Will history repeat itself during latest Colts-Patriots showdown?

The 8-0 undefeated New England Patriots play the 7-0 undefeated Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, in what will be the highest profile regular season game of the current 2007-2008 season. The general consensus, from the talking heads on sports talk radio to the fan on the street, is that the Patriots high-powered offense will prove to be too much for the Colts, leading to yet another New England blowout. But, to look ahead to the game on Sunday, we must look back to the past. More specifically, the AFC Conference Championship Sunday in January 2007, when the Colts beat the Patriots 38-34 and went on to take home the Super Bowl crown.

A fumble recovery in the Colt’s end-zone, a Corey Dillon TD run and an Asante Samuel interception return for a touchdown had the Patriots up big early. In fact, the Colts went into half-time down 21-6. But, of course, we all know what happened next. Playing at home under the dome in Indianapolis, Peyton Manning and the Colts orchestrated the largest comeback in Conference Championship game history. The Patriots defense could only hold the offensive juggernaut of Manning, Harrison, Addai, Wayne and company in check for one half. On the opening drive of the second half, the Colts marched down the field and Manning scored the team’s first touchdown of the game with a 1-yard scramble. The flood-gates had opened, and the team went on to score another 25 points en route to the win.

All those expecting a Patriots blowout this weekend should pay very close attention to last year’s epic battle. Sure, the Patriots offense is reaching historic proportions – averaging by far more points per game, 41.4, than any team ever – but the Colts defense is also better than last season. The Colts have the #1 ranked pass defense in the game, giving up a measly 165.4 yards per contest. Their run defense, which was much maligned during certain points last year, has solidified in giving up 107.4 yards per game for a rank of #13 in the league. The defensive line, led by sack-master Dwight Freeney, is playing with more discipline – respecting the run more and being more selective in rushing the quarterback. The Colts defense overall is the second toughest in the league to score on, giving up a mere 14.6 points per game.

On the other side, the Colts offense is not to shabby either, putting up 32 points per game and gaining just about 400 total yards per contest – and that’s with soon-to-be Hall of Fame receiver Marvin Harrison missing significant time because of injury. The video game numbers the Patriots offense is putting up may be overshadowing what Manning and company are doing in Indy, but the Colts offense is just about on par with what they’ve done in year’s past. Of course, the Colts will be facing a New England defense that’s giving up 15.9 points per game, good for fifth in the league. The ranking of fifth in the league also extends to both their team run and pass defensive numbers – the Pats are giving up 87 yards on the ground and 181.5 yards through the air per game.

So, what do those numbers mean and who will win on Sunday? More or less, we expect a repeat of last year’s Conference Championship game. Just as they’re done with every team they played this year, the Patriots will surprise the Colts defense early with their speed at wide receiver and the deep passing game. We expect the Pats to come out and dominate both sides of the ball and take a big early lead. But, just like last year, the Patriots defense just isn't dominant enough to contain Manning and the Colts offensive horses, particularly when the team goes into hurry up mode – they have a tendency to overwhelm defenses with a mix of play action passing, screens, and Joseph Addai runs. In the end, the Patriots should hold off the Colts and head back home with a close win, but, as history tells us, don’t underestimate the Indianapolis offense – even if they’re down by 15 points at the half.


In The News: October 31, 2007 (NBA Edition)

The Sacramento Kings may be speeding like a runaway Mack truck right into a rebuilding phase. With Mike Bibby likely out for a couple of months, Ron Artest starting the season with a suspension and prized rookie Spencer Hawes out of commission for the year, GM Geoff Petrie acknowledged that the rebuilding in Sac-town could begin now. "At some point, you start to re-evaluate the situation," Petrie told the Sacramento Bee. "We were moving into that (rebuilding) mode anyway. But you go into the season with an open mind." It’s about time anyway, although talented, the disparate pieces on the Kings roster don’t fit together at all.

Juwan Howard didn’t stay unemployed for too long, did he? A day after being cut by the Minnesota Timberwolves, the former member of the Michigan fab-five, agreed in principle to sign with the Dallas Mavericks. Howard, who at 34, is a shell of his former self, may still be able to help a Mavericks squad that is somewhat weak along the front-line. Howard though sure has fallen a long way, with the likely high point being those McDonalds commercials he did with Scottie Pippen and Grant Hill (remember, “Juwan-na get Chicken McNuggets?”) – Oh, and the $105 million contract Howard signed with the then Washington Bullets is probably a high point for him as well.

No Deng, no deal – or so says Magic Johnson. On TNT last night, during the Lakers game against the Rockets, Johnson said, ''A deal can't get done because [the Bulls] won't include [Luol] Deng. And without Deng, a deal can't get done.'' Magic also hinted that there are still trade discussions where Kobe wouldn’t leave town at all, and a player like Jermaine O’Neal could actually join KB24 on the Lakers roster.

New York Knicks owner James Dolan has had it with team coach Isiah Thomas and he’s not taking it anymore! (maybe). Despite all that Isiah has put the organization through and given his decided lack of success, Dolan surprisingly will stick with the beleaguered coach if the team is able to, even slightly, improve their record over last year. Can the combination of Eddie Curry, Zach Randolph and Stephon Marbury lead the Knicks into the Eastern Conference playoffs? Our Magic 8-ball says, “Outlook not so good”. Fear not Knicks fans, Magic 8-ball are stupid kids toys anyway…yeah.

This is why the Atlanta Hawks will always be the Atlanta Hawks. The team actually elected not to sign up-and-coming star Josh Smith to a contract extension, ensuring that he will become a restricted free-agent at the end of the season. Folks around the league are stunned, judging from what an anonymous NBA point guard told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Tim Duncan gets it, Kobe Bryant not so much

The San Antonio Spurs announced that the team has extended the contract of Tim Duncan, ensuring that one of the best power forwards of all-time will remain a Spur until the end of the 2011-2012 NBA season. Duncan, who is 31 years old, will effectively retire as a Spur, given that he will be 36 years old when the contract expires.

But, it is not the length of the contract, but the total amount – which incidentally was revealed through the San Antonio Express-News – that caught our attention. According to the local paper, Duncan’s new deal will be worth about $40 million, and is structured in such a way that it will allow the Spurs to go after a big ticket free agent, or two, following the 2009-2010 season. In fact, Duncan, who was eligible for a max extension of $51 million under the collective bargaining agreement, chose to forego those approximately $11 million so that his team could bring in talented teammates, ensuring sustained excellence for the San Antonio Spurs.

In today’s NBA, where superstars asking for trades is a daily occurrence and team loyalty has gone the way of the buffalo, Duncan’s humility and clear understanding of the big picture – that winning is all that should really matter – is refreshing. Duncan clearly realizes that his individual legacy is closely tied to the team’s success, and he is willing to make the necessary sacrifices. This exact point is something that’s lost on players like Kobe Bryant, for example, who has held Lakers management hostage in his often schizophrenic bid to be traded out of Los Angeles.

Kobe seems to have a singular vision, to go down as the greatest player to ever suit up in the NBA. From his 81 point performance to his trade demands, everything Kobe does is predicated on being remembered as the guy who knocked Michael Jordan off the NBA throne. Like Duncan, Kobe also realizes that, despite the stellar individual resume, team success is the key to achieving that perch atop the NBA heap. Unfortunately, Kobe, unlike Duncan, is not willing to make the sacrifices, and hardly ever steps back to take a look at the big picture.

If their paths continue to diverge as they have over the last few seasons, when they finally retire, Duncan may be remembered as an all-time great champion in the mold of Magic Johnson, Bill Russell, and Jordan, while Kobe’s legacy may be nothing more than just another supreme talent that never learned to play nice with the other kids in the sandbox. Now, that fate would be devastating for Kobe’s massive ego.

While Kobe proves his commitment, former Laker Jerry West chimes in on the Bryant trade rumors

If you listened to the chatter around the Internet, popular opinion seemed to be that Kobe Bryant will put away all ill-will and bring it like a pro when the ball tips off. Of course, popular opinion doesn’t mean squat until Kobe plays his first regular season game. Coasting through the pre-season as he had done may be justifiable, but no one knew how much of a distraction Kobe would be until he stepped onto the court against the Houston Rockets on opening night. We were curiously watching Kobe’s body language, on the floor and on the bench. Did he seem engaged, or would the unbearable weight of a tumultuous summer and the awkward scenario that brings him into the season distract Kobe during the games that count?

For all Los Angeles fans watching the team lose a really close one to the Houston Rockets 95-93, one where Kobe controlled the game with 45 points, 8 boards and 4 steals, that question received a resoundingly positive answer. While Kobe seemed a little slow in chasing Tracy McGrady around picks and didn't shoot the ball particularly well, his game generally seemed to be in mid-season form. Kobe proved once again, that despite adversity, his on-court game will remain unaffected. He proved that he is indeed the consummate professional on the floor (off it, not so much). And of course, he still had to carry the Lakers squad on his shoulders offensively, but that's a conversation for another time.

The more central question still remains. And that is, whether Kobe Bryant will remain a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, and for how long. On this point, the opinion-makers are more fragmented. The “Kobe will go” camp seems to be just as vocal and strong in numbers as the “Kobe will stay” side. Of course, most of those opinions are rumors and innuendo, and don’t really mean a whole lot in the real world. But, in the sea of opinions there are a few worth listening to. One is when former Los Angeles Lakers guard and General Manager Jerry West chimes in on the Kobe Bryant saga.

Speaking to former ESPN-ite Dan Patrick on his new radio show West seemed to make it clear that he didn’t think Kobe Bryant would be traded any time soon. West said that the Lakers needed the star power of Kobe Bryant to fill the high-dollar seats at Staples Center -- Kobe being a chip that, when push comes to shove, owner Jerry Buss is probably not willing to give up. He also felt that other GMs around the league may themselves be hesitant in trading for Kobe Bryant, because of the mileage he has accumulated, having played 11 regular seasons in the league and participating in several long post-season runs. He questioned why another GM would trade their top young talent for the relatively old-at-29 Kobe Bryant.

When asked by Patrick, point blank, if he thought Kobe would be with the Lakers at the end of this year, West didn’t mince words in saying, “Yes, Kobe will be with the Los Angeles Lakers.” It’s still one man’s opinion of course, but when it’s the venerable Jerry West speaking we tend to listen.

The anatomy of a fantasy basketball draft

We take part in one specific fantasy basketball league – have been for a few years now. The league is pretty competitive, with some teams managers being more so than others. But most, if not all, of the managers in the league are very knowledgeable about basketball and the NBA. We play head-to-head, with 10 teams this year – down from 12 last year – and we just recently had our draft.

So, for all you fantasy basketball heads out there, we thought we would recap how our league draft went, who went where, which manager got the best bargains and what players could have the biggest fantasy impact.

Round 1 – 3:

Who we picked: Yao Ming (9th), Chris Bosh (12th) and Deron Williams (29th). The elite fantasy wing players like Kobe and LeBron are usually gone by the middle to late first round, so drafting 9th in a 10-team league we knew we had to target a big man – thus the Yao Ming pick. In the second round we could have, and probably should have, picked point guard, but couldn’t pass up on the rebounds, blocks and FG% of Bosh – we essentially shored up those categories and the C position with the two big men. And fortunately for us, the gamble paid off as Deron Williams fell to us late in the 3rd, 17 picks later.

The best (or worst) of the rest: Among the rest of the managers, value picks were Dirk Nowitzski at 7th overall, Dwayne Wade at 16th overall (his stock dropped quite a bit in our league, because of the injury issues), Josh Smith at 18th overall, and Dwight Howard at 28th overall. The reach picks were Jason Kidd at 10 and Kirk Hinrich at 26th.

Rounds 4-6:

Who we picked: Michael Redd (32nd), Antawn Jamison (49th) and Kevin Martin (52nd). These three picks may win us the league. Not only did we pick up three more potential 20 points per game scorers, we also continued to shore up our free-throw percentage, and added 3 huge contributors to the 3-pointers made column. Our scoring categories and the rebounding cat should be rock solid. Now to address steals, blocks and assists.

The best (or worst) of the rest: Other value picks in rounds 4-6 included Al Jefferson (47th), Joe Johnson (51st), Lamar Odom (57th) and Ron Artest (54th). As you can see there was a lot of great talent to be had in rounds 4-6. The reach picks in these rounds were Emeka Okafor (37th), Stephon Marbury (42nd) and Kevin Durant (44th).

Rounds 7-10:

Who we picked: Andre Miller (69th), Tony Parker (72nd) and Raja Bell (89th). We had to address assists and we did just that with Miller. With Deron and Miller in the backcourt, we should be pretty solid in that category. Raja Bell helped shore up the 3-pointers made category, while Tony Parker at one of the guard positions will help in scoring, assists and with the percentages.

The best (or worst) of the rest: We probably took a little bit of a hit in rounds 7-10, as we missed out on potential studs like LaMarcus Aldridge (70th), Richard Jefferson (85th), Monta Ellis (87th) and Peja Stojakovic (88th). In general the other managers in the league took chances on high-potential players with some questions marks, while we chose the conservative route and addressed weak categories with stable, but not so stellar players. We’ll see if that strategy works out as the season progresses.

Rounds 11-14:

Who we picked: With our final 4 picks we selected Brad Miller (109th), Cuttino Mobley (112th), Udonis Haslem (129th) and Jamaal Tinsley (132nd). Again, we really didn’t take many risks on potential in the late rounds, and we may end up regretting that strategic decision. More often than not the late round gems win managers the championship – we really didn’t gamble on one of these diamonds in the rough.

The best (or worst) of the rest: Again, the other teams got good talent late, including Jameer Nelson (114th), Andres Nocioni (117th), Channing Frye (118th) and Louis Scola (130th). Picks in the last couple of rounds should be spent on specialists, who can help put your team over the top in a particular category, and some of the other managers in the league did that a little better than we did.

So, from a high-level, that’s how our fantasy basketball draft went this year. We are very happy with the top-half of our draft, and hope that the stud players we picked up early can stay healthy and carry the lion’s share of the load in multiple categories, particularly the offensive ones.


2007-2008 NBA season predictions

Remember those high school yearbook predictions about which of your friends were “most likely to succeed”, or “most likely to be living in a van down by the river”? Remember those? Yeah, so do we. Reminiscing about the high-school days got us thinking, though. What if we looked at the upcoming 2007/2008 NBA season like it was one big high school cafeteria? You’ve got the popular kids like Iverson and LeBron. You’ve got your perfectionist loners like Kobe, entirely too focused to make any friends. Then you’ve got the foreign kids like Yao Ming and Manu Ginobili – still learning their place, but good at heart. And, of course, who can forget the nerds? See Tim Duncan, awkward, yet brilliant.

So, what would a season preview be like if we looked at the coming NBA campaign as if all of the NBA stars were enrolled in David Stern High School? Who (what team) would be the most likely to succeed (or win a championship)? Which student (read player) is most likely to become president (or league MVP)? Who is most likely to change (or improve)? All good questions, which demand good answers.

So without further adieu, we present our somewhat unconventional look at the 2007/2008 NBA season.

Let’s start with the team predictions.

“Most likely to succeed” – Phoenix Suns. Bad calls won’t stop the Suns from winning the championship this season. If Steve Nash and Grant Hill can stay healthy going into the playoffs, the Suns will overpower their opponents with their precision passing, unselfish play and lights-out shooting. We generally believe that defense wins championships, but no other team is good enough defensively themselves to slow down this Suns team. Phoenix will take home the championship this year.

“Most likely to fail” – Minnesota Timberwolves. Don’t get us wrong, for his age the kid can play. But when Al Jefferson is your best scoring option, your team has some serious issues. Kevin McHale wants to rebuild, but he’ll be starting from ground zero. George Mikan must be turning over in his grave. The T’Wolves will end up as the worst team in the league.

“Most likely to be a surprise success” – Portland Trailblazers. Too bad for them the Blazers are on the West Coast, because in the East, even without injured super rook Greg Oden, this squad could challenge for a playoff spot. Look for Brandon Roy, Martell Webster and Lamarcus Aldridge to form a formidable young trio, and watch the Blazers play with a lot of passion, hustle and heart. The Blazers will be the year’s biggest surprise.

“Most likely to go from the lottery to the playoffs” – New Orleans Hornets. Their three biggest stars, Peja Stojakovic, Chris Paul and David West each missed a good chunk of time at various points during the season last year, yet the Hornets finished only 3 games back of the final playoff spot. The rise of the Hornets will be complete in 2008, as coach Byron Scott has enough talent to lead this team into the playoffs.

“Most likely to get their coach fired” – New York Knicks. The Knicks have reloaded as only the Knicks can, bringing in even more headaches to an already migraine-inducing roster. Owner James Dolan was on the cusp of firing Coach Isiah Thomas last year, so even the smallest hiccup at MSG could see the end of “Zeke’s” tenure as a NBA coach.

Now on to the individual player predictions.

“Most likely to succeed” – LeBron James. With the status of consistent contributors Anderson Varejao and Sasha Pavlovic in limbo, LeBron James will be asked to do a lot more in order to keep the Cavaliers in top form. Expect LeBron to step up his game, lead the Cavs to the playoffs yet again, and take home his first season MVP trophy.

“Freshman of the year” – Kevin Durant. This one is a no-brainer. Durant is the most talented of the 2007/2008 rookie class, is in a perfect situation where he’ll be counted on to score a lot of points and is the ROY favorite going into the season. The odds are seriously stacked against other rookies like Al Horford and Mike Conley, Jr. Even if #1 pick Greg Oden didn’t get hurt, Durant would probably still take home the ROY hardware.

“Most likely to be a surprise success” – Danny Granger. The third season is usually the break-out year for most NBA youngsters, and Granger is in for the biggest break-out of all. The Pacers forward, who averaged 14 points and nearly 5 boards a game will take over as the legitimate second option behind Jermaine O’Neal. And with JO likely to miss his share of games, or possibly get traded, Granger is in line for some serious improvement in 2007/2008.

“Most defensive” – Emeka Okafor. If he can stay healthy, Okafor could easily lead the league in blocked shots. Wing players hardly ever win this award, so players like Gerald Wallace, Raja Bell and Bruce Bowen probably won’t get much consideration, and with Ben Wallace on the downside of his career Okafor is ready to step in and claim the best defensive player label.

“Most likely to move” – Jermaine O’Neal. While the Kobe Bryant trade rumors dominate the conversation and probably will do so until he is dealt at some point, the all-star most likely to be moved before the February trade deadline is the Pacers own Jermaine O’Neal. JO has a massive contract, nearing $20 million per season, and injury concerns, but team president Larry Bird is chomping at the bit to get the youth movement started asap – meaning Granger and Shawne Williams could soon take JO’s place as the face of the Indiana Pacers. Bird will likely find a suitor among one of the Eastern conference competitors looking to keep pace with the new-look Celtics.

Those are our capsule predictions of the upcoming NBA season. Now, let the games begin.