All you need to do is WIN WIN WIN no matter what! [NBA FINALS GAME 7 PREVIEW]

Champions Collide in Game 7

Champions Collide in Game 7

So we’ve come to the very end of the road for the 2013 NBA Finals. Down to one game to decide who’s the better team, the aging San Antonio Spurs led by 36 year old PF Tim Duncan and Coach Gregg Popovich or the Miami Heat led by defending MVP PF LeBron James and Coach Eric Spoelstra.

As much nail biting and anguish as I’ve gone through so far, now that I think of it, I can’t really ask for much more than this. There has been plenty of excitement, overtime games (like last night!), coming back from double digit deficits in the 4th quarter(Spurs, Heat, Warriors), Cinderella stories (Warriors, Nuggets, Chicago, Rockets), and tons of action and captivating moments from any number of NBA All-Stars. Now that everything is just about finished, we’ve got one more game left to preview.

Tomorrow night, Thursday June 20th, 2013 at around 8:30 pm EST, the Heat face the Spurs in a one game winner-take-all death match, at home in Miami, for all the marbles.

I don’t want to hear anything about who’s getting old, or who can’t make big time shots, who’s favored to win by how much, none of that matters anymore. Any team that takes another team to 7 games in the NBA Finals has played their hearts out and should be considered a great team in my book. That being said, only one team is going home with the crown.

Who’s it going to be?

-Keys to Miami Winning the Game:

1. Aggressive, intelligent, gambling, trapping, suffocating defense. This team is younger in age nearly across the board than the Spurs, who are also quite good defensively. The major difference is the athleticism and youth to be able to take shots at knocking balls loose, doubling players in the corners and still being able to get back to interior defense to force the ball back outside.

Too many times this series Miami has been forced into a react-only mode, allowing the extremely intelligent and veteran Spurs to have their pick of who to take the shot at any given moment. They will need to play stifling defense, making blocks here and there and getting offensive rebounds regardless of playing without a true center. Chris ‘Birdman’ Andersen and CB3 will have to focus and bring their A game to fight for every rebound.

2. The King must show the Spurs what they get for attempting to defend him. LeBron James is not just another NBA Superstar. He is not an aging Tim Duncan or even a Tony Parker, meaning he is SUPPOSED to get 25-7-7 a game. That’s nothing out of the ordinary. With Wade being slowed by a knee injury and Bosh being well Bosh at times, the game will swing on his ability to get his teammates open looks, driving through traffic to make tough baskets with touch, and drawing fouls while doing so.

I couldn’t say it more clearly than this:

LeBron James is not Magic Johnson. His entire team plays better when he’s attacking the defense, drawing triple coverage on one side of the basket while making astute, non-lazy passes to the open shooter whether it’s Mike Miller, Ray Allen, or one of the other Big 3. If he starts off as slowly as he has over the past couple games, if he can’t be decisive and quick to allow open looks, he will have to rely on his supernatural ability to make his own shots and put the team on his back. It’s time.

Now all you have to do is win.

3. Cover those Amazing Bench Players! Not enough can be said about those Spurs shooters coming off the bench to give their aging “Big 3” a rest and support. Danny Green and Gary Neal have been playing light’s out throughout this series. There have been times during this series when they were either open or barely covered, and they made Miami pay big time at the end of quarters, on buzzer-beating shots, on way downtown threes and desperation shots. Miami must force them to put the ball on the floor to at least give them something to think about. If they are open or even allowed to make lightly contested jump shots immediately after getting passes, this game will be much more difficult to win.

4. Play like every game might be your last. Tomorrow really will be the last game of the year for both teams win or lose, but this has been a troubling portent of disaster throughout this series, and even back into last series against the Indiana Pacers. Just because you won one game does not mean you can rest on your laurels and play the next one at a leisurely pace.

This kind of thinking led to Miami being defeated by the Dallas Mavericks in year one of the Big 3 Era. They were comforted and secure after leading the Mavericks 2 games to 1, let their foot off the gas pedal, and ended up losing 3 straight games to close out the season. The reason they managed to eliminate the Oklahoma City Thunder last year in 5 games comes down to their ability to shut out distractions, focus on what needs to be done on the court, and trust in their teammates and their own abilities without rest or break.

100% Focus.

No Twitter feeds, no Facebook messages, pokes, or likes, no charity golf tournament or youth basketball league. Not even phone calls or text messages from their girlfriends, wives and family (outside of emergency calls), were allowed, a self-imposed restriction for reasons of (DUH!), WINNING A CHAMPIONSHIP!

There are no more second chances to be given, no mulligans or do-overs for whichever team loses in game 7. Miami is more than capable of taking the Spurs down big time tomorrow night, but it’s going to take everyone playing through pain and suffering for the Big 3 to successfully defend their crown.

~Michael

Wong_83@Hotmail.com

LBJ Dunks on Spurs

[PS: Ok, maybe their championship last year had a little to do with LeBron taking less 3 point shots, working on his inside game with Hakeem Olajuwon in the off season, learning to use his body to shield shots, posting up and playing fundamental “big” basketball. It just didn’t fit with where my flow of thoughts were going a little earlier, so meh, just deal with it. -Mikey]

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State of the Franchise: Baltimore Ravens 3/30/13

A few quick updates on our beloved Super Bowl XLVII Champion Baltimore Ravens.

Things are not NEARLY as bad as everyone thought only a few short weeks ago. The sky is not falling, the Ravens are rebuilding but not in bad shape at all. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the biggest fan of the Boldin to San Francisco trade (more on this later), nor the release of Bernard Pollard or Ed Reed. I just realize that there will always be turnover each year, just like the NFL analysts and the radio show hosts are saying. Get with the program, our team will still compete for the AFC North crown with Pittsburgh and *cough* Cincinnati. So relax.

1. Furthermore, I have to say I like many of the free-agent signings so far this offseason. Michael Huff, the versatile former 1st-round draft pick out of Texas, has a ton of potential and can be very good in Baltimore. He’s far from a lock Hall of Famer like Ed Reed is but at this point in their respective careers, I’m going to go out on a limb and say he’s going to play a lot better than he did in Oakland. He might even make the Pro Bowl if our defensive line can generate any pass rush this year.

2. Chris Canty is another big acquisition this offseason. I seem to remember him being a pretty big deal a few years back when he got traded from Dallas to New York. I think that was 2009 or 2010. Either way, he’s definitely a good defensive lineman, better in run-support than pass-rush, and I’m pretty sure he’s got at least a few more good years in the tank. If you don’t really understand what kind of player he was previously, only 3-4 years ago he was worth $42 million to the Giants. He JUST turned 30. Unlike wide receiver or cornerback or ESPECIALLY running back, the big uglies in the middle of the field don’t suddenly go bad, they often play into their mid or even late 30s.

3. F*#k Paul Kruger. He can go eat a bag of baby dicks in Cleveland. For all of you who thought he was such a huge loss this offseason, I promise you never even heard of him until really the beginning of this season. He was a huge bust for like 3 years of his rookie contract coming out of Utah. So either he was lazy as shit and just underwhelmed with his play for several years or was too stupid and just took that long to figure out our defense. Either way he’s the Browns problem now. Here, let me make it real simple for you:

Paul Kruger is 27 years old. In 4 seasons he has a total of 15.5 sacks regular season, 6.0 sacks postseason. Since 9.0 regular season and 4 postseason sacks all happened this season, he only had 6.5 and 2.0 through 3 whole seasons. Combine that with how bad he truly is in run-support and you can see why I’m not really all that stressed over losing him. He’s costing Cleveland $40 million dollars/5 years!

“One year of decent pass rush does not a star defensive end make.”

Elvis Dumervil is 29 years old. in 7 seasons he has 63.5 sacks regular season, 1.5 sacks postseason. 5 out of 7 seasons he’s had at LEAST 8.5 sacks, including 17 in just 2019!!! Look up the definition of reliable pass-rushing defensive end and there’s a picture of Dumervil next to it. Nobody in the league short of Jared Allen, Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware or Terrell Suggs gets to the QB as often as he does. Guess how much we got him for? $26 million base or $35 million max, contributing only $2.5 million towards this years salary cap.

Who would you take, Kruger for 40 mill over 5 years or Dumervil for 35 mill over 5 years. Enough said.

4. Let’s talk about Anquan Boldin for a minute. This is the guy who dominated the Super Bowl this season, the guy who caught 6 TDs this postseason. Boldin is a large, powerful possession-type receiver who is hard to tackle and even harder to bring down. That kind of receiver can be quite effective in the NFL for a long time, especially when he’s comfortable in an offensive system with a good Quarterback. So WHY the F#$K did we give him to San Francisco for peanuts?!?! Answer me that!!

Ok, now that I’ve calmed down, slightly, let me explain. Keep in mind that I might not have access to all relevant information involving Boldin’s contract, cap numbers or terms of the trade. This is what I think:

Boldin would have costed Baltimore around $6 million dollars this season, which would mean 6 million towards our salary cap number. Because he would be an unrestricted free-agent if we refused to pay this number, Ozzie/Harbaugh/Whoever decided to offer him up to San Francisco in return for a) not having to pay him $6 million dollars and b) because we would receive a 6th round draft pick in return. Seriously think about that for a second.

There is nothing wrong with a 6th or even 7th rounder, plenty of decent NFL starters are drafted in the later rounds. At the time Baltimore had next to no salary cap room, and that’s why we gave him away for chump change. The thing is, we’re not talking about Bobbie Williams here or even David Reed, the receiver we did end up resigning, albeit for a lot less money ($2.5 million). This is arguably the best receiver on the team when you consider just how valuable he was during the playoffs if nothing else. Instead of getting all antsy and dumping him for whatever we could get for him at the time, I would have done things way differently.

Instead of accepting that trade offer, a better strategy involves paying him the 6 million we owed him this season, and then initiating trade talks with any number of teams. I’m sure there are plenty of teams who would be willing to give us more than a 6th rounder. Since any team that traded for him would essentially be picking up his tab, the $6 mill that we couldn’t afford to pay him wouldn’t have been a problem anyways. Or we could have just kept him, especially since we made so many other moves to free up cap space later anyways.

5. Quickly running through the projected starting lineup. This is how I see things in terms of positional value at this very moment. I’m sure things will fluctuate all the way up until opening day, so in no way is this issue settled:

Quarterbacks: A+ Starting QB Joe Flacco is coming off his best season ever, culminating with a world championship for the team and a Super Bowl MVP award for himself. You couldn’t ask for much more from your QB. Back-up QB Tyrod Taylor is, well, Tyrod Taylor. He’s not great at anything in particular, except for scrambling around during the preseason. It’s not like we ever use him anyways, knock on wood.

Running Backs: A+ Ray Rice is still one of the premier backs in the league, regardless of a minor case of fumblitis during the playoffs. He should still have a few good years left in the tank, especially since his back-up Bernard Pierce is looking like a capable starter himself. Hopefully both will stay healthy and be a steadying veteran influence on the many new players joining the team this offseason. There are several other young backs on the team, such as Bobby Rainey, trying to make the team but they are trying to make the final roster. There’s always hope that one of them can help the team, maybe. FB Vonta Leach is still on the team too. He is a gigantic part of our running game and continues to play at a Pro Bowl-level, despite the NFL’s numerous attempts to eradicate the position.

Wide Receivers: C+ Torrey Smith will be the primary option now that Boldin is playing for San Francisco. He has become an exceptional player over the past couple years, bringing elite speed and above average route running to the table. Jacoby Jones will help him stretch the field, using his speed and quickness for other things besides Dancing with the Stars. David Reed was re-signed during the off-season and will compete for playing time w/ Tandon Doss, LaQuan Williams, Tommy Streeter and several other players that have thus far failed to make an impact. Luckily we’ve got over a dozen draft picks AND we’re solid at the tight end position.

Tight Ends: B+ Both of our impact tight ends, Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson, are restricted free agents this season. We’ll get Dickson back since he already signed his tender but Pitta is still up in the air for the moment. Tight ends that can take advantage of mismatches are in high demand, especially those with a history of making big plays in the postseason like him. If we somehow escape free agency with both, the Ravens will be in pretty decent shape in terms of receiving options. If all else fails, we still have uh… Billy Bajema, Alex Silvestro, and Steve Watson? 😛

Offensive Line: B For some reason, Michael Oher is still with the team. Ever since the Blind Side came out, he has been one of the most overrated players in the league. He will NEVER be the franchise left tackle the Ravens thought we would be when they drafted him out of Mississippi, contrary to what Hollywood says. Having said that, I am still overwhelmingly impressed with how the O-line blocked during the playoffs. They should staple Oher to the ground at right tackle. Bryant McKinnie, the incredible bulk, looked like a new man after being benched and embarrassed during the regular season. Marshal Yanda continues to play at a Pro Bowl-level, while Kelechi Osemele will be even better with a year (and a Super Bowl ring) under his belt. Gradkowski is in for some “Welcome to the NFL”-moments this year at Center, while everyone else will battle for playing time while continuing to provide depth. If you asked me this question before the playoffs, I would have given a very different answer. As it stands though, I’m actually ok with this group of relatively young men.

PS: KEEP MICHAEL OHER @ RIGHT TACKLE. Or cut him, whichever.

Defensive Line: B- Star Defensive Tackle Haloti Ngata should move back in the middle, surrounded by Chris Canty, Arthur Jones, Marcus Spears, Pernell McPhee, etc. That doesn’t sound TOO bad. I’m obviously not 100% sure about how good this group will be since games are won on the field, not on paper. Canty and Spears are new acquisitions and will need time to get comfortable. They might not be accustomed to playing Baltimore defense, which is more aggressive, and more physical than anywhere outside of the AFC North. Players need time to play instinctively, or as a team. The primary objective of this group will mostly be to take on blockers and stop the run so that our linebackers can flow to the ball.

Linebackers: A- Speaking of which, our star linebackers appear to be all set to make plays all over the field. Close your eyes and imagine a back to 100% Terrell Suggs on one side, elite pass rusher Elvis Dumervil on the other side, with Courtney Upshaw, Jameel McClain, and Albert McClellan rotating in the middle. Even before adding anyone else through free agency or the draft, our linebackers look pretty solid. There’s plenty of potential fireworks in this group, as long as they can figure out how to work together. We still have to find Ray Lewis’s heir apparent but with 12+ draft picks already, it won’t be as difficult as many people think. We don’t need a Hall of Fame-caliber middle linebacker, at least not at the moment, we just need someone who can get the job done for now.

Cornerbacks/Safeties: C+ Did anyone see Jimmy Smith during the Super Bowl? The former 1st round pick out of Colorado made two of the biggest plays of the game, solidifying the Ravens trust & faith in his abilities. If you don’t know which two plays I’m talking about, go watch the 4th quarter, you’ll figure it out. Jimmy-boy still has a long way before I will consider him a dependable starter on Baltimore’s defense but luckily he won’t have to do everything by himself. Cary Williams is long gone, having taken a job in Philly to the tune of $17 million over 3 years. Lardarius Webb (aka: Webbie) is on schedule to make it to training camp. When he’s healthy he’s a Pro Bowl-caliber player, which will take some of the pressure off losing Williams, Ed Reed AND Bernard Pollard. Corey Graham is coming back too, and he played well enough to warrant a starting gig last season. Hopefully between free agency and the upcoming draft, we’ll find some upgrades for the defensive backfield.

Special Teams: A+ This is the best Special Teams group in the entire country. Period. There might have been games where the Ravens gave up some big plays or missed a field goal, but that happens to every team. Both of our kickers, punter Sam Koch and kicker Justin Tucker, are as good and confident as they get. Koch already has a few Pro Bowls under his belt, while Tucker will get his share if he continues to play like he did last season (He got ROBBED by Phil Dawson BTW). Jacoby Jones was the best kick returner in the NFL last year, even over the usual suspects like Devin Hester or Josh Cribbs. Baltimore’s coverage unit continues to be led by Pro Bowl Special Teams-Ace Brendan Ayanbadejo.

To put that in perspective, Pro Bowl-caliber Punter, Pro Bowl-caliber Kicker (check his stats! honestly!), Pro Bowl-caliber kick returner, AND Pro Bowl-caliber coverage gunner. You can’t really beat that, but I dare you to try.

That’s pretty much all I got for today. Feel free to voice your agreements and complaints alike, it’s not like I honestly care what anyone thinks about my beloved Ravens anyways but I’d love to hear what everyone has to say. Opinions are like chocolate cake, they can go fudge themselves. I’m just kidding, I must be tired or something.

~Michael

Questions? Comments? Concerns? Contact me @ Wong_83@Hotmail.com OR message me @ Kyarnboy.Wordpress.com

Things you Might Have Missed During the Baltimore/Texas Game.

 

Even though I wanted to watch every second of this first round match-up, I was busy getting the urine scared out of my bladder. Instead of my usual run-on rhetoric, I figured I’d make this entry short and sweet.

Just about every sports announcer, MLB expert, Tom, Dick and Larry predicted the All-Powerful Texas Rangers would squeeze the life out of the Baltimore Orioles. The Rangers had the advantage in starting pitching, with Yu Darvish pitching for them. Supposedly, Darvish is the hottest thing to come from Japan since Hello Kitty and colorful hair.

The Texans were also supposed to have the advantage in hitting, slugging, and on-base percentage. The have Josh Hamilton! The same Josh Hamilton who crushed four home-runs in a game against Baltimore earlier in the season. They also have Adrian Beltre, as well as a bunch of other hitters; Actually it seems like everybody on their roster has a .300 batting average.. Maybe it’s just me? The Orioles hit home-runs, and not much else. The birds have Adam Jones, Chris Davis, The immortal Jim Thome and the on-and-off again Matt Weiters. Manny Machado seems to have some potential but he’s a rookie, I don’t know what kind of impact he’ll have in his first ever playoff-game.

As if they needed anymore help, they are playing in Arlington, the Rangers home turf and a VERY hitter-friendly baseball stadium. That’s just wonderful, I mean these guys are coming off back-to-back appearances in the World Series! That doesn’t seem very fair, especially since both teams have the same record. Sure we lost a bunch of games head-to-head with them. Whatever, I’m just saying. About the only thing the Orioles had going for them was the bullpen. Basically it seemed like the stars were all aligned against the East Coast underdog.

Well now I’m watching the game. The MLB Playoffs Wildcard Round started around 8:35 EST. It’s currently the bottom of the 9th inning, and this is what I’ve noticed so far:

1. Joe Saunders pitched a phenomenal 5 and 2/3rd innings. He gave up one run, more than a couple hits but always pitched his way out of trouble.

2. Saunders outplayed Yu Darvish, contrary to popular belief. Even though Darvish struck out more hitters, he also gave up more runs(one unearned) AND more hits. So much for Saunders not being able to handle Rangers stadium.

3. While listening to the radio on the way home from the Maze of the Undead, Firecrackers, and Heads on Meat Hooks, the ESPN announcer kept saying “Bloop single,” whenever the Orioles batters hit a single. Biased much?

4. The Orioles looked seasoned, more than even the home team. It must have been all the one-run and overtime games they won, I mean that puts a lot of pressure on a young, unproven team.

5. Texas had 9 hits, including having the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning.  For all those hits, they got one total run. Author very happy.

6. Orioles Manager Buck Showalter completely out-coached Ron Washington, the talented manager of the Rangers. The pitching change at the end of the 5th inning, going from Saunders to Darren O’Day was crucial in keeping Texas from rallying.

7. Does anyone else think O’Day has one of the weirdest looking pitches? It’s not too far from being a women’s softball pitch.

8. The Orioles made a few unusual fielding errors tonight. That could have lost them the game if the Rangers were hitting better tonight. Luckily they weren’t, especially Josh Hamilton.

9. Speaking of Hamilton, he wasn’t just bad. He was REALLY bad. He looked indecisive at the plate, even lost at times. His strikeouts and pop-ups had a visible effect on the morale in the Texas dugout.

10. The road team played solid defense throughout the game, forcing three double-plays on the team from Arlington.

11. How exciting was this single-elimination playoff game?! It seemed like the stakes were a lot higher than usual, similar to a playoff game in the NFL. Usually the Rangers would have just been able to shrug it off as a bad start. Instead, their fate is sealed with another run given up in the 7th inning.

12. Likewise, i really felt like the MLB umpires are not quite used to making calls in a sudden-death situation. A bad call isn’t nearly as bad when the team looking at the short end of the stick has a chance to even things up later.

13. ORIOLES WIN!!! ORIOLES WIN!!! FUCK YOU to Josh Hamilton & the Rest of the Texas Rangers!

14. A small percentage of people predicted the O’s would win at LEAST 85 games.. Including the author. I’d now like to take this moment to say, “Naah-Naah, I told you so.”

15. If the supremely dangerous Texas Rangers didn’t rattle this team, playing in their first playoff game in 16 years, not much else will. In a single-elimination, winner-takes-all contest no less.

16. Texas vs. Baltimore regular season winning percentage, 70%+. Texas vs. Baltimore playoffs winning percentage, 0%.

17. The Baltimore Orioles join the Baltimore Ravens as playoff-caliber sports teams. We’ve been patiently awaiting for this day all those long, lonely nights. Between the Orioles, the Washington Nationals, the Ravens, the Washington Redskins,the Baltimore Blast, and  the Washington Capitals, this area is finally living up to expectations. We’re still waiting on John Wall, Nene, Trevor Ariza and the rest of the Washington Wizards to step up. Shout-out to the DMV, as well as I-495, I-295 and the Baltimore-Washington Area.

17. You Can’t Spell Orioles Without… OLE!!! Bullfighting is so appropriate for the beating we put on Texas.

Parting Thoughts: Reynolds and Macho Machado HAVE to hit better if we expect to go deep into the 2012 MLB Playoffs. We showed a ton of heart tonight on the green grass of Texas Stadium. We’re going to need every bit of heart, hitting and patience to make it through the second-round. Next up, those damn Yankees.

MSW, Wong_83@hotmail.com

The Author has been a Orioles fan since 1995, the first time his family brought him to Camden Yards. He became a Ravens fan that first year after the Browns left Cleveland for Baltimore. In the NBA, he’s a Heat/Wizards fan, in the MLB, a Capitals fan. His main passion, however, lies with the NFL and MLB. He hahandss lived in the Baltimore-Washington Area for the past 2 decades, with his fiancee, adopted daughter and Maximus the Rat Terrier.