Monday, December 31, 2012

12/31: Black Monday

Greetings! It's "Black Monday" in the NFL, meaning the day after Week 17 where coaches get the ax, and where teams that are out of the playoffs see their seasons end. Let's recap the action from Sunday, and then hit the coach firings...
  • In the game of the day, Minnesota edged Green Bay 37-34 to clinch the 6th seed in the NFC and a re-match with these same Packers next week. Adrian Peterson ran for 199 yards before falling just short of Eric Dickerson's record in favor of a game-winning Blair Walsh field goal, but the story of the game for me was the play of Christian Ponder. He generated 3 TDs through the air, and they need him to play effectively if they have a chance next week against #3 seeded Green Bay.
  • With Minnesota's win, Chicago's 26-24 win over Detroit ended up not mattering as the Bears fell short (yet again) from the playoffs despite 10 wins. Lovie Smith, Mike Tice, and Jay Cutler... congrats!
  • Houston fell by a 28-16 score to Indy, and subsequently fell out of the 1st-round byes and into a 3/6 match-up with a dangerous Cincy team. It's been a severe fall from grace for the Texans and for them to end up with 4 losses and a 3-seed is kind of a disaster. That said, they're still dangerous if they can get healthier on defense, but Cincy is a scary first-round opponent.
  • In a match-up of rags and riches, Denver trounced KC by a 38-3 tally. The end result wasn't shocking (at all) but it did clinch the #1 seed for Denver and the #1 pick in the draft for KC. Winners all around.
  • New England is the #2 seed in the AFC and they'll have a 1st-round bye after blanking the hapless Dolphins 28-0 yesterday. Rob Gronkowski is also back for New England, and that brings terror to opposing defenses.
  • And finally, Washington glided into the playoffs with a 28-18 win over Dallas in the default NFC East title game. RG3 threw for just 100 yards, but Alfred Morris had 33 carries for 200 yards and 3 TDs, and Tony Romo threw the ball to the opposing jersey 3 different times to seal the fate of the Cowboys. Sorry, Nick.
To the firings...
  • Andy Reid of the Philadelphia Eagles is easily the biggest name to be on the way out in the NFL. He had been the league's longest-tenured coach at 14 years, and had a resume of playoff appearances, wins, and even a Super Bowl appearance. That said, he had lost control a bit in Philly and they were a disaster this year, but there's still talent there, and that's a high-profile gig.
  • New York Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum got the ax on Monday as well. HC Rex Ryan kept his job, but Tannenbaum's work may be the biggest reason for the Jets failures lately anyway. The offensive talent is laughably bad (Shonn Greene is the "best" skill player) and the extension for Sanchez provded to be a disaster. Rex gets one more shot, but if he doesn't turn it around, he'll be gone too. 
  • Cleveland cleaned house, including a 1-year stint from head coach Pat Shurmur. I'm not sure I love canning a coach who didn't even underachieve in one year (his QB is Brandon Weeden!), but there were some bad moments. That's an interesting situation.
  • There are wide-spread reports that San Diego will finally fire AJ Smith and Norv Turner. Only three years too late! There are jokes everywhere here, but when it's 80 degrees every day, it shouldn't be hard to find a high-profile coach.
  • And finally, there is a report that KC will fire Romeo Crennel.... but keep Scott Pioli. This would be the biggest joke of them all, as there's an entire body of evidence to Pioli's incompetence and a full-scale fan uprising against this tenure. Did I mention they have no talent? And that he acquired Matt Cassel for a zillion dollars? Keep him!
EDIT: Chicago has reportedly canned Lovie Smith, and Chan Gailey is on the chopping block in Buffalo. Neither is overly surprising, but Smith has a winning record, and that's always a weird one.


Friday, December 28, 2012

12/28: Clippers, Avery, etc.

Greetings! A lot to get to on this freezing December morning...

  • The Los Angeles Clippers are unconscious. With a dominant 106-77 win over Boston, they've now won 15 straight games and look like a legitimate NBA Championship contender behind Chris Paul and company. Their depth is pretty outstanding at this point, with Lamar Odom shedding pounds and looking like an NBA player again (13 boards and 5 assists on Thursday) and 10 legitimate guys even before the return of Grant Hill and Chauncey Billups. Chris Paul is still the engine, however, and that's always a good thing.
  • In the early TNT game, OKC outlasted Dallas 111-105 in overtime. The Thunder came back from a 4th quarter deficit to take a late lead, and the only reason that Dallas was able to force OT was on the strength of an off-balance triple by Darren Collison at the buzzer. Kevin Durant was the best player on the court (no surprise) with 40 points and 8 rebounds, and Serge Ibaka added 19 points, 17 boards, and 5 blocks in 42 minutes for OKC. On the Dallas side, they got a huge 32-point night from Darren Collison, but it wasn't enough to overcome another bad shooting night from OJ Mayo (1-7) and the still rusty Dirk (3-11). Really nice game here.
  • The Brooklyn Nets have fired Avery Johnson after a 14-14 start. This one blew me away because of one thing. How good were the Nets supposed to be? I would've understood this one more if they were 10-18, but aren't the Nets a 45-48 win team? They have no depth, their roster is constructed very weirdly, and Deron Williams is in the tank. I don't get it. At any rate, Deron Williams officially garners the "coach killer" tag now as he gets #2 fired, and the coaching search is on. 
  • Dwyane Wade is suspended 1 game for his shot on Ramon Sessions private area. Moving along.
  • In college Bowl news, Baylor blitzed UCLA by a final tally of 49-26 in the Holiday Bowl last night. It always seems to be an offense-first affair, and this was no different as Baylor notched 494 total yards including 300+ on the ground, and beat up the Bruins. 
  • College Hoops! #8 and previously unbeaten Cincinnati fell at the hands of New Mexico by a 55-54 final last night in Ohio. Not a huge upset as New Mexico is 13-1 and a legitimate club, but a nice win for the Lobos. 
What to watch for on Friday (in chronological order)...
  • 2:00 - NCAAF - Independence Bowl - Ohio vs. Louisiana-Monroe (ESPN) - Midday football during the week!
  • 5:30 - NCAAF - Russell Athletic Bowl (huh?) - Rutgers vs. Virginia Tech (ESPN) - How the mighty have fallen in Blacksburg.
  • 7:30 - NBA - Hawks @ Cavs (SportSouth) - Kyrie Irving! The Hawks go into Cleveland to try and avenge an early-season loss to Cleveland.
  • 8:00 - NCAAB - Baylor @ #13 Gonzaga (ESPN2) - A really, really nice game here as Baylor heads to the Pacific Northwest to take on the Zags. It'll be a hostile atmosphere in Spokane.
  • 8:30 - NBA - Nuggets @ Mavs (NBATV) - Dallas on the 2nd night of a back-to-back, and yet another road game for Denver. Woo-hoo.
  • 9:00 - NCAAF - Meineke Car Care Bowl - Minnesota vs. Texas Tech (ESPN) - Go. Big. Ten.
  • 10:00 - NCAAB - #7 Missouri @ UCLA (ESPN2) - Another pretty nice college hoops match-up as the unbeaten Tigers head to take on a talented UCLA squad. UCLA is a mess right now, but there's no denying that Shabazz Muhammed and company could win this game at home. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

12/26: Christmas Day Hoops Wrap

Greetings! I have returned after a short hiatus due to health/holiday, and let's get it going after a jam-packed day of hoops....

  • In the "headliner" of the day, Miami defeated OKC in a Finals rematch by the score of 103-97. Lebron, once again, showed why he's the best player on Earth with a ho-hum 29/9/8, and he was aided by 20 points from Mario Chalmers (including 4 triples) and 21 from Dwyane Wade. It's impressive for Miami to get a win on a night where bench sharp-shooters Ray Allen and Shane Battier shoot a combined 1-10, but that's what Miami did thanks to some stellar defense (holding OKC to 43% shooting) and great free throw shooting (a perfect 19-19). On the OKC side, Durant was superb, scoring 33 points (on 11-21 shooting) and grabbing 7 boards, but he was the lone bright spot, as Russ Westbrook did manage to add 21 points, but he did so on a woeful 5-19 shooting, and the normally potent OKC offense wasn't running on all cylinders. These are the two best teams in the league by most people's estimation, and as potential "finals previews" go, this was a good one. High-level hoops. 
  • In the other ABC game, the Lakers seemed to get healthy before our very eyes. Steve Nash got his most expansive playing time since returning (37 minutes) and responded with a Nash-like 16 points and 11 assists to key the LA offense. Kobe led the way with 34 points, and MWP added 20, but it's clear to everyone that things go smoothly when Nash has the ball, and you can see the way that he and Gasol interact. It was fitting to see Pau take the ball 25 feet from the basket, penetrate left, and dunk on the game's clinching possession, just because the 7-footer seemed to have all sorts of confidence with Nash in the lineup, and I loved it. For the Knicks, Melo had it going again, finishing with 34 points, but other than an inefficient 25 from JR Smith (on 23 shots, yuck), no one else had their offensive game going with Felton (5-19 FG) sputtering. Not a real indictment of the Knicks, as we all know that they won't win without the 3-ball, but it was a real positive for any remaining Lakers believers.
  • Elsewhere on Christmas, Boston beat up on the Nets in Brooklyn by a score of 93-76. It was a balanced offensive game for the Celtics with 7 guys scoring 8+ points, but I thought KG was the best player on the court despite attempting just 8 shots. He led a huge Boston rebounding edge with 10 boards of his own, and the Boston defense suffocated Brooklyn for most of the day. The Nets shot just 40% and couldn't generate any efficient offense all day. Later, Houston blitzed the Bulls by a 120-97 margin. This was the 3rd straight game with 120+ points for a suddenly blazing Rockets offense, and they got 20+ points from 4 of their 5 starters. Harden led the way with 26 points, but Omer Asik was the MVP, scoring 20 points and grabbing 18 rebounds up front. Houston shot a blistering 56% from the field on the night, and dominated the glass overall for a dominating win. Nate Robinson's 27 garbage-time points was the highlight for Chicago... and that's not a great sign. In the nightcap, the Clippers used a 42-point 2nd quarter to outlast Denver 112-100. Matt Barnes and Jamal Crawford stole the show off the bench for LAC with 20 and 22 points respectively, and Chris Paul keyed the offense (as always) with 8 assists. LA is terrifying if you're an opponent at the moment, as that offense is clicking in a big way, and they're defending enough to make it stick. Denver was led by a 16/10 (on 8-8 FG) by Kosta Koufos and a 15/5 from Ty Lawson in the loss.
One college note...
  • #3 Arizona remained unbeaten with a nail-biting win over #17 San Diego State last night in Honolulu. This is a game that not a lot of people saw with NBA dominating the day, but 'Zona is pretty impressive, and I love that SDSU team. Stud forward Solomon Hill led the way with 21 and 6 for Arizona, and the Aztecs got 19 from Chase Tapley in the loss.
What to watch for on Wednesday (in chronological order)...
  • 7:30 - NBA - Pistons @ Hawks (SportSouth) - The lowly Pistons are in town, and Atlanta should get a relatively easy win here. Greg Monroe is worth watching for Detroit... but that's about it.
  • 7:30 - NCAAF - Little Caesars Bowl - Western Kentucky vs. Central Michigan (ESPN) - A 7-5 Sun Belt team against a 6-6 MAC team in the worst bowl game of the season! Praise him!
  • 9:00 - NBA - Knicks @ Suns (NBATV) - NYK on the second of a road back-to-back, but Phoenix isn't a team that scares you. Maybe we'll see Amare against his old team?

Friday, December 21, 2012

12/21: Thursday NBA, etc.

Greetings! Starting to feel a bit better physically, so more content is on the way... let's go!
  • Thursday is the NBA's night so let's start there. Minnesota ended OKC's 12-game win streak with a 99-93 win in the Target Center. Kevin Love led the way with 28 points and 11 rebounds for Minnesota, who held OKC to just 40% shooting on the night. In the non-TNT game, Portland got a wildly unexpected 101-93 home win over Denver. The Blazers winning in the Rose Garden is never too shocking, but they won this one without their best player in Aldridge. 22 points from Batum, 20 from Lillard, and an 18/18 from JJ Hickson was enough to outlast Denver, who had a hideous performance from 3-point distance shooting an unspeakable 0-for-22 (!). And finally, Miami dominated Dallas from the opening bell and cruised to a 110-95 win despite a 34-point 4th quarter by the Mavs. Lebron had a 24/9/5 in just 31 minutes, Wade added 19 points in 26 minutes (and a crazy +40), and they were just much, much better than Dallas here. 
  • ESPN has suspended "personality" Rob Parker for 30 days following his ridiculous comments about RGIII on First Take last week. I'm indifferent on punishment for him because its ESPN's business what kind of talent they put on air, but there's no question that his comments were ignorant and out-of-place. Parker had already established himself as someone who was capable of saying outlandish and/or off-base things for attention (google his "feud" with ESPN's Keith Law over the AL MVP race, Parker is clueless), but this was a new level. As a side note, for anyone that still watches First Take, I have an idea.... Stop.
  • One MLB contract to note is Edwin Jackson and the Cubs inking a 4-year, $52 million deal. I'm not the biggest Jackson fan because he's a guy who is wildly inconsistent, but there's no denying that he's been fairly valuable. He's only 29 years old, has posted 2.7 WAR or higher in 4 straight seasons (including 3 seasons of 3.6+ according to Fangraphs) and he misses bats, which is something that is very valuable, especially in a ballpark like Wrigley. It's not a bargain, but it's not unreasonable either. 
  • The NHL has cancelled games through Mid-January as part of their ongoing lockout. Is it bad for the league that NO one seems to care? I realize that I live in a non-NHL town and that probably impacts the type of coverage and chatter that I see, but it seems to be extremely dead. 
  • The #1 recruit in the country, as far as college basketball is concerned, is headed to... Duke! In a not-so-shocking turn of events, Chicago's Jabari Parker picked Coach K and the Blue Devils for his likely 1-year college visit. As a full-on Duke supporter, I'm elated, but Parker has been compared to guys like Paul Pierce, and is apparently an impact guy. Love it. 
What to watch for on Friday (in chronological order)....
  • 7:00 - NBA - Hawks @ Sixers (SportSouth) - The Bynum-less Sixers host the Hawks in the return of Lou Williams to Philly. Atlanta is the better team, but this is a tough road test.
  • 7:30 - NCAAF - Beef 'O Brady's Bowl - Ball State vs. Central Florida (ESPN) - A battle of two 9-win non-BCS teams! Must-see TV! At least we can hopefully hear George O'Leary talk...
  • 7:30 - NBA - Bulls @ Knicks (NBA-TV) - New York is really fun to watch, and Melo is in a zone right now.
  • 9:00 - NCAAB - BYU @ Baylor (ESPN2) - Not the best game in the world, but BYU's Brandon Davies is worth watching. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

12/19: Quick Hits

Greetings! I have been sick for about a week now, and it came to a head this weekend... please forgive the lack of content! Let's get straight to some quick thoughts...

  • Wisconsin his reportedly hired Utah State's Gary Andersen to replace Bret Bielema as head coach. I actually think this is a nice hire, as Andersen has transformed that program into a top-25 team over the past few seasons, and has a winning track record. Typical Wisconsin move.
  • RA Dickey got moved to the Blue Jays earlier in the week for a package that includes Travis D'Arnaud. I liked this deal a lot for the Mets, as they procured a potential top-10 prospect in all of baseball in exchange for the 38-year-old knuckleballer. It's as simple as this. If Dickey is the guy he's been for the last 2-3 seasons, it's a solid deal for the Jays. If he's the guy he was before that, it's a gut-punch for the Jays.
  • NBA - Atlanta won an overtime battle with Washington despite playing terribly. Sound familiar? Big thanks to Washington for shooting 38% as a team despite Jordan Crawford's crazy 27/11/11 triple-double. Speaking of triple-doubles, Joakim Noah put one up for Chicago in a 100-89 win over Boston. Denver knocked off San Antonio, giving the suddenly-reeling Spurs their 4th loss in 5 games. And finally, the Lakers got a 101-100 comeback win over the atrocious Bobcats. All's right with the world!
What to watch for...
  • 7:00 - NBA - Nets @ Knicks (ESPN) - The Battle of New York rages on.
  • 7:00 - NCAAB - Xavier @ #11 Cincy (ESPN2) - This is a physical, wild rivalry game.
  • 7:30 - NBA - Thunder @ Hawks (SportSouth) - The Western conf. champs make their one appearance at Philips this year. 
  • 9:00 - NCAAB - #23 North Carolina @ Texas (ESPN2) - This game looks better on paper than it actually is, but UNC could use a win.
  • 9:30 - NBA - Bucks @ Grizzlies (ESPN) - Larry Sanders against that Memphis front-line and the battle of the lefty point guard between Jennings and Conley. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

NFL Week 15 Preview

Greetings! Let's take a look at an absolutely jam-packed NFL slate...
  • 1:00 - Giants @ Falcons (FOX) - This is the most high-profile game the Falcons have played in weeks, and the defending champs are in town. Most people blindly believe in the Giants because they way they've risen from the ashes in both of their Super Bowl seasons, but I see an 8-5 team that is wildly beatable. There's something to be said for Eli on the road (he's been better, esp. indoors), but I think Atlanta holds serve.
  • 1:00 - Packers @ Bears (FOX) - Absolutely huge game in the NFC North. If Green Bay wins, they all but lock up the division, but if Chicago wins, it's wide-open again. Green Bay is the better team IMO, but Soldier Field could be the great equalizer. I like GB, even on the road, but if Cutler stays upright, Chicago has a chance. 
  • 1:00 - Redskins @ Browns (FOX) - Must-win time for Washington, and it looks like RGIII will play. Cleveland hasn't rolled over at all this season (and that's a compliment) but if the 'Skins play well, they'll win.
  • 1:00 - Vikings @ Rams (FOX) - 7-6 vs. 6-6-1 = Elimination game!
  • 1:00 - Broncos @ Ravens (CBS) - Game of the day in the AFC as Denver is scorching hot, but going on the road against a Baltimore team that is 5-1 at home. I think Denver is substantially better with Manning and company and the Baltimore defense is banged up beyond measure at this point. On the bright side for Baltimore, Ray Rice may re-emerge now that they've fired Cam Cameron. I like Denver.
  • 1:00 - Colts @ Texans (CBS) - The other big game in the AFC. The big question going into Sunday is whether Houston was exposed on Monday or whether New England is just that dominant. I think it has more to do with injury than anything for Houston, but if Andrew Luck can go in there and win? Trouble for the Texans.
  • 4:05 - Seahawks @ Bills (FOX) - Tons of Seattle buzz this week. I'll buy-in a little more if they go on the "road" (in Toronto) and beat Buffalo soundly. 
  • 4:25 - Steelers @ Cowboys (CBS) - Another elimination-type game, and this one is much more high-profile. I firmly believe Pittsburgh is the better of these two teams, but in Dallas, it levels the playing field. It'll come down to whether Ben can play at full-strength against a quality Dallas secondary, and with injuries on both sides, it's a toss-up game. 
  • 8:20 - Niners @ Patriots (NBC) - Game of the day overall. New England is playing better than anyone (I think) and Colin Kaepernick gets his first look at the GIANT stage that is Sunday Night on NBC. It'll come down to whether SF can move the ball on the previously bad Pats secondary, but that's a big burden for a first-year-starting QB, and I like the Pats, even if the Niners can slow them a bit more than Houston did.

Friday, December 14, 2012

12/14: Hamilton, Hollinger, etc.

Greetings! Let's get to it!
  • Josh Hamilton is a Los Angeles Angel (of Anaheim lol). 5 years and $125 million is apparently what it took to lock up the former Rangers OF, and that's a very, very steep price. Hamilton's upside is other-worldly, as we've already seen him post a 7+ WAR season, but the downside is pretty hefty as well. He hasn't reached 150 games played since 2008, and has seasons of 89 and 121 games played in recent seasons. In addition, there's inherent risk with his body having taken a beating (his words) due to past drug use, and while his on-field action has been rather limited for a 32-year-old, I wouldn't mistake that for fresh legs. At any rate, Hamilton will likely earn this money for 2 or 3 of the years, but I wouldn't bet on him earning it for 4 or 5 when he'll be into his age 37 season by the end of the deal.
  • There are various reports out there that the 7 non-football schools in the Big East are set to leave the conference. Basically, this would be a huge wrench for the newly-formed creation of the league, and would effectively murder the basketball conference. Conference realignment is something that is slowly driving college sports purists (myself included) insane, but unfortunately, it isn't going anywhere. Stay tuned to find out where these schools end up. 
  • NBA Check - The Hawks cruised to a 113-90 drubbing of the over-matched Bobcats last night. Atlanta had 6 players in double-figures led by Devin Harris with 20, and after a 17-point halftime advantage, it was all downhill from there. Charlotte.... eesh. New York outlasted LA by a final tally of 116-107. The Knicks shot 53% from the field and 48% from three in this one, basically doing whatever they wanted on the perimeter against the porous defense from LA, but held on for dear life late thanks to a 58 point second half from LA. Kobe (31), Dwight (20), and Ron Artest (23) all scored big-time for the Lakers, but it wasn't enough to overcome 30 from Melo and the balanced scoring punch of Chandler, Smith, and Felton. And finally, for as much talk as the Lakers implosion is getting (and justifiably so), the biggest shock of the night was San Antonio going down in a heap in Portland by a 98-90 final. Portland was able to hold the Spurs to 45% shooting and caused 19 turnovers while getting a monster night from rookie PG Damian Lillard. 29 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists qualifies as the line of the night. 
  • Thursday Night NFL! Cincinnati trailed Philly 13-10 at the half. The final score was 34-13 Cincy, so you can infer how the 2nd half went... Philly committed 4 turnovers in the 2nd half and while only one of them (a fumble returned for a TD by Wallace Gilberry) netted direct points, they set Cincy up for easy scores and that was that. Andy Dalton threw for just 127 yards, which was shockingly low against a bad Philly D, but he did throw and run for a score, and AJ Green's fantasy owners thanked him for the late garbage TD. Philly is a mess, but Cincy just needed a win to stay alive and they did that. 
What to watch for on Friday (chronological order)...
  • 8:00 - NBA - Celtics @ Rockets (ESPN) - Kevin McHale coaching against the Celtics is still awesome/weird.
  • 10:30 - NBA - Grizzlies @ Nuggets (ESPN) - Two of the better rebounding teams in the league face off here. This is the ultimate test for the Denver front-court, and the Mike Conley/Ty Lawson match-up should be wildly entertaining. 
And a final note concerning one of my favorite writers, ESPN's John Hollinger...

If you haven't heard/read by now, the ESPN NBA writer has taken the position of VP of Basketball Operations for the Memphis Grizzlies. He's basically one of the founders of the advanced NBA statistical movement, and the creator of the most popular "advanced" stat in his Player Efficiency Rating (PER). He's been a must-read of mine for years, and is highly responsible for pushing me to learn more about advanced stats. His analysis has also been the model for incorporating this kind of data in my writing, both here and over at Soaring Down South. I will greatly miss his writing, but if anyone deserves a position like this, it's Hollinger, and I can only hope he'll maintain his status as one of my favorite Twitter follows, even though he probably can't be as upfront as he is now. Best of luck to him in Memphis. They got a steal. 


Thursday, December 13, 2012

12/13: Sick Day

Taking the day off due to illness, but since I had this written out yesterday, here you go...
What to watch for on Thursday (in chronological order)...
  • 7:30 - NBA - Bobcats @ Hawks (SportSouth) - The only non-TNT game tonight! In Atlanta! Against an awful team! I can't stop using exclamation points!
  • 8:00 - NBA - Lakers @ Knicks (TNT) - Whatever the result of this game is. The media will overreact to it. That said, with the way NY is playing, I don't see them losing the D'Antoni Bowl.
  • 8:20 - NFL - Bengals @ Eagles (NFL Network) - The final Thursday night game of the season, and of course, it's another bad match-up. Philly did fight last week and actually beat Tampa Bay, but Cincy is the better team and they are still playing for playoff possibilities. 
  • 10:30 - NBA - Spurs @ Blazers (TNT) - This used to be appointment viewing. The problem is that Portland is terrible now, and I feel bad for Aldridge. That 2nd unit is a college team.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

12/12: Hoops, MLB Trade, etc.

Greetings! Not a lot of time this morning thanks to a 1,200-word piece on Josh Smith's jump shooting (which can be found here)... Let's go!
  • NBA! Carmelo Anthony exploded for an NBA league-high 45 points last night in leading the Knicks to a 100-97 win in Brooklyn. Melo was absolutely bonkers in the 2nd half and he's playing the undisputed best basketball of his career right now. The Lakers got 42 points from Kobe and a 19-point/20-rebound game from Dwight Howard against Cleveland last night. They still lost 100-94. Kyrie Irving returned in a huge way for the Cavs as he had 28 points, 11 assists, and 6 rebounds in his first game in a month. There are severe problems in LA, folks. Denver got a road win in Detroit by a 101-94 total. The Nuggets are road-tested as they've played 16 of their first 22 on the road, and with their normal home-court dominance, their record should reflect big-time improvement soon. Finally, the Clippers won their 7th straight game in defeating the Bulls 94-89 in Chicago. Blake Griffin led the way for LAC with 22 points and 10 rebounds, and the Clips held Chicago to just 40% shooting on the night. 
  • Michigan's college basketball team won a 67-39 decision over Binghamton last night. It isn't news when the #3 team in America beats a 2-9 small-conference team. I just have to mention this (contractually almost) because Michigan is now 10-0 and off to their best start since the national championship-winning team of 1988-89. That's all I will say.
  • There was a massive (and confusing) MLB trade last night. Cincinnati acquired Shin-Soo Choo (the headliner of the deal from a major-league-ready standpoint) and Jason Donald, Cleveland acquired Drew Stubbs, Trevor Bauer, Matt Albers, and Bryan Shaw, and Arizona acquired Didi Gregorius, Tony Sipp, and Lars Anderson. The best possible analysis of this deal can be found here (insider required), but the short version goes like this. Arizona gave up one of the best pitching prospects in baseball (Bauer) and basically got a defense-only shortstop (Gregorius) and a LOOGY (Sipp). That is borderline insane, and no one in the industry can seem to figure out what they were doing. Cleveland bought low on Bauer, which I loved, and got a major-league OF in Stubbs in exchange for Choo. There's no question that Choo is the best player in the deal, as he's a high-OBP guy (his .373 OBP this year was his worst in years, which is crazy) who can really hit, but the difference between Choo and Stubbs certainly isn't Bauer, so that's a steal for Cleveland. On the Cincy side, they basically went all-in for offense, with Choo being a much better offensive player than Stubbs, and Donald being a utility guy capable of playing 3 spots. I love the deal for Cleveland, it's okay for Cincy, and a trainwreck for Arizona. 
  • Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has vacated the player suspensions from the Saints Bounty scandal. Of course, this move received far less publicity than the original suspensions, but I still like it. There was clearly not enough evidence for the severity of the punishment, and Tagliabue saw through the tyranny of Roger Goodell.
  • One more MLB move saw the Yankees lock up former Red Sox 3B/1B Kevin Youkilis to a 1-year, $12 million deal. This is a pure desperation move from the Yanks, as A-Rod is out for months with a hip injury. That said, I'm not sure Youk can really play 3B effectively anymore, and the only way this deal makes sense for that much money is if he can. Either way, if he's healthy, he'll draw walks and get on-base, but NYY fans better hope he can defend that position with reasonable effectiveness.
What to watch for on Wednesday (in chronological order)...
  • 7:00 - NBA - Hawks @ Magic (SportSouth) - Atlanta takes on a feisty, but underwhelming Magic team in Orlando. The Hawks are looking to avoid 2 straight losses, and Orlando should be the recipe for that. 
  • 8:00 - NBA - Mavs @ Celtics (ESPN) - This isn't your older brother's Maverick team without Dirk, but they've played fairly well in his absence, and OJ Mayo has been a revelation. Boston has underachieved thus far, but at home, it's tough to pick against them.
  • 10:30 - NBA - Spurs @ Jazz (ESPN) - What an awesome game. Utah is devastating at home (8-1 record) always and their massive front-line faces off against Tim Duncan and company. Highlight of the sporting night.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

12/11: New England Rolls

  • New England 42, Houston 14 - The Patriots showed the country who the class of the AFC is... and Houston still has pole position for the #1 seed. That's how these things work, but Tom Brady and company were masterful last night. 296 yards and 4 touchdowns (with 0 INT) for Brady and it would've been even better if Wes Welker had caught more than 3 of his 9 targets. For Houston, they ran the ball reasonably well, but because Matt Schaub didn't play well and the defense was gashed, they had to abandon the run and the score showed it. Not an entertaining 2nd half, but the Pats looked like a juggernaut. 
  • NBA Check - Miami shot a blistering 58% from the field in dispatching of Atlanta by a 101-92 score. Lebron led the way with 27/7/6 but the real key was Wade, who shot 11 of 13 from the field for an ultra-efficient 26 points in 34 minutes. It was the first time all season that Atlanta had allowed an opponent to shoot 50+% and that was the x-factor. Tony Parker put up his first career triple-double in leading San Antonio to a 134-126 OT win over Houston on the road. Parker's line was 27 points, 12 rebounds, and 12 assists, which is absolutely outstanding, and San Antonio also got 29 points from Gary Neal and 22 from Manu Ginobili in the win. And finally, Portland got 30 points and 12 rebounds from LaMarcus Aldridge in taking care of business against 4-18 Toronto in the Rose Garden. 
  • Dallas Cowboys WR Dez Bryant may miss the rest of the season with a broken finger. It was widely reported on Monday that Bryant was being placed on IR, but as of this morning, nothing was official. This would be a huge blow to Dallas and to Bryant, who was playing the undisputed best football of his career, having scored in 5 consecutive games. Something to keep an eye on for Tuesday.
What to watch for on Tuesday (in chronological order)...
  • 7:00 - NBA - Knicks @ Nets (ESPN) - The battle of New York takes to a special Tuesday night ESPN slot. New York is scorching hot right now and Brooklyn has lost 4 in a row, but the biggest key will be up front where Brook Lopez has missed the past few games.
  • 9:30 - NBA - Clippers @ Bulls (ESPN) - Chris Paul vs. Derrick Rose!.... Oh wait... At any rate, Chicago's defense is still tremendous (leading the league in def. efficiency) and LA is a top-5 offense. Strength vs. Strength.

Monday, December 10, 2012

12/10: Quick Hits

Greetings! Short on time today so here we go with the NFL First...

  • The Falcons went down in a heap by a score of 30-20 in Carolina. Cam Newton was other-worldly in this one, but Atlanta couldn't move the ball in the first half at all and that was the culprit of the loss. I would take it as an aberration, and while no one is "terrified" of the Falcons these days, this is still a top-flight team. 
  • Seattle beat Arizona 58-0. There is no analysis for that, but it was awesome.
  • Dallas and Washington both won on last-second field goals to extend their NFC East and playoff chances for another week. The biggest story, though, is a knee injury to Robert Griffin III, but fortunately it appears to not be serious. 
  • There were two fringe upsets on Sunday. Philly knocked off Tampa Bay on the road, which basically ends the season for the Bucs. Enjoy your off-season. And Minnesota knocked off Chicago at home behind 154 yards and 2 touchdowns from Adrian Peterson. He's officially on the march to 2,000 yards. 
  • Finally, the Giants absolutely annihilated the Saints 52-27 to make everyone remember why they love the Giants. It was the coming out party for rookie RB/returner David Wilson who had 100 yards and 2 touchdowns rushing, and 227 yards and a TD in the kick return game. Impressive stuff.
  • There was big news in the world of Major League Baseball as the Royals and Rays pulled off a trade last night. Wil Myers, the #1 prospect in all of baseball, heads to Tampa Bay along with Jake Odorizzi  and Mike Montgomery in exchange for James Shields and Wade Davis. I've yet to see a credible person say that the Rays didn't absolutely fleece Kansas City here. Myers is basically a sure thing at this point, and because of MLB's salary structure, he's assured to be a bargain for years and years. He has the upside of a top-5 player in all of baseball, and those guys don't just come into the market. Kansas City acquires the best pitcher they've had since Greinke in the form of Shields, and there's certainly value there. Wade Davis is probably just a high-upside reliever at this point, but he's also a commodity. That said, Shields is paid handsomely for his production and has reached his ceiling at nearly 31 years old while Myers is going to out-pace his salary hugely for years. Kansas City got desperate to fill a starting pitcher need, and the crazy thing is that Shields/Davis for Myers (straight-up) would've been a win for Tampa and they still managed to get KC to throw in two upper-tier pitching prospects. I'm at a loss. 
What to watch for on Monday (in chronological order)...
  • 7:00 - NBA - Pistons @ Sixers (NBA-TV) - What an abysmal game. Great choice for national TV! Anyway, tune in to watch Andre Drummond for the first time if you haven't seen him.
  • 7:30 - NBA - Hawks @ Heat (SportSouth) - The much better option for your early viewing. The red-hot Hawks have won 9 of 10, but Miami on the road isn't a fun place to go. 
  • 8:30 - NFL - Texans @ Patriots (ESPN) - The best MNF game of the season so far. I think these are the 2 best teams in the entire NFL, and this should be awesome.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

NFL Week 14 Preview

Greetings! As you may recall, this is usually a "weekend" preview edition, but with college football on hiatus (with apologies to Army/Navy), it's time to hit the NFL on its first solo weekend.
  • 1:00 - Falcons @ Panthers (FOX) - Carolina's Greg Hardy actually came out this week and said, with a straight face, that the 3-9 Panthers were a "better football team" than the Atlanta Falcons. He is not correct. That said, road games in the division are never easy, and with Cam Newton on the other side, it's a dangerous spot for Atlanta. 
  • 1:00 - Cowboys @ Bengals (FOX) - This is unquestionably a win-or-go-home match-up for both teams. Both teams have outside shots at the playoffs if they can keep winning, but each has no margin for error. I think Cincy is probably the better team, and playing at home, it'd be tough to pick against them. One thing to watch for in Dallas is the big-time surge of Dez Bryant in recent weeks, and maybe he can go off here. 
  • 1:00 - Bears @ Vikings (FOX) - Chicago's defense has been perfectly ordinary for about 3 weeks after that ridiculously hot 10-week start. They do catch a break in facing the Vikings without Harvin (gone for the year) and with Ponder struggling, but don't forget that Adrian Peterson may be playing better than anyone in the whole league at this point. I like the Bears, but don't quote me. 
  • 1:00 - Chargers @ Steelers (CBS) - Ben Roethlisberger is back. San Diego has quit. Godspeed.
  • 1:00 - Ravens @ Redskins (CBS) - Probably the game of the day. They are battling for an entire region! (lol) At any rate, Robert Griffin III is absolutely on fire right now, and this Baltimore defense is sketchy without Ray Lewis and a banged up Terrell Suggs. I also have zero faith in Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense on the road, so even with my built-in skepticism of rookie QB's and the Redskins, I'm taking Washington. 
  • 4:00 - Dolphins @ Niners (CBS) - Colin Kaepernick has a very, very big spotlight on him this week. If San Fran falls to 8-4-1, they're suddenly on the verge of going on the road in their first playoff game.
  • 4:25 - Saints @ Giants (FOX) - If the "good" Giants show up, they'll cruise. If the "bad" Giants show up, New Orleans is more than capable of knocking them off, and Drew Brees is probably still angry about the stink bomb he dropped in Atlanta.
  • 8:20 - Lions @ Packers (NBC) - Detroit is wretched. This is a game where Green Bay gets their "buzz" back and wins by 20+. I feel it.
  • Monday 8:30 - Texans @ Patriots (ESPN) - Easily the game of the weekend, and this may be the first time all year that that distinction can be given to the Monday night game. Houston is 11-1, but they're playing without a bunch of key guys on defense, and that's a bad recipe against the juggernaut Patriots' offense. With that said, Gronk and Edelman are out for New England, but I'd still expect a big game from Brady and the possible re-emergence of Brandon Lloyd could help that. These are two of the top 5 teams in the league and that's tremendous, but I'd take the home-team in this spot. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

12/7: Butch Jones, New York Triples, etc.

Greetings! Let's go!
  • Tennessee has hired former Cincinnati and Central Michigan head coach Butch Jones to take over for the fired Derek Dooley. I loved this move, and it's the best possible outcome for a coaching search that had flown off the rails quickly in Knoxville. Nice recovery.
  • NBA! New York went into Miami, without Carmelo Anthony (!), and won by 20 points. The Knicks hit a mind-boggling 18 threes in the game, but also held Miami to just 42% shooting on the night and the combination of those two things was enough to overcome a 31/10/9 from Lebron. The biggest issue from Miami (other than allowing 18 threes) was a combined 6 for 25 shooting night from Bosh and Wade. That spells trouble. In the late game, OJ Mayo put away the Suns late in a 97-94 win for Dallas. The Mavs got huge bench contribution that sparked their offense including 16 points each from Brandan Wright and Darren Collison, as well as 15 points and 7 boards from Chris Kaman. Phoenix was led by a 15-point, 17-rebound night from Markieff Morris, but it wasn't enough to hold on for the win. 
  • The Denver Broncos took care of business in Oakland last night with a 26-13 win over the Raiders. Peyton Manning threw for 310 yards and a touchdown, while Knowshon Moreno had his best game in years with 119 yards on 32 carries for the Broncos. Nothing really stood out for Oakland except for the shocking disappearance of the red-hot Brandon Myers from the offense, as he murdered all fantasy owners (myself included) with a 2-target, 1-catch night. At any rate, Denver is better than Oakland and they showed why. 
What to watch for on Friday (in chronological order)...
  • 7:00 - NBA - Celtics @ Sixers (ESPN) - Both teams are 10-8 and scuffling a bit. I still think Boston is a legitimate East contender, and Philly doesn't have the size (without Bynum) to beat them up inside. 
  • 7:30 - NBA - Wizards @ Hawks (SportSouth) - Washington stinks. Atlanta is playing well. Seems like the perfect spot for an upset!
  • 9:30 - NBA - Lakers @ Thunder (ESPN) - I really wish Steve Nash was on the court. Kobe vs. Durant and Westbrook is nice, but I'm intrigued to see how spry Dwight Howard looks here against Ibaka and company. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

12/6: Kobe Bean Bryant, etc.

Greetings! Let's dive in...
  • Kobe Bryant is the 5th player in the history of the NBA to score 30,000 points and he is the youngest to ever do so. It would be irresponsible to not point out that Kobe, despite being the youngest to reach this milestone, also played the most games before reaching it as he is the only guy on the list to come out of high school and he's been going ever since. It was fitting that he had 29 points and was generally the best player on the floor last night in New Orleans, and it's amazing that he's still going at this rate after the amount of minutes he's played. A lot has been made of discussion on whether he is the "Best Laker Ever" so I'll address that. He isn't. Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are better, and even if you dock points for Kareem's early work in Milwaukee, there's no argument for Kobe over Magic. At least not yet. 
  • In an awesome turn of events, former Wisconsin head coach and current AD Barry Alvarez will coach the Badgers in the Rose Bowl. I realize that this doesn't matter at all but I thought it was fantastic, so I'm sharing it here.
  • MLB Hot Stove - Joe Blanton is headed to the Angels for 2 years and $15 million. I quickly crapped on this deal in my brain when I heard it, but Blanton was actually pretty decent last year with 2 teams, posting a FIP under 4.00, and he has tremendous control as he's walked less than 2 batters per nine for the last 2 seasons. I'm not saying that I love the deal, but a control pitcher can be aided by a pitcher's park, and LA qualifies. Jason Bay heading to the Mariners made laugh because he had no power in New York... so just picture him in Safeco. And finally, Jeff Keppinger (former Parkview Panther) inked a 3-year, $12 million deal with the White Sox. His greatest attribute is positional flexibility, but Keppinger also murders lefties, and it makes him an ideal platoon candidate. 
  • NBA Check - I covered the Hawks game in-depth here but it was a very nice 108-104 win over Denver last night. Al Horford continued his stellar play with 25 points and 13 rebounds, and the Hawks gang-rebounded to outlast Denver 47-40 on the glass. JR Smith hit a buzzer-beater to lift the Knicks over Charlotte 100-98 last night. Klay Thompson got healthy against the wretched Pistons with a 27-point night in Golden State's 104-97 win. San Antonio got 22 points each from Tony Parker and Gary Neal while out-rebounding Milwaukee 53-36 in their 110-99 win over the Bucks at home. And finally, Utah knocked off Orlando 87-81 at home behind a 31/15 performance from Al Jefferson, but Jefferson had to exit the game late with a back injury, and that's something to watch for. 
  • One college hoops note.... Florida systematically took Florida State apart last night in Tallahassee. The 72-47 margin of victory looks lopsided, but I assure you the game wasn't this close. I'm very, very impressed with Florida and still firmly believe they're the team to beat in the SEC.
What to watch for on Thursday (in chronological order)...
  • 8:00 - NBA - Knicks @ Heat (TNT) - What a great game. New York is playing great basketball this season but on the 2nd night of a back-to-back on the road in Miami, I don't think they can beat the Heat.
  • 8:00 - NFL - Broncos @ Raiders (NFL Network) - Eesh. Oakland is a wretched watch, but on the bright side, home teams seem to be the favorite on these short weeks, and Carson Palmer will be winging it all over the field. At any rate, Denver should win here regardless.
  • 8:00 - NCAAB - Long Beach State @ #4 Syracuse (ESPN2) - This isn't the same, dangerous Long Beach team of the last few years, but this is a chance to see Syracuse, and they're a real national title threat this year. 
  • 10:30 - NBA - Mavs @ Suns (TNT) - This game would've been much, much better in years past. Yep.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

12/5: College Coaching Carousel, etc.

Greetings! Full slate today...
  • The wheels are turning in full force on the College Football Coaching Carousel! First, Bret Bielema shocked a ton of people (myself included) by leaving Wisconsin for Arkansas. I'm sure that the $3.2 million per year that was reported yesterday is a huge raise for Bielema, who went 68-24 at Wisconsin, but is Arkansas really a better job than coaching in Madison? Next, Gus Malzahn is taking his talents to Auburn. This one didn't surprise me at all as he was the OC on the title team with Cam Newton before being exiled to Arkansas State. His innovative offense is a nice fit at a school like Auburn who will always be competing with Alabama for players, and I like the move. Now? The focus shifts to Tennessee, who is reportedly courting Charlie Strong. Stay tuned.
  • NBA Check! - Washington pulled the biggest upset of the young season by beating the Heat 105-101 in Washington. The biggest surprise was that they did this in spite of LBJ posting a crazy triple-double (26/13/11) and without any crazy shooting numbers. Weird. Elsewhere, Oklahoma City got 32 points from Kevin Durant in a 117-111 road win over Brooklyn that extended their win streak to six games, Indiana was led by Paul George and his 34 points in their 80-76 win in Chicago, and Houston overcame 39 points from Kobe Bryant to knock off LA by a 107-105 margin. 
  • The New Orleans Hornets are reportedly changing their name to the "Pelicans". I don't even have a joke here, just know that I think this is absurd.
  • MLB Hot Stove - Shane Victorino joins Mike Napoli in Boston, having inked the exact same contract. 3 years and $39 million would've been a fine commitment to Victorino 2-3 years ago, but he's now 32 years old and coming off of a season where he was worth less than 3 wins and he's a guy who relies on his legs for value. Godspeed! Dan Haren inked a 1-year, $13 million deal with Washington, and I hated this move... for the Braves. I'm always a Haren guy and while there are injury concerns, if he's healthy he's worth significantly more than this contract. Blast. And finally, former Braves Yunel Escobar got traded again, this time heading to Tampa after being flipped by the Marlins. At least he's a great clubhouse guy!
What to watch for on Wednesday (in chronological order)...
  • 7:00 - NCAAB - #6 Florida @ Florida State (ESPNU) - Really a quality game and an in-state rivalry. Florida is the SEC favorite and FSU is defending home-court with their normally tenacious defense.
  • 8:00 - NBA - Nuggets @ Hawks (ESPN) - A quality Western conference team comes to Philips Arena, and this should be a very interesting and entertaining match-up.
  • 10:30 - NBA - Mavs @ Clippers (ESPN) - If Derek Fisher starts for Dallas again, I'll begin to openly question Rick Carlisle's sanity, and that says a lot because he's normally a fantastic coach.
  • 11:00 - NCAAB - #10 Gonzaga @ Washington State (ESPNU) - An awesome late-night battle. Gonzaga is a legitimate top-10 team, and in a true road game, they can prove it here. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

12/4: RG3, A-Rod, Heisman, etc.

Greetings! Straight to the point today...

  • Happy RG3 Day! With a hint of over-hype as he threw for only 163 yards, Robert Griffin III led Washington a come-from-behind 17-16 win over the Giants to get within 1 game of the NFC East lead last night. Alfred Morris added 124 yards on 22 carries and continues to be the most unheralded rookie who is having a great season. On the Giants side, Eli actually played well (20-33 for 280 yards and 0 INT) but NYG had to settle for 3 Lawrence Tynes field goals, and it wasn't enough. The NFC East is wide open after months of assuming that the Giants would win it, as now Dallas has life along with both of these teams. Stay tuned. 
  • A-Rod is having hip surgery again. The hall-of-fame 3B will miss 4-6 months following the surgery as he rehabs. This is a dangerous slope for NY as they owe him a bazillion dollars on that contract, and he'll now have had serious procedures on both hips. Godspeed. 
  • Johnny Manziel, Manti Te'o, and Collin Klein are the Heisman finalists. It's a crazy Heisman year as the front-runner is a freshman (Manziel), his biggest challenger is a linebacker (!), and Klein is a distant 3rd after leading the race for more than half the year. Both Manziel and Te'o would be ground-breaking winners, as a freshman has never won it, and an all-defense guy has never won it (with Charles Woodson's 1997 victory greatly aided by his punt return work and an occasional look at wide receiver). Should be interesting. 
  • The Red Sox will reportedly sign Mike Napoli to a 3-year, $39 million deal. I'm pretty confused by this one, because they've already inked David Ross as a right-handed catching option and they still employ Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ryan Lavarnway behind the plate as well. If he's cast as a first baseman, I understand it, but he'll still be bad defensively there, and his bat doesn't profile nearly well enough at that position to warrant $13 million a year. Curious decision in my opinion. 
  • NBA Round-up - New Orleans blitzed Milwaukee 102-81 last night behind 22 points and 7 rebounds from Ryan Anderson. I still think NO has one of the worst rosters in the league (as long as Eric Gordon is out, at least), but they are competitive. Blake Griffin had 30 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Clippers to a rare (and impressive) road win in Utah 105-104. It was Utah's first home loss of the year despite 20 points and 12 assists from Mo Williams. And finally, Orlando won another impressive game on the road as they bested Golden State 102-94 in Oakland. Glen Davis (24), Arron Afflalo (24), and JJ Redick (22) all lit up the scoring column for the Magic, but Nikola Vucevic may have been the MVP for Orlando with 14 points and 15 rebounds. Steph Curry added 25 and 11 for Golden State, but Jacque Vaughn and company really have Orlando competing and playing well. 
What to watch for on Tuesday (in chronological order)...
  • 7:00 - NCAAB - Texas vs. #15 Georgetown (ESPN) - This is game 1 of the Jimmy V Classic. The game is solid, but not impressive. The biggest thing to watch for is the yearly airing of the fully speech from the legendary Jim Valvano between games. This a must-watch, and I recommend it highly. Gets me every single time.
  • 7:30 - NBA - Thunder @ Nets (NBA-TV) - Two upper-echelon teams on national TV. Sign me up.
  • 8:00 - NBA - Pacers @ Bulls (WGN) - WGN comes through again! Indiana is really struggling, but if they get right, they could be a playoff team even without Granger. 
  • 9:00 - NCAAB - #25 NC State vs. UConn (ESPN) - Game 2! CJ Leslie leads NC State against a spunky UConn team. 
  • 9:00 - NCAAB - Northwestern @ Baylor (ESPN2) - Two unranked teams, but both are fringe tourney contenders and this should be a decent game.