Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Monday, June 9, 2014

Monday Grab Bag: On the eve of the World Cup

Straight to the action...

Today in the bag, I'm talking Stanley Cup Final, NBA Finals, and the World Cup.

Click below for the bag...

Kings leverage comebacks, overtime to take series lead -

Whatever you do, don't take a two-goal lead on the LA Kings.  That seems to be the message after LA's third straight overtime victory in which their opponent opened the action with two unanswered goals.  The New York Rangers have twice fallen into that same trap that ensnared my beloved Blackhawks, and head back to the Big Apple with a 2-0 deficit in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final, as a result.

On Saturday, the Kings actually had to mount a comeback three times, falling behind 2-0, 3-1, and 4-2 before finally putting their foot down in the third period.  They would draw even mid-way into the final frame, as the game echoed Game 1 by skirting into overtime.  It would take 30 minutes of bonus hockey, but LA finally halted proceedings when Dustin Brown re-directed a Willie Mitchell shot for the game-winner.  Good luck bouncing back from that, New York.
The comeback Kings continue to thrill.  From: Yahoo
Mitchell, to his credit, at least recognizes that the Kings continue to play with fire, saying after Game 2 that "It's not the place we want to be, to have to climb out all the time. Sooner or later, it is going to bite you."  Still, I'd rather be in LA's position, than being on the team who has blown four two-goal leads in two games.  A stunned Ranger squad, who had been in an enviable position to win either of the first two games has nothing to show for their trip West, and certainly must be dealing with a shaken psyche.

Sure, hockey is a sport that is familiar to violent swings of emotion, and absurd comebacks seem to be the rule, rather than the exception, in the NHL Playoffs, but I have a hard time believing that the Rangers are capable of answering Los Angeles' 2-0 series lead.  New York had dream starts in Games 1 and 2, only to watch them evaporate into thin air against the deeper, stronger, more skilled Kings.  The Rangers are not 'broken' by any means, but they aren't coming back from this one.  I fully expect the Rangers to win at least one in the Garden, but I've come to grips with the fact that another trophy for LA is only a matter of time.

Something, something 'cramps,' something something 'LeBron' - 

Whatever the real story behind the sweltering conditions inside the AT&T Center for Game 1 of the NBA Finals, from my perspective, it can only mean bad things for the Spurs.  Yes, you heard me, the Spurs.

Sure, the 90-degree heat may have helped them win the series opener by KO-ing LeBron James with severe cramping, but all the situation has done is give James and the Heat a reason to want their third title of the Big Three era as much as their first.  The reaction from both the media and the public - granted, outside of San Antonio's control - was over-the-line negative towards 'Bron, who was physically unable to play due to adverse conditions.  In all likely hood, the incident has done nothing more than piss-off and fire-up the Miami uber-star.  Get ready for the show.
The Spurs took Game 1, but the reaction gives Miami the mental edge going forward.
I used to see this with the Jordan-era Bulls all the time.  They had to have some hide in the game before they really cared enough to whup you.  The second they had their slight, whether perceived or real, it was game over. Such it will be in this situation.  Not that Miami needed any extra motivation, mind you.  Behind James, the Heat were already in fantastic position to win the opener before his late-game exit allowed the Spurs to walk away with the Game 1 spoils.  On Sunday, with a healthy LeBron back in the fold, the man answered his critics with 35/10/3 in 38 minutes to will Miami into a 98-96 Game 2 win and a 1-1 tie headed back to South Beach. Just watch, it'll be 3-1 coming back to Texas later this week.

We're going to Brazil with some hope! - 

I guess if you're headed into the Group of Death, you'd better go in carrying a winning streak.  The US will be doing just that, having dispatched all three of their opponents in the 2014 Sendoff Series, capping the run with a 2-1 victory over Nigeria Saturday afternoon in Jacksonville.

I don't think the US could've come up with a better performance on the eve of the World Cup (the event kicks off Thursday, with the US set to play their first game early next week).  Against the defending champions of Africa, they dominated the run of play with their starting XI on the pitch, looking comfortable on the counter, and composed in defense.   They evenmanaged to get striker Jozy Altidore on the scoresheet after a six-month scoring drought.  Altidore netted both American goals, including the second one that was vintage Jozy - a deft touch in the box to gain some space, and then a bazooka blast off the right foot that left the keeper with nothing to do but fall on his ass. Altidore's scoring drought was always more of a media fascination than anything else, but his goals, both through delivery from his teammates, and expert finishing on his part, should give warning that American will not leave Brazil goalless.
Look out, Jozy's back!  From: the NYT
This run of form is unprecedented for the Americans in the run-up to a World Cup.  I'm still not convinced that they stand much of a chance to survive a group that features one of the best teams in the world (Germany), one of the best players in the world (Portugal and Ronaldo), and their ultimate WC nemesis (Ghana).  That said, I feel a lot better about their chances today, than after three-straight indifferent performances earlier this year against Mexico, Ukraine, and Azerbaijan.

The key is that I think the Yanks have found their best lineup.  The 4-5-1 on display against Nigeria gives them ample midfield coverage to protect the inconsistent back line, while still providing scintillating scoring opportunities off the break and in a traditional attack.  With the pair of Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman acting as a firewall, both Michael Bradley and Fabian Johnson are allowed forward with confidence, without opening the defense up like we saw against Turkey.  Coach Jurgen Klismann may have been playing coy by adamantly stating that his final XI hasn't been chosen yet, but I think he'd be hard pressed to find a better, more in-form combination from his current roster.

Happy Monday!

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