Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Portland Trail Blazers 2013-2014 Preview

Last year Portland had a disappointing season on their way to 33 wins good for 11th in the Western Conference.  They ended the season with a disastrous 13 game losing streak.  Didn't leave anyone much to hang their hat on.  In the offseason they made it a priority to shore up their bench and their defense which were at the heart of the issues last year. 

Damon Lillard was the rookie of the year and deservedly so.  He was not a good defender but his 19 points and 6.5 assists a game were great as he showed he was worthy of a top pick in last year's draft.  His ability to hit the three (36%) is a great attribute which helps stretch the floor.  Mo Williams will be his backup and may look to score before passing but should be a solid backup.

Wesley Matthews will start at the shooting guard.  Matthews is a talent but I want to see more than 14 points per game from him.  He shoots the three at a 39% clip.  Depending on how rookie C.J. McCollum progresses Matthews may not get the minutes he needs to be a big time scorer.  He will have the early part of the season while McCollum recovers from an injury to solidify his spot in the starting lineup.  McCollum should be a nice addition to the team with big upside if the scouting reports are correct. 

Nicolas Batum will play at small forward with new addition Dorrell Wright backing him up.  Batum is making big money ($11M) and I'd like to see him take some of the pressure off Aldridge by scoring more and improving on his 43% shooting.  He is also good from behind the arc shooting 37%.  Wright isn't as good defensively but should be a quality guy off the bench. 

 LaMarcus Aldridge had his normal stellar year of 21 points and 9 rebounds a game while shooting 48%.  He will get, and deserves, the bulk of the minutes at the four.  They don't have much in a backup here.  Aldridge is key to this team but I think if Matthews and Batum can step up their games then he could play a little looser and play even better even if it is at the expense of some stats. 

Robin Lopez was brought in to anchor the center position after J.J. Hickson left after the season.  Lopez won't win defensive player of the year but is a big body who I hope can defend the rim better than the undersized Hickson.  Not sure he can get 10 rebounds a game like J.J. but for now I'm just hoping he can bring some size to the middle.  Would have liked to see a quality backup here who could also play behind Aldridge but this is one position where I think Portland is thin.

I see no reason why this team can't get to 43 wins and a playoff spot.  They'll be fighting for the #8 seed but it is definitely doable.  This may not be the year they make much noise in the playoffs if they can make it but they are on the right track.  Great young talent here and if they can gel this team can be very good.  I hope the additions through the draft and free agency will make a difference on the bench.  Again, no reason this can't be a good team and I expect a winning record come the end of the year. 


Monday, October 28, 2013

NBA Changes Finals Format

The NBA changed the Finals format for a 2-3-2 format to 2-2-1-1-1 this week.  Bill Simmons did a pretty good job of looking at the issues with the 2-3-2 format back in June.  I, for one, have always liked the 2-3-2 for the reason most don't.  It gives an edge, I'd say helps even the home court edge.  I think having the first two games at home is a huge advantage. 

The team that has home court is the better team (record wise) so they should have it.  And if they are the better team then they should win the first two games thus making those three away not near as scary.  Yes that is easier said than done but a championship team should be able to win on the road.  If you are in The Finals then it shouldn't matter.  Simmons' article paints a somewhat different picture but if you can't win wherever the game is maybe you shouldn't be the champs.  This isn't like baseball where a player from your roster can just be dumped from your starting lineup ala American League teams travelling to National League ballparks.  I do understand the other side but I think the teams that complain are those that can't win the championship. 

My NBA viewing started in the late 70's and I can't say this was an issue with me back in the day.  I'll be curious to see how I feel after a Finals or two in the new format.  Definitely not something that'll turn me off from watching but enough that I had to put something down on here.   

Friday, October 25, 2013

2013 World Series: Boston and St. Louis Tied at One

After Boston took game one of the World Series St. Louis wins game two behind another pitching gem from rookie Michael Wacha.  In game one Boston took advantage of some sloppy fielding by the Cards as well as jumping on Adam Wainwright early on their way to a 8-1 win.  This was a great start for the Red Sox.  Their offense, defense, and pitching all looked great.  I thought this gave them an edge going into game two. 
Boy I was wrong.    Michael Wacha continued his great postseason run.  His ERA did go up to 1.00 but earned his fourth postseason win (matches his regular season total) in this, his rookie season.  Amazing.  Other than Papi's homerun the Red Sox really had no answer for the stellar rookie.  Again this guy is a rookie who hasn't even pitched 100 combined regular and postseason innings.  I'll stop gushing now but WOW.  This was my worst case scenario.  The young Cardinal pitchers have forgotten how inexperienced they are and continue pitching well.  I really thought the Boston offense could wear them down with their ability to work the counts.  Didn't happen as Wacha, Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal just mowed them down. 
Now Boston starter Clay Buchholz says he "may have one more game" in him.  That is not what you want to hear from your expected third starter as he battles a vague "fatigue" issue.  Now his game three start has been pushed back to game four.  Still everyone's confidence level in Buchholz has just sunk to an all-time low.  Greaaaat.  Boston is probably wishing they had another crack at setting their World Series roster...without Buchholz on it.  So Jake Peavy is now the Boston game three starter.  Shaky in three of his last four starts and after being hit hard by Detroit you have to wonder what he'll give them.  I really like Peavy and hope he can channel some of his past National League success in game three.  The Cards throw another youngster in Joe Kelly at the Red Sox so hopefully the offense can learn from game two and give a better showing tomorrow night. 
Game four has Lance Lynn starting for the Cardinals.  He is also doesn't inspire much confidence in his team's fan base.  Both teams have a starter in reserve ready to go if their starters get into trouble early.  Felix Doubrount (Bos) and Shelby Miller know they could be called on early to stem the tide.  This series is no surprise outside of some of the defensive letdowns.  Now that it is in St. Louis, Boston needs to set the tone early in game three and take the advantage.  Knowing they have to face Wainright again in game five, games three and four are critical.  Waino is a tested veteran and I wouldn't count on getting to him two games in a row.  Close series which is anyone's to win and that is all you can ask for.  Well I'll ask for three more Red Sox wins as well...

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

2013 World Series: St. Louis Cardinals vs Boston Red Sox

I've watched a ton of Cards games and seen the Red Sox quite a bit.  I won't look at any stats this year.  Just looking at the two teams I give Boston the edge but barely.  I think the key will be the young pitchers of the Cardinals.  Starters Michael Wacha and Joe Kelly and closer Trevor Rosenthal are all young and don't have much regular season experience much less in the post season.  Wacha has excelled so far but I'm not sure how he or any of the three will respond in the World Series.  The Red Sox throw a seasoned staff at St. Louis.  Not saying they are without their issues but I like the starting staff.  The St. Louis bullpen is probably better suited for the series as opposed to their counterparts.  So tight ballgames could be a plus for St. Louis.

The Cardinals get Allen Craig back for the Series but I'm not sure it will be enough.  Their offense is very good and I think they can score against anyone so the Boston pitchers have their work cut out for them.  The Red Sox are great at being patient at the plate and they'll have to be to win the series.  The Boston offense struggled in Detroit and if it weren't for some timely grand slams we would be watching the Tigers host game 1. 

I won't be surprised if every game is very close.  I also won't be surprised if it goes seven games.  I love that this is a rematch of the 2004 World Series.  I think David Ortiz and Yadier Molina are the only players returning from that series.  Seems fitting that the two leaders of their respective teams are here again.  As I live close to St. Louis this has definitely been fun.  I only hope for a good series...well and a Boston championship.  Still no matter what we'll have fun.  Saturday I go to a St. Louis sports card show with a good friend.  Not sure yet if I'll wear one of my Red Sox jerseys.  Cards fans are great but I may wait to see how the series is going before I make that decision.  This is what it is all about.  The best teams from each league, a series that seems destined for close games and guys on both sides you can root for.  I just hope the series lives up to expectations. 

NOTE:  This was supposed to post before the start of game one but the internet was down until now.  GO BOSOX!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Movie Review: World War Z

(Spoiler Alert)  Watched World War Z this afternoon and I really enjoyed the movie.  It stars Brad Pitt as an ex-United Nations inspector.  After the zombie outbreak occurs causing all those bitten by the zombies, his character, Gerry Lane, is able to save his family but gets caught up in the U.N. operation to determine what has caused the outbreak while at the same time trying to find what can stop the zombie outbreak. 

One of the things I really enjoyed was the quick pace.  I also enjoyed the fact that there was little setup.  Seemed like it was only five minutes (might have been 10) and the zombie outbreak occurs.  Lane is able to keep his family safe through the day and night after the attack until his former boss is able to get them to safety aboard the ship where the effort to save the day is being led. 

Lane and special forces start their search in Korea where one of the first zombies is found.  From there his search takes him to Israel where they had fortified Jerusalem against zombies with walls just prior to the outbreak.  Lane learns they had learned of the zombies from a message intercepted from India.  Zombies are able to infiltrate the city and Lane must make a manic getaway aboard an airliner.  When a zombie causes the plane to go down he is able to make his way to a World Health Organization facility to hopefully find a "cure". 

There he takes what he has learned from the U.N., his time in Korea, and what he has seen during attacks he's seen first hand and figures out how to defeat the zombies.  As throughout the movie nothing comes easy but as expected our hero saves the day. 

The movie never lingers too much on one part as the film keeps a nice pace.  The zombies are a different portrayal than what we are used to but help make this movie work.  Their ability to run, jump and be physically crazy make you believe that yes they could make such a huge impact in such a short period of time in spite of the weaponry at our disposal.  Brad Pitt played his character well and he really is the focus of this movie.  While his family get some pretty good face time early on he takes center stage.  I was hooked by the trailers for World War Z and always thought I'd really like the movie.  I wasn't disappointed.  I highly recommend World War Z to anyone who enjoys the genre.  The movie is rated PG-13 and while it would be scary to younger children it isn't the gory fare you may see from other zombie flicks.

Rating:  PG-13
Length:  123 minutes
Cost:  $190 million
U.S. Box Office:  $202 million
International Box Office:  $540 million

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Atlanta Hawks 2013-2014 Preview

Atlanta cruised to a 44 win season last year but I think the season was seen as a disappointment to fans.  After winning 53 games in the 09-10 (and I complained then about not getting past the second round - go figure) the Hawks have seen Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams and Josh Smith leave the team for "greener pastures".  I think fans would be more than happy with seeing the second round right now.  I, like many, were ok with all three leaving and still think Danny Ferry made one of the best all-time deals when he was able to move Johnson not to mention getting Utah to take on Williams' deal.  Those guys were good but to some extent limited the team.  While rebuilding may not be the right term, this team is definitely moving in a different direction.  

This team begins and ends with Jeff Teague at the point.  Atlanta matched Milwaukee's offer to Teague and now he must earn the big contract.  Teague is the Hawks' best point guard they've had in years and I'm glad they kept him around.  He won't have to share the ball with Josh Smith this year so he has a great chance at surpassing his 7.2 assists from last year.  Everyone is high on the rookie from Germany Dennis Schroeder who will backup Teague.  I don't know much about him but I'll take quality depth and the point anytime.  Lou Williams will get the bulk of the time at shooting guard.  He got injured last year but everyone is high on him and expects him to be the scorer they need in the backcourt.  He shot 37% from behind the arc and averaged 14 points per game.  First round pick John Jenkins is expected to challenge for big minutes.  He is 6-4 and can shoot the three.  Again it looks like their could be some quality depth at this position. 

Al Horford anchors the center spot once again.  A natural power forward, he is a bit undersized, but you will be hard pressed to find a harder worker which is why he was able to average 17 and 10 last year and make the all-star team.  Paul Millsap was brought in from Utah to fill the power forward role.  This was a great signing.  He is a tough down low and can hit the boards.  He fits well besides Horford on the front line.  Elton Brand was brought in as a free agent and will get minutes at both the 4 and the 5.  He isn't an all-star anymore but I would think he can provide quality minutes off the bench.  Kyle Korver will probably start at small forward.  He can hit the 3 but don't ask for any defense from him.  Still spreading out the defense will help the bigs down low by creating more space.  DeMarre Carroll (another ex-Jazz player) will get minutes as well at this position.  An athletic kid who may be asked to play defense when needed at small forward.

The biggest acquisition may be new coach Mike Budenholzer who comes from San Antonio.  Hopefully he can bring some of his winning ways from the Spurs.  Atlanta definitely needs someone who can take Atlanta to the next level. They've been a team that can make the playoffs.  Now they need to make some noise once they get there.  Coaching will be a big part to that.

I like this team as built especially the depth they have.  Not a knock, but not having Josh Smith handling the ball should help Jeff Teague and the rest of the offense be more comfortable in their rolls.  Jeff Teague must be at least as good as he was last year and be able to involve everyone in the new offensive schemes brought in by Budenholzer.  I won't expect huge strides this year but I think they can win 46 games and hopefully land a number four seed.  Might be asking for a bit too much  but again I like the makeup of this team.  We'll see how all the changes look on the court. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Braves Lose to Dodgers in Division Series - Red Sox Advance to ALCS

Atlanta failed to advance past the first playoff series once again losing three games to one to the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Neither pitching nor the offense were good enough to get past the Dodgers whom the Braves had handled in the regular season series five games to two.  The offense only scored 14 runs while mustering one home run and 36 total bases over their four playoff games.  Pitching put up a 5.82 ERA, walked 21, while allowing a .280 batting average in 34 innings.  None of those numbers scream we're gonna win!  No matter how it all played out the bottom line is this will be a disappointing season.  Even with all the injuries this team had to play with they won 96 games and should have been able to compete with anyone in the playoffs.  Yes, they didn't get blown out by the Dodgers, but I just never had the feeling they were on the same level.  Maybe that is just the pessimistic fan always thinking the worst but the offense is inconsistent and while the pitching was very good in the regular season, outside of Craig Kimbrel, I didn't feel we could say this pitcher or that was a guy who'd be big come playoff time.  Hopefully the Braves can get healthy and maybe get the offense on track next year but it will still feel like this year was a loss.

Boston on the other hand dealt with Tampa Bay somewhat easily winning their series three games to one.  Boston showed off it's offense and their pitching had a very nice 3.03 ERA.  Boston only hit two homers but their .286 batting average, .390 on base percentage and 26 runs should make all Red Sox fans happy.  The pitchers only gave up 11 walks and allowed a .225 batting average.  I said it before the playoffs and this only enhanced my view - this team is built to win it all.  They have depth in pitching and an offense that no pitcher can rest on.  Detroit may have a better 1-2 punch but I think Boston can start four pitchers who are on par with any team out there.  I, like many, just have a good feeling about this team.  They seem loose and don't get rattled easily.  I'm hoping for eight more wins - sorry Detroit...