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Wild have shot at Stanley Cup

When I walk into Xcel Center and sometimes after finishing a sports update, I get calls, questions, emails and text messages asking why I talk about hockey. Perception is not reality. Many assume that Black people don’t like hockey or don’t know the game. Wrong.

I grew up in Chicago where the Blackhawks were the dominant sports team in a great sports town. They played at the old Chicago Stadium on the Westside and had Hall of Fame stars like Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull and Glen Hall. I saw the Blackhawks lose the Stanley Cup game seven in 1970 to Montreal 3-2. It broke my young heart, but I was hooked on hockey.

Here we come down the stretch the last two months of the regular season of the greatest season ever for the Minnesota Wild. Not only are they good, they are real good, best in the Western Conference and leaders of the Central with 84 points. Chicago is number two with 83 points.

The Wild have two games in hand. Six Wild players this season have scored 40 points or more. This is an explosive team that attacks. Minnesota fans have been having a blast this season.

Unlike the Vikings who started fast with 5-0 and got everyone in the state excited, then fell on their face not even making the playoffs, the Wild have been consistent. They play hard every night for first-year Head Coach Bruce Boudreau. He was fired by Anaheim last year after several really good seasons. General Manager Chuck Fletcher has built a strong, confident, exciting team. They have been in the playoffs five years in a row.

Minnesota is 39-14-6, the second-best record in the NHL. Washington has the league’s best record, 41-13-6 for 89 points. It’s no secret the Wild are tied with Pittsburgh, the defending Stanley Cup Champions, with 84 points and are one of the top teams. Washington, for example, is number one in the league with the most wins (41), fewest losses (13), and best point differential in the league, +70.

The Wild are tied for third in wins with 39 (after Chicago and Columbus), second with fewest losses (14) in the league, and second in point differential, +60. To win the Stanley Cup you have to get hot at the right time in the playoffs.

It’s not rocket science. It’s the same thing in any sport — whoever plays the best under pressure usually wins. The Wild are tough at the blue line. Their defense men have been solid all year, led by All-Star Ryan Suter, who has a great plus/minus of 35.

Devan Dubnyk is an All-Star goalie. They traded for him two years ago with Phoenix, and now he’s the best in the league. He has the best save percentage average (.943) and goal against average in the NHL at 1.97. You have to be able to stop people, and the Wild have allowed the second-fewest goals in the league, 138.

Where there’s a will there’s a way. This team is among the top scoring teams. They are dominant at home (21-8-7) and outstanding on the road (18-6-5). They can win anywhere; they have won at Pittsburgh and Chicago this season.

Their fans have to be super excited about the big trade acquiring two veteran forwards, six-foot-six Martin Hanzal (16-10-26 points) and 28-year-old Ryan White from Phoenix for 2017 first-round pick and a second pick and a conditional pick.

The Wild average nearly 19,000 fans per game at Xcel Center. This is the deepest team they have ever had, and I have seen all their teams. This is the fifth-straight season they will clinch a playoff spot. Picking up two solid veteran forwards for the stretch drive tells fans this team is serious about winning the Stanley Cup.

Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to info@larry-fitzgerald.com, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.

66th NBA All-Star Game — for better or worse?

The NBA All-Star Game is wide open, and in my view it’s difficult to determine the level of intensity when one player with that much talent on the West All-Star team takes 39 shots. West All-Stars 192, East 182 made it the highest scoring NBA All-Star Game ever with 374 combined points.

We should not really be surprised — the signs were there leading into the All-Star Game. Eight different All-Star players scored 50 or more points in NBA games in the first half of the season. That’s an all-time league record. That theme was carried out by Anthony Davis of New Orleans. Yes, all eight players who scored 50 or more in the first half of the season played in the All-Star Game.

Davis attempted 39 shots. All but four were two-point shots — he did not make a three-point shot, so Davis’s record was not aided by the three ball. He made 26 shots for 52 points and pulled down 10 rebounds. Amazingly, he did not attempt a free throw, which tells you all you need to know about the level of the All-Star defensive effort. He broke Wilt Chamberlain’s longstanding 55-year scoring mark of 42 points set in 1962.

Kevin Durant had a triple double 21 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Russell Westbrook, last year’s All-Star MVP, did not start; however, he had 41 points. He was attempting to win the MVP award for the third year in a row.
Things that stand out for me: The East shot 56.9 percent, the West 58.7 percent. Three-point attempts: 63 by the West, 59 by the East, for a total 122 three-point attempts of which 43 shots were made.

Cleveland’s LeBron James said that Stephen Curry of Golden State is not his rival. “We are not Magic and Bird or Duke and North Carolina.” I disagree. Curry is the back-to-back NBA MVP and scoring champion. He was a unanimous MVP choice last year, and he led the Warriors to a title two years ago with a league record 73 wins last year.
Golden State has the best record in the West and Cleveland has the best record in the East. It’s the best rivalry the NBA has today, and it only plays out in the NBA Finals as it has the last two years.

The Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Pelicans agreed to an All-Star blockbuster trade. All-Star DeMarcus Cousins, averaging 28.0 per game, and Omari Casspi were dealt to New Orleans for Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, and the Pelicans’ 2017 first-round and second-round Draft picks.

This deal will have a direct effect on the 22-35 Timberwolves, who trail both New Orleans by two games and Sacreamento by one game with 25 games left. Denver currently has the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot. The Wolves are in the hunt, but losing Zach LaVine to ACL surgery was a big blow.

Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to info@larry-fitzgerald.com, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.

NBA family takes on Donald Trump

Times are changing and the NBA, as we approach the 66th All-Star Weekend in New Orleans, had taken a strong stand. The game was moved a year ago, remember, to New Orleans from Charlotte because of the controversial House Bill 2, the law known as the bathroom bill of North Carolina.

It’s no secret that the NBA game has seen a spectacular growth spurt. Eight different players — Jimmy Butler, Demarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, James Harden, Isiah Thomas, Klay Thompson, John Wall and Russell Westbrook — have already scored 50 points or more in games.

Oklahoma City star Russell Westbrook is averaging a triple double: 30.9 points, 10.5 rebounds and 10.2 assists per game. If he succeeds he’ll be the second player (after Oscar Robertson) in NBA history to accomplish the rare feat. So far he has 62 career triple doubles. Golden State is on a 70-win clip again, and the Timberwolves are, well, the Timberwolves.

Photo by Steve Floyd

Somebody said politics and sports don’t mix. However, since Donald Trump moved into the Oval Office, the NBA coaches and players have let the White House have it. So many of the NBA players are born in different countries, and the game invites many cultures. It’s clear that the policies that Trump is pursuing have angered many. Top NBA coaches Greg Popovich, Stan Van Gundy, and Steve Kerr have all made it clear that Trump is bad news.

LeBron James and the NBA Champion Cleveland Cavaliers refused as a team to stay in the Trump Towers Hotel while visiting the New York Knicks. The Cleveland ownership traveling party booked the hotel, but the players put up a red flag saying no way.

Stephen Curry, the NBA’s two-time MVP and last year’s scoring champion, disagreed with the CEO of Under Armor apparel company. Curry is paid handsomely by them — $4 million per year on his endorsement shoe deal. After hearing that the Under Armor CEO said, “Donald Trump is an asset,” Curry responded, “If he drops the ‘et’ I’m okay with that.”

The NFL Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Head Coach Bill Belichick, and quarterback Tom Brady are friends with Trump. This puts many of their fans, particularly Black fans, in an uncomfortable position.
During Super Bowl LI in Houston, no mention of Trump appeared in any official NFL written distribution of interviews recorded by NFL personnel, by Super Bowl players or coaches from the daily media sessions. His name came up among the 5,000 accredited media in questions, but not on the record.

Trump apparently made a disparaging remark about Commissioner Roger Goodell in support of his buddy Brady after the four-game suspension related to the Deflategate controversy. Politics and policies and the mixing of billionaire owners and their comfort zones alienate millionaire players. Yes, they have put sports leagues and players on the front line.

With social media in the game, the world gets to keep score so to speak. Many Black players from the champion Patriots are letting it be known they will not visit the Trump White House.

Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to info@larry-fitzgerald.com, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.