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The Weekender | 20 Feb. 2015

Welcome back, Fidelity Sports faithful!!! February is one of the underrated months in sports—NBA All-Star Weekend, trade deadline frenzy, and playoff runs; college hoops full of conference games and bitter rivalries; and NFL free agent signings, coaching changes, retirement announcements, and draft combines. How is a busy person like yourself to keep up with all these things? Easy: the Fidelity Sports Weekender.

Let’s get started!!!

The Ultimate NBA Review

All-Star Weekend

Just to get it out of the way, let’s start with the NBA All-Star Weekend. Sheesh! What an overhyped 72 hours of clever keeping-up-with-the-NFL type over-marketing. The actual basketball? Weaker than weak. The skills competition, concerts, fashion show (seriously?), and celebrity game were not worth taking seriously (I tuned in for a few minutes of the skill comp before tuning back out). The dunk contest featured one top 10 NBA dunker, Minnesota’s Zach LaVine, one well-meaning top 30 NBA dunker, Orlando’s Oladipo, a disappointing teenage hyper-athlete, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokoumnpo, and a huge white guy with average hops (Mason Plumlee) just to give us an even number. I’m not sure what was more embarrassing for lifetime NBA fans everywhere, the fashion show or MASON PLUMLEE IN THE DUNK CONTEST!!!!!! Ugh.

Thankfully, LaVine did not disappoint. Not only does he have out-of-the-gym hops, he was ultra-creative in his combinations. The Behind-the-Back was easily my favorite—although opening with The Space Jam was pretty dope.

The ASG itself went about as expected. Something like 350 points were scored, LeBron missed a dunk and airballed a three, no one played defense, and exactly one guy played like it was Game Seven of the Finals of a contract year with a nuclear war on the line—Russell Westbrook. Somewhere, Russ’s mom was watching, muttering, “Russ, honey, it’s the All-Star Game, just chill out.” Which is why he’s one of my favorite all-time players!

The real winner of the weekend? The Three Point Contest. This has replaced the dunk contest as the best 30 minutes of the weekend. Whereas every great dunker sits out “to focus on rest and the playoffs,” every great shooter desperately wants to win this thing. As a result, this year’s seven best 3-point artists accepted invitations alongside last year’s winner, “Pasta” Belinilli of the Spurs. By my rough count during the Contest, seven of eight guys made half or more of their total number of threes, and the average round featured about 16/25 shooting. Remember, the NBA 3-pt line is three full feet deeper than college’s, and these guys were routinely dropping 64% of their bombs. Amazing.

But the most amazing? The League’s best shooter, Steph Curry, goin’ off in the second round with 13 straight treys. As I narrated to my three sons as we munched on popcorn, “Curry with the three… Curry again, he’s heating up… HE’S ON FIRE!!!” And then he basically broke NBA Jam by hitting ten more three’s. In my day, I was a pretty deadly outside shooter. But 13 straight 25-footers? I’m not sure even I could do that. But I’m going to go try.

NBA Playoff Picture

With about 30 games left, the playoff picture is getting clearer. With a few teams streaking (Cavs and Grizz), a few struggling (Wizards, Blazers, Suns), a few picking up key trades to improve weaknesses (Mavs, Heat) and a few finally healthy (Thunder, Bulls), these are the seeds I expect to see entering the Playoffs in April.

Eastern Conference: (1) Atlanta, (2) Chicago, (3) Toronto, (4) Cleveland, (5) Washington, (6) Milwaukee, (7) Miami, (8) Indiana*

Western Conference: (1) Golden State, (2) Memphis, (3) Portland**, (4) LA Clippers, (5) Houston, (6) Dallas, (7) San Antonio, (8) Oklahoma City

* Yes, I’m picking the Pacers to make a late-season surge and make the playoffs!

** The Clippers will finish with a better record than the Blazers, but since the three divisional winners get the top seeds, Portland gets #3.

So, this gives us two of the most mouth-watering First Round matchups in NBA history. Golden State vs OKC—easily, the two most dynamic teams in the NBA. And the Grizz vs Spurs—the two hustle-and-grind champs of the West. Either one of these matchups would make for a must-see conference finals… and we get them in the first round! I think I feel an early April sickness coming on. * cough * I may need some time off…

NBA Tanking Olympics

The Tanking Olympics, sadly, occur every year now. This is where teams realize they have no chance of making the playoffs and then bottom out to improve their draft position. 50 years from now, it will simply be remembered as “The Philadelphia 76ers—2012-2016.” The second most obvious problem with this (the first being the defamation of the integrity of our nation’s greatest sport) is that, unlike the NFL draft, the NBA’s draft is a lottery. So you could trade away all your best players, rest your remaining starters in close games, finish dead last in the league… and not get the top draft pick. It’s a mess.

But it is what it is, so here are your most likely top drafters, according to Hollinger’s Lottery Odds, and just for fun, the Fidelity Sports NBA Mock Draft 2.0!!!

(1) Minnesota: Jahill Okafor (C, Duke)
(2) NY Knicks: Karl-Anthony Towns (C, Kentucky)
(3) Philadelphia: D’Angelo Russell (PG, Ohio State)
(4) LA Lakers: Willie Cauley-Stein (C, Kentucky)
(5) Orlando: Emmanuel Mudiay (PG, China)
(6) Sacramento: Devin Booker (SG, Kentucky)

Yes, I’m predicting three of Cal’s Cats in the top six. Towns and Blondie-Stein will both be great NBA defenders and average scorers, while I think Okafor will be a perennial Garnett-style All-Star. The other perennial All-Star in this draft? My boy Devin Booker, son of Mizzou hall of famer Melvin Booker, has what they call “upside.” My goodness. The kid can shoot, run, defend. As I said on Twitter recently, I see a Klay Thompson-like future for him.

That’s enough from the NBA. How ‘bout a change of scenery?

87th Academy Awards

Because I have kids, I don’t see a lot of movies. But Jessie and I typically see every film nominated for the Best Picture Oscar within 18 months or so. So have I seen every film nominated for a 2015 Oscar? Of course not. BECAUSE I HAVE KIDS!!! Really, I love them. And I wouldn’t trade them away just to do whatever I want, whenever I want, however I want. Really, it’s fine. Embrace your reality, Linneman; embrace it.

But while I may not be a professional movie critic, I am absolutely confident in who should win each major award. The envelopes, ladies and gentlemen…

Best Picture: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Leading Actor: Bradley Cooper (American Sniper)
Leading Actress: Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)
Supporting Actor: Edward Norton (Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Excellence)
Supporting Actress: Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game)
Best Directing: Wes Anderson (Budapest)

OK, so I’m most certain of my man Wes as best director and Pike as best actress, but I’m least certain of best supporting actor—because I haven’t actually seen Birdman yet. Duvall could win, but The Judge was good not great. Meanwhile, Edward Norton has been my all-time favorite actor since his highly underrated films Primal Fear (1996), Death to Smoochy (2002), and 25th Hour (2002). (Fight Club and American History X are also among the best movies of the late 90’s, but it’s hard to call them underrated.) And since it’s a travesty that he doesn’t have an Oscar yet, I’m going with Norton on the blind. Sue me.

Now back to the one thing I know everything about… Sports!

NFL Offseason Review

Here are your NFL offseason highlights:

Peyton Manning might be returning to the Broncos, but he also might retire, and he might play somewhere else.

The Rams, Raiders, and Chargers are all vying to move their franchises to the lucrative Los Angeles market, with Rams owner Stan Kroenke having purchased land in Hollywood and Oakland and San Diego proposing a joint stadium venture then miles south of downtown. All three teams will play 2015 in their current cities, but without question, there will be at least one, probably two, LA teams in 2016.

Jameis Winston appears to have a more NFL-ready style of play than Marcus Mariota, with some scouts expecting Mariota to drop out of the top five. It’s Teddy Bridgewater 2.0. A once-in-a-lifetime QB shows up in the draft, but the “experts” find a minor flaw or two (for Bridgewater, his thin frame and poor pro day; for Mariota, his spread-style college offense and tendency to run) and said QB plummets to the bottom of the first round. At least this year, there’s not another Johnny Manziel inexplicably going in the first round ahead of Mariota!

Every team is deciding who to lock in for another season by using their one “franchise tag.” Example: the Cowboys will likely tag Dez Bryant instead of DeMarco Murray (which is why they ran Murray into the ground last year by giving him 400 touches).

And here are a few key offseason predictions:

The Chiefs re-sign pass rush monster Justin Houston to a long-term deal, land Packers WR Randall Cobb in free agency, and draft a super-speedy WR in Ohio State’s Devin Smith (who averaged an 28.2 yards per catch and scored on an insane 36% of his receptions last year).

Ndamukong Suh signs with the soon-to-be Los Angeles Chargers.

The Buccs foolishly draft Jameis Winston #1 overall—ladies and gentlemen of Tampa Bay, please welcome your new QB, Mike Glennon!

The Titans panic and pass on Mariota—because they’re the Titans!—and draft USC’s Leonard Williams instead, only he sustains three season-ending injuries before his rookie contract is up and never plays an actual snap in that baby blue and navy blue and baby blue again uniform.

Finally, the Jets draft Mariota at #6, and with Bill Malone at head coach, and become a legit AFC East threat again.

The Browns draft WR Dorial Green-Beckham, who was expelled from Mizzou for numerous pot-related incidents, to replace WR Josh Gordon, who they will likely cut after this numerous pot-related incidents.

A bunch of mid-level QB’s will change teams, because that’s what NFL teams do when their mid-level QB doesn’t make a Pro Bowl two years in a row! Look for: Jay Cutler to the Rams, Sam Bradford to the Browns, Brian Hoyer to the Titans, Nick Foles to the Bears, RG3 to the Eagles, and Mark Sanchez to the Washington DC’s. Meanwhile, Alex Smith will quietly prepare himself for another 3200-yard, 3-to-1 TD/INT ratio, 93+ rating season in KC. But y’all make your trades.

Lastly, Peyton Manning will return to the Broncos in order to post a QB rating of 85-ish, go 9-7, and miss the playoffs.

Let’s finish this thing up!

March Madness Preview

I’ll do a full March Madness Preview soon, but for now, just now that these are the top four tiers of college hoops greatness:

Tier One: The Team That Has a 50% Chance of Going 40-0 and Winning It All

Kentucky

Tier Two: The Only Teams That Can Beat Kentucky When It Counts

Duke and Virginia

Tier Three: Complete Teams With a Legitimate Shot at the Final Four

Wisconsin, Villanova, Gonzaga, Arizona

Tier Four: Very Good but Flawed Teams with an Outside Final Four Shot

Louisville*, Utah, Notre Dame, Iowa State, Northern Iowa**, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Ohio State

* Louisville fell from Tier Two to Three in January, and has fallen into Tier Four this month. But don’t count them out. If they can figure out how to score more points than the other team on a consistent basis, they just might win some games. (See what I did there?) Also, if Fidelity Sports had a fourth rule, it would be, “Don’t bet against Pitino in March.”

** Seriously!

My mid-February Final Four picks? Basically the same as three months ago: Kentucky, Duke, Wisconsin, and Louisville.

OK, folks. We’re at 2000 words—an in only an hour of speedy writing! Who’s got time for editing? Post it! Post it! Post it!

See you next time, Weekenders.

Much love,
JSL

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