Friday, January 06, 2006

PROVIDE THE PISTONS THEIR PROPS BUT DON’T EXPECT MUCH

The Detroit Pistons form an awesome basketball team who have a core of former champions, and are off as everyone knows to a fabulous 25-4 start, and have arguably the very best starting or at least the most “well rounded” five in the game. Their drive, teamwork, and diverse set of skills that Joe Dumars has expertly put together is truly notable. Moreover, their bench may well be improved this year with forward Antonio McDyess healthy, and very solid role players in guards Maurice Evans and Argentinean Carlos Delfino often getting some key minutes. The Pistons fans might sack the on average slow-starting Spurs as a menace to their top NBA record, after the Pistons defeated the Spurs completely 95-80 on Christmas day, but there were certainly some explanatory circumstances at work in that game that may have contributed to the lop-sided loss. The Pistons have a heady road record of 10-3. Statistically, Detroit is near the top of the league in scoring with about 99.6 PPG but their winning point differential has dropped to 7.75. The Pistons also have two of the top five “scorers in the paint” in Duncan and the ever more reliable Tony Parker. Detroit has not taken a step back defensively with their increased overall scoring output. Detroit is not a very good defensive team when it counts or that they are not doing a lot of the little things to win, but in reality the gap between them other top NBA teams is not that large. Detroit is certainly also playing and acting like a team on a mission, but whether or not they can sustain their current overall excellence over a long 82 game season seems to be in vague.

"HAWK," PERCHING ON HALL OF FAME BALLOT FOR THE FIFTH TIME

No player in baseball history worked more diligently, suffered more or did it better than Andre Dawson. In 21 big-league seasons, beginning in 1976 with the Montreal Expos, Dawson batted .279 with 438 home runs, 1,591 RBIs and stole 314 bases. Dawson was the National League Rookie of the Year in 1977 and won the Most Valuable Player award in 1987, his first season with the Chicago Cubs, when he hit .287 and led the league with 49 home runs and 137 RBIs. An eight-time Gold Glove winner and eight-time All-Star, Dawson joined the Cubs in an unusual way. After nine years in Montreal, he wanted to find a team that played on grass, unlike the artificial turf at Olympic Stadium. He approached the Cubs and general manager Dallas Green with a fill-in-the-blank contract. Dawson signed on March 9, 1987, for $700,000. It was one of the best bargains ever in baseball. The '87 season was magical. Dawson hit three homers in consecutive at-bats on Aug. 1 against Philadelphia. On July 7, 1987, he was hit on the left cheek by an Eric Show pitch after hitting three homers in his previous five at-bats. Dawson received 24 stitches, missed two games and pinch-hit in a third before returning full time. The only thing that could stop the quiet, soft-spoken outfielder was his knees, damaged by the years on turf. His .507 career slugging percentage is 4th highest in team history. Dawson also played for the Boston Red Sox, and the Florida Marlins before retiring with 2774 hits, 438 home runs, 314 Stolen Bases, and 1591 RBI. He is 29th on the all-time Home Run list, and 28th on the all-time RBI list. The slim slugger with the field gun arm is again a candidate on the Hall of Fame ballot, to be voted on by the Baseball Writers Association of America. This is the fifth year that Dawson, now 51, is on the ballot.

BRYANT’S EFFORTS TO BECOME A SWEET PEOPLE’S BOY

For a time, Bryant was not visible. Now, you can make him out again. Kobe Bryant was criticized openly for his personality flaws. Detractors tagged Bryant as a selfish, egotistic player who pads his own achievements at the expense of his team. These criticisms came under great discussion following sexual assault allegations stemming from his June 2003 encounter with 19-year old Katelyn Faber in a Vail, Colorado hotel room. That was the beginning of imperfection of his "squeaky-clean" image. Consequently, he became a symbol, not a person. But the time overshadowed all the things. The prosecutor in Eagle County, Colo., dropped the charges against him in September 2004, and Bryant, now 27, settled a civil suit with his accuser in March of last year. Bryant also clashed with coach Jackson. While offensively efficient in Jackson's "triangle offense," Bryant had a personal distaste for Jackson's brand of ball and subsequently called it "boring." With a full summer available for workouts - his first in three years - he is again one of the NBA's most dominant players. Bryant's first chance at the helm of a team would prove to be a very rocky one, however. With his reputation already badly damaged from the proceedings in Colorado, Bryant was closely scrutinized and criticized in the 2004-05 NBA season. The Lakers star this season is Allen Iverson in scoring this season, trying to will himself and a young group of well-meaning but utterly flawed teammates to a playoff berth in the Western Conference. Bryant's Lakers jersey still ranks fifth in sales among all players. On the court, Bryant again leads all Western Conference guards in voting for the All-Star Game, to be played Feb. 19 in Houston. The Lakers have struggled to stay above .500 most of the season.

REMATCH OF NFL CLASSIC WITH A NEW FLAVOR

Quarterback Mark Brunell is 30 plus while this is going to be the first playoff experience for Chris Simms. It will be a big factor in how Tampa Bay performs offensively, because they will be facing a blitzkrieg defense from the Redskins. The fact that Brunell has been in the playoffs and does have experience that gives him a little bit of a nod. But as far as the two guys and how they play, they're both similar. They're both are left-handers and can throw the long ball andcontrolled passes the majority of the time. Simms and Brunell are also short-intermediate throwers, with a propensity to follow conservative routes. But both try to stretch the field with their big-play receivers, Santana Moss and Joey Galloway. As far experience is concerned the edge obviously goes to Brunell but in terms of big-play ability, they're both at par. But its going to be more of a defensive struggle because of the fact that they've played each other before. Moreover, it is a competition between the two top-10 defenses in the league. Washington's momentum coming into the game means a lot -- and not so much because of the winning streak and more importantly, the Redskins are playing well. They're running the ball, playing strong defense and creating turnovers. They're doing all those things right now, and that's why they're winning games. The Redskins should feel extremely confident that they can come to Tampa Bay and beat this team. But the Buccaneers are sure to be confident as well, as they actually did win last time. Because both teams should be coming in confident, both will probably play neck-to-neck. The Redskins have some playoff experience on their roster, but they do have some young guys who haven't been there, so going into Tampa Bay could be rough.

SHELLEY ROLLS WITH PUNCHES IN NEW NHL

Originally signed as a free agent by the Calgary Flames on 1 September, 1998, but Shelley never played for them. Almost 2 years later, on 17 August, 2000, he was signed as a free agent by the Columbus Blue Jackets and played one game for them in the 2000-01 season. During that one game, he had ten minutes in penalties. Since then, he has played fairly regularly as the Blue Jackets' enforcer averaging well over 200 minutes in penalties a season.

The NHL lockout drove Jody Shelley crazy and the post-lockout era has him holding his punches. It's one of the unseen turns of the 2005-06 season. Shelley has one goal, three assists and 78 penalty minutes in 36 games with each number having a tell-tale of its own. The one goal and three assists aren't enough for a tough guy nowadays. Shelley knows it, as does coach Gerard Gallant. Shelley is on a pace for 170 penalty minutes, well below his average for the previous two seasons (238). He isn't fighting much because there are fewer opportunities. Shelley and Gallant are of the opinion that a good scrap is a part of the game, especially during a particularly heated contest. The key is to be on the ice when the opportunity is presented, and to get ice time a tough guy must have assets beyond his knuckles and Gallant sees players adjusting to the new rules and taking fewer penalties. Through five training camps and three-plus seasons with the Blue Jackets, Shelley's skating and stickhandling skills have greatly improved. He can be tough in front of the net. But he also has a psychological hurdle that stands between him and the goal. It's a hurdle he must clear to become a more complete player, one with an enhanced value in a new age.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

THE SUPREMACY OF 2005

2005 was a great year in sports. From New England to North Carolina to San Antonio to Chicago to Lance and on and on and on, there were championship efforts and huge stories. It was a year when the Indianapolis Colts almost didn't lose at least in the fall part of the season. Terrell Owens never stopped making headlines or forcing ESPN to go all Eagles all the time, David Stern instituted an age minimum and a dress code and the NHL finally returned, although how many still cared remains to be seen. Balco Barry returned to almost surpass the Babe, while Johnny Damon just made out of town like the Bambino. Meanwhile, a hurricane made startled everybody and let everybody ponder that what the future is for sports in New Orleans. But for all in all, it was the year that was ruled by the New England Patriots, the San Antonio Spurs, and the Chicago White Sox. These teams once again proved that in sports it may not pay to play together, but the toast rose for a feeling of sportsmanship sure tastes sweet. In January, the Eagles didn't wind up winning the Super Bowl, but the ride they took was extremely colorful. In February, the unbelievable Patriots won for the third time in four years. Also, Gary Bettman, the worst executive in the history of sports, teamed up with the equally egotistical Bob Goodenow to kill the NHL season. In April Sean May won a national championship, exactly 29 years after his father achieved this feat. In May, the NCAA corrupted the things. Also Larry Brown's long career was booed by his own fans. In June the critics of the NBA claimed that the sport lacks team play. In September, Saints owner Tom Benson and the NFL gave New Orleans time to convalesce before pressing the city about stadium plans. In October, the White Sox won the World Series and represented the spirit of their magical manager, Ozzie Guillen.

A PLAYER AND THREE PROSPECTS

The Mets, Rangers and Padres are the three teams interested in Bret Boone, while the Mets explore options for addressing their primary remaining need - setup men in the bullpen - they are investigating choices at second base, too, and they are one of three teams interested in former All-Star Bret Boone. The Rangers and Padres are also having an eye on him, and it's likely that Boone will sign a minor-league deal with one of the three clubs and get an invitation to spring training. If Boone signs with the Mets, he could push Kaz Matsui at second, or perhaps take over the position if Matsui is unloaded via trade, which the Mets hope to accomplish. That's already assumed that Boone can right his career, which took a sharp downturn last season when he was released by the Mariners and Twins and hit just .221 with seven homers and 37 RBI in 88 games, 74 with Seattle. Minnesota dumped him after only three weeks. Boone was once one of baseball's best second basemen and was an All-Star as recently as 2003, when he batted .294 with 35 homers and 117 RBI. In 2001, when he was third in voting for the AL MVP, Boone batted .331 with 37 homers and an AL-best 141 RBI. He has won four Gold Gloves. It's yet so perplexing to decide that which would be the best scenario for Boone - the Rangers could go with 23-year-old rookie Ian Kinsley at second and they recently signed D'Angelo Jimenez to a minor-league contract. The Padres could use rookie Josh Barfield, the son of former Yankee Jesse, Mark Bellhorn or Bobby Hill.

HIRING AND FIRING OF COACHES

The NBA offered the first sacrifice on its coaching pyre Tuesday when the Seattle SuperSonics burned coach Bob Weiss 30 games into his first season. This is the second coaching change this season after Stan Van Gundy resigned in Miami and was replaced by Shaquille O’Neal…. Pat Riley. This is just the beginning. When the season started there were 10 new coaches in the NBA this season, including Weiss, and three others, George Karl, Avery Johnson and Mike Fratello, starting their first full seasons after replacing fired coaches during last season. Bulls coach Scott Skiles is third in seniority in the Eastern Conference in his second full season. He was hired only months after veterans Eddie Jordan and Rick Carlisle. Only seven NBA coaches have been with their teams longer than Skiles. Only three teams have coaches who have been with their teams longer than the Los Angeles Clippers’ Mike Dunleavy. The Clippers and owner Donald Sterling represent stability in NBA. If you are doubtful you can check their statistics available anywhere on World Wide Web. Sacramento’s Rick Adelman is in his eighth and possibly in last season as a lame duck,. He has been mentioned as the next coach to go. With almost half the league’s coaches being replaced within the last year, it seems improbable there will be another massive pileup this season. Among those who could fall under the wheels of change are: Houston’s Jeff Van Gundy, Boston’s Doc Rivers, Charlotte’s Bernie Bickerstaff, Golden State’s Mike Montgomery, Toronto’s Sam Mitchell, Atlanta’s Mike Woodson and New York’s Larry Brown.

COACHES FINDING IT HARD TO ARGUE OVER UNJUSTIFIED FIRINGS

When Patriots quarterback Doug Flutie drop-kicked a ball it didn't take long for the idea to catch on. Soon after Flutie's boot, one owner after another conclude it was a fine thing to try with coaches. Vikings owner Zygi Wilf waited until Mike Tice wrapped up his post-game news conference Sunday evening, then had press releases handed out announcing Tice had been fired. Dom Capers was told to clean out his desk in Houston. Jim Haslett apparently got his wish and was fired in New Orleans. Mike Martz, who was cleared to return to work Sunday after recovering from a heart virus, was fired Monday by the Rams. And Mike Sherman was sent packing in Green Bay, where the question is coming up will Brett Favre follow him? 69-year-old Dick Vermeil, told his Chiefs on Saturday night that he was retiring, and Steve Mariucci, was fired just after Thanksgiving. Probably, Oakland will fire Norv Turner as soon as today. The number of vacancies is growing and it will continue to grow if Bills owner Ralph Wilson decides to make a clean sweep of Mike Mularkey, along with general manager Tom Donahoe. There may also be another opening if Kansas City pursues Jets coach Herman Edwards. However, what's surprising about all the firings is how few hot candidates are available.

OILERS FORWARD RYAN IN HIS BEST SEASON IN YEARS

What fans are also seeing this season, however, is Smyth on track for 35 goals, which would be his best year since his first full NHL season at age 20. His last two outings against Nashville and Calgary to cap off 2005, and the game in Vancouver just before Christmas on the day he was named to Canada's Olympic team. He scored on a penalty shot against the Predators -- making him the only NHLer with two this season that way. He stuck his nose in to bang a loose puck past Miika Kiprusoff during the Oilers' 6-5 loss to Calgary on New Year's Eve. And he belted in a rare shot off the wing to defeat Alex Auld in Vancouver back on Dec. 21. He has 17 goals in just 34 games, having missed six with a sprained knee. Last time Smyth experienced his best season was way back in 1996-97 with 39 goals. He has scored more than 30 just one other time -- 31 in 2000-01, but he now has a total of 31 points in his 34 games. Smyth, 29, who has always managed to find his way to the no-parking zone in front of opposing goalies, feels to be facilitated by the introduction of the new rules, particularly NHL's zero-tolerance on obstruction. Smyth has free rein to be in a goalie's space, though. It's his incessant work along the boards and in the corners that sets Smyth apart from the crowd. The play never dies with him, because he uses his feet better than anybody else. Smyth always has his sleeves rolled up. And the goals are coming, more this year than in the last half-dozen seasons.

Monday, January 02, 2006

COUNTING NEW YEAR’S BLESSINGS

It's a new year and a chance for Pistons coach Flip Saunders to reflect on the highs and lows of 2005. He has come out on the high side of an interesting journey that not too many coaches have gone from being fired by one of their friends to being on top of the NBA a few months later. On Feb. 12, 2005, Timberwolves vice-president of basketball operations Kevin McHale who was also Saunders' University of Minnesota basketball teammate fired Saunders. Five months later, Saunders was named coach of the Pistons. And now, Saunders is leading the team with the NBA's best record at 24-4. Saunders hardship of leaving his wife and four kids back in Minnesota this year has been lessened by the Pistons. He can frequently go to suburban Minneapolis as much as possible to see them. Almost a year ago he let go the things with an excuse that everything happens for a reason, but one never know at that time what the reason is, but there is one. Now with the Pistons, and with the whole vibe of the city, how the fans embrace the whole team and now Saunders, the organization seems to very fun for Saunders to go to work every day regardless of how they've been winning so far. There is no coach who could envision the team is going to be 24-4 after 28 games.

NO DREAM COMES TRUE UNTIL YOU WAKE UP AND GO TO WORK

The coming year in baseball is about spectacular. It’s going to be big-league dreams and impossible dreams. Major League Baseball fans have come to expect in this golden era of the sport and it is probably the first time that every single team has a chance of going all the way and been able to back it up. No one on the first day of 2005 really expected the made-over White Sox to win their first world championship since 1917, but they did. In 2004, the Red Sox staged one of the greatest comebacks in sports history against the Yankees on the way to their first world championship since 1918. That was a year after the Marlins "shocked the world" and clinched a title at Yankee Stadium. That was a year after the Angels won their first title by beating the Giants in the first all-Wild Card World Series. And that was a year after the Diamondbacks won their first title in that seven-game classic against the Yanks. It is becoming tradition for athletes who are living out a big-league dream of their own to fulfill that prophecy. Your favorite player who finished last season on the D.L. is looking healthy and all the more aggressive. This Major League season will be ushered in like none before it, because of the inaugural World Baseball Classic in which many of the marquee names in the literal baseball world will play. The Semifinals and Final will be played at PETCO Park in San Diego. The regular season will open April 2 with the Indians at the White Sox. It will be the first ring ceremony before White Sox fans, because they didn't hand out championship rings when the team won its last previous title in 1917. The 77th All-Star Game will be played July 11 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, and maybe this is a good omen for the National League.

AN END OF CLASSIC NBA STAR WARS

Kobe Bryant faced a tough week with a two-game suspension, due to a dispute with teammate Lamar Odom. Bryant's suspension came for a castigatory elbow on the Grizzlies' Mike Miller after a Miller elbow opened a big wound over Bryant's left eye. This came just a few days after Bryant and Dwyane Wade were guarding and elbowing one another in the Christmas Day game. The disappearing marquee matchup is a big predicament for the NBA. These days it is seldom to see a star player take on the challenge of guarding the other team's best player. There are usually thinly veiled excuses of not wanting to get in foul trouble and various forms of help defenses that didn't exist years ago. Perhaps the best rivalry ever in a time when they would go against each other at least a dozen times a season, the game's best offensive center against its best defensive center was of Wilt Chamberlain-Bill Russell. Michael Jordan-Dominique Wilkins were the two leading scorers in their era and put on some of the best combined offensive displays of the 1980s. One usually would go for 50 against the other, and it wasn't always Jordan. The late `60s and early `70s Knicks-Bullets matchups and playoff series were some of the best ever with classic battles at every position. Larry Bird-Julius Erving were matched in some great 76ers-Celtics series, it was two of the classic players of their era taking on the challenge. Sam Jones-Hal Greer were the two best guards or their era but didn't play one another much.

http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/sports/13530813.htm

AN NFL RECORD BY ALEXANDER

Seattle Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander set an NFL record for touchdowns in a season when scoring his 28th against the Green Bay Packers, but his side was defeated in an upset 23-17. Alexander scored on a one-yard run with 13 minutes remaining in the second period in Seattle's final regular season game before the playoffs, obscuring the former record set by Kansas City's Priest Holmes in 2003. He also surpassed the New York Giants' Tiki Barber for the league's rushing crown after accumulating 73 yards by the half. The individual record for the Seahawks (13-3) was flawed by the loss, in what may have been looked upon as star Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre's last game. Favre was 21-for-37 for 259 yards, targeting wide receiver Donald Driver with most of his passes. Favre left the field at the end of the game beckoning a friendly hand to the crowd, though it has yet to be confirmed if they were goodbye waves, as he has not ascertained to a decision regarding whether he will contend in the next season. He threw his first touchdown pass in the past five games, but Favre's game still featured a number of errors that demonstrated his waning form. He was intercepted again, his career-worst 29th of the season, and finished the match with a shoulder injury. The Seahawks had already earned a first-round playoff bye prior to the loss.

GOODBYE TO SOME OF THE NHL's GREATEST PLAYERS EVER

Out with the old, in with the new: As we are getting ready to say goodbye to some of the NHL's greatest players ever like Steve Yzerman, Luc Robitaille, Dave Andreychuk, Chris Chelios, Joe Nieuwendyk, Gary Roberts and Mario Lemieux. They are all expected to retire after this season, and each one of them is destined for the Hall of Fame. And now when the game has entered in its second half, these players are worth watching. Watching them would be a great delight since they would remind you of what each has meant to the game of hockey. As these NHL greats are preparing to retire there is a new crop of players ready to assume the spotlight and become the players who will define their era. These players includes the names of Rick Nash, Dion Phaneuf, Roberto Luongo, Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Eric Staal, Jason Spezza, Henrik Zetterberg and Alexander Frolov, among others. The NHL galaxy of up-and-coming stars is richer than it's been since the early 1980s.