Archive for April, 2009

Hawks-Heat, Game 1: Don’t trip over the TV cables

If you’re a NBA player, you play a six-month regular season and slog through 82 games, and come the seventh month and the 83rd game everything changes. You notice this even before you’ve reached your locker room or donned your uniform. You notice because, from the moment you step through the arena door, there are TV cameras tracking your walk down the hall.

Generally, not much can happen as an NBA player walks down a hall. (J.R. Rider might stand as the exception that proves this rule.) But everything gets ratcheted up when the postseason commences. International TV and satellite radio and all the big-name Web sites are in the building, even in Game 1 of Round 1.

These Hawks saw it a year ago, and for the first two games in Boston they didn’t really cope. “That was the first time for a lot of these guys,” Mike Woodson said Sunday night, speaking before Game 1, “and there were a lot of nerves. We were a little jittery up there. We just didn’t fare well in Boston.”

As a …

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The T-Day verdict: The O’s a given, but the D’s still a guess

Georgia Tech’s offense is going to be great. Not pretty good, not really good — flat-out great. But the same program had fabulous offenses under Ralph Friedgen a decade ago and never won as big as it should because the defense reeked. Will these defenders prove similarly odiferous?

Derrick Morgan thinks not. Morgan is the lone holdover along a star-spangled line, and before he’s done he could prove to be better than Michael Johnson or Darryl Richard or Vance Walker, all of whom should get drafted next weekend.

“I’ve definitely got to get better,” Morgan said Saturday, speaking after Tech’s spring game, “and the supporting cast has to step up. But I’m 100 percent confident we can.”

The T-Day final score was 31-28, which wouldn’t indicate much resistance. But it was worth noting that the Gold, which included Morgan and the first-string defense, beat the White, which included Jonathan Dwyer and the first-string offense (minus quarterback Josh Nesbitt).

Said Jaybo Shaw, who …

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Paul Johnson believes Tech will be even better in Year 2

Remember the offense that trampled Georgia underfoot? You still haven’t seen the monster fully unleashed. So said Paul Johnson, whose first Georgia Tech team won nine games. As his second round of spring practice was drawing to its end, the coach spent a half-hour discussing the past and the future. His prognosis: “I think we’ll be a better football team than we were a year ago.”

On his option-based spread: “It’s not so much putting in the basics. It’s the little nuances, the little changeups we didn’t get to last year … We were still just scratching the surface a year ago. There were so many games where if we’d been a little more adept at running it we could have done so much better … We will be better on offense. Now I don’t know if we’ll win any more games, but I guarantee you we’re better than we were a year ago.”

On just how that will happen: “It’s not just that we’ll get faster – we’ll be able to execute at a faster pace. You can watch our tape right now, and I can put …

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Don’t look for D-Wade to d-rail the Hawks in Round 1

The Hawks will face the world’s third-best player in Round 1, and it was only three seasons ago that Dwyane Wade willed the Miami Heat to a championship. Do the Hawks worry he might pull a Dallas-in-the-finals on them?

Said Al Horford: “Yeah, I do.”

Said Mike Woodson: “Sure you worry about that. The great ones find a way. That’s something we think about quite often.”

Said Josh Smith: “He’s one of the game’s greats, but I don’t worry about that. I don’t think that way.”

As majestic as Wade can be, the Hawks have one of the world’s best dozen players themselves, and Joe Johnson tends to rise to most moments. In the first three games against Miami this season, Johnson scored only 16 fewer points than the league’s leading scorer, and he did it while taking eight fewer shots. And Johnson’s team won two of the three.

“It’s a challenge,” Johnson said, speaking of playing against the exalted likes of Wade and Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. “We play pretty much the same position. I have …

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Bradley’s Buzz: Danger, Jair Jurrjens! Danger!

Sometimes you eat innings; sometimes innings eat you

He’s 2-0, but Jair Jurrjens is in trouble. So writes Tom Verducci of SI.com, who places the 23-year-old Braves ninth on a list of 10 young pitchers at risk. The Verducci Theory: A pitcher under 25 whose workload has increased by 30 or more innings is in immediate peril.

Yes, there’s evidence to support his case. On the other hand, what exactly is a club to do? Jurrjens went from working 143 innings in 2007 to 188 in 2008. That happened for two reasons: First, he was really good in 2008, and second, he was the only member of the Braves’ rotation not to get hurt.

Writing for ESPN.com, Buster Olney examines the innings-equal-arm-trouble dynamic as it applies to Philadelphia’s Cole Hamels, who has indeed developed soreness in the ol’ soupbone. But Olney makes the same salient point: Philly was trying to win a championship in 2008; would it have made sense to shut down its best pitcher in October — indeed, Hamels would be MVP of …

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G-Day: Not much of a game, but there’s still a good team here

Athens — If you saw the game, be it live from Sanford Stadium or via the high-def glory of ESPN, you’re wondering how in the world Georgia is going to beat Vandy. And here, being the committed contrarian, is where I say: Relax. Georgia is going to be fine.

It’s not going to win the national championship in 2009, but it’s not going to collapse under the cannonade of verbiage emanating from little Lane Kiffin. This is a very good program that will continue to be a very good program. (And, as measures go, spring games offer zilch. Remember how awful Georgia Tech looked 12 months ago? Remember that same Tech winning between these same hedges on Nov. 29, 2008?)

Yes, Matthew Stafford is gone, and no, there’s no more Knowshon Moreno, but Georgia under Mark Richt has suffered other losses — David Greene and David Pollack and Thomas Davis and Brian VanGorder in the span of one offseason — and chugged ever onward. You know all those recruits about whom folks get so excited? They’ll keep …

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Live from G-Day: Stafford, Moreno return! (But only to coach)

Athens – I apologize in advance. There’s every chance I will, during the course of today’s live blog, refer to Joe Cox as Bobby Cox. Due to the two-hour rain delay Friday night and Mike Gonzalez’s extremely odd blown save early Saturday morning, I didn’t get home from Turner Field until 2:07 a.m. EDT. I left for the Classic City at 9:07. Full disclosure: I took a half-hour nap in the car, though not while driving.

So here I am. I just spent 40 minutes fooling around down on the field taking pictures and shooting video, some of which will be posted here as the afternoon proceeds. I talked to Garrison Hearst, who was playing in the alumni flag football game, and he said Knowshon Moreno was a better collegiate back than he ever was. (I don’t know about that. Hearst was really good himself.)

Speaking of whom … Moreno is “coaching” one side in the spring game today, and his partner-in-yardage Matthew Stafford is “coaching” the other. Moreno showed up wearing a visor, just like …

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The new Francoeur: “I’m back to being myself, but different”

It wasn’t just that he hit a home run off Brett Myers his first time up in 2009, though it was, Jeff Francouer concedes, really nice. Better still was what happened three days later, when he faced Joe Blanton with the bases loaded, and we know too well what befell Francoeur with the bases loaded a year ago.

“I struggled in that situation last year,” Francoeur said Friday, speaking before the Braves’ home opener. And yes, going 6-for-33 in the maximum run-producing opportunity would constitute a flop in any man’s league. But that, as we’re learning daily, was then. This is now. Now is better.

“I got the count to 2-0,” said Francoeur, the famously free swinger. “And I got a fastball and didn’t try to do too much with it. I just took it back up the middle.”

Two runs scored on the professionally struck single, prompting Francoeur to say: “At the end of the day, I felt better about the bases-loaded single than the home run.”

Yes, our little Frenchy is growing up. We loved him when …

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Can Kenshin be the linchpin of this reconfigured rotation?

Putting aside the malpractice perpetrated by the firm of O’Flaherty, Moylan, Boyer and Campillo, the Braves got almost everything they wanted from the first series of 2009. They won two of three against the world champs. Lots of guys got significant hits. Best of all, their starting pitchers took their turns with flair.

Eight great innings from Derek Lowe. Five-plus fine innings from Jair Jurrjens. Six passable innings from Javier Vazquez. And now Lowe gets to go again Friday night against the Nationals, and then comes the first test of the Braves’ great experiment. Kenshin Kawakami works Saturday night, and he’s the key to the rotation, which is the key to any team.

We know what to expect from Lowe and Vazquez, who’ve made careers of eating innings. We see that Jurrjens, who was really good a year ago, looks even better now. But Kawakami has never worked a real inning on U.S. soil, and we can’t yet know what he can (or can’t) do.

Sorry, there are no polls available at the …

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Vick’s campaign to win hearts and minds needs a pick-me-up

Michael Vick can’t even go broke properly. A court in Newport News, Va., rejected his financial reorganization plan Friday for being unworkable. Looking beyond dollars and cents, ESPN legal analyst Lester Munson, who was in the courtroom, wrote of Judge Frank Santoro: “It was clear he was not impressed with Vick’s story of true remorse.”

The rest of Vick’s vocational life will hinge on his ability to convince a skeptical audience he’s really and truly sorry. To date, the erstwhile No. 7 is 0-for-1. Munson again: “He will have to show more sincerity and veracity when he speaks to [NFL commissioner Roger] Goodell.”

Goodell has said contrition — meaning remorse for doing wrong, not just for getting caught — will be the key to Vick’s reinstatement to the only league that matters. But the downward spiral of what was once a charmed young life remains awhirl: The same Vick who failed a drug test after pleading guilty just admitted in court to borrowing $150,000 from a pension fund …

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