Monday, May 30, 2005

 

Sun Rising In Miami, Setting In Phoenix

Three games have now been played in each of the NBA conference finals, and the two series appear to be going in opposite directions. Here are my thoughts on what we've seen so far.

Let's begin with the Eastern Conference Finals, otherwise known as the Dwyane Wade Show. I was hesitant to jump on this kid's bandwagon, unlike seemingly every media "expert", but after his last two brilliant performances, I have seen the light. First, in Game 2, he blows past defenders time and time again, collecting countless layups and dunks en route to 20 fourth-quarter points and a Miami victory. Then, after hearing everyone say he can't replicate that success in Game 3, he proves them right. He doesn't; instead, he turns to his much-improved jump shot, scoring the majority of his 36 points from outside the paint. What a way to silence your critics! I'm not going to change my series pick; after all, I'm not one to flip-flop. However, if Wade can keep this up, and if Shaq can continue opening up the floor for the supporting cast, the Heat has a good shot at unseating the defending champs.

Meanwhile, the West appears to have already been won, with San Antonio taking a commanding 3-0 lead over Phoenix. I thought the Spurs would win this series easily, but not this easily. Make no doubt about it: there is no way the Suns will pull off a Red Sox miracle; San Antonio is just too good. The sweep will be completed tonight.
 

Who Cares?

Does anyone even care about the Indianapolis 500 anymore? The answer is obvious: no! Except for all the hubbub about Danica Patrick, I heard almost nothing about the race leading up to yesterday's running. How could what was once considered the world's most prestigious race lose so much of its luster? The answer to that question is just as clear: the CART - IRL split is the reason. Give me Daytona over Indianapolis any day.

Monday, May 23, 2005

 

Monday Musings

Here's what's on my mind this Monday, May 23rd.

Shaquille O'Neal has had 100 CC's of blood removed over the last few days and is questionable for tonight's game against Detroit. This is an extremely bad omen for Miami; without Shaq, the Heat has absolutely no chance of beating the Pistons. My Eastern Conference finals pick is looker safer by the minute.

Everyone is so caught up in Barry Bond's latest complication possibly keeping him from passing Hank Aaron on the all-time home-run list. In my mind, however, the bigger issue is his loss of another shot at a ring. Without a doubt, he is the greatest player ever without a title. Despite his numerous flaws, I would have liked to see him get one and hope he will get another chance.

There is talk of Josh McCown possibly winning the Arizona Cardinals' quarterback job over offseason acquisition Kurt Warner. That is ridiculous! Why go out and give a large contract to the best free agent quarterback available if you're going to start the same sorry one that lost TWICE to the 49ers last year? Mark my words: Warner will be the starter.

All this speculation about Ricky Williams returning as a Dolphin is absurd. He may resurface, but definitely not in Miami. I mean, he quit on the team in favor of his beloved grass! Also, the Dolphins have already drafted Ronnie Brown, their running back of the future. The only use Miami has for Williams is as trade bait.

On a final note, here's my pick for tonight's game between the Pistons and Heat, with a disclaimer: If Shaq plays, Miami; if not, Detroit.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

 

Spur of the Moment

The first game of the NBA Western Conference finals went exactly as I expected: Tony Parker scored 29 points and the Spurs won. However, what I didn't foresee was how they would win: playing at Phoenix's helter-skelter pace. That's right; San Antonio scored 43 points in the fourth quarter to win, 121-114, by using a style of play that usually suits the Suns best. Four words: this series is over. O-V-E-R. If the Spurs waltzed into Phoenix and simply outscored the NBA's highest-scoring team in over a decade, imagine what they will do once they are able to assert their defensive will (hint: when the series moves to San Antonio). The Suns might be able to eke out a game or two, but there is now no doubt in my mind that the Spurs will be playing for yet another NBA title.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

 

Preakness Picks

Here are my picks for today's Preakness, which is coming up in less than an hour.

1-Afleet Alex

My pick in the Kentucky Derby didn't come through then, but I am confident that he will do so today and end Giacomo's slim hopes of a Triple Crown.

2-High Fly

Should push Afleet Alex down the stretch, but I don't think he can win. He will settle for second-best.

3-Closing Argument

The Derby's surprise runner-up will look to have another good run today. In my opinion, he has a better shot than Giacomo does of repeating his stunning performance of two weeks ago.
 

Inaugural NFL Power Rankings

Here are my first power rankings of the 2005 NFL season - preseason, that is.

1-New England Patriots
2-Indianapolis Colts
3-Philadelphia Eagles
4-Pittsburgh Steelers
5-Baltimore Ravens
6-Atlanta Falcons
7-Minnesota Vikings
8-San Diego Chargers
9-Jacksonville Jaguars
10-Carolina Panthers
11-New York Jets
12-Denver Broncos
13-Kansas City Chiefs
14-Seattle Seahawks
15-New Orleans Saints
16-Dallas Cowboys
17-Buffalo Bills
18-Green Bay Packers
19-Oakland Raiders
20-Cincinnati Bengals
21-St. Louis Rams
22-Arizona Cardinals
23-Detroit Lions
24-New York Giants
25-Houston Texans
26-Tampa Bay Buccaneers
27-Chicago Bears
28-Tennessee Titans
29-Washington Redskins
30-Miami Dolphins
31-Cleveland Browns
32-San Francisco 49ers
 

NBA Conference Finals

Wow. What a choke job by the Dallas Mavericks. Down three games to two to the Phoenix Suns and with their backs against the wall, they came through with their best effort of the series and forced a seventh game. Well, that's what should have happened. Instead, with four minutes to go and nursing a 16-point lead, Dallas suddenly decided to stop playing as a team, and the result was a total collapse and subsequent overtime loss. Great job, Mavericks! Special congratulations to Erick Dampier, the self-proclaimed best center in the West. News flash, Erick: you're not even the best center on your own team. Hopefully, Mavericks management has enough sense to boot you out of town before the start of next season.

With Phoenix's win, both conference finals are now set. In the Eastern Conference, the Miami Heat and Detroit Pistons will battle for a shot at the title, while the Suns will take on the San Antonio Spurs for the Western Conference crown. Here's my take on each series:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

It was obvious throughout the entire season that Miami and Detroit would be playing for Eastern Conference supremacy. Having won each of their first eight playoff games and boasting the inside-out combo of Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade, the Heat is the obvious chic pick. However, Shaq, who missed the final two games of Miami's sweep of the Washington Wizards, is clearly not at full health, and the Pistons have been no slouches either so far this postseason. After going down 2-1 to the Indiana Pacers, Detroit won the next three games in convincing fashion, showing why they are the defending NBA champions. The stifling defense they used to win those three games will be key against the Heat.

In my opinion, Detroit's backcourt of Chauncey Billups and Richard "Rip" Hamilton is the best in the league. Throw in swingman Tayshaun Prince, arguably the best defender in the NBA, and you have a formidable trio. On the other hand, Miami's backcourt basically consists of one player: Wade. Although he has held a coming-out party so far during the playoffs, he can't do it all himself, and I have no faith that Damon Jones and Keyon Dooling can be effective on either end of the court against the Pistons' superior guards. Inside, it is no different; Detroit's two Wallaces, Ben and Rasheed, will make it tough on any Miami player not named Shaquille O'Neal. Even the big fellow might encounter problems; at less than 100% health, it will be hard for him to execute offensively against defensive stalwart Ben Wallace.

The coaching comparison is even more lopsided; although Stan Van Gundy has done a good job with the Heat this year, the Pistons' Larry Brown is a Hall of Famer. One area where Miami does have an advantage is off the bench; the Heat is fairly deep, while Lindsey Hunter and Antonio McDyess are the only Detroit reserves who ever see the light of day. The series, however, will likely come down to one thing: Shaq's health. If the Big Aristotle plays like he did for most of the regular season, Miami cannot be beat. I don't see that happening, though, especially not against the Pistons' excellent frontcourt.

THE PICK: Pistons in 6

WESTERN CONFERENCE

The Western Conference matchup is no surprise either, and it should be a good one: Phoenix's relentless run-and-gun style against San Antonio's impervious defense. Many doubt the ability of a running team like the Suns to win a championship; I am not one of those people. I do, however, doubt their ability to beat the Spurs, whom I picked to win the title before the season started and have stood by ever since.

The Suns' perimeter trio of MVP Steve Nash and sharpshooters Quentin Richardson and Joe Johnson would present problems for the Spurs if only they were all healthy. Alas, they are not; Johnson went down in the Dallas series, forcing the insertion of Jim Jackson into the starting lineup. It is still an excellent backcourt; how could it not be if it includes Nash, who validated his selection as MVP with stellar performances in each of the Suns' last three games against the Mavericks, including a 48-point game and a triple-double. However, without Johnson, the edge shifts to San Antonio's group of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Bruce Bowen. With two of the three, you know what you're getting: offense from Ginobili and defense from Bowen. Parker, on the other hand, is erratic; at times, he dominates, but otherwise appears to have his mind on his girlfriend, Desperate Housewife Eva Longoria, rather than the game. In my opinion, his play is the key to the series.

Inside, it is a tough call. Phoenix's Shawn Marion and Amare Stoudemire have the edge as far as pure athleticism, but are undersized compared to the Spurs' Tim Duncan and Nazr Mohamed. I'll give the advantage to San Antonio because of Duncan, the league's most fundamentally sound player and a two-time MVP. The Spurs have a clearer advantage on the sidelines, thanks to coach Gregg Popovich and a deep cast of reserves. As I said before, though, I believe the outcome of the series depends on Tony Parker. His play will determine whether Phoenix or San Antonio comes out of the West alive.

THE PICK: Spurs in 6

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