No need to panic but Pacers stung by Hornets comeback in NBA Season Opener.

The NBA returned to action last night for its 75th anniversary season, and for the first two quarters in Charlotte it was a joy to have the Indiana Pacers back on our screens.

The Blue and Gold were up 75-59 at the half in the Spectrum Center against the Hornets and looking comfortable. They had cleverly run their offense through two-time all-star Domantas Sabonis, who scored 22 first-half points. His size and strength in the paint was too much for one of Charlotte’s newest players Mason Plumlee as he bulldozed his way time and time again to the rim. Rookie Chris Duarte impressed with his shooting on what was his NBA debut, which included a buzzer-beating three at the end of the first quarter.

Defensively it was working in the Pacers favour as well. Myles Turner had got himself a couple of blocks and the team were forcing turnovers and getting defensive rebounds. Charlotte only mustered one meaningful run in the entire half midway through the second quarter. Reigning NBA Rookie of the Year LaMelo Ball and Ish Smith off the bench looked dangerous as they brought the home team to within 5 points of Indiana’s lead, but that’s pretty much as close as they could get.

Then came the third quarter…

Around four minutes into the third period the Blue and Gold had a lead of 23 at 84-62. At this point let me remind some of you that during the pre-season Charlotte lost to the Dallas Mavericks 127-59 at Spectrum Center. That’s right – not only did they only score 59 points in 48 minutes of basketball but they were also blown out of the water on their home court.

Obviously at this point they had scored more than they totalled just over a week ago and there was no way they would give up during a regular season game like they seemingly did during the pre-season. However, I still think most were expecting Indiana to go on and manage the game until the final buzzer – a happy winning second debut for returning head coach Rick Carlisle.

But what happened next stunned everyone.

A 24-0 run by the Hornets- spearheaded by Ball – stung the Pacers into disbelief. All of a sudden their offense went to pot, and Charlotte very quickly swarmed over the Indiana backcourt and made bucket after bucket. Over the course of six very gruelling minutes, that 84-62 lead quickly became an 85-84 deficit.

Eventually Indiana found some offense – going on a 14-3 run themselves to get right back into the game, but ultimately a seesaw fourth quarter felt like it could go either way. Torrey Craig, another new Pacer, sunk both his free throws with 12 seconds to go to make it 122-121 to Indiana before PJ Washington returned the favour to restore Charlotte’s lead 123-122. Sabonis was the man Carlisle set his final play around but the centre couldn’t get a clean shot away as the Hornets completed their come from behind win. Victory for Charlotte avenges the play-in defeat the Pacers inflicted on them last season and three regular season wins in their last four matchups with the Blue and Gold.

Ultimately the team switched off for six minutes and that is what cost them the game. The third quarter collapse was the sort of capitulation that makes players, coaches and fans tear their hair out – if you are 20 or 30 games into a season.

Could Carlisle have used a timeout earlier to try and break the momentum shift? Perhaps he would have if we were in late January. But this is game one of the new season, with another new coaching staff and some new faces joining the team roster. It will take some time to figure out the right rotations, the right personnel to team up on the court – just like with Nate Bjorkgren last year. Obviously last year the Pacers went 3-0 to start the season but even though they had those wins they were still working out the kind of team they wanted to be – and further down the line the problems began to appear.

This will be a learning curve for Carlisle and for the team. To say the team played poorly is harsh. Sabonis ended the night with a 33-point, 15 rebound double-double. Malcolm Brogdon, fresh off signing a new multi-year contract extension earlier in the week, also recorded a double double (28 points, 11 assists). Rookie Duarte ended with 27 points including six three-point field goals, both of which are Pacer franchise records for any rookie in their first game. Turner finished with four blocks to get his campaign for Defensive Player of the Year off to a solid start.

Indiana are also still without two of their offensive weapons in TJ Warren and Caris LeVert, the latter hoping to join up with the team in the next week or two after being ruled out for the first four games of the season with a lower back injury. This again probably means once they are fit there will be an adjustment period to get them both in the rotation.

Next up is a trip to DC to face Bradley Beal and the Washington Wizards tomorrow night, where they will need to be focused for the full 48 minutes to try and get their first win on the board.  

Could the new proposed qualifying format help make Formula One more engaging?

BBC Sport are reporting a major change to the qualifying system in an attempt to make the sport more engaging and unpredictable.

Following Sebastian Vettel’s four back to back World Championships, Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes have dominated the F1 world for the past two years. A poll last year revealed that ratings for coverage of Formula one across the world has dropped by 30% (thats around 175 million viewers) in the last six years.

As a result, the FIA has been working hard to find solutions to make 2016 more competitive.

One of those suggestions is a radical change to qualifying- where drivers will be eliminated every 90 seconds rather than at the end of the session.

Pole position will be contested by the two remaining drivers in a 90-second shootout at the end of Q3.

The proposal still needs to be confirmed and teams have not fully committed to the idea, but it could make team tactics all the more important.

We should see less of the teams sitting motionless in the pits feeling comfortable with their times and more time on the track constantly posting lap times.

However, faster cars such as Ferrari and Mercedes will more than likely still be able to ease into Q3 with a single lap posted.

Pit Crew Online’s Ferrari writer Jack Prentice feels that the change won’t make the sport anymore competitive or engaging for audiences.

“It isn’t needed,” he said.

“They tried to fix something that isn’t broken, there are more pressing issues such as the financial sides of the sport that need to be addressed.

“Qualifying was one of the most exciting parts of the weekend as it was. It doesn’t need the 90 second eliminations.

“If your starting a lap at a track such as Spa which takes around one minute fifty seconds to complete, you could be out randomly before you have even got through the first sector, or before you complete your lap.”

It’s early days as testing ahead of the 2016 season has only just begun, but there has been a show in improvement from both McLaren Honda and Red Bull compared to their 2015 models.

Whether or not that means that they will keep up with the likes of Mercedes is yet to be seen.

Other suggestions to make the sport more competitive include making the cars wider with bigger tyres and allowing fans to vote for a driver of the day for each race.

Further along the line we could see head protection introduced in 2017 following the death of Jules Bianchi last July.

 

 

 

The Life of Seve Ballesteros: Part 2 ‘The Army And The Maiden Major’

Following on from yesterday’s introduction to my bio on Seve Ballesteros, here is the next chapter. Today I wrote about his legacy started taking shape…

Part 2: The Army and The Maiden Major (1976-1980)

“In the end everything is down to your mind, your attitude, your will and effort. And also your ability to confront the hard knocks put against you.”

1976 was the year Seve Ballesteros announced himself to the world. It was the Open Championship taking place at the Royal Birkdale. The young Spaniard went into the final round two shots up on the rest of the field, with victory in sight.

Adolescence from Ballesteros cost him dear on the final round, double bogeying the sixth hole and triple bogeying the eleventh. But the young man turned it around in the final few holes to secure a well deserved second place overall. Johnny Miller told the press after the game, “ I think it’s very good for Seve to come second. He will be a champion some day.”

The success at the Open for Ballesteros was the platform from which to build. He had arrived onto the international scene. He was on the front and back pages of newspapers and magazines. He became an idol. He himself set objectives for 1977, and that was to win as much as possible. Including the majors.

“Life can derail your best laid plans. Just as my golfing career was taking off, I was called up to do military service.”

The first three months of 1977 proved tough for Ballesteros. He hated military service not because of what he had to do- but because he couldn’t practise his golf. His general, Antonio Bernal, was very reluctant to let him play. Due to fame for his achievements the year before, Seve was made to do the chores that required the most time. From painting all the sporting courts, to dishing up for fellow militants, Ballesteros was given no time to work on his swing.

By the time he had finished his three-month duty to the military, the Masters in Augusta was just round the corner. Seve hadn’t been round an eighteen-hole golf course since December of 1976. This cost him dearly as he missed out on automatic invitation to the event the year after for not making the top 24. Saying that, it wasn’t bad a feat for the Spaniard making his first appearance in the Masters. And things were only going to get better.

The Open of 1978. Royal Lytham and St. Anne’s. Seve went into the final round two shots back on leader Hale Irwin. On the first hole, Ballesteros made a birdie. Irwin could only secure a double-bogey. Seve had the lead. However both players were constantly dropping shots and the lead changed constantly throughout the front nine. But after sinking a putt on the thirteenth, Seve never looked back. Finishing under par, Seve Ballesteros was a major champion, an Open champion. He became the youngest player to win the championship in the twentieth century and also the first non-British winner since 1907 to win the claret jug. Seve was in the history books. His legacy had well and truly begun.

“When I think back to 1978, it’s not the Open that stands out for me. It’s a particular shot I played in the Hennessy Cup against Nick Faldo. This was the type of shot that marks your life and makes history.”

The Hennessy Cup was a tournament where British teams played teams made up of the rest of Europe. Ballesteros was paired up against Faldo in the singles. The tenth hole consisted of the famous ‘Belfry’. On this hole you have two options. Either aim to drive just in front of the stream with a six iron and play safe. Or go straight for the green. Not many players attempted the second option. That was until Ballesteros came along.

As the crowd watched on, Ballesteros swung the club with such accuracy that he landed the ball just a few feet from the hole. Magical. Shame he missed the putt though. It was the shot of shots that tournament. Faldo applauded. The crowd stunned. “This guy was a great, a natural”. And he would only go on to do better things.

“I became the first Spanish sportsman to prepare himself mentally for the critical moments in their sporting life.”

After three relatively successful outings at the Masters, 1980 was to be the year Ballesteros finally achieved his objective set out back in 1976. Ballesteros undertook phycology training before the tournament with Doctor Alfonso Caycedo. He learned every shade of green on the Augusta course. Studied the crowd through tape recordings. He visualised what the week would be like. All the hard work he put in just to prepare was rewarded. He became Masters Champion.

The Life of Seve Ballesteros: Part 1 ‘The Early Years’

Seve Ballesteros was a golfing legend. The Spaniard, who died of brain cancer in May 2011 aged 54, amazed us both on and off the course. After reading his incredible autobiography, I thought I would write my own bio on the greatest golfer to ever live.

Split into 10 parts, I hope you find this in depth bio both fascinating and enjoyable to read. Today I begin with the very beginning…

Part 1: The Early Years (1957-1975)

“When I look back. I’m amazed by the way everything turned out. I think my case is remarkable. I turned professional before having any real experience. I didn’t turn amateur like José María Olazábal or Sergio García. I learnt it all the hard way.”

Seve was born in Padreña, Spain in 1957. Growing up, he lived with his family on a small farm. His brothers all became professional golfers before him (except Manuel who died aged 2 in a freak accident). Seve’s uncle Ramon Sota was the Spanish champion four times and even finished a respectable sixth in the Masters in 1965.

After flunking school and getting expelled for turning up drunk, Ballesteros’ mother was very keen for him to not undertake a career in golf. Shipyard work was offered to Seve however thanks to his father’s persistence to let his son pursue with his dream, he refused.

Seve’s father was very keen on him to grow like his brothers had. He encouraged him to go and practise on the beach whenever he could.

Ballesteros worked at his local golf club, the Real Club De Padreña, as a caddie at the age of eight. It was here where he first began to swing a club for the first time. His older brother Manuel gave his first club to him, a 3-iron.

Seve practised on the beaches of the Playa de Padreña as much as he could. As a caddie, Ballesteros was not allowed to use the golf course he worked on to practise. The only chance he got to play on it was during the Caddie’s Championship, which only occurred once a year.

The Caddie’s Championship consisted of three flights. The first flight was a mere nine holes. Do well and you progressed to the second flight of eighteen holes. The third flight was a two-day event of thirty-six holes.

Seve didn’t win the first flight, but after impressing the members of the club, he progressed on to win the second flight at the first attempt. Three third flight wins followed for Ballesteros in the early 70’s. Opening the doorway to professional golf.

New Years’ Eve 1973 will forever be one Seve would have remembered. Traditionally in Padreña, the local boys would play practical jokes in the town. One of the boys in the group decided to mess with the construction pipes on the hole 8 fairway where Ballesteros worked. After the members of the club found out the culprits, they were all banned for a month. This was a heart in mouth moment for Seve as his professional ambition had to be put on hold. However he managed to reapply for his job in February 1974 and make the jump to professional in 1975.

It was tough to begin with for Ballesteros. He was spending too much money on travel to get to tournaments as well as not winning enough prize money to fund it all. He decided he had to return home to secure more finances.

Seve returned to Padreña just in time for the Spanish under 25 Championship. Fortunately for him, the tournament was being played in his hometown. Seve won the tournament as well as 80,000 Pesetas. As a result, he gained sponsorship from a Dr. Campuzano who was very fond of the young prodigy.

One of my favourite quotes from Ballesteros is that of when he talks about participating at the Italian Open in Venice, October 1975:

“I came fifth. But the most important thing I experienced was watching Johnny Miller. He was world number one at the time ahead of Jack Nicholas and I thought I could beat him that day. All these top players in the world and I was unimpressed by them all. After watching them I was convinced I could beat them. No, I knew I was better than them.”

Seve ended 1975, his first season as a pro, sitting top of the Spanish and European rankings. However the year didn’t finish positively on the course. In November 1975, Ballesteros travelled to America where he tried to gain passage to the PGA Tour.

Informed by his brother/agent Manolo that he would have to stay in America over the winter months, Seve decided that being at home with his family was more important. He was in a healthy position to qualify, but he purposely flunked the back nine holes to miss the cut.

He went home to spend Xmas and New Year’s with his family. Not knowing at the time what would happen to him the following year….

Milan Baros Who? Forgotten Man Retold…

Who reading this knows of Milan Baros’ current whereabouts? Nope, me neither. The former Liverpool and Aston Villa striker seems to have seen his career filter out since his time in England.

You may be wondering why I’m going on about a player that for some of you, you may not have even heard of. But for me, Baros was one of my favourite players growing up.

I liked the way he played. He was always in the right place at the right time to poke the ball into the net from six yards out. I liked the fact he wore the number five jersey instead of the traditional number nine or ten at Liverpool. He was perhaps the first striker I actually watched in great depth as I grew up.

For those readers that need some background on whom I’m talking about. Milan Baros is a former Czech Republic international who scored 41 goals in 93 games for his country. He made his international debut in 2001 against Belgium in a friendly match. He scored on debut. He retired from national duties after the European Championships in 2012. One of his career highlights is winning the golden boot at Euro 2004 where he scored 5 goals.

As for his club career, the Czech News Agency described him as “the star of the Czech league” when he was at a young age. Baros attracted a lot of attention from clubs around Europe. Liverpool successfully landed Baros in 2002. The Czech helped the reds to their League Cup win in 2003 and European triumph in 2005 before moving to Aston Villa. Spells in France with Lyon and a loan to Portsmouth followed before he moved to Turkish giants Galatasaray in 2008. Milan made 93 appearances for the team (scoring 48 goals) from Istanbul but after Euro 2012 he was frozen out of the side. He left Istanbul in February 2013.

This is where the trail had begun to fade. But I researched and found out that Milan Baros has actually been in his native Czech Republic playing for the team that signed him as a 12 year old. FC BanÍk Ostrava were the first team that Baros turned out for as a youngster coming through the ranks.

I know what your thinking. Who on earth are FC BanÍk? Well they are a team that was formed in 1922. Their past honours include three domestic titles (back when the eastern part of Europe was known as Czechoslovakia). They won the Intertoto Cup seven times between 1970-1989. More recently they won the Czech league in 2004 and Czech cup in 2005.

With a stadium capacity of just over 10,000 and a tight budget, FC BanÍk finished mid table last season (10th). Baros admitted he was close to hanging up his boots before rejoining his former team but stated: “At first I was in two minds whether to play at all. But after three months I have felt much better. I began to miss football again. If I had no appetite and didn’t physically feel good, I certainly would have thought about retirement”.

Baros’ agent Pavel Paska added in by saying: “With BanÍk we agreed on the contract. Milan wanted to come back to Ostrava, three minutes we were done. Though Europe knew that Milan was injured, we got four other offers, both from India, United Arab Emirates and also Italy. But this was not all about money.”

Baros has yet to make an appearance for BanÍk since returning. He has been recovering from damaging his cruciate ligaments playing in Turkey last December.

I’m glad to hear Milan is playing still though. He might not be playing for one of the giants of Europe, but at least he is happy playing back in Czech Republic. Like the old saying goes- there is no place like home.

Shocking Defeats… Terrible injuries…More chance for our Brits….only at Wimbledon…

British fans can be optimistic. Both Andy Murray and Laura Robson made it to the second week of Wimbledon, and their routes have been made easier this year due to the unbelievable tennis we have witnessed this past week.

In the Men’s singles, both Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal suffered shock defeats in the first and second rounds. Nadal lost in round one to an unseeded Belgian perhaps his knees were again refusing to collaborate with the Spaniards hard powerful way of play. Roger Federer, king of the court, fell to a player ranked 116 in the world in Round 2. This was a huger shock then Nadal because of how comfortable the Swiss has been on grass during his quite magical career. Tsonga, another of Murray’s possible opponents retired in round two. Therefore the Scot should make the final on Sunday where he may come against Novak Djokovic once again.  Murray beat the Serb in Flushing Meadows last autumn and there will no doubt be vengeance spreading through the world number ones’ veins.

Most if not all eyes however were upon Laura Robson, the 19 year old has broken into the top 20 in the women’s game and now aims for to make a career high at SW19. First up was the tenth seed Karlienko; a tough start for our Laura. But she came through and made it to round two where she played an unseeded woman off the park. The third round was a bit more of an uphill struggle however she came through after losing the first set and is still on the path to face the beast that is Serena Williams in the quarter finals of Wimbledon, a huge achievement for such a young, upcoming prospect.

So tennis fans, get out the strawberries and cream, this could be a good British summer after all…