Scully

The Dodgers are in first place, but it’s been more than a week since I’ve heard Vin Scully call a game …

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The Dodgers are in first place …

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Jerry Buss, 1933-2013

Jerry Buss celebrates in the locker room after winning the NBA championship.

Jerry Buss celebrates in the locker room after the Lakers win the NBA championship. AP Photo/Lennox McClendo

There are people you never meet who can have a profound impact on your life. Dr. Jerry Buss, owner of the Los Angeles Lakers, was one of those people. Buss died early Monday morning at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was 80-years-old.

In my lifetime, there hasn’t been a more successful sports franchise. As a fan, I’ve been spoiled to refer to the Lakers as “my team.” Thankfully for all Lakers fans, Dr. Buss viewed it this way too. He owned the team, but from my lifetime of observation, I never got the sense that it all belonged to him. There was a sense of stewardship in maintaining the Lakers as something to point to as a sense of civic and fan pride for more than three decades.

There were rarely lean or “rebuilding” years under Buss’ ownership. As a fan, you appreciate that the owner will do what it takes – within reason – to win. Not just win a few games here and there or have a nice winning percentage, but to win championships. This is what distinguishes the Lakers from nearly every other franchise in professional sports. Championships are what it is ultimately all about. Dr. Buss raised the standards and met them often.

All of this has had a profound impact on my life. Yes, “profound” may be too strong a word for how Buss’ life actually impacted me, but his life was extraordinary. He was a self-made businessman and laid the groundwork for the eventual convergence of sports and entertainment. Cheerleaders (think Laker Girls) on an NBA sideline was once a new idea. Courtside seats are a status symbol for the Hollywood elite. It was all part of creating that aura that The Forum or Staples Center was a place to be seen. “The Lakers are pretty damn Hollywood,” Buss once said.

He was the only Los Angeles Lakers owner I’ve ever known. That means a lot considering the murkiness or sliminess that can revolve around owning an NBA team (ask Seattle, Vancouver and Sacramento fans about that). You knew there was one guy responsible and one guy who would ultimately take the heat if things went wrong. They rarely did, however.

There are so many bonding moments and memories watching the Lakers with friends and family. I’ve spent hours watching and talking about the Lakers with my brother, reminiscing (sometimes loathing) and comparing our memories of players and teams of the past. We’ve grown up watching the Lakers on television, and for a long time, listening on the radio. We’ve planned evenings around Lakers games on television. If there were places we needed to go, we would go “after the game” or attend to something “at halftime.”

It’s difficult to think that part of my life is now gone, but like other deaths that bring sadness, you’re thankful for their life, how they lived it and the impact it has on you. I’ll carry those memories forever.

Thank you, Dr. Buss.

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The Lakers make me look bad … really bad

Disregard everything I’ve said about the 2012-2013 Lakers. It doesn’t make sense. Nothing makes sense anymore.

If there is a silver lining however, it’s Earl Clark. He’s been great when given the chance. 

Kobe’s off-ball defense hurts my soul and feelings. He is having a great offensive season though. I can’t be too mad at that. 

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I haven’t said anything about the Lakers in a while

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The 2012-2013 season isn’t going quite how we expected.

If there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s that things change.

They’ve changed quite dramatically since I wrote my now embarrassingly gushing ode to the 2012-2013 season:

The Lakers started the season 1-4 prompting Mike Brown’s sudden dismissal; the head coaching job was essentially Phil Jackson’s and is now likely never to return (while Jim Buss runs things); Mike D’Antoni was hired to the dismay of many, many critics. On Dec. 26, the Lakers find themselves only one game over .500.

The Lakers were a mess. It turned out Mike Brown’s attempt at a new offensive system didn’t work. Meanwhile, defensively, the team was, um, miserable. The players were miserable. You could see it on the court in their effort and play. Players didn’t know where to be on the court. “The pieces weren’t fitting,” we were told.

Throw in the part where fears of Steve Nash getting injured were fully realized and you’ll get the coaching fiasco that erupted five games into the season.

[There’s no need to rehash the Phil Jackson situation. Long story short: I wasn’t thrilled. However, I reminded myself that the final season under Jackson wasn’t that great either. As defending champions, the Lakers were swept out of the playoffs by the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks. The team looked slow, uninspired and lacked defensively even then. Maybe Jackson’s methods wore thin on a roster that had heard it all before? Maybe opposing coaches caught up to Jackson strategy-wise? Who knows. Spilled milk.]

The Mike D’Antoni hiring was interesting to say the least. (I didn’t want him as coach specifically for the whole “no defense” thing.) I too was “all in” on Jackson returning. I had talked myself into Nate McMillan as a possible candidate, but that never fully materialized.

Much of the talk was that the Lakers would play a more uptempo style and bring back the “Showtime” style of game. The question was, “How?” The roster is old and aging, while other coaches and teams have already adopted elements of the fast-paced D’Antoni style into their own offenses. The Oklahoma City Thunder, Miami Heat, Denver Nuggets, New York Knicks, and the Clippers come to mind. The D’Antoni system isn’t unique. A transition three-point shot and fast break is what all the contending teams do well already. The aging Lakers would now have to learn a new offense in the middle of the season while awaiting the return of a 38-year-old point guard? Good luck.

Defensively, D’Antoni’s teams aren’t known for it and if “defense wins championships” why hire him in the first place?

In 18 games with D’Antoni as head coach, the Lakers are 9-9 and it took the latest five-game winning streak to get there. They had looked pretty rough over that time with the low-point being a four-game losing streak that ended with consecutive humiliating losses to Cleveland and New York. The Cleveland game was probably the low point of the season, but in all honesty, there are several candidates for that.

Quickly:

  • Steve Nash’s return to the lineup has seemingly brought a sense of cohesion to the offense – one of the five best point guards in NBA history will do that – albeit  at a YMCA pace. It’s clear that Nash is still trying to get back into playing shape and that will take a few more games. I’m OK with this as long as Darius Morris sees the bench more than the floor.
  • Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard are looking like they have a purpose on the floor again. Gasol’s passing prowess should only benefit Howard. It helped Andrew Bynum after all. There could be issues with both being unable to work the paint while on the floor together, but they’re two of the best forwards in the league. Why wouldn’t they be able to make it work? Nash feeding the ball could make it work.
  • There are still things that can change, but the last two victories – an overtime win versus Golden State and the Christmas Day victory over New York – are positive signs. The Lakers came back from being down and held up defensively in the final few minutes.

I’m optimistic and that says a lot considering where the team was not too long ago. There will still be challenges over the season, but for now, there’s reason to believe things are on their way to what was expected of the team considering their roster.

But as always, circumstances may change.

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I need an explanation

Stephen Strasburg, the Washington Nationals’ pitching phenom, will be limited to around 180 innings pitched this season. He’s under an innings pitched limit because this is his first season returning from  Tommy John surgery. Obviously, the Nationals, Strasburg (and his agent, Scott Boras) are invested in his health, production and future earning prospects. There’s no need for unnecessary strain on his elbow just coming back from such a grueling process as that procedure and rehabilitation.

The 180 innings pitched seems arbitrary, but is reasonable. He’s on pace however to surpass that limit by mid-September all while the Nationals would be in the middle of a pennant race and looking to win their division. They would make an appearance in the postseason for the first time since relocating to Washington.

Here’s where I need the explanation:

Why did Stephen Strasburg pitch every start he was scheduled to make since Opening Day? Why didn’t the Nationals hold back on Strasburg starting his season until May or June how teams like the Rays do with prospects and keeping them in the minors long enough to avoid free agency for an extra year? Why didn’t Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo plan ahead and have an extra starter on the pitching staff for that very reason? Why didn’t manager Davy Johnson skip a few Strasburg starts in the rotation to avoid racking up so many innings?

I don’t understand it.

The Nationals seemed to have had an effective plan to make this team competitive leading up to this season. They’re living up to their expectations and potential along with having productive seasons from role players on their roster like Danny Espinoza, Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond. They also have a few strong arms not named Stephen Strasburg. Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann have performed well so far – Gonzalez and Zimmermann being dominant for stretches in the season. Things are in the middle of coming together for them – they lead the National League East by six games. How can they screw up this Strasburg situation this way?

My argument has been to start Strasburg’s season late in May while having a delayed spring training. Injured players return in the middle of the season without having a normally scheduled spring training, why not Strasburg? If not that, then why not skip a few of his turns in the rotation earlier in the season? The Nationals have a capable roster and are talented enough to win on days he doesn’t pitch (the Nationals are 59-40 when he doesn’t start). The Nationals should not be in this situation right now.

So I ask you, why did the Nationals do this? What am I missing?

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It finally happened

Dwight Howard

Dwight Howard introduced at a press conference in El Segundo, Calif. / Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images

The trade that delivered Dwight Howard (and his surgically repaired back) finally happened.

A little late, but some thoughts on the trade:

1. Some excitement in the offseason!

Somehow, Steve Nash became an afterthought. Arguably the Nash acquisition will mean more in terms of actual basketball on the court considering the point guard matchups that have, in one way or another, plagued the Lakers since the Nick van Exel era (ugh!).

The offseason moves also should take some heat off Lakers despot, Jim Buss. Criticized for his ways of operating business, these moves finally put the focus on basketball and doing anything and everything to keep the Lakers competitive in the increasingly difficult NBA stratosphere of superteams.

The excitement was palpable amongst fans awaiting the arrival of Howard, but the true excitement ought to revolve around the other moves that addressed the Lakers’ second Achilles heel – bench depth. The signings of Antwan Jamison and Jody Meeks, in addition to the re-signings of Jordan Hill and Devin Ebanks, added more talent to the Lakers roster that desperately needed it. Presumably, the starters will not need to be overworked playing extra minutes because of an ineffective bench, saving milage on aging players like Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. The roster looks deep and earning minutes and Mike Brown’s rotations should be an interesting subplot during the season.

The trade was also welcome because it avoided trading away a valuable asset in Pau Gasol. This ensured the Lakers also capable of keeping their advantage of having a second seven-footer on the floor. Gasol should breathe easy knowing he’ll be around for a while without feeling any sort of weight from a potential trade. And while Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol were imposing in the frontcourt, their un-athleticism was exposed by Denver’s Kenneth Faried and JaVale MacGee. Howard should be able to cover up Gasol’s weakness in that area, assuming he returns healthy …

2. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Admittedly, I have already called my shot on the Lakers season – 68-14 in the regular season, cruising through the Western Conference, defeating the Miami Heat in six games in the Finals.

But, like I mentioned above, Howard’s back is surgically repaired and he hasn’t committed to any sort of time table for a return to action. I’m not sure he’s even seen the practice court since surgery. Back injuries can be tricky, but hopefully he can make a Bruce Wayne-like comeback for the Lakers.

Plus, Nash isn’t exactly a guy in the middle of his prime – he’s 38 years-old and will be 41 by the end of his contract. Who’s to say Nash won’t pull a hamstring, a calf, twist an ankle. Nash has been able to avoid serious injury throughout his career, but he has been slowing down. His three-point shooting percentage has fallen each year since 2008. (Nash shot 47 percent in 2008; 39 percent last season.)

Same goes for Bryant. He’s one of the hardest working guys in the league, but in homage to Shaq, 34 ain’t 24. Time is ticking on his body. This was the concern going into last season, but Bryant came out firing and had a stellar first half of the season; he inevitably slowed down but was still capable of pulling out some vintage scoring performances later in the season.

3. The league is as stacked as ever.

Miami will have the experience and hunger to defend their title and prove it wasn’t any type of fluke. LeBron James has been terrifying since his playoff run. During the Olympics, it was James who took over late in games and has now (finally) embraced dominating from the post. They’re one year older, yes, but also one year better.

Oklahoma City, with their three Olympians (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden) should be eager to bounce back from their bitter defeat in the Finals while looking to crush the Lakers bandwagon that surely has motivated them to stop the talk of the Lakers being the best team in the West without even playing a game. Oklahoma City dispatched the Lakers convincingly in five games, and now the Lakers are the favorite? They’re deep too and still matchup well against whatever lineup the Lakers can put on the floor. There’s no need to double team Dwight Howard when Kendrick Perkins is on the floor and their athleticism will likely pose problems for the not fleet footed Nash, World Peace and Gasol.

San Antonio I would compare to the Spanish National Team – on paper, overmatched – but they’re well-coached and have a knack for playing well together, making open jumpers, coming up with loose balls and drawing fouls when they need it most. Those are all things teams must be able to do to win. The Spurs do those things well, and as much as it pains me to write it, they will be near the top of the West again.

4. Andrew Bynum is gone.

That’s pretty much it.

For as talented and capable as he is, you never knew what Andrew Bynum was going to provide on the floor. You never knew if his knees would be able to withstand any type of twist or sprain, let alone another long season. To put it most bluntly, I held my breathe every time he jumped and landed on the floor. It wasn’t fun doing that every time he played considering how often, you know, basketball players jump.

His immaturity and attitude were really grating and his actions just didn’t add up to a guy you should trust being “the man” for a franchise who would rely on him every night. Parking in handicap spaces, carrying a Playmate on his shoulders while rehabbing, nearly killing J.J. Barea, shooting three-pointers and vowing to do it again were just a few things I’m glad the Lakers don’t have to deal with. It also didn’t help, that the all-knowing Jim Buss had refused to involve Bynum in trade discussions and did not want to trade his claim to fame as a basketball guru. That’s Philadelphia’s issue now.

But the Sixers are getting a talented center, and hopefully for them, someone who should be motivated to prove nay sayers wrong and play at a level that would demand a max contract like he will likely seek at season’s end.

5. The season can only end with one result.

Follow me on this: Watching the 2012-2013 season will not be fun. The season will mean nothing if the Lakers don’t win the title.

Granted, Lakers expectations are always high and it’s always “championship or bust,” but this season, this attitude will be heightened to unseen levels.

I, like many other fans, will expect to win every game. I know the Lakers will be favored in nearly every game. I know every game will just be a tune up to the postseason. Every other team will circle the Lakers on their schedule, and they’ll give their best effort while maybe the Lakers will be bored, looking forward to another matchup later in the week, or the postseason.

This isn’t fun.

Losing isn’t fun either, and a team with low expectations is hard to root for. However, with the recent Lakers downturn, it was fun to root for a team that wasn’t expected to win. It was fun to not what you’d get from players like Darius Morris, Andrew Goudelock or Devin Ebanks. In a lockout shortened season, I had little expectations for the Lakers last season; I thought they would be a lottery team.

Sure enough, they were able to put together a good string of games, played well, and exceeded their “low” expectations. I was sucked into rooting for a team that I knew wouldn’t win. Had the Lakers won the 2012 NBA Finals, it would’ve been their finest season and would’ve ranked as one of my favorite recent title teams. But that didn’t happen. It was a fatally flawed team that I found myself rooting for anyway.

That was fun though – hoping for the unexpected. Demanding the expected just isn’t as fun.

I’ll likely change my tune if the Lakers raise their seventeenth championship banner however.

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This Dodgers slide shouldn’t be surprising but predictable

Entering this week, the Dodgers’ seven game division lead had become a three game lead over the Giants. By the end of the week the Dodgers found themselves 1 game behind the Giants, losing 11 of 12 while scoring only 17 runs over their last 13 games. The season, as everyone knows, is a marathon, not a sprint. Right now the Dodgers appear to be fading and stumbling at mile 13.

In the past six days, the Dodgers have scored two runs. Two. Runs.

The Dodgers’ lack of depth is showing its face – and that face looks an awful lot like Frank McCourt.

As disappointing as this week has been, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Matt Kemp has been injured since May 31, and Andre Ethier was injured Wednesday against the Giants leaving the Dodgers without their two most talented offensive producers (and both being Gold Glove winners), leaving Dodgers manager Don Mattingly to turn to the platoon of Bobby Abreu, Juan Rivera, Tony Gwynn Jr., Scott Van Slyke and Elian Herrera. Injuries were the one thing that could sink a promising run in a wide open National League West.

This struck me most Wednesday once Andre Ethier was injured. That same day Angels rookie outfielder Mike Trout made an acrobatic leaping catch taking away a home run from the Orioles. Ideally, a Major League club can turn to a bench player to fill in or call up a player from the minor league system if he is ready to play. Talent throughout an organization should be fluid; depth a necessity for any club looking to compete.

The expectation is not necessarily that the replacement would step in and out-produce the starter, but provide enough quality at-bats and run production in the meantime. The expectation is that the player doing the job would have Major League talent and ability. The expectation is that a major league club knows to invest in the minor league system and bring in players to eventually fill the major league roster without needing to break the bank with exorbitant free agent contracts. The Angels, while having their share of busts, have found two players for the foreseeable future in Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo (both of whom will make their first All Star Game appearance).

You can only acquire that talent if you have ownership capable of signing those players to long-term, big-money contracts while, at the same time, invest in the minor league system to stock and produce eventual major league talent.

Frank McCourt, while lining his pockets, sunk the team into bankruptcy forcing Bud Selig’s hand to force the eventual sale of the team. For years, stopgap measures made up the roster. Short term gambles filled a roster hoping those gambles would pay off. Players that come to mind that fit that role: Nomar Garciaparra, Garrett Anderson, Orlando Hudson, Wilson Betemit, Casey Blake, Andruw Jones, Shea Hillenbrand, Bill Mueller and the shell of Brian Giles, just to name a few.

All that and not much was left in the cupboard in terms of minor league talent. Sure, Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw came up from the minor league system, but who plays in left field? How many All-Stars have played third base since Adrian Beltré? James Loney is still at first, wouldn’t it be great if there was a prospect ready to play and get a chance?

By Friday, the Dodgers had announced the signing of Yasiel Puig to the largest contract ever for a Cuban defector. Guggenheim is throwing around the dollars to make the Dodgers seem like the Dodgers again by filling the organization with talent.

As Vin Scully pointed out during Saturday’s broadcast, the signing of Puig along with first-round pick Corey Seager is an indication that “the storm is moving away,” and better days are ahead for the Dodgers. We can only hope.

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Some previous work …

This article originally appeared on the Hollywood Patch on Sept. 17, 2011.

Hollywood High Football Gets First Win

A third-quarter safety lifts the Sheiks to a 2-0 victory at North Hollywood.

NORTH HOLLYWOOD — One word describes the Hollywood High football team’s 2-0 victory Friday night at North Hollywood: ugly.

Ugly or not, the Sheiks called it a win and called it a night.

“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” co-head coach Kevin Keller told his team moments after its first triumph of the season.

“I’ll take this baseball score,” co-head coach Jim McElroy added.

It was not a well-played game by either team. Numerous penalties on both sides slowed the pace of the action and halted any momentum either side was able to generate.

A first-quarter punt return by North Hollywood’s Jourdan Honore brought the Huskies into Hollywood territory. They eventually got inside the red zone, but what looked like a 17-yard scoring play by Jose Cruz was waived off because of a holding penalty.

Hollywood’s defense buckled down and the Huskies’ drive yielded no points, as a fourth-down pass from Cullen Englund sailed out of the end zone.

The score was 0-0 after the first quarter.

The second quarter brought more yellow flags and more miscues. Hollywood recovered a fumble inside the Huskies’ 35-yard line, but poor execution and penalties pushed the Sheiks back to midfield and they ended up punting on fourth and 35.

The punt pinned the Huskies inside their own 15-yard line, then a mishandled snap by quarterback Andrew Morales set them back to their own 2. On third down, Hollywood recovered a fumble at the Huskies’ 17 and the Sheiks were poised to score first.

On the next play, however, quarterback Jose Guerra was intercepted by North Hollywood’s Javonte Matthews in the end zone. The first half ended with zeroes on the scoreboard.

Penalties continued to stall drives in the second half. The third proved to be a game of field position, as the teams traded punts and neither advanced inside the opponents’ 20.

The stalemate was finally broken with 43 seconds left in the third quarter. North Hollywood had possession at its own 10 when a snap flew over Matthews’ head and rolled into the end zone. He recovered the ball before any of the Sheiks defenders could pounce on it, but the safety gave Hollywood a 2-0 lead.

The fourth quarter saw still more penalties, but also one final threat from North Hollywood. Starting a drive at their own 18, the Huskies handed the ball to Adrian Zesati, who broke off a 54-yard run. Sheiks defensive back Jeremi Ross made the tackle at Hollywood’s 28.

“I just wanted to catch him,” Ross said. “I had to get him.”

Back-to-back runs brought up third down. Matthews had a receiver open, but his pass sailed through the back of the end zone. On fourth down, North Hollywood’s Christobal Camarena’s 41-yard field goal try was wide right and short.

Hollywood’s defense had withstood the pressure and produced the only points of the game.

“I’m proud of the shutout, but we need more points,” Ross said.

McElroy attributed the win to the fact that the Sheiks were able to keep the pace of the game to their advantage by winning the field position battle.

“We did enough to keep them from dominating the game and dominating the tempo,” he said.

Ross and other teammates pointed to the absence of running back Ronald Clayton, who missed the game because of an injury, as a reason for the Sheiks’ low offensive output.

“A win’s a win,” Ross added, noting that the Sheiks will need to work hard in practice to avoid costly penalties. “Our defense stepped up.”

While happy with the win, Keller admitted there is plenty of room for improvement.

“We outlasted them,” he told his players after the game. “We had one rule–hit them and attack. Revel in the victory, but understand there’s more work to be done.”

That work starts Monday as the Sheiks prepare to face Torres next Friday in Los Angeles. Torres defeated Bernstein 23-13 Friday night.

Source: Hollywood Patch

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