February 23, 2015

ESPN's Great Analytics Rankings: How Dolphins, Heat, Panthers and Marlins rate on use of new-age info; plus get-well campaign for Bosh, Dan Marino, Daytona 500, fight verdict, Oscars review & more

It's Radio Tuesday!: I'm back in-studio with the Dan LeBatard Show today, 3-7 p.m. on The Ticket Miami, 4-7 ESPN Radio. Ears welcome. (And eyes, on the national-show webcast...)

1) It is TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 24. Click on Random Evidence for our latest Sunday notes-column package. 2) In The Previous Blogpost (ITPB): Pacquiao-Mayweather poll, Hot Button Top 10, Dragic debut for Heat, Oscar snorts coke & more. 3) Follow us on Twitter @gregcote. Also on Facebook, Instagram and Vine.

Stuck in the middle with you: Those six words are more than a 1972 song by Stealers Wheel. They describe the position of So-Fla sports fans, as I explore in today's latest column. Click on Border Town to read. Heat and Panthers clawing just to make playoffs, UM men's basketball on NCAA Tournament bubble, Dolphins and UM football stuck in mediocrity, Marlins improved yet not a betting pick for playoffs ... everywhere you look, our teams are better than bad but maybe not quite good enough.

Corner to Fins in first round?: For what it's worth, USA Today's new, post-Scouting Combine mock draft has Miami selecting Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes. My comment: That's be a great, but it's doubtful the draft's top CB will still be around at No. 14.

MIAMI TEAMS FALL SHORT IN ESPN ANALYTICS RANKING: ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com are calling 1aa1aanalyticsit "The Great Analytics Ranking" and it is now on The World Leader's website; click here. (Illustration shown is from the magazine). ESPN rated all 122 NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL teams on how it judged "the strength of each franchise's analytics staff, its buy-in from execs and coaches, its investment in biometric data and how much its approach is predicated on analytics." Teams were slotted in one of five tiers: All-In, Believers, One Foot In, Skeptics and Non-Believers. The Dolphins, Heat and Panthers all rated in the middle ground of One Foot In, while the Marlins are in the bottom rung of Non-Believers. Here is ESPN's synopsis (minimally condensed by me) of each Miami team:

DOLPHINS: Owner Steve Ross and GM Dennis Hickey have become proponents of analytics, and new VP Mike Tannenbaum is a recent convert. Ross is heavy user of analytics in his real estate business and has been frustrated by its relative infancy in NFL. In summer of 2014 team hired Dennis Lock, who holds graduate degree in statistics, to head a football analytics group. At same time Dolphins announced hiring of sports science analyst Dave Regan, and in September, Tom Pasquali, with a graduate degree in applied statistics and experience in Yankees front office, joined Lock's staff. Tannenbaum said in January he planned to hire a "sports performance director" and acknowledged, "We have a long way to go, but we started something in terms of trying to give ourselves a competitive advantage." Miami has monitored player health for several years, and coach Joe Philbin has altered practice schedule to improve sleep habits by becoming only coach to give players Thursday off. But Philbin focuses on game film far more than stats, and it remains to be seen how well he'll use Miami's burgeoning analytics department.

HEAT: When analytics skeptics point out that coaches have been using numbers for decades, Heat president Pat Riley is commonly cited. As coach of Lakers, Riley famously devised his own efficiency rating for players. He passed that interest to protégé and coach Erik Spoelstra, who speaks the language of analytics. Riley devised a system the Heat still use to grade each defensive possession based on 54 criteria, focusing on the process of executing the team's system rather than results. Evaluations are done by Brian Hecker, Miami's director of basketball information technology, who gets the pertinent numbers to Spoelstra. In addition to lineup data, Spoelstra also has relied heavily on a simulation model developed by analyst Bob Chaikin. He has worked for Heat since 2008, following stint as consultant for team during 1990s, when Riley first arrived as coach. "I look at [stats] to evaluate our team, to compare us to other teams, particularly defensively," Spoelstra told NBA.com in 2011. "I also use it to make points to the team about things we need to improve. I use it also for scouting." Riley's fondness for statistical analysis doesn't seem to have carried over to his personnel work as team president. Miami has regularly punted valuable draft picks in favor of stacking bench with fading veterans. Heat's success, including three titles in past decade, has made it easy to justify sticking with an old-school approach. To get back to that level, Miami's front office may have to embrace details like analytics and international scouting that have gone neglected.

PANTHERS: The Panthers were wise to pick Brian Macdonald as team's director of analytics last summer, although they still have a skeleton crew compared to some other teams around league. Integrating him into team's decision-making has been a season-long process because of when he was hired, and his impact may not be felt until next season. "Anywhere there is data in this organization, I've tried to get my hands in it a little bit," Macdonald said. "That includes the business side of things now, also. The past couple months, I've been doing more business than hockey."

MARLINS: Marlins have a small, tight-knit baseball operations department that has shown very little interest in analytics. Team president Michael Hill was a two-sport athlete at Harvard, but like GM Dan Jennings, is a former player with a background in player development and scouting. The job of keeping the Marlins aware of analytics trends falls to director of baseball ops Dan Noffsinger, a longtime staffer who majored in applied math and economics at Harvard. Noffsinger has good reputation but a broader, less technical skill set than the leading sabermetricians being hired by other organizations. In a sign that Marlins might be ready to change their ways, they are looking to hire their first analytics interns this year to get their program off the ground.

HEAT INVITES YOU TO WISH BOSH WELL: Everything is so organized now. For example the Heat on
1aa1acbgetwellMonday (prior to beating lowly Philly at home) unveiled a getwellcb.com website to encourage fans to send best wishes to Chris Bosh, who will miss the rest of this NBA season as he undergoes treatment for blood clots in his lungs. Not sure the prompting was needed. Great player, great guy. Everybody rooting for Bosh. (He'll be on blood thinners probably at least through May, but is expected back fully for next season's training camp).

1aa1adanteesoffIT'S (STILL) GOOD TO BE DAN MARINO: Dolphins icon (and ambassador and now front-office consultant) Dan Marino tees off during his second annual Marino & Friends Bahamas Weekend event, as a deployed small battalion of the team's cheerleaders stand in the background looking all cheerleader-y. (The excellent photo is courtesy the Miami Dolphins). The Marino event isn't a fundraiser but rather a cross-promotion in which the Dolphins grow their brand in the Caribbean while the Bahamas promotes itself as a tourist destination.


IT WASN'T THE DAYTONA 500 NASCAR NEEDED:
 A race should not end under a caution flag. Start 1aa1ajloganothere. So it was the antithesis of a thrilling ending in NASCAR's season opener Sunday as Joey Logano (pictured) coasted to the finish. In NASCAR's dream it would have been fan favorite and defending champion Dale Earnhardt Jr. and retiring Jeff Gordon duel-barreling to the checkered flag. Or maybe Tony Stewart finally ending his Dayton jinx. Nope, just Logano under a yellow flag. NASCAR, reeling from the domestic-abuse suspension of Kurt Busch, could have used a result that wowed fans in one of its signature events. Didn't get it. That's racin', I suppose.

Poll result: Hoping Pacquiao wins but predicting Mayweather: We asked your feelings on the upcoming Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather fight and it was split. Most hope Pacquaio wins, 56.5 percent to 23.4%. But most predict Mayweather will win, 57.9% to 22.0%. (The other 20.1% said they have no interest in the fight).

THE ACADEMY AWARDS REVIEW: Sunday's Oscars telecast may or may not still be going on. The Big 3 winners were Birdman (best picture with Michael Keaton), Eddie Redmayne (actor for The Theory of Everything) and Julianne 1aa1abirdmanMoore (actress for Still Alice). Admit it: No other Oscar category really matters that much except to the winner. Admit it II: You'd never 1aa1abirdheatheard of Eddie Redmayne, either, before last night. Evening lowlight: Host Neil Patrick Harris in his underwear. Admit it III: Against high expectations, NPH wasn't all that good. Summary: Boyhood

took 12 years to make and one night to pretty much ignore. Quick aside: While watching a film called Birdman, 1aa1abirdraphow must Chris Andersen and Bryan Williams feel? Andersen of course is the popular Heat reserve nicknamed Birdman. Williams is better known as the rapper whose stage name is Birdman, co-founder of Cash Money
records. I'm no lawyer but think the two Birdmen pictured at right should sue the movie for royalties. Speaking of the Heat and movies, I cannot confirm that How to Train Your Dragon 2 is the story of how an NBA team works to integrate newly arrived Goran (Dragon) Dragic into its lineup.

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February 22, 2015

The new Hot Button Top 10 including Heat-Dragic-Bosh, Marlins, Daytona, UM, Tiger; plus Mayweather-Pacquiao poll (vote now!), snorting Oscar & more

1) It is SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 22. Click on Random Evidence for today's latest Sunday notes-column package. 2) In The Previous Blogpost (ITPB): Heat acquire Dragic with poll, Bosh medical crisis, athlete-media relationship poll, Mount Rushmore/QBs result, sign spinners & more. 3) Follow us on Twitter @gregcote. Also on Facebook, Instagram and Vine.

NOW LET'S HOPE PACQUIAO-MAYWEATHER IS WORTH THE WAIT: The camps of Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. have been negotiating six years to make this happen -- six years! -- and now (supposedly) it 1aa1afightfinally will, on May 2, in Las Vegas. This is the fight for the ages, the one to save the sport, the one to set pay-per-view records, the one to remind UFC that a major boxing title fight (this for the welterweight crown) still rules the fighting world. Credit the Miami Heat for a small role, perhaps in making this happen. Recall Pacquiao and Mayweather met courtside at a Heat game here three weeks ago -- astonishingly the first time the two had ever met and conversed. The unbeaten Mayweather opens as a betting favorite, the bigger question is whether two past-prime fighters can put up a show that lives up to the hype ... and the wait. Pacquiao just turned 36; Mayweather turns 38 on Tuesday. We're wondering here who you hope will win and also who you predict will win. Heart vs. mind. The answer for you may be one in the same. Or not. Take a dip in our poll and say why.

HOT BUTTON FEB. 22: TOP 10 THINGS SOUTH FLORIDA SPORTS FANS ARE TALKING ABOUT: Our blog-exclusive Sunday feature is an expanded, updated version of what appears in the Sunday pulp editions. Hot Button means what's on our minds, locally and nationally, as the sports week just past pivots to the week ahead:

1aa1ahotbutton1. HEAT: Dragic arrives but Bosh out for season in wild, emotional week: In a late-week whirlwind Miami fans cheered the trade for Goran Dragic then mourned Chris Bosh's medical news -- blood clots on his lungs that will shelve him the rest of the season. Almost forgot. Dwyane Wade returned from injury. Otherwise, slow week for the Heat.

2. MARLINS: Play ball! Upbeat Fish begin spring training in Jupiter: First spring game vs. big-league foe isn’t until March 5, but practice for the practice games has begun. Excitement in So-Fla and national media buzz suggest Miami will be playoff contender, although the Las Vegas over/under of a modest 81 1/2 wins says, “Whoa, now!”

3. BOXING: Mayweather-Pacquiao fight is (finally!) set: The May 2 bout in Vegas, finally on after some six years of negotiations, is expected to set pay-per view records. Question now is whether two past-prime fighters -- Manny Pacquiao is 36 and Floyd Mayweather is about to turn 38 -- can produce an event worthy of the hype ... and worth the wait.

4. UM FOOTBALL: Golden convenes spring football practice: Offseason football is under way in Coral Gables culminating with annual offense vs. defense Spring Game March 28. Spring traditionally is time for optimism, except among perpetually dissatisfied Canes fans, who complain UM is only .500 in intrasquad spring games under Al Golden.

5. NASCAR: Earnhardt, Gordon in Daytona 500 spotlight: Dale Earnhardt Jr. will try to become only fourth back-to-back champ in event’s 62 years and first since 1995 as Sunday's Daytona 500 begins Jeff Gordon’s farewell year. NASCAR opener will start with the traditional call: "Gentlemen, start your feuding and backbiting!"

6. UM BASKETBALL: Canes men miss big opportunity at Louisville: Miami, on the bubble in terms of making NCAA Tournament, blew a late lead and lost 55-53 Saturday at No. 12 Louisville, missing what would have been a huge win. Should coach Jim Larranaga's Canes wind up settling for NIT instead of being on the Big Dance card, they'll maybe blame this.

7. PANTHERS: Cats blow chance to take over No. 8 seed in East: Florida lost 4-1 at Ottawa last night when a win would have overtaken the idle Boston Bruins for eighth and final playoff spot in NHL’s Eastern Conference. Hey, when your team last won a postseason series in 1996, close counts and this is Playoff Fever.

8. NFL: Scouting Combine nears conclusion in Indianapolis: And, really, other than questions about his weight problem, his shoulder weakness and all of the baggage of his immaturity-fueled college shenanigans, it was a great Combine for Jameis Winston. 

9. GOLF: Honda Classic in Palm Beach loses Tiger Woods: PGA Tour’s Honda Classic starts in four days, but sans Tiger Woods, who is taking a short break from golf. Jack Nicklaus called Tiger’s struggles "between his ears." NBC analyst Johnny Miller said he "must have demons in his head." On the other hand, Sigmund Freud thinks Tiger’s problem is just a hitch in his backswing.

10. MLB: Baseball institutes speed-up rules: Effective this year, for example: Hitters must remain in batter’s box after asking for time, and pitching changes will be on the clock. Good! I don’t wanna say baseball got much too slow, but the sport fell so far behind it is just now about to begin the 2009 season.

Also considered: Roger Federer bows out of Key Biscayne tennis, A-Rod's apology letter, Canes at Gators baseball, beagle wins Westminster dog show, Cricket World Cup.

HEAT FIZZLE IN DRAGIC DEBUT AS POST-BOSH RUN BEGINS: Newly acquired Heat point guard Goran Dragic (pictured) debuted for Miami at home last night in a disappointing, never-led loss to New Orleans. With Chris 1aa1adragicBosh sidelined for the remainder of the season with blood clots in his lungs, this unveiled the post-Bosh Heat. With Dragic here and Dwyane Wade back, this is your new-look team. And if last night was any sort of good test and good gauge, Miami could struggle to make the playoffs without Bosh. Miami had whipped the awful Knicks the night before without Dragic, but that was no gauge. When Udonis Haslem makes his first career 3-pointer, Mario Chalmers has eight steals, eight of the only nine players available score in double figures and Tyler Johnson is on the end of an alley-oop dunk, you know the opponent is awful and all things are flowing your way.

Poll result: Heat fans loving -- loving! -- the Goran Dragic trade: We asked, and you had no doubt, with 80.4 percent "loving" and another 16.1% "liking" the Heat's trade for point guard Goran Dragic. Fewer than 4% disliked or hated the deal.

Poll result: Athletes should deal with media, but it's arguable: Little consensus. We asked if leagues and teams had a right to expect players to be available to media, and it was 47.8 percent yes and 43.8% no, with 8.4% undecided.

1aa1aoscarcokeSATIRIZING THE OSCARS: The Academy Awards are Sunday/tonight as most know, and I found funny the pictured work of a Los Angeles street artist named Plastic Jesus. (Yes, Plastic Jesus). It depicts an iconic gold Oscar statuette on all fours snorting two lines of cocaine. The sign reads, 'Hollywood's Best Party.' Ah, artistic freedom! It's a wonderful thing. Although Academy Awards lawyers may not have agreed. The display was soon removed.

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August 10, 2014

Dolphins' predicted win %'s in every game; plus Brady Quinn, RIP Robin Williams, Wade's jab at LeBron, Hot Button Top 10, Le Batard & more

1aa1arobinw1) It is MONDAY, AUGUST 11. R.I.P., Robin Williams, 63, one of our great comic actors, dead of an apparent suicide. Shocking. So, so sad. 2) Peyton and Eli Manning have a new hip-hop video (sort of) for DirecTV. It is splendidly awful. Click here to cringe or enjoy. In case you missed it, click here for my Saturday column on Alonzo Mourning's hall of fame induction. 3) In The Previous Blogpost (ITPB): Tannehill sharp in preseaon-opener loss, Reshad Jones suspended, Dolphins-newcomer poll, Zo's big night, my 50 yards from glory & more. 4) Follow us on Twitter @gregcote. Also Vine and Instagram.

1aa1adwadejabD. Wade's gentle jab at LeBron?: Dwyane Wade's latest Instagram post today, unexplained, is this quotation: "Loyalty Is Rare, If You Find, Keep It." Interpret as you will.

Le Batard explains himself: Dan Le Batard reacts to his recent two-day ESPN suspension today in a new column for ESPN.com. Click here to read it.    

"Cleveland is ecstatic. Because of LeBron James and Johnny Manziel? Well, yeah, that too I suppose, now that you mention it. But I meant because the city is hosting the International Gay Games this week." --Greg Cote

HERE ARE WIN-LIKELIHOOD PERCENTAGES FOR EVERY DOLPHINS GAME: PredictionMachine.com computers replayed the 2014 season 50,000 times and spit out an average of 7.4 victories for the
1aa1apredictionDolphins -- foretelling the typical competitive-but-no-playoffs season. Miami is given a 12.2 percent chance to win the AFC East 1aa1adol0.4and a 13.9% shot at a wild card -- a combined postseason likelihood of 26.1%. The Dolphins are given a 0.4% chance -- less than half of 1 percent -- to win the Super Bowl. Here are game-by-game win percentages, from likeliest victory to unlikeliest: 60.2% vs. Bills (Game 10); 58.5% @ Jaguars (7); 55.0% vs. Jets (16); 54.2% @ Raiders (4); 54.1 @ Jets (12); 53.8% vs. Chiefs (3); 52.5% vs. Vikings (15); 50.8% @ Bills (2); 49.7% vs. Ravens (13); 43.7% vs. Chargers (8); 42.3% @ Bears (6); 39.3% vs. Packers (5); 38.5% vs. Patriots (1); 36.6% @ Lions (9); 29.3% @ Patriots (14); and 17.2% @ Broncos (11). PredictionMachine says the six AFC playoff teams in order will be Broncos, Patriots, Colts, Bengals, Chargers and Texans. For the NFC it's Saints, Seahawks, Giants, Packers, 49ers and Eagles. Most likely Super Bowl champions are the Broncos (25.1%), Seahawks to repeat (22.1%), Saints (15.8%) and Patriots (8.8%).

The Dolphins recycle: Quinn tops Grossman, Skelton in QB audition: Dolphins worked out
1aa1abradybodyquarterbacks Rex Grossman, Brady Quinn (pictured lookin' all sexy) and John Skelton today, with Quinn signed. This was because team's QB situation after starter Ryan Tannehill seemed in flux, with backup Matt Moore and third-string Pat Devlin both sitting out preseason opener injured, and Moore a pricey backup with a $4 million salary. Quinn of course is the guy many Dolfans hoped team drafted in 2007 (instead of Ted Ginn), but he has done little in NFL. Coach Joe Philbin was typically say-nothing on the auditions today: "We’ve had workouts almost every single day and it’s no different. We’re always evaluating different people that are out there." To me it felt like flying in these guys was mostly a message to Moore and Devlin; now it seems Quinn will supplant Devlin as the No. 3. Hey, now let's start a Tim Tebow rumor and really make this fun. Wait. Vince Young!

1aa1afrank2


1aa1afrankmaloneyFAMED BOXING PROMOTER BECOMES WOMAN:
You don't see this every day. It turns out famed British boxing promoter and manager Frank Maloney, now 61, who shepherded Lennox Lewis to the heavweight title in the '90s, is now a woman named Kellie. Click here for the story out of the UK. Frank and his female transmogrification are pictured.

1aa1afacekiniFASHION TREND: THE 'FACEKINI': Beachgores in China have popularized a bizarre head-covering designed to both protect the face from the sun's harmful rays and also to scare the living s--- out of children imagining an alien attack. Click here for thre backstory. This is a blog, so I couldn't say it if it weren't true.

HOT BUTTON: TOP 10 THINGS SOUTH FLORIDA SPORTS FANS ARE TALKING ABOUT: Hot Button is an added Sunday feature of the blog because our Sunday notes-column package in the print edition has been on summer hiatus, scheduled to return to the newspaper on Aug. 24. Hot Button means what's on our minds as the sports week just past pivots to the week ahead:

1aa1ahotbutton1. Dolphins: Tannehill shines in preseason opener: Safety Reshad Jones was socked with four-game NFL suspension for PEDs. Better news: Ryan Tannehill was 6-for-6 on opening drive and new offense looked good early in 16-10 fake-game loss in Atanta.

2. UM football: Golden plays mind games: Coach Al Golden has his Hurricanes undergoing "mindfulness" sessions with neuroscientist Amishi Jha. UM fans hope that what players are most mindful of is blocking and tackling. 

3. Marlins: Huge homestand needed: Brad Penny won in first game back with Fish, but team is still 4.5 games back in wild-card chase entering Sunday. Miami will need a big showing in a nine-game homestand starting Monday to have a chance.

4. Dan Le Batard: LeBron prank leads to suspension: ESPN suspended Le Batard for two days from his TV and radio shows after he paid for billboards that read, "You're Welcome, LeBron. Love, Miami," to coincide with James' Akron homecoming. The billboards: $5,000. The publicity: Priceless.

5. Alonzo Mourning: Zo joins hall of fame: The Heat's first big star was among 10 newest members of the basketball hall of fame Friday night in Springfield, Mass. To say the inductees spoke a little long would be understating it. I think Nolan Richardson might still be talking.

6. Heat: Riley's well-timed shot: speaks: Pat Riley's ill feelings about how LeBron left the Heat continue to seep through. On Friday, the same day Akron officially welcomed James home, Riley released to "Heat Lifers" a forward-looking video full of optimism. Meanwhile James assured Cavs fans, "I don't plan on going nowhere" -- and was suspended four games for a grammatical double-negative.

7. Golf: Rory leads PGA Championship: Red-hot Rory McIlroy took a one-shot lead into Sunday's final round of the season's fourth and final major. Tiger Woods missed the cut. Rory insists the"next Tiger" talk is premature. Win today and the insisting will be harder.

8. Biogenesis: Charges filed: One year after the story first broke, the feds arrested Biogenesis founder Tony Bosch and others connected to the Coral Gables steroids mill that implicated Alex Rodrguez and others in MLB. Just when you think baseball's "Steroids Era" is over, it isn't.

9. NASCAR: Stewart involved in tragedy: Tony Stewart withdrew from Sunday's NASCAR race after accidentally striking and killing another driver in a Saturday dirt-track race.

10. NCAA: O'Bannon ruling: NCAA said it will appeal after judge ruled against it in landmark case that would open door for college athletes to receive some of the money they generate in major college sports. The way the legal system works, I wonder if Ed O'Bannon, 41, will still be alive to someday collect.

1aa1ablazorPoll result: Lazor, Albert and Landry lead Dolphins newcomers: In the previous blogpost we gave you 12 choices for the Dolphins' top newcomer/biggest addition (you may still vote), and three men dominated: Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor (pictured) with 27.4 percent, OT Branden Albert with 25.6% and WR Jarvis Landry with 22.2%. On a distant second tier were CB Cortland Finnegan (7.0%) and OT Ja'Wuan James (6.6%). Showing minor support were RB Knowshon Moreno (3.1%) and S Louis Delmas (2.9%). The five others mopped up with negligible votes.

1aa1adanback
THE TICKET CAPITALIZES ON LE BATARD SUSPENSION:
Radio station 104.3 & 790 The Ticket bought this full-page ad in the Miami Herald on Sunday to welcome back Dan today/Monday following his two-day ESPN suspension for those tweaking-LeBron billboards in Akron. Nice touch to show the "offending" billboard on the bottom of the ad. Take that, ESPN!

50 YARDS FROM GLORY: THE LATEST: My bet with Le Batard that I can make a 50-yard field goal (an unadulterated radio-show gimmick) is not looking good. I worked out Saturday at St. Thomas Aquinas High with kicking coach Tim Conrad and did not top 30 yards before a strained quad muscle cut short the session. Stugotz was there; if only his moral support translated to added yardage. Have I given up? No. But the injury will force me to postpone my live-on-the-air attempt that had been planned for Tuesday. Meantime a video of me kicking on Saturday is posted on my Instagram account @ upsetbird. Updates to come.

1aa1adolcheercoverDOLPHIN CHEERLEADERS UPDATE: The Dolphins cheerleaders have revealed their 2015 calendar and the suspense has ended. Now, at long last, we can tell you that Monica (pictured) is the cover girl. Was she the betting favorite? Not sure. One more question. Why can't the Dolphins ever look as good on the field as the cheerleaders do in a calendar?

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April 23, 2014

G2: Heat 101, Charlotte 97: LeBron's 32 lifts escape to 2-0 series lead; plus Arison's bravado, Heat's Game of Thrones, Jose Fernandez chases history & more

1) It is WEDNESDAY, APRIL 23. King Sport unleashes its 2014 schedule in an NFL Network show tonight. It's much ado about not much considering teams' opponents already are known, and tonight just attaches dates. 2) Record Store Day just passed. Support your local indie music shop. Long live vinyl! 3) In The Previous Blogpost (ITPB): Heat-Charlotte preview and Game 1, Typepad issues hold blog hostage & more. 4) Join us on Twitter @gregcote.

Blog note about recent issues: You know how you never really stop to appreciate how good you feel until you're sick? I go forth with renewed appreciation for the simple act of being able to post in this blog whenever I wish. That was taken away for several recent days as Typepad fought denial-of-service cyber attacks. Thanks for the patience and understanding, all.

G2: HEAT 101, CHARLOTTE 97: NARROW ESCAPE AS LEBRON NETS 32: LeBron James' game-high 32 points lifted Miami tonight in a narrow escaoe for a 2-0 series lead. Chris Bosh had 20 including some clutch shots late. Dwyane Wade was off offensively (4-for-10 shooting, 15 points) but had a victory-sealing steal with 1.2 seconds left. A very hard foul against James by Josh McRoberts with just under a minute left was not called a flagrant but will be subject to league review and possible discipline. Maybe that play is what is needed to fire up the Heat, which has not shown its best or most intense effort these first two games of the postseason. ..... Game 2 Heat Players of the Game: 1. James, 2. Bosh, 3. Wade (edging the early spark of Mario Chalmers). ..... Original post: Tonight's Game 2 of the Heat-Charlotte first-round series is the 100th home playoff game in Heat history. (Hallmark make a card for that?) More 1aa1aheatchaimportant, it's likely to be the stage for Miami taking 2-0 series command following that 99-88 opening win on Sunday and before 1aa1ag2heatchathe series swings up to North Carolina for Game 3 Saturday night. Mario Chalmers (shin) is game-time decision for Miami tonight. More significantly, Bobcats star Al Jefferson (foot) says he'll play but surely will be limited. Charlotte is 13-4 following losses since mid-January, but a far weightier 17-game sample is that Miami has won 17 in a row over Charlotte including five this season. Dwyane Wade's continued progress will be a watch-point again tonight after an encouraging and efficient 23-point game in the opener. He referred to himself Tuesday as still "working my way back." It'll also be interesting to see if James Jones' heroics off the bench in Game 1 (12 points in 14 minutes) was a one-off thing or portends a steady rotation role.

Heat Postseason MVP Standings (through 1 game): Entering Game 2 tonight: Dwyane Wade 3 points; LeBron James 2; James Jones 1. (We name 'Heat 3 Stars' after every playoff game and award points on 3-2-1 basis).

HEAT OWNER SORT OF GUARANTEES RETURN OF BIG 3, ALMOST!: Well, he did. Sort of. Not that he can be sure, really. So this might be big news, or it might not be news at all. Welcome to Journalism 1aa1amickya2014, where sometimes news can be a casual aside in a Tweet, and sometimes it can be Micky Arison, on ESPN Radio Monday, answering, "100 percent," when host Dan Le Batard asked the Heat's owner for a percentage likelihood "this thing stays together next season." (Dan didn't say what he was referring to, but all know This Thing meant the Big 3 era). Micky (pictured far right with Pat Riley) could have said "we're hopeful" or some other vaguary but he took Le Batard's bait with the one percentage that sounds like all but a guarantee. The one problem: Whatever Micky thinks in April is trumped by whatever LeBron James thinks and decides this summer. Clearly nothing about this is 100 percent, but I don't think Arison is far off in his optimism. If Miami wins a third straight NBA title it almost guarantees the Big 3 stays intact. If Miami falls short I think the likeliest scenario is that the Big 3 all extend for one more season with the option to test free agency in 2015. I'd put that likelihood at a solid, um, 78.4 percent.

Heat = Lannisters in NBA Game of Thrones: I don't watch HBO's Game of Thrones. But I know many do, and may enjoy this piece drawing parallels between the popular show and the 2014 NBA playoffs. Pat Riley is cast as Tywin Lannister and his team as the Lannisters, which must mean something to somebody.

 

1aa1ajoshmcrBobcats enlist Jesus, fail anyway: The Charlotte Bobcats, who ran like hell from the depravity of South Beach after their Game 1 loss, fell in the opener despite Jesus playing for the team. And on Easter no less! (I'm surprised this was not a bigger national story, and thanks to Twitter follower @mancard1 for pointing it out to me). Jesus, pictured right, scored 15 points in the 99-88 Miami win while playing under the earthly name "Josh McRoberts."

MARLINS POSITIVITY: Miami is 10-11 right now after Jose Fernandez's 14-strikeout gem last night, but only six teams in MLB have a better run-differential than the Marlins' plus-12. As for Fernandez's dominance, see The List directly below.

THE LIST: KID K, JOSE FERNANDEZ: Fernandez so far in his young career averages 10.307 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched. The only two pitchers in history to average more are Randy Johnson (10.610) and Kerry Wood (10.317). How Fernandez ranks in strikeouts-per-inning vs. the eight pitchers with 500-plus career strikeouts for the Marlins:

Pitcher                K's-per-Inning    Strikeouts / Innings

Jose Fernandez       1.145             234 / 204.1

Josh Beckett            0.997             607 / 609.0

Josh Johnson          0.908             832 / 916.2

A.J. Burnett            0.882              753 / 853.2

Anibal Sanchez       0.851              676 / 794.1

Ryan Dempster       0.827             628 / 759.2

Ricky Nolasco         0.817             1001 / 1225.2

Dontrelle Willis       0.740              757 / 1022.2

Brad Penny             0.729             570 / 781.2

YES, MEBRAHTOM KEFLEZIGHI IS AN AMERICAN: The Boston Marathon ran in peace Monday one year after 1aa1amebkthe terrorist bombings -- a triumph of American resolve and spirit -- and, fittingly, in the storybook style sports so often delivers, an American man won for the first time since 1983. The American is named Mebrahtom "Meb" Keflezighi, and you could almost hear a million Americans snorting, "What!? That's no American!" Well, Meb emigrated from his native Eritrea in 1987 at age 12. (I know. Eritrea sounds like the dog in Scooby Doo mispronouncing a word, but it's a small country in the horn of Africa). Anyway, Keflezighi is now 38, living and raising a family in San Diego, and a U.S. citizen. His is a very American story, and a particularly sweet one for this year's Boston race. Congrats, Mebster!

R.I.P., RUBIN (HURRICANE) CARTER, 1937-2014: He was the former middleweight boxer who was framed, wrongly convicted of murder and spent 19 years in prison before his conviction was overturned. He died this week in Toronto. His story was the subject of the Bob Dylan song, "Hurricane," which we offer below. This is not Dylan singing (sorry), but is briefer than the original, includes lyrics (some adult language) and well-represents the tale.

 

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April 14, 2014

Tue pm 4-15: Why Heat preferred No. 2 seed (by a lot); plus Philbin on candid camera, All Apologies, Wade verdict, Bubba's Mastery, Pacquiao & more

It's Radio Tuesday Thursday!: I'm in-studio with the Dan Le Batard Show again this week, but Thursday, not today.

1aa1abostonstrong1) It is TUESDAY, APRIL 15. Remembering those killed, injured and otherwise affected on the one-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings. 2) Click on Random Evidence for our latest Sunday notes-column package, leading with the end (for now) of the Heat drama, Waiting on Dwyane. 3) In The Previous Blogpost (ITPB): Dwyane Wade poll, Wade shines in return, Heat-Pacers, Stephen Colbert, Dolphins cheerleaders & more. 4) Follow on Twitter @gregcote.

LeBron, Bosh sit in Heat loss: LeBron james and Chris Bosh sitting out last night's 114-93 loss at Atlanta verified (see item directly below) how little interest Miami had in the No. 1 seed at this point.

FIGHT FOR NO. 1 SEED WAS A FALLACY. HEAT BETTER OFF AS NO. 2: Miami's season-long chase with Indiana for the No. 1 Eastern Conference playoff seed has been a fallacy. As the standings have set, it 1aa1ano2has become clear that the Heat much prefer being right where they're at, holding the No. 2  seed. Take the two reasons chronologically. The second seed means Miami's first-round playoff opponent is Charlotte, not Atlanta. Though Miami would be hugely favored over either and be threatened by neither, the Heat are 4-0 vs. the Bobcats this season, only 2-2 vs. the Hawks. But the second round is the big reason. The No. 2 seed in the second round would face the winner of the Toronto-Washington series, while the No. 1 seed would face the winner of Chicago-Brooklyn. Miami of course is 0-4 vs. the Nets, and only 2-2 vs. the Bulls and irritant Joakim Noah. The Heat are 4-0 vs. the Raptors, and 2-2 vs. the Wizards including last night's token effort. Bulls or Nets in the second round would be a real test for Miami, whereas Raptors or Wizards would be more of a waltz into the conference finals. The Heat won't ever say they preferred No. 2, but it's beyond logical why they would. (Oh, and Miami would still have that Eastern finals Game 7 at home if the opponent is anybody but Indiana, whch it very well could be with Brooklyn).

Poll result: Still concern over Wade's health: We asked how you feel about Dwyane Wade's health situation entering the playoffs, and a narrow plurality of 39.2 percent were confident he'd be healthy and a major contributor. But 38.9% were concerned about rust or reinjury, and another 21.9% were worried his contruibution would be limited.

1aa1ajoemoeBLOG EXCLUSIVE! JOE EATS AT MOE'S: A blog spy shot this picture over the weekend of Dolphins coach Joe Philbin having lunch alone at Moe's Southwestern Grill just north of Dolphins camp. Joe, an apparent fork southpaw, appears to be digging into a healthful salad. We thank our blog spy for passing this along. We'd thank them even more if it wasn't a bad photograph framed by giant cups in the foreground. The news value in this exclusive photo is that Philbin appears -- at least to me -- to be in deep thought mulling options as to what the Dolphins will do in the first round of next month's draft.

I WISH I WAS LIKE YOU, EASILY AMUSED...: At the recent Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductions one of my favorite bands, Nirvana, performed one of my favorite songs, "All Apologies," with one of my favorite newer performers, Lorde, on lead vocals. Love it. You might, too. Or, not.

  

NHL PLAYOFF ODDS; CANADIAN MISERY CONTUNUES: Boston is a 7-2 favorite (via Bovada) to win the NHL's Stanley Cup as playoffs near, followed by St. Louis at 6-1, Pittsburgh 7-1 and Chicago 8-1. A Canadian team, Montreal, last won it all in 1993. Montreal is the only northern neighbor of 16 qualifiers this year, and is mid-pack 20-1. 

1aa1abubbawBUBBA THE PERFECT MASTERS WINNER: Bubba Watson's second Masters victory in three years must please the men who run Augusta. What better representative for an Old Boys Network that fought kicking and screaming to admit blacks and women as members than a champion named Bubba? In all seriousness, gotta love anybody who just pocketed a 1.6 million check and celebrates at a Waffle House. Mea culpa: Originally I referred to Bubba as Watkins, not Watson. OY! Sorry. Quick aside: Nobody -- with the possible exception of the grand marshal in a St. Patrick's Day parade -- looks good in a green jacket.

My own golf game: I am playing as well as I ever have, which I say modestly. My past two rounds, at Holywood Beach and Hillcrest, have both been scores of 92. One included seven pars, the other four pars and a birdie (on a 25-foot putt on a par 3). 

PACQUIAO-MAYWEATHER?: Manny Pacquiao's decision over Timothy Bradley in their rematch in Vegas, avenging a controversial 2012 loss, did two things. 1) It made Heat coach Erik Spoelstra very happy. Spo is big fan of Pacquiao, a fellow Filipino. 2) It will mean a resumption of speculation about a Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather Jr. bout. Such a fight would have been pay-per-view gold a couple of years ago. Interest is diminished because both fights are, but interest remains. Could still set PPV records with the right hype.

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February 25, 2014

Wednesday p.m.: The night Ali was born, 50 years ago later; plus the N-word, Marlins' projected win total, Team USA verdict, Hiassen/Pitts & more

1) It is WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 26. In The Previous Blogpost (ITPB): Team USA Olympic poll, Dale Jr., LeBron's nose & more. 2) Follow us on Twitter @gregcote and also on Instagram, Vine and Facebook.

IT WAS 50 YEARS AGO: CLAY BEATS LISTON IN MIAMI BEACH, AND MUHAMMAD ALI IS BORN: I spoke with Ferdie Pacheco, "The Fight Doctor," for yesterday's column on the golden anniversary 1aa1aclayliston1of a watershed event in American sports history, and arguably the biggest one we have hosted in greater Miami. Click on Ali Is Born for that column. Ferdie and I did not speak at length. He was tired. He 's 86 now, and he'd just done four hours with CBS Sports cameras in his Miami home for a 1aa1aclaylistonspecial. Being the last, best living link to those Clay-turning-Ali days makes Pacheco a treasure, living history. Ali himself, of course, is a shell in the terrible embrace of Parkinson's. It's as if Pacheco is his voice now, too. I was too young to know of that Feb. 25, 1964 fight, let alone to have attended, but the buzz about it helped kindle in me a fascination with boxing; more accurately, with Ali, the Greatest Of All Time. He was the first athlete of my generation, at the least the first on my radar, who transcended sports, and who brought politics, religion and outlandish (wonderful) braggadocio to our games. He was like nothing before, and there has been none like him since. It is fitting that the History Miami museum has an art and photo exhibit marking that event 50 years ago, and hosted a panel discussion last night. And it is fitting that The Fight Doctor was on that panel, the painter's brush strokes giving color to memories in black and white.

MARLINS' PROJECTED WIN TOTAL: It's 69.5 on the betting over/under, says Bovada. Good news: That's better than last season's 62 wins. Bad news: That's still tied for next to last in all of MLB, and last in the NL East, after Nationals 88.5, Braves 87.5, Phillies 76.5 and mets 73.5. Overall leader is Dodgers at 92.5.

Poll result: Mixed verdict on Team USA performance in Sochi: We asked in the previous blogpost and you all gave Team USA what amounts to silver or bronze at best. Most, 32.5 percent, rated the overall performance "good," 29.2% "fair" and 26.6% "disappointing." It was "a failure" to 6.5% and "excellent" to only 5.2%.

ON THE USE OF THE "N-WORD": First, yeah, I'm about as white as can be and yet here I am opining on the n-word. So what? No apologies. If I can speak up for gay rights even though I'm not gay, why can't I have an opinion on others using the n-word? I have not been hurt to have been called it in anger, 1aa1anwordderision or hatred like many older African-Americans (and some younger) may have, but I still am jarred by the sound of the word, no matter it's present-day connotation. I address its use not from a vantage of Civil Rights, but of civility, and Black History Month provides a natural vessel for discussion. I hear black friends and black athletes (though not all) defend using the word among themselves, but with an "-a" not an "-er" on the end. Rappers feel the same justification. Even some whites do, as if using the word includes them in some private club. That was an element of the Incognito/Martin dynamic in the Dolphins' Bullygate saga. I'm not audacious enough to tell anybody how they should speak among themselves, or in their art form, but I can suggest the continued use of the n-word, even ending in "a," feels self-defeating to me. It is clearly generational, as we saw in the recent ESPN Outside The Lines special on the word. It is significant to note most older blacks who actually were victims of segregation and racism abhor the word in all its forms. This, to me, is reason enough to erase the word in all its forms from our lexicon. That includes rap lyrics and collegial locker-room banter. It is a matter of respect, not so much respect for one's self as respect for generations past that suffered greatly, sometimes paying with their lives, when the n-word represented discrimination in its most violent, hateful form. I don't agree with the NFL considering making a penalty of the word, but only because not saying it should not require rules or legislation. Not saying it should spring from the conscience.

IN APPRECIATION OF HIASSEN, PITTS: Columnists Carl Hiaasen and Leonard Pitts Jr. make me proud of the Miami Herald, and honored to be a colleague over here on the sporting wing. The thought occured Sunday as I read the latest from each: Hiassen on the latitude and lunacy of Florida's Stand Your Ground gun law, and Pitts on gay rights and stubborn wrongs. Excellence. From them it almost always is.

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