5-at-10: A-Day in Heart of Dixie, NBA's soft tough guy, who won the weekend

5-at-10: A-Day in Heart of Dixie, NBA's soft tough guy, who won the weekend

April 21st, 2014 in Sports - Columns

Hope you had a great Easter weekend with your family.

From the "Talks too much" studios, let's knock the spring break dust off this puppy and roll.

Alabama coach Nick Saban, right, and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will look to revamp the Crimson Tide's offense before the season begins.

Alabama coach Nick Saban, right, and offensive coordinator...

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

The Auburn-Alabama rivalry has never been bigger.

The two teams battled to see who could have the most fans at their annual spring scrimmage. Alabama claimed 73,000-plus; Auburn claimed 70,000-plus (and looking at the images of Alabama and having been in Jordan-Hare, we think each was overshot by more than a few). Of course, an Auburn fan we know quickly pointed out that since Alabama's stadium is so much bigger, the Tide's capacity percentage was around 72 percent, while Auburn was more than 80 percent full. Yes, we are there.

So what do we know after spring has sprung for most of the SEC? Not much, but we know the Tide will be one of the league's best defenses and the Tigers are going to score a truckload of points.

It's impossible to know the strengths and weaknesses of any particular team in the spring. For example, was Tennessee's massive gains in big plays because of exciting new, young playmakers or because of a secondary that is Swiss Cheese in nature? The answer is yes to both.

So we try to look for trends and physical abilities. Here are but two:

Alabama is deep across the front seven defensively. Very deep. To the point that the second unit could be the fourth-best defense in the SEC (behind Florida and assuming LSU is going to reload its talented roster). We're sure Paschall will share more on this on Press Row this afternoon.

As for Auburn, well, Nick Marshall looked improved, but there's still room for him to continue his growth as a passer. The first-team offense torched the reserves in a dizzying first half, and it's certainly fair that the production was against an overmatched foe.

That said, Auburn has a group of wide receivers that look the part, and that's something that the Tigers have not had since quarterback Jason Campbell was the SEC player of the year in 2004. There are a slew of guys running routes that could have NFL futures, and coupled with Marshall, an offensive line returning four starters and a deep collection of running backs, buckle-up gang. The Tigers are going to score. A lot.


San Antonio Spurs' Tim Duncan (21) shoots over Dallas Mavericks' Monta Ellis (11) during the first quarter of Game 1 of the opening-round NBA basketball playoff series on Sunday, April 20, 2014, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

San Antonio Spurs' Tim Duncan (21) shoots over...

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

NBA Playoffs

There are a slew of enjoyable storylines in these NBA playoffs, which tipped off this weekend.

Can the Heat sweep? (Yes.) Are the Pacers and Bulls in trouble? (It's very possible.) Which will be the best series? (Rockets-Blazers, followed closely by Clippers-Warriors, look to be the contenders.)

But if you are unattached to an NBA allegiance, pull up a chair and get ready to back the Spurs.

San Antonio may be the most professional team in all of professional sports. They are good every year. They have been built with excellent decisions (and a little luck, considering the one year they were the worst team in the NBA - when David Robinson got hurt - they won the lottery's No. 1 overall pick that became Tim Duncan) and retaining talent. Can you remember the last time they had an off-the-court problem or a story with the dateline San Antonio that made you shake your head?

They are a machine.

And then stuff like Sunday happens, and the Spurs prove they are super human beings, too.

Spurs coach Gregg Poppovich has forever been an ornery side-line interview. This was mildly-to-wildly entertaining depending on a) the true level of angst the Popp had and b) who was doing the sideline interview. And in truth, unlike a Saban news conference eruption that is meant to belittle and use the media for his own purposes, Popp's rotuine had become a running sideshow and an understandable and subtle protest to the craziness that is the sideline, mid-game interview.

And Popp and NBA sideline guru Craig Sager had assumed a song-and-dance two-step that made those exchanges even more fun.

Over the weekend, Sager announced that he will miss the playoffs because of treatment for Leukemia, and his son Craig Sager Jr. filled in for him on the sideline Sunday in Spurs-Mavs series. And Poppovich - in the middle of a tight Game 1 mind you - won the weekend with this interview.

Well-played indeed.

Sports can be really great at times, you know?


Atlanta Braves catcher Evan Gattis, left, looks after New York Met's Curtis Granderson's sacrifice fly during the fourteenth inning of the baseball game at Citi Field, Sunday, April 20, 2014 in New York. The Mets defeated the Braves in extra innings 4-3.

Atlanta Braves catcher Evan Gattis, left, looks after...

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

Braves weekend recap

Your Atlanta Braves took two of three from the Mets. It could have been a sweep, but three Braves' errors let the Mets off the hook in a 14-inning loss Sunday.

The Braves are 12-6 and lead the NL East by 1.5 games over Washington. Atlanta starts a six-game homestand with three against Miami, starting tonight at 7:10 p.m.

The good: Starting pitching. Again. Harang, Santana and Hale allowed three earned runs in 23 innings against the Mets. Wow. In fact, the Braves starting pitching has been so good, that David Hale, who got a no-decision Sunday, appears to be the starter that will be bumped if Mike Minor makes his projected return later this week. And that makes sense, since Hale has the highest ERA among the starting rotation with a 2.93. Yes, the highest ERA of the five starters is under 3.00. Wow.

The bad: We know the lineup is going to be an unequal mix of hits and misses (the Braves starting outfield has 67 strikeouts in 18 games, and the team has five of its regulars on pace to strike out 160-plus times). Still the newfound uneasiness in the bullpen is not a good thing.

The Uggla: Danny Uggla was 4-for-12 in the series, but two fielding errors cost the Braves a chance at the sweep on Sunday. Uggla is at. 234 on the season, far clear of the .210 Struggla line we set. (Side note: We misread his stat line last week, so there's that. Uggla's average was at .237 - its highest since game 2 of the season - on Saturday.)


This and that

- Matt Kuchar won in Hilton Head by holing out a bunker shot for birdie on the 72nd hole. This came after he three-putted from 5 feet on the previous hole to fall into a tie for the lead. What do we make of Kuchar? Seems like dude should have at least one major, and we're not sure he'll ever get one.

- Michelle Wie sighting. Good for Wie, who won last the weekend's LPGA event. Thrust into the spotlight very early on, Wie appeared to crash and burn and be headed for the 'too soon, too bad' category. (Which in golf is not that bad a category, since she got eight-figures from nike as a teenager.) She leads the LPGA in money earnings this year.

- It's a little unnerving to see a movie trailer with Paul Walker in it knowing that Paul Walker is dead. We're not alone in this category are we?

- Did you folks see Brewers catcher Martin Maldonado bust the baseball this weekend? Like actually bust the ball. Here's a quick link. And yes, we'd have to assume Maldonado's new nickname is Roy (as in Hobbs, from The Natural).


Today's question

As we are apt to do on Mondays, we'll ask who won the weekend?

The front-runners are Auburn wide out D'haquille WIlliams, a junior college transfer who surely looked the part of big-time star Saturday, Michelle Wie and of course Gregg Poppovich.

And then there are the guys who invented powdered booze to smuggle into events. This is a complete and total college football game-changer, right?