Saturday, April 30, 2011

NBA Playoffs: Night Fourteen

Western Conference
Memphis Grizzles (8) @ San Antonio Spurs (1)
4/17: Game One--Grizzlies 101, SPURS 98 (1-0, Memphis)
4/20: Game Two--SPURS 93, Grizzlies 87 (Tie, 1-1)
4/23: Game Three--GRIZZLIES 91, Spurs 88 (2-1, Memphis)
4/25: Game Four--GRIZZLIES 104, Spurs 86 (3-1, Memphis)
4/27: Game Five--SPURS 110, Grizzlies 103 (3-2, Memphis)
4/29: Game Six--GRIZZLIES 99, Spurs 91 (4-2, Memphis wins)
Tim Duncan looked plain tired as his Spurs were
upset in the first round after a 61-win regular season
Sorry for sounding like a broken record here, but it was the Grizzlies' front court of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph that carried Memphis to their big playoff win.  This win was special, though, because it clinched the franchise's first ever postseason series victory.  It was also special in that the Grizzlies became the fourth number eight seed to knock off their top-seeded opponent in the first round (and the first since the 2007 Golden State Warriors).  Once again for Memphis, they were able to shut down future HOF-er Tim Duncan (see right) en route to a win, having now won all three games in Memphis this postseason.  Duncan was a non-factor for most of the game for the Spurs, especially in the fourth quarter.  Duncan's only basket in the fourth was a tip shot with five seconds remaining, but the Spurs were already losing by eight points.  He was largely unguarded for that play, as the Grizzlies had already sealed the game.  Aside from that tip shot (which counts as a field goal and an offensive rebound), Duncan did not have a single rebound or assist despite playing the final nine minutes of the final period.  For the game, he wasn't much better: Duncan ended with 12 points on 5-13 shooting (38.5%) while turning the ball over five times.  I hesitate to generalize about the state of Duncan's career from this sample of six games, but "The Big Fundamental" did seem slow and old compared to Randolph and Gasol, and that's why the Grizzlies are moving on.

NFL Draft: Rounds 1-3 Recap

With Rounds 4-7 of the NFL Draft just underway, let's take a look at the past three rounds. With the NFL Lockout imposed, then lifed, then re-imposed the first three rounds were, to sum it up politely, chaotic. Teams traded up and down, up and down, and quarterbacks were plucked at lightning speed.

So, in all of this mess, who made the best picks and who didn't? Hit the jump to find out.

The Unlikeliest Draftee

For college basketball players, entering the NBA Draft earlier than your senior year has been getting tougher and tougher. This year, players have only from April 28th until May 8th to decide if they are NBA-worthy or not. That's just 10 days to know if their future is best served by entering the Draft, or staying in college another year. Every year, lists of non-seniors who declared come out, with draft experts deciding who should stay in the draft (i.e., Duke's Kyrie Irving) and who should return to the college (i.e., Pitt's Ashton Gibbs). Most of the names on this year's early-entry list are familiar college stars. Players like Arizona forward Derrick Williams, Florida State junior Chris Singleton, Butler big-shot junior Shelvin Mack, as well as 87 other NCAA and foreign players have thrown their hats into the ring. There's one entry on that list, however, that even the most astute NBA Draft watchers had not heard of: Dan Kelm, a sophomore guard from Viterbo (WI) University. So, what is a self-described "six-foot-tall slow-footed jump shooter" doing in the NBA Draft? Hit the jump to find out!

Friday, April 29, 2011

NBA Playoffs: Night Thirteen

Last night was an exciting night of NBA basketball, as three first round series wrapped up--two by seven points or fewer.  The only remaining series is the Spurs and the Grizzlies, who play Game Six tonight in Memphis--another do-or-die game for Tim Duncan's Spurs.  But before moving on to focus on the possibility of an eight-seed upsetting the top seed in the West, let's take a look back at last night's games, including another nail-biter between Atlanta and Orlando.

Eastern Conference

Atlanta Hawks (5) @ Orlando Magic (4)
4/16: Game One--Hawks 103, MAGIC 93 (1-0, Atlanta)
4/19: Game Two--MAGIC 88, Hawks 82 (Tied 1-1)
4/22: Game Three--HAWKS 88, Magic 84 (2-1, Atlanta)
4/24: Game Four--HAWKS 88, Magic 85 (3-1, Atlanta)
4/26: Game Five--MAGIC 101, Hawks 76 (3-2, Atlanta)
4/28: Game Six--HAWKS 84, Magic 81 (4-2, Atlanta wins)
Joe Johnson lived up to his max deal in
upsetting Superman and the Magic
Another game between the Hawks and the Magic: another close contest.  Like the previous two games in Atlanta, the Hawks were able to pull this one out in the final seconds, as they took Game Six to win the first round series 4-2 and advance to face the Chicago Bulls in the second round.  Last postseason, the Magic swept the Hawks in what was the most lopsided playoff sweep in NBA history.  In winning last night, Atlanta became only the ninth team in the past 30 years to win a series against the team that swept them in the previous postseason.  How did the Hawks pull out this series-clinching Game Six to get revenge on the Magic?  Surprisingly, despite Superman's superb performance all series, Atlanta was able to dominate the offensive glass last night and win via second-chance points.  They Hawks actually had seven more offensive rebounds than the Magic did last night (14 to seven edge), giving them seven more chances for points.  Atlanta then took advantage, getting 15 second-chance points, compared to the Magic's 10.  Those five points are a huge and meaningful swing such a close game.  Atlanta's max-contract player, Joe Johnson (see above), actually got a huge offensive rebound in the final seconds to give the Hawks a three-point lead with only eight seconds remaining.  Had the Magic been able to come up with that rebound, they would have only been down one point with ten seconds to go.  Those two points were huge in that they lead Orlando to force up a three-pointer near the buzzer, instead of running a play for a layup or mid-range jumper.  Without that particular offensive rebound--and the Hawks' general prowess on the offensive boards all game--the Magic likely would have won Game Six and sent the series back to Orlando.  But now, the Hawks are going to Chicago, and the Magic are going to the golf course.

Hit the jump to read about the two Western Conference games:

Stat Line of the Day: April 29th

B. Zobrist (TB): 7-10, 10 RBI, 5R, 2 2B, 2 HR, SB vs. Twins
Zobrist single-handedly dominated the
Twins in a doubleheader on Thursday
Well, it's Stat Line of the Day--doesn't mean it has to be just one game! Ben Zobrist had himself quite a day against the Twins in Minneapolis. First, he goes 4-for-6 with 8 RBIs, including 4-for-5 with RISP, along with one home run. That was a three-run shot that made the first game 10-1 in the sixth inning, and he added four more RBIs in the last three innings to finish out game one. In game two, Zobrist went 3-for-4 with another home run, a two-run shot that put the first runs on the board in an eventual 6-1 Rays victory. Suddenly, after the doubleheader sweep, the Rays are 13-11--just eighteen days after they were 1-9! Zobrist hadn't exactly been a part of that so far--coming into the day yesterday, the 29-year-old second baseman was hitting just .205/.272/.482. In fact, as recently as April 22nd, Zobrist was batting .183/.266/.394 with just with three home runs and seven RBIs. Now he's up to .258/.314/.602 with seven home runs and 25 RBIs--the most RBIs in the entire American League. In his last five games, Zobrist has gone 11-for-22 (.500) with four homers and 18 RBIs--a ridiculous stretch, but it balanced out his first 18 games, that's for sure. Don't expect Ben Zobrist to lead the AL in RBIs this year, but he certainly enjoyed himself yesterday.

Honorable Mention

R. Dempster (CHC): 0.1 IP, 4 H, 7 R (7 ER), 4 BB @ ARI
It's really a shame that this wasn't Ryan Dempster's first start of the year, because his ERA would have been a lovely 189.3 after his failure to get more than one out yesterday in Arizona. After starting the game giving up a double, a walk, hitting Justin Upton with a pitch and then having Stephen Drew hit a grand-slam, Dempster got Miguel Montero to ground out, and it seemed like he might settle down. Then he promptly walked the bases loaded to bring up pitcher Barry Enright...who promptly hit a single, picking up his 7th career RBI. After Chris Young got his second hit of the inning, a two-RBI single to left, that was the end of the day for Dempster--he should consider himself lucky reliever Justin Berg got the next two men out!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

NFL Draft Liveblog

NFL Draft Preview: NFC South

And now the conclusion of our eight-part NFL draft preview (ESPN, 8 P.M.). With the AFC complete we've focused on the NFC the last two days. Last but certainly not least in our analysis we wrap up with the NFC South.

Once a weak and often chaotic division, the NFC South could make an argument for the toughest division in the conference or even the league. If things keep going the way they are the Saints and Falcons will be title contenders every year Drew Brees and Matt Ryan put on a uniform. The Saints are now one year removed from a Super Bowl that changed New Orleans forever and the Falcons came up one Aaron Rodgers short of their own Super Bowl berth. And now the upstart Buccaneers have forced themselves into the picture. Tampa Bay went 10-6, falling just short of a playoff berth. Josh Freeman has this team ready to compete with the Falcons and Saints for years. The lone wolf in all this are the Panthers. Carolina went 2-14 in a terribly disappointing season, fired coach John Fox, and have to rebuild. So how do the Saints and Falcons fortify their rosters and what will the Bucs do to overthrow them? And is Cam Newton really Carolina's best bet? Here's our predictions.

NFL Draft Preview: NFC West

Welcome to part seven of our eight-part preview of tomorrow's NFL draft (ESPN, 8 P.M.). After focusing on the AFC for the first two days, we will take a look at the NFC over the last two days in four division-by-division increments. We continue our analysis with a preview of the NFC West.

Yes, yes, the NFC West was atrocious. It was terrible. It was the laughingstock of the NFL. For the first time in the history of the league, a team won the division with a 7-9 record. The Cardinals went from first to worst after Kurt Warner retired and nobody stepped up to replace him. San Francisco cut Mike Singletary halfway through the year and brought in Jim Harbaugh to rebuild a team trying to find its identity. Even the division winners, Seattle, have huge question marks. Who's their future quarterback? Do they have any offensive weapons? How do they fix their defense? The lone surprise and possibly the only team on an upswing are the St. Louis Rams. Rookie Sam Bradford led the Rams to one game short of a playoff berth. They have a young offense with lots of talent and a defense with some pieces to build around. So how do the Rams build on their success? How does the rest of the division try to catch up? Let's take a look at what they may do in the draft.

NBA Playoffs: Night Twelve

Eastern Conference
Philadelphia 76ers (7) @ Miami Heat (2)
4/16: Game One--HEAT 97, 76ers 89 (1-0, Miami)
4/18: Game Two--HEAT 94, 76ers 73 (2-0, Miami)
4/21: Game Three--Heat 100, 76ERS 94 (3-0, Miami)
4/24: Game Four--76ERS 86, Heat 82 (3-1, Miami)
4/27: Game Five--HEAT 97, 76ers 91 (4-1, Miami wins)
The Sixers competed hard for a full 48 minutes in this one, but pure talent won out, as the Miami Heat advance to face the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The  Heat  never outscored the 76ers by  more than four points in a quarter
Mario Chalmers' big night last night
sends the 76ers to the golf course
last night, but they finally got some balance to their scoring attack to hold off the pesky Philadelphia squad. The Sixers won Game Four by limiting Heat plays not named James, Wade, or Bosh to 17 total points. Last night, though, Erik Spoelstra's crew got a big performance from reserve point guard Mario Chalmers, who collected 20 points and had a +2- +/- rating in Game Five. Coming into the night, he was averaging 4.3 points per game in the playoffs on only 28.6% shooting--but he broke out when the Heat needed him most. Chalmers shot 6-12 from downtown and 7-14 overall (both 50% shooting), including 11 points on three treys in the opening quarter alone. The Heat outscored the Sixers by 13 during Chalmers' 7:33 of game action, turning a nine-point deficit into a four-point lead. Despite the six Heat players besides Chalmers and the Big 3 combined for only 13 points in the game, Miami was able to get the win because they got a fourth player over 10 points scored for the first time all series.

Western Conference

Memphis Grizzles (8) @ San Antonio Spurs (1)
4/17: Game One--Grizzlies 101, SPURS 98 (1-0, Memphis)
4/20: Game Two--SPURS 93, Grizzlies 87 (Tie, 1-1)
4/23: Game Three--GRIZZLIES 91, Spurs 88 (2-1, Memphis)
4/25: Game Four--GRIZZLIES 104, Spurs 86 (3-1, Memphis)
4/27: Game Five--SPURS 110, Grizzlies 103 (3-2, Memphis)
Manu Ginobili always seemed to be one
step ahead of the Grizzlies' defenders
Another close game in a series that should never have been close--but this time the Spurs pulled it out to keep their Championship hopes alive. Though the Spurs' play through five postseason games thus far makes me think they are too old and broken down to make a deep playoff run, they did gut out a close win in San Antonio despite superb play from Memphis' front line. I've been praising the Grizzlies' combination of Marc Gasol and All-Star Zach Randolph all series long--how strong they've been on the offensive end and how old they've made Tim Duncan look with their defense. Last night was no exception, as the pair combined for 37 points, 27 rebounds, and seven assists. The difference in the game--just like in the Spurs' Game Two win--was the play of Manu Ginobili (see right).  Ginobili returned from sitting out Game One with a sprained right elbow to score 17 points with a +16 +/- rating in the Spurs' Game Two victory.  Last night, with San Antonio facing elimination, Manu stepped up again for the Spurs. He scored a game-high 33 points on 10-18 shooting (55.6%) from the field, to go along with six rebounds, six assists, and four steals. In overtime, Ginobili got a critical rebound with 18 seconds remaining, and he hit the ensuing free throw to ice the game for the Spurs. While Zach Randolph was impressive (26 points, 11 rebounds, six assists), Manu was just too much for the visiting Grizzlies on Wednesday night.
 Denver Nuggets (5) @ Oklahoma City Thunder (4)
4/17: Game One--THUNDER 107, Nuggets 103 (1-0, Oklahoma City)
4/20: Game Two--THUNDER 106, Nuggets 89 (2-0, Oklahoma City)
4/23: Game Three--Thunder 97, NUGGETS 94 (3-0, Oklahoma City)
4/25: Game Four--NUGGETS 104, Thunder 101 (3-1, Oklahoma City)
4/27: Game Five--THUNDER 100, Nuggets 97 (4-1, Oklahoma City wins)
Nene and the Nuggets had no answer Kevin
Durant in the fourth quarter
What a night for Kevin Durant. There isn't much more to say than that. Durant had 41 points on 14-27 shooting, and he blocked J.R. Smith's potentially game-tying three-point attempt with nine seconds remaining to seal the victory--and the series--for the Thunder. Facing a seven-point deficit with 5:50 remaining, Durant exploded. He scored 16 points on 6-8 shooting, as the Thunder outscored the Nuggets 20-10 the rest of the way. Oklahoma City had been stuck in a three to nine-point hole the entire fourth quarter, and Durant's personal domination of the Nuggets led his team to the second round. Though Kevin Durant led the Thunder's fourth-quarter comeback and sealed the series victory for OKC, Serge Ibaka had the most peculiar line of the game. In 35 minutes of action, the sophomore power forward had only one points, and he didn't hit a single field goal. He also turned the ball over five times, meaning that he cost his team several possessions in a tight game. Despite his utter ineptitude on the offensive end, however, Ibaka was an absolute monster on the defensive end of the floor. He pulled down eight boards, including four offensive, and also got two steals in the game. Most impressively, though, Ibaka blocked nine shots last night, more than he Nuggets (three) and his Thunder teammates (five) combined. He blocked five shots in the first quarter alone, setting the tone defensively for Oklahoma City. Ibaka's biggest rejection came with 35 seconds left in the game, on an attempted layup by Nene. The block preserved a one-point Thunder lead, which Durant promptly turned into a three-point edge with two free throws. Durant on offense and Ibaka on defense--and the Thunder are moving on.

Rotation Rankings: Week 4

Previous Rankings: Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3

Week four of our Rotation Rankings: the statistical ranking of every rotation in Major League Baseball. For a better explanation, check out our debut rankings. More a fan of offense? Check out our Leadoff Rankings, based on every teams' first and second batters. As we get further into the season, these rankings are based mostly on season performance, with a small bias towards this week's performance when two teams were very comparable. There were some interesting ranking quirks this week, mostly because of fantastic weeks by some of the teams that had previously been lower in the rankings--something to be expected early in the season. A few teams actually improved on their season performances but managed to fall in the rankings, due solely to the fact that the teams behind them out performed them as well. Eventually these sort of things will even out, but after four weeks it's still easy enough for one great week to pull a team up 15 slots. To see which teams were the real movers and shakers this week, hit the jump!

NFL Draft Preview: NFC North

Welcome to part six of our eight-piece preview of the 2011 NFL Draft. Three division still need to be previewed, and this installment will focus on the NFC North, home of the Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers.

Perhaps more than any other division in the NFL last season, the NFC North was incredibly unpredictable. Brett Favre was expected to lead the Vikings to a deep playoff run in his (real) last season in the league, but those plans fell through very quickly as the team started a miserable 3-7. The Lions showed progress and have a young core of talent to build around for the future  The Chicago Bears surprisingly won the division, as Jay Cutler appeared to mature and play smart football. But the story of the year in the NFC North was Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews and the Green Bay Packers, who underachieved for much of the season before finally turning the corner late in the season, and subsequently using that momentum to roll through the playoffs for the franchise's first Super Bowl title since 1996. With last season in mind, where will each team head in this season's draft? Hit the jump to find out.

Stat of the Day Line: April 28th (Quick Hits Edition)

Lately, we've been pretty good about picking only one or two great/awful/interesting lines per night to include in this column, but this time we just couldn't do it.  There were too many awesome/terrible/peculiar stat lines from last night's action for us to single any few out.  So instead, we're going to give you quick nuggets on a six different stat lines (drawn from all three major sports not sorta in a lockout) that really caught our attention. To see who made today's cut, hit the jump!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

NFL Draft Preview: NFC East

Welcome to part five of our eight-part preview of tomorrow's NFL draft (ESPN, 8 P.M.). After focusing on the AFC for the past two days, we will take a look at the NFC over the next two days in four division-by-division increments. We continue our analysis with a preview of the NFC East.

Last year was wildly unpredictable in the NFC East. Preseason favorite Dallas sputtered out of the gates, and were out of contention by mid-October. The Donovan McNabb experiment in Washington was a great story, but his play never materialized and the Redskins once again remained at the bottom of the East. This left two teams, New York and Philadelphia, to battle it out for the division title. Heading into the season, New York had high expectations, and most experts were picking them to finish second in the division and grab an NFC wild-card spot. The Giants were the only team to actually perform as they were expected to in 2010, finishing a respectable 10-6, but missing the playoffs due to tiebreaker rules and a late-season collapse against the Eagles that will forever be remembered as "The Miracle in the New Meadowlands" by Philadelphia faithful. This left the Eagles, led by a resurgent Michael Vick, to surprisingly steal the division title in what was expected to be a slight transition year. With the NFC East appearing to be just as unpredictable in 2011, let's take a look at where each team might be heading early in this year's draft.

NBA Playoffs: Night Eleven

Eastern Conference

Indiana Pacers (8) vs, Chicago Bulls (1)
4/16: Game One--BULLS 104, Pacers 99 (1-0, Chicago)
4/18: Game Two--BULLS 96, Pacers 90 (2-0, Chicago)
4/21: Game Three--Bulls 88, PACERS 84 (3-0, Chicago)
4/23: Game Four--PACERS 89, Bulls 84 (3-1, Chicago)
4/26: Game Five--BULLS 116, Pacers 89 (4-1, Chicago wins)

After a Game Four speed bump in Indianapolis, the Bulls finished off the Pacers last night on their home floor, winning a game that was never really close. Chicago outscored the visitors by 11 points in both the first quarter and the third quarter at the United Center, essentially sealing the game by taking a 19-point lead into the final period. Tom Thibodeau's squad even kept up the pressure late in the game without Derrick Rose, holding a lead of 20 or more for the final 7:09. Unlike in the Bulls' Game Four loss, Rose did not try to carry the team on his injured ankle; rather, he got his teammates involved. He dished out six assists, attempted a series-low 17 field goals, and facilitated five of his teammates scoring in double-figures. Though Rose still had a fantastic statistical night (25 points on 8-17 shooting) the big performer for the Bulls was Luol Deng (see above). He collected 24 points, six rebounds, a team-high seven assists, and three steals in 41 minutes of play. On a night when Carlos Boozer scored only two points (on one-for-five shooting) and D-Rose could not drive with his usual aggressiveness, Deng stepped up for his team and led the Bulls into the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Atlanta Hawks (5) @ Orlando Magic (4)
4/16: Game One--Hawks 103, MAGIC 93 (1-0, Atlanta)
4/19: Game Two--MAGIC 88, Hawks 82 (Tied 1-1)
4/22: Game Three--HAWKS 88, Magic 84 (2-1, Atlanta)
4/24: Game Four--HAWKS 88, Magic 85 (3-1, Atlanta)
4/26: Game Five--MAGIC 101, Hawks 76 (3-2, Atlanta)

In the first blowout of this first-round series, the Magic trounced the Atlanta Hawks to fend off elimination at least for one more game. Now the series travels back to Atlanta, where the Hawks took both games--but only by a total of seven points. Expect Game Six to be nothing short of a dogfight, which is the exact opposite of how Game Five went down. The Magic led by 13 points after 12 minutes and 23 points at halftime en route to utter statistical domination of the Hawks. The Magic had a better shooting percentage from the field (41%-36.2%), from downtown (42.3%-25%), and from the free throw line (75.9%-68.8%). Orlando also bested the Hawks in rebounds (48-43), assists (18-15), steals (seven to three), and blocks (four to three). The Magic even pulled down four more offensive rebounds than Atlanta, while turning the ball over six fewer times. That translates to 10 extra possessions for Orlando, giving them three more fast break points, eight more points in the paint, and nine more points off turnovers. The silver lining for the Hawks? They committed three fewer personal fouls. Congrats.

Western Conference

New Orleans Hornets (7) @ Los Angeles Lakers (2)
4/17: Game One--Hornets 109, LAKERS 100 (1-0, New Orleans)
4/20: Game Two--LAKERS 87, Hornets 78 (Tie, 1-1)
4/22: Game Three--Lakers 100, HORNETS 86 (2-1, Los Angeles)
4/24: Game Four--HORNETS 93, Lakers 88 (Tie, 2-2)
4/26: Game Five--LAKERS 106, Hornets 90 (3-2, Los Angeles)

In New Orleans' two wins so far in this series, Chris Paul exploded for elite statistical performances--33 points, 14 assists in Game One and a triple-double in Game Four. Last night in Los Angeles, however, the Lakers held CP3 pretty much in check all night. He finished with (what for him would be considered) a modest performance: 20 points, 12 assists, and only four rebounds. Paul dished out eight assists in the first quarter alone, but then the Lakers backcourt limited him to only four dimes the rest of the evening. Similarly, the former Wake Forest star was held to only two points in the first quarter and three points in the third quarter. Paul was never able to really get a consistent rhythm going last night at the Staples Center due mostly to swarming Lakers defense. Their seven-footers (Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, and Lamar Odom with some heels) controlled the paint all night long, and Bynum had five offensive rebounds all on his own. The Hornets, by contrast, had more offensive fouls (four) than offensive rebounds (three) or second-chance points (two). That is not a winning formula in the playoffs, especially not when every starter for your opponent (including a hobbled Kobe Bryant and octogenarian Derek Fisher) scores in double-figures.

Stat Line of the Day: April 27th

R. Luongo (VAN): 32 SA, 31 SV, 65 minutes, W
Last year, the Philadelphia Flyers became the first NHL team (and the second major American sports team overall) to come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a series. This year, the  Chicago Blackhawks--the same team who beat  the Flyers in the  Stanley Cup
Luongo (L) had a monster Game 7 against Chicago
last season--were down 3-0 to the Vancouver Canucks in just the first round of the playoffs. Granted, these weren't the same Blackhawks who won that Cup, having a different goalie and trading away a good part of their skating crew, but they battled back just the same--abusing Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo in the process. Between Game Five's 7-2 loss and Game Six's 5-0 loss, Luongo faced 40 shots in 65 minutes--and only stopped 30 of them, for an atrocious save percentage of 0.75. That was coming from a goalie who won 38 games this season while stopping nearly 93% of the shots he faced, and the Canucks needed a stellar performance from Luongo in the deciding Game Seven. In the same amount of ice time that he played in Games 5+6 combined, Luongo faced 32 shots--and saved 31 of them, including a huge stop of Duncan Keith in overtime. As with many NHL teams, the success of the team lies on the pads of their goalie--and nobody was bigger in goal last night than Roberto Luongo. If he keeps playing like that, the Canucks are a legit Stanley Cup contender--and if he plays like he did in the middle of the series, they won't advance past the next round.

Honorable Mention

A. Lind (TOR): 3-for-5, 3 HR, 5 RBI @ TEX
Toronto beat the Rangers on the road last night 10-3, thanks in part to the bat of first baseman Adam Lind. Lind had a monster night, and what's more impressive, he did so in five at-bats while seeing 13 pitches, so he was swinging early and swinging well. In addition, the homers came in consecutive at-bats in the third and fourth innings, the latter a three-run blast off Texas reliever Brett Tomko. Rangers starter Matt Harrison did struggle, giving up eight hits and seven runs in just three innings, but the more impressive line from this game came out of the Toronto infield.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

What Can You Expect From a Draft Pick?

The NFL Draft is fast approaching; so, there is no better time of the year to analyze the overall draft performance of the league and the relationship between draft position in NFL success. The draft can change team's fortunes if they draft the right player (Tom Brady in the 6th around) or the wrong one (Ryan Leaf), often for seasons at a time. Coaches, scouts, and general managers spend months and months before the draft analyzing every facet of a player--from the way he handles himself during interviews to the speed he can run a 40-yard dash. Not surprisingly, the 1st-round draft picks are the most scrutinized, as they are given millions upon millions of dollars and expected to contribute at a professional level almost immediately. However, what should the expectations be for those picks, as well as the players taken in the following two rounds--who often end up being major contributors as well? What can teams expect out of a player picked in the first 100 picks? We might just have an answer...

NFL Draft Preview: AFC West

Welcome to part four of our eight-part NFL Draft preview. In this installment, we will wrap up our AFC previews by taking a look at the AFC West.

The AFC West had a surprise champion last year in the Kansas City Chiefs, who took a huge step forward under young coach Todd Haley. The Chargers, who had been in control of the division for the past five years, were probably the best team in the division, at least statistically, but finished a disappointing 9-7 thanks to atrocious special teams and some untimely mistakes. Oakland was a pleasant surprise, and is looking to build off a strong 8-8 2010 campaign. In the cellar, Denver is in complete rebuilding mode, and faces questions at the quarterback position as well as the adjustments necessary that come along with hiring a new head coach. With this in mind, how will the AFC West approach the draft? Hit the jump to find out.

NBA Playoffs: Night Ten

Western Conference
Memphis Grizzles (8) @ San Antonio Spurs (1)
4/17: Game One--Grizzlies 101, SPURS 98 (1-0, Memphis)
4/20: Game Two--SPURS 93, Grizzlies 87 (Tie, 1-1)
4/23: Game Three--GRIZZLIES 91, Spurs 88 (2-1, Memphis)
4/25: Game Four--GRIZZLIES 104, Spurs 86 (3-1, Memphis)

Only three times before (1994 Denver Nuggets, 1999 New York Knicks, and 2007 Golden State Warriors) has an 8-seed won its first round series against the top-seed. With last night's win on their home floor, the Memphis Grizzlies are one win away from joining that group and upsetting the West-best San Antonio Spurs. They are not some upstart #1 seed, like the Chicago Bulls in the East. These are the Tim Duncan, Tony Parker (see right), and Manu Ginobili Spurs--the four-time NBA champion Spurs. Yet somehow the Grizzlies--who had never won a playoff game in franchise history before this postseason--are on the verge of sending them packing early. How did this happen. Though many factors enter into the collapse of such a heavy favorite, the primary cause of the Spurs' troubles this time around is the lackluster play of their future Hall of Famer, Tim Duncan. In his illustrious career before this postseason, Duncan averaged 23 points and 12.4 rebounds per game. In the 2011 playoffs, though, "The Big Fundamental" is being held to 12.8 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. The low scoring output is particularly troubling for the Spurs, as it has forced point guard Tony Parker to shoulder more of the scoring burden. As a result, his efficiency has plummeted, and Parker committed seven turnovers in Game Four alone. In the first two Grizzlies' victories, strong play from their front line was the key to victory. Perhaps the issue is not how well the Grizzlies big men are playing, but how poorly the Spurs' big star has performed.

Hit the jump for the rest of the night's action!

Op-Ed: On Potential MLB Playoff Expansion

As American society continues to grow and change, we find our sports teams and leagues in a constant battle to adjust to the needs and wants of the public. At least, they say they do it for the fans, and in spirit of competition, though the driving force usually  seems to be green--and a  lot of it. When the NCAA  was looking to  potentially
Selig has been taking heat this week for both his
playoff talk and MLB's takeover of the Dodgers
expand to 96 teams, there weren't many people who really believed the 96th-best team in the country had a legitimate shot at winning a national championship--but an extra round of games would certainly bring in some extra TV revenue. So, when Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig (left) comes out and says that he's strongly considering a playoff expansion, does any baseball fan believe it's for any reason other than money? From what Selig has been saying, it sounds as if playoff expansion is not just being considered, but instead seems almost inevitable--as early as next season. For a league that was the slowest in terms of adding video replay (a full nine seasons after the NFL), and even then approved it for home run calls only, the idea of such a quick change coming seems to be unlike how Major League Baseball usually operates. I'm not saying there would not be any benefits to expansion--seeing more small-market clubs in the playoffs would be a good thing, and I'm sure any team in the AL East not named the "Yankees" or "Red Sox" would happily welcome a better shot at playoff baseball. However, the idea of baseball expanding their playoffs is, overall, a terrible one. So why is Selig doing this? Are there any other options? Hit the jump for more!

NFL Draft Preview: AFC South

Welcome to the 2011 AFC South draft preview, part three of an eight-installment series looking at each NFL division leading up to this Thursday’s NFL Draft (ESPN, 8 P.M.)

The AFC South was a mediocre division last season, top to bottom. Peyton Manning and the Colts emerged as champions (again) with a 10-6 record, but they lost their aura of invincibility they had had in previous seasons. Jacksonville was wildly inconsistent all season long, finishing with a .500 record but losing by more than 20 points four times while never winning by a margin that large. And both Houston and Tennessee took large steps backward throughout the season, and enter this year’s offseason with a lot of uncertainty. So how will each team approach the draft? Hit the jump to find out.

Stat of the Day: April 26th

I. Kennedy (ARI): 9 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 10 K vs. Phillies
J. Weaver (LAA): 9 IP, 7 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 10 K vs. Athletics
Ian Kennedy had his best start of the 2011 season
last night in the desert.
Baseball fans saw two complete-game shutouts out West last night, as the Angels' Jered Weaver and the Diamondbacks' Ian Kennedy (see right) tossed gems for their respective teams.  Both pitchers cruised through nine innings, striking out 10 batters along the way.  Kennedy was probably the more impressive pitcher last night just by virtue of his lower WHIP (and higher gamescore, 91 to 82).  Weaver allowed seven hits and a walk, for a game WHIP of 0.88; Kennedy, by contrast, allowed only three hits, for a WHIP of 0.33.  Though both pitchers achieved the shutout, Weaver came closer to giving up a run.  He gave Oakland six at-bats with runners in scoring position, while Kennedy only allowed the Phillies four of those.  For the duration of the young 2011 season, however, Weaver is the one who stands head and shoulders above the competition--including Kennedy.  The Angels' ace is now 6-0, having completed at least six innings in all six of his starts to date.  Weaver also pitched a complete game last time out, and he has allowed more than one earned run in a game only once this season.  Ian Kennedy, by contrast, gave up nine runs in 3.0 innings of work in his third start of the year, so this dominating performance represents a departure from the norm for him.  Either way, both pitchers were outstanding last night, and they are the major reason that their respective teams racked up a "W."

Honorable Mention:

T. Chandler (DAL): 14 points, 20 rebounds (13 offensive) vs. Trailblazers
In the pivotal fifth game of the Mavericks' first round series against Portland, Dallas center Tyson Chandler came up huge in a game his team had to have.  Chandler needed only four field goal attempts to rack up 14 points, as he went 8-12 from the free throw line.  He was most impressive on the boards, though, pulling down 20 rebounds on the night--that's three more than starting Portland big-men Marcus Camby and LaMarcus Aldridge had combined.  Chandler's truly incredible statistic, though, is his offensive rebounds: 13!  While the entire Trailblazers squad grabbed nine offensive boards in Game Five, Chandler pulled in 13 himself.  That led the Mavericks to an 11-rebound advantage on the offensive glass, giving them 11 extra possessions--and 11 extra points, most importantly, for the game.

Monday, April 25, 2011

NBA Playoffs: Weekend Recap

We NBA fans got to watch an incredibly exciting weekend of basketball the past two days, as one series came to a close, a few others were pushed to the brink, a couple of Eastern underdogs staved off elimination (for now), and a couple of favorites out West had trouble handling their lower-seeded opponents.  Chris Paul was the big story on Sunday, with Brandon Roy provided the fireworks on Saturday night.  Hit the jump to get a recap of and interesting stat from all eight NBA games this weekend.

NFL Draft Preview: AFC North

Welcome to part two of our team-by-team NFL draft preview. In this installment, we''ll take a look at the AFC North, and project which direction each team might head in this Thursday’s draft.

Last year, the AFC North was a division with a clear divide between the haves and the have-nots. Pittsburgh and Baltimore dominated the division, while perennial disappointments Cincinnati and Cleveland remained in the cellar. How have the Steelers and Ravens maintained their dominance over the Bengals and Browns? One very important reason is that they draft better than their rivals, of course. Hit the jump to find out where each team might go this year.

NFL Draft Preview: AFC East

Because the NFL is mired in a lockout, the upcoming draft could potentially be the last significant football event for quite some time. With the 2011 NFL Draft set to begin this Thursday, April 28th (8 P.M., ESPN), we will be analyzing two divisions each day for the next four days, looking at each team's potential needs and which direction each team might be heading with their first pick. First on the docket is the AFC East, with the North, South, and West divisions soon to follow.

Last year, the AFC East was dominated by the New England Patriots and New York Jets, and unless things change very quickly and unexpectedly, it appears those two teams will be the class of the division once again. The Miami Dolphins are stuck in a tricky rebuilding phase with a potentially combustible quarterback situation, while the Buffalo Bills find themselves in a similarly difficult situation. So, with this in mind, how will these teams address their needs in this year's draft? Hit the jump to find out.

Leadoff Rankings: Week 4

Previous Rankings: Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3

The fourth weekend of the 2011 season has come and gone, and the Leadoff Rankings are starting to settle out. More a fan of pitching? Check out our Rotation Rankings, published every Thursday, where we rank each team by the performance of their starting pitchers. The rankings are based on season performance, with a small bias towards recent performance. To see how things turned out this week, hit the jump!

Stat Line of the Day: April 25th

Chris Paul (NO): 27 points, 13 rebounds, 15 assists vs. Lakers
Paul (#3) dominated the Lakers,
tying the series up in NoLa
Did Kobe Bryant hurting his ankle have something to do with the Lakers loss? Obviously it didn't help Los Angeles, but tonight was the night where CP3 took over and tied the series up in New Orleans. How good was Chris Paul last night? According to Elias Stats Bureau, the last player to get 25+ pts, 15+ assists and 10+ rebounds in the same playoff game was Oscar Robertson--way back in 1964. Paul just had an overall great night, shooting 50% from the floor and three-point range (7-for 14 and 2-for-2). In addition, Paul hit all 11 of his free-throws, which shouldn't be too surprising considering he shot 88% from the charity stripe this season and 85% for his career. If there was any time for CP3 to have his first triple-double of the season, this was a great night to do it.
Honorable Mention(s)

J. Shields (TB): CG, 4 H,  2 BB, 7 Ks, W @ TOR
James Shields threw a complete-game four-hitter, yet for a while it looked as if his performance might not even be the best of the day. The most impressive part of Shields' performance was his pitch count--he needed just 95 pitches to get through 32 Blue Jays--that's a hair under three pitches per plate appearance, which is a fantastic number. Shields has kept his pitch counts low of late--in his last start, a complete game win against the White Sox, he needed only 105 pitches to get through the game. In a statistical world where pitch counts have reached an incredibly high level of importance, it's nice to have a reliable starter who can get through innings without needing too many pitches.

R. Halladay (PHI): 8.2 IP, 5 H, 1 BB, 14 Ks, 1 ER, W @ SD
Until his 9th inning, Doc Halladay looked to be a surefire winner of Stat of the Day. Unfortunately, his ninth inning consisted of three hits and a run allowed, so Roy had to drop into the "Honorable Mention" category for today. Still, anybody who watched the Phillies/Padres game yesterday saw it's pretty tough to have much better "stuff" than Halladay did yesterday. At one point between the 6th and 8th innings, he struck out six consecutive batters--the first three of which were looking. He threw 130 pitches, but 94 of them were strikes--that's what you call a workhorse.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Stat of the Day Line: April 24th

B. Roy (POR): 18 points (8-10 FG), 2 rebounds, 4 assists in 4th quarter vs. Mavericks
Brandon Roy made the Rose Garden shake as he
almost singlehandedly overcame an 18-point deficit
After playing only eight minutes off the bench in Game Two, Brandon Roy (see right) admitted he almost cried.  After his performance last night in Game Four, it might very well have been the Mavericks who were crying about Roy's playing time.  As far as they were concerned, he got way, way too much of it, as he led a furious Blazers comeback to tie the series at two games apiece. Through three quarters of last night's game, the former All-Star Roy was in the midst of another lackluster effort: six points on a 1-3 shooting and some free throws.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, Portland found itself in an 18-point hole.  As soon as the fourth quarter started, though, Roy turned it on and led a comeback for the ages.  In those twelve minutes, Brandon Roy scored 18 points--the Mavericks only scored 15 as a team--on 8-10 from the floor.  He also grabbed two rebounds and dished out four assists, meaning he scored or assisted on 27 of the 35 Trailblazers points in the final period.  Roy actually scored the Blazers' final eight points, including a four-point play with 1:06 remaining to make a three-point deficit into a one-point lead for Portland.  Due to their shooting guard's heroics, Portland outscored the Mavericks by 20 and pulled out a two-point victory in the final minute.  Who hit the tie-breaking and game-winning shot?  Brandon Roy, of course.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

NBA Playoffs: Night Seven

Now that the NBA playoffs have been under way for a full week, a clearer picture of how each first round series will unfold has emerged. Some teams have essentially booked their tickets to the second round (Miami, Chicago, Boston), others have a tenuous grip on their lead (Los Angeles, Dallas, Oklahoma City, Atlanta), while still others are fighting for playoff survival (San Antonio, Memphis, Orlando). Last night saw a couple of road wins, a last-second upset, and even an ejection-inducing fight.  Hit the jump to read about three exciting Game Three's in the NBA last night.

Stat of the Day: NBA Scoring Trends

Understanding the affect that experience has on a pro-basketball players scoring potential is an important question for both team owners, coaches and players themselves. Although years of observation can provide fairly accurate estimates, a statistical analysis may still reveal useful information about this relationship.

Using a data set from a popular econometrics textbook (Wooldrige) that contains salary and career statistics for 269 players in the National Basketball Association (NBA), this post's goal is to explain how experience affects a player's points per game. A non-linear regression could be used to quantify the relationship between points per game and experience after controlling for  years played in college and age. To see the results, hit the jump!

Friday, April 22, 2011

NBA Playoffs: Night Six

Eastern Conference
Indiana Pacers (8) vs, Chicago Bulls (1)
4/16: Game One--BULLS 104, Pacers 99 (1-0, Chicago)
4/18: Game Two--BULLS 96, Pacers 90 (2-0, Chicago)
4/21: Game Three--BULLS 88, Pacers 84 (3-0, Chicago)

The Bulls' strong play inside was too much
for Hibbert and the Pacers last night
Last night saw another ultra-close game in what I never thought would be a close series. Granted, the Bulls now have a commanding 3-0 lead; every game has been close, however, and the Pacers have shown that they can play 48 minutes of quality basketball against the East's top seed on a nightly basis. In every game, though, a Bulls players has come through big in the clutch to secure the win, and last night it was Derrick Rose hitting a driving layup with four defenders draped on him and under 20 seconds left in the game. The fact that he could even penetrate like that shows the big flaw for the Pacers all night long: mediocre play from their big men. Center Roy Hibbert and power forward Tyler Hansbrough each shot 3-12 from the floor, combining for only 16 points. They also weren't much of a force in the paint, with only 12 rebounds between them. Though those numbers are barely below their season averages (12.7 rebounds combined), that just isn't enough against a team like the Bulls. Most alarmingly for the Pacers, the team was outscored significantly when their two big men were on the floor. In 31 minutes of action, Hansbrough had a -13 +/- rating, as D-Rose and Co. slashed to the bucket all night long--including when it counted most.

Philadelphia 76ers (7) @ Miami Heat (2)
4/16: Game One--HEAT 97, 76ers 89 (1-0, Miami)
4/18: Game Two--HEAT 94, 76ers 73 (2-0, Miami)
4/21: Game Three--HEAT 100, 76ers 94 (3-0, Miami)

On a night when only eight players saw action for the Heat (even Mike Miller was a "DNP--Coach's Decision") and the bench contributed only 12 points, Dwayne Wade stepped up and led his team to a close road victory. The game was tight all night, and Philadelphia even had an eight-point lead in the third quarter. D-Wade was just too much for the less-talented 76ers, though, as he nearly got a triple-double. He shot 10-19 from the field and hit all 12 of his free throws en route to a game-high 32 points. Wade also grabbed 10 rebounds and dished out 8 assists--he even got a couple blocks for good measure. The task of guarding D-Wade seemed to tire out Andre Iguodala, who shot just 3-10 for the game. An honorable mention in last night's game goes--little surprise here--to LeBron James. He also made more than half of his field goal attempts (8-15, 24 points) and pulled down a game-high 15 rebounds to go with six assists. The Sixers showed some fight after a horrible Game Two performance, but the Heat's big stars were just too hot to handle.

Western Conference
Portland Trailblazers (6) @ Dallas Mavericks (3)
4/16: Game One--MAVERICKS 89, Trailblazers 81 (1-0, Dallas)
4/19: Game Two--MAVERICKS 101, Trailblazers 89 (2-0, Dallas)
4/21: Game Three--TRAILBLAZERS 97, Mavericks 92 (2-1, Dallas)

In cutting the Mavs' series lead to 2-1, Portland has gotten themselves back in the series--but they have to win Game Four as well to have a legitimate shot at the upset. After a rough Game Two in Dallas, Brandon Roy played a key role in the Trailblazers' Game Three win. Though Roy went scoreless in only eight minutes played on Tuesday night, he scored 16 points on 60% shooting and four assists in a nice rebound effort last night. Roy was critical to the Blazers' balanced scoring that led them two a hard-fought victory over the unbalanced Mavericks in Game Three. Portland had four players (Roy, Wesley Matthews, Andre Miller, and LaMarcus Aldridge) with at least 16 points scored. By contrast, the Mavericks had only two players (Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry) in double-figures. Shawn Marion and Jason Kidd combined for only 17 points and four assists, well below their season averages of 20.4 points and 9.6 assists per game. Those two players need to step, back up if the Mavericks are going to hold off the Blazers in this series.

Stat of the Day: NBA Playoffs Game 3

Data from 1991-2010 Playoffs
The adjacent table shows series in which the higher seed won the series, and only lost one game in the series. What game is the inferior team most likely to win? According to the table, the series-losing team is most likely to win game 3. The losing team's lone victory came in Game 3 in almost 62% of those matchups. It makes sense--the losing team is down 2-0, so there is always that sense of desperation. It also makes sense that the first game is least likely to be the only upset--it's pretty tough to win four straight playoff games under any conditions, much less after losing the first game (presumably at home). Additionally, it is also the their first home game in the series. Most teams play better at home, and the home crowd is usually in a frenzy trying motivate the team. This occurs in the first home game much more than it would in the second. The fans usually have an unavoidable drop in enthusiasm between the first home game and the second home game. So far this Playoffs we've had three Game 3s that were 2-0: Indiana and Chicago, Philadelphia and Miami, and Dallas against Portland. In the two Eastern Conference cases, however, the home team lost Game Three anyways (Chicago and Miami are both up 3-0), though the TrailBlazers did beat Dallas on their home court in game three. The Knicks have a chance to break that trend with a home game tonight against the Celtics, as do the Nuggets with a victory over the Thunder.

There's A Stat For That

Thursday, April 21, 2011

NHL Playoff Update: Western Conference

The past two nights of the NHL Playoffs have been nothing short of entertaining. We have seen multiple overtime games, and epic comeback, and even one team finish off a sweep. As I mentioned before, the NHL Playoffs fail to disappoint, and that will continue until the quest for Lord Stanley's Cup is complete. Hit the jump to see a review of the Western Conference Playoff Series' thus far:

NBA Playoffs: Night Five

Western Conference

Memphis Grizzles (8) @ San Antonio Spurs (1)
4/17: Game One--Grizzlies 101, SPURS 98 (1-0, Memphis)
4/20: Game Two--SPURS 93, Grizzlies 87 (Tie, 1-1)

This was another close game in what should not have been a close series. Fortunately for the Spurs faithful, San Antonio came out on top in this one. Though we earlier noted that the Grizzlies won Game One because of their superior front line play, that was not the difference in Game Two. Instead, the X-Factor in last night's game was the man who was absent from Game One entirely: Manu Ginobili (right). San Antonio's shooting guard sat out Sunday afternoon's Game One with an elbow sprain, but he was back in full force last night.  Ginobili had a surprisingly inefficient game last night--5-13 FG, 7-13 FT, and five turnovers. Despite the inefficiency, Manu filled up the stat sheet with seven rebounds, four assists, four steals, and a block. Most impressively, in 34 minutes played Ginobili had a +16 +/- rating, meaning the Spurs outscored the Grizzlies by 16 points while Manu was on the floor. The fact that he could be such a positive force for San Antonio even when shooting poorly suggests that Ginobili could be the key to a Spurs victory in round one.

New Orleans Hornets (7) @ Los Angeles Lakers (2)
4/17: Game One--Hornets 109, LAKERS 100 (1-0, New Orleans)
4/20: Game Two--LAKERS 87, Hornets 78 (Tie, 1-1)
In Game One, Kobe went off for 34 points (13-26 FG), four rebounds, and five assists all by himself. Last night, though, he and Pau Gasol couldn't even combine for those numbers. In the second consecutive subpar game for Gasol, the Lakers ground out a nine-point victory largely without help from their superstars. The pair shot only 25% from the floor, grabbed only one defensive rebound on 42 New Orleans misses, and turned the ball over as many times as they hit field goals (five).  The Lakers only won by controlling the ball--four more offensive rebounds and three fewer turnovers--and forcing the Hornets to shoot 39.1% from the floor. Though Kobe and Pau combined to score 43.5% of the Lakers' points during the regular season, they scored only 21.8% of all Laker points last night. In addition, they barely reached half of their season-average 15.3 rebounds/game (eight last night) and couldn't even reach half of their 8.0 assists/game (three last night). Given Chris Paul's dominance in Game One and the Lakers' lackluster offense in Game Two, Phil Jackson's squad is lucky to be heading to New Orleans tied. Had the Hornets been able to get more than three players in double-figures scoring last night (last game they had five), they might have been able to take advantage of a rare off night for the number six scorer in NBA history--Kobe Bryant.

Denver Nuggets (5) @ Oklahoma City Thunder (4)
4/17: Game One--THUNDER 107, Nuggets 103 (1-0, Oklahoma City)
4/20: Game Two--THUNDER 106, Nuggets 89 (2-0 Oklahoma City)
 Harden had seven points in the final three minutes 
of the first quarter, helping set the tone for OKC
If you had tuned in late and missed the first quarter of last night's game in Oklahoma City, you might have thought it was a pretty close affair. In fact, in no quarter did either team outscore the other by more than two points--after the first period, that is. In quarters two through four, the Thunder scored one more point than the Nuggets. In the first period, though, the Thunder outscored Denver by 16; they even led by as much as 22 early in the second, until a 12-2 Nuggets run made it a 12-point game. From then on, the teams stayed between 10 and 19 points apart; the Thunder never truly put the Nuggets away but Denver never really threatened either. The real difference in the game was the first quarter, after which Oklahoma City had a 31-15 lead. What happened in the first quarter that enabled the Thunder to take such a commanding lead? In short, they shot the ball a heckuva lot better than the Nuggets. While Oklahoma City shot 50% from the floor in the first (10-20), the Nuggets could only manage a 5-16 (31.3%) clip. At the same time, Denver shot 4-6 from the line in the opening period while the Thunder went 9-9. Denver just missed too many shots and gave the Thunder too many free throws to keep the game competitive early. Though the Nuggets got strong play from Ty Lawson most of the night (20 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists), the Thunder's scoring was too balanced: they had five players in double-figures and two over the twenty-point mark. Who led the way for Oklahoma City? Why, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, of course. Same old, same old.

Rotation Rankings: Week 3

Previous Rankings: Week 1 | Week 2

Week three of our Rotation Rankings: the statistical ranking of every rotation in Major League Baseball. For a better explanation, check out our debut rankings. More a fan of offense? Check out our Leadoff Rankings, based on every teams' first and second batters. As we get further into the season, these rankings are based mostly on season performance, with a small bias towards this week's performance when two teams were very comparable.

G: Games; ERA: Earned Run Average; WHIP: (Walks + Hits)/Innings Pitched; GS: Game Score; K/BB: Strikeout-to-walk ratio; K/9: Strikeouts per nine innings

30. (LW: 26) New York Mets (5-13)
This Week: 1-6, 5.80 ERA, 1.74 WHIP, 41.9 GS, 1.32 K/BB, 5.58 K/9
Season Stats: 4-10, 5.68 ERA, 1.63 WHIP, 44.3 GS, 1.58 K/BB, 6.96 K/9
R.A. Dickey became the first Mets starter to make it into the eighth inning last night, but he still managed to let up four runs on eight hits to the lowly Astros.

29. (LW: 27) Arizona Diamondbacks (8-8)
This Week: 2-2, 5.22 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 47.8 GS, 2.36 K/BB, 7.98 K/9
Season Stats: 5-7, 5.65 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 45.8 GS, 1.87 K/BB, 6.92 K/9
Not much changed this week for the D-Backs' starting rotation. Though they are striking batters out at a higher rate (almost 8 K/9), the staff ERA is still above 5.50 and their WHIP remains in the bottom half of the league.

28. (LW: 14) Cincinnati Reds (9-9)
This Week: 1-4, 7.92 ERA, 1.76 WHIP, 38.7 GS, 2.14 K/BB, 8.80 K/9
Season Stats: 7-5, 5.35 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 48.4 GS, 2.62 K/BB, 8.64 K/9
On four occasions in the last week, a Reds starter allowed five or more runs in a game. That includes a 3.1-inning, six-run outing from from youngster Travis Wood, who has a 5.73 ERA on the season.

(For number 27 all the way to #1, hit the jump!)

Stat Line of the Day: April 21st (Los Angeles Edition)

Last night was an interesting one in the City of Angels, as both local baseball teams won as well as the Lakers--if only the Kings had been playing!  It was such an eventful night for the largest city without an NFL franchise that we're going to devote our entire daily column to them.  Here's what happened in Los Angeles:

K. Bryant & P. Gasol (LA Lakers): 19 points (5-20 FG), 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 5 turnovers vs. Hornets
Kobe & Pau were out of sync all night in Los Angeles
In Game One, Kobe went off for 34 points (13-26 FG), four rebounds, and five assists all by himself.  Last night, though, he and Pau Gasol couldn't even combine for those numbers.  In the second consecutive subpar game for Gasol, the Lakers ground out a nine-point victory largely without help from their superstars.  The pair shot only 25% from the floor, grabbed only one defensive rebound on on 42 New Orleans misses, and turned the ball over as many times as they hit field goals.  The Lakers only won by controlling the ball--four more offensive rebounds and three fewer turnovers--and forcing the Hornets to shoot 39.1% from the floor.  Though Kobe and Pau combined to score 43.5% of the Lakers' points during the regular season, they scored only 21.8% of Laker points last night.  In addition, they barely reached half of their season-average 15.3 rebounds/game and couldn't even reach half of their 8.0 assists/game. 

J. Weaver (LA Angels): CG, 6 H, 1 R (1 ER), 0 BB, 8 K vs. Rangers
J. Garland (LA Dodgers): CG, 4 H, 1 R (1 ER), 2 BB, 4 K vs. Braves
Jered Weaver now has a legitimate
chance to go 6-0 in April
Who got the better performance from their starting pitcher last night--the Los Angeles Dodgers or the Los Angeles Angels (of Anaheim)? Jered Weaver (see left) of the Angels did have a better game score (79 to 77 for Garland), but that's just because he struck out four more batters than the Dodgers' starter.  They both gave up only one run though while throwing a complete game.  They both also allowed only six baserunners all game, for a WHIP of 0.67.  To Garland's credit last night, the Braves did not have a single at-bat with runners in scoring position all game.  Atlanta got a leadoff double in third inning, and then two sacrifice flies in a row brought the runner in to score.  Besides that, Garland did not allow a single runner past first base all night.  Weaver, on the other hand, held the Rangers to a 1-for-5 night with runners in scoring position.  Though he got the outs when necessary, also limiting his opponent to a single run over nine innings, Weaver had to dance in and out of trouble on several occasions.  The eight strikeouts, however, are a testament to Weaver's dominance, as they helped him wriggle out of the jams he got himself into.  I guess there is no clear winner--both Los Angeles starters turned in strong performances that essentially ensured their respective teams a victory.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

NBA Playoffs: Night Four

Eastern Conference

New York Knicks (6) @ Boston Celtics (3)
4/17: Game One--CELTICS 87, Knicks 85 (1-0, Boston)
4/19: Game Two--CELTICS 96, Knicks 93 (2-0, Boston)
Carmelo was great in Game Two, but
the Knicks still blew it in crunch time
Another tough loss for the Knickerbockers.  Mike D'Antoni's squad was without Chauncey Billups for the whole game and without Amare Stoudemire for the last two and a half quarters, as well.  Despite the adversity, the Knicks had a real chance to pull out a win in Boston, but once again their late-game execution was not up to par.  For his valiant efforts, though, the stat line of the game goes to Carmelo Anthony.  With the New York media saying that Melo had to step up in Game Two, the Knicks' newest superstar did just that.  In 44 minutes, Anthony poured in a game-high 42 points on only 30 field goal attempts (14-30 FG, 4-8 3PT, 10-11 FT).  He also pulled down 17 boards (including five on the offensive glass), dished out six assists, and got two blocks.  Though Carmelo was the center of the Knicks' offense all night long--especially in the second half with Amare out with back spasms--he only turned the ball over once.  He also spent a lot less time in 10-second isolation sets and more time slashing to the bucket and working with his teammates.  The Knicks kept the game close the whole way, immediately responding to a 12-2 Celtics run late in the third quarter with their own 15-2 burst to take the lead with eight minutes remaining.  Late-game execution was a huge problem, yet again, for the Knicks.  With under 20 seconds to go, nobody came to double team Kevin Garnett as he backed down--and then scored over--the Knicks' beanpole of a center, Jared Jeffries.  On the ensuing Knicks possession, Jeffries turned the ball over trying to make a feed inside, and the C's had the ball with a one-point lead and 4.3 seconds to go.  Then, showing a complete lack of intensity and focus, the Knicks took 3.5 seconds to foul Delonte West after the inbounds pass, effectively handing the game to Boston.  Maybe playing at home the next two games will finally get the Knicks over the top, but they better hope the games aren't close--because they looked lost in the final minute last night.

Atlanta Hawks (5) @ Orlando Magic (4)
4/16: Game One--Hawks 103, MAGIC 93 (1-0, Atlanta)
4/19: Game Two--MAGIC 88, Hawks 82 (Tied 1-1)
Just like in Game One, Dwight Howard was the focal point of the Magic offense; in Game Two, though, his strong play propelled Orlando to victory.  Howard posted 33 points and 19 rebounds--eight on the offensive boards--on only 12 field goal attempts.  The victory was also made possible by a marginally better performance from Superman's supporting cast.  Orlando had five other players with at least eight points scored, and Jameer Nelson came up big even on a poor shooting night.  He grabbed eight rebounds while out-hustling Kirk Hinrich all night for a +12 +/- rating.  The Magic needed everybody not named Dwight to step up, and they did.  Orlando needed a win in Game Two to even the series heading to Atlanta, and they got it.  From the get-go, you could see that Orlando was playing with more hustle and more aggressiveness.  They pulled in seven more offensive boards than the Hawks did, leading to 15 second chance points in the first half alone.  The Magic also missed only seven free throws in 36 attempts, while the Hawks missed six in only 17 attempts.  By creating extra shots for themselves, both in the paint and at the free throw line, the Magic were able to grind out this low-scoring affair.  Though that may sound like a winning formula, I also wonder what would happen to Orlando's fortunes if Superman had a rare off-night.

Western Conference

Portland Trailblazers (6) @ Dallas Mavericks (3)
4/16: Game One--MAVERICKS 89, Trailblazers 81 (1-0, Dallas)
4/19: Game Two-MAVERICKS 101, Trailblazers 89 (2-0, Dallas)
Heading into last night's Game Two in Dallas, the biggest storyline wasn't about the players--it was about the officiating.  Mavs fans were steamed that Danny Crawford would be officiating their game because the Mavericks were only 2-16 in playoff games that Crawford worked.  Fortunately, all that nonsense was put to rest last night, as the Trailblazers shot only one more free throw than the Mavericks.  Instead, the star players on each time filled up the box score in a game that was closer than the final score implies.  For the Mavs, Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd (see above) combined for 51 points on 16-33 shooting (48.5%).  They also totaled 11 rebounds and 12 assists, with only one turnover all game.  The stars were shining brightly for the visiting Trailblazers, as well.  LaMarcus Aldridge and newly-acquired Gerald Wallace piled up 42 points by shooting 51.7% from the floor.  They also had 17 rebounds, 8 assists, and only three turnovers.  The difference in the game, though, was ball control.  The Mavericks pulled down three more offensive rebounds than the Blazers did (10 versus seven), and they turned the ball over six fewer times (six versus 12).  That comes out to nine additional possessions for Dallas, which Dirk, Kidd, & Co. used to turn a one-point lead through three quarters into a comfortable victory at the American Airlines Center.

Stat Line of the Day: April 20th

Leadoff hitters: Arizona 5, Cincinnati 4--14 ABs, 7 hits, 3 walks, 3 HRs
This was really an impressive performance from Ryan Roberts and Kelly Johnson of the Diamondbacks, as well as Drew Stubbs and Brandon Phillips of the Reds. The Diamondbacks and Reds were ranked 17th and 8th, respectively, in our latest Leadoff Rankings, and if you've read those you know I'm a big believer in the idea that productivity from the top of the lineup translates into more wins in the long run. From
Roberts (right) hit his 3rd and 4th home runs
of the year on Tuesday night in Cincinnati
that standpoint, both teams deserved to win this game. Arizona's usual leadoff hitter, Willie Bloomquist, was taking a night off--not that Arizona needed him in this one. Roberts went deep twice, and Johnson added another home run off Cinci starter Sam LeCure, all in the first five innings of the game. Meanwhile, Reds leadoff hitter Drew Stubbs hit his fourth home run of the year, and Phillips had two singles plus a run scored and an RBI. In total, the four hitters had seven hits in fourteen ABs, plus three walks (for an OBP of .588), and a staggering twenty total bases, for a nice 1.428 slugging percentage. They also combined for seven runs, six RBIs, and two stolen bases--the one by Stubbs, plus one by Johnson. Arizona hasn't been hurting for production out of that leadoff slot (Bloomquist is batting .316), but finding a second hitter with some pop would be a nice boost for the offense. Most likely though, this is just a lucky aberration.

Honorable Mention

San Jose Sharks, 2nd period: 5 goals, 18 shots, 10 assists
Just forty-four seconds into the second period, the Sharks found themselves staring at a 4-0 deficit in the game after Brad Richardson's first of the playoffs. However, San Jose wasn't about to roll over and die--they did finish the season with 105 points, good enough for 4th in the entire NHL. A goal by Patrick Marleau at the 3:08 mark got San Jose on the board. That was followed three minutes later by a Ryane Clowne power play goal. Thirteen minutes into the period, Logan Couture scored his 6th career playoff goal (in 18 games over the last two seasons) to get the Sharks back within one. After Ryan Smyth put the Los Angeles Kings back up 5-3 thirty seconds later, the Sharks finished out the period with goals by Clowne and Joe Pavelski to tie the score up. A Devon Setoguchi goal in OT was the winner for San Jose, but it certainly couldn't have been done without that second period scoring burst.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The PED Test: Dick Allen, Chili Davis, and Ellis Burks

The graph below acts as a detector for Performance Enhancing Drug (PED) users.  The subsequent graphs show an obvious user in Ellis Burks; somebody who might have been using steroids in Chili Davis; and a normal career curve for comparison--the great Dick Allen. We'll start with the chart showing the top 10% and the bottom 10% for adjusted career OPS+ only:

A great way to detect an abnormal career progression; the graph uses OPS+ as a proxy to measure overall batting skill.  Relative OPS+ is measured by comparing 5-year periods of a player's career.  For instance, when 32 is seen on the age axis it represents the player's performance from age 28 through age 32, and age 33 represents ages 29 through 33 and so on.  The "relative" part is introduced when all of the player's other five-year periods are indexed to the player's best five-year period.  The best 5-year period is set to equal 100 and the rest of the 5-year periods are measured accordingly.  The chart above  displays the career progression in which 80% of players fit.  A couple of things to remember when viewing the chart is that the area between the 10% lines is 80% of all players measured. Additionally, the player's performance is compared to himself, so if Player A has an 85 rating at age 32 and Player B has an 89 rating at the same age, that does not necessarily mean that Player  B was a better player; it just means Player B closer to his peak than Player A. Hit the jump to see some new individual player charts, including a borderline Hall of Fame player and a nearly-certain PED user.

NHL Playoff Update: Eastern Conference

With all but one series (Kings-Sharks) through 3 games, the NHL Playoffs have not disappointed. With intense end-to-end action and spectacular goalie saves, these playoffs seem to live up to the hype every year. With all series' shifting to the lower seed's home-ice, we have seen two teams take commanding 3-0 leads, as well as two teams climb out of an 0-2 series hole, and temporarily avoid that fatal elimination game. Hit the jump to review this year's NHL Eastern Conference Playoffs thus far:

NBA Playoffs: Night Three

Last night saw two very different games in the NBA playoffs.  In one, the home (and higher-seeded) team dominated the opposition from the first whistle.  In the other, the heavily-favored hosts battled to the final whistle against a mediocre team, but still came out on top.  Though the second game sounds--to me, at least--more like one in which the Heat were playing, it was actually the Bulls that had to sweat it out in Game Two.  The Heat got some great offensive performances from their stars, and they even played defense, too.  Let's take a look back at last night's games and see what we can learn going forward.

AL East Notes: Pitching Panic in New York?

About three weeks into the Major League regular season, what may very well be the MLB’s "best division" has had one heck of a roller-coaster-type start. The Baltimore Orioles started off the season hot, but after a 6-1 start they are in the midst of an eight-game losing streak and have fallen to a  6-9 record. The Boston Red Sox, who were widely believed to be World Series contenders after signing Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, began their season with only one win in their first eight games. It is possible that the Red Sox are working out their issues as they have won three straight games coming out of the weekend. Despite the issues these two clubs have had, there is one other AL East powerhouse that might have some problems even though they have a winning record. To find out who, hit the jump!

Stat Line of the Day: April 19th

Red Sox Pitchers: CG, 2 H, 1 BB, 3 K, 1 R, 111 pitches vs. Blue Jays
Matsuzaka had his first quality start of the season
After an incredibly slow start, with newly-signed superstar Carl Crawford batting well under the Mendoza line, the Red Sox were in danger of watching the rest of the division pull away from them before the weather even warmed up in Boston. However, the tables might finally be starting to turn up in Beantown, as the pitching the Red Sox have sorely needed starts to come around. After the rotation put up a 5.51 ERA between April 7th and 13th, that's dropped down to 1.80 in the last four games, including only two earned runs in the last 20 innings. Tonight, it was Daisuke "Dice-K" Matsuzaka going seven shutout innings before turning it over to Alfredo Aceves and Tim Wakefield, who pitched an inning each to close out the Blue Jays. In the other half of the game, the Red Sox offense put up nine runs, tying a season high set in an April 8 win over the Yankees. This wasn't the first 70+ game score--where 50 is considered a "quality start"--the Red Sox have had this year (they've had two others), but they've also had five starters putting up a game score under 30. The Red Sox still have enough time to pull back to .500 by May, but they're quickly running out of time. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

NBA Playoffs: Nights One and Two

Now that a full weekend of playoff basketball is in the books, and every series has seen at least one game played, let's look back at the first weekend of the NBA playoffs.  Each series has played Game One, and Game Two for half of the series is tonight--the other half play tomorrow.  Though the results of the first game in a best-of-seven series do not necessarily foreshadow the remaining three to seven games, key trends start to develop and key players begin to emerge as difference makers. So with that in mind, let's take a look back at the first weekend of games, and we'll identify a stat line of each game as well.