30 November 2007

Andrei is the key to Jazz success

Previewing tonight's Jazz game vs. L.A., I made the following predictions:

Kobe will go for 45 and not involve the rest of his team. They'll stop cutting and setting picks and doing the stuff that makes the Lakers so dangerous.

Jazz will execute as a team, Deron will have 12+ assists, Boozer will have another double-double and Brewer will rack up six fouls guarding Kobe.

Jazz by 8.

I was wrong about pretty much everything.

I think Kobe did a good job of involving the team... he scored 28 while players like Farmar and Bynum got plenty of touches, and the team as a whole shot over 44% for the game and scored 96 points.

The problem for the Lakers tonight was that the Jazz scrubs stepped up. Boozer sat out (something that was a game-time decision) and Okur didn't dress because of back spasms. The Lakers jumped out to an early lead and I figured the Jazz were in for a long night.

Then guys like Harpring, Millsap and Fesenko showed up. Harp shot 4-4 from the field and ended up with 12 points and 8 rebounds. Millsap filled in admirably for Boozer, scoring 20 points and pulling down 9 boards in 35 minutes. Even our Ukranian friend Fesenko, in his first NBA game, contributed well, scoring six points and grabbing eight rebounds in only 17 minutes.

Fesenko's play tonight was far better than what Collins has been giving the Jazz this season. Here's hoping the Jazz don't send Fes back to the Developmental League in Orem tomorrow. If he can get good minutes this season, he can be a solid interior defender for the team.

(Maybe the Jazz can trade Collins to the Nets for a draft pick... who wouldn't want both the Collins brothers shoring up their frontcourt?)

But the real reason for the Utah's 120-96 win over the Lakers was Kirilenko.

For whatever reason, Andrei has morphed back into AK-47 of old... the guy who carried the Jazz during 40-win seasons, putting up near-triple-doubles on a regular basis, directing the offense, dominating on defense, and generally upping the energy level of the team by 30-40% every game.

Then Deron became one of the top-five point guards in the league, Boozer and Okur joined the team and AK found himself the 4th option. His production fell off, and he became vocal about wanting a trade. Many sports writers theorized that AK was unhappy about not getting shots in the offense and accused him of being selfish. People saw Andrei as valuing his own stats over team wins. This all came to a head last summer after Andrei played for the Russian national team in the European championships. Russia beat Spain in the final game to win the tournament, and Andre was named MVP. Speaking to reporters, AK stated he wanted to stay in Russia and opt out of his contract with the Jazz.

This drew a lot of ire from Jazz fans, some of which openly wanted Andrei to go in order for the Jazz to free up salary-cap room and make room for a solid shooting guard.

Nothing was resolved between Andrei and the Jazz management, at least not publicly. Fans worried that Andrei would end up riding the bench while costing the Jazz $167,187.50 a game.

Jazz owner Larry Miller did state that he felt coach Jerry Sloan could stand to be nicer to his players. Maybe somehow this influenced Jerry to hug Andrei after every practice and tell him he loved him. Maybe Boozer offered to mow Andrei's lawn every week if Kirilenko got more than five triple-doubles on the season. Maybe Andrei was visited by the ghost of his dead grandmother who told him to put up or shut up.

Whatever happened, Andrei is back. He's increased his points, assists, rebounds and blocks per game. He's back to recording near-triple-doubles on a regular basis, filling the stat sheet tonight with 20 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists, six steals and four blocks with no turnovers.

Can't do much better than that. One of his many great plays against the Lakers:

In the third quarter, Andrei found himself in the unenviable position of having to stop Kobe in the open court. One-on-one, Kobe is nearly impossible to stop. Kobe coming at you with a full head of steam when there are no help defenders is a nightmare for any defensive specialist in the league. AK-47 managed to force Kobe to the left side of the hoop and block his layup attempt off the backboard. Very impressive.

The Jazz made the Western Conference Finals last year. I think they can get farther this year. Why? First, the contributions of Brewer and Fesenko. Brewer got no playing time in the playoffs last year and Fesenko is a rookie. If they both continue to improve over the course of the season, they'll be big factors in May.

And with Andrei creating plays on offense and havoc on defense, Deron, Carlos and Mehmet will have less pressure to carry the team by themselves.

If the Jazz don't make the NBA Finals this year, they will in 2009. Mark it down.

Murtha says the surge in Iraq is working

Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) has recently returned from a trip to Iraq and reports that President Bush's "surge" (the sending of 30,000 additional troops to Iraq earlier this year) is working. Violence is down throughout the country, though infighting among Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish factions are still hindering political progress.

It's interesting to note that Murtha has been one of the Iraq war's most outspoken critics for years now. For him to make statements like these is almost mind-blowing.

A quote from the above link:

But Pelosi, who is scheduled to speak to a Democratic National Committee event in Virginia on Friday, will surely face tough questions from reporters regarding Murtha's statement on the surge.

"This could be a real headache for us," said one top House Democratic aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "Pelosi is going to be furious."

I'm concerned about how it seems good news in Iraq is bad news for certain Democrats. Is political power the only important thing to them? Why else would their own country's failures please them?

I believe if the shoe were on the other foot, and a Democrat was in the White House and involved in the same Iraq war, many Republicans would hope for failure in this conflict, as well.

It's a discouraging thought.

29 November 2007

My first child's name will be Dwight

Dwight Howard is the latest dominant center in the NBA. At 21 years old, I'd take him over any 5 in the league. The kid is averaging 23 points and 14 rebounds a game and almost three blocks a game. Orlando is 14-3, and have beaten teams such as San Antonio and Boston on the way.

Howard is unstoppable down low, and Jameer Nelson and Rashard Lewis have the luxury of being able to throw the ball towards the rim and have Dwight throw it down. I think he had about eight alley-oops last night vs. Seattle.

The one weakness in his game, like Shaq and Duncan, is free throws. He's shooting a career-high 62% from the line on the season, which tends to lower his fantasy basketball value a bit. But thanks to the number of dunks he gets, he's shooting a career-high 61% from the field, as well. If I were an NBA coach, I'd take that kind of efficiency on the court in exchange for horrible stats from the line.

I admit to having a huge man-crush on this guy. And I am not ashamed.

Barring injury, he's on the fast track to becoming one of all-time greats in the NBA.

The Rexburg wind is back

The Rexburg wind made its return to the city a couple days ago. It's cold enough up here as is; the high tomorrow is supposed to be 27 degrees Fahrenheit, and any time your high is below freezing, you're in for a good time.

But then we add the wind. A solid 10 mph wind drops the "feels like" temperature a good 5-10 degrees, and sometimes the wind gets as high as 20 mph.

At least this morning there was a light dusting of snow on my car. Snow is much easier to clear than a 1/10th of an inch layer of ice on the windshield.

27 November 2007

Ricky's out again

After hyping Ricky Williams' return to the NFL yesterday, I'm embarrassed at how quickly Ricky went down during the Dolphin's 3-0 loss to Pittsburgh. On his fifth carry of the night, Williams tore a chest muscle and is done for the season .

Well that was anticlimactic.

In other NFL news, Redskins safety Sean Taylor died today after being shot during what appears to be a home invasion. As much as some of us tend to see the NFL as being filled with thugs waving guns around all the time, it's sobering to see a player actually die from gunshot wounds.

Here's hoping Taylor's family can overcome this tragedy. ESPN is wondering how the Redskins organization will cope with the loss of their talented safety, but in my opinion, this doesn't matter much. As much as I love sports, even I can occasionally recognize that they are not that important in the big picture.

Christopher Hitchens, columnist and well-known atheist, wrote an article demanding Mitt Romney explain his faith. Hitchens writes with his typical amount of vitriol... I imagine him foaming at the mouth while typing about how Romney's family is part of "the dynastic leadership of the mad cult invented by the convicted fraud Joseph Smith."


Overlooking Hitchens' obvious biases, I think he makes some decent points. He is correct in stating that Romney needs to assure America that he won't be taking direct orders from Salt Lake if elected. JFK, Jr. did it and America was appeased.

I also believe Clinton, Obama and Giuliani need to explain where they stand on religion as well if we demand it of Romney.

Hitchens is dead wrong, however, in his claim that we claim that out "leadership is prophetic and inspired and that its rulings take precedence over any human law."

Do you have any examples of that, Mr. Hitchens? Because I've been a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints all my life and haven't seen any situation where the prophet has told me to break the law of the land.

I believe we'll only see more articles of this type as Romney grows in prominence. Polls show him leading in key primary states like Iowa, New Hampshire and Michigan. I'm not sure he can overcome the prejudices Southern Christians have against Mormons and gain the Republican nomination, but if so, I believe he can win versus anyone the Democrats put out there.

The thought of Southern Baptists being forced to choose between a Mormon and a Hillary makes me laugh.

Jazz fall to the Knicks

The Jazz have been nothing if not inconsistent this season. While their overall record of 10-5 is decent, losing to teams like Sacramento and Cleveland is discouraging. This latest loss to the Knicks (4-9) last night underscores the weaknesses of this Jazz team.

First, the Jazz have little interior defense. Zach Randolph went off for 25 and 14, shooting 11-15 from the field. I realize Randolph is a significant talent in the post, but when he's playing against Boozer and Okur down low, he's nearly unstoppable. I love Carlos, but his vertical is pathetic and he can barely challenge shots on defense. Millsap is another option to defend down low, but it seems he's better at rebounding than playing defense at the rim.

Second, while the Jazz starters did well (with the exception of Okur, who's been off all season), the bench stunk it up. Harpring shot 2-8, Price 0-4. The Jazz also shot 2-15 from the 3-point line. It's hard to win when you can't hit from the outside.

An old roommate of mine posed this question to me: If you had to choose between a defensive center like a Dalembert and Okur, who do you go with? And honestly, my answer is the defensive center. Okur is a scorer, and the Jazz have plenty of those. Deron and Boozer can go for 25 on any night, and Brewer is good for 15 or so. Andrei, Millsap, Harpring, and Almond (hopefully) can fill the balance of what's needed. What the team needs to improve on is stopping the other guys.

I think the Jazz will be fine, but to push the team to championship level, they need a better defensive presence in the middle. We'll see if the Jazz make that move.

26 November 2007

BYU and the BCS

For starters, I hate the BCS. It's a bogus system set up to keep all the money from college football among certain conferences that consider themselves elite.

While I agree that the SEC and PAC-10 are generally better than the MWC and WAC, for example, it's unfair to shut out teams because they aren't in the club. The millions of dollars teams like Baylor (3-9) get merely for being included in a BCS conference only makes me less happy with the system.

The new BCS rules do help to include these types of teams, but my main objection here is that I think there should be a playoff for college football, but that's a different post.

Anyway, after BYU's win over Utah, there has been a lot of talk on cougarboard.com about the chances that BYU will go to a BCS bowl. People have all sorts of theories that require several ranked teams to lose. One post states that if Boston College, Hawaii, Tennessee, Oregon, USC, and Arizona lose, BYU is in.


In my opinion, the Tulsa game was huge. If the Cougars had defeated the Golden Hurricanes, they would be playing Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl or whatever. But as it stands, Tulsa's QB tore the BYU secondary apart and that was that. No BCS for BYU.

And honestly, I'm fine with that. I like the direction this team is headed, but I think the Cougars would get manhandled against an LSU or Virginia Tech.

2008 and 2009, on the other hand... I'm excited to see what this team can do with a senior-laden offense. Unga, Hall, Pitta, Collie and Jorgensen with another year of experience?

BCS (and the $6 million payout) here we come!

Ricky's back!

Ricky Williams will be starting for the Miami Dolphins tonight in their game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football.

Oh boy.

Everyone is familiar with Ricky's continuing battle with the NFL drug-use policies; I've never understood why it's so hard for Williams to choose between a lucrative career playing football and smoking dope. "Ricky!" I want to tell him. "Play football for a few years, earn a few tens of millions of dollars, retire, then smoke all the pot you want!"

But Ricky was unable to make that choice until it was too late. After failing multiple drug tests and admitting to frequent marijuana use, Ricky left the league to smoke pot in countries like Nepal.

But Ricky found that a life of getting high and no income was difficult, and soon found himself playing in the Canadian Football league. Ricky loved playing in Canada. "Up here, I can play offense, defense, special teams. I can do everything. I can block, play tight end, running back, receiver — even play the line. The NFL is so structured — 'You do this.' Here I can do so much."

Nevertheless, Ricky applied for reinstatement into the NFL and was allowed back in, I'm assuming under strict and frequent drug-testing standards.

If Williams loved Canadian football so much, why return? My guess is the money. Only a few CFL players make over the NFL minimum salary of $285,000 a year.

It will be interesting to see how Ricky does in his return the NFL. As an added bonus, I'll also be watching Dolphins QB and past BYU great John Beck in his MNF debut.

Go Phins!

The Fate of Africa

Ever since spending a couple years in Africa, I've been interested in knowing how things are going over there. This is pretty tough, as there are over 50 countries and 900 million people to keep track of.

In watching the news from Africa, it's pretty obvious that most of the continent is having a difficult time. Economies are bad, civil wars are prevalent, and many governments are either corrupt or incompetent. This made me wonder why conditions are so poor there when living standards are rising in so many other parts of the world.

So I signed up for an African History class here at BYU-Idaho, and it's been great. The professor assigned us to read The Fate of Africa, an exhaustive historical record of Africa's nations from around 1960, when many African nations gained their independence, to the present day.

It's tragic to see how bright the future was for many of these countries when they were released from colonial rule. Ghana, Nigeria, Chad, Kenya and Angola are among nations that had good bases for a strong economy and solid infrastructure.

But then a combination of factors led to the downfall of almost every single one of these countries:

  1. African presidents, once elected or appointed, refused to leave office. With only two exceptions, every African leader transformed into a dictator or tyrant, establishing one-party rule and massing as much wealth as he could. Several were assassinated or overthrown in coups, but peaceful transitions of power have been extraordinarily rare.
  2. African countries became free at a time when communism and socialism were hot. Russia was seen as a beacon of progress, and Soviet agents were constantly trying to gain influence in Africa, as were Western powers. Several nations tried nationalizing major companies and industries and others fully embraced Communist doctrines, going so far as to put statues of Marx and Lenin in their cities. In all instances, these systems of government failed. The millions of Ethiopians who died of starvation in the 80's have these policies (and other factors such as their president ignoring drought conditions) to thank for their demise.
  3. Countries such as England, France, and Germany did little to help African nations transition from colonialism to self-rule. In many cases, those Africans who filled governmental positions had limited training and little, if any, experience.
While Africa has experienced a few bad decades as of late, things are looking up in many places. With the assistance of the World Bank and independent governments from both the East and West, nations are allowing multi-party politics, capitalism is flourishing, and the standard of living is increasing. Later posts will focus on individual examples of how Africa is progressing.

25 November 2007


I love BYU football. Not much else to it... I come from a long line of BYU fans on both sides of the family, stretching back to when grandpa George scored the winning touchdown against Utah in 1942.

Admittedly I wasn't interested in football until I was 13 or so, about the same time BYU went 14-1 and beat Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl. Ever since then, I've watched or attended every football game (with the exception of Notre Dame 2005... I was married that day and still managed to catch some of the third quarter).

The past decade of my BYU-fanhood also coincides with intense and close games between BYU and its rival, Utah. Since 1996, when BYU thumped Utah 37-17, no game has been decided by more than seven points (with the exception of 2004, when an Alex Smith-led Utah clobbered BYU 52-21).

Yesterday's Holy War didn't disappoint in this regard. While more of a defensive battle than I expected, the game was nail-bitingly close from start to finish. BYU outgained Utah on offense 424 yards to 244, but turnovers by both clubs kept the final score low. The only two touchdowns of the game came in the last two minutes.

The way BYU was able to go 85 yards in less than a minute to score when they had struggled to get into the endzone all game was impressive. If Harvey Unga doesn't win the Freshman of the Year award for the MWC it'll be a tragedy. He was the offense for BYU for most of the game.

But the best part of the victory was how the Cougars ripped the heart out of Utah just like last year. I imagine these close losses are much more difficult to take than blowouts, but I'd have to ask my friend Stuart about that one. It appears he posted something about the game on Saturday, but then deleted it after further review.

Bottom line, good win, Cougs. Now take care of business against San Diego this week and get it done against Cal or Oregon State or whoever you face in the Vegas Bowl.

Fun time to root for the Y.

Hopping on the bandwagon

A couple of weeks ago, my little sister Amy set up a blog. It was then I realized that everyone on the planet was blogging but me. It usually takes me a while to catch up to what is cool; my wife and I started using a DVR about two months ago, and it's not even a TIVO.

So here I am.

I apologize in advance; this won't be a very focused blog. While I notice that most of my favorites are topic-specific (entertainment, sports, comic strip commentary), I can't limit myself to just one subject to write on because I know I'd cheat and post about other stuff in the end.

This means I'll be ranting on everything from BYU sports to the price of gas to Hillary Clinton to the NFL and NBA to how cold it is outside. And believe me, it's cold.

I suppose a positive of this method is that if you don't like what I post about one day, tomorrow it'll be about something entirely different. Like the DVD's in the bargain bin at Blockbuster.

So welcome to the blog. Please take off your shoes at the door and Mandi asks that you don't use the good china for nachos.