Ramble On Sports

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Archive for February, 2010

Team USA can still hold its heads high

Posted by Bill Koch on February 28, 2010

USA Hockey

Raise your hand if you thought the USA men’s hockey team would be playing for a gold medal on Sunday when the 2010 Olympics started two weeks ago.

Those of you with your hands up, put them down. You’re liars, and we here at Ramble On don’t promote such behavior (In cases like these, that is – in the name of doin’ work all is forgiven.). I’ll be the first to admit that I gave the Americans no chance to win a medal of any color or even a couple of games against the best the world has to offer, and I was pleasantly proven wrong.

Pre-tournament favorite Canada took a little different route to gold than it might have expected, one that looked to have a permanent detour when Zach Parise knocked in a rebound with less than 30 seconds to play to force overtime, but the host country notched a 3-2 win thanks to Sidney Crosby’s goal in the extra session. Vancouver’s Golden Boy shook free off the left boards and snuck a shot through the legs of USA goalie Ryan Miller, catching the tournament’s MVP by surprise for one of the rare goals that Miller allowed in his brilliant six-game run.

I’ll allow someone else to write about Crosby for two reasons – I loathe him and his pre-packaged little story of a trip to hockey stardom, and everyone else is going to line up and trip over themselves to kiss his ass all the way to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. I’d rather focus on the bunch of blue-wearing underdogs who took the ice and battled the world’s most successful hockey nation for more than 60 minutes on Sunday in pursuit of a silver medal that wasn’t even in the conversation on Feb. 12.

Miller was the unquestioned backbone and proved why every NHL team with a good goaltender feels good about itself going into the postseason, but quite a few other players for Team USA opened my eyes over these two weeks. Parise is a lot better than I ever gave him credit for, likely because he hasn’t been surrounded by this much offensive talent since his college days at North Dakota. He’s a special player and more than capable of being a top scorer on a Stanley Cup winner. Ryan Kesler is an absolute beast, a frightening mix of size and speed who can terrorize opposing defensemen. Brian Rafalski still has something special left in his tank when the games count the most – he looked like the offensive-minded defenseman who starred for New Jersey throughout the 1990s. Ryan Suter is every bit as good on the blue line as his uncle, Gary, a 17-year NHL veteran, and every bit as deserving of a gold medal as his father, Bob, who was a forward on the 1980 Miracle on Ice team. Chris Drury can still play for me any day of the week if I have one postseason game to win and need a big goal and some leadership.

And now, for me, hockey is done for the year. It might be done for four years. There’s nothing that the watered-down NHL can offer from now until June that can match what happened on Sunday. Olympic hockey is the sport at its best, and I can’t wait until four years from now when it happens again. The one thing that will change for me? I won’t be taking the USA lightly again.

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USA vs. Canada for all the Olympic marbles

Posted by bdowd625 on February 28, 2010

 

Today is a shining example of what real hockey is all about. Not that half-assed garbage in the NHL that’s played at a snail’s pace most of the time. I’m talking about hard-hitting, lay-it-all-on-the-line hockey that we all have the privelege of watching today when Team USA takes on Team Canada in an improbable matchup for the gold medal. What better way to cap off the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver than by having the upstart Americans take on a hockey institution like Canada.

Team USA has come out of nowhere to get to this point – winning five straight games – while the heavily-favored Canadians have taken a longer-than-expected route to the gold medal game. But none of that matters now. What matters is that they’re both here, sharing the biggest and brightest stage hockey has to offer. Hold onto your hats folks.

This is going to be a tough game for the young and hungry American team. Their 5-3 upset over the Canadians in pool play may have given them the confidence they need to go out and be competitive, but it also lit a fire under Canada’s ass. I expect it to be as physical and fast-paced as any game we’ve seen so far and then some. If Ryan Miller can continue his outstanding play in goal, Team USA certainly has a shot to knock off Canada once again. If the Canadians find the back of the net early, though, the Americans might be in trouble.

It’s going to be an intense game for sure. I haven’t been this excited since my Little Orphan Annie Decoder Ring showed up in the mail last Christmas. I just hope the Americans can run the table and finish this thing off in style. It’s been thirty years since the Miracle on Ice happened in Lake Placid and it’d be nice to see the next great American hockey moment take shape today. Below is a little something to put you in the mood for today’s showdown. Let’s go USA!

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NHL freezing out 2014 Olympics?

Posted by Bill Koch on February 28, 2010

Sochi Olympics

Gary Bettman can’t be this stupid.

That’s what I’m trying to tell myself right now. Here we stand just hours away from a hockey game pitting the United States and Canada against each other in Vancouver, a gold medal on the line, and Bettman is already throwing cold water over the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, by refusing to confirm that NHL players will be available to represent their respective countries.

In a long line of monumental mistakes, Bettman, the NHL commissioner, is about to make the worst one of his career. NHL fans already loathe him for the beating that the league has taken on his watch, but this would be a new low. He’s already watered down the competition due to overexpansion, brought hockey to markets where it doesn’t belong, hijacked teams from Canada in favor of places like Denver and Phoenix, damned the league’s television rights from ESPN to little-viewed Versus and presided over two crushing lockouts that have brought both the players and owners to their knees and left the fans holding the bag. Now Bettman is set to take away the absolute pleasure that comes every four years when the best players on the planet represent their countries on what amount to All-Star teams that would wipe up the ice with any NHL club.

Any grumbling about shutting down the NHL for two weeks to conduct the Olympic tournament should stop right now. Bettman and the owners could be one of the most shortsighted groups of men on the planet, but not even they could be foolish enough to risk the untold damage they would do to their brand if they take this step. Stars like Alexander Ovechkin have already said publicly that they would flip a collective middle finger to the NHL and play in the Olympics, but that’s just the start of the public relations nightmare that the league would face for ruining the best that hockey has to offer. What’s to stop players like Ovechkin from leaving the league entirely or never coming in the first place? Russia’s new KHL, a league financed by oil and mining billionaires, is already trying to lure NHL talent to their teams with the promise of more cash than players can find in North America thanks to shrinking markets and economic troubles. If Bettman isn’t able to overcome his record of bonehead decisions and adds another to the list, it might not take until 2014 for him to have to travel to Russia to see the world’s best hockey.

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Fading Celtics fall flat

Posted by Bill Koch on February 26, 2010

Boston Celtics

Let’s hope the Eastern Conference playoffs don’t look anything like what happened in Boston on Thursday night.
The Celtics were up to their usual tricks against an elite opponent – start fast, fade late – in their 108-88 loss to Cleveland at TD Garden. The Cavaliers blew Boston out of its own building in the fourth quarter, rolling to a 35-14 advantage to turn around what was a one-point deficit after 36 minutes. Not even Paul Pierce, who missed the game with an injured right thumb, could have helped the Celtics in this one.

Three quick observations from Thursday:

— The Celtics can’t score.
Boston was 3-for-21 from the field in the fourth quarter thanks to a smart defensive adjustment by Cleveland, as the Cavaliers shifted LeBron James onto Ray Allen and let the NBA’s best player shut down the Celtics’ only real offensive threat on the night. Allen scored 20-plus points for the fifth straight game, finishing with a team-high 21, but he went missing in crunch time thanks to James’ considerable size advantage. Allen hadn’t scored 20-plus points in five straight games since March 4-17, 2007, when he accomplished that feat in seven consecutive contests. None of Boston’s other options were able to make up the difference, and Allen clearly can’t be counted on to keep this run going much longer. This leads me to…

— Rajon Rondo still isn’t an elite point guard.
Rondo looked great in the first half, scoring 14 points and dishing out eight assists, but he also disappeared down the stretch. Rondo totaled just five points and three assists in the second half when Cleveland’s defenders started to back up and shut off Rondo’s penetration into the lane. They knew damn well that Rondo still hasn’t developed even a passable jump shot, a point that he proved when he fired up a sickening air ball from 3-point range. It wasn’t much better at the other end, as Rondo got torched by Mo Williams in the fourth quarter. Cleveland’s point guard started raining 3-pointers down on Rondo’s head, making four of them on his way to 14 points over the final 12 minutes and 19 from the game. Boston’s defense was spread way too thin thanks to the outside shooting and left room for James to force his way into the paint. Speaking of which…

— Doc Rivers got outcoached by Mike Brown.
Just think about that statement for a second. Brown isn’t going to make anyone forget Red Auerbach, Phil Jackson or Pat Riley anytime soon. His Cavaliers were embarrassed by Orlando in the playoffs last year and got swept by San Antonio in The Finals two years ago, two series in which Brown was obviously well over his head despite having the best player on the planet at his disposal. You couldn’t have guessed how clueless Brown is by the way his team played on Thursday, but you could draw another conclusion – that Rivers is on cruise control after putting up Banner 17. He has no answers for Boston’s late-game fades and clearly can’t get through to his veteran players. Rasheed Wallace is still taking dreadful shots almost 60 games into the season, the Celtics still give very inconsistent effort at the defensive end and their transition game is completely nonexistent. These are the common symptoms of an older team just waiting for the postseason to begin, but the Celtics really don’t look like they’ll be able to turn it on when they need it the most. They certainly couldn’t do it on Thursday.

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Lowell saves Epstein from PR nightmare

Posted by Bill Koch on February 23, 2010

Mike Lowell

Theo Epstein is lucky that Mike Lowell is such a class act.

Spring training could be a lot uglier this year if Lowell wanted to make waves in camp with the Red Sox, his trade to Texas having fallen through thanks to an injured thumb that required offseason surgery. Lowell’s failed physical with the Rangers left Epstein with egg on his face and left Boston with an extra corner infielder. The Red Sox signed Adrian Beltre to a one-year, $10-million deal in an attempt to add to their wholesale defensive upgrade, assuming that Lowell and $9 million of Boston’s money was headed to Texas.

And then, suddenly, the plans changed. Lowell reported to Fort Myers as scheduled on Monday, spoke to the media on Tuesday and could have put the heat on Epstein and the front office to make something happen. As usual, Lowell was classy and dignified, and he refused to do any such thing. He’s choosing to move ahead and conduct business as usual. Epstein should be kneeling in prayer and thanking some higher power that Lowell isn’t Vince or Bianca Wilfork right now.

The Boston media loves to stir up controversy even where there is none to be found – witness Shank’s complete misrepresentation of Josh Beckett’s contract situation on Monday – and would have had a second Mardi Gras if Lowell had come out swinging against red Sox management on Tuesday. He didn’t. These are the kinder, gentler Red Sox – Jonathan Papelbon’s annual arbitration crying aside – and it doesn’t look like much can disturb them. This time, it’s not because of Epstein’s work – his soon-to-be-departed third baseman and 2007 World Series MVP did the job for him.

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Bye bye, LT

Posted by bdowd625 on February 22, 2010

Surprise, surprise – LT was cut by the San Diego Chargers today. If I remember correctly, my counterpart here at Ramble On, BK1015, called this days ago. It’s just another example of how this blog is taking over the sports world one awesome post at a time.

LT will be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame someday, but what I will remember most about this little weasel is how he always hid behind his tinted visor and Darth Vader-style pancho when the going got tough. San Diego Super Chargers my ass. Good game against the Jets in the playoffs, you frauds.

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U-S-A! U-S-A!

Posted by bdowd625 on February 21, 2010

All I can say is wow. I need a cigarette after watching that game. There were highs, there were lows, there were Canadians crying in the streets. I can’t think of a better way to end the weekend than by watching Team USA stick it to Canada like that, especially after hearing everyone say the Americans didn’t have a shot in hell to win. (I was in that group, too. Sorry guys. You’ve now officially made a believer out of me.)

But just like in the NHL, a hot goaltender can carry a team for long stretches and that’s exactly what Ryan Miller is doing right now. The guy stood on his head again tonight – with the exception of that soft goal from Sidney Crosby – and has allowed a total of five goals in three games, all USA victories. I’m a huge Boston Bruins fan, but the only time I want Tim Thomas anywhere near the ice during this tournament is if he’s helping the maintenance crew clean up the surface during an extended timeout. I’ll take Miller Time any day of the week.

Kudos also to Ryan Kesler. With a one-goal lead and Canada banging on the door, Kesler dove around a Canadian defender to slap a loose puck into an empty net to ice it. It was just the type of effort USA needs if it hopes to keep up its winning ways.

This is far from the 1980 Winter Olympics, when a fresh-faced USA squad knocked off juggernaut Russia in arguably the greatest sports upset of all time. But there’s something special about cheering for your home country, especially when it’s an underdog. And for 60 minutes of intense hockey action tonight it was a blast watching the Americans. They’re young and they’ve still got a long way to go to win a medal in Vancouver, but they just made things a lot more interesting.

And in case you’re not feeling patriotic enough after my little rant, this should put you in the mood.

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Nate Robinson? Nice try, Danny

Posted by Bill Koch on February 18, 2010

Nate Robinson

Danny Ainge must be trying to sweep the skills competitions at next year’s NBA All-Star Weekend.

That’s the only logic that Ainge could be using to justify trading Eddie House to the dreadful New York Knicks for Nate Robinson. Bringing in the slam dunk champion to join Paul Pierce, this year’s 3-point shootout winner, must be Ainge’s idea of a dynasty. It certainly doesn’t involve winning any more championships, because the Boston Celtics won’t be doing that anytime soon unless Ainge can add someone more valuable to their roster.

For all of his faults, like complete invisibility on the defensive end and very average ball handling skills, House gave the Celtics instant offense off the bench and accepted his role. He knew that he wasn’t going to start ahead of Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen or Pierce when he came to Boston and didn’t make waves. House was an important part of winning Banner 17 thanks to his ability to stretch opposing defenses with his seemingly unlimited range and took pressure off of Pierce and Boston’s players in the paint like Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins.

Robinson behaved like the anti-House during his time with the Knicks, and his addition to the Celtics could disrupt the team’s fragile chemistry. He allegedly got into two separate fights with teammates Jerome James and Malik Rose during his rookie season in New York and hasn’t grown up at all since then. Robinson got into a brawl with J.R. Smith during a game against the Denver Nuggets in 2006, earning himself a 10-game suspension, and was benched for 14 games earlier this season after a falling out with New York coach Mike D’Antoni. Robinson’s meddling agent, the shameless Aaron Goodwin, seized the opportunity to force an extortion attempt down the Knicks’ throats in the form of a trade or a buyout of Robinson’s contract. His shoot-first, me-first attitude doesn’t seem to mesh with Celtics’ philosophy of ubuntu.

Robinson is the 3 at the corner of the bar who looks in the mirror, thinks he/she is a 9 and will only talk to 14s. Even when last call is coming, some 8s are hitting on Robinson and it looks like he’s about to overachieve dramatically, he still holds out for at least a 10 and ends up throwing a temper tantrum when he gets in his car and goes home alone. His contract is up at the end of this season, giving the Celtics some instant cap relief, but the damage that Robinson could potentially do on the floor to their current season can’t be quantified. The good news in Boston? Red Sox pitchers and catchers reported today.

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The man behind the mask? It’s Tomlinson — or Brady

Posted by Bill Koch on February 17, 2010

LT sidelines

I beg all of you New England Patriots fans to take note of what the San Diego Chargers are doing right now in their search for an adequate running back. New England is going to be watching the same sort of scenario play out very soon, but the position in question – quarterback – is both more vital to an organization and more difficult to fill.

San Diego is shopping its All-Pro cornerback, Antonio Cromartie, to the highest bidder in an attempt to land a franchise running back. The Chargers have finally realized what they should have known at least two seasons ago – that LaDainian Tomlinson was on his way to becoming completely irrelevant in the discussions that he used to dominate about the NFL’s top running backs. San Diego can’t fool anyone by trying to turn Darren Sproles, all 5-foot-6 of him, into an every-down guy who hammers the ball between the tackles late in the fourth quarter when a team needs a horse to milk the clock. Tomlinson struggled to career lows in carries (223) and yards (730) in 2009, a far cry from the standards he’d set since he came into the league in 2001, and he turns 31 in June. Don’t bother pointing to his touchdown numbers – even a decaying, grossly overweight Jerome Bettis could find the end zone during the end of his career with Pittsburgh. That didn’t make him a worthy starter in the NFL.

The Chargers could have saved themselves a lot of trouble by trading Tomlinson in 2007 while he still had some value and keeping Michael Turner, who showed signs that he could easily step in and get the job done. Turner averaged 5.9, 6.3 and 4.9 yards per carry during the three seasons he spent as Tomlinson’s backup, and he exploded for 1,699 yards and 17 touchdowns in his first full season as a starter after signing with Atlanta in 2008. Turner just turned 28, still has at least two or three productive seasons left, and the handful of draft picks that the Chargers could have received in exchange for Tomlinson could have helped the team address its needs on both sides of the ball. Now San Diego is left offering one of its best players in exchange for a maybe.

The Chargers just didn’t want to see that Tomlinson was about to slip into decline. They were too caught up in the 28 touchdowns and career-high 1,815 yards that he rushed for in 2006 to see what was really happening. San Diego had worn its star into the dust at a position where long careers last five seasons at their peak.

Which brings us to the Patriots and their own franchise player, The Artist Formerly Known as Tom Brady. The guy you’ll see wearing No. 12 in September will be a 33-year-old shell of what he once was on and off the field, and the Patriots have Brian Hoyer as a contingency plan after trading Matt Cassel for peanuts and cutting Kevin O’Connell. The 2010 version of Brady would get the shit kicked out of him by the 2004 version of Brady, a guy who had just won his third Super Bowl in four years and still valued the parking spot closest to the Gillette Stadium players’ entrance that he earned for being New England’s hardest worker in the offseason. That guy didn’t wear $10,000 suits on a trip to London while his teammates all wore sweats. That guy didn’t cry about not having receivers, pout on the sidelines while talking to his offensive coordinator or live in New York and Los Angeles. That guy was a leader, respected unconditionally by his teammates. This guy is a soft, mistake-prone fraud just like New England’s previous franchise player, Drew Bledsoe, was before the Patriots shipped him and his bloated contract to Buffalo for a first round pick.

Brady’s contract is up after 2010, and New England has no other option but to extend him and hope for the best. They let Cassel, who went 10-5 and threw for over 4,000 yards in his only season as the starter, stroll to Kansas City with Mike Vrabel for a second round pick. Instead of making the right decision like they did a decade ago, the Patriots are going to be handcuffed while Brady continues to lose his battles against time and complacency. They might want to take some notes from the Chargers about how to handle the next few seasons – both teams will have plenty of time to find replacement players when they’re both watching the playoffs at home.

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NBA stars hitting high notes with Keys?

Posted by Bill Koch on February 15, 2010

Alicia Keys

Which NBA superstar went home with Alicia Keys in Dallas on Sunday night?

That was the question that my buddy Urs posed to me while watching the halftime show of the NBA All-Star game, and it got me thinking a little bit. We here at Ramble On aren’t stupid enough to actually believe that Swizz Beatz, Keys’ current boyfriend and allegedly some douchebag hip-hop producer, has any chance up against LeBron James or Dwyane Wade if they walked out onto the court at halftime and tried to work their magic on Keys at Cowboys Stadium. There’s no way she could resist trying to wreck another home – she ruined the everlasting Swizz union to his wife just to get her man – for the chance at some $100 million NBA superstar love.

With that in mind, let’s break down some odds of how basketball’s best might have done while smashing 40s and mimosas well into the dawn hours over the weekend.

Chris Paul/Deron Williams/Rajon Rondo/Derrick Rose: 25/1
These four guys get lumped together because they are the new alpha dogs at the point guard position in the NBA, edging aside aging veterans like Steve Nash and Tony Parker. Nash (Alejandra Amarilla) and Parker (Eva Longoria) are both already married to celebrity smokeshows and aren’t likely to get into this conversation. Paul, Williams, Rondo and Rose all went through puberty around the time Keys hit the big time, probably leaving some mental images in their minds that aren’t clean enough to print here. She seems a little too strong for any of them, likely in need of someone who is a little older and a little bit more polished. Their day will come when she’s headed down the other side of the mountain at 35-40 and they’re just entering their respective primes.

Kevin Garnett: 5/1
KG is well into the back nine of his career, probably somewhere around the 16th hole after all the miles he’s put on those knees since coming to the NBA straight out of high school, but he’s still got enough of a fastball left to get some WORK in. Don’t forget this about Garnett – he’s made a quarter of a billion dollars in salary alone while playing in the league. Let that figure roll around in your head for a bit: $250,000,000. The last time KG heard the word ‘no’ was when he asked Doc Rivers during last year’s postseason if Doc really had a clue how to coach a team that wasn’t obviously the most talented group in the league to Banner No. 18.

Kobe Bryant: 3/1
We already know that Kobe is an unashamed cheater and has very little in the way of standards (Kate Faber? Really?). We also know that the last time he got caught he ended up $4 million lighter courtesy of that pink diamond that his wife Vanessa wears to this day to remind her husband of what an absolute moron he really is to get caught like that. All Kobe has to do is look at that ring finger for a constant reminder that he shouldn’t do it again, but as the old saying goes, a leopard really never does change its spots. The Black Mamba probably hasn’t either.

Dwyane Wade: 2/1

Wade’s got what the NBA Draft experts call a ton of upside. He’s young enough (28), but not too young. He lives in Miami, one of the best cities in the world to waste the days away while partying on the beach and looking sexy. He’s about to be a free agent in June and cash in on a contract that will pay him upwards of $120 million. He’s still got plenty of street cred from his days growing up on the South Side of Chicago. He’s lived a little bit – he’s got two kids with his ex-wife, Siovaughn, his high school sweetheart – and is enough of a player to have dated Gabrielle Union. His game clearly never left him despite that little trip down the aisle. Wade could have been The Guy if not for…

LeBron James: 1/200
He’s the self-proclaimed Global Icon. He’s still in a relationship with his high school sweetheart, a notion so outdated that it’s laughable (see Dwyane Wade). Out of all the women in the world, would LeBron seriously choose Savannah Brinson now if he was a single man? I think we all know the answer to that question…and don’t lie, ladies. You know it too. And I see you Alicia – wasn’t that LeBron’s hotel suite?

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