2011 MLB Preview

Opening Day is here!  Time to make some picks:

Division Champs AL:

1) Red Sox – The team had an impressive offseason (picking up Adrian Gonzalez / Carl Crawford) and given the Yankees inability to land a marquee free agent for one of the first times in their history, it appears to be Boston’s year to run the table. 

2) Rangers – Last year’s AL title winner was supposed to be the team to beat…this season.  Given their ability to rise early, this season should be even better behind their big bats. 

3) Twins – The team has started a great franchise the right way, by building around their two superstars: Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.  One of the most solid teams in the league for the past few years, this could be their season to advance into the World Series.

4) Wild Card: Yankees – Not the trendiest of picks, but A-Rod has had one of the best Spring Training seasons of his career.  He may be the key for the team given their lack of great pickups in the off-season.  CC Sabathia could be on track for his slimmest (?!) season and a Cy Young.  Another possibility: The Rays come through again

NL Division Champs

1) Phillies – My title pick from 2010 turned out to be a bit lame in the Playoffs…but with their rotation I would bet on a bounce back season.  Especially when four of their starters could win 15-20 games.  Sure, their power appears weaker but they might just win a lot of 2-1 games.

2) Brewers – A team led by men named Prince and Braun will take their division.  The Reds are another possibility with the rise of their young talent.  However, in my opinion, the Brewers have enough power to battle through.

3) Giants – The reigning World Series winner comes into the season with a lovable cast of characters – The Beard!  Barry Zito! – and confidence from going all the way.  Can they do it for an entire season?  Maybe all this team needs is to get into the playoffs and then they can ride their hot arms and quick bats.

4) Wild Card: Braves – A young team, full of talent and finally transitioning away from the old guard (except the immortal Chipper Jones) is ready to take center stage.  Too bad the team ahead of them in the division has one of the best rotations since the ’86 Mets or ’95 Braves. 

Award Winners:

MVP’s – Albert Pujols, Cardinals / Joe Mauer, Twins: Both are poised for big years and there is no way to bet against Pujols in a contract year when he may be playing for free agency. 

Rookie of the Year – Jeremy Hellickson, Rays / Brandon Belt, Giants:  Two trendy picks, but with rookies you never know.  I would not count out Freddie Freeman of the Braves given their excellent farm system.

Cy Young – Roy Halliday, Phillies / CC Sabathia, Yankees:  Halliday is the best pitcher of the current era and Sabathia is looking slimmer than ever.  The Phillies fantastic rotation may hurt Halliday – but should he stand above them he will shine even brighter.  Sabathia will have to carry the Yankees in a tough division where every team can compete; he could be in line for 23 or 24 wins.  The Mariners Felix Hernandez could take the AL Award. 

World Series Matchup:

Trendy pick is the Phillies vs. Red Sox, but show me the last time trendy panned out in the MLB playoffs?  I will go with Phillies vs. Twins with the Phillies rising as champs in 2011.

Advertisements

Random Sports Thoughts…

A few random sports thoughts in the wheelhouse…

1) Thanks Miami Thrice

Big Thank you to the Miami Heat for completely justifying my championship pick from yesterday against the Cleveland Cavaliers:

The team came out flat and stayed flat for the entire game.  They were like that uncapped Coke Zero in the fridge that you try and drink a month later – horrible.  My dad sent me a message – “Lebron must be pissed” and yet last night he seemed to not really care about the loss.  It is possible he feels he made his point when he destroyed Cleveland in his original return but it pains me to see the team so disinterested when they are in a battle for seeding in the East.  The team needs to finish first to avoid a Boston or Chicago 2nd round matchup.  So again, thanks guys for backing up my title prediction…

2) What does it say that last night’s game was one of the five biggest wins of Baron Davis’s career?

A lot, actually – and it speaks volumes about the type of player he could have been and the type of player he is.  He came into the league with so much potential and peaked when he played for the Warriors and led them to a huge first round playoff victory.  After that, he got his big contract and a return to his LA hometown (albeit with the Clips) – where he promptly set about eating himself into oblivion for three years.  I guess he was Clipperized and that should have sounded the death knell on his career.  Yet, here was a guy who could carry a team and did, just plain giving up.  As Bill Simmon’s has said, nobody relies more on a crowd than Baron Davis and recently, with LA Clips becoming relevant again so did Baron.  He was energized and active and quickly traded to the Cavs.  The Clips management should be charged with murder in the first degree for the salary dumping move.  There he was though, last night, ensuring that nine months from now a whole generation of kids is born named “Baron”.  This was the Cavs championship and they will make the most of it. 

3) The incredible Steve Nash

Adub summed up Nash taking over the NBA assist lead(!!!) with the word “Legend”, and the tag is definitely deserved.  This year the Suns have cobbled together a team of castoffs, has-beens and never was…then dynamited that team and stuck Nash with Comatose Vince Carter (who by the way, could not care less about basketball right now.  He is like the guy nearing retirement who is just showing up to collect a paycheck) and he has still passed Rajon Rondo to lead the NBA in assists at 11.4 a game!  Let’s put this in perspective: his best teammates are Grant Hill, a guy nicknamed “The Polish Hammer” and comatose Vince Carter and he still leads the league in dimes!  Keep padding those Hall of Fame credentials Steve, maybe one day you will get a shot with a contender. 

4) March Madness – That’s for sure!  The Craziest NCAA Tourney of All-Time

Most NCAA pools have wrapped up now…before the Final Four because no one could possibly have predicted a series that included no #1’s, no #2’s, one #3, Butler and an 11th seeded VCU.  Despite having no one in the Final Four, I won 2nd place in my pool.  Ridiculous.  A couple of thoughts:

A) I will never again pick against a semi-decent Butler team again, ever.

B) Ditto George Mason for the first round.

C) Listening to experts upset predictions ruined my bracket and led to a couple of bad choices.  Better to pick my own upsets – like I did with Gonzaga in the first round this year.

D) Current stage of grief = Acceptance.  Now I can sit back and enjoy a Final Four that will see either VCU or Butler having a shot at the National title.  Ridiculous.

5) Congrats to the Canucks!

My local boys sewed up number one in the West last night with a great win over the Nashville Predators.  This may be the best Canucks team ever and it is an exciting team in the city.  Of course, everyone refuses to talk about the team because we are completely terrified of jinxing anything come playoff time.  An odd mix of elation and complete terror on the 40th anniversary of our great team.  Great work boys, keep it going. 

6) Setting up to make some baseball picks

Not an easy year to try and predict what is going to happen.  The Red Sox could rise again, the Yanks could completely fall apart and Albert Pujos is looking more and more like he will be a Yankee in 2012.  Yet somehow I am supposed to make predictions? 

7) The Best Time of the Year for Sports has been epic

March Madness, the race to the playoffs, Spring Training – this truly is the best time of the year for Sports fans and I have never been more ready for the real season to begin.  NBA buzz is at an all-time high and despite my misgivings over the atrocious Cavs loss, I am sticking by my team – Miami Thrice will hoist their first title.  In Hockey – I am forbidden to make a pick due to my geographic location.  NCAA – Screw it, VCU or Butler will take the trophy in the most unlikely tournament ever…and why not given all that has happened?

Miami Thrice Title Quest Diary – March 29, 2011

Are the Big Three enough to win a title? 

Miami is the hottest thing to hit Miami since the Cocaine Wars of the early 80’s and like the pitched battle to control the drug trade that made the city infamous (for more check out the great book above and the fantastic documentaries: The Two Escobars / Cocaine Cowboys) – Miami Thrice has been playing with an unstoppable fury. 

The team, it appears, is peaking at exactly the right time.  In the last few weeks, the Big Three have never played better together and their confidence has opponents terrified.  Going into the final stretch of the season Miami’s cohesion was perfectly  illustrated by their combined efforts against Houston in which Chris Bosh, LBJ and DWade all netted over 30 points and 10 rebounds.  Just to be clear: it was the first time that had happened in regulation time of a game since the 1960’s.   

The stats are pretty incredible:

James – 33 points / 10 rebounds / 7 assists

Wade – 30 points / 11 rebounds / 5 assists

Bosh – 31 points / 12 rebounds / 3 assists

Here is what the numbers say to me: the Heat want to win, and nothing else matters.  Against Houston each of the Big Three had their moment of complete un-containability and when James, Bosh and Wade go off for big numbers at different times it is nearly impossible to formulate any kind of effective defensive strategy.  Part of what makes them so dangerous is they have two guys who excel at getting to the rim through traffic / a semi-tough inside man who is unconscious from 15-20 feet / a bunch of cast-off three point shooters.  This is not about who takes the last shot: it is about Bosh, James and Wade coming to realize “wait a minute, they cannot stop us from anywhere on the court and if they do we can just attack from somewhere else”

Miami is dangerous when they lob threes, dangerous when they attack the rim and dangerous when they drive and kick out to Bosh.  The way they have played recently reflects the fact that they understand completely just how dangerous they can be offensively.  When the Big Three came together, there were two schools of thought – either they were going to dominate from the get go or they would struggle to figure it out but would sort themselves out at some point in the future.

The future is now.

Take a quick journey into Bill Simmons famous What-If machine:

Imagine for a moment year three of the Miami Heat experiment.  They have been playing together for three full years (barring lockout) and know the ins and outs of the offense.  Any petty beefs they may have are totally squashed, maybe they have a ring, maybe they do not.  Each of them averages 25-30 points per game; Lebron is a triple double machine and Chris Bosh is in the running for defensive player of the year.  Who can stop them?  The supporting cast has been beefed up through good drafting and key free agent signings.  Would you want to face this team in the playoffs?

Would you want to face them right now in the playoffs?

Teams that go into the playoffs hot are always ones to watch out for.  Lebron, DWade and Bosh all seem to understand that and the urgency with which they are playing bodes extremely well for them.  It is clear: they want this.   Maybe the stress of playing 82 playoff type games has finally caused them to snap – but in a good way.  They are tired of people questioning them, tired of being called overrated and ready to hit the playoffs and prove themselves (as a dark horse candidate no less!) 

More importantly they have finally figure out the most important thing about their new team:

The profound psychological edge they can employ.

We caught glimpses of it during their beatdown of the Spurs earlier this year: they have finally realized just how terrifying they can be to other teams.  Think about it for a moment.  Who else can put two of the top five players in the league on the court (not the Knicks – though props to Melo for actually backing up his “must win” talk last night by dropping 39 on the Magic) and force teams to figure out how to stop them night after night?  The Lakers have tried twice and been unsuccessful and they are the presumtive favorite for the title! 

Teams go into games with the Heat dreading the defensive assignments and that has helped them out all season long despite the targets on their backs (some teams, like the Celtics, get up for the games). 

I believe that in every game or playoff series each team has a breaking point; once they pass it the games / series is over.  Think back to game five for Cleveland last year when LBJ was done – at that point it was over no matter what the team tried to pull together.  With the Heat this year, just when you think you have broken them – another superstar steps up and starts scoring in bunches.  Imagine Bosh, James and Wade raining 30 a game down in a seven game series…   Consequently, teams that play the Heat in a series may find them much tougher to handle than during the regular season (Chicago / Boston!). 

Coming together at the right time is very important for a title run, and the Heat appear to be striding into the postseason with their chief opponents (Boston post-trace) limping in.  Everything, miraculously given the ups and downs of the season, could be coming together at the perfect time for the Miami Heat. 

I for one fully believe: The Miami Heat are going to shock the world in the playoffs and win the 2011 NBA Championship. 

Prove me right boys, the real season starts shortly: there is something in the air in Miami tonight… 

The Best That Ever Was

Is the 2010 / 2011 version of the Vancouver Canucks (currently the best team in the NHL heading into the playoffs) the best team this city has ever seen?

This was the question posed to me the other day and my first reaction was to say “no, no way”.  My thoughts immediately went to the 1994 team that took the New York Rangers to seven games in the Stanley Cup finals.  The ’94 team was my team and I remember what they did for the city and how incredible they were.  Their run through the playoffs to the Cup was one of the most exciting sports moments of my entire life.  Watching them lose the final game – and seeing our hero, Trevor Linden, hit the post twice in the third period has stuck with me during the 17 years since.  Surely the Canucks of today will never touch my team…or will they.  (I am still not fully sure, I have flip flopped on this thing for a week now)

The only way to truly understand which team is better is to break it down, point by point. 

Superduper stars

2011 – Daniel and Henrik Sedin – The Sedins are so good it is ridiculous.  They currently sit #1 and 2 in the NHL in points (easy when they assist on each others goals) and their psychic connection on the ice is sometimes frightening.  Take Daniel’s recent no look between the legs pass to Henrik.   Insane.  No players in the history of the team have ever been this good together and they both understand what it means to step up; Henrik won MVP last year when Daniel was injured and he was forced to put the team on his back.  This year?  Daniel’s turn.  (The one negative: the Sedins can disappear in the playoffs when we need them most) Keeping track of them on the ice is a full-time job…

1994 – Pavel Bure – Everything about the Sedin’s aside, no player has ever electrified in Vancouver like Pavel Bure.  He was so fast (when healthy) and had such good stickhandling skills that he could not be contained.  There was no twin to keep track of with Pavel, he simply dominated on whatever line he was on.  He could create goals, draw in the defense and then power past them.  Unlike the offense we run now, the 1990’s Canucks relied on a speedy, power attack and there was no one better than Pavel Bure.  Bure took every ounce of defensive focus and was a one-man Sedin twins.  Need more?  He never folded in the playoffs, and helped carry the team to the ’94 cup (still waiting for the Sedins to do the same)  It would be impossible to forget his overtime goal against Calgary that will live in Vancouver lore forever.  He is still the Canucks all-time single season goal scorer (60). 

Superstars

2011 – Ryan Kesler, Roberto Luongo – Kesler does so much he is an MVP candidate himself.  During the 2010 Olympics I finally fully realized his impact: and I hated him for being American.  Kesler is like a void on the ice, nothing happens when he is out there for the other team.  He can shut down the opponents best player or he can score; he just might be the best penalty killer in the entire league.  Luongo…Luongo…so talented and so frustrating.  His penchant for collapse has been troubling.  I never feel completely comfortable with him back there and when the game is on the line that is not a good thing.

1994 – Trevor Linden, Kirk Maclean, Cliff Ronning – An in-prime Trevor Linden is worth a lot.  He was the Kesler of his day and he was never better than in 1994.  When the team needed him, he stepped up time and again: take his performance in Game 7 of the Cup Finals: he scored a short-handed goal to tie the game at 1, then twice hit the post in the third period.  A couple of inches and he would have a statue in front of Rogers Arena; even still, he stepped up when we needed him most and carried the franchise for the rest of his career.  He is and always will be Captain Canuck.  Kirk Maclean gave a completely different feeling from Luongo: he was a steady netminder but never a huge star.  He was our goalie and that was never in doubt as long as he played the game.  During his indelible game one performance, he stopped 52 shots in an overtime victory – he was the leader back there.  Ronning?  No one worked harder than the diminutive winger and local boy.

Key Intangible

2011 – Mason Raymond’s complete inability to stop…he never learned.

1994 – Dave Babych’s maginificent mustache – I asked my Dad once why Babych never grew a playoff beard.  His response: it would have been down to his chest by the end of the third period.  This was a man many suspected of shaving on the bench between shifts.  Why has his number not been retired?

Coach

2011 – Allain Vigneault – A more than adequate coach, he has done a good job this season.  One of the continuous complaints about his Canuck teams?  Balancing the offense, but with the stellar Kesler, his job has never been easier. 

1994 – Pat Quinn – Still the greatest Canucks coach of all-time, Quinn did a masterful job guiding the team to the cup. 

Key to Success

2011 – Winning at both ends – The Canucks currently play the best defense to go along with their offense.  Their defensive core of Alex Edler, Dan Hamhuis, Keith Ballard, Kevin Bieksa and Christian Erhoff has been among the best in the league. 

1994 – Heart – The 94 team was gritty, and had heart (something Canuck teams have since lacked) which was due mainly to the example set for them by their Captain.  During the ’94 season people came through when needed; there was no way we were anywhere near the most talented team in the league but we took the best Rangers team ever to 7 games with little more than Pavel Bure.  A lack of heart may be one of the reasons the Canucks have yet to return to a Cup since.  In ’94 we got all the bounces, and truly played the best hockey the city has ever seen.  No one in the city will ever forget Linden or Maclean’s valiant efforts; or Bure’s amazing skills; or Greg Adams tireless work in front of the net. 

I asked several people in Vancouver which team they would take: 2011 or 1994.  Everyone said 2011 due to the depth that was not present in ’94 and the fact that no one in 1994 could have stopped the Sedins. 

Could anyone today stop Bure?  We will never know.  I believe the 2011 team to be more talented than 1994 but it remains to be seen if they can summon the same effort in the playoffs.  Sure we caught some lucky breaks in 1994 but they felt like a team of destiny.  While my heart will always be with the 1994 Canucks, my head says I should go with 2011. 

The 2011 Canucks have a lot to prove in the playoffs which cannot begin soon enough for the city or the team.

Miami Thrice Title Quest Diary – March 21, 2011

It finally happened.  

Sure, we have only been waiting the entire season but, whatever!  El Heat have finally blown out a great team – the San Antonio Spurs no less – and for the first time all season looked like a legit title contender. 

How did they do it? 

By passing the ball to Chris Bosh.

You heard right – the key to Miami finally destroying a legit team was “forgotten” third man Chris Bosh.  Bosh had one of his best games of the season against the vaunted Spurs interior defence: 10-16 shooting, 12 rebounds and 30 points.  All season long I have posited that Bosh will end up being the most important Miami player and he went a long way to proving it against the Spurs.  For a guy who has been bashed over and again for falling short in big situations, Bosh has had some of his best games after staring down the toughest of opponents: 

vs. Boston 8-11 shooting / 10 rebounds / 24 points

vs. Chicago 9-14 shooting / 23 points

Despite the two games above being losses, Bosh was actively involved in the offense in the face of teams he had previously struggled against.  His first game at Boston was a completely new experience for him – a regular season game that mattered – and in his last he stepped up big time being absolutely unconscious in the face of KG.  Against the Spurs he demanded and got the ball and completely delievered.  As important as it is for Wade / James to key victories, Bosh is far and away the key cog in Miami.  Two men have no chance against the rest of the league; three may have a shot and they proved that in San Antonio:

Another key has been the hot shooting of Lebron

When he adds the ability to shoot deep he becomes a much more dangerous player (than usual).  Against Atlanta he shot the lights out (16 -21 including 5-7 from three point range) and contributed 43 points; that hot hand continued against Denver where a balanced attack netted 33 points from Lebron and 32 points from Wade.  Lebron’s shooting ability opens up the floor for Wade to do what he does best – attack the rim with reckless abandon.   If Lebron is off, then teams can clog the middle and force both Wade and Lebron into swarming interior defences; not enough to stop them completely but enough to make them work for their 26 a game. 

The playoffs are coming. 

As it stands right now, Miami’s first round opponent is the 76ers.  However, should the Carmelo’s or sorry is it the Amare’s?? turn it around in the next few games, they could very easily slide into the 6th slot.  Crazy.  Then we could watch Lebron dunk on Carmelo and *hopefully* sweep the Knicks.  Watching the Knicks struggles reminds me of all the things to be thankful for with the El Heat.  For one thing the main focus of the entire season for Miami has been defense.  The Knicks apparently have no interest in playing any and neither Melo (terrible) or Amare (worse) appear particularly fond of trying.  Additionally, given Amare’s recent pick / roll comments (an offense Melo does not thrive in) we could be headed for the Alpha Dog showdown that Miami has avoided thus far. 

In any event it bodes well for Miami in the first round.  After that, the four teams that get through could be (gulp) Miami / Chicago / Orlando / Boston.  All that equals is a Miami vs. Chicago 2nd round matchup or, depending on who wins top seed – Miami vs. Boston (double gulp). 

What does Miami need to do? 

Simply: finish as the 1st or 2nd seed.  Not an easy task given the lead established by Boston and Chicago, but it could potentially lead to a Boston / Chicago throwdown in the 2nd round that could go down as one of the hardest fought playoff series of all time.  For Miami that would be the best possible scenario (assuming they can get through the 2nd round) as if those two teams batter each other they could have a shot at finishing off whoever is left standing.  Either that, or Miami needs Boston (lacking Kendrick Perkins) to completely fall apart in the first round and lose to the Hawks or Pacers. 

Not likely scenarios.  We are heading towards NBA armageddon…

I for one could not be more excited.

 

The 5 Stages of March Madness

March, ladies and gentlemen, is about to get mad.  The time of year is upon us once again when we begin to think about our “brackets”  and about how much they will eventually be completely devestated by the sweet sixteen leaving us mentally and emotionally destroyed

At times I have actually done decently – a couple of years ago I not only correctly predicted 3 of the 4 teams in the Final Four, but also picked the champion and their exact score.  On the heels of my incredibly accurate Super Bowl pick, I figure that my NCAA bracket may be pefect in 2011. (Editors Note: It will be busted by the end of the first Friday) 

However, the more I have thought about the NCAA tourney, the more I have realized how much my feelings around my bracket end up resembling the five stages of grief.  Year after year it is always the same and shockingly, that is a major part of what makes the Dance such an incredible and unique sporting experience:

Stage One: Denial  (Quotes I probably said)

“There is no way George Mason is going to get past three of the top four in their bracket to make the Final Four, I don’t care how hot they get.”

“There is no way Duke could lose to Witchita State!  No chance at all…”

Stage Two: Anger

“Duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuke!  Duuuuuuuuuuuuuuke!” 

“That’s ridiculous!  North Carolina does not lose in the Sweet Sixteen (slamming fist down on coffee table) it does not happen!”

Stage 3: Bargaining

“Okay, okay, maybe three of my four choices for the Final Four are out, but Kentucky can still make it.  They have John Wall, and he is supposed to be the greatest point guard of all time.  C’mon, NCAA gods, let Kentucky get through so I have one of my four.  I just need one to take it to the final – that way, I have a 50% chance of picking the winner…”

“What if I just picked teams that wear blue jerseys next year in my bracket…or, or, if I like the coach or not…”

Stage Four: Depression

“I never pick well, my whole bracket is destroyed just like every year.  I picked one team that made the sweet sixteen.  Why does my bracket always get busted by the end of the third round?”

“My bracket will never be good even if I use some ridiculous system like picking teams based on the colour of their uniforms.”

“My girlfriend’s bracket destroyed mine…again.”

“…And she picked every team ranked number 10 (her favorite number) which just happened to be the upset picks that no one else could possibly have seen coming and every cooler sounding team name (Badgers over Buckeyes) that improbably happened to pan out.”

“I’m never picking another NCAA tournament game again – ever.”

Stage Five: Acceptance

“So what if my bracket got busted, this has been an epic tournament!  I might as well just start cheering for George Mason – despite the fact that they single handedly destroyed my entire tourney…(sorry, still in the anger stage about that one)

“There’s always 2012 barring some kind of catasrophic doomsday scenario!”

“My bracket will definitely be better this year!”

Until then, we just have to marvel at moments past and those to come:

Miami Thrice Title Quest Diary – March 7, 2011

All season long the Heat have struggled to close out tight games against good teams.  When I looked up the score yesterday and saw them holding a slim lead at halftime this thought went through my head: “maybe they can do it this time.  Maybe this is the game they make a stand and just finish someone off.  Maybe this is the game the team finally plays to their potential.”  

Alas, it was not that game.  Once again, the Heat found themselves staring at a victory that went unclaimed.  Tears were allegedly shed in the locker room and Lebron proclaimed that he would not fail in the final moments again…ever. 

It pains me to see Lebron reduced to fits of finally realizing, “man, this is harder than I thought”, but maybe this will be the spark the team needs.  Something has to happen, and something has to change.  No championship contender has needed a spark like this before in March…

More importantly, we have spent this entire season searching for the right analogy to apply to Miami’s rapid ascension to the top of the crowded NBA heap.  Were they, as they claimed, the Heatles?  I proposed they were playing like the X-Men at times.  However, the music connection seems more apt as I have finally figured out who the Heat have patterned themselves after:

wait for it

The Spice Girls.

Holding for applause.

Yes, I figured it out!: The Heat most resemble this group of young ladies that stormed to the top of the music charts out of nowhere:

Here we have the most complete Heat analogy that works for every aspect of their formation through (hopefully) the end of this season.  Like the Heat, the Spice Girls were put together for one reason: complete domination and for a year or so they succeeded (the Spice Girls even had a sold out Reunion tour in 2008 for which they were paid $1 million each show – any guesses on which one needed money?)  Can the Heat have a similiar impact on pro basketball?   

We need to get the complete breakdown:

The Scene: 1994

How crazy was it?  Everywhere people went absolutely, and completely, out of their minds for the Spice Girls.  Within days of their arrival they were without a doubt one of the most popular music acts of all time.  In my life, no group has rocketed to fame with the same speed as the Spice Girls did.  It was insane.  People today cannot even truly understand how popular they were.  They moved from complete unknowns to one of the most popular groups of all time.  Seriously, they are on my Mount Rushmore of Inexplicable Pop Music Phenoms (Joining: The Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears and Justin Bieber)

The Setting: Summer 2010

In the craziest moment of Post Decision craziness, Lebron and co. have a ridiculous “championship celebration-esque” party in Miami.  Miami won the lottery – everyone else loved to hate.  That single moment signalled the beginning of one of the best basketball seasons in history.  Never have people been as excited for an NBA season as they have for this one – my friend, ADub and I meet up once a week and all of our conversations have been completely dominated by basketball talk.  This season has just totally sucked us in.  Regardless of who comes through the playoffs there is only one thing that is absolutely certain: the playoffs will be epic.  Ridiculously epic.

How do we break it down?  With the Heatles analogy it was easy:

Lebron = John, the talented one.

Wade = Paul, the 2nd best and cutest.

Bosh = George, the third best and quiet one.

Mike Miller = Ringo, the least talented “other one”.

With the Spice Girls, the who’s-who gets slightly more complex.  In my opinion it breaks down like so…

Sexy = Wade – Not the most talented of the Spice Girls but definitely the best known…for being attractive.  Wade is a great basketball player but let’s face it, if Lebron was as handsome as his teammate it is quite possible he would rule the world.  However, while Wade is not the most talented of the Heat, he is the face (and heart and soul) of the team.  He leads them forward with a “do it all” game. 

Baby = Bosh – The youngest of the Spice Girls seemed to have the most potential, but she ended up forever labelled as the “baby” of the group.  Bosh seems stuck with the same tag.  While he can play extremely well, he still seems like a young player still finding himself.  Can he step it up when it counts? (BONUS: his new nickname = Bosh Spice)

Scary = Bibby – The newest Heat member is scary for one reason only: his defense.  Additionally, his ability to shoot the three has the potential to help the Heat immensely.  Kind of like Scary Spice, who was known for singing really loudly!   Additionally, Scary always seemed like the oldest Spice and the veteran leader.  Bibby will hopefully grow into a similiar role.

Posh / Sporty = Lebron – How does LBJ demand double Spice comparisons?  Well, Sporty was easily (and I mean far and away) the most talented Spice, just as Lebron is head and shoulders the most talented of the Heat.  Posh was always sort of villainous and into fashion…ditto Lebron.  As Sporty went, so did the Spice Girls…and yet, the one Spice Girl who has stayed in the public eye is Posh (of course due to her high profile marriage to David Beckham).  Lebron will be the best known of the Heat and hopefully can lead them to a title.

If not, he can always start putting in some calls to David Beckham. 

Now…about that 4 game losing streak…

Here is what needs to happen: Lebron needs to straight up dominate.  At times he seems oddly passive, like he fears rocking the boat with his new teammates if he scores 40 a game.  He is too quick with a mistimed pass and often forgoes opportunities to head to the rim by settling for occasionally horrible jump shots.  Head for the rim, LBJ and do not stop until you have thrown it down on subpar centers!  Forget about getting Wade and Bosh involved fully – they will get their points from your uncanny ability to make your teammates (one of the largest upsides to your game).  The time for experimenting is over and the formula simple – dominating LBJ = wins.

Take two examples against playoff contenders:

44 points at Portland

51 points at Orlando

In games when LBJ goes over 40, the Heat are undefeated.  If he plays like he can, the Heat can go all the way.  If he does not, they are not contenders.  My brother, Just Ross, asked me the other day if I thought LBJ should have gone elsewhere.  As much as we can now speculate on the endless “what ifs”, this is where he is and where he will stay.  Without him the Heat are barely in the playoffs and he needs to begin to show his incalcuable value in leading the team down the stretch.  Case in point:

Currently I have been reading Sam Smith’s excellent account of the 1991 Chicago Bulls season – The Jordan Rules, in that book theBullsstruggled for the entire season before Jordan finally decided to abandon the concepts of team play and just dominate.  They won because of his ability to make everyone better.  Lebron has that ability too, and it is time for him to show it.

Take over Lebron, go ahead – your team needs you.

 

The Power of One

Athletes have never had more power within their respective sports than right now – and we, the fans, have given it to them.  We are the ones who buy their jerseys, cheer for them and blog about them.  We are the ones who can never get enough information about our favorite players – even when it is completely irrelevent and from their ridiculous twitter handle. 

We, the fans, have to know everything about anything in this current digital age of ours, and athletes have been more than accomodating to our needs.  In following athletes on twitter or facebook or wherever, we have granted the social network way too much power.  How could the players possibly repay us? 

With the collective shattering of any loyalty once held by players to the fans, that’s how!  We who help pay their salaries and give them the collective ego boost required to sustain them throughout their career – even when they are playing in Calgary (Editor’s Note: Sorry, could not resist to take any shot at hated hockey rivals, forgive me but remember that I am Canadian) 

Exhibit A: “The Decision”

While I have argued that we genuinely deserved Lebron’s fateful choice after, “the summer of Lebron”, it was the beginning of the end.  Now, players think they can do whatever they want, whenever they want.  This leads us to…

Exhibit B: The Carmelo Saga

Never has a player single handedly destroyed a playoff team as thoroughly as Carmelo Anthony.  During his six month ordeal we discovered he had no interest in winning, was only out for money (his extension) and did everything short of spitting in the eyes of fans that made him a star.   When his “dream came true” and he was finally put out of his misery traded to the Knicks, we watched and devoured it.  This “hostage taking” of an entire fan base was the reason for…

Exhibit C: The Deron Williams Bloodbath

The Utah Jazz took one look at what Melo did to the Nuggets and saw the same thing happening to them next year.  They knew Williams, deeply involved in pushing out aging legend Jerry Sloan, was not sticking around for one second longer than he had to.  They fought back and decided to at least get something for him.  This may lead to…

Exhibit D: Albert Pujols leaving the Cards

Yes, he turned down 200 million dollars.  Face it Cards fans – he will be a Yankee this time next year.  The greatest baseball player of his generation (and in the conversation for greatest ever) will leave the franchise he led to a title this season.  All that remains to be seen is if he holds them hostage, sabatoges their playoff chances, turns the fans against him and demands $300 mill – oh wait!  I forgot, sorry, thought I was still writing the Carmelo paragraph! 

Pujols in Pinstripes?  Why not?  The Yanks need a huge upgrade over Mark Texeria and he could always be traded bait should they want to swap sluggers with the Cards.  Or Pujols could DH – a scary thought, if he does not have to worry about the wear and tear of daily fielding.  He might be able to hit .430. 

Exhibit F: Rocky 7 – Jordan’s Revenge

This however, takes the cake as the all-time worst fan overreaction of all time.  Michael Jordan is not returning to the NBA.  Ever.  He just wanted to prove to himself that he could still beat up on younger Bobcats – then again, who cannot beat them these days?  Once again, people began to speculate and face it: Jordan should not have come back the second time (does the Wizards count as the 2nd comeback or just “the comeback”?  Jordan’s playing status is slightly more complex than Charlie Sheen’s living arrangements)

But, in all seriousness, does Jordan expect to drag an aging Byron Russell out of retirement just to beat up on him further?  What does he possibly stand to gain out of this other than Kobe Bryant slamming his fist down in frustration and screaming: “What else do I have to do to join the conversation as Greatest of All Time!” 

MJ, I hate to break it to you, but it is not the 80’s and you are not Gordie Howe making a comeback at 50.  Not sure if even the Hartford Whalers would take you at this point…

With lockouts looming in two sports we are entering a very strange time in the sports world – fans are powerless and yet have the loudest voices.  Owners are trying to save face by trading superstars to get something, anything, in return.  Teams are being held hostage and yet, we cannot get enough.  We crave the endless villainy, the falls from grace.  When will it end? 

A better question – do we even want it to?

Miami Thrice Title Quest Diary – March 2, 2011

Is there anything more frustrating than watching your team drop a key game – that they had in the bag – against a cobbled together, wannabe contender?

The Heat need to win a big game!

Boston, Chicago, San Antonio, Dallas – all losses.  They have beaten Orlando, LA, OKC, Portland and a host of teams that they should be destroying by 50 points.  They have yet to destroy anyone by 50 points.  At this point in the season, 40 points would be borderline miraculous. 

The Heat need to win a big game and they have a big stretch coming up.  It is not inconcievable that they could phone in the entire two week stretch.  It is also not inconcievable that they could doninate that entire stretch.  Watching them lose to the Bulls was rough.  Watching them give the show away against the Knicks was borderline torture.   Seeing Amare rise far above his stature, and seeing Carmelo actually play like he cares about basketball was deflating.  I found myself wishing I could see the Heat come together like the Knicks did to close out a close game against a contender.  I felt like I was wishing I had Jesse’s Girl the entire time:

The Heat need to play four quarters of complete basketball.  With two of the top five guys in the league, Miami has been a top attraction and yet I cannot shake the feeling that they have yet to play like one.  Would you take them in a seven game series with Boston?  Or Chicago?  Or even…New York?  The game Sunday night was like a war, only the Heat ended up with more casualties.  They showed their complete lack of depth and it was horrendus watching Chauncey “34 year old” Billups routinely destroy the two options at point guard – Carlos “I was finally waived” Arroyo and Mario “Not the good one” Chalmers.  Back to the main point – can they beat any of the East contenders four times?  At this point the answer is pretty complicated.  Their chances:

Boston – seems to have enacted some kind of spell that destroys the Heat’s ability to play cohesively.  They are also apparently slipping DWade some kind of horrible laxative before the games because he forever searching for the quickest way off the court.

Chicago – Chris Bosh – 1 for 18.  The worst game he has played all season.  Joakim Noah absolutely owned him, come playoff time I do not want to gamble on that matchup.

NYK – The Heat should have won that game and I genuinely believe they can take the Knicks…and yet…they did not.  Maybe they will figure it out but if they cannot play four full quarters of basketball we could be looking at a disappointing…first round exit

At this late hour, as the regular season begins to dwindle and the playoffs beckon the answer on the Heat’s title chances is a huge question mark.  The Heat’s play has been like a mystery, wrapped in a further mystery, packaged in a blanket of smoke.  Seriously, what do we know?  We know that DWade and LBJ can coexist on offense – if they choose to.  We know Chris Bosh can be integrated offensively and if he is not they are unsuccessful – if they choose to. 

At times they appear ridiculously dominant – so dominant in fact that one is able to forget the limited bench and subpar scoring behind the 3 Amigo’s.  Bosh is improving but sometimes still struggles in the clutch.  Wade is maddeningly inconsistent – fully dominating and then alternatively, oddly passive.  Take his efforts at Boston (16 points) and then at Indiana (41 points) in the next game.  Or even v. Washington (41 points) and then v. NYK (12 points).  What is the deal Wade?  For a guy who is the 4th best scorer in the league you sure seem completely unable to sustain any kind of regular effort.

However, no one has been more maddening than Lebron.  I get it, his teammates are better, but as dominant as he has been I do not feel like he is dominating enough.  Maybe it is because he is so good that what he does looks easy – yet, like Wade he appears surprisingly passive at times.  Like he really does not care.   I know he has been serious and angry but I want him to play that way all the time.  Dominate someone – destroy them!  Please!

At the buyout deadline the Heat had to make a move and they may have made the right one by adding former Vancouver Grizzly Mike Bibby.  While Bibby plays about as much defense as the average referee, he is a huge upgrade offensively over Carlos “Comatose” Arroyo and Mario “Not Super” Chalmers.  Plus, I love cheering for my former Grizz – if this team brought Shareef Abdur-Rahim out of retirement they would literally be my dream team + Joel Anthony.

The next games are crucial ones for the Heat and I want to see them make a bold statement like they did on Christmas Day.  No more close games, the Playoffs approach and the team is either pulling the “If everyone thinks we are weak and we come out strong we will surprise them!” tactic or they truly are just not at Championship level yet. 

Either way this next stretch will be incredibly telling to their (and my) title hopes and championship dreams.