April 18, 2016

This is the Heat team that can beat LeBron and Cavs. Miami 'perfect' in 123-91 Game 1 rout of Charlotte; plus Panthers fall in OT, latest Hot Button Top 10 (updated), Hassan Whiteside and Jaromir Jagr named Heat/Panthers season MVPs & more

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

1) It is MONDAY, APRIL 18. Heat's Hassan Whiteside finishes third in NBA Defensive Plahyer of Year vote; Spurs' Kawhi Leonard wins again. 2) ESPN's mock-draft picks for Dolphins selecting 13th are two Ohio State Buckeyes -- OLB Darron Lee (says Mel Kiper) and RB Ezekiel Elliott (via Todd McShay). So it won't be either, then. 3) In The Previous Blogpost (ITPB): Panthers tie Islanders series, Dolphins schedule, Heat-Hornets, Heat/Panthers MVP polls, history of Miami playoff games, your Warriors vs. Kobe verdict & more. 4) Join us on Twitter @gregcote. Also on Facebook, InstagramVinePeriscope and now Snapchat, too.

NEW COLUMN: On Heat's refreshing reliance on rookies Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson: Shipping to Tuesday's inky pulp editions but available to you now. Click on Rook 1, Rook 2 to read. 

The Last 3: My three most recent columns, ICYMI or thought them so wonderful they deserved another look: This Is the Upside, off last night's hugely impressive Heat Game 1 win. Luongo Saves Day, And Maybe Season, off Friday night's necessary Panthers Game 2 win. Now We See About the Panthers, off the series-opening loss.

Cats give one away: The Florida Panthers aren't making it easy on themselves. They lose Game 1 at home. Then, last night, they lost Game 3 in Brooklyn, 4-3 in overtime, after leading 3-1. Florida nows trails their NHL first-round series to the Islanders 2-1, with Game 4 Wednesday night back up there.

G1: HEAT 123, CHARLOTTE 91: DENG, WHITESIDE LEAD 'PERFECT' GAME: As bad as the Heat were in that late collapse in Boston four nights earlier, the Heat were that good Sunday night in starting the playoffs with an impressive home bang. Miami set club playoff records for most points in a game (123) and quarter (41) and most field goals made (49). Goran Dragic called it "a perfect game on both ends." It was almost literally so for Luol Deng (31 points) and Hassan Whiteside (21), who combined for 20-of-24 shooting. Miami wasn't as bad it it looked in Boston last week and can't be as great as it looked Sunday, but we saw how good this team can be. And the team we saw Sunday night can beat anybody in the East, LeBron James and Cleveland included. Game 2 is back here Wednesday night. Click on This Is the Upside for my game column off last night's gem. ..... Original post: When last we saw the Heat on the court, they were Heathornetssundaysuffering a regular season-ending meltdown in Boston akin to Jordan Spieth's in The Masters. No time for a hangover effect now, with the first-round playoffs set to begin as No. 3 seed Miami hosts No. 6 Charlotte this evening in Game 1. Despite the seed disparity both teams were 48-34 in the season and split their series 2-2, so it's understandable that Charlotte is a trendy upset pick with some in the national media. Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson will be a challenge, and it's a series where Chris Bosh's absence could be conspicuous after so many weeks of Miami seemingly not missing him. Charlotte has had the third-best record in the league since the all-star break and is 26-9 since Jan. 31. That's impressive. Miami is a narrow betting favorite in this series at 5-8 odds to Charlotte's 8-5, but must prove here that it is capable of playing all the way into the Eastern finals. Miami is one of only five of 122 franchises in the Big Four sports to make the playoffs at least 17 times and win at least three championships in the past 21 seasons, along with Lakers, Spurs, Red Wings and Yankees. The Heat have more playoff seasons than the Dolphins, Marlins and Panthers combined since Miami became a four-sport city in 1993. But I see a serious early challenge here for the Heat. So does ESPN, which ranks this series No. 1 of the eight for upset potential, which it estimates at 46 percent. My pick: Heat in 6 games.

HOT BUTTON TOP 10 (UPDATED): WHAT SOUTH FLORIDA SPORTS FANS ARE TALKING ABOUT: Our blog-exclusive every-Sunday feature (updated Mondays) is part week-in-review, part look-ahead. Hot Button means what's on our minds, locally and nationally, from a Miami perspective, as the sports week just past pivots to the week ahead. This week's HB10:

Hotbutton1. HEAT: Wow! Miami saves its best game of season for playoff opener:  Kemba Walker and the Charlotte Hornets were a trendy pick to upset the No. 3 Heat in this best-of-seven, but the Heat last night said, "I don't think so." And emphatically, in a 123-91 rout in the downtown bayside arena led by Luol Deng and Hassan Whiteside's combined 52 points on combined 20-for-24 shooting. If last night was the real Heat, then this team is capable of beating anybody in the East ... including that guy from Cleveland, whatshisname.

2. PANTHERS: Cats give one away in crucial Game 3 loss to Islanders: One game after Roberto Luongo saved the day for Florida, the Panthers last night blew 2-0 and 3-1 leads in a 4-3 overtime Game 3 loss in Brooklyn. Islanders now are up 2-1, with Game 4 back up in New York Wednesday night. Must win? Well, don't they all sort of feel like that in a best-of-seven playoffs?

3. DOLPHINS: Season schedule is out (uh oh) as Fins prepare for draft: Does new Dolphins coach Adam Gase have enemies? Apparently one — the guy who scheduled Miami to open the season at Seattle and at New England. Fins hope they fare better in the April 28-30 NFL Draft than they did with the schedule. I can't wait for the draft ..mainly because it puts a merciful end to the endless speculation of national mocks drafts and local flat-out guessing on what Miami might do.

4. MARLINS: Shh. Don’t tell anybody, but Fish in midst of homestand: Miami is in the midst of seven games in a row at Marlins Park. The question is, with the Heat and Panthers both in the playoffs and Dolphins’ draft soon, will South Florida even notice? The homestand may not be a good thing, considering it has opened with three straight losses to previously winless Braves, making Miami now 0-5 at home this year. Fish's early-season problem is clear. If your arm is loose, report immediately to the bullpen, please.

5. HURRICANES: UM’s spring game ends offseason football practice: Hurricanes’ annual Spring Game, the first under new coach Mark Richt, was Saturday in Fort Lauderdale, Green beating Orange 24-7 behind Brad Kaaya's 345 yards passing before some 14,000 fans at Lockhart Stadium. Want a sad fact? Canes baseball is ranked No. 1 in the nation, but more UM fans care about a glorified football practice taking place five months before season starts.

6. NBA: Big end to regular season segues to playoffs: Basketball's regular season ended with Golden State’s record-setting 73rd win and retiring Kobe Bryant’s 60 points in his final game. Top that, first round!

7. NHL: It's No, Canada! as Stanley Cup playoffs begin: Canada invented hockey. You wouldn't know it. A Canadian team hasn't lifted Lord Stanley's Cup since 1993, and now, for the first time since 1970, no Canadian team even made the playoffs.

8. NFL: Rams trade up for No. 1 pick in draft: Good offseason for Los Angeles. First the city gets the Rams back from St. Louis. Now, in first trade involving a top pick since 2004, the team gets the No. 1 draft pick from Tennessee. 

9. GOLF: Fans still abuzz over Spieth's Masters meltdown: It's been a week and golf fans still can't get over Jordan Spieth blowing The Masters and literally handing over the green jacket to Danny Willett. Then again, at least Jordan, who tied for second, had $880,000 to help dry his tears.

10. SAILING: Miamian wins Star-class world title: Miami and Coral Reef Yacht Club hosted the Star-class world sailing championships, which is of apparent tremendous interest to Star-class sailors. No, seriously, it's a big event, and Miamian Augie Diaz parlayed home-wind advantage to victory.

Missing the cut: Sidelined Chris Bosh addressed his Heat teammates and advised them to "savor the playoffs." Had he told them to take the playoffs for granted, now that woulda been newsworthy! ... Tyler Summitt (Pat's son) resigns in disgrace after impregnating one of his basketball players. Um, what were you thinking, Louisiana Tech, hiring a then 22-year-old as a head coach? ... Dolphins are conducting voluntary offseason workouts, meaning all players are expected to "volunteer" ... FIU's spring football game was canceled by bad weather. No, seriously ... A company called U-Glove makes protective disposable gloves to wear when pumping gas. Shouldn't The U demand a cut of the action? ... MLB going high-tech with iPads in dugouts for analytic research during games. Can an iPad pick up a bat or throw a slider? Then I'm not impressed ... Kyle Busch became first NASCAR driver in 25 years to win multiple races on consecutive weekends. America still doesn't like you, Kyle! ... It has come to our attention badminton is a high-school sport, begging the question, Why?

Jagr WhitesidePOLL RESULTS: HASSAN WHITESIDE, JAROMIR JAGR NAMED HEAT AND PANTHERS' REGULAR-SEASON MVPS: It was a fairly close two-man race on the basketball side, but you had Hassan Whiteside (left) as the Heat's 2015-16 season MVP over Dwyane Wade by 51.8 percent to 41.4%, with the other 6.8% voting for "someone else." Mild upset, or no? It was a landslide on the hockey end. Jaromir Jagr (right) at age 44 won with 62.9 percent of the vote, followed by Roberto Luongo (13.8%), Aleksander Barkov (11.1%) and Aaron Ekblad (also 11.1%), with "someone else" at only 1.1%.

THE LIST: HEAT'S MIAMI REIGN: How often the Miami Heat have made the playoffs relative to SoFla's other other big teams:

Team                Seasons    PO years    Pct.

Miami Heat            28        19           .679

Miami Dolphins     50        16           .320

Florida Panthers     22         5            .227

Miami Marlins       23         2            .087

Revisit our blog a lot because we constantly update and add to our latest posts...

Twitter @gregcote

April 16, 2016

Luongo stars, Panthers win 3-1, tie series 1-1; plus Dolphins' brutal schedule, who are Heat and Panthers' MVPs? (last day to vote!), Heat-Hornets, history of home playoffs in Miami & more

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

Jackierobinson1) It is SATURDAY, APRIL 16. Jackie Robinson (pictured) made his historic, barrier-breaking MLB debut yesterday in 1947. 2) 73 & 60: the NBA's biggest regular-season night. I guess Golden State's record 73rd win was bigger historically. (You did; see poll result below). But Kobe Bryant popping for 60 in his grand finale hit all the emotional chords. What a night for the NBA. Top that, playoffs! 3) In The Previous Blogpost (ITPB): Heat collapse but get 3rd seed and Charlotte, Golden State and Kobe on NBA's huge closing night, your Arison/Cuba verdict & more. 4) Join us on Twitter @gregcote. Also on Facebook, InstagramVinePeriscope and now Snapchat, too.

QUICK THOUGHT ON DOLPHINS' 2016 SCHEDULE? UH OH: The Fins' '16 schedule begins in a way -- at Seattle, at New England -- that makes you think the NFL put Marquis de Sade in charge of the thing and that Marquis doesn't like Adam Gase very much. No team is likelier than Miami for an 0-2 start. I rattled through the schedule game by game, factoring opponent and home/away, and came up with a 6-10 record, with more of what look like sure losses than certain wins. ESPN's guesstimate was 7-9. Numerically Miami has the third-toughest schedule, based on opponents' combined .535 winning percentage last year. Everybody is chattering about the first two games but the last five also seems a brutal stretch: at Baltimore, vs. Arizona, at N.Y. Jets, at Buffalo and vs. New England. Bottom line: Maybe the Dolphins will surprise us. It'd be about time. But, based on a fast digestion of the new schedule, it does not appear an end to the playoff drought is at hand.

The Last 3: My three most recent columns, ICYMI or thought them so wonderful they deserved another look: Luongo Saves Day, And Maybe Season, off last night's  necessary win. Now We See About the Panthers, off gthe opening loss. Rats & Cats, 20 Years On, as the 2016 Panthers try to reprise the magic of '96. (I don't think I've been writing enough Panthers!)

G2: LUONGO REDEEMS HIMSELF, LEADS 3-1 WIN AS PANTHERS KNOT SERIES 1-1: G2: Roberto Luongo saved 41 of 42 Islanders shots last night in a 3-1 Florida victory tying the playoff series 1-1 as its heads to Brooklyn for the next two games. Reilly Smith scored his third goal in two nights, Nick Bjugstad scored the game-winner, and Dmitry Kulikov had a last-second empty netter. But the story was Luongo's excellence one night after he'd set a club record for most goals allowed in a playoff game. Click on Luongo Saves Day, And Maybe Season for my column off the game centered on Luongo. G1: Florida led 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2, giving up the equalizer each time, in an eventual 5-4 loss to the New York Islanders in Game 1 of their first-round NHL playoff series. Goalkeeper Roberto Luongo was not great but his defense let him down, and now all of the pressure heaps onto the favored Panthersislanders NhlplayoffsPanthers entering Game 2 Friday. I thought Florida in many ways was the better team, especially offensively, but Scoreboard Don't Lie. Click on Now We See About the Panthers for my column from the game. ..... Original post: The Florida Panthers have spent much of their 22-season franchise history playing the underdog. Even in reaching the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals they were the lovable little team nobody expected to get that far. Well, they are the little team no more. At least not in the first round vs. the New York Islanders. The Cats are the clear favorites in this series. They are the division champions with the potent, deep scoring, with the veteran goaltender, and with the perfect blend of savvy experience embodied by Jaromir Jagr still going strong at 44 and by a counterbalance of exciting, blossoming youth. Florida can't even play the "we're due" card this time in search of its first playoff series advance since '96 ... because the Isles haven't won a playoff series since '93! Bigger tests are immediately ahead, such as Tampa Bay (likely) in the next round, but I'd be surprised if the Islanders presented much of a problem. My pick: Panthers in 5 games.

ON HEAT-CHARLOTTE HORNETS: MIAMI GOT LUCKY. OR DID IT?: [Game 1 here Sunday] The Heat ended the NBA regular season with a second half in Boston that made you think Erik Spoelstra's halftime pep talk involved handing out Melatonin to his players as piped-in Yanni music softly played. Yet despite the collapse Miami still somehow managed
 Nbaplayoffsto secure the No. 3 seed, Heathornetswhich brings in Charlotte as the first-round foe and also avoids LeBron and Cleveland until a possible conference-finals meeting. The general narrative is that Miami lucked out ... but, are you sure about that? Miami and Charlotte were 2-2 during the season, the Hornets scoring seven more total points. Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson will be a challenge, and it's a series where Chris Bosh's absence could be conspicuous after so many weeks of Miami seemingly not missing him. Charlotte has had the third-best record in the league since the all-star break and are 26-9 since Jan. 31. That's impressive. Miami is a narrow betting favorite in this series, 5-8 odds to Charlotte's 8-5, with both 100-1 longshots to win the NBA title. I see a serious challenge for Miami. So does ESPN, which ranks this series No. 1 of the eight for upset potential, which it estimates at 46 percent. My pick: Heat in 6 games.

WHO WERE HEAT AND PANTHERS' REGULAR-SEASON MVPS?: For the Heat the list is short: Dwyane Wade or Hassan Whiteside (that's alphabetical). Cannot see including anyone else; Chris Bosh just missed too big a chunk of the season. For the Panthers it's more complicated but I narrowed it down to four main contenders, also listed alphabetically. Have your say in both polls, and check back often to monitor evolving results. Which Heater and Panther have meant the most to their team's playoff season?

THE HISTORY OF HOME PLAYOFF GAMES FOR OUR BIG FOUR TEAMS: With the Panthers hosting their first-round opener of the Stanley Cup playoffs tonight vs. the New York Islanders and the Heat hosting their first-round Game 1 vs. the Charlotte Hornets on Sunday, we thought a quick review of South Florida home playoff history was in order:

108: Miami Heat: This is the 19th playoff season. Have played 39 postseason series totaling 108 home games. Home playoff record 78-30, .722. Highest stakes/biggest home games: Heat has hosted 16 NBA Finals games, winning championships on its home floor in 2012 and '13.

22: Miami Dolphins: Team has had 16 playoff seasons. Have played 22 postseason home games. Home playoff record 15-7, .682. Highest stakes/biggest home games: Dolphins have hosted six AFC Championship Games, winning in 1971, 1973, 1982 and 1984, and losing in 1985 and 1992. 

22: Florida Panthers: This is fifth playoff season. Are playing in eighth postseason series totaling 22 home games through last night. Home playoff record 11-11, .500. Highest stakes/biggest home games: Panthers hosted two Stanley Cup Finals games in 1996 but were swept, so biggest home game may have been the Game 6 win in conference finals that forced a Game 7 in Pittsburgh. 

18: Miami Marlins: Team has had two playoff seasons. Have played six postseason series totaling 17 home games. Home playoff record 11-6, .647. Highest stakes/biggest home games: Marlins have hosted seven World Series games, winning the championship at home in a dramatic Game 7 on Oct. 26, 1997.

HEAT vs. CHARLOTTE HORNETS:

G1: HOME Sunday 17th 5:30 p.m.

G2: HOME Wednesday 20th 7 p.m.

G3: @ CHA Saturday 23rd 5:30 p.m.

G4: @ CHA Monday 25th time tbd

G5*: HOME Wednesday 27th time tbd

G6*: @ CHA Friday 29th time tbd

G7*: HOME Sunday 1st time tbd

PANTHERS vs. NEW YORK ISLANDERS:

G1: Islanders 5, Panthers 4

G2: Panthers 2, Islanders 1.

G3: @ NYI Sunday 17th 8 p.m.

G4: @ NYI Wednesday 20th 8 p.m.

G5*: HOME Friday 22nd time tbd

G6*: @ NYI Sunday 24th time tbd

G7*: HOME Tuesday 26th time tbd

Poll result: Warriors' record swamps Kobe's finale for night's biggest event: We asked which was bigger to close the NBA regular season -- the Warriors' record 73rd win or Kobe Bryant's final game, and it was Warriors routing Kobe by 72.1 percent to 27.9%. The result surprised me a bit. At the least, shouldn't it have been closer?

Revisit our blog a lot because we constantly update and add to our latest posts...

Twitter @gregcote

April 13, 2016

Heat collapse but get lucky, keep No. 3 seed, face Charlotte in first round; plus Golden State going for record or Kobe's final game? New poll. Vote now!; also, Rats 'n Cats 20 years later, your verdict on Arison & more

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

1) It is WEDNESDAY, APRIL 13. In The Previous Blogpost (ITPB): Micky Arison in crosshairs over Carnival-Cuba connection with poll, Heat and Panthers' shared blueprint, Donald Trump porn parody & more. 2) Join us on Twitter @gregcote. Also on Facebook, InstagramVinePeriscope and now Snapchat, too.

Rats & Cats, 20 Years On: An historical bookend? Twenty years ago the Panthers' "Year of the Rat" made South Florida fall in love with hockey. Twenty years later, can the 2016 Cats bring back the love with the franchise's first playoff series advance since '96? Game 1 vs. the Islanders is here Thursday night. My latest column is here right now: Click on Rats & Cats, 20 Years On.

The Last 3: My three most recent columns prior to the new one linked above, ICYMI or thought them so wonderful they deserved another look: Heat & Panthers' Shared Blueprint, on two teams' similar philosophy. Now the Proving Begins, as Panthers end regular season and face playoffs. Out Of Excusesoff Marlins Opening Night.

IT'S HEAT-CHARLOTTE IN PLAYOFFS' FIRST ROUND. MIAMI COLLAPSES BUT KEEPS NO. 3 SEED: How bizarre. Miami loses at Boston tonight 99-88 with an abysmal second half, but keeps No.3 East seed because Atlanta also lost. So now Heat have home-court advantage and host Charlotte in first round this weekend, with Game 1 Saturday or Sunday. Miami led 60-34 at one point tonight but was outscored on a 21-0 run in Boston. Heat scored a franchise-low 5 points on 2-for-20 shooting in the turd third quarter. I told Erik Spoelstra he shouldn't have played those Yanni records at halftime! Yet Miami comes up smelling like a rose, keeping the No. 3 seed and avoiding LeBron's Cavs until the Eastern finals. The question now: Will tonight's awful collapse have a carryover effect?

Heat-Hornets playoff history: This will be the third playoff series between the two franchises. The results, with each team's series leading scorer:

2014: Miami wins in first round, 4-0. MIA--LeBron James, 30.0. CHA--Kemba Walker, 19.5.

2001: Charlotte wins in first round, 3-0. MIA--Eddie Jones, 19.0 CHA--Jamal Mashburn, 23.7.

IT'S THE SINGLE GREATEST REGULAR SEASON-ENDING NIGHT IN NBA HISTORY: The bones of basketball inventor Dr. James Naismith rest at Lawrence Memorial Park Cemetery in Lawrence, Kansas. But let's get a bit more metaphorical than that and imagine Naismith up in Hoops Heavens today and smiling down upon the bounty he created. This is the greatest season-ending day in NBA history. For Warriors and Lakers fans, history is the exact word for it. But Heat fans also are on-edge for a telling finish:

KobeKobe Bryant retires: The Los Angeles Lakers host Utah at 10:30 tonight in an evening sure to be full of love and tears -- Bryant's final game of an elite 20-year career, all with L.A. Love him or hate him, the Black Mamba retires as a five-time champion and third-leading scorer in league history, after only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone. ESPN's #NBArank recently judged Bryant No. 12 on its list of greatest players. Words like "superstar" and "all-time great" are overused in sports. Kobe is both. Kobe was both.

GoldenstateGolden States goes for all-time record: Warriors host Memphis tonight at 10:30 having tied the Chicago Bull's 1996 season record of 72 victories, so it's one last chance for Stephen Curry and his reigning champions to own the mark outright. And you know they won't let it slip; GS is a 17-point favorite and it would be absolutely stunning if they did not win. Prediction: Around midnight tonight and just past -- maybe sooner -- the Internet will be overrun by a million versions of that ubiquitous Michael Jordan Crying Meme.

DwadeHeat's winner-take-all finale: [See above for update] Miami at Boston tonight at 8 is, for the Heat, all but winner-take-all for home-court advantage in the playoffs. Miami nails down the No. 3 seed and home-court with a win (or with an Atlanta loss), but otherwise will not have home-court advantage. Miami would be the fifth seed if it and Charlotte lose and Atlanta wins. Miami would be sixth seed if it loses and Charlotte and Atlanta both win. Only one game separates Heat, Hawks, Celtics and Hornets in a scrum for the 3-through-6 seeds that has the brain smoking with tiebreaker permutations. After winning in Detroit last night, winning again tonight at Boston is a tall request. Celtics are 2-0 in series this season. Miami is 8-8 in the second game of back-to-backs but that includes four straight losses.

(Almost forgot: Houston and Utah go down to the final day still battling for the eighth and last playoff spot in the West, but nobody cares).

Which piece of NBA history would you rather see live tonight: Kobe Bryant's final game? Or Golden State's record 73rd win? If you could magically materialize in either arena, where would you rather be?

Poll result: Very mixed feelings over Arison in Carnival/Cuba connection: In the previous blogpost we asked, "Does Carnival offering cruises to Cuba negatively impact how you view Heat (and Carnival) owner Micky Arison?" And when last we checked it was 47.5 percent yes, 48.9% no and 3.6% undecided. You may still vote.

Revisit our blog a lot because we constantly update and add to our latest posts...

Twitter @gregcote

April 11, 2016

The new Hot Button Top 10, starring Heat, Cats, Fish, Masters, Warriors, Kobe, Miami FC, Fins, Pacquiao and Nyquist; plus Dolphins woes quantified, your verdicts on LeBron/Kobe & more

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

1) It is MONDAY, APRIL 11. In The Previous Blogpost (ITPB): Should Heat retire LeBron James' number poll, Kiper's latest Dolphins mock draft, Heat and Panthers playoff outlooks, does golf miss Tiger Woods poll, Dolphins preseason schedule, your Rock Hall verdict, mourning Merle Haggard & more. 2) Join us on Twitter @gregcote. Also on Facebook, InstagramVinePeriscope and now Snapchat, too.

The Last 3: My three most recent general columns, ICYMI or thought them so wonderful they deserved another look: Now the Proving Begins, as Panthers end regular season and face playoffs. Out Of Excuses, off Marlins Opening Night. Power and Porcelain, Marlins season preview.

HOT BUTTON TOP 10 (UPDATED): WHAT SOUTH FLORIDA SPORTS FANS ARE TALKING ABOUT: Our blog-exclusive every-Sunday feature (updated Mondays) is part week-in-review, part look-ahead. Hot Button means what's on our minds, locally and nationally, from a Miami perspective, as the sports week just past pivots to the week ahead. This week's HB10:

Hotbutton1. HEAT: Miami wins home finale, zeroes in on home court for playoffs: Heat whipped Orlando 118-96 in its home final Sunday but enters last three days of the regular season still unsure where it will finish or who its first-round opponent will be. Simplest scenario: Miami will have home-court advantaged if it finishes 2-0 by winning at Detroit Tuesday and at Boston Wednesday. That Boston game could be winner-take for the home court. Finish delicioso! Meantime Hassan Whiteside says he won’t campaign for the NBA defensive player of year award while casually mentioning he has more blocks than a Toys ‘R Us.

2. PANTHERS: Cats await Islanders in playoff Game 1 Thursday: Cats won their home finale Saturday (my column here) and now face the New York Islanders in Game 1 of the first-round playoff series here Thursday night, with Game 2 here Friday night -- an odd postseason back-to-back. Cats dodged a bullet by not getting the tougher first-round draw vs. the Rangers. Either way, this was known: Florida -– unlike the entire country of Canada -– is competing for the Stanley Cup.

3. MARLINS: Fish trying to bounce back from rough early start: Has Jeffrey Loria fired Don Mattingly yet? Kidding, sort of, but an 0-2 start at home including the end of Jose Fernandez’ record 17-game Marlins Park winning streak wasn’t the season launch Miami hoped for, and now Miami is 1-3 in the midst of six straight road games vs. the division-power Nationals and Mets. One (very) early-season certainty: How much Marlins' TV broadcasts are missing Tommy Hutton.

4. GOLF: Spieth's collapse snatches green jacket from his hands: World’s No. 2 golfer and top American Jordan Spieth carried a 5-shot lead into the back nine of The Masters at Augusta on Sunday, then collapsed with a quadruple-boey 7 on the par 3 12th hole, and Danny Willett waltzed past him for the green jacket. Poor Danny. The 2016 Masters will be remembered not as the one he won, but as the one Spieth gave away.

5. NBA: Golden State's pursuit, Kobe's final game hog stage: Simple now for Golden State (72-9). Warriors must win at home vs. Memphis Wednesday night to break the Chicago Bulls' 1996 NBA record of 72 wins. On the Kobe Watch, Lakers are on road tonight, then Kobe Bryant plays his final NBA game at home on Wednesday -- same night Warriors go for the record. Has an NBA regular season ever finished bigger?

6. SOCCER: Miami FC makes inaugural home debut: Expansion team Miami FC tied Tampa Bay 1-1 in its home debut in the NASL Saturday night. More important, the new team drew more than 10,000 fans to FIU Stadium, decidedly more than most FIU football games draw. 

7. DOLPHINS: Ross names successor as draft nears: With the April 28 NFL Draft bearing in, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross named New York real estate mogul and longtime business partner Bruce Beal as the potential successor who'll have first rights to buy franchise when Ross, 75, sells or dies. Super Bowl or bust, Steve. Tick tock.

8. BOXING: Manny Pacquiao wins his (supposed) final fight: He beat Timothy Bradley in a unanimous decision last night in Las Vegas. Pacquiao therafter immediately announced he was retiring, which is boxspeak for, "Anticipation of my eventual comeback will hopefully stoke interest in the PPV bonanza of a Mayweather rematch."

9. HORSE RACING: Nyquist wins Florida Derby as Triple Crown season looms: Nyquist's impressive triumph in the Florida Derby positions the horse as an early favorite to win the Kentucky Derby on May 7. Surprising bloodline. Nyquist's sire, Nyquil, was best known for falling asleep in the starting gate.

10. HURRICANES: UM spring football wraps up in five days: Miami's annual intrasquad offense vs. defense Spring Game is this coming Saturday afternoon, April 16, at Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale. I'm betting big on the Hurricanes to win. And lose.

Missing the cut: Thousands will swarm Miami’s ocean sands Sunday for the finish of the Global Champions Tour of Olympic-style equestrian show jumping. I’m betting on Sheikh Ali Bin Khalid Al Thani, a Qatar royal, because I hear his family just bought Miami Beach, the ocean and the event to assure he’ll win ... R.I.P., former New Orleans Saint Will Smith, shot dead in a road-rage incident ... U.S. women's soccer has filed a lawsuit demanding equal pay to the men. That is so ridiculous. Based on performance, the women should make at least three times more ... Entering Sunday's MLB games only the Baltimore Orioles remain unbeaten. "Good luck with that," sneered the '72 Dolphins ... First time since 1970 no Canadian teams in Stanley Cup playoffs. New national anthem: No Canada! ... This just in. UConn women's basketball has been awarded the next six national championships in a time-saving measure ... Recently (I'm serious) the No. 75-ranked Hurricanes men's tennis team hosted No. 41 North Carolina State. Um, is it possible college tennis might wanna tap the brakes on how many teams it ranks? ... An unnamed MLB scout told us that an anonymously quoted rival scout is full of s--- ... Novak Djokovic won the Miami Open but Serena Williams did not. For once, women's tennis is less predictable ... The 24th-ranked men's tennis player is an American named Jack Sock. He's a shoe-in ... The Lakers' D'Angelo Russell was wired for sound the other game. Not for TV. To secretly record his teammates ... No. 2-ranked UM baseball was snowed out of its series at Notre Dame. Duh. Games shoulda been here like Jim Morris said ... Finally, Ernie Els 7-putted the first green at The Masters. There's a phrase for that in golf: "Greg Cote."

THE LIST: THE DOLPHINS: THE (SAD) COMPANY THEY KEEP: The Dolphins' last winning season (no, .500 doesn't count) was 2008. I wondered how many of the 122 franchises in the Big Four sports have a longer drought, including the current NBA and NHL seasons. Answer: Seven. Longest droughts since last winning season (LWS):

Team                                League    LWS

Oakland Raiders                NFL        2002

St. Louis (now L.A.) Rams  NFL        2003

Edmonton Oilers                NHL       2004

Minnesota Timberwolves    NBA        2005

Sacramento Kings              NBA        2006 

Cleveland Browns              NFL        2007

Jacksonville Jaguars          NFL        2007

Miami Dolphins                 NFL         2008

Note: Marlins' LWS was 2009, longest drought in MLB. Panthers' LWS had been 2000, worst in NHL, but that drought ended this season. 

Poll result: No! Most don't favor Heat retiring LeBron's jersey: We asked, and 58.0 percent of you said no. Much disagreement, though, with 34.6% saying yes and 7.4% undecided.

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April 07, 2016

End of Jose Fernandez's record home win streak heaps (very) early pressure on Marlins; plus Justise Winslow, UM '17 title odds, R.I.P. Merle Haggard, rat-tastic Panthers, Rock Hall poll (vote now!), your verdicts on 2 polls & more

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

Rats1) It is THURSDAY, APRIL 7. Congrats to the Florida Panthers for achieving their second NHL division title in franchise history. Rats! 2) In The Previous Blogpost (ITPB): Marlins Opening Night with expectations poll, Villanova wins thriller, '96 Bulls vs. '16 Warriors poll, Monica Lewinsky, Dolphins in Bogota, spring football & more. 3) Join us on Twitter @gregcote. Also on Facebook, InstagramVinePeriscope -- and now Snapchat, too, @upsetbird2.

Disrespect for Heat's Justise Winslow?: A bunch of ESPN talking heads are jabbering here about what NBA rookie has the greatest upside/future/potential and Miami's Justise Winslow is ranked only No. 7 on one list and No. 8 on the other.

UM 2017 title odds in men's hoops: Confetti hasn't even stopped falling at Villanova and already the 2017 men's NCAA Tournament odds are out (via Bovada), with Duke on top at 9-2, then Kentucky 6-1 and 'Nova 8-1. The Miami Hurricanes, depleted by departing seniors, are tied for 18th at 40-1.

My Marlins column off opener: Click on Out Of Excuses to read in full. I write why it is imperative for the Marlins to finally win and matter again.

JoseHOMELAND SECURITY: MARLINS COUNTED ON JOSE'S MIAMI MAGIC AGAIN, LOST, AND NOW FACE EARLY-SEASON PRESSURE [Update: Fernandez was pulled in the 6th inning trailing 3-0 in an eventual 7-3 Marlins loss to Detroit yesterday, meaning his home win streak finally ended. Fernandez struck out 13 in defeat]. Original post: The U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson (yes, Jeh) happened to throw out the ceremonial first pitch on Marlins Opening Night. Fitting, because the Marlins' own director of Homeland Security, Jose Fernandez, takes the mound for Game 2. The home/away disparity sports is interesting. It tends to be quite pronounced with teams enjoying a home-field (or court, or ice) advantage, but much less so with individuals. A few anecdotal examples below only underline the remarkable home/road career arc of Jose Fernandez, the Marlins' Game 2 starter today. Consider:

Dan Marino passer rating: 87.4 home vs. 85.3 road.

Dwyane Wade scoring average: 24.3 home vs. 23.1 road.

Jaromir Jagr goals per game: 0.49 home vs. 0.43 road.

Giancarlo Stanton home runs per game: 0.2577 home vs. 0.2557 road.

The differences are shades of negligible. Now consider:

Jose Fernandez record and ERA, before Wednesday: 17-0 and 1.40 home vs. 5-9 and 3.78 road.

It isn't that he's terrible on the road by any means; that sub-4 ERA is decent, and his K's-per-inning away are comparable. It is that he is record-setting, all-time-great at home to begin a career. And now the Marlins are counting on him yet again today to deliver that Homeland Security at Marlins Park. You keep counting on the law of averages to kick in, but he keeps winning here. Now Fernandez maintaining his home streak is especially important because Miami lost its season opener last night and because, after today, the Fish face six consecutive road games -- all of them vs. the NL East favorite Nationals or Mets. Marlins need a fast start this season, and that's why they need Jose to stay perfect at home today. If Jose's streak ends, this team will be feeling pressure earlier than any club should.

Poll result: Most expect Marlins to be OK but not a playoff team: We asked your expectations for this Marlins season, and votes came in before and after the Opening Night loss. Most overall, 55.1 percent, voted "average" (around .500, no playoffs). However, more voted "good" (playoff drought finally ends) than "poor" (more disappointment from Fish) by 28.6% to 16.3%.

Poll result: It's M.J. over Steph, easily: Old School won. We asked who win an NBA Finals between Michael Jordan's 72-win 1996 Chicago Bulls and Stephen Curry's current, now-69-win Golden State Warriors, and it was M.J. routing Steph by 61.4 percent to 24.6%. The other 14.0% voted "too close to call."

RockhallROCK HALL: WHICH 2016 INDUCTEE IS MOST (AND LEAST) DESERVING: Music has been and is a huge (Bernie Sanders: Yuuuge) part of my life, and I've followed the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ever since visiting it in Cleveland a couple of years ago. The Hall's 31st annual induction ceremony is this Friday in Brooklyn, and the five latest inductees are listed in this poll alphabetically. I'm curious what you think, so I invite you to vote for the one artist you think is most deserving, whether by your own personal preference or by how you judge that artist's importance or place in music history. Vote now and check back often to monitor evolving results.

MERLE HAGGARD, 1937-2016: Merle Haggard died today on his 79th birthday, a huge loss in the country music world. I was (am) a big fan and admirer. I looked forward to seeing him in concert for the first time a few months ago, in Fort Lauderdale, but he canceled days before the show. He had reportedly been in declining health for awhile. We happened to be in Nashville over the past weekend on a small holiday, and visited the Country Music Hall of Fame, which has a video that includes Merle, years ago, doing spot-on impersonations of Johnny Cash and other contemporaries. A friend with us asked, "Is he still alive?" I said, "Oh yes. He still tours!" He would pass away four days later. Haggard had many bigger hits, such as Okie From Muskogee and Mama Tried, but below is a song and video that always gets to me, and does especially today. It is called My Favorite Memory. Thank you, Merle Haggard.There will never be another. R.I.P.

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April 06, 2016

Setting the bar on Marlins' season expectations. Poll. Vote now!; plus Villanova, '96 Bulls vs. '16 Warriors poll, Dolphins in Bogota, Monica Lewinsky the "innovator," spring football league comes to Florida & more

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

1) It is WEDNESDAY, APRIL 6. A slightly belated bowed head for the recent anniversary, of the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968. The great civil rights leader would have been 87 today had hatred not taken him. 2) In The Previous Blogpost (ITPB): Hot Button Top 10, your men's Final Four verdict & more. 3) Join us on Twitter @gregcote. Also on Facebook, InstagramVinePeriscope -- and now on Snapchat, too, @upsetbird2.

It's Villanova in a classic finish: It was one for the ages. Kris Jenkins' 3-point basket at the buzzer averted overtime and lifted Villanova to the men's NCAA championship over North Carolina, 77-74. Based on our recent Final Four polls, most thought UNC would win (59.5 percent to Villanova's 28.9%), but more wanted 'Nova to win (38.7% to UNC's 32.4%). I had no rooting interest but was thrilled to see that basketball fans won. Anyone watching won. What a finish.

MARLINS LAUNCH 24TH SEASON WITH HOPES (SOMEWHAT) HIGH DESPITE LOSS ON OPENING DAY NIGHT: [Marlins fall to Detroit last night 8-7 in 11 innings, despite a Giancarlo Stanton home run and three extra-base hits by Dee Gordon. Click on Out Of Excuses for my column off the game] Original post: "If there is a fragile nature to Miami Marlins’ hopes for the 2016 season, it is embodied quite Marlins2016literally in the health of the team’s two biggest stars. One, Giancarlo Stanton, possesses a towering physique that drives baseballs over walls harder and faster than anybody else in the sport. The other, Jose Fernandez, throws fastballs so hard they all but leave a vapor trail and make catcher’s mitts Marlinssmoke. They are two players who rely on pure power, and yet there is a porcelain quality to their bodies, like thoroughbreds pounding a racetrack on legs that seem too slender for all of that weight. Few teams in Major League Baseball are more top-loaded with two young players as dynamic as Stanton, 26, and Fernandez, 23. A Stanton at-bat might be the most must-see minute in all of sports as outfielders can only turn and watch what in pre-technology days we would call a tape-measure home run. A start by Fernandez is served with a side dish of bravado, of infectious, fist-pumping fire. About both, though, there is the question mostly whispered, as if it were taboo. Can they stay healthy?" The preceding is the start to my Marlins season preview column; click on Power & Porcelain to read in full. Hard to judge expectations. Experts and bettors (see below) don't seem to expect much of Miami, but inside the clubhouse the team is genuinely hopeful with new manager Don Mattingly at the wheel, and the Marlins are a trendy they'll-surprise-you pick of some in the media. I'll be at the ballpark columnizing and social media-ing from Opening Day vs. the Detroit Tigers. For now, I invite you to help set the bar on Marlins expectations for 2016. What do you realistically expect of this season? Not what you hope might happen, but what you honestly think will. Take a dip in our poll.

Updated Marlins betting odds: Latest betting odds from Bovada show Marlins at 50-1 to win the World Series, holding steady since the previous odds were out in November. That's tied for 22nd-longest odds. NL East odds are Mets 10-11, Nationals 11-10, Marlins 6-1, Braves 25-1 and Phillies 50-1.x

BullswarriorsTHE ULTIMATE IMAGINARY NBA FINALS: '96 BULLS VS. '16 WARRIORS: What a great week to be a basketball fan! On the college level we get North Carolina vs. Villanova tonight for the men's NCAA championship, then UConn vs. Syracuse Tuesday night for the women's crown. And as the collegians are wrapping up the pros are just getting ready to start -- with the NBA regular season waning and the playoffs about to begin. But first there is the Golden State drama. Will the Warriors, 69-8 entering Tuesday's game, break the '96 Bull's 72-10 mark for most wins in a season? It's likely though hardly a ciunch, considering GS needs to win four of its last five games and two of those are vs. mighty rival San Antonio. Whether the Warriors  break the mark or not, though, our poll question is legit. Who'd win a sevn-game series: Michael Jordan's '96 Bulls or Stephen Curry's 2016 Warriors? There is no way of knowing, which makes the conjecture all the more interesting. Scottie Pippen says his '96 Bulls would not only beat but sweep the Warriors. Charles Barkley says, "That Bulls team would kill this little [Golden State] team." I'm sure many agree. But I'm also sure plenty think these Warriors' sport-changing barrage of 3's would get the best of even those great Bulls. Your opinion goes here.

BE INSPIRED BY ... MONICA LEWINSKY?: There is a conference April 18-19 in Miami (click here for details) that invites you to "be inspired by innovators," and lists a bevy of speakers that Monicaincludes statesman Colin Powell, skateboarding giant Tony Hawk and entertainer Pitbull. But in a Miami Herald ad for the event published today, the three faces out front are those of Powell, Hawk and (are you ready?) ... Monica Lewinsky! That's right, kids. Talk about an innovator! Be inspired by perhaps the only woman in U.S. history to be famous because she once engaged in a sordid-turned-public illicit relationship with an American president. I wonder. Is her talk entitled How I Blew Bill Clinton, or does she choose a somewhat more subtle heading for her address? Lewinsky, now 42, describes herself these days as a "social activist" and "public speaker." Give her credit, I guess. She evidently has managed to make a profitable cottage industry of parlaying the shame and notoriety of her name into some sort of career. God bless America! For me, though, this invites a most difficult question to answer, a real conundrum: Who is more gullible? The event that would pay Monica Lewinsky to speak? Or the people who would pay to hear her? 

BogataDOLPHINS TROT GLOBE IN SEARCH OF TALENTED ... CHEERLEADERS!: You thought the Dolphins were turning over every available stone only in search of talented players? No, sir. Or madam. Your Fins also are trotting the globe looking for talented cheerleaders. The club announced today it has chosen six young women from more than 100 applicants in a tryout in Bogota, Colombia. The NFL's first international cheerleader auditions included previous stops in Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires and Mexico City. The Dolphins obviously want a more diverse Hispanic flavor to their cheer squad and apparently could not find enough diversity or Hispanic women in South Florida (!). Does it sound like a waste of money for the Dolphins to search abroad when there obviously is ample talent in So Fla? Yes I thought so, too. but then I saw the photo pictured left of Elianis, one of the six finalists from the Bogota audition, and thought to myself, "Why should young women such as this who have longed to lead cheers for a sport they know nothing about be denied their dream!?"

FloridafusionLATEST SPRING FOOTBALL LEAGUE DELAYS LAUNCH: These things are pretty much born to fail, but, for what it's worth, Major League Football, a new professional spring league listing Herm Edwards as a "senior adviser," has announced it will be in the "development" stage this year with plans to begin its inaugural season in March of 2017. MLFB has targeted eight of what it calls "underserved sports markets," and they include an Orlando-based team, the Florida Fusion (logo at right). Other planned league cities are Akron OH, Birmingham AL, Eugene OR, Little Rock AR, Norfolk VA, Salt Lake City UT and San Antonio TX.

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February 11, 2016

Heat places seven players* among NBA's all-time Top 100 (*but how many are really ours?); plus Dolphins two-round mock draft, Riley's last push, your verdict on Shaq, The List (Marlins), chocolate bunny under siege & more

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

1) It is THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 11. In The Previous Blogpost: Should-Heat-retire-Shaq's-number poll, Miami Jackson's historic move, "Omahallelujah" (ode to Peyton), Super Bore 50, Canes' All-ACC brainiacs & more. 4Follow us on Twitter @gregcote. Also on Facebook, InstagramVine and Periscope.

On Pat Riley's late-career imperative: Today's latest column by me is a reckoning of Pat Riley's career and Heat legacy as he nears his 71st birthday. I touch on the significance of his decision to retire Shaquille O'Neal's number and explore whether Riley has one last hurrah -- one more NBA title -- in him, and how his decision on Hassan Whiteside's future will weigh on that. Click on Riley's Last Push to read.

DwyanewadeHEAT PLAYERS AMONG NBA'S ALL-TIME TOP 100, AND HOW MUCH OF THEM ARE "OURS": Lists-mad ESPN just named the NBA's all-time top 100 players (full list here) and seven of them (not bad!) have worn a Heat uniform. Here are the seven in order, and what percentage of their career NBA games (including playoffs) were or have been spent playing for Miami:

No. 3 LeBron James: 33.42% (and falling) -- James in 2010-14 played 381 games for Miami, of the 1,140 in career thus far.

No. 9 Shaquille O'Neal: 17.22% -- O'Neal played 245 games for Heat in 2004-07, of a career total of 1,423.

No. 27 Dwyane Wade: 100% -- D.Wade (pictured) has played all 983 of his career games, and counting, for Miami.

No. 45 Gary Payton: 11.69% -- Payton played 1,489 total games, and 174 were for the Heat to end his career in 2005-07.

No. 50 Ray Allen: 13.26% -- Allen ended career in Miami in 2012-14, playing 195 of his 1,471 total games for the Heat.

No. 65 Alonzo Mourning: 72.35% -- Zo played 675 of his 933 career games for Miami, in 1995-2002 and in 2004-08.

No. 86 Chris Bosh: 47.05% (and rising) -- With the Heat since 2010, Bosh as of now has played 462 of 982 career games for Miami.

Bottom line: Wade is all  ours. Claiming rights to Zo are strong. Bosh will tip up over the 50% mark for Miami in the 2016 playoffs or early next season. And we had a substantial minority share of LeBron. The other three were glorified career rentals for Miami, although Shaq and Allen see their place in club history magnified by their role in winning a championship. Wade's 983 career games, by the way, rank sixth among active players who have played their entire career for one franchise, trailing only Tim Duncan/Spurs (1,610), Kobe Bryant/Lakers (1,545), Dirk Nowitzki/Mavericks (1,454), Tony Parker/Spurs (1,259) and Manu Ginobli/Spurs (1,095). Also of note: Three other Miami-related figures make ESPN's all-time top 100: No. 37 Rick Barry was of course one of the Miami Hurricanes' first stars; No. 52 Bob McAdoo was a Heat assistant coach in 1995-2014; and No. 88 Billy Cunningham was among the Heat's founding minority owners from 1988-94.

Poll result: Approval for retiring Shaq's jersey, but it's hardly overwhelming: Shaquille O'Neal remains a somewhat polarizing figure in Miami. We asked and 55.4 percent agreed with the Heat's decision to retire his No. 32 uniform number and raise it to the arena rafters. But another 38.3% said no, and the other 6.3% were undecided. Interestingly (at least to me), the percentages were running against Shaq when the poll started out in my blog only, but shifted in his favor when the poll began running concurrently elsewhere in MiamiHerald.com.

HargreavesDOLPHINS' TWO-ROUND MOCK DRAFT: Via Sports Illustrated today, it is projected Miami's first-round draft pick in April at No. 8 overall will be Florida Gators cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, pictured (I could see that pick), and that the Dolphins' second-round pick (42nd overall) will be Kansas State guard/tackle Cody Whitehair. So there. Take that, Kiper!

THE LIST: MARLINS CAREER HOME-RUN LEADERS: To whet the appetite for spring training, for which Marlins players report late next week, here are the club's all-time Top 10 home run hitters:

Player                    Homers    Years

Giancarlo Stanton       181      2010-current

Dan Uggla                  154      2006-10

Hanley Ramirez          148      2006-12

Mike Lowell               143      1999-05

Miguel Cabrera           138      2003-07

Derrek Lee                 129      1998-03

Gary Sheffield            122      1993-98

Jeff Conine                120      1993-97, '03-05

Cliff Floyd                 110      1997-02

Preston Wilson           104      1998-02

Note: Marcell Ozuna, tied for 24th place with 36 homers, is second among active Marlins after Stanton. 

ChocolateanimalsBLASPHEMY! CHOCOLATE BUNNIES UNDER SIEGE: Not sure if this rises to the level meriting one of my "Back In My Day" radio-TV rants, but I find it mildly annoying nonetheless, and timely as Easter fast approaches. The bunny once stood alone in the animal kingdom when it came to chocolate treats for Easter. The Easter bunny! Now? As visual evidence presented here verifies, other chocolate animals -- in this case a sheep and a duckling, apparently -- are now infiltrating the bunny's holiday domain. Folks, I know there are greater, larger causes to get behind. Global warming, for example. But mustn't the small battles be fought, too? Reject as anti-American and perhaps anti-Christian those interloping, infiltrating chocolate animals that would blatantly denigrate a hallowed tradition. Stand with the chocolate Easter bunny!

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February 04, 2016

Rating the Hurricanes' Signing-Day bounty: New poll. Vote now!; plus skill positions, linebacker head Richt's incoming UM class; also, new Super Bowl With a Smirk III on the power of the chicken wing, updated NBA/NHL odds & more

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

1) It is THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 4. Gulp! Today I'm at Friday Page HQ deciding who'll win the Super Bowl. 2) In The Previous Blogpost: Super Bowl With a Smirk I, Ted Cruz looks like a vampire & more. 3Follow us on Twitter @gregcote. Also on Facebook, InstagramVine and Periscope.

Florida Panthers remain better title bet than Heat: Latest betting odds from from Bovada have Golden State now even at 1-1 for NBA championship, with Cleveland and San Antonio next at 11-4 each. Miami is tied for eighth at 66-1. NHL title odds are led by Washington at 4-1, Chicago 5-1 and Los Anegles 15-2, with Florida tied for sixth at 16-1. (Cats could become a trendy bet; they just won at Washington, 5-2). Prohibitive MVP faves are Warriors' Steph Curry at 1-4 and Blackhawks' Patrick Kane at 1-3.

AMID THE OVERBLOWN HYPE OF NATIONAL SIGNING DAY, CANES AND RICHT SCRAMBLE TO NAIL DOWN SOLID CLASS: [Click HERE to meet the Hurricanes' newly minted 18-man 2016 recruiting class]. I get why so many fans are drunk with interest (or perhaps just drunk in general) over National Signing Day. It is to college football what the NFL Draft is at the higher level. The pipeline. The replenisher. It's a first indication how successful your team might be in the Nsdnext few years. What amuses me, though, is the media and fans' instant and self-assured analysis of something inherently unpredictable. We are talking about 17- and 18-year-olds. The coveted five-star recruit might flame out. The lightly recruited two-star guy could become your program's savior. The preps-to-colleges outlook simply is not as readable or reliable as the colleges-to-pros jump because there is a greater lump-of-clay factor. High-school players are not fully formed; they need Allisondevelopment. They  need coaching. Al Golden and his staff did not do that sufficiently. That's why Mark Richt is now running Miami Hurricanes football. Richt was hamstrung by coming into Canes recruiting late but seems to have made up ground. UM's class was ranked No. 19 nationally by ESPN, with 10 Top 300 prospects among its 18 recruits. I know there are thin areas and have been some notable defections, but I like what I see of the Canes' 2016 class. The linebacker gets are extremely impressive. And the offensive skill-position bounty seems very good, led by QB Jack Allison (Palmetto), RB Travis Homer (West Palm) and WR Sam Bruce (St. Thomas Aquinas). Allison (pictured), a 6-5 pro-style passer, will be groomed as the heir to Brad Kaaya; Bruce has five-star speed and skills but is downgraded for being only 5-8. Here is ESPN's synopsis of the UM bounty, condensed: "The Hurricanes surged after the hire of Richt. They landed ESPN 300 DE Patrick Bethel on Dec. 14. He is joined in the class by QB Allison, playmaker Bruce and fellow speedster Dionte Mullins. WR Ahmmon Richards (No. 212 in ESPN 300) was a great addition on signing day. Adding another ESPN 300 prospect, Homer and his 4.48 speed, was a big win at running back. The Hurricanes' class at receiver and linebacker is especially impressive, including LBs Shaquille Quarterman and Zachary McCloud. Three-star defensive tackle prospect Tre Johnson has considerable upside." Richt called Sam Bruce "very explosive," a slot receiver whose speed "gives him the ability to get on the edge as well." The coach called Travis Homer "A very skilled back," adding, "He was the second guy I watched after Jack [Allison] and I had a big grin when I watched the tape." Richt was hamstrung by his latte arrival in a recruiting game built on relationships. "When you have everything in place and all your support staff is clicking, there's some energy and synergy going on," he said. "But when you start that train from ground zero and try to move that thing, getting to know (everybody), there's so many things to do in such a short time." Richt and this class should be graded on that curve. The new coach sounded subdued Wednesday. Tired. "But it's a good tired," he said. We invite your initial thoughts on UM's 2016 recruiting bounty in the poll below. None of us can know for sure, of course. But that doesn't mean we don't have an opinion, right?

SMIRK III: CHICKEN-WING METRIC FAVORS CAROLINA, SB BLING UPDATE, HERDING THE HOMELESS, '17 SB ODDS: Here comes Smirk III, the third of five daily Super Bowl With a Smirk notes Smirkcolumns. The National Chicken Council — whose name alone conjures a clandestine assembly of poultry elders convening in George Orwell’s Animal Farm — has released its Chickens2016 Wing Report, the bible of Super Bowl snacking. The NCC estimates a record 1.3 billion wings will be eaten by Americans on Super Bowl Sunday, 39 million more than last year. The wing is king; pizza bows and curtsies. For example, Domino’s estimates it will sell 12 million slices on Sunday. Those 162.5 million pounds of wings, if laid end to end, would stretch from Charlotte to Denver almost 53 times. That amounts to 600 wings for every seat in every NFL stadium in the United States. Smirk has a word for that many wings: Dinner! Wings will not only probably dominate your Super Bowl party. The jointed marvels also have proven an accurate predictor of the game, based on the competing cities’ average expenditure on wings. This season that barometer went 7-3 in the playoffs and has accurately forecast four of the past five Super Bowls. Now the National Chicken Council reports (befitting a drum roll) that Charlotte residents spend $1,400 on wings per $1 million spent in local grocery stores — nearly three times the $480 devoted to wings in Denver. "It would be nice to see Peyton Manning go out with a victory, but numbers don’t lie," says the NCC’s fabulously named communications director, Tom Super. "Follow the chicken."

▪ The betting over/under is 2 minutes 20 seconds for Lady Gaga’s pregame national anthem on Sunday. What prevents Gaga from telling all her family and friends to bet big on the “under” and then coming in at 1:57? Hey, I’m just asking!

▪ Repucom, a sports and entertainment research company, measures the metrics on more than 3,800 athletes and celebrities and says Panthers QB Cam Newton now has a better "influential score" — the ability to change people’s perceptions — than President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. President Newton?

Jesuspendant▪ Super Bowl Week Bling Update: Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib wears a Rolex watch valued at $80,000. Denver safety T.J. Ward counters with a similarly priced gold-encrusted pendant depicting the face of Jesus, replete with thorny crown.

▪ The game is in surburban Santa Clara, but San Francisco clearly is "Super Bowl City" in terms of festivities, and Fusion.net reports the city quietly has herded its homeless population to a four-block tent city three miles away. Apparently the host committee thinks NFL fans OK with concussions and player arrests would be aghast at the sight of a panhandler.

▪ Broncos-Panthers ticket prices are falling. The cost on StubHub on Wednesday started as low as $2,950. Or, you can get a much better seat for a fraction of the cost. It’s called "your couch."

Budhelen▪ Helen Mirren will star in an anti-drunk driving Super Bowl ad for Budweiser. Hmm. C’mon, Bud! Anheuser-Busch doesn’t get to preach against drunk driving any more than Smith & Wesson gets to bemoan gun violence.

▪ Super Bowl security on Sunday will include the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Air Force heading a task force of more than 60 different federal, state and local law enforcement agencies — and that’s just to make sure the footballs aren’t deflated.

▪ OK we have officially run out of things to talk about and write and need the game to start. Evidence? This headline (I swear) on FoxSports.com: "Super Bowl history of missed extra points."

Fifty▪ Finally, the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook already has laid betting odds to win next year’s Super Bowl, and it’s Patriots, Steelers and Seahawks on top at 8-1. (Panthers are 10-1 and Broncos 14-1.) Smirk needed a miner’s helmet and pickaxe to find the Dolphins. At 50-1, only the 49ers and Browns have longer odds than Miami.

SMIRK II: THE UNEXPECTED INSPIRATION FOR SUCCESSFUL SUPER BOWL ADS, MISS UNIVERSE, A REF NAMED CLETE, GREYHOUND FORETELLS RESULT: Welcome to Smirk II, the second of
five daily Super Bowl notes columns. As we all know SB television commercials are as highly anticipated as the game itself, according to an annual survey conducted by the Gustavfreytag
Donkey National Association of Self-Serving Advertising Executives. Well, those TV ads also are as closely watched and analyzed as the game, apparently. A new study of each year’s highest-rated SB ads was conducted by researchers Keith Quesenberry of Messiah College and Michael Coolsen of Shippensburg University. Quesenberry told Time.com they concluded that the most successful, well-liked ads are presented as mini-movies in a five-act story structure such as that favored by legendary playwright William Shakespeare. The study also found most of the best Super Bowl ads follow “Gustav’s Pyramid,” the five-part story structure — exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and denouement — espoused by 19th Century German novelist Gustav Freytag. A separate study by Smirk found that most successful Super Bowl ads feature yodeling animals in straw hats. (Pictured left: Gustav Freytag and a typical star of a Super Bowl ad). In an unrelated story, Dan Marino and actor Alec Baldwin star in a Super Bowl television commercial for Amazon Echo, which has the electronic voice of “Alexa” answering your questions. Amazon denied it was a blatant ripoff of Apple’s Siri. “Yeah, right!” snorted the entire country.

▪ Panthers quarterback Cam Newton arrived at the Super Bowl in a pair of Versace zebra-print pants that retail for almost $900. Oh, and gold-tip loafers. By contrast, I think Broncos QB Peyton Manning arrived in a Jim Tressel sweater vest and Hush Puppies. GQ “Style Guy” Anthony Green revealed to ESPN that Newton’s daring sartorial splendor could be a good omen for Carolina.

▪ Super Bowl Opening Night (formerly Media Day) featured Newton freestyle rapping, an Austrian sportscaster in ski clothes, a man dressed in a gold leotard, a leprechaun in Broncos colors and Josh Norman in a Luchador wrestling mask. In other words, pretty much the usual stuff.

▪ I don’t wanna say I’m beginning to doubt Manning’s denial that he ever used human growth hormone, but at Tuesday’s weigh-in he was 6-11 and 314 pounds.

▪ This could be a dull Super Bowl Week if we don’t get some decent controversy beyond that silly HGH story. Smirk will do his part at Wednesday’s media session by attempting to plant deer-antler spray on Ted Ginn Jr.

Missuniverse▪ Miss Universe, Pia Wurtzbach (Phillipines), is covering the Super Bowl for Inside Edition. Apparently an embittered Miss Colombia was denied a credential. At least that’s what Steve Harvey told me.

▪ CBS held a news conference at San Francisco’s Moscone Convention Center to reveal it has more than 550 personnel and 100 cameras swarming the Bay Area. The event went well before degenerating into a fistfight between Jim Nantz and Phi Simms. OK Smirk made up that last thing.

▪ Federal officials said Tuesday there is no specific, credible threat to this week’s Super Bowl, other than it tanking in the ratings because Carolina is so far ahead.

▪ The NFL announced its Sunday officiating crew headed by referee Clete Blakeman, and nobody cared except the men’s immediate families.

Grammar▪ Panthers fans are more grammatically correct than Broncos fans, according to a Twitter study by grammarly.com. Carolina fans (6.6) made fewer grammar mistakes per 100 words than Denver fans (7.6). Both deploy the language far better than Dolphins fans, who ranked 30th of 32 teams at 11.9.

▪ A skirmish arose Tuesday along “Radio Row” when competing producers for rival stations 790 The Ticket Miami and WQAM came to blows over first dibs to a profusely sweating Chris Berman.

Carolinadog▪ Finally, at Palm Beach Kennel Club, a greyhound representing Carolina beat a dog representing Denver. Track officials denied speculation the race might have been a publicity stunt.

Previously: Click on Smirk I for Tuesday's debut. Click on Super Bowl Primer for our preview column outlining the top national and Miami-related storylines to Broncos-Panthers.

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Twitter @gregcote

January 30, 2016

What sport has best (or least awful) All-Star Game? New poll. Vote now!; plus Dan Marino's new Super Bowl ad (with video), runners who make marathons an unhealthy obsession, '72 Dolphins lose again, control-freak LeBron & more

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

Phelps1) It is SATURDAY, JANUARY 30. How great is this? Champion swimmer Michael Phelps, wearing Speedos and his Olympic medals, joined Arizona's State's "Curtain of Distraction" at a basketball game last night. 2) Paul Kantner, Jefferson Airplane guitarist and founding member, dead at 74. Man, all the old rockers are peeling away. 3) ICYMI, click on Making a Showkiller for the Fusion TV/LeBatard Show spoof (starring me) of Making a Murderer. 4) In The Previous Blogpost: Canes '16 football schedule analysis, '72 Dolphins finally lose, UM basketball and baseball, #WomenNotObjects, activities book for Satanic children & more. 5) Follow us on Twitter @gregcote. Also on Facebook, InstagramVine and Periscope.

"Anybody but me noticed that Heat limited partner Raanan Katz's name is pronounced 'rainin' cats'?" --Greg Cote

Word of the day: anorak: British slang for someone obsessively interested in something that doesn't seem to merit such attention. Example: "He's a bloody anorak for running those marathons, isn't he?"

Lust for power, control is who LeBron is: That's the theme of my recent column; click Chosen And In Charge to read. Email reaction has seen Heat fans generally loving the column and others (read: Clevelanders) not so much. I don't consider the column pro-Heat or anti-LeBron. I'm simply exploring how everything about LeBron's career makes believable the prevailing idea he had a hand in David Blatt's firing, and plausible the report that he also maneuvered to see Erik Spoelstra removed while in Miami.

IT'S ALL-STAR GAME SEASON, UNFORTUNATELY: Today's latest column by me centers on All-Star Game Season, with the NFL Pro Bowl and NHL All-Star Game both Sunday and the NBA's ASG Nflpb
Nhlasg Nbaasg  Mlbasgtwo weeks later. The NBA has the best of those three, though that's faint praise. Baseball's July Midsummer Classic gets it closest to right, because of tradition and the fact the game matters. The Pro Bowl to me is the worst of them all -- mainly because the players themselves don't give a s---. In the other three sports players are honored to participate. Football players actively dream up reason to avoid the game, as I detail in the column. Click on The All-Star Shame to read in full. The poll asks you which of the big-four all-star games you think is the best one, although I could as easily have worded the question, "Which is the least bad." In this poll I challenge you to separate which sport you may prefer from which league presents its all-stars best.

Dolphins in 2016 NFL Pro Bowl: C Mike Pouncey was team's only actual, originally chosen all-star but will not play because of an alleged injury. Replacement players (quasi-Pro Bowlers) are OT Branden Albert and S Reshad Jones (Team Irvin) and WR/KR Jarvis Landry and CB Brent Grimes (Team Rice).

Panthers in 2016 NHL All-Star Game: F Jaromir Jagr won a fan vote to be Atlantic Division captain, and D Aaron Ekblad and G Roberto Luongo join him on team. Gerad Gallant will coach Atlantic team via Cats' first-place division standing.

Heat in 2016 NBA All-Star Game: G Dwyane Wade was voted in as an Eastern Conference starter. F Chris Bosh was selected as a reserve.

Marlins in 2015 MLB All-Star Game: OF Giancarlo Stanton and 2B Dee Gordon made the team.

DAN MARINO'S NEW SUPER BOWL AD: The Dolphins great and actor Alec Baldwin star in an upcoming Super Bowl ad for Amazon Echo. If you don't know it, Amazon Echo goes by the nickname, "Blatant Ripoff of Apple's Siri." Cute ad, though. Here it is:

  

RunningTHE UNHEALTHINESS OF IT WHEN RUNNING BECOMES AN OBSESSION: I've seen a couple of recent instances in my own newspaper. We in the media cover and write laudingly of people who have made a lifestyle of running marathons, of running in general, without noting how strange it is, and how unhealthy it seems Running4from a mental standpoint when that practice evolves into an overriding obsession. One was the story of a 71-year Texas man who made the Miami Marathon the 1,606th he had competed in. Another was the story of a 35-year-old Massachusetts woman in the process of running in seven marathons on seven continents in seven days. Both of those instances are wonderful to some, but weird to others of us. I wonder if the running-obsessed are able to step back and see what others see. The story on the woman noted she was a single mother. Hmm. I wonder why. Him: "Honey, can you take a few days off from that? I never see you anymore!" Her: "Love to chat, Bill, but I'm in training and need to get in 100 miles today." There is an inherent selfishness to running or any other obsession that takes command of one's lifestyle and life. Obsessed runners, evidently self-conscious of this and defensive about it, come up with fortune-cookie slogans like the ones pictured at left. Yes, because of course we unhealthy heathens who are not constantly training to run in 26.2-mile footraces -- we just don't understand! The rest of us are just a bunch of lazy fatties eating Cheetos on the Running2couch, right? We're jealous!! Yeah that's it. Look, I'm not anti-running. I'm not even anti-obsession. Whatever floats your boat, as we used to say. I don't think the obsessed runner is any better or worse (or much different, for that matter) than the woman who lives with 45 cats or the guy who has been collecting stamps for 70 years. What I don't like is fawning media coverage that glowingly depicts these sneakered cultists as somehow better, as special. These Quixotic folks who literally cannot stop running -- they aren't bad people, no. But neither are they heroic as so often portrayed. They are just (and hopefully we can agree on this) people who have given their lives to running in a fitness pursuit now running their lives.

BEEN A BAD WEEK FOR THE '72 DOLPHINS: Yesterday we told  you how, in a bracketed competition of all 49 Super Bowl winners by CBS Sports and Strat-O- Dolphins72Matic, the Perfect Season 1972 Dolphins were beaten in the round-of-16 by the 1992 Cowboys. Well, today, predictionmachine.com computers played all 49 champions against each other 50,000 times each, ranked the teams by overall winning percentage, and the '72 Dolphins were ranked only No. 9 overall (the '73 Fins were 22nd). Said Prediction Machine of the No. 9 ranking: "A perfect season is a special thing. Miami was the best team that year but being undefeated isn't enough to claim the top spot on this list. Don Shula's squad was good but not dominant. During its regular season run of excellence the Dolphins beat just two teams with a winning record. When we re-simulate Miami's 1972 schedule, the team would have just a 1.2 percent chance to win every game. The Dolphins would have to get lucky again for Mercury Morris to pop bottles of champagne." Ouch. By the way, the all-time top five SB champs are: 1--1999 Rams, 2--1985 Bears, 3--1989 49ers, 4--1996 Packers and 5--1979 Steelers. Update: Yet another humbling for the Class of '72: Safety Jake Scott is the lone Dolphin to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame's 26-man Golden Anniversary Super Bowl team out today.  

Revisit our blog a lot because we constantly update and add to our latest posts...

Twitter @gregcote

January 23, 2016

'Making A Murderer' video spoof starring me from LeBatard Show/Fusion TV; plus NFL Championship-Round playoff picks with who'll win Super Bowl poll. Vote now!; also, your greatest-NBA-center verdict & more

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

1) It is SATURDAY, JANUARY 23. In The Previous Blogpost (ITPB): Marlins earning back trust, greatest-NBA-centers poll, Kiper downgrades Fins draft, Heat/Panthers simultaneous slumps, return of Sarah Palin & more. 2Follow us on Twitter @gregcote. Also on Facebook, InstagramVine and Periscope.

"Congrats to Heat star Dwyane Wade for earning yet another NBA All-Star Game start. At 34, D.Wade is aging as gracefully and effectively as most any athlete I have covered or seen." --Greg Cote

UPSET BIRD DAY: NFL CHAMPIONSHIP-ROUND PLAYOFF PICKS: Nope, the Upset Bird is quiet today as the NFL playoffs pare to a final four with Sunday's AFC and NFC Championship Games. I Fripix Champgameslike both favorites, the visiting Patriots (at Broncos) and the homie Panthers (over Cardinals). By the way, Cinderella couldn't get past the velvet rope this year. No classic 'dog left in the hunt. In fact this is the first time in 11 years both conference title games have been No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchups in terms of seeding. Click on Championship-Round Gems for our two full prediction capsules. Also, click on Brady-Manning: The Latest And Last for our weekly Friday Page NFL column. It centers on the 17th and likely final duel in the epic Tom Brady-Peyton Manning rivalry. Great rivalries always end with a winner, and the winner always is Time. In the poll below, it's who you think will win the Super Bowl, NOT who you want to win. Vote here with mind, not heart. You have $100 to bet on one team, straight up, to win it all. Who you got?

Showkiller'MAKING A SHOWKILLER': Fusion TV today rolled out a pretty clever spoof of Making A Murderer, the popular Netflix docu-series. It is Making A Showkiller, a promo for my Tuesday co-host role on the Dan LeBatard Show With Stugotz. Showkiller (sometimes Showkilla) is a nickname of mine on the show for reasons I'll leave to the listener and viewer. Anyway, fun spoof and thanks to Charlie Hulme and the folks at Fusion. Click on Making a Showkiller to watch.

Poll result: Kareem, Wilt and Bill the Big 3 centers: We asked your vote for greatest NBA center of all-time in an alphabetical poll using ESPN's Top 10, and three guys accounted for almost 80 percent of the votes. It was Kareem-Abdul Jabbar winning with 29.6 percent followed by Wilt Chamberlain 26.9% and Bill Russell 21.6%. Then it was a huge dropoff but notable support for Shaquille O'Neal (8.4%) and Hakeem Olajuwon (8.0%). None of the other five had even 2%.

Revisit our blog a lot because we constantly update and add to our latest posts...

Twitter @gregcote