Wednesday, February 29, 2012
C - Salvador Perez
1B - Eric Hosmer
2B - Johnny Giovatella/Chris Getz
SS - Alcides Escobar
3B - Mike Moustakas
LF - Alex Gordon
CF - Lorenzo Cain
RF - Jeff Francoeur
DH - Billy Butler
This lineup has all the makings of a good unit... it just may not be in 2012. Sal Perez absolutely mashed after coming up last year at age 21 (.834 OPS), and he's a big-time prospect, but only has approx. 150 ABs in the Majors so that's a relative unknown. Hosmer and Moustakas are both all-world prospects, and while Hosmer hit immediately to the tune of .799 OPS and 18 homers a rookie, Moustakas has taken a bit longer to come around. Alex Gordon finally broke out (FINALLY!) in 2011 and hit 23 homers, over .300 BA, and a near .900 OPS to quantify the hype he's been receiving since birth. Lorenzo Cain was the centerpiece of the Greinke trade and is a pure speed guy, who, at 25 years old, has never really hit Major league pitching. Francoeur had a break-out of sorts in 2011 (20 homers, 22 steals, .800+ OPS) but he's still not taking walks and that's an issue. I'm an unabashed Francoeur homer and that's not changing, so get used to that. Finally, Billy Butler is what he is at this point. .300 average, .800 OPS, 20-ish homers, and never reaching the 30-35 homer power that so many expected. Still a very, very nice option. This is a lineup that could be electric if Hosmer and Moustakas progress, Francoeur matches production, and they get anything out of Escobar, OR a pretty bad if the young guys stall, Francoeur returns to his previous baseline, and the Cain/Escobar duo runs and nothing else.
1 - Luke Hochevar
2 - Bruce Chen
3 - Jonathan Sanchez
4 - Felipe Paulino
5 - Danny Duffy
Here's where this team flies off the rails. Hochevar and Chen are what they are at this point. Hochevar is a former uber-prospect, but at 27, he had his "best" year ever last year and still posted a 4.68 ERA. Chen got wildly lucky (look at the splits lol) and posted a sub-4.00 ERA, but that will even out, and he's still a subpar guy at best. Sanchez and Paulino are both guys with big-time strikeout stuff, but have never really put it together, and Sanchez doesn't have the benefit of the NL West anymore. Duffy was really bad as a rookie (5.64 ERA), but has high-end prospect ability, and between him and Montgomery, they have some upside if they can get it going. Still a pretty bad ensemble for the short-term.
Joakim Soria! The Mexicutioner returns and while he had his worst year in a while in 2011 (4.07 ERA), he got it going late in the year, and that's not a worry spot for the Royals. He's joined by Jonathan Broxton (formerly dominant) and Aaron Crow (currently dominant) to form a pretty darn good back-end for a small market club. Also, the diminutive Tim Collins and Jose Mijares are pretty nice options to join them. Far from a weakness here.
74-88, 5th in AL Central
C - Mike Napoli/Yorvit Torrealba
1B - Mitch Moreland/Michael Young/Mike Napoli
2B - Ian Kinsler
SS - Elvis Andrus
3B - Adrian Beltre/Michael Young
LF - Josh Hamilton
CF - Craig Gentry/David Murphy/Julio Borbon
RF - Nelson Cruz
DH - Michael Young/Mike Napoli
This is the best lineup in the Major Leagues in my opinion. Mike Napoli had a career-year last year when he posted 30 HRs (in only 369 ABs) with an OPS over 1.000 and a ridiculous playoff run. While I don't expect a full repeat of those numbers, if he can replicate top-5 catcher production (easily attainable) I think they'd take that, and with Torrealba as a solid backup, it allows them to play Napoli at 1B and DH as well. Positional movement is very flexible on this team because of Napoli, Mitch Moreland, and Michael Young. Moreland isn't your prototypical first-base bat (.733 OPS in 2011), but he can play some left field, and is the best defender at 1st base, while Young is an elite hitter (.854 OPS, .338 BA, 106 RBI) who isn't great defending anywhere, but can play multiple spots. The middle infield is very good with Kinsler, who finally stayed healthy and hit 32 homers in 2011, and Andrus', who is a whiz defensively and provides speed at the bottom of the lineup with 50 steal potential. Beltre is one of the best 3rd basemen in the entire league, and if he stays healthy (124 games in '11), watch out. The outfield is injury-prone but productive. Josh Hamilton is one of the best talents out there, but between injury issues and his checkered past with substance abuse, reliability isn't always there. That said, he managed to post an OPS near .900 and 25 homers in under 500 ABs last year, and he's elite when he plays. It's a similar story for Nelson Cruz (minus the substance abuse) in trying to stay on the field, but again, he's remarkably productive (29 homers in 475 ABs) when he's out there. The 3rd outfield spot is in flux (as you can see above) because Hamilton floats between LF and CF, and while Gentry and Murphy are nice options, each leaves something to be desired, and they also need a place to stash Moreland when they play Young and/or Napoli at first. There are no real holes in this lineup, and it's the faction of the team that provides this ranking.
1 - Colby Lewis
2 - Yu Darvish
3 - Derek Holland
4 - Neftali Feliz
5 - Matt Harrison/Alexi Ogando
First things first, the loss of CJ Wilson is a big blow for this unit. You can't expect to replace the 200+ innings of monster production lost by inserting a first-time starter in Feliz or a "rookie" unknown like Darvish. That said, this is a deep rotation with 6 legitimate arms. Lewis struggled at times last year (4.40 ERA) but his 35 homers allowed is probably a result of a little bad luck, and he's a solid option. Darvish has every scout I've seen raving about him, and the stuff is clearly there, they'll need a return on that investment immediately. I really, really like Derek Holland. First of all, he's a certified lunatic (love it), but secondly, he threw 198 innings of quality ball last year with a sub-4.00 in that ballpark. The biggest question mark (ahead of even Darvish for me) is Neftali Feliz. The former Braves prospect is only 23 years old, and coming off of two elite seasons as a closer, they've asked him to make a rotation spot. The stuff is certainly there, but question marks around innings caps, durability, etc. can't be ignored. Harrison and Ogando seem to be battling for the 5th spot, and while Ogando had a great run to start his career last year, he leveled off significantly, and I flat-out think Harrison is the better pitcher. At any rate, this is not a weakness.
The loss of Feliz to the rotation will no doubt hurt this unit, but replacing him with a bonafide option in Joe Nathan helps. Nathan struggled out of the gate mightily last year, but got it together late, and reclaimed the closer role in Minnesota. I trust him when he's healthy, and he seems to be. The set-up role is very, very good with Mike Adams and Koji Uehara providing quality innings, and with Scott Feldman and either Ogando or Harrison in the pen as well, this is a top-5 bullpen in the league.
95-67, 1st in AL West
C - Chris Iannetta
1B - Albert Pujols
2B - Howie Kendrick
SS - Erick Aybar
3B - Mark Trumbo/Alberto Callaspo
LF - Vernon Wells/Mike Trout/Bobby Abreu
CF - Peter Bourjos/Mike Trout
RF - Torii Hunter/Mike Trout/Bobby Abreu
DH - Kendrys Morales/Mark Trumbo/Bobby Abreu
As you can see, the lineup is anything but set for the Angels, but first, we'll hit the constants. Albert Pujols has been the best hitter on the planet since the day Barry Bonds went away, and he arrives in the AL West with a huge contract. I hated the deal for its length, but in 2012, he's worth every penny he'll receive, and he's still a top-5 player. Howie Kendrick posted a .800+ OPS last year (elite for 2B) and a career-high 18 homers, as he begins to realize his full potential that many expected. Aybar brings 30-steal ability at shortstop while not killing their lineup offensively, and Iannetta has a career .788 OPS that makes him playable despite his defensive deficiencies. That's where the constants end. At 3rd base, Trumbo would be a clear defensive downgrade (think Miguel Cabrera), but the Angels seem heart-set on playing him near-everyday after he hit 29 homers last year in 539 ABs. I'm personally against it because a) he'll be so bad defensively, b) he sported a sub-.300 on base percentage last year, and c) Alberto Callaspo played pretty well in that spot last year. In the outfield, it's a cataclysmic mess. There are 5 guys (6 if you count Trumbo, who could also be used out there) for three spots. Hunter and Bourjos were the 2 best players of the lot in 2011, both sporting .765 OPS' and playing above-average defense for their sports (Bourjos is elite, Hunter used to be). Trout is the uber-prospect who may not even make the club, but is considered to be the 1b to Bryce Harper's 1a among positional prospects. Bobby Abreu can't field (at all) any more, and is pretty much unplayable in the outfield when you consider his bat fell off the cliff in 2011 to the tune of only 8 HRs, and a .365 slugging. Oh, and I haven't mentioned Vernon Wells. He's clearly the worst hitter of the bunch, but he makes 20+ million dollars a year for several more years as the owner of the worst contract in the major leagues. In fairness to the Angels, any 3 OFs that they pick won't be a disaster, but it's an issue that we need to see shake out. At DH, Kendrys Morales is reportedly healthy, and after they signed Pujols, his only position can be DH, so I'd pencil him in if he's healthy with some ABs for Trumbo and possibly Abreu if they can. Pretty solid lineup that could be elite if they get Pujols-ian numbers from him, and can shake out the outfield.
1 - Jared Weaver
2 - Dan Haren
3 - CJ Wilson
4 - Ervin Santana
5 - Jerome Williams
One through four, this is about as good as it gets in the Majors. Weaver and Haren were both among the game's elite in 2011, chewing up innings (235+ for both) with near 200 strikeouts and low ratio stats. Add in CJ Wilson coming off a year that saw him post a 2.94 ERA in 220+ inning with over 200 K's himself, and Ervin Santana off his career year, and that's a pretty scary staff. Jerome Williams is the biggest question mark after throwing only 44 innings last year, but this is a former elite prospect with considerable talent, and in the 5-spot they can afford to miss a little bit. Weaver and Haren can be penciled in for great numbers, but keep an eye on Wilson and Santana as they both peaked in 2011 at levels they'd never seen, and could be due for regression (both of them) or injury (Santana has a history). Still a great rotation.
Jordan Walden carries the torch at the back-end. The number that I keep seeing referenced is the fact that he blew 10 saves last year, but blown saves are pretty arbitrary, and when you look at his peripherals, you'd see a pretty good pitcher. Sub-3.00 ERA with 10 strikeouts per 9, and while his walk rate is high, you'd expect that from a 23-year-old first time closer. Scott Downs was dominant in a set-up role last year (1.34 ERA) and he's joined by Hisanori Takahashi, Rich Thompson, and the newly-acquired Latroy Hawkins to form a reasonably decent set-up crew.
93-69, 2nd in AL West, Wild card winner
- T-Wolves 109, Clippers 97 - The first lifetime matchup between Chris Paul and Ricky Rubio was what drew me to this game the most, but there were some fairly unlikely heroes. Derrick Williams exploded for 27 points in 28 minutes (on just 10 FGA) for the T-Wolves, and Michael Beasley joined him with 27 points in 30 minutes (on 11-15 FG). When you get 72 bench points, it helps overcome an injury-shortened off night from Love (4 of 13, 10 points), and a 1-8 shooting night from Rubio for a win. I was very impressed with the play of Nikola Pecovic as well, as he is an absolute man inside and finished with 12 points. For LAC, I thought Paul was tremendous as usual (27 points, 6 assists), and Griffin had a great first half (24 of his 30), but Caron Butler was a grease-fire all night, and they got nothing from the Bobby Simmons/Kenyon Martin duo off the bench. Entertaining game though.
- NBA Box Score Round-up - Boston snapped a 5-game skid in beating Cleveland on the road led by 22 from Ray Allen. Indy beat up on Golden State 102-78 at home to push the Dubs further from the playoff race in the West. When is the last time you heard anything about Detroit? They got waxed last night at home by 29 by the Sixers, and outside of Greg Monroe, good luck to everyone with that roster composition. Derrick Rose put up 32 and 9 to lead the Bulls to a squeeze-out win over New Orleans 99-95. Houston improves to a playoff-bound 21-14 record with an 88-85 win over Toronto. Kyle Lowry led the way with 26 points and 5 dimes. Brook Lopez busted out with 38 points in New Jersey's surprising road upset against Dallas, and I was impressed with what I saw from NJ on the final defensive possession against Dirk. Avery! And finally, DeMarcus Cousins dominated the paint to the tune of 22 and 18 in Sacto's home win over Utah. Two thoughts from this one, 1) It's awesome that mayor Kevin Johnson got a standing O when he entered the arena, and 2) Utah is on the doorstep of being done for good.
- Braves 1B Freddie Freeman "tweaked" his knee and will be sidelined a reported 2 weeks. I'm openly praying that 2 weeks and a tweak is all this is, but the injury bug (Hanson, Hudson, Freeman, Wilson) has taken up residence in Orlando already, and I don't like it.
- Red Sox C Jason Varitek is retiring. One of the weirder career stories just because he's receiving a ton of press that we all know he'd never get if he wasn't on the Boston Red Sox. That said, he's got 2 rings, was the captain of both teams, and did finish with a pretty solid .776 OPS and nearly 200 homers. Nice career.
- Apparently Kobe does have a concussion now? I'm confused.
- The NFL has moved it's season opener to a Wednesday night. Why, do you ask? Because the Democratic National Convention had already scheduled President Obama to speak that night. That's a random sports story if I've ever heard one, and it'll be the first Wednesday night game in the league since 1948.
What to watch for on Wednesday...
- NCAAB - Maryland @ #6 North Carolina - ESPN 7:00 - Maryland kind of stinks this year, so this should be a cruise-control game for UNC.
- NCAAB - #7 Marquette @ Cincy - ESPN2 7:00 - Remember when Marquette was ranked #7 in the country? The last time was when Dwyane Wade was involved. Anyway, this is a nice road test for them against a Cincy team coming off an ugly loss at USF.
- NBA - Warriors @ Hawks - SportSouth 7:30 - Will we see Joe Johnson here? At any rate, always entertaining to see the Dubs.
- NBA - Bulls @ Spurs - ESPN 9:00 - What an awesome game. San Antonio finally returns home after that crazy rodeo trip, and I'd love to see Parker and Rose go at it.
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
C - Miguel Olivo/Jesus Montero
1B - Justin Smoak
2B - Dustin Ackley
SS - Brendan Ryan
3B - Chone Figgins
LF - Trayvon Robinson/Mike Carp
CF - Franklin Gutierrez
RF - Ichiro Suzuki
DH - Jesus Montero/Mike Carp
This is not a lineup that anyone is afraid of. Part of it is the ballpark (Safeco Field) being a place where power hitters go to die, but part of it is simply a lack of investment in offense. Ichiro is still the best player in this lineup, and while he's on the downside, he's still good for a high average and some steals. One concern I have is the commitment to hit him in the #3 hole and place Figgins in the lead-off spot, because Ichiro's power is virtually non-existent, but moreso because Figgins hasn't been a productive player in a couple years, and was an absolute disaster in 2011. The key to the productivity of this lineup is in the young guys. Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley, and Jesus Montero are all high-level prospects who have yet to fully prove themselves to various degrees. Smoak had a nice start in 2011, but finished with just 15 HR and a .719 OPS for the year, and while Ackley played very well (.766 OPS from 2nd base), his ABs were limited to 333 due to a late call-up. Montero has 40-homer power in a normal ballpark, but the centerpiece of the Pineda trade is still quite unproven. Throw in bit pieces around them and Ichiro, and this has the makings of a bad lineup of the youth movement stalls.
1 - Felix Hernandez
2 - Jason Vargas
3 - Hisashi Iwakuma
4 - Blake Beavan
5 - Charlie Furbush/Hector Noesi
We all know what Felix brings. The 2010 Cy Young winner is one of the best pitchers in baseball, and you can pencil him in for 230+ innings, 200+ Ks, and great ratios. He's an absolute beast and that's not slowing down. Jason Vargas is a pretty solid option after posting 200 innings of 4.25 ERA and decent WHIP last year, and on the bright side for them, his home/road splits are pretty identical, which is positive for a guy in that ballpark. After that? It gets ugly and questionable. Beaven was pretty solid in 15 starts last year, but is unproven, and Iwakuma has just arrived in the States, and the Furbush/Noesi duo isn't scaring anyone with Furbush (6.62 ERA in 2011) struggling so far, and Noesi with 2 career starts.
Brandon League returns as the closer, fresh off a year where he converted 37 of 42 save opps. while posting an impressive 2.79 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 65 appearances. After that, it's a little more interesting. The M's acquired George Sherrill as a lefty specialist, and he's decent in that role, and I also like the Hong-Chih Kuo signing as a guy who's coming off a horrendous year, but with a significant track record of dominant performance at the back-end. I wouldn't say this is a strength, but if League performs similarly to 2011, this shouldn't be a trainwreck.
69-93, 3rd in AL West
C - Kurt Suzuki
1B - Brandon Allen/Daric Barton
2B - Jemile Weeks
SS - Cliff Pennington
3B - Scott Sizemore (update: torn ACL, out for year, replaced by Eric Sogard, yikes)
LF - Seth Smith
CF - Coco Crisp
RF - Josh Reddick
DH - Chris Carter/Johnny Gomes
This lineup isn't as bad as you may think by the names on it, but it certainly doesn't qualify as a strong suit. Suzuki anchors the pitching staff defensively, but he had a sub .700 OPS last year and has fallen off a bit as a hitter. The Allen/Barton combo is about as weak as it gets at 1st base, and while I really like Scott Sizemore (again, injured), there's not a single infielder here that's an above average hitter. Seth Smith may be the best hitter in this lineup, but his career .830 OPS is mostly a product of being a platoon guy in Colorado. I really like Crisp defensively and on the basepaths (49 stolen bases in 2011), but health issues are always the concern for him, and Reddick is relatively unproven in RF. I simply don't think there's enough power in the middle of this lineup to sustain scoring at a level that will bring winning.
1 - Brandon McCarthy
2 - Dallas Braden
3 - Brett Anderson
4 - Brad Peacock
5 - Jarrod Parker
So much young talent in this rotation, but the question marks are aplenty. McCarthy took a giant leap in 2011 while posting an ERA of 3.32 and a WHIP of 1.13 since he finally stayed healthy for a full campaign. His stuff has never been the issue, and if he stays healthy for back-to-back years, they are all set in the #1 spot. Braden throw only 15 innings last year, and is another health risk, but he did post a 3.50 ERA in 192 innings in 2010 and has shown he can be effective. The absolute biggest key, however, is Brett Anderson. He has top-of-the-rotation stuff, but with 2 consecutive years of injury battles, it's becoming a real concern that he be able to stay on the mound. Peacock and Parker have a combined 3 starts of MLB experience under their belts. Godspeed, gentlemen.
Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes are in a closer battle in Spring Training. Balfour is clearly the better pitcher on the peripherals and with the strikeout rate, but managers are famous for going with "the guy who's done it before" and that's Fuentes. Also rounding out the back-end will be Joey Devine, the former Braves prospect that has big-time stuff including a near triple-digit fastball, but who's been hampered by injuries. Certainly not a unit of strength.
66-96, 4th in AL West
- The Sacramento Kings are staying in Sacramento. If you haven't followed this story, you're probably thinking, "um, why wouldn't they?", but the short version is that they were in real danger of being shipped out if a brand new arena deal wasn't consummated. That deal was agreed to on Monday, and thanks to the efforts of mayor Kevin Johnson (former NBA star, no less), there won't be any team movement here. The above title of this post refers to an underground movement to keep them in Sacto called "Here We Stay", and stay they will.
- Kobe Bryant has a broken nose... but not a concussion, as previously reported. This is the only takeaway from the All-Star game (spare me the on-court narratives, please), but if Kobe says he doesn't have a concussion, so be it.
- College Hoops Round-up - Georgetown unleashed on defense in holding Notre Dame to 41 points on 33% shooting in an 18-point home win last night. No one on the Irish broke double-digits in scoring. Yikes. And while we're here, Kansas cruised past OK State by 12 in Gallagher-Iba behind 27 from Tyshawn Taylor and a ho-hum 17 & 11 from Thomas Robinson. One bright spot for the Pokes was the play of little Keiton Page who put up 29 points including 7 triples despite being 5-foot-8 on a good day.
What to watch for on Tuesday...
- NCAAB - #5 Michigan State @ #20 Indiana - ESPN 7:00 - Sparty gets a really tough road test here.
- NBA - Hornets @ Bulls - NBA TV 8:00 - Real, live professional basketball!
- NCAAB - #13 Florida @ Vanderbilt - ESPN 9:00 - Vandy isn't ranked, but they have 20 wins, great guards, and home-court advantage. I smell an "upset".
Monday, February 27, 2012
- The West beat the East in the NBA All-Star Game last night. Kevin Durant was the MVP and had 36 points, Lebron had 36 points, Dwyane Wade had a triple-double, and Kobe went for 27. That is all I have on this.
- Ryan Zimmerman gets $100 million from the Nationals. My initial reaction to the newly-signed 6-year deal was, "wow, that's a lot for him". Zimmerman is an elite 3rd basemen statistically, but has a history of injuries, and that's a franchise that's suddenly spending a ton of money (with Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman and Harper to come).
- Robert Griffin III ran a 4.41 in the 40 at the combine. That's a non-story even when he ran the fastest time since Mike Vick (at QB) just because we all knew he'd run something like that. The bigger story? Andrew Luck running a 4.67. That's really impressive for a guy who's been pegged into the "rigid, pocket passer" category.
- And a college hoops note... Wisconsin beat Ohio State on the road 63-60. I, as usual, love the Badgers, and they seem to be peaking at the right team to make a tourney run behind Jordan Taylor.
What to watch for...
- #18 Notre Dame @ #8 Georgetown - ESPN 7:00 - Georgetown being a top-10 team while being coached by JT3 is pretty hilarious to me. That's my thought on that.
There it is...
Friday, February 24, 2012
- Celebrity Game - 7:00 ESPN - I hate this event with a passion. If you want to watch Ne-Yo shoot 27-footers, this is for you.
- Rookie/Soph Game - 9:00 TNT - This is apparently called the "rising stars challenge" now that Shaq and Charles Barkley have picked teams pick-up style rather than the traditional rookie vs. sophomore format. This is usually a pretty entertaining watch as there is no defense played, and always a threat to break whatever scoring record previously exists. This year the controversy is about Jeremy Lin somehow being snuck into this game by David Stern, but I'd rather just watch Ricky Rubio throw alley-oops.
- D-League All-Star Game - 2:00 NBA-TV - This should be interesting for real hoop heads, as these guys will undoubtedly be playing hard in this type of showcase. I'm in.
- Skills Challenge - 8:30 TNT (2nd event after Shooting Stars) - Might as well call this the point guard challenge. Stephen Curry is the defending champ, and I like him to repeat. If not, I'd pick Tony Parker over Wall/Westbrook/Williams/Irving.
- 3-Point Shootout - 8:30 TNT (3rd event) - Only God knows why Joe Johnson was selected, but now that he's been ousted, there's no story here going in. I like either James Jones (defending champ) or the recently added Anthony Morrow to win this thing, but my biggest hope is that Kevin Love doesn't flop.
- Dunk Contest - 8:30 TNT (4th event) - The highlight of the weekend for most people. Jeremy Evans has been added late to replace Iman Shumpert, and I'm picking him outright. Evans is a bit player, but is one of the more ferocious dunkers you'll ever see, and that's my pick. Second place? Give me Paul George.
- All-Star Game - 7:30 TNT - I'm consistently underwhelmed by this game. At any rate, it's a collection of 24 of the best 35 players in the world and that counts for something. I'm picking the West because they have Chris Paul and Steve Nash, but don't put it past Kobe to take 25 shots, or Lebron to decide he's going to do whatever he wants. I just hope it's close so the last 5 minutes is competitive, and we see some defense.
Enjoy the festivities!
Read those numbers again.
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
- Pitchers and catchers have all arrived at various spring training facilities in Florida and Arizona. What does this mean to you? Well, mostly that real, live baseball is about 5 weeks away, and that everyone who hates basketball can grab on to the hope that there's another sport coming. I don't hate basketball (obviously), so my attention will be focused elsewhere, but if you don't think there's a 30-team preview coming, you're out of your mind.
- Speaking of baseball, the lead story as I woke up this morning on ESPN.com was that Manny Ramirez signed with the Oakland Athletics. I can't think of a less relevant story that's ever led the way on that website, as Manny is a) over-the-hill, b) suspended for 50 games, and c) playing for a team that won't be competitive no matter what he does. Great work!
- New Jersey 100, New York 92 - Quick, everyone blame Carmelo for the Knicks losing! Anyway, Deron Williams eviscerated Jeremy Lin last night, to the tune of 38 points and 6 assists, and while that's more of an indication of how good Deron is (very good) than Lin is bad, it does bring some reality. Lin actually played pretty well, notching 21/9/7 on 7 of 18 shooting with just 3 turnovers, but when the Knicks defense allows 15 threes by the Nets and loses the rebounding battle, it's tough to win. Carmelo went just 4-11 in the game and showed some rust, but he's not to blamed here. Oh, and Baron Davis came back for the Knicks. You think that would've enjoyed more fanfare pre-Lin?
- San Antonio 106, Utah 102 - The Spurs have won 11 games in a row, including 7 straight road games on their annual "Rodeo Road Trip". If there's ever been a quieter 11-game win streak that was this impressive, I've never seen it. Last night, Pop's team took to the court without Manu (sidelined 2 weeks with an oblique injury) AND Tiago Splitter (also out 2 weeks), and still went on the road against a decent team and won. Tony Parker notched 23 and 11, while Timmy D added 20 points and 7 boards. This squad never ceases to amaze me, and if I had to pick a team NOT named OKC to come out of the West, it's the Spurs.
- On a sad, non-game, note, Greg Oden has undergone a 3rd microfracture surgery. While the procedure was initially intended to be minor, the surgeon reportedly found additional damage and had to do microfracture work. I've always been on the more positive side when it comes to Oden's hopes to return as a contributing factor in the NBA, but this is the biggest blow yet IMO. Hopes and prayers for quick and long-lasting healing.
- In the first significant free agent signing of the NFL season (that I remember), the Chiefs have inked former Oakland CB Stanford Routt to a three-year deal. Routt was the player that Oakland signed to a massive 3-year deal, and then inexplicably cut a few weeks ago, and KC will get him cheaper than expected because of that. Nice signing.
- Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak has maintained, in the aftermath of Kobe's complaints, that Pau Gasol is still available. I'm unsure as to when Gasol became the whipping boy for the Lakers this year (not his fault), but if they're totally intent on keeping Bynum, I can see the rationale because they desperately need multiples pieces back to improve their non-existent depth.
- NBA Box Score Check - Derrick Rose returned to the Bulls' line-up with 23 points to key the Bulls cruising win over the Hawks yesterday. I also really like what I saw from Joakim Noah, who notched 16 boards and took just 5 shots (a throwback Noah game). On the Hawks side, Josh Smith notched 17 and 12, but shot just 7 of 21 including an utterly RIDICULOUS 0 for 11 on jumpers outside of 12-feet. ZERO FOR ELEVEN!! Ok, I'm breathing again. Dallas beat up on the suddenly mediocre Celtics 89-73 thanks to a full-on return to form from Dirk last night. Nowitzki put up 26 points and 16 boards and really keyed the Mavs. Dwight Howard is better than everyone. 28 points and 16 boards for the best center alive in Orlando's road win over Milwaukee. Kevin Durant and Russ Westbrook both stayed hot for OKC with 31 points each to follow-up on their 51 and 40 respectively from the night before in OKC's win over undermanned New Orleans. Never a chance. And finally, Portland fell behind 35-7 to start the game in LA last night, and never fully recovered in dropping a 103-92 decision. I thought Portland fought valiantly to make the game competitive, but that's a pretty impossible hill to climb over. Kobe led the way with 28 for the Lakers, and Bynum added 19 boards.
What to watch for on Tuesday...
- NCAAB - K-State @ #3 Missouri - ESPN2 7:00 - Missouri isn't deep, and they have no size, but there's a reason they're #3 in the country and it's fantastic veteran guard play.
- NBA - Kings @ Heat - NBA TV 7:30 - Sacramento is among the league's most unwatchable teams, but Miami is playing great basketball right now, and Lebron is having one of the best statistical seasons of all-time. Watch him.
- NCAAB - #13 Michigan @ Northwestern - BTN 8:00 - We're in must-win territory for everyone that's rooting for Northwestern to make the tourney for the first time. I'm not one of those people tonight.
- NCAAB - #1 Kentucky @ Miss State - ESPN 9:00 - Kentucky is the best team in the country at the moment, but this is a legit test on the road against a talented MSU team, even if we have no idea which Bulldog team shows up.
- NBA - Spurs @ Blazers - NBA TV 10:00 - This could be an angry Blazers team after their performance last night, and they get San Antonio at the end of a very long trip. That said, SA is playing fantastically right now.
Monday, February 20, 2012
- OKC 124, Denver 118 (OT) - What a game this was. Kevin Durant was an unstoppable scoring machine all night long, shooting 19 of 28 FG, 5 of 6 from three, and 8-10 on FT to notch a career-high 51 points to go along with 8 boards and 4 steals. As crazy as that line is individually, the Zombies also featured Russ Westbrook going off for 40 points (on 29 shots, but that's another debate) AND a triple-d0uble from Serge Ibaka with 14 points, 15 rebounds, and an insanely dominant 11 block shots. The triumvirate of statistical milestones (50 points, 40 points, and a triple double for 3 guys) has never happened in NBA history. Yep. On Denver's end, they got big games from Afflalo (27 points, 7 boards, 5 assists) and Andre Miller (21 and 10) to lead the way, but they couldn't overcome the Zombies' explosion even on a night where they had 4 bench guys in double-digits.
- The Jeremy Lin Show rolls on. In his national TV debut, Lin went off, yet again, for 28 points and 14 assists to lead NYK to a home win over Dallas. The kid made multiple plays down the stretch including 2 big-time triples in the 4th quarter, and it's officially to the point of crazy for this story. On the flip side, he did commit 7 turnovers, but, after reading through some statistical evidence over the weekend, his turnover %, while high, isn't astronomical, and his total TO's are inflated by the shear volume of usage he's had to this point. The Knicks got 15 points from JR Smith in his debut, but be aware, he took 16 shots in 30 minutes to do it, and that's generally unacceptable when you're not a focal point of the offense. JR Smiff lives!
- And one note from the insane/obscure part of the NBA. Milwaukee's Ersan Ilyasova posted 29 points and a ridiculous 25 rebounds in the Bucks' win over New Jersey last night. For reference, Ilyasova has career averages of 9 points and 6 rebounds a game. That is all.
What to watch for on Monday...
- NBA - Hawks @ Bulls - ESPN 4:00 - There's not a whole lot better than two playoff teams playing a 4:00 pm tip-off on a Monday afternoon.
- NBA - Celtics @ Mavericks - TNT 8:00 - Holiday TNT action! Dallas coming off that loss in NYK and on a back-to-back here, but they're the better team.
- NCAAB - #10 Baylor @ Texas - ESPN 9:00 - Baylor dropped a home game over the weekend, and there's some concern with them, especially going on the road in this spot. Texas, coached by the hilariously bad Rick Barnes, are underwhelming this year, but still talented.
- NBA - Blazers @ Lakers - TNT 10:30 - Lost in the shuffle of the madness on the court yesterday was Kobe basically saying "trade him or don't" to management about Pau Gasol. And, for once, I agree with Kobe. Yep.
Saturday, February 18, 2012
Friday, February 17, 2012
- JR Smith to the Knicks. I don't really understand this one for a couple reasons. Firstly, he's JR Smith, and what I mean by that is that he's not an impact player IMO, so the coverage of this is a bit overstated, and secondly, is he really better than Landry Fields? Thanks to the Lin-led renaissance, the Knicks are back in the consciousness, and I get that, but this move doesn't bring them any closer to winning anything in the East, and does nothing short of provide a nominal offensive upgrade at the 2-guard spot that's a headcase with bad shot selection. For the Clippers fan that are irate? Be glad. I'd rather have Mo Williams as my "shoot-first sparkplug" guy, and anyone with illusions that JR Smith is a crunch-time 2-guard on a contender is nuts.
- A Hawks rant. When did the Hawks losing games they should lose without Al Horford become a big-time topic? For everyone saying they're "underachieving" right now, I don't understand the rationale of a team playing competitive basketball without their best (yes, best) player for the season. And while we're here, after the circus of praise after Josh Smith's big statistical game against Phoenix that was drawing Lebron comparisons, please remember this. He took 11 jump shots in that game. Eleven! There is no justification.
To the weekend...
- NBA - Mavs @ Sixers - ESPN 8:00 - A nice matchup of teams I'd like to see more of this year, especially with Dirk back and playing better.
- NBA - Suns @ Lakers - ESPN 10:30 - With apologies to Steven Q. Nash, I don't need to watch the Suns on national TV again this season. Thank you.
- NCAAB - Northern Iowa @ VCU - ESPN2 7:00 - As I throw the college hoops nuts a bone here, this is a nice mid-major battle of two teams in different conferences. Remember VCU from March?
- NCAAB - #13 Marquette @ UConn - ESPN Noon - This is a must-win for a UConn team suddenly on the brink of missing the tournament, but Marquette is better. Interesting matchup.
- NCAAB - #11 UNLV @ New Mexico - CBS 1:00 - I really, really like this Vegas team, and New Mexico is 21-4, this is an awesome appetizer from the Mountain West.
- NBA - Nets @ Bulls - WGN 4:00 - Not everyone has WGN, but some people do and the college action is weak in that timeslot. Derrick Rose vs. Deron Williams please (if Rose plays).
- NCAAB - #16 St. Mary's @ #14 Murray State - ESPN 6:00 - The best of the bracketbuster games happens here. Murray St. has lost the luster of being the nation's last undefeated, but this is still a battle of top-20 teams sure to be around in March. I love St. Mary's too.
- NCAAB - #6 Ohio State @ #19 Michigan - ESPN 9:00 - The game of the day in the country, and for once, it's not just for me! Michigan is undefeated at home, and is a completely different team there, but with OSU coming in, it's their biggest test of the season. Oh, and beat the Buckeyes.
- NBA - Hawks @ Blazers - NBA TV 10:00 - My two favorite teams playing at the same time? Eesh. Anyway, depending on the status of Aldridge, this is a really nice game, but a mismatch. The Hawks are without any viable length outside of Pachulia and the undersized Smith, and Portland is huge. Interesting.
- NBA - Mavs @ Knicks - ABC 1:00 - The Jeremy Lin show takes to the stage on a broadcast network.
- NCAAB - #8 Michigan State @ Purdue - CBS 1:00 - Michigan State is a top-10 team, but going on the road against a decent opponent in conference is no easy task.
- NBA - Magic @ Heat - ABC 3:30 - This would be such a better game if Orlando didn't stink on a regular basis, but if Dwight is dominant (he should be), this will be competitive.
- NBA - Nuggets @ Thunder - ESPN 8:00 - The NBA night-cap features two of the more entertaining teams in the league. Done and done.
Monday, February 13, 2012
- Miami 107, Atlanta 87 - The Hawks lost by 20, and the score wasn't indicative of how far these two teams were apart last night. Miami led by 30+ in the 3rd quarter, were able to limit Lebron and Wade to 30 minutes or less, dominated the glass 52-38, and held the Hawks to under 39% from the field. There was one solitary Hawk who played an above-average game (compared to their ability) and that was Willie Green. I can't even talk about this.
- Phil Mickelson won at Pebble Beach yesterday after shooting a ridiculous final-round 64 to take the title. It's crazy that the 2nd best (and 2nd most famous) player in the world winning a tournament with a crazy-low final round can be overshadowed, but Tiger's 75 managed to do it. Insert the "is he done forever? is he back?" comment here. No idea anymore.
- NBA Box Score Check - Rajon Rondo notched one of the most impressive lines of the season with a 32-point, 10-rebound, 15-assist triple double in Boston's 95-91 win over Chicago yesterday. Maybe an All-star snub explosion? I'd say so. Speaking of underachieving older teams with talent, the Lakers got a go-ahead bucket from Kobe with 4 seconds left to beat Toronto by 2 up in Canada. Kobe finished with 27 points. Ho-hum. And finally, Utah beat Memphis on the road led by Al Jefferson (21 and 15) and Gordon Heyward (23 points on 8-12 FG) to break a 3-game losing streak.
- AJ Burnett to the Pirates? There are widespread rumors of a Yankees/Pirates deal in the works to send Burnett to the NL. AJ Burnett has been a disappointment based on that ludicrous contract, but the pile-on effect has happened to the point that people believe he can't pitch at all. That's simply not true. Factor in the move to the NL and a change of scenery? I'd like the move for any pitching-starved team provided the Yankees pick up most of the money as rumored.
- The Lakers brought in Gilbert Arenas for a workout over the weekend. This was rumored to be happening for weeks, and finally did, but the takeaway is that no deal was signed. It's still pretty crazy to me that he's unsigned, but no one is sure he can play anymore, and he's certifiable.
What to watch for on Monday...
- NCAAB - #2 Syracuse @ #23 Louisville - ESPN 7:00 - Can't argue with two ranked teams and the #2 team in a hostile road environment against a team capable of beating them.
- NCAAB - #10 Kansas @ Kansas State - ESPN 9:00 - In-state rivals, and because this game is in Manhatten, K-State can certainly win here.
- NBA - T-Wolves @ Magic - NBA-TV 7:00 - Who wins the rebounding battle between Love and Howard?
- NBA - Suns @ Warriors - NBA-TV 10:30 - No defense. Lots of points.
Friday, February 10, 2012
If you know anything about me or this blog, you'd probably assume that I'm leading with something on NBA All-star roster composition and you would be right. The reserves were announced last night, and I have a few issues. First of all, if you want my "complete" thoughts, hit up this link (http://bradsportsfix.blogspot.com/2012/02/2012-nba-all-star-rosters-my-way.html), but since we're here, I had 2 major issues.
- Luol Deng makes the cut - Personally, I think Josh Smith deserved this spot (as tough as that is to say for a non-fan such as myself), but it's got less to do with that than the fact that I'm against holding out Rondo and Wade for injury reasons (# of games) and still including Deng. You won't find many people that appreciate Deng's type of game more than I do, as he's a great defender who can literally do it all, but 16 points, 7 rebounds on 44% shooting isn't enough to get you there when you've missed a quarter of your team's games.
- Dirk over Millsap/Jefferson - It was a no-brainer for me that Dirk was making the team to the point where I basically had this written already, but that doesn't make it right. Dirk has played the worst basketball he's played in years so far this season (17 points, 6 rebounds, 46% FG and ghastly 21% on 3's) and if you couple that with missed games due to injury, I'm not sure how you can justify it. I think Paul Millsap (my choice), Al Jefferson, Pau Gasol and Rudy Gay all had more deserving resumes and I would've gone elsewhere.
Alrighty... that's that... back to the rest of the sporting universe...
- LA Lakers 88, Boston 87 (OT) - I caught the end of this game live before going back to watch the replay late night/early morning and my main thought was: wow, this was bad/ugly basketball. The 3-man team that is the LA Lakers basically mauled Boston up front with Gasol and Bynum teaming up to grab 31 of their 55 rebounds (Boston had 45) and, combined with the Kobe, their top 3 netted 68 of the 88 points. For Boston, they got an ugly 6 of 23 from KG which I thought was extremely rare since, if anything, he usually doesn't shoot enough so it's odd to see him keep getting them up when they aren't falling. I thought Rondo and Allen played well for the C's to keep them in it, but they couldn't overcome the inside play of Gasol/Bynum, and when Pierce's fadeaway went begging at the gun, that was that.
- In the rest of the Association - Steph Curry went off last night for the Dubs. 36 points on 13 of 17 FG including 6 of 9 from three, with 7 assists, and 7 rebounds to lead GSW to a road win in hostile Denver. He's Nash-like with his efficiency thanks to great 3-point and FT shooting, but Curry can be absolutely spectacular when he has it going like last night. Shoutout to rookie Klay Thompson on 19 points in 18 minutes off the bench, too. Getting buckets. For the second straight night, Houston had their bench outscore their starters, and with only 2 starters in double-figures and five bench guys in double figures, they have an interesting set-up at the moment. I'll spotlight the play of Goran Dragic who played 29 minutes and netted 11 points and 11 dimes in the stead of Kyle Lowry. And finally, break up the Kings! Sacto knocked off OKC 106-101 at the building formerly known as Arco last night. Demarcus Cousins continues to play well (19 points, 9 boards) following the Westphal fiasco, and they did just enough in this one. For OKC, all I need to tell you is that Russ Westbrook attempted 26 shots in 38 minutes and committed 7 turnovers. Yes, I know he had 33 points, but take a breath, Russ.
- College Hoops! - Murray State, the last unbeaten in the country, went down in a heap last night to Tennessee State. No loss in college hoops is that surprising in conference, but I was taken aback a little by the fact that they lost this one at home to a mediocre opponent. Perhaps looking ahead to St. Mary's? Speaking of the Gaels, they went to Spokane to lost to Gonzaga 73-59. Kevin Pangos went nuts for Gonzaga with 27 points on 8 of 16 FG with 5 triples, and the Zags shot 53% from the field for the game. Still one of the best rivalries in college hoops. And finally, Wisconsin beat Minnesota 68-61 in overtime last night on the road. Not a big story, right? I only mention this game to note that Wisconsin shot 15 of 17 from the free throw line... in the overtime alone! They only scored 17 points total in the 5-minute OT period and 15 of them were at the line. That's insane.
What to watch for on Friday...
- NBA - Hawks @ Magic - 7:00 SportSouth - The debut of Erick Dampier! Okay, that's probably not the lead story, but he may actually need to play some minutes since ATL is without the Dwight stopper in Jason Collins (aka the only reason he's employed). Always entertaining if nothing else.
- NBA - Lakers @ Knicks - 8:00 ESPN - This could be a trainwreck of a game, but I'm interested to see if Jeremy Lin can keep up the pace for one more night considering his LAL counterparts at the point are as ugly as it gets in the league.
- NBA - Zombies @ Jazz - 10:30 ESPN - Hasn't OKC been on TV every night this week? At any rate, they're on a road back-to-back here, and Utah has some all-star snubs that could be in a mood. I like the Jazz.
Thursday, February 9, 2012
- Duke 85, North Carolina 84 - This was an absolutely wild basketball game. Duke led a lot early, but faltered late in the first half to be down 3 at halftime, and never led again until Austin Rivers' monster three went through the rim as the buzzer sounded. The Heels led by double-digits for much of the second half, and it wasn't until a furious late run by Duke that we got here. Austin Rivers led the way for the Devils with 29 points on 9 of 16, featuring 6 threes including the absolute dagger over a curiously detached Tyler Zeller in the final seconds. No real excuse for Zeller (who had a big game with 23 and 11) to have his hands down and playing 3 feet off the scorching hot Rivers as the clock ticked down, but that was it, and Rivers buried it. For UNC, you have to be encouraged by the play of Harrison Barnes (25 points) who took over at times, John Henson (the quietest 17 rebounds of all-time), and Zeller, but their lack of depth in the backcourt screams out sometimes, and their inability to stretch defenses (Duke hit 14 threes, UNC hit 1) was the difference. Another fantastic episode between these two.
- In the other two monster matchups, Syracuse outlasted Georgetown 64-61 in overtime thanks to a big-time three by Kris Joseph that proved to be the difference. Joseph led all scorers with 29 points in a game that featured both teams shooting sub-35% from the field, and struggling offensively throughout. And in the Big 12, Kansas blitzed Baylor 68-54 behind a career-high 25 from Jeff Withey and a ho-hum 15/11 from T-Rob. Baylor led by as many as 10 in the first half at home, but this one got away from them in a hurry and they couldn't get Perry Jones going at all (5 points on 1-8 shooting).
- In the association, the lead story IMO is Orlando going bombs away on Miami last night. The Magic beat the Heat 102-89 on the back of 17 made threes (and a crazy 42 attempts to set a franchise record), and it was clear that they made the concerted effort to get as many shots from range up as possible against Miami, who "leads" the league in 3-pointers allowed. Oh, did I mention that Dwight Howard scored 25 points and grabbed 24 ridiculous rebounds? THAT'S how you can afford to take 42 threes. On Miami's side, they got 33 from Wade, but Lebron was off (5 of 15, 17 points, 10 assists), and the majority of their supporting guys had rough nights.
- NBA Box Score Check - Jeremy Lin had 23 points and 10 assists last night in the Knicks win over the hapless Wizards. I don't know how long this will last for Knicks fans, but enjoy it while it lasts. When it happens, I have to give credit to Josh Smith, and that's what I'll do this morning. Smiff (two "f"s) finished with 28 points and 12 rebounds to go along with 5 steals and 3 blocks to lead the Hawks over the Pacers 97-87 last night. There were still entirely too many jumpers/threes (eight in total), but Smith converted on both 3-point attempts and 4 of the total 8 jumpers to salvage the night. The other bright spot for ATL was the play of Kirk Hinrich who played his best ball since returning from injury last night, shooting 7 of 9 for 17 points, and going +12 to Teague's -2 on the night. The Cavs beat the Clippers at home 99-92. Not a total shock, right? How about if I told you that Kyrie Irving didn't play and Ramon Sessions went off? Ok then. The Tony Parker for All-Star Campaign is in full effect as the always underrated Frenchman went off last night in Philly for 37 points to key the Spurs to an impressive road win. Tim Duncan chipped in with 16 and 11 as well, but Parker's play was impressive. It's nice to see the real Dirk Nowitzki standing up for Dallas. Dirk had 25 points (11 of 20) and 9 boards to lead Dallas over Denver in Denver last night. Welcome back. And finally, Houston got a huge explosion from their bench to go into Portland and win in the Rose Garden. Chase Budinger (22 points), Courtney Lee (16 pts), Goran Dragic (10 pts), and Patrick Patterson (11 points) keyed the win for Houston.
What to watch for on Thursday...
- NBA - Lakers @ Celtics - TNT 8:00 - This game would've been a lot more hyped a month ago, but since both teams have settled into that "playoff threat but average regular season team" thing, it's not going to generate the same buzz.
- NBA - Thunder @ Kings - TNT 10:30 - The Kings are on national TV? What? Could they not put the Clippers on for the 1,456th time this year?
- NCAAB - #13 St. Mary's @ Gonzaga - ESPN2 11:00 - Always the game of the year in the WCC when these two get together in the Kennel. This time STM is the better team (so far), but that's a serious home court, and the Zags are still 18-4 and an NCAA tourney lock.
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
- Am I leading with a regular season NBA game featuring a team with little-to-no playoff hopes? Yes, I am! Oklahoma City outlasted Golden State 119-116 in Oakland on a night that saw just about everything you'd want in a basketball game. The big story early was the fact that Monta Ellis had 40 (yes, 40) points with 7 minutes to go... in the 3rd quarter! Ellis finished with "only" 48 points as he went without a field goal attempt for the rest of the 3rd quarter and lost a bit of that momentum, but he put on an absolute show for much of this game (18 of 29 FG, 3 of 6 on threes, 9 of 10 FT). For OKC, Kevin Durant knocked down a go-ahead bank shot (lol) with 12 seconds to go and finished with 33 points, 10 boards, and 7 assists to go along with 31 and 7 from Russell Westbrook (despite a ridiculous 9 turnovers), and 19 points, 7 dimes from the smooth James Harden. Did I mention that Golden State got a triple-double from David Lee (25/11/10), and an ultra-efficient 16/10/7 from Steph Curry on just 9 shot attempts? There was some wretched defense on both sides of this one, but the offensive prowess was certainly there on this night in notching a combined 235 points, shooting 39 of 44 on FTs, and over 53% from the field. Beautiful hoops.
- The University of Memphis is joining the Big East in 2013-2014. This is a huge coup for the Big East in hoops as Memphis is an upper-echelon program that can soften the loss of Pitt and Syracuse, but in football terms (and that's all that seems to matter), this isn't a huge windfall.
- The LA Clippers suffered a huge blow yesterday when Chauncey Billups was diagnosed with a torn achilles that will sideline him for the remainder of the season. I've been on record in this space that I thought Billups was sucking the life out of that offense with some questionable shot-making, but there's no denying the severe drop-off between playing him and a guy like Randy Foye. The loss may be overstated in some circles (people think Billups is better than he is), but it doesn't change the fact that he was the best equipped guy on that team (by default) to defend opposing 2-guards, and that the best available option in the market is JR Smiff. That's a bad combination if you have Clippers championship stock.
- Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers have agreed to a 2-year, $19 million deal that will double as one of the best bargains in baseball. Obviously, this number is so low because he's arbitration-eligible and wouldn't have gotten much more on a 1-year deal, but that doesn't change the fact that Kershaw is a top-5 pitcher in the league, and will earn less than $10 million per in the next 2 seasons. If only the Dodgers had an owner...
- Paul Pierce passed Larry Bird on the Celtics all-time scoring list. Do I even need to detail how impressive that is?
- NBA Box Score Check - Darren Collison scored a season-high 25 points for Indiana in their 1o4-99 home win over Utah. Both Paul Millsap (18 and 10) and Roy Hibbert (17 and 10) boosted their all-star profiles in this one with impressive performances. I'd like to say something positive about the game Charlotte and Boston, but after the Bobcats lost yet again and fell to 3-22 on the season, it's clear that we may be watching the worst basketball in a decade from them. Remember when Miami vs. Cleveland was a big deal? They played last night amidst absolutely no buzz, and Lebron scored 24 while Wade had 26 for the Heat in an easy 16-point win. Minnesota beat Sacramento last night without Kevin Love AND with Michael Beasley doing a Michael Beasley routine with 7 of 21 shooting. How does that happen, you ask? Nikola Pekovic put up 23 points and 10 rebounds, and Rick Rubio notched 14 assists. Oh, and Sacramento is dreadful. Done and done.
- College Hoops! Kentucky absolutely breezed by #7 Florida last night by 20 points after holding the Gators to 35% shooting from the field, and making 9 of 15 triples. Kentucky may have the highest ceiling in the country (UNC is the other candidate), and if they have it going, good luck. Ohio State snuck by Purdue at home 87-84 thanks to 29 points from William Buford, but this gives me an opportunity to point out, again, that the Big 10 is the best league in the country this year. And finally, Creighton drops an ugly game to Evansville on the road. What does that mean? Well, Creighton is firmly entrenched in the tournament barring a collapse, but that will hurt their seeding a bit.
What to watch for on Wednesday... (here's a hint, college hoops has a BIG night)
- NCAAB - #9 Duke @ #5 North Carolina - ESPN 9:00 - The best rivalry in college hoops returns with yet another top-10 battle. North Carolina is unquestionably the more talented team, and they're playing at home, so it'd be a mild upset if Duke stole this one, but in this rivalry, anything is possible.
- NCAAB - #11 Georgetown @ #2 Syracuse - ESPN 7:00 - Another throwback/awesome conference game as underrated Georgetown goes into the Dome. Syracuse has, by far IMO, the best and deepest roster in the Big East, and they should hold serve.
- NCAAB - #10 Kansas @ #6 Baylor - ESPN2 7:00 - THREE awesome games?!?! Anyway, Baylor is the talent. Kansas is the mystique, experience, and they have a top-5 player in the country in Thomas Robinson. Really intriguing.
- NCAAB - #25 Michigan @ Nebraska - Big Ten 8:30 - This game is nowhere near the class of the other three, but I'm invested (obviously), and Michigan really needs a road win somewhere.
- NBA - Knicks @ Wizards - 7:00 NBA-TV - John Wall vs. Jeremy Lin!
- NBA - Pacers @ Hawks - 7:30 SportSouth - First round playoff preview? It's certainly possible, and while Indiana is the better team IMO, Atlanta had the day off yesterday, and will be at home in this one.
- NBA - Rockets @ Blazers - 10:00 NBA-TV - I think Portland may blow the doors off here, after a frustrating loss on Monday, and playing at home.
Tuesday, February 7, 2012
- Kobe Bryant surpassed Shaq last night as the #5 scorer in league history. That's pretty crazy when you consider that a) Kobe is only 33 years old, and b) he did it in less games than Shaq despite not being near the force that Shaq was during his rookie and 2nd years (age difference not withstanding). We all know that Kobe actually does care about this kind of thing, but on the bright side, he openly stated his desire for ring number six instead of waxing poetic on rising the scoring list. Congrats to him.
- On the court, Kobe Bean and company dropped a 95-90 defeat to Philly on the road thanks to a huge 4th quarter from Lou Williams. South Gwinnett's own Williams put up 14 points in the 4th (to Kobe's 2) and finished with 24 on the night on just 12 FGA to lead the Sixers. Having seen Williams play since 7th grade, it's a pretty cool experience to see him in the mix for a 6th man of the year award and leading an upper-echelon team in scoring. LA got a 20/20 from Bynum and 28 points from Kobe (24 in the first half), but lost both the 3rd and 4th quarters and couldn't hold a lead.
- Regression to the mean. That's what you'll hear in reference to the Atlanta Hawks dropping yet another home game to an inferior opponent in Phoenix 99-90 last night. Steve Nash was a wizard as usual (24 points, 11 assists, 9 of 12 FG), but there's no excuse for losing that game, especially on a non-back-to-back.
- Elsewhere in the Association - Jeremy Lin! Wait, who? If you don't know about Jeremy Lin, he's the first Asian-American player to ever play in the NBA AND he's a Harvard graduate. Oh, and he had 28 points last night for the Knicks. He's certainly not as good as last night would indicate, but I've always liked his game, and on a team with putrid guard play, he'll likely stick. The Zombies snuck past Portland 111-107 in OT thanks, in part, to a questionable goaltending call on Lamarcus Aldridge that sent the game to OT in the final seconds of regulation. Kevin Durant finished with 33/7/5, Russ Westbrook had 28/11/8, but the best player on the court was Aldridge, who notched a season-high 39 points in the loss. This was a pretty impressive performance from Portland IMO because they played the entire game with Jamal Crawford at point guard (45 minutes opposite Westbrook, yikes) and were right there. Clips/Magic was really eventful 107-102 win for LAC. CP3 finished with 29/8/7 to lead the way, while Dwight notched a Dwight-like 33 and 14 for the Magic, but there were bigger stories. Chiefly, Chauncey Billups left this game late with an apparent achilles injury, and if it's anything substantial, he's gone for the year. Crushing news for the Clips no matter how badly I think Billups has played so far. On the bright side for Orlando, Jason Richardson (20 points) and Jameer Nelson (15 points, 12 dimes) looked like NBA players! And finally, Houston stole a road win in Denver last night thanks to 25 from Scola, 20 from Lowry, and 16 off the bench from Chase Budinger. The Nuggets were woefully short-handed without Nene and Afflalo, but the big blow was when Gallinari rolled an ankle in the 2nd half. Their big-time depth is being tested.
- Todd Haley to the Steelers as OC? That's the report, and the only reason I mention this is to wonder out loud how Todd Haley keeps getting these big-time jobs. Isn't it clear he's a mental patient? I'm confused.
- Kevin Love gets a 2-game suspension following the stomping incident with Luis Scola, and I think that's about right. Some were clamoring for blood, and some wanted him to get off scot-free, but I can't let him go without a suspension even if he's my guy.
What to watch for on Tuesday...
- NCAAB - #7 Florida @ #1 Kentucky - ESPN 7:00 - Biggest game of the night by a wide margin. Florida is enigmatic so far this year, but they'll get their biggest test on the road at Rupp. Good luck with that.
- NBA - Utah @ Indiana - NBA-TV 7:00 - Two really solid teams here, and Indy has it going right now.
- NCAAB - Purdue @ #3 Ohio State - ESPN 9:00 - I highly doubt Purdue is going into Columbus and winning, but Godspeed.
- NBA - OKC @ Golden State - NBA-TV 10:30 - Rough back-to-back for OKC off that overtime battle last night, and GSW can run with anyone when healthy.
Monday, February 6, 2012
- Super Bowl - I wrote an extensive running diary that is being edited AND live-tweeted the game so there's that, but here are a couple thoughts. 1) I officially can't watch ESPN for a week, at least, following the end of that game. 2) If you blame Tom Brady for that Patriots loss, I don't even know what to say to you. 3) Madonna's lip sync routine was the most egregious since Milli Vanilli in their prime, and 4) Congrats to Eli Manning, my boy Mario Manningham and the Giants....
- NBA Check - Boston cruised to a 98-80 home win over Memphis on Sunday afternoon thanks to 24 and 9 (on 9 of 12) from KG, and 21 points from Paul Pierce, but the real story was Memphis shooting under 37% from the floor on the night. Is that a return to Boston-like defense or just putrid lockout-aided offense? And also, Miami spurned a late Toronto run and held off the Raps 95-89. The Heat were led by Lebron's 30 points and 9 boards, while Wade added 25 points.
- College Hoops - Miami (FL) pulled off one of the bigger upsets of the season in knocking off Duke, in Cameron, 78-74 in overtime. Canes center Reggie Johnson had an explosion with 27 points and 12 boards, and that was enough to outlast 42 combined points from Austin Rivers and Seth Curry. No loss in that shocking to me in college hoops, but certainly a surprise here. And, Sparty knocked off my Michigan Wolverines 64-54 to break a 3-game losing streak in the series. Mich State absolutely DOMINATED the glass to the tune of 39 to 15 (not a misprint), and shot 53% FG to Michigan's 40%. Simple as that.
What to watch for on Monday...
- NCAAB - UConn @ #25 Louisville - 7:00 ESPN - Two big-name programs that are struggling mightily right now, but this could be a crucial battle for March positioning (and for UConn, even making the tourney).
- NBA - Suns @ Hawks - 7:30 SportSouth - Remember when the Suns were entertaining? Now, it's the brilliance of Steve Nash in the midst of disaster everywhere else, but hey, Jared Dudley's in town!
- NBA - Jazz @ Knicks - 7:30 NBA-TV - Three months ago, who thought Utah would be better than the Knicks? Raise your hands...
- NBA - Zombies @ Blazers - 10:00 NBA-TV - Really, really nice late game here as Portland (11-1 at home) hosts the West-leading fighting Durant-Westbrooks.
Friday, February 3, 2012
- Pats - Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington, Sterling Moore, Julian Edelman (somehow) - Since everybody has to play nickel in today's NFL, I've chosen the top-5 db's on both sides here. This is an obvious weakness of the Patriots simply because of missed draft picks and injuries. Chung and McCourty are legitimately talented, but the other three are below-average, scrap-heap guys headlined by Edelman who's a backup slot receiver masquerading as a nickel back.
- Giants - Kenny Phillips, Antrel Rolle, Corey Webster, Aaron Ross, Deon Grant - This is another relative weakness for the Giants, but it simply hasn't been as exposed because of how outstanding their front 4 has been. Aaron Ross and Antrel Rolle have better names than their play, and while Webster has been fairly solid, I think Phillips is the best player of the five.
- Edge - Giants
- Pats - Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, Rob Ninkovich, Dane Fletcher - This is a relative strength IMO for the Pats now that Mayo is totally healthy and Brandon Spikes has come on a bit. Mayo is a pro bowl-type guy, and while Spikes has been knocked about speed, he seems to make plays. Ninkovich is an edge rusher and is effective there, and Fletcher is simply a depth guy.
- Giants - Mathias Kiwanuka, Michael Boley, Chase Blackburn - Kiwanuka is a pass-rusher first and foremost having moved from DE, and he helps the front four with an additional guy. Boley led the team in tackles and is a solid, solid player, while Blackburn is a converted special teamer playing the middle.
- Edge - Push
- Pats - Vince Wilfork, Mark Anderson, Kyle Love, Shaun Ellis - The Pats play a 3-4 but I'll list four guys because backups play on the D-line more than just about anywhere. Wilfork is an all-pro at DT and he anchors the unit. Anderson is a pure pass-rusher who's been wildly effective after the loss of Andre Carter. Ellis is the veteran former Jet who is nothing special at this stage, and while Love has come on in the middle, he's a clear step down.
- Giants - Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, Chris Canty, Linval Joseph - The best D-line in the NFL when they have it going. When they play the first four guys above, every single one of them is a dominant pass rusher and with their versatility it's scary. Pierre-Paul is the physical freak, Tuck is the most versatile, Osi is the pure pass-rusher, and Canty is the versatile inside/outside guy. Oh, and Joseph has been awesome at DT.
- Edge - Giants (Significant)
- Pats - Stephen Gostkowski (K), Zoltan Mesko (P), Danny Woodhead (KR), Wes Welker/Julian Edelman (PR)
- Giants - Lawrence Tynes (K), Steve Weatherford (P), Will Blackmon (Returner)
- Edge - Push - Rather than break all of these guys down, I'll make it quick. I'd rather have Gostkowski as my kicker, Weatherford as my punter (with apologies to my Michigan guy Zoltan), Blackmon in the KR game, and Welker in the PR game. Done and done.
- Pats - Logan Mankins, Nate Solder, Marcus Cannon, Matt Light, Brian Waters, Dan Connolly - Listing six Patriot O-lineman because Cannon has been playing a lot at tackle. At any rate, this is an experienced and talented unit that I think is certainly in the top half of the league. They certainly face a challenge in the electric Giants d-line but it helps to have pro bowlers in Mankins and Light.
- Giants - Kareem McKenzie, David Diehl, David Baas, Kevin Boothe, Chris Snee - Average at best IMO. Eli has taken many, many hits this year and that'll likely continue here.
- Edge - Patriots
- Pats - Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez - Best combination in the entire league, and easily two of the top-10 options individually at their position. There is an injury concern for Gronk, but he's a physical beast and I'd expect him to go.
- Giants - Jake Ballard, Travis Beckum - I'm actually a fan of both guys as I think Ballard has been solid in the stead of the departed Kevin Boss, and Beckum has athletic upside ever since Wisconsin, but it's average at best.
- Edge - Patriots (huge)
- Pats - Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, Deion Branch, Chad Ochocinco, Matthew Slater - In SLIGHT defense of this unit, they basically have wide-outs in Gronk and Hernandez as well. That said, Welker is a Pro bowler, but he's the only above-average option here. Branch is solid as a secondary guy and Edelman is Welker, Jr. but less effective. Ocho and Slater are terrible.
- Giants - Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, Mario Manningham, Jernel Jernigan, Ramses Barden - One of the better receiver trios in the league in those top 3. Nicks is the most talented, Cruz has exploded onto the scene in a way that very few have from an undrafted platform, and Manningham is a dynamic downfield threat who's been drawing single coverage thanks to the other 2. Jernigan and Barden are non-factors.
- Edge - Giants (Huge)
- Pats - Benjarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead, Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen - I literally have no idea here. The lawfirm is the best interior runner by a long shot but they rarely feed him extensively thanks to offensive design, and the other three are unknowns relatively to the point where no one is really sure who will even see the field. Total Belichick.
- Giants - Ahmad Bradshaw, Brandon Jacobs, DJ Ware - Bradshaw is a beast when healthy and he's shown signs of that in recent weeks. I am in the camp that Jacobs is d-o-n-e, but there's no denying his shear girth in short yardage spots. Ware is a nice compliment and 3rd option.
- Edge - Giants (solidly)
- Pats - Tom Brady - In the discussion for greatest QB of all-time IMO. I'm a bit irrational thanks to his Michigan ties, but the numbers and 3 rings are undeniable especially considering the relative dearth of talent he's had to work with offensively in some these years. Remember when he was winning titles with Deion Branch, David Patten, and company? Or how he has NEVER had a top-10 running back (or even top-15 except for a small Corey Dillon explosion). He played poorly, by his standards, in the AFC title game, and I don't think that will repeat itself.
- Giants - Eli Manning - Having the best season of his career by a wide margin. He's certainly helped by having three upper-echelon receivers, but there's no denying his knack for making big plays in big spots, and I respect him as an undoubted top-10 QB. I'd like to see it for more than one year at this level before we all anoint him as a top-5 current QB (too late), but he's certainly up there, and no one would be shocked if he won in this spot.
- Edge - Patriots
- Pats - Bill Belichick - Considered by most as the best coach in the league. I firmly believe we can overrate coaches based on their talent, etc. but there's something to be said for a resume filled with titles, and he's certainly got that. Also, the work he's done with that patchwork defense down the stretch of this season should be commended. Hard to beat.
- Giants - Tom Coughlin - Gets killed far too often in New York and elsewhere. He's got a ring, and that can't be taken away. I'd be pretty comfortable with him as a Giants fan, and even if he doesn't bring a significant schematic advantage, he's solid.
- Edge - Patriots
So, there you have it. My quick math would tell me that the Dr. Jack breakdown ends in a 4-4-2 tie, and with the tightness of the Vegas line and national opinions on the game, that is no shock. However, in this spot, I'm going to take the better QB and the better head coach, and say Patriots 31-23. Enjoy!
- According to widespread "reports", Peyton Manning has been medically cleared to play football. What does this mean exactly? Well, there are varying accounts, but by definition it'd be nothing more than a pure medical clearance that would allow him (if someone wants him to) to start doing football things i.e. throwing, training, etc. in preparation to play. I still fully believe that the Colts will release him simply because $28 million is too much money when they're drafting a QB at #1 overall anyway, but things are certainly more interesting if he can play.
- The NBA announced it's all-star starters last night, and, as usual since the fans vote, there were no real surprises. Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwight Howard for the east. Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, and Andrew Bynum for the West. For my full thoughts, you can check out my full ASG roster posting (from yesterday 2/2), but quickly, the only guy I have a legitimate beef with is Blake Griffin, and there was never a doubt he'd get the starting nod as the hype machine that he is. There you have it.
- Josh Hamilton allegedly drank alcohol this week. I'm confused as to how this became a national story, and while I know he's recovering from substance abuse issues, it is absolutely none of our business if he drinks. None. This "story" bothers me on so many levels.
- NBA Box Score Round-up - The Hawks absolutely didn't show up on Thursday night at home against Memphis. The final was 96-77, but that simply doesn't represent how bad the Hawks were in this game, trailing by 30+ throughout the second half, getting massacred on the glass, and "ole"-ing on defense. Not a single starter played well. Memphis did whatever they wanted, but chiefly, Mike Conley impressed me with his command and quickness and Marc Gasol went for a +40 last night. That's insane lol. Derrick Rose did Derrick Rose things against the hapless Knicks backcourt in Chicago's 105-102 win over NYK. Rose finished with 32 points and 13 assists with just 2 TO's, and the Shumpert/Douglas duo was no match. On the brighter side for NYK? Amare actually showed up with 34 and 11 in defeat. Sacramento gets a surprising win at home over Portland 95-92 as the Blazers continue to struggle on the road (now 3-9). The play of Jason Thompson stands out to me for Sacto as he finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds with a +12 and offset the always erratic play of the Thornton/Evans guard duo. For Portland, LA finished with 28 and 14, but no other player had an above-average game. The Warriors got their perfect storm last night. Steph Curry (29 points, 12 assists, 10 of 14 shooting) and Monta Ellis (33 points on 13 of 21) both played out of their minds, and David Lee put up very "David Lee" line with 23 points and 14 boards on 9 of 23 in the 119-101 blowout of a good Jazz team. Golden State dreams of nights where those 3 guys do that. And finally, Denver blew the doors off a visibly underwhelmed Clippers team late last night 112-91. Nine guys had 8 or more points for Denver as the depth blitzed LAC along with 53% shooting and 41-28 rebounding annihilation. Not a whole lot to say about this one.
- Quick Super Bowl note: Every time I see a "report" or a "sources say" link saying Rob Gronkowski will play on Sunday, I have the same thought. "Duh".
- College hoops! - Duke was impressive in their 75-60 road win in Blacksburg over VT. 15-point conference road wins don't just happen. St. Mary's cruised to a win over San Diego 84-73, but more importantly for them, BYU upended Gonzaga in Provo to place STM firmly in the driver's seat for the WCC regular season title. That's a really nice league and all 3 of those teams should be tourney teams IMO. And finally, did you know that Murray State is still unbeaten?....
What to watch for on Friday...
- NBA - Knicks @ Celtics - ESPN 8:00 - The thought of more Knicks basketball makes me cringe a little, but these two squads usually play high-intensity games, so that's something.
- NBA - Lakers @ Nuggets - ESPN 10:30 - Contrasting styles (slow vs. fast, depth vs. no depth) and with Denver playing at home in altitude, they should run, run, run even on the 2nd of a back-to-back.
Enjoy! Stay tuned for the Super Bowl preview post dropping this afternoon...
Thursday, February 2, 2012
- C - Dwight Howard, Orlando - This is the biggest no-brainer in the history of Earth. Howard is the best center on the planet, and there is no conceivable choice outside of him in the semi-woeful Eastern conference. For kicks, I'll let you know that Howard is averaging 20 points, an absurd 15 rebounds, 2 blocks and 1.5 steals per game (24 PER) while being the biggest defensive force in the league. His only downside? His absurd handling of the "trade me or else" situation. A lock.
- F - Lebron James, Miami - The best all-court player in the league is having one of the best statistical seasons of all-time. Don't believe me? Take a look. 29.7 points per game, 8.3 rebounds per, 7.0 assists per, while shooting 55% FG and 43% from 3-point land. Oh, and his current PER is over 33. Thirty-three! For comparison, LBJ led the league last year at slightly over 27, and the all-time record is 31.89 by MJ in the late 80's. I don't need to keep talking.
- F - Chris Bosh, Miami - This one will surprise everyone, myself included. There is truthfully no one deserving of a second starting forward spot in the ASG this year from the East, but I can't in good conscience put Carmelo Anthony here with how he's played, and Paul Pierce struggled mightily out of the gate. Bosh is averaging 20 points and 8 boards as the 3rd option, and shooting a career high 52% from the field this year. I'm not in love with the choice, but he's playing very well in the early going, and is the most deserving guy.
- G - Derrick Rose, Chicago - The absolute no-brainer at the guard spot. He's leading all guards in both PER (over 24) and scoring (23 ppg) while putting up a very respectable 7 assists per game and carrying a top-2 team offensively every night. He's in the discussion for best point guard in the league (a two-horse race with CP3), and is a slam dunk choice.
- G - Deron Williams, New Jersey - I hate this pick. As covered above with the Bosh selection, this is a desperation pick, but for different reasons. There are two deserving candidates (Rondo and Wade) who have been saddled with early injuries and have only played about 60 percent of their team's games, and with all of that, Williams is the most deserving guy left. Deron has posted 20.6 ppg and 8.5 apg for the Nets and he's really come on in late January posting 24+ points in 6 straight games. I'm not in love with it, but with the 2 deserving candidates falling short, he gets the nod as of today.
- G - Rajon Rondo, Boston - One of the best defensive guards in the league and Boston's best player at this stage. He'll never be an elite scorer, but 15 points, 9+ assists and 5+ rebounds are pretty impressive on a team with that many options. Also, he's posted a 52% clip from the field, and really looks more comfortable with his mid-range game this year than in previous campaigns.
- G - Dwyane Wade, Miami - Still an unquestioned top-10 player in the world (and probably higher). He'd be the starter at the 2 if not for the injuries limiting his game action, but Wade has averaged 20/6/5 with over 2 steals per game for the Heat, and is a top-2 shooting guard on the planet. No-brainer.
- G - Joe Johnson, Atlanta - Joe is back to his pre-injury, pre-contract form. 19 points a game (and climbing with Horford out), all kinds of steady play, and a return to above-average defensive work that suffered while he was hampered last season. He'll never wow you unless he's unconscious on jumpers, but there's something to be said for consistency and he's still a high-level player, especially in the East.
- F - Carmelo Anthony, New York - He's been dreadful by his standards, but his standards are so high that he still qualifies here. Melo has still posted a 20+ PER despite shooting just 40% in the early going, and 24/7/5 is still a pretty ridiculous stat line. He's a one-dimensional player in that he can't defend anyone, but there's a very, very short list of guys you'd want in a pure scoring situation ahead of Anthony.
- F - Paul Pierce, Boston - Had an ugly start to the year, but Pierce's averages have climbed to 18/6/6 as of this writing, and he's doing that in a slightly-reduced 33 minutes a game. His best years are behind him, but he has an old man's game that should (and will) age nicely. Still an automatic pick for me.
- F - Josh Smith, Atlanta - Anyone who reads me knows my feelings concerning Josh Smith. The positives: Freakish athlete, very good back-side defender, deft shot-blocker, good rebound rate, and good finisher at the rim. The negatives: Average on-ball defender and... wait for it... thinks he can shoot 19-footers and operates as such. That's the list. All that said? He's averaging 16 points, 9 rebounds, 2.0 blocks, and 1.3 steals per game and if he can ever make a free throw, those numbers will climb. I tried my best to keep him off, but I can't do it.
- C - Greg Monroe, Detroit - This would've been Andrea Bargnani's spot had he not only played in 13 games, but Monroe is more than deserving. He's currently 2nd in the entire NBA (among qualified centers) in PER with over 23, and Monroe has averaged 16 points and 10 rebounds on 52% FG and an impressive 82% from the line as a young center. I really love his game, and while it's a weak position, Howard needs a backup with Al Horford out for the year.
Just missed: Andrea Bargnani, Brandon Jennings, Andre Iguodala
- C - Andrew Bynum, LA Lakers - Playing the best basketball of his career by a wide margin. Bynum is averaging 17 points, 12 boards, and 2 blocks a game this year, and since the only barrier to his ascension as an NBA star has been his inability to stay on the court, I have to recognize the fact that he's been healthy all year so far (fingers crossed). I think he's the easy choice for #2 center in the league and #1 in the West with how he's played thus far on both ends of the court.
- F - Kevin Love, Minnesota - 25 points, 14 rebounds. Those are Kevin Love's averages through the first third of the season. That's completely insane in itself, but couple that with the fact that Minnesota is suddenly a playoff contender AND that he's shooting 40% on threes? Come on.
- F - Kevin Durant, OKC - KD is currently #2 in the West in PER behind Chris Paul, #2 scoring behind Kobe, and he's averaging a career high 8.1 rebounds a game from the small forward spot. He's clearly the best small forward in the West, and an easy choice.
- G - Kobe Bryant, LAL - Kobe. Bean. Bryant. Did you think we'd forgotten? 30 points a game? At age 33? The numbers he's putting up this year are ridiculous. I'm inclined to mention that I'm a believer that his usage rate is too high (2nd highest of his career behind the hilarious 06 season), but there's no denying the consistency and durability of Kobe despite various injuries. This choice is in pen.
- G - Chris Paul, LAC - He's taken the mantle from Tim Duncan as my favorite player in the league currently. Leads the West in PER while averaging 19 points, 9+ assists, and nearly 3 steals a game while shooting an absurd 52/44/85 slash line. He's one of the smartest players in the league, and commands a game offensively like no one else. Absolutely no decision to be made here.
- G - Russell Westbrook, OKC - 22 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals per game pretty much walks you to Orlando for the game. Westbrook is a better-than-average defender as well which earns him points over Nash, etc. The one knock is the decision making with just 5.7 assists to 4.0 turnovers a game, but he's electric and clearly a top-15 player.
- G - Tony Parker, SA - Somehow he's still underrated after all these years! 17 points and 8 dimes per game as he has carried the Spurs to a 14-9 start despite just 5 games from Manu Ginobili and a declining Tim Duncan. He's the upper-echelon point guard that everyone forgets, and I blame Brent Barry's wife.
- G - Steve Nash, PHX - Nash is amazing. At age 37, he's putting 15 points, 10 assists, 55% FG and 40% 3-point and he's not slowing down. Last night? 30 points, 10 assists, one turnover in 29 minutes. That's obscene. He belongs here.
- F - LaMarcus Aldridge, POR - Perpetually undervalued and I don't understand it. 4th in the West in scoring with 23 a game, improved rebounding to nearly 9 per game, and putting the Blazers on his back ever since Roy went down and Oden disappeared. What's not to love here? If he doesn't make this team, I'm giving up.
- F - Paul Millsap, UTA - This one may be a bit controversial, but somebody has to make it here and Millsap has been out of his mind lately. 5th in the entire conference in PER at nearly 25, his numbers may look "meh" at 17 points and 9 boards a game, but when he's playing only 31 minutes per game AND along side Al Jefferson, it's pretty impressive. I think Millsap has been the best player on that Jazz team, and they are 12-8 out of the gate. I like him.
- F - Blake Griffin, LAC - Let me say this. I think we've reached the point where the buzz SLIGHTLY outweighs the actual player, but there's no denying that Griffin and his 22 points and 11 boards belong on the All-Star team. I wish he could make free throws and play up to his defensive potential, but he's still a top-20 player without question.
- C - Al Jefferson, UTA - I'm a believer in carrying a backup center, and while I would've waived that provision since Aldridge is 6'11, there wasn't an overly deserving guy to take Jefferson's spot. Big Al has posted an outstanding 22 PER from the center spot in Utah, and is currently averaging nearly a double-double at 19 points and 9 rebounds a game. Certainly worthy of the backup spot at the 5 in today's league.
And there you have it... debate away...
- I'll lead with National Signing Day so we can get it over with. Recruiting rankings are overly fluid from outlet to outlet AND there are still some significant guys unsigned, but if you're a fan of Alabama, be excited. It's not surprise that teams like the Tide, Florida State, Texas, Florida, and Georgia line the top of these rankings, and that'll continue. On a personal note, Brady Hoke landed a consensus top-10 class, and that warms my heart.
- Muhammed Ali's legendary trainer Angelo Dundee has passed away at 90 years old. He's considered by most to be the best trainer of all-time, and he also trained Sugar Ray Leonard, so this is a big-time figure in Boxing. RIP.
- Clippers 107, Jazz 105 - Chris Paul is better than everyone. 34 points, 11 assists, 5 boards, and 3 steals as the Clippers scored 35 points in the 4th to beat Utah. It's honestly a pleasure to watch him play the point guard position. Anyway, Blake Griffin had an explosive 31 points and 14 boards, while Mo Williams (despite 6 of 18 shooting) generated 19 points. Mr. Bad Shot had a now-typical 1 of 8 game, and I really, really wish they'd bury him on occasion. For Utah? I liked what I saw from Al Jefferson, who dominated Deandre Jordan physically to the tune of 27 and 12, and the Jazz got big-time bench infusion from CJ Miles (16 points), and Derrick Favors (14 points in 18 minutes and should've played more). I think Utah is for real to the point where they'll be challenging for a playoff spot until the very end.
- NBA Round-up - Before we start, I'm going to have to skip some games today because a) there were so many, and b) we're short on time. Don't fear. Orlando won a game! Dwight Howard put up a 23-point/18-rebound game to lead the Magic to a 109-103 win over Washington. This game featured a wild 75-point 4th quarter that saw Orlando put up 40 to seal the win. How good are the Sixers? Philly beat up on Chicago at home last night 98-82 behind a do-everything game from Andre Iguodala and a breakout game from Lavoy Allen off the bench (15 points, 6 boards). Derrick Rose was decent, going 8 of 17, but never got off in a way that he's used to, and Chicago couldn't generate enough offense. Toronto and Charlotte combined to score 132 points and lose by a total of 80 points. EIGHTY! That's not even worth breaking down any further. The Zombies bounce back with an impressive road win in Dallas 95-86. Russ Westbrook led the way with 33 on 11-24 FG, and Durant notched 23 points and 13 boards for OKC. On the Dallas side, Dirk just couldn't get going (2 of 15) and they'll have trouble beating a good team when he's out there doing that. Brandon Jennings had his most prolific game of the young season last night with 31 points and 8 assists (despite 9 of 25 shooting, yikes) in Milwaukee's 105-97 upset over Miami. Lebron had 40/8/5 and Wade added 23 but Miami got absolutely nothing from the bench and a paltry 9 point effort from Chris Bosh. It happens. And finally, it's nice to see Danny Granger get going for Indiana. The star swingman went off for 36 points (9 of 19 FG, 13 of 15 FT) in Indy's 109-99 win in Minnesota. All five starters notched double figures for the Pacers, and Darren Collison abused the T-wolves' backcourt to the tune of 20/6/9. For Minny, Love went for 21 and 17 but shot just 6 of 16, and the black hole that is Mike Beasley shot 3 of 11. Typical.
- A quick look at college hoops - Baylor escaped College Station with a 3-point win at the gun over A&M last night. I can't emphasize enough how virtually any road win in conference is an accomplishment in today's college hoops, so they'll take this one. My national POY pick (besides Mike Scott) is Kansas' Thomas Robinson who had 20 points and 17 boards in their 20-point blowout over Oklahoma. Standard operating procedure at this point. Georgetown held UConn to a season-low (and horrifying) 44 points in a 14-point home win last night. One of the stories of this season is how underachieving this UConn squad is after top-5 expectations, and they were flat-out awful here shooting 30% FG, 2 of 20 from 3 and even 6-13 FT last night. Yikes. And finally, Hail to the Victors as Michigan gets a nice resume win at home over Indiana 68-56. Freshman of the year candidate Trey Burke scored 18 on 5 of 9 shooting for the Wolverines, and he was helped by 13 apiece from Hardaway and Novak. Love it.
What to watch for on Thursday...
- NCAAB - #5 Duke @ Virginia Tech - ESPN 7:00 - The best college hoops game of the night simply because it's always a scene when Duke goes on the road in conference. The opposing crowd is at it's best, and VT is capable of an upset here at home even if they're the inferior team.
- NBA - Grizzlies @ Hawks - SportSouth 7:30 - I'll be in the building tonight with the boys, and this is a nice matchup. The Hawks don't really have an answer for Marc Gasol, but this is (gasp) a night where playing Jason Collins a few minutes may prove useful. Keep an eye out.
- NBA - Bulls @ Knicks - TNT 8:00 - The Knicks are a disaster right now, but coming off a nice win, and with visions of Baron Davis. On the bright side, Iman Shumpert can physically match-up with Derrick Rose a bit.... oh, who am I kidding?
- NBA - Nuggets @ Clippers - TNT 10:30 - The Clippers have achieved "Laker" status in that I'm asking myself every single night if they ever don't play on national TV. But that doesn't mean I won't be watching. Ty Lawson vs. Chris Paul is kind of awesome.
Enjoy! And stay tuned sometime in the next day or two for an extensive Super Bowl breakdown...