Monday, June 15, 2009

Back on the Scene

Well, it's been a while, but it's time to come storming back!

After a brief personal hiatus, I've been trying to piece together what I missed, and I'll tell ya, it hasn't been easy. The NBA Finals came to a close last night, the Lakers grabbing their 15th championship in franchise history. I must admit, even though I still think the first round should go back to a best-of-5 series so we can shorten what has become nearly a 2-month postseason, overall, the playoffs this year were about as exciting as any I've watched. The Celtics-Bulls overtime bonanza, the Rockets pushing the Lakers to 7 games, Lebron's game-winner, the list goes on and on.

That being said, I think NBA officiating is getting worse by the nanosecond. It seems like the longer we watch, the more we learn about rules, the better the technology the world acquires, the more unbalanced and inconsistent the referees become. I read an article three days ago about how the NBA has no officiating schools, and has only one "camp" where wannabe refs actually have to PAY to attend. So, as time passes, NBA referees just keep getting older, slower, more crotchety without an influx of young guns to take the old dogs' places. I suppose that could have something to do with it, but it's a little tough for me to stomach the idea that the refs are getting worse year by year simply because they're, on average, getting older. I just don't know what else to blame.

In any case, despite the calls that seemed to generally favor whatever team was losing a series, I enjoyed watching. I think my pleasure can be chalked up to about 35 factors, but after mulling it over, I've figured out the most important one. The Spurs were knocked out early. It was that simple. Get Tim Duncan, Greg Popovich, Tony Parker and the rag-tag group of role-players out of the playoff picture, and the sun can shine again. With that, I extend a warm thank you to the good folks of the Dallas Mavericks. Sure, you got your face bashed in shortly thereafter, but your work was top notch.

See, the Spurs have been getting credit for years for popularizing the slow-it-down, grind-it-out, defense-first style of basketball that seemed to be the recipe for a championship, which, in addition to be horrifically boring, only works if you have one of the best inside players in the history of the NBA. Then, ten other teams decided playing that same style was best, and the NBA had to change some rules to make sure scores didn't drop into the 70's.

The Spurs were different this year, though, and while they faired just fine during the regular season, they were exposed in the playoffs. Yes, they were without a healthy Manu Ginobili, who could have provided a little more offensive firepower, but I'm not sure it would have mattered. This is a team that is no longer playing slow because of defensive unity; they're playing slow basketball because they are a collection of slow players (besides, perhaps, Parker). The Spurs, this year, decided they had no chance of winning a game of labored breathing and jump shots, so they chose to run 20 seconds off the shot clock on every possession, try to limit the total number of combined shots, and hope that Parker and Duncan could hit a few in a row in the 4th quarter and get the win. In the playoffs, the Mavs simply ran them out of the building, and when that didn't work, Dirk Nowitzki could nail a spinning, fading, high-arching, back-breaking 18-footer. A note to the Spurs: it's time to improve your team by adding a player of decent calibur, rather than just a Roger Mason. If not, it's peace out San Antone.

Alright, so baseball, then. Not much has changed in the last week-plus. The Red Sox still own the Yanks, though NY has played pretty well against everyone else. The AL East is strong, overall, the Rangers are holding a lead over the Angels, the Phillies are playing solid ball now that Hamels is healthy, and the Dodgers, with or without Manny, are way out ahead in the NL West.

A few teams have fired head coaches already, and it has really worked out well for one of them. The Colorado Rockies, a hyper-talented offensive team, seems to be putting things together for the first time since the closing weeks of the 2007 season. Former Dodgers Manager Jim Tracy is the man at the helm for Colorado, and his calm, optimistic approach is rubbing off on the players. I'm not sure he's a long term solution, but so far he's pushing all the right buttons. And let's be honest, almost anyone following Clint Hurdle would have be adequate. For all his success with the Rox a few years back, Hurdle had given up on them this year. He was going through the motions, and teams can sense that in their leader. The Rockies have since rattled off 11 straight wins, so they're due to cool off, but they've at least moved back into the "middling" category in my book.

From a fantasy perspective Ian Stewart is getting a good deal of playing time, and Clint Barmes appears to be hitting again. This all spells disaster for Garrett Atkins owners, as he is only getting into the lineup against lefties. Who would have thought Atkins would find himself in a platoon? Not I. Elsewhere in the league, B.J. Upton looks like he's starting to find a swing. His average is up near .220 at long last, he has stolen 22 bags, and there's no real limit to how high this athletic freak's numbers might go. His younger brother Justin is a beast in the making.

Big Papi, according to a Boston-based fan site, has "found eye-drops with HGH in them," and even he's getting a hit every once in a while, these days. Oh, and Brad Lidge is on the DL.

That about catches us up on the happenings across the Majors. Starting tomorrow, we'll dive back into some pickup notes. For today, make sure someone in your league has grabbed Ryan Madson. If not, he's a damn good closer solution until Lidge returns. And, as usual, please pay a visit to our affiliate site, BaseballFanNation.com, and have a go at the $5 weekly Fantasy Sports Lite game. It is currently being marketed across the nation, and with marketing and participation come even better prizes. It's a $500 payout right now, but every time 100 new people play the game, the prize can get even bigger. So get while the gettin's good!

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