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NBA Preview 2009

What do we know after two days of the 2008-09 NBA season? We know the Celtics are going to defend the EFFING hell out of the crown as the Lebrons plot their coup. We know the Lakers are the biggest and deepest team in the league. And we know the Suns and Spurs are old. Really old. Like almost as old as Greg Oden. (Was that too soon?)

Oh yeah, and we know that the day David Stern doesn’t get universally booed on site is the day he’s perfected that nifty mind control device he’s been working on. Something tells me it’ll be ready to go by draft night in New York next summer. Stay tuned.

Alas, aside from those truths much is yet to be decided, and with reason. That’s why they play the games, duh.

So sparing you further malarkey, here is the official BG NBA Preview ’09. Since my team is the defending champs after years of being the defending lottery losers, this preview will concentrate strictly on actual title contenders.

(Bear in mind I called the Celtics to win 58 games and make the Finals last year when most “prominent” “writers” with “readerships” had them as a four or five seed in the East. I guess while you’re at it, strike from the record my pick of the Knicks as a playoff team …)

Here we go.

Eastern Conference

The Favorite: Boston Celtics

They were thrown together last year as part of Danny Ainge’s personal science experiment. The basketball world waited for Paul Pierce to demand more shots, for Kevin Garnett to shrink on the biggest stage of his life, for Ray Allen’s ankles to detach from his calves. It anticipated their demise after they dropped three games a piece to Zaza Pachulia’s Hawks and Bron’s Cavs, except that fourth loss never came. Now, for the 17th time in franchise history the Celts are the returning champs. If you watched Pierce during the banner raising ceremony or have watched Garnett at all throughout his career, do you honestly believe this team is satiated? Their original goal was to restore the pride, which they did. Their new goal is to stamp a collective legacy and do something that not even the original Big Three was able to accomplish: capture back-to-back titles. Go on and tell them it’s not possible. Last I checked, anything’s possible.

Lurking: Cleveland Cavaliers

If I’m the rest of the league I genuinely fear this team. Lebron is at the point in his career where only he can hinder himself (see: free throw shooting and unnecessary treys). The Cavs are tough, defensive-minded, strong on the glass and now armed with a legitimate threat at point guard (Mo Williams). The only thing Cavs fans should be worried about is whether or not the gold medal King James earned in Beijing sufficiently validated his status as a “global icon”. For the sake of a fan base holding on by a thread in the City that Rocks, let’s hope not.

Time’s Slippin Away: Detroit Pistons

Joe Dumars is like the schoolyard bully. He’ll push you around and talk a big game but won’t ever make a serious move. Following each of the last three underwhelming exits by his team a step short of the Finals, the Pistons GM threatened to implode the NBA’s steadiest nucleus. Yet for the fifth consecutive season the Fab Four of Rip Hamilton, Chauncey Billups, Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince will be running Motown. Year after year they play hard and dole out respect — on their own terms. That holier-than-thou mentality has consistently irked Dumars but not enough to actually blow the team up. You can’t have it both ways.

To Be Determined: Orlando Magic

Dwight Howard was positively dominant in the first round against Toronto last year before slipping markedly against the Pistons and ultimately ceding the role of primary big man to Chris Bosh in the Olympics. Look, that’s not to say his inevitable 25-17-7 season won’t be this year. The auxiliary guys are in place on the Magic. Jameer Nelson is a plus point guard. Rashard Lewis is a rainmaker from beyond the arc and Hedo Turkoglu has developed into a primetime performer. When Superman decides to take that next step, this is a team that will be immediately elevated to contender.

Western Conference

The Favorite: Los Angeles Lakers

Anyone who was wondering if Kobe Bryant’s reign as best player in the world had ended saw their concerns squelched in, oh about eight minutes. Those would be the last eight minutes of the gold medal game against Spain. Now Kobe has his gold along with a new front line that will feature Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum together for the first time. The West will again be stacked and nasty, but let’s not kid ourselves. Nobody will win more games than the Lakers. That, however, has nothing to do with any possible lingering effects LA may feel from the physical and psychological pounding they took from Boston in the Finals last year. Kobe can get over it, but can the same be said of Lamar Odom and Gasol? Bynum or not, these Lakers aren’t avenging last year without those two.

Lurking: New Orleans Hornets

I love this team. Love them as much as the LJ Knicks and the old Blazers. True, that’s neither here nor there but I just had to establish how much love I have for this squad. And that was before Mr. Manlove himself (aka Mr. Clutch, aka the Mercenary, aka I’ll-be-ten-times-more-valuable-in-the-playoffs-than-I-was-in-the-regular-season) James Posey signed with them. I believe Chris Paul has an excellent chance of going down as the greatest point guard to ever play the game. I believe after disposing of the team formerly known as the Mavs and tussling seven grueling games with the team of the decade (San Antonio), the Hornets will enter the ’09 postseason hardened and determined. And I believe with Posey, you can now add two wins to whatever total N’Awlins was expected to tally in the playoffs. Those are my beliefs.

Time’s Slippin Away: Phoenix Suns, San Antonio Spurs

It’s fairly simple for each of these franchises, which we’ll group together as co-founders of the new NBA Senior Circuit. The Suns have a chance if they can complete a philosophical one-eighty and become a half court, defensive team with Amare Stoudemire manning the middle. Steve Nash is still the grittiest player in the league, Shaq is still, um, kinda scary, and Grant Hill is still … alive? Wait, am I supposed to be making a case for the Suns? Hmm. Let’s talk about the Spurs. Manu Ginobili’s injury gives them a shot. Why? Because regardless, he’s not playing 100 games this year, not the way he throws his body around. Better to miss the first 20 than the last 15. And don’t forget, it’s an odd year! That’s right, 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007 all concluded with Spurs championships. That means something. Just ask the skeletons of Bruce Bowen and Michael Finley.

To Be Determined: Houston Rockets

Oh the possibilities. Here we have a team whose exceptionally talented starting five consists of a legendary street-baller, a renowned throw-teammates-under-the-busser, a genetically engineered super-hooper, a fabled fan-brawler and an instigative Argentine. For the uninitiated, that would be Rafer Alston (who’s tempered the Skip 2 My Lou persona), Tracy McGrady (who finally knows how to lose a playoff series and not blame everyone else), Yao Ming (who’s now permitted to write a check), Ron Artest (who hasn’t punched anyone in the face … recently) and Luis Scola (who should never guard Artest in practice). Yep, suffice to say, the 2009 Rockets are “to be determined” until further notice.

Predicted Standings

Eastern Conference

1. Boston Celtics (61-21)

2. Cleveland Cavaliers (55-27)

3. Orlando Magic (52-30)

4. Detroit Pistons (53-29)

5. Miami Heat (48-34)

6. Toronto Rapters (46-36)

7. Philadelphia 76ers (44-38)

8. Chicago Bulls (41-41)


9. Washington Wizards (40-42)

10. Atlanta Hawks (38-44)

11. New York Knicks (35-47)

12. Milwaukee Bucks (33-49)

13. Indiana Pacers (32-50)

14. New Jersey Nets (28-54)

15. Charlotte Bobcats (20-62)

Western Conference

1. Los Angeles Lakers (64-18)

2. New Orleans Hornets (60-22)

3. Utah Jazz (55-27)

4. San Antonio Spurs (54-28)

5. Houston Rockets (53-29)

6. Portland Trail Blazers (48-34)

7. Phoenix Suns (47-35)

8. Dallas Mavericks (45-37)


9. Denver Nuggets (44-38)

10. Golden State Warriors (40-42)

11. Los Angeles Clippers (39-43)

12. Sacramento Kings (35-47)

13. Minnesota Timberwolves (33-49)

14. Oklahoma City Thunder (27-55)

15. Memphis Grizzlies (18-64)


First Round

Boston over Chicago; Cleveland over Philadelphia; Orlando over Toronto; Detroit over Miami

LA Lakers over Dallas; New Orleans over Phoenix; Portland over Utah; Houston over San Antonio

Conference Semifinals

Boston over Detroit; Cleveland over Orlando

LA Lakers over Houston; New Orleans over Portland

Conference Finals

Boston over Cleveland

LA Lakers over New Orleans


LA Lakers over Boston

Woulda Been: The ’08 Sox

Well it stomped and it growled after rising from the dead, made a valiant last stand on wounded hind legs … but in the end the mighty beast succumbed…

Four score minus one year ago, the Philadelphia Athletics erased an eight-run deficit to best the Cubs in the fourth game of the 1929 World Series. Almost 79 years to the date, because of what went down at Fenway Park in the fifth game of the 2008 ALCS, there are now two distinct returns to the Google search, “Red Sox greatest comeback in history”.

That, folks, is something to behold.

Face it, we were all doing something else by the middle of the seventh inning of Game 5. The TV might have been on, but the Sox were trailing by seven and the Rays had been cranking balls out of Fenway in a fashion unseen since a certain 19-8 thrashing that precipitated the other distinct return to that Google search.

The champs were cooked, and after another October rife with west coast start times and extra-inning heart-pounders, bleary Red Sox Nation was exhausted.

We had accepted — albeit begrudgingly — our fate. Just wasn’t going to happen this year. Papi was some combination of confused, frustrated (though he hates the word) and hurt. Lowell was done for the season. Ellsbury had lost it. Beckett was obviously pitching through a nearly or completely torn oblique muscle. Dice-K and Lester simply couldn’t shoulder all the weight being thrust upon them by Beckett. The old war horses, Varitek and Wakefield, were guaranteed disasters any time their number was called.

With seven outs before the final bell of the ’08 season, in a seven-run — 7-0!! — game, the most promising post-title Red Sox campaign since pre-World War I was going up in smoke. Check that, was engulfed in flames. It was painful and angering to watch them go down like that, in their house, but understandable given the odds they faced.

Wasn’t our year…

Then, just as that notion was settling into the heads of Nationers far and wide, the Fenway magic found its way back. For everyone in the place, while it may have once again come out of nowhere, the disappearing act the Sox pulled was nothing new. It was the Rays who had little idea that the trick itself — the Red Sox making imminent defeat vanish — was an old habit of this team within the confines of this funky ballyard.

It began with Trot Nixon in 2003, when the Moneyball A’s couldn’t seal the deal in Game 3 of the ALDS, and Nixon made them pay with an 11th inning shot that helped prolong a season.

With that stroke and the formal reverse sweep that followed, a franchise whose losing had been nothing short of Shakespearean for 85 years established a new calling card: the Comeback card. It was a card the hardened Sox would play again in ’04, with Ortiz, Schilling and Lowe leading the way to salvation. Then it reappeared in ’07, this time in the form of Drew, Beckett, Pedroia and Papelbon.

That it happened once more was exhilarating for a city already looking ahead to the Celtics and utterly tragic for another wide-eyed and shell-shocked opponent. That Beckett channeled Schilling in a gutsy, palpably painful Game 6 (is there any other such thing for the Sox in the ALCS?) to force a winner-take-all (Red Sox translation: It’s already over) Game 7 is equal parts inspiring and unbelievable.

Let’s give credit where credit is due, though. Those upstart Rays, who likely believed the Devil had gotten back into them after Games 5 and 6, hunkered down and squared up this new incarnation of Red Sox mystique. They did what the Yankees and Indians could not. They stared down and defeated the incomprehensible force.

Wasn’t our year…

But wait. Had Game 5 gone by the wayside and the final entry in the ’08 Red Sox log had read, “Swept three straight at Fenway, out in five in ALCS”, discontent would have briefly ruled the airwaves and journals in Beantown, but rational thought would have ultimately prevailed.

That’s not what happened though. Game 5 wasn’t the final fizzle of a fatigued, broken down and fragmented contingent. It turned into an epic display of resilience and a reassertion of an otherwise farcical and cliched mentality (“Never say die”) that desperate teams adopt in their darkest hour. The Sox, on the other hand, simply breathe life into the fiction. Since Nixon’s walkoff, they are 12-3 in elimination games.

In a town like Boston, second-guessing after a major sports loss is like familial beef during the holidays: No matter what, it’s gonna happen. The question is whether or not it’s unfounded.

Sure, questions about the makeup and drive of the team would have dominated had they gone out in a five-game whimper. Slowly, however, the masses would’ve realized that the climb out of a huge hole in a league championship series is actually less challenging than attempting to win in the ruthless month of October as a team in tatters.

Yet here we are, just a few million New England heartbeats removed from almost experiencing both.

Now there’s a cause for discontent. Between 2003 and this year, the Nation knows all too well how minute the difference can be between winning and losing a decisive game. Against the Yankees in 2003, the faithful will always rightfully believe that sure triumph was snatched away by a man who never picked up a bat and rarely touched the ball, save for when he was passing it from one pitcher to the next.

Versus the Rays, victory was just as close and it was taken just as unceremoniously. Except this time it was the general manager, not the manager, who made the strategic gaffe. And this time it was during the season, not at the climax of the penultimate series, that the fatal move was executed. You know where I’m going with this.

It must be pointed out that Manny Ramirez just completed the greatest individual postseason in the history of baseball. He reached base in 24 of his 36 at-bats, slugged four homers, knocked in 10 runs and compiled a 1.747 OPS. His .520 average, .667 on-base percentage and mind-blowing OPS were all records. (By my unofficial count there were 10 teams in 2008 whose top two hitters didn’t have a combined OPS of 1.747.)

Now I hate to break the news to you, but Manny didn’t do that because he hates Boston. He didn’t do it (solely) because he desires one last monster contract. He may have morphed into the puppet of Scott Boras off the field and to the media, but between the lines Manny will always be mashing Manny. He logged the most impressive October all-time because he’s maybe the greatest October hitter in the history of baseball.

Not coincidentally, his best work has come in the seven league championship series’ he’s participated in (.340/.451/12 homers/30 RBIs in 44 games), making him undeniably the greatest LCS hitter ever. And not surprisingly, the pennant round of the playoffs has been the deciding series of every significant Sox playoff run.

Second-guessing is second nature in Boston, so chew on this. In Game 7 the Red Sox were given a glimmer of hope down 3-1 in the top of the eighth inning when Jason Bartlett booted a grounder off the bat of Alex Cora. A Coco Crisp single and Dustin Pedroia fly out had runners on first and second with one out. Papi was up.

(One quick tangent: There’s no doubt Ortiz has physically been a shell of himself this year, but it’s impossible to quantify the psychological effect Manny’s absence has had on the man we used to call Senor Octubre. Think about it. Every time he stepped to the plate for the better part of six years, he saw in his periphery one of the three best right-handed hitters in the history of the game swinging a fungo bat and stretching out his guns. It wasn’t only the opposition mulling over this dire reality. Manny’s presence unequivocally fueled Papi. The alternative argument is who’s to say what a fully healthy Ortiz would have produced down the stretch and into the playoffs — sans Manny — but let’s be real. He would’ve stood a much greater chance if his bash brother was chilling in the on-deck circle waiting to pick him up when necessary.)

So just like ’03 and ’04, the fate of the Red Sox rested on the broad shoulders of David Ortiz. He grounded out. Youkilis walked. Drew struck out. And for all intents and purposes the season was finished.

Anyone who believes that Manny wouldn’t have smoked a screamer into the gap and won the pennant, or that Ortiz, feeling wholly confident and focused, wouldn’t have again assumed the role of hero has no sense of history. Or chemistry for that matter.

The claim in July was that Manny had poisoned the clubhouse chemistry, but we’ll never know for sure. It’s pretty obvious in hindsight that the vital Papi/Manny chemistry was unilaterally removed at the trade deadline, and conspicuously absent when Theo, the trio, Tito and the Nation needed it most.

Because of that there’s about to be another offseason of pondering what coulda, shoulda been in Boston had they held onto Mr. Mercurial.

Scratch that. What woulda been.

NFL Power Poll and Week 7 Picks

Another week, another reshuffling of teams in the latest power poll. Tennessee at one is about the only thing everyone can agree on at this point in the season.

1. Tennessee Titans (5-0) Last unbeaten team standing gets top billing, that much is undisputed.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-1) Steelers went into their bye strong and have come out of it refreshed.

3. New York Giants (4-1) Is anyone really surprised that the Eli Manning Face made an appearance on Monday night after the talking heads started throwing around “Better than Peyton” nonsense?

4. Indianapolis Colts (3-2) Speaking of the elder Manning, what Peyton did to a nasty Baltimore defense last week should quell any chatter of unnecessary comparisons between siblings.

5. Arizona Cardinals (4-2) Kurt Warner’s Cards have downed Miami, Buffalo and Dallas by an aggregate 102-51 at home. Greatest Show on Roll-Out Grass?

6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-2) 27-3 drubbing of divisional rival Carolina certainly shook things up a bit in the wide open NFC South.

7. Dallas Cowboys (4-2) Are the Cardinals really that good or are the Cowboys simply overhyped? I vote the former.

8. San Diego Chargers (3-3) Okay, pasting the Patriots may not hold as much clout as it once did but this is still the best team in the AFC West.

9. Washington Redskins (4-2) So they lost a game they were supposed to win after winning a pair they were supposed to lose. Seems like the Skins are still ahead of the curve.

10. Buffalo Bills (4-1) One thing’s for sure: the Bills are either moving up or down after this week’s bout with the Bolts.

Week 7 Picks
(Home Teams in CAPS)

San Diego over BUFFALO

CHICAGO over Minnesota

Pittsburgh over CINCINNATI

Tennessee over KANSAS CITY

Dallas over ST. LOUIS

MIAMI over Baltimore

NY GIANTS over San Francisco

CAROLINA over New Orleans

HOUSTON over Detroit

NY Jets over OAKLAND

WASHINGTON over Cleveland

Indianapolis over GREEN BAY

TAMPA BAY over Seattle

Denver over NEW ENGLAND

Last Week: 10-4

Overall: 56-32

NFL Power Poll and Week 6 Picks

The Titans improved to 5-0 but ceded top billing in the poll to the defending Super Bowl champs. The NFC East, which continues to grow stronger by the week, now boasts three of the top four teams.

1. New York Giants (4-0) Sure, the G-Men may have benefited from a soft schedule but they’ve rolled through it thus far.

2. Tennessee Titans (5-0) Late rally against Baltimore was enough to maintain an unblemished mark but not sufficient to hold the top spot.

3. Washington Redskins (4-1) Having already completed road legs of divisional play, Redskins are gaining steam each week.

4. Dallas Cowboys (4-1) Allowed the pesky Bengals to sneak back into the game last week but still won going away. What’s next for the Hard Knockers?

5. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-1) Consecutive wins against divisional rival Baltimore and playoff rival Jacksonville have Pittsburgh looking downright steely again.

6. Carolina Panthers (4-1) With 34-0 thumping of Kansas City in the rearview, Panthers will look to establish early stranglehold on NFC South in Tampa Bay this week.

7. Denver Broncos (4-1) So the Broncos do have a defense. Interesting.

8. New England Patriots (3-1) Next four weeks (at San Diego, Denver, St. Louis, at Indy) will reveal a lot about the backbone of the Pats.

9. Buffalo Bills (4-1) Losing 41-17 is bad, particularly when you’re 4-0 and even if you lose your starting quarterback in the process.

10. Chicago Bears (3-2) Over the last two contests Devin Hester has caught eight balls for 93 yards and a pair of touchdowns.


Week 6 Picks (Home Teams in CAPS)

INDIANAPOLIS over Baltimore

MINNESOTA over Detroit

NEW ORLEANS over Oakland

NY JETS over Cincinnati

ATLANTA over Chicago

Carolina over TAMPA BAY

WASHINGTON over St. Louis


Jacksonville over DENVER

Philadelphia over SAN FRANCISCO

Green Bay over SEATTLE

Dallas over ARIZONA

SAN DIEGO over New England

NY Giants over CLEVELAND


Last Week: 9-5

Overall: 46-28

NFL Power Poll and Week 5 Picks

The mighty NFC East has decisively shifted the balance of power as all four teams are among the NFL elite. Who rounds out the top-10? Find out in the first edition of the power poll.

1. Tennessee Titans (4-0) Defense giving up league-best 11.5 points per game and offense much better suited with cool-headed Kerry Collins at the helm.

2. New York Giants (3-0) Champs took care of business before the bye.

3. Buffalo Bills (4-0) Week 2 win in Jacksonville only marquee victory but 4-0 is 4-0.

4. Dallas Cowboys (3-1) Suspect defense and selfish T.O. could spell trouble for Cowboys down the road.

5. San Diego Chargers (2-2) Bolts should be 4-0; LT getting healthier by the week.

6. Washington Redskins (3-1) Played one poor half of football (Week 1 vs. Giants) all year.

7. Philadelphia Eagles (2-2) Week 5 clash with Skins will determine if NFC East is four-team race.

8. Pittsburgh Steelers (3-1) Gritty come-from-behind win vs. Ravens on MNF silenced critics … for the moment.

9. Carolina Panthers (3-1) With Steve Smith back, offense should find another gear.

10. New England Patriots (2-1) Don’t count out a Bill Belichick team just yet.

Week 5 Picks (Home teams in CAPS)

Chicago over DETROIT
San Diego
over MIAMI
over Washington
BALTIMORE over Tennessee
GREEN BAY over Atlanta
NY GIANTS over Seattle
over Kansas City
over Tampa Bay
DALLAS over Cincinnati
ARIZONA over Buffalo
New England over SAN FRANCISCO
over Pittsburgh
over Minnesota

Last Week: 9-4

Overall: 37-23