Saturday, February 19, 2011

All-Star Friday Night

By: Matt

Last night was the opening night of the NBA’s All-Star Weekend. The highlights of the opening night are two of the weekends more interesting events: the Celebrity Game and Rookie Challenge. The Celebrity Game occurred first and featured a combination of new and old faces. Last year’s … questionable MVP Michael Rappaport returned to attempt futilely to defend his crown (although the video of his training with Jon Barry in preparation to do so was relatively amusing). Teen pop-star Justin Bieber started for the west team and Rob Kardashian (another figure best known among girls ages 10-18) played briefly in front of his brother-in-law, the Los Angeles Lakers’ Lamar Odom. Former NBA Stars Chris Mullen, Mitch Richmond, Scottie Pippen, Rick Fox, Jalen Rose, Magic Johnson, and Bill Walton all appeared either as players and coaches. The game itself was amusing, with the former stars demonstrating that even in old-age and retirement they are still far superior to the rest of humanity in both basketball skill and general athleticism. The game was what it promised to be, a silly pick up game filled with a variety of comedic bits, both scripted and unscripted, that entertained fans for a little while and included a few comical basketball moments. The diminutive Justin Bieber’s ball-handling skills were actually impressive and when he made arguably the most-awkward looking 3-pointer ever made on National TV the females in attendance at the game went wild. The highlight of the game arguably may have come when the 6’8” Scottie Pippen blocked the 5’5” Bieber and then dribbled away with the ball. It was hilarious, and while some people may have wanted for Scottie to pick on someone his own size, Bieber should just consider himself lucky that former two-time MVP Terrell Owens was not playing in this game. One can only imagine what he would have done with the pop-star playing against him in a nationally televised pick-up game (on second thought, one probably CAN’T imagine what TO would have done). With fans voting for the MVP Bieber predictably won the trophy, and while he was arguably both a highlight (the young Canadian’s presence was divisive if nothing else) the trophy probably should have gone to either Pippen or Jalen Rose. Hardly the biggest travesty in sports history.

What was supposed to serve as the true sporting event of the evening, the Rookie Challenge, felt oddly like an extended opening act for the Dunk Contest. And I loved it! Seeing Blake Griffin, DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall, James Harden, and the shockingly ACL-less (a fact mentioned frequently throughout the evening) DeJuan Blair put on a display in athleticism was interesting, exciting, and thoroughly enjoyable. While nobody was going to win any points for defense in this game, the players put on acrobatic displays and Griffin displayed the amazing physical gifts that have made him an ESPN-wunderkind this past year. The game was actually close late, but all anyone will remember were the series of jaw dropping, high flying scores made throughout the evening. One play involving a bounce-off-the-ground-alley-opp pass from Wall to Griffin that ended in a reverse-two-handed slam will live forever in youtube highlight reels and the memories of those lucky enough to see it in person. (for those who weren’t lucky enough, and you’re welcome).

Hopefully tonight’s dunk contest and continuation of the All-Star festivities will keep up with what was a very successful All Star Friday Night. The only other thing left to say is that, after this years Pro Bowl, even the first night of the NBA All Star Weekend re-affirms what I would have to imagine is the common opinion that the NBA’s all-star festivities are by far the best among the four major sports.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

What I'm Thinking About 2/8

By: Matt

Carmelo Anthony used to be the face of the Denver Nuggets. Although his impact on the Nuggets franchise was less than that of draft-mate LeBron James, Anthony has been one of the NBA's premiere players for the better part of the last decade. Now it appears that the Nuggets would have been better off trading him months ago. Anthony has been vocal in his desire to leave Denver for greener pastures (namely New York). The Nuggets could have traded him before the season began, but felt that they could convince him to stay. They could have traded him early in the season, and nearly did. The New Jersey (soon to be Brooklyn) Nets offered Derek Favors, the third overall pick in this past years draft, and future draft picks. The deal seemed fair, and had the potential to set up the Nuggets for succeeding in the foreseeable future. But it never happened. The Nuggets backed down on these talks and again held onto the disgruntled Anthony. This season has turned into a disaster for the Nuggets. A team that once featured one of the league's best players and competed annually for championships now lacks identity, talent, and direction. The most recent Anthony trade discussions involved the Los Angeles Lakers, and young center Andrew Bynum. Although Bynum is a quality player, receiving him in exchange for Anthony would hardly seem suitable to Nuggets fans. This trade now seems unlikely, and as the days go bye Anthony's value to all teams not named the New York Knicks continues to drop. Now it appears that Nuggets fans will have to settle for nothing in return for their former star. The front office should enjoy having to explain how they messed this up so badly when that time ultimately (and what looks like inevitably) comes.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Pack are Back

By: Matt

The Green Bay Packers are Super Bowl Champions, again. Super Bowl XLV continued a recent (and historically shocking) trend of close, competitive, and generally entertaining super bowls. 4 years removed from a late loss in the NFC Championship Game the Packers are now championships. Much has changed over that period, iron man quarterback Brett Favre was let go and his replacement Aaron Rodgers evolved from being ‘the last guy in the green room’ to one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Defensive guru Dom Capers was brought in to change the traditional 4-3 defense to a modern 3-4 scheme. Defensive leader Aaron Kampman left, new blood was infused with 2011 heroes Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji. The Packers moves were questioned, but in the end, the team made a quick, efficient turnaround and now reign supreme. They dominated the playoffs, becoming just the 2nd team in history to become champions after winning 3 consecutive road playoff games, and they rallied from the brink of elimination to get there. On the way to the Super Bowl the Packers defeated one of the most electrifying players in Michael Vick and beat the Falcons in a building where they had been previously infallible before ultimately overcoming the vaunted defense of their longtime rival Chicago Bears. When they ultimately got to the Super Bowl, the Pittsburgh Steelers, champions in 2 of the previous 5 years were waiting. The path followed by the Packers would have seemed impossible before the playoffs began, but now it is simply a part of the legend of the 2011 Super Bowl Champions.

The game itself was interesting. Green Bay dominated the first half before allowing Pittsburgh to rally in the 3rd quarter. The Packers suffered numerous injuries throughout the game, none more important than the loss of premiere cornerback Charles Woodson to a broken collarbone. Even without their defensive captain, the Packers defense stopped the Steelers from driving with 2 minutes left. Had Pittsburgh completed that drive they would have again added to Super Bowl lore and Ben Roethlisberger would be undeniably one of the greatest big game players of all time and all but a lock for the Hall of Fame. Instead the Lombardi Trophy returns to the city Lombardi made famous and predicting the Steelers’ quarterback’s legacy becomes even more complicated.

The Packers could become frequent Super Bowl competitors; their team is among the youngest and most talented in the league, and Aaron Rodgers is among the elite quarterbacks vying to replace the aging Tom Brady and Peyton Manning as a face of the National Football League. At the same time, winning Super Bowl’s is hard. In 1996 the Packers won a super bowl with a 27-year-old Brett Favre (the same age Rodgers is now) and appeared poised to win many more. They went back the next year, but until yesterday remained title-less. The present-day versions of the Packers appear to be a more balanced and talented team, but many balanced and talented teams have failed to ever win a Super Bowl. Ultimately, time will tell if the Packers can/will win again, for now, let the city celebrate. Title-town USA is the home to the champs once again.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Pettitte Calls It A Career

By Matt:

After an off-season of internal debate veteran left-hander Andy Pettitte formally announced his retirement today. Pettitte spent the past 15 years as a pitcher in the Major Leagues, 13 of which were spent as a member of the vaunted New York Yankees. A member of the “core-four” Yankees who chartered the team’s success in the late 90’s and stayed with the franchise through the 2009 World Series; Pettitte has gained recognition as one of the all-time Yankee greats. The 38 year old veteran will retire with a MLB record 19 post-season wins, a stat clearly padded by the addition of the Wild Card playoff round just prior to the start of his career but an impressive achievement nonetheless. For Pettitte, the future would seem to include debate about Hall of Fame potential and a lot more time spent with his family. As fellow Lousiana native Brett Favre has shown the world of the past 4 off-seasons, retirement can be a very temporary thing, but in Pettitte’s case a return to the Major League’s seems less-than-likely at this point.

As for Pettitte’s now-former team, the Yankees, an off-season that began with great promise has ended with new question marks. The Yankees entered the Hot Stove season with a solid rotation and expectations of adding Cliff Lee and creating a super-rotation. Unfortunately, the lefty Lee spurned the Yankees for the Philadelphia Phillies, the team he played against the Yankees with in the 2009 World Series (where he contributed the Yanks only two Fall Classic losses). After that point it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that baseball’s richest team would add baseball’s most coveted pitcher. Things didn’t play out that way. The loss of Pettite in addition to the failure to add Lee leaves the Yankees with a potentially major lack of starting pitching. The team still has ace pitcher CC Sabathia the highly paid, highly volatile AJ Burnett, and 2010 first-half phenom Phil Hughes. As for the other 2 pitchers, the remaining options are a combination of young, unproven talent and old, potentially washed away talent. Young pitchers Sergio Mitre and Ivan Nova were underwhelming in short starting stints with the Yankees last year. The team has also signed veteran pitchers Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, and former top-prospect Mark Prior. The Yankees hope that some combination of those options will provide consistency for a rotation that is currently marred by a striking lack of consistency. While Sabathia is consistently dominant, Burnett’s ERA inflated rapidly in 2010 and Hughes was an all-star through July and anything but down the stretch. At this point, it appears that the 2011 Yankees will have to win games by having their potent offense and deep, talented bullpen overcome the weaknesses of their beleaguered starting pitching staff. The Yankees were never a dominant pitching team, but Pettitte was a consistent pitcher who proved last year that even at his advanced age he had top-of-the-rotation upside. Losing a face of the franchise from the past 15 years hurts the Yankees, and now the team is left hoping that someone new will capture magic. Or that Pettitte will realize that he isn’t ready to walk away.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

What I'm Thinking About 2/2

By: Matt

This week the Tampa Bay Rays signed both Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon to fill the remaining holes in an offense left gutted by an off-season intended to reduce team payroll by a significant amount. The signing of this pair of players bring back memories of the duo working together to end the Curse of the Bambino and capture a World Series Championship for the Boston Red Sox. That was nearly 7 years ago and times have changed. Now Ramirez has the long hair instead of Damon, none of them looks like a caveman, both are slower, older, and less defensively capable (although as Damon pointed out in their shared press conference, Manny's removal from Left Field also means the end of his time as Damon's cutoff man). 7 years ago this signing would have been as earth shattering as their former team's addition of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez was this year. Now Rays fans are left hoping that the two former teammates will be able to capture some lost magic and help a decimated Ray's squad achieve an improbable repeat as AL East Champs. It's hard to see this scenario as likely, but then again, how wise is it to bet against the reunited duo of Johnny and Manny?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Andre the Giant

By: Chris

Soon after the 2010-2011 NBA Season got underway, the chorus of Sixer fans who wanted Shooting Forward Andre Iguodala to be traded grew louder and louder. Admittedly, I was one of them. After all, Iguodala still displayed his habits that made Philly fans grow to despise him over the years. Basically, he saw himself as a franchise player. Iso-plays resulting in long range jumpers with 15 seconds left on the shot clock became more and more frequent. Yes, the Sixers were and are a young team, but that is no reason for him to believe he can simply take over a game. Let's face it: he is not Kobe Bryant.
His play down the stretch in crunch time situations did not help either. Sure, he had some amazing game winning shots (i.e. playoff game in Orlando, away at the Lakers), but all in all it was fair to say that when we needed a dependable go-to guy, he did not deliver. Then came the rumors that he just fitting well with new Ohio State product Evan Turner. They were not gelling on the court, and a few awkward moments in games seemed to show that they could not move forward on the same team together.
At this point, the Sixers Front Office was absolutely screwed. Iguodala had long been rumored to be on his way out, and paired with his monstrous contract, they had absolutely no leverage. However, they did the smart thing, by announcing Iguodala would not be traded this season. I applaud them for this move.
All that being said, it is now almost the beginning of February, and the landscape has changed quite a bit. Iguodala is averaging 14.7 points per game, 5.2 rebounds, 6.1 assists, all while wisely shooting 54% from the field. His efficiency has increased dramatically. More so than what the statistics show, he is become a TEAM PLAYER. I am not sure whether it has been Doug Collins' coaching methods, or whether Iguodala has become mature enough to realize he is not, and will never be, the teams #1 option.
The Sixers now find themselves in the hunt for a mid to low seed for the playoffs. Although this is not what a lot of Sixer fans, they are winning games. The excitement, at least in some ways, is returning. Now, I believe that Iguodala can actually fit into the 76ers plan for the future. Paired with a young core of Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, Jodie Meeks, and potentially Spencer Hawes (if the Sixers choose to resign him), basketball could be relevant again in the near future. All in all, Iguodala deserves credit for his transformation, and I hope he continues to play the way he has been in January.

What I'm Thinking About 2/1

By: Matt

All year long I heard about the greatness of Clay Matthews Jr. and how he was tearing up the NFL week after week. I saw it myself in week 1, and with all the media attention and hype surrounding him I assumed his winning the Defensive Player of the Year award was a foregone conclusion. Yesterday the award went to Pittsburgh Safety Troy Polamalu and my first reaction (one I'm sure I shared with many others) was "CLAY GOT SNUBBED." Then I checked the stats. And then I wondered, why was this guy being touted as the greatest ever in the first place. I am a Clay Matthews fan and believe that he will be an impact defender for years to come, but his numbers this year simply don't back the hype. I don't know that he wasn't deserving of the award, in truth, Polamalu's teammate James Harrison's numbers appear more impressive than both Matthews and Polamalu's. Ultimately, it's not particularly important. The fans still recognize the great year Matthews had, Polamalu is a great player, and a week from now one of these players will be celebrating their winning the big prize and neither will care about the DPOY award any more.