Choke City – 25 years later

Twenty-five years ago this spring, the Houston Rockets were playing Charles Barkley and the Phoenix Suns in the 1994 NBA Western Division semi-finals.

The Rockets, who were favored in the series, surprisingly lost both Game 1 and Game 2 at home by blowing fourth quarter leads.  After the team’s ugly Game 2 loss, the Houston newspaper featured the headline “Choke City” with a story about how the local team had wilted under pressure.

That Houston Rockets’ team eventually rallied to win the series over Phoenix four games to three.  In the NBA Finals, the Rockets found themselves down again three games to two but rallied to win games six and seven and collected the first of their two consecutive NBA championships. 

With the title, the same Houston newspaper published the headline “Clutch City” to denote the team’s ability to focus when the chips were down and win under extreme pressure.

Twenty-five years later, the Houston Rockets are again in the Western Division semi-finals of the NBA playoffs playing the Golden State Warriors.  This year, though, the home teams have won all four games.  Nobody in Houston is even thinking “Choke City” with the series tied 2-2.

In Boston, though, things are quite different.  The city, which had endured a long drought of championships from its baseball, football, basketball, and hockey teams, has seen great success with their sports franchises since the year 2000.    

The New England Patriots have won six of the past 18 National Football League Championships.  The Boston Red Sox have won baseball’s World Series four times, and the Boston Bruins have hoisted hockey’s Stanley Cup back in 2011. 

The Boston Celtics basketball team is known for its winning ways.  The Celtics have won the NBA title 17 times, but only one time (2008) since 1986 after the Larry Bird era ended. 

Boston’s sports fans have become quite proud of their recent championship successes.  This season, the expectations were sky high for the Celtics to return to the mountaintop of professional basketball again.

That’s because, at the end of last season, the scrappy Celtics had fought their way into the NBA Eastern Conference finals before finally losing to the LeBron James’ led Cleveland Cavaliers. 

This year, the Celtics would have all-star guard Kyrie Irving healthy again and add former Utah Jazz all-star forward Gordon Hayward into the line-up.  With LeBron James leaving Cleveland for the Western conference Los Angeles Lakers, it was easy to see why Boston Celtics fans were thinking that their beloved basketball franchise might be heading for another championship season.

Unfortunately, the Boston Celtics have just dropped two straight home games in Boston Garden the past week and now trail the surprising Milwaukee Bucks three games to one heading back to Milwaukee for Thursday night’s Game 5. 

On this website, I have provided my opinions on why I think Kyrie Irving has been a really bad fit in Boston.  Now, some of his Celtics teammates and many fans seem ready to pay for his moving van out of town, too.

After Monday night’s loss to Milwaukee, Irving, who shot a dismal 7 for 22 from the field and has gone 19 out of 62 in the past three games (all losses), told the media he should have taken even more shots than he did during Game 4 in Boston Monday.

Irving said, “For me, the 22 shots?  I should have shot 30. I’m that great of a shooter.”

Great shooter?   I don’t believe that a 31% field goal percentage equates to such an egotistical claim.    

Great shooters are not necessarily measured by points scored alone.  In the professional ranks, you need to be effective when it counts the most. 

I may have been considered a good shooter in high school, but I’m not an NBA player being paid $20 million per season to prove it when your team is in the second round of the playoffs. 

Kyrie Irving’s contract with the Boston Celtics could continue for one more season, but he has the right to ask for an early termination of his current contract this summer. 

Given the immature way in which Irving has handled himself in Boston for much of this season and now in the playoffs, a mutual parting of the ways seems to be quite likely.

Unless…

The Boston Celtics rally from a 3-1 deficit to win this series (a 5% statistical chance based on historical NBA stats), that is.   

More likely, though, that ugly moniker of “Choke City” may show-up again after a twenty-five year break after the self-proclaimed “Great Shooter” Kyrie Irving and the highly-hyped Boston Celtics fail to live up to fans’ expectations. 

Your Final Four Investment Portfolio

Busted?  I meant “Bracket Busted”, of course!

If you’re like me, you may have only one team (Michigan State, in my case) remaining in your NCAA Men’s Final Four bracket for this coming weekend.  If you have two or more teams left in this group of four teams, then you should be looking forward to your new nickname at the office next week, Champ!

Though the four “Elite Eight” games from last weekend were probably the best collection of weekend college basketball I have seen in a long time, the majority of us are now left with a perplexing thought for the official “Final Four” games on Saturday. 

Who are these four teams, and which one(s) should I now pull for?

A great question, and, as you figured, your SwampSwami has a unique way to help you through the process.

I think you should choose your favorite of the Final Four squads (Texas Tech, Virginia, Michigan State, and Auburn) in the same manner as you prefer to build your personal investment choices! 

Are you an ultra-conservative investor?  Is your style more of a defensive investor who likes cash, short-term securities, and bonds and generally stays away from risky stocks and long shots?  You may be the type of person whose gut thinks that the next market crash is just around the corner, right?

Virginia should be your choice!    

Yes, Virginia, you are the lonely #1 seeded team remaining.  Virginia’s stockholders remain (understandably) a wee bit skeptical after being a #1 seed last year and losing in the first round (a dubious distinction) to #16-seeded commuter school from Baltimore (UMBC). 

With a head coach (Tony Bennett) who shares a name with one of America’s favorite singers, the Cavaliers are trying to go from “Rags to Riches” and redeem their fans’ high expectations this season with a national championship trophy.

Virginia is your “defensive” choice (#1 in the country, in fact).  It took an overtime game with Gonzaga (80-75) for Virginia to give up 70 or more points in the year 2019 to a team not named Duke!

Offensively, the Cavs aren’t exactly the team to pick if you want to get rich quick.  They rank a paltry #215 in the NCAA in team offense.  The Cavs philosophy is to play smart, play defense, and play to win. 

Is your investing style a little less conservative but still patient?   Do you prefer a little higher mix of stocks and bonds and find yourself attracted to “Balanced” mutual funds and a few blue chip stocks with good dividends?

Texas Tech is the team for you! 

Defense, you ask?  The Red Raiders are button-downed type of basketball team who will defend your “cash” for the full forty minute game and, if needed, into overtime.  They’ll keep the game close with a slowdown pace and have not given up more than 69 points to an opponent in four NCAA tournament games.   They are a solid #4 in the nation in defense this season. 

Alas, like Virginia, your team’s offensive returns will probably be a little below average, too.  The Red Raiders’ offense can be, at times, a little boring and don’t offer the highest yields.  Texas Tech’s offense is rated #159 in the land in points scored.

However, T-Tech’s offense features a solid international “investment” that has provided great dividends for the team the entire season.  Italy’s Davide Moretti is the team’s second leading scorer at about 12 points per game.  Shooting guard Jarrett Culver (19 points per game) is from the city of Lubbock and has scored in double digits all but one game this season.  Culver’s stock is rising (as in NBA) in the Texas Tech portfolio.

Maybe you prefer a little more risk and return in your portfolio, but you want a seasoned manager

I present to you – Michigan State!

The Spartans are your blue-chip dividend team with an experienced manager in Coach Tom Izzo. 

Want balance in your team?  Michigan State ranks 48th in team offense and 35th in team defense.  On most days, the Spartans will give you a great effort on the defensive end and just enough offense to win consistently. 

Did I say “win”?

Michigan State won the Big Ten regular season and then the Big Ten tournament.  This squad figured it deserved a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Surprisingly, Michigan State received a #2 seed instead.  They were also placed in the same bracket as #1 overall seed, Duke, which equated the team being the WORST #2 seed and eighth best team in the field entering the tournament. 

Sparty has been playing with a huge blue-chip on their shoulder in this tournament.  Ask the Duke Blue Devils.  The #1 overall seed was just sent home by Michigan State on Sunday afternoon.

This is the team to pick if you like seeing a team whose players are not focused on playing in the NBA and plays with the toughness of their Hall-of-Fame coach. 

Finally, do you feel LUCKY?  Well, do ya???

Then, your team is the Auburn Tigers!   

Auburn has been on a bull run (12 wins in a row) like no other team remaining in the Final Four.  In addition to having the greatest on-set cheerleader for national telecasts in former Tiger, Charles Barkley, this Auburn team has been your high yielding portfolio that just keeps on returning dividends for its long-suffering supporters. 

The investment portfolio includes pearls, too.   Shooting three-point shots to win games can be risky, but Auburn’s coach, Bruce Pearl, provides an inspirational lift every game for his merry band of long-distance scorers.

Auburn’s defense hasn’t been pretty (107th in the nation) as their primary objective is to simply outscore and wear down the other team.  However, Aubie surprised many as they dispatched an SEC blue-blood rival, Kentucky, with a gritty win on Sunday.  They won without the team’s third-leading scorer (Chuma Okeke) who is out for the season with a knee injury.

In sum, any of these four teams has a reasonable chance to win it all.  Of the remaining teams, only Michigan State (Magic Johnson’s 1979 team and Izzo’s first winner in 2000) has won a national championship in men’s basketball. 

There is no clear-cut favorite remaining in this weekend’s Final Four. 

So, pick a team which suits your personal investing style, and have fun with this year’s Final Four!

Inside the NBA – Don’t miss the boat!

Sports should be fun.

There is no question that a sporting event can become intense at times for both the players and the fans alike.

At the professional level, athletes at the top of their sport are paid handsomely to perform well and are expected to win.

Fans of professional athletes and their teams pay handsomely for tickets and are forced to endure a never-ending onslaught of media advertisements in order to watch their favorite stars perform.

As part of this information age, the television networks have an endless supply of statistical data available (some relevant, others not) to add a sense of drama to sporting events along with a cadre of analysts (many of whom played the sport professionally) to help impart knowledge from the players’ viewpoints.

In many cases, though, the missing element in televised sports presentations is the keeping the game fun for fans.  The ability to relate to the average fan and keep sports fans entertained has been an underappreciated art form when it comes to live sports on TV.

Fortunately, TNT’s “Inside the NBA” basketball coverage before, during, and after the games has become “must see TV” viewing for hoops fans.

Meshing diverse personalities can be tricky, but the team of NBA Hall-of-Famer’s Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal, two-time NBA champion guard Kenny Smith, and veteran announcer Ernie Johnson have perfected a delicious chemistry.

Barkley (known as the “Round Mound of Rebound” as a player) was known for his outlandish takes while in the NBA and doesn’t hold back his feelings night after night in the studio.

After Golden State routed the Houston Rockets in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, Chuck took a cheap shot at his ex-team in Houston.

“Anybody who thinks the Rockets are going to win a game or win this series is an idiot,” Barkley said.  (As of this writing, the series is now tied 2-2.)

Kenny Smith, a former Houston Rockets star, is the primary replay analyst and enthusiastically breaks down key plays to help give the viewers a better understanding of the action on the court.

At 7’2″, Shaquille O’Neal is the newest member of the team and usually cuts right to the chase with his analysis.  You never know if he and Charles Barkley will agree on an issue or disagree – sometimes vigorously.  Shaq’s willingness to participate in some of the lighter moments has helped endear the big man to a new generation of basketball fans.

The ringmaster of the TNT “Inside the NBA” coverage is Ernie Johnson, Jr.  He is the son of longtime Atlanta Braves’ play-by-play man, Ernie Johnson.

Johnson is always prepared with pertinent questions for the panel and has the rare ability of knowing when to stay out of the discussion at times.

“You’re the dad who turns around and says, ‘If I hear anymore I’m going to stop this car and turn it around,” he said.

The TNT crew combines impeccable analysis of the action, on-screen chemistry, and adds the most important factor of all – fun.  The lighthearted moments are oft-times ad-libs while other times enhanced by smartly scripted bits.

The “Inside the NBA” cast has a funny bit where they will don their fishing hats, rods and reels as they bid farewell to another team exiting the NBA playoffs.

“Time for the Utah Jazz to go fishing!” as the TNT graphics team makes it appear that the crew is on a fishing boat.

TNT’s season-long coverage of the NBA will end this Memorial Day weekend with the Western Conference finals.

This is your last chance to watch a great show.  Don’t miss the boat!

 

 

 

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The North’s Charlie Brown

Hall-of-Famer Charles Barkley guaranteed them a win tonight.

The odds makers made them a seven point home court favorite.

The NBA’s Toronto Raptors had lost seven consecutive playoff games (dating back to 2016) to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

They were motivated.  They were overdue.

They lost.  Again.

The Raptors losing streak versus the Cavs is now up to eight with Games 3 and 4 of the 2018 Eastern Conference semifinals coming in Cleveland.  LeBron James will get some much needed rest coming up very soon as Toronto has pretty much given up and mailed it in.

“One, two, three, Vacation!”

The NBA’s Toronto Raptors entered the 2018 NBA playoffs as the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference. Cleveland was the fourth seed in the East.

After dropping this many games in a row to the same team in the playoffs, the streak has now become a mental block for Toronto.

What this team needs is some group therapy.

TNT television commentator, Kenny Smith, summed it up very well during Game 1.  In the dressing room prior to the game, the coach will draw up a game plan and highlight the bullet-point keys for his team to focus on for victory.

The Raptors have now received eight straight pregame pep talks and strategy sessions from their coaches about how to beat the Cavs.  The big problem is that there isn’t a player in that Toronto locker room who believes what they are hearing, because it simply hasn’t worked in the past eight playoff encounters.

Cleveland has successfully entered into the collective brains of this Eastern Conference opponent.  There is no reason to keep watching this mess (unless you are a Cavs fans, of course).

The series is, for all practical purposes, likely over.

It’s similar to watching Lucy pull that football away from Charlie Brown as he tries to kick it.  The same thing happens annually.

Hey, Chuck!  Meet your long lost cousin from The North!

Same time, next year?