Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sports Storylines, cont.

I mentioned yesterday that some of my springtime will be spent watching the Montreal/Boston NHL playoff series. This is provided, of course, that watching Habs/Bruins doesn't keep me from following the individual derring-do of Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Washington's Alexander Ovechkin. Sid the Kid and the Great Eight are nearly polar opposites, the former is a sweetly-skating center, the latter an explosive left wing. Crosby is as deft a passer as there is in the world, the powerful Ovechkin scores goals as relentlessly as the tide, leading the league in goals two years running. Crosby is quiet and unassuming, Ovechkin brash and demonstrative. Crosby, a twenty-one-year-old Nova Scotian, has experienced team-level success that has to date alluded his twenty-three-year-old Russian counterpart, having led, along with fellow superstar teammate Evgeni (pronounced "Ev-GHE-nee") Malkin, the Penguins to the Stanley Cup Finals a year ago, while Ovechkin has yet to carry the Capitals, similarly laden with talent, past the first round.

The NFL Draft. Will the Lions take yet another wide receiver with a premium draft pick? They have the chance with Texas Tech stud Michael Crabtree sitting there. Do they take Jawja's imposing but scatter-armed Matt Stafford? Does Baylor offensive tackle Jason Smith go in the top five and in doing so remind NFL fans that Baylor does in fact still have a football program? Where does Alabama's Andre Smith go after being kicked off the team prior to the Sugar Bowl for unnamed rules violations and then disappointing everyone with a who-cares approach to the Combine? Where does Missouri's mighty midget Jeremy Maclin fall? His dazzling speed and breathtaking open-field skills are in a package that would fit under a Christmas tree. Will a team use a premium pick to draft a guy who might be only a third-down back and kick returner? And once in the lineup, will he be the game-breaker Reggie Bush has failed to be?

Mathematical Elimination Fever! The Pittsburgh Pirates, who proudly wear the crown of Team Chrisopher Will Follow (in this they follow the 2003 Red Sox and 2006 Rays), are gunning to avoid their 17th successive losing season, a mark that would break the all-time record held by the 1933-1948 Philadelphia Phillies. The Pirates, who began play in 1882, are about 700 games up on the Phils in the All-Time Battle for Pennsylvania, so they shouldn't be too concerned about finishing four to ten games under .500, as is their destiny with this group. Good chance they get off the losing-season shnide in 2010.

Keeping with that theme: The Atlanta Braves, who opened for business back in Boston as a charter member of the National League in 1876, start the season with an all-time record of 9,772 wins and 9,808 losses, a mark 36 games under .500. A 99-63 record this year puts their 133-year mark exactly at break-even. Even for a good Braves club, 99 wins are a bit of a stretch this year, especially given the competition in the NL East, but it's fun to think about.

The Ascension of LeBron. The world's greatest basketball player continues his ascent into Global Icon status as Cleveland takes its best-in-the-NBA record into the playoffs. This is the first year that I can see that the Cavaliers have entered postseason as the league's #1 team, and the 6-foot-8, 255-pound James is clearly its best player. The NBA title has a long history of going to the team with the best individual player, and James by himself makes the Cavs the team to beat and end Cleveland's 44-year world's-championship drought; no Cleveland team in any sport has won its league's ultimate title since the 1964 Browns won the NFL championship. That dry spell ends here and now. The Cavaliers will win the NBA Finals.

So let it be done.

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