Sunday, May 30, 2010

2010 NBA Finals preview........ Congratulations to the Boston Celtics, the Los Angeles Lakers, and perhaps most of all congratulations to the NBA for again having the fortune of a marquee series for their Finals.....employees in the NBA marketing department can take extra time off now as there is no promotional campaign needed to drum up interest in their Finals this year as Celtics-Lakers writes itself/sells itself....

How, for a 2nd time in 3 years, did we get here?!?!

For Boston, a team that IMO had been inexplicably dismissed as a legit contender, switches were flipped into Championship Mode since the Cavs destroyed them in Game 3 of that series in Boston......C's went on to win the next 3 games and eliminate King James and nee
ded just 6 games to eliminate the defending Eastern Conference Champions Orlando Magic (side note Orlando the collective I told you so you heard after you were eliminated came from up north where Canadians already knew Wince Carter was not the man to lead you to the promise land)......for LA it was a difficult-opponent sandwich as the first and third rounds provided worthy foes in OK City and Phoenix while the Jazz played the role of easy-to-digest meat in the middle.....what was once thought to be the Road To Repeat has become the Road To Redemption for KB and the Lakers.....they vanquished playoff ghosts of Los Suns and now have the Celtics next on their revenge tour....

Let's start with a look at the Boston Celtics......this team got Kevin Garnett back healthy to start the season (remember now he was injured for all of the playoffs last year) and romped to a 23-5 start, but then a very pedestrian 27-27 finish to the final 54 games had many proclaiming this teams run to be over and they pointed to age, and perhaps a misfire in adding Rasheed Wallace as the culprits......what was forgotten in all of that is the fact that the Celtics have won every single playoff series that KG has been a part of (4-0 en route to 2008 Championship and currently 3-0 in these playoffs) and that this veteran team was built for the post-season and was never going to put emphasis on the regular season like most teams need to.....this team has been their best on the road in fact all year so a high seed was not paramount to them.....this is a team who somehow had home losses this year to the non-playoff Rockets and the lowly lowly 76ers, Nets, Grizzles, Wizards (YIKES)......

Boston is very balanced on offense getting anywhere from 14.9 to 19.1 points per game from Paul Pierce, Jesus Shuttleworth aka Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo and KG plus contributions from Kendrick Perkins, 'Sheed aka Rasheed Wallace, Tony Allen, Big Baby Glen Davis, and recently even Nate Robinson.........LA offers 2, at times 3 7-foot shot blockers at the rim so IMO it is imperative that KG be able to knock down the 12-18 foot jumper that he will be open for as A) that is of course a great way for Boston to score and B) if he can hit that shot it will force his defender to come out and guard him 12-18 feet away from the rim thus leaving likely only one 7-footer guarding the rim and the Celtics can handle that - they just went through Dwight Howard who is a premiere 7-footer

This team is a step back on defense from the 2008 squad, but that is hardly a criticism as the 2008 team was on a historic level as far as one of the best defenses ever.....absolutely they best I have seen in my 34 years so to only be one notch below that is still a VERY high level of D......Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins have raised their games 3 notches since the 2008 Championship team.....RR has gone wherever he wants and created whatever he wants for this offense in this post-season (amazing to think back to his early days when teams were sluffing off of him by 6-8 feet to insist that he shoot a jumper, and then they would just turn to the basket and prepare for the inevitable rebound) and all year Perkins has been far more aggressive on the offensive end plus he has upgraded from good, to terrific defender (does need to be more disciplined at times as he will pick up ticky-tack touch fouls that sometimes lead him into foul trouble aka bench time)

The Celtics are a rare and unique team on defense as most teams will try to limit something you do well - example the Suns tried to take away Kobe and let Artest have to beat them or most teams will either try to defend the 3 against Orlando or pack-the-paint to defend Dwight Howard but the Celtics look top attack EVERYTHING that you will try to accomplish - they will not pick their poison, rather they will be physical and try to be the aggressors on that end of the floor to try to disrupt anything/everything you are trying to do

A Celtics double team under the regime of Doc Rivers is coming at you aggressively and with a higher level of physicality then you have seen before.......we saw LeBron James looking like Adrian Peterson out there against Boston.....Peterson is a premiere Running Back in the NFL and is built like a tank but when the physical contact comes he often has the ol' fumble-itis and James looked like that while trying to deal with the Celtics defense........Kobe Bryant is such a
different animal - C's fans will point out that this unit just went through D-Wade and Bron Bron so Kobe is the next "victim" but KB is a special player in that he welcomes the double-team and actually is able to attack it with the right pass, or as we saw in the Suns series when the game is on the line KB will beat the double team himself

The mention of KB is a good way to segway to our look at the Lakers.......

The 2008 Lakers were a finesse team who had the Celtics impose their will on that series and there was no answer for LA.....this unit significantly different.....I am a believer that if Andrew Bynum was healthy right now there are zero teams on this earth that could beat LA in a 7-game series, but the reality is that he looks more like a 35 year old vet with limited mobility/ups which does bring the Lakers back to the pack.......

I do believe in the balance that Boston has on offense but it surely will not be able to put the same pressure on the Lakers defense that a 12-seconds-or-less/3-point shooting fiends offense like Phoenix brings....the one thing that will carry over is the defensive rotation out to the 3-point shooter did improve as the Phoenix series went on for LA, and an opponent like Boston will still demand that you rotate hard/aggressively/on time to shooters like Pierce/Allen/'Sheed/Rondo

I think we would agree that this series could certainly go 6-7 games.......in a 6 game series the Lakers will get 4 great games from Lamar Odom, Ron Artest, Derek Fisher, Andrew Bynum plus at least 4, likely 5 great games from Pau Gasol and they also have #24, the Black Mamba, who....uhmmm.........well he will be amazing every game

A major change for the 3-time Western Conference Champs will be the rebounding that Boston brings to the table......even with limited mobility LA will need Bynum to really clear the glass along with Gasol - plus Odom and Ron Ron will have to at least match the Celtics on rebounds......Lakers have a chance to be better the Boston in several areas but Boston will try to negate some of that by dominating the boards

Who will hoist the Larry O'Brien Championship trophy?!?!

At the end of the day I really believe that LA will have an "easier" time of scoring vs Boston, then Boston will have trying to score on LA........easier in in quotes because of course it will not be easy but I just believe that Kobe is the best facilitator on the offensive end who contributes to winning better then anyone we have seen since Michael Jordan was racking up multiple 3-peats in Chi-Town.......

For me any NBA Finals evaluation/analysis has to include the MASSIVE (IMO) advantage that the home team has.....in this case LA.......the NBA is the only sport that changes its format in the Finals.....every other series goes 2-2-1-1-1 but the NBA Finals goes 2-3-2 meaning LA will get Game 1 and Game 2 at home (standard procedure there) but then go to Boston for Games 3,4,5 and then back to the Staples Centre for Games 6 and 7......Having Game 7 at home is nice, but Game 7 could be played on Mars and it wouldn't matter IMO.....Game 7 is a 1-game scenario where anything could happen and anyone could win......for me the real prize here is Game 6 in LA......if you agree with me that a split of the first 2 games in LA is a worst-case-scenario for the Lakers, and if you also agree that LA will get at least 1 of the 3 middle-games in Beantown then that means LA is down 3-2, again this is my worst-case-scenario, but they get to come home for 6 and 7 .........if the Lakers can one-up that scenario then that means coming home for 6 and 7 with a 3-2 lead giving the Black Mamba 2 chances at home (where LA is 8-0 in the post-season) to get his Shaq-less Repeat, and most importantly put himself at only one Title below Jordan as the Best-Ever debate will surely rage on.....

Most amazing thing for me in the 2008 Finals was the Celtics dominance of the 3rd quarters......the series was lost for LA in that frame and the surprise was that tells the story of the halftime adjustments Doc Rivers made trumped any adjustment Phil Jackson tried to make which was a head scratcher for me.......we know Kobe/Phil/Fisher will be placing their usual emphasis on the last 5 mins to end the 2nd quarter and the first 5 mins of the 3rd quarter and if LA points to one area of immediately needed improvement from the 2008 series it will be that above all else.....

I wish I had the you-know-what to predict a Lakers sweep, and to be honest folks if Bynum was healthy I would be, but the respect I have for the 2010 Boston Celtics, plus the fact that Bynum is banged up, does lead me to give the Celtics 2 games in this series.........we will see a scene similar to the pic on the left as the Lakers repeat as Champs 4 games to 2


Thursday, May 27, 2010

2010 NHL Stanley Cup preview.......

#7 Eastern Conference Champions Philadelphia Flyers vs #2 Western Conference Champions Chicago Blackhawks

The NHL Playoffs are a battle-of-attrition unlike any other pursuit of a championship......

The Flyers have not been to the Finals since 1997, and last won in 1975.....since that '75 win Philly has been to the Finals 5 times, losing each time.....Chicago was last here in 1992 and last hoisted the trophy allllllll the way back in 1961 (longer drought then the Maple Leafs) - they too have lost 5 straight Stanley Cup Finals series......

Philly took out New Jersey and Montreal in 5 games each, and we know the historic significance of their win over Boston......the Blackhawks bounced Nashville then Vancouver in 6 each and handled San Jose in a sweep.......the regular season was all Chicago (112 points) while Philly (88 points) qualified for the post-season on the last day of the season.....

Normally a Stanley Cup team has rode their top-tier goalie to this point but both of these teams are currently riding guys who did not start the season as the go-to guy.......Michael Leighton is one of three goalies used by Philly this year....first it was the Ray Emery experiment and Brian Boucher also had a lot of playing time this year.......for Chicago Antti Niemi is carrying the load where it was once thought that Cristobel Huet would be their best goaltender......both teams have good/physical defenses helping the situation

On the offensive end the headliners will be names like Richards/Carter/Briere vs Toews/Kane/Byfuglien but both teams are getting impressive contributions from multiple players.........each team has 13 players with PLUS in the +/- category and both teams have played well on the road

Each team faces a way different opponent.......for Philly they have not seen a team that can dominate with skill and speed on both ends like Chicago, and for the Blackhawks this will be a tougher/meaner team, especially on the defensive end, then they have played

So what style wins the Cup?!?!

Chicago is a HUGE favorite to skate around the rink hoisting the Stanley Cup and even though I like this Flyers team a lot, and can appreciate how tough they are to play, I can only come to that conclusion as well...Chicago in 5

This Blackhawks team is on a historic level - one of the best ever - at getting their shots while limiting your shots......both teams have depth but only Chicago has amazing skill.....I would consider it a wash in net, and at the coaching spot as well......Chicago has been playing on a different level for a longer period of time (all season really) and their road play, plus special teams play (3 big short-handed goals and counting in these playoffs) will be key......their shots for/shots against dominance will be the difference in this series as Philly will need to win games 2-1 but good luck with that vs a Chicago team that will surely generate more chances for themselves then that......

Not exactly out on a limb here but I can only call it the way I see it......Chicago in 5


Monday, May 24, 2010

CHRIS BOSH.......More good news for Raptors fans……after the collapse of this season all looked dim and disappointing, but in the past few weeks we have learned that Maple Leafs Sports Entertainment has already approved Brian Colangelo to spend into the salary cap this upcoming year, and then this past week we learned (reportedly!) that CB4 has given a list of 5 teams (Toronto, Knicks, Lakers, Bulls, Heat) he would prefer to play for going forward….

Many see Toronto on that list and say “ya right” but I do maintain that when Bosh completes his evaluation of what is out there for him he may view the T-Dot as a legit option....what other team can we point to that will be as willing as the Raptors to build around him? And with other free agent big-man talent like Amar'e - Disco Dirk Nowitski - Carlos Boozer - David Lee out there this summer will Bosh even be the #1 desired big-man for all teams anyway?!?!

If CB4 does leave and does so by himself in a standard free-agent contract he will be leaving $30 million on the table as a sign-and-trade (meaning he would sign a maximum contract with the Toronto Raptors, and then be traded right away) is by far his most lucrative financial option......NBA rules allow the current team to pay their own free-agent maximum contract as an incentive for the player to remain with the current team.... meaning a slightly higher annual salary - plus slightly higher annual raises -plus slightly higher length then any other team can offer, so the total contract the Raptors can sign Bosh for would pay him approx $30 million more throughout the term then any other team could possibly offer him.......this is part of the Collective Bargaining Agreement to try to allow teams (and really fans) losing a known asset to not be left high-and-dry as there will be asset(s) coming back to the team losing their player

Now we know A LOT can change but from what we have right here-right now there are some hits, and some misses here as far as sign-and trade potential with the list Bosh reportedly gave......

The misses are easy - a sign-and-trade with the Heat gives back very little.......the Knicks may have even less.....the Knicks could at least potentially involve David Lee, but the timing required for that makes it unlikely as Bosh will want to wait until LeBron James makes his choice - but in the meantime Lee will be a hotly pursued free agent so when the dust settles on the LeBron-Wade-CB4 moves it is likely that Lee will already be spoken for somewhere else......if you are a Raptors fan (who wants CB4 to remain a Raptor) you are really hoping LeBron stays in Cleveland, or even better goes to a team in the Western Conference (believe it or not the Clippers make a ton of sense for King James) because if he does sign with either the Knicks or the Heat Bosh will surely insist on following and that lessens the potential of the asset(s) coming back to Toronto

For me it is also a miss to not have the Houston Rockets on that list as they have immediate upgrades for the Raps on defense, and BC may have been able to turn that scenario into a multi-player deal with Hedo Turkoglu and his contract leaving town.....but cest la vie I guess.......

The hits are really exciting.....the Bulls are enticing for both Bosh and Toronto as CB4 may like the looks of that team with a great point guard in Derrick Rose, and a secondary scorer like Luol Deng, and for the Raps the Bulls can offer young talent like Taj Gibson or James Johnson....and even better yet they have an instant improvement to the lack of defensive effort/commitment/intensity in Joakim Noah....

......any sign-and-trade scenario will have Colangelo insisting (at least in the early stages of the negotiations) that the team getting Bosh also take Hedo and his contract and the Bulls may be a rare team willing/able to do that.......

Any suitor for Chris Bosh is watching the LA Lakers very closely right now.....we know that LA, in particular Phil Jackson, is enamoured with CB4 and would love to have him as a Laker.....the hope would be that the Lakers win the NBA Title for a second-straight year thus leaving them to not want to move a major piece like Andrew Bynum, which effectively takes them off the table........this is huge for any Bosh suitor as a Bynum-for-Bosh sign-and-trade is the best option IMO for Toronto....other teams may be able to offer pieces - plural - but no team can offer a talent or potential like the Lakers can with Bynum, and if that really is on the table the Raps, I am sure, would be thrilled.......the potential here is to get a 23 year old back-to-the-basket 7-foot threat on offense who can also defend the rim very very well......Bynum has had a lot of injuries during his 5 years in the Association but he is the best upside player available IMO.......at that point the ball is in BC's court to try to really make this a blockbuster with LA as the Lakers have issues at the point guard spot (age and inconsistency) so perhaps Colangelo can get LA to take back Hedo if Jarret Jack is on the table as well......even just a 0ne-for-one CB4-for-Bynum is worth it for both teams

Leon Rose (LeBron James) and Henry Thomas (D-Wade and Bosh) may not be known to you now but they are the agents of several big-name free agents this summer and they will be instrumental in the look of the NBA going forward.....only they really have the answers right now.....only they really know if Bosh is really looking at just 5 teams, or even if Bosh will follow LeBron under any circumstances......for us only time will tell....

Friday, May 21, 2010

Career look at Steve Nash

Stephen Nash was born in South Africa but quickly after that became the Canadian citizen we are so proud to call our own…….this blog is to recognize the Hall Of Fame career that Nash is putting together……His year-in year-out passing, dribbling, shooting, facilitating has been on an amazing level for some time now….leadership-wise this guy has the praise and respect of every teammate, and his toughness is constantly on display…….Every coach raves about what a leader and coach-able teammate Steve Nash is…..Bob Houbregs is the lone Canadian player in the Hall Of Fame, but let’s look at the resume of Steve Nash….
Steve Nash was a high-school star for St Michael’s in Victoria BC who many college teams passed on but went on to lead the Santa Clara Broncos to the NCAA tournament 3 times……

1996 NBA Entry Draft the Phoenix Suns use the #15 overall pick to draft Nash……his career gets off to a pedestrian start and after 2 years in the desert he was shipped to Dallas where his career began to blossom and he became BFF with Disco Dirk and Mark Cuban…..Nash was instrumental in running the first playoff-bound offense for Dallas in a very long time in 2000, and Nash’s career was getting going….

things went BOOM from there……
seems like after the Y2K scare was over Kid Canada took over as an elite point guard in this league and 10 years later he is still doing special things……here is a look at NBA players that have played on multiple teams and had career highs in points per game when playing on a Steve Nash-led offense: Michael Finley, Shawn Marion, Raja Bell, Adrian Griffin, James Jones, Jared Dudley - and Nash orchestrated some of the best seasons for Boris Diaw, Jason Richardson, Channing Frye, Quentin Richardson, Eddie House
Career numbers look like this currently – 14.6 ppg – 8.3 apg (7th best ever – 10.9 in his last 6 seasons since returning to Los Suns)…..only 4 players ever have hit the 3-point shot at a higher percentage then Nash, and if he can improve his career free-throw percentage by .002 he will be the best free-throw shooter in NBA history….

Nash is a 7-time NBA All Star, and how amazing to also be a 2-time NBA MVP
Recent inductees to the Hall Of Fame at the guard position have included guys like Joe Dumars and Adrian Dantley….all due respect to both of those players and their Hall Of Fame careers but Nash’s career would clearly match-up, and very likely surpass those 2 recent examples……

Historically speaking I don’t believe any MVP, let alone 2-time MVP is not in the Hall Of Fame

As sports fans we would hope that someone truly worthy of a Hall Of Fame moniker is amazing off the court as well…..The Steve Nash Foundation does terrific work with kids through grants given to nonprofit entities and public services……Nash built a pediatric cardiology ward in a hospital in Paraguay and he has been instrumental in raising money for children’s charities in Uganda, Afghanistan, China etc, and sponsors a youth league in BC…….

Nash has the respect of all teammates, plus the rare admiration and respect of every opponent as well….Steve has represented himself and Canada very well in the 2000’s and is sure to be doing us proud again during his Hall Of Fame induction speech.......

Saturday, May 15, 2010

2010 NHL Western Conference Finals preview.......

Unlike in the East where the Conference Finalists had decent-at-best regular seasons, the West Finalists are the #1 and #2 seeds.....

How did we get here?.... The #1 Sharks and #2 Blackhawks were both among the elite with excellent +/- for goals scored vs goals allowed.....Chicago won the Regular Season against San Jose 3-1, and FYI for you gamblers 3 of those went OVER the total

San Jose has never been to the Cup Finals and Chicago last went in 1992 (losing to the Lemieux's) and last won in 1961 which is, believe it or not, a longer drought then the Toronto Maple Leafs

Chicago is playing very well - especially on the road.....they eliminated Nashville and Vancouver each in 6 games.....particularly impressive in their route of the Canucks - especially in the 3 wins in 3 games in Vancouver where the 'hawks scored 5,7,5 goals while surrendering just 5 goals total in those games.....overall they have won 5 straight road playoff games scoring at least 5 goals in 4 straight.....

Dustin Byfuglien, Jonathan Toews, and Patrick Kane all played huge offensive roles in the Canucks series.....Van City won Game 1 with a 5-1 blowout, but these three helped the 'hawks restore order and they will need to carry the day in this Sharks series with Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp as well......they will need goalie Antti Niemi to be solid and not give up anything easy ie not provide the blood-in-the-water signal for the Sharks to attack.....Chicago has tremendous team-speed, and will count on a very good defense (in particular in this series they will look to Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith to shut down the Sharks #1 line) - very good special teams - and a skilled offense to win their games - not rely on Niemi to carry the load

The Sharks have speed and offense too.....a top-line trio of Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau put the biscuit in the basket with regularity in the Regular Season, but we know the questions about their playoff failures persist.....the line again struggled in their opening round Colorado series but we, finally, saw this group play to their potential and eliminate Detroit in 5 games....it wasn't just that this line was suddenly scoring a lot of goals, it was the importance of those goals.....timely game-changing goals is what was always asked of, and expected from, Joe Thornton's lines in the post-season but they came up short again-and-again.......but this years Sharks team is also getting big play from guys like Joe Pavelski, Ryan Clowe and Devin Setoguchi with Dan Boyle leading the way on defense.....they are similar to Chicago in that they will not ask their goalie Evgeni Nabokov to steal games for them, they will count on scoring and ask their goalie to be steady.....San Jose has been sensational at home all season

For me the goalie match-up is a wash......neither team has an amazing goalie and neither team will have that be the be-all-and-end-all of their chances....

I am taking Chicago in six in this series...their impressive road play will be an advantage right away with Games 1 & 2 in San Jose....this team is playing well on offence and defence and they are scoring HUGE goals on the power play - and most importantly on the penalty kill....their road play plus their ability to score game changing goals on special teams will be the difference in this series......

The winner of this series will surely win the Stanley Cup and these 2 teams are fun to watch so this series should be a real treat sports fans!


Friday, May 14, 2010

2010 NHL Eastern Conference Finals preview.......

In most sports - in most seasons - the last 2 teams to qualify for the play-offs are normally an after-thought in the story of how the Conference was won.......but the #7 seed Flyers and the #8 Bleu-Blanc-et-Rouge are the last 2 standing in the East and one of them will soon be competing for the Stanley Cup......for Montreal it is a chance to return to the Cup Finals for the first time since 1993 while the Flyers were last there in '97
Who has been the most impressive here? Philly did the unthinkable - twice - by coming back from 3-0 in the Boston series then again when down 3-0 to the Bruins in Game 7....but a special story is also brewing in La Belle Province as this team has won Game 6 and Game 7 over the Ovechkin's and the Crosby's
When thinking about a series the usual place to start, and often times finish, is in net......the goal tending usually tells the story for what a team can accomplish in the play-offs (witness Halak in the play-offs vs Luongo in the play-offs and their teams results)....Les Habitants handed the keys to the franchise to Carey Price and it had horrible results but luckily - LUCKILY - for Habs fans in 2003 the team drafted Jaroslav Halak as an after thought with the 271st overall draft pick....every team passed on Halak numerous times, but today who would you rather have as your backstop right here-right now in this Conference Finals moment?!?!

The Flyers counter with goalie Michael Leighton.........ahem...............I am underwhelmed as for the billionth time you are about to hear the following - the Flyers are a very good team but they lack a Stanley Cup caliber goalie...story of that franchise ever since I can remember.....all due respect to Leighton, who in all honesty is at least their best goalie, but since this team chose Vanbiesbrouck over Cujo several years ago they have had mediocre-to-good goal tending but great is usually required for a Stanley Cup run.....

The Canadiens have Scott Gomez playing the role of Steve Nash as he hands out assists to Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta, and Tomas Plekanec.......they hope to have Andrei Markov back in the lineup asap

The Flyers counter with guys playing well right now like Ville Leino, Simon Gagne, and Claude Giroux - plus Danny Briere, Mike Richards, and Chris Pronger

On the surface this looks like a Habs-in-7 part III, especially with the potential advantage in net for Montreal, but I am taking the Flyers to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals.....the depth and balanced contributions the Flyers get is what will carry the day in this series.....consider this - the Habs have 5 players in the PLUS for plus/minus with PK Subban leading the way at +3 while the Flyers have 11 PLUS players, and 6 players with at least the +3 Subban has (Marc-Andre Bergeron is -10?!?! YIKES)....if the Habs get Andrei Markov back to full health he will certainly add to the Habs chances, but even then I still value the Flyers depth above anything else in this series......does any team have a chance to play in the Stanley Cup Finals with PK Subban as their best plus/minus player?!?! Doubt it.....I also feel Philly is more comfortable playing a 2-1 type game then Washington or Pittsburgh which makes them a tougher opponent for the Habs

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

2010 NBA Western Conference Finals preview.....

First and foremost I want to give praise to Los Suns and the Lakers for being the 2 teams remaining in this incredible Western Conference......to put the level of excellence that the West is dealing with these days in perspective consider this - the most wins EVER in one season by the Toronto Raptors is 47, it has been 3 years since that amount of wins would have qualified for the play-offs in the West....2 of the last 3 years every play-off team in the West won at least 50 Regular Season games so to be the final 2 teams left is impressive......both teams equally impressive as Phoenix exercises play-off demons against San Antonio, and LA has scored 111 4 times in a 6 game winning streak since losing games 3 and 4 in OK City

......LA won 3 of the 4 meetings this year against Phoenix but 3 of those games were early in the season and before this Suns late-season run....

We know the Suns are powered by Steve Nash and he gets Amare and Jason Richardson involved on a regular basis, but that Nash guy also helps 5 other Suns average between 7.4 to 9.5 points per game during their 8-2 play-off run....the fact that guys like 37 year old Grant Hill, Channing Frye, Jared Dudley, and Louis Amundson are contributing to a Conference Finals team is a testament to the Hall Of Fall career being built by Nash......Leandro Barbosa and Goran Dragic also contribute to this team and both also benefit from Nash's brilliance Nash
Los Suns ran a lay-up drill against the Spurs who were unable to provide any resistance or consequences for attacking the basket......we can count on the Lakers front court providing a significantly better challenge inside the paint - so for Phoenix to score at their usual high-pace I think they will have to hit the 3-point shot at a very high percentage......Phoenix shoots the 3-ball like they're playing a video game......the Suns are shooting 42% from downtown in these play-offs compared to 34% for LA......Nash, J-Rich and Dragic are all shooting at least .444 from 3-point land, higher then any Lakers player.......The 3-ball is the only chance I see for the Suns to try to negate some of the Lakers length and skill advantage down low in the post.....

Alvin Genrty is in his first full season at the helm of the Suns and he will be hoping to have Robin Lopez back for this series......the 7-foot Lopez has been out of the entire play-offs due to injury, but the Suns leading shot blocker is on the verge of returning to the line-up and is an upgrade from Jarron Collins - and a better fit down low with Amare

Amare will have to score in this series too - and he is their best chance to go and get a big offensive rebound......Suns will need their Big 3 of Nash/J-Rich/Amare to be superstars and score in the 20's to have a chance to win vs LA..... even if Phoenix rains 3's they will still need Amare to be aggressive and score at a high level as their team defense - as usual - will be in question meaning the offense will have to really be on point to try to get 4 wins before the Lakers do.......TALL order.......the Lakers have for some time now been a team that struggles to contain quick/explosive Point Guards like Nash so Steve knows his teams only chance, or at least best chance, is domination by Nash - and he is an amazing player/leader capable of special things

For the Lakers this marks a 3rd straight trip to the Western Conference Finals......since getting Pau Gasol the Lakers are 8-0 in their western play-off series'....none of those series came against the Suns.....in those 8 series wins 5 of them have been against defensive teams like San Antonio-Utah-Houston.....the Kobe/Pau era has never played an offense like this Suns offense
KB is on a 5 game streak of at least 30 points and Pau has shown that he is special in that he is soooo damn consistent so we know the Lakers will get production every game from these 2 studs.......the Suns can score but will provide little in the way of lock-down defense so the Lakers, who will need to continue their own hot offense to score with Phoenix, will have a chance to put up numbers......
look for LA to commit to getting the ball to Gasol/Bynum plus Odom and Kobe on the block/in the post to take advantage of what could be an insurmountable advantage down low.....using their advantage down low will also force the Suns to send more defenders into the post then they would like as that could negate their (Suns) opportunities to get out on a quick fast break.......OK City and Utah both took time to adjust to the Lakers defensive length and although Phoenix has played LA 4 times this year those games were against Regular Season Lakers, not the current Focused, Look Out-Lakers.......Lakers can beat you so many different ways - more then any other team, and they are a rare team in that thre is no style-of-play that will concern them.....Phoenix was able to dictate tempo in the San Antonio sweep...the Spurs are not built to carry high-octane offense for an entire game but the Lakers can....proof of their depth is that we have already looked at impressive Lakers players and what they will have a chance to accomplish against the Suns players, but we haven't even mention Ron Artest/Derek Fisher/Shannon Brown all of whom are also contributing to this years 8-2 Lakers play-off run........
I don't believe things the Suns had available to them in the Spurs series will be available in the LA series, especially at the rim, but even if the Suns can knock down 3's the Lakers are hot form downtown right now too....Fish/Artest/KB/Odom all shooting better lately and if this Lakers team can really continue to play well inside and outside they will 3-peat as Western Conference Champions......if defense wins championships then there is no drama to the outcome of this series as the Lakers play good team defense - great team defense in stretches - and the Suns traditionally play none

Irony of any 7-game series that involves Phil Jackson is that Game 1 usually tells the story for what the end result of the series will be....Jackson-coached teams are 45-0 when winning the first game of a series and 22 of those have come at the helm of the Lakers

Lakers in 5........if the Suns catch a big break somewhere in the series then Lakers in 6

Sunday, May 9, 2010

BEST TEAMS I EVER SAW (1 MLB, 1 NBA, 1 NFL).......Craig Ballard coming to you once again folks and today's entry is a nod to the 3 greatest teams I have ever seen in my 34+ years on Earth......so not the best teams ever - just my opinion of the best that I personally have seen in my lifetime

1984 Detroit Tigers....104-58 record....World Series Champions

Best baseball team I have ever seen (honorable mention to the '92,'93 Jays and the '98 Yankees)

This Tigers team was managed by the Legendary Sparky Anderson (pictured right) who was already a 2-time World Series Champ, but after being fired from Cincinnati Anderson considered this dream season to be his told ya so response......Sparky also won the 1984 Manager Of The Year Award

104-58 overall record included a 10-0 start, 35-5 after 40 games, and 17-0 road record to open the '84 campaign......1984 is several years before the Wild Card even entered the conversation as a potential idea so imagine the rest of the AL East (which at that time had a different look then how we know it today as there were only 2 Divisions - AL East and AL West - and the AL East had Detroit-Boston-New York-Milwaukee-Toronto-Cleveland-Baltimore) to be looking up at a Tigers team that started 35-5?!?!? WOW....Heck Toronto-New York-Boston-Baltimore all won at least 85 games that year but all finished at least 15 games behind this Tigers unit

Let's take a look at the contributors......

C Lance Big Wheel Parrish.......AL All-Star......Silver Slugger.......team leader in HR's (33) and RBI's (98)

2B Lou Whitaker (pictured right with Alan Trammell)....Gold Glove.......Silver Slugger
SS Alan Trammel.....AL All-Star......Gold Glove......1984 World Series MVP....... .314 Batting Average led the team

RF Kirk Gibson (pictured right)......1984 ALCS MVP.......27 HR's......91 RBI's

CF Chet Lemon.......great outfield defender.......AL All-Star.......20 HR's
The Tigers were able to win with those guys of course but also had key contributions from Darrell Evans, Rupert Jones, Marty Castillo, Howard Johnson, Larry Herndon, and Dave Bergman


  • SP Jack Morris........no-hitter - I have several fond memories of watching that game which was the first Saturday game televised for NBC.....19-11 record.........AL All-Star.....3-0 in the Post-Season
  • SP Dan Petry 18-8............plus SP Milt Wilcox 17-8

The Bullpen was lights out thanks to guys like set-up man Aurelio Lopez aka Senior Smoke who was 10-1 with a 2.94 era......

The Tigers made a trade just prior to the start of the 1984 season and picked up Willie Hernandez (pictured left) who appeared in a team record 80 games with a 1.92 era.....his numbers also included 33 saves and a 9-3 record.....Hernandez had a historic season as he won both the AL Cy Young and the AL MVP awards......

Another great memory for me from this team is from the World Series vs the San Diego Padres when the Public Address Announcer introduced the starting line-ups for the Padres at Tigers Stadium......even the Padres players had grins on their faces in laughter as the 51,000+ crowd would reply WHO CARES in unison after every Padres name was announced

1995-1996 Chicago Bulls (Honorable mention to the 1985-86 Celtics and the 1986-87 Lakers)

This team played 100 games in total this season and won a whopping 87 of them...72-10 all-time best Regular Season record.....18 game winning streak.......2 home loses all year

We know this team was led by the great Michael Jordan (30.4 Points Per Game.....Regular Season MVP -NBA All-Star game MVP -NBA Finals MVP) but this team could not have won on such a historic level without the play of several others......

We touched on Superman, now let's look at Batman aka Scottie Pippen..........Pippen scored 19.4 ppg for this team and he joined MJ on the All NBA 1st Team, and he joined MJ and Dennis Rodman on the All NBA Defensive Team

A pre-season trade for Dennis Rodman gave the Bulls a trio of Superman-Batman-Rodman......we know Dennis to be one of the all-time great defenders and rebounders the game has ever seen.....he did get a 6 game suspension from the NBA for a run-in with a referee but for the most part MJ and Phil Jackson got a great effort from Rodzilla
sooooo Best player - MJ......Best #2 player - Pippen.......Best rebounder/defender - Rodman, and how about best coach also (Phil Jackson won the NBA Coach Of The Year) and for good measure this team had Jerry Krause (pictured right with Toni Kukoc) who would win the Executive Of The Year for this season......all that is already off-the-charts, but we still need to BIG UP the 6th Man Of The Year Toni Kukoc who brought his 13.1 ppg off the bench and provided instant-impact every time he checked into the game

The Bulls would also get solid contributions all year from Ron Harper (7.4 ppg) ....Steve Kerr (8.4 ppg plus gaudy .515 shooting percentage from 3-point land) .....Luc Longley (9.1 ppg) and even Canadian Bill Wennington provided 5.3 ppg

....and value?!?! WHOA talk about value compared to today's standards.......sit down if not already seated for this one: every single one of SHAQ, T-Mac, Jermaine O'Neal,Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis, Michael Redd, Andrei Kirilenko, Vince Carter, Gilbert Arenas, Zach Randolph, and Chris Bosh ALL made more $$$$ this year then MJ/Pippen/Rodman/Harper/Kukoc COMBINED during this historic season!!!!!!!!

2007 New England Patriots

(honorable mention to 1985 Chicago Bears, '89 49ers, '98 Broncos, '92 Cowboys)

This is the only team on my list that did not win a Championship.......if you saw the 2007 Pats play though then you are already on-board as to how I could perceive them as one of the best teams ever.......

Pre-Season acquisitions included Randy Moss, Wes Welker, and Donte Stallworth.

This team won 3 games by 3 points (and one by 4) and lost the Super Bowl by 3 points but every other game was an ass-kicking placed on the opponents by the Pats

This team scored at least 31 points 13 times and got to at least 48 points on 4 different occasions

The #1 seed was wrapped up by week 12 but the Pats still were able to keep their foot on the gas and finish the Regular Season at an amazing 16-0

The Defense was stellar too allowing no more then 14 points on 10 occasions

This team featured 8 players named to the NFL Pro-Bowl

The New York Giants beat the Patriots 17-14 in the Super Bowl this year but the tenacity and execution from this 2007 Pats team throughout the previous 18 games was 2nd to none, and one of the great teams I have ever seen

Thursday, May 6, 2010

DAN MARINO.....This blog is a look at why I consider Dan Marino the greatest Quarterback ever.....I come across conversations often about who is the greatest QB so I submit the following for your consideration.......

Dan Marino at one time or another has held 31 NFL passing records

His arm strength and quick release, combined with his elusiveness in the pocket gave Marino an amazing skill set......His football IQ combined with those skills to the tune of 61,000+ yards and 420 career TD passes

So you are the Head Coach or Defensive Coordinator in the Dan Marino era and you have the `Phins on your schedule right now.....Monday you and the Coaching Staff get together to put the game plan in order....on Tuesday the players come in and are walked through the game plan with the main points written on the chalkboard\whiteboard.....for 17 years opponents of the Miami Dolphins walked into those strategy sessions and every single week the #1 thing written on the board was Dan Marino......every Coach and Coordinator put together game plans\schemes set-up to stop Dan Marino specifically and for 17 years he shredded those defenses....
Other QB`s have put up #`s over the years too but those guys had help not available to Dan Marino......any other great QB you could mention had, at some point or always, an outstanding running game to the point where teams had to game plan to stop the run as much as anything else.....other great QB's also had Hall Of Fame WR's and great TE's to throw to, and legendary Offensive Lines protected them

If you were game planning for the 49ers of the Joe Montana era your chalkboard would of course have Montana on there, but you were also going to have to account for a running game of Roger Craig and Tom Rathman behind a great Offensive Line (maybe best ever) plus TE Brent Jones - WR John Taylor - and the great great great Hall Of Fame inductee Jerry Rice

Against the Trot Aikman-led Dallas Cowboys you also had an amazing Offensive Line who opened holes for Hall Of Fame RB Emmit Smith - plus Moose Johnston and TE Jay Novacek and another Hall Of Fame WR in Michael Irvin

People will want to make a case for John Elway as the greatest ever, and he was sure up there, but he too benefited from more talent around him then Marino ever had.....RB Terrell Davis had a string of seasons for Elway and the Broncos that were up there on a historic level......Davis is in the Hall Of Fame, as is Tight End Shannon Sharpe, and Offensive Lineman Gary Zimmerman so Elway was great but their was a lot of support for him in the Mile-High city

Now I am a believer that Tom Terrific (Tom Brady) will be in this conversation one day, Peyton perhaps too, but he still has several great years left to add to an already impressive Best Ever application so we will consider him when the time is right.....BUT any QB of the modern era will have points deducted because when Marino was playing the rules about manhandling WR's and QB's were way more laxed then today so the passing game was even harder to pull off in the Marino era

Same goes for Brett Favre......his still career is still possibly on, or as usual, possibly finished......Favre has to be considered one of the all-time greats but I think the consensus on Favre would be that he threw too many Interceptions overall, and especially in key-situations.....Favre now owns most of the passing records but the fact that he has done it in so many more games, and the interception reputation he has will likely hurt his Best Ever chances

Inevitably the knock against Marino as possible Best Ever candidate is the fact that Dan won zero Super Bowls......there are 3 11-man units on a NFL team..offense..defense..special teams........Dan Marino never made a tackle a day in his life.....Dan Marino never made a game-winning field goal a day in his life......All Dan could be is 1 player on an 11-man unit......how much could 1 man do to carry an entire 11-man crew, let alone carry 2 other units he doesn't even play on?!?!.....not Marino's fault that the Miami defenses consistently stunk and, for example, Pete Stoyanovich missed a game winning Field Goal to send Miami to the 1994 AFC Finals.....1 person cannot carry you to a Super Bowl

If Super Bowl victories are the be-all-and-end-all for you truly, then that means you have Trent Dilfer - Brad Johnson - Mark Rypien - Jim McMahon - Doug Williams - Jeff Hostetler in the same breath as Dan Marino and that just can't possibly be right.....

Only one time in Dan Marino's 17 year career did he have a 1,000 yard rusher......Karim Abdul-Jabbar had 1,116 in 1996 but his 3.6 yards-per-carry average is the lowest ever for a 1,000 yard rusher......the only reason Abdul-Jabbar even reached 1,000 is because Head Coach Jimmy Johnson committed to the run even though it did not have success, but that commitment to the run is what worked for him in Dallas so he really tried to implement it in Miami

Ultimately I do know that I may still be in the minority with thinking that Dan Marino is the best QB ever, but I do hope that I have at least provided you with things that you perhaps had not considered otherwise........