Monday, May 18, 2015

Houston Rockets: About that heart transplant.

I've never been more happy to be proven wrong, but right at the same time.

Yup, I said it.

Houston Rockets: The Thing that needs to be said. Me, SLAM

They're done, barring something changing in the mental make-up of this team. They can talk as much as they want about "backs against the wall" and "being back in our house" all they want. Lest we forget the win that they had at home required some of the most curious officiating of the series. Game 1?  Well, it was a blowout as well. I don't see any way this Rockets team beat the Clippers 3 games in a row. Barring a heart transplant that is.
Apparently, they had that transplant completed and it appears that they swapped with the Clippers in games 5, 6 and 7.  It was eerily similar to the Phoenix series in which a totally different Rockets team went and did the same thing.

I'm a firm believer in never saying never. You always leave yourself an out. After game 5 I was still unimpressed, thinking that the Clippers would rise up at home and put us all out of our misery.  Then the unthinkable happened. It was the Clippers who just quit.  And then, in game 7, they quit again.

Meanwhile the Rockets played with heart and drive and did everything they needed to in order to win the series and face the daunting puzzle that is Golden State and Curry.

The opening line on that series is Golden State -850 with the Rockets coming back at +575.

Despite everything that happened in the previous series I think that line is about right. During the regular season the Rockets were not competitive against the Warriors and I'm unsure if they match-up with the 1st seed well enough to ask the questions they need to ask.

All that said, at that value, I like the Rockets pick here.  If they do win however they're going to have to steal one in Sacramento and hold-serve at home. That's a hard task against a team that's looking all the world like the next champions.

Still, the Rockets have a strong beating heart now, that means a lot.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Houston Rockets: The Thing that needs to be said.

They. Quit.

Behind all of the hand-wringing and philosophizing about what went wrong with the Houston Rockets over the last two games (30 and 33 point blowouts to the Clippers) the elephant in the room is that, in the 2nd half of both games, the team just flat out quit.

Yes, Kevin McHale is a strategic liability, and yes both DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin have been killing the Rockets with great inside play.  But isn't that why the Rockets went out and obtained the services of Dwight Howard, to put a damper on great inside play?  And what, last night, did Howard do? He found a way to get himself ejected from the game. 

That's quitting, any way you look at it.

In the past I've been hard on James Harden because he scores points, but forgets that there's another, equally important, half of the game. On defense a disengaged James Harden is a liability to the Rockets. He's been a defensive liability this entire series. He's playing closer now to "sixth man of the year" status than he is anywhere near the 2nd place finisher in the MVP balloting.  If you had to revote right now would Harden even be in your top 5?  Probably not.

The Rockets are the basketball equivalent of a Lindt Chocolate Truffle. They have a seemingly hard exterior which, once cracked, exposes a silky soft interior. The thing is, it's not all that hard to break through the shell if you're a good team.

The Dallas Mavericks were not a good team. They were led by a rapidly aging Nowitzki, a 2nd-tier scorer in Monte Ellis and a male fashion model masquerading as an NBA player in Chandler Parsons. The 1st round win, and the breathless analysis that the Rockets had "progressed" from last year because of it, is nothing more than fool's gold. Had the Rockets played the Spurs instead of the Mavericks it would have been San Antonio and the Clippers going at it in Round 2. It would have been a much better series as well.

It was a brain-dead moment on the last day of the season by the Spurs that prevented that from happening. If anything, this proves that the regular NBA season still has importance, but it means nothing in terms of a team's chances of winning a championship. To win one of those, you need heart. And the Rockets desperately need a transplant. Stat.

I've no doubt that head coach Kevin McHale is going to take the lion's share of the blame for this. And that share is well deserved. At times against the Clippers he has seemed clueless about what needs to be done to turn this train-wreck around. It's very clear that, from an X's and O's perspective, he's not only overmatched but, against the top coaches, he's not even playing the same game. I think the Rockets need to seriously consider making a change in the off-season.

Some of the blame needs to be laid at the feet of GM Daryl Morey as well. While I'm a fan of Sabremetrics and the statistical approach it takes to building a roster, I also think that it needs to be blended with the human factor as well. A team needs competitors, and the Rockets have few. It's OK to have Dwight Howard and James Harden on your roster leading the team provided you have another leader who has the desire, and strength of will, to herd the cats when things start turning South. The Rockets thought that Terry would be that veteran, but he doesn't play a big enough roll to matter.

Hard core fans will point to the fact that Beverly and D-Mo are out with injuries. That's true. But would a middle of the pack NBA point guard and below-average small forward really do much to change the dynamics of the series?  Not as long as the big two decide to open up a can of quit when things get dicey.

If anything, the Game 4 result reminded us that the window for this Rocket's team has always been very narrow, and it's closing in a hurry.  Early rumors are that the Mavericks are going after LaMarcus Aldridge, which would make them a much more formidable team next year. A legitimate playoff contender. Something they weren't this year. Golden State has Steph Curry, Cleveland is still out there with King James and the Bulls are looking like a team on the come. We still haven't mentioned the Clippers, whose time might be THIS year the way they are playing.

And the Rockets?

They're done, barring something changing in the mental make-up of this team. They can talk as much as they want about "backs against the wall" and "being back in our house" all they want. Lest we forget the win that they had at home required some of the most curious officiating of the series. Game 1?  Well, it was a blowout as well. I don't see any way this Rockets team beat the Clippers 3 games in a row. Barring a heart transplant that is.

Here's the 2nd point:  If your team rolls over and plays dead, TWICE, then you as a fan are under no obligation to keep with them. They quit, you quit. It really is that simple. "Wait until next year!" is a perfectly acceptable rallying cry.

Because of that I'm going to be spending my Tuesday evening watching the sure to be more entertaining Game 7 between the Capitals and the Rangers in the NHL. For the Rockets, I'm taking the Missouri approach:

Show me.

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Biggest Sports Weekend (EVER!) that was.

If you're a fan of sports, then waking up on Monday might feel like somewhat of a downer after Saturday. There's obviously a LOT to cover but let's give it the once-over shall we?

1. Draft "grades" are stupid. Mainly because you're attempting to grade something without knowing whether or not any of the players drafted are going to play or not.  What we should be doing, right now, is grading the 2011 drafts of the teams. Those are the drafts whose rookie contracts are getting ready to roll off and we have a good idea how the teams did.

2. American Pharoah is now the only horse to have a shot at the Triple Crown. That said, were I his owners I'd run him in the Preakness, and then give him some time off to rest for the Fall card, including the season-ending Breeder's Cup.  With all of the big races later in the season running a 3 year old a mile and a half (a distance it's probably never going to run again) on the heels of two tough races does more to damage a horse in the long-run than help it. Oh, and the Woodford Reserve Turf Stakes was one of the better horse races you'll ever see.

3. MayPac was, unsurprisingly, not the super-fight of the Century that it was hyped to be. Mayweather is a smart man. He waited until Pacquiao was incapable of doing the things he needed to do in order to win the fight, before he agreed to fight him. Instead of two of the best pound-for-pound fighters slugging it out, we got a typical Mayweather dance that was overpriced, and left people with a bad taste in their mouths.

I do think that this could signal the beginning of the end of the pay-per-view era of professional boxing.  And good riddance.  As Al Hayman's Premier Boxing Champions series continues to prove: the best boxing matches could, and should, be fought on Network TV.  Also given that Showtime boxing has elevated its status to become a true challenger to HBO and you have several outlets where the biggest fights can occur, on free TV or tiered cable.  Charging $100 (or even more ridiculously, $30/head time capacity at a bar) effectively priced a large percentage of the population out of the watching the fight live. I refused to buy the PPV, and my local bar (which typically carries all of the fights) elected to not pay the exorbitant fees.  As such, I followed the fight on Twitter. I'll DVR it when either HBO or Showtime airs it on their networks and feel like I haven't missed out on anything.

4. Clippers vs. Spurs - Game 7 What was initially threatened to be overshadowed by the "other" events of the weekend ultimately turned out to be the best event of them all. This was a classic basketball game with two teams throwing haymakers at the end, and with Chris Paul, limping around on one hamstring, ultimately sinking a beautiful shot to clinch the win for the LA team.

It was also a heroic last stand for what was one of the greatest NBA runs of all time for the Spurs, who will undoubtedly have to consider finally admitting that Duncan and Ginobli are aging players and will begin the process of drastically altering their roster going forward. If you missed this game to watch the horrid undercard for MayPac, you really lost out.

All of that and I still haven't mentioned the Stanley Cup Playoffs or the fact that the Houston Astros are currently playing out of their minds. I also didn't mention that Rory McIlroy is pretty good.

All in all it was a great weekend to be a sports fan. One of the better ones in recent memory.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The fight of the decade (Maybe?)

Oh boy.....

The Floyd Mayweather/Manny Pacquiao fight is turning into a debacle. Tony Manfred,

While the two camps agreed to the fight in February, they've yet to sign the contract, ESPN's Darren Rovell reports.
As a result, tickets to both the fight at the MGM Grand and the closed-circuit viewings at MGM properties around Las Vegas haven't been released for sale.
Ticket sales are expected to generate $72 million, but a week and a half before the fight, no one has a ticket. The two sides reportedly made progress on Tuesday, but the contract remains unsigned as of Wednesday morning.
Pacquiao's promoter, Top Rank, is blaming Mayweather Promotions, and vice versa. 

For all of the progress boxing has made in 2015, due in large part to the success of Al Haymon's Premier Boxing Championships and some other good fights, any time there is a Superfight (even one that's 5 years too late) coming up we're reminded just how little business sense the promoters in the game actually have.

Yes, they're good at making money in short bursts, but if you look at the boxing landscape over the past few years the only truly bankable fighters in the game are Mayweather and Pacquiao.  Everyone else near their weight has just been positioning themselves for the big payout by losing to these two. (OK, except Juan Manuel Marquez)

That said, I still think this fight is going to go off. It's ugly and it's starting to border on high comedy (with Arum and Haymon involved, how could it not?) but there's been too much push and too much publicity for this for either side to absorb.

Still, it's yet another black eye for boxing that's self induced. As a boxing fan it's getting hard to support a group that seemingly has no sense of self preservation.

The NFL: The 2015 Draft (49ers & Texans analysis)

When it comes to the NFL I am a supporter of one team (the San Francisco 49ers) because I grew up a fan of them (No, not Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott was my favorite) and pull for another team (the Houston Texans) because they are my home-town team.  Prior to the Texans I was a supporter of BOTH the 49ers AND the Houston Oilers.  When the Oilers left town my football loyalty to Houston sort-of relocated as well.  I pull for the Texans because I'm forced to watch them almost every week (I don't have Direct TV and refuse to get it just so I can get the NFL package) and I do like some of the players. (Formerly Johnson and Watt, now mainly just Watt).

If you're still keeping up with me after all of those parentheticals then I think it's time to take a quick peek at the draft for both teams.  It should be noted here that I think, in all cases, NFL mock drafts are bunk. They're the attempt of middling sports personalities to try and outthink teams and GM's who spend months analyzing the players, interviewing them, doing background research etc.  My biggest problem with the mock drafts of the so-called 'experts' is that quite often, when teams deviate from them, the drafts are considered a "bad draft" and fans go nuts over stuff they don't understand. As an example of this, JJ Watt was booed by Texans fans on draft day and his selection was met with indifference by most (not all) sports-talk, mock-drafting personalities.

Still, if you must have it, you can find the 'experts' mock-drafts here. Including one from a Houston talk radio personality for whatever worth you place on that.  So, with out further ado, here's where I see each teams needs for the Draft as well as some potential players they might target with their first round picks.

49ers. (15th Pick)

Needs: Defensive Backfield, Wide Receiver, Linebacker, Defensive Line.

This team has been decimated in the off-season with retirements and free agency losses. What was once among the most talent-laden, and deepest, rosters in the league is suddenly showing some gaping holes that GM Trent Baalke is going to have to try and address in the NFL Draft.  Most pundits are suggesting that the 49ers will select Oregon DE Arik Armstead in the first round and I think that makes some sense. The 49ers desperately need another edge rusher to complement Aldon Smith and Armstead would be a good fit. If they don't go edge rusher then I expect them to look at either UCF WR Breshad Perriman or, if available, UCONN CB Byron Jones. Marcus Peters (CB Washington is a remote possibility but I think he would be very over drafted here. One player that I think the 49ers might be looking strongly at is Missouri DE Shane Ray. Most mock drafts have him going at #16 to the Texans but I could see Baalke snapping him up the pick before.  I don't see the 49ers selecting a WR here because all of the top guys should be long gone by this time, and this is a deep WR draft which offers potential in the 2nd and 3rd rounds to grab a good #2 or #3 receiver.

Texans (16th Pick)

Needs: Quarterback, Wide Receiver, Offensive Tackle, Tight End, Cornerback.

As I stated earlier, a lot of people see the Texans getting Shane Ray and, if he's still available, I think this is a good slot and a good situation for him to go.  That said, if someone in front of the Texans takes Ray I think the team could be facing someone of a mess.  Airk Armstead doesn't fit the 3-4 defense the Texans like to play and I think most of the 1st round worthy OT's could be gone.  If available, a good pick for them would be Andrus Peat (OT - Stanford) but I don't see him being available at #16.  Byron Jones should be there, but I'm not sure if the Texans will decide he's good enough value at that slot.  The experts are all over the place, local Lance Zierlein has the Texans taking the aforementioned Breshard Perriman, but picks vary wildly from Nelson Agholar (WR-USC) to CB Jones to (unlikely) RB Todd Gurley) I also like Miami Offensive tackle Ereck Flowers and LSU OT La'El Collins here for the team. Amazingly, analyst Charlie Casserly has La'el falling to the Broncos at #28. I don't see any way that happens.

If I had to guess, right now, I'm expecting both of the teams I support to panic at their spots and make reach picks.  The 49ers have been deluged with negative press since last year and the Texans GM Rick Smith is desperate to make a splash and prove that he's not overmatched for the job. It wouldn't shock me to see the Texans reaching to grab Breshard Perriman and Zierlein predicts and it wouldn't shock me to see the 49ers reach for Byron Jones.

One thing is for sure, for both of these teams the 2015 NFL Draft is going to be a pivotal moment in their teams development. After hitting on several drafts Baalke needs to prove that he knows what he's doing firing Harbaugh and bringing in relatively unknown Tomsula to coach the team. Rick Smith still needs to prove that he understands the talent evaluation part of the game and cannot (in my opinion) afford to whiff on another draft as he has more often than not in the past.

The draft is a week from today, and Tampa Bay is on the clock.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

First Thoughts on the #49ers 2015 Schedule

Any hope for the playoffs could be done by week 6.

New coach, totally re-building the roster.

This is going to get ugly fast folks.

The thing is, I'm almost rooting against them so that the regime that created this mess gets canned.

Sports Section