Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Top 10 takeaways from the Tim Tebow release from the Jets

Cue the Sad Hulk Piano Music
10) It was entirely unfair that one of the least accurate QBs in NFL history never got a real chance to be inaccurate in New York

9) There's no telling how the Jets' punt team is going to be able to overcome this loss

8) The release was inevitable, given Tebow's apparent failure to sell tickets

7) This entire saga is going to be all of the proof that future generations need to point out that people in this age were complete idiots

6) There is no truth to the rumor that after the announcement came out, ESPN put Skip Bayless in mittens and hid his razors, scissors and sleeping pills

5) Redneck America is sure to follow Tebow to whatever second-tier CFL team signs him next

4) If you honestly think this is the end of the media over-coverage of this circus, I truly want you at my next poker game

3) New York's tabloid newspapers, in outrage over the move, will only give the Jets' half of the back covers now

2) If he doesn't show up in a pro wrestling storyline in the next five years, a great opportunity will have been lost

1) Regardless of your feelings about gay people, I think we can all be thankful that Jason Collins took ESPN off 24-hour coverage of this

The Rockets Live To Give Us 48 More Minutes Of Kevin Durant

1 on 4, take the 1
Tonight in Houston, the young Rockets staved off a sweep against the favored Thunder, pushing their series to a Game Five in Oklahoma City. The series has been actually great on the eyes, despite the fact that the Thunder were a half second away from ending this in the minimum (Derek Fisher had a three waved off at the end of the shot clock), mostly because we're being treated to the full flowering of Kevin Durant against a young and game team that refuses to quit. (And if you want to be very fair about this, Houston is a lucky Durant roll on a made three in Game 3 from having this thing knotted up.)

Houston got an amazing game from Chandler Parsons (27-10-8), and excellent support from Omer Asik (17-14, big defense especially at the close) and Carlos Delfino (13-4-3 on 4 of 6 shooting with strong defense on Durant). OKC got one of those absurdly useful Fisher games (4 of 5 from the arc) and first half utility from Kevin Martin (16-3-2 on 5 of 11 shooting). But this was all about Durant, who had 38-8-6, made a 1-on-4 drive and dunk in the fourth quarter that belongs on an all-time highlight reel, and did all of that on 12 of 16 shooting. The Thunder can't win a championship with Reggie Jackson, a solid Russell Westbrook impersonator for the bench players, getting starter minutes and going 7 for 18 in 36 minutes; they also need a lot more from Serge Ibaka (8-5-2 in 34 minutes with a missed putback at the buzzer that would have forced overtime), and will likely get it at home in a couple of days.

But all of this is besides the point. The simple fact of the matter is that Houston's win means that we'll get one more game from Durant in these playoffs, and one more chance to see if there is even more to his game that he wants to show us. I can't tell you how OK I am with that.

Jason Collins Starts An Overdue Conversation

First Gandalf, Now This Wizard
By now, I'm sure you've hear about the landmark announce- ment that Collins, a back-up center who has never been known as anything more than a banger who has had some success defending Dwight Howard, came out of the closet in a Sports Illustrated story. This did the near-miraculous thing of making both himself and Sports Illustrated relevant again, for a day at least. A few quick points about all of this, and yes, I'm avoiding the cheap joke list for once.

> Saying that Collins is now some kind of hero or standard barrier is kind of silly. He's a role player nearing the end of his career; in terms of professional ambitions, he's going to be lucky to draw a pay check for more than a couple of more years, and if your favorite team signs and plays him, your favorite team is just not very good. But no one's 11th or 12th man plays in the NBA; they are there for practice purposes, so that the bigs can make sure their angles are right and that the guards can learn how to finish against size. That's why every team has a guy like Collins at the end of their bench. The only question is whether or not some team will think that his willingness to stand up for the GLBT community makes him too toxic for the role.

> The fact that Collins doesn't have a team right now -- he last worked for Boston and Washington this year -- makes this a curious moment for the NBA. He becomes, basically, everyone's player.

It doesn't hurt, of course, that Collins is a Stanford grad, well-liked, and has no past history of poor behavior off the court. With the possible exception of Howard, who might be the most disliked player int he league, I can't remember anyone who has ever had an issue with him. Not that this is a definitive, of course; we can never really know about these things. But for a guy who has been around as long as Collins has, to not have any blemishes in the rear view mirror, it's noteworthy.

> It's going to be curious to me, really, just how long people want to talk about this. There's nothing all that interesting about Collins as a player or person; he's just a tall guy who knows his role on a court and is the first to decide that living outside of a closet while being a team athlete is preferable to staying in. What's interesting is whether the timing is right, and if it's not, well, when? Especially since sports is primarily a youth pursuit, and young people are the most likely to accept marriage equality?

> The idea that Collins is going to become persona non grata because guys in a locker room dress and shower together... well, um, independent of just how scary it might be to be in a shower with a gay guy, two points. First, is your fear of some encounter not just a subconscious desire, and second, how does that feeling change when you know who is that way, and presumably have the ability to put distance between you and him?

> The real distaste that some have for homosexuality isn't, of course, the act or even the conduct, but the over-the-top femininity. We're going out on a limb here and presuming that Collins isn't going to go all Dennis Rodman with feather boas and borderline drag queen behavior; we're also going to presume that, unlike Rodman, he's not going to become an elite rebounder or defender. So, um, what's really changed from yesterday?

> A brief moment about Biblical dictates against homosexuality: it is, frankly, one of those moments where equating modern life to what times were like 2-3,000 years ago just does not equate. When the verses were written, the average life span was in the mid '30s, overpopulation was never an issue due to famine and disease, and what the writers probably meant by homosexuality was more like pedophilia, since the likelihood of a dense and populous enough community to allow for a minority sexual proclivity like homosexuality was, well, just not very likely.

Let's also mention this: there is no direct mention in the Bible against pedophilia, but there is the famous Leviticus strictures against homosexuality, Which do you think is the bigger taboo, really? Or the more likely editing mistake?

One last point about this, and I'll let it go... if you want to claim objections to homosexuality based on an absolutist reading of a book, I'm fine with it. Really. But I'd also ask you to have the common courtesy to give the rest of the book the exact same weight. Which means no shellfish, no clothing that mixes fabrics, no wine, no masturbation, and all of the Commandments -- including Jesus' dictates against wealth and loving others as you do yourself. (There are, of course, dozens of other things that you aren't going to find all that easy to live with you, but hey -- it's your book.) And judging not, lest ye be judged. And if you can do all of that while cheerfully telling Collins that his existence is a conscious choice for sin, without even the possibility for doubt in your mind, as if you were, well, the Deity himself...

Who, exactly, is doing the sinning here?

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Poker Diaries: The Joy When They Don't Believe You

Happy Happy Joy Joy
Let's not talk about the tourna- ment, since I'm still kind of peeved about it, and it cost me some significant cheddar. Instead, let's discuss the cash game moment that will stay with me for some time, really.

Our cash game is dealer's choice and attracts a fair amount of aggression, which means that Omaha gets called fairly often. Under the gun in a game of Omaha high low, I get Ace-3-4-4, with the Ace-3 being diamonds; a pretty sweet starting hand. I raise it up to 5X the big blind, which is pretty standard for this game -- it's $0.25 / $0.50 in name only -- and get a big mess of callers to juice the pot nicely. The flop gives me trips, a near nut low draw, and two diamonds to the nut flush draw; about everything that I could have asked for, really. I check it, and then see exactly what I want to see -- a raise and then another one, which I then snap it up to $20 to make it look like I don't want to see any more cards. (Like that ever works in Omaha high-low?) Neither man believes or wants to get away from the hand, and I get two men shoving in front of my raise after some thought. I snap call, and the flush and low hits on the turn to make the river a non-sweat card to scoop the whole damned thing. Yahtzee.

There are, of course, fewer better moments when playing poker than getting called with the nuts, and it is in those moments that you make what I think is one of life's bigger mistakes... thinking that there's more skill to the game than luck, and that you just might have that level of skill. In that moment, you step away from the years of up and down, the knowledge that you have about where your wins and losses come from, and the more or less equal with a little gain trackline that is your earn level... and think that, no, now is My Time, the deck and my game and my skills have somehow changed for the better and forever.

The bad beats and worse play will come later, as they always do, but for one hand and one moment, I broke the game and made my nut in the final hand. There's only a few times in life that you get to do that, really, so I get to note it here... and try to figure out if it helps my game to remember it, or to forget.

You can't win without confidence, but overconfidence costs more.

Throw Down Like (Matt) Barkley?

The nature of drafting QBs that even people who don't follow college football have heard of is that they have far more interest for the general public than any other position. The Eagles are about to learn all about this as Matt Barkley, once a top-10 lock and eventually a fourth-round gamble, joins the flock.

The thing about QBs... unless we're about to enter a very new and different era of pro football (see Wilson, Russell and Kaepernick, Colin), the guys that matter are drafted a lot earlier than the fourth round. It's the most important position in the biggest league, and only 32 guys get the gig, and only 12 of those guys are under center in a playoff game. If you don't have a player who is at least better than half of the starting stack, you aren't likely to make the playoffs. And if you don't have a guy who is no worse than the top six, or just a guy who has the month of his life, your chance of winning a championship doesn't really exist, either. Miss a decision anywhere else on the field, you can recover; at QB, not so much.

So that's why Barkley's going to get attention. But the bigger issue is that, well, he probably shouldn't.

Fourth round QBs aren't starters; they are back ups. Maybe quality back ups with 10-year careers and road wins when covering for injury, but back ups nonetheless. And when you look at the scouting reports for Barkley, independent of any personal juju or questions (personally, I can see why you'd stay in school as the QB for LA's closest to a pro team; there is no job in the NFL that he was going to go to that offered more in 2012), what you see is a back up. He's not going to beat you with his feet or his deep ball, and being smart and accurate only makes you a star at the lower level.

The bigger question, of course, is whether Barkley is the best QB on the roster in 2013. Mike Vick is still the presumed starter, but probably only until coach Chip Kelly figures out that the turnover issues are not something he can coach away. Back up Nick Foles has his fans in town, and Kelly might even be one of them, but others look at the foot speed and the results from the 2012 audition and aren't so sure.

There is, however, one reason to think that Barkley might get the gig sooner rather than later: turnovers. Barkley threw 48 picks in his 4-year career at USC, but that came with over 1,000 attempts; it's not great, but it's certainly lower than what Vick and Foles did in 2012. But the real win is the fumbles -- just 10 in 47 games, one of the lowest rates in college ball. Assuming that's a personal asset, and not just a matter of playing most of his days with talented teammates, and he's got a real edge over Vick, and maybe even Foles.

But just while not turning the ball over here might get you the job, it's not necessarily going to help you keep it. If the Eagles finish in the 6-10 range that most will project them at, the QB play will be a prime reason why... and the coach will have a rapidly aging turnover machine, the previous regime's 3rd round flyer, and their own 4th round lottery pick in the mix. There's nothing in that paragraph that says they wouldn't try again in the 2014 draft...

And if you want to look that far in advance, there's Tajh Boyd from Clemson, AJ McCarron from Alabama, Zach Mettenberger from LSU and a whole host of others that will emerge in the next year. (I like Boyd, but then again, I grew up with Randall Cunningham.) Barkley isn't going to stop Kelly from looking hard at any of those guys, and, well, he shouldn't.

Top 10 NBA Playoff Takeaways

Heat Check Face
10) The Spurs were so much better than the Lakers, even the presence of Tracy McGrady on the roster couldn't stop them from sweeping into the second round

9) Jason Terry prevented the Knicks from sweeping the Celtics, and Boston Fan from pretending that they don't still watch basketball

8) Brooklyn blew a fourth quarter lead against the Bulls so badly, their fans reacted in a sincere and non-ironic manner

7 Dwight Howard decided to leave the Spurs sweep early via technical, rather than later via blowout, to prove to Laker Fan that he can be just like Andrew Bynum after all

6) Everyone who has been pining for Kevin Durant to play selfishly forgot all about this desire as the Thunder nearly gave up a huge Game 3 lead to an outgunned Rocket squad

5) Miami gave Dwyane Wade the day off and still won Game 4 going away

4) Brandon Jennings still thinks the Bucks can win their series against the Heat in eight

3) In the time it took you to read this, Stephen Curry just hit another three pointer

2) That "Everyone in the lower bowl gets a free shirt to wear to make the television shot better" thing has become more or less expected now

1) We were just a single point in regulation from the Lakers and Celtics both getting swept in the first round on the same day, which would have then been known as The Greatest Day In NBA History

Sunday, April 28, 2013

FTT Off-Topic: A Brief And Obvious Point About Cutting Spending

Oh Noes
 If the federal debt is such a big deal... then giving up mail on Saturdays and having the nation's swells who fly have to wait longer due to fewer TSA workers should not be such a big deal, right?

Ah, but that would involve thinking beyond your own life, or not thinking that your own needs and day might not be the most paramount importance. Which isn't how humans are wired at all, really, and it also makes the individual have to actually believe in something that we never really believe...

That is, that the national debt is something of actual importance to us as individuals, or that we would ever seen any benefit, again as individuals, from having it paid off.

Seriously, what do you expect would happen if the debt were gone, perhaps through the U.S. emergence as a petrochemical power via fracking, or maybe some other energy source? Do you think we'd all stop having to pay income tax, or that Social Security benefits would double, or that everyone's take-home pay would get a boost? And if so, can I interest you in some Internet stock, or at least get you to come to my poker game?

But, well, we've fixed the airline delay issue, but not the myriad number of other points unaddressed by the sequestor. Says something about our priorities, no?

The Eagle Draft: Big, Fast, And From Places You've Heard Of

Smart hands
It is, of course, a routine and pointless exercise to judge a pro team's football draft the day after it concludes; so long as you aren't deep in the well of obvious reaches and panic moves, or a team having an overdose of top picks, it's impossible to judge 90% of what happens for 2-3 years after it's done. But it's also impossible not to draw ideas from what went on, and when you look at the Eagles draft... well, it's easy to be encouraged.

We've already covered Lane Johnson at length. Zach Ertz from Stanford with the 35th pick disappointed some, since it was another offense selection for a team with a historically awful defense. But Ertz is such a specimen, with great hands and production, that it's hard to fault the pick, really. Especially with Brent Celek starting to slow down, and coach Chip Kelly being a multi-TE devotee, and Ertz looking like all kinds of nightmare as a big slot WR. After years of smurf WRs who lost effectiveness at the goal line, Ertz signifies yet another welcome change from the old regime.

Bennie Logan from LSU went at 67, a 6'-2" 310 DE from LSU, and while every lineman that goes at that point of the draft has more than a few questions about them, Logan was a 2-year starter and early entry from an LSU team with a dominant defense. He's going to need some coaching and conditioning, but I like the pick, and he's got some ceiling.

Matt Barkley will be the pick that's talked about the most, at #98, and it started the 4th round run of QBs that people have heard of. Rather than waiting for their own pick and taking someone from the tier, the team moved up with Jacksonville to get Barkley. While some believed him to be a first round talent and projectable prospect, my distrust of the history of USC QBs makes me happy that the team didn't go early for him. I doubt he's got the footspeed to make him a clear win in this system, and he looks like a guy that needs a system and weapons to produce numbers... but that's pretty much true for everyone who plays QB, and if you can actually get a guy with star potential this deep into the proceedings, it's worth the dice roll.

The last four picks were all for defense, as they should have been; note that the team didn't get a RB in the draft, which is as it should be, given the talent on the roster. Earl Wolff from NC State looks fast for a safety, but a little undersized. Joe Kruger from Utah is another tall (6'-6", 270) junior entry, this one from Utah. Jordan Poyer, a 6' 190 CB from Oregon State, has to be a guy that Kelley has seen, but at this point in the draft, just having the guy make the roster is enough. David King, a 6'-4" 280 pound DE from Oklahoma, finished the festivities.

The commonality here is that they are all from schools you have heard of, and no one looks like they are too small to play pro ball. There were some risks, but no one who looks like they were drafted wildly away from their value. And if it works out, the core of the next great Eagles team, with a new QB to TE tandem, protected by a new bookend T, and set into position by a defense that's no longer an undersized scheme-only group.

We're a long way around from the worth of the draft being known. But for what it's worth, it feels better than any draft for this team has in years.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Top 11 Takeaways from Round One of the NFL Draft

11) Roger Goodell brought out Joe Namath, Phil Simms, Barry Sanders, Joe Andruzzi and wounded members of the nation's military in a transparent attempt to not be constantly booed

10) The only guy drafted from a small school in the first round went first overall

9) If you'd like to make fun of Geno Smith still being in the green room, you've got the overnight to keep working on that

8) With three straight picks from 9 to 11, it's safe to infer that the Alabama team was pretty good, really

7) Brown Fans named Barkevious are finally able to claim a jersey of their own

6) The Rams traded with Buffalo to get WR Tavon Austin from West Virginia, who might be the first wideout in town since the Greatest Show On Turf days

5) Baltimore chose S Matt Elam to close out the first round because they didn't want those who left the draft early from feeling bad about not mocking Manti Te'o

4) The Lions took DE Ezekiel Ansah from BYU despite only nine starts in his life, because, um, they are the Lions

3) It was a special night for Cowboy Fan, who got to watch their team trade down, take a center that no one was thinking very hard about, and got Jets Fan level of Publicly Irate

2) There is no truth to the rumor that Andy Reid was surprised that Eric Fisher was still there when the Chiefs picked

1) With the longshot options of Austin and EJ Manuel, no one taken tonight will make an appearance in your fantasy league draft, which is the only thing that matters

Lane Johnson Comes To Those Who Wait

As the early picks in the NFL Draft started, I was on a treadmill and really not loving life. Kansas City failed to do the dumb thing and took T Eric Fisher, and then the Jaguars also failed to miss and took T Luke Joeckel. With CB Dee Milliner an injury risk and the next tier DTs (Star Lotulei, Sharrif Floyd) not thrilling me, I was dreading the possibility of a reach for OLB Dion Jordan from Oregon, coach Chip Kelly's last stop, or even the Hail Mary ploy of QB Geno Smith. (Still on the board as I write this, with the first round over. Wow.) T Lane Johnson was looking like where the tier shunted down, but Oakland was on the clock, and Oakland's always good for a whiff pick...

And then Oakland up and moved the pick to Miami, a team with a crying need for a T with Jake Long no longer in town, and I upped the speed on the treadmill to run off my hate. The draft wasn't going to give us a franchise QB, and now it wasn't even going to give us a top-rated tackle. ESPN was showing Johnson, the talk was all going that way, and my mind was giving me all kinds of Bad Juju...

At which point Miami stepped to the podium and, at least for one night and to the mystification of the Lemur's experts, whiffed the pick with Jordan.

Why the Dolphins decided that they needed to double up on speed rushers when they already had Cameron Wake, or why they were going to replace Long with air, we'll never know. But the trade up and pick made me so much happier to have Johnson, since he was now the relief pick, rather than the settling one. Had the Raiders simply stayed put and taken a defensive player, drafting Johnson wouldn't have felt like such an escape. (Left to the history books, of course, is whether Johnson is actually a good player, or whether Kelly would have taken Jordan instead of him, had he the option.)

Now that the Oklahoma product is on board, it seems like such the right pick. Kelly's offense is all about up-tempo and running the ball; a combine warrior like Johnson seems like a perfect fit for that. He can handle the ball from his QB and TE days, so if the coach wants to do goofy stuff like giving him a short yardage carry or throwing the ball to him at the goal line, that's all on the table. He keeps the odious Danny Watkins off the field, can move to a couple of different places in case the rehabs of way too many of his O-line brethren don't pan out right away, and gives the club the potential of not one, but two agile tackles pancaking defensive backs on long Shady McCoy runs. I'd still rather have had Joeckel, but the pick is wearing well on me.

There's also one other thing about the pick that I love; the Eagles did not outsmart themselves. And man alive, was there opportunities to do that; just look at the Cowboys action tonight, or how the Raiders traded down and still somehow didn't get Floyd, who would have been perfect for them. They also didn't trade up or panic when Miami moved ahead of them, and for the most part, don't seem to have the previous era's desire to show how smart they were with every pick.

Johnson was the best player available, at the position where the Eagles had the most need. Let's hope the rest of the Draft goes as well.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Eagles NFL Draft Pick, Or Philadelphia's Dark Age Continues

You Do Have To Call Him Johnson
This is the first time in 18 years that Philly sports teams have gone 0 for 4 in the act of going to the post-season (mostly because the Flyers almost always qualify, but still)... and it's not just that there's been losing, it's also that the losing has been ill-timed. (See Turner, Evan. I digress.)

Consider this week's NFL Draft, where the Eagles hold the #4 pick. Last year, this got you the choice of OT Matt Kalil, WR Justin Blackmon, CB Morris Claiborne, S Mark Barron, QB Ryan Tannehill, LB Luke Kuechly... and while none of that is terribly sexy, at least the top part of the draft had Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Trent Richardson to make you dream that someone might slip to you. In 2011, the 4th slot gets you A.J. Green (instead of Julio Jones, Patrick Peterson and Aldon Smith); damn, that's a draft. 2010's #4 was OT Trent Williams from the Skins (though Russell Okung from Seattle at 6 is the better move), and 2009 gets you LB Aaron Curry over OT Andre Smith. (To be kind, that 2009 draft looks pretty awful now.)

The point is this: nothing in this off-season has helped the stress level of picking fourth in the least. I dreamed of the Chiefs blowing the pick on QB Geno Smith; no one has any idea where Smith is going now, but it's not before 4. I had hopes of Luke Joeckel somehow slipping as the teams in front of them went for sexy; instead, the Texas A&M beast is seen as the consensus #1. I wanted Dee Milliner, the CB from Alabama, if Joeckel wasn't available, and now it's disclosed that he's had five surgeries and probably won't be able to start the season; some mocks have Milliner now going in the late teens. (To the Giants, where he'll be great, of course. I hate life.)

I could talk myself into Eric Fisher, the prospect OT from Central Michigan that might be the best physical specimen, but it's looking more and more likely that he'll be off the board by 4. I'd like to avoid Dion Jordan, the speed LB from Kelly's Oregon team who's lack of turnover and sack production makes me worry; now it looks like he'll be there. I'm worried that Sharrif Floyd, the Florida DT and local kid, would just wind up duplicating DT Fletcher Cox's role here, and couldn't take the heat of being the local savior; he's going to be on the board, too. DT Star Lotuleiei from Utah worries me with the past medical condition, relatively low level of competition and fact that his full name is Starlight (seriously).... but, well, I don't want to trade down, either.

Which leads us to the new hope, assuming that Joeckel and Fisher are off the board... OT Lane Johnson from Oklahoma. He's 6-6 and 303, so roughly the same size as Joeckel, but more of a speed guy than power. (Believe it or not, he was a QB as late as 2008, and only made it to the line in 2011 after a detour at TE.) As you might imagine from the movement, he's crazy fast for a tackle, and should be able to add weight in an NFL conditioning program. He played great in 2012, and it's obvious that he's got Big Potential and Combine / Senior Bowl love all over him.

But the idea of drafting a guy with one year of tackle experience at the 4th slot, a guy who has bounced all over the field because his body kept changing, a guy with past problems keeping off weight (RED ALERT RED ALERT RED ALERT)...

Well, it speaks to how fluid and deep this draft is, and why Eagle Fan is kind of dreading this draft, despite having the highest pick in years. (Can someone at least make sure that Johnson doesn't also want to be a fireman, and isn't secretly 35? That would ease my mind.)

Normally by now, we'd have a good idea of who was coming, and maybe even allowed ourselves a nice little spasm of hope. Now, we just have to trust that the new guys know what they are doing, even if it means trading down.

And man alive, is it No Fun At All to just trust the new guys with no track record.

Especially with absolutely no playoff team to distract us, or anything good that's happened in the last year to make us think this also won't end very badly.

So. High pick, high stress, low hopes. Fun!

And if they take QB Geno Smith, who so isn't what a rebuilding team with severe line issues needs...

Well, I suppose the last first round QB drafted to a chorus of boos worked out, right?

There Is No Such Thing As A Good Playoff Matchup For A Bad Playoff Team

Two more chances to see that
As I watched the Spurs do what the Spurs do, both tonight and down the stretch of the regular season -- i.e., give hope to an underdog by giving their older stars rest, then turn on the jets -- the NBA on TNT guys started talking about how San Antonio was now a bad matchup for the Lakers. Which is to say that everyone's not very smart pick for an upset special was, after an 0-2 start where Steve Nash looked like a guy with less athleticism than the rec players at the Y, Steve Blake ended the game hobbling, and even Jodie Meeks wasn't around, pretty much DOA for more than a 5-game series.

Big men win playoffs, but you can't win without guards, and the Lakers don't have any right now. Nash can't defend anyone, and is only tolerable on offense because he's the smartest guy ever; there's just no way he can give you enough on one end to make up for what he takes away on the other. Blake has been making shots like mad for the past few weeks, but he's stretched as more than a change of pace point guard, and if he's hobbled now, there isn't even that. Meeks isn't more than a rotation guy under the best of circumstances, and then we're into the realm of Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock, otherwise known as the finest Lakers the NBDL has to offer.

I feel bad for Nash, honestly. The man's getting freaking epidurals -- otherwise known as INJECTIONS TO THE SPINE that are usually only done for women giving birth -- while trying to play ball for a team at the end of his career, without Kobe Bryant, with a coach that's never gone deep, for a fanbase that only knows him as too old and hurt to help. There's a reason why guys have always loved playing with him, and why writers seem to genuinely care that he's never played in an NBA Finals. He deserves a better end of career than this.

On the other side of the ball, we've got the freakishly effective Many Ginobili (13-5-7 in 19 minutes, +19 the second-best mark on the team), Tony Parker starting to wake up the echoes (28-4-7 with no turnovers, but don't let the numbers fool you, this was more about LA having no one healthy to guard him, rather than TP being back to his old self yet), and cagey old Tim Duncan erasing Dwight Howard's 16 with the same number on his own.

The Spurs are, of course, a bad matchup for the Lake Show, but there isn't a team in the West -- and that should be obvious by now, especially after the Rockets' spirited effort in OKC tonight -- that they could beat. It's just a bad team, especially in the stacked West; no depth, bad defensively in one on one situations, and with no Bryant, no wildcard talent to give them suckout potential.

And in 2 to 3 more games, they can rest all they want, and the Spurs can go get too much time off, convincing everyone that they'll be too rusty to win Round 2.

At some point, you have to wonder if the people picking against the Spurs just hate the Spurs. Or don't watch the games...

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Top 10 takeaways from Jeremy Shockey's admission that he wants to die making love

You Are Doing It Wrong
From the free agent tight end's (hey now) social media feed...

“Sex is the best high. It’s better than any drug. I want to die making love because it feels so good.”

10) Given his confidence in making the statement, we can now safely assume that Shockey has taken an awful lot of drugs, purely as a scientific comparison

9) For the sake of his family, no one tell him about how Michael Hutchence checked out

8) Note that it's good for Shockey; for his partner, well, not so much

7) We can pretty much assume that this isn't something that takes ol' Jeremy a lot of time

6) If this doesn't get cheap Giant Fan to update their jersey purchase, nothing will

5) Within a month, we're pretty sure the Shockey Viagra OD stories are hitting the wire

4) This counts as Reason #8,343,759 why athletes should be seen and not heard

3) If only Shockey were still an active and decent player, we're pretty sure some endowed fan of another team would try to help him achieve his dream

2) Honestly, he's made enough coin, there are people who can help him do this

1) We now have to seriously consider whether Shockey is, in fact, a virgin, or just closeted and bearding very, very hard

The Warriors Overcome History, At Least For One Night

In the third quarter of tonight's Game 2 in Denver, Golden State led by a dozen, and were simply playing beautiful basketball. This wasn't a Road Steal Kind of Effort; they were simply hitting on all cylinders. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson were raining down jumpers to the point of contagion. It started to become more rare when a shot actually touched the rim, rather than when it just passed through the cotton with a whisper. The Denver transition game was unable to get in gear despite some Warrior turnovers, and their crowd, which had watched 24 straight wins, knew they were in real trouble. Denver had fallen in love with early threes, which, when you shoot like the Nuggets do from the arc, is just fools' gold. Golden State just never seemed to go more than a trip or two down the court without draining a shot, regardless of the level of defense, and while some wondered how a team could possibly stay this hot all night, and that Denver would make a run as soon as the legs started to go... well, the jumpers just kept falling.

And then The Moment happened, the one that defeatist Warrior fans were always waiting for, the same way they felt when David Lee went down for the season in Game One. Curry turned an ankle, and limped off.

(A small note to the people who aren't intimately familiar with Curry's history: if it weren't for his ankles, you would be intimately familiar with Curry's history. He's simply the purest shooter of his generation, an absolute joy to watch, and a second-generation NBA star. He plies his trade for a franchise that doesn't get on national television often enough, and plays on the wrong coast; had he gotten drafted by New York and stayed healthy, he'd be a top five guy in worldwide jersey sales. Moving on.)

Anyway... the Warriors somehow stretched the lead as their best player went to the sidelines, with Carl Landry doing his usual quietly useful things in relief of Lee. Curry got back on the floor without fanfare, but seemed out of sorts for a few trips up and down the court, and Denver quickly made a run to cut the lead in a minute, because that's just the pace that this game was being played at. And after a minute of this, and me starting to wonder if the historical tragedy that is the Warriors was going to cheat us out of a long series... Curry drained a 25-footer, yet another shot that was all thread, and Denver Fan had to know this wasn't going to start being their night after all. While the game never really got out of hand, Denver was never able to get the lead down to a few possessions, and your final score was Warriors 131, Nuggets 117.

Four Warriors scored over 20, with Curry leading the way. Jarrett Jack did some good things, Harrison Barnes made some filthy drives to the hole, and they got some nice hustle plays and boards from Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli. (Really like the latter's game; he's raw as it gets, but a natural shot-blocker.) The Nugs were unable to get another hero game out of Andre Miller, and Kenneth Faried clearly wasn't himself yet, coming off his injury. And yet... Denver still just kept hanging around. Golden State was shooting 63% from the floor in a road game, was taking care of the ball and limiting the fast break, and still couldn't keep any separation. It was utterly captivating, and simply what basketball should always be, at least in the modern era with this kind of shooting. I knew I couldn't get enough of this series before it started, and that's exactly what's happening now.

Keep in mind, the Nuggets really didn't play badly tonight. They shot over 50%, made threes, kept coming all night and really didn't play terrible defense, despite the huge number of points involved. This was also their first home loss in 25 games; cutting them some slack seems in order, and this series looks like it's going very, very deep, if for no other reason than they won't be able to make up for Lee's absence in the long run. Neither of these teams is winning Round 2; hell, they're probably going to make certain of that by having this gone by the full seven with overtimes. And for that, we should all be very, very grateful... especially if Curry can stay on the court, and if the Warriors can remain this resilient.

Game Three is Friday, in front of the best crowd in pro hoop. Don't miss it.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Chris Paul Rules The World

CP Rule
Down 6 with 5 minutes left in tonight's Grizz-Clips Game 2, Chris Paul went up for a steal attempt on a half court pass with Zach Randolph. In what could be charitably described as a 40-60 ball in the Euro football parlance, Z-Bo picked up Foul #5 and sat down, barely missing a technical in the process. There was still a ton of game left, and Griz point guard Mike Conley might have been playing the game of his life... but I still started writing my game story of how Paul willed the Clips to victory.

That's how good CP3 is. You can see the train coming from five minutes away and get on board; he inspires Faith. Deservedly so.

This is, of course, an oversimplification. Memphis went on a run after this play, with Conley leading the way, undressing Paul in the half court. The game showed how challenged LA is in a close game, since they have to run Lamar Odom out there at the 5 due to DeAndre Jordan's free throw shooting problems, and Odom really isn't something you want on the court in a close game anymore, either. But even when the game got to tied late, I never lost my faith that the Clips were going to pull this out, because, well, they had Paul and the Griz did not.

Paul made a crazy stop and pop with 80 seconds left to give the Clips the lead back, then got a board of the loose ball after a Marc Gasol miss with 55 seconds left. He then ran 15 seconds of the clock and got a foul, then someone recovered a turnover with a jump ball off Tony Allen as Grizz Fan (they do exist) wonder if Paul ever doesn't get a call late. On the jump, with the Clip crowd chanting CP3, he won the tap to Blake Griffin, then just barely missed iron from 45 feet to avoid the shot clock violation. And after Conley fed Gasol off a pick and roll for a dunk, everyone knew who was going to get the ball for the final Clipper shot in regulation with 13.9 left. After Crawford and Billings got the ball in and managed to get the ball to CP3 with five seconds left out high, he took the best defense that Allen could play, got penetration anyway, and hit the impossible bank shot over Allen and Darrell Arthur as time expired to end it. (There was pointless Grizz heave with 0.1 seconds left on the clock, because the refs have no sense of how these things should end, but so be it.) Paul had the last 8 Clipper points, and I never doubted that I was going to lose my lede. I wasn't even all that surprised when he closed the deal.

It was one of the better pro games you could hope for, with two teams that don't like each other, a great crowd that was in it for every minute, and coaches that aren't good enough to keep the stars from deciding it. A side note: it's embarrassing, really, just how much better the Clip crowd is over the Laker crowd. They chant, they are raucous, they never seem spoiled or bored or more involved with tacos. It's a world of difference. And while it can be argued that the Clips just held serve, the Clips have Paul, and that's just more important, really.

For the record, Conley had 28-3-9 with 2 steals and 3 turns while shooting 50% from the floor. Paul was 24-4-9 with a steal and turn. Any game you fight Paul to a draw on the road, you should win... but, well, LA got dunks in this game, and that's very much a Paul thing, too. There is no point guard I'd rather watch, and it's really not a stretch to say he's the Clips' best post presence, too.

What a weapon, what a player, what a game.

Now, if we could only get this to not end past 1:30am EST...

FTT Off-Topic: MST3K's Godzilla Vs. Megalon

Um, OK, Monster Movie
Finally available on DVD in my Netflix queue, it's one of the more inexplicable Japanese monster movies from the decline era of Godzilla movies. I can't get enough MST / Rifftrax stuff in my life. This one's pretty rare for whatever reason, because getting the rights for these things can't be easy for not very much money. This one gives you callouts like...

"The gods do not improve of this inept car chase sequence"

"It's amazing what they are doing with HO scale these days"

"Saigon. I can't believe I'm in a model of Saigon."

"Rex Dart, Eskimo Spy"

The inescapable horror of horrifically voiced Japanese 8-year-old boy actor with his shorts that look like diapers ("What now?" Crow: "Scream. Die maybe")

"Kill indiscriminately!"

Evil American Oscar Wilde to explain the villain's plot for no reason, the villain being some furbag with a dance team, and the grinning death head that never blinks or moves, and is called, for no reason at all, Jet Jaguar.

So if you're a fan of this kind of thing, queue it up and be glad, and if you are not, you are wrong and I am right. Even though it's always a little disappointing where Godzilla is the Good Monster and Friend To Children, when the happier ending in all of these would be Godzilla Eats Hateful Children...

Monday, April 22, 2013

Sideshow Joakim Steals Home Court

How we will always remember him
Tonight in Brooklyn, for the first time in this year's NBA Playoffs, the Bulls won a road playoff game, and they did it in classic post Derrick Rose fashion -- with a defensive effort that was positively suffocating, and enough to cover for erratic and inelegant offense. Joakim Noah's line looks ordinary -- 25 minutes, 11/9/3 with 2 blocks on 4 of 8 shooting, 1 of 2 from the line, with four turnovers -- but that's where not watching the game gets you to miss the spirit of the thing. Noah was everywhere in the stretch run on this one, saving a bad-bounce offensive board to set up a Nate Robinson three that was immense, making a saving block in the final minutes that kept the pressure on, setting a huge pick on a Luol Deng jumper where the wing man had enough time to check his email -- and more or less personifying why I liked them to win this series.

This being the Bulls, it was a team experience, of course. Kirk Hinrich owned Deron Williams in his matchup, hounding him into a 1 for 9 night from the floor. Brooklyn got little from hustle players Gerald Wallace and Reggie Evans, watched Joe Johnson flail his way to a 6 for 18 game, shot under 36% and lost the home-court. Brook Lopez had 21 but only 5 boards, Chicago placed 5 in double figures, had two more with 8 and another with 5, and would have won this by plenty if they hadn't missed 10 free throws. Add it up, and it's a 90-82 win for the road dogs, which given this team's ever-present offensive ceiling, is more like a 15-point beatdown for anyone else.

This isn't big news to anyone who has watched him become one of the best defenders in the NBA, but it's still kind of fascinating to see how much of a competitor Noah has become. For a guy who just looks like something of a goof, who looked like an overrated college hustle guy, who can't stay healthy with the plantar fascitis and still wears his hair like he's trying to gain dual entry into the WNBA... well, there isn't a player in the NBA who gets more out of what he's been given, from a talent perspective. He rarely takes a shot that is outside of his range, is an excellent interior passer, and just seems to have an innate sense for loose balls and the right play. He's got an old man's game in a broken-down body, and still looks like he'd rather gnaw off a limb than lose a game.

And this, of course, leads to the final point of intrigue about Noah; the fact that he's playing hurt while Derrick Rose, well, isn't. It's not fair to either man to reduce the situation to that. Rose needs verticality to compete and has the awful memories of last year, when he kept coming back too early until he suffered the season and career threatening injury.  Noah is more likely just managing his pain and effectiveness.

But, well, Noah's out there, and Rose is in a suit. And the deeper the Bulls go in this playoff, the harder that's going to be on both of them...

FTT Off-Topic: "Wicked", Or When Being A Dad To A 13-Year-Old Girl Rocks

Pretty sure she went to Bryn Mawr
Wildly not sports, and yada yada yada.

With the Shooter Eldest turning 13 this weekend, and already having way too much in the way of Gadgets And Stuff, we decided this year to give her some Moments. And she loves musicals, having performed in the middle school one for the past two years, so what the hell. Let's take her to the one she wants to go see, even though she barely knew that this was possible. You get major Dad Points for listening, basically.

(A quick side note on having your kid in a middle school musical: it's much more bad than good. Where I live in Aspiring Burbland, this means selling $50 in band candy, taking out a pointless $50 ad in the program, shelling out $30 for the post-show amusement park cast party, $8 per ticket for the family and grandparents and extended family... and all of that math is multiplied by the literally hundreds of kids involved in this thing. All for the chance to lose your kid to a week's worth of exhausting shows and tween-age drama, and spend $200 to see her be an off-stage extra while the same clique of smarmy off-key kids get the lead roles year after year. Then you get to sit in a room with people who applaud like prison inmates being shown a burlesque, only with less tact. This thing has to make a mint, it provokes a week's worth of misanthropy inside of me, and just rankles hard... but hey, the kid's having fun and making friends and learning the lesson that a life in the theater is not a meitocracy, and that maybe she should buckle down and make the honor roll, rather than try to Be Famous. You learn a lot in school when you aren't "learning.")

"Wicked" is, of course, the mass-market monster money-making beast of the age, and saying that it's great is right up there with saying that water is wet and that Broadway shows have talented casts. But that doesn't stop the achievement here. The show successfully taps into all of the anxieties of the modern age -- that technology may be ruining the planet, that authority is more interested in maintaining power than the well-being of others, that truth is bent to the whims of people who may not be truly evil. but are clearly corrupt -- and uses them to more or less rehabilitate a classic American fairy tale.

The thing about "The Wizard of Oz" to my eyes (someone who has read it as a grown-up to his kids, and sat through the movie as well)... it's solid, of course, but it's also wildly overrated due to its appeal to niche communities. And it makes no sense from a plot standpoint either, given that a naive little girl is able to change a world without any weapon or talent; it makes no sense outside of being the fever dream of a child.

"Wicked" puts that story into a greater context, answers questions that anyone over the age of seven would ask in a satisfying manner, and makes both stories work so much, much better. And the sheer stagecraft involved here, from lighting to fog to use of the depth and vertical space of the Gershwin Theater, will satisfy even the most professional of eyes. It's also genuinely funny at points, more than a little moving (more so for my kid than me, of course, but the fun part of being a parent is how much that sort of thing can change), and moves quickly, despite the total 2:45 running time.

I went for my kid, but I'm very happy I got to see it for myself. It's just that good.

White Clay Creek Golf Course Is Beautiful And Should Be Avoided Like The Plague That It Is

Just A Wee Bit Of Carry
The following is going to sound like a lot of whining, and, well, it is. But had I read something like this review a few days ago, I'd still have $50 and a couple of dozen golf balls in my possession, and would not have wasted what turned out to be a solid day of Saturday weather and four hours with two good friends enduring pointless pain. So let's get into it.

White Clay Creek Golf Course is the on-site match to Delaware Park, which is one of the better places to play a tournament on a Saturday night where I live, because the game is relatively soft and the buy-in fairly tame. So with the eldest getting a major sleepover as her birthday present, and filling the Man Cave with home imvaders, I got clearance from the Shooter Wife to do the biathlon of middle aged white guy fun.

I am OK -- honest -- with a hard golf course. I love the eye candy of undulating greens and fairways, get that water on a course can be prevalent (a creek is truly in play on 14 out of 18 holes here), admire the theatrics of a deep bunker and don't have a real problem of seeing my usual 100-110 sad play once a month golf getting pushed out to the 120-130 range. Honest, I don't need to score a few bogeys and pars to be happy playing golf. For the most part, I am just happy to be playing golf, and have had great times playing courses that are miles above my weight class.

White Clay isn't golf, and the reason why is that the vast majority of the area where your ball could land is more or less unplayable OB, where you will not be able to retrieve your ball. And since the carries are all major -- my 3-wood is a reasonable club off the tee for me, but it doesn't go more than 225, and that's with some roll -- that just means you are just going to lose ball after ball, until you just give up. (For us, that happened at Hole 16, when we were all so beaten that we couldn't even get the ball off the tee. I've never given up on a round before, by the way, and I was thinking of doing that on Hole 12.)

The course should not exist, basically. It's on a flood plain, which means that every green is elevated to protect against that; this also means that the yardage is a lot more than quoted, since you have to fly every green. Oh, you also have to fly every green because the fairway tends to just cease, just to enforce the idea that you can't play here unless you have your club lengths down to 10 yards or less of variance.This also means that you are shooting blind a lot to greens, which means that your high iron approaches can also produce lost balls, since anything that doesn't hold the green can bounce off and get swallowed by the Cut By Passing Helicopter rough. Even if you see the ball land, you can lose it; I almost lost one with a freaking sand wedge on a 70-yard approach by being one yard more than the trap and five yards short of the green, and watching the ball plug into an easy foot of chaff-like cover. I eventually found it by using my feet like a Zamboni. Good times!

Oh, and just in case that doesn't sound like enough fun... Keep in mind that it's something like 5 miles from end to end, which means that you're going to be in the cart for a good hour or more of your 5-hour round. (At least the carts have GPS, which is awesome, and parts of the course are so isolated in spots that we saw fox and deer.) Carts are restricted to the path only, so having it doesn't mean that you aren't going to be running a few miles back and forth to your shotss. And the sheer psychic toll of all of this means that if you can actually finish a round here, assuming you've got the few dozen balls and patience to spare...

Well, you must like golf a lot more than I do. Or pain.

It's pretty. If you are a singe handicap player, you might enjoy it. The staff is great, the locker room facilities are world-class, and it's truly pretty. I wish I was good enough to play here.

But, well, I'm not.

And I don't know anyone else who is, either.

Top 10 takeaways from the Darrelle Revis deal

This Shirt May Sell
10) If you know any Jets fans right now, please feel free to reach out and remind them that there is so much more to life than football

9) Revis has $96 million coming from the Bucs, but if he stays hurt, he won't make a dime, which is kind of a massive refutation to the idea that the NFLPA exists

8) The Jets might now be able to draft a CB with the pick they got from the Bucs, who can then spend the rest of his career, along with current CB2 Kyle Wilson, being Not Darrelle Revis

7) If he's healthy, Revis could cost Julio Jones, Marques Colston and Steve Smith 200 yards and 2 TDs off their 2013 stats

6) Jets fans are well aware by now that they can't have nice things, so this can't be too much of a surprise to them

5) There's nothing more Jets-esque than selling a prime asset for 60 cents on the dollar, when he's hurt

4) If anyone wants to give Rex Ryan a defensive coordinator job now, he might just resign, rather than come back to get canned in six months from this tire fire

3) Imagine how many balls Revis will pick off in practice

2) Buying season tickets to the Jets can now be classified as proof that an individual may need to be committed

1) There's no truth to the rumor that ESPN would sell the kidneys of their staff to get the Jets to try out Tim Tebow at CB now, because it's actually all of the staff's major organs that are on the block for that

Top 10 takeaways from Game One of the NBA Playoffs

So Far, At Home Only
10) It's just kind of mean how Emperor Popovich waited until now to activate this fully operational Manu Ginobili

9) OKC ended their game with Houston on a 80-51 run in the last 30 minutes, which is pretty much the part of the game when they seemed to be really trying

8) The Grizz got manhandled by the Clippers in Game One, which means that you can pretty much expect Game Two to be a hair pull

7) Paul George is so good, he makes even the people watching this series are kind of known

6) LeBron James scored 27 on 11 shots in Game One against the Bucks, which is all kinds of unfair, really

5) I'm not saying that Nuggets-Warriors is over, but I am saying that David Lee is the Warrior MVP and won't play again in the year's playoffs

4) Chicago is unleashing Joakim Noah and Kirk Hinrich for Game 2, which might help in making that game Not A Blowout

3) Carmelo Anthony pulled the "team with the best player wins in the playoffs" card

2) It's not true that the Heat and Thunder have already advanced, but they've already advanced

1) If you missed every game to start, that's OK, so did the road teams, and playoff series aren't supposed to begin until a home team loses

Saturday, April 20, 2013

FTT Off-Topic: On the relative power of losers

15 minutes are up
Well, folks, I can't write about anything else, seemingly. Even the weather conspired to drown as much baseball as possible today, the NBA hasn't started the playoffs, and the NFL actually had its schedule announced this week to a relative lack of analysis. We've just ended the week where two losers ended the national discourse for, well, everything else. A fertilizer plant exploded in Texas and all meaningful gun reform died, North Korea might still have nukes, and the world more or less stopped because, allegedly, two twinkies decided to set bombs to maim at the end of a well-attended road race.

I'd like to point out here, and elaborate upon, Patton Oswalt's point from earlier this week as to how these situations show how good outnumbers evil, and that now is not the time for despair, but reassurance. He's right, of course, but the more stunning thing is how little it took, really, to set all of this in motion. Two diseased men, no real expertise, no overarching organization or criminal mastermind or guy with mad science. They weren't even all that bright, or wealthy, or competent. Hell, they didn't even make the cops struggle by leaving the area, or finding some remote area for their Suicide By Cop. (Yes, yes, the second one was taken alive, and good for that.) This wasn't 40 guys with box cutters, ideology and flight training; this was a couple of bozos who did unfathomable amounts of damage despite themselves.

When I grew up, I'd watch crap TV where villains with super powers concocted elaborate schemes to greatly impact the world, and such schemes were always foiled. Little did I think that in the real world, such schemes would pay off, and the bad guys would look like no more than flunkies.

Never in the course of human history has the power of the individual been greater, and never in the course of human history has it been easier for people with wildly opposed political and religious beliefs to get enraged by the other. The Internet and technology, in moments like this, feel like power tools left in a crib; I do not know if we really should be trusted with them, and wonder, on some dark level, if all of the good that's been done from these things are just part of a greater Faustian bargain. At least when Oppenheimer and crew unlocked the power of the atom, it was hard and secret and required rare ingredients. The Boston clowns used kitchen supplies.

So our only hope, at a time of increasing secularization (which means you can't just threaten people with hellfire to get them to behave) and easy cultural frictions, is to be nicer to each other while also being more wary. To exercise our freedoms with eyes open, rather than dancing in the sunshine like carefree children. To endure long-run episodes of fear and more fear, trapped in our homes like hostages, while applauding the public servants who have to go clean up the mess.

It's not the world that most of us grew up in, or the world that any of us dreamed of. But there's no other world to live in, and it won't get better by hiding from it.


Friday, April 19, 2013

FTT Off-Topic: Five Takeaways About Gun Control, Or Why I Want Jonathan Papelbon To Keep His Gun

Less OK Than Background Checks
Wading into the deep end, because it's late and I'm cross and hollering into voids is funsy funsy funsy...

1) As per site contributor Dirty Davey points out, if you really want gun control in this country, you need to look to history to get it.

California has some of the strongest laws in the country, and they were signed into existence by noted lefty and government intrusion proponent Ronald Reagan.

The governor did this because Black Panthers marched into the state capital while legally armed.

Lots of them.

Kind of changes the comfort level a bit, doesn't it?

2) For forty years, radicals on the other side has been pushing abortion pictures into every possible demonstration. Look for something similar to happen soon, and the continued coarsening of public discourse. We're no getting enough of that yet, clearly.

3) Australia is, in many respects, the country that has the most in common with the United States: immigrants, no enemies on the borders, English speaking, frontier life. There was a note perfect piece by John Oliver on the Daily Show about what's happened there since their last gun massacre. It was  17 years ago. Back when the Aussies had a lot of guns. They don't any more. But, hey, nothing to see there. Move along.

4) Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon, in speaking about the Boston Marathon incident, slipped in the inevitable "Obama wants to take our guns away" canard. Now, I could speak to how Papelbon isn't nearly good enough at his job to be against the political tide of his home city, or that athletes should (always, though spouting off is always good for the sports blog traffic) be seen and not heard, or wonder just why a man who makes $13 million a year is such a skinflint as to pack his own heat, rather than hire his own militia of killer babe ninjas. (That'd be my plan. Endlessly more fun to watch in action than a gun, you'd get tax breaks for employing people, and you'd be on SportsCenter every night right up until you got your own reality show. But I digress.)

Rather, I'll leave it at this. I've watched Papelbon throw at people a lot over the years. I've also seen him freak out after losing a game, when he makes, um, $13 million a year. Finally, I'm pretty convinced, given what he says to the media, that he's a grade A douchebag.

So, Jon? The President doesn't want to take your guns away from you.

I do. I think it'd be fun, and a nice way to improve the community.

Also, I'm pretty sure you'd spaz out in a spectacular fashion, and I could use the blog traffic.

But on second thought... scratch that. Because when you own a gun, you are dramatically more at risk of killing yourself with it during a suicidal impulse.

So keep it close, Jon.

And take your job more seriously, along with how the world's just going all to hell.

A few drinks will make everything better, too.

(In the immortal words of Bill Hicks, I'm just sowing seeds here.)

5) Final point... over 90% of Americans can't agree on things like the relative wetness of water, or whether puppies are cute. That's the number in favor of universal background checks. Which means this week's failure could actually be the best thing, politically, for people who care about this sort of thing.

The simple fact is that a background check would have made most people nod their heads and say good, some clown can't go nuts at gun shows and the Internet any more, and probably forget about the whole thing again.

Now, all of the holes are still out there. and if the history of this country is any indication, there's going to be another bloodbath in less than 3 to 6 months. (April seems to be a flash point for this sort of thing, and so does hot weather.)

At which point blue states will pass the stringent laws, red states will go as far as possible the other way, and then we can do all of this again, secure in the knowledge that we live in the greatest country in the world, and with a status quo, in re the mass possession of deadly force in the hands of wildly fallible individuals, with less oversight than it takes to own a cat.

Nothing to improve here! Move along!

The 2013 Eagle Schedule Is Announced, So Let's Predict The Entire Year Right Now

Haz Vizor, Will Win (Sometimes)
Week 1: At Washington on Monday night. They lose to the rehab return of Robert Griffin the third, because no new coach ever wins in his first game. I hate that they start on MNF, by the way. 0-1.

Week 2: San Diego. This one is far more winnable, especially with the Chargers' road woes in 1pm EST Sunday night games. It doesn't help that it's a short week, but this one sneaks past in the win column. 1-1.

Week 3: Kansas City. The home vengeance game against Cap'n Andy Reid. Coach Chip Kelly solidifies his hold and makes the home town feel far too optimistic, far too early. 2-1.

Week 4: At Denver. Peyton Manning and Company end a lot of illusions with a runaway win. Even when the Eagles were good, traveling to Denver was not fun; this one won't be, either. 2-2

Week 5: At New York. No bounce back, even though New York has been vulnerable at home in recent years. It's as if the franchise sold its soul for the Miracle of the Meadowlands II. Still worth it, I guess. 2-3.

Week 6: At Tampa. A winnable road game; hell, if last year's collection of slugs could do the deed here, so could a team under transition. A win here keeps them at .500, and honestly, .500 is a great thing for a first year coach from college. 3-3.

Week 7: Dallas at home. Talent-wise, this isn't awful, and a win would make them 4-3 and alive in the wild-card hunt. I'm not ready for them to have nice things this soon; they lose to go to 0-3 in the division, and start the torches for the bigger idiots in the audience. 3-4.

Week 8: New York at home, and the moment where even some relatively even-keeled members of Eagle Nation jumps off the bus hard, as the team falls to 0-4 in the division. These are the times that try men's souls, and maybe force a QB change. 3-5.

Week 9: At Oakland. Another winnable home game, but the Oakland track is muddy and the crowd is loud; Oakland also might be a tolerable team this year. The Eagles win anyway, if only because Oakland has had issues in stopping the run for a very long time, and is good at losing games they should not. 4-5.

Week 10: At Green Bay. I'm hoping it will be close and that the defense is more solid by now, but neither will be the case. 4-6.

Week 11: Washington at home, the week before the bye. Kelly finally wins a division game with the second-best win of the year. This win establishes that the Eagles are no longer the division doormat; that would be Washington, who won't be able to keep their QB healthy or their owner from messing things up. 5-6.

Week 12: Bye. Irrational hope grows. If only that one winnable game had been won! Especially with all of the wacky parity and unpredictability in the league this year!

Week 13: Arizona at home. On talent, this is a loss; after a bye, at home, against a West Coast traveling team in a 1pm game, not so much. .500 again, and it feels so good. 6-6.

Week 14: Detroit at home. A must win game against a beatable opponent, but Calvin Johnson is still too much of a beast, and the home crowd has not been a recipe for success. This one puts the dagger in the playoff hopes. 6-7.

Week 15: Minnesota on the road. I really don't like the Vikings this year, and my story of the Eagles is that they are going to be surprisingly good on the road, because they'll be more patient and effective running the football there. This is also the part of the year where Adrian Peterson is in slowdown mode. 7-7.

Week 16: Chicago at home. The Bears will have a lot to play for, the Eagles won't. I think the road team gets it done late, if only because they've owned my club for a long time now. 7-8.

Week 17: At Dallas. In a stirring finale that adds one more brick to the Tony Romo Wall Of Late Season Failure, the Eagles end their season, and the Cowboys, with a spoiler effort for the ages. For the first time in a long time, the season ends with Eagle Fans smiling, feeling very good about the future, and delighting in the misery of people they hate. It's almost better than making the playoffs!

Final season mark: 8-8, out of the playoffs, third in the NFC East

Make your own predictions in the comments, if you are so moved...

Thursday, April 18, 2013

NBA First Round Playoff Predictions: Sleep Late, Stay Up Later

A Nugget In His Only Habitat
It's time, once again, to think about just how badly the NBA has made life for people in the Eastern time zone. Here, we're going to slog our way through slowdown and weak sauce thuggery, isolation and hero ball, coach worship and scores in the 80s, if we're lucky. Out West, they'll get ball movement, the best players in the world, ludicrously joyous and young home court crowds, threes and dunks and runs and guys jumping out of the gym. It's barely the same game, really, and if we could just trade a team or two (Memphis for Miami, maybe?) we could make one bracket entirely entertaining and a pleasure to the eyes.

But, alas, this is Sport More Than Art, so the fact that a bunch of teams who make me not like basketball will advance... well, them's the breaks, and it's just a sad truth that the first round of the NBA playoffs is the best round to watch. Let's get into it!

Boston at NEW YORK

This is, without question, the matchup that New York wanted. Boston has done its usual lie in the weeds routine in the second half, unfurling good games against better competition while surrendering weak games more or less randomly. They'll attempt to win a playoff series without a point guard, with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett using every sneaky old man trick and uncalled elbow imaginable, and with Avery Bradley and Courtney Lee putting paint to the idea that Rayon Rondo isn't all that important. And if they get support from emerging stat monger Jeff Green and underrated mid-range jump shot artist Brandon Bass, along with the usual Highly Suspect NBA Officiating, they'll put a scare or six into the favorites and their easily rattled fan base. But New York has shot blockers, a bench, veterans that haven't always known failure at this level, and the best player in Carmelo Anthony, assuming he moves the ball. So long as don't get caught up in Garnett's head games and hit open threes, they will win. It's later in the playoffs that they will all stand around, watch Carmelo, and lose.

Knicks in six.


The most entertaining, and eventually the least meaningful, series of the first round. These teams are going to combine for 220+ points a game, have wild runs and amazing crowds, endure head-smashing stupidities and more, more, more. DVR all of these games; they will get you through any number of weak nights in your future. In the end, I like the Warriors to pull off the upset, because Denver is hurt, George Karl stinks in the playo, and JaVale McGee is going to do something amazing. But in the end, I don't think the Nugs have a second move to make after Run And Penetrate, and the Warrior home crowd is nearly as good as the Nuggets. The Ty Lawson / Stephen Curry matchup should be epic.

Warriors in six.

CHICAGO at Brooklyn

This is where Derrick Rose is supposed to come out of the locker room as if nothing happened a year ago, rip off a 25/5/12 line, and make everyone think that the Bulls can still give the Heat a credible series before the Finals. Instead, Chicago will thug and scheme and harass their way to the next round, with Carlos Boozer and Nate Robinson giving and taking away all the while, and Brooklyn Fan will wonder if this is all there is. Especially with the Knicks moving on across town, and the Nets blowing the final game at home, when Joe Johnson comes up very, very small indeed. Tom Thibodeau's season of smoke and mirrors continues.

Bulls in seven.

Memphis at LA CLIPPERS

A rematch of last year's epic slobberknocker, but while the Clips have gotten better, especially on the bench and with Chris Paul's health, the Grizz are diminished from the Rudy Gay deal, and can only win by playing volleyball with their bigs. That will work for a couple of games, especially at home, but not for all. The Clips move on, but not without some pushing and shoving, and if you like thugball with dunks, this is so your series.

Clippers in seven.


The Hawks make their annual visit to Unwatched First Round Series Land, where the cable networks are second tier and everyone involved knows this is more of a contractual obligation than a real playoff series. This year, they'll lose to the surprising Pacers, who bring the heat defensively and won't get caught up in the occasional Hawk highlight. Atlanta shows that you can make the playoffs every year and still not be very happy.

Pacers in five.


Oh, the poor Spurs! They aren't healthy, aren't playing their best basketball, catch the Lakers now that all of the pressure is off... and if Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash were healthy, no one in their right mind would be taking them. Except, well, me. San Antonio has the best coach in the playoffs; the Lakers may have the worst. San Antonio has a bench of guys that compete and win; the Lakers have a bench of guys who should not be in the NBA, let alone in a playoff series. The Spurs have been resting their aging stars; the Lakers have been whipping theirs like they were at a dog track betting the rent. And the Spurs are excellent defensively, while the Lakers give up layups after made baskets more than any team that I've ever seen.

Will it be easy? No. Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard have finally started playing like themselves, and the Lakers get more calls from the ref than any team that isn't Boston. They've also won a lot of games to get out of the huge hole they put themselves in at the start of the season. But they are still terrible defensively unless they put a FT missing machine on the floor, which means that they really can't go on runs. Count on Gregg Popovich to put Howard on the line 30 times a game if he has to. (He won't, unless Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks play the series of their lives. And no, they won't either.) The people who like the Lakers to win this series haven't watched the 2012-13 regular season. Sometimes, that works out; see the recent Boston runs. Most of the time, it doesn't.

(Oh, and if the Spurs lose, it's the biggest proof ever that Tracy McGrady is the kiss of death to playoff hopes.)

Spurs in five.

Milwaukee at MIAMI

Do I really need to write very many words at all about a series where a team with 38 wins is playing one with 66? And the 66-win team is the defending champions, who rested guys down the stretch, with home court and the best player ever playing his best ball ever?

No. No, I don't.

The most the Bucks can hope for in this series is for the games to be close in the second half, and a pity win where the Heat aren't interested in the road Game 4 sweep. They won't get either.

Heat in four. (And if you count actually contested amount of play, two. Maybe one and a half.)


The second-most watchable series, but one that's not going to go deep, because OKC has three of the four best players on the floor in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. Houston is going to have some good moments in this one, but James Harden can't carry them against the defensive pressure that's going to come at him in waves, and what Westbrook is going to do to Jeremy Lin shouldn't be legal. There will be a bunch of close games in this series, but the series? Not so much.

Thunder in five.

FTT Off-Topic: The Media Is Making Me Crazy

Do Not Anger The Logos
Not sports, not sorry, not nice. Buckle up, folks.

A few quick and dirty takeaways as we go into Day 3 of the media deciding that a horrific attack on a major U.S. city needs to end all public discourse, since that's the only way that we can prove to the evil doers that we are too tough to attack in such a fashion. (You know, kind of like how we prove to mass murderers that we will not reward their terrible deeds by making them historically infamous through constant myth-inducing media coverage.)

1) If the toejam that did this made a mistake in messing with the wrong city, as any number of people keep telling us (yay, Boston! It only took you 48 hours to regain your air of insufferable exceptionalism!)... well, that just assumes there is a right city to attack, no?

If there is a wrong one, there has to be a right one; it's just the flip side of your sad little construct. Either that, or everyone who is taking this line of discussion is filling our ears with brown stuff about how people in one city are somehow very, very different from people in other cities, despite the fact that cities are made up of transient people and our dominant cultural motifs are all nationally driven.

But by all means, keep blowing air over how violent animals could be more effective in their aims if only they chose better targets. I mean, what else is terrorism for, if not backseat driving?

2) Today when I went to ESPN to check to see if something new had happened in the world of sports, I found that the event and its aftermath was still dominating the page, because, well, why not, right? As a consumer, I've made the choice to come to a *sports* Web site (which, ostensibly, ESPN is supposed to still supposed to be); instead, I got substandard coverage from the echo chamber. I can't be trusted, as a consumer, to go to news sites; instead, I have to have it here as well. Interesting choice, ESPN. (And please, don't give me that this is a sports story in any way; marathon running is fringe at best in this country.)

3) The need for some in our society to have news enter some predetermined narrative is almost as sad as the event, really. To date, we still don't know who did this; no organization has stepped up to take responsibility, which is a little telling in and of itself (perhaps, after the end of Bin Laden, being a US target has lost some of its appeal). It doesn't look like a right-wing group conspiracy, and left-wing groups haven't really been active in this country since the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of '60s radicalism. (By the numbers; terrorism on a national scale in the US has actually gone down a lot since the '60s and '70s.)

There's also the chance that this never gets solved; a third of all terror crimes are not. I doubt that will happen here, given how public the crime was and how many cameras were trained on the event, but it's possible that we never really know what happened, and the same factors at hand aren't going to make things obviously easy for the tinfoil hat crowd. Now, this has not stopped some from already using the opportunity to blame things on whatever hobby horse they want to pin this on, of course. But it's not going to take hold in the public, the way that Waco, Ruby Ridge or Tower 2 did.

So, where are we, as a people, as the media continues down the rabbit hole of watching itself milk a non-existent cow?

Well, wondering if the world went crazy before the media did, or if the media is just letting us know about the crazy. Or, darker still as we go into hour after hour, if the media isn't creating the crazy...

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

NBA Season Awards: The Year Of The Mostly Obvious

He's a Happy King
With the NBA season coming to a close tonight, I thought I'd weigh in with my picks for the NBA's regular season awards. Feel free to agree or chastise, as always, in the comments.

MVP: LeBron James, and it's not close. (Sorry, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and, shockingly, Carmelo Anthony; you are all playing in the wrong era.) James is the best player in the league at both ends of the court, and makes a 50-win Heat team the odds-on favorite to win it all again this year, next year, and for three to five years after that. Assuming a lack of injury or boredom, this is how it's going to be for a while, provided Durant doesn't develop point guard skills and has Russell Westbrook killed. Enjoy it, I guess, if only because future generations are going to ask you a ton of questions about what it was like to watch the best player ever. (Yes, I'm going there, if only to make Michael Jordan come back again and hurt himself.)

Rookie of the Year: Damian Lillard, and it's even less close than the James for MVP pick. This is the first time that the Rookie of the Year also takes up the entire first team All-Rookie Team. (Well, OK, no, but you get the idea.) Runner up is Anthony Davis, who will probably be the better long-term pro, in that I suspect Lillard has already hit his ceiling, but so be it.

Sixth Man: J.R. Smith, who seems to have, all of a sudden, completely forgotten how to be a head case. I can't tell you how disappointing that is, really. Runner ups include Jamal Crawford, which is kind of silly given how deep the Clipper bench was, and Kevin Martin, under the theory that the Thunder need to have a Sixth Man of the Year candidate in the back court every year, since they start Thabo Sefalosha and win a lot of games. (Please, everyone, stop dissing Thabo. He's good!)

Most Improved Player: Finally, something with a hair of intrigue to it. MIP is always hard to determine, because it hardly seems fair to give it to a guy who just gets minutes due to trade or return from injury (aka, Brook Lopez), and it's way too easy to give it to a guy who just goes to a weak team where he becomes a volume player (Greivis Vasquez). You also have to discount for being a teammate of a guy who will get you overrated (the Steve Nash Effect), or just being a guy on a team that's good, but won't win any other awards. Last and not least is the fact that most of the candidates aren't good from start to finish, because they aren't ready for this kind of minutes.

So... with all of that said, I'm going with Paul George of  Indy, with apologies to Jrue Holliday and, shockingly, Kevin Durant. Without George's emergence on both ends of the floor as the Pacers' best player, Indy falls apart and doesn't emerge as everyone's ugly pick to lose to Miami on the road to the Finals. You can improve and still not be good enough, folks.

Coach of the Year: Tom Thibodeau of the Bulls, and to me, this one also isn't close. Thibs kept his team focused through the year-long Derrick Rose Sideshow, never let them get down to the point of even having a 4-game losing streak, and broke the Heat and Knicks' streaks with little more than home court, Nate Robinson and duct tape. The streaks will get this award in the hands of Erik Spoelstra, Mike Woodson or George Karl, and you can vote for Gregg Popovich every year for no other reason than the abuse he doles out to sideline reporters, but no one did more with less this year than Thibodeau.

Defensive Player of the Year: There seems to be a lot of movement to give this to either Tony Allen or Marc Gasol of the Grizzlies, under the theory that you can't have their record without some kind of recognition. There's also always some temptation to give it to the defensive anchor on the best slowdown team; this year, that's Joakim Noah and Tyson Chandler. But I'm giving it to James, under the theory that there is no else in the NBA who can provide a lockdown cover on any player, 1 through 5, and the stuff that he's doing now in transition is straight out of a video game. I always judge DPOY under the guise of who I'd pick if I needed a one on one stop. That's James.

And now, some awards of my own.

Least Valuable Player: Andrew Bynum. Oh, dear God in Heaven, where to begin? It wasn't just the off-again off-some-more-again injury hijinks, of course. Had it just been that, this would have just been tragic. Rather, it was how, with each passing day, this trade got worse and worse, and Bynum's only answer was to do something stupid with his hair. As a Sixers fan, I've lived through Roy Hinson, Jeff Ruland, Shawn Bradley, Chris Webber and Jerry Stackhouse: I *know* disappointment. Bynum brought it to another level, to the point that I can't compare him to athletes, only real life tragedies. (The MOVE debacle, specifically.) If news came down today that he had been hit by a bus, Sixer Fan would beg for the footage, then yell at the driver for not going faster the first time, or neglecting to put it in reverse and come back for more. Runner ups: Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Joe Johnson.

Head Case Of The Year: DeMarcus Cousins. How do you pull down 17 and 10 while leaving everyone wondering what's wrong? Be DeMarcus, who has single-handedly achieved the ability to personify the end-times Maloof Goof Era in Sactown through indifferent play, fighting with teammates, coaches, refs and, seemingly, himself. If Cousins worked in a metro market where people paid attention, he'd have been put in an institution by now. Runner ups: JaVale McGee and Westbrook.

Anti Coach Of The Year: Doug Collins. It's too easy to give this award to a guy who has a terrible team, or whoever Jordan or Donald Sterling is paying right now. (Yes, Vinny del Negro is still a terrible coach. Luckily for the Clips, Paul does that job along with point guard.) Instead, let's go to the man who buried his young players in a waste year, pined for the young players who were dealt away worse than a WIP caller, devised an offense that would have seemed ill-suited for any era of the pro game, let alone one with a three point line, and kept his team playing hard enough to even ruin any chance of collecting lottery balls. Thank God he's leaving. Runners up: Portland's Terry Stotts (somehow went the whole year without figuring out anyone's minutes, and the team quit on him) and LA's Mike D'Antoni (way to not adjust your scheme to your talent).

Most Fun Teams To Watch: Denver, Golden State, OKC

Least Fun Teams To Watch: Philly, Boston, Dallas

First Team All-NBA: Stephen Curry, Paul, Anthony, Durant and James

Second Team: James Harden, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Marc Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge

Third Team: Kyrie Irving, Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Al Jefferson and Noah

All Rookie: Lillard, Davis, Harrison Barnes, Jonas Valanciunas and Bradley Beal

All Defense: James, Allen, Marc Gasol, Noah and Andre Iguodala

Tomorrow, we'll get into playoff predictions. Come on back?

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