Posted on: April 20, 2008 3:49 am
 

And onto the West Being Won

Yeah, yeah, yeah ... so San Antonio and Phoenix have already played Game 1. (I'm still taking Phoenix.)

Onto how the West will be won ...

FIRST ROUND

1. Los Angeles vs. 8. Denver

  • It would seem that with Camby and Kenyon on the low blocks Denver would have that type of '04 Pistons mystique on the defensive end with 'Sheed and Big Ben. Not the case. Most of that has to do with the fact that this Nuggets outfit is most abysmal defensive team in transition I have seen in recent memory. Somehow, they're in the playoffs. Somehow, they'll manage to win one game in this series, and it'll probably be a fun one. But Kobe is too good and Pau Gasol will make the Nuggets frontcourt look foolish.
2. New Orleans vs. 7. Dallas

  • I love how Skip Bayless has incited controversy once again, stating that he would consider it an upset if the Hornets won this series. Give me some of what he's smoking -- I'd like to be that detached from reality. The Hornets are a far -- yes, far -- superior team to the Mavericks. They have the best player on the floor (CP3), the better 1-2 punch (yes, CP3-West is better than the aging Kidd and the still unproven Dirk), better rebounders, better athletes, and better almost everything. The world is about to meet Chris Paul, who has the moxie of Steve Nash, the craftiness of Tiny Archibald, and skills as good as any point guard to have ever played the game. Premature? No. He's special. Really special.
    • The Pick: N'Awlins in five.
3. San Antonio vs. 6. Phoenix

  • If anything, Game 1 of this series showed me that Phoenix can and will win this thing. The amount of breaks San Antonio had to get down the stretch to pull this thing out (Duncan's three certainly not being the least among them) numbered many. Regardless of the fact that the Spurs were fortunate to win the game, it was an absolute blast to watch. There is very, very, very little between these teams, if anything. But the Shaq trade will not go for naught, as the Suns will wear the Spurs down as the series progresses. An epic Game 7 could loom, and if it comes to that, I look for a repeat of Game 1 to go Phoenix's way.
    • The Pick: Suns in seven.
4. Houston vs. 5. Utah

  • This one ought to be enjoyable: the brutally efficient Jazz vs. the team with The Winning Streak. Interesting stuff from John Hollinger regarding Utah's place among the greatest offensive teams of all-time. But the Rockets are literally tough as nails, and their power forward rotation of Scola-Hayes-Landry could prove a huge factor in this series to offset Boozer's production. If those three can match Boozer's 21 and 10 per (not unreasonable at all), Houston could give Utah a run for their money. In the end, though, the Kyle Korver era of Jazz basketball marches forward and the Jazz take a nitty-gritty series that goes to the wire in front of a euphoric crowd in Salt Lake.
    • The Pick: Jazz in six.
WEST SEMIS
1. Los Angeles vs. 5. Utah

  • Well, well, well ... this one ought to be fun, eh? The Jazz don't have the names, but hey have the character and the toughness to make this a fun series. The experience they garnered last year could prove invaluable against a team as difficult as the Lakers. But Kobe is on a mission and this is one series in which he will not disappoint. The Jazz will lob a barrage of offensive (like, literally offensive) attacks at The Dude of L.A. (apologies to Mr. Lebowski), but he is one of the four, among LeBron, Nash, and Duncan -- who can fire back at will. This ought to be a coming out party for Kobe, who in an up-tempo series, averages upwards of 35 per game, makes his teammates into stars, and reminds us all why he is so often compared to His Airness.
    • The Pick: Lakers in six.
2. New Orleans vs. 6. Phoenix

  • While it was chalk out East, I'm not so sure about the West. I didn't love the Shaq trade at first, but it has grown on me with each progressive game. It could end up being one of the most clutch and slow-developing deals ever made, in that the Suns should reap the benefits for at least this postseason and next, and it took much of the post-All-Star break for the benefits to manifest themselves. Paul vs. Nash is the obvious matchup, and quite frankly, one CP3 should win, but the Suns' experience and depth should pan out in this classic. I see Grant Hill being a deciding factor in this series, negating the perimeter effects of Peja and becoming an offensive force. He is the "fourth guy," if you will, that will push the Suns over the top. The Hornets can counter with a threesome of Paul-West-Wells at times, but it won't be quite enough. A valuable learning experience for the Hornets and a moment of vindication for Steve Kerr.
    • The Pick: Suns in six.
WEST FINALS
1. Los Angeles vs. 6. Phoenix

  • Shaq vs. Kobe: the story of a lifetime. But oh, there's so much more. Los Angeles has bonded into a cohesive unit that is almost impenetrable, while Phoenix has added the additional winner in O'Neal that could give the Suns an edge. Will Bynum be a key in this series? Maybe. If Shaquille were a bigger threat than he once was, Bynum's presence would be crucial. As it stands, however, O'Neal is a thirty minute per game guy at this point in the playoffs, and although his place in this series looms large, his statistical effect will be rather nominal. Kobe will come up huge, but without the presence and youthful legs of Shawn Marion in the lineup, look for Lamar Odom to be the game-changer, going up against a physically and chronologically outmatched Grant Hill.
    • The Pick: Lakers in seven.
Category: NBA
Posted on: April 18, 2008 1:53 pm
Edited on: April 18, 2008 2:15 pm
 

The Objective NBA Eastern Conference Preview

I am more excited for the 2008 NBA playoffs than any other tournament or playoffs in my life of watching hoops, college or pro.

Yeah, you read that correctly.

Part of this may be due to that anemic March Madness I just finished digesting. But most is due to the fact that:

  • Boston may be one of the greatest teams of all-time, and despite my disdain for New England sports franchises, they are an absolute pleasure to watch on both ends of the floor (but that doesn't necessarily mean they're Finals shoo-ins).
  • Denver could feasibly face the aforementioned Celts for the title.

In a nutshell, that's why these playoffs are going to be so totally stupendous. I enjoy watching a dominant team that conducts itself the way any franchise ought to conduct itself. My Boston-loathing aside for a moment, it's impossible not to appreciate Kevin Garnett. It's impossible not to appreciate how he has transformed the careers of two aging superstars, one up-and-coming star in Rajon Rondo, and a handful of other youngsters that are cashing in on the opportunity of a lifetime. Make of KG what you will, but the guy does it -- it being everything -- the right way. Boston ought to roll through to the Finals no matter who they face, but the series with LeBron's Cavs and the always formidable Pistons would be as exciting as any five or six (or in Detroit's case, maybe even seven) game series could possibly be. This is especially true for the prospective Boston-Cleveland duel; if LeBron wants to cement his identity as the NBA's best player and heir apparent to MJ, all he has to do (tongue firmly implanted in my cheek) is do the impossible -- multiply his Game 5 East Finals performance from yesteryear by 5 over the span of seven games. Could you imagine? Not really. But it's fun to dream.

In the case of the West, there is no greater manifestation of parity in sport. George Mason can't touch it. The 5th seeded Giants toppling the indomitable Patriots can't touch it. The West is a collection of eight teams separated by degrees so minute they're irrelevant to notice.

Lakers-Nuggets? Run-and-gun-and-thrill.

Hornets-Mavs? CP3 vs. J-Kidd in the first round? Are you joking?

Spurs-Suns? The very reason Phoenix traded for Shaq rearing its massive head right as San Antonio begins its nearly impossible title defense? Sweet.

Jazz-Rockets? A rematch of one of the most thrilling playoff series in recent memory one year after it occurred? Arguably the best team in the West against the team that put together arguably the greatest winning streak of all-time (all things considered)? Really?

This Western Conference thing should have any sports lover in a tizzy.

It should have any sports fanatic on the verge of fainting. I'll try to keep my cool.

Try.

Onto the picks in the East; the West later.



THE EAST

First Round

1. Boston vs. 8. Atlanta

  • This series is the precise reason why the playoffs need to be seeded 1 through 16 without regards to conference. The fact that Golden State has to sit at home while a team that would be no better than a three seed in the NCAA tournament gets thrashed like no other team in NBA history is completely asinine. Now, if these were 'Nique's Hawks, it'd be a different story. But as it is, if Atlanta comes within 20 points in any game, I'd be both surprised and impressed. Biggest blowout in playoff history.
    • The pick: Boston in four.
2. Detroit vs. 7. Philly

  • I've heard rumbling about this series being a potential barnburner. I think otherwise. Yes, the two teams split their season series 2-2 in which no team won a contest by more than seven points, but one of the Sixers' wins came in a game that was completely meaningless to the Pistons. The other Philadelphia victory? A one point win of which Flip Saunders said the following: "We were terrible. The score isn't reflective of the way we played -- we shouldn't have only lost this game by one point." It's playoff time and wakeup time. If Philadelphia isn't good enough to beat Detroit convincingly when the Pistons played like garbage, I'm not sure how they'll get it done in four games during the playoffs.
    • The Pick: Detroit in five.
3. Orlando vs. 6. Toronto

  • Brutal draw for the Magic. Many analysts have said Toronto was a massive underachiever this year, but really, they haven't changed at all. Consider: last year, Toronto won 47 games with a total points margin of +1.0 for the entire 82 game season; this year, Toronto won 41 with a margin of nearly 3. It's the playoffs, so win-loss stuff goes out the window. Both teams won convincing games at home, and considering the Toronto fanatics make it tough on any visitor, a 2-2 split through Game 4 is a decent bet. Game 5 could be a decider, and I'm not sure Toronto has the chutzpah to get it done on the road in such a situation. Orlando should win this series, but it'll be tough one.
    • The Pick: Orlando in six.
4. Cleveland vs. 5. Washington

  • Agent Zero's return will no doubt have a substantial impact on this series. But will it be enough to push the Wizards over the hump? Last year, Washington was a tattered shell of itself in the playoffs, so analyzing last year's first round series with Cleveland doesn't hold much weight. This year, the Cavs didn't catch Washington at full strength once, and the blowout the Wizards were able to register early in the year was against a Cleveland team that was sans LeBron. Damn -- where's the precedent to go off of? There's a sore lack, but if LeBron is going to continue his growth as one of the NBA's faces, these are the kinds of nip-and-tuck matchups he must take over. Arenas should improve incrementally as the series advances, so it is imperative that Cleveland take care of business in the first two games. Could be a seven-game thriller -- I'll take a six-game six game series in which LeBron puts up another unforgettable performance on the road in the series closer.
    • The Pick: Already said it.
East Semis

1. Boston vs. 4. Cleveland

  • There's something eerie about this matchup. It takes me back to the late-80s when Jordan's Bulls couldn't find a way to get past the superior Bad Boys. Jordan had the star power, but his supporting cast hadn't quite developed to the point where they could win, hard as they tried. I know Boston and Cleveland haven't even played a game in this series, but I could easily see Boston hanging around for two to three more years after this year and Cleveland having to run into the wall during each. And yes, I know LeBron has already led his team to the Finals. But the Detroit team they beat last year was not akin to the Detroit team the Bulls beat nearly two decades ago. It's the San Antonio or Boston-type animal LeBron must overcome. Right now, he can't -- his team simply isn't good enough. But it should be fun to watch him try.
    • The Pick: Boston in five.
2. Detroit vs. 3. Orlando

  • For some reason, methinks this is an abysmal matchup for the Pistons. I refer to an 18-point Orlando blowout in the Palace after which Chauncey B-B-B-Billups said this: "We started the game saying we didn't want to let Dwight dunk, but you can't take away dunks and 3-pointers. You've got to give up something. They got hot and stayed hot." Orlando has that type of team with a totally dominant big man and a scatter of three-point shooters in the starting lineup and off of the bench -- Lewis, Maurice Evans, Keith Bogans, Hedo -- that can give any team trouble. Orlando is probably a year or two away from winning a series like this, but the only thing that will keep them from the conference finals is Detroit's moxie.
    • The Pick: Detroit in seven.
East Finals

1. Boston vs. 2. Detroit

  • For the NBA's sake, I hope this series happens (and it probably will), because this is the definition of good drama. Yeah, it's the "JV league" Eastern Conference, but Boston and Detroit are indubitably two of the best five teams in the league. Boston has the drive, Detroit has the experience. Boston has a legion of aging superstars vying for their first Finals, Detroit has a legion of aging Warriors who know how to get there. Boston is awesome -- really, they are -- but to sell Detroit short in a situation like this is akin to playing with fire. Remember L.A. vs. Detroit in the '04 Finals? The Pistons were supposed to roll over and play dead. No way could they beat Kobe, Shaq, Malone, and Payton. The thought they actually won that series -- in a convincing five games, no less -- is completely astonishing. If there is any team in these playoffs that can vanquish the Celtics -- and yes, that includes our friends in the West -- it's Detroit. I have as much respect for this team as any in the NBA, because they're seemingly always hanging around. The two best defensive teams in the NBA are on a collision course for a rugged classic -- one I think Detroit is very equipped to win, even if it means a back-against-the-wall game seven on the road. But I truly think the NBA is back, and karma itself could put one of the NBA's signature franchises back where it belongs in the Finals.
    • The Pick: Boston in seven
Category: NBA
Posted on: April 13, 2008 1:11 pm
 

Tiger Woods is just Tiger Woods.

Maybe that subject line is a tad pretentious.  Maybe it misrepresents the power the man wields -- the "I AM DOMINANT!" look he has when adorned in red on a Sunday (special thanks to Johnny Miller's '07 Oakmont coverage).

But the truth remains -- Tiger Woods is just Tiger Woods.

He can't move mountains, although he can hit a wedge over them.  He can't part seas, although he can hit a driver over them.  He can't walk on the ocean, although he can pull some pretty nifty tricks from the sand.

And although he sits in fifth entering this Sunday with four Masters neophytes ahead of him, Tiger Woods can't overcome the opposition by virtue of the fact that he's Tiger Woods.

Angel Cabrera, the portly Argentinian who had never captured victory on the PGA Tour, dispelled that myth last summer.

If El Pato didn't clear this up, surely Zach Johnson did.  The inconspicuous one-time Tour winner did the veritably impossible -- hold off Woods (and Goose, for that matter) at ...

... wait for it ...

Augusta National.

On Sunday.

Wasn't a practice round.  It was the real deal.

Yes, Nick Faldo has pulled such a "come from six shots down on Masters Sunday" trick before.  Hell, even Paul Lawrie came from ten back to win an Open Championship.

But these things are aberrations for a reason.  These things happen rarely for a reason.

These things are next-to-impossible.

Everything has to click; leaders must fall and the straggler (dare I apply such a term to Tiger) must charge.  A broad description, to be sure, but the amount of breaks that the comeback story must catch are innumerable.  Tiger can shoot 66 if he feels like it, but Sunday pressure aside, he can't prevent Trevor Immelman from shooting 71 or better.  What if Sneds shocks the party and cards a 69?  What if Casey catches fire (like he is extremely capable of doing)?  What if Flesch does something unthinkable, like Angel Cabrera and Zach Johnson before him?

What if, what if, what if -- for the most part, out of Tiger's paws.

He had 6-1 odds to win the Grand Slam.

6-1.

He can't move mountains.  He can't part seas.  He can't walk on water.

He can win his fair share of golf tournaments, a greater chunk than any man has captured before him, including Jack.

But he can't win them all on call "just because."  No one can do that.

Just ask his buddy Roger Federer.
Category: Golf
Posted on: April 6, 2008 6:42 pm
 

This Tournament is Awful. Period.

There I was, sitting at what was termed a sports cafe (whatever the hell that is) for my buddy's birthday party and surely an evening of quality college hoops.

I mean, everything to this point outside of Davidson has been downright unbearable and chalky.  Something had to give, right?

Right?

Wrong.  Last night was a continuation of unfathomably bad basketball competition.  To be sure, it was thoroughly entertaining (for me, anyway) to watch Memphis decimate UCLA with their superior everything.

But I would have rather had a 75-74 nailbiter.

Kansas looked remarkably impressive -- indomitable, even.  But just as much, North Carolina looked like the lost and helpless Washington State Cougars the Tar Heels drilled a week ago.

Something about this particular March Madness isn't adding up.

Memphis astounded while UCLA -- sans help from botched officiating -- bombed.

Kansas really, really astounded while North Carolina -- whose players apparently left their basketball IQs back in their Chapel Hill dorm rooms -- well, bombed.

That's all that happened this tournament: one team plays like one of the best ten teams in the field, while the opposition plays like it should have garnered a CBI invite.  And now it's come to the team that played like the best team in the field for two weeks going the way of the turtle and retracting their collective heads inside their shells?  I just can't bear to watch anymore.  Chalk the '08 tournament up as an aberration amidst a storied history of true greatness.

At least the Jake Taylors live on.  Even though Kansas did what they did Saturday night, I don't think they can do the same to Memphis, although I do think it will be a fine matchup.

Wait.

What in the hell am I talking about?

Somebody will come out and lay an egg.


Memphis, 86
Kansas, 68
Posted on: April 5, 2008 5:21 pm
 

Changing Minds

In politics, we call people who switch their positions on the issues "flip-floppers."

In sport, we call people who switch their positions on who will win the big game "smart."

Sometimes, anyway.  Hopefully that's the case with me.

I liked UCLA to win the National Championship before the tournament started.  I liked that they had been to consecutive Final Fours.  I liked that they [had] the most cohesive five on the floor at any given time.

I could not say such things about Memphis.  But "then" is not "now."

No, the Tigers can't retroactively be a back-to-back Final Four participant.  They can, however, be this year's national champion.  It's not that they decimated Texas, it's how they did it.  They used their superior athleticism and size to clog passing lanes and alter shots.  They used those same qualities on the offensive end to rise over defends for jump shots, points in the paint, and second chances.

In short, they played smart.  They played like a team intent on winning "the whole (expletive) thing," as Jake Taylor of Major League lore would say.

Still, they weren't tested.

They led Michigan State by a gazillion at halftime.  They buried Texas from the start.  They have been taken to task only once in this tournament -- against Mississippi State.

Mississippi State and UCLA may not be carbon copies of each other, but Memphis will have to do everything they did in surviving that second round matchup and more tonight against the Bruins.  This game won't quite be a contest between polar opposites, but it's close.  Although it's completely obvious, tempo will be a key.

But so will Memphis's poise.

I'm not sure Memphis is capable of completely smashing UCLA from the get-go in the same vein as their thrashing of their previous two opponents.  However, I have a hunch -- only a hunch -- that Memphis is capable of showing poise down the stretch.

It boggles my mind that the Tigers are 37-1 -- 37 and freaking 1 -- and I, nor anyone else, takes much notice.  They have withstood challenge after challenge and have faltered only once (in a game I would consider a total fluke, considering I think of Tennessee as a total fluke).  It may have taken me 38 games, but as I see it, that's better than 39 games and thirty more minutes.

I don't think this team is going down.  Not tonight, not Monday.

They're doing it Jake Taylor style.  They're winning "the whole (expletive) thing."


Memphis, 79
UCLA, 74


As for the other game, I'm not sold on drinking the Kansas Kool-Aid.  The folks over at ESPN have talked them up quite a bit (and, mind you, with good reason), but I don't think they're capable of beating North Carolina.  That's really the whole argument.  UNC has been a walking buzzsaw this entire tournament (moreso than Memphis, for they have never been in danger of losing a game -- sorry 'Ville).  Granted, Kansas matches up with the Tar Heels very, very well.  I like Rush's chances of having a big game.  I like the fact that Sasha Kaun, Darrell Arthur, and Darnell Jackson can essentially switch on defense and keep Hansbrough in check (my opinion, of course).  I like KU's athleticism.  I like their balance.

Well, then.  What's there not to like?

I mean, seriously, I'm reaching for something.

Oh, yeah -- Carolina is just better.  I can't quantify it.  I can't qualify it.  Carolina is just better.  My eyes tell me so, and in these danged tournament formats, my eyes always see better than my mind.


Carolina, 84
Kansas, 77
Posted on: March 31, 2008 9:34 pm
Edited on: March 31, 2008 9:35 pm
 

Rain, rain, go away. Seriously, it's opening day.

It totally figures that a dominant sinker-ball pitcher would take the mound against the Reds on a rainy opening day in Cincinnati. They had little chance to start 1-0 at the beginning of the game, but almost no chance after Edwin Encarnacion decided to do what does best -- field like Edwin Encarnacion.

You know a great season is underway when the second ball you field can only raise your fielding percentage to .500.

Yikes.
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Since (crappy) college hoops have essentially overrided all of my thought processes over the course of the last two weeks, I haven't had much of an opportunity to ponder Detroit's loaded batting order, Santana's move to the NL, and the reality that the Redlegs have three of the top five and possibly five of the top ten prospects in baseball (which has me excited for 2010, given that Dusty Baker dispels the myth that he ruins young arms ... gulp).

But as I sit here and munch on six -- yes, six -- pieces of eclipse gum, which for some reason are losing their flavor more quickly than the time it takes me to use a word in excess of twelve letters in length, I can't move past the fact that the Reds should have four of the top five prospects in the game.

I hope Edison Volquez pans out and becomes a solid contributor to this team. I really, really do. But did we have to trade a guy whose batting average was so meteoric in the spring it was borderline unfathomable to obtain him? I recall reading a story from that other sports network that Josh Hamilton was "the best player in Arizona [for spring ball]." He hit, like, .968. The guy is a freak of nature -- otherworldly, if you will. I'm trying to imagine life post-Junior with Dunn, Bruce, and Hamilton in the outfield. That's 120+ homers and 300+ RBIs per year for the price of a piece of Bazooka, complete with corny comic strip (really on this gum trip lately). That's highway robbery.

Pair that with Joey Votto at first; BP at second; and Encarnacion at third, and the Reds have one of the best young corps in the MLB in two years. If Krivsky was smart and traded Dave Ross at the height of his production during his aberration of a 2006 campaign. there may have been another promising prospect in the mix.

As it stands now, the hopes ride on the aging Griffey, Dunn, and Brandon Phillips to continue the offensive onslaught that has buoyed Cincinnati the last few years as their pitching has floundered. If this Cueto kid is for real -- like, possibly the next Pedro Martinez real (see: http://dynastyrankings.blogspot.com
/2008/03/baseball-johan-santana-wea
rs-johnny.html) -- and Arroyo can bounce back (not all that unreasonable, considering it was one bad summer stretch that completely ruined last season for him), the Reds can seriously compete in a watered-down Central.

Consider:

Cordero should dramatically improve the 'pen, both on his own merit and for freeing up Weathers to go back to his natural setup role.

Harang-Arroyo-Cueto could very well be one of the two or three best 1-2-3 punches in the NL alongside what the D-Backs and Mets are able to put forth.

Josh Hamilton or not, the Reds will still pummel the crap out of the baseball, not to mention that Bruce and Votto could add brand new dimensions to this offense that it has not had the last two years (easily exceeding the Kearns-Griffey-Dunn-Lopez years).

Baseball is a game of hypotheticals for every team, but the Reds are now in position to be "possible" contenders along with the best of the rest. They may be a year or two away, still, but I would not be surprised if Cincinnati turns out to be this year's Colorado. There's too much talent that's flying way too under the radar for my tastes. I like them to turn heads.

Even if they sucked against Arizona today.

Barring a continued streak of awfully bad bullpen luck, Cordero will be the closing option this team has sorely lacked.

Barring injury, Johnny Cueto will be the NL ROY.

Barring further inconsistency that for no reason should continue, Bronson Arroyo will revert to his '06 All-Star form.

Barring idiocy on the part of Reds management, Jay Bruce will have the Hunter Pence effect on this team.

Barring one of his limbs completely falling off, Junior will have the veteran leadership effect in the clubhouse and on the field during a late-season run as captain of a contender.

This team has to, has to, has to come around at some point. It's one of baseball's great franchises. It won't remain in limbo much longer.

Final record: 88-74, (? in the Central)
Posted on: March 30, 2008 1:44 pm
Edited on: March 30, 2008 2:14 pm
 

Baseball can't start quickly enough

Wow, this tournament sucks.

I feel great for Stephen Curry. Really, I do. But the story regarding him and his Davidson team has been the only subject of legitimate interest this regional weekend, arguably the best four days of tournament basketball year in and year out.

A quick rundown of the Sweet 16 action up to this Sunday reveals:
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North Carolina obliterated Wazzu, while Louisville (predictably) made Tennessee look foolish (I refer you to my March 24th post on the Vols in the dead of morning: I would like to have seen [Butler] play Louisville in the Sweet 16 so we could have known the real challenger to North Carolina in the East. As it stands now, the quite immature and exceedingly fortunate Vols have the pleasure of walking into a buzzsaw next week against the [Louisville] Cards. Good luck to them, I suppose. Not like it will help.).

'Nova never stood a chance against Kansas. Davidson against Wisconsin, on the other hand? Other way around. Like, big-time the other way around.

Memphis vs. Michigan State looked like the '96 Kentucky Wildcats vs. Little Sisters of the Poor for a half. Stanford appeared and disappeared from contention against Texas in the bat of an eye.

UCLA sleepwalked past Western Kentucky in a real thriller. Xavier and West Virginia was (thankfully) a breath of fresh air.

And after all of the Sweet 16 action was complete, UNC and UCLA kicked things off in style in the Elite Eight, each winning their respective games that produced about twenty real-time minutes of bona fide intrigue.
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Folks, that's one out of ten games -- one! -- that was worth watching. Yeah, maybe the Carolina-Louisville contest was entertaining for the latter part of the second half, but the Cards never stood a chance to win that game playing the Heels' favored breakneck style.

This weekend has been an exhibition in egg-laying (see: Sparty), underachieving (see: Tennessee), boredom (see: UCLA), and blowouts (see: pretty much every game).

I'm pulling for you, Stephen Curry. But this tournament in which you currently participate has sucked badly.

However, in the interim, I have a feeling two good games today could partly salvage a woefully sub-par weekend.


Kansas, 81
Davidson, 76

Memphis, 80
Texas, 84
Posted on: March 24, 2008 6:11 pm
Edited on: March 24, 2008 6:28 pm
 

Putting the Pacers' pieces back together

I grew up, above all else, a "sports fan." I wasn't a Bulls fan as much as I was a Jordan fan. I wasn't a Mariners fan as much as I was a Junior fan. My top college choices when I was a sophomore in high school featured Michigan State and Texas "because their logos are really cool."

And yes, there are quotation marks there for a reason.

But after MJ retired, I -- like many, many others -- was left reeling as a basketball fan. No more Bulls (the ones I had come to know, anyway) meant there was no face of the league. Sure, Robinson was as classy and talented for his position as they come. Sure, Barkley was one of the final members of one of basketball's greatest generations clinging to title hopes by a thread. Sure, Stockton and Malone still marched forward.

But the moment Michael gave retirement its second shot, the NBA lost its identity. I, moreover, lost mine as a fan of professional basketball. However, I am a Hoosier -- albeit a rebellious one being a UK fan and all -- so I felt compelled to give Chicago's last great eastern conference rival, my home state Pacers, a shot.

And from what I could tell, Donnie Walsh was doing a hell of a job.

Year in and year out, Indiana marched out a corps of fundamentally sound basketball players who all shared a mutual respect for the game and the state. Indiana is what it is -- it's Indiana. We like to watch traditional ballers put on a mistake-free clinic. We don't necessarily need Maravich's otherworldly perimeter game or Dr. J's high-flying aerial act. Give us meat, potatoes, and W's, and we'll be as full as a plump Irishman drunk off of Guinness on St. Patty's Day.

That's why the Palace Brawl team looked so dang good before all hell broke loose. They played tenacious defense. They took really good shots. They had a leader in Reggie Miller who was about as competitive and loyal as they come (which is one of the reasonsI like the Hornets so much -- Chris Paul is an ambassador for the game; the other reasons are for another discussion). There was nothing -- not a thing -- to dislike about that team. In reality, as it has been said and written many a time, that outfit may have been the NBA's best that year.

Obviously, the Artest fiasco ended all of that.

Obviously, it wasn't Donnie Walsh's fault.

I'm sure every Pacer fan will agree. And the subsequent outpouring of surefire guts from the team in the wake of the early-season disaster was nothing short of inspiring. I had the privilege of seeing Reggie's last home victory (Game 3 of the East semis) and it epitomized that team's heart. But when Reggie was gone, so went the heart. Ever since, the team's soul has lingered in limbo while the team's players have lingered in strip joints and at crime scenes. The suits have made bad draft picks and bad trades to try to cover for bad situations. Could the Pacers front office have handled the nightmare of the last few years better? Absolutely. But the compromising position Walsh & Co. found themselves in can't be viewed as a measuring stick for how well this franchise has been run over the course of the last decade.

Sometimes change is good. Undoubtedly the Pacers need a new look and fresh faces. And if the media treats him fairly, Donnie Walsh won't have to take the fall. It's time to clean house in Indy.
Category: NBA
 
 
 
 
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