Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Madness in March

March Madness. Two of my favorite words. Starting Thursday, there will be 48 games in four days - all of them televised by the CBS Sports networks. I've downloaded the March Madness On Demand app on both my iPad and laptop so I can sit in front of the TV and watch all of the games on three devices at the same time.

Every year, this week is the most exciting time for me as a sports fan. There will be last-second shots, crazy upsets, and plenty of drama. Only 16 teams (Out of 68) will still be standing on Sunday. I rarely do well in the bracket contests because I try to pick the one team that will shock the hoops world and become this year's Cinderella. Invariably, I miss on choosing the correct one.

This college basketball season has been filled with upsets and parity has reigned supreme. For that reason, this Tournament should prove to be wacky and unpredictable. My Final Four selections are Louisville, New Mexico (there's that upset hope), Miami, and Florida. I have Louisville beating Miami for the title. There really are about 12-15 teams that have a realistic chance to win including my Syracuse Orange, who I have losing to Indiana. Other teams I won't be surprised to see win include Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Georgetown, Kansas, and Gonzaga.

After this wild weekend, we start all over again next weekend with the Sweet 16. Can't wait!

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Great Rivera's Last Hurrah

The one-of-a-kind Mariano Rivera will announce his retirement after this 2013 season in a press conference slated for tomorrow. As a lifelong Yankees fan, this will be a sad time because it is truly the end of one of the all-time greatest careers in Yankees history.

The 43-year-old Rivera is a baseball marvel, getting hitters out for 17 years with one pitch – albeit a very nasty one. It was Rivera who was the difference-maker in all of the Yankees’ five World Series titles during the past 16 seasons. He will go down in history as one of the Top 5 all-time greatest Yankees (Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle). No one else dominated his position more than Mo did. He’s the all-time saves leader in MLB history and has one of the lowest ERA’s for a pitcher with at least 1000 innings pitched.

I could go on for awhile about my feelings for the classy Rivera, but I though a few comments pulled from ESPN’s message board says it all:

“I'm a die hard red sox fan, but I have always had the utmost respect for Mo. I'm extremely glad that the man gets to retire on top. I would have hated to see a stellar player who is also a great human being retire after an injury.  
I sincerely hope his 2013 season is injury free. There are very few players, Yankees and Red Sox alike that have earned my lifetime respect. Mariano is one of them.  
He defines what it means to be a player. He is the role model we want for our kids.  
I cant think of a better player to represent baseball in my generation. I salute you sir.””

“As a Red Sox fan, the greatest satisfaction I got was when the Sox actually got to Rivera. Not because I "hated" him, or the Yankees, but because he was just that great. Class and dignity come to mind first and foremost when I think of Mo, as well as Jeter. My favorite moment of the Sox winning the 2004 World Series was '05 Opening Day when Mo received that ovation from the Fenway crowd, and he smiled that engaging smile, and waved his hat to the crowd. I hate that I admire a Yankee so much, but there is no other way to feel. Go get 'em Rivera, except when you play the Sox. Baseball will be lessened when you are gone.”

Here is a wonderful story about Rivera being the last player to ever don the 42 jersey, retired by MLB in 1997 in honor of Jackie Robinson. Robinson’s widowRachel is especially proud of Rivera:

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Turning Up The Heat


What else can LeBron James do in this season of excellence? James wrapped up a spectacular, record-setting month of February with an epic performance Tuesday night in a wild 141-129 double overtime win over the Sacramento Kings.

James scored a season-high 40 points, while dishing out 16 assists – the first NBA player to accomplish that since Kevin Johnson in 1994. What’s more impressive is the way James took over in the second extra session, scoring 11 points on 3-3 from the floor, and 4-4 from the line as he added three rebounds AND three assists. All this in FIVE minutes. The Kings, perhaps shellshocked by King James, managed only five points.

In the month of February, in which the Heat ran off 12 consecutive wins, James connected on a blistering 64 percent of his field goal attempts and scored at least 30 points eight times. His season totals are an astonishing 27.3 points a game, 7.3 assists, and 8.1 rebounds, while shooting 57 percent from the floor – easily a career-best for James.

As impressive as last night’s effort was by James, his Valentine’s Day massacre of the West’s best Oklahoma City Thunder was scintillating. The 6-8, 250-pound hybrid forward-guard-center scored 39, grabbed 12 boards and handed out seven assists.

There is simply nothing LeBron can’t do on a basketball court and that has rubbed off on his All-NBA running mate, Dwayne Wade. James’s unselfishness has led Wade to record one of his finest and most efficient seasons, averaging 21.5 points, nearly five assists, and five rebounds a game as he shoots a career-high 51.6 percent from the floor. With these two megastars in sync and on a roll, it’s hard to see any NBA team stopping a Heat repeat this year.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Duncan Most Underrated Star Ever

In his 16th season of excellence, Tim Duncan, the unassuming star of the San Antonio Spurs, still doesn't get the national attention he deserves. The 6-11 forward never seeks the limelight, plays within a strong team-oriented structure, and just wins - quietly.

Once again this season, the Spurs own the NBA's best record and although Duncan isn't the dominant player of his youth, he still is a major contributor to the amazing success of the Coach Greg Popovich-led team. Duncan is a 13-time All-Star and a nine-time All-NBA first-team selection. More importantly, he has led the Spurs to four NBA Championships, earning Finals MVP three times.

Duncan was the NBA's Rookie of the Year in 1998 after arriving to San Antonio from Wake Forest University, where he was a two-time All-American. He's won the league's MVP twice and has been named first-team All-Defense eight times. He has accumulated over 23,000 points and almost 13,000 rebounds in a remarkably consistent career.

His career averages are 20 points, 11 rebounds, 2.2 blocks, and 3.6 assists per game. Those figures increase during the playoffs. Although many experts consider Duncan to be the finest power forward in NBA history, he still gets little attention from fans because he's not flashy or loud and doesn't appear in many commercials.

He will go down in history as one of the finest players in NBA history and is a surefire first ballot Hall of Famer. He may even win his fifth title this year. It's about time America gave him his due.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Sad Day In Los Angeles

The NBA and the Los Angeles Lakers are mourning the loss of visionary Lakers' owner Dr. Jerry Buss, who died today at 80 from an undisclosed form of cancer.

Buss was one of the finest owners in sports history, purchasing the Lakers, hockey's LA Kings, and the LA Forum arena in 1979 for $67 million. He loved entertainment and parties and was the first of the owners in sports to realize the value of merging sports and entertainment. He understood that to be successful in a city like LA, where there are many nightlife and entertainment options, he had to transform an already successful Lakers franchise into a must-see event each game night.

He invited many of his Hollywood buddies to sit courtside at the games, he re-branded the Forum to the Fabulous Forum,then sold the rights to name the arena to Great Western Savings and Loan (Great Western Forum) he changed the lighting at The Forum to shine solely on the court, and he treated each game like a party. But, he never forgot about the quality of the basketball team - hiring former Laker great Jerry West to run the team. Of course, it helped that he drafted Magic Johnson, brought in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Sam Perkins, and Coach Pat Riley. Now, it was "Showtime," a moniker Buss marketed to describe the highly-entertaining, up-tempo style of basketball the Lakers played.

Buss's team won 10 NBA Titles, five with Johnson and five with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal decades later.  Magic Johnson, on Twitter, posted, "WOW! Where do I begin?! I was 19 when I first met Dr. Buss and for 34yrs he has been a father figure and best friend." Players loved Buss because he loved them and showered them with money, respect, and kindness. He was described as a laid-back, ego-less man who was a self-made billionaire. The Lakers are now estimated by Forbes to be worth over $1 billion. His hockey team, the Kings, won the NHL's Stanley Cup in 2012. He also moved the teams out of the older Forum and built a sports and entertainment palace called The Staples Center.

Buss will be missed by all in basketball, especially his former players, coaches, and employees. They don't make owners like him anymore. R.I.P. Dr. Buss.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Yankees' Spring Heating Up

Injured New York Yankees star pitchers CC Sabathia and Mariano Rivera continued their recoveries from surgery by throwing a bullpen session today at Spring Training headquarters in Tampa.

 Sabathia is on the mend from elbow surgery to get rid of bone chips and looks much thinner than previous seasons. He told the media he had butterflies while testing his elbow but seemed fine. He hopes to be pitching in a game by early March.

Meanwhile, future Hall of Famer Rivera continues his comeback from last April's season-ending torn ACL. The greatest closer in baseball history and one of the finest players ever in Yankees' history, the 43-year-old Rivera believes he will be back without any issues. He's most worried about testing the knee while fielding - no problems pitching.

Retired catcher Jorge Posada is joining the usual group of former Yankees who aid the team in teaching the younger prospects the "Yankee Culture." He joins Ron Guidry, David Wells, Reggie Jackson and others this spring. Missing for the first time in recent memory is 87-year-old Yogi Berra, who cannot travel anymore. Posada is excited to help out, telling reporters, ""I'll be bossing them around -- telling them to run and all that stuff. I miss certain things about the game. You're always going to miss certain things. I, obviously, miss my teammates the most."

In other news, new Yankee Kevin Youkilis met with former adversary Joba Chamberlain to clear the air regarding their rivalry when Youkilis donned the Red Sox uniform. Chamberlain hit Youkilis several times when they faced each other, further fueling a mutual dislike. Youkilis should eventually win Yankees fans over with his hustling, hard-playing style, which was missing for New York last season.

Michael Pineda, the promising young pitcher acquired by NY last year for Jesus Montero, is continuing his slow process from shoulder surgery. The Yankees hope to have him back by mid-season.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Mid-Season NBA Report

As the NBA nears its annual All-Star Weekend, it is time to review the first half of the season. There really have only been a few surprises this year, namely the Lakers' implosion and Dallas' mediocrity.

My half-season MVP is an easy choice - LeBron James. There really isn't a debate, although my All-Star team below will highlight some of King James' competition. James is averaging 27 points a game, on a blistering 56.5 percent shooting from the floor. In addition, he is connecting on 42 percent of his three-point attempts. He's one of the league leaders with a little over seven assists per game and is grabbing over eight rebounds. As I stated in a previous post, James has bumped his overall game up a notch higher than anyone in NBA history.

In many seasons, Kevin Durant would be a runaway MVP choice. The 6-11 forward is leading the league in scoring at a 29 points per game clip, while shooting a career-high 52% from the floor. He's also connecting on 42% of his threes and 90% from the line. If he finishes the season with 50/40/90 while averaging at least 20 points a game, Durant would be the first ever in NBA history to accomplish that.

Joining James and Durant up front is Knicks' forward Carmelo Anthony, an explosive scorer and one of the game's best players. He is second to Durant in scoring and has shown improvement in his all-around game, especially on defense. Anthony's squad is second in the Eastern Conference, behind only James' Heat.

My backcourt is filled by explosive second-year star Kyrie Irving, of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chris Paul. Easily one of basketball's most exciting players, Irving is nearly unstoppable with his variety of moves and shots. He's scoring at a 24 points a game clip, hitting on 43% from long-range. Irving is a great building block to rejuvenate the Cavs.

Paul, of the LA Clippers, is the game's best point guard, and at 27, is just entering his prime. Known for his intelligence and leadership abilities, Paul has his young squad sitting at the break with the league's third-best record. He's second (behind Rajon Rondo) in assists (9.5) and is averaging 17 points a contest. He led the Clippers to an amazing 17-game winning streak in December.

My pick for Coach of the Year is Golden State's Mark Jackson, who has created a winning atmosphere at one of the league's traditional also-rans. The Warriors have cooled a bit lately after a red-hot start, but are still in the playoff race with a 30-22 record. Young stars like Stephen Curry (my second-team guard), David Lee, Klay Thompson, and Harrison Barnes have matured quickly under the demanding Jackson.

The easy choice for mid-season Rookie of the Year is Portland point guard Damian Lillard, who is scoring over 18 points a game and dishing out nearly seven assists. The 6-3 former Weber State star has surprised many NBA experts by playing with so much maturity in his first season. Other impressive rookies include Anthony Davis (New Orleans), Bradley Beal (Washington), and Dion Waiters (Cleveland).

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Spring (Training) Is In The Air

Ahh…Spring Training began today with three of the most magical words in sports – Pitchers and Catchers!  Although football has captured America’s attention over the past several decades and baseball has seen a decline in interest, the beginning anew that signifies spring baseball is still as potent to the soul as ever.

The 2013 season promises many interesting storylines including a resurgence in Canada, dominance in Los Angeles, and a battle for NL East supremacy.

Thanks to another ridiculous fire sale by the classless Miami Marlins, the Blue Jays from Toronto could make an unprecedented jump from an also-ran to title contender in  the loaded American League East. The Blue Jays, already an up and coming team, added frontline pitchers Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson from the Marlins and 2012 NL Cy Young winner RA Dickey, from the Mets – all in trades. Besides bolstering the pitching staff with pitchers who’ve accumulated nearly 300 career wins among them, the Jays signed steroid-cheat Melky Cabrera for the outfield, and added infielders Jose Reyes – one of the game’s most dynamic players- and Maicer Izturis.

Out west, both Los Angeles-area teams are looking to reach the World Series after adding firepower toward the end of last season and during the offseason. In DodgerLand, Coach Don Mattingly must be giddy after adding former AL Cy Young winner Zack Greinke to an already loaded pitching staff that includes former Red Sox ace Josh Beckett, back after an injury last season, and Clayton Kershaw – maybe the league’s best pitcher.

The offense features Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, also from Boston and Hanley Ramirez, courtesy of the generous Marlins. Crawford joins Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp to form baseball’s top outfield.

Down in Anaheim, the Angels signed megastar Josh Hamilton away from rival Texas, adding him to an already potent lineup that includes Albert Pujols and 2012 AL Rookie of the Year Mike Trout.

Back east, The Atlanta Braves reconfigured their outfield by signing the Upton brothers – BJ and Justin – and not resigning Michael Bourn. The Uptons form a dangerous outfield with rising star Jason Heyward. The Braves hope these moves will allow them to surpass the Washington Nationals in the NL East. The Nationals will look for super pitcher Stephen Strasburg to be back in dominant form after babying him and his surgically repaired elbow last season.

These are just some of the on-field stories we’ll be following in 2013. Hopefully, off-field news won’t overshadow what could be an amazing season.

Monday, February 11, 2013

College Hoops Heating Up

With about a month to go until March Madness strikes, the college basketball season is really coming alive with about 15 teams looking capable of winning the National Title. Without a clear dominant team like Kentucky and North Carolina last season, the battle for the Final Four is up for grabs.

In the past four weeks, Indiana, Michigan, Duke, and Louisville have all taken turns atop the national polls, only to promptly lose that week. In my estimation, the following squads are all capable of making a long run in the tournament in March: Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Syracuse, Louisville, Duke, Miami, Florida, Kansas, Gonzaga, Arizona, and Butler.

Now that the NFL season has ended, you may be turning to college hoops for the first time this year. One of the more exciting players on the national stage has been Indiana's dynamic junior guard Victor Oladipo, a 6-5 Michael Jordan clone, who is a human highlight reel with his athletic dunks and drives to the hoop. But, he is more than an incredible leaper. Oladipo is also shooting a sparkling 54 percent from three-point range - one of the best in the NCAA.

Syracuse sophomore point guard Michael Carter-Williams has made a huge impact for the Orange, leading the nation in assists per game with 8.5. He also contributes 12 points and nearly five rebounds a game for Coach Jim Boeheim's squad. He is a lanky 6-6 point guard, a rarity in college ball, and has developed a penchant for late-game heroics.

Sophomore Trey Burke, perhaps the top player in the country, leads highly-ranked Michigan with 18 points and seven assists an outing. Burke's lightning-quick first step and his shot-making skills have the NBA scouts drooling. He must remain at the top of his game for the Wolverines to advance deep into the tourney.

Oklahoma State's fantastic freshman guard - Marcus Smart, a muscular 6-4' 225 pounder, has NBA star written all over him. He dominates for the Cowboys by scoring nearly 15 points a contest, while adding six rebounds and nearly five assists. In his squads' last five games - all wins - Smart has poured in 96 points, pulled down 33 rebounds, and registered 21 steals. He will most certainly be playing for pay next year.

Another precocious freshman is Kansas guard Ben McLemore, who leads the Jayhawks with 16 points a game. In an overtime win over Iowa State last month, McLemore exploded for 33 points, hitting all six of his three-point attempts.

These are five of the players I've enjoyed watching so far this season. There are many more impact players that I will feature in a later post.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

LeBron Taking It To Another Level

There can be no doubters left - LeBron James is competing on a level rivaling any of the game's greats. His performance is the past 10 games - last four in particular - are scary good. How about this stat - in the Miami Heat's last four games, LeBron has scored 123 points on just 59 SHOTS!

He's connected on 33 of his last 43 field goal attempts and is only playing about three quarters of the games. The knock on LeBron has always been his mid-range and long-range shooting efficiency. To improve that, the world's best player worked diligently in the off-season, getting off up to 2000 shots a day. It seems to be working.

Previously, critics pointed out that he's not a great post player which was surprising given his 6-8, 250-pound frame. So two summers ago, he worked day and night on his post moves and became a deadly inside force last year. Critics are running out of ammunition with LeBron, who is still only 28 years old.

He is shooting a career high 56 percent from the floor this year, marking the seventh consecutive season of improving his percentage. James averages 27 points a game on a team loaded with other star players. Adding to that, he is dishing out seven assists an outing and grabbing eight rebounds in an all-around game never before seen in the NBA. To illustrate how great 56 % from the floor is for a wing player, Kobe Bryant's best season was 47%, Michael Jordan 54%, and Kevin Durant, currently the planet's second best player, is averaging 52% - a career high for him.

Last night, James scored 30 points in 31 minutes while taking ONLY 11 shots. There has never been a more unselfish superstar. Two games ago, vs. Charlotte, King James connected on 13 of his 14 field goal attempts, scoring 31 points. He is the only player ever that could defend all five positions on the court and is by far the best point-forward we've ever seen.

James is a hybrid of Magic Johnson (passing, intelligence, unselfishness), Jordan (athleticism), and Karl Malone (size, strength). Some say he lacks Jordan's and Kobe's killer instinct, but his maturity and drive the past couple of seasons has demonstrated improvement in that area too. He handles teammates much kinder than Jordan and Kobe did. He is a lot like Magic but is a far better defender and shooter. There simply has never been a player quite like LeBron. Not saying he's the best ever. Not yet...anyway.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Are you suffering from PED overload?

Raise your hand if you’re getting Performance Enhancement Drug (PED) overload? When news of another Alex Rodriguez (and others) PED scandal hit the airwaves, I finally gave up on the erstwhile slugger. To me, it appears his entire illustrious career was a sham. We can’t be certain that he was ever clean, even back to his high school years in Miami.

 Maybe because I’m immune to it now, but I don’t really care that much anymore about athletes using PED’s to get an edge because obviously a majority of them in many sports are using. Is it really an advantage when your competitor is using also? I guess the few (Derek Jeter comes to mind) that don’t want to get involved in drugs feel betrayed because they know most are gaining an edge. Perhaps it has driven a few athletes who didn’t want to partake to finally give in.

Let’s not be na├»ve that baseball is the only sport with a problem. They simply have the finest testing program and have caught a bunch of cheats. Also, it’s evident that the Hispanic players grew up in a different culture where the stuff was legal and readily available.

Footballers have been using for decades but the public doesn’t seem as outraged about that as they do for baseball. Face it, baseball is a stats-driven league and the national pastime’s glorious records were battered by steroidal players. Football … who cares? We want our gridiron giants to be bigger, faster, stronger. Some of the individual sports like golf and tennis probably have drug issues also. And, let’s not get started about cycling, weight-lifting, track and field, etc.

Really, it’s not much different in other performance industries, where the amount of money you make is dependent on the fitness of your body. Music stars, actors, and models also seek advantages to either begin a lucrative career or rejuvenate a sagging one. If you’re paid handsomely to look good, you look for ways to keep the dollars flowing. Is a model who artificially enhances her body to make the Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover and a hefty payday that much different than ARod? Does she receive an advantage over another model who isn’t willing to get breast enhancements and other cosmetic upgrades? I think so, although it is unfortunate.

As long as performers/athletes continue to be paid in millions, this problem will persist. Would you do it? If there were 300 million reasons like ARod’s situation, I think many of us would.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Will 2013 End the Yankees Reign?

Will 2013 be the season that the New York Yankees fall back to earth after an unprecedented run of excellence? With a new Steinbrenner in charge, these are not the Yankees we've been accustomed to loving or hating.

General Manager Brian Cashman  has new salary constraints ordered by Hal Steinbrenner with a looming $189 million luxury tax threshold in 2014 instituted by Major League Baseball. Steinbrenner is intent on avoiding paying anymore penalties as the Yankees have in past years. To that end, Cashman has structured the team by utilizing one-year contracts with aging players so he's not handcuffed with multi-year deals.

Still held back by monster deals to PED-fueled Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and CC Sabathia, Cashman signed key players like Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Ichiro Suzuki, and Kevin Youkilis to short-term deals a with an eye on rebuilding the team next year. Of course, ARod's remaining $114 million albatross is a nightmare for the Yankees. As he recovers from hip surgery and scrambles to spin the latest PED scandal, Rodriguez is a shell of the player he was when the Yankees signed him to the record $300 million blockbuster several years ago.

While they wait for ARod's anticipated mid-season return, NY signed Youkilis (as a Yankee fan, that's still uncomfortable to say) to man third base. The former Red Sox star used to be reviled in the Bronx, but now is a key component of the Yankees. He anchors an infield that is easily the Yankees' strong point. That's if Derek Jeter has no ill-effects from his off-season ankle surgery and if Teixeira can get back to all-star status at 1B. Robinson Cano, the game's finest 2B, is in a contract year, so expect a huge season from him.

The outfield may be one of the finest defensive units in the American League with speedy Brett Gardner, now healthy, in left, slugger Curtis Granderson in center, and aging, but still-dangerous Suzuki in right. Nick Swisher, a fan favorite and consistent slugger, left for Cleveland and postseason star, Raul Ibanez departed the Yanks.

Another hole may be at catcher since Russell Martin surprised NY by accepting a deal with Pittsburgh. That leaves back-ups Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli, and prospect Austin Romine to battle for the backstop position.

Barring any major injuries, the pitching staff should be steady, if not spectacular. Besides Sabathia and Pettitte, the Yanks will count on Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, and Phil Hughes to form a tough rotation. Michael Pineda, traded for last year, should return from shoulder surgery sometime in the summer. David Phelps showed last year that he can be counted on in case of injuries.

In the bullpen, the ageless Rivera returns from a torn ACL to assume his spot as closer. The Yanks said goodbye to Raphael Soriano, who did a wonderful job as closer after Rivera went down. Set-up men Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson, and Boone Logan also return - giving the Yanks one of the best bullpens in baseball.

If the Yanks can somehow get rid of ARod and his bloated salary, they will be set up nicely in 2014 to add some key players in a rebuilding process. Since 1995, NY has been consistently excellent and have never been shy to add a top free agent. Not anymore. They have sat on the sidelines the last two off-seasons, watching rivals such as Toronto, Texas, Anaheim, and Detroit improve dramatically. For Yankees fans, 2013 could be the transition year needed to get the team younger and more dynamic in the future. For Yankees haters, it might be a year to gloat. There is still a lot of time before the season starts, but the Bronx Bombers may prove to be duds.