Archive for the ‘Basketball’ Category

LeBron James aces the off-season

- July 28th, 2014

Since ‘The Decision’ back in 2010, I have hated LeBron James.

I’m fairly certain that was the case for a lot of people.

But now, I’m on the verge of forgiving the man anointed King James.

Why? Because over the course of this summer James has done just about everything that he possibly could to repair his relationship with the place he shunned four years ago and the fans whose hearts he broke. Well, everything short of actually calling everyone in Northeast Ohio and apologizing for The Decision.

Sure, “The Letter” published by Sports Illustrated was about as close as you could realistically get to doing that, but that’s splitting hairs.

With that letter and the decision to come home to the Cleveland Cavaliers after four years and two titles in Miami, James made the best choices for him, the people around him and for the league.

James, according to his letter, wants to raise his family – about to grow with a daughter on the way – in Northeast Ohio, which wouldn’t exactly be possible when he would be “working” in Miami for eight months a year.

It also helps repair the bond with the fans who supported him from Day 1 – and not just Day 1 of his NBA career. These are fans that have cheered him since he was a high school hoops prodigy.

James has also set himself up in a better basketball environment as well. He may not have the star power with him in Cleveland, but he has young, capable players full of potential. Guys that should be eager to learn under him like players learned under MJ, Larry Bird and Magic. LeBron James could be the best thing to ever happen to Andrew Wiggins – if he’s not dealt for Kevin Love.

And who has he hurt with this move? Almost nobody. Ask Heat fans – if you can find any anymore – if they care. They never deserved James in the first place – walking out in the middle of a NBA Finals game because your team is losing is unforgivable. Besides, the man brought two titles to South Beach; I think that’s enough.

The only real person that was slighted here was Chris Bosh, who really should’ve taken the Rockets’ deal and fled Florida as well. He stood the most to gain if both he and James returned to Miami with Dwayne Wade and possibly lured another top-flight talent to create a Big Four.

And Wade? He doesn’t care. He just won two more titles for HIS team thanks to his masterful recruiting in 2010.

Finally, James made perhaps the best move of all this weekend, announcing that he would wear his No. 23 jersey and not the No. 6 as he did with the Heat.

Now, those Cavs fans that didn’t burn their James jerseys will be able to jump right back into the excitement and relive the good old days.

It was another selfless move when you consider how much more James stood to gain through sales of a fresh No. 6 Cavs jersey.

James may have ended the playoffs on the losing end, but he spent the summer winning, plain and simple.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

The finals are finally here – but which one is better?

- June 4th, 2014

It’s early June, so you know what that means: It’s time for those two sports that started back in October to finally crown their champions. And, quite fittingly, the NBA Finals and the NHL’s Stanley Cup final will both get going later this week.

In the NHL, we have the Los Angeles Kings facing off against the New York Rangers on Wednesday night and in hoops, it’s the Miami Heat taking on the San Antonio Spurs.

So how do these two championship series measure up to each other? Let’s find out.

THE BREAKDOWN

Championship pedigree

The Kings won the Cup in 2012, which is nice and all, but the Spurs won four titles from 1999-2007 while the Heat is the two-time defending champion and were a finalist the year before. That leaves the New York Rangers as the weak link here, having won just four Cups in almost 90 years and just one (1994) since 1940 – not a great record.

Big edge: NBA

Rivalry

Being in opposite conferences, it’s hard to build a real rivalry in either sport just due to the fact that the teams rarely meet. But with the NBA final being a rematch from last year, there’s plenty of proverbial heat between these two combatants.

Edge: NBA

Star power

The NHL has done a better job at growing their stars recently, but it’s a well-known fact that NBA stars are among the most marketable in the world. Just look at “Global brand” LeBron James. The Rangers and Kings have their fair share of household names, but none the likes of Tim Duncan, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.

Edge: NBA

The markets

This matchup couldn’t have been better for NBC, with a matchup between the two top TV markets in the U.S. And as nice as having a Canadian team in the Cup final would’ve been for CBC, ice hockey fans north of the border are going to watch the games regardless. As for the NBA, San Antonio is an established team, but one of the smallest TV markets in the league – not exactly a boon for ABC.

Big edge: NHL

Wild cards

While anything can happen in sports there are two big wild-card factors at play in these two finals. In the NBA, refereeing decisions play into the result of games far too often. While many will joke that the NBA can have certain teams win by using certain refs, it’s too much of a reality. In the NHL, enough can’t be said about the fact that the teams will have to fly coast-to-coast during with a single off day three times if this series goes seven. That could mean a lot of jetlag. Also, don’t forget that games in L.A. will be start at 5 p.m. local time on week days, which could lead to dead crowds for the start of games.

Slight edge: NHL

Best individual matchup

While the NBA does have some good matchups, like LeBron James staring down Kawhi Leonard and veterans Manu Ginobili and Dwyane Wade going at it, the best matchup in the finals is actually between two guys that are almost 200 feet apart. Henrik Lundqvist and Jonathan Quick are two the best goaltenders in the sport and will be the keys for their teams.

Edge: NHL

Atmosphere

Despite the usual poo-pooing of California ice hockey fans and particularly caring, the Kings fans have been great while the crowd at MSG for the Rangers is always top-notch. While I have nothing bad to say about Spurs fans, the crowds in Miami are among the worst in sports. Never has there been a fanbase less worthy of its team’s success. Who could forget seeing them stream for the exits during last year’s final in a game the Heat eventually came back to win.

Edge: NHL

Funnest to watch

If you like fore-checking, shot-blocking and low-scoring games, you’re in for a dandy with the Cup final. While nobody likes the grind of fouls and timeouts at the end of NBA games, it’s not as noticeable in the final thanks to the impact of the games. Of course, whenever a Cup game goes to OT, all bets are off.

Slight edge: NBA

The picks

Miami Heat in seven, Los Angeles Kings in six.

A quick, loud rant about the Gardiner’s construction

- May 2nd, 2014

If you live in the Greater Toronto Area or have to come into the city for any reason this week, you’ve probably noticed that traffic is a nightmare. You can thank the construction on the Gardiner Expressway – only one of the busiest highways in Canada and a main route into the city – which will be going on for the next little while.

Oh wait, it’s not just going to be a little while; it’s going to be for the next TWO YEARS.

Of course, the Gardiner needs work, but that sounds like a ridiculous amount of time to choke one of the key arteries of this massive city.

It has been awful for traffic this week and, while it may improve as people get used to the limitations and find either different routes or different modes of transport, I can’t help but look on the horizon at events coming to the Big Smoke.

It was pretty bad that the weekend the Boston Red Sox were in town, the Gardiner was closed. Well, over the next two years, there’s roughly a mere 162 home baseball games to go. Perhaps we should hope the Jays don’t make the playoffs.

With the Raptors playing a home playoff game on Wednesday, traffic was somehow not a nightmare. But could you imagine a potential Game 7 on Sunday if the Nets win at home tonight? That sounds like hell on earth!

Then there’s two more season’s worth of games, 82 at home.

And then there’s the Leafs! Traffic getting to and from games is bad on game nights at the best of times, this is going to be hellish. God forbid they makes the playoffs.

Perhaps the biggest nightmare of all is just a couple of months away – The Honda Indy Toronto. Picture this: The Gardiner down to two lanes and Lake Shore Blvd. closed for a week. You might as well cancel any plans you have of going downtown or leaving it, depending on where you are.

And this isn’t to mention big concerts, parades and other events that occur year-round in Canada’s biggest city.

At least whenever there’s an Argos game, traffic is usually lighter.

And when the Pan Am Games are going on next summer, we’ll be back to three lanes to handle the extra traffic. Oh, joy.

Dunk off disaster

- February 17th, 2014

While many could agree that the NBA’s slam dunk competition needed a little bit of a makeover after going stale in recent years, what happened this year was a huge step in the wrong direction.

It went so poorly that in the individual rounds, we only saw six total dunks. This came after a freestyle round which saw some dunks that were average in dunk-off terms, with the exception of Damian Lillard’s two efforts.

Is that what we want from this once-hallowed event?

Also hurting the competition was the fact that there was no real way to decide who was crowned champion. Thanks to the awkward East vs. West format, we had one conference with the three best dunkers walk sweep the matchup round and end the whole thing earlier than I’m sure organizers envisioned.

Why couldn’t we go to another round and have the three East dunkers face each other for the title of dunk competition king? Instead, the only King we saw was Sacramento’s Ben McLemore crowning himself after dunking over a throne in a very average slam.

We didn’t even get the chance to see the usual “10” paper cards that we’ve come so accustomed to, instead having the judges hold up tablets with either East or West on it. What a bummer.

After watching the freestyle portion of the contest, I actually thought that Lillard wasted a few good dunks. In retrospect, it turns out that he wouldn’t have been able to use them anyways thanks the to the brevity of the event.

That’s a problem too: We should never have guys leaving dunks on the table.

We’ll never know what these guys had up their sleeves for their second or third attempts. Like, what was Drake still doing sitting with Terrence Ross after assisting on the first jam?

After all the tweaks this year, there is bound to be more next year. After all, we can’t have these guys doing six dunks maximum, including some throwaways in the crummy freestyle round.

We want to see the best dunks. We want to see some props and celebrities involved – it adds to the excitement of the event.

Whether the NBA goes back to basics next season is a real question. And perhaps that’s the biggest question other than what the hell that mascot John Wall used in his dunk was.

Was it the cousin of the Greendale Human Being? We’ll never know, but thing was bound to be in some children’s nightmares.

How to fix every sport’s all-star game

- January 27th, 2014

Even after all the rule changes and tweaks made for Sunday’s night Pro Bowl, the game itself was so terribly blah that the only redeeming thing about it was the final few minutes.

So the time has come and I have taken it upon myself to fix all-star games once and for all. Yes, we’re not going to fix just the NFL’s version of the all-star game, we’re going to fix them all. It’s a tough job – well, not really – but somebody has to do it.

Let’s start with a general problem that plagues every all-star game: Fan voting.

I understand that these games are exhibitions for the fans and a way to reward players, but having fans vote for the starters leads to controversy every year. Just look no further than basketball fans electing Kobe Bryant to start this year’s game despite playing just six games due to his Achilles injury and a broken bone in his knee.

I won’t go as far as to take voting away from the fans completely, but let’s scale it back a bit. How about having the top vote-getters in each conference make instead of the entire starting lineup? Or why not use fan voting as one of the factors, but not an automatic place on the team? That way we would see only the most deserving players competing.

Another general improvement I would make is to up the payday for the winning teams, giving players more incentive to compete instead of playing some unreasonable facsimile of defence that is often embarrassing to sports and competition in general. More cash at stake – for the players or charity – would eliminate some of the matador defence you often see in these games.

As for the individual games, let’s start with the easiest one to improve, the NFL’s Pro Bowl. How do you improve it? Eliminate it completely. Using a fantasy draft to pick the teams was a nice step forward, but not enough to salvage that trainwreck. Let’s just scrap the game entirely. Give the players their titles as all-pros, give them a trip to Hawaii, but don’t force them to play another meaningless game. It has no value to the fans, league and TV networks, so let’s just quit this farce.

For baseball, it’s hard to make changes when you consider that something is actually at stake for their Midsummer Classic. If you take out the whole playing-for-homefield-advantage thing, a fantasy draft could be quite interesting. You could even have the winner of the home run derby get first pitch and such. One other thing would be to have the fan-voted starters finish the game instead of starting it. That way you wouldn’t see some of the lesser “stars” facing off with the game on the line – although that does create more heroes in the game. Otherwise, there’s not much you can do improve the best all-star game out there.

The NHL, which started this fantasy draft craze, has pretty much plateaued. I think you could actually take it one step further to make deciding teams even more fun: Do it shinny style. Have every stick thrown in the middle of the ice and sort it out like that. Or, instead of having players as captains, have two lucky fans pick the teams. What a publicity win for the league that would be!

The only real way to improve the game itself would be to have a higher compete level and players that actually try on defence. An 11-9 score isn’t exactly representative of a real ice hockey game. But, again, that’s a general ASG problem.

The NBA all-star game is perhaps the easiest fix: Use a fantasy draft. There is no league in which the players are driven by slights as the NBA. Being passed over by a teammate who is captain or picked behind a positional rival would bring out the best sides of players in this meaningless exhibition. If you don’t think Rajon Rondo would go crazy after being picked last, you’re crazy.

And if you want me to fix the MLS all-star game – which is basically an exhibition against a European team – you’ve come to the wrong place. That thing is a nice exhibition, but it’s beyond fixable.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki