sports blog by andy shenk

Updates: Week of May 14-20

In Anzhi, Carleton, Cincinnati Reds, Lokomotiv-Kuban, Northfield Knights, Russian Basketball, Russian Football, San Antonio Spurs, Tottenham Hotspur on May 14, 2012 at 7:26 PM

Forgive me for failing to provide a weekly update last week. The San Antonio Spurs have been the highlight of May thus far, handily sweeping the Utah Jazz to set up a higher-profile series with the Clippers. Anzhi, Tottenham Hotspur, and the Carleton Knights all concluded their seasons. Read below to learn how they fared down the final stretch.

The NBA Playoffs certainly take precedence as long as the Spurs are still alive, but Euro 2012 is fast approaching. Should Russia do well in the European football championships, which begin in early June, and the Spurs advance to the Finals, late June could be an exciting time.

In a Bold update from two weeks ago, Anzhi failed to win out their last four matches of the season, drawing with Kuban Krasnodar on May 2 and falling at home to Zenit St. Petersburg on May 13. Rather than a 4-0 record as I had predicted, Anzhi went 2-1-1. Still, that looks better than the time I predicted the Reds to sweep the Cardinals, only to see them go 1-2 on the weekend. Meanwhile, the Spurs are 1/3 of the way to a perfect record in the Western Conference Playoffs. 4-0 so far, they now prepare for a best-of-seven series with the Clippers. I can sense another sweep in the offing, and the expansion of the Spurs’ winning streak to 18:)

Bold Record: 0-2 (1 prediction pending)

Basketball

San Antonio Spurs, 50-16, 1st place in Western Conference during regular season. Awaiting Game 1 of best-of-7 Western Conference Semifinals vs. Los Angeles Clippers

San Antonio rollicked through their first-round series with Utah, sweeping the 8-seed as expected, and thereby earning eight days of rest while the Clippers and Grizzlies fought out seven highly physical games. In the end, the Clippers knocked out the Grizzlies yesterday afternoon in Memphis and earned the right to fly to San Antonio for Tuesday night’s Game 1 of the conference semifinals.

Returning to the Spurs’ first-round series, the team lived up to all expectations by shooting the ball at a much higher clip than the Jazz and wearing them out with their deep bench. In game 2 in San Antonio the Spurs won by thirty-one; even games 3 and 4 in Salt Lake City posed few challenges, as the Spurs never trailed in the fourth quarter and was able to rest their starters frequently in the second half. The Spurs’ margin of victory for the series came to +64, an astounding number when you consider that their Big 3 only averaged 29.3 min/gm.

In the upcoming series with the Clippers the Spurs’ depth and extended rest could be deadly, as they will look to run the battle-weary Clippers off the court in San Antonio on Tuesday and Thursday. Of even greater benefit to the Spurs (and detriment to the Clippers), Games 3 and 4 will be back-t0-back in Los Angeles over the weekend. Look for the Spurs to end the series on Sunday. Popovich understands that extra games in the playoffs mean a higher chance of injury to one of the team’s stars. Given the Spurs’ dominance of the NBA over the last two months, it’s unlikely that they will drop a game to an inferior, untested opponent such as the Clippers and thus jeopardize in any way their chances of winning the Finals.

1) Tuesday, vs. Clippers, 8:30 PM, Western Conference Semifinals, TNT; 2) Thursday, vs. Clippers, 8:30 PM, Western Conference Semifinals, TNT; 3) Saturday, at Clippers, 2:30 PM, Western Conference Semifinals, ABC; 4) Sunday, at Clippers, 9:30 PM, Western Conference Semifinals, TNT

Lokomotiv Kuban, 9-9, 4th place in Russian Professional Basketball League (PBL) during regular season.  0-1 in best-of-5 Third-Place PBL Playoffs Series vs. Triumph Lyubertsi. 9-7, 4th place in Group B of VTB League during regular season. 4th place in VTB League Playoffs.

It’s been a rough two weeks for Lokomotiv. After losing the PBL Playoffs Semifinals to CSKA, the team flew to Vilnius hoping to redeem themselves in the VTB League Final Four. Alas, they lost twice, first to Unics Kazan in the semis, then to Leituvos Rytas in the match for 3rd-place. Those losses mean that Lokomotiv’s last chance of medaling this season will be in their Third-Place PBL Playoffs series with Triumph Lyubertsi. Unfortunately, they dropped game 1 this morning in Lyubertsi, a small city of 170,000 located just southeast of Moscow.  I will be rooting for Lokomotiv guard and Xavier alum, Lionel Chalmers, to have an impact after playing ten minutes in today’s game. He’s just returning from a hand injury, and may get increased minutes in this final series of the season.

1) Monday, at Triumph Lyubertsi (lost 91-86), Game 1 of Third-Place PBL Playoffs Series, 10:30 AM; 2) Tuesday, at Triumph Lyubertsi, Game 2 of Third-Place PBL Playoffs Series, 10:30 AM; 3) Friday, vs. Triumph Lyubertsi, Game 3 of Third-Place PBL Playoffs Series, 10:30 AM; 4) Saturday, vs. Triumph Lyubertsi, Game 4 of Third-Place PBL Playoffs Series, 9:00 AM, if necessary

Baseball

Cincinnati Reds, 17-16, second place in National League Central Division

The Reds went 6-5 over the last two weeks. The most exciting result came in yesterday afternoon’s Mother Day clash with the Washington Nationals. Trailing 6-3 in the eighth, and in grave peril of being swept at home by the Nationals, the Reds struck for 2 to pull within one going to the ninth. After closer Sean Marshall held the Nats scoreless in the top of the inning, the Reds loaded the bases with two outs for their moneyman, Joey Votto. On a 2-2 count Votto smashed a fastball from Washington closer Henry Rodriguez over the fence in center for his third home run of the game and the Reds’ first walk-off grand slam since Adam Dunn did it on June 30, 2006 against the Indians.

The Reds now enjoy a seven-game road trip to Atlanta and New York to face the Braves, Mets, and Yankees. All I can hope for is a winning record on the trip.

1) Monday, at Atlanta, 6:10 PM; 2) Tuesday, at Atlanta, 6:10 PM, MLB Network; 3) Wednesday, at Mets, 6:10 PM; 4) Thursday, at Mets, 12:10 PM; 5) Friday, at Yankees, 6:05 PM, MLB Network; 6) Saturday, at Yankees, 12:05 PM, MLB Network; 7) Sunday, at Yankees, 12:05 PM

Northfield Knights, 0-0, awaiting first contest of Classic Cannon Valley League (CCVL)

My wife and I hope to enjoy some amateur league Minnesota baseball this summer as the hometown Knights play in Sechler Park, only a mile from our house. Their first game is this Sunday, and barring some surprise, we plan to be there.

1) Sunday, vs. Lake City Serpents, 2:00 PM, CCVL

Carleton College Knights, 15-22 (7-13 MIAC), tied for 9th in MIAC

The Knights finished the season as well as could be expected, splitting doubleheaders with St. Mary’s and Bethel. A home doubleheader with non-conference foe Central College got rained out as well. I’m disappointed that I was only able to attend three Carleton games this season. Some hectic weekends, plus the NBA Playoffs made it difficult, however, to prioritize more excursions out to Carleton’s Mel Taube Field. Ah well, as mentioned above, Nikki and I hope to attend many Northfield Knights’ games this summer in Sechler Park.

Soccer

Tottenham Hotspur, 69 points, 4th in English Premier League

Spurs closed the season out in impressive fashion, taking eleven of a possible twelve points in their final four matches. A 2-0 win at home over Fulham guaranteed them fourth in the league on the Premier League’s final day. Now Spurs anxiously await the outcome of the Champions League Final. Victory for Chelsea and Spurs are bumped to the Europa League. A Champions League trophy for Bayern Munich, however, and Spurs gain a spot in the 3rd qualifying round of the Champions League next season. Regardless, Spurs equaled their highest league finish in decades and finished above London rivals Chelsea for the first time since 1996.

FC Anzhi, 70 points, 5th in Russian Premier League

Despite a frustrating draw to Kuban Krasnodar, Anzhi’s victory over Rubin meant that with one match left to play the Makhachkala side still could qualify for Champions League with a win over league champions Zenit St. Petersburg. Instead, they lost 2-0 at home and retained their fifth position in the Russian Premier League. Disappointing, no doubt, but Anzhi still qualified for European play via the Europa League. They will enter the tournament in the 2nd qualifying round with the two-leg tie to be contested July 19 and 26.

Questions abound for Anzhi in the offseason. Will Guus Hiddink return to coach the team next season? Will management buy several more high-profile stars, or will they forge ahead with the current roster? Will Anzhi’s new stadium, Anzhi Arena, be ready for Europa League play by mid-July? As of early May, the stadium looks very far from completion.

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