Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Re-Evaluating The Kingdom

Photo from drjays.com
Just because the Internet in Ghana is spotty doesn't mean that I was not well aware of the Decision 2.0: Instagram/Sports Illustrated Edition last Friday.

This was a lot different from how I found out about the formation of the Big 3 in 2010. I had been in Ghana for about two weeks before finally making my way to an Internet cafe. It was at this point that I was forced to digest, all at once, that Amar'e Stoudemire was headed to my Knicks, and that Chris Bosh and LeBron James were to join Dwyane Wade in Miami. I couldn't control myself and said, "wait, what???" as I looked flabbergasted at my computer screen.

This time around, it was my mom who told me, while on AOL's home page before checking her email (because for some reason she's one of the 7 people on the planet that doesn't use Gmail) that LeBron James was headed to Cleveland. My mother, who is not a sports fan at all, only knew to tell me this being I had spent a few minutes earlier in the day recounting to her the insanity that was taking place back in the U.S. that I heard about through Twitter and Facebook; from website hackers, to cupcake stores, to people camping outside of James's home, to reminding her about to angry letter in blue Comic Sans that the Cavaliers had removed from their website recently.

I had some time to stew, try and digest my dinner, accept that the people who had been yelling about LeBron returning were actually not insane, accept that the Cavs actually executed their pipe dream after seemingly wasting all of their time and energy in a wild pursuit of their former hero, and read. My eyes began to digest Grantland like a seven year old let loose at a free all-you-can-eat ice cream buffet.

Now I'm calm, confused, and ready to re-evaluate the NBA landscape, which was altered forever by two links that James simply tweeted out of the blue.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Belo Horizonte Massacre

Photo from hindustantimes.com
 I know I said I probably wouldn't post anything while in Ghana, but this is a can't miss opportunity.

Right now I'm working at a newspaper in Ghana called The Finder, and an edited version of this article will be published in the weekly sports edition. So, I'm basically an international superstar. Hold the applause, please. 

We all watched what happened last night (or afternoon for those of you in the States). We all looked on in disbelief as Germany chopped up Brazil, chewed them, spit them back out, then chewed them again. I don't know if I can find words to describe the game correctly. Germany annihilated, crushed, mauled, massacred, pillaged, and plundered Brazil. They continued their war against all Portugese speaking nations by beating the Brazilians 7-1, a few weeks after defeating Portugal 4-1 behind a hat trick by Thomas Müller.

Even the goal that Oscar drilled home in the 90th minute couldn't save face for his team and his country. The fans in the crowd even booed their own home team after scoring. Everyone knew that they had no business scoring a single goal in that game. In fact, Brazil deserved to score negative goals in that match.

Coming into the match, people were unsure about how Brazil could combat the losses of star forward Neymar, and their captain Tiago Silva at center back. Even with Neymar, the attack had been lackluster throughout the entire tournament. Last night was the time for Oscar, Fred, and Hulk to step it up now that they didn't have their skillful teammate to bail them out up front. And for the first 10 minutes or so, it looked like they were doing a good job at it. The Brazilians controlled the possession early, forcing the issue and getting the ball deep into the German defense. They were doing a poor job at communicating and connecting on their passes once there. In addition, center backs Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng, who is of Ghanaian descent, were disrupting the host nation's offense.

Despite not touching the ball often, the Germans opened up the scoring with a very nice side-footed volley from Müller, giving him his fifth goal of the World Cup, putting him one goal behind Colombian James Rodriguez for the tournament lead.

Immediately following that score, Brazil continued to control the ball, but were undone by sloppy play at the front. Then at around the 19th minute, there was a shift in the play, as Germany now was consistently putting pressure of Brazil's defensive unit. It was at this point that I wrote in my notes that Dante was actually playing pretty well at center back, filling in for Tiago Silva. It was true at the time, but it was quickly undone, as horrible mistakes by him, Fernandinho, and David Luiz allowed Germany to score three goals in a six minute span.

The first of those goals was a historic one, as Miroslav Klose scored his 16th goal at the World Cup, becoming the most prolific scorer in the history of the ultimate tournament. It only exacerbated the anguish of the Brazilian faithful, as he dethroned one of the biggest Brazilian stars ever, Ronaldo.

Then, only a minute later, Toni Kroos kicked off a stretch in which he beat Brazil's back line twice in two minutes to put his team up 4-0.

Just when you thought things couldn't get any worse for Brazil, Sami Khedira drove in a shot from near the top of the box and it looked like the Germans were simply fooling around at that point.

Despite giving up five goals in the first half, Brazilian goalkeeper Júlio César wasn't even playing poorly. He was not given a proper chance to make saves because his defenders were always leaving wide open spaces for German attackers to run into, then trailing behind once the ball was controlled. The most glaring measure of this was the fact that Brazil controlled possession for 64% of the first half, yet found themselves trailing by 5 goals because they simply were not ready to combat the German counterattack.

The story of the second half was Manuel Neuer messing with Brazil. With the game firmly in his side's hands, he was finally tested as the Brazilians were able to string together some quality offensive chances. But Neuer responded in brilliant fashion with two great saves, then two consecutive stops against Paulinho within the first eight minutes of the second half.

César played well when his teammates gave him a fair chance, but that didn't last long as another defensive lapse led to substitute Andre Schurrle scoring twice within ten minutes, with the second goal being a beautiful left-footed strike that was perfectly placed at the top of the net. At this point the Brazilian faithful were applauding every time their team conceded a goal, because they had given up on cheering for their own team. Also, the television graphic couldn't contain all of Germany's goals at once, so they were forced to scroll up to them all.

And then came the finish, which included an absolutely ridiculous pity goal scored by Oscar to try and salvage some semblance of respect for his team and his nation. But that didn't work. His team his defeated about as soundly as possible. They disappointed themselves and their entire country with a disgraceful performance.

Now's also a good time to point out that Ghana drew Germany in the group stage.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

I'll Be Back

Soon I'll be leaving for Ghana again, where I will be working for a newspaper for four weeks. Much like last year, my internet will range somewhere on a scale of Eddy Curry (absolutely disgraceful) to Gerald Henderson (totally mediocre), leaning more towards the former. Occasionally there may be moments of my internet connection being comparable to Bruno Caboclo (perfect in every way) but those will be fleeting.

Anyway, that means that I'll be away from this site, and from the American sports scene for a bit, but have no fear. I'll try to write something if I can during my time away (no word yet on when it will actually be posted. That's always an adventure, as evidenced by this article) and upon my return I'll be bringing back my 32 in 32 series, where I preview each NFL team leading up to the season opener. I will have significantly less than 32 days to complete it, but I'll double up on some days in order to get it done.

So that's all for now.

Let's go Mets. Let's go Phil Jackson.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Group Stage Winners and Losers

Photo from msn.foxsports.com
The World Cup is now officially halfway through as the group stage shaved the field of teams from 32 teams to 16, and it's time to really start to make sense of what just happened, and what to expect going forward. There have been some surprises to this point, there has been some great performances and games, and overall, the World Cup has had all of the excitement that should be expected of this hallowed tournament. Here are your winners to this point. These may be people, teams, or ideas. Really, anything that was either a pleasant surprise or :

France- After an absolutely disastrous 2010 campaign, the French team has solved all the turmoil and turned things around. Coach Didier Deschamps took over two years ago and attempted to change the culture by refusing to select any players who could potentially cause problems. Even without their best player, Franck Ribéry, the French side is playing extremely fell thanks to great defense and an unstoppable attack led by Karim Benzema's 4 goals. 

The Netherlands- From runners-up in 2010 to the early favorites in 2014, the Dutch have been around the top for quite a while. But, this time around it looks like they've put it all together and have become a powerhouse. It began with a shocking 5-1 demolition of the reigning champions, Spain (I'll get to them later) and nothing has changed. Arjen Robben has looked like the best player in the Cup thus far as he's been working hard and super aggressive in attack. Let's take some time to remember that Robin van Persie did this:

The land mass and people of Brazil- Had Brazil scuffled at all during the group stage and found a way, as impossible as it seems, to get eliminated prior to the knockout stage, I would have worried for the safety of the entire country of Brazil. They made it through. The world is still spinning, for now.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Should the Mets be Using a Tandem Rotation?

Photo from cbssports.com
The first time that I heard of a tandem rotation was when I was listening to the now dead Baseball Today podcast on ESPN, which they need to bring back immediately. Anyway, they brought up that the Rockies were beginning to employ this strategy of a tandem, or piggyback rotation. What that means is, instead of having a traditional five-man rotation, teams would have an eight-man rotation, with two pitchers scheduled to pitch on a given day, and instead of having four days in between outings, pitchers would have three days to recover.

The philosophy behind it is to lower the risk of an arm injury for a pitcher by decreasing the innings and pitch count. The Houston Astros use it in all levels of their minor league system not only to protect their young arms, but to help evaluate more pitchers that with a normal rotation. They have legitimate data on eight guys at a time rather than five pitchers with a much smaller sample size for the other three out of the bullpen.

Another important factor is that most pitchers are better the first time through the order than the second and third times through. This method saves pitchers from blowing up as a result of  going too far into a start, allowing the opposing hitters to adjust to him.

Now, how exactly does this happen? The first pitcher would be scheduled for about 4 innings and 75 pitches, at which point the second "starter" would come in to relieve him., with the same pitch and inning restrictions before handing it off to the bullpen if necessary.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Group G Update

An image that still makes me sad. Go Black Stars. Photo from telegraph.co.uk
The first day of action for Group G may turn out to be the most important of them all. The day began with Germany's shocking demolition of Portugal. The fact that they won the game wasn't so surprising to me, it was rather the dominant fashion in which they did it. their defense was stifling and didn't allow Cristiano Ronaldo to get anything going. On the other side, great passing led to four goals, including a hat trick by Thomas Müller.

It ended with the United States exacting revenge on Ghana for knocking them out of the last two World Cups by beating them 2-1, with their first goal coming 34 seconds in off the foot of Clint Dempsey. As a Ghanaian-American, I'm still upset by the result of that game. I was feeling good for about four minutes after Dede Ayew tied the game up, but then the newest American superhero, John Brooks won the game. It effectively knocks Ghana out of the tournament, barring a miracle.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

NBA Finals Game 5 Live Blog

Photo from rsenetwork.net
This is the third straight year that I've done a live blog for an elimination game in the NBA Finals, and I've had great results so far. First, I was writing my reactions as the Big 3 won their first title by closing out the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 5 two years ago. Then, last year, after live blogging all day about a Mets doubleheader that started with Matt Harvey and led into the debut of Zack Wheeler, I live blogged the amazing Game 6 of the Finals. Refresh the page for updates.

First of all, Erik Spoelstra replaced Mario Chalmers in the lineup with Ray Allen. Shalmers has been absolutely useless so far in the series, so it's good that he's been relegated to the bench. This confirms my thinking that LeBron James will be in control of the ball for most of the night.

NBA Finals Chronicles, Sunday June 15

Photo from urbankompass.com
I will be writing a live blog during tonight's Game 5 as I watch what I think will be a fairly dominant Heat victory. I simply don't see the Heat allowing themselves to go down so easily, especially after being embarrassed in the last two games at home. As I said yesterday, there's still a very good chance that the Spurs will win the series with their next opportunity in Game 6.

Dwyane Wade has looked awful in this series. His total lack of defensive effort along with his overall poor offense has been one of the many factors in his team's struggles to this point. He looks tired and unhealthy. I don't know if that's simply him breaking down or something else that's happening. Either way, I expect to see him give everything he has tonight, as he supports LeBron James, and those two break down San Antonio's defense.

James will have the ball in his hands all night, playing the point. He'll be aggressive from the beginning in terms of scoring. One thing to watch out for is his confidence in his jump shot early. The Spurs will of course be giving him the perimeter from the opening tip. He'll challenge that strategy. If he's knocking down shots with regularity, he's going to have an amazing game, and can score as many as 60 points. That doesn't mean that he'll continue to settle as the game goes along. Once he knows he has his shooting ability to use as a weapon all night, he'll be aggressive in driving to the hoop, not only to score, but to draw fouls and open up the perimeter for others. That's where Wade comes in. In recent years, he's been one of the best players in the NBA off the ball, as his constant cuts to open space lead to most of his points. There will be a lot of that tonight.

Also look out for Chris Bosh, as his ability to knock down the open mid range shot tonight will be a key.

Don't think I'm forgetting the Spurs here. While I'm not predicting them to win, there's obviously still a chance that they close it out. Once again their role players will attempt to take over the game from the beginning offensively, and if they are able to do so, the Spurs will be celebrating with the Larry O'Brien trophy tonight.

But LeBron James won't let it happen. At least, not yet.

Look for the live blog throughout the game.

A Disgruntled Knicks Fan Reacts to the Derek Fisher Hiring

Photo from espn.com
Ever since Steve Kerr was hired by the Golden State Warriors, it seemed obvious to me that Derek Fisher was lined up to be the next coach of the New York Knicks.

There was no way that Jeff Van Gundy would decide to leave his comfortable position at ESPN to take over the Knicks as currently constructed. He has previously expressed interest in returning to the bench at some point down the road, but there's too much dysfunction to have to sift through to build a contender. He's in such high demand all over the basketball world I would have found it very hard to believe that he'd settle for such a bad job. The Knicks have two overpaid guys who are causing the team to have cap issues, a superstar who can potentially walk away this summer, a slow point guard with legal issues, Andrea Bargnani, a volatile shooting guard whose behavior on and off the court is totally unpredictable. Of course, what they don't have is their 2014 first round draft pick, because they used it to acquire Carmelo Anthony, which I'm okay with. They also don't have their 2016 first rounder, which they used to acquire...Andrea Bargnani. To put it lightly, I'm not okay with that.

That's a lot of front office turmoil that new President Phil Jackson is trying to figure out, but the on court product is certainly a reflection of those issues. The team finished 37-45, finishing ninth in the atrocious Eastern Conference, and missing the playoffs by one game. Despite winning 54 games and finishing second in the conference last year, the team is a complete mess. Van Gundy is too good to return to the team that he quit back in 2001 just to deal with what will be an arduous rebuilding process.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

NBA Finals Chronicles, Saturday June 14

Photo from fansided.com
I'm back from the Mets game and postgame 50 Cent concert, so it's time to bring you today's column. I'm already depressed because the Rangers are finished and the Mets managed only two hits today, but now it looks like my pick for the Finals is going to be wrong.

First of all, take some time to appreciate that segue.

As for the series itself, with this night off it's time to not only look ahead to Game 5, and (potentially) the remaining game(s), but to reflect on what has happened so far.

The Spurs have controlled the series thoroughly. Night by night it hasn't seemed so, other than in Game 4, but overall, San Antonio has dominated the Heat. Their ball movement is great and it has been tough for Miami to keep up with them as the ball was being whipped around. On defense, Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter, and Boris Diaw have been clogging the paint, forcing the Heat into taking jumpers or contesting them well at the hoop.

There's two ways I think this series could finish. Either the Spurs win in 6 games, or the Heat win in 7, as I predicted before the Finals began. There's simply no way that LeBron James will allow his team to be embarrassed in 5 games. Even if they end up dropping the series, it will certainly not be tomorrow night. More on that tomorrow.

What's interesting is the follow up to that game. It's possible that the Spurs respond with another unstoppable offensive show and close it out on the road. It's also possible that the Heat will put it together, and led by James, save their lives one more time at home in front of an energized crowd, much like last year's Game 6.

Should that happen, I see the Heat taking Game 7 in San Antonio. The reason why I picked the Heat to prevail in 7 games was because I didn't see any way that James would let his team lose a Game 7 on the road, as it would end up being the most important game of his career.

And that's exactly what I'm predicting. The Heat will still win in 7 games. Maybe I'm crazy, but I'm putting all of my faith in the greatest player of this generation. He's stepped up at times before, but now it's time for him to make history, and make his team the first to return from a 3-1 deficit in the Finals. If he plays like he's capable of playing at his very best, it's possible. At the same time, I obviously won't be surprised at all if the Spurs end it before Game 7 even rolls around. In that case, there will be a major shakeup of some sorts involving Miami's roster. Whether it be the departure of one of their stars, or the arrival of another great player, such as Carmelo Anthony, something will happen. But if LeBron lets the Heat pull out the victory, he'll earn some serious points in the conversation of the greatest players ever. I already give him the respect that he deserves, but now all of the "haters" must as well.