NHL ALL-STAR GAME UP TO NO. 2 ON THIS LIST...BEHIND ONLY BASEBALL
I’m not a big fan of the All-Star Games in our four major team sports. I’m revising my list after watching Saturday’s NHL and Sunday’s NFL exhibitions:
1—Major League Baseball. Still my favorite because the players all honestly hope to be selected and the individual batter vs. pitcher showdowns are genuine. AL versus NL competition seems to work. Of course, it is far from perfect. Less position players would mean more at-bats for the top stars. Fewer spots for pitchers would reduce the number of flame-throwing one-inning closers. The Home Run Contest is better than most skills contests in the other sports.
2—National Hockey League. The 11 players on each of four teams and semifinals-to-finals format works. The 3-on-3 format opens up the ice and results in entertaining, free-wheeling hockey. I admire the goalies for trying to avoid being embarrassed. The $1 millione divided by the winning team is legitimate financial incentive. The skills contests are watchable and feature the top stars.
3—National Basketball Association – This stopped being a semi-legitimate game a long time ago. Now it is non-stop fast break and/or dunk-a-thon. Defense is frowned upon. The Three-Point-Shooting Contest is worth watching. The Dunk Contest was must-see-viewing before most of the headliners declined invitations.
4—National Football League – Would anyone mind if this useless excuse for an exhibition game were abolished? Too many players beg out. No one seems to know what the rules are. No blitzing, but they sometimes blitz. No hitting but sometimes they hit and players and fans alike are surprised. Sunday’s new zebra trick was blowing the whistle when runners were touched. NFL players playing touch football and offensive stars making cameos on defense were lousy filler for the Sunday before the Super Bowl. Could we return to playing the Super Bowl the week after the Conference Championship Game?
WARRIORS WARMING UP FOR ANOTHER CHAMPIONSHIP
Center DeMarcus Cousins has played all of four games for the Golden State Warriors after recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon last season. He’s been impressive. He makes easily the best team in the 30-team NBA even better.
Cousins and the two-time defending National Basketball Association champion Warriors agreed on a one-year contract so he could showcase himself for the free-agent market and they could put five All-Star caliber starters on the floor.
In his four games, all starts, Cousins is averaging 13.5 points in 21 minutes. As he rounds into form, he’ll provide a high-scoring inside presence for the best perimeter-shooting team in basketball history.
Is it too soon to predict the Warriors will cruise to this season’s NBA championship? I don’t think so, do you?
The Warriors are not a perfect team. The bench isn’t as solid or deep as is previous recent seasons.
I can see a strong team in top form taking Golden State to six games in a playoff series this season, but I can’t see any team beating the Warriors in a best-of-seven.
The Warriors enter this week on a 10-game winning streak by a total of 170 points. They’re always the most-entertaining show in the NBA. You can catch them on TV this week Monday at the Indiana Pacers (7 p.m., on NBA-TV), Thursday home against the Philadelphia 76ers (10:30 p.m., on TNT) and Saturday home against the Los Angeles Lakers, presumably including LeBron James (8:30 p.m., on abc).
THE AMERKS KEEP GRINDING AWAY...REDMOND LOSS COULD BE HUGE
The Rochester Americans continued their march to a playoff berth in the American Hockey League last weekend, earning three out of four possible points in the standings: a 3-2 shootout win home over the Utica Comets and a 4-3 overtime loss Saturday at Syracuse.
The Amerks will be on the road Friday at the Binghamton Devils (7:05 p.m.) and Saturday at the Hartford WolfPack (7 p.m.).
Away games haven’t been huge obstacles for the Amerks this season: In 20 games, 12-4-3-1 record, 28 out of 40 possible points); outscoring opponents 67-57 (+10)...at home, the Amerks are a relatively modest 14-9-0-0 (28 out of 46 possible points) and outscoring opponents 76-72 (+4).
The Amerks will return home February 6 versus Syracuse and February 8 versus Springfield. By then, injured star defenseman Zach Redmond (high ankle sprain) could be ready to play. Before the injury, he was in the running for the Eddie Shore Plaque (league’s outstanding defenseman; last Amerk to win it was Al Arbour in 1965) and perhaps even league MVP. In 41 games, he leads AHL defensemen in goals (a team-record 19), (39) and game-winning goals..
TIMELY WIN FOR K-HAWKS OVER BANDITS...SEEK FIRST ROAD WIN
The Buffalo Bandits embarrassed the Thruway rival Rochester Knighthawks January 5 in a13-4 laugher at KeyBank Center. The Bandits looked like one of the National Lacrosse League’s elite teams and K-hawks appeared outclassed.
The K-hawks turned the tables on the Bandits last Saturday night by an 18-13 score before another big crowd at Blue Cross Arenas at the War Memorial. Austin Shanks exploded for seven goals and former Rochester star goalkeeper Matt Vinc was pulled from the game after allowing 13 goals on 36 shots.
Rochester is 2-3 with 13 gamers remaining in the regular season. The K-hawks are 2-0 at home but 0-3 on the road. They’ll play at the expansion Philadelphia Wings Friday (the Wings are 0-6) and host the loaded Georgia Swarm Saturday, 7:30 p.m., at Blue Cross Arena.
Rochester has averaged 8,240 for two home games. That’s eighth in the 11-team NLL.
SABRES FACING TWO CRUCIAL HOME GAMES
The Buffalo Sabres are four points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the eighth and final NHL playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They’ve been outscored 144-140. They’re 10-12-3 on the road. The 10-game winning streak is becoming a distant memory.
The Sabres are approaching a critical part of their schedule: Tuesday at Columbus and Wednesday at Dallas.
Buffalo will begin a stretch of seven straight games at KeyBank Center Friday versus Chicago, followed by Minnesota, Carolina, Detroit, Winnipeg, New York Islanders and New York Rangers.
The Sabres have been terrific at home: 14-6-3 (31 of 46 possible points in the standings) and the upcoming homestand could be the turning point in the season.
NBC Sports PR reports that the top five markets for Saturday night’s NHL All-Star Game were 1-Buffalo 5.9; 2-Pittsburgh 4.7; t34-St. Louis 3.0; t3-Minneapolis/St. Paul 3.0; 5-Las Vegas 2.7.
Carmelo Anthony attended Sunday night’s Houston Rockets at New York Knicks game and received a huge ovation from adoring fans at Madison Square Garden. I get that he couldn’t help an elite NBA team, but he’d be an asset on the court and at the gate for many of the weaker teams in the league. He wants to play and should be playing.
Gregg Berhalter’s debut as manager/coach of the U.S. men’s national soccer team Sunday was a smashing success. The U.S. beat Panama 3-0 in Glendale, Arizona. He replaced interim coach Dave Sarachan of Brighton on December 4. The schedule was kind to Berhalter. In the most-recent FIFA World Rankings, USA is 25th and Panama is 71st. USA hosts Costa Rica (36th) Saturday in San Jose, Calif.
In Sunday night’s WWE Royal Rumble, Seth Rollins won the Men’s Royal Rumble, Becky Lynch won the Women’s Royal Rumble, Brock Lesner beat Finn Balor for the WWE Universal Championship and new top good guy Seth Rollins won the Men’s Royal Rumble.
Pitcher Adam Ottavino will be the first New York Yankee to wear 0. It’s the only single-digit number not retired by the Yankees. It figures to remain so.
Super Bowl 53 Fun Factoids: Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay went to the Georgia dome in Atlanta to watch the Rams win Super Bowl 345. He was 14 years old...Buffalo Wild Wings promises free wings on February 18 if Super Bowl 53 goes into overtime...The odds on no TDs in Super Bowl 53 are 1,000-to-1. Suggestion: Don’t waste that dollar to win $1,000.
Coming off a costly 78-56 Atlantic Coast Conference loss at Virginia Tech last Saturday, Syracuse (14-6 record, including 5-2 in the ACC) could really use a road sweep at Boston College Wednesday and at Pittsburgh Saturday.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO...
Monday, January 28
Hunter Renfroe 27...Andre Iguodala 35...Stephen Gostowski 35...WWEE’s Sheamus 41...Daunte Culpepper 42...Lyle Overbay 42...Tony Delk 45...Jermaine Dye 45...Magglio Ordonez 45...Normand Rochefort 58......Nick Price 62...Gregg Popovic 70...Bill White 85. Ariel Winter 21, Elijah Wood 38 and Alan Alda 83 are invited to the birthday party.
Tuesday, January 29
Jose Abreu 32...Marc Gasol 34...Aeneas Williams 51...Stacey King 52...Sean Burke 52...Dominik Hasek 54...Andre Reed 55...John Habyan 55...Greg Loganis 59...Steve Sax 59...Mike Foligno 60...Tony Galbreath 65...Doug Risebrough 65...Donna Caponi 74. Justin Hartley 42, Paul Ryan 49, Oprah Winfrey 65 and Tom Selleck 74 are invited to the birthday party.
ON THIS DATE IN SPORTS...
59 years ago (1960), the NFL announced the Dallas Cowboys (1960) and Minnesota Vikings (1961) as new franchises...The Buffalo Bills selected USC running back O.J. Simpson No. 1 overall in the NFL draft...35 years ago (1984)...Edmonton Oilers center Wayne Gretzky’s NHL-records point streak ended at 51 games. He had 61 goals and 92 assists (153 points) during the streak...29 years ago (1990), the San Francisco 47ers beat the Denver Broncos 55-10 in Super Bowl 24...18 years ago (2001), the Baltimore Ravens beat the New York Giants 34-7 in Super Bowl MVP. Ray Lewis was MVP...2 years ago (2017), Serena Williams defeated older sister Venus 6-4, 6-4 for her seventh Australian Open title.
119 years ago (1900), the American League organized with Buffalo, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Milwaukee and Minneapolis...83 years ago (1936), Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson were the first players elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame...56 years ago (1963), Jim Thorpe, Red Grange and George Halas were elected to the Football Hall of Fame...55 years ago (1964), the most lopsided high-school basketball score was recorded in Louisiana: 211-29...37 years ago (1982), former Red Wings pitcher Wayne Garland, baseball’s first millionaire free agent, was waived by the Cleveland Indians...30 years ago (1989), baseball dropped “game-winning RBI” as an official statistic after nine years of use. Keith Hernandez was the all-time leader in GWRBI with 129.