November 19, 2013

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Early Season NBA Observations

By: Joe Williams

We’re just 10 games into an 82-game NBA season so obviously there’s a lot of basketball left to play. But now that the games are for real, its time to take a look at what has happened so far compared to what we expected to happen.

Kobe Bryant

What will the Lakers' record be when Kobe Bryant returns?

Atlantic Division
Philadelphia was supposed to be the worst team in the league and the 76ers are leading the division. They have Michael-Carter Williams to thank for that. The rookie is making everyone forget they traded Jrue Holliday during the offseason and led the team to shocking wins over the Heat and Bulls. The future looks bright in Philly with Williams, Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes (averaging a double-double), injured rookie Nerlens Noel and probably a high draft pick coming in the summer.

Brooklyn is supposed to be a threat to Miami and is in last place at 3-7. The Nets have been dealing with injury problems and that makes life even tougher with a first-time head coach. Good thing they are a veteran team and have an owner willing to do whatever it takes to win. Once they get healthy, the Nets should get back on track.

Central Division
Indiana has picked up where it left off in the playoffs when it nearly knocked off the Heat. The Pacers ought to be better this year.

In Cleveland its starting to look like the Andrew Bynum addition isn’t going to be the move that gets the Cavs back to the playoffs. They are going to need a lot more than six points and four rebounds from their big man.

Southeast Division
Charlotte is off to a pretty good start (for Charlotte) at 5-6 and that is with Al Jefferson only playing three games so far. He should improve their 30th ranked offense.

What’s wrong with Washington? Weren’t the Wizards supposed to be a playoff team? Not at 2-7 they aren’t.

Northwest Division
Portland is the hottest team in the league with seven straight wins. This appears to be a much improved team and another contender to battle for a playoff  berth in the stacked Western Conference.

Utah is running away with the race for the most lottery balls in the draft. The Jazz already have 11 losses. That’s four more than the next highest. Will it be Wiggins or Parker?

Pacific Division
Phoenix may be the biggest surprise so far at 5-4. The four losses are by a combined 13 points and that includes games in San Antonio and Oklahoma City. Impressive start, but will it last?

There is still no word on when Kobe will be back but it already looks like it might be too late with so many great teams in the conference, the Lakers look like the 10th best right now.

Southwest Division
New Orleans is a Wednesday night win over the terrible Utah Jazz from getting to .500 and they’ll still be the worst team in the best division in basketball.

San Antonio has nine players averaging at least seven points a game. Some teams don’t even have nine guys they will put on the court.

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?

December 3, 2012

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Bowl game lineups set: College football’s massive bowl game lineup is now complete and, as expected, Alabama will face undefeated Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship game. That’s not a big surprise as the Crimson Tide defeated the Georgia Bulldogs in last week’s SEC championship. Even though the Irish are the undefeated team heading into the big game, expect powerhouse Alabama to be favored. While Notre Dame has struggled in several of their lesser games against the likes of mediocre teams such as Pitt, Purdue, and BYU, Alabama has plowed through the difficult SEC nearly unblemished. Notre Dame’s schedule was also a tough one, but the early pick here will be the Crimson Tide.

Alabama's SEC Championship win sent them to the BCS National Championship game.

Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Sammy Sosa projected to fall short of Hall of Fame: Three of MLB’s biggest stars of our generation, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Sammy Sosa, are on the ballot for the sport’s Hall of Fame for the first time this year. But with their names tied to steroid use, all three will fall short of induction according to a recent survey taken by the Associated Press. Approximately 100 voters took part in the survey, and Clemens and Bonds received about 45% support while Sosa picked up only about 18% (75% is needed for induction). Even if the trio doesn’t get in this season, there will be plenty of opportunities for them down the road. But for Clemens and Bonds, the news would be particularly difficult to swallow since both were probable Hall of Famers before their alleged use.

ACC adds Louisville: After the defection of Maryland, who is headed to the Big Ten (or B1G … whichever you prefer), the ACC acted swiftly by adding Big East team Louisville. The move was somewhat of a surprise to many as Connecticut had been the trendy pick to receive the invitation. But the conference made it clear that they wanted a ‘football school’ with the move. The Cardinals aren’t a powerhouse by any means, but they have had some success in the Big East and was the conference’s champion this season. Louisville’s program needs to have some more good seasons to establish a bit of consistency, but current head coach Charlie Strong has them moving in the right direction.

Phoenix Suns offer money back guarantee: Desperate to hold onto a fan base not all that thrilled with the team’s rough start to the season, the Phoenix Suns are offering a money back guarantee for their game against the Dallas Mavericks this week. If fans at the game don’t think they’ve had a fun time, the franchise will reportedly offer them their money back according to this ESPN article. I don’t know all the details, but while this may sound like a good idea, part of me thinks the team may have been better off making this offer with a bad team in town. The Mavericks aren’t off to a great start so far, but are a pretty good team. And I don’t know about you, but I’m more likely to have a good time when my favorite team wins.

Rick Majerus passes away: Popular college basketball head coach Rick Majerus passed away last week after heart failure. Majerus was most recently the coach of Saint Louis’ basketball team and took a leave of absence from the team earlier this year before the season began. He will probably be most remembered for his jovial personality, but Majerus was a pretty good coach as well. He took the little-regarded Utah Utes program to the NCAA championship game in 1998 and made them into a regular tournament team. Also, in his 25 years of coaching, he had only one losing season. It’s safe to say that he’ll be missed.

May 7, 2012

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Injuries Should Pave Way for Miami Heat to Reach Finals

By: Anson Whaley

Despite assembling a trio of some of the league’s biggest stars last year, the Miami Heat were unable to win the NBA championship, falling to the Dallas Mavericks. They received a bit of a pass since it was their first season together, but that won’t be the case if Miami fails to bring home the franchise’s second title this year.

The Heat may not have been the Eastern Conference’s best team this year, but there’s little doubt they are the favorites to advance to the Finals because of the huge rash of injuries to key players.

Miami’s already on the brink of disposing of the New York Knicks, leading their series 3-1 in the first round. The Knicks might have been in better shape against LeBron & Company if they were a bit healthier. New York was already without rookie sensation Jeremy Lin (knee injury) since late March. But then came Iman Shumpert’s torn ACL and a bizarre hand injury to starter Amare Stoudemire, who somehow thought punching a fire extinguisher case out of frustration after the team’s Game 2 loss was a good idea. After sitting out the third game, Stoudemire returned for Game 4. But missing Lin and Shumpert has definitely hurt the team in this series.

The Chicago Bulls, perhaps the best team in the entire league with a 50-16 record, were dealt a cruel blow in their first round series. With only a little over a minute to play in their first playoff game against the Philadelphia 76ers, star point guard Derrick Rose tore his ACL and, just like that, his season was over. Rose was the team’s leader in scoring and assists and without him, the Bulls have been a shell of their former selves. Chicago won that first game, but has fallen short in the past three without Rose. And as if that weren’t enough of a hurdle to overcome, the Bulls lost center Joakim Noah in Game 4 to an ankle sprain. Even if they can somehow fight back and make it a series against Philly, there’s little chance they could do much more in the playoffs.

The Orlando Magic were another team expected to contend for the title. That all changed, though, once star center Dwight Howard went down with a back injury late in the season. Power forward Glen Davis has stepped up in his absence, scoring 20 points a game in the playoffs and pulling in nearly ten rebounds. But the team clearly misses Howard, who was their regular season leader in points, rebounds, blocks, and steals. Howard’s defensive impact is just as important as the one he makes on offense and the Magic are a weaker team on both ends without him.

There are also the aging Boston Celtics. The Celtics have been relatively healthy, but shooting guard Ray Allen missed the first two games of their opening series against the Atlanta Hawks. He’d been out for the past month with bone spurs in his foot, and even though he’s back, is still trying to get back into game shape.

Miami isn’t a lock to win the East by any stretch of the imagination. The Indiana Pacers are having a strong season and as one of the league’s best rebounding teams, could give the Heat some trouble. And the Atlanta Hawks’ sixth-ranked defense might be able to challenge Miami’s explosive offense as well. The Heat are a combined 6-2 against those two teams in the regular season, but in the playoffs, the intensity will be ratcheted up significantly. Despite all that, though, it’s clear that with all of the injuries to the Eastern Conference this season, Miami has a clear shot at reaching the Finals again.

February 21, 2012

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NBA Trade Deadline Rumors

By: Joe Williams

The NBA trade deadline is less than a month away. Everybody is going to be on the phone looking for the deal that will bring in a superstar, set the franchise up for future success or add the last piece of a championship puzzle. The rumors are already flying. Here’s the trades I would like to see happen.

Steve Nash

He’s not going to force his way out of Phoenix like some guys would if they were nearing the end of their career with a team that isn’t going anywhere. He has been as loyal as they come for the Suns. The team should return the favor and deal Nash to a team that can make a run. The obvious choice just a few days ago would be to reunite Nash with Mike D’Antoni and Amar’e Stoudemire in New York. But now that “Linsanity” has taken over in the Big Apple, my choice for Nash would be Memphis.

The emergence of Jeremy Lin has taken New York off the list of possible destinations for Steve Nash.

Last season, the Grizzlies came within one game of the Western Conference Finals as an 8 seed. And they did that without Rudy Gay. Now Memphis is playing without Zach Randolph. Assuming he will be back in time for the playoffs, the Grizzlies should make this deal. They are three games out of third in the west but also just a game away from missing the playoffs altogether. Nash would help ensure Memphis gets back to the postseason and give them a better shot to make a deep run once they get there. 

Ray Allen

At 15-16, the Celtics run as a championship contender looks like it may be over. I don’t see them standing pat with the team so do they blow the team up and start over or try to make a move and get some help for their aging stars? Boston management probably hasn’t decided yet, but if they do start looking toward the future instead of this season, several teams will try to get one of the best shooters of all time in Ray Allen.

One team that could be a Ray Allen away from a championship is Oklahoma City. The Thunder are tied with Miami for the best record in the NBA. They have two stars in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. James Harden is getting better every year. Adding a deadly shooter with championship experience would be a big asset to this team and could be what they need to win the championship this year.

Chris Kaman

New Orleans is in a terrible situation. The Hornets don’t benefit much from having a 30-year-old, injury-prone center that makes 14 million on the roster. But they could use some draft picks or prospects that they would get in exchange for trading Kaman to a contender. And there are plenty of teams who could use a 7-footer with an expiring contract.

Kaman would be a nice fit for the Rockets, who thought it had landed Pau Gasol earlier this year in the Chris Paul trade. Gasol is still rumored to possibly be traded from Los Angeles, so the Rockets may go after him again, but Kaman would be a good, low-risk second option for a team in the thick of the playoff race in the West.

Dwight Howard

Personally, I would like to see Superman stay in Orlando, but that doesn’t appear very likely. Chances are, Orlando will get what they can for Howard rather than letting him leave for nothing like it did with Shaq. Howard’s list of teams he is willing to play for has changed a few times so just about anything could happen here.

Chicago could probably give Orlando the best deal, but will the Bulls want to break-up a team that is already a favorite in the Eastern Conference? Certainly, every team in the NBA would like to have a guy like Howard, but the team that is the most desperate to get him is New Jersey. The Nets have been setting themselves up for a major move ever since the LeBron sweepstakes started and it is now or never for them. If Howard goes to New Jersey he will play alongside Deron Williams and make the Nets a dangerous team in the future. If he goes somewhere else, Williams will likely leave New Jersey as well and the team will move to Brooklyn with no stars. The Nets must do whatever it takes to make this happen.