Archives for April 2008

Mets Pitcher Loses it at Wrigley

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By Paul M. Banks 

Thanks to Dan Biederman at CubbySwagger.net for showing me this video of New York Mets pitcher Joe Smith (no, not the former NBA #1 draft pick out of Maryland Joe Smith) losing his cool in the outfield of Wrigley. Memo to Mr. Smith, yes, the people in the stands heckling have an annual salary of about 1/100,000 of what most major league players make in a week. But when you return fire on the fans, you are certainly not above the people that came to see you perform. You knew coming into Wrigley Field that it would be full of surly and semiretarded Cubs fans. Cub fans getting drunk and instigating confrontation? This is not news to anyone. Then again, you’re a Met, so you exist mostly to be a punchline for David Letterman monologues anyway, plus you have to play all your home games this season in a gigantic steel and concrete toilet.

Take heed when playing this video: you’ll hear the word “shit” a lot and the person doing the “play-by-play” is awfully boring, dull, and Captain Obvious. His commentating is so bland and banal, you’ll long for Tim McCarver….ok, maybe it’s not that bad! 

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Soxman’s Fantasy Baseball Weekly

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Soxman’s fantasy baseball team really turned things around after a horrid 0-6 performance in week two. He went a perfect 6-0 and took home “team of the week” honors.

Much like the Chicago White Sox, this performance comes without my top “sluggers” doing much of anything on the season. 
 

Sizzlers
 
Paul Konerko
As I hinted last week and proved to be right, Paul Konerko really started to heat up at the end of the week, slugging two homers and walking twice in yesterday’s game.  As I said before, Konerko is a slow starter and usually pretty horrible in April.  He hit .198 last season and .218 in 2005, when the White Sox won the World Series. But as always, Konerko has managed to drive in runs. He is hitting .350 over his last six games with five RBIs so by all means stick with him.
 
Michael Young

An early injury and poor timing saw Young’s batting average swoon to .196. He’s locked it up now and is hitting .301. He already has three homers.  If he stays hot he could reclaim his ranking as a top fantasy shortstop.  I took a chance on Young early in my draft after losing on-base machine Carlos Guillen.  He’s showing signs of paying me back.
 
 
Carlos Zambrano

Yes, Soxman has a Cubbie on his roster.  Control issues are something that has killed Big Z for most of his MLB career.  Since ditching the Red Bull before games he has shown the best control of his career and is a must-start in all leagues.  He has a 2.21 ERA on the season with a 1.13 WHIP.

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Fizzlers
 
Justin Verlander
A top draft choice for starting pitchers in most leagues, Verlander was generating Cy Young buzz in spring training, where he did not give up his first earned runs until his last start.  Justin Verlander gave up six runs, seven hits and four walks in 5.2 innings of work on Sunday night. Verlander won his first game on Tuesday, but struggled with his command in the process. He has now allowed four runs or more in five of his six starts and has a 6.50 ERA and a 1.47 WHIP on the season.
 
Ryan Braun
Sophomore jinx?  Despite raising his average to .255 this past week, Braun only has 3 homers on the season, a .280 on-base percentage, and has struck out 21 times in 102 Abs.

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Rookie Watch
 
Jacoby Ellsbury
A grinder who plays with passion, Ellsbury is quietly taking over the full-time CF job, and creating Rookie of the Year buzz in the American League.  He’s hitting .280 with 3 HRs, 11 RBI and 8 SBs.  His on-base percentage is a robust .390!
 
 
Joey Votto
I told everyone to grab Joey Votto early despite the fact that he was playing for Dusty Baker.  Those who took the chance and activated him have been rewarded, as Votto is starting to create some Rookie of the Year chatter.  He’s hitting .310 with 4 dingers and 13 RBI in just 71 Abs.
 
Travis Buck
So far, I got this one wrong.  The Buck stops here.  Buck was placed on the DL to make room for Frank Thomas on the roster.  He may be reduced to a part-time player when he returns.
 
J.R. Towles
Despite a .200 batting average, Towles has a .500 slugging percentage, which is a good sign for the future.  While he could qualify in the fizzler category, his 4 dingers in 55 Abs keep the offensive candle burning.
 
Silent Contributors
These two players don’t appear to get a lot of fantasy love despite their solid production early in the season.
 
Carlos Quentin
Quentin has five home runs already, equaling his season total in 229 at-bats last year with Arizona. More impressive is the fact that he’s making the most of his RBI opportunities as well.  Quentin’s OPS is 1.040!  His on-base percentage is a league leading .440!  Overall, he’s hitting .300, 6 HR, 20 RBI, and 2 SB. He’s on an 8 game hitting streak and is performing this well DESPITE the fact that he’s still not 100%. Imagine what he’ll do once his shoulder is completely recovered from
 
Melky Cabrera
Melky Cabrera has been making the most of his full-time opportunity, enjoying a breakthrough year at the plate.  In 79 Abs, he’s hitting .291, 5 HR, 11 RBI, and 3 SBs.  Got Melky?
 
 

Back from the DL
 
Scott Rolen
Rolen hit safely in all three games since being activated from the DL on Friday. The Blue Jays should put him in a position to drive in a good number of runs. Two doubles and a homer in just 11 Abs is a good sign.
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Pats Draft: Solid if not Scintillating

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By Paul M. Banks

The New England Patriots were not flashy, but they were effective on draft weekend, going right after their needs. After last year’s draft day heist of Randy Moss, you knew that the ’08 event was going to be much less exciting than the ’07 edition. It would be very hard for Scott Pioli and company to do something as amazing as trading a fourth-rounder for a man who had the greatest statistical season in history at his position right? They did make a trade though, trading down with the New Orleans Saints, swapping their #7 for NOLA’s #10 in exchange for the Saints’ third round pick and a third rounder next year.

Linebackers Need Apply

1st round #10, Jerrod Mayo, ILB, Tennessee
“He is a pretty versatile player, did a lot of things down at Tennessee. Played inside, played outside played in sub defense, played in the kicking game,” Belichick explained shortly after the pick. So, where will Mayo fit into the Patriots’ 3-4 defensive scheme?
Linebacker was the primary concern heading into this draft as Junior Seau likely won’t be back for a 19th season and Roosevelt Colvin was cut. The Pats added Victor Hobson away from At 6’1” 245, Mayo has size and with a 4.55 forty, he brings speed to the table too. He is athletic and most likely to have an impact as any defender on the draft board. Most important is that versatility Belichick spoke of; which will get him on the field early and often. Being multifaceted is a trait highly coveted to the “Patriot Way.” Starting linebacker Adalius Thomas is perhaps the most versatile defender in the game today and he will serve as a good mentor for Mayo. This will be key when the injury bug bites again in the front seven.
 

3rd round #78, Shawn Crable, LB, Michigan
The Patriots rarely draft for need; most years they don’t have to, but they added some badly needed linebacker depth for their 3-4 system in the third round. The linebackers that are healthy and still remain are all on the wrong side of 30 and not getting any younger. Highlights from Crable’s profile on patriots.com “With Crable’s tall and rangy frame, some talent evaluators feel that he could bulk up for a possible switch to the defensive line, where his pass rushing and pass coverage skills could excel as a hybrid linebacker/defensive end. Evident by his 28.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage as a senior, the Wolverine has proven to be among the elite blitzers in the 2008 NFL Draft pool.”

6th round #197, Bo Ruud, LB, Nebraska
“He has volunteered with local hospital visits, American Education Week and the Lincoln Midget football league.” Patriots.com Don’t know if he’ll make the team, but anyone who gives his time to work with midgets is a-ok in my book!

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Cornering the Market

This off-season has also seen the departure of Asante Samuel, Randall Gay and Eugene Wilson. Given that he went to the University of Illinois, the Wilson departure truly hurts me quite a bit. Here’s what the Pats did on draft day to rebuild their depleted secondary

2nd round #78, Terrence Wheatley, CB, Colorado
“One of the fastest players in college, Wheatley’s sudden burst and running stride has also brought him success as a kickoff returner. His 1,350 yards on kickoff returns rank second on the school’s all-time record list and his 919 yards on those returns in 2007 set a school record.” Patriots.com
 

4th round #129 Jonathan, Wilhite, CB, Auburn
According to his Patriots website scouting report: “In 34 games at Auburn, Wilhite started 23 contests. He registered 101 tackles (77 solos) with a 9-yard sack and a quarterback pressure. He recovered and caused one fumble, adding fourteen pass deflections and three interceptions. Wouldn’t it be great if Rodney Harrison helped mentor this kid into the kind of DB that racks up both sacks and interceptions like Harrison does? Hopefully, he won’t play with the same type of “roid rage” that Harrison does though!

The Patriots really don’t have any “needs” on offense, so everyone they added this weekend was essentially a “value” selection. If these players do make the team, they are not likely to contribute much.
 

4th round #94 Kevin O’Connell, QB, San Diego State
5th round #153 Matthew Slater, WR, UCLA

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You Only Tape Twice

It’s pretty rare for a 16-0 team to have a top ten draft pick. Oh wait, there’s never been a 16-0 team until this year, so it’s really rare! The Pats had the 49ers pick and that’s why they had such a high first round draft pick. They also didn’t have their own due to that whole “Spygate” thing. The draft was big news this week, but the even bigger news was the announcement that former employee Matt “secret agent man” Walsh has struck a deal with the NFL and a d-day has now been set. The Maui golf pro and his lawyer now have an arrangement on the league that on May 13th, we’ll see just what he has to bring to the table. He may have evidence that the Pats taped the Rams walk-through the night before the 2002 Super Bowl. Or that may just be a rumor. Either way, you know we’ll get a little more information on this espionage story, and you know that I’ll have a lot to say about these 007 style “Patriot Acts” next month.
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Seymour unplugged & a Special Dinner

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By Seymour Pennants

This is f*uckin’ hysterical.  I wonder if anyone would by a f*ckin baseball with a recorded Seymour Pennants rant for $90 f*ckin’ bucks?
http://www.leeunplugged.com/

Yep, Lee Elia, author of the original uncontrolled Cubs rant is selling a baseball with a toned down, yet positive Cubs rant recorded in a chip, and autographed for $90 bucks.  I think he’s copywrited the word “f*ckin’”.

The new rant is boring…I like the original better:
http://quote.webcircle.com/cgi-bin/features.cgi?idFeature=4

Or, listen with a Cubs 1983 slideshow at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uv23pqH9iG0

Why pay $90 bucks for a lame new Lee Elia rant?  Why not spend $20 on a T shirt that says “Got Fukud?” or describes World Events since the Cubs last took it all.  So please check out http://Since1908clothing.com and help out an old fart.

Go Cubs!

Seymour Pennants
Facebook:  http://profile.to/seymourpennants/

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Dinner with Marv Levy on NFL Draft Weekend

Last week, just after that young upstart Paul Banks talked to Marv on the phone, I met my old friend Marv Levy at the 4:30 Senior’s special at the Old Country Buffet in Schaumburg for dinner and Tequila shooters.  I’ve known Marv from way back. My little sister Anita Pennants used to baby sit for him. 

Little did Anita realize that little Marv would grow up to lead the Buffalo Bills to a record four consecutive Super Bowls. Marv still lives in the Chicago area, and we decided to catch the Senior’s special at Old Country Buffett. (note: not a real interview)

Seymour:  Hey Marvelous, have you ever seen so many fat people in one place?
Marv:  You know Pennants, you’re right!  They are like moths to a deep fried flame.  Give ‘em to me for a month, and I can get ‘em in shape so they can run the 40 in under a minute.

Seymour:  Hell Marv, if you could get those lunkheads up in Buffalo to 4 straight Super Bowls, I’m sure you could get these lard asses into shape.  ‘Course you might kill ‘em.
Marv:  That would mean more fried chicken for you, Pennants.

Seymour:  Remember Zambrano was giving some lame excuse about breaking caffeine addiction last week?  I feel for the guy.  I’m going though it myself, since the Doc told me to switch to Sanka.

Marv:  So Pennants, what would you like to see Wrigley Field should be renamed as?
Seymour:  Marvelous, ask me on your nickel….what do you want to see Wrigley renamed as?

Marv:  I’d like to see the naming rights sold to a large grocery store chain…Piggly Wiggly.  Call it Piggly Wiggly at Wrigley.  That way, you get around all the damn Preservationists.
Seymour:  Marv, did you ever take Steroids while coaching?  Did you shoot up in that wrinkled old ass of yours?

Marv:  Of course not, I’m all natural.  No  HGH in my blood.  (grabs Seymour by both collars, lifting him up, and knocks over Seymour’s walker).   Go ahead, test me, I freakin’ dare you.

Seymour:  So Marv, one last question.  Would you rather see a black inexperienced President, a Woman President who’s a proven liar and who holds Bill’s balls in a jar of formaldehyde, or a coot almost as old as you?

Marv:  Hell, I’m voting for Nader.  Screw ‘em all.
Seymour:  Marv I know you had the hots for my little sister.  Did you and her ever? you know…?

Marv:  Just last week….the Cubs got me so excited that……
Seymour: Ladies and Gentlemen, help me thank my friend Marv Levy (cheers)….

(note: not an actual conversation with Marv Levy, but hopefully you’ve figured that out by now) 

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Hey Sportsbank.net fans – None of the losers running for President is gonna save Social Security.  So please check out http://Since1908clothing.com and help out an old fart, before mine runs out.

Go Cubs!

Seymour Pennants
Facebook:  http://profile.to/seymourpennants/

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You Can’t Like Sports, You’re an Intellectual!

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Professor B.

Like many Midwestern gals, my cousin Kris often likes men easy categorized in bright shiny boxes. Once in Chicago, while I was reclined on the couch enjoying a lazy afternoon Cubs game with multiple beers, she protested: “you’re an intellectual, you can’t like sports!”

Intellectuals and sports? Can they go together? The late evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould was famous for his sports essays including a brilliant one on the disappearance of the .400 hitter, which everyone should read. Chicago intellectuals also mask their braininess from the opposite sex in bars by hiding behind t-shirts and baseball caps proclaiming their favorite teams, but camouflage is not true fandom. It’s like students who tell me: “Dude, I love philosophy. Philosophy and the Simpsons is my favorite book!”

The hard line was laid down by theorists from the Frankfurt School, exiled German Marxists who sat out WWII in California, NYC and other places, and hypothesized that sports, popular culture and all other American art forms were all designed to keep the masses infantile and unaware of their massive exploitation by big business and politicians. The blue collar workers take it on the chin every day, but feel like winners when their ball team scores. Maybe so. But what about that certain root-for-the-underdog, Spartican allegiance to sports enjoyment, which could be considered pro-revolutionary, at least by American standards. “America loves a winner and will not tolerate a loser!” bellows George C. Scott as General Patton. Really? Does America love the New York Yankees?

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Or are sports just anti-revolutionary, with their mythos that favors the establishment, I mean ‘fair play’ and ‘rules’ and ‘may the best team win’? Do sports and other entertainment play a role in infantilizing the public so that it is incapable of rising in revolution: If you were an editor, which headline would you run:

“Oil companies making record profits!” OR

“Britney Enters Rehab! Again!”

I noticed after returning from a long trip abroad that American television is peppered with subliminal suggestion that warp the mind towards the predetermined conclusion: ‘do nothing, you’re perfect, just sit there, be docile and eat what we’re shoving at you.’

Ever wonder why you feel angry if you watch too long?

Or are we intellectuals too prone to conspiracy theories?

Are we paranoid?

Or are they really after us?

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While away, I was amazed how this nerd or sports fan distinction doesn’t exist in Europe where the religion is football, or soccer as we Yanks call it. Yeah, I know, it must be an intellectuals’ game, because, like baseball, it’s slow, boring, byzantine in its rules, etc. etc. But football also appeals to violent Hooligans, the ultimate anti-intellectuals. It is also very surprising to many people abroad that America doesn’t produce hooligans at football or baseball games in nearly the same numbers. But that’s because we are too stupefied into obedience, right?

Intelligence and a taste for violence and revolt are not at all irreconcilable. I know a now eminent art-historian who had gleefully busted some heads in Rome during his teen years as a soccer maniac. The Granta and New Yorker fiction editor, Bill Buford wrote a memoir “Among the Thugs” about encounters with fans (or rather “supporters”) of Manchester United, also my favorite club—even if it is the moral equivalent of the Yankees (you’ll see why I like them below). At one point Buford sees the mythic Bill Gardiner, warrior chief of the ICF, West-Ham hooligans, standing his ground in a brutal melee. It is a crucial moment. Buford never managed to interview him, but these moments of existential violence seem to transfix the writer, the sheer brutality of it. I am also fascinated by the underside of European football, although I made the mistake of riding in a subway car with some FC Bayern München supporters when they were jumped by AC Milan fans, nearly getting jumped myself. Ironic that I almost took a beating for them because I really hate Bayern! In a great game in 1999 Man United beat them 2-1, after trailing 1-0 well into the final minutes. I hated living in Munich and was overjoyed when the English United humiliated them on home turf.

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The connection between sports and intellectuals goes way, way back. The Theban poet Pindar composed odes to athletes that classicists still treasure. And although many sports figures today are more street thug than “gentlemen-sportsman,” there is still a great tradition of student athletes—I get them in my classes sometimes. Far from taking away their focus, it seems that sports actually teach them how to study harder, and how to tolerate no excuses from themselves or others. And I have recently discovered a new connection between sports and intellect. Gambling. Now I have long believed that many professional sports are fixed, although I think our Republic is not yet ready for this knowledge, on the heels of the steroids/doping scandals. Yet, even if I don’t believe the outcomes are entirely the result of pure athletic competition, hell, I just enjoy trying to second guess the fixers. I am pretty sure the 2008 Cubs are in, folks. A huge corporate media bonanza is on the way: great ratings, great story, great advertising and in short a major merchandizing event. I just hope my old hometown team, the Yankees are picked to do a lay down. I even believe that the 2005 Chicago White Sox championship was a “dry run,” a chance to do some “testing on focus groups” to see which consumer markets could be best tapped with the Cubbies in ’08.

Or am I paranoid?

But in any case, Kris, I’m sorry sports, and brains do go together! I’m going to go on cheering my Giants and the Cubs, and….U-NI-TED!
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America may not have many soccer hooligans….

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….but it does have student rioting at Michigan State University following the elimination of the basketball team

Worst Uniforms of All-Time

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By Brad Berreman, The Love of Sports.com 

 

 

Even though I highly disagree with many of the choices, this column is a must read. And having my 83 Sox at #2 is outrage! My Facebook profile pic is of me as a 4 year old in that SOX shirt. Still its funny and very neccessary to hear somebody call out the 1970s Padres and the disgusting gold jerseys that the current Washington Wizards wear. 

 

 

http://theloveofsports.com/index.php/site/comments/the_worst_looking_uniforms_of_all_time/ 

 

 

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Vikings win Jared Allen Sweepstakes

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By Andy Weise 

Over the past week, I’ve devoted a lot of my time (key word: A LOT) to the Jared Allen sweepstakes. As it turns out for numerous weeks, the Minnesota Vikings had been quietly pursuing the All-Pro defensive end from the Kansas City Chiefs. When news broke last Friday that he was on his way to Minnesota to visit and discuss a contract, I knew the sense of urgency for the Vikings to win now had reached a new level.

We could go over plenty of first round picks that haven’t panned out too well for the Minnesota Vikings as of late. The latest defensive end pick, Erasmus James, has battled chronic knee problems and Kenechi Udeze has leukemia. After failing to land even one defensive end via free agency, the Vikings were set to draft one or even possibly two.

Ah yes, the sense of urgency thing. The Vikings needed someone to come in right away and be a dominant force. Acquiring Jared Allen has immediately pushed the Vikings into a position where one can see them having the best defensive line in the NFL. With Kevin and Pat Williams lining up in the middle, Jared Allen on the right end, they might as well put a scarecrow on the left side because the Purple People Eaters are back. Allen obviously knew the Vikings would be a good fit, how many other teams already had two Pro Bowl defensive tackles? He even recognized that at Wednesday’s press conference.

“For me selfishly,” Allen said, “I think the biggest problem we’re going to have is who is going to hit the quarterback first.”
He also said Pat Williams gave him a tip as the new member of the Vikings line. “According to Pat,” Allen said, “I’ve just got to leave the running back alone.”

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Giving up a first round pick, two third-rounders, and swapping sixth round picks is a hefty price. Oh and on top of that, a new 6 year, $74 million with 31 million in guaranteed money. Yes, Jared Allen is the highest paid defensive player in the history of the NFL. It’s a bit scary, but the 26 year old shouldn’t have a problem going from a bad team to a team on-the-verge-of-competing year in and year out.

The signing also showed Vikings fans like myself how owner Zygi Wilf will spend whatever it takes to put a championship caliber team on the field. After putting a lot of money into safety Madieu Williams and wide receiver Bernard Berrian not too long ago, he definitely brought in his biggest name yet with Allen.

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Wilf is still trying to convince the Minnesota legislature to help him finance a new stadium in downtown Minneapolis. His philosophy obviously has turned into – if I put a competitive team on the field that competes for championships, maybe the support will grow for the team. Wilf also has spent his whole life as a New York Giants fan so after seeing the Giants win the title in February, he clearly wants to taste some of that championship glory.

One thing is for sure, if the Vikings do not make the playoffs, Coach Brad Childress will be on the outside looking in. Would this job look attractive to Bill Cowher? He’s my early favorite pick to land the job if the Vikings under achieve. And how could I forget to mention “Purple Jesus” Adrian Peterson. The Peterson pick alone has changed the outlook of the franchise and the Vikings should finally be back in the postseason this upcoming year.

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Does anything say sexy quite like the parking lot of an Office Depot?

Illini Spring Game Recap, Juicier Offense

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By Paul M. Banks

Last week, I was out at a SICA bar near my hometown, and one of the friends that I’ve very recently acquired said to me, “I was checking out your site, and you’ve got juice, man!” I wondered what “juice” was, and he told me “connections.” I then discussed this slang term with other people who said it meant power and respect. So it’s essentially the most important trait a leader of any organization can possess. (see footnote 1) It’s also the name of The University of Illinois starting quarterback, the player most critical to the season of 2008. Isaiah ‘Juice’ Williams made tremendous strides last season. His numbers improved dramatically from freshman to sophomore year; and with the departure of Rashard Mendenhall to the NFL, he must do the same next fall. Juice will need to demonstrate that he has plenty of ‘Juice’ in order to lead the passing game to the next level in ’08. There is no #5 in the backfield to depend upon.
 
The Illini offense performed better than the defense in the spring orange and blue game with a final score of 38- 31. Although college football spring games have received more publicity and fan interest in the past couple of years, perhaps they should consider adopting a scoring system that at least one person can understand? Maybe they could actually try explaining the system to us sometime? It also might help if not every school had its own unique way of playing and scoring its respective spring game.

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The only offensive production in the spring game came from the passing game; which either says a lot about the air attack cruising or the running game being stuck in neutral. Juice Williams led the way completing 17-of-31 passes for 210 yards. His numbers evened out after a rough start. Back up Eddie McGee hit on 8-of-14 for 127 yards and the only touchdown of the day, a 54-yard pass to Brian Gamble in the second quarter. Combined they completed 26 balls to 10 separate Illini receivers accruing 354 yards. Receivers Alex Reavy, Chris Duvalt, Chris James (a solid moving-the-chains possession type guy), and Jarred Fayson all had four catches apiece.

Last season, Wisconsin linebacker DeAndre Levy gave me a quote at Memorial Stadium that was essentially bulletin board material for Illini quarterbacks and receivers not named Arrelious Benn. “We knew that other than #9 they have no passing game; there is a strong running game,” Levy said.  So before you judge Juice and the receiving corps entirely, remember that last year’s only major weapon, Benn, was healing from shoulder surgery and did not participate the entire spring. The record setting freshman, should be healthier and much better in 2008.

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Running Scared

A year ago at this time, there were questions about whether or not Rashard Mendenhall could carry the load all by himself at tailback. He responded with a school record for rushing yards in a season, 19 TDs, a Big Ten MVP award, and likely becoming the first Illinois player drafted in the first round in more than a decade. That’s an awful lot to replace. So what will happen this year? Here are the main rushing numbers from the spring game. These stats convey the notion of running the ball effectively about as much as Dick Cheney personifies warmth, heart and friendliness.

LeShoure, Mikel  8 carries for 22 yards,  2.8 ypc.
Dufrene, Daniel 10 carries for 18 yards, 1.8 ypc.
Purcell, Darius   6 rushes for 14 yards,    2.3 ypc.

Dufrene had the best ’07 of all the candidates to inherit Mendenhall’s job, but he has looked just awful this spring. Troy Pollard was last year’s number three tailback and he was held out of the spring to recover from surgery. Another heralded recruit is Belleville’s Jason Ford who de-committed from Iowa when the Illini started winning. So despite the lack of a front-runner, the running back job has no shortage of candidates. Hopefully, the spread-option system will enable a new athlete to step in and contribute as a feature back right away.  
 
 

The Bright Side

On the opening kickoff of the second half, Fayson, a Florida transfer who will have to sit out this season, returned the kick 93 yards for a touchdown. Zook’s recruiting skills are so strong that he’s brought in defectors from Florida with amazing speed. The punting game looks to have FINALLY improved too. Jared Bosch averaged 46.5 yards on two punts dropping one on the 6-yard line, while Anthony Santella boomed two more punts for a 49-yard average and a touchback. The stakes have been raised considerably. Going from 2-10 to 9-4 and a BCS appearance in one year is a tremendous jump. But Illinois hasn’t had back-to-back winning seasons since 1990. Another winning season looks likely, but it won’t be easy. It is also mandatory for proving that last year wasn’t a fluke for the program.

1. Well, I am Facebook friends with Arianna Huffington, John Krasinski, Prince Fielder and Trenni Kusnierek. And Jason Moe…Yes, the Jason Moe!!! That sounds like juice to me. I’ve also been ‘comped’ tickets to more events lately, sounds like juice too.
 

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I vaguely remember this early 90s film with 2pac Shakur and Omar Epps. Its catch-phrase was “who’s got the juice now?” 

Packers Draft Preview

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By David K.

Since taking the reigns as Packers general manager in 2005, Ted Thompson has preached his philosophy of building a team through the draft, rather than throwing big money at free agents in the off-season.  Thus far, Thompson has stuck to his guns.  His only major free agent signing was bringing in Charles Woodson; a move that has provided major dividends for the green and gold.  In fact this off-season, Thompson has only brought in one new player via free agency; former Rams linebacker Brandon Chillar.  Needless to say, this strategy makes each draft day crucial for the future of the Packers franchise. 

Thompson is also notorious for using the “best available player” strategy rather than using the draft to fill a specific need.  That technique was exemplified when Aaron Rodgers fell into Green Bay’s lap 24th overall in the 2005 Draft.  Thompson also has a history of going with quantity rather than quality as he often trades down in the middle rounds to gain more picks for later rounds.
 

Look Back at the ’07 Draft

I can still remember the dumbfounded look on my face when I heard Green Bay’s first round selection last year.  Nobody had even thrown the name of Tennessee DT Justin Harrell as a possibility with the 16th overall pick.  The oft-injured Harrell proved to be a big-time bust in his rookie season, only playing in seven games and compiling just 16 tackles and zero sacks in limited action.  Second-round pick RB Brandon Jackson also suffered from nagging injuries all season long as became relegated to back-up duty as Ryan Grant emerged into the Packer go-to guy.

Where Thompson has been most successful on draft day is finding later round steals or plucking lesser known guys in the second and third rounds.  The past two years, the Pack picked wide receivers from smaller schools; Western Michigan’s Greg Jennings and James Jones from San Jose State.  Both guys have shown the potential to be big-time receivers in the NFL.  Thompson also found a pair of steals in the 6th round last season with Korey Hall, who became Green Bay’s starting fullback this past season, and kicker Mason Crobsy, the NFL’s 2007 points leader. Of course it is too early to judge or grade the’07 draft.  As Thompson stressed in his pre-draft press conference on Monday, “The draft is a long-term investment.” 

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With the 30th overall selection, the Green Bay Packers select…

Outside of that whole Brett Favre retiring thing, it has been a very quiet off-season in Titletown.  Green Bay did deal defensive lineman Corey Williams to Cleveland for a second-round pick (56th overall) while also releasing long-time tight end Bubba Franks.  Other than that, the Packers figure to have a make-up on the field similar to what they had one year ago during their miraculous 13-3 season.

With that being said, if there is ever a time to utilize the “take the best player on your board” strategy; this is it.  Green Bay has no glaring needs anywhere on their roster except for depth at the quarterback position, but that will likely be addressed through a free agent acquisition or trade for a veteran.  Sure they could use up-grades at certain positions.  There isn’t a lot of depth at tight end behind Donald Lee.  Both tackles, Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton are getting up there in age, as are starting cornerbacks Al Harris and Woodson.  The guard play was inconsistent at times last season and Thompson loves having a lot of depth along the defensive line.  In other words, who knows which direction the Packers will go in the draft?  We do know Green Bay has three of the top 60 picks and should be able to add some depth to three of their areas of “concern” (I use that term loosely.) 

This draft class is especially deep at the cornerback position which has many people believing that the Packers may grab whoever falls to the number 30 spot and hope he can play the nickel back position, another spot that was inconsistent for Green Bay last season.  The most likely candidates who could wind up slipping to the Pack are Virginia Tech’s Brandon Flowers, Kansas’ Aqib Talib (not to be confused with hip-hop artist Talib Kweli), or Antoine Cason of Arizona.  Either guy would give the Packers’ secondary a young talent that should boost the core’s play in nickel and dime situations.

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Another popular question among the media centers on what would happen if Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm happens to slip down to the number 30 spot.  Thompson said he has not ruled out taking a QB early in the draft, even though the young Rodgers is set to take control of the offense.  I am of the mind-set that this would be a bad idea.  Sure, it would be nice insurance in case Rodgers turns out to be a complete flop.  However, If Rodgers proves to be a reliable NFL quarterback then selecting a signal caller is a complete waste of a high pick.  Plus, I think Green Bay needs to focus on bringing in a veteran quarterback via trade to back up Rodgers rather than relying on a rookie with no professional experience to serve as the back-up.

If cornerback is the route the Packers go in the first round, I would love to see them draft a tight end with one of their second round picks.  Lee has proven to be a great weapon in the pass game, but what they will miss from Franks is his ability to serve as a sixth offensive lineman in the run attack.  A prospect like Texas A&M’s Martellus Bennett could be a great choice with the 56th or 60th pick.  USC’s Fred Davis could also be available, but scouts are not very high on his run blocking skill.  Purdue’s Dustin Keller could be an option if he is available in the first round, but like Davis, Keller is known more for his athleticism.

As for the other second round selection, I’m open to anything.  If there is a tackle that could develop while playing behind Tauscher and Clifton, I think Thompson will take a serious look at that possibility.  Thompson also seems to have a keen ability to draft an unheralded wide receiver around this time of the draft.  While wide-out certainly is not a pressing need, another play-maker for the inexperienced Rodgers would not be a terrible thing.  If Green Bay does not take a corner in the first round, I will be very surprised if they also pass on one in the second and third rounds.

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Chicago Sox Exchange 3

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By the Soxman and Paul M. Banks

Correct me if I’m wrong, but the Royals seem like more of a threat to me than the Tigers do right now. No team that started 0-7 has ever made the postseason. Only a handful of teams that started so poorly ever finished at or above .500. Are the Tigers de-clawed for the season already?

I’ll address the Royals last because I truly don’t know what to think about them yet. And as everyone knows, I have a soft spot in my heart for any small market team that manages to win despite a minimal team payroll. Like the 2007 White Sox, the Tigers have been hit by the injury bug early and could easily mount a challenge in the Central, but history is now against them. I said all along that their bullpen was in shambles and their rotation is questionable. Their offense is not firing on all cylinders yet either likely because everyone is pressing to make something happen. I predicted them to finish third in the division, so time will tell. As for the Royals, Billy Butler and Alex Gordon appear to be the real deal and could quickly become the new faces of the organization. Unlike the Tigers, who have the second highest team salary in the majors, the Royals rank 25th out of 30 teams. So you have to respect what they are doing. However, they started out as the hottest team in baseball a couple of years back as well and quickly swooned into the central basement. So I don’t believe they will challenge, yet. Ask me this question again in May.

For those like myself, who claimed Sox management was frugal, think again. They have the fifth highest team payroll in the majors. The Twins actually scare me more as they re-loaded on major-league ready talent in all of the trades they made. Their line-up showed it by exploding on the Sox last home stand.  
 

Speaking of the Royals, I was out at Elfstrom Stadium doing a story on the Kane County Cougars, and Mike Moustakas, the number one overall prospect in the Royals organization, (and the Royals would certainly be a good organization to be rated highly in as I imagine the upcoming opportunity for playing time would be ample, given all the holes the Royals have) got ejected in the fifth inning. The guy who runs this Minor League baseball site told me I should try to catch him in a couple innings because he’ll be on the bus and gone by the time the game ends. I thought it would be an excellent chance to have an exclusive with the #2 overall pick of the 2007 draft; and when I got to the locker room, no one was around except for three players. I asked if Moustakas was available, and they said, “No he was not.” Of course, I don’t have a Burlington Bees (Single A Royals affiliate) media guide, and I have no clue what Moustakas looks like, so he could have been telling me himself that “No, he was not there. And he was not available.” That would have been pretty funny.
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I’m not surprised that “Moose” was not available for post-game interviews.  His agent has called him the best overall middle infielder to enter the game since A-Rod.  Who is his agent you may ask?  Well, none other than Scott Boras of course.  With Tony Pena Jr and Angel Berroa as the only competition standing in his way, it would be very easy to fast track Moustakas to the majors, like they did with Alex Gordon. Moustakas is considered to be a below average runner so I doubt he could avoid the speedy Paul Banks if he truly was there.  However, he was given $4 million just for signing his name on a contract so it is possible he’s developing the ego of a major league star already.
 
 

That’s beauty of minor league baseball: host families, bus trips, and down to earth players, a $4 million signing bonus pretty much takes away all of those things. Mark Buerhle is a major innings eater, second only to Livan Hernandez for total innings pitched this decade in all of Major League Baseball. However, he had yet another rough start the other day. Javier Vazquez is the White Sox main strikeout pitcher, with the stuff he has and the ability he possesses to really punch people out; right now I consider him the Sox’s true ace. Is it blasphemy to say this?
 

I’ve received a lot of e-mail from worried Sox fans about Mark Buerhle’s performance this season.  After all, he is 1-2 with a 5.96 ERA.  I think Mark will be fine once he finds his pitching stride.  He’s looked good in a couple of outings and horrible in a couple of outings.  Even with all of the innings on his pitching arm, he’s not a hard thrower and does not appear to be nursing any sort of injury.

What truly defines a staff ace?  I don’t think the number of K’s a pitcher racks up defines this title.  I think it is the pitcher who day-after-day gives his team the best chance to win. 

So one could argue that ERA and WHIP would be the best two categories that define an “ace.”  So who is the Sox ace thus far statistically speaking?
 Jose Contreras, 1-1, 4.34 ERA- Nope
Javier Vazquez, 3-1, 3.20 ERA 27 Ks in 25 innings, Wrong guess!
Sorry Paul, Thanks for playing.
 John Danks, 2-1, 3.04 ERA, impressive but wrong.
 
The answer is shocking!!!

 The staff ace in the first month of the season has been none other than Gavin Floyd, who is 2-0, 1.40 ERA, and a minuscule 0.88 WHIP! I was the most critical of Gavin Floyd coming into the season, and I must say he is proving a lot of critics wrong thus far.  Let’s hope he can keep it up.  
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I’m having trouble deciding which hot new sensation excites me more: the new reality series “The Pussy Cat Dolls present…Girlicious” or Gavin Floyd. “Fukudome Fever” gets all the press in this town, but do you have “Floyd Fever?”
 
You know what?  The Pussy Cat Dolls really don’t “loosen up my buttons” all that much.  While they are very pretty, they don’t appear to have much depth beyond making the average guy wish his girlfriend was “hot like them.”  Look at Fukudome’s home vs. road splits and your fever will go down to a manageable 99.1. I’m not breaking out my Cy Young vote for Gavin Floyd just yet.  However, he has already surpassed most of my favorite Floyds in Chicago sports including: former Cub Cliff Floyd and former Bulls Manager Tim Floyd.  With another solid month or two he could very well become my all-time favorite Chicago Floyd by unseating Floyd Bannister, who has held the title since 1983. Anyone who would have called Gavin Floyd the staff ace going into opening day would have been checked for a fever, that’s for sure.

So what would your “Walk up” music be as you are coming to bat? 
Mine would be Kanye West, “Through the Wire” That song, his first ever single, was recorded while he re-covered from a life threatening car accident. At the end of the video, he pays homage to his main creative influence with a photo op. “Through the Wire” is my all time favorite pop song because both of us Chicago natives undertook our first major creative endeavors while recovering from life-threatening situations.  The moment is like Kanye West touching his Chaka Khan poster at the end of the “Through the Wire” video.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uvb-1wjAtk4

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And there is nothing like staring death in the face to make you want to express creatively. I wrote my novel while I was recuperating from a bone marrow transplant to treat my re-occurring Hodgkin’s disease. So when I went to Minnesota during the series they played the Sox, I made sure to take a picture of myself with my book next to one of my heroes, F. Scott Fitzgerald. The anthropologist of the ‘Jazz Age’ statue is in St. Paul’s Rice Park. It was like my Kanye video moment.
 
Paul, I really can’t even touch your explanation.  Despite your late inning “Bobby Jenks” like entrance to Saturday’s Heartland Blood Drive, meeting you and the other Heartland recipients was a true inspiration to Batboy and me. Anything I have been through in my life is small in comparison to the challenges you have overcome in your life.

 You all are heroes to me!

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I think if any of my friends were to ask what song Bruce Wayne would walk up to the universal answer would be “something by Linkin Park.”  I love their energy and their lyrics.  While Bruce Wayne or Peter Parker as I most identify with is an admitted sap for love music like “Your Guardian Angel” by Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, LP music rocks!
 So if I had to choose a song, I’d say “No More Sorrow” by Linkin Park.  It’s a song to me that speaks to taking accountability for your own actions rather than always blaming others.  It really applies when you are standing one-on-one in a batter’s box.

For the next question, I’ll get a little self-indulgent. Around my birthday, you and Dave talked about what it is to be Belichickian versus being Banksian. Define Banksian?
 

Ah hemmmm (the best way possible to spell out clearing my throat in writing).  You are just dying for this to show up when someone Google’s “Banksian,” aren’t you? Since this has so much to do with a White Sox exchange, I’ll gladly answer.
 
My gosh.  I just gave you the perfect example of Banksian.  Short, yet intelligent responses, with bite and perhaps a smidgeon of dry sarcasm.  When you deliver a Banksian response, you have a way of looking at someone and almost daring them to challenge your intellect. Yet, I know your kryptonite.  I know the two words that can light up your expressionless eyes, while chiseling a smile on your granite, emotionless profile.  Perhaps it is because the words define the one thing in this life that is ALMOST your intellectual equal.  Whenever you hear a Banksian response, just smile, look Paul in the eyes and say: {words omitted} His mind is then completely open to suggestion.  It is like a Jedi mind trick.  
 

Or perhaps that’s what I want you to think. The best way to disguise what my true kryptonite is by making you think it’s something else. We know from the 72 in your email that Carlton Fisk is up there, but give me your all time favorite Sox player, current and present and why?
 

All-time favorite Sox player is a challenge for a hero who is all White Sox, all the time. I’ll share five of my all-time favorite players with a short explanation as to why.
 
Ron Kittle
Sure, he was no Hall of Famer.  Most younger Sox fans likely have no idea who he even is.  With only a .239 lifetime BA, many might wonder why he’s a favorite.  Well, he was Rookie of the Year in 1983, belting 35 homers and massing up 100 RBI.  He’s also the career leader in rooftop homers at the Old Comiskey Park with seven.
 
My love for Kittle comes out of an act of kindness he did for me when I was a kid.  I used to get into the park before the gates opened.  While playing catch with another player, a ball sailed into the stands and I grabbed it and threw it back to him.  He smiled and said “nice throw.”  He then said “let’s see what else you got” and invited me on the field to play catch with him.  It was only 10 minutes before he was yelled at, but it was hands-down one of the greatest moments of my life.

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Robin Ventura
“Sweet Swinging” Robin Ventura had one of the most fluent swings I have ever seen from a fellow lefty slugger.  He was also Mr. Clutch throughout his career, as one of only five 3rd basemen to hit 250 homers and to win five Gold Glove Awards.  He has 18 career grand slams (4th all-time), the most famous of which was his “Grand Slam Single” in 1999.  He hit a walk-off grand slam with the Mets in the ALCS but was tackled in celebration by fellow teammates before reaching second, so the homer was changed to a single.  
 
Frank Thomas
The Big Hurt ranks as one of my all-time favorites as he is without a doubt one of the greatest hitters to ever wear a Sox uniform.  I met him the day after he signed with the Sox out of Auburn and watched him take batting practice.  He signed a ball for me and when I told him he’s going to be “awesome,” he humbly (yes I said humbly) responded, “I sure hope so.”  He’s one of only six players to ever hit at least 500 homers and accrue 1600 walks. 
 
Carlton Fisk
“Pudge” is arguably the greatest catcher to ever wear a White Sox uniform.  He was a true grinder before the phrase was coined, and had a training regime that prolonged his career beyond most catchers.  He’s a Hall of Famer.
 
Buck Weaver
Buck Weaver was an outstanding defensive third basemen, known as the only MLB player that Ty Cobb would not bunt against.  He was one of the only “innocent” players on the 1919 “Black Sox,” forever banned from baseball for simply not turning in his fellow players.  Weaver batted .324 in the 1919 World Series, tallying 11 hits. He played errorless ball in the Series and was played by John Cusack in the movie “Eight Men Out.”
 
Mark Buehrle or Paul Konerko?
 My current favorite White Sox Player?  While my friends often compare my love life to the “streaky” hitting of Paul Konerko, I’d have to say Mark Buehrle.  He’s a gutsy, left-handed pitcher who relies on control and finesse to win ball games. He works games faster than any pitcher I’ve ever seen, and is a true team player, who genuinely looks as though he has fun every time he takes the mound. He has averaged at least 200 innings for the last six seasons and pitched a no hitter against the Texas Rangers on April 18, 2007.  He signed for less money in 2007 to stay with the White Sox and will forever be one of the key faces of the 2005 World Champions.
 

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An Incredible No Hitter

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A’s Farmhand Finishes a pitch away from a Perfect Game in first start back from Skull Fracture

By Paul M. Banks

Elfstrom Stadium, home of the Kane County Cougars, (Oakland Athletics’ A Ball affiliate) was the backdrop for the young season’s most eventful minor league game. Former A’s second round draft pick Craig Italiano and Cougars reliever Branden Dewing combined on a seven-inning no-hitter in a 3-0 shutout of the visiting Burlington Bees.
“Every now and then I’ll have stuff off the field, flashbacks and stuff, but I just shake it off,” Italiano told MiLB.com. “I just worked hard toward [returning] and planned like it was going to come. The hardest part was not doing anything for three months while the fracture healed.”

The Cougars won the first game of the doubleheader (two seven inning games were played due to the previous day’s rainout) in the bottom of the 10th when Jacob Smith walked with the bases loaded. It was the Cougars’ sixth ever no-hitter and their first since Jared Lansford accomplished the pitching feat in Beloit on May 14, 2006. The last time Cougar pitcher Craig Italiano took the mound of his home stadium, he was hospitalized and helped off the field by medical staff after a line drive struck his head, with such great force that it ricocheted into the stands. The result was a skull fracture that ended his ’07 season. The 21-year-old was having his best performance of 2007 (exactly a year to the date of Lansford’s no-hitter) when a line shot off the bat of Wisconsin’s Carlos Triunfel struck him in the head, ending his season. This followed a 2006 campaign where Italiano was limited to just six starts before injuries forced him into shoulder surgery. However, when he returned to the mound on Wednesday, Italiano displayed the potential that makes him one of the A’s top pitching prospects.

En route to winning his first game since rookie ball in 2005, Italiano retired the first 16 batters he faced, striking out a career-high nine before hitting Antonio Jimenez with one out in the sixth inning. He then retired Ryan Eigsti before being relieved (due to pitch count limitations) by Branden Dewing, who perfectly finished out the final 1 1/3 innings for his first save. I spoke with Cougar manager Aaron Nieckula on why he took Craig out of the game

“He had reached his pitch limit. Unfortunately we had to take him out. The most important thing is the health of the player…Outstanding job, love to keep you in, been fun watching you; but Dewing’s gonna pick you up. Dewing came in and did his job. I would have loved to let him out there and let him ride…If he continues to pitch like that, you’ll see a lot of that at higher levels not just at A ball, that’s where it will count more  too.”

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I also spoke with Italiano after the game

On the use of his breaking pitch…

I worked on that a lot, one minor adjustment to make it better; I guess I was able to get it down tonight, put it where I wanted to. I felt the same as I always do.  The ball felt great which is a unique part in it. When I started going 3 up 3 down a couple times, I guess I started getting a little jacked up.

On a pitcher noticing a  no hitter as it’s happening…

You notice; it’s hard not to. You look at the scoreboard and check something out. I stayed in my routine. I did the same thing, the things I always do. I tried to stay focused as much as I always do and do a good job.
 

What he was thinking when he had that strikeout streak…

“I was feeling good. Hard to remember exactly what happened out there because it felt so good. I didn’t even know that I had that many in a row. Seems like I was floating out there and I guess that’s kinda what it felt like.”

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Five things to watch for this NBA Postseason

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By Andy Weise

1. Phoenix and San Antonio series – Physical play. The image of Steve Nash’s bloody nose will forever be locked into our brains. With guys like Bowen, Bell, Shaq and Duncan, this should be a classic physical playoff series.

2. Dirk Nowitzki – Can he lead? Getting Jason Kidd was supposed to take a load off Dirk’s shoulders. Dirk is definitely capable of leading a team but after a year of disappearing in the first round, the pressure is on the Mavericks to pull through. Avery Johnson wishes he had a more physical power forward (rumors had it last summer that Johnson would have loved to trade Dirk for KG). Like I said before, unless Dirk has a great series, the weight will fall on his shoulders again this year and that might be enough for Mark Cuban to sign off on a Dirk trade.

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3. Orlando Magic and New Orleans Hornets – Playoff inexperience. I like watching both of these teams so I wouldn’t be disappointed if they went far in the playoffs, preferably to the conference finals. I don’t think they would make a great championship series – I’m holding out for a Lakers/Celtics. But these two teams feature two of the best young players in the league – Dwight Howard and Chris Paul. Both are 22, going on 23 and among the best at their positions. It would be exciting to see these two teams do well with them in the driver’s seats.

4.LeBron James – How much can he do himself? LeBron might start looking at Kevin Garnett’s time in Minnesota…and ask how many times will management try to build and rebuild around its star player? James is a free agent two years from now, so Cleveland better be sure about the supporting cast or James will head elsewhere. It’s too bad Carlos Boozer took off – he would be a great second option to pair with James. James had a taste of the finals last year, if the team gets bounced in the first or second round, James will consider that a failed year. That won’t sit well with the King because after all, it’s not his shortcomings that will hold them back.

5. East – Can anyone stop the Celtics? Detroit would be the best bet. I think the only other team capable would be the Magic. In the three games against the Magic, the Celtics lost two in Orlando but won at home. To get to the Celtics though, the Magic must get past the Pistons, no easy task. The Pistons took that season series including an early blowout in Orlando at the beginning of the season. The Magic backcourt of Nelson and Evans have nothing on Billups and Hamilton.

 

 

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