Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Battle of the Boroughs: Knicks Complete Season Sweep Over Nets

From the desks of: 
THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH  and  DUTCH PANTS CAN'T JUMP

Battle of the Boroughs
Knicks win series 4-0
I - NYK 107; BKN 86
II - NYK 111; BKN 104
III  NYK 119;BKN 104
IV - NYK 111; BKN 95

New York Knicks: Tweet This!  Enes Kanter's Double-Double Buries Brooklyn.

That's a wrap. 

The New York Knicks win this year's season series four games to none.  It's their first sweep of the Nets in seven years.  In fact, the games weren't even close.  The Knicks won each contest by an average margin of 16-points.

Kristaps Porzingis led all players with 28-points Tuesday night at the Garden.  He was 9/19 (47%) from the floor, and a perfect 4/4 from the line, but inflicted most of his damage from beyond the arch, connecting on six of nine attempts.

Enes Kanter, however, wins the coveted employee of the night award.  Double-Zero scored 20-points and dominated the boards with 15 defensive rebounds and 20 overall, with all but five rebounds coming at the defensive end.  It was his 21st double-double of the season in 48 games played.  For the moment, he is averaging double-digit rebounds for only the second time in his career, and is also averaging a career high .607% from the floor (fourth best in the league). 

Did I also mention he tied with a team-high five assists as well?

None of this bodes well for the disgruntled Joakim Noah - nor should it.  Simply put, Kanter, the third overall pick of the 2011 draft, is winning the day.

Now, if only KP and Kanter had a point guard.

About that ...

In 20-minutes, Jarrett Jack had four assists and just two points off four attempts.  Meanwhile, rookie Frank Ntilikina scored eight points with five assists in 26-minutes off the bench.


Brooklyn Nets: Wet Paint ... Do Not Touch.

At this point, why waste oxygen decrying the defense?  It's an issue ... a huge issue ... one that Enes Kanter put on full display Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.

The Nets are allowing an average of 108.8 points per game this season - seventh most in the league.  However, they were particularly generous against their cross-river rivals, as the Knicks averaged 112-points in four games against the Nets.

For a team that doesn't necessarily have a problem scoring, per se, the Nets only averaged 97-points per game against the Knicks which is eight points shy of their 105 points per game average.

Jahlil Okafor's 25-minutes were his most since coming to the Nets.  He accounted for 13 rebounds, but was only 2/7 from the floor with five points off the bench.


Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Podcast Episode #3: N.Y. Mets Off-Season Marches On

From the desk of:  HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET
A
METSIAN
Podcast
with Sam, Rich, and Mike


EPISODE #3
Featured Guest:
Gary Mack of MetsMusings.com 
 
A quiet off-season is making the Mets look busy by comparison.
More ranting about the Wilpons; What's the plan at second base?
Look back at the 2003 season; Players who've worn #3 in Mets history.
Curtis Granderson appreciation, and a bunch of other stuff ...








Monday, January 29, 2018

N.J. Devils: Newark Arrives at Pitchfork in the Road

From the desks of:  THE BRICK CITY STYX

Bedeviled By Inconsistency

Eastern Conference
7) Devils         24-16-8 (56-points)
-------------------------
9) Rangers     25-20-5 (55-points)
10) Islanders  25-20-5 (55-points)

New Jersey Devils: The final thirty-four games will reveal how good they really are.

Who could have predicted the rebuilding Devils would achieve 56-points by the break, and be in sixth place of the conference standings?

So far, it's been a great story.  But they're slipping, and the only thing giving pause to their plight is this all-star break.  Otherwise they're presently in the midst of a four game skid.  But if you circle back to their five game win streak in December, the Devils have gone 2-7-3 since.

At this point last year, the Devils were floundering along with a 20-21-9 record and 49 points.  After which, their season really took a turn for the worse.  Having endured losing streaks of ten and six games respectively, the Devils went on to post an 8-19-5 record over their final 30 games.

Newark ended last year's regular season with a 28-40-14 record and 70 points, tying them for third worst in the league.  Through the NHL lottery system, however, they were awarded the first overall selection of the 2017 June entry draft.  

The Devils used that pick to select forward Nico Hischier.  Having turned 19-years old earlier this month, Nico has played in all of Newark's 48 games to date.  And with eight goals and 21 assists, he is third on the team with 29-points.

They've also had goalie issues of late.  Starter Cory Schneider and back-up goalie Keith Kincaid both have recently missed games with groin injuries, thus necessitating the services of Ken Appleby, called up from Binghamton.

Taylor Hall, the team leader in goals and assists, has recently missed a few games as well, and will certainly benefit from these few days off.

It is very clear what the Devils must do over their final 34 games of the regular season: avoid what happened last year.  

Easier said than done ...

But if they are to sustain their standing, they must obviously first snap their present losing streak with haste, then limit any potentially lengthy streaks down the stretch.  They've already suffered losing streaks of four losses or more on three different occasions this season, and might not survive many more.

That said, they also leave too many points on the table.  Their eight OT losses still remain tied for second most in the league.

Therefore the quicker the Devils learn the art of closing out games, the better off they'll be.


Sunday, January 28, 2018

Brooklyn Nets: The Coach of Flatbush Loses His Cool

From the desk of:  THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH


No Blood - No Foul..!

Brooklyn Nets: Congratulations, Kenny Atkinson, on your first NBA ejection.

No blood - no foul.  That's how the refs saw it.

The guys in the stripes allowed the Nets and Timberwolves to play a somewhat physical game Saturday night at the Target Center.  Both head coaches naturally hounded the refs all night, directing most of their vitriol at referee Tony Brothers.  As one coach growled at him from the camera's left, the other barked from the camera's right.

Pretty typical stuff ...

This went on for roughly 42-minutes, right up until an outraged Coach Atkinson got ejected with 5:55 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Granted, Thibodeau was just being Thibodeau.  But in the first quarter, the refs seemed to be whistling his favorite tune.  And so Coach Atkinson's initial fury over his team being in foul trouble less than four minutes into the game may have been justified.  With 8:39 still showing on the clock, Minnesota went on to score nine points from the charity line en route to a 30-11 first quarter lead, from which the Nets would not recover.

The Nets were shorthanded to begin with, playing minus the services of D'Angelo Russell, Caris LeVert, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.  Yet, Flatbush outscored (first place) Minnesota 86-81 over the remaining three quarters of the game.

So, yeah, that's very frustrating.

But with under six minutes left in the game, Atkinson finally blew his top.  Believing Joe Harris deserved better after what he perceived was a hard foul committed in the offensive paint, Atkinson let referee Tony Brothers have it.  When the Coach of Flatbush got tee'd up, he exploded with rage.  Good thing Spencer Dinwiddie was nearby to intercept his coach, otherwise Atkinson could have landed himself in even deeper trouble.

As it stands, I'm sure the players would love to pay off whatever fine the league office levies against their guy.  Coaches can be overbearing at times (or all the time).  But Atkinson has established a culture of development here.  And episodes such as this reveal the coaches who are willing to battle right alongside their players from the some of the more emotionally divested, overly critical chess masters of the NBA.  The more players trust and respect their coach, the more agreeable, attentive, and teachable they become.  That's what the Nets have going.

On that note, congratulations, Kenny Atkinson, on your first NBA ejection.

It was a good one.

Well done.

While D'Angelo Russell was observing a scheduled day off, Jahlil Okafor was banging bodies with Minnesota's Carl Anthony Towns.  He led the Nets with 21-points, and secured six rebounds in 24-minutes off the bench.  Towns scored 16-points in 34-minutes, but dominated the boards with a game-high 19 rebounds.

Spencer Dinwiddie distributed a game-high ten assists.

Next stop: Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.


N.Y. Giants: Because Stone Cold Coach Pat Shurmur Said So

From the desk of:  DO IT FOR THE DUKE

A GIANT STEP FORWARD

New York Giants: Pat Shurmur named the 18th head coach in team history.

He becomes the team's seventh during my years as a fan.  But outside of what I've read, heard on radio, or seen on TV, I know little else about the man.

Therefore, I guess a quick bio is in order.

After spending 11 years at Michigan State and Stanford, Shurmur joined the NFL ranks in 1999 with the Philadelphia Eagles where he served as tight ends and offensive line coach through the 2001 season.  He then served as Philadelphia's quarterback coach - working with Donovan McNabb -  through the 2008 season.  During his decade long association with the Eagles, they made the playoffs seven times, appeared in five conference championships, and one Super Bowl.

Shurmur spent 2009 and 2010 as offensive coordinator of the (St. Louis) Rams under then head coach, and former Giants defensive coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo.  In 2009, his starting quarterback was Marc Bulger (not a bad QB) who was playing out his final NFL season.  The Rams went 1-15 that year, but parleyed that into quarterback Sam Bradford, selected with the first overall pick of the 2010 NFL draft.  With Shurmur calling plays, Bradford threw for 3,512 yards as a rookie.

By season's end, the Cleveland Browns set their sights on Pat Shurmur, naming him their head coach entering the 2011 season.  Shurmur posted records of 4-12 and 5-11 during his two seasons at the helm.  But I won't hold that against him.  Since his departure after 2012, the Browns have exceeded five wins in a season just once.  In fact, the Browns are just 4-44 over the last three seasons.  Not even Bill Belichik could turn that organization around.  Since guiding them to the playoffs in 1994, the Browns have qualified for post-season play just one other time.

In 2003, Pat Shurmer returned for a second stint with the Eagles this time as offensive coordinator.  Prior to this year's run to the Super Bowl, Philadelphia last qualified for the playoffs in 2013 with Shurmur calling plays for Nick Foles.  In 2014, the Eagles posted a second straight 10-6 record but missed out on the playoffs.  A 6-9 record the following season resulted in head coach Chip Kelly's release after Week Sixteen.  Pat Shurmur would then coach the Eagles to victory in the season finale.

He has spent the last two seasons with the Minnesota Vikings.  In 2016, he split time being tight ends coach and offensive coordinator, and again served as offensive coordinator this season.  Reunited with Pat Shurmur in 2016, Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford led the NFL with a 71.6 completion percentage.  This season, the oft injured Bradford was out of action again after Week Two.  Enter back-up Case Keenun - a veteran in his own right.  With Shurmur calling plays, Keenum threw 3,547 yards over 15 games, with 22 touchdowns and just seven interceptions.

Of course, the Vikings fell well short in last week's NFC championship game against Nick Foles and the Eagles.  Shurmur's team was on the losing end of a 38-7 defeat.  One could ask what happened with the offense?  But Mike Zimmer is head coach of the Vikings, and therefore, he had to answer most of the questions and second-guessing.

But what about Pat Shurmur?

He entered that game with his fingerprints on both starting quarterbacks.  Case Keenum was 28/48 for 271 yards, one touchdown and one interception, in a losing effort.  Nick Foles, though, was better, throwing 26/33 for 352 yards, and three touchdowns.

So What Does All This Mean For The Giants?

There's something to be said for his twenty-years of practical experience.

Aside from his two year stint at Cleveland, his career work has primarily focused on the offensive side of the ball - no different than Ray Handley, Dan Reeves, Jim Fassel, Tom Coughlin, or Ben McAdoo.  As we see, the Giants have hired a string of offensive minded coaches ever since the departure of defensive minded Bill Parcells.  Four of them took the Giants to the playoffs, and two of them got the Giants to three more Super Bowls.

General manager Dave Gettleman says Shurmur will be working with Eli Manning for the remainder of his Giants career.  Then there's Davis Webb whom still needs extensive development.  And of course, there's continuing speculation as to whether the Giants will utilize their up-coming number one draft pick on another quarterback.

Where it concerns quarterbacks, Shurmur's resume suggests successful involvement with Donovan McNabb, Marc Bulger, Sam Bradford, Nick Foles, and Case Keenum.  Moreover, while head coach in Cleveland, he somehow extracted 3,355 yards and 14 touchdowns out of rookie Brandon Weeden. It's worth noting because Brandon Weeden was out of the league within another three seasons.

But like Ben McAdoo, Shurmur is a proponent of west coast style offense.  I have my issues with that.  Shurmur also said he will be calling plays on offense.  I'm somewhat less concerned with that.

Shurmur did say that moving forward he understands Giants football which allows me to think he won't make the same mistake as McAdoo with regards to Eli Manning - which was trying to turn him into Aaron Rogers.  Dave Gettleman also said reconstructing the offensive line and reestablishing the run is a main priority.  I'm confident in Gettleman's vision, and so my west coast anxieties are tempered.

Pat Shurmur has otherwise contributed to highly competitive and successful situations in Philadelphia and Minnesota.

He also has no doubt faced adversity in St. Louis and Cleveland.

The Giants locker room was clearly fractured this past season.  Dave Gettleman wasted no time removing a few malcontents from the locker room.  And Shurmur's presser left little doubt he and Gettleman are on the same page where it concerns discipline.  Having participated in both winning locker rooms and losing locker rooms could turn out being a valuable experience from which Shurmur will draw upon during his upcoming seasons with the Giants.

The duo of Gettleman and Shurmur essentially means the days of enabling Odell Beckham Jr. are over.  Sure, Shurmur says he's getting a clean slate.  But without saying it, Odell already is being forced to clean up his act and grow up.  In other words, if Beckham wants premium money from the Giants, he'll need to compromise his so called personal brand.

Discipline, however, and disposition, can be slippery slopes.  Former NFL head coach Mike Holmgren recently chimed-in on Pat Shurmer, accusing him of having rabbit ears - meaning he pays too much attention to the media.  Said another way, he may be wound too tightly.  That can certainly become a problem in New York.  However, he nailed the presser - I mean nailed it.  He was direct, and succinct as one could be.  Shurmur left no doubt where he stands regarding a great many things.  In fact, he not only acknowledged his reputation for being too serious, he owned it - just like Tom Coughlin once did, and Bill Parcells did way back when.

Then again, those guys won Super Bowls.

Bill Belichick gets away with being a schmuck because he wins Super Bowls.

Pat Shumur said he couldn't help but notice the Giants four Vince Lombardi trophies on display in the lobby at MetLife Stadium.

The Giants have many holes to fill.  In fact, they may need a rebuild instead of just a retool.  So, let's be pragmatic about the situation.  Bill Parcells went 2-13-1 in his first season as head coach.  But despite being a schmuck, players rallied behind Parcells.  Ben McAdoo also went 3-13, but clearly didn't survive.  Ironically, he got fired in part due to his failed disciplinary policies and how that resulted in a fractured locker room.  McAdoo lost his players respect and they essentially threw him to the wolves.

Therefore, Pat Shurmur can be a schmuck all he wants.  He just needs the skill and tact for making players believe it comes from the heart.

Would the Giants have been better off with either Josh McDaniels or Matt Patricia?

Who knows.  We'll find out over the next five years or so.

But for now, Pat Shurmur's press conference makes this the right choice.

Bill Belichick's minions historically do not fare very well once they venture out on their own.  Think about it - because of their success since 2000, Belichick has gone through countless coordinators on both sides of the ball.  Yet, the Patriots seemingly continue mission without a hitch.

Why?

Bill Belichick is brilliant at making in-game adjustments.  He's been the one constant in New England for 18 seasons.  He possesses a mastery of the game his coordinators simply can not bottle-up and take with them.  The man has a uniquely superior mind for either side of the ball.

Therefore, the Giants could very well be better off with Shurmur.  The question then, is how good will he be at making in-game adjustments?



Friday, January 26, 2018

N.J. Devils: Predators Take Bite Out Of Appleby

From the desk of:  THE BRICK CITY STYX


What a pain in the groin!

New Jersey Devils: Nashville Predators take a bite out of third-string rookie Keith Appleby.

With both Cory Schneider and back-up Keith Kincaid suddenly nursing groin injuries, the Devils have recently turned to 22-year old Binghamton call-up Ken Appleby.

Making his NHL debut in relief of Kincaid last Saturday at Philadelphia, the Flyers peppered Newark's rookie with 24 shots on goal over what amounted to his first ever 46:04 minutes of big league action.  But not a single shot found its way through as Appleby made all 24 saves.

Cory Schneider then started Tuesday against the Bruins at Boston.  But after two periods, Appleby was again summoned into relief.  He made another four saves in as many shots through 18:32 minutes in net - essentially making him a perfect 28/28 over the equivalent of a full game.

On Thursday, with family and friends in attendance, he made his first ever NHL start against the Nashville Predators at the Rock.  In the first period, Appleby again successfully turned away Nashville's first ten shots on goal.

However, traffic lay ahead.

Midway into the second period P.K. Subban's notoriously heavy shot from the top of the left circle, and through a busy crease, found its mark.  Then at 5:36 of the third, Mattias Ekholm likewise unloaded from the very same spot as Subban, and again through a congested crease area.  Effectively screened, Ken Appleby never saw either shot.

He had a clear and up-close view of Viktor Arvidsson's short-handed breakaway attempt, though - a pointblank slap shot this time taken from the top of the right circle.

But again, Appleby never had a chance.

And so goes his first NHL start.

The very streaky Devils have now lost four in a row.  Over that time, they have been outscored by a  3-12 margin, which includes getting shutout twice in their last three games.

That's not a goalie issue.


ART: Devil's Playground/Bushwick



Thursday, January 25, 2018

N.Y. Rangers: Road Kill

From the desk of:  RAISE GRESCH WITH THE GREAT


NEWSDAY/Tuesday

New York Rangers: Right on cue; the Blueshirts have fallen to ninth place and Vigneault cries wolf.

He's not even true to his own system.  In fact, he's a proven hypocrite.  Because there comes a time during ever regular season when even Vigneault realizes that his style measures up against similarly talented teams of the league, but just not against the bigger, more physical, and similarly skilled ones.


Remember this one?


This time, according to the above Newsday article, he feels the team isn't doing enough towards winning 50/50 pucks.  He might be right about that.  But that requires a measure of dirty work, and Vigneault, after all, likes to keep things clean.

But what about the 50/50 chance they get pushed off the puck in the offensive zone?  What about the less than fifty percent chance they lay a hit, or block a puck, in the defensive end?  

What about all their failures in the neutral zone?

He has no answer for that.  But he's the same person who'll tell you none of it can be solved with toughness.  It's about getting a pass off before the hits come.

Think about that ... before a hit comes.

The Rangers have now lost five straight road games, and six of their last eight games overall.  Moreover, they've been outscored 6-13 in three games during this present road trip.

And, why?

Henrik Lundqvist continues getting sub par efforts in his own end.  He lasted all of 16-minutes Tuesday night against the Ducks, allowing three goals on just seven shots on goal.  

When he's forced to carry the team night in and night out, that will happen.


A Metsian Podcast, Ep. #2 - On What Jeff Wilpon Didn't Say

From the desk of:  HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET


We're Back on the Air!

The Converted Mets fan, Sam MaxwellMetFanRich, and I, 
have reunited to bring you:

A
METSIAN
PODCAST



On the heels of COO Jeff Wilpon's interview with the media, our main focus in Episode #2 centered around the state of ownership in general.  We also discussed baseball's newly elected members to the Hall of Fame; the career of Johan Santana; the 2002 season in review; and players who've worn #2 through Mets history.




Our featured guest was old friend and author 

We went for 2:30 hours because time flies when your having fun.  It was just nice having the band back together, but we'll be tightening that up.  Otherwise covered a lot regarding the past, present, and future, of our beloved New York Mets baseball club.



Tuesday, January 23, 2018

N.Y. Rangers: No Fight, Just Flight

From the desk of:  RAISE GRESCH WITH THE GREATS



New York Rangers: Float Like A Butterfly, Sting Like A Flea ...

Think about how hard the Rangers worked just to beat Buffalo.  They blew three different leads, and needed two third period goals in order to avoid an embarrassing loss against the worst team in the league.

It's no wonder they went on to get outscored 3-7 over the weekend by both the Avalanche and Kings.

Meanwhile, Henrik Lundqvist is in the midst of his finest stretch of the season.  Imagine where the Rangers could be if only they just exerted themselves a little more in support of their world class goalie.  But it's gotten to the point where the increasingly annoyed Lundqvist doesn't even try hiding his bemusement with them anymore.

At some point, all this pacifistic pirouetting being preached by Alain Vigneault is bound to get Henrik hurt - due to an opponent, or Henrik punching a wall in disgust.

Are the Rangers short-handed?  For the moment, yes.

But you can talk Kevin Shattenkirk to me all you want.  And it turns out he's been playing on a bad knee for most of the season.  At least that explains in part why he's been so inconsequential.  But my real issue is that his money should be going into Keith Yandle's pocket.

You know what I mean ...

Just like Anton Stralman should still be with the Rangers.

You know exactly what I mean ...

While I'm at it ... there's not an opposing forward in the NHL remotely concerned about where Brendan Smith and Nick Holden are during any given shift.  It's like they don't even exist.  They're human resource enigmas.  I'll even go so far to say Holden should be playing in the AHL.

Marc Staal, well, he's the last guy I want to criticize.  He dutifully earned our respect a long time ago.  But truth be told, he plays scared, and has for several seasons now.  Some believe he plays fearful of being concussed.  However, I began noticing a marked timidness after injuring his eye.

Suffice it to say, the Rangers are no longer that elite defensive team they used to be.  But putting your goalie in harms way is an entirely different matter.  If they are to contend, they must dig in and secure that huge expanse of ice to Henrik's immediate front, and extending between the dots.

This team has no punch.  I mean that literally.  I know I'm fighting mad about it.  Just doesn't seem as if the Rangers are.


Monday, January 22, 2018

WWE: Flatbush is RAW



WWE
MONDAY NIGHT
RAW
25th Anniversary


BROOKLYN is RAW


The trucks arrived this morning at Barclays Center.
Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn








Sunday, January 21, 2018

PIGSKIN 2017: CHAMPIONSHIP SUNDAY



PIGSKIN
CHAMPIONSHIP SUNDAY
Wild Card Round
Divisional Round


Look what the Jaguars did to the Pittsburgh Steelers ... again!  I'm the first to preach about defense and a strong running game being keys to success.  But what the Jags did to the Steelers over the course of two games this season is astonishing.  After dismantling the Steelers six weeks ago by a 30-9 margin in Pittsburgh, Jacksonville went back to cold Steel City and upended them again by an obnoxious 45-42 final score.  Big Ben threw five TD passes, but Jacksonville fans say, so what!

The "Minnesota Miracle" and "Minneapolis Miracle" are now official property of the Vikings.  They wasted no time copyrighting the latest phrase craze.  But, what a finish - crazy indeed.  The Saints had that game won.  In New Orleans, however, the game's disastrous end will go down as the Tackle That Never Was.  Saints rookie Marcus Williams looks like was either attempting to upend Minnesota's Stefon Diggs, or was just aiming low.  In any event, it appears as if  he put his head down too early, and just lost sight of his target, and the actual play itself.  Sixty-one yards later, the Saints lose ... thuuuuh Saints lose!  Regardless, the Vikings were seemingly putting themselves in field goal position, and could have very well kicked themselves into Championship Sunday anyway. But, still, that's not the way history remembers things.

There is not a person that exists on the face of this good planet Earth that could have predicted this week's final four quarterbacks.  Tom Brady is a natural; sure.  But back-ups Nick Foles, Blake Bortles, and Cace Keenum?  No way!  Otherwise, I want to meet that person so I can plan out my retirement prior to Feb. 4.  Tom Brady nursing a hand injury makes this development even more ponderous.

Okay, my record entering this weekend is not great: 94-113-7.  What can I say other than I've had a tough season against the spread.  If you've incurred monetary loses following my advice, that's your problem.  I'm just a dude with a blog.

Now for the real matter at hand: Championship Sunday.


American Football Conference 
Championship Game

PATRIOTS -7 1/2 (Jaguars)
Sunday NYP Line

Do I think the Jaguars can win?  The answer is yes.  If there were a game when the theorem of any given Sunday applies, this would be the one.

Tom Coughlin knows the formula for beating Tom Brady on the field, and for thwarting Bill Belichick from the sidelines.  He twice orchestrated major Super Bowl upset victories over the Patriots as head coach of the Giants.  He knows a strong running game helps keep Tom Brady off the field.  And when Brady is on the field, Coughlin knows he is a statue in the pocket, and that a strong pass rush by the front four, particularly with pressure up the middle, is a sure fire way of getting the GOAT off his mark.  Coughlin may not be the head coach, but his knowledge and experience permeates throughout the organization.

He also knows the Jags can't blitz Brady, otherwise he'll chew them apart.  Therefore, if the Jags can keep a full compliment of defenders in coverage, this game will be closer than many expect.  The X-factor is, of course, Blake Bortles.  No matter what levels of physical harassment Jacksonville can bring against Brady, the Jags QB will still need to make big plays from the pocket.  Belichick will no doubt be looking to bottle up Leonard Fournette, essentially daring Bortles to beat them with his arm.  There's the rub.  Ideally, all Blake needs to do is manage the game and not screw it up.  Simon Bar Belichick isn't likely to blitz.  So, does bend-don't-break induce Bortles into throwing a pick, or two?

Or will Belichick actually pressure the novice?  Not likely.  Belichick knows better than anyone, that smash mouth football isn't about schemes, and certainly isn't cute in application.  To a large extent, it's punishing; it's about brute strength and ignorance.  As Bill Parcells used to say ... that's why you lift all those weights.  Smash mouth is about physically beating the guy in front of you.  Leonard Fournette and Jacksonville's offensive line can do that.  And their defense seems equally up for the task.  But if the Patriots get turnovers I'm confident they will cover.  Minus turnovers, I expect a much closer game.  Even with a bad hand, I trust Brady and Gronk more than Bortles (and Fournette, whom might be called upon to carry the offense).

Bortles sure looked good against the Steelers, though.  Didn't he?  So, yeah, the Jags can definitely cover ... and even win.  But history says the Patriots seldom lose playoff games at home.  Just saying.


National Football Conference 
Championship Game

Vikings -3 (EAGLES)
Sunday NYP Line

The number-one seed Philadelphia Eagles are still being looked upon as underdogs.  Look no further than Nick Foles.  He enters this game with the least amount of playing time (this season) among Sunday's four quarterbacks.

Scoring is clearly down since he took over for Carson Wentz after game thirteen.  The Eagles averaged 31-points with Wentz at the helm.  In Nick Foles four starts, Philly put up 34-points against the Giants, but dipped to just 19-points against the Raiders.  The Eagles then got whitewashed in what amounted to them as an inconsequential season finale against the Cowboys.  But, still ... no points?  In a limited appearance, Foles was 4/11 for 39 yards, and threw an INT.  The Eagles followed up with just 15-points against the Falcons during last week's Divisional playoff.  Nick Foles was 23 of 30 for 246 yards; no TDs and no picks.

Now he goes up against a very good Minnesota defense.  After allowing the Steelers 26 points in the regular season's penultimate game, they allowed 43 total points in back-to-back games against the Saints.  Therefore 23-points seems to be the magic number.  Thing is, Nick Foles is not Ben Roethlisberger, nor is he Drew Brees.  He was efficient against the Falcons, though.  But will that be good enough?  Remember ... just 15-points against a good Falcons defense.  And he's playing the number one defense in points allowed.  The onus will therefore be on Philadelphia' defense - also very good in their own right - to carry the day.  The fans in Philly are relishing their underdog status, and will no doubt be frothing at the mouth.  So, there's that.

During the regular season, the Vikings went 12-3 with Case Keenum at the helm (in relief of injured opening day starter Sam Bradford).  Keenum threw for 3,547 yards, 22 touchdowns, and just seven interceptions.  After last week's game, his confidence is through the roof.  He still needed to complete that pass which ended the game.  He stood in the pocket, and did just that.



But, hey, like I said:  What do I know.


Good luck, and Happy Championship Sunday!


Brooklyn Nets: The Reintroduction of D'Angelo Russell

From the desk of:  THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH



SUNDAY
NETS
vs.
Pistons
FROM
Detroit Rock City

Brooklyn Nets: Hello Again .. D'Angelo Russell Returns After Missing 32 Games.

D'Angelo Russell made his return to the line-up against the Miami Heat Friday at Barclays.  Nets fans anticipation of a better future with him, rather than without him, clearly remains strong.  After the Borough's promising young point guard missed 32 games while recovering from knee surgery, Brooklyn welcomed him back with a standing ovation.

However, there's still a very small measure of doubt lurking in the back of every one's minds.

Last season with the Lakers, he missed games in November and December due to a left knee injury.  In a Jan. 7, 2017 game against Sacramento, he rolled his ankle.  Then. right around this time last season (Jan. 20), he hurt his right knee in a game against Indiana.  His series of missteps didn't end there, as he rolled his ankle yet again in a March, 25 game against Denver.

In 2015-2016, he averaged 13.2 points and 3.2 assists through 80 games games as a rookie.  Despite injuries last season, he improved to 15.6 points and 4.8 assists, in 63 games played.  He was averaging 19.4 and 5.4 assists through his first 12 games of the season until going down after a Nov 11 game against Utah in which he scored 26-points in 32:38 minutes.

FRIDAY
HEAT   95
Nets     105
FINAL

Although it was nice seeing him on the floor again, his game is obviously still a few days away.  Nowhere near game speed, he went 0 for 5 from the field against Miami, with just a point from the charity line, and two assists during 14-minutes of floor time.

But one of the other knocks previously levied against D'Angelo is his defense.  The Nets have shown when they hold opponents under 100-points, they usually win.  In fact, scoring has really been their problem.  The Nets are still averaging 105.8 points.  However, they're still allowing their opponents a prohibitive 108.8 points per game.

One of the questions I have is how long before we see Russell and Jahlil Okafor together playing consistent complimentary basketball?  Akafor has been averaging near 11-minutes a game since Coach Atkinson started incorporating him into the line-up after New Year's day.

With the exception of Jeremy Lin, Coach Atkinson has a full compliment of players again.  I wouldn't mind seeing Okafor taking away minutes from Tyler Zeller.  However, Spencer Dinwiddie has made quite a name for himself in D'Angelo Russell's absence - as have Caris LeVert and Allen Crabbe.

Hopefully Coach Atkinson can start straightening out some of his rotations, which have seemed ponderous at times.  But I'm not complaining.  Injuries can do that.

Dare I say the near future is looking up ... again.


Saturday, January 20, 2018

Brooklyn Walk: Flatbush Avenue at Church Avenue



Flatbush Avenue at Church Avenue
BROOKLYN



The First Public School
in Midwout, New Netherland
Established January 1658








Flatbush Reformed Protestant Dutch Church



(Erasmus Hall in the background)

Departed From This Life
January 26, 1800


The Church House



Albemarle-Kenmore Terraces

The Parsonage, built 1856

Kenmore Terrace



Albemarle Terrace





Mural: Corner of Flatbush Avenue and Lenox Road.





KINGS THEATER


Renovation completed 2015




Back on December 5, I honked my horn at the Stony Brook team bus
at the intersection of Flatbush Avenue and Church Avenue .. just because!
The LIU/Brooklyn Blackbirds, who play a little further north along Flatbush Avenue,
defeated the Seawolves at the Wellness Center the night before.


I grew up as a child in this neighborhood.
It's still a part of me.  




Devils vs. Flyers: Backyard Brawl - II

From the desk of:  THE BRICK CITY STYX



TODAY
DEVILS
vs.
FLYERS
FROM
Arena of Brotherly Thugs

New Jersey Devils: Newark Out To Prove Speculation Of Their Demise Has Been Greatly Exaggerated.

As K-Squared goes, so go the Devils?

I have a saying: Once is an event; twice is a coincidence; three times is a trend.

Keith Kincaid will make his third straight start Saturday afternoon against the Flyers at Philadelphia.  

The Devils have been taking good care of their valued back-up while Cory Schneider recovers from illness.  On Jan. 16, Newark limited the surging Islanders to 26 shots on goal.  Kincaid rewarded his mates with 25 saves en route to a 4-1 victory.  That snapped a six game losing streak which at the time had some pondering whether the young Devils were trending towards their true level.

They said ... not so fast.

Two days later, Newark limited the first place Washington Capitals to just 19 shots on goal.  Despite allowing three goals, Kincaid prevailed long enough for Taylor Hall to net the winning goal in overtime.

No doubt a very significant victory as regular season games go.  Moreover, the Devils left Washington with two points.  I've mentioned several times how their eight OT loses to date are tied for second most in the league.

Back-to-back victories have now elevated the Devils into second place of the Metropolitan Division, and into fourth place of the conference standings.


The Flyers took the first meeting in this series.  Undisciplined as ever, they afforded the Devils seven power play opportunities.  The Devils, however, blew two different leads en route to a 5-3 loss at the Rock.

Now the Devils seek a measure of revenge at Philly.


Thursday, January 18, 2018

N.J. Devils: Bring On The Capitals

From the desk of:  THE BRICK CITY STYX


METROPOLITAN DIVISION
1) Capitals  28-14-3 (59-points)
2) Devils      23-12-8 (55-points)

TONIGHT
CAPITALS
vs.
DEVILS
FROM
THE ROCK


New Jersey Devils: Not So Fast! Newark Turns Back Surging Islanders; Snap Six Game Skid.

Payback's a pitch..fork.

As things turned out, Cory Schneider seems to have picked the right night to call in sick.

When Anders Lee scored just 1:36 into the opening period, it looked as if the Islanders were merely picking up where they left off against the Rangers and Canadiens, and that the Devils were in for another long night.

But the league's second most potent offense failed to score again, mustering just 24 shots all game against Devils back-up Keith Kincaid.

Looking to avenge last week's shootout against the Islanders, Newark rolled into Flatbush where they punished the taxed and defensively challenged Islanders at Barclays Tuesday night.

After Kyle Palmieri tied the game at the 15:20 mark of the first, the period ended with Andy Greene and Brock Nelson dropping gloves.  The Devils then took over with three more unanswered goals in the second.  Fourth year defenseman Damon Severson set a new career high with his fifth and sixth goals of the season, and Taylor Hall closed out the scoring with his team leading 16th goal.

All told, the Devils peppered Jaroslav Halak with 42 shots.

The victory gives the Devils 54-points on the season.  For the moment, that's good enough for second place in the Metropolitan Division, and fourth in the conference.

New Jersey's biggest problem has been leaving points on the table.

The Devils finished at the bottom of last year's Eastern Conference standings with a 28-40-14 record (70-points).  Their 14 OT/SO losses were second most in all the NHL.  Their eight OT/SO losses so far this season are once again tied for most among current playoff contenders, and tied for second most in the league.

Tonight, they host the first place Washington Capitals with another two points up for grabs.


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

N.Y. Rangers: Rick Nash Has Entered The Building

From the desk of:  RAISE GRESCH WITH THE GREATS


Rick Nash Spearheads Victory Over Flyers;
Rangers Regain Top Eight Standing.

New York Rangers: If nothing else, the trade to acquire Rick Nash also gave us Pavel Buchnevich.

Buchnevich came via the Blue Jackets' 2013 3rd round draft pick ...

Much was expected of the now 33-year old Rick Nash, who is in the final year of his contract with the Rangers.

At this point, nothing short of winning a Cup will change his New York narrative.

Watching Rick Nash play for the Columbus Blue Jackets, I remember thinking at the time he was exactly what the Rangers so desperately needed - a big, physical, top line scorer.  And upon his acquisition, I was sure he was going to start throwing his body around, and get this team over the top.

I also recall Blue Jackets fans saying, "You'll be sorry."

What?

Here I am thinking the Rangers finally landed their man, and Columbus fans are offering Nash a lift to the airport?

Granted, he only made the playoffs once (2008-2009) during his nine seasons with the Blue Jackets, and they wound up getting swept in the first round by the Detroit Red Wings.  For his part, Rick Nash registered a goal and two assists in four games.

Over his nine seasons with the Blue Jackets, he averaged 74 games, 32 goals/28 assists/60 points.

Therefore, I wasn't interested in their dismay.


His first and third seasons with New York are his best as a Ranger to date:
  • (2012-2013) 44 games; 21 goals; 21 assists; 42 points.
  • (2014-2015) 79 games; 42 goals; 27 assists; 69 points.

However, the rest of his work has indeed left much to be desired:
  • (2013-2014) 65 games; 26 goals; 13 assists; 39 points.
  • (2015-2016) 60 games; 15 goals; 21 assists; 36 points.
  • (2016-2017) 67 games; 23 goals; 15 assists; 38 points.

Since his arrival no other Ranger has taken more shots on goal.  Yet, it's been little Mats Zuccarello leading this team in points in three of the last four seasons, and leading again this year.  I love me some MatsZucs, but that shouldn't be the case with Nash on the roster.

With Columbus, Nash also averaged 9.2 power play goals per season (double-digit ppg four times; led NHL in 2003-2004 with 19 ppg).  He averaged just 4.6 ppg during his first five seasons with the Rangers, and so far this season has only two.

Then there's the playoffs ...

The Rangers have qualified for the post-season in each of Rick Nash's first five seasons with the Rangers.  Unfortunately, when they've needed his scoring most, he's been at his most ineffective.  Sadly, his post-season line reads no differently than any of his three least productive seasons with the Rangers.
  • 73 playoff games: 14 goals/24 assists/38 points.

With a pair of goals against the Flyers on Tuesday, Rick Nash helped the Rangers slam the brakes on their three game skid, and avoid a further drop in the Eastern Conference standings.  On a personal note, it was Rick's first goal since scoring on Dec. 15 against the Kings.  What followed was a ten game stretch in which he failed to score even a single point.  Finally, he registered an assist this past
Saturday against the Islanders.

After playing quite literally pointless hockey since Dec. 16, Nash now has three points in his last three games.  He is now tied for eighth on the team with 20-points.

I wouldn't say I'm sorry.  I wanted Rick Nash in a Rangers uniform two years before the trade was even made.  He is still a good hockey player, whom does everything else quite well.  I'm not taking that away from him.  His career as a Ranger is no less ponderous, though.  So let's just call it being really disappointed.

Maybe what I perceive as gross underachievement is really just dumb-luck.

Maybe not ...


Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Devils vs. Islanders: Flatbush Avenue Face-Off

From the desks of:  
NO SLEEP TILL BELMONT  and  THE BRICK CITY STYX

METROPOLITAN DIVISION RIVALRY

TUESDAY
DEVILS
vs.
ISLANDERS
FROM
Barclays Center
FLATBUSH


New Jersey Devils: Cheating Themselves Out of Valuable Points Now Threatening Their Place In The Standings.

The New Jersey Devils are demonstrating the value of fast starts.  With a 22-12-8 record to date, they enter Tuesday's game against the Islanders in third place of the Metropolitan Division, and in sixth place of the conference standings.

But how much longer can Newark keep this up?  Remember how they jumped out to an 8-2 record in October?  They have played sub par hockey since then, going 14-10-8 over their last 32 games.

Just when they appeared to be turning things around with five straight wins in late December, they start the New Year losers of six straight.

Now they draw the Islanders, whom with a victory, can tie New Jersey in the standings with 52-points.

The Devils finished at the bottom of last year's Eastern Conference standings with a 28-40-14 record (70-points).  Their 14 OT/SO losses were second most in all the NHL.  Their eight OT/SO losses so far this season are once again tied for most among current playoff contenders, and tied for second most in the league.

... all the hallmarks of a young, rebuilding team.

The inexperienced Devils are nevertheless doing well - far better than fans could have ever expected.  Perhaps sooner than later they'll learn how to finish games instead of giving away points.

They can start by not exposing Cory Schneider to so many shots of goal.  The opposition is averaging 32 shots on goal against Schneider this season.  But that doesn't explain Saturday's performance against the Flyers - does it? -  when he allowed five goals on just 25 shots.

In Cory's defense, his .911 SV% over his last 93 games is somewhat reflective of the New Jersey's rebuilding.  Otherwise, he previously averaged a .923 SV% during his first three years with the Devils.


New York Islanders: Look Who's Number Eight! Thomas Greiss Rewards Coach Weight; John Tavares Takes Care Of The Rest.

Speaking of goalies, the Islanders two-headed monster must surely be killing Doug Weight.  While it would be prudent for him to chose one, and just give it a go, what's a head coach to do with two troublesome goalies?

It took consecutive wins in his two most recent starts against the Devils and Rangers just for Jaroslav Halak improving his record to 13-12-2 through 28 games.  At present, his 3.19 GAA is way above his career 2.46 goals against average, while his .906 SV% is down from his usual .916 save percentage.

Instead of allowing Halak a fourth straight start, Doug Weight elected to play Thomas Greiss against the Canadiens on Monday.

It was Greiss' 21st appearance of the season.  Entering Monday's game, he owned an unsightly 3.89 GAA, and an equally unsettling .882 save percentage.

But were it not for Thomas Greiss, the Islanders do not defeat the Habs on Monday; they do not win their third game in a row; and most importantly, they do not leapfrog over the Rangers into eighth place of the Eastern Conference standings.

Greiss made Doug Weight sweat, though.  He faced an absurd 56 shots, allowing four goals.  The Islanders blew leads of 2-0 and 4-2 before Max Pacioretti's game tying goal at 13:01 of the third period.  It was Greiss, though, who kept the Islanders alive allowing John Tavares to end the game in overtime with his 24th goal of the season.

Then again, scoring isn't this team's problem.  Defense is.

The Islanders are second in the league in scoring, averaging 3.6 goals a game.  Their power play is slightly above average, ranking 12th in the league.  Ponderously, the Isles rank 31st in goals against, and 30th on the penalty kill.


Monday, January 15, 2018

Knicks Crash Nets Holiday Party at Barclays

From the desks of:  THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH  and  DUTCH PANTS CAN'T JUMP


EAST RIVER SHOWDOWN - III
Knicks lead series 3-0
I - NYK 107; BKN 86
II - NYK 111; BKN 104
III - NYK 119; BKN 104
IV - January 30

MLK DAY
Knicks   119
Nets       104
FINAL


New York Knicks: Michael Beasley Finishes What The Unicorn Started.

I guess those fans anticipating an MLK Day battle in the paint between Enes Kanter and Jahlil Okafor no doubt left Barclays Center disappointed.  For those graduates of old-school in attendance for Monday's holiday game in Brooklyn, a neo-clash of NBA centers never materialized.

After his acquisition on Dec. 7, and for purposes of conditioning, Jahlil Okafor only played one game through New Year's Day.  On Jan. 3, he finally began a string of five games where he averaged 12.6 minutes.  On Friday, he scored 17-points in 12-minutes at Atlanta.  But he only played eight minutes against Washington, and was limited again to just seven minutes Monday against the Knicks.

Enes Kanter likewise only saw nine minutes of floor time.  But he was coming off 36-minutes and 18points against New Orleans yesterday at the Garden.

Kristaps Porzingis led all scorers with 26-points.  But after the Nets pulled within 81-83 with a 39-point third quarter, it was Michael Beasley who sparked the Knicks 4th quarter charge.  He scored 23-points off the bench and secured a game-high 10 rebounds.

Frank Ntilikina also contributed a double-double off the bench with ten points and ten assists.


Brooklyn Nets: Brick!

Brooklyn's ball distribution was clearly lacking.  Spencer Dinwiddie led the Nets with five assists, but they only managed 16 as a team.  The Knicks had 27 team assists to go along with 51.2% accuracy from the field.  The Nets meanwhile converted on just 36.8% of their attempts, and were a dismal 14 of 44 (22.5%) in the first half.

DeMarre Carroll led the Nets with 22-points in 30-minutes.  Caris LeVert likewise logged 30-minutes, while adding 20-points.

The Nets unfortunately lost their bearing in the fourth quarter, getting outscored 23-36, en route to a 119-104 defeat at Barclays.


Prior to Monday's game, there were 13 NBA team yet to achieve 20 victories this season.  The New York Knicks are no longer one of them.  The Knicks improve to 20-24 on the season, while the Nets fall to a 16-28 record.