Tuesday, May 31, 2011
3. Dallas Mavericks
2. Miami Heat
Two completely opposite story lines for these two teams. One wasn't given a chance to be in this situation. The other was talking of winning not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven championships before this season even started. Both teams, well one has a superstar while the other was struggling to find their identity together. All in all they meet for the ultimate prize in what is sure to be a competitive series that will define each teams legacy in basketball history.
Dallas arrives as the underdog once again. A role that they are all too familiar with throughout these playoffs. Many (myself included) picked an upset in the first round with Portland beating the Mavericks. Many (myself included) picked the two time defending champion LA Lakers to beat the Mavericks. Many (yes, me again) picked the young Oklahoma City Thunder to be the representative of the Western Conference.
What did we learn? Don't underestimate the Mavericks. Thanks in large part to Dirk Nowitzki and his big game heroics the Mavericks are playing in only their second title series. Ironically he has to beat the Miami Heat again to win his first title. It should be different this time though. He is playing at an all time level right now. His supporting cast is a bit different this time as well.
Jason Terry and Jason Kidd provide a nice backcourt combination. J.J. Barea is a force to be reckoned with all over the court. Shawn Marion is starting to show why he was considered one of the best all around players when he played with the Phoenix Suns. Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood are cleaning up the boards so Nowitzki doesn't have to. Things should be different if Dallas gets an early lead in the series.
Miami has Dwayne Wade to help them relive that 2006 championship. No one else from that team is on this years roster, but this is by far the most talented. LeBron James is getting a second chance to win his first championship. It will help to keep his critics at bay if the Heat win the title. Although they will say it won't be the same if he had won on his own in Cleveland. Either way it will help him in the long run to win a title no matter where he's playing.
Chris Bosh is more important now than at any point during these playoffs. He was a big part of their success against the Chicago Bulls in the Conference Finals. That was against a less mobile frontcourt in Chicago. Dallas' is more agile, but Nowitzki will have to be forced to play defense if the Heat are to succeed. Miami has solved their problem at center by playing Joel Anthony a lot more during the playoffs. He has been a force in the middle not allowing easy layups in the paint.
The issue with Miami will once again be at point guard. Mike Bibby and Mario Chalmers have been good, but in the crucial moments of the game the Heat are counting on LeBron and Wade to lead the attack. That could pose a problem with Dallas exposing the same problem with Oklahoma City in their Conference Finals matchup. Miami didn't let that bother them against Chicago as LeBron and Wade handled it well in the final two games of that series.
There will be plenty to talk about during this series. One thing is certain though. Two players have a lot to gain and a lot to lose from this series. LeBron's could begin in Miami with a championship. Dirk's could end on a high note. Either way they both will be playing to prove something to the rest of the league.
Mavericks in 6 games
Friday, May 27, 2011
To the faint of heart it is hard to watch. Seeing someone bulldoze their way through another person. And for what? To score a run for their team. There are only two other sports that offer more physical plays than baseball. They are of course football and hockey. Do we question when someone gets slammed into the boards? Or when someone is tackled before they cross the goal line?
That is apparently where we are headed if some have their way. Now I understand the financial implications involved with losing your best player. It's obvious, but it must be pointed out that the team will suffer on the field as well.
Buster Posey did what all catchers have done since the game was invented. Protect the plate. It was an extra inning game. The Florida Marlins had a runner on third and he was the go ahead run. If he hadn't scored, chances are the Marlins lose. There is saying that goes like this, "you play to win the game." Simple, but the truth.
Posey's agent, Jeff Berry, sees this in a different light. Now he is his agent and will do what an agent does best. Protect his client. I just think he went about it the wrong way. In the heat of the moment, I don't think this is what he meant to say.
"You leave players way too vulnerable," Berry said. "I can tell you Major League Baseball is less than it was before [Posey's injury]. It's stupid. I don't know if this ends up leading to a rule change, but it should. The guy [at the plate] is too exposed.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
I've hinted on previous posts about my previous job as a broadcaster for the Long Beach Armada in the summer of 2008. In writing about my 3rd favorite sports movie "Major League" I described how that movie had a personal connection with my experience that summer. I only touched on a handful of events from that summer. Now I want to share the rest with you.
I got a phone call from my broadcast partner and friend J.R. Reed as I was leaving the campus of Long Beach City College. He asked if I would like to be the play-by-play voice of the Long Beach Armada baseball team. I was stunned and all I could immediately get out was "sure." Me and J.R. met with the general manager at the time Steve Bash who had a lot of ideas for the upcoming season. I can't remember them all, but suffice it to say it was going to be a fun summer.
The first games we were to broadcast were two exhibition games against the Chinese National team. Yes, the same team that would play in the Summer Olympics that very year. Now if your first broadcast for a semi-professional baseball team is when they play the Chinese National team, how are you going to pronounce those names?
Thanks to a MLB representative from the Chinese team, he helped me go over the names before the games. Quick funny note. One of the players names was spelled Wong Wei. It was pronounced like you see it, wong-way. Thankfully he didn't play in either game. It would have been hard not to laugh on-air.
Me and J.R. interviewed the manager for China Jim Lefebvre before Game 1. Yes the same Dodgers second baseman from 1965-72. That was one of many great conversations that summer. During the games I was getting praise from another MLB representative in China listening to the games. He was the head of baseball development in China at that time. That made my day.
Another great thing during that series was a silent auction taking place at Blair Field, the home stadium for the Armada. Before the series there was a devastating earthquake that hit China. All the proceeds during that auction were to be donated to the Red Cross disaster relief fund. Lots of cool items were auctioned off and in total over $6,000 was raised from the auction. A great way to start the summer.
Former Los Angeles Dodgers and co-MVP of the 1981 World Series Steve Yeager was the manager of the Armada. They had a slew of former major league players. Jerome Williams, David Parrish, Cleatus Davidson, Tony Torcato and Nick Bierbrodt. There were some other players that I had heard of that didn't pan out with their respective major league clubs, but they were talented nonetheless.
I had a special connection with Bierbrodt. He and I both went to Robert A. Millikan high school. At different times of course. He went on to be the Arizona Diamondbacks first pick ever in 1996. His career didn't pan out in Arizona, but he started to get back on track in Tampa Bay in 2001.
Unfortunately his career and life took a turn for the worst. This I didn't know, but he said that while he was in a drive thru in Tampa Bay, he was shot twice while sitting in his car. It was a case of mistaken identity. Thankfully Nick recovered from that, but he wasn't able to stay in the majors for very long.
The first time I met him I told him that I was a fellow Millikan alumni. He asked what year did I graduate. Now before I give you his answer, I have fooled some people into thinking that I'm older than I actually am. I said 2004. Nick responded, "s*** you look older." I laughed and said I get that a lot. Getting to know Nick was great. He's played all over the world and had some great stories to tell.
Now Yeager as many of you probably know is a character in his own right. I won't reveal a lot, but the funniest thing he ever said during that summer was on a road trip. Guys were complaining about the bus, the long road trips, bad hotels. Yeager turned around and snapped, "hey, you don't like it. play better and move up." At the time it was very true. Afterwards it was hilarious because he timed it perfectly. Just when the complaints started to get louder he knew it was time to strike.
Another time was when they were playing in Chico, California. The clubhouse attendant put the Armada's pants, which were white with the teams shirts, which were red in the washer together. Very dumb indeed, but Yeager's reaction was a profanity laced tirade that I can't repeat here. I know my broadcast partner J.R. has the raw footage. Ask him nicely and tell him I sent you.
Perhaps the coolest part about being with Yeager was on the road trip to Yuma, Arizona. Me and J.R. went across the street from the hotel to Carls Jr. Yeager happened to be there eating his lunch and we asked if we could join him. We talked about the state of the team and things like that at first, but then we asked about his playing days.
The most interesting answer he gave was his favorite ballpark. Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. He did play one year with the Seattle Mariners before retiring. But I figured he would say Dodger Stadium or a National League park. He said the Kingdome wasn't bad either. It was interesting insight coming from him.
Quick side story. After a home game I was waiting for Yeager to finish signing baseballs outside the clubhouse to ask him about the upcoming road trip. As I waited a young boy handed me his baseball and asked if I could sign it. I replied saying that I wasn't one of the players I was the broadcaster. He said he wanted to get everyones autograph. I was taken back. I gladly signed the baseball and could hear J.R. in the distance yelling, "look at Wes signing baseballs." That was my best moment being apart of the Armada.
Now how could I leave such a great job. I mean after all it is my dream to broadcast for a professional baseball team. Well, without mentioning any names the way things were within the league and the franchise it was a toxic environment. The league owned the Armada and a handful of the other teams. They were more concerned about the bottom line rather than the game. People were being fired left and right in the organization. It was chaotic at times.
Case in point. The first game of a double header was delayed 45 minutes because they only had one case of baseballs. I was honest and told the listeners why the game was delayed. Why try to hide it? The last game on the road trip to Yuma was played in El Centro, California. They didn't have anyone to sing the national anthem before the game so it was let go. I was a bit disappointed, but I kind of expected it with the lack of organization. What I didn't expect was the game to be delayed in the middle of the second inning to sing the national anthem. Yes, it happened.
Another thing happened on a personal note. As a writer the one sin that I understand you must never do when writing is plagiarize someone else's work. I make sure to put quotes when needed and put my own twist on topics, but I never word for word copy someones else's work.
Unfortunately for someone on the Long Beach Armada staff they didn't see any problem with that. My final game recap was taken down and basically copied as his own. When confronted he said there was a part of the story that needed to be clarified. That was fine, but it was my post and I can clarify my own work. Basically a player that went head first into the wall at Blair Field was taken in an ambulance off the field after the game. I didn't speculate on his injuries, but wrote what was being said on the field at the time. That was the clarification he was referring to.
I was going to go to the league office and get him fired, but one thought came through my head. Would it really matter to them? As mentioned before, the league only cared about the bottom line. This person who plagiarized my work was making them money by selling tickets and doing things off the field to make them money. What was I doing in their eyes? Broadcasting the games. That was it. I was sure to let him know that what he did was wrong and left it at that.
The Armada would only last for one more season as the league sued the City of Long Beach over the use of Blair Field. Smart move I know. The league has since folded and combined with two other independent leagues. I am still looking for another job in that field and in radio as well. I do have a job to pay the bills, but I would love to get back into that environment again. I have learned a lot from that summer. I plan on taking that experience to better myself and to continue to achieve that dream of mine.
Never will I forget that time when the Armada won four straight games via the walk-off celebration. Never will I forget the players and coaches of the 2008 Long Beach Armada. Never will I forget the fantastic media members and press box staff that were there watching every game with us. Never will I forget the fans who supported the team and staff that worked their butts off to show how the game should be played. Never will I forget that fantastic summer at beautiful Blair Field in Long Beach, California.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
2. Miami Heat vs. 1. Chicago Bulls
Record wise they were the two best teams in the East this year. Others would argue that they are the two best teams left in the playoffs. That might be true, but only one can represent the East in the Finals. Miami is riding both LeBron James and Dwayne Wade throughout these playoffs. If either one has an off series, the Heat will be doomed to the exits. Chris Bosh has to play better. He seemed frazzled when Miami played in Boston and admitted as much after Game 3. However, he recovered nicely and the Heat didn't miss a beat winning in 5 games. If that happens again at any point going forward the Heat won't put up much of a fight. They will continue to need contributions from James Jones, Joel Anthony and Mario Chalmers off the bench as well to clinch the East.
Chicago can't expect Derrick Rose to continue to do it all by himself. Chicago needs Carlos Boozer to average near 20 points a game for them to beat Miami. If he continues at his current pace the Bulls will struggle to keep pace with the fast paced Heat. Luol Deng will need to be more consistent on the offensive end. The Bulls have a lot of players they can throw at LeBron and Wade, but none will be able to stop them every night. If the Bulls bench players, Kyle Korver, Taj Gibson and Ronnie Brewer can outscore the Heat's bench players the Bulls will make this a good series. Rose will get his points, but he needs help now more than ever.
Heat in 6 games
4. Oklahoma City Thunder vs. 3 Dallas Mavericks
The Mavericks shocked a lot of people by sweeping the defending champion Lakers out of the playoffs in the semifinals. Oklahoma had to beat the 8th seeded Grizzlies in 7 games. Opposite endings for both, but going head-to-head should have a different outcome. Oklahoma has a big advantage with Westbrook and Durant. Two dynamic players at their respective positions that Dallas can't match up with one on one. There is plenty of depth on the Mavericks squad, but they will need to rely on Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood to disrupt their paths to the basket. Dallas does have Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry who were shooting the ball with ease against the Lakers. Oklahoma doesn't have the ideal players to guard either one. Dallas will need them both to be on their game to clinch another West title. If J.J. Barea can attack the paint at will again against the Thunder the Mavericks will have a big advantage against either East opponent as well.
Which Russell Westbrook will be more involved? The offensive catalyst who creates havoc in the paint and dishes the ball to open teammates. Or the one who will take bad shots at key moments in the game. If the latter shows up for the Thunder they will be watching the Finals at home this year. If Westbrook can consistently attack the basket, he will make things easier for Kevin Durant and James Harden getting open shots. Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins were after thoughts against Memphis, but with a favorable matchup for them in Dallas they should become more active on both ends of the court. Oklahoma is one of the youngest teams in the NBA, but they are quickly growing before our eyes. For their sake lets hope they won't go out like the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2007.
Thunder in 6 games
Saturday, May 14, 2011
Eastern Conference Finals
5. Tampa Bay Lightning vs. 3. Boston Bruins
The Lightning have had an unprecedented performance from their goalie Dwayne Roloson. It should come as no surprise since he has been to a Stanley Cup Final before. However no one has expected him at this stage of his career to do it again. Tampa Bay has Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier to thank for their run to the conference final too. Both are playing just as well as their title run in 2004. They also have Steven Stamkos at their side to help with the scoring task. Sean Bergenheim is tied with the playoff lead in goals scored with 7. If Tampa Bay can continue their success on the power play and killing penalties, they will easily be in their second Cup Final.
The Bruins will be the Lightning's biggest challenge. Boston is a defensive force. Thanks to Tim Thomas in net they will be in a lot of low scoring games. Zdeno Chara was dominant against the Philadelphia Flyers. If he repeats that performance the Lightning will find it difficult to score against them. Patrice Bergeron will miss most of the series if not all of it due to a concussion suffered against Philadelphia. It will hurt Boston's offense, but Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic were starting to heat up at the end of the Semifinals.
Lightning in 6 games
Western Conference Finals
2. San Jose Sharks vs. 1. Vancouver Canucks
San Jose nearly had another playoff failure against Detroit. They were too talented though and were able to get by their playoff nemesis. Patrick Marleau will have to be more involved in the conference finals though. If he's absent for an extended period again, the Sharks won't be able to recover. Joe Thornton is having a great playoff run. If he continues to be the catalyst on offense the Sharks will be tough to slow down. Goalie Antti Niemi will have to be better. San Jose can't get to the Stanley Cup Finals without Niemi getting them there.
Vancouver is the most talented team this year, but they could meet their match with San Jose. The Sharks aren't as sound on defense as other teams, but the Canucks showed signs that they couldn't match up with the Predators big defenders. San Jose has a few themselves. The Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel, will have to play up to their standards during the season. Thankfully they shouldn't expect Ryan Kesler to slow down. He almost single handedly beat the Nashville Predators in the semifinals. Goalie Roberto Luongo bounced back nicely against Nashville. Vancouver should expect him to be even better with a Stanley Cup appearance on the line.
Canucks in 6 games
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
I've had a couple days to think this over. For one there is no doubt who the better team was. It was the Dallas Mavericks. They made their shots and played shutdown defense when they had to. The Lakers seemed lost at times and forgot that the Mavericks can shoot the 3-pointer almost at will. With that said it's apparent that another era has ended in Los Angeles. How long will it take for another to rise remains to be seen. Make no mistake that it will rise again. As long as owner Jerry Buss is willing to let GM Mitch Kupchak continue to make moves to improve the team they will contend.
It was embarrassing to see a two-time defending champion go out the way they did. Not being swept out of the playoffs, but rather what Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum did to get themselves tossed in Game 4. Odom's push of Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki was bad, but was nothing compared to Bynum's elbow to a defenseless Mavericks guard J.J. Barea. Problem with Bynum's bush play was that he's done it before. Never learned. Even worse to me was the lack of respect shown by Bynum after the game. Grow up and take the beating with some class.
I'm puzzled with Pau Gasol's play throughout the playoffs. He admitted that something off the court had affected him on the court. What that something is wasn't said, but some believe it was the break up from his fiance. It's pretty surprising to think that a great player like Gasol can let something get to him on the court this year when he was winning two championships the last two years. I know I know, if true it was his fiance and not a jilted girlfriend. I didn't see Kobe laying down with all those court dates in Colorado back in 2004. That Lakers team eventually fell apart too, but Kobe himself didn't let that get to him on the court.
Phil Jackson is still the greatest basketball coach ever in my opinion. Only a hand full of other coaches could do what he has done with so much talent. The Chicago Bulls of the 90s. The Lakers of the early 2000s. Those were some great teams. Phil was fortunate to walk into ready made teams, but you still have to coach and get those players to believe they can do great things. This will be a black mark on Phil's legacy, but overall it doesn't tarnish it. There were problems early on with them, but Phil still managed to keep them in contention going into the playoffs.
Going forward the one advantage the Lakers had was their size. "Pound it in the paint" is what I've said about the Lakers ever since they acquired Pau Gasol. Some folks said that Dirk Nowitzki was going to have a field day with the Lakers. I agreed with that, but I figured the Lakers would make Nowitzki play some defense and "pound it in the paint." I was wrong in that regard. To me Phil Jackson is certainly gone. Will he retire? Yes. One thing is certain. It is extremely hard to win a championship let alone the 11 that Jackson has. What more does he have to prove? That he can win in New York? Don't get your hopes up Knicks fans.
Initially fans are wanting Dwight Howard right now. I for one think that it is inevitable that he will be in a Lakers uniform. That's not me being a homer, but a realist. What brought Shaq to LA? Money for one, but it was the allure of Los Angeles. Money will be there, but the one advantage the Lakers have over most teams is that they play in Los Angeles. New York has the same allure, but they haven't had success recently like the Lakers. With the looming lockout this summer there won't be much player movement.
We will have to wait another year to see where Dwight Howard goes. The Lakers will have to shore up their bench as well. For now this team will have to do a lot of soul searching in the offseason and make sure that they don't embarrass themselves like they did this past Mothers Day.