Friday, May 04, 2007

Friday 05/04 A.M. Quickie:
Biggest. NBA Upset. Ever.

Warriors Mania: They did it! They did it! And, you know what? It wasn't even close. When you win a close-out game by 25 (and a series in 6 games), don't call it an upset. But...

Let's hear it: Biggest. NBA Upset. Ever. At least in terms of the NBA Playoffs: The first time an 8-seed has beaten a 1-seed in a 7-game series. It will rank right up there with the biggest upsets in modern sports history.

Please don't tell diminish the magnitude of this result by saying this Warriors team was "better than an 8-seed." Please: That's never really been how we value upsets.

(And, certainly, the 7-game series – more than anything else existing in sports – is supposed to present the biggest hurdle to an upset. This isn't some "on-any-given-day" March Madness thing; this is winning – decisively, mind you – four games... in six attempts.)

The fact is: This Mavs team had the best record in the NBA this season, but it is meaningless. Epically meaningless.

(It's also the reason that NBA MVP voting shouldn't happen until the end of the playoffs: Anyone who voted for Dirk as NBA MVP is going to look like a complete joke after his performance in this series, particularly last night. How "V" can you possibly be if your team seeded first in the NBA can't make it out of the first round? Here's True Hoop's Henry Abbott on Dirk and the game.)

I'd fire Avery Johnson, too: If he can't get the best Mavs team in franchise history out of the first round of the playoffs, when, exactly WILL he do it? And, insult to injury, he was totally out-coached.

Sure, in the end you can say it was all about "matchups," but I'd prefer to emphasize that a completely unconventional Warriors team – a small lineup of gunners – turned the NBA order on its head.

Here's the universal: If this freakish Warriors team can topple the best team in the league -- decisively -- then there's no reason your team can't win like this either. What Golden State showed is that all it takes is a little imagination.

What an easy team to root for this Golden State squad is. And, guess what: Whether they're playing the Jazz or the Rockets, I think they'll keep it going. But even a trip to the conference finals won't be as amazing as this moment today, when the Warriors made history.

I'll point you to Free Darko. The guys over there will hopefully have even more to say on this throughout the day.

(Did you notice I went through that entire item without bringing up that I actually predicted the Warriors would beat the Mavs? D'oh! By comparison, not a single ESPN "expert" can say the same thing. Sorry: Had to gloat for just a second. It's only May, but I can already say this will be, without question, my Best Prediction of the Year, more than eclipsing my awful prediction the Heat would repeat.)

Kentucky Derby: OK, last year I made my 2006 Prediction of the Year by plucking an otherwise obscure horse named "Barbaro" and picking him in the Quickie to win the Derby. The rest is history.

Now, I'm no racing expert (I read the amazing Joe Drape for that). I picked Barbaro because it was the last name of my favorite roommate ever.

There you go: I pick based on names I like. There are worse systems.

So, for tomorrow? I like "Any Given Saturday" to win. It's clever. It has a sports-centric ring. It has hope.

I'll take Nobiz Like Shobiz to place and Scat Daddy to show. (If you were thinking about backing Tiago, enjoy: It's OJ Simpson's pick, too.)

MLB: Break up the Indians! Cleveland has won 10 of 11.

MLB Stud: Gil Meche. Yes: Gil Meche! The Royals' $55 million man won his third game of the season, handcuffing the Angels to 2 hits in 7 IP, lowering his ERA to 2.23 in 7 starts, third-best in the AL.

(Yes, my MLB offerings today are w-e-a-k. Any help in the comments section would be appreciated.)

Jazz force Game 7 in Houston: I'll take the Rockets at home, setting up a fascinating matchup with the Warriors. How will Houston use Yao against Golden State's smallish "gun-n-gun" lineup?

As for this weekend's conference semis, I'll take the Pistons over the Bulls (what is this, 1990?) and I'll take the Spurs over the Suns.

(Although I'm rooting hard for the Suns. I'm simply too giddy right now about the run-n-gun, free-flowing style similar to the one that the Warriors used to bounce the Mavs. That, and the notion of a Warriors-Suns Western Conference finals blows my mind.)

Kobe wants changes to the Lakers immediately: Well, obviously. He could start by demanding the team trade promising young center Andrew Bynum for players who can help the team win now. Here's what I'd say, but it's unconventional: How about Bynum for Caron Butler, straight up? The Wizards are desperate for a real center; The Lakers are desperate to reclaim Butler's toughness.

College Hoops 3-point line moving? I fully support the attempt to push the line back a foot, from 19-9 to 20-9. The shot, while an "equalizer" has become a lay-up for too many people. I for one would be curious to see (a) how it affects shot selection and (b) how it affects strategy. But I suspect that most true 3-point gunners can hit from a foot deeper with no trouble. At least it's slightly more challenging.

Mayweather-DeLaHoya: OK, I'll take Mayweather, I guess.

Spider-Man 3 opens: I consider "Spider-Man 2" the greatest superhero movie of all time – and one of the best action movies, period, of our generation. So it goes without saying that I'm kind of geeked for 3.

Sorry for the limited items this morning. I'm hustling to get out of town for the weekend. Stay safe and enjoy it. I'll try to update from the road over the weekend.

-- D.S.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Thursday 05/03 A.M. Quickie:
How Can You NOT Root for the Warriors?

How can you NOT root for the Warriors? The NBA regular season was a dud. The NBA playoffs have been a dud...

...With the exception of the Warriors, who have single-handedly become a rare captivating storyline this year in pro basketball, as they attempt to make history and close out the Mavs at home in Oakland tonight.

Why have the Warriors thrived as an instant fan favorite?

By all accounts, the team is what the NBA has built to avoid (and I'm oversimplifying here): Disorganized gunners from an obscure market -- castoffs, rejects and freaks melded together unconventionally (the only way they could be)... and thumping the so-called "best" team in the league.

It's not just that it's an 8-seed beating a 1-seed in a 7-game series for the first time in NBA history, which would be awesome enough. (In fact, the NBA is insane not to put the game in primetime on the East Coast. Enough of the tyranny of 10:30 p.m. tip times!)

It's not just that the Warriors eked into the playoffs or that Baron Davis has emerged as this spring's Dwyane Wade – the player everyone seems to have "always" liked, even though they never talked about the guy before this run.

It's that this Warriors team defies everything most fans thought they knew about the NBA -- even in this intriguing "Sunsified" era, the up-and-down strategic style that will do more to save the league than any individual talent or marketing campaign.

Unless you are from Dallas or are a Mavs fan, you cannot be an NBA fan – or a sports fan – and not be rooting for the Warriors tonight. Rooting for history. Rooting for anarchy.

(After writing up this post, I noticed that the inimitable MJD had a similarly themed post on NBA Fanhouse. Here's the link.)

Suns bounce Lakers: Kobe Bryant has to be feeling a little bit worse right now -- he will never win with this Lakers team. As the NBA evolves, he's a remnant: The center-of-gravity scoring machine with virtually no help.

The Lakers have two choices: Either trade uber-prospect Andrew Bynum for players who can help Kobe and Odom win NOW... or trade Kobe so that he can help a legitimate contender go for the title.

What Kobe and the Lakers are in now is the NBA's purgatory.

Spurs oust Nuggets: AI and Melo never turned into what everyone thought/hoped they would be, but maybe with a full season together next year, they will fulfill that insane promise.

The two close-outs set up a Suns-Spurs Western semifinal that, for many (including me, now that my "Re-Heat" pick imploded), is the de facto NBA Finals: The winner of that series will win the NBA title. (Before the playoffs began, I picked the Spurs, but I'm absolutely rooting for the Suns. How can you root against progress?)

Bonds: 743

MLB Stud: Josh Beckett, who racheted his record to 6-0.

MLB Dud: Marty Miller. Is there a more ill-advised name in today's era of sports than "Director of Player Enhancement?" In its most benign terms, it means "strength coach," and Miller filled that role for the Yankees. Until a rash of injuries derailed the club's season after only one month and he was canned.

(More: King Felix will be held out of the rotation one more turn. Caution or foreshadowing?)

Vick Scandal: It's amazing that the guy – perhaps the most elusive QB in NFL history -- is going to be sacked by dogs.

College Sports: 112 D-1 sports programs were nicked by the NCAA for failing to meet benchmarks from the new Academic Progress Rate. (APR... like you're buying a car!)

Only 63 out of more than 6,000 programs will be immediately affected. There's apparently a reprieve this year adjusted for smaller team sizes.

But that loophole goes out the window next year, so the 44 percent of men's hoops and 40 percent of football programs who fell below the required threshold this year better get their acts together.

The hot chant from the student section? "Cook! Those! Books!"

(The only BCS-league football to get hit was Arizona. The only major-conference hoops team to get hit was -- I'm sure you can guess -- Cincinnati.)

Brandon Roy wins NBA Rookie of the Year: He earned all but one first-place vote, which went to Andrea Bargnani, who got the vote from... the Raptors play-by-play broadcaster.

To his credit, Chuck Swirsky openly defends his vote, but if he was the play-by-play guy for the Blazers (or any other team but the Raptors), I wonder if he would have maintained such strong convictions?

(Related: Media people are biased enough as it is. Why are team play-by-play guys -- effectively team employees -- allowed to vote on these awards? As with all awards, they should be voted on by the fans, where the large vote totals would largely mitigate voter bias.)

NFL: Roger Goodell wants to hold a summit on concussions next month, and it's mandatory for all teams. Say this for The Commish: He's been incredibly assertive during his reign, but in a good way.

NBA refs racial bias, cont'd: At least one prominent player, Kobe Bryant, says he doesn't see it. Meanwhile, the one detail I found most fascinating was that the researchers picked out 12 NBA players who could be classified as either black or white. I was trying to figure out which dozen players they were talking about.

Meanwhile, the study is getting hammered by mainstream media. I think they are misreading the findings, which didn't say simplistically that NBA refs are racist. It merely said that the evidence supports the idea that NBA refs aren't immune to at least some form of measurable subconscious race-based decision-making while doing their job.

Kentucky Derby: Curlin, the favorite, drew the unfavorable No. 2 spot. I'll have my prediction tomorrow. (Remember that, last year, I came through with my Prediction of the Year: Barbaro to win.)

Mayweather vs. De La Hoya: I find it quaint that the mainstream sports media is making such a big deal out of what is effectively a non-event. Consider that this is the single biggest boxing event of the year, perhaps the ONLY boxing event with any traction whatsoever. What does that say about the sport? Compare that, say, to mixed martial arts.

The only intriguing part of the fight is whether it will beat the old record of 1.99 million pay-per-view purchases. But, again, that doesn't speak to the viability of the entire sport -- just two fighters' marketing value, which is hardly limitless.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Wednesday 05/02 A.M. Quickie:
Warriors-Mavs, Phil Hughes, Keyshawn, More

Before I get into the thrilling Mavs-Warriors series and everything else, here's a fascinating report that might be on the minds of NBA fans today:

Do NBA refs exhibit racial bias?

(Yikes. And this isn't some yammering columnist, typically avoiding real evidence. This is the result of a legitimate academic study.)

Now, on to the stories...

Mavs survive Game 5, edge Warriors: It's strange. Golden State lost the game last night, but I'm more convinced than ever that they will win the series.

I think it'll happen in Oakland on Thursday, but if it happens to come down to a Game 7 in Dallas, I think they can win that one, too.

It's about competitive spark: Golden State is bringing it. The Mavs turn it off and on (see that 15-0 run to end the game). Once again – for the second time in the series, mind you -- the Warriors lost a game in Dallas they easily could have won.

I cannot wait for Thursday night's Game 6, because I think the Warriors are going to close it out. Wait, let me clarify:

Close out the greatest upset in the history of the NBA.

More NBA: Is the Raptors' "global" style a success? See Calderon's career-high 25 and Bargnani's 18 leading the Raps to a home win over the Nets, taking the series back to New Jersey for a must-win Game 6.

MLB Stud: Phil Hughes, who took a no-hitter into the 7th inning.

MLB Dud: Phil Hughes, who had to leave the game with a hamstring injury that will keep him out for at least a month.

(I loathe to use "hard-luck" and "Yankees" in the same sentence, but their pitching injury issues this season have been insane.)

More MLB Duds: Jason Schmidt, who might not pitch again this season. Is he the West Coast's Carl Pavano? (h/t Ben Maller via Fanhouse)

More MLB Duds: The April stats are complete, and the results aren't pretty – the lowest total of home runs and runs since 1993.

(That could mean the weather was particularly harsh or that pitching has improved, but it could also finally be the residual effect of the get-tough PED policy. Enjoy.)

Panthers cut Keyshawn Johnson: Hardly a biting loss, particularly after drafting Dwayne Jarrett. Keyshawn will make a mint in his new career as a full-time TV analyst.

Dolphins cut Marcus Vick: I always felt like Vick making the NFL after going undrafted (and, um, the off-field stuff) was one of the most intriguing rookie stories of the year. He'll stick somewhere. That "QB-slash-WR-slash-Special Teams" position is a new reality in the NFL.

NCAA approves rule to eliminate "diploma mills": No more "post-grad" year of high school (or "reclassifying," which is just spinning "post-grad" as "repeating a grade.").

I think this will absolutely shake up the high school hoops industry, given the number of players who have taken advantage of this system. In some cases, they had sincere need; in others, they were simply working a system with too many holes (and being taken advantage of by profiteering adults).

There's got to be more going on today, doesn't there?

-- D.S.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Tuesday 05/01 A.M. Quickie:
May Day! Mayday for the Mavs!

Random thoughts today while contemplating the awesome power of Baron Davis' beard...

Warriors Watch: I'm not sure that Golden State can close out the series against the Mavericks IN Dallas tonight. This game is closer to Game 2, which the Mavs -- already feeling the pressure -- won. (However, that will just make a Game 6 close-out back in Oakland so awesome.)

Cavs sweep out Wiz: Thus ends the most entertaining Wizards season since the team defended its NBA title in the Finals in 1979.

As a Wiz fan, I'm focused more on the Wiz than the Cavs: If the Wizards can stay healthy, they can bounce back to the form that made them one of the Top 2 teams in the East in the first half of the season.

As for "what next?" for the Cavs, it'll either be the Nets or the Raptors. Based on the slovenly Cavs team I saw beat the Wiz, either would be a challenge.

Randy Moss to the Pats, Cont'd. Here is the closest analogue I could think of: When Dennis Rodman went to the Bulls.

The forceful personalities of Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan kept the Worm's natural anarchy in check externally, while the prospects of a career-balancing championship provided internal motivation. The result was that Rodman helped that Bulls team put together arguably the greatest season in NBA history.

Similarly, I see Belichick and Brady keeping Moss in line, while the potential of not just winning a Super Bowl ring -- and destroying everyone along the way in doing it -- providing Moss with the internal motivation to be a model citizen.

The near-universal agreement -- on May 1 -- that the Pats will win the next Super Bowl is like nothing I've ever seen before.

(Update: Apparently, from what I've heard from readers, Simmons wrote something along this vein about Moss. I assure you: I didn't see it before I posted.)

George Steinbrenner gave Joe Torre the dreaded quasi-vote of confidence. Translated, all that means is that he'll wait until the end of the season to fire him.

The Death of Josh Hancock: I'm not yet willing to buy-in to local reports that Hancock was drinking before his fatal car crash. It would certainly be a tragedy if that was the case.

Meanwhile, it was obvious that his teammates are struggling with the tragedy; they would have probably been better off forfeiting last night's 7-1 loss than playing with the heavy hearts they had.

MLB Stud: Roy Halladay. Second complete game of the season, including 8 Ks, 0 BBs and only 5 hits. He's 4-0 and surging.

Nats Mania: Don't look now, but after John Patterson beat Jake Peavy for his first win of '07 (and, more notably, in a year), the Nats have as many wins as... the Yankees. Great time to be a (new) Nats fan!

Gilbert Arenas on cover of NBA Live '08: In a season full of highlights, this might be the ultimate validation of Arenas' "Takeover."

Rockets up 3-2 on Jazz: Looks like it's coming down to home-court advantage on this one. That means Rockets in 7.

Spurs up 3-1 on Nuggets: Thanks in part to yet another big shot by "Big Shot Rob" Horry. Let's pretend it's Election Night and call this one now for San Antonio.

Rick Majerus to St. Louis, officially: No offense to SLU, but it seems like a lower-tier job than Majerus deserves. That said, we're living in a new hoops world, where high mid-major teams like SLU are judged on NCAA Tournament performances, not regular-season wins. Majerus can turn SLU into a powerful perennial Tournament team.

If there has ever been a moment made for "all-access" coverage, it would be the pairing of Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan at the Wachovia Pro-Am this week.

Pac-Man Jones is going to appeal his suspension: Yeah, good luck with that.

Varsity Letters Reading Series: Tomorrow night! If you live in NYC, it's the monthly must-attend event for sports fans. This month's lineup is chock full of credibility: Jeremy Schaap, Mike Freeman and Michael Weinreb. Here's a link to info.

Speaking of books, DJ Gallo's long-awaited, much-anticipated book is finally out today. Head on over to his site, SportsPickle, to get the info and buy your copy.

-- D.S.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Monday 04/30 A.M. Quickie:
Brady Quinn, Randy Moss, Warriors Mania, More

You'll have to excuse me if I don't think that Brady Quinn was such a terrific acquisition for Cleveland. Please. The bigger story was the way the NFL hid him from draft-day humiliation.

If he's such a gamer, Quinn should have been tough enough to take the scrutiny in the green room, rather than scurrying for the Commissioner's secret sobbing room as he slid down the board.

After all, Quinn was more than happy to take advantage of the original NYC invitation to goose his marketability. However, his fragility in the face of Saturday's pressure is ominous foreshadowing for his NFL career.

(The money question: Is Quinn better than the player the Browns would get with their No. 1 overall pick next year, which could be as high as Top 5? The Cowboys will get to find out.)

However, I WILL join in the chorus that recognizes that the Pats acquiring Randy Moss is the most monumental NFL acquisition of the year – and probably the decade (eclipsing T.O. to the Eagles or Cowboys).

As I heard from several emailers on Sunday: The only question for the upcoming NFL season is which NFC team will be losing to the Patriots in the Super Bowl next February. Totally agreed. (And I'm no Pats fan.)

Early pick for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year: Adrian Peterson. (Runners-up, in order: Calvin Johnson, Ted Ginn, Anthony Gonzalez)

Early pick for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year: Reggie Nelson. (Runners-up, in order: Jamaal Anderson, Darrelle Revis, Marcus Thomas)

Heat swept out of playoffs by Bulls: There will be no "Re-Heat." Ah, well. Can't pick 'em all correctly. Miami looks like a one-hit wonder; Chicago looks like a power for years.

Warriors go up 3-1 on Mavericks: This is the greatest thing that could ever happen to the NBA this season. It's not just an 8-seed on the cusp of beating a 1-seed in a 7-game playoff format for the first time in NBA history; it's that THIS particular 8-seed is so fun to watch, along with such a bunch of crazy-ass backstories.

By the way, the Warriors' celebrity fan is Jessica Alba, trumping any other team's celebrity fan-hottie. Alba makes Eva Longoria look fugly.

(My picking the Heat to repeat as champs – d'oh! – is mitigated by my pick of the Warriors to beat the Mavericks. Go Golden State!)

The Lakers are finished: Down 3-1 heading back to Phoenix for Game 5? It's o-v-a-h. Meanwhile, Steve Nash had a career-high 23 assists. The playoff record is 24. (Who has been the MVP of the first round of the NBA playoffs? Sorry, Steve: It's gotta be Baron Davis.)

Toronto, the "sexy" pick in the NBA East, is on the brink of elimination to a Nets team that has no business being up 3-1, but appears to be motivated for one last run before they dismantle.

Jeter defends Torre, even after the Yankees dropped to 9-14 this spring after yesterday's 7-4 loss to the Red Sox (NY's 5th loss to Boston in 6 games in '07.) Who else remembers the Yankees' 10-15 start two years ago? They rallied from that, but they don't seem to have the same kind of surge in them that that team had.

But should the Boss fire Torre? This start isn't Torre's fault, and I'm not sure if firing the manager won't do more harm than good in this particular case. I wouldn't do it. Yet. If the Boss does fire Torre, I fully expect to see him on ESPN for the rest of the season before taking over Terry Francona's job in Boston on December 1.

(By the way: I'm no Red Sox fan, but I love the new "This is SportsCenter" ad with David Ortiz wearing the Yankees cap. Whoever plays the Red Sox mascot gets an "A" for comedic timing.)

MLB Stud: Troy Tulowitzki, for his unassisted triple play.

Early contender for Sportsman of the Year, if you define it as the most defining person in sports of the year: Kirk Radomski. (What: You thought I'd say "Brady Quinn?")

Final NFL Draft note: Baltimore might be the best place in the NFL for Troy Smith. He can learn under Steve McNair, easily beat out Kyle Boller and have the motivation of the late-round snub.

(Apparently, the Ravens were hot for the slip-sliding Quinn, but couldn't out-maneuver the Browns for him. Instead, they can enjoy the player who beat out Quinn for the Heisman AND keep their 1st-round pick in '08.)

As for the player most often paired with Troy Smith, BCS MVP and Florida QB Chris Leak went undrafted and signed with the Bears, where he will compete behind Florida QB Rex Grossman.

(By the way, Florida led the draft with the most picks: 9. Any guess as to the team that came in second to the Gators? If you said "Ohio State," you get it. If you said "Ohio State...again," you REALLY get it.)

Mr. Irrelevant? Ranzee Robinson, a CB from Alabama, taken by the Lions. Congratulations!

RIP, Josh Hancock. Condolences to family, friends and fans.

-- D.S.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Sunday 04/29 NFL Draft (Very) Quickie

What does it say when the biggest news of the NFL Draft is that Randy Moss was traded to the Patriots to team with Tom Brady in the NFL's most must-see pass-catch combo of our generation?

(Related: Want to see a classic example of "fan whiplash?" 24 hours ago, how many Pats fans thought Moss was an all-pro jerk? Now: He'll be a New Endland hero. Guaranteed.)

The draft's biggest winner? After Day 2 kicked off, I'll nominate the Raiders, who drafted JaMarcus Russell, jettisoned Randy Moss, brought in high-risk/high-reward WR Mike Williams and -- in a coup -- got RB Michael Bush with the first overall pick of Day 2. Bush is the most intriguing offensive pick of the draft.

The draft's most overrated "winner?" The Browns. Joe Thomas was a great pick at No. 3. But Brady Quinn at No. 22? That's confusing sizzle with steak, especially when you consider they gave up what could be a Top 5 pick in 2008 to get him.

(Related: If the NFL wants to invite players to the green room as "lock" early picks, they shouldn't shield them from the humiliation of dropping down the draft board by sequestering them away from the media glare. Brady Quinn earned -- and deserved -- the public scorn. His drop was the most entertaining part of Saturday's endless first round.)

Most intriguing defensive pick: Denver traded up on Day 2 to take disgraced and exiled Florida D-lineman Marcus Thomas, who could be the most talented D-lineman in the draft, if not for his unfortunate judgment involving pot. Teamed with Gators teammate Jarvis Moss, the Broncos have brought Gator Nation to the Rockies.

More later.

-- D.S.