June 24, 2013

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The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Miami Heat repeat as NBA Champs: The Miami Heat won Game 7 of the NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs and, in the process, brought home their second consecutive title. The Heat didn’t always play well this postseason, but when all the chips were down, they stepped up and denied the Spurs a fifth championship. LeBron James won the MVP Award of the Finals and rightfully so. He started the series slowly, scoring less than 20 points in each of the first three games. But he saved his best performance for the end, averaging 34.5 points, 11 rebounds, and 7.5 assists over the last two games. Winning three titles in a row won’t be easy but if there’s one player that can do it, it’s James – the best player in the league.

Colin Kaepernick doesn't only throw footballs well. He threw an 87 MPH first pitch over the weekend.

Carlos Lee retires: Carlos Lee quietly retired from Major League Baseball after sitting out since the end of last year. Seeking a multi-year contract when his current deal expired last season, Lee didn’t get one and has officially left the game last week. Lee never quite reached superstardom as other players in his era, but he was a legitimate power threat for more than a decade. From 2000 – 2010, Lee had at least 24 home runs every season and was one of the game’s feared power hitters. He finished his career with 358 bombs and unlike other home run hitters, never struck out 100 times in a season. While he won’t make the Hall of Fame, the three-time All-Star was a very good player for a long time.

Introduction of Deacon Jones Award: The NFL reached into its past to honor the deceased defensive end, Deacon Jones. The NFL’s league leaders in sacks will be given the new award. Jones, long regarded as one of the league’s best in that category despite it not becoming an official statistic until after he retired, passed away earlier this month.

Francisco Rodriguez picks up 300th career save: Milwaukee Brewers closer Francisco Rodriguez earned his 300th career save over the weekend. He nearly didn’t get the chance, though. After a 2-7 record and an ERA well over 4.00, K-Rod was released by the Brewers after last season and was out of baseball for a little while. But Milwaukee gave him another chance and Rodriguez has been perfect in save opportunities this season. And at only 31 with an ERA under 1.00, he could still have plenty left in the tank.

Johnny Manziel ‘can’t wait to leave’ Texas A&M: Heisman trophy winner Johnny Manziel tweeted last week that he couldn’t wait to leave Texas A&M after an apparent incident. The reason for his displeasure wasn’t known, but Manziel quickly deleted the tweet, later saying he loved the school. Far too much was made of the initial tweet by fans criticizing him. Manziel is a college sophomore with a much higher profile than he had before. There are going to be times when he’s frustrated by … whatever. Almost all college kids think they could be in a better situation at some point in their time in school and that applies to athletes, too.

Colin Kaepernick ready for majors?: San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has a bright future in the NFL. After taking over as the team’s starting quarterback, he led the team to their first Super Bowl in nearly 20 years this past season. But on Friday night, the young player showed off his skills. On a baseball field. Kaepernick, a late-round draft pick of the Chicago Cubs a few years ago, hit 87 miles per hour throwing out the ceremonial first pitch before the San Francisco Giants’ game against the Miami Marlins. That’s pretty impressive and to say he’s got a cannon for an arm would be an understatement. But (and yeah, I’m playing the heel role here) man, was that pitch wild. Kaepernick’s fortunate the catcher snared that ball since it wasn’t all that far from a completely relaxed cameraman. My guess is that he shouldn’t quit his day job.

Doc Rivers to Clippers: After an on-again/off-again status, the Los Angeles Clippers’ attempts to hire coach Doc Rivers away from the Celtics appear to have finally been successful. Rivers is under contract with the Celtics, but will reportedly leave the franchise for a first-round draft pick. Boston didn’t want to just give away their head coach, but in the end, the Celtics were better served by letting Doc walk and taking any compensation they can get for him. Even if they don’t think they’re getting enough in return, few things could be worse than having a coach around that doesn’t want to be there. Rivers could have decided not to return and opted for retirement, but then Boston wouldn’t get anything in exchange. A ‘trade’ was the Celtics’ best option for the franchise.

June 17, 2013

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The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Justin Rose wins U.S. Open: Justin Rose capped off a spectacular Sunday of golf winning the U.S. Open (+1) for his first major championship. He became the first British golfer to win the title since 1970 when Tony Jacklin did it. Just as big of a story was Phil Mickelson finishing as the bridesmaid yet again, as he finished in a tie for second at +3 with Jason Day. Mickelson’s eighth 2nd place finish ties him with Sam Snead, Greg Norman, and Tom Watson for the third most runner-ups in majors history. Jack Nicklaus leads the way in that category with 19.

Alex Ovechkin was the winner of this year's Hart Trophy over the weekend.

San Antonio Spurs take 3-2 series lead over Miami Heat: The San Antonio Spurs took a 3-2 series lead over the Miami Heat by way of their Game 5 win on Sunday night. That puts the Spurs in position to win a fifth ring for future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan … but it won’t be easy. San Antonio still needs to win one out of two games in Miami and the Heat just don’t lose very much at home. And with an NBA title on the line, you can bet the fans won’t be easy on the road team.

Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins tied 1-1 in Stanley Cup Finals: The NHL’s Stanley Cup Finals are tied at a game apiece with two exciting contests thus far. Andrew Shaw scored a goal in the third overtime of the Game 1 thriller to give the Blackhawks a 4-3 win. The Bruins won Game 2 in overtime behind Daniel Paille’s third goal. Even if you’re not a good hockey fan, two overtime games already should make you want to watch the rest of the series.

Chad Ochocinco Johnson heads to jail: Chad Johnson caught a break in his no-contest plea to battery charges against his then-wife when a court was ready to give him a community service/counseling deal to avoid jail time. But when Johnson smacked the butt of his attorney at excitement over the deal … well, let’s just say the judge wasn’t impressed. Judge Kathleen McHugh told Johnson it wasn’t a joke and promptly rejected his plea deal, sentencing him to 30 days in jail. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. Seriously, though – what was Johnson thinking? I can understand being happy at the prospect of not heading to the clink, but he clearly should have showed a bit more restraint until he got out of the court.

Alex Ovechkin wins Hart Trophy: The Washington CapitalsAlex Ovechkin took home his third Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP over the weekend. The winger is only the eighth player in league history to win that many. Other players such as John Tavares and Sidney Crosby were also deserving, but Ovechin led the league with 32 goals and did so in a season where he moved to wing.

Tim Tebow signed by Patriots: The New England Patriots made a bit of a splash last week when they announced the signing of quarterback Tim Tebow. I don’t question that coaching guru Bill Belichick can find a way to utilize him in some way. What is surprising is that New England would bring him in with what should be a minimal impact. Unlike in New York, Tebow isn’t being brought in to challenge starter Tom Brady. So unless Brady goes down with an injury, Tebow’s impact at the position would be small. The talk is already about making Tebow a receiver or part of offensive packages as a skill player, but will he really be such an offensive difference-maker that it will make it worth all of the added attention and scrutiny of the team? Not likely.

Jason Kidd hired as Nets’ head coach: Last week I mentioned the possibility of the recently retired Jason Kidd becoming the Brooklyn Nets new coach. The Nets, who hadn’t previously had Kidd in mind, were convinced after his agent reached out to them and Kidd was hired last week. My opinion hasn’t really changed on this – a team with expectations so high shouldn’t be hiring a rookie head coach. He was a great player, but other greats such as Elgin Baylor, Magic Johnson, and Wes Unseld didn’t exactly make a successful transition from player to coach.

Dwight Howard and Chris Paul teammates?: ESPN reported last week that free agents Dwight Howard and Chris Paul may be exploring options to end up on the same team together. This move, of course, isn’t unprecedented with several players doing this in the past, including the Miami Heat’s ‘Big Three’ of Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. Howard and Paul are rumored to desire to play for the Los Angeles Clippers, but that would require a few things to happen. The team doesn’t have the cap space to sign Howard, so they’d need to do a sign and trade for him. And chances are that Blake Griffin would need to be included in such a deal.

Hall of Famer Lem Barney says football will soon end: Speaking at a football academy, Pro Football Hall of Famer Lem Barney declared that the game of football will end in 10-20 years because it is too dangerous. Barney’s not the only one to voice such an opinion with all of the talk of concussions lately, but I’m not sure the game ends anytime soon. After all – a sport like boxing where athletes take repeated shots to the head still exists. And when you consider that football is the most popular sport in the country, the guess here is that football continues to implement more safety measures rather than shut down entirely.

June 3, 2013

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The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Grant Hill retires: In a somewhat expected move, forward Grant Hill retired from the NBA last season. For many, Hill will be remembered for the injuries that ate up much of his career. Injuries again kept him down this year as the forward appeared in only 29 games all season with the Los Angeles Clippers, and at 40, it’s clear he should have retired. But Hill should never be forgotten. He was the 1994-95 Rookie of the Year and a seven-time All-Star. Hill wasn’t always healthy, but when he was, he was one of the NBA’s best forwards earlier in his career.

The Kansas City Royals hired George Brett to be their Hitting Coach.

Rangers coach John Tortorella fired: Shortly after being ousted by the Boston Bruins in the NHL’s Eastern Conference semifinals, the New York Rangers dumped head coach John Tortorella. The Rangers had hopes of reaching the Stanley Cup finals this season, but actually regressed after making the Eastern Conference finals last year. Tortorella had some success in New York, but was rumored to have rubbed some of his players the wrong way. After not advancing past the first round in each of his first three seasons with the Rangers, Tortorella had done better each of the past two seasons. It wasn’t enough to keep his job, but as a former Stanley Cup winning coach in Tampa Bay, he should get another chance down the line.

Steve Smith (the other one) retires: New York Giants receiver Steve Smith (not to be confused with the Carolina PanthersSteve Smith) has decided to hang up his cleats. Smith was a former Pro Bowler and just signed a deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this offseason. He was always a bit underrated as a receiver and finishes with seven 1,000-yard seasons under his belt. He nearly had another in 2009 when he finished with 982 yards and there’s little doubt he had something left in the tank. Smith had nearly 2,600 receiving yards over the past two seasons with 11 touchdowns. At 34, he probably still has some football left in him. It will be interesting to see if he changes his mind when training camp rolls around.

Phoenix Suns hire Jeff Hornacek as head coach: Jeff Hornacek, a former shooting guard in the NBA, will head back to Phoenix to serve as the team’s new head coach. Hornacek played for the Suns from 1986 – 1992 and also had stints with the Philadelphia 76ers and Utah Jazz. He helped the Jazz to two trips to the NBA Finals alongside Karl Malone and John Stockton. After retiring, he became an instructor with the Jazz and then an assistant. Hornacek will come in somewhat unproven with only a few years of experience as an assistant. And considering the mess that is the Phoenix Suns right now, that will make it even harder to succeed.

Everett Golson suspended for 2013: Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson was suspended by the team due to ‘poor academic judgment.’ There hasn’t yet been confirmation on what exactly that means, but one thing is for certain – he won’t be suiting up for the Irish this fall. It’s a blow to a team that went to the BCS Championship with him at the helm last year. Notre Dame must now turn to another option – most likely senior Tommy Rees. But Malik Zaire could have an outside shot at the job as he comes in as a highly touted freshman this year. But without Golson, the team’s stock is taking a significant hit.

Kansas City Royals hire George Brett as hitting coach: Stuck in the middle of a long losing streak, the Kansas City Royals have turned to perhaps the best player in the history of their franchise – George Brett. Brett will assume duties as the team’s new hitting coach. Let’s face it – giving the job to a franchise icon who just happens to be one of the best hitters in the last 50 years isn’t a bad idea. But stars generally have a difficult time coaching and often, aren’t able to teach others how to play the game as well as they could. Still, for just taking a shot in the dark on a midseason hire, the Royals could have done worse.

Floyd Mayweather to fight Saul Alvarez: Floyd Mayweather, Jr. recently announced that he would fight Saul “Canelo” Alvarez on September 14th. The match will pit a pair of unbeatens as Mayweather is 44-0-0 while Alvarez is 42-0-1. While this is a big deal and surely a fight that Mayweather will trumpet, Alvarez isn’t Manny Pacquiao - the fighter many would like to see battle Mayweather. In the announcement on (where else) Twitter, Mayweather made sure to tell us that he’s ‘giving the fans what they want’ by participating in the fight. Thanks, I guess?

NCAA Golfer penalized for car washing: Yep, you heard that one correctly. The NCAA penalized an unidentified women’s golfer for washing her own car. The reason? She reportedly used water on the campus that technically belonged to the university and was forced to pay the school $20.00 – the approximate value of the water and hose that was estimated by the organization. I’m all for following the rules and I think the NCAA gets a bad rap sometimes. They’ve got a difficult job in trying to police schools and student athletes, and I get that letting smaller things go can easily escalate into bigger problems. But seriously, can’t we have a common sense clause that allows for a warning in some instances?

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.