Saturday, May 19, 2012

Sports Saturday: 5/19/12

We'll be out of town most of the weekend, but I'm going to talk sports anyway. Yay sports!

NBA / NHL - First off...HUGE confession to make. For years now, I've been hating on the NBA, based on the idea that the NBA is lame (superstar driven, "me first", boring to watch, more about hype than substance). And, the local team's games are all blacked out in Raleigh on DirecTV anyway. (But even if I could watch the Bobcats, would I really want to?) But it's more than just the on-court product. Nerds like me tend to gravitate towards sports like hockey, soccer, and baseball, while NBA fans typically consist of a more "hip" demographic that I can't relate to. I have a lot of friends who generally have the same "What's the NBA?" attitude that I do, and so the NBA almost never comes up in conversation. Very few people I know give a crap about it. It's kind of cool to hate on it, I think.

But, my interest in the NHL playoffs faded quickly this year once all of my rooting interests crapped out. I'm not interested enough in Rangers/Devils to stay up past 10:30 for the end of one of their games. And sure, the Los Angeles Kings are a great story, and they're the kind of team I would normally root for in this situation, but they've only lost one playoff game so far, right? That is to say, their series haven't been particularly exciting. And, of course, they play in the Pacific Time Zone, so I can't stay up and watch them anyway. So I'll just wait until the Stanley Cup Final to watch the Kings (assuming they don't blow their 3-0 series lead).

In the meantime, I've been filling the void with: Indiana Pacers playoff games. The Pacers are the kind of team I normally root for in professional sports: they don't play in a large market, they're not overhyped, no big stars, and they're good enough to put up a fight. I'd get more excited about the Pacers beating the overhyped Miami Heat, than I would about anything that could possibly happen in the NHL playoffs the rest of the way. And, the Pacers games have actually been on at reasonable times: Games 2 and 3 began at the very Chris-friendly time of 7 PM Eastern. (Eventually those tip times will get later and later*, but I'm enjoying it while I can.) So, go Pacers! Miami at Indiana - Sun 3:30p, ABC

(* - I've noticed a pattern with how the NBA schedules their playoff game times. Most weeknights during the first two playoff rounds feature a doubleheader. If the second game of that doubleheader is in the Mountain or Pacific Time Zone, then the first game starts at 8 PM Eastern, and the second game starts at 10:30. If the second game of that doubleheader is in the Central Time Zone, then the two games start at 7 PM and 9:30 PM, respectively. So if you're like me and prefer early game times, then the thing to do early in the NBA Western Conference playoffs is to root for Central Time Zone teams such as San Antonio and Oklahoma City. And right now, I'm rooting for the Clippers to win either Game 3 or 4 and force a Game 5 against San Antonio, because that would force Game 5 of Pacers/Heat to start at 7 PM due to their being two games instead of just Pacers/Heat on Tuesday night. But no matter what, the Conference Finals will probably start at 8 or 9 PM, and the NBA Finals at 9 PM, at which point I will likely stop watching, especially if the Pacers are out by then.)

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Kings can advance to the Stanley Cup Final this Sunday in a game played at a Chris-friendly time, which means I might actually watch! Well, I'll record it and watch when we get back from Charlotte, if we have time. Phoenix at Los Angeles - Sun 3:00p, NBC (I'm guessing the next Rangers/Devils game is Saturday afternoon on NBC. You can look it up yourself.)

MLB - The Washington Nationals are hanging in there, despite injuries to many of their best position players. As of Friday afternoon, they're no longer in first place, but they are only a half game back of the Atlanta Braves. I caught myself "scoreboard watching" the other day, keeping tabs on the Braves game while watching the Nationals game. On one hand, scoreboard watching at this point in the MLB season is completely ridiculous. But on the other hand, I keep expecting this team to crash and burn - even though they're only a half game out of first, they're also only 3½ games ahead of last - so the longer they can stay in first place, the better! Baltimore at Washington - Sat 7:00p, FOX*; Sun 1:30p, MASN

(* - Nationals games on FOX are not always broadcast locally, which is silly in a way. I mean, we're in the Nationals broadcast region - which is the only reason I root for them in the first place - so we should get the FOX games, too, right? But FOX is giving us the Orioles/Nationals game this Saturday, not only in Raleigh, but in Charlotte, too.)

Auto racing - Interesting debate this week among articles I've read about whether the NASCAR All-Star Race is really "necessary". The NFL has scrapped the Pro Bowl, and All-Star games in general are "sooooo last century". (That's not my quote, but I forget where I read it.)

Here's my take: the NASCAR point system encourages conservative driving, and that has made most races so far this year kind of boring. But here you have a non-points race where drivers are more likely to "go for it". Because of that, this is the only sport in which the participants will actually try harder in the All-Star race than they might on a week-to-week basis. Still, it's kind of annoying that they change the format of this thing, like, every year. If you ask me, frequent format changes are a sign of weakness. Can't we just settle on something that works? NASCAR All-Star Race - Sat 7:00p, SPEED

In Formula One, Pastor Maldonaldo won the Spanish Grand Prix last weekend. His best career finish prior to last weekend was 8th! And in a sport where the same teams usually win week after week...where the heck did that come from? But the one thing that the sport's newfound volatility does is that it opens the door for Sebastian Vettel to win the title yet again despite having a fairly unspectacular start to the season. He has only one win and two podiums in five races, and yet there he is at the top of the points, again. (Vettel is currently tied with Fernando Alonso but leads the tiebreaker.) A similar thing happens when I adjust the driver ratings in my NASCAR video game so that there is more week-to-week variability: you end up with more race winners, but when you average it out over an entire season, the same driver ends up winning the championship anyway. But at least Vettel will have to fight for it this year, it appears.

Soccer - My curiosity in European soccer leagues didn't last long, but it did come back last Sunday for the final day of the English Premier League season. I thought it was interesting that all 20 EPL teams play their final game of the season at the exact same time. Since they don't have playoffs, I guess this ensures that no team gets an advantage by knowing that "we only have to get a draw in this game to secure 3rd place because the 4th place team has already lost their final game", for example.

I turned on ESPN2 with 30 minutes to go to find that Manchester City, who needed a win to claim their first league title in decades, was only tied, and against one of the worst teams in the EPL, at that. And then, the afore-mentioned bottom feeder actually scored and took the lead. Intrigue! But Manchester City did finally score the two goals they needed at the very end to take the win and the league championship. Excitement! Since the Premier League does not conduct playoffs, how often is the league title decided in the final minutes of the final day of the season like it was this year? This has to be something like a 20 year occurrence, right?

Great story...until I heard that Manchester City basically bought their title with gobs of money from Abu Dhabi. But spending gobs of money is pretty much the only way to win a European league title, so, oh well. No salary cap here!*

(* - Political note: Europe is generally more "socialist" than the United States, but with our respective sports leagues, it's just the opposite. American professional sports leagues have things like "salary caps" and "revenue sharing" in order to "level the playing field". How very socialist of us! As far as I know, European soccer leagues are pretty much unregulated free markets. I just think that's interesting.)

(* - Continuing that thought...excluding the athletes, American college sports are a free market. And speaking of which, as someone who lives in a part of the country where the ACC is frequently featured on television, I do NOT support Florida State jumping ship and moving to the Big 12, as has been rumored. Just wanted to get my opinion on that out there.)

Oh, and the UEFA Champions League Final is this afternoon, if that strikes your fancy. Bayern Munich v. Chelsea - Sat 2:30p, FOX

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