Saturday's loss definitely stung, but I do think that game had a lot more about the Pacers losing it than the Magic winning it. Through the first three-and-a-half quarters, the Pacers seemed to be the team in control other than a little blip in the second quarter. But, towards the end of the fourth quarter, the already cold-shooting Pacers found a whole new level of icy and let the Magic score the last eleven points of the game.
It's pretty easy to see what happened. It's not that the Pacers played bad defense. They held the Magic to 81 points. That's normally going to win you the game. It's not that the Pacers couldn't get off shots. They were getting to the rim and getting open looks from three. The ball just didn't go into the basket.
I haven't looked at the numbers, but from watching this team, that hasn't really been a problem this year. Sure, individual players have gone through slumps. Danny Granger had a terrible shooting percentage early in the year, and Paul George went through a little stretch where it seemed like he didn't have his legs. Even Roy Hibbert went through a little spurt where he couldn't seem to put the ball in the basket from close. But the whole team has not gone cold like that this year. I think they said the Pacers were shooting something like 30% during the ESPN broadcast. Well, you just aren't going to win many games on any level shooting like that.
The crazy (and heartening) thing is, though, the Pacers damn-near did. Because of their balls-out defense, they had so many chances to really blow the game open or tie it up late when it was looking dire. They just couldn't shoot. I don't think that is going to be a long term problem, though. I think the Pacers will bounce back tonight, and could well win the next four. Really, if they would have shot half as well as they usually do, that wouldn't have even been a contest.
Pacers tip off at 7:30 tonight on NBA TV. For DirecTV subscribers, that would be channel 216.*
*UPDATE: The game is also going to be shown on Fox Sports Indiana, which is the Pacers' usual home and features the always great (and Wabash alumnus) Chris Denari on the call. I would definitely recommend you watch there, which is channel 673 on DirecTV.
In more personal news, this weekend was a bust for my waistline, but great for the soul. I put two pounds back on, which wasn't great. But, I think they'll come off pretty easy. Definitely worth making some new friends. Also watched my older brother's band play twice. If you're in the Lafayette area, you should check them out. Or, you know, checking things out is a lot easier in the age of the internet. They're called The Heavy Company, and you can give their first EP, Please Tune In, a listen over here. That one is a free download. They're about to drop a new album, Midwest Electric, though I'm not sure if there's a release date yet. I do know it will be released both as a digital download and on vinyl. Now, if only I had a record player.
As far as I'm concerned, the NBA playoffs start tomorrow at 7 on ESPN. Your three-seed Indiana Pacers take on the six-seeded Orlando Magic.
These teams did play four times in the regular season, and Orlando did win three of them. In short, each team blew each other out once, and then Orlando pulled out two very close ones.
They did all that, of course, with Dwight Howard.
You might have heard the news, but Dwight is done for the season with back problems, just another chapter in the bizarre saga that is the 2012 edition Dwight Howard. As a result, the Magic went 5-9 in the month of April against a thoroughly average schedule.
The Pacers, on the other hand, went 12-3 in April against an admittedly easier schedule, but they did score a win over Oklahoma City, who you might have heard is no slouch. More than that, the Pacers were already in the drivers seat for the three spot before the month started when they were playing much stiffer competition. They just took care of business in April.
I kind of hesitate saying this, because it didn't work out for the Blackhawks, but I think the Pacers might cruise through this one pretty easily. They've got home court advantage,* they're peaking at the right time, and they really haven't been bitten by the injury bug all year. The team really should be poised to beat a Howard-less Orlando. Although, honestly, I think after all the drama, they would have beaten Orlando with Howard, too.
*And, again, they are playing Orlando. That's a whole hell of a lot further away than Chicago like last year when the building was 50-50 at best.
The problem would seem to be that the second round most likely holds Miami. The Pacers typically play Miami tough, but I don't think they've got four wins out of seven in them. If Carmelo could happen to pull off the upset, I like the Pacers chances better. They just beat New York to start the month, and honestly I think the Pacers play much better team defense than Miami, so I like the chances of the Pacers making people other than Melo beat them. Which the Knicks are not known as a deep team. Of course, neither is Miami, and that's where the Pacers would have to try to win in that series.
Let's not get too deep into the future, though. First things first. Let's bounce the Magic back to Florida and let them get an early start trying to figure out how this post-Dwight era is going to work.
There's been a lot of talk the last few years about expanding instant replay in baseball. It seems to have intensified in the last couple days and many times given an air of inevitability. The point of proponents is we have the technology to get every call right and it wouldn't slow the game down in any significant way.
I am a big fan of new technology, and I love when we get instant replay on broadcasts that show if the umpires got the call wrong or right. But to actually decide calls using technology? I could not be more against it.
First off, I'm not convinced it's inevitable. Maybe it is. We've seen football rely way too heavily on replay, and basketball uses somewhat regularly now. Hockey has a war room in Toronto that reviews every goal, though it's kind of rare when a goal is questionable enough to really affect the flow of the game. But, does that make expanded, football-style replay a given in baseball? I'm not as convinced. It seems to me that by writing their arguments in the style of "it's going to happen one way or the other," they want people to pick up on that feeling and go ahead and relent. It's much more strategy than actual fact.
Are fans really clamoring for instant replay? I honestly don't think so. Maybe it has to do with the company I keep, but it seems to me the only real proponents of expanded instant replay are talking heads on TV and writers on the internet. And, more specifically, writers and talking heads on ESPN. I don't really see too much on instant replay at Sports Illustrated or MLB's own network. TBS and local broadcasts don't seem too concerned with instant replay. That sort of coverage gives the impression that ESPN has some sort of rooted interest in getting replay into baseball. I don't know if that's actually the case, but if it really were that contentious of an issue, you would think you would see more widespread calls in sports media.
Now, as for actual arguments against instant replay, I do think it would slow the game down. In a game that many people already complain about being slow, we really don't need any more elements to stretch out the game. I suppose everybody has a different level of tolerance for slowing the game, but if you ask me, the constant reviews in football really makes the game drag on. Add the TV timeouts to the equation, and, well, there are some pretty big points in favor of small college football. Most of the talent with none of the wasted time. If you took football's model and put it to baseball, games might well stretch on for another hour, especially during playoff games. Playoff games already take way too long. I don't want anything else stretching that out, thank you.
Another issue here: the umpires are overwhelming right. Not perfect, but usually right. And when they are wrong, it's usually with an extremely close call that could well have gone either way. Think about the worst, obviously blown calls in history. I can really only think of two. Don Derkinger probably costing the Cardinals a World Series* and Jim Joyce blowing a perfect game for Armando Galarraga and the Tigers. Two horribly blown calls in 136 years.** That's a pretty good record. And for those calls that are so close, you want some sort of unbiased arbitrator to decide how it's going to go down. Oh, wait, we have that. It's called the umpires.
*Though, let's be honest, Kansas City needed it more anyway.
**I only knew this because yesterday marked the Cubs 136th birthday, and I knew the Cubs (White Stockings, at the time) were a charter member of the National League, which is older than the American League. Or the short-lived Federal League, for that matter. For whatever it's worth, the Cubs won the league that year.
In a stance that also might surprise some people, I think most people forget that sports are entertainment. It's a game, and it should be treated as such. Now, I can sometimes forget that myself. I let outcomes really affect my mood and can really put me into a depression for a little while. The worst was the 2003 NLCS. You can probably take a gander at why. Would replay have determined that Bartman constituted fan interference? Very possibly. But, you know what? That's just part of the game. Bad calls suck at the time, but in the long run, they add to the lore, add to the fun. Think about life. There are a lot of things that were so frustrating and so life-or-death at the time that are laughing matters now. That's a bad call in baseball. Don't take that part out of the game.
Baseball is a game of soul. Look at all the movies made about baseball, the romanticism and history and spirit of the game that comes through in 90% of those films. About the only movie that doesn't really have that is Major League, and it's also probably the silliest baseball movie ever. Now look at football movies. Those things exist in football movies, but they are almost without fail based on college or high school football. Professional football is rather soulless and doesn't have a strong sense of it's history. And, honestly, I think it's because of how it takes itself so seriously and takes the time to really use instant replay in a very strong way. It takes away that human element and makes it harder to relate to. It might as well be a video game. Maybe that's why Madden does so well.
Take the computers and cameras out of the game. Keep them on the broadcasts, by all means, but they have no place in our games. Leave that for the No Fun League.
First off, no matter what else happens this seasons, Cub fans can at least take some solace in the knowledge that the Cubs handed the Cardinals their first series loss this season.
Anyway, in atypical fashion, I haven't really been in front of a computer the past couple days, so I haven't gotten a post up. I thought about writing a post talking about the Blackhawks and how there is no justice in a world where they don't win that last playoff game. When I finally did get in front of a computer in the evening yesterday, those plans were delayed.
There are some times as a writer, whether you are writing creatively or reporting, that you just have to buck up and admit that you are not the best source or the right voice for a particular story. And that's okay. But, when it comes to situations like that, I feel it is the duty of that writer to go out and find a better fit for that story. The Penguins playoff story is one of those stories for me. To do it justice, I went out and found an honest-to-goodness Penguins fan in my brother, Drew, who was kind enough to write this up for me.
The Penguins heroic comeback efforts came to a halt Sunday afternoon. It is also tough facing an in-state rival, especially in the playoffs. The Flyers-Penguins series brought the expected tenacity and physicality, to say the least. It is true that a lot of the physical play was carry over from the last game of the regular season, which ended with the opposing coaches standing on benches shouting what I assumed were words of endearment to one another.
Given the history, it should not be forgotten that there was real hockey played in the midst of all the fighting majors, game misconducts, suspensions, and fines, and the Flyers played a bit better hockey than the Penguins throughout the series. The two blaring problems for the Penguins were the penalty kill and goaltending.
It seemed, in this series, that no matter who was on the power play, there was a guaranteed goal. This isn’t really a surprise when you consider that both teams finished the season tied for fifth with a 19.6% success rate on the power play. However, what was surprising was the Penguins inability to kill penalties. Although both teams possess plenty of fire power on virtually all lines, the Penguins were brilliant on the penalty kill all year long, until it really mattered. The Flyers broke a playoff record scoring 12 power play goals against the third ranked penalty kill in the NHL. Once the Penguins began struggling on the penalty kill, it became a psychological issue. This is a recipe for disaster when both teams were throwing discipline to the wayside.
With the Penguins struggling so much on the penalty kill, this leaves a lot of responsibility on the goaltender. The Flower just wasn't good enough this series. The Penguins could play a spectacular first 20 minutes, but unfortunately hockey is a 60 minute affair. The entire Penguins bandwagon was mobilized by a leaky tire (or at least a shaky goalie). As soon as the Penguins would get an inflated lead of two or three goals, Fleury would give up 5 or 6 unanswered. In Game 1, the Penguins jumped out to a 3-0 lead. Fleury proceeded to give up four goals on the last 20 shots he faced. Much of the same for the Flower in Game 2, as Fleury gave up seven goals on 30 shots. Fleury was finally pulled after giving up six goals against 28 shots after two periods of Game 3. Even in the Game 4 win, Fleury got off to a horrendous start. He gave up three goals against his first 11 shots faced. Thankfully the Penguins power play dominated the scoring for this game. And just when I thought Fleury had it together, making some dazzling third period saves to secure a 3-2 win in Game 5, Fleury reverted back to his earlier ways for Game 6. Fleury allowed four goals on 22 shots. This type of goaltending will not win you hockey games, especially not playoff hockey games.
With all of that being said, Fleury wasn’t the only one not to perform in the playoffs. Evgeni Malkin was not the 50-goal scorer, Art Ross winner, and MVP candidate that Penguins fans saw throughout the regular season. And what is more, Malkin was defended by a rookie for most of the series. Malkin didn’t even score a goal until Game 4. Malkin’s lack of offense led to many lapses of discipline on the defensive end of the ice. All of this led to Malkin producing only eight points for the series. Not nearly enough for the Penguins to be relevant.
With such a disappointing series after being Stanley Cup favorites, a dark question lingers. Have the Penguins missed their window for winning another Stanley Cup with this talent-filled team? I don’t think so. All of the key components will be back for a few more years. James Neal decided to settle into Pittsburgh, signing a six-year, $30 million contract extension. A healthy Crosby should be ready to play a full season next year. Evgeni Malkin is coming off an MVP-caliber year, hoping to continue his elevated play. Nearly all of the back end will be back for a few more years. Most are signed through the 2013-14 season. Another thing working in the favor of this particular Penguins squad is their youth. The core of the team is around 25-26 years-old. This is by no means old in the hockey world. As long as health does not become an issue, the Penguins should still have a shot at a few more Cups within the decade. It is hard to argue against a team that has arguably the two best players in the NHL sharing the same ice every game. I do think the Penguins would be wise to invest in a good backup goalie. Brent Johnson is aging. He is currently 35. If the Penguins could get a good one-two punch in the net, similar to what the Blues have, they would be perennial contenders for the Stanley Cup. Had the Penguins had a viable second option this series, I believe the series could have been salvaged, and the Penguins would still be making a run for another Cup.
Well, good news for those of you who don't care for hockey posts. The Blackhawks season is likely not going to last beyond this series after dropping yet another game in overtime.
The loss of Hossa certainly hurt, but I don't think that's what cost them the game. There were a couple bad turnovers last night that led to Corey Crawford being hung out to dry. David Oduya's turnover especially stands out. Getting your pocket picked from behind when you're just meandering around in your own zone is just unforgivable.
In a bigger picture problem, the Blackhawks special teams were horrendous all year. They were completely unable to kill off penalties, and when they had their own power play chances, well, they were just unable to convert. Why is this? I don't really know. They Blackhawks have much the same core they did when they won the Stanley Cup, and they were great on the power play then. Since then, it's not been so great.
The difference might be as simple as Dustin Byfuglien. He was such an integral part of that championship team, with a combination of stick handling, speed, and size that doesn't come around very often. I knew the 'Hawks would regret it when they let him go after the season. Go back and watch those games against Philadelphia in the finals if you can. Byfuglien did much more than his fair share in winning those games. He just dominated those games with his size and stick. There was no separating him from the puck, and unlike, say, John Scott, he had enough hockey skills to do something great with the puck once he had powered his way through.
The Blackhawks have been a total finesse team since he left. They very rarely outhit teams, and only had a player with double figure hits a small handful of times all year. I'm not saying you have to be a team of thugs to win the NHL, but there are times when some physical play is necessary, and the Blackhawks just don't have the players to do that. If I were Scotty Bowman,* I would look awfully hard at bringing Byfuglien back, or somebody along those lines. Maybe a few enforcer-type players like that. The skill players are definitely there in guys like Toews, Kane, and Hossa. Their defenseman are great. The goalies are good enough. They just don't have anybody that can keep the team from being worn down physically.
*Please, take this all with a little grain of salt. Just like I called myself a fool for ever thinking that Larry Bird was maybe misguided in some of his basketball decisions with the Pacers, I'm sure Scotty Bowman has more hockey knowledge in his pinky fingernail than I do in my whole body. Still, I gots to call it like I sees it.
Just like Wendy's asked in the 80's, I'm asking you, Scotty. Where's the beef?
The more literary readers here probably know the picture over there is Lennie* from the John Steinbeck novel,** but that actually is not what we're talking about today.
*Not Lenny, as I mismembered.
**Or novella, as some insist. I've never been totally convinced on what the difference is between the two, so I generally just refer to them all as novels.
See, I felt I was doing you all a disservice in my coverage of the surprisingly lopsided Flyers-Penguins series, so I was going to have my brother write up a little something. He's a Penguins fan, so he would be able to give a little bit better perspective of what went wrong for Pittsburgh, at least until their explosion last night.
But, as Robert Burns wrote, "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men/Gang aft a-gley." Or, put more simply, sometimes shit just doesn't fall into place. Of course, that saying might have been a little more accurate had I acted on this plan before, oh, ten o'clock this morning. I had the idea in my head for a couple days, but didn't get around to contacting my brother until this morning. Of course, I find out he's just about to fly to DC for a wedding, so he's not really in a spot to whip something up just yet.
I, in my infinite wisdom, hadn't bothered to think about a back up plan. I spent most of the day kicking some tires and not coming up with a whole lot. So, instead of me coming up with something on the spot, here's a couple videos of me singing that might make you smile one way or another.
First off, sorry if I worried anybody yesterday. I had a horrible migraine that kind of sapped my will to write. And then I didn't get any sleep until around 7 AM this morning, most likely because I spent a decent amount of time yesterday in bed just hoping the pain would stop. It did eventually, but it took about five ibuprofen to finally beat it.
And then I was all geared up to write about the Pacers rolling and how they are right on track according to Larry Bird's schedule, and how if somebody thinks they know something about basketball that Larry Legend doesn't, that somebody is probably wrong.
But then Raffi Torres went and did this.
And, well, that sort of hit is just downright dangerous and highly illegal. But, despite happening right in the face of an official, nothing was called. Hossa was motionless on the ice for what seemed like an eternity before eventually being immobilized on a stretcher and taken to the hospital. He was released later, but it was awfully scary for a while. Who knows when he will be back.
Also not known when he will be back is Raffi Torres. Again, he got off Scot-free during the game, but he is now suspending indefinitely pending a hearing on Friday. The fact he was allowed to play the rest of that game, when you know the NHL has access to this sort of video technology is kind of appalling. You might have also heard that the Coyotes did win that game in overtime, in which Torres played an important role.
I don't know how long Torres will be out, but if the hit below gets three games, then Torres should be out for the rest of the season. Maybe some of next season, too.
Shaw did receive a penalty, and like I said, is suspended for three games. Smith, after making such a show out of being so damaged, didn't miss a second of game play. Here is what I don't understand. If Shaw had made that same hit to any other skater, it would have been a clean hit. But here is the goalie out messing around with the puck outside of his goal crease. What is Shaw supposed to do there? Just stand around and hope Smith is dumb enough to pass it where he's standing? It seems to me that, as long as the hit is otherwise clean, the goalie forfeits any special protection when he goes outside the crease. If you don't want to get hit with all your bigger, special padding, then don't go play the puck when the other team is bearing down on you..
In soccer, the goalie doesn't get to keep using his hands if he leaves the box. He becomes like any other player. In football, if the quarterback leaves the pocket, or if a punter decides to fake, he can be hit just like any other back or receiver. In baseball, if the catcher gets too far up the line, or takes more than his fair share of the plate, well, just look at Buster Posey last year. If you aren't in an area where you are afforded special protection, then you don't get that special protection. I don't understand why hockey goalies are the exception. Especially when they are clearly milking it. I mean, seriously, if he was really that injured, he couldn't at least take the rest of the period off? If you're going to fake it, at least put some effort into it.
Blackhawks will try to get a measure of revenge tomorrow. Hopefully we'll be leaving Chicago the same way they left the desert: all tied up.
So, clearly, I don't make any money off making hockey predictions. The Flyers-Penguins series, while exciting, sure looks lopsided on the scoreboard. And the Kings? What the hell happened, Vancouver? This would be one of the worst "dropped the ball" moments ever.
Everybody else* is tied at 1-1, which is not too surprising. But with one huge upset looming, and other series that was supposed to be so even turning out so lopsided,** what does this mean?
*Nashville is up 2-1 over Detroit, but that's even enough for me to call that a win.
**Or, as some others had suggested, going to be so lopsided going the Penguins way.
Well, the one nice thing this could mean is a surprise team coming through to the Stanley Cup. I like St. Louis, but I don't think I took them seriously as a contender to win the whole thing. With Vancouver out of the picture, I could be inclined to change my mind. They'll still need to get by a division foe, which could well be Chicago if they can win this series against Phoenix. By the way, both games in the CHI-PHX series have been fantastic.* The Predators-Red Wings series has been as even as advertised. I'll still stick with Detroit as my pick, but I'm not going to be a bit surprised if Nashville pulls this out.
*Winning games in overtime is exciting stuff, doubly so for games you manage to tie with just five seconds remaining. But, here's to hoping that the Blackhawks can win a little more conventionally with the series shifting to the United Center tomorrow.
Let me keep this out West for just a bit before going to the East. With the reseeding, and assuming Chicago does win this series, that would give us St. Louis playing the Kings, and Nashville/Detroit with home ice over the Blackhawks. If the Blues can take care of the Kings, which doesn't seem as sure of a thing as it did a week ago, that would guarantee an all-Central conference final, which seems awfully appropriate, given how the point standings looked at the end of the year. It's been the strongest division probably in all of hockey all year. It should be represented appropriately.
Now, as far as Vancouver is concerned, this might be the playoff disappointment that makes the GM and owners decide this window has slammed shut. Other than last year, when they came within a game of winning the Cup, the Canucks have been perennial playoff losers, normally to teams that couldn't touch them in the regular season. Many times, that has been the Blackhawks. At the very least, you might see the Roberto Luongo is not the golden child any more, and that might be the best move for everybody involved, honestly. After the specter of a city's disappointment hanging over him for years, a fresh start might be just what the doctor ordered.
Now, out East, well, I am surprised that the Penguins have been manhandled, but I think what everybody has forgotten is that the Flyers are a very good team. Sure, goal-tending is a question, and has been for decades in Philadelphia. But they have great skaters and are a much more physical team than the Penguins. Sure, the Pens like to fight, but I always though Philly was the more physical team overall.
I'm afraid to comment too much on these games, because I haven't gotten a chance to watch any of them. But just by going from the stats, it looks like you can't blame a rusty Sidney Crosby. He's gotten a goal in three of his last five games. It seems to me that the blame lies more on Marc-Andre Fleury. I'll admit, as a goalie, I've never been too up on the Flower. He seems to flaky for my taste. And maybe that's what we're seeing here. He's gone Rick Ankiel on us: he's become an head case that the team just can't afford any more. Who knows? Maybe you'll see Bobby Lu slide over into that role. I don't think it could get much worse.
That'll do it for me today. Pacers play the Timberwolves tonight. Ricky Rubio, as you have probably heard, is out for the year with a torn ACL, but it looks like Kevin Love bounced back awfully quick from a concussion, so he should be in uniform tonight. But, frankly, I don't think it will matter. Let's go, Pacers!
Sadly, I missed the actual birthday of this blog. Hopefully I'll do better about that next year. This blog turned 1 on April 5th. Back then, I was just sitting around bored at work. I'd tried other blogs before, but didn't stick with them. My brother had recently launched a Weebly site, apba.weebly.com, to track his very long-running APBA season. I thought, hey, I like building websites, and I like writing, so why not launch a(nother) blog on this Weebly thing?
Weebly turned out to be a breeze to use. In fact, I've used it to start putting together a "presentation site" for my college baseball team, a dream I've not quite let die just yet. I also helped my sister-in-law create a site to try to get a start on her dream of professional photography. I really love this site as a tool.
After mentally telling myself I wasn't necessarily going to hold myself to a schedule, I quickly fell in to posting every weekday. And I've more or less kept it up except for a hiatus during August last year. That was a stressful time. So, yeah, I'm pretty proud of myself.
One thing I've been thinking about doing* is renaming the blog. See, when I launched it, I had it in my head that I was going to primarily write about baseball. I figured there is enough baseball history and theories about the game and such that I could keep myself occupied with it during the offseason. And then, of course, the season would be a breeze.
*Though I am fairly sure I won't actually follow through with it. At least, not anytime in the immediate future.
In practice, though, I've been undone (in a fashion) by my love of sports in general. There is no offseason to me. It goes from baseball season, to football season, to basketball/hockey season, and then back to baseball. And I've got opinions about all of it. In maybe a bit of a rarity, I'm least interested in football season, while the rest of the country just can't get enough. Though I'm sure you are well aware of that if you've been reading this blog regularly. So, because of that, I've thought about changing it up to AP Sports, or maybe going away from the whole AP thing. I had a bit of a brain fart at the time, forgetting that I share initials with the Associated Press, who you might have heard does their fair share of sports writing. I haven't really come up with anything better, though, so we're sticking with the name for now.
One thing I did note from my first post: the Orioles have, in fact, gone back to a cartoon bird. It isn't quite the 70's version, but close enough to make me happy.
So what does the next year hold? Well, I've actually not been happy with all the recap posts I've had lately. I want to do a better job of finding a topic (sports related or not) and delving into it, which I did more of when I started the blog. Of course, it's easier when you first start, because no stones have been turned. I have to work a little harder to find fertile ground now. But I do want to find it.
All in all, though, I am damn proud of what I've created here and me sticking with it as long as I have. Happy birthday, AP Baseball, may it be the first of many!
I have an interview in Indy, and my mom is swinging by later this afternoon, so I'll have to write something tomorrow. Nothing new today, except way to get that W Pacers, and Go Blackhawks!