Friday, May 11, 2012

05/11 (Mother's Day) Quickie

Happy mother's day to all the moms out there, especially my own mom and the mom of my kids -- having the third kid in March makes this mother's day all the more awesome.

Very quickly:

*Kobe: Not happy after puking his guts out, then watching his teammates lay down against the Nuggets in Denver last night, forcing a Game 7. Either his teammates respond on Saturday night -- dramatic in its own right -- or they don't, and it's time to blow up the Kobe Lakers dynasty.

*76ers vanquish the 1-seed Bulls (and the Celtics shrug off the pesky Hawks): I don't think the Sixers have much of a chance against Boston, and I think we're all looking forward to a Celtics-Heat East finals. (BTW: Love Iguodala making his free throws in the 4th quarter, particularly in the final seconds, after struggling with FTs for his career.) For the Bulls, it's just One Of Those Things. The point that they drive themselves to disability through a maniacally intense regular season falls apart as soon as you acknowledge that Rose's knee injury wasn't from overuse, but a freak occurrence.

*Game of the weekend: Caps-Rangers Game 7.

*Great weekend reading: Chris Ballard on Kobe's dad, Joe.

-- D.S.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

05/10 (Expectations) Quickie

We spend a lot of time here talking about expectations.

Is it a "good" season for the Knicks that without Lin (and without Shumpert), they made it to the playoffs, even if they lost in the first round?

Does it matter that they lost to the best team in the league -- a team that a full-strength Knicks team couldn't beat 4 out of 7 under any circumstances?

Would Knicks fans rather have missed the playoffs altogether? (As a Wizards fan, I will tell you that's not a great option.)

I think the expectations for the Knicks -- at least as a 7- or 8-seed -- was that they would lose in the first round. At full strength, you'd hope they would make it an interesting 7-game series (as other presumptive first-round losers are doing across the rest of the league).

But they weren't at full strength. A sweep was inevitable. Thus, losing in 5 -- at least getting the thrill of that Game 4 win at home -- was slightly better than expectations.

(I'm not sure what happens to those expectations next year: If Lin is healthy and Shumpert is healthy and the rest of the team stays healthy and they have a good coach... they might end up with the 4-seed -- maybe 3 -- in the East, which means the expectation is "Get to the conference semifinals before losing." It's not exactly "Four, Four, Four.")


The Caps! Now HERE is a team that has surpassed expectations, wildly. I think most folks didn't give them a chance to beat Boston in the first round -- and certainly not to beat the Bruins in Boston in Game 7. Now they have taken the Eastern Conference's top seed to a toss-up 7th game, with all the momentum back from the gut-wrenching Game 5 loss. It is fine to madly hope for a Game 7 win, but if the team loses at Madison Square Garden, it will be hard to feel like fans were robbed (which is decidedly NOT the case in previous years where the team has fallen short and/or choked).

Correction! In yesterday's post, I assumed away that the Eastern champ would win the Stanley Cup over whichever team from the West it faced. Reader Zach Smythe -- alas, no relation to the Cup MVP award namesake -- called me out on it, reminding me the Kings had blitzed through the top two seeds in the West and were very much a viable candidate to win it all. I stand corrected. Thanks, Zach!

Grizzlies-Clippers! The Grizz send it back to LA for Game 6, down 3-2 but certainly capable of winning the next game and forcing a Game 7 in Memphis. So what's more difficult: Coming back from 27 points down in less than a quarter... or coming back from being down 3-1 in a series? Seems like 144 minutes of win-or-go-home is more arduous than 10 minutes of frenzied comeback.

The most interesting thing I read yesterday: Greg Oden's interview with Grantland's Mark Titus. It's really hard not to root for Oden to at least get a chance to play relatively healthy for a little while.

Tonight's must-see: All those NBA Game 6s. Chicago tries to stave off rare 1-seed elimination at Philly, Atlanta (newly rejuvinated by the return of Al Horford, one of my favorite players) tries to stave off elimination at Boston and -- in the late one -- the Nuggets will try to use home-court advantage (and the -- I can't believe I'm saying this -- "JaVale McGee X-Factor") to stave off elimination against the Lakers. Would love to see all of these go 7.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

05/09 (Hamilton) Quickie

Josh Hamilton is on my fantasy team and yet I am near the bottom of the league standings -- I should take a lesson from the Rangers: Hitting is great, but great pitching matters just as much (particularly when you play in a 5x5 head-to-head league).

My favorite Hamiltonian stat: There have been fewer players (16) to hit 4 HR in a game than there have been perfect games (21).

Should the Rangers (over)pay him? When healthy, he is clearly worth the kind of money that has been given to Prince Fielder and Joey Votto. But he is 31, he averages less than 120 games per season and he's got some mileage on his baggage car.

I could see the Rangers being willing to give him more money per year for less years -- I could also see a team with cash and a sense of urgency giving him even more (if not for the Nats' brutal deal for Werth, they could have been huge players, I think).

The Rangers have a lot of money. They have a willingness to spend it. They have a wide-open window to try to win a championship. They have a triple crown contender in the lineup. What would you do?


JaVale McGee: As a long-suffering Wizards fan, I am fairly expert at the inconsistency of McGee. Here's what you need to know: As the 6th-best player on a playoff team, he will thrive -- as an almost child-like knucklehead, he needs structure. Where he got into trouble in DC was that he was expected to be a franchise player, surrounded by no structure. He isn't a player worthy of being paid like a near-superstar. If a team makes that mistake, they will figure it out pretty quickly.

The Hawks and Bulls both push their series to Game 6: I could see both series going 7, which would at least make them interesting. No such luck for the Heat-Knicks.

NHL: The Devils roll on to the Eastern finals. I think the Eastern winner wins the Cup, and it's easy to envision the scorching Devils getting past a spent Caps-Rangers survivor.

Tonight's must-see: Caps-Rangers Game 6. Wish I could be at Verizon Center for that. I'll content myself screaming from the couch with my kids.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

05/08 (Rangers) Quickie

The downside of going all-in on the Capitals since my DC homecoming is nights like last night. I thought the 3OT loss was bad -- losing a lead with 6.6 seconds to go in the game... then losing the game a couple minutes into OT... yeesh, that's rough. In a blink, it went from one of the greatest wins in franchise history to one of its worst losses. That's playoff hockey. Wednesday's Game 6 is a must-see.

NBA: As noted here endlessly over the years, expectations are everything. In the case of the Clippers, making the playoffs was great. Winning a first-round series would be incredible. And they should enjoy it now, because the Spurs are going to break them in half.

MLB: Cole Hamels suspended 5 games -- not even one start -- for intentionally hitting Bryce Harper on Sunday night. Baseball's "code" is a funny (even silly) thing, and it became yet another moment for Harper to distinguish himself. He took the HBP in stride, then made Hamels pay when he stole home. Then, Harper had nothing to say about it after the game, as opposed to Hamels, who bragged about it. The punishment is toothless, obviously, and the way this is settled is on the field over the rest of the season.

NFL: Given the scope (and hubris) of the Saints' bounty program -- going all the way to the top -- why do you think Williams and Vita wouldn't tell players to stonewall the NFL's investigation?

College: The Big East commish is out. I've always found it hard to accept Big East bleating about how big-time that football has become (with the Big East on the outside looking in), when it was the Big East itself that established the template for made-for-TV big-time college sports when it was formed 30 years ago specifically to take advantage of the new realities.

Government: So how is the state of Minnesota going to pay for this new stadium?

-- D.S.

Monday, May 07, 2012

05/07 (Monday) Quickie

NBA: I respect the expectations management by the Knicks that "not getting swept" is cause for celebration.

It sure seems like LeBron wanted to take that last shot -- Erik Spoelstra has to give him the chance.

(Things are less good for the Bulls, who can't fall back on "well, we lost without Rose and Noah," because they entered the playoffs in "title or fail" mode.)

Bryce Harper: In the first week of his MLB career, there have been a half-dozen "whoa!" moments -- none better than him stealing home last night (with a nano-second of glare at Cole Hamels after Hamels hit Harper to put him on 1st base in the first place).

Wild: But MLB's Player of the Weekend had to be Chris Davis of the (best-record-in-MLB) Orioles: 0-8 yesterday against the Red Sox... but he came in to pitch in the 16th and 17th innings and got the win.

Pujols: The question was never going to be if Albert Pujols was going to hit a home run this season, but the issue remains whether he can possibly find form that would have him on pace for 20 HR (let alone the 5 HR is on pace for now).

NHL: No one on the East Coast is paying attention, but the Kings have rolled into the NHL's Western Conference finals. Meanwhile: Caps-Rangers Game 5 tonight is a must-see.

Anniversary: 10 years ago today... "Practice?"

-- D.S.