Monday, April 30, 2007

Where in the World is Dirk Nowitzki?

S.O.L.'s best friends
Here's what I noticed about last night's game four meltdown by Dallas in the NBA Western Conference playoffs: somewhere in the middle of the third quarter, star and possibly soon-to-be-named league MVP Dirk Nowitzki stopped calling for the rock.

This is a complete reversal from last year's playoffs when Dirk took over some games and was seen front and center in the Mavs inspired run to the NBA Finals. Sure he missed some shots through the game, sure he looked slow compared to the swarming, flying, racing bodies that were the Golden State Warriors, but there's just no excuse for hiding behind a defender and putting his hands in his pocket.

I'm conflicted about this series. I picked Dallas to win in five or six, knowing how well the Warriors had been playing down the stretch and how perfectly they match up against the Mavericks. I thought that the Mavs, despite last year's public humiliation at the hands of Dwayne Wade and Miami, would rebound this year. I thought they'd show they belonged in the 'best team in the league" conversation. I thought 67 wins was not a fluke. I thought the Little General would make sure there was no letdown.

Well, folks. It's possible S.O.L. was wrong. Dallas has looked alternately lost and clueless in this series. They look slow and old and unprepared for a less-talented but clearly more motivated Golden State.

And now, Dallas is about to play for its very playoff life. One more loss and it's off to the driving range. The sign of hope I saw was Nowitzki hitting those two threes at the end of the game. Maybe that will help his confidence going into Game 5. S.O.L. still thinks Dallas has one last-gasp run in them, at least enough to send the serious back to the appropriately named Oracle Arena for a Game 6, but as thoroughly as the Warriors have beaten down the Mavs this series, it would not be surprise me if it's over on Tuesday night.

Will Dirk be waving for the ball or waving good-bye to Dallas fans for the season?

Endless Draft Day

The annual NFL draft took place on Saturday and Sunday. This used to be pretty much a snooze-fest, only interesting to die-hard fans. But in the last couple of years, it’s turned into a big, televised event, the lead up to which is just as annoyingly over the top as the actual event. Not surprisingly, this year’s draft was the longest in the history of the draft. Nine freaking hours of what I can only guess was brutal tedium. I can only guess because I don’t have nine hours to sit and watch a parade of millionaires to be who may or may not even get into a pro game next season.

The big speculation coming into the draft was whether Oakland would use their first-round pick on quarterback JaMarcus Russell of LSU, wide receiver Calvin Johnson of Georgia Tech, QB Brady Quinn of Notre Dame or trade down for immediate help.

By all accounts, this was one of the weakest drafts in memory in terms of top-of-the-line talent. Russell was heralded for his size (6-6) and ability to throw accurate passes, as well as a freakishly strong arm (he is said to have thrown a pass 60 yards from his knees). Quinn is a successful QB from a big-time program and Johnson was widely considered to be the best overall player in the draft, not to mention a solid character guy. In this version of the NFL, this has suddenly become important.

The Raiders are coming off a 2-win season, which is a good indication that they have many needs at many positions and there was a fairly heated debate raging over whether the Raiders should pick a quarterback or go with the best player available in Johnson. In the end, Oakland surprised everyone by picking Russell, the player they were expected to pick. (Johnson went second to the awful Detroit Lions and Quinn, in the surprise of the day, tumbled all the way down to no.22 where he was picked by the Cleveland Browns, the team that was expected to pick him at the third spot but took a highly-touted offensive lineman instead. Later, when Quinn was still available, the Browns actually traded to move up to get him.)

Back to good old JaMarcus going to Oakland. It seemed like a good pick for the Raiders even though it's widely known that picking QB's early in the draft is at best, a crap shoot (see: Ryan Leaf for one example). Still, Oakland has, after all, a top-line receiver in Randy Moss, a big, sure, down-field threat for Russell to make use of that freak-a-zoid arm of his.

Hold on there on minute, pardner. Because on day two of the draft, Oakland gone and traded the enigmatic, sometime pain-in-the-ass Moss to the recently perennial title contenders New England Patriots.

As little as Randy has done in a Raiders uniform since he came over after an ugly divorce with Minnesota, the team that drafted him, I think this was just one more stupid move in a long list of stupid moves made by Oakland and it’s idiot owner Al Davis.

The reason Moss hasn’t done a thing in Oakland is because Oakland hasn’t had a decent quarterback since 40-year-old Rich Gannon retired back in 2004, one year BEFORE Moss was traded to them.

S.O.L. predicts that Moss will thrive in the “no I in team” system in New England and will not self-destruct as some critics expect. For once, the Patriots have a real leader at quarterback who will not tolerate distractions. For another, Moss is a star who hates the spotlight and in New England, he will be able to fade into the background, just another cog in the wheel that is the New England Patriots.

Hell Freezes Over

S.O.L. woke up today to discover that one New York baseball team is in first place and the other in last. This is usually not a big surprise since everybody news the Mets are perennial losers and the Yankees are, well, the fucking Yankees.

Only, ain’t it a shame that S.O.L.’s beloved Mets are the team in first place and the Bronx Bombers are, well, bombing? The Yankees, in large part due to injuries to 4/5 of their starting rotation and the shocking mediocrity of their once lights-out closer, have struggled to win ballgames in the first month of the season and find themselves in last place in the AL East.

I wouldn’t put too much faith in this turning out to be a losing season in the Bronx. Last year, you might recall, the Yankees were 8-17 before they turned their season around, finishing up with a five-game sweep of the Red Sox in Fenway to crush their rivals and go on to win yet another division title.

I’m not making any predictions either. I expect they’ll be in the race to the end, even as they’ve gone a mere 1-5 against Boston so far this season. It’s early. Boston is, well, Boston and a collapse would be par for the course and I won’t judge them until they’re healthy again.

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