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NBA 2016-17 Western Conference Sleepers

As the NBA opening day approaches it is time to make some predictions.  As always, it will be hard for any team in the West to jump into the top 5 occupied by the Warriors, Spurs, Thunder, Trail Blazers, and Clippers, but there will be some shuffling at the bottom.  The signing of veterans George Hill and Joe Johnson should help the young Utah Jazz get to the playoffs.  Look for Gordon Hayward to be their consistent playmaker and Rodney Hood to keep progressing as their outside threat.  Even though the game has changed to a more perimeter style, teams still need a big man to protect the rim and rebound.  Rudy Gobert fits that mold.  Utah should get to 44 wins, which is two more than last year.

Another team on the rise that people are buzzing about is the Minnesota Timberwolves.  They are no longer just a fly over state.  With the sudden loss of Flip Saunders before the start of the season last year the young team looked lost on the court.  Although Sam Mitchell did his best to fill the gap it was time to get a coach who take them to the next level.  The coaching search landed the highly touted Tom Thibodeau, who comes into a great situation.  The roster is loaded with young talent including rising stars like Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and Zach LaVine.  Ricky Rubio will run the offense again this year despite his shooting limitations.  He knows how to run an offense and is a pass first point guard, which is becoming a lost art.  The drafting of point guard Kris Dunn should push Rubio to become better.  If Rubio does not show progress or gets hurt, which he has been known to do, I believe there will be a seamless transition to Dunn.  The main problem last year was bench production and they went out and signed some savvy veterans to rectify the situation.  Cole Aldrich and Jordan Hill will bring defense and rebounding and Brandon Rush will team with Shabazz Muhammad and Tyus Jones to provide some scoring.  With only 29 wins last year it is hard to see them get to 0.500, but in my bold prediction I have them at 43 wins and a playoff berth.

Who are your sleepers?

Can the USA Win the Copa America Centenario?

The upcoming excitement for American soccer fans is the 2016 Copa America Centenario tournament that begins in early June.  Played in the USA, there will be high hopes for the likes of Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey to win a major international tournament.  However, unlike the Gold Cups that feature only North American soccer teams, this tournament will feature South American super powers like Argentina and Brazil.  Does the USA even stand a chance?

While I fear that hoping for an American victory in this event is completely far-fetched, I do believe that this team has an opportunity to do something special here.  Not only is the tournament to be played in front of our home fans, but I feel that the current group of stars have reached a level of veteran maturity that could push them over the top.  These tournaments don’t come around often, and it could be the last real chance for guys like Howard and Dempsey to make a real mark.

With thousands of screaming fans behind them, I think the USA will do very well and go far, but I think everyone is waiting for them to take that vital next step and beat a team like Brazil at a major tournament.  It may be a dream, but this is of good a chance that America has ever had to claim such a massive victory.

Baseball is Back: But Does Anybody Know what will Happen in 2016?

As a new season of baseball dawns upon us, the weather beckons warmly to spring and the summer beyond with all its lazy evenings and hot dog feasting.  Spring training sessions are wrapping up and the players are getting comfortable in their new surroundings at Major League ballparks all throughout America (and Toronto).  So what’s set to happen in the 2016 MLB season?

Well, if history gives us any guide, just about anything is possible.  Based on last season’s results, and the 2016 free agency and trade period, the experts are widely touting the Chicago Cubs, New York Mets, Toronto Blue Jays, and reigning World Series champions the Kansas City Royals as the favorites to contend this year.  But baseball is a funny and finicky sport; just when one team seems to have erected a dynasty, a few ill-timed injuries and a drop in play can send a team crashing back to mediocrity.  Certainly not all of these mid-market clubs can expect to return to the MLB playoffs?

Instead, look for a Boston Red Sox resurgence behind the arm of David Price.  Expect the Los Angeles Dodgers and their free spending ways to finally come to fruition.  And don’t ever count out the tried and tested methods of the St. Louis Cardinals.  Oh yeah, and don’t you dare forget about the San Francisco Giants’ and their run of 3-straight World Series titles in even-numbered years since 2010.

Amazingly enough, we still haven’t even touched on the New York Yankees.  My, how far have they fallen?  Which makes me slightly nervous and expectant that they might just be the ones to separate themselves this year.  With a usually powerful lineup and a stunning back-end to the bullpen, I think the Yankees may just get enough out of their starters (and probably trade for someone else midyear in a blockbuster deal) to make a serious run.  Could a 41-year-old Alex Rodriguez possibly earn such a glorious redemption?  Who knows, with such a wide open season maybe I should have picked my hometown team of the Cleveland Indians instead…  You never know!

A look at the 2016 Rio Olympics

Every 4 years the sporting world turns to one of the greatest competitions of all time: the Olympics.  Held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the 2016 Olympic games is a sure bet to be thrill for everyone watching at home, especially for Americans who are usually the most medaled country to participate.

Of special note in the Olympics this year are a host of returning stars like swimmer Michael Phelps, and track star Justin Gatlin.  However, Gatlin will face a tough task against Usain Bolt, largely regarded as one of the greatest sprinters ever.  Another familiar face will be women’s beach volleyball star Kerri Walsh Jennings, though she’ll have to compete without her longtime partner, Misty May-Treanor, who retired following their gold medal run in London 2012.

Several other sports stars will also be present, including tennis legends Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic, who are both the top ranked singles players.  However, both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will not be present.

The basketball tournament will be especially entertaining for Americans, whose teams typically dominate the sport.  Names like Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Klay Thompson, and Kyrie Irving highlight the famous cast, though NBA superstars LeBron James and Steph Curry will not participate.

Soccer will also be a fun event, especially for the host nation, Brazil.  With renowned world star Neymar at the helm, the Brazilians will certainly be expecting to win the event.  One point of contention is the issue with the Russian team, which has had nearly one third of its athletes banned over doping allegations.  It will be sad to see an Olympics without so many competitors from this usually impressive nation, though it’s nice to see the Olympic games committee take such a strong stance against performance enhancing drugs.  Either way, it will certainly be a big story heading into the games.

But despite all the big names participating in these games, so much of the fun with the Olympics is in learning about the new athletes in somewhat lesser known sports that rise to greatness and earn a medal.  Who will be the surprise star of these 2016 Olympics?  We’re about to find out!

rio-olympics (stat)

Who will be the surprise NFL team to contend next season?

Despite the salary cap in the NFL, it’s typically the same group of teams (usually those featuring a star quarterback) who contend year in and year out.  But every season there’s one or two franchises that seem to come out of nowhere and actually contend.  Last year it was the Kansas City Chiefs and the New York Jets.  Who will it be in 2016?

I’ve got my eye on the Buffalo Bills. I know, I know, the New England Patriots have won the division practically every year since 2000, and as long as Tom Brady is at the helm, they’ve got a shot to beat anyone.  And this is the Bills we’re talking about…

But I think this team is ripe for glory in 2016.  They had a respectable 8-8 showing last year and with head coach Rex Ryan now entering his 2nd season in charge, he’s had proper time to really inject his will on the team.  What does this mean?  Expect the Bills to have a very tough defense this year.

Buffalo has two tremendous cornerbacks in Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby.  Additionally, their drafting of Shaq Lawson and Reggie Ragland suggests they are looking to establish a formidable defense.  Though their overall performance was average last year, the team did rank well in takeaways, and these big plays could make the Bills very competitive.

And while we basically assume that any Rex Ryan defense will be strong, the opposite is expected of his offenses.  I expect this to change in 2016.  Quarterback Tyrod Taylor got his first real opportunity last season and passed with high marks.  His 99.4 QB rating was 7th best for starters and was equal to league MVP Cam Newton.  His 6 interceptions displayed a maturity not often seen in first-year starters and bodes well for his future.  This team will go as far as Taylor takes them.  With LeSean McCoy and Sammy Watkins as primary offensive weapons, the Bills will put up more points than people are used to in 2016.

Perhaps one thing that heavily points in the Bills’ favor this season is Tom Brady’s 4-game suspension to start the year.  The Patriots may find themselves in a deep hole; one that a good team like the Bills can take serious advantage of.  Expect the Bills to be the surprise team in 2016, and make a strong run to the NFL playoffs behind an 11-5 record!2016-nfl-opponents-900x599

The 2016 NBA Draft Winners and Losers

With the NBA Draft now firmly behind us, it’s time to take a look at which teams stand to come into next season in great shape, and which will continue wilting down the long hard road of despair.  Here are the big winners and losers from the 2016 NBA Draft:

 

Winners – Philadelphia 76ers – It’s pretty easy to win these drafts when you have the top pick (in addition to 3 first-rounders), but the Sixers went above and beyond.  Their fledgling team acquired superstar big man Ben Simmons, who could lead the team to the promise land of mere respectability.  Additionally, two great shooters in Timothe Luwawa and Furkan Korkmaz could help the team in their scoring department, and perhaps develop into decent players themselves.

 

Phoenix Suns – Sometimes it takes a big trade to make something happen, and the Sun did just that in this draft.  With the 4th pick they took Dragan Bender, a 7-ft. tall center who’s got great ball and passing skills.  But while Bender was the obvious choice, their smart trade back to the top 10 to land Marquese Chriss gives them another potentially dominant forward.  While both players are still just 18, they have wonderful potential and could make the Suns’ front line very formidable one day.

 

Losers – Boston Celtics – Much was expected on draft night for this team that is just a star player away from contending in the East, and was loaded with trade bait in the form of 8 draft picks.  However, no blockbuster deal materialized and the Celtics ended up with the likes of Jaylen Brown, Guerschon Yabasele, and Ante Zizic.  And while one day they may be good, the Celtics’ fans were hoping for something tangible now.

 

Sacramento Kings – Perhaps the Kings had targeted a player who went before their 8th pick, but their trade back to 13th left them with a very questionable Georgios Papagiannis, a center who will be unlikely to break into a very crowded position on the team.  Perhaps there is going to be some serious re-organization with this club, but right now it looks like the Kings flopped big time.

Embrace March Madness: The 2016 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is Here

The time for talk of rankings and bubble teams is over.  With the official release of the 2016 bracket for the NCAA tournament, it’s put up or shut up time for the top 68 college basketball teams in America.  Here’s what I think will happen:

Despite the fact that there isn’t a top tier of elite national contenders, I expect the top seeded teams will do very well.  Of course there will be some exciting upsets (I’m looking for UNC-Wilmington to upset Duke and for Butler to take down Virginia in the second round), but it seems that come Final Four time, it will be many of the usual suspects.  The fact remains that for any team to win this tournament they need to accumulate 6 straight wins, each against top quality opponents.  It’s simply not feasible for small-time schools and average teams to do this.

For me, the Final Four will consist of Kansas, UNC, Michigan State, and Texas.  The only real surprise of this group is Texas.  I feel like they have that quirky team that will be able to build a strong run, led by intriguing point guard Javan Felix.  That being said, Kansas will be too strong for them at that point.

However, the team I foresee claiming this year’s tournament in North Carolina.  After a relatively inconsistent majority of the season, they really turned it on down the stretch and won the ACC tournament.  They’ve won 5 straight games, each against teams in the NCAA tournament, including a 1-seeded Virginia in the ACC Championship Game.  That win showcased something different for Carolina: an ability to defend.  If they can focus on defending, they will overcome their 3-point shooting woes, and guys like Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige will make the necessary drives and dunks to claim this national title.  It’s UNC all the way!

First Annual AAA Sports Memorabilia Bracket Challenge (and it is free)

password is: aaasports

http://aaasports.mayhem.cbssports.com/e?ttag=BPM16_twt_invite_new

Free to enter in our first annual March Madness Bracket (deadline is tomorrow morning). Feel free to forward along to anyone who you think would be interested.

Grand Prize – Magic Johnson signed basketball PSA/DNA COA

http://www.aaasportsmemorabilia.com/nba/magic-johnson-autographed-indoor-outdoor-spalding-basketball/

 

2nd Prize – 25% off your next purchase

3rd-5th Place Prize – 15% off your next purchase

 

Good Luck!

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