Thursday, May 25, 2017

NBA/NHL viewing. Easy call

On this fine Thursday night, sports fans had a choice. Would they rather pay more attention to the NBA playoff game between Cleveland and Boston -- or the NHL contest between Ottawa and Pittsburgh?

True, one could flip back and forth. But which was the more must-see game indeed?

It was an easy call.

In the NBA, things pretty much turned out as expected. Even when the season began last fall, the consensus was certainly that the Cavaliers and Warriors would meet in the NBA finals for a rubber match. Round three, as it were.

And so it has come to pass. No great surprise. Golden State has steamrolled their way through the playoffs not losing a single game enroute. A perfect 12-0. Did anybody really think any team in the West was going to stop them?

The same can be said for the Cavaliers. With the exception of one minor hiccup, a close loss in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, they've cruised through the playoffs as well. Did anybody really think there was a team in the east that could deny them? 

Conversely, the NHL playoffs were chock full of drama and surprises. 

The Nashville Predators, the eighth and lowest seed to even make the playoffs in the west, somehow got hot and found their way into the Cup Finals.

They awaited the winner between Ottawa and Pittsburgh, a #6 and #2 seed respectively. 

And a close, hard-fought contest the latter was in a Game 7 at Pittsburgh. Back and forth they went with the score knotted at 2-2.

OK, time to check in on the NBA game. Click. The Cavs are ahead by 35 points in the 4th quarter. Yawn. Of course they are. 

Click. The Ottawa/Pitt game has gone into overtime -- then double overtime. This is some serious drama going on. 

Finally, the Pens score the winning goal. There will be no Canadian teams in this year's Stanley Cup Finals -- again. Alas, how many will miss the rousing rendition of O Canada before the games in the series for Lord Stanley's Cup? Count yours truly among them. The legions of hockey hosers in the great white north can only sit idly by and watch the yanks to the south slug it out again. 

But now things have changed. 

Pittsburgh and Nashville present an interesting match-up in the NHL Finals. A #2 seed taking on a #8. The Pens, with home ice advantage, will certainly be favored. But hockey is very much an unpredictable game. A lucky -- or unlucky -- bounce here, a deflection there, and games can be decided. True, the Pens are the defending champs and have definitely been there, done that. But the Preds have been hot of late. This series could be a sweep, or go to seven games, with the decider going into double or triple overtime. It's a crapshoot.

Yet though the NBA Finals have long been foreseeable, hence the playoffs to date anti-climactic, the Cavs/Warriors III scenario shapes up to be far more interesting.

Two juggernauts squaring off against each other. A combined playoff record of 24-1 getting ready to lock horns to claim superiority once and for all. At least until next year.

It's finally time to tune out the NHL some and tune back in to the NBA.

It only took six months......

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

See the double standard

In the most recent playoff game against the Boston Celtics, see Lebron James catch the ball to the left of the basket. See Lebron dribble twice while pivoting right. Oops. blocked off there and he picked up his dribble. See him pivot left and dribble twice more for an easy dunk. The basket counts and play on.

It was a blatant double dribble, but no call was made. It's hard to believe three NBA referees who triangulate on every play, all the time, could have missed something so obvious. Why was it not called? Because it was Lebron James.

Pick your superstar and watch them routinely commit travelling violations. See the same Lebron (present), Kobe Bryant (recent past), or Michael Jordan,(further back) take WAY too many steps on the way in for a dunk. Be it the NBA, college, high school, or even kindergarten basketball, the rule is the same. Once the dribble has been picked up, a step and a half (jump) are allowed. Anything more is "travelling". See these players routinely take, 3,4, 5 steps but not get whistled for a violation. How does this happen? Because they're Lebron, Kobe, and Michael. So what's the point of the rule if it's not going to be enforced equally for all?

See any NBA player "palm" the ball on just about every dribble. They routinely catch the ball on the up-bounce and turn their wrist over before bouncing it downward again. It's blatant palming. Even more blatant are behind the back dribbles from one hand to the other. It's physically impossible to do so without palming the ball. Has that rule been eliminated or is it just ignored these days?

See Shaquille O'Neal of years past catch the ball about 6 feet away from the basket. See him lower his shoulder into a stationary defender and shove him back a foot. See him do it again. Another foot. And a third time. Now all he has to do is turn around and dunk. The basket will count, but Shaq had committed three blatant offensive fouls in the process. So why weren't they called? Because it was Shaq.

Conversely, see Bill Laimbeer of the former "Bad Boy" Detroit Pistons establish position as a defender, stick his arms straight up in the air, without jumping, and otherwise not move a muscle. See the offensive player lean into his shot, making contact with Laimbeer. See Laimbeer get called for the foul. Over and over again. How could that happen? A double standard.

See Tiger Woods, through his agent, recently claim he "hasn't felt this good in years". That's great. See it be big news which the media trumpets to the heavens. It is entirely likely that if and when Eldrick ever finds his way back out on tour, the current field of hot-shots will eat him alive, like he once did the previous generation. There will be coverage galore when Woods make his next grand appearance. Replays of past highlights up the wazoo. But if he crashes and burns again, missing the cut by 6-10 strokes or worse, this will NOT be big news. It will be buried. So, hey, if they want to idolize somebody, so be it. But give him the same attention in a negative way when he stinks it up. Why won't this happen? Because in the politically correct world, only praise is allowed -- not criticism, the current President being the obvious exception. But that's politics -- not sports. A whole different animal.

Former SF 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick remains unsigned and many continue to wonder why.
Could it be his "sit downs" while the national anthem was playing last year has made him a bit "radioactive"? Maybe.

Let's not forget, NFL teams are owned by billionaires who are typically at least in their 50s or 60s, if not older. No head coach or general manager would dare bring CK on board without the owner's permission. Those of that generation tend to be of the conservative, flag waving type nature. As do most NFL fans. They love their patriotic stuff and good for them. Kaepernick could well pose a PR problem to a franchise. That's one possible reason.

Another is most NFL teams are pretty much set at QB, be it existing roster players, other free agents already acquired, or those taken in the draft.

But here's the one nobody wants to talk about. It might just be that NFL folks have taken a long look at Kaepernick and come to the conclusion that he isn't any good anymore. Didn't he go 1-10 last year? Oops, that would violate the PC rule stated above, so they can't come out and say that.

While CK had every right to do what he did regarding the anthem -- and perhaps him pursuing a higher cause is even to be commended -- in the end it accomplished but one thing. No, society hasn't changed one bit. All he did was bring much attention to himself in a not so good way,. and perhaps torpedo whatever football career he might have had remaining. What do you think the chances are that if CK had it to do all over again, he might have chosen a more "conventional" tactic?

On a bit of a lighter note, Tom Brady's wife Giselle has stated #12 suffered a concussion last year which was never reported to his team or the NFL. Brady says he can't remember that happening. Yuk, yuk.

And Odell Beckham is back in the news. The agent of the NY Giant receiver says his client's recent on-field theatrics have proven him to be an "icon".

That's one way of looking at it.

Another would be his childish, temper-tantrum, fit-throwing, look-at-me shenanigans have proven him to be an "idiot". Couple that with his ridiculous blond hairdo that would likely make anybody not named Dennis Rodman blush, and just who, pray tell, does OB come across as an icon to?

Hmm. On second thought, whoever they are, would you really want to hang with people that look up to a petulant, man-child clown like this as some kind of role model?

Only in America......

Monday, May 22, 2017

Indy 500. Still awesome

Back in the day, yours truly made the annual pilgrimage to the Indy 500. An infield rat. I, and my equally crazed buddies would arrive on Thursday -- Friday latest. In a van. We didn't have enough money to afford motel rooms, even if they were available -- which they weren't.

So it was find a place in a parking lot somewhere, and camp out. Squatter's rights, like legions of others. It was always a good idea to pick a lot close to a party store. Lots of trips carrying coolers for ice, more beer, and whatever munchies looked good, which was just about everything.

Thing was, when you got down there 2-3 days before the actual race on Sunday -- in a van -- personal hygiene eventually had to take a big hit. The only cleaning up we could do was in a restroom somewhere. And they had long lines. Once in, you had maybe 5 minutes to do your thing before the waiting masses outside would start to get restless, to say the least. And you had to walk back through the other animals on your way out. They wanted it just as bad as you did, so don't dilly-dally, or things might get ugly after you exited.

Needless to say, a sponge was a must. In the obvious absence of a shower, a quicky sponge bath was the best you were going to get. Think that's easy? Try going into a fast-food joint someday, head into the rest room with a sponge, and try to strip down, rinse yourself off with water only -- cold only -- and get redressed -- all within 5 minutes. Forget shampooing your hair or shaving, No time. Brushing your teeth wasn't much of a problem -- it could be done without water anywhere. Just spit it out when you're done. Same with urinating. Pretty much anyplace would do. But if one had to defecate, that seriously cut into sponge bath time. Let's just say this was not for the faint of heart or clean freaks. By the time Sunday came around and we went under the track into the infield (at 6 AM, several hours before the race), things had already had a way of, shall we say, ripening up some.

But we did what we had to do. Anything to be at Indy. I actually took my wife once, and it would be an understatement to say she wasn't the least bit interested in ever going back. Women can party too, but deprive them of the usual "facilities" for a couple days, and they tend to get a bit cranky. Go figure.

I myself finally burned out on it and now watch the "greatest spectacle in racing" at home on the big flat screen in HD. But I still wouldn't miss it.

So I checked out the qualifying a few days ago. First up was a young lady named Pippa Mann. She turned a 4 lap average of 219 MPH.

I'd be the first to admit I've never gone anywhere near that fast in a car. In my younger hot-rodding days, I probably topped out somewhere around 130 -- 140 max. That's cruising right along. If something goes wrong at those speeds, you have a problem, which might be fatal. But as a young man, I had more guts than brains. Nevertheless, I couldn't then, much less now, imagine going almost 100 MPH faster. 219 MPH in an overgrown go-kart is beyond my comprehension. I would likely soil my britches or faint from fright if I was put in such a vehicle, at such speeds today.

But there's the rub. Pippa's 219 wasn't going to be anywhere near fast enough to qualify for the 500. Get that slow stuff outta here.

Idle thought. Pippa? Didn't she get married to a prince in England on the same day? I mean, how many Pippas can there be in the world? It's kind of like Tiger, Shaq, Kobe, and Lebron. Have you heard of more than one? This girl moves fast indeed.

Regardless, many of the top racers were qualifying at over 230 MPH. If you and your car can't do at least 225, you might as well not even show up at the brickyard. Indy cars make NASCAR look like slow motion in comparison. On top of that, it's polite racing by necessity. There will be none of the bumping, side-swiping, and other tactics the NASCAR drivers employ so often. Get into another car at those speeds, and you're going into the wall too.

What's truly amazing is most of the Indy drivers were running their qualifying laps in 4th gear. Indy cars have 6 speed transmissions. So if a car can go upwards of 230 MPH in 4th, what might their top-end be in 6th? It all boils down to how fast they can go through the turns, ground effects (downward suction to the track) and all.

True, when the race itself goes off and they're fully up to speed, the drivers will surely shift into 5th and 6th, if only to conserve fuel. They need horsepower when qualifying for 4 laps, but strategy changes when it's going to be 500 miles. Lower RPMs over that time can make a big difference in fuel consumption, and those windows are, by design, close.

What's also mind-boggling is a qualifier lost control of his car and slammed into the wall -- head on -- at well over 200 MPH. Yes, he suffered a broken pelvis and hip, but will be OK. A head-on collision at only a mere third of that speed, say, 70 MPH, would almost certainly be fatal in an every day passenger car or truck, even with air bags -- which Indy cars don't have.

It is truly a testimony to the wondrous safety engineering that has gone into Indy cars over the years. The car itself is designed to absorb all the impact, disintegrate accordingly, and keep the driver relatively unscathed. In days of yore, that driver likely wouldn't have survived such a crash.

At any rate, maybe I'm getting old and wimpy, but I think I much prefer watching the 500 on TV these days. Memories of the rowdy, nasty, and don't give a damn days are one thing. I'll always have those.

But it's nice to have a bathroom close by where I can take my time if I want -- with hot water and a shower for later. Not to mention semi-decent food. A pizza with the works is only a phone call away if need be.

Those little things so many take for granted are more important than you think.

If you don't believe that -- try going three days without them.

Or better yet guys, trying to get your "significant other" to do the same.

Good luck with THAT....

Sunday, May 21, 2017

And Cleveland blinked

There were likely many, including yours truly, that were highly surprised at the outcome of tonight's NBA playoff game.

Just a couple days ago, the Cleveland Cavaliers had gone into Boston and beaten the Celtics unmercifully, to take a 2-0 lead in the series. It was a 44 point rout. A colossal beatdown. Definitely embarrassing for the Beantown faithful.

And the series was headed back to Cleveland. Surely, another pummeling awaited the Celtics -- right?

But a very strange thing happened. Cleveland blinked. And lost, on a last second shot by the Celtics.

It wasn't that the Cavaliers played that badly, but the Celtics rose to the formidable task. Who would have thunk it?

It would have been easy, almost expected, for the Celtics to roll over and get swept by the Cavs. Yet you have to give them credit for hanging in there and coming back after such a crushing defeat. I dare say few saw this coming, especially Cleveland fans. Maybe even those in Boston as well.

So now the series is 2-1 with Game 4 in Cleveland up next. Can the Celtics do it again to tie the series? Unlikely. After finally tasting defeat in the playoffs (the Cavs were 10-0 this year and won the last three over Golden State in 2016 to claim the championship -- 13 in a row total), one could easily expect them to come out and play Game 4 in this series with a vengeance.

But stranger things have happened, and the Celtics are really good too. Let's not forget they ended the regular season with the best record in the eastern conference.

And wouldn't it be something if, after getting demolished at home in the first two games, Boston came back to win the next two -- in Cleveland?

That would get a lot of people scratching their heads. Such a scenario would certainly be a confidence booster for the Celtics. Might it put a little doubt into the minds of the Cavs?

Nah. Let's also remember they were down 3-1 to Golden State in the Finals last year, and two of the next three games would be played in Oakland. That's not to mention the Warriors had set an all-time record for most wins in the regular season. No way were they going to lose three in a row, two at home.

But they did, and that's to Cleveland's credit. A single, narrow loss to the Celtics, even at home, isn't likely to faze them much. Lebron and Co. are definitely the real deal.

Barring a major injury (see the same Lebron - which would change everything), the Cavs are still highly favored to get past the Celts. The Warriors waiting at the end of the rainbow might be an entirely different story, but that's for another time.

But not counting the Cleveland faithful, how many fans wouldn't want to see Boston even this series up, just to throw a little drama into it?

[On that note, even Cleveland ownership probably wouldn't mind. If the series goes to 2-2, that guarantees them another home playoff date -- a major cha-ching. By the same token, winning this one game gives Boston ownership at least one more home date. Hmmm. A conspiracy afoot here?]

And ya never know what might happen.

But I'd believe Boston coming back to win the series if and when I saw it.

Methinks the Cavs will roll in the next two games. This one was an anomaly.

Nevertheless, they finally blinked. They're beatable.

Will Golden State ever show a chink in their armor out west? So far -- not -- as they seem to be in the process of sweeping a very good, if injury depleted San Antonio Spurs team. The Warriors have yet to lose a single playoff game this season.

But they were a "lock" last year -- right? And we all know what happened in the end. For sure, they haven't forgot that either and are on a mission to redeem themselves this year. If THEY stay healthy, they look invincible.

We'll see......

Friday, May 19, 2017

Clash of the titans

Yours truly has seen a lot of sports over the years, and I like to think I know as much about sports history as the next average schmuck.

But we might be seeing a first this year. Two teams (the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers) that are so much better than everybody else as to be almost blush-worthy. Parity? WHAT parity?

Both have steamrolled through the first two rounds of the playoffs undefeated and appear to be in the process of doing the same in the conference finals.

In the west, for a second it looked like San Antonio might give GS a run for their money. The Spurs had built almost a 30 point lead in Game 1, even without the services of Tony Parker, who had earlier been lost for the season.

Alas, then Kawhi Leonard went down. It likely sealed their doom. The Warriors roared back to claim a narrow victory. In the Game 2, they blistered the Spurs by a whopping 36 points. It would come as little surprise if the Warriors polished off the Spurs in a sweep as well.

In the east, Cleveland waltzed into Boston and handed the Celtics a 13 point defeat in Game 1. Surely the Celtics would regroup for Game 2, right? Hardly. They just got absolutely pulverized on their home court by a colossal 44 -- count em -- 44 points.

If it was that bad in Boston, how lopsided might it get for the next two games in Cleveland? 60 points? 80? Or maybe the Cavs will sit their starters after the first half. Color this series over. Not even close.

But back to where I started. We've seen, or read of great teams in the past, even dynasties. John Wooden's UCLA Bruins in the 60s. Bill Russell's Celtics a bit before that. Wayne Gretzky's Oilers of the 80s. Jordan's Bulls of the 90s. Certainly Geno Auriemma's UConn Lady Huskies over the last decade or so. All won lots of titles and were a definite cut above the field.

We've known of individuals in various sports that were clearly dominant. Serena Williams of late. Tiger Woods of a generation ago. Several boxers over the years.

But to my feeble memory, I just can't recall when there were ever two teams in the same sport that stood so far above everybody else as this year's Cavs and Warriors. Celtics and Lakers of the 80s? No doubt they were good, but not THAT much better than a few other teams.

True, Golden State and Cleveland have met in the Finals the last two years as well, splitting them. But this year, especially since the playoffs started, they've -- excuse the tired cliche -- taken it to a whole new level.

It's the proverbial men against boys. Beatdown after beatdown. And they seem to be getting worse as time goes on.

It's almost hard to believe one of them is going to lose 4 games -- but somebody has to.

Some of the amtch-ups in the inevitable Finals read like a "dream team". Lebron/Durant. Curry/Irving. Draymond/Love. Other mega-stars like Klay Thompson will be out there running and gunning as well.

Tons of firepower. But both teams are excellent defensively and on the boards as well.

Something's gotta give.

Personally, I wouldn't begin to hazard a guess as to which team will ultimately prevail.

But what a Finals it's shaping up to be. The rubber match between the two best teams in recent years that are both better than ever this year.

Clash of the titans indeed.

Oh yeah, bring it on....

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Cavs/Warriors III. Inevitable

The NBA playoffs have taken few, if any, surprising turns this year. The higher seeds have disposed of the lower ones, oftentimes in quick fashion.

Consider the West.

So far the Golden State Warriors have yet to lose a single game. They swept both Portland and Utah without much problem whatsoever. And then they rested while San Antonio was slugging it out with Houston for 6 games. The Spurs would prevail, but also lose the services of guard Tony Parker along the way. A big hit.

Never underestimate the genius of head coach Gregg Popovich and the Spurs' way of playing basketball at the highest level, but likely few thought they could go into Golden State and push the Warriors around.

Yet that's just what they did in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. To a point. They had built almost a 30 point lead. Surprise!!  But then all-everything Kawhi Leonard went down with an ankle injury. The Warriors roared back to escape with a narrow two-point victory. Still, a win is a win.

Game 2 was the polar opposite. The Spurs were overwhelmed throughout, and would wind up losing by a whopping 36 points. A rout. A beatdown. Embarrassing even.

It's difficult to imagine the Spurs regrouping enough to be able to defeat Golden State four out of the next five games to move on to the Finals. Especially with Parker still out, Leonard playing at far less than 100% -- if he can play at all -- and Lemarcus Aldredge swooning when he had the chance to step up and be "the man". It's just not going to happen. It would surprise few if Golden State went on to sweep the depleted Spurs as well.

The East presented a similar scenario.

The Cleveland Cavaliers swept both the Indiana Pacers and Toronto Raptors, and have yet to taste defeat in the postseason.

Matched against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Finals, with the Celtics holding home court advantage, Lebron and Co. went into Beantown and promptly put a spanking on them in their opener. Again, no great surprise.

It did raise a few eyebrows when the Celtics were able to overtake the Cavaliers for the best regular season record and home court advantage through at least the Eastern Conference portion of the playoffs. But perhaps it shouldn't have.

While the Beaners were going the proverbial "balls to the wall", the Cavaliers lost a few games they might have won had they been properly motivated. Yet they decided to put it on "cruise control" of a sort, and not push their players too hard -- gas them -- before the postseason started.

Let's not forget that while Boston was slugging out a long series with the Washington Wizards, the Cavaliers were able to get over a week's rest. That's a lot.

So it should likely come as no surprise either that the Cavs were raring to go when the Eastern Conference Finals started. Might they sweep the Celtics as well? Entirely possible. If they thump them again in Game 2 on Boston's home court, it would be easy to imagine Boston being cannon fodder when they go to Cleveland for the next two games.

On a related note, no, this won't be Boston's year to win a championship. They're not quite ready yet -- but make no mistake -- they're coming and will be a force to be reckoned with soon. GM Danny Ainge has done a masterful job of rebuilding the franchise while stockpiling draft picks he has used wisely. And guess what? They just won the draft lottery and will have the #1 this year too. Then again, this year's draft doesn't have a clear-cut #1 superstud that stands out. Might Ainge swap that pick for a lower one while acquiring even MORE picks this year and next? Don't put it past him.

The Celtics are young and will continue to get better. The Cavaliers, with the exception of Kyrie Irving, are aging. Many of their players, Lebron James included, will be on the back side of their career bell curves soon, if they aren't already. They've been great since James went "back home", but it's not going to last much longer. Father Time will see to that.

In the end, there's no escaping that Cleveland and Golden State will meet in the Finals. And they might both well be undefeated in the playoffs when it starts. 12-0 versus 12-0. The cream of the East vs the cream of the West. Likely the way it should be.

But then something has to give. It seems highly unlikely that another sweep will happen -- either way.

Regardless, one of these two teams, neither of which has been losing anything lately -- is going to get beat 4 times over the course of 7 games. That's just the simple math of it.

True, Boston and San Antonio aren't exactly toast yet, and they will likely both give Cleveland and Golden State some serious competition before their series' are over. Make them at least work hard.

But barring catastrophic injuries to either the Cavs or Warriors over the next week or so, the Finals seem to be pretty much etched in stone.

Cavs/Warriors III.

And that should be quite the shoot-out......

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Syrian soccer team debacle

It appears as if certain political factions are trying to keep the Syrian national soccer team from attempting to qualify for the next world-wide competition. This is wrong. So far, FIFA, the ruling body, to their credit, has resisted. This is right.

We all know Syria has been embroiled in a civil war over the last few years. The casualty toll has been enormous.

But this is a soccer team. Why should they get caught up in political wrangling? It's not like the players are moonlighting as either government troops or "rebels". They train and practice like every other soccer team.

True, individual players might well feel loyalties to one faction or another. After all, they're human and entitled to such, much like any other citizen in any other country. But as long as they're not active participants in the mayhem -- why should they be denied the opportunity to compete?

Some Syrian players have said they don't wish to compete, as long as the strife continues. That is also their right, regardless of which side, if any, they would rather see prevail.

Yet for those that do, it is colossally unfair for the politicos of OTHER nations to attempt to bar them from the chance.

Again, they're just soccer players, trying to do their best on the "pitch" against whatever competition from whatever other country they may face.

So let them do it. They've worked their entire young lives to become the best futbollers in their country. They should be rewarded -- not punished because other factions are at each other's throats.

Other than the usual power-hungry politicians screwing up and sacrificing the lives of so many innocents -- what's the problem?

Play on.

Let's hope FIFA sticks to their guns -- certainly no pun intended.