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Archive for February, 2007

Mark Prior Is Key To The Chicago Cubs Season

Posted by sportsmaven on February 27, 2007

I’ve been holding off on writing posts on spring training baseball, mainly because I believe the early part of spring training is mostly eventless and I don’t want to write on eventless matters just to fill space (of course Kerry Wood changed that a bit for the Chicago Cubs this spring) and that everyone is an eternal optimist (especially Cubs fans) when it comes to the first week of spring training, so I didn’t want to take that approach either. After careful and plentiful reading about the Chicago Cubs chances in 2007, my thought is that the success of this season comes down to the effectiveness of the Cubs starting pitching, and the effectiveness of Cubs starting rotation is dependent on essentially one person, RHP Mark Prior. Given that it is difficult to put the burden of team success on any one individual, if every other player on the Cubs performs in the manner in which he is capable of performing, success is really dependent on the wildest of all wildcards, the most unknown of the unknowns, Mark Prior.

Mark Prior in Spring Training
(AP photo by Morry Gash)

Mark Prior can be anywhere from the #2 starter to the #5 starter, to no place on the team, that’s how wide a gap his potential has for this coming season. If Prior pitches closer to his 2003 form, where he went 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA, the Cubs would have a very solid top of the rotation in RHP Carlos Zambrano who is a leading Cy Young Award candidate and a good bet to post his first 20 win season of his career. Oh, by the way, he is in a contract year, if he needs any extra motivation. Slide in a continually improving LHP Rich Hill, who I think is the sleeper of this staff and LHP Ted Lilly, the top 4 starters look very solid. Mix in a rehabilitated RHP Jason Marquis and this appears to be a rotation that has great potential. The Cubs have improved the offensive production of their everyday lineup and their bench looks deep and strong, the Cubs bullpen looks outstanding with the addition of LHP Neal Cotts, and RHP Kerry Wood (who could be the best 50 pitch pitcher in MLB this season) and a rejuvinated and motivated closer Ryan Dempster, so we’re back to where we started….the potential of the starting pitching lies with the right arm (or the right shoulder) of Mark Prior. Prior is scheduled to pitch the second or third Cactus League outing of his entire life on March 5th, so for me, that is when this Cubs season starts.

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Chicago Bulls Bring Big Ben Back to Detroit

Posted by sportsmaven on February 26, 2007

It was a homecoming of sorts for Ben Wallace yesterday in a rare afternoon matinee as the Chicago Bulls fell to the Detroit Pistons 95-93. The Bulls had a 16 point lead in the third quarter, but as history has reared it’s ugly head, the Bulls have blown yet another 2nd half double digit lead (note the 2 18 point leads lost in back to back games against the New Jersey Nets eariler this season). This game had all I love and hate about the NBA and pro basketball. The love: good intense physical basketball with two solid contenders in the Central Division, good mix of athletic, inside/outside play and a good matchup. What I hate: Chris Webber getting away with a blatant push to put back the game winner ( I didn’t realize that Chris Webber got the same respect from the refs as say a Kobe Bryant), the Bulls allowing Detroit 20 offensive rebounds (any one of which cost them this game) and the fact that Ben Gordon still can’t hit a game winner (4th one he’s missed as of late).

Ben Wallace Returns to Detroit
(AP Photo/Gary Malerba)

This game, shown to a national television audience, shows how far apart the Bulls and Pistons are as the class of the Eastern Conference. The Pistons seem like they haven’t missed a beat in losing C Ben Wallace, while the Bulls haven’t closed much ground in acquiring Wallace. The Bulls were content to let the trade deadline pass without making a deal, which I believe was the smart thing to do given the outrageously high price that the Memphis Grizzlies put on C Pau Gasol and the apparent unavailability of Minnesota Timberwolves C Kevin Garnett. F Luol Deng is emerging as a budding superstar in his 3rd year in the NBA and he definitely would have been a part of a Garnett trade scenario, but wisely, wasn’t part of a Gasol scenario.

The Bulls are on pace to finish between 44 and 47 victories this season, which would probably put them between a 4 and 6 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The New York Knicks have been playing improved basketball as of late, so their pick may just fall out of the lottery. This offseason will be key for the future direction of the Bulls. They need an inside scoring threat/skilled big man to move to the next level….will it be too late?

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What Is Going On At Halas Hall?

Posted by sportsmaven on February 21, 2007

I’m not sure what is going on at Halas Hall, but leave it to the Chicago Bears to mess up a good thing. Word came today from Frank Bauer, agent for Lovie Smith, that the Bears are at an impasse with their head coach on an extension of his current contract. This team, fresh off a Super Bowl, knows how to take momentum and run it completely into the ground. Ironically, this has the stink of Michael McCaskey all over it. What this family has to realize is that they have a Super Bowl contending team next season and that continutity is paramount to nurturing an environment of success necessary to win. It’s one thing to lose staff and players because your team won the Super Bowl. That’s the trappings of success. It’s another thing when your team actually LOSES the Super Bowl and you are losing players/coaches because of your ineptness in recognizing and locking up your talent. I do give the Bears credit for signing Dave Toub, arguably the best special teams coach currently in the business.

Halas Hall

It’s another when you lose coaches Harold Goodwin, Don Johnson, let your popular defensive coordinator, Ron Rivera walk after 99% of the open NFL jobs are already filled, and allowing Wade Wilson to interview for a lateral position with the Dallas Cowboys. In addition, key staff members Bobby DePaul and Greg Gabriel’s contracts are up shortly after the NFL draft. So what do we call this? An unequivocal mess. The Bears need to understand that they are in the NFL and that they need to capitalize on their opportunities of not just making it to the Super Bowl but actually winning the Super Bowl. The way they have approached the off season is certainly not the way winning organizations operate. The Bears have more Arizona Cardinals in them than New England Patriots, and this does not bode well for next season….stay tuned for more of this ongoing soap opera in Lake Forest.

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NBA Courts The Pretty People To Las Vegas

Posted by sportsmaven on February 18, 2007

One of the best things about the 2007 NBA All-Star weekend is that the pretty people love to see incredible athletes do their thing. The fact that this year’s All-Star game is in Las Vegas gives the pretty people even more incentive to show up to the NBA’s biggest party of the season. The NBA is all about entertainment and they are, by far, the best at doing it. The NFL certainly gives them a run for their money with the Super Bowl, especially this season in Miami, but the NBA definitely writes the playbook for high octane, luscious, sexy in your face entertainment surrounding what amounts to an athletic exhibition.

The ring leader for this year’s party is one of my favorite guys associated with the NBA, Mayor Oscar Goodman of Las Vegas.

Mayor Oscar Goodman of Las Vegas
NBAE/Getty Images

Mayor Goodman has been working the NBA for years to not only get this event to Sin City, but to eventually get an NBA team to call Las Vegas home. I believe that Las Vegas shouldn’t have any professional sports teams due to the betting issues, but for the NBA in particular, I believe that Las Vegas should be the PERMANENT home of the NBA All-Star game. The city and the NBA are a perfect match in this arena and if the powers that be in the NBA have any vision, they should make this so and do it now.

The other thing I love about the NBA is that it knows how to do cheerleaders. It’s great to be able to go to a basketball game to see the world’s best athletes, but now we get to see the world’s best cheerleaders (or dancers, or whatever you want to call them) and the NBA is doing an All-Star roster of cheerleaders, one from each team. This is fabulous. In Chicago, our all-star entry is Shanon from the Luvabulls and DePaul University.

Shanon from the chicago bullsErin from the detriot pistonsHeidi from the sacramento kings

By the way, my favorite Eastern Conference dancer is Erin from the Detroit Pistons and my favorite Western Conference dancer is Heidi from the Sacramento Kings (love her eyes!) Tell me who your favorite dancer for each conference is in the comments section of this post and I will do a post featuring your winners.

Finally, it wouldn’t be a complete NBA All Star weekend blog post without some of the pretty celebrities:

Eva Longoria at 2007 NBA All Star WeekendCarrot Top At 2007 NBA All Star WeekendDiddy At 2007 NBA All Star Game
NBAE/Getty Images

Eva is game, Carrot Top has game, and Diddy owns the game….only in Vegas, baby!

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NBA Invades Las Vegas — It’s a SLAM DUNK!

Posted by sportsmaven on February 18, 2007

The NBA wrestled and wrestled with this decision, but it finally named Las Vegas the host city for the 2007 All-Star weekend and what a great place to showcase the pizzaz and razzle dazzle of the best athletes in the world. Is Vegas not the perfect place for this event? The NBA should go ahead and announce that it will play all it’s all star games in Las Vegas, like the NFL does with it’s Pro Bowl in Honolulu. This is not a weekend of serious basketball, but rather, a weekend of fun, excitement, and a display of athleticism like no other. And Sin City is the perfect atmosphere to display the pricess wares of the NBA.

Jason Kapono Wins 3-Pt Shooting Contest at 2007 All Star weekendDwayne Wade Wins Skills Contest at 2007 all star weekend
NBAE/Getty Images

On a Chicago note, I wrote in an earlier blog posting that Tyrus Thomas would be the first NBA player to have to pay to participate in the NBA Slam Dunk Contest, and sure enough, that almost was the case. After taking 4 tries to make his first dunk (and then drew a score of 37 out of 50), Tyrus was cooked. His second dunk was actually pretty good — he leaped over Ben Gordon and dunked LEFT-HANDED, and ripped the net off the rim, but the judges game him a 43 (Gerald Green did the same dunk on his second dunk, jumped over 5’9″ Nate Robinson and dunked with his RIGHT hand, and got a 47) I believe Tyrus’ comments when named to participate in the slam-dunk contest hurt his scores, although clearly, he was at best, the third best, and most likely the 4th best dunker in the contest.

Tyrus Thomas at 2007 NBA Slam Dunk ContestDwight Howard Dunk at 200 All Star Slam Dunk Contest
NBAE/Getty Images

The player that definitely got ripped off was Dwight Howard. Howard had the single best dunk in the contest when he did put the sticker of himself on the top of the backboard with his left hand while dunking with his right hand. That dunk was SICK, and should have gotten 50 pts, but only received 42 pts. Nate Robinson was what I thought the third best or even the 4th best dunker, but somehow made it to the finals. I’m saying it right here — Dwight Howard, you got ripped off. You were MY Slam-Dunk Champion…

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