Welcome to Edition Five of Hail or Rail. With the NBA and NHL playoffs in full swing and Major League Baseball well underway, it’s been a wild few weeks in sports. This time around, we feature a few repeat offenders on our scale and we even get a little bit political. Off we go…
1 point – Cleveland Indians
Not that anyone’s been paying attention to Major League Baseball yet but the Cleveland Indians have snuck off to an impressive 23-11 start, a better record than the Philadelphia Phillies at one-third the price. Raise your hand if you had the Tribe finishing anywhere near the top of the AL Central.
Cleveland is doing it on both sides of the baseball. They’re second in on-base percentage, fourth in batting average, fifth in slugging percentage and seventh in runs scored. Travis Hafner is off to a torrid start, hitting .337, which ranks fifth in the American League. We’ll see if his health holds up considering he hasn’t played a full season since 2007.
Cleveland’s starting pitching also ranks first in quality starts. Justin Masterson leads their rotation with a 2.11 ERA and wins in his last five outings.
The 2011 Indians are doing the best they can to make Cleveland fans forget LeBron James is on his way to bringing home repeated championships in Miami.
2 points. – Dallas Mavericks
And that quickly, the Lakers’ season is over.
Since I no longer have a horse in this playoff race, I’ll secretly admit to rooting for the Mavericks to win it all. I mean, who outside of South Florida can bring themselves to rooting for the Miami Heat with a clean conscience?
Dallas’ long-suffering veterans, Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd, have a combined 28 years in the NBA, with three Finals appearances and zero rings between them. They’ve both been on good, but not great teams. This year might finally be the exception.
In the final game of their Lakers sweep, Dirk and company made the two-time defending champions look like they didn’t belong on the same floor. The Mavericks were deeper, hungrier and dare I say, better.
The seven-foot Nowitzki is being his usual self… or is he? He’s averaging 26 points and eight rebounds while shooting 50% from the floor, which is on par with his career playoff numbers. The only difference this time around is he wants it more. I haven’t heard a single sound bite yet where he doesn’t mention how he still has nightmares about coming up in the 2005-6 Finals.
He might just get his shot at a rematch.
3 points – Rajon Rondo
Willis Reed has become the measuring stick for playing hurt, then returning to the floor in dramatic fashion to inspire his team. Despite a torn thigh muscle, Reed limped out of the locker room in Game Seven in the 1970 Finals to the roar of the Madison Square crowd. The Knicks went on to win that game, and an NBA Championship, with Reed becoming a part of NBA folklore.
But Reed’s elbow wasn’t dislocated. Rondo’s was… and gruesomely.
After getting leg-whipped to the ground by Dwyane Wade in Game Three, Rondo braced his fall with his left arm, only to have it snap backwards. If you think that description was jarring, wait until you see the video replay.
No arm? No problem. Rondo, whose season, if not career, we ALL thought was over, returned to the game to ensure victory. Everyone who had just seen his arm bend ninety degrees in the opposite direction watched in disbelief.
In the end, Miami defeated Boston in five games but Rondo’s toughness will never again be questioned.
4 points – Barack Obama & the US Navy Seals
What kind of dunce would I be if I didn’t give the President and his batch of Navy Seals top billing in this week’s Hail or Rail.
I don’t know whether offing Osama Bin Laden and dumping him into the ocean will provide any of us with closure from the attacks of 9/11 but it’s a step in the right direction.
I was working that Sunday night when the President made his announcement. We turned down the music and all listened intently, cheering as he announced the end of a sad chapter in our nation’s history.
Proud to be an American? Yes, sir. I am.
1 point – San Antonio Spurs
In the off-season, every team but one, the eventual champion, has issues to address. This summer, some will have more than others. It’s safe to put the Spurs in that category.
Unfortunately for San Antonio, a player like Tim Duncan only comes along once a generation. After watching him score only 13 points per game in the Memphis series, ten points below his career playoff average, it’s clear his dominant years are behind him.
I’m not going to go all Magic Johnson and suggest R.C. Buford “blow up” the Spurs but they do need to find an injection of youth. With younger teams like Memphis, Oklahoma City, Atlanta, Chicago and Miami not going anywhere any time soon, the Spurs will have to match wits, and more importantly legs, because experience just isn’t cutting it anymore.
2 points – Los Angeles Lakers
I’m not going to crack on the Lakers too much. Others have already done that for me.
For those of us who anointed them Western Conference champions without giving any other team a fair shake, their recent blowout was revealing. Between Pau Gasol’s breakups and Andrew Bynum’s meltdowns, Mark Cuban is finally having the last laugh and probably a juicy Kobe beef steak to boot.
Throughout the entire Dallas series, it looked as if the Lakers felt entitled while the Mavs merely wanted to be… well, titled.
Anyone who remembers the Malice at the Palace knew it wouldn’t be long before Ron Artest reminded us he was Ron Artest. He was suspended for Game Three after intentionally fouling back up Dallas point guard JJ Barea. Then in Game Four, teammates Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum got a little Ar-testy themselves, both getting ejected for flagrant fouls, probably to spare themselves from being part of that beat-down.
Poor Barea became the Lakers whipping boy but in the end it was the Mavericks that did most of the whipping.
While Dallas moves on, the Lakers will have their share of off-season questions to answer, most notably who will be their head coach.
3 points – Free agent BFFs
Sure, watching Dwyane Wade and LeBron James dunk over everybody is entertaining (unless you’re a Celtics fan) but how droll will the Association become if these two plus Bosh rattle off five or six consecutive championships like they promised?
The NBA is already top-heavy. Will fans lose interest if only a few teams in the league concentrate all the star power, leaving other teams with rosters of the less fortunate?
If (small if, not big if) Chris Paul and Dwight Howard jump ship to some of the league’s larger markets, i.e., New York, Los Angeles, that will leave the league with ten of its biggest names concentrated in select markets creating two or three super-teams, the rest of the league with average teams and ultimately making the regular season that much more unwatchable and irrelevant.
4 points – Magic Johnson
Is there anyone out there more than Magic Johnson these days that deserves a good helping of STFU? After the Lakers got demolished by the Dallas Mavericks, Magic went on record as saying the Lakers need to “blow this team up.”
I understand Magic is pissed. He has every right to be. He’s been the face of the franchise for over thirty years and had to sit and watch his former team fail to show up in an elimination game. He’s probably a bigger Laker fan than Jack Nicholson and Dyan Cannon combined. But blow them up? Didn’t this team just win back-to-back championships, as well as 57 games this year to earn themselves the second seed in the West. A bad season only by Lakers’ standards. Memo to Magic, the Lakers can’t win it all every year.
I understand that as an analyst, Magic has a job to do but Lakers ownership must wince every time he takes the mic after a Lakers loss, even moreso than my bar clientele when I take to karaoke.