May 20, 2013
NBA’s Conference Finals underway: With the NBA Playoffs nearing an end, the conference finals are now set. The Spurs and Grizzlies advanced to the NBA’s Western Conference finals last week. San Antonio has the upper hand with a 105-83 win in Game 1 on Sunday behind 20 points from Tony Parker. But despite the slow start, don’t sleep on Memphis just yet. The Grizzlies have lost the first game in their two previous series and still managed to advance each time. And with the NBA’s best defense this season, Memphis can definitely give the Spurs a run. Meanwhile, in the east, the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers reached the finals with series wins over the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks, respectively. The two teams will play their Game 1 on Wednesday.
Phil Jackson says MJ > Kobe: Phil Jackson’s got a new book due out soon and in it, he says what most people already believe – that Michael Jordan was a better player than Kobe Bryant. Among the reasons given by Phil included MJ’s superior defense and leadership skills. That won’t come as a surprise to many who share the same sentiments, but what is a bit interesting is that Jackson has been willing to make the statements right now. Even though he’s out of coaching, a return to the game and even to the Lakers isn’t all that far-fetched. That’s not to say that Kobe wouldn’t be willing to suit up for Phil again – after all, Jackson’s previous book “The Last Season” was even more critical of Bryant. But it’s easy to see how the guard could be a bit offended by the comments … particularly those downplaying his leadership abilities.
Maurice Clarett trying to play rugby: It’s been a long while since former Ohio State Buckeyes star Maurice Clarett has been in the news. But the former running back caused a minor stir last week when it was reported he was attempting to play rugby. Clarett’s not only making a run at the sport, but wants to compete at a high level. He’ll be playing for the Columbus affiliate of Tiger Rugby – the developmental program for the team representing Team USA in the 2016 Olympics. He clearly has had a rocky past and never even reached the NFL, but he’s also still young enough that finding a new career may not be all that far-fetched.
ACC targeting Madison Square Garden or Barclays for conference tournament: ACC Commissioner John Swofford hinted at last week’s conference meetings that the ACC basketball tournament could be played at Madison Square Garden or the Barclays in the future. It’s far from a done deal, but the ACC at least has shown some interest. With Syracuse and Pitt headed to the conference this season along with Louisville next season, the ACC will clearly be the nation’s premier basketball league. And what better place for the conference tournament than basketball’s biggest stage of MSG?
Dick Trickle commits suicide: Former racing great Dick Trickle died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound last week. His brother says he was in immense physical pain and was having a tough time dealing with it. Just an incredibly sad story made even worse in that he leaves a wife and three children behind. Trickle was known for winning short track races and finished in the top ten in 78 NASCAR Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series races. He was named as the NASCAR Winston Cup Rookie of the Year at the age of 48 back in 1989.
Skydiving for … bathrooms? In one of the weirder news stories from last week, Eastern Michigan head football coach Ron English is willing to help improve his football team’s facilities by skydiving. The coach has agreed to the stunt if the school can raise at least $60,000 in an upcoming golf outing. The money will go towards fixing up, of all things, the bathrooms in the locker room. If the school raises at least $30,000, several assistant coaches have agreed to make the plunge. That’s an honorable move and will surely give the program some much-needed publicity. But with a 2-10 record last season, I’m thinking fans will care a lot more about on-field success.
April 15, 2013
Adam Scott wins first Masters in dramatic fashion: Golf’s biggest event was front and center this weekend and there were plenty of theatrics. First, there was 14-year old Tianlang Guan taking the world by storm by not only making the cut, but finishing as the youngest low amateur in the history of the tournament. Then, there was Tiger-gate, when Tiger Woods took an illegal drop that caused many to question if he should remain in the event. Finally, Adam Scott walked away with his first ever Masters win after defeating Angel Cabrera in a playoff with a birdie on the second hole. Say what you will about golf, but there are few things in the world of sports that can compare to Sunday at the Masters.
Kobe Bryant tears Achilles tendon – out for season: The Los Angeles Lakers have struggled all season with a star-studded lineup, but they may have been dealt a death blow last week. Star guard Kobe Bryant tore his Achilles tendon and will miss the rest of this season. So how did the Lakers respond to losing their best player? By promptly beating what could be the best team in the Western Conference – the San Antonio Spurs. Los Angeles’ win on Sunday proved there is still life within the team. While the backcourt is in shambles (especially with Steve Nash who has missed several games), the frontcourt can still be one of the best in the league with center Dwight Howard and forwards Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace, and Antawn Jamison. The Lakers may have a more difficult time keeping up with the younger Oklahoma City Thunder, but you’ve got to give them a fighting chance against the Spurs if they meet in the playoffs.
Louisville defeated Michigan for the NCAA championship: A week later and it seems like old news by now, but the Louisville Cardinals won their first title under Rick Pitino with an 82-76 win over the Michigan Wolverines last Monday. Pitino became the first coach to win NCAA championships with two different teams. The Cardinals went on a tear late in the season and became the trendy pick to win the title. Nearly as important as winning the championship was that they allowed folks like me to finish respectably in their bracket pools despite a plethora of other questionable picks.
Jeff Garcia to New York Jets – ditch Tim Tebow: Former NFL quarterback Jeff Garcia had some interesting comments about young quarterback Tim Tebow in a USA Today interview. Speaking about Tebow, Garcia said he just brings distraction and that having him on the Jets doesn’t add anything positive. He then went on to say that starting quarterback Mark Sanchez’ main competition will come from aging veteran David Garrard or little-used Greg McElroy. I won’t totally disagree with Garcia that Tebow is a major distraction, but I’m not so sure he still can’t contribute to the team if used effectively. I’m not of the opinion that he’s an ideal starting quarterback, but there are certain packages where he can be used infrequently and make plays with his legs. Is that more valuable than what Garrard or McElroy can add? Unless one of them unseats Sanchez or plays considerably as a backup, I’d say yes.
Wrigley Field to get updated look: The Chicago Cubs announced that historic Wrigley Field will get some upgrades as part of a $500 million renovation. That will include the Field’s first electronic video board. Typically I hate stuff like this, but sometimes upgrades are needed to remain competitive. And as long as there’s no plan to make sweeping changes to one of the most recognizable stadiums in baseball, it’s hard to complain too loudly.
March 11, 2013
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.
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.
February 26, 2013
With about 25 games to go in the NBA regular season, we’ve got a pretty clear picture of the teams that will make the playoffs and the ones that will be in the lottery. What we don’t know is who will face who once the playoffs get started. And that will go a long way toward determining what happens in the NBA playoffs. Here are a few races I’ll be keeping my eye on as we inch towards the final game of the regular season.
The Heat will be the top seed in the East. We know that. But the second and third seeds could go to Indiana, New York, Brooklyn, Chicago or Atlanta. These teams ought to be desperate to finish second or third. That will get them home-court advantage in the first round, but that doesn’t really matter too much. The important thing for these teams is to get on the other side of the bracket and avoid a second round meeting with the Heat. You don’t want to face the defending champs any sooner than you have to.
Speaking of avoiding the Heat…Boston and Milwaukee shouldn’t be too worried about anyone below them stealing a playoff spot. But they will be battling to get the seventh seed and avoid the Heat in the first round.
In the West, the final playoff spot is getting all the attention. Can the Lakers squeak into the playoffs? That’s what all the talk is about, but I’m not counting out Dallas or Portland yet. All three teams are tied with 30 losses at the moment and are going to have to get red-hot to catch Houston or Utah. On second thought, after looking at the Blazers schedule, I’m counting them out. Their final 16 games are against teams in the playoff race. If they find a way to get in, nobody will be able to say they didn’t earn it.
Of course, whoever does get that final spot is going to be facing the team with the best record in the NBA, San Antonio. It would be quite the series if the Lakers do end up as the eighth seed.
One more race that is a little bit interesting will be to see which team finishes with the worst record and gets the most ping pong balls in the lottery. It looks like this will come down to Charlotte and Orlando.
February 25, 2013
Jimmie Johnson wins the Daytona 500: Danica Patrick made a bit of history as the first woman to start at the pole position in a Daytona 500 race. She was passed up quickly, but also later regained the lead to become the first female to lead a lap in the event. But the day belonged to Jimmie Johnson who won the race and his second Daytona 500. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. made a late push, but for the third time in four years, he finished in second place. Winning second place on the biggest stage in NASCAR is quite an achievement and to do it three times in four years is flat out amazing. But it also has to sting to finish as the bridesmaid that many times.
Curtis Granderson breaks arm … on first Spring Training at bat: After sitting out for months, major leaguers probably can’t wait until their first Spring Training at bat. Yankees’ outfielder Curtis Granderson may be having second thoughts about that, though. Granderson was promptly hit by a pitch in his first at bat by the Blue Jays’ J.A. Happ, suffering a broken arm. The star will be out for two to three months and will likely miss the first five weeks of the regular season. Granderson was the team’s biggest offensive star last season, leading the Yankees in home runs (43) and RBI (106), so it will be a significant blow. The loss hurts even more when you consider that New York lost several offensive stars in the offseason including Nick Swisher, Raul Ibanez, and Russell Martin, who combined for 64 home runs last year.
Marquise Goodwin dominates NFL Combine: The NFL Combine started over the weekend and a few wide receivers made their marks. Most notably, Texas’ Marquise Goodwin had a great weekend. He was timed unofficially at 4.25 and officially, he received a 4.27 – narrowly missing the 4.24 Combine record set by running back Chris Johnson. Breaking 4.4 is considered at the elite level and a sub 4.3 is insane. There’s no doubt that Goodwin improved his draft status in a big way and could make himself a top pick.
49ers looking to unload Alex Smith: News broke over the weekend that the San Francisco 49ers were not only hoping to trade backup quarterback Alex Smith, but that they might already be close to a deal with an unspecified team. Trading Smith is really a no-brainer for the team since they’re all in with Colin Kaepernick. And since Kaepernick nearly helped lead the team to a sixth Super Bowl title this past year, it’s hard to argue with that logic. Smith was finally turning into a serviceable quarterback and San Francisco should be able to land a nice deal for him. He’s not an elite player by any means, but he would be an upgrade under center for many franchises. Ideally, the 49ers would be thrilled to have a backup of Smith’s stature. But he’s obviously unhappy after losing his job to Kaepernick last season and keeping him makes little sense when they can bring in another player who can help them.
Jerry Buss dies: Iconic Lakers’ owner Jerry Buss passed away this week at the age of 80. With his ten NBA championships, Buss wasn’t only one of the top owners in the NBA, but all of sports. Think of all he’s seen … Magic Johnson winning a title as a rookie. The 1980s Showtime Lakers with Magic, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, and company. A three-peat with Kobe and Shaq. Buss had really seen it all in the NBA over the past 30+ years and had the experience of a lifetime.
Evgeni Malkin has concussion symptoms: The NHL’s Most Valuable Player for 2011-12, Evgeni Malkin, has showed signs of a concussion after a recent game. The Penguins’ star suffered the injury on Friday against the Florida Panthers. If Malkin misses any length of time, it won’t be anything new for Pittsburgh. The Pens have dealt with missing Sidney Crosby for long stretches after a concussion and the team can’t seem to catch a break. The timing couldn’t have been worse for the Penguins, who lead the Atlantic Division.
Syracuse retires Carmelo Anthony’s jersey: Knicks star Carmelo Anthony had his jersey retired by Syracuse in a game last week. Anthony played only one season for Syracuse, but it was one to remember. He was the best freshman in college basketball that year and led his team to an NCAA championship. Typically, I’d be against retiring the jersey of a player who stayed in college for only a single season. I think that honor should be reserved for the best players of all time in the sport and you simply can’t be in that conversation if you only stick around for one year. But in winning a title, I’m okay with it. Anthony had such a special year that he probably deserves the recognition. Syracuse also waited a decade to do this, so it clearly was something with which they had reservations. But if they’re okay with it, I’m okay with it.