Archive for May, 2009

Can they (he) do it again?

May 29, 2009

I find it amusing that in the wake of the Cavaliers’ 112-102 victory over the Magic in Game Five of the Eastern Conference finals that LeBron James’ dominance in the fourth quarter is considered by many pundits to be an indictment of Cleveland’s chances to win the series.
So it’s a bad thing that Cleveland coach Mike Brown finally figured out a way to get his best player isolated, avoid double-teams and get the rest of LeBron’s teammates involved?
I’m not following that logic.
What James did by scoring or assisting on 32 consecutve Cleveland points from late in the third quarter to late in the fourth was a feat even more impressive than him scoring 25 consecutive points in Game Five of the Eastern Conference finals against Detroit two years ago.
This time, James’ full array of talents were on display. He scored on mid-range jumpers and daring drives, but he also showcased his remarkable court vision by seting up teammates for five three-point plays/baskets.
But if you listen to most analysts, that’s a bad thing.
They believe James simply cannot do this again, let alone the two more times Cleveland needs it to win the series and move on to the NBA finals.
My response to them: Why not?
James has already proven in this series that he cannot be stopped. No matter how many times the TNT crew tells you Mickael Pietrus is doing a marvelous job defending LeBron, the truth is James is averaging over 40 points per-game and shooting over 50% against Pietrus and whoever else the Magic throws at him.
So, if your Mike Brown, you look at that and you have two choices: Ride LeBron even more, or put your faith in James’ supporting cast and just keep running the same stuff you ran to get into a 3-1 hole.
In that light, Browns’ decision seems pretty wise.
Now Orlando must react. The Magic can run a defender at James as he penetrates the lane, but he will probably find the vacated Cavs’ player for an open jumper.
If Mo Williams, Delonte West, Daniel Gibson and others hit enough of those shots, the Cavs have a chance to square the series and send it back to Cleveland for Game Seven.
If not, Orlando wins and the Cavaliers have an off-season to lament how LeBron’s supporting cast let him down once again.

Can history smile on the Cavs?

May 28, 2009

Game 5 tonight at The Q, where the Cavaliers hope to stave off elimination against the Orlando Magic. Only eight teams in NBA history have come back from 3-1 deficits to win their series and move on. Eight teams, so it’s not impossible. But 182 teams up 3-1 have eventually closed out their competition, so history says the Cavs have only a 4% chance of moving on.
History, if you’ve been paying attention, hasn’t been too kind to the Cleveland sports fan. The Drive, The Fumble, The Mesa Blown Save — those are the lowlights of a Cleveland sports title drought that dates to the Browns winning the NFL championship in 1964. That’s 55 years of suffering, if you’re keeping track at home, and I know you are.
So, do the Cavs have a chance?
Yes.
Better than the historical average?
Yes, better than a 4% chance.
I’d put the Cavs’ chances at about 15% of winning this series, and here’s why: A win tonight puts some pressure — not all the pressure, as many have contended, but some pressure for the first time in this series — on Orlando.
The Magic have been playing with house money since their Game One victory in Cleveland. The Cavaliers had to struggle to tie the series on LeBron’s James’ buzzer-beater in Game Two.
Then Orlando won Game Three to get back in the driver’s seat. Was their pressure on Orlando that night? Not really, because it still had a Game Four at home immediately afterward to even the series in the event it lost Game Three.
That’s not the case if the Cavs win Game Five tonight. A loss by the Magic forces them to close the series out at home, or face a Game Seven at The Q.
Now, in order to put that onus on the Magic, the Cavaliers have to do something they have not since taking a 23-point lead early in Game One. That is, play like they are the superior team, the confident team, the team which believes it will dominate the series.
Orlando’s other-worldly shooting that enabled its Game One comeback put the Cavaliers on the defensive, both physically, and more importantly, mentally. You could sense the air going out of The Q as the Magic’s rally unfolded. It was as if Earnest Bynar trotted out to midcourt and dropped the football all over again, as if Brian Sipe threw another interception to Mike Davis on Red Right 88.
Delonte West, Mo Williams and the rest of LeBron’s so-called supporting cast were visibly afraid to shoot from that point forward. They shoot now, because they know they must, but only James is operating with the same energy and confidence he displayed during the regular season.
How do you play confidently in Game Five if your shots having falled in Games One, Two, Three and Four? You do it, because if you don’t, there won’t be a Game Six, let alone a Game Seven.
My prediction: The Cavaliers square the series with wins the next two times out, but surrender a spot in the NBA finals with a Game Seven loss at home.
It’s just too Cleveland for it to happen any other way.

I’ve seen this movie before

May 21, 2009

I’m trying not to panic. I really am trying. It’s just not working. No matter how many people tell me the Cavaliers will be fine, despite their 107-106 loss to Orlando in Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals, I’m not buying it.
Maybe it’s because I was in Municipal Stadium for The Drive in 1987.
Maybe it’s because I took a seven-mile walk to get over The Fumble, or because I searched my apartment for something to throw through my TV screen when Jose Mesa blew a one-run lead against the Marlins in the World Series.
Or maybe it’s because, as I watched the Magic score easy basket after easy basket in the second quarter Wednesday night, I knew right then that the Cavs were in deep, deep trouble in this serious.
Yes, I knew a loss was inevitable even when the Cavaliers held a 15-point halftime lead and LeBron James was having perhaps his greatest game as a Cavalier.
Only a life-long Cleveland sports fan can be that certain of impending doom even in the aftermath of Mo Willaims hitting a 66-foot three-pointer at the halftime buzzer.
So you can tell me not to panic, but that’s a little like the time my dad told me not to look down on the double-ferris wheel at Cedar Point. “Don’t think about it and you won’t be scared,” he said.
Didn’t work then, and it ain’t working now.
If I thought the Cavs could do something, anything, to keep Orlando from scoring in triple figures, I’d calm down.
But while Cleveland has ample bodies inside – Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Ben Wallace, Anderson Varajeo and Joe Smith – none of them are equipped to prevent Dwight Howard from getting any shot he wants, whenever he wants it.
It would be of considerable comfort if the Cavaliers, a great help-and-recover defensive team – could double-team Howard, but they cannot.
Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu , Rafer Alston and Mickael Pietrus shoot far too well to allow that, as evidenced by the Magic’s 55% shooting success.
Just that quickly, it’s all changed for the Cavaliers. They go from the best team in the NBA, one with homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs, one on an incredible roll (winning eight playoff games by double figures), with the best player in the world….and one game later they are in a backs-to-the-wall, must-win-or-forget-it dilemma.
And you wonder why I panic?

I’m sorry, I’m not sorry

May 12, 2009

Glen “Big Baby” Davis of the Boston Celtics probably saved his team’s season with a buzzer-beating jumper to win Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Sunday in Orlando. Had Davis missed, the Celtics would have been facing a 3-1 deficit and their hopes for a repeat would have been over.
While it’s understandable that Orlando fans wouldn’t be happy about Davis’ winning jumper, it’s unfathomable that one Magic fan demanded and received an apology from Big Baby.
What did the former LSU star do wrong? He had the temerity to celebrate the biggest moment of his professional career by running toward his team’s bench to celebrate with teammates.
En route, Davis bumped into 12-year-old Nicholas Provetti, who had court-side seats and was standing a step behind the sideline as the final seconds unfolded.
Davis didn’t know young Provetti down, but he did — HORRORS — knock the lad’s ballcap off his head.
And for that, the kid’s dad, Ernest Provetti, sent an email to the NBA demanding that Davis apologize.
The elder Provetti said Davis acted like a “raging animal” and exhibited “no regard for fans’ personal safety.”
Of course, Davis apologized, because that’s what we do now if someone’s offended, no matter how silly their complaint.
And, make no mistake, Mr. Provetti — not the 12-year-old — is acting like a spoiled child on this one.
His kid should have gone to school the next day bragging to his buddies about getting on SportsCenter, about having court-side seats, about seeing a Game 4 that ranks as one of the best playoff games of this season.
Instead, his dad makes him out to be a whiney piece of china irrevocably damaged by no more contact that he encounters in the hallway of his junior high school between periods.
Can we cease with the incessant apologies for every infraction, real or imagined? Sometimes, things just happen. Not everything is a lawsuit waiting to happen, or shouldn’t be.
It wouldn’t shock me if Mr. Provetti is an attorney and his kid will become Exhibit A.
He probably has a neck brace on right now.
To complain about Davis, in the excitement of the moment, inflicting any kind of real or imagined damage is ludicrous.
Next time, kid, you and your dad can sit in the nice, safe balcony and watch the game through opera glasses.
In this instance, it’s your dad who’s being the big baby.

It might get worse before it gets better

May 5, 2009

If you’re a fan of Big Ten football, your 401K might not be the only thing that fails to bounce back at the speed you’d prefer.
Here on Cinco de Mayo we’re exactly four months from the start of the 2009 conference season and already there are signs the league won’t be any more competitive nationally than it was a year ago.
You remember last year? Sure, you do….like a recurring nightmare that haunts you every night for, oh, about six years.
The Big Ten’s record in bowl games over the last half-dozen seasons sank to 15-28 following a worst-in-history 1-6 showing last December and January.
The post-season mark was only part of the problem. During the regular season, Ohio State got hammered by USC (35-3), Pitt beat Iowa, Notre Dame, Utah and Toledo defeated Michigan and Michigan State lost to California.
Optimists figured things had to get better in 2009, but the prospects don’t look great for that.
Ohio State lost the guts of the team that went 10-3 when James Laurinaitis, Malcolm Jenkins, Brian Robiskie, Marcus Freeman, Alex Boone, Brian Hartline and Donald Washington departed for the NFL.
Penn State, which suffered its own embarrassment at the hands of USC in the Rose Bowl (38-24), lost most of its offensive line, defensive backfield and wide receiving corp.
There appears no other team capable of keeping OSU or Penn State from being the class of the Big Ten in 2009, so the league could be even worse this year than it was a year ago.
Conference commissioner Jim Delany hopes that isn’t true, but even the guy paid to be the Big Ten’s No. 1 lobbyist concedes that “hoping and wishing doesn’t change reality.”
Delany was a guest Monday on The Big Show on Sports Radio 97.1 The Fan and said of the league’s 15-28 record in bowls over the previous six years: “I think it’s fair to look at any five-year period and draw conclusions. The conclusion you would draw is, we’ve played in a lot of big games and we didn’t win many of them in that time frame.
“I would also say that these things run in cycles. I remember in the 70s and 80s, the conference was primarily a Michigan-Ohio State conference. It didn’t win a national championship in those 20 years. It rarely won a Rose Bowl. It rarely played SEC teams.
“If you look at the last 15-to-20 years, we’ve won a couple of national championships (Michigan 1997, OSU 2002) and we’ve played for five. We’re about .500 against the SEC and a little under .500 in the Rose Bowl. We have four squads — Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin who are capable of playing elite games and winning elite games.”
Michigan didn’t play in the post-season last year for the first time since 1974 and OSU, Penn State and Wisconsin all lost their bowl games.
Since 2003, the Big Ten has gone 3-5, 2-5, 3-4, 3-3, 3-5 and 1-6 in bowls in succeeding years.
That’s six straight years without a single winning post-season record, meaning only three of the league’s coaches (Tressel, Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz and Penn State’s Joe Paterno) were in the conference when it last won more bowl games than it lost.
“We’ve competed, sometimes close, sometimes not,” Delany said. “If Texas would argue that it was one of the best teams in the country last year, then I think Ohio State would have had an argument that it was in the same class as Texas. They weren’t in the same class as USC, and I’m not sure anybody was. But certainly, they did not show up out there. “…I just think we have to take our medicine until we go out and win. Ohio State won four BCS games in row, I think, before it went on the streak it’s on now. They won at Texas, played well against Notre Dame, Kansas State and beat Miami, so I think they have a lot to be thankful for. One way I look at it, as a player more than a commissoner, is that you should never be embarrassed about playing against the best.
“That’s what we do, whether it’s USC in Pasadena, Texas in Austin, LSU in New Orleans or Florida in (Glendale). We’re playing against the best and we’re not going to stop doing that. We’re not playing against the Little Sisters of the Poor in our bowl lineup. We’re moving teams up. You’re going to have patches, perhaps, where you’re not playing as well as you’d like.
“I don’t think we need to apologize for playing for championships. We’re going to keep playing against the best. In a 20-year period, you’re going to have five years where you don’t measure up as well as another five years. I think we’ve accomplished a lot and I think our coaches and playerrs are always looking for the next big game.”
Big Ten teams will have plenty of regular-season opportunities this year to gain some national respect.
Ohio State plays host to USC on Sept. 12.
In other games during the year, Illinois plays Missouri, at Cincinnati and home against Fresno State.
Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue play Notre Dame.
Minnesota plays California; Iowa plays Arizona and Wisconsin goes to Hawaii on Dec. 5.
The Badgers, though, are one of only two Big Ten teams that will play after Thanksgiving.
So, once again, the bulk of the league, and the bulk of its bowl teams, will have extended layoffs before post-season play because of a regular-season schedule that has them playing 12 consecutive weeks with no off week.
That changes next year, when the final week of the regular season falls after Thanksgiving and each team in the league gets a bye week.
“I believe the fact that we’ll be playing after Thanksgiving will help us a little bit,” Illinois coach Ron Zook said. “Now, the season will be prolonged a little. That will help us, but until we go win the big bowl games, we have to keep our mouths shut.
“I tell anybody who will listen, ‘The Big Ten Conference is just as good as any other conference. There are teams in this league who can play with anybody in the country. But on that certain day, we haven’t performed the way we’re capable of performing. I think all the coaches understand that until we go play and until we go win, we have to just bite the bullet.”