Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Celtics sign Barbosa

So an hour after I wrote about the Celtics needing to sign a veteran guard and how I thought Leandro Barbosa was the best available option but that he was too expensive for Boston....

Well, Leandro Barbosa has now signed for the Celtics.

Shows you what I know then. This is a great move. But how the hell did Ainge pull it off???

Garbage Time

Pre-season games in any sport are just glorified practice sessions. Horrible to watch, but sometimes you might catch a glimpse of something that interests you. So far this pre-season, I've watched bits of the Celtics pre-season games and got pretty bored by half time. But a few things have stuck out that I like, and one thing in particular that doesn't look too great.

I Like...

1. Rajon Rondo - From the limited minutes I've watched of the pre-season so far, Rondo looks like he's continuing from where he left off at the end of the playoffs. Not that he's dropping 44 points and averaging a triple double or anything, but his confidence in his jumper and free throws seems to be at the same level it was towards the tail end of last year's post-season. A confident shooting Rondo is a major problem for the rest of the league. As far as I'm concerned, a Rondo that has a consistent jump shot can be classed in the top 5 best players in the league and certainly as the best Point Guard in the league. I think as it stands he already is the best point guard but people who know more than me rate Chris Paul higher on the basis of his consistent shooting. And I guess Deron Williams gets a mention too although I'm not much of an admirer of his play compared with Rondo. I'm predicting Rondo to be in the MVP discussions this season so long as his shooting keeps being on point. If Rondo can become a primary scorer as well as the league leader in assists, there won't be any stopping him.

2. Jared Sullinger - He's like a rebounding machine. Like a tank in the post. Grabbing anything that comes within 10 square feet of his giant hands. Yeah. He seems like the steal of the draft. For now.. I've read all the arguments on some Celtics blogs about starting Sully in the regular season but I don't see it happening for now. Bass and KG worked too well together in the 2nd half last season to abandon it already. Sure, if Sully kills it from the get go, we could talk. But not yet. 

3. Jeff Green - I've enjoyed seeing Green play again. And I LOVE that, even though it's just pre-season, he went pretty hard against the Knicks on Saturday...

Yeah. Awesome. Take that New York. 

I don't like...

1. The lack of any kind of back up Point Guard - The Celtics have a pretty stellar 4 man guard rotation. Infact, I'd say they have the best 4 guard rotation at their disposal than any other team at the moment. The only problem is, Avery Bradley is out for the start of the season, and really, even if he was fit, neither he, Lee and JET are good options as a back up ball handler. Terry would be the best option of the 3, or at least he seems so when I'm trying to solve this dilemma in NBA 2K13. But having him as the primary ball handler takes away from his main which is to score the ball and be open for the ball handler to set up. 

As Doc said in the Boston Globe, Terry's main job is scoring and having him handle the ball a lot takes away a big weapon for Boston when Rondo is off the floor. With Dionte Christmas and Jamar Smith getting cut last night, I reckon the team are going to look at getting in a veteran PG to fill in some garbage time and give Rondo a rest. From the list of remaining free agents on Hoops World, there aren't really many names to get too excited about. Leandro Barbosa is certainly the best guard remaining, but his salary is a no go for Boston. I think from that list, T.J Ford could be the best option. Really, anyone who isn't Mike Bibby, Baron Davis or Gilbert Arenas would be better than nothing. Even Derek Fisher. Maybe.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Reaction to match day 2 (part 2)

Well, tonight was far more interesting than yesterday's mediocre round of group matches in the Champions League. I watched the City - Dortmund game and yesterday had predicted a draw. So I guess I can pat myself, and Joe Hart, on the back for that one. There's no way that game would have finished 1-1 if it hadn't been for Joe Hart playing like some kind of 10 feet tall and 10 feet wide keeper tonight. He was insanely good. The result was totally undeserved on City's part though. Dortmund dominated them from about half way through the 1st half to right until the last minutes of the second. Right up until the referee played City's get of jail card free card and gave them an absurd penalty. Yeah, it hit the Dortmund player's hand. But Aguero was standing about 3 or 4 feet away from him and turned quickly to shoot in his direction. No chance of getting his hand out the way. The clearest 'ball to hand' hand ball you'll ever see. I do enjoy seeing Super Mario take a penalty though. The dude is a bit of an arrogant bad ass in those situations. I loved the keeper trying to psyche him out of it before he took it as well. Not the wisest move really.

Dortmund only have themselves to blame though. The worst offender was Robert Lewandowski with his horrible miss 6 yards out with Hart completely beaten. I had a feeling the more chances Dortmund fluffed though City would eventually equalize. Pretty annoying after they'd been completely dominated but I guess Hart deserved something out of the game. Even if the rest of his team didn't.

Looks like from my predictions last night I've gone 4-4 again. So I'm at 8-8 for the tournament so far. Pretty mid-table fare right there. This is why I don't spend my time on betting sites.

The next major event on my football calendar is Barcelona - Real Madrid on Sunday. I can't wait. I'll do a preview of it and list 10000 reasons why David Villa has to start over Alexis Sanchez later this week.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Reaction to match day 2 (part 1)

Yesterday I posted about my dislike for the Champions League group stage seeding system. I was expecting a pretty lame affair tonight. Straight forward games for the big teams, the cannon fodder rolling over. Naturally, there were a few surprises so i may have to reach for a small slice of humble pie.

First things first. Going over my predictions from last night, I went 4-4. I got Utd, Chelsea, Barca and Valencia but struck out on the other 4 games. Sure, Cluj went 1-0 up on Utd but I'm sure no one really expected that to last. Utd did what they always do in such a situation. Up a gear from 1st to 2nd and do just enough to win. On paper, Benfica - Barca should have been closer but I predicted a comfortable win for Barca and so it proved. The problem I have with teams like Benfica is that their lure is based on successes of 40 years ago. Sure, they were great when Eusebio was around but now they're just another side who'll get knocked out this competition before things get serious. Probably two more notable results tonight were BATE and Celtic. Two games I got completely wrong. In my defense, Celtic never win away from home in europe. Ever. So I guess they have me to thank for betting against them tonight. I'd rather not help them out but nevermind.

One thing to note from the games tonight as well was Carles Puyol's horrendous injury. Looks like a dislocated or broken arm and seeing it on TV was pretty tough viewing. Hopefully he won't be kept out for long. Animo Puyol.

As for tomorrow's games, I'm planning on making predictions for the rest of the competition to see if I can get a positive record out of it. So far I'm .500. These are my shots at improvement for tomorrow:

Zenit - Milan (draw)

Man City - Dortmund (draw)

Ajax - Real Madrid (Madrid to win)

Dynamo Kyiv - Dynamo Zagreb (Kyiv to win)

Porto - PSG (PSG to win)

Shalke - Montpellier (Shalke to win)

Arsenal - Olympiacos (Arsenal to win)

Anderlecht - Malaga (draw)

Monday, 1 October 2012

Drop the seeds, let chaos reign

So this week is the 'every second week'. A Champions League week. Looking over the fixtures for the coming round of group games got me thinking that the format of the group stages might need a bit of a shake up. Last week we got lucky. Two huge games in the first two nights. Real Madrid - Man City and Chelsea - Juventus. Those are the two biggest fixtures that this group stage is going to throw up. They're also out the only two groups that are even remotely interesting and that is what I think is the current problem with the CL. Seeding.

Since the Champions League insists on seeding the groups into 4 different pots, you always end up with a round of games like the one we're faced with this week. Nordsjaelland v Chelsea, Cluj v Man Utd, BATE v Bayern... Wednesday night there's a bit of an improvement but only thanks to the interesting group of Man City's. I've always thought that seeding ruins the group stages a bit. It's geared so that the big teams get through unscathed and the usual suspects can meet up from the quarter finals onwards. But I think this predictability is making the group stages a bit of a non-event. It's very rare that any of the major sides get knocked out early and it's all down to the fact they're drawn against lesser opponents.

Consider this idea. Instead of seeding 1, 2, 3 and 4, the group stage is a free for all with the only rule being that no club from the same country can be drawn in the same group. So instead of having the non-event that is Man Utd, Cluj, Galatasary and Braga, you could have Man Utd, Barcelona, Juventus and, say, Bayern Munich. That would be worth watching. I would reckon a free for all would make for far more interesting groups and it would also give the lesser teams more of an opportunity to progress in the competition. Sure, you might end up with a tiny team up against 3 heavyweights in the 1 group, but you would be guranteed to get some group of deaths and some lightweight groups that would favour smaller teams.

I think it would work. Why not? Throw all the teams in the pot and pick. Don't allow countries from the same league in the same group and everyone's happy. Perfect. Make it happen, Uefa.

But for now we're faced with a bit of a mediocre match day 2. Here are my predictions.

Spartak v Celtic (Spartak to win)

Juve v Shakhtar (Juve win)

Nordsjaelland v Chelsea (Chelsea, but pleeeaaase throw an upset unpronounceable named team)

Valencia v LOSC (Valencia, mostly due to not knowing who the hell LOSC are)

BATE v Bayern (Bayern win)

Cluj v Man Utd (Utd, i suppose)

Galatasary v Braga (draw)

Benfica v Barca (Barca to win comfortably)

So there it is. Hopefully my predictions aren't as useless as my fantasy team currently is.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

2013 is all about 18

In the summer, the Celtics were one unreal LeBron James performance away from the NBA finals. With no bench, and injuries to key players, taking the eventual champion Heat to 7 games was a pretty amazing feat. No one else managed that. The 2012 playoffs will always have a "what if" asterisk next to it for the Celtics. Without Avery Bradley, they were without their secret weapon in shutting down Wade. Paul Pierce was playing on 1 leg and Ray Allen was missing his ankles.

Since then, the Celtics have had a fantastic off season revamping their roster with bench depth and cover at positions they were lacking in last season. Ray Allen might be gone, but he's been replaced by not 1 but 2 excellent guards. In the draft, the Celtics might have picked up the steal of the 1st round in Jared Sullinger. Assuming his dodgy back holds up that is. Elsewhere, Jeff Green is coming back after his heart problem and Wilcox and Darko are filling out the front court.

There's an argument to be had that the Celtics might have the deepest overall roster in the NBA this season. They might not have as strong a starting 5 as the Lakers or the Heat, but their bench depth could be what makes the difference in another push for their 18th championship.

So, I'm pretty excited for this coming season. Literally counting down the days to the Heat game on the 30th October. I'm even taking the 31st off work so the 5 hour time difference won't get the better of me. I'm hoping for big things. The following is a list of things I'm expecting from Boston this season.

1. Bench scoring

Last season, the Celtics had a starting 5 and a bunch of guys cheering them on from the sidelines. This season, they have a legitimate 6th man in Jason Terry and even more fire power from Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger, Chris Wilcox and possibly one of Kris Joseph, Dionte Christmas or Jamar Smith. Also to this list you can add either Courtney Lee or Avery Bradley once Bradley gets back from injury. For what it's worth, I expect Bradley to take over as starter once he's fully fit. But Lee has an amazing opportunity to steal Avery's spot in the starting 5. When compared to last season's bench, it's impossible not to get pretty excited about this team's chances. Last year, the main scoring threats off the bench were Mickael Pietrus and...well.. scoring wise that was probably about it. And when Pietrus is your biggest scoring threat off the bench, you know you've got some problems. This year the C's well have a strong 10 man rotation with the end of the bench fluff of Darko and Jason Collins making up the numbers. I can't wait.

2. Rondo is a superstar

The NBArank list was just finished over on ESPN. The Celtics ranked up like this. I must say, I expected Rondo to be a top 10 player this year. I'm convinced that he is now the best point guard in the league. At the very least he should be ahead of serial underachiever Deron Williams and Russell 'what's an assist?' Westbrook. Rondo plays the point like it should be played. Making plays for the rest of his teammates first and shooting second. Rondo was incredible in the playoffs this year and I think his monster game in game 2 was a sign of things to come this season.

3. Rebounds, rebounds, rebounds

Other than the bench depth, a main weakness of the Celtics last season was there inability to rebound the ball. This should improve greatly this year with the addition of Sullinger and also the return of Chris Wilcox. I also expect Collins and Darko to contribute fairly well on crashing the glass. Well, it's probably best not to expect anything of Darko so that any contribution is a pleasant surprise. So yeah. Rebounds will improve. Darko might get a few.

4. ECF rematch. Different outcome.

With Rose down for the bulk of the season, I don't think anyone can really see past another Celtics - Heat eastern conference finals. While the Heat are probably still seen as favourites in this matchup, I think what I've been arguing for the whole of this post will be what makes the difference this year in the Celtics favour. Last year, Boston played the Heat with effectively a 6 or 7 man rotation, with a few of those players running on flat tires with dodgy suspension. This year the Celtics are deep and the Celtics will win. So long as health is kind to them.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Who to support?

Football's back. Normally this would feel more like 'FINALLY! Football's back'. But not this year. The Euros and the Olympics filled the void nicely. So did my love of basketball. But now that the football season is up and running, I'm faced with a yearly dilemma. A dilemma that only really affects how I watch the EPL. I don't have a team. I have teams I can't stand. But loathing teams only gets you so far. Using my old mantra of 'anyone but Chelsea' is all well and good but hating more teams than you actually enjoy watching starts getting old fast. This season, I need a team to support. To want to win. And not just because they happen to be playing Chelsea this week.

Years ago, I supported my local team. I was a strong believer that you had to be able to attend games and be in the same city to love a team. To follow it. To be a real fan. But around Euro 2008, the Spanish national team ripped every team they played apart and opened my eyes to what I had been missing in football. Being narrow minded and only following this local team, who's style of play I despised, made me grow pretty tired of football. Going to games felt like a chore. Watching them slug out 1-0 wins against teams they were far superior to but, because of their ultra defensive style, had no other way of beating them. When I first started watching La Liga seriously in 2008 after the Euros, I had the fortune of my new found interest coinciding with the beginning of the Pep Guardiola era at Barcelona. This team and their manager's philosophy on how football should be played changed my opinions on everything that I had before I ever saw them do their thing. Watching Xavi, Iniesta, Messi and friends made me realise watching football should be about enjoyment and not about loyalty. If the team you've followed for the last 20 years starts playing atrociously negative anti-football and starts signing players you can't stand, why keep supporting them? I don't see any real need for loyalty in football. Teams change, fans change, coaches change. The team that you like now, should best reflect the characteristics that you find appealing about the game. If you're old team of 20 years doesn't reflect these things, then it's time to move on. Who cares? Change is good. Keep things fresh. 

And anyway, who doesn't love these 3 guys?

So I'm covered for La Liga and the Champions League. Two of my three most watched competitions. But what about the EPL? I've found the EPL difficult to get into the last few seasons. Partly down to not having a team, and partly down to having the concept of 'THE BEST LEAGUE IN THE WORLD' constantly shoved down my throat. I hate being told, every time a great game is on TV, that this 'proves once again' that the EPL is the greatest league to ever grace our lives. Sure, it's a great league. It's strong. It's enjoyable. But isn't the 'best league in the world' the league that you have most interest in? I always wonder if Germans or Spaniards or whoevers sit around thinking the EPL is the greatest thing they've ever seen. Would Germans not think the Bundesliga is the world's best? I used to think La Liga was, but now I just think it has the two best teams in the world. The rest of the league, while of a good quality, mostly, is basically cannon fodder for Barca and Madrid. 

So, to enjoy the self-styled 'best league in the world' I need a reason to care. A reason other than watching in the hope that Chelsea might get embarrassed. This season, Spurs seem to appeal to me. I can't stand any of the established big teams in England. As you've already guessed, I loathe Chelsea (anti-football loving, Billionaire's plaything), the arrogance of Man United puts me off them and City are similar to Chelsea but without the anti-football. Arsenal I don't mind, but they kind of strike me as a team that's always destined for failure. Especially when they sell their best players every summer. So that leads me on to my new potential club, Spurs. My main reason for finding them appealing this season is AVB. I hated the way Chelsea treated him last season and I loved the way he had been treating their established stars. Putting Lampard, Terry and Cole's noses out of place was amazing and having the guts to stand up to these divas as the new man in charge was really bold. At Spurs, he doesn't have these kind of 'bigger than the club' drama queens and I'm genuinely excited to see what he can achieve this year. He has the Barca football philosophy of playing attractive football, closing down the opposition and building attacks from the back. No sitting in and punting long balls to a lone centre forward then. From his undefeated year at Porto he has obvious potential and given the right group of players, he could do a great job. And I hope he does. But more than anything, I hope that he goes back to Stamford Bridge with Spurs this season and absolutely destroys his former employees. I hate teams that treat managers the way Chelsea does and AVB had it worse than most in recent seasons. I love his enthusiasm for the game on the sidelines and the passion he shows at every goal. He seems like a good guy. He has the potential. Spurs have the potential. Spurs seem exciting. Let's see how long I can latch on to them and AVB for.