Meadow Muffins of the Mind

The droppings of some guy's imagination.

Tag: New York

2010 NFL Power Rankings – Final

Well, one week of the playoffs is already in the can … that said, for posterity’s sake, here are the final numbers:

Rank Team W L T Margin Sched Rtg SOS Rank Last Wk
1 Patriots 14 2 0 17.09 3.481 2 1
2 Packers 10 6 0 13.324 2.745 6 3
3 Steelers 12 4 0 12.965 2.653 9 4
4 Falcons 13 3 0 10.79 1.353 22 5
5 Chargers 9 7 0 9.833 0.833 24 2
6 Ravens 12 4 0 8.99 1.803 16 7
7 Jets 11 5 0 8.251 2.329 11 8
8 Eagles 10 6 0 7.571 2.164 12 6
9 Saints 11 5 0 6.634 0.29 28 9
10 Colts 10 6 0 6.559 1.872 14 10
11 Bears 11 5 0 6.182 1.666 20 13
12 Raiders 8 8 0 4.792 1.495 21 15
13 Giants 10 6 0 4.647 0.475 25 11
14 Titans 6 10 0 4.588 1.854 15 12
15 Lions 6 10 0 3.851 2.851 5 16
16 Chiefs 10 6 0 3.771 -0.479 30 14
17 Bucs 10 6 0 3.59 0.403 27 21
18 Texans 6 10 0 1.895 2.458 10 19
19 Dolphins 7 9 0 1.302 3.302 3 17
20 Cowboys 6 10 0 1.125 1.797 17 20
21 Browns 5 11 0 0.733 2.671 7 18
22 Bengals 4 12 0 0.317 3.755 1 27
23 Vikings 6 10 0 0.218 2.656 8 24
24 49ers 6 10 0 -0.447 0.459 26 28
25 Redskins 6 10 0 -0.87 1.974 13 26
26 Rams 7 9 0 -1.355 -0.871 31 25
27 Jaguars 8 8 0 -1.423 0.952 23 22
28 Bills 4 12 0 -3.284 3.231 4 23
29 Seahawks 7 9 0 -3.974 0.151 29 29
30 Broncos 4 12 0 -4.008 1.773 18 30
31 Cardinals 5 11 0 -8.242 -0.945 32 31
32 Panthers 2 14 0 -9.675 1.732 19 32

If we used the raw numbers from this thing for the wild card round, we would have had (without adjusting for home field):

Saints by 10.6 over the Seahawks, Jets by 1.8 over the Colts, Ravens by 5.2 over the Chiefs, Packers by 5.7 over the Eagles.  Pat on the back for me, even if my picks did not make the mark!

For the record, incorporating the Week 18 results, the raw numbers for this weekends matchups (the delta in “margin”):

Steelers by 2.8 over the Ravens, Packers by 2.6 over the Falcons, Patriots by 8.7 over the Jets, Bears by 9.3 over the Seahawks … picks to come later in the week

 

2010 NFL Playoffs: Wild Card Round

Wow, it HAS been a while, hasn’t it? Anyhoo, Happy New Year to this teeny tiny following here, and I hope that your holidays have been good. Writing from India, obviously great blogging time has been intermittent. (Thus the dearth of power rankings) Of course, there will be posts covering that adventure forthcoming.

However, there is the business at hand, the wild card round and the four matches. With time a wastin before my flight tonight, time to get some wrong picks out there. This way if I am wrong, I have to be accountable – I did not attend Tom Coughlin’s school of blame shifting.

New Orleans Saints (-10.5) at Seattle Seahawks: It is hard for this to not offend my sensibility. The Seahawks of Pete Carroll, by virtue of their location in the truly execrable NFC West, rode a 7-9 record to a home game against the Saints. The Saints are considerable still, though lacking the creds of last year, in particular a decimated running back corps. The defense has been less turnover strong than a year ago. But come on! Even with home field, the Seabags were one of the league’s worst most of the season, and they were debating QBs for the game. The only question is if the Saints cover. Saints 34, Seahawks 17

New York Jets at Indianapolis Colts (-2.5): Rematch of last year’s AFC title game. The Jets are better, the Colts are worse. Now, the Jets have issues running consistently, while Mark Sanchez is beat up at quarterback. The defense is strong though. However the blitz heavy defense is made to order for Peyton Manning if his line can block. And they’ll have to with their injuries at skill positions and their near total inability to run. Peyton can make any prognosticator look bad, but the Jets have to be smarter in their defense this season, especially with a stronger cornerback tandem. Few points but Jets 20, Colts 14

Green Bay Packers at Philadelphia Eagles (-2.5): Rematch of week 1, but this might as well not be. That Eagle team thought Kevin Kolb would be starting. Instead we have the force of nature that is Mike Vick back in the playoffs for the first time in 6 seasons. The Eagles are the most dynamic offense in the league with unmatched big play ability from both passing and running avenues. The Packers have a big play defense and their own force of nature in Aaron Rodgers quarterbacking, but a line that gives him little help, and a total inability to run the football. The Eagles defense makes plays but gives points up, while their return and kicking game require no explanation. Anyway, this is clearly the best game of the weekend. The Eagles do just enough. Eagles 31, Packers 28

Baltimore Ravens (-3) at Kansas City Chiefs: The playoffs are back in Kansas City, which is neat. And this team is in line with what the 90s Martyball teams would love – running hard, passing smart, strong defense. Baltimore clearly is an elite team, especially when they keep the offense focused around Ray Rice like they did in their win over the Saints in Week 15. The defense gets the ink, but they have given up big ground games to opponents much of the year. In a lot of ways this is an offense driven Raven team between Flacco, Rice and their depth at receiver. Baltimore scares me as a Patriots fan but they have to advance first, and the Chiefs might be the wrong matchup. This is no fun without calling a surprise. Chiefs 23, Ravens 20

2011 NBA Preview: Teams 18-13

Before we get to the meat, a side note:

  • I only managed to catch the final two fights on UFC 121.  I am normally not a huge MMA guy, but when the top needle mover in the sport is going, I am up for it.  Brock Lesnar since coming over from fake sports (I knew him from WWE) has been a force of nature unlike anything MMA has seen before.  However, Cain Velasquez was the first guy he faced who was legitimately faster than him.  Lesnar came out hot but Velasquez was ready for it and after the initial rush Velasquez beat the living crap out of Lesnar.  What a performance!  Lesnar needs to figure out how to defend himself when he gets sent down – this almost killed him against Carwin.  Also, sadly, Jake Shields sucked – gave me no reason to think that John Fitch does not deserve to UFC’s #1 contender for GSP – as horrible as that sounds.
  • Wow is Lesnar’s chin awful or what?

Now, back to basketball.

As we rise up the rankings, we have passed bad teams, interesting but unripe teams, uninteresting but skilled teams … now we start getting into fringy playoff sides.

18. Indiana Pacers (21st overall in 2010, 26th offense, 14th defense)

Really the Charlotte Bobcats forecast in our previous entry and the next two entries might qualify for the least interesting teams in the league for this season.  They aren’t bad in any sort of customary way, they might even make the playoffs to be a punching bag for a really good side – but I don’t see much sizzle here.  Danny Granger is a terrific player, but clearly more of a #2 than a #1.  Darren Collison is an excellent point guard prospect, and unlike TJ Ford seems to know that passing is a good idea.  Still, is he going to be on the Rose-Rondo-Deron-CP3 sort of future short list?  But then: Brandon Rush, Tyler Hansbrough, Dontae Jones, Roy Hibbert, Mike Dunleavy.  There are a lot of decent players here, but decent is it.  To his credit, Larry Bird recognized the stasis and went for some high ceiling low probability guys in Paul George and Lance Stephenson in the draft.  If some of that works, maybe this is a playoff team and attractive to a free agent with the cap room they have.  But I don’t know.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: Paul George reaches his ceiling and Darren Collison is a lot better than I think (and I respect him a lot), while Granger remains a high efficiency scorer.  Really, they might have to join the NBDL too.  This is a potential playoff team, but I don’t see what that potential means.

17. New Orleans Hornets (19th overall in 2010, 16th offense, 22nd defense)

Much drama was had regarding Chris Paul’s flailing about and tacit demanding of a trade.  Really it was part of a very eventful offseason.  Jeff Bower, the GM and interim coach left, the Hornets got someone from the Spurs (always a decent idea) and hired Monte Williams as coach, a lauded assistant I know nothing about.  They traded for Trevor Ariza to give some athleticism and drafted Quincy Pondexter for even more.  The team has some talent, but really they are the West’s Washington Wizards, who placed a lot of high value bets on decent players who did not deserve such faith.  One man’s Caron Butler, put simply, is another’s Peja Stojakovic.  Fortunately for the Hornets, they have some cap room next year, but will they fulfill Chris Paul’s wishes to have a chance to win without him making a pinkie swear promise with somebody?

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: NBA teams are only allowed to play one point guard on the floor with no other players.

16. Phoenix Suns (3rd overall in 2010, 1st offense, 19th defense)

So THIS is the fallout from one of the most joyous seasons in Suns history.  Sure they lost a tough series to the Lakers, but the season was such found money that it is hard to argue the season was nothing but a screaming success.  So they celebrated by losing Amare Stoudemire to the Knicks, bungling the situation so they could not get a giant cap exception.  They then signed Hakim Warrick, traded for Josh Childress and traded for Hedo Turkoglu, one of the ghastliest contracts in the NBA.   Louis Amundsen, their energy big man off their remarkable bench left for Golden State.  The end result is Steve Nash is surrounded by a bevy of small forwards, and a couple of VERY soft big men.  Also gone is the shooting prowess of Leandro Barbosa.  Honestly, I am not sure besides Steve Nash, Jason Richardson and Channing Frye, where the firepower is coming from outside.  Can they play the breakneck pace they always do and shoot well?  Sure.  But their defense, not a strength a year ago (and it actually WAS a strength under D’Antoni) could be earth shatteringly bad.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: They somehow match last year’s true shooting percentage and offensive efficiency while Robin Lopez turns into Marcus Camby.  They need to defend marginally well and rebound.  They could majorly overachieve again, but I don’t expect any team that scares away a guy like Steve Kerr to be achieving much of anything.

15. New York Knicks

In a fun coincidence, we follow Mike D’Antoni’s old team with his current one.  On the bad side, the Knicks plan to get LeBron James as a colossal failure.  They had no way of knowing about the pinky swear promise, and as such they built up their fans’ hopes for nothing.  Some have called the offseason an unmitigated disaster.  I am inclined to empathize, but given this – their offseason was actually pretty good.  They signed Amare Stoudemire.  Sure he has no partner in crime, but by not splurging otherwise, there is some possibility to get that guy.  They fleeced Golden State trading David Lee’s one dimensional ass for Anthony Randolph who has Shawn Marion sort of ability dripping off of him.  They signed Raymond Felton to one of the smartest deals of the offseason – while that might not be a perfect fit on the court, he was a great value.  There is not the three point gunning in this lineup to satisfy D’Antoni, but there are the athletes to run, run, run.  The Knicks have the talent to get back into the playoffs at least.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: If the 2005 Suns magic strikes again and these guys all DO become great 3 point gunners.  There are a lot of 129-122 results in this team’s future.  There is no real title hope here, but the entertainment value will be there.

14. Atlanta Hawks (8th overall in 2010, 4th offense, 15th defense)

What is interesting about the Hawks offense is that they basically succeeded by not passing.  Their noted isolation heavy attack relied on shooting a lot and rebounding misses.  They led the league in lowest turnover rate because guys just shot it when they had it.  Their 4th ranked offensive rebounding stat shows how they were efficient.  They did a great job at making sure stuff was heading to the basket, such a great job that they had some slack when the ball did not go in.  That said, this team had great health and a great season off the bench for Jamal Crawford, and Josh Smith is one of the covert best players in the NBA.  Really this is the most predictable outfit in the league.  They are good and durable and playoff caliber.  But they just aren’t good enough to beat top teams in the postseason.  This has shown the last two years with their drubbings in the second round – their isolation offense gets exposed and they have no plan B.  If individual talent fails, what to do?  Allegedly new coach Larry Drew is trying to add some motion, but it’s hard to see them changing much.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: The United States east of Atlanta crumbles and falls into the sea.

13. Denver Nuggets (10th overall in 2010, 6th offense, 16th defense)

Denver is in a weird place in their development.  10th a year ago, some of that can be attributed to George Karl’s bout with cancer.  Really, this side is not significantly different from the team that outplayed the Lakers for five games in 2009 – and is the best foul drawing team in recent history.  However, health, status all of that is in flux.  Does Carmelo Anthony want out?  He has been heard making noises about a pinkie swear promise with Chris Paul, or Meg Ryan or Amy Adams, I don’t know.  But there is some evidence of unrest.  Their desperately thin frontcourt is in even more peril as Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen have significant knee issues.  While Al Harrington (a good pickup) gives them some floor spacing, he hurts their already meh defense.  The team can shoot though, especially if JR Smith can stay more consistent than he has been, and Ty Lawson has all the makings of a star just waiting to escape the cage his coaches have put him in.  Denver could win the title – the talent is there, but this is very much like what a football preview writer might have said about the Minnesota Vikings.  This could REALLY go in any direction.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: Carmelo Anthony stops making doe eyes at the East Coast and plays the basketball he is capable of, their thin big rotation stays healthy and Ty Lawson and JR Smith give them a true energizer dream backcourt to supplement what the old hand of Chauncey Billups can offer.  Denver could win 55 games, they could win 35 … I am totally flummoxed.

 

League Championship Series Previews

Let’s cut to the chase … two potentially great LCS matchups on the table … all four teams have good short series winning ballclubs.

Yankees vs Rangers:

Your ALCS matchup.  The key to the series is the secondary starting pitching, especially now that Texas had to use Cliff Lee to win Game 5 against Tampa.  That said, the Friday ALCS start is of great help as Lee will be ready on full rest for Game 3, setting up a Game 3/7 possibility.  Game 1 becomes a big key with the Yankees running Sabbathia against CJ Wilson presumably for Texas.  The Yankees almost HAVE to claim CC’s starts as he is far and away their most reliable starter to pick off good hitting, which the Rangers are not lacking.  The Yankees are the best baserunner generating team in the league, and can mash any sort of mediocre pitching.  The Rangers back end starters are in trouble here – which makes CJ Wilson’s work all the more important.  Cliff Lee cannot be used more than twice, and the Rangers have to force the second time to occur – this makes it an uphill battle for them.  So in the battle of the team of Nixon vs the team of George Bush Jr, Yankees in 6 is the pick.

Phillies vs Giants

Look at all that starting pitching!  Halladay vs Lincecum, Oswalt vs Cain, Hamels vs Sanchez.  All of these matchups are really restaurant quality – and Halladay is so pitch efficient that the Phillies might be able to bypass their #4 starter, which is not a strength.  Runs will be hard to come by, and so we are left with focusing on offenses.  On that front, there is no comparison.  The Phillies offense lacks the greatness of the last couple of years, but their depth is much better than the Giants, whose best hitter pre-Buster Posey this season was a journeyman fungible corner like Aubrey Huff.  Howard might not have had a great season, but he is a threat.  Utley is terrific, Werth has had a strong season.  It is hard to see how the Giants score enough.  Phillies in 5

MLB Division Series Previews

After the marathon, now comes the four week sprint to the finish line.  The baseball playoffs are the most compelling of sporting events – tension in every pitch, and really the exact opposite set of skills being tested.  If the regular season is about run scoring and organizational depth, the postseason is about everyday lineup and the ability to prevent baserunners.  So with that, the previews of each of the four Division Series matchups.

Yankees vs Twins

On paper, the Yankees are the best team in the American League.  The lineup is unmatched and the bullpen is very strong.  The defense is not as bad as it has been in year’s past with Brett Gardner representing a huge upgrade over what they were wheeling out in the past.  That said, the rotation has sagged, with AJ Burnett turning from a coach back into a pumpkin, and Andy Pettitte’s effectiveness being not guaranteed.  The Twins were right there for best record until the last weekend, but when we look at the sort of components you need to win short series baseball, there is not a ton there:

  • Lineups: Puh-leeze.  The Yankees smashed other pitchers into oblivion all season, despite Alex Rodriguez fading to merely very good, and Derek Jeter slipping to somewhat above average.  Robinson Cano is a legitimate MVP candidate, and they get power out of so many positions.  The Twins get on base, but without Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer is the only scary hitter they have – although Jim Thome has had a nice wayback machine season. (Edge: Yankees)
  • Bullpen: Both have been good down the stretch, but the Yankees miss more bats.  The less contact at this time of year, the better. (Edge: Yankees)
  • Defense: Both solid here.  Twins always make it a priority, though Yanks might be better in the edges.  If we use Fangraphs runs saved, Twins are 3rd, the Yankees are 10th in the AL.  For UZR, Twins are 2nd, Yanks are 5th.  (Edge: Twins)
  • Rotation:  Yanks have more upside, though both teams only have one reliable starter.  Sabbathia must be a horse for the Yankees to make their dreams come true.  Liriano is an ace, though not sure he has the durability needed here. (Edge: Yankees)
  • Manager: Both are obsessed with smallball, and Girardi managed the Yankees out of basically 3 of their 4 losses in the postseason last year.  Gardenhire is less inclined to screw things up.  (Edge: Twins)

The Twins last year were the worst team ever to make the postseason.  This is a much better squad.  But for short series baseball, they are not the Yankees equal, even with the Yankees being worse than a year ago.  Yankees in 4

Rays vs Rangers

This is a fascinating matchup of youth and upside.  Two great farm systems bearing all their fruit – really this is as wide open an AL playoff as there has been in quite some time.  The Rays made the World Series in 2008, so we know their short series credentials are strong.  The Rangers less so, though this is far more dangerous than the Gonzalez-Pudge-Rick Helling teams they ran out in the mid to late 90s.

  • Lineup: The Rays lack star power.  Longoria is their one true stud, as Zobrist has not been as good as in year’s previous.  But they take excellent at-bats up and down the lineup.  They are a good on base team.  The Rangers are a better on base team, but in a better hitters park.  But Josh Hamilton has been magnificent and Nelson Cruz has shown a lot of power.  (Edge: Rangers, but not by much)
  • Rotation: David Price and Cliff Lee are both Cy Young caliber guys.  But behind them, stuff changes.  CJ Wilson has the stuff of an excellent #2, but the dropoff is solid.  The Rays with James Shields, Matt Garza, Wade Davis have more options, though Cliff Lee could pitch in short rest. (Edge: Rays)
  • Bullpen: Rafael Soriano and Neftali Feliz are great closers.  Both bullpens have lefty and righty options and good setup guys.  The Rays are a little better here .  (Edge: Rays, slightly)
  • Defense: The Rays are a terrific run preventing defense. (5th in Runs Saved, 3rd in UZR)  The Rangers are more middle of the pack (9th and 7th respectively)  The Rays rode their defense to a pennant in 2008 – we know they can do this. (Edge: Rays)
  • Managing: Maddon is solid, respects OBP, and has shown sound tactics all season.  He hurt them in 2008, but seems smarter.  Washington has been with the Rangers for years.  He is certainly not bad.  (Edge: Rays)

A Rangers win is not a surprise here.  They are so talented and young in so many places.  They could rule the West for years.  But the Rays are the best team in baseball.  Does that mean they escape the murderous AL?  I don’t know – because there are tough opponents like this.  Rays in 5

Braves vs Giants

The Braves have stumbled to the finish line under the weight of serious injury problems.  They are a terrific on-base team though it has not translated to runs – though Jason Heyward is going to be a superstar.  The pitching has been solid all year.  Fortunately they are facing another offensively starved team led by a young uberstar (Buster Posey) in the Giants.  Both of these teams should be cannon fodder for the team below, but this is the most fascinating of the first round series.

Offense: Both stink.  The Braves have so many guys hurt, and the Giants have just been anemic all season.  That said, the Giants play in such a pitcher’s park that will explain some of their horror show, and with revived Pat Burrell, Aubrey Huff and Posey, they have a bit more to offer personnel wise than the Braves who are Heyward, Brian McCann and hope.  (Edge: Giants, slightly)

Defense: Both good.  3rd and 4th in runs saved.  That said, the Giants UZR is much better – indicating they get to more balls possibly.  This is somewhat speculative but the Giants show a bit more. (Edge: Giants)

Rotation: Both strong.  Lincecum and Cain are studs and Jonathan Sanchez and Baumgartner are all good for the Giants.  The Braves had to fight to the last day and use Tim Hudson, their ace, to get in.  This means that Derek Lowe needs to be able to give 2 starts to win this series.  For that reaso alone the Giants have the edge.

Bullpen: Both excellent.   Both managers have a lot of weapons at their disposal, the Braves being the bigger surprise with Billy Wagner having a wayback machine season.  (Push)

Manager: Cox is one of the best ever.  Bochy is not.  But he’s not Dusty Baker either.  (Edge: Braves)

Braves got a gift matchup, and they need it given how badly they limped to the finish line.  The Giants have the sort of team that can win a short series with that nasty top 3 in the rotation and solid defense.  The Braves on-base talent though could be enough to squeeze this series out.  This is a serially weird series to call, but I have to pick something.  Giants in 5

Phillies vs Reds

Here we are, your World Series favorite.  The Phillies with Oswalt, have such a short series devastating rotation and a lineup comparable to a good AL team that it’s hard to not see them get to their 3rd world series in a row, and for once a rotation edge on any AL team.  The Reds are young and gifted though, but this is the wrong year to get this matchup.

Lineup: The Phillies have fewer holes than the average NL lineup.  When healthy Chase Utley is the best player in baseball, and Ryan Howard is a good hitting 1B albeit split heavy and overrated.  Werth has had a terrific contract year.  This is not as strong a lineup as they have had in the past but certainly good.  The Reds are younger and Joey Votto is an MVP candidate.  Jay Bruce is a serious upside guy also and Scott Rolen has had a nice wayback season.   Both teams enjoy hitting parks.  (Edge: Reds)

Rotation: The Reds have been better than one’d expect, with Cueto having a strong year.  But the Phillies run out two potential #1 types in Halladay and Hamels with Oswalt being a tick below but damn good.  Really this top 3 might make them the favorites to win it all, period this year. (Edge: Phillies big)

Bullpen: Neither team is especially good.  The difference is the rotations and usage patterns of each manager, which shift the balance here.  In a vacuum, it’s a push, but games are played in TV sets, not in vacuums.  (Edge: Phillies)

Defense:  The Reds have been strong, 4th in the NL is UZR and Runs Saved.  The Phillies are middle of the pack in both.  The outfield defense in particular with Ibanez and Victorino seems meh.  The Reds can field the ball, if the pitchers can keep it in the park.  (Edge: Reds)

Manager: Charlie Manuel is old school while Dusty Baker might have run his staff into the ground.  Somehow, the Reds got in despite it.  Manuel will trust his lineup and not overmanage.  Dusty of course, well … we know.  (Edge: Phillies)

The Phillies are the heavy favorite in the NL and could very well win the whole damn thing with that pitching.  They have short series muscle to the teeth.  The Reds are young and this series has some slugfest potential – some – but the Phils might end up doing most of the slugging with that Reds staff. Phillies in 3

Dare to be Stupid – More NBA Free Agency

The reporting has been a little slow lately.  Maybe it’s the Independence Day holiday – maybe just the nature of the beast and everyone waiting for LeBron.  But a couple more moves:

Atlanta Hawks sign Joe Johnson for 6 years $120 million: I wrote about this already. This is a mind bendingly stupid deal by the Hawks.  It’s not like they sell out the building – the Hawks have always been a tough draw, and Atlanta is probably the worst pro sports market in the United States anyway.  The Hawks are a good team – good enough to make the 2nd round in each of the last two playoffs.  However, they lost 8 straight in that round by double figures.  As constituted, this team cannot make the leap.  But what have they done?  Replaced Mike Woodson with his assistant who might keep their system – which is good but also has bogged down in the playoffs.  Then they re-sign their money man without any sort of hometown discount.  Basically Johnson is back solely for the coin.  And one can easily argue Josh Smith is their best player – and will be in the future.  The Hawks have doomed themselves to a very limited ceiling for the foreseeable future.

New York Knicks sign Amare Stoudemire for 5 years, $100 million: On some basic level the Knicks overpaid for Amare here.  Amare is a poor defender, and showed some low effort in the Lakers series.  He could be taken out of games at times.  But he is a prodigious inside scorer, and is returning to the system where he became a household name.  In addition, the Knicks HAD to land a big fish.  Given how they have sold this strategy to their fans, and given how little hope Knicks fans have felt for years – they NEEDED to get a big catch this offseason.  Stoudemire certainly qualifies, and will probably justify his deal.  There is also some room for the Knicks to go get someone else.  This move does not make the Knicks a title contender – but now they have a chance to put that sort of team out there – whether it be with the rest of this offseason or next year.

Boston Celtics re-sign Paul Pierce for 4 years $60 million: The haggling on the fourth year was about how guaranteed it would be.  The details when they come out will be interesting.  That said, Pierce has gone through a lot.  He survived a stabbing, and never asked to leave Boston.  And while he is not the player he was, his virtues (size and shooting ability) are durable and his secondary skills offer value.  This is an old team – but torching it was not a viable cap option – not with Garnett being unmovable through 2012.  So the Celtics and Pierce got a mutually beneficial agreement, and the Celtics have a chance to do some rebuilding on the fly with Rasheed’s contract hopefully.

Dallas Mavericks re-sign Dirk Nowitzki for 4 years $80 million: Dirk is one of the ten best players in the league, and his biggest skills (shooting, rebounding, being tall) assure he will be a viable player for far beyond this deal.  Mavericks and he also good mutual agreement.  In addition, if Dallas wanted to take a long odds stab at LeBron – they have a lot of enticing pieces to offer.

NBA Trade Deadline – The Final Rush

Well, after much speculation about whether it would be quiet or not – we got a real hoppin trade deadline after all!  So, as a follow up to two other posts on the topic, the final deals:

  • Bucks get Royal Ivey, Primoz Brezec and a 2010 2nd Rounder, Sixers get Jodie Meeks and Francisco Elson

Elson is a classic buyout candidate.  Useful big, solid defender, few other recognizable basketball skills.  Jodie Meeks has not shot lights out yet at the pro level, but for anyone who saw him score 54 against Tennessee, we know the kid can stroke it.  Sixers have been a lousy shooting team for years – they could use all the help they get.  The Bucks get a solid backup PG whom they are familiar with and a second round pick – which should be in the mid 30s, this year.  In other words, a deal that made sense for everyone, even if it is low profile.

  • Grizzlies get Ronnie Brewer, Jazz get protected 1st Rounder in 2011.

Jazz do not NEED Ronnie Brewer.  That said Brewer is an excellent defender and good efficient player even if he is not a good shooter.  He was good enough to start for a title contender.  The Jazz probably did not hurt themselves that much, but making a money dump when they are a legit Top 4 team in the West is a letdown.  The Grizzlies get themselves a legit rotation player and capable 6th man for what could be an outside the lottery 2011 draft pick.  Hard to get revved up about the Jazz philosophy here.

  • Kings get Dominc McGuire, Wizards get $$ and a conditional 2nd Rounder

Not much to say here.  Wizards get below the luxury tax line – and thus could keep Ilgauskas the rest of the year, and the Kings get to see a good defensive specialist sort for the rest of the season, no strings attached.  Let’s move on.

  • Bobcats get Theo Ratliff, Spurs get conditional 2nd Rounder

Another straight dump.  Ratliff could make the Bobcats rotation, maybe.  Not sure why I even listed this.

  • Bobcats get Tyrus Thomas, Bulls get Flip Murray, Acie Law and future 1st Rounder

Bulls get something for the perpetually intriguing Tyrus Thomas.  Law could be a useful backup PG, though with Derrick Rose there, it is bit of a Maytag repairman job.  Flip Murray is one dimensional – but a dimension who can catch fire (a poor man’s Eddie House).  The 1st Rounder from what I read could take a while to materialize – no earlier than 2012.  For the Bobcats, Thomas’ talent is undeniable – though he has been a knucklehead and shown the talent only in flashes.  He can walk after the season – for a playoff push, it’s a good free look for Charlotte.

  • Rockets get Jordan Hill, Jared Jeffries, Kevin Martin, Hilton Armstrong, The Knicks 1st Rounder in 2012 (Top 5 protected) and the option to switch picks with the Knicks in 2011 as long as it’s not #1.  The Knicks get Tracy McGrady and Sergio Rodriguez.  The Kings get Carl Landry, Larry Hughes and Joey Dorsey.

A lot to unpack here.  First, the Rockets did exceptionally well.  Kevin Martin is the perimeter guy they needed, and add him to Yao next season, it’s a great place to start.  Jordan Hill did not play in NY, but that does not mean he can’t be a fit in Houston.  Hilton Armstrong sucks, but hey, a big body is a big body.  Depending on what the Knicks do in free agency, the draft picks could have significant value also.

The Knicks did very well, getting Sergio Rodriguez, who has shown tons of ability in Spain, but it has not translated in the NBA.  One’d think he’d be a good fit with Mike D’Antoni.  They also cleared the salary, so suddenly they are in a position to be huge players in free agency next season.  Can they get two max guys?  Probably not, but they will be a lot better quickly.  It came at a cost, but this trade makes sense.

The Kings also did very well.  Kevin Martin is a very good player but not in their long term plans.  So they turned him into cap space and a young starting caliber big in Carl Landry.  Good all around.

  • Celtics get Nate Robinson and Marcus Landry.  Knicks get Eddie House, JR Giddens and Bill Walker

Celtics got a guy who can be an explosive 6th man for a guy who has been an explosive 6th man and 2 guys who don’t play.  Robinson has more skills than House and House has been meh this season.  Knicks get to move more salary and get a guy D’Antoni is fond of.  Overall a small sensible deal for the Celtics, who need to change their team energy.

NBA Trade Deadline: The Next Batch

More trades trickle in …

  • Knicks get Brian Cardinal, Timberwolves get Darko Milicic

The beer league softball MVP look-alike was immediately cut by the Knicks, so you know what sort of esteem they held his basketball skills in.  That said, it does save them some money – and it wasn’t like Darko was playing.  The Timberwolves of course, well … I don’t know what they are doing.  If Darko has an NBA future – ok ok, I can’t rationalize.

  • Bucks get John Salmons and the right to swap picks outside of the Top 10 in this year’s draft, Bulls get Hakim Warrick, Joe Alexander

The Bulls did really well.  Initially this deal was Kurt Thomas and Francisco Elson – which was just cap relief.  But these guys might actually help – especially Hakim Warrick – bonus!  With the expiring contracts the Bulls hoard more cap space to possibly go after Dwayne Wade.  In the short run, losing Salmons, a key rotation player, adversely affects their playoff chances.  But it is a hard move to fault.

For the Bucks, the deal makes some sense.  Salmons impacts them positively.  He is a capable starting wing – and with Jennings and Bogut, the team’s defense will be solid.  Bucks have looked like a potential playoff team so far, at least in the East.  Their fans could benefit by some progress – and this is a good step forward without screwing their long term contract situation up.

  • Cavaliers get Antawn Jamison and Sebastian Telfair, Wizards get Al Thornton, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Emir Preldzic and Cleveland’s 2010 first rounder, Clippers get Drew Gooden

Lot of cap stories here.  Ilgauskas and Gooden will be bought out.  The Cavaliers obviously wanted Jamison.  He offers rebounding and perimeter shooting they do not have in a big man.  He is a good fit with the bigs they have, and with his ability to score without overhandling, he is a great fit with a creative force like LeBron.  They have a lot of money to pay in this deal, as Telfair will probably cash in his player option next season.  He is of no use to them, but will be an expense.  Ilgauskas is a prime candidate to re-sign with the Cavs, but who knows there?  But this improves them no doubt.  The Wizards get more cap relief with Ilgauskas’ expiring deal.  Al Thornton represents some actual young talent.  From what I can tell, the upside is low, but he is a capable rotation player.  The draft pick probably won’t be high impact – but it’s something, and of much more use to a talent starved Wiz team than it was to Cleveland.

AFC/NFC Title Games

First of all, while I might not have any clue what the hell Casi Cielo is, my friend tsblogger does … and he needs site visits to start blogging at a respectable pace, so go leave him a comment or five.

And now, the regularly scheduled programming.  Well, the Super Bowl is set – the secular holiday that is February 7 now has a matchup.  First, some words on the title games.

Colts 30, Jets 17 - The ride had to end sometime.  I predicted this to be 24-10 Colts, so I got the score wrong, but the factors that did play into my decision actually bore out.  Given my 12th place finish in fantasy football season, this is a pretty big surprise.  The Revis factor was less of an issue in this game than in the previous Jets victories – most notably because the Colts offensively could win a 10 on 10 game with the Jets.  Sure Revis Island, as the pregame show called it, was a problem, but they could work away from Reggie Wayne.  So while Wayne had the predictably pedestrian game a Revis opponent has (3 catches, 55 yards), Manning still threw for 377 by taking advantage of the other side of the field and the middle game.  I thought Dallas Clark would play a bigger role, but the #2/#3 receivers, taking turns on the Jets other corner and in the slot, combined for a shocking 18 catches for 274 yards.  Offensively the Jets were hurt by two Jay Feely nontrivial field goal misses – but really their blitz heavy defense ultimately failed them.  Good QBs like the blitz in that it provides one on one matchups and ready targets for passes – the key is for the QB to have protection – and Manning consistently had some.  The blitzing plus the ability to shred the Jets middle – and throw in injuries to Jets safeties over the game, and the vaunted defense was left whimpering.  The Jets inability to run the football in a big game added to the worn down defense left too much for them to overcome, even when Mark Sanchez actually played pretty well. (257 yards, 17-30)  Sanchez has the intangibles clearly to succeed – and it is a hat tip to him that in three postseason games, he was never the problem and often part of the solution.

Saints 31, Vikings 28 (OT) – A Greek tragedy in four parts, this game had it all – and like all tragedies it featured a hero brought down by his flaws.  Of course, we’re talking about Brett Favre, who rode a truly amazing season to be the X-factor for the Vikings as they got to the title game against the Saints – but then when his team was ridiculously close to a game winning field goal, he threw a pick in the worst way possible.  He rolled right on a perfectly called 3rd down play, had 10 yards to run to set up a 40 yard FG (not trivial but plenty short for Ryan Longwell, the Vikes kicker) and instead inexplicably threw across his body (increased distance hard to see defenders – read up on geometry) and got picked off.  That said, the interception was not crucial – that is, not throwing a pick did not portend a chip shot field goal – the Vikings made many many many other mistakes, more than enough to squander a 475-257 yardage advantage.  The 5-1 turnover advantage for the Saints saved them on a day where honestly the Vikings did more than enough to win.  The Saints defense needs to be sharper – but they did a good job hanging in there – and given that they were one of the best ball hawking defenses in the league all season – perhaps the many turnovers were part of design.  But it’s hard not to think the Vikings let one get away – a truly compelling, great NFC title game – if not wholly well executed.

Two weeks to ruminate about the Super Bowl – so no pick needed today …

Divisionals and The Conference Finals

I do not have the notes in front of me (nor the time to research) if this has been the least competitive playoff tournament in NFL history.  That said, it’s pretty darn uncompetitive.  Eight games in two weekends – only two true crackers, although certainly compelling.  One thing that we discover again though from the divisionals was the power of the bye.  It is easy to rally behind good looking wildcard winners – but bye winners get them for a reason.  Some quick thoughts:

Saints 45, Cardinals 14 – I tuned out at halftime.  This was a royal butt kicking, a demonstration of the Saints ridiculous speed, and the Cardinals pathetic defense.  80 points in 3 playoff halves does not a Super Bowl Champion make.  While Reggie Bush is a poor man’s Joshua Cribbs with a better agent, he had a humongous impact.  Really this was a good team that depends on speed, letting it loose on turf.  The Saints defense while not great, is excellent at front running.

Colts 20, Ravens 3 – The Ravens successfully threw the ball downfield on their first drive then stopped trying the rest of the way.  Their offense looked constipated and hopelessly dependent on Ray Rice, and had none of the nasty up front they showed against the Patriots.  Flacco was not especially good, but the game plan was really really mediocre.  I’m not sure John Harbaugh was even awake.  On the other side, the Colts speedy defense is built to eat this sort of vanilla crap up.  The Colts were so untested defensively that the offense did not have to be great, aside from a key drive at the end of the half.  Really a perfect result – a win where they held back tactically – really have to consider this great fortune.

Vikings 34, Cowboys 3 - Karma can be a bitch, and the Vikings blatantly running up the score in the 4th might come back to haunt them.  However, this does not discount what a tremendous game they played.  Favre of course was excellent – his first TD pass was beautiful and his little move to avoid the sack for the 2nd TD was savvy also.  The defense was dominant, stopping anything the Cowboys tried inside and giving Tony Romo so little time, I can’t even blame him for his performance.  The Cowboys did not go downfield – but I don’t know how much time they had to make any sort of 15-25 yard route develop!  The end runs by Felix Jones were the only plays they hit consistently, but that was not nearly enough.

Jets 17, Chargers 14 – The downside of being a defensively oriented, possession minimizing team is that it is hard to blow an opponent away.  The upside of course, is that it is hard to be blown out.  This game had a classic arc, akin to the Patriots highway robbery of the Chargers in 2006.  The Chargers executed quite the ass whoopin in the first half yardage wise.  They were moving the ball without a ton of difficulty while the Jets looked completely overmatched offensively.  However, with Nate Kaeding’s gakked 36 yarder, the Chargers could only take a 7-0 lead with them into halftime.  Sure the lead LOOKED huge because of the Jets incompetence on offense, and inability on paper to scheme their way from behind.  But it is still a 1 possession game – all you need is a play and some luck.  The break came from the Rivers pick on his side of the field, and suddenly the Jets had the short field which they cashed into the go-ahead TD.  Adding Shonn Greene’s run to make it 17-7, the Jets then had some luck when they managed to hang on to a perfect onsides kick.  Just like that, AFC title game bound.  Also, much should be said about Mark Sanchez – the rookie is a clear role player in this offense, but has made a lot of third down plays to keep drives going – and that is a hat tip in his general direction.

So what about the two games Sunday?

Colts 24, Jets 10 – Cinderella stops right here.  The Jets strength defensively is getting pressure on Manning and sealing off the outside with Revis.  Manning, as a terrific veteran QB, is adept at breaking the blitz down and finding the open receivers – heck, Rivers made the big mistakes last week, but still put up numbers showing that the Jets can be sliced apart if the line can keep the QB upright.  However, Dallas Clark is the key here.  The Colts can slice the middle of the field better than the Chargers (and definitely the Bengals) with their TE/Slot game – and that takes Darrelle Revis out of the equation.  The Jets will have to be judicious with their overloading and blitzing and their up the middle guys need to be able to match up.  Good luck with that.  The Colts defense will not be tested in the same manner – though the Jets physicality against their speed is an interesting matchup.  If the Jets had a reliable downfield game, this could be interesting – alas.

Saints 31, Vikings 28 – Should I be cynical and assume that Brett Favre will make one backbreaking interception at some point in the proceedings?  He has not done that virtually all year – so maybe the balanced offense will help here.  Adrian Peterson has been excellent this season if your standard is not skewed by Chris Johnson.  However the shock and awe has not been there.  Will that be a problem against the Saints – I don’t know.  The Saints speed in the backfield and aggressive pass rush make for a good team with a lead.  They will allow points.  So that leaves the Vikings stout D against the Saints wildly imaginative offense.  The Saints in the dome are hard to deal with, and the down hill inside running that the Vikings are so good at stopping is not essential to the Saint attack.  Can the Vikings stop their speed?  They will give it a go, but not quite.

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