What a Game at the Garden

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That was everything you could ever want out of a basketball game. The Garden was electric and the fans were treated to some career nights. Steph Curry was untouchable with 54 points and Chandler grabbed a ridiculous 28 rebounds. Without a doubt, that was the most entertaining game this season. Most importantly, Melo and JR came through in the clutch for a Knicks win.

I’m very happy the Knicks won but watching Curry tonight made me remember how fun it is to watch someone be that on. He was unconscious (11-for-13 from three) and I didn’t want to see him miss because I was so amazed by his performance. His 54 points are the most in a game this season by any player. The Garden just brings out the best of everyone and I’m sure Lebron will be going after a similar performance over the weekend. Sunday against the Heat and their win streak should be fun.

 

 

What I’m Listening To

This track has a such a unique sound that I can’t stop listening to it. The bass line is addictive and it’s got that great 80’s sound. In fact, it sounds like it was made for the Drive soundtrack. I’m willing to go as far to say that reviews of Drive would have immediately received a half-grade bump had it featured this song. (And it was already a great movie). How in the world has no one created a YouTube video that scores the Ryan Gosling being a bad ass behind the wheel scenes with this song? I’ll get on that right away.

10 Most Intriguing MLB Storylines

Spring-Training

Spring Training has arrived and it has brought with it that familiar sense of hope and optimism. It’s one of my favorite times of year and as we get ready for the 2013 MLB season, there’s no shortage of storylines. The offseason was never really “off” with many teams making key trades and signings that have resulted in big names in new cities. Add to that the much anticipated sophomore seasons of Mike Trout and Bryce Harper and Cabrera’s quest for back to back Triple Crowns and you’ve got a lot to look forward to. Here’s my 10 most intriguing MLB  storylines as we get ready for Opening Day.

1. Will the Blue Jays be any good?

The biggest move of the offseason happened very early on. Just two weeks after the Giants swept the Tigers in the World Series, the Marlins and Jays completed a 12-player blockbuster trade. The Marlins shipped almost every major piece of theirs to the Jays, including Jose Reyes (who signed a $106M contract prior to the 2012 season), Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck. Miami cleaned house with the exception of Giancarlo Stanton, who made his feelings about the trade very public. Whether any fans will be attending the Marlins beautiful 2-year old ballpark in 2013 is a separate storyline for another time.

Toronto was the beneficiaries of a good, old fashioned salary dump. They gave up Yunel Escobar, Henderson Alvarez, Jeff Mathis and young prospects Adeiny Hechavarria, Justin Nicolino, Anthony Desclafani and Jake Marisnick in exchange for a brand new team. By giving up a number of prospects, they are going all-in on the present. Alex Anthopoulos made that sentiment even clearer by acquiring reigning NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey from the Mets. It will be virtually a brand new team in Toronto and I’m an anxious as everyone to see how it plays out, especially in the extremely competitive AL East.

2. Miguel Cabrera’s season after the Triple Crown

The reigning AL MVP made history last season by hitting for the first Triple Crown since 1967. It was an amazing season (.330, 44 HR and 139 RBI) and one that I think he will duplicate in 2013. I don’t know if he will win the Triple Crown again but he can definitely produce his 2012 numbers this year. Don’t forget he won the batting title in 2011 with a .344 AVG. He’s been consistent throughout his whole 10-year career and it’s safe to say that he is in his prime as he enters his age 30 season.

The whole league knows that Cabrera is the best hitter in baseball right now but they can’t pitch around him thanks to the protection provided by Prince Fielder. The Tigers are going to be a dangerous team and I expect an extra edge to them this season after getting swept in the World Series. If I had to make a guess, I think he hits .322 with 42 HR and 120 RBI, falling short of the Triple Crown but leading the Tigers to a deep run in the 2013 playoffs.

3. Can Hamilton, Pujols and Angels live up to the hype?

Josh Hamilton was the top free agent entering this offseason and there was a lot of speculation as to where he would end up. For a while, I thought he would definitely resign with the Rangers but then the Angels made a power move and assembled possibly the greatest 1, 3, 4 in a lineup ever. Like when Stallone, Van Damme and Schwarzenegger teamed up for The Expendables 2 – the Angels have assembled baseball’s A-Team.

I apologize for the hyperbole and poor analogy but listen to this lineup… 1. Mike Trout (AL Rookie of Year with unlimited potential), 2. Albert Pujols (9-time All-Star and 3-time MVP), 4. Josh Hamilton (5-time All-Star and 2010 AL MVP). Erick Aybar (Jason Stathem in this analogy) will likely hit in the 2-hole and score a lot of runs in front of Pujols and Hamilton. If by some chance they can’t knock in Trout or Aybar, Mark Trumbo (Chuck Norris) will have to do the dirty work from the 5-hole.

I know what you’re thinking though – The Expendables 2 wasn’t a good movie. Neither were the star-heavy Valentine’s Day or New Year’s Eve. But this isn’t the movies, this is sports and teaming up the best players usually leads to titles. Just ask the Heat. Either way, the potential for this Angel’s lineup feels limitless and I can’t wait to see if they score runs at the pace I’m envisioning. Trout led the league with 129 runs last season and he missed the entire month of April. He could conceivably score 170 runs this season, which would be the most in a single season since Babe Ruth scored 177 runs in 1921.

4. Will Mike Trout regress?

Some time has passed since Mike Trout completed one of the best rookie seasons in history. My feelings on Trout’s amazing season are well-documented but in case you need a reminder… he hit .326 with 30 HR and 83 RBI from the leadoff spot. He stole 49 SB (one shy of just the third 30/50 season in MLB history) and led the league with 129 runs scored. Trout also lapped the league with a 10.7 WAR, joining this list of baseball royalty who also finished a season with a double-digit WAR. Finally, as I said, he did all of this after spending the month of April in the minor leagues. Watching him for a 162-game season will be a real treat.

I have seen numerous predictions that he will regress with experts saying that many rookies fail to live up to their first-year seasons. I’m sure those people are basing their predictions on historical precedence, but personally I think Trout is in a league of his own and will prove them wrong. His combination of speed and power set him apart and he gained 10 pounds during the offseason. Hopefully, that won’t slow him down and he can hit for even more power, while still being a terror on the basepaths. Another stellar season for Trout would also be a welcome positive story to overshadow the PED mess and prove that we can still watch greatness without wondering whether it was legitimate or not. Whether he is great or average, everyone will be watching.

5. Are Jeter and Mariano healthy? Will the Yankees age be a problem?

In my opinion, Derek Jeter is the face of the MLB. So, when he went down with a fractured ankle in last year’s playoffs, I was a little worried about his recovery and if he might consider retiring. That thought never crossed his mind though and he claims he will be ready by Opening Day. Jeter had a fantastic 2012 season (at age 38), leading the league with 212 hits and .316 AVG. New York got swept by Detroit in the ALCS and Jeter seems determined to win at least one more ring before he calls it a career. Mariano will also be returning from a season-ending knee injury. Soriano filled in nicely last season but I’m sure it will be nice to get back the greatest closer ever. Both claim to be back to normal but only time will tell if they are truly the great players that we knew them as prior to major injuries.

Brian Cashman was unusally quiet this offseason. I’m not sure whether that was due to what he perceieved as a weak free agent field or if he is content with what he’s got. Signing Kevin Youkilis was a good move to fill in for a rehabbing and PED-denying A-Rod. Locking up Kuroda and Ichiro was also smart but the Yankees are an old team. Will their age catch up with them in such a competitive division? None of the teams in the AL East are rebuilding and everyone has a win-now mentality. I can see any of the Orioles, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Rays or Yanks winning the division. If I’ve learned anything from my 23 years as a baseball fan though, it’s to never count the Yankees out.

6. Will money help the Dodgers dethrone the Giants?

The Dodgers new ownership group has lots of money and is willing to spend it. That was one of the major takeaways of the offseason – and their money changed things for everyone. Teams were hesitant to talk to players because they were afraid that player was also talking to the Dodgers, thus driving up their price.

Zack Greinke signed a then unprecedented 6-year, $147M with the Dodgers in December. (Felix Hernandez signed a deal this month that surpassed Greinke’s in both total and annualized value). The Dodgers also pulled off a blockbuster trade during the season last year, landing the large contract of Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett among others. Their payroll will exceed $210M, a number that even makes the Yankees blush. The expectations are high and it will be interesting to hear Vin Scully call the names of players who will be making more money this season than the entire Dodgers team earned when Vin started out in 1950s.

With the Dodgers and Angels offseason moves, everyone should prepare to stay up well past midnight this season. West Coast baseball is going to be must-watch television.

7. Will the entire Braves outfield be 30/30 players?

Justin Upton and B.J. Upton join forces this summer in the Braves outfield. Jason Heyward rounds out the trio to give Atlanta the most dynamic outfield in baseball. The Braves are definitely still bitter about losing the NL Wild Card game last season on a controversial infield fly call but signing the Upton Brothers is a good way to cope. For all three players to hit 30 HR and steal 30 bases, the stars would have to align. Let’s be honest, it’s highly unlikely. B.J. Upton and Jason Heyward have never hit 30 HR in a season. Justin Upton has never stole more than 21 bases in a season. It’s wishful thinking but a man can dream right? Even if they don’t reach those milestones (which they won’t), it will be exciting to watch that outfield on a daily basis.

8. What will come of this Biogenisis clinic in Miami and will there be major suspensions?

PEDs are still a large part of the game despite the efforts of the league. I give MLB credit for ramping up the testing but the truth is that the penalties are still not severe enough to deter players from going after that extra advantage. Melky Cabrera served a 50-game suspension and didn’t play with Giants in the World Series but he also just earned $8M a year for the next 2 seasons and he still gets a World Series ring.

The Biogenesis clinic in Miami was the offseasons new spin on the familiar story and it accused some well-known names of being involved (Braun and A-Rod). It will take time to sort everything out but MLB is investigating the link between the players who were named and the clinic. Hopefully we will get some answers sooner than later as we continue to work towards a clean game. It may be impossible to have a completely PED-free game anymore but at least the problem is out in the open. That’s a step in the right direction, maybe.

9. How bad will the Astros be in the American League?

The Astros finished with a 55-107 record last season. In 2011, they went 56-106 and unfortunately for them, I think they will finish 2013 with their third straight 100-loss season. I would have thought this even if they were staying in the NL Central but with their move to the AL West, I want to go to Vegas and bet my life savings on it. Houston is clearly in a rebuilding mode – they don’t have a player making more than $3M this season – and Texas, Oakland and the Angels are welcoming the lowly Astros with open arms. I won’t be rooting for them to fail (I’ll get my fix of schadenfreude elsewhere) but it will definitely be interesting to see if changing leagues causes a record number of losses for Houston.

10. Can A’s and O’s repeat success?

Two of the best storylines last season were the surprise successes of the Athletics and Orioles. Oakland won the AL West and seemed to really gel as a team. There were some surprising contributors including Josh Reddick, Bartolo Colon (before his 50-game PED suspension), Coco Crisp and rookie Yoenis Cespedes. Baltimore also had some surprise standouts especially on the pitching side with Wei Yen Chen, Chris Tillman and Jim Johnson. The O’s also went an amazing 16-2 in one-run games (winning 16 straight). Baltimore and Oakland are in very tough divisions but they both seem to have great team chemistry and a manager they like playing for. That’s usually a formula for success.

Honorable Mention: Impact of Shields/Wil Myers swap on both Royals and Rays

Wil Myers was the most highly touted prospect in the game. He hit .314 with 37 HR and 109 RBI in the minors last season and is ready to make a name for himself in the bigs. That’s why it was interesting to see him included in the James Shields trade. The Rays got a potentially great player in exchange for an established arm. Kansas City gave precedence to improving it’s rotation and it will be interesting to see how that trade plays out. Myers should fit in nicely in Tampa where there is no shortage of good, young talent.

Writing all that down got me even more excited about the upcoming season. Is it March 31st yet?

Lebron is on another level

New York Knicks v Miami Heat

Many predicted that with the monkey of his first championship off his back, Lebron James would put up the best numbers of his career. What many didn’t predict is just how exceptional those numbers would be.

James has been producing in all areas of the game all season but in the last two weeks, he has taken his game to another level. He set an NBA record by becoming the first player to score at least 30 points and shoot at least 60% from the floor in 6 straight games. He only had 3 such games this season before the streak started.

The streak ended on Thursday when Lebron missed an unnecessary 4th quarter three as the shot clock expired, dropping his FG % to 58.3%. (He scored 39 points). He was clearly only concerned with winning the game and was not thinking about maintaining the record, which is the way it should be. James seems more mature and more focused – like earning his first title has made him crave another even more.

Lebron has scored at least 30 points in 7 straight games going into the All-Star break and he is more efficient than ever. During those last 7 games, he is averaging 7.4 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game on top of all the points. He’s also shooting 54% from behind the arc and 79% from the line during that stretch. Not surprisingly the Heat have won all 7 games.

The NBA has a lot of talent but right now if you had to choose one player to watch every night, it’s Lebron. You don’t want to miss what he does next. I’m upset the All-Star weekend is getting in the way of such a brilliant stretch of basketball.

7 games obviously doesn’t define a career. But he’s earned some extra attention this week, deservedly so, and the superlatives are flying around. He’s entering his prime and proving that there are very few, if any, limits as to what he can accomplish on a basketball court.

His game is as polished as ever. He’s shooting a better 3-point percentage than Ray Allen and his size continues to make him a threat in the post. James is essentially a point guard in a power forward’s body. The NBA has never seen anything like that and he can hurt you from anywhere on the court, making him virtually impossible to defend.

Most importantly, he is making the right decision all the time. He knows when to shoot and when to find an open teammate (which has led to high shooting percentages and high assist totals). He’s a superstar and a team player – that’s a dangerous combination. James has always had the ability to take over a game but he’s finally mature enough to deliver exactly what his team needs at any given moment.

Whether he will surpass Michael Jordan in greatness remains to be seen (it’s also a very subjective argument). Lebron knows that he needs at least 3 or 4 more rings to be considered the greatest of all-time. We can save those arguments for a later date though. Right now, as his Nike ad used to say, we are “witnessing” something special. I’m just happy to be along for the ride.

The Internet is a Funny Place

You can find pretty much anything you want on the Internet and the amount of information available is staggering. We live in an age where it takes you less than 5 seconds to find out how old James K. Polk was when he took office as President. Just twenty years ago you would have needed a history buff friend or an encyclopedia to retrieve such information.

The other obvious advantage to the Internet is the ability to communicate with so many people so rapidly. One of the funnier results of this phenomenon is the Internet meme. Essentially, lots and lots of people latch on to an idea, picture, video etc. and duplicate different variations all across the Internet. McKalya Maroney’s unimpressed face was a popular one after the Olympics. The latest one is the Harlem Shake and it reminds us all that the Internet is a very funny place.

In these videos, you have one person start out doing the “Harlem Shake” solo. Then, once the bass drops in the song (unsurprisingly entitled Harlem Shake), an entire group of people are seen doing the dance with ridiculous props and outfits. It’s a quick 30-second video that anyone can make and it has spread like wildfire over the past 2 weeks. Enjoy a nice compilation of Harlem Shake’s below. You gotta love the Internet!

The End of An Era

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I’ve taken the last week to read pretty much everything published on the Internet about 30 Rock. The series finale aired a week ago tonight and like I knew I would be, I’m very upset that my favorite show is over. The final season was superb and as Alan Sepinwall often wrote, it was the show’s victory lap. We already knew 30 Rock was a winner but having the final season be as good as it was just makes it harder to say goodbye.

The final three episodes were perfect. Without giving away any spoilers, it told a cohesive story that saw resolutions for all of the major characters while never over-indulging in sap or sacrificing it’s signature rapid joke rate. 30 Rock was never a show to get serious for more than half a second but it allowed for the perfect amount of emotion in the finale. You can tell that the cast had a hard time during those final days of shooting and that only added to the authenticity of those more serious scenes.In true 30 Rock form though, the emotional moments were book ended by jokes or even included jokes in the middle.

It’s impossible to choose my favorite 30 Rock joke. There were thousands and thousands from all different seasons that came at such a fast pace, I often needed to pause the show to laugh and digest. From the finale, I particularly enjoyed Kenneth’s lists of TV no-no words, The Rural Juror song and any meta reference related to NBC/Kabletown/GE. (That running gag never got old and once the writers started mocking those lower-third promos during the final season, I couldn’t tell which ones were real and which were fake).

As wacky as the characters were, I really cared about all of their outcomes and the sincere moments at the end felt earned. Liz and Tracy in the strip club (a call back to the pilot episode) and Liz and Jack in the harbor were both fantastic for their honesty and hilarity. For all of the goofiness, hyperbole and absurdism that existed in the 30 Rock world, the finale had some poignant thoughts that just prove it was the smartest show on television.

“There’s a reason people don’t say honest goodbyes. It’s because when stuff is coming to an end, people freak out and they act crazy.” That’s what Liz told Tracy (at the strip club) in the finale and aside from being a valid point in life, it’s also reflects how I feel about 30 Rock ending.

It will be hard to duplicate the level of satire that the show achieved. A lot of people have written that one of the things that helped separate 30 Rock from Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (an Aaron Sorkin show also based around a sketch comedy show that premiered on NBC at the same time) was that Tina Fey portrayed TGS as a terrible show from the beginning. She knew she was writing fart humor for a late night, low-brow audience. That set the stage for the craziness and it gave 30 Rock credibility whereas Sorkin tried to write a show about the conflict between writers at a sketch show that was too good for it’s own good. (Toofer would have fit in nicely at Sorkin’s show). By taking herself less seriously (and knowing what we do now, of course Tina Fey doesn’t take herself too seriously), it quickly became clear which of the two would survive.

Good thing it did survive because we needed 7 seasons. From the pilot to the finale, the characters stayed true to who they were throughout the series. They may have grown or changed as any person would but they never sacrificed a particular personality trait for the sake of a joke. Liz still loves night cheese and Jack still reads Meetings Magazine, which is one of at least two magazines about business meetings. That’s a testament to the writing, which was the real brilliance of 30 Rock.

The writing was so superb that if you took a script from any random episode and read it aloud alone, it would still be funnier than 90% of shows on TV today. Combine that writing with amazing actors who portray their characters perfectly and you have absolute genius. The show was lucky to have such an amazing cast that really took the characters to another level. I can’t picture any other people playing those specific characters and once the writers figured out what the actors did best, the show became even more polished.

Tina Fey is doing something that simply doesn’t happen very often with television shows. She’s going out on top with fans and critics craving more. The show never got monstrous ratings but those that did watch it LOVED it. I always passionately recommend the show and I know I’m not alone.

Tina will move on to new projects but her finest work might already be finished. Of course that’s an unfair statement because we don’t know what she will go on to produce, write or star in. But as far as 30 Rock goes, in my opinion, it was nearly the perfect sitcom. As many have said since the finale aired last week, when the show was bad, it was still good. But when it was good, it was transcendent.

It raised the bar with an onslaught of jokes. It felt like each episode tried to out-do the last one for how many jokes per half hour. Most impressively, it accomplished this without ever compromising the story. 30 Rock challenged other shows to match its joke rate and current sitcoms have made an attempt to keep pace. By showing what is possible within a 30-minute show, it changed the viewer’s expectations. The future of sitcoms will no doubt be affected by what 30 Rock did during it’s run.

As time passes, I think that people will look back at 30 Rock even more fondly than they do now. It certainly got it’s fair share of praise, especially during the week of the finale, but I think over time even more people will recognize how great it really was. I would definitely rank it with the classics like Seinfeld, I Love Lucy, Cheers, The Odd Couple, Mary Tyler Moore Show etc. – shows that will be funny no matter when they were made. Tina Fey is also, in my opinion, on her way to being on a short list of transcendent female comedians (if she’s not there already). I feel stupid even separating male and female comedians. Tina Fey is simply one of the funniest people period and I think as more time passes, she will be immortalized as such.

In case you couldn’t tell by now, I’m really going to miss 30 Rock and I can’t wait to see what Tina Fey does next. No matter how great her next project is, the magic of that cast, writing and overall show will be almost impossible to duplicate. Thanks for the laughs and with the help of Netflix, DVDs and syndication, I’ll be re-watching 30 Rock for years and years to come.

Giants Cut Bradshaw, Canty and Boley

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The 2013 Giants are going to look significantly different than the 2012 Giants. Whether that’s good or bad remains to be seen. It was definitely a surprise to see Jerry Reese let three starters go yesterday but he has to do what he has to do. If he doesn’t think they are worth the money and can be replaced, then I trust him and that’s the business.

As a fan, I’m a little upset about this. Bradshaw was a large part in both Super Bowls and he has led the team in rushing each of the last three seasons. It’s sad to think that he could be in another uniform. I love the way he runs – determined and ferocious, making him very difficult to take down. He could run over a defender just as easily as he could sidestep one. He was a power runner at times and a finesse back when he needed to compliment Jacobs.

With Bradshaw undergoing another foot surgery and the emergence of David Wilson and Andre Brown, Reese clearly feels Bradshaw is no longer worth what he makes. It’s weird to think of a 26-year old, like Bradshaw, being past his prime but that is the life of an NFL running back. Boley and Canty both made large contributions since arriving in 2009. Boley was forced into the starting middle linebacker role and he played well. Canty was a part of one of the best defensive lines ever assembled and made it easier on those famous ends to rack up sacks.

All three will be missed and I won’t forget what they each did for the team. My lasting memory of Bradshaw is him falling into the end zone for the game-winning score in Super Bowl XLVI. It was the strangest TD in Super Bowl history and even he wasn’t sure whether to celebrate or not. It did put the Giants up for good over the Pats and helped secure our 2nd Super Bowl in 4 years. For that and everything else he did, Bradshaw will always be okay by me.

Jerry Reese saved $13.75M with these cuts and will be about $3M under the 2013 cap. I’m smart enough to separate my GM cap from my fan hat. Jerry Reese knows what he’s doing and these moves will be good for the team. I just hope none of these guys land in the NFC East or on the Patriots. I can see Belichick going after Bradshaw just like he did with Ballard.