“April showers bring May flowers.” – Mr. Koenig, my high school history teacher and former mayor of the Agoura Hills.
It’s late April, and we are quickly approaching the best time of the year to be a sports fan. NBA playoffs, soccer league & tournament conclusions, the Monaco & Turkish Grand Prix, the Tour of California for the first time in the month of May, and for those who care enough, hockey playoffs and the start of baseball season. The 2010 sporting season bloom will be particularly special for a number of reasons, but which one will stand out as the most memorable? Here’s what(and who) I’ll be watching:
King James & his L-Train posse
Lebron is objectively the best player in the NBA today, and he could very well be the G.O.A.T. He can affect every aspect of the game, and his own game is starting to reach its peak. His Cavs first round matchup with the Bulls is a small gift from the hoops gods, although there’s realistically no chance the Bulls will advance. But it’s still the best first round series worth watching. Lebron has already scored 37, 40 and 39 in the last three games, and it’s possible he could have a 50-10-10 game real soon. Derrick Rose & Co. will put up a good fight, but in the end they’re just men amongst a King. Witness.
Kobe & Pau Gasol’s power struggle
If the Lakers are going to repeat this year, it’s Gasol, and not Kobe, who needs to be rock for the team this year. Kobe will always be the main attraction in LA, but you can already see that he’s starting to age and break down a little. Kobe has been taking some questionable shots lately, which he tends to do when he wants to assert his control and leadership over the offense. Gasol has been the more consistent and disciplined player this year on both sides of the ball, and Kobe should acknowledge this. But he won’t, we know that. And now Kobe has to deal with scoring phenom Kevin Durant and an electric group of young talents, including fellow Bruin Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green, and rookie reserve James Harden. The Thunder trounced the World Champs 110-89 in Game 4, and it seems quite possible that this series could go to game seven, and could come down to a single play. But Kobe has plenty of help around him, he just needs to use it. Except for Fisher, the starting five is good enough to all take turns anchoring the offense, and Kobe should let everyone do what they do best. Feed Bynum in the post, run picks and screens with Gasol, kick it out to Artest and Fisher occasionally, and just run the offense, Black Mamba. Like Phil says, triangle.
Chelsea’s reascendancy in English soccer
You know the words, “Blue is the color…” Chelsea just trounced Stoke City 7-0 to maintain their 1 point lead over Man U in the Premier League. Chelsea is also set to defend their FA Cup title against Portsmouth on May 15. If the Blues manage to pull off their first ever domestic double, then they will have redeemed what seemed like just weeks earlier a lost season. Next week’s match against Liverpool is the final major test, will we rise to occasion?
Another epic Barca comeback?
So Barca got outplayed and outscored 3-1 in the first leg of their Champions League semifinal against Inter. It was startling to see the Barca machine get picked apart and outplayed for the better part of 90 minutes. But do I expect to see them to put on a show when they face off again back at Camp Nou? Absolutely, because that’s what they’ve done in every big match the past two seasons. But really all I care about is being entertained.
Jenson Button, the new #1 at McLaren
Button just won his second race of the season at the Chinese GP with a master class demonstration of managing a wet race from the front. Many pundits, including the almost always wrong Eddie Jordan, predicted that Button’s decision to move to McLaren would be an egregious mistake by the current world champion, but Button has silenced his critics with some inspired yet calculating drives. Lewis Hamilton has been equally, if not more, electric behind the wheel, yet you get the sense he’s sightly unnerved by his teammate’s early success. We could see a repeat of 2007, when Hamilton and double world champion Fernando Alonso fought out a bitter intra-team rivalry, which concluded with both McLaren drivers missing out on the Drivers championship by one point to Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen. But it’s 2010 now, Raikkonen is out of F1, Alonso took over his seat at Ferrari, and Button and Hamilton are the two most recent world champions. Button and Hamilton have repeatedly voiced their respect and admiration for each other, but it’s evident both are focused on asserting their supremacy within the team. So far, the advantage goes to Button, who’s won two races already to Hamilton’s zero. The prospect of an entire season of Brit on Brit racing action makes me giddy, and one can only dream of Button and Hamilton’s girlfriends Jessica Michibata and Nicole Scherzinger having to coyly sit next to each other in the paddocks as their boytoys duke it out on the track.
Personally, I think Button takes it yet again, but I think it’s safe to say there are no losers in this contest.
Michael Schumacher’s last stand?
The comeback of Michael Schumacher to F1 was hailed in the racing community as the return of the Master to his domain. Think Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, or Lance Armstrong. His return, however, has been anything but a procession of race wins. He’s consistently struggled all season to match the pace of his promising young teammate Nico Rosberg, and he currently stands in tenth place in the Drivers championship. Mercedes recently announced they plan to unveil a redeveloped Mercedes W01 that they hope will better suit Michael’s driving style. If it works, then Schumi could be the driver to watch for the rest of the season. If it doesn’t, then it’s possible that Michael will re-retire at this season’s end, despite his three year contract to drive for Mercedes. If he does prematurely re-exit F1, which would likely be for good this time, what kind of damage will he suffer to his legacy? Would it reopen the discussion topic of who is greatest F1 driver of all time? I say no, I refuse to say no, but only time will tell. Clearly the heat is on the German, will he wilt under the pressure or rise above it and reaasert his reign over the F1 universe?