After James Queally’s narrow victory in the first round of the semifinals, Staff Writer Brandon Lee, Correspondent Andrew Amadeo and WTSR Sports Director Mike Leatherwood will compete for the two remaining slots in the finals. Staff Writer Michael O’Donnell has concocted a fresh batch of questions about Chien-Ming Wang’s early-season woes, who can upset the Lakers or the Cavaliers and who will hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup.
1. Chien-Ming Wang of the New York Yankees has had three terrible starts as the Yankees No. 2 starter. Is he just having a few bad games, or is he ruining the Bronx Bombers’ chance for a World Series title?
BL: Puhhhhlease. It’s the beginning of the season. Wang missed most of last season with a freak injury and just needs some time to get his mechanics and his confidence right. Wang has been so consistent as a Yankee and hasn’t really suffered through any hardships. This will test him mentally, but he’ll be OK in the end. Cliff Lee was sent down to the minors in 2007 and won the Cy Young award in 2008. However, Lee suffered an abdominal injury in 2007, while Wang is perfectly healthy. Wang’s turn should be skipped so he can work on his mechanics with Yankees pitching coach Dave Eiland. Everything will be fine, and if not, the Yankees can call up Phil Hughes to take Wang’s place temporarily.
ML: Even though Chien-Ming Wang has gotten off to a slow start this season, there is no way you can say the Yankees are screwed. First of all, they have plenty of starting pitching around Wang. Sabathia has looked good since his awful first start and AJ Burnett has been Cy Young-worthy in his first couple of starts. Even though he’s 36 years old, Andy Pettitte has been a nice surprise, and Joba is Joba. Also, we have seen this before with great pitchers. If you remember CC Sabathia last year got off to a horrid start then came back and almost won the Cy Young. The Yankees are fine.
AA: This is no cause for concern. I understand Wang has had three terrible starts to open up the season, but he’ll be fine. He is a top pitcher in the major leagues and has been for the past four years with records of 8-2 and 8-5 in his two half seasons, and 19-6 and 19-7 in his full seasons. His ERA is consistently under four and his WHIP is in the 1.3 range. He just came back from a season-ending surgery from last year and is trying to get back to top form again. As for the Yankees’ chances for a World Series title, they rest in a lot of other things other than Wang’s pitching even though that still is a piece of the puzzle. They will rely more on Sabathia, Burnett, Teixeira, their young outfield and yes, Alex Rodriguez’s health, if they plan on winning a championship.
MO: Brandon nabs the 3 for citing Cliff Lee’s turnaround. Andrew gets the 2 for mentioning Wang’s surgery from last season, which could very well be lingering in some form. His stats are important as well, but regurgitating stats is simply known as stat vomit. Leatherwood, you pretty much told us who the Yankees have in their rotation. One point.
2. LeBron James vs. Kobe Bryant seems to be the foregone conclusion for the 2009 NBA Finals. Is there any way that this won’t happen? Support your claim.
BL: I’m pretty sure I looked up at the sky last night and saw a constellation of LeBron and Kobe battling it out. It’s in the stars. It’s destiny. Both teams sport the top-two players in the league and have superior teams compared to everyone else in the playoffs. The Lakers have the better starting lineup and low-post scoring, while the Cavaliers have better defense and a better bench. The Lakers will destroy the Western Conference, obviously led by Kobe, but perhaps the biggest impact will be the play of its twin towers, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. LeBron has become the leader of the Cavs and has created amazing team chemistry. The Cavs are playing great team ball with LeBron still getting his stats, but there is no stronger and faster physical presence in the league than King James. He’ll take his team to the Finals.
ML: I definitely think the Cleveland Cavaliers are a lock to make the NBA Finals. The only teams that could challenge them in the East are the Celtics and the Magic. I don’t believe the Celtics can get past Cleveland in the East without Kevin Garnett and the Magic just don’t have a defensive matchup for LeBron. The Cavs are way too talented all around and I don’t think Boston or Orlando can keep up. They are in. On the other hand, the Lakers have a much tougher road. First, they have to get through the Jazz who play so tough at home. If they could steal a game or two in L.A. they can easily win this series. Also, the West as a whole has so many more quality teams that could threaten the Lakers. I like Cleveland’s chances, but put the Lakers on upset alert.
AA: LeBron James will be in the NBA Finals. There is no way around it. Dwayne Wade doesn’t have enough help. The Pistons are nowhere near what they once were. The Celtics are playing without their big ticket. The Magic lost their chance when Jameer Nelson went down. As for the West, it’s different. My prediction is that we will see the Nuggets in the Finals opposite James. Chauncey Billups was the piece that transformed them from a good team to a great team. Although Kobe is Kobe, I see them falling out to the Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals. Maybyner “Nené” Hilario, Kenyon Martin and Chris Anderson will handle Gasol, an oft-injured Bynum and Lamar Odom, while Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey will take care of Kobe and Derek Fisher. The jinx is still on for Kobe. He can’t win without Shaq. James takes the title home for Cleveland in six.
MO: This one was very close, but I have to give it to Brandon. Mr. Lee gets the trey for specifically mentioning LeBron and the Cavs chemistry, as we had not seen that before. Leatherwood, you get the 2 for your solid answer of the good teams in the West, but there is no way the Jazz beat the Lakers. Andrew, you did mention the parody in the West as well. Uno.
3. I actually like hockey, and it’s playoff time in the NHL. Who’s coming out of the East and the West? It seems to be anyone’s playoffs.
BL: So far, the Rangers and Canucks stand out to me to represent the East and West, respectively. Henrik Lundqvist has been amazing in the playoffs so far and has come up in clutch situations. As much as I hate to say it, Sean Avery will be important in the playoffs because he will irritate the other teams and take them out of their games as an instigator and an enforcer. The Rangers have a lot of high-priced, playoff-experienced veterans who know what it takes to win, i.e. Scott Gomez and Chris Drury. However, 24-year-old forward Ryan Callahan will be the X-factor in the playoffs. Although very young, Callahan has been the clutch goal-scorer for the Blueshirts, and if he continues throughout the playoffs, the Rangers will take the East. As for the Canucks, it comes down to Robert Luongo, the best goaltender in the game. If he takes his regular season success into the postseason, he will be able to carry the Canucks into the finals. The Canucks offense has skyrocketed ever since it split its checking-line duo of Ryan Kesler and Alexander Burrows at midseason. This gives the Canucks a two-line scoring attack for the first time in a long time and makes them an extremely difficult match up for any team in the West.
ML: Before the playoffs started, I would have taken the Washington Capitals to come out of the East. But now that they are down in the series to a veteran Rangers team, I don’t think the Baby Caps can come back and move on. So instead, I will take the Boston Bruins in the East. Even though I am a Devils fan, I do not ignore that they are really struggling and they are playing a red-hot Carolina. The Bruins are playing much better than the Devils right now, and in the playoffs, it is how you play now, not how you played earlier in the year. In the West, it has to be the Detroit Red Wings. Anytime you keep the same Stanley Cup-winning team from last season and you add Marian Hossa, how can you not take them? Red Wings vs. Bruins and the champs repeat.
AA: I love the Red Wings. I think with experience and talent, they are the best team and will show it when it matters most. Pavel Datsyuk, Marian Hossa and Nicklas Lidstrom lead a stellar cast en route to the finals. Look for them to coast by the Blue Jackets and the Canucks and sneak by the Sharks in a 1-2 matchup. As for the East, I’m going to take a dark horse in the Pittsburgh Penguins repeating their finals appearance from last year because of talent and now an experienced lineup led by the best in Sidney Crosby. Brooks Orpik and Brian Boucher lead a defensive cast that will shut down their opponents on their way to winning it all.
MO: Leatherwood, I know that you know your hockey, and you did give me a very foreseeable matchup in the Stanley Cup Finals. You get the 3. Brandon gets the 2 for completely dissecting the Rangers and Canucks chances, respectively. Andrew, your answer was strong, but the other two were stronger. One point.
Brandon moves on to the championship, 8-6-4