Archive for May, 2011

Here in part 2 of the CHEAP SEATS look at the NBA Finals, which tips off in a few hours, this time breaking down the Miami Heat and last stop on their coming of age in the Playoffs.

It didn’t quite go down like everyone thought it could in Miami this season, as a non-stop slaughter of likes we haven’t seen since the ’96 Bulls, but nonetheless the Heat are in the NBA’s final act. They have gotten back to full availability on their roster and are clicking and imposing their will for the full 48 minutes now. However, now that they are facing the deepest team they’ve played all Playoffs, with another great in Dirk Nowitzki that is playing unstoppable basketball more often than not, will they be able to impose their will in the same undeniable fashion they did on their Eastern Conference competition? Here are the keys to keeping the wheels moving towards their unparalleled expectations or falling just short and back into the media scrutiny hell they know awaits any failure:

 

3 UP: How the Heat Take the Ring

1. PUSH, PUSH, PUSH:  They have the two best open court players in basketball in LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, so backing off the gas shouldn’t be an option at any point. This requires them to make quick starts to each half and establish that as the flow of the game, a flow that the Mavs can’t keep up with. With the multiple shooters that they be responsible for guarding on Dallas, they will be spread out all over the floor and guarding plenty of passing lanes, so capitalizing on any lazy passes (as they do so well) and turning them into points should be an emphasis.

2. LEAD IN SHIFTS: They’re greatest advantage is the ability to feature two of the top 3 players in the NBA at the same time, so why play that down now? They have a greater matchup advantage in this series with LeBron and Wade, as the Mavs have no one capable of sticking with either in even a pure athletic sense. Shawn Marion is the only one that can really do so and he’s only one man. So take the ball away from him and kill the severely over matched part of the equation on the Dallas defense. The end goal could even lead a frustrated Mavs defense to shade Dirk on LeBron, which is the ultimate match up advantage to him, as it will wear down their best offensive option trying to stop LeBron from brutalizing him on the way to the rim. So let each take their time with the ball and insert themselves as a featured guy for a while, then come back and let the other one dominate the same match up later on. They’ll wear down Marion, DeShawn Stevenson and maybe even Jason Kidd if they let him take a turn with Wade for a while (which would be a very bad decision).

A balance between Wade and LeBron playing together on the run and asserting themselves individually is the best way to take on Dallas' depth.

3. WIN IN BETWEEN THE LINES: The Heat’s main advantage is the clear one I just outlined; however as was seen on and off all season, teams have to win because two players cannot alone. Despite the fact they are less deep than the Mavs overall, they do have some areas they can take an advantage in outside of Bron/Wade. Most notably on the glass, where they have more size and more bodies to throw at the Mavs under the rim. Basically, they have to out tough the Mavs with their second team and make them earn everything inside the arc.

3 DOWN: How the Heat Would Meet their End

1. KEEPING IT TOO CLOSE: This may seem like a bit of an obvious point in the spirit of competition, but there’s more to it than just face value: they would be much better suited ending these games before it comes down to the last-minute. The Mavs have shooters everywhere and the hottest player on the planet right now (who also doubles as the biggest match up problem in the NBA since Shaq in his prime) in Nowitzki. While LeBron has put to rest many of the questions about his ability to close out games recently, there still is the outright bad closing execution the Heat displayed most of the season that still lingers in the background. Letting these games come down to a final shot scenario should be avoided, because it doesn’t favor them.

2. GETTING BEAT TO THE POINT: Kidd gives the Mavs an experienced floor general that’s not only been to the Finals before, but has led a team there on his back. That gives them one decisive disadvantage, as the Heat has had problems shifting between Mike Bibby and Mario Chalmers at the position all year. Whoever gets this assignment has to play tough nosed ball against Kidd and keep him from getting in to the key too often to find the many options that will surround him at all times too often. Also, the job of stopping the explosive JJ Barea can’t be under sold either. If he sees too many openings, he can make the difference between a close game and serious problem.

A steady Chalmers solves multiple issues, especially in containing against Dallas' PG duo.

3. TIT FOR TAT: Nobody expects them to be able to shoot with Dallas; however somebody has to be a dependable outside option for them besides James Jones. That was to be Mike Miller’s role, but he’s offered them next to nothing in any role given to him. With that problem, the attention goes back to either PG to step up and hit the needed open shot. If this can’t happen, the Heat will lose games (plural) in this series due to not having enough answer back firepower to keep up with the three-point barrages that the Mavs will go on at some point.

 

With both teams +/- done, it’s time to pick a winner from me…..and that’ll will go on Twitter and Facebook in an hour. Follow me over there, see how I’m going and let’s talk this one out. Follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan and on Facebook at Matt Whitener (send me a note on why you’re requesting me if we’re not linked up already. Not just everybody gets in over there).

 

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Today in the CHEAP SEATS, I’ll be taking a look at both halves of the NBA Finals, which tip off tonight. In this first entry the somewhat improbable run of the Dallas Mavericks will be dissected and how they can either continue their tear or see it come to an end will be broken down three ways.

There’s a lot more to it than just get the ball to Dirk and let him cook. That’s definitely part of it, but from a matchup perspective the Mavericks have to embrace their overall strengths in this series, because on a one-on-one perspective, they don’t have many advantages. This is a veteran squad that has been on a mission, having won eight of their last nine games against the League’s two-time defending champions and then against the most exciting young team in the game. There’s no style they can’t adapt to, and have an all-time great playing the most inspired ball of his career. But is that enough against the best duo the League has seen in years? Here’s how where they can win out, but also where they can also sink their own ship.

3 UP – How the Mavs can take the Ring

1. USE THEIR DEPTH: The Mavs strength is how many different looks they can throw at opponents. There are very few teams that can match them on 12-man depth, let alone the variety that they can throw at each team. Rick Carlisle’s club can put out a full court of shooters, another set of penetrators and even yet still, another combination that is physical intimidators. He has to mix and match all of these different elements together, as well as put them all together at once in order to overload the Heat defense, which doesn’t have the variety to match them all. They can score from everywhere and have a creative offense that can stand up against anybody, use it.

2. DON’T PLAY THEIR GAME: There’s no team that going to beat Miami if they try to outrun them. That’s where the Bulls failed, and it’s exactly what LeBron and Wade will want to make each game into. Where the Heat is most susceptible on both sides of the court is when they have to face a patient team that will move the ball around for the best look. That’s why Jason Kidd will be invaluable in this series; his unparalleled court vision can be a decisive advantage for Dallas being able to keep the ball moving and find their multiple dangerous open court options.

Spreading the court and letting Kidd find one of the many their many outside options presents their best approach.

3. GO AT BOSH: Chris Bosh is target on defense they have to go after. As often as possible, getting him matched up with Dirk, who will have a major advantage with him out on the floor. The more time he spends away from the rim going after Dirk, the more opportunities he has to get Bosh in foul trouble, which would eliminate a major matchup problem on the opposite end of the court for the Mavs as well.

3 DOWN – Where the Mavs Would Meet Their End

1. IF IT’S COLD OUTSIDE: Their biggest advantage is their outside bombing trio of Nowitzki, Peja Stojakovic and Jet Terry, but if they have a night where their open looks aren’t falling they get overtaken quickly. Misses from deep open up chances for Miami to rebound and run, and if they get to running too often they can get ahead on both points and momentum in a hurry. Taking their time and not forcing or over relying on the three is a must.

2. NOT PLAYING SMART MATCHUPS: Can they matchup with LeBron and Wade so that one of them isn’t consistently in a major mismatch in his favor? It’s going to be hard for this club without Caron Butler available. There is no one answer for LeBron James, but in Shawn Marion they at least have a similar athlete that can run and challenge him. The same cannot be said for Wade. There is nobody on the Mavs roster that can give him much of a challenge besides Marion, and he can’t do both jobs at once (Dirk should be kept away from LeBron as much as possible, just let him shoot this round). When they deploy their best offensive squad, Terry and Kidd in the backcourt, they’ll be giving up a lot on the other end of the court, so they’ll have to play nearly flawless offensive ball to be able to afford managing the definite mismatch they’ll have one way or another on the other end.

Dirk should be kept as far away from LeBron when the ball isn't in his hands as possible.

3. GETTING BEATEN DOWN ON THE GLASS: The Heat dominated the glass in the Eastern Conference Finals with their now full strength front court. With Udonis Haslem, Joel Anthony, Zydrunas Illgauskas, Bosh and LeBron attacking the glass, they have plenty of athletic rebounders to capitalize on the many rebound chances that come from a perimeter based club like Dallas. They are no pushovers themselves, and are the best rebounding club around the rim that Miami has played yet, with Brendan Haywood and Tyson Chandler paired up, but if Kidd, Marion or Dirk can’t get into the mix under the rim, the Heat will overwhelm them in this department.

Stay tuned for what the Heat have to do later this afternoon, as well as who the CHEAP SEATS is taking for the ring and why.

Until then, follow me on Twitter for my NBA rants, roots and smack talk refereeing at @CheapSeatFan and @STLSport360

MLB POWER POLL: Week 9

Posted: May 30, 2011 by The Cheap Seat Fan in MLB
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

There has been a lot of turnover all around the Show, and this week’s Power Poll reflects it. Two teams that spent the better part of the first two months of the season close the cellar in their divisions completed quick rises to the top of their divisions. In the National League, three East teams reached 30 wins, while on the opposite coast the entire world got shook up, in multiple ways. As for the A.L., the East gained a fourth different team to reach the top of division already, and saw the first guy reach 20 homers.

Ian Kennedy (6-1, 3.01 ERA, 59 K's) anchors yet another 2011 last-to-first resurrection, this time in Arizona.

At the top of the Poll here, after week off from the top, we see a familiar squad regain #1, while on the other hand, the bottom feeders are getting way too “comfortable” in that spot. More on them, and the 28 clubs in-between here:

 

 

1. Phillies (2): The Phillies regained Chase Utley this week as well as the top spot here while running through the Rockies and Mets with little interference. Despite being in a division with three of the four best records in the N.L., they have been in first place consecutive all year in the East….and are just now getting close to full strength.

2. Indians (1): The Tribe faced two of their peers this week in Boston and Tampa, and only mustered two wins. The three game mid-week losing streak was their longest of the season, which speaks to their consistency.

3. Cardinals (5): Colby Rasmus had a big weekend, going 4 for 4 with two triples on Friday and hit his first home run in over a month, as the Cards took four of six on their week-long west coast trip.

4. Red Sox (10): The way the Sox are playing right now has that horrible start that had them buried in the East just two weeks ago looking like a mirage. Carl Crawford’s resurgence has led the way, including going 8 for 9 over two games, as the Sox won both by putting up 14 runs in each.

5. Yankees (6): The Yanks have hit 19 more home runs than any team in baseball (79), yet still have struggled to put together a prolonged winning streak to return of the A.L. East (no win streak longer than 3 games all season).

6. Marlins (7): Even with ace Josh Johnson continuing to man the D.L., the Marlins remain the best team to not lead a division all season, as their sweep of the formerly red-hot Giants last week proved.

7. Rays (4): The Rays couldn’t hold off the hell-hot Red Sox from overtaking them in the East, and have also fallen a half game behind the Yankees as well, proof that nearly every game is a must win in baseball’s best division.

8. Rangers (8): Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz had immediate impacts in their return to health, both homering in their first game back on Monday. Consequently, the Rangers had their best week in over a month as well. Coincidence….?

9. D’Backs (18): Since May 17th, the Diamondbacks have lost exactly once and it separates their two six-game winning streaks. In the process they have come from an 18-23 standing to being a 29 win divisional leader.

10. Giants (3): This was about as bad of week as could be imagined by the Bay. Not only did they lose five of their last six games, they lost Buster Posey for the next 110 as well after breaking his left leg and ankle in a gruesome injury. He may have taken the Giants hopes to repeat atop the West along with him too.

11. Braves (11): The N.L. East is the only division with three teams to reach 30 wins this season, but the Braves are the definition of tough luck, as they can’t break out of third place despite winning four of five last week.

12. Brewers (13): The Brewers have finally gotten back to full strength, and it shows. Since opening the month on a six game losing streak, they have haven’t lost back to back games have won 16 of their last 21 games. Watch out Cardinals…

13. Angels (13): With a light week of work behind them against the A’s and Twins, the Angels remain in the mix with the rehabbed Rangers in the West, with Torii Hunter beginning to round back into shape as well (.308 average last week, .240 for the season overall).

14. Reds (9): They can’t seem to get right recently, and it all traces back to pitching (or lack thereof). They demoted Opening Day starter Edison Volquez to the minors this week and Travis Wood’s 5.11 ERA is the lowest among their starting rotation.

15. Blue Jays (16): Jose Bautista became the first player to reach 20 home runs this year, and they took three of four from the White Sox this weekend to stay in the picture in the A.L. East, just three games back. Ricky Romero is quietly having a great year to add the much-needed stability they’ll need from their rotation if they will close the gap anymore.

17. Mariners (20): The Mariners pitching-led climb up the standings continues, as they nearly swept the Yankees at home over the weekend. However, if they are to be taken serious, Ichiro and Chone Figgins (a combined 7 for their last 75) have to wake up at the top of their lineup.

18. Rockies (14): Their 15-run outburst against the Cardinals on Saturday ended their four game losing streak, but it was way closer to the exception than the rule for a Rockies club that is hitting only .245 on the year.

19. A’s (22): The West is so wide open that the A’s despite being in last place are still only a game and a half from being back on top of it. Josh Willingham (four extra base hits and nine RBI last week) could finally becoming the spark the offense needs to make a move in Oakland.

20. Pirates (19): Kevin Correia became the first N.L. pitcher to reach seven wins for Pirates and they continue stay close to .500, despite having a losing record at home for the year.

21. Dodgers (24): After taking two wins against a strong Marlins club this weekend (their first series win since May 9-12, perhaps they are getting ready to get in the mix in ever-changing N.L. West.

22. Orioles (25): The O’s had a week that summarizes their efforts this year perfectly this week. They opened up the week making short work of the Royals during a sweep….and then capitalized on that momentum by turning around and being swept by the A’s.

23. Mets (21): Off the field they continued to fare just as bad, as owner Fred Wilpon spread his continued critical public assessment of this club by challenging the injured David Wright instead of the club on the field that showed little fight against the Cubs and Phillies.

24. Cubs (27): The roller coaster ride that is the Cubs continued this week, as they won and lost games by 10 runs against the Mets and Pirates. As long as their starting pitching continues to be lackluster (only the injured Matt Garza has an ERA under 4.00) their struggles will continue.

25. Royals (17): The landslide of the Kansas City Royals continues, as they were handled in short order by the Orioles and Rangers. Overall, they have had two five-game losing streaks in the last two weeks have dropped seven of their last eight.

26. White Sox (23): The Sox were building some momentum up in the Central to try to make a move, but then the Blue Jays took 3 straight from them over the weekend and Ozzie Guillen responded by launching into their critics in his own unique style. That could be becoming a limited time act soon.

27. Padres (28): Ryan Ludwick’s 10 game hitting streak came to an end this week, but it raised finally gave the National League’s worst offense (.296 team on-base percentage, worst in either league) a much needed spark.

28. Nationals (26): They’ve dropped firmly into last place in the East, and to make things worse, manager Manny Acta and their major offseason signing Jayson Werth have fallen out already. The annual long summer in D.C. has officially started.

29. Astros (29): Brett Wallace and Hunter Pence are leading a lineup that has some potential, but their pitching staff continues to hit (J.A. Happ homered sunday) better than it pitches (the ‘Stros were outscored 22-11 while being swept in Arizona over the weekend).

30. Twins (30): They have basically become this year’s equivalent of the 2010 Mariners: much talent and expectation, but sank by injuries and inconsistencies. Their Mauer-less offense is last in the Majors in runs scored with 175.

 

No MVP or Cy Young picks yet this week. They’ll be discussed in a quarter season All-Star article later in the week.

 

For more around the bases and the League, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan and @STLSport360

 

Investing in titles is necessary in sports. It gives a barometer, a basis of comparison and pays proper due to those who achieve at the highest levels. However because of this, they also serve as a measuring stick, a way to hold individuals accountable for what and who they are; it plays directly into the “With great power comes great responsibility” adage. In this year’s NBA Playoffs, the vast majority of the most decorated players factored into the final four teams standing: three of five All-NBA first teamers, three of five second teamers, the scoring champ, the Coach of the Year of the de facto #1 overall team in the entire Playoffs by record and last but not least, the league’s Most Valuable Player. There was no lack of well decorated star power on TV nightly, but what does it lead to? What does it say about what is to actually be? Do the awards and honors win games?

The answer is absolutely not, and there has not been a bigger overall example of this than watching the cases of two of the league’s top 10 stars, who combined to lead their clubs to a total of 2 wins (one each) in both conference championship series, in Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose.

Let’s rewind a bit on both of these guys to frame them correctly. Rose took home this season’s MVP honors after leading the Chicago Bulls to surprisingly finishing with the league’s best record and moving himself into the upper echelon of players in the game. Durant on the other hand won his second consecutive scoring title while continuing to take the Oklahoma City Thunder to the new levels of success that were widely predicted for them. Everything is coming together perfectly for both of them, right? Well…there’s more.

Durant's scoring average improved in the Playoffs, and the Thunder went two rounds further than a year ago in the process.

Playoff time, and the spotlight that comes with it. A lot of things became a lot clearer in the light. Among them, one fact started to reveal itself over time, and then became very clear on repeat: these guys don’t know what they’re into anymore. It looks like the same game, but the other guys are going about it a lot different than they did a few months ago. There are no more Sunday afternoon showcase games against the guys they grew up watching to get up for, followed by a chance to relax a bit and wipe out the bottom feeders on a Wednesday night game in Minnesota or Golden State. No, every night is a big and with each tipoff of each game in each series, they set a new record for longevity in their young careers.

There emerges the keyword in why neither of them is still playing this morning: young. The NBA is the youngest professional sports league in America, so its premier players will emerge earlier than any other sports’. While Rose and Durant are both charged with being the face of their franchise and living up to the expectations that their acknowledgements have landed them, in the end they are still two guys that haven’t reached their 23rd birthdays yet. However, they are charged with carrying the burdens that many most seasoned players have raised to a great standard, albeit at much more advanced stages in their lives and experiences. The MVP/Champion has come to be defined by names like Jordan, Olajuwon, O’Neal, Magic and Duncan. However, an MVP hasn’t won the NBA Finals since 2003 when Timmy pulled it off, but should it discredit the work that Kobe, Dirk and Nash did on the road to the honor? No, they balled, got there squads to where they should have and were beasts in the process. Should Durant’s career, despite him being the youngest two-time scoring champ ever, be derailed by the expectations set before him? Well of course not. The plain fact is that both are in a place where there is no historical standard for the early achievement they have reached, so holding them to a condition in the development of them as players, just by what accolades they have gotten already is a skewed way of viewing their shortcomings now.

Rose came up short versus another fellow MVP that has learned to overcome the wall he's facing for the first time.

Today’s NBA is different than any other point, with young impact players leading the way, but in the end, the status quo still stands up: experience wins games. The ironic thing about situation that Rose and Durant find themselves in is that the very example of what could be next for them is unfolding in front of their eyes (a little too close in the case of young Mr. Rose) in a certain highly debated forward in Miami. LeBron James won back-to-back MVPs in Cleveland and was a 164 game sensation in 2009 and 2010, before being wiped out in the Playoffs. During this run he was 23 and 24 years old, and took a world of honors and expectation along with him. But he didn’t have the gut or know how to finish it out. Fast forward a year later, and he’s quickly replacing any question marks from his immediate past trappings of his youth with periods.

James' road to overcoming the trappings of young MVP status provide the only basis of comparison for what is ahead for Durant and Rose.

Why? Because he’s been through and felt the pain of the losses that Rose and Durant are taking for the first time. Many great talents haven’t broken through after reaching a certain summit, but one thing that’s for sure is we’ve never seen anyone reach them so soon the way the Thunder and Bulls’ franchise kids have. Stay tuned, next year’s episode of this same program will have the same two characters with much different scripts in hand, and most importantly, season finales.

After the game 4 of the Bulls/Heat series this week I had a convo after the game that was typical of hundreds of other post-game wraps I’ve had. It was about where the Bulls came up short, in what part of the game it happened, how Derrick Rose can still improve and how LeBron James is playing much better this postseason compared to others. Solid overall talk from start to finish. However, then I realized who I was talking to, and it blew me back. I glanced down at my phone and saw for the last 30+ minutes, it wasn’t one of my friends, ex-teammates or Father even. It was my girlfriend…and she was passionately deep into the whole scenario about the game (I mean I didn’t have room to talk for at least 15 straight minutes). This was crazy to me, as I had never had such a conversation about that with a woman who is basically oblivious to all other sports. This was a real fan of this sport.

I mean....really, this can't be where we're at still.

However, the conversation didn’t just revolve around the game, rather it also went deep into how she constantly had to deal with men who automatically disqualified her opinion on repeat based on the fact she wasn’t born with the usual genitalia that decrees someone a sports fan. This angered her even more, and took my mind to that same fact that I’ve seen many women state over and over again: that their sports knowledge is often disqualified on the basis of them just being what God decided they would be. I find this interesting, and there are a few general assumptions that are an automatic fail when used to address the ladies and the game. Guys, you may not like this one, but here in CHEAP.SEATS, I’m about the game. I really don’t care who watches/comments on it (and I DEFINITELY don’t discriminate when it comes to who clicks on this fledging site of my opinions either).

Let me clear a few thing up right now.

1. THE GROUPIE VIEW: Many women are automatically seen as only watching the game to “scout the field” or to see what guy they can potentially dig into. I’m not going to say this never happens, but I will say this clearly isn’t the case for all. To say that all women who watch sports are doing it to score a meal ticket or “salvation” is ridiculous. If you’ve been to college or ever really been around professional athletes you know that the dedicated groupie is NOT sitting on Twitter every night commenting on points, touchdowns or drafts. She’s AT those events to snag them, and usually has a seriously remedial knowledge of what’s really happening on the floor (yet an extensive one about what is earned and what it can buy), let alone follows a team. I challenge you to go out and stand within 10 yards of any pro athlete, regardless of his ability, and see what’s going on. Theres a difference.

2. THE EYE CANDY VIEW: In a bit of a branch off from point #1, there is also an assumption that women only watch to see who’s cute or whatever on the field. This is not only a fallacy, but also features hints of jealousy and lack of a grip in reality. Look at it this way, even if you just like music, you’re going to notice how fine Beyonce is. Whether you know anything about her albums, life or anything else, you will notice this, admire it, and most likely do what it takes to see her again. If you like women (and really mean it), it’s natural.

Same goes for women watching the game. This shouldn’t be a newsflash, but WOMEN LIKE MEN WHO LOOK GOOD TO THEM, and they will comment on this. Just like you do with Beyonce. So if they are watching a sport and see something of that sort, they most likely wont cut corners on, so don’t be jealous it’s not you. Doesn’t mean they want to (or a least actually would) jump on them all like a free steak just cause they walked down the same street.

(Also, I’ve never been one to care about every guy a girl finds attractive and feel like he’s a threat to me and my chances either. But I’ll be damned if that’s not what I think every time I see a guy go on a tyrant about a girl “choosing” an athlete just for the fact that’s what he is. Have some confidence lads, they really dig it.)

And finally….3. THE SEXISM VIEW: I’m going to bring all of this back home to where it starts at, in outright sexism. To say that a woman doesn’t know sports just because she’s a woman is ridiculous. If she has an understanding of the game, watches it often and participates in conversations about what she thinks on it, she is just as qualified as any man. As a matter of fact, I prefer the casual woman viewer, because she doesn’t cut corners or paint a picture like she is a default guru. She’s just watching to watch, which is fine. But many, many men have delusions of grandeur of being sports gurus by default just because they watch a lot.

Well here’s news to you: most of you don’t know anything either. There are very, very few guys that know as much as they think they do about the game, and often get the definition of facts and opinions brutally confused, yet will contend they are God’s Law to anybody (especially a woman) who contests them. I can completely accept anybody who doesn’t know as much me about any game, but I can’t accept that same person turning back on a woman who legitimately knows more than him and shunning her just because she has breasts. Nope, can’t do it. There is no automatic license to know the game based on sex, and just because you played  ball in high school, got some tick on varsity and then stayed in the Rec in college non-stop to become serviceable in the sport, you are NOT an experienced genius in the game worthy of disqualifying opinions that don’t have your same “legendary” experience in the sport. (FYI: This last scenario is what most of us are anyway, because face it, if we were really good, we’d be getting paid for playing now. And you know it.) 

In the end, I saw play it cool. Take everybody based on their knowledge instead of whether they carry a purse or not. I can only think of a few scenarios in life where women don’t exactly fit in, and watching the game isn’t one of them. You could bring an entire new dimension to a relationship, or even spark one up, over a common knowledge of game you didn’t even consider her knowing about. Don’t automatically assume “she” doesn’t get it just because, she may teach you something whether you like it or not.

For a follow where all comers of real opinion are welcomed, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

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This years Draft lotto caught a fair amount of shade based on the fact it has been decided long ago that this class was a joke. While it is nowhere near the deepest class ever (long before about half of the top 10 prospects pulled out), there are still some intriguing players in it that could make a difference on some of these clubs at the top of this Draft. There’s no day one franchise savior, but there’s a few talented difference makers….for those picking high at least.

The Cavs hit the jackpot after their nightmare fall from grace this year, and after being able to land nothing in the wake of LeBron leaving town, now have two top 5 picks where they can max out on the limited available talent in this class. The Jazz also worked their way up the boards with a top 3 pick after dealing their franchise PG mid season, and still having a later pick..

Basically what this draft is putting some former major players in good position to get better quickly. And below is who won by landing where they did based on what they need and what’s out there, and who flat out lost by where they ended up at and what’s available.

This isn’t the best draft, and it would be much better to be higher next year, but with some smart picks, there’s some solid bonus picks here after the clear top two guys. I’ll be back later this week to familiarize you with some of these prospects and my take on them and how they fit in the NBA, but for now run with the team info/projections and fall backs options.

Not sure if any of these guys (even the #1) is enough to save these squads….well that’s a different question. Bit they can’t get much worse. I think.

1. CAVS: #1 is always a great spot, even in this year’s uncertain class. And in any situation, for unloading Mo Williams and babysitting Baron Davis, they land the top pick as a throw in and now have a chance to get a potential new face of the organization to rebuild around.

The CHOICE: Kyrie Irving. If no? Derrick Williams.


2. T-WOLVES: Once again they miss out on the top prize in their never-ending rebuilding project, and as a result, they are subject to whatever the Cavs do. Any point guard is a loud admission of perhaps early defeat in their Flynn/Rubio ’09 Draft, but with Derrick Williams they at least get some versatility, albeit at the positions they are best at, forward. Tough spot.

The Choice: Derrick Williams. If No? Brandon Knight


3. JAZZ: They have a cluttered roster that is in transition after the Deron Williams move, and there will definitely be some new openings, but they could have really used a spot in the top 2 to properly address their needs. But with this first of two Lotto picks, they should take another backcourt athlete, or potentially a high potential foreigner. But really, nothing fits perfectly here.

The Choice: Brandon Knight. If No? Jan Vesley.


4. CAVS: A luxury pick for many other clubs, this is a blessing from above for a team in need everywhere. This quick turnaround in the top 10 represented by their own pick gives them a shot to add two quick fixes along the road of redemption. They really have to take the best available player here once again.

The CHOICE: Enes Kanter. If No? Kemba Walker.


5. RAPTORS: They need helping the middle, as they have a large group of talented, but slender frontcourt guys. However, an athletic backcourt scorer to run with DeMar DeRozan would be a big coup as well, and here they have the option to do both. Although they have a taste for international talent, they could benefit more by looking south intobthe States this year.

The CHOICE: Kemba Walker. If No? Jonas Valanciunus.

6. WIZARDS: The need athletic wings that can bring out the best in John Wall, so the more they can run and finish, the better. However getting an shooter that can stretch the D is needed too…AND a big man that turn his back to the basket…AND, well just about everything else too. They may be best suited taking the best available player that can contribute quickly.

The CHOICE: Kawhi Leonard. If No? Jan Vesley

7. KINGS: Getting higher in the mix to land the point guard they need to move Tyreke Evans off the ball would have been ideal, but they’ll miss out on that this late, while being too high to take a reach at the next level of PGs. They have to settle for one of the wings here late, and hope to find a better way to even out their lineup elsewhere.

THE CHOICE: Jan Vesley. If No? Josh Shelby

8. PISTONS: There will be a TON  of personel turnover here after the last season mutiny by the veterans on board. Whatever gets done however will be based around Greg Monroe and Rodney Stuckey (and the log jams of Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva and their contracts). These issues say take a physical front court presence or find an athletic swingman to fill in the Richard Hamilton gap in the works.

THE CHOICE: Jonas Valanciunas. If No? Alec Burks

9. BOBCATS: This team needs scorers of any type, but their lack of toughness inside will most likely take priority. Whoever can start to give this team some identity again would be a great call, but with Jordan calling the shots you never know what could happen here. Logic says take the best available player from my view.

THE CHOICE: Tristan Thompson. If No? Jimmer Fredette

10. BUCKS: The were tremendously underwhelming this year, but still have a lot of talent on deck to be adding a top 10 player to. This works out well because it can be a bonus to a core that can improve. An athletic front line body would be a big bonus, but a slasher that can shoot a bit too would be the best fit.

THE CHOICE: Alec Burks. If No? Marcus Morris

11. WARRIORS: Usually, this doesn’t matter. They’ll just take the best player at a position they are already deep at. However, with Jerry West on board now in Oakland, the picks will get smarter. They need to fill in the space between David Lee and Monta Ellis/Stephen Curry with some versatile forward talent. Or they could potentially look to land a legit fixture at center as well.

THE CHOICE: Chris Singleton. If No? Bismack Biyombo

12. JAZZ: This depends on what they do with #3, but getting more explosive overall has to be their goal. They are in a position to gamble here on potential/payout, but could go for the name brand move here too via a certain BYU star. Makes a weird sort of symmetry sense, but could also be a decent fit.

THE CHOICE: Kenneth Faried. If No? Jimmer Fredette

13. SUNS: They’ll be changing a lot very soon, and it could even include Steve Nash. However, they could delay some of their mass overhaul by adding getting some athletic size to go with their guard based attack, as they have nobody on their roster currently that presents an obstacle to opposing rim attackers.

THE CHOICE: Markieff Morris. If No? Jimmer Fredette

14. ROCKETS: They are picking from the same position as last year, but they are not the same team as they were a year ago. They don’t have the same optimism on Yao Ming returning, and have no true presence at the point. They would be best suited adding some height, but this late in a shallow pool, they are the rare position of having to actually settle for the “best” available player to better themselves.

THE CHOICE: Jimmer Fredette. If No? Donatas Motiejunas

Interleague play kicked off this week, and it had a direct impact on the Poll. The overall theme of this kickoff weekend in cross league play was largely geographic rivalries, and it produced some decisive in-state matchups, as fellas some major impact on the standings of the leagues they returned too.

Shin-Soo Choo and the Indians have the biggest lead in any division in baseball and their 29 wins are the best of any club. They're legit...and #1.

After the dust settles, the American League took a slight edge vs the National League, going 22-20 this weekend. But the impact of two series in particular made a big impact in the Top 3 of this poll, pushing two teams to new heights….starting at the top. Let’s go.

1. Indians (2): They were great to start the week in Kansas City (2-0), then bad in Chicago (0-2), but then finished up at their best, sweeping a weekend series against their stateside rivals in Cincinnati. By crossing league boundaries and beating up one of the NL’s best, they finally make their way over the hump to the top of the Power Polls. The Cinderella story in Cleveland keeps on going.
2. Phillies (1): For the first time in nearly a month, the Phils fall from the top of the rankings. Partially due to a quick sweep in St. Louis and struggles against Colorado to start the week off. However, Cliff Lee bounced back and struck out 10 of his former mates in Texas over the weekend, and now they finally get Chase Utley back this week, so a return to the top could be in short order.
3. Giants (5): The Giants ride their second strong win streak of the month to their highest ranking to date, and overall have won 12 of 15 games since opening up the month 2-3.
4. Rays (3): It’s getting crowded atop the AL East, but the Rays stay in this position after holding down the top of the division against a tough Marlins squad on the road this weekend behind yet another strong outing from James Shields (more on that later).
5. Cardinals (7): They bounced back strong from what could have been a deflating sweep in Cincinnati last weekend to take two of two from the N.L.’s best club (and Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt specifically) to start the week, and finished it by winning a demanding series against the Royals in K.C. Now they have regained control of the Central, and hold their biggest lead to date.
6. Yankees (10): The Bombers put their tough times behind them with five wins last week, and have pulled back even atop the A.L. East with Tampa Bay. Curtis Granderson’s 16 homers are second in the A.L. and Alex Rodriguez finally hit his way out of his month-long slump with 13 hits last week, three of them landing over the fence.
7. Marlins (8): The Marlins continue to hang around as the best team in baseball that can’t get into first place, but they’ll be put to their toughest challenge of the young season now with their ace Josh Johnson sitting on the Disabled List with an injured shoulder.
8. Rangers (13): With the mediocrity of the A.L. West this year, all it takes is not losing too much and you’ll get your turn atop the division. And after going 3-4 last week that’s where the Rangers find themselves again. However, with Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz returning this week, they are in position to put some distance between themselves and the rest of the pack again.
9. Reds (4): They are currently stuck in a season-worst 5 game slide that has seen them fall out of first place, against the likes of the Pirates and the formerly secondary Ohio squad, the Indians, this week. With a trip to Philly to kick off this week, they’ll have to dig down deep to stop the bleeding.
10. Red Sox (14): Are they beginning to figure it out? Adrian Gonzalez is destroying the ball right now ( his 65 hits and 41 RBI both lead the Majors), and he went 10 for 15 over the weekend versus the Cubs. After going 8-2 over their last 10, they are the hottest team in the A.L. and a half game out of first in the East.
11. Braves (9): Injuries have taken Jason Heyward and Nate McLouth from their lineup, and for a lineup that is only hitting .242 as a team this season, these absences could put more pressure on their pitching than they can handle on a nightly basis.
12. Angels (6): Torii Hunter went 2-4 with a homer on Sunday, and since it is now clear that their best hitter, Kendrys Morales, will not play this season, Hunter has to get his overall production up (.231 average)  if the Halos are going to hang in with the Rangers, who are getting healthy in a hurry.
13. Brewers (20): The Brewers have been up and down all season, but now that their pitching is getting healthy they are quietly running into the Cardinals/Reds mix atop the N.L. Central. Key to this has been the turnaround of Yovani Gallardo (2 wins, 14 strikeouts in last 12 innings).
14. Rockies (15): The mediocrity of the Rockies continues, as they cannot find any measure of consistency, albeit against a tough schedule recently against the Giants, Phillies and Brewers. Ubaldo Jimenez’s Sunday performance (8 innings, 2 hits) could be a sign of hope, although they still dropped the matchup.
15. Tigers (11): When going is great, it’s great in the D, but when it’s bad….yeah. After being the bullies of the A.L. for the better part of the last two weeks, the Tigers could only mustered one win last week. After second losing streak of 5 or more games in the last month, they have slid seven games back of the Indians in the Central.
16. Blue Jays (16): With the East getting more and more competitive, the give me games become that much more important. Losing 2 of 3 to the N.L.’s worst in the Astro to start off their interleague schedule is a failure to capitalize on this rule.
17. Royals (12): Not sure of what to take from the Royals. They rode a team-wide hot streak to their best start in years, but now have lost 10 of their last 15 games and are headed down quickly. Now they have to resist the urge to spark relight their early season flame by putting too much of their youth movement into play too early, regardless of how well Eric Homser has fared thus far (.288 and 3 homers in first 15 games).
18. D’Backs (26): They made the desert the last place anybody wanted to be last week, winning six of seven against the Padres, Braves and Twins. Could they be putting themselves in line to be the party crashers in the West this season?
19. Pirates (19): Are the days of the guaranteed 100 loss Pirates a thing of the past? It’s still semi-early, but after going 4-1 against legit foes in the Reds and Tigers to end last week, they are looking like a legit .500 area team this year.
20. Mariners (24): Ichiro is struggling right now (.192 average last week), but with the efforts that Felix Hernandez (3.01 ERA, AL-Best 77 strikeouts) and young Michael Pineda (14 innings, n0 runs, 16 strikeouts and 2 wins last week) are giving they don’t need give much. They went 6-1 last week and pulled out of the A.L. West cellar for the first time all year.
21. Mets (21): The Mets are actually playing their best ball of the year right now, but you wouldn’t know it from owner Fred Wilpon’s financially frustrated outburst against some of his best players in Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran this week. By the time David Wright returns from his back fracture injury, this team could look completely different.
22. A’s (17): With the A’s bullpen struggles now joining their lineup in handicapping their starters potential, they have finally hit the bottom of the A.L. West. Their current five-game losing streak is their longest of the season, and has seen them top 4 runs only once and blow 2 saves.
23. White Sox (27): The Sox seem to finally be waking up. They are benefiting from the Royals and Tigers’ struggles and are moving up the division standings, and if Jake Peavy can keep throwing like he did this week (complete game 3-hitter, 8 strikeouts), the Sox will be a player in the A.L. Central picture before too long.
24. Dodgers (18): This is a team where only 3 guys (Kemp, Ethier and Kershaw) seem to be up to playing every time out, and it shows that perhaps the front office woes have impacted the on-field effort as well.
25. Orioles (19): The O’s are 2-7 in their last their last four A.L. East series, and are becoming the bonus win in the division for the East Coast top dogs. Zach Britton, who wasn’t even supposed to be on their roster right now, represents their only real chance at a win weekly.
26. Nationals (22): They have the lowest on-base percentage of any team in the National League, and are squeezing every bit of production they can get from their pitching staff. If they can find a way to get a few more games to Drew Storen (9 for 9 in save opportunities and 0.38 ERA), they’d be in much better shape.
27. Cubs (25): They took the fight to the Red Sox all weekend, but when your second best starter (Ryan Dempster) is sporting an ERA that is pushing seven (6.91) wins are going to be tough to come by. With uncertain injuries to Matt Garza and Marlon Byrd in play now as well, things aren’t looking up for the Cubs.
28. Padres (28): The Pads are struggling to put anything on the board, but Ryan Ludwick is doing his part with a ten-game hitting streak and a .439 average during it.
29. Astros (29): The biggest news out of Houston is that the Astros were sold this week, which should come as no surprise considering their 17 wins have them in the cellar of the league’s most wide open division by 10.5 games.
30. Twins (30): Delmon Young returned to provide some hope of a turnaround and Carl Pavano had his best outing of the year, but 15 wins at the end of May is still exactly what it looks like. This is probably beyond even Joe Mauer’s reach of salvation at this point.

M-V-Me: My Picks for each side’s best so far

NL-Joey Votto: Despite the Reds going through a rough patch and losing their grip on first place in the Central, he continues to pound the ball. His average sits at .335 (3rd in the NL) and his combined on-base + slugging is 2nd in league as well. He hit a huge homer to centerfield in Cleveland in Sunday, which could be a sign that he’s about to make a run up the power charts as well.(Runners Up: Lance Berkman, Ryan Braun)

AL-Jose Bautista: The Blue Jay plugged continues to kill the ball, and is in the rare position of having such a good season that his individual numbers are so good they override the mediocrity of his club. He is near the top of the Triple Crown categories by a comfortable margin with a .353 average (2nd) and 18 home runs (best in the Majors). It’s early to call it now, but he could be on the way to making his 54 homer breakout last year be an afterthought to this year’s performance.

Bautista is hitting round-trippers at a rate that may get the record books attention soon.

KINGS OF THE HILL

NL-Tim Lincecum: The 2-time Cu Young winner showed why he’ll definitely be adding to that collection again one day this weekend. He bounced back from one of his worst starts of the year with one of the his best of his career. He retired 21 straight Giants while walking none to land his 4th win of the year and lower his ERA to 2.06. He keeps on throwing, and the Giants keep on rising.

Lincecum sent 21 straight A's back to the bench in his second start of the week, and one of the best of his career.

AL-James Shields: Their timely hitting has gotten many of the headlines, but the real reason the Rays have resurrected their season so quickly is because of their pitching. And their biggest asset this year is Shields. He botched his fifth win yesterday via his 2nd shutout of the season with a career high 13 strikeouts. Overall, he is in the top 5 in wins (5), ERA (2.00) and strikeouts (73). (Runners Up: Trevor Cahill, Josh Beckett)