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UFC 129 – Now or Never for Shields…

April 30, 2011 Leave a comment

New York – For Jake Shields, tonight is the opportunity of a lifetime. If he has any hopes of solidifying his name among the top fighters in MMA history, it is now or never. The underrated Shields has won his last 15 matches, from EliteXC, Strikeforce and now the UFC. He has found ways to win when he shouldn’t. Taking down the former champion Dan Henderson, submitting middleweight champion Robbie Lawler, and more recently a split-decision to Martin Kampann that secured his bout against the welterweight champion at UFC 129, Georges St. Pierre. For years, people have doubted the talent of Shields, who lacks in the stand-up game, but thrives on the ground. Is there any better way to silence the critics than to defeat perhaps the greatest pound-for-pound fighter to ever enter the octagon? 

But this is no walk in the park for Shields either, who goes up against not only the champion in GSP, but also the 55,000 fans that will be behind him at a sold out Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, the home-town of the champ.

 

There has been talk of St.Pierre moving up to the middleweight division as there has been no opponent in the welterweight division to give GSP any sort of difficulty. He was able to defeat B.J. Penn and Josh Koscheck twice, reclaim his belt against Matt Serra and completely dominate Dan Hardy and Thiago Alves. As soon as he enters the cage, he controls the flow of the match. GSP is able to identify the weakness of his opponent and pick them apart at his own pace. Defeating Shields would be just another step for GSP to the dream match that MMA fans have hoped for, a bout against middleweight champion Anderson Silva, to claim once and for all, who is the greatest fighter in MMA history.

Shields stated yesterday, ““Winning the belt period, whoever I win it from, would mean a tremendous amount to me, but I think taking it from GSP is a whole different level. He’s possibly the best champ of all time. That’s a completely different level in my mind.” Shields has the respect for GSP, he isn’t a trash talker and proves himself in the cage.

The past few weeks leading up to the match, the pressure seems to be all on the shoulders of GSP. For what reason? Could it be that he is going to put his championship on the line in front of thousands of faithful fans? Or is it that people have doubted Shields for so long that he has been able to slide under the radar and could actually have a shot at beating GSP? Could the welterweight belt be in the hands of someone different for the first time in 4 years?

A Shields victory would be one of the biggest upsets in MMA history. Yes, GSP has the advantage in almost every aspect of the game; but Shields might have the mental edge. People do not expect him to win and a loss would not be shocking by any means. For Shields, it is not just about the championship, it is about proving to everyone who ever doubted his success and giving the term “underdog” a new definition.

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Although I would love to see someone take the crown from GSP, he is possibly the best conditioned athlete in the world and can go five rounds without breaking a sweat. If Shields can withstand the early rounds of strikes from GSP and find away around his defense, he might have a chance of going for a takedown and a submission. If I had to pick with my heart, it would be Shields, but if it was my wallet, GSP comes away as the reigning champion.

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Categories: Uncategorized

Daniel Murphy is clutch

April 28, 2011 Leave a comment

You ever the get the feeling when you’re watching a Mets game that the batter will hit a home run on the next pitch?

Well, I can’t say this is completely true about last night, but I was pretty close.

After the debacle of a call by Marvin Hudson that erased Jose Reyes’ one-out triple, the Mets could have easily folded, just like they’ve been accustomed to doing over the last few years.

That’s the type of call that forces some players to say, “Not tonight boys, we’ll get them tomorrow.”

Daniel Murphy stepped in with two outs and no one on base against a pitcher in Tyler Clippard who has been dominant in the late innings, especially against the Mets.

For some reason, I knew Murphy was going to get a big hit. He kept fouling pitches off, waiting for one he can drive.

On the pitch before he went deep, I said to myself this one is it. And sure enough, another foul.

Then Clippard left a change-up straight down the middle and up in the zone, and Murphy clobbered it.

That is easily the biggest hit of the Mets season so far, and hopefully we can expect many more of those out of Murphy.

Though he was a little late covering second base in the next inning, these are the types of growing pains we will have to deal with as he continues to learn the position. However, if he keeps driving in big runs with clutch hits, I’m sure we can forgive him for some minor defensive lapses.

The great thing about Murphy is that he doesn’t settle for just one come-from-behind win. You can tell that he wants to win every single game he plays.

As we approach the end of April, this winning attitude can hopefully further resonate with the players. The Mets have a big road series in Philadelphia this weekend, so gutting out these gritty wins will be crucial.

This may be a tad premature, but get those pens out and start writing “Daniel Murphy” on the bottom of your All-Star ballot. Current Colorado Rockie, Brad Emaus, represents the Mets at second base on the ballot, so Murphy will have to be a write-in.

In other news, congratulations to Brooklyn-boy, Pedro Beato, for picking up his first Major League win. Also, the Jason Bay winning streak extends to six. Let’s not forget that he started off the ninth inning rally with a single up the middle.

Keep up the exciting play, Mets, and Citi Field will be packed for the next homestand.

Follow me on Twitter @JMMancari.

Categories: MLB Tags: ,

Game Seven Heaven – NHL Playoffs

April 26, 2011 Leave a comment

Just when you thought the NHL playoffs couldn’t get more exciting, we are thrown into four scenarios that are facing a final game seven showdown. (Three are definite, while the Boston/Montreal series is still to be determined, game six is tonight).

A seven game series is not completely uncommon in the playoffs, but having half of the match-ups in the first round come down to the final game is something that hockey enthusiasts dream of.

If this is just a taste of what is next for the NHL playoffs, I cannot imagine what is in store for the later rounds. Hopefully they will be just as exhilarating as the opening series have been.

Buffalo Sabres vs. Philadelphia Flyers

The series turned ugly last game when Flyers captain Mike Richards blindsided Sabres center Tim Connolly headfirst into the boards, causing him to leave the game. Sabres players, coaches and fans were irate when no action was taken against Richards. The momentum swung to the Flyers as they were able to come back from a 3rd period deficit and push the series to a seventh game after an OT goal on Buffalo’s home ice. The final game will be decided in Philadelphia and while many would think that they have the advantage playing at home, 8 out of the last 10 game-sevens, ended with the AWAY team claiming victory.

The Sabres will also get back their top scorer in Derek Roy who hasn’t played since December, suffering from a torn quadricep. For the Flyers, the goaltender carousel continues to turn as a starter for game seven has yet to be named. They have used three different goaltenders in the series and cannot find the support that they have been searching for in the pipes. The exact problem that occurred throughout the season was not solved and progressed right into the playoffs. So who will take the series tonight in the “City of Brotherly Love”? Ryan Miller comes up huge, Derek Roy scores and the Sabres walk away with a huge upset against the Flyers.

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Vancouver Canucks

The youngest captain in the NHL, Jonathan Toews, has been a crucial piece to the Blackhawks comeback in the series.

Coming into the playoffs, the Canucks had everything going for them. They finished with most points in the NHL, their defensemen were returning from injury, goaltender Roberto Luongo was playing great in net and the playoffs arrived just in time. The bad news? The Canucks were paired up against the Chicago Blackhawks, not only the defending Stanley Cup champions, but the same team that knocked them out of playoff contention two years in a row. To make matters worse for the Canucks, they had a three games to zero lead in the series and completely fell flat. Luongo looks like a piece of swiss-cheese in net, they can’t seem to put the puck in the net and the Stanley Cup champs, are looking more and more unlike the eighth place team that limped into the postseason.

Even on the road, how can you pick against the Hawks? I say it every year, it doesn’t matter about seeding, always fear the defending champs. They know what it is like to hoist the most prized possession in all of sports and even down in the dirt, they were able to get back up and put up a fight. If the Canucks can’t pull this out, the city of Vancouver will be flooded with tears for the third straight year and the Hawks will  be their newly acclaimed rival. Even though I would love to see a comeback for the young guns like Kane and Toews, the Canucks will edge this one out.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

Even without superstars Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, the Penguins have been able to keep pace in the Eastern Conference. Like the Hawks, the Lightning were able to avoid elimination in game six at home and push the series to single-deciding game. Martin St.Louis is playing the top notch hockey (4 goals, 4 assists) and the Lightning seem to be as fired up as anyone.

The Penguins have put together some ugly wins, but nonetheless came away with exactly that, a win. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has been inconsistent, solid in the net one night and the next, can’t stop a puck the size of a soccer ball. This game will hinge on the powerplay of the Penguins, who ranked 25th during the season and have only one powerplay goal in the playoffs. If Lightning goalie Dwayne Roloson can put on a show like he did last game, the game will be one-sided. Young sensation Steven Stamkos will be a huge factor in this game as the Lightning advance and send the Penguins packing.

Categories: NHL

Knicks v. Celtics, Game 1 Preview

April 18, 2011 6 comments

Skeptics arose when Amare Stoudemire boldly declared “the Knicks are back” after New York signed him to a five-year, $100 million deal, last July.

Those doubters have since been quieted after the Knicks (42-40) posted their first winning season since 2000-2001 to clinch the sixth spot in the Eastern conference.

The Knicks are back—in the playoffs, for the first time since 2004.

They now face a Boston Celtics (56-26) squad that stumbles into the first-round, having gone just 15-11 since the trade that sent starting center Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City.

It’s a matchup of the new “big-three” versus the old; hyper offense versus physical defense.  Stoudemire and midseason acquisitions Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups will lead the Knicks into TD Garden on Sunday to face off in what will be an intense matchup against the playoff-tested Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.

The Knicks will need Anthony, who will be matched up with Pierce, to play brilliantly to have a chance to steal at least one of the first two games at Boston. One of the major advantages he brings to New York’s offense is that he excels in the half court-game that the Celtics often prefer. They will also need to play tough interior defense against the typically physical Celtic frontline which, fortunately for the Knicks, will be without Shaquille O’Neal for Game 1.

Boston, on the other hand, will need starting point guard Rajon Rondo to play closer to the level he was playing at when the Celtics reached the Finals last season and with the fire and accuracy he showed earlier this season. He has been largely inconsistent since the Perkins trade but will need to push the ball at every opportunity to use his speed against Billups. It will also make a world of a difference if he can make the open shots the Knicks will most certainly give him.

The Celtics will rely on their playoff battle-tested core to lead them once again through the adversity that has many picking the first-place Chicago Bulls or second-place Miami Heat as Eastern conference champion favorites. The Knicks will hope for the upset upon the shoulders of three veterans who have been deep into the playoffs in their respective careers.

The Knicks will certainly give the Celtics a run for their money and will not be an easy-out by any means. The buzz in playoff-starved Madison Square Garden will be electric and should propel the home team to a victory or two. In the end, however, the Knick offense will be unable to match the grind-it-out style that Doc Rivers and his Celtics have become accustomed to the past four seasons and will fall short of pulling off the upset.

Celtics in six.

NBA Playoffs: Knicks-Celtics preview

April 17, 2011 7 comments

Following the trade of Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups, Knicks fans eagerly anticipated a chance to make it to the NBA playoffs, somewhere they haven’t been since 2004. Now seated sixth in the Eastern Conference, the Knicks are officially playoff slated and are set to go against the Boston Celtics, a long-standing rival since 1990. A lot of anticipation leading up to the Knicks-Celtics game tonight at 7:00 p.m.

For Knicks fans the Anthony and Billups trade created an elite three when combined with Amare Stoudemire and the momentum that the Knicks needed to ride into a play off spot. Anthony is averaging 30.3 points and 49.0 percent shooting the past nine games. Although Stoudemire was out that past few games due to a sprained left ankle, his return to the court for the playoffs is highly anticipated.

New York is hoping to roll with the positive wave, using the seven game winning streak it had, before the Bills put a stop to it last Tuesday, as an adrenaline rush on Boston’s court, the home court advantage the Celtics are hoping to use for themselves.

A rocky lope to the playoffs, the Celtics are seated third in the Eastern Conference, but have had many bumps along the way. They traded starting center Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City, causing discontent and altering the chemistry of the Celtics starting line up. Upsetting losses, including games against the Washington and Chicago, did little for the Celtics’ morale, but they’re in the playoffs – enough said.

Below is the complete schedule for the Knicks-Celtics playoff games:

Game 1: Sunday at Boston, 7 p.m.
Game 2: Tuesday at Boston, 7 p.m.
Game 3: Friday, April 22, at New York; 7 p.m.
Game 4: Sunday, April 24, at New York; 3:30 p.m.
Game 5 (if necessary): Tuesday, April 26, at Boston; time TBD
Game 6 (if necessary): Friday, April 29, at New York; time TBD
Game 7 (if necessary): Sunday, May 1, at Boston; time TBD

Categories: NBA

Knicks vs. Celtics Preview

April 17, 2011 7 comments


The New York Knicks head to TD Garden in Boston tonight for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Boston Celtics.  This match up will feature the defending Eastern Conference Champion Celtics versus the up and coming, yet unproven, Knicks.  The Celtics come into this series as the clear favorite and after making trips to the NBA Finals the last two years; this will be a tough out for the new-look Knicks.  Some key things to watch in this series:

–       Amare vs. KG – From the time Amar’e Stoudemire declared this past off season that “the Knicks are back” he has been the leader of the Knicks on and off the court.  Even though the Knicks traded for two additional superstars in Carmello Anthony and Chauncey Billups this February, Amar’e still sets the tone for this Knick team.  This season in games that the Knicks won Amar’e shot over 54% from the field, whereas in losses he shot only 46%.  He will face a tough defensive test in Kevin Garnett, a 15 year veteran and a known shut-down defender.  KG has played very well versus the Knicks this year, averaging almost 23 points per game, well over his season average of 14.9.  If Amar’e can overcome KG’s tough defense and set the pace for the Knicks, he will have a chance at leading NY to an upset.

–       Can Chauncey Billups keep up with Rajon Rondo? – At 34 years of age, Billups will be given the task of trying to defend one of the NBA’s fastest and most dynamic point guards in the 25 year old Rajon Rondo.  Both players are playoff-tested former NBA champs, with Chauncey taking home the Finals MVP in 2004.  Rondo, averaging 16 assists per game against the Knicks this season, will be a difficult assignment for the veteran Billups, who has been slowed down in his time with the Knicks because of multiple nagging injuries.  If Rondo runs circles around Chauncey, it will likely be a short series for the Knicks.

–       Can Melo walk the walk? – Not since his years in Syracuse will Carmello Anthony be under a bigger microscope or under more pressure to deliver than he will in these first few games against the Celtics.  After demanding a trade from the Denver Nuggets earlier this season, Carmello got his wish and is now leading his childhood favorite New York Knicks into the playoffs.  After months of rumors, innuendo, drama, and the shipment of three Knicks starters to the Nuggets, its now all on Carmello’s shoulders to deliver.  The good news, at least, for Knicks fans is that back in 2003 when the pressure was on he carried Syracuse all the way to a National Championship.  Knicks fans would likely settle for less this year, but if Carmello gets hot, the sky is the limit for this Knicks team.

Prediction: Celtics in 5

Knicks vs. Celtics Preview

April 17, 2011 6 comments

Following a decade of embarrassment and mediocrity, the Knicks have finally made it back to the NBA playoffs.

Reaching the postseason for the first time since 2004, New York will draw a veteran Celtics group who has won all four meetings between the two this season.  Both teams are also coming off major roster shakeups with the intention of building for the future.

The Knicks added Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups to go along with Amare Stoudemire, forming a “big three” that will allow the team to at least compete for a title, something they haven’t been able to say since 1999.

The Celtics recently moved center and enforcer Kendrick Perkins, who was viewed by many as the heart of Boston’s interior defense.  A close friend to many of the Celtic players, most notably Rajon Rondo, the team was not afraid to express their discontent with the deal.  They did however bring in Jeff Green from Oklahoma City, a versatile wing player who was averaging 15.2 points per game prior to the trade.

The Knicks have been up and down since Carmelo’s arrival, losing nine of ten at one point before rebounding with a seven game winning streak.  Anthony’s presence on the floor hasn’t been an easy transition for everyone, as rookie Landy Fields has seen his numbers dip across the board since the deal.

The Knicks 106.5 points per game ranks second in the NBA, however their 105.7 points allowed makes them the 28th worst defense.  Boston on the other hand leads the league in points allowed, only giving up 91 per game.

New York has struggled to find an answer for Paul Pierce this season, who has torched the Knicks in fourth quarters on a regular basis.

Boston is not playing their best basketball entering the series, finishing 10-11 in their last 21 games.  New York’s success will depend highly on their ability to keep Rondo out of the paint, who just crushes teams with his quickness and ability to break down the defense. Coach Mike D’antoni has said he plans on using forward Jared Jeffries on Rajon Rondo, with the idea of combating quickness with length.

On an injury note, the Celtics will be without center Shaquille O’neal, who has missed 45 games this season due to a foot injury.  Shaq failed a running test in practice, and has been ruled out indefinitely.

This will be the teams’ first meeting in the postseason since 1990, when the Knicks defeated the Celtics in five games in the first round.

Categories: NBA