Archive for April, 2013

The major sports news (and perhaps news, period) story of the day comes from a very unexpected source. By all accounts, Jason Collins is a middling at best NBA talent. In fact, he has almost as many career fouls as he does points, which is part of the reason he is a free agent. He will forever be famous though, because today he became the first active athlete from one of America’s four major pro sports. Collins is featured in this week’s addition of Sports Illustrated. It is about time that an athlete came out, because the world is ready. Predictably, most reactions to this news were complimentary and in awe (in a good way) of the courage Collins has. In fact, Collins even got a phone call from President Obama. He also got mentioned in tweets from David Wright, Kobe Bryant, Jared Sullinger, Scott Fujita, Barry Sanders, Metta World Peace (!), Andy Roddick, new Eagle Connor Barwin, Isiah Thomas, Nick Swisher, Pau Gasol, Tony Parker, Dwyane Wade, Magic Johnson, and the twitter feeds of the MLB, NBA, and NFL, among others. So yes, he got a lot of positive reaction, but that is expected out of high profile people. I wanted to see how normal people were reacting, so I looked up Jason Collins on twitter. These results were much more mixed. There were still a lot of positive responses, but there were also some negative ones. That is to be expected, as this is new, and people need time to digest. I think it has gone as well as could be expected, and hopefully this is a sign of things to come. It’s about time that people opened their minds to gay athletes, and this is a great place to start. Be sure to read the Sports Illustrated article on Collins, because it is terrific. I think, in the near future, more athletes will come out, and fellow athletes will become more and more comfortable around their teammates.

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Excited for the draft? I am, especially because this draft is bound to have a lot of surprises in terms of picks and trades. This years’ class is not as good as many (bad news for teams who are usually competitive but choose this year to stink. Yes, I’m thinking of the Eagles.) Still, there are some strengths in the draft, especially at the line, as at least seven top ten picks could be linemen (either o-line or d-line). Here are my final predictions
Note: I can’t predict trades, because they are too unpredictable. There will be some trades though, and that will totally change the draft.

1. Kansas City Chiefs: Luke Joeckel, offensive tackle: It’s either going to be Joeckel or Eric Fisher, another tackle.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Eric Fisher, OT: The Jaguars are at a point where they really just need talent. They get the best available here.
3. Oakland Raiders: Sharrif Floyd, defensive tackle: Floyd is going to be a great interior lineman, and the Raiders need help.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Lane Johnson, OT: Might not be the fourth best player in this draft right now, but I think Johnson could easily end up being the best offensive tackle in this draft, and one of the best in the league. His athleticism is needed for an o-lineman in Chip Kelly’s high octane offense.
5. Detroit Lions: Dee Milliner, CB: Milliner is a rock solid cornerback, and the Lions need secondary help.
6. Cleveland Browns: Geno Smith, QB: I think they’d take Milliner if he fell to them, but otherwise they should trade back.
7. Arizona Cardinals: Dion Jordan, DE/OLB: Jordan is an electrifying pass rusher, something the Cardinals desperately need to help their otherwise solid defense. I do think they could trade up for one of the top three tackles though. Jordan has the potential to be another DeMarcus Ware.
8. Buffalo Bills: Chance Warmack, OG: Warmack is one of the best players in the draft, but guards rarely go this high.
9. New York Jets: Tavon Austin, WR: Austin is going to be a great wide receiver. Forget his small stature, he will be a better version of young Wes Welker. The Jets have a pick at 11, but I think they need to take Austin here if they want him.
10. Tennessee Titans: Ziggy Ansah, DE: This is a value pick. Ansah has insane potential, and could be a steal here.
11. San Diego Chargers: Jonathan Cooper, OG: The Chargers really need line help. I expect them to take either Cooper or Warmack.
12. Miami Dolphins: D.J. Fluker, OT: Another tackle off the board. The Dolphins could use line help.
13. New York Jets (from Buccaneers): D.J. Hayden, CB: Back to back D.J’s! Seriously though, the Jets now need a cornerback (see: Revis trade) and Hayden is good.
14. Carolina Panthers: Star Lotulelei, DT: He could go as early as #4. This is a steal.
15. New Orleans Saints: Barkevious Mingo, DE/OLB: The Saints need defense, Mingo will be good in a 3-4. Good combo.
16. St. Louis Rams: Kenny Vaccaro, SS: Safety is becoming more and more important with the tight ends in the league getting better and more athletic. Vaccaro should be up to it.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Jarvis Jones, LB: Jones is the type of player the Steelers will take. He is falling on draft boards, but he played so well this season for Georgia, as he was perhaps the best defensive player in college football. Guys like that usually succeed, especially when they are drafted by a savvy team like the Steelers.
18. Dallas Cowboys: Sheldon Richardson, DT: They need more interior rushing, and Richardson is a steal at this point. Remember, the Cowboys were one of the worst teams against the run last year.
19. New York Giants: Desmond Trufant, CB: In today’s NFL, corners need not only to be shutdown defenders, but also playmakers. Trufant is a good cover guy but is even better at intercepting passes and returning them. He also could be a kick returner.
20. Chicago Bears: Manti Te’o, LB: They lost an aging Brian Urlacher, so they pick Te’o to fill the void at middle linebacker for years to come.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Tyler Eifert, TE: They don’t have many needs, so they take Eifert. By the way, I bet Eifert goes in the top 15. I just didn’t know where to put him.
22. St. Louis Rams (from Redskins): Justin Hunter, WR: The Rams are in desperate need of an offensive play-maker.
23. Minnesota Vikings: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR: They really need some wide receivers, and Patterson has insane athleticism.
24. Indianapolis Colts: Xavier Rhodes, CB: The Colts need a corner. Rhodes should be there for them to snag.
25. Minnesota Vikings (from Seahawks): Alec Ogeltree, LB: Ogeltree has had some off the field issues, but on the field he is a play-maker.
26. Green Bay Packers: Sylvester Williams, DL: Not sure Williams is a good fit, but he shouldn’t fall this far, so I’ll just put him on a team with very few needs.
27. Houston Texans: Robert Woods, WR: The Texans need another wide receiver to play with Andre Johnson, and Woods is a surefire good #2 WR.
28. Denver Broncos: Bjoern Werner, DE: He has fallen because he doesn’t stand out in any specific physical trait, but he is an all around solid player who can help the Broncos ease the pain of losing Elvis Dumervil.
29. New England Patriots: Datone Jones, DE: Another case of best available.
30. Atlanta Falcons: Robert Alfrod, CB: The Falcons need a corner.
31. San Francisco 49ers: Zach Ertz, TE: The 49ers could well move up, as they have 13 picks, but they could use a new backup tight end (to be fair, they play a lot of two TE sets, so the backup could play two thirds of the time).
32. Baltimore Ravens: Matt Elam, FS: For the Eagles’ sake, I’m hoping he falls to the second round, but he is a really good player, and the Ravens need a replacement for Ed Reed at safety.

I believe that a team between 20-32 will trade back, and a team early in the second round will trade up to snag a QB. Can’t predict trades, though.

NHL Playoff Picture- West

Posted: 04/24/2013 by levcohen in Hockey

Locked up spots: Chicago Blackhawks (clinched #1 seed), Anaheim Ducks, Vancouver Canucks, Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues

Still up for grabs: #7 and #8 seeds.. 5 teams still in the running for two spots

Current Leaders: Minnesota Wild (53 points, two games remaining) and Columbus Blue Jackets (51 points, two games remaining)

The Minnesota Wild look to have a stranglehold on one of the remaining playoff spots. Their final two games are against two of the worst teams in hockey (Edmonton and Colorado). They should win both games, but even if they don’t, the Red Wings will have to sweep their last three games to catch them, as neither #10 Dallas nor #11 Phoenix can catch them. They also look like they are going to be a tough draw for a #2 seed, because they are star studded, with Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Danny Heatley, and Ryan Suter. Still, they have struggled over the last few weeks, and are lucky that some teams below them (like Detroit) are having off years.

Playoff chances: 98%

The Blue Jackets have been one of the most surprising teams in the NHL this year, as they were predicted by most to have the worst record in the NHL this year. That is mostly thanks to their breakout goalie, Sergei Bobrovsky, who has been perhaps the best goalie in the NHL. Still, they don’t control their own destiny, as they are just one point ahead of a Red Wings team that has three games remaining. The Blue Jackets also have their final two games against likely non-playoff teams, as Nashville has already been eliminated and Dallas should be soon. If they do make the playoffs, they’ll have a chance to steal a few games from the Blackhawks, if only because Bobrovsky has been just terrific.

Playoff chances: 45%

In the hunt: Detroit Red Wings, Dallas Stars, Phoenix Coyotes

The Red Wings haven’t missed the playoffs since 1990, and they control their destiny again. It won’t be easy, though, as they play three games in the final four nights, including one tonight against a playoff team (the Kings). Each team they play will be eager to knock them out of the playoff chase, but the Wings will try to prevail.

Playoff chances: 50%

Stars+Coyotes: 5%

They aren’t mathematically eliminated, but they will be.

 

NHL Playoff Picture– East

Posted: 04/22/2013 by levcohen in Hockey

Are you surprised? Well, you should be, because I haven’t done a hockey post in a long time. That is partly because I hate the condensed schedule. Each team plays four or five games a week, so one team or the other is tired for every game, which makes it a lot less fun to watch. The other reason is that the Flyers stink, and the Flyers are always the reason that I’m into hockey. When the Sixers, Phillies, or Eagles are bad (ALL of them are bad right now), I’m still interested in basketball, baseball, and football, respectively. But I find it hard to get into hockey when the Flyers are struggling. Still, playoff hockey is different, and it’s great. It’s almost that time of year again, as this is the last week of the regular season, so let’s take a look at each conference and how the playoffs are shaking out.

Eastern Conference:
Teams who have locked playoff spots: Pittsburgh Penguins (clinched best record in conference), Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs..

Still up for grabs: 5 teams for 4 spots
#3 seed, Southeast Division champion- likely winner: Washington Capitals (3 points up)
The Capitals have been playing at a torrid pace of late, winning nine of their last 10 and 13 of their last 16. Leading the way has been none other than Alex Ovechkin, who, after a few years worth of slumping, has exploded for a league leading 30 goals, including 20 in his last 15 games. The Winnipeg Jets are three points behind them in the standings, and the Capitals can eliminate the Jets with a win over Winnipeg at home tomorrow. Even if they don’t do that, the Capitals two games after that are also at home, so it would be hard to believe that the Jets would pick up three points in the standings.
Playoff odds: 90%

#6-8- likely winners: New York Islanders (53 points, 3 games left), Ottawa Senators (52 points, 4 games left), New York Rangers (52 points, 3 games left)

The Islanders have very quietly been very quietly been good of late, with points in 13 of their last 14 games. We are used to the Islanders having young teams, but they are actually older than average this year, at #7 in average weighted age (28.546). They are led by the still-just-22 John Tavares, with 45 points. They have been helped up and down the lineup, all the way down to their goalie, Evgeni Nabokov, who has played well in 39 games (tied for the league lead with 21 wins, and top 5 in total games). Their remaining three games are against non playoff teams, so they should get in.

Playoff odds: 98%

The Senators, unlike the Capitals and Islanders, have struggled recently. They recently came off a stretch in which they lost five straight games, but they did bounce back nicely from that stretch, winning their next four before losing on Saturday. Their last four games are going to be tough, but at least they have a game in hand. They’ll need it, as they play the three teams that are likely to be seeded #1, #2 and #3 (although Washington really shouldn’t be #3- they are just there because they will win the division). If they can pick up at least three points in those four games, which is really not that much, they will be fine.

Playoff odds: 90%

The Rangers have disappointed this season, but they’ll be fine, because they play the 10th (Devils), 13th (Hurricanes), and dead last, 15th seeded Panthers, seeds in the conference. They are up by three points, so if they win two of those games they will be assured of a playoff spot. One win in those three would probably be enough, too. I wouldn’t worry.

Playoff odds: 90%

Not eliminated yet: Winnipeg Jets (49 points).

The Jets have played admirably this season, given that they have to travel thousands of miles for each road game in their division (they play in the Southeast division, because that is where the team played when they were in Atlanta. That will all change with realignment). Still, they’ll finish just outside of the playoffs, because they haven’t been able to keep up with the more talented Capitals team, as they relinquished their division lead a few weeks ago and haven’t gotten it back. With three games to play (at Buffalo, at Washington, home against Montreal), they realistically need to win all three to have a chance. If they do get to 55 points, they have a good chance at not only making the playoffs, but stealing the #3 seed. I just don’t see them winning in Buffalo today, in Washington tomorrow, and in Winnipeg on Thursday. It’s just too much to ask for.

First Round Playoff Predictions- West

Posted: 04/20/2013 by levcohen in Basketball

Time for the West.

Oklahoma City Thunder (60-22) vs. Houston Rockets (45-37):
I’m so happy we get the James Harden Revenge series in the first round. This is going to be electric. The Rockets are an extreme team. They go up the court, shoot three pointers, and score a lot. The problem is that they don’t play any defense, other than Omer Asik. Harden is an awful defender, and Jeremy Lin is below average. That’s going to be a problem, because the Thunder have two of the best offensive players in the NBA in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Something tells me they are going to go for 40 a game each. Harden and the Rockets offense are good, but I don’t think they’ll be able to start Durant and Westbrook.

Intriguing subplot: Obviously it has to be the Harden-back-to-OKC storyline. Could the superstar will the Rockets to a series win? Could he out play the two (possibly three including defensive stalwart Serge Ibaka) Thunder stars? Will he get any help from the Rockets bench, or other starters for that matter?

My prediction: Thunder win in 5.

San Antonio Spurs (58-24) vs. LA Lakers (45-37):
Are we seeing what Bill Simmons calls the Ewing Theory– when a team loses its best player but then rallies and the plays better than they did with their star–? Sure, it is a small sample size, but the Lakers have looked much better without Kobe. This has happened for a few reasons.
1. Kobe is a great player, but he hasn’t really played defense this year. The Lakers have been better at defensive without him in the game.
2. Mike D’Antoni has finally figured out how to play Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol together. Gasol is one of the better passing power forwards in the NBA, and he has been commanding double teams. Often, Dwight’s man switches to Gasol, not realizing how good of a passer Gasol is, and Howard gets an easy dunk.
3. When he was healthy, Kobe was the de facto point guard, as he commanded the ball for most of the game. Now, Steve Nash can go back to playing where he is comfortable. He can go back to racking up assists, hitting threes, and being a big time difference maker.
Couple all of those things with San Antonio’s recent swoon, and I could see the Lakers winning this series
p.s. I know I didn’t talk about San Antonio, and that’s because, while they are a great team, they are boring.

Interesting subplot: Can Dwight prove that he is ready to take over the Lakers franchise? Will he explode without Kobe?

My prediction: Spurs in 6

Denver Nuggets (57-25) vs. Golden State Warriors (47-35):
Basketball fans all around the world are rejoicing. This is a match-up between two of the best offensive teams in the NBA. The Nuggets lead the NBA in scoring, and the Warriors are at #7, but have been even hotter of late. The last time they have scored fewer than 90 points was March 8th. They have the best shooter in the NBA, Stephen Curry. They have one of the best double double threats in the NBA, David Lee. They have the most exciting rookie in the playoffs, Harrison Barnes. The Nuggets, though, are just too deep. Even without Danilo Gallinari, they go 10 deep with regularity. They have JaVale McGee, Andre Miller, Corey Brewer, Wilson Chandler, and Anthony Randolph on the bench. That could be a solid starting lineup. That’s why I’m taking the Nuggets.

Interesting subplot: Both of these teams have injury concerns. For Denver, Gallinari is done, Ty Lawson is coming off an injury, and X-Factor Kenneth Faried is banged up. For Golden State, big man Andrew Bogut is always hurt, and Curry has fragile ankles.

My prediction: Nuggets in 6

LA Clippers (56-26) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (56-26):
This is a repeat of last year’s first round match-up, and these two teams don’t really like each other. I think this going to be full of close games, and I think Memphis is really underrated in this series. They are certainly less flashy without Rudy Gay, but they are more effective. As for the Clippers, “lob city” is incredibly fun to watch, and much like the Nuggets they can go very deep, as they have guys like Jamal Crawford, Eric Bledsoe, and Matt Barnes on the bench. This is what I’d call an intriguing series.

Interesting subplot: How about that power forward match-up? I don’t think Blake Griffin and Zach Randolph like each other. The winner of that match-up will probably play for the series winning team.

My prediction: Clippers in 7.. In a close game, I just don’t see who can hit the big shot for the Grizzlies.. That is the difference in the game.

First Round Playoff Predictions– East

Posted: 04/19/2013 by levcohen in Basketball

The playoffs start tomorrow, mere days after the regular season ended. There are eight series, each unique, and some are a lot more intriguing than others. Each series does have its story lines (yes, even Miami-Milwaukee), and we’ll look at those as well as the match-ups.

East:
Miami Heat (66-16) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (38-44):
What are the chances this isn’t a sweep? 2%? 4%? I guess the only intrigue in this match-up is: Will the Heat lose in this series? To be fair to Milwaukee, they are fun to watch. They have a dynamic, if sometimes disgruntled, backcourt duo of Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings. They are short on guards (so to speak), playing just three every game, with hot shooter J.J. Redick completing the trifecta. The Bucks also have Ersan Ilyasova, a power forward who can cause match-up problems because he is a great shooter, and Larry Sanders, a shot blocking big man who exploded this season. Sanders almost averaged a double double, and finished second in the league in blocks. Here is the problem, though: The Heat could beat this team with their eyes closed. The only way to beat the Heat is if you: Can take advantage of added height with scoring big men (Bucks don’t have any), can move the ball seamlessly throughout the shot clock to create stops (Milwaukee has a ton of guys who like to dribble around without passing), and have a few shutdown perimeter defenders (the Bucks best perimeter defender is.. J.J Redick?). The Bucks can do none of those things.

Intriguing subplot: Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings guaranteed a six game win over the Heat. I think Brandon has just clinched a Heat sweep.
My prediction: Heat sweep

New York Knicks (54-28) vs. Boston Celtics (41-40… one cancellation):
This is all set to be a very emotional and high octane series for a lot of reasons. First and foremost, the Celtics have obviously been affected by the bombings. I’d bet that they now have added motivation. They want to do anything to help their fans. The Celtics are led by two very emotional players in Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Hopefully fully healthy, I have a feeling those two are going to play with fierce passion. Then there is the history between these two years. Over the past decade, the Celtics have had the Knicks’ number. This year, the story has been different. The Knicks beat the Celtics three out of four times. Remember, these two teams also had a big fight in the infamous “Honey Nut Cheerios” game. As for actual players, I think the Knicks have a rather large talent advantage. They have the scoring champion, Carmelo Anthony. They have the likely 6th man of the year, J.R. Smith. They have the reigning defensive player of the year, Tyson Chandler. They have a big point guard, Raymond Felton, who is a lot more agile than he looks. This is an older team, but it is one that has proved people wrong all season.

Intriguing subplot: How is Garnett going to play? Garnett and Smith are the X-Factors in this game. Neither his his team’s star, but neither team is any good without his X-Factor. Garnett is especially important because he is going to need to play terrifically if the Celtics want to beat the more talented Knicks.My prediction: Celtics in 7, which is actually a big upset

Indiana Pacers (49-32… one cancellation) vs. Atlanta Hawks (44-38):
Bleagh. This series is not going to be great for television. It’s going to be full of 93-86 scores, and I wouldn’t be surprised if neither team breaks 100 points in the series. I do believe that there will be some close games, though. This might be the end of this group of Hawks. This is their sixth straight trip to the playoffs, but they have yet to get past the second round. Josh Smith will likely leave after this year, and then the Hawks might go through a year or two of rebuilding, so this might be the last chance for the current core. The Pacers looked set up for a #2 seed at the all star break but faded down the stretch while the Knicks blew past them. Still, they seem pretty confident, and I wouldn’t count out their stifling defense down low.

Intriguing subplot: Hawks big Al Horford is really a power forward, but he plays primarily center for the small Hawks. I think, with this match-up, the Hawks should elect to play a bigger center, which would move Horford to power forward and Smith to small forward.
My prediction: Pacers in 6

Brooklyn Nets (49-33) vs. Chicago Bulls (45-37):
This is yet another intriguing match-up. In the regular season, the Bulls had the Nets number. The Nets, though, are the more talented team. They are led by Deron Williams and Brook Lopez, two guys who are playing at all star levels. Then they have one of the best isolation players in the NBA, Joe Johnson, who also knows a thing or two about game winning shots. Their big four is rounded out by Gerald Wallace, an aging but still underrated defensive stopper. The Bulls have two players who are among the leaders in the NBA in minutes, in Luol Deng and Joakim Noah. Those two guys have been amazing this season, as they play almost all game, every game. I don’t know if we can expect top shelf scoring from them, so that will have to come from guys like Nate Robinson and Carlos Boozer. If that happens, the Bulls can win.

Interesting subplot: Will Derrick Rose come back? I doubt it, but you never know.
My prediction: Nets in 7

Boston Tragedy

Posted: 04/16/2013 by levcohen in Uncategorized

To be honest, I don’t know what to write or how to write it. For the most part, I’ve avoided writing about major tragedies or really anything in the world other than sports. This is different. Not only was the Boston Marathon bombing a tragedy, it was a tragedy that happened during a sporting event. I, and many others, have long considered sports as a way to forget about the world and bad news. I wasn’t old enough to really experience 9/11 and the aftermath, but I’ve heard that people used sports as a way to put off thought about the tragedy. Lots of bad things happen around the world, but nothing ever happens in sports. The worst thing that can happen is a team losing or a player pulling a hamstring, right? Wrong. Yesterday’s bombing proved that disasters can indeed happen in sports. Yesterday was tax day, it was Jackie Robinson day, and it was also Patriots day. Patriots day is the biggest day of the year in Boston. The Red Sox play in the morning, and then the marathon is ran. Nobody has to work. Well, if somebody wanted to destroy that day, they succeeded. At around the four hour mark (at the time when the majority of runners are just about finishing), a bomb went off near the finish line. Moments later, a second exploded just yards away. As of this writing, three people were killed and at least 140 more injured.

I can’t even imagine how somebody or some group could plan acts of terror like this one. Do they think about what they are trying to do? Do they consciously try to find the way to hurt, terrorize, and kill the most people possible? How could they do such a thing? Spontaneous killing sprees or fights are one thing, but premeditated acts of terror are another.

It frightens me how often we, or at least I, need reality checks. It was only four months ago that the Sandy Hook shooting happened. For the first few weeks after that, I semi-consciously kept the shooting in the back of my mind. Since then, never. We were back to being delusional, but don’t be too hard on yourself, because it is human nature to stop worrying about other people’s problems eventually to return to worrying about your own issues. It’s too early to look for a silver lining in this, and it probably always will be, but if there is one, it’s that this is a needed wake up call. Like President Obama said, we are not Democrats and Republicans in these tragic times– we are Americans.

In terms of impact on sports, the Celtics and Hawks will play only 81 games, as their game was cancelled. This marks the first time that each team in the NBA will not play the same number of games. It was the right decision, and every time one looks back at the 2012-13 season, they will remember the bombing. Tonight’s Bruins game was also postponed, but not canceled.

I was going to write about the MLB season or NBA playoffs, but it just didn’t feel right.

So the next time you complain about needing to take off your shoes at the airport, being forced to take your laptop out for security, or having to throw your water out, remember the Boston Marathon bombing.