Sunday, October 26, 2014

2014-2015 Portland Trail Blazers Preview

Portland is coming off a 54 win season and a first round win over the Houston Rockets.  The Western Conference hasn't gotten any easier but expectations are still high for this team.  I like what coach Terry Stotts is doing with the team and think this team can definitely improve though I know it won't be easy. 

In the back court young star Damian Lillard holds down the point guard position after averaging 20 points and 5.6 assists a game.  Beside him was Wesley Matthews who averaged almost 17 points per game.  Both shot 39% from from three-point land.  I love this backcourt.  A point guard who can distribute the ball and score and a wing who can hit it from downtown.  Steve Blake, back after being signed as a free agent this summer, will be the new backup point guard.  I like him as guy who won't turn it over much and can hit a jump shot.  C.J. McCollum will come off the bench as a shooting guard and may see some time at the point as well. 

Star LaMarcus Aldridge is the leader of this team and a stud in the front court.  I really think he is a guy who can help take this team to the next level.  His 23 points and 11 boards are only part of what makes him great.  Nicolas Batum joins him in the front court.  Another guy who can stretch the court with his outside shooting where he hits a 36% clip.  Batum added 13 points, 7 boards and 5 assists per game.  Great production.  Thomas Robinson (PF) and Dorell Wright (SF) will come off the bench.  At center Robin Lopez returns to defend the paint.  He gave this team much needed defense while putting up 11 points and 8 and a half rebounds per game.  Journeyman Chris Kaman comes in as the new backup. 

Overall this is a solid team.  Their ability to score inside and out make them a tough matchup.  They need to grow some for them to get to the next level - a team that can get past the second round.  I think they can do it but while they added decent players in Blake and Kaman I don't think that adds up to a ton of improvement.  That means it is on coach Terry Stotts to help make this team better.  Again I like him and hopefully he can get more out of this team.  Timing also plays a part in these things.  Is Houston as good as last year?  Will San Antonio finally grow old?  How will Kevin Durant's injury affect Oklahoma City?  Can Phoenix play at the same level as last year?  I think Portland is a 54 win team again this season.  I also think they can win 54 games and be a better team.  With improvement as a team this team could definitely be a contender for the Western Conference title. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

What happened to the Atlanta Braves This Year - a Look at The 2014 Season

The Bravos finished 17 games back of the Washington Nationals with a 79-83 record and didn't make the playoffs.  This and the fact the team hasn't won a postseason series since 2001 cost general manager Frank Wren his job.  The Braves had problems in different areas but the lack of scoring has to be the biggest weakness this team has.  Only the Padres scored less runs than Atlanta.  The offense was just anemic.  Whoever is hired to replace Wren has to help figure that out. 

Wren's best move of the year might have been cutting ties with Dan Uggla though the Erwin Santana pickup was a big boost to the starting staff.  Though Santana's signing came at the cost of a first round pick so I'm not sure how much of a win that is in such a down year.  I wish Atlanta would do the same with B.J. Upton.  He is horrible and getting worse but there were other holes in the lineup too.  Andrelton Simmons has massive skills on defense but he regressed at the plate.  Atlanta has to find someone who can help Simmons and Upton improve at the plate.  The pitching also had issues as it took big hits before the season when Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy were sidelined with Tommy John surgery.  Mike Minor also missed time with shoulder surgery and wasn't the same after his return. 

All wasn't bad though.  Evan Gattis, Craig Kimbrel, Justin Upton, Julio Teheran and Aaron Harang all had good years.  The bullpen is in good shape so hopefully the offseason can concentrate on getting the offense right.  This isn't the first year the Braves have had issues with the offense.  At some point it has to get better.  Right?  Still it was a lost year that looked promising early but a late season collapse doomed the team.  Here's hoping Atlanta can find some offense somewhere this offseason whether that is through free agency, the minors or within the lineup itself. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

2014-2015 Atlanta Hawks Preview

The Atlanta Hawks are coming off a 38-44 season under new coach Mike Budenholzer.  Al Horford tore a pectoral muscle and missed all but 29 games dooming any hope the Hawks might have.  This netted them the final Easter Conference playoff spot and a first round matchup with the Pacers.  The series was hard fought and it looked as though Atlanta would win it but they fell in seven games.  Atlanta made a late push for the final playoff spot and I have to admit I wouldn't have felt too bad if they'd fell into the lottery and possibly gotten one of the big players in the stacked draft.  Probably not the best thing to say but the Hawks need more scoring and it wasn't there when they drafted in the first round.  While they did draft power forward Adreian Payne and added defensive specialist Thabo Sefolosha this year's team will pretty much be the same as it was last year. 

The offseason was tough as the under the radar Hawks had to take front row and center in dealing with racially insensitive remarks from general manager Danny Ferry and owner Bruce Levenson.  The latter is selling his controlling interest in the team.  While this didn't rise to the level of the Donald Sterling ruckus, it does not help a team that already deals with the perception of not being somewhere NBA free agents want to go.  Hopefully the team can move past this somewhat quickly and keep the attention on the court. 

Point guard Jeff Teague returns after a year in which he cemented his status a true point guard who can lead this team.  He averaged 16 points, almost 7 assists, and shot 46% from 2 range but only 32% shooting the 3.  I'd like to see his 3-point percentage increase so guards have to respect that shot more.  Shooting guard Kyle Korver averaged 12 points a game while leading the league in 3-point percentage at 47%.  While I shouldn't complain I'd like to see him take more shots while increasing his scoring output.  Twelve points a game from your shooting guard just won't cut it for me.  Shelvin Mack (PG), Sefolosha (SG), and Kent Bazemore (SG) will all come off the bench.  Again I'm not sure I see the scoring I want here.  Teague is good right where he is at but to me my starting off guard should be putting up 15 points a game.

In the front court Demarre Carrol returns as the starting small forward after having a good year - 11 points, 47% FG, 5.5 RPG, 1.8 SPG.  Again less scoring from a wing than I'd like to see.  Sefolosha and rookie Lamar Patterson will also get minutes here.  Power forward Paul Millsap had an all-star year.  He averaged 17.9 points and 8.5 rebounds a game and added some range hitting 35% of his three pointers.  Mike Scott returns and the rookie Payne will also get minutes behind Millsap.  My thinking is Payne was drafted as the long term solution at this position.  Millsap is a free agent after this year and I wouldn't be surprised if Atlanta thinks he may be too expensive to keep.  Al Horford returns to anchor the middle.  While undersized he is a tough player and if he can average 18 and 8 like he did last year it is a win.  Pero Antic was a nice surprise last year with Horford out so he should be fine as his backup this year.

Still too early to make a determination on coach Budenholzer.  Thirty-eight wins isn't much to write home about.  This year the team has to move forward.  It will be year two in his system and they'll have Horford back.  I still worry about scoring.  Most teams have a wing guy to pick up the scoring while Atlanta relies on their bigs and Crawford.  I'm not saying it can't work, see San Antonio, but I just don't see Atlanta doing better than a 6th, maybe 5th seed as constructed.  The Eastern Conference isn't great but I think there are teams who are better and getting better.  I'm not sure I see Atlanta with that group.  Still I think they improve this year and probably get above .500.  I do look forward to seeing what they can do and who knows.  Maybe things can fall their way some and they'll be a surprise team in the East. 
New Unis - Pac Man is back!

Band of Brothers Book Review

Most probably know the popular HBO TV series based on the book Band of Brothers.  While I'd never seen the series I was familiar with it.  A buddy gave me the book to read.  I'm glad he did as I thoroughly enjoyed it.  The book follows E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne as they start the tough training for their first jump which is into Normandy on D-Day and through to the end of the war.  The book does a great job mixing the personal stories of the individual soldiers, the information needed to provide scope, and additional details to round everything out.  This all made for an easy read that I could have read in one setting given enough time. 
The personal stories are always what make these books.  Too many times though the book becomes a biography of one person or sometimes the big picture is lost and you meander through a story.  This doesn't do any of that.  You can tell the author, Stephen Ambrose by the way, took care to get what is important the soldiers while ensuring the book flows and the reader never gets bogged down.  You get a good feel for what it was like for the soldier as they readied for war and what really happens when that moment finally comes.  You also get what daily life was like as they froze, moved to the rear for a rest and once again moved forward to join the fray.  All the while you get to join in the hardships they must endure. 
If you at all are interested in military history this is a must read.  I enjoyed it immensely and don't think you'll be disappointed.  By chance I started watching the TV series last week.  I also like the show and will finish it up in the upcoming weeks.  Having just read the book I was really impressed how the series goes right off the book.  Always a good thing.  So I'll say I recommend both. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy Movie Review

Not too many spoilers here so don't fret too much about reading this ahead of seeing the movie.  Though I'm a comic book guy I knew pretty much nothing about the Guardians of the Galaxy prior to watching the movie.  I'd heard of the title but before this year I really doubt many knew much about this group of characters.  I think Marvel did a great job marketing this movie.  Watching the previews I wanted to watch see it.  It also helped that everyone I knew that had already been really enjoyed it.  That included my sisters and all the kids.  So I was really itching to see it and it was still showing in our local theater so I made a point to see it Friday. 

The basic plot is a group of characters who are all have different motives but end up as a group fighting to save the universe.  Comedy is definitely a huge piece of this movie which makes it fun to watch for all ages.  The action and great characters are big piece to the movie as well and should keep everyone engaged.  I really did enjoy the movie and time passed pretty quickly.  I'll be curious if the movie's characters ever interact with the Marvel universe proper like the Avengers or others.  No matter Marvel has a pretty good property here that they can spin into more movies.  Again I liked it and think everyone should give it a look.  And yes there is a bonus scene after the credits. 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Hot Wheels 1989 Batmobile with Red Pinstripes

I had just read about this on the Hollywood Diecast Facebook page and what did I find at my local Wal-Mart yesterday?  You guessed it.  This is a new version of the 1989 Batmobile that Hot Wheels added to their base collection.  There are red pinstripes on this version.  The picture to the left is the only picture I took which looked decent.  Once I removed the car from the packaging my camera couldn't focus on the car for some reason.  Some special technology Batman added to the car no doubt.  Hot Wheels did do a version of this back in 2003 and many different versions have been released throughout the years.  Again Hollywood Diecast does a good job chronicling all the different Batmobile releases throughout the years from all the different movies, the TV show and unique interpretations.  This car specifically is a pretty good representation of the 1989 movie car.  Not overly detailed but it looks good.  While the red pinstripes aren't a true representation of the movie I like the look on the car.  Keep an eye out for this car as you are out and about.  For under a dollar you can't beat it. 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

League Championship Series Matchups

I've been out of town for almost two weeks and saw only 9 innings worth of the baseball playoffs.  Luckily it was the first 9 innings of the thrilling Kansas City - Oakland wildcard game.  And what a start to the playoffs it was.  I didn't expect either of the upcoming championship series matchups but here I go:

Royals - Orioles - Let's get this out of the way - I'm all in on the Royals' bandwagon.  Hopefully they can pull off the miracle and get to the world series.  It was one thing to beat Oakland in a one game series but they swept who I thought was the best team in the majors - the Angels.  How the heck did that happen?  I didn't get to see the games and the recaps and boxscores don't do it justice.  This was a huge upset.  Now how good are they and can they keep it going?  I think they are good enough to win against Baltimore.  The talent is there.  Still they'll need to play at the top of their game every game for any chance at advancing to the World Series.  Again I love this team and want to see them win but no matter how good they've played to this point it is hard to see them getting past a superior Orioles team.  Of course I would have said that a week ago prior to the Angels series had I had a chance to post my thoughts...  Still I'd love to see them in the World Series and even better to see them kick the Cardinals butt in a rematch of their last playoff/World Series appearance in 1985. 

Baltimore has flown under the radar most of the year.  About the only thing their offense didn't excel at was anything involving speed.  Their power numbers were near the top while also being 5th in the AL in average.  The pitching was 3rd in the AL in ERA though their starters (Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris, Ubaldo Jimenez, Kevin Gausman) probably don't strike fear in most fans when they hear their names.  Still they and their bullpen helped this team win 96 games while no one outside Baltimore paid attention.  They have a good offense that can win with the long ball.  I think this is the better team.  Kansas City should give them a good series assuming they don't wake up and remember they are the Royals.  I think Baltimore wins in 6 games and think it would be a great story considering the Orioles haven't been to the Series since defeating the Phillies in the '83 Fall Classic.

Giants-Cardinals - I really thought we'd see the Nationals in the championship series.  That said the Giants are a good team and have experience plus two of the last four World Series championships.  Good starting pitching here led by Madison Bumgarner and I can't wait to see the game 1 matchup versus Adam Wainwright.  I'm not sure I can quantify how but I think the Giants are the better team.  Look at the records of their starters and two have losing records.  Go figure.  Jake Peavy has been a great pickup as a starter and their bullpen has been very good sans some bumps in the road at closer.  Buster Posey, Hunter Pence and Joe Panik lead a good offense that doesn't have a 30 homerun guy but many in the lineup can hit a homer at anytime.  I like the balance here on offense and in their pitching but I see a hard fought series that goes 7 games.  Bruce Bochy is one of the best managers going and I think that will help the Giants win this tough series.      

Living near St. Louis, and not being a Cardinals fan, I have Cardinals fatigue.  It is fun needling my buddies when the Cards struggle but that hasn't been much this year.  From about the mid point of the season St. Louis hit it's stride and look as good as anyone coming out of the National League.  Not a star studded offense and a relatively young starting staff this team is easily overlooked.  Still Wainwright and John Lackey help steady this staff along with stud catcher Yadier Molina.  The offense struggled mightily at one point this year but caught their second wind and while not sexy are scrappy, if not productive.  Mike Matheny is young and is questioned often here locally but this is his third straight championship series so he is doing something right.  Again I like the Giants here but St. Louis has home field advantage and should push them to the limit.  Should be a great series no matter how it comes out. 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Jaunt With the Wife

I mentioned in the first blog of the month my "jaunts" with the wife.  For us that usually means a trip down a road that hasn't been called that since wagons ran over it, checking out houses or buildings we assume are abandoned, looking for houses with checkered pasts, or straight up chasing ghosts.  This jaunt was one was just North of town when we lived in Clovis, NM.  It was just off the main highway at a cross road that wasn't spectacular in any way.  Trees lined the corner on most of three sides with the highway side mostly clear.  Clumps of trees are good indicators that something may have been in an area at some point so it wasn't uncommon for us to seem those out.  We quickly saw it was definitely where a house once stood as outlined by what was left of the foundation. 

What we found that was out of the ordinary was what we saw in the picture above.  I wish I had done a better job of getting a picture that truly showed what was there.  What we saw looked like the outline of a small casket you might find in 1800's.  It had dimensions that left little doubt as to what it could be.  The odd part was nothing had been in this spot in many, many years.  As you can see the weeds were overgrown.  There was no reason for this bare patch of dirt that was the perfect outline of a casket. 

We wandered the entire area and never did see anything else that looked that out of place.  Maybe some different parts of this or that we couldn't identify but nothing you wouldn't see at any abandoned spot.  To see this in the middle of this field was really odd.  We've wandered many an abandoned property and never seen anything similar.  I'm also betting we were probably the only ones who had been through there in years as there is no reason to ever stop there.  So how did this come to be?  A natural occurrence that would make perfect sense if we knew the answer?  Or was it really something more oddball, more sinister?  I'm always one to come up with an explanation but this one really escaped me.  Why would this one area of dirt have no grass and have such a specific shape?  There was no indication that anything was buried there.  It just looked like something of that shape had sat there for a very long period of time and been removed just prior to us showing up.  It wasn't anything worth Ripley's but it will always puzzle us and I wanted to share.  The next jaunt I'll post about was definitely more adventurous and I think it will be fun to write about it.
Another Picture of the Area From That Night

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

I like Halloween - I really like Halloween

Halloween is my favorite holiday of the year.  I'm sure as a kid I'd have told you it was Christmas and I was probably right but Halloween was a close second.  As I've grown Halloween jumped to #1.  I love everything about it.  The scary scenes like the above, the costumes, the movies, the visuals, the music, the feel of being scared, the candy, everything.  This year I had wanted to post for the 31 days of October.  I got the idea from Erick's Wonderful Wonderblog.  You can see this year's post concerning the Countdown to Halloween here which is annual drive put on by another site.  I'm actually out of town for a bit so for now I'm going to say I'll do it next year.   

As a kid I always dressed up.  Maybe it was a football player, in a homemade wolfman outfit or any of the kind you buy at the store.  Didn't matter.  Just looking forward to picking out my costume was great.  I also loved going to the Halloween fairs they had at school.  I would even trick or treat and I even remember trick or treating on my own as I got older.  Not something you'd do today.  I also remember getting homemade candied apples.  Homemade food is also taboo today.  I even stuffed a shirt and pants and put them in our front yard once.  I also had recorded scary sounds on a cassette tape.  I had no way to remotely play the sounds and it didn't run long so I'd run outside every time I saw someone coming to hit play on the old school cassette player.  I was probably was in my mid teens at the time and I'll never forget how much fun that was.

One thing that I always looked forward to around Halloween were the Halloween TV shows and movies.  In the 70's and early eighties this would be The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, Mad Monster Party, the universal monster's big three (Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolfman), among many others.  One of my first posts here was on my favorite horror movies.  This part of Halloween was always better than Christmas.  I cut my teeth on all the great black and white movies that scared me to death and slowly graduated to Halloween, The Fog, right up to current greats such as the original Scream and Rob Zombie's Halloween.  There are too many to name here but needless to say I could go on and on.  Being scared by a movie or show is something I always look forward too. 

Halloween is also something I've always enjoyed with my youngins.  Passing on the love of Halloween is great.  My kids would tell you they've seen Mad Monster Party way too many times. Still it is great to see them enjoy something that I've had so much fun with throughout the years.  The older kids still at home love to dress up and hand out candy and the wife loves making up all the cool Halloween treats for everyone to enjoy.  We all enjoy seeing the great costumes of kids and how they react to the pumpkins we carved and have put outside the house.  My wife is someone whose interests lend itself to the ghost hunting side of the genre and she was into long before it came into vogue.  We'll go on what we like to call jaunts and I'll share some of those this month in future posts.

Halloween always seems to bring out the fun in folks. We always love talking about everything the season brings.   I'm in the military and one of the things I enjoy every year is our Halloween run and costume contest.  We run a 5K in costume followed by the contest.  I am in communications, which is a career field filled with nerds, and historically we've done very well with costumes.  Just two years ago they took first and second with a group from Futurama as well as Rick Astley.  One more thing to make me look forward to ictober and all it brings.  I look forward to the upcoming season and I hope you have a fun and scary Halloween.