Point Blank – January 11, 2017
A Tutorial on Trophies (it really would be nice if there were heroes, but...)…There is a literal Wall between the Washington starters and reserves…Oh to be in Portland, now that winter is here…
Today the focus shifts to a more general theme to begin, but perhaps it is one that I should repeat every few months, in particular around the championship cycle in any sport. While there is a continual focus here on post-mortems each day across all sports, and I will get to a few in a moment as part of today’s flow, there is a warning that should go out to anyone trying to bet for profit – the over-reaction to a single event can be hazardous to both your health, and your wealth.
The Sports Mediaverse builds to a crescendo around big games, Clemson/Alabama being the latest. The amount of information available both prior to the event, and afterwards, can be simply monstrous in the modern media age, which provides an overload for those that are plugging in. The problem is that much of the overload in the aftermath often brings forced storylines into play, the authors of such things trying to create their own place in history, at an opportune moment in which they have an audience. Do not allow yourself to become vulnerable to that, either by becoming one of them in your own post-game analysis, or falling for some of the narratives that get proposed that may indeed be interesting, some even plausible, but often simply not true.
Clemson/Alabama put some tremendous entertainment out there for the second season in a row, and there were some genuine handicapping points to bring out of it. But in learning to keep it at what it was, a single football game, you can develop a strong discipline to wade through what can be a chaotic aftermath.
Here are a couple of things about human nature:
1. We want to believe in heroes, because if they indeed exist perhaps some day we might become one.
2. We want to believe in Good/Bad because that allows us to grade ourselves on the curve. If there are villains, then we can feel good about ourselves because we are at least better than they are.
Now if only the world really was that way…
Sports outcomes are murky, not precise, and always will be. They combine all of the disparate ranges of emotion and thought in the human existence, mix them with game structures that bring major levels of randomness into play (call it luck if you prefer), and then we use numbers as the final measure, numbers being a synthetic human creation that have their own weaknesses. You just can’t get certainty out of sports outcomes, so the best way to succeed at what we do over time is to not even look for it. Big-game post-mortems leave one vulnerable to violating that process.
As for heroes, the Broncos still have possession of the Vince Lombardi Trophy from having beaten Carolina last February. Bit if Fitz Toussaint, who was only playing because Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams were injured, doesn’t fumble at the Bronco 35-yard line with the Steelers leading and driving in the fourth quarter last January, it could have been a first-round exit instead of a championship. How different does their season then look?
How close did Villanova and North Carolina come to being tied in the NCAA basketball championship game last April? If that triple by Kris Jenkins goes off the rim that is where it would have been.
It was quite a celebration in Ohio in late June for LeBron James and the Cavaliers, a rather epic opportunity for the Mediaverse to go Shakespearean on us. Bit if Draymond Green does not get suspended with the Warriors ahead 3-1, does that comeback ever happen?
Over time there will be so much focus on the Cubs winning the 2016 World Series that not many will even remember who the losing team was. But of all of the subtleties involved in a twist of fate, what might have happened if there wasn’t that rain delay, and Bryan Shaw took the mound for the top of the 10th in rhythm, instead of having had to sit through the rain and fall out of sync?
Which now takes us to Clemson, and also a Super Bowl winner to be crowned in a few weeks. Dabo Swinney and his Tigers absolutely deserve plaudits for what they accomplished, and as focused upon here on Monday, in particular note what the fifth-year seniors accomplished, a 6-1 SU and 7-0 ATS bowl run in which each game was against a true “A” opponent. But also accept the season for what it was, which helps to appreciate sports for what it is.
The Tigers indeed made some big plays when they had to. But part of the ride was Louisville’s James Quick not heading for the first down chains on that memorable final offensive play for the Cardinals back in early October. Then there was N.C. State missing a relatively chip-shot of a FG two weeks later that would have won the game. And in terms of circumstances out of Clemson’s control, how about O.J. Howard reaching out and catching that screen pass early in the fourth quarter that was intended for Damien Harris? Alabama had the lead and the ball near midfield on that play, and if Howard does not instinctively take the ball out of the air, and instead remains a blocker on what was a well-designed play, what happens?
Champions get celebrated across the Mediaverse for their accomplishments because it keeps alive the notion that heroes could exist. The shrewd handicapper calmly accepts the outcomes as being an amalgam of both things that did happen, and those that just as easily could have but didn’t. Hence why it would not be a bad idea to bring a rule into play that might help some in the long run – no Sports Mediaverse consumption for the first 24 hours following a championship event.
This is Part I of what will be a two-parter on this front, the second to come on the Wednesday before the Super Bowl, which I will call “The Intern”. But for now time to get back to the daily stuff…
About last night, NBA…
One of the classic examples of how the human psyche is such a major part of sports outcomes was Washington’s 101-99 win over Chicago. The Bulls would have appeared to bring a lot of vulnerability to that game, with both Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade not available, but what happens ever so often for such a setting? The opposition comes out flat. It is such a natural tendency to do that.
The tracking also brought something rather stunning, however, and it does tell a tale about why the Wizards not only struggled so much last night, but continue to labor around .500:
Wizards +/- vs. Chicago
Wall in 40:10 +24
Wall Out 7:50 -22
John Wall is having a solid season, with PIE rating him #14 among all players, and Real +/- at #21. Both measurements have their flaws, of course, but the eye test puts those ratings in the ballpark in terms of Wall’s play. The problem is that Wall is having to do a little too much, with his minutes per game the highest since his rookie campaign in 2010-11. Washington simply does not have much depth, and you wonder what kind of toll that will take as the season progresses.
The last thing Scott Brooks would have wanted last night was for Wall to have to play that many minutes in what should have been a game under the Wizards control (from a market perspective they were -11.5 at tipoff), with a tougher matchup on deck at Boston this evening. But without the ability to get much out of the reserve cast, those are the cards that Brooks has been dealt.
About last night, NCAA…
There needs to be some follow-up here on the impact of Myles Davis being back in a Xavier uniform, which was a focus in yesterday’s edition. It was ugly, not just for Davis, but all the way around for the Musketeers, a team that ordinarily competes hard for the full 40 in just about every game under Chris Mack, but seemingly lost the will to fight in the latter stages of that 79-54 loss at Villanova.
Getting blown out by the Wildcats is not a cause for alarm – that was a revenge setting for Jay Wright’s crew, and they played at a high level. But the impact of Davis was indeed a negative in his first game back – he was 0-5 from the field and did not have a single assist in his 13 minutes of court time, turning the ball over once.
Xavier played well early, still leading by 24-16 with 7:25 remaining in the first half. The rest of the way it was 63-30. Naturally the lead was built before Davis took the floor. I can go right back to today’s opening about not over-reacting to a single outcome, but this one does bear following closely – the fact that Davis is so talented does not automatically mean that his return helps the team; there are some genuine chemistry issues in play.
In the Sights, Wednesday NBA…
When Cleveland left the court as losers at Salt Lake City, and Portland showered at the Staples Center in Los Angeles after being victorious against the Lakers, I was ready to begin liking the Cavaliers for tonight’s setting. Circumstances have made it even better since then, so it will be #709 Cleveland (10:35 Eastern) going into pocket, with -4 available in the early Wednesday trading, and this one good to -5.
The fundamentals behind the play are easy to set up, with Cleveland bringing some extra focus to atone for what is now becoming the annual road loss to the Jazz, and in particular for Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love to bounce-back off of a dismal showing -
@ESPNStatsInfo Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love: 9-32 FG at Jazz (28.1%) It's their worst combined FG pct in a game as teammates (min. 30 shots).
That bounce-back is aided by the process of going from facing one of the NBA’s best defensive teams, the Jazz having elevated to #1 this morning, to one of the worst, the Trail Blazers at #28. What I also believed matters is how difficult the Portland defensive transition is going to be, having to adjust for all of those Cleveland 3-point shooters without any practice time, especially since the Blazers have been weak all season at guarding the perimeter (#26 in allowing 37.6 percent from 3-point range). Since those teams walked off the court last night it has gotten better.
Portland is in the midst of one of the biggest snowstorms in recent history for the region. It created havoc for both teams in their travel plans, but I believe the Cavaliers have had by far the best of it – they were able to land in Portland at 2:15 AM (local time) last night, and while that was several hours behind schedule, they can get to their hotel and rest until a shoot-around, which Tyronn Lue may opt to not have. For the Trail Blazers it is going to be a much tougher trip.
The Portland flight from Los Angeles ended up in Seattle, where the Trail Blazers did not land until 3:26 AM, before spending the rest of their night at a hotel near the airport. The next leg of their trip is expected to be a flight from Seattle to Portland, currently projected to land at 12:50 PM, with a 170-mile bus ride the alternative should more snow close the runways at PDX.
I believe this plays directly into the notions of the Trail Blazers having a difficult tactical transition on defense – the Cavaliers are tough enough to game plan for when you have time. For tonight expect both the Portland tactics and physical energy to be lacking, which makes this price point a fair value.
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