Monday, April 17, 2017

The Clippers' Big Three Bite The Dust








The Clippers' 97-95 loss to the Utah Jazz in the opener of their playoff series in Los Angeles was no ordinary loss. This one was a game-changer, a very ugly game-changer.. 

It's the one that signals the beginning of the end of the Big Three. This signature unit of All-Stars--DeAndre Jordan, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin--has been the heart of the team in last few years. These are the guys who are supposed to power the Clippers to the Western Conference Finals, to the NBA championship.

They haven't done it yet. That Jazz loss says the Big Three doesn't have what it takes.. So, in the off season, when Paul and Griffin are free agents, one or both will be gone.

Bye, bye Big Three. Busting up that core will turn the franchise upside down.

Quite simply, the Big Three isn't good enough to get the job done. They have never been able to power the team past the second round. That Jazz loss says loud and clear that they won't get the job done this year either. 

The Clippers' task this time was exceptionally tough. They had to dispose of the Jazz, a rugged, solid team, before running into that second round buzz-saw known as the Golden State Warriors.

For the Clippers, that opening game should have been a romp. Not only was it at home, but Utah's best player, defensive whiz Rudy Gobert, went down early in the first quarter. Somehow the Clippers lost to an undermanned team that was playing on the road.

Devastating, inexcusable, heartbreaking.

If the Clippers can't beat the Jazz, a fifth seed, under those comfortable circumstances, how could they ever beat a juggernaut like the Warriors who, blessed with three deadly shooters and a phenomenal-utility man, Draymond Green, are in a league of their own? 

In the Jazz game, the Clippers had little defensive intensity. Also, they didn't play smart. Without Gobert, a tough rim-protector, the Clippers should have been crashing the middle over and over and scoring heavily. But that didn't happen. For some reason, the Clippers didn't bring their A game. And once again Blake Griffin was a no-show in the fourth quarter. 

Despite losing the first game, the Clippers, with Gobert out or at half-strength, should still win the Jazz series. But the Clippers have shown their true colors.

They couldn't win that Jazz game in which everything was stacked in their favor. So against the Warriors, where everything is stacked against them?.

You know what's going to happen








Sunday, March 19, 2017

Cal Football and Men's Basketball--Bleak Future







These are dark days for Cal sports fans--and getting darker by the moment..

The fans were still adjusting to the football mess when the men's basketball program
nosedived. After many decades as a Cal fan, I can't remember when both the football and men's basketball programs were both in crisis at the same time.

Football hit rock bottom last fall when the team stumbled to a lousy five-win season. Athletic director Mike Williams.finally had enough of head coach Sonny Dykes, whose ridiculous, one-dimensional approach (all offense, no defense). had been dragging the program down for years. So Dykes was replaced by Justin Wilcox, a former Cal assistant who had lately been a first-class defensive coordinator at Wisconsin.

Regrettably, Dykes left the cupboard bare. The two best offensive players, QB Davis Webb and WR Chad Hansen, turned pro, and there weren't any good defensive players leftover from the Dykes regime Wilcox will be starting from scratch. So fans will be stuck with a team in radical rebuild mode for at least two years. Cal fans were just getting used to the bleak football future when the men's basketball program crashed and burned.

After being shut out of the NCAA tournament, Cal joined the also-rans in the NIT, opening at home against a featherweight Cal State Bakersfield team that the Bears should have destroyed, even with its two top players, Jabari Bird and Ivan Rabb, sidelined with injuries. Yet Cal trailed badly, 44-19, at the end of the first half and went on to lose 73-66.

Pin this loss on head coach Cuonzo Martin, who announced the day after the CSB debacle that he had signed a seven-year contract with Missouri. Obviously he had been in talks with the Tigers while he was supposed to be coaching the Bears in post-season play. No doubt the players knew the coach was bailing out on the team. Clearly, with this coaching change looming, their heads and hearts weren't in that CSB game. So this season ended with an embarrassing, frustrating loss, similar to last season's ugly finale--getting booted out of the NCAA tournament in the first round by an inferior Hawaii team.

At the moment, next season doesn't look promising for men's basketball. There is no head coach and the roster boasts no big-time players, since Bird is a senior and Rabb will likely turn pro. Unless something changes drastically, this team is headed for the bottom of the PAC 12, down there with the football team.

Dark days, Cal fans, nothing but dark days ahead....


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Saturday, March 11, 2017

UCLA Basketball Team Crashes Back To Earth









The  UCLA men's basketball team did it again. Building up hopes sky-high, giddy fans had visions of the Final Four dancing in their heads. But, once again, the Bruins won't deliver.

UCLA in the Final Four? Not happening.

The way they've looked in the PAC 12 tournament, they'll be lucky to make it to the Sweet 16. Suddenly they don't look like the team that finished the season in the Top Five, steamrolling the opposition, excelling on both offense and defense. They even beat tough Arizona in Tuscon, something no visitor had done in years.

But that was during the season. In the PAC 12 tournament, the Bruins have come crashing back to earth. They opened the tournament Thursday barely escaping the USC game with a two-point win, a game the Bruins should have lost. With lazy defense and spotty offense, they kept the door open for the Trojans, who consistently stumbled at the entrance and never made it through that door. What really killed the Trojans was their own blunders, not UCLA's skills.

The Bruins continued that downward spiral on Friday, getting pushed around by Arizona. The Bruins were ice-cold from the three-point line and shockingly soft in the middle. The Wildcats owned the paint, often embarrassing the Bruins with easy layups and dunks, winning 86-75. That score is misleading. It wasn't that close. The UCLA offense crumbled and the team doesn't play defense well enough to compensate for a massive offensive breakdown.

So which is the real Bruins, the heavyweight that was throwing knockout punches at the end of the season or the lightweight that wobbled through the PAC 12 tournament? It's hard to predict how the Bruins will do in the NCAA tournament. A favorable draw and some upsets could pave the way for them to make it to the Elite 8. That's possible but not likely. The real Bruins are probably the unit that under-performed in the tournament in that hostile, unfamiliar Las Vegas environment

Once again the primary problem  is coaching--that demon Steve Alford again. Particularly in the Arizona game, Alford was blown away by the Wildcats' head coach Sean Miller. The Bruins weren't well prepared for either SC or Arizona--the coach's fault, of course. Though the Bruins improved on defense late in the season, they still don't play it with the kind of skill and ferocity needed to win championships..

Given how they raised fan hopes, there is going to be some real fan grumbling if UCLA doesn't reach at least the Elite 8. Some fans will be ready to give Alford the boot. He may already be looking for another job. According to rumors, Indiana coach Tom Crean may be headed to Missouri and Alford, a former Hoosier star, may be considering returning to his alma mater, replacing Crean,

So far it's just grapevine chatter. Getting rid of Alford would be complicated and costly, but if the Bruins have a quick, ugly exist from the NCAA tournament, fans may be happy to show him the door, no matter how expensive and messy.it will be..








Thursday, February 2, 2017

49ers Hiring GM John Lynch--Stupid Move








San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York has lost his mind.

He continues to undermine the team with blunder after blunder.  His latest is hiring John Lynch as the new general manager. Dumb, dumb, dumb. There is nothing about Lynch that suggests he can lead the Niners, who won just two games last season, out of the deep hole they've been in for years.

The main problem is that Lynch has no experience as a GM. He has never even been a coach. York confounded the stupidity of this hire by signing him to a six-year contract. A Stanford alum, Lynch was an all-pro safety who has been a TV color commentator for Fox since retiring, as a New England Patriot, in 2008. Absolutely nothing he has done in recent years indicates he can rescue this faltering franchise.

The Niners are a train wreck, from top to bottom, with questions at every position. Fixing the Niners would be a nightmare task for even an experienced GM. Can a novice like Lynch do it?  Not a chance.

This idiotic hire is no surprise. York has done this before. A few years ago he collaborated with former GM Trent Baalke to run Jim Harbaugh, the best Niner coach since Bill Walsh, out of town. Then these two bunglers hired incompetent Jim Tomsula as head coach for one year before turning the job over to ineffective Chip Kelly last season.

After Kelly, to no one's surprise, managed just two victories, York kicked him out. Not only that, York finally had enough of Baalke, an abrasive jerk who made a lot of boneheaded personnel moves that helped sink the Niners. York got rid of him too.

With Baalke gone, Niner fans were hopeful. York lined up Atlanta Falcons' offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, architect of the best offense in football, to be the next head coach. Smart move. Was York finally coming to his senses? He answered that question by hiring Lynch.
The Niners are in desperation mode, trying to appease angry, disappointed fans while repairing a broken team. With a few exceptions the Niners' players are awful. They need a smart, experienced GM to scrap the bad players and replace them with good ones. What they've got, however, is an inexperienced GM who's in way over his head.

What will probably happen is that, after a year or two of little or no progress, York will dump
Lynch, pay him big buyout bucks and start the rebuilding process all over again with a new GM.

So brace yourselves Niner fans. Get ready for more dark years, with no relief in sight.








Saturday, January 28, 2017

UCLA's Coach Steve Alford: Not Good Enough







The honeymoon is over for UCLA men's basketball coach Steve Alford.

To fuming Bruin fans he's back to being a bum. Here's one indication. In the backyards of at least a half dozen student homes near the school's Westwood campus, Alford was recently hung in effigy. Some angry guys even use Alford's dangling figure as a target for darts.

What happened? Reality set in. The real Steve Alford surfaced again, and it's not a pretty sight.

On the ropes last season, Alford put all that negativity behind him. He brought in some flashy freshmen-- Lonzo Ball and T J Leaf--fashioned an undefeated preseason, including a heralded victory over top-ranked Kentucky, shot into the Top Five, and even flirted with the No.1 spot. Expectations exploded through the roof. UCLA men's basketball was a hot ticket again.

But after the PAC 12 season began,  the Bruins were slowly exposed. That race-horse, high-scoring offense, built on precision jump-shooting and  modest defense, didn't really work in conference games. The preseason schedule was overloaded with patsies that were easily steamrolled by that power offense. Also, it turned out that Kentucky was good but not No.1 caliber, so that signature victory was tarnished somewhat.
When the Bruins were riding high during preseason, fans were lulled into thinking Alford's offense-heavy plan would keep the team in the Top Five.

Cracks in the UCLA foundation started to show when the Bruins lost to Oregon in Eugene, 89-87. The last- second loss wasn't the problem. What was red flag No.1 was that the Ducks scored 89 points. Then came the home loss to Arizona, 96-85, which spotlighted the Bruins' lousy defense. They couldn't stop dribble penetration to curtail the Wildcats' powerhouse inside game and the Bruins' perimeter defense was terrible.

So they give up 89 points to Oregon,  96 to Arizona , as well as 92 to Kentucky.in that win. That's rotten defense. Good teams don't give up that many points. Chalk that up to bad coaching.

The USC road loss was the real killer. UCLA rolled to a 20-10 lead then collapsed when SC switched to a zone. The Bruins' offense was stuck in the mud and their defense was molasses-slow. Alford couldn't make helpful adjustments, so the Bruins dropped another, 84-76, once more surrendering way too many points.

In that loss the Bruins seemed listless and befuddled. Though playing their hated rival, they didn't bother to show up. Again, that's bad coaching. That loss is on Alford.  How could he not have them ready to play a crucial conference game against their worst enemy? How could they play without any spirit against SC?

Another problem. According to two sources, there's turmoil in the Bruins' locker room that has been smoldering since the Oregon loss. Apparently it got worse after the Arizona fiasco and was a significant factor in the SC debacle. The sources haven't been able to pinpoint the players involved since there's an effort to keep a lid on the conflict. Apparently, though, playing time is one of the issues. The sources stressed that the festering bad feelings are interfering with teamwork.

Under Alford, the Bruins are a one-dimensional, offense-heavy team that plays so-so defense  They win by overwhelming teams with their offense. That plan often works with B and C-level teams but rarely with A teams.

For a while, the Bruins did look like an A team, bringing back memories of the dominance of the Wooden era. But this not an elite team. The players aren't good enough. The coach certainly isn't good enough.

This is, at best, a Sweet 16 team. But an Elite 8 or a Final Four Team? No way. Not the way they play defense. Definitely not with Alford as coach, with his indifference to defense and inability to make sound adjustments during games.

UCLA fans should dial down their expectations. With Alford at the helm there's nothing but heartbreak ahead.








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Monday, January 9, 2017

Cal Football Fans Pray Chip Kelly Is New Coach







Cal head football coach Sonny Dykes, arguably the worst hire the school history, has finally been canned. Unfortunately, it's four years too late. He's had time to post a rotten 19-30 record and run the program into the ground.

Cal athletic director Mike Williams was fed up with Dykes, who kept looking for other jobs in the off-season, even after signing a four-year-extension last year. During last season, there was interest in him from Baylor and Houston. If either had offered Dykes a job he would have been out the door instantly. Williams finally had enough.

With Dykes out of the way,  who is No.1 on the wish list of every knowledgeable Bear fan?

Chip Kelly, of course.

He's the innovator who helped revolutionize offensive football, accelerating the pace and the number of plays, while at the University of Oregon. He wasn't as successful as a pro coach but clearly he can still be a winner at the college level, which is less demanding. He's certainly a significant upgrade over Dykes.

Happily, Kelly is available.

After just one season, he was recently fired by the San Francisco 49ers.  He was doomed from the start, inheriting a horrible team and having to work with general manger Trent Baakle, an infamous jerk who's famed for helping run a great coach, Jim Harbaugh, out of town.

Niner head man Jed York just gave Baalke the boot, so it was likely that Kelly would follow him out the door. So Kelly is now free and has said he's open to anything, which means he wouldn't mind returning to college.

More good news, Because of contracts with the Niners and his previous employer, the Philadelphia Eagles, he is set to earn $6.5 million next year. So Cal wouldn't have to offer him a pile of money and could structure a deal that would be favorable to the athletic department budget. That's good because Cal can't offer much, considering Dykes' buyout is nearly $6 million,

Cal has to sign a new coach and fast. Williams is saying he would like to have one in place by the end of the week.

Word from the inside is that the AD is already on the Kelly case, that dumping Dykes now, rather than weeks ago, is due to Kelly's sudden availability. National Signing Day is just a few weeks away, on Feb.1. Cal has a sixteen-player class that could bolt if the Bears sign the wrong coach.

Other names have been mentioned for the job, including Cal offensive coordinator Jake Spavital, Washington offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith and Wisconsin defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, who was an assistant at Cal in the Jeff-Tedford era..

Those guys would be OK but none has the clout of Kelly, who would be the best thing to happen to the Cal program in many decades.