Series Previews: Giants and Clippers and Stars (Oh My)
by Mark T.R. Donohue
The Rockies play the division-leading Giants in three games at home starting tonight, but I think I already went over most of what you need to know about this series in passing yesterday. Watch out for Moises Alou. If Barry Bonds plays, people will boo him. I'm probably going to go to the game tonight because it's the Todd Helton t-shirt giveaway date. If there's anything I need more of, it's articles of clothing with other people's names on the back. I'll be in the right-field upper deck in my purple #17 jersey if you need anything.
Two of Denver's somewhat more successful pro sports franchises begin first-round playoff series this weekend. Tonight will be my fourth Rockies game attended in 2006, not including the spring training games I went to this year. I went to two NBA games and two NHL games all season. I saw a Bulls-Cavs game in Chicago and a Nuggets-Bulls game in Denver. My hockey games were Avs-Stars early in the season and Ducks-Coyotes while I was Phoenix. I'm honestly too fixated on baseball to develop any sort of expertise in the winter sports, and as I've disclosed and been ridiculed for before, my second-favorite sport is English soccer. Being an American soccer fan is sort of quixotic but also very relaxing. The scores are never on ESPNews or anywhere accessible on the Internet so you're free to TiVo games and watch them at your leisure. Most of the folks playing FIFA '06 on XBox Live are European and extremely polite even when they're handing you your ass. Actually, the Canadians playing the EA hockey game are pretty low-key as well, but who wants to get beat by a Canadian? Pretty decent domestic season for my side, Liverpool, who will be back in Europe next year and have a decent chance to claim major hardware for the second campaign in a row assuming they can get by Chelsea in the FA Cup semis tomorrow. (The best thing about being an American soccer fan, of course, is getting to write sentences like that knowing that the vast majority of addled baseball fans reading this site will have no idea what it is I'm going on about.)
The Avalanche meet the Stars in a 2 vs. 7 Western Conference series and the Nuggets match up with the L.A. Clippers in a 3-6 showdown. In my limited exposure to the Avs this year, I've found the team more endearing than the Yankee-like All-Star teams Colorado fielded pre-salary cap, but also not quite so good. The Avs are very good on special teams thanks to Joe Sakic and Rob Blake, but they only have one reliable scoring line and have been hard-hit by the injury bug. What really dooms them is the peculiar decision management made several weeks ago to cut bait on goalie David Aebischer and bring in Jose Theodore, who was barely healthy long enough to learn where the home locker room is located at the Pepsi Center. The Stars have answers for Sakic and Blake in Mike Modano and Sergei Zubov, and they pose a question the Avs can't respond to with Marty Turco. I like the Stars in six, with my apologies to the many Avs diehards out there who are Rockies fans as well.
I have followed the Nuggets a little more closely this year, but my basketball loyalties still lie largely with the Chicago Bulls, who are probably the least talented team in the NBA playoffs this year. (It's probably not a coincidence that the two Chicago teams I continue to root for are the ones that won championships while I was living in Illinois. And the one I'm most fiercely devoted to is the one that provided my first concrete sports memory, of William "The Refrigerator" Perry awkwardly spiking the football in the end zone during Super Bowl XX. I'll wear a Nuggets hat or even a Carmelo jersey to a game assuming they're not playing the Bulls, but I'll be cold and dead in the ground before I betray the legacy of Ditka by rooting for or even acknowledging the Broncos.) Anyway, the Nuggets like the Bulls have a distinct lack of interior beef, which will be a huge disadvantage against MVP candidate Elton Brand and the Clippers. I think L.A. will win in 5, but I do want to take a minute before his season ends to recognize the development of Carmelo Anthony. 'Melo isn't a ridiculous physical specimen like his draftmates LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. In fact he's a little bit chunky, which is kind of endearing. But sometime between his dreadful rookie-season playoff performance and this year's All-Star Break, Anthony morphed into an absolute assassin at the end of games. He's a legitimately great player and he deserves better than a team whose second-most reliable scorer is Earl Boykins. If only Kenyon Martin, Marcus Camby, or Nene could stay healthy long enough so that Denver could trade them.
As for the Rockies and the Giants, my guess is that Colorado takes two of three, with the reasoning being that they have to win a home series one of these days. Having Aaron Cook and Jason Jennings pitching helps. I'm cautiously optimistic about Jeff Francis finding his footing in his next start, too.