90s Nostalgia: Why We Love the Indiana Pacers.

90s nostalgia. It’s all the rage these days (for us millennials anyway). With each passing year, a bunch of kids born in the 90s become adults. With their new found time, money and independence; they choose to re-live the halcyon days of their childhood.

This is my generation, we like the 90s because it reminds us of a purer, more free time in our lives. It’s not just about innocence per se, it just seemed from our youthful points of view, that things just worked. The games seemed better; Pokemon, Zelda, Mario, Sonic, and Spyro were the staples of a lot of child hoods. The cartoons seemed better too; Dark Wing Duck and Courage the Cowardly Dog will always be some of the best TV I’ve watched in my life.

From left to right: Roy Hibbert, Luis Scola, Lance Stephenson, George Hill, and Paul George

So it stands to reason that basketball of the 90s seemed better. It’s teams seemed more cohesive, especially compared to those of the late 2000s. The defenses were certainly better as they were allowed to get away with more. The rivalries were nastier. There was also some guy named Michael Jordan. MJ, a man who defined 90s basketball, and is compared to no other superstar before and is the standard for every superstar that followed (even Lebron James who doesn’t play like Michael at all). The 90s were also the last years that big men really reigned supreme. Maybe things weren’t better back then. Maybe that’s just how we remember it, but then again, that’s the point of nostalgia. What nostalgia does is cover everything that used to be in a veneer of perfection, and that very same reason is why we love the Indiana Pacers.

The Pacers are 90s nostalgia but better. They exist now. And they’re very go. Indiana is a prototypical 90s team. Heady, aware point guard? George Hill, check. Two large temperamental big men in the paint? David West and Roy Hibbert, check and check. Versatile offensive and defensive impact player? Paul George, check. The wild card? Lance Stephenson, check.

To be fair, and you’ll have to forgive me for taking off my nostalgia colored glasses, most 90s team had all of the “essential”  parts but most of those teams had some of them.

Let’s face it though. Most nostalgia is in fact quite pointless. It’s all about the feelings, there’s no practicality at all. The actual application to one’s life of watching Boy Meets World again is nil. Which is the other reason we like the Pacers. Their Clinton era roster is one that is capable of being a contender in today’s NBA on a championship level.

Indiana’s practically proof that the 90s were better. Paul George continues to grow as a player. The way he plays defense and then runs the floor makes him look like Scottie Pippen redux. Roy Hibbert is just so fundamentally sound on the low block with his ability to make hook shots, especially his running hook, that he may as well be an alien compared to guys like DeAndre Jordan and Al Horford, no disrespect to either but they don’t play big. Roy also comes off as a rather mean guy which a lot of modern big men, and players in general, just are not.

While they seemingly represent an era that is past, the Pacers play in the here and now. They play in the era of fast break and offensive juggernauts. They play in an era with Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and most importantly Lebron James. The way the Pacers play is not only a throwback but a statement. What’s the statement?

The road to the finals goes through Indianapolis.

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Boxing Preview: Timoth Bradley vs. Juan Manuel Marquez

The last two men to beat Manny “Pac Man” Pacquiao square off in a little over a week. Other than the one similarity of having beaten Manny, the two men couldn’t be any more different. Even the ways the beat Pac Man were different.

Timothy Bradley won in a controversial decision whereby any on lookers with eyes; full with functioning retinas, corneas and pupils, would agree that he lost. The judges, including now shamed judge C.J. Ross, saw differently. Presumably because they lack functioning retinas, corneas, pupils and other eye parts that people have.

Juan Manuel Marquez was also losing the “eye” test until he took matters into his own hands and knocked Pacquiao out. He hit Manny with a well timed counter punch that left the champion face first on the mat.

Apart from how they went about handing Manny L’s they have a myriad of other differences. Marquez is an aggressive counter puncher. Which is kind of rare. He is patient but when he sees an opening he cuts it loose and let’s his fists fly. He’s got a lot of power as well. Marquez has got a touch chin and if a fight ever degenerates into a brawl, which can happen, he’s not only capable of staying in the fight, you better believe he can win it. He’s the boxing equivalent of the Terminator, not matter what happens he just keeps on coming. He doesn’t even age. He’s 40 and some would argue he’s at the top of his game (and really needs your clothes, your boots, and your motorcycle).

Timothy Bradley is another story entirely. For starter’s he’s 30 years old, a full decade younger than Marquez. He’s more of a technical fighter. He’s sharp and defensive, sort of like a poor man’s Floyd Mayweather (this is not an insult, I promise). He likes to be elusive defensively and then pick apart other fighters from afar. He’s more of a boxer than a puncher. This basically means that if the fight turns into a brawl Bradley’s in trouble. His last foray into brawling was not very successful as Bradley just escaped with a victory over Ruslan Provodnikov.  In one  round of the fight Bradley got caught on the chin and while he showed tremendous  will in staying on his feet, his was also bouncing off the ropes and rocking back and forth hilariously like a human punching dummy. If anything he survived that fight more than he won it. Still if Bradley stays in his game plan he’s a quality fighter that can be hard to beat. The fact that no one is sure what he’ll do makes him a complete wild card.

Bradley lands jab against Provodnikov (Source: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images North America http://www4.pictures.zimbio.com/gi/Ruslan+Provodnikov+Timothy+Bradley+v+Ruslan+tUEis5bQmIJl.jpg)

Verdict

Marquez has the edge in this fight. Stylistically he’s more versatile than Bradley is, and he’s more durable. Bradley offers a threat if the fight stays slower and one man has to out box the other. If for any reason,  this fight picks up in pace Marquez wins it because of the different ways that he’s able fight, and his knockout power a department that Bradley lacks in. The fight could be entertaining Bradley decides to box. He’s very good at it. He decides to brawl though, it’s not going to be pretty.

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Doc Rivers Kills Lob City (Inadvertently).

Okay, so Doc didn’t really kill Lob City, not that you could tell by the way Blake Griffin was talking about it. In an interview with Shelly Smith of ESPN he said,

Lob City doesn’t exist anymore. Lob City is done. We’re moving on and we’re going to find our identity during training camp and that will be our new city. No more Lob City.

The last time something this beloved was mercilessly killed off, FOX cancelled Firefly (sorry Browncoats). Blake Griffin sounded like he was in mourning. To be fair any time you have to kill your team’s identity and trade it for a new one over night, it’s never an easy task, but in this instance the Clippers are better for it.

That’s right. Better.

Lob City can’t completely die. Blake and DeAndre Jordan are too athletic to not throw lobs. Hell, for all his size, strength and athleticism it’s not like Jordan can do anything else. He has no post moves, no reliable interior shot and absolutely no desire to play defense. It’s this kind of attitude that gave the team formerly known as Lob City another moniker with it’s old nickname.

Soft.

The one word every professional athlete tries to avoid being tagged with. Being soft means you’re weak willed and that you can be broken. Everyone thought Lob City was soft, Doc Rivers and Blake Griffin, believe the Clippers won’t be. In order to get to that point, they’ve decided to erase everything associated with their old identity. Doc Rivers teams play defense. They just do, and while that doesn’t guarantee that they won’t be abused by the Grizzlies some more, it does guarantee that they’ll put up a fight. That’s exactly what Doc Rivers wants.

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College Football Week 5 Observations. Angry Football Gods Edition.

Georgia Tops LSU In A Shootout 44-41

Yep, the angry football gods. As in the people that the University of Georgia must have pissed off to have a schedule like this one. It’s one of the toughest opening schedules in recent memory. Now part of that is just par for the course when it comes to being an SEC team. They play tough competition in conference play annually. This does not however, make Georgia’s schedule any less preposterous.

They played, Clemson ranked #8 at the time (a game they lost), South Carolina ranked #6 at the time, and after a bit of a respite against North Texas they ran in to the third possible stumbling block in four games. LSU ranked #6 in the nation was going to be a tough test for a Georgia team, that had already taken tough tests.

Thus the hypothesis about the angry football gods. Perhaps Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray spent his offseason kicking puppies or something, because this is one rough way to start a season. However, since the (presumably) puppy kicking Aaron Murray is one hell of a quarterback things turned out okay. Actually, things turned out better than okay. A 3-1 start is a best case scenario considering the circumstances.

Gone are the days of the old defensively driven ground and pound SEC teams of years past. Gone like my respect for people who listen to Drake. Replacing my respect is a slow burning pity. Replacing the old ground and pound game is something much more useful than pity, it’s an all out aerial assault. Georgia versus LSU was representative of this fact as both signal callers were slinging the rock all over the field. Aaron Murray threw for 298 yards and 4 touchdowns and ran for another touchdown, overshadowing his single interception. LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger passed for 372 yards and 3 touchdowns despite a loss.

Georgia receiver Chris Conley was the primary benefactor of Aaron Murray’s generosity, hauling in 5 receptions for 112 yards and a touchdown. He was one of 9 receivers targeted by Murray that game.

Jarvis Landry caught 10 passes from LSU’s Mettenberger, for a total of 372 yards and 3 touchdowns.

There was not a lot to say about either defense because neither team really stopped the other, though the Georgia defense did get the last laugh when the stopped LSU’s final drive to put the game on ice. But when Georgia has 494 yards of total offense with 298 of them through the air, and LSU has 449 total yards of offense with 372 of those yards in the passing game; it is extremely difficult to give either defense credit for anything at all.

The good news for Georgia? They managed to make it through the most difficult part of their schedule. Their next test is more like a quiz compared to others as they take on the Florida Gators four weeks from now. In the mean time, they should seriously consider keeping Aaron Murray away from puppies (allegedly).

Another Big 12 Team Bites The Dust As West Virginia Upsets Oklahoma State

Oklahoma State had found their guy at quarterback. His name is J.W. Walsh and his game is speed. The Cowboys were running an uptempo offense through him and he seemed perfect for it. He does everything fast. Walsh runs fast and throws fast. The perfect formula running through the anemic West Virginia Mountaineers defense, while keeping their even more anemic offense off the field. Right?

Wrong.

Despite the fact that West Virginia was outclassed in every way. They managed to gut out a victory. Now when I say they were outclassed in every way, I do mean every way. West Virginia’s defense had just given up 37 points the week before to Maryland, in the same game the Mountaineer offense was held scoreless. In this game against Oklahoma St., West Virginia was on their third quarterback this season. They were outclassed.

When the game started, it looked like the game everyone was expecting. A lopsided Cowboy victory. Oklahoma State started their attack with quarterback J.W. Walsh picking apart the Mountaineer defense and scoring almost immediately when Walsh found Josh Stewart for a 73 yard touchdown. From here things get interesting.

First, West Virginia’s defense gets a pick six and keeps them in the game.

Then, the third quarterback of the season, the transfer from Florida State who hadn’t even been with his playbook during the summer, Clint Trickett (who looks like Rev3′s Max Scoville with Don Drapers hair) decided to be a game changer. He started off the game looking like he was going to be a manager, nothing exciting, just hang on and hopefully win the game late. To everyone’s surprise (and Oklahoma State’s chagrin) Trickett threw the ball surprisingly well. Any time he found a receiver in one on one coverage, he let the ball fly. While he wasn’t always successful, more than a few of those passes connected and proved costly for the Cowboys.

Finally, the special teams really played a big part in this game. Big special teams plays and snafus rocked the game’s momentum back and forth. From two laughably short punts from the Cowboys’ Kip Smith, which included a 13 yard punt and 16 yard punt that gave West Virginia incredible field position.

I know I keep mentioning Clint Trickett but, he was truly the surprise of the game. I’m not sure which was more impressive, his stat line, 24/50 completed passes for 309 yards and 1 touchdown (despite 2 interceptions), or his grittiness. Trickett left the game in one series to tend to his injured throwing arm , returning in the next series and driving his team all the way down the field, including to 17 yard passes to keep the drive alive and help his team acquire a 30-21 victory of the Oklahoma St. Cowboys.

Ohio State Overcomes First Real Challenge Of Season, Beating Wisconson 31-24

Braxton Miller returned to reclaim his job as starting quarterback of Ohio State and in so doing, proved why he is an early season Heisman candidate. He made a number of throws all over the field. Most of which found their way to his favorite receiver/full-time security blanket Philly Brown.

Wisconsin’s defense actually did a good  job of containing Braxton Miller in the first half, and keeping the Badgers in the game. Unfortunately for the Badgers with moments to go in the second quarter Braxton Miller tossed a touchdown that really broke the back of Wisconsin. The Badgers, not unlike the US government, remained competitive but quite frankly were never a factor.

On a side note Chris Borland, the senior Wisconsin linebacker, was practically omnipresent on the field. He registered 10 solo tackles in the game. Borland seemed to be involved in every defensive play. He broke up passes and stuffed runs. If a guy in a red jersey got hit, the odds that it was Chris Borland hitting him was extremely high.

In the end, Wisconsin didn’t have the fire power to beat Ohio State and they were entirely too conservative. Joel Stave is a good quarterback for the Badgers and he’s got a solid receiver in Jared Abbrederis, who caught 10 passes for 207 yards in the game, but they weren’t enough for Ohio State. There was no way Stave was out dueling Braxton Miller. With about 7:00 minutes to go in the game on 4th down in a short yardage situation, head coach Gary Andersen opted to punt the ball and rely on his defense rather than give the offense an opportunity to continue their drive. By the time they got the ball back from Ohio State, they needed a miracle and were out of timeouts.

Wisconsin is a quality team but, Ohio State has national championship aspirations with all the man power to do it.

Oklahoma Out Runs Notre Dame, Keeps Season On Track

Bob Stoops and his Oklahoma Sooners went into Notre Dame’s house, ransacked their kitchen, watched their TV, and generally took what they wanted. The Notre Dame fighting Irish offered resistance of course but in the same way that Canelo Alvarez’s face offered resistance to Floyd Mayweather’s fists. Not a whole lot. Notre Dame’s quarterback Tommy Rees, God bless his heart, is a smart guy. For a college athlete to make all of the pre snap reads that he does is pretty incredible. Mike Mayock even acknowledged during the broadcast that most college quarterbacks aren’t changing plays at the line as often as Tommy Rees.

Three plays into the game was all it took for the Fighting Irish to realize that none of it mattered. In the third play of the game the Irish defensive line missed a blitzing Sooner, who promptly clobbered Rees from his blind side resulting in an interception. Rees would go on to throw two more interceptions in the half.

The fact of the matter is that Oklahoma was faster than Notre Dame in every facet of the game. This game was won on the ground, and the Sooners dominated there. Running backs Brennan Clay and Damien Williams picked up first down after first down when they got to the edge. Damien Williams was especially dangerous in space. While the Fighting Irish also ran the ball well with George Atkinson who had 148 yards and 1 touchdown, a lot of short yardage situations fell flat because Oklahoma was able to get to Atkinson quickly and bring him down. Notre Dame had 6 rushing first downs.

Under center for the Sooners, was Blake Bell nicknamed the Belldozer because of his 6’6″ and 250 lbs. frame, which he used as a battering ram to pick up first downs for Oklahoma. Bell also did a decent job in the passing game. On one play Bell completed a pass to Lacoltan Bester for a 26 yard touchdown, showing great poise and allowing the play to develop. He had a few errant throws however that I’m sure the Sooners would like him to overcome as he gains experience.

On the defensive side of the ball. The Sooners were faster and they knew it. The interception that I mentioned earlier was returned for a touchdown with a Notre Dame player in sight. In fact, all three of Notre Dame’s early turnovers were turned into Oklahoma points in one way or another. The Sooners played man coverage most of the game and dared Tommy Rees to pick it apart. Because of their speed and his *cough* inaccuracy *cough* Notre Dame was not able to do anything about it. The last time being Irish looked this miserable there was a potato famine. What? No? Oh yeah, the national championship blood bath against Alabama was pretty bad too.

In football the most deadly kind of poison is speed, and Oklahoma gave it to Notre Dame in large uncompromising doses. The football gods had nothing to do with that at all.

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NFL Week 1 Observations. The Better Late Than Never Edition.

Overreactions.

That basic sums up week 1 in the NFL. The teams that lost Sunday looked inept and hope, to quote the great Jim Mora “that they can even win a game.” The teams that won meanwhile, are on top of their divisions and are very much going to win the Super Bowl. That’s how it feels anyway. That’s because with just 16 games in a season and a media that has 24 hours to fill, hyperbole is necessity. The media needs it like Miley Cyrus and attention, and boy does she need attention. But I digress.

Peyton Manning? I Heard He’s Really Good.

It appears that you heard correctly bold subtitle thing. It also appears as though you haven’t been living under a rock. Last Thursday, in the season opener that featured Manning’s Broncos and the defending champion Ravens, Peyton Manning gave a master class in quarterbacking. He got out to a bit of a shaky start and then proceeded to toss an NFL record 7 touchdown passes, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since Joe Kapp with the Vikings back in 1969. The last time someone did without throwing an interception, like Manning did that night, was Y.A. Tittle in 1962. I think the interesting thing here is that Manning appeared to know this off the top of his head. That’s some real student of the game stuff right there.

Also The Ravens Are Full Of Holes, And It Shows.

The defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens start the season on the ropes. I promise you, this is not an overreaction. Joe Flacco seemed to have chemistry with exactly none of his receivers, except maybe Dallas Clark but his hands appeared to be made of bricks, and Joe never found his rhythm. Jacoby Jones who is not only an important part of the offense but special teams as well, was taken out by one of his own players in what can only be described as sheer ineptitude. Jacoby sprained his knee and will be out 2-3 weeks. Baltimore could really use Anquan Boldin at receiver right now but, unfortunately he’s too busy being awesome in San Francisco. Where the Ravens traded him for reasons no one can begin to fathom. Add to that a nonsensical limit to Ray Rice’s touches (adequately screwing over my fantasy team) and I’ll be the first person to tell you I haven’t the foggiest idea what the Ravens are doing.

The defense has holes. They’ve got more holes than swiss cheese, a sieve and Miley Cyrus’s personality put together (zing!). They don’t look bad so much as they looked lost and inept. They made a star out of Julius Thomas who no one had ever heard of, even I presume, Julius Thomas. The NBC analysts Chris Collinsworth and Al Michaels were at a  loss with anything to actually say about the guy, except that he played basketball. Which, to be fair, is more than any of us knew. Especially the Raven’s defense.

The Bills, Cardinals And Raiders Will Be Better Than Everyone Thought.

Everyone believed that the Patriots beat the Bills simply by arriving in Buffalo. Instead Tom Brady & co. won but with way more effort than anyone imagined. It was a nail biter that ended with Tom Brady driving his team down the field to set up the go ahead field goal. But the Bills gave their fans something to be optimistic about this decade. Rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel looked sharp throwing for 150 yards and 2 touchdowns. Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller both looked shifty and hard to hit, both of them using their combined 30 carries to pick up 108 yards.

The Cardinals look like a for real NFL offense for the first time in years. Literally years. Larry Fitzgerald proves that he can be a dynamic player if there is a halfway competent quarterback passing him the ball. Enter Carson Palmer, our friendly neighborhood halfway decent quarterback. He looked impressive throwing for 327 yards and 2 touchdowns, hitting 8 different receivers along the way. Rashard Mendenhall added a bit of a running game and all of a sudden the Cardinals look like they can give any team in the league a run for their money.

Terrelle Pryor a.k.a. Al Davis’ last draft pick proved that the old man could still smell talent. Pryor had a decent outing Sunday. He threw a couple of interceptions but, he passed for 217 yards and a touchdown. Pryor made plays with his feet, specifically he made 112 yards worth of plays with his feet. He kept the Raiders offense on track and gave them a chance to win late. Unfortunately, Andrew Luck is Captain Clutch and stole a victory late for the Colts. Apparently Pryor cried after the game, but honestly, he’s got nothing to cry about he gave the Raiders a chance to win. The Raiders. I would’ve have been shocked if they won more than two games this season. Now, I’d be shocked if they didn’t.

The Philadelphia Eagles Look Fast On Field, Chip Kelly Says They’re “Too Slow.”

The Philadelphia Eagles are going to break a lot of records this season, and they’re all going to be for the most plays run. Under rookie head coach Chip Kelly, the Eagles have adopted a frantic playing style. The Washington Redskins thought they were prepared for this. The were in fact, not prepared for this. Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett (the poor guy) was studying college film in an attempt to prepare for Kelly’s blazing offensive production. It seemed for naught. The Redskins hung in there early but once the Eagles got in the end zone, it seemed like they couldn’t stop scoring. Lesean McCoy and Michael Vick worked together like partners in crime. Two really fast partners in crime, shredding the Redskins tired defense for 24 first half points, while running 53 plays (which is a disturbingly high number of plays). After the game Chip Kelly said to NFL Network’s Aditi Kinkhabwala with a straight face, “I felt like it was slow, to be honest with you.”

Michael Vick said he felt like he played an entire half of football in one quarter. That’s because you did Mike. That’s because you did.

RG3 Looked Like A Rust Bucket For Most Of The Game.

To say Robert Griffin III looked rusty, would be the understatement of the century. He looked like the tin man, if the tin man decided to take frequent baths in the ocean. Griffin was the definition of rust for three quarters of this game. His actions appeared stiff and unsure. His timing with his receivers was off. Passes hilariously overthrown and comically under thrown. He looked like a shell of himself. The only thing about this game that gave Skins any hope for this season was the fourth quarter. Robert was able to find a rhythm and when he did find it, the Eagles seemed unable to stop him. So that’s good.

Packers Try To Stop Kaepernick From Rushing, Ironically Get Picked Apart In The Air.

Well, it’s not like the Packers didn’t succeed in a manner of speaking. Colin Kaepernick only rushed for 22 yards. Unfortunately for the Pack, their defense failed in every other sense of the word. The 49ers quarterback took whatever yardage he wanted from the Packers defense, which turned out to be 412 yards and 3 touchdowns. Clay Matthews got his hit on Colin Kaepernick but may have cost his team the game. There were offsetting penalties, and the officials mistakenly awarded the 49ers another 3rd down instead of the fourth down they were supposed to get. Some people might blame the officials for this. I blame Clay Matthews. His hit on Kaep as he was running out of bounds was stupid, unnecessary and a tad dirty. If he doesn’t to that there isn’t even a mistake for the officials to make.

Anquan Boldin formerly of Ravens fame proved that the Ravens made a mistake in trading him to the 49ers. Joe Flacco’s former favorite target became Colin Kaepernick’s favorite tartget, grabbing 13 passes for a grand total of 208 yards and a touchdown. Boldin had a monstrous difference in the game because when the Packers broke out of their zone a bit to guard him, he still burned them.

Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense put up a very good fight. Rodgers had 333 yards and 3 touchdowns, along with one interception, but the punch that Eddie Lacy was supposed to add to the running game, never came, and Rodgers was up a creek with Jordy Nelson and no paddle. Amazingly, it was almost good enough as the Packers fell 34-28.

Tony Romo’s Has An Offensive Line?

Why, yes he does. In fact, they were quite good. They looked like a cohesive unit for the first time in about 15 years (I’m exaggerating but only mildly). No longer do opposing defensive linemen look like the Juggernaut running through paper maché. They have to actually work  to get to Tony Romo. This provides Romo with more time to look down field than he’s ever had in his life. If you thought he was good before (Romo haters, not one word) wait until you see him have time. The Giants have a pretty good secondary and they couldn’t stop Tony at all. He was slinging the ball all over the yard as he and the Cowboys staved off a late game comeback by the Giants.

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Fear The Blue

Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan describes his show as being ” a story about a man who transforms himself from Mr. Chips into Scarface.” For those of you who haven’t seen Breaking Bad (what is wrong with you? Watch it now!) it is the story of a meek and mild mannered chemistry teacher named Walter White who, after being diagnosed with lung cancer, decides to use his science knowledge to cook meth.

Somewhere between the beginning and the end, Walter White becomes bad. Like really, really, bad. All at once you realize this sad sack of a man, this humble school teacher is the main villain of the show and you’re not quite sure when that happened.

Enter the Los Angeles Dodgers. They started the season in average fashion. Literally. They were a .500 ball club during the month of April winning 13 games and losing 13 games. They were worse the next month posting 10-17 record, which is on par with the Houston Astros. The awful, awful Astros. They were also average in the month of June. A smidgen better but still basically average.

But July? July was the month they put it all together. The Los Angeles Dodgers achieved a National League best 19-7 record. It looked like Mr. Chips was becoming Scarface right before our eyes.  There was no stopping them now. The Dodgers were (and still are) on a roll. They have won, wait for it…41 of their last 50 games. That is so ridiculous and incredible I’m nearly prompted to invent a word but I have too much respect for both myself and the english language.

This start, as it always does and should in baseball, with pitching.

Pitching 

I hope that it’s no secret at this point that Dodger’s ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball. It’s not even close to debatable. Kershaw’s ERA (earned run average) is an astoundingly low 1.80, which is the lowest in the MLB. This year he’s making a strong case for a second Cy Young award to add to his trophy case. His low ERA combined with his league best WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) 0.85, is solid proof that if you are a batter facing Clayton Kershaw, the odds are very greatly against you hitting the ball, much less getting on base. Clayton’s 4-seam fastball is the nail in the coffin for most batters.

Zack Greinke is my favorite pitcher, and not just because he’s a top 15 pitcher. He’s my favorite because he’s tough. Zack Greinke will never back down from a fight.  Which he clearly demonstrated when a pitch got a way from him and hit Carlos Quentin of the Padres earlier this season. An enraged Quentin, charged the mound, and in the ensuing tangle caused Greinke’s collar bone to fracture. Zack Greinke did not back down. Which wasn’t great for the team at the time since they missed they way he retired batters and dominated games with his  fastball. However, the Dodgers have back their 2.81 ERA man , and he’s got 12 wins for the team.

How do you spell underrated? You spell it Hyun-Jin Ryu. How do you pronounce it? Don’t ask me that. What I do know is that the young pitcher from Korea, Hyun-Jin has a 95 mph fastball that has location to back up it’s speed. That 2.85 ERA is no joke either.  The man can pitch and when he does, the Dodgers roll.

Batting

There’s nothing scarier than a well rounded team thus, the scariest thing about the Dodgers is that they can pitch and hit. The Dodger’s team batting average is .268 and their on base percentage is .331, making them top 5 in both statistical categories. They are also 15th in the MLB in RBIs (runs batted in) with 496 so far this season. This makes them a nightmare to pitch against despite the fact that they don’t hit a lot of home runs,  because they are always generating points.

If the Dodgers could be reduced down to one man on the team, that man would be Andre Ethier. He’s the prototypical 2013 Dodger. He’s got 45 RBIs this season, gets on base pretty frequently with an OBS of .361 (which is a Dodger season high) and he’s batting .288, so by all accounts a good season. Ethier is extremely consistent. He’s as rock solid as they come and in fact, has been his entire career.

Adrian Gonzalez celebrates the winning run. (Associated Press/Mark J. Terrill)

Adrian Gonzalez in his first season as a Dodger has been the team’s most reliable offensive threat. He’s batting .299, making him one of the best hitters in the league right now. His patience at the plate is on of the key reasons for this. Gonzalez, to be blunt, just knows when to swing. He’s used his knack for making contact with the ball to get players in scoring position home. He’s got 78 RBIs tying him for 16th in the league. The Dodgers received Gonzalez last year in a trade with the Red Sox in an attempt to win right away. I’d say it worked out just fine.

There are rookies and then there are super rookies. You know the guys; RG3, Lebron James, and Mike Trout. Athletic freaks of nature that are incredibly good at what they do. So, I present for you consideration, Yasiel Puig.  On June 2nd the Dodgers called up their 22 year old rookie from their double-A team, the Chattanooga Lookouts. In just 70 games Puig is looking like a star. He’s already got 12 home runs this season, he bats .346 and is a quality outfielder. Already. Very rarely does this guy look like a rookie.

Matt Kemp deserves a mention. He got injured July 21st and should return sometime in September according to Manager Don Mattingly. Kemp was having another solid season for the Dodgers. Matt Kemp’s return may complicate a few things for the Dodgers though. With Kemp they have to find a way for 4 outfielders to play, but there are only 3 outfield positions. With Andre Ethier, Yasiel Puig and Carl Crawford playing at the level that they are, Don Mattingly will have to figure out what to do with this team.

Are the Dodgers the best team? The Braves might have something to say about that. There’s no denying it though. The Dodgers are baseball’s hottest team. Los Angeles can hit with the best of them and, pitch better than the best of them. They’re dangerous title contenders, and are not to be taken lightly. Watch your back Atlanta. Scarface has arrived.

 

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Young Teams Rise In The East

The thing about the NBA is that, very much like pop music, it’s all about star power. That, and depth I suppose, but mostly star power. Almost always in the NBA, the team with the best stars win. You could build a band with Ringo Starr and Ronnie Wood if you wanted to but, I’d imagine that Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger sell the tickets. Likewise, it’s not impossible to build a good team with Chris Bosh and Joakim Noah but, the star power lies with Lebron James and Derrick Rose.

The NBA’s eastern conference has had a bit of a shake up in the last couple of years. A few stars have changed teams, and hopefully a few future stars have been drafted into the league. This has given some teams in the east the ability to, for the first time in years, make it to the playoffs.

Wizards point guard John Wall (left) and Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving (right).

The Cleveland Cavaliers are going to be in post season contention if they can stay healthy. They have a number of pieces at their disposal and some potential stars. They’ve made some moves that give them an opportunity to be in the post season for the first time since Lebron James left.

Two years in, and Kyrie Irving is an emerging star. He’s an extremely reliable scorer, has handles for days, is great in crunch time and has court vision to boot. Apart from making Jason Kidd, Brandon Knight and Damian Lillard look silly; Kyrie specializes in shooting. He shoots the ball very well from basically everywhere on the floor. While he does lack a strong defensive presence, he always a threat on offense getting easy shots for both himself and his teammates.

Andrew Bynum is an all star caliber center who averages a double-double when healthy. His biggest problem being, of course, that he is not always healthy (or ever; in the case of the Philadelphia 76ers who never once saw Bynum play a regular season game in their uniform). Andrew Bynum is the perfect example of a player that is worth the risks taken on him. He’s a legitimate 7 footer with a variety of useful and often times crafty post moves. While Andrew Bynum may have red flags concerning his maturity but, he is worth the risk if he plays up to his potential.

Anthony Bennett is the number 1 overall pick in this year’s draft. This came as a surprise to many but, not too surprising since Cleveland general manager Chris Grant tends to be, shall we say, unconventional in his moves at times. The Cavaliers hope that Bennett can bring the athleticism that he showed when he played at UNLV. Bennett is explosive and is capable of finishing above the rim. He’s got a quick first step and speed when running the open floor. Anthony Bennett is not a consistent jump shooter and doesn’t play active defense, those are coachable issues however. Look for Bennett to contribute right away.

Not to be forgotten: Dion Waiters 14.7 ppg 2.4 rpg

The Detroit Pistons are ready to put their previously disappointing seasons behind them. General manager Joe Dumars through some form of magic (most likely) has found a way to keep his job despite putting together a myriad of bad teams. These bad teams directly preceded the  team that won an NBA Finals in the 2003-2004 season and had four other conference finals appearances, that Dumars also built. In a return to form, Joe Dumars has made a number of shrewd moves in the offseason in an attempt to bring the Pistons back to prominence.

Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond have a lot in common. They are both versatile big men. Both are 6’10″ and are both highlights waiting to happen. They move well on the fast break. They are both smart and willing passers. Greg Monroe has 3 NBA season under his belt while Andre Drummond just wrapped up his rookie season. Monroe played 33 minutes a game to Drummond’s 20 minutes most likely because they occupy roughly the same place on the floor, and Andre is a rookie. Both show a lot of promise and skill.

Josh Smith is more than capable of being an all star. He isn’t but he could be. Josh Smith has strength not unlike a bull. When he attacks the basket he’s difficult to slow down. On the low block, he’s a nightmare to defend. He’s athletic and has tremendous leaping ability. The Pistons were able to acquire the former Hawks forward for a relatively affordable 4 year $56 million. If Josh Smith had a downside, it would be his tendency to settle for jumpers. He’s big, strong and fast yet is completely satisfied with taking some bad 10-15 foot jump shots.

Brandon Jennings (since we’re on the subject of bad jump shots) joins the Pistons roster via a sign and trade with the Milwaukee Bucks. In exchange the Bucks got point guard Brandon Knight. In Brandon Jennings the Pistons get a bit of a boost in scoring ability. Jennings is more of a volume shooter but he has his nights where he scores extremely well. He’s left handed and unsurprisingly goes to his left a lot; he avoids finishing with his right hand almost to the point of phobia. Brandon Jennings is a much better passer than he gets credit for, even averaging 6.5 assists per game on a team with Monta Ellis on it. Jennings is an improvement at the point guard position and is a better fit than Brandon Knight for this team.

Not to be forgotten: Chauncey Billups 8.4 ppg, 2.2 apg

The Washington Wizards believe this is the year they can make it to the post season. They’ve dealt with everything from bad injuries to just having bad players. This year their roster is stronger than it’s been in a long while giving them hope that they can end a very long drought. They haven’t been to the playoffs since 2007 and haven’t won a playoff series in about 25 years.

John Wall signed a 5 year $80 million deal with the Wizards earlier this summer. This is the maximum amount of money that he could have been paid. While Wall’s career numbers thus far do not justify this pay day, the Wizards believe that he can be an all star caliber point guard in the NBA. 2013 saw a marked improvement in Wall’s jump shot, which is still a work in progress. Wall at 6’4″ is a big point guard yet, he has incredible speed and is capable of going baseline to baseline in under 6 seconds. His jumper is his biggest barrier. At this point nobody takes it seriously. What is taken seriously is his court vision, passing ability and speed that leaves defenders standing still. Wall is also a very good defender.

Bradley Beal just finished his rookie season and it was very impressive. He’s an accurate shooter who, if given any daylight at all, can score at will. Beal can attack the basket both on the fast break, and in the half court. He runs through screens effeciently. Bradley Beal’s biggest draw back is ball handling. He’s not bad but when John Wall was injured earlier in the season he did not seem comfortable in the position of primary ball handler. However, his off ball skills are not to be over looked.

Otto Porter the rookie from Georgetown is a player in development. He looked like the most anemic of the rookies drafted this year when he participated in NBA Summer League play. He is adapting to a new offense and a new role. The Wizards re-signed veteran Martell Webster who plays the same position as Porter, so Otto shouldn’t have too much pressure on him early. He will likely not start. Otto Porter is extremely long and his huge wingspan gives him a defensive advantage. Otto was a good defender in college and an extremely scrappy player diving on the floor for loose balls, actually boxing out and sticking with broken plays.

Not to be forgotten: Nene 12.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg

All of these teams are either trying to develop stars or acquire them. That’s what it takes to win in the NBA. They are on the right track to get to the playoffs and to maybe one day compete for a title.

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The Mighty Braves

The Atlanta Braves are a tough team to beat right now and it’s got nothing to do with the Waffle House. The Waffle House in question opened at Turner field and coincided with Atlanta’s extremely recent 14 game winning streak.

It does have everything to do with their dominant hitting and pitching. The Braves have a league best 72-46 record. They are absolutely man-handling the NL East. I don’t want to say they’re the team to beat but, c’mon, are you blind? They are absolutely the team to beat (despite some very good baseball coming from the Dodgers as of late). This team is peaking at the right time and there’s no argument against it, they’re playing playoff baseball right now.

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Mike Minor works in the second inning of a baseball game against the Miami Marlins in Atlanta, Sunday, Aug. 11, 2013. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Pitching The only team pitching better than the Atlanta Braves are the Pittsburgh Pirates (in terms of team ERA anyway). The Braves boast a team ERA of 3.20, allowing only 372 runs all year long. What’s more at 1.18 they have the best WHIP(walks and hits per innings pitched) in the major leagues. They are led by Mike Minor and Julio Teheran who are both pitching out of their minds. They both rank among the top 20 in the MLB in ERA.

Minor has a 12-5 record this season with a 2.87 ERA. He’s been pitching like a stud. He’s got a great fastball and does a great job of dominating the corners of the strike zone. He may have just filled the role as the team’s ace.

Julio Teheran is just 22 years old but he’s certainly trending upward. With a 2.96 ERA, Julio is pitching with the best of them. He also has a great fastball. He’s got quite a bit of savvy for his age and is capable of dominating a game when he gets going.

Atlanta Braves’ Freddie Freeman, right, gets a hugs from teammate B.J. Upton after hitting three-run home run in the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Miami Marlins in Atlanta, Sunday, Aug. 11, 2013. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Hitting The Braves can hit. They’ve scored 525 runs this year which is 7th in the Majors and as a team they’ve hit 141 home runs which makes them 3rd in the MLB. The Braves have offensive fire power and are capable of jumping up to sizable leads very quickly. Their pitchers protect these leads, which is yet another reason why they’re are hard to beat. Oh by the way, Atlanta is 9th in On Base Percentage.

The Braves are led by first baseman Freddie Freeman. He’s batting .313 this season with an OBP of .393, putting him at 7th in the MLB and he’s got 74 RBIs.

Chris Johnson has got the best batting average on the team. His average is .336 and he’s got 121 hits which is pretty good.

I think Justin Upton is the key because he is so solid. He’s bats a solid .267,  he’s got 22 home runs which is really good and he’s scored 74 runs which is ridiculously good. In short, Justin Upton is good at his job.

When all of these pieces are put together they make a team that is capable of getting players in scoring position, and then getting them home. If you recall, the Braves have scored 525 runs this year. That’s a lot of runs. There’s a reason why they can do that. They have players who put them in positions to score frequently. Even a guy like Dan Uggla, who doesn’t hit particularly well has 21 home runs this season. When he does make contact with the ball, it’s leaving the park. Period.

So here are the ingredients. Lethal pitching, consistent hitting and scoring, followed by an enviable home record of 40-16 (you read that correctly, the Braves have won 71% of their home games). It only makes one thing. A recipe of disaster for any opposing team.

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An Open Letter To RGIII: Please Stop Talking.

I need to preface this by stating that I’m a Redskins fan. I have been since 1999, which is more than half of my life at this point. I should also mention that because of this fact, I really like Robert Griffin III. He’s the best player on my favorite team. So that makes sense. What I’m about to say, given my fandom, will not. You don’t bash the guy who gave your favorite team it’s first divisional title in 13 years (which is my entire time as a Redskins fan). However, I don’t feel like I would be doing my job if I ignored this.

(redskins.com)

Dear Robert,

Shut up. Please. I understand that you have recovered from your knee injury faster than anyone could have anticipated. Which is great for all of us because we get to see one of the league’s exciting young players back in action. That’s great. What’s not great though is the incessant whining that the coaches aren’t letting you do enough, sooner.

We get it. You’re an uber-competitor, with the will to win and we all applaud that…sort of. What you fail to understand is that the coaching staff is under a lot of pressure to get this right. So going to the media and telling them that you want to move from 7 on 7 team drills to the full 11 on 11, is neither the time nor the place. When you do things like that, you put them in a bit of a catch-22. If they start you and (God forbid) something bad happens they get blamed, if they don’t and something bad happens they get blamed. This is why you do not air your dirty laundry to the media.

The coaching staff will be extra careful in bringing you along because you’re the franchise. In the city of Washington, that’s everything. The Redskins are everything. Your knees are the most important knees in that entire city. Yes, even more important than President Obama’s knees.

While one would think that you are best qualified to speak on the subject of your own knee, I respectfully disagree. If memory serves correctly, the last time we listened to you say you were ready to play, you were collapsed in a depressing heap at FedEx Field with Redskins fans the world over holding their collective breaths. Present company included. We already look forward to seeing you week 1 against the Eagles. It is going to be the first of 16 games that I will watch all year in which my heart is firmly planted in my throat.

So, what’s the rush? Let the coaches do their job. Don’t add any more pressure than there has to be. I think that’s what everybody wants.

-Keon R., Sports Cloud

P.S.- Have a good season and keep beating the Cowboys. That never gets old.

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Jay Bilas Exposes NCAA Shop, Defends Justice.

Go to the NCAA Shop now. Here’s the link: http://www.shopncaasports.com/

Do you see a search bar? No? That’s because there isn’t one. The NCAA Shop disabled it after ESPN analyst Jay Bilas did some searches of players on it’s site. This is important because the NCAA claims not to make money off of players names and likenesses. Yet a simple search on the site proved that this isn’t the case. Typing in a player’s name in the search bar led directly to the correct team and corresponding jersey number.

Does it matter that the player in question was suspended? Or if they are currently being investigated for alleged rule breaking?

Nope . . .

. . . and nope.

This is the NCAA that won’t allow college athletes to sell their own memorabilia under the facade of amateurism. This is the NCAA that suspends them and slaps them on the wrist for doing so and then turns around and sells, what is essentially their name and likeness online. That’s not even the really unfair part. The part that is truly unfair is that there isn’t a whole lot the student athletes can do about it. Not Manziel, nor Bridgewater, nor Clowney. None of them can really stop it. Besides the media no one can hold the NCAA accountable.

As long as fans buy merchandise and video games and the like, it’s the players who get continually screwed. Fans feed the machine. Specifically, the money of fans feed the machine. The NCAA doesn’t care about the spirit of the game or protecting amateurism. They care about having your money in their pocket without having to pay the people that get it there. I’m all for fair but, does that sound fair to you?

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