28 February 2013

Postseason Jeopardy for the L.A. Lakers

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Kobe said they'd do it, but will the Lakers make the playoffs with 24 games remaining?

The Lakers (28-30) have a shot to advance to the postseason but three things need to happen...

1) Lakers win 15 games.
2) The Utah Jazz need to lose more than half their remaining games.
3) Hope that Portland and/or Dallas do not string together a late season surge.

With 24 games to go, the Lakers' fate is in their hands. Hollinger's stats project the Lakers to finish 41-41 and indicate the Lakers have a 35% chance to advance to the postseason. The Lakers are eyeballing 43 wins if they want to clinch the #8 seed, which translates into a 15-9 record for the rest of the season.

The Utah Jazz (31-27) are the weakest link out of the eight teams currently holding potential playoff berth. Hollinger's playoff odds suggest Utah has a 65% chance to make the playoffs and projects them to finish the season 43-39. The Jazz currently hold the #7 seed, but Houston (31-28) has an easier schedule the rest of the season and are expected to finish in the #7 spot, or the #6 spot if Golden State (33-25) continues their skid (8 losses in their last 11 games including a heart-breaker against the Knicks).
Hollinger's Playoff Odds - NBA Western Conference:
San Antonio - 100%
Oklahoma City - 100%
LA Clippers - 100%
Denver - 99.9%
Memphis - 99.9%
Houston - 98.2%
Golden State - 90.7%
Utah - 65.2%
LA Lakers - 34.9%
Dallas - 6%
Portland - 4.9%
Minnesota - 0.1%
New Orleans, Phoenix, and Sacramento - ZERO
Utah plays 8 out of their last 12 games at home, and 3 out of their last 6 games are against the bottom feeders in the West (Minnesota and New Orleans). Meanwhile, Dallas plays 12 out of their last 18 games at home. In addition, the Lakers cannot overlook the Portland Blazers, who play 6 out of their last 8 games at home including a game against the Lakers.

The Lakers are a decent team at home (18-11) but struggle on the road (10-19). Out of 24 remaining games, they play 12 home and 12 road games (including one game against their intra-city rival the Clippers). The Lakers face five challenging back-to-backs with all five on the road. The Lakers are 4-7 this season in B2Bs.

Good news for the Lakers... Dwight Howard has been playing the best he has all season. Over the last six games, Howard averaged 13.5 rebounds and 17.3 points (on 59.7% from the floor), but he continued to shoot bricks at the free throw line connecting on only 41.3% of his attempts (down from his 48.5% season average).

The Lakers have a favorable schedule to end the season with their last nine games on the West Coast. Seven out of their final eight games are played in Los Angeles, and they also end the season with three consecutive home games. The Lakers play Houston on the last day of the season, which might come into play for postseason consideration. Utah and Houston both hold an edge with a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Lakers, so the Lakers cannot afford to tie either team.
Lakers' Remaining Schedule:
Thu, Fab 28 vs Minnesota .370
Sun, Mar 3 vs Atlanta .589
Tue, Mar 5 @ Oklahoma City .737
Wed, Mar 6 @ New Orleans .339
Fri, Mar 8 vs Toronto .397
Sun, Mar 10 vs Chicago .561
Tue, Mar 12 @ Orlando .276
Wed, Mar 13 @ Atlanta .589
Fri, Mar 15 @ Indiana .632
Sun, Mar 17 vs Sacramento .339
Mon, Mar 18 @ Phoenix .339
Fri, Mar 22 vs Washington .321
Mon, Mar 25 @ Golden State .569
Wed, Mar 27 @ Minnesota .370
Thu, Mar 28 @ Milwaukee .500
Sat, Mar 30 @ Sacramento .339
Tue, Apr 2 vs Dallas .439
Fri, Apr 5 vs Memphis .679
Sun, Apr 7 @ Los Angeles Clippers .695
Tue, Apr 9 vs New Orleans .339
Wed, Apr 10 @ Portland .464
Fri, Apr 12 vs Golden State .529
Sun, Apr 14 vs San Antonio .763
Wed, Apr 17 vs Houston .525
Based on the Lakers home/road record and the strength of their opponents (combined opponents' winning percentage is .487), we project the Lakers to bubble the playoffs and finish in ninth place in the West with a 41-41 record. We anticipate the Lakers will finish the season with a 13-11 clip (or 9-3 at home and 4-8 on the road).

The Lakers have to steal a couple of games if they want to extend the season. One of those could be April 14th at home against San Antonio. With a potential #1 seed locked up, Spurs' head coach Greg Popovich might rest his starters, which should increase the Lakers' chances to win that match up.

Betting wise... the Lakers are 23-34-1 ATS this season. They are 1-4 ATS as a home dog at Staples and 5-15 as an overall underdog. The OVER is 7-5 in the month of February, and 13-13-2 since January 1st.

27 February 2013

Curry Drops 54 at MSG, Knicks Still Win

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Stephen Curry. Michael Jordan. LeBron James. Kobe Bryant.

That's not a bad group to be in if you're Stephen Curry after he put on a 56-point shooting clinic (11 for 13 from downtown) against the Knicks. Curry scored the third most points by an opposing player at Madison Square Garden in the modern era. Kobe dropped 61 on the defensively-challenged Knicks in 2009. MJ destroyed the Knicks with 55-point explosion in 1995. Not to be outdone, LeBron torched the Knicks for 52 in 2009 two nights after Kobe busted them up for 61.

Curry dazzled the crowd at MSG and played all 48 minutes, but his spectacular shooting performance occurred in a 109-105 loss.

The Warriors relied heavily on Curry with David Lee sitting out a one-game suspension (for getting involved in a fracas the previous night in Indiana). Curry got off to an ordinary start in the 1Q, but he caught fire in the 2Q and erupted for 23 points. Curry's shooting barrage carried over into the second half, but his one-sided performance came at a detriment to the rest of the Warriors' offense, which sputtered late in the game. No one else could score except Curry.

Curry (left) vs. JR Smith (right)

The Knicks had a balanced attack on all fronts:

- Crunch time D. Curry toyed with everyone who tried to guard him until Ray Felton stepped up on defense with biggest play of the night. Felton blocked a Curry shot with 1:30 to go and the game tied. Prior to that play, Curry was unconscious and couldn't miss. The Knicks desperately needed a stop and Felton came through in crunch time. The Warriors did not score the rest of the game. Felton also added four steals.

- Tyson Chandler wiped the boards clean. Chandler snagged 28 rebounds including 13 in the 1Q.

- Mellow Melo. Carmelo Anthony unleashed a silent 35 points with 8 assists. Curry was a having such a crazy night, Melo's output flew under the radar.

- Big bench points. Amare and JR Smith combined for 40 points off the bench. Amare scored 14 on a super-efficient 6-7 shooting, while JR Smith added 26 and knocked down several big shots in the 4Q.

Despite the win, a couple of Knicks continued their awful shooting slumps. Shumpert (1-6), Kidd (0-4), and Novak (0-4) combined for 1-14 from the floor, including 0-9 from 3-point range.

Knicks improved to 34-20 overall. They are not a good road team, but love playing a MSG where they are 21-8. The Knicks slipped to the #3 seed in the East after their recent downswing. If they're not careful, they could tumble to the #6 seed.

The Warriors record dropped to 33-25 and currently hold the #6 seed in the West. Their road woes continued (1-7 in their last 8 road games). They lost in consecutive night and slipped to 1-2 on their five-game road trip. The Warriors lost 8 of their last 11 games overall.

26 February 2013

Viewing NASCAR (From a Distance)

By Shamus
Charlotte, NC

This past Saturday afternoon I was furiously working my way through a lengthy writing assignment, spending the entire morning and much of the afternoon eyeing the clock as I did. Why? Because at 4 p.m. the State-Carolina game was set to tip off, and I wanted to watch from the beginning.

I managed to get everything done and turned the television on just a minute before four. The game promised to be a good one, with the Heels and Wolfpack fairly evenly matched this season. Both look as though they may make the NCAA tourney this time around, although for either to make it beyond the first round or two should be a formidable task, with ACC foes Miami and Duke both looking as though they’re primed to do a little more this postseason.

I switched over to ESPN and was readying for the game when I noticed a NASCAR race finishing up. It was the awkwardly-named DRIVE4COPD 300 at the Daytona International Speedway, one of those races leading up to the Daytona 500 that kicked off a new NASCAR season on Sunday. The drivers had just begun the final lap, with the white flag being waved to indicate such. I sat forward on the couch to watch the conclusion, not even sure who was winning but mildly intrigued to see the finish.

Despite growing up in North Carolina and now living pretty much in the heart of NASCAR country, I’m no racing fan. It just never did capture my interest, not like other sports did.

I occasionally will read some of the extensive coverage of NASCAR that often takes up lots of space in our sports pages, and so I know the names of drivers and am vaguely aware of who is doing well and who is just getting by. My wife rides horses, and in fact she’s met and gotten to know a few people with racing connections over the years, including a couple of drivers’ wives. And I’ve met a few folks among the many around this part of the country who have NASCAR-industry jobs, too. (There are a lot of them.)

Whenever I think about NASCAR -- I mean really think about NASCAR -- I recall how how as a teenager I once checked out from the library a copy of Tom Wolfe’s 1965 book The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine Flake Streamline Baby, not knowing the first thing about Wolfe or what the book was about except that the title was kind of wacky and the lettering weird.

It turned out to be a fairly famous collection of nonfiction essays, examples of the so-called “New Journalism” that Wolfe, Norman Mailer, Hunter S. Thompson, and others came to represent.

I read the book cover-to-cover, but the only essay I recall today was the one about NASCAR, the one titled “The Last American Hero is Junior Johnson. Yes!” It was originally published in Esquire, and you can read it online here. Wolfe entertainingly describes his day attending a race in Wilkesboro, which is maybe a little more than an hour’s drive from here. Or a lot less if you drive like the great Junior Johnson used to.

The essay conveys Johnson’s larger-than-life status at the time as “a modern hero, all involved with car culture and car symbolism in the South,” his elevation having been caused in part by his background helping distribute bootleg liquor up and down the state’s back roads. Indeed, that was where Johnson learned to drive in the first place (the story goes), and thus NASCAR and its origins have always been linked to the mythology of moonshine. And they’ve also always been linked to the “good ol’ boys” who like Johnson became the sport’s first heroes and who in many cases continue to make up its cast of combatants.

I loved the essay. I’m fascinated by moonshine. When I was a kid, my late grandfather -- his drinking days well behind him -- showed me a jar of the stuff he must’ve been keeping for sentimental reasons. And for NASCAR to have more or less come from that... well, that always seemed kind of cool.

“Stock-car racing was something that was welling up out of the lower orders,” writes Wolfe. “From somewhere these country boys and urban proles were getting the money and starting this sport” several years before. And by the time Wolfe makes it to the North Wilkesboro Speedway in the mid-1960s, NASCAR had already started to become a national phenomenon.

Like I say, I never did become interested enough by NASCAR to want to follow the sport. And to be honest, I remain a little baffled by those who do.

But I’ve always had kind of a soft spot for NASCAR, which I sometimes think has partly to do with having read Wolfe’s essay at such a formative age. Wolfe was fascinated by Junior Johnson and the colorful collection of people gathering to watch him race his Ford around a 5/8-mile track on a Sunday, a day that had somehow transformed from “church day” to “racing day.” And pretty much all of it, this whole wild sport and subculture, emanated from the same place where I’m from, too.

That kind of fascinated me. Still does.

Now, of course, NASCAR has metamorphosed into yet another example of an American-pastime-turned-big-business, with the Daytona 500 one of several Super Bowls on its schedule. And so even preliminary races like the DRIVE4COPD 300 that ran last Saturday earn start-to-finish coverage, even if that means pre-empting whatever is coming on next.

Waiting for my basketball game to start, I watched as the lead pack roared around Turns 3 and 4 on the race’s final lap. That’s when the pile-up swiftly began.

As a white car with a blue 32 on the side began to rise up in mesmerizing fashion above the crash-filled cloud I thought for a moment of that final turn of the 2001 Daytona 500, the one in which another big multi-car crash occurred, with Tony Stewart’s car similarly flying up to spin crazily like some sort of toy above the cars racing past. One of those vehicles dodging Stewart, of course, was the black number 3 car driven by Dale Earnhardt, who’d moments later crash himself.

Stewart would survive, and in fact was leading and would win Saturday’s race, while Earnhardt would not. And still more drivers have died driving at Daytona since.

The mourning of Earnhardt’s death continues around these parts to this day, with “3” decals in rear windows still marking his heroic status much as fans did for Junior Johnson back in 1965. I’ve been to nearby Kannapolis and seen the statue of Dale, which is literally larger-than-life at nine feet tall.

You’ve no doubt read about Saturday’s crash, if not seen video. Horrifying stuff, primarily because of the way pieces of that 32 car driven by Kyle Larson found their way into the stands, including a wheel and various suspension parts. Even the engine tore through the 22-foot-high fence meant to shield spectators, landing perilously close to the bleachers. Fans many rows up were struck with debris, with 28 injured including a couple seriously. Thankfully all survived, with the drivers involved in what ended up being an 11-car pile-up all escaping safely as well.

There have been articles in the paper every day since -- not just in the sports section, but on the front page, too -- detailing the crash. In one of today’s articles, a fan who was sitting about 75 feet from the track describes getting hit in the head and knocked over by debris from Larson’s car. “I considered myself far enough away that the odds of something hitting me were tiny,” he said.

ESPN stuck with the aftermath for another half-hour, and I found myself lingering as well, not switching to the alternate network where the UNC-NSCU game was being shown. Finally I did, and amid continuing drop-in reports about injuries followed the basketball game to its conclusion, glad to see my Heels successfully defend their home floor.

I didn’t bother watching much of the race on Sunday, although did tune it at the end to see Jimmie Johnson win, Dale Earnhardt’s son take second, and Danica Patrick finish eighth. But again, I wasn’t actively rooting for anything, really. Except perhaps that no one would wreck or be hurt or die.

And when it comes down to it, that’s the main reason why I can’t make myself become too interested in NASCAR. Or, to put it another way, as intriguing as the sport and its history sometimes seems to me, I can’t let myself get too close to NASCAR.

So I keep it at a distance, considering myself far enough away.

Shamus is the author of the Hard-Boiled Poker blog.

23 February 2013

Hockey Fights: Aaron Asham vs. Jay Beagle

By StB
Milwaukee, WI

Hockey fights happen every day. Its like clockwork. The sun rises, the sun fall, you go work, the gloves come off on the rink, you go to sleep. Washington Capital Jay Beagle knows the routine. He got dropped by Aaron Asham of the Penguins.

This fight is UFC worthy. A hit to the face and then one on the button! Good thing there was some ice there to help with the swelling.  At least he did better than this guy:

22 February 2013

Haralabob and the Job of Successful Sports Betting

By Shamus
Charlotte, NC

Those of us like Pauly, Change100, and myself who’ve been involved in following and writing about the poker world in recent years have been well aware of Haralabos Voulgaris for some time.

He made a something of a splash way back in 2005 when he final tabled a World Poker Tour event, with a pink tie and brash-seeming demeanor perhaps marking him as an up-and-coming “character” among the many being created by poker television during those heyday times.

Voulgaris remained part of the poker scene for the next couple of years, including spending some time as a co-host of a popular poker podcast (Big Poker Sundays) where he unhesitatingly shared a lot of opinions about issues affecting the game, including the just-starting-to-show insider cheating scandals involving a couple of sites that were just beginning to scandalize the game. There he also proved to be not just smart with his commentary, but often friggin’ hilarious as well, with a wry sense of humor and readiness to poke fun at just about anything or anybody (including himself).

Then he faded away a bit from our weird little poker world, still playing here and there, but settling into his other, more lucrative career as a sports bettor specializing in the NBA. That other career has gotten some extra attention of late, and has been highlighted in a very interesting lengthy ESPN Magazine profile of him turning up this week in which the reader is invited to “Meet the world’s top NBA gambler.”

The piece by Scott Eden shares Voulgaris’s history as an NBA bettor, including describing the process by which he evolved from what is known as a “subjective bettor” (i.e., someone who doesn’t rely on quantitative analysis when making bets) into a “quant” (i.e., someone who does). A lot of the article discusses how he and a partner -- mysteriously dubbed the “Whiz” in the piece -- have created complicated computer-based predictive models that simulate NBA games in order to place bets informed by their outcomes.

It’s an excellent read and worth checking out for anyone interested in sports betting or even just curious about the ongoing battle between the line-setters in Vegas and the betting public, including the serious, studious gamblers like Voulgaris. And if you’re an NBA fan, “Haralabob” is also worth following on Twitter where one can find the same sort of unfettered commentary regarding the NBA that he used to offer on “Big Poker Sundays” many years ago.

One part of Voulgaris’s story and character that I find fascinating is how it helps demonstrate something Pauly has written about here before, namely, the amount of serious study and real work required to become a successful sports gambler. The great majority of us who do bet on sports fall into that “subjective bettor” category, and while one can be more or less informed as a subjective bettor, it takes a heck of a lot of effort (and some luck) to come out a winner. And of course those who edge over into the realm of the “quant” are pretty much all neck-deep in their work.

When I think about Voulgaris watching 80 hours of NBA games per week -- as is mentioned in the article and as is evident if you follow his Twitter feed -- I realize how that represents a commitment well beyond what even the most ardent basketball fan and NBA bettor is prepared to make.

That requires not just a love of the game (and of gambling), but something more -- the kind of thing that would allow turning something that for most of us is a hobby into a genuine profession.

Indeed, I wonder sometimes with regard to sports betting if there exists (for many of us) a kind of inverse relationship between “enjoyment” and “chance of success” -- that is to say, the more we enjoy the betting and game-watching (i.e., having fun and avoiding the “work” of genuine study and difficult problem-solving that is needed to make informed bets), the less likely we are to be successful gamblers. Meanwhile, to bet successfully necessarily requires taking away a lot of the “fun” that both watching sports and taking risks can provide.

It’s a half-baked theory, I know. Probably could be stated more clearly, too. In any case, read the Voulgaris piece and decide for yourself what his story tells us about what it takes to be a successful sports bettor.

Shamus is the author of the Hard-Boiled Poker blog.

21 February 2013

NBA: On the Eve of the Trade Deadline

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

NBA. On the eve of the trade deadline not a creature was stirring. Aside from a couple of minor trades by Houston, everything was quiet. The only chatter out of Los Angeles was not on Dwight Howard but on eulogizing Jerry Buss. Meanwhile, all eyes were on Josh Smith. Where will Atlanta deal him?

- The Knicks were mentioned in a few trade rumors. Will they keep Iman Shumpert? Or deal him? The Knicks squashed trade rumors to the Suns, but a new rumor sprouted when Sacramento was interested in shipping Tyreke Evans in a three-team trade with Shumpert and an unknown third team. Or will the Knicks bring in Jermaine O'Neal to shore up their bench with injuries to Marcus "Paper Mache" Camby and Rasheed Wallace. The Knicks limped into the break after to a sizzling start. They have a clear path to a #2 seed, but they have do the things that #2 seeds do like win road games against quality opponents. They came out flat against Indiana and the Pacers got off to a quick lead and never looked back. They were up 20 midway through the 2Q. The Knicks do not play well against physical teams. They get rattled. JR Smith regressed to playground trash talk and lost his mental edge en route to an ejection. The Pacers extended the lead to 30 in the 3Q and almost led by 40 in the 4Q. The entire second half was garbage time.

- The Charlotte Bobkittens once again proved why they deserve to be in the NBA's cellar. They dropped a home game to the Detroit Pistons. The only highlight was a monster dunk by Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. At least Bobkittens fans have something to cheer about.

MKG pwning Greg Monroe

- The Heat are the team to beat in the East. Sure, they phone it in every once in a while and their defense is just ordinary (compared to extraordinary the last two seasons), but their offensive output is impressive, especially the uber-efficiency of LeBron James. The Heat were on the road in Atlanta, but it was almost like a game on neutral court because of the fair-weatherness of Hawks fans and the proximity to Florida, which meant a lot of LBJ jerseys in the crowd. The Hawks held their own for three quarters and the Heat found themselves in a hole down by 10 at the start of the 4Q. What did Atlanta do at home? They choked and lost by double digits. Embarrassing 4Q effort. Hawks shooters went cold and LBJ was dishing the rock. Great stat: LBJ had more assists in the 4Q (8) than Hawks had baskets (7).

- Memphis flew up to the Great White North to take on Toronto. Rudy Gay got a chance to let his former team think twice about his trade. Gay has been struggling to score all season. He hasn't been shy at taking shots, but he struggled to convert. Memphis held the lead most of the game and thwarted a late 4Q run by the Raptors. ZeBo hit several big FTs in crunch time to seal the deal. Memphis is part of the second-tier of playoff teams in the West and fighting for a #4 seed with Denver. They have a no-so favorable schedule with a slew of road games in the second half. If they can weather the storm, they will be a tough team come playoff time.

- The game of the night: Oklahoma City vs. Houston. James Harden had the "Fuck you punk-ass bitches!" glint in his eye from the tip off against his old team. He had the game of his life and dropped 46 including a half-court buzzer beater to end the 3Q. Even a triple double from Kevin Durant could not hold off a furious run by the Rockets in the 4Q. The Thunder went cold down the stretch and blew a 12-point lead, while Linsanity and Harden stole the show. Lin's 29-point effort got overlooked by Harden's remarkable performance. Here's the half-court shot...

- The Lakers played their first game after Jerry Buss died. You knew they were going to win, but would they cover the -7 spread? Fading the Lakers was a profitable venture in the first half of the season, especially in the first quarter when the public had yet to figure out that the Lakers blew chunks. I live in the City of Angels and the entire town is bummed about Buss' passing. Everyone loved the guy. I mean, everyone. The Lakers organization gave a fitting tribute, despite the cheesy Green Day song used over the montage on the Lakers' jumbotron. Kobe Bryant held back tears as he asked the crowd for a moment of silent and a single spotlight highlighted Buss' empty chair in the owners' suite. Even Magic Johnson was brought to incoherent tears during ESPN's pre-game studio show. It was an emotional night for a struggling team stuck in the doldrums of being on the playoff bubble, but the Lakers rose to the occasion and honored their beloved owner with a victory over his least favorite opponent (the Boston Celtics). Despite constant reassurances by GM Mitch Kupchak that the Lakers will not deal Dwight Howard, it makes you wonder if he's secretly shopping him. At any rate, Lakers' fans got a glimpse of the Dwight Howard they hoped to get with a strong performance against the lackadaisical Celtics. The Lakers held on for the win and covered. Can the Lakers rally around Buss' death and put together a playoff run? If Buss' death doesn't inspire them to come together as a team... nothing will.

19 February 2013


By Shamus
Charlotte, NC

Ocelotters! Been spending the last couple of weeks traveling, working, and watching sports when I can. As a result I haven’t been able to post here lately, but am hoping after being away for a short while to regather a little momentum here going forward.

As it happens, I’ve been kind of brooding about that idea -- momentum -- here of late, most likely thanks to that wildly entertaining Super Bowl XLVII in which the Ravens outscored S.F. 28-6 before the lights went out, then saw the Niners come back afterwards to outscore Baltmore 25-6 post-outage.

The days following that game saw a ton of talk about the importance of momentum in sports. While most sports fans instinctively buy into theories about teams getting “hot” or “cold” or becoming psychologically affected by recent events to perform better or less well, there’s also a growing percentage of fans and analysts who seem eager to deny that momentum matters at all in sports.

The latter group is often influenced by those who have analyzed statistical data from sports in a comprehensive fashion to show that in fact the numbers don’t usually support the theory that momentum matters all that much. Or at least they don’t really support the idea that momentum is something you can measure in a “statistically significant” way.

Here’s a short video with Stephen J. Dubner of the Freakonomics group from about a year-and-a-half ago that kind of sums up where the latter group is coming from when they say that even though a lot of coaches, players, and fans believe in momentum, it is still mostly “all in our minds”:

Speaking of momentum, last week I watched my beloved UNC Tar Heels drop a tough one to Duke 73-68 at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Like the Super Bowl, the game presented another instance where it is hard even to discuss how it played out without calling up that idea of momentum.

The game wasn’t particularly well played by either team, and while it did turn out a closer-fought contest than some predicted (the Dookies were double-digit favorites going in), it isn’t going to be remembered as one of the more memorable battles in the teams’ storied rivalry.

Still, it was a somewhat compelling game to watch. Those of you who saw it might recall how UNC scored the game’s first five points, then managed to maintain the lead throughout the first half and for the first few minutes of the second before Duke seized the advantage before leading for the last 13 minutes or so without giving up the lead again.

Just as the second half was starting, Pauly texted me to say how the “Heels will have to hold back a 2nd half surge,” and I replied by agreeing that such seemed all but inevitable. “Have to see how Heels handle losing lead (which they will),” I replied, confirming what the two of us and just about anyone who’d ever watched a UNC-Duke game before already knew regarding the dim likelihood of a visiting team in this series ever successfully controlling a game throughout.

Neither of us used the word, but we were both referring to momentum and how the Blue Devils were absolutely going to seize it back at some point in the second half. There was no doubting that Duke would be coming back, and I was convinced that even though the Heels had led for exactly 20 out of 20 minutes thus far, there was practically zero chance they’d be ending the night having lead for 40 out of 40 minutes.

What I didn’t know was whether or not the Heels would be able slow down Duke once they lost the lead, which is another way of saying whether or not they’d be able to slow Duke’s momentum (or even seize momentum back). And my uncertain faith in the freshman-laden UNC squad to handle the unique pressure the Cameron Crazies are capable of applying probably can be discerned in my tentative response.

Is momentum a myth? Is it “all in our minds” as some would have us believe? Perhaps it is. But then again, what is in players’ minds can affect how the operate their bodies and thus how they perform individually or as a team.

Sometimes I think the whole argument about momentum is really just a debate over semantics. Whether it is real or just something fans (and coaches and players) imagine, momentum is a concept that helps us organize our ideas about what we’re experiencing when we watch (or play) a game. And gives us a way to talk about what we are seeing to each other, too.

The human mind seeks patterns to help us understand and order the world around us. We can’t help but think in terms of “momentum” (or “hot streaks” or “cooling off” or the like). And some games play out in ways that make that method of pattern-making or categorization seem highly appropriate, so convincing that the great majority of us tend to agree on its application. (Like with Super Bowl XLVII, for example.)

Anyhow, whether momentum exists or not, here’s hoping this post engenders a few more posts here in the near term from your humble scribbler.

Shamus is the author of the Hard-Boiled Poker blog.

18 February 2013

Dock Ellis' Electric Kool-Aid No Hitter and Major League Speed

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Michael Jordan turned 50 this week and Michael Jordan Has Not Left the Building by Wright Thompson was passed around among friends and tweet'd more times than I could count. The article got even more attention last night when Reggie Miller incorrectly identified "Bleacher Report" as the source of the article.

At the end of the Michael Jordan article, I followed a link to something I had read stumbled upon earlier titled The Long, Strange Trip of Dock Ellis, which detailed how he pitched a no-hitter under the influence of LSD and crocked to the tits on speed.

That article reminded me of a No Mas video that illustrated Dock Ellis and the LSD No-No:

The LSD angle is funny and the sign of the times, but the speed aspect is the most interesting aspect. Ellis says matter-of-factly how 90% of MLB players were addicted to greenies (a.k.a. pharmaceutical-grade speed). It's what kept them on the field playing and competing in the pre-steroids era.

Over the last decade, the MLB has discreetly put an end to speed usage behind the scenes (including the ban of Ritalin and other ADD drugs), but owners have balked at stricter penalties for speed-usage. Meanwhile the media and public is captivated by a stream of steroid scandals from Bonds to Clemens to A-Roid.

Sure, Mike Schmidt never took steroids, but he ate speed. At present time, MLB does not drug test for LSD or magic mushrooms.

16 February 2013

Cold Teams: Charlotte Bobkittens

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Charlotte Bobcats' halftime show

Betting on the NBA is a real ball buster. We had a rough season thus far, but if it weren't for a couple of really bad teams, like the Charlotte Bobcats (a.k.a. Bobkittens, Boobcats), we'd be in really bad shape.

It's the NBA All-Star Break, which is the perfect time to reflect upon the first half of the season. We made a few mistakes along the way, but the Charlotte Bobkittens kept us out of the gutter. Before the season began, I had a mantra: Fade the Bobkittens. It's foolish to blindly bet any trend, but this one ended up being a profitable venture.

At the break, the Bobkittens are 12-40 overall and 19-32-1 ATS. If you wagered $100 (with usual 10% vig) on every game fading the Bobkittens, that you'd now have $1,110.

We like to find a bad team and take advantage of their ineptitude. We turned a profit in 2010-11 season fading the Washington Wizards on the road. In the shortened 2011-12 season, we were printing money by fading Charlotte as they ended up with the worst record in the league.

This season, the Bobkittens have been atrocious. Shamus wrote a great piece -- The Bobcats' Blues -- explaining the ups and downs of a Charlotte Bobcats fan. During the Christmas break, the Bobkittens showed a glimmer of hope when they ended their 18-game losing streak. They were 3-7 straight up during a two-week stretch, but went 5-4-1 ATS in that clip. But just when the Bobkittens looked like they were showing signs of life, they reverted back to their old habits and stumbled into the break 4-9 ATS over their last 13 games.
Top 7 Worst NBA Teams ATS:
1. Charlotte 19-32-1
2. L.A. Lakers 21-32-1
3. Phoenix 21-32-1
4. Sacramento 22-30-2
5. Chicago 22-30
6. Orlando 22-29-1
7. Portland 22-29-2

Top 7 Best NBA Teams ATS:
1. Washington 31-18-2
2. Oklahoma City 31-20-2
3. Denver 32-22
4. San Antonio 30-22-2
5. Memphis 29-21-1
6. Dallas 30-22
7. New Orleans 30-23

Top 5 OVER Teams:
1. Golden State 33-18-1
2. Denver  33-21
3. Dallas 32-19-1
4. Sacramento 31-22-1
5. Houston  31-24

Top 5 UNDER Teams:
1. Indiana 31-21-1
2. Chicago 30-22
3. Washington 29-20-2
4. Memphis 29-21-1
5. Brooklyn 29-23-1

Top 5 HOME Teams (S/U):
1. Miami 23-3
2. San Antonio 22-2
3. Oklahoma City 23-4
4. Denver 22-3
5. Indiana 21-5
5. L.A. Clippers 21-5

Top 5 BEST Teams on NO REST (S/U):
1. Miami 6-1
2. Indiana 10-5
3. Oklahoma City 6-3
4. San Antonio 8-4
5. LA Clippers 9-5

Top 5 WORST Teams on NO REST (S/U):
1. Phoenix 2-11
2. Washington 2-11
3. Philadelphia 2-10
4. Cleveland 3-13
5. Charlotte 3-10

Top 5 Teams After a Loss (S/U):
1. Oklahoma City 11-2
2. San Antonio 10-2
3. Miami 11-3
4. Chicago 16-5
5. New York 12-5

In the second half of the season, you might want to keep an eye on a the bottom feeders in the NBA. There's rules against tanking and the lottery is set up to prevent teams from blowing games late in the season. If any of the worst teams in the NBA get off to a slow start in the second half, you can expect them to give up completely and phone-in the rest of the season while they hope to strike it big in the lottery. Those teams are perfect targets especially when the play on the road.
Worst NBA Teams By Record:
Charlotte 12-40 (.231)
Orlando 15-37 (.288)
Washington 15-36 (.294)
Cleveland 16-37 (.302)
Phoenix 17-36 (.321)
Sacramento 19-35 (.352)
New Orleans 19-34 (.358)
Minnesota 19-31 (.380)

Worst Road Records Among Bottom Feeders:
Washington 4-22 **
Sacramento 5-23
Phoenix 5-23
Charlotte 5-21
Orlando 6-19
Cleveland 7-21
Minnesota 7-18
New Orleans 10-19
** The Wiz cannot win on the road, but they always seem to blow leads late in the game, yet they still manage to backdoor a cover. They're a much better team with John Wall in the lineup, but they might be the except to the rule.

15 February 2013

Robbie Rogers is Out and Free

By JoeSpeaker
Los Angeles, CA

If you didn't know who Robbie Rogers was before, you do now. The 25-year-old former Columbus Crew midfielder with 18 international caps for the United States came out as gay today on his personal blog saying,
Secrets can cause so much internal damage. People love to preach about honesty, how honesty is so plain and simple. Try explaining to your loved ones after 25 years you are gay. Try convincing yourself that your creator has the most wonderful purpose for you even though you were taught differently.
Reaction on Twitter from friends and former teammates was swift and all positive, with the likes US internationals Omar Gonzalez ("Congrats, Robbie! Really happy for you."), Juan Agudelo ("Respect man. Proud of you bro") and Benny Feilhaber ("proud to call you my friend") weighing in on the news.

In the same post, however, Rogers stated he was taking time to "step away," a phrase which could mean anything from retirement to a week in the Cayman Islands before coming back to the game (Rogers was recently released by Leeds in in the English Championship and his MLS rights are owned by Chicago). So while we applaud his bravery, we also have to look at whether his sexual orientation has prematurely scuppered a promising career.

The most recent poll by CBS says 54% of Americans are in favor of gay marriage. Gallup reports even bigger acceptance--73%--among those under the age of 30. So we're getting there, right? As a society at large. Sports are surely a mirror for society, even more so in soccer if you believe generations of pundits who rhapsodize about how a country's beliefs influence their teams' play, such as Brazil and their samba style or the Germans' finely-tuned and ruthless efficiency. Americans, of course, are known for their willingness.

So does Rogers have a future in soccer? The locker room is one of the final frontiers for gays. San Francisco cornerback Chris Culliver made waves before the Super Bowl when he said gays would not be welcome. Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter recently said a gay teammate would be "difficult and uncomfortable."

"It's still taboo," said Clippers forward Grant Hill in a recent Los Angeles Times story.

The truth is, there is not a single openly gay athlete in any of our most popular sports, but to believe there are not scores of them are not already in locker rooms is naive. As theTimes story from this past December says,
About 4,000 players spent time on active rosters in the NBA, NHL, NFL and Major League Baseball in 2012. With the best estimates of the gay/bisexual population in U.S. ranging from 2% to 10%, it's likely many of those 4,000 athletes are gay or bisexual.
It's difficult for me to believe we are going to go on too much longer without an active roster athlete coming out and consequently becoming the 21st Century version of Jackie Robinson or Kenny Washington. The NHL has their "You Can Play" project. Openly gay female players like U.S. midfielder Megan Rapinoe are common and universally accepted. Rogers's teammates has emphatically stated their opinions. He may be the pioneer. He may not.

But he is, finally and in his own words, a "free man."

14 February 2013

Hockey Fights: Boston Bruins vs. Madison Square Garden

By StB
Milwaukee, WI

A friend of mine tipped me off to this brawl. He is a New York Rangers fan and for him, this ranked as one of the best fights ever. Interesting action begins at the 34 second mark. The Bruin at the top of the screen appears to pull the shoe off of the fan's foot and proceeds to beat him with it. How would you like to go to a hockey game and get beat up with your own shoe?

There is some good commentary by the announcers. They feel bad for the guys getting the butts whooped. I am surprised at how easily the Bruins hoisted themselves up over the glass. Was it shorter back then? And why aren't the Rangers going in to defend their fans? What a bunch of pussies! So we have learned that you don't mess with hockey players. If you do, they'll come up to your seat and pound you with your Nikes.

13 February 2013

Clyde Frazier: Poet and Superfly Style

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

I grew up a Knicks fan, but I was too young to remember Walt "Clyde" Frazier playing in a Knicks' uniform. By the time I started watching Knicks games, Clyde was on the sidelines as a member of the media. He announced the games for the radio as a "color commentator" and eventually transitioned into television. The golden era of Knicks broadcasting occurred when Clyde announced games along side the legendary Marv Albert. If you thought Clyde and Earl Monroe were a devastating backcourt duo, then Clyde and Marv were equally stupendous.

My first memories of Clyde happened on the radio. In the early 80s before cable TV, not every Knicks game was aired on TV, so I spent a lot of nights listening to games on a transistor radio. Clyde was the funny guy with a lush vocabulary. I remember asking my father about Clyde's knack for big words. My father didn't give a short answer, rather it was a complicated one. He explained that athletes sometimes become broadcasters because they love the game so much and that networks like to hire former professional athletes because they can give a better perspective into the game. However, most athletes didn't study much in college because they were there to play ball and win games, whereas, the average sports announcer went to college to study journalism and/or broadcasting. My father specifically pointed to Syracuse University and said that all the premier sports broadcasters got their degree from Syracuse. Bottom line... Clyde and other athletes seeking jobs in the media were at a slight disadvantage because they didn't go to college and study to become broadcasters, rather they went to school to play ball. Clyde wanted to be good at his job, but needed a crash course so he scoured The New York Times and he circled words in the dictionary he didn't know. Clyde expanded his vocabulary in order to become a better radio announcer.

My father used Clyde's story to get me to 1) read New York Times, and 2) use the dictionary to expand my vocabulary. My father was very adamant about the differences in newspapers and said the tabloids (Daily News and NY Post) were inferior to The New York Times. I was encouraged to read every section of the behemoth Sunday edition of the Times with a dictionary nearby. We had a big blue Websters dictionary with super thin pages that my father had acquired from college in the 1950s. Just like Clyde, I was never shy about looking up stuff I did not understand. Looking back from today's perspective, I realize it's the little things that helped put me on the path to becoming a writer.

When Clyde announced games on the radio, I occasionally had to look up a word like auspicious, effervescent, neophyte, and serendipitous. My favorite Clyde word was "percolate." I was somewhat familiar with that word because my mother had a coffee machine that was called the Percolator. Instead of being baffled by mixing coffee cliches with basketball announcing, I looked up percolate in the dictionary and discovered it had multiple meanings... lively activity or gradually coming to life.

Clyde Frazier announced the Knicks games on radio for over a decade and occasionally filled in for TV before he became a part of the full-time TV crew for the MSG Network in 1997. On the radio, you couldn't see what Clyde wore, but TV audiences got to see Clyde's unique fashion style. Clyde, ever the ladies' man, wore outrageous outfits and tested the elasticity of fashion. Clyde was one of the best basketball players in NYC in the 1970s and he embraced the era of Superfly by often dressing up like an uptown coke dealer. Clyde's flamboyant outfits were completely outrageous (often with alligator boots), but he had style and panache. Only Clyde could get away with it without coming off like a total goofball. 

When Clyde got a little older, his outfits got a little more absurd. An old guy in mutton chops shouldn't be dressing up like a pimp, but Clyde stayed true to himself. These days, Clyde's outfits have become an integral part of the Knicks pre-game show because you tuned in early on to see what Clyde was wearing. Did he go for a classy look? 1920s gangster-pinstripes? Or did he opt for full-blown retro-Suerfly?

Over the years, I've grown to appreciate Clyde the poet, mixing slang with high-brow vocabulary words. But my favorite Clyde-like phrases involved his ability to rhyme hoops phrases...
Dishin' and swishin'
Hustlin' and bustlin'
Wheelin' and dealin'
Postin' and toastin' 
And if you read this site frequently, you know I like to over-use the phrase "Swiss Cheese D." Well, you can blame Clyde for that.

Grantland recently posted a short documentary film about Clyde Fazier. Check out Disdain the Mundane.

11 February 2013

New Pope Betting Odds

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Was I really going to write about betting odds on the next pope? Does the pope shit in the woods?

Pope Benedict hasn't looked too good the last few months. He'll be 86 in April and he needs help walking up and down stairs and gets wheeled around the Vatican. Rumors suggested that the college of Cardinals were compiling short lists in anticipation of Benedict's declining health.

The Vatican made a surprising announcement that Pope Benedict will be resigning at the end of the month. The obvious reasons point to health, but then again popes don't step down, rather, they die on the papal throne. The last pope to step down happened almost 600 years ago when Pope Gregory XII resigned in 1415.

Was Pope Benedict forced out? Is there a huge scandal brewing? Those questions will be answered in the coming months, for now, we don't care why Pope Benedict is out, rather, we're focused on who's on deck.
Next Pope ODDS (via Paddy Power at 11am T on 2/11/13):
Cardinal Peter Turkson (Ghana)     3/1
Cardinal Marc Ouellet (Canada)     7/2
Cardinal Francis Arinze (Nigeria)     4/1
Cardinal Leonardo Sandri (Argentina)     6/1
Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi (Italy)     8/1
Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga (Honduras)     8/1
Archbishop Angelo Scola (Italy)     8/1
Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco (Italy)     12/1
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone (Italy)     16/1
Cardinal Christoph Schonborn (Austria)     16/1
Cardinal Claudio Hummes (Brazil)     20/1
Cardinal Timothy Dolan (USA)     25/1
Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera (Spain)     33/1
Cardinal Agnostino Vallini(Italy)     33/1
Cardinal Raymond Burke (America)     33/1
Cardinal Mauro Piacenza (Italy)     33/1
Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera (Mexico)     33/1
Cardinal Albert Malcolm Ranjith (Sri Lanka)     33/1
Cardinal Keith O'Brien (Scotland)     33/1
Cardinal Philippe Barbarin (France)     33/1
Cardinal Angelo Amato (Italy)     50/1
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle (Philipines)     50/1
Cardinal Robert Sarah(French Guinea)     50/1
Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe (Italy)     50/1
Archbishop Vincent Nichols (England)     50/1
Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois(France)     50/1
Cardinal Attilio Nicora (Italy)     50/1
Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi (Italy)     50/1
Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino (Cuba)     50/1
Cardinal George Pell (Australia)     50/1
Cardinal William Levada (America)     66/1
Cardinal Odilo Scherer (Sao Paulo)     66/1
Cardinal Peter Erdo (Hungary)     66/1
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Argentina)     80/1
Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Muller (Germany)     80/1
Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco Varela (Spain)     80/1
Cardinal Wilfrid Napier (South Africa)     80/1
Cardinal Ivan Dias (India)     80/1
Cardinal Karl Lehmann (Germany)     100/1
Cardinal Jose Da Cruz Policarpo (Portugal)     100/1
Cardinal Silvano Piovanelli (Italy)     100/1   
Archbishop Piero Marini (Italy)     100/1
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo (USA)     100/1
Cardinal Walter Kasper (Germany)     125/1
Cardinal Angelo Sodano (Italy)     150/1
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor (UK)     150/1
Cardinal Giacomo Biffi (Italy)     150/1
Cardinal Geraldo Majella Agnelo (Brazil)     150/1
Archbishop Nicolas de Jesus Lopez Rodriguez (Dominican Republic)     150/1
Cardinal Francis George (USA)     200/1
Richard Dawkins (UK)     666/1
Father Dougal Maguire (Craggy Island)     1000/1   
Bono (Ireland)     1000/1
* * * * 

Here is some background on a few of the favorites...

Cardinal Peter Turkson (3/1) is one of the favorites. He's currently the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and very anti-Islam. He could become the first Pope from Africa.

Cardinal Marc Ouellet (7/2) is near the top of the short list of replacements. I'm surprised he's not the #1 favorite. Cardinal Ouellet speaks six or seven languages fluently and spent a significant time doing missionary work in South America.

Cardinal Francis Arinze (4/1) from Nigeria was one of Pope John Paul II's trusted advisers. He's 80 and I'm surprised he's one of the favorites at that age.

Cardinal Leonardo Sandri (6/1) from Argentina is all well-versed in multiple languages. He can be the bridge between Catholics in the East and the old-schoolers in the West.

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi (8/1) is the top Italian on the short list. You know the world was getting screwed up when the Pope was a German and the head of the European bank was an Italian. But this is the 21st century and Italy is no longer the center of the Catholic universe, which explains why two of the favorites are from Africa.

Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga (8/1) from Honduras made the short list last time, but Pope Benedict beat him out. Influence in Latin America has been growing exponentially over the last half century, which is why Maradiaga will be among the last round of names discussed.

Archbishop Angelo Scola (8/1) is the other Italian in the running. The Archbishop of Milan is truly old-school and wants to re-establish a Catholic Europe.

* * * *

I'm a Catholic and attended Catholic school. I recall John Paul I dying after a month and our Monsignor explaining to us what happened during an assembly. Rumors suggested he was poisoned because of how he wanted to handle the Vatican's bank. John Paul II was the next pope and I was at Little League baseball practice when I found out he was shot in a failed assassination attempt. He lived and the "popemobile" was introduced so no one could take a shot at future pontiffs.

You should be paying close attention to the Prophecy of St. Malachy, who predicted that the next pope (who he called Petrus Romanus a.k.a. Peter the Roman) is supposed to be the 112th and last-ever pope before a final tribulation and the end of times (which marks Judgement Day and the return of Christ).

St. Malachy wrote this in Latin:
Petrus Romanus, qui paſcet oues in multis tribulationibus: quibus tranſactis ciuitas ſepticollis diruetur, and Iudex tremẽdus iudicabit populum ſuum. Finis.
 And here's the English translation:
Peter the Roman, who will nourish the sheep in many tribulations; when they are finished, the city of seven hills will be destroyed, and the dreadful judge will judge his people. The end.
More info on Petrus Romanus here..

Pauly is the author of Lost Vegas: The Redneck Riviera, Existentialist Conversations with Strippers, and the World Series of Poker.

10 February 2013

Hot Teams: The Denver Nuggets

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

The hottest team in the NBA? The Denver Nuggets. They won nine games in a row and 16-3 since January 1st. Most importantly, the Nuggets are 8-1 ATS during their current winning streak.

The Nuggets are a gambler's best friend over the last few weeks and have been a pain in the ass for bookies across the board. The Nuggets are 33-18 overall, but 31-20 ATS and they hitting the over 30-21. Plus, they're unbeatable at home with the best record in the NBA at 22-3.

The Nuggets drew a shitty schedule to start the season with 22 out of 32 games on the road. They stumbled out of the gate and dropped their first three games. As Christmas time approached, they were looking at a 11-12 record, but since then head coach George Karl got them on track and they ran off an impressive 22-6 clip.

Despite the lopsided road-heavy schedule, they made the most of their home games in the thin air of  Colorado. The Nuggets won 9 out of their first 10 home games with their only loss against Miami. They only lost three games in Denver all season.

Pat Riley used to have a saying: "No rebounds, no rings." Right now, the Nuggets are one of the premier rebounding teams averaging 45.4 rebounds a game (currently second overall to Indy's 45.5). They're also dominant on the offensive glass with 13.6 RPG.

The Nuggets are exciting to watch between Kenneth Faried (12.3 PPG and 9 RPG) and Javale McGee. Karl is trying to sculpt both raw talents into future NBA stars. They're inconsistent at times, but that's the beauty of watching them develop. You never know what they'll do next that will make you jump out of your seat and say, "Holy shiiiiiiiiit!" They've provided their fair share of GIFs like this insane blocked shot by McGee...

McGee is a freak of nature and only gets about 19 minutes a game but he's top 5 in the league in FG shooting (.566) and his PER is 22, good enough for #17 overall.

The Nuggets live and die by their Italian gunslinger, Danilo Gallinari. They acquired Gallinari from the Knicks in a trade for Melo. Gallinari leads the team in scoring with 17.1 ppg, but he's only shooting 37.5% from three-point land and someone of his caliber should be shooting better than 81% from the FT line.

Andre Iguodala has been a sore subject for Nuggets fans. Iggy is making over $14 million a year and the Nuggets traded for Iggy in the off season hoping he'd be their top scorer. Instead, the highest paid Nugget is stuck in a slump. His shooting has been erratic all season, especially at the FT line with a horrendous 60%, which tilts head coach Karl to no end. On the plus side, Iggy is still a top-notch defender and he consistently contributes 5 assists and 5 rebounds a game. Nuggets fans can only hope Iggy snaps out of his shooting funk. And if/when he does, they'll be even more dangerous on the perimeter.

The Denver Nuggets are currently sitting in the #4 hole in the Western Conference trailing San Antonio, Oklahoma City, and the L.A. Clippers. Denver is not a team that is capable of winning the championship, but they'll be a tough opponent in the second round of the playoffs for whoever ends up winning the #1 seed (provided both teams advance past their first round opponents).

The Nuggets are the hottest team in the NBA. Everyone knows this, but no one can figure out how to stop them. They'll be tested over the next two weeks with six out of their next eight games on the road. They have to play at Boston, Toronto, Brooklyn, Washington, Charlotte and Portland. Their two home games in that stretch are solo games against Boston and the L.A. Lakers.

08 February 2013

Who says friends can't fight? Probert vs. Kocur

By StB
Milwaukee, WI

Good friends will always be there for you. Better friends will drop the gloves and try to punch you in the face as a way of saying thank you.

Bob Probert was the enforcer when he played. If you thought you were a tough guy on skates, you had to prove it by tying up with him. Joey Kocur was not slouch either. He was one of the hardest hitters in the game, mangling his hands in the process. Probert and Kocur knew each other well. They drafted by the Red Wings in the same year and played on the same team for 6 years. Together, the were known as the Bruise Brothers. Their job was to protect Steve Yzerman, and they did it well.

Years later Kocur found himself out of the game. No one wanted to sign him. Probert was playing for the rival Chicago Blackhawks at the time. Kocur met up with him at a game with Detroit and told him he needed help getting a job. Probert obliged. He went and beat the crap out of the Red Wings that night. Detroit did what they had to do. They got their own enforcer to take him out and signed Kocur. A couple days later they met and this is what happened.

As they laid on the ice, Kocur gave Probert a hug and thanked him for getting him back into the game. Now that is what friends are for.

05 February 2013

Top Chef, Season 10: Handicapping the Final Five

By Change100
Hollywood, CA

Top Chef host Padma with her octopi
We’re huge Top Chef fans here at Ocelot Sports HQ and like most televised contests of skill, we’ve been known to bet on it, at least amongst ourselves. Even though sportsbooks are big on exotics, offering lines on everything from the gender of the next American Idol to the length of the national anthem at the Super Bowl, you won’t find any published odds for Top Chef. See, this is reality TV, where the outcome has already been determined (albeit shrouded in nondisclosure agreements with seven-figure penalties). So we’ve done the work for you. The competition is down to four chefs and two wildcards that still have a chance to cook their way into the finale.

Here’s how they stack up in our minds, going into Wednesday’s episode:

Sheldon Simeon – 7/2
It’s hard not to root for Sheldon, the Hawaiian teddy bear wearing a perpetual smile. After emerging as a real contender in the second half of the season, Sheldon picked up a big win in Restaurant Wars for his undoubtedly risky “Modern Filipino” dining concept (made even riskier considering most of his team had never tasted Filipino food, let alone prepared it). However, the James Beard semifinalist stumbled last week when he went all Captain Obvious in the surf & turf challenge, selecting lobster and filet for his proteins instead of something a bit more out of the box (see Brooke’s Frog Legs and Mussels). While Sheldon is our front-runner at this stage, let’s not forget that he’s also the guy who made Panda Express-caliber stirfry for Wolfgang Puck. Can his Asian-inspired cuisine go the distance? Or will he sit on the forgotten heap of TC runners-up?

The Next Top Chef? Or Team Zissou?
Brooke Williamson – 4/1
L.A. gastropub owner Brooke is on a roll right now in terms of challenges, picking up a double win last week. Although her concepts are risky, she almost always manages to execute them well. Brooke pulls combinations like frog legs and mussels and lamb-stuffed squid out of her ass and somehow makes them taste incredible. Brooke may be killing it right now, but I fear she’s peaking too early.

Brooke thinks outside the box

Lizzie Binder – 6/1
Just try doing Lizzie’s accent. You’ll sound like a wounded, vaguely retarded house pet from the British Isles. Lizzie actually hails from South Africa, where her claim to fame was cooking for Nelson Mandela (uh… take that, pissants!) Lizzie is perhaps the most consistent chef still left in the competition, but when she fails, she fails big. Like that fried chicken debacle. And her inexplicable love affair with cabbage. Lizzie needs to knock it out of the park this week to make the finale… or at least beat out Josh’s next dish.

Lizzy is the only non-American left in race for Top Chef

Joshua Valentine – 9/1
Whether or not you like Josh depends entirely on how you feel about his hipster mustache. If you like ginger facial hair waxed into a sharp, upturned pair of parentheses, well, Josh is your man. Josh has had a few decent weeks on the show, but let’s not forget this is a guy who ran a restaurant called Divine Swine, yet managed to completely fuck up every pork dish he made on the show. And when he does mess up a dish, he turns it into breakfast (bacon sushi, anyone?) Unless he pulls out some sort of culinary miracle this week, I see Josh bubbling the finale.

Josh is a favorite submission for the Tumblr page: Hipster or Top Chef?

Kristen Kish (reigning champ, Last Chance Kitchen) – 6/1
Despite the fact that she still needs to win two more heads-up cookoffs to earn a spot in the finale, I’m still giving Kristen better odds to win than Josh. This icy-cool, classically trained French chef will dust her remaining competition and I see her giving Sheldon and Brooke a huge sweat when it comes to the grand prize. I mean (a) she was only eliminated because she took the fall for Josie in Restaurant Wars and (b) lest we forget, she won an elimination challenge with mushrooms and fried onions!

Kristen is the most-skilled chef remaining, but fighting to stay alive

C.J. Jacobsen (“Save a Chef” reigning champ) – 12/1
This is a hard one to handicap, seeing as whoever wins this mulligan will ultimately have to compete against the Last Chance Kitchen champ in order to win a spot in the finale. Right now Big Ceej is winning this popularity contest, but I don’t see anyone beating Kristen. She’s why LCK was created and while CJ has a loyal fan base, Kristen’s comeback story is the happy ending Top Chef is looking for this season.

04 February 2013

Super Bowl Hangover

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

It wasn't a pretty game for my horse in the race -- the San Francisco 49ers. I backed them when the line bottomed out at -3.5 and took a shot at -165 on the moneyline. I also bet the UNDER fairly early when the line was first released and got 49 before it headed south to 47.5 and bounced back up.

After crunching the numbers, it came down to efficiency in scoring drives. Each team would probably put together roughly six scoring drives, or three per half. But which ones would get stuffed? Which ones would get held to a FGs? Which ones would result in a touchdown? Which ones would benefit from turnovers and advantageous field position? Which would be 80+ yards drives that ate up the clock? Which ones would be quick-strike shock and awe bombs? The outcome of one scoring drives could settle the game, which is why it was imperative for both defenses to limit opposing offenses to FGs instead of touchdowns.

I had a vision of Baltimore's rookie Justin Tucker kicking four field goals because on paper the Niners were set up better defensively to hold Baltimore to FGs on four potential scoring drives. That never happened. Baltimore's offense figured out how to score multiple times against San Francisco.

In the Super Bowl, Baltimore's offense generated 3 TDs, Tucker kicked 2 FGs, and the special teams accounted for a kickoff return for a TD. Baltimore scored all three offensive TDs in the first half, while the Niners' forced Baltimore to kick FGs during two 4Q drives. For San Francisco, they failed to convert any touchdowns in the first half, instead settling on a pair of FGs from Akers. Their offense meshed much better in the second half scoring three TDs including 14 points in under 4 minutes at one point. Baltimore's defense limited the Niners to two FGs in the first half and kept them out of the endzone twice in the second half when it mattered the most... 1) forcing a FG in the 3Q after the Niners seized momentum post-blackout, and 2) the game-saving stop when the Niners failed to score on first and goal from the 7.

One of the earliest segment of Baltimore's game plan was to score on their first possession because the Niners' are a slow-starting team and their defense gets more stingy as the game progresses. Baltimore won the toss and elected to defer. The Niners offense didn't help out the D to start the game. On their initial possession, a quick penalty backed them up (I got the first of many "Rfs rigging the game for Baltimore" texts five seconds into the game). Kaepernick failed to convert a 3rd and 15. After the punt, Baltimore had prime field possession at their own 49. Giving Joey Flacco a short field on his first possession? Yeah, that wasn't good. Seven plays and one penalty later, Boldin caught the game's first touchdown. On the previous play, Baltimore threw an incomplete pass on third and 9, but the Niners' Brooks got flagged for offsides. Instead of a potential field goal, Baltimore had another shot... which they converted. Baltimore 7, San Francisco 0.

San Francisco struck back with their own scoring drive. Kaepernick's pass to Vernon Davis helped get them a chunk of yards. With 1st an goal from the 8, the Niners' failed to punch it in the end zone. On first down, Gore got stuffed for no gain. On second down, Keapernick threw an in completion. On third down, Kaepernick go sacked. Bad play calling? Or poor execution? That would end up becoming the Achilles heel for the Niners' the entire game... inefficient offense in the Red Zone. The trouble Daivd Akers trotted on the field and drilled a FG. No sweat. Nienrs' fans exhaled. Akers was a huge question mark, but he delivered. Baltimore 7, San Francisco 3.

On the next possession, the Niners D got their shit together. They sacked Flacco to end the 1Q. They forced a punt. Niners got the ball back and started to march right back into Baltimore territory. Kapernick connected to Vernon Davis twice. The Niners' running game was looking superior while LaMichael James and Frank Gore rushed the ball in consecutive plays for 16 total yards. At that point, everyone in Niners' nation was thinking... "Let's not put the pressure on Akers to kick another FG, let's get the 7 and take the lead."

A touchdown seemed inevitable, and that's when LaMike had LaFumble. On first and 10 from the 24, Lamichael James coughed up the ball. Baltimore recovered. Instead of San Francisco taking a 10-7 lead (or at worst, trimming the deficit to 7-6), Baltimore had the ball and San Francisco's worst nightmare unfolded... a fumble that leads to a Baltimore TD. Only 10 plays and 1 face mask penalty later, Flacco tossed his second TD pass of the game. Baltimore 14, San Francisco 3.

That was the first major turning point of the game. At the minimum the fumble was a 10-point swing and at the max it was a 14-point swing. Instead of being ahead, the Niners fell farther behind. The chase began. With only 7 minutes left in the 2Q, they needed to rally the troops for a scoring drive before the half ended.

Then more disaster struck. A Kaeprnick mistake led to an INT on a ball thrown to Randy Moss. Baltimore got the ball back and was about to put the first nail in the Niners' coffin, but the Niners' defense stepped up and kept Baltimore out of the end zone. Tucker was about to kick a FG (4th and 9 from the 18) but John Harbaugh rolled the dice with a fake FG. Tucker took off running and the kicker failed to covert the first down. The Niners got the ball back on downs, but they were pinned deep. The fake was a ballsy call, but the Harbaugh brothers are both aggressive play callers. A potential score of 21-3 or 17-3 never happened and Baltimore failed to put the Niners into deeper shit.

The Niners got the ball back, but failed to get points on the board. They went four and out, then punted. With 2:07 to go, Baltimore went for the jugular and capitalized on a mistake in the Niners' secondary. On a third and 10, Flacco connected with Jacoby Jones on a 56-yard TD. Baltimore 21, San Francisco 3.

San Francisco got the ball back with 1:45 and did not waste any time getting deep into Baltimore territory. Yet once again, they couldn't covert a TD. Akers kicked another FG. Baltimore 21, San Francisco 6.

Three TDs from Baltimore... at half time. They had a chance at four TDs, but San Francisco thwarted one on a busted fake FG. The Niners' porous defense let Baltimore into the end zone on three scoring drives. Instead of limiting Baltimore to one or more FGs, they gave up 21 points. The defense got the Niners in a hole. It would be up to them to shut down Baltimore while Kaepernick worked his magic.

Beyonce. The halftime show. She still has moves. My girlfriend insisted that there would be a Destiny's Child reunion and she was correct. Supposedly Beyonce's mega-show blew the power grid in rehearsals, but halftime show went off without any problems, nipple slips, and very little occult/Illuminati imagery (last year's show with Madonna whipped the conspiracy forums into a frenzy).

A lot of people might have missed the first play of the second half. Jones returned the kickoff for a 108-yd TD. He was a blur. If you blinked, you missed it. Baltimore 28, San Francisco 6.

It didn't look good for San Francisco. The future was grim. I hoped it would stay a low-scoring game so I could cash an UNDER ticket and get some money back. That's when Phil Sims went mute. It was like a gift from the broadcasting gods. The sound went out, but the lights went out in the Superdome. That's when things got weird.

Twitter blew up with jokes and conspiracy theories. I heard everything from Niners' owner paying mob-run unions guys to pull the switch, to the suits at CBS causing a blackout to create a bit of drama in a blow out. I saw a lot of non-gambling friends accusing Vegas casinos for pulling the plug (which was absurd, they'd win either way and actually wanted Baltimore to win because they took in more money on the Niners). Twitterverse pointed fingers at few hysterical culprits from Alex Smith to Danny Ocean. The tin-foil freaks on conspiracy forums were going apeshit. They tossed out the usual suspects... Alex Jones, Mossad, FEMA, HAARP, the jewish cabal running Hollywood, the Pope and the Opus Dei, and even the Illuminati

I made my obligatory joke on Twitter about Beyonce's hair drier causing the power surge. If you're married or live with your girlfriend you know that it takes one hair dryer to plunge your entire household into darkness. I really think Beyonce caused the blackout indirectly when her halftime show soaked up so much juice that it fried Nola's antiquated grid. I'm often the most conspiratorial person in the room, but in this instance, I chalked up the power outage to a crumbling infrastructure and the overwhelming demand of remote juice to pull off a spectacle like thee Super Bowl. Like, I can only imagine what the power outlet situation could be in the press box. I've covered televised poker tournaments in exotic destinations and you'd be surprised to realize how an entire production is often held together by duct tape and an unreliable power source.

I love the idea of CBS suits running out back to pull the plug so they could air an extra 30 minutes of commercials and bilk a few million more from companies. Then again why did Mercedes put branding on the roof? Did Mercedes-CBS pull off the blackout as a publicity stunt? It doesn't seem that absurd when you think that suits care about money more than anything else. How else can you describe the existence of Snooki, Honey Boo Boo, and Thursday Night Football?

Looking back at the delay, it hurt Baltimore more than San Francisco in that it took away the momentum of feeling that crushing feeling in your loins the moments after Jacoby Jones streaked through the end zone to make it 28-6.

But it wasn't over. Plenty of time left to mount a comeback. That Kapernick kid is something special, plus Jim Harbaugh wasn't about to let his troops give up so easily. The kick return for a TD would be the last time Baltimore scored a TD in the second half. The Niners' defense hunkered down and held Baltimore to a pair of field goals for the rest of the game.

On the Niners' second possession in the 3Q, they scored their first TD of the game. The 80-yard drive (took under three minutes) was capped off by a 31-yd TD from Kaepernick to Crabtree. The Niners desperately needed that score. So did the suits. It made the rest the 4Q watchable. Baltimore 28, San Francisco 13.

When Baltimore got the ball back, Flacco and the offense went cold. Three and out. For the second time in the 3Q, Baltimore punted from deep in their own territory. The Niners made them pay. Ginn had a favorable punt return. Kapernick hit Vernon Davis for a completion. Gore walked into the end zone. In only took 48 seconds and a mere two plays, before the Niners' scored their second TD of the game. In a flash! 14 quick points. We had a ball game. Baltimore 28, San Francisco 20.

The UNDER bet was about to get torn up, but bets on Niners -3.5 and MIL -165 sprung back to life. I thought both were dead in the water. Maybe Niners' fans paid a priestess to conduct a voodoo ceremony in the parking lot during the blackout? Maybe all that voodoo mystical shit caused the blackout? Who knows. Who cares. The Niners were just one TD and a 2-pt conversion away from tying the game with an entire quarter left to play.

You almost could not have scripted a more perfect time for a turnover. Ray Rice fumbled and San Francisco recovered. San Francisco's play calling in the Red Zone was suspect and ineffective all game. They blew a chance to get a TD and settled on a FG. Bad Akers showed up and missed the FG, but they luckily drew a "running into the kicker" penalty. The zebras gave Akers a rare mulligan. He drilled the second chance. It was his third FG of the day, while Tucker had 0 (zero attempts and 1 botched fake). Baltimore 28, San Francisco 23.

At the start of the 4Q, Flacco rallied his troops and they strung together a deep drive in Niners' territory. But the tough Niners' D kept Flacco out of the end zone. Tucker connected on his first FG of the game. Baltimore 31, San Francisco 23.

San Francisco and Kaepernick went to work in a drive in which Randy Moss contributed a big catch and Gore had a huge blast for 20+ yards. Kaepernick scrambled for his first rushing TD of the game. It was the third Niners' TD in the second half. They pulled to 31-29 and opted for a second point conversion. You've seen the blown call a million times already. Ed Reed went offsides, but Kaepernick failed to convert for two crucial points. No tie. What the fuck happened to the read option? Wasn't these situations the perfect scenarios for Kaepernick to show ff his elusiveness? The Niners' didn't tie the game, but they got a step closer. Baltimore 31, San Francisco 29.

Baltimore took about 5+ minutes off the clock during a scoring drive that resulted in a Tucker FG. The Niners' drew two penalties including a pass interference on Culliver on a crucial third and 9 play. Baltimore 34, San Francisco 29.

San Francisco got the ball with 4:20 to play in a situation every kid dreams about. Sportswriters get huge erections describing those character-defining moments when everything is on the line. Hollywood manipulates those come-from-behind situations to sell movie tickets. But this wasn't a film. This wasn't a nifty story from Grantland Rice or Red Smith about the sepia-colored days when ghosts ruled the grid iron. This was real life. The Super Bowl. The biggest gambling event in the world. Hundreds of millions of dollars riding on the outcome. The fates of two franchises hung in the air. One team would go home heroes. The other team would go home heartbroken and empty handed.

Niners' fans could not have asked for a better situation with your star QB with the ball and a chance to make history. Ravens' fans could not have asked for a better spot with the legendary defense anchored by Ray Lewis trying to thwart one last final assault by the Niners. The trophy was within their grasps. It came down to who wanted it more during a battle of fifteen feet of territory.

It took less than two minutes for Kaepernick to get the ball from their own 20 into the Red Zone. More cloudy play calling and/or poor execution ensued with first and goal from the 7 yard line. All the in-game live betting lines jumped in favor of the Niners winning in all that spot. Baltimore's D stepped up for four plays in a row. On first down, Baltimore's D held LaMike to a 2 yard run. The action paused for the two-minute warning. The ball sat on the 5. Only 15 feet separated the Niners from glory.  With the ball on the 5, the Niners abandoned the run and opted for three pass plays. Instead o giving Frank Gore a shot, or letting Kaepernick try to read-option his way into the end zone, they tried to pass. Baltimore's smothering D prevented Kaepernick from connecting with anyone. Three straight incompletions. The final one to Crabtree stung the most because of the controversial no call from the zebras.

San Francisco turned the ball over on downs, but had enough timeouts to get the ball back for one last fling. Baltimore failed to convert a first down and were forced to punt. More weirdness occurred when Baltimore's O-line tried to hold everyone (holding in end zone results in a safety) and their punter, Koch, ran into the corner while valuable seconds ticked down. Koch stepped out of bounds with 12 seconds left. The Niners' were awarded a safety and Joe Speaker won his prop bet. Safeties two years in the row in the Super Bowl? Yikes. Anyway... Baltimore 34, San Francisco 31.

San Fransisco got one last chance, but it wasn't enough.  Baltimore held onto win. Final score 34-31.

Joe Flacco had another smoking hot game. He did not throw a single INT in the post-season which is one of the main factors he hoisted the Lombardi trophy over his head as confetti rained down on him. Flacco's offense sputtered down the stretch in the regular season and limped into the postseason. Somehow, Jim Caldwell (who was never an O-coordinator before Cam Cameron got the boot) opened up the offense for Flacco and turned his big receivers loose down field. Flacco played out-of-his-tits in the postseason and connected for a few big plays on third downs. Baltimore needed another stellar game from Flacco to win in addition to being helped out by Jacoby Jones' two soul-crushing scores (including a special teams TD). Once again, the Niners' defense started out slow. By the time they finally woke up, it was too late. Flacco and Baltimore inflicted three TDs worth of damage.

I lost all three of my major bets. The only solace... I didn't go too crazy and tried to keep the potential damage to a minimum. We went on a nice heater in the playoffs and it would have been even better if we didn't donk-bet a bunch of teasers. We finally got wise and got rid of any teasers/parlays in the Super Bowl, but it's still disappointing to know you lost your last NFL bet of the season even though it was a profitable season.