30 April 2013

NHL Playoffs: Western Conference Preview

By Joe Speaker
Los Angeles, CA

There is nothing like the Stanley Cup playoffs, man. I've been to some loud-ass sporting events, but hockey playoffs (at Staples Center, no less; I can't even fathom Air Canada Centre this week) are another level, like a hive of bees, only the bees are large and hirsute and sweaty and dressed in the home team's colors. After the pain of the lockout and the 48-game sprint of a shortened schedule, it's time for players to get on with the serious business of splattering the glass with each other.

The Ducks and Wild are in this year, at the expense of Nashville and Phoenix (and gosh, aren't we going to miss the excitement of the Coyotes sticking four defenders below the hash marks for the majority of their games) and the Kings and Blues will renew acquaintances after a second round series last year. Here are my predictions.

(1) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (8) Minnestoa Wild

Blackhawks : The 'Hawks treated the regular season like an optional morning skate, piling up 77 points. Their top-6 are unrivaled, but it's the improvements in their third and fourth lines, as well as on defense that have the 2010 champs primed for a deep run. On the negative side, their power play is surprisingly mediocre (16.6%, 19th in the league).

Wild: The Wild limped into the playoffs, after vying for the Northwest division title for much of the season. The loss of Dany Heatley for the season limited their offense down the stretch. Zach Parise and Ryan Suter helped get Minnesota into the postseason for the first time in five year, but it looks like a quick trip for the Wild.
Player to Watch: Corey Crawford appears set to start in goal for Chicago with Ray Emery a little banged up. Crawford might be the only weak link on this loaded team and his performance last year in a first round loss to Phoenix was sub par, to put it mildly.
Prediction: Chicago has too much firepower for Minnesota and will make quick work of the series. Blackhawks in 5.

(2) Anaheim Ducks vs. (7) Detroit Red Wings

Ducks: Anaheim streaked out of the gate, basically securing the two seed by St. Patrick's Day. While inconsistent after their hot start, the Ducks can still roll four solid lines and if they get scoring from Teemu Selanne (who might have been impacted by the schedule, old as he is) and Bobby Ryan, they'll be tough to handle.
Red Wings: Uh oh. The Red Wings have recently begun to look like the Red Wings and all that nonsense about them not making the post-season for the first time in a generation trailed off into nervous whispers. They won four straight to end the season and lost only once in regulation (or OT) in their final nine games.
Player to Watch: Francois Beauchemin was a beast this season, logging top minutes on the blue line and ending up a +19. He'll be out there a lot against the Datsyuk-Zetterberg line.
Prediction: Anaheim is deeper and not awed by the Red Wing mystique. Ducks in six.

(3) Vancouver Canucks vs. (6) San Jose Sharks

Canucks: I'm not writing anything nice about the Canucks. I hate them. Hey, I'm not getting paid for this. I am NOT a professional, so I do not need to act like one. Alright, I guess, um, they probably got better when Ryan Kesler came back, Roberto Luongo's Twitter account is hilarious (and he and Schneider have done very well in a difficult goalie by committee situation) and Vancouver is a lovely city.
Sharks: The Sharks have looked a lot better--and quicker--since shedding themselves of Douglas Murray and Ryane Clowe. There's a lot of experience in that locker room and with their "window" darn near closed shut, this may be the Sharks last chance at a Cup with the Thornton-Marleau-Boyle-Pavelski nucleus.

Player to Watch: Brent Burns plays like he's being chased by the cops (and if I were a cop, I'd definitely chase a guy who looked like that) and the Sharks have benefited greatly by moving him from defense and putting him on a hulking first line along with Joe Thornton and TJ Galiardi.

Prediction: This one could go either way. The Sharks are strong at home and I think they hold serve, so if they get one in Canada, they'll go through. Sharks in 6.

(4) St. Lous Blues vs. (5) Los Angeles Kings 

Blues: The Blues spent most of the year lollygagging around, but deadline additions of D-men Jordan Leopold and Jay Bouwmeester have shored up the St. Louis blue line and they've become downright stingy. It also had the effect of propping up goaltender Brian Elliott (a stellar April), who might have still been shell-shocked by last year's playoff sweep at the hands of the Kings.
Kings: The Kings scored a lot more this year thanks for a full* season of Darryl Sutter and Jeff Carter (26 goals). On the flip side, the defense has not been as stout. Stay-at-home defensemen Willie Mitchell (out for season) and Matt Greene were sidelined by injury, with the latter only recently coming back (and not looking good). Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Quick took a while to recover from off-season back surgery, but seems to have righted the ship, posting a .917 save pct. in April.

Player to Watch: Drew Doughty took a lot of heat this year for not getting a goal until March 19th, but the kid logs more than 25 minutes of ice time per night and is key to the smooth breakouts the Kings need to be successful. He may have taken on more defensive responsibility earlier on while paired with rookie Jake Muzzin, but he's now spending most of his time with Robyn Regehr, so is more free to jump into the offense.
Prediction: You'll probably read it in every playoff preview: these two teams are mirror images of each other. That's because it's true. Big, like to get in on the forecheck, solid defense. That has not translated to an even match-up lately, though, as the Kings have won 8 straight against the Blues, including last year's sweep. I think that's probably a small psychological advantage for The Champs and if they take Game 1, it could snowball on the Blues. Kings in 6.

Western Conference Semi-finals
(1) Chicago over (6) San Jose in 5.
(5) Los Angeles over (2) Anaheim in 7. 

Yes, I totally rigged my first round picks to produce a Battle of L.A. match-up in Round Two. Sue me.

Western Conference Finals
(1) Chicago over (5) Los Angeles in 7.

Yes, I just knocked out my guys. Chicago's too good this year. I don't think The Champs can hang with them for a full series. But I'll always have this. And if Bob Miller doesn't make you cry, you have misplaced your soul.

Tomorrow: Eastern Conference Preview

29 April 2013

A's Weekly Digest: Insert 'Yo' Pun Here

By Joe Speaker
Los Angeles, CA

You would think another week of hapless A's baseball would put me in a funk. You would think a pitching staff--a perceived strength--that gave up better than six runs a game this week would put me on tilt. You would think their 2-5 record would move me toward a shit fit.

Technically, you would not be wrong. All of those things happened in small amounts this week. The underwhelming nature of the Athletics' play makes me turn them off and go outside to play (Pro Tip: when you have a wife and kids AND you want to watch 162 baseball games a year, you cut bait when your team annoys you and family time can--sometimes--be just as fun as watching baseball).

How is it, then, that I feel just fine about my team today?

Well, for one, it's April and they're above .500. That's not a typical happenstance. Two, they're only 2.5 out of first and 3.5 ahead of the third place team, which I'd like to point out is NOT the $140 million Angels, but the truly gawdawful Mariners. Three, they won yesterday and lastly, most importantly, Yoenis Cespedes is back from a stint on the DL.

It is impossible to over-state the effect Yo (whom I like to refer to as the "Cuban Missile Launcher," which has not caught on yet, so get to hashtaggin') has on the A's. His presence in the lineup has a domino effect on other slots so hitters are hitting in spots where they can be most succcessful. He is the A's best defensive left-fielder, so even though they have a plethora of guys who can play in the OF, they don't always play it well (coughChrisYoungcough). But really, all that needs to be said of Cespedes is this:

Since his arrival in Oakland last season, with him in the lineup, the A's are 92-49 (.625). Without him, they are 16-31 (.340). Period. Full Stop.

And they are 1-0 since yesterday when he pulled out a three-iron and golfed a game-tying home run into the left field bleachers with the A's down to their last two outs. You would think the sight of him in uniform would make me happy. And you are right.

MLB Betting Primer: Don't Lose Your Shirt Like Pete Rose

By Buffalo66
Buffalo, NY

Pete Rose was the best baseball player I've even seen in person.  Charlie Hustle was an all-star at five different positions (1B, 2B, 3B, LF, RF). He hated to lose.

Rose's vice wasn't booze or drugs.  It was gambling.  When he wasn't chasing skirts he liked to put action on just about any sporting event. He started off with horses & football but when he got in the hole big, he decided to bet on what he knew best - Major League Baseball.

Now before I get into why Pete was a lousy baseball bettor, let me explain why I like betting on bases.  First off, the schedule is deep almost every day.  This allows a great selection of bets, making it easier to find the value you need to turn a profit.  Secondly, many books offer reduced juice on baseball, with a "dime line" at most places (some are even better).  Also, baseball is the stat nerd's game of choice.  There is so much free data available today, it's almost overwhelming.

And finally, I like the pace of the sweat in MLB.  It's not maddeningly fast like hoops.  I can watch or listen to a game without riding the roller coaster of emotions most action junkies experience.

So if you feel the same way, just how do you go about being sharp with baseball?  For me, it's value.  Find the best value wager on the board.  I like to bet sides, but this also applies to totals as well.

Baseball is a game of situations and there is data available for every scenario.  Home/away, day/night, indoors/outdoors, grass/turf, lefty/righty, time zone, temperature, day, month, year. If you can name it, someone is keeping track for you.

MLB is also a game of streaks.  Who's hot, who's not.  Mo Rivera or Carlos Marmol.  Look for the teams on a tear.  Pay attention to who wins player of the week, they might win you a bet or two.

Without going into a hardcore mathematical recipe, you should look for both solid stats AND recent trends to support your pick. But you should also shop for decent odds before pulling the trigger.

The most common bets are money line (straight up winners), run line (favorites are -1.5 runs, dogs are +1.5) and totals (over/under).

I prefer to bet sides.  The over/under specialists are fanatical about the weather, finding their value in the wind patterns at Wrigley or the humidity at Coors field.

If you find a heavy favorite you like, you can always bet the run line for higher payouts.  The -200 on a money line might pay +120 on the run line.  You just need your squad to win by 2.

There is also great value in underdogs.  With a very even pitching match-up, sometimes dogs go off at +130 and up.  If it's truly a coin flip, that's the right side of the bet to take.  Heck, even the worst teams win 60-70 times each season.

Now, back to Pete.  Pete was never a great gambler.  He was an action junkie.  He only bet baseball because he got into a huge hole.  But he was a baseball man all of his life, so you would think his expertise should have helped him get unstuck.

I have two thoughts on Rose the baseball bettor. He was never a value bettor.  He let huge sums ride on heavy favorites which didn't pay a fair price for his risk.  And in my opinion, I actually think Pete was too emotionally invested in MLB to be an objective punter.  Sure, he knew the situational stats.  But the guy who hated to lose probably bet against guys who pissed him off instead of nice guy bush league level talent.

Enjoy the games and look for value, so you don't end up like Pete.

28 April 2013

Bronx Bums: 4/28 Report - Wounded Yanks Sweep the Jays

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

The Yankees have been winning a war of attrition against itself, but can they keep it up?

The roster of injured Yanks continues to grow. Ivan Nova and Frankie Cevelli joined Curtis Granderson, Derek Jeter, A-Roid, Mark Teixeira, and Juan Pineda on the DL. Plus the status of Youk is up in the air. He's supposed to have an MRI on his achy back on Monday.

Cevelli and Nova went down in the same game. Cevelli broke his hand on a foul tip and he's out for six weeks. Ivan Nova has a bad elbow and went on the 15-day DL. The way Nova pitched in April, you had to suspect something was amiss.

Despite the nagging injuries, the Yankees (15-9) split their series this week and went 5-2 overall. They lost 2 out of 3 in Tampa, but swept Toronto 4-0 in the Bronx.

The Yanks' bats went invisible in Tampa and were outscored 11-5. Meanwhile, the Rays' hitters beat up on both Pettitte and CC. Although Pettitte pitched well enough to win, the Yanks failed to provide any run support and as a result, they suffered their first shut-out of the season.

The Yanks improved to 6-1 against Toronto this year and the Blue Jays sunk to 9-17 in the AL East. In the series versus Blue Jays, the Yanks trailed in all four games but the Blue Jays could not hold onto the lead. A different hero helped put the Yanks ahead in every game and Mo Rivera did what he does best. Rivera saved three games in the series, and would have had four saves but Girardi didn't want to pitch him more than three-days in a row.

Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, and Overbay?

Meet the unsung Bronx Bombers like Travis Haffner and Lyle Overbay. They have become an integral, yet highly unexpected addition to the roster. Haffner auspicious April with the Yanks continued and he hit a clutch HR to secure a victory in Saturday's game. Meanwhile on Sunday, down 2-1 in the bottom of the seventh inning, Overbay obliterated a knuckle-ball by R.A. Dickey and drilled a 2-run HR to put the Yankees ahead 3-2. When several Yanks' starters went down with injuries in Spring Training, management scrambled and they picked up a couple vets out of sheer desperation. Toss in Vernon Wells and Brennan Boesch with Haffner and Overbay, and what you have is a funky quartet of vets looking to take advantage of a rare opportunity to play. They all made a quick impact for the Yanks with a combined 17 HRs and 40 RBIs. Who knows how long Wells, Haffner, Overbay and Boesch can keep it up, but for the meantime, they're the unsung heroes of the Yankees and holding together a severely wounded team. They almost make GM Brian Cashman a genius. Then again, their performances also make you realize how much money the Yanks overspent on both A-Roid and Teixeira.

For some odd reason the pitching staff avoided the injury plague (with the exception of Nova). Mo Rivera's return from knee surgery was everyone's biggest concern, but a month into the season, Mo's knee is fine and his arm is in great shape. To date, Mo saved nine games in April, more than he's ever done before, and he has two more games left in the month.

The Yanks called up lefty Vidal Nuno to fill Nova's vacant spot. Nuno had a promising spring training but the Yanks did not have a spot for him and they sent him to AAA Scranton. Nuno pitched well with a 1.55 ERA, but I'm eager to see how he'll handle pitching in the Show. Meanwhile, David Phelps took Nova's turn in the starting rotation. The Yanks began the season with Phelps in a specific role as a long reliever and potential "6th starter." Nova has been craptacular this year with a 6+ ERA, so Phelps can't do any worse, right?

The bad luck with injuries continued for the Yanks after losing two more starters to injuries (and a potential third with Youk). Despite the setbacks, the bench stepped up admirably and only two teams in all of MLB (Boston and Texas) have more wins than the Yanks. But someone better call in a Haitian witch doctor to undo this hex, otherwise who knows who might go down next.
On the upside, the Yanks are 14-5 over the last three weeks and tied with Baltimore (15-9) for second place. They trail the red-hot Red Sox (18-7), who hold a 2.5-game lead in the AL East.

This coming week... the Yanks host a pair of AL West teams with a three-game series against the Houston Astros (7-18) and Oakland A's (13-12). The Stros are utterly atrocious, meanwhile, the A's got off to a hot start (12-4), but has since cooled off during a 1-9 slide. The next six games complete the current homestand in the Bronx, before the Yanks hit the road next week and pack up their traveling carnival of stars, freaks, misfits, has-beens, and walking wounded.

27 April 2013

Tapping A Beer: Brewers Fall 3 Short of Free Burgers

By StB
Milwaukee, WI

The Milwaukee Brewers went on a nice tear over the last week. They won 9 straight. The streak started against the San Francisco Giants, continued against the Chicago Cubs, but ended in San Diego against the Padres. They couldn't sweep the Pads.

Sure fans were a bit ticked about what they feel was a bad call. We'll get over it. But what we won't get over is free burgers. The Brewers were just 3 games short of free George Webb burgers for everyone.

See, there is this little diner here that is a Milwaukee institution. What began in the 50s lives on today, only it is has changed with the times. George was a big baseball fan. Back then he made the famous prediction "George Webb's predicts the Braves will win 12 straight games". To back it up he gives away free hamburgers if they do. It became one helluva slogan for the little chain. They still start the season off every year by running radio supporting the Brewers.

George Webb's predicts the Brewers will win 12 straight games

Now that the mini streak is over, its time to start a new one. It is off to L.A. to face the Dodgers. The Brewers will dodge the best pitching they have to offer. Hopefully they can capitalize on this and win the series. They'll need to awaken those bats from their slumber. They sure slept the last game in San Diego.

26 April 2013

MMA: UFC's April Explosion Comes To An End

By StB
Milwaukee, WI

The UFC's magnificent April sadly comes to an end this Saturday. The first 3 weeks of free fights culminates in the TUF coach, Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen badly it out on pay per view. Each week has gotten a bit better so hopefully the event that will set you back $54.95 won't be the stinker of the month.

This past Saturday's UFC on Fox was worth the time spent watching. 3 of 4 fights were excellent. Matt Brown finished Jordan Mein in a nice scrapper. Brown was determined to make it a brawl, hunting Mein down in the cage as he moved away. When he caught him, Brown dished out the punishment to force the ref to call an end to it.

Josh Thompson got a wicked stoppage on Nate Diaz when Diaz's corner threw in the towel. Diaz hadn't been stopped let alone submitted before this fight. Thompson had a game plan similar to Mein's. He didn't want to brawl with Diaz and chose to attack him front leg, jab here and there, and move away. He connected with some head kicks but they didn't deliver much damage. But then Thompson engaged more in the second round. He forced Diaz up against the cage and seemed to frustrate him some more. It was a mean head kick- shin bone to the front of the melon- that sent Diaz to the mat and allowed Thompson to ground and pound.

The only snoozer was Mir and Cormier. I find the heavyweights to be boring for the most part. Thus when Cormier is pressing Mir against the cage and delivering knees and short punches at will, I felt like it gave me time to go do dishes. Yawn!

But the main event of Benson Henderson and Gilbert Melendez was everything you wanted it to be. It was an excellent fight. Two guys pretty evenly matched. Melendez looked great in the first two rounds. He had a look of confidence and was getting the better of the exchanges. But Henderson took over in the third round, taking into another gear. Melendez began to look worn down at that point as Henderson landed nice elbows. Henderson would get the split decision, much to the displeasure of his home crowd. I think the judges got the call right. It was a very close fight but I would have given Melendez the first two rounds and Henderson the last three.

So on to this week's fight. Sonnen is the underdog against the champion Jones. If there is one thing Sonnen doesn't lack, it is confidence. He can talk the talk and walk the walk. But is he good enough to beat Jones? I doubt it. Jones is at the top of his game. He is getting better with each fight. The only thing that may defeat Jones is Jones. The car accident didn't do it so I doubt Sonnen may.

Michael Bisping vs. Alan Belcher looks good. Bisping seems like a dick most of the time but that shouldn't take away from how you view him while in the Octagon. He is a very good fighter. Too good for Belcher I think. Dana White's favorite fighter to hate, Roy Nelson takes on Chiek Kongo in a heavyweight battle that for once may not be boring. I'd be surprised if that went past the first round.

Jim Miller and Pat Healy should be a great fight. Healy has been around for a while and has only fought once in the UFC even though he has 36 fights in his career.

Let's hope that the month of April ends with on a high note.

25 April 2013

Lamentations: The LOL-Jets on Draft Day

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Buddha said life is suffering, but Buddha was never a New York Jets fan.

If Buddha sat through a full season rooting for the Jets, I'm pretty sure even the most tolerant, forgiving, and peaceful deity would have thrown himself off the top of the Empire State Building.


To admit you're a Jets fan is to acknowledge that you're addicted to suffering. Anyone that willingly roots for Mark Sanchez week after week is either lobotomized, indoctrinated into a cult, or clinically insane. Supposedly, Albert Einstein1 described insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

Clearly, Einstein never rooted for the Jets.

What is it really like to be a Jets fan? Misery. Suffering. Depression. Anguish. Melancholy. Confusion. No hope. No future. Nothing to live for. Gloom. Doom. Torment. Torture.

That also explains my daily life. I'm constantly fighting back the rough seas of existentialist depression, which is why I love sports (as a fan and bettor) because it gives me a glimmer of hope and something to look forward to. Everyone needs something to root for. Otherwise, what's the point of living?

Sports ia a distraction from our miserable every day lives. We want to have our broken spirits lifted. We need to have our broken spirits lifted. That's why even the most intelligent people on the planet lose themselves into the fury of fandom. It's like a drug bender, without the hangover. It's like a religious revival without having to leave your couch. It's an opportunity for people to have fun and remain reverent to a tradition (especially if you have deeply-rooted familial sports traditions). Sports is supposed to entertain and inspire. Instead, the Jets give me ulcers and migraines.

If you're a Jets fan, deep down you're really a sadist who is addicted to pain and suffering. There's no other reason why we subject ourselves to this atrocious mental suffering.

That's why I'm enjoying my last few hours of tranquility and riding the crest a powerful wave of hope that is about to come crashing down on the shores of reality. The weeks leading up to the NFL Draft are the only time you can feel any sort of optimism as a Jets fan. We all prayed that the new management addressed the organization's grievous errors from the previous year(s) and have instituted a specific game plan going forward. Yes, for now the feeling is optimistic. It's the dawn of a new day for the Jets fans and the first step toward a championship is a successful draft. Nothing gets a team and its fans fired up than a great draft. It creates buzz and its necessary fuel to keeps the flame of fandom burning inside every citizen of Jets nation.

Historically the Jets have made horrible decisions with their first round picks. Have the Jets fucked up more than the average franchise? As a Jets fan, it's hard not to think any other franchises have screwed up, but that's debatable. Plenty of other teams looked foolish with their top picks (e.g. Ryan Leaf, JaMarcus Russell, Akili Smith, Tony Mandarich, and the Boz). The NFL Draft is less like investing on Wall Street, and more like shooting dice in a back alley.

The NFL Draft is essentially gambling. In Betting Futures: The NFL Draft, Shamus spoke more about the difficulty of assessing and evaluating talent because we've seen it time and time again that the best college players never parlayed their collegiate accolades into a perennial all-star career. The big dogs from college do not always become the best pros, meanwhile many Hall of Famers were not first round picks.

The NFL Draft is gambling. The GMs know it. The league knows it. The players know it. the fans know it. The media is aware of it. The only people who want to deny it are the slithery agents, who never want to broach the subject of "draft busts" because it would justify lower salaries for "lottery picks."

What's the best moment for a gambler? The moment before the outcome. Doesn't matter if you're in the pits in Vegas or sweating a sporting event. The euphoria is eerily similar as endorphins flush through your body in a collective orgasm. When the dealer is fanning out a river card before turning it over. When the dice is tickling the felt at the end of craps table. Or the last jerky bounce a roulette ball makes before it stops. When a basketball reaches the apex of its arc after leaving a shooter's hand. When a kicker makes contact and the football hurtles through the air toward the uprights. Or the millisecond before a goalie's guess dive to thwart a penalty kick.

For Jets fans, the ultimate rush is the moments before the commissioner announces the Jets first round pick. That moment is frozen in time for me because it's the last glorious moment I'll have as a Jets fan because the rest of the year will be nothing but heartache and disappointment.

And then all hell breaks loose. It's not the savior we were waiting for...

JoeSpeaker joked about the smirk on the commissioner's face before he announced a first round pick by the Jets. I told him they know what's about to happen next... a cavalcade of boos... as a gang reaction to the foolishness and myopic vision of the Jets' scouts. The NFL Draft is usually hosted in NYC, so Jets fans flocked to the Draft like pilgrims visiting a religious Mecca. They knew deep down that the eve of the NFL Draft is the last peaceful night of sleep we'll have as Jets fans. It's the last time that we'll go to bed dreaming about a hopeful future. Alas, all those lofty dreams come crashing back to reality the moment the commish utters the name we didn't want to hear.

Year after year, the Jets failed to draft a savior. Johnny Lam Jones. Blair Thomas. Roger Vick. Kyle Brady. Vernon Gholston. Mark Sanchez.

Yes, this is also the same organization that drafted a kicker (Mike Nugent) with the second round pick (#47 overall). I can live with the fact that the Jets were spooked by Dan Marino's cocaine rumors and passed on him in 1983 (Ken O'Brien was no Marino, but he was no slouch either), however, passing up on Tom Brady in favor of Chad "Paper Mache" Pennington (#18 overall in 2000) is untenable behavior and beyond comprehension. It's not like they didn't have other chances too. Brady went in the 6th round or #199 overall.

For the few top draft picks that were met with glee and jubilation, that moment was fleeting before the newest savior (e.g. Keyshawn Johnson) got mercilessly crushed under the intense media scrutiny and immense pressure thrust upon them by the entire Gang Green and legion of Jets worshipers.

After suffering another humiliating season (2012 was the "Year of the LOLJETS" highlighted by the infamous ass fumble on Thanksgiving) and enduring another long "winter of discontent" in which we had to painful watch the Jets gut the team and give up on Revis, who was their only decent first round pick (#14 overall in 2007) that they made since Nick Mangold (#29 overall in 2006). The Jets shipped off their only tradeable commodity because we're trying to rebuild from the smoldering inferno that torched our Super Bowl dreams. The teams Rex Ryan assembled was supposed to be the chosen ones to lead everyone to the Promised Land. Instead of Rex becoming a heroic Moses, he sounded more like a deranged cult leader about to commit ritualistic mass suicide.

Joe Namath, the last and only QB
to lead the Jets to the Promised Land

The last and only time the Jets won the Super Bowl was before I was even born. Even then, many conspiracy theorists suggest that Super Bowl III was rigged and the Colts tanked to let the Jets win in order to legitimize the AFL-NFL merger and save the future of professional football. Yeah, even the franchise's pinnacle moment is somewhat tainted by a "mystery wrapped up in a riddle inside an enigma."

Waking up every day as a Jets fan is like being in one of those hideous self-destructive co-dependent relationships where we hide our shame by covering up those black eyes with sunglasses. I had a fleeting thought of giving up my allegiance as a Jets fan at the end of last season's debacle. My friends mostly felt sorry for me and invited me to root for their teams. Since Los Angeles did not have a pro football team, I narrowed it down to a trio of Western teams (Seattle, San Francisco, and Denver). I had lived in both Seattle and San Francisco, and I'd love to retire to Colorado some day. It was fun considering leaving the Jets, but I couldn't do it.

Call it loyalty or blind faith or stupidity. Alas, I never gave up on the Jets. I'm still stuck in this wretched relationship and I'm going to die never seeing the Jets hoist up the Lombardi trophy. That's a pipe dream I'll have to give up especially because Gang Green is gonna suck even worse this year than last year. At least, the only saving grace is this will be the last season I will have to smoke enough marijuana to blind an ox every Sunday morning so I don't have a heart attack screaming at Mark Sanchez's ineptitude.

With that said, the Jets have two first round picks and I sincere hope their new GM drafts one of the "weed guys" that many teams don't want to touch like Da'Rick Rodgers. The weed guys have a decent track record over the years (e.g. Randy Moss, Warren Sapp, Aaron Hernandez, DeSean Jackson, and Percy Havin) and each made positive contributions to the teams that took a gamble on them. Besides, smoking weed is what most college kids do on a regular basis. It means these draft prospects are somewhat normal. Heck, I'd rather draft a guy who toked a little reefer in the offseason than the maniac who beats up his girlfriend, or gets into bar brawls, or gets pulled over for drunk driving.

For now, I will enjoy the last couple of hours of serenity of eagerness before the hopes of Jets nation get crushed when the Jets embarrass themselves once again with another series of pathetic and lackluster draft picks.

* * *
1. The quote is attributed to Einstein, but no one can really confirm he he said that phrase verbatim.

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

Betting Futures: The NFL Draft

By Shamus
Charlotte, NC

Tonight begins the 2013 NFL Draft, an event that somehow seems to energize many in sports media. Fans, too. Indeed, there are a lot of people fired up about tonight, although to be honest I find it hard to get too interested in it beyond just vaguely noting where my own team (the Carolina Panthers) appears to be leaning with regard to its picks.

In other words, I am admitting here that I ain’t all that curious to find out where Geno Smith lands. Or who to learn who takes a chance on Manti T’eo. Or much else, really, except perhaps to see how the peanut gallery responds to new LOLJets GM John Idzik’s first draft. (For more on the latter, see Pauly’s “Lamentations: The LOL-Jets on Draft Day.”)

The draft actually has a history stretching all of the way back to 1936, if you can believe that. I didn’t even realize the NFL was that old (it was founded in 1920).

We have ESPN primarily to thank for making the draft into the spectacle into which it has evolved over the last three-plus decades. The network first started televising it way back in 1980. Recent years have seen the coverage expand considerably, and since 2010 viewers have been offered a 3-day marathon of talking heads analyzing all seven rounds and 254 selections.

Like I say, for me the draft doesn’t really possess much drama, thanks largely to the significant degree of uncertainty surrounding just about everything that happens in it. Talk about betting futures! Even the most informed prognosticators and evaluators of talent have difficulty projecting how college players will perform at the next level, and so I find it hard to be moved much regarding any decision made.

I watched that new “30 for 30” documentary this week focusing on the 1983 NFL draft -- specifically the first round -- titled Elway to Marino. It’s an interesting compilation of stories, highlighted by the six quarterbacks taken in the first round that year and the surprising-in-retrospect fall of future-Hall-of-Famer Dan Marino all of the way to 27th (next-to-last).

Like I say, the documentary was interesting, though not really as engaging (for me) as many of the others in the “30 for 30” series. That’s because the entire story hinges on what is really the most commonplace form of dramatic irony a storyteller can create, namely, the “20/20 hindsight” look back with knowledge of the ultimate fates of every character.

I’d draw an analogy here to the idle diversion of going back and seeing how those who predict the outcomes of games fared once they have been played. Pleasure can come from marveling at an especially accurate prediction. One can also delight sometimes in the schadenfreude provided by an “expert” being woefully incorrect -- you know, like grinning at Seth Davis putting first-round loser New Mexico in his NCAA Final Four.

But that’s really only a fleeting feeling, isn’t it? Not nearly as intense as the emotions produced by actually watching the games play out.

Was listening to The Dan Patrick Show on Tuesday where Patrick was commenting a little on the draft and how much of the suspense and drama surrounding it is manufactured. And, ultimately, hollow, like a reality show. There’s even apparently a kinda-sorta-embargo in place tonight regarding social media and reporters tweeting picks ahead of their being announced by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, which inspired Patrick to compare the whole circus to The Truman Show.

But never mind controlling the flow of information that will be disseminated from Radio City Music Hall tonight. The fact is, no one will know what that information signifies, not for a long, long time.

“It’s an inexact science,” said Patrick of the NFL executives’ task of judging how players will do for their clubs. He did a mini-version of what the “30 for 30” documentary did by talking briefly about the 1999 draft and the five quarterbacks taken among the first 12 picks -- Tim Couch (1st), Donovan McNabb (2nd), Akili Smith (3rd), Daunte Culpepper (11th), and Cade McNown (12th).

Couch, Smith, and McNown are now typically included in lists of biggest draft mistakes ever, usually not far behind the Chargers picking QB Ryan Leaf second overall the year before.

“Guys are paid to make these picks, to assess talent,” said Patrick. “And they still can’t do it.”

Proof of such a thesis can be found in every single draft, of course. In any case, the uncertainty of draft day -- the impossibility of knowing what it all means when it is happening -- seems to me almost directly opposed to the satisfying finality provided by watching actual games being played. There we get to enjoy seeing an entire drama unfold, then know for certain how it all ended and thus what everything meant along the way.

I might tune in a little at the start, I suppose. Kind of testament to the immense popularity of the NFL right now, if you think about it, to see how much attention this little off-season bit of theater is able to grab. But I won’t be delivering any insta-judgments regarding it all, as I expect many tonight and over the next three days will be doing. That’s a future on which we can all confidently bet.

Now that I think about it, perhaps that’s actually the true appeal of the draft. It’s the ultimate context in sports for bullshitting -- one in which everyone is equally expert.

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

24 April 2013

A's Weekly Digest: Run Down in Tampa

By Joe Speaker
Los Angeles, CA

Usually a .500 week--the A's went 3-3--would not be much of a concern in April (or because it's only six games and if there's one thing we cling to with certainty in Oakland, it's small sample size), but the manner in which the Athletics gained those three wins and absorbed those three losses made me grit my teeth and gird my loins for frustration to come.

The most obvious reason for this belief of pending frustration is the fact I turned off Sunday's game against the Rays (an 8-1 loss) when it was still theoretically a contest in which the A's might have a chance to win and the reason I turned it off (punctuated by me mumbling, "I can't watch this shit any more") was because they did an "A's thing" where they got the first two hitters on and then did nothing, "nothing" in this case including two Ks, one swinging (at a ball) and one looking. Sometimes I swear I can see it in the hitter's eye or body language that they're going to swing and when they swing at balls after not swinging at strikes, that's what I call an "A's thing," which resulted in being swept in Tampa and scoring four runs in three games.

Bartolo ate all the runs

To be sure, I am making way too much out of way too little, but that's what fans do and that's why we write dumb posts on the internet. You may point out that the A's are 13-8 and that's a good record, especially for a team that traditionally starts slowly, but they were 12-4 and they are only 7-8 against teams not named the Houston Astros (and 1-5 against the two legitimately "good" teams they've played so far, Tampa and Detroit). As I told Pauly, the A's are talented enough offensively to beat up on mediocre pitching and bullpens (betting the over in A's games has been highly profitable), but have yet to show much against top starters.

Of course, I'm over-reacting, as one does during a four-game losing streak (broken last night with a ritual dismembering of Alfredo Aceves). The A's lead the universe in runs scored and even if you take away the 45 runs they've scored against Houston, they're still averaging nearly five runs a game, which will be enough most nights with their pitching. And Yoenis Cespedes is back from the DL next week. That should keep me from switching the channel. Most nights.

Bobcats Postscript: One and Dunlap

By Shamus
Charlotte, NC

It’s a nice day today in Charlotte. I’m speaking of mild temps and a light breeze, of course, not the grim, uncertain future of the city’s professional basketball team.

I know the majority of NBA fans aren’t really too interested in talking about the Charlotte Bobcats right now. Hell, that’s true even during the season, when the team generally only comes up on national sports talk shows as the butt of a joke or an emblem of extreme mediocrity -- i.e., the antithesis of what all teams strive to be.

But from the perspective of a Bobcats fan, the abrupt firing of head coach Mike Dunlap yesterday after just one season at the helm warrants at least some sort of reaction, I think. So allow me a brief regular season postscript of sorts here before I move on with everyone else to start concentrating on the playoffs (which have yet to provide too many thrills anyway, thus far).

Thinking back a bit, I wasn’t nearly as surprised by Dunlap’s firing as I was by his hiring.

In-Over-His-Head Coach Mike Dunlap

I remember last June when the search was on for a new head coach and how various names came and went as possibles. For a short time, Brian Shaw seemed a likely candidate. So did Quin Snyder, who didn’t have as much experience as Shaw as an NBA assistant, but has somehow acquired a reputation as some kind of wizard when it comes to coaching offense. That said, such a reputation has currently only earned Snyder an assistant coaching position for CSKA Moscow in the Russian Professional Basketball League.

But those two fell out of the running, as did Nate McMillan, the former N.C. State guard who enjoyed a lengthy NBA career and who actually has head coaching experience in the NBA with a couple of long stints with the erstwhile Seattle franchise and Portland. So, too, did former Utah Jazz coach and NBA Hall of Famer Jerry Sloan’s name become part of the mix for a while, although it wasn’t too surprising to see that idea fall through as well.

Sloan is in his early 70s, and I had a feeling after the Bobcats jettisoned a 70-year-old Larry Brown the year before that they wouldn’t be hiring another septuagenarian. That said, it sounded like the ’Cats may have offered Sloan the position and he turned it down. (However it played out, Sloan was the one to withdraw his name from consideration, rather than Charlotte saying he was out of the running.)

The reason why I didn’t see Sloan as a real possibility was the fact that the Bobcats desperately needed someone to coach the team for more than just the short term. After all, whoever took the job was going to be the fifth coach in just over five years for the team.

The team’s original coach Bernie Bickerstaff was let go at the end of the 2007 campaign. Sam Vincent then coached one dismal season before being fired, too. Larry Brown next came and for two-and-a-third seasons helped take the team to its pinnacle as a franchise, a lone playoff appearance in 2010 when they were swept by Orlando.

But as I’ve chronicled here before in a post titled “The Bobcat Blues,” a slow start to the 2010-11 campaign led to Brown’s dismissal, and former Hornets coach Paul Silas was brought back to lead the squad. After a couple of earnest months with Silas, the team was gutted starting with the dealing of Gerald Wallace to Portland for draft picks and a trio of eventual non-contributing players.

Then during the historically-terribad 2011-12 season in which the team went 7-59, Silas -- in his late 60s, incidentally -- was obviously just a seat warmer. In fact, he wasn’t even that some nights as he would take games off and allow his son, Stephen, to drive the broken-down-bus of a team, usually to another 20-plus point defeat.

All of which is to say, the hiring of Dunlap was kind of a stunner, someone with exactly two seasons of experience as an NBA assistant and whose previous head coaching résumé was highlighted by a decade-long tenure guiding the Metro State Roadrunners, a Division II school in Denver.

A quick start this year -- the Bobcats were actually 7-5 in late November -- essentially kept everyone quiet regarding the coaching choice, and from the fans’ perspective might have translated into giving Dunlap a pass for much of the year. But we knew that even a season-ending three-game winning streak to finish 21-61 wasn’t likely to mean much with regard to Dunlap’s future with the organization, which meant most of us here responded to yesterday’s news with an ambivalent shrug.

Of course they fired him, we thought. I’d heard rumblings about certain players not getting along with Dunlap, but that seems kind of secondary here. In theory one might want to argue that any coach deserves more than a year to prove himself, especially when saddled with a squad as talent-deprived as the Bobcats’. But the fact is Dunlap probably wasn’t ready to lead any NBA team, and letting him go now is like other belated responses to earlier mistakes the franchise has made.

We have no idea what to expect next. Hopefully not another mistake.

That Michael Jordan is our majority owner inspires a lot more angst around here, given his track record with both the Wizards and now our team. As a player, Jordan was not just an individual talent but masterful at delegating, a supreme example of a great player who made all of those around him better, too. But that talent obviously hasn’t translated to the much different game of player and staff management for his Airness.

“Does no one here remember ‘Be Like Mike’?”

Indeed from the articles we read about the Bobcats’ current brain trust it often seems as though Jordan’s supporting cast -- for whatever reason -- don’t operate with the same confidence and certainty as did those with whom Jordan played for those great Bulls teams of yesteryear.

The search for a new leader will earn plenty more columns over the next few weeks in the local paper, and perhaps this time some ray of hope will be allowed to shine once the summer begins. But for Bobcats fans the extended forecast remains as cloudy as ever.

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

22 April 2013

Bronx Bums: 4/21 Report

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

The Bronx Bums are looking good. The Yankees won 9 out of their last 12 games since starting the season 1-4.  The Yanks continued their upswing and won both of their series this past week, including taking 2 out of 3 against Arizona in the Bronx, and 2 out of 3 against Toronto in Canada. After dropping their first two series (Boston and Detroit) of the season, the Yanks won four series in a row (Cleveland, Baltimore, Arizona, and Toronto) and have no lost consecutive games since April 5-6.

Mo Rivera looks like his old self. He posted three saves this week and has 5 overall. The Yanks' Top 3 arms (CC, Kuroda, and Pettitte) provided solid starts with an 8-2 combined record, meanwhile the bottom 2 (Hughes and Nova) both have 6+ ERAs and are a combined 1-3 record.

The bullpen blew a potential sweep against Arizona. Phil Hughes had his best outing of the year and the Yanks came from behind to tie the game in the ninth inning on a Cevelli HR, but the bullpen shit the bed in the 12th inning and Arizona won 6-2.

In his outing in Toronto, Ivan Nova had zero movement on his pitches and giddy-up on his fastballs. Blue Jays beat up on Nova and the bullpen failed to keep it close. Another potential sweep was thwarted by a shaky bullpen.
Vernon Wells - rent-a-slugger

Vernon Wells is shaping up as a clutch last-minute addition and hitting .317 with 5 HRs. Cano is slowly finding his grove (now hitting .324 with 5 HRs). Haffner has 5 dingers and he leads the Yanks in slugging (.702). Meanwhile, Youk cooled off (hitting under .300 for the first time all season) and he's dinged up with an aching back.

This upcoming week... the Yankees do not have any days off and fly down to Tampa for a three-game set against the Rays, then they return to the Bronx on Thursday for a four-game series against the Blue Jays. Monday night's match-up features CC (3-1) against Matt Moore (3-0).

21 April 2013

Tapping A Beer: The Brewers Report 4/20

By StB
Milwaukee, WI

The weather in Milwaukee has been terrible. Cold, rainy, gloomy. The bright spot was supposed to be Opening Day. The Milwaukee Brewers taking the field and making the fans forget the crappy weather.

The Brewers won their first game. But then they reverted to the weather and shat the bed for the next week. It seemed like they could only win on Mondays, quickly losing a series to Arizona. 

Injuries were piling up. It seemed like they had lost half the roster by the end of spring training. But then Ryan Braun would miss a couple games due to a weird neck injury. Aramis Ramirez, a player who usually gets off to a slow start but not in 2013, hurt himself sliding into second and is on the DL

And to cap it off, John Axford was repeating his 2012 start by blowing every game he could. The script was the same. Come in and get the first two out before surrendering the home run to tie the game. Unbelievable. 

One week into the 2013 season and we were wondering who half of the team was. The injuries were so bad that the Brewers were forced to sign Yuniesky Bettancourt, a player they had dumped a year earlier. Just the other day Blake Lalli got the run scoring hit. No one in Milwaukee had a clue who the heck Lalli was.

And to top it off, the star pitcher was arrested for a DUI

As I write this, the Brewers just completed a sweep of the San Francisco Giants. A nice glimmer of hope in this short season, but the early frustration is still being felt. A look back to 2012 is in order. They Brewers had the same slow start. It may have hurt them at the end of the season when they surged to make the year interesting. Many, like me, feel they could be doing the same thing again.

20 April 2013

NBA Playoffs Preview: Heat-Thunder Finals Reprise?

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

The NBA doesn't refer to it as the "Sweet 16", yet exactly 16 teams make the playoffs. You have to be pretty craptacular to not make the playoffs in the NBA during the modern era. All it takes is a .500 record. Heck, even Milwaukee clinched a playoff spot with a mere 38 wins and they had a 4-win cushion as their closest contenders (Toronto and Philly) were 14 games under .500.

The Miami Heat are the defending champions and they're on pace to win once again. Miami started the preseason as the big favorite. They embarked on a "sick" season that included an impressive 27-game win streak spread out over eight weeks. The Miami Heat are playoff-ready and eager to rumble as the heavy favorite to repeat as NBA Champs. Miami's closest contender is last year's runner-up OKC, hovering somewhere between 5-1 to 6-1 favorite to win it all. The only other teams with a legit shot are both #2 seeds -- San Antonio (12-1) and Knicks (18-1). The bookies don't have much respect for the rest of the Sweet 16, which varies from a 25-1 shot (L.A. Clippers) to a 600-1 mega-underdog (Milwaukee Bucks).

Here is the latest offshore odds to win the championship...
NBA Championship ODDS:
Miami Heat -180
Oklahoma City Thunder +550
San Antonio Spurs +1200
New York Knicks +1800
Los Angeles Clippers +2500
Indiana Pacers +3000
Denver Nuggets +3000
Memphis Grizzlies +3500
Los Angeles Lakers +5000
Brooklyn Nets +6000
Chicago Bulls +6000
Boston Celtics +7000
Golden State Warriors +10000
Houston Rockets +10000
Atlanta Hawks +25000
Milwaukee Bucks +40000

I bet OKC to ship the championship before the season started (we got OKC +400) and doubled down this week (we got +550). If anyone has a roster that can take down Miami, it's OKC, a team that is eager, hungry and seeking revenge after losing in the NBA Finals last year. I'm predicting OKC to beat Miami in seven games.

I'm looking at an all-chalk Final Four with Miami, OKC, New York, and San Antonio.

In the West... it will come down to a Conference Finals between OKC and San Antonio... although, Memphis could give OKC match-up problems in the second round (provided the Griz take out the L.A. Clippers).

In the East... Miami doesn't have an easy road to the Finals. Miami should have little resistance in the opening round, but the Chicago Bulls pose a threat in the second when their swarming defense causes problems for the Heat. This can happen only if Chicago beats up on the Brooklyn Bums, er, the Nets. Miami should send Chicago packing in five, but if the Bulls hunker down and the zebras don't gift Miami every call, then they can force a full seven games. After bruising it up with Chicago, Miami will most likely face Melo and the Knicks in the Eastern Conference Finals. This is a series no one expects the Knicks to win, which means the pressure is off Melo's and Coach Woodson's shoulders and the onus is on LBJ and Coach Spoelstra, who have everything to lose if Miami fails to reach the NBA Finals. The shit-talker in me would love to say "Knicks in 6", but I'd be happy if they didn't get swept and put up a good fight for at least six games. I'm a Knicks fan and know their flaws too well and hope A'mare sits out (they play better without him). I'll also pray to our new Poper that the Knicks will get out of the first round against Boston without inciting a riot.

Keep a close eye on how many games it takes a team to get to the NBA Finals. Well rested teams fare better in the Finals, especially in a season following the Olympics.
How much gas in the tank will Miami have by the time they reach the NBA Finals? Over three rounds, the minimum is 12 games (with all 4-0 sweeps) and the maximum is 21 (all game 7s). Two season ago, Miami only needed 15 games to reach the Finals, but lost to Dallas 4-2. Last year, during the strike-shortened season, Miami needed 18 games to reach the Finals, where they beat OKC 4-1. Both the Heat and Thunder would love to advance to the Finals in 16 or fewer games so London Olympics fatigue doesn't come around to bite their gold medalists (e.g. LBJ, Westbrook and Durant) in the ass if they're running on vapors by the time the NBA Finals tip off. So when the Finals begin... the more tired Miami is, the more I like fading them.

* * * * *
Here's a few thoughts on the opening round of the playoffs...


#1 Miami (-30000) vs. #8 Milwaukee (+8500)

Brandon Jennings is talking tons of smack for a team that is a redonkulously huge underdog. That's the last thing he should do...  give Miami a reason to kick your ass. I smell a sweep.

#2 NY Knicks (-400) vs. #7 Boston (+320)

The value is on the Knicks here only because they should probably be -500 and Boston somewhere around +420. Maybe it has something to do with the Honey Nut Melo incident from January. KG is someone who can and will get under your skin. The only one who can stop Melo is... himself... so if he let's KG get inside his head, then the Knicks are doomed. The few times the Knicks struggled this year, they were dominated by physical opponents who like to bang the boards and push them around. If the Knicks are unable to knock down treys and get rattled by a much tougher style of play in the postseason, then Boston has a legit shot at picking them off. However, the Knicks have been playing well despite the rash of injuries (particularly to their veteran big men). When Melo and JR Smith get rolling, it's tough to stop those offensive outbursts. The Knicks don't want a prolonged series and can't handle a war of attrition over seven games, so expect them to do everything possible and win the first two games at MSG.

"So sweet and so tasty..."
#3 Indiana (-425) vs. #6 Atlanta (+350)

I like Indiana in this series. They were supposed to be the team that challenged Miami, but the Pacers had a late-season skid that coincided with a Knicks winning streak, so they lost the #2 seed and slipped to #3. Indiana plays hard-nosed defense and you should really keep an eye on the emergence of Lance Stephenson. Don't really have much to say about the Pacers otherwise. Atlanta also hit the skids late in the season and tumbled to a #6 seed. Atlanta fans are fair-weather and I know the Hawks have had problems selling out playoff games in the past. Wih that said, everyone in the state of Indiana was born with a basketball in their crib, while Atlanta doesn't share the same fervent connection to hoops. Without much of a home-court advantage, Atlanta is on the verge of getting swept in the first round.

#4 Brooklyn (-140) vs. #5 Chicago (+120)

Defense triumphs in the playoffs, right? Although Da Bulls don't have their superstar in Derrick Rose, they have the best defense in the league and will make you earn every single point. Brooklyn Nets remind me of all the hipsters living in Williamsburg... overpriced and looks funky, but it's shallow as shit. I like backing defense in the playoffs and fading inept coaches. The Nets already ran one coach out of Brooklyn in Avery Johnson, and although PJ Carlesimo did a much better job than AJ, he still isn't the sharpest tack in the drawer. Whereas, Tom Thibodeau is a better-prepared coach who will figure out a fool-proof plan to minimize Deron Williams 'impact. If you're going to back Chicago, then shop around and find the best number.

* * * * *


#1 Oklahoma City (-2000) vs. #8 Houston (+1400)

You could not have scripted a better first round match-up. Normally, a 1 vs. 8 match-up would be a snoozer, but this series if drenched in drama because OKC traded away James Harden just before the season started. Even without their "sixth man", OKC is a team on a mission to take down the championship, while Houston has a "rebuilding year" mentality. Harden and Linsanity gave the Rockets a competitive squad and something to root for in the future, but they don't have enough depth to inflict any serious damage.

Harden v. Durant

#2 San Antonio (-750) vs. #7 L.A. Lakers (+550)

The Lakers not only snuck in the backdoor for the playoffs, but they snagged a #7 spot and earned an invitation to tackle the Spurs instead of the Thunder. Coach Popovich will have his troops ready to take on a Kobe-less Lakers. Maybe Tinsel Town's version of the Twin Towers (Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol) can pull together a win or two, but the Lakers stint in the postseason will be a mere cameo. Maybe Lakers fans will finally understand why Mike D'Antoni is an offensive genius, but not a competent "playoff" coach because he has no clue how to win a big game. D'Antoni is consistent in that he constantly fails to implement a defensive scheme to stop his opponent because he feels overconfident in his offense.

#3 Denver (-400) vs. #6 Golden State (+320)

Kenneth Faried has a bum ankle and the Italian Rooster is grounded. The high-flying Nuggets looked unstoppable a month ago, but then D. Gallinari went down with a torn ACL and one of their primary offensive weapons was dunzo for the year. The Mile High City of Denver is an impossible place to win, not only for the altitude and thin air, but because Coach George Karl will run run run run run run run and then run some more. Before Gallinari's injury, I was taking a serious look at Denver as a NBA Finals contender, because the Nugs were demonstrating their ability to win road games. Alas, without Gallinari and an injured Faried (he's expected to play, but he won't be 100%), I don't know if the Nugs have enough fire power to beat San Antonio in the next round. Golden State is one of the best shooting teams in the league, but sometimes they get complacent on offense and stand around and watch Stephen Curry bomb away from downtown. Their hugest leak is their Swiss Cheese defense. Who knows if Mark Jackson's squad can get their shit together. At one point, the Warriors were looking like a potential shining star in the West, but they struggled in the second half of the season. If Denver's defense keeps Curry in check and doesn't let him drop 50+, then Nugs should easily advance to the next round.

#4 L.A. Clippers (-175) vs. Memphis (+155)

I love watching the Clippers. Fun team, especially CP3, who is one of the most exciting players in the league. The Clippers problem? Their head coach, Vinny Del Negro, is horrible and that's why the Clippers are doomed. VDN will not have his squad properly prepared for the playoffs. It's easy to win in the regular season when everything is going according to plan, but I don't think VDN can make proper decisions under pressure. His late-game play calling has been suspect all season. This is a great spot for the Memphis Grizzlies. Z-Bo can show everyone in the league that he's truly a team player that will do whatever it takes to win. Plus, I love Memphis' defense. They're one of the few defensive-minded teams in the West, which means they won't have to make huge adjustments in the postseason because their squad is equipped to play defense the entire 48 minutes. Defense is the key in the playoffs and bad coaching hurts under-prepared teams, so this seems like a perfect storm for Memphis at +155.

* * * * *

FIRST ROUND WINNERS (EAST): Miami, New York, Indiana, and Chicago

FIRST ROUND WINNERS (WEST): OKC, San Antonio, Denver, and Memphis

BEST BET (SERIES): Memphis +155


19 April 2013

MMA: UFC Explosion Moves On To PPV

By StB
Milwaukee, WI

The TUF final was pretty entertaining. Sure some fights went off as expected. Faber beat Jorgenson, Browne had a rather impressive KO against Gonzaga. Gastellum had a nice upset on Hall. He simply wanted it more.

But the fight of the night was easily the women. Cat Zigano took a beating in the early rounds but never gave up, eventually punishing Meisha Tate. Cat delivered some wicked knees to earn the KO. But overall it was a nice scrappy brawl. They went toe to toe at times, just swinging wildly, like the men tend to do. And it resulted in a great fight. The women have arrived!

Let's take a look at this Saturday. We get a third week of free fights. Not just free fights but a great matchup in Henderson defending his Lightweight Championship against the final Strikeforce Lightweight Champion Gilbert Melendez. Who doesn't like Champ vs. Champ?

This is a fantastic fight. Both fighters have paid their dues. I haven't been overly impressed by Melendez. I think his competition in Strikeforce has been good, but not the best. But he still wins. That is all that matters.

Henderson hasn't been perfect but he has learned and gotten better with every fight. Ever since Anthony Pettis kicked him in the face to win the WEC Championship, he has been a force.

I guess sometimes you need to have some sense kicked into you. Literally.

Another former Strikeforce champ makes his UFC debut as well. Daniel Cormier was a huge underdog in the Strikeforce Heavyweight tournament. But he was effective in defeating his opponents, eventually beating Josh Barnett to become the champ.

Frank Mir may be one of the most underestimated fighters in the sport. He can be extremely effective on the ground. His jiu jitsu is very good. But he has a tendency to having bigger guys pound the crap out of him when they get on top of him. Cormier could easily do just that.

Yet another intriguing fight is Nick Diaz vs. Josh Thompson. Yes, another Diaz with an attitude enters the Octagon. But those Diaz boys are great warriors. He is just about as good as his brother. He comes with the same chip on his shoulder and angry demeanor. Josh Thompson looks like the pretty boy but he is a good striker. I like his style. Makes for a great third fight on the card.

Matt Brown taking on Jordan Mein will likely be the lead on the undercard on Facebook or FX. Jordan Mein has been impressive. Matt Brown is the scrappy veteran that always fight hard. Always. He has the testicular fortitude to have a chance to win.

The only other fighter that raises my eyebrow is Joseph Benavidez being low on the card. He has a lot of potential being Uriah Faber's protege. With only 3 losses on his record, it seems strange he is buried taking on Darren Uyenoyama, a fighter I know nothing about.

The TJ Dillashaw fight should be good as well. Another guy trained by Faber, he is too cocky but he backs it up.

18 April 2013

Bobcats Win! Or, There Are No Meaningless Games

By Shamus
Charlotte, NC

With 17 seconds left in last night’s season-ending game between the Charlotte Bobcats and Cleveland Cavaliers, Bobcats forward Josh McRoberts -- who had a terrific game, scoring 20 and gathering eight boards -- made an erratic inbounds pass following a Cleveland hoop, and after a Omri Casspi steal and Dion Waiters layup, suddenly the score was 101-98.

After letting a huge first-half lead slip away, a late surge had put Charlotte in front 100-92 with less than 40 seconds left, seemingly icing the win. But a couple of missed free throws and now this turnover suddenly gave everyone the idea that the Bobcats -- or Bobkittens (or Boobcats) as Pauly and I sometimes call them -- might give another one away.

There were some generic shouts of frustration being exhaled around me in the cheap seats where me and my wife sat. Although to be honest there weren’t too many people around us with whom to commiserate, as the Time Warner Cable Arena was half-empty. Pretty much since the player intros the energy from the crowd had been somewhat muted, with cheers for ’Cats hoops and responses to the scoreboard call to “SCREAM” when Cavs shot free throws being relatively modest throughout the night.

Indeed, it seemed like the “fan cam” goofy dancing of an elderly gentleman to “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough” got twice the roar of anything that happened on court.

The Bobcats had raced out to a 34-16 advantage in the first quarter, building the lead further to 24 points with seven minutes to go in the first half. The Cavs were atrocious on defense, allowing Charlotte to get the ball in the lane and right at the rim over and again. And the ’Cats were taking advantage, too, not settling for long-range jumpers but taking that easy path to the hoop being repeatedly offered.

But while Charlotte was executing on offense, their defense wasn’t that great, either, and when Cleveland finally realized that in between firing treys they could just drive the hoop, too, the lead was swiftly whittled down to just six at the half. The lead was seven after three quarters, then Cleveland actually was ahead in the fourth quarter briefly before Kemba Walker nailed a 25-footer to give Charlotte the lead back with just under six minutes to go.

Could the ’Cats lose, though? And would it matter if they did?

Last year Charlotte not only had the worst record in the NBA at 7-59, it was the worst season a team has ever had in the league in terms of winning percentage. And it ended with a mind-numbing 23-game losing streak, most of which were blowouts with a few heartbreakers mixed in there.

This year Charlotte got off to a fast start, winning that first game to break the streak and even being over .500 (7-5) before Oklahoma City thrashed them by 45 (a franchise record-largest loss) to remind the team they weren’t really competitive yet. That loss ignited 18-game losing streak that lasted almost all of the way through December, and by the spring Charlotte was once again sitting 30th of 30 NBA teams heading into the last weeks of the season.

But they won a few in April, including the last two against Milwaukee and the Knicks (both at Charlotte). That brought Charlotte to 20-61 for the year, tied with Orlando for last in the Southeast division as well as for the NBA’s worst record.

Orlando played Miami last night, the NBA’s best team who began the night an incredible 45 games ahead of both the Magic and the Bobcats. And the Heat handled them without much trouble, winning by 12 without even having to play LeBron James or Chris Bosh.

A win thus meant avoiding the cellar. Sure, it mattered. After the game, Gerald Henderson would note in the presser that “absolutely we wanted to avoid the worst record,” and that doing so “was definitely one of our small goals down the stretch.” For the fans who came out last night, seeing their ’Cats to beat a woeful Cavs team (only 24-57 themselves going in) mattered, too.

Thankfully, further drama was averted. Cleveland immediately fouled Walker who made two free throws, and McRoberts would can a couple more as Cleveland missed their last two shots and Charlotte secured a 105-98 win.

As my wife and I left the arena, I thought about how deeply mired in mediocrity is my hometown team. I spoke with a friend at the game -- a season ticket holder -- and he showed me an “Air Jordan Flight” shirt he’d picked up. He shared with me the rumor that the team might actually change its name not to the Hornets (as some have said might happen since New Orleans has decided to go with the Pelicans), but to the Flight -- which would be a nod to the Wright brothers and a name that had been considered before when the Bobcats first arrived. And to Michael Jordan, too, I suppose, who has been the team’s majority owner since early 2010.

The Bobcats obviously need to change a lot more than their name if they hope to do anything more than barely avoid the NBA cellar going forward. That said, even when the hometown team is bad, none of the games is without meaning. I was reminded of this fact on my way out. The Rhythm Cats were performing, a drumming ensemble who often plays in the concourse after games as an entertaining postscript to the night’s entertainment.

We stood and watched for several minutes as the group played and some men jumped from the crowd into the middle to dance to the beat. A few little girls wandered into the middle, too, to shake around and laugh and further widen the grins of the few hundred folks standing around in the circle. Standing in that ring was a cool way to end the evening, affording as it did a sense of belonging to a group, all of whom were interested in having fun and seeing each other have fun, too.

The smiles continued as we walked out into the night, with the raindrops starting to fall not dampening anyone’s mood at all. Winning was nice, for sure. And while the win helped Charlotte avoid the extra ignominy of being designated the NBA’s worst for another off-season, that wasn’t the only reason why the game was meaningful.

The playoffs start this weekend, with every game going forward obviously having extra importance. But the fact is, even though it might seem otherwise from certain angles, there are no meaningless games.

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

15 April 2013

Look Deeper: Weekly A's Report

By Joe Speaker
Los Angeles, CA

Those who write about baseball for a living were not particularly high on the the defending division champion Oakland Athletics coming into this season. A certain Los Angeles-based newspaper--that may or may not employ me--picked them to finish fourth in the AL West, behind the Mariners, a team of Felix Hernandez and 24 first-basemen/DHs. I get the skepticism. The belief is that everything that could go right for the A's last year went right, or at least that's the way it seemed during their magical second-half run. But a closer examination shows a number of hurdles they had to overcome. They lost starters Brandon McCarthy (line drive to the noggin) and Bartolo Colon (needles in the buttocks), received no production at SS or catcher and gave 511 PAs to Jemile Weeks who posted a .609 OPS.

The focus coming into Opening Day, however, was not on those black holes of suck, but on the insane 2012 numbers put up by the so-called "No Names" on the roster: journeyman Brandon Moss's 21 HRs and .594 SLG%, Josh Reddick's 32 dongs and Gold Glove defense, the Fountain of Youth that Coco "Covelli Loyce" Crisp found and pretty much everything about Josh Donaldson. It was a given that these players would regress to their mean, leaving the A's well short of their 2012 total of 94 wins and opening up the division for Texas and the Angels, who made a big splash by signing Josh Hamilton to add to Albert Pujols and Mike Trout.

Here's where I ask you a question. Don't you think Billy Beane was aware of this? Of course he was, you dipshits. That's why he stole John Jaso (.394 OBP v. right-handers) to shore up the catching. That's why he added Jed Lowrie to play shortstop (after he landed Hiro Nakajima before deciding the Japan import wasn't ready for The Bigs), he traded a Penny(-ington) for a third centerfielder in Chris Young. These moves gave the A's something that not many major league teams have: Mad Depth and a lot of interchanging  pieces for manager Bob Melvin to assemble. It's a full 25-man roster that Melvin has at his disposal. The only true "bench" player is Rule 5 pickup Nate Freiman; everybody else is getting at least 300 PAs.

Contrast this depth with the Angels, a sexy pick to contend due to the sexy middle of their order. But the Angels have tripped over their paychecks out of the gate. The pitching has been horrific, with starters failing to get late into games, taxing a mediocre bullpen and they've run into injury problems with ace Jered Weaver and the left side of their infield. Their replacements include a guy released by the Astors (who couldn't crack the major league roster last year when they lost 107 games), a guy who has thrown seven innings above Rookie ball and Brendan Harris. Far less able ballplayers than the A's have both in their clubhouse and stashed at AAA.

The season so far is a lesson in team-building, as opposed to check-writing and I don't have to tell you who's winning the battle right now.

14 April 2013

Bronx Bums: 4/14 Report

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

I grew up in the Bronx. Born and bred a Yankees fan. My earliest sports memory? Clutching baseball cards while sitting in front of the TV and watching the 1977 World Series. Since then, I've been to Yankee Stadium (the new and old) more times than I can count. I was all torn up when they tore it down. The ghosts of the Yankees roamed the outfield at night. Now they get to haunt a damn parking lot. Heck, I even saw the pope say mass once in the old Yankee Stadium. That little patch of grass in the urban jungle is sacred ground for the congregation of Yankees fans. For the rest of the league, it's where the Evil Empire plots their takeover of the baseball universe.

There's only two traces of the Yankees 20th Century glory still remaining -- Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. Mo is retiring after this season and who knows what Jeter will do because his shattered ankle is not cooperating. Jeter is still on the DL along with all of their wealthiest players -- A-Roid, Tex, Granderson. Yep, it's a team ridden with overpriced players sitting on the bench, eating pharmies and getting whirlpool massages. Damn, I wish I had that job. I'd do it for the league minimum.

With the senior citizens in the infirmary, this is a chance for youngsters to prove they have a future in pinstripes. The old guard is being put out to pasture and it's time for a new generation of players to solidify their legends. Cano has all the credentials, but will Jay-Z as his agent steer him toward a fat paycheck on the West Coast? Or will he stay in the Bronx and become the next immortal in pinstripes?

The team is ravished with injuries and we'll quickly learn if the farm system has any depth and see how Girardi manages this squad of mediocre vets and raw rookies. Then again, I secretly want Girardi to get fired and the Yanks to hire Don Mattingly away from the Dodgers. Donnie Baseball must return to the Bronx!

At one point I turned on a game in the first week of the season and noticed the Yankees outfield of Ichiro, Gardner, and Vernon Wells. I would have laughed in your face if you told me that ten games into the season, the Yanks' best hitter would be Kevin Youkilis and Vernon Wells would be leading the Yanks in homeruns?

The Yanks whimpered out of the gate and stumbled to a 1-4 start. Ugly. Even their ace CC got rocked and knocked around in the opener. The Yanks turned everything around in Detroit of all places when they caught Verlander on a bad day and stole a rare win against the best arm in the AL. That win gave the Yanks a confidence boost they desperately needed and they went on a mini-streak. They exploded with a 14-1 rout of the Indians. Cano finally woke up out of his early season slump, while Pettitie (1.20 ERA and 1.13 WHIP) looked like his former self from the 90s (although his age caught up to him and he missed a start with back spasms). Just when the Yanks got on a roll and won three straight, they couldn't beat Mother Nature. Two games were rained out in Cleveland before they returned to the Bronx for a weekend series against Baltimore, a team they struggled against late last year.

Friday night was all Yankees and they won their fourth straight. CC was on the mound for a rare triple play (4-6-5-6-5-3-4)...

The Yanks took a step back on Saturday with a loss when their bats went silent. Sunday nigh's rubber-match was televised on ESPN, so the entire baseball world could watch the hodge podge Yankees. It was a classic pitchers duel thru five innings before the Yanks broke through and took a 3-0 lead. Kuroda went the distance and threw a 5-hit shut out. You don't see that too often anymore. The Yanks won the game and the series. They Yanks are now 2-2 in overall series (they dropped the first two against Boston and Detroit, before winning a 2-game shortened series in Cleveland and this one against Baltimore).

Through 11 games, the Yanks are 6-5 but 5-1 in their last six games. They are only one game behind the division-leading Red Sox. They have Monday off then host a three-game series against the upstart Arizona Diamondbacks (8-4) before flying up to Toronto for a three-game series over next weekend.

12 April 2013

MMA: UFC Explosion Continues in Las Vegas

By StB
Milwaukee, WI

The UFC's loaded April schedule continues this weekend with The Ultimate Fighter finale live from Vegas. The card is featured on FX Saturday night. But before we go any further, let's take a look back at what went down in Sweden.

The main event turned out to be a real snoozer. Gegard Mousasi dialed it in, doing just what he needed to do to defeat an outmatched Ilir Latifi. He bloodied Latifi pretty good but never tried to go for the knockout punch that most people wanted. Well, maybe not the Swedes in the arena but those watching from around the world.

Not to say the night was a waste. Matt Mitrione delivered a nice knockout. I saw the man had power and he showed it. Same with Ross Pearson. It took him a round to get going but he took out Ryan Couture, making him cover up and basically quit. Ficket and Easton was entertaining, but the most interesting fight may be the one few people were expected to see.

Because of some submissions and knockouts, we were given a featherweight match-up featuring Marcus Brimage vs Conor McGregor. It took the Irishman McGregor just over a minute to wobble and then pound out Brimage. He did the job with a beautiful uppercut. He used the punch a couple of times but stayed remarkably patient with his punches. He reminded me of Nick Diaz and his approach. I look forward to seeing McGregor fight again.

So let's move on to this weekend. Though the event is titled The Ultimate Fight finale, the main event features Uriah Faber taking on Scott Jorgensen. MMA fans are well aware of Faber. He was an unstoppable force in the WEC. He always had an exciting fight.

Scott Jorgensen is also a WEC product. Jorgensen has shown some power at times. He has taken home Fight of the Night honors on multiple occasions. But he has split his last 6 fights. He has a chance to upset Faber (Faber is a pretty good favorite at -450).

We'll get to see the ladies enter the Octagon as well. Miesha Tate and Cat Zingano battle to see who will coach on the next season of the Ultimate Fighter. Can't say I am too familiar with either. I recall seeing Tate tap out to a Ronda Rousey arm bar but then again, who hasn't? Looks like Zingano is undefeated so it should be entertaining.

The Ultimate Fighter finale should be interesting. Its a David vs. Goliath. Kelvin Gastellum pulled off a big upset, confusing a confident, some say arrogant, Josh Samman. Kelvin was the last pick on team Sonnen. As Sonnen said, he doesn't do anything spectacular, except find a way to get his hand raised at the end of the fight. Kelvin has tenacity. He keeps going, finding ways to pound on you, and if opportunity presents itself, submit you. That is what he did to Samman. Josh was great on the ground but Kelvin didn't give in. I think it confused Samman when he couldn't flick the guy off like a fly. When the choke was set in, he quickly tapped with a rare panicky two handed tap.

Uriah was different. This is a guy that had UFC President Dana White oohing and ahhing during the season. Look at this nasty knockout and you will understand why.

He did something similar to move on to the finale. He treated his opponent's head like a speed bag. From the bottom! He knocked a guy senseless while he was on his back.

Uriah Hall is like the Mike Tyson of MMA. He is making his way up the ranks with breathtaking knockouts. He is destroying the competition. Now we get to see how he fights in front of a big crowd at the Mandalay Bay. I for one cannot wait to see him fight!

Other fights include former heavyweight champing Gabriel Gonzaga taking on Travis Browne, TUF alumi Cole Miller fighting journeyman Bart Palaszewski and Justin Lawrence squaring off against Daniel Pineda. I find the heavyweights to be boring but expect good things out of the other two contests.

The one fight that intrigues me though is Maximo Blanco versus Sam Sicila. With names like that, it sounds more like a pro wrestling contest. Maybe they were suppose to go at it during Wrestemania but got bumped to the UFC.

10 April 2013

Hockey Fights: Edmonton Oil Kings at Red Deer Rebels

By StB
Milwaukee, WI

Minor league hockey in Canada can be awesome. Young talent striving to live their dream and make it to the big leagues. They understand they may have to scrap along the way. Here is a good one. Brandon Baddock of the Edmonton Oil Kings versus Brandon Underwood of the Red Deer Rebels.

Now here is a fight with some serious action. Both guys are swinging pretty good. Underwood works in the the uppercut well. I especially like it when one of those shots connects and Baddock's helmet goes flying off like popcorn. Reminds me of the old game Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots.