The Phoenix Suns survived two rounds of the playoffs playing small ball. That won’t happen in the Western conference finals against the Los Angeles Lakers.
During the regular season the Lakers won three out of four games against the Suns. They scored more than 100 points in every game and they’ll need to fill up the scoreboard in this series. The Suns have already proven they can score and win against defensive-oriented teams as they outclassed the Spurs in the second round.
But the Lakers are a different animal with trees clogging the paint in Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. Not only are these two big, but they are skilled. San Antonio has skilled big men, but they were undersized (other than Tim Duncan the Spurs had Antonio McDyess and DeJuan Blair, who is generously listed as 6 foot 7).
Phoenix will need tremendous production from forward Amare Stoudemire and the returning Robin Lopez. They will be the primary players in the paint for the Suns as Channing Frye likes to launch threes.
Point guard Steve Nash leads the Suns’ prolific offense. He has talented players surrounding him in Jason Richardson, their leading scorer at 21.9 points per game, Grant Hill, Leandro Barbosa, Jared Dudley and Goran Dragic.
The Suns most effective lineup in the playoffs has been Nash, Stoudemire and the three perimeter players who have been the hottest. That won’t work against the Lakers who have the burly Ron Artest at small forward and super sub Lamar Odom ready to step in at power forward.
Oh, and there’s that guy for the Lakers, No. 24, who takes over games when his team is down and rescues them when they need a basket to win a game. Yeah, Kobe Bryant, last year’s NBA finals MVP and owner of four championship rings. Phoenix doesn’t have anyone to slow Bryant.
Nash and Stoudemire will try to pick and roll the Lakers to death, but their height and length will make it tough for Phoenix to score. The Suns can stay in the series if their guys hit threes and open jumpers. Those will be there often, but the Lakers should get higher percentage shots close to the basket. And of course, Bryant will be there when all else fails.
Phoenix is more committed to defense this year and its offense is scary, but the Suns simply don’t have the personnel to match up with the Lakers.
Lakers in five.
One team was undefeated in the playoffs. The other team played the part of David against the Goliath-like Cleveland Cavaliers. And won.
The Orlando Magic played eight playoff games against inferior competition, but obliterated their opponents in all of them. The Celtics upset the heavily favored Cavaliers and once again, face long odds against a powerful Orlando team.
Magic center Dwight Howard should have his way in the paint unless he gets in foul trouble. It’s no secret Orlando wants its perimeter players to knock down threes and get easy scoring opportunities off players double-teaming Howard. But the Celtics’ stifling defense has returned during the postseason. They let LeBron James put up big numbers in their second-round series, but all of the other Cavs were neutralized.
Celtics guard Rajon Rondo dominated Cleveland, not so much in scoring, but rebounding (yes rebounding), getting other players involved and controlling the tempo of the games. Rondo’s counterpart, Magic guard Jameer Nelson, must play solid defense and not allow Rondo to impact games the way he did against Cleveland.
This should be a tough series for both teams. Marquee names are on both sides. For the Celtics, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen need to score to keep their team close. Especially Pierce, who disappeared at times in the last series. For Orlando, Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis need to be effective and not always settle for jump shots and three-point attempts.
Boston will try to slow the game down and suffocate Orlando on the defensive end. The Magic will hope Howard beats up the Celtics’ big men and of course, live and die by the three pointer. The last two seasons they have lived; Orlando is looking for its second consecutive trip to the NBA finals.
The Celtics will look for their second finals trip in three years and perhaps, second title as well. They are longshots, but not too many people had them defeating Cleveland.
The Magic should win in seven games. But, if this gets to a seventh game don’t count the Celtics out. Even though the Magic is the defending Eastern conference champions, the Celtics have much more playoff experience. There just might be another rock for David to launch toward Goliath. So yeah, uh, Magic in seven.
The first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs showed a 25 percent increase from last year, and they were the best in almost a decade. Still, less than one million people are watching the average NHL playoff game. That would be different if the league were willing to push back their season so the playoffs started in June. Then they would only be competing with baseball on a nightly basis, and ESPN would gladly air their games.
Why They’re Here: This team had ACC championship aspirations last year and flat out underachieved. They’ve had a year to think about it and coach Butch Davis has to show something this year. Then again, UNC is a basketball school, so I can’t imagine the man’s seat is too hot.
The Good: The Tar Heels only lost a couple guys from a fantastic defensive unit. They return six all-conference players on defense and seven seniors. This is a senior class that knows what it’s capable of and has dealt with mediocrity for four years. If these Tar Heels are sick of being second-class citizens at a basketball school and really have the hunger in their bellies, they have the talent and the defensive scheme to make people stop and pay attention. Don’t be surprised to see these guys ranked in the top 10 in just about every defensive category and have a number of first, second and third round (once called first day) draft picks when the season is over. This was the first class that Butch Davis recruited all on his own, so this season he has no one to blame but himself for the team’s performance.
The Bad: Last year, the offense was anemic – and anemic is putting it nicely. The only returning all-conference player on that side of the ball is the kicker. If QB TJ Yates can manage to get it going, this team could challenge for the ACC crown.
That said, the ACC is in the midst of quite a renaissance this year with Miami, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Florida State all fielding potentially top 10 teams. While this may be Butch Davis’s most talented team, he’s also going up against the most talented teams he’s faced in his collegiate coaching career.
The Last Word: It remains to be seen if North Carolina can overcome itself and a very talented division. For some reason, whoever put together North Carolina’s schedule also decided to put Rutgers and Cincinnati on the block, and play LSU in the first game of the season. That decision may be what undermines what could have otherwise been a very successful season.
Injuries are part of the game in the NBA, but during playoff time teams are usually at their healthiest. Injuries to star players usually spell doom and it has proven so more often than not.
The entire NBA world has focused on LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the last week. How bad is that elbow that forced him to shoot a free throw left handed in the clinching game against the Chicago Bulls? The Cavaliers have an abundance of talent, but without the two-time MVP their championship hopes would be dashed.
In game five against the Celtics, James simply wasn’t himself. His poor performance… 15 points on three for 14 shooting… wasn’t King-like. Now the Cavaliers are on the brink of elimination.
In Los Angeles, the banged-up Lakers need all the rest they can get after sweeping the Utah Jazz in the second round. Kobe Bryant has finger, knee and ankle injuries that have bothered him all season. Injury-prone center Andrew Bynum has a right knee injury and hasn’t played with the same consistency he had this year.
Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash has been slowed by a hip injury. Although backup Goran Dragic is a more-than-capable player, especially after scoring 26 points in game three against the Spurs, the Suns need Nash to guide their offense.
The Utah Jazz were able to dispose of the Denver Nuggets in the first round without Okur, but they could have used his size and offense against the Lakers. Okur isn’t a star player, and his presence wouldn’t have changed the outcome of the series, but he would have helped. Maybe the series wouldn’t have ended in a sweep.
Championship runs have been derailed numerous times because of injuries. Last season, the Boston Celtics’ title defense wasn’t quite the same without former league MVP Kevin Garnett. The anchor of their 2008 championship, Garnett was out of the lineup in the thrilling first-round series against the Chicago Bulls. The Celtics eventually succumbed to the eventual Eastern conference champions, the Orlando Magic.
The Lakers missed Bynum in the 2008 finals against the Celtics’ bruising frontline. Other Lakers championship runs have been ruined with Hall of Fame players unavailable. In 2004, power forward Karl Malone was injured in the second game of the finals. The Lakers lost in five games. In 1991, forward James Worthy and guard Byron Scott were injured during the finals against the Chicago Bulls. Again, the Lakers lost in five games.
The most damaging of all, however, was in 1989 when the Lakers, back-to-back champs, were slowed by hamstring injuries to their starting backcourt of then-league MVP Magic Johnson and Scott. That year the Detroit Pistons swept them in the finals.
Another glamour team lost its last finals appearance without a Hall of Fame player. The New York Knicks made a run to the championship in 1999 with center Patrick Ewing managing to play with an Achilles tendon injury. As a No. 8 seed it was an improbable run, but Ewing sat out the NBA finals because of the injury. They sure could have used Ewing against the mighty Spurs with their twin-tower lineup of David Robinson and then-up-and-comer Tim Duncan.
With one second-round series left to be decided in this year’s playoffs (Boston vs. Cleveland) there are big-time players with nagging injuries. If these nagging injuries turn out to be serious then their respective teams will likely suffer when it matters most. Stay healthy, LeBron, K.G., Kobe and Nash.
Why They’re Here: Ryan Mallett, Ryan Mallett, Ryan Mallett. If this guy isn’t the number one pick in next year’s draft, it’s probably because he got caught snorting coke off the hood of a Jeep (and everyone tried to warn him not to hang out with Jeff Smoker). Bobby Petrino has this offense primed to explode. The defense, however, is another story.
The Good: The Razorbacks should have the SEC’s pre-season first-team all-conference quarterback. That’s quite an accomplishment and he’ll have to prove himself against the likes of Florida’s John Brantley, LSU’s Jordan Jefferson, Auburn’s Cam “Lootin” Newton and South Carolina’s Stephen Garcia. This is probably the best crop of SEC quarterbacks the conference has seen since the Manning-Wuerffel days. That said, Petrino has the offensive scheme and the quarterback to step to anyone in the conference and beyond. The Hogs also return all-conference tight end DJ Williams and all-conference receiver Joe Adams.
The Bad: As well as Arkansas’s offense throws the ball, they’re defense is just as bad at defending it. I can’t even imagine how one-on-ones go in practice. The offense must just score until Petrino blows the whistle and walks off the practice field shaking his head. Last year, the defense couldn’t stop anyone and they’ve lost DT Malcolm Sheppard to the NFL and a number of others. Petrino didn’t have a ranked recruiting class either, and with Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina and Auburn all having top 25 recruiting classes and all on this year’s schedule, it’s going to be an uphill battle.
The Last Word: In the end, it’ll come down to whether or not the Razorbacks can play defense. The Razorbacks are in the SEC West, home to LSU, Alabama and Auburn, all of whom are perennial defensive powerhouses. It doesn’t seem like Bobby Petrino has been paying a lot of attention to that side of the ball and they’ll never be a great team in the defensively stacked SEC without getting more stout.
Why do some celebrities get charged with a crime, and others donʼt? Is it because of their specific occupation, their gender, how much money they make, or how “beloved” or important they are to their fans and judiciaries?
Last month actress Heather Locklear was allegedly behind the wheel, near her home, when she hit a street sign and left the scene without notifying anyone. A neighbor reported the accident the next day, whereupon police located her vehicle and matched some debris that was left at the scene. Locklear was arrested, issued a misdemeanor citation, and her case is still in revue for a felony DUI.
A recently published book by Steve Helling called Tiger: The Real Story gives details as to what happened back in November 2009, the night when Tigerʼs SUV met up with a tree on his street. He also details why Woods wasnʼt charged with a DUI despite evidence to the contrary.
After Woodʼs smashup, his wife Elin told police that he had been drinking. To those attending him at the scene, it was apparent that Woods was impaired and unfit to operate a vehicle. “I would bet everything I own that he was not fit to drive,” says one of the officers who investigated the case. “But Iʼll never be able to prove it, because our hands were tied. The powers that be didnʼt want to tangle with Tiger; they just wanted the situation to go away.”
When a paramedic asked Elin if he was on any medication, she ran back into the house and returned with a bottle of Ambien, and one bottle of Vicodin. The paramedic put the bottles in a bag as to accompany Woods to the hospital. When the Florida Highway Patrol came on the scene, an officer also asked Elin if Tiger had been drinking. She said “He drank some earlier that night.” The officer notated it.
Police felt that they had sufficient evidence to subpoena Woodsʼ blood from the hospital. By doing so, this would allow them to build a stronger case and charge him with DUI. The Request for Investigative Subpoena stated: “The driver lost control of his vehicle, crashed and was transported to the hospital. A witness stated that the driver had consumed alcohol earlier in the day and the same witness removed the driver from the vehicle after the collision. Also, the same witness stated that the driver was prescribed medication (Ambien and Vicodin). Impairment of the driver is also suspected due to the careless driving that resulted in the traffic crash.”
Officers were stunned to learn that their request had been denied by the Assistant Attorney Steve Foster, head of the State Attorneyʼs Office Intake Division. His reply to the request was “insufficient information provided to lawfully issue subpoena.”
One Florida Highway Patrol officer involved in the case said, “I have gotten subpoenas issued with a lot less evidence than that. I don’t know why the subpoena wasn’t issued. I really don’t. All I know is that everything was done by the book, and I believe that subpoena should have been issued.”
Makes you wonder how someone of Woodsʼ stature can dodge a DUI bullet as big as this, and just get by with a $164 careless driving ticket, yet Heather Locklear is facing a possible DUI charge any day. All things equal, shouldnʼt Tiger be facing the same penalty as Locklear, or is his case another example of a “bigger” celebrity being above the law?
SRG College Football Contributor Dion Rabo will be counting down his 2010 Preseason Top 25. Every few days a new team will make the list, and today we start with number 25…
25. Utah/Pittsburgh –
Why They’re Here: Consider this the play-in game for the number 25 spot. I think both of these teams could realistically do some damage in the BCS picture, but given the bias against their respective conferences, a loss in their September 2 season-opening game will probably spell the end of that.
The Good: Utah is returning eight starters on offense to a team that’s two years removed from putting a beating on Alabama. Their only damaging loss is OT Zane Beadles, who went in the second round of this year’s draft. That’s obviously a big loss, but if they can get someone to step up and fill his big shoes and protect returning starter, sophomore QB Jordan Wynn, the Utes are very dangerous at all the skill positions. They were able to go 10-3 with Wynn as a freshman last year and now that he’s had a year of the offense under his belt and a familiar corps of weapons, he and the Utah offense should be formidable.
The story for both teams will be the emergence of their sophomore studs. For Pittsburgh, the story is Dion Lewis. In addition to having the best first name in the world, the sophomore has got to be on the short list for preseason All-America and Heisman consideration. The Pitt defense is also stacked with experience. They will start only two sophomores – one of whom is returning starter FS Jarred Holley – and no freshmen.
The Bad: For Utah, Zane Beadles is a huge loss. A star left tackle is really a quarterback’s best friend and Wynn may have gotten a little spoiled not having to watch his blind side last year. They’ve also got TCU and BYU back-to-back on their schedule this year in addition to the tough game against Pitt to start the season. That may just be too much.
Pittsburgh should have another stud at tight end, but their receiving corps remains a question. New sophomore starter WR Tino Suseri will have to be a playmaker for this team to be as competitive as they want to be.
The Last Word: I like Pittsburgh to win this game and move into the AP top 25 for the second week. Their matchup against Miami on September 23, will tell where they really stand.
Final Record: Pitt – 11-2
The Mayweather/Mosley fight last Saturday night turned out to be a total let down. The hype and promotion was top notch, but after the second round, the outcome was never really in doubt. From a business perspective, it was a smashing success. From the fans perspective, it sucked.
Naturally one would think a Super Fight between Mayweather and Pacquiao should be next, but something tells me neither side will be willing to budge when it comes to drug tests.
Pacquiao claims random blood testing within 24 days of the fight will give Mayweather an edge. Not sure why he thinks that, but Floyd isnt likely to budge. And after the success of the Mosley fight, I dont think he should. If Pacquiao really wants the fight, he should accept the random tests. But I dont expect that to happen anytime soon.
No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers vs. No. 5 Utah Jazz
The Lakers lead this series, 1-0. Although the Jazz played the Lakers tough in the first game, losing 104-99, this is a series that should be lopsided. The Lakers struggled against the young, athletic Thunder, but won’t against the Jazz.
Only Utah point guard Deron Williams will be a tough cover for the Lakers. Power forward Carlos Boozer has a history of struggling against the Lakers’ mammoth frontline of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. Williams will control the game and be involved in scoring and dishing to his teammates, but don’t expect much more from anyone else.
In game 1 Kobe Bryant had easy looks at the basket en route to 31 points. Without youthful, pesky Thunder players to harass him, Bryant shot an efficient 12 for 19 from the field. Look for that to continue.
Lakers in five.
No. 3 Phoenix Suns vs. No. 7 San Antonio Spurs
Coming off an impressive first-round upset of the Dallas Mavericks, the Spurs should pull off another one against the Suns. San Antonio seemed long in the tooth, but its efficient play and sound defense got them past the talented Mavericks.
Phoenix is also more talented and has been hot toward the end of the season. The combination of Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire overwhelms most teams, but the Spurs have seen this before. San Antonio is kryptonite for the Suns and Phoenix usually folds during playoff time.
If San Antonio doesn’t get great contributions from role players such as George Hill, Richard Jefferson and former NBA finals MVP Tony Parker, who’s now coming off the bench, it will be in trouble. It’s tough to imagine Phoenix, which has improved greatly on defense this year, being able to gut it out with methodical Spurs.
San Antonio in seven.
No. 1 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. No. 4 Boston Celtics
The Cavaliers lead this series, 1-0. Cleveland is an absolute juggernaut and even if back-to-back MVP LeBron James has an off day, the rest of his team picks up the scoring.
Boston would have to play a perfect series to win. They are capable of it, with most of the core intact from the team that won it all in 2008. But they are two years older and don’t play nearly as tough defensively. The big three of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce would have to maximize their games.
Garnett still seems bothered by a leg injury and just hasn’t looked the same this season. The Cavaliers lacked the toughness to grind it out with physical teams such as the Celtics last year. It was their downfall in the conference finals against Orlando. With Shaquille O’Neal in the paint that won’t happen.
Cavaliers in six.
No. 2 Orlando Magic vs. No. 3 Atlanta Hawks
Did the Magic at least get to go on vacation? Orlando swept Charlotte and has been waiting for the winner of Atlanta and Milwaukee. That series barely wrapped up on Sunday. Finally, the Magic has an opponent.
Magic center Dwight Howard should neutralize Atlanta’s athletic players — if he stays out of foul trouble. The defensive player of the year hardly played against the Bobcats, yet Orlando’s perimeter players were able to knock down plenty of shots during the four-game series.
Atlanta has nobody to contain Howard, which means Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis and Jameer Nelson will be able to spot up and hit those jumpers. The fact that the Hawks struggled against the Bucks, one of those just-happy-to-be-there teams, doesn’t bode well. The Magic is a different beast with a real-life monster in the middle in Howard.
Magic in five.