I hate making NFL predictions. Mostly because the NFL is so hard to predict. It’s also hard reading most of them, as many writers sound so sure of themselves when anyone with a brain should know that there are so many factors that will affect the outcome. Every pick involves weighing probabilities and risks.
It’s particularly frustrating in the first couple of weeks in the season, when people who should know a lot about the NFL and football in generally get sucked in by the hype created by the media. Did you hear about Russell Wilson, and how all of a sudden everyone was picking this short, 3rd round pick to have one of the best rookie seasons?
By reading this week’s Bill Simmons article, I learned that he picked the Seahawks as his sleeper Super Bowl pick. I love reading Simmons, but this is another example of how emotion and hype are thrown into the mix whenever he provides “analysis.” He can really break down certain situations, but since he manages to write about practically everything, we often get excited observations that he pulls out of his ass.
Wilson might go on to have a good year for the Seahawks, but the fact remains that Pete Carroll has taken a huge gamble starting this rookie over Matt Flynn as I pointed when earlier in the preseason. The Seahawks do have a shot at the playoffs, but they pretty much gave away game 1 when Wilson completed only 18 of 34 passes for 153 yards and was sacked three times. The icing on the cake was watching Braylon “stone hands” Edwards drop the last pass. They’re just not good enough to give away games.
Now, I’m not going to completely write off Russell Wilson after one game, just like I won’t write off Brandon Weeden after his horrific debut performance. But at least Weeden has a big arm and is closer to 6′ 4″ as opposed to 5′ 11″. The odds are stacked against Wilson, and that’s just a fact. He may overcome them, but the odds for Seattle this season were probably a little better with Matt Flynn running the offense.
Check out all the lines for this weeks games here.
One of the reasons Bill Simmons is so successful as a sportswriter is his ability to wrap the fan perspective into all of his writing. He’s not an “objective” journalist. He doesn’t hide his emotions, and he pours his heart out when his team loses.
He’s also funny as hell, and mixes in pop culture references better than anybody in sports media.
His latest column is a classic, as he recounts his young daughter’s love for the Los Angeles Kings, and how she experienced her first “stomach-punch loss” recently when the Kings couldn’t close out the Devils in Game 5 last Wednesday.
So Wednesday’s game … man.
I tried to warn her. I tried to prepare her: “Look, this is sports, you never know, you can’t just assume they’re going to win.” She wouldn’t hear it. She kept saying, “Dad, stop it, just stop. They’re going to win.” She had the whole night planned in her head, inadvertently jinxing it with questions like, “Who gets to hold the Cup first again?” and “How long will they pass it around?” She insisted on arriving 40 minutes early for warm-ups. On the way there, she leaned out her window and waved to anyone wearing a Kings jersey. We made it downtown and realized it had morphed into a sea of Kings jerseys — more than we had ever seen. She was delighted.
“Look at all the jerseys!!!!” she gushed. “Did the Lakers ever have this many?”
And I just watched the whole thing happen, unable to stop it, knowing the entire time, “Oh God, tonight’s probably the night … her first stomach-punch loss.”
The night ended with his daughter sobbing in their car on the ride home. After last nights loss in New Jersey, the pressure is suddenly on the Kings in game 6. Hopefully she and other Kings fans can celebrate a win that will feel even better after the disappointment of the last two games.
The Hornets, who are owned by the league which acquired it from George Shinn a year ago, realized it was unlikely they would be able to retain Paul with a contract extension or in free agency after he opted out of his contract after this season.
So New Orleans general manager Dell Demps, a respected player personnel man who came from the respected San Antonio Spurs, went to work, hoping to get something for Paul instead of nothing if he left in free agency. Or in Stern’s words, “Getting something more for that player in the event he will leave than if he stays.”
Demps, in his second year as GM of the Hornets, arranged a huge three-team trade with the Lakers and the Houston Rockets: Paul to the Lakers; Los Angeles forward Lamar Odom to the Hornets and Los Angeles forward Pau Gasol to the Rockets, who would have sent forward Luis Scola, guards Kevin Martin and Goran Dragic and a first-round draft pick to New Orleans.
Stern got serious pressure from a number of owners, including Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, who fired off a letter to Stern and other owners calling the trade a travesty.
This trade should go to a vote of the 29 owners of the Hornets.
Over the next three seasons this deal would save the Lakers approximately $20 million in salaries and approximately $21 million in luxury taxes. That $21 million goes to non-taxpaying teams and to fund revenue sharing.
I cannot remember ever seeing a trade where a team got by far the best player in the trade and saved over $40 million in the process. And it doesn’t appear that they would give up any draft picks, which might allow to later make a trade for Dwight Howard.
Miami Heat’s LeBron James speaks during a media conference for the NBA Finals basketball series against the Dallas Mavericks in Dallas, Texas June 8, 2011. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL HEADSHOT)
If you haven’t heard already, Bill Simmons and ESPN have launched a new website at Grantland.com. It will feature longer form articles from Simmons along with other writers, including notable scribes like Malcolm Gladwell.
There’s never a shortage of topics for someone as prolific as Simmons, but he must have been thrilled to kick off his new site immediately following the bizarre Game 4 performance by LeBron James. His first column is classic Simmons, as he analyzes the LeBron situation from every possible angle, starting with The Decision:
Fact: The Decision special drew a better rating than the 2008 Finals, became an iconic moment, turned Jim Gray into a punching bag, gave bloggers a month of free shots at ESPN and turned “Taking my talents to South Beach” into a jack-of-all-trades phrase that meant you were about to leave your job, take a dump or pleasure yourself.
I wonder how long he had that line in his pocket . . .
Anyways, he gives his overall assessment of LeBron James, and I agree with most of it:
a. I think he’s one of the greatest athletes who ever lived. I will never forget watching him in person with a full head of steam, blowing through opponents like a Pop Warner running back who’s 30 pounds heavier and three seconds faster than everyone else. I am glad he passed through my life. I will tell my grandkids that I saw him play.
b. From game to game, I think the ceiling for his performance surpasses any other basketball player ever except for Wilt and Jordan.
c. As a basketball junkie, I will never totally forgive him for spending his first eight years in the NBA without ever learning a single post-up move. That weapon would make him immortal. He doesn’t care. It’s maddening.
d. In pressure moments, he comes and goes … and when it goes, it’s gone. He starts throwing hot-potato passes, stops driving to the basket, shies away from open 3s, stands in the corner, hides as much as someone that gifted can hide on a basketball court. It started happening in Game 3, then fully manifested itself in Game 4’s stunning collapse, when he wouldn’t even consider beating DeShawn Stevenson off the dribble. Afterward, one of my closest basketball friends — someone who has been defending LeBron’s ceiling for years — finally threw up his hands and gave up. “It’s over,” he said. “Jordan never would have done THAT.” (Footnote: That’s the third time LeBron opened the door for someone to say that. The first: Game 5 of the Boston series. The second: choosing to play with Wade.)
The only part of the above I disagree with is the following: “In pressure moments, he comes and goes … and when it goes, it’s gone.” This implies that he only has epic meltdowns, but this just isn’t true. Everyone will remember Game 5 last year against Boston and Game 4 against the Mavs, but there have been countless time where LeBron has had serious lapses of judgement in critical moments. It usually involves getting careless and tossing up a senseless three at times when the team desperately needs a bucket without even trying to get into the offense, let alone setting up for a post-up move or other high-percentage shot. As a Cavs fan I saw this repeatedly, to the point where it became hard to root for the guy. Go back and watch the Cavs-Orlando series from 2009. People remember LeBron’s big three to win Game 2, but that was negated by numerous brain farts throughout the series.
I have no idea what LeBron will do tonight. As Simmons points out, he’s capable of having a legendary game, but he’s also capable of wilting under pressure. Anything is possible, and that’s why most fans can’t wait to watch . . .
Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook dribbles against the Denver Nuggets during the second half in the Western Conference Playoffs-First Round game four at the Pepsi Center in Denver on April 25, 2011. Denver avoided a sweep by Oklahoma City winning 104-101. UPI/Gary C. Caskey
Sorry, I’m not done with Westbrook yet. Oklahoma City has enough talent to win the 2011 title — it’s sitting right there for them — but it’s going to hinge on how Westbrook runs the show. There’s a game beyond the f**king game and I don’t think he can totally see it yet. He’s learning on the fly. A crash course, if you will. I don’t trust him yet. Stephon Marbury never found that balance between scoring and creating; Allen Iverson only found it when they moved him off the ball. Can Westbrook find it on the fly? Either way, Durant’s unreal fourth quarter in Game 5 was the best reality check possible: He basically hired Brother Mouzone and Omar to shoot Stringer Westbrook. We’ll see if he comes back from the dead.
That reminds me, I thought Chuck and Kenny did a spectacular job of breaking down Westbrook’s struggles in Game 5 — he took some heat for the first time (for Game 4) and it clearly affected him, but as Kenny pointed out (I’m paraphrasing), if you want to be great, you need to learn how to handle being the hero and being the goat. That’s the final stage for a basketball player. Durant struggled earlier in the season, took some heat, questioned himself a little, and ultimately, it made him stronger. Now it’s Westbrook’s turn. To be continued.
The Thunder aren’t going to beat the Grizzlies (who are simply on a mission right now) if Westbrook doesn’t learn how to play point guard on the fly. He seemingly hasn’t learned how to exercise good shot selection or set his teammates up in three years, so it’s doubtful that he’s going to be able to learn it in three games.