I’m more fired up about the NBA playoffs this year than I’ve been in a long time. By my count there are eight teams – that’s half the field – that could be holding the championship trophy. Maybe nine.
Sure, many expect the Miami Heat to three-peat and that’s certainly possible, but can Dwayne Wade’s body hold up for the grueling playoff grind? And if he does hold up physically is he still night in and night out the same player he was?
Standing in front of the Heat’s bid to win the East are Indiana and Brooklyn. The Pacers are the most unpredictable team in the playoffs. For the first three months of the regular season they may have been the NBA’s best team. For the last three they were mediocre. Brooklyn has a bunch of aging stars who could have one more run in their legs. Some might argue that Chicago deserves to be in the discussion but without Derrick Rose there’s simply not enough offense.
Out West five of the eight playoff teams are talented enough to go the distance. The Warriors, no doubt, think that number is six.
I agree San Antonio and Oklahoma City are the best of the bunch. Not only do they have their Dynamic Duos – the Spurs with Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, the Thunder with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook – but they have star quality support.
But the Clippers (Chris Paul and Blake Griffin), the Rockets (James Harden and Dwight Howard) and the Trail Blazers (LaMarcus Aldridge and Damien Lillard) all also have Dynamic Duos capable of taking their teams to the title. And their supporting casts are capable.
(In case you’re not that familiar with Portland’s Aldridge and Lillard you should check out their performances in Sunday’s victory at Houston. Aldridge had 46 points and 18 rebounds and Lillard had 31 points.)
Critics say the incredible shooting Warriors lack the star big man although ex-Gator David Lee would disagree. This will be Lee’s opportunity to prove the critics wrong.
I know many of you pay little attention to the NBA. Many of us old-timers have trouble dealing with the new rules – or at least the way old rules are interpreted. When’s the last time someone was called for “palming” the ball? If a player is called for travelling these days then he must have taken at least four steps.
And the regular season does drag on too long and too many players have a habit of taking too many plays off. In other words, there’s a lot of loafing going on.
But the playoffs are different. Teams actually play defense, players actually hustle from start to finish and the stars tend to step up their incredible games a notch. Check out the playoffs. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Two thumbs – no, make that three thumbs – up to the folks who run the Players.
Starting with this year’s tournament, which is three weeks away (May 8-11), a 3-hole playoff will be used to determine the champion if there’s a tie after 72 holes. The playoff contestants will play holes 16, 17 and 18.
Multi-hole playoff formats are now used in golf’s top five tournaments, only the Masters sticking with a sudden-death format. The U.S. Open has an 18-hole format, while the PGA Championship uses 3 holes and the British Open 4 holes.
The decision by the Players will elevate the tournament’s status even more and could become the talk of the golf world because the Stadium Course’s final three holes make up the best finishing holes in American golf. (I say American golf because I won’t pretend to know the finishing holes of all courses around the globe.)
A 3-2-4 finish on the Stadium doesn’t require any miracles. A 6-6-6 finish isn’t out of the question either.
No. 16 is a great risk-reward par-5. No. 17, the island hole, is perhaps golf’s most recognized par-3. No. 18 ranks with the most difficult par-4s in the world.
As a golf fan I’m now pulling for a playoff every year at the Players. The more players the better.
Bubba Watson is good for golf but bad for golf instructors.
No sport is more overloaded with instruction manuals and teaching gurus than golf. Most PGA Tour players have their “special” coaches and credit them for much of their success. All of the teachers have their “little secrets” but they teach basically the same things: Head down, left arm straight, shoulder turn, weight shift, etc.
As a result most our players’ swings look the basically the same.
Not Bubba’s swing. His swing in unique. Bubba Golf didn’t come from an instruction manual or some overpriced, overhyped teacher.
Bubba is a throwback to the days when golfers simply learned to hit the ball and get it in the hole. Most had their singular styles. Now Bubba and Jim Furyk are the best of a small group of world-class golfers who don’t fit any mold.
The game really is about fee and repetition and hitting thousands of balls on the range. Bubba’s swing isn’t “pretty” but it works. He has two green jackets to prove it.
A couple of college football things I’m thinking about . . .
It’s no secret we love college football and tailgating in these parts. That was obvious last Saturday in Tallahassee, Gainesville and Athens.
Based on the numbers given by the schools 118,427 fans attended the spring games at FSU, Florida and Georgia. (Reportedly 70,000-plus were in Knoxville.) Who knows how accurate the number is but we know this: There were a lot of people watching glorified scrimmages on a beautiful April afternoon.
The attendance at spring games is added proof that, indeed, in these parts the most popular college sports are, in order, football, spring football, football recruiting and hunting for the preseason magazines and internet stories about football.
And to think the NFL is even more popular than college football.
For the record, there are about 140 days before the college football season begins. That’s 3,360 hours or 201,600 minutes. But I’ll bet you college football fanatics already knew that.
As expected the whiners are out and louder than ever because the NCAA has sanctioned a 40th college football bowl game starting in 2015.
Who’s going to watch? The games don’t mean anything. Those are the biggest complaints.
My question is simply: Why not play them?
Obviously whatever TV networks carry the games think somebody’s watching. Ditto for the companies that buy commercials for the telecast. If you’re not interested then don’t watch.
As for the games not meaning anything, using that criteria there’re only be a handful of games played each season. When’s the last time Tennessee-Kentucky mattered? Or N.C. State-Wake Forest? You get my point.
The bowls games are now simply an extinction of the season, providing another game and good experience for the players and more practice time for coaches.
Why does anybody have a problem with that?
If you didn’t watch the Masters because Tiger Woods wasn’t playing that’s your loss.
If you watched the Masters, but didn’t enjoy it because Tiger wasn’t playing then you don’t like golf.
This wasn’t the greatest Masters but it was a darn good one, offering up something for everyone.
The winner was golf’s most colorful player, lefty Bubba Watson.
He swings like a man chopping down a tree and often thinks like a man who was hit by the fallen tree, but he’s got game and now he has two green jackets. No one hits it farther and higher than the self taught Bubba. He often makes head-scratching decisions, but like another lefty, Phil Mickelson, Bubba turns bogeys into birdies with grip-it-and-rip-it approach to the game.
If Bubba doesn’t go into another golfing coma – as he did after winning the 2012 Masters – golf has another must-see player in Watson.
As a sidebar to Bubba’s 3-shot victory you got a long look at the game’s next great player in 20-year-old Jordan Spieth, who tied for second. He’ll get a green jacket someday soon and, no doubt, other major trophies.
The youth movement also was on display in Ricky Fowler, who up to now has been an overhyped player because of his popsicle-colored wardrobe and his oversized caps.
You saw the next stoic Euro in Sweden’s Jonas Blixt, who now lives in Ponte Vedra. Think Germany’s Bernhard Langer, who, by the way, tied for 8th while taking a break from the Champions Tour.
Langer wasn’t the only old-timer to shine. 50-year-old Miguel Angel Jimenez, who looks less like a golfer than everyone on Tour, finished 4th and had the tournament’s lowest round, a Saturday 66. Another senior player, Mr. Cool Fred Couples, was a factor until the backnine on Sunday.
If you’re the kind of fan who likes heart-breaking moments then Matt Kuchar, the Tour’s nicest player and one of its best putters, fulfilled your wishes. He took himself out the contention when he 4-putted the 4th green.
I’ll welcome Tiger’s return when his back heals, but in the meantime golf showed in the Masters it has lots of interesting characters to watch.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Tony Jasick is a fine young college basketball coach. He has a sparkling track record. I expect him to continue to excel professionally in his new job as Jacksonville University’s head coach.
But I can’t help but wonder why he took the job.
Moving from Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne to JU is, at best, a lateral move. Both are considered mid-majors in NCAA basketball and both play in low tier Division 1 conferences.
Jasick had IPFW on the upswing, going from 11 victories to 25 in three years. He was voted NCAA Mid-Major Coach of the Year this season. His team finished second in the Summit League, the school’s highest finish ever. IPFW had its first-ever postseason victory.
At JU he inherits a program with three straight losing seasons, a team gutted by graduation and transfers and a lousy fan base. The crowd – about 110 to 115 -- that attended Thursday’s on-campus press conference to announce his hiring was bigger than some of the crowds that attended JU games this year.
No salary was released, but I can’t imagine JU paying considerably more than IPFW. The facilities are comparable (neither is particularly good). Jasick says he and his wife have no family ties to the area.
When I asked him why he made the move he said it was because of JU President Tim Cost’s commitment to having a strong basketball program. It was the ultimate stock answer. I do believe JU wants a strong program, but I doubt JU’s resources and commitment are greater than those of IPFW.
Obviously Jasick denied seeing the JU job as a stepping stone to bigger and better things, but who believes that? Of course, IPFW was a stepping stone. But to JU?
So, again, I ask why?
I’ll miss Tiger at the Masters and so will you.
I can hear you saying how tired you are of seeing Tiger; how the TV networks show every one of Tiger’s shots while practically ignoring the guys at the top of the leader board.
Tiger, Tiger, Tiger and more Tiger. Tiger unloading with his driver; Tiger out of the sand; Tiger putting. Hell, Tiger standing off to the side of the green watching someone else putt.
But I also know regardless of how you feel about Tiger – love him or hate him – he’s like that car wreck on the side of the road: You can’t help but look.
Tiger Woods is the most compelling golfer of this or any generation. Admit it, when you check out the golf scores the first name you look for is Tiger’s.
Ben Hogan was more inspiring. Sam Snead was more majestic. Arnold Palmer’s charisma was off the charts. Jack Nicklaus was the greatest. Lee Trevino was the most entertaining. John Daly was the most unpredictable.
Tiger is all of those things and more.
The Masters, of course, will survive without Tiger. He is the most important player in the game – the single most important athlete in any sport, in fact – but he’s not bigger than the game and nothing in golf is bigger or more important than the Masters.
The biggest stars of the Masters are the golf course, August National, and history. It is where beauty and athletic heroes collide with despair and athletic goats. It is where golf giants grow bigger and near-misses define careers.
Who’ll win the green jacket? Most agree the tournament has never been more wide open.
Will Phil Mickelson win his fourth Masters? Will Rory McIlroy regain his major touch? Will the legend of Jordan Speith really begin? Will Bubba Watson’s find more magic? Will Adam Scott win again and join the ranks of golf immortals?
My pick is Dustin Johnson, but don’t bet on it.