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It’s not unbelievable. It’s just Stephen Curry.

February 27, 2016 Leave a comment

It was an amazing end to an amazing game. 

Actually, it was a completely obvious end to an amazing game. Honestly, it was an expected end to an amazing game. It was a Stephen Curry end to an amazing game.

Just another night for the reigning — and soon to be repeating — NBA MVP. 

Curry hit 12 3-pointers versus the Thunder on Saturday. Many of the behind-the-back, step-back, fall-down, nothing-but-nylon variety.

To that I say: So what? Sure, that dozen tied the league’s single-game record, but Curry has sunk 10 shots from beyond the arc in three games this month, including one such occasion at Orlando on Thursday.

Curry’s latest game-winner was launched 32 feet away from the rim — which isn’t that far compared to what he did just a few days ago. That distance might as well be a clear layup for Steph these days. Entering Saturday night, he had made 33 of 49 shots attempted from between 28 feet and half court. That’s 67.3 percent. DeAndre Jordan leads the league in overall field goal percentage at 69.1 percent. And someone remind me how many 3s Mama Hooper is chucking up on a nightly basis?

Curry’s 11th 3-pointer tonight was his 287th this season, surpassing the single-season record that he set last year. Yeah, when he made “only” 286 3s, surpassing the single-season record that he set during the 2012-13 campaign.

Plus, not only does Curry make a bunch of 3-pointers, he makes them often. Among players who have attempted at least 500 3s in an NBA season, Curry sits 1-2-3 in 3-point field goal percentage. He’s been at his best this year (46.8 percent). 

While the NFL and MLB have recently explored shortening the length of their seasons, the NBA might want to cut off some games just to keep Curry from basically embarrassing its record book. He may have 288 treys now, but the Warriors still have 24 games remaining. At this pace, he’ll knock down his 400th 3-pointer during the final week of the regular season.

From 272 to 261 to 286 to … 400? If a baseball player takes that kind of sudden and drastic statistical jump, the masses are already discrediting his accomplishments with PED accusations. With Steph Curry, we can feel pretty damn comfortable insisting its his pure, unadulterated talent.

Hmm. Maybe I should amend my title statement. Curry’s talent is unbelievable. Amazing. Incomprehensible. What he’s doing, we’ve never seen anything like it. He’s having one of the best seasons of any NBA player ever. He’s still a couple of weeks shy of his 28th birthday — right in the middle of his physical prime — and can already be considered the best shooter in basketball history. At twenty eight. Incredible.

But on a case-by-case basis, what Stephen Curry does from deep has become standard. Watching it should make you feel giddy but by no means surprised. No matter the defense or angle or depth or situation, Curry has made you believe that he will drain every 3 he takes. You expect it. It’s not incredible; it just is.

Go look at that Vine again. Perhaps they were just stunned, but I think the Thunder’s entire bench assumed that ball was going in as soon as it left Steph’s fingertips. No one on that bench is grabbing their head in bewilderment. No collapses. No pounding of fists. Hell, Enes Kanter’s arms tell you everything: He knows that shot is good while it’s still in its descent.

He has seen this show before. We all have, over and over again. On this Oscars eve, Stephen Curry’s shot is like a masterpiece of cinema: No matter how many times you watch it, you can enjoy it. But you always know the ending.

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The Pablo Sandoval flab flap

February 24, 2016 Leave a comment

Annually, this is always a weird time for what’s considered baseball news. Signs of winter thawing into spring come as players begin to show up for spring training. The first official day of pitchers and catchers reporting is one of the most anticipated days on my sports calendar.

But in mid-to-late February, baseball is in that awkward, early prepubescent stage. It looks like something familiar, but it’s not fully formed. It’s still growing, shaping itself into what we know. It’s just guys throwing and jogging and stretching and hitting. But it’s a hell of a lot more than anything we’ve seen over the past four months, so it’s always a big freaking deal. Baseball is back! Even if it’s totally not! That excitement means baseball scribes need to start filling up those column inches and taking up more space on the Internet with increased haste.

That leaves the baseball public hearing about a variety of stories that create a lot of chatter but are really small potatoes in the big picture. And this season seems to have a wealth of such issues thus far.

The Marlins are going with a “no facial hair” policy. No beards, no mustaches and especially no sideburns. The article states that Don Mattingly is enforcing the rule, but I have a hard time believing it is his creation. He’s being good soldier in his first year as the Marlins’ head man, but I’m sure he privately rolls his eyes at this edict from team execs.

Chris Archer stresses the value of being earlier than early, which would be totally worthwhile if Tom Coughlin was managing the Rays. In this case, it reeks of false hustle.

Of course, we’ll be bombarded with tales of wacky spring training injuries. Those are nothing new and can sometimes be major in severity.

Yet, no story in the first week of spring training has led to the expulsion of more electronic ink and hot air than the shocking revelation that Pablo Sandoval is a fat guy.

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The most discussed photo in Boston since that really ugly courtroom sketch of Tom Brady. (credit: Jim Davis/Boston Globe)

You know what that looks like? Some have said that looks like a lazy player who doesn’t take his job seriously.

I think that looks like Pablo Sandoval.

It’s not a great look, but that is exactly what Pablo Sandoval looks like on the field. Portly, plump, pudgy, whatever you want to call him, that is and has been the Panda. He will never have a body that makes you reminisce about Gabe Kapler. While Sandoval has worked hard to lose weight in the past and has succeeded a couple of times, the extra chunk always found its way back onto Sandoval. Love it or hate it, Pablo and his spare tire will be life-long friends.

Obviously, everyone in Boston — the players, the management, the fans, the media — were aware of this fact when Sandoval signed his five-year, $95 million contract prior to last season. And it was cool as long as he hit.

He didn’t hit.

His 76 OPS+ was sixth from the bottom among qualified hitters. Sandoval was somehow even worse in the field, where his -16.9 UZR represented a career low by a mile and followed up a 2014 campaign in which he received fairly positive results on defense. Add it up and Sandoval, at least according to FanGraphs WAR (-2.0), was the worst player in Major League Baseball last season. He could have been even further in the red if he had not missed about 35 games.

If Pablo becomes a productive player again, his weight issues will be diminished. However, even with what you should call a “good” season from Sandoval, I don’t think he can win. To get back into the good graces of Red Sox Nation, Pablo probably needs to play like someone he’s not, someone like 2011 Pablo.

If 2015 represented the deepest that Sandoval’s slash line could sink — .245/.292/.366 with a .270 BAbip — 2011 represented more of what I’m sure Sox fans expected to see out of their third baseman. In that year, Sandoval slashed .315/.357/.552 with an unsustainable BAbip of .320. He hit 23 home runs in 117 games.

But take a look at Sandoval’s slashes from 2012-14, through his age 25-27 seasons:

2012: .283/.342/.447
2013: .278/.341/.417
2014: .279/.324/.415

Sandoval’s greatest home run total during this stretch was 16 HRs in 2014, but that was in 157 games. Excluding 2014, Sandoval hasn’t played in more than 141 games since 2010.

Furthermore, his BAbip in those seasons stabilized at right around .300. Why was he unable to sniff the 20-homer plateau again? Probably because Pablo’s HR/FB rate was 16 percent in 2011, the only season of his career in which that number reached double digits. In 2012-14, his HR/FB rate sat between 8.3 and 9.5 percent. 

His defense should improve — how could it get worse? — but at the plate, it’s pretty clear that Sandoval is a .270-.280 hitter who will contribute about 15 home runs while continuing to show his standard lack of discipline at the plate.

That’s not good enough for what the Red Sox are paying him. That’s not worth an average annual value of $19 million for the next four years. The fans want to see the Sandoval who was an offensive machine during the 2012 and 2014 postseasons.

Alas, beware the dangers of short sample size, because that’s just not who Pablo Sandoval is. He’s an above-average offensive player, but he’s not a great one. He should post better stats in 2016 than 2015, but he isn’t going to repeat his October exploits.

He’s also fat. This should not be news to anyone who’s been paying attention, but if Sandoval doesn’t improve upon last year in a really significant way, he should prepare himself for a season full of fat-shaming and blaming. If he fails to do that, it won’t be because Sandoval is generally overrated and was given a contract more befitting of a better player. Nope, it will be ALL about his conditioning. Because why look for other reasons when you’ve got this built-in narrative that you have been harping on since February? If you are reporting on the Red Sox and looking to explain what’s wrong with Pablo, it makes your job really easy.

Kobe Bryant flips off the media — because he has to

February 19, 2016 Leave a comment

Kobe Bryant, as brash and defiant as ever, opened his postgame press conference Friday night by presenting the media with a middle-finger salute. 

Why would The Mamba act so classless!?

Because he really had no choice. Bryant dislocated his right middle finger in the closing minutes of the Lakers’ loss to the Spurs and was more than happy to show it off afterwards.

Marshawn Lynch is probably kicking himself for not doing this first. You know he would have yanked his own finger out of socket just to hold it up proudly at a presser, all the while repeating, “I’m just here so I don’t get fined.” It would have been perfect.

Real talk: This is probably the best moment of the Lakers’ 2015-16 season.

Fact: Jennry Mejia doesn’t learn from his mistakes

February 12, 2016 Leave a comment

516769Excuse the painfully obvious pun, but Jennry Mejia has racked up three strikes and he’s out.

And he did so in quick order.

The Mets’ former closer has been handed a permanent ban for a third violation of Major League Baseball’s performance-enhancing drug policy, the league announced Friday. While Mejia isn’t the first baseball player to be given a permanent or indefinite suspension for drug use (Ferguson Jenkins and Steve Howe were both banned and later reinstated), he is the first player to be suspended permanently for PEDs.

It’s also crucial to not confuse the word “permanent” for “lifetime.” Under this policy, Mejia can apply for reinstatement into major and minor league baseball following one full year of suspension. Furthermore, Mejia must wait at last two years from the penalty’s beginning (today) to be granted reinstatement. To say Mejia has been banned for life is technically incorrect. He has been banned for as long as the league sees fit, and there is a path for him to return. In an absolute best-case scenario, Mejia could be back on an MLB team on Feb. 12, 2018.

But history tells us he won’t be able to lay off the bad stuff for more than a few months.

At this time two years ago, Mejia was preparing to battle for the fifth spot in the Mets’ rotation, a battle he won. However, he was moved to the bullpen in May after compiling an ERA north of 5.00 and walking 20 hitters through his first 37.1 innings. That move proved to be a wise decision as Mejia down 28 of 31 save chances. He had a strikeout-to-walk ratio slightly less than 3:1 with a 2.72 ERA.

Pretty good.

AND THENNNNNNNNNNNN …

On April 11, 2015, Mejia was suspended 80 games for testing positive for the anabolic steroid stanozolol.

He did the time and returned to the Mets in July, having lost his closing role to Jeurys Familla. Mejia made his 2015 debut on July 12 and by July 28, he was banned for using stanozolol (again) and boldenone.

Then today, while still serving his 162-game suspension for that second strike, Mejia gets thrown out indefinitely. The substance? Boldenone. Again. 

The most stunning part of this story to me is not that Mejia became the first MLB player to fail three PED tests; it’s that he did so in a span of less than two years. And now he’s supposed to stay clean for at least two years before possibly re-entering the league? 

Maybe Mejia no longer cares about having a life in American baseball. Maybe he’s got an addiction to PEDs. Maybe he’s just incredibly stupid and keeps unknowingly ingesting stuff that contains these drugs. Whatever the case, he’s no longer the answer for any team at the back end of its bullpen. He is, however, the infamous answer to a trivia question and MLB’s new poster boy for the effectiveness of its PED testing program. 

Cam is damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t

February 9, 2016 2 comments

Let’s start here: Cam Newton didn’t handle his Super Bowl postgame press conference well.

To say the least. And many, many people have said a lot more than that:

Embarrassing.

Childish.

Disgraceful.

Stephen A. Smith said Newton looked like a coward while saying in the same breath that he would never call Newton a coward. Yeah, there was a lot of that over the airwaves and interwebs on Monday.

And I get it. Cam has an obligation to answer the media’s questions and he needs to complete it, no matter if the questions are repetitive or inane, or if he can simultaneously hear Chris Harris Jr. talk openly about how the Broncos’ entire defensive game plan was based around challenging Newton’s ability as a passer. 

To his credit actually, Newton didn’t shut down completely. He didn’t say “Both teams played hard” 10 times. He may not have offered up any soliloquies, but he did give one fairly flushed-out answer. The rest consisted of one or two words, but how is that any different than what we usually get during a presser with a disgruntled Bill Belichick? Tom Brady has done the same thing too. 

But, yes, Cam screwed that up. However, that immature moment opened the flood gates for pundits to rake him across the coals about other issues during the Super Bowl which were overblown and/or demonstrated the hypocrisy that is being applied to Newton right now. Let’s tackle what are the three most popular.

Newton’s press conference attitude, pre-walkout

Cam Newton, you just lost the Super Bowl! You missed a bunch of open receivers, wasted a handful of drives in opposition territory, got battered by the Broncos’ defense and generally played awful football. Well more than 100 million people watched you and your team fail, coming up horribly short to finish what had been the best season of your career. WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO NEXT?

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Looks about right.

During the presser, Newton was terse and sullen. But need I remind you that he had JUST LOST THE FREAKING SUPER BOWL?

Cam caught a bunch of flak for his mopey demeanor during the presser. Some said he showed a lack of professionalism and that for a guy who was always smiling and so happy-go-lucky throughout the season, he needed to show more composure at a time when things hadn’t gone his way. But it shouldn’t be surprising or offensive how he acted the way he did considering the game’s circumstances, platform and result. Newton reached the apex of his profession and then tumbled down the mountain, hitting every rock during his fall. The day was a tremendous bust. He was frustrated. To which I say “good.”

I want that out of my quarterback. I want him downtrodden after such a game. I want him to be upset. I want him to show his disappointment and hurt. Similarly, I want Josh Norman crying on the sidelines. Fans should want to see what it meant to their team’s players. And you could tell how much Sunday’s loss meant to Newton without a tear. Which leads me to issue No. 2.

Newton’s on-field attitude


Specifically, let’s look at Newton’s actions, some of which were rather demonstrative, during the Super Bowl’s final few minutes, when the game had clearly been decided. 

Following another fumble — a controversial one at that, which we’ll get to later — Denver set up shop on the doorstep of Carolina’s goal line, leading by six with about four minutes to play. 

On third and goal, Josh Norman is called for an evident pass interference penalty. A new set of downs for the Broncos, and a punch to the gut for Newton. Upon replays, you could see Cam crumbling to the ground as the call is made. He knows what that flag means, and it’s nothing good.

Later on, now trailing by 14 with less than 3 minutes remaining, Newton is forced to scramble into his own end zone on third and 24. He just throws the ball out of bounds and takes a hard shot from Derek Wolfe. I thought the hit was legal, but once Newton saw that the ref had not thrown the flag, he displayed his anger. Colin Cowherd said Newton was “rolling on the ground,” but the truth is Newton was just turning over to get up and snapped for a second in the process. It honestly wasn’t anything close to the temper tantrum that people made it out to be.

But again, who doesn’t want to see that kind of emotion from your team’s on-field leader? In fact, in those waning minutes, Newton looked to be the only Panther on offense who was clearly perturbed with how things were unfolding. Offensive tackles Michael Oher and Mike Remmers got whipped by DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller all night long, and they hardly let out a shake of the head in the second half. They just looked like they didn’t want to be there.

You know that if Newton had shown such stoicism, he would have been blasted for not caring more about the game or for checking out mentally. If Newton had gone with the stone face, I’m sure someone like Smith or Cowherd would have at least insinuated that he quit on his team. Hell, Cowherd on Monday, while explaining why he prefers his quarterbacks to act more “presidential,” said that Newton has more of a “running back’s mentality.”** I’m sure that’s supposed to be a veiled shot at Newton’s quarterbacking abilities, but ANY team, ANY fan base would like to have a QB with a running back’s mentality who can also put up 40 touchdowns and lead a team with Ted Ginn as its No. 1 wideout to the Super Bowl.

In the end, Newton let his emotions fly and was blasted for not conducting himself like a quarterback should. He couldn’t win.

**I never watch or listen to Colin Cowherd or Stephen A. Smith. They are inciters who swim in lowest-common-denominator sports shouting, but the fact is they have a tremendous reach to the Joe Fans out there and hold influence over how a lot of people talk about sports. So on Monday morning at 9:42 a.m., I just had to see what Cowherd and Smith were talking about, assuming that they were trashing Newton. They didn’t disappoint. Stephen A. was telling Cam to grow up. Colin was saying that the MVP looked “tired” during the game while adding that while we don’t know what Newton did during the two-week break, Cowherd himself never drinks until at least Thursday. Just lovely.

I would also like to point out here that if Newton and not Peyton Manning had mentioned how much beer he was going to drink once he leaves the stadium, the postal service would have dealt with boatloads more letters from outraged mothers who think Newton was setting a bad example for the children. But with Peyton, it’s cool.

Don’t get me wrong; winning the Super Bowl, getting wastey-faced and then flying to Disneyland via a private jet all on about 45 minutes sleep sounds like an incredible experience. But just acknowledge that, again, people would have reacted very differently toward Newton if he had dropped the same cheap plugs for Bud.

That dodged fumble

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After almost every other Panther had left the field, Newton was still in disbelief over his crucial fourth-quarter fumble.

Pro Football Talk’s Michael David Smith wrote that Newton’s refusal to jump on a fumble with 4 minutes remaining defined his Super Bowl. That was true at one point Sunday night. For about 40 minutes. Then Newton put on a hoodie, sat in front of some reporters, and the defining moment of Cam Newton’s Super Bowl changed. The fumble got pushed to the back. But while the game was still being played, that split-second decision lit Twitter ablaze.

It was not a good look; the Panthers MUST maintain possession there at all costs. Newton either didn’t want to risk getting crunched in the middle of a Big Dude pile, thought the ball was going to move, believed DeMarcus Ware was going to recover the ball anyway or something else. I don’t know. But in that situation, it’s a bit difficult to defend staying out of the fray entirely.

Newton’s decision, however, led to a bunch of people questioning his desire or his toughness. I’ve already said plenty about how much Newton wanted to win. But if you actually thought that Cam Newton wasn’t tough based off that one play, let me just say you really should start watching more than one NFL game per year.

At 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, Newton possesses a rare blend of size and athleticism in a quarterback — and he knows it. And he is not afraid to use that bulk to his benefit. He’s commonly used as the Panthers’ goal-line runner, muscling his way through crowds of defenders. In the Super Bowl, Newton ran for 45 yards on six carries, most of which saw him cut through the heart of the defense. He took a couple of big hits — especially one from T.J. Ward in the second quarter — but we’ve grown accustomed to that. Or at least I thought we had. It’s funny that Newton’s toughness was debated in a game where his counterpart goes near-fetal at the first sign of contact.

For me, Cam Newton’s Super Bowl was defined by the immense and relentless pressure he faced and the open targets he missed. I thought nerves got the best of him often. He overthrew Ginn on Carolina’s ninth play of the game, a play that probably would have gone for a touchdown if not for the inaccuracy.

Unlike in Super Bowl 49, where it was easy to know which play changed the game, there was no flashing arrow pointing to a singular determining moment Sunday. It was more of a collective effort from Denver’s defense and Carolina’s overall ineptitude. That late fumble was key, but it was far from the deciding factor. And it definitely didn’t tell us anything about Cam Newton’s toughness.

Americans love their sports stars, but we have this strange requirement to see them humble. If you’re gonna be great, you better not revel in your greatness or else you are going to be tagged as a showboat, carrying yourself in an unsportsmanlike manner. Just in the past few years, it has happened with LeBron James, Yasiel Puig and it definitely happened with Cam Newton this season. In the span of a few months, he went from getting ripped for celebrating too much to getting ripped for being too moody.

People were waiting for him to stumble. People were waiting to take him down a peg. And they got to, partially because Newton’s own mistakes made him an easy target and partially because, well, people who gab about sports can be jerks sometimes.

There is no doubt Cam has things to understand about dealing with the media. But as far as his emotions on or off the field, I don’t think Ron Rivera would want him to change, no matter what anyone on the outside says. That emotion played a role for a team that won a conference championship and for a QB who was a near-unanimous Most Valuable Player selection, so why change? Plus, the Panthers didn’t lose the Super Bowl because Cam Newton was pouting or complaining or wasn’t tough enough. 

“They just played better than us. I don’t know what you want me to say. They made more plays than us, and that’s what it comes down to. We had our opportunities. It wasn’t nothing special that they did. We dropped balls, we turned the ball over, gave up sacks, threw errant passes. That’s it.”

That answer from Newton’s press conference really does say it all. Everything else is just noise.

Marshawn Lynch delivers a pitch-perfect retirement ‘announcement’

February 8, 2016 Leave a comment

Sunday, February 7, 6:46 p.m. Pacific Time:

The Carolina Panthers kick off to the Denver Broncos, trailing by six points with 10:21 to play in the Super Bowl.

Andre Caldwell returns the kick from his goal line to the Broncos’ 24-yard line. TV timeout.

Marshawn Lynch retires.

6:47 p.m. HEY, IT’S DRAKE IN A T-MOBILE COMMERCIAL!  OH, HE’S JUST HILARIOUS!


Wait, what was that in the middle?

Lynch has hinted at retirement following each of the past few seasons. This time, it looks like he means it as this “announcement” was later verified by some of Marshawn’s teammates, his agent and the Seahawks’ owner, Paul Allen.

Some people on Twitter accused Lynch of seeking attention with the timing of this post, trying to hog the spotlight from the Big Game.

Yes, because Marshawn Lynch has always loved the spotlight, has always wanted to be the center of attention.

Lynch was never going to call some sort of press conference to mark the end of his NFL career. I’m pretty sure he hates the sports media more than he enjoys Skittles. This is exactly how Beast Mode should go out: Saying a lot without saying anything at all. I have no doubt that the timing of the post was very calculated. 

And just how awesome is that tweet? Lynch conveys his message loud and clear while also giving a heavy shout-out to the people and the neighborhoods (specifically in Oakland) that formed him into the man he became. He obviously never forgot about them.

Lynch should be regarded as the fiercest and most punishing back of this decade. He’s not a Hall of Famer, not that he likely cares about such an honor. But he leaves behind a highlight reel full of plays that are true to who he is. This tweet follows that path.