Archive | June, 2010

LeBron on Broadway or Michigan?

28 Jun

LeBron James LeBron James seems most suited to the lights of New York City, for no other reason than that the story of his wooing is the stuff of a Woody Allen movie.

But Chicago offers a grand stage of its own. The Chicago Sun-Times reports that James is looking for basketball talk only in his upcoming “Ohio meetings”, which the Sun-Times believes, works in the Bulls’ favor. “Of all the teams, they have the most talent in place, plus significant salary-cap room,” the article states.

Regarding the little question of cash, however, it’s the Knickerbockers who have the fattest wallet. New York can get $34.15 million under the projected cap of $56.1 million, while the Bulls can make the second best offer for The King at $29.1 million under the cap.

Money, not talent, will surely decide this courtship.

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What we now know about the 2010 World Cup

20 Jun

One week of the 2010 World Cup down and how are we doing? Picking the upsets? Enjoying the way every airborne ball looks impossible to control? Or how it skids wildly off the grass after landing? How about the horns – is the hum ringing in your ears yet?

Despite some of the oddities of the South African soccer affair, the first week has been a treat for fans around the world. No, the football hasn’t always been faultless, nor has it stunned with the regularity you might expect from the globe’s best players. But there have been some inspired performances and even a few pleasant surprises. The United States, for example, were barely given a chance against the Premier League All Stars of England. And yet, in spite of a fortuitous goal, one couldn’t help but feel America had gotten the better of the Poms. They never dominated, but they probed, strung some passes together and their keeper, Tim Howard, stood tall – well, taller than usual.

Then the US came back against Slovenia, a match that seemed irretrievable. They might have even won it if not for a contentious refereeing decision. And how about the Dutch? While not lighting it up, nor impressing commentators, they are quietly going about their business, dispatching both Denmark and a plucky Japanese squad. Next come the Cameroons, who have nothing to play for but pride. It should be a handy warm down for the men of orange.

So what else have we learned this past week?

  • England, despite their caliber, are under performing, uninspired and apparently without a game plan. Do they even realize Wayne Rooney is on the pitch?
  • Ghana are pretty good, in case you were wondering. They tamed a fierce Serbian team and met a desperate Aussie team with equal measure. They’ll need some extra gas against Germany, but victory and next round qualification are not beyond the prowling Black Stars.
  • Argentina are in control. Their attack is enterprising and Messi’s first touch is mesmerizing. But once they leave the group behind, will defenses be so relenting?
  • Italy have some work to do. The team is stacked with talent, young, old and rusty. The question is: can they blend as needed before it’s too late?
  • New Zealand deserve some praise for their spirit, humility and hard play. Few are on their bandwagon, and yet, their simple, straightforward soccer is attractive and a great base for future campaigns to build on.

World Cup Predictions

11 Jun

Italy football fansWorld Cup soccer has everybody feverish right now, even with the NBA Finals, Stanley Cup celebrations and promise of a classic Wimbledon supplying our sporting fix. And while I can’t wait for the first game to kick-off – albeit South Africa vs. Mexico (hardly a barn burner) – I’m truly looking forward to the bandwagon prognosticators packing it up for another four years. How do you become one of these so-called “expert” tipsters anyway? Seems you only need to be a staff  member of any major publication to be awarded a shot at picking World Cup winners. What does Jerry the janitor think of Group D, anyway?

Well, if he’s like everyone else in the media world, his picks will undoubtedly hinge on the presumption that Spain, Argentina and Brazil have been perennially intimidating. FIFA rankings, after all, have Brazil at No.1 and Spain in at second. So those particular selections, to coin a Vince Vaughn favorite, are a “shocker”. As for Argentina, who rank seventh on FIFA’s almighty list, we can only assume that previous Cup glories precede them. That, and because they’re coached by the one and only Diego Maradona, and are also fielding the current Maradona, Lionel Messi, may be boosting their perceived strength. Hey, I’ll buy it. But whether or not this logic translates into a 2010 World Cup Champion is another matter.

So with that said, three teams the pundits are forgetting need to be on your own list of picks, if for no other reason than to show some originality: Italy, the Netherlands and Portugal. All three nations have the potential to win the tournament, and without starting a sweat. The Italians, led by the unbreakable Fabio Cannavaro, are the maestros of defense and will prove this yet again in 2010. The Dutch can scorch anyone on their day, including Argentina and Brazil. And the Portuguese, spearheaded by Cristiano Ronaldo, will dissect more than a few backlines.

There’s no science to picking World Cup winners, and I’m reluctant to declare a definitive favorite. But I’d certainly broaden my picks beyond the usual suspects, because this isn’t 1994.

Flyers ambushing Hawks

6 Jun

Chris Pronger, FlyersIt wasn’t until the third period of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals that the Chicago Blackhawks woke up. And even then, it wasn’t until the final minutes they looked a chance of taking a 3-1 lead in this series. The Hawks were frustratingly flat, from a neutral spectator’s point of view anyway. Though I must admit, ever since Chicago put a few dents into my favorite NHL team, the Vancouver Canucks, I’ve grown to respect their tireless and disciplined defense, as well as their rollicking offense. The Hawks soar across the ice when their minds are on the job. They didn’t appear to be on Friday night.

To the Flyers credit, their defense, anchored by Goliath on skates, Chris Pronger, was in perpetual motion, quick to react and disruptive. Every time the Blackhawks looked like stringing a few passes together, one of the Flyers would barrel, slide, shove or spin into the path of the puck, and ruin what might have otherwise been a prime set-up for a sniper. Chicago’s infantry regularly stood half-cocked with no ammunition however. And even when shots were fired during the first two periods, they never threatened Philadelphia’s goal. It was mostly a one-sided battle.

By contrast, the Flyers played on their toes with urgency and purpose, which was additionally fueled by the 20,000 orange-colored fans in attendance. They were first to loose pucks, were eager to fore-check and never cowered from the rough stuff. Dustin Byfuglien may as well have stayed home because he’s just not frightening Philly the way he terrified Vancouver and San Jose.

Chicago fought back in those furious last few minutes, with Dave Bolland’s deftly placed missile from the right circle freezing Philadelphia, both on the ice and in the stands. But the Hawks’ revival was too late really, forcing them to play with an empty net and against a Flyers squad reluctant to hand over a win they clearly deserved. More of the same in Chicago, and Philadelphia might just ambush the bookmakers, as well as the Hawks.

Starting quarterbacks?

3 Jun

It’s an uneasy feeling not knowing who your starting quarterback will be, isn’t it? Or worse yet, knowing, but wondering all offseason if he’s the right choice. Matt Moore is that player for Carolina Panther fans this year.

Moore may indeed call most of the plays in Carolina in 2010, but then, so might Jimmy Clausen. SI’s Don Banks even suggests Tony Pike might get a look in. All we know for certain is, it won’t be the man who took the Panthers to their only Super Bowl, Jake Delhomme. Too many people were unconvinced of his leadership, including Delhomme himself.

In sifting through a few football columns and blogs over the last month, I’ve noticed more than a few predictions about quarterback controversies and teams looking to upgrade at the position in 2010-11. Amongst all the hype, one thing stands out: many are writing off the older guys. In particular, Jake “Jack Lemmon” Delhomme and Walter Matthau himself, Matt Hasselbeck, are seemingly on thin ice.

Yes, Delhomme had a rough 2009 that saw just eight touchdowns and a confidence crushing 19 picks. He also fumbled six times and took 23 sacks. The stats, as they say, don’t lie. Not even Peyton Manning – the Godzilla of NFL quarterbacks – was dropped that often. But then again, he had pass protection the size of the Tokyo skyline.

Delhomme’s behind a new line now anyway, and more importantly, has a fresh start in Cleveland. It’s run heavy football in colder conditions. It’s Josh Cribbs picking up the slack on punt returns. It’s a chance for Delhomme to find his 2004 persona, when he tallied close to 4,000 yards with 29 touchdowns. Surely, he deserves another shot at starting.

Now to The Old Man and the Seahawks, Hasselbeck: only two years ago he was just shy of 4,000 yards, lobbed in 28 TDs and had just 12 interceptions. Stunning, right? Be more stunned at the memory loss of many “experts”, who don’t give Hasselbeck a chance to finish the season with Charlie Whitehurst and J.P. Losman breathing down his neck.

In Hasselbeck’s favor, is that Seattle too, will look to run more this season. With LenDale White and Leon Washington adding thrust to the backfield, the Hawks should ease the pressure on Hasselbeck’s back, his receivers, and open up the field overall. And while Julius Jones didn’t turn in big numbers last year, he did show glimpses of his acceleration, especially over the final five weeks. Remember, it wasn’t like Jones was running with a high-octane, widely dispersed offense in support. Or a healthy Hasselbeck for that matter.

So maybe before we give up on these senior signal-callers, let’s all relax with a warm cup of milk and a hot water bottle. By all means, bet on the Moore’s and the Whitehursts of the world. But keep in mind the value of veteran leadership and knowledge of the game. Come week 13, when the air’s more frigid, crowds are louder and defenses hungrier, these things matter.