April 20, 2015

Trust Pat Riley ... except when he says he's made peace with LeBron. My new column; plus what should Dolphins target in draft? Poll. Vote now!; also Hot Button Top 10 (updated), 4/20, your pick for NBA title & more

GREG COTE'S RANDOM EVIDENCE BLOG: MIAMI. SPORTS. AND BEYOND.

1aa1aapril4201) It is MONDAY, APRIL 20. It's 4-20, the unofficial national holiday when marijuana devotees celebrate their love of cannabis by smoking weed ... just like they do every other day of the year, but with a tad more ceremony today. 2) Click on Random Evidence for our latest Sunday notes-column package. 3) In The Previous Blogpost (ITPB): NBA playoffs preview and poll, Weighing The Fish (10 games), Dolphins preseason & more. 4) Follow us on Twitter @gregcote. Also on Facebook, Instagram and Vine.

TRUST PAT RILEY ... EXCEPT WHEN HE SAYS HE'S MADE PEACE WITH THE WAY LEBRON LEFT: My column off today's Riley postseason State of the Heat news conference is now posted online and you'd click In Riley We Trust to read it there. We posted it in advance here in its entirety, including an interesting, barely disguised shot at LeBron James, a passage underlined for emphasis below. The photo is by me from the news conference:

1aa1arileyme      Pat Riley just turned 70. His hair has gone a natural silvery gray. He is at a point, in life and career, when a man begins to hear his mortality clock ever louder, to a point that reminders from elsewhere are neither required nor appreciated.

      "People always are trying to make me older than I am," he mused with a small smile Monday in his annual season-ending State of the Heat news conference. "They’re trying to ask me, ‘Why are trying to stay around this game?’ I love the game. I love competition. I love the challenge of building this team again."

      Riley is an NBA lifer in his 46th year in the league, and planning for his 21st season in Miami. He may be a newly minted septuagenarian, but he is convinced he has another championship ring -– at least one more -– in his future.

      Do you doubt him?

      We don’t trust much in South Florida sports or have a lot of faith right now, do we?

      We don’t trust Jeffrey Loria owning the Marlins.

      We have doubts about Dolphins coach Joe Philbin.

      We see Panthers hockey forever trying our patience.

      We feel eroding confidence in Canes football coach Al Golden.

      There isn’t a lot at the top of our sports marquee that has earned our unequivocal trust.

      But Riley has.

      By his tenure and titles, by his track record, the wily Silver Fox has earned every confidence that the injury-marred, playoff-less season just past was a blip, an outlier. In the triumvirate of Riley, owner Micky Arison and coach Erik Spoelstraa, the Heat continue to be the unrivaled model for Miami sports.

      "I challenge myself more than anybody else," he said, "to make sure what happened this year doesn’t happen again."

      Do you doubt he is up to the challenge?

      One year earlier, though in June, after Miami’s loss in the NBA Finals, Riley’s theme had been to pointedly challenge LeBron James to stay, saying, "You have to stay together if you got the guts. You don’t find the first door and run out of it."

      Twenty-two days later James found the door marked ‘Cleveland’ and ran out of it.

      Monday, Riley obviously was alluding to James and the timing and manner of his departure when he referred to having "no more smiling faces with hidden agendas" to deal with this time. Pressed on that he attempted a fast back-track by saying he could have meant "anyone across the board," though it was obvious who he meant.

      I later asked Riley directly if he is at peace with the way James left.

      "Yes, absolutely," he said. "I’m at peace with it."

      I think he was being smarter than he was truthful. In any case Riley is wise to set aside if not bury the LeBron animus, at least publicly, and portray a man not lamenting, but looking forward.

      There is much to look forward to.

      Center Hassan Whiteside, forwards Chris Bosh and Luol Deng and guards Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic -– that is a starting five you can win with. With good health, and added depth including another 3-point shooter or two, that is a starting five you can contend with.

      "You would like to have seen that team intact for just one game," Riley said. "We didn’t get to see that. It was a real disappointing year in terms of setbacks."

      Riley portrayed being able to re-sign Dragic as a near-certainty.

      "If he doesn’t sign, my ass is going to be in that seat next year and I’ll be writing," he joked, pointing at reporters. "We’re in a very good position to offer him more than anybody else."

      Dragic and Bosh are all-star caliber. So, still, is Wade, who has shown an ability to offset advancing age with efficiency. Whiteside could become a powerhouse, what Riley called "a formidable presence in the offense." Deng is the selfless do-it-all guy every team needs. The return of Josh McRoberts to the rotation will be big. Guys like Mario Chalmers and Udonis Haslem still fill a valuable role.

      There is little doubt that Miami –- even with all of the injuries and Bosh’s blood clots and the 30 different starting lineups -– still should have made the playoffs but for a late swoon.

      "I told Eric [Spoelstra] to go beat himself up for a week," Riley said, maybe half-kidding. "And if he didn’t want to, I’d help him."

      Riley remains a huge Spoelstra supporter and believer, but also an enormous asset.

      "I’ve been in that trench before," as Riley put it. "I see everything. He knows I see everything."

      The club’s president and architect has seen enough, and accomplished enough, that Heat fans should have little doubt he’ll see this franchise back into the playoffs next season, and soon back into championship contention.

      It is hard to not have doubts about many of our biggest South Florida sports teams right now.

      It is hard to trust and have faith in who is in charge and leading those teams.

      Pat Riley makes it easy.

1aa1adoldraftWHAT POSITION SHOULD DOLPHINS TARGET IN FIRST ROUND?: It's the night of April 30. Dolphins are on the clock at No. 14 in the first round. There are comparably talented and rated players available at the positions Miami has targeted. So, what to do? Wide receiver seems to be the position earmarked for Fins in a lot of early mock drafts and analysis. It's a glamour position -- though also won pretty well-stocked, by my eye. Would cornerback or linebacker be a smarter option? (Yes, guard also is a need, but no OG is seen as 1R-worthy this year). So you tell me. Vote and say why.

Poll result: Warriors, then Spurs your pick for NBA title: Golden State (37.3 percent) and San Antonio (31.6%) dominated third-place Cleveland (15.3%) when we asked who'd win the NBA championship. Hmm. Anti-LeBron bias, perhaps? Atlanta was a distant fourth with 6.2%.

HOT BUTTON APR. 19: TOP 10 THINGS SOUTH FLORIDA SPORTS FANS ARE TALKING ABOUT: Our blog-exclusive Sunday feature, newly updated. Hot Button means what's on our minds, locally and nationally, as the sports week just past pivots to the week ahead:

1aa1ahotbutton1. NBA: No Heat, but NBA playoffs begin anyway: With Dwyane Wade and Miami on outside for first time since 2008, NBA playoffs began this weekend with LeBron James’ Cleveland and Steph Curry’s Golden State the betting co-favorites and both off to 1-0 series leads. Meantime, Miami somehow lost its playoff spot to Boston and Brooklyn even though it was 7-1 against them. "SMH," said Heat fans, shaking their heads.

2, MARLINS: Fish swept by Mets, rough start to season tests optimism: Dee Gordon is way-hot and Giancarlo Stanton set the club record for career homers, but little else has gone right in team's 3-10 after Sunday' loss and sweep by Mets. Miami doesn't play today. The ways things are going, Marlins will lose the off-day.

3. DOLPHINS: Fins ponder options as NFL Draft nears: Countdown is 10 days now until first round, with speculation growing that Miami likely will take a receiver or cornerback 14th overall. Then again, there also looms the anticlimactic possibility of a trade down.

4. LEGAL SYSTEM: Ex-Patriot Hernandez guilty of murder: Aaron Hernandez will serve life in prison, after jurors said they were “shocked” defense lawyer James Sultan admitted Hernandez witnessed the murder even though no testimony or evidence had placed him at the scene. Opposing defenses were seldom a problem for Hernandez, but apparently his own defense was.

5. NHL: Stanley Cup playoffs start without Cats (again): The hockey postseason is underway, and many experts see the New York Rangers as favorites to win their first Stanley Cup since 1994. That was one year after a team from Canada last won it all, a now-22-year drought for the birthplace of hockey. Modified national anthem to play at arenas during playoffs: Oh No, Canada.

6. BOSTON MARATHON: Iconic race is Monday, two years later: The 119th running will be today for the race struck by the 2013 terrorist bombing that killed three and wounded 264. The sentencing for convicted Dzhokhar Tsarnaev begins Tuesday. Is it too late to invent a sentence worse than death?

7. POLITICS: NBA visits Cuba this week: NBA will conduct a developmental camp in Cuba this Thursday through Sunday. That's against the Heat's wishes, on the face of it, although Micky Arison's Carnival cruise line would benefit greatly from an open port and tourism in Cuba.

8. GOLF: Next Tiger? Spieth wins Masters, electrifies sport: Jordan Spieth, 21, impressively won the Masters and immediately I saw a poll asking whether Spieth would shatter the record by surpassing 20 career major wins. Tap brakes, please. Talking 20 majors after No. 1 is like mentioning the Cy Young Award on Opening Day after the pitcher retires the side in the top of the first.

9. PANTHERS: Florida slotted for 11th pick: NHL draft lottery determined the Panthers will select 11th in the draft they will host in Sunrise on June 26, after the league rejected Florida's proposal that, this year only, the draft host gets the overall No.1 pick.

10. FIU: Golden Panthers wrap spring practice: FIU, seeking its first winning season since 2011, drew a couple of hundred fans for its Spring Game, which was only about 99,000 fewer than Ohio State.

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April 16, 2015

Kiper's latest mock draft: Dolphins, Hurricanes picks in top 3 rounds; plus does Miami now root for LeBron to win NBA title? (poll); also sporties in 'Time 100,' Aaron Hernandez, 'Back In My Day' audio, 4 on Marlins Mount Rushmore & more

GREG COTE'S RANDOM EVIDENCE BLOG: MIAMI. SPORTS. AND BEYOND.

1aa1abadmonkey1) It is THURSDAY, APRIL 16. Just got around to Carl Hiassen's Bad Monkey. More of the madcap-with-a-heart style he mines so well. Fast read. Recommended. By the way, ever notice you never see Hiassen and Tim Dorsey in the same room at the same time? Hmm. 2) In The Previous Blogpost (ITPB): Heat eliminated, Marlins Mount Rushmore poll, Dolphins draft, Jordan Spieth, Lexi Thompson topless, Rubio/Clinton & more. 3) Follow us on Twitter @gregcote. Also on Facebook, Instagram and Vine.

I love the local sports media wondering how incoming University of Miami president Julio Frenk feels about the football program, as if Al Golden's future might be high among his priorities. Funny.

Dan LeBatard picks a fight with UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez: This was during Tuesday's radio show on South Beach. Watch our video on Vine or Twitter.

Handy Man: The new 'Back In My Day': Had some fun on-air this week with a well-received new "Back In My Day," about America's disappearing Handy Man work ethic:

Handy Man

So, Heat fans are supposed to be thrilled their team was lousy enough to keep a draft pick?

Sporties among 'Time 100': Time's annual (unranked) list of the world's 100 most influential people is out, and the three sports figures on it are NBA commissioner Adam Silver, U.S. soccer icon Abby Wambach and, inexplicably, a Brazilian surfer named Gabriel Medina. Don't recall seeing the news reports. When exactly did the Medina family buy Time?

KIPER'S DOLPHINS, HURRICANES PICKS FOR TOP THREE ROUNDS: This is glorified guessing like anybody's mock draft; still, he's Mel Bleepin' Kiper! Junior! He's got the rep and the platform (ESPN) to 1aa1aagholor 1aa1aereckfgive what he says gravitas, so here we go. Kiper today has the Dolphins selecting Southern Cal receiver Nelson Agholor 14th overall in the first round, and Miami-Ohio defensive back Quinten Rollins in the second round. Miami has no third-round pick. Agholor is pictured left. Kiper sees a bounty for UM, with five Canes in the top three rounds: offensive tackle Ereck Flowers (pictured right, 1st round, 29th overall to Colts); receiver Phillip Dorsett (1st round, 31st overall to Saints); linebacker Denzel Perryman (2nd round to Texans); tight end Clive Walford (2nd round to Packers); and running back Duke Johnson (3rd round to Lions). One other area school lands in his first three rounds: FAU corner D'Juon Smith (3rd round to Rams).

WITH HEAT ELIMINATED, IS MIAMI NOW ROOTING FOR (OR AGAINST) LEBRON?: Last night's win at Philadelphia ends the Heat season, thankfully, mercifully. The growing 1aa1acavslebroninevitability had happened the game before when Indiana won, eliminating Miami from playoff contention. Now Heat fans, for the first time since 2008, must adopt a rooting interest for the coming NBA playoffs. Most times it'd be who-cares-who-wins-if-it-isn't-Miami. But does the LeBron James Factor make this year different? I still think South Florida has mixed feelings about LeBron. This poll may verify or refute that notion. I wonder if Heat fans are now rooting for -- or against -- James to lead the Cleveland Cavaliers to their first NBA championship? Do you root for a feelgood homecoming story? Or for a traitor to get his comeuppance? Take a dip in our poll and say why you feel as you do.


1aa1aaaronhernandezAARON HERNANDEZ GUILTY OF MURDER:
So said a jury yesterday, and now the former New England tight end's life is effectively over. Pictured, the new uniform for which Hernandez will be fitted. I found this funny. (Nice touch: the Nike swoosh). I do not find the situation or the crime funny, of course. But the picture properly mocks an entitled punk who had so much and threw it all away. Sympathy for the victims, not the murderer. Click on Awful Decisions And 1.5 Miles for today's latest column by me on the Hernandez verdict.

DOLPHINS SIGN EX-CANE WR: The Dolphins signed receiver LaRon Byrd, the ex-Miami Hurricane. He has good size at 6-4 and 220 but still must prove himself NFL-worthy after spending three season mostly injured or as a practice-squadder with the Cardinals, Cowboys, Browns or Fins.

A DIFFERENT, DIMINISHED NFL DRAFT: The NFL Draft will seem different and feel smaller on its first round the night of April 30. It will be in Chicago after having been held in New York every year since 1965 (meaning inconvenienced Jets fans will have to travel to boo their team's pick). Also, neither Jameis Winston nor Marcus Mariota -- the QBs who are the stars of this draft -- will attend. NFL this week annnounced its 26 draft attendees, and the biggest names probably are running backs Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon. A possible Dolphins pick at No. 14, UCF receiver Breshad Perriman, also will attend.

Poll result: Marlins Mount Rushmore: Conine, Lowell, Beckett, Stanton: We offered the eight finalists in

1aa1astanton 1aa1abeckett

1aa1alowell 1aa1aconinean ongoing MLB.com vote, and your top vote-getter was Jeff Conine, his Mr. Marlin nickname justified with 22.5 percent of the vote. Also making your mountain: Mike Lowell at 15.1%, Josh Beckett at 14.6% and Giancarlo Stanton at 14.3%. (Then it was Livan Hernandez aat 11.0%, Gary Sheffield at 10.9%, Charles Johnson at 6.2% and underloved Luis Castillo at 5.5%).

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April 14, 2015

It's official. It's over. Heat eliminated from playoff chase by Indy win; plus who should be on Marlins' all-time "Mount Rushmore"? Poll. Vote now!; also Dolphins draft, Jordan Spieth, Lexi Thompson topless, presidential politics, God & more

GREG COTE'S RANDOM EVIDENCE BLOG: MIAMI. SPORTS. AND BEYOND.

It's Radio Tuesday!: I'm back in-studio today with the Dan LeBatard Show, 3-7 on The Ticket Miami, 4-7 on ESPN Radio. Will have a new 'Back In My Day' segment if I can dream one up. Ears welcome.

1aa1abosh1) It is TUESDAY, APRIL 14. Chris Bosh is shown flanked by Udonis Haslem, Dwyane Wade and their significant others during Bosh's recent 31st birthday party. Click on image to see it larger. 2) Rolling Stones fan? Mick and the boys are playing Orlando Citrus Bowl on June 12. 3) Heard Howard Stern's great 90 minutes with Madonna. Stern doesn't get enough credit for being an adroit interviewer. 4) In The Previous Blogpost (ITPB): Hot Button Top 10, Heat playoff chase, LeBron-sabotage verdict &more. 5) Follow us on Twitter @gregcote. Also on Facebook, Instagram and Vine.

Dolphins draft: ESPN and Football Outsiders offers "draft guides" for all 32 NFL teams and you'd find Miami's here. They call cornerback the Fins' greatest need and suggest a trade-down from No. 14 to acquire additional picks is very possible to likely.

Richie incognito seems to be fitting in well with the Bills. Although several players complain that a large teammate they're afraid to identify keeps stealing their lunch money. --Greg Cote

PLAYOFF CHASE: DONE. HEAT ELIMINATED: Heat's 100-93 win over Orlando in home finale last night kept Miami alive, but Heat were eliminated from playoff race tonight by Indiana's 99-95 double-overtime home win over Washington. (Click on You Know How This Ends, Right? for my column from the Heat arena. I wrote that it remained hugely likely Miami would miss the playoffs but that it hardly matters. What does is a brighter future next season with a healthy Chris Bosh, a full year of Goran Dragic and a developing Hassan Whiteside. The frustration here wasn't missing the playoffs but how they were missed: with a late-season collapse that somehow kept Miami from being one of the top eight teams in a really bad conference). Anyway, Boston clinched the No. 7 East and now it's Brooklyn or Indiana for No. 8 as Miami will watch the postseason on TV for first time since 2008.

WHO SHOULD BE ON MARLINS' FRANCHISE "MOUNT RUSHMORE"?: The time-worn "Mount Rushmore" gimmick, the concept that local radio man Marc Hochman is convinced he invented despite it being applied to myriad top-four lists throughout history, is now being done for every team at MLB.com. (Find 1aa1afishmountthe ballot here). Fans are invited to name the "Franchise Four" from eight finalists plus an other/write-in category, with results to be announced during the July All-Star break. The Marlins' final eight presented in our poll is interesting. For me Josh Beckett and Livan Hernandez are dubious picks apparently included because both were World Series MVPs. Not sure about Charles Johnson, either, because of the offensive deficiencies. Obvious omissions? Miguel Cabrera and Hanley Ramirez. Maybe Dontrelle Willis? Oh, and some guy named Ricky Nolasco happens to be No. 1 in Marlins all-time starts, innings, strikeouts and victories, that's all. So don't blame me. Our poll is based on the MLB list. Also I have excluded an "other" category because it would be a wasted vote. Let's play the hand we are dealt. By whatever criteria you wish, vote for the top four (4) and say why.

Figuring four-vote ballot results: Any one player's maximum vote would be 25 percent of the total if everyone cast the maximum four votes. Multiply a player's total times four for an idea of the overall percentage of ballots on which that player is being included.

GOLF'S GREAT DAY: Jordan Spieth (pictured) won The Masters on Sunday, but golf and the PGA Tour won, too. 1aa1ajspiethSpieth, 21, seems the real deal, the first young American who could truly be up to the "next Tiger" stuff. Meanwhile young Rory McIlroy (world No. 1 and fourth place Sunday) won't concede anything to Spieth. Golf also benefits from old-timer Phil Mickelson's big Masters and from the fact Tiger Woods also had an encouraging tournament. This is straight out of the PGA Tour's dreams: McIlroy and the American Spieth leading a new vanguard while guys like Mickelson and Woods remains relevant. Quick aside: Spieth is an old-looking 21 thanks largely to the Prince William hairline that will have Jordan endorsing implants by 25.

U.S Open odds: Via Bovada today, Rory McIlroy is an early 11-2 favorite to win golf's next major, the U.S. Open, followed by Jordan Spieth at 7-1 and Tiger Woods at 14-1.

1aa1alexitLEXI THOMPSON OH MY!: Coral Springs-born rising LPGA star Lexi Thompson, 20, poses topless (sort of) on the cover of the current Golf Digest magazine, a towel covering most of what is otherwise uncovered. What's amazing is not that this is daring or groundbreaking (it's neither), but that it is generating a lot of attention. For media and athletes alike, what once was bold is now blase'. Bumper sticker: Honk If You've Appeared Nekkid On a Magazine Cover.

 

 

RUBIO, CLINTON: TWO THOUGHTS ON PRESIDENTIAL POLITICS: Miami's own Marco Rubio announced his presidential candidacy last evening at Freedom Tower. I had two suggestions: Hidden, oscillating 1aa1ahillrubfans to counter Rubio's tendency to sweat like Richard NIxon in a 1960 debate. And no water bottles within 100 feet of him! More seriously, Rubio has an outside nomination shot in a muddled Republican field bereft of a clear frontrunner, although he must overcome the notion that, at 43, it's too soon for him. Damning poll numbers also suggest his support has eroded since he sort of peaked as an "it" guy in 2013. On the Democrat side there is a clear, now-declared frontrunner, but I'll be very interested to see if Hillary Clinton's age -- she'd be 68 on election day -- will emerge as a factor or be a subject considered off-limits.

1aa1abumperCOMBATIVE, COMPETITIVE CHRISTIANS: Pictured is a bumper sticker I saw on an older car while visiting my mother in Vero Beach on Sunday. The message -- I Love God More Than You Do -- struck me as comical, although I don't think it was intended to be.

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April 12, 2015

All but done. Heat playoff chances now 1.7%; plus the new Hot Button Top 10 with Heat, zombie Marlins, Masters, Fins, Cuba, Cats, Canes, FIU & more

GREG COTE'S RANDOM EVIDENCE BLOG: MIAMI. SPORTS. AND BEYOND.

1) It is MONDAY, APRIL 13. Random Evidence, the Sunday notes column, took the day off but will return next week. 2) In The Previous Blogpost (ITPB): Heat's plunging playoff fortunes, LeBron sabotaging Heat poll, Branden Albert boxing, NBA/Cuba verdict, Marlins off schneid, Kardashian-Free Zone & more. 3) Follow us on Twitter @gregcote. Also on Facebook, Instagram and Vine.

Historical SadFact: With the Heat facing elimination today from contention for the NBA playoffs, this would be only the fifth time in 21 shared seasons that both Heat and NHL Panthers sat out the postseason. Previous occurrences were in 2008, 2003, 2002 and 1995.

PLAYOFF CHASE: MIAMI (ALL BUT) ELIMINATED: The latest home 1aa1adwadeloss, 107-104 to Toronto, was Miami's ninth in the past 12 games and pushed Heat to very edge of elimination from NBA playoff race. Dwyane Wade (pictured), who scored 30, displays an expression fitting the frustration of how Miami has blown it the past few weeks. Heat must now win its final two games and hope Brooklyn and Indiana both end 0-2, after Boston beat the LeBron-less Cavs yesterday to (all but) eliminate the Heat. Four teams were jockeying on the home stretch for the Nos. 7 and 8 East seeds. Playoff-likelihood percents are updated to reflect yesterday's developments. How it looks entering Monday's NBA action:

7. Boston: 38-42, W4. Playoff likelihood: 98.3% (up 10.7) per Hollinger/ESPN. Next: Tuesday vs. TOR, Wednesday @ MIL. Note: All but clinched.

8. Brooklyn: 37-43, L1. Playoff likelihood: 76.4% (down 12.5). Next: Tonight vs. CHI, Wednesday vs. ORL. Note: Last two games being at home helps cause.

9. Indiana: 37-43, W5. Playoff likelihood: 23.6 (up 2.8). Next: Tonight vs. WAS, Wednesday @ MEM. Note: Pacers own tiebreaker over Heat.

10. Miami: 35-45, L2. Playoff likelihood: 1.7% (down 1.1). Next: Tonight vs. ORL, Wednesday @ PHI. Note: Heat makes playoffs only if it finishes 2-0 and Brooklyn and Indiana both finish 0-2.

HOT BUTTON APR. 12: TOP 10 THINGS SOUTH FLORIDA SPORTS FANS ARE TALKING ABOUT: Our blog-exclusive Sunday feature. Hot Button means what's on our minds, locally and nationally, as the sports week just past pivots to the week ahead:

1aa1ahotbutton1. HEAT: Miami playoff hopes now all but over: To make the playoffs now, Miami must finish 2-0 (starting tonight vs. Orlando in home finale) and hope Brooklyn and Indiana both end 0-2. That could happen. Yes, and I could hit the Lotto on the way to my blind date with Olivia Munn.

2. MARLINS: Fish staggering at 1-5 start: Team finally won Friday on a "Zombie Night" promotion as many fans arrived dressed as the living dead -- emulating their team's bats during the punchless five losses including yesterday's. More ominous yet: Henderson Alvarez may be out as Fish begin 10-game road trip.

3. GOLF: The Masters under Spieth's spell: Jordan Spieth, 21, became the second-youngest Masters winner (after Tiger Woods in 1997) in dominating Augusta. Tiger was a big story for playing credibly, which tells you how far his career has sunk.

4. DOLPHINS: Pouncey signs long-term deal: No rest. Team signs center Mike Pouncey long-term, auditions but doesn't sign WRs Wes Welker, Greg Jennings and Michael Crabtree, and prepares (17 days and counting) for the NFL Draft.

5. NBA: League to hold camp in Cuba: League blindsided and angered Heat by unilaterally announcing an April 23-26 developmental camp in Cuba. A heads-up might have been logical and nice for the one franchise affected by any relationship with the island.

6. PANTHERS: Hockey season quietly expires: Much improvement and lots to like under first-year coach Gerard Gallant, team MVP Roberto Luongo and late-arrival JaromirJagr in season that ended with Saturday win over Jersey. Bottom line, though: For 17th time in 21 franchise seasons, no playoffs.

7. HURRICANES: 10 more inducted in UM sports hall: I don't wanna say its inducts too many people each year, but if it were a country, the UM Sports Hall of Fame would be the 43rd most populous nation on Earth.

8. COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Duke men, UConn women reign: Now if we can just get the two champions to play each other for the ultimate crown. Sure, it'd be ridiculous. But you'd watch, wouldn't you?

9. TENNIS: Novak, Serena win Miami Open: Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams won titles on Key Biscayne last weekend. Or, given tennis' predictability ... did that go without saying?

10. FIU BASKETBALL: FIU hires new hoops coach: FIU introduced former Maryland assistant Marlin Chinn as head coach of its women's team. Which makes him the newest Miami Marlin, right?

Poll result: Most don't think LeBron is intentionally hurting Heat: We asked if you thought LeBron James resting or sitting out two straight games vs. Celtics might be to intentionally hurt Miami's playoff chances, and it was 51.4 percent no, 38.1% yes and 10.5% maybe/undecided.

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April 11, 2015

Heat lose again, playoff hopes on life support; plus is LeBron intentionally hurting Heat? (poll), Fins' Brandon Albert in boxing gym (video), Marlins off the schneid, NBA/Cuba verdict & more

GREG COTE'S RANDOM EVIDENCE BLOG: MIAMI. SPORTS. AND BEYOND.

1aa1acup
1) It is SATURDAY, APRIL 11. Pictured right, coffee cup sentiment applying to current Heat playoff situation. 2) Mike Pouncey signs multi-year extension with Dolphins making him NFL's highest-paid center. Hope deal includes a babysitter to keep him out of trouble in the clubs. 3) In The Previous Blogpost (ITPB): NBA/Heat/Cuba poll, Heat playoff update, Marlins 0-3, Kiper on Dolphins draft, MLB Stanton video & more. 4) Follow us on Twitter @gregcote. Also on Facebook, Instagram and Vine.

Aside to my media brethren: Please tap the brakes on applying words like "disaster" to a lost game. One of the lessons of 9/11, at least for me, was to remind there are actual disasters, and that a huge loss in sports, no matter how big the blown lead or important the game, is not one. 

PLAYOFF CHASE: HEAT LOSE AGAIN, HOPES NEXT TO GONE: First Miami blows a 19-point lead in a crushing home loss to Bulls Thursday, then watches Friday as all three teams it is chasing win, and then loses at home tonight to Toronto 107-104. Heat have now lost nine of past 12 games at a time when wins were most essential. Miami must now win its final two games and pray. Four teams are jockeying on the home stretch for the Nos. 7 and 8 East seeds. (Playoff-likelihood percents below are not yet updated with tonight's Heat loss). How it looks from here entering Sunday's NBA action:

7. Boston: 37-42, W3. Playoff likelihood: 82.3% (up 16.5) per Hollinger/ESPN. Next: Sunday vs. CLE, then vs. TOR, @ MIL. Note: In driver's seat, with tiebreaker over Nets.

8. Brooklyn: 37-42, W1. Playoff likelihood: 81.2% (up 14.9). Next: Sunday @ MIL, then vs. CHI, vs. ORL. Note: Last two games being at home helps the cause.

9. Indiana: 36-43, W4. Playoff likelihood: 22.5% (down 10.2). Next: Sunday vs. OKC, then vs. WAS, @ MEM. Note: Pacers own tiebreaker over Heat, which is huge.

10. Miami: 35-45, L2. Playoff likelihood: 14.2% (down 21.3). Next: Monday vs. ORL, then @ PHI. Note: Heat own tiebreaker over Celtics and Nets, but would need 2-0 finish -- and much help -- for any chance. Clearest path to playoffs: Miami ends 2-0, and either Boston or Brooklyn lose all three remaining games.

IS LEBRON JAMES INTENTIONALLY TRYING TO SABOTAGE HEAT? Reports were Cleveland's LeBron James would sit out the two games this week against a Boston team that Miami is desperately chasing

1aa1alebronjamesfor a final East playoff spot. Well, James played last night but sat out fourth quarter in a home loss to Celtics -- and new reports are that he will sit out Sunday's game vs. Boston. He has every right; the Cavaliers have clinched the No. 2 seed. But suspicion is raised, especially if he sits out Sunday's rematch. It is not far-fetched, given the way LeBron departed Miami and left things with Pat Riley, that LBJ might time his rest to hurt the Heat by benefiting Boston. James would scoff at the idea and the truth may never be known, but I wonder how Heat fans feel? Clearly Miami is responsible for its own playoff standing, and losses like last night's make the Heat its own worst enemy. But facts are facts. Miami could really use Boston to lose both or at least one of the next two games, the Cavs are 2-9 without LeBron, and the timing of the King's "rest" could be a coffin nail for the franchise he left. Intentional? You tell me:

Poll result: Most favor Heat involvement in Cuba, but strong dissent, too: We asked how Heat should react to NBA's initiatives in Cuba, and 57.1 percent said "embrace it," while 36.5% said "avoid it" and 6.4% were undecided. The favorable number was running in the 70s but fell noticeably when it was first reported (in this column by me) that the Heat objected angrily and would not participate.

MARLINS OFF THE SCHNEID: [Update: Marlins blow 8-1 lead but hang on to beat Tampa Bay 10-9 in 10 innings for first win, getting the offensive bust-out they needed]. Original post: OK, 0-3 is 0.0185 percent of the season. I get that. Of course 0-3, at home, vs. a supposedly inferior division rival, when you score a grand total of three runs, makes 1aa1abbopeningweekit a bit worse. So does this: Ten straight road games -- tied for the longest trip of the season -- follow the three-game home series vs. Tampa Bay that begins tonight. Pressure shouldn't find any team this soon. Heck, you have to go back a whole year (2014 Angels) to find a team that began 0-3 and still made the playoffs. Pressure is lurking, though. It's waiting around the corner. That's why a strong showing vs. the Rays and an offensive breakout is important.

FINS' BRANDON ALBERT TRAINING IN BOXING GYM: Interesting video here by Herald's Charles Trainor Jr. of Dolphins left tackle Brandon Albert doing offseason work at Matt Baiamonte's boxing gym in Wynwood:

 

IF GREG COTE WERE IN CHARGE OF ROAD SIGNS: The spot-on, realistic-looking road signs pictured at 1aa1akardashianright, in red, have mysteriously begun popping up all over the Los Angeles area. Not sure who is behind the comic genius, but I love it. Imagine a culture where the faux-famous like the Kardashian family -- famous only for being famous -- were not welcomed everywhere as royalty but rather shunned as sad examples of the embarrassment of celebrity worship.

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April 09, 2015

Blew it! Heat waste huge lead, put playoff hopes in grave peril; plus Heat, NBA at odds over Cuba (with poll); also Kiper's latest draft guess for Dolphins, Fins preseason schedule, MLB video starring Stanton, The Masters & more

GREG COTE'S RANDOM EVIDENCE BLOG: MIAMI. SPORTS. AND BEYOND.


1aa1awesw1) It is THURSDAY, APRIL 9. Happy birthday, Mom! 2) Wes Welker (pictured), almost 34 and addled by concussions, visited the Dolphins. Gawd. He doesn't need to be signed. He needs to be told to retire. 3) In The Previous Blogpost (ITPB): Marlins Opening Day poll, Heat swoon, Duke-Wisconsin pick, well-dressed animals & more. 4) Follow us on Twitter @gregcote. Also on Facebook, Instagram and Vine.

NBA blindsides, angers Heat with new Cuba initiative: My latest column, online and shipped to Thursday's paper. Click on Unilateral Decision to read.

Marlins now 0-3, suffer Sleeping Bat Syndrome: Visiting Braves sweep Marlins with last night's 2-0 game, meaning Miami scored three runs in three games. The bright side? Two solid pitching performances. The dim side? Everything else. Nightmare start to the season for Miami. (Click on Another Oddball Opening Day for my column from Game 1). Perspective helps, of course. Still only three games of 162. Still, a fast buzzkill on all that hope and optimism. Up to Fish to win it back.

PLAYOFF CHASE: HEAT SUFFER CRUSHING LOSS TO BULLS: Miami blew a 19-point lead at home tonight to Chicago and lost 89-78 -- a crushing defeat that seriously imperils playoff hopes. Dwyane Wade (4-20, 9 points) was awful. An embarrassing 33-8 third quarter ruined the Heat's chances. Four teams are jockeying on the home stretch for the Nos. 7 and 8 East seeds. How it looks from here afgter tonight's huge Heat loss (note playoff-likelihood percentages are not yet updated to reflect Miami's latest loss. Expect the Heat's number to plummet):

7. Boston: 36-41, W2. Playoff likelihood: 59.3% (up 21.5) per Hollinger/ESPN. Next: Friday @ CLE, then vs. CLE, vs. TOR and @ MIL. Note: Tough closing schedule with two straight vs. LeBron.

8. Brooklyn: 36-42, L1. Playoff likelihood: 58.7 (down 16.3). Next: Friday vs. WAS, then @ MIL, vs. CHI and vs. ORL. Note: Three remaining home games boost Nets' chances.

9. Indiana: 36-43, W4. Playoff likelihood: 30.4 (down 0.9). Next: Friday @ DET, then vs. OKC, vs. WAS and @ MEM. Note: Pacers own tiebreaker over Heat, which is potentially big.

10. Miami: 35-44, L1. Playoff likelihood: 51.7 (down 3.2). Next: Saturday vs. TOR, then vs. ORL and @ PHI. Note: Heat own tiebreaker over Celtics and Nets, but may need 3-0 finish from here to make it.

NEW POLL: HEAT FACE DILEMMA WITH NBA'S CUBA INITIATIVE. WHAT TO DO?: [Link to my latest column is above]. For 29 of 30 NBA franchises and markets, this is not an issue. For 29 teams and their fans, U.S.-Cuba relations is a 1aa1acuba2subject closer to who-cares than hot-button. For one team only, the Miami Heat, it's important. The dilemma is that being involved in the league's evolving, warming relationship with Cuba might prove smart in the long-term from a business standpoint, but might prove costly in the short-term from a public relations standpoint. After all, many, especially older, Miami Cuban exiles still want nothing to do with a Castro-led Cuba and feel passionately. They objected when President Barack Obama in December announced steps toward normalizing relations with Cuba -- which led to the NBA this week announcing it would hold a four-game camp in Cuba April 23-26. Many Miami fans might feel betrayed if their team involved itself in any way on the island. Curious how you'd steer the Heat's involvement in the NBA's gradual reach into Cuba? Take a dip in our poll and say why.

KIPER'S LATEST DRAFT GUESS PREDICTION FOR DOLPHINS: Mel Kiper's Mock Draft 4.0 newly out on ESPN.com now has Miami selecting Washington defensive tackle Danny Shelton (6-2, 339; pictured) 14th overall. Saying Kiper: 

1aa1adannys"The Dolphins added Ndamukong Suh, but the depth chart for the interior of their defensive line is basically "Suh and that's about it." Shelton is a different kind of player than Suh, with a far more limited ability to rush the passer, but if they're on the field at the same time it could free Suh up to be the kind of disruptor the Dolphins are paying for, which is what took place in Detroit, where the Lions had a good rotation along the interior. Shelton isn't just insurance for Suh, he's a nice complement. He's not as disruptive as sack and TFL totals indicate, but he can eat up double-teams at the point of attack and make others around him better. He has great awareness and will occasionally simply discard blocks and make the tackle himself." My thought: A possibility, but doubt Fins go for a DT.

Dolphins preseason schedule: Via the NFL today, it's Dolphins at Chicago Aug. 13-17, at Carolina Aug. 20-24, vs. Atlanta Aug. 27-30 and vs. Tampa Bay Sept. 3-4.

THE GROWING STARDOM OF GIANCARLO STANTON, CONTINUED: Money = fame in America, and so Giancarlo Stanton, the Marlins' $325 Million Man, is a bigger star than ever before he hits his first home run this season. The latest example: This new MLB video starring Stanton, set to what sounds like a rapid heartbeat. Good stuff:

 

Poll result: Most believe Marlins are a playoff team: We asked in the previous blogpost (you may still vote) and 69.1 percent said, yes, the Marlins will be a playoff team this year, while 30.9% said no. The yes vote was running nearer the 75-80 range early but dipped after the Opening Day loss.

Big Opening Night on TV for baseball: ESPN2's Opening Night game Sunday (Cardinals-Cubs) drew 3.35 million viewers, a 47 percent increase over last year. It was biggest audience for ESPN or ESPN2 Opening Night since 2008, and best for any regular-season game since Yanks-Red Sox Aug. 7, 2011.

'16 NCAA odds: Bovada sets North Carolina as the favorite at 6-1 for next year's men's NCAA Tournament title, followed by Kentucky 8-1, Maryland and Virginia both 12-1, and champ Duke and Kansas both 16-1. Miami Hurricanes are 40-1 (tied for 19th), ahead of Florida and FSU, both 50-1.

Masters odds: Rory McIlroy is favored to win The Masters this week at 11-2 odds, via Bovada, followed by Jordan Spieth at 8-1, Bubba Watson at 10-1 and Jason Day at 14-1. Tiger Woods? He's tied for 11th at 33-1. Check out WalletHub.com for an interesting, fact-stuffed Masters By The Numbers.

Burger-King wedding: Joel Burger is marrying Ashley King. This is a blog. So you know it's the truth. Story here.

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April 06, 2015

Another calamitous Opening Day for Marlins in rained-on loss; plus are Marlins a playoff team? New poll. Vote now; also Heat down in flames, why Duke wins, nattily dressed animals & more

GREG COTE'S RANDOM EVIDENCE BLOG: MIAMI. SPORTS. AND BEYOND.

1) It is MONDAY, APRIL 6. Hope y'all had a Happy Easter in celebrartion of the original comeback king, Jesus. 2) Click on Random Evidence for our latest Sunday notes-column package, leading with Marlins. 3) In The Previous Blogpost (ITPB): Hut Button Top 10, Duke-Wisconsin poll, Heat/Panthers playoff update & more. 4) Follow us on Twitter @gregcote. Also on Facebook, Instagram and Vine.

Marlins and Jeffrey Loria: I visited with the controversial team owner for my column in Sunday's season-preview section. Many still dislike Loria, but will a big-spending offseason help his image? Click on Judging Jeffrey to read.

PLAYOFF CHASE: Reeling Heat lose yet again. Outlook entering MondayA daily blog feature as one team fights to finish in top eight in Eastern Conference. HEAT--Trending down in 10th place at 34-43 (L4) after last night's 112-89 loss at Indiana, 1 game from 8th, 0 games (tiebreaker) from 9th with 5 games left (next Tuesday vs. Charlotte). Heat playoff likelihood: 49.2% (down 11.3) per Hollinger/ESPN. PANTHERS--Eliminated. 2 games left (next Thursday vs. Boston).

Check us out on Twitter, Instagram and Vine for new pix and vids from today's Marlins Opening Day. 

OPENING DAY! MARLINS UNFURL 2015 SEASON: Update: Marlins lose opener 2-1 to Braves this evening. More calamity. Field rained on when retractable roof doesn't close in time, and soggy field partly blamed for loss. Watch for my column from Marlins Park posting online very soon. Original post: There are a few things the National Pastime still does better than the almighty NFL. The all-star game is one. Another is Opening Day. The start of football never seems special the way to opening of baseball does. So the red, white and blue bunting 1aa1agstanton 1aa1adayopeningwill be out at Marlins Park late this afternoon as the new-look, high-hope Marlins host the Braves. Miami has made the playoffs only two of 22 previous franchise seasons (albeit winning the World Sereis both times), yet optimism helps welcome this season. Countering that: Baseball remains the toughest playoff ticket in American sports, even with the addition of the wild-card games. Can the Marlins hang close enough to contention until Jose Fernandez's summer return from surgery? While we wait to see, at-bats by Giancarlo Stanton (pictured) will continue to be some of the best minute or two in all of sports. I'll be at the park today, on one of those days I like my job. Meantime, take in a dip in our poll and help set expectations for this Marlins season. Remember, not asking what you hope will happen, but what you honestly expect will. Vote and say why.

ILL-TIMED HEAT SWOON: Four straight losses now and seven of the past nine after last night's embarrassed showing at Indiana have the Heat now struggling to make the postseason (see Playoff Chase above). Miami may need a 4-1 finish to do it and has four home games left to feather the cause. That would be a a win Tuesday vs. playoff-chase rival Charlotte, a split of the following games vs. playoff-qualified Chicago and Toronto, then a regular-season-ending sweep of East bottom feeders Orlando and (at) Philadelphia. Little margin of error now. Want the playoffs, Heat? Act like it.

1aa1adukewisDUKE, WISCONSIN: GREAT CONTRASTS. COIN, PLEASE?: The unexpected elimination of toppled unbeaten Kentucky has left tonight's NCAA Tournament men's championship game without a clear or even agreed-upon favorite. Some etting odds have Wisconsin favored by one point, most have it dead-even. Duke seeks its fifth national title, following 1991, '92, 2001 and '10. Wisconsin's only previous national championship was in early-days 1941. Tonight's event misses the cheering for, or against, Kentucky to go 40-0, but it leaves us an intriguing contrast of a matchup. Duke's searing defense vs. Wisconsin's big-scoring O. Young Blue Devils led by freshman Jahlil Okafor vs. veteran Badgers led by senior Frank Kaminsky. Buttoned-down Duke vs. free-spirited Wisconsin. Badgers may have the greater incentive, aiming for a first modern-era title and losing to Duke at home in December and also in last year's NCAA semifinals. But give me Mike Krzyzewski and his terrific defense tonight.

Playoff result: Duke by narrowest of margins: We asked, and you voted 50.7 percent for a Duke championship and 49.3% for Wisconsin.

1aa1aanimals
"DEAR GREG...":
"Your blog's OK but would be even better if occasionally you would show a picture of what the world might look like if animals were of supreme intelligence, walked upright, and dressed even better than we humans do. Thank you." Dear Reader: What an oddball request!

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April 05, 2015

The new Hot Button Top 10: Flying Fish, Kentucky's loss, reeling Heat, 7 others; plus who'll win NCAA final? New poll. Vote now!; also Loria, Serena & more

GREG COTE'S RANDOM EVIDENCE BLOG: MIAMI. SPORTS. AND BEYOND.


1aa1aeaster1) It is SUNDAY, APRIL 5. Happy Easter, believers, and congratulations, Jesus! 2) Click on Random Evidence for today's latest Sunday notes-column package, leading with Marlins. 3) In The Previous Blogpost (ITPB): Final Four, UM/NIT, Jordan tops poll, Heat/Panthers playoff chase, Josh Freeman, Cuban baseball, John Wolin & more. 4) Follow us on Twitter @gregcote. Also on Facebook, Instagram and Vine.

Marlins' Jeffrey Loria: I visit with the team owner for my column in today's season-preview section. Many don't like Loria, but will a big-spending offseason help his image? Click on Judging Jeffrey to read.

Serena's dominance: Serena Williams is The Tennis Terminator. She proved it again yesterday at the Miami Open. Click on Queen Serena for my column on Williams and her place in tennis history.

PLAYOFF CHASE: Double doom! Heat drop off pace, Panthers eliminated. Update entering SundayA daily blog feature as two teams fight to finish in top eight in their Eastern Conference. HEAT--Trending down in 9th place at 34-42 (L3) after last night's 99-98 loss at Detroit, 1/2 game from 8th, 1 game ahead of 10th with 6 games left (next tonight at Indiana). Heat playoff likelihood: 60.5% (down 9.8) per Hollinger/ESPN. PANTHERS--Trending down (eliminated) in 10th place at 36-43 (L1) after last night's 4-0 loss vs. Tampa Bay, 8 points from 8th with 4 games left (next today vs. Montreal). Cats playoff likelihood: 0.0% (down 0.2) per sportsclubstats.com.

HOT BUTTON APR. 5: TOP 10 THINGS SOUTH FLORIDA SPORTS FANS ARE TALKING ABOUT: Our blog-exclusive Sunday feature. Hot Button means what's on our minds, locally and nationally, as the sports week just past pivots to the week ahead:

1aa1ahotbutton1. MARLINS: Opening Day! High hopes as Fish debut Monday: Major League Baseball opens its season with Cardinals at Cubs tonight, but all other teams take the field Monday. Here is your pump-up music, South Florida: Only the Yankees, Red Sox and Giants have won more World Series since 1997 than the Marlins’ two.

2. COLLEGE BASKETBALL: It's Duke-Wisconsin for NCAA championship: Kentucky and Duke were five-point betting picks in Saturday’s Final Four semifinals but only one of them did their job. For the previously unbeaten Wildcats of John Calipari, that meant yesterday was one and done.

3. HEAT: Loss at Detroit knocks Miami off playoff pace: The blown-lead 99-98 loss at Detroit last night toppled Heat into ninth place in East with six games to play resuming tonight at Indiana. Miami has now lost three straight and six of past eight in a season that has proved to be exciting like hanging on to the edge of a cliff is exciting.

4. TENNIS: Serena wins, men on deck at Miami Open: Two weeks of tennis nirvana in Key Biscayne end with today's Novak Djokovic-Andy Murray men's final, after Serena Williams won Saturday's women's crown with such ease that we won't even mention her poor opponent's name.

5. PANTHERS: Cats eliminated from NHL playoff contention: Last night's 4-0 loss to Tampa Bay officially eliminated Florida from race. Panthers may have been most improved team in league this season. Unfortunately, Lord Stanley doesn't believe that close counts.

6. UM BASKETBALL: Canes lose heartbreaker in NIT title game: The bad news? UM, with two starters out injured, lost to Stanford 66-64 in overtime in the final of the NIT. The good news? We avoid having to cringe with a condescending smile while listening to coach Jim Larrañaga claim straight-faced that his team just won a national championship.

7. GOLF: Masters on deck with Tiger in it: Rory McIlroy is the betting favorite at The Masters this week at Augusta, but as much attention was being paid to Tiger Woods on whether he would play. He will. But it speaks to the shaky state of his game -- battling health issues, and after a long layoff -- that even his fans sort of wished he hadn't.

8. NFL DRAFT: UM Pro Day showcases Canes: NFL scouts raved about the Hurricanes’ talent at UM’s annual Pro Day, notably Phillip Dorsett, who ran a 4.25 40. I don’t wanna says he’s fast, but when Dorsett flips off the light switch in his bedroom he’s under the covers before the room goes dark. Seems the Canes will have a sizable impact on the NFL Draft’s early rounds. That sound you hear is one more excuse for a 6-7 season running away from Al Golden. 

9. DOLPHINS: Fins sign quarterback Josh Freeman: That was after the team gained a court order to exhume the remains of Freeman's career and conduct an autopsy for signs of life.

10. HORSES: Show-jumping competition ends on Miami Beach: A major show-jumping competition concluded Saturday on the sands of Miami Beach. I don’t wanna say those horses are pampered, but an "equine psychotherapist" was on hand. Seriously. Am picturing a typical session. Sad horse sighs as it lays on couch. Psychotherapist: “Why the long face?”

Poll result: You want different, better NCAA Tournament format: This surprised me a bit. I'd have guessed you'd go for the status quo. Instead, 70.3 percent said they'd prefer a tournament with the 64 best teams and no automatic bids for small-conference winners. Only 29.7% preferred it as is.

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April 03, 2015

It's Final Four Saturday! But should NCAA Tournament change its format? Poll. Vote now!; plus unlucky Canes, Cuban baseball, Josh Freeman, Heat/Panthers playoff update, John Wolin & more

GREG COTE'S RANDOM EVIDENCE BLOG: MIAMI. SPORTS. AND BEYOND. 

1aa1aserenawms
1) It is SATURDAY, APRIL 4. I'm down on Key Biscayne today to columnize off Serena Williams' presumed crushing of her hopeless opponent in the Miami Open women's final. 2) In The Previous Blogpost (ITPB): Top 20 athletes poll, Heat/Panthers playoff update, Canes/NIT. dead Cats, Ricky Williams sings, Marlins, Dolphins cheerleaders & more. 3) Follow us on Twitter @gregcote. Also on Facebook, Instagram and Vine.

1aa1ajoshfExcavation: Dolphins exhume human remains of quarterback Josh Freeman's career. If he surprises everybody, he might be Miami's third-string QB. If he's the Josh Freeman of the past couple of years, he'll quietly disappear by August. This signing is a low risk hit-or-miss by GM Dennis Hickey, who, while with Tampa Bay, had a big paw in the Bucs dubiously drafting Freeman in first round (17th overall) in 2009.

Cuban baseball and MLB: ESPN's Outside The Lines has a topic premiering on Sunday (9 a.m.) that may be of special interest in Miami. "Cuba On Deck?" explores the increased footprint of Cuban players in MLB and how continued defections along with warming U.S. relations will only increase their number. Click here for a 1-minute video preview.

PLAYOFF CHASE: Heat hanging on, Cats about done. Update entering SaturdayA daily blog feature as two teams fight to finish in top eight in their Eastern Conference. HEAT--Trending even in 8th place at 34-41 (L2), 1 game from 7th, 1/2 game ahead of 9th with 7 games left (next tonight at Detroit). Heat playoff likelihood: 70.3% (down 0.3) per Hollinger/ESPN. PANTHERS--Trending even in 10th place at 36-42 (W1), 3 points from 9th and 6 from 8th with 4 games left (next tonight vs. Tampa Bay). Cats playoff likelihood: 0.2% (unchanged) per sportsclubstats.com.

FINAL FOUR SATURDAY, UNLUCKY CANES FALL IN N.I.T.; TIME FOR CHANGE IN NCAA POSTSEASON?: Finally, the Final Four! Tonight it's 7-Michigan State vs. 1-Duke and 1-Wisconsin vs. 1-Kentucky, and it sure feels like the Duke-Kentucky finale everybody expects. Meanwhile, three thoughts watching Miami's men's basketball team fall 66-64 to Stanford in overtime Thursday for the NIT championship. 1) 1aa1acanesnitNobody, ever again, question whether Michael Irvin's blood runs the greenest and orange-est of any alum ever. Man he was into it. 2) Canes got unlucky, big time. First having to play without injured center Tonye Jekiri and point guard Angel Rodriguez, two big losses. And also that big, dubious call against UM with 3.4 seconds left. I thought Miami was the better team, best in the NIT. Which brings us to ... 3) The NCAA should consider retooling its hoops postseason format so that the NCAA Tournament invites the 64 best teams in the country, period, without automatic bids for small-conference winners. Let the Grade 2 and 3 conferences have their own tournament or meld into the NIT. Hampton at 16-17 gets in the Big Tournament but Miami does not? Anybody outside of Hampton think that makes much sense? With my suggested format there still would be Cinderellas -- somebody gotta be seeded 16th -- except Cinderella would be bigger, and better, and the No. 1s would have a challenge from the start, and in every round. Curious what you think. Take a dip in our poll and say why?

Poll result: Jordan top athlete of past 20 years, but runnerup a surprise: We invited you to name your top five athletes from ESPN's list of the 20 greatest of the past 20 years (that means the maximum vote for any individual was 20 percent), and predictably Micheal Jordan won. But your runnerup, Michael Phelps, was a surprise at least to me. Your results, with ESPN rank in parentheses:

1aa1amj1. Michael Jordan 15.7% (1); 2. Michael Phelps 10.5% (9); 3. LeBron James 10.2% (2); 4. Tiger Woods 10.0% (3); 5. Usain Bolt 6.4% (16); 6. Tom Brady 6.3% (4); 7. Serena Williams 5.9% (6); 8. Roger Federer 5.7% (5); 9. Lionel Messi 4.6% (12); 10. Derek Jeter 4.1% (10).

11. Floyd Mayweather 3.7% (17); 12. Peyton Manning 3.3% (7); 13. Tim Duncan 3.0% (14); 14. Kobe Bryant 2.3% (8); 15. Lance Armstrong 1.9% (15); T16. Barry Bonds 1.6% (19); T16. Brett Favre 1.6% (15); T18. Sidney Crosby 1.3% (20); T18. Shaquille O'Neal 1.3% (11); 20. Mia Hamm 0.9% (18).

My vote? In order, it was Jordon, James, Woods, Williams and Jeter.

FOR THE LOVE OF JOHN WOLIN: One of my career mentors and best friends was John Wolin (pictured), a Miami Herald editor, reporter and beloved curmudgeon for 21 years. He died in 2004 after a life 1aa1ajwolinremarkable only partly because John was born with achondroplastic dwarfism that led to gradually increasing paralysis. Long before it became politically correct to refer to dwarfs as "little people," Wolin cut to the chase and disarmingly called himself "a bald, crippled midget." He was one of a kind. He would make you laugh and break your heart. He was one of the most passionate journalists I have ever known. When we moved into our new house John gave me an elaborate set of wrenches that I still have. His beautiful now-grown daughter is my godchild. John lives on unforgettably in the memory of those he knew but also in a scholarship fund in his name at Florida International University, benefiting aspiring journalists. The fund is now accepting donations at GoFundMe/JohnWolin. Those interested in additional information may also visit FIU's Wolin scholarship page here, or call the university's School of Journalism & Mass Communication at (305) 919-5625. The man was extraordinary. May readers blessed with generosity consider finding the cause worthy.

WHY? BECAUSE IT WAS FRIDAY THAT'S WHY!:

 

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March 30, 2015

Finally, the Four! Who'll win NCAA semifinals? Two polls. Vote now!; plus Bieber roast, Larranaga from NIT, Dolphins draft, ageless wonders Wade, Jagr carry Heat, Panthers & more

GREG COTE'S RANDOM EVIDENCE BLOG: MIAMI. SPORTS. AND BEYOND. 

No radio today: My usual Tuesday in-studio gig on the Dan LeBatard Show will be Thursday this week.

1aa1abloodymary1) It is TUESDAY, MARCH 31. Pictured right, a bloody mary you can buy at Minnesota Twins games that includes a slice of cold pepperoni pizza in it. Just because. 2) Click on Materiality's Burden for my latest column, from Saturday's Florida Derby. 3) Click on Random Evidence for our latest Sunday notes-column package. 4) In The Previous Blogpost (ITPB): Hot Button Top 10, more Madness, Florida Derby & more. 5) Follow us on Twitter @gregcote. Also on Facebook, Instagram and Vine.

Terrific TV Tuesday:

  • Hurricanes men vs. Temple, NIT semifinal, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
  • Panthers at Boston Bruins, 7 p.m. (FSFL)
  • San Antonio Spurs at Heat, 8 p.m. (TNT)

PLAYOFF CHASE: Heat, Cats face huge games tonight. Update entering TuesdayA daily blog feature as two teams fight to finish in top eight in their Eastern Conference. HEAT--Trending even in 7th place at 34-39 (W1), 1 1/2 games from 6th with 9 games left (next tonight vs. San Antonio). Heat playoff likelihood: 79.6% (up 1.8) per Hollinger/ESPN. PANTHERS--Trending even in 10th place at 35-41 (W1), 1 point from 9th and 4 points from 8th with 6 games left (next tonight at Boston). Cats playoff likelihood: 6.4% (up 0.1) per sportsclubstats.com.

FINALLY, THE FOUR! WHO WINS THE NCAA TOURNAMENT SEMIFINALS?: It's No. 1 Kentucky  vs. No. 1 Wisconsin and No. 1 Duke vs. No. 7 Michigan State this coming Saturday in the men's NCAA Tournament 1aa1afinalfourFinal Four. Kentucky and Duke both are 5-point early favorites. Kentucky is now a prohibitive 5-6 favorite to win it all, with Duke and Wisconsin both 7-2 and Michigan State 7-1. This is the 17th Final Four for Kentcucky, 15th for Duke, ninth for Michigan State and third for Wisconsin. It's a heavyweight Final Four. There are no Cinderellas here, not with Michigan State's pedigree, despite its seeding. (By the way, an oddsmaker friend tells me that, if the semis go as expected, Kentucky would likely open as a 4 1/2-point pick over Duke in the title match. But that's getting ahead of ourselves). Who do you predict will win the two semifinal games? Not who you want to win, but who you'd bet to win if you had $100 to place straight-up on either game. Vote and say why.

AGELESS WONDERS WADE, JAGR LIFT HEAT, PANTHERS: Was a big Sunday for our two teams angling for the postseason (see Playoff Chase above for more), thanks to 40 points from Heat's Dwyane Wade in 1aa1adwade 1aa1ajjagrthe 109-102 win over Detroit and two goals from Panthers' Jaromir Jagr in the 4-2 win at Ottawa. Wade, at 33, in his 12th NBA and Miami season, continues to verify he still is in his prime, albeit the far side of it. Jagr, 43, in his 21st NHL season, has proven an excellent playoff-push spark since Florida signed him in late February. The Heat, a current seventh seed, tries to climb to No. 6 in the East for a more favorable first-round matchup  vs. (likely) Chicago. Miami would draw LeBron and Cleveland by staying seventh or top-seeded Atlanta by slipping to eighth. The Panthers still must make up four points to the Bruins to climb up  to eighth. Tonight's game at Boston is must-win in most every sense; Florida needs a two-point victory to give itself a realistic chance. Heat also face a big test tonight, here, vs. San Antonio.

LATEST MOCK-DRAFT GUESS FOR DOLPHINS: Wide receiver certainly is emerging as the position of choice for Miami by most notable mock drafters. The new Mock 4.0 by ESPN's Todd McShay has Fins 1aa1abreshadpselecting Central Florida WR Breshad Perriman (pictured), 6-2 and 212 pounds, the son of longtime NFL wideout and former UM Hurricane Brett Perriman. Here is McShay's analysis: "We haven't had Perriman going this early in our previous mocks, but we've seen two promising signs from him as we've gone through the evaluation process. 1) His ball skills, which were something of a concern on his early-season tape, appeared to get better as the year wore on. His performance in UCF's bowl game against NC State was the best we've seen from him in terms of catching the ball. 2) He verified the speed he flashes on tape with 4.24 and 4.27 40 times at his pro day last week. Miami could use him to replace Mike Wallace as its deep threat opposite fellow newcomers Kenny Stills and Jordan Cameron, giving QB Ryan Tannehill some talented weapons to work with." Perriman is the fourth wideout going in McShay's latest mock. He has Louisville's DaVante Parker, a popular choice for Miami at 14th overall, going 10th to St. Louis.

LARRANAGA FROM THE N.I.T. AS CANESPLAY TONIGHT: A complete (minimally edited) transcript of Miami Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga from yesterday's NIT press conference as UM prepared to face Temple in Tuesday's/tonight's semifinal game at Madison Square Garden:

"The first question I was asked by the media after we beat Richmond was, 'You know you're going back to New York. What's your favorite restaurant?' I said there is only two places I absolutely go to eat when I'm in New York. The first is I get a dirty-water dog off the street vendor and I get a slice of pizza. So if you haven't done either of those you need to do that because that's the best eating you're going to find. This is a thrill for me. My first experience in the NIT was actually when I was 9 or 10 years old. My brother Bob played at St. John's University. He was a scholarship athlete, played for Joe Lapchick and he brought me to Madison Square Garden for the Holiday Festival. I had a chance to watch St. John’s play and he took me down to the lockerroom afterward and I met the St. John's players and from that moment, I wanted to be a college basketball player. I wanted to play in Madison Square Garden. It’ s a little different now because that was the old Garden and it was smoke filled. You guys remember what it was like? I didn’t know, I thought that was what Madison Square Garden looked like. So, when they built a new Garden, I said, 'Where’s all the smoke?'."

"In New York is there's no place you want to play other than Madison Square Garden. My first experience as a player was in 1969. Joe Mullaney brought our Providence College team to the Holiday Festival. We played against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and his UCLA team. I thought we outplayed them, really, but they snuck away with the victory. Then eventually in my my senior year we did lose to the great Carolina team under Dean Smith and they won the NIT 1971."

"So I have great memories of New York City, the NIT and Madison Square Garden. And in particular my last experience in the NIT and in Madison Square Garden was with Jeff Jones who absolutely destroyed a great UNLV team in the semifinals. I don't remember all the number of assists. I'm guessing he does. It was like 14 or 15 assists. He led our team to the NIT championship, and he carried Ralph Sampson and Jeff Lamp along with him."

"I'm very fortunate to be here. We were down 18 against Richmond and I have no idea how we came back and won that game but we're very excited. My players are very excited to be in New York, my wife is very excited to be here in New York. She made me promise to take her to New York before the Richmond game and I said you have to talk to my players about that. I talked to my players about that and sure enough they delivered."

"This is a great group of guys. I recruited Johnny Dawkins. I tried to coach Jeff Jones. He was really uncoachable at that time. And Fran and I are contemporaries. We were both guards who never passed the ball. But I will say this about our game tomorrow night against Temple. John Chaney wrote the book on how to not turn the ball over, play great defense and have your guards just dominate a game and Fran and his team are doing the same thing. [They are an] absolutely incredible defensive team. They don't turn the ball over. I think it's going to be a great ball game."

"I hope our players realize the opportunity they have because whoever cuts down the nets on Thursday night, it's going to be winning a national championship. A memory they will have for lifetime. So thank you very much."

ON THE JUSTIN BIEBER ROAST: With no sports on TV that interested me and because making fun of the 1aa1abieberexceedingly mockable subject seemed like such a natural idea, I watched Comedy Central's The Roast Of Justin Bieber last night. A few random thoughts. It was funny, worth watching. (Click here if you missed it). Bieber was a good sport. Host Kevin Hart, at his career apex, was great. Still not sure who Jeff Ross is. Or why Martha Stewart was there, aside form the prison jokes. Also, can Hannibal Buress please fade immediately from public attention and never return? Favorite throwaway line: "Snoop Dogg looks like Shaq's skeleton."

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