Monday, June 22, 2009
Sunday, June 21, 2009
Rafael Nadal will be able to defend his Wimbledon title this week because of knee problems, so that obviously makes Roger Federer the overwhelming favorite to win his 6th Wimbledon, and he should be able to reclaim his #1 ranking in the process. Federer isn’t the only player who benefits from this injury though. The draw was made prior to Nadal withdrawing from the tournament, so it has been shuffled a bit with a few seeds moving. Juan Martin Del Potro moves up to Nadal’s spot in the draw. Del Potro is still the #5 seed, but moving him into Nadal’s spot makes him a top 4 seed, so he is the top seed in his quarter. James Blake moves into Del Potro’s spot. This is a huge break for Blake. He is seeded 17th in the tournament, which would have matched him up against the 10th seeded Fernando Gonzalez in the 3rd round, now he is matched up with 29th seeded Igor Andreev, who is a clay courter, and has only gotten to the third round once on the lawns.
The other player who benefits from Nadal’s absence is Andy Roddick. Nadal was in his quarter, with Nadal out, Roddick should be able to get out of that part of the draw and reach the semifinals against Andy Murray. He could have a couple of tricky matches along the way, but I think he should survive, although he has failed to reach the second week of the tournament in 2 of the last 3 years, but Roddick has had a good ’09 reaching the semis in Australia, and getting to the second week of the French Open.
I think 2 more players will benefit from the Nadal withdrawal and it comes from that first quarter of the draw. Lleyton Hewitt and Robby Ginepri will meet in the first round. The winner would have had to play Nadal, now they will likely get Del Potro, a much better matchup. I wouldn’t be surprised if the winner of that first round match, likely Hewitt makes a decent run.
Friday, June 19, 2009
Friday, June 12, 2009
When Kobe Bryant fouled Dwight Howard down 3 with 11 seconds left in 4th period, the first thing I thought of was Nick Anderson against the Rockets. The biggest difference, of course, was that Anderson missed 4 free throws; Howard only missed 2. What happened afterwards was also basically the same as in 1995. You had the worst player on the floor make a game tying 3. Of course in ’95 the play was drawn up for Kenny Smith because he had the greatest game of his career, which almost makes us forget how average a player Kenny Smith was in his NBA career. If you go by game 1 against Orlando in ’95 you would have thought that Hakeem Olajuwon rode Kenny Smith to 2 championships. Fortunately Charles Barkley reminds us it was the other way around.
Anways, Orlando was up 87-82 with less than 40 seconds left, only to be outscored 17-4 during the last 40 seconds and in overtime. I don’t know if it’s a choke, but I am OK with people calling it that. Orlando has taken leads early in both overtimes of this series, and then they just stop scoring. The Lakers are going to win this series, but I think Orlando will win game 5 because David Stern will want the extra game, just kidding Mr. Commissioner (Although I don’t think he could find me in Casper if he wanted too). This series has that very familiar feel where the team with home court wins games 1 and 2, loses game 3, wins a close game 4 to go up 3-1, but then they lose game 5 and close out the series at home. It happened last year with Boston and with the Lakers back in 2000, something they talked about after the game tonight. However, the Spurs in this same situation closed out the Knicks at the Garden in 1999.
Here are some thoughts I had on what was a great game 4:
- I didn’t think that Rafer Alston was terrible, but I don’t think Stan Van Gundy believed that he could win that game with Alston, especially after the awful 3rd period they played with Alston running the point. I also think that Stan thinks his best chances are with a good Jameer Nelson, and the only way for Nelson to approach the level he was at before the injury is to just let him play, and he did that in game 4, and it worked. Nelson played great once he got extended minutes for the first time since game 1, when he wasn’t quite ready. I think Van Gundy will have a very short leash with Rafer the rest of the series.
- J.J. Reddick was terrific in the second period. The shooting wasn’t great, but he made things happen, and it bought the Magic some time after Mikael Pietrus was on pace to foul out early in the 3rd period.
- For as good as Dwight Howard was on the defensive end, he was worse on the offensive end. 7 Turnovers for the second time in the series. He is averaging over 4 turnovers a game. He also killed them with his free throw shooting for the first time in a long time.
- I hope the Magic fired whoever was supposed to get Rashard Lewis to the Arena.
- Trevor Ariza was the reason the Lakers won this game. He brought them back in the 3rd period.
- Kobe Bryant did not play well, and he hasn't played well now in 3 straight games. 32 points on 31 shots is not good. I know he had 8 assists again, but still. He's going to be the MVP of the series, but he doesn't deserve it. Ariza, Odom, and Gasol should share it.
- Orlando had 17 turnovers, the Lakers had just 7, it amazes me, and it has the entire postseason how well the Lakers take care of the ball. They are a great team because they don't waste possessions with turnovers, and they keep them alive by getting offensive rebounds. The game is a lot easier when you take more shots than your opponent.
- I can't wait until I don't have to talk about how worthless Andrew Bynum is. Kobe looks like he wants to strangle him.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Jamie Dixon appears to be USC’s top choice to replace Tim Floyd as the head coach at USC. I don’t think there is anyway he takes that job. Other thought to be in the mix are Reggie Theus, who is from Southern California, and Larry Eustachy, who replaced Floyd at Iowa State 11 years ago. It appears that Jeff Van Gundy is also in the mix, and is possibly the Trojans second choice if/when Dixon says no. Can anyone imagine Jeff Van Gundy coaching in college?
I think he wants to get back into coaching, and I’m not sure if an NBA job will ever come around for him. He hasn’t been out of the first round of the playoffs since 2000, and it will be hard for him to get the kind of money he wants with that sort of resume, especially with the NBA taking some financial hits. That’s why I can see Van Gundy going to the college game, but should he?
Coaching in college is so different than the NBA, that’s why so many coaches have trouble with the transition. The role of a college coach is so different than a pro coach. As an NBA coach, your one focus is on coaching your team. That is what Van Gundy is great at. He works hard, and he’s focused, but there are so many other things that a college coach has to do. You have to deal with boosters and alumni. You have to make all sorts of public appearances, and that’s during the season. I can’t see him taking time away from watching tape to go to some athletic department fundraiser during the season.
Don’t forget about the players. First of all you have limited practice time in NCAA basketball. Coaching kids is a lot different than coaching pros. I can see him getting very frustrated dealing with his players because they won’t be able to do the things he is used to asking his players to do. Also can you see Jeff Van Gundy recruiting high school kids? I think he could be good at it, but he will hate it. I just don’t see Jeff Van Gundy enjoying coaching in the college game, especially since he has spent the last 20 years in the NBA. I think USC should go with Reggie Theus.
Former Astros pitcher Randy Johnson picked up the 300th win of his career last week in Washington. He is now the 24th pitcher in history to reach the 300 club. I think he should go down as the best pitcher of his era. He was certainly the most dominant. The things he accomplished in his career, especially in the last 10 years are truly remarkable. He won the NL Cy Young award his first 4 seasons in Arizona. In 5 of his first 6 seasons in Arizona he pitched more than 240 innings, and never had an ERA over 2.65.
After winning game 6 in the 2001 World Series, he came back the next night and threw an inning in a third to keep the Diamondbacks within a run of the Yankees late in that game, which they eventually won. He was the winning pitcher in games 6 and 7 of that World Series. He also threw a shutout in game 2.
I will always remember him for the 2-month stint he had in 1998 as an Astro. C.C. Sabathia was dominant with the Brewers last season, but Johnson was better. He made 11 starts, went 10-1 with an ERA of 1.28. He threw 4 shutouts, and struck out 116 batters in 84 1/3 innings. July 31, 1998 was quite possibly the most extraordinary day in the history of the Houston Astros. The Mariners were bad, Johnson was not having a good season, he was going to be a free agent at the end of the season, and it looked like Seattle was going to trade him. The Yankees and Indians were the 2 best teams in the American League, and it looked like if he was going to get traded it would be to one of those 2 teams. The Astros, who were a good team was said to be involved in talks, but nobody thought it was serious. I remember watching Baseball Tonight that Friday night of the deadline, and the Mariners were playing at home against the Yankees, and that was going to be the Sunday night game. To make things even better, Johnson said he was going to pitch Sunday regardless of whom he was playing for. How perfect for ESPN. They have Yankees/Mariners, and Randy Johnson could pitch against the Mariners, that is called a ratings hit.
On Baseball Tonight every few minutes they kept showing shots of Johnson sitting in a chair right next to the exit of the Mariners dugout, so everyone is waiting to see if he actually gets up because that means that he got traded. Finally right after the deadline passes, they show Lou Pinella walking up to Johnson, whispering something in his ear, and then Johnson gets up and walks towards the clubhouse. When word came down that he was getting traded to the Astros, there was a sense of shock, not only to me, but also to the rest of the baseball world. The Astros were on their way to make the playoffs for the second straight year, but they were pretty much ignored. It really was a trade that shook up baseball. The Yankees and Indians were had two of the biggest payrolls in baseball, and for the Astros to swoop in and get Johnson was stunning. First the first time since I had become a fan (1991) the Astros were a team that was being talked about on a national level, that was certainly evident as Randy Johnson was on the cover of Sports Illustrated just a few days later. It was the first time an Astro had ever been on the SI cover.
The trade also did wonders for the Astros locally, and I believe that is started Houston’s transition to a baseball town. Houston had no football team, and the Rockets were unable to advance past the first round of the playoffs for the first time in 6 years, Clyde Drexler retired, and the rest of the team was either bad or old. They had a golden opportunity to transform the city, and they took it. In the 5 years in between the Oilers exit and the Texans arrival, The Astros went to the playoffs 4 times. 2000, the only year in that span they missed the playoffs they opened a new stadium. In 1998 the Astros beat the average MLB attendance by 57,000 fans. That was because of the excitement Johnson brought to the team. It was the first time they had been above the big league average since 1981. They haven’t been below the MLB average in any season since.
Even though the Astros flopped in the 1998 postseason, and Johnson signed with the Diamondbacks that offseason, the Johnson trade was the most important move the Astros ever made in the Biggio/Bagwell era. It put that team on the map. It showed the club was serious about winning. It made guys want to play for the Astros because they knew that the organization would make the bold move when given the opportunity. The Astros don’t have the success of the Clemens years without the Johnson trade. The Astros are also the #1 team in Houston, and they have Randy Johnson to thank for it.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Why? I just don’t get it. The Kings just hired a 58-year-old guy who was fired after less than 3 seasons in Seattle almost 10 years ago. After Seattle he went to Pepperdine and made the NCAA Tournament his first season, the only time he did so in 5 seasons, and was fired after going 7-20 his last season. This is who the Kings chose to be their head coach? This hire has no chance to succeed. They only guaranteed him 2 years, I would be shocked if he is still the coach after 2 seasons. I understand that Sacramento is not a good situation right now, and they have no money and less talent, but have a plan in place. Get a young coach in there who can grow with their young players. There are so many young assistants that want to be head coaches, and will be enthusiastic and a guy that fans can get behind. That isn’t the case with Paul Westphal.
Kobe Bryant did not play well in the 4th period of game 3, so Michael Wilbon decided to make a closer reference, since Kobe Bryant is the best closer in all of basketball. I don't have the video of it, but Wilbon basically said that in the 4th period of game 3 Bryant was more like Brad Lidge than Mariano Rivera.
Before this series started I told you that these teams were very evenly matched. That looked stupid after the first game, but I am being proven right after the last 2 games, which have been outstanding. Even though Orlando shot an incredible 62%, they can be better offensively. They still haven’t had that game where they barrage the Lakers with 3’s. They only made 5 of them in game 3, and even more surprising, they took just 14. The Lakers defense was bad, and Orlando moved the ball well. The Lakers let them get in rhythm early, and they were never able to get them out of it. I said before the series that Rafer Alston was the key for Orlando. When he plays well they win, when he doesn’t they lose. Pretty simple. Dwight Howard had just 1 turnover, after 7 in game 2. I also was impressed with the Orlando crowd. That building was tough to play in back in 1995 when the Magic went 39-2 in the regular season. It had that sort of feel to it, although should they really have Nick Anderson front and center before the game? I think that would be the equivalent of Scott Norwood getting the crowd fired up at a Bills game.
Friday, June 5, 2009
On Sunday morning, for the 4th straight year, Roger Federer will attempt to join Agassi is the career grand slam club, as well as tie Pete Sampras for the most grand slam championships in history. The 4 previous years, Federer's French Open runs have been ended by Rafael Nadal. That obstacle isn't there this year. The last hurdle Fed needs to clear is Robin Soderling of Sweden, who came into the tournament ranked outside the top 20. Soderling eliminated Nadal last week. The question is, do you take anything away from Federer if he wins the French without beating Nadal.
The answer is no. What Federer can accomplish with a win Sunday is almost unheard of. Only 5 players have done it all time. Pete Sampras never did it, he really never came close, and he is considered to be the greatest player of all time. Winning the career grand slam in men's tennis is a remarkable feat. To have your game translate to all 4 surfaces rarely happens. Aside from Agassi, nobody in the last 25 years has really been a threat at all 4 slams. Look around the game now, Nadal could, but nobody else has a chance. It would be an amazing accomplishment, I don't care who he does and doesn't beat.
Before the series I said that game 1 could be a must-win game for Orlando. There is a good reason for that. In the last 125 best-of-7 playoff series, the home team has won the first game 90 times. That team has gone onto win the series 79 times, that is almost 88%. Home teams that win game 1 are 7-0 in this season. This is pretty easy to explain. The teams that have home court are almost always the better team, so when the road team loses game 1, they are forced to win 4 of the next 6 games against a team that is better than them. 11 of the last 13 home teams to win game 1 of the finals have gone onto win the series, the two teams that lost were Utah in 1998, and Dallas in 2006. Road teams that win game 1 are 18-17 in the series, 4-3 this postseason.
Everyone says that game 2 is a must win for Orlando, but to be honest with you, game 1 statistically is just as important. Including this season the team with home court advantage has held serve in the first 2 games 70 times. They have won 64 of those series (91%). The Lakers chances of winning this series only go up 3% if they go up 2-0.
What if Orlando wins Sunday night? Of the last 125 best-of-7 series, 51 have been tied 1-1 after 2 games. The team that began the series with home court advantage is 33-18 (65%). Since 1991 the Finals have been tied 1-1 seven times. The team that began the series with home court is 5-2. By the way, 2004 was the last time an NBA Finals has been tied 1-1,that is unfortunate for the league.
In summation, before the series, because they had home court advantage the Lakers had a 77% chance of winning the series. Because they won game 1, their chances go up to 88%. If they win game 2, those chances go up to 91%, but if Orlando wins game 2, their chances go down to 65%.
Sometimes statistics don’t lie.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
After game 1, Phil Jackson said that basketball games can turn on a dime. It certainly did in the Lakers rout of Orlando. With 8:32 left in the 2nd period, Orlando is up 5, LA calls a timeout. From there on out the game was all Lakers. Coming out of the timeout they immediately went on a 10-0 run. The Magic was held scoreless for over 4 minutes. The Lakers outscored Orlando 25-10 the last 8:32 of the first half. Orlando scored just 15 points in the 3rd period, and were never competitive. Here are my thoughts on Game 1:
- Kobe Bryant was fantastic. I love how the Lakers get him the ball at the elbow, instead of outside the 3-point line. The Magic need to try and deny him the ball, or run another defender at him once he catches it.
- Lamar Odom was terrific. He didn't shoot it great, but he made up for it at the defensive end.
- Rashard Lewis played incredibly soft. I think the Lakers are going to take advantage of that matchup the entire series.
- Marcin Gortat was outstanding when Dwight Howard picked up his 2nd foul in the first period. A friend of mine said before the series that he thinks they should be on the floor at the same time, to give them another presence inside. Orlando tried it in the second, but Stan Van Gundy said he didn't think he would do it again. I don't think I would either because I'm not sure if they compliment each other, but I do think that we could see a little more Tony Battie because he won't clog the lane on offense because he can make the 15-18 foot jumper.
- I thought Jameer Nelson should not have played the entire 2nd period. He hasn't played in 4 months, so I think asking him to play 12 straight minutes in an NBA Finals game in his first game back is asking a little too much.
- Andrew Bynum played well early, but he continues to take himself out of games because of foul trouble. Once he picked up his 2nd foul he was ineffective.
- Hedo Turkoglu made his first 3 shots, and then missed his last 8.
- The good Lamar Odom needs to show up
- Trevor Ariza and the point guards have to make open jumpers
- Guard the 3-point line
- The good Rafer Alston needs to show up
- They have to keep Kobe out of the lane
- They can't let Pau Gasol get easy second chance points
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Coaches: Phil Jackson vs Stan Van Gundy
This could easily be m favorite matchup of the entire series. These are both great coaches, but could they be more different? Phil Jackson is tall, Stan Van Gundy is short. I am 5-6, and I am almost eye-to-eye with Van Gundy. Throughout most of the game Phil Jackson sits calmly on the bench, while Stan Van Gundy is up marching around, yelling and screaming, with his arms practically sewn across his chest. The biggest difference between the 2 is that Jackson has 9 NBA championships, Van Gundy has none. I think Stan might be the better overall coach, but experience and track record wins out on this.
Point Guard: Derek Fisher/Jordan Farmar/Shannon Brown vs Rafer Alston/Anthony Johnson
I know it looks like Jameer Nelson may play in this series, but I am ignoring that right now. The Laker point guards did a nice job against Denver after the disaster that was the Rockets series for them. They need that sort of consistent effort out of them in this series. I really like Rafer Alston, and I think he could be the key in this series for Orlando. LA will help off of Rafer, so it will be important that he makes shots. He is more than capable of stepping and doing that, the key for him is avoiding those dreadful 1-9 nights like he had in game 5 against the Cavs. I also like Anthony Johnson as a guy who can come off the bench and create his own offense. He can’t do that for an entire game, but he can do that in spurts.
Shooting Guard: Kobe Bryant vs Courtney Lee/Mickael Pietrus
Bryant did whatever he wanted against Denver. Dahntay Jones didn’t play enough, and J.R. Smith had no chance. The Lakers will obviously have an advantage at this spot in this series, but its not as big of an advantage as it was against Denver. Pietrus is an excellent defender as he showed in the last series, and Lee is Orlando’s second best perimeter defender. LeBron James is impossible to stop from getting to the basket, that was what got Dwight Howard into foul trouble. As you saw in the Rockets series, a great defender can keep Kobe Bryant out of the paint, which will keep him off the free throw line, and keep Dwight Howard out of foul trouble. The hard thing about guarding Kobe, is that he is a much better shooter than LeBron, so even if you force him into a tough jump shot, there is a real good chance he will make it. Battier did a great job on Kobe in game 2, but still got lit up because it isn’t always possible to stop him, even when you do a great job on him.
Small Forward: Trevor Ariza/Luke Walton vs Hedo Turkoglu
Walton played great on Friday night in Denver, but he likely won’t play more than 15 minutes a game, although you could see him more if the Lakers play small, which I expect them to do, more on that later. Ariza is the Lakers best defender and he matches up with Hedo’s size better than most opponents, but most of his offensive game comes from open jumpers, so I don’t think the Lakers will take advantage of Hedo’s issues playing defense. He will be left open a lot; if he makes shots the Lakers will win. This will be a tougher matchup for Hedo than Delonte West was. Turkoglu wasn’t great against Cleveland, but he is the key to their offense. He needs to be aggressive, and not settle for jumpers early on.
Power Forward & Center: Pau Gasol/Lamar Odom/Andrew Bynum vs Rashard Lewis/Dwight Howard/Marcin Gortat
The front court is where this series gets interesting, so I am going to do the centers and PF’s together. I don’t think Pau Gasol can guard Rashard Lewis. We saw Cleveland’s bigs try and chase him around in the last series, and they couldn’t do it. The difference with LA is that they can play small, where Cleveland couldn’t. I don’t know if Lamar Odom will start in this series, but he will play starters minutes, and he will have to be consistent. It will be interesting to see how much Andrew Bynum plays in this series. I don’t think he has a chance against Howard, and I think he will pick up fouls in bunches. If I’m Phil Jackson, I think I try and match Howard and Lewis with Odom and Gasol as much as possible, even though I don’t think Gasol is strong enough for Howard. I would also think about playing Walton and Ariza at the same time in place of Odom, instead of going to Bynum. It think its important that the Lakers matchup with Orlando on the perimeter, and to be honest, I think the Lakers are better when Bynum doesn’t play. Defensively for the Magic, I think they should go with Howard on Gasol and let Lewis take either Bynum or Odom. I don’t think Lewis is strong enough to guard Gasol on the block.
This series reminds me a little of the Lakers/Pistons series from 2004. The Lakers came in as a heavy favorite, nobody really believed in Detroit, and the Pistons wound up winning in 5 games. I think the key to this series could be game 1, it could be a must win for Orlando. Remember, Phil Jackson has NEVER lost a series after winning game 1. If I’m Orlando, I don’t think that is a stat I want to test. I think it will be a great series, and a lot of fun to watch because both teams run offenses that involve both ball and player movement. Orlando doesn’t rely on one guy to carry their offense, and I think in the end that will help them.
Prediction: Magic in 7