The NFL is Oblivious

Thr NFL will announce the 2017 schedule tonight, but thanks to more leaks than the Titanic, you can find your team’s schedule online already. One date stands out for the Giants, Thanksgiving at Washington.

Some people are bothered by Native American nicknames for sports teams some are not. I personally avoid using them for the reason that they cause a portion of the population offense. I understand why people may not agree with that, but I hope the insensitivity of scheduling a Washington home game on Thanksgiving needs no explanation.

The NFL doesn’t care. Roger Goodell seems to have zero empathy for victims of domestic violence, victims of brain trauma, and Native Americans who object to a racist trademark. At what point do we, the fans supporting this enterprise, vote with our wallets?

Playoff Hockey

It’s the best time of the year in hockey and so far, the Rangers and Canadiens are living up to the hype. Montreal pulled out a stunner in Game 2 and then blasted the Rangers in Game 3. New York rebounded with a much, much better effort in Game 4, and now we head to Montreal tied at 2.

The best series right now is the Toronto-Washington one. All three games have gone to OT and the surprising Maple Leafs have the Presidents Cup winners on their heels. Game 4 is tonight in Toronto and the Leafs could go up 3-1. Pretty much every other team in the East would be thrilled by that.

Boston and Ottawa aren’t far behind. The last two games have been OT affairs and Game 1 was decided by a goal as well. Game 4 is tonight with the Senators looking to take a 3-1 lead back home Friday.

A really shocking series is Chicago-Nashville. Chicago was the best team in the West, but they are down 3-0 to a surprisingly tough Predators squad. Nashville can close things out tomorrow night at home.

If you like late games, Edmonton-San Jose has been a great series, apart from Game 4 which was a rout. The series is tied, but the games don’t start until 10:30 EDT, which is rough.

Not all the series have been good, or even close to what was expected. Columbus finally put up an effort last night to avoid getting swept by Pittsburgh. Both teams won 50-games during the season and Pittsburgh only claimed home ice because of a better record in OT, so this looked to be a close series. Maybe Columbus will rally, but it hasn’t been pretty so far.

Anaheim and St. Louis can sweep their series tonight. The Minnesota-St. Louis series is a surprise as the Blues were actually the underdog. Barring a historic collapse, that wasn’t accurate.

And while I am not a huge fan of the fact that the NHL takes the games away from local TV after this round, the flip side to that is that all playoff games are televised nationally now. USA and NBCSports are doing the bulk of the games, with the NHL Network chipping in occasionally. So go out and watch, there is nothing like it.

 

 

A Word On The Knicks

i wrote last July about how I didn’t understand the Knicks adding Joakim Noah as a free agent because it created a team on paper that could make the playoffs and possibly win a first round series. My feeling was that the Knicks would be better served in the long term by tanking in 2016-17 and getting a lottery pick while trading away everything except Porzingas.

Phil Jackson deserves no credit for the Knicks ending up in the lottery. That clearly wasn’t the plan at the start of the year and the Noah deal is clearly going to be a disaster. But the Knicks are thankfully in the lottery and can do themselves a lot of good by not winning any of their remaining four games.

The Knicks are currently sixth-worst in the league, but only one win separates them from “dropping” to ninth. If they got lucky, they could possibly get to fourth.

Its not about the first pick, that chance, even with fourth-worst record is small (about 11%). It’s about ensuring they have a pick as high up in the draft as possible. This is a deep draft, but scouts generally say the drop off happens somewhere between picks 6 and 8.

Finish with the fourth-worst record and the worst pick you could have is 7th. Finish with the ninth-worst and you only have about a 7% chance of picking higher than ninth.

So the Knicks need to lose. We need to hope that Sacramento and Minnesota win, and maybe even Philadelphia and Orlando. Fultz and Ball aren’t walking through that door, but getting Monk or Tatum would be just fine with me.

Nothing Could Be Finer!

It wasn’t pretty, but the Tar Heels came through  and won title number six. Roy Williams now one of only six coaches with three or more titles.

This championship is so satisfying for UNC fans because it was 364 days in the making. Kris Jenkins broke our hearts exactly one year ago today. It was great to see him sitting their last night, cheering on his brother, Nate Britt.

You could see this possibly happening early in the season. UNC went out to Maui and dominated the tournament in November. Meeks played like he did Saturday and they beat some good teams including Wisconsin. They got their doors blown off visiting Indiana, which raised some questions, but showed their mettle in a one-point loss to Kentucky in December.

There were a few hiccups in the ACC. They dropped easy games against Georgia Tech and Miami, but beat the best in the conference and won it outright at 13-5. Thr ACC Tournament ended prematurely when they played a Duke team that finally played to its potential.

And then they fought their way through the tournament. After a blowout in their first game, they pulled of a big escape against Arkansas. They handled Butler with relative ease, but needed some heroics from Luke Maye when Malik Monk almost beat them a second time. And finally they survived Oregon and Gonzaga to put the memories of last year to rest.

This championship validates Roy Williams approach to recruiting. He won’t guarantee anything to incoming recruits, so UNC misses out on the top one-and-done type players. Instead, Williams builds a program that can emphasize certain talents, but also develop them. Anyone who watched Kennedy Meeks as a freshman lumbering up and down the court has to be amazed at what four years of college did to revolutionize his game.

And now the Tar Heels will see a real change in their lineup. Meeks and Hicks are graduating along with Britt and White. Jackson will almost certainly leave for the NBA and Tony Bradley could too. But Joel Berry and Theo Pinson will be back to lead next year’s team, and new faces will emerge to replace the departed. But we will always remember and cherish this squad.

The Final Four

Raise your hand if you had South Carolina, Gonzaga, Oregon, and UNC as your picks. Amazingly, 657 people did in the ESPN brackets. Sure, that’s out of 18.5-million, but it still seems high to me.

Thats how unlikely this Final Four is. Two teams that have never been there, one team that hasn’t been there since 1939 and the team that has been there a record 20-times. Once again, the conventional wisdom was very, very wrong. The East was going to be a battle of Duke vs. Villanova. The West would see Gonzaga picked off early. Oregon couldn’t possibly go to the Final Four after suffering a big injury in the PAC-12 tournament. Kentucky or UCLA would cut down the nets in the South.

It wasn’t what we thought it would be, but it should be a great Final Four. I think we will have a South Carolina-North Carolina Final which should include a side bet that the winning state forever is known only as “Carolina” and the losing state has to keep the directional part of their name. (That is quite a big deal down there almost as much as which state has the better BBQ)

The Madness Arrives!

To me Thursday and Friday should be national holidays because we have 32 college basketball games to watch. March Madness is upon us again and while I am still heartbroken about last year’s result, I think this year could turn out better for me.

So yes, I will pick Carolina to win it all in my “heart” bracket, but here’s an alternative view.

EAST- Villanova is a popular choice to repeat, but I don’t think they get past Duke. Duke was maddeningly inconsistent this year, but they are finally healthy and guys like Tatum will be easy lottery picks. This is probably the most talented team in the field and they are peaking.  Ignore them at your peril.

WEST- Gonzaga was a great story for years as an underdog, but they seem to me a team that is overexposed as a favorite. I don’t think they make the Final Four. I think Norte Dame, WVA, and Arizona are all their primary obstacles. In fact, I expect them to get eliminated by the winner of Notre Dame-WVA. I think Florida State gets bounced early too, and give me Arizona as the ultimate survivor.

MIDWEST

No team has ever won the title after losing their first conference tournament game. That’s what stands in the way of Kansas as they look to get through this bracket. I think they won’t buck history and that the biggest game in this bracket will be Louisville-Michigan for a spot in the sweet sixteen. Louisville is incredibly talented. Michigan survived a plane crash on Thursday and went and won the Big Ten title in a big upset.  I think Pitino cools them off and gets Louisville into the Final Four

SOUTH

UNC baby!  Ok, if you want a different pick give me UCLA. They have an amazing point guard and are very talented. Plus, I think Kentucky is going to get picked off by Wichita State which opens that side of the bracket. I picked UCLA to cut down the nets back in December, so I will stick with that.

FINAL FOUR- Duke, Arizona, Louisville, UCLA.

FINALS- Duke-UCLA

Champ- UCLA

But go Tar Heels!

 

You Cannot Be Serious!

ESPN has a new story titled, “Should the Knicks blow it up or pursue the playoffs?” I am not making that up. It includes this amazing quote”

That time is here for Knicks management. Jackson needs to decide whether he wants to continue to push for the playoffs or pull the plug on what feels like another lost season in New York.

“continue to push for the playoffs”!? The Knicks are 11-games under .500 and 3-7 in their last 10. That’s a playoff push? Sure, the Eastern Conference is once again top-heavy, but they are four-games back with three teams in front of them. And if they made the playoffs then they would probably be a sacrifice to King James in the first round.

Instead here is a “crazy” idea. Lose games as often as possible. If ever there was a season to tank, this is it, because the draft looks really deep and the Knicks finally have paid off all of Isiah and Jimmy’s terrible draft pick trades. If possible, trade Carmelo for another first round pick and then do the smart thing- rebuild. A lottery pick added to Porzingas with another first rounder thown in is a good start. Stink again in 2018 and you have another lottery pick. Suddenly, you might have a pretty good core of players.

Whatever you do, don’t try to add anything to this team that would sacrifice the future. That would be amazingly stupid.

We Need More!

Unless you are a big college hoops fan, it probably escaped your notice that the NCAA revealed the top-16 seeds for the tournament on Saturday. Of course, with a month left in the regular season, those seeds are just temporary, but it gave us a glimpse of how March Madness might set up.   The idea comes from football where they start releasing CFP rankings in late October, and it is a great way to get some buzz going for the tournament. I am hopeful that they will add two tweaks to it to really get this going.

1- Announce it weekly. They do this in college football like I said and it generates a lot of buzz. A weekly announcement would do the same thing and keep the information more current. As of right now, these 16 seeds could change significantly over the next month.

2- Include a list of teams on the bubble or, even better, the last four in and the last four out. Now this would be harder because of the need to look at the entire field every week, but can you imagine the buzz that would generate?

Anyway, its a good start that could be really improved down the line.

This Will End Badly

The story in Blecher Report was a harsh, but fair critique of Carmelo Anthony. Basically, he doesn’t have the killer instinct of Jordan or Bryant and Phil Jackson has screwed up by expecting him to develop it. The story would have faded away pretty quickly if Phil Jackson hadn’t decided to tweet about it, after not tweeting anything since the end of December. Here’s what Jackson had to say:

“Bleacher’s Ding almost rings the bell, but I learned you don’t change the spot on a leopard with Michael Graham in my CBA daze.”

Now, if you want to take the best possible spin on that, Jackson is saying that he knew what Anthony was and still thought he was a max-contract player. (Let’s not debate if he is or not, just stick with me.) So, it’s a somewhat awkward defense of Anthony involving a player from 25-years ago that almost nobody remembers.

The problem is, you have to be really willing to jump through hoops to get there, and Phil knows the NYC media well enough to know this would be the equivalent of throwing meat to hungry dogs. And so you have this. Or this one. And this one. And plenty more. It’s an easy narrative to fill because the logic is Phil wants to trade Carmelo, but needs Carmelo to waive his no-trade clause, so he needs to make Carmelo want to leave at all costs.

But that ignores, the reality of what GM does this? The Yankees treated A-Rod better than this when he was suspended for a year for cheating and the reason is, you never ever want to malign your own players because it lowers their value. Other GM’s aren’t stupid and they will read stories like this and tell Phil if you want him gone that badly, here’s our lowball offer.

So then you have the other possible explanation suggested in one of those links- Phil wants to get fired and head back to his beach house with a fat contract for two more years. Definitely plausible again, but while Phil’s reputation is going to survive, flaming out so badly in NYC isn’t the ending I can believe he wants and will resurrect the narrative that Pat Riley is a better coach/executive than him.

If it had been reason #1, a backhanded compliment. Jackson could have defused the whole thing with a follow-up tweet like this: “I love Carmleo and he is a vital part of the franchise. I would never want him to change his playing style.” Problem solved and crisis averted. And yes, we know he is lying, but he is putting the story to bed.

So that leaves us with the other two explanations and both point to the same conclusion. Jackson is trying to force Dolan to make a decision. It will be his franchise or Carmleo’s and one of them is leaving town. Either Carmelo in a fire sale or Jackson with $24-million still owed to him. Scorched earth either way and just another terrible chapter in a franchise with way too many of them this century.

Hail Brady

I often dream of an alternative NFL history. In it Bill Parcells resigns from the Giants in time for their defensive coordinator, Bill Belichick, to take over and the Giants, fresh off a great Super Bowl victory, go on to dominate the NFL for years.

There are two problems with my dream scenario.  First, Belichick went to Cleveland off of that Super Bowl victory and failed- 36-44 in his time there. And second, Tom Brady wasn’t the Giants QB.

I think it is time to recognize that as accomplished as Belichick is, he is nothing without Brady. Brady is the greatest draft pick ever. Every NFL team missed on him, at least FOUR times. That is their shame and evidence that Belichick isn’t quite the genius people make him out to be. He’s very good, but he hit the lottery with Brady.

Take Brady away from the Patriots and do they win any of their Super Bowls?  I don’t think so.  Belichick has done s lot of great moves, but Brady is the guy who makes it all work.

As for the game.  Atlanta blew it with some terrible play calls and Brady was magnificent when it mattered.

Ahead 28-20 with the ball and just under six minutes, there are two clear goals  1- score to make the game a two-score difference 2- run the clock.  Three plays later, Atlanta is on the New England 22-yard line with 4:47 left in the game.  At this point, goal #1 is within reach a and goal #2 can be achieved if you run the ball.  They ran on first down, lost a yard, and then went to the pass.  A sack, inexcusable at this point, backed them up 12 yards.  That’s not great, but a potential field goal would still be 51-yards at this point, if they didn’t gain another yard.  Instead, they call pass agajn and while they competed it, a penalty negated the play and backed them up another 10 yards- out of field goal range. On 3rd and 33, they tried to pass again, when a run could have got them a possible field goal and forced New England to spend another time out.

And you know against almost any other QB, they still might have gotten away with their stupidity, but Brady, with the help of an amazing catch, made them pay.  My only quibble is with the NFL’s stupid overtime rule.  Both teams should get the ball once to have a championship decided off of a coin toss is ridiculous.

Finally, think about the sports run we are on.  You had the Super Bowl and the college National Championship game decided on the last play. You had extra innings in Game 7 of the World Series.  You had the NBA finals go seven games with a 3-1 comeback by the winning team. And yes, while it broke my heart, you had March Madness decided by a three at the buzzer.

I have been racking my brain to find a comparable run and I can’t.  I think the 2016-17 sports championship cycle is the greatest we have ever seen.

 

 

 

 

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