Friday, April 18, 2014

To tank, or not to tank

It doesn't matter now, because the playoff seedings have been set. Yet not long ago in the NBA, there was considerable buzz as to whether some NBA teams were "tanking it" for various reasons. In other words, losing games they might well have won had they put forth their best effort.

A lot of this conversation centered around teams that weren't contenders in their "race for the bottom" to improve their chances regarding the draft lottery. The worse their record, the more ping-pong balls they get, and their odds go up to get a higher pick. Even if true (which is extremely hard to prove, because head coaches are definitely free to play anybody on their rosters and call strategies as they see fit), sometimes it works out -- and sometimes it backfires.

Just because someone has the odds in the favor, in a game of chance that hardly guarantees a win. And as a team loses game after game, they're also likely eroding their home fan base. Besides the Chicago Cubs and the Detroit Lions, most fans are only going to tolerate perennial losers for so long, before they turn their backs on them. The Detroit Pistons have found this out of late. Despite umpteen shameless promotions, they have struggled mightily to lure people into the seats at their Palace. Such are the not-so-good spoils of being a loser.

But what about the winners? A case could be made that some of them have tanked as well towards the end of the regular season. This gets into another hard to prove shady area as well. With berths in the playoffs already locked up, it's understandable a team might want to rest their starters more than usual so they can be fresher for the grind of the playoffs. But when losing a game or two they would likely otherwise win might cost them home court advantage in a future series -- why would they do it? Home court advantage is supposed to be a big deal -- right?

Probably so, but yours truly would submit other forces are at work as well. The top two seeded teams in both conferences know they will basically have walk-overs in the first round. #1 faces #8, and #2 faces #7. An upset is always remotely possible, but highly unlikely. And that's where the plot thickens.

High caliber teams are looking ahead to the next likely match-up in the second round. They're projecting who's going to win in other opening round series' as well. Perhaps by semi-intentionally falling to the #2 seed when they could have been #1, the second round will be against a team they better match up with, and are confident they can beat to move on to the conference finals. A calculated risk to be sure, but don't think for a minute people in NBA front offices don't discuss such things.

Consider what's at stake. Moving on to another series guarantees ownership some mega cha-chings from packed houses at astronomical playoff ticket prices. Throw in the continued TV exposure with all the money that comes with it, add in the bump in sales of team paraphernalia that will also result -- and next thing you know -- we're talking about almost as much dough as my editor rakes in every year.

Yet in the end, to be victorious, whether it be the conference finals or the NBA Finals, a team is going to have to eventually square off and prevail against the best competition anyway. Home court is nice, but true champions are road warriors when they have to be and it counts the most.

But jockeying for position and/or doing a little strategic tanking along the way might just have its advantages as well.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Stepping out of character

Though this is a sports blog, once in a great while yours truly gets this overwhelming need to vent on other topics. This is one of those times.

What is it with this nonsense? While watching your typical attack ad on TV during an election year, there were the magic words -- right on the screen. This content is "mostly true". Well obviously, that means at least some of it was lies. My theory on voting is simple. Whichever candidate's minions are the last to robo-call me, leave a flyer, come to my door, or attack the opposition before election day -- guarantees my vote for the other guy/gal. No doubt, I'll be switching back and forth a lot between now and November.

With Easter coming up, a lot of people will be buying hams. $1.37 a pound for semi-boneless ham? Not a bad deal. Wait a minute. Semi-boneless? What the hell is that? Is that anything like semi-pregnant? Either it has a bone in it or it doesn't. How to deal with people like this? Give them a dose of their own medicine. Load up on the ham and tell them you're writing them a check that's semi-cashable at the bank.

Turns out, that dude that's spent so much time in a flight simulator with a CNN reporter discussing every conceivable possibility about de plane, de plane, de missing plane, is a Canadian based in Toronto. And he just got fired. Not by CNN, by the guy that owns the simulator, which is also in Toronto. The boss man said his pilot employee was embarrassing all Canadians by the way he dressed on TV. After all, pilots don't wear shorts and sandals, right? They wear those fancy white uniforms with all the stripes on their shoulders and sleeves, and those spiffy caps like the Skipper on Gilligan's Island. But hang on again. This was only a simulator, as in -- not real. For that matter, who cares what REAL pilots wear anyway? If I'm sitting in that tube going 500 MPH at 35,000 feet, I want somebody that knows how to fly the damn plane, not a fashion plate. Once they lock the door to the cockpit, they might get naked for all we know. Who cares? Get me from point A to point B in one piece, and I'm a happy camper, with or without the little bag of stale peanuts.

Speaking of Toronto, isn't that the same city where that loveable Rob Ford still reigns as mayor? Maybe the owner of that flight simulator needs to have a little pep talk with him regarding embarrassing Canadians -- eh?

And if this clown is so worried about a dress code in Canada, how come he's been silent for the last 40 years when it comes to Don Cherry, whose outfits got more and more outrageous on TV every year? That's OK on Canada's flagship station, but a dude dressing casually in a flight simulator humiliates his countrymen while being a guest on an American cable channel? Something is very wrong with this picture.

Attitudes like that are almost enough to convince yours truly to wear more than a sparkly fluorescent thong when he sits down to right these posts. Almost.

Back to sports next time. The NHL playoffs are starting, with the NBA not far behind. And as the murder trial winds down I, for one, am highly interested in how the Oscar Pistorius case turns out. Stay tuned....

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Phil Ivey. Did he cheat?

Though it's definitely growing, professional poker, particularly at its highest levels, almost has a cult type following. Either one is really into it or one likely knows, or cares, very little about it.

But aficionados definitely know who Phil Ivey is. Some claim he's the best poker player in the world. Like many other high-profile players in other games (sports), whether or not he's the best of the best is certainly debatable, but few would doubt he's world-class.

So when a player of Ivey's status gets caught up in not just one, but two alleged "cheating" scandals at casinos, this is big news in the poker world. One involves a casino in England, and the other is in Atlantic City. Actually, both these events happened in 2012 and may never have to come light at all, except the latter casino recently filed suit to recover the almost $10 million Ivey took them for. The former case still pending in the UK is quite the opposite. Ivey sued them for millions he won, but they wouldn't pay, though, strangely enough, they gave him a receipt for his winnings.

Yet both instances involve the same technique, or modus operandi, if you will. It's something called "edge sorting". This is when a deck, or decks of cards are flawed in the manufacturing process. Basically, to the highly trained eye -- they're "marked", to a certain degree. One edge of certain values of cards is ever so slightly different than those of other numerical values. While it's not a slam dunk guarantee to success like x-ray vision would be, even tipping the odds a few percentage points in the favor of a world-class player like Ivey is a recipe for disaster -- for the house.

But the question is -- did he cheat, or merely take advantage of an opportunity the casino itself afforded him?

After all, Ivey didn't make those cards. The card company did. Nor did he bring them with him. The casino bought them from the card company and provided them. A dealer employed by the casino shuffled and dealt them. In that respect, it's tough to accuse Ivey of cheating anymore than it is a player with a good memory (card counter) having an advantage in blackjack.

And let's face it -- folks trying to "cheat" the system in sports to their own advantage is certainly nothing new. In baseball alone, players and coaches routinely try to steal the other team's signs. Catchers "frame" pitches for strikes they know are not, infielders pretend they tagged out a runner on a close play when they know damn good and well he beat the tag. Outfielders will hold up the ball like they caught it, when they also know full well they short-hopped it, etc, etc.

Much the same sort of shenanigans go on in football. In basketball, hockey and soccer, players routinely flop on phantom fouls trying to draw calls from the refs. They know what they're claiming is a lie, but they do it anyway, just to see it they can get away with it. And sometimes they do.

Yet somehow all this has been tacitly condoned as just part of the game over the years. Get away with whatever you can, because nothing matters more than winning, even if you had to run a scam here and there to pull it off. It's probably even coached, but that doesn't make it righteous.

Even in poker, world-class players probe their opponents for "tells". Anything from a hand gesture, to tone of voice, to an eye movement, and beyond, can yield "information" when one is being "scanned" by a top-notch professional. Besides their computer brains constantly remembering the actions of past hands and recalculating the odds of the present one as it progresses, that's what makes world-class players what they are. All of this is accepted as the norm as well. Just part of the game.

It seems only in professional golf will a player call a foul on himself when he knows he broke a rule, even if unintentionally, and willingly accept the penalty.

But back to where this started. Phil Ivey. Where should he stand in the whole scheme of where the line is between gaining a competitive advantage and cheating?

According to reports, at the Atlantic City casino, Ivey was accompanied by a female Chinese companion. They had gamed for one night and said they would only come back if the same deck of cards was used the following night. Red flag #1. Ivey wanted his per-hand betting limit doubled. Red flag #2. His lady companion requested a Chinese dealer so she could speak in Mandarin to him, which the pit boss wouldn't understand. Red flag #3. She allegedly requested the cards be shuffled in a certain way. Red flag #4.

In that respect, it can certainly be argued Ivey was cheating indeed, though it was the casino itself that presented him the opportunity to do so through their own incompetence.

So what would be a fair and equitable solution to this whole mess? Elementary, my dear Watsons.

Ivey says the Brits owe him $10 million and won't pay, even though he has a receipt. Atlantic City wants their $10 million back from Ivey. So have the Brits pay Atlantic City the same $10 million, give or take an ante or two, and call it a draw.

Plus a couple other details just to tidy things up in the future. First, find a new company to supply the cards. Second, have pit bosses that can understand whatever language is being spoken at their tables.

And lastly, if a guy like Phil Ivey wants the same deck of cards with double the betting limit the following night -- get a freaking clue that something might just be wrong with the picture......

Monday, April 14, 2014

Flight MH370, and Aldon Smith. Dumb things

While yours truly still maintains that missing Malaysian jet liner was locked onto and towed off by a Klingon tractor beam to their home planet for cheap labor -- apparently the search in the Indian Ocean continues. A persistent, if woefully misguided bunch -- those earthlings.

Now they've sent down a "submersible" to explore the ocean floor. This vessel is called the Bluefin. So why is it painted yellow? Seems dumb. Dumber yet, the humanoids already knew the max diving depth of the Bluefin was 15,000 feet, but the area they were searching in the Native American ocean was much deeper. So what's the point of deploying it in the first place? Hello? Anybody home?

Aldon Smith, of the San Fran 49ers, finds himself a few fathoms below the surface as well these days in the court of public opinion. Many have been quick to point out that a dominant player like Smith isn't easily replaced. Well, let's see.

Over his 3 year NFL career, he's averaged a little better than 2 tackles per game, and a little less than 1 sack. In a team game like the NFL, these are actually fairly good numbers for a defensive end/linebacker.

But the flip side is somewhat telling itself. In January 2012, Smith got popped for a DUI. Five months later, in June, he allegedly suffered stab wounds while trying to break up a fight during a party at his own house.

Fast forward a year to September 2013. He wrecked his vehicle all by himself, and was jammed up again on suspicion of another DUI and possession of weed.
Less than 3 weeks later, in October, he got hit with 3 felony counts of illegal possession of assault weapons, related to the party incident the year before.
Here's a good question..... If one has assault weapons, how dumb do you have to be to lose a fight to a guy with a knife?

And just a few days ago, on April 13, dear Aldon was in Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) when he got into a scuffle with those pesky airport authorities, that seem to be a little picky about safety procedures since 9/11, for some reason.

So what did Smith do? Claimed he had a bomb. Other than sticks, bricks, a box of rocks, and possibly this blog -- is there anything dumber in the whole world than saying you have a bomb in an airport?

Yep, they were right about one thing. Guys like Aldon Smith don't come along just every day.

Just a thought, but perhaps they should put Aldon in charge of finding that plane, because it appears he doesn't have a clue either. Better yet, maybe that Klingon starship will come back and beam him up as well. Nothing like spreading diversity and equal (dumb) employment opportunities around the universe.....

Boston Marathon

Yep, the endurance race in Beantown once again draws near. Roughly 36,000 runners and wheelers participated last year. That's a whole lot of folks trying to cover 26.2 miles. To put that in perspective, 36,000 is about....

1) The maximum crowd Fenway Park can accommodate.
2) The number of times the average urban American is seen on various cameras every day.
3) Chris Christie's all-time record for chili dogs consumed in one sitting.
4) How many hours CNN has droned on about that Malaysian plane, while still knowing nothing.
5) My editor's (boss) typical lunch tab when it's my turn to buy.
6) How many dumb ideas yours truly has put forth in this blog, to date.

And like that. Let's just say it's a bunch.

So now we're getting bombarded with stories recounting last year's Boston Marathon. As you recall, a pair of lunatics set off a couple bombs killing a few people and seriously injuring many others. One of the culprits was eventually killed by the cops, and the other one will never see the light of day again.

It was over. Let the healing begin. But that's not how it works -- is it?

In America, we can never seem to let go of bad things of note. Remember the Maine. Remember the Alamo. Remember Pearl Harbor. Good grief, there are those that still complain about the "holocaust", though it happened on another continent back in the 1940s, not to mention slavery -- which was abolished 150 years ago. And now Boston seems to have joined the list. Remember last year. And next year it will be remember two years ago, and then five, ten, twenty, fifty, one hundred more might well follow.

To all of which I say -- get over it. Sometimes bad stuff just happens. Since the bombs went off in Beantown last year, there's been countless thousands of shootings, stabbings, rapes, strangulations, child molestations, etc., etc. across the country. And like the Boston bombers, these things were no accident. They were done on purpose, with malice and aforethought, and all that. Many suffered and/or died at the hands of other bad people.

Sure, every life is precious, and when they are snuffed out and/or horribly altered by evil doers, it is a tragedy indeed. But just because such a thing happens during a high-profile televised event like the Boston Marathon, doesn't make the victims any more special than those mentioned above.

Boston would be a great place to be this year to watch the marathon. That is, if you don't mind hob-nobbing with a few thousand feds and every east coast cop they could pry away from doughnut shop duty watching your every move.

And yes, looking back at a tragic event that happened a year ago is understandable. Many run an "in memorium" entry on the obit page of their local newspaper, visit and/or plant flowers at a gravesite, or otherwise re-acknowledge their loss. Yours truly has certainly buried enough friends and family over the years to be quite mindful of the emotions that are involved. But there's also one very hard truth I learned over that time. While many others will sympathize when something bad happens -- it doesn't last for long. Their lives quickly go on, as well they should, because they have enough problems of their own to deal with.

Here's hoping the good folks in Boston get the message. What happened last year at their race was horrific indeed, and a one year memorial is appropriate. But after that, they need to get over it. Again, bad stuff continues to happen to people the world over, and their grief is no less important.

If the Beaners keep bringing this up year after year at race time, they will not be "Boston strong" as they have professed. Quite the contrary. Strong people handle it and move on. Only the wimpy and whiny looking for handouts continue to play the sympathy card every chance they get.....

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Masters. Jordan and Miguel

Jordan Spieth is big news at the Masters. Born in Dallas, went to a Catholic high school, a Jesuit prep school, and on to the longhorns of the Univ of Texas. Just your average boy from Big D trying to scratch out a living playing golf. Or is he?

After the third round (moving day), Spieth shares the lead at 5 under par with former winner Bubba Watson, with a few others nipping at their heels. But here's the rub..... Spieth is only 20 years old. If he goes on to win the Masters, he'd be the youngest champion ever.

Will his nerves, and game, hold up on what's sure to be the most pressure-packed day of his golfing life during the final round at Augusta? Hard to say. Through the first three rounds, he's been the model of consistency, carding scores of 71, 70, and 70. Another 70 might just get him to the promised land of the green jackets.

Despite an early eagle, Bubba fell back a few shots to tighten the field, while others were making a bit of a charge. No one more so than Spaniard Miguel Jiminez, who blistered the course for a 6 under 66. You know Miguel. He's that 50 year old dude that looks like Gene Hackman with a blond ponytail that, holy hide the kids, dares to have a smoke on the course once in a while.

Jonas Blixt is right there, but few noticed. Such is the low profile nature of the Swedes. They just quietly get it done. So is American Ricky Fowler, always distinguishable by the extra long bills on his golf caps. Same for Matt Kuchar, though the special K man with the rosy cheeks and Leave It To Beaver wholesome smile has become known as somewhat of a choker on Sundays of late.

And never count out the guy with the goofy golf swing. Jim Furyk is only a few strokes behind, though his collar has had a way of tightening up on the Sabbath in recent times as well.

Though this Masters is wide open going into the final round and anything can happen, and probably will, any 20 year old kid that escaped the clutches of those dastardly nuns to top the leader board at the Masters after three rounds has got my vote. Just do it Jordan.

But if I was a betting man, my money would be on Bubba. Been there, won that, just a couple years ago, so he knows all about the pressure of Sunday on the back nine at Augusta. Besides, the little dude can hit driver and then a short iron into par 5 greens? Unbelievable.

Regardless, it should be a very exciting finish. And if Jordan can't win it, and Bubba falters, then let it be Gene Hack--, sorry, Miguel Jiminez.

While accepting the green jacket, how I would dearly love to see him fire up a cigarette and blow smoke in the faces of the uppity schmucks at Augusta. How cool would that be? Magnificent golf course and great tournament, but this holier-than-thou stuff needs to be taken down a notch or two once in a while. Just a thought.....

Friday, April 11, 2014

Idle thoughts

Well OK. General Motors is facing scrutiny over faulty ignition switches. It appears they were a bit tardy in reporting the problem -- like 10 years worth. But new CEO Mary Barra has vowed to punish those that were responsible. So what did they do? Put a couple engineers on paid leave. Hey, when you want to send a strong message wrongdoing won't be tolerated -- nothing like giving the still unnamed scapegoats a paid vacation. Yeah, that'll teach em. Please.

Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh has yet to report for the team's voluntary workouts. Maybe that's why they call them voluntary. Yet yours truly still maintains the Lions need to off this guy, because he's another incident waiting to happen. They should trade him before the draft next month for another pick or two. If no other team is interested, just cut him and let somebody else worry about the salary cap nightmare he continues to present. Yeah, I know, he's supposedly a dominant force, and was even a team captain last year. But that doesn't outweigh his liabilities. Suh was easily neutralized last year by opposing offensive lines, and only a loose cannon coach himself, the recently fired Jim Schwartz, would allow such a bad clown to be a captain. With him or without him, the Lions aren't going anywhere anyway, so why wait for his next shoe to drop, on or off the field? Better to get something in return while Suh still has some value -- or at least save some big bucks better spent elsewhere in the future.

Uh oh. Bubba, pink driver and all, is leading the Masters again. Pretty sure Mr.Watson won it just a couple years ago, so I wouldn't look for him to exactly fold on the weekend. The other notable lefty, some guy named Phil, missed the cut. A couple triple bogeys at Augusta have a way of doing that sometimes.

The Detroit Tigers, whose bullpen has long been suspect, signed free-agent Joe Nathan for big bucks in the offseason, supposedly to be their "closer" to save the day, no pun intended -- well, maybe. Well, let's see. In four appearances, spanning a grand total of 3 2/3 innings, Nathan has given up 6 hits, 5 earned runs, issued 4 walks, and recorded 2 strikeouts. His ERA? 12.27. And all this for a measly $10 million a year. What a bargain. On top of that, now Nathan supposedly has a "dead" arm. Hey, the dude's 39 years old and his best days are long behind him. What was Tigers' GM Dave Dombrowski thinking when he brought this guy in? For every great move he pulls, like getting Miguel Cabrera, he seems to pull a bone-head like this one, or it taking him a few years to finally figure out the obvious. Brandon Inge couldn't hit, and he grossly overpaid for a one dimensional player like Prince Fielder.

My gosh, what has become of the Indiana Pacers? So dominant earlier in the year, and thought to be championship contenders, they appear to be totally collapsing in recent times with the playoffs looming soon.

On a much more positive note -- the old Harley fired right up again for another year of riding. God bless whoever invented trickle chargers for the winter months.