sports blog by andy shenk

Updates: Week of May 21-27

In Cincinnati Reds, Lokomotiv-Kuban, Northfield Knights, Russian Basketball, San Antonio Spurs, Tottenham Hotspur on May 21, 2012 at 7:01 PM

My teams enjoyed a beautiful week of competition. Overall record: 12-3. The upcoming week will be slow, chock-full of baseball, especially if San Antonio is forced to wait until next week to open the Western Conference Finals. As the weather warms and the daylight grows, the national pastime begins its lazy ascendance in the American sports scene. Full maturation only comes in late July (when NFL training camps open and 90% of Americans forget that football is not the only sport worth watching on the planet), but these cool May evenings whisper of glorious summer nights at the ballpark where each day seems to linger lazily in the fading twilight, and the bat’s crack and glove’s snap play the soundtrack in the background.

In a Bold update, the Spurs are 2/3 of the way to a perfect record in the Western Conference Playoffs. 8-0 so far, they now prepare for a best-of-seven series in the Western Conference Finals with either the Lakers or the Thunder.

Bold Record: 0-2 (1 prediction pending)

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Basketball

San Antonio Spurs, 50-16, 1st place in Western Conference during regular season. Awaiting Game 1 of best-of-7 Western Conference Finals vs. TBD

San Antonio swept the Clippers, outscoring Los Angeles by 46 points. Eight games into the postseason, the Spurs have outscored their opponents by a combined 110 points, good for +13.8 ppg. Thus far, only one game has come down to the final possession, last night’s 102-99 knockout win over the Clippers.

Though it had been 46 days since the Spurs had played in a similarly tight game,  led by Tim Duncan their offense delivered in the last few minutes. In a crucial two-minute stretch Duncan helped the Spurs turn a two-point deficit into a three-point lead by delivering two perfect assists, nailing a running hook shot, and blocking Chris Paul in the paint. From that point on, the Clippers only managed to make two free throws, and the Spurs held on for the win.

The Spurs will face either the Thunder or the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. The Thunder currently lead the series 3-1, and are headed home to Oklahoma City tonight for Game 5. Though it will be very difficult for the Lakers to win this series, given the hole they’ve dug themselves, they still have hope. LA has controlled the tempo in the previous three games and led for the majority of play. Psychologically, OKC crushed them twice, in Games 2 and 4, by coming back from large deficits in the 4th quarter, but the Lakers now have their backs against the wall, and will likely come out firing again in Game 5. Kobe and his coach, Mike Brown, have already shown an ability to motivate their mercurial big men, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, when the chips are down and I  expect the same tonight. When the Lakers’ Big 3 of Bryant, Bynum, and Gasol play well there may not be another team in the NBA that can match their size and talent.

Lokomotiv Kuban, 9-9, 4th place in Russian Professional Basketball League (PBL) during regular season.  3rd place in PBL Playoffs. 9-7, 4th place in Group B of VTB League during regular season. 4th place in VTB League Playoffs

Lokomotiv Kuban won three straight against Triumph Lyubertsi last week to clinch 3rd place in the PBL. The result has huge significance, pending the Euroleague’s summer classification of the PBL. If the PBL receives an additional spot in next year’s Euroleague, then Lokomotiv, by virtue of their third-place finish, will be given an opportunity to qualify next year for Europe’s premier basketball competition.

Even if Lokomotiv does not receive an invitation to the Euroleague, they will have an opportunity to improve on last year’s quarterfinal finish in Europe’s second-tier competition, the Eurocup.

Though many details still need to be ironed out, Lokomotiv’s domestic season next year will thankfully be much simplified. Rather than attempt to compete in two Eastern European leagues, Russia’s top basketball clubs have decided to disband the PBL and focus solely on the VTB League. As a result, the VTB League will expand to twenty teams, up from last year’s eighteen. The playoffs will also expand, with sixteen teams qualifying for the four-round tournament. The quarterfinals will feature a best-of-3 series, with each additional round being contested as a best-of-5 series.

Russian bragging rights will not be completely abandoned, either. According to Sergei Ivanov, president of the VTB League, the Russian teams will determine their own domestic champion during the course of the VTB League season. Whether this will be done completely within the framework of the VTB League, or if it will require additional playoff games between Russian clubs remains to be seen.

The Euroleague and VTB League governing boards will be convening in July to determine the nature of their upcoming seasons.

Baseball

Cincinnati Reds, 21-19, 2nd place in National League Central Division

The Reds took care of business on the road, going 4-3 against the Braves, Mets, and Yankees. Now they return home, just .5 game out of first place, for seven games against the Braves and Rockies. Mike Leake takes the mound tonight against the Atlanta Braves, in a game that will be shown on ESPN2, only the second game of the season on national television for Cincinnati.

During the road trip, Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker ignited a firestorm of controversy when he designated Cuban flamethrower, Aroldis Chapman, as the ballclub’s new closer. Though few question Chapman’s ability to succeed as closer, many see that as just another attempt by Baker to delay Chapman’s insertion in the starting rotation. I have no idea whether or not Baker is right, but I found these two arguments, for and against, to be interesting: John Fay, Cincinnati Enquirer, “Few Thoughts on Chapman, Lineup,” and Chad Dotson, RedlegNation, “The Chapman/Marshall Mistake.”

1) Monday, vs. Atlanta, 6:10 PM, ESPN; 2) Tuesday, vs. Atlanta, 6:10 PM, MLB Network; 3) Wednesday, vs. Atlanta, 6:10 PM; 4) Thursday, vs. Atlanta, 6:10 PM; 5) Friday, vs. Colorado, 6:10 PM, MLB Network; 6) Saturday, vs. Colorado, 6:15 PM, Fox; 7) Sunday, vs. Colorado, 12:10 PM

Northfield Knights, 1-0,  2nd place in Classic Cannon Valley League (CCVL)

The Northfield Knights won their opener, 12-3, over the Lake City Serpents at Northfield’s Sechler Park. Nikki and I, due to extenuating circumstances at home were unfortunately unable to attend. This week the Knights have only one game, another Sunday matinee at Sechler.

1) Sunday, vs. Red Wing Aces, 2:00 PM, CCVL

Soccer

Tottenham Hotspur, 69 points, 4th in English Premier League. Qualified for 2012-2013 Europa League.

On Saturday afternoon Chelsea defeated Bayern Munich in a penalty shootout 4-3, following 120 minutes of play in which the two teams battled to a 1-1 draw. Chelsea not only won the Champions League for the first time, but also qualified for next year’s competition despite finishing sixth in the Premier League. And so, Tottenham Hotspur once again run out the string on yet another bitter season. Though fourth in England for only the second time in decades, they will have to putz about in the Europa League next season while London rivals Chelsea and Arsenal once again reap the financial rewards of Champions League competition.

Spurs’ 2012/2013 Premier League season will begin in mid-August. Fixtures will be announced in mid-June. With regards to the Europa League, Spurs will begin play in the group stage, with the first fixtures scheduled for September 20. Carling Cup action also begins in September, with Spurs scheduled to start in the 3rd round (round of 32). FA Cup play for Spurs will not kick off until after the New Year, when Spurs meet an opponent in the 3rd round (round of 64).

To summarize last season’s results: 4th in Premier League, Semifinals of FA Cup, Third Round of Carling Cup, and Group Stage of Europa League. Next season Tottenham Hotspur’s primary objective, as always, will be to finish as high as possible in the Premier League and secure Champions League qualification. I doubt Harry will put much emphasis on any other competitions, though I suspect Spurs will go further in the Europa League and Carling Cup than last year.


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