Monday, March 31, 2014

N.Y. Rangers: Mixed Results In Canada

From the desk of:  RAISE GRESCH WITH THE GREATS




They Better Bring Their Backbones To Vancouver With Them


NEW YORK RANGERS: This Is No Time For Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde.

In a game the Blueshirts could ill afford to lose, they blew it.

The Blueshirts found themselves down 2-0 in the opening period of last Friday's game against the Flames - a team in the Western Conference second division, the 13th seed if you must.  Brian Boyle's 4th line provided the Rangers best scoring chances, but to no avail.  The Rangers went into the 1st intermission behind by a pair.

The diligent work put in by the Rangers 4th line paid off in the 2nd period however, as Brian Boyle got the Rangers on the board early in the 2nd period.  Then in the blink of an eye, the Rangers tied the game 51-seconds later at 2-2, on a Rafael Diaz shot, and a series of well directed deflections.

The Rangers kept momentum on their side, and went on to score their third goal in the span of 3:27, as Brad Richards put the Rangers ahead by a 3-2 score.

But before the second period was through, the Rangers squandered their one goal lead.  Calgary answered back with another pair of goals to reassert control.  And that's all there was.  The Rangers were singed by the burning flames of defeat - their five game winning streak snapped. Two desperately needed points lost to a sub .500 team.

After a week receiving praise and exaltation from the home crowd, Henrik had nothing short of a bad opening game on the road.  He faced 28 shots, allowing four to get by - some rather ponderously.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the continent, the Philadelphia Flyers defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs to earn their 85th and 86th points of the season, tying the Rangers.

*    *    *    *

Early Sunday afternoon, the Boston Bruins lent the Rangers a helping hand by defeating the Flyers 4-3 in Philadelphia, decided by shootout.  So, heading into the evening, the Rangers desperately needed to capitalize on Philly's misfortune.

A well played game against the Edmonton Oilers would propel the Rangers into the Eastern Conference 5th seed, and give them sole possession of 2nd place over Philly in the Metropolitan Division as well.

With 61 points, the Oilers entered the evening's game dead last in the Western Conference.  Timely scheduling right?  That's what I said of the Calgary Flames, who, with 69 points, are second to last in the Western Conference.

Mats Zuccarello gave the Blueshirts a 1-0 lead late in the first period, and the Rangers steamrolled the Oliers from then on, to the tune of a 5-0 final score.  Cam Talbot was between the pipes, and earned the shutout.

Two more points in the books.


TUESDAY NIGHT

NEW YORK RANGERS
vs.
Vancouver Canucks
from
Way Westward In The Great White North


As of Monday night, the Rangers needed 4-points in order to tie, and supplant the Tampa Bay Lightning as the 4th seed in the Eastern Conference, and gain a home ice advantage.

Next on the Rangers docket - Coach Vigneault's old stomping grounds, Vancouver, where the Rangers can expect nothing short of a war against their former coach, and a desperate Canucks team attempting to qualify for the playoffs.

The month of March is now done.  The time for growing of the beards has arrived.  The onset of April signals the chase for Lord Stanley's Cup will begin shortly.  Before then, six more games remain in the Rangers regular season.




Mike.BTB

Today For Rising Apple: Sandy Alderson Earns First Blown Save Of Season




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Mike.BTB
Senior Staff Writer/Rising Apple

N.Y. Mets: Play Ball..!! Opening Day In The Citi

From the desk of:  HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET





OPENING DAY RECORD  34-18
Polo Grounds; 0-2
Shea Stadium; 30-15
Citi Field; 4-1


NEW YORK METS

HAPPY OPENING DAY!

The New York Mets lost their only two Opening Days played at the Polo Grounds.  They proceeded to christen Shea Stadium with six more consecutive losses.  The team didn't win their first Opening Day game until 1970, when they defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates by a 5-3 score.

By then, the team finally got this Opening Day thing figured out.  Between 1975 and 1983, the Mets won nine consecutive times.  In all, the Mets rebounded from an 0-6 start in their 2nd park, to finish with a 30-15 record at Shea Stadium.

The Mets head into Monday's game with a 4-1 record in Citi Field home openers, and are riding a two game win streak.  Their lone loss over the last five openers came in 2011, at the hands of their modern arch nemesis, the Miami Marlins.

Dillon Gee has been given the privilege of making this year's Opening Day start.  This will be his first.  He will be the 24th different pitcher in 53 years of Mets history to make this start.

Roger Craig made the first Opening Day start in Mets history.  Al Jackson made the first opening start at Shea Stadium.  Johan Santana started the first opener at Citi Field.

Tom Seaver is credited with the Mets first Opening Day win, and leads the team with 11 starts. Dwight Gooden is second with 8 starts, followed by Tom Glavine and Johan Santana, who started 4 games each.

*         *         *         *

Dillon Gee will be facing off against Stephen Strasburg, and the Washington Nationals.  Jon Niese was originally scheduled to make this start, but will begin the season on the disabled list until a fifth starter is needed.  Niese developed discomfort in his shoulder and elbow during spring training, but will apparently be ready when needed around April 6th.

The Washington Nationals are widely regarded as the National League East favorites this season. They've fortified their pitching with the addition of Doug Fister, and have handed the helm over to new rookie manager Matt Williams.

Some of the other interesting developments within the division this season, include the defections of Brian McCann from the Braves to the Yankees, and the problems Atlanta had refortifying their pitching.  Freddie Freeman enters the season as a legitimate MVP candidate, and Craig Kimbrel is a flat out stud.  If they can keep things together, the Braves look to pose the biggest threat to Washington this season.

Ryne Sandberg begins his first season as field manager of the Phillies.  Age is fast becoming an issue in Philadelphia, and I have a sneaky suspicion GM Ruben Amaro will not idly sit by.  I expect him to be active this season, and make some rather unpopular decisions.

Forever young - the Miami Marlins will be improved, and will give the division fits.  They have two very young players in particular, a pitcher and outfielder, who each possess great potential of capturing this season's Cy Young and MVP award respectively.  On a side note, I thought the Mets had it bad, but Miami's ownership is horrific.

In the National League East, I think the Mets and Marlins will be improved enough to prevent the Washington Nationals from running away, and in effect, keeping the Braves alive in the race for first place.  One of the National League's Wild Cards will likely come from this division.  That's where the Mets come in.

The 2014 season was slated to be the time when things began gaining focus at the major league level.  Sandy Alderson's minor league work has been well discussed.  With still much to address and improve upon, I believe, at least the direction in Flushing has been set.  The younger players of the organization are starting to assume their places.  It is a process still trying to gain momentum, but the process has been started nonetheless.

This season, anything less than a .500 record should not be regarded as a step forward.  A wild card?  Perchance to dream...

*         *         *         *

Sandy Alderson provided a few surprises in selecting his final 25-man roster.  Most notable, Jenrry Mejia has been declared the 5th starter, which means Daisuke Matsuzaka will start the season in Las Vegas, and provide a first line of insurance for the rotation.

The Mets will start the season with Dillon Gee, Zack Wheeler, Bartolo Colon, and Jenrry Mejia, until Jon Niese joins the rotation next week.  The light schedule allows the Mets go with four pitchers, and utilize an extra bench player until then.

After a poor Grapefruit League performance, reliever Vic Black will also start the season in Las Vegas.  That's a big blow to the bullpen.  When Bobby Parnell's status was still in question, Black was an early candidate to fill the closer's role.  His demotion opened the door for Germen Gonzalez, who was only recently informed he was heading north.

The Mets will begin the season with a bullpen comprised of Bobby Parnell, Jeurys Familia, Scott Rice, John Lannan, Germen Gonzalez, Carlos Torres, and late winter free agent acquisition, Jose Valverde.

*         *         *         *

Ike Davis still on the team and playing first base forces Lucas Duda to find playing time in an outfield already riddled with issues.  Duda's innings will no doubt cut into Eric Young's and Juan Lagares' innings.  Then, on the one hand, fans are clamoring for Juan Lagares' defense in centerfield, while on the other hand, fans are faced with Coach Terry's man crush with EYJ at the top of the line-up.

On a side note, in order to get Chris Young signed, Sandy Alderson promised him a starting role. He just didn't promise Young which outfield position.  Now Duda's addition to the outfield mix really makes Coach Terry's positioning a transient matter.

All that said, hello Curtis Granderson.  He adds a complimentary home run threat to the line-up. The Mets ranked near the bottom of most offensive categories last season.  Sandy Alderson is hoping the additions of Granderson and Chris Young, will have positive effects on the line-up, and increases run production.

If solidifying the outfield was Sandy Aderson's major accomplishment of the winter, the fact that Ruben Tejada will start the season at shortstop points to Sandy Alderson's ultimate failure.  To date, he has not, or could not upgrade the position through free agency or a trade.  The Mets additionally lack a minor league shortstop of note, or at least one ready to assume the position any time soon.  Best case scenario - Ruben Tejada provides even a mild surprise.  Omar Quintanilla was awarded a trip north to Flushing as a back-up.

Travis d'Arnaud hit 3 home runs in Grapefruit League play, but only batted .170 in 47 at-bats.  The Mets aren't necessarily interested in power, so much as they want d'Arnaud to be an above average contact hitter.  But, Travis has so far played himself into an after though in pre-season ROY considerations.  The Mets clearly need him to turn things around sooner than later this season.

Still at the heart of all things Mets, is third baseman and team captain, David Wright.  As he goes, so will the Mets.  He is obviously one of the players the Mets can least afford to have go down. But, if the Mets want to keep him on the field, and have him be productive, they'll need to do their part, and start taking better care of him.

Opposing pitchers have routinely thrown at David Wright without fear of consequence.  That must change immediately.  Rules be damned, because the pitcher who beans first, does so with impunity. Part of policing this is Dan Warthen's responsibility, working in concert with his pitchers.  That's where guys like Zack Wheeler and Bartolo Colon (and Matt Harvey) come in.  I believe they are just the types to make that stand, and do what's necessary to protect their players.

*         *         *         *

All that's left is to play the games.  The 53rd season of Amazin' baseball starts now.

Let's Go Mets!




Mike.BTB

Sunday, March 30, 2014

N.Y. Islanders: Why Charles Wang Should Sell Now

From the desk of:  BROOKLYN'S FOSTER HOCKEY CLUB




GM Garth Snow's Gamble Backfired Miserably


NEW YORK ISLANDERS: Charles Wang Can Recoup A Decade Worth Of Financial Loss With One Fat Check.  He'd Be Stupid Not To Sell.

Recent reports suggest that Islanders owner Charles Wang, who has lost countless millions of dollars keeping the Islanders afloat for the last decade, is open to selling a majority stake in the team.  The timing of this scuttlebutt seems odd.  Why now?

Yet, the news is still reasonable to believe.  Although the shift to Brooklyn is still a full season away, there is little doubt the move will greatly improve the team's overall situation.  However, in signing a 25-year lease, the Islanders will continue playing as tenants in someone else's building.

There's the rub.

While Charles Wang might have indeed brokered a deal to ensure the continued operation of the Islanders by relocating them, I believe the move to Brooklyn only enhances Charles Wang's personal net gain by a marginal value.

His proposals to pay for, and construct the Lighthouse Project in Long Island were put down long ago, first by the local legislature, then reaffirmed by a vote of local taxpayers.  Now, with Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark having secured the deal to renovate Nassau Coliseum, Charles Wang's window of opportunity to build his own arena within the greater metropolitan area has officially passed.

In fact, when you consider the Nets and Devils no longer play at IZod Center, and after next season Nassau Coliseum will become empty, there's already a glut of unsuitable arenas.  Mr. Wang now has every businessman's reason to excuse himself from the local sports scene.

Even after having gained a measure of resolution with the move to Brooklyn, Charles Wang nevertheless apparently seems done with a very lengthy ordeal.

The situation on the ice has additionally taken another step back.  This year's regular season's results may have even hasted Mr Wang's willingness to entertain such an exit.  Therefore, why not sell, and recoup a decade worth of losses with one easy transaction?

In any event, the time to hold people accountable is at hand.

Over the previous two seasons, Long Island sported the best forward line of all three local area teams.  Last year, they were one of the top scoring teams within the division, and nearly toppled the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs.  This year, the team has suffered a precipitous fall, and certainly not because of Coach Capuano.

Garth Snow's gamble to trade Matt Moulson and a pair a draft picks to Buffalo for Thomas Vanek is partly to blame, and wound up backfiring on the GM in the worst way imaginable.  The net result - Isles have no Moulson, no Vanek, and are minus a #1 pick in the next draft.  What Garth Snow needed to address was a suspect defense, and upgrading the goal tending situation.  He instead, depleted his resources, and compromised the short term fortunes of the club.

Hiring Garth Snow, who lacked any practical experience as a front office executive, was a worthwhile experiment.  I'm not out to lambaste a risky appointment, but merely suggest, it is time for the Islanders to broaden their horizons, and seek out a more experienced, and savvy general manager.

In the broader picture, Garth Snow was merely Charles Wang's latest attempt at trying to recover what is increasingly looking like an unrecoverable operation.  I find no fault with either man.  A combination of the still lingering wreckage left behind by Mike Milbury operating under destructive ownership, a fast deteriorating and out of date arena, and the political situation in Long Island have conspired against Mr. Wang's efforts for a decade.

A fresh approach may indeed be in order for the Islanders sake.  Perhaps the move to Brooklyn should be accompanied by an entirely new slate of ownership and front office personnel, who can approach hockey operations with the advantage of being once removed from the organizational meltdown Charles Wang was left to rebuild.

When you get to the heart of the matter, this has been a fruitless process for him.




Mike.BTB

Today For Rising Apple: New York Metropolitans 1884 Season Preview




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Mike.BTB
Senior Staff Writer/Rising Apple

Friday, March 28, 2014

Brooklyn Nets: Mirza Teletovich Leads Bench Over Cavaliers

From the desk of:  THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH



FRIDAY NIGHT FINAL
Cleveland   97
Flatbush   108

BROOKLYN NETS: With Kevin Garnett Still Out, And Andrei Kirilenko Joining Him, Mirza Teletovic Provides The Difference Against Cavaliers.

Looking like a team that slept in their own beds last night, the refreshed Nets resumed their march towards the playoffs Friday night at Barclays.

Playing the first of three games at home, the Nets handled the Cavaliers with relative ease, taking an 11-point lead into the half.  Flatbush led by as many as 17 points, until they went cold, and let the Cavs creep to within 8 points with 1:30 left in the 3rd quarter.  Marcus Thornton did well to keep the Cavaliers at bay, and put the Nets up 85-77 before the 3rd quarter buzzer sounded. However, Cleveland outscored the Nets 27-24 in the quarter.

Early in the 4th, the Nets went on a 9-0 run.  Blatche put Brooklyn up by 10, and two possessions later, the Nets were back up by 12 points again.

Shaun Livingston immediately followed with an uncontested drive down the lane, and then rattled home a jumper on the very next possession, to put Brooklyn up by a 93-78 margin.

With 5:35 to go, Alan Anderson put Brooklyn ahead by a 100-84 score, and they never looked back.  The Nets completed their recovery from a pair of overtime road losses in convincing fashion with a 108-97 victory over Cleveland.

Bench play was the highlight of the night.  The Nets finally won a battle of the boards.  They pulled down 41 boards, with 34 coming on the defensive glass.  Mirza Teletovic was the lead window washer, as he cleaned up with 10 rebounds, 8 defensive, and contributed 9 points in 28 minutes. The bench as a whole contributed 48 points.  Alan Anderson led the supporting cast with 13 points. Andray Blatche and Marcus Thornton added 10 points each.

Paul Pierce, who is increasingly dealing with various aches and pains, got off to a hot start in the 1st period, but later left the floor for a short spell.  He returned to complete the game, finishing with a game high 22 points.

Kevin Garnett has yet to play in March.  The Nets improved to 11-4 without him, with one game remaining before month's end on Sunday against KG's former team, the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Nets improved to 38-33 overall.  They have now won 12 in a row, 19 of their last 21, and own an overall 24-11 record at Barclays Center this season.  They were not able to gain ground on Toronto though, as the Raptors defeated the Magic in overtime.  Therefore, the Nets remain mired 2.5 games behind the Raptors in the Atlantic Division standings.  The Chicago Bulls lost however, bringing Brooklyn within 1.5 games of the Eastern Conference 4th seed, and the benefit of home court advantage.

Eleven games remain in the regular season.  Of the Nets 9 remaining opponents, Minnesota is currently one game above .500, while Miami and Houston are the only others.  The rest are sub .500 teams.  Two of those teams are terribly desperate, as the Knicks are hot on the heels of the Hawks for the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference standings.  The Nets must play the Knicks twice, and the Hawks once.  Otherwise, the Magic (2 games), Pistons, 76ers, and Cavaliers are all in the second division.




Mike.BTB

Thursday, March 27, 2014

N.Y. Rangers: Panning For Points In The Canadian Rockies

From the desk of:  RAISE GRESCH WITH THE GREATS




Henrik's Milestone Season Continues Against Flyers


NEW YORK RANGERS: Henrik Lundqvist Notches 30 Wins In A Season For Eighth Time In Career.

The Broad Street Bullies and Broadway Blueshirts squared off at the Garden Wednesday night. Philly entered the game in third place of the Metropolitan Division, trailing the Rangers by a point. In the Eastern Conference standings, the Rangers entered the night as the fifth seed, and Philly was likewise sixth.

The Rangers, who own the Eastern Conference's second best defense, stifled the conference's sixth rated offense, en route to a 3-1 final, although I feel the Flyers looked flat on this night.

With a poor start to the season (by his standards) long behind him, Henrik Lundqvist stopped 30 of 31 pucks for his 306th career win.  In yet another milestone achievement for the goalie, Henrik also earned his 30th victory of the regular season - the 8th time he's accomplished that.  Last season was the only year in which Henrik did not record at least 30 wins, primarily because of the NHL work stoppage, yet he led the NHL for the first time with 24 victories.

Ryan McDonagh has scored the most goals in a season by a Rangers defenseman since Brian Leetch found net 21 times at the turn of the millennium.

RICK NASH NEEDS TO REGENERATE HIS ANGER LEVEL

Rick Nash has cooled off since Columbus earned his ire.  Which brings to attention something that needs repeating.  Rick Nash needs to play more intensely, with more anger, or perhaps with a major chip on his shoulder.  It is no mystic insight on my part, that when the playoffs start, physicality increases exponentially.

Unless he starts tapping into his inner Farmer Brown now, and starts planting seeds of doubt among the league's more aggressive blokes, Rangers opponents will no doubt begin targeting him again. That means taking flat out runs at him, that he himself needs to police, but, if for anything else, just to get him off the ice and into the box, in a very uneven exchange of skilled, and unskilled players. On that part, his team mates must intercede, and take on more responsibilities, if you know what I mean.

The march towards the playoffs must now continue minus the services of Chris Kreider, who must attend to a fractured hand.  Kreider contributed 17 goals and 20 assists this season, and sports a +14 over 66 games.  His size and speed on the ice will be missed.  It now become more imperative than ever, Martin St. Louis break out of his funk, and start finding the back of the net.  The Rangers are only averaging 2.6 goals per game as it is.  The human yo-yo, J.T. Miller, will be recalled from Hartford to fill Kreider's roster spot.

Nonetheless, the Rangers are now winners of five in a row, and have gained a small measure of separation from the Flyers, in addition to #7 Columbus and #8 Detroit in the conference standings. The Blueshirts now only trail the #4 Tampa Bay Lightning by one point.  Obviously, home ice advantage in the first round of playoffs is the motivation for overtaking Tampa.  The Rangers have eight games left to continue affecting the standings.

It's off to the great white north now, to go panning for points with three games in the Canadian Rockies, and a stop in Colorado.  The Rangers can not afford to bow down to the Calgary Flames, nor the Edmonton Oilers.  Those are four must have points.  The Western Conference standings say they are inferior last place teams, with 67 points, and 59 points, respectively.  However, always beware the trap game, or in this case, trap games.

Then waiting in Vancouver, will be a very desperate Canucks team.  John Tortorella's minions are currently 10th in the Western Conference standings.  For obvious reasons, I envision this game devolving into something like a war.  I'll reiterate, that Philly was flat Wednesday night, and that the Canucks will elevate the physicality above what the Rangers recently experienced against Columbus.

The Rangers will close out the four game road trip in Colorado, against the 5th seeded Avalanche. The Philadelphia Flyers next four games are decidedly tougher.  They must face Toronto, Boston, St. Louis, and Columbus.



Mike.BTB

BK Nets: No Rest For the Weary

From the desk of:  THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH





BROOKLYN NETS - There's No Place Like Flatbush.

I told you I smelled a trap game.  Luckily, after falling to the Pelicans on Monday, Toronto followed suit with a loss on Tuesday night.  Therefore, the Nets entered Wednesday night's game against the Bobcats still just 1.5 games out of first place in the division.  However, the Nets wound up squandering an opportunity, and find themselves 2.5 games back again, as Toronto was victorious over Boston on Wednesday.

In Charlotte, the Nets suffered their second straight letdown, this time against the Bobcats, in what was Brooklyn's third straight overtime game. That's pretty taxing this late in the season.  So, perhaps, it's best if the Nets just hurry back to Brooklyn, rest in their own beds, and prepare to resume marching towards the playoffs on Friday, when they host Cleveland in the first of three games off Flatbush Avenue.

Considering how well they've played over the last three months, it is hard to be overly critical now. This was only the second time in 2014 Brooklyn has lost back to back games.  However, on the heels of a victory over a good Dallas Mavericks team to begin this road trip, the last two games have indeed been letdowns.

The Nets loss detracts from what was an otherwise stellar performance by Deron Williams, who finished with a team high 29-points, and poured in 18 points in the 1st quarter.  Deron also tied for the team lead with 7 assists, and after trailing the Bobcats after three quarters, he was instrumental in getting the Nets into overtime.  Mirza Teletovic scored 22 points off the bench, and Joe Johnson came in with 18 points.

All this is paltry compared to the night Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson had.  They are the two most responsible for sending the Nets home with their heads down.  Kemba Walker led all players with 12 assists, and poured in 20 points.

Al Jefferson however, destroyed Brooklyn in all aspects of the game.  While the Nets have sported a small line-up in Kevin Garnett's absence, they have been getting manhandled on the boards. Wednesday, the Nets were out-rebounded by a lopsided 49-32 margin.  The Bobcats pulled down 15 offensive rebounds.  The Nets could only manage 3 on their offensive glass.  Center Al Jefferson led all scorers with 35 points, and 12 rebounds, with 12 coming on the defensive board.

Both the Nets and Toronto Raptors play Friday evening.  In the Eastern Conference standings, #4 Chicago holds a 2.5 game lead over #5 Brooklyn.  The Bulls are in action Friday evening as well.

Twelve games remain in the Nets regular season.



Mike.BTB

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

N.Y. Mets Preview: In Search Of The Elusive .500 Record

From the desk of:  HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET






Back To Queens!


NEW YORK METS: Entering 2014, they are now a team about to venture out from their cave.  They will either adjust to the light, and continue forth with Amazin' confidence, or hide their eyes from the light, and venture back into the safety of the shade.

On Monday, a truck filled with Mets stuff started driving north on I-95, back towards Flushing. The question is, who's stuff will the last truck out of Florida be hauling?  With less than a week to go before the Mets season and home opener against the Nationals, the 2014 roster is starting to finally take shape.  Few questions remain, but, not all the answers are quite exactly to Mets fan's liking.

I'm not trying to beat a dead horse, but as we know, the Mets have not posted a winning season since Citi Field replaced Shea Stadium as home of the Mets.  That's five straight losing seasons.  I think finally however, the 2014 season begins the turnaround in Flushing.  While the upcoming season will still require patience on behalf of the fans, which also includes pleas for their increased patronage, I believe finishing .500 or better would certainly be an affirmative step forward for MetsKind.

I'm not greedy, 81 to 84 victories would do just fine.  The Mets posted a 74-88 record last season. In order to finish .500, they need a seven game swing.  That's considerable.

It's hard to tell if Sandy Alderson's 90 win projection was just more of his acidic humor, or if it was said after one too many, or came from the bottom of his heart, or was just simply wishful thinking on his part.  Some of it was unmistakably pom-pom shaking, and trying to drum up interest in the team, and entice ticket sales.

Memo to front office: Only winning will do that.  And through that, attendance will go up.

If the Mets compete for anything this season, it will be thanks to the new Wild Card set-up.  That still joins them in stiff competition with several quality teams.  But, with a good, sustained start to their season, if the Mets can indeed make a compelling case for Sandy Alderson to make additions, all eyes will be on the Wilpons for approval.  That's when they will be revealed as either players, or pretenders.  Of course, should the Mets flop in the first half of the season, they're off the hook until the following year again.

Sorry, no Mets preview is complete without calculating the effect ownership's situation still
has on team operations, or Alderson's real autonomy.  Any potential roster enhancements will increase payroll, and any REAL addition, will cost considerable money.  Remember, over the winter, Sandy Alderson didn't exactly go on a won-ton spending spree.  He merely gave different people the same money he was already operating with.

There is no doubting that Curtis Granderson, Chris Young, and Bartolo Colon made for a curious shopping list.  But, grading Sandy Alderson's off-season is something best attempted much later in the season.

The Mets outfield had long been ridiculed as an AAAA outfit.  Sandy secured two outfielders.  One is a proven MLB caliber slugger, while the other is a huge gamble.

Chris Young was the first of Alderson's winter signings.  The timing was bad, because, his signing came rather early in the free agent process, but nevertheless followed a standard procedure in recent years.  Let the alpha predators feed first, then make due on the left-overs.  Preceding him were Marlon Byrd and Scott Hairston.  If Chris Young provides similar productivity, I guess the signing will reflect well.

What Sandy Alderson didn't do was, acquire an MLB level catcher to back-up d'Arnaud, like he said wanted to back in October, nor did he acquire a shortstop, which he stated as his top priority at the onset of the free agent period.  Lastly, Sandy Alderson stood by while the run on quality relief pitchers took place in December, and only very recently addressed the bullpen with rolls of the dice on Kyle Farnsworth and Jose Valverde.  In the big picture, that tells me the money wasn't there.

All that said, let the games begin!  The influx of young talent may save this organization yet.


STARTING ROTATION:

Unlike Matt Harvey, who is noisily trying to exercise his CBA right to be the rehabbing Dark Knight of Gotham, Zack Wheeler is quietly going about his business this spring.  That wasn't always the case. While still in the minors, Wheeler was involved in a few incidences that drew attention his way.  He now appears to be approaching his 2nd MLB season, and 1st full season, very confidently, and with maturity as well.

If you're interested in the truth, then there is only one way to view Zack Wheeler - as the ace of this staff.  In the grand scheme of things, Bartolo Colon and Dice-K do not factor deeply into the Mets future.  And without really proving himself over a full MLB season yet, the expectations placed upon him already surpass those placed on Dillon Gee and Jon Niese anyway.  So, real or imagined, why don't we just call an ace an ace.

Dillon Gee has had his share of ups and downs.  He was already a good pitcher, but now seems even more in command of himself than ever.  With health, Gee is poised to become a 15 game winner.  I believe that.  Due to Jon Niese's recent arm development, Dillon Gee has been named this year's Opening Day starter.  He will become the Mets 23rd different pitcher bestowed with the privilege.  His selection was also well deserved.  He's been a good soldier.

Bartolo Colon has looked sharp this spring.  He remarkably remains unfazed by age and girth.  It's a long season though, but early indications say he's ready to challenge National League line-ups. The balance of power is currently tipped towards the American League, and if you also consider that he will no longer be facing the DH nearly as much, Bartolo Colon could have a very good season.  The Mets would benefit handsomely if Colon can secure 15 victories this season.

The Mets paid Dice-K $100,000 in order to retain him, yet temporarily keep him off the roster.  To start the season, the Mets can therefore utilize an extra bench player, until the fifth starter role comes into play.

Sandy Alderson said Jenrry Mejia will not be pitching in the bullpen.  So, either Mejia makes the starting rotation over Dice-K, or spends time in Las Vegas.

I left Jon Niese last, believing he will pose a potential problem for the starting rotation at some point this year, if not soon.  He suffered a partial tear in his rotator cuff last season, which he rehabbed without surgery.  So far this spring, he's been flown to NYC for two different MRI's on his shoulder and elbow, with negative results.  However, I fear all is not well.

Niese is the lone left-hand pitcher in the rotation.  Lefty John Lannan could be utilized to back fill Niese's spot.  Or, Jenrry Mejia could very well find himself right back in the rotation mix.

STARTING FIVE: Zack Wheeler, Dillon Gee, Jon Niese, Bartolo Colon, Daisuke Matsuzaka
POTENTIAL DEPTH: Jenrry Mejia, John Lannan,
POTENTIAL 2014 CALL-UPS: Rafael Montero, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom


BULLPEN:

I don't know that Mets fans can exhale with confidence, but they can certainly sigh with relief.  On the one hand, Bobby Parnell has looked fine this spring.  On the other, unfortunately, Vic Black has not.  That should not preclude Black from coming north though.

Scott Rice is the known lefty in the bullpen.  A second lefty still remains a questionable item.  John Lannan will most likely join Rice in the bullpen.  Josh Edgin, who will begin the season with Las Vegas, can, and should be an option.

After a shaky stint in the Arizona Fall League, followed by decent work pitching in winter ball, Jeurys Familia is having a fine time in the Grapefruit League.  He has regenerated high expectations for himself.

Jose Valverde and Carlos Torres seem likely to round out a bullpen of seven pitchers.

TOP SEVEN: Bobby Parnell, Vic Black, Jeurys Familia, Jose Valverde, Carlos Torres, (LHP) Scott Rice, (LHP) John Lannan
REINFORCEMENTS: Josh Edgin, Germen Gonzalez
POTENTIAL 2014 CALL-UPS: Jack Leathersich, Jeff Walters, John Church, Joel Carreno


THE DIAMOND:

Catcher - Travis d'Arnaud's defensive skills, and handling of pitchers are apparently up to snuff. But, his Grapefruit League production is starting to give people the jitters.  He was short circuited last year by an injury to his foot.  He returned to post a .304 average in 56 at-bats for Las Vegas. He then only managed a .202 average over 99 at-bats during his call up to Flushing.  This spring, he is batting .154 over 36 at-bats, with three extra base hits.  At 25-years of age, there is a measurable amount of pressure being placed on d'Arnaud to produce respectable numbers in what is officially still his rookie season.

For the last two seasons, I've been wanting the Mets to sign A.J. Pierzynski to a one or two year deal.  He'll be with the Boston Red Sox this season.  I digress.  Anthony Recker will once again be the back-up catcher in Flushing.  I'm cool with that.  You either like players, or, you don't.

First Base - Sandy Alderson stated the Mets will head north with both Ike Davis and Lucas Duda on the roster.  I guess the Mets have no current available alternative, but what a broken situation this has been, and for quite some time may I add.  Josh Satin will serve as the right hand bat in a platoon situation, and come off the bench.  It is believed Ike Davis will get the season's first crack.

It's hard to envision Lucas Duda's bat not in the line-up on days he does not play first.  His at-bats in the outfield will bleed into Juan Lagares' and EYJ's playing time.  Odds are, Ike Davis is being showcased with diminishing hopes of still trading him.  Lucas Duda was said to be the team's preference at first base some time ago.

Second Base - Daniel Murphy is going to be 29-years old this season, and I'm expecting big things from him - not gargantuan numbers, but very productive, well rounded, balanced numbers.  The only thing I feel that can derail him from having an all-star season is injury.  Otherwise, I look forward to a stronger, wiser, Daniel Murphy taking advantage of an improved line-up behind him.

Sandy Alderson sent Wilmer Flores to minor league camp.  I understand the GM wants Flores playing 2B and SS everyday while in Las Vegas.  I can't say I'm happy about it though.  I wanted Wilmer Flores heading north with the team.  Instead, Omar Quintanilla once again seems to be this year's utility infielder up the middle.  I also wonder whether Sandy Alderson still has lingering ideas of trading Flores.

Shortstop - Ruben Tejada has the unrealistic demands of others to thank for his employment this season.  Jhonny Peralta priced himself out of the Mets pocketbook early in the free agent process, while Stephen Drew and his agent Scott Boras, continue to reside in outer space with their contract requests.  With no one of quality, ready, available, or otherwise, to step into the position from the minors, and no trade prospects on the horizon, Ruben Tejada wins the shortstop job by default. To date, he has done little to change the minds of Terry Collins and Sandy Alderson, or reverse his falling out of the club's favor.

Omar Quintanilla may get more starting time than any of us anticipated, unless Sandy Alderson strikes an in-season deal.  In truth, Wilfredo Tovar would still be an inconsequential addition to the mix.

Third Base - The Captain of the Mets has not been impervious to injuries.  They've hampered him throughout his prime years.  He's provided enough evidence however, to prove he is far from through.  At 31-years of age, David Wright appears poised to strike back.  He finally has the line-up protection he sorely lacked over recent years.  With health, a renaissance season seems in order.

He is entering his second decade with the Mets.  He's been here for down times, good times, and down times again.  He is still in prime position to lead the team into the next good period of Mets history.  There are also 20 million other reasons why David Wright needs to have a good season.

For now, Josh Satin will also serve as the back-up third baseman.

THE STARTERS: Travis d'Arnaud, Ike Davis, Daniel Murphy, Ruben Tejada, David Wright
BACKING-UP: Omar Quintanilla, Josh Satin, Anthony Recker
REINFORCEMENTS: Zach Lutz, Wilfredo Tovar
POTENTIAL 2014 CALL-UPS: Wilmer Flores, Juan Centeno


OUTFIELD:

Since Sandy Alderson insists both Ike Davis and Lucas Duda will be on the opening day roster, Lucas Duda's presence in the outfield means a number of things.  In an effort to keep Duda's bat in the line-up, playing time will be taken away from Jaun Lagares and EYJ.  On a second tier, players like Andrew Brown, Matt den Dekker, and Kirk Nieuwenhuis are forced to start the season in Las Vegas, as the fifth outfield slot now belongs to Duda.

The only major question remaining is whether the Mets find Juan Lagares' defense more preferable to Eric Young's speed potential.  Both factor into the lead-off role, and to date, there is no clear answer as both need improvement at the plate.

While I believe Curtis Granderson certainly possesses Pepsi Porch power, I do not think he'll be achieving 40+ home run levels again.  Tiger Stadium and Citi Field have more in common with each other, than either park has with Yankee Stadium.  But, if Granderson can still hit 25+ home runs hitting behind David Wright, he will be well worth the investment.  His addition should ideally have a domino effect throughout the line-up, and help get overall scoring up.  The Mets ranked towards the bottom of the N.L. in runs last season.

Chris Young may be the biggest question mark the Mets have.  The team has been through the circus hoops with Ike Davis and Ruben Tejada, but Young is the truly unknown commodity.  So far, so good - Chris is fine, and doing well in Grapefruit League action.  More so than Travis d'Arnaud, or either left handed first baseman, Chris Young is the true X-factor in the line-up.  If he can somehow recapture his home run and RBI totals he posted from 2007 through 2010, the Mets can make more noise than anyone anticipated.  He is also being counted on to provide line-up protection for Curtis Granderson.

STARTING THREE: Curtis Granderson, Chris Young, Juan Lagares
4th AND 5th OUTFIELDER: Eric Young Jr., Lucas Duda
REINFORCEMENTS: Matt den Dekker, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Andrew Brown
POTENTIAL 2014 CALL-UPS: Cesar Puello, Dustin Lawley


UPDATES:

Wednesday 3/26 - Vic Black sent to minor league camp.  Jose Valverde added to 40-man roster.


Mike.BTB

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

N.Y. Jets: John Idzik's Retrofit Proceeding Slowly

From the desk of:  Walt Michael's Revenge





NEW YORK JETS: John Idzik's Patience Has Organization Riddled With Anxiety.

He just wasn't that good.  He wasn't.  Five years ago, the winning coach of the most recent Super Bowl champion Seahawks, Pete Carroll, said Mark Sanchez wasn't ready.

Things no doubt started well for Mark Sanchez, but only with Braylon Edwards, Jerricho Cotchery, and tight end Dustin Keller by his side, not to mention a decent running game behind him as well. Mark Sanchez peaked quickly, then devolved just as fast.  For Mark's sake, he and the Jets needed to part ways.

That still doesn't absolve the Jets from doing Mark Sanchez wrong.  They made him rich, but little else.  At the time, Mark was playing for a head coach who didn't involve himself with offensive matters.  By 2011-12, Sanchez was bereft of weapons to work with.  And by 2012, a deteriorated offensive line, otherwise left him on his back, or fleeing for his life.  Why add (literal) insult to injury by bringing up last season?  Playing for two different offensive coordinators, and having to learn a new system under duress, no doubt, additionally made matters worse.

Unfortunately for both Mark Sanchez and Rex Ryan, the head coach already squeezed everything out of what Eric Mangini and Mike Tannenbaum had previously started.  Unfortunately for Rex, the need to rebuild came during his watch, regardless of Sanchez.  Even the players Rex wanted imported, and received, were already older.  By the 2011 season, I feel the Jets were disillusioned by their fleeting success.  Mark Sanchez' contract extension was part of it.

Moving forward, if Geno Smith wants to gain perspective into what it will be like to have Michael Vick around, I suggest he call Kellen Clemens and Brad Smith.  Not only did both have to cede the floor to Sanchez, but, the last time the Jets put their football in the hands of a QB drafted by the Atlanta Falcons, Clemens stood witness while Brett Favre abetted in lighting the fuse that helped implode Eric Mangini's lone gig as a head coach.  Will this latest former Atlanta Falcon quarterback precipitate Rex Ryan's dismissal from the only head coaching gig he's known?

Geno Smith will be operating with the expectations of a second year QB - little.  How he performs in camp, I believe will become inconsequential.  He'll have exactly four games to show something, then the Jets will hand the ball off to Michael Vick.  Barring few exceptions, that's the way I see things transpiring next season.

If you can get beyond the dogs, Michael Vick and the Jets have a real football need for each other. If you can't get beyond the dogs, then as a Jets fan, you're having a hard time reconciling Woody Johnson's organizational morals.  In either case, the media will be descending upon Jets camp in late summer like flies on a freshly laid steamy cow patty.  Woody seems to enjoy chaos though.  I can't say the same of the general manager he hired.

John Idzik has been catching heat lately, for appearing reluctant to sign any number of formerly available free agents that would have addressed a few needs.  Part of the criticism stems from indeed having the money to spend, being in great salary cap shape, yet laying low.  I'll defend him, and say, just because one has money in hand, doesn't mean it needs to be spent.  I'll side with Idzik's patient approach for now, although I know it clashes with Woody Johnson's sudden petulance.  With extra draft picks to work with, how Idzik does in this year's draft will better define his tenure thus far.

Why fire a guy players love performing for, especially while your team is in rebuilding mode. Therefore, Rex Ryan's job status is a matter best left for, if and when Geno Smith starts to struggle and Rex calls to the bullpen for Michael Vick, or the end of the season, when Idzik's hammer likely falls.

Either way, it's going to be a long season for Woody Johnson, who says he wants to win now. Idzik says he's a patient man, and the more Woody talks about DeSean Jackson, the more he's A) - tampering according to NFL rules, and B) - stepping all over the toes of his new general manager. Naturally, there are rumors circulating that Woody supposedly isn't too crazy about John Idzik.

Funny how cow patties roll down hill, as everyone is still speculating whether John Idzik really likes Rex Ryan, or if Woody even still likes Ryan.  But on the other side of the coin, everyone in a uniform loves Rex Ryan, maybe except Geno Smith, who can't be happy about being placed in a revised (no win) situation.  While John Idzik is a patient man, Rex Ryan may not have the luxury of patience to operate with.

The divergent flight patterns of the Jets triumvirate spells nothing but J-E-T-S trouble, trouble, trouble, ahead.  Therefore, I'm making an early call, and telling Jets fans to keep their seat belts fastened, and trays in an upright position.  The trip from point A to point B is certain to be a bumpy one.




Mike.BTB

Monday, March 24, 2014

Brooklyn Nets: Beware The Pelican Trap

From the desk of:  THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH



BROOKLYN NETS: Start Road Trip On A High With OT Win Over Dallas; Must Avoid Trap Game Against Pelicans Tonight.

Are there trap games in the NBA like in the NFL?  We'll find out tonight.  After disposing of a very good Dallas Mavericks team last night in overtime, the Nets visit the 29-40 New Orleans Pelicans.

With their 107-104 overtime victory over the Mavs, the Nets improved to 10-2 this month, and are now 27-10 in the new year.  They are still 1.5 games behind the Raptors in the Atlantic Division race.  Toronto is idle tonight, then play in Cleveland on Tuesday.

In the Eastern Conference standings, Brooklyn enters tonight's action as the 5th seed, 2 games over Washington.  The Nets trail the 5th seeded Chicago Bulls by 1 game.  Chicago plays the Indiana Pacers this evening.

The month of March has seven days left, and there is still no sign of Kevin Garnett.  Complicating the issue, Andrei Kirilenko was lost yet again last night, this time spraining his left ankle.  But, there is no need to fear, Mason Plumlee is here.  All kidding aside, Plumlee has been thriving under the direction of his veteran team mates.

However, last night belonged to Joe Johnson and Marquis Thornton.  Mr. Big Shot, Joe Johnson led the Nets with 22 points, and effectively sent the game into overtime with a drive into the lane.
Marquis Thornton scored 20 points off the bench.

Playing small is working.  Somehow, the team is still getting out-rebounded, but it doesn't seem to be hindering them too much.  Dallas won the battle of the boards by a 52-47 margin.  The Mavs also had more assists, 21-17, than the Nets.  Dirk Nowitzki perhaps having an off night (10 points) made a big difference, because the Nets only squeaked by with a marginal edge in FG%, 3-point shots, and free throws.




Mike.BTB

Sunday, March 23, 2014

N.Y. Rangers: Lundqvist Passes Giacomin; Nash Rumbles On

From the desk of:  RAISE GRESCH WITH THE GREATS





#50
Goalie Henrik Lundqvist 
Sets New Rangers Franchise Record With 50th Career Shutout

Ed Giacomin - 49 Career Shutouts



NEW YORK RANGERS: The King Notches His 5th Shutout Of Season; Surpasses Ed Giacomin On Club's All-Time List.

....and it came at a most crucial time, with the Rangers clinging to third place in the Metropolitan Division with just 10 games left in the regular season.  The Rangers are now winners of three in a row, but are just 6-6 in the Ides of March.

With 82 points, the Rangers lead 4th place Washington (79 points), and 5th place Columbus (78 points) in the Metropolitan standings.  The Rangers are currently 6th in the Eastern Conference, two points better than 7th seed Toronto, and three points better than both Detroit, and Washington.

Saturday night in Newark, Rick Nash continued playing inspired hockey.  He opened up the scoring midway through the 2nd period, on assists by Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider.  Rick Nash and Derek Stepan both led the Rangers with 4 shots on goal.  Stepan gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead with a power play goal in the 3rd period, and with his 2 points against the Devils, he now has 50 points for the season.

In the end, that was all the Rangers needed.  Henrik Lundvist handled the rest.  He made 21 saves in shutting out the Devils.  It was also Henrik's 50th career shutout, breaking the Rangers franchise record set by the great Eddie Giacomin.

The Rangers also played a disciplined game, allowing the proficient Devils power play unit just one opportunity.

This may have been the last time Henrik Lundqvist and Martin Brodeur faced off against each other with their respective teams.  Martin Brodeur, 41, is a free agent at the end of the season. They have gone head to head 41 times in their careers.  Brodeur's record against Lundqvist is 15-21-5, while Henrik's record against Brodeur is 26-10-5.




Mike.BTB

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Rangers vs. Devils; Battle of the Hudson - V

From the desks of:
RAISE GRESCH WITH THE GREATS  &  NEWARK SINNERS ON SKATES 





BATTLE OF THE HUDSON - V

Devils Lead Series 3-1
I - NJD 4; NYR 0
II - NJD 3; NYR 2
III - NJD 4; NYR 3
IV - NYR 7; NJD 3


TONIGHT
NEW YORK RANGERS
vs.
New Jersey Devils
FROM
The Rock
Newark, N.J.


New York Rangers: Their Kindness Has Been A Weakness. Playing Hockey With A Bad Attitude Is Exactly What They Needed.

There's more to just salvaging a second win in the season series against the Devils.  Despite being seven points ahead of today's rival, the Rangers must avoid having Newark close to within five points.  It sounds simplistic, but remember what the Devils did two years ago.

Last night's gritty victory over Columbus gave the Blueshirts a mere 24-hours of breathing room.
The Rangers enter tonight's game against the Devils tied with the Toronto Maple Leafs for the 6th seed in the Eastern Conference, and only sit in third place of the Metropolitan Division by two points over the Blue Jackets.  So, for the Rangers, everything can still change on the drop of a dime.

There are 22 points up for grabs before the regular season ends.  The Rangers need to secure as many of them as possible.  After tonight's game, the Rangers will host Phoenix, then welcome the #5 Philadelphia Flyers (81 points) to Madison Square Garden.  That game will be paramount, as the Rangers will then hit the road for a four game swing through the Western Conference.

Did last night's game in Columbus awake a sleeping giant?  Rick Nash finally played with the fury someone of his size and skill should be skating with.  The man needed an edge, and the Blue Jackets may have finally sharpened his.  His team mates also responded in kind, with great tenaciousness, push-backs and fists, and goals.  Games like yesterday's were meant to propel teams forward.  What effect it will have on the Rangers with just 11 games left in the season remains to be seen.


New Jersey Devils: Will This Be The Last Time Martin Brodeur Squares Off Against Henrik Lundqvist?

The #11 Devils trail the #8 seeded Columbus Blue Jackets by five points.  With 12 games remaining in their schedule, an outside chance to reach the post-season still exists.  The Devils have a more Eastern Conference heavy schedule left than the Rangers.  They need all the help they can get, but it won't hurt to play like a bunch of crazed dogs.

The Devils are also coming off a 4-3 OT win over the Jackets.  It snapped a three game losing streak.  In fact, the Devils have been converting more overtime games into victories lately, which was something that stymied their standing very early in the season.  The Devils lost their first five extra time games this season.  They are now 9-13 for the season in extra innings.

Entering tonight's game against the Rangers, the Devils own the NHL's 3rd best power play, and are tops on the penalty kill.  They also rank 11th in goals against.  The Rangers are 6th on the PK, 14th on the PP, and 6th in goals against.

Jaromir Jagr continues his years long swan song.  He is currently posting a triple crown, leading the team with 23 goals, 37 assists, and 70 points.  Earlier this season, he became only the 7th player in NHL  history to surpass 700 goals in a career.

The match-ups between Martin Brodeur and Henrik Lundqvist are coming to an end.  Who knows when the next time might be.  Therefore, I for one, will be watching this game with great interest. Both teams will be desperate for a positive outcome tonight.

Henrik Lundqvist recently gained his 303rd career victory.  Martin Brodeur more than doubles him, with 686 career victories.  He only needs 14 more wins to reach 700, and the Devils should give him the opportunity to achieve that next season (then make him retire!).



Mike.BTB

Friday, March 21, 2014

Brooklyn Nets Down Celtics; Keep Chipping Away At Toronto's Lead

From the desk of:  THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH





FINAL
Boston      98
Flatbush  114


BROOKLYN NETS - Flatbush Closes To Within 1.5 Games Of Toronto Raptors In Atlantic Division Race.

Fifteen Games Left In Regular Season

Big man on campus, Mason Plumlee, did to the Celtics what Kevin Garnett perhaps wanted to do to his former team, but because of a cranky back, couldn't.  Instead, Mason Plumlee helped the Nets gain a measure of revenge over the Boston Celtics, with 3 steals, 3 assists, 5 rebounds, and 18 points, in just 21 minutes.  He was a very efficient 6/7 from the field, and a perfect 6/6 from the line.

After bowing to the Celtics last time they met, Brooklyn wins the season series 3-1 over Boston.

Joe Johnson had the hot hand, scoring 27 points to lead the Nets, and igniting them in the third quarter in particular.

On this night however, Jason Kidd made extensive use of the bench.  Thirteen different Nets received minutes, which included a rare Jorge Gutierrez sighting, who clocked 18 minutes, and scored 10 points.  Andray Blatche also scored in double digits off the bench, matching Gutierrez with 10 points.  In all, five Nets scored in double digits, as Paul Pierce chipped in 14 points in just 18 minutes.

While still 5th in the Eastern Conference standings, Brooklyn is now just one game behind the Chicago Bulls.  The Nets can potentially leapfrog Chicago, because they are now just 1.5 games behind the first place Toronto Raptors in the Atlantic Division standings.

It's off to Dallas now, where Brooklyn will begin a three game road trip.  The Nets defeated the Mavs last time they met.  They'll also play in New Orleans before facing off against the Charlotte Bobcats again.




Mike.BTB

N.Y. Rangers: Rick Nash Finally Lashes Out

From the desk of:  RAISE GRESCH WITH THE GREATS





Did Columbus Wake A Sleeping Giant?


NEW YORK RANGERS: Rick Nash Pushes Back! Team Mates Rally Around Nash After He Retaliates Against Repeated Columbus Instigations.

Rick Nash finally played with fury.  Columbus' repeated attempts to agitate the former Blue Jacket worked.  And, may I add, thank you!  Friday night's game could finally be what ignites, what otherwise has been a 212 pound teddy bear.  It is my sincerest hope, Columbus has awakened a sleeping giant.

The Rangers and Blue Jackets entered the game tied with 78 points on the season.  For the first two periods, Columbus did everything they could to get Nash out of his game, and off the ice.

At one point, Blue Jacket goalie Sergei Bobrovsky slashed Nash in the back of the leg.  Nash retaliated soon enough, crashing the net on a scoring attempt, and putting a good shove into the goalie's chest when Bobrovsky tossed Nash's stick aside.  That caused a melee in front of the net.

In the opening minute of the third period, Nash finally decided he had enough of their cheap shots, dropped his gloves, and went after Matt Calvert.  They both incurred five for fighting, and the Blue Jackets scored shortly thereafter.

Within 44-seconds of Nick Foligno's unassisted goal, Derek Stepan tied the game.  Nine minutes later, another former Columbus Blue Jacket, Derick Brassard put the Rangers ahead with a wrap-around goal under Bobrovsky - his 16th of the season.  Lastly, Carl Hagelin scored on an empty net with 39-seconds left in the game.

Columbus then left the ice dejected.  That's how it's done!  In the immortal words of John Davidson - Oh Baby!

This was perhaps the Rangers grittiest game of the season.  Even Benoit Pouliot dropped the gloves for the first time this season against Derek MacKenzie.

Defenseman, Fedor Tyutin is becoming notorious for taking cheap shots at his former club.  Friday night, he zeroed in on Mats Zuccarello, and put him head first into the corner boards.

The Rangers needed this game.  They needed all the instigation, and agitation Columbus threw their way.  The Rangers finally needed to get angry.  Columbus did the provoking, and the Rangers in turn buzzed them like hornets.  Ever since the initial exchange of players involving Marian Gaborik and Derick Brassard, the further exchange of players has quickly turned this into a very heated rivalry.

Rick Nash additionally needed to hear all the booing, and finally stick up for himself.  But, most importantly, he needed to finally unload.

The entire team should really be commended for the way they took care of business in Columbus Friday night.




Mike.BTB

Brooklyn Nets: Team Now Doing Billy King's Talking For Him

From the desk of:  THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH





BROOKLYN NETS: There Are Several Reasons For The Successful Turnaround, And General Manager Billy King Is At The Heart Of Them All.

How do you like me now bitches?  For an older team who many thought were better suited for the playoffs rather than a long haul, the Nets are showing they're a pretty good regular season team after all - not to mention resilient.  In fact, Brooklyn is playing their best ball of the season, and are the hottest team in the NBA.  They own a 25-10 record in the new year, and an 8-2 mark in March.

This team was thought to be done way back when they started the first two months of the season with a troubling 5-12 record.  In the 2013 portion of the schedule, the Nets endured losing streaks of five and four games respectively, and lost back to back games on four other occasions.  They finished the old year with a worrisome 10-21 record.

At the height of these troubled times, Billy King never hid.  He was front and center, fielding any and all questions regarding the team he put together, and the coach he put in place.

In the more successful 2014 portion of their season, the Nets have endured just one three game losing streak, and instead have twice posted winning streaks of five games, one four game streak, and in Friday's game against the Boston Celtics, they will be attempting their second three game streak.

Billy King has been very quiet lately.  Right now, his team is doing the talking for him.  The Nets can point at several reasons for their successful turnaround, and Billy King is at the heart of them all.

First, the GM's choice of head coach is now justifying a rather inspired selection.  Jason Kidd was always accused of having a brilliant mind on the floor.  Now we're seeing it at work on the bench.

In what will ultimately go down as a defining moment of the season, Jason Kidd stood his ground against an old friend, and removed a source of conflict from his bench.  In hindsight, the Lawrence Frank incident was perhaps very beneficial, as it got the players focused on one person - their head coach.

With that out of the way, Jason Kidd was left to coach.  He altered the playing system twice, when a faltering situation demanded his attention.  He initially revised the plan while Deron Williams struggled with his ankles, and began moving the ball through Brook Lopez.  Brook's injury then made Coach Kidd readjust.  That's when Paul Pierce was re-positioned.  Perhaps hardest of all things to inspire, Jason Kidd also got his men to play defense.  The Nets have been on a three month rally since.

As such, Billy King's big ticket item, Deron Williams, is finally performing like the big ticket player the GM thought he signed.  Lately, he's been playing with a chip on his shoulder, and that's a good thing.  His ankle troubles (knock on the hardwood floor) are seemingly a thing of the past.  His step is confident, and getting increasingly stronger.  In fact, he just registered his first dunk of the season.

The bench depth Billy King assembled, is prevailing in their efforts to minimize numerous team injuries, like losing Brook Lopez for the season, DWill's earlier ankle troubles, Kevin Garnett's unforgiving back situation, and nagging issues affecting Andrei Kirilenko.

On that note - big man on campus - Mason Plumlee's on the job training is coming along just fine. He is getting quality minutes, and putting up representative rebounding numbers.  In the back court, Billy King's off season signing of Shaun Livingston is paying huge dividends.  In fact, Shaun has become indispensable.  I do not know how - because his potential price tag would become virtually untouchable under the Nets projected salary cap - but Mr. King needs to figure a way to retain him. I'd say he is a strong 6th Man Award candidate.

Rounding out the top reasons for the Nets turnaround, Billy King's big trade for Paul Pierce (and KG) has provided this team its backbone.  It is my observation, Paul Pierce has been the answer man, who responds when needed.  When opponents threaten, or begin to sway momentum away from the Nets, Paul Pierce answers back with buckets.

Neither least , nor last - Mr. Big Shot - Joe Johnson has hung in to grind out damn near every game this season, lest we forget, the harshest criticism previously levied against him, was that he used to disappear for games at a time.  Not so this season.  In Brook Lopez's absence, Joe Johnson leads the team in scoring.  He has been a more consistent scorer, and active participant without the ball this season.

Remember how last season such a big deal was made over the Nets beating up on scrubs, and posting a losing record against teams with records above the .500 mark?  This season, the Nets currently have a 9-12 record against the other top seven teams in the Eastern Conference.  Against the top nine Western Conference teams, the Nets own a 10-6 record.  Combined, that's a 19-18 mark.

The Indiana Pacers, by the way, swept the four game series over the Nets, and Washington so far has taken three games from the Nets with one left to play.  Meanwhile, in three meetings the Heat are yet defeat Brooklyn.

At a minimum, the Nets need to win a second round playoff series, if they want to improve upon last year's results.  Last year, they couldn't get by a depleted Chicago Bulls team.  The Nets had their chances, but in most cases, lacked a knockout punch.  Despite defeating the Miami Heat three times this season, the biggest question still facing Billy King is, can his Nets defeat the Heat in a seven games series?

Although there is another year remaining in owner's mandate to win a title within five years of his purchase date, Billy King, however, expedited the process, putting his cards on the table this season.  That was pretty bold of him - but then, everything he's done since becoming general manager of the Nets has been bold.

Billy King may yet have his day in the sun.





Mike.BTB

Thursday, March 20, 2014

N.Y. Knicks: Team Shows Energy In Front Of The New Boss

From the desk of:  DUTCH PANTS CAN'T JUMP





NEW YORK KNICKS: Who Were Those Guys Last Night?

Phil Jackson was in attendance at the Knicks 92-86 victory over the top seeded Indiana Pacers at the Garden - his new office.  To see the Knicks in action, even an untrained observer might have thought a new sheriff was in town, and was there putting the Knicks on notice.

The Knicks displayed a spirited defensive effort Wednesday night, and moved the ball marvelously to the open man, just as Phil Jackson said he wanted from his players, from this moment forward.

Did they play like that for Coach Woodson, or for themselves?  Do you think Steve Mills would have inspired such an effort with his mere presence?

The Knicks played like they were no longer apathetic to a non-existent structure.  Players can turn that sort of thing on and off like a switch.  With Phil Jackson, they know he means business, and that the easy life will be ending.  These guys actually have to prove their worth now.  Funny how they displayed and played with a lot of movement.

The Knicks only shot 39% against the Pacers.  That goes to show what defense can accomplish. Of course, it also helps when Carmelo Anthony clocks in 43 minutes and scores 34 points.  He led the floor on both counts.  How about this one - Melo had five assists too!

At the end of the night, this was still a good win over the Pacers.  It may not help their season, but it will make deciding who stays and who goes, a little more complicated.  They should keep it up.



Mike.BTB

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Brooklyn Nets: Angry Deron Williams Claws Up Bobcats Too

From the desk of:  THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH



Wednesday Final
Bobcats  99
NETS    104


BROOKLYN NETS - Wizards, Bobcats, and Raptors, Oh My!

The Brooklyn Nets are now the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference standings.  Entering Wednesday night's game, the 7th seeded Bobcats posed the latest threat to the Nets.  With a 104-99 victory over Charlotte at Barclays, the Nets have now created a 3.5 game cushion between them.  Sneaking in between however, lay the bothersome 6th seeded Washington Wizards.  The 8th seeded Atlanta Hawks round out the first division.

In the Atlantic Division race, the Nets have closed to within 2.5 games of the first place Toronto Raptors.

Wednesday night at Barclays, Angry Deron held an encore performance.  Still steaming over his play in Washington, Deron led all scorers with 25 points, and clawed up the Bobcats with 11 points in the final quarter.   Deron also distributed a game high 8 assists.  He was a perfect 6/6 from the charity line, 3/5 from beyond the arch, and 8/15 from the field.  His performance came on the heels of a 28 point night against the Suns.

Mason Plumlee continues to put in effective work.  Sure he's raw, but he's not getting outclassed. He chipped in 11 points and pulled down 7 rebounds.  It was actually Joe Johnson who led the Nets with 8 rebounds, and was second to Williams with 20 points.

Shaun Livingston was 3rd high score for Brooklyn with 17 points.  The more he excels, the least likely chance the Nets have of retaining him.  He is going to parlay this season with Brooklyn into handsome free agent dollars.

A big factor in Brooklyn's victory - they only turned the ball over 7 times.  The Bobcats turned it over 15 times which yielded the Nets 21 points, and they scored another 12 points off fast breaks.

Without Kevin Garnett however, team rebounding continues to be an issue.  This time, the Bobcats out-rebounded the Nets by a considerable 51-39 margin.  It doesn't seem to be slowing the Nets down much though.  During Garnett's 10 game absence, Brooklyn is 8-2 in March, and remain the hottest team of the new calender year.  This was additionally Brooklyn's 10th consecutive victory at home.

The Nets will host the Celtics on Friday before hitting the road for three games, concluding with another game against the Bobcats in Charlotte.

The Nets have 16 games left in the regular season.



Mike.BTB

N.Y. Knicks: Phil Jackson Plants His Flag

From the desk of:  DUTCH PANTS CAN'T JUMP






NEW YORK KNICKS: Phil Jackson Is Bringing Back Old School, But He's Too Cool To Be An Old Fool.

For nearly half a century now, there is a stream that runs right through the Knicks organization.  Its source is the Lakers.  These teams continue to be intertwined ever since the Knicks championship victories over Los Angeles, through the Pat Riley era, and now with the return of Phil Jackson to New York.

As I stated the other day, Phil Jackson now holds the position Pat Riley wanted from the Knicks. Those were the days of Paramount, with Dave Checketts serving as president of both Garden teams.  But, this is James Dolan's team now.  Or, so it was.

Phil Jackson vs. James Dolan:

James Dolan said he was gratefully handing the Knicks reigns over to Phil Jackson. We've heard that before, but with Jackson, there's reason to believe it this time.

Here's the bad.  Phil Jackson needn't ever work another day in his life.  If Phil isn't free to do things Phil's way, or, if James Dolan pesters him, or both, Phil Jackson will simply walk away, and the Knicks are back at square one.

Here's the good.  Phil Jackson needn't work another day in his life!  He is taking this job because he wants to, and feels passionately about the challenge ahead, and the team itself.  Because of his history here, imagine if Phil Jackson returns the Knicks back to former glory?  Manhattan would crack in half at 33rd Street from everyone jumping up and down.

As a player, Phil Jackson teamed up with some very strong personalities.  Clyde Frazier, Willis Reed, Dave DeBusschere, and even Bill Bradley were all confident minded individuals.  Of course, Phil Jackson also went on to coach some of the more strong minded players, and self destructive players, to ever step on an NBA court - Shaq, Kobe, Jordan, and Dennis Rodman, and the player formerly known as Ron Artest.  So, James Dolan can just grab a ticket and wait for his number to be called.

What About Steve Mills?

With his first yank of the reigns, the new team president basically said the Knicks are going old school.  Translation - Steve Mills world is about to change.

In later radio interviews, James Dolan admitted he and Steve Mills had no real plan, and that without one, there was no reason to speak with the media.  I applaud him for his honesty.  But did you see the look on Steve Mill's face at the press conference?  That was the facial expression of someone busy reading the writing on the wall.

I found it funny that Steve Mills was not asked a single question at the presser.  I feel that's because he is now officially an inconsequential figure.  He's going to be lunch meat, sandwiched between Jackson and whoever the president decides will coach the team.

I will be surprised if he is still the GM next season.

What About Mike Woodson?

There's not much to say.  Phil Jackson will be bringing in some of his people.  Coach Woodson is a good guy.  Why bother critiquing now?

What Now?

Finish out a miserable season, re-address the salary cap situation, come to an understanding with Carmelo Anthony, and start treating draft picks a little more preciously.

And What About Carmelo Anthony?

He's no longer a problem.  It's Phil Jackson's and his staff's job to surround him with more compatible players, within Phil Jackson's newly implemented system.  If Melo decides to opt out and leave, the Knicks will have that much more flexibility, and freedom to explore options. Otherwise, plotting a new course for the Knicks will take a little time.




Mike.BTB