Wrapping Up A Historic Weekend

The weekend has come and gone, but it was one not soon to be forgotten—for better or for worse. The mega-fight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao headlined the weekend and grossed enough money to make you sick to your stomach if you watched the fight. The 141st running of the Kentucky Derby was another spectacle to behold. The NFL Draft made for good TV and the Atlanta Falcons seemingly put together one of the strongest drafts in the league. Game 7 of the Clippers-Spurs series was everything fans could have hoped for. The Braves hosted the Cincinnati Reds and on Sunday the Hawks welcomed the Wizards for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

From a local standpoint, there were some good moments and some bad moments for Atlanta teams. Let’s start with the positives. The Braves came away with a split in their four-game series with the Reds. Atlanta’s No. 3 ranked prospect Mike Foltynewicz made his first career start and helped the Braves win 4-3 with both his arm and bat. The 23-year-old who was acquired from the Houston Astros in the Evan Gattis deal, pitched five innings and allowed two earned runs. Foltynewicz settled down after a shaky 28-pitch first inning which saw two Reds cross the plate to gain an early lead. In the fourth inning, Foltynewicz stepped to the dish and delivered a two-run double to help spark the offense.

The Falcons had a well-liked draft and picked up some good value in the later rounds. Grady Jarrett is the son of former Falcon great Jessie Tuggle and will look to bring the same hardworking mindset his father had that made him a five-time Pro Bowler after going undrafted. The first round selection of Vic Beasley filled a glaring need for a pass rusher and gives Falcons fans an exciting player to look forward to seeing on Sundays.

One Atlanta team however, did lay an egg this weekend; your Atlanta Hawks. An energized team came out and held a 37-26 lead after the first period and looked as if they were ready to run the Wizards out of the building. Atlanta entered the half up 63-53, but the wheels would fall off. Bradley Beal took over the game and poured in a game-high 28 points to lead the Wizards to a 104-98 win. After struggling to close out Brooklyn in a timely fashion, Atlanta fans might be ready to hit the panic button after blowing Game 1.

On the national stage, the Kentucky Derby went chalk with the favorite, American Pharoah, pulling away down the stretch to hold off Firing Line. The pomp and circumstance was a sight to behold as the graceful power of the horses was on full display. American Pharoah will now attempt to be the first Triple Crown winner since 1978.

Game 7 of the Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs was the most exciting event of the weekend hands down. A hobbled Chris Paul with just one hamstring willed the Clippers to victory and stunned the defending champs with a 111-109 victory. Paul finished with 27 points including the game-winner with one second remaining over Tim Duncan; a shot even the Russian Judges would give a 10-out-of-10 in difficulty. The incredible performance was meant to serve as the ultimate appetizer to the biggest boxing match in history, but the main course didn’t please everyone’s pallet.

Mayweather beat Pacquiao by decision in a match that most were let down by. Being an avid boxing fan year round, this was exactly what I thought would happen. The casual fan who thought there would be some sort of knockout got their hopes up for nothing. These two fighters aren’t guys who try to knock you out anymore. Mayweather is the greatest defensive fighter of all-time and always looks to hug and slither his way out of trouble. People can’t say the fight was a disappointment because this is what was expected going in. Pacquiao hadn’t scored a knockout since 2012 and Mayweather, 2011. The villain might have won the fight, but overall as sports fans, we won this weekend.

Saturday’s Sports Lineup One For the Ages

If you’re a sports fan, this Saturday is the type of day you live for. Clear your schedule, grab a cold drink, order a pizza and enjoy a plethora of sporting events to choose from.

The action begins at high noon with the NFL Draft kicking off. The draft has outdrawn NBA Game 7s in years past and will likely put up another big number in the Nielsen ratings this weekend. The Atlanta Falcons are holding a draft day party at the College Football Hall of Fame and will have attendees’ eyes glued to the big screen to see who Dan Quinn and company decide to bring aboard alongside No. 8 pick Vic Beasley. Rumors have swirled that the Falcons would be active during the draft and trade talks have floated around Bruce Irvin of the Seattle Seahawks as being a potential fit to rejoin coach Quinn in Atlanta.

Is football not for you? Well, maybe some hockey will whet your appetite. The New York Rangers host Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals and will look to avenge a stunning Game 1 loss to the hands of the Washington Capitals. Hockey is understandably not big in the South, but one cannot argue the intensity and excitement the playoffs bring. The Rangers finished the regular season as the top team in the league and recorded their best season in franchise history. The visiting Capitals stole Game 1 with a game-winning Joel Ward goal with just two seconds remaining. New York failed to clear the puck out of the zone and Ward slipped a shot past Henrik Lundqvist to silence the home crowd.

At 4:00 P.M., live coverage of the 141st Kentucky Derby kicks off. “The Fastest Two Minutes in Sports” is a spectacle to behold at beautiful Churchill Downs. Fancy wardrobes, floppy hats, mint juleps and heavy gambling are all in abundance at the track. Celebrities and athletes both make it a point to attend the historical event. Last year, some drama occurred involving Denver Bronco receiver Wes Welker, who was shown making it rain $100 bills while at the track. Months later, it turned out Welker was under the influence of the drug Molly, and was subsequently suspended for four games after testing positive for amphetamines.

Last year’s on the track action featured California Chrome, who won the Derby and the Preakness Stakes before falling in the Belmont Stakes. California Chrome fell short of becoming the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

Around 7:10 P.M., the Kentucky Derby will be wrapping up. At that time you will be able to switch over to the Braves-Reds game, or if you want, you could even make it to the game in person as it will be played in the friendly confines of Turner Field. Eric Stults will do battle with the ageless Jason Marquis. The Braves have held their own this season and have proven to be a competitive team.

Things start to get serious in primetime with the Los Angeles Clippers welcoming the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs for Game 7 of an epic first round playoff series at 8 P.M. There has been no momentum with both teams picking up wins on each other’s home court after suffering grueling losses to one another. Unsung heroes and three-point shooting have been the story. Patty Mills, Boris Diaw and most recently Marco Belinelli have all played the games of their lives as they have propelled the Spurs’ bench. Belinelli drained seven threes and finished with 23 points while Diaw scored 17 in Game 6, but somehow, the Clippers managed to stave off elimination and force a deciding Game 7 with a 102-96 win on Thursday. Four of the six games have been decided by 10 points or less and has given fans a Western Conference Finals worthy performance.

You can find great sports action on any given weekend, but the straw that stirs the drink and makes Saturday one of the greatest days in recent sports history is the legendary boxing bout featuring undefeated Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao. The fight will likely start around 10 or 11 P.M. depending on how the undercard goes. The two most recognized figures in the sport finally meet after a decade of Mayweather dodging Pac Man. The fight will be the highest grossing pay-per-view of all-time, surpassing the mark set by Canelo Alvarez and Mayweather in 2013.

The fight is going for $90-$100 and will earn Mayweather up to $180 million just for taking the fight. Tickets to the fight did not go on sale until the week before and only 1,000 tickets were available to the public and sold out within 60 seconds. Tickets have gone for $40,000 upwards to $300,000. This fight is the most decorated match in over 30 years and will continue to put boxing on the map while the UFC has been on a steady decline. The UFC suffered a big blow with Light Heavyweight Champion and most popular fighter Jon Jones being stripped of his belt and facing a prison sentence.

Whatever event you choose to watch, you can’t go wrong. The marathon of sports will span nearly 12 hours and will give die-hard sports fans everything and more they could ever ask for in a day.

Al Skinner Soothes KSU Coaching Woes

The long awaited decision on who will be Kennesaw State’s new basketball coach was finally set in stone this Sunday. Vaughn Williams and company pulled a rabbit out of their collective hats with the hiring of Al Skinner. The 62-year-old Skinner is the perfect hire on paper for a program that has been one of the worst in the nation since 2010. The Owls needed a proven winner with experience leading young adults. For once in my life I can finally say, I think Kennesaw State got this one right.

Skinner is definitely no spring chicken, but what he does bring to the program is credibility. You can tell it by his look: A toothy smile, nearly bald, Skinner has been through some battles as both a player and coach and expects nothing but excellence. He was a standout at UMass as a player in the early 70s and was subsequently drafted by the Boston Celtics of the NBA, but instead decided to play in the ABA with the New York Nets and Hall of Famer Julius Erving. No knock on Jimmy Lallathin, but he wasn’t able to tell his players he went shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the best players the game has ever seen. Skinner even has a shiny championship ring he won during his second professional season to get players’ attentions.

As a coach, Skinner started out as an assistant at Marist and Rhode Island before eventually taking over the head coaching job with the Rams in 1988. There he enjoyed a successful run in the A-10, amassing a respectable record of 138-126 in nine seasons. Skinner landed the Boston College job for the 1997-98 season and began a wildly successful run considering the juggernauts which resided in the Big East and eventually the ACC. In 13 seasons he ran up a record of 247-165 while collecting three Big East regular season championships and one tournament championship.

Kennesaw State, lowly little Kennesaw State, who has suffered through a 30-125 record over the past five seasons really just landed a one-time A-10 Coach of the Year, two-time Big East Coach of the Year and the 2001 National Coach of the Year?! Yes, you aren’t dreaming, that just happened. The Owls have won just 85 games during their 10 years as a Division One program; take a four-year stretch from 2003-04 to 2006-07 and Skinner won 98 games alone.

If players won’t buy in now that Skinner is at the helm, they will never buy in. He has sent the likes of Craig Smith, Sean Williams and Jared Dudley to the pros from Boston College. Not all-stars, but all serviceable NBA players that have played a handful of seasons in the association.

A Second Chance

Skinner was fired from Boston College on March 30, 2010. He has been working as an associate head coach at Bryant University, who much like Kennesaw State was years ago, is in its infancy as a Division One program transitioning full-time in 2012.

So what’s the knock on Skinner? I’m sure you could take a few guesses, but one major one is that he is old and won’t recruit the area like he should. It’s a decent argument, but I doubt that the former National Coach of the Year is leaving from the comforts of the Rhode Island area to come to Kennesaw just to collect a check and cash it in. Sometimes there is a thing called pride that can push old veterans to the peak of their game. Surely Skinner won’t want to end his career with a flop.

The Boston Globe’s Bob Ryan highlighted a lazy Al Skinner back when he was fired from Boston College, stating he was too casual. However, in a Boston Globe article early last year, Providence Head Coach Ed Cooley said the fire is back.  “You could tell he missed it,” Cooley said. “He’s dying to coach again.” Cooley also added, “For Al Skinner not to be a head coach is a travesty to college basketball. It is crazy how he’s not a head coach somewhere.”

Time will tell if this hire was correct or not. If it is a homerun, Kennesaw can finally host a basketball program they are proud of; if not, the program will continue to remain in shambles.

Why The Hawks Will Soar Into The Finals

April. October. November. All painful months for Atlanta fans. The playoffs are here yet again but this time there is a different aura surrounding the Atlanta Hawks. There is a different vibe; a different feel that has surrounded this team all season. The Hawks have home court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference; a rarity for a team that has been stuck in mediocrity. It’s time for Atlanta to make a statement. It’s time for them to take the next step. It’s normal to be panicky about the Hawks, but I’m here to tell you to take a deep breath and relax. I am going off on a limb and saying the most disregarded number one seed in NBA playoff history will do the “unthinkable” and win the Eastern Conference Finals.

The trendy and sexy pick all season long has been the Cavaliers. Sure, they have the star power but sometimes in the playoffs it’s the whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Cleveland handed Atlanta a beat down in game nine of the season, 127-94. That loss along with an embarrassing defeat at the hands of the lowly Lakers ignited something within Atlanta. The Hawks started their rampage through the Eastern Conference and left in its warpath three convincing wins over the Cavs, so why can’t this Hawks team do the same thing in the playoffs?

Playoffs and the city of Atlanta have not gone well together, but just saying “We live in Atlanta” is not a good enough excuse to why the Hawks won’t make it to the NBA Finals. Injuries have been a concern and are a potential speedbump on the Hawks’ bandwagon to the championship game, but time and time again, these Hawks have proven they are for real. Coach Budenholzer’s team system is deadly. An unselfish team that can lock you down in the postseason is a team no one would want to face.

Atlanta is the most complete team in the East. Void of “stars”, the Hawks let you choose your poison. Don’t want Millsap, Horford or Teague? Fine. Here is Kyle Korver and DeMarre Carroll driving you crazy with their shooting. Don’t like those options? How about Dennis Schroder, who is quietly turning the Jeff Teague/Schroder backcourt into a poor man’s Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe situation.

Cleveland will not win the NBA Finals. They will have to scrap their way to even get there. The Hawks have had their number. DeMarre Carroll befuddled LeBron James in their last matchup, harassing him into nine turnovers. Cleveland is not the elite defensive team Atlanta is and they don’t have the coaching to match up with Mike Budenholzer. LeBron and Kyrie Irving might get there’s but two men will not beat a Budenholzer coached team. Two long suffering cities might clash for a chance to lift their respective “curses”.

Chicago might be the only other team that could challenge the Hawks. Atlanta beat the Bulls twice before losing in the final game of the season while calling the dogs off. Chicago is a tough-nosed defensive team but has struggled with injuries all season long. Derrick Rose looked good in game one against the Bucks, but it remains to be seen if he can grind out a long series against an equally tough defensive team. Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder could give Rose headaches trying to chase them around the perimeter.

Jimmy Butler and Pau Gasol will be the cornerstones for Chicago. They will need to perform up to their season numbers to take down either the Hawks or Cavs. Atlanta will likely get an exhausted team in the Eastern Conference Finals. Chicago and Cleveland seem destined for a physical long series. It will be imperative for the Hawks to wipe the floor with the Nets in four and to take care of either Washington or Toronto in short manner also.

Whatever happens, be proud of the Hawks. It has been a great season but there is much to come on the horizon. As long as they make the ECF, they will have had a successful season. Atlanta is playing with house money, and I think they are going to cash it in into a NBA Finals appearance.

RESULT: Hawks were swept in 4 games by the Cavs

Western Conference Playoff Preview

#1 Golden State Warriors (67-15) vs. #8 New Orleans Pelicans (45-37)

The Warriors waltz in with the best record in the NBA and lead the league in both Offensive (109.7) and Defensive (98.2) Ratings. Golden State leads the league in scoring unsurprisingly at 110 points per game and own the high point differential this season at +10.1. Stephen Curry is the odds on favorite to win Most Valuable Player. He has averaged 23.8 points, 7.7 assists, 2.04 steals and broke his own NBA record with 286 made threes. Klay Thompson is the second part of the “Splash Brothers” and averaged 21.7 points while hitting .439 percent of his threes. The Warriors are unselfish and lead the league in assists per game. Draymond Green does everything on the floor and is a candidate to win Defensive Player of the Year.

The Pelicans clinched a playoff appearance on the final day of the season, defeating the defending champion San Antonio Spurs. New Orleans is an extremely talented team loaded with steady players. Superstar Anthony Davis will need to carry the Pellies if they want to put a dent in the Warriors. The former Kentucky Wildcat averaged 24.4 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.9 blocks in the regular season. Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and a healthy Jrue Holiday will be key to supporting Davis. The Warriors took the season series 3-1, but only Evans and role player Dante Cunningham appeared in all four games for New Orleans.

#4 Portland Trail Blazers (51-31) vs. #5 Memphis Grizzlies (55-27)

Due to the Blazers winning their division, they will receive crucial home court advantage over the better Grizzlies. Memphis swept away the Blazers in four games this season. Portland is banged up after losing Wes Matthews (15.9 ppg) to a ruptured Achilles tendon in early March. Arron Afflalo was a mid-season pickup, but he has also dealt with injuries and has only averaged 10.6 points in 25 games with the Blazers. LaMarcus Aldridge has played with a finger and most recently foot injury but has still managed to lead the team in scoring (23.4) and rebounding (10.2). Damian Lillard showed how clutch he was last season in the playoffs and will need to dazzle again as he enters the playoffs after scoring 21 points on average in the regular season. Nicolas Batum will be the X-factor. He has struggled all season long but if healthy, the versatile wing can stuff the stat sheet.

As usual, Memphis wins with its defense. The Grizz allowed just 95.1 points per game, good for second in the league. Jeff Green has been a welcomed addition and gives Memphis a scoring small forward they haven’t seen since Rudy Gay. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph anchor the paint combining for 33.5 points and 18.3 rebounds. The steady improvement of Mike Conley has helped lift this team to the next level. The only thing holding Memphis back is their lack of outside shooting. They connected on just 423 threes this season, 29th in the NBA.

#3 Los Angeles Clippers (56-26) vs. #6 San Antonio Spurs (55-27)

The jumbled up two thru six seeds were sorted out on the final day as the Rockets and Grizzlies won and the Spurs lost, dropping the defending NBA Champions from the two-seed to the six-seed. The Clippers split the season series 2-2 against the vaunted Spurs. Chris Paul has managed to stay healthy the entire season and put together MVP-type numbers. Blake Griffin missed a month with a staph infection in his right elbow. DeAndre Jordan is a leading candidate for DPOY after leading the league with 15 rebounds per night. The Clips have won a league best seven straight heading into the playoffs. An inconsistent bench is what scares people the most from picking the Clippers to go deep.

San Antonio won 11-straight before falling to New Orleans to end the season. That loss proved costly, dropping them four spots. The usual suspects do the damage for Coach Popovich’s team. A deep, unselfish bench that whips the ball around gives opposing teams headaches as they have to run their starters back out on the floor before the game gets out of hand. Kawhi Leonard has taken the mantle as the future of the franchise. He leads the team in points (16.5) and steals (2.31). The big three of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili have started to show cracks in their armor, combining to average only 38.8 points per game.

#2 Houston Rockets (56-26) vs. #7 Dallas Mavericks (50-32)

Despite Dwight Howard missing exactly half the season with injuries and losing Donatas Motiejunas and Patrick Beverley before the playoffs, James Harden has propelled the Rockets into the two-seed and will enjoy home court advantage. Harden had a monster year averaging 27.4 points, 5.7 rebounds and 7.0 assists. He will need help in the playoffs however. Howard is not yet 100 percent. Since his return he has averaged 13.8 points and 8.9 rebounds, down from his 16.3 and 11 before injury. The Rockets won three games by double digits as they beat the Mavericks three out of the four times the two teams met.

Dallas’ experiment adding Rajon Rondo has not yielded the results Mark Cuban wanted, but he along with Coach Rick Carlisle will hope Rondo shines yet again on the big stage in the playoffs. During the regular season, Rondo has averaged just 9.3 points and 6.5 assists with Dallas along with a terrifying 45 percent from the line. Monta Ellis (18.9), Dirk Nowitzki (17.3) and former Rocket Chandler Parsons (15.7) are the big three scorers. Parsons has battled a knee injury and has missed six straight games. The Mavs are loaded with veterans, but their age might hurt them against an explosive Rockets team.

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