Timberwolves get a new beginning

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By Larry Fitzgerald
June 27, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD

 

It finally has arrived after 13 years of absolute failure, four different head coaches in four years, and four team presidents. In 2017-18 the Timberwolves will return to the NBA living.

Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on renovating Target Center. The three-time WNBA champion Lynx have been sent to St. Paul this year while their Target Center home make-over and renovation continues. As the World Champion Golden State Warriors have proven, if you can win NBA titles in Oakland at Oracle Arena, you can win anywhere.

The Timberwolves again have looked to Chicago to save their lost franchise. Remember, Kevin Garnett played high school basketball on the West Side in Chicago before Timberwolves Vice President Kevin McHale and Flip Saunders drafted the high school star.

Minnesota Timberwolves recent acquisition Jimmy Butler

NBA All-Star Jimmy Butler

He helped turn the Timberwolves into winners on their first (logo) and once was an MVP. Last week on NBA Draft Day, the Timberwolves, now on their third logo, agreed to a blockbuster multi-player deal with the six-time NBA champion Chicago Bulls for three-time NBA All-Star forward Jimmy Butler.

Last year the Bulls signed Chicago native and three-time NBA champion Dwayne Wade away from Miami. His contract is for two years with $48 million guaranteed. That put the Bulls in a bind financially.

Butler is already under contract, and because Tom Thibodeau coached in Chicago for five years and Butler was his best player, he was able to dangle just enough chips at Chicago’s general manager to tease this deal.

Chicago gets two-time NBA slam dunk champion guard Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn, last year’s number-four overall pick. Plus they get the 2017 number-seven overall pick of the Timberwolves, Lauri Markkanen, in exchange for Chicago’s number 16 overall pick, 6’-11” center Justin Patton from Creighton. It looks like a win-win for both teams.

Both teams get value and talent. The Bulls need cap space. The Wolves have plenty of cap room after releasing center Nickalo Peckovic and desperately need Butler, a winner, a team leader, and a great defender.

The Bulls get LaVine, who averaged 19 points a game last year before injuring his knee late in the season. His upside potential is unlimited. I saw LaVine at the NBA Finals and talked to him. He said he is 90 percent recovered from the injury. Obviously the Bulls think he’s ready or no way would they make this deal.

This is the type of deal that can make the Timberwolves a playoff contender right now. Butler loves Thibodeau and his rugged style and will run through a wall for him.

Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau

Blockbuster trade brings Jimmy Butler to Minnesota!

Thibodeau needs a veteran superstar like Butler, 27 and a former All-NBA defensive second-team player, to show the young stars Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony Towns that it starts on defense and to trust in Thibodeau’s system and work ethic.

I love this deal for the Timberwolves. It is exactly what they need now, and the timing is perfect. I think the Timberwolves have the foundation talent now to win 50 games a season for years to come. My question to you is this: Did the Timberwolves get better with Butler?

 

 

 

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.

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Lynx Notes

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Minnesota 87, San Antonio 78

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Post Game Notes

The Lynx move to 11-1 on the season and keep their lead over second place Los Angeles at two games atop the WNBA standings after tonight’s 87-78 victory over the San Antonio Stars. Tonight was the 15th home win in a row against the Stars, which represents a new franchise record against any opponent.

After tonight’s win the quartet of Seimone Augustus, Rebekkah Brunson, Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen are now 122-30 overall when playing together. They have now passed Tamecka Dixon, Lisa Leslie, Mwadi Mabika and DeLisha Milton-Jones (Los Angeles, 1999-2004) for most wins as a foursome in league history.

Photo: MN Lynx PR

Sylvia Fowles finished with a game-high-tying 22 points and 10 rebounds, including 17 points and six rebounds in the second half. Tonight was Fowles’ 115th career double-double and seventh of the season. It was also her second 20/10 effort in a row and sixth time this year (46th career).

For the fourth straight game Maya Moore finished with 20+ points on her way to 22 points on 7-of-12 shooting and four rebounds. Moore went 4-of-4 from the free throw line to extend her streak to 17 straight made free throws dating back to June 9 at Washington.

Rebekkah Brunson grabbed 10 rebounds tonight, her third 10+ rebound game of the season. Brunson is now two rebounds away from passing Tina Thompson (3070) for third all-time on the WNBA’s rebounding list.

In a season-high 20:50 minutes off the bench, Natasha Howard led all Lynx reserves for the second straight game with eight points on 4-of-8 shooting, four rebounds and a game-high three blocked shots.

Led by Brunson and Fowles’ combined 20 rebounds, the Lynx outrebounded San Antonio 36-28. Minnesota has now had the rebounding advantage in three out the last four games.

Minnesota finished 9-of-18 (50.0%) from three-point territory. Moore led the Lynx by scoring 12 of her 22 points from deep. Tonight represented the second time Minnesota finished 50% or better from three (58.3% vs. Connecticut on May 23).

The Lynx head on the road Friday night to take on the Phoenix Mercury Friday night at 9:00 p.m. CT at Talking Stick Arena. The game will be televised on Fox Sports North Plus and can be heard on BOB 106 FM.

 

 

Postgame Quotes:

Sunday, June 25

Minnesota Lynx vs. San Antonio Stars

Minnesota Lynx Head Coach Cheryl Reeve

On the game. . .

“Despite what the game preview said, in terms of what people think should happen in a game like that where you have a team with the best record against a team with the worst record, we were fully aware of how well San Antonio was playing. We watched a ton of video, so we we’re not surprised at the things that they got done. I think we have an understanding of the parity of this league. I asked them to name one bad player on San Antonio’s team and they were hard pressed to name one bad player. There’s a couple of players on there that are some of the best players in the league. It’s a team that’s trying to figure things out and they are playing well. It’s not going to be long until they start winning games.”

On Sylvia Fowles’ performance. . .
“She had some big offensive rebounds and she put a lot pressure (in the post). We were going through Syl, we were going to run this thing through Syl. She had great reads on kick outs. I thought she took a lot of contact, made some free throws and it was vital. I just told her that I was proud that she fought through that.”

On Maya Moore’s game. . .
“She had the opportunity to knock down a couple of big threes and that’s what MVP candidate players should do for you. It has been well-documented that Maya had struggled early, but now she’s really found her groove. Understanding that it’s actually gotten a little bit easier for her. She hasn’t had people leave her in years and now, somebody has to leave. Maya is overall playing better. If you look at eyes, and I’m big on facial expressions, I think what you are seeing from Maya now is way different than what we were seeing in the beginning. I think she was struggling and now she is focused and doing the little things.”

Lynx Center Sylvia Fowles:

On the comeback win. . .
“A lot of our fans just see us win, win, win, but they don’t understand how hard it is. Night’s like this makes you appreciate your teammates even more. Everybody stepped up to the plate and took on the challenge. I’m happy and I’m just trying to push forward and get ready for the next game.”

On getting a big ‘and-one’ late in the game. . .
“I think (Seimone Augustus) was in a rhythm, Maya (Moore) stepped up big for us, Renee (Montgomery) came in and gave us big minutes, Natasha (Howard) came in and played big, so you definitely felt the switch going our way. We just wanted to keep the momentum going our way.”

Lynx Forward Maya Moore:

On her now scoring 20-plus points in four straight games. . .
“This is normal for me, which is now normal. My normal is not normal. I’m doing what I’ve always tried to do. I still feel like there’s another level that I’m working towards, getting to just personally in my own feel out there on the court. We’re playing great team basketball.”

On the comeback in the fourth quarter…
“It wasn’t about strategy, it was about effort and digging down deep and finding the focus at the same time for an extended period of time to put the team away. We would have liked to see that fourth quarter energy throughout the 40 minutes, for whatever reason it wasn’t there. . . Eventually something’s going to give if you keep the energy high and that’s what we saw tonight.”

San Antonio Stars Head Coach Vickie Johnson

On the Lynx challenging Stars’ leads…
“I think Sylvia Fowles, Brunson, Seimone, Maya Moore and Lindsay – that’s in their position. You know, I have a very young team but we fought. You know, Maya Moore made a big time shot. If it wasn’t Maya Moore it was Sylvia Fowles made a couple of layups. If it wasn’t her it was Seimone knocking down a big time shot. They’re vets, USA National Team… They’re used to pressure and if they would have had their bench players in I think those shots probably wouldn’t have been knocked down.”

On keeping players motivated…
“It’s about building a solid foundation for us. We’re a young team; players are 22, 22, 22, 23… Mac just turned 25; easy playing big-time minutes, this is just her second year. She went from ACL, to Phoenix playing six minutes, and now we’re asking her to play 25 minutes against some of the best players in the world. I think it’s about the process, going through the process but doing it right, every possession.”

On goals moving forward…
“We got a little time off. The most important thing now is to go home, get some rest and work Tuesday, Wednesday and get ready for the game on Friday. Just build chemistry because that’s the main thing, that’s the only way we can be successful as a team. For me, the most important thing to lead this team is basketball IQ. Wherever they go, if they go overseas next year they’ll be a better player than when they come back we will be ready to go.”

San Antonio Stars Guard, Kayla McBride

On scoring double digits in 10 out of the last 12 games…
“I have really great teammates who give me the ball where I like to get it, just trying to be aggressive. We’re still working on trying to be a great team both ends of the floor and I try to be consistent in that and that’s my job on this team.”

On the focus to win the next game…
“Just closing out games. I think especially on the road. We’re playing the best team in the league and we were winning pretty much 34 minutes of the game, but it’s those last six minutes where we really had to come together and that’s something we’re still figuring out.”

San Antonio Stars Guard, Moriah Jefferson

On beating her 10-point scoring average per game…
“I was just trying to be aggressive in the pick-and-roll. I know if we set the screens high enough it will be hard for the post to help up on me. I was really just trying to attack to get my teammates open and if they were leaving me I would take the shot.”

On staying motivated on the court…
“We want to get a win and so many of our games have been like this – we fight until the end and we had this six-minute period where it was a missed turnover, missed layup, missed free throw, missed something; another turnover, a miss and a make and the next thing you know you’re down by 10 and there’s two minutes left. So mental focus at the end of the game and half of these games will go our way.”

On Minnesota scoring 32 in the fourth…
“Mental breakdown. We were so locked down on the defensive end and when we went on those runs our defense was starting off and they started hitting shots and we weren’t getting through and playing our schemes the right way. And then we made a few key mistakes and like I said, the next thing you know you look up and you’re down by 10.”

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Vikings believe it’s their year

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By Larry Fitzgerald
June 22, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD

 

It’s about time, you might say. The Minnesota Vikings, born in 1961 with zero championships on their resume, believe 2018 is the year they finally win the big one. The first Sunday in February in U.S. Bank Stadium the Super Bowl will be here, a home game, and if you can play your games right, just maybe you can finally reward your long-suffering fans.

When I first started covering the Vikings in the fall of 1978, they had just completed a run of four trips to the Super Bowl. I was surprised to learn that I was the first Black sportswriter to cover the Purple People Eaters.

It was not easy. As a young Black single guy driving a yellow Corvette, I was accused of being a drug trafficker.

My persistence paid off. Several of the Black players — Ahmad Rashad, Greg Coleman, Matt Blair and others — liked seeing me around and demanded from Mike Lynn that I receive the same treatment the other reporters received.

Fast forward to 2017. I’m still covering the Vikings’ every great win or loss over the time I have witnessed, from Met Stadium in Bloomington to the Metrodome in 1982 to U.S. Bank Stadium in 2016.

Last week’s mini camp was successful. All the players were here: veterans, rookies, free agents, and Mike Zimmer returned. Zimmer took two weeks away from the day-to-day football business to rest his weary eye — he has had eight surgical procedures for a detached retina.

Quarterback Sam Bradford talked about his first mini camp.”It’s been good. I thought we got a lot of good work in nice to finish things up. I thought we had really good workouts and a good spring from start to finish and worked on a lot of situations. So I think we gained a lot.”

Bradford again is going to start at quarterback. Injured veteran Teddy Bridgewater is making progress, however. Last year the Vikings had six Pro Bowl players, five on defense and one on special teams. Adrian Peterson, who was hurt most of last season, is now gone, so offensively things will be very different in 2017.

Stefon Diggs, third-year receiver from Maryland, is ready to go. “It’s been good getting back with the guys,” said Diggs, “working on the fundamentals and working on the little things. Just doing the little things the right way just trying to be the best team player I can be.”

One of the NFL’s top defensive players is defensive end Everson Griffin. The Pro Bowler had a strong mini camp. “Camp for me is building that confidence over again and getting back to the details,” Griffin said. “The best teams, that’s what they do best. They pay attention to the details and they communicate the best.”

The Vikings announced that Randy Moss and Ahmad Rashard, two of the greatest Vikings receivers in franchise history, would both be honored as 2017 Ring of Honor inductees. There are 23 players in the Ring of Honor. Jim Finks, Bud Grant and Jerry Burns are also among those honored.

One day the late, long-deserving Dennis Green will be so honored, with eight playoff teams in 10 years and over 100 career wins. After all, it was Green who drafted Randy Moss when all other NFL teams passed on him. Moss is number two in NFL history with 156 career touchdown receptions.

 

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.

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Eric Nelson

SPORTS NUGGETS: Thanks to AL parity the Minnesota Twins are in the playoff chase

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By Eric Nelson
June 21, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD

MINNEAPOLIS -Sports Nuggets from the North Star State...

•MLB Geography: Baseball is a lot like real estate. It’s all about location, location, location. Because of that the Minnesota Twins have a chance to remain in the AL playoff chase. Yes, the Twins are far from a polished product, and yes they have slipped into second place (trailing Cleveland by 1 1/2 games in the AL Central). But, the division is mediocre and there are two wild card spots available. Houston is the only dominant team in the league – every other club has flaws. Being part of the parity-laden AL is a good thing if you have post-season dreams. The Twins are one of just six teams in the league with an above .500 record…

•Small Progress: The Twins got a rare win at Target Field Monday night as they out slugged the Chicago White Sox 9-7. Kennys Vargas (483 feet) and Miguel Sano (425 feet) hit monster home runs in the game. Minnesota is 15-24 at home in 2017…

•Brew Crew: Milwaukee is a major surprise in MLB this season. The Brewers (38-35) lead the World Series champion Chicago Cubs by a half game in the NL Central. 1B Eric Thames – who was playing in South Korea last year – is one of Milwaukee’s top players. Thames has 20 home runs, second most in the NL…

•Power Points: Thames and NY Yankees slugger Aaron Judge are two of the better MLB stories in 2017. Judge is a legitimate triple crown threat who leads the AL in home runs (24), is second in RBI (54) and second in batting average (.333)…

•Duke Connection: Two of pro basketball’s most powerful individuals share a common bond. NBA commissioner Adam Silver and WNBA Commissioner Lisa Borders both went to Duke. Borders was in the Twin Cities last week and watched the Connecticut-Minnesota game at the Xcel Energy Center on Saturday…
•Tray time: For the first time in eight years, there will be a three-point contest at the WNBA All-Star Game. The event takes place during halftime of the game on Saturday, July 22 at KeyArena in Seattle…

•Draft Month: If you like sports drafts then June is your month. The MLB Draft was last week and the NBA and NHL Drafts are this week. This is a dream come true for sports geeks and analytic freaks who love this kind of stuff…

•Jerry’s Journey: The remarkable career of NBA legend Jerry West has come full circle. West is back in Los Angeles, the city where he starred for the Lakers and became a front office genius with a knack for building title teams. However, West’s new employers are the Clippers, not the Lakers – which should make their intra-city rivalry even more intense. West had been with Golden State as an advisor in the Warriors front office…

•Parade Payday: According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Golden State owners Peter Guber and Joe Lacob paid for the entire Warriors’ championship parade last week in Oakland. Normally a city covers some of the cost, but because Oakland has a huge budget deficit, Guber and Lacob picked up the tab, which was close to $4 million…

•Viva Las Vegas: After their parade in Oakland, the Warriors continued their celebration with a team trip to Las Vegas. The good news for Golden State fans is, unlike the Raiders, the Warriors visit to Vegas was temporary and they are returning to the Bay Area…

•Cool Refuge: Too bad the expansion Vegas Golden Knights aren’t playing NHL games this week. The temp in Las Vegas on Tuesday was a scorching 117 degrees and the forecast high for Wednesday is 115. T-Mobile Arena (the Knights new venue) has plenty of cool air and an ice rink – making it a perfect place to escape the heat…

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Scott Taylor

NHL Expansion Draft: The Knights Are Now on the Clock

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Scott Taylor

By Scott Taylor

The Las Vegas Draft

The Las Vegas Knights are now on the clock. All 30 National Hockey League teams have released their protected lists and available players for the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft and the Knights have until 12 Noon (CST) on Wednesday to make their selections.

There are some good players available, depending on their contract status, such as goalies Petr Mrazek and Marc-Andre Fleury, defensemen Josh Manson, Marco Scandella, Matt Dumba, Jason Demers, Mark Methot, Sami Vatanen and Kevin Shattenkirk and forwards T.J. Oshie, Marcus Kruger, Eric Staal, David Perron, Carl Hagelin, Dustin Brown, Ryan Strome, Marian Gaborik, Vladimir Sobotka, Joe Thornton, Darren Helm and James Neal.

Las Vegas will have plenty of decisions to make. Take a UFA and try to sign him (like 30-year-old Oshie)? Wait until after the draft and take a run at a few UFAs? Claim vets, young unproven players or a combination? Grab some old Wheat Kings like Eric Fehr and Matt Calvert (after all, Kelly McCrimmon is assistant GM)?

The Wild have left Matt Dumba, Erik Haula, Marco Scandella and Eric Staal unprotected. I would not be surprised if one of that group was the player selected by Las Vegas and with McCrimmon’s knowledge of the Western Hockey League, I’d place a large bet that it will be Dumba.

Minnesota Wild Defenseman Matthew Dumba

Matt Dumba is on the Las Vegas Knights “Available List”…

The Knights must take one player from each team and a minimum of 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goaltenders.

The selections will be announced at the NHL Awards Ceremony on Thursday night in Las Vegas.

 

The following linked-lists

 courtesy of the National Hockey League:

Anaheim Ducks Arizona Coyotes Boston Bruins
Buffalo Sabres Calgary Flames Carolina Hurricanes
Chicago Blackhawks Colorado Avalanche Columbus Blue Jackets
Dallas Stars Detroit Red Wings Edmonton Oilers
Florida Panthers Los Angeles Kings Minnesota Wild
Montreal Canadiens Nashville Predators New Jersey Devils
New York Islanders New York Rangers Ottawa Senators
Philadelphia Flyers Pittsburgh Penguins San Jose Sharks
St. Louis Blues Tampa Bay Lightning Toronto Maple Leafs
Vancouver Canucks Washington Capitals Winnipeg Jets

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Eric Nelson

SPORTS NUGGETS: Target Field has become a launching pad

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By Eric Nelson
June 14, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD

MINNEAPOLIS -Sports Nuggets from the Twin Towns...

•Band Box: Target Field is turning into a launching pad. The last six games in Minneapolis have been high scoring affairs. On May 28 Tampa Bay won 8-6 over the Twins in a 15-inning contest. Houston then swept Minnesota, 16-8, 7-2 and 17-6. So far this week it has been Seattle 14, Minnesota 3 and Twins 20, Mariners 7…

•Hit Parade: The Twins had a team-record 28 hits in their 20-7 win on Tuesday night. Eddie Rosario slugged three home runs in the 90 degree heat as Minnesota put on an offensive fireworks show…

•Royce’s Reaction: There was plenty of shock and awe Monday when the Twins selected prep SS Royce Lewis with the first pick of the MLB Draft. According to the Orange County Register, Lewis was caught totally off guard and thought he would be chosen fifth by Atlanta. Even Lewis’ mom Cindy was floored by the selection. Lewis plays for JSerra HS in San Juan Capistrano, CA…

•Purple Props: Good move by the Minnesota Vikings to put Ahmad Rashad and Randy Moss into the team’s ring of honor. This is an overdue honor for Rashad and Moss is one of the most electrifying players in Viking history…

•Minnesota Impact: The Pittsburgh Penguins path to a second straight Stanley Cup title came with major contributions from two Minnesotans. 22-year old C Jake Guentzel (who grew up in Woodbury) was spectacular in the post-season with 13 goals, 8 assists and 21 points. Meanwhile, 40-year old C Matt Cullen (who played for Moorhead HS) was savvy and solid for the Penguins with 2 goals, 7 assists and 9 points in the playoffs…

•Rare Air: Go ahead and put Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby on the NHL’s Mt. Rushmore. With three Cup championships and Hall of Fame stats, Crosby deserves all the accolades he gets…

•Two Titles in Two Days: For those of you keeping score at home, Pittsburgh won the Stanley Cup on a Sunday night and Golden State won the Larry O’Brien Trophy on Monday. Two major pro sports champions crowned in a 24 hour span is pretty cool and very unusual…

•Just a Hunch: I am guessing that Kevin Durant and Rihanna won’t be exchanging Christmas cards this year…

•Finals Foursome: Btw, I will be stunned if Cleveland and Golden State don’t play in the NBA Finals again next season. A fourth straight meeting seems inevitable…

•Bonus Soccer: On July 15 Atlas FC faces Minnesota United in a friendly at TCF Bank Stadium. Atlas FC is based in Guadalajara and plays in Mexico’s top division, Liga MX…

•Impressive Record: Congrats to Minnesota Lynx G Lindsay Whalen, who is now the WNBA’s winningest player. In 14 seasons Whalen has 295 wins on her resume. Whalen has won three WNBA titles with the Lynx and two Olympic gold medals…

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The Warriors — simply the best!

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By Larry Fitzgerald
June 14, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD

OAKLAND —It’s no secret, start spreading the news: the Golden State Warriors are the champions of basketball. They completed the greatest playoff run to a championship in the 71 years of the NBA Finals.

The Warriors 129-120 win in game five gave them an NBA best-ever 16-1 record. Need I say this Warriors group is special? Last year’s 73-9 best-ever NBA regular season mark was somehow overshadowed by Cleveland’s stunningly dramatic NBA Finals game seven 93-89 win.

Golden State wanted their title back and signed All-Star Kevin Durant away from Oklahoma City so a team as talented and as explosive as the Warriors suddenly had two former NBA MVPs in Stephen Curry and Durant, both young, talented, hungry and in their 20s.

Let it be known whenever two former MVPs had played together previously, a championship soon followed. In history it’s happened three times: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson with the Lakers; and Julius Erving and Moses Malone with Philadelphia.

Not only did they match it, Curry and Durant swept the Western Conference playoffs, sweeping Portland, Utah, and 61 win San Antonio 4-0 4-0 4-0.

Golden State had a bullseye on Cleveland all year, matching up in the NBA Finals for a record third straight year — one at 12-0, the other at 12-1.

(MGN Online)
The Warriors enjoying their championship win, June 12.

Durant and Curry were unstoppable; Durant scored 30 points or more in all five Finals games, averaging 35 points, eight rebounds and five assists. He was unanimously selected the Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP. The Warriors finished 31-2 in their last 33 games. For three years in the regular season, 67-73-67, the Warriors are the best ever.

Their speed, movement, and ability to share the ball and play together, combined with their will and ability to shoot accurately from long range has had this league and its coaches staying up late hours trying to find ways to slow them down.

LeBron James was remarkable in defeat, however. He scored 41 points in game five and averaged a triple-double for the Finals. He’s the first player ever to achieve that. James has now slipped to 3-5 in the NBA Finals. Is Durant now the game’s best player?

These are the first Finals where four players averaged scoring 25 points per game. Durant, Curry, Kyrie Erving and James. Warriors Coach Steve Kerr missed several games this year with back issues. Assistant Coach Mike Brown, who twice was fired by Cleveland, did a remarkable job in his absence. Kerr returned for game two of the Finals and wins his second title in three years. All five Warriors starters are in their 20s — get used to this Dub Nation.

 

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.

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Scott Taylor

Two Late Goals Give Penguins the Stanley Cup

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Scott Taylor

By Scott Taylor

Pens Win Cup

The Nashville Predators did not score a goal in the final 123 minutes and 23 seconds of the Stanley Cup final.

And that’s why the Pittsburgh Penguins are the 2017 Stanley Cup champions.

Thanks to two late goals – a bit of a fluke by Patric Hornqvist and an empty netter by the speedy Carl Hagelin – the Penguins won their second straight Cup with a 2-0 win over the Predators in Game 6 of the Championship Final.

Penguins captain Sidney Crosby also won his second straight individual award – the Conn Smythe Trophy, which is awarded to the playoff MVP.

Pittsburgh Penguins hoist the Stanley Cup for the second straight year

Pittsburgh wins their second straight Stanley Cup

It was the first time since the 1997 and 1998 Detroit Red Wings that any team had won two straight Stanley Cups.

“This was our goal at the start of the year, we knew it hadn’t been done in a long time,” Crosby told NBC Sports. “To be able to accomplish it is a great feeling.

“We knew it was going to be tough all year. We just tried to keep with it. We had a lot of injuries and things like that, so we just kept finding ways. That’s really what we did all season, all playoffs, and it’s great to be able to do it.”

On Sunday night at Bridgestone Arena in Smashville, the high-spirited, and yes, magnificent, home crowd couldn’t coax their heroes into a goal. The Predators did not score a goal since Filip Forsberg scored his only goal of the final at the 16:37 mark of the third period of Game 4.

In Game 5, Matt Murray made 24 saves to get the 6-0 shutout in Pittsburgh and then, in Game 6 on Sunday, made 27 saves to get the 2-0 shutout in Nashville. In a series in which every expert claimed that the only way Nashville could win was if their netminder, Pekka Rinne, was significantly better than Murray, the Pittsburgh puck-stopper was clearly the best.

The goals on Sunday weren’t pretty. Of course, they didn’t have to be. The winner was a shot from behind the Nashville net, off Rinne’s back and up into the twine with 1:35 left in regulation time. The winner was a result of Hagelin’s under-rated speed as he won a race to a loose puck and almost skated that puck right through the net.

“It’s going to be the biggest goal I’m ever going to score,” Hornqvist said during a postgame interview on CBC-TV. “I just got lucky to score the first goal.”

“This was a team effort from the first shift to the last shift. This was a battle through the whole series. They played really well Nashville, but we came up big when we needed it.”

It was an amazing scene in Nashville after Hornqvist scored the winner. After all, it was the Predators who made Hornqvist the very last pick, No. 230, in the 2005 NHL Draft. For those who might have forgotten, Crosby was the first pick in the 2005 NHL Draft.

Hornqvist scored 106 goals in 363 games for the Predators before he was traded to the Penguins, along with forward Nick Spaling, for forward James Neal on June 27, 2014. The trade was the very first one made by Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford. It’s a crazy world.

Of course, this was a huge series for the three most important players, Murray, Hornqvist and Crosby, but it was also deeply important and even heart-warming for three American players: Virginia, Minnesota’s Matt Cullen is expected to retire today. He won the Cup at age 40. Woodbury, Minnesota’s Jake Guentzel tied a rookie playoff scoring record with 13 goals and 21 points. And Bolton, Connecticut’s Ron Hainsey, in his first NHL playoff at age 36, was the man Crosby handed the Cup to after the captain took the first skate.

One of the great things about hockey, what makes it more, well, player-friendly, than other major professional sport is that this is the only one in which the commissioner hands the trophy to the team captain, not the team owner. When Gary Bettman handed the Stanley Cup to Sidney Crosby for the second straight year, it pretty much solidified Crosby’s place among the greatest players in the game’s history.

The fans in Nashville didn’t like him and there are a lot of hockey fans all over who don’t care for Crosby’s form of passion. However, if you’re going to build a franchise around one player, it would be Sid the Kid. And he proved it again with a second straight Stanley Cup and a second-straight Conn Smythe Trophy.

 

 

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Thomas U. Tuttle

Santana The Man

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by Thomas U. Tuttle

A couple of years ago the Minnesota Twins picked up veteran righty Ervin Ramon Santana with the hope that he could become the club ace and provide leadership to a young staff. Instead, they picked up a very expensive (four years, $55 mil) and challenging player situation, a man who was about to be suspended for half of the 2015 season on suspicion of performance enhancing drug use.

Santana was nonetheless able to contribute a little something to the Twins surprising team that year, finishing 7-5 for first year manager Paul Molitor’s overachieving (83-79) squad – all the while consistently denying the usage of anything illicit.

2016’s debacle season (59-103) was aided by Santana’s inconsistency and lack of support from the Twins offense, resulting in a weak 7-11 record despite an impressive ERA of 3.38 – among the top ten in the American League. Those of us who watched a number of his appearances in ’16 know that he pitched in hard luck on several occasions, but also gave up some crucial blows, at critical times, from the opposing side.

This year, our man Ervin is just right. His win in shutting out the Giants on a recent Friday gives him more wins than last year (eight) and one of the best all-around statistical seasons in baseball to this point, with one more shutout (three) than the rest of the league combined (two). Pretty amazing run thus far, and an All Star game start could well be just a couple more wins away.

(Interesting but little known fact: Ervin was actually born Johan Ramon Santana in La Romana, Dominican Republic – but there was a problem with that first name because, as most Twins fans know, there was already another Johan Santana – the formidable and established MLB star who throws from the left side. “I needed another first name, so I went with Ervin because it sounded good,” he said.

Against the Giants, he not only pitched the Twins to a 4-0 complete game shutout, Ervin also hit a bases clearing three-run double to greatly help his own cause. Not bad for a guy who rarely takes batting practice.

In serving up an exceptional 4-hitter, with 26 of 31 possible first pitch strikes and a triple San Francisco’s only well-struck base hit, he provided more evidence that, right now, he’s one of the best in the game.

Granted, recent two-time World Champion San Francisco has been having trouble this year, but the Minnesota road warriors continue their dominance away from home. When you think about it, the facts are nothing short of amazing; as of this writing the Twins are a baseball-leading 20-8 when visiting and a MLB worst 12-18 in the friendly confines of Target Field.

With a team not that much different from last season, they are in first place by two games in a division that looks like it could remain in play all summer. The defending AL best Cleveland Indians are struggling to find themselves, with some major cogs underperforming to this point. The White Sox continue a period (years) of struggle and the ongoing failure of Kansas City requires more study; the Detroit Tigers, for my money, could still be a team that emerges strong.

Minnesota has a bullpen that puts out fires with gasoline, including a closer in Brandon Kintzler who pitches with grit and technique rather than overpowering hitters. That said, and despite a couple of glaring blown save outings, his efforts have garnered 17 saves and the faith of manager Paul Molitor. “Brandon has to pitch to his spots, but he can be effective doing that,” said the Twins skipper. In other words, he “pitches to contact” – not exactly the classic flamethrowing bully called in to safely close out a win.

With Kyle Gibson finally giving a first-rate pitching performance and Jose Berrios looking like he has found his confidence on the mound, things are continuing to evolve with the starting rotation. Those two are the recent good news, with both garnering important wins of late. Early season starter Phil Hughes was disappointing in recent starts before he went on the DL, and erstwhile number-four man Hector Santiago has been Mr HR Dinger of late, with 12 home runs in 25 innings during his recent miseries.

Frankly, the starting pitching still has to be regarded as suspect, and the bullpen can be considerably worse. The cause for optimism is that this team finds ways to win despite clear challenges on the mound (former closer Glen Perkins won’t be back to help this year, if ever). And the offense can be darned explosive at times despite inconsistencies – more on that next time.

So back to the good news of Johan, er, Ervin Santana. With a great lead starter who commands confidence from the players behind him and strikes a little fear in the opposition, there are possibilities that good things can continue to happen in the Twin Towns. Or at least, perhaps, on long road trips for the battling squad that plays its home games near the banks of the Mississippi.

Minnesota Twins pitcher Ervin Santana

Ervin Santana leads the Major Leagues with 3 Shutout peformances thus far…

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Eric Nelson

SPORTS NUGGETS: Peyton Manning can golf with President Trump if he wants and other sports stars can criticize the POTUS if they want

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By Eric Nelson
June 7, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD

MINNEAPOLIS – Sports Nuggets from the North Star State...

•Playing Politics:NFL legend Peyton Manning is taking heat for golfing with President Donald Trump recently in Virginia. Many Manning fans are upset that he associated himself with a divisive guy like Trump. I am not a Trump fan and believe he has polarized the USA by sewing the seeds of hate. But, Manning did nothing wrong and does not deserve venom from the left just because he golfed with the POTUS…

•Two-way Street: Manning, Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, Bobby Knight and others can align themselves with Trump if they want. It’s their prerogative. Of course, it’s okay for LeBron James, Steve Kerr, Gregg Popovich, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and others to criticize Trump if they want. It is their prerogative too and they don’t deserve criticism from the right…

•Just Asking: What will happen first?… The Golden State Warriors losing a playoff game or Colin Kaepernick getting an NFL job…

•Kevin Can’t Wait: When it comes to chasing NBA championship rings superstars named Kevin have had plenty of success. First it was Kevin Garnett going from Minnesota to Boston and winning a title. Then it was the Timberwolves peddling Kevin Love to Cleveland where he won a championship. Now it looks like Kevin Durant will find Kevin heaven with Golden State after leaving Oklahoma City for Oakland…

•Rod’s Return: Minnesota Twins legend Rod Carew and his wife Rhonda return to Target Field on July 3 for the LA Angels-Minnesota game. It will be the Carew’s first trip to the Twin Cities since Rod had a heart transplant on December 16, 2016. The Carew’s will also be in Minneapolis on August 18 for Twins Hall of Fame Weekend and Donor Day against Arizona…

•Flashbacks: The Twins will salute Carew by remembering the 40th Anniversary of his magical 1977 MVP year when he batted .388, and the 50th Anniversary of his 1967 AL Rookie of the Year season…

•Party-Time: The Twins host their first-ever MLB Draft Party at Target Field on Monday. Gates open at 5:30 pm and Minnesota has the number one pick in the draft for the third time in club history. The last time the Twins had the top pick was 2001 when they chose Joe Mauer. Minnesota plays Seattle that night at 7:10 pm…

•Domination: The Houston Astros and Washington Nationals are running away with their respective divisions. The Astros (42-17) lead the LA Angels and Seattle by 13 games in the AL West, and the Nationals (37-20) have a 12 1/2 game cushion over Atlanta and the NY Mets in the NL East…

•Title Starved: Btw, Houston and Washington have never won a World Series, so there is a chance that another baseball championship drought ends this season…

•Bar Brawl: According to USA Today Rex and Rob Ryan were involved in a bar fight in Nashville on Saturday. Too bad Rex Ryan’s Buffalo teams did not have that much fight when he was coaching the Bills…

•Puck Power: The NHL is on a roll as Nashville and Pittsburgh cap off a wonderful post season in the Stanley Cup Final. Hockey is also getting an assist from NBA icon Charles Barkley, who has been gushing about the sport. Barkley’s pro-hockey stance is definitely good for the game…

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