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Northwestern wrapped up their 2013-14 home schedule on Thursday evening in disappointing fashion losing to Penn State 59-32 at Welsh Ryan- Arena , the outcome was not what they had hoped for as the Wildcats were ran out of the gym from the opening tip.
Drew Crawford, Nikola Cerina and James Montgomery were all recognized before the game as part of the “Senior Night Ceremony” but even the pumped up crowd there to celebrate could not get the Wildcats (12-18, 5-12) into the game as they would trail 32-15 at the half, after shooting just 6-27 from the field (22%).
Crawford, (who is the Wildcats all time leader in both games played and games started) struggled from the start, finishing with only 6 points in 38 minutes on 2-9 shooting from the field. He exited the game with 74 seconds to play and received a nice ovation from the crowd and his new head coach Chris Collins who couldn’t have been more proud.
“I’m sad I only got a chance to coach him for one year,” Collins said about Crawford in his post game press conference.
“More than anything, I just said, ‘Hold your head high,’” Collins continued. “Because he should. He’s one of the great players to play in this program but not even just the way he’s played, the way he’s carried himself. … He’s the model of what I want this program to be about.”
Penn State ( 15-15, 6-11) was led by D.J Newbill who scored 12 points on 5-8 shooting in 30 minutes. Tim Frazier and Brandon Taylor also chipped in 11 points for the Nittany Lions.
Next up for Northwestern will be a road matchup against Purdue and unless they can pull off the victory they will be looking at the number 12 seed in the Big Ten Tournament next week.
Before we start, here are a few players who are putting together great season but did not crack the top five. I have also included some short notes as to why they did not make my list.
Dirk Nowitzki- Another fantastic year, but his numbers aren’t quite there.
Kevin Love- Crazy-good numbers, bad team.
Carmelo Anthony- Crazy-good numbers, horrendous team.
Dwight Howard- Putting together a great two-way season, but hasn’t been dominant.
As for the Top Five:
5. Stephen Curry
- 24.1 points and 8.8 assists per game
- 193 three-pointers made, most in the NBA
- 615 points off of pull-up shots (Any jump shot outside 10 feet where a player took 1 or more dribbles before shooting). 139 more points than the second highest pull-up total, per NBA.com.
During his 2010-11 MVP season, Derrick Rose averaged 27.1 points and 7.7 assists per game. Curry has put up very similar numbers this season, carrying the Warriors to a 36-24 record. Curry’s MVP case is aided by the inconsistent play of his supporting cast this season. Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes have failed to make “The Jump” like many expected, leaving Steph to shoulder more of the offensive load for Golden State. In addition to his strong numbers, Curry is one of the most exciting players to watch in the game. Few players around the NBA cause Twitter eruptions like Steph does. Probably because few players can do things like this.
4. Joakim Noah
- 12 points, 11.4 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game
- Opponents shooting just 44.5% on shots at the rim when being guarded by Noah, eighth best in the league, per NBA.com
Noah’s numbers are solid, but they only tell a fraction of his impact on the Bulls this season. Noah has helped write one of the most unexpected storylines of the year. After losing Derrick Rose and trading Luol Deng, the Bulls appeared destined for the lottery. However, Noah and Head Coach Tom Thibodeau would not let it happen. The Bulls are now 33-27 on the year and have won eight of their last ten games. They will likely end up as the three seed in the Eastern Conference and will be a pain in the ass for the Pacers or Heat to play in the second round. Chicago can thank Joakim Noah for staying relevant in what looked like a lost season.
3. Blake Griffin
- 24.2 points and 9.8 rebounds per game
- Shooting 53.2% from the field, ninth best in the NBA, per NBA.com
- Shooting a career-high 70% from the free throw line
Chris Paul’s injury on January 3 produced a fork-in-the-road moment for the Clippers. Would they hold their ground in his absence and maintain a top seed in the West or would they slip in the standings and end up with an unfavorable playoff matchup? The Clippers needed Blake Griffin to step up in Paul’s absence and lead the team. He produced with flying colors and the Clippers went 13-5 with CP3 out of the lineup. Not only was a Clippers collapse diverted, but Blake established himself as a top MVP candidate. His play has drastically improved from past seasons. Griffin has developed a solid low-post game with multiple moves on the block. He has become a reasonably dependable shooter from mid-range and the foul line, forcing defenders to respect those facets of his game. Finally, while he has always been an above-average passer, the Clippers are allowing him to make plays with the ball in his hands. This is especially evident on the fast-break, as you can see in the following clip.
As for numbers one and two on my list, let us compare the following players:
Player A- 37.3 mpg, 27.5 ppg, 58.3% FG, 38.4% 3FG, 7.0 rpg, 6.4 apg
Player B- 38.4 mpg, 31.6 ppg, 50.7% FG, 39.6% 3FG, 7.7 rpg, 5.6 apg
How the hell do you choose one?
What if we compare memorable moments?
Player A is LeBron James and B is Kevin Durant. The race for MVP, like their numbers, is incredibly close. Durant appeared to have the early lead, putting up video game numbers with Russell Westbrook out of the lineup. However, LeBron has roared back in the last four weeks, including a career-high 61-point face-melter against Charlotte. They are the two best players in the world, playing arguably the best basketball of their respective careers, and doing so on two of the top teams in the NBA.
What makes this race even more enjoyable is the competition level between LeBron and Durant. It seems as if they are fueled by media discussions about who is the MVP. When one player seems to gain an edge, the other responds with a huge game. It’s as if their box scores are battling one another from across the country. As fans, we are the beneficiary of this fantastic theater. It is important that during all of the debating about who is the MVP, we take a step back and enjoy these two players playing the game at unbelievable levels.
Let’s get to it. The MVP standings at this point in the season are…..
2. LeBron James
LeBron is having another phenomenal year. His efficiency has been particularly impressive this season. He is the only non-center with a top five field goal percentage and his 66.2% true shooting mark is second best in the league, per NBA.com. Amid frequent lineup shuffling and injuries, LeBron has been the sole point of consistency for Miami. Now, the Heat are surging, having won nine of their last ten games, and they have the look of a team hunting for the one seed in the East. Thanks to LeBron, they will probably capture it.
1. Kevin Durant
Durant is putting together the strongest all-around season of his career. As I have outlined already this season, Durant’s playmaking and defense have improved drastically. Like Griffin, Durant was put in a position where he had to carry his squad without a key teammate. It was during this period when Russell Westbrook was injured that Durant solidified his MVP case. Despite Westbrook rejoining the lineup in recent weeks, Durant is still putting up monster numbers, averaging 32.6 points per game in the five games since Westbrook has returned. As long as Durant continues to get his 20 field goal attempts per game, he will keep putting up dominant numbers.
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When Marc Gasol sprained his MCL on November 22, it seemed as if the Memphis Grizzlies season was over. Not only was Memphis going to be without their second best offensive option, but they would be missing one of the best low-post defenders in the NBA. Yet, despite playing in an ultra-competitive Western Conference, the Griz were able to tread water during Gasol’s nearly eight week absence. Thanks in large part to stellar play by Mike Conley (averaging nearly 17.9 points and 6.2 assists per game) and the ever-reliable Zach Randolph (averaging 17.3 points and 10.3 rebounds per game), the Grizzlies were able to stay within striking distance.
Now, Gasol (or as my friend Nolan calls him, Big Spanish) is back and Memphis appears poised to make a run at a playoff spot in the West. They find themselves trailing Phoenix by two games for the eighth seed and Dallas by just 2.5 games for the seventh seed. Along with the consistent play of Conley and Randolph, Memphis has relied on a ground-and-pound style to win games. Memphis plays at the slowest pace in the NBA, averaging 92.11 possessions per 100 possessions, per NBA.com. Memphis’ slow pace results from an offensive system that focuses on getting low-post touches for their bigs. In fact, both Randolph and Gasol rank in the top five in touches within 12 feet of the rim per game (Randolph 7.3, Gasol 7.9), per NBA.com. The Grizzlies are particularly effective offensively when they utilize Marc Gasol’s excellent passing skills in the low post, as you can see from this clip.
While the Griz do a good job of running their offensive through the low-post, they are abysmal from behind the arc. Their poor three-point shooting could turn out to be the reason why the Griz fall short of the playoffs. Memphis takes the fewest three-point field goal attempts per game in the NBA at 14.2 attempts and makes just 34.3% of them, the fifth worst percentage in the league, per NBA.com. These statistics make the rumors of buyout-candidate Jimmer Fredette landing with the Griz seem more likely. Not only would Jimmer provide a credible shooting threat from, but he would also fill the backup point guard role. A role that has been open since Memphis traded Jerryd Bayless to the Celtics earlier this season. Three-point shooting
Memphis will play a handful of quality opponents down the stretch, including games against Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Indiana, and two against Miami. They would likely need to at least split these six games to stay in the hunt. Moreover, in a perfect bit of NBA scheduling, Memphis closes its season with games against Phoenix and Dallas. These games could very well decide who will hold the final two seeds in the Western Conference
If the Grizzlies do make the playoffs, they will prove a difficult matchup for any of the top seeds. Largely, this stems from the unique style of basketball they play. The popular trend of playing small-ball lineups never made it to Memphis. Rather, the Griz will continue to bully opponents down low and take advantage of their size. The Grizzles have a solid rotation of four bigs (Gasol, Randolph, Koufos, Davis), that can provide quality defense and excellent rebounding. The Spurs, currently the second seed in the West, must be particularly nervous about a first round matchup with the Grizzlies. Memphis has competed well against San Antonio in the playoffs over the past decade (sans last year’s beat down) and has the opportunity to take advantage of an older, oft-injured Spurs squad.
The Griz are one of my sleepers this season. If they get in the dance, they are a team that has the potential to make a deep run. Despite currently holding a pedestrian 31-24 record, no one will want to play the Griz come playoff time. Not even these guys.
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It’s one of my favorite times of the year- NBA trade deadline season! A time when unsubstantiated rumors are thrown around like insults at a roast. As a future NBA GM, I have spent countless hours on the ESPN Trade Machine figuring out ways to manipulate rosters to address team needs. This season, I have crafted five trades that would impact the NBA landscape. These trades comply with salary cap regulations as well as rules regarding trading draft picks. More importantly, I believe these trades to be mutually beneficial for the teams involved and interesting for the league. Without further ado, here are my big deals.
Bobcats receive: Evan Turner
Sixers receive: Ben Gordon’s expiring contract and Blazers 2014 1st Round Pick
Why it works-
The Bobcats are currently clinging to the eighth seed in the East. After years of ineptitude, the Cats need to give their fans some sense of hope. Turner is a solid all-around player, averaging 17.4 points, 6 rebounds and just under 4 assists per game. The Cats would have the option to insert Turner into the starting small forward spot or use him as their sixth man. Either way, Turner would be an upgrade over Jeff Taylor and Chris Douglas-Roberts.
Rumors are circulating that the Sixers will be active at the trade deadline. With an eye towards the future, GM Sam Hinkie will be looking to bring in draft picks and expiring contracts. Acquiring Ben Gordon’s expiring contract and the Blazers 2014 first round pick will do both of these things. It’s hard to imagine the Sixers giving Evan Turner a long-term deal in the offseason. Thus, it makes sense for Philly to get what they can for him now.
Warriors receive: Greg Monroe
Pistons receive: Harrison Barnes
Why it works-
Golden State is one of the most entertaining teams in the league. However, they have had a disappointing season thus far and are only nine games above .500. One of the primary issues for the Warriors has been figuring out who to play in crunch-time. The addition of Andre Iguodala has left Harrison Barnes as the odd man out. As a result, Barnes has become expendable for the Warriors. By trading Barnes to Detroit for Greg Monroe, Golden State could add much needed frontcourt depth and solidfy their crunch-time five. A closing lineup of Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Lee and Monroe would be deadly on the offensive end and big enough to hold their own on the boards.
The Pistons have a logjam in the frontcourt. The experiment of playing Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith together has been an epic failure. Not only is Detroit’s offensive spacing terrible when those three are on the floor together, but they are also allowing 108.4 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com. Bringing in Barnes would give the Pistons a natural small forward who has the potential to grow into a very productive player.
Suns receive: Pau Gasol
Lakers receive: Emeka Okafor’s expiring contract, Miles Plumlee & Suns 2014 1st Round Pick
Why it works-
Some writers predicted the Suns to be in full tank mode this season (slowly drops his head in shame). Shockingly, the Suns are in playoff position and appear just a piece away from serious contention. Pau Gasol would be a great addition, bringing a reliable low post presence that could take some of the scoring pressure off of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe come playoff time. Gasol would make the Suns a difficult matchup for anybody in the West.
The Lakers are awful and it appears they will be for the near future. The goal for L.A. should be acquiring draft picks and slashing salary. Gasol has never fit in well with Mike D’Antoni’s system and it appears both sides would benefit from a change. The draft pick the Lakers would acquire will not be as valuable as many would have guessed before the season, but in a deep draft, the Lakers could add a nice young piece. Miles Plumlee has shown flashes of competence as a backup center and would be a key sweetener for the Lakers.
Rockets receive: Jeff Green, Phil Pressey & Vitor Faverani
Celtics receive: Omer Asik & Aaron Brooks
Why it works-
The Omer Asik soap opera has to come to an end. The Rockets would do well to bring in Jeff Green, a player who can play the stretch-4 and space the floor for Harden-Howard pick-and-rolls. Green is shooting 36% from three-point range this season. While this is a respectable mark, I would expect this percentage to increase upon arriving in Houston as Green would no longer be the primary offensive focus of the opposing defense.
In Asik, the Celtics would acquire a quality big man who could anchor their defense for years to come (if they choose to re-sign him after next season). Pairing Asik with Jared Sullinger would give the Celtics a talented, young frontcourt pair. In addition, next season the Celtics would have Asik’s expiring contract as a trade chip to utilize in their rebuilding process.
Thunder receive: Arron Afflalo
Magic receive: Jeremy Lamb, Kendrick Perkins & Mavericks 2014 1st Round Pick
Why it works-
The Thunder are playing excellent basketball this season. An upgrade from Jeremy Lamb to Arron Afflalo would put the Thunder in pole position to capture the NBA title. Afflalo is having a great season for Orlando, averaging 19.4 points per game and shooting 42.7% from three, per NBA.com. Unlike the James Harden trade, the Thunder should focus on the present rather than the future and go all in on a championship run. Adding Afflalo would signal the front office is doing just that.
Orlando is 16-38 with Afflalo. Trading him will only benefit the Magic by ensuring that they will lose more games and get a better chance at a high pick in the draft. What’s more, Afflalo will be 30 years old next season and it is unlikely that he will factor in to the Magic’s long-term rebuild. The Magic would be happy to acquire an additional pick and a potential talent in Jeremy Lamb. Perkins will also be in the last year of his contract next season, making him a possible trade asset.
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If not for a bad choice on the part of the USA Bobsled and Skeleton Federation.
After all, USA-1 pilot Elana Meyers and brakeman Lauryn Williams, the most experienced of the bobsledders, are currently in first place with a two-heat time of 1:54.89, .23 seconds ahead of Canada-1 pilot Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse and .56 ahead of USA-2 pilot Jamie Greubel and Aja Evans, a Chicago native.
Where are the third American team…former Olympic track star Lolo Jones and and pilotJazmine Fenlator? They are currently in 11th of 19 bobsleds heading into Wednesday’s final two heats. On Tuesday, their first heat brought them in 58.27 seconds. In the second heat, they were .19 seconds slower at 58.46.
“Everything went as expected,” Jones told theWashington Post. “We knew we would have to fight. We knew it would be four tough runs.”
She expected to come in 11th? I don’t think that’s why the Federation picked her.
Though anything can happen in the final two heats on Wednesday, Jones and Fenlator, according toUSA Today and other media outlets, are unlikely to medal here.
I agree. Why blame Jones?
Actually, I blame the Federation, not so much Jones. They made two critical errors:
1) The Federation went for better publicity, not a better pushman
Yep my heart is hurting and moments like these I just praise and worship God. This song on repeat pic.twitter.com/eOIMGU0mBy
In this case, Jones was selected over the blonde, beautiful, and experienced Palos Hills native Katie Eberling. She was an immediate favorite for the Olympic team after claiming the 2011 U.S. National Push Champion title in her rookie season. Eberling, 25, was left off the team despite three bronze-medal finishes in four World Cup races this season. She was the national team’s most decorated brakeman and the reigning world silver medalist in the two-woman bobsled. She won three bronze medals on the World Cup circuit this season and finished second behind Evans at the national push championships, which clock how fast athletes can thrust the sleds off the starting line.
Katie Eberling, who’s an alternate on this year’s Bobsled team after being passed over for Lolo Jones
Yes, Jones had two silver medals in four bobsled races, and ultimately bobsled officials liked Jones’ chances. She’s also ‘hot,’ she’s charismatic, she’s a Christian, reportedly a virgin, and has achieved worldwide fame for her looks, her omnipresence on social media, and her ability to bounce back from failure. The Des Moines, Iowa native has a sad backstory, which always makes for good press.
And now, she’s a two-sport Olympian. More good press.
But she’s failed in heavy competition for any Olympic medal, let alone a gold.
The former U.S. track star missed bronze by a 10th of a second in the women’s 100-meter hurdles in the London Olympics in 2012, taking fourth place in her second attempt at the Summer Games. Her poor showing at the 2012 Olympics kept her out of the “world class runner” tag she has long desired.
She won indoor national titles in 2007, 2008 and 2009 in the 60 m hurdles, with gold medals at the World Indoor Championship in 2008 and 2010. She was favored to win the 100 m hurdles at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but tripped on the penultimate hurdle, finishing in seventh place. She went on to win silver at the 2008 World Athletics Final.
2) They went with inexperience in USA-3
To earn her silver medal, Jones was paired with Elana Meyers, arguably the best of all drivers in US bobsled history. How much push was actually necessary?
Paired with Fenlator, their chances were weakened considerably.
Why would they have paired these two? Well, the bobsled federation cuts itself a wide berth when picking the Olympic team. The vaguely worded nominating procedures state that athletes should be selected based on current season results, past performance, push times, work ethic and driver input.
In her seven years as a ‘slider,’ Fenlator’s best finish was a silver during the 2012-13 season in Lake Placid, and a 5th in Park City. She ran track at Rider University where her coach encouraged her to try a bobsled camp after graduation.
Maybe on paper, the team looked like they could maybe muster a respectable run. But both lack the experience to win big in such an important event.
Yes, we have our publicity. But we also want our medals. Go USA?
But Elana Meyers, who I’m predicting will win gold on Wednesday, played the peacemaker on her Facebook page:
“In a sport where medals are won and lost by hundredths of a second, it is very important to analyze all the numbers and make the best decision to try to win Olympic medals for our country. Everyone may not agree with the decision, but the fact of the matter is, the numbers supported the selection committee’s decision and 3 athletes were chosen. The three that were chosen have worked hard to earn there spots, and I am proud to call them my Olympic teammates. “
Northwestern found themselves in unfamiliar territory coming into Saturday’s home matchup against Nebraska after winning four of their last five games in the Big Ten.
The Wildcats were actually favored to win for the first time all season in conference play when they hosted the Cornhuskers at Welsh Ryan Arena Saturday, and for a short time it looked like they would pull off another win for first year head coach, Chris Collins.
JerShon Cobb led the Wildcats (12-12 5-6 Big Ten) with 7 points on 3-5 shooting in the first half, and Northwestern held Nebraska (12-10 4-6 Big Ten) to 6-24 shooting (25%) to go into the break with a 22-16 lead over the Cornhuskers.
However, the second half was a different story as the Wildcats struggled to score, shooting just 9-25 from the floor and 5-15 from behind the three point line.
“It’s hard for us to score; that’s not new,” coach Chris Collins said. “So when we do get good looks or go to the free throw line, we have to make those.”
Nebraska forward, and star player, Walter Pitchford caught fire and scored 13 of his game high 17 points in the second half on 4-5 shooting including 3-3 from downtown, and it looked the Cornhuskers were ready to blow the game wide open by taking a 44-36 lead.
However, NU Star Drew Crawford did not give up. After missing his first three attempts from downtown, he drilled two straight to get the Wildcats back in the game and the crowd fired up, as well as Collins on the sideline.
Northwestern guard, Tre Demps, tied the score at 44 but that would be as close as it would get. Cobb would miss a good look on the next possession to take the lead, allowing Nebraska put the nail in the coffin.
Cornhusker forwards, Walter Pitchford (15 points) and Petteway, would eventually knock down two clutch three pointers to end the Cats comeback and put them away for good.
“They hit a couple big shots down the stretch and we didn’t,” coach Chris Collins said after the game. “That was the difference. We had been making those shots those last few games, and today, we didn’t. We got the game tied and they hit incredible shots at the end of the shot clock. Petteway’s 3 was from about 27 feet with a guy all over him.”
For the rest of coach Collins press conference click the link below.
The retirement of longtime NBA Commissioner David Stern became official Saturday. The new leader of the league is Adam Silver, a man who had served as deputy commissioner since 2006. Silver inherits a league that is in a much better state than when Stern assumed the role in 1984. In Stern’s 30 years as head of the NBA, he grew the popularity and value of the league exponentially. The NBA’s annual revenue soared from $165 million in 1984 to $5.5 billion in 2013. Stern also oversaw the expansion of the league from 23 to 30 teams. Another key element of Stern’s tenure was the growth of the global popularity of the NBA. Thanks in large part to the success of the Dream Team in the 1992 Olympics, NBA games can now be viewed in 215 countries in 47 different languages. Above all else, Stern’s impact on the globalization of the game will be the defining aspect of his legacy. Well, that and his struggles with drinking bottled water.
Despite Stern’s vast accomplishments, the league is far from perfect. Tanking, poor officiating and college eligibility are just some of the issues that confront the league. With Adam Silver taking over as commissioner, now is the time to consider ways to improve the quality and entertainment of the NBA. Widely regarded as a fair and kind man, Silver is known as an outside the box thinker who is willing to incorporate innovative ideas to improve the NBA. He is also expected to run the NBA in a much less dictatorial way than Stern did. Thus, the NBA could see new ideas being incorporated to enhance its product. Here are some of the ideas I think would make the league better.
1. Trim the regular season to 66 games
We are now fully immersed in the “dog days” of the NBA season. That period of time between Christmas and the All-Star game that produces uninspired, low effort play across the league. One way to avoid the midseason drawl would be to shorten the season to 66 games. Shortening the season would cause teams to ramp-up for the playoffs sooner as each game is more valuable. Moreover, as part of the schedule change the NBA could eliminate back-to-back games. Back-to-back games are harmful to the quality of the NBA for both players and fans. Players are tired and face greater risk of injury due to fatigue. Fans often miss out seeing star veteran players who are rested on back-to-backs like Dwyane Wade. A 66 game schedule is long enough to weed out pretenders but short enough to keep a quality product from the beginning to end of the regular season.
2. Change draft eligibility rules
The NBA should implement a system similar to baseball. The new draft rules should be that players can enter the NBA straight from high school. However, if they choose to go to school, they would have to go for a minimum of three years. This rule change would allow for players who are ready for the NBA game like LeBron and Kobe to enter the league immediately. At the same time, players who feel they need to gain experience and seasoning in college are provided three years to develop. There are multiple benefits to having players stay in college for at least three years. First, players coming to the NBA after three years of college would be better prepared mentally, physically and emotionally for NBA life. Second, the college game would grow in popularity as fans would be able to watch recruits develop and contribute for longer than five months. Finally, the NBA game would increase in popularity as incoming rookies would have more popularity after being on the national stage in college for three years. Better players entering the league leads to a better product, plain and simple.
3. Create a centralized system for in-game reviews
How is this not a thing? Why do I have to sit through a five minute clear-path foul review during a Bucks-Bobcats game? It seems as if every eligible call is reviewed by officials. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as getting the call right should always be the ultimate goal. However, the NBA should find a way to make reviewing calls a much faster process. To accomplish this goal, the NBA should turn to the system the NHL uses to review plays. They should create a centralized office in the league’s headquarters that acts as a command center for all in-game reviews. No more having the referees waddle over to the monitor and look at 45 replays. Instead, someone watching each game at the LRO (League Review Office) can watch a a handful of replays in thirty seconds and then radio in the call to the head referee. For once, the NHL should act as a template for effective policy.
4. Create a tournament to determine the top four picks in the draft
This idea is an attempt to get rid of some of the tanking that occurs across the league while adding some excitement for fans in struggling basketball cities. Thus, I bring you the Kwame Brown Tournament of Ineptitude. The teams with the bottom four records in the league would face off in a tournament to determine the top of the draft order. If the season were to end today, Milwaukee would host Philadelphia and Orlando would host Boston. The winner of each game would face off in a game for the top overall pick in the draft. The tournament could take place over three days before the start of the playoffs. The final game would be played in the arena where the consensus number one overall pick plays, no matter if its Cameron Indoor or a small high school gym in Arkansas.
5. Allow teams to pick who they play in the playoffs
This is an idea that I have heard discussed in the past, most notably by the great Bill Simmons. The idea is that the top four seeds in each conference would pick which opponent they will face in the first round of the playoffs. For example, top-seed Indiana would get to pick any of the playoff qualifying Eastern Conference teams to play in the first round. Maybe instead of facing the eighth seed Charlotte, they would choose to play the fifth seed Chicago because of favorable individual matchups. The second seed, Miami, would follow with their pick and so on and so forth. Think about the bad blood that would come from naming who you want to play! This idea would create great drama in an often predictable first round.
While these five ideas may not be implemented, let us hope that Silver will pursue innovative ideas to increase the quality of the NBA product.
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As another wild and unpredictable football season comes to a close this Sunday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has to be licking his chops with the feast fans will receive this Super Bowl XLVIII.
On one side you have the face of the league and arguably the greatest quarterback of this generation in Peyton Manning, on the other side you have the hard hitting Seahawks and their outspoken leader, defensive back Richard Sherman. Needless to say Fox does not have to worry about their ratings for this Super Bowl.
Before the big game, here is my preview for Sundays battle of the leagues best offense vs the leagues best defense.
WHEN DENVER HAS THE BALL
Peyton Manning has had a dream season, one Hollywood has to be dreaming of making a movie about. After an already outstanding career, Manning faced many questions regarding his future when he took over as the Broncos starting quarterback after spending 14 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts ,where he won four NFL MVP awards and one Super Bowl ring.
Manning had arguably the best season by a quarterback in NFL history – completing 68.3 percent of his passes for 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns (to only 10 interceptions) breaking Tom Brady’s previous record of 50.
While Manning remains the games top signal caller, he is not invincible. Manning has never been a mobile quarterback or able to move well outside of the pocket, and now that he has a titanium plate and four screws in his neck he likes to get hit even less.
The best way to slow Manning will be for Seattle to play tight press coverage which will allow their big and physical corners to get their hands on Denver’s talented receivers and disrupt the timing of their routes.
The matchup everybody will be tuning in to watch will be Seahawks defensive back Richard Sherman covering Broncos Receiver Demaryius Thomas; however, we have to wonder if we will see that matchup all night long. The Seahawks usually like to keep their corners on their respective sides no matter if the opponents top reciver lines up on the left or right. We did see Sherman follow around 49ers reciever Anquan Boldin in Week 2 and hold him to one catch but in the NFC title game he mostly stayed home on his side.
While Thomas will see most of his targets on more physical routes, The Broncos other receivers Wes Welker and Eric Decker will look to get open using their speed and excellent route running. The Broncos will also split out tight end Julius Thomas to wide receiver to help spread things out.
I am intrigued to see if the Seahawks will stick to their cover 3 defense when they go up against Peyton Manning ,who has had two weeks to study and prepare for them. Most teams would change schemes in fear of dropping 7 guys back in coverage and risk allowing Manning to have the time to pick them apart. Seattle,however, does not lack confidence ,and I would be surprised if they changed schemes, instead I see them challenging Manning to make the plays to beat them.
If the Seahawks stick with their usual package, I would look for the Broncos to mix up their formations using bubble screens and ” rub” plays, along with their usual crossing routes.
Manning should also have the services of running back Knowshon Moreno, who is probable after suffering a rib injury late in the game against New England. Moreno has been the Broncos most consistent back this season rushing for 1,038 yards and 10 touchdowns in the regular season.
If Moreno is unable to go or receives limited touches, look for rookie Montee Ball and second year back Ronnie Hillman to split the carries. No matter who runs the ball for the Broncos, they will most likely have a rough time; the Seahawks front four has the potential to beat the broncos up over and over again.
Seattle will have a mismatch all day on the outside with Cliff Avril and Chris Clemons going against Broncos backup tackle Chris Clark and that will give Moreno and Manning headaches all game long. Clinton Mcdonald and Michael Bennet will be the defensive tackles in passing situations, and they both have been nothing short of spectacular this season, Bennet will be looking for big money this offseason after leading the Seahawks with 8.5 sacks on the year.
Everybody knows who Richard Sherman is now ,but few people may know opposite Cornerback Byron Maxwell, which is a shame. When Walter Thurmond was suspended, Maxwell took over and has really made a name for himself since entering the lineup. He finished with four picks despite starting just five games at the end of the season.
As mentioned earlier, Maxwell along with Richard Sherman will most likely press the Bronco recivers throughout the day. This will allow free safety Earl Thomas to play center field and play four underneath zones with strong safety Kam Chancellor, and two of their linebackers.One of these linebackers will be play maker Bobby Wagner who recorded 120 tackles during the regular season.
While I would usually give Manning the advantage, it is harder than ever in this game. He has all the weapons he has always longed for: a great possession receiver in Welker, a burner like Eric Decker, and a big target in Demaryius Thomas. However, the Seahawks are just so fast and relentless on defense.
You would have to figure Manning has been watching tape for two weeks non stop now ,but check out Richard Sherman breaking down the corner positon courtsey of YouTube. It will be fun to watch these two great football minds battle for the biggest prize in the NFL.
WHEN SEATTLE HAS THE BALL
On one side, you have Peyton Manning ,the veteran and possible G.O.A.T ,on the the other side, you have new comer Russell Wilson ,who is in only his second season in the league. Wilson is a terrific game manager. He is able to get outside of the pocket and really do some amazing things which helps make up for his lack of size and experience.
Wilson struggled at times during the final weeks of the regular season but all he really has to do is manage the game and not make any costly mistakes. In the NFC Championship against the 49ers, he did throw the eventual game winning pass on a 4th and 7 free play after a hard count drew the 49ers offside, and he found Doug Baldwin in the end zone for a 35 yard touchdown.
During the regular season, Wilson threw for 3,357 yards and 26 touchdowns ( to only 9 interceptions) and rushed for an additional 489 yards.
“He has that awareness that great players have,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “They don’t have to to see things happening; they can feel it. You couldn’t do the things that he does without that great spatial awareness and athleticism and stuff that goes along with it.”
Wilson benefits from having one of the best and most punishing running backs in the league in Marshawn Lynch who rushed for 1,257 yards during the regular season, his third consecutive season with at least 1,200 yards. The most dangerous thing about Lynch is that most of his yards come after contact, he rushed for 752 yards after first contact this season which will be a problem for the beat up Broncos defense.
The Seahawks do not have the same household names that the Broncos do in receivers. Yet, the availability of Percy Harvin as an X-factor changes things.
Harvin will be a tough matchup for either Dominique Rodgers- Cromartie or the old and wounded Champ Bailey, who has been thrown back in the mix after the injury to starting corner back Cliff Harris. I would be suprised to see Harvin get any double teams only because that would mean more one on one opportunities for fellow recivers Doug Baldwin, Golden Tate, and Jermaine Kearse as well as tight end Zach Miller.
With just five TD passes and four interceptions in his last six games, Russell Wilson has hit a rough patch at the wrong time and he’s up against a defense that has been playing great football in the last few weeks (allowing just 15 ppg over the last four), even while losing their best player in linebacker Von Miller week 16.
The Seahawks will most likely try to pound the ball down the Broncos’ throats, and I have always said the best way to stop Peyton Manning is to keep him off the field with good clock management and a strong running game. I don’t expect Russell Wilson to be spectacular, but he will not cost his team the game either.
While the Seahawks are known as a power running team, they are not a one trick pony. They use alot of zone blocking to catch linebackers off guard and isolate Lynch on a safety. Surprisingly, they struggle with short yard runs, which is where it gets interseting because the broncos have a very physical defensive line.
The man who could be the key to the entire game, will be Broncos big defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, aka Pot Roast, The 6-3, 335-pound monster. In the AFC Champoinship game, the Patriots tried blocking him one on one and he blew up their run game by pushing blockers into the flow of the play and by utilizing a great swim move to elude blockers.
MLBs Paris Lenon and Wesley Woodyard and WLB Danny Trevathan are very aggressive and have done a great job stuffing the run.With Travathan, they get a backer who rarely has to leave the field. He’s very instinctive and has great quickness, which is why he’s excellent in pass coverage. He does lack size though.
It seems, even though the broncos are the favorites in Las Vegas, most ” experts” are picking the Seahawks. It is hard to argue that and like I said on my weekly radio show, Seattle came into the season with a chip on their shoulder and a can’t lose attitude,but I can’t help but cheer for the magic of Peyton Manning. Anyone who in their late 30s and goes through four neck operations to get back on the field is a hero to me. This guy has silenced all of his doubters so far this season; now all he has to do is win the big one. With the weather supposed to be in the 40s,I do not think that will play a huge role in the whole ” Peyton can’t win in the cold” myth, so I think we will see him throw for over 300 yards. I know the Hawks will put up a fight and they just may be the better team, but I am picking the magic of Peyton and the Denver Broncos as your 2014 Super Bowl champs.
BRONCOS 28- SEAHAWKS 24
I first saw rumblings of Durant’s new nickname on Twitter. After a career-long search, had the NBA universe finally found an apt moniker for one of its biggest stars? I was hesitant at first, unable to commit to the new identity without investigating if it truly fit. Slim Reaper. Undoubtedly catchy, but did it really apply? Then I watched highlights of Oklahoma City’s victory over Portland, a game in which Durant took over the last three-plus minutes of the game to propel OKC to a comeback win. I was sold. It wasn’t that Durant scored 11 points in the final 3:30. Rather, it was the way he did it. In those final minutes, Durant had the look of an assassin. He appeared enraged that Portland would have the audacity to think that they could stop him. He wanted the win, but he also wanted it in the most cold-blooded way possible. With the shot-clock winding down and a four point lead, Durant coolly pulled-up from three and buried an “F-you for not double teaming me” rainmaker to seal the victory. A cold-blooded assassin on the court, a perfect fit for a name like Slim Reaper.
Durant’s play this season has been spectacular, especially considering the time Russell Westbrook has missed due to injury. His scoring has been well-publicized and deservingly so. In the 16 games Durant has played since Westbrook was sidelined on December 27, KD has averaged 36.2 points per game, per NBA.com. Additionally, Durant has scored 30 or more points in his last ten games, including a career-high 54 against Golden State. For the season, Durant is leading the NBA in scoring at 31.1 points per game. He is doing so while also leading the league in true shooting percentage at 64.3%, per NBA.com. His incredible efficiency has propelled him to a Player Efficiency Rating of 31.0, also tops in the NBA, per ESPN.com.
Despite his ridiculous scoring numbers, I would argue that KD has been just as impressive in other areas of his game. He is becoming a very good defender, using his length and quickness to generate deflections while also averaging just under eight rebounds per game. Durant is not quite on the Paul George/LeBron James level of two-way superstars, but he has greatly improved his play on the defensive end over the last few season. Moreover, Durant is averaging a career-high 5.2 assists per game this season. Like his defense, Durant’s playmaking ability’s have improved exponentially throughout his career. His assist numbers are even more impressive when one considers that the over-sized corpse of Kendrick Perkins is clogging the paint and Derrick Fisher is getting minutes despite shuffling around with a walker.
The battle for MVP will be exciting to watch as we enter the second half of the season. As I look at the field, Durant’s lava-hot play over the last month has moved him to the top spot on my list with LeBron and Paul George close behind. An MVP trophy will mark another step on Slim Reaper’s quest to take over the NBA.
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Northwestern came into Saturdays home matchup against Iowa on a high note after winning 3 of 4, including a double overtime thriller against Purdue, and an upset victory of then 23rd ranked Illinois.
However, the Wildcats just did not have enough depth to hang with number 10 Iowa, who beat them 76-50 Saturday afternoon in a rematch of the two teams’ Jan. 9 game in Iowa City, in which the Hawkeyes won 93-67 after shooting 64.3 percent during the second half.
Northwestern looked good in the first half, despite never having the lead, by once again emphasizing tough defense to make up for their lack of scoring and depth. Iowa turned the ball over 10 times and star player, Roy Devyn Marble, was held scoreless for the first 20 minutes.
The Wildcats went into the half down only 30-24, behind 13 points from Senior Drew Crawford. The second half was a different story as they could not buy a bucket and started to show fatigue.
“I think that’s why they won. I really do,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “Our guys were playing hard. That’s what I’m saying. This wasn’t like they played harder than us. Both teams played really hard. They’re just better than us.”
Point guard Dave Sobolewski made his return to the team after missing the last four games (concussion), but was unable to make a difference going scoreless in 10 minutes of action off the bench.
Crawford would finish with a game high 20 points on 8-17 shooting, but he only hit 3 field goals in the second half, when Iowa put the Wildcats away for good.
“Obviously Iowa’s a tremendous team. Give them credit, but we didn’t play our best, especially in the second half,” Crawford said. “I think that’s a team we’re capable of competing with for 40 minutes and tonight we weren’t able to do that.”
Iowa was led by 14 second half points from leading scorer Roy Devyn Marble, and Gabriel Olaseni added a double double of 14 points and 10 rebounds for the Hawkeyes (16-4, 5-2), who avoided losing consecutive games for the first time this season after a tough loss to Michigan on Wednesday.
The Hawkeyes shot 51% from the field and 41% from three point range, while Northwestern (10-11) shot only 36% from the field and 20% from downtown.
“Our margin for error is slim,” Collins said. “When we play a team this good we’re going to have to shoot well and we’re going to have to not turn over. We’re going to have to hope they miss some shots that they normally hit.”
Northwestern is now 10-11 on the year and 3-5 in the Big Ten. They travel to Wisconsin next Wednesday for a meeting with the 9th ranked Badgers.
The NBA All-Star Game is supposed to showcase the best talent in the league and reward players who are putting together exceptional seasons. Unfortunately, the 12 most deserving players from each conference are rarely selected to the team, thanks in large part to fan-voting. Before voting concludes on Tuesday, I have put together a roster of the players who should find themselves in New Orleans. The roster I have assembled is based on quality of play rather than a popularity contest. I followed the same selection parameters as the NBA has established. 12 players will be named to each team and I will separate them by frontcourt and backcourt. Here are the players who deserve to wear these god-awful t-shirt jerseys come February 16.
Eastern Conference Starters
Frontcourt: Joakim Noah, LeBron James, Paul George
Backcourt: Dwyane Wade, John Wall
Eastern Conference Reserves
Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Paul Millsap, Roy Hibbert, DeMar DeRozan, Kyrie Irving, Lance Stephenson
Eastern Conference Snubs
Andre Drummond, Kemba Walker, Luol Deng, Brandon Jennings, Arron Afflalo, Jeff Teague
1. Noah starting over Hibbert
One may be surprised to find that Roy Hibbert is averaging just 7.8 rebounds per game, more than three less than Joakim Noah. Noah is having another great year, averaging 11.7 points and 11 rebound per game. While he isn’t as good of a low post defender as Hibbert, Noah’s tenacity and athleticism has helped the Bulls stay relevant despite losing Derrick Rose and trading Luol Deng.
2. Bosh being selected over Drummond
Andre Drummond is an absolute beast and his development this season should certainly be recognized. However, his play has been inconsistent at times and his team has struggled throughout the year. On the other hand, Bosh is putting up his typical numbers while shouldering more of the load with Wade frequently out of the lineup in Miami. Moreover, Bosh has hit several game winning shots for the Heat this season. Bosh gets the nod this year.
3. John Wall starting over Kyrie Irving
Both players are phenomenal young talents and their numbers are very similar. Irving does average more points per game, but Wall averages more assists and steals. The decision to start Wall over Irving came down to the success of their respective teams to this point in the season. The Wizards are holding on to the fifth seed while Cleveland is struggling to stay relevant in a depressingly inept Eastern Conference.
Western Conference Starters
Frontcourt: LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, Kevin Durant
Backcourt: James Harden, Steph Curry
Western Conference Reserves
Kevin Love, Dwight Howard, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Damian Lillard, Mike Conley, Goran Dragic
Western Conference Snubs
Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, David Lee, Serge Ibaka, Monta Ellis, Ty Lawson, Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook (Injured), Chris Paul (Injured)
1. Blake starting over Kevin Love
Love’s numbers are plain stupid. He is averaging 25 points and 13 rebounds while shooting nearly 40% from three. Griffin’s numbers are not quite as staggering, but they are in the same ballpark. Blake is averaging 22.5 points and 10 rebounds while singlehandedly keeping the poster industry afloat with dunks like this one.
I give Blake the start because he has shown the ability to carry the Clips with CP3 sidelined.
2. Anthony Davis being selected over David Lee
Yes, The Brow missed a few weeks in December due to a broken hand. Still, when on the court, Davis has been fantastic. His numbers are slightly better than David Lee in terms of scoring and rebounding, but the two are truly separated on defense. Davis is becoming a solid all-around defender and is already an exceptional shot blocker. This will be the first of many All-Star Games for The Brow.
3. Mike Conley over Ty Lawson and Tony Parker
The West is flooded with quality point guards. The decision to select Conley over players like Lawson and Parker was based on the success Conley has been able to have despite missing Marc Gasol (Big Spanish) for much of the year. The statistics for many of the “snubbed” guards are similar, but Conley has had to do more with less. Now that they are healthy, I think Conley and the Grizz could go on a big second half run this season.
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Speaking of the Panthers, I was going to choose a couple of them for HERO of the Week, even with their loss, as they had an awesome season. However we must note the death of one of our favorite professors, Russell Johnson. So smart, he was simply called ‘Professor.’ Of course I’m talking about the Professor on Gilligan’s Island, one of those great 70’s shows we all watched many years ago. Dawn Wells, (Mary Ann,) said Johnson, both on the set and off, was one of the best, nicest people she’d ever met.
The Chicago Bears came into the 2013 season with a new idenity and a lot of question marks; while some of those questions have been answered ,some still need to be adressed.
Bears head coach Marc Trestman and general manager Phil Emery held a press confrence on Thursday to address the media after the season ending loss last Sunday to the Green Bay Packers 33- 28 at Soldier Field.
The Bears wasted no time announcing the contract extensions of quarterback Jay Cutler, cornerback Tim Jennings, and guard Matt Slauson . They hinted at what prevented them from winning the NFC North this season. The Bears defense was the biggest issue as apparent by Emerys press confrence
“We were at least one defensive lineman short at the tackle position going into the season. For that fourth tackle, we felt like we had a tackle signed in Sedrick Ellis. That didn’t work out. That’s on me.
“The fact that we couldn’t replace Sedrick, that’s on me. We didn’t have enough pass rush from the outside or the inside. We needed one more. (Rookie) David Bass came in and did a very good job against the run, but he’s a young rusher. We needed one more there.” Emery said Thursday.
On a positive note, Emery also discussed the improvement of Jay Cutler and talked about the teams descion to go foward with him as the starting quarterback.
“We’re pleased; it works for both parties,” Emery said of the deal. “lt rewards Jay and it enables us to continue to build a championship team.”
As we look foward to next season, here is my final grade for the 2013 Chicago Bears
The Bears took on a new idenity this season with first year coach Marc Trestman bringing a new look offense to a team that has relied on defense to win for the last two decades.
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler suffered through an injury riddled campaign, but still put up solid numbers throwing for 2,621 yards and 19 touchdowns in only 11 games. Cutler did throw 12 interceptions which is high for only 11 games, but his descion making definetly improved ,and he has one of the best arms in the NFL.
When Cutler went down, Josh McCown filled in and suprised many people by leading the Bears back into the playoff race with a win against the Green Bay Packers on Monday Night Football. McCown earned the respect of his teamates and caused many arguments between Bears fans over who should be the starting quarterback. All McCown did in Cutlers absence was throw for 1,829 yards and 13 touchdowns with a 109.0 qb rating,
Both quarterbacks played well and benefited from having arguably the best recieving core in the NFL in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey, as well as key free agent addition Martellus Bennett.
Marshall and Jeffrey both had 1,000 yard recieving seasons and helped give the bears the passing game they have been trying to find for years. Marshall once again caught 100 balls and had 12 touchdowns, remaining one of the most consistent players in the league.The emergence of Jeffrey helped Cutler by giving him another target. Jeffrey made a name for himself with his unbelivable acrobatic catches this year and should only get better next season. Earl Bennet added 32 grabs and four touchdowns to boost the Bears new passing attack.
Martellus Bennet gave the Bears a pass catching threat at tight end ( 65 catches) but was used more to block late in the season, which affected his recieving numbers. However, he still finished with career highs in catches and yards. He will continue to be a solid player for the Bears in the future as they hope to use him in the red zone more next season.
Matt Forte had the privelage of running behind a much improved offensive line and had another solid season. Forte finished with 1,339 yards and added 74 receptions. Forte seems to be a great fit in Trestmans system for the next few seasons.
As mentioned, the Bears offensive line was much improved and was a big reason for the offenses sucess. Left tackle, which was a huge issue for Chicago in the past, was much improved with the addition of Jermon Bushrod, who had a very good season solidifying the blind side for Jay Cutler and Josh McCown. Rookie Kyle Long silenced most of the critics, who questioned the Bears for taking him with their first pick, by bringing a no nonsense attitude to the team. The other rookie lineman Jordan Mills wasn’t taken until the 5th round but was still outstanding in pass and run blocking. Center Roberto Garza had a bounce back year and provided leadership and Matt Slauson did a great job locking down the left side of the line.
For the first time, in what seems like forever, the Bears are stacked on offense, the defense on the other hand…..
Harsh I know, however injuries caused this team to turn to guys, who in my honest opinon, should be on someone elses practice squad or at home. The Bears allowed a franchise-record 6,313 total yards and looked nothing like the great Bears defenses of the past.
The Bears could possibly switch to a 3-4 defense in the future to better fit Shea McClellin, the team’s top draft pick in 2012 who again looked out of place at defensive end in 2013. While it may be too early to call bust, Shea looked lost again this season .He had one mentionable game,the game at Green Bay where he recorded a career high 3 sacks and won the NFC defensive player of the week.
McClellin was not the only under achiever on the Bears defensive line. After the loss of defensive tackle Henry Melton, September 22,the Bears took a chance on Jeremiah Ratliff, who played decent considering he was coming off an injury. Julius Peppers had his worst statistical season in over 5 years and I would be suprised if he was still on the team next year. Corey Wooton played through injuries, so it was hard to see what he could really do when healthy.
Injuries didn’t only hit the defensive line, the Bears linebackers also caught the injury bug. Already with the loss of former middle linebacker and future hall of famer, Brian Urlacher, the Bears had to find a new signal caller. When both DJ Williams and Lance Briggs went down, they looked lost and out of place.
Rookie Jon Bostic stuggled and couldnt adjust to the speed of the NFL game at times and it is clear he is not ready to start right now. Bostic will need to improve in the offseason, he finished with 56 tackles and an interception.
James Anderson filled his role decenly, although he didn’t jump off the screen or really do anything that really impressed you. Anderson recorded 102 tackles, but when your defense gives up that many yards, obviously you have something to do with it at times.
With the return of Briggs and the 14th pick in the upcoming NFL draft, the bears do have an opppurtunity to draft another linebacker or pass rusher to help get pressure on the quarterback, something that will be needed if the Bears ever hope to stop Aaron Rodgers and beat the Packers. With Briggs back healthy next year and Bostic another year older and wiser the Bears can only improve.
The Secondary was atrocious and possibly the worst I have ever seen. The loss of Charles Tillman to injury hurt the Bears who not only lost a great player but also a great leader. Before the injury to Tillman ,he looked like age was catching up to him and his time might be up with the Bears. Tillman did have three interceptions but he was getting burned by recivers. AJ Green torched him week 1.
Tim Jennings was a lone bright spot for the secondary, which explains why he got a new deal right away Thursday. A season after leading the NFL in interceptions, Jennings picked off four passes returning two for touchdowns.
The safety position was the worst in Chicago Bears history; no matter who you ask, they will agree. Chris Conte and Major Wright combined for 160 tackles but only because the run defense couldn’t stop anyone. They combined for 5 interceptions and were burned on key plays throughout the year, including the final defensive play of the year, a 48 yard touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers to Randall Cobb to beat the Bears.
The Bears will have to look to the draft to add a safety I would figure, but as said earlier they also need to get a better pass rush established. I always say the teams that win in January are the teams who have a great offensive line and a great pass rush ; the Bears definetly do not have the pass rush and that is why they are sitting at home.
It was another solid season for Robbie Gould which included a career high 58 yard field goal, but also included a career low when he missed the game winning kick against Minnesota on second down in overtime.
Punter Adam Podlesh is up and down but when hes down he kills the Bears by giving up poor field position. I think they need to look somewere else, especially after the game in Philadelphia when his terrible punt started the whole mess that became.
Devin Hester had a few nice moments but it was clear we have seen the last of the ” superman” he once was. I would be suprised if he was in a Chicago Bears uniform next year, i see him somewere else, possibly reunting in Tampa Bay with former coach Lovie Smith
ESPN offered several different telecasts, as well as web based cameras focused on the two coaches, and viewing parties in the respective college towns. Viewers who only had the main feed, had to deal with Brent Musburger, and his malaprops. This year, he led off the telecast by introducing himself as his broadcast partner, Kirk Herbstreit. I do not normally make a habit of hurling negativity at people, but in Brent’s case, I’ll make an exception. When is ESPN going to farm him out, or at least get him off the “A” team? I will always remember his contributions to the old CBS NFL Today, and his pro football coverage than the lasting impressions of him fawning all over AJ McCarron’s girlfriend on national television.
If you tuned to ESPN2, you could at least skip Musburger. Instead you got to watch the very capable David Pollack, along with a rotating assortment of guest including Johnny Manziel, USC coach Steve Sarkisian, UCLA QB Brett Hundley, and the network’s newest hire, Tim Tebow. They also featured a stream of Twitter comments from a variety of sports and other celebrities. That was definitely for the younger set and ADHD nation.
An interesting option provided by ESPN Classic was to watch the game with no announcers, and just the stadium sounds and the PA feed that fans at the Rose Bowl got. Only one problem, at least on my DirecTV broadcast. No high definition picture. In my book that’s a deal killer. It’s not easy to watch low def when you are used to the high quality view of HD. To add insult to injury, that channel was supposed to broadcast the halftime performances by the FSU and Auburn bands. Except once again, Bristol, Connecticut engineers threw a monkey wrench at viewers. It seems that all the commercial breaks were synchronized so that feed cut in and out of the halftime shows. Somebody should sue them for false marketing. Band parents or former band geeks got to see part of one song from each school’s band. Shame on you, ESPN!
The best feed to watch was hosted by ESPN News. Network analysts Tom Luginbill, Chris Speilman, and Matt Millen served as hosts, along with guests Steve Addazio, Boston College’s head coach, Paul Chryst of Pittsburgh, and Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin. The insights provided by the coaches was incredible. Whether it was predicting the fake field goal, or giving examples of what goes on the sidelines, it was like sitting in the coaches box at the stadium, or joining them in their living rooms watching the game.
If you are an X’s and O’s fan, this was nirvana. They analyzed the offensive and defensive schemes in ways that Musburger and Herbstreit could only dream about. They dissected the blocking schemes, the receiver routes, and the pass defense. They pointed out early on, how Heisman trophy winner Jamies Winston wasn’t checking off receivers, something he didn’t remedy until the fourth quarter. They also noted that one of Auburn kick coverage players pulled up lame with a hamstring injury that may have led to the go ahead kick return TD by Florida State.
The coaches discussed how the Auburn defensive line was attacking FSU’s offense, and very significantly, the group showed how the Auburn run game was developing by pointing out where the lead blockers were for Auburn’s outstanding RB Tre Mason.
Kudos to ESPN for the multi-pronged attack on the senses. Hopefully they will do some of their own post game analysis and fix the weak spots. Welcome to the 21st century.
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Nolan- On paper, the Utah Jazz are not the worst team in the league. They have assembled a team that looks like they are close to competing for a playoff spot in the West. In the NBA, there are not many true, skilled 7 footers. The Jazz have one of the potentially best young centers in the league in Enes Kanter. Between Kanter and Favors, Utah looks solid in the frontcourt for years to come. Trey Burke is finally looking like the player everybody saw at Michigan the past couple of years and he can develop into a good starting point guard in the League. The Jazz must decide, however, what to do with Gordon Hayward. He wants money that he does not necessarily deserve. He is having a career year this year, but history shows us that players tend to over-perform in a contract year. If they can resign Hayward for a reasonable price and gain a top three draft pick, we might be looking at a core of Burke, Hayward, Parker, Favors, and Kanter. How’s that for a starting five loaded with potential?
Kevin- There is potential there, but I don’t see Gordon Hayward in their long-term plans. As you mentioned, he’s looking for big money in the offseason. Unfortunately for him, he’s shooting a shade over 40% from the field on 14.5 shots per game, per NBA.com. Add Utah to the mix of teams that needs to hit it big in the draft to turn around their fortunes.
Kevin- Maybe it’s best to look at the positives first. Isaiah Thomas is a solid, young point guard. Rudy Gay has played well since coming over in a trade. DeMarcus Cousins hasn’t attempted to kill a teammate. Besides that, Sac-Town has been pretty atrocious. They are a train wreck defensively, allowing 106.7 points per 100 possessions, second worst in the league, per NBA.com. Until they compete defensively, the Kings will continue to be a Western Conference bottom dweller. Furthering the despair in Sacramento has been first round pick Ben McLemore’s play. He’s averaging just 8.5 points in his 25.6 minutes per game, per NBA.com. It is never a good sign when your star rookie’s most notable moment is this.
The Kings are bad. They probably will be for a while. Their fans should just accept it.
Nolan- You are correct, the Kings are bad, plain and simple. They don’t play any defense and their offense looks like pickup basketball more often than not. That being said, I do think there is hope for the future (not the near future, but the future nonetheless). Cousins is a monster when he shows up to play, Isiah Thomas has been playing brilliantly and Rudy Gay looks like he has finally found a home. The encouraging play of Sacramento’s core players has to be some of the first good news for Kings fans in the post C-Webb-Mike Bibby era. More good news for Kings fans, they still reside in Sacramento.
Los Angeles Lakers- Get Younger and Talented This Off-Season
Nolan- Personally, I admire this Laker squad. I am willing to wager that the casual NBA fan has never heard of 75% of the Lakers roster. They are made up of players that nobody else wanted, yet, they would be in the playoff picture in the East. Having Kobe go down again this year ultimately ruined the chance for this team to reach the playoffs, but I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing. The Lakers aren’t really known for building through the draft, but they are going to need to hit a home run in this draft. Free agency will also be huge for them. With big names like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwayne Wade, and Luol Deng among others available, the Lakers have to get some talent and shed the old guys that are weighing them down and spend too much time on the bench with injuries.
Kevin- I believe that old guy on the bench you are referring to is Pau Gasol. I don’t see a scenario where Gasol is on the Lakers after the trade deadline. His relationship with D’Antoni has never been good and he has missed numerous games due to “illness.” Rumors about a Gasol-for-Bynum trade are out there, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Gasol finds himself in Memphis when all is said and done.
Memphis Grizzlies- Be Patient
Nolan- I’m not sure how people continue to overlook Mike Conley Jr. All the man does is put up big numbers across the board and he gets no respect. He is the perfect point guard for this Memphis team. He plays defense, he can score when he wants, and he is a great facilitator. The Griz have looked awful at times this year but they have been playing much more like the four seed from last year of late and that is all thanks to Mr. Conley. Injuries have had a huge effect on this team, like many other teams this year, and the Grizzlies must bide their time until they get healthy. Once The Big Spanish returns, the Griz will get much more dangerous. Teams will have to stop quadruple teaming Z-Bo down low and not many people are going to be driving the lane looking for easy buckets with The Big Spanish anchored down low. With Conley firing on all cylinders and a healthy Gasol, look for the Grizzlies to make some noise in the second half of the season.
Kevin- I don’t know where I’ve been, but I somehow missed the Nickname Committee coming up with the name “Big Spanish” for Marc Gasol. I will now only refer to him as Big Spanish. Their defense is currently ranked 24th in points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com. One has to assume this will improve with Big Spanish back in the mix. He is supposed to return within the next few weeks, providing a needed shot-in-the-arm for Memphis.
Kevin The Nuggets are painfully average. They are currently two games under .500 (15-17) and rank near the middle of the league in both offensive and defensive rating. What used to be an exciting team with great depth has turned into an average team with no real potential to do any damage in the West. The team seems to lack an identity as new Head Coach Brian Shaw attempts to implement a system much different from previous Head Coach George Karl. If I were Denver, I would put every player on the trade block except Ty Lawson. I would look to bring in players that can provide athleticism and defense. Also, I would return to a run-and-gun style, utilizing Lawson’s speed and the altitude to run opponents into the ground. Denver’s current collection of talent will result in an average record. The recent in-fighting in Denver only adds to the need to make changes. Do you see their current roster being good enough to compete in the West?
Nolan- In no way is there current roster good enough to compete in the West, let alone sneak into the playoffs. When Javale McGee is supposed to be your starting center, you have some serious problems. This Nugs team has the same problem previous Nugs teams have had the past few years, they do not have a superstar. Sure, they had Melo a couple years ago, but what has Melo won? A couple of playoff series? That’s about it. The Nuggets need a superstar badly because all they have right now is a team full of roll players and a potential All-Star in Ty Lawson.
New Orleans Pelicans- Sell High on Ryan Anderson
Kevin- When Anthony Davis has been healthy, the Pelicans have been a really fun team to watch. They are very good offensively, scoring 106.2 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com. This is largely due to the great play of Ryan Anderson. Anderson is averaging 19.8 points per game and is shooting 40.9% from three-point range, per NBA.com. On the other hand, Anderson is a poor defensive player who has also contributed to New Orleans’ bad defensive numbers. The Pelicans allow 105.9 points per 100 possession, per NBA.com. While Anderson is fun to watch on the offensive end, New Orleans will need to vastly improve its defense in order to be a legitimate contender in the future. One move that could improve their defense would be an Anderson for Asik swap. Asik would provide New Orleans with a defensive presence to pair alongside Anthony Davis. Imagine trying to get a shot in the lane against those two. Houston would benefit by landing a stretch-four that has familiarity playing with Dwight Howard from their Orlando days. I think this trade benefits both teams and would make New Orleans instantly better on the defensive end.
Nolan- The Anderson-Asik swap may work out for both teams, but I don’t think it benefits the Pelicans that much. In my opinion, Omer Asik is very overrated. When was the last time anybody saw him play meaningful minutes? It’s been a while and the fact is that he is absolutely horrible on offense. There is a reason why the Pelicans have yet to pull the trigger on this trade. I like what the Pelicans are doing so far, especially with the Jrue Holiday trade they miraculously pulled off. Anthony Davis doesn’t get enough credit for his play. He has been hurt more often than I would like, but he is a monster when healthy. If the Pelicans can add another piece in the offseason they could be dangerous next season.
Nolan- Kevin Love is a monster. It doesn’t make sense, nobody can really figure it out, but he is an absolute monster. He has been putting up video game numbers this year and deserves to be on a team that will contend for a title. Newsflash: the Timberwolves aren’t even in the playoffs right now. Re-signing Love isn’t going to be about the money. The Wolves have plenty of money to sign Love to a max contract and keep him in Minneapolis. What needs to be done to re-sign him comes from a personnel standpoint. I’m not so sure Rick Adelman is the man to lead this team. In my opinion, the Wolves need to cut ties with him and go after a young guy with some experience. They are a young team that plays fast paced basketball and bringing in a young, energetic head coach would help enormously. Also, the Wolves need to find a quality small forward to start. It’s not Chase Budinger. It’s definitely not Robbie Hummel. Show K-Love you care and go out and get him what he needs to compete or we could be seeing him and college teammate Russel Westbrook in gold and purple sooner than we thought.
Kevin- Re-signing Love is definitely a must for Minnesota and adding quality pieces to the roster will certainly help in that goal. However, Minnesota will also have to figure out what to do with Ricky Rubio. The man is shooting 35%. While he is certainly more of a distributor than a scorer, he has to present some sort of shooting threat to keep teams from constantly using his man to double Love. At times, Rubio looks like he is terrified to shoot and it is hurting Minnesota’s offense. They have to figure out if he is one of their stars of the future.
Dallas Mavericks- Establish a Plan For the Future
Kevin- The Mavericks are holding on to the eighth seed in the West with a 19-14 record. While they will likely make the playoffs this season, the Mavs primary focus should be on how they will handle the future as Dirk Nowitzki enters the twilight years of his career. Dirk has put up solid numbers this year, scoring 21 points and adding 5.8 rebounds per game. Still, Dirk’s minutes are being watched carefully and he cannot be counted on to carry a team deep in the playoffs at 35 years old. Nowitzki is in the last year of his contract and has hinted that he will return to Dallas for a hometown discount. Once Nowitzki is signed to an extension, for a figure likely around $10 millions per year, the Mavs will have to figure out how to handle the rest of their roster. Dallas will have plenty of cap room to add a big name in free agency. Whatever player they sign will have to take over the lead-dog role as Dirk transitions to a secondary option.
Nolan- The Mavs have a ton of cap space. The Mavs plan to go after big name free agents. I feel like we have read this story before. Oh yeah, that’s right, this happens almost every offseason and they never catch the big fish they go for. They couldn’t reel in Dwight Howard, they couldn’t get LeBron or any other big name from the 2010 free agent class, and they couldn’t bring in Derron Williams (who is from Dallas!). That being said, I think they did a pretty good job in signing Calderon and Ellis and reshaping Ellis’ game from chucker to playmaker. I need to see something out of Mark Cuban this offseason. He needs to go out and get a guy that can be “the Guy” in the twilight of Dirk’s career.
Nolan- There is no need for this Suns team to tank like everybody (including myself) thought they should. Eric Bledsoe simply isn’t human. Goran Dragic is playing like an All-Star. The Morris brothers are looking like the stars they were in college. Miles Plumlee is a starter and having a big year. That’s right, Miles Plumlee folks. Jeff Hornacek has done a brilliant job coaching this group. If they can continue to play like they have been, he has to be a name in the running for coach of the year. The Suns have three first round draft picks in what is being heralded as the best draft class since 2003. Three! The Suns could package these picks to get an established star or they could package them to move up to select the player want. Phoenix might want to take this draft very seriously, however, because taking Alex Len with the fifth overall pick last season was not a smart move, especially with the defensive upside of Nerlens Noel on the board at that point.
Kevin- I was another person who thought the Suns would be in full tank-mode this season. Like you said, their backcourt of Dragic and Bledsoe has been unreal. Moreover, the fact that Miles Plumlee can provide valuable NBA minutes is baffling. I watched him his entire career at Duke and was not convinced he could walk and chew gum at the same time. If Phoenix can avoid screwing up the draft, they will have an exciting team for the next five years.
Golden State Warriors- Spend More Time with Those Close to You
Kevin- The Warriors have won eight games in a row and look like a totally different team with Andre Iguodala back in the lineup. As expected, the Warriors have been very good offensively, playing at a fast pace and raining threes. When Steph Curry and Klay Thompson get hot from three, the Warriors are nearly unstoppable offensively. What has been surprising about the Warriors is their defense. Golden State is fourth in the league in points allowed per 100 possessions, per NBA.com. They have also been a very good rebounding team, ranking second in the league. What Golden State needs to do now is stay healthy and gain familiarity with one another. Curry, Iguodala and Harrison Barnes have all missed time this season. If Golden State can keep their core healthy going into the playoffs, I could see them getting hot at the right time and making a run.
Nolan- We’ve talked about this before at great length, the future of the Warriors relies on the paper mache ankles of Steph Curry. If he stays healthy, they will have a shot against anybody. Who do you focus on guarding when you play them? Curry? Thompson? Lee? The list goes on and no matter who you focus on, somebody can always destroy you on this roster. I don’t see any playoff series that Golden State plays in going less than six games. They are never out of it because of the way Curry, Thompson, or Barnes can get hot at the drop of a hat. I can’t wait to see them in the playoffs again.
Nolan- The Houston Rockets can flat out score the ball, there is no disputing that. Yet, besides Dwight Howard, the Rockets lack an elite defensive player. You might be able argue for Patrick Beverly, but I do not think he’s on that level at this point. James Harden might be the worst defensive two-guard in the league at this point and Jeremy Lin does not have great foot-speed. Come May and June, this Rockets team must play defense in order to compete for a title. Look at some of the last few winners of the Larry O’Brien trophy. The Heat, the Mavericks, the Spurs. All of those teams got after it on the defensive end. I know what you’re thinking, “There is no D in Dallas.” That Dallas squad had Tyson Chandler and Shawn Marion, two elite defenders in the starting lineup. The defense has to get better for this team to compete or Dwight might start whining and complaining again. We all know how much of a diva he can be.
Kevin- I see Houston as a team that will make some moves before the trade deadline. It is an organization that values defense and focuses on defensive metrics when evaluating talent. Currently, Houston ranks in the bottom half of the league in many of these statistics. I could see Lin moved for a defensive presence on the perimeter.
Los Angeles Clippers- Tread Water Without CP3
Kevin- Chris Paul’s shoulder injury is obviously a major blow to the Clips. They currently hold the fourth seed in the West, but with Paul out for at least one month there is a chance the Clippers could fall in the standings. The Clippers goal over the next month should be to keep within a few games of the fourth seed. If they can stay within range of the fourth seed, Paul would have a chance to carry the Clips to homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs. During Paul’s absence, Blake Griffin will have to assume a bigger role. Griffn has had a great season thus far, averaging 22.1 points and 10.6 rebounds per game. Besides increasing his statistical production, Griffin will have to act as the team’s voice without Paul. Griffin has a great opportunity to take control of the Clippers fate. It will be interesting to see if he can handle the responsibility.
Nolan- The Chris Paul injury affects the Clips much more than most realize. I’m not sure Blake Griffin is the player he is without Chris Paul being his point guard. Griffin has improved tremendously in his time in the league, but I still think he is overrated. Darren Collison is a serviceable backup, but after watching Tony Parker and the Spurs make him look like a high schooler last night, it is obvious he is not a starting-caliber player. The Clips are in trouble and I am not sure they have the personnel to hold the four seed with out CP3. The only way I can see that happening is if legendary coach Doc Rivers can somehow inspire these guys to stick together and play good fundamental basketball. The offensive numbers won’t be there without Paul, but if Rivers can get these guys to buckle down defensively, they might just be able to tread water at the four seed.
Nolan- The Spurs continue to amaze me year in and year out. How are they still this good? They are so old. It just doesn’t add up. Coach Popovich could probably be the coach of the year every year in the NBA, the guy does an amazing job. The Spurs are one of the only franchises that are consistently good no matter their personnel. If you look at their roster, there is no way you could tell me they are a top three team in the loaded West. That being said, the regular season really doesn’t matter to these guys at all. It is all about resting their veterans for the playoffs and preparing to make yet another deep run in the playoffs.
Kevin- The Spurs are the Patriots of the NBA. Both teams have established, veteran superstars (Duncan/Brady), fantastic, ornery coaches (Pop/Belichick), and more than a decade of continued success. They play a beautiful brand of basketball that involves great teamwork and an understanding of one’s role. This year’s incarnation may be one of the Spurs’ best. San Antonio ranks in the top five in both offensive and defensive points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com, an accomplishment only matched by the Thunder. I love this team and I hope they can stay healthy for another run.
Oklahoma City Thunder- Don’t Rush Russell Westbrook Back!
Kevin- Russell Westbrook may seem like a super-human when he is out on the court. However, his string of knee injuries over the last eight months have demonstrated that he is a mere mortal. Westbrook came back from offseason surgery nearly a month sooner than expected at the beginning of the season. His most recent injury should be handled much more cautiously. Westbrook is scheduled to return after the All-Star break. The Thunder should stick to this timetable and make sure Westbrook does not attempt an early return. Kevin Durant should be able to carry the Thunder during Westbrook’s injury. In addition, Westbrook’s absence from the lineup will provide players like Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb valuable experience. Come playoff time, the Thunder need the dynamic duo of Durant and Westbrook to be at full-speed. They do not need Westbrook to rush back for meaningless regular season action.
Nolan- I one hundred percent agree. Shut Westbrook down for the rest of the season. Seeding matters very little to the top teams in the West. As long as they finish in the top three they should be set up nicely for the playoffs. Kevin Durant continues to amaze me on a nightly basis and is making a very strong case to win his first MVP. Honestly, I think that OKC might be better with Westbrook on the bench. Sure, he is a top ten to fifteen player in the league. Still, all he does is take shots away from Durant. I think OKC would be better off with a pass first point guard like Rajon Rondo or Derron Williams. I don’t think we have seen the best of Kevin Durant yet. Put somebody on the court that wants to pass to him and I think you have a repeat NBA champion. Did I mention that I cannot wait for the Western Conference playoffs?
Portland Trail Blazers- Don’t Fade Down the Stretch
Nolan- I don’t think there is anybody out there that can say they thought the Blazers would be this good this far into the season. The Blazers have been playing out of their minds this year. Lamarcus Aldridge is looking like a bona fide MVP candidate and Damian Lillard has proven to be the steal of the draft from two years ago. Simply put, the Blazers are on fire right now. The only question I have is will this team fade in the second half. The Blazers have been getting it done from the perimeter so far this season. The law of averages states that they cannot stay this hot from the field, especially from three, for the whole season. Will a cold shooting streak derail the Blazers come May and June? That is the question this team must answer to prove that they are the best in the West. The race in the West should be one of the best in recent memory and I cannot wait to see how this conference shakes out in the New Year.
Kevin- I love watching Damian Lillard. His excellent clutch play is particularly enjoyable. Lillard is shooting just under 69% from the field when the score is within five points with under three minutes to play, per NBA.com. He has hit multiple game-winners this year and absolutely thrives in pressure situations. His clutch play gives me more confidence in Portland. I don’t see Lillard allowing Portland to shrink in big moments, especially come playoff time. I’m on the Blazers bandwagon. Keep Portland Weird!
All Photos and Stats Courtesy of NBA.com