Posted on: January 24, 2008 1:08 am
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Raptors-Celtics, Washington and Stoudamire

See, THIS is why you worry about playing the Raptors ... those boys can shoot! Seriously, 15-21 from 3-pt range, 19-19 from the FT line, good gosh. You could see from the beginning of the game that this was going to be one of those nights that Toronto was going to be making everything, so the Cs had better match it, and they almost did. But there's no shame in losing that game, you just tip your hat to the Raptors and congratulate them on making dang near every shot they took -- including the big one by Jose Calderon that wasn't a three, but a three-point play on a drive to the basket that was muy pretty. Glad we've got that team out of the way for the (regular) season.

And here, I was going to give tons of credit to the Washington Wizards for stepping up and finding a new and successful way to play with Gilbert Arenas on the shelf. Then tonight, Cleveland puts the wood to them and wins by 36. So, while this does not in any way tarnish what the Wizards have done to this point, I would feel kind of dumb talking about how awesome they've been with that ugly number glaring at me from the scoreboard. So I'll move on.

I'm still trying to decide if I would like to see Damon Stoudamire in a Celtics uniform or not. Without Rajon Rondo, the Celtics could certainly use someone to man the point and keep the rest of the backcourt guys on the bench from having to play out of position. But when Rondo is healthy, whose minutes get cut so Stoudamire plays? Eddie House? Tony Allen? I'm not seeing it. Stoudamire has talent to offer some team, but I'm not sure it's Boston.

Category: NBA
Posted on: January 23, 2008 1:27 am
 

Arsenal-Tottenham

Blech. I guess 21 straight winless nights against Arsenal finally boiled over for Spurs, and dang if they didn't do something about it. A 5-1 win in front of your delirious home fans to advance to a cup final and knock out your bitter rival that's been handing you your lunch for nine years is about as sweet as it gets ... so bully for Tottenham. Juande Ramos said they played pretty much a perfect game and I can't argue with that. Even Arsenal's first team would have had a hard time sticking with Spurs the way they played today, so you knew the Gunners' Carling Cup side had no chamce. Best of luck to them at Wembley.

But you could tell Arsenal is not accustomed to getting whupped like this. Second-half sub Emmanuel Adebayor, who scored the Arsenal goal, appeared to head-butt teammate Niklas Bendtner with about 10 minutes to go during an on-field altercation. So not good. I'm not going to get too carried away about it, because these things do happen among teammates who are frustrated from time to time, but rarely in the middle of a game! And Wenger ... he didn't see it. Shocker. I hope he sits the whole team down tomorrow morning and just has them watch the game tape, the whole thing, to hammer home how embarrassing they were. And then I hope they run all afternoon to get all the foolishness out of their systems. And then I hope the message will be received, that performances like that are not acceptable, and they need to get a lot better before Saturday. And they will. It'll be Newcastle on the other side on Saturday, but I'm not sure it matters. The real Arsenal will be back.

Category: Soccer
Posted on: January 22, 2008 3:09 am
 

NBA Rankings thru Monday

Note that these rankings may not necessarily be a list of who the teams are arranged by who has the best shot to win the title -- think of it more like an NBA version of the college basketball poll, a combination of who's perceived as good and who's playing well lately.

1. New Orleans Hornets
2. Los Angeles Lakers
3. Boston Celtics
4. Phoenix Suns
5. Dallas Mavericks
6. Portland Trail Blazers
7. Utah Jazz
8. Cleveland Cavaliers
9. Denver Nuggets
10. San Antonio Spurs
11. Washington Wizards
12. Detroit Pistons
13. Golden State Warriors
14. Houston Rockets
15. Orlando Magic
16. Toronto Raptors
17. Sacramento Kings
18. Indiana Pacers
19. Charlotte Bobcats
20. New Jersey Nets
21. Atlanta Hawks
22. Chicago Bulls
23. New York Knicks
24. Milwaukee Bucks
25. Los Angeles Clippers
26. Philadelphia 76ers
27. Memphis Grizzlies
28. Seattle SuperSonics
29. Minnesota Timberwolves
30. Miami Heat

Category: NBA
Posted on: January 21, 2008 1:30 am
 

Chargers-Patriots

I'll admit to sweating a little bit after the Cromartie interception in the end zone -- at that point, things were just going so much differently for the Patriots than they had in any game this season, I thought San Diego had a chance to pull off the shocker, and they did have chances. But the bottom line is to win the ballgame, and no one is better at that than New England. This game had a throwback feel to it, almost to the first couple of Super Bowl years with Brady, when the Pats would look vulnerable for stretches, look great for stretches and step up and win the game when they had to, on either side of the ball. Today it was with red zone defense, as four trips = four FGs = no SB for SD. As porous as the pass defense looked when Philip Rivers was flinging the ball downfield on them, they buckled down in the shadow of their own goalposts and stopped San Diego on the ground and through the air. Huge. Offensively, let's just say the passing game didn't have a great day. Brady wasn't as sharp as we've come to expect, the receivers couldn't come up with some balls they've caught in the past ... the Chargers linebackers and secondary did a very nice job in pass coverage and overall shut down the Patriots offense as much as it can be shut down. But there are just too many players who can hurt you, and it looked like the second half McDaniels went away from "we do what we always do" and switched to "we'll do what you aren't expecting since you can't cover everyone." Big kudos to Kevin Faulk and Laurence Maroney, without whom I might be writing a eulogy right now.

In the aftermath, people have been piling on LaDainian Tomlinson for coming out of the game after three plays. The logic, I guess, is that if you can stand on the sideline you can run the football, and you didn't see Rivers or Antonio Gates coming out and they were more doubtful than Tomlinson was at the outset of the game. I am not going to criticize Tomlinson for not playing, because only he and the team trainers know for sure what is going on with his knee, and there is a difference between playing with pain and playing with an injury, and my guess is LT's knee is much more injured than he let on during the week, just so the Patriots would have to game-plan for him. Not to mention, he and Norv Turner both know that if Tomlinson isn't, say 75% at least, the combination of Michael Turner and Darren Sproles would likely be more effective -- and they did get 99 yards on 20 carries between them. The cover behind Rivers and Gates is not that impactful, so playing them at a limited capacity is still a better option than putting in their fresh backups. I hope for his sake he can shake off this injury during the offseason and come back to shut some people up next season.

So now, the Super Bowl and it's the New York Giants -- before the playoffs started, they would probably have been the NFC's least likely representative, and now their hot streak, combined with New England's recent "vulnerability," has a lot of people thinking New York will pull off another upset. I don't have any problem with the Giants, but I can't see it happening. They're saying the Giants are the hottest team in the playoffs ... hotter than 18-0? And don't think the bye week is going to do anything to help New York's momentum. They're also saying that there is now a blueprint to beat New England ... just like the one Philly laid out, and Baltimore. That's all fine and dandy, but all those blueprints have not succeeded in doing one thing this season -- beat New England. Belichick game-plans to take away what you do best, and forces you to try and win with a secondary strategy. Let's say you do the same against the Patriots ... they'll still find a way to win, with whomever is necessary. Plus, climate control in Arizona is a big advantage for New England's preferred passing game. So while the lines of 14 points and whatnot here in Vegas are probably a tad high, I'm feeling good about a two-score win for the Patriots.

Category: NFL
Posted on: January 20, 2008 1:38 am
 

Arsenal-Fulham, Saturday and Keegan

After failing to defeat Birmingham City last weekend at the Emirates and falling out of the catbird's seat in the Prem on goal differential, Arsenal needed a solid performance and three points at Craven Cottage Saturday and got both. I don't think it's a coincidence that the Gunners' getting back on track came at the same time that Tomas Rosicky returned to the lineup. I love this guy as a player, for two reasons -- he seems like he always knows exactly what to do with the ball when he has it and he knows what to do when he doesn't have it. This seems simple and lots of players can do this, but Rosicky never disappoints me and seemingly never takes a play off. Take today, with Arsenal already up 2-0 late in the game, he comes barrelling in from the midfield and sends a flying toepoke toward an Eduardo cross that was destined for nothing and turns it into an insurance goal. In that situation, very few players would make the effort to get to that ball, but he did and I think his being on the pitch makes Arsenal a much better side. If he weren't coming off the flu, I'd want him to play Tuesday against Spurs as well. As for Fulham, I feel badly for them because I root for them as often as I can due to the sheer number of Americans on their roster and it seems they'll now have a massive struggle to avoid relegation. I like the Marlon King addition, if it goes through, and I'm interested to see what Hangeland can do to help them, but it doesn't look good.

Elsewhere on Saturday: Chelsea got a late goal from Claudio Pizarro to douse a scrappy Birmingham side and keep their title hopes alive; Middlesbrough had three points in hand at Ewood Park but succumbed to a Matt Derbyshire equalizer and couldn't respond when a stoppage-time gimme for Jeremie Aliadiere was headed over; Portsmouth finally scored at home, and after the first, the floodgates opened for Benjani, who netted a hat trick to topple Derby; Roon and Ron waited until late but powered home goals to keep ManU atop the table and spoil Reading's hopes for a shocker; Robbie Keane's 100th Prem goal iced Spurs' win over Sunderland; and Kevin Keegan's latest debut at Newcastle ended up goalless against Bolton in the "Big Sam Slept Here Classic."

Speaking of Keegan, I thought it was a very gracious move on his part to name Michael Owen as captain on Saturday. With all the speculation about their relationship after Owen's less-than-flattering comments in his autobiography about Keegan's England reign, it was cool to see that Keegan can, at least publicly, be the bigger man and project the appearance of starting over, because in many respects, that is what he will have to do. Hopefully, the Geordie faithful will give him time to get his system and his players in place -- this might take a full year, even, and it would be sad to see those same fans who are dizzy about his appointment now start calling for the axe in the spring or something if things don't go well. Building consistently good teams starts at the bottom. I wish him well -- except in Newcastle's back-to-back games at the Emirates later this month!

Category: Soccer
Posted on: January 19, 2008 2:22 am
 

Sixers-Celtics, Amare and HORSE

Generally, the third quarter has been the Celtics' best quarter this season -- I can't remember the number of close games at the half that ended up blowouts because the Cs dominated after the break. They waited a while on Friday against Philly, but eventually got it done -- over the game's last 17 minutes, the score was Celtics 55, 76ers 25. Yum. Overall, Boston shot 59 %, had six guys in double figures and got 10 and 6 from new daddy Leon Powe in only 15 minutes. It was certainly the most fluid Boston has looked without Rajon Rondo, who is playing it carefully -- and rightfully so -- with his sore back. But the defense was the key, after allowing Philly 57 points on 57 % shooting in the first half, Boston held them to 32 points on 30 % in the second. And defense leads to better offensive opportunites and blah, blah, blah, we know the rest. Good win, with the weekend off to watch the Patriots before an MLK Day matinee in the Big Apple against those beloved Knickerbockers.

Amare Stoudemire's name has surfaced in some trade talk recently, and every time I consider it, I come up with a different conclusion. On one hand, who could you possibly get that could fill his shoes? The asking price would end up making the deal a wash at best in all likelihood, and I can't imagine anyone in the NBA trading a guy that talented to get someone who's only just as good. What would be the point? Well, on the other hand, if he's griping about his role in Phoenix, maybe from a chemistry standpoint you might want to make a deal. As good as Phoenix is, they're not getting full value in the standings for their talent level, and maybe that has to do with some of the players they have not fitting their style. But who would play the middle for the Suns if he were to go? It would have to be someone coming in. And where could Stoudemire go to be the focal point of an offense? How many teams even use their C/PF as their focal point any more? Bottom line, I think if Phoenix is going to win a title, this is the season they're most likely to do it. I think you have to keep Amare, try to get him to buy in while at the same time throwing him a small bone, and hope for the best. Of course, I might change my mind tomorrow.

Word on the street is that the NBA All-Star Weekend in New Orleans next month -- which also features the NBDL All-Star Game, for serious hoops junkies -- will include an NBDL HORSE competition. This is cool insomuch as it can only mean that the NBA is considering HORSE itself, and I really hope that happens. I'll say right now, I usually ignore all-star games in every sport, and really ignore the "festivities" accompanying the game. But I would watch an NBA HORSE competition, for a couple of years anyway. Considering the most exciting thing at last year's NBA weekend -- besides Pac-Man Jones making it rain at Jaguars -- was the race between Charles Barkley and Dick Bavetta, anything they can do to make it more interesting, to me, would be welcomed.

Category: NBA
Posted on: January 18, 2008 3:27 am
 

Habs-Thrashers, OTLs and Boston

I guess we should have been able to predict a 3-2 shootout game between Montréal and Atlanta after the series's first two encounters ended that way -- but this time it was the Habs who came out on top, which was a little bit of a pleasant surprise for me. Given the recent shootout histories of both the Thrashers as a team and Cristobal Huet individually, I was going to be happy with the point and go home on a OK note. Instead, Huet stones Marian Hossa and both AK-46 and Captain K find the five-hole against Kari Lehtonen -- boom, ballgame. There were good things and bad coming out of the game: Good -- Kostitsyn's regulation goal, a splendid individual effort; the team defense, limiting the Thrashers to 19 shots through three periods while blocking 16 and completely muffling Ilya Kovalchuk. Bad -- Neither goal Montréal allowed was all that special, and the second one was just poor, poor communication between Huet and his defense; the power play was putrid, but I'll go ahead and give Atlanta credit for playing good shorthanded hockey. All in all, another nice road trip ends with the Habs taking six points of a possible eight before Saturday's return home against the red-hot Pittsburgh Penguins, who sit atop the Atlantic Division.

At this point, I'll add my name to the list of people griping about the NHL's awarding points for overtime losses. I think it's bogus. If I remember correctly, it was implemented as a way to try and reduce ties, with the logic being that if you already know you're going to get a point out of the deal, you might play a little more wide-open hockey in the overtime as opposed to bottling up and getting out of town with one point. Of course, the post-lockout MyNHL has found an even better way to reduce ties -- eliminate them altogether with the introduction of the shootout. Since someone is going to be taking home two points regardless now, the extra one to the loser simply serves to muck up the proceedings. I've seen it described as "manufactured parity," and that is a perfect description. A 10-game losing streak is no longer a 10-game losing streak because you've garnered five points from losing in overtime. Blech. And you can't ever know how many points are available to teams in a season, because some games award two points, while others three. Double blech. Dump this system.

Willie O'Ree is getting a lot of ink this weekend, and deservedly so, as the 50th anniversary of his breaking the NHL's color barrier is celebrated. While I can't add anything that someone else hasn't already written a lot more eloquently, I would like to delve into the fact that O'Ree debuted for the Boston Bruins, adding to that city's up-and-down reputation in regards to race relations. Boston has long been perceived by some as being a city that is racially hostile, and while I can't speak to that, the city's sports teams keep popping up on lists like this: MLB -- Boston is the last team in Major Legaue Baseball with a black player on the roster, with Pumpsie Green making his debut for the Red Sox in 1959; NFL -- Boston Braves owner George Preston Marshall flat-out refuses to have any blacks on his team, and maintains this stance long after he moves his team to Washington. The Redskins don't suit up a black player until 1962; NBA -- The Celtics make Chuck Cooper the first black player drafted in 1950, while also setting the pace in the league as far as having the first all-black starting five and the first black coach (Bill Russell); NHL -- The Bruins' Willie O'Ree is the first black in the NHL in 1958. I think the only conclusion to be drawn from this is that these instances, either positive or negative, can almost always be attributed to the team's owner or general manager either being willing to give black players a chance in their organization or refusing to do so. People who use the Red Sox's pulling up the rear on the color barrier as a example as to why Boston is a racist town are completely off-base.

Category: NHL
Posted on: January 17, 2008 1:38 am
 

Blazers-Celtics, Chicago and Isiah

At halftime, Tommy Heinsohn said the Celtics were playing fine, they just weren't hitting any shots. Obviously, things changed in the second half, especially where Ray Allen was concerned. Ray Ray goes 9-for-13 after recess for 26 points and the Cs come back to snap their mini-losing streak at two by beating Portland. After two straight stinkers against the Wizards, I guess the end result is probably more important than how they got there -- especialy against a very good Blazers club --  but I got the sense that the second half was a good example of what we'd like to see from Boston, namely, one of the three amigos taking over a portion of the game while the rest of the team waits for their chances, and taking them when they come. It's been even more glaring without an effective Rajon Rondo the last couple of games -- maybe the opportunities have been harder to come by -- but when players don't take advantage of the opportunities they get, the team will struggle. The Sixers come in on Friday for a game the Cs should win -- but we've said that before and been surprised.

No team has befuddled me more this year than the Bulls. I had them as my pre-season pick to come out of the East -- exhibit 35 as to why I don't gamble on sports. They've underachieved all year, and now the inevitable "locker room scuffle" story comes about, with Joakim Noah and Ben Wallace the named participants. They've stunk under two coaches so far this season, they don't seem to be fazed by poor performances, they have a rookie mouthing off to everyone he should be respectful toward, and they have players vote to suspend each other. And yet I look at the talent there, and there's a lot -- more than most teams in the East. Seems to me that for whatever reason, the roster as it is currently put together cannot co-exist, on or off the court, and there's no excuse for that. Blow it up and start over.

I think Isiah Thomas was a cat in another life. I'm not sure how many times I've stuck a fork in him, something always happens that allows him to wriggle away. The latest thing is the Knicks' current three-game win streak, which began with a serious beatdown of the Pistons. Somehow, Dolan will look at this and convince himself that the team isn't as bad as its record and Zeke should get a chance to mold the kids into a cohesive unit. And as soon as that decision is made, Marbury will spill his secrets on Isiah, or a Knick City Dancer will come forward with lewd e-mails sent to her by a player, or something else equally embarrassing. And the whole cycle will start again. Meanwhile, New York will remain the NBA's hamster in a wheel -- feeling like you've accomplished a lot while going around in circles.

Category: NBA
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com