Pro Notes of Note
Lest we be accused of being too college football-centric, today’s blog will focus on professional sports.
NBA Tips Off: Last night marked the beginning of the 2018-2019 season, and once again, our Golden State Warriors are favored to win the NBA championship. With the last two league titles under their collective belts, the Warriors will be shooting for an NBA three-peat, something that hasn’t been done since the Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal-led Lakers of 2000-2002.
From this vantage point, the Warriors are a lock to reach the finals, where they should have their hands full with a very tough Boston Celtics team. The Celts made it to the Eastern Conference finals last year without their two best players, Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, and with LeBron James having left for Los Angeles, the Cleveland Cavaliers will no longer be standing in their way.
The two biggest keys to the Warriors notching 65ish regular season wins and going all the way will be 1) Steph Curry staying healthy and 2) Draymond Green playing with the same intensity he displayed in 2016 and ’17. Last year’s Warriors were quite average on defense, and a big reason for that was Green’s inconsistency. If he shows up every game, and Curry stays healthy, the Warriors should win it all for the third straight season and the fourth time in five years.
Durant rant: I’m a big fan of Kevin Durant, and believe he’s one of the best 30 players in NBA history. But I find it hard to understand why he feels unappreciated. Apparently upset at not winning Defensive Player of the Year last season, Durant went on a tirade during a recent radio interview. “You know they’re not gonna give me anything,” he said. “I have to be clear-cut better than everybody for me to even get a look. It’s just pure hate for me, obviously, and no appreciation for my real skill for the game.”
Perhaps someone should remind Durant that four years ago he was the runaway winner of the NBA MVP award, as voted by the media, and that he’s been named NBA Finals MVP for the past two years, also as voted by the media.
That doesn’t sound like hate to me.
49ers' Moral Victory: The 49ers played about as well as one can image without franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo Monday night, but lost to the Packers in a 33-30 shootout.
The difference was Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers, one of the two best in the game, playing on a bum knee, with blood oozing from his elbow, leading his team to 10 points in the final three minutes. The last two Packers’ drives were pure works of art.
The Niners won’t make the playoffs with C.J. Beathard under center, but they have a chance to be respectable if he continues to play like he did Monday night. Running back Matt Breida has been a revelation, and tight end George Kittle has also come up big.
Pats-Chiefs: The other “best in the game,” New England’s Tom Brady, engineered a similar game-winning drive Sunday night to lead the Pats to a 43-40 win over the Kansas City Chiefs and their brilliant young quarterback, Patrick Mahomes. That barnburner might well be a preview of the AFC Conference Finals.
Raider Blues: The Raiders continue to sink lower and lower, the latest embarrassment a 27-3 loss to Seattle. Coach Jon Gruden’s boys have scored just 13 points in their last two games, despite a boatload of offensive weapons.
Things could continue to unravel. Gruden’s inexplicable trade of Khalil Mack, arguably the best defensive player in the league, not only compromised the defense, but also may have lost the locker room.
Game Changers: Watching baseball’s divisional and league championship series has served as another reminder of how the game has changed…and how the San Francisco Giants have failed to keep up with the times. The Giants won three World Series championships largely on the basis of defense, pitching, and some timely hitting. But now the game is dominated by big-swingers, resulting in all-time records this season for home runs and strikeouts. In fact, there were more strikeouts than hits.
Old-timers like me may miss the artistry of the hit and run and the sacrifice bunt—not to mention the almost extinct complete game by a starting pitcher—but defensive shifts and the constant parade of 100 mile-an-hour relievers have led most teams to emphasize the long ball.
The four teams battling for the league championships—Red Sox, Astros, Dodgers and Brewers—as well as the next three best teams—Yankees, A’s and Indians—all ranked among the top 10 in home runs this year. All have at least a half-dozen players who can go deep at any time. The Giants, you’ll recall, ranked 29th out of 30 teams in home runs and had no player with more than 16.
Hopefully the new GM will find a couple of power hitters, even if it means trading Madison Bumgarner.