Friday, April 30

NBA Playoffs Pseudo-Analysis: Conference Semifinals

Let's just say that I'm glad I wasn't in Las Vegas when I made my first-round picks of this year's NBA tournament. In my defense, I admitted that I didn't have a good handle on the highly-competitive Western Conference, and some of my mistakes in the East were pure hate-bias against the C's and Magick. Let's review:

My pick: Cavs in 5
Actual: Cavs in 5. Boo-ya!

My pick: Magic in 7
Actual: Magic in 4. How did Charlotte not win a single game here?

My pick: Hawks in 5
Actual: (Probably) Hawks in 7. Gotta be impressed with what the Buckos did this season though.

My pick: Cetics in 7
Actual: Celtics in 5. I should have nailed this one; I called the Heat "the worst team from the bottom of the Eastern Conference pool" and then somehow picked this to go 7. Hey, at least I got all four East winners right.

My pick: Lakers in 5
Actual: Lakers in 6. Gotta box out.

My pick: Mavs in 6
Actual: Spurs in 6. I wish I had a photo of myself making this pick so I could post it and write FAIL in big red letters over it. Classic case of looking at the seedings too much instead of the teams. The Spurs don't lose series like this while the Mavs have made a career of it.

My pick: Suns in 7
Actual: Suns in 6. I woulda had this right if I knew Brandon Roy was hurt.

My pick: Nuggets in 7
Actual: Jazz in 6. I still hate Carlos Boozer.

Eastern Conference Semifinals

(1)Your...Cleveland Cavaliers! vs (4)Boston Celtics

Before we get to the series at hand (which the Cavs now lead 1-0 as I work on this inserted paragraph), it seems LeBron James has now won his second-straight NBA MVP Trophy. No surprise. I figure maybe one or two goobers will make the wrong choice, as Tim Povtak expressed his intention to do in this incredibly moronic article that I will link to in perpetuity, but I wonder how close to unanimous it will turn out to be. I've said it once, I'll say it again: anyone who votes for a player other than LeBron for MVP this year shouldn't ever get to vote again. On anything.

I posted some of my thoughts on this series earlier in the week, particularly the perception that the C's are on some unstoppable roll headed into this series while the Cavs are in disarray, even though the two clubs posted nearly-identical 4-1 Round 1 victories and Boston's opponent was weaker.

We're taking these guys down this year, and we're doing it in the Garden.

Cavs in 6

(2)Orlando Magic vs (3) Atlanta Hawks

Goodness do I ever hate the Magic. Their draw in the East this year is basically Cleveland circa 2007, first against a Charlotte team that can't score and a Hawks club that apparently isn't ready for prime time yet. This shouldn't be super-difficult for the Magic, who have been on an absolute tear of late. As a side note, I'll take them in 5 if Milwaukee springs the upset Sunday. They have no answer for Dewey Howard, regardless of how poorly he continues to grasp the rules of basketball.

Sadly, Orlando looks to be as strong as last year, provided Vince Carter continues to show up, which actually probably won't happen. It's basically the same club, except with Jameer Nelson playing outstanding point guard and without Hedo Turkoglu's horrible half-smile and late-game heroics. Provided my picks for this round pan out, this is going to be a rough Conference Final. But first things first:

Magic in 6

Western Conference Semifinals

(1)LA Lakers vs (5)Utah Jazz

As much contempt as I have for the Jazz, I think they might be able to spring this upset. And I'm none too fond of LA either.

There are objective reasons for believing that Utah can win, as well. LA's Andrew Bynum is ailing, as usual. Utah's Deron Williams is playing at an extremely high level, making Utah's offense remarkably efficient. Utah posted a better point differential (+5.3) than LA during the regular season (+4.7) and is brimming with confidence while the Lakers are questioning themselves just a bit after struggling to knock out OKC. The only reason I'm hedging on this is that both teams are extremely hard to beat at home, and LA enjoys the home-court advantage. I don't care.

Jazz in 6

(3)Phoenix Suns vs (7)San Antonio Spurs

Have you ever noticed how little turnover there is year-to-year in the NBA? It's almost as bad as MLB in that department. Seriously, look at the Final 4 in each Conference and it's the same teams it was every other year. I'm just glad my team is one of the chosen few.

Phoenix has to be thinking, oh no, not these guys again. This is one of those matchups like Browns-Steelers and Cavs-Wizards where one team just always gets the better of the other, sometimes in ridiculous and/or heartbreaking fashion. The Spurs have knocked Phoenix frm the draw four times in the past seven seasons, including the horrible, suspension of Amar'e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw in 2007 and Tim Duncan's preposterous game-tying three (he made none ALL SEASON that year AND the next) in Game 1 of the 2008 meeting. No stranger to difficult losses myself, I empathize with my Phoenix friends.

Nevertheless, every time I pick against the Spurs it burns me. Couple that with the well-established history between the clubs and mounds of evidence that San Antonio's brand of basketball works better in the postseason than Phoenix's, and I'm afraid I'll be taking the Texans here. I wouldn't be surprised to see them emerges from the West, for that matter.

Spurs in 7

Thursday, April 29


I had a big explaination for the dire situation of Indians blogging here recently, but then quickly realized I have already used it. Because Baseball Never Stops!, 5 May 2009. So with that out of the way...

The Indians' nine-game road trip was pretty routine. Each series the Tribe won only one game. The Tribe were shut out in three of the games but also scored six, eight, and nine in three others. The last game was lost on a game-winning bunt; meanwhile, a flawed WSJ study shows the Indians are the most hated team in baseball. So yeah, this was an up and down road trip, and on the face of it this might be as good as it gets. The Indians might need to score at least six in game to have a good chance and I'm not sure if you've looked at this offense, but that's not happening too often.

Speaking of offense, let's take a look at the Indians leaders OPS+ wise:

Austin Kearns - 200
Shin-Soo Choo - 174
Asdrubal Cabrera - 101

Yeah that's all the ones over 100. How about the rest of the team, you ask?

Lou Marson - 31
Matt LaPorta - 47
Luis Valbuena - 91
Jhonny Peralta - 78
Grady Sizemore - 59
Travis Hafner - 77

You might be mad at Peralta, as is your wont, but where the hell is Sizemore? Valbuena currently having a higher slugging percentage than LaPorta is not cool either. The offense is pretty weak. Thank goodness for Kearns and his huge ears. His Cincinnati Reds bobble-head on my book shelf might get promoted here soon to desk duty.

Pitching-wise, the Indians have maybe been a little better than the offense. Mitch Talbot and Fausto Carmona are the obvious standouts, with David Huff toeing the line as a number three starter probably should. Jake Westbrook is still having trouble, and if he ever becomes the old Jake I suspect it might not be for at least another month. Justin Masterson has started four games and has pitched only 19.0 innings compared to Fausto's 27.1 in the same number of games.

Baseball Reference has Cleveland's Pythagorean record at 8-13, one less win than the current 9-12, so this might be as good as it gets folks. Sure, the old Westbrook, Sizemore, and Hafner could show up any day but I'm just hoping for improvements from LaPorta and Masterson.

The Tribe have another three-game series with the 14-8 Twins this weekend, this time at Progressive Field, and a couple wins would go a long way.

Game 1: Kevin Slowey, RHP (2-2, 3.42) vs. Fausto Carmona, RHP (3-0, 2.96)
Game 2: To be announced vs. Justin Masterson, RHP (0-3, 5.68)
Game 3: Francisco Liriano, LHP (3-0, 0.93) vs. David Huff, LHP (1-3, 4.10)

You want to see an Indians win this weekend? I would put my money on tomorrow's game. As for Saturday's TBD Twins pitcher, I don't know but if I were them I would bring a guy up from AAA which for the Twins always seems to mean a Indians loss, especially considering he'll be going against the struggling Masterson. Sunday's game against the 0.93 ERA-sporting Francisco Liriano looks to be a game I might skip too. Hey when are the Cavs playing again?

Go Tribe!

(AP Photo/The Plain Dealer,Chuck Crow)

So you're saying there's a chance...

My man Jimmy Shapiro at tells me that the Brownies are an 80/1 bet to win the Super Bowl for the 2010 season. I can dig that; I think we were 100/1 last year, which means we've gotten 25% better! Couple more seasons at this pace under Heckgrengini and we'll be right up there with the favorites!

Because no one else is going to say it

Following a nail-biting 98-96 win over the Chicago Bulls that clinched an opening-round 4-1 series victory, the Cleveland Cavaliers are headed for a second-round date with one of their chief nemeses, the Boston Celtics. The C's earned their spot in the East semis to face Cleveland there for the second time in three years with a 4-1 series triumph over the undermanned Miami Heat, and to read the reports from the national media, you'd think the top-seeded Cavaliers were doomed against Boston in the upcoming matchup. Everything I read on ESPN and SI, and this defiant column by Dan Shaughnessey give the momentum and perhaps the series edge to Boston, based on their perceived superior performance in the opening round of the playoffs.

Guess what? I'm not feeling that. A few points:

1) Shaughnessey's column isn't as bold as it seems on the surface, as picking an underdog never really is. If the Celts win (they won't), he's a genius; if the Cavs win, well, they were a huge favorite anyway, and he was just being provocative. I will, of course, be there to call him out, just in case no one else is.

2) Both teams won their series 4 games to 1. Please, please do not forget this.

3) The Bulls are a tougher team than the Heat. I would definitely rather have had Cleveland play Miami in the first round over Chicago, and I think LeBron and company would have swept the Heat. Past Dwyane Wade, the Heat flat-out have nothing.

4) Nothing to do with the topic at hand, but Dwight Howard sucks. I didn't see the series where he's complaining about having had too many fouls called against him (a series his own team swept - pick your spots, dude), but I've seen Howard enough to know that he has absolutely no grasp of the rules of NBA basketball and is almost certainly wrong in his biased analysis of the situation. You know how teams in sports are sometimes accused of looking past their current opponents to their next foe? I think maybe I'm looking past the Celtics in sports hate and anticipating the Magic. That'll all change when I see Rondo, Wallace, and the rest of those morons in green come Saturday night.

5) Back to the marquee matchup: from where is this concept coming that the Celtics somehow manhandled the Heat and the Cavaliers got all they could handle from the Bulls? As I said, each team lost just one of the five games in their series; Cleveland dropped a two-point decision and Boston suffered a nine-point defeat. Boston posted an average margin of victory of 12.5 ppg (+50); Cleveland defeated the Bulls by an average of 12.0 ppg (+48). Thus, the Cavs posted a better point differential than Boston in their opening-round series against what I feel is a better team, won in the same number of games, and therefore, according to national writers, we're in big trouble while Boston made a big-time statement.

Can we please stop this nonsense?

Go Cavs!

Wednesday, April 28

Draft Weekend Recap, Part 2

It has been almost a week since the fanfare of the draft’s first round, and it’s time for draft talk to start winding down. In a way, it’s a little sad that we’ll have to wait another 9 or 10 months before it starts all over again, and we can start dissecting the meaning behind .05 seconds of a 40-yard dash and whether or not the next great NFL quarterback is ripe for the drafting.

Then again, the conclusion of the NFL’s signature off-season event means that we are that much closer to reading about mini camps and attending training camps, watching the NFL’s website get flooded with orders for fresh Browns jerseys to fulfill the fashion needs of those who used to spend their Sundays wearing number 10 apparel, and debating whether or not dentist’s offices actually exist in the city of Pittsburgh. As promised, here’s part two of my draft wrap, which is flush with miscellaneous topics that didn’t quite fit in part one.

A Method to the Madness
If you read my impressions of all the Browns’ picks, you probably got the impression that I liked their draft. I do like it, and although I don’t quite love it, we finally saw what should be the first of many drafts with some real purpose, and with very few questionable picks. Gone are the “out of left field” picks that provided no value (David Veikune) and/or didn’t fulfill a need (Travis Wilson).

Even the one pick that everyone is scratching their heads over – T.J. Ward – makes sense because of the Browns’ severe lack of secondary depth. I wonder if Tom Heckert isn’t getting a little too clever for his own good by bucking convention with Ward, but if Ward was the top guy on his board or at least the top guy at safety, then I applaud him for trusting the his team’s collective homework. If Ward comes through in a big way, then Heckert looks like a genius. Even if Ward stumbles or is only mediocre, hopefully we’ll only be talking about one hiccup in an otherwise very strong draft.

The point is that logic and reason are finally winning out in Berea over things like a preference for guys who were top recruits as seniors in high school (Butch Davis), a Boy Scoutish over-emphasis on flawless character (Mangini), or making picks by throwing darts while drunk and blindfolded (Dwight Clark). Yes, this new Browns management team is employing what is considered in these parts to be something of a novel approach.

Hidden Messages?
I suspect that I wasn’t alone in looking very carefully at the defensive players that the Browns selected to try and figure out whether they were guys who could play solely in Eric Mangini’s 3-4 defense. Basically, I wanted to see whether Team Walrus would tip their collective hand on whether or not they were internally committed to Mangini beyond this season alone. If a 3-4 lineman like Jared Odrick or a pass rusher like Jason Pierre-Paul was the pick, then it would be pretty clear that the 3-4 scheme, and likely Mangini, was here to stay.

Instead, three of the four picks on defense were invested in the secondary. The fourth and final pick on defense was Clifton Geathers, a 3-4 defensive end who, as a sixth rounder, has no guarantee of making the team. In other words, we know absolutely nothing more about Mike Holmgren’s long-term plans for Eric Mangini than we did before the draft, and while that certainly doesn’t mean that Mangini is on the hot seat in 2010, it also isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement.

“Just because you are a character, doesn’t mean you have character”
Character is something that always gets lots of attention heading into the draft. We constantly hear about players who rise and fall on draft boards due to “character issues,” and while each player is different, most teams have taken a fairly risk-averse approach to drafting, especially in the early rounds. The Dallas Cowboys are not one of those teams.

The Cowboys moved up to select receiver Dez Bryant with the 24th pick. Bryant was the most talented receiver in the draft, but slipped due to concerns about his maturity, most of which stemmed from his suspension for lying to the NCAA about his relationship with Deion Sanders.

Bryant is likely suffering not just from his own stupid mistake, but from the limited tolerance that commissioner Roger Goodell has shown for bad player behavior during his tenure. Maybe Bryant has his head on straight and maybe he doesn’t, but plenty of teams that needed a wide receiver passed on Bryant because they simply didn’t think he was worth that risk.

We constantly rolled our eyes at Eric Mangini’s emphasis on character, and his approach was definitely a little extreme. A chat with Michael Crabtree before last year’s draft essentially led Mangini to remove the Texas Tech wideout from the Browns’ draft board, and he seemed determined to craft a team of 53 choir boys, as impractical as that is in reality. In fact, Mangini seemed to have an aversion to star players that makes me much more comfortable with him just coaching the team – and he has proven to be a good coach – instead of assembling the roster.

While Mangini probably took his focus on character too far, it’s understandable why it is such a big concern for teams. Teams invest ludicrous amounts of money in first round draft picks, and as we’ve seen, it’s very difficult to win if you can’t hit on most of those early picks.

If a team’s first round pick busts, the team has wasted valuable time, an exorbitant amount of money, and a premium pick, not to mention that an executive and/or coach’s reputation and job security have also probably taken a substantial hit. So while talent should be the top determinant for where these guys are selected, it’s totally understandable why teams pass on players who are knuckleheads, whether the player is truly a high risk or not.

You would think that a player like Bryant would realize that heading into college, then toe the line, keep his nose clean, and say all the right things because not doing so could cost him millions of dollars. Then again – and Pacman Jones will likely back me up on this – sometimes you just have to make it rain.

On Timothy Richard Tebow…
The consensus heading into the draft was that Tim Tebow would be taken too high, and conventional wisdom sure knocked that one out of the park. Count Denver coach Josh McDaniels among the Tebow Kool-Aid drinkers, because he paid a high price to move back into the first round and nab God’s favorite quarterback.

I have nothing against Tim Tebow other than the fact that he contributed to the Buckeyes’ loss in the 2007 National Championship (alright, so I have a little against him). By all accounts, Tebow seems like a terrific human being. Tebow is a hard worker with a great attitude and an incredible winning record at the collegiate level. Sure, he’s probably a hair too pious for the two of us to hang out on Saturday nights, but when you draft Tebow, you know he’s not going to run over a Miami crane operator while he’s driving drunk and/or high. The term “top notch intangibles” probably isn’t strong enough to describe Tebow.

Intangibles are definitely important, and at no position are they more important than quarterback. That said, intangibles can’t be the sole reason for drafting a player, especially in the first round. Better pro prospects than Tebow went late on day three or weren’t even drafted at all, leading me to believe that McDaniels was the ghost writer of the borderline-homoerotic article about Tebow in GQ last September. Congratulations Broncos fans, you just traded a second, third, and fourth round pick to move up and blow a first rounder on a mascot. The good news? Between Tebow and Brady Quinn, you’re now 1/6th of the way to a hell of a quarterback photo calendar. You’re welcome, ladies.

On Jimmy Clausen…
Before the draft I would have offered anyone astronomical odds that Jimmy Clausen was drafted before Tim Tebow, so I’m glad I didn’t put that bet on the table. It blows me away that Clausen dropped to them middle of the second round, and as a result T.J. Ward and/or Colt McCoy are going to have to be awfully impressive to make me forget about the Browns passing on Clausen. As I wrote last Thursday, I would have been comfortable taking Clausen with the 7th pick, let alone the 38th pick.

Clausen’s fall was fueled by two things: Brady Quinn’s struggles in the pros, and the general perception of him as cocky and arrogant. The Quinn thing is in no way his fault, and I think the character question marks are totally overblown. Selfish divas don’t play the majority of the season with torn tendons in their feet. Maybe Clausen doesn’t have Tebow’s flawless intangibles, but I really don’t think his attitude is going to be an issue at the next level, and unlike Tebow, he has the physical tools be a quality NFL quarterback.

Clausen’s slide led him to fall into the open arms of the Carolina Panthers, a team with a strong running game and an opportunity at quarterback. Heading into the draft I didn’t think Clausen was that far behind Sam Bradford as a pro prospect, and that combined with his great situation in Carolina has landed me squarely in the camp that believes Clausen will have a better career in the NFL than Bradford.

The Ozzie Nuisance
You have to hand it to Ozzie Newsome – the guy knows how to run a draft. The Ravens moved back into the second round as Josh McDaniels got down on one knee and slipped a ring on Tim Tebow’s finger, amassed more picks in doing so, and still added top quality depth to an already strong defense with Texas linebacker Sergio Kindle and Alabama nose tackle Terrence Cody.

Kindle fell due to health concerns, as some think he may need microfracture surgery in the future. Taking Kindle was calculated risk for the Ravens; if Kindle stays healthy, it’s a potential home run pick because Kindle was one of the most talented linebackers in this draft class, and if he flames out due to injury, his upside was probably worth the risk in the second round.

Cody provides the Ravens with a pure nose tackle for the 3-4 defense to complement Haloti Ngata, who haunts the Browns twice each season for passing on him in the 2006 Draft. If Cody can keep his weight under control, then it just got that much tougher to run on the Ravens.

You have to admire Newsome’s approach; he drafts talent over need, waits for the inevitable fall of a very gifted player, and makes sure he gets said player for a great value pick, moving up or down if necessary. The approach is so simple that you wonder why more teams don’t adopt it, but then again, it takes extraordinary discipline to walk away from the first round without necessarily having filled an immediate need. Newsome’s patience and long-term perspective are what have made him one of the best on draft day, especially in the early rounds.

Prime Time Permanence
You can definitely count me among the millions of NFL Draft junkies out there, and like many others, I was lukewarm at best about the new three-day format that was kicked off with a prime time Thursday night broadcast.

It isn’t that I have better things do on a Thursday night, because the draft will always take precedence over whatever’s going on in my life besides something like the birth of my first child (and who am I kidding – the draft would still probably be the top priority). What I didn’t like about the new format was that it made it tougher to really blow things out for a draft party because Thursday night is a school night, as opposed to plunking yourself in front of a television at your favorite watering hole on a Saturday and surviving solely on beer and cheeseburgers for the balance of the day.

After one year of the new format, count me among the converted. The new format gives us the first round on a night when there’s probably a solid Tribe game, or an NBA or NHL playoff game on the tube to complement the draft, because let’s be honest – watching the draft alone can get a little slow at times.

With the old format which put the first three rounds on Saturday, fans were often left running on fumes by the time the second half of round two arrived. Now, round two kicks off Friday night at 6:00, giving fans a day to catch a second wind and recharge their batteries for a round that usually features more surprises than the first. Not only that, but because the draft starts at 6:00 on Friday, you can either hunker down for both rounds, or hit the town by 8:00 or so with a great chance that you’ve seen your team make at least one additional pick. Rounds four through seven take place on Saturday morning/afternoon, but only the real draft degenerates watch those rounds anyway (raises hand).

After just one year, I’m totally on board with this great new setup, and a ratings bump means that it’s likely here to stay. Only one more year until we get to do it all over again. Who do you think the Browns will take with the 32nd pick?

Tuesday, April 27

Draft Weekend Recap, Part 1

Draft weekend has come and gone, and as always it provided plenty of suspense and surprises. In part one of my recap, I will take a look at all of the Browns picks, and provide some thoughts on each.

I don’t presume to know enough to apply a letter grade to any of these gentlemen, so I’ll simply hit on some of their strengths and weaknesses, and look at how they might fit into the Browns’ plans as we prepare for the 2010 season. For your convenience, I’ve linked each player to his scouting report on DraftCountdown, and Scott Wright’s Top 255 Prospect List can be found here.

Truly “grading” picks is a little silly at this stage of the game, but I may talk a little about value, because that’s the only way we can really grade drafts at this point. Just like the fantasy drafts run by mere mortals like us, NFL teams want to get the most bang for their buck, and if they can get a player they want with a later pick that’s obviously ideal. In that regard, the Browns seem to have done alright (with one or two exceptions) which is more than we can say for some of the club’s awful drafts when they were run by a fellow whose name rhymes with “white shark.” Let’s get this party started.

Joe Haden (Round 1, #7) – CB, Florida

After Eric Berry went number five to the Chiefs, most of us were left wondering what the Browns’ backup plan would be. Haden was the early consensus pick for the Browns a couple months ago, but a slow 40 time at the combine dropped his stock. Florida’s Pro Day gave Haden an opportunity to improve his time, and by all accounts he did just that. That initial slow time is still a little worrisome, but if the Browns had questions about his speed, then they probably would have chosen Boise State’s Kyle Wilson, whom some within the organization supposedly preferred.

At the risk of exploring a tangent, let’s discuss the combine for a moment. If a guy comes out and runs a blisteringly fast time and plays a position that basically only requires him to run, then by all means, that’s important (read: Johnson, Chris). But when you’re talking about a player like Haden, there is three years of tape on him, and there’s so much more to playing corner than simply running 40 yards in a straight line in gym shorts, so I’m not going to sweat 1/10th of a second too much. The combine is an important tool because it lets teams see all of these guys up close on the same field, but some teams also get a little carried away and overvalue this glorified collection of track & field events.

It is a little ironic that we’ve come 360 degrees on Haden – after his poor combine we burnt plenty of calories trying to decrypt the Browns’ intentions, and they ended up taking Haden anyway.

This looks like a solid, if unspectacular pick. The Browns desperately needed to inject some talent into their secondary, and Haden was the top corner on most boards. I would have been happy with Jared Odrick, Rolando McClain, or Jimmy Clausen here, too.

Mostly, I’m glad the Browns passed on Texas safety Earl Thomas. Thomas climbed up lots of draft boards late, which spooks me. The pass-heavy nature of the Big 12 and the recent struggles of Texas DBs like Michael Huff left me very leery on Thomas. I was basically on the same page as our own Dave Kolonich, who penned a nice piece steering the Browns away from Thomas.

Seventh overall is a little high for a corner, and it’s the highest a cornerback has been taken since the Titans selected the ill-fated Pacman Jones back in 2005. The Browns clearly would have liked to move back a few slots, and I actually expected them to do just that, but the combination of skyrocketing rookie contracts and the perception that Russell Okung was the last of the “top tier” players available left the Browns without a trade partner. Some fans clamor for the Browns to move down and collect extra picks every year, and this should be Exhibit A as to why that’s not always a real option.

We won't know whether or not the Browns chose wisely for a few years, but I'm pleased with Haden. He might not be a lockdown corner in the mold of Darrelle Revis or Nnamdi Asomugha, but then again, few are. If Haden can help shore up a woefully depleted Browns secondary and become a solid number one corner, then the pick will be deemed a success.

Needless to say, the secondary looks much better today than it did a month ago with the additions of Sheldon Brown, Haden, and freshly drafted safeties T.J. Ward and Larry Asante. Hopefully that means we'll see much less of the Hank Poteats and Mike Furreys of the world this season (knock on wood.) Check out some Joe Haden highlights here.

T.J. Ward (Round 2, #38) – S, Oregon

Boy, did I want to hear Jimmy Clausen’s name called here, and I expect that the Browns will regret passing on the polarizing Irish signal caller. Team Walrus pulled the trigger on Ward with some big names still on the board. Clausen is one, but another is USC safety Taylor Mays.

Terry Pluto mentioned that some teams (I assume this includes the Browns) are worried that Mays may become too heavy to play safety at the next level. That seems like a legitimate concern considering that the guy is already a beefy 235 pounds. Even so, the Browns passed on several safety prospects who graded higher than Ward (Major Wright, Morgan Burnett), and there was good reason for the Browns to believe that Ward would be available for selection with one of their picks in the third round. This was probably the biggest “reach” of the Browns’ draft, and reaches are fine when they pan out. In other words, T.J. Ward better make an impact considering who else was available with that pick, otherwise Tom Heckert’s going to have some explaining to do.

I like Ward’s size (5’10”, 210 lbs. – very similar to a Steelers safety with a recognizable hairdo), and if you watch some of his highlights, you’ll see some downright violent hits. This guy could be a real thumper in run support and make opposing receivers listen for footsteps when they go over the middle. Ward also has had some knee and ankle issues in the past, and his coverage skills are a concern.

If he can stay healthy and get his coverage issues worked out, it’s fair to expect Ward to push Abe Elam and/or Mike Adams for playing time. It will be interesting to see if the Browns move Sheldon Brown to safety, where many have surmised he may fit best, or if they keep him at corner as the nickel back after Eric Wright and Joe Haden. That decision may have a big effect on how much playing time Ward sees initially.

As many have pointed out, if the Browns had taken Colt McCoy with this pick and waited to pick up Ward in the third round, it might have made fans more comfortable. While that is true, it doesn’t make Ward any more of a value pick. This looks like a risk/reward pick to me, and I probably would have gone in another direction and tried to nab Ward with one of those third rounders.

Montario Hardesty (Round 2, #59) – RB, Tennessee

The Browns traded two fifth round picks to move up 12 spots and get back into the second round to select Hardesty. I am by no means Mr. College Football, but I remember seeing bits and pieces of two or three Tennessee games, and I remember that Hardesty stood out. In addition to becoming one of the most fun names to say on roster, Hardesty looks like a really well-rounded back in his highlights, and am especially impressed with his receiving skills.

Hardesty will probably make an impact right away, and at about 6’ and 225 pounds, should provide a little thunder to complement Jerome Harrison’s lightning. Newcomer Peyton Hillis can help in that department too. If Hardesty can do a good job blocking, he may become the third down back in addition to proving relief to Harrison, and that’s where his receiving abilities might really come in handy.

Like Ward, Hardesty has had injury problems. However, that’s what you’re often looking at with second and third round running backs – players with first round talent who have one or two significant warts. Ray Rice was too small. Jamaal Charles had ball control issues. Hardesty’s warts are his injury history and a lack of true top-end speed.

I like this pick. Hardesty could have been available when the Browns made their first pick in the third round, but they liked him enough to move up for him. They must have liked him for good reasons, and he looks like a guy who can come in and contribute right away.

Colt McCoy (Round 3, #85), - QB, Texas

Rarely is a third round pick the headliner of your draft, but rarely is a third round pick the winningest quarterback in Division I history. Plenty of folks had McCoy pegged to head to the Browns in round two, but he fell into their lap with their second (they traded the first) third round pick. When Mack Brown strode onstage to announce the pick, well, let’s just say it was a bit of a spoiler.

I was not a fan of taking McCoy at the top of the second round, but the middle-late third round is a good spot for him. This is a good pick, not a great pick. McCoy fell this far for a reason, and we need to be cautious before anointing him the heir to Bernie Kosar.

We all know that McCoy is accurate, mobile, and gutsy with top intangibles. We also know that the knocks on McCoy are his size, arm strength, and numbers-friendly system. McCoy will have the luxury of learning from the example of Jake Delhomme, who has questionable skills at this point in his career, but is by all accounts a consummate professional and all-around great guy.

I would have preferred to nab Jimmy Clausen in round two, who I view as having more upside, but McCoy in the third round isn’t a bad fallback option. For what it’s worth, I’d much rather have a beer with Colt McCoy than Jimmy Clausen, and emotionally, it will be far easier to root for McCoy than it would have been to root for Clausen. (If Clausen starts making Pro Bowls and McCoy is a career backup, that might change.)

McCoy started for four seasons and clearly knows how to play the quarterback position. He is smart, a good leader, and hardworking. It remains to be seen whether or not he can start at the next level, but his floor should be a solid backup. I like backups who are smart, accurate, and well-prepared, and we can expect McCoy to be all three of those things. I also like a backup who gives cameramen an excuse to show his foxy lady friend (blond on the right) in the stands between plays.

If McCoy can become an above-average starter for the Browns, then he was a huge steal. But if he only ever becomes a good backup, or even if he fizzles entirely, all that was risked was a third round pick, and that makes him a good gamble in the third round. The fact that the Browns didn’t have to invest a premium pick or premium dollars in McCoy also means that they won’t hesitate to cut bait if it becomes clear that he isn’t the answer.

You have likely seen plenty of Colt McCoy, but if you want more, check out highlights and such here. After watching more Colt McCoy footage this weekend than I’d care to admit, I have come up with a pro comparison: Jeff Garcia. (When I say Jeff Garcia, I am omitting his year on the North Coast.) Like Garcia, McCoy is mobile, accurate, and has great instincts, but has limited arm strength. Garcia was an extremely productive pro and maximized his limited physical gifts in the west coast offense. Here’s hoping that Colt McCoy can do the same.

Shawn Lauvao (Round 3, #92) – G, Arizona State

With the exceptions of first rounders Jeff Faine, Joe Thomas, and Alex Mack, the Browns have been notoriously stingy when it comes to drafting linemen. Not surprisingly, their offensive line has been consistently mediocre to lousy. I hope that using a third round pick on Shawn Lauvao, who should compete with Floyd Womack for the starting right guard spot, represents a long-overdue paradigm shift.

Investing a one of your top three or four picks in a lineman on a regular basis can help a team build a line from within, instead of having to overpay for linemen in free agency. Not only are free agent linemen pricey, but they also have years of wear and tear on their bodies. Joints, particularly the knees, don’t really respond well to carrying around 300-plus pounds of girth, so it’s better to draft these guys early before they start breaking down.

Larry Asante (Round 5, #160) – S, Nebraska

I don’t know much about Asante, but this seems like a solid pick. Scott Wright graded Asante’s value as nearly identical to T.J. Ward, so the optimist in me says that Asante is a good bargain in the fifth round. The Cleveland fan in me resumes banging his head against the wall over the T.J. Ward pick. Asante will compete with guys like Nick Sorensen and Ray Ventrone for a roster spot as a depth DB and special teamer.

Carlton Mitchell (Round 6, #177) – WR, South Florida

I suspected the Browns would grab a receiver at some point, but I thought that they’d probably fill that need with one of their third round picks. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to see the Browns snap up Mitchell, whom many graded as a third round value. If I remember correctly Todd McShay called him the best remaining player at the time of the pick.

Mitchell has size at 6’3” and 215 pounds, blocks well, and hopefully can provide the Browns with something that resembles a deep threat. Plus, if he finds the end zone, we all know what dance he’ll bust out.

Clifton Geathers (Round 6, #186) – DE, South Carolina

Geathers gives the Browns another solid value in the sixth round (#123 on Scott Wright’s big board), and can potentially give the Browns a defensive lineman who doesn’t need the assistance of one Keith Hernandez.

Check back tomorrow for part two, which will include commentary on other teams, the new TV format, and Tim Tebow jokes.

Monday, April 26

This post will not use the phrase "Twin killing" except in the title

The Tribe dropped two out of three to division-leading Minnesota last week, a series result that should surprise absolutely nobody.

The first two games were quite similar to one another - one might say they were almost ... nope, not going to say it. The Tribe bats were virtually silent in both games, as Minnesota staked their starters to early leads and the pitching staff silenced Indians hitters en route to 5-1 and 6-0 losses.

Kevin Slowey got the better of Justin Masterson in game 1, a 5-1 Minnesota victory. Masterson walked too many people (5 in 4 innings) but worked his way out of trouble except for Minnesota's 4-run 3rd inning, which was basically the entire game. With two on and one out, Masterson induced a tailor-made double play ball to short that went right through SS Asdrubal Cabrera's legs. Masterson was rattled, walking in a run and wild-pitching in two runs (on one pitch!) before a sac fly brought in the 4th Twin tally of the inning and sealed the punchless Tribe's fate. That is, by my count, the 3rd time this year a rather avoidable error cost the Indians a ballgame. It's too bad the hitters haven't been able to compensate: Cleveland had all of five baserunners in this game, one of which came on Travis Hafner's solo home run in the 2nd.

The Indians' idea of 3 runs per game is something like: 0, 1, 8. They've been quite inconsistent (well, consistently bad) at the plate and prone to shutouts and 1-run affairs in the early going. On that note, we have game 2, a 6-0 loss at the hands of the Twins' Francisco Liriano. David Huff lacked the sharpness of his previous start, allowing 4 runs in 6 innings of work (including an unforgivable 6 walks), and, well, that's unfortunately more than enough to beat Los Indios most games so far in 2010.

But not Thursday! The Indians collected their first-ever win in brand-new Target Field with an 8-1 spanking, riding another strong start from Mitch Talbot (6 IP, 0 ER), solid relief from Los Perez (2 scoreless from Rafael, 1 scoreless from Chris), and some scoring from unlikely sources. Andy Marte's first home run of the year, a two run job in the 4th, put the Tribe up 3-0 early. After the Twinkies cut it to 3-1, the Indians tacked on three in the 6th via consecutive RBI hits from Rusty Branyan, Marte, and Louie Goodworth. While Indians pitchers kept mowing down Twin batters, the Tribe notched two more runs on a Hafner sac fly and a Branyan RBI groundout.

As we'll hopefully see from JHH shortly, this pattern of play extended itself to Oakland, where the Indians sandwiched two more shutouts (!) around a game 2 win. This is not cool.

While we're here, the Indians have five regulars hitting below .220. Lou Marson's OPS is .250.; Peralta's is .577 as he strives to win both Least Interested and Least Valuable Player in the AL this season. Goodness, we need to start scoring more runs.

Go Tribe!

Back in the driver's seat


I don't know what else to say about that stunning quarter-and-a-half of basketball that the Cavs played midgame on Sunday en route to a 121-98 thrashing of the Bulls, a win that gives Cleveland a commanding 3-1 lead in their first-round series against Chicago. As the scene shifts back to C-town for Game 5, it looks like the Bulls' season very likely will consist of just one more game.

Consider what the Cavs did: the Bulls were leading them 45-44 with 3:50 left in the 2nd quarter. With 6:19 remaining in the 3rd, the Cavs taken an 83-60 lead, piling up a 23-point advantage that they would maintain until the final buzzer. For those of you scoring at home, that's a 39-15 run, highlighted by textbook team defense, excellent ball movement on offense, and the singular talents of one LeBron James. In short, it was a startling display of team basketball ability that makes one remember why we all feel that this Cavalier team really can win the NBA championship.

As is typically the case for pro basketball, the Cavs' domination is reflected well in the box score. They shot extremely well, netting 53.2% of their shots, including 12-25 (48%) on three-balls and knocking down 20 of their final 21 foul shots. Chicago, on the other hand, was an icy 37.4%, just 4-12 from downtown. The Cavaliers were outrebounded by Chicago, 49-41 - the only really troubling statistic from the game was Chicago's unacceptable tally of 17 offensive boards. That's absurd, no matter how many bricks they were laying (a lot). Cleveland notched 21 assists versus just 14 for the Bulls, and the turnovers were roughly equal. The Cavs collected 7 blocks and 6 steals against just 2 and 1 for the Bulls; the game really just came down to far superior offensive efficiency and defensive tenacity from Cleveland.

LeBron was ridiculous in this game, slapping up a 37/12/11 line for his 5th career triple-double, requiring just 17 shots and posting an impressive +29 rating. A commanding performance. The King was deadly from deep, hitting on 6/9, including a halfcourt shot at the end of the 3rd right in Derrick Rose's face.

Other Cleveland stars included Antawn Jamison (a typically effective 24/7 and a game-high +33) and Mo Williams, who netted 19 points on just 10 shots. Anthony Parker chipped in 12 and some very nice defense, while JJ Hickson collected an efficient 10 points and some very weak defense. Delonte West also deserves credit for keeping the Cavs close with the Bulls before their explosive run put the game away.

On the Bulls' side, it was basically Joakim Noah (21 points and 20 boards) and Derrick Rose (21 points, 5 assists) - without the accuracy from Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich (combined 10-30) they enjoyed in Game 3, the Bulls simply didn't have a chance. Interestingly, Rose finished with a game-low -27, more a reflection of the Cavs' offensive prowess and the fact that he played more minutes than any other Bull than any deficiencies in his game, though the Cav guards did exploit his defense more than a few times.

Game 5 is Tuesday; time to move on.

Thursday, April 22

Plan B

Draft day is finally upon us, and there are two things on which everyone seems to agree: 1) Just about everyone would be pleased if the Browns were able to snag Eric Berry with the seventh pick, and 2) If Berry is off the board when the Browns go on the clock, nobody has a clue what Holmgren, Heckert, and company will do.

Obviously trading down becomes very attractive if Berry is gone, but it takes two to tango, and it’s probably too presumptuous to say with certainty that the Browns could pull off such a move. For our sake, let’s assume that they can’t. So the clock is ticking, and with Berry likely destined for either Kansas City or Seattle, the Browns have to go to Plan B.

Who would be the pick? The Browns have been attached to no shortage of names, with Berry the consensus pick if he’s available. But the other girls the Browns are thinking of asking to the prom include DBs Joe Haden and Earl Thomas, pass rushers Derrick Morgan and Jason Pierre-Paul, defensive linemen Jared Odrick and Dan Williams, tackles Bryan Bulaga and Trent Williams, linebacker Rolando McClain, and even running back C.J. Spiller and receiver Dez Bryant. The only thing to expect out of the Browns’ contingency plan is the unexpected.

Who would the Browns choose? If I had to lay down some greenbacks in Vegas, I’d flip a coin between Earl Thomas and Jared Odrick, and 10 minutes later I’d probably be grumbling about throwing that money away. The front office has effectively left us with little or no clue of what they have in store for us tonight, and that means that they’ve done their job.

But who should they pick, you ask? Notre Dame signal caller Jimmy Clausen. If you just spat coffee all over your keyboard, I apologize. Grab some napkins and give me a few minutes to explain.

We haven’t heard much about the Browns being interested in Clausen. Mike Holmgren commented earlier this winter that he “wished he liked him more.” Although Holmgren has been a real straight shooter with the media throughout his career, that statement seems like a colossal misstep, as it could compromise potential trade leverage.

Basically, we can take Holmgren at his word and accept this as ill-advised honesty, or read it as a ploy to make teams like the Raiders and Bills more comfortable that Clausen won’t be heading to Cleveland with the seventh pick. It is impossible to know Holmgren’s intentions, but this isn’t his first rodeo, and like he mentioned recently, everything he’s said prior to the draft has been said for a reason.

Holmgren recently stated that he does in fact like Jimmy Clausen, and that his interview with Clausen went well. Depending on where you stand, you can read that as damage control for his previous comments, an attempt to make a team that wants Clausen trade with Cleveland or trade ahead of Cleveland, or Holmgren trying to soften the fan base for potentially drafting Clausen. It may also be a code for the Canadians to start their invasion of the United States. Again, we just won’t know until tonight.

Here is why Clausen is a smart pick at number seven, and why we fans probably haven’t given him a fair shake.

Jimmy Clausen went to Notre Dame, and let’s face it: it’s really fun to hate Notre Dame. He was coached by Charlie Weis, who came across as pompous and arrogant during his time at South Bend, and looks a lot like a clean-shaven version of South Park’s Rob Reiner. It doesn’t help that Brady Quinn, who just washed out in Cleveland, was coached by the same Charlie Weis at the same polarizing university.
Jimmy Clausen’s teams simply weren’t very good, especially the abhorrent 2007 Irish. There have been rumblings about the 22-year old having leadership issues, and he’s viewed by many as selfish.

Plus, there’s just something about him, isn’t there? You can’t quite put your finger on it, but Clausen comes off as well, kind of a jerk. It doesn’t help that he has had a professional coach since his youth, and announced his intention to play for Notre Dame at the College Football Hall of Fame, where he arrived in a stretch limousine. The perception definitely exists that Clausen has been handed everything, and it’s going to be tough for him to shake.

But here’s the thing: that’s all largely perception, not necessarily reality. None of that stuff has much to do with what kind of a football player he is. Jimmy Clausen may very well be an arrogant fellow who was handed a silver spoon, but he’s also not the devil (as far as we know, he doesn't frequent Milledgeville, Georgia bars), and he’s a pretty damn good quarterback.

If Jimmy Clausen hadn’t been on the national radar as a top recruit, and hadn’t announced his commitment to Notre Dame (a school which once again, people love to hate) in such a pompous fashion, we’d look at him in a very different light.
For example, say that Clausen attended Purdue. What if this kid from Purdue threw for 3,172 yards, 25 touchdowns vs. 17 interceptions, and completed 61% of his passes as a true sophomore? Okay, I’m listening… What if that same guy followed up that sophomore season by throwing for 3,722 yards, 28 touchdowns and just 4 picks, and a 68% completion rate? I’d be pretty sold.

Consider that Clausen did put those numbers up on a lousy team that didn’t give him much support. Unlike other top prospects like Bradford, McCoy, and Tebow, Clausen played in a pro style offense, he has good size at 6-2 ½, and even if he doesn’t have a Jeff George cannon, he can still make all the throws. He was extremely accurate in college and made great strides each of his three seasons.

Clausen has almost three full years of starting experience, which has been one of the better indicators of whether top college prospects can succeed in the pros. He is fairly mobile, has had success playing for a cold weather team, and showed true grit by playing most of the 2009 season with two torn tendons in his right foot. He was unanimously voted the team captain last season, and earned a reputation for clutch play during crunch time.

Clausen definitely comes off as a little cocky, but I don’t want Mother Theresa under center; give me the guy with confidence and a little swagger. Like Tom Skerritt’s "Viper" in Top Gun, I like [arrogance] in a pilot. Besides, Clausen doesn’t strike me as all that cocky in his media appearances like this interview with Jim Rome, so I have to wonder how much of his image has been fabricated by the media following his status as the nation’s top prospect in high school.

But most importantly, the guy can simply throw the football. What I remember most about Clausen last season was seeing him effectively throw the ball to space and hit receivers while they were moving, which is no small task for college quarterbacks. He looked like the best quarterback in the country last fall, although we didn’t see much of Sam Bradford.

Chris Hutchinson and I talked with Scott Wright of during a podcast last week, and Scott actually rated Clausen as a better prospect than Sam Bradford, the likely number one pick. To be perfectly honest, I’ve flip-flopped on Clausen during the last six months enough times to make the senior Senator from Massachusetts proud, but with draft day upon us, I’m back on the bandwagon. Scott’s one of my favorite draft analysts, and for him to be that sold on Clausen bumps Jimmy up a few notches in my book. Wright isn’t alone, as Mel Kiper Jr.’s hair also rates Clausen just ahead of Sam Bradford.

Clausen might still be a little rough around the edges, but Jake Delhomme is here to be a mentor and teach by example (to teach study habits, work ethic, and leadership, not necessarily play on the field). I would much rather spend the seventh pick on Clausen, a guy with the upside to be an above-average NFL starter, than use a second round choice on a project like Tim Tebow or a vertically challenged system quarterback who can’t throw downfield like Colt McCoy.

Hopefully Eric Berry is on the board at number seven and this whole argument is rendered moot, but if he isn’t and the Browns have to use the pick, Clausen should be the guy. The league is more quarterback-driven now than ever, and you have to take a shot at getting a franchise quarterback when you have the opportunity, especially when one of Clausen’s pedigree is sitting there. It would be “swing for the fences” type of move, but if it pays off, the Browns would be set at quarterback for the first time since they chose a quarterback from Miami with the top pick in the 1985 supplemental draft.

What will Team Walrus ultimately decide? We’ll have our answer in a few long, long hours.

Wednesday, April 21

Defending the home court

I managed to schlep myself all the way back from Europe for the Cavaliers game last night, a 112-102 victory at the Q that puts them up 2-0 in their opening-round matchup against the 8th-seeded Chicago Bulls. As I watched the game, I kept thinking one thing: the Bulls are really playing well. They had generally good offensive execution, were largely keeping the Cavaliers out of the paint, and got strong performances from Joakim Noah (25 points, 13 boards) and Derrick Rose (23 points, 8 assists). It's worth noting that those players posted the Bulls' two lowest +/- ratings, -15 and -13. The Bulls outrebounded the Cavaliers after getting mauled on the boards in Game 1. They turned the ball over just 4 times to Cleveland's 11 miscues. They attempted 22 more shots than the Cavs.

And they lost by 10.

That's how you can gauge how tough the Cavs are to beat - they withstand a strong performance from a scrappy Bulls team like that and still prevail. How did they do it? I'll give you the Keys to the Game, which is like AC's Carr Facts except after the game and not just a bunch of cliches:

1) Shooting the ball
2) LeBron James
3) LeBron James shooting the ball

Really, that's what it came down to - the Cavs just flat-out lit it up as a team and that's how they won the game. They blazed to 56.3% from the field, including 50% from deep and an uncharacteristic 91.7% at the free-throw line. After Orlando pulled that garbage on us more than once in last year's postseason, it's nice to be on this side of the three-point bonanza.

Leading the charge in an MVP-caliber performance was, of course, LeBron James. I wonder if my man Tim Povtak saw that game? I've decided I'm not stopping ripping on Povtak until I feel like it, not because of any arbitrary deadline. You write something that dumb, you keep getting hammered for it. Have fun casting that MVP ballot for someone else, dummy. LeBron was inhuman last night - he netted 40 points on all of 23 shots, 16 of which found the net (2-4 from deep) and all six of his foul shots. The Bulls dared him to shoot from deep and he destroyed them by doing just that. Oh, and he also had 8 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 blocks, 1 steal and just 2 turnovers. He's too good.

Support came from some key bench guys in the form of Delonte West and Jamario Moon. West sparked the Cavs when LeBron sat, scoring 7 points, dishing out 5 assists, and posting a sparkling +12. Jamario Moon came through huge in the 4th with 12 points on 4-of-5 from long range, a team-high +14, and some high-energy play culminating in an awesome block of Cleveland nemesis Noah. Interesting that the Cavs' crunch-time lineup of James, Mo Williams, West, Moon, and Varejao featured just two starters. Anytime you're sitting Shaquille O'Neal and Antawn Jamison in the final minutes of a contested game, you must have some depth.

I expect Game 3 to look much different from this one. The Bulls are not going to score 100 points, and they're not going to control the boards and flow of play like they did last night. I also don't think they're going to win, though stranger things have happened. That the Cavs will win this series is a given at this point; the only remaining suspense is whether they do so in four or five games. Hey, if they sweep then Noah doesn't have to come back to Cleveland, a scenario in which everybody wins.

Sunday, April 18

I kind of wish we could play the White Sox every game

You can't possibly question the decidication of the FCF blog writing staff. As I type this, our editor has squestered himself in northern Europe solely to block out all distractions and focus on just Cleveland sports. That is, unless he's being forced to stay there against his will. I can think of a number of countries I would rather be stuck in, especially in April, than Norway.

During the last series recap I said that a win for Mitch Talbot over Indian Killer Mark Buehrle would shock me. Well, consider me shocked. Not only did Talbot pitch a gem, he tossed probably the best game pitched by an Indian this year, coming right on the heels of David Huff's amazing performance the night before. Who are these guys? Both games were complete games and this was something like Huff's 25th major league start and this was only Talbot's 3rd. Talbot finished having allowed just six hits, two runs, one earned (error on Shin-Soo Choo), zero walks, and two strikeouts. Granted, this is a pretty bad White Sox lineup, but again this is Mitch's third start in the big leagues. Offensively the Tribe scored six runs, all off of starter Buehrle. Choo continued his hit streak with a single and two walks. The unlikely offensive triumvirate of Lou Marson, Luis Valbuena, and Austin Kearns carried this team with Valbuena chipping in a two-run home run. Tribe (4-6) beat the White Sox (4-7) 6-2.

Saturday's game was an edge-of-your-seat affair. Friday's game was pretty well in hand throughout, but the Indians had some work to do late in the game in order to win Saturday. Jake Westbrook faced off against the up-to-this-point-struggling Jake Peavy. Both starters went at least seven innings, but with these two teams' anemic offenses, its might be hard to say it was a pitchers' duel. Both pitchers got tagged for two runs and walked three, and in the end neither got a decision. Offensively this game hinged on two Indians, and yes, Choo was one of those players. After Asdrubal Cabrera's solo home run in the bottom of the eighth tied the game at 2-2, Grady Sizemore singled, and our hero Shin-Soo Choo hit a double to score Grady and put the Indians on top 3-2. Westbrook did have eight groundball outs, so the sinker must have been doing OK. Jensen Lewis picked up his second win by working a scoreless eighth and Chris Perez got the save, though a Paul Konerko drive was barely left of the foul pole. Tribe (5-6) win 3-2.

I paid attention off and on to today's Indians game becuase the Indians jumped out to a 7-0 lead with no outs in the second inning. Mark Grudzielanek, who came into the game 1-11, snapped that 10-at-bat slump with a single that scored Grady and Choo, which followed a Cabrera double and a Cabrera scoring single by Choo all in the first frame. Moving on to the bottom of the second inning, Michael Brantley walked, Asdrubal singled, and Grady walked. Now the bases are loaded and Choo walks to the plate. Do I even have to type out what happened? Well the Indians are up 7-0 at this point and I kind of zoned out for a while and took care of some other Sunday related tasks. I can tell you Fausto Carmona was pretty good, but got into a little trouble later on. Some fellows in the bullpen pitched well such as Aaron Laffey, Joe Smith, and Chris Perez; others didn't, namely Rafael Perez and Tony Sipp. Indians move to .500 (6-6), winning 7-4.

The Indians are 2.5 games back of the Twins and 1.0 behind the Tigers in the American League Central. After dropping five straight, the Indians have now won four in a row and this might be how the rollercoaster 2010 season will look like. The edge between an Indians win and an Indians loss might be dependent on avoiding the big inning defensively and just getting a few clutch scores. The 3-2 win of Saturday is pretty much what you should expect a surprising number of Indians wins to look like.

Quick trivia: Spell checker suggestions for Grudzielanek
- Rhinelander
- Grandiloquence
- Gruesomeness
- Graceland

The Indians have tomorrow off before starting a three0game series at brand-new Target Field in Minnesota. The Indians continue on to Oakland and LA (Angels) for three-game series as well, before getting another day off to return to C-Town.

Game 1: Justin Masterson, RHP (0-1, 2.45) vs. Kevin Slowey, RHP (1-1, 3.48)
Game 2: David Huff, LHP (1-1, 1.80) vs. Francisco Liriano, LHP (1-0, 2.08)
Game 3: Mitch Talbot, RHP (1-1, 3.21) vs. Scott Baker, RHP (2-1, 3.38)

The Twins rightfully sit atop the Al Central at 9-4 and this series will be interesting given the pitching matchups and the Indians facing what could be consider an actual good team.

The Foo Fighter's "My Hero" just came up on random on my computer and I couldn't help think of Choo.

Go Tribe!

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Fun with small sample sizes

Ten Tribe games in the books. Nothing to do tonight in Oslo. Sports bars are showing soccer and billiards. Time to overanalyze!

I'm fully aware of all of the perils of doing an in-depth analysis of the 2010 Cleveland Indians after just 10 games. I know how many games are in a Major League Baseball season (it's like, more than 100). I know that these numbers will even out in the long run. I know that the early season is scrutinized far more than the rest of the season. I know that every game counts equally in the standings. Lastly I now know that it's apparently Roger Dorn Day at the ballpark. That having been said, let's have a little fun with the numbers for your Cleveland Indians.

And...10-minute delay for Internet connectivity problems. LET ME OUT OF NORWAY!!!

First things first: the Indians are 4-6. Their Pythagorean W-L is: 4-6. Good so far. Nothing happens even when you go to 3rd-order percentage; we're at 4.0 - 6.0, though the Royals and White Socks both jump us in the standings. We are exactly where we should be. BP gives us a 1/6 shot of making the postseason, lowest in the division. Yes, even lower than Kansas City.

The conventional wisdom before the season started was that the Tribe would hit the ball very well (5th in the AL in runs, projected by PECOTA), have a power-arm bullpen that could develop into a team strength, and have all sorts of question marks around the starting staff, inasmuch as it consists of a guy who hasn't pitched since 2008, a guy who hasn't pitched in a game you'd want to watch since 2007, and three guys you haven't heard of. Well, so far, the conventional wisdom has been wrong.

First, the bats. The Tribe is simply mashing American League pitching to the tune of a robust 78 OPS+, good for dead last in the AL. For some perspective, just to restate how OPS+ is measured, if we fielded a club of only league-average players, we'd be at 100%. We are 22% worse than that. Not good. Worst in the AL. Bad.

Not surprisingly, given what a strong indicator of run-scoring that OPS+ is, the Indians are next-to-last in the AL at scoring runs, plating just 3.5 per game. We're better than only the woeful 1-10 Baltimore Orioles, a club that should be 3-8 by Pythagorean W-L. I'm sure their fans can take some solace in that.

There's no mystery why the Wahoos aren't scoring runs: they aren't getting on base. Cleveland's microscopic .307 OBP is, much like their run-scoring, ahead of only the Birds among the 14-team Junior Circuit. You simply can't win games getting on base at a .307 clip. For comparison, the Spanks lead the AL with a .380 OBP, which is absurdly high. I know I put about 100 caveats at the beginning about how it's only 10 games, but this inability to get on base needs to be improved upon, and the Indians know it. We're also only 12th in home runs, ahead of only the Tigers and Mariners, both of whom play in humongous stadia. And for those of you who like easily-understood stats that have been widely debunked as indicators of run-scoring and team success, we're 14th in batting average at .216. An homage to the home area code, perhaps? If so, I would remind them that I live Downtown and my area code is 330. Just saying.

I think I've said enough about the Indians' foibles at the plate as a team; now we go in-depth at individual players. You're not going to like this.

Anyone up for some good news first? We have exactly two players above league average OPS+ (100), only one of whom is a regular. Two! I'm sure you can guess who one of them is - would you have known that the other is Austin Kearns at 136? Me neither. The other, naturally, is Big League Choo, who through 10 games, is simply a monster.

Choo's comically huge numbers include a crazy BA/OBP/OPS line of .333/.500/1.167, good for an OPS+ of 224, which is 6th in the AL. His on-base number ties him for the AL lead. He leads the club in both walks and home runs, and if I've said it once, I've said it 100 times: walks and home runs win baseball games. Speaking of which, man did we ever need that three-run game-winner that let us salvage one from the dreaded Texas Rangers. I like the way Shin-Soo Choo plays baseball. I can't seem to find his 2010 contract details; I can, however, tell you that he pulled down all of $420 300 last year, which could buy you like five meals here in Oslo.

Now for the bad news among Tribe hitters.

- Lou Marson is at -14. That's a negative number. I haven't quite wrapped my head around what the zero point means in this metric; maybe it's like degrees Fahrenheit, where zero is meaningless. Good thing MLB's silly service time rules are keeping catcher of the future Carlos Santana in Columbus (current OPS: 1.478).

- Michael Brantley is at 36. When your entire game is predicated as a speedy on-base guy, you gotta get on more than once every four at-bats.

- AstroCab is at 52. Given the 115 he put up in a full season last year, I'm not concerned about this number in the long-term.

- jHonny Peralta is at 66, looking as disinterested as one can imagine. By that I mean: as disinterested as in 2009. He's also cost us a couple of games with unforced errors over at third. Strong start for Peralta, a guy whose production we really need.

- Grady Sizemore is at 78 and has been hurt for several games. Next.

- Travis Hafner is at an uninspiring 88 (.349 OBP is good, though), Valbuena at an acceptable 93 (.290 OBP is not).

Bored yet? It's time to talk pitching. Cleveland's ERA+ stands at 105, which is exactly league-average. I'm not sure why 100 isn't the average; even with park factors, should this be normalized to 100? Anyway, considering we have the worst hitting club in the league and an exactly-average pitching staff, 4-6 doesn't seem like such a bad deal.

Anyway, much of the credit for keeping the club afloat goes to that starting staff that provoked such nervousness among fans (including me) going into the season. Look at the ERA+ of the five members of the staff:

216 Huff
121 Carmona
121 Talbot
160 Masterson
53 Westbrook

One of these things is not like the other! Westbrook's will improve substantially after having pitched seven innings of two-run ball against the White Socks thus far. Counting Jake's work so far today, Indians starters have posted an impressive 3.23 ERA thus far in the young season. Encouraging early returns, especially the work of Fausto Carmona and rather surprising back-to-back complete games from David Huff and Mitch "The Mitchman" Talbot. If those guys and Justin Masterson can put in league-average campaigns, I'll be delighted. In fact, extend that to the whole staff. If we have a league-average starting staff for all of 2010, I'll be fine with that.

One thing to be concerned about with respect to the Indians' chuckers: walks. Bases on balls have killed us this year, with Tribe hurlers having issued a league-high 47 free passes already in just 10 games. Have I mentioned already that walks and home runs win baseball games? As I type, they're down 2-1 to the Socks - any guesses as to how the first Chicago tally managed to reach base? This must end. We've also struck out just 56 opposing hitters, good for 12th in the AL. These two things make us last in the AL in K/BB, which does not portend well for the rest of the season. Weirdly, Baltimore is first in thie metric, though they're 12th in ERA+. Sounds kinda like the Oriole staff has had some hard luck this year.

As usual, the Indians' bullpen has been responsible for some real disasters. Hey, it wouldn't be Cleveland baseball without men striding out of the centerfield bullpen with giant cans of gasoline tucked under their arms and lighters in hand, ready to set fire to any and all leads. Exemplary was, of course, the crushing 9-8 loss to Detroit, a game the Tribe led 8-4 after seven frames but that the Perez Brothers (Rafael and Chris) worked overtime to throw away. Chris came on the next day to allow a hit and two walks without recording an out in a tie game in the 9th. I still think Chris Perez has the stuff to work in the back end of our 'pen, but he's tremendously inconsistent (ERA+ 48).

Bright spots in the Tribe bullpen have included Jensen Lewis (213), Joe Smith (157), Aaron Laffey (114), and...that's it.

Stragglers include Chris (48) and Rafael (50 Perez), Jamey Wright (66), and Tony Sipp (86), though reliever statistics are even more suspect owing to small sample size extrapolations than even the hitters or starters. The fact remains, though that the bullpen's 4.84 ERA is dragging down the work of the starters so far.

Well, let's check back after 40 games or so and see what's changed for the better, worse, or not at all. Ideally, we will not still be discussing the work of Lou Marson at that point. Go Tribe!

Saturday, April 17

That's how you start a series

I didn't get to watch it, but I monitored the live box score of Game 1 of the Cavaliers' opening-round series against the Chicago Bulls, a convincing 96-83 victory that quickly put to rest any concerns about rust among the well-rested Cavaliers. They jumped out to a commanding 32-18 lead after the first frame and maintained a cushion all game long, keeping the Bulls off the scoreboard enough to get the victory. It's Playoff time!

Defensively, the Cavs started out really strong, holding Chicago to a shooting percentage in the low 30's and just 18 points while having their way with them at the offensive end in the first frame. The Bulls did finish up with a 42.5% percentage for the game, probably higher than it needed to be, but overall a solid defensive effort for Cleveland. I'll take it.

One thing is apparent: Cleveland is simply too big for Chicago. Brad Miller, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson; these guys just can't handle Shaq, Z, Jamison, and Varejao. Consider that JJ Hickson started 70 games this year and played all of 40 seconds today - that's how deep and talented our frontline is. Some numbers:

- The Cavaliers outrebounded the Bulls 50-38, including a 13-7 advantage on offensive boards.

- Cleveland had a 37-22 advantage in frontcourt scoring.

- Anderson Varejao collected 15 rebounds off the bench, same as Miller, Noah, and Gibson combined.

- The Cavaliers blocked 12 Chicago shots and had just 4 rejected themselves.

The bottom line is that this series very much appears to be a mismatch, particularly up front.

So, what did NBA MVP LeBron James do after his much-publicized four games of rest that nearly destroyed the NBA? Just an efficient 24/6/5 on 19 shots and four blocked shots, good for a team-high +19 rating. I wonder if my man Tim Povtak watched that one. Antawn Jamison chipped in with a typically solid 15/10 game plus three blocks, while Mo Williams had an excellent offensive game with 19 points on just 14 shots, a playoff career-high 10 assists, and a +14. The Cavs' key players showed up bigtime today, including the welcome return of Shaq, who went 5-9 from the field for 12 points while collecting five rebounds and three blocks in 25 minutes of work. Welcome back, big man.

The Bulls actually pulled to less than 10 in the fourth quarter; with all the Cavalier dominance I've described, how'd they manage that? For one, 18 turnovers, but more importantly: Derrick Rose.

The Bulls' terrific point guard hit for 28 points on 46% shooting, as well as 10 assists and seven rebounds. This guy can play, though the gaudy offensive numbers do need to be considered in the context of Mo Williams shredding him at the other end of the floor. Elsewhere, the Bulls got 10/8 from the hard-working Noah despite being worn out by the Cavs' imposing frontline and 12/6 from the erratic-shooting Luol Deng, who should spend less time arguing with LeBron and more working on hitting a J now and then.

Cleveland fans should be very pleased with the Cavs' opener today; they came out strong, worked hard, and established clearly that they are too strong for the Bulls. They seem healthy and motivated, based on what I could glean from the box and video highlights, and poised to advance easily to the second round. I'm a lot more optimistic about their chances on Monday than I am about my own chances to board an airplane headed for Ohio.

Tim Povtak owes his readers a refund

OK, I already mentioned this bit of silliness in my last Downtown Report, but it's 1 am and I'm bored waiting for the Tribe game to kick on, so it's time to pull apart this LeBron hatchet job from Fanhouse writer Tim Povtak. It's an article of breathtaking inanity with a big 'ol helping of self-righteousness. You'll love it.

LeBron James Owes Fans a Refund
I looked you up, Povtak: "He has been covering both the league and the Magic since 1989, working previously for the Orlando Sentinel." You toad! You're a Magic fan! No wonder you've decided to write an anti-LeBron piece. Thought I wouldn't notice, eh? As a Cavalier supporter, I would never write an anti-Dwight Howard piece. :)

LeBron James today needs to take the $192,437 he is paid for each game he plays -- or doesn't play -- and divide it evenly among the 20,562 people who bought tickets to the Cavs-Magic game Sunday afternoon.
He owes them each a refund check for $9.35.

I woulda rounded up to $9.36 - he's good for it. Shouldn't the people in more expensive seats get a bigger share if we're so interested in fairness? You're right, I'm missing the point, which is that this is a totally stupid idea.

That's the least he should do for mocking every fan at the arena who paid to see him play. Cavs ownership that encouraged him should pay the rest of each ticket price, and mail those checks immediately.
Did he personally mock them? Did he wander around to each seat and rip on people? That would have been funny. Did I mention what a dumb idea this is? I can't seem to take him seriously in the first sentence of my rebuttals yet. His ideas aren't close enough to real ideas that they grab my attention enough to warrant direct response. By the way, if I had gone to this game and received a check, I would frame it.

James, with the blessing of coach Mike Brown, sat out his third consecutive game Sunday, not because he was hurt,
Stop right there. He's hurt, just not injured. Let's not pretend like he's 100%. It's a rough game. Continue...

but because he wanted to rest up for the playoffs.
This is where Povtak should point out how James has played tons of games in the past few seasons, including his summer gig with Team USA, and that this rest almost certainly figures to help the Cavs' chances at capturing that elusive first NBA Championship. I have a feeling Povtak's going in a different direction.

Joe Hardhat, who paid a day's wage three months ago to buy two good seats so his son could see his first Cavs game Sunday, deserves better treatment than this.
Oh no, we've invoked Joe Hardhat to rally support for the common man. Such Populism! Who spends an entire day's wages on a Cavaliers game? That's serious financial mismanagement. Wouldn't Hardhat buy $25 seats in Loudville? If he only makes $50 a day, he should look for a new job and try to save more instead of blowing it on Cavs games. Either way, Povtak, don't think you slipped that "day's wage" thing past me, because it's flatly wrong. Did Sarah Palin ghost-write this?

It's arrogance at the NBA's worst.
Do I have to bother pointing out the irony of Povtak calling something arrogant after this piece? You'd think the entire Cavalier team refused to take the floor, then lit cigars with $100 bills and then each took turns on the mic telling fans how they weren't as good of people as NBA players. It was actually kind of a close game, ya know.

It's why James never will earn the respect that was once given to Michael Jordan.
Not true at all. Needless invoking of Jordan. You, sir, Tim Povtak, are a hack.

Maybe James should think again about that number change to honor him.
Ha, that number change is to sell more jerseys, don't kid yourself. Maybe he can use the proceeds to refund fans for committing the unspeakable crime of being the best player on the best team in the NBA and resting in an effort to prepare himself for a championship run.

It's why he just lost my vote for NBA Most Valuable Player.
Then you should never be allowed to vote on NBA awards ever again. It's that simple. I appreciate you coming forward and admitting that you have a reasoning deficiency. I know it's not easy.

If he doesn't think it's important enough to play all 82 -- or at least try -- then he isn't good enough to be the MVP.
He played 76. Past winners: 81 (LeBron, you'll recall), 82, 78, 79, 75. Is LeBron's 76 this year really so egregious?

If stars like James think it's too taxing to play 82 games,
Quit this misleading, patronizing bullshit.

then they should offer to reduce salaries during the upcoming collective bargaining talks, and ask to play fewer games. Or set up a refund system.
Great idea - pass it along to the union. You, sir, are a genius. I take back all the "hack" comments in light of this brilliant display of business acumen.

James wants to be treated like the game's best player,
Because he is, by far.

but he doesn't want to carry the responsibility that comes with it.
Of all the NBA players who've shirked responsibility as ambassadors of the game, LeBron is a weird choice to criticize.

Fans don't buy $100 tickets to watch him sit in a nice suit, chatting up Shaquille O'Neal on the sideline. O'Neal was recovering from a broken thumb. James was stealing money.
Most tickets are way less than that - stop trying to buttress your weak points with fake economics. Plus, I think the fans watched, I don't know, the rest of the Cavaliers, who were very nearly derailing the rival Magic, who were operating at full strength. Did you see the game? And the "stealing money" thing is lame, though it would have been funny had LeBron held a bag with a big "$" on it during the game. Can Povtak not see that that money was earned by leading the Cavaliers to the league's best record? Is that really such a difficult point to grasp? Sometimes I leave at 4 on Friday if I get my week's work done early.

Forget that it's a nationally-televised game. Those people can just turn off the television, and tune in something else. Don't feel sorry for them.
OK, I won't. I watched it and rather liked it, though it's too bad we couldn't pull it out. Good effort, though.

Feel sorry for the guy in section 118, row F, seat 6 who watched Jamario Moon get introduced in the starting lineup.
After scrimping and saving for years just to be able to afford one seat, in Section 118, Row F, Seat 6, this poor fellow was subjected to the ultimate humiliation: Jamario Moon's pre-game introduction. And they served him nachos with salsa and cheese instead of double cheese like he requested! You know what? I like Jamario Moon. He had 12 points, 3 boards, and 2 steals on 5-9 shooting.

Although this happens throughout the league late in the season, that doesn't make it right. It's something the league needs to address during these CBA talks. Players are paid richly to entertain, and there is no entertainment value in seeing James smiling on the sideline.
Except the rest of the team. Basketball is a team game.

This is not like Kevin Garnett in Boston taking a night off.
Yes it is. It's exactly the same.

This is LeBron James, the center of the Cleveland universe, Mr. Miraculous, and the only player who matters when you go to watch a Cavs game.
Except the rest of the team. Basketball is a team game.

There is no debating his wonderful and unbelievable talents. It's the commitment you should question.
I can't even tell if Povtak is serious at this point. Do we actually think that LeBron James is not committed to being the best basketball player in the world and that he is not completely 100% focused on winning the NBA Championship right now? You cannot possibly question his commitment to this team. Povtak's runaway train of nonsense just went flying off the rails.

Although he likes to think he knows NBA history, he must not.
Just admire that sentence.

The greatest thing about Jordan was that he played every game he could. He loved the game, and he respected the fans, something James hasn't learned just yet.
Again with the Jordan nonsense. Jordan didn't respect anyone - he has a competitive disorder. And are we suggesting that LeBron doesn't love to play basketball? Thin ice we're skating on here.

Yes, the Cavs already had clinched the No. 1 seed through the playoffs, but that should not matter.
Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. It totally matters. That's all that matters. You should have said this much earlier in your article.

It didn't matter to Jordan, who played 82 games nine times in his career.
Who cares?

Jordan played all 82 in 1995-96, 1996-97, and 1997-98 – when the Bulls clinched early and won 72, 69 and 62 games, respectively.
So what? Did he get an extra NBA title for it? Perfect attendance certificate? This has nothing whatsoever to do with LeBron's situation. I wonder if Povtak has taken a few minutes away from worshiping Jordan and considered that maybe LeBron has some mild injuries that might benefit from some rest?

He cut back his minutes, but he never cut back his responsibility to the game and the fans.
Except for the two-year gambling suspension when the Rockets won those two titles. In all seriousness, Povtak is criticizing LeBron during an MVP season for sitting out a few games at the end, contrasting him unfavorably to a guy who decided not to play at all for two years in his prime but who somehow "never cut back his responsibility to the game." I'm speechless.

He even played all 82 in his last season, in Washington, when he wasn't very good anymore,
Is that a good thing? What if I played 82 games for an NBA team? I'm not very good, at least not by NBA standards. Can we stop talking about Michael Jordan?

when he was 40 years old. He did it because it was the right thing to do, something the Cavs forgot to tell James.
He did it because he was psycho-competitive, even when it might have benefitted him to take it easy for a bit and let someone better play. Even if it was the Wizards and they probably didn't have better players, especially with Jordan spending so much of his energy ruining Kwame Brown.

Apparently, James never watched the old school guys like Karl Malone and John Stockton in Utah,
Betcha he did.

who combined to play every game a whopping 27 times in their careers.
Awesome. Neither of them ever won an NBA title.

If the Cavs weren't so nervous about James bolting town in free agency this summer, maybe they would have reminded him.
Nonsense. This decision was made in the club's best interest.

Instead Brown has treated the end of the regular season like exhibition games. He should know better.
Not just exhibition games, but more like Harlem Globetrotters games. I almost peed my pants when Z threw that bucket of confetti at the Generals' bench. If by "know better" you mean "risk injury needlessly," then we're having a good conversation here.

James isn't the only one with normal bumps and bruises that come with an NBA season.
Let's pretend like he doesn't take far more abuse than the average player.

Magic center Dwight Howard takes more of a pounding than anyone in the league, forced to endure endless hard fouls because opponents know he can't make free throws. Howard, by contrast, is likely to play the last two games, giving him 82 for the fifth time in six years.
I bet Dewey wishes his team had clinched early so he could relax for a bit. Maybe he could work on his FT's during the break, film some ads with Barkley, take in a sermon. And the Magic suck by the way. Didn't want to get through this whole article without taking an unprovoked potshot at them!

While I'm here, I don't defend this just as a Cavaliers fan. Recall a few years ago when the Browns needed Indianapolis to win to secure a playoff spot but the Colts rested Peyton Manning and other key players because the game meant nothing to them. Even though it cost my team a shot at the postseason, I defended and still defend the move because it was the right thing for the team to do. You play to win championships. You do what your organization feels is best.

If James wants some rest, he should reduce his playing time significantly, and sit out the second half.
Because that's a lot different. He should get a hyperbaric chamber too.

It's just not fair to the paying customers, who are too often forgotten by the me-first players like James.
Are we implying that LeBron is lazy and selfish? If so, we've entered a weird Parallel Universe.

Howard isn't the only one who plays every night. Kevin Durant, who is dueling James for the scoring title, wasn't afraid to play every night.
OKC is fighting for playoff position and the scoring title is meaningless. Make some more non-points, please.

Neither was Amare Stoudemire.
Is that really where you want to go? Not only is Amare the epitome of a me-first player on the court, here are his career game-played totals
82, 55, 80, 3, 82, 79, 53, 82

There are many others.
Are there many others who are the best player in the world and play on the best team in the league?

James has yet to finish a season by playing in all 82 games, which will be a clear mark against him when he is judged against the all-time great players in NBA history.
OMG, no it won't! This assertion is completely laughable. No one will ever, for one second, hold this against LeBron. Are we sure this article isn't satire? Did I fall for a trick? Was it back-dated to April 1? LeBron has averaged over 78 games per season, consistently ranking among the league leaders in minutes played while doing so. Jordan averaged just under 73 his first seven years.

Does he really respect the game?
Absolutely. He knows that the only objective that matters is an NBA Championship, and he's giving himself and his team the best possible chance to win that for themselves and for Cavaliers fans. That's all you need to know. That answer could have saved you the trouble of writing this dumb article and me responding to it.

Did your man Jordan respect the game when he went to play minor-league baseball for two years during his prime? Are these lost years a "clear mark" against him when he's judged against the all-time great players in NBA history? I'm going to go ahead and say no, since you omitted it from your lovefest and Jordan is universally acknowledged as the GOAT. If LeBron keeps up this production at ~78 games a season and wins a few titles, and someone actually brings up as a negative that he never hit 82 in a year, that person is completely insane.

The Cavs finish the regular season Wednesday in Atlanta. If he is healthy, James owes it to the NBA to be in uniform.
Nope, he sure doesn't. For what it's worth, Atlanta is sitting four of its starters. Are you planning a piece to hate on Joe Johnson? Now, if LeBron sits out the Playoff opener (the Cavs open at home because they have the NBA's best record), then we've got a complaint. I think he'll suit up.