5 College Football Coaches Who are on the Hot Seat This Season

We are still five months away from the beginning of the college football season.  However, it is never too early to think about which coaches will be receiving their pink slips after this season.  The next five coaches I am about to list should be taking a look over their shoulders, and if they don’t perform, could be shipped out.  What is important to understand about this article is that we should not celebrate firings in college sports, and while most of the coaches on this list are held to ridiculously unrealistic standards, that is simply the business that college football is.

#5: Les Miles, LSU

BATON ROUGE, LA - NOVEMBER 29:  Head coach Les Miles of the LSU Tigers reacts during pre game before playing the Arkansas Razorbacks at Tiger Stadium on November 29, 2013 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

This is clearly the out-of-the-box “hot seat” choice.  However, when examined closely, it makes much more sense.  LSU raked in the #6 recruiting class this year, per Yahoo.com, and this included 5-star recruits such as running back Derrius Guice, wide receiver Tyron Johnson, offensive lineman Maea Teuhema, and defensive back Kevin Tolliver II.  None of those recruits play quarterback.  While Brandon Harris flashes potential, he has not yet reached the quarterback that many expected him to be.  Running back Leonard Fournette may very well win a Heisman this year, and it may be in vain.  This is a team that has also failed to make a BCS/NY6 bowl in the last three seasons.

#4: Larry Fedora, North Carolina

Larry Fedora

This team returns ten out of its eleven starters on offense.  They will be able to light up Saturdays and outscore many an opponent.  Also, it has brought in former Auburn head coach Gene Chizik to run its defense; but it shouldn’t make a difference.  The defense will continue to struggle as it did last season.  Last year, the Carolina team defense was, uh, not great (11th most total yards allowed in the country).  Consider these factors as well as an incredibly weak schedule as you look at this Carolina team.  If they underachieve, look for Fedora’s ouster.

#3: Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern

Pat Fitzgerald

This one is relatively simple: Northwestern has not reached a bowl game in the last two seasons.  While it did achieve quality wins over Notre Dame and Wisconsin last year, it 3-7 outside of those games  The big wins almost served as smokescreens for the rest of the team’s games.  Worst of all, the team won ten games but three years ago, and was 4-0 to start the 2013 season before falling apart after a tough home loss to Ohio State.

#2: Bob Stoops, Oklahoma

Bob Stoops

Virtually all of the team’s featured talent from last season is back from last year, including FBS single-game rushing record holder Samaje Perine and star wide receiver Sterling Shepard.  Also returning is enigmatic quarterback Trevor Knight, whose struggled last season before going down to a frightening spine injury.  While the running back position is deep with Perine and Joe Mixon, the defense, and, in particular, the secondary will struggle due to its being very thin/young.  This one largely depends on where the OU athletic department’s expectations lie for the upcoming season.  If they expect a NY6 bid and the team underachieves, Stoops is gone.  But if they don’t Stoops should be safe.

#1: Al Golden, Miami

Fear the Tie

This one is just too easy.  Golden is entering his fifth season at “The U” and has gone a mediocre 28-22 over his first four.  However, in fairness, he has put under strict recruiting restrictions due to the Nevin Shapiro scandal.  This is the make or break year, though.  With the amount of coaches who would love to coach in Miami (including late 90s-early 2000s Hurricanes’ savior Butch Davis), the expectations are naturally way too high here.  Quite a few of the team’s starters return from last season, including promising young quarterback Brad Kaaya.  Throw in the third-toughest schedule in the country, and underachievement is bound to happen.  The likeliest outcome here is Golden’s firing.

UPDATE: An earlier version of this article stated that the Miami Head Coach in the late 1990s-early 2000s was Butch Jones.  Obviously, it wasn’t; it was Butch Davis.  I sincerely apologize for the error.

In Support of the Universal DH

Over the years, there has been much debate about whether the National League should keep up with its counterpart American League in adopting a Designated Hitter.  The American League first adopted the DH in 1973.  The National League never has.  Another thing that has caused all this debate has been recent injuries to pitchers Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals and Max Scherzer of the Nationals, both suffered while at the plate.  Scherzer jammed his wrist while batting while Wainwright severely injured his Achilles while leaving the batters’ box after hitting a ball into the field.  After the Wainwright injury, Scherzer came out in favor of the DH, telling CBS Sports, “I wouldn’t be opposed.”  These injuries to two of the game’s best pitchers have rightfully brought up an important question: why are we making our pitchers hit when so few of them create offense anyway?

In the very early portions of this season and going into tonight’s action, pitchers in both leagues are hitting a combined .089.  This underscores an important fact: most pitchers, except if they are bunting, are not even interested in hitting.  After all, we’ve learned a cautionary tale over the past week:  if pitchers try too hard, they can potentially get injured.  I believe that these injuries will lead to pitchers giving an even more apathetic effort at the dish, leading to that number getting even lower.  Another disadvantage to National League (or American League, in a National League Park) pitchers having what amounts to an almost automatic out is that it tips the scales even more towards the pitchers in a game that already favors them.  No, I don’t want a repeat of the steroid era: I just want an evenly balanced game between offense and pitching.  It pitchers going to try even less at the plate, fans will be less likely to be interested and hitting numbers in the NL will continue to stay the same or decline.  But they’ll continue to be interested in this guy, at least:


Another point needs to be made here: why do two different leagues have a set of rules?  Hypothetically, what if the NBA’s Western Conference allowed a sixth player on offense?  Teams could plan for that luxury.  How many three-pointers could the Warriors hit then?  Or what if cornerbacks in the NFL’s NFC could get away with more hand contact/pass interference than in the AFC?  Would the Seahawks ever allow a point again?  Look, the point is, teams that are better at pitching in the National League are set.  Take the Mets, for example.  Their team ERA is collectively, under 3.  Actually, take the entire National League.  Three of the top 4 teams in ERA hail from the NL, but the top five teams in runs come from the American League.   Also, in 19 games, the American League has scored seven more runs, has hit three more home runs, and has an OPS twenty points higher then the National League does. This can clearly be attributed to the added production of having a Designated Hitter in one league, and making a position of players that have hit a combined .089 this season hit in the other league.

The bottom line here is that two pitchers got injured this week doing something that they are not comfortable doing. One will be back soon.  The other is not coming back this season.  While he could have torn his Achilles going out to his car or walking a flight of stairs, he did it at the plate.  There’s a tragedy in that.  What if a team’s franchise middle-of-the-order hitter was made to pitch and got severely injured and missed the rest of his team’s season?  His team might not reach its expectations for this season.  That may happen to the Cardinals without Wainwright, just in the opposite scenario.  Why should a team have to deal with this when it could be easily avoided by a simple rule change? This rule should be changed as soon as possible.  Another famous injury we cannot forget about the Yankees’ Chien- Ming Wang, who suffered a foot injury while running the bases in the then-National League Houston Astros’ stadium in June of 2008.  After that injury, Wang was never the same.  He went from a Cy Young Award-winning caliber pitcher to one who averaged a 5.31 ERA in the four years that he pitched after the injury.  He hadn’t been used to running the bases, and it can be speculated that we were robbed of one of the best pitchers in the game in his prime due to his having to run the bases and suffering the injury.  There’s a tragedy in that, too.

While I understand the argument that “baseball purists” may make for National League baseball being superior to that of the American League, I think the rules should be the same in both leagues: there should be a DH, all the way around.  We cannot allow any more pitchers to be injured over the course of a baseball game doing anything other than pitching.  I’m sure this article will probably be met with disagreement by purists and those who generally like to watch pitchers hit (I don’t know anyone who does, unless it’s Bartolo Colon), but there should be a DH in all of Major League Baseball, and this rule should be enacted as soon as possible.

I wouldn’t be opposed.

Assessing the Cavaliers Chances Without Kevin Love

Even though the Cavaliers finished off the Celtics in a sweep today with a 101-93 win, they paid the price for it.  In the first quarter, the Celtics’ Kelly Olynyk and Cleveland’s Kevin Love were chasing a loose ball near the sideline when Olynyk appeared to foul love by holding his left arm.  Love then appeared to grimace in pain, and he was in a lot of it; he grabbed his shoulder and ran toward the bench area.  Then, something strange happened.  Love didn’t stop at the bench to receive attention; he ran (sprinted, actually) toward the Cavs’ locker room.  While the severity of the injury is not yet known, Love missed the remainder of the game and was diagnosed with a dislocated or separated shoulder.  He will receive more medical attention when the team returns to Cleveland.  For his part, Love felt that the play was dirty and said so after the game, saying: “I thought it was a bush-league play.  I have no doubt in my mind that he did it on purpose.”  While we should not accuse Olynyk of foul play, we can assess if the Cavs have any chance to win the championship without him.

First, the important thing: the average timetable of return from this type of injury is normally four weeks.  That would bring him back for around game 3 or 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals if his team gets that far without him. Assuming the Bulls close out Milwaukee at some point, there will be major matchup problems for the Cavaliers to compensate for.  For example, Love would be matched up on Pau Gasol of the Bulls.  While Love’s defense is not the greatest, what he brings on the offensive end cannot be ignored.  His ability to space the floor and make life easier for LeBron James and Kyrie Irving to create shots will be missed.

Speaking of Love’s three point shooting, 41.2% of his field goal attempts this season have been from three point range, a career high.  While much has been made of this as a negative for Love, as all of his major statistics have dropped this season, it could have been expected with his being traded from the Timberwolves last season.  However, his ability to shoot three pointers is vital because it brings the big men of other teams out to the perimeter, making them guard him at least 20 feet away from the baskets.  This creates more room for jump shots, and even if they are missed, allows bigs like Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson the ability for easy putbacks.  So the next time you complain about Love staying out at the perimeter too much, realize that he is actually helping his team that way.

In one of my previous articles, I had picked the Cavaliers and the Bulls to play each other in the conference semifinals.  In that same article, I said that the Cavaliers would win said series in seven games.  Well, that was then and this is now.  I do not believe that the Cavaliers can beat the Bulls without Kevin Love.  While it is not the same type of backbreaking injury such as the torn ACL that Bulls star Derrick Rose suffered in the first game of the 2012 playoffs, it should make the difference between the Cavaliers winning the series by a hair to them losing it by a hair. While they will not lose a step defensively with the athletic Tristan Thompson manning Love’s position, the team will suffer offensively, as Thompson cannot shoot jump shots very well.  This inability to spread out the defense will also lead to the Bulls being able to help/double team on LeBron and Kyrie.  This will lead to more difficult shots, and while Thompson is a better offensive rebounder than Love, getting shots to go in in the first place will be an enormous task.

Another thing to think about is how long J.R. Smith will be out after his decking of the Celtics Jae Crowder.  Early in the third quarter, Smith and Crowder were fighting underneath for position.  Smith hit Crowder hard on the jaw, and Crowder also suffered a nasty leg injury on the play.  After the game, Smith said he was “nervous as hell” about a potential suspension.  This is important because Smith, in the starting lineup, has an innate ability to shoot three pointers off the catch rather than having to dribble to create.  If forced to sit, it is unknown who would start in his place.  Potential replacements include backup point guard Matthew Dellavedova, or, in the more likely solution, defensive ace Iman Shumpert.  Both are solid three-point shooters, but are not as good as Smith.

Given the injury and impending suspension, look for the Cavaliers to struggle.  Because the Bulls are coming.

Yes, the Mets are For Real

The New York Mets are baseball’s hottest team in the early season, accumulating a 13-3 record and winning their last 11 games.  They went 10-0 on their last homestand, which was a first in the history of the franchise.  The 11 game winning streak is also tied for the longest streak in their history, and the 1986 World Series Champion team also won 11 in a row.  Sure, the Mets have been baseball best team in the first two and a half weeks, but are they legitimate contenders?  They are.

Over their first 16 games, the pitching staff of Bartolo Colon, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harver, Jonathon Niese, and Dillon Gee have combined for a 2.81 ERA, good for second in the major leagues.  Those same starters have combined for 12 quality starts, tied with the Padres for the most in the league.  Newly minted closer Jeurys Familia has done a fine job in replacing overthrown Jenrry Mejia, leading the majors with eight saves; this adds up to a ratio of saving a game every two days.  Sure, he won’t get 81 saves this year, but he’s still off to a great start.  The pitching staff also walks the second-least batters in the game with just 31 total walks.  They’ve walked less than two batters per game. The bullpen has been paced by Familia, lefty Jerry Blevins, who suffered a forearm injury and will be out for at least the next six weeks, other lefties Alex Torres and Sean Gilmartin, Buddy Carlyle, and workhorse Carlos Torres.

While the lineup is generally regarded as being a weakness for the team, it has performed capably in the early going of this season.  It ranks seventh in the league in on-base percentage, ninth in the league in runs, and 12th in the league in batting average.  At leadoff, Curtis Granderson, even though he is only hitting .200, has been on-base one way or another 37.5% of the time.  David Wright had been hitting second until last week; he tweaked his hamstring on a slide into second base and is out for at least three weeks.  Lucas Duda has hit .359 in the three hole and leads the team in slugging percentage.  New acquisition Michael Cuddyer has performed well as the cleanup hitter, with an on-base percentage of .355.  Daniel Murphy has struggled out of the gate, but if he gets going, it adds another dimension to the lineup.  Defensive stud Juan Lagares is hitting .270, but is more noted for his defense.  Wilmer Flores has led the team in home runs with three, and has performed decently at shortstop.  And Travis d’Arnaud was the starting catcher until being hit on the hand with a pitch.  Now, he is likely to be out for around six weeks.  He has been replaced by prospect Kevin Plawecki, who has played in two game behind the dish.

With its core of players built around pitching, defense, and just enough offense, this team can compete for a division crown and potentially even more.  The team is tied for eighth in the league in fielding percentage at .986.  With a gold glove defensive center fielder, the team should definitely be able to stay near the top of the league in fielding. With these critical components, it is looking more and more like the Mets are for real and could contend for the playoffs and beyond.

No more LOLMets.

The Thunder Fired Scott Brooks, and That’s Wrong

On Wednesday, the Oklahoma City Thunder announced that they had fired head coach Scott Brooks after seven season with the team.  In a statement, GM Sam Presti said: “”Therefore, it is very important to state that this decision is not a reflection of this past season, but rather an assessment of what we feel is necessary at this point in time in order to continually evolve, progress and sustain.”  However, the Thunder have done all of these things with Brooks at the helm, and and it may be hard do do these things with the uncertainty of bringing in a new head coach.

Over his tenure at the helm of the Thunder, Brooks led the team to a 338-207 record, which comes out to a .620 winning percentage.  In his first season, after taking over for deposed head coach P.J. Carlesimo, Brooks went 22-47 over the course of 69 games.  In the next season, the Thunder won 50 games and were bounced in the first round of the Playoffs; 50 games symbolized a 26-win improvement over the year before.  In 2011, the team made it to the Western Conference Finals, losing to the Mavericks, who would then become NBA champions.  The next year, Oklahoma City made the NBA finals, losing to the clearly superior Heat in five games.  The next year the team lost in the conference semifinals to the Memphis Grizzlies; in fairness, the team was crippled after a key knee injury to star Russell Westbrook in game 2 of the team’s first round series against the Houston Rockets.  Last year, the team lost to the eventual champion Spurs in 6 games in the conference finals, and this year the team missed the playoffs after a rash of injuries, particularly to key stars Serge Ibaka and Kevin Durant.

Two names that have been brought up as replacements fro Brooks are college coaches; UConn’s Kevin Ollie and Florida’s Billy Donovan.  Neither have any NBA head coaching experience (although Donovan almost became coach of the Magic after the 2007 season), but Ollie has a very tight kinship with Kevin Durant.  As an aside, Durant is set to become a free agent after this season.  However, we must ask ourselves an important question of both these people: would they actually take the job?  Donovan makes $3.7 million per year at Florida and Ollie makes up to $3 million per year at UConn.  Why would either leave their cushy environments in college and go to the NBA to deal with the more trying task of dealing with pro players?  They also would have to deal with more blame and scrutiny in the pros than in college, as we just saw with Brooks.  In college, the coaches get none of the blame and all of the credit (this is another article for a later time).

We know what this is all about.  The Thunder have to find a way to keep Durant after next season, with rumors swirling about his future with the team and a potential “homecoming” with the Washington Wizards.  However, how can they keep Durant by firing the coach that he really likes? Said Durant of Brooks after the season: “He made sure everybody was emotionally stable. It was a lot of guys in and out the lineup and he kept everybody together. So that’s what your head coach is supposed to do. We can’t really say nothing about it because he did his job. He kept us together. That’s what the main thing was … So it’s kind of tough. But he did his best job he can do and I’m proud of him.”  Said Russell Westbrook of Brooks:“I don’t think he gets enough credit for what he does behind the scenes. Obviously, a lot of people that’s not in (the practice facility) want him to do other things, want to see other things from him. But as a coach and as a friend, I think he does an amazing job of communicating what he wants out of the players.”   Serge Ibaka also endorsed Brooks and implored the team not to fire him, saying: What has he done? Injuries were not his fault. Why would he go? He has not done anything. He’s not responsible for the injuries. He did his best with the team he had. Would (another) coach do better with a team with so many injuries? What could he possibly do about it? The team is with him. You can’t blame him for what has happened.”

Sure, the Thunder want to evolve, progress and sustain.  But what if evolving, progressing, and sustaining can be done without firing your former coach of the year, one of which your team’s three best players all gave ringing endorsements to?  And what if doing this alienates Durant into leaving the team next summer?  Is that, evolution, progress, and sustainability?

Or is that unrest, insustainability, and going backwards?

Firing one of the best head coaches in the game certainly doesn’t help the team’s chances of evolving, sustaining, and progressing.

Why I Would Take Marcus Mariota Over Jameis Winston in This Year’s NFL Draft




Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota are widely regarded as the two best players in this upcoming NFL Draft. However, even though both play quarterback, they are two very different players.  Mariota is more of a scrambling QB who is not as good throwing from the pocket but is much more adapt at using his feet to make plays.  Winston is the better “pro-style” quarterback of the two, but did not perform as well for his team last season, Florida State, as Mariota did for his, Oregon.  For these reasons, I would take Mariota before I would Winston.  There are other reasons too.

Over the course of Mariota’s collegiate career, he threw for 105 TDs and 14 interceptions; for perspective, that’s a 7.5:1 INT-TD ratio.  Throw in another 29 rushing touchdowns, and you have a 9.5:1 INT: (total) TD ratio.  Winston, on the other hand, threw 65 TDs and 28 INTs in his college career, and also only had 7 rushing TDs, albeit in two years to Mariota’s three.  The ability to progress through reads is something that is incredibly important for an NFL quarterback.  And while Winston is likely better in this regard, he is more prone to make poor decisions, as his statistics show.  Also, Mariota played four teams that were ranked at the end of last season; Winston played none. However, Jameis’ off-the-field issues present a completely different issue in and of themselves.

Winston’s track record of issues started in 2012, when he and FSU teammate Chris Casher were caught shooting squirrels with a pellet gun.  Shortly after, Winston and two other FSU teammates are caught engaging in a pellet and BB gun fight outside an apartment house off-campus.  In December, Winston is accused of rape oat the apartment house.  After the charges were dropped by the Tallahassee Police Department, the state attorney conducts a new investigation.  No charges end up being filed, but the victim is suing Winston civilly.  In one of the more embarrassing heists in recent memory, Winston is charged in April 2014 with stealing roughly $33 in Crab Legs from a store in Tallahassee.  He is forced to perform community service and is suspended from the Florida St. baseball team until that service is completed.  Finally, in September 2014, in the week leading up to the football team’s game against Clemson, Winston is witnessed standing on a table at a student union meeting and yelling an incredibly offensive and obscene phrase about women.  These issues should cast doubt and speculation as to whether he can keep it together in the pros, especially with the lifestyle that being an NFL quarterback brings.

Mariota, on the other hand, has been described as a quiet leader, one who leads by example.  His only off-field trouble was a speeding ticket this past fall.  In my view, Mariota’s ability to make better decisions than Winston both on and off the field are what would make him my number one pick.

NBA Playoff Preview

East First Round

(1)Hawks vs. (8)Nets: Hawks in 4

(4)Raptors vs. (5)Wizards: Raptors in 6

(2)Cavaliers vs. (7) Celtics: Cavaliers in 5

(3)Bulls vs. (6)Bucks: Bulls in 6

Discussion: The Hawks easily dispatch of and sweep the Nets like they have in the regular season.  The Raptors defeat the Wizards in a series of two fairly evenly matched teams.  The Celtics take a game (most likely game 1) from the Cavs, a team greatly lacking in playoff experience who will come out flat and nervous.  But don’t expect the upset here.  Finally, the Bucks outperform expectations but eventually succumb to the superior Bulls.

West First Round

(1)Warriors vs. (8)Pelicans: Warriors in 5

(4)Trail Blazers vs. (5)Grizzlies: Grizzlies in 6

(2)Rockets vs. (7)Mavericks: Rockets in 7

(3)Clippers vs. (6)Spurs: Spurs in 6

Discussion: The Pelicans, fresh off their first playoff berth since 2011, take a game from the Warriors but cannot hang in the series.  In a series of complete attrition, the Grizzlies survive the Trial Blazers; both teams are suffering from critical injuries.  The Rockets-Mavericks series is a toss-up, but the advantage goes to the team with home court.  Finally, the Spurs defeat the Clippers and set up a second-round date with Houston.

East Semifinals

(1)Hawks vs. (4)Raptors: Hawks in 6

(2)Cavaliers vs. (3)Bulls: Cavaliers in 7

Discussion:  The Hawks defeat the Raptors in 6.  The Hawks have not been to a Conference Finals since 1970.  The Cavaliers defeat the Bulls in what could arguably end up as the best series in the playoffs, as both teams are profusely talented and evenly matched.

West Semifinals

(1)Warriors vs. (5)Grizzlies: Warriors in 6

(2)Rockets vs. (6)Spurs: Spurs in 6

Discussion: The Warriors dispose of a Grizzlies team that will likely be without starting PG Mike Conley for the playoffs.  The Spurs defeat the Rockets.  Crazy guess: the Spurs employ either a Hack-a-Smith strategy (Josh Smith: 49% Free-throw shooter) or play Hack-a-Howard (53% Free-throw shooter).

Conference Finals

(1)Hawks vs. (2)Cavaliers: Cavaliers in 6

(1)Warriors vs. (6)Spurs: Spurs in 6

Discussion: Both road teams prevail here.  The Cavaliers overwhelming talent overtakes the Hawks teamwork and discipline.  The Spurs defeat the Warriors in a battle of the New Guard vs. the Old Guard in the NBA.  This sets up the LeBron vs. the Spurs rematch for a third straight year.

NBA Finals

Cavaliers vs. Spurs: Cavaliers in 7

Cleveland finally gets its title.  This Cavs team is obviously far better than last year’s Cavs team and the play of Kyrie Irving at the point will be the difference.  Bold prediction: Kyrie will win Finals MVP.  The Cavs win this series by the slimmest of margins, in 7 games.

Enjoy the playoffs everybody!

Can Any of the NBA’s Eight Seeds Compete in the Playoffs?

Four teams are vying for two spots left in the NBA playoffs:  The Pelicans and Thunder in the West and the Nets and Pacers in the East.  But can any of these teams make noise in the playoffs? Let’s take a look.

New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans boast that they have the best big man in the NBA: Anthony Davis.  If they defeat the Spurs tonight, they are in the playoffs.  Beside him, Omer Asik plays center, Quincy Pondexter plays the 3 and Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon man the backcourt.  If they are going to upset the Warriors (who they would face in the first round if they make it), they need Ryan Anderson to play well off the bench.  Other players off the bench are rejuvenated center Alexis Ajinca, former Heat PG Norris Cole, ex-BYU stud and 3-point shooter Jimmer Fredette, energy big Dante Cunningham, three-point shooter Luke Babbitt, and newly-returned former starting ponit guard Jrue Holiday.  Overall, this team would not defeat the Warriors or any of the other teams in the West in a 7-game series.

Oklahoma City Thunder

We all know this team is ravaged by injury, and 2 of its 3 best players are out right now.  Reigning MVP Kevin Durant is out for the playoffs after having bone graft surgery on his foot at the end of March.  Serge Ibaka had a knee scope procedure and as labeled as being out four to six weeks.  It’s a little over four weeks now.  Russell Westbrook and Dion Waiters take a lot, a lot, a lot of shots in the backcourt, and physical Steven Adams and offensively gifted Enes Kanter start in the frontcourt.  Kyle Singler was acquired from the Pistons at the trade deadline, and has been pressed into starting duty after the Durant injury.  Important bench players include backup PG D.J. Augustin, energy big man Mitch McGary, PF Nick Collison, 3-point shooter Anthony Morrow, and defensive star Andre Roberson.  Honestly, after the Durant injury, this team may be able to compete with the West, but it’s unlikely.

Indiana Pacers

Team leader Paul George came back from his disgustingly gruesome and horrible leg injury on April 5, and the team has made a late push for the playoffs.  Bigs Roy Hibbert and mid-range-savvy David West man their inside, and career-year owning George Hill and perimeter threat C.J. Miles lead the backcourt.  George has not yet started a game at the 3, but that will probably change if the team makes the playoffs.  For now, Solomon Hill mans that position.  Rodney Stuckey helps the team as its sixth man and has the ability to create his own shot.  Luis Scola and Lavoy Allen get some minutes as bigs who can stretch the floor from mid-range.  Ian Mahinmi is another important big who provides physicality, and C.J Watson and Donald Sloan are the team’s back-up point guards.  This team can compete because it brings back most of its important players from last season’s Conference Finals team.  Experience counts, especially in the, uh, weak Eastern Conference.

Brooklyn Nets

This team, on paper, has tons of talent.  But… they’ve underachieved this season, 7 games under .500 at 37-44.  Deron Williams, oft-injured and overpaid, has disappointed at the point (just ask Paul Pierce), but can provide shooting and shot creation.  Same of Joe Johnson, who is an expert of making his own space.  Brook Lopez and Mason Plumlee start in the frontcourt, and the athletic Markel Brown starts at Shooting guard.  Important back-ups include shot creator and athletically-inclined PF Thaddeus Young, 3-point shooter and shot-maker Alan Anderson, perimeter option Bojan Bogdanovic, and back-up big Cory Jefferson.  If all of the players on this team perform to their potential, this team could make noise.  But that won’t happen, so they will most likely be a quick out.

Thank You, NBA, for Pulling Russell Westbrook’s Technical

Russell Westbrook had 54 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists last night in the Thunder’s 116-104 loss to the Indiana Pacers.  The team is fighting and tied in the standings with the New Orleans Pelicans for the eighth and final playoff spot in the stacked Western Conference, and even though the Pels lost last night as well, New Orleans still owns the tiebreaker between the two teams.  Something else about Westbrook’s performance?  He received his 16th technical foul of the season for arguing with referee Ed Malloy after running over Luis Scola on a screen.  The 16th technical automatically would have resulted in a 1-game suspension for Westbrook for tonight’s all-important game against Portland.  However, the NBA announced that they reviewed the play and decided to rescind the technical today.  Westbrook is playing tonight.

What’s most important to understand about Westbrook getting to 16 technicals is that he knew that going into the game.  When Malloy gave the T to Westbrook, he seemed to almost be pleading with the referee, repeatedly pulling his uniform over his jersey and even putting his arm around Malloy at one point.  Putting Westbrook out of his team’s biggest game of their season would give Oklahoma City little to no chance to win the game, thus almost deciding the game before it was even played.  If the Thunder lose tonight and the Pelicans win, the Thunder are eliminated.  The league should not be allowing referees decide games; college basketball has shown us that the refs can be just as important as the players sometimes.  Just like referees always “swallow the whistle” at the ends of games, they should also be judicious with their technicals as games become more important.

All this being said, Westbrook is super lucky.  Had the league not rescinded his tech, he would’ve likely cost his team a chance at the playoffs.  We would all be talking about how “crazy” and “over-aggressive” he plays the game.  But with the Thunder injuries recently, they wouldn’t be in this position if he didn’t play that way.

Let’s thank the NBA for allowing him to play this way, and for letting these two teams decide their own fates.

Chief Spieth: What Jordan’s Win Means for Golf

So Jordan Spieth didn’t self-destruct on Sunday.  With his second straight 70, Spieth tied Tiger Woods’ 1997 Masters scoring record with an -18, 270.  Every time it seemed competitors Justin Rose or Phil Mickelson got within 3 or 4, it seemed Spieth would always respond.  At 21 years and about 8 1/2 months, Spieth became the second-youngest winner in Masters history.  Last year, Spieth was tied with Bubba Watson for the lead on the eighth hole on Sunday; he would lose his share of the lead after a bogey on the ninth hole.  Using those experiences, Spieth ran away with this year’s tournament by four strokes.

With this win, Spieth catapults himself to second in the world.  Number 1 in the world is Rory McIlroy, and this could become one of the great rivalries in golf.  Who wouldn’t love to see a scenario like the 1977 British Open at Turnberry where Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson sped away from the field and dueled until the final hole?  Watson carried a one-shot lead into the final hole.  Both birdied, and Watson walked away with a Claret Jug.  Watson finished at -12, while Nicklaus was -11.  The next lowest competitor was Hubert Green; he was -1.  Who wouldn’t love to see Rory and Jordan lap the field and duel for major titles in the future?  If Spieth can avoid the Bubba Watson distinction of not having the same amount of success at other courses as he does at Augusta, he and McIlroy will be the world’s two best golfers for a long, long time.  Spieth’s all-around game seems to suggest that he can be that kind of golfer, and can compete at many different courses.  He doesn’t have any real flaws in his game, and he seemed to have complete control of his short game, and, particularly, his putting.  He doesn’t kill his drives, but his short game is so strong that that doesn’t really matter.

In conclusion, the game of golf is in really good hands, and specifically in the four hands of Spieth and McIlroy.  Get ready to enjoy golf’s next great rivalry, as these two continue to develop and flourish as they mature throughout their careers.