5-at-10: LeBron, baseball at the first turn and SEC strength

5-at-10: LeBron, baseball at the first turn and SEC strength

May 21st, 2012 by Jay Greeson in Sports - Columns

Buckle up and go get a coffee refill, there's a lot to cover.

From the "Talks too much" studios, here we go...

Miami Heat's LeBron James looks down court during the first half of a NBA basketball against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Miami.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

We've made a playoff resolution. We're not going to flop back and forth on LeBron James, twisting in the wind with each playoff hiccup or thumping our chest with each playoff highlight.

Dude is the best player on the planet, and you could make a real argument that he's the best overall athlete on the planet. Does that change if he scores 22 and fails in the clutch against the Pacers? Does it change if he posts a near-historic stat line of 40 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists in a must-win game? Not really.

Here's what we're going to do: We're going to enjoy the LeBron Show and see how long it runs. Moments like Sunday - when he went nuts at Indiana in a game the Heat had to have - are reminders of what he can do and we should enjoy them as they happen.

Now if we get to June and he still doesn't have a ring, let the hand-wringing begin. But wow, the number of haters LeBron has accumulated is staggering. Side question: Is there anything an athlete has done that is not illegal or even unethical that has turned the public tide more than LeBron's decision a couple of years ago?

Around the NBA:

- If LeBron had pushed his teammates into traffic (side note: The 5-at-10 hates the expression "pushed under the bus" because there is no modern cliche this side of "Step up" and "In the zone" used more) like Kobe did, there would have been an earthquake of spilled ink. Kobe blamed teammate Pau Gasol for the critical Game 4 loss to the Thunder, who could close out the Lakers tonight. Granted, Kobe has five titles and gets more leeway because of that, but still.

- Regardless whether the Lakers or the Thunder advance, it appears either team would be playing for second in the Western Conference behind the overpowering Spurs, who eliminated the Clippers on Sunday. San Antonio has won eight straight playoff games and 18 consecutive games overall.

- For those of us a certain age, it's with a mixed bag of irony and amazement that the Celtics-76ers series is the least hyped and lowest-key of the four conference semifinals. Huge Game 5 tonight with that series tied at 2.

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A two-run home run by Miami Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton gets past Atlanta Braves center fielder Jason Heyward (22) in the seventh inning of a baseball game Wednesday, May 16, 2012, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Baseball zooms through turn 1

Major League Baseball has passed the 40-game point. It's a quarter into the season, and streaks have become trends and trends have become storylines.

And there are a plethora (Would you say we have a plethora of pinatas Jefe? Oh yes.) of storylines so far that range for sad to uplifting and from stunning to ho-hum. Here's a few:

Biggest surprise (team): Los Angeles, which has the best record in the big leagues, narrowly edges Baltimore, which has the best record in the AL. Neither team was projected to do much, but each has been stellar - and done it in opposite manners. L.A. is a MLB-best 19-4 at home; Baltimore is 15-6 on the road to lead the bigs.

Biggest surprise (player): Braves' right-hander Brandon Beachy would likely be the Cy Young winner if the season ended today. And not even your Aunt Jimmie Kate who watches every Braves game and still thinks Skip Carey is doing the games could have predicted that with a straight face.

Best team: The Dodgers have the best record, but the Texas Rangers look to be the best team. The Rangers' lineup is stacked - they are first in runs, average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage - and they have a budding ace in Yu Darvish. Some what surprisingly, your Atlanta Braves are as good as any team in the National League.

Best player: Josh Hamilton, and it's not even that close since Matt Kemp injured his hamstring. Hamilton is on pace to win a triple crown, and if he keeps this pace it would be the best single season ever. Hamilton is at .389 with 18 homers and 47 RBIs, which is on pace for .389, 69 homers and 181 RBIs. Not bad - especially in a contract year.

Biggest disappointment (team): While the Red Sox and the Yankees are hovering around .500 - and each is dealing with a fair amount of off-the-field drama - the Anaheim Angels of L.A. and lower Orange County in the Southern part of California have been as bad as their franchise name. They've already jettisoned hitting coach Mickey Hatcher after an offensive outage felt throughout baseball. It's especially bad considering....

Biggest disappointment (player): Albert Pujols signed a mega-deal to head to the Angels and has been floundering. In fact, the word floundering is insulted to be used to describe Pujols. He's at .211-3-18 and is on pace to for .211, 12 homers and 69 RBIs. Of course fellow $25-million-a-year guy Alex Rodriguez is on pace to hit .270 with 20 homers and 59 RBIs. Ouch-standing.

Feel free to share yours.

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SEC sends message

We wrote a column about it this weekend, but we have not discussed it here too much since it happened Friday afternoon.

We're talking about the SEC-Big 12 agreement to send their champions to a bowl game against each other. Granted, if the winners of those conferences are in the four-team playoff, they will go to that and the league's runner-up will go to the "Champions" Bowl, at least that's what we're calling it.

Here's what the agreement does in broad strokes, and almost all of them are good for the SEC (As Virgil Sollozzo says, "our compliments consigliere," to Mr. Slive and Co.):

- The Big Ten's arguments about the Rose Bowl have been reduced. Sure the Rose Bowl has great tradition and the new bowl can't compare to that, but the new bowl will have a bigger pay day, and the third rail of college athletics administrators is money. And if you think any of them will put a colleague - whether they are friends or foes - in a position where they have to sacrifice a BID-ness deal, well, you'd be wrong. It's in their secret code, right behind the chapters on properly using the phrases "they are STUDENT-athletes" and that "education is the most important thing" can apply to any situation if they are said with enough conviction.

- The ACC had better have a plan. A month ago FSU, the league's most marketable football program, floated the notion of realigning and moving to the Big 12. Granted it went over like a toot in church, but the idea is out there. Now, with the help of this deal, the Big 12 is firmly positioned as one of the top four leagues. The ACC is not, and if there is another raid on programs, the ACC looks like the slowest gazelle as the lions start the hunt.

- The BCS in general had better get in the game. If the current BCS bowls are part of the soon-to-be enacted four-team playoff (and when it become official, we'll start calling it the "soon-to-be-expanded four-team playoff), then OK. But this Champions Bowl is like graduate school for the conference championship games and they will go to the highest bidder. And don't you know that Jerry Jones and Dallas and the Sugar Bowl folks and New Orleans are itching to make the Champions Bowl something like $15 million to each team.

- The other bowl games better makes some friends and sign long-term extensions that include heavy exit fees. That, or some of the smaller bowls should look to signing deals to be played on that first weekend of the year. The wise folks at Chick-fil-A have showed us this could work. They also have showed us the standard for chicken sammaiches and unsweet tea. Why can't we have the Music City Bowl, the Liberty Bowl or some others that first weekend with semi-marquee match-ups?

- Change is coming, and it's coming quickly. The SEC is looking beyond today, which takes great foresight because today the SEC is so strong, it would be tempting to gaze longingly at its self-reflection. Instead, the league is positioned for the next wave. As JFK said "put your pants on Marilyn".... no wait, as JFK said, "the time to fix the roof is when the sun is shining," and the SEC did just that. Again, as Sollozzo said, our compliments consigliere."

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This and that

- Wow. Just wow. The UTC men's golf team went to Bowling Green, Ky., and slapped around a super-talented field. The Mocs won the regional and are headed to the NCAA tournament on a wave of momentum unforeseen since the 1997 Sweet 16 run. And in truth, while not as high-rpofile, this win is more historic in that according to our UTC golf ace David Uchiyama, this is UTC's first NCAA regional title in any sport since joining cross country did it in the late 1990s. Outstanding work to Mark Guhne's troops, especially Stephen Jaeger, who made a birdie on the final hole to clinch the team win and take medalist honors. Wow. Just wow.

- Speaking of golf, who's the hottest pro golfer on the planet? Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy? Nope. None other than dip-spitting, smile-avoiding, solid-as-a-rock Jason Dufner, who capped his second win in a month with a 30-footer for birdie on the 72nd hole of the Byron Nelson Classic on Sunday. Dufner leads the FedEx standings and is the PGA Tour's first multiple winner this year and, according to Golf Channel's Jason Sobel - who does excellent work, for what it's worth - has notched both of those wins since quitting the Twitter.

- NASCAR had it's all-star race Saturday night, and proving that there are no really good all-star events in pro sports, there were a lot of grumblings and fan angst. The NASCAR all-star race set-up, which changes about every 60 days, has its great points (The Ricky Bobby set-up where it's a $1 million to the winner, everyone else gets a handshake) and its bad (once a driver won a 20-lap segment and secured a top-four spot in the 10-lap race to the finish he would pull a Darrell Waltrip impression and coast around the track in the back taking in the sights). Fans were less than thrilled, but it's still better than the Pro Bowl.

- Lawrence Taylor's Super Bowl XXV ring went for more $230,000 at auction, more than triple the price experts expected. It was put up for auction by LT's son TJ, and the Hall of Fame linebacker was OK with PDQ even if he was not ROTFLMAO or any other alphabet abbreviations. Side note: According to the Interweb, a Babe Ruth jersey sold at auction brought in more than $4.4 million to rank as the most expensive item of sports memorabilia of all time. How crazy is that? Well, ruth earned about $910,000 playing baseball from 1915-1935 and his estate in Massachusetts - the actual house that Ruth built - is on the market for $1.65 million. Who needs real estate when you can buy a 92-year-old garment at almost triple the price?

- There are few occasions that you can work William Wallace of "Braveheart" and Austin Powers' father in the same thought, but each would support this new law. Apparently a new Scottish law against bigotry is not applicable against anti-English acts of violence http://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/anti-bigotry-law-fails-to-protect-england-fans-1-2306242. We know Braveheart would approve, but so would Nigel Powers, who in "Goldmember" famously said, "There's only two things I hate in this world. People who are intolerant of other people's cultures and the Dutch."

Today's question

As always feel free to share your thoughts on any of the topics above or any of the ones we missed. It's a Monday after all.

If you need a starting point, what grade do you give the Braves at the quarter-pole of the baseball season? It would have to be pretty high, no?

(And will have more on this later, but we're already about to need a new keyboard from writing too much, how about that I'll Have Another and a shot at the Triple Crown? Good times.)