Random Rumblings - 1/12/13

Star Power

Stars in the NBA are somehow both overrated and 100% necessary. The "somehow" is actually not a mystery. In the regular season they are overrated while in the playoffs you essentially can't win without them. Want proof? Look at the Knicks and the Lakers last night.

Both teams are struggling at the moment. Outside of their stretch between coaches, the Lakers have struggled all year. Bernie Bickerstaff for the win(s). The Knicks however have been struggling since basically Christmas and the reasons are similar. First, injuries have depleted both rosters. Raymond Felton and Rasheed Wallace were playing major roles and producing at a high level for New York and have been missed dearly. The absence of Felton has meant more minutes for Jason Kidd and he just can't handle that at his age. The rotation was basically perfect to start the year. It's now a mess. You can tell a coach is searching for answers when he starts a player, plays him two and a half minutes and then doesn't play him for the rest of the half. That's exactly what Mike Woodson did with James White last night.

Meanwhile the Lakers have illustrated the other two main reasons both teams are struggling endlessly. The second issue both teams suffer from is a lack of defensive effort. Whether it's mental lapses, miscommunication or not being in the right position, the Lakers are putting on a "what not to do" defensive clinic this year. The Knicks at least know what they're supposed to be doing (Woodson>>>>D'Antoni defensively) but inconsistent effort has cost them games. The third thing is the star power. The Lakers at one point last night had a lineup of Chris Duhon, Darius Morris, Jodie Meeks, Earl Clark and Robert Sacre. A magical thing happened. The ball moved.

Ball movement is essential to basketball. It's a simple concept. The more the ball moves, the more the defense moves. Think of the 5 defensive players as a 5 cog machine. The more pieces there are in a machine and the more they are used, the more likely one of them is to break. The more the defense moves, the more likely they are to make a mistake. This is why when the ball stops in the hands of Carmelo Anthony/JR Smith or Kobe Bryant, the Knicks and Lakers offenses dissolve into futility. Plus, the rest of the team has no rhythm and doesn't feel involved. This crushes any flow and consistently hurts defensive intensity and causes a cycle of bad basketball hell.

Without a ball stopper on offense, this doesn't happen. No one's sitting around watching Darius Morris want to make a play. It's not always the star's fault. Often other guys see the ball get to the star and just stop. It's part proper spacing, but after about a second and a half, if the guy with the ball doesn't make a move, you've got to continue doing something. Instead, bad basketball hell cycle happens and so does losing.

NFL Picks

Normally my picks come in podcast form with Alex Brewer. One of us got distracted when we were supposed to record this week and I'm not going to point any fingers but it was him. Instead you have to read more. Which is ironic. Because Alex can't read. (BOOOOOOOM!!!)

Baltimore at Denver

Doesn't it seem appropriate that the one to end Ray Lewis's Hall of Fame career is another future Hall of Famer in Peyton Manning. The cold weather is going to be a factor. Today's tilt will be the coldest game in the NFL this year. Baltimore's offense is predicated on Ray Rice and the big play. It's hard to hit the big play in snow, ice and freezing cold temperatures, especially when Denver's defense, and specifically their pass rush are fantastic. Meanwhile Denver has offensive balance and there's a reason they haven't lost in forever. I'll take Baltimore to cover a massive -9 spread, but Denver wins at home.

Green Bay at San Francisco

The logic here is simple. Take the best quarterback in the league and he plays for Green Bay. Add in the fact that said quarterback has a vendetta against his opponent and I feel even better about it. Aaron Rodgers is a northern California kid who got passed over for Alex Smith on draft day and has never let that go. It'll be up to Smith's replacement Colin Kaepernick to generate points and more importantly not turn it over. Rodgers loves to take advantage of opponents' mistakes and defending him on a short field is near impossible. Justin Smith being back is huge as it makes Aldon Smith relevant again but it's not enough. Give me Green Bay to cover the 3 and win outright on the road by the bay.

Seattle at Atlanta

This game makes no sense. Non whatsoever. The #1 seed coming off a buy is a monster at home. Their quarterback is 33-6 at home in his life as a pro. The visitors have to fly cross country for the second time in a week, just lost their best pass rusher and have a rookie QB. However the home team is the Atlanta Falcons who have been absolutely housed the last two years in the playoffs by the eventual Super Bowl champion who was the hottest team in the league. That distinction could certainly go to Seattle who has only lost once since the calendar turned to November. The rookie quarterback is Russel Wilson who's as unflappable as any rookie in recent memory.

No outcome would surprise me, but I'm starting to get more concerned about my Seattle lean. There's a lot of noise around the Seahawks. Both coordinators are spending the day before the game not with their team but other teams, interviewing for head coaching jobs. I'm going to stick with my gut and say Seattle goes on the road and pulls this off, but it wouldn't surprise me if Atlanta finally breaks through in the post-season. If the Falcons do "pull it off" (amazing that we frame it like that given they are the #1 seed at home), look for Tony Gonzalez to be a major factor. Seattle's corners are fantastic and could limit Roddy White and Julio Jones. The biggest shocker of all of this though is that a win would be Gonzalez's first in the playoffs for perhaps the greatest tight end ever. I'll take Seattle to cover (+1) and win outright.

Houston at New England

Some people feel like this is the biggest lock of the weekend. I'm not one of those people. In playoff games that are rematches of 28+ point regular season blowouts, teams that won (and lost) are 11-11. Houston was the best team in the league for the first half of the season and then seemingly stopped playing. They now have something to play for again and had a warmup week against Cincinnati. It's imperative that Arian Foster has a big impact but Matt Schaub will need to make a few plays. More importantly for Houston is J.J. Watt. He's won games for Houston this year by completely wrecking the other team's offense. Doing that to Tom Brady is infinitely more difficult than doing it to anyone else not named Peyton Manning. If you hear Watt's name a lot, Houston has a chance. If not, Houston we have a problem. That was the lowest of the low hanging fruit and I apologize. I just can't do it. Take Houston to cover the 10, but New England wins outright.