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Friday, December 20, 2013

Must See Sports – Third Weekend of December 2013

Last week's advantage/disadvantage record, excluding series: 5-2
2013 Advantage/Disadvantage Record, excluding series: 94-76
2013 Advantage/Disadvantage FINAL Record (series only): 22-13-4

Must See is back. Enjoy!

Friday, December 20


Houston Rockets at Indiana Pacers

The tandem of Rockets All-Star center Dwight Howard (18 PPG, 13 RPG, 2 BlkPG) and guard James Harden (24 PPG, 6 APG, 5 RPG) has been all it was cracked up to be so far in the hyper-competitive Western Conference. Meanwhile, the Indiana Pacers, with the best defense in the NBA and the best record in the Eastern Conference, have demonstrated that their trip to the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals in which they pushed the eventual NBA Champion Miami Heat to a seventh game was no fluke.

Indiana did receive a reminder that Miami is the defending champ on Wednesday night, giving up a lead to the Heat late and losing after missing the final shot by Pacers’ forward Paul George (24 PPG, 6 RPG, 2 StlPG). This game is in Indiana. Disgruntled reserve center Omer Asik (4 PPG, 7 RPG) is not expected to play due to a thigh injury and point guard Jeremy Lin (14 PPG, 4 APG) has been hampered by an ailing back. That tips the scales to Indiana.

Advantage: Pacers

Paul George won't have to worry about taking a winning shot on the road and a star not getting called in Indianapolis. 1

Saturday, December 21


Denver Nuggets at Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers are red hot, having won six of their last eight, with a 2.5 game lead over the resurgent Phoenix Suns in the Pacific Division. The Nuggets are solid, but not super in any aspect of their game. Their super point guard, Ty Lawson (18 PPG, 8 APG) has been hampered by the flu this week. Travel won’t help his condition, even if he plays on Saturday. I’ll take CP3 (20 PPG, 11 APG, 5 RPG,2 StlPG) and crew in this game.

Advantage: Clippers


Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl

#20 Fresno State Bulldogs vs #25 USC Trojans

Fresno has lit up the scoreboard and demolished the Mountain West this year, averaging 45 points per game. It has come on the strength of quarterback Derek Carr’s (4,866 yds., 48 TD, 7 INT, 70% comp.) golden arm. The Bulldogs have two thousand yard receivers, Davante Adams (122 rec., 1,645 yds., 23 TD) and Josh Harper (79 rec., 1,011 yds., 13 TD). They’ve climbed into the top 25 in spite of playing in a defense-optional conference.

USC Interim Head Coach Ed Orgeron has since resigned as the Trojans’ coach. He almost single-handedly was responsible for the 180 degree turnaround in Southern Cal. The Trojans were circling the drain at the time former Head Coach Lane Kiffin was fired at the airport following a September loss to Arizona State. Prior to losing their season finale to #22 UCLA, the Trojans had won five straight, including a stunning upset over #4 Stanford.

His ability to motivate his players was evident. How he did not get the coaching job permanently is beyond me. But I expect his players to win one for him against their mid-major, in-state opponent in this minor bowl game.

Advantage: USC

The Trojans want to honor Coach O. 2

NCAA Basketball

#7 Oklahoma State Cowboys at #20 Colorado Buffaloes

Guard Marcus Smart (18 PPG, 5 RPG, 4 APG) and the Cowboys are off to a lightning fast, 10-1 start. Their sharp shooting has early eyes on them for a deep run in March. The Buffaloes are making waves in the Pac-12. Once again, Colorado has a team that should be capable of getting its ticket punched to the Big Dance. This year may be a little different. The Buffaloes vaulted themselves into the attention of college basketball fans everywhere with their stunning upset over #6 Kansas earlier this month. Colorado beat KU, a former Big 12 rival,  for the first time in 10 years.

Colorado guard Askia Booker (12 PPG) was the hero of that game, making the winning three point shot. However the strength of the Buffaloes, winners of ten straight, has been power – play in the paint, i.e. rebounding and defense. Forwards Josh Scott (12 PPG, 9 RPG) and Wesley Gordon (8 PPG, 6 RPG) have been the enforcers down low of Colorado. In addition, the Buffs know how to force turnovers, even by talented guards like Smart.

This is another test for Colorado. Oklahoma has good chemistry and a bona fide star in Smart. They’ve played together at a high level since last season. In spite of Colorado being red hot and at home, I like the Cowboys.

Advantage: Oklahoma State

Sunday, December 22


Indianapolis Colts (9-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (11-3)

One would think that on a team with an emerging superstar at quarterback and a fierce pass rush, the loss of a wide receiver, even their best wide receiver, wouldn’t slow them down too much. But that is just what happened. Ever since wide receiver Reggie Wayne (38 rec., 503 yds., 2 TD) was lost for the season while handing the Denver Broncos their first loss of the season in Week 7.

But that is just what has happened. Since Wayne, who is still the Colts’ third leading receiver in 2013 in spite of having missed the last seven games, went down the Colts have lost three times in seven games following a 5-2 start. All four wins have been against the Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans, whose combined 2013 record is 7-21 (.250 winning pct.). the losses have been ugly.

The Chiefs showed that they weren’t as good as their 9-0 start may have led people to think by losing three straight division games. But two of those losses were at the hands of Peyton Manning and the Broncos, whom many have penciled in to the Super Bowl already. They throttled the Oakland Raiders and Washington Redskins and reminded the league that while they weren’t ready for Peyton, yet, they were to be taken seriously. Expect more seriousness on Sunday at Arrowhead.

Advantage: Chiefs

New Orleans Saints (10-4) at Carolina Panthers (10-4)

The Carolina Panthers think they have everything lined up just right. The Saints have a losing record on the road. The Panthers are 6-1 at home in Bank of America Stadium. The Panthers have won nine of their last ten games. The Saints got embarrassed last week against the 6-8 St. Louis Rams, giving the Panthers a destiny-controlling opening to win the NFC South, an opening that closed after their last loss.

The problem for the Panthers? The one loss in their last ten was against the Saints. The loss that took the Panthers’ fate in the division race out of their own paws was to the Saints. The Sean Payton has not lost consecutive games as Head Coach since 2009 (though they did win the Super Bowl that season, so even that is a speck in the Panthers’ formula for success). They are 10 for 10 in their last 10 games following a loss under Sean Payton.

Making matters worse for Carolina is that the Saints not only lost to the Rams, but were destroyed and put in a do-or-die situation. The kicker, Garrett Hartley, walked the plank; he was cut. Left tackle Charles Brown was benched after a poor performance in favor of rookie Terron Armstead, third round pick out of Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the 2013 NFL Draft. Cornerback Chris Carr was cut this week. Players are feeling immediate and tangible consequences for poor performance in Saints camp this week.

The kinds of mishaps that result from poor preparation – perhaps not being focused during film sessions, dogging it just a little during conditioning activities, not pushing one’s self to their personal limit in practice – that isn’t going to happen this week. Heads have rolled. The stakes couldn’t be much greater. And the Saints demonstrated, albeit with a substantial advantage in the Superdome, that they can shut down Cam Newton (3,049 yds., 21 TD, 11 INT, 62% comp., 507 rush yds., 5.3 YPC) and the Panthers.

Advantage: Saints

The Saints haven't lost a game this year with the Saintsations on the sidelines. Maybe they should travel with the team this week? 3
New England Patriots (10-4) at Baltimore Ravens (8-6)

The Ravens found a way to win a critical game at the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football last week. However, they did it without scoring a touchdown, and with a game winning, 61-yard Justin Tucker field goal. The Ravens have still not solved their issues with running the ball. They are a one trick pony in the backfield with Ray Rice (605 yds., 4 TD, 3.1 avg.), who has not been able to find his groove this year. And when Rice cannot get it going, the Ravens’ offense seems to vanish.

Fortunately, the Ravens are at home at the Patriots are in the NFL’s toilet among run-stopping defenses. Still, Tom Brady (4,049 yds., 23 TD, 10 INT, 61% comp.) must be reeling after a last-second loss in Miami last week. Brady keeps the Patriots offense rolling along no matter who is in the lineup. The backfield tandem of running backs Stevan Ridley (645 yds., 7 TD, 4.3 avg.) and LaGarrette Blunt (507 yds., 3 TD, 4.5 avg.) along with the return of RB Shane Vereen (199 yds., 1 TD, 5.0 avg.) from injury has quietly relieved Brady of some of the burden of a limited receiving corps without tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Gronk’s absence is more than a minor setback for New England. He only played in seven games this season and is currently their second leading receiver. But New England keeps reloading its cannons with artillery while the Ravens appear to be jamming silverware and blocks of concrete into their cannons, lighting the fuse, and hoping for the best when their offense reaches a pitfall. That worked against Detroit. It won’t fly versus the Pats.

Advantage: Patriots

Chicago Bears (8-6) at Philadelphia Eagles (8-6)

I expect Jay Cutler to show the nation why coach Mark Trestman made the right choice going back to Jay Cutler (2,173 yds, 16 TD, 10 INT, 64% comp.) over backup Josh McCown (1,809 yds., 13 TD, 1 INT, 67% comp.) when Cutler was cleared to return from injury. The Eagles defense is loaded full of holes and Bears running back Matt Forte (1,200 yds., 7 TD, 4.7 avg.) appears to have turned his level up for the December stretch.

After the Eagles embarrassing debacle in Minnesota, their confidence, particularly on defense, has to be shot. The question is whether or now the Eagles can find a way to get an early lead, then control the ball by gashing the Bears with running back LeSean McCoy (1,343 yds., 7 TD, 5.0 avg.). The Bears appear to be playing their best ball at the right time: in December. The Eagles? I’m not so sure.

Advantage: Bears

Wednesday, December 25


Miami Heat at Los Angeles Lakers

As is tradition, the NBA rules Christmas on the air. LeBron James (25 PPG, 7 APG, 7 RPG, 2 StlPG) is the king of the court. Without Kobe Bryant (14 PPG, 6 APG) in the Lakers lineup (knee), I expect this to be “The Heatles Show”.

Advantage: Heat

Houston Rockets at San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs only have the third best record in the NBA, yet it is better than any team in the Eastern Conference. That is just how intense the Western Conference is at the top this year. The Rockets have an entire new outlook this season with Dwight Howard at center. However, Tony Parker (18 PPG, 6 APG) and the defending Western Conference champion Spurs have just continued to roll on like they always do. I wouldn’t rule out a minor Christmas miracle for the Rockets because they have talent. But Greg Popovich knows this is a nationally televised game on America’s biggest holiday and the Spurs are in their own house.  

Advantage: Spurs

Photoshop has allowed a lot of people on the Internet to have some fun at Tim Duncan's expense because of his age. I'll bet he laughs every morning...when he opens the newspaper and looks at the box score. 4

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