Monday, July 9, 2007

Tigers Sweep Red Sox; Granderson Makes Catch of the Year

Detroit finished off its home sweep of the Red Sox in spectacular fashion last night, winning 6-5 after tagging Daisuke Matsuzaka for six earned runs in the first four innings. Gary Sheffield, Carlos Guillen and Marcus Thames all hit home runs for the Tigers, with Thames' mammoth 440-foot shot hitting the camera enclave in dead center. Detroit also overcame five errors and a couple late home runs by the Red Sox to hold on to what was a four-run lead in the fourth.

The highlight of the night, however, came with Detroit on defense. In the top of the fourth inning, Boston's Wily Mo Pena turned on a Nate Robertson fastball and sending the ball deep to left-center. Curtis Granderson gave chase from center field, but the ball looked destined to land in the visitor's bullpen. Not so fast, my friend...


Also of note in this game: Thames now has 10 homers in 131 at-bats this season. His 13.1 at bats/home run would be good for third in the American League if he qualified, just ahead of Minnesota All-Star Justin Morneau and the Tigers own Gary Sheffield. Does anybody not think that he deserves the left-field spot over Craig Monroe right now?

Detroit also won this game without starting any of their three All-Star starters: Magglio Ordonez, Placido Polanco and Pudge Rodriguez. Only Pudge made an appearance, grounding out after pinch-hitting for Mike Rabelo in the eighth.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Chauncey Agrees to Contract with Pistons

Chauncey Billups has agreed to a contract with the Pistons, according to's A. Sherrod Blakely. And yes, this time the source is his agent, Andy Miller, who had this to say:
Re-signing with Detroit was what Chauncey has said he wanted to do all along. We're happy that we were able to reach an agreement today.
Players cannot actually sign contracts until July 11, so the deal is not official until then. Terms of the deal were not released, although I would assume they are somewhere close to the 5 year, $60 deal that was reported (and refuted) on Tuesday.

Update: Terms of the deal are reportedly 5 years, $60.5 million, according to the Detroit Free Press. The fifth year of the deal is a team option.

Speaking of Players Who Absolutely Crush the Ball...

Magglio Ordonez has joined the field for Monday night's Home Run Derby. Ordonez joins Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard, Justin Morneau, Miguel Cabrera and Vladimir Guerrero in the Derby field, and two more players before Monday. Ordonez has 13 home runs so far this season, and is second in the majors with a .613 slugging percentage.

This should be a great All-Star weekend for the Tigers, who will send five players to the All-Star Game and now have a player to root for in the Derby as well.

Neifi Perez Suspended

According to the official site of Major League Baseball, Neifi Perez has been suspended 25 games for testing positive for a banned substance. This comes as a shock to Tigers fans, who have watched Neifi bat .172 with a paltry .266 slugging percentage this season as a utility infielder.

The Tigers were expected to call up outfielder Ryan Raburn, who is batting .292 with 17 home runs in 85 games with the Toledo Mud Hens in AAA ball. I'm not sure if he's tabbed to replace Perez, or if the Tigers will move Vance Wilson to the 60-day disabled list to make room for Raburn on the 40-man roster.

Update: Folks, we have a history-maker on our hands. Neifi Perez is officially the first Major League player to be suspended for the use of amphetamines. According to MLB policy, a player is suspended after he tests positive twice for amphetamines, meaning Neifi is not only a terrible hitter, but an idiot as well. Hooray Neifi.

It looks like Raburn is the man to replace Perez, meaning Omar Infante will be seeing more time in the infield and less time platooning with Curtis Granderson in center. Raburn can also play in the infield, which means he could even see time there (possibly at second?). Overall, this is probably a blessing in disguise (or maybe not even in disguise) for the Tigers, who now get to see what a AAA All-Star can do at the big league level while not playing a guy who might as well be swinging a whiffle bat.

Hasek Agrees to 1-year Deal with Wings

Dominik Hasek has agreed to a 1-year contract with Detroit that will pay the 42-year old netminder around $2 million in base salary and up to $2 million in playoff-based incentives. Hasek was a welcome surprise for the Red Wings last season, posting a 38-11-6 record and 2.05 goals-against average in the regular season and a 10-8 record and 1.79 GAA in the playoffs after being injured for much of the 2005-06 season with the Ottawa Senators. As long as Dom can stay healthy, he was certainly the best option for Detroit in net next season.

In other Red Wings news, Detroit also signed restricted free agent Jiri Hudler to a 2-year, $2.03 million contract. The talented 23-year old forward tallied 15 goals and 10 assists in limited ice time last season.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Chauncey Re-Signed?

Chris McCosky of the Detroit News is reporting that Chauncey Billups has agreed to a 5 year, $60 million contract with the Pistons. However,'s A. Sherrod Blakely reportedly talked with Billups' agent, Andy Miller, and was told that the deal is still "far from done." I'm going to stay cautious on this one and believe the agent, although I guess this is a good sign considering the lack of reported interest from other teams for Billups and the fact that there is a contract figure out there now. Hopefully more (good) news will come soon.

Air Georgia, Harlem Globetrotter?

According to the Detroit News, former Michigan basketball player Brent Petway was drafted Monday by the Harlem Globetrotters. While this may seem like a match made in heaven, Petway's agent Geoffrey Craig stated that Petway is an "NBA-level talent" and that he would pursue his dream of playing in the NBA or some other form of competitive basketball. Petway will play for the Atlanta Hawks' summer league team in hopes of earning a roster spot on an NBA team.

While I certainly won't hold it against Petway that he wants to pursue a career as a competitive basketball player, I would love to see him play for the Globetrotters. Anyone who saw his performance in the college dunk contest last season knows he is quite the showman (and dunker). Anyone who saw him play at Michigan also knows his NBA-level athleticism is not matched with an NBA-level skill set. Unless NBA GM's are looking to sign a player for the sole purpose of entering them in the dunk contest (not that I would complain if the Pistons do this, I'm pretty sure that would be better than having Ronald Dupree), it may be tough for Petway to latch on to an NBA squad. If Air Georgia decides he doesn't want to become Air Slovakia or Air Fargo, it looks like he'll still have a place to play and showcase his unique set of skills. Namely, the skills to do this:

Monday, July 2, 2007

Weekend Roundup

There's been a decent amount of activity on all Detroit sporting fronts recently. Here's a quick rundown on the weekend's biggest news:
  • The Tigers had five players selected for next week's All-Star Game in San Francisco. Pudge Rodriguez, Placido Polanco and Magglio Ordonez were voted in as starters, while Justin Verlander and Carlos Guillen were also selected. Jeremy Bonderman also has a chance to participate if he is voted in from the American League "Final Vote".
  • Speaking of Bonderman, he threw eight shutout innings last night to lead the Tigers to a 1-0 victory over the Minnesota Twins. Marcus Thames hit a solo home run in the bottom of the eighth to break a scoreless tie and gain the victory for Bonderman, who is now 9-1 on the season.
  • The Tigers also traded for some bullpen help over the weekend, acquiring Brewers righty Jose Capellan in exchange for single-A pitcher Chris Cody. Capellan boasts a 4.50 ERA in only 12 IP so far this season.
  • The Red Wings signed New Jersey defenseman (and Dearborn native) Brian Rafalski to a five-year, $30 million contract the same day they lost veteran defenseman Mathieu Schneider to the Anaheim Ducks. Rafalski is a three-time All-Star who is known for his skating ability and skill with the puck, and should fit in well on Detroit's back line and first power play unit.
  • Yesterday was a huge day for Michigan football recruiting. Tuscola (Ill.) quarterback John Wienke, a three-star prospect who will compete in the Elite 11 quarterback camp, committed Sunday afternoon after a strong showing at Michigan's summer camp two weeks ago. Wienke, a 6'5", 215 pound lefty, is rated the #17 pro-style quarterback in the nation by Rivals.
  • The big recruiting news came late last night, however, when Fort Bend (Texas) Dulles wide receiver Darryl Stonum announced his commitment to Michigan. Stonum is a highly regarded four-star prospect and ranked as the #54 overall player in the country by Rivals. It was also announced that Stonum will be the first Michigan player to wear the #1 jersey since Braylon Edwards moved on to the NFL in 2005.
  • While the Pistons are still trying to sign Grant Hill to back up Tayshaun Prince, new rumors also have Detroit going after former Michigan State star and current Toronto Raptor Morris Peterson. Peterson averaged 8.9 points and 3.3 rebounds in 21.4 minutes per game last season.
  • It also appears that, with the selections of Rodney Stuckey and Arron Afflalo in the first round of last Thusday's NBA Draft, Lindsey Hunter and Flip Murray are unlikely to be suiting up for the Pistons next season. Hunter will probably retire and take a position in Detroit's front office, while Murray will most likely be dealt to another team.
Certainly a newsworthy and exciting weekend for the Detroit sports scene. The commitment of Stonum is certainly great news, and has me excited for the prospects of this year's recruiting class. Hopefully, the rumblings that Cy-Fair (Texas) RB Sam McGuffie (he of the linebacker hurdle) may commit in the near future hold true. Also, don't forget to vote for Jeremy Bonderman for the last spot on the AL All-Star team!

Friday, June 29, 2007

Pistons Draft Recap

Detroit addressed its need for perimeter depth in the draft last night, taking Eastern Washington combo guard Rodney Stuckey with the #15 pick and UCLA shooting guard Arron Afflalo with the #27 pick in the first round. Detroit also added DePaul SG Sammy Mejia with their second round pick, 57th overall.

Stuckey projects to back up both Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton in the near future, and for right now will probably take the bench spot of (hopefully soon-to-be retired) PG Lindsey Hunter. Stuckey possesses the ability to penetrate into the lane and score that the Pistons were sorely lacking last season, and should be able to contribute immediately. He will need to improve his outside shot, as he made only 26.7% of his three point attempts last season, and his defensive effort. However, despite his shortcomings, I definitely like this pick. Stuckey fills a need for the Pistons off the bench, and has the potential to be a solid starter down the road.

Afflalo is a very good mid-range and decent long-range shooter who also possesses good defensive skills. After leading UCLA to back-to-back Final Fours, Afflalo certainly has the big game experience necessary to be comfortable playing a role on a playoff team. Scouts knock his athleticism, which may mean Afflalo will take a while to adjust to the NBA game. I'm not sure how much Afflalo will actually see the floor next year, with Stuckey and Flip Murray probably playing ahead of him in the guard rotation. He seems a little small to back up Tayshaun Prince at small forward. Afflalo certainly fits the mold of a Piston player, but I'm don't know if he fits into the rotation as it currently stands.

I can't claim to know anything about Mejia, another guard who doesn't look like he'll make the Pistons roster next year. I don't really understand the logic behind this pick, with Detroit drafting Stuckey and Afflalo and already having Murray, Will Blalock and Alex Acker at the guard position. I don't expect to see Mejia in a Piston uniform now, or possibly ever.

Overall, I thought this was a decent draft for the Pistons. Stuckey looks to step in and contribute right away, and Afflalo is a strong defender and a pure scorer. I'm still not sure why we drafted Mejia, but Joe Dumars has a habit of drafting some gems late in the second round, so I will withhold judgment on that pick until further notice. I'm looking forward to seeing these players don the Piston uniform next season.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Jon Kitna is a More Optimistic Man Than I

"I'll keep to myself what I think we actually will win. But it's more than 10 games."

That was Lions' quarterback Jon Kitna in a Thursday radio appearance on WDFN-AM Detroit. Yes, the same Jon Kitna who turned the ball over an NFL-leading 31 times last season. Now I know Kitna must be excited about being able to throw to Calvin Johnson, Roy Williams and Mike Furrey next season, but expecting Detroit to go from 3 to 10+ wins without a major roster overhaul, coaching change, or free agent signing seems mildly delusional at best.

Hitting 10 wins would constitute a 7 game improvement from our dismal 2006 season (I know, I should be a math major). The last time Detroit made such a large leap in one year was in 1980, after Detroit landed the number one pick in the draft and took a running back by the name of Billy Sims.

Billy Sims, NOT on the 2007 Lions

As for the Lions' greatest improvement under current GM Matt Millen? That would be our quantum leap from 3 victories in 2002 to a whopping 5 in 2003. Take into account the fact that Detroit traded away its best cornerback (Dre Bly) for a backup running back/insurance policy for Kevin Jones' foot (Tatum Bell) and did not draft a single projected starter with its three (three!) second-round picks this year, and you can consider me skeptical.

Kitna, Perhaps Losing the Last of His Marbles

Friday, June 22, 2007

Tigers' Pitching Shakeup Continues

Two days after dealing Wilfredo Ledezma for Braves' lefty reliever Macay McBride, Ken Rosenthal is reporting that the Tigers have traded starter Mike Maroth to the St. Louis Cardinals. With the quick rise of Andrew Miller and the impending return of Kenny Rogers (who starts his first game of the season tonight), Detroit had little room in its rotation for Maroth.

No word yet on who Detroit has received in return. Updates coming as more information is revealed.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Up North... no updates this weekend.

Go Tigers!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A Long String of Zero's

As Justin Verlander was mowing down Brewers last night, I sat in the left field stands and thought about every other Tigers game I've attended. There haven't been that many, probably seven or eight since I moved to Ann Arbor in 1993. On the drive to every game, I'd always think to myself what it would be like to see something truly special happen. A Tiger hit three home runs, maybe a walk-off homer, or...a no-hitter. That dream would always die sometime in the early innings, and I would move on to just hoping the home team would pull out a victory.

Yesterday, a few friends and I reached our seats in the home half of the second inning after being held up at home when one friend cancelled at the last minute and we tried to find someone to take our extra ticket (nobody did). The first thing I did was check the scoreboard, and was relieved to find that the Brewers had not mustered a hit yet. Neither had the Tigers, but I was pretty confident our offense wouldn't get shut out, let alone no-hit.

As the fourth inning rolled around, I could sense something special could happen. Verlander struck out the side that inning, three magnificent K's sandwiched around a walk to Bill Hall. Verlander already had seven strikeouts, and the game wasn't even halfway done. At this point, I'm starting to get a little excited. I tried to dismiss my thoughts of a no-hitter, caught up in the sports fan's fear of jinxing the game by thinking about it too much.

Verlander rolled out without incident until the seventh, when he had to leap to snag Prince Fielder's bouncer up the middle for the first out, and Magglio Ordonez made a sliding catch in left to rob Corey Hart of a hit for out number two. Verlander, perhaps sensing the impending heart failure of the 33,555 in attendance, temporarily calmed the collective nerves of Comerica Park by striking out Geoff Jenkins to escape the inning with no-hitter intact. In the bottom of the seventh, Detroit added their fourth run of the game, but at this point the Tiger bats were a complete afterthought. The dormant caterpillars in my stomach had metamorphosed into full-blown butterflies, and all I wanted to see was Verlander work his magic on the mound and put my mind (and guts) at ease.

After Johnny Estrada grounded out to begin the eighth, Verlander once again walked Hall. What happened next caused me to utter a phrase that I had sworn would never come out of my mouth. On a 1-0 count, Gabe Gross hit a sharp grounder to the left of the second base bag that looked destined for the center field grass (at least in my paranoid mind). Neifi Perez, aka Neifi 'effin Perez, he of the .180 batting average, backhanded the ball with his back to second before flipping the ball behind him to Placido Polanco, who turned the beautiful double play with a perfect strike to Sean Casey. I yelled "I love you Neifi!" at the top of lungs while high-fiving friends and strangers with reckless abandon. No-hitters do funny things to people.

I don't really remember the bottom of the eighth, except that by that time the adrenaline coursing through my veins was enough to cause my hands and legs to shake uncontrollably. All I could think was "I can't believe this is happening." Well, that and "if they get a hit, I may break down and cry." As the crowd rose as one when Verlander strolled out to the mound to start the ninth, I felt like I was standing on Jell-O. Verlander quickly took Craig Counsell to a 1-2 count before dropping a nasty curve off the table. Counsell could only muster a meager half-swing before making his way back to the dugout. One out, two to go. Next up was Tony Graffanino, who had already struck out three times on the night. Three curveballs, three strikes. As the crowd roared, my mind quickly raced to last Thursday, when I sat in Buffalo Wild Wings and witnessed Curt Schilling lose his no-hit bid with two outs in the ninth. More shaking ensued.

J.J. Hardy stepped into the batters box. I guess Justin's adrenaline was flowing even more than mine was, because his first pitch rocketed through the strike zone at a mind-boggling 102 miles per hour. Hardy fouled off Verlander's second offering, a 99 mph fastball up and in, causing my heart to skip a beat at the sound of bat meeting ball. One more strike. Hardy fouled away a high curve, and Verlander stepped off the mound to regain his composure. Verlander stepped back in, the roar of the crowd at a deafening level, and unleashed another high curve. Hardy made contact, and the ball arced towards the right field fence, forcing Magglio into a hasty retreat. Just as I was about to lose hope, Magglio settled just in front of the warning track and the ball dropped harmlessly into his glove.

Chaos ensued as the Tiger dugout emptied onto the field, engulfing Verlander in a jubilant celebration in front of the mound as Comerica Park erupted in cheers. Words cannot describe the feelings of relief and excitement that came over me as we stood and saluted the greatest baseball performance I've ever had the privilege of seeing in person. After cheering Verlander for several minutes from our seats, we rushed down to the Tiger store at the front entrance. I had to get something to mark the occasion. As I type this right now, I am sitting in my Justin Verlander t-shirt, the last of its size (medium, as if you care) in all of Comerica Park.

From our vantage point (upper deck seats deep in foul territory down the left field line) it was tough to see exactly how Justin was striking out all these Brewers. All we could see was the radar gun and the befuddled reactions of the batters as they walked dejectedly back to the dugout. The highlights on Sportscenter confirmed what we could all tell from the upper deck: Verlander was beyond dominant. His electric fastball and vicious curve were unhittable, literally.

I can't begin to describe how lucky I feel to have seen this game. I've been to a decent amount of sporting events in my young life, including a lot of big Michigan football games, and nothing touched the electricity of Comerica Park last night. As a fan watching the game, you really feel as if you were a part of something special. I know this sounds ridiculous, at least to anyone who doesn't follow sports, but last night was one of the best nights of my life. Who knows, at 24 years old, Justin Verlander may even have a couple more left in him. After last night, I'll believe anything now.


I was there.

More tomorrow.

Sleeping may prove difficult.

(AP Photo)

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Pistons Offseason Breakdown, Part Two

I apologize in advance for any egregious crimes against the art of writing I perform in this post. At this time of the morning (it is currently 8:20 am), my brain functions somewhere between "drunk Ozzy Osbourne" and "Paris Hilton with a closed head injury." Consider yourself forewarned.

This is me, right now. Minus the bling.

In the aftermath of the Pistons' loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals, a veritable maelstrom of unsubstantiated rumors have been thrown forth by everyone from respected newspaper columnists to belligerently intoxicated fans who retain the ability to type on a computer (as of yet, no belligerently intoxicated columnists, unfortunately). Names such as KG and Kobe have been thrown into the fray (sometimes in the same lineup...I want whatever that guy's on), as well as (relatively) more feasible rumors of Rasheed going to the Knicks.

While few of these rumors have any basis in actual reality, it certainly is fun (and somewhat therapeutic) to join in the wild speculation. So, here's what I believe the Pistons should do:

1. Re-sign Chauncey Billups. Regardless of how poorly he played in the playoffs, Chauncey is still a top-10 NBA point guard who has the size and skill to contribute well into his 30s. Anyone looking to see how big point guards like Chauncey fare as they start to move into their mid-30s should watch Jason Kidd play. Kidd has a much longer history of injuries than Billups, but has not lost his ability to manage the game and continues to average nearly a triple-double every year. Chauncey is not the passer that Kidd is, nor will he ever be, but he is a much better shooter, and long-range shooting does not tend to decline severely with age. Chauncey still has the ability to point guard a championship team, and any statement to the contrary is a knee-jerk reaction to an ugly postseason exit.

2. Trade Rasheed Wallace for an expiring contract. Bill Simmons brought up an interesting scenario in his recent column on the Pistons:
Deal Wallace (two years and $26 million remaining on his deal) in a three-way trade in which 'Sheed goes to Washington, Antawn Jamison (expires in 2008) goes to Portland and Zach Randolph goes to Detroit. ... Or they could just deal 'Sheed for Jamison straight up if they wanted the cap space.
Both of these potential deals intrigue me, and I would pull the trigger on either if I was Joe Dumars. Randolph is very talented and young (25 years old), and his "character issues" have been very overblown in my opinion. He certainly carries no more baggage that Sheed did when he came to Detroit, and that move worked out pretty well. However, I like the potential deal for Jamison better because of the cap flexibility it provides in the 2008 offseason. Jamison is no slouch himself, and would be a solid starter at the power forward position for next year. With the cap room gained from his expiring contract, the Pistons could then make a strong push for signing Elton Brand or Shawn Marion, two players who could be on the free agent market (both have player options for '08-'09) after next season. Either way, I think Sheed needs to go, especially if (as he is "absolutely" sure will happen) Flip Saunders is indeed the coach next season.

3. Draft a Point Guard and a Center. Detroit needs a true center who can come in and play immediately, or at least split time with Nazr Mohammed (whose contract may make him difficult to deal). Obviously, who Detroit takes and when they take him is contingent on what the other teams do early on. Rumor has it Chinese PF Yi Jianlian may fall down to Chicago at the ninth pick, which may mean Washington Center Spencer Hawes would be available for the Pistons at 15. Hawes is a skilled low-post scorer and a good passer for a big man, and should be able to play immediately. Detroit could also look at Colorado State PF Jason Smith, and athletic seven-footer who could play the five on an up-tempo team. If Detroit gets Hawes or goes with Smith, I would like to see them draft Florida PG Taurean Green with the 25th pick. Green was a member of Florida's back-to-back national title teams, and has been playing quite well in the NBA pre-draft camps. If Hawes is gone before 15 (as he is projected right now), Detroit should take either Texas A&M PG Acie Law (if he is, improbably, still around), Georgia Tech PG Javaris Crittenton, or Eastern Washington combo guard Rodney Stuckey. Law is clearly option number one among most Pistons fans, and Detroit would probably prefer him over Hawes if both somehow dropped. If Detroit goes with a guard early, Pittsburgh C Aaron Gray or Spanish C Marc Gasol (brother of Pau) should both be available at 25.

Given these moves, your 2007-2008 Detroit Pistons would look something like this:

Chauncey Billups
Rip Hamilton
Tayshaun Prince
Antawn Jamison
Spencer Hawes

Antonio McDyess
Flip Murray
Taurean Green
Jason Maxiell
Amir Johnson
Nazr Mohammed
Carlos Delfino
Ronald Dupree
Will Blalock
Cheikh Samb? (probably NBDL if he comes over to America from Spain...check out Detroit Bad Boys' article on him for much more)




This isn't exactly a world-beating lineup, but it has the potential to turn into much more in the future, especially if Brand or Marion sign on next offseason. Detroit also has the possibility of using its mid-level exception if it so desires (maybe Jamaal Magloire?), but I'm not sure they'll use it if they can't get rid of Mohammed for an expiring deal.

This is all just wild guessing, and I'm probably horrendously wrong on most of my guesswork, but this at least gives us some idea of what may occur during the offseason.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

I Swear I'll Post Soon...

Expect the second part of my Pistons offseason breakdown tomorrow...there's so many rumors and wild speculations flying around and I'm trying to compile and make sense of all of them. To hold you over (as I'm sure you're really anticipating my post) here's two articles regarding the offseason:

McDyess, Murray Want to Stay Pistons (Detroit News) - This is found surprising, to say the least. I expected McDyess to at least test the free agent market in search of a championship contender. Murray I had written off as completely gone. However, this is great news for the Pistons bench next year. McDyess has been a steady contributor and great sixth man, as well as a leader in the locker room. Murray fell out of the rotation (inexplicably, in my opinion) late in the season, but I think he's the scoring threat Detroit needs off the bench, and he's one of the few current Pistons with the ability to create his own shot off the dribble.

Further rumors and speculation coming tomorrow...

Saunders Will Stay As Pistons Coach
(Detroit News) - This is going to cause a certain amount of discontent among Pistons fans, many of whom believe Saunders should have been fired after being outcoached by Mike Brown (who is certainly not to be confused with Larry Brown) in the Conference Finals. However, owner Bill Davidson didn't seem to pleased with the possibility of paying the balance of another fired coach's contract, and there aren't that many viable candidates out there to hire. Keeping Saunders, who has repeatedly butted heads with Rasheed Wallace, leads me to believe it is likely that Sheed has played his last game in a Piston uniform.

Further rumors and speculation tomorrow...

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Pistons Offseason Breakdown, Part One

I think it was fitting that I woke up this morning (alright,'s summer) to the sound of rain pelting my gutters and thunder echoing through the heavens. It was a perfect start to what should be a tumultuous offseason for the Detroit Pistons.

Part One of my offseason breakdown will show who of the current Pistons is poised to return, and who should be starting next season in another team's uniform.

Likely to Return:

Rasheed Wallace (2 years remaining; due $12.54 million in 2007-08)-
Regardless of whether Sheed is still as beloved among Piston fans as he once was in light of his ejection (and complete loss of composure) in Game 6, he will be back in a Detroit uniform next year. With his $12.54 million salary, declining production, and obvious attitude issues, Wallace is relatively untradeable if the Pistons want to get any sort of worthwhile value out of a trade.

Rip Hamilton (3 years; $9.75 million)- Rip is one of the pieces that Detroit will be looking to build around for the future. He is 29 years old, is in tremendous shape, and has a style of play that lends itself to a long and effective career. He has been probably the Pistons' most consistent player since the 2004 title run, and should be the team's go-to scorer next season and beyond.

Tayshaun Prince (4 years; $8.675 million)- Tayshaun is the other player the Pistons will shape their team around. He is probably the most battle-tested 27 year old player in the league, with an NBA title and five conference final appearances already under his belt, and has shown tremendous leadership for a player of his age and experience. He is already an all-league defensive player, and his offensive game has developed with each passing year.

Carlos Delfino (2 years; $1.868 million)- Delfino is only 24, and will certainly have a role coming off the bench for the Pistons in the near future. He's a solid defender and has decent athleticism, although he needs to learn how to play in control on offense. Delfino is a former first round pick who has a lot of talent, so Detroit will look to develop him before they decide if he is worth keeping around after his contract expires.

Jason Maxiell (3 years; $1.041 million)- Maxiell was a revelation in the playoffs, providing a tremendous spark off the bench with his energetic play. He should have a much bigger role next season, especially with the possible departures of Antonio McDyess and Dale Davis. Maxiell is a potential starter down the road, a power forward who plays much bigger than his 6'7" frame.

Ronald Dupree (1 year; $826,046)- Dupree will probably never be a player who consistently cracks the rotation. He's a pretty athletic small forward, but has a shaky jumper and is already 26 years old. He didn't make the Pistons playoff roster this season. However, he's under contract for next year, so expect to see him on the end of the Detroit bench for at least one more season.

Amir Johnson (restricted free agent)- A lot of Pistons fans (including myself) are excited about the 20 year old's potential, and Detroit will do whatever they can to lock him up. He absolutely tore up the NBDL, and also played well in a brief stint with the Pistons this season (including a 20 point, 12 rebound, 4 block performance against Boston on April 18). He is a long (6'9", 210), athletic forward who should be coming off the bench next year and has the potential to be a very good player as he gains experience.

Will Blalock (team option for next season; $687,456)- Detroit is in desperate need of depth at guard, and Blalock is cheap and serviceable. I doubt the Pistons will expect him to be the backup point guard, but Blalock may be the third guard off the bench next year. For the small cost there's no reason Detroit shouldn't give the 23 year old a shot.

Up in the Air:

Chauncey Billups (unrestricted free agent)-
Chauncey will surely opt out of his contract with Detroit and test the free agent market. Despite his poor showing in the conference finals, he is still a top 6 point guard who will certainly garner attention from teams looking for a floor general. He should be able to command upwards of $13 million, which would make him the highest paid player on the Pistons. What Detroit does with Billups, whether a sign-and-trade or just signing him, determines the direction the franchise is taking for the next few years.

Antonio McDyess (unrestricted free agent)-
I'm also assuming McDyess will opt out of his contract (he has a player option for $6.4 million next season) and try to negotiate a raise, whether with Detroit or another team. It will be interesting to see how much Detroit is willing to pay him, what with Maxiell looking like a potential sixth man and Johnson waiting in the wings for a chance at playing time. My guess is that McDyess will go to another contender in his quest for that elusive championship ring.

Probably Gone:

Nazr Mohammed (4 years remaining; due $5.6 million in 2007-08)-
Nazr certainly wasn't happy with his playing time after Detroit acquired Chris Webber, and Detroit will probably look to trade him in the offseason. His contract could be difficult to work around but I really don't see him wearing a Piston uniform ever again. He could be an extra piece in a potential Billups or Wallace trade.

Dale Davis (unrestricted free agent)- Davis, who is 38 years old and has played 16 seasons in the NBA, will most likely retire. Detroit would be unlikely to resign him, as they have young big men who they will look to get playing time.

Lindsey Hunter (1 year; $2.25 million)- Hunter has been offered a job in the Pistons front office whenever he decides to retire, and there is a decent chance that happens this offseason. I certainly hope he does, as I'm tired of watching him ruin our offense off the bench, as well as my fond memories of him from the title team and the mid-90's Pistons.

Flip Murray (unrestricted free agent)- Flip has a player option for one more year that I'm pretty sure he'll turn down. He also was not happy with his limited role as the season wore on, and I'm sure another team will find a spot on their bench for a player with his scoring ability.

Chris Webber (unrestricted free agent)- According to the Detroit News, Webber may be leaning towards retirement. He certainly looked like he didn't have a lot left in the tank at the end of this year, and his legs don't have much spring left in them. The only way I see him playing next year is as a bench player for a title contender.

Wow, that took forever. Tomorrow I'll look at possible offseason moves for Detroit, especially with regards to Chauncey Billups, as well as who we should draft.

Out With a Whimper

I really don't have much to say about that one. 98-82 Cavs, and the season (and possibly an era) ends without the Pistons ever putting together a truly complete game this series. This certainly ranks way up there among the most painful games to watch in my lifetime. Rasheed losing his composure (and sanity) before getting kicked out really shows how far this year's Piston squad was from being a title team. To completely jeopardize any chance your team has to win (as well as guarantee that you'll be suspended for a possible Game 7) is a completely selfish move and is on the total opposite end of the spectrum from what being a team player (and Detroit Piston, at least the past few years) is all about.

Congratulations to the Cavaliers and the city of Cleveland. Their fans certainly deserve to see a title team after suffering as much as any sports town in the country.

Tomorrow, I'll look at what the future holds in store for the Pistons. Will Chauncey be back? Should we fire Flip Saunders? Is Joe Dumars going to blow it all up and start over? It should be a very interesting few months in Detroit.

Friday, June 1, 2007

LeBron LeDominates

I was hoping to return to the world of blogging (after this hiatus caused only by my own tremendous laziness) with a post about how the Pistons had grabbed the upper hand in their series against the Cavs.

LeBron James had a different story in mind.

Every time I close my eyes I see images of LeBron going around, over and through the Pistons defense en route to scoring 48 points (including the Cavs' final 25 points of the game) and leading Cleveland to a 109-107 double-overtime victory and a 3-2 series lead. Whenever he decided he wanted to go to the basket, he did so with stunning ease. Anyone who doubted LeBron's ability to play in the clutch and be aggressive when it mattered was silenced by his spectacular display of how to run an offense with only one man. The palpable fear in the Palace any time LeBron touched the ball speaks volumes about how dominant he was.

Some other thoughts:

  • I'm pretty sure most everyone is in agreement that Antonio McDyess should not have been ejected for his takedown of Anderson Varejao late in the first quarter. The play was certainly deserving of a flagrant, but the ejection was completely unwarranted. At least I got to see Varejao writhing in pain on the ground. Somebody needed to teach him what getting truly fouled actually feels like.
  • According to one of the TNT announcers last night (either Doug Collins or Steve Kerr, I don't remember), Lindsey Hunter is "maybe the best defender in the league in terms of stopping the dribble." Sorry, but getting in a stance that even Coach K would call unnecessarily low and doing everything you can to try to pick the dribbler's pocket (usually ending in several quick fouls) does not a great defender make. Lindsey got blown by for layups a couple times last night, and finished with a team-low +/- of -10. Add in his complete ineptitude on offense, and I tend to scream long series of four-letter words anytime Flip Saunders decides he needs Lindsey's aggressiveness more than Flip Murray's scoring ability. Is he forgetting that Murray poured in 8 points in 20 minutes in Game 3? Not even Lindsey airballing a driving layup attempt was enough to get Saunders to take him out. If my hairline starts receding as a result of this series, Saunders and Hunter should be forced to cover my Rogaine expenses.
  • It was good to see Chris Webber finally playing with some semblance of a pulse. He had 20 points on 9-13 shooting as well as 7 rebounds in 30 minutes. He was finally getting his open shots to drop, and was able to blow by (alright, "blow by") Zydrunas Ilgauskas pretty much at will. C-Webb has trouble any time the Cavs go with a quicker lineup (read: whenever Ilgauskas isn't in the game), but was effective against the plodding Cavs center last night.
  • One would think that after LeBron scored, oh, his 20th consecutive point or so, Flip Saunders would decide to go back to double-teaming LeBron and see if any of the other Cavs could make a shot. However, making that assumption would be to underestimate Saunders' inadequacy as an in-game coach. Honestly, by the second overtime, I don't think any of the Cavs besides LeBron remembered what it felt like to have a basketball in their hands. If I had to pick my poison, I'd go with forcing Anderson Varejao/Donyell Marshall/Sasha Pavlovic/Eric Snow to hit the winning shot instead of watching helplessly as LeBron got a full head of steam before attacking the basket and dropping in another layup. Consider me very much on the "Fire Flip" bandwagon at this point.
Game 6 is Saturday at 8:30 pm. A Pistons victory would do wonders for my sanity and general temperament. A loss will send me spiraling into a deep depression that will last anywhere from a couple days to several weeks. Yes, I have issues.

(Getty Images Photo)

Friday, May 25, 2007

Maxiell, Rasheed Lead Pistons Past Cavs

It certainly wasn't pretty, but the Detroit Pistons eked out another victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers, defeating then 79-76 to go up 2-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals. Detroit once again overcame the struggles of several of their regular contributors and a large second-half deficit in a victory that felt eerily similar to their Game 1 triumph. Rasheed Wallace hit a baseline fadeaway over LeBron James (after Anderson Varejao flopped to the ground trying to draw an offensive foul on Sheed) to give Detroit a 77-76 lead with 24.3 seconds left. LeBron then missed a bank shot from the lane with seven seconds left, and both Larry Hughes and Varejao missed follow-up attempts before the Pistons could control the ball and ice the game at the line with one second left. James and Cavs coach Mike Brown were livid over the officials' decision not to call a foul on Rip Hamilton during the play, but replays showed that the play was relatively clean.

Rasheed led the Pistons with 16 points (including 10 in the fourth quarter) on 7-10 shooting and 11 rebounds. Jason Maxiell provided a huge spark off the bench, scoring 15 points, pulling down 6 boards and blocking 2 shots in only 22 minutes of playing time. After those two, it was tough to find a Piston who played a decent game on both ends of the court. Tayshaun Prince, while holding LeBron to only 19 points on the defensive end, was 0-8 and scored only 1 point as his shooting struggles continued. Chris Webber was aggressive on the offensive end, and was able to create a lot of decent looks for himself and his teammates, but only shot 4-13 from the field while finishing with 9 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists. Rip Hamilton had an uncharacteristically poor shooting night, going 5-14 and finishing with 13 points. Chauncey Billups didn't look for his shot much, going 4-7 for 13 points, and turned the ball over 5 times. Antonio McDyess, after taking an early elbow from Zydrunas Ilgauskas that temporarily sidelined him (and paved the way for Maxiell to get in the game), scored only 4 points.

With most of the team struggling on the offensive end, Detroit delivered with suffocating defense in the second half. After falling behind 50-38 at halftime, the Pistons allowed only 26 second-half points to the Cavaliers, who had scored 34 in the second quarter alone. Detroit forced 15 turnovers and held Cleveland to 40% shooting. Most importantly, Detroit stymied the Cavs' young superstar when it mattered most, as Rip Hamilton locked down James and forced him into a tough, contested shot with the game on the line.

Detroit once again pulled out a victory late in a game in which they struggled for long stretches, and Cleveland has to feel like they missed a couple golden opportunities to go home with at least a split series. It was certainly not comforting, as a Pistons fan, to see both games hanging in the balance with Cleveland in possession, but some comfort can come from the fact that Detroit has a 2-0 lead without playing close to their potential. Hopefully, these two tight games will motivate Detroit to go all out and try to close the series out in Cleveland. Game 3 in Sunday night at 8:30.

Cue obligatory Jason Maxiell dunk highlight:

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Monday, May 21, 2007

Red Wings Facing Elimination

I am too indescribably frustrated to really provide a proper recap of this game. Detroit completely dominated Anaheim for the better part of three periods, as well as controlling much of the overtime period. Detroit missed several chances to expand their 1-0 lead before the final minute of the game (Holmstrom's rebound chance that slid completely through the crease and Lidstrom's hit post come to mind). Instead of having a decent cushion before Anaheim's final desperate attempt to tie the game, any strange bounce of the puck could have tied the game. Unfortunately, that strange bounce occurred. Scott Niedermayer's shot from the slot, which looked initially harmless, hit Niklas Lidstrom's outstretched stick and fluttered over the glove of Dominik Hasek, tying the game with 47.3 seconds left in regulation.

Andreas Lilja, who had scored Detroit's only goal in the second period, went from potential hero to goat 11:57 into the overtime period. While controlling the puck behind the Red Wing net, Lilja skated with it out in front of the goal while being hounded by Teemu Selanne. Duck forward Andy McDonald, who had just come off the bench, stepped up and forced Lilja to try to play the puck out of the zone. Lilja tried to pass the puck back across his body, and completely fanned on the attempt. Selanne took the puck, deked Hasek to the ground, and wristed the winner into the top shelf.

This was an awful game to lose, and obviously puts a lot of pressure on Detroit, who is now down 3-2 in the best-of-seven series going into Game 6 in Anaheim. However, if there is anything to take out of the game, it is that Detroit completely dominated and should have won. While most television analysts and sports columnists are drooling over the tremendous play of Duck goalie J.S. Giguere, I feel Detroit had a decent amount of chances around the net that easily could have been goals. Giguere played great, but Detroit had a few chances to beat him that they didn't capitalize on. Hopefully, with elimination looming, Detroit will bury those chances in Game 6 (and hopefully Game 7 as well).

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Andrew Miller Watch: A Damn Good Start

After putting up solid numbers in the minor leagues this season (2.92 ERA, 35 K in 49.1 IP), Andrew Miller was called up by the Tigers to start in place of the injured Jeremy Bonderman. Miller showed why he was sixth overall draft pick in 2006, pitching six scoreless innings and getting the win in the Tigers' 14-4 shellacking of the St. Louis Cardinals. Miller rode his mid-90s fastball and sweeping slider while holding the Cards to 4 hits. He did walk 3 batters, but 2 of these were situational walks that shouldn't be of concern to the Tigers. Miller also struck out 2 batters.

Overshadowing Miller's performance was the offensive outburst of the Tigers. Gary Sheffield and Magglio Ordonez set the tone early, with
each getting a home off Braden Looper by the third inning. After jumping out to a 5-0 lead by the fourth inning, the Tigers exploded for nine runs in the fifth. Detroit had eight hits and two walks in the inning while chasing Looper and reliever Kelvin Jimenez, who allowed seven runs while recording only one out. Every Tigers starter except Curtis Granderson reached base at least twice in the game, and every Tiger except Pudge Rodriguez scored a run in the rout. Magglio Ordonez (3-4, RBI, 3 runs, HR), Gary Sheffield (2-5, 3 RBI, HR), and Sean Casey (4-5, 2 RBI) led the way for the Tigers, who stayed within one game of the Cleveland Indians in the AL Central standing.

The only disappointing aspect of the game was the performance of Jason Grilli, whose struggles out of the bullpen continued. Grilli allowed three runs in two innings pitched, including making a throwing error in the eighth (these always seem to happen against the Cardinals) that led to a run for St. Louis. Grilli's ERA is now an unsightly 7.36, and the Tigers are still looking for some consistency out of their Zumaya-less bullpen.

Overall, this was a great game for the Tigers. Although Jim Leyland already stated before the game that Miller would be back in the minors after this start, it was great to see how the kid could play when thrown into a starting role. Look for Miller to be back up in the majors later in the season, as he certainly didn't disappoint in his first major league start. He certainly wasn't lacking run support either, even though he didn't seem to need any. Hopefully the Tigers can continue their offensive tear in tonight's game against the Cardinals. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05.

(AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

Friday, May 18, 2007

Bulls (Finally) Closed Out

Most people (including myself) predicted a long, hard-fought series between the Bulls and Pistons. I don't think anyone expected it to be the roller-coaster ride that it was, with the Pistons dominating the first three games, Chicago storming back and easily taking the next two, and Detroit finally eliminating the Bulls in Game 6. The 95-85 Detroit victory was classic Piston basketball, as Detroit controlled the second half thanks to suffocating defense and clutch free throw shooting down the stretch. Chicago managed only 16 points in the fourth quarter, while the Pistons shot 10-10 from the line in the final 1:07 to ice the game.

Detroit once again featured a balanced scoring attack, with Rip Hamilton leading the way with 23 points on 9-18 shooting. Chauncey Billups overcame a rough shooting night (3-12 from the field) by going 14-14 from the free throw line, and finished with 21 points. Tayshaun Prince added 17, including 8 critical fourth quarter points, while also pulling down 9 rebounds. Sheed, when not (often justifiably) blowing up over the officiating, scored 16 and added 10 boards.

On the Chicago side, P.J. Brown led the scoring charge with 20 points, all in the first half. I'm as stunned as you are. Thankfully, the world righted itself in the second half, as Brown went scoreless and the Pistons pulled away from the Bulls. Other than allowing Brown to turn into Dwight Howard for 20 minutes, the Pistons did a great job limiting the Bulls' scorers. Luol Deng managed only 17 points thanks to a strong defensive effort by Tayshaun. Ben Gordon scored 19, but was only 7-18 from the field. Kirk Heinrich was rendered completely ineffective, scoring 11 on only 3-13 shooting. Heinrich did manage 11 assists, but 7 came in the first half and he played progressively worse as the game went on.

The Bulls' decision to spend $60 million on Ben Wallace continues to look like one they will come to regret. Wallace managed only 6 points and 7 rebounds, and went 2-8 from the line. He sported the worst +/- of any player on the court last night, going -17 in only 29 minutes of action. Maybe it isn't such a good idea to pour so much money into a player who can only contribute on one end of the floor, especially when your team doesn't have an established post presence. Just a thought. (For the record, I still love Ben for his contribution to the title team, and I really don't blame him for leaving for Chicago. This isn't a personal attack, I just don't think he fits with that team at all.)

I must say, there was one aspect of this series (and the rest of the NBA Playoffs) that bothered me almost as much as the Pistons' lack of efforts in Games 4 and 5. The rampant flopping that is becoming more and more widespread is threatening to turn the sport into soccer on wood. I hate to complain about anything right after winning a series, but I'm certainly not the only one who thinks this is becoming a huge problem:
The single most disgusting NBA development of the past few years? The flopping. Slowly, regretfully, inexplicably, the sport is morphing into soccer -- as exemplified by Kirilenko's swan dive near the end of Tuesday's Jazz-Warriors game that fouled out Matt Barnes, or Kirk Hinrich's perfectly designed flopparoo to draw Chauncey Billups' fourth foul in Detroit Tuesday.
Either Kirk Heinrich has the lower-body strength of Tiny Tim, or he was intentionally dive-bombing the hardwood any time Chauncey tried to back him down. Not only is this trend shredding the NBA of much of its dignity, it's also killing the art of the post up. If a player doesn't fade away or forgo playing the post entirely, odds are his defender is going to end up on his butt pleading the officials for a foul call. Chauncey didn't post up Heinrich as much as he should have during the series, mostly because he was afraid of getting in foul trouble. This took away what was Chauncey's most effective weapon against smaller guards, and he said as much during an interview with ESPN that was broadcast during the game yesterday. Is there really much difference between this:

and this?:

All I know is that both have no place in the world of sport.

Well, enough with the ranting. It was great to see the Pistons play as well as everybody knows they can play, and now Detroit waits for the winner of the Cleveland/New Jersey series (Cavs lead 3-2) while they get some well-deserved rest.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Good, The Bad, and the Tigers

I guess this is just going to be a massive three-sport combination post recapping last night. Never before have I been so discouraged and angered by one playoff team while simultaneously encouraged and uplifted by another. I'm pretty sure my emotions ran the entire gamut featured in the poster to the left. Anyways, last nights final scores were as follows:

-Bulls 108 - Pistons 92
-Red Wings 5 - Ducks 0
-Tigers 7 - Red Sox 2

The Pistons game was so thoroughly frustrating that I refused to watch the fourth quarter. As a general rule, I stop watching a game when I feel I care much more than the team I'm rooting for does. To say Detroit gave a dismal effort would be a disservice to the word 'dismal'. Chicago shot 72% in the first half. Seventy-fuckin'-two. They then proceeded to 57% in the third quarter en route to building a 21-point lead entering the fourth. The 16-point final margin doesn't do justice to the savage ass-beating Chicago gave Detroit last night. Jason Maxiell was the only guy who looked like he cared whatsoever about the outcome, and he only played fifteen minutes, during which Detroit was +11. He was one of only three Pistons to finish with a positive +/-, and the other two were Lindsey Hunter (???) and Nazr Mohammed (garbage time). Further analysis of this game may cause my head to explode, so I'm just going to move on to the other action from last night.

The Red Wings absolutely dominated the Anaheim Ducks behind strong efforts from, well, everyone. Dominik Hasek was as stellar as ever in shutting out the Ducks. Tomas Holmstrom continued to dominate the front of the net, putting in two goals and adding an assist in the third. Mike Babcock made tremendous line adjustments before the game, throwing out Holmstrom/Datsyuk/Filppula and the all-Swede Samuelsson/Zetterburg/Franzen line as his top two offensive units. Both units meshed perfectly and produced scoring plays. In fact, each line produced a goal where one forward was assisted by the other two. That's chemistry, folks.

The story of the game, however, was the nasty tag team hit on Tomas Holmstrom by Rob Niedermayer and Chris Pronger. If you haven't seen the hit yet, here it is:

Niedermayer was assessed a five minute major for boarding and a game misconduct. However, the video clearly shows that Pronger was the one who drove Homer's head into the boards and caused the cut. The NHL reviewed the play today and has suspended Pronger for game 4. I'm sure if Homer had been hurt the suspension would have been longer, but he luckily only needed a few stitches and was back out on the ice in the third period. This was clearly a dangerous cheap shot by a frustrated duo (Anaheim was down 4-0 at the time) and the punishment was just about the minimum the NHL should have given Pronger. I'm sure the league was reluctant to suspend a star player multiple games in the playoffs, but in the regular season that hit garners a 3-5 game suspension, easily.

Other than the hit, this was a fantastic game that showed the Red Wings put together three full periods of great hockey for possibly the first time in the playoffs. If Detroit continues to play complete games like this one, they could be hoisting the Cup next month.

I didn't catch the Tigers game because of the full slate of playoff games last night, but the Tigers defeated the team with the best record in the MLB thanks to a very strong outing from Justin Verlander. JV went 7 2/3 innings, striking out 7 and allowing only 2 runs. Magglio Ordonez continued to make a push for AL MVP consideration, launching a third-inning home run that cleared the green monster in Fenway and landed somewhere in the street outside. Brandon Inge also hit a home run in the third, and Pudge Rodriguez added three hits. The Tigers maintained their one game lead on the Indians in the AL Central, and pulled within two games of the Red Sox for the best record in the majors.

Overall, it was quite an eventful night for Detroit sports fans. Tonight I look forward to kicking back and enjoying a stress-free night watching NBA playoff games I don't have a large part of my happiness invested in.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Red Wings Return Game 1 Gifts, Lose 4-3 in OT

First of all, I will not say Detroit clearly deserved to win this game. Detroit was outshot (33-27), outhit (43-33), and Anaheim controlled much of the play in their 4-3 overtime victory. However, Detroit put themselves in position to take command of the series, going up 3-2 on Pavel Datsyuk's power play goal 1:03 into the third period. Anaheim's answer was one of the stranger goals I've seen in my twelve years (shut up, I'm nineteen) of watching hockey. After Samuel Pahlsson won a faceoff in the Detroit zone, Travis Moen fired a quick wrister that Hasek appeared to stop. Unfortunately, the puck got caught in Hasek's left leg pad, and video review revealed his momentum carried his leg, and the puck, across the goal line. Moen's goal knotted the game at 3 and eventually forced overtime, where Scott Niedermayer won the game with a wrist shot that beat Hasek from the right circle. Niedermayer certainly benefited from an unlucky break for the Wings when Daniel Cleary, who was marking Niedermayer, lost an edge and fell into the boards. Scott's brother Rob found the elder Niedermayer wide open, and his screened shot found the short side.

The Detroit power play once again looked strong, going 2-7 on the day. The Wings showed great puck movement on both Niklas Lidstrom's second period goal and Pavel Datsyuk's go-ahead marker in the third. Detroit has had the clear advantage on special teams so far this series, but have an uncharacteristic 1-5 disadvantage on even-strength goals. The Red Wing penalty kill wasn't quite as solid as the boxscore would tell you, as they gave up goals just after two early penalties expired, but they came up big after Mikael Samuelsson took a delay of game penalty in overtime. Kirk Maltby also scored a stellar shorthanded goal, batting his own rebound out of the air and past Giguere to pull the Wings into a 1-1 tie in the second.

Hasek didn't look as spectacular as he had the last few games of the playoffs, but he still came up with a few magnificent saves, most notably robbing Ryan Getzlaf on a shorthanded breakaway early in the first. I'm sure he wants the game-tying goal back, but a goalie doesn't usually expect a puck to get caught in their pads the way that one did. Hasek should be able to shake off this game and play like he has the rest of the playoffs.

This loss was tough to take, just because Detroit looked to be on the verge of taking a commanding 2-0 lead in the series. Despite both goals that were video reviewed being clearly the right call, it always hurts a little more to know that both were oh-so-close to not being goals at all. The way this series it going, it looks like it could come down a couple bounces going one way or the other. Hopefully Hasek will rebound from this game and Detroit get some of those bounces going in their favor again.

Game 3 is tomorrow at 9.

Chicago Beats Detroit; Pistons Fans Say 'Meh'

The Chicago Bulls ended the Pistons dream of stampeding through the playoffs undefeated yesterday, taking game 4 102-87 and keeping their season alive. Detroit shot quite poorly (37.3%), were out-rebounded 51-33, and were unable to fully recover from a 23-point third quarter deficit. The Pistons were able to come as close as 7 late in the fourth, but could not find the basket when they needed to most.

Detroit's starting five did not consistently produce as they did in the game 3 comeback. Chris Webber was the only Piston whose performance stayed the same, but unfortunately that performance was once again a 0-point dud. Chauncey Billups led the Pistons with 23 points and 8 assists, but was only 5-14 from the field and committed a late charge that basically sealed Detroit's fate. Rasheed Wallace went 4-16, including a woeful 2-12 from three, finishing with 14 points. Rip Hamilton shot almost as poorly, going 4-12 from the field and scoring only 11 points. Tayshaun Prince had 18 points on 8-16 shooting, but allowed the first big game by Luol Deng (25 points and 13 rebounds; 10-15 shooting) on the defensive end.

I guess it was inevitable that the Pistons would lose one (actually, I'd be an idiot if I thought we could run the table, even in the Eastern Conference). However, it is at least a good sign that Detroit could play as poorly as they did and still be within striking distance late in the game. Four of the starting five went ice cold from the field, Detroit was manhandled on the boards, and yet with 3:44 left Detroit had the ball with a chance to make it a two-possession game. While the Pistons have seemed disinterested for long stretches in Chicago, I don't expect that to carry over to game 5 in Detroit. I fully expect the Pistons to close out the series tomorrow night.

Oh, and you didn't expect me to forget about the Flip Murray dunk, did you?

Savage. Game 5 tips off tomorrow night at 8.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Standing Tall

With any other team, the situation would have been bleak at best. Down 19 with 10:27 left in the third quarter, on the road, playing a team with a sense of desperation, to an outsider the Pistons probably looked cooked. Turn off your television, go to bed, wake up excited for a pivotal game 4 cooked. But these are the Detroit Pistons. I will not claim that I knew we would come back and win it all along. However, I knew Detroit would not let themselves get blown out and give Chicago the kind of momentum boost that can change the outlook of an entire series. Hell, we've already come back against them once this season, overcoming a 16-point second half deficit to defeat Chicago in Big Ben's return to the Palace. If Detroit could cut the lead down to ten by the fourth, I was confident in our chances.

The Pistons did me nine better. After trading baskets back and forth with Chicago for a few minutes, Detroit ended the quarter on a 22-6 run, punctuated by Rasheed Wallace's three-pointer as time expired. Detroit may have been down 61-60, but there was no doubt who was going to win the game. Even with the game tied at 66 with seven minutes left, Detroit had the swagger of an experienced championship team, while the Baby Bulls no longer were playing desperate and now were just playing scared.

Then came the first in a flurry of Pistons' fourth quarter daggers that brought to mind the Ides of March. Rasheed found Chauncey Billups wide open at the top of the key, and even before Mr. Big Shot had released the ball a literal wail of horror echoed throughout the United Center. They had seen enough of the Pistons to know exactly where that ball was going, and sure enough, Chauncey's three gave Detroit a 69-66 lead they would never relinquish. Chicago did its best to hang around, not letting the lead hit double digits until there were eight seconds left, but the Pistons were not going to relinquish the lead they had fought so hard to take. A meaningless Luol Deng three-point play made the final score 81-74, and may have saved some face for the Bulls in the eyes of fans who just check the box score and don't read the summary, but Detroit won convincingly in a game they were losing by 19 in the third.

While Detroit received little contribution out of Chris Webber (0-5, 0 points) or the bench (5 points), Detroit's core of Sheed, Rip, Chauncey and Tayshaun carried the team to victory. Prince led the team with 23 points and 11 rebounds, and had the game's signature play, a thunderous jam in the face of Andres Nocioni. Chauncey scored 21 and added 7 assists, and certainly lived up to his nickname. Rasheed had two huge threes in the second half, and finished with 16 points and 11 boards. Finally, Rip contributed 16 points, and logged a solid 45 minutes despite finishing with 5 fouls. Fittingly, it was the four remaining starters from the championship team that effectively finished off the team featuring the fifth, Ben Wallace.

Detroit looks to complete the sweep on Sunday, and if last night's game is any indication, Detroit should take the game on Chicago's home court. If the Bulls were going to step up and make this a series, game 3 was the only possible time to do so. Now, they are looking uphill at a Piston team that has their number and a history that says what they need to do is impossible (teams facing a 0-3 deficit are 0-81 in the history of the NBA). Detroit winning the series is an inevitability, and it appears that taking game 4 will be as well.

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

YouTube Ode to The Great Gazoom

At some point today, Joel Zumaya will undergo surgery to repair a torn tendon in his middle finger, an injury suffered while warming up in the bullpen. He is expected to miss three months, and his injury leaves the Tigers looking for a reliable set-up man in their currently struggling relief corps.

Needless to say, Zumaya will be missed. He is one of the game's most intimidating pitchers, and his electrifying fastball is one of the most distinctive pitches in the league, up there with Johan Santana's changeup and Mariano Rivera's cutter. When I finally saved up enough money last season to buy a Tigers jersey, there was no doubt in my mind which player I would choose. Zumaya's 54 home white holds a special place in my closet alongside my Grant Hill throwback (I know, I need a new Pistons jersey) and Barry Sanders high school uni. He's my answer to "Who's Your Tiger?" While I believe the troika of Rodney, Grilli and Seay (don't get me started on Jose Mesa) will be able to hold down the fort in Zumaya's absence, the Tigers and their fans will certainly miss the excitement that every radar-busting fastball and knee-buckling curve
brought the team.

So here's to a full recovery, Zoom:

The overpowering pitcher...

...and accomplished actor.