Saturday, March 3, 2012

2012 MLB Preview– Washington Nationals

Rewind the clock to 3 years ago in an effort to gain a little perspective on the Washington Nationals’ makeover. Their opening day lineup in 2009 was: Lastings Milledge, Cristian Guzman, Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn, Nick Johnson, Austin Kearns, Ronnie Belliard, and Jesus Flores. Their starting 5 was John Lannan, Scott Olsen, Daniel Cabrera, Shairon Martis, and rookie Jordan Zimmermann.

That team started 2-7 and ended up losing 103 games.

Just 3 short years later, the 2012 lineup could feature these 8 guys: Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, Jayson Werth, Michael Morse, Adam LaRoche, Wilson Ramos, Ryan Zimmerman, and Bryce Harper (maybe?). Their starting 5 is locked in with Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Edwin Jackson, Gio Gonzalez, and either Chien-Ming Wang or Ross Detwiler.

Now that’s an impressive overhaul.

[2012 MLB Preview Central]

Having locked up their franchise player Ryan Zimmerman and showing a relentless attitude toward building a contender, the Nationals may finally be ready to give the Phillies and Braves a run for the NL East crown.

3 Up

Best Case Scenario for 2012

Is it too ridiculous to say that this team could shock the world and win the National League East? I’m not so sure about that. Not only are the Nats extremely talented, but they are young and confident. Expect their offense to take the next step and move into the top half in terms of run production. Their pitching staff was passable in 2011 and should dramatically improve this year with the additions of Gio and Edwin. The bullpen still features Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard, which makes the 8th and 9th innings a safe place to be. Hey, stranger things have happened – the Nationals could win this division.

Most Important Nationals

Ryan Zimmerman just inked a 6-year, $100M contract extension that will keep him around DC for a long time. Does a guy who is a .288 lifetime hitter averaging 21 homers and 82 RBI’s/season deserve that kind of cheese? Well, apparently so, and now that he has it he needs to stay on the diamond and be the 162 game/season leader that this team sorely needs. Injuries have not been kind to Zimmerman, who has managed just 137.5 games on average since becoming a full-time player 6 years ago, including just 101 a season ago. He has a great ballpark to play in and a talented roster surrounding him. His time to be elite is upon us.

From a pitching perspective, Stephen Strasburg is the most important National for a variety of reasons. First, he’s quite simply their best pitcher. Second, he turned Washington into a national team of interest from day 1. Third, his ability to be one of the top 5 pitchers in the game will legitimize this franchise for years to come. Strasburg, entering his first full season away from Tommy John surgery, will be on the Jordan Zimmermann plan of 160 innings and out. You can bet the house that they will be some dynamic, eye-popping innings. He should approach 200 strikeouts even with the workload cap. Buckle in, it’s about to get really fun in D.C.

Potential Breakout Players

Offensively, how could it be anyone other than Bryce Harper? The Nationals are going to take a long look at the 19-year old phenom this spring to see if he can handle the rigors of a full major league season. The smart money is on him playing significant games this year for Davey Johnson’s team. Whether that is from Opening Day or not is another matter. The Nats need left-handed pop in their lineup and Harper is ready to provide it. When he joins the big club the Nationals will have the most intriguing lineup this side of Kansas City. Ross Detwiler will be battling Chien-Ming Wang for the 5th starter spot. If he gets it, he has the ability to be solid. In 10 starts last year for the Nats he only gave up more than 3 earned runs once. He was consistent and at age 26 still has plenty of upside. With the big 4 taking up the marquee, Detwiler could be a sneaky good addition to the pitching staff, ala Vance Worley in 2011 for the Phillies. He isn’t a huge strikeout guy but he possesses above average command and should have some run support to lean on.

3 Down

Worst Case Scenario

The Nationals won 80 games last year. When you factor in the talent upgrades to the pitching staff, the floor is probably a .500 season. Make no mistake; the Nationals are here to contend for a division title in 2012. If they can keep their pitchers out of Tommy John-land, things should be just fine. They do need to see progress from Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa from an offensive standpoint as well. If those 2 players live up to their potential, no one will be talking about the Nationals and worst-case scenarios anymore.

Areas of Concern

In the past few years the Nationals have had their top 2 pitching prospects endure season-ending elbow surgeries and their star catcher got kidnapped. All of this on top of a slew of injuries to franchise player Ryan Zimmerman. Oh, and don’t forget the lackluster season they got from prized free agent Jayson Werth. $126M over 7 years should get a better return on investment than a .232 average and 58 RBI’s. To put it another way, the Nationals haven’t exactly been living in Lucky Charms Village. They are either a cursed franchise or due some good fortune. Bet on the latter.

Who Needs to Bounce Back From a Down 2011

To quote Lois Einhorn from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, “What do you know…about PRESSURE!?” Jayson Werth had been living the good life in the shadows of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley in Philadelphia; however, when a rebuilding team drops $126M in your lap, the spotlight couldn’t be any brighter, and Werth’s blemishes appeared for all to see. The 19 steals he grabbed was the only statistic he was able to maintain from his Philly days. If the Nationals want to be elite and challenge Werth’s former team, they will need him to break out of his funk and get back to being the power/speed menace they thought they paid for. Danny Espinosa and Ian Desmond also need to wake up their bats before Washington’s front office starts getting wandering eyes. The keystone combination gets a little more rope due to their slick fielding up the middle but they both have the strength and legs to do a lot of damage on offense. If they can start getting on base with regularity, Washington’s offense could be truly special.

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NCAA Basketball: Bubble Team Breakdown- Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC

by John Huffstetler

Updated through Friday February 24th

Big Ten

Locks- Mich St., Ohio St., Mich, Indiana, Wisconsin, Purdue

Northwestern- Record- 17-12 (7-10)
Games Remaining- at Iowa
Ken Pom Rating- 53
Ken Pom SOS- 5
Quality Wins (vs. Ken Pom Top 75)- Mich St., LSU (neutral), SHall (neutral), at Ill, Minn
Bad Losses- None
Record vs. Other Bubble Teams- 2-1- Wins over SHall, Ill and Losses to Ill

In or Out right now- Out- If the Wildcats don't make the NCAA field, they will look back and regret the two OT losses to Michigan. Those games or the 2-point loss this week to Ohio St. could have them in the field right now. As they stand, they have no losses outside of the top 69 on Ken Pom and have a strong quality win over Michigan St. They most likely need a win over Iowa and at least one win in the conference tourney to get in the field.

Illinois- Record- 17-13 (6-11 in Big Ten)
Games Remaining- at Wis
Ken Pom Rating- 69
Ken Pom SOS- 12
Quality Wins (vs. Ken Pom Top 75)- Ohio St., Mich St., Gonzaga, St. Bona, Minn, at NWestern
Bad Losses- at Penn St., at Neb
Record vs. Other Bubble Teams- 1-1- Wins over NWestern and Losses to NWestern

In or Out right now- Out- On January 18th, Illinois looked like a guarantee to make the NCAA tourney, but after losing 10 of their last 12 games, the Illini are currently on the outside of the field. They have several high quality wins, including victories over two top 10 squads in Michigan St. (#3 in Ken Pom) and Ohio St. (#2 in Ken Pom). They are currently barely on the bubble simply because of those high quality wins and the opportunity they still have to earn a high quality win at Wisconsin. A win at Wisky and a few Big 10 tourney wins could still get them in because of the high strength of schedule.

Big 12

Locks- Kansas, Missouri, Baylor, Kan St., Iowa St.

Texas- Record- 19-11 (9-8 in Big 12)
Games Remaining- at Kan
Ken Pom Rating- 27
Ken Pom SOS- 21
Quality Wins (vs. Ken Pom Top 75)- at UCLA, Temp, Iowa St., Kan St.
Bad Losses- None
Record vs. Other Bubble Teams- 0-1- Loss to NC St.

In or Out right now- In- Texas has played a difficult schedule in a top heavy Big 12 conference. 7 of their losses were against Ken Pom top 20 teams. Additionally, they have lost 7 games this year by 6 points or less, showing they can be competitive in the tournament. A win at Kansas would guarantee a berth, but they by no means need it to get in.


Locks- Kentucky, Florida, Vandy, Alabama

Miss St.- Record- 20-10 (7-8 in SEC)
Games Remaining- vs. Ark
Ken Pom Rating- 82
Ken Pom SOS- 77
Quality Wins (vs. Ken Pom Top 75)- Ariz (Neutral), WVa, Tenn, Bama, at Vandy, LSU
Bad Losses- at Ark, at Ole Miss, UGa, at Aub
Record vs. Other Bubble Teams- 3-0- Wins over WVa, Ariz, Bama

In or Out right now- In- The Bulldogs have no business being in this spot. They earned several quality wins early in the year, but have floundered down the stretch with 5 straight losses, including two bad losses to mediocre Georgia and Auburn squads. They are still currently in the field, but they need to take care of business and earn a victory over Arkansas and at least one win in the SEC tourney to stay in.

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Friday, March 2, 2012

NCAA Basketball: Bubble Team Breakdown- Big East

by John Huffstetler

Updated through Friday March 2nd

Big East

Locks- Syracuse, GTown, Marquette, L-Ville, NDame, Cincinnati

UConn- Record- 17-12 (7-10 in Big East)
Games Remaining- vs Pitt
Ken Pom Rating- 39
Ken Pom SOS- 11
Quality Wins (vs. Ken Pom Top 75)- Florida St. (neutral), Harvard, at SFla, WVA, at NDame, SHall
Bad Losses- at Rutgers, at Prov
Record vs. Other Bubble Teams- 4-2- Wins over Harv, SFla, SHall, WVa and Losses to UCF, SHall

In or Out right now- In- After the last loss at Providence, UConn moves dangerously close to the bubble. They do have several quality wins over Ken Pom top 75 teams; however, at best they will be 8-10 in the Big East entering selection Sunday, and they have lost 11 of 16 games overall. Traditionally, the committee punishes teams with losing conference records and teams that struggle to close the season. The head-to-head wins over West Virginia and South Florida help their cause here when comparing several equally average resumes. UConn needs to get a win over Pitt to end the year and win at least one round in the conference tourney to retain their position.

WVA- Record- 18-12 (8-9 in Big East)
Games Remaining- at SFla
Ken Pom Rating- 45
Ken Pom SOS- 19
Quality Wins (vs. Ken Pom Top 75)- GTown, Kan St. (Neutral), Miami (Fl.), Akron, Marshall (Neutral), Cincy
Bad Losses- Kent St. (Home), at St. John's, Pitt (Home)
Record vs. Other Bubble Teams- 1-3- Wins over Mia (Fl.) and Losses to Miss St., SHall, UConn

In or Out right now- Out- The home collapse against Marquette severely damaged their tourney chances. Like UConn, West Virginia has several quality wins but needs a few more to get in the field. A win at suddenly hot South Florida would go a long way toward getting them back in. With a 3-7 record in their last 10, another loss would be devastating.

SHall- Record- 19-10 (8-9 in Big East)
Games Remaining- at Depaul
Ken Pom Rating- 43
Ken Pom SOS- 45
Quality Wins (vs. Ken Pom Top 75)- GTown, VCU (Neutral), St. Joe's (Neutral), WVA, UConn
Bad Losses- Rutgers (Home)
Record vs. Other Bubble Teams- 4-3- Wins over VCU, St. Joe's, WVa, UConn and Losses to NWestern, SFla, UConn

In or Out right now- In- The loss to Rutgers was their first this year outside the Ken Pom top 100; as a result, Seton Hall enters this weekend in need of a win at DePaul to finish .500 in conference. Their situation is as tenuous as UConn's with any loss potentially dropping them from the field. They don't have as many quality wins as UConn or West Virginia, but they still have defeated both teams this year. The Pirates currently slide into the field as an 11 or 12 seed.

SFlorida- Record- 19-11 (12-5 in Big East)
Games Remaining- vs. WVa
Ken Pom Rating- 62
Ken Pom SOS- 13
Quality Wins (vs. Ken Pom Top 75)- SHall, Cincy, L-Ville
Bad Losses- Penn St. (Neutral), at Aub
Record vs. Other Bubble Teams- 1-3- Win over SHall and Losses to SMiss, VCU, UConn

In or Out right now- In- The Bulls played their way into the field with impressive victories over Cincy and L-Ville. With a 12-5 record in conference play and only 4 losses this year, South Florida is a difficult team to keep out of the field. They have leapfrogged UConn, Seton Hall, and West Virginia this week in the conference pecking order, and a win over West Va will secure an NCAA berth heading into the conference tourney.

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NCAA Basketball: Bubble Team Breakdown- ACC

by John Huffstetler

Updated through Friday March 2nd


Locks- UNC, Duke, Florida St., Virginia

Miami Fl.- Record- 17-11 (8-7 in ACC)
Games Remaining- vs. BC
Ken Pom Rating- 41
Ken Pom SOS- 27
Quality Wins (vs. Ken Pom Top 75)- Duke (away), UMass, Clem, VaTech, Florida St.
Bad Losses- Maryland (away), Ole Miss (away)
Record vs. Other Bubble Teams- 0-5- Losses to Pur, WVA, Mem, and NC St. x 2

In or Out right now- OUT- The lack of quality wins coupled with the poor record against other bubble teams have the Canes currently out of the field. The win over Florida St. was huge for their cause and kept them alive for the tourney, but the loss at NC St. puts them behind the Wolfpack for at-large consideration in a conference lacking respect this season.

NC St.- Record- 19-11 (8-7 in ACC)
Games Remaining- at VaTech
Ken Pom Rating- 58
Ken Pom SOS- 59
Quality Wins (vs. Ken Pom Top 75)- Tex (Neutral), Mia Fl. x 2
Bad Losses- GaTech (Home)
Record vs. Other Bubble Teams- 3-0- Wins over Tex and Mia Fl. x 2

In or Out right now- In- NC St. does not have a "signature win" this year, despite their numerous opportunities (2nd half leads against Syr, Duke, Ind, Vandy, and UVA). They have avoided bad losses most of the season, and they took care of both bubble opponents. The sweep of the Canes proves huge for them at this point in their quest to join the field.

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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

OVI is Back Baby!

by Justin Mayo

Now, I know this may be a little premature, and the Caps are not playing at the highest level right now, but the Great Eight is back. Mark it. After missing one game with an apparent lower body injury he picked up at the end of that laugher in Carolina, Ovechkin has four points in three games including a huge game winning goal last night, in overtime, at home, against a feisty Islanders squad led by a stout goaltending effort by Evgeni Nabokov.

After finding themselves down a pair of goals late in the third last night, it was Troy Brouwer who (finally) stepped up to put away two goals for the home team to push the game into overtime. Then the real magic happened.

Ovi circles in the defensive zone as he picks up the puck. Ovi powers down the left wing. Two defenders. One Ovechkin. The crowd surges and rises in unison. That crescendo of noise we were so used to hearing when Ovechkin carried the puck up ice returns to form. It's like a wave. Using the defender as a screen (I like), instead of that bullshit curl and drag, he lets go with a wrist shot that beats Nabakov five hole. Verizon erupts.

Just a good, hard wrist shot. Nothing fancy. Pure power. This is the Ovechkin of old. Yes, it is only one game, but he is showing signs of returning to form. Yes, he is still taking chances, foregoing some defensive responsibility in favor of an extra step up ice, but that is also who he is. A true goal scorer. He is not Sidney Crosby. With all do respect, he is a Russian assassin, not some fucking no talent ass clown Canuck (what, I said with all do respect).

It took the Caps 56 minutes and 31 seconds to solve Nabakov after outshooting (I like) the Islanders 34-24 including a 13 to three advantage in a first period where the Caps found themselves down a goal. One of the staples of this Caps team was they always outshot their opponents. Not this year. They've struggled to get to 30 shots on goal when, in seasons past, they would routinely eclipse the 40 shot barrier. They currently rank 23rd in the league with 28.0 shots per game. That's not good enough. Too compare, over the last three seasons the Caps have averaged 32.5 shots per game finishing in the top three in 08-09 and 09-10 respectively. Last year they fell off a bit, and ranked 12th with a still respectable 31.3 shots per game. Part of the current seasons shooting woes has to be attributed to the absence of Backstrom and Green, but getting shots on net has to be a priority.

The Caps probably need a miracle to make a Stanley Cup run this year, but at least he has a name. It's Nicklas Backstrom.

You might be saying, the Caps aren't even a lock to make the playoffs and you're talking about The Cup? Yes, this team is capable of making a run if they get hot. Anyone can win in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. See Philadelphia Flyers, 2009-2010 NHL season. They needed 81 games, three periods of regulation, an overtime and a shootout to overcome the Rangers and clinch the playoffs on the last day of the regular season. They lost in game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals to a Chicago Blackhawks team who steamrolled through the regular season and playoffs that year to win it all. With 19 games remaining, the Caps currently sit in 8th place and have some big games left on the schedule against playoff caliber teams including a five game road trip in mid March which includes games against Chicago and Detroit on back to back nights. Sufficed to say, they have plenty of opportunities to get hot.

Ovi looks to be returning to the old Alex at just the right time. Mike Green is back in the lineup, getting his legs under him and helping the power play out. Yea, they went 0-4 last night on the power play, but it looks better with Green out there. That's a fact. He'll get his goals and the power play will come around. Goaltending is an issue, as always seems to be the case for this Caps team entering the playoffs. Who do they start? You have to pick one and hope they get hot. Vokoun seems like the most logical choice, but he is so inconsistent. Who knows. Nevertheless, the ONLY way this team makes a run in the playoffs is if a healthy Nicky Backstrom is back on the ice. Period.

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Midseason NBA Playoff Predictions

With another terrible All-Star weekend in the books (Jeremy Evans? Really?), it's time to start seriously looking at who will be making a run at the post-season down the stretch.

In the Eastern Conference, the elite eight have pretty much come into focus barring a magical run from Kyrie Irving (who is going to be a stud, by the way) or the Milwaukee Bucks, which seems almost impossible unless Danny Ainge decides to blow up the Celtics. However, playoff spots 3-8 could fall in any order with the unpredictable Knicks, the exciting 76ers, and the Dwight Howard-led (or not?) Magic all in the mix. The Western Conference is more wide open than ever, and the race for seeding, combined with this intense condensed schedule, should make for some of the most interesting pre-playoff basketball we've seen in some time.

Eastern Conference - First Round

1. Miami Heat v.s. 8. Boston Celtics - The aging Celtics are in the worst spot in the NBA, and that's the middle of the pack. The best move for the franchise might be to blow things up and trade some of their key pieces to contenders for either young players or draft picks. Ray Allen's contract is expiring and I'm sure just about every team at the top would love to rent him out for the rest of year. But all signs point to Danny Ainge keeping the squad together and making one more run, and if that's the case I see them landing the eight spot and a juicy matchup in Miami. Paul Pierce has owned LeBron in the past and Kevin Garnett exposed Chris Bosh's lack of experience last year, but the Heat were able to overcome the adversity last year and there's no reason they shouldn't be able to handle the Celts this year. A short series against the Heat would probably signal the end of an era in Boston.
Prediction - Heat in 5

2. Chicago Bulls v.s. 7. Atlanta Hawks - Like the Celtics, the Hawks are in NBA No-Man's-Land. Joe Johnson is just good enough to get you in the playoffs, Al Horford is good but doesn' t takes games over, and Josh Smith is the laziest and perhaps most frustrating player in the NBA (though Michael Beasley is doing his best to close the gap). They do seem to have a nice young point guard in Jeff Teague, but until some changes are made (and I think finally giving up and trading Josh Smith might have to be one of them) this team will routinely find itself in the bottom half of the Eastern Conference. And a matchup against the lock-down Bulls won't bode well for Atlanta.
Prediction - Chicago in 5

3. Orlando Magic v.s. 6. Indiana Pacers - It seems as if Dwight Howard won't be traded this season, and I'm really not sure how I feel about it. I understand that if the Magic lose him without getting anything in return it will be devastating to the city, but look at what happened to the Cavs. If the Magic lose Howard, they'll be a guaranteed lottery team next year, and that, combined with the chance that Howard stays, might be better than what they've been offered by the teams he wants to play for. Andrew Bynum would be the ideal compensation, but apparently Howard doesn't want to play for the Lakers, and we know that the Clippers won't trade Blake Griffin, so I don't really see an offer the Magic can't refuse (Please, don't be the "Brook Lopez is an emerging young star" guy). So I'm fine with putting the ball in Howard's court, having him risk becoming the next LeBron, and tanking next season if he leaves, allowing them to bring in a top 3 pick (Austin Rivers?) and go from there. But as for the rest of this season, with Howard staying I think they'll climb into that wide open third spot because they play elite defense, are extremely well coached, and Howard is the biggest game-changer in the league. The Pacers are a feel good story, but I think they'll start to slip (they're currently in 3rd) down the stretch and don't think they could match the Magic in the postseason. Roy Hibbert is a good young center, Danny Granger is a borderline All-Star, Darren Collison is a legit starting point guard, and Paul George has had a breakout season, but this team needs a face to it's franchise (Eric Gordon, anyone?) before it can compete against top notch teams.
Prediction - Orlando in 6

4. Philadelphia 76ers v.s. 5. New York Knicks - I think that Jeremy Lin is a very legitimate NBA starting point guard, but I also think the whole Linsanity thing will calm down as the season moves forward. The Knicks are still Carmelo's team, they just now have a point guard. This would be a very interesting postseason matchup and to me it would all come down to Amar'e Stoudamire. We know what Carmelo will do, we know what Lin will do, and we know what Tyson Chandler will do. What we don't know is whether Amar'e will continue to look as washed up as Kevin Garnett. He will have plenty of time to gel with this new-look Knicks squad over the remainder of the season, and if he can even get close to the level he was at last year New York will have too much for Philadelphia. I think he'll be somewhere in the middle, showing flashes at times but still not completely comfortable with being the third wheel, kind of like Chris Bosh. That should be enough to get by the young and exciting 76ers, though not by much. Andre Iguodala could give Melo fits, but I feel like this team is sort of like Indiana. They're one piece away.
Prediction - New York in 7

Western Conference - First Round

1. Oklahoma City Thunder v.s. 8. Minnesota Timberwolves - I just couldn't help myself. The T-Wolves are my favorite team to watch since, maybe ever. Ricky Rubio's jump shot may need improvement, but he's a surprisingly crafty defender (1st in the league in steals and charges taken), and he's got that elite passing gene that only comes around every once in a generation (Magic, Bird, and maybe Steve Nash are the only people I've ever seen pass like him). That type of player does wonders for a team, because the unselfishness spreads and the team chemistry skyrockets. They're legitimately in the playoff race at 17-17, have a legitimate star player in Kevin Love, have a bunch of nice young pieces (Rubio, Derrick Williams, Nikola Pekovic, sometimes Beasley), and might make a move at the trade deadline to upgrade at the 2 or 3 positions (if only they hadn't whiffed on the Wesley Johnson pick). So while at gunpoint I might go with the Denver Nuggets or Houston Rockets to win this spot, it's not at all ridiculous to put the T-Wolves here, and it gave me a chance to gush about Rubio (By the way, this needs to be the last year that Rubio isn't in the all star game. He'd actually make it worth watching). Regardless, the eight seed will get run over by the Thunder.
Prediction - Oklahoma City in 4

2. San Antonio Spurs v.s. 7. Portland Trail Blazers - Can you imagine this Trail Blazers team with a healthy Greg Oden? Put an elite defender next to LaMarcus Aldridge in the post, and you're talking about a possible title contender. Instead, Oden is the unluckiest player in the league and might never play again, and the Blazers are left one piece away from making serious noise. They aren't to be taken lightly, however, as they do have nice young players in Raymond Felton (though he's struggled recently) and Gerald Wallace. That still won't be enough to get by the Spurs, though.
Prediction - San Antonio in 5

3. L.A. Clippers v.s. 6. Memphis Grizzlies - The Grizzlies are a terrifying matchup for any top team in the West. They're incredible defensively, and are struggling a bit offensively but that should change once Zach Randolph gets healthy. Memphis has the ability to shut down the new-look Clips with elite perimeter defenders Mike Conley and Tony Allen, and could take advantage of L.A.'s lack of depth and experience. That said, I'll give the very slight edge to the Clippers here because of one reason, and that's CP3. I wrote back in mid-January that I thought Chris Paul was the most clutch player in the NBA, and he's been proving me correct since then, consistently dominating 4th quarters. He came to L.A. to compete for a title and remind everyone what he could do, and I just don't see him going down in the first round. It's also worth noting that Blake Griffin's post game is improving almost every night.
Prediction - L.A. in 7

4. Dallas Mavericks v.s. 5. L.A. Lakers - What Dallas has done this year has been nothing short of remarkable. They seemingly gave up on the idea of repeating by letting go of J.J. Barea and Tyson Chandler, opting instead to clear cap space for Dwight Howard or Deron Williams, or possibly both. Yet despite all the turnover they're starting to find their stride and are in the hunt for another title. Mark Cuban's pretty damn annoying, but I have to tip my hat to him for his work with the roster this year, and Rick Carlisle deserves some Coach of the Year votes. That said, those two pieces they let go were a huge part of their success of the Lakers, and while Dirk is still perhaps the toughest matchup in the NBA, I don't see him best Kobe and Co. this time around. Dallas is still tremendous defensively, and Shawn Marion could guard Kobe for stretches, but they'd miss Tyson Chandler against Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, and they don't have the speed off the edges that they had last year.
Prediction - L.A. in 6

Eastern Conference Semifinals

1. Miami Heat v.s. 5. New York Knicks - Carmelo would want this one very badly. Nothing would make him happier than ruining LeBron's parade, but I just don't think the Knicks have enough defensively to stop the Heat, and offensively they'd have to make incredible strides between now and April to have any chance against the Heat's D. Jeremy Lin was shown up by both Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole in their recent matchup, and Carmelo would see a heavy dose of James and Wade. Until I see that this team has any idea of how to play together, I can't give them much of a chance against Miami.
Prediction - Miami in 5

2. Chicago Bulls v.s. 3. Orlando Magic - Newly acquired Rip Hamilton has been injured and hasn't added much when healthy, but this is a series where I could see him making an impact. With Dwight Howard controlling the rim, Rose might need Rip to hit some big shots down the stretch, but even with Rose carrying the team I don't see the Magic giving the Bulls too many problems. The Magic rely on their three-point shooting coming off D12 double teams, but the Bulls wouldn't have to double Dwight as much with their elite front court defense, which could collapse Orlando's entire attack.
Prediction - Chicago in 6

Western Conference Semifinals

1. Oklahoma City Thunder v.s. 5. L.A. Lakers - This would be a pretty interesting matchup. The Lakers wouldn't be able to matchup the exposition off the edges that the Thunder bring, but the Lakers could also pose Oklahoma City problems down the stretch. The Thunder are at their best when they play small, and their best crunch time lineup is usually Westbrook, Harden, Durant, Ibaka, and either Thabo Sefolosha or Daequan Cook. They struggle when they play Perkins down the stretch because with him an Ibaka both on the floor the opposing defense only has to worry about three guys. But the Thunder wouldn't be able to play small against the Lakers with Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, and things could get dangerous for Oklahoma City if Durant, Harden, and Westbrook just become jump shooters. That said, the Lakers team as it's currently configured just doesn't have the depth or the speed to keep up with the Thunder, but a trade could tip the scale in the Lakers favor (O.J. Mayo? Michael Beasley?).
Prediction - Oklahoma City in 6

2. San Antonio Spurs v.s. 3. L.A. Clippers - This would be a terrific series, just like it was a terrific matchup just last week. The Spurs barely edged the Clips in OT, and probably should have lost if not for an inexplainable Chris Paul turnover. But that game was played with no Manu Ginobli, and he's the guy I think would ultimately make this difference in this series. Both of these teams have weaknesses that the other would exploit, but San Antonio just has more depth and experience than L.A. does. I'm one of Chris Paul's biggest fans, but I think his team comes up just short here. I do think Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan could get the best of Tim Duncan and Co., but again I think the depth of San Antonio and the Parker-Ginobli combo will be just a little too much for the young Clips.
Prediction - San Antonio in 7

Eastern Conference Finals

1. Miami Heat v.s. 2. Chicago Bulls - This is the one that everybody is waiting for. These are the two best teams in the East and it's not close. However, I don't know how I or anybody could go against the Heat in this series. I love the way that Chicago plays. I love their defense. I love Derrick Rose. But they just rely so heavily on him that I think it's hard to make a case that he'll beat a team that has two guys on his level. The only Bulls argument that I like is the crunch time argument, but I think the chemistry between LeBron and Wade is even better than last year (when they beat Chicago anyway) and getting better by the day. D-Rose and the Bulls will give the Heat everything they have, which is suffocating defense and grind-it-out offense, but I think they'll come up just short once again. If they do somehow beat this Miami team, it'll require an MJ-like performance for Chicago's new star. It isn't impossible, but it's also not likely, especially with two of the five best players in the world in Miami.
Prediction - Miami in 6

Western Conference Finals

1. Oklahoma City Thunder v.s. 2. San Antonio Spurs - I feel pretty uncreative having the top two seeds in both Finals' series, but I guess it makes sense. This is how I've predicted the teams to end the season in the standings, so these are the teams that I feel are the best, though in the Western Conference I really think matchup will matter more than anything else. I keep going back and forth with this matchup. On the one hand, San Antonio's got the age and experience, but on the other hand, San Antonio's got the age and experience. You know what I mean? Oklahoma City's explosive offense would pose huge problems for the Spurs' sometimes slow- footed defense, but Tony Parker and Ginobli are also fully capable of torching the Thunder. Greg Popovich also has some youngsters playing great this year (DeJuan Blair, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Gary Neal, Tiago Splitter), and that could help even the energy level. But at the end of the day, I just think Westbrook and Durant would be too much for the Spurs' defense, especially since I have the Spurs battling through a seven game series in the Semi's. Westbrook and Durant will play every minute if they have to come June, and just like Miami, I expect the Batman-Robin crunch time thing to be less of a big deal than most people are expecting. Not to mention James Harden is an extremely legitimate third scoring option.
Prediction - Oklahoma City in 7

NBA Finals

1. Miami Heat v.s. 1. Oklahoma City Thunder - Again, I don't feel very creative picking the matchup that almost every analyst has predicted, but I honestly believe that these are the two best teams. These teams don't really play the type of basketball that I like, but they can just run people over on any given night. Because of the similarities between the two, the star power on both sides, and all the anti-LeBron and pro-Durant sentiments in the basketball world right now, I think this would be the best Finals series I've seen in my lifetime. These teams are so similar that it wouldn't really come down to match ups and coaching as much as it would individual performance in the highest of pressure situations, which is really all you can ask for as a fan. However, the obvious difference between the two to me is defense. Miami plays extraordinary defense second to no team besides arguably Chicago, and Oklahoma City still has plenty of room for improvement on that end of the floor. Because of this gap in defense, and equality in offense, Miami should win this series. But this is where that pesky, overused, but still valid "LeBron can't get it done in the clutch" argument comes into play. Everything is set in place for LeBron to get his first ring, but can he actually step up and make the plays to get it done? As unfair as it sounds, that's what will decide the NBA championship. This is a very tough one, especially since Kevin Durant seems to have a knack for dramatic shot making, but I'm going to give LeBron another chance. The Heat made it to the Finals last year, and should have won were it not for LeBron's performance, and that was without Shane Battier, a healthy Udonis Haslem, or Norris Cole. They're the best team. I can't pick against them just on a hunch that LeBron will collapse again. I won't succumb to the Skip Bayless way of thinking. LeBron needs to win, and this will perhaps be his best shot at it, because the Thunder and Bulls will only get better, and the Clippers are in my opinion one piece away from being the best team in the league. I just can't imagine that LeBron, and D-Wade and Bosh for that matter, will let another golden opportunity slip away.
Prediction - Miami in 6

Recap - This is an extremely exciting time for the NBA, as there are perhaps more young superstars emerging than at any time in the history of the game. We've got the loaded Heat, the future of the league in Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant, and exciting young franchises in L.A. and New York (the Heat better pray that Deron Williams and D12 don't end up in Brooklyn together). We've also got several young teams that are one piece away from being legitimate title contenders mixed with several older teams vying for one more chance at glory. I, like almost every analyst out there, have picked the improved Heat to win the title, putting more pressure on them to get it done than any team in recent memory. One thing's for certain, and that's that it's going to be a blast watching it all play out.

P.S. - Go Rubio.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Redskins preparing massive offer for Robert Griffin III

by Zack Kelberman of

Even though his chances of being the top overall pick are dwindling by the day, Robert Griffin III is still a lock to go in the top-five, and possibly as high as No. 2.

The Rams, who hold that pick and have no need for RGIII, are expected to field offers from more quarterback-needy teams, one of which already seems willing to mortgage the future for the Heisman Trophy winner.

NBC Philadelphia’s Howard Eskin reports, via team sources, the Redskins are “prepared” to make the Rams a massive offer — their top three picks this year and “at least” their first-rounder next year — to land Griffin III.

Eskin is a pretty well-respected name in media circles, so his hearsay shouldn’t be written off as simple speculation. Adding fuel to the fire, this comes on the heels of a report that claimed three teams — the ‘Skins included — are “strongly considering” a blockbuster trade to acquire the former Baylor signal-caller.

It’s also not much of a surprise, as Washington has always been mentioned as a front-runner for Griffin, who confirmed to NFL Network’s Rich Eisen that he’s already chatted with head coach Mike Shanahan.

“I did speak with Mr. Shanahan. It was awesome,” Griffin said.

After a terrific showing at the Combine, highlighted by a blazing forty-yard dash time of 4.38, Griffin can now sit back and watch his suitors offer up an arm and a leg — or every single appendage — to secure his services.

The biggest winner, however, will be St. Louis, as they stand to gain a boatload of picks (and possibly a player) if they opt to trade down, or fill one of their many immediate needs by staying put.

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