JORDAN STILL THE BEST BUT LeBRON JAMES IS CLOSING THE GAP QUICKLY
TOO EARLY TO PANIC ON SABRES… BUT…
HOT GOALIES COULD MEAN TITLE TIME FOR AMERKS AND K-HAWKS
BEST RED WINGS INFIELD IN LAST 50 YEARS: 1966 OR 1971?
WRESTLERS BODYSLAMMED BY INTERNATIONAL OLYMPIC COMMITTEE
WORST VALENTINE EVER
For the first time, sports talking heads are asking who is the best all-time basketball player – Michael Jordan or LeBron James – and many sports fans are taking the discussion seriously.
LeBron is playing better than ever before. On most nights, it looks like a man against boys. He’s a cinch to win his fourth NBA MVP award and has plenty of prime seasons left. He turned 20 last Dec. 30 and is in superb shape.
Most basketball experts and junkies believe it is too early to consider James in Jordan’s league for “all-time best NBA player” and I agree – but I also think James has enough prime years left to make the comparison valid in the future.
I don’t buy the argument that the number of championships should be a major factor in deciding between Air Jordan and King James. Jordan won six NBA titles. James has won one. But LeBron figures to win a few more with Miami and I believe leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Eastern Conference finals twice and to the NBA Finals once were at least as impressive as Jordan winning a few of his titles with consistently stronger supporting casts than James had with the Cavs.
Jordan had Scottie Pippen and talented role players. Who was the other star player to help James in Cleveland? Mo Williams? No thanks.
Two reasons to think James might ultimately be considered at least equal to Jordan as the all-time best NBA player: League MVP awards and All-NBA selections.
LeBron appears to be a lock for his fourth NBA Most Valuable Player Award (sorry Kevin Durant fans; I’m one, too, but he’s not yet quite in James’ class and may never be). Only three players earned more than four league MVPs: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (6), Bill Russell (5) and Michael Jordan (5).
James has a very good chance to top Russell and Jordan, and even Abdul-Jabbar.
James also could top Karl Malone’s NBA-record 11 All-NBA First Teams selections. Jordan, Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe Bryant, Elgin Baylor, Bob Cousy, Bob Pettit and Jerry West each had 10 All-NBA First Team selections.
James already has been an All-NBA First Team pick six times. This will be his seventh.
SABRES ARE STRUGGLING BUT ALL IS NOT LOST
The Buffalo Sabres started this lockout-abbreviated NHL season 2-0 and dreams of the franchise’s first Stanley Cup were dancing in the heads of many loyal and frustrated fans in western New York.
The Sabres are 3-8-1 since and tied for 11th in points in the 15-team Eastern Conference, but it is too early to write off a trip to the playoffs. Buffalo has 34 games left to right the ship.
Here’s what Buffalo is doing well and not so well:
The Sabres are far from an offensive powerhouse and several forwards are off to poor starts, but the team’s 2.71 goals per game ranks 14th in the 30-team league entering Friday night’s home game against Boston.
The Sabres ranked 11th in shots per game (30.0).
Buffalo is tied for 1st in winning percentage when leading entering the third period (1.000).
Most of the other numbers are discouraging.
Buffalo is allowing the most shots per game (33.9). Goalie Ryan Miller has been very good but the overall team defense ranks 26th in the league (allowing 3.43 goals per game).
The Sabres rank 27th in point percentage (11 of 28 possible points in the standings).
Special teams haven’t been special: 26th on the power play (13.5 percent) and 16th in penalty killing (82.0 percent).
Buffalo has the third-most penalties (84) and ranks 22nd in fewest penalty minutes per game (15.4).
The Sabres need to improve at home (2-3-1). They’re 3-5-0 on the road.
LEGGIO AND VINC KEYS TO TITLE HOPES OF AMERKS AND K-HAWKS
The teams with the best goalies don’t always win championships – but they’re often among the teams to beat.
For example, the AHL Amerks with David Leggio and the NLL Knighthawks with Matt Vinc.
The Amerks have the look of a genuine Calder Cup contender. They lead the 30-team league in goals, rank 3rd in goal differential (+27; 160-133) and 8th in point percentage (.611; 55 of 90 possible points in the standings).
Rochester is one of only four teams to rank in the top 10 in both power-play percentage (31.3; 44x207; tied for 2nd) and penalty-killing percentage (84.9; 158x186; 9th).
Leggio probably is Rochester’s Most Valuable Player and could be a candidate for league MVP as well. He doesn’t rank high in goals-against average because the Amerks are more offensive-minded than most of the league’s other teams. He leads AHL goalies in victories, saves, games and minutes. He has a 25-12-1 record with a 2.76 goals-against average and .917 save percentage.
Many Amerk fans must be hoping Buffalo doesn’t promote Leggio, but most people (including Leggio) must know he deserves at least a look.
The Knighthawks started 0-3 and the defending NLL champions were 9th and last in Brian Shanahan’s weekly rankings just two weeks ago. But Rochester has won three straight in impressive fashion to improve their record to 3-3 and soar from 9th to 7th to 3rd in Shanahan’s rankings.
Here’s how Rochester has improved:
First three games – 0-3 record…outscored by opponents 38-32 (-6)…power play 6x11…penalty killing 7x14
Last three games – 3-0 record…outscored opponents 42-23 (+19)…power play 7x13…penalty killing 9x14.
The offense has exploded and figures to get even better. The defense is on the upgrade. Vinc has been particularly solid during the winning streak and is in the form that won him two NLL Goaltender of the Year awards. He ranks 2nd in the league in saves (259) and 3rd in goals-against per game (10.12).
BEST RED WINGS INFIELD OF LAST 50 YEARS: 1966 OR 1971?
This has been a tough year for prominent alumni of the Rochester Red Wings. Hall of Famers Stan Musial and Earl Weaver both died Jan. 19 and Steve Demeter passed way Feb. 3.
In honor of Demeter – one of my all-time favorite Red Wings and the best clutch hitter I ever saw play for Rochester – I said on my WHAM 1180 radio show that Demeter was the thirds baseman on the best Rochester infield in at least the last 50 years -- the 1966 Wings.
A caller quickly challenged my opinion and suggested I check out the 1971 Red Wings. That was fair.
1966 Red Wings: It was Earl Weaver’s first season as manager and his Wings were 83-64 and won the International League pennant by 1 game over Toronto and Columbus:
1B Mike Epstein: .309 batting average; 25 doubles, 5 triples, 29 HRs, 102 RBI…The muscular left-handed slugger came from out of nowhere (Class A ball in 1965) to be selected IL Rookie of the Year and MVP…He proudly had SUPERJEW inscribed on his glove.
2B Mickey McGuire: The popular veteran had his best offensive season with Rochester. He hit .307 with 17 doubles, 5 triples, 3 HRs, 68 RBIs. He didn’t have much speed (2x2 stolen bases) and was average defensively.
SS Mark Belanger: One of baseball’s all-time best defensive shortstops. He had a decent season with the bat: .262, 12 doubles, 6 HRs, 38 RBI. He stole 19 bases in 24 attempts.
3B Steve Demeter: He was rock-solid, as always. He hit .313 with 32 doubles, 3 triples, 18 HRs and 82 RBI.
1971 Red Wings: It was Joe Altobelli’s first season as manager of the Wings and his 86-54 team won the pennant by 7 games over Tidewater:
1B Terry Crowley: In 78 games, the smooth-swinging left-handed batter hit .282 with 29 doubles, 4 triples, 19 HRs and 63 RBIs…He shared time with right-handed hitting Larry Johnson, who hit .307 with 5 HRs and 39 RBI in 92 games.
2B Don Fazio: The Rush-Henrietta physical education teacher joined the team when the school year ended and was the final piece in the championship puzzle. In 95 games, he hit .272 with 12 doubles, 3 triples, 4 HRs and 37 RBI. He quickly impressed DP partner Bobby Grich with his quick hands and savvy…Ron Shelton went on to become a much better screenwriter/producer/director (Bull Durham) than baseball player. In 66 games with the 1971 Wings, he hit .260 with 1 HR and 9 RBI.
SS: Bobby Grich. All he did was earn Minor League Player of the Year honors: .336, 124 runs, 26 doubles, 9 triples, 32 HRs, 83 RBI. Excellent glovework.
3B: Mike Ferraro. He hit .272 with 20 doubles, 5 triples, 7 HRs and 65 RBI. Didn’t run well but was a very good fielder.
I give Esptein a big advantage over Crowley/Johnson at first base; McGuire a slight edge over Fazio/Shelton at second base; Grich a big edge over Belanger at shortstop; and Demeter a slight edge over Ferraro at t hird base.
Conclusion: I give the 1966 Red Wings infielder a slight edge overall over the 1971 Red Wings…but I can’t say you’re wrong if you prefer the 1971 infield.
ROLE CALL OF ACTIVE NBA ALL-NBA SELECTIONS
For the record, here are the active NBA players who’ve been chosen to All-NBA Teams:
Kobe Bryant (14 times) – 1st team 10…2nd Team 2…3rd Team 2
Tim Duncan (13) – 1st team (9), 2nd team (3), 3rd team (1)
Tim Duncan (13) – 9-3-1
Dirk Nowitzki (12) – 4-5-3
Kevin Garnett (9) – 4-3-2
LeBron James (8) – 7-1-0
Steve Nash (7) – 3-2-2
Dwayne Wade (7) – 2-3-2
Jason Kidd (6) – 5-1-0
Dwight Howard (6) – 5-0-1
Grant Hill (5) – 1-4-0
Amare Stoudemire (5) – 1-4-0
Carmelo Anthony (5) – 0=1-4
Paul Pierce (4) – 0-1-3
Chris Paul (4) – 2-1-1
Jermaine O’Neal (3) – 0-1-2
Chauncey Billups (3) – 0-1-2
Pau Gasol (3) – 0-1-2
Kevin Durant (3) – 3-0-0
Vince Carter (2) – 0-1-1
Ray Allen (2) – 0-1-1
Shawn Marion (2) – 0-0-2
Deron Williams (2) – 0-2-0
Manu Ginobili (2) – 0-0-2
Tony Parker (2) – 0-1-1
Russell Westbrook (2) – 0-2-0
Jamal Mashburn (1) – 0-0-1
Ron Artest (1) – 0-0-1
Elton Brand (1) – 0-1-0
Chris Bosh (1) – 0-1-0
Carlos Boozer (1) – 0-0-1
Brandon Roy (1) – 0-1-0
Al Hofford (1) – 0-0-1
Derrick Rose (1) – 1-0-0
LaMarcus Aldridge (1) – 1-0-0
Zach Randolph (1) – 0-0-1
Rajon Rondo (1) – 0-0-1
Tyson Chandler (1) – 0-0-1
Andrew Bynum (1) – 0-1-0
Kevin Love (1) – 0-1-0
Blake Griffin (1) – 0-1-0.
AT LEAST THE MODERN PENTATHLONERS ARE HAPPY
Amateur wrestlers around the world were bodyslammed this week by the International Olympic Committee’s executive board’s recommendation that the ancient sport be dropped from the Summer Olympics starting in 2020.
The sport of wrestling didn’t see this coming. If any sport was in danger of being erased from the Olympic menu it was modern pentathlon.
The Olympic “core sports” supposedly are based on popularity, participation worldwide, potential TV ratings, ticket sales, anti-doping policy and tradition.
Wrestling fills the bill more than many of the sports deemed worthy of remaining in the Olympics. It was an original sport when the modern Olympics began in 1896 and a staple of the ancient Olympics in Greece.
Here’s the list of sports (including wrestling) set for the 2016 Summer Olympics). You pick the ones that should’ve been booted before wrestling:
Archery, aquatics (including synchronized swimming), athletics (track and field; including rhythmic gymnastics), badminton, basketball, boxing, canoe/kyack, cycling, equestrian, fencing, field hockey, soccer (fooootball), golf (added for 2016), handball, judo, modern pentathlon, rowing, rugby sevens, sailing, shooting, table tennis, taekwondo, tennis, triathlon, volleyball (including beach) and weightlifting,
Eight sports are expected to apply for inclusion in 2020:
baseball/softball (unified bid), karate, roller sports, squash, wakeboarding, wushu and, I presume, wrestling.
I’d prefer to keep wrestling and dump archery, cycling, equestrian (room for horses but not for people?), fencing, field hockey, handball, modern pentathlon, sailing, shooting and triathlon. I know boxing and table tennis are popular on TV.
The IOC executive board’s recommendation to drop wrestling is so outrageous that I wonder if it is was designed to draw attention to the Olympics in an off year. The IOC executive board will meet in May to decide which sport or sports to propose for 2020 inclusion. The final vote will be made at the full IOC session in September.
HOW NBA’S BIG FOUR RANK AT ALL-STAR GAME BREAK
It will be a surprise if any team other than Miami, Oklahoma City, San Antonio and the Los Angeles Clippers wins the 2012-13 NBA championship.
Here’s how the league’s Big Four compare at the All-Star Game break (rank in the 30-team NBA in parentheses):
Records – Spurs 42-12 (1)…Thunder 39-14 (2)…Heat 36-14 (3)…Clippers 39-17 (4)
Scoring – Thunder 106.0 (1)…San Antonio 104.2 (4)…Heat 103.2 (5)…Clippers 100.4 (9)
Scoring defense – Clippers 93.7 (4)…Spurs 95.8 (9)…Heat 96.8 (12)…Thunder 97.3 (16)
Point differential – Thunder +8.8 (1)…Spurs +8.4 (2)...Clippers +6.8 (3)…Heat +6.4 (4)
Rebounds per game – Thunder 42.7 (12)…Clippers 41.9 (17)…Spurs 40.9 (25)…Heat 38.9 (30)
Rebound differential – Clippers +2.0 (t8)…Thunder +2/0 (t8)…Heat -1.4 (19)…Spurs -1.6 (20)
Field-goal percentage – Heat .493 (1)…Spurs .487 (2)…Thunder .482 (3)…Clippers .474 (4)
3-point FG percentage – Thunder .389 (2)…Heat .386 (3)…Spurs .384 (4)…Clippers .357 (12)
Free-throw percentage – Thunder .828 (1)…Spurs .792 (4)…Heat .761 (14)…Clippers .704 (26)
Fewest turnovers – Heat 13.4 (4)…Spurs 14.6 (10)…Clippers 14.8 (t16)…Thunder 15.6 (29)
Steals – Clippers 10.0 (1)…Spurs 8.7 (t3)…Thunder 8.5 (7)…Heat 8.4 (t8)
Turnover differential – Thunder +0.5 (12)…Spurs -0.5 (20)…Heat -1.8 (27)…Clippers -1.9 (28).
The NFL reportedly is considering – not very seriously, I imagine –widening the playing field. Considering how much bigger the average player is these days, it isn’t a ridiculous concept. And it could be applied to basketball and hockey, too.
This week’s cover subject for Sports Illustrated is Michael Jordan – in celebration of his 50th birthday on Sunday. He has been on the cover more than any other athlete: Jordan 58, Muhammad Ali 38, Tiger Woods 24, Magic Johnson 23, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 22.
I’m not saying the Los Angeles Angels will be baseball’s BEST team this season, but they’re the team I’d most want to have a season-ticket to watch. When has a MLB team had three hitters as awesome as Albert Pujols, Mike Trout and Josh Hamilton?
Worst Valentine ever: Oscar Pistorius.
Departed 2012 Rochester Red Wings and their new organizations include OF Matt Carson (Cleveland), INF Ray Chang (Cincinnati), C Rene Rivera (San Diego), C J.R. Towles (St. Louis), RHP Jeff Manship (Colorado), RHP Jeff Gray (White Sox) and RHP Kyle Waldrop (Pittsburgh).
Action/reaction: Buffalo sign free-agent QB Aaron Corp and FA offensive lineman Hutch Eckerson: Playoffs here we come!