March 11, 2010

Photos from the NFC Playoff Game Between the Saints and Cardinals

Memories From the New Orleans Saints Magical Playoff Run

Photograph of the inside of the Louisiana Superdome just prior to kickoff before the playoff match-up between the New Orleans Saints and Arizona Cardinals:

Drew Brees lined up under center as the Saints were driving inside Cardinal territory:

The Saints defeated the Cardinals in convincing fashion, dominating every phase of the game in earning a birth in the NFC Championship Game against the Minnesota Vikings.

Here's a shot of the Saints on defense, dominating Kurt Warner and the hapless Arizona offense:

Overall, the Saints dominated this one from start to finish. It was a game that described the incredible season that culminated in a championship by the team from New Orleans formerly known as the "Aints".

What a year it was for the Super Bowl Champion Saints and the city of New Orleans!

April 18, 2008

NBA Finals Prediction: Suns over Celtics in 7 games

It's that time of year again. The NBA playoffs are about to get underway, marking the end of perhaps the most exciting regular season in NBA history. Before they do, here is my pre-playoff NBA Finals prediction:

Eastern Conference
All season long, the Boston Celtics have played at an elite level regardless of conference. While Detroit and Orlando both have formidable teams that could pose problems for the eventual champion from the West, the trio of KG, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce should be too much for anyone in the East to overcome in a seven-game series.

Additionally, the Celtics have a surprisingly deep roster. Despite all their talent, if you include late addition P.J. Brown, 12 different players have contributed in a significant way this season for the Celts. While the Pistons cannot be ruled out entirely, Boston's depth should prove too much for an aging Detroit team.

Western Conference
This should be a far more exciting conference showdown. The West featured an astounding nine (9) teams that came within 2 games of 50 wins. All eight playoff teams have 50 wins or more.

So here's where things get fun. I expect the 6th seed Phoenix Suns to make quick work of the 3 seed San Antonio Spurs (who finished a whopping one game ahead in the standings). Why? Because of Shaq's historical dominance of Tim Duncan in situations when it counts. If the Suns are smart enough to give the ball to Shaq early on, this one could be over in 4.

I can actually see the Nuggets giving the Lakers some problems in their 1 vs. 8 match-up. I don't know that they'll win, but I can see this one going the full 7.

The Hornets will dispose of Dallas in 5 or 6, and the Jazz will add to Tracy McGrady's playoff ineptitude. After that, it all depends on the match-ups. I think the Jazz would beat the Hornets, and the Hornets would beat the Lakers or Spurs. Ultimately, I see Phoenix winning out regardless of who they play.

One thing I've learned in my 17 years of watching Shaq play, is to never bet against that man. He made Orlando a title contender when he played for the Magic, he and Kobe Bryant were unstoppable in L.A., and well, just look where the Miami Heat are without him.

The Suns big 3 - Shaq, Nash and Amare - should be too much for the rest in the West, and I expect the Suns will rise to the occasion.

The NBA Finals
In what will likely go down as one of the greatest Finals in history, the Suns will top the Celtics in 7 games, five of which will go down to the final minutes with each team taking a lopsided one at home.

March 17, 2008

What Happened to the Heat?

Two short years ago, the Miami Heat were the best team in the NBA. The Heat, led by the lethal combination of Dwayne Wade and Shaquille O'Neal dominated the Dallas Mavericks for four straight games in cruising to an NBA title.

This year, the only thing the Heat are in the running for is the NBA Draft lottery.

What happened to this team that caused the Heat to go from being the envy of the league to the laughing stock in just two short seasons?

Assuming the loss of Gary Payton was not the cause of Miami's plummet, let's take a look at the significant developments that may have been factors in the Heat's decline.

High Expectations
The Heat began this season with high expectations. With the majority of the core roster from that championship season intact, there seemed little reason to believe this optimism was unfounded. Ricky Davis and Mark Blount were seen to be significant improvements over Antoine Walker and James Posey - the underachievers they replaced. Both Shaquille O'Neal and Dwayne Wade looked to rebound from oft-injured seasons. Daequan Cook was supposed to provide another scoring threat to make up for the loss of Jason Kapono - the only significant personnel loss the past two seasons.

Things did not work out at all as planned. Beginning with Dwayne Wade's injury before the season that kept him out of the team's first seven games, not a single thing has gone right for the Heat.

With Shaq struggling with his emotional readiness resulting from his divorce, the Heat were never able to get on track. The team that just last year managed to win nine straight while Wade was sidelined could only muster a single win through their first nine games, seven of which they were without Wade.

By mid-December, Alonzo Mourning was out for the season (and possibly his career), and the Heat were still struggling with every opponent on the schedule. Since that injury, the Heat have managed just four more wins in three months. Shaq has been traded to the Suns, and his former teammates in Miami (those who are still playing anyway) look as though their primary motivation is the top draft pick.

Things have gotten so bad in Miami that even their illustrious coach couldn't take any more of it. He finally ditched the team a few weeks back so that he could spend his time scouting the team's future players, as the current ones are so bad not even their coach can stand watching them play.

Why did the injuries affect this team so much this season?

Even in their championship season, O'Neal only started 58 regular season games and Dwayne Wade missed seven of his own - not including the dozens of games he played hurt in. The dirty little secret is that the injuries aren't nearly the problem they've been made out to be. For a month, this team was pretty close to full strength and still every bit as bad as with Wade and Mourning out of the lineup.

Did the loss of key contributors like Kapono, Walker, Posey and Gary Payton contribute to the team's downfall?

Perhaps the team's chemistry was a bit upset by this, but as mentioned earlier, Ricky Davis and Mark Blount were seen to be improvements over Walker and Posey. Chris Quinn is far better offensively than Payton was in his final year with Miami (and in the league).

Kapono's loss has hurt the team, as nobody else has stepped up and taken the role of clutch 3-point shooter. However, this hardly explains them going from first to worst in just two seasons.

Both Blount and Davis' numbers are down. However, they aren't any worse Walker's and Posey's numbers were the past two seasons.

Even Shaquille - who had been the Heat's biggest scapegoat (no pun intended) to this point - has performed well since being traded to the Suns.

Who else is there to blame?
Let's not forget the coach. For two seasons now, Riley has employed questionable strategies that have not payed off. Most notably, he made Dwayne Wade the team's first option offensively and Shaquille O'Neal its second. Don't get me wrond, Wade should have been the guy taking the most shots. However, from a strategic perspective, getting the ball to Shaq early in the game would have been a much better approach.

You see, two things happen when the Big Fella' gets going early. First, defenses began to collapse on him leaving open the perimeter. Second, the opposing team's starting center usually gets into foul trouble, which removes the biggest obstacle stopping Wade from getting to the basket. The result of making Wade the team's first option is that by doing so, the Heat were stripping themselves of their primary advantage in terms of match-ups. As the coach who implemented the Wade-first strategy, the blame for the Heat's offensive ineptitude the past two seasons lies squarely on the shoulders of Pat Riley.

If the Heat are serious about getting back to their championship form, and if what we are seeing is really not the NBA's equivalent of the dismantling of the Florida Marlins following their title - the city and organization should start by finding a replacement for Pat Riley. The fans deserve better than a team whose coach won't even go to watch them play.

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