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Thursday, May 24, 2012

This Week in Sports: May 24, 2012

It's getting to be the end of May.  That means that the NBA and the NHL are getting into the late rounds of their playoffs.  Auto racing has big events on the schedule.  And we are in the heart of horse racing's run to the Triple Crown.  There is a lot going on, so let's get to it.

The Week That Was:  

(Maxwell Kruger-US PRESSWIRE)
The Preakness Stakes:  It's hard to match the drama of the Kentucky Derby due to the pageantry and color that surrounds the event.  This year, we also got a great race.  But, as great as the Derby was, the 137th running of the Preakness was even better.  I'll Have Another came from behind once again to beat Bodemeister at the wire.

NHL:  In the West, the 8th seeded Los Angeles Kings eliminated the Phoenix Coyotes in just five games to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals.  Meanwhile, a blood feud is underway between the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference.  The Rangers got off to a good start by taking a 2-1 lead in the series.  But, the Devils won Game 4 at home to tie the series.  Then the Devils won Game 5 in New York.  So, the Devils have a 3-2 advantage in the series with Game 6 set to be played on Friday night in New Jersey.

NBA:  The story of the NBA playoffs mirrors what's going on in the NHL.  The victorious teams in the West advanced easily while the series in the East are knock-down, drag-out affairs.  The Spurs swept the upstart Clippers.  The games between the Thunder and the Lakers were mostly tight games.  But, the Thunder only needed five of those games to advance to the conference finals.  But, in the Eastern Conference, things are still very much up for grabs.  The 76ers faced elimination against the Celtics in Game 6.  But the Sixers played hard and won the game at home to force a decisive Game 7 in Boston on Friday.  The Indiana Pacers looked like they had the Miami Heat in some trouble partway into Game 4.  The Pacers had a 2-1 advantage in the series and had a good lead in the first half at home in Game 4.  Then the Heat flexed their muscles.  The Heat were able to pull out a victory in Game 4.  They followed that up with a blowout win in Miami in Game 5.  The Heat and Pacers are playing Game 6 in Indiana as I type.

The Week Ahead:

Auto Racing:  Memorial Day weekend is here.  That means it is time for the greatest weekend in American motor sports.  The greatest spectacle in racing will take place on Sunday at the Indianapolis 500.  Coverage of that race starts at 11:00 a.m. on ABC.  The green flag is scheduled for just after noon.  Later in the day, the racing action moves to Charlotte, North Carolina for NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600.  This is one of the premier events on the NASCAR schedule.  It is the longest race of the season and takes place on NASCAR's home track.  The race begins in the daytime and ends under the lights.  Coverage starts at 5:30 on FOX.

NBA:  The Conference Finals will be starting up in the East and the West.  The times, dates and teams are still TBD in the East.  But, the Western Conference Finals will start on Sunday night at 8:30 p.m.  The clash between the Spurs and the Thunder has great story lines and should give us great play.  San Antonio and Oklahoma City are two of the best run franchises in all of sports.  The Thunder are in many ways a next-generation version of the Spurs.  But, the Spurs are healthy and undefeated so far in this year's playoffs.

NHL:  The Rangers and the Devils still have business to finish in the Eastern Conference.  Game 6 will take place Friday in New Jersey at 8:00 p.m.  If necessary, Game 7 will be played on Sunday at 8:00 p.m. in Madison Square Garden.  Both of those games will be aired on NBC Sports Network.  The winner of that series will face the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Finals.  The finals will start on Wednesday night at 8:00 p.m.  The Stanley Cup Finals will be broadcast on NBC ... the real NBC.

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

This Week in Sports: May 17, 2012

There were certainly a lot of sporting events on the air this week, but this was kind of an in between week in the major sports.  So, I'll keep this post brief.

The Week That Was:

NHL:  On Saturday night, the New York Rangers won their Game 7 showdown against the Washington Capitals.  That set up a Hudson River showdown for the Eastern Conference Finals.  After the first two games in Madison Square Garden, the series is tied at 1-1.  In the West, the Los Angeles Kings have continued their remarkable tear through the playoffs.  They won both games on the Phoenix Coyotes' home ice to take a commanding 2-0 lead heading home to LA.  Then the Kings won Game 3 at home on Thursday to go up 3-0 in the series.

NBA:  In the Eastern Conference, the handwriting was on the wall early for all the first round series.  The Heat advanced past the Knicks in five games.  The Pacers ran through the Magic in five games.  The Sixers eliminated the ailing Bulls in six games.  And, the Celtics finished the Hawks off in six, as well.  The Western Conference was far more dramatic.  The Spurs and the Thunder swept their first round series.  But, the other two series went down to the wire.  The Denver Nuggets pushed the Los Angeles Lakers to the limit.  But, Kobe and company ultimately prevailed in Game 7 at home.  The Lakers advanced to meet the Thunder.  Perhaps the most interesting series of the opening round was played between the Clippers and the Grizzlies.  The Clippers went up 3-1 to start the series.  The Grizzlies won Game 5.  No surprise there.  Then the Grizzlies won Game 6 at LA and came home to Memphis for Game 7.  But, Chris Paul willed the Clippers to victory on the road.  The Clippers advanced to play the Spurs.

Mixed Bag:  In NASCAR news, Jimmie Johnson won at Darlington.  This marked the 200th win for Hendrick Motor Sports.  In golf, Matt Kuchar won the prestigious Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass.  

The Week Ahead:  The NHL and the NBA are in the early stages of their series.  NASCAR is holding it's all star race ... a non points event.  So. this week I will focus on horse racing.

Kegasus.  Mascot of the infield at the Preakness Stakes
The Preakness Stakes:  On Saturday, the 137th running of the Preakness Stakes will take place at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, MD.  The Preakness is the second jewel in the Triple Crown.  If the Kentucky is a tribute to American royalty, the Preakness is a tribute to middle class American excess.  The Preakness prides itself on having an infield atmosphere that rivals that of Talladega.  Thus, Kegasus will be back again this year as the mascot of the event.  But, on the track, I'll Have Another looks to keep his Triple Crown hopes alive after his upset win at the Derby.  But, Pimlico is a shorter circuit than Churchill Downs.  Thus, Wild Banshee predicts that the favored Bodemeister will win the race.  The Preakness will air on NBC on Saturday at 4:30.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Foul is a Foul is a Foul

Last night, the Philadelphia 76ers defeated the Boston Celtics in the Garden in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.  It was a hard fought defensive struggle where a young team proved they could beat a veteran team in a close game on the road.  But, all the talk after the game centered around a foul that was called on Kevin Garnett during the Celtics' last meaningful offensive possession.  Boston trailed the game 78-75 with 10 seconds to go.  Boston inbounded the ball in their own end.  Kevin Garnett set a screen on Andre Iguadala that allowed Paul Pierce to get a wide open look at a 3-pointer from the top of the key.  But, Garnett was called for an illegal screen (his 3rd of the game), and the Sixers salted away the game at the foul line.

The post game criticism from the commentators was not that Garnett did not commit a foul.  No.  The constant chorus was, "You don't make that call at that point in the game."  Pundits and retired players cried out that we want the players, not the refs to decide a game.  I whole-heartedly agree with that principle ... in all sports.  I detest when a home plate umpire injects himself into a game by picking fights with a disgruntled batter.   I can't stand it when defensive backs are flagged for breathing too hard on a wide receiver.  And, I enjoy a physical basketball game.

But, the principle that players should decide the game does not lead to the conclusion that refs should swallow their whistle in the final minute of a basketball game.  First of all, the idea that calling a foul is somehow deciding the game any more than not calling one decides it is simply false.  Either way, the contact was a deciding factor.  If that contact is illegal, then it should be called a foul.  Let's take this to the world of baseball.  If the bases are loaded in a tie game in the ninth inning, do we want umpires to call strikes 6 inches off the plate so as to not decide the game with a walk?  Of course not.  That's a ludicrous suggestion.  If you want to debate the proper strike zone, that's fine.  If you want to debate touch fouls, that's fine, too.  But if something is a strike in the first inning then it should be a strike in the ninth.  And if something is a foul in the first minute, then it should be a foul in the last minute.

Last night, Garnett committed a foul.  The referees made the proper call.  And the proper team won the game.

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Monday, May 14, 2012

NBA Conference Semifinals

The Conference Semifinals are under way in the NBA.  It may seem like cheating to write a post with analysis and predictions at this point.  But, unfortunately, I haven't been able to write it until now.

Philadelphia v. Boston:  The theme of this series is: "old age and treachery beats youth and skill."  The 76ers are a team on the rise.  They have young and talented players that will be a fixture in the playoffs for years to come.  The Sixers acquitted themselves well in the first round when they bested the injury-riddled Bulls. But, the Celtics are as healthy as anyone at this time of year.  And they are a battle-tested group led by a great coach.  The Celtics also have the home court advantage.  The games will all be competitive, but the Celtics will ultimately prevail in the series.  Banshee Prediction:  Celtics in 6.

Indiana v. Miami:  The first game is already in the books.  Miami won the opening game at home.  But, Chris Bosh went down with an abdominal injury in that game.  Bosh's sore tummy could prove to be the deciding factor.  The Heat have the two best players in the series in Wade and James, but they lack depth ... particularly up front.  The Pacers have a big and talented front line with Hansboro and Hibbert leading the way.  Despite the fact that the Pacers lack household names, they proved all season long that they are no slouches.  Their record earned them the 3rd seed in the East.  Although Bosh is certainly the least important of Miami's Big 3, he is a loss they cannot afford against a team built like Indiana.  Banshee Prediction:  Pacers in 7.

Los Angeles Lakers v. Oklahoma City:  This is the series I am most excited about.  There are fantastic players on both rosters.  There is also bad blood between these teams.  The Lakers clearly have the edge in experience.  Kobe Bryant is still amongst the best closers in the game.  And the Lakers have the scoring edge amongst the big men.  But, the Thunder proved that they have the mental toughness to make a deep run in the playoffs when they swept the defending champion Mavericks in the first round.  Kevin Durant is OKC's best player, but it will be the point guards who make the difference in this series.  The Lakers do not have a point guard that can even think about guarding the Thunder's explosive Russell Westbrook.  Banshee Prediction:  Thunder in 7.

Los Angeles Clippers v. San Antonio:  For the second year in a row, the San Antonio Spurs claimed the top seed in the tough Western Conference.  And, for the second year in a row, they did it with a team that was supposed to be too old to make through the grind of the regular season.  That's why their head coach was awarded Coach of the Year for 2012.  The Clippers made great strides as a franchise this year by advancing to the second round.  But, despite the greatness of Chris Paul, the Clippers will struggle to score against the crafty Spurs.  Also, as counter-intuitive as it may seem, the Spurs are healthier than the young Clippers.  Banshee Prediction:  Spurs in 5.

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Thursday, May 10, 2012

This Week in Sports: May 10, 2012

The Banshee Blog is nothing if not responsive to fan requests.  I recently received a request to post a weekly column summarizing the week in sports and giving a preview of the week ahead.  In other words, a post that allows people to stay up to date even if they have a real life that prevents them from watching six episodes of SportsCenter a day.  Committing to a weekly column is a big deal for an amateur, but I do aim to please.

The Week That Was:  I don't expect most columns to be as long as this one, but it was a busy week in sports.  The NHL and the NBA are in the midst of their playoffs.  NASCAR is touring through the deep south.  There were amazing performances on the baseball diamond.  We also had the Kentucky Derby and a boxing title fight.

NHL:  As I said in a previous post, the hockey playoffs are good TV even if you are not a die-hard hockey fan.  The second round was in full swing this week.  In the West, the 8th seeded LA Kings eliminated the St. Louis Blues in five games.  The Phoenix Coyotes made short work of the Nashville Predators and advanced in five games.  In the East, New Jersey be-deviled Philadelphia and advanced in five games.  Meanwhile, the Washington Capitals and the New York Rangers still have work to do.  They are headed to a Game 7 this weekend.

Amar'e's hand
NBA:  The NBA playoffs were in the first round this week.  In the East, injuries were the big story.  The Knicks lost two guards to catastrophic knee injuries, and Linsanity was still on the shelf with a bad knee.  To make matters worse, Amar'e Stoudemire missed time after slicing himself open during a post-game tantrum that involved broken glass and a fire extinguisher.  The heavily favored Miami Heat breezed through the depleted Knicks in five games.  The Bulls lost Derrick Rose, the league's reigning MVP to a torn ACL and Joakim Noah missed time with a sprained ankle.  The Bulls are still alive, but they are facing elimination tonight.  The Bulls trail the Sixers 3-2 as they head to Philadelphia.  The Orlando Magic came into the playoffs without the services of Dwight Howard and barely put up a fight against the Indiana Pacers.  The Pacers advanced in five games.  Ironically, the aged Celtics are very healthy and have the Hawks on the ropes with Game 6 set for tonight.

In the West, the top two seeds flexed their muscles.  The wiley Spurs swept the Jazz, and the young Thunder swept the defending champion Mavericks.  The Lakers have looked strong through the first five games, but the Nuggets have not wilted under the pressure.  The Lakers lead 3-2.  Game 6 is scheduled for tonight in Denver.  The LA Clippers and the Memphis Grizzlies are engaged in a highly entertaining series.  The Clippers are leading 3-2.  Game 6 will be in LA on Friday night.

MLB:  Baseball is still in the early part of the season.  It's too early to get too excited about any team's successes or failures.  But, there were two individual performances this week that deserve mention.  Last Thursday, Jared Weaver of the Anaheim Angels threw a no-hitter against the Minnesota Twins.  On Tuesday, Texas Ranger Josh Hamilton became just the 16th person in the history of Major League Baseball to hit four home runs in one game.  He also tacked on a double in his other plate appearance.

David J. Phillps/AP
The Run for the Roses:  The 138th running of the Kentucky Derby was on Saturday.  It's been termed "the most exciting two minutes in sports."  This Derby delivered.  The highly acclaimed Bodemeister had a comfortable lead heading into the stretch.  But, in the final furlong, he was caught and passed by I'll Have Another.  The 15-1 shot, ridden by a jockey making his Derby debut, paid $32.60 to win.

NASCAR:  NASCAR runs every week, but this week was special because the series was in Talladega, Alabama.  The high banks and high speeds delivered an exciting race.  Brad Keselowski executed an innovative move on the final lap to hold off Kurt Busch for the win.  

Boxing:  When Floyd Mayweather fights, it is such a big event that a judge recently scheduled the champ's upcoming stint in jail around this fight.  The reason was that city of Las Vegas did not deserve the economic harm that scratching a Money Mayweather fight would have meant.  On Saturday night, Mayweather improved his record to 43-0 after a unanimous decision over Miguel Cotto.  Justin Beiber and 50 Cent helped the champ carry his belts out of the ring after the fight.

The Week Ahead:  Unfortunately, there are only 24 hours in a day.  Most of us have to work ... at a job and on our golf games, so there might have to be some picking and choosing in another action-packed week.  Here are a few highlights.

NHL:  The Caps and Rangers will play Game 7 at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.  You can catch the action at 7:30 on NBC Sports Network.  The Western Conference Finals begin on Sunday with the Kings at the Coyotes.  The rest of the schedule is still in flux.

NBA:  Depending how things shake out tonight and tomorrow, the first round of the NBA playoffs might have Game 6's and Game 7's over the weekend.  At this point, we do know that the second round will get started on Sunday when the Indiana Pacers travel to the Miami Heat.  That game will air on ABC at 3:30.  The rest of the schedule will be determined as the first round series conclude.

NASCAR:  NASCAR continues its tour through the heart of its fan base when it makes a stop in Darlington, South Carolina.  This weekend, the drivers will dance with the Lady in Black.  And they'll be dancing under the lights.  On Friday night, the Nationwide Series will have X-Games star Travis Patrana in the field driving a Red Bull Toyota.  The race will air on ESPN2 at 6:30.  On Saturday night, Danica Patrick will make her second start in the top series.  She'll be driving a Chevy for Stewart-Haas Racing.  That race will be shown on FOX at 6:30.

Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
Golf:  Not all golf tournaments are created equal.  This weekend, the PGA Tour is playing the Players Championship.  This tournament is sometimes called the 5th Major.  It is prestigious, and it is fun to watch.  The winner takes home more than $1.7 million in prize money.  The Players Championship is played at the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass.  It's a golf course that was actually designed to provide great spectator viewing and exciting play.  The par-3 17th hole is one of the shortest holes the pros will face all year, but famed the island green makes it one of the more challenging.

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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Banshee Rant: May Edition

Well, here it is.  The debut of the Banshee Rant.  Turns out this was harder than I expected.  Definitely still working out the kinks.  I am hoping that the podcast will be available on iTunes in the near future.  In the meantime, I think it can be downloaded by using the embedded player below.  It may take some patience.  Please contact me if you run into technical difficulties.