The Best Month in Sports, Part 4: The NBA Playoffs

Well, it has certainly been an emotional week throughout the country. With the explosion that rocked Texas and of course, the bombings in Boston and the manhunt that followed, the people of the United States showed once again that during tough times, we can come together. And while sports are meaningless compared to the events that dominated the news this week, they can provide us an outlet when the real world becomes too much to bear. But more than that, they can also serve as the setting for a lesson in solidarity, to show that no matter our personal differences, we can unite when adversity strikes and there was no better example than what happened this week. So before I get to the NBA playoffs, I would like to add one thing to The Best Month in Sports category this year and simply call it The Best Moment in Sports and it was brought to us from the fans at the Boston Bruins-Buffalo Sabres hockey game that took place only days after the bombings at the Boston Marathon and if you haven’t seen or heard it yet, please click on the link and you’ll realize how special it was. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lbHMRpdk3_4

So with all that being said, the best month in sports rolls on with the start of the NBA playoffs and this year once again brings no shortage of storylines. Is there anyone that can stop the Miami Heat? We know this for certain. It will not be the Milwaukee Bucks. Sorry Milwaukee. We’ll stay in the East which brings us a great matchup between New York and Boston. The Knicks have not been relevant in a long time and Boston is hanging on for one final run. Throw in the whole Boston/New York rivalry and it should make for a great series but I see the Knicks being too much for the Celtics. The Bulls and Nets should be a physical series but neither one of these teams is poised to make a deep run in the playoffs. And then there’s the Pacers and Hawks, which two or three people outside of Indianapolis and Atlanta may watch. The Pacers are a good team that may be one of the only teams that may be able to take Miami to the limit in the East, along with New York. However, I am picking Miami to come out of the East once again. They are just too complete of a team. They have two of the best ten players in the world in LeBron and Wade and when Chris Bosh is your third option, you’re a dangerous team. They play great defense and have so many guys that can shoot the three when LeBron penetrates and dishes and I don’t think there’s a team in the East that can beat them four times so look for the Heat to return to The Finals.
The Western Conference brings us a lot more intriguing matchups in the first round. James Harden returns to OKC to take on the Thunder and he’ll bring Linsanity with him (remember when we bought into that). Houston may get a game but the Thunder should ease through this series. The Denver Nuggets and Golden State Warriors should be an intriguing matchup as some of the league’s best young talent finally get to showcase their skills on the big stage. Can the Clippers and Grizzlies bring us another great series? After last year’s 7 games, I am anxious to see this matchup again as Lob City tries to become the dominant team in LA. And yes, as a Lakers fan, I saved them for last. It’s my blog so I can do that. I’ve watched all year as this team tried to get healthy, tried to get on the same page, tried to find something to get this team going and it really never came. Kobe Bryant played like a monster this year and if this team had a better record should be the MVP. But when it seemed like things were finally coming together towards the end, Kobe goes down as did the hopes for making any noise in the playoffs. The Spurs are waiting and the Spurs are good. They’re well coached, have veteran leadership and are set to make another deep playoff run. As much as I would love to see the Lakers win, I just don’t think they have enough but this is the beauty of the playoffs, you just never know. I still think that OKC will give us a rematch in the finals with the Heat, but the Western Conference side of the playoffs are going to be great.
I could sit and break down each round so much more than I did right there, but you can find that kind of thing anywhere. I didn’t put this category into this series just to put it in. I put it in because I love playoff basketball. The games get so much more intense. The energy level is higher than it is during the regular season and if you look closely, you might actually see some teams play defense. It’s just a different type of basketball. Most of the historic moments in the game’s history don’t come from the regular season. The regular season can turn a good player into a great player but the playoffs can turn a great player into a legend. So as the best month in sports concludes, the road to the NBA Finals has begun.

Thank you for reading The Best Month in Sports series. It was a lot of fun to write so I hope you had fun reading it.

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The Best Month in Sports, Part 3: The Masters

After a spectacular national title game in the NCAA tourney and baseball storylines beginning to take shape, the best month in sports rolls on with my favorite event of the year, The Masters. As I am every year when this tournament comes around, I am excited to start listening to the talk of azaleas, pine needles, and Magnolia Lane, the 330 yard drive that leads into the host of this first major of the year, Augusta National Golf Club. I’m ready to listen to the talk of the Eisenhower Pine, Hogan Bridge, Rae’s Creek, the Nelson Bridge, the Sarazen Bridge, and of course, the green jacket which will be awarded to the victor of this great event late Sunday evening.
First played in 1934, The Masters has served as a battleground for some of the most legendary tournaments in golf history and a showcase of golf’s greatest players. The early days brought wins from Gene Sarazen, Byron Nelson (2 green jackets), Sam Snead (3 green jackets), and Ben Hogan (2 green jackets). Those names alone would be enough for any tournament, but the Masters moved on to bring wins from Arnold Palmer (4 green jackets), Gary Player (3 green jackets), Tom Watson (2 green jackets), and the immortal Jack Nicklaus (6, yes I said 6 green jackets: still a record). The 80’s started with the first of two green jackets for Seve Ballesteros and ended with the first of three green jackets for Nick Faldo, the last of which came in 1996 after Greg Norman’s historic Sunday collapse. The modern era began the next year in 1997 as the whole world watched Tiger Woods capture the first of his four green jackets in historic fashion. The 2000s saw Phil Mickelson break through and win his elusive first major with a clutch putt on the 18th hole, his first of three green jackets. The greatest players on the game’s greatest stage: quite a list.
And the moments, my goodness, the moments. Palmer in 1960. Jack in 1986. How many times can Greg Norman lose the Masters in disastrous fashion? Phil’s 3-inch vertical in 2004. Tiger’s unbelievable chip on the 16th in 2005. Even last year brought a wonderful moment when Bubba Watson hit a “how the hell did he get the ball to move like that” shot in the playoff to win his first green jacket. The list goes on and on and on as do the storylines each time The Masters comes around. And this year will be no different. Can Tiger finally get his 15th major after a nearly five year drought? Is Rory ready to slip on his first green jacket? Can Lee Westwood ever win the big one? And the list goes on and on.
So sit back and get ready for the best event in sports. 72 holes of golf action that promises to deliver high drama, the roars of the classiest crowd in sports, and more memorable moments that will live in golf history forever. The world’s best players on the world’s best golf course. The Masters is upon us and all I need now is Jim Nantz to get it going: Hello friends…

The Best Month in Sports, Part 1: The NCAA Tournament

Thank you to the first week of NCAA Tournament for proving my point. We have started the best month in sports and I’ll get back to this year’s action in a few minutes.
Over the years, this tournament has provided us with so many special moments. It started the Magic Johnson vs Larry Bird rivalry in 1979. It introduced the world to Michael Jordan in 1982. Only a year later, NC State shocked the basketball world by defeating a seemingly unbeatable Houston squad and provided us with one of the most unforgettable scenes as Jim Valvano ran all over the court just looking for a pile to jump on. (Quick note: If you haven’t seen the 30 for 30 special on ESPN covering this team, please give it a watch. It’s absolutely wonderful.) Villanova beating Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown team in 1985 remains one of the biggest upsets in history. Two years later, Keith Smart’s baseline jumper dashed the hopes of Syracuse as Indiana claimed yet another crown. Danny Manning puts on a show in 1988 as Kansas takes the title. Rumeal Robinson and Glen Rice lead Michigan to a title in 1989. The UNLV squad that started the 90s, Laettner takes down Kentucky, The Fab Five, 40 Minutes of Hell, Mateen Cleaves leading Michigan State, Melo leading Syracuse to a title as a freshman, George Mason’s improbable Final Four run, Mario Chalmers at Kansas, Shaka Smart leading VCU to the Final Four and last year, John Calipari leading Kentucky to the title to finally silence his critics. While these are legendary moments with legendary figures that will never be forgotten, they are only the tip of the iceberg. What makes this tournament so special are years like this one.
Yes, we have the big names back in the Sweet 16. Coach K and Duke, Izzo and Michigan State, Pitino and Louisville, the return of Indiana basketball as a threat. And history tells us that more than likely, the favorites usually do win. But let’s be honest, the fun and beauty of this tournament usually lies in the stories that develop over the first week and this year, there is no shortage of stories. Harvard wins their first tournament game ever. Wichita State lived up to their nickname, shocking No. 1 Gonzaga in the round of 32 to advance. But let’s face it, Gonzaga almost didn’t even make it that far as they were pushed by No.16 Southern in their first contest and they weren’t the only one. Kansas survived a scare as well, which leads me to believe that we are getting ever closer to the year where a 16 seed knocks off a 1 seed. The team I feel sorry for is La Salle. They had to fight just to play in the round of 64, beating Boise State in a First Four matchup, then beating Kansas State and Ole Miss by a combined four points and yet they’re not getting a lot of press. And the reason they’re not is because America has completely fallen for Dunk City and I’m on board.
Florida Gulf Coast University is exactly why the NCAA tournament is great. These are a bunch of kids that nobody has heard of that attend a university that has only existed since 1997 and what do they do? As a 15 seed, they completely take it to Georgetown, including probably the most exciting play of the tournament thus far. So what’s the big deal, we’ve seen that happen before. But instead of getting smoked in their next game as every other 15 seed has, they decide instead to run San Diego State and championship winning coach Steve Fisher out of the gym. And it is moments like these that have always made this tournament so special and it’s not only FGCU that I’m talking about.
I see it every year and I never get tired of it. These kids care. Whether it’s a senior on a losing team that knows he’s going to take off his uniform for the last time or a freshman that hits the big shot to send his team to the next round, these games are something that they will never forget. From tears of joy and triumph to tears of heartbreak and defeat, you can’t help but be swept up by the emotion that this tournament produces. And this is why we continue to watch game after game, round after round, and year after year. The Road to The Final Four has begun and what a ride it has already been. The Sweet 16 starts Thursday and only promises to bring more excitement and more drama.
The best month in sports is upon us. Enjoy the experience.

COMING SOON: THE BEST MONTH IN SPORTS, PART 2-THE RETURN OF BASEBALL