rudy Tomjanovich and Frank Hamblen. The result? Jackson returned the following season. The Lakers floundered a bit upon his return, but later went on to win two more titles under the head coach.

Personally, I don’t expect the Lakers to bring Jackson back next season. First, I’m not thoroughly convinced he’s sure he wants to return. Missing the league and camaraderie is one thing, but the NBA season is a long and taxing one. At Phil’s age, he may decide he’s had enough. The Lakers also would need to not only pay Phil handsomely (something the two sides have butted heads about a bit in the past), but also need to fork over several millions of dollars to Mike Brown for a few more seasons. For an organization that’s been trying to save money, it’s hard to envision such a scenario.

In the end, Jackson coming back to the Lakers seems like a great story. Given the long-term relationship between the franchise and the coach, I’d even say it’s possible. Still, don’t expect it to happen this season. Jackson returning to another team is an entirely different story, though. If another contender (say the Miami Heat if they’re unable to win it all this season) steps up with some money and Jackson feels his health will hold up, a return to the NBA could be just around the corner.

August 31, 2011

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Most Inspiring Sports Comeback Stories in Recent Years

By: Rick Jarrell

This week, Michael Vick signed a six year, $100 million extension with the Philadelphia Eagles. The electrifying quarterback definitely deserved a pay raise from the two year, $16 million he signed in 2010, despite his injury risk. This is the second $100 million contract signed by Vick, the previous with the Atlanta Falcons. But the real story here is Vick’s rise to extremely public rise and fall, only to rise again. The improbable nature of his comeback brings a few other sports icons that have climbed from rock bottom to stardom in recent years.

Michael Vick

If you watch Vick on the football field, it’s no wonder there is so much fuss over his talent. The speed of a receiver combined with the arm of a quarterback creates a dynamic one two punch never seen in the NFL. In retrospect, there should be no reason he would not rise to Pro Bowl status again after being sent to prison for conducting a dog fighting ring. His public image was severely damaged by his actions, but we’ve seen sports fans overlook person misconduct in exchange for performance on the field – why not Vick?

The more surprising aspect of Vick’s comeback was the roadblocks on the team he signed with. At the time he joined the Eagles, Vick was behind Donovan McNabb, the franchise quarterback for the past decade who lead the team to four straight NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl, and Kevin Kolb, a proven back up who was able to step up in McNabb’s absence, so well that he created a QB controversy in the city. But McNabb was shipped to the Washington Redskins before the 2010 season, and Kevin Kolb manage to get hurt. Vick stepped in, put up huge numbers, and Kolb as sent to the Arizona Cardinals this offseason. The wall he had to climb, even after he got out of prison, was immense.

Josh Hamilton

Hamilton was a top tier prospect drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in 1999. The hot commodity signed a deal with a $4 million signing bonus, but ran into trouble in 2003. He began showing up late to practice and games in 2003, and was suspended at the beginning of 2004 for violating the league’s drug policy. Suffering from various drug addictions, Hamilton entered rehab and did not play professionally again until 2006. After being bought by the Chicago Cubs in the Rule 5 Draft, and sent to the Cincinnati Reds, Hamilton blew up – in a good way.

Hamilton had a great rookie year, losing out to only Ryan Braun for the Rookie of the Year award. The Reds traded him to the Texas Rangers before the 2008 season, and has been an All-Star caliber player ever since. Not to mention an inspiration for those who have battled drug addictions.

Chris Andersen

Although Andersen’s plot has been less chronicled than the above athletes, it is nonetheless remarkable. After going undrafted in 1999, Andersen began his career in the Chinese Basketball Association. He climbed his way to the NBA, joining the Denver Nuggets and appearing in the NBA Dunk Contest in 2004 and 2005. The high flying forward was then suspended by the league in 2006 for violating the substance abuse rules, citing “drugs of abuse” as the reason.

After nearly two years away, Andersen came back in 2008 to rejoin the Nuggets, helping the team reach the playoffs each year since then. The defensive stalwart, with his electrifying blocks and reliable rebounding, has become a fan favorite in Denver, getting loud cheers when he enters the game and commonly being referred to his nickname, the Birdman. Another encouraging comeback story.