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.

July 3, 2012

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NBA Draft Winners & Losers – 2009

By: Joe Williams

The New Orleans Hornets just became championship contenders in 2016. The Houston Rockets crashed and burned in their attempt to trade for Dwight Howard. The Brooklyn Nets screwed up big-time when they traded their pick for Gerald Wallace, who is about to leave as a free agent. At least that’s what all the analysts were saying after last week’s NBA draft. Of course, we all know things will look much different a couple years from now. So let’s go back to 2009 and see who really won and lost on draft night.

Winners

Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers took Blake Griffin with the first pick in the draft. He has become one of the biggest stars in the NBA with his reckless style of play and ferocious dunks and according to reports he has just informed the team that he plans to sign a five-year extension.

Blake Griffin has helped turn around the Los Angeles Clippers franchise.

Oklahoma City Thunder
With the third pick, the Thunder grabbed James Harden. He has turned into the NBA’s best sixth-man and one of the key players for a team that has been to the conference finals and NBA Finals in the last two seasons. Now they have to figure out how to keep him long-term to play alongside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

Other winners

Sacramento KingsTyreke Evans

Golden State WarriorsStephen Curry

Milwaukee BucksBrandon Jennings

Philadelphia 76ersJrue Holiday

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Losers

Memphis Grizzlies
The Grizzlies had two first round picks and walked away with Hasheem Thabeet as the second pick in the draft and DeMarre Carroll at No. 27. Both players were sent down to the NBA Developmental League and eventually traded to Houston. Memphis has still managed to become one of the better teams in the league but it didn’t happen on draft night in 2009.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Nobody made more picks than the T-Wolves. With six picks they came up with a point guard who didn’t join the team until 2011 and then tore his ACL (Ricky Rubio), a point guard who had a promising rookie campaign but has only started nine games since and is now on his third team (Jonny Flynn),  a point guard (noticing a pattern here?) that was traded to Denver for a future draft pick (Ty Lawson), a guard who has started just 12 games and averages six points a game (Wayne Ellington),  a guard who was traded to Dallas and has never played in the NBA (Nick Calathes), and a forward (apparently there were no more guards on the board) who has never played in the NBA.

Other losers

Orlando Magic – No picks

Houston  Rockets – No picks

June 29, 2011

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Top NBA Free Agents

By: Rick Jarrell

NBA Playoffs are over. The draft has been completed. What now? Free agency!

The looming collective bargaining agreement, set to expire June 30, is more than likely going to hinder the beginning of the free agency period. Hopefully the owners and players can hash out their differences in a relatively short time span, but we’re still going to be forced to talk about offseason moves, even though they can’t happen yet, slightly longer this year.

The 2011 NBA free agent class is nowhere near as heralded as last year’s barrage of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Amare Stoudemire, Chris Bosh, Carlos Boozer, Joe Johnson, and David Lee. But there’s interesting players out, a few sure to sign max contracts.

Nene Hilario

Every team can use another frontcourt bruiser, and at 28 years old, Nene will surely garner at least a four year contract. Left behind in the midseason trade of Carmelo Anthony as the only remaining building block, Nene’s performance in the second half helped lead the team to the playoffs. Putting up 14 points and 7 rebounds a game, plus a block and a steal, could turn into a solid double-double provider night in night out on the right team. Plus at 6-11, 250 pounds, the man can play both the 4 and 5 positions.

The downside, which I actually see as an upside in some respect, is how Nene makes an impact. He’s a glass man – gets rebounds, tips balls to his teammates, and cleans up the mess. Running plays designed for him consistently is not likely to pay off. But his willingness to do the dirty work outweighs, and a backdoor layup is right up his alley.

Tyson Chandler

What a difference a year makes. A season ago, Tyson Chandler was deemed expendable by the Charlotte Bobcats after his worst statistical year and burgeoning knee problems. But the Dallas Mavericks took a chance that paid off. Chandler provided a key force near the rim during the finals, limiting the impact of Miami’s Big Three.

Chandler has a similar problem to Nene, to a greater degree, in that he is not offensive minded. Aside from rebounds and put backs, his value is on the defensive end. Blocks, steals, help defense, the whole lot. Chandler has readily admitted he likes defense, that’s where he belongs. Plus, even though it feels like he’s been in the ABA merged into the NBA, he’s only 28 years old. The knee may cause some concern, but someone (possibly the Mavericks), will take another chance.

Marc Gasol

The Memphis Grizzlies have stated they intend to resign their rising star. But after paying Rudy Gay and Mike Conley last summer and Zach Randolph a couple months ago, and uncertainty regarding salary cap rules, they may not have the funds left to make a deal. Gasol will surely have a high price tag. His sweet mid-range jumper (for which he does not jump) helped power the Grizzlies past the number one seed Spurs in the first round. Rebounding and defense come in the package, as well. But despite his size, don’t expect him to post up anyone on the block and back them down. Gasol is more effective on the move, using his mid-range shot and a variety of “trick” shots, in addition to put backs.

He’s the kind of player you’d love to see on your team. No one would have ever thought the “Pau Gasol trade,” where the Lakers and Griz swapped brothers years ago, would look like a decent move Memphis.

David West

A late addition to the bunch, and another front court player! West said this week he would test the NBA free agent market this summer, likely because of the constant rumors swirling around Chris Paul’s longevity in New Orleans (more Decision fallout!). Averaging a quiet 19 points and 7.5 rebounds for another season, West suffered a potentially career-threatening ACL injury before the playoffs. If healthy, he’s arguably at the top of this group (Gasol could be, too). But a serious knee injury for a 30 year old big man causes concern. He’ll probably get a decent sized contract, assuming he passes a physical, but the tail end of his contract may become an issue.

May 19, 2011

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The 5 most important players in the Western Conference Finals.

By: Joe Williams

The Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder are half way to a NBA Championship. They met on Tuesday night in the first game of the Western Conference Finals. Here’s a look at the five most important players in this series.

Russell Westbrook
There was a lot of talk during the Thunder’s series with Memphis about Westbrook taking too many shots and turning the ball over too much. When he takes care of the ball and helps Kevin Durant get open shots, they are as explosive as any duo in the league. When he takes bad shots and Durant goes nine minutes without a shot in the fourth quarter as he did in Game 5 against the Grizzlies, the Thunder will struggle. Westbrook hit just 14 of 44 shots against Dallas in three regular season matchups. If that number doesn’t go up….the Thunder will go down.

Shawn Marion

Marion scored at least 20 points twice against Oklahoma City in the regular season. There is no doubt that Dirk Nowitzki and company would love to have Marion do that a few times in this series, but what they really need from Marion is great defense against Kevin Durant. The NBA scoring leader averaged nearly 30 points against the Mavericks this season. If Marion can keep him closer to 20 than 30, Dallas has an excellent chance to return to the NBA Finals.

Peja Stojakovic

When his back allows it, Peja is one of the best shooters in the world. He hit 9 of 13 from behind the arc in games three and four against the Lakers. If he shoots like that against the Thunder and forces their defense to spread the floor, things will open up for Nowitzki. Dallas made quick work of the Lakers while the Thunder went seven games so Peja should be well-rested.

Nick Collison

Collison played a big part in the Thunder’s win over Memphis. He’s not going to do a lot that will show up in the box score, but he can do a lot that won’t. He was lucky enough to get to guard Zach Randolphand now it looks like he will get to try his luck with Nowitzki. Slowing Dirk down will certainly be more than a one man job. The less help Collison needs, the better for Oklahoma City.

Dirk Nowitzki/Kevin Durant

They are two of the top ten players in the league. It’s safe to assume they are going to get their 20-25 points and do what makes them great. Which one of these guys will get 30-35? We can also expect this series to come down to a game or two that goes down to the final minute or two. Somebody, and Nowitzki and Durant will be the first options, is going to take a shot with the game on the line. I expect one of these two to make a play that will send their team to the NBA Finals.