SPURS ONE OF MOST IMPRESSIVE NBA CHAMPS – EVER!

 

There already are whispers that Tim Duncan might retire.

 

Why would he do that?

 

Duncan at age 38 was a huge part of San Antonio’s awesome five-game romp over the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.

 

Sure, Duncan no longer is a dominating superstar. But he’s still an elite player and a perfect fit in his team’s selfless style of play.

 

Before the Finals MVP voters rightfully decided on Kawhi Leonard, I hope they at least gave some consideration to Duncan. He’s still the heart and soul of the Spurs and had an excellent playoff run for a player any age. For 38, he was superb.

 

Duncan and teammates Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili proved in these Finals that they are the NBA’s true “Big Three”. They thoroughly outplayed Miami’s LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

 

The Spurs are older than the Heat. They’re also the better team and in less need of an overhaul.

 

Miami needs a better bench and Wade needs new knees.

 

What do the Spurs need to defend this championship? Whatever tuneup the roster needs, underrated general manager R.C. Buford and coach Gregg Popovich figure to make the right moves. Their top draft pick figures to be relatively obscure and outperform many of the more well-known players selected before him.

 

The magnitude of San Antonio’s romp over Miami was convincing and surprising. When the Heat tied the series 1-1 with a Game 2 road win, it looked like the Heat were set up to threepeat.

 

The Spurs then won by 19, 21 and 17 points (going away) in the next three games. Miami ran up the white flag with three minutes left Sunday night.

 

San Antonio, the slight underdog entering the Finals, had a total victory margin of 72 points in their four wins. No one expected that – not even Popovich.

 

I don’t know if San Antonio can repeat this season. There isn’t much parity in the NBA, but at least 5 of the other 29 teams have the talent to win the 2015 title – Miami, Oklahoma City, Los Angeles Clippers, Chicago and Houston. Sorry, Indiana fans. I’m not buying the Pacers as contenders. They had their chance.

 

I do know that the Spurs have earned the “team to beat” tag. They’ll be one year older, but as long as they pass the basketball and play defense the way they did while outclassing the Heat, does it matter?

 

Tim Duncan could retire on top and hurt San Antonio’s chemistry just enough to make a repeat unlikely. The rest of the NBA teams should be so lucky.

 

Winning a sixth championship probably will be enough incentive for Duncan to return (he has a player option for $10.3 million for next season). If he does, I won’t underestimate this team again.

 

WORLD CUP OFF TO A FUN START

 

You didn’t need to be a soccer addict to enjoy the first 11 matches of the 2014 World Cup.

 

If you’ve yet to check out this World Cup, give it a try. You’ll like it. Start by knowing these are the very best players in the world’s most popular sport. You don’t need to fully appreciate that, but don’t knock it.

 

Through 11 games, we’ve seen upsets (Netherlands 5, Spain 1…Costa Rica 3, Uruguay 1…Ivory Coast 2, Japan 1).  Maybe the United States can join the list Monday against Ghana.

 

We’ve seen scoring. Ten of the 11 games produced at least three goals. That’s unusual. The 37 goals in 11 games are above the norm. The more goals, the better, says this ignorant American soccer observer.

 

At least one of the goals – by Argentina’s Lionel Messi – was a masterpiece. An artist at work.

 

We’ve seen comebacks. Five teams won after surrendering the first goal. In the entire 2010 World Cup, only three teams did that.

 

Hockey and basketball all are done – finally. Soccer’s World Cup has center stage all by itself – deservedly so.

 

DODGERS HAD BETTER WAKE UP

 

Baseball’s most disappointing team is also the highest-paid team. The Los Angeles Dodgers are 37-34. That’s bad. After Sunday’s 6-3 loss to Arizona, they’re 15-20 at home. That’s terrible.

 

The Dodgers figure to wake up soon. They have too much talent not to.

 

Wake-up calls to Adrian Gonzalez and Yasiel Puig would help. They’ve gone 23 and 16 games, respectively, without a home run.

 

SOME BASEBALL HOTTIES AND NOTTIES

 

Casey McGahee (Miami), who spent last season in Japan, leads MLB with 30 hits with runners in scoring position and is hitting .411 in those situations.

 

Rookie Gregory Polanco (Pittsburgh) is the first Pirate to have at least one hit in his first six games since Roberto Clemente in 1955.

 

Troy Tulowitzki (Colorado) is hitting .441 (26-for-59) against left-handed pitchers this season.

 

Former Red Wings star Justin Morneau (Colorado) is making a big to make the MLB All-Star Game. His two-run pinch-hit double in Sunday’s 8-7 win in San Francisco boosted his batting average to .302, with 11 HRs and 44 RBI.

 

The Chicago Cubs were 0-9-3 in road series this season before going 2-1 this weekend at Philadelphia.

 

Kansas City has won seven straight games to improve to 36-32.

 

Matt Adams (St. Louis), in a power slump before going on the DL with a torn calf muscle, has three HRs in three games since his return.

 

The Cardinals are 12-2 in their last 14 regular-season games against Washington.

 

Josh Donaldson (Oakland) had an RBI single in Sunday’s 10-5 home win over the Yankees to end an 0-for-33 slump.

 

Marco Estrada (Milwaukee) has surrendered a MLB-most 23 HRs, including 18 since May 1.

 

Chris Tillman (Baltimore) is 0-4, 2.78 ERA at home and 5-0, 6.33 ERA on the road.

 

The White Sox are 1-10 (outscored 53-20) in their last 11 home games against Kansas City.

 

Detroit is 9-17 since May 18 despite Sunday’s 4-3 home win over Minnesota.

 

The struggling Phillies are down more than 8,000 fans per home game this season.

 

DO THE CALDER CUP PLAYOFFS HAVE TOO MANY TEAMS?

 

The American Hockey League’s Calder Cup Finals haven’t ended yet. Game 4 is Monday night in St. John’s. The IceCaps trail the Texas Stars 2-1. The series will end before July 4.

 

I believe the Calder Cup tournament has too many teams (16 of the league’s 30 teams qualify) and lasts way too long.

 

Minor-league hockey is a tough sell when the weather breaks. The average attendance for 1,140 games this AHL season was 5,402. Entering Monday night, the average attendance for 71 playoff games was 4,517.

 

The first round of the Calder Cup playoffs is best-of-five. The conference semifinals, conference finals and Finals are best-of-seven. I’d make all but the Finals best-of-five.

 

What are the chances trimming the field to between 8 and 12 teams and ending the Calder Cup playoffs close to June 1 than July 1? Not good. The National Hockey League believes that playing in the AHL playoffs is invaluable experience for prospects.

 

By the way, the fewer the playoff teams, the less embarrassing it would be to fail to qualify or to fail to win a series since 2005.

 

PREDICTING A BIG SEASON FOR C.J. SPILLER

 

If you shared my dismay as C.J. Spiller was asked to carry the football up the middle for the Buffalo Bills so often last season, here are some numbers to back us up (from Robert Quinn’s article in My Buffalo Sports, describing “statistical areas the Bills need to improve on in 2004”):

 

Spiller had 202 carries last season. He averaged 3.3 yards per carry when asked to run between the tackles (that’s bad) and 5.6 yards per carry (that’s good) in his carries outside the tackles.

 

Spiller is strong enough to run inside but his chiefs assets are speed and quickness. Also, the less he has to run inside against the big bodies, the less likely he is to be injured.

 

With the expected vast improvement in Buffalo’s passing game and a major upgrade at right tackle (rookie Cyrus Kouandjio instead of Erik Pears), the Bills will rely less on Spiller to run up the middle and focus on getting him outside the tackles, where he has been far more effective.

 

THE MOST BORING TEAM IN MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL

 

I feel sorry for fans of the San Diego Padres. I think they’re the most boring team in baseball and maybe in all of team sports.

 

The Padres simply can’t hit. Playing in a pitcher-friendly home stadium doesn’t help the team’s hitters or do much to entertain the home fans. San Diego’s pitching is OK, but it can’t make up for the team’s painfully feeble attack. All things considered, the team’s 29-40 is surprisingly decent.

 

The Padres have a .215 team batting average and have scored only 208 runs in 69 games.

 

How bad is a .215 team batting average? San Diego has a chance to post the worst team average since the 1968 New York Yankees batted .214.

 

A trip down bad memory lane for long-time Yankees fans: the 1968 regulars included Tom Tresh .195, Jake Gibbs .213, Bobby Cox .229, Horace Clarke .230, Mickey Mantle .237 (and a team-most 18 HRs in his final season), Andy Kosco .240, Joe Pepitone .245, Roy White .267.

 

The pitching staff wasn’t bad, ranking fifth in the American League with a 2.79 ERA. The Yankees actually outscored opponents 536-531 (+5) and posted an 83-79 record.

 

Mantle made those Yankees watchable. What do the Padres have? Hopefully a few young hitting prospects on the horizon.

 

BILLS AND SPURS ARE TWO REASONS I HOPE TO VISIT LAS VEGAS SOON

 

I’ve been to Las Vegas twice in my life. I’m itching to return this summer to take advantage of two tempting futures bets at the casino sportsbooks.

 

I’d take the San Antonio Spurs to repeat as NBA champions. Revised odds from the Las Vegas Hilton Super Book list Miami as the 5-to-2 favorite to win the 2015 title, followed by San Antonio and Oklahoma  City at 9-to-2, Los Angeles Clippers at 10-to-1, and Indiana and Chicago at 12-to-1. Those odds will be further adjusted, but the odds on the Spurs still figure to be overly generous and too tempting to pass up.

 

I’d also take the Buffalo Bills over 6 ½ victories this season. Most of the country’s NFL fans and “experts” are oblivious to degree of improvement we figure to see for this team. Most people across the land hear Bills and think “14 straight non-playoff seasons.” I see an easy 7 wins – and likely a few more.

 

ROCHESTER ROYALS 1951 CHAMPIONSHIP FLASHBACK

 

The Rochester Royals won their only NBA championship in 1951 – 63 years ago. The feat remains Rochester’s most significant team sports title.

 

The Royals didn’t manhandle the New York Knicks the way San Antonio mauled the Miami Heat in this season’s Finals, but they were worthy champions.:

 

Game 1 – 92-65 (+27) victory at home

 

Game 2 – 98-84 (+14) victory at home

 

Game 3 – 78-71 (+7) victory on the road

 

Game 4 – 79-73 (-6) loss on the road

 

Game 5 – 92-89 (-3) loss at home

 

Game 6 – 80-73 (-7) loss on the road

 

Game 7 – 79-75 (+4) victory at home.

 

The Royals (plus Cincinnati, Kansas City and Sacramento) have an NBA-record 63-year championship drought. But at least the franchise won once.

 

SHORT SHOTS

 

You won’t see much better non-stop sports action than the two overtimes of Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

 

I wish Rochester could get back into the mix to host U.S. women’s soccer team games – at least as long as Abby Wambach is playing. The crowd in Tampa for Saturday night’s 1-0 victory over France was an unimpressive  9,799 at Raymond James Stadium.

 

One reason the relatively old San Antonio Spurs had relatively fresh legs in the playoffs: A total of 90 NBA players averaged at least 30.0 minutes per game in the 2013-14 regular season and none played for San Antonio. Here were the average minutes for the Spurs in the regular season and playoffs: Tony Parker 29.4 (31.3); Tim Duncan 29.2 (32.7); Kawhi Leonard 29.1 (32.0); Manu Ginobili 22.8 (25.5); Boris Diaw 25.0 (26.3); Tiago Spiltter 21.5 (22.4); Danny Green 24.3 (23.0); Marco Belinelli 25.2 (15.5); Patty Mills 18.9 (15.3).

 

Fort Erie, the picturesque thoroughbred track across the Peace Bridge, is running again. The track’s 117th season of live racing began May 27. The abbreviated (better than nothing) live meet will be 37 days: Sundays with a 2 p.m. post time and Tuesdays with a 4:15 p.m. post time. Highlight of the meet will be the Prince of Wales Stakes, part of Canada’s Triple Crown, July 29.

 

One reason to think the Red Wings will continue to play well is Chris Colabello’s return to form. He was in a 0-for-22 slump in Minnesota when he was assigned to Rochester and went 2-for-24 after reporting to the Wings. In the last 13 games, he is 15-for-45 (.333) with 4 doubles, 1 HR and 10 RBI.

 

Name to remember for Red Wings fans: Kennys Vargas. He’s a 23-year-old first baseman. He’s hitting .319 (73-for-229) with 12 doubles, 12 HRs, 51 RBI, 29 walks and only 40 strikeouts for Double-A New Britain (Eastern League). He was signed as a non-drafted free agent Feb. 25, 2009. He’s 6-foot-5, 275 pounds. Think Luke Easter, Sam Horn and Calvin Pickering. Except he’s a switch-hitter. He led the Florida State League (Advanced Class-A) in RBI (93) and was second in HRs (19) last season. He isn’t far away and I can’t wait to see him. How about Miguel Sano, Vargas and Colabello batting 3-4-5 for the 2015 Red Wings.? Bombs away. That would be fun.