Thursday, January 20, 2011

In the Ring with the Heckler: Lakers, Duke, AFC/NFC Championship Game, San Diego State/Cincinnati

As we draw closer to another weekend of fantastic sporting action, let's take a look at what we learned after last weekends flurry of sports.

Last week the Nation learned how bad of a NFL predictor that the Heckler was. I have gone 1-7 over the last two weeks.

Last weekend we also learned that the Duke Blue Devils will not go wire to wire number 1.

We learned that the Bears, the Packers, the Jets, and the Steelers are the class of the NFL (apparently).

The Nation also learned that Blake Griffin and the Clippers are now on the verge of becoming legit playoff contender.

This week let's look at 5 more topics to think about entering this weekend.

Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers are 31-13, they have the 3rd best record in the NBA, they have a 10 game lead in the Pacific division, 8 of their 13 losses have come against potential playoff teams, 5 of their 13 losses have come by 10pts or more.

NOW...having said all of that: who cares?

Laker fans you have to realize that the Lakers are not going to go 65-17 every year. These core of players have won so much (3 straight NBA Finals, having won 2 in a row) that is going to be impossible for them to get up for every game in the months of November, December, and January.

They get up for the stretch run. The Lakers have floundered around the top 4 the last 4 or 5 years early in the year (with the exception of the 65-17 season), then when the stretch run of late February to April hits they hit their stride and enter the playoffs ready to go.

As a Laker fan it's always funny to hear, "what's wrong with the Lakers right now?"

To which I always look at the standings to see what the Lakers record is, and without missing a beat their record is usually in the top 4 of the NBA. I understand though, it is like being a Yankee fan (calm down Lakers fans I am not calling you a Yankee fan, I am merely saying that it is analogous to my point.) and only being satisfied with a World Series Title.

The Lakers have 38 games left before the playoffs start. Don't be surprised to see the Lakers go 28-10 or 29-9 down the stretch and end up with a 59-23 or a 60-22 record (and a #1 seed, the Spurs are due for a slump sometime in February or March).

So calm down Lakers Nation the only worry we have resides in Boston and plays in the Eastern Conference. Come June the worrying can began, until then kick back and relax. Enjoy the show that is the regular season. Hey check out that Griffin kid, he is worth the admission (or the price of the NBA League Pass)

Duke Blue Devils

#5 Duke (17-1, 4-1) lost on January 12, 2011 to the Florida State Seminoles. For both teams the outcome feels like de ja vu. Florida State has beaten Duke three times (including this years game) at home, over the last 8 or 9 years. I knew that if Duke was going to lose games it was going to start at Florida State.

The loss of Kyrie Irving has turned Duke into a more one dimensional team. Nolan Smith is an athlete and a super guard (and the heart and soul of the defense) but he cannot drive the hole and create his own shot (nor does he have the vast court vision) as easily as Irving could. Now teams have taken to clogging the middle a bit and then just defending the three point line. When Duke is shooting 6-26 from three (or some variation of that stat) then the game is no longer tilted in favor of the Blue Devils and their shooters.

What the loss of Irving really exposes is the lack of size that the #5 Duke Blue Devils have in their interior. Florida State exposed the undersized Blue Devils on the boards that January night. The Devils bounced back and have won 2 straight conference games (Virginia and North Carolina State) heading into the Wake Forest game this Saturday.

Don't be surprised if the Blue Devils lose 2 or 3 more games this year (2/2 - @Maryland; 2/9 - v.North Carolina; 2/26 @Virginia Tech)

NFL Conference Finals

Green Bay Packers v. Chicago Bears

The most played rivalry in the history of the NFL writes another chapter this weekend as the Bears and Packers meet on the frozen field of Soldier Field. The Bears try and get back to the Super Bowl as they face the Packers for the second time in their storied history in the playoffs. The Packers try and continue the magical playoff that they have been on since week 15 of the regular season (maybe even since week 12). Aaron Rodgers is trying to come full circle on his career as the Quarterback of the Green Bay Packers by getting the Super Bowl.

The question of the game will be: which Jay Cutler will show up for the NFC Championship Game?

If the 5 interception, throw into coverage, "My arm is stronger than John Elway" Jay Cutler shows up for the game then, the Bears are going to lose to their most hated division rival for the right to go to the Super Bowl.

If the 2 passing touchdowns, 2 rushing touchdowns, good decisions for the whole game Jay Cutler shows up to the game then...

well...

We may then have the next NFL Classic Game in the making.

The Heckler's Pick: Chicago Bears 16 Green Bay Packers 24

New York Jets v. Pittsburgh Steelers

The Jets are the hottest team in the AFC, they come off beating Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in back to back weeks on the road. Now they come into Pittsburgh and face Ben Roethlisberger and the opportunistic Steeler defense.

The Steelers have quietly done what the Pittsburgh Steelers do. They won games, they won road games, they won division games, they won from ahead, they won from behind (see the playoff game against the Ravens). The Steelers also have to deal with the genius of Rex Ryan. They have to deal with Mark Sanchez who is 4-1 in the playoffs (all on the road). The Steelers have chugged along all year and hope to do the same thing in the AFC Championship Game against a tough gritty Jets team.

Like in the NFC game the question will be: Which Mark Sanchez will show up for the AFC Championship Game?

If the Mark Sanchez that leads his team and makes great decision all game shows up the Jets have a chance to upset the Steelers. If the Mark Sanchez that thinks he sees openings and then throws untimely picks shows up then it may be a long day for the Jets.

The Heckler's Pick: New York Jets 23 Pittsburgh Steelers 20

#6 San Diego State Aztecs and #25 Cincinnati Bearcats

The Aztecs (19-0, 5-0) have a chance to do something only a handful of teams have ever done. They have a chance to go undefeated during the regular season. The only obstacles that stand in their way are:

1. Tonight's game @ #9 B.Y.U. (18-1, 4-0)

2. February 12, 2011 @ U.N.L.V. (14-5, 2-3)

3. February 26, 2011 v. #9 B.Y.U. (18-1, 4-0)

The Bearcats (16-3, 3-3) are going to have plenty of chances to quiet skeptics like myself, but as of right now they are failing to convince anyone of their legitimacy. They have a 335 strength of schedule out of a rank of 345 and they have lost all 3 games in conference against the ranked teams. Maybe a month from now we will all be eating humble pie, but for my money I think the Bearcats will be out of March consideration by then.

What to watch this weekend

Friday 1/21:
NBA - Lakers v. Nuggets (7:30pm - ESPN)

Saturday 1/22:
MCB - #7 Villanova v. #3 Syracuse (9am - ESPN); #1 Ohio State v. #22 Illinois (9am - CBS); #11 Texas v. #2 Kansas (1pm - CBS); #18 Michigan State v. #13 Purdue (6pm -ESPN)

Sunday 1/23:
NFL - NFC Championship Game (12pm - FOX); AFC Championship Game (3:30pm - CBS)

Have a Great Weekend everyone

-The Heckler

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