Tuesday, February 2, 2016

'Crab Legs & Crab Dribbles': NBA and NFL Coach Firing Controversy

When former Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt got fired last week in lieu of his assistant coach, Tyronn Lue, both Detroit Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy and Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle made public comments on how much of a travesty it was that Blatt (who 'coached' the Cavs to the NBA Finals last year and had the best record in the Eastern Conference at the time) got the axe.

LeBron James was the immediate culprit for the sudden change in coaching, accused of coaxing upper management into getting rid of Blatt, who was hired to coach Cleveland before it knew its favorite son would be 'coming home'.  Hoops fans flooded social media with cynical banter, Vines, and GIFs; most of them are comedy, but some of them imply that the problem with today's NBA is the players are whiny and have more power than the coaches.

When something like this happens in the NFL though, why is there not the same clamour and uproar?  The Tampa Bay Buccaneers went 6-10 this year after going 2-14 the previous year.  No, a 6-win season doesn't exactly make you Vince Lombardi or anything, but when you consider a 25-percent increase in wins, which amounts to a quarter of the season, it would be hard to think that a coach would get fired after such an improvement .  But it happened in Tampa.  The Bucs promoted offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter to head coach.

Lovie got the pink slip.  No one said a single word.
The easiest speculation is that Tampa executives fawned over Koetter's ability to implement an offensive gameplan and his development of 2015 No. 1 NFL Draft pick quarterback Jameis Winston during his rookie season.  Out of fear that Koetter would accept a vacant head coaching gig elsewhere, they pulled the plug on the Lovie Smith era after only two seasons.

No NFL coach said a single word.

Maybe they understand that it's a just business.  Maybe they understand that Lovie is black, and in a league dealing with minority hiring issues, it's too touchy of a subject.  The NFL is such a conglomerate that speaking out on other organizations hiring practices might hurt you more than it would help you.

Flashback to the 2015 Eastern Conference playoffs between the Cavs and the Chicago Bulls.  Cleveland has a chance to win the game in Chicago and Blatt draws up the final play with 1.5 seconds to go.  He wants LeBron to inbound the ball.  LeBron said hell no, I'm taking the shot.  Whether or not he made the shot is irrelevant (he did, a deep two-pointer from the corner at the buzzer) when you ask simply who was Blatt originally dialing up for that final shot? J.R. Smith?  Iman Shumpert??  Matthew Dellavedova???  (Sidenote: Blatt tried calling a timeout before this sequence. The Cavs did not have any left and this would have resulted in a technical foul.  Lue jumped off the bench to physically pull Blatt away from the referee so he wouldn't see him signaling for timeout.)  The argument can be made that LeBron saved Blatt's job that day.

Blatt was hired to coach Andrew Wiggins; not LeBron.
Ultimately for Blatt, losing to the uptempo Golden State Warriors in the Finalst last summer after being up 2-1 in the series, a 30+ point blowout loss to the Warriors this January where the Cavs looked totally inept, and not being able to get Kevin Love enough touches and exploit his full offensive repertoire, the writing was on the wall.

Lue plans on pushing the ball up the court (a testament to his assistant coaching days under Doc Rivers) more and getting deeper outlets in transition.  Whether or not this new method will help in another meeting with Golden State remains to be seen but it's evident the Cavs don't think their 'ground-and-pound' strategy will work anymore.

Regardless, both Blatt and Smith were indirectly effected by the team's personnel and the person that replaced them was deemed as a better fit for that personnel.

Business as usual.

There's things wrong with the NBA like players coming out of college too early and the intentional fouling rule.

But just like the NFL it's a business and coaches can get dropped just as fast as players do.  Saying that there's something wrong with today's NBA from this standpoint and ignoring what happens in today's NFL is unfair.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

2016 NFL Playoffs Preview: 'Philadelphia Texans?', 'Air-Raid Roethlisberger'

Game: Kansas City Chiefs (11-5, 2nd AFC
West) vs. Houston Texans (9-7, 1st AFC South)
Location: NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas
Time: Saturday, January 9th, 2016, 4:35 PM
Line: KC -3.0, O/U 

Breakdown: Bill O'Brien can probably rest easy win or loss this weekend after successfully winning the AFC South Division and hosting a home playoff game, but in actuallity, this season for the Texans head coach is borderline Chip Kelly-like. 

After resurrecting post-Sandusky scandal era Penn State University football in the college ranks, the former Tom Brady QB coach with the New England Patriots was viewed as a good fit for an NFL head coaching job. He made a change at quarterback, with Matt Schaub making for a fairly easy drop choice, but bringing in two of his former players to vie for the starting QB job this year (Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallet were both backups for Brady earlier in their careers with New England) was dicey at best. Hoyer has been wildly inconsistent (5-4 as starter) and Mallet flat out flopped (got cut after being late too much and pouting too much). If it weren't for playing in a horrible, awful, terrible division (they got to play the Titans, Jaguars, and Colts twice, going 5-1 in those games) and having a defense that (on paper) is top five in the NFL quality, and has shown signs of their potential at times this year, this team would be at home. But not playing. Just watching. Like the rest of us. [On the other hand: Kelly also played in a slop of a division this year in the NFC East and got crushed in games where it counted, still had a chance to make the playoffs, but ultimately the Philadelphia Eagles imploded, largely in part to too many questionable dismissals and acquisitions by Chip Kelly....like reallly, Byron Maxwell???]

O'Brien's job is safe for now, but you gotta like the Chiefs (11-5) -3.0 riding a franchise-record 10 game winning streak here. They are due for a loss now if you're looking at the other side of it, but there's no reason to believe that Alex Smith and Andy Reid game-managing plus a hot Chiefs defense (12.8 points per game allowed, +16 turnover margin in last 10 games) shouldn't be enough to win by atleast a couple of field goals.

Pick: Chiefs, 26-16

Key for Texans: Find ways to get DeAndre Hopkins aka 'Nuk Da Bomb' the football early and often. It will be a difficult task with talented rookie cornerback Marcus Peters likely to be matched up with him most of the game, and all-pro linebacker Justin Houston returning to the lineup to help harrass Hoyer.

Key for Chiefs: Don't turn the ball over and wear out the Houston defense. Short gains that move the chains early will open up deep shots down the field late. There will be plenty of possessions to rely on as the Texans offense is pass heavy and doesn't have a ball control identity.

Game: Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6, 2nd AFC North) vs. Cincinnati Bengals (12-4, 1st AFC North)
Location: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio
Time: Saturday, January 16th, 2016, 8:15 PM
Line: PIT -1.5, O/U 44.5
Breakdown: Most of the top AFC teams were breathing a sigh of relief after the Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6) somehow lost its matchup Week 16 to the lowly Baltimore Ravens (5-11), and it looked like they, boasting the NFL's scariest passing attack, would miss the playoffs.

The New York Jets (10-6) couldn't close the deal in Week 17 against the Buffalo Bills (8-8) (Rex's revenge game) however and the Steelers jumped back in to the picture, putting frowney faces on all defensive secondary players and coaches in the AFC. The reason for that is Pittsburgh has put up 30+ points per game in seven of its last nine games and Ben Roethlisberger looks back to normal health. The Cincinnati Bengals (12-4) were hot to start (started 8-0) then clung to the division lead after Andy Dalton (broken thumb) went down against these very Steelers in Week 14 and are currently trying to find an offensive rhythm under backup quarterback A.J. McCarron (2-1 in three starts, wins were against the 5-11 San Francisco 49ers and Ravens) at a time when you least want to be trying to find an offensive rhythm. 

The -1.5 line isn't as curious as it first seems when considering the Bengals are at home, it's technically a division game, and DeAngelo Williams suffered an ankle injury in Week 17 that initially looked serious, although he is listed as day-to-day and will probably give it a go in this one (The Steelers desperately need Williams in the lineup to maintain offensive balance since Le'Veon Bell is on injured reserve and the next viabale option at running back is Fitzgerald Toussaint). But when you add in to account that the Bengals' playoff life was tenuous even with Dalton as the starting quarterback, and Roethsliberger's history of playfoff success, there is no reason to believe that the Steelers can't win by a touchdown against a McCarron-led offense despite being on the road.

Pick: Steelers, 30-17

Key for Bengals: The defense is gonna have to gamble and come up with some big plays. Carlos Dunlap leads the front seven and will do his job putting pressure on Big Ben but it won't hold up if Cincinnati has to play from behind, limiting pass rush opportunities.

Key for Steelers: Keep everything in front of you on defense at don't allow any explosive plays. McCarron is less likely to beat you in the intermediate passing game as he simply hasn't had the experience needed to break down defenses beyond his first pass option.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

2015 MLB Update: 'The Two Escobars', 'Papi Don't Take No Mess', 'Yung Joc Pederson'

Alcides makes every play look routine.
The Washington Nationals and the Kansas City Royals might not be where they are right now (each leading their respective divisions) if it wasn't for two Escobar's, Yunel and Alcides (no relation).  Yunel, now an everyday third baseman (spent most of his first nine MLB seasons at shortstop), is batting .315 on the season, which if it holds up, would be his highest batting average since his rookie year in 2007 (.326 in 96 games for the Atlanta Braves, 355 plate appearances).  The 6-2, 215-pound Cuban already has three five hit games this season. No other MLB player has more than one. Alcides is a smooth fielding shortstop that has solidified his place at the top of the reigning AL champion Royals batting order. The Colombian lead-off man won't hit many homers (only 23 total in eight seasons) but he's good for grinding out at-bats and either drawing a walking or shooting one into a gap that finds outfield grass.  The fans elected Alcides to start at shortstop in the 2015 All Star game, the first all-star selection of his career.

He was a tough out for every pitcher in the 90s.
Who does Mariano Rivera and Pedro Martinez both say is the toughest hitter they ever faced in their hall-of-fame careers?  The answer to that would be Seattle Mariners legend Edgar Martinez. The hard-nosed, sweet swinging Puerto Rican played 18 seasons, all with the Mariners, and is widely considered the best designated hitter of all-time.  Martinez is still the only DH to ever win a batting title, leading the AL with a .356 batting average in 1995.  Always a fan favorite, "Papi" was hired by the Mariners in mid-June as the team's hitting coach, in part to bolster the fan base with a big name and to help Seattle's MLB-worst .229 team batting average.
Correa already looks like the next big thing at SS.
The youth movement is booming around the entire majors this season as several top prospects have already been called up from the minors and are making impacts for their respective big league ball clubs.  The list of call ups include Kris Bryant - Chicago Cubs, Carlos Correa - Houston Astros, Byron Buxton - Minnesota Twins, and Joey Gallo - Texas Rangers.  Correa might be the most intriguing prospect of them all (No. 1 pick, 2012 draft) as his skill set is reminiscent of Alex Rodriguez circa 1996.  At 6-4 and 210 pounds, he's already showing what he can running on the basepaths.  He had a three-steal game on June 18th that made him the the youngest player (20 years, 269 days) to have three swipes in a single outing since Rickey Henderson in 1979.  Dodgers center fielder Joc Pederson started the season in the majors but he has to be mentioned in this youth movement.  Pederson has showed his propensity to put up big power numbers as evidenced by his HR total (20 through 83 games) and his five consecutive game HR streak earlier this year, making him the first ever Dodger rookie to put together such a streak.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

NBA Breakdown: 'The LeBron Rules'

Kerr has masterminded a gamplan, but will it work?
Heard a lot of, "We just have to stick with the gameplan" coming from the Golden State Warriors players after their 108-100 Game 1 win in the NBA Finals over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday. Head coach Steve Kerr when asked about the team's plan on defending LeBron James, who dropped a Finals-career-high 44 points, he said, "If I tell you, will you promise not to share it with anybody?" It all seemed obvious what the Warriors gameplan really was by that point. Clearly, they are content with allowing James as many isolation situations as he would like, and will rotate multiple defenders on him to give him different looks, but they WILL NOT double or trap him and allow him to be effective as a play maker. This is ultimately the gameplan or 'rule' that Kerr has devised to contain the 'Chosen One'.

How do you stop LBJ? Don't let him PASS.
44 points from LBJ combined with only six assists is a formula that the Warriors look willing to "stick with". Who ever would think that this is the best way to defend LeBron? Kerr, who was not yet a teammate of Michael Jordan when the Chicago Bulls were battling the 'Bad Boys' Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference playoffs in the late 80s (ironically, he was on the Cavs) was a witness to a successful method of stopping an elite scorer. The method was originally to stop Jordan at all costs and physically wear him down.  The opposite scheme worked in Game 1 for Kerr and the Warriors against LeBron, although Kyrie Irving (23 points) had a solid game, J.R. Smith (3-13 FG, 9 points) was virtually ineffective. But on the downside, LeBron did have the ball in his hands on the final possession of regualtion with a chance to win the game. If he makes that shot, hard to say if the Warriors would be willing to continue with that strategy after losing Game 1 at home.

MJ took a beating vs. the Pistons but eventually broke through
There's gonna be adjustments made, and James, normally a model for effeciency, won't normally take 38 shots to get to 44 points. He's probably gonna try his best to get other guys in a rhythm earlier in the game so that when the 4th quarter rolls around, everyone won't be standing and watching just waiting and expecting for him to make a play all by himself. If there's any indication from the Warriors comments following Game 1 however, the 'LeBron Rules' will be in effect for the duration of the series. Klay Thompson summed it up best by saying, "He's gonna have to beat us four times playing like that. Hopefully he wears down."

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

NBA Trash Talk: 'NOT Just What the Doctor Ordered', Los Angeles Clippers Epic Playoff Collapse

Like Doc Rivers said after the Los Angeles Clippers lost Game 7 in Houston, "We were up 3-1 with only one home game left."  Being up 3-1 in a playoff series is better than being down 1-3, yes, but Doc knew what a very dangerous and scary situation his team was currently in: up 3-1 in a playoff series in which Chris Paul missed the first two games; up 3-1 in a series where Games 3 and 4 in Staples Center Los Angeles were 25+ point blowouts in favor of the Clippers; up 3-1 in a series where you get big contributions from Austin Rivers (17 points in Game 1, 25 in Game 3) off the bench.  In this situation, the most dominant enemy is always complacency. 

How easy to go into Game 5 in Houston (after all, the Rockets appeared to be already mentally constructing offseason travel plans following the 128-95 Game 4 blowout) and thinking 'we can win this game sleepwalking, or even if we don't, Game 6 is at home, and we want to win this series in front of the home fans anyway, so they can witness us make the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history.'  How easy it looked in Game 6 when the Clippers unleashed a 3rd quarter run that included a circus, no-look 180-degree layup by Blake Griffin, which at the time seemed like the highlight of the game and the Clippers coronation to the NBA semis and rise from the era of yesteryear; away from the Donald Sterlings, Michael Olowokandis, and Danny Mannings.  How easy it all looked until Josh Smith (inexplicably through any form of human logic) transformed himself into the second coming of Earvin "Magic" Johnson, and put the entire Houston Rockets organization on his back in the 4th quarter of that same Game 6, erasing a 19-point deficit faster than Blake Griffin can change the radio station in his Kia Optima.  It's like Kevin McHale channeled Rudy Tomjonavich's 'don't ever underestimate the heart of a champion' speech, morphing Smith into Magic, Dwight Howard into Hakeem Olajuwon, and Corey Brewer into Mario Elie circa 1995. 

The nightmare became reality so quickly for the Clippers.  You could see the look on their faces.  That 'we had a 3-1 lead, and now we have to play a Game 7 on the road' look.  That 'how did we give up 40 points in a quarter that James Harden did not play a single minute in' look.  That 'goddammit J.J. Redick, please hit an open f*#%ing 3-point look!' look.  That 'maybe we're just the same ole Clippers' look.  But these weren't the same Clippers.  Remember in the first round when they beat the defending champion San Antonio Spurs down 3-2, including a huge Game 6 win on the road?  That was supposed to be the curse eclipsing moment.  Paul's one-legged runner on a bad hamstring to clinch the series in Game 7.  The biggest challenge this team ran into was being the favorite and being up 3-1.  Bet they wish they can all go back to Game 5 and really heed the advice of coach Rivers to not get complacent.  Where's Blake's time-traveling Optima when you need it?   

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

2015 NBA Playoffs: 'Walking On Water'

Curry made an NBA record 286 triples.
A lttle bit of water never hurt anybody.

But a monsoon, it could kill you.

That's what life is like for any team going up against Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and the 2015 Golden State Warriors. The outside jumpers start splattering like heavy drizzle. Then it turns into a downpour.

Before you even realize what just happened, you're already facing a double-digit deficit.

Knee deep in a thunderstorm. Drenched. Dishelved. And helplessly soggy.

The rain is gonna fall, and there's really nothing you can do to prevent it. However, there are certain things that you can do to weather the storm. In the case of opponents for Curry and Thompson, the same idea rings true. Those guys are gonna get theirs; we've all seen streaks where both have been absolutely unhumanly unguardable. But they are human (and somewhat guardable) and implementing focus on minor details can give some FEMA-like aid in avoiding a complete disaster. Here are some fundamental ways of weathering the barrage of wetness that is the 2015 GSW.

Find the shooters in transition.

Green can getter under your skin in more than one way.
Most teams in the league demand that you sprint back on defense and defend the paint to deter easy transition scoring opportunities. It's the opposite when facing the Warriors. Priority is defending the three-point line. Depending on who is on the floor at the time, you may need to send only one or two players back to defend the paint while the rest of your team seeks out guys on the perimeter. Draymond Green loves to float towards the short corner or trail to the top of the key on the break.

Don't go under screens in pick-and-roll situations.

If you don't plan defensively on switching every screen in pick-and-roll situations, the on ball defender should fight for his life to get over the top of the screen. Yes, it leaves the defense susceptible to the roll man (usually Andrew Bogut, Green) getting alot of free space to the basket but would you rather take your chances with the backside of the defense, or getting burned by one of the Splash Bros. on a wide-open, in-rhythm look at a three-point jumpshot?

One shot.

He scored 37 in a quarter...a quarter!
The last thing you need is to give Curry or Thompson a second chance at a three-point shot on a single possession. Defensive rebounding is important in every game but it's paramount against the Warriors. These guys never met a shot they didn't like and won't hesitate to jack multiple three-point attempts on a single trip if you give them the opportunity.

Get you're umbrellas ready.

Be prepared for a Curry or Thompson epic scoring run. These guys are consistently on heat-check mode and won't hesitate to fire a shot off early in the shot clock. The worst thing you can do is try match their efforts with quick shots that takes you're own offense out of its rhythm. Keep trudging and eventually some of the flood will subside. Just remember that even with an umbrella, if you stand in the rain for 48 minutes, you're bound to get wet.