Tuesday, February 21, 2017

NBA Moves, MLB springs

Biggest news out of the NBA All Star break was the DeMarcus Cousins trade to New Orleans, and the major management shakeup at the LA Lakers.

For the Warriors, it's the Cousins trade that poses the most immediate challenge.  If he can jell with his new team soon enough, the New Orleans Pelicans can make the playoffs.  If the Dubs stay on top, they'd likely meet in the first round of the playoffs.  With two very skilled big men, the Pelicans could create difficulties for the Warriors defense.  The two teams will meet once before then, so more will be known.  In the meantime, San Antonio remains the biggest challenge for the Warriors in the second half.

The Lakers finally got rid of Baby Buss who tried to make the team his own and sort of did, but not to the team's benefit.  The new head of basketball operations is none other than Laker great Magic Johnson.  He had an advocate in Kobe Bryant, and he is an advocate for involving Kobe in the team's future.  As a member of the Lakers' extended family, first year coach Luke Walton will likely get a chance to work with the new management, that reportedly now will include Kobe's former agent as GM.

Meanwhile, MLB spring training is underway.  As predicted, the SF Giants have let go both Romo and Casilla--only Kontos remains from the bullpen that won those championships.  Several veteran pitchers and position players are in camp to make the team, and some likely will.  Sports writers keep harping on left field but the Giants don't seem to be desperate to trade or acquire a starter.  At least to start the season, one of the younger players will be out there, Parker or Williamson probably.  Still there is backup experience at nearly every position, and several players will get a chance this spring to play at different positions to increase versatility off the bench, and to rest regulars in the hope of keeping them fresh and less prone to injuries for the long haul.  

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Dubs Challenge

Photo:  Steph Curry's special edition shoes, which he wore to honor President Obama at the end of his term in office.

With the NBA season nearly half over, the new Golden State Warriors are playing the best they have so far.  Their convincing three in a row victories over Cleveland, Oklahoma City and at Houston featured fearsome defense and fewer turnovers to go with smart and efficient shooting.

But their challenge for the championship may still be waiting out there.  They played the San Antonio Spurs the first game of the season and got blown out.  They haven't seen them since, as both the Dubs and the Spurs have improved.  They play them twice at San Antonio in March.  That will be there final meaningful pre-playoffs test.

The likely if not near certain East winner, Cleveland, remains a challenge.  In their two games, the visitor was deep into a road trip and on a back to back.  Both home teams won, though Golden State was the more convincing win.  Meanwhile, the Spurs just beat the Cavs in overtime, in Cleveland, even short-handed.

So the Dubs can't underestimate the Spurs.  They didn't have to meet them in the playoffs last year but are much more likely to this season.  The Dubs are not the automatic West team to face Cleveland.  

Update:  Even with a road loss to Miami, Golden State has the best record in the West, which this year means the best in basketball.  The East has one team with 30 wins (Cleveland.)  The West has 4 teams with 30 or more wins (and one more with 29.)  Thirty wins leads the East, but it gets you fourth in the West (LA Clippers.)  

And let me repeat: like last year, the Dubs are getting the publicity but the Spurs are winning, too--just 2 back in the lost column now.  The first seven teams in the West are above .500 and all are capable of beating anybody.  So to win the West regular season is an accomplishment with playoff payoff.  But the Western Conference playoffs will be very competitive.  The second half may hold some surprises--injuries can change things quick--but the Spurs look to be the chief challenger to the Dubs, and neither team can look past any other opponent in the playoffs.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Another Reason I Love Stephen Curry

"One thing my pops always told me is you never count another man's money. It's what you've got and how you take care of it. And if I'm complaining about $44 million over four years, then I've got other issues in my life."
Stephen Curry

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Early December

The San Francisco Giants made a deal to address their biggest need by signing former Pittsburgh Pirate closer Mark Melancon.  Reportedly, ex-Giant and a Pirate last year Ryan Vogelsong was instrumental in praising the Giants team culture, and Melancon--like Durant to the Warriors--really wanted to play for them.

Another Pirates to Giants move is still possible but looks less likely now--the Pirates are less than quietly shopping around their star, Andrew McCutchen.  I was surprised to see what a bad year he had last year, even defensively.  But he played center well enough to beat the Giants (with Vogelsong on the mound) when I saw them play each other in August.

  Cutch would be a huge loss to Pittsburgh--he's always said he wanted to play there forever, and he was a star there on bad teams before they got good.  Now they may be on the wane again, and Pittsburgh has to watch its payroll still it seems.  He would fit in well in SF, though it poses questions for who plays where in the outfield.  But Giants officials are playing that possibility down, expressing faith in farm system grads Parker and Williamson to share left. And probably figuring a healthy Hunter Pence and better years by one or two others will add to the long ball totals.

Meanwhile, the Golden State Warriors are rolling.  Their top four have all set some sort of record already in this young season, including Steph Curry's record 13 treys in a game and last night, Klay Thompson dropped 60 points in less than 30 minutes of playing time--for the first time in the shot clock era.  It's also the highest point total by anyone this season.

The offense is fast, sharing and joyful--breaking records for assists, and putting up lots of points.  The defense is a work in progress but there are brilliant plays every game, most often by Durant and especially Draymond.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Congratulations Chicago

Congratulations to the Chicago Cubs for winning the World Series, their first in 108 years, the longest period without a championship in American sports.

They were also the first team since the 1979 Pirates to be down 3 games to 1 and win the Series on the road.  I sure remember the feelings from that series--I watched every minute of it (except when I was pacing around in the next room) and I recall the feeling when it was over.  It was the third Pirates world championship in my lifetime, and so far the last.  But Pittsburgh also had a long drought--before 1960 they hadn't won it since 1925.

I loved the stories of the Chicago fans, sacrificing seeing the game to gather together outside Wrigley Field.  And the stories about the memories of absent fans, family and friends who didn't live to see this.  Getting into the Series seemed to reawakened memories of them.

As for this seventh game, the Cubs had it won until the 8th inning, just as the Giants had their last game won until the 9th.  Like the Giants in that game, the Cubs saw their closer fail--only they have one of the top closers in the game, who was just gassed from recent appearances.  But they didn't lose it, they were tied, and went to extra innings.

But before the 10th started, there was a rain delay, something like 17 minutes.  I can't imagine what that was like for the teams.  Maybe it settled the Cubs down, who knows?

But in the 10th they scored the go-ahead runs exactly as they came back against the Giants, with opportune hitting: going with the pitches, finding the holes.  Of course, earlier homers helped, as did terrific base running.  Both teams made big mistakes, and big plays.  Cleveland got closer but couldn't prevail.  It ended with the tying run on first, 8-7.

I admit that once the Series started I was rooting for the Cubs.  I went to college in Illinois and I thought about all my classmates from Chicago.  John Podesta being one.  But then Hillary and Barack are also Chicago people.

On the other hand, being from the Pittsburgh area, hating Cleveland teams is second nature, and I particularly hate the racist name and logo of their baseball team. So I sure wasn't rooting for them.

The Cubs are a young team, and they'll probably be a factor for years to come.  Right now they're world champs, and there's going to be some joy for awhile in Chicago.

The NBA season has started.  The Warriors ended all suspense about how many games they would win in a row to start the season.  Turned out: none.  But they've won three games since, starting to get it together against Portland the other night. Thursday they face the Thunder, and all eyes will be on Durant and Westbrook playing against each other.  Plus Durant has to score 20 to keep his streak going, to match Michael Jordan for second most consecutive number of games with 20 or more points.

Durant looks great but it's Curry who is a big relief--after his injuries hampered him in the finals, he looks like his old self, moving, shedding defenders, hitting lightning-quick release and otherwise impossible 3s.

It's probably too early to tell, but I get the sense that there's a lot more parity in the NBA than sport writers said.  It's supposed to be a boring year, but I don't think so. Some teams look better than they're supposed to.  Could be a more competitive year than the experts think.

Friday, October 21, 2016

NFL Violence Over Skill

Network ratings for NFL games are down considerably, and lots of folks are spouting off on why that should be.  Everything from the Internet to political protests are offered as the reasons.

What almost nobody is taking seriously is that a growing number of people may just be fed up with the NFL's wanton violence.  The NFL can minimize the concussion issue, and the vested sports interests including sports media can ignore it, but lots of parents have to take it seriously.  They have to make decisions for their boys on whether football is worth the risk.

Parental concerns may be having some influence on the rules and how the game is played at the school level, maybe even the college level, though for the big schools, football is an addictive big business of enormous profit--especially since there are few paid employees.

But in the NFL nothing meaningful has been done, and the violence increases.  The Pittsburgh Steelers are charging that the knee injury to their star quarterback was intentional, though the NFL refused to even fine the miscreant.  He is one of several players who are known to deliberately injure opposing players.

Who wants to see that?  Who wants to see a team with its best players injured, because the NFL values violence over skill?

I don't.  And I wonder how many others are turned off as well, and are turning off the NFL.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Post Giants Season

As the postseason develops, a couple of things are apparent: relief pitching is proving crucial to winning teams, and with a better bullpen, the San Francisco Giants could beat anybody still playing.  And if the Dodgers make it to the Series, the Giants will really be kicking themselves harder.

Though the Giants immediately fired both first and third base coaches, the words out of the club have emphasized no panic, but yes, we're going into next season knowing who our closer is.

It won't be Casilla or Romo, as it's pretty likely they won't be with the team.  It's sad because they both contributed so much to World Series seasons.  The story of Casilla in tears after the horrendous 9th inning meltdown that ended the Giants season, because he was even asked to warm up, is heart-breaking.

Other absences are likely to be free agents Angel Pagan and Gregor Blanco.  Pagan's contributions--heroics, even--are pretty well known, but there were stretches in several years when Blanco carried the club. When healthy he was a real asset.

Management signals that it will concentrate on getting that big time closer, with several available through free agency.  That had better work, because big money is their best option.  They can't afford to lose position players through trades.

Otherwise it seems they're looking to keep young arms in the bullpen, and look at others to compete for the fifth starter.  They could use another bat with some pop. The infield is interesting, with now two possible starters at third, and Kelby Tomlinson becoming a reliable pinch hitter as well as utility infielder.  If a power hitting left fielder suddenly presented himself they might jump at it, but otherwise it seems they'll be content to platoon with young players.

Bruce Bochy seems itching to come back, so that's a plus.  We'll see what happens in the Hot Stove League (do they still call it that?)