Odds & Ends-Volume 167

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venturaWe begin Odds & Ends this week with the tragic death of Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura. The 25-year-old right-handed pitcher was killed in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic early yesterday morning. Ventura had been with the Royals since 2013, posting a 38-31 career record with a 3.89 ERA and won a World Series with the team in 2015, the team’s first in 30 years.

“Obviously our prayers go out to Yordano’s family, all his friends, his teammates, our fans and everybody throughout the baseball community,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said on a conference call Sunday afternoon. “Everybody with our team and our organization is hurting deeply. This is certainly something that puts everything into strong perspective. It’s a reminder that nobody is guaranteed tomorrow.”

While Ventura was a rising star and a big part of the Royals clubhouse who no doubt had the best yet to come in his career,he did rub opponents the wrong way. In 2015, he had several scrapes with players like Brett Lawrie of Oakland and Adam Eaton of Chicago (White Sox). Last season Ventura and Baltimore third baseman Manny Machado engaged in a brawl after Ventura hit him with a pitch the at-bat prior. Ventura was suspended nine games.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Ventura’s because of the antagonist he was and how much his actions made the Kansas City Royals look like a team full of bullies.

However, it is a very sad loss for not just the Royals and their fans,but for all of baseball. It is,much like Oscar Tavares and Jose Fernandez before him,a life and a career that has ended much too soon.

The Atlanta Falcons will represent the NFC for the second time in their history as they wonjuliojones the NFC Championship Game handily 44-21 in what was their final game in their current home,the Georgia Dome. They will face in the Super Bowl and hope to bring the Lombardi trophy to their new home,Mercedes-Benz Stadium,when it opens next season.

Matt Ryan threw for 392 yards and four touchdowns and rushed in for a score. Julio Jones had nine catches and 180 yards and two touchdowns in a win that sends Atlanta to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1998.

“We’ll enjoy it because it’s hard to get to this point. I know that from experience,” Ryan said. “But our ultimate goal is still in front of us.”

Meanwhiile,the Packers’ defense looked very abysmal,giving up nearly 500 yards of offense and is sure to be a need to address coming up in free agency and the draft.

The Falcons will face the New England Patriots,who won the AFC Championship Game by a score of 36-17.

AFC Championship - Pittsburgh Steelers v New England PatriotsTom Brady went 32 of 42 for 384 yards and three touchdowns. Chris Hogan had nine catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns and Julian Edelman had eight catches for 118 yards and a score. The Patriots will make their record ninth Super Bowl appearance,their seventh in the Brady-Belichick era and open as three point favorites.

“This is my motivation right here, all these fellas in front of me, these guys,” Brady said, pointing to his teammates. “The boys showed up to play today.”

Meanwhile the Steelers lost tailback LeVeon Bell to an injury early in the game and did not return.

“We’ve got to be capable of overcoming those things,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “Injuries and so forth are part of the game. The reality is we didn’t make enough plays in any of the three phases. The game kind of unfolded in the way they would like it to as opposed to the way we would like it to. Not only in score, but in style of play and so forth. We didn’t get a lot accomplished tonight.”

I’m happy to see my team go back to the big game, but I will say that it’s not going to be easy. Atlanta has a good balance of offense and defense that’s going to be tough to beat. As for the Steelers,I have nothing but respect for them and their fans. I have no doubt that they’ll be back in the big game sometime soon. Same with the Packers.

Embiid.jpgIs it just me,or are the Philadelphia 76ers becoming a not so bad team?

The 76ers have had historically bad seasons the last few years,most of it by design. In 2015-16, they finished 10-72, the year before they were 18-64, and the year prior they were 19-63. As of press time they are currently 15-27 and have won eight of their last 11 games and have had the NBA’s best defense in that timeframe.

Much of that success can be contributed to rising stat Joel Embiid. The third overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, Embiid sat out for two seasons due to injury before making his NBA debut this season and he’s come on strong. He’s averaging 19.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per game.

Many are wondering if the team can even make the postseason after only having 10 wins the year before. I don’t think the team is thinking that. They’re just trying to have the best season they can and I think that no matter what happens the rest of the way,this season is a success. The “process” they’ve undergone is paying off for them, they’ve got a talented young nucleus and something good brewing. They’re going to be around a while and going to be pretty good in seasons to come.

CousinsUpset.jpgUsually I hate when Demarcus Cousins blows up when a call doesn’t go his way,but on Saturday night in Chicago,he had every right to be pissed.

In the final minute of the Kings’ 102-99 loss to the Bulls,Dwyane Wade stole the ball from Garrett Temple and drove to the basket when Cousins was whistled for a foul. What was controversial was that Cousins made no,if not any,contact with Wade to draw one. Wade was sent to the free-throw line and made one of two. With the Kings down one, the ball was stolen again by Wade and passed to Michael Carter-Williams,who went in for the dunk to seal the game for Chicago.

Following the game, Cousins took out his anger on a few trash cans outside the locker room and his postgame comments were made with sarcasm.

“I think they made the absolute right call. Incredible job by the referee crew tonight,” said Cousins.

The NBA on Sunday said that the foul should never have occurred and they noted that “Cousins (SAC) has his hand on Wade’s (CHI) back while he is airborne, but he does not extend his arm and push him and the contact does not affect the shot attempt.”

That should frustrate Cousins as well as his teammates. It’s bad enough that the league does miss calls frequently when it comes to him and the officiating on Saturday is a clear example of that. Sure,the Kings could have tried to control the ball better when they were down by one and scored on a possible last possession,but Wade shouldn’t have been given two free throws in the first place.

That’s it for Odds & Ends this week, we’ll catch you next time!

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