Thursday, April 28, 2011

You kinda almost gotta believe

The heretofore laughingstocks of the big leagues, the guys whose owner was pictured in the New York Post wearing nothing but a barrel and holding a begging cup, are now the architects of a six-game winning streak, their latest triumph coming after a four-run rally in the ninth inning. Holy Tug McGraw! After an endless list of last-place predictions, are we in for an unexpected Amazin' season from our lovable Mets?

Probably not. While I would love to push forward such an agenda and pull my Keith Hernandez T-shirt out from the bottom of my closet, we need to check in with our good friend, reality.

After a 5-13 start that had the Mets speeding reckelessly toward oblivion and irrelevancy by May Day, they're suddenly 11-13, and even out of last place in the National League East. But we must point out the Amazin's have put some meat back on their bones at the expense of the Diamondbacks and Nationals, with combined records of 20-26. That, after losing two of three to the mighty Astros, they of the 9-15 mark.

It gets significantly more difficult, very quickly. After they finish up with the Nats, the Mets will play three games each against the pitching-rich Phillies (16-8), then the Giants (11-12) and McCourt-distracted Dodgers (13-13), both better clubs than their records reflect, before a three-game set with the Rockieds (16-7), who throttled the Mets in a recent four-game sweep at Citi Field. those four clubs have a combined mark of 56-40.

There are a few glimmers of hope. Ike Davis is batting .345 and Jose Reyes is batting .311 (though few expect him to remain a Met past the trade deadline). Carlos Beltran appears to be healthy, and Jason Bay is showing the kind of pop since coming off the DL to make you think maybe signing him wasn't such a bad idea.

But let's see where things stand after the next two weeks before we can legitimately get excited.


Following up on a recent blog post, I saw that Peter King of Sports Illustrated paid a recent visit to NFL Films president Steve Sabol, who is back to work while undergoing treatment for a brain tumor. Sabol, 68, doesn't know his prognosis ("I never asked, I don't want to know," he told King), but is driven to "make it" until August, when his father, Ed Sabol, the founder of NFL Films, will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

It's an inspiring read about one of the really good guys in sports. Here's the link:

Monday, April 25, 2011

Silent spring in the city

There's a lot to be said for the energy that surges through New York City come April ... an energy we haven't seen in these parts in a long, long time.

This spring marked the first time since 1997 that both the Knicks and Rangers qualified for their respective postseasons ... the first time in 14 years you saw folks in midtown Manhattan wearing their Knicks and Rangers jerseys, full of anticipation, either heading to the Garden or to a bar or restaurant, jazzed on the excitement of what used to be a birthright in New York.

The Knicks and Rangers have both been so bad for so long, we forget what it's like when both teams are challenging for championships into the cusp of summer. We forget the feeling we had in 1994, when both teams played a magical parlay that lasted well into June; the Rangers exorcising a 54-year-old curse by winning the Stanley Cup in a thrilling seven-game triumph over Vancouver, and the Knicks coming six points -- or two John Starks 3-pointers -- from bringing the Larry O'Brien Trophy home from Houston.

Destiny would not be nearly as kind this time around, with both teams stumbling and falling on very similar pothole-filled paths:

The Rangers faced a superior opponent, the Washington Capitals, who had too much talent and depth.

The Knicks faced a superior opponent, the Boston Celtics, who had too much talent and depth.


The Rangers had no margin for error after losing their best player, Ryan Callahan, to injury.

The Knicks had little margin for error after losing one of their top three players, Chauncey Billups, to injury.


The Rangers, with a chance to tie the series 2-2, led 3-0 in Game 4 entering the third period. The Capitals scored three goals to tie the game, and won in double-overtime, dealing the Rangers a crushing blow they never recovered from.

The Knicks, with a chance to tied the series 1-1, led the Celtics 93-92 in Game 3 with 19 seconds left. Kevin Garnett hit a hook shot with 12 seconds left, then came up with a steal with 4.4 seconds to play, dealing the Knicks a crushing blow they never recovered from.

Realistically, neither team had a chance to make a legitimate playoff run, and just as we were getting used to seeing those Knicks and Rangers jerseys around town, in mothballs for so long, the spring fashion season is over, setting the stage for a summer of Yankees pinstripes being the fashion trend.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

WTF is Bruce Boudreau's problem?

So, let me understand this. Bruce Boudreau (above, right ... or is it left), the coach of the Washington Capitals, goes on a DC radio station after losing Game 3 of the Caps' first-round playoff series with the Rangers, and instead of talking about what his team has to do to right the ship and avoid losing yet another series after taking a 2-0 lead, proceeds to ... rip Madison Square Garden and Rangers fans?

By now, the quotes have been all over the place in New York, but as a public service, I'll relay them along in case you haven't seen them.

"Well, the one thing, its reputation is far better than the actual building," Boudreau told 105.9 The Edge in Washington Monday. "I mean, it's nothing. The locker rooms are horrible. The benches are horrible. There's no room for anything. But the reputation of being in Madison Square Garden is what makes it famous. Also, our building's a lot louder, too. So I mean, they can say what they want, but it's not that loud in there."

As someone who has covered many playoff games at the Garden -- watching both the Rangers and Knicks -- I can tell you Boudreau's elevator clearly is not reaching the top floor on this one. I can remember many times, seated in the lower press box, right above where the visiting team leaves the ice, I could actually feel the building vibrating from the noise.

I can understand a coach trying to deflect attention to take pressure off his team -- Rex Ryan holds the patent on that -- but it seems all Boudreau has accomplished here is to ensure the Garden will be completely off its rocker Wednesday night, when the teams meet for Game 4, the Caps holding a 2-1 lead. There's a reason the Garden is known as The World's Most Famous Arena. Give me my choice of any arena to play a home playoff game, and I'll take the Garden -- with the old Market Square Arena in Indianapolis (former home of the Pacers) a close second.

For their part, the Rangers refused to be baited into responding to Boudreau's puzzling rant.

"I don't know what their coach is saying and I'm not worried about that," Rangers center Brian Boyle told "Our building was rocking (Sunday) and I had a great time. It was a blast."

ESPN Radio's Michael Kay did his best to get Rangers coach John Tortorella to go off in kind, but Tortorella took the high road.

"We haven't really thought too much about locker rooms, how loud it is," Tortorella told Kay. "I'm not even sure what he (Boudreau) is trying to say there. We're just concerned with trying to be the best we can be and play the right way."

Boudreau's reputation has flagged a bit anyway, as he was exposed to a large degree on HBO's "24/7." While Penguins coach Dan Bylsma looked to be a composed, confident leader of men, Boudreau appeared most effective at dropping the F-bomb.

Better he should find a way to keep the Caps from repeating their troubling trend of losing playoff series after taking 2-0 leads. Should the Rangers prevail in this opening-round meeting, it would mark the fifth time in their history the Caps would fail to advance after winning Games 1 and 2. Here's the first four:

First round, 1992, lost to Penguins in seven
First round, 1996, lost to Penguins in six
First round, 2003, lost to Lightning in six
Second round, 2009, lost to Penguins in seven

Should history repeat itself, Boudreau may well find the Caps dropping the F-bomb on him.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Not a slam dunk for Celtics

I haven't seen anyone proclaim in print, online or on-screen that the defending Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics have anything to worry about in their opening-round playoff series against the New York Knicks, which tips off Sunday night.

Far be it for me to offer a dissenting point of view; last June, the Celtics were one victory away from claiming their second NBA championship in three years, and probably would have if not for the injury suffered by Kendrick Perkins (more about that in a minute). Their future Hall-of-Fame Big Three of Kevin Garnett (above), Paul Pierce and Ray Allen looks to be primed for another long postseason run, and the Boston Garden faithful are expecting nothing less.

And Celtics Nation could be given a pass for looking past the Knicks, given that the oftimes-dysfunctional New Yorkers haven't even been to the postseason in the past six years, lost all four regular-season meetings with the C's this season and are defensively- and rebound-challenged ... two areas where the Celtics would appear to have a decided advantage.

Or do they?

Much has been made of the Knicks' offense-first philosophy and their delinquent defensive play. Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony are not exactly recognized as defensive deterrents, certainly not in the same way Garnett is.

Funny, then, when you take a closer look at statistics this season, and notice the Knicks, over the course of the regular campaign, averaged 106.5 points to the Celtics' 96.5 - and here's the grabber - averaged 40.5 boards to Boston's 38.8.

And the rebounding gap between Garnett and Stoudemire? Surprising slim -- Garnett averaged 8.9 rebounds this season to Stoudemire's 8.2.

Folks in Boston have been wringing their hands and beating themselves with chains after the puzzling midseason trade that sent Perkins to Oklahoma City. Perkins not only supplied a defensive presence but an intangible factor that has clearly been missed on the parquet floor.

Now none of this is to suggest I'm picking the Knicks to win -- let's say Celtics in six -- just that there's a good chance success-starved Knicks fans will have roughly one more week to smile and hope before turning their springtime attention fully to the Yankees.

What about the Mets, you say? The less said about them, the better.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Hoosiers II

The question, somewhat rhetorical, was posed by a colleague between editions Sunday night on the sports desk at the New York Post:

"Is there anyone in the country not rooting for Butler?"

Good question, with seemingly only one answer -- unless you're a student or alumnus of Connecticut or need UConn to win tonight in order to win your bracket pool ... NO!

Full disclosure: I was the only entrant in the Post bracket pool (entertainment purposes only, of course) to select the Huskies to win the national championship, so I've already won, no matter what happens tonight. I do have a slight level of appreciation for UConn, but in this what-have-you-done-lately world we live in, I have to admit it would be tremendous to see Butler win the whole thing.

Sure, the miraculous Bulldogs are back in the championship game, where they lost by a mere bucket to Duke last year. And they're a real-life Hickory High, in just about every sense.
The face of their team, Matt Howard, is a quirky persona who rides a rusty bicycle around campus, and their coach, Brad Stevens, looks like the nerdy kid who's immersed in fantasy basketball stats.

And the best part of all of this is Butler plays its home games at storied Hinkle Fieldhouse, the same building in which the championship game in "Hoosiers" was filmed.

Can't you see Stevens, in Butler's final walkthrough at Reliant Stadium, pulling out the tape measure and having Shelvin Mack climb onto Howard's shoulders underneath the basket? "Ten feet," Stevens would say. "I think you'll find it's the same measurements as our gym back in Indianapolis."

Not to mention all the gauzy, poetic backstory of a team from the Mecca of Indiana basketball representing our imaginations as much as the proud region they call home.

And they might not even need Norman Dale or Jimmy Chitwood to make their dream a reality.


Had to be an awkward moment at the conclusion of the UConn-Notre Dame women's semifinal Sunday night, when Rebecca Lobo, the former Huskies star, drew the assignment of the on-court postgame interview with her former coach, Geno Auriemma, after a very rare loss that denied UConn a shot at its third straight national title.

And when Auriemma was talking about how special and wonderful Maya Moore is, you almost expected Lobo to inject, "More than me?"