Dodgers have me in a quandry

 

On one hand this organization is making all the right moves in player development. Then they fail to adequately address their bullpen.

On one hand this team is hitting home runs at a record pace for a Chavez Ravine squad, and then they show they can’t generate a run to save their lives.

On one hand (we have numerous hands; stay with me here) the Dodgers are trouncing terrible baseball teams and playing at a near .750 clip against bad teams, and then they go 8-20 against teams over .500 including 3-9 against the rival Giants.

I just don’t get this club.

With today’s San Francisco Giants loss and sweep at the hands of the Miami Marlins the Dodgers have a three game lead in the National League West. It feels incomprehensible that the Dodgers could have a division lead while getting waxed by the Giants this year, but that is par for the course with this odd version of the Dodgers this year.

The loyalists amongst us continue to view Dodgers baseball as the glass that is half full. They argue, the team is in first place, the Dodgers are playing great at home, they are winning the games they are supposed to win. While this line of thinking is nice and dandy it tells an incomplete story. It tells a story with a familiar refrain and I know it ends ugly.

The things that championship teams MUST DO the Dodgers do not do well. First, they do not generate runs using small ball. This is not conjecture this is a real number. The Dodgers produce the highest percentage of their runs via the home run. They produce fewest amount of runs with the base hit, the walk, the sacrifice fly, the situational ground out etc……This is a precursor of post-season doom. Teams that can’t generate runs with small-ball do not win in October. I have grown tired arguing this fact with certifiable novices on social media. They don’t get it, and all the haranguing in the world will never convince these people that they are out of their scope. In the post-season when you are facing teams ABOVE .500 you can not rely on the long-ball to win games. The pitching is better, the mistakes on the mound are less frequent and as a hitter you must be able to generate runs by working counts and having productive at-bats.

The misnomer here is that the Dodgers have the best on-base percentage of any team in the National League. That statistic would tell you the Dodgers are good at producing runs with productive outs. That is not the case. They don’t score bushels of runs with stolen bases, hit-and-runs, stolen bases or productive outs. They don’t need to lead the league in small ball, but they at least need to be proficient at it. So far, it’s a gaping hole in their game. They need to change that for October success.

Second, the Dodgers bullpen is a sieve. They aren’t the worst in the league but they are closer to the #BoxOfPain instead of the 1990 Cincinnati Reds “Nasty Boys.” General Manager Andrew Friedman believed three washed up infielders could be anchors to the bullpen. Chris Hatcher throws 96 mph but his ball is straight and he gets lit up. Pedro Baez throws 98 but has yet to develop a serviceable breaking ball. Joel Peralta has been on the shelf for much of the year but his latest returns have not been encouraging. JP Howell has been effective but you better not push him past three or four batters because hitters will get a read. Yimi Garcia burst upon the scene like gang-busters but then lost his release point and started serving up gopher balls. You can’t really rely on him at this point. Surprisingly Juan Nicasio has been consistently good this year and Adam Liberatore gives the Dodgers a reliable left-handed reliever with a WHIP below 1.00.

I am not convinced the Dodgers pen has the depth to venture deep into the post-season. It was the primary reason why I was huge proponent of the Dodgers signing Andrew Miller in the off-season, but I digress.

Picture this, Game 5 of the NLCS, series is tied at 2-2. Dodger starter has a high pitch count and is in trouble in the 6th inning in a tie game with runners on base. What pitcher in the Dodgers bullpen, other than the closer Kenley Jansen, would you trust to save the day ? I don’t trust anyone in that bullpen.

As hard as this is to state, the San Francisco Giants and Bruce Bochy has had three or four arms that he had total and complete belief in to get out of that type of jam. The Dodgers just don’t have that. It is another intangible the Dodgers need, yet don’t have if they are to win their first pennant in 27 years.

Dodger fans are not thrilled with me. They say I am too negative, not enough rah-rah and am not focusing on the good things they are doing. Sorry but not sorry for my negativity. Winning the National League West is not my goal. I am trying to project a team that can A) beat the Cardinals. B) Win a pennant. C) Win a World Series.

This club is good, but I fear good won’t cut it.

Being a Dodgers FAN doesn’t mean I have to blindly believe

 

Being a Los Angeles Dodgers fan does not mean I have to blindly believe this team is championship quality. Some believe that fans should just root for their team, believe in the front office and management and enjoy the game. Well, that is not how I am wired. I used to be wired that way, but in case you haven’t noticed our biggest rivals are running circles around us in terms of pennants and World Series titles.

As I watch another game that the Dodgers fritter away I am perplexed by this undying blind adoration and complete acceptance of a 270 million dollar team that has nothing but flaws all around the diamond. Yet, those that profess this team is championship quality keep believing that this team is better than the San Francisco Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals.

They aren’t

The Dodgers are 2-7 versus the Giants and 2-5 against the Cardinals. One clear thing those teams have that the Dodgers don’t have, TOUGHNESS. The Dodgers are just a mentally weak ball club. It’s funny listening to other Dodgers fans who think this team is “BUILT” for a championship. Are you kidding ? The Dodgers have three effective pitchers, Kershaw, Greinke and Jansen. The back-end of their rotation is horrific, and it was terrible before McCarthy got hurt. Their bullpen is a collection of washed up infielders converted into pitchers, and left-handed thumbers that General Manager Andrew Friedman believed would work out. What a colossal miscalculation.

The Dodgers hit a lot of home runs, but that doesn’t mean anything when you can’t generate runs using small ball. In the playoffs you score runs by piecing hits and situational outs together to score runs against superior pitching. The Dodgers simply can not manufacture enough runs consistently. That is not conjecture, that is fact. The Dodgers have scored the highest amount of runs in baseball via the home run, the fewest runs in baseball by simple base hits or sacrifice flies.

Throw in the fact that their manager is not a master tactician and this team has all the makings of an 85-90 win team that loses once again in the first round of the playoffs. Now, if that’s OK with you Dodger faithful, have at it and enjoy the show. But, if you are like me and are getting sick of watching the Giants have  parades while we keep watching Kirk Gibson’s home run from 27 years ago, then let’s have some honest dialogue about how this team can get better and be a championship quality team.

NBA FINALS: Warriors as national villains ??

 

Not only has the NBA Finals not gone according to plan but something almost unthinkable has also transpired. LeBron James and his merry band of complementary pieces have turned into sympathetic figures on the national stage. Think about that, LeBron James as a sympathetic, “woe is me” figure.

I am seeing story after story painting the Cavaliers has this little train that could and building up the story-line of this upstart little Cleveland team taking on the big, bad Warriors. What kind of alternate universe am I living in ? When the did the Warriors and their run-and-gun style turn into what’s wrong with basketball ?

The LeBron love is at an all-time high. The gushing in a lot of circles is over the top. I can also understand it. He is doing something that has never been done before. He is leading a band of role players toward a possible NBA Championship. He is inspiring ordinary and mediocre players to play spectacularly. He has them believing they are better than they really are. It is quite the story.

With that said, the Dubs have suddenly turned into the villains. The nation wants to see LeBron lead his band to an improbable title. Everyone wants to see it except for us long-suffering Bay Area basketball fans. The vitriol and even the hate towards the Warriors is quite alarming. I haven’t seen so many national media members and fans of the game denigrate the Warriors like this……EVER.

I hope the national media is lamenting this Warriors title. I hope when the Warriors win this championship there is frustration, angst and anxiety among national fan bases. I don’t care what they think or how they feel. This is our team. This is our quest. We are told to recognize LeBron’s greatness. I say recognize us, the DubNation.

Cleveland has had their fun. Reality sets in tonight.

Warriors in 6

NBA FINALS: Cavaliers grab 2-1 series lead as listless Warriors cede control

 

At the outset of the series I wrote that the team that was more mentally tough would win the series. So far the Cleveland Cavaliers have shown the Golden State Warriors how a championship team should compete for basketball’s biggest prize.

The media experts will try to convince you that there is some strategic genius to what the Cavaliers are doing, there really isn’t. They are winning this 2015 NBA Finals with guts and guile. A willingness to play as hard as they possibly can and leaving the rest for the weary. Matthew Dellavedova epitomizes the grit of this team. He is out-manned and out-gunned at every turn yet his hustle and determination wins him possessions and helped the Cavaliers grab control of the series

LeBron James was super again with 40 points 12 rebounds and 8 assists, but Dellavedova’s 20 points gave the Cavaliers that second option to give them a 2-games-to-1 lead.

What has to be infuriating for Warriors head coach Steve Kerr is it appears the Warriors aren’t exerting the same effort as Cleveland. Kerr wasn’t about to bury his team in the post-game, instead he simply praised their effort in the 4th quarter. We all know how he felt about their effort through the first three-quarters. Despite only losing the game 96-91, the Dubs trailed by 20 late in the third quarter and simply dug to big of a hole. Kerr said he didn’t like how his team began to feel sorry for themselves in the waning moments of the 3rd.

Tell me about it Coach……

Steph Curry even intimated that the Warriors are not coming out with enough energy at the starts of these games. How does that even happen ? How do you play nine months of basketball at the highest level in the world. You are suddenly playing for the sports biggest prize and you aren’t playing with enough energy, not playing hard, getting out-worked and out-hustled by a team with inferior talent. I can not begin to comprehend how that is even possible.

Kobe Bryant had this amazing tweet in the aftermath of the Game 3 carnage for the Warriors tonight……

‏@kobebryant
Cavs playing as if their life is on the line G.S playing as if they have more #NBAFinals down the line #ThisIsNOW #competitionIsEverything

Nuff said.

The Warriors scored 35 points combined in the second and third quarters. They scored 36 alone in the 4th quarter when they played with a sense of frenetic energy and pace. Unless this team is prepared to expend that 4th quarter like energy then they will be in trouble in Game 4.

Draymond Green is nursing a sore back after a hard fall in the 4th quarter of Game 2. He certainly didn’t look like himself in Game 3 and that is bad news for Golden State. The Warriors have relied on his stretch-4 abilities all year to make shots, board and make decisions off of the Curry double-team. David Lee filled in admirably and gave the Dubs a shot in the arm with some spirited 4th quarter play. He is sure to get more minutes in Game 4.

Harrison Barnes was beyond awful. He missed wide open jumpers off of creative dribble attacks by his mates. He even missed a bunny lay-up with no one near him. Barnes must be better.

Andrew Bogut is getting dominated by Timofey Mozgov. At the start of the series I thought the combination of Bogut and Festus Ezeli could play that to a draw at least. Bogut looks worn down and slow and Ezeli has great energy but sometimes his decision-making on the offensive and defensive ends is lacking.

The Warriors bench is playing well but with such sub-par performances by starters Green, Barnes and Bogut the Warriors are in deep.

The troubling aspects of this series so far from the Warriors perspective have nothing to do with X’s and O’s. It has everything to do with the Warriors heart, guts, energy, will-to-win and belief. If they don’t find it, and find it soon they will be on the losing end of one of the great upsets in sports history.

Game 4 is Thursday in Cleveland

NBA FINALS GAME 2 Post-Script: Simple Adjustment Will Change Series for Dubs

 

Furrowed brows and consternation will turn to joy and happiness after Steve Kerr and staff have a chance to survey the damage of the first two games of the NBA Finals.

First and foremost all the credit in the world needs to go to David Blatt and his staff for devising a game plan that has taken Steph Curry out of his comfort zone. As I wrote before the series started, the only way Cleveland can win this series is to make the game ugly and slow. They have done a masterful job of disrupting the Warriors rhythm by mucking the game up. Here is how they are doing it…..

Cleveland is suffocating Curry once he gets past the time line. This isn’t a soft double-team or a funnel to help side defense. This is a furious trap after the predictable high screen. Once they trap, they are being physical with Steph, pushing him to the sidelines. Steph is not handling this trap well because to be honest, no team has done it better this season than the Cavaliers against the Warriors. If Steph tries to dribble out of it there are three defenders there. The goal is simple, “get the ball out of Curry’s hands and make the other guys beat you.” Curry has been inconsistent in getting the ball to his other play-makers and this has hurt the overall continuity of the offense.

Curry needs to attack and be more decisive in getting rid of the ball after the high screen. Usually the screener is Draymond Green. Green has not handled this situation well at all. His hesitancy on whether to shoot or attack the lane exemplifies that dis-jointedness of the Warriors offense. Draymond is wide open…….WIDE OPEN. He never hesitated during the regular season. He can’t hesitate now. If the Cavaliers are going to trap as hard as they are, you need to confidently knock down the jumper if you are open, or attack the lane. Once you drive the ball to the middle, Cleveland has to help and when that help comes he can become the play-maker he has been all year. Dish it to Klay Thompson or Harrison Barnes for the corner three or lob it to Andrew Bogut. What Green can’t do is hold the ball and try to figure it out. Cleveland is willing to give open looks to complementary pieces, the Dubs need to knock them down like they have all year. If the Warriors act decisively and swiftly off the high ball screen, they will have open shots.  Cleveland’s defense  will be jumping all over the place. Good ball movement will beat good defense every time. But, when you move the ball you must knock down the open shot.

I think Cleveland has played wonderfully in this series. The first two games have gone exactly according to plan for them. I could care less about all the missed shots for LeBron James. He is all the Cavaliers really have offensively. James had 11 assists in Game 2. The Cavaliers had 14 TOTAL assists. He is the best player in the world and is playing like it. The post presence of Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson is problematic for the Warriors but certainly not something that is their death-knell. When the Dubs go small the Cavaliers can only stay big for so long before good ball movement will negate the size advantage and Blatt and staff will have to match the Warriors smaller line-up.

Cleveland can win this series if they continue to muck up the game. James continues being James. And if Matthew Dellavedova continues perpetrating his hex upon Steph Curry.  I think it’s really simple. Cleveland is riding their super-star and the supporting cast is following his lead.

The Warriors win this series if they revert back to the ball movement that made them an 80-18 team entering these NBA Finals. Make Cleveland pay for the aggressive double-and-triple teams. Attack the lane, make Cleveland commit and move the ball. Remember, the Warriors had similar issues with Memphis but when they figured it out, it was game over. I fully expect film session to be valuable in righting the ship. I also expect David Lee to make appearance. Two of his better games over the last two years have been against Miami last year and Cleveland this year. Lee might be rusty but I think he can help if the offense becomes bogged down.

The Warriors have the best road record in the NBA at 33-15 including the playoffs. This series is not about James and his greatness. This series is about whether the Warriors are truly a championship team and are willing to make the adjustments that will lead to a title.

NBA FINALS GAME 2 PREVIEW: Irving out for Finals; LeBron presented with rare opportunity

 

If you are to believe the national media the 2015 NBA Finals are now over and there is really no need to play the remainder of the series……how disappointing.

Despite the clear advantage the Warriors have with the season ending injury to Kyrie Irving, this series is far from over. The last I checked a bad dude by the name of LeBron James is still healthy and still plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers. The moment, the circumstance the scene was made for this guy and now he will have something he has never had to play with before…….the expectation of NOT winning.

No one expects Cleveland to win. No one. Not a soul in their right mind thinks the Cavaliers minus Irving, Kevin Love and Anderson Varejao can win. But, there is one bad dude who will see this as the opportunity of a lifetime. Even people who don’t normally cheer for LeBron will now give him the benefit of the doubt with his decimated club lying in tatters around him.  If James can somehow pull this off I believe it would be one of the great sports feats in the history of team sport.

The national media was really pouring it on today. From ESPN to the NBA Sirius/XM channel to Mad Dog Radio. Not one host was giving the Cavaliers a shot to win the series. In fact they were declaring if Cleveland got this thing to six games it would be a minor miracle.

I’m not buying it.

I love sports because of the unpredictability. No one knows what will happen. That is why we love it. Did any of us see the Seahawks throwing the ball from the one-yard line in the Super Bowl on 1st down? Did anyone see the San Francisco Giants win six elimination games on their way to the 2012 World Series? Did anyone see a band of bandits run through the ACC Tournament and NCAA Tournament against bigger and badder teams in 1983 and win the national tournament like Jim Valvano’s NC State Wolfpack?

Sports is not scripted. We don’t know how it will turn out. We have a feeling. We think we know. On paper it says the game should turn out a certain way. But, we watch because sometimes we are shocked and stunned by the result.

If LeBron can do this, we should start etching that profile into the Mount Rushmore of all-time greats. If he can do this it would be one of the great feats in the history of sport. For the first time in his athletic life, LeBron James is being given no chance. The Warriors better take notice. They do not need to become the Baltimore Orioles of 1969 or the Washington Bullets of 1975. The Dubs have come too far over the last 40 years for this 80-18 team to become a footnote in basketball lore.

FINISH THEM……..

NBA FINALS GAME 1: Dubs win overtime thriller; Kyrie gets hurt; Dubs up 1-0

 

UPDATED:  June 5 6:35am with full game highlights

It was a thriller and some how and some way the Golden State Warriors were able to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 108-100 in overtime in Game 1 on the NBA Finals.  LeBron James played another incredible post-season game scoring 44 points but took 38 shots to get there, while dishing off only 6 assists. Those are numbers that Golden State will take every game.

The Warriors were led by Steph Curry’s 26 points and 8 assists as the Dubs battled back from a 14-point first quarter deficit to move within three wins of their franchises’ first title in 40 years.

James had a chance to win the game in the waning seconds but his 21-foot left-wing fade careened off the rim,  Iman Shumpert grabbed the loose ball and hoisted up a desperation fling that just fell short as time expired sending the game into overtime.

Once in OT the Dubs clamped down on defense and the big minutes from the Cavaliers starters seemed to catch up with them as they missed their first 12 shots leading to the Warriors eight point win.

TALKING POINTS

The Warriors will absolutely live with LeBron James taking 38 shots. If he is taking roughly 25 shots and dishing off 8-to-10 assists the Cavaliers are much better. JR Smith was only 3-for-13 and seemed to disappear after knocking down his first two three’s. Kyrie Irving was simply amazing before crumpling to the hardwood and aggravating an already sore knee in the last few minutes. This could be a series changer. Irving was dynamic offensively in putting up 23 points before the injury. Cavs fans need to bust out the rosary beads praying for his health or else this could be a short series.

The Cavaliers post players had their way with Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green. Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson are a load and the Warriors didn’t have answers. When Mozgov and Thompson were on the floor together, the Dubs were lost. But, the problem for Cleveland is they don’t have a bench that comes close to duplicating what those twin towers give them. The Cavaliers decimated the Warriors on the boards in the first and third quarters, the Warriors, with their depth, were able to repay the favor in the second and fourth quarters and get the game even.

The Warriors were the Warriors. I had a feeling they would take their medicine with LeBron and see if he could beat them by himself, and he almost did. The fear if the Warriors double Lebron is that JR Smith and Shumpert will start feeling their oats. For the Warriors that can not happen and they did a good job of staying disciplined with that approach even as it seemed the game might slip out of their grasp. The Warriors will face multi-faceted challenges if the triumvirate of James, Smith and Shumpert are in a rhythm. So, by singling James, and playing straight up and not helping off of the others you do take your medicine. But, it also gives you the best chance to win.

Andre Iguodala was amazing. He scored 15 points but his job on LeBron was admirable. When Iggy guarded LeBron the King shot 4-for-14 and turned the ball over 3 times. James scored ONLY 11 of his 44 when guarded by Iguodala. He is clearly the Warriors best option to defend James. Warriors fans may have to put up with James scoring 40 maybe even 50 points in games in this series, but as long as James isn’t getting his mates involved the Warriors will be in good shape.

It’s not a coincidence that the Warriors made their runs in the second and fourth quarters. That is when the Dubs got to rely on the great depth of their bench to get after the Cavaliers second unit. There isn’t a comparison between the two reserve squads. The Dubs outscored the Cavs bench 35-to-9. The only bench player who saw minutes tonight for the Warriors and didn’t play well was Leandro Barbosa. I expect him to play better in Game 2 on Sunday. Shaun Livingston, Festus Ezeli along with Mo Speights all played well and the Warriors will need them the rest of the way.

Curry, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes did what they have done all season and combined for 58 of the Dubs 108. Despite the team-wide slow start the Warriors found their rhythm and were able to get Game 1 in a game that lived up to the billing.  The knee injury to Kyrie Irving is just a massive storyline. Even if he is not 100 percent, the threat of what he can bring and his ability to knock down a perimeter jumper will help Cleveland. Matthew Dellavedova is solid, but he can’t be playing 20-25 minutes in this series. As Lebron said in the post-game if Irving can not go “its next man up.” Can that next man be effective enough to counter the superior depth of the Warriors. We’ll see……….

Game 2 is Sunday with the Warriors having a chance to go up 2-games-to-none.

NBA FINALS PREVIEW: Mental Toughness will win Championship

It’s hard to define mental toughness, but as sports fans, we know it when we see it. It’s that undying will of not being denied. Even though sometimes you are denied it is the unfailing desire to not only compete but win. The basketball team that shows the greatest amount of mental toughness will be the team that wins the 2015 NBA Championship.

The reason I believe mental toughness will be the key is that the only way the Cleveland Cavaliers can win this series is to muck it up and make it ugly. They know they can’t run with Golden State. But if they make the game a plodding half-court physical affair, they will be in the driver’s seat.

Everyone under the sun is asking the question, “how do the Warriors stop LeBron James?” My answer is they don’t. LeBron will do what he does and that is at times dominate the game the way the only the greatest of the great can do. He will not only dazzle with his ability to score, but his uncanny ability to get his mates involved and have them play at levels they didn’t even know they had.  It’s what makes him spectacular and special. The Warriors will not stop James. They will try Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala on him and it won’t work. The best they can hope for is he doesn’t get these vital players for the Dubs into too much foul trouble.

The given is that the Warriors can’t stop LeBron, but they must be able to stop JR Smith and Iman Shumpert. These two New York Knickerbocker cast-offs have been born-again in Cleveland. When LeBron’s creativity is on full display these are the two most likely candidates to deliver daggers. The Warriors team defense has been superb this year and their ability to defend and rotate off of doubles has been flawless at times. It will need to be special again with Smith and Shumpert playing at such a high level.

The Cavaliers cause a match-up issue with the emergence of Tristan Thompson. His Rodman-esque post-season has punctuated a great season for this free-agent to be. Thompson has no offensive game, but his relentless rebounding abilities makes this difficult for the Warriors to contend with in the half-court.

Matthew Dellavedova has been a revelation. His toughness brings an edge to the Cavaliers that has served them well. Can his toughness overcome his short-comings when facing superior athletes. So far it has, the question is whether the St. Mary’s product can shade and handle Steph Curry. I just don’t see it.

The Cavaliers are truly a team that is greater than the sum of its parts. Many are pointing to their 12-2 run through the Eastern Conference playoffs. Some are dis-counting that run because of the perceived weakness in the East. Well, let me break something to you, it’s not a perception. The East is very weak. I don’t put much credence into their playoff trek.

When looking at the Warriors its pretty darn simple. They are the most offensive and defensive efficient team in the league. National media point out the Splash Brothers and their high-flying style. But, those of us that watched this team all year knows they can win a grind it out 85-80 game just as well as a 126-121 game. The Warriors play small, but they can play big. They play fast, but they can play slow. Their defense is always over-looked. They have tremendous individual and team defenders in Klay Thompson, Andrew Bogut, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston. The Warriors are not only athletic but they are long. This length I believe will be a huge factor in the series. Instead of a 6’2 guard challenging Smith’s perimeter jumpers, you will have a 6’7 Livingston or Iguodala. This will be a factor in the series.

Steve Kerr will need to be on his “A” game  if the Warriors are to win this series. He will need to make adjustments. When to double and not double LeBron James is one of them. How to match-up the small line-up with Timofey Mozgov and Thompson is another. I see the Warriors having to counter the two Cavaliers bigs. Decisions here could very well determine the series.

As much as the Warriors don’t have any answers for LeBron, Cleveland has a major challenge in defending Steph Curry, or shall I say hiding Kyrie Irving. The Cavs could put Iman Shumpert on Curry and see if Irving can defend Klay Thompson, but that could be fatal. They could “see” if Irving can defend Curry, but I don’t think that will go well at all. They could see if JR Smith could defend Thompson in the Shumpert on Steph scenario but then you have Irving on Barnes. No answers for Cleveland. However you slice it, the talented but injured and defensively challenged Irving has to try to stop someone. I can see the Warriors feeding where-ever this mis-match is. Also, the Cavaliers will have to double Curry, when they double can their rotations be good enough to prevent the wide open looks the Warriors will get ? Can the Dubs knock them down ? While the Warriors dilemma is focused on LeBron, the Cavaliers have a multi-faceted defensive problem when trying to handle the Warriors. And, with the Warriors depth I believe the challenge will be too great, even with the magnificent LeBron James.

Back to mental toughness. There will come times in this series when the Warriors will have to dig down deep and stay composed. This is the biggest wildcard in the series. James is going to have his guys jump on his back because this isn’t his first rodeo. How will the Warriors respond to the first hard foul or the first shot at Curry or Thompson. This is the Finals. There will be no lay-ups without a challenge. The Warriors must not lose their heads. Yes, I am speaking to you Draymond Green. Green must keep his wits about him and stay on the floor. I fully expect the Cavaliers to take some cheapies on the Warriors when that running game gets going. The Warriors can not take a swing or respond in kind. They need to stay what I like to call, “aggressively composed.” Aggressive in mind-set but composed in performance. That is mental toughness. The Bad Boy Pistons of the 90’s relied on teams losing their wits when the game got physical. The Warriors have really yet to face a team that went after them and tried to beat them up. How they handle that will determine the series winner.

Cavalier fans have waited a lifetime. Warriors fans have waited 40 years. The time is here. The 2015 NBA FINALS.

MY PREDICTION: The Warriors have gone 79-19 this year when you include the regular season and post-season. They have gone an amazing 46-3 at home and an NBA best 33-15 on the road. I have watched them play all year-long. I just can’t see a team beating them 4-out-7. If LeBron can lead his team to a title this year against this Warriors team I think it will be his greatest professional achievement.

WARRIORS IN 6

 

 

WSOP Preview: Time is NOT of the essence in Poker

 

The best poker players in the world all have this one skill. It has nothing to do with the tactical aspects of the game. It has nothing to do with reading your opponent, playing position, betting correctly or grinding. That one skill that the best of the best all have is patience.

It is said patience is a virtue, it is also an acquired, learned and honed skill that can lead to some monster pay days. I have never seen a successful poker player say, “it’s time for me to force the action.” That just isn’t reality. As we sit here on the eve of the 2015 World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, here is this little reminder on the virtues of patience courtesy of the ole BitOBaca.

The greats of the great can sit at a table for hours, whether in cash or tournament play and wait out their opponents. This patience serves two purposes. First, if you aren’t getting cards it allows you to nonchalantly throw them into the muck and live to fight another day. Second, it allows the real good players to get reads on their opponents. Being a novice, I have found great strategic value in this move. One can pin-point the weak players and stay out  of the way of the stronger ones. Remember, the more information you have about your opponent, the easier it will be to beat them straight up, regardless of the cards you hold in your hand.

Patience allows you survey the scene, analyze and make mental notes on your foes. I can’t count the number of times I have gotten into a game at the Bellagio or Aria and have heeded this patient approach. After a few hours of mucking hand after hand I come to the slow realization I am playing with pros.  These aren’t players to be messed with. If after an hour-and-a-half to two hours of play you can’t tell who the worst players at the table are, then YOU are the worst player. Attacking a table without knowing anything about your opponents is what loser’s do. You will be broke before you know it.

Some of the best feelings at a poker table are when you can clearly tell who the bad or suspect players are. When this happens you don’t throw your patient ways out the door. Instead, you wait. You pick your spot and then attack. Preferably in position, preferably when they might be on tilt. Notice I am not even mentioning cards. Cards don’t matter when you are playing a bad player. You can check/raise, raise or move them in with their marginal hand. Sometimes they will get lucky and hit a card on the turn or river. But, what you are looking for is an advantage, and the only way to ensure you have an advantage is whether you are holding the nuts, or whether you are playing someone who is just begging you to take their money. The only question left  is whether you have the patience to get to this point.

Good luck at the WSOP 2015 !

 

 

Up 2-0 Warriors have reason for concern….

 

Usually fans and media types will tell you how great-a-shape teams are in when they are up two games to-nothing in a series. Not me.

With the Golden State Warriors thrilling, heart-stopping 99-98 Game 2 win over the Houston Rockets they are two wins away from reaching the NBA Finals for the first time since 1975. But, if the Warriors are going to advance to the biggest of stages they have several facets in their game that need to be tightened up.

First, figure out how to get Klay Thompson more involved offensively. To be fair Thompson is having to expend so much energy in guarding James Harden, one can argue he hardly has enough gas in the tank to perform up to his standards on the offensive end. But, the Warriors need Thompson to be a threat and the Rockets, as porous as they have been defensively, are doing a great job in taking Klay out of the mix. Certainly you don’t want Klay forcing the issue, but the Warriors will need his contributions when they head to Texas. They don’t need a 30 point explosion but they need his offensive presence. When Klay is cooking it really opens things up for Steph Curry and his other partners in crime Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes.

The Warriors need to take care of the ball. I read a twitter comment that read, “the Dubs need to stop it with the swag passes.” I couldn’t have said it better. The Warriors found themselves too many times in Game 2 jumping in the air with nowhere to go and trying to make the impossible pass. Carelessness with the ball has been a problem all year for the Warriors. When it rears its ugly head in the Conference Finals it can cost you games. The Warriors built up a 49-32 lead in the 2nd quarter of Game 2, the lead should have been 25-to-30. Houston’s defense in the 18 minutes of the game bordered on pathetic, but the Warriors reticence to value the ball cost them when they were building that big lead and it could have cost them the game.

When the series shifts to Houston the Rockets will find a comfort zone at home. I fully expect the whistles to go their way as well. As good as the Warriors defense is, the Rockets will become more aggressive, especially with James Harden’s dribble attacks. He hasn’t taken a ton of free throws in this series and he will be bound and determined to change that in Game 3. If the Warriors attack him defensively too aggressively they will make it easy for the officiating crew to put Harden at the stripe. The Warriors will have to live with Harden going off in this series. The key will be in containing Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones and Josh Smith. Ariza and Smith combined for 37 points in Game 1 but only 17 in Game 2. Ariza struggled Thursday in Oakland scoring only 7 points while Smith scored 10 on 6-of-18 shooting. Contain the complementary pieces and the Warriors give themselves a great chance to win in Houston. Easy to say, not easy to do as Houston has to feel pretty good in losing the first two games of this series by a total of five points.

Move the ball. The Warriors need to rely on what has led them to 77 wins in the regular and post-season this year, ball movement. The Warriors are at their best when the ball is a blur and everyone gets a touch. It is also their greatest strength. While Houston is doing a pretty good job at defending the high pick-and-roll with the switch, their back-side rotations are not very good. If the Warriors can run their sets to completion, they force the back side defenders to make decisions on dribble penetration. When the Warriors do that they have too many options for the Rockets to defend. And this, is when the Warriors slice your heart out. There hasn’t been enough patience on the offensive end. The Warriors need to make Houston play defense. The longer the play takes to develop, the better for Golden State.

While the “experts” will tell you the Warriors have a 94 percent chance of winning this series, it doesn’t feel that way to me. Houston has played a lot better than I expected and I think this is going to be a long, tough series. The Warriors have their hands full with Harden. Howard is a force, but still incredibly unlikable. Ariza and Josh Smith along with Jason Terry and Corey Brewer can get real hot and with their length can cause defensive problems for the Warriors, if they don’t show patience. The Warriors had the best road record in the league, they will need to call on that road toughness heading to Houston for Game 3.