9 a.m. Eastern
-Ken Berger: The Hawks are “very open” to moving Josh Smith, and no one on the roster is untouchable. Atlanta probably won’t give Smith a max contract this summer. Dallas has discussed Smith internally, but there haven’t been serious discussions between the two teams yet. *Other teams to look out for on the trade market include the Cavs (who could take on contracts if they get draft picks), Dallas and Phoenix. *Utah has Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson and the consensus around the league is that Millsap will get traded. *Golden State may be willing to give up a first round pick if they can shed the contract of Richard Jefferson or Andris Biedrins. *The Lakers may take a look at free agent big man Lou Amundson.
-Stephen A. Smith still thinks that Dwight Howard will end up with the Nets.
-Delonte West is still a free agent option for the Celtics, GM Danny Ainge told WEEI.
-There’s going to be at least a 50-50 chance the Suns make a trade, says Paul Coro. Jermaine O’Neal and Sebastian Telfair are the most likely trade candidates, though Jared Dudley and Marcin Gortat will get the most buzz.
-Alex Kennedy: With Rasheed Wallace still hurt, the Knicks are looking into signing Kenyon Martin or Amundson.
Can anyone really top the calendar year LeBron James just had? Miguel Cabrera may have won baseball’s triple crown (we’ll get to him later) but James won sport’s true trifecta: a trophy for personal achievement, a championship for his professional team and a gold medal for his country.
When 2012 hit, LeBron James’ public perception could not be more different than it is now. Everyone knew he was the NBA’s best player, but he never won a title in his previous eight seasons. Loser, choker and underachiever were three adjectives associated with James when the crystal ball dropped on 12th year of the 21st century (13th if you’re being technical about it). Then James took matters into his own hands and history was made in so many ways.
The first season of the James-Dwyane Wade-Chris Bosh triumvirate was a turbulent one filled with adjustments and role changes. James finally took command of the situation in his second season and embraced his active role as South Beach’s alpha player. James honed his post game and became more of a complete player, one who could shoot, post up on a smaller man, knife into the lane with both strength and grace and defend practically four different positions.
Miami reaped the benefits of James’ personal and professional transformation. He averaged 27.1 points per game on a career high 53.3 percent shooting to go with 6.2 assists, 7.9 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game. His rebound and steal totals were also career highs and James deservedly captured the regular season MVP award.
During the playoffs, James was at his best when the Heat desperately needed a transcendent performance from a superhuman player. During the Eastern Conference semifinals against Indiana and the Heat down two games to one, James scored 40 points, grabbed 18 rebounds and dished out nine assists. Miami didn’t lose another game the rest of the series. During the Eastern Conference finals against Boston with Miami down three games to two, James scored 45 points to go with 15 rebounds and five assists. Miami won that series and James took home his first NBA title with a five-game series win over Oklahoma City.
James was instantly hailed an all-time great, a consummate pro and an all-around great guy. It’s really amazing how winning can instantly change someone’s perception.
James took home the Finals MVP trophy and the championship on June 21 and training for the U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team began on July 6. James was exhausted after the most physically and emotionally draining season of his life, but he truly had the Midas touch in 2012: everything he touched turned to gold. That certainly proved true during the London Olympics, when James led the team in assists and was third on the star-studded stars and stripes squad in points and rebounds as Team USA took home the gold medal.
For the highest achievement in the personal, professional and patriotic spheres, LeBron James is most certainly deserving of the 2012 SprungOnSports Man Of The Year award.
The Deserving Dozen
Usain Bolt, Jamaican sprinter- Two more individual gold medals and a new world record at the London Olympics and has cemented his status as the greatest track and field athlete of all time.
Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Detroit- Cabrera became the first player since 1967 to win a triple crown, leading the AL in home runs, RBI’s and batting average.
Gabby Douglas, Olympic gymnast- Douglas became the first African-American to win the gymnastics individual gold medal at the London Olympics, inspiring a nation.
Robert Griffin III/ Andrew Luck, QBs, Washington & Indianapolis- The top two picks and rookie QB’s both led their team to the playoffs and ignited a nation-wide debate on which signal caller would end up the better player.
Eli Manning, QB, NY Giants- Manning was named Super Bowl 46 MVP as he led the Giants to its second Super Bowl win over the Patriots in February.
Peyton Manning, QB, Denver/Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota- Both dynamic players led their respective teams to the playoffs after serious surgeries. Both players are top candidates for this year’s NFL MVP award.
Lionel Messi, Striker, Barcelona/Argentina- Messi led Barca to the Spanish league championship and scored 91 goals in the calendar year, a world record that perhaps only the great Messi himself could break.
Andy Murray, Tennis- Murray overcame his Grand Slam demons by winning the US Open, becoming the first Brit to win a singles title since 1936, and won Olympic gold in singles at home in London.
Mike Trout, OF, LA Angels- Trout, 21, had one of the finest season any player has seen in quite some time and was the unanimous winner of the AL Rookie of the Year award.
NEW YORK- By Robert Cowper
Each week we’ll take a look at the best upcoming matchups in college football. I’ll try to focus on games that are easy to find on the dial, and not all on at the same time; my hope is that you can use this as a reference to plan your college football Saturday.
I’m being a bit selfish with this round of Games of the Week. I will be away from the television all afternoon and evening at a friend’s wedding, but figured I would take a look at what was available on the WatchESPN app in case I got the itch for some college football action. Surprisingly, there are three games, back-to-back-to-back that are interesting, should I find a quiet spot with WiFi.
Kent State at #15 Rutgers, 3:30pm ESPN3
Rutgers has a BCS bowl spot on the line in this one. The Big East has gotten a lot of flak lately for being the weakest BCS conference, and I have to agree, but a BCS berth is a BCS berth in the current format. Kent State poses an interesting opposition; on paper, most fans will cast them aside immediately by name only, but this Kent State team has upset potential in this game.
Kent State’s strength is their rushing offense, where they have a solid two-back duo. Sophomore Trayion Durham, the primary back, has 649 yards and seven TDs on 144 carries. Junior Dri Archer is the home run threat and has 687 yards and eight TDs on just 68 carries; 10.1 yards per carry. Senior QB Spencer Keith is a four-year starter who is more experienced than talented.
Rutgers also relies on their running game; RB Jawan Jamison is fourth in the nation in carries per game with 25.29. His numbers could be better with that much work (779 yards, three TDs) but he wears down defenses and opens up the passing game for QB Gary Nova.
When it comes down to it, the Golden Flashes don’t have enough talent to keep up with Rutgers, but they will give the Homecoming crowd a scare early in the game. Rutgers 19, Kent State 14
Ohio State at Penn State, 5:30pm ESPN
At first, I couldn’t believe that neither of these teams was BCS ranked. Then I remembered about the bowl bans. The bans will have a huge impact on the Big Ten’s bowl season in 2012-13. Normally they have seven bowl tie-ins plus the Rose Bowl and a possible at-large bid. Last year, 10 teams were bowl eligible, this year that will be minus two bowls. For the only time I can remember, the Big Ten may not have enough bowl eligible teams to play in all of their bowl games. Furthermore, the bowls they do play in may easily turn into losses (in the standings and at the gate) because a team like Iowa or Northwestern will be playing the bowl instead of the Buckeyes or Nittany Lions.
QB Braxton Miller is expected to play for the Buckeyes after he was cleared for practice on Thursday. Junior backup QB Kenny Guiton is talented and would start on most other teams, but he is very inexperienced; he’s thrown just 23 career passes. Keep an eye on Miller’s health. A huge portion of the Ohio State offense depends on his rushing ability (959 yards, 10 TDs) and that may be limited if he’s still feeling the effects from last week.
After Penn State lost their two opening games against Ohio and Virginia, they’ve improved and have now won three straight conference games. Former walk-on QB Matt McGloin is having his best season ever under new, pass-happy coach Bill O’Brien (former Patriots offensive coordinator). McGloin has already matched his previous high for TDs (14) and beat his personal best for yards (1,788 in 2012) and attempts (259 in 2012). After losing RB Silas Redd to USC in the wake of their scandal, PSU has been unable to establish a rushing game (ranked 78th in yards per game). The defense is led by Senior LB Mike Mauti with 65 tackles and has also contributed 2.5 sacks, three interceptions and two forced fumbles.
This one will come down to the Nittany defense and whether they can control Miller. Since he is banged up, I’m going to assume they can keep him in check. Penn State 20, Ohio State 17
#11 Mississippi State at #1 Alabama, 8:30pm ESPN
I hate writing about Alabama. I guess it’s because it’s just the same old story over and over. You could read a Crimson Tide game preview from last week, last month or last season and it’s the same: steady QB play, bruising RBs and a stout defensive loaded with rookie NFL starters. So, since we already know ‘Bama’s story, let’s talk about the Mississippi State Bulldogs, since many of you may not know much about them.
The Bulldogs have gotten spectacular play out of Junior QB Tyler Russell. He has thrown for 15 TDs and just one interception. He’s ranked 27th in passer rating in the nation, which is impressive since he is averaging just 29 attempts per game, and facing SEC defenses every week, when many of the top guys have 30+. RB LaDarius Perkins has 724 yards and eight TDs so far this season. The defense is their best unit and the Bulldogs boast the top ranked team nationally in turnover margin. They have 21 total takeaways, led by four picks each from Jonathan Banks and Darius Slay. Freshman LB Benardrick McKinney leads the team in tackles, which seemingly never happens, with 55.
Alabama has a tough matchup next week against #6 LSU, and the Bulldog defense may be able to catch QB AJ McCarron and company looking ahead. I expect a late defensive play like a pick-six or a safety to seal it for Mississippi State. Mississippi State 16, Alabama 7
The Philadelphia Phillies have endured injuries, disappointing pitching and the rise of a new NL East power (Washington) but a late season run now has the team only four games out of a playoff spot with 20 games left in the regular season.
The team’s winning streak is now six straight and 14 of 18, and the bats of Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and John Mayberry have come alive in the month of September. Philly also had a 17-12 August, meaning that their pennant race appearance is seemingly not a fluke. The pitching staff that was expected to be so dominant is currently just that, with a 2.44 team ERA this month that leads the National League.
Roy Halladay won his fourth game in five starts and Utley and Juan Pierre each had three hits in a 9-7 win over Miami on Tuesday and in the wise words of manager Charlie Manuel, “things have been going our way good.” Halladay wants the run to keep going: “the last two months have been a lot better,” he said. “We have seen a lot of good things and we just want to keep it going.”
It’s vital that the Phillies do well over the next week, because nine of the team’s last 12 games are against the playoff bound Nationals and Braves. But with St. Louis slowing down a bit, the Dodgers fading and Pittsburgh really struggling, there could be an improbable playoff spot for a team left for dead at the All-Star break.
Pennant Race Watch
|AL Central||White Sox||0|
|AL Wild Card||Athletics||0|
|NL Wild Card||Braves||0|
1) Redskins-Saints- Robert Griffin III looked absolutely magnificent in Washington’s stunning 40-32 win over New Orleans on Sunday. He hit on his first eight throws, looked completely composed both inside and outside the pocket and was able to improvise and hit receivers like Pierre Garcon deep. The troubling takeaway for the Saints has to be the lack of offensive consistency. Yes, they scored over 30 points but they had an abnormally large amount of three-and-outs, four of them, which allowed Washington to hold the ball for over 39 minutes. Did losing G Carl Nicks in free agency disrupt the entire offense?
Quote- ”We knew the type of team they were. We knew the type of defense they were. They just came in and played better than we did, made fewer mistakes than we did, made more plays than we did.” –Saints QB Drew Brees.
2) Bills-Jets- The big takeaways for me were the consistency and continuity of the Jets’ offensive line and the emergence of their secondary receivers in their 48-28 win. Preseason be damned, Mark Sanchez was incredibly well protected and had the time to throw to Jeremy Kerley and rookie Stephen Hill, both of whom could provide stability and long-term security for the offense. On the other side, Buffalo QB Ryan Fitzpatrick never gave his team a chance, making rushed and poor decisions and not really giving his team a chance. A more balanced run game around CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson are in order.
Quote- ”I think there’s always a big target on Mark’s back and I think he likes it. He’s a guy we trust and know what he’s capable each week, and he showed it today.” –Jeremy Kerley.
3) Eagles-Browns- Cleveland’s defense will end up winning them games this season and Philadelphia’s offensive line is in deep trouble with Jason Peters out for the season despite the 17-16 win. Michael Vick threw four interceptions, lost a fumble and was sacked twice by an underrated unit paced by former Bears and Bills head coach Dick Jauron. Luckily for Philadelphia, Brandon Weeden had a rough first game and the Eagles were able to get a late score and pull out a tough road win.
Quote- “You could see that he fought back. He kept making plays. Regardless of him being down on himself, everybody was saying, `We will still ride with you.’ It was a good situation to see him come back and make a game-winning throw.” –Eagles WR DeSean Jackson on Vick.
4) 49ers-Packers- Man, are the Niners tough or what. Albert Breer of the NFL Network made a great point on Twitter during the game on Sunday: Usually when teams load up at wide receiver during the offseason, they get softer on offense. But they actually went to Michael Crabtree and Randy Moss, but still used their physical style of play to move the ball on a Green Bay defense that is still clearly a weak unit. San Francisco’s defense was once again wonderful and the Niners left Lambeau Field with a gigantic win.
Quote- “They’ve got a great defense. You’ve got to give them credit. They’ve got some of the top guys in the league at their position.” –Packers QB Aaron Rodgers after the 30-22 loss.
5) Panthers-Buccaneers- I don’t care if Jonathan Stewart was out. Carolina is a running team and they managed to run the ball just 13 times in a 16-10 loss. That’s inexplicable, inexcusable and the reason they lost a very winnable game at a Raymond James Stadium that was maybe three-quarters full. Greg Schiano’s Bucs showed a good deal of toughness and Josh Freeman managed the game well, but the Panthers’ play calling lost the game. Plain and simple.
Quote- ”They have some very talented players, and we swarmed on them all day long, and kept Cam in check.” –Bucs CB Ronde Barber, who had an interception in the win.
Thoughts & Theories
-Yes it’s obvious but is worth repeating. The replacement officials are not only compromising the integrity of the games, and the league, they’re making games last a lot longer and significantly worsening the viewing experience of the games. If not for a defensive stand by Arizona at the end of the Seahawks game, refs would have been blamed for the Cards loss when they gave Seattle an extra time out. Making matters worse, each officiating crew has a rules guru who’s supposed to know what to do in specialized situations. And that guy even blew it!
-It’s hard not to think of deja vu with Titans running back Chris Johnson. Against a Patriots defense not known for being amazing run stuffers, Johnson gained four yards on 11 carries on Sunday. Yes, you read that correctly. The team is already reportedly upset internally with offensive coordinator Chris Palmer and things could get ugly if this team doesn’t have a stronger season in a division that’s very weak other than Houston.
-On the New England side, you have to be excited about the play of Chandler Jones and Dont’A Hightower, who combined for a fumble return for a TD in the win. If they can complement Jerod Mayo on that front seven, the Pats will be much improved on defense this season.
-On the Dolphins: Jeff Ireland should have known he was going to be on the hot seat, and drafting a rookie QB with such little experience in Ryan Tannehill (and then compounding the problem by starting him right away) when you need immediate results to save his job was going to be a problem. After Miami’s blowout loss to Houston, there’s already talk that Ireland will be bounced unless the team shows major improvement. Ireland should start selling his house, because this Dolphins team is going to be really bad.
-With a full offseason under his belt with the tutelage of Mike Mularkey, Blaine Gabbert showed a lot of fight on the road against Minnesota. That 39-yard game-tying TD pass to Cecil Shorts with 20 seconds left showed a lot of guts and poised and the ball was perfectly placed. Gabbert and Vikings QB Christian Ponder showed that players who were rookies in the lockout season are going to show a ton of improvement this season.
-It took a little time, but Peyton Manning’s offensive machine is now revved up and ready to go. Brandon Stokley provided an early security blanket, but then Manning got into rhythm with Demariyus Thomas and Eric Decker and they were able to beat up a Pittsburgh cornerback unit that just isn’t very good. And the offense isn’t even Denver’s best unit. Von Miller ravaged the subpar Steelers offensive line and Tracy Porter emerged as someone who’s going to be an impact player on Jack Del Rio’s defense.
-Yes the Rams fell 27-23 to Detroit, but the secondary emerged as a strength with Cortland Finnegan and rookie Janoris Jenkins both picking off Matthew Stafford passes. With Steven Jackson and Danny Amendola both performing well in the passing game, there should finally be some optimism for St. Louis fans with Jeff Fisher.