Thursday, 31 May 2007

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Tidbits

Those who live in the Miami area may - worried that they will be shunned from restaurants and country clubs - claim to be Dolphins fans, growing fins and living underwater in their spare time. But Miami, like any other city in a state with multiple football teams, likely has its fair share of Tampa Bay fans.

Perhaps these folks once lived in Tampa Bay and moved to Miami. Perhaps they grew up watching Tampa Bay or know someone who played for them. Perhaps they (gasp!) would just rather be a Buccaneer than a Dolphin. For you Tampa Bay fans lingering in the city of Miami, this article is one you’ll likely want to pirate.

Every NFL team has its fair share of history and trivia. But the Tampa Bay Buccaneers possess some of the most interesting trivia around. Those who disagree will have to walk the plank.

Kings of the South: Tampa Bay is the only team in the NFC South to prevail as Super Bowl Champions. Though Atlanta and Carolina have reached the Super Bowl, they have yet to be victorious. New Orleans, on the other end of the spectrum, is one of a handful of teams to have never made it to the championship.

The Rich Get Richer: The owner of the Buccaneers, Malcolm Glazer, also owns the Manchester United, an English soccer team. The Manchester United is considered the richest sports organization in the entire world.

Oops: The 1976 Buccaneers are the only team in modern day NFL history to lose every single game in a season. Since the NFL went to a sixteen game season, in 1978, several teams have gone 1-15, but no one has gone 0-16. During the 1982 season, which was shortened by a strike, the Baltimore Colts had no victories, but they had one tie to accompany their eight losses.

He could go all the way… but he won’t: The Buccaneers are the only NFL team that has never scored a touchdown on a kickoff return during a regular season game, a feat that has, up till the start of the 2006 season, been done over 1700 times by other teams. The Bucs have, however, scored five touchdowns on kickoff returns during pre-season games.

A Pirate’s Curse: No team that has lost a regular season game to Tampa Bay has ever won the Super Bowl. This, because of its years in existence, is known as The Tampa Bay Curse and haunts anyone who falls to the Bucs before season’s end.

The Warm Weather Factor: Until the final regular season game of 2002, in which Tampa Bay defeated the Chicago Bears in Chicago, the Buccaneers had never won a game where the temperature at kickoff was less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Before beating the Bears, the Bucs had lost the twenty previous games played in cold weather.

Keeping it Real: Not only did the Bucs not do well in cold weather, but they also didn’t do well playing on artificial grass. They once lost 27 games in a row played on artificial turf in outdoor stadiums. This losing streak spanned 15 years, from the 1980 season to the 1995 season.

Coach Potatoes: Tony Dungy, who recently led the Indianapolis Colts to a Super Bowl victory and served previously as head of the Buccaneers, has seen four people from his Tampa Bay coaching staff make it as head coaches. Herman Edwards, an assistant under Dungy, coaches the Kansas City Chiefs; Rod Marinelli, a defensive coach under Dungy, coaches the Detroit Lions; Mike Tomlin, a defensive coach under Dungy, coaches the Pittsburgh Steelers; and Lovie Smith, a linebackers coach under Dungy, coaches the Chicago Bears. The former Buccaneers coaches met most recently in the 2007 Super Bowl.

Tampa Bay might not be a team full of Super Bowl rings or hall of fame names, but it’s an interesting team nonetheless, and one that some Miami fans can’t help but cheer for -- even if done quietly.

Jennifer Jordan is a senior editor for Millenium Limo. An avid traveler and sightseer, she has been to a variety of places around the world. She's also been to Wyoming more times than she cares to count.

NBA: Cavs Win Fourth Showdown of Eastern Conference Finals

I don't know if the Cleveland Cavaliers, top to bottom, is a better team than the Detroit Pistons. They are, at this point however, hungrier.

They're working harder on each possession, making more hustle plays, and forcing many of Detroit's finest into an uncharacteristically poor series. After the Cavs' 91-87 winin Game 4, noone can consider Detroit's lackluster showing merely a product of coincidence. Just like I don't think they can consider this series the snoozer many people thought it could have been.

The final score, the series' highest total offensive output thus far, is actually a red herring for where the credit needs to go. Cleveland did do an excellent job running their offense and hitting big shots, but defense continues to be Cleveland's bread and butter. Defensive efficiency becomes even more paramount when one sees how poorly Cleveland did rebounding the ball off the offensive glass. This is one of Cleveland's strongest areas normally (their lowest offensive rebound total in the regular season was 6), and they only pulled 3 offensive boards down tonight.

Fewer second chance points meant that Cleveland had to do even better back on defense. The Cavs shot only 44.1% from the floor, so it's not as if their usual opportunities for offensive rebounds weren't there because they, as a team, were putting every shot in the bucket. They just weren't getting those rebounds as they typically do and had to rely on their defense to pick up the slack. Which the defense did. Detroit shot only 41.3% from the floor and 3-of-17 from behind the arc. Put this alongside Billups' puzzling stat line (more on that in a bit), and it's obvious that Cleveland's defense is due a good helping of props.

Of particular note is Coach Mike Brown's defensive move in the fourth quarter. With about 7 minutes left in the game, LeBron James switched from guarding Tayshaun Prince to Billups. This allowed rookie Daniel Gibson to move over to guarding Prince. it was hardly a favorable match up for Gibson, and Prince got his for the first time this series including some points in the fourth quarter at Gibson's expense. But Billups was essentially taken out of the game once James drew him defensively.

Billups struggles are worth expounding on a bit, since Cleveland is doing things to him I don't think any other team has managed to do in some time throughout the course of a series. He handed out only 2 assists, poor enough on its own for a point guard of his repute. He also turned the ball over 5 times, now putting him at 21 turnovers to 16 assists in the series.

Billups should well be having one of his better postseasons. When you're playing for your next NBA contract, your performance generally goes up. Ask Jerome James about that principle of competitive sports. Billups appears to be doing just the opposite though.

Coach Brown's defensive adjustment should not be taken as a criticism of Daniel Gibson, mind you. The rookie from Texas did an excellent job playing second fiddle to LeBron James tonight, stepping in marvelously to replace Larry Hughes who was limited with a partial tear in the plantar fascia of his left foot. Gibson scored 21 points and established his reputation as an adequate defender.

Cleveland, whatever the outcome of this year's playoff run, badly needs a point guard to help run the offense around LeBron James. Whether or not Gibson is the long term answer to this quandary is uncertain, as he did have 4 turnovers and no doubt needs to work on his ball handling. But he, along with Drew Gooden and his 19 points, gave LeBron the support he needed to make tonight a success for the Cavs. He can at least say he's stepped up big time in an NBA playoff game.

Speaking of LeBron, he rose marvelously to the occasion once again. He played, like his teammates, an absolutely atrocious third quarter but made up for it with 13 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter. He hit yet another clutch jumper as time was running low to help close the door on Detroit. Then he hit two free throws with less than 5 seconds to play to finish that particular job.

Game 5 is back in Detroit Thursday, and if Cleveland didn't get the Pistons' attention with Game 3, they have it now. For four games straight the Cavs have hung tough with Detroit, winning two with the same big plays in the fourth that Detroit used to get over the hump in Games 1 and 2. The series is a best of three now, and Detroit does get the first and potentially last game on their own home floor. Cleveland will have to win one in Detroit at some point. But they are absolutely capable of doing it, especially if they continue to frustrate Detroit defensively the way they have so far.

Jared is a vibrant, outspoken, extroverted, opinionated, and enthusiastic college student from central Indiana. He is extremely passionate about music and is an active musician specializing in drums and percussion. Other obsessions include sports, technology, and like any good college student, food. he is currently a sophomore studying media arts at Butler University, and really has no idea what method he'll use to take over the world. He happens to be blind and is accompanied in the corresponding photo by his faithful, friendly, and fantastic guide dog, Kerry. Read more of his work at his blog.

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Fierce Competition Reigns At French Open - American Men Out

The French Open has started up again. The excitement is overwhelming. This is the moment of the season for all tennis fans to begin watching the majors again; the moment to watch Roger Federer's impressive forehand and to whine as the U.S. begins to falter. Since it has been a few months that there was a tennis major, fans are anticipating the grueling competition among the ruthless, talented players. Along with talent comes the grunting, the throwing of rackets, the yelling at the umpire, the sweating, and the falling and diving into the red clay.

At the French Open, Roland Garros will have a competition so fierce, no other sport can compare: Roger Federer (No. 1 seed) vs. Rafael Nadal (No. 2 seed). There almost is no question that when it comes down to the finals, they will be facing each other AGAIN. The reporters covering the French Open know this, which is why they mention them in every article awaiting the moment that the two face off.

Last year was an upset at the French Open. Federer was on Nadal's turf, who is a two-time defending champion on clay. He conquers the clay court, unlike Federer who conquers the grass court. But last year on June 11, 2006, Federer lost to his tennis nemesis and ultimate opponent 1-6, 6-1, 6-4, 7-6(4).

Federer is considered one of the best tennis players ever. It sounds sort of cliché and school girlish, but he is pretty close to catching up to Pete Sampras' record in winning Grand Slam Championships.

In the first round, Federer defeated American Michael Russell 6-4, 6-2, 6-4. He was not broken in this match, and hopefully he will not be for the remainder of the tournament.

The anxiety of watching the Americans play is frustrating. Andy Roddick (No. 3 seed) was out in the first round against Russian Igor Andreev 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4. What an upset! The highest-ranked American player is out in the first round. What is happening? Roddick was up in his game. His serves were better than ever, but he faltered in this match, making too many unforced errors.

What about James Blake (No. 8 seed)? He's out. Just like Vince Spadea, Justin Gimelstob, Amer Delic, Robert Kendrick, Sam Querrey, and the aforementioned Michael Russell. Although those names are not as familiar as Roddick and Blake, it's important to note that for the first time in 40 years, no American man will be moving on to the second round at the French Open.

Besides Roddick being my favorite American tennis player, Robby Ginepri is pretty close to being first. And disappointment settled in when this hard-hitting, fast-serving, 48th ranked up-and-comer also lost 6-4, 1-6, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 to 89th Diego Hartfield of Argentina. He has huge potential to be a great player.

Even though there aren't any men left in the tournament, we can still root for the women. The Williams sisters are still in. There is hope yet.


Stanley Cup Shifts To TV Channel People Actually Have

When my parents had Comcast cable TV installed at their cottage last month, my mother told me that they now have Versus. I naturally assumed she meant that the satellite crashed in the cottage's backyard.

Versus would be a completely obscure cable sports channel were it not for them carrying the Stanley Cup playoffs. My house doesn't get Versus, but it does get CBC, which is how I watched all of three minutes of NHL playoffs this year, albeit three good ones. Were I not to live an afternoon's drive from Canada, that aggregate number of minutes watched may be three fewer.

The first two games of the Cup final were shown on Versus, with the first game being seen by a skosh over a half million households. But now NBC, seeing as we found out it was Ryan and not Jim or Karen who got the Dunder-Mifflin corporate job, can start showing prime time hockey and will pick up the remaining five games.

It's really sad how far NHL popularity has fallen. A mention of the American "big four" sports now elicits snickering. ("Uh, pal, I only count three.") I didn't even know who won Games 1 or 2 until I sat down to pen this article, and it turns out the Ducks of Anaheim are leading the Ottawa Senators two games to zero, after last night's 1-0 victory. That story was the inset box on ESPN.com's front page this morning, trumped by Kobe Bryant's mood swings.

The series will go through customs for Game 3 in Ottawa, which will be shown Saturday night. Game 4 is on Monday. Unfortunately, for the NHL, those are the same nights the Cleveland Cavaliers and Detroit Pistons play Games 6 and 7 (if necessary) of the NBA Eastern Conference final. So even though the masses will have the option to watch, they may already be ensconced in a different playoff series.

But if there's anything I've noticed about NHL fans, it's that they may be fewer in number, but they're certainly dedicated. Hockey fans are rabid hockey fans, and you sort of have to respect that. Then again, Ian Faith defended Spinal Tap saying that the fanbase was just more selective. But the problem may not be in the quality of the NHL. I think the problem may be that the vast majority of playoff games are seen on a channel whose satellite was in danger of being crushed by a dwarf.

Matt SussmanContact SussBeing editor of BC Sports isn't Matt Sussman's main job -- nor is blogging at The Futon Report or writing a weekly column for the Toledo Free Press -- and it shows.

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

NBA: Officials and Unruly Utah Fans the Story In Game 4

The NBA has shown me something in these playoffs. Specifically, the 7-game series format for the postseason is simply brilliant. If there's any sure thing in this 21st century sports media, it's the way controversy explodes around questionable outcomes.

In March Madness, the bad call sends one team home and another on to the next round. The NFL, similarly, usually has a good, long while between the same two teams facing each other, so emotions have time to settle before the rivals hook it up again. In the NBA playoffs, you get those two teams at each other's throats Monday playing each other again Wednesday.

Game 5 in San Antonio will have that kind of hostile crackle to it, the same tension seen in Phoenix for Game 5 of the Spurs/Suns series last round. Four technical fouls (two on coach Jerry Sloan and two on veteran Derek Fisher) on the Jazz in the fourth quarter. Manu Ginobili flopping like a fish out of water. These events from last night will come under my scrutiny here over the next handful of paragraphs. But I have to start with a group of people that don't even play basketball.

Should any of the few Jazz fans abysmally ignorant enough to throw objects onto the court after the game's conclusion read this, I'd like to personally assert that I hope you are never permitted into an NBA arena again. Coaches and players have to keep their emotions in check, for even the slightest wrong word earns them a hefty fine or worse. We all know the frightful consequences that come of things being thrown at players. About 99% of possible provocation is no grounds for a player to go into the stands, and thankfully no one did tonight.

But those responsible for the projectiles that came soaring out of the stands after San Antonio defeated the Jazz 91-79 should, for lack of better or wittier terminology, be very ashamed of their behavior. The athletes are the athletes, and as such we endlessly expect them to not respond to antagonism. Still, it's preposterous to assume that just because a fee for a ticket was paid that spectators are free to partake in this kind of silly and classless temper tantrum.

That isn't to imply that the officials are blameless. No one likes to talk about the dudes in stripes after the game, but some of these statistics are just mind boggling. San Antonio scored 19 of their 28 points in the fourth quarter from the free throw line. They also got six more shots from the line that they missed. Through the course of the game, San Antonio shot twice as many free throws as Utah did. And, folks, this isn't a situation where Utah doesn't play a physical style of ball that gets you to the line. That's left to Phoenix and Golden State. The truth was that this game was poorly officiated, and while it gives no lunatics clearance to chuck random garbage onto the court, it is something that deserves to be mentioned. A few times, in fact.

The most egregious infraction from a rules standpoint has to be the flopping that went on, especially late in the game. I always appreciated Reggie Miller's ability to draw contact when he played for the Pacers. Some would have called it the predecessor to the flopping that goes on now. But some of the acting jobs Manu Ginobili gifted us with tonight were just a bit too much. This is not soccer, and when it's so blatantly obvious from even our petty spectator vantage point that a player is willfully propelling himself around like he just got hit by a tank, I find it hard to believe the officials, standing a mere few feet away, don't pick up on this and take it into account accordingly. Again, it's not as if the Jazz faithful have nothing to be displeased about. Just not enough to warrant throwing things around like a 6-year-old.

There were players on the court throughout this contest, believe it or not. Not all the news comes from the fans and the officiating crew. The most noteworthy performance tonight had to be Deron Williams, who came out and played fantastic basketball despite having battled a stomach virus of some sort throughout the past two days. He ended up with 27 points and 10 assists, again confounding all the defensive tactics San Antonio used to slow him down. His chief partner in crime, Carlos Boozer, also played decently if not spectacularly.

Where Utah fell short was those pesky role players again. After emerging in the Jazz's Game 3 whipping, Utah's supporting cast again faded away, especially down the stretch. The bench that helped Utah so much in Game 3 didn't even score in double digits as a unit. In fact, no Jazz player beyond Williams and Boozer got to 10 points.

And despite all of it, the third quarter ended with the Spurs leading 63-62 and with Deron Williams having just propelled Utah back into the game after being down by 11 early in the second half. The Jazz certainly had adversity to deal with throughout the final period, but great teams win even when it seems they're not supposed to. Utah's mental toughness betrayed them once the phantom calls started coming in, and the frustration was fairly evident. Derek Fisher, a fairly calm soul most of the time, got two different technical fouls. That serves as some illustration for how frustrated Utah was getting.

And San Antonio, like any ruthless, calculating championship team, capitalized. Manu Ginobili made sure to make those free throws he was blessed with count. Tim Duncan also shot far above his average at the line. Even with the calls going their way, it seems like San Antonio still treated each possession as if it were the most important of the game. There could be a legitimate argument for San Antonio having won without the additional help they got from the men with the whistles.

Game 5 will be in San Antonio Wednesday night, and it's hard to think Utah has much of a chance down 3-1 in the series. It will be intriguing to see if Utah comes out playing with pride and at least tries to send the series back to Utah for Game 6. With such a young squad, this kind of frazzling experience might zap them of their energy and intensity. Jerry Sloan is a great coach and a superb motivator, so I expect Utah to at least come out fighting now. But they will forever remember that San Antonio made more free throws in Game 4 (30) than they made actual baskets (28). I think I can objectively declare that there was no excuse for the poor officiating on display tonight. But not even that is a good excuse for throwing things on the court.

Jared is a vibrant, outspoken, extroverted, opinionated, and enthusiastic college student from central Indiana. He is extremely passionate about music and is an active musician specializing in drums and percussion. Other obsessions include sports, technology, and like any good college student, food. he is currently a sophomore studying media arts at Butler University, and really has no idea what method he'll use to take over the world. He happens to be blind and is accompanied in the corresponding photo by his faithful, friendly, and fantastic guide dog, Kerry. Read more of his work at his blog.

Monday, 28 May 2007

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NBA: The King Strikes Back

From my humble little vantage point, it appears that a little bit of home cooking did a certain LeBron James quite a lot of good. The Cavs' superstar shot a return salvo at his critics with his 32 point, 9 rebound, and 9 assist performance in Cleveland's 88-82 defeat of the Detroit Pistons. The victory trims Detroit's series lead to just two games to Cleveland's one, and with good reason many Detroit fans are beginning to grow concerned that the Pistons have once again taken their foot off the proverbial gas pedal.

Let's be honest though. LeBron James, while impressive, was far from the only thorn sticking into the Pistons' collective side throughout Game Three. The Cavaliers' shooters made their first legitimate appearances as an entire supporting cast, allowing James the additional freedom that lets great players work their craft. Sasha Pavlovic's great shot selection netted him 13 points, Ilgauskas and Gooden chipped in with 16 and 12 respectively, and Daniel Gibson hit some key long distance jumpers that kept the pistons from focusing exclusively on James.

Let's talk about King James though. His statistics, excellent as they are, show little of how he took Cleveland on his back and would not permit them to let this lead get away from them. James has been criticized a good deal lately for his lack of late game heroics, culminating in the blistering he got after this series' Game One. And perhaps rightfully so. But James, intentionally or not, answered those calls tonight, never failing to take the fate of the Cavs on his shoulders down the stretch. His 3-pointer with 2:34 was the juncture at which I started thinking Cleveland might claw their way home. Then, for good measure, he hit another pretty jumper with seconds left to close the lid on Detroit's chances of a sweep. I needn’t waste words over the dunk he put in Rasheed Wallace's back yard with about 7 minutes left; the ESPN highlight reel or Youtube is all that can do that justice.

The reason for James being able to take over the game is, as I mentioned before, due in large part to Detroit's failure to shut down the remainder of Cleveland's offensive weapons. Or at least what Cleveland usually calls offensive weapons. To their credit, all but Larry Hughes gave James all the help he could want tonight, and to Larry Hughes' credit, a sprained foot is a tough thing to play with. It ultimately came down to the Pistons not being able to collapse swarms of defenders on James for fear of leaving another of the hot shooters with a clear look at the basket. When Detroit would try to trap James with their 1-2-2 zone, other Cavaliers would set up shop in the vulnerable center of the defensive formation and, in tonight’s case, hit well-timed jumpers to keep Detroit looking over their shoulder.

It would be cruel and unusual punishment for me to not at least give those deserving on the Pistons their due. I'm looking at you Chris Webber, who gave us shades of the good ol' days in Sacramento. 5-of-8 from the floor, 5-of-6 at the charity stripe and some fantastic hustle on the offensive glass. Had Detroit won this, Webber would be getting some praise all around for being one of the great adjunct players that steps up when all the chips are on the table. As it happens, he'll just get some love from me. Sorry, C-Web, I know it's a petty consolation.

I'm starting to think the Cavaliers have really figured something out with Chauncey Billups. Mr. Big Shot lived up to his alias in the first two games, and that earned him a pass both from me and from everyone else whose basketball analysis caught my eye. Now that he's managed to not pull the Pistons out of the fire in Game Three, it's a bit easier to see that he has more turnovers so far this series (17) than assists (14). Billups had nearly 3.6 assists per turnover in the regular season, and him having not even broken even through three games leads me to believe Mike Brown has figured something out about Billups. What that is, I humbly admit, I've not quite found out as far as Xs and Os go.

Whatever the reason, Billups' lack of comfort within the jaws of Cleveland's defensive pressure has stymied the Pistons entire offensive output. They are scoring well below their 96 points-per-game average, and I don't buy Billups and Hamilton, Detroit's two biggest guns offensively, just having random bad nights three games in a row. Tayshaun Prince seemed to get a bit of his own offensive mojo back in Game Three (6-of-13 for 13 points), but Billups in particular needs to give Detroit that scoring and distributive presence on the perimeter if the Pistons aren't to let Cleveland come back and overtake them in this series.

Tonight's game, of course, does not answer the seemingly endless questioning about whether or not LeBron James has finally his stride as a superstar. His supporters will point to tonight's key shots and leadership in the same way his detractors will point to his initial struggles in this series. He has shown that he is capable of taking the game over for periods at a time, even against this Piston defense of such high repute. He has the tools to take Cleveland past Detroit and to the next level, and the Pistons may have found out tonight they might be in for a bit more than they'd perhaps bargained for. The prospect of this series going seven seems to become more feasible by the game, and it is still my assertion that Detroit is going to need to go all the way to finally put James and the Cavs to bed.

In closing, can we get someone over there to help Sheed? That dunk really was vicious...

Jared is a vibrant, outspoken, extroverted, opinionated, and enthusiastic college student from central Indiana. He is extremely passionate about music and is an active musician specializing in drums and percussion. Other obsessions include sports, technology, and like any good college student, food. he is currently a sophomore studying media arts at Butler University, and really has no idea what method he'll use to take over the world. He happens to be blind and is accompanied in the corresponding photo by his faithful, friendly, and fantastic guide dog, Kerry. Read more of his work at his blog.

The "Curse" Of Cleveland Sports (And Other Tales of "Whoa!")

Well, it had to happen sooner or later. The fine folks at ESPN just cannot restrain themselves, you know. Or maybe their segment producers just have all the “creativity” of a hamster running relentlessly on a stationary wheel.

Hey, the ESPN brain stems must stew: Maybe we can mash it between the clip of Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell going down like a sack of Ultimate Fighting potatoes and Stephen A. Smith screeching like some half-crazed sports harpy selling used cars on rainy day, huh? If you’re from Cleveland, Ohio, you know what’s coming next. If you’re from Cleveland, you can see this Shot - this Drive - this Fumble - this Mesa - stomping down Alfred Lerner Way (from a mile away).

“We now interrupt this ESPN program for a George Steinbrenner bowel movement…”

Whoop, there it is: Is Cleveland cursed? “Woe is us,” proclaims the national media meatheads from their predictable pedestals. “Cleveland sports are cursed,” they say. LeBron James “should have done this” and he “should have done that.” Michael Jordan surely would have fought through this adversity: An overpriced Larry Hughes (who should turn in his “Robin“ outfit for a “Mr. Freeze“ costume), a mystified Mike Brown, a marble rye mugging by the Pistons that would make Jerry Seinfeld squirm, and Anderson Varejao as electrifying as a crash test dummy - these are “The Ghosts That Haunt Me.”

Hey, I know the Cleveland Cavaliers are currently down to the less-than-dominant Detroit Pistons. I know the Cavaliers should have stolen at least one of the first two games of the Eastern Conference final. But I’m not making some sad excuses for LeBron James, the Cavaliers, or any other Cleveland team for that matter. Give the Pistons credit: They won, we lost.

But do I really need to see another “John Elway beats the Browns” ESPN homage on Sunday morning to clarify that Cleveland sports are cursed? Do I really need to see Craig Ehlo looking like he just choked on a pair of Hanes as Michael Jordan makes “The Shot” - again and again and again?

With all due respect to the “vaunted” New York Yankees, my Cleveland teams are the hottest thing in sports right now. Mr. Steinbrenner can throw his money away on prima donnas, free agents and calzones - and all his Yankees can do is flop around and flounder (this year anyway) in the national spotlight.

And, excuse me, it’s Cleveland that is cursed?

Hello, McFly! I don’t need the “Crayola scribblings” and “pretty pictures” of Sports Illustrated to tell me that Grady Sizemore is the real deal. Like Jimmy Olsen sitting atop The Daily Planet, I’ve seen “Super Sizemore” fly across the Cleveland city landscape - with my own eyes.

I’ve seen Travis Hafner, The Incredible Pronk, “hulk out” and smash any “puny humans (and pitchers)” that get in his way. And Roger Clemens? Give me a break: I’ll take C.C. Sabathia or Fausto Carmona any day!

And you call us cursed? We may build automobiles here in Cleveland that make Fred Flintstone’s car look revolutionary. But it’s the Cavaliers and Pistons that are currently battling for a chance at an NBA championship, ladies and gentlemen, not those damn Yankees.

And while George Steinbrenner is busy fretting over his big-budget bust in New York, the Cleveland Indians and the Detroit Motor City Kitties are the hottest thing in baseball right now. The “wild card” in the American League is coming out of the Central - not the Bronx (with all their fancy European man-bags and stuff!).

Sorry, but as a native Clevelander, I like my irony served to me like my beer: ICE COLD. I’ll take my “feeble victories” where I can get them. Sure, we’ve got more professional sports teams in town than we do championships - and something called “The Lake Erie Monsters“ lurking on the horizon - but who else outside of Roswell, New Mexico can say that?

Here’s some “news” for you, ESPN: Cleveland is the heart of rock n’ roll - and that heart is still beating (Huey Lewis told me as much).

Maybe some day it will be Brady Quinn and the Browns driving down past the Denver Broncos for their first Super Bowl win (Magic 8-ball says: “Not Bloody Likely!”).

Maybe some day Carlos Boozer will have a change-of-heart and return to Cleveland to help LeBron and the CAVS win a championship (Magic 8-ball says: “Dream On, Dumbass!”).

Maybe some day I’ll get to throw out the “opening pitch” when the Tribe plays in The World Series (Magic 8-ball says: “Larry Dolan Thinks Otherwise, Odd Ball.”).

But, damn it, you better get one thing clear when you use Cleveland as a punching bag: We punch back!

Hopefully, the “Cleveland Cadavers” remember that when they face the Detroit Pistons in these plum remaining games - because (sorry, ESPN), like the rest of Cleveland, I‘m not quite ready to roll over and play dead.

Chris McVetta is a graduate of THE Cleveland State University and an alumni of The Second City. Chris has published hundreds of articles on pop culture, sports, film, TV and comedy in such venues as The Cleveland Plain Dealer, Scene, The Free Times, North Coast Voice, SportsJam! and Entertainment Weekly. Chris was a co-founding member of the Cleveland sketch comedy group, The Public Squares, and is the writer/creator of the pop culture blog, The id and I.

Sunday, 27 May 2007

NBA: Jazz Retain Dignity With Game Three Smackdown

If nothing else, the Jazz can take solace in their still being something special about Energy Solutions Arena in Salt Lake City. That and their having avoided the dreaded sweep. The Jazz improved to 7-0 in that particular building during these 2007 playoffs with their 109-84 dismantling of the San Antonio Spurs. Deron Williams lead the way with 31 points and 8 assists, and Carlos Boozer had another impressive double double, putting 27 points on the board and grabbing 12 rebounds.

San Antonio's big men found themselves constantly hampered by foul trouble throughout the entire game. Tim Duncan, whose performance in these playoffs has been nothing short of immaculate, struggled to get into any sort of rhythm. He finished with 16 points and 8 rebounds, an appalling line on the stat sheet when compared to Duncan's other games in the past couple of weeks. In fact, this was the first time in 11 games he had failed to reach 20 points and 10 rebounds.

On the defensive end, Duncan just never seemed to be locked in, probably from spending so much time on the San Antonio bench. He also wasn't himself from an offensive standpoint. It seemed that he would simply drift into the post, where Okur and others were crowding in on him, and waited for the ball to come to him. Duncan is very capable of muscling people around in the paint, but he also is very gifted at moving without the ball to help the offense find an opening. He typically utilizes screens and uses other forms of movement very well throughout the entire duration of the offensive possession. Tonight, however, he seemed content to try and bang around inside rather than slipping in, around, and behind the various Jazz defensive sets.

Give the Jazz's role players a good chunk of the credit for this win. Boozer and Williams did the heavy lifting, but this had been the case in Game Two on Tuesday. The support system to make Williams and Boozer's efforts worthwhile held up tonight, and the result showed in the final score. Derek Fisher and Gordan Giricek both shot 4-of-8 from the field for 11 points, a welcome departure from their quiet games in San Antonio. Even players that don't typically contribute much made sure to get theirs, like Jarron Collins' 7 unexpected points off the bench. Mehmet Okur continued to struggle with his scoring and only took three shots in Game Three, but his defense on Duncan proved paramount. A good portion of Duncan's foul trouble came at the offensive end of the floor and at Okur's hand.

The Spurs role players didn't fair so well. The 3-point baskets that seem to pop up right when the Spurs needed them never showed up tonight. San Antonio as a team only shot 7-of-21 from behind the arc, and their 3-point standouts (Finley, Barry, Horry, and Bowen) combined to go 4-of-13 from downtown. For long stretches when Duncan was on the pine, the jazz defense didn't need to pay as much attention to what was going on under and near the basket, allowing them to guard things like spot up 3-pointers more effectively. Still, the Spurs missed several fairly open looks in the decisive third quarter with Fisher, the Jazz's best perimeter defender, on the bench. By the fourth quarter, it seemed like those shooters had the night's troubles in their heads.

Hopefully Robert Horry's hard foul on Deron Williams as time wound down in the game won't receive too much undue attention. At first glance, it looks like deja vu all over again, what with San Antonio down big late and Horry giving some rough business to the opposing starting point guard. Thankfully the similarities stopped after Horry's foul, and nothing further happened. Yet the message boards on ESPN will likely be flooded quite soon with disgruntled Suns fans all too willing to tell us that this isn't the first time Horry's handed out hard fouls late in a blowout loss.

The Jazz's big win has to do some pretty amazing things for their confidence, but running Gregg Popovich out of your building like that has some other, less desirable consequences. I expect a focused Spurs team to wrench control of this series back from Utah in Game Four. Duncan's issues all game long had a profound ripple effect throughout the entire Spurs team, especially offensively. Ginobili was not the same player without Duncan's inside presence helping to divert attention from him, Parker, etc.. And it took this long for Duncan to have a poor showing in these playoffs. I can't with a straight face expect it to happen two games in a row.

The insanity that is the Jazz home crowd will make things tough again for San Antonio in Game Four, but I still see this as the Jazz merely putting it all together for this one night. That isn't, mind you, an attempt to diminish the win. The defensive intensity, the stellar input from Utah's bench, all of it was both impressive and commendable. But this is a Spurs team that wasn't clicking on all cylinders. Gregg Popovich rarely gives us two poor games from his Spurs in a row, and I don't expect Monday night to buck this trend.

I also can't help but think Deron Williams is due for a mediocre night. His tendency before this series was to be somewhat streaky from game to game, and this is his third consecutive tremendous performance. Few teams cool down hot players better than the Spurs, and Deron Williams will likely be the first Jazz player to really see what a 25-point loss does to this San Antonio squad. This game is most certainly further evidence that the Jazz are on there way. Make no mistake though, they're not quite there yet. I still give this series five games.

Jared is a vibrant, outspoken, extroverted, opinionated, and enthusiastic college student from central Indiana. He is extremely passionate about music and is an active musician specializing in drums and percussion. Other obsessions include sports, technology, and like any good college student, food. he is currently a sophomore studying media arts at Butler University, and really has no idea what method he'll use to take over the world. He happens to be blind and is accompanied in the corresponding photo by his faithful, friendly, and fantastic guide dog, Kerry. Read more of his work at his blog.