Monthly Archives: May 2011

The Retiring of a Legend and NBA Conference Finals Picks

It wasn’t supposed to end this way.

It was supposed to end the same way last year’s playoffs did. It was supposed to end with confetti falling from the ceiling. It was supposed to end with Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson giving each other one last hug as they celebrated their sixth championship together. It was supposed to be Jackson’s twelfth championship, his fourth three-peat and his final goodbye.

Instead, it ended with the falling of J.J. Barea as he was elbowed to the floor in a classless cheap-shot. Instead, it ended with Ron Artest hugging Andrew Bynum as he escorted him off the floor. Instead of Jackson winning his twelfth championship, he received his first time being swept in his coaching career, and it wasn’t even close.

The Dallas Mavericks gave the Los Angeles Lakers a send off nobody expected and Jackson deserved better.If the Lakers weren’t able to rally for one win for Jackson, you have to believe their team chemistry was definitely off balance.

Jackson’s critics will point to the surplus of talent Jackson coached, but what Jackson did was more than coaching. Jackson got the most out of his players each and every night while having to balance some of the most complex egos most of us wouldn’t even understand.

As we say goodbye to the second round of the 2011 NBA playoffs, we also bid farewell to Mr. Jackson. What Jackson accomplished in his career is truly remarkable, and he should be remembered as one of the best coaches in the history of all sports.

Now that the Oklahoma City Thunder have won the first Game 7 of this year’s NBA playoffs in convincing fashion, the conference finals pairings are set, which means it’s time for me to make my picks.

Eastern Conference

1 Chicago Bulls vs 2 Miami Heat

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade hug after defeating the Boston Celtics 97-87 in Game 5 to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. (Image via AP Photo/The Palm Beach Post, Damon Higgins)

It’s the match-up we’ve all been drooling over. We used to wish it was going to be the Heat and the Celtics battling it out for the conference championship. That is, until the Celtics traded away Perkins and sent their championship dreams down the drain. Now we’ve been dying for the NBA MVP take on the the trio of Wade, LeBron and Bosh.

In the regular season, the Bulls swept the Heat 3-0 by a combined eight points. Both teams pride themselves on defense and both teams are incredibly efficient on offense when they are clicking on all cylinders. Rose and LeBron are two of the most difficult players to defend because their size and speed allow them to gain penetration but they also has the ability to knock down a fade-away.

The Heat looked to have figured it out. LeBron and Wade have been deadly this postseason and if the rest of the NBA didn’t fear the Heat before, they should now. Chicago on the other hand, hasn’t looked like the best team in the NBA this postseason. There have been nights where Rose has had to will them to victory all by himself. There was hardly any consistent secondary scoring in the Hawks series and you have to wonder if someone will show up to help Rose.

In a defensive battle that would make the old-time NBA players proud, the Heat will overcome their deficiencies on the glass and advance to the NBA Finals.

Miami in 7

Western Conference

3 Dallas Mavericks vs 4 Oklahoma City Thunder

Kevin Durant throws down a dunk on the Thunder's way to winning Game 7 105-90 to advance to the Western Conference Finals against the Dallas Mavericks. (Image via New York Times/Ronald Martinez, Getty Images)

If you picked these two to play each other in the conference finals you better have documentation to back it up because no one in their right mind would believe you. The Lakers’ early exit made the Western Conference a lot more interesting and a lot more confusing.

Heading into the playoffs, many wrote these teams off right away. The Thunder were young and talented, but a year away from seriously competing for a title. The Mavericks were too soft, too old, too inconsistent and usually choked away their golden opportunities.

The Mavericks swept the Lakers in dominating fashion. The Thunder needed seven games to close out the Memphis Grizzlies. The Mavericks shot lights out and made the sweep of the Lakers look effortless. The Thunder had to fight for every inch inside against a Memphis team with a strong defense and talented big men inside.

Dirk Nowitzki is one of the most talented players in the NBA and he creates match-up problems for opposing defenses. He can take you off the dribble or shoot that ugly, weird looking fade-away that somehow always manages to go in. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are one of the most dynamic duos in the NBA. They both get to the free throw line and shoot free throws very well. Each night, one of them could explode for 35+ points or a triple double. Or, they could do it on the same night like they did in Game 7 against the Grizzlies and you can just kiss your postseason goodbye.

Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, along with their strong defense presence inside and sixth man James Harden, will advance to the NBA Finals in an extremely competitive series.

Thunder in 6



Filed under All Posts

The End of a Magical Run and Conference Finals Picks

Thursday night marked the end of one of the most thrilling but brutal best-of-seven series I can remember.

The series, just like my emotions, endured a roller-coaster ride full of twists and turns that ended at heartbreak city for Red Wings’ fans. The Red Wings valiant effort at the epic comeback fell, yep, you guessed it, one goal short as the San Jose Sharks knocked off the Wings 3-2 in Game 7.

Just as the Wings did in the series, they fell behind early and were forced to play catch-up. The 2-0 deficit in the first and 3-1 deficit in the third proved to be too much for the Wings. In the end, it’s the Sharks that are moving on to face the Vancouver Canucks in the Western Conference Finals, rather than the Wings.

The Red Wings line up to shake hands after falling to the San Jose Sharks 3-2 in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals. (Image via Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

First off, I’d like to congratulate the San Jose Sharks and their fans. I didn’t believe the Sharks had what it took to beat the Wings in Game 7. In the past, when the lights were the brightest, when every players’ play was placed under a microscope, the Sharks’ stars, specifically Joe Thorton and Patrick Marleau, couldn’t handle the pressure and they would become non-factors.

In Game 7 against the Wings, Thorton started the Sharks off on the right note with a beautiful pass that was one-timed by Devin Setoguchi to grab the lead in the first period. Marleau was clutch when the Sharks needed it most scoring the game-winning goal with 8:47 left in the third period. A strong performance under the spotlight will not get rid of the critics, but it will silence them for the time being, which has to be a good feeling for the Sharks.

As a Red Wings fan, I could not be prouder of the effort the Red Wings put forth this series. It would have been easy to quit when facing a 3-0 deficit. They could have packed it in and none of us could have complained. The same goes for Games 5 and 6 where they trailed in the third period, but they didn’t.

The Wings never gave up and were so close to making history. Although a second round exit in the playoffs isn’t your ideal result, the Wings should keep their heads held high and take the offseason to learn from this year to make another run at the Cup.

During Game 7, I was freaking out. I was pacing around the room, jumping up and down, throwing my hands up in the air and yelling at the T.V. I was told that it was just a game and that I was too emotionally invested in the Wings.

In my opinion, it was more than just a game. For me, I have to be emotionally invested in the team I am rooting for. I’m sure there are some of you who feel the same way I do as well as some of you who think I’m insane for caring so much about a sport. I guess we will have to agree to disagree.

The worst part about Game 7 is that the chances were there for the Wings to comeback, but they weren’t able to capitalize on them. Some may blame the injuries, referees, or just plain bad luck on the Wings’ loss to the Sharks but it was the stellar play by Anti Niemi and missed opportunities that prevented the Wings from moving on. Ultimately,  the better team, the team that won four games first, won the series.

Now that the match-ups for the conference finals are set, here are my picks:

Western Conference Finals

1 Vancouver Canucks vs 2 San Jose Sharks

It only seems right that two of the worst underachievers come playoff time meet in the conference finals for a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. The Sharks were in this position last year but were swept by the Chicago Blackhawks who eventually went on to win Lord Stanley. Both teams are physical, fast and talented with plenty of depth. Both teams have had difficulties closing out their series as they have each watched a team come back from a 3-0 hole only to win Game 7.

Ryan Kesler came to life in the Predators series and the Sedin twins picked up their play towards the end of the series. Luongo has recovered from his shaky start against Chicago and has been solid. San Jose heavily relied on Anti Niemi against Detroit and I’m not sure that Niemi will be as reliable against Vancouver. In the end, the Canucks are just too big and talented for the Sharks.

Canucks in 7

Eastern Conference Finals

3 Boston Bruins vs 5 Tampa Bay Lightning

In case you forgot, there are still two Eastern Conference teams remaining in the playoffs. It’s been a while since these two teams played considering they both swept their opponent. Tampa Bay has rattled off seven straight wins since being down 3-1 to Pittsburgh in the first round. The Boston Bruins got revenge on the Philadelphia Flyers with their sweep and they looked dominant while doing it. The Bruins were better than the Flyers in every aspect of the game, especially goaltending.

The more Steven Stamkos plays playoff hockey, the more he understands what it takes to be productive and ultimately, win. Veteran leaders Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier have been incredible this postseason combining for 25 points in 11 games. The Bruins are lead by giant defenseman Zdeno Chara who leads the playoffs with a plus-11 rating. The Bruins took a hit with the loss of the leading playoff point producer Patrice Bergeron who suffered a concussion against the Flyers. The Lightning look like a team hungry for another trip to the Stanley Cup Finals and the loss of Bergeron hurts the Bruins offensive output.

Lightning in 6

The Eastern Conference Finals get underway on Saturday at 8 PM while the Western Conference Finals kick off on Sunday at 8 PM. Since my beloved Red Wings weren’t able to advance, you can bet I’ll be rooting for the Tampa Bay Lightning who’s GM is Steve Yzerman. Yzerman was my favorite player growing up and since the Wings can’t win, I would love to see him achieve success in Tampa. Hopefully, one day he returns to the Wings’ organization in some shape or form.


Filed under All Posts, Hockey

Why Not Us?

“Don’t Stop Believin’” is more than just a crowd-pleasing song played during the Red Wings’ hockey games. It also serves as the message the Red Wings were trying to send to its fans: Don’t stop believin’ in us Hockeytown.

Well, message received, loud and clear.

I’ll admit, after a Devin Setoguchi wrist shot beat Jimmy Howard in overtime of Game 3 to cap yet another third period comeback by the Sharks, my belief in the Wings was nonexistent.

The Detroit Red Wings celebrate Darren Helm's empty net goal which secured a flight back to San Jose with a trip to the Western Conference Finals on the line. (Image via Julian H. Gonzalez of the Detroit Free Press)

As the rumblings of “why not us?” circled throughout the Wings’ fan base I couldn’t help but look towards the negatives. The Wings had outplayed the Sharks in two out of the three games, yet they had nothing to show for it. Turnovers, penalties and costly mistakes had the Wings down in the basement starring up at 3-0 deficit — a deficit only three teams in NHL history had overcome. I kept asking myself, “what will happen if the Sharks start playing better?”

As it turns out, I was asking myself the wrong question. I should have been asking myself, “what will happen if the Red Wings start playing Red Wing hockey?”

The answer: Three straight wins and a plane ride back to the Shark Tank for an improbable Game 7.

The Wings got back to playing simple hockey. They made smart pinches, maintained possession of the puck, worked hard back on defense, had active sticks in passing lanes and threw pucks at Anti Niemi at every opportunity.

The Wings have been playing desperation hockey for three games straight and seems they thrive under the pressure.

Trailing 3-1 with 19:06 remaining in the third period of Game 5, the Wings took their play to another level. Jonathan Ericsson, Dan Cleary and Tomas Holmstrom scored three straight goals for the Wings to lead them to a 4-3 victory in a game where they were outshot 42-22.

In Game 6, the Wings completely dominated the play the first two periods of the game but the scoreboard still read 0-0 heading into the third period leaving Wings fans with an unsettling feeling in the pit of their stomachs.

Less than four minutes into the third period the Sharks’ Logan Couture slapped a puck towards Howard that trickled through his pads and barely over the line. From that point on, the Wings flipped a switch.

The duo of Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk led another third period comeback for the Wings. It was almost as if the two were playing a game of “anything you can do I can do better.” Zetterberg’s tip on Kronwall’s shot displayed incredible hand-eye coordination only to be topped by Datsyuk’s saucer pass across ice to Valtteri Filppula who slammed it home. Darren Helm locked up a Game 7 in San Jose with his empty net goal with just over a minute left.

Heading into the playoffs, if you would have told the San Jose Sharks they would have a Game 7 at home against the Detroit Red Wings for a chance to head to the Western Conference Finals, many of them would have taken that situation under normal circumstances.

This Game 7 did not come about under normal circumstances and I don’t believe the San Jose Sharks are built to win Game 7 considering the recent sequence of events.

Their lead in Game 5 evaporated before they could recover. Their lead in Game 6 lasted barely long enough for them to gain any semblance of hope before it disappeared into thin air. The Sharks 3-0 lead in the series no longer exists, and the tension is rising. Their confidence is shattered, the momentum has shifted, and now, all the pressure rests on their shoulders.

The Sharks are widely known as choke artists and this year doesn’t look to be any different. The stars in their locker room consist of people who shrink under the pressure and criticism, rather than shine. There’s a reason Joe Thorton, Patrick Marleau and Danny Heatley haven’t been able to succeed in the playoffs and it’s not because they lack talent.

The old saying “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” describes exactly what the Sharks aren’t and exactly what the Red Wings are.

The veteran leadership in the Wings locker room is part of what brought them back in this series. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg have been sensational on both sides of the puck and have created multiple match-up problems for the Sharks’ defense.

Thursday’s Game 7 in San Jose will mark the eighth time a team has come back from a 3-0 hole to force a game seven in NHL history. The record for teams who have forced a Game 7 after being down 3-0 is 3-4. It only makes sense for the Red Wings to even out history and become the fourth team to complete the inconceivable comeback.

The players believed it, the coaches believed it, and it’s about time we all started to believe it. “Why not us?”


Filed under All Posts, Hockey

Justin Verlander Joins an Elite Class and Gives the Tigers Exactly What the Doctor Ordered

What would it feel like to have only nine outs standing in the way between you and a no-hitter? You can feel the adrenaline rush becoming more evident with every out. You’re down to six outs, then three outs and finally, only one out remains between you and an exclusive class of pitchers to throw no-hitters.

Justin Verlander knows what this feels like, and he seems to thrive under the pressure. He experienced it back on June 12, 2007 when Verlander dominated the Milwaukee Brewers with 12 strikeouts on his way to throwing his first career no-hitter.

Today, Verlander was on the mound in a familiar situation. Looking to join an elite group and become only the 30th pitcher in Major League Baseball to throw multiple no-hitters in their career, Verlander was as strong as ever. With three outs remaining in the 9-0 game against the Toronto Blue Jays, Verlander still had enough strength to haul back and toss 100 mph fastballs.

Justin Verlander is doused with a Gatorade bath as the Tigers celebrate Verlander's second career no-hitter. (Image via Darren Calabrese, AP and the Detroit Free Press)

Verlander became the seventh pitcher in MLB history since 1954 to face the minimum amount of batters in a no-hitter. Verlander’s only slip up was a walk to J.P. Arencibia in the eighth which he quickly corrected by getting Edwin Encarnacion to ground into a double play.

Verlander’s second career no-hitter was exactly what Detroit fans needed for a few reasons.

First, Verlander’s no-hitter provided a nice break from talk about the Detroit Red Wings facing elimination from the Stanley Cup Playoffs at the hands of the San Jose Sharks for the second straight year.

Also, the no-hitter shows signs that maybe Verlander has matured. Verlander has always been considered as one of the best pitchers in MLB “stuff” wise but he hasn’t been able to put it all together. Verlander only needed four strikeouts in his no-hitter against the Blue Jays and he actually threw a higher percentage of strikes. This could be one of the first steps in Verlander’s journey to becoming an annual Cy Young contender.

Finally, this is something the Tigers can rally behind. Currently, the Tigers sit two games below .500 and are six and a half games behind the division leading Cleveland Indians. This could provide a spark in the Tigers’ dugout that surges them to the top of the division.

The pieces are in place for the Tigers to return to the postseason for the first time since the magical World Series trip in 2006, and the fans are dying to taste postseason baseball again.

1 Comment

Filed under All Posts, Baseball

Has Time Run Out on the Lakers?

Dirk Nowitzki pressured by Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol in the second quarter of Game 3. The Mavericks went on to win Game 3 98-92 and took a 3-0 series lead on the defending NBA Champions. (Image via John F. Rhodes SportsDayDFW)

After falling to the Dallas Mavericks 98-92 on Friday night, many Los Angeles Lakers fans must be thinking to themselves “Ahh! There are two red buttons! Which one should I press?”

The answer to that question all depends on who you are.

If you’re a diehard Lakers fan that considers themselves a part of the team, that goes through the ups and downs just as the players do, that loses sleep over every missed buzzer-beater and celebrates in jubilation with every made buzzer-beater then press the left button. If you’re a diehard Lakers fan that eats, sleeps and breathes Laker basketball then it’s about time you press the left “Panic” button.

If you’re the classic bandwagon fan that jumps on whichever team is doing the best, that acts like you’re a part of the fan base but runs whenever the teams starts heading downhill then press the right button. If you’re a bandwagon Lakers fan that isn’t emotionally attached the the team, you should definitely press the right “Eject” button to eject yourself off the bandwagon.

The Lakers headed into the season as the favorite in the Western Conference to make it back to the NBA Finals. After all, they were the two-time-defending NBA Champions with Kobe Bryant and a boatload of interior size.

As the Lakers’ season unfolded, some doubts squeezed their way into the heads of the fans, media and possibly even the players. Then, the Lakers went on a ridiculous stretch after the All Star break and squashed the doubts anyone once had. With the end of the season nearing, the Lakers tried to snatch away the #1 seed in the Western Conference from the San Antonio Spurs but failed and tumbled to the finish line.

Heading into the playoffs, the Lakers were still everyone’s favorite despite their inconsistent play. Everyone assumed the Lakers would flip the switch. Even if the switch stalled for a few games, they had Kobe Bryant, arguably the best player in the NBA. The Thunder were a year away, the Spurs were too old, the Nuggets had their “Melo-drama,” and the Dirk Nowitzki led Mavericks were your classic choke artists who were too soft to hang with the Lakers.

With the Game 3 loss in Dallas and the Lakers face a daunting task — to become the first team in NBA history to come back from being down 3-0 in a series — it’s safe to say we were wrong.

  1. The Oklahoma City Thunder are ready to contend this year. The maturation of Russel Westbrook and Kevin Durant has happened right before our eyes. The trade deadline acquisition of Kendrick Perkins makes the long, big and physical on the interior and a true force to reckon with in the NBA.
  2. There was more to the Lakers than just flipping a switch. After Game 2, Andrew Bynum noted “trust issues” in the Lakers’ locker room. It’s quite possible that a few of the Lakers flipped the switch, but the rest of the team didn’t.
  3. Most importantly, the Dallas Mavericks haven’t been choke artists and have proven they aren’t too soft to hang with the Lakers. In fact, the Mavericks have been clutch in the series against the Lakers. Twice this series, the Mavericks have come from behind in the 4th quarter to beat the Lakers. In the 4th quarter alone, the Mavericks have outscored the Lakers 82-55.

If you pressed the “Panic” button, you should be worried about the future of the Lakers. If you pressed the “Eject” button, don’t expect to be back on the Lakers bandwagon anytime soon. With a core group of players over the age of 30, the Lakers aren’t getting younger, and the West is only going to be getting better. The window of the Lakers’ dominance is rapidly closing and being swept by the Mavericks may only kick it into high speed.

Tonight, the Boston Celtics look to avoid falling into a 3-0 hole just as the Lakers did. With the series heading back to Boston and Shaq returning, the spirits of Boston fans must be higher than those of the Lakers. Talk about adding insult to injury.

1 Comment

Filed under All Posts, Basketball

Different Year, Same Story

Devin Setoguchi and teammates Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Patrick Marleau celebrate after scoring the game winning goal in overtime against the Detroit Red Wings to take a commanding 3-0 lead in the series. (via Washington Post)

A deflection here, a lucky bounce there, and the Detroit Red Wings could be looking to close out the San Jose Sharks at home tonight.

Unfortunately, the deflections here and the lucky bounces there haven’t happened. Instead, the Red Wings head into tonight’s game down 3-0 in the series to the Sharks. All three losses have been by one goal. Sound familiar? It should. This is the same situation the Wings were in last year. The similarities are eerie.

Last year, on May 4, the Red Wings led heading into the third period. The Sharks came back to tie the game up and force overtime, where they would eventually win 4-3. This May 4, same exact result.

Last year, on May 6, the Wings demolished the Sharks 7-1 and forced the series back to San Jose only to lose the next game 2-1.

The results have to be demoralizing for the Red Wings. The 3-0 hole they face isn’t an accurate indication of how the Wings have been playing. At times, the Wings have imposed their will on the Sharks. At times, the Wings have played the style of hockey they have become famous for. They have kept possession of the puck, created traffic in front of the net and fired shots at the opposing goaltender. At times, they have played disciplined defense and forced the opposing team to take stupid penalties. And at times, perhaps the most crucial times, they haven’t.

In two out of the three games, the Wings led heading into the third period, only to watch San Jose tie it up and eventually win in overtime. The Wings aren’t getting outplayed as badly as a 3-0 series deficit would suggest, but in the end, a 3-0 hole is a 3-0 hole no matter how you look at it.

The road back from being down 3-0 isn’t impossible, the Philadelphia Flyers proved that just as recently as last year, but it is unlikely. The epic comeback has been achieved by only three teams in the history of the NHL.

The Wings have the talent to come back and become the fourth team to accomplish this incredible feat, but they need to focus on winning Game 4 first. Before you can win four games, you have to win one.

Tonight, Wings fans hope the road doesn’t end in Hockeytown.

If the Red Wings season does end to the San Jose Sharks , we may be witnessing the end of an era. Tonight could be the last time Nicklas Lidstrom and Kris Draper put on a Red Wings uniform. Hopefully, they will both suit back up in the red and white for one last run at the Cup.

In the past two postseasons combined, the Wings have seven one-goal losses to the Sharks. It’s about time the deflections here and the lucky bounces there start going in the Wings favor. Hopefully, tonight is the start of the turning of the tides.

Leave a comment

Filed under All Posts, Hockey

Mission Accomplished

On May 1, 1945, Adolf Hitler was pronounced dead.

Sixty-six years later, I got spaghetti sauce on my shorts. I watched my Detroit Red Wings fall behind 2-0 in the series to the San Jose Sharks. My NBA Playoff and NHL Playoff picks went a combined 0-4. I struggled at the driving range. And, I got spanked in FIFA 11 by an embarrassing score.

For those of you who know me, it would not surprise you if I said I was ticked off. Yet, when I reflected on May 1, 2011, I wasn’t upset at all.

This blog post is not about sports. For those of you who know me, this is probably extremely shocking. I don’t often stray away from sports. I love sports and I love to write about sports. Perfect combo. It takes a lot for me to write about something other than sports, but  May 1, 2011 deserves it.

I know people die everyday. I realize there are tragedies and disasters across the world everyday. The tragedy that occurred on September 11, 2001 was something I could have never imagined.

There is something about the proximity of the event. There is something about the ever-lasting images of people trying to save their lives. There is something about the images of the Twin Towers collapsing. There is something about the moment of silence every September 11th remembering all the men, women and children lost that day.

I will never forget September 11, 2001.

I remember the principal making an announcement canceling recess due to “the spraying of wasps.” I remember not much longer after that, getting picked up from school by my stepdad. I remember walking inside and the first thing I saw was a plane flying through the World Trade Centers. I remember going into my room and sitting on my table two feet away from the TV watching in disbelief. That memory is forever burned in my brain.

On May 1, 2011, Osama bin Laden was officially pronounced dead. Nine years, 7 months and 20 days after 9/11, justice was done.

I will never forget May 1, 2011.

Today is definitely a day to celebrate. The reactions across the country were amazing. The chants of “USA! USA! USA!”, the singing of the “Star Spangled Banner,” and “God Bless America” sent chills down my spine.

The death of Osama bin Laden does not mark the end of terrorism or erase past tragedies, but it does give a sign of hope. For so many years, we searched and searched and could not find Bin Laden but we did not give up. Our troops were persistent and they have succeeded.

Along with a day of celebration, it is also a day of remembrance. A day to remember all the victims lost. A day to remember all the people affected and the effect September 11th has had on our country.

Today, I thank all the men and women fighting for our country. I appreciate what you do on a daily basis that allows me to live the life I do today. I am beyond grateful for the freedoms I have and cannot imagine life without them. To all the men and women fighting for our country, you are the true heroes of the United States. God Bless America and GO USA!

Here are some links worth checking out:

New York Times

New York Times Picture 

Chicago Tribune

Ohio State University via @Tayeddy14

Penn State University via @jakemkaplan

Maryland University via @kmurph32


Filed under All Posts, Everything Else