Wednesday, September 16, 2015

49ers' Win Over Vikings Misleading? Maybe

As usual. the NFL's opening weekend was loaded with shocking wins and losses, because transitioning from meaningless exhibition games to meaningful games isn't as easy as it looks. Some teams need a wake-up call. One of the sleepyheads is the Minnesota Vikings, who got trampled, 20-3, Monday night by the San Francisco 49ers..

It was possibly the biggest stunner of all..

The consensus was that the 49ers are ticketed for the NFL scrap heap while the Vikes are headed to the playoffs. Did the experts blow it? Don't think so. The results just might be misleading. After examining the game tape closely here's what happened.

The game was a miserably-played mess, full of bad blocking, bad tackling, bad quarterbacking, bad everything. The Niners won but they were awful. The Vikings, though, were worse. For some reason they simply didn't show up..

After several years of success, the Niners, who struggled through the exhibition games, figured to be horrible this season.. They have nothing going for them, a star-studded team that suddenly lost nearly all its stars, A team that had one of the best head coaches in the league, Jim Harbaugh, is now run by a rookie, Jim Tomsula, who appears to be in way over his head. The biggest problem, though, is that QB Colin Kaepernick, has been in regression mode since the start of last season.

In Monday's game Kaepernick didn't do much, but that was the plan. He became Trent Dilfer--hand the ball off, through the occasional short pass and don't make a mistake. He was a supporting player in the Carlos Hyde show. The second-year RB had the game of his career, rushing 26 times for 168 yards, carrying the offense just as the departed Frank Gore had done for so many years,. The defense, bolstered by the return of LB NaVorro Bowman, essentially won the game for the Niners, keeping the Vikings out of the end zone.

But the defense wasn't really taxed. QB Teddy Bridgewater was in a fog, missing open receivers, making bad decisions. The passing game was supposed to set the stage for the running game, the star of the offense, featuring RB Adrian Peterson, the best in the league. But Peterson, returning to the team after missing most of last season grappling with child abuse charges, wasn't ready. Reeking of rust, he carried just 10 times for a measly31 yards,

So, Niner fans,don't read so much into what happened Monday night. What most likely happened was that the 49ers ran into a superior team having a lousy night.

Still, it's possible the Niners, with this new cast of players and coaches, are much improved. Maybe coach Tomsula has some Bill Belichick in him and can wring wins out of a team loaded with inferior talent. We'll know more after Sunday, when the 49ers travel to Pittsburgh to play the Steelers.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out Pittsburgh's game plan. Armed with a tape of Monday's game, they will plot to gang up in the rushing lanes to stop Hyde and force Kaepernick to beat them. The Niner defense will have to slow down a solid offense lead by QB Ben Roethlisberger, who's much better than Bridgewater.

The Steelers are favored by five. If the Niners win or come close to beating a tough opponent on the road, then there will be real reason for SF fans to make plans for a decent season.

But not until then.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

PAC 12 Football--Shaky Start

All we've been hearing this year, since the PAC 12 beat the pants off the other power conferences in the last bowl season, is loud chest-thumping from league fans and players, crowing about how the PAC 12 is the best in college football.

All of a sudden, though, you don't hear a peep out of those PAC 12 braggarts. What happened? A disastrous weekend, that's what.

The worst thing was that mess at Oregon, which is the No 1 team in the conference and No. 7 nationally. Oh, the Ducks won, scoring at will, piling up 61 points on 731 yards, on a northwest patsy, Eastern Washington. But here's the ugly part. EWU scored 42 points and gained 549 yards. Could it be that the PAC 12 big dog has a lousy defense? Looking at that game, it seemed like lack of talent, rather than lack of effort, was the problem.

But Oregon was just one part of the PAC 12 meltdown. No.15 Arizona State got whipped, 38-17, by an unranked SEC team, Texas A&M.  No. 21 Stanford didn't even score a TD in its 16-6 stumble against a minor Big Ten team, Northwestern. No. 22 Arizona didn't  look very strong sneaking past a very weak opponent, Texas San Antonio, 42-32. Even the PAC 12 bottom feeders stunk, with Washington State losing  to pitiful Portland State, 24-17, and Colorado not being able to handle horrible Hawaii, bowing 28-20.  .

It wasn't all bad, though, for the PAC 12. Utah did triumph, 24-17, over Michigan, but the Wolverines, under new coach Jim Harbaugh, aren't very good and don't have a quality quarterback. The top 25 Los Angeles teams did win big, However, SC trampling little Arkansas State, 55-6, means nothing and UCLA beating a so-so ACC team, Virginia, 34-16, isn't anything to crow about. Bruin freshman QB Josh Rosen was impressive but that Virginia secondary that was supposed to be so stellar looked like one of the sieves in the Mountain West conference. Rosen could be a superstar but let's hold judgement until he faces a tougher opponent.

The other second-tier PAC 12 teams had so-what victories. Cal beating up on poor Grambling State, 73-14, and Oregon State whipping Weber State, 28-7,  is nothing for PAC fans to get worked up about.

Bottom line. Two of the PAC 12's six Top 25 teams, Stanford and Arizona State, lost and two others, Oregon and Arizona, won but looked wobbly doing so,  playing crappy defense against lowly teams.
You can't tell much about PAC 12 strength from the wins by SC and UCLA.

But you will be able to tell something about the PAC 12 after Saturday, following the biggest game of the early season, a battle of  Top10 powers, Oregon playing Michigan State in East Lansing.

For MSU, still smarting from last season's infamous 48-17 loss to the Ducks, this is a revenge game. The Spartans are coming off a lazy 37-24 win over Western Michigan in which their pass defense seemed suspect..Neither the Oregon nor the Michigan State defense looks to be superior, but MSU lives off its defense, while Oregon, with that explosive offense, can often get by with an average defense..

 This game means more to Oregon because they are the PAC 12 kingpin. If they lose to MSU,  the PAC 12 rep goes down with them. The Big Ten rep, however, lives and dies with Ohio State, not MSU.

Michigan State is favored by 3 1/2. Who wins?. I'm betting on the Oregon offense and multi-talented new QB Vernon Adams. After Saturday,  PAC 12 fans, quiet this week, will be roaring again.


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

USC's Steve Sarkisian: Dead Man Walking

Steve Sarkisian is a dead man walking.

The USC head football coach doesn't realize it but his days at SC are numbered. Last Saturday, in front of thousands of hard-core fans and boosters he made a fool of himself with a drunken, obscenity-laced rant. It was so offensive his "speech" was interrupted.and he had to be dragged off stage, This guy is the face of SC sports, the face of the university, a leader that young people look up to?

Him? You gotta be kidding.

He claims he got drunk that night because he mixed booze with medication. That's crap. He may have mixed booze and medication but that wasn't why he went off the rails. The problem was rotten judgement. A responsible man, realizing he was getting drunk and knowing he had to talk to fans and boosters at this major annual event, would have taken steps to sober up. According to insiders, this isn't the first time Sarkisian has been inebriated in public and used bad judgment.. Apparently it happened in Washington a number of times when he was coaching the Huskies. He's not, according to two sources close to SC sports, an alcoholic, just a sloppy drunk.

Certainly personal problems have him off kilter. He's going through a divorce and selling his sprawling Rolling Hills mansion for $8.5 million, one million less than the asking price. Still, none of this is an excuse for his drunken behavior.

SC athletic director Pat Haden was screaming at him backstage that night after the incident, but didn't suspend him. Haden probably thought that was the end of it. Man, was he wrong. Sarkisian embarrassed himself but, more importantly, embarrassed the university. SC fans, alums and boosters usually mention, with pride, their affiliation with the school. But not right now. SC haters will taunt them with vicious cracks like: "How's that drunk doing, the guy that's heading your football team?"

Some boosters want Sarkisian gone now. According to sources, Haden has had to do some fast talking just to keep Sarkisian from being fired. Wealthy boosters could easily buy out this contract. Haden's argument, of course, is that dumping Sark now would ruin the team, which is in the preseason Top 10. But Haden, to satisfy angry fans and boosters, may at least have to suspend him for a few games.

The only way Sarkisian survives this is if SC has an 11 or 12-win season that would elevate the team among the nation's elite.Winning heals all wounds. After a super season; all would be forgiven. But having a respectable season, like nine or ten wins, won't be good enough..

Chances of SC winning 11 or 12 games in the tough Pac 12 are remote. After the Sark fiasco, SC will be the laughing stock of the league. When they're on the road the team will be taunted unmercifully about that bad night. Another thing. You can be sure his own players will look at him differently, with less respect. SC will need extra fire and dedication to overcome the fallout from the coach's drunken blunder. Don't expect that essential extra to materialize. The team is good but not that good.

And what about the recruiting season? You can bet other schools will relentlessly use Sark's drunken rant against SC. Unquestionably, if he stays, his faux pas.will cost SC some top players in the next few years,

A great coach, like Urban Meyer or Nick Saban, might put this scandal in the rear-view mirror and
cruise to a solid season. But Sarkisian isn't a great coach and this is not a great team. Throughout the season, at any SC stumble--and you can be sure there will be stumbles--fans and boosters will be calling for Sark's head.

This will be a rocky season for Sark. Don't look for him to be SC's head coach next season.


Monday, August 3, 2015

49ers Face Pitiful Three-Win Season

Brace yourselves, Niner fans. This is going to be the season from hell, a miserable, circling-the-drain mess. You thought last-season's 8-8 was an abomination? After this one, you'll look back fondly on that as the good ol' days.

The ugly reality is that if the Niners win three games this season, they'll be lucky.

For starters, they have no decent head coach. Yes, they have Jim Tomsula, a 49er defensive line coach who was promoted. But his sole head-coaching experience was leading the Rhein Fire of NFL Europe in 2006. That resume really inspires confidence. He'll be learning on the job, surrounded by new coordinators, Geep Chryst (offense) and Eric Mangini (defense), who will be looking to him for leadership. Good luck with that. 

After owner Jed York and general manager Trent Baalke ran Jim Harbaugh, a great but hard-to-manage head coach, out of town following last season, they hired someone they could control. Tomsula is the anti-Harbaugh, a nice guy who listens to his players and creates a friendly atmosphere. Harbaugh is a crusty, nasty, headstrong SOB, who bullied and terrorized his team. Players hated him. But he got results, three straight appearances in the NFC title game and one Super Bowl berth. Man, can he coach. He draws up smart game plans and is spot-on in assessing strengths and weaknesses of players and opponents. He has a feel for the game rivaled only by that of Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick, the other super coaches in the NFL.

Jim Tomsula has to follow THAT. It's like replacing a lion with a kitten. Early word out of the 49ers camp is that players are comfortable with the new head coach. They find him pleasant and easy to work with. Do they respect his coaching talents? According to sources close to several Niners, the players think he's a marshmallow who has a fraction of Harbaugh's skills.

This fledgling head coach might have had a chance at a good season if he had inherited a first-rate team, but he didn't. He was left with dregs. Due to retirement, trades and defections, the Niners, once teeming with talent, have lousy personnel. The offensive line, a sieve at the end of last season, hasn't improved. Reliable RB Frank Gore is gone. Michael Crabtree went across the Bay to the Raiders. TE Vernon Davis, a one-time devastating deep threat, has to come back strong from an awful season. If Davis doesn't come through, they are really screwed.

The defense, once the team's strength, is in ruins. The line-backing corps, which used to be on a par with Seattle's, is in tatters. Excellent LB Navorro Bowman, back after missing last season, will be a step or two slow. The defensive line will be down a notch or two in quality. Opposing QBs are already licking their chops, dreaming about passing against the Niners' shaky secondary, which will no longer be protected by a top line and linebackers. And don't expect help from this year's draftees right away. None of them look to be starters this season on offense or defense..

The biggest problem is at QB. Colin Kaepernick, once an elite QB, took a giant step backward last season. Now he's among the NFL's also-ran QBs. Can he return to his former status? Not likely, considering he's flanked by average RBs, protected by a mediocre line and throwing to so-so wide receivers.

Add to these negatives one more. The Niners are plagued with a tough schedule, one of the toughest in the league. They'll be underdogs in just about every game.

Niiners fans will be crying and cursing throughout this rotten season. But back in Ann Arbor, where Harbaugh is coaching the Michigan Wolverines, he'll be doing a lot of smiling and celebrating, thrilled that he got out just in time.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

The DeAndre Jordan Bungle. Blame Paul and Doc Rivers.

Who's to blame for LA Clippers defensive whiz/center DeAndre Jordan defecting to the Dallas Mavericks, instantly dropping the Clips among the also-rans in the NBA's Western Conference title race?

Point the finger at point guard/ team leader Chris Paul for starters. He helped create an atmosphere that alienated Jordan to the point where he took less money to go to an inferior team. Jordan's exit leaves a giant hole in the team, one that can't be filled this season because he made his move after all the free-agent big men had been signed. The blame for that unfilled hole, which ruins the upcoming season, belongs to head coach Doc Rivers. But that's a separate issue.

First let's look at Paul, who was instrumental in driving Jordan away.  According to two sources close to two Clippers' players, Paul made Jordan's life miserable for years with his relentless badgering. Paul is a fanatical competitor who thinks players should be focused on work, work, work, all the time. He has little patience with a hang-loose guy like Jordan. He also was constantly pestering Jordan about his lousy free-throw shooting. The bickering, reported the sources, witnessed by those with seats near the Clippers' bench, was just the tip of the iceberg. The arguments in the locker room were louder and nastier.

According to the sources, nobody on the Clippers is crazy about Paul, whose somber, non-nonsense, super-authoritarian attitude turns players off. Teammates compare him to Michael Jordan , who was a hard-driving dictator in the Chicago Bulls' heyday. Michael took the fun out of playing. Arguably, say the sources, so does Paul. As DeAndre's stature rose in the NBA, he felt he was above being picked on by Paul. He simply had enough and wanted out.

Something else bothered Jordan about being a Clipper. He also wanted to play a bigger role in the offense. He was fed up with being the third option, behind Paul and Blake Griffin. Recognizing that was on his wish list, Dallas promised to make him an offensive star.

Everything, said the sources, pointed to Jordan leaving for Dallas, particularly since he's a Texas native who went to Texas A&M. Sources said it was 90-10 that he'd sign with the Mavericks. Why didn't coach Rivers see this? Others said it was clear Jordan couldn't wait to get out of LA. So why didn't Rivers take some steps to lure another decent big man, like Tyson Chandler or Robin Lopez, before they signed elsewhere? Instead, he was dragging his feet, allowing Jordan to leave the team high and dry. Colossal blunder by Rivers.

By the way, this sudden need for a center also probably means curtains for the Clipper career of Jamal Crawford, the No 1 offensive bench weapon,  He'll be the prime trade bait in their search for a replacement for Jordan. Losing Crawford will take considerable punch away from the offense, just like losing Jordan will subtract significant power from the defense...

The Clippers really blew the Jordan case on several levels. Regression, here they come.

Nice work, Chris Paul. Good job, Doc Rivers.


Thursday, June 11, 2015

How NBA Refs Have Been Fixing Finals

The NBA Finals, featuring the Cleveland Cavaliers against the Golden State Warriors, are surprising close, and surprisingly entertaining. You can thank the refs for that.

Without their calls--or non-calls-- the Warriors, by far the most talented team, would have cruised to a four-game sweep  But, with help from the refs, all three games have been competitive, with the first two going into overtime. The underdog Cavaliers, even without two of their three best players, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, are leading the Warriors 2-1. That's amazing since nearly all experts picked Golden Sate to romp in four or, at the most, five games.

Fans are loving it. So is the ABC TV network. These Finals have the biggest ratings in years. At first the Finals looked to be a low-rated, mismatched loser, with most fans outside the San Francisco Bay Area not caring to see Golden State be Goliath. But, with the undermanned Cavs playing David, they are whipping up on the Warriors.

How is this possible? It's very simple. The refs have set a rugged tone, beginning with the first game, that overwhelmingly favors Cleveland.  While an excellent defensive team. the Warriors are basically an offensive juggernaut that relies on the jump-shooting skills of guards Stef Curry and Klay Thomspon. They play a fast-paced style that uses bullet-passing to get their shooters open shots. But that's not what's happening in this series.

With the aid of the refs, the Cavs, a thuggish half-court team, are bullying the Warriors, beating up on them at every turn. The Warriors are best at a high-scoring, wide-open, fast-paced style. But these games are low-scoring, slow-paced, wrestling matches. They're much like those Eastern Conferences playoffs back in the day, with teams like the Knicks, Bulls, Pistons and Celtics locked in bruising defensive battles, with scores in 80s..

What the refs are doing now is not calling penalties on the Cavs when they are roughing up the Warriors. There is so much Cavalier hacking and clobbering that goes on with the refs looking the other way. The refs are subtly encouraging this pro-Cavs style of play.

There was one play in the third game where Cleveland's LeBron James barreled into slender Curry from behind, bowling him over, without a whistle on James. It was shocking. Meanwhile the refs are letting James be in freight-train mode, without penalty. On many of his many drives to the basket, where he'll plow into two or three Warriors, he could easily be called for charging. But he almost always gets by with no penalty.

James' constant pounding and extra-rough tactics of other Cavs take their toll on the Warrior players, who don't have the energy to make their offense run more smoothly. This tiring style of play is a boost to the Cavs. The result is a bunch of ugly games, with the sleek, race-horse Warriors sinking into the sludge with the rhino-like Cavs.

How is it all going to play out? It's possible that the Warriors may get down and dirty and beat the Cavs at their own game. Or maybe this wrestling-style of play is so wearying that the Cavs, who aren't very deep, may wear down in the last few games.

It may not be pretty but the games will probably be close, which will attract fans. This series will probably go six or seven, unless the Cavs shock the world and win in five, which is unlikely. Even if it ends in five it's already been a much more entertaining series than expected.

Whatever happens you can bet the refs--the puppeteers pulling the strings with ABC in mind--will be guiding the action in a direction favorable to ABC. Naturally the network, as usual, will deny any hanky-panky.

But knowledgeable folks in the gambling and gangster underworld will tell you that the network, in this case, is full of crap.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Ugly Adrian Peterson Stain

This fall, after a year layoff, RB Adrian Peterson will be back terrorizing defenses, most likely for his old team, the Minnesota Vikings. But when he's bulling through the line, knocking over defenders like bowling pins, that's not what I'll be envisioning. What I'll be seeing won't be pretty,

I'll see Peterson running, all right, but not through defenses. I'll see him not carrying a football but a switch, which is a thin, bare tree branch about a foot long. He'll be chasing a four-year-old boy, looking to grab him and whip him with the switch..Whenever I see Peterson playing ball that's the image that will dominate.

I won't see Adrian Peterson, the great running back, the highest paid RB in NFL history. I'll see Adrian Peterson, the child abuser. I saw pictures of that youngster after a brutal Peterson whipping. It was ugly.

He sat out nearly all last season after being indicted September 11 by a Texas grand jury for severely beating his four-year-old son in May of last year. Following a media furor and a laughable Vikings penalty--a puny, one game suspension--Peterson got a more suitable punishment. He was placed on the commissioner's exempt list, ending his season. For months all we got from Peterson was a lot of whining and bitching, like he was being mistreated and misunderstood. He kept saying he made a mistake. But what he did, violently whipping his little son, is much more than a mistake. It goes much deeper than that.

Reinstated by the NFL in April, Peterson is back with Minnesota. Yeah, yeah, he's apologized and said some of the right things, about therapy and parenting and discipline and blah, blah, blah. Funny, but I don't believe him. His apologies don't right true. He claims he's a changed man. I don't believe him. What he's saying sounds rehearsed and insincere. Something is haywire deep down in his core, something that allowed him to viciously punish his son in the first place. My sense is that what was wrong hasn't been repaired.

I had the same problem with QB Michael Vick, when he was reinstated by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2009 after serving a 21-month prison sentence for his role in operating a dog fighting ring. When I watched him play I couldn't get those horrible animal-cruelty images out of my head. It tainted any game I saw Vick play in. But Vick worked hard to show the world he had changed his thinking about dogs. Gradually those gruesome images faded for me. After a while I could see Vick the football player again, and not that other monster.

Now Peterson will taint Vikings' games for me the same way. Maybe he'll eventually convince me and other doubters like me that he really is a changed man and finally close the book on that dark chapter of his life. The Christian thing for me to do is to be forgiving and him a second chance.

I'm working on it.

Pardon me, but, like many other Peterson haters, I'm not there yet--not even close. Will I ever get there? In this case, I'm not so sure.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Greedy NBA Ignores Dwight Howard Guilt

Did anybody really think the NBA would suspend Houston Rockets' center Dwight Howard for tonight's game?  No way that was ever going to happen. Remember this is the money-grubbing NBA we're talking about.

What happened is that Howard clobbered the Golden State Warriors' Andrew Bogut at the 8:06 mark in the third quarter of the Houston's 128-115 victory on Monday night in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals. Howard was assessed a Flagrant 1 foul.

Rod Thorn, president of the NBA's basketball operations, announced that, upon review, the penalty would stand.  If it had been upgraded to a Flagrant 2, Howard would have been suspended and unavailable for tonight's crucial Game 5. The Warriors' lead the series 3-1 and could claim the Western title with a win.

Actually the call should have been changed to a Flagrant 2. It should always have been a Flagrant 2. When the foul happened the refs blew the call. What Howard did was worse than what Atlanta forward Al Horford did to Cleveland's Matthew Bellavedova in the second quarter of Game 3 of that series, which got Horford ejected immediately. In reviewing the Howard foul the league had a chance to right a wrong. So if the NBA was being fair and consistent Howard would be on the same Flagrant 2 boat as Horford and would not play tonight.

But, let's face it. What's important to the NBA is money. Fair play and consistency in penalties, who cares? The NBA wants a big audience for tonight's game. If it promises to be competitive, people will watch. Without Howard, it wouldn't be competitive and many fans wouldn't tune in, which hurts ratings, which hurts the NBA's wallet.

Consequently the NBA does what is necessary to attract the biggest audience, which means Howard plays, and fair play be damned. So that bogus Flagrant 1 stays a bogus Flagrant 1. This is just more evidence for conspiracy theorists who swear the NBA rigs games based on TV ratings.

Chalk up another stain on the NBA's soiled integrity..

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Real Story Behind The Chris Paul-DeAndre Jordan Feud.

All of a sudden, in the wake of the LA Clippers' choking away the Houston Rocket series, a feud between Clippers' point guard Chris Paul and center DeAndre Jordan is taking center stage. Is there really a feud? If so what's behind it?

According to three sources close to the Clippers, here's what's going on. It's basically a clash of attitudes. One source referred to Paul as a "mini Jordan," meaning he thinks of himself as the Clippers' answer to Michael Jordan. Remember, Michael was the hard-nosed, dictatorial leader of the Chicago Bulls in their '90s heyday. Paul has tried to assume that lofty, tough-guy,.Jordanesque position as leader of the Clippers, but he has run into some opposition. One player who doesn't relish that attitude is DeAndre Jordan, a hang-loose, laid-back kind of guy.

The essence of the feud is that Jordan doesn't like Paul's pushy, bossy attitude. To Jordan, it feels like he's being shoved around and he doesn't like it. When Paul came to the Clippers a few years ago, Jordan was still raw and just a promising player, while Paul was a hot-shot All-Star. Jordan was just a second-tier player, so he had to take a subservient position to big-time Paul. But since then Jordan has blossomed into one of the top three defensive players in the league. He's a potent force who's actually more valuable than Paul. Finding another first-rate point guard would be a lot easier than finding an athletic, shot-blocking, top-notch rebounding rim-protector like Jordan.

Quite simply, Jordan has become a huge force on the Clippers--and he knows it. He feels he's above being pushed around by Paul. But Paul only knows how to be one thing--a pushy leader. That's his way. It doesn't please his teammates. Rumor has it that when he left the New Orleans Hornets in 2011, some of those players were happy to see him go.

He and the Clippers' other star, Blake Griffin, clashed when Paul first came to the team. Griffin, then, was the No.1 guy but Paul asserted himself right away as top dog. Griffin balked. There was bad blood between them for well over a year, before they finally declared a truce. When Doc Rivers came to the Clippers, replacing Vinnie Del Negro as head coach, his first order of business was to smooth relations between his stars.

Actually, this Paul-Jordan feud is nothing new. These two have been at odds since last year. The conflict has just been getting steamier in the last few months. Rivers has had to do what LA Lakers' head coach Phil Jackson did with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal--play referee. Jackson's biggest job on those championship teams wasn't dealing with Xs and Os but playing mediator between those two, making sure they didn't kill each other.

There have been many flareups between Paul and Jordan, report the sources, including some heated locker-room arguments and some conflicts that have been visible at court side during games. So far, though, the beefs have been neatly covered up. That's been possible because the LA media isn't as blood-thirsty and tabloid-oriented as media in other big cities.

One of the issues is that Paul has been riding Jordan about his horrible free-throw shooting. Sources say Paul thinks Jordan hasn't been working hard enough to improve this weakness. Jordan, however, resents Paul butting in.

Another problem, report the sources, is that Jordan is miffed at Paul doing his Michael Jordan imitation when he hasn't had the success that Jordan had. Michael helped the Bulls win many championships so his teammates felt obliged to succumb to his harsh leadership tactics. Paul, however, hasn't even been able to lead the Clippers to a conference championship game. So DeAndre resents him acting the tough-leader role when he hasn't lead them to anything close to a championship.

The feud is surfacing now because DeAndre is about to become a free agent. He can either sign a max deal with the Clippers, for $100 million, or go to another team for less money. Dallas has been mentioned as a possible new team for Jordan, a Texas native who was born in Houston and went to Texas A&M.

Clipper fans fear that if Jordan is not on good terms with Paul that may push him to leave Los Angeles. That's not necessarily true. There have been horrible fights between NBA players, sometimes to the point of fisticuffs, and that never forced the warring parties to jump ship. Do you think things were smooth on those Michael Jordan championships teams?. Actually they were plenty rocky. That was also true on Pat Riley's Knick teams and, way back in the old days, there was plenty of player strife on Bill Russell's Celtic teams. Recently, the Cleveland Cavaliers were a mess for months, but the players, led by LeBron, resolved the conflicts. Problems can be successfully handled internally. They don't have to break up teams.

This is where Rivers comes in. It's up to him to smooth over any problems and convince Jordan to stay with the Clippers. My guess is that he will stay. Paul and Griffin learned to co-exist. So can Paul and Jordan. If Jordan leaves, blame Rivers for being a lousy mediator.

By the way, expect a bunch of media stories in the next few weeks quoting Clipper players and various other sources denying there's any rift between Jordan and Paul.

Ignore those stories. That's just publicity b.s.


Saturday, May 16, 2015

Why Clippers Will Beat Rockets In Game 7

Look for the LA Clippers to climb out of that hole they tumbled into Thursday when they lost game 6 at home to the Houston Rockets, 119-107. But losing is the wrong word to describe what happened. What the Clippers really did was choke the game away.

It was really ugly. So, naturally, were the late-game stats. With about 2 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter, the Clippers were ahead by 19 and cruising. Then they barreled into an iceberg, turning into the Titanic. They were outscored 40-15 in the fourth quarter, a historic playoff turnaround. Actually they just scored 12 points in the fourth. It was 15 because Chris Paul.buried an uncontested three-pointer at the buzzer. At one point during that epic collapse they went nearly seven minutes without a field goal.

But that's all past. Forget that colossal choke. Sunday is a new day for the Clippers, a day of redemption.
The Clippers you see Sunday won't be that wobbly outfit that turned to jelly with the game on the line on Thursday.

In Thursday's game LA was pressing ferociously in the fourth quarter, pressing so hard on offense they forgot to play defense. The Rockets scored so easily because the Clippers defense was non-existent. LA players, crippled by the pressure, slipped into a mental fog and visibly slowed down, making the Rockets several steps faster. The more the Clippers pressed the more they crumbled. For the Rockets it was almost like pregame practice. Coach Doc Rivers was no help. He was powerless. He had never seen anything like it. He didn't know how to stop the bleeding.

The strangest part of the loss was that Houston's fourth quarter blitz happened with their best player, James Harden, who hadn't played very well most of the game, on the bench. The Clippers were mostly destroyed in that quarter by two so-so role players, Corey Brewer and Josh Smith, who scored 29 of the 40 fourth quarter points.

Here's why the Clippers will win Sunday. First of all, in the back of their minds on Thursday, they knew they had another game, that Thursday's game wasn't the end of the series. That sense of urgency that usually short-circuits such meltdowns wasn't in play. But now they have that sense of urgency. For another thing, this game is more important to the Clippers. Winning it means they go to a conference finals for the first time in franchise history. That gives them extra motivation. The Rockets have won NBA championships so it's not as crucial to them.

The game is particularly critical for Chis Paul, one of the great point guards of the last decade. He has never been to a conference final, never advanced beyond the second round of the playoffs. This game is his chance to finally silence his critics. Even if the Clippers get to the finals and lose, it won't be so bad for him. But not reaching that level, once again, will gnaw at Paul and pump up his critics for the entire off season. He's desperate to win this game and his desperation will fuel his team.

One key stat is in the Clippers' favor. Teams that get a 3-1 lead in a seven game series win it 96% of the time. However there's another stat that works against them. In game7s in playoff history, the road teams have prevailed overwhelmingly, 24-95. But the Clippers can offer a stat which counters that one. They have been pretty good in game7s in recent years with this core unit. In the last three years the team has won its last three game7 efforts, including one on the road in Memphis in 2012. And, don't forget, just about two weeks ago, the Clippers beat the Spurs in a grueling game7, a team that's far better than the Rockets.

Another thing in the Clippers' favor. The Rockets wouldn't have won without spectacular games by Brewer and Smith. Those guys are unlikely to run wild again. The Clippers will see to that.

One more thing. The Clippers are favored by 2. Odds makers and gamblers have a sense that Thursday's game was an aberration, a blunder that, odds are, won't happen again on Sunday.

The worse in this series is behind the Clippers. They won't slip into that abyss in consecutive games. They are too talented for that.