Archive | Sports RSS feed for this section

Believing in the Mavs

13 Jun

Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks finally got theirs, winning the 2010-11 NBA Title // Keith Allison

Congratulations to the 2010-11 NBA Champions, the Dallas Mavericks.

Feels weird to say, doesn’t it?

Rather than jump on the bandwagon and pretend that I “knew it all along”, like many sportswriters (and non-Mavericks fans) will claim, I’m going to be honest. I’ve never believed in them. Ever.

I picked them to lose every series – this year, last year, and as long as I can remember.

And for good reason. Despite averaging 56.3 wins per season over the previous 10, they only made it past the second round twice. After making the finals in 05-06, they blew a 2-0 series lead. The next year, they went 67-15 (tied for 6th best regular season in NBA history. SIXTH!), and got swept in the first round!

But they finally got it done.

Obviously, the addition of Tyson Chandler was huge – he led the team in rebounds and was one of the most efficient scorers in the league. Each playoff round, his scoring increased, and he pulled down nine rebounds a game. While Dwyane Wade had a few highlight blocks on him, the Heat never really had an answer for him. Miami had questions all year about their hole at centre, and it finally caught up with them.

If you’ve been watching the games, you’ve probably heard at least a billion times that Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry are the only guys left from the previous finals team. And while the supporting cast is different from ’06, it’s not much different from last year’s team that got dumped in the first round (outside of the Chandler addition).

The third time was the charm for Jason Kidd, winning his first NBA title // Bryan Cedeno

While Jason Kidd, 38, reminded us that he’s an all-time great, and JJ Barea made all guys under six-foot believe they can ball if they just try really hard, it was Nowitzki and Terry who played like champions on the big stage.

After Game 3, Dirk called out Jason Terry, saying “Jet hasn’t really been a crunch-time, clutch player for us the way we need him to”, after he went 11-for-34, and scored just 14 PPG, in the first three games. But Terry got it together, shooting 58% (25-for-43), and averaged 21.6 PPG in games 4, 5 and 6. He had a big 27 points in game 6, offsetting the unusually bad game from Nowitzki. I’d still prefer Manu Ginobili as my sixth man, and I’ve never thought of Jason Terry as a real number 2, but in these finals he came up huge and proved that he was.

After game 1 of the Western Finals vs. OKC – where Dirk scored 48 points and went 24/24 at the free-throw line, I was finally sold on him as a playoff performer, and his team. He was making his shots, the only way to stop him was to foul, and he was lights out at the line (vs. the Lakers, Thunder and Heat, he shot 96.4% (109/113)). Last time in the finals, he missed so many shots (being held to 14% shooting in one game), and was especially horrible from the 3-point line. This time, (excluding game 6) he hit long range shots when they needed him to, and even upped his rebound game.

In North American sports, there’s a notion that European players can’t lead a team on the big stage because “they’re soft”. Just like Nicklas Lidstrom ended the “European captains can’t win the Stanley Cup”, I think Dirk has killed the notion that Europeans can’t do the same in the NBA. How many times did he help turn around a huge deficit? Even in a game (Game 6) where he was an atrocious 9-for-27, he had 10 points in the fourth quarter. Never mind Kobe Bryant, in the NBA, “the closer” is Dirk Nowitzki.

Just like in the series with Boston and Chicago, the question for Miami was: can the Big 3 of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh beat a team that is better than them overall. Finally, the answer was no. The Mavs had what the Heat lacked: role players who could play two-way ball. The Heat took advantage of Boston’s age, and Chicago’s inexperience, but the same couldn’t be said in the finals, as Dallas had more experience, hadn’t lost a step, had a top 10 defense and more depth.

This year, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said Dirk was one of the top 10 players of all time. While I still completely disagree with him, he’s now viewed as being simply wrong, rather than a complete moron. But if they win another title, that’s a conversation I’d be willing to have.

It’s really too early to talk about next year, especially with a lockout looming and uncertainty about Jason Kidd’s future, but just remember: Caron Butler didn’t even play. Their core is aging, but they still have a few years to contend.

While I’m not picking them to repeat as champions, I’m going to do something I’ve never done: pick them to win their division next year. It may not be much, but hey, I just started believing in this team a few weeks ago.


Surprise: Goalies are the key in the Stanley Cup Finals

1 Jun

Roberto Luongo // photo courtesy of David Steadman

No position is more vital to playoff success than the goaltender in hockey. The 2011 Stanley Cup Finals feature two of the NHL’s elite. So who will be the difference?

Statistically, Roberto Luongo and Tim Thomas have had almost identical playoffs. They both have 12-6 records, 2 shutouts and have 2.29 GAAs.
But those stats are misleading.

Luongo got off to a rough start, being benched in favour of Cory Schneider (pff), before showing why I’ve been calling this guy the NHL’s best goalie since 2005. Since closing out the defending champs, he’s only allowed 2.18 goals per game, and has posted a .932 save percentage.

While never having to ride the pine, Tim Thomas has lacked Luongo’s consistency as of late. Sure, he posted two shutouts against Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference Finals, but he also had four games where he allowed either 4 or 5 goals. Surprisingly, the Bruins actually won one of those games.

That won’t happen against the Canucks.

Tim Thomas needs to be better for the Bruins to win // photo courtesy of rubyswoon

Both teams need their goalies to play well, but Boston needs it more. Boston prides itself with their defensive style of hockey. But how good are you when 4 or more goals are scored four times in a playoff series? The Canucks have scored 3 or more goals in 11 of 18 games, against some of the league’s top defenders (Chicago’s Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, Nashville’s Shea Weber and San Jose’s Dan Boyle) and scored at least 3 goals every single game against San Jose in the Western Conference Finals.

Vancouver has all the momentum. They’re firing on all cylinders at a time where the Bruins can’t keep the puck out of their own net. While I believe Tim Thomas should have been the regular season MVP, he needs that version of himself to show up for his team to have a chance.

Prediction: Vancouver in 6

LeBron, Miami look to finally beat the Celtics in the playoffs

1 May

LeBron and D-Wade look to end their losing ways vs. the Celtics / Keith Allison

After LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade last summer, many christened the Miami Heat as “the team to beat in the East”. Some even predicted they would break the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls’ record of 72 wins in a season. This was in spite of the fact that the Boston Celtics were the defending Eastern Conference Champs, and had won it all just two years prior.

The first game of the NBA season was also the “Heatles” first opportunity to prove their championship worth, as the league scheduled them to face the Celtics. Boston won 88-80. In their next two games against one another, Boston also won. But in their final regular season meeting, the Heat manhandled the Celtics 100-77.

Now they face each other in the second round. Last season, the Celtics knocked Miami out in the first round, 4 games to 1. That was before LeBron. But he has history with these Celtics too. In two of the last three seasons, Boston eliminated the LeBrons the Cavs in the second round. Now equipped with teammates actually worth mentioning, he’ll look to avenge those losses.

With the series about to begin, let’s look at the positional matchups.


Everyone’s been making a big deal since Boston trade Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City. While the trade didn’t improve the team, it doesn’t necessarily matter in this series. Sure, it would be nice to have some additional defense against LeBron in the post, but Jermaine O’Neal, Glen Davis, or whoever else will be playing Centre for Boston, don’t have to worry about their Miami counterparts. Erick Dampier and Zydrunas Ilgauskas wouldn’t start for any other playoff team that’s still alive.  I’ve heard a lot about how a healthy Shaquille O’Neal would help the Celtics, but in 2011, a healthy Shaq is an oxymoron.


LeBron James is the best player in the league. Don’t even get me started on Derrick Rose or anyone else. LeBron James is the best player in the league. We all know the problems the Heat have had this year. Who should be the primary ball-handler? Who should take the winning shot? But all that doesn’t matter. The Heat, much like the Cavs used to, will live and die with LeBron James. He can score massive amounts of points, be your best defender, and average 8 assists per game. And he’ll need to do that for the Heat to win.

Paul Pierce will look to contain the NBA's top player, LeBron James / Keith Allison

His main opponent will be the versatile Paul Pierce, who can score in the paint and from outside the arc. While Pierce isn’t LeBron’s equal by any stretch of the imagination, LeBron will need to be dominant, because he’ll have to offset the results of the Kevin Garnett-Chris Bosh matchup. At this point in his career, Garnett is not the type of scorer that Bosh is. However, Garnett is still a superior defender.


Rajon Rondo had another big year, averaging 11.2 assists per game. And although he’s known for his passing, like the rest of the Celtics, he plays D (being a 1st or 2nd All-Defensive team member the previous two seasons). Much like the Knicks in the first round, or the Lakers in last year’s finals, he’s going to pose problems for Miami.

Don’t get me wrong, D-Wade is premier scorer and will get his points. And he can stop Rondo. But then who’s guarding Ray Allen?

Mike Bibby? There’s a reason the Atlanta Hawks, a team that believes they can compete with the big boys in the East, dumped him at the trade deadline.

Mike Miller? Well, at least he can shoot some threes…

Kobe has struggled to guard Ray Allen in the playoffs. Whoever is joining D-Wade in the backcourt, is going to get torched.


Of the last 20 NBA champions, 16 of them have had a top-10 defense. This season, Boston was number one (only allowing 91.1 PPG). On the other hand, the notion that Miami only scores isn’t true. While Miami scored 102.1 PPG (6th in the NBA) this season, they only allowed 94.6 – good for sixth in the league. Simply looking at point totals actually goes in Miami’s favour. However, Boston owns the season series (3-1), can present problems in the backcourt, and has more talent off the bench. I don’t value experience nearly as much as I value talent, but Boston has more of both. If Udonis Haslem was able to play, maybe it’s a different story. I think LeBron and Co. will have to wait another year in their quest to win the first of their eight championships.

Celtics in 7.

Can dog be the next Paul the Octopus?

8 Apr

Daisy attempts to replicate the success of Paul the Octopus / Charles Vanegas

Every year, millions of people across North America – including U.S. president Barack Obama – fill out their brackets for the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship. The tournament begins with 64 teams (not including the additional play-in games that determine the last couple of spots), and you pick winners for each round, including the championship game – before the first game is played. Picking your bracket is an inexact science, but the winner of the office pool always seems to be the person who knows absolutely nothing about sports, let alone college basketball.

In 2007, I correctly predicted that Florida would top Ohio State in the championship game (which wasn’t overly insightful, as both were top seeded teams with clear NBA prospects on their rosters) but admittedly, most years my brackets are mediocre at best.

Paul the Octopus was 8-0 during the 2010 FIFA World Cup / Jeff Swicord

You might remember Paul, an octopus from the Sea Life Centre in Oberhausen, Germany, who made predictions during the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. Paul’s handlers would present him with two plastic boxes filled with mussels – one adorned with the flag of Germany, one with their opponent’s. Paul correctly chose the winner in all seven of Germany’s games – including their semi-final loss to Spain – as well as choosing Spain to beat the Netherlands in the World Cup final.

I wondered if animals could also be successful in determining winners during March Madness. Unfortunately, Paul the Octopus died last year, so I needed to find another opponent from the animal kingdom. I looked no further than my two furry friends at home – Daisy, a Shih Tzu/Pekingese/Pomeranian mix (in case you were wondering), and Cat, a cat we found on Kijiji, who hangs out in the closet most of the day. Much like Paul, Daisy and Cat are motivated by food. I set up dishes with an equal amount of food, and their pick was determined by whichever one they ate from first.

Daisy completed her entire bracket using this method. Unfortunately, after only making her picks for half of the first round, Cat vomited on the rug. She was thus eliminated from the competition.

Daisy’s Bracket:

My Bracket:

The competition was close. Daisy chose Kentucky, a fourth-seed, to win it all. I, on the other hand, picked top-seeded Ohio State.

Here are the final results:

Obviously, neither of us did very well, only scoring 57 and 54 points out of a possible 192. It turns out dogs are just as bad at predicting March Madness as the rest of us. However, we weren’t far from Obama’s 65 points (thanks to his immaculate 29/32 first round), and Daisy does deserve credit for having her team reach the final four.

So for anyone else who’s embarrassed by the mediocrity of their 2011 NCAA bracket, just be thankful that Paul the Octopus isn’t around to make you look worse.

2011 MLB predictions: American League

5 Apr

Francisco Liriano hopes his Minnesota Twins can win their seventh division title in 10 years. / Alan Turkus

On Friday, I posted my 2011 predictions for the National League. Today, we’ll take a look at the American League, as well as who will be the 2011 World Series champion.

AL East: Boston Red Sox

Last year, the Rays took the division by just one game over the Yankees. However, with the acquisitions of OF Carl Crawford and 1B Adrián González, the Red Sox have leap-frogged them both. Tampa Bay lacks the deep pockets required to keep elite-level talent like Crawford, and New York doesn’t have any depth behind CC Sabathia in their starting rotation.

Boston’s offense is one of the best in the league – and better than the Yankees’ – and their pitching can really only be rivalled by Philadelphia. The only concern about Boston (according to top baseball experts) is whether Josh Beckett can rebound from the worst season of his career (6-6, 5.78 ERA) and if Daisuke Matsuzaka can be more consistent. If Boston’s biggest worries are whether their fourth and fifth starters – who are a combined 101-56 in the last four years – can get it together, they won’t have any problems winning the division.

Runner-up: New York Yankees

Remember how great it felt when the Rays started being able to contend for the division title? Well, put those feelings away, because the two-party system is back.

While the Yankees were deemed the biggest losers in the offseason – being spurned by Cliff Lee, while Boston added two all-stars to their batting order – the Rays are the team that actually lost the most. In his nine seasons with the Rays, Carl Crawford recorded 409 stolen bases (31% of the team’s), and consistently hit around .300. So how do they replace his productivity? Manny Ramírez and Johnny Damon. This would be a good pickup… if it was 2003. Now they’re 38 and 37, and haven’t been productive in two years. Tampa seemed to finish near the top of every pitching category last year, but after trading Matt Garza to the Cubs for prospects, there isn’t much pitching depth behind David Price.  And while third-baseman Evan Longoria is an automatic all-star (zing!), the Rays offense simply cannot compete with the Yankees and the Red Sox.

The Yankees still have one of the best batting line-ups, and although they’d feel more comfortable having pitchers Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett further down in the rotation, they’re still decent options for now. Look for the Yankees to make a big trade or two, later in the season (i.e. Seattle’s Felix Hernandez). The Yankees have the capital to get better, so if a second team from the AL East is making the post-season (which is likely, as it’s happened 12 out of 16 times since the wildcard was created), it’s going to be them.

AL East
2011 Prediction Last Season
1. Boston Red Sox 3 (89-73)
2. New York Yankees 2 (95-67)
3. Tampa Bay Rays 1 (96-66)
4. Toronto Blue Jays 3 (85-77)
5. Baltimore Orioles 5 (66-96)

AL Central: Minnesota Twins

Minnesota has won the AL Central division six of the last nine seasons, and they are the favourites to win in it 2011. They have an offense that features two former MVPs (2009: Joe Mauer, 2006: Justin Morneau), and finished in the top five last year in batting average (3rd), hits (3rd), runs (5th), RBIs (4th) and on-base percentage (2nd). They have a solid pitching rotation led by Carl Pavano and Francisco Liriano. The return of closer Joe Nathan also bodes well for the Twins. If Liriano can stay off the DL, and control his wild pitches, he could contend for the AL Cy Young.

Runner-up: Chicago White Sox. The White Sox are often overlooked, as they match up with the Twins in almost everything. Last season, first-baseman Paul Konerko had his best season in four years, hitting .312, 39 home runs, and 111 RBIs, while outfielder Juan Pierre led the major leagues with 68 stolen bases. DH Adam Dunn has averaged 40 HRs and 101 RBIs over the last seven years, and will look to continue that streak now that he’s in Chicago. Much like the Twins, the White Sox have a solid, but unspectacular pitching staff. The team’s success will largely depend on whether Mark Buehrle can rebound from one of the worst seasons of his career (13-13, 4.28 ERA), and if the team made the right call naming Matt Thornton the closer, allowing Bobby Jenks to leave.

While there is much talk about Justin Verlander and the Tigers, Detroit lacks the depth of Minnesota and Chicago, and the alcoholism of Miguel Cabrera may finally overshadow his MVP-calibre ability.

AL Central
2011 Prediction Last Season
1. Minnesota Twins 1 (94-68)
2. Chicago White Sox 2 (88-74)
3. Detroit Tigers 3 (81-81)
4. Cleveland Indians 4 (69-93)
5. Kansas City Royals 5 (67-95)

AL West: Texas Rangers

While the reigning American League champions lost their top pitcher, Cliff Lee, in the offseason, it should be remembered that when Texas traded for Lee last season, they were already leading the division by five-and-a-half games. They still have C.J. Wilson (2010: 15-8) and Tommy Hunter (2010: 13-4) in the rotation, and hope that new Ranger (and former NL Cy Young winner) Brandon Webb will be able to return to his dominating ways after spending the last two seasons on the disabled list. 2010 MVP Josh Hamilton leads a Texas team that led the AL in batting average and hits, and finished in the top five in runs, home runs, RBIs, on-base percentage and stolen bases.

Runner-up: Oakland Athletics

Oakland features one of the best young pitching staffs in baseball, but lack the offensive might needed to compete with the Rangers for the division, or the Yankees and White Sox for the wildcard.

AL West
2011 Prediction Last Season
1. Texas Rangers 1 (90-72)
2. Oakland Athletics 2 (81-81)
3. LA Angels of Anaheim 3 (80-82)
4. Seattle Mariners 4 (61-101)

Awards Predictions:

AL Rookie of the Year: J.P. Arencibia, Blue Jays

AL Cy Young Award: Francisco Liriano, Twins; Runner-Up: CC Sabathia, Yankees

AL MVP: Justin Morneau, Twins; Runner-Up: Carl Crawford, Red Sox

2011 MLB predictions: National League

1 Apr

Albert Pujols (5) and Prince Fielder (28) look to have big years, as the MLB season began on Thursday. / majorvols

On Thursday, the 2011 MLB season got underway. And with that comes my 2011 predictions – who will win their division, awards and in the playoffs. First up is the National League.

NL East: Philadelphia Phillies.

No surprise here – the Phillies are poised to win their fifth straight division title. Most of the offseason talk has been about the acquisition of Cliff Lee, and whether his addition makes the 2011 pitching staff one of the best ever. They have two bonafide aces in Lee and Roy Halladay (who have three Cy Young awards between them), a great third option in Roy Oswalt – who has exactly zero seasons with a losing record – and the decent, if not entirely overrated, Cole Hamels in the fourth spot. The Phillies’ batting lineup – which features former NL MVPs Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard, is among the deepest in baseball. Even though all-star second-baseman Chase Utley is expected to miss the first half of the season, look for the Phillies to finish the season with over 100 wins.

Runner-up: Atlanta Braves. While the Braves have a promising young team, the gap between them and the Phillies has been widened with the addition of Lee. They’ll look to earn the NL Wildcard spot for a second straight year.

NL East
2011 Prediction Last Season
1. Philadelphia Phillies 1 (97-65)
2. Atlanta Braves 2 (91-71)
3. Florida Marlins 3 (80-82)
4. Washington Nationals 5 (79-83)
5. New York Mets 4 (69-93)

NL Central: Milwaukee Brewers.

Last year, the Brewers finished third in the NL Central solely because they couldn’t pitch. While finishing second in the NL in hits and home runs, and fourth in runs, RBIs and OBP (on-base percentage), the Brewers ranked either 14th or 15th in ERA, batters walked, hits allowed, and WHIP. This year, the Brewers have garnered enough pitching to make the playoffs. They have a legitimate ace in former Cy Young winner Zack Greinke, and good second and third options in Yovani Gallardo (2010: 14-7) and Shaun Marcum (2010: 13-8). There are few teams with a more talented one-through-four in the batting line-up (2B Rickie Weeks, RF Corey Hart, LF Ryan Braun, 1B Prince Fielder), and as long as Hart and Greinke can get themselves off the DL sooner rather than later, the Central is theirs to lose.

Runner-up: St. Louis Cardinals. The injury to Cardinals’ ace Adam Wainwright (2010: 20-11) really hurts them. While the Brewers have greatly improved their pitching, the Cardinals have no depth after Chris Carpenter. And despite the unearthly talents of Albert Pujols, not only can the Cardinals’ offense not make up for the lack of pitching, it is also inferior to the Brewers’.

NL Central
2011 Prediction Last Season
1. Milwaukee Brewers 3 (77-85)
2. St. Louis Cardinals 2 (86-76)
3. Cincinnati Reds 1 (91-71)
4. Houston Astros 4 (76-86)
5. Chicago Cubs 5 (75-87)
6. Pittsburgh Pirates 6 (57-105)

NL West: San Francisco Giants

After the Giants won it all last year, the rest of the division assumed the fetal position, trading away their best players in the offseason. The Giants will once again depend on their pitching staff – which led the NL in practically every statistical category last season.

Runner-up: Colorado Rockies. The Padres traded away their best player (Adrián González). The Rockies didn’t (Ubaldo Jiménez/Carlos González). Pretty simple.

NL West
2011 Prediction Last Season
1. San Francisco Giants 1 (92-70)
2. Colorado Rockies 3 (83-79)
3. San Diego Padres 2 (90-72)
4. Los Angeles Dodgers 4 (80-82)
5. Arizona Diamondbacks 5 (65-97)

Awards Predictions:

NL Rookie of the Year: Aroldis Chapman, Reds

NL Cy Young Award: Roy Halladay, Phillies; Runner-up: Tim Lincecum, Giants

NL MVP: Prince Fielder, Brewers; Runner-up: Albert Pujols, Cardinals

Coming up: 2011 American League predictions

Chara not suspended after Pacioretty breaks neck

9 Mar

Montreal Canadiens’ Max Pacioretty suffered a broken neck and concussion after having his head run into the stanchion (the bar between the bench and the glass) by the Boston Bruins’ Zdeno Chara during the second period of Tuesday’s game in Montreal. Chara received a five-minute major and a game misconduct.

Bruins captain Zdeno Chara wasn't suspended for his hit on Pacioretty/ photo courtesy of Dan4th Nicholas

On Wednesday, the NHL ruled that despite the injury, Chara would receive no further punishment.

“After a thorough review of the video I can find no basis to impose supplemental discipline,” said Mike Murphy, NHL Senior V.P. of Hockey Operations in a statement. “This hit resulted from a play that evolved and then happened very quickly — with both players skating in the same direction and with Chara attempting to angle his opponent into the boards.”

Murphy said that when making their decision, they considered that Chara “had not been involved in a supplemental discipline incident during his 13-year NHL career.”

Montreal was leading 4-0 when Chara made the hit. In the previous match-up (Feb. 9) between Boston and Montreal, the teams combined for 182 penalty minutes. Another game (Jan. 8.) ended in a skirmish after Pacioretty shoved Chara after scoring the game-winning goal in OT.

According to the NHL rulebook, an illegal check to the head is “a lateral or blind side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact is not permitted”. In regards to boarding, “the onus is on the player applying the check to ensure his opponent is not in a vulnerable position and if so, he must avoid the contact”.

If the onus is on the player to avoid injuring an opponent in a vulnerable position, how is Chara not responsible for Pacioretty’s injury?  Chara admitted that he knew how close they were to the bench when he made the hit. Under NHL rules, it’s his responsibility to know how dangerous a hit into the stanchion could be, and should have avoided it.

The league’s decision is interesting, but unsurprising. This season, many players – including many of the leagues’ stars – have suffered concussions or similar injuries as the result of hits to the head.

Sidney Crosby has been out since January 6 with concussion-like symptoms. / Dan4th Nicholas

Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby has missed over 25 games because of a concussion, which has been attributed to two illegal hits made in separate games. The first hit wasn’t ruled a penalty, and the second only garnered a two-minute minor. Neither player who hit Crosby’s head received suspensions or fines by the league. It’s unlikely that Crosby will return this season. Other elite players like Pat LaFontaine and Eric Lindros had their careers shortened due to dangerous hits to the head.

The two most notorious moments in recent memory are Todd Bertuzzi’s suckerpunch from behind on Steve Moore and Marty McSorley’s piñata swing on Donald Brashear. Bertuzzi – whose attack was in retaliation for a headshot Moore took on teammate Markus Naslund earlier in the season – was suspended indefinitely (although due to the 2004-05 lockout, he ended up missing only 20 games), and McSorley was suspended for a full year, and never played another NHL game.

This season, the NHL implemented a new rule regarding illegal checks to the head, and although they’ve handed out 22 head-shot related suspensions this season, only two of them have been for more than six games. Both instances were for New York Islanders’ winger Trevor Gillies, who received his second suspension (10 games) in his first game back after serving a nine-game suspension.

The NHL has a major problem. Rule 48 has done nothing to deter hits to the head, because the league rarely enforces its new rule, and refuses to adequately punish guilty players when it does.

Chara says he didn’t intentionally slam Pacioretty into the stanchion. But that doesn’t matter. He put him in a dangerous situation that resulted in a serious injury, and should have been punished for it.

Heat coach tells reporters team was crying after loss

7 Mar

Sunday’s 86 – 87 loss to the Chicago Bulls was a tough one for the Miami Heat. So tough, in fact, that they had a good cry over it, according to Heat coach Eric Spoelstra.

“There are a couple of guys crying in the locker room right now,” Spoelstra said in his post-game press conference.

Dwyane Wade / Photo courtesy of Keith Allison

On Sunday – their fourth straight loss – the Heat blew a nine-point lead against the Bulls, with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade both missing game-winning shots in the final seconds of the game.

On Friday, they suffered their biggest loss of the season against the San Antonio Spurs (losing 95-125), and on Thursday, they squandered a 24-point lead in a loss to Orlando.

Miami now has a combined record of 0-6 against the Boston Celtics and the Chicago Bulls – the two teams ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings. They are 5-5 against the three teams below them.

Miami’s last significant win happened over a month ago, and the team still hasn’t figured out a way to share the ball, win close games (2-8 in games decided by three points or less), maintain leads, or even beat good teams (15-17 against teams with winning records) .

Perhaps Spoelstra wanted to show how much his team cares about winning. But he’s actually given people another reason to question the Heat’s mental toughness, and probably angered some players.

Miami Heat coach Eric Spoelstra may have said too much when he told reporters that players were crying in the locker room / Keith Allison

Since the “Big Three” of Wade, LeBron, and Chris Bosh joined forces this summer, there’s been speculation that Heat GM Pat Riley would replace coach Spoelstra (like he did with Stan Van Gundy in 2005-06), as Riley (and his five championship rings) would instantly be respected by the team.

Earlier in the season, Wade was criticized for saying that Spoelstra wasn’t “his guy.” James was also criticized for bumping shoulders with the coach during a timeout that may or may not have been intentional. It’s unlikely that spilling the beans on a team sob-fest will increase Coach Spo’s popularity in the locker room.

So far, he has done nothing to stop people from talking about a possible coaching change, and if he can’t get the team to play well come playoff time, Spoelstra may find himself taking his talents to the unemployment line.

NOTE: Stats as of March 7.

Don Cherry swears on live TV

6 Mar

During the “Coach’s Corner” segment in the first intermission of Saturday’s Leafs/Blackhawks game, CBC analyst Don Cherry uttered the word “chickensh-t” on live TV.

The term was used to describe a trip made by Ville Leino on Thursday night, when the Philadelphia Flyers hosted Toronto. Leino was racing with Leafs’ defenseman Luke Schenn, and in an attempt to avoid an icing call, reached out his stick and tripped Schenn.

Just hours earlier, ESPN college hoops analyst and former coach Bob Knight – forgetting that his microphone was still turned on – derided the Baylor men’s basketball team for playing “chickensh-t defense” on a pregame segment of ESPN College Gameday. Moments later, ESPN apologized.

This is not the first time for Cherry. On May 2, 2009, he “dropped an F-bomb” in a segment after a playoff game between Chicago and the Vancouver Canucks.

UPDATE at 9:59 p.m. 03/05/11:

While CBC has not commented, Cherry’s slip of the tongue has been edited out of the clip on the CBC website.

Does Carmelo make the Knicks a contender?

25 Feb

On Tuesday, Carmelo Anthony finally got his wish, being sent to the Knicks // Keith Allison

On Tuesday, Carmelo Anthony (along with Chauncey Billups and three others) became a member of the New York Knickerbockers. Knicks’ coach Mike D’Antoni says the team is closer to competing for an NBA title with the addition of Anthony. But are they really?

Anthony was the league’s sixth-ranked scorer (25.2 PPG), for the league’s top-ranked offense (107.8 PPG) in Denver. He now joins Amar’e Stoudemire (ranked third with 26.0 PPG) and the second-ranked offense (106.4 PPG) in the NBA. Anthony fits in perfectly.

And that’s the problem.

Teams coached by Mike D’Antoni have always ran a fast-paced offense. Coincidentally, they also have always had a last-place defense (or close to it). D’Antoni had the best season of his career in ‘04-‘05, when he led the Phoenix Suns to a 62-20 record, eventually losing to the San Antonio Spurs 4-1 in the Western Conference finals. While the Suns had the number one offense (110.4 PPG), they also had the worst-ranked defense in the league (allowing 103.3 PPG).  With D’Antoni in his third year as head coach, the Knicks are on pace to have the NBA’s third-worst defense (currently allowing 105.8 PPG) for the third straight season.

Whoever said “the best defense is a good offense”, clearly never played basketball. Or at least playoff basketball. Of the last 20 NBA championship teams, half of them featured a defense ranked in the top three. 16 of them were in the top-10. Only one (the 2000-‘01 Lakers) finished worse than 15th.

The Knicks currently have the 6th spot in the Eastern Conference. This shouldn’t impress anyone. The Knicks are only a few games above .500 (at 29-26), and every team behind them has a losing record. The Knicks’ record against winning teams is only 9-17.

While it’s better to have two star players than one, the Knicks’ new roster doesn’t say “championship” at all. The five teams ahead of the Knicks – the Celtics, Heat, Bulls, Magic and Hawks – all have superior line-ups – especially at the guard positions, and play better defense. The Knicks lost three starters in Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, and Danilo Gallinari, so the drop-off after Stoudemire, Anthony and Billups is huge. While the team has improved in terms of skill, they are no closer to challenging in the playoffs than they were before. They’re still at least a year (or another big free-agent signing) away from even having a shot at their division, let alone an NBA title.

NOTE: statistics are as of Feb. 24, 2011.