Monday, April 30, 2012

National Basketball Association (NBA) 2012: The Playoffs are here!

By: Evan Troxel

I had a hard time of picking out what I was going to type about for this week’s article.  I finally decided on the 2012 NBA Playoffs.  In both the Eastern and Western Conferences of the 2012 NBA playoffs, the winner of the #1 or #8 seed will play the winner of the #4 or #5 seed in the second round of the playoffs.  The #2 or #7 seed will play the winner of the #3 or #6 seed in the second round of the playoffs.

In the Eastern Conference in the first round of the NBA playoffs, the #1 seeded Chicago Bulls will play the #8 seeded Philadelphia 76ers.  This series will be interesting to watch.  For starters, I dislike the uniforms and the logos the 76ers have been displaying since the start of the 2009-2010 season.  I really like their uniforms, uniform colors, and logos from the 1997 & 1998 season through the 2008 & 2009 season.

To be serious though, the Bulls have some good players on their team in Carlos Boozer, Richard Hamilton, Kyle Korver, Joakim Noah, and Derrick Rose.  Derrick Rose has been the face of the franchise so far this season.  Unfortunately for Derrick Rose, he tore his ACL in Game 1 of their first round 7 game playoff series and will not be back for the remainder of the playoffs. 
The good (star) players for the 76ers in my opinion are Tony Battie, Elton Brand, and Evan Turner.  I think 76ers head coach Doug Collins will make this 7 game playoff series between these two teams “a lot more interesting” than it is projected to be.  Even with Derrick Rose’s season ending injury, I still see the Bulls winning this series but the 76ers I think will surely give the Bulls a fight and something they have to earn.

The #2 seeded Miami Heat will square off against the New York Knicks in the first round.  The Heat will probably win the series but I’d love to see the Knicks end the Heat’s season.  My opinion about the Heat is that I think they have the worst defense in the NBA (and that includes non-playoff NBA teams).  I think that because their star players in Shane Battier, Lebron James, Mario Chalmers, and Dwayne Ward are more of the stereotypical “offensive” player instead of the “defensive” player and they are more concerned about entertaining the fans by scoring in creative ways offensively other than just playing good basketball all-around offensively and defensively.

The Knicks on the other hand have star players in Jeremy Lin, Carmelo Anthony, Mike Bibby, Tyson Chandler, Baron Davis, and Amar'e Stoudemire.  Honestly, I don’t think any team should overlook the Knicks and any of the star players they have.  The Knicks actually have some pretty good star players (that I have listed here) who all have played for a different team at some point in their careers.  The current Jeremy Lin comeback-from-injury watch is that it sounds like (at the earliest) he could be back playing for the Knicks in their Game 4 best of seven games playoff series with the Heat.  Realistically, I think Lin will (for sure) be able to play in the Knicks next playoff series if they can eliminate the Miami Heat and/or two weeks from April 30th, 2012.
The #3 seeded Indiana Pacers will play the #6 Orlando Magic in the first round.  The star players in my opinion for the Pacers are Darren Collison and Tyler Hansbrough.  The star players for the Magic are Glen Davis, Dwight Howard, J.J. Redick, Jason Richardson, and Hedo Turkoglu.  I think the Magic will win this series because they have better star players in my opinion.  If the Pacers win the series, then they need more media attention because I hardly even know about the Pacers nowadays.

The #4 seeded Boston Celtics will play the #5 seeded Atlanta Hawks in the first round.  The star players for the Celtics are Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, and Kevin Garnett.  Allen is the Celtics 3-point shooter, Pierce has been the face of the Celtics franchise, Rondo gives the basketball to his teammates and as a result gets assists, and Garnett likes to dunk the basketball.  The star players for the Hawks are former Kansas Jayhawk Kirk Hinrich, Tracy McGrady, and Jerry Stackhouse.  As for the Hawks star players, I haven’t even watched any of these guys play in a long time.

I really think the Celtics will win this series and they haven’t received very much media/press attention this season (which I find to be odd since they are from Boston) and I think they are one of the best teams in the NBA right now.  On the bright side (if you are a Hawks fan), they have won the first round of the playoffs the past three seasons and have only lost the first round series three times since after the 1992-1993 season.  Also, the Hawks beat the Celtics in Game 1 83-74 so don’t count the Hawks out just yet.

In the Western Conference in the first round of the NBA playoffs, the #1 seeded San Antonio Spurs will face the #8 seeded Utah Jazz.  The Spurs compiled a regular season record of 50 wins and just 16 losses!  The Jazz on the other hand, won 36 and lost 30.  My favorite NBA team is the Jazz and I’d say my second favorite NBA team in the Western Conference is the Spurs. 
Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker are the star players for the Spurs.  I just don’t understand how the Spurs are that good!  Tim Duncan to me looks like he has slowed down his pace and has been less aggressive in his efforts in playing the game of basketball in recent years.  Maybe that’s a good thing for Duncan considering that he is 6 foot 11 inches.

The star players for the Jazz I’d say are forward/center Derrick Favors, forward Gordon Hayward, center Al Jefferson, forward Paul Millsap, and guard Jamaal Tinsley.  Some things to look for in the Jazz is that in recent games they have been very good in rebounding both offensively and defensively.  If the Jazz can keep their opponents from scoring they have shown that they can get on a roll and make several baskets offensively.  I don’t want to be biased, but from what I have seen this season the Jazz are the only NBA team (in my opinion) who actually have a good defense.

Both the Spurs and the Jazz I think have been waiting a long-time for a lockout shortened season so that they can capitalize on other team’s lack of preparedness.  I think the Jazz will upset the Spurs and win this playoff series.  I just don’t see how the Spurs will win the NBA Finals (if they make it that far) unless they end up playing the Heat (because Lebron James plays for them).  

The Jazz have lost three straight playoff series (in 2008, 2009, and 2010) to the Los Angeles Lakers and they are tired of losing playoff series.  Want proof?  The Jazz have been to the Western Conference semifinals four times and the Conference Finals one time since after the 1997-1998 season.  In the Conference Finals in 2007 the Jazz lost in a best of seven series to guess who?  That’s right.  The San Antonio Spurs.  The Spurs ended up winning four of five necessary playoff games to the Jazz in 2007.

The #2 seeded Oklahoma City Thunder will vs. last year’s NBA Champions the #7 seeded Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the NBA playoffs.  The star players for the Thunder are Kevin Durant and Derek Fisher.  The star players for the Mavericks are Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Vince Carter, Shawn Marion, and Lamar Odom.  The Thunder posted a regular season record of 47-19 and the Mavericks posted a regular season record of 36-30.  The Mavericks definitely have the star players to beat the Thunder but I just don’t think the Mavericks will win this playoff series.

The #3 seeded Los Angeles Lakers will vs. the #6 seeded Denver Nuggets in the first round of the NBA playoffs.  The star players for the Lakers are Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum.  The star players for the Nuggets are forward Al Harrington, and guards Ty Lawson and Andre Miller.  The Lakers finished with a regular season record of 41-25 and the Nuggets finished with a regular season record of 38-28.

Honestly, I think the Lakers will win this playoff series.  If the Lakers don’t, then Kobe Bryant will probably have been a ball-hog too much.  I really haven’t watched the Nuggets play much to seriously state any thoughts about them.

The #4 seeded Memphis Grizzlies will vs. the #5 seeded Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of the NBA playoffs.  In the regular season, the Grizzles finished with a record of 41-25 and the Clippers finished with a record of 40-26.  The star players for the Grizzlies are Gilbert Arenas and Marc Gasol.  The star players for the Clippers are Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Chauncey Billups, and Kenyon Martin.  Both the Clippers and the Grizzlies haven’t had very much success in the playoffs and haven’t been playoff teams very often in the past.

I think the Grizzlies will win this series because they spoiled (and ended) the San Antonio Spurs’ season last year by eliminating them from the playoffs.  Realistically though, the Clippers have got more attention than normal from the media/the press/whatever this season, they are from L.A., and they have better star players (in my opinion) on their team so they will probably win this playoff series.  Plus, they competed with the Lakers the entire regular season to see which L.A. team (out of the two) would end up finishing with a better regular season record (and the Lakers ended up winning that).  

In Game 1 of the series the Clippers overcame a 27-point deficit to stun the Grizzlies 99-98.  That would be cool to see this series go to a seventh game. 

Selected Poety, by Bert Ogg


     It takes more than one light candle to show the way in shadow; one needs hundreds of different illuminating fire flies.


     Bathing in moon light, somber wolf cries around me, nature is with me.


       Drying off moon light, mocking laughter of black birds, nature is with me. Vultures do not acknowledge Foxes only existence.

Drunken Otter:

      There once was an otter who was a very famous potter.
      His pots were inlaid with gold, every single one was sold.
      But one day he became very bored and from his pots he drank liquor.
      He drank, and he drank, and became greener, and greener.
      His speech was slurred and dumber, his friend the badger politely told, " Do not drink from the pot, but from the drinking gourd!"
      The otter was so drunk when he jumped in the water he became a bobber.
      His words became even more graveled; he slobbered; he was drowning.
      The badger jumped in the river to save the otter tenfold.
      He rang the water from the otter's blubber to politely scold," Do not drink from the pot, but from the drinking gourd!"


One Who Writes On Stone:

Today is the day when the wolf cries
Rain falls from heaven in form of tears
The trees are quiet, the wind is still
Rivers turn to blood, otters soaked in red
Robins try to fly, but feathers turned to stone
Those who care will walk to the forest and mourn for the loss of life
The boy raised by the forest was the heart of life
Today is the day when the bear cries
The boy's name, "One who writes on stone"
His sadness was unknown, buy his joy was through tears
The attire he wore contrasted with the forest; red
One who writes on stone's mind was never still
He would sit on boulders, playing his flute, dancing; never still
Music writing was his life
He carved his music on rocks that shined crimson; red
Today is the day when the badger cries
Bee's and butterflies turn to tears
People who captured the boy have hearts made of stone
He who with out sin cast thy first stone
Gallows rope lay dormant and still
The boy chained, carving music, and in tears
One who writes on stone is at the end of his life
Today is the day when the widow spider cries
Peoples eyes who watch are red
The boy walks to the rope still dressed in red
Today is the day when the vulture cries
People lose creativity, their minds become still
It's not One who writes on stone's fault that he found beauty in life
But those who stop being and individual that become souls of tears
The noose is around the boys neck; he is in tears
Priests, business men, office officials, towns people, are dressed in red
People watch in anticipation to end the unusual boys life
Its a lot like One who walks away from omelas, but it's those who cast the first stone
People need to learn others have talents and not willing to lye still
Today is the day the hornet cries
Today was the day when all the animals cry, no on can hear the wailing of tears.
The boy dressed in all red, is now hanging quiet and still.
No more music will be written on stone, the very thing that sustained the forests life.

Note to Baseball Umpires: You need more clearer and unsaid hand signals!

By: Evan Troxel

Well, for this week’s article I am going to talk about baseball umpires.  In this article I am going to show you my view of what umpires have done and should have done.  I also criticize some umpires and some of the baseball players in this article.  My focus is mainly on umpires in general, umpires in Major League Baseball, and we are not going to talk about balls and strikes.  I also reveal umpires quirks and the other weird things they do and have done in the past.  I also mention that umpires need some new signals, they need to officiate better, and I mention the things they just flat out need to do better with.  There are several videos with controversial plays that I will make several statements about within this article.  I like when baseball umpires go to video replays to settle disputes as it is more dependable than the umpires are if you ask me (except when there’s no electricity!).  Maybe I will state my opinions in a future article about baseball umpires (in general) but let’s get this article rolling.

Baseball umpires.  Oh my.  They seriously need to get some new hand signals or more signals.  When umpires call a batter out they use their fist either by displaying a punching motion or by bringing their first up to their face, acting physically official, and thinking the word “Yes!” as they do the physical motion.  What happens when an umpire calls a batter safe is that they spread their arms and hands out like a bird really quickly and then they put them down to their sides.

Umpires also throw one of their hands up in the air when they “toss” (eject) a coach and/or a player from a game.

One thing I’d like to know, what’s with the obsession of using hand signals?  Well, the short answer is so that everybody at the same time knows.  By declaring what happened by speaking (or talking) not everyone will necessarily know at the same time because some people can’t hear from a certain distance away or are too far away from another person to hear what they are saying.

There are other hand signals that umpires use (besides calling the players either “Safe!” or “Out!” or ejecting coaches and/or players) but they are “unofficial” and the only people who know about those are the players and coaches; television, radio, and P.A. announcers; and the umpires themselves.  One such “unofficial” hand signal that the umpire uses is sticking is hands up above is head and that usually means timeout or no play (as in a foul ball usually).  

Check out the next 3 hyperlinks below this paragraph.  They are videos of probably the easiest triple play that will ever happen that is an assisted triple play.  The last hyperlink is an analyzation of the triple play.

My thoughts on the triple play (from the hyperlinks above) are that the play wasn’t very fair for the San Diego Padres.  From what I could tell, I think the baseball hit the batter’s left hand (if you look at one of the closer camera angles the batter kind of shakes his left hand immediately after the baseball makes contact with the bat and/or the batter’s left hand) and the bat.  The baseball looked like it deadened after the ball hit the batter’s hand and/or the bat.  Plus, the batter wouldn’t have dropped the bat if he didn’t get hit by the pitch.  

I don’t think there’s any doubt that the baseball went into fair territory.  But then again, most umpires usually call a play like this one dead and just declare the ball foul (even though it really didn’t go foul).

The home plate umpire put his hands up and backed up as he was trying to get out of the way of the Los Angeles Dodgers catcher and then the umpire put his hands up higher as if he was declaring “Foul ball!”  The only Padres player who really had a shot to be safe at the next base was the baserunner who was standing on first base.  But then again, the batter could see what was going on near home plate so he was the only one who had a realistic shot of being safe at the first base.  I thought it was overboard when the home plate umpire ejected the Padres manager and I don’t think that was right.

I think that triple play was one instance in which you’ve got to have replay to change “official on-field calls” in your back pocket.  Also, what’s with that finger pointing thing with home plate umpires?  How about using the safe signal with your hands (instead of pointing to declare a fair ball or to declare that the player was safe)?  Umpires must use that finger pointing thing so that it is a fair play for everybody and that is why they don’t talk or say something.  The San Diego Padres lost this game to the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-4 so that wasn’t fair (although I will admit that I do like the Dodgers better).  Vin Scully the longtime Dodgers announcer didn’t even think that play was really fair for the Padres because he was the one that said, “No play.  No play.”
The next hyperlink below this sentence is a hyperlink to an article titled “Friday the 13th yields its share of oddities.”  

In the article from the above hyperlink, Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers notices that the batter’s box didn’t extend far enough back away from the pitcher.  My only thoughts to this are…are the foul lines where they are supposed to be or are they off too?  The Tigers ended up losing to the White Sox 5-2 so maybe some members of the White Sox grounds crew should have been fired from their jobs (and for wasting everyone’s time).

Also in the article from the above hyperlink, Josh Thole a player for the New York Mets is on first base and advances to second on his teammate R.A. Dickey’s fair ball bunt (if not sacrifice bunt and Dickey was tagged out).  Thole then trots back to first base (and he must have been thinking that the bunt was a foul ball) and he gets tagged out as he tries to get safely back to first base once he realizes that his team’s opponent the Philadelphia Phillies can tag him out and that he can be called out.  Since we are dealing with umpires in this article, I noticed that the second base umpire didn’t even make any physical indication of calling Josh Thole safe at second base…he just stood there.  Then he didn’t even bother to tell (say to) Thole that the ball hit by Dickey was a fair ball and that he didn’t need to go back to first base.  

Talk about umpire bias.  That umpire must like the Phillies.  The umpire watched Thole the whole time and saw the whole thing unfold.  That incident should have never happened and he shouldn’t be allowed to umpire another baseball game ever again if you ask me.  Fortunately for that umpire, the Mets still beat the Phillies 5-2.

Below this paragraph is a hyperlink to a play similar to Josh Thole’s and this play was even worse.  To watch the video of the baseball play that I want you to see, click on the hyperlink below and then click on the “Video” tab at the top of the screen where it also says the words “Wrap,” “CLE Recap,” “KC Recap,” “Box,” “Play-by-play,” and “Photos.”  Then click on the video titled “Must C: Curious.”

Here are my thoughts from the above hyperlink: This play happened on Monday, April 18th, 2011.  It was a game between the Cleveland Indians and the Kansas City Royals (the home team).  Unlike Thole’s play, everybody “assumed” that Kansas City’s Billy Butler was called out because of the “area play” second base umpires usually give to the defense as an out (whether or not a defensive player actually touches second base) but in this case Butler was called safe.
To second base umpire Joe West’s defense Butler could clearly see before sliding that the Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera didn’t touch second base.  However, Butler as a baserunner has a job to do by trying to break up a double play by sliding so a player doesn’t really know if one is safe or out.  Also, Butler was about to slide by the time the baseball got to shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and a baserunner cannot really look up at a fielder when a baserunner is trying to slide.

Just like the umpire in the Josh Thole incident, second base umpire Joe West made no effort to even bother to at least use hand signals to signal “Safe!” or “Out!”  Joe West actually should have tried to talk to (say something to) Butler because there’s no way he could have assumed that he was safe and plus Butler didn’t even ask for timeout.  Joe West even watched the entire play unfold too…just like the umpire in the Josh Thole incident.  Joe West really should be banned from umpiring another baseball game at any level.  The Royals ended up losing to the Indians 7-3 in ten innings.

Below this sentence is a hyperlink to a call of a play that I disagree with.  

To begin my thoughts from the above hyperlink, the Reds baserunner Drew Stubbs in my opinion shouldn’t have even bothered to try to get to third base as the first time I watched this video highlight I knew that Stubbs was going to be called “Out!”  The team the Cincinnati Reds were playing (the St. Louis Cardinals) were the home team and the Cardinals are the reigning World Champions.  Also, the reigning World Series MVP in David Freese (who I dislike) put the tag on Stubbs.

I think the Cardinals third baseman David Freese if he wanted the call to be “Out!” should have actually put a hard tag on Drew Stubbs the Reds baserunner and not this light, nice, and unhurtful tag which I guess I’m going to call…a “love tap.”  Actually, Freese did put a hard tag on Stubbs which is probably why I think the umpire called Stubbs out.  What’s with this “love tap” that almost all the defensive players in Major League Baseball (MLB) are doing these days?  Freese did put a quick tag on Stubbs which is why I think it looked like a “love tap.”  Actually, before I looked closely at the tag that Freese applied to Stubbs, I thought the tag was very light so I guess I’ll have to look at “love tap” like tags again more closely and in the future.
Stubbs has an argument that he almost fell down because of the very hard tag that Freese placed on him.  I think the last video shot of the play clearly shows that Stubbs barely touched third base before Freese tagged him although the play was really close.  Stubbs’ body language also showed that he was trying to avoid Freese’s tag.

Freese’s body language shows that he wanted Stubbs to safely be on third base.  Freese couldn’t have positioned himself closer to third base?  Not to mention, Carlos Beltran the right fielder who fielded that ball couldn’t have made a better throw to Freese?  Beltran is probably one of the most hard-nosed players and best outfielders you will find in MLB.

The third base umpire reacted with an undercut “Out!” hand signal and his body language to me showed that his decision was based solely on either Carlos Beltran, David Freese, the fans in St. Louis, and/or that he was too cold or too warm and that he wanted to put on some more comfortable clothing at the end of the inning so that he could focus more on umpiring.  Okay, so the umpire’s hand signal wasn’t “undercut,” but it was barely an overhanded hand signal, he made the decision just barely above his waist in like that he can barely keep his balance, and that he kept his hand signal close to the side of his body.

If the third base umpire really wanted to stand firm and have authority with his decision, I think he would have been smarter to have done the overhanded punching signal motion and not the barely overhanded signal motion.  Had he done that instead, there would have been no way that he could have lost that decision since he is of the age where if he can do that motion (and not get physically hurt) then he should be able to have the authority to do almost anything and knows what he is doing in terms of his employment.

The fans at New Busch Stadium reacted like the call shouldn’t have gone the Cardinals way and they just cheered because Cardinals fans (like Yankees fans) will take anything that they can get.  The Cardinals ended up winning this game 2-1 but the Reds probably would have won had Stubbs been called “Safe!”

The hyperlink below this sentence is actually a play that I completely agree with.  

My thoughts from the above hyperlink are: The baseball would have been foul had it not hit the right knee of the Texas Rangers batter Alberto Gonzalez.  But the momentum of the pitch was so strong that I agree that to not let that play unfold just because of a supposed “foul ball” (which I think the Detroit Tigers were arguing) would be a big mistake. 

I mean if you are a Tigers fan, would you want to be down by 1 run or down by 4 runs (had the Tigers won their argument and then Alberto Gonzalez could have gotten another opportunity and hit a grand slam) heading into the bottom of the 11th inning?  The Rangers ended up winning the game 3-2 in 11 innings.

Well, I had fun typing this article.  I hope you all see that baseball umpires show quite a few flaws in relatively easy situations (for instance, when the benches don’t clear).  Umpire flaws can also be good in that their calls are subjective and not objective (so your favorite team could make the playoffs thankfully as a result of an umpire’s subjective decision).

Friday, April 20, 2012

Friday Nights

by Ross Stewart

Ever since I was little I’ve both played and watched football. In first grade, my first test of organized football, I was in the YMCA flag football league. I didn’t really understand the concept of flag football because I wasn’t supposed to hit or tackle or anything that made the sport entertaining. But I was determined to get some “oos and awws” anyway. I was removed from every game. (Other kids cried fairly easily after being hit or tripped or tackled!) My parents thought it might be best to hold me out of playing football a few years until about fifth grade, when I was old enough for padded full-contact little league football.

That’s when I really figured out that this was my thing. I played about four years of little league and then junior high sports. It may come as a surprise after reading the first part of this story, but I didn’t shine or really do well at all in junior high football. I never started a game, got in, made tackles or anything. It was the first time I ever had to work for a starting spot and I just didn’t get it, I guess. I got in the mind set finally as a freshman in high school that if I wanted to play I would have to work hard for the playing time. So with some sweat and determination I earned a starting spot on the freshman team.

I wrestled in the winter and threw shot put in the spring and worked hard in the summer time. The next year I was up with the big boys. I was only a sophomore but I was starting on jv on scout team (as a practice dummy) and getting a few reps here and there on varsity. At the end of that year I had achieved my goal; I was one of only three sophomores to earn a varsity letter.

The next summer lifting weights was my full time job because I knew I had the ability to compete for a starting varsity spot. It was two-a-days and I came to practice ready to work. The starting defensive tackle spot became mine, I earned it. The hard work from the summer had paid off. As a junior in high school I stood 6’ 3” and weighed 245 lbs. The size I had gained gave me confidence. I lived for hearing my name and running through that tunnel on to the field. I was a big guy but never the biggest, pretty quick, but never the quickest. What made me a good football player was that when I strapped my helmet on I was no longer a nice guy. I was strong, aggressive, and, most would say, mean. But to me that’s how football is supposed to be. My dad always told me that you should be a nice guy the other 97% of your life but on the field you can be as mean and nasty as you want. I believe in this philosophy. I will tell my boy or boys, if I ever have any, the same thing my father told me. I will never apologize for the cussing, spitting way I played football.

By my senior year of high school, I was another year bigger, wiser and stronger. Still 6’3”, this year I weighed 260 lbs. That year had some of the best times of my life so far. And to this day the nineteen guys I ran onto the field with on Friday nights would drop whatever it is that they’re doing to help me, and I would do the same for each and every one of them.