The Official Thanksgiving Wrap

947613.jpg

The Official Thanksgiving Wrap

Welcome back, everyone.

I hope that you had a great Thanksgiving, and made it through the holiday weekend in one piece. I hope that youre still on speaking terms with your family; that you werent stranded in too many awkward conversations with old high school acquaintances; and that youve recovered from those five minutes of throwing the football before your shoulder went into shock.

At the very least, I hope you had a better Thanksgiving than Mark Sanchez. (Unless youve got a thing for slamming your face into sweaty, 300-pound butt cheeks. In that case: No judgment. Just keep doing what you do.)

But either way, heres the question: Where do we go from here?

Answer: From here, we get a little crazy.

While the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving slowly crawl along like every post-Michael Scott episode of The Office, this next month will fly by faster than an hour-long Homeland and with almost as much drama and chaos. Its going to be wild. In the movie of our lives, this next month is just a montage of the entire country anxiously burning through bank accounts, swearing in traffic and generally running around like the cast of the Walking Dead.

Next thing you know, its Christmas. Then Kwanza, followed by New Years and then . . .

Well, then theres nothing.

Just like that. Another year starts, and the world pretty much stops. Its back to life at The Office (as the Nard Dog breaks into a five minute bit thats barely funny for five seconds). Only now, life is complemented by mounds of snow, patches of black ice and days that turn into nights sometime around 3:30.

This is ridiculous! youll scream, while simultaneously digging out your car and contemplating suicide at 5 a.m. on a Monday morning. Wasnt it just Thanksgiving? Yup. It was. But thats what happens. The blink of an eye. Every. Single. Year.

But while the final five weeks of 2012 are about to play out in fast forward, theyll also serve as a definitive stretch for all four major professional sports leagues.

In the NHL, the next month will determine whether the NHL even exists. In baseball, teams will put the finishing touches on their offseason, and officially set the table for 2013. In the NBA, the next month will bring the death of the small sample size and take the league into its second trimester (even if its not showing). Finally, in the NFL, these next five weeks are the regular season. On January 1, the playoff schedule will be finalized. (Same for the Ryan Familys annual trip to Hedonism II.)

So, before everything gets out of hand, lets take a quick breath and re-evaluate what transpired in the world of sports over the holiday weekend, and lets do it with an old fashioned game of: What We Learned Over Thanksgiving Break

IN THE NBA, we learned that . . .
The Celtics still have it: Im not so concerned with Wednesdays loss to the Spurs or overly excited about last nights victory in Orlando, but Friday nights win over the Thunder was the single most important game of the Celtics young season. It was their first win against a legitimate contender; the first piece of visual evidence that they have what it takes to hang with the best. Its a game that fans, players and coaches can use to build confidence, and stay focused on how good this team can be when everythings in order. (AKA, the defense clicks, the bench lives up to expectations, KGs loose, Rondo comes to play, Pierce is relentless, Jason Terrys a stone cold scorer and Jeff Green has a five-alarm fire burning in his spandex.)

In some ways, I guess wins like Friday make the losses to Detroit and Milwaukee (and battles with the Wizards) even more frustrating. But really, what are you going to do? Thats just life in the NBA, especially for a team whose four leading scorers are a 36-year-old center, a 35-year-old shooting guard, a 35-year-old small forward and a point guard whos not always locked in. No matter what, I guarantee there will continue to be nights when the Celtics dont show up against less-talented teams and leave you wondering if theyll even escape the first round, never mind make another run at Miami.

But with every win like Friday, we wont wonder quite as much. And eventually, at least hopefully, well re-discover that all-important comfort and confidence of being able to look at the Celtics and truly believe: Regardless of what happens over these 82 games, if they can just stay healthy for the playoffs, anything is possible.

The Cs can make another statement on Wednesday, when they host the Nets. After what happened a few weeks ago in Brooklyn, you know theyll want revenge, to re-establish themselves in the Atlantic, and equal a season high with their third straight win.

But for a REAL, OKC-like statement, Im looking at December 15 in San Antonio. A rematch with the Spurs. Granted, the game comes on the second night of a back-to-back, so maybe we shouldnt expect too much. Still, its one of few chances that the Cs will have to really flex their muscles between now and 2013. (Faaaaar more importantly, its also the night that Rondos scheduled to break Magic Johnsons record for consecutive games with 10 or more assists.)

The Lakers are still a mess: After going 4-1 under Bernie Zen Master 2.0 Bickerstaff, the Lakers are 2-2 since Mike DAntoni limped onto the sidelines. But off the court, their status is far below .500.

This was highlighted on Friday night, after an embarrassing loss to the Grizzlies, when DAntoni was asked why he didnt play Pau Gasol down the stretch: I was thinking I'd like to win this game, he said. That's what I was thinking.

First of all, this quote only makes me angrier about how psychotic every one in Boston (or maybe just the media) was at the beginning of Bobby Valentines tenure. Can you imagine if Bobby V. had said something like this? Tony Massarotti would have literally defecated himself on air. (Damn, now Im kind of pissed that we missed out). But the point is that these things happen. Its not the end of the world. This is how coaches establish control when theyre thrown into a tumultuous, high-pressure situation.

But for now, its also another sign that the Lakers still have a ways to go before realizing anything close to their potential. Mike Brown might be gone, but the drama isnt going anywhere . . . as Phil Jackson takes another sip of Peyote cocktail and loses himself in the madness.

Bynums still in flux: From a Celtics perspective, Andrew Bynums on-going knee issues are nothing but good news. From a comedy perspective, theyre great news (Theres nothing funnier than a sidelined superstar who goes on bowling on surgically repaired knees and shows up for games looking a like a cross between Mr. Glass and Maya Angelou.) But from a humanunbiased basketball perspective, the whole thing is pretty sad. In fact, with the recent report that the Sixers have erased any timetable for Bynums return, I dont need any more updates on Andrew Bynum until the news is at least somewhat less depressing. Its enough already. Same goes for Antoine Walker and Brandon Roy.

The Knicks are still rolling: Despite a recent two-game slide, the Knicks beat the Pistons last night to improve to 9-3 overall, 5-0 at MSG and 6-0 within the Eastern Conference. Through 12 games, theyre also the NBAs most efficient offense.

Believe it or not, New York and Boston dont meet for the first time this year until January 7, and at that point, Ill be surprised if the Knicks are still flying so high. The reason? Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony. We really think these two can play together? They have worse chemistry than Lindsay Lohan and the entire cast of Liz & Dick. (Come on, you know you watched.)

Amare should be back some time later next month, and don't surprised to see the Knicks hit the same kind of funk they did last winter when Carmelo killed Linsanity.

IN THE NFL, we learned that . . .

The AFC is over: For the last few weeks, its been clear that the Pats and Texans will both defend their 2011 division titles. But very recently thanks to the Norv Turner Effect in San Diego and with the Steelers relegated to a quarterback whos so old that hes thrown six career touchdown passes to Herman Moore the Ravens and Broncos have also pretty much clinched the division crown.

Want to hear something crazy?

Short of a monumental disaster aka assuming the Pats, Texans, Ravens and Broncos all hold on this will be the first time in AFC history that every previous division champ came back to defend its title. Its never happened in consecutive years. (The last time it happened in the NFC was in 1996, when the Cowboys, Packers and Niners had a collective repeat, but that was back when there were only three divisions.)

As for the last two AFC playoff spots? Unless the Dolphins pull off an upset this week against the Pats, its a three-team race between the Colts, Bengals and Steelers. And right now, sizing up the schedules, theres a good chance that Pittsburgh ends up on the outside looking in. Especially since were about two weeks away from Mike Tomlin rolling out an offense led Vinny Testaverde, Bam Morris and Art Monk.

The Saints are dead: Youve got to give them credit, and it was a lot of fun to watch them try and pull off the impossible, but with yesterdays loss to San Francisco its time to close the book on the 2012 New Orleans Saints. Well remember them for their historically hilarious defense, Drew Brees consecutive touchdown streak and the time Roger Goodell was banned from Jonathan Vilmas barbecue joint.
The Jets are dead, buried and halfway decomposed: I dont have an advertising degree, but wouldnt this be the perfect time for Pepsi to start re-airing last years Jets commercial?

1. It would be the funniest thing on TV.

2. It would get people talking about Pepsi Max.

3. It would save them all sorts of money. Minus whatever it costs to superimpose an image of Tim Tebow sitting shirtless in the locker room with his face stuffed into a towel.

The Chargers need a fresh start: And I dont just mean they need to fire AJ Smith and throw Norv Turner into the Pacific Ocean. I mean they need to just leave San Diego and start up somewhere new. Obviously, Chargers owner Alex Spanos has eyes on LA, but who knows when that will be a reality. And who knows what other opportunities might be out there. But its reached critical mass in San Diego. The Media Relations staff is in LaLa land. The front office has destroyed any sense of faith and excitement surrounding the team. And anyway, the fans already know its just a matter of time before Spanos splits town, so what do they even care?

Fourth and 29.

Only you, Norv.

IN BASEBALL, we learned that . . .Johnny Gomes signed with the Red Sox: On one hand, it feel a little dirty to see the Sox come to terms with a guy whos best known around here for beating up Coco Crisp at Fenway Park. On the other hand, theres something nice about welcoming a guy whos known for beating up anyone. So hes a fiery a------? Great, the Sox could use a few players like that. Whether Gomes actually produces is another story, but for 5M a year youd like to think hell finish somewhere around 20 home runs.

Napoli wants four years: Recent reports indicate that Mike Napolis holding out for a four-year deal with Boston . . . and that sounds about right. But its also never going to happen. Youll see Larry Lucchino sitting front row at an Odd Future concert before youll see the Sox give Napoli a four-year deal. Or so Id like to think. But on the bright side, its hard to imagine anyone will, and that point, I doubt there will be a team thats willing to go higher on a three-year deal than the Sox.

Unless theyre serious about bringing on Nick Swisher to play first base, or paying big bucks for Adam LaRoche or crazy enough to think they can get by with a Mauro GomezJerry SandsCarlos Quintana platoon.

AND FINALLY, IN THE NHL, we learned that . . .

Gary Bettman canceled the latest round of negotiations so that he could pick his daughter up from freshman field hockey practice: No, that didn't happen. But nothing would surprise you at this point. Certainly not the sight of Bettman pissing away another season, and driving a poison-tipped stake into the heart of NHL relevance.

Happy Holidays, Gary.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Belichick explains matching in the secondary

Belichick explains matching in the secondary

FOXBORO – Here’s a leftover from last week I’m dredging up because it’s really instructive in giving insight to something we all flap our arms about: how the Pats decide whether to play zone, man-to-man or match receivers with their secondary.

The jumping off-point was asking about Trumaine Johnson -- a long-tall corner for the Rams. As Belichick about Johnson and the difficulties he poses, at 6-foot-2, it brought to mind the team’s acquisition earlier this season of Eric Rowe. The 6-2 corner they got from the Eagles filled a need in that the Patriots other corners are not very tall, headlined by 5-9 Malcolm Butler.

So I asked Belichick if the team strives to have different sized players in the secondary.

“That’s if you move them around,” he explained, meaning size only matters if you intend to put size-on-size. “If you don’t move them around, if you play a guy at one positon and he plays on the right side or the left side, you cover the guy that’s over there, which I’d say is more the situation than not. There are some teams or some situations where you’ve got him, he’s got the next guy, you’ve got somebody else, but I’d say that’s by far the lower percentage of the plays, by far. Generally, you see a corner play – some games are different. We’ll match to this guy and somebody else matches to that guy. Teams will do that. There’s some of that, but by and large, most teams play at one position and whoever is in that spot, that’s who they cover.”

With matching receivers being the exception rather than the rule, the next logical question is why? Why would you let a little guy cover a big guy if you also have a big guy who could cover?

Because offenses make it complicated, Belichick answered.

“The easiest thing in the world is for one player to match another,” he explained. “‘OK, you go cover this guy.’ Alright, great. But what do the other 10 guys do? That’s the problem. It’s easy to matchup one guy. That’s simple. What do the other 10 guys do? What if he’s here? What if he’s there? What if he goes in motion? What if he’s in the backfield? What if it’s this personnel? What if it’s that personnel in the game? Then how does all the rest of it matchup? That’s where it gets tricky.  You can be spending all day, literally, on that. OK yeah, you take this guy but what are you going to do with the other 10?”

Belichick also delved into other options including a coverage concept the Pats used when Darrelle Revis was here. Giving Revis the opponent’s so-called No. 2 receiver and doubling the No. 1.

“You can matchup and put your best guy on their best guy, or you can matchup and put your best guy on let’s call it their second best guy and put your second best guy on their best guy and double him,” Belichick said. “If you’re going to put your best guy on their best guy and double him anyway then you kind of lessen the matchups down the line. It’s like setting a tennis ladder, or whatever. If you put your bad guy at one and you win two through seven, great. If you put your best guy at one and he gets beat by their one and then your two versus their two, you know. That’s what you’re doing. You have a three to four-man ladder there with the receivers and your DB’s [defensive backs], except we don’t have to match them that way. You can match them however you want.”

It’s a fascinating discussion and it comes into play the next two weeks as the Patriots will see a true test with receivers like the Ravens Steve Smith and Denver with Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas.

The Patriots will have decisions to make. Chances are they’ll use a little bit of everything. But these are some of the the things they weight when doing so.

Players, analysts weigh in on Chris Sale trade

Players, analysts weigh in on Chris Sale trade

The Red Sox made a major splash with Tuesday’s Chris Sale, the second swap of the day after acquiring Tyler Thornburg from the Brewers. 

MORE ON THE TRADE

While Boston had to give up top prospect Yoan Moncada and three other legitimate prospects in the trade, the deal gives them a very deep starting rotation that figures to see last offseason’s big acquisition -- David Price -- end up as Boston’s No. 3 starter. 

Here’s what the reaction looked like as the trade came down: 

CSN baseball analyst Lou Merloni gave the deal his stamp of approval. 

Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan cautioned against thinking the Red Sox at a discount. 

Blake Swihart was not one of the four prospects involved in the deal, and he’ll have a heck of a team to work with going forward. 

In Tampa, Chris Archer realized the AL East has a new ace. 

And one Sox fan pointed out that Dave Dombrowski has absolutely dumped out what was once a large and top-heavy chest of prospects.