Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Pacers offseason to-do-list

Another lost season, another lost cause. After getting BLOWN OUT by the Miami Heat 117-92, a game in which they were down by as many as 40 points, the Indiana Pacers will be headed home in the Conference Finals again, and this is the third straight year that they were eliminated by the Heat. One thing I don't quite get, though, (besides the Pacers absolute lack of effort,) is the headline on It reads: "For a third straight year, Miami ended Indiana's season. Friday's blowout also signaled an end to the rivalry."

What?!?! The Indiana Pacers are NOT just going to fade away and wither. Maybe they would if they had an average team President. But they don't have an average President, they have Larry Legend, the greatest Small Forward of All-Time, and also one of the greatest basketball minds of All-Time. He's the one that drafted Paul George and Lance Stephenson. He's the one that signed David West. He is the person that keeps this team relevant. 

Without him, even in today's weak Eastern Conference, the Pacers would likely be lottery-bound. But The Legend has an interesting predicament here. There's no way the Pacers are beating the Heat with their current core unless they improve their offensive game, and they also MUST improve their bench which is deprived of everything but frustration. Does he keep Lance Stephenson, the annoying hothead, who sometimes can't control himself?

If I were Larry Bird, I would think long and hard about whether or not to keep Stephenson. He's a good player and has potential, as witnessed by his incredulously frustrating inconsistency and occasional dominance, but is he worth $8-12 million dollars a year? That would definitely hinder what they can do to their bench. 

Also, right before the start of the playoffs, a story broke that Stephenson and 6th Man Evan Turner, (who is supposedly the "insurance" in case they can't re-sign Stephenson, even though Turner was benched in the Conference Finals,) got into a practice-floor fistfight. As in, a brawl. This sounds dangerously like the former Ron Artest, and as the Pacers have learned from past experiences, that kind of guy on a playoff-team never works out. Especially when he's the star.

There is also the matter of Roy Hibbert. He had an outstanding first half of the season, being one of the best Center's in the league, but then, in the second half of the season and the playoffs, Hibbert was frustratingly ineffective. He did have a few monster games (Game 2 against the Wizards and Game 1 against the Heat,) but besides that, he played like a bench-warmer, and had 5 games in which he was scoreless, which SHOULD NOT happen to an All-Star who makes $15 million dollars a year. The Legend is going to have to decide whether to keep Hibbert or look to trade him.

Then, there are two more things. 

One, George Hill. He is actually a pretty effective 6th Man, at SHOOTING GUARD. Unfortunately, the Pacers have Hill in the starting lineup and at POINT GUARD, a position he cannot play efficiently, since he is not a great ball-handler. What Indiana really needs is a true Point Guard, but they may not have the cap-space to sign one in free agency, and don't have many assets with which to acquire one in a trade.

The other thing is, of course, the infamously, mediocrely deflated bench. Basically, what Indiana needs to do is completely rebuild the bench, from the ground up. A full rebuild is needed when it comes to the bench. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Why Paul George Could One Day Be A Top-Two Player

Watching Paul George play, if you're a Pacers fan, is excruciatingly frustrating. You see, George often mistakes himself for Lebron James. When he does so he starts to delve into 1-on-1 isolation plays on offense, but when guarded by James, and already being just an average shooter, George will take many mid-range jump-shots that clank off the rim and into the hands of an obliged and waiting Heat player.

One day, George may be near the level James is at offensively. He may get day. But it is not his time yet. He is just a young 24-years old, still not fully equipped with the skill and stamina it takes to guard the best player in the world almost every possession, and carry the bulk of the offensive burden.

We could say, George is just a younger Rudy Gay. But that would not be accurate. Rudy Gay was an inefficient shooter, just like George currently is. But, Rudy was also always known (and rightfully so) for being an inexplicably bad defender. That is not the case with George, one of the best defenders in today's game, despite his youth.

Rather, George is more of a rich man's Kawhi Leonard. They are both lockdown defenders, and are both inconsistent, though good, shooters. The most frustrating thing with George though, is not all the Rudy Gay type isolation monstrosities he shoots. 

No, it is that George will occasionally and randomly rip off a Lebron-esque hot-streak where he simply cannot miss a shot. We saw one of those random outbursts in Game 5 against Miami, when he scored 21 of his 37 points in the 4th quarter. That's the most points in the 4th quarter of a playoff game since a guy named Reggie Miller. You know, that guy that is one of the 10 greatest NBA players of All-Time? 

We saw a hot-streak from George similar to the one in Game 5 against the Heat (though not as spectacular), in Game 4 against the Wizards during Round Two of this year's playoffs. When George caught fire and started hitting those jump-shots that he normally misses, you just knew there was no way Indiana was losing that game. 

The challenge for George as his promising career continues to unfold dramatically, is if he can sustain those runs of excellence, and if he can exude them consistently. Because if he improves his offensive game, the sky is the limit. 

Lance's World, II

                  I got it, coach.

All-NBA Team Picks

1st Team 
Guard, Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors)
Guard, Chris Paul (Los Angeles Clippers)
Forward, Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder) 
Forward, Lebron James (Miami Heat) 
Center, Joakim Noah (Chicago Bulls)

2nd Team 
Guard, James Harden (Houston Rockets) 
Guard, Goran Dragic (Phoenix Suns) 
Forward, Paul George (Indiana Pacers) 
Forward, Blake Griffin (Los Angeles Clippers) 
Center, Roy Hibbert (Indiana Pacers) 

3rd team 
Guard, Kyle Lowry (Toronto Raptors)
Guard, John Wall (Washington Wizards)
Forward, Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas Mavericks)
Forward, Kevin Love (Minnesota Timberwolves) 
Center, Dwight Howard (Houston Rockets) 

All-Rookie Team 
Guard, Victor Oladipo (Orlando Magic)
Guard, Michael Carter-Williams (Philadelphia 76ers) 
Forward, Giannis Antetukuempo (Milwaukee Bucks) 
Forward, Mason Plumlee (Brooklyn Nets)
Center, Gorgieu Deng (Minnesota Timberwolves) 

All-Defensive Team 
Guard, Tony Allen (Memphis Grizzliies)
Guard, Jimmy Butler (Chicago Bulls)
Forward, Paul George (Indiana Pacers) 
Forward, Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio Spurs) 
Center, Roy Hibbert (Indiana Pacers) 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Lance's World

If Paul George doesn't play on Saturday against the Heat (concussion), there's almost no way the Pacers can win.


I know what you're probably thinking: "How could they possibly win without Paul George, their best player?" I've got two words for you: Lance. Stephenson.
I wrote an article about the hot-headed Indiana Guard's transformation from bench-warmer to X-factor, which you can find here (link).

Right now, the Pacers' slogan is: "In Lance we trust." That's what really scares me. Last year Lance was an inconsistent, though still solid, starter for this Indiana team. Now? He's carrying the burden of not only stopping one of the most explosive scorers the game has ever seen, but also with the load of carrying the offense. 

You see, last year, when Lance played well Indiana mostly won, but even if Lance had a bad game they could still win. That is most certainly no longer the case. Even if Paul George plays, and plays well, there's no way the Pacers can survive if Lance gives them two klunkers in games 3 and 4. But Lance is different than your average inconsistent young Guard.

Because when he's at his best, he's on the same level as Lebron James and Kevin Durant. He's just never sustained it for a full game, let alone multiple games. The only way I could see the Pacers winning game 3 or 4 if George is out, is if Lance finds a way to sustain those unique outburst of excellence that he inconsistently exudes and takes the team on his back to put up 40-60 points and spur the team on until George gets back. 

The terrifying thing for Pacers fans is that Lance is arguably the most unpredictable player in the NBA. He could game out in Game 3 and go off for 60 points, or score 0 points and shoot 0-for-12 from the field. At this point, neither one of those would surprise me. As scary as it is to Pacers fans, this is Lance's game, and he's going to be the deciding factor as to whether or not Indy will go back home tied up at 2-2, or down 3-1.

It's all on Lance Stephenson. And as I've learned through his frustrating inconsistency, the only person that can stop Lance Stephenson is Lance Stephenson. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Can Neymar restore World Cup glory to Brasil?

In (American) football, it is said that winning the Super Bowl is easier than consistently being in the hunt for a Super Bowl. Well in (everywhere but America) football, that is especially true. Take for example the 2006 France World Cup team. They made the finals. Then, in 2010, France failed to get out of the group stage. Italy, the 2006 champion and a world-powerhouse, also failed to get out of their group.

It's also well-known that being the host country means almost nothing, as last year's host country, South Africa, was eliminated in the group stages. In case you didn't know, the World Cup is being played in Brazil this year. And in case you didn't know, the new face of Brazil football is Forward Neymar Jr,.

The 2010 World Cup was a bad campaign for the Brazilians. They lost in the Round of 16, their worst World Cup finish in recent memory. Some of the leaders of that squad, Midfielder Kakà and Defender Maicon, were noticeably left off this year's World Cup squad. They also got rid of their coach, Douga.

Kakà wore #10. Neymar wears #10. Kaká was the face of Brazil soccer, now that role has been shifted over to 23-year old Neymar. He'll need to produce quickly on the world's biggest stage, or he'll be demoted to solid rotation-player.

Most top-tier Brazil soccer players never get a chance to be The Guy. Star Ronaldo (not to be confused with Cristiano Ronaldo) was the hero for Brazil in the 2002 World Cup. In the next World Cup, that role was handed over to Ronaldhino. Then to Kaká in the 2010 World Cup. And now, to the young Neymar.

It's not as if he's not used to playing in big games. He signed with FC Barcelona, one of the world's best clubs, last year and helped them earn 2nd place in the highly-competitive La Liga. But he was not the leader of that team, or even the best player. He was simply the magnificent sidekick to Lionel Messi.

Now, he not only is required to be a leader, but he must step up and play like his team's best player. Plus, there is an enormous amount of added pressure when you put on that jersey, and realize that you are representing your country at the biggest sports event in the world. Especially being the best player on a team that expects you to win it all.

Because of all the pressure that is on powerhouse teams such as Brazil, Spain, and Germany, I would not at all be surprised if a dark-horse team such as Belgium, Mexico, or Ghana made a run at the Cup and maybe even win it. It is much like College Basketball, where teams like Kentucky, Kansas, and Duke are expected to be in title-contention every year, and they lose all their stars every year to the NBA.

But teams like Wichita State, Creighton, and Butler keep their stars for all four years and are able to sneak up on inexperienced powerhouse teams. Just like in College Basketball, powerhouses are expected to produce immediately, and if they don't, new, and inexperienced players are brought in. But the Belgiums and Ghanas have the same players for a longer stretch of time, because their fans don't expect so much out of them. 

There is an enormous amount of pressure on Neymar to lead Brazil to World Cup victory, we'll find out soon enough if he can handle it. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Eastern Conference Finals: Game 2

In case you didn't know, the Indiana Pacers crushed the Miami Heat, 107-96, on Sunday to take a 1-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals. Tonight is a critical game for Miami. If they drop down 2-0, then they'll need to win both of their games in Miami, something that has not happened in a playoff series against Indiana in the I-Was-A-Heat-"Fan"-Before-Lebron era. 

Two years ago these teams met in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, with the Heat as the #2 seed and Pacers as the #3 seed. After winning game 1, the Heat dropped games 2 and 3, before winning three straight games and taking the series, 4-2. Then the next year, they narrowly defeated the #3 seeded Pacers in 7 games in the Eastern Conference Finals. Overall, in their playoff series' against each other, the Heat have gone 4-2 at home. 

So falling back 2-0 in this series would be a potentially series-ending blow, because the odds are that they're not going to win both of their games in Miami. With that said, Indiana is not going to shoot 51.5 percent from the field in Game 2, and they're most certainly not going to have over twice as many free-throws than the Heat in Game 2. 

One of the underrated reasons why the Pacers won Game 1 so easily: ball-hog Forward Evan Turner was out with strep throat. Veteran Rasual Butler played some of Turner's minutes, but it really opened things up for Guard Lance Stephenson to be the primary ball-handler and orchestrate the offense for the second-unit much like he did during the team's red-hot first-half of the season. It seems as if the Pacers are better without Turner. The only problem is, if Indiana benches Turner completely, it will result in Turner becoming a locker-room cancer to a team that cannot afford any distractions. I expect Lebron James to put up 35+ points Tuesday night, and the Heat to go back to Miami tied up 1-1. 
Prediction: Pacers 82-87 Heat 

Western Conference Finals Preview

Game 1: #2 seed Oklahoma City Thunder @ #1 seed San Antonio Spurs 
Editor's note: Oklahoma City Forward Serge Ibaka will miss game 1 due to injury, and he is out indefinitely. 

Point Guard 
Tony Parker (Spurs) vs. Russell Westbrook (Thunder) 
Advantage: Parker 

Shooting Guard 
Danny Green (Spurs) vs. Thabo Sefalosha (Thunder) 
Advantage: Green 

Small Forward 
Kawhi Leonard (Spurs) vs. Kevin Durant (Thunder) 
Advantage: Durant 

Power Forward 
Tim Duncan (Spurs) vs. Nick Collison (Thunder) 
Advantage: Duncan 

Tiago Splitter (Spurs) vs. Kendrick Perkins (Thunder) 
Advantage: Splitter 

Key Thunder Bench Players: PG Reggie Jackson, SG Caron Butler, C Steven Adams 
Key Spurs Bench Players: PG Patty Mills, SG Manu Ginobli, C Boris Diaw 
Advantage: Spurs 

Gregg Popovich (Spurs) vs. Scott Brooks (Thunder) 
Advantage: Spurs 

Overall total: Spurs: 6 Thunder: 1 

Series Prediction: 
Even without Ibaka, this should be a great series. Because of their overall athletic superiority, I could see the Thunder pushing this to seven games and maybe even advance on. But to do so they'll need Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant to play their best every game, something they haven't been able to do so far in a series in their time together. The Spurs, meanwhile, have everything they need to advance to the Finals yet again. They have team work, unselfish play from their stars, and also get a solid contribution from their bench. Coached by one of the best leaders of all-time, they don't lack the mindset or experience. The only thing that could keep them from reaching the Finals for the second straight year is the amazing athleticism of Oklahoma City. Before Ibaka got hurt, I had the Thunder in seven games. But now I don't think that's going to happen, not with the rim-protection they're giving up without him, not to mention that he's their third-option on offense. 
Spurs in 6 

Game 1 Prediction: 
The Spurs hit open shots, get out to a big lead early while taking advantage of the Thunder's weaknesses while they try to adjust to playing without their #1 defender. Oklahoma City attempts a comeback, but San Antonio's stellar bench outplays OKC's own significantly and Kevin Durant & company realize they are no longer playing the Clippers, and that they cannot go down early against San Antonio and hope to win the game. 
Spurs 117-88 Thunder 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

This Is It (Eastern Conference Finals Preview)

This is it.
We've known all year what two teams would be here. Yet I, as well as many others, started having doubts. After the Pacers' game 5 loss to the Hawks, I was convinced: Indiana and Miami are not going to see each other in this year's playoffs, despite how inevitable it seemed at midseason. But then the Pacers managed to grit out two straight wins against Atlanta to move on to the Eastern Conference Semifinals and one round away from a rematch with the team that sent them home the year before. Four wins away from a rematch with Lebron James and the Miami Heat.

But then it looked, once again, as if they would not even get a chance to try and put out the Heat. Lucky for them, after a 102-96 loss to the Wizards in game 1, Roy Hibbert ripped off a monster two-game stretch in which he averaged 21 points, 7 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks on 16-of 22 shooting. Paul George, the heir to Lebron's "throne," erupted in game 4 for 39 points to give Indy a 3-1 series lead that they would not relinquish. Now, after Miami handily defeated Brooklyn in 5 games, it is the series that we have anticipated since before the season started.

I originally picked Indiana to win this series-for-the-history-books, but flip-flopped between them and Miami to reign in the East all year. Now, it's finally time. It's time to see whether the Pacers can use their home-court advantage to BEAT THE HEAT. It's time to see whether Dwayne Wade and Lance Stephenson will cancel each other out. It's time to see whether Roy Hibbert can dominate in the paint. And it's time to see who moves on to the NBA Finals.

We know who the NBA wants in the Finals, you can't watch these teams play (especially in Miami) and not know that. But the NBA doesn't always get what they desire, they just always get it when it comes to the Heat. Stiff-necked Heat-wagons who don't believe me, allow me to enlighten you: what do you think the NBA would rather have? Indiana, the smash-mouth, grind-it-out, team that is held together by the strings of immense toughness and defense? Indiana, the 17th best offensive team in the league, a team that struggles to get a shot off and wins games by holding their opponents in the low eighties? That Indiana team playing San Antonio/Oklahoma City in the Finals?

Or would the NBA rather have Miami, the team looking for a three-peat, the team that has the best player in the world, the team that has more bandwagon fans than true fans, the team that makes ratings go sky-high. Which team do you think the NBA would rather have? It's not rocket science to notice that playing in Miami gives the Heat a more-than-significant advantage. So for the Pacers, it's not 5-on-5, but 5-on-8. Because, come on, does a casual basketball fan want to see an 83-82 slug-fest or a 116-115 shootout in the Finals?

Last year one of the main reasons Indiana lost in game 7 of the Conference Finals was because the game was played in Miami, where the Heat feed off of the adrenaline of their "fans" and the helping-hands of the "zebras." That's not to say that the Heat weren't a better team last year, they were. But this year they're a year older, and with last year's core intact, a year older. The Shane Battier from the Grizzlies is not walking through that door. The Ray Allen from the Celtics is not walking through that door. And neither is the Dwayne Wade from the 2005 Finals.

While most of the world is picking Miami, if the Pacers play their best basketball, it's theirs to lose. Unfortunately, they've gotten into a habit of not playing their best [or even near their best] basketball, especially at home. Owning a modest 8-5 record so far in the playoffs, the Pacers have just a 3-4 record at home in the playoffs, after going 35-6 at home during the regular season. But it's not just the playoffs, the Pacers' rough stretch
dates all the way back to midseason. After a scorching-hot  41-13 record over the first-half of the year, Indiana stopped doing everything they did well. They stopped getting hustle offensive-rebounds [offensive-rebounds will no doubt play a big part in this series,] they stopped playing unselfish, team-basketball, and biggest of all, their defense stopped being the stingy, we're-tougher-than-you group they were over the first half of the season.

Players such as Paul George and Lance Stephenson started going out of their way to fill up their own stat sheet. Stephenson and newly-acquired Forward Evan Turner got into a fistfight and had to be separated by teammates. Roy Hibbert publicly called some players "selfish." And no one knew how to fix their problems. Most people think that this semi-collapse was caused by the Pacers trading away veteran-leader Danny Granger at the trade-deadline. I think it was a combination of three things.

One, The Trade. As I mentioned earlier, Indiana traded Danny Granger to the Philadelphia 76ers for Evan Turner right before the trade-deadline. Losing Granger, a glue-guy, was a crushing blow to a Pacers team that had been guided by Granger's experience and leadership. But this alone would not have been enough to make the Pacers stagger to a near .500 record over the season's second half.

Two, The Release. To make the trade for Turner work salary-wise, the Pacers also had to take on the contract of Center Lavoy Allen, who has seen little action since becoming a Pacer. To do so, this meant Indiana had to release a player. Guard Orlando Johnson was the scapegoat. And while Johnson got most of his minutes while Granger was out with injury, he was still a solid member of the team, and losing him hurt.

Three, The Injury. Backup Point Guard C.J. Watson, another veteran-leader, was ruled out with injury at around the same time Granger was traded and Johnson was released. When he finally returned, Indiana was already struggling, and on the brink of mediocrity. Then Watson injured his hamstring. He ended up not returning until shortly before the playoffs. Losing three guys at the same time, while gaining two new ones at the same time was the main reason why the Pacers limped to a 15-13 record over the final half of the season.

The Heat, meanwhile, have had the worst regular-season of the Big 3 era. That's not to say it was bad, just mediocre by their standards. They too, like Indiana, struggled during the final stretch of the season, and staggered into the playoffs. But unlike Indiana, they have not looked vulnerable so far in these playoffs, with a dominant 8-1 record through the first two rounds.

We now know that, despite all the rest he had this season, Dwayne Wade's knee is never going to be the way it once was, and that he and Lance Stephenson basically cancel each other out most of the time. The thing Miami needs to do to win this series is to pressure Indiana's ball-handlers, especially Point Guard George Hill, who is naturally a Shooting Guard and has weak ball-handling for his position. Pressure is one thing the Pacers do not like, and they have shown that by turning the ball over way above the league-average when pressured, especially when they play the Heat. If Miami is forcing turnovers, or the Pacers are simply being carelessly sloppy, there is no way Indiana takes this series. The same thing goes for if the Heat can not get the three-ball to go down, and at least "contain" the fearsome duo of David West. If Indiana is does not have a signifigant advantage on rebounds, and their bench does not at the very least stay nearly as productive as Miami's, they may be able to make this series competitive, but will not be able to win it.

These teams don't like each other, and they would each like nothing more than to send the other one home. Case in point: Pacers Guard Lance Stephenson recently said, "I think his [Dwayne Wade's] knee is messed up, so I've got to be extra aggressive. My plan is to make him run. Make his knee flare up or something. I'll do anything as much as possible." This is going to be a great series, and it would be shocking if it didn't go to 7 games. Whoever takes game 1 will likely win the series, and I see Indiana barely winning it on Sunday, 88-86, with more effort and anger than the Old Heat. It's time for Indiana to realize their goal of BEATing THE HEAT, fully and finally remove themselves from the Malice at the Palace, and advance to the NBA Finals for the first time since a guy named Reggie Miller retired all at the same time. Oh yeah, this Indiana ready. 
Prediction: Pacers in Seven  

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

2014 NFL Season Preview: NFC East

4. Dallas Cowboys 5-11

It looks as if the Cowboys did the smart thing by taking Offensive Tackle Zack Martin to solidify the running game rather than Quarterback Johnny Manziel in the first round, but that is simply not the truth. Even though Dallas was just 24th in rush yards per game, they actually had one of the best running games in the league. Leading Running Back DeMarco Murray had 217 carries in the 14 games he played, which means he had just 15.5 carries per game. But even with just 15.5 carries [not to mention that he missed two games with an injury] he managed to rush for a career-high 1,121 yards, averaging an outstanding 5.2 yards per carry. Had the Cowboys not so vastly underused Murray, it is not ludicrous to think that they could have won their division and in doing so made the playoffs. So now that we know that they didn't need offensive line help, we need to talk about the defense. While Dallas averaged 94 rushing yards per game, they allowed opponents to an insane 128.5 rushing yards per game. But it's not just the run-defense that was pathetic, they gave up an embarrassing 286.8 passing yards per game. They also lost their best defensive player, Demarcus Ware, to the Broncos this offseason. As bad as the defense was last year, this year it could be even worse. It certainly doesn't help that they have a tough schedule, playing against San Francisco, @ St. Louis, @ Seattle, and @ Chicago as well as other tough games. Honestly, it was difficult to predict how this team would fare this year, since their are so many question marks on defense, and a lot of their games are going to likely come down to the wire. They could go anywhere between 11-5 and 4-12. But with a prolonged bye week and six games against playoff teams from last year, my guess is 5-11. 
2014 Grade: C-

3. Washington Redskins 7-9

What's the first thing new Head Coach Jay Gruden needs to do to make this a winning team again? Getting his franchise-quarterback healthy and happy. Robert Griffin III, aka "RG3," was outstanding in his rookie year, winning the Rookie of the Year award. He also led the Redskins from a 4-12 record in 2011 to a 10-6 record and the playoffs in 2012. Unfortunately, to trade up to draft him, Washington had to give up their 2012 first-round pick, their 2012 second-round pick, and their 2014 first-round pick, which turned out to be a bad deal, since this their pick this year was the #2 overall pick. In Griffin's rookie year he threw for 20 touchdowns, compared to just 5 interceptions. He also had a completion percentage of 65.6 percent, a Quarterback rating of 102.4, and threw an interception on just 1.3 percent of his passes. Last year though, he threw for just 16 touchdowns and had 12 interceptions. His completion percentage was down to 60.1 percent and his Quarterback rating was down 20.2 points to 82.2. He also doubled the percent of his passes that were intercepted, having 2.6 percent of his passes intercepted. Worst of all, after going 3-10 over the season's first 10 games, he was placed on Injured Reserve and did not play the rest of the season, because of his knee. The same knee that he tore his ACL on at college in Baylor, and in the playoffs in his rookie season. RG3 is a dynamic Quarterback, but for Washington to make a playoff-push, he's going to have to be fully healthy and at the top of his game. Also, the defense that gave up 354.1 [354.1!] yards per game last year must improve. 
2014 Grade: C+

2. Philadelphia Eagles 7-9 

The Eagles had a great year last year, winning seven of their last eight games to win the division. They found their Quarterback of the future, Nick Foles, and had the leader in rushing yards, Lesean McCoy. However, they had a disappointing offseason. I say this mainly because they cut ties with leading Wide Receiver Desean Jackson, who later signed with Washington. Jackson had 1,332 receiving yards in 2013, while no one else on the team had more than 835. People consider Nick Foles a the Eagles Quarterback of the future, but I think he was simply spoiled by the best Running Back in the league [at least that year] Lesean McCoy, and a high-octane passing attack led by Jackson and involving other above-average players Riley Cooper and Brent Celek. He also played most of his games against some of the worst defenses in the league [Raiders, Giants, Redskins, Vikings.] With a tough schedule this year against four of the five best defenses in the league, Foles likely won't have another Pro-Bowl worthy season. 
2014 Grade: C+

1. New York Giants 9-7 

The Giants, who are usually relatively quiet in free-agency, were just the opposite this year. They added the Broncos top Cornerback in 2013, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and also signed Raiders Running Back to complement David Wilson in the running game. Two moves going under the radar are their signing of former first-round pick Quarterback Josh Freeman to be Eli Manning's backup Quarterback, the only reason this addition is significant is because it means that if something happens and Eli gets hurt or isn't ready by the time the regular season rolls around [which is a possibility since he is scheduled to miss part of training camp due to an ankle injury] that Freeman will be the one starting, rather than Curtis "I Can Make Even Blaine Gabbert Look Good" Painter. The other move is that they signed Pro-Bowl kick and punt-returner Trindon Holliday [who had previously been employed by the Denver Broncos.] And while they need a Tight End after losing both Brandon Myers and Bear Pascoe in free-agency, they at least managed to replace Wide Receiver Hakeem Nicks by drafting Odell Beckham Jr. with their first pick of the draft. But if they're really going to win the division, they're going to need contributions in the running game, as well as the offensive line to step up and protect Eli Manning who desperately needs to have a bounce-back year. They have a tough schedule, but so does everyone else in this division. If they won the NFL's worst division this year, it would be the first time the G-Men made the playoffs since they last won the Super Bowl. 
2014 Grade: B-

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Circus That Is The Cleveland Browns

Editor's note: Sorry, I had this post ready on Friday but the computer I wrote it on was malfunctioning badly, and it took me awhile to fix it.

The Cleveland Browns truly are the worst, most embarrassing franchise in the National Football League. I used to make fun of Browns fans, but honestly, now I just feel bad for them. During the first night of what has proved to be an exhilarating draft, Cleveland traded down from the #4 pick to the #9 pick [which somehow turned into the #8 pick] and nabbed Oklahoma State Cornerback Justin Gilbert. They somehow managed to also grab the Quarterback they wanted by trading up from the #26 pick [which they had via the Indianapolis Colts] to the #22 pick and drafting Texas A&M standout Johnny "Football" Manziel. 2,000 season tickets were sold that night, ESPN called it a new era, and then, it all fell apart. 

Actually, Gilbert and Manziel didn't do anything to get themselves in trouble. But remember Josh Gordon? The potential-bearing Wide Receiver for Cleveland last year who led the NFL with 1,646 yards last season after being suspended for the first TWO GAMES.  But that's not necessarily as impressive as it sounds. The #2, #5, and #17 players in receiving yards during the 2013 season were in the AFC North. It goes to show that the AFC North pass-defense, and Josh Gordon's winning of the receiving yards title, is overrated.

Still not convinced? Consider this: the previous leader in receiving yards, the Detroit Lions' Calvin Johnson, was third in 2013 with 1,492 yards. But he missed two games with an injury. In that same season, he averaged 106.6 receiving yards per game in the games that he played, so if you round 106.6 up to 107 and multiply that by 2 you get 214. Add 214 to his total of 1,492 and get 1,760, which means he would have torched Gordon by 114 yards to lead the NFL in receiving yards. 

Despite all those numbers, Gordon was still a talented receiver, albeit off-the-field baggage. The Browns seemed to have finally turned the corner. But then the announcement came that Gordon is facing a year-long suspension for failing another drug test. Cleveland isn't going to have the weapons at Wide Receiver after trading down in the draft [as I mentioned earlier] instead of drafting the talented Sammy Watkins, to make a playoff-push without their #1  receiver. Sadly, I think in this one event, the Browns have lost hope for relevancy [at least in 2014,] and Josh Gordon has lost hope for his NFL career. I sincerely hope I'm wrong, but things sure don't look good for the 23-year old Gordon.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

My Final NFL Draft Predictions

Editor's note: The Rams own the #2 pick in this year's draft because of a draft-day trade with the Washington Redskins in 2012. 

The NFL Draft is tonight, and I foresee a trade [or three] happening:

Trade #1

Houston Texans trade: #1 overall pick in this year's draft  

Atlanta Falcons trade: #7 overall pick in this year's draft, #37 overall pick in this year's draft, and a 2015 1st round pick 

Trade #2

Cincinnati Bengals trade: #24 overall pick in this year's draft 

Oakland Raiders trade: #36 overall pick in this year's draft, #67 overall pick in this year's draft, and a 2015 2nd round pick 

Trade #3

New Orleans Saints trade: #27 overall pick in this year's draft 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers trade: #38 overall pick in this year's draft, and a 2015 2nd round pick 

Now, without further ado, here's how I see things turning out: 

1. Atlanta Falcons [from a trade with the Houston Texans] select South Carolina Defensive End Jadeveon Clowney 

2. St. Louis Rams select Auburn Offensive Tackle Greg Robinson

3. Jacksonville Jaguars select Central Florida Quarterback Blake Bortles 

4. Cleveland Browns select Clemson Wide Receiver Sammy Watkins 

5. Oakland Raiders select Texas A&M Wide Receiver Mike Evans 

6. Houston Texans [from a trade with the Atlanta Falcons] select Buffalo Outside Linebacker Khalil Mack 

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers select Texas A&M Offensive Tackle Jake Matthews 

8. Minnesota Vikings select Michigan Offensive Tackle Taylor Lewan 

9. Buffalo Bills select Pittsburgh Defensive Tackle Aaron Donald

10. Detroit Lions select LSU Wide Receiver Odell Beckham Jr. 

11. Tennessee Titans sélect Notre Dame Offensive Tackle Zack Martin 

12. New York Giants select North Carolina Tight End Eric Ebron 

13. St. Louis Rams select Ohio State Outside Linebacker Ryan Shazier

14. Chicago Bears select Alabama Inside Linebacker C.J. Mosley 

15. Pittsburgh Steelers select Alabama Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix 

16. Dallas Cowboys select Michigan State Cornerback Darqueze Dennard 

17. Baltimore Ravens select Oklahoma State Cornerback Justin Gilbert  

18. New York Jets select Oregon State Wide Receiver Brandin Cooks 

19. Miami Dolphins select Virginia Offensive Tackle Morgan Moses 

20. Arizona Cardinals select USC Wide Receiver Marqise Lee 

21. Green Bay Packers select Virginia Tech Cornerback Kyle Fuller 

22. Philadelphia Eagles select Louisville Safety Calvin Pryor 

23. Kansas City Chiefs select Auburn Defensive End Dee Ford 

24. Oakland Raiders select [in a trade with the Cincinnati Bengals] Texas A&M Quarterback Johnny Manziel 

25. San Diego Chargers select UCLA Outside Linebacker Anthony Barr 

26. Cleveland Browns select Fresno State Quarterback Derek Carr 

27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers select [in a trade with the New Orleans Saints] Louisville Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater 

28. Carolina Panthers select Ohio State Cornerback Bradley Roby 

29. New England Patriots select Nevada Offensive Tackle Joel Bitonio 

30. San Francisco 49ers select TCU Cornerback Jason Verrett 

31. Denver Broncos select Georgia Tech Outside Linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu 

32. Seattle Seahawks select Indiana Wide Receiver Cody Latimer 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

A Quick Rundown of the Second Round of the NBA Playoffs [so far]

It's Wednesday, and that means more playoff basketball in the NBA. Here's a recap of last night's games, as well as a preview of tonight's:

May 6, 2014

#6 seed Brooklyn Nets @ #2 seed Miami Heat 

Nets 86-107 Heat 

The Heat are the preliminary favorites in the East, thanks in large part because they have won back-to-back championships and their biggest competition in the East, the #1-seeded Indiana Pacers, lost to the Washington Wizards in Game 1 of their second-round match-up. Some people, [not including myself,] thought that the Nets had a great chance of beating Miami in this series, and a big reason was because of their sheer veteran-leadership. This is an old roster stacked with veterans, such as former Celtics and future Hall-of-Famers Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Although I saw this series being competitive, I didn't see the Heat losing BEFORE the Conference Finals so I picked Miami in 7 games. And although it IS just one game, it looks like I thought too highly of the Nets. They got BLOWN out Tuesday night, and to a team that they have openly admitted that they "hate." After a competitive Round One series against the Toronto Raptors, which they just barely won in 7 games, this old group of guys past their prime just doesn't seem to have the energy to be consistently competitive against a younger Miami squad. 

Game 1 MVP: Heat Forward Lebron James, 22 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists  

Updated series prediction: Heat in 5 games 

#5 seed Portland Trailblazers @ #1 seed San Antonio Spurs 

Trailblazers 92-116 Spurs 

When I first looked at this series for my Round Two predictions, my first thought was, "This is going to be a great series." Well, so far it hasn't exactly been that way. The Spurs came out and absolutely DOMINATED in the 1st quarter, outscoring the Blazers 29-16 in the first period of play. Then in the 2nd quarter, they outscored Portland by 13 points AGAIN, 36-23. And while the Trailblazers actually outscored San Antonio in the second half, the 26-point lead was too much for them to overcome. Going into to this series my gut told me to pick Portland, while my head told me the logical thing to do was to go with my head and pick the Spurs. And I'm sure glad I did. 

Game 1 MVP: Spurs Point Guard Tony Parker, 33 points, 3 rebounds, 9 assists

Updated series prediction: Spurs in 6 games 

May 7, 2014 

7:00 PM ET 

#5 seed Washington Wizards @ #1 seed Indiana Pacers 

Wizards lead series 1-0

This is it. Game 2. A must-win for the Indiana Pacers. In Game 1 the Wiz held All-Star Center Roy Hibbert to 0 points and 0 rebounds and a plus-minus of -17. Stars Lance Stephenson and Paul George shot a combined 8-of-30 from the field. And it helped the Wizards that Forward Trevor Ariza shot 6-of-6 from three-point range and second-year Guard Bradley Beal poured in 25 points. If the Pacers are going to win Game 2, they have to get out to the three-point line and shut down the three-ball, make sure they get good shots on their offensive possessions and that Stephenson and George are not just popping 30 contested jump-shots, and they MUST GET ROY HIBBERT GOING. He's been a non-factor thus far in the playoffs averaging just 4.3 points per game. I originally picked the Wizards to win this series in 6 and I'm sticking by that. 

Prediction for tonight's game: Pacers 97-93 Wizards 

9:30 PM ET

#3 seed Los Angeles Clippers @ #2 seed Oklahoma City Thunder  

Clippers lead series 1-0 

Originally I picked the Thunder to win this series in 7, but after losing 122-105 at home, I'm not so sure if I made the right choice. Kevin Durant scored 25 points, but had a whopping -26 plus-minus. What is plus-minus? The point-differential of a player's team when he is on the floor. That means Oklahoma City was outscored by 26 points when Durant was on the floor. That's just not an acceptable playoff-performance from a guy who recently won the NBA Most Valuable Player Award. Although, it also helped that the Clippers' superstar Point Guard, Chris "CP3" Paul, knocked down 8 three-pointers. I don't see CP3 going off for 32 points again Wednesday, and after winning the MVP Award, Durant will be hungry. 

Prediction for tonight's game: Thunder 107-98 Clippers 


Monday, May 5, 2014

Updated NBA Playoffs Prediction

The First Round of the NBA Playoffs are over, with the Spurs, Thunder, Clippers, Pacers, and Nets beating the Mavericks, Grizzlies, Warriors, Hawks and Raptors, respectively, in 7 games. The Miami Heat won against the Charlotte Bobcats in 4 games, the Washington Wizards defeated the Chicago Bulls in 5 games, and the Portland Trailblazers upset the Houston Rockets in 6 games. Now, here are my "updated" playoff predictions:


Conference Semifinals 

#5 seed Washington Wizards over #1 Indiana Pacers in 6 games
Game 1: Wizards 
Game 2: Pacers 
Game 3: Wizards 
Game 4: Wizards 
Game 5: Pacers
Game 6: Wizards 
Series MVP: WAS C Nene 

#2 seed Miami Heat over #6 seed Brooklyn Nets in 6 games 
Game 1: Heat 
Game 2: Nets 
Game 3: Heat 
Game 4: Heat 
Game 5: Nets
Game 6: Heat 
Series MVP: MIA F Lebron James

Conference Finals 

#2 seed Miami Heat over #5 seed Washington Wizards in 6 games
Game 1: Heat 
Game 2: Wizards 
Game 3: Wizards 
Game 4: Heat 
Game 5: Heat 
Game 6: Heat 
Series MVP: MIA F Lebron James 


Conference Semifinals 

#1 seed San Antonio Spurs over #5 seed Portland Trailblazers in 7 games 
Game 1: Trailblazers 
Game 2: Spurs 
Game 3: Trailblazers 
Game 4: Spurs 
Game 5: Spurs 
Game 6: Trailblazers 
Game 7: Spurs
Series MVP: SAS C Tiago Splitter 

Oklahoma City Thunder over Los Angeles Clippers in 7 games 
Game 1: Thunder 
Game 2: Clippers 
Game 3: Thunder
Game 4: Clippers
Game 5: Thunder 
Game 6: Clippers
Game 7: Thunder
Series MVP: OKC F Kevin Durant 

Conference Finals 

#1 seed San Antonio Spurs over #2 seed Oklahoma City Thunder in 7 games 
Game 1: Thunder 
Game 2: Spurs 
Game 3: Spurs
Game 4: Thunder 
Game 5: Thunder 
Game 6: Spurs 
Game 7: Spurs 
Series MVP: SAS G Tony Parker 


Game 1: Spurs 
Game 2: Heat 
Game 3: Heat 
Game 4: Spurs 
Game 5: Heat 
Game 6: Spurs 
Game 7: Spurs 
FINALS MVP: Spurs G Tony Parker 
NBA CHAMPIONS: San Antonio Spurs

The NBA Awards have been announced, here's who took home the league's most prestigious awards: 
League MVP: Oklahoma City Thunder SF/SG/PF Kevin Durant 
Defensive Player of the Year: Chicago Bulls C Joakim Noah 
Rookie of the Year: Philadelphia 76ers PG Michael Carter-Williams 
Coach of the Year: Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs 
Most Improved Player: Phoenix Suns PG/SG Goran Dragic 
Sixth Man of the Year: Los Angeles Clippers SG/PG Jamal Crawford