You’ve heard the term “creating a winning culture” thrown around in basketball circles. It basically means that no matter who is on the court, the team knows what it takes to get it done. The Spurs are the example now. In the past it was the Lakers, the Celtics, the Bulls. These teams won games without their stars, without playing great D or shooting well. They found a way. That’s what the Raps are trying to attain and they are on their way but as last night showed, they have a way to go. One culture the Raps franchise has created over the past 20 years is playing terribly in the 3rd quarter. No matter who the coach has been, no matter if it was VC or Voshon Leonard taking the shots there has always been a mental block coming out of that dressing room after halftime. It is one of the great mysteries and again last night after they were up on the Bulls by 7 at the half, they were outscored 35-14 in the 3rd quarter and the Bulls never looked back. Even with the run the Raps went on in the 4th (they also have a culture of being an incredible 4th quarter team) the Bulls bent but never broke (taking a page from Sir Jack Armstrong) and that is something this franchise needs to fix. Finding a way to be as motivated coming out at halftime as they are in the other three quarters. They are a good young team and are definitely on the upswing so now is the time to fix this problem because we have the guys to do it. We need to get everything cleaned up before we sign Durant in 2016!
How about them Leafs! After a tough western swing the Buds have won three in a row and put an exclamation point on it the other night by smashing the Bruins 6-1. It was an utter domination in the 2nd and 3rd periods. It doesn’t change Game 7 from a couple of years ago but it was nice to see. Hopefully the momentum carries into tonight against the Penguins and tomorrow against Buffalo for this Hall of Fame Weekend. What better way to honor the memory of the late Pat Burns as he is inducted into the Hockey HOF. He was hired 22 years ago (I am getting old) and as I heard Jeff Blair say on his show, he coached arguably the most beloved Leafs teams after 1967. I completely agree. Burns had Gilmour, Andreychuk, Sundin, and Potvin. They went from a laughing stock team (although still making a ton of money) to a serious contender overnight. After their solid playoff run in 92-93, they had a parade to celebrate hockey being relevant again (since the Blue Jays has just won the World Series, baseball was the sport of discussion at the time). That Leafs team made me interested in hockey. I was 17 and as someone who never played hockey and only watched it casually, I didn’t care before that. I loved baseball and football (NFL of course) and hockey was just there. Watching Gilmour stick that puck in the net in 2nd OT versus CuJo and the St. Louis Blues is one of the greatest sports memories I have and Pat Burns was a huge part of that. Although he’s gone too soon, it’s good to see he’s getting his place in the hall and at the same time that the Leafs are tearing it up. Could this be a sign from above?
So, the first batch of baseball winter meetings have wrapped up and although mostly quiet, the Jays did a couple of things. After trading Lind they also traded Anthony Gose to the Tigers for the Tigers number one prospect, 2nd baseman Devon Travis. This is important for a couple of reasons. First, it means that Mississauga-born Dalton Pompey is now the centre fielder of the future (which could be as early as 2015) and we now have what seems to be a long-term solution at second base. Since Aaron Hill was traded in 2011, it has been a revolving door at 2nd base and even though that a different player will likely play there in 2015, there should be some consistency there by 2016 with Devon Travis stepping in. Even though this team is bbuilt to win sooner than later, it’s good to see AA is trying to fill an important hole with a real prospect instead of an overpriced free agent. This trade also ends any speculation of Pablo ‘the Panda’ Sandoval coming to Toronto. The Jays had met with his agent last week which makes no sense because he can only play 3rd base, his festively plump body would have issues over time on the artificial turf and that means you have to commit to moving Lawrie to 2nd base when he has proven he is a great defensive 3rd baseman. Now Lawrie can stay at 3rd (and hopefully healthy) and Izturis can play 2nd and fill in at SS for Reyes occasionally until Travis is ready to be our everyday 2nd baseman. Now all we have to do is sign a left fielder, starting pitcher and rebuild our entire bullpen. How hard could it be?
This weekend is interesting in the NFL as all three QBs from the 2010-11 Lions are all starting. As I mentioned on Monday, Stafford is starting against Drew Stanton in Arizona and in St. Louis, Jeff Fisher has finally benched the ‘not-quite-ready-for-primetime’ Austin Davis in favor of Shaun Hill. This is a great call, firstly because after watching Davis versus the 49ers a few weeks ago I think we can agree he will be a great backup QB somewhere but also because Hill is a smart veteran who has had some success in the past. He filled in admirably for a young Matt Stafford who spent most of his first two seasons in 2009 and 2010 on the IR with various ailments. In 2010, Hill played 11 games for the Lions throwing for over 2,600 yards and 16 TDs. He is very capable and I think he gives the Rams a much better chance of winning right now as they wait for Sam Bradford to return from (another) season ending injury. Jury’s still out on the QB situation going into the 2015 season in St. Louis but for now, Hill is the way to go.