Miami Thrice Title Quest Diary – December 29, 2011

The return of the king?

As my prophetic brother, Just Ross, stated this past few NBA filled days: “Not only is LeBron single handedly keeping this one guy alive in my fantasy league, but he is going to own the league this season.”  Bold words about a man who fell apart so completely last June. 

However…

As we saw in the miniscule preseason, LeBron looks hungry for a title and ready to work for it for the first time in his career.  His mid-range turnaround jumper has yet to miss…period…and he is going to the basket with a renewed ferocity.  All of this serves, naturally, to remind us of the single most burning question hanging over this NBA season: Just what in the hell happened to LeBron last June? 

The best paragraph I have  found explaining his disappearence is from Scott Raab’s brilliant book The Whore of Akron – “Was it easy, LeBron?…I almost feel bad for you, son.  You’re not a grown man.  You’re a kid and you’re afraid.  What are you so afraid of LeBron, the losing or the winning?  Do you finally understand that it’s not easy?  That it’s not meant to be easy.  Hard is the only thing that makes it mean anything, the only thing that makes winning worth the pain of trying, the only thing that makes living and dying worth the suffering.” 

Amidst Raab’s searing, vitriol (and there is a lot of it) he just might truly cut to the hurt of what made LeBron fall apart: fear.  In Cleveland he feared never winning a Championship so he went to Miami where it would seemingly be easier.  It was not.  Now, this season, he may finally have steeled himself to this fact.  Now, this season, LeBron may finally be ready to get over the heap and climb to the top of the mountain. 

In the first three games of the season he has appeared to be ready (submitting an astounding array of dunks and ridiculous D) as his averages of 32.7ppg / 7.3 rpg and 6.0 apg seem to suggest.  Whether or not LeBron can sustain these averages is ultimately irrelevant: what is important is how hard he is playing.  For the first time in a couple of years he seems to be enjoying playing basketball again.  He does not care anymore what people think.  He wants his title.  He is more than willing to go for broke at this point because he has nothing to lose. 

As a team the Heat look deeper and much better primed for a title run: the rookies are playing well (Norris Cole in particular is adding a new dimension to the bench) and they came out on Christmas Day wanting to put a hurting on Dallas in their own building.  All they accomplished was running them clean off the floor.  No longer will Jason Kidd or Jason Terry be able to hold LeBron away from the hoop.  He is a man, on a team, with a mission.  They have gelled well and alpha dog issues seem to be behind them: Wade hit the game winner against Charlotte.  In the first three games of the season they have gone a long way towards their goal.  The only goal that matters in this shortened season: the NBA title.

PS: Christmas was truly a magical day in which I got to see the following:

1) Miami kill Dallas – Behind LeBron’s 37 points and a great overall team effort on D.

2) Kobe Bryant kill the Lakers in crunch time – Not only did he turn the ball over (in brutal fashion) but DRose hit the game winner over him and Derek Fisher.  At this point I had to check to ensure I was not still dreaming.  Santa read my letter ladies and gentlemen, and he answered big time.   

3) Chris Paul taking over a game – Paul decided in the last few minutes of that game that he was just going to put it out of reach, then, in true Superstar fashion: he did.

Advertisements

Holiday Sporting

What to watch this Christmas Eve and Christmas Day:

Christmas Eve:

With a full slate of NFL games on tap, there are a lot of options.  Many of the games will have playoff implications – as they should, this being Week 16 and all…

A few of the games not to miss:

Cardinals – Bengals (the Andy Dalton / AJ Green express are fighting for their playoff lives…ironically, so too are the red-hot Cards)

The Battle of New York (One of these teams could lose their shot at the playoffs in this game.  Period.  This one should be an absolute battle to the finish)

Chargers – Lions (Philly Rivers vs. Matty Stafford should be entertaining, high scoring and feature at least five acrobatic catches by the ridiculous cache of uber-talented wideouts.  What is not to love?)

Eagles – Cowboys (Another game with massive playoff implications.  If the Eagles win and everyone goes 8-8, they make the playoffs.  The Cowboys have to win or Jerry Jones will explode and possibly kill Jason “the Iceman” Garrett)

Christmas Day brings us the miraculous return of the NBA.  Prodigal son and all.  I asked my brother, Just Ross, which games he wanted to watch.  His response: “All of them”.  The matchups are ranked as follows:

1) Heat v. Mavs – A title rematch with Dallas raising the banner that should have been Miami’s.  LeBron stepping into the fire after having looked completely unstoppable in the preseason.  His mid-range jumper has not missed yet.  He may destroy the league this year.  I could not be more excited. 

2) Clippers v. WarriorsWhat?  What?  I know, but for reasons explained below this is game #2 to watch.  Sure it takes place at the worst possible time on the West Coast but the final score could be in the 130-126 range.  This is the first, real, Lob City game and Chris Paul will be playing with something to prove.  A must watch.

3) Celtics v. Knicks – Welcome to Game 1 of an altogether disheartening NBA lineup.  These two teams should be middle of the pack (the Knicks for lack of D; the Celtics for their aging roster) and this game may well be reflective of this fact.  It could also be a crazy game since these two rivals hate each other.  A bit of an enigma. 

4) Thunder v. Magic – Should be an OKC rout, no?  The Thunder are deep, young and ridiculously talented at every position.  This could be the year they seize the West and refuse to let go for a decade.  My prediction: they run the Magic off the court right past a semi-interested and totally pissed off Dwight Howard.

5) Bulls v. Lakers – Should be a Chicago rout.  Will be a Chicago rout.  There is no question that LA loses this game, probably badly.  DRose has something to prove, Kobe is hurt, Bynum is suspended and the Lakers got much, much worse in the offseason.  Their third best player in this game will be Metta World Peace.  Chicago’s third best player should be Carlos Boozer.  Not even close and not even all that interesting.  Unless you like watching a Kobe-related train wreck.  By mid-season they will have offered the sky to the Magic for Dwight Howard. 

There you have a media guide to the next couple of days.  Happy Watching, and have the Happiest of Holidays from all of us here at the Cover Corner.  Looking forward to covering another year of Sports in 2012 – including the return of the Miami Thrice Title Quest Diary. 

Happy Holidays.

An Open Letter to the NCAA

Dear NCAA,

I am writing to inform you that you have, once and for all, lost it completely.

Your toothless punishment of Ohio State speaks to a horrible bias and wicked double standard.  Given the horrific / sadistic punishments you laid upon USC I expected O-State to recieve a similar ban.  Yet despite crippling USC for half a decade, you blantently refused to do the same to Ohio State.  Was their bribe of better quality?  How can you possible attempt to maintain the facade of dignity when acting as if you have none?  Thank you for the consistency (additionally, thanks for completely overlooking way worse incidents at Auburn and Miami!). 

After Ohio State’s transgressions, the NCAA had a chance to send a message to players who were still at the University! and yet refused to do so.  All the while, of course, punishing USC players who were in junior high when Reggie Bush was recieving minor benefits.  Have you no shame, NCAA? 

There is one way for you to prove yourselves and rise back to the semi-respectability: punish Penn State.  Punish Penn State like you have never punished a team before.  My suggestions for what you should levy against the Nittany Lions: a ten year bowl ban; a loss of 30% of their scholarships and a complete adminstration change in the football program from the bottom up.  What Penn State allowed to happen in their football program is unforgivable.  This is not someone accepting money from an agent: this is lives being shattered and destroyed.  They must be punished, and in this case, I agree with punishing the entire institution.  Prove yourselves this time NCAA or lose this fan forever.

Happy Holidays,

A Very Very Angry, USC (With “Heisman Winner” Matt Barkley) fan.

NBA Predictions

The LeBron and the Wade, in addition to the Lakers, are back again!  This undoubtedly means it must be prediction time.

1) The Lakers will be bad, but they are not the Cavs – Sure they need to completely blow up their team, and they got worse in the off-season but they still have Kobe Bryant (aging and in some trouble with back to backs), Pau Gasol and Andrew “Made of Glass” Bynum.  Are they a lottery team?  Time will tell, but the Clippers may run LA from this point onwards.

2) OKC to take the West – OKC is a young, deep team that are made to thrive in back to backs in a short season.  Their legs will help carry them through the tough slog.  Are they strong enough to come out on top of the West?  I believe so.

3) Does anyone else like the Knicks with Baron Davis? – Baron Davis is a name and the Knicks needed a name at point guard.  Will he play this season?  Perhaps not being a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers will make him want to play a little earlier.  As for the Knicks – they may score 110 points a game; they will also give up 120.  How much help can Tyson Chandler be when their two main stars both need the ball in one on one isolations…and do not play defense….?

4) Miami is deeper than before and primed for the title – The second best team in the league last season is ready for a run again.  They got deeper and hopefully much hungrier.  I want LeBron to want it.  I want to see him earn his title.  Play your heart out LeBron and leave it all on the floor.  No one will vilify you for that.

5) Lob City will be fun – The Clippers are must see TV.  The Clippers are a destination.  The Clippers are the best team in LA.

NFL Week 15 Quick Hits

Week 15 in the books!  Here are my thoughts:

1) Brady vs. Tebow did not live up to the hype – When a nearly impossible phenomenon meets a serious challenge, it almost never lives up to the hype.  In this case, that was absolutely true.  While Tebow did play a hell of a game, maybe his best ever as a pro, the Broncos were simply outclassed by Tom Brady and the Pats.  If Tebow continues to progress over the next few years could the outcome be different?  For sure, and to  be honest, at one point in the fourth after the 87 yard drive when Tebow threw the hell out of the ball I actually texted three people the following message “Here we go again?”  The only thing we can be certain about when it comes to Tim Tebow is that games are never truly over when the fourth quarter kicks off.

2) The Pack are human – Beating the Giants, and surviving close games led to an inevitable collapse against a desperate Kansas City team that needed a win.  Hopefully this focuses the Packers on the only goal of any consequence in the NFL: the Super Bowl.

3) Somebody needs to hand Drew Brees the MVP – A few weeks ago I declared with complete certainty that Aaron Rodgers was the MVP.  I still believe this to be true….yet, Drew Brees is having one of the most impressive statistical seasons in NFL history.  It is impossible to determine who means more to their team (my money: Brees, no one else can run that offense with such efficiency.  Rodgers though has nowhere near the weapons) but I think Brees’ s candidacy needs further evaluation.  He is 304 passing yards short of Dan Marino’s single season record.  For Brees this is one good half.  He can, and will break the record.  NFC teams definitely do not want to have to play the Saints in the Superdome come playoff time.

4) Complete Collapses – The Giants fall apart against the Redskins, while the Cowboys beat up on the Bucs.  The Jets get thrashed by the Eagles.  The Ravens take a beating in San Diego.  At the beginning of the season many people were choosing a San Diego – Philly Super Bowl.  Those teams are playing their best football in the role of spoiler.  There is a strong possibility that neither will make the playoffs.  They might just be in the top five teams in their conferences.  As for the New York teams: next week may mean everything. 

5) The most ridiculous story ever – Sam Hurd’s strange and enigmatic tale is among the most incredible in recent memory.  Hurd, was allegedly a drug kingpin in Chicago all the while playing for the Bears.  He was selling somewhere in the neighborhood of 500k worth of cocaine a week.  Authorities speculate that he may have been the top of the pyramid in the city of Chicago.  How much have shows like The Wire or movies like Scarface affected Hurd?  He threw away a very lucrative contract (2mill a year) to play around with violent crime.  Well, you wanted to play with the big boys Sam?  Now you can: enjoy your stay in federal prison for the next eighty years.

NBA Madness Continues

Ladies and gentlemen (okay, mostly gentlemen) – we have ourselves a Clipper!  This may be the first time in NBA History that the Clippers have swung a genuine trade for a Superstar.  This is the power of Blake.  This is epic.  Chris Paul…wants to go the Clippers.  Take a moment and let those words sink in.  Chris Paul has decided to be a Clipper.  Twelve months ago we would have laughed at those words and derided the person who spoke them as completely deranged. 

Now: CP3 is a Clipper in a trade (finally) approved by the NBA (David Stern).  Thankfully the NBA has decided to stop hating Chris Paul and has made the battle for LA very, very interesting.  Instead of playing alongside CP3, Kobe now has to beat him and battle him and Blake for a playoff spot. 

Dwight Howard does not want to play for the Magic and yet they have allegedly pulled all trade offers off of the table.  Either they know something we do not and are hopeful they can sign him; a highly unlikely scenario.  Howard wants to play somewhere else and the Magic would be foolish to believe he wants to stay there.  LA (the Lakers) have to come hard and try to grab him in order to keep up with the Clips.  This may be the most unbelievable of occurences in the NBA. 

We have entered the era of the Superteam.  Whether the fans, NBA or anyone else wants it. 

T-Minus 10 days to the NBA Christmas kickoff…now featuring a must see CP3 Clippers game. 

NFL Week 14 Quick Hits

Week 14 is in the books…

1) Texans win their first playoff berth by hanging tough – TJ Yates, a third stringer, has helped lead the injury-ridden Houston Texans to their first ever playoff berth.  It is well deserved and has been incredibly hard fought given the number of devestating blows dealt to this football team over the course of the season (see: Johnson, Andre; Shaub, Matt; Leinart, Matt…).  Good for them for fighting through adversity (and the hard charging Titans) to claim the division. 

2) Tebowmania should hit epic highs next week – Given that he is now 8-1 and has just finished his best ever game as a pro (21 of 40 for 236 a td and int…in addition to 49 yards rushing) and has to play New England next will make it all Tebow, all the time this week.  Given the beating the Raiders took at the hands of the Packers, it would appear that the Broncos are a good bet to make the playoffs this season.  Amazing. 

3) The Pack have a shot at perfection – For Aaron Rodgers and the boys it may come down to the following question: what is more important, the perfect record, or winning the Super Bowl?

4) The Chargers are on a bit of a roll – Phillip Rivers is getting some of his mojo back, minus his terrible endzone fumble, and the Chargers could well play the role of spoiler for the Raiders or Broncos in the last four weeks of the season.  Going forward, hopefully the Chargers have learned to stockpile not only at the skill positions but also on their patchwork offensive line.

5) Reggie Bush has quietly come alive in Miami – When the Dolphis acquired Bush, he was thought of as a player who could only be effective in open space.  This season he has very, very quietly put together a streak of 100 yard rushing games with very high per-carry averages.  Could Bush top 1,000 yards in a season for the first time in his career?  Not only is he playing healthy but he has a renewed focus that he seemed to lose during his last season with the Saints.  Additionally, I would be remiss if I did not mention the great game by Mark Sanchez today in which he contributed 4tds for the Jets.  You cannot stop him in December. 

 

 

The Future: LA vs. Miami

Just a few days ago, the only time people were talking about LA or Miami they were mentioning the declining Lakers or resurgent Heat.  Now the two cities are the at the center of the sports world and will be for the forseeable future.  Consider the following:

1) The CP3 debacle – The league (David Stern) vetoed a fair for all parties trade that would have reshaped the Lakers for a decade and left the Hornets and Rockets better off for years to come!  CP3 was going to be a Laker and now instead of remaking three teams they now have to suffer through a complete lack of trust with their players and a half-hearted effort from Chris Paul who clearly wants out of New Orleans.  This is Carmelo Anthony 2.0 but so so much worse.  Paul wants out, the team put together a great deal…and were told it is unacceptable.  No team will try to grab Paul now, screwing the Hornets out of getting anything for their superstar.  How is that fair?  Meanwhile, the Lakers absolutely have to do something to shake up their team.  They cannot win with this current group of players and know it; now the players know it too.  All the trust that was built up through years and multiple championships is gone.  The only option?  Going hard after Dwight Howard and dumping Bynum and possibly Odom on Orlando. 

2) The Angels make some moves – By signing the reigning king of baseball, Albert Pujols to a 10 year 250 million contract the Angels are making a push to be contenders.  They shored up their pitching by signing CJ Wilson.  Did they commit way too much to snag Albert?  Of course they did, but it was done in the smartest possible way.  Once his first base skills decline, they can use him as a DH – one making 20 to 25 million dollars a year, but a hitter who is better than 90% of DH’s in the league. 

3) Miami Marlins counter – Miami signed Jose Reyes and splashed out in the Pujols contract situation with a big offer.  Looks like the Marlins are going through one of their “let’s buy the World Series” periods.  If the changes go over well (and Reyes does not phone it in….), we could see two LA vs. Miami Championship Series in 2012. 

4) The Heat signed Shane Battier – As I wrote yesterday, I love this deal for the Heat.  They needed a tough, do it all guy and no one in the league has been more vaulable than Battier as a jack of all trades.  The best defensive team in the NBA last season…just got better defensively.  Wow. 

Yesterday, December 8, 2011, was one of the craziest sports days in recent memory.  Before the NBA kicks off on Christmas Day we could potentially see even more craziness.  What an awesome time to be a sports fan – especially if you like LA or Miami.

Miami Thrice Title Quest Diary – December 8, 2011

When the Big Three joined up together in Miami what seems like eons ago, I tried to imagine who would be the perfect player to compliment them.  This was my checklist:

– Strong rebounder

– A “do whatever it takes to win” guy

– Great defender

– Shane Battier

There is only one man in the NBA who fits all that criteria: Shane Battier.  In 2011/2012, he will be a member of the Miami Heat.  In many ways the signing of Battier represents a turning point, going forward for the Heat.  They finally have a true  fourth Heatle (goodbye Mike Bibby!), a legitimate, gritty stopper who will set the tone on defense and can knock down a big shot when asked.  Battier does not care about touching the ball and is a strong forward who can give LeBron or Chris Bosh a breather. 

The Heat have found a tough player who will help them immensely, the guy who may finally put them over the top and help LeBron capture his first NBA championship.  As for my predictions: I think it comes down to OKC vs. the Big Three…with one small caveat.

I am unsure why the Lakers are chasing Chris Paul, aside from the fact that he killed them in the playoffs.  Dwight Howard is out there wanting to play in LA and would eat the Western Conference alive.  Kobe creates the majority of his own shots and the major need position on the Lakers (aside from “star of the future”) is interior toughness.  Howard would present a bold new face for LA and represent the perfect transition; he can carry a team.  Keep in mind I am not saying Paul is not a franchise player – in the playoffs last year he single handedly carried the Hornets and kept them in the series with the Lakers.  Few point guards have ever played better in a playoff series and yet he seems like a strange choice for the Lakers: again, Kobe creates his own shots and handles the ball way too much.  Yet, as of 4:15 pacific time, the Lakers appear dead set on pulling him in.  If that happens the biggest remaining question is: Where does Howard go?

Perhaps the long awaited LeBron for Howard trade could actually happen.  Perhaps Howard will end up in New Jersey. 

Chris Paul (UPDATED: Paul has been traded to the Lakers in a three team deal involving Houston.  The Hornets get Odom + Kevin Martin + Luis Scola / the Hornets get Gasol…this deal is DONE) or not, the NBA Finals will come down to the Heat and OKC.

NFL Week 13 Quick Hits

1) Some Shocking Scores – KC beats Chicago in a low offense affair; Miami continues to quietly play very good football and goes to town on the Raiders (behind 100 yards on the ground from Reggie Bush); The QB-less Texans win a tough one in Atlanta; the Colts make it a bit of a game against the Pats.  Just when we think we have a good idea about how a season is going to turn out, the league takes a complete U-turn. 

2) Tebow continues to get it done – Again, watching the progression Tebow has gone through in transforming himself into a legit NFL QB is sure a fun bit of drama.  People in Denver must be visiting cardiologists at an alarming rate but they are very, very happy to do so.  Tebow threw the ball better today than he has before and topped 200 yards along with 2 big time tds.  The Whisper posed this question: Would you rather have Cam Newton or Tim Tebow?  Going forward defenses may make headway stopping both of them, but seeing their evolution is awesome.  At this point I may have to take Newton due to his upside…but in the last five minutes of any game I want Tebow as my guy.  He has the Broncos playing inspired football – helped by a horrible pick by Christian Ponder (who had a great game), but the team has rallied around their emotional leader: Tebow.

3) San Fran is in the show – For the first time in a decade, San Fran is entering the postseason and they are entering as a legitimate threat to play some home games.  Congrats due to Frank Gore, now the 9ers leading rusher which is really a testament to his ability to come back from multiple devestating knee injuries.  This season there are two awards that are 100% guaranteed: Aaraon Rodgers for MVP and Jim Harbaugh for Coach of the Year. 

4) Packers – Giants went down to the wire and then some – A battle between Aaron Rodgers and Eli Manning that went back and forth and back and forth.  A two point conversion; a huge Clay Matthews pick six; a Charles Woodson injury – this game had just about everything.  The Giants threw everything they had at the Packers and came up short.  The Pack want to win out and they look pretty unstoppable right now.  What a finish.

5) A Great NFL Day – Cam Newton busts out, Tebow again, the Giants / Pack down to the wire and the Cowboys lose because they ice their own kicker.  Unforgivable.  Maybe the worst play of the entire year not involving Stevie Johnson.