Tuesday, May 31, 2011

NBA Finals Preview

An interesting NBA Finals begins tonight as we see if the Heat can fulfill it's promise to bring championships to South Beach, while a group of old vets lead Dallas into the Finals with likely their last legitimate run to an NBA title. What makes the Dallas run so compelling is that no one has won before, aside from Rick Carlisle's title with Boston as a player. They also have Dirk Nowitzki, looking to vanquish demons from his last Finals appearance, against the Heat, along with Jason Terry, the other holdover from the 2006 Mavs team. Jason Kidd looks to erase his two title losses with the Nets, Peja Stojakovic looks to right a wrong from the 2002 Western Conference Finals and Shawn Marion will do the same after losses to the Spurs in the mid-2000s.

As for Miami, Dwyane Wade looks for his second title, while LeBron James tries to start making Scottie Pippen right (which he never could) about being a greater player than Michael Jordan. You can't even attempt to argue that until LeBron wins a title. Not when you're dealing with Jordan, who's competitive fire is greater than almost every superstar in history (probably just Russell is in the group, with Kobe a level below). The story for the Heat won't be their other guys, but if Chris Bosh continues to play at the level he showed against the Bulls, if Wade can make up for a weak (for him) series on offense and if LeBron can maintain the ruthlessness he demonstrated since Game 4 against the Celtics.

The matchup itself will be fun, as we'll wonder if Dirk or LeBron will be held by anyone. My guess; no one holds LeBron, while Dallas will survive the games which Dirk is hitting his shots no matter who's guarding him. After those two, it will be seen if the Mavs can hit from the perimeter, negating the Heat's advantage in halfcourt defense.

Prediction: Mavs in 6

Monday, May 23, 2011

No Country For Old Men

Kevin Durant just hit a three. He got that three after Nick Collison got another effort offensive rebound which the Oklahoma City Thunder were doing great all night at doing. The Dallas Mavericks called a timeout, but with five minutes left, they were down 15 and we were headed to Dallas tied at 2.

The next possession, James Harden fouled Shawn Marion and that was the game for him. I don't think anyone knew that was also the game for the Thunder.

What took place was perhaps the defining games for the old men carrying the Mavs into this series and those old men (particularly Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry and Marion) carried the Mavs back in this game and ultimately into victory. It started with Dirk on offense, who matched and exceeded his remarkable play from Game 1 with killer shot after killer shot and made the two big free throws at the end of regulation.

However, it wouldn't be fair to give Dirk all the credit for this win. Kidd and Marion played defense like they did 5 years ago. Now, let's be fair on one thing, OKC didn't play offense well at all. They had no clue what they were doing. This allowed Kidd and Marion wreck havoc with effort plays. Both men had the key plays in the game; Marion blocks Durant's winning attempt at the end of regulation (Two points; first, that was one of the worst possessions ever in a game winning situation. Secondly, heads up by Kidd to call timeout to set up a last shot for the Mavs, even if it didn't go in) and Kidd's killer three with 40 seconds left in overtime. That whole sequence encapsulated this game from Dallas as Kidd and Marion force a turnover by Durant, ball finds Dirk who makes move after move on Nick Collison and instead of shooting, kicks out to Kidd, who nails the three. I mentioned Terry, while not having a big night, kept doing little things, like making a jumper in the OT as the Mavs offense stagnated, hustling to a loose ball, which Russell Westbrook stupidly played out of bounds and wasted 4 seconds before calmly sinking two free throws to ice the game.

The series moves back to Dallas and the Mavs are a win away from returning to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2006, which they blew a game just like this and it began to end the series for them. This year's playoff run has essentially been a final run of sorts for a Mavs team that is getting older in a league that's getting younger and younger. The Thunder are the embodiment of the direction the league is heading, yet the Mavs continue to grind out wins. And with Dirk playing basketball with an edge we only saw once (the 2006 playoffs until Game 2 of the Finals), the commitment to defense and the deepest team left in the playoffs, there's a good chance they can grind out the five wins necessary to win a title, final piece in the careers of the vets of the Dallas Mavericks.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Randomness While I'll Gladly Hit 9th

Crazy week in Yankeeland (legitimately so, not the fake kind that New York likes to think of). Jorge Posada asking out of the lineup because he was slotted ninth in the order appears to be the beginning of the end for his career. Interestingly, it grabs the spotlight on the real problem; a Yankees team that all of a sudden looks old and no longer have the consistent offense to help win games. Doesn't help that the Yankees bullpen isn't the shutdown bullpen that was imagined and it's only a matter of time before the starting pitching comes undone. And the problem, unless they start looking very different in the next two months, no trade would be enough to save them. This is starting to feel like 1965 for those Yankee fans who remember that year.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox, who were left for dead, have now just pulled over .500 after that comeback win tonight over the Orioles. They've won 5 of 6 against the Yankees, mainly by playing a little better in each phase of the game in their wins.

Nice to see the Indians and Royals playing well. Too bad I didn't write this last week, or I can include to Pirates.

I'm thinking the Mavs beat the Thunder in 6. Here's the first series which Oklahoma City faces a team with a legitimate crunch-time scorer in Dirk. The Dallas big's in Chandler, Dirk and Haywood are better than Perkins, Ibaka and Nazr Mohammed. Finally, too much depth the Mavs have, as evident by the series against the Lakers. Yes, Durant and Westbrook can turn the series, but this is the last opportunity for the Mavs championship window. They'll get it done.

As for the other series that have started, the Heat need to find a way to make the rebound disadvantage against the Bulls look less so. If only Chris Bosh would play as a guy who just bangs bodies and grabs boards. The two hockey conference finals are too soon to gauge anything as the Sharks lost energy in the 3rd period of Game 1 and the Boston had a very sloppy 1st period they couldn't recover from.

It's very close that the Atlanta Thrashers are on it's way to Winnipeg (read Elliotte Friedman and Bruce Arthur's columns for further on that story, good reads), but I have a question. If the Coyotes can't sell the team to someone who wants to keep it in Glendale and with no Winnpeg available and Quebec City wouldn't be ready until 2015, where would they go? Does Jim Balsillie reenter the picture and moves them to Hamilton? Does another U.S. market pick them up?

Derek Boogaard's death is still shocking to me. Even though he didn't play well with the Rangers, the stories about his work off the ice show how much a gentle giant he was. The real shame is no one cares enough about players who contribute to the community if they don't play well, at least that's true in places like New York. Adam Graves was the most humanitarian Rangers of all, yet no one would have known had he not been one of 3 Rangers to score 50 goals in a season, leading them to a Stanley Cup.

Listening to the ESPN guys talk about Joe DiMaggio's 56 game hitting streak inevitably lead to discussion between his record and Ted Williams hitting .406 in the same year. Which led to a conversation between my father and I about probably the greatest Yankees/Red Sox what if: What if Williams and DiMaggio are traded for each other when Tom Yawkey and Dan Topping get drunk that one night? The obvious answer is you give Ted Williams the short porch in right and DiMaggio gets to swing at the Green Monster, both guys get more inflated stats.

But here's the kicker; if Ted Williams, not DiMaggio is a Yankee in 1951, Mickey Mantle doesn't hurt his knee on that drain pipe in the '51 World Series. I guarantee it. You want to know why; because Mantle plays CF in his rookie year, not RF. The story goes, Mantle hard charges a ball and DiMaggio late calls it and Mantle's knee shatters when he steps on that drain. Well, no Joe D, no Mantle in right tearing his knee. Now, Mantle might still end up with the alcohol problems because of the effect of his father dying (we'll never know), but I guarantee you, Mantle doesn't have the injury problems to the extent that he does without his first major injury in 1951. His career as a result, likely one of the five greatest careers of all time.