Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Video Breakdown presents the Nissan Rogue

If there's one thing that annoys me to no end- it's car commercials. About a small fraction of them get it right. The other 99% try to seem incredibly intelligent (and fail) or they have the car perform wildly unrealistic maneuvers. The Nissan Rogue falls into the latter category:

:02- This car comes rolling up in San Francisco with NO regard for human life. Trolleys? F*ck it- pedal to the mettle.

May it also be said here that the song they use to open up this commercial initially sounds like Lady Gaga's "Applause":

Each time I hear the opening of this commercial, I either immediately mute the TV or change channels.Whatever the opposite of applause is, that's what this commercial gets.

:05- "We're going to be late," says the gentleman with the nice wristwatch in the tan windbreaker, orange shirt and orange tie. Points for orange- but please, you guys should have probably GOTTEN UP AND LEFT ON TIME. The woman doesn't even respond with words. She gives the open road "the eyes". Yeah, road- you're about to know...driven on...aggressively. If you know what I mean. 

:09- After beginning to excessively speed, the car veers from right to left towards a very conveniently-placed cement rampway. At the bottom of the screen it reads, "Fantasy, do not attempt."  No sh*t, Sherlock. I hope the coffee has a lid on it and is secured. If not, someone's about to be in a world of pain AND have to change their clothes. It is also revealed this female with no regard for human life  is wearing heels. Yep, couldn't possibly see anything going wrong here.

:10- The speedometer reads 30 miles per hour. BULLSH*T. So after going  "30 miles per hour", the Rogue magically flies through the air some 60-100 feet, managing to align itself right above a moving subway train. This subway train is likely going at least 60 miles per hour. I did the math- and that doesn't seem to add up. 

:15- The car lands without a hitch, as the biggest inconvenience is the strand of hair she flicks out of her way, as a smug smile permeates her face. 

:17- A message is at the bottom again: "Fantasy, do not attempt. CARS CAN'T JUMP ON TRAINS." Well- then why would I buy this car if it can't do what is being shown in an advertisement? At this point, they should probably put Spiderman on this subway and have her run him over. It would tie-in with the fantasy theme. 

:20- Somehow she has paced her turn correctly and knows EXACTLY when to bail, and the car manages to land once again without a hitch on the street, by a park bench. A second later, the car angles into a parking spot...and there is no park bench in sight. 

:24- "Oh, are we early?" inquires this maverick of a female driver. The person who wrote the dialogue for this commercial has it made. Also noted is  a third person in the back of the car, who has no lines but smirks because almost dying due to incredibly impulsive and illegal driving is always funny/cute. The wristwatch-wearing, lateness foretelling male in the orange can only reply with a disdainful chuckle.

The commercial ends with "Innovation that excites." I'm not sure who this car appeals to, but if you have no regard for laws, life or your co-workers' coffee, then the Nissan Rogue is the car for you.

Like it? Love it? Hate it? Let me know on Twitter @SeanNeutron

Power Ranking the NBA Christmas Day Jerseys

When images surfaced of rumored Christmas Day NBA jerseys, my first thought was, "WHAT?" Soon after, I assumed they were just a prototype or a fan using photoshop. Then soon after, the NBA confirmed that these shirt-like jerseys were the actual Christmas Day versions. The Warriors first began the trend last season, and now the other nine teams playing today will sport their iterations as well. Some are markedly better than others.

I'll rank them from worst to best based off three things: how their logo looks (L), how they look on the court they'll be playing on (LOC) and overall creativity (OC). The total of those three categories will determine where the jerseys rank respectively.

10. Chicago Bulls       
L: 5    LOC: 2    OC: 3= 10
The Bulls break out their versions right away in the 12 o'clock game.  Silver seems to be the major theme outside of the sleeves and large logos. For some teams it works. For the Bulls- not so much. The shade of red in this image looks nice, but during gameplay it stands out- and not in a good way. Put it this  way: red should never be confused for orange. The second I saw them, I thought the Knicks were on the court. They come off looking very cheap, putting them very last on this list. This does not bode well for the other teams wearing red on Christmas Day.  

9. Houston Rockets


L: 6    LOC: 2    OC: 3 = 11
Like the Bulls, the Rockets will don a similar shade of red at 8 pm against the Spurs. The fact their jerseys already include silver make these jerseys look even less special. But their logo looks better than the large Bull- but that's just my opinion. These bottom two spots are essentially a toss-up.

8. Miami Heat

L: 7  LOC: 5  OC: 4= 16
The Heat might have finished first these last two NBA season as champs, but struggle here at 7. Their shade of red is more appealing, and the silver touch to their already dynamic logo leaves a big gap between them and the Bulls and Rockets. Overall, though, they aren't nearly as eye-catching as some of the other Christmas jerseys.

7. Brooklyn Nets
L: 7   LOC: 7  OC: 3 = 17
The combination of a simplistic silver logo and all black jerseys give the Nets a head up on the teams ranked up until now. While they aren't anything ground-breaking or fancy- sometimes less is more.
6. Los Angeles Clippers
L: 7   LOC: 8  OC: 5= 20 
The royal blue against the silver with the red and white trim give the Clippers' threads an advantage. Some may find them plain or too simple, but they'll look even better with the electric pace the Clippers will be forced to play against Stephen Curry and the Warriors. They'll certainly stand out against the Golden State's yellow court, another key factor in how jerseys from all ten teams will look.

5. Spurs
L: 7    LOC: 8    OC: 6= 21
The Spurs subscribe to the "less is more" theme just like the Clippers, except their less is more eye-catching. No words, just the alternate logo they use as the "U" in their logo. Like the Rockets, they already had silver in their logo, but it simply fits perfectly. Like the Nets- the jerseys will compliment their home court very well. 

4.  Thunder


 L: 8    LOC: 7    OC: 7= 22 

The already appetizing shade of dark teal-ish blue against the very fierce silver OKC logo puts them  high on this list and will look great at Madison Square Garden. 

3. Knicks
L: 9   LOC: 8    OC: 7 = 24 
As someone whose favorite color is orange, I suppose the Knicks had an unfair advantage in these power rankings. But hey- it's my list, so there. The silver is at it's finest here, syncing well with the orange and blue. While Carmelo is out against the Thunder and the Knicks' season is seemingly lost- at least they'll look good today.  

2. Lakers
 L: 9 LOC: 8  OC: 8= 25
What would Christmas Day be without the Lakers?  While they don't have Kobe Bryant and their season is not as they once hoped, fans of the yellow and gold can revel in the fact that they rank highly here. This takes their Sunday alternate idea to a whole new level- one I'd like to dub "Laker Stormtrooper". This is neck-and-neck with their brand new "Hollywood Nights" that debuted earlier this season. 

1. Warriors

L: 10    LOC: 8   OC: 9= 27  
For the Warriors to be first on this list while having yellow be the predominant color speaks volumes of how much I love these threads. I typically detest the color yellow outside of the use of honey mustard, but these uniforms #getit. Their logo looks good on their everyday home and away jerseys, but it really pops out with the silver mixed with yellow and complimented well by the blue. These are the best that Christmas Day has to offer. 

Newer is not always better. With these ones being put in order, I still love 2012's Christmas Day uni's  as a whole a lot more. 

Like it? Love it? Hate it? Let me know @SeanNeutron




Sunday, December 15, 2013

All WWE Needs is a Little Faith

Was Monday night a sign of things to come, or just a mirage for those hopeful of  a Cena heel turn?
"Don't worry, Randy. We know exactly where our faith lies."

These words were spoken by on-air WWE COO Triple H when he "reassured" Randy Orton about his confidence in him on Friday Night Smackdown. This came three nights after Monday Night RAW that saw the head honcho being flanked by his wife, on-air WWE Director of personnel Kane, and World Heavyweight Champion John Cena. That collection of personalities followed a scrum which saw Stephanie collide with Orton "by accident". (I put that in quotations since it was scripted to happen for storyline purposes.)

The question is not does the WWE have faith in either Orton or company man John Cena- but do they have faith in themselves to execute what they implied Monday night: a full-fledged John Cena heel turn.

There is precedent for this, even if it involves three different situations. Back in 1998, Vince McMahon presented then-new WWF Champion Stone Cold Steve Austin. Austin came out in a suit and tie, seemingly conforming to the ways of the dubious McMahon. It was all for naught, as Austin hit his finisher, the Stunner on the unsuspecting chairman. Later that year in November, McMahon  formed The Corporation- a stable designed to take out any sort of rebellious wrestlers. It's most notable feud was with  -who else- Steve Austin.

Then in 2001, following an assist from McMahon, Stone Cold Steve Austin made a full-fledged heel turn against the Rock at Wrestlemania X7 (17). Some may have questioned it's effectiveness and success, but that's not the focal point. The biggest takeaway from Austin's turn to the dark side is it was simply a way for him to test the waters. As much as physicality plays a huge part in wrestling, what creates characters and drives ticket/merchandise sales is the theater aspect of it all. Like an actor, it was a new method to becoming more dynamic for Austin. 

Those three elements for the biggest babyface of the 90's have seemed to align in the current landscape of the WWE. You have a heel stable with plenty of power, a mega-superstar who would be the perfect instrument for enforcing and representing their agenda, and plenty of reason to finally turn him towards the other end of the "good guy/bad guy" spectrum.

John Cena at this point in his career has had a longer tenure (11 years) than Austin at the time he turned heel (5 years). In 2002 as part of his white rapper gimmick, he seemed edgy, cool and the next big thing (with all due respect to Brock Lesnar). Then once he obtained the WWE title in 2005, his character took a military-like theme, even though Cena has never served. Camouflage shirts, hats and dog tags became his trademarks. A salute to begin his entrance now joined his hand-waving antics
and "You can't see me!" battle cry. The "want some, come get some!" creed became allies with
"hustle, loyalty and respect." While it was a way to change his character, it all felt so forced and in later years it felt strained.

So you may be asking yourself- how has Cena's character changed since 2005-2006? Well outside of his colorful shirts that come out every few months- not at all. Even his entrance music is exactly the
same one he debuted in 2005. In 2013, it's a lot harder not only for the superstars but for the WWE as a whole to try new things. Essentially everything has been done- but that's why they have a "creative"
 team. It is their task to push boundaries, create new stars and keep the machine that is the WWE
chugging along. As I have always said, Cena as a bad guy is the final frontier for his character and
the the biggest storyline the WWE could run with and gain mainstream steam, bringing back casual
and lost fans along the way.

When Cena was out due to a grotesquely enormous left elbow, Randy Orton stepped in and played Daniel Bryan's foil as the new corporate champion. He had the backing of management, the proven track record full of titles and accolades, and the ability to make the Bryan supporters despise him.
The only problem? Only one man in the WWE can be vilified even more- their biggest good guy,
Cena.  Cena has made note of turning heel in the past few years, usually every few months when fans have seemed to grow tired of the same "goody two shoes"  shtick. He referred to it in tongue-in-cheek fashion after Wrestlemania, accompanying the phrase with an actual turn of his heel during a promo. He prides himself on being able to take the hate and keep coming at us like some sort of saint- doing everything for the good of the cause. He might think it is what fans want, but it's not what they deserve. From a performer capable of so much more, Cena is truly limiting his abilities. 

That's where faith comes in. WWE needs to have faith that making Cena a bad guy will be what's best for business. They must forgo their dependence on Cena as their go-to in every situation, and begin to rely on their younger talent. Common reasons also include not only Cena's merchandise sales and marketability, but also things like Make-A-Wish, for which he has done over three-hundred of. As smart as wrestling fans get these days (especially at younger ages), separating Cena's on-screen and off-screen persona shouldn't prove too difficult.

The other factor that makes TLC the perfect time for this long-awaited change? Daniel Bryan. Bryan is not only the one most capable of being the number one good guy- he's the only one the crowd will let be the number one good guy. It was not more evident than Monday Night, when in a ring full of 20-plus former World Heavyweight and WWE champions along with Orton and Cena (with Bryan off to the side), all the people cared to do was chant "Dan-iel Bry-an!" over and over. It wasn't a chant for the sake of getting attention, such as the "YES!" they chant throughout the night. It was the WWE Universe speaking their mind. Cena even had to bring attention to it, as it essentially halted the main event proceedings. Everyone in that ring could not ignore it- the fans want Bryan as champion, and they want it NOW. But the scrum would soon follow, and the symbolic alignment of the WWE's golden boy alongside the company's on-air authority figures took place as Orton lay in a state of confusion and shock in the corner.

There is no telling what  will happen Sunday night at Tables, Ladders and Chairs. If they want to begin to build a feud well worthy of main eventing Wrestlemania and going against their recent short-sided booking, then they have it right under their nose. It would be fitting that WWE would  set up their next big feud and go the more organic route of the "world's toughest vegan", Daniel Bryan versus what could be their biggest mega-heel to date....John Cena.

Like it? Love it? Hate it? Let me know @SeanNeutron

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Red Skinned Indecision

It's not Robert Griffin's inconsistent play that is the culprit of the disappointing 2013 season for the Redskins. Neither is it the fault of a passing defense which ranks 27th in the league. It's not even their middle-of-the-road offense (outside of the the second-best rushing attack in the NFL) or porous offensive line which is to blame for a 3-10 campaign.

The onus rests on one man's shoulders: Mike Shanahan.

Doubt has followed Shanahan all season. People wonder how he has failed to acclimate Griffin to his style of coaching. In reality, Shanahan- like any good coach- would have been better served to play to his quarterback's strengths all along. But that would require him to suck up his pride, and would also require the one thing that has been missing for some time: a firm decision. 

The red flag that signaled the unraveling for a once great coach came last year against the Seahawks when Griffin was put back in the game after limping off the field prior. The ACL/LCL tears soon followed, and number ten lay in a heap on the field. One question would haunt the head coach into the offseason and likely for the rest of his tenure in Washington: Why did he put RG3 back in the game? 

One may never know exactly why Shanahan did what he did that January night but recent accounts (courtesy of Adam Schefter) only decrease Redskins fans' confidence in him. Maybe Dan Snyder is a powerful persuader -but the decision to leave wasn't his. It was up to Shanahan to decide whether or not he wanted to stay on. He would be called a quitter by many, but he would have gotten to leave on his terms. But now the pressure mounts, and soon the decision will be out of his hands.

It never had to be this difficult. Mike Shanahan made it that way...all by himself. As radio host Steve Czaban (AM 980's The Drive with Cooley and Zabe) said, "Shanahan drove us [Redskins fans] out to the woods, kicked in the navigation screen, told us to get out and shot out all four tires." Shanahan wanted to take the team and fanbase down his road, convinced it would work.

It hasn't.

Now he is in a corner, forced to put in Kirk Cousins as starter against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. This decision is made out to be some sort of accomplishment likely influenced by Snyder. But in reality, it is a desperate move for a desperate coach. Not that I disagree with the starting of Cousins- I am all for it. But it shouldn't have taken fourteen weeks for him to start a game.

Coming off a major injury and playing in no preseason games, we can all safely say now that RG3 was not ready for action. Come hell or high water, Shanahan trotted him out  in Week 1 against the Philadelphia Eagles. The 33-27 score is deceiving as it required a furious second half rally just to lose by six. The Eagles were like a fighter throwing a copious amount of punches early only to gas out in the later rounds. Yet the Redskins still could not manage a win at home. The slow starts and second half rallies would begin to become the team's calling card -but more often than not it would end in disappointment.

It wasn't until Week 2 when I truly doubted Shanahan's decision making. Down 38-7 to begin the fourth quarter, RG3 was still in the game attempting somehow to comeback at Lambeau to beat a healthy Aaron Rodgers and company. Play after play, Griffin was exposed to the defense whether it was a play-action pass or a quarterback draw. In a futile attempt to come back against daunting odds, Mike and Kyle Shanahan were only putting the future of their franchise further at risk.

But not even Kyle is defending his father's most recent "decision". Seeds of dissension are now planted, with Kyle and a host of others wondering what the elder Shanahan's agenda is. Is he trying to get fired by benching Griffin? If that's the case, why not just quit? I feel like this is groundhog day, and every time there is a crucial decision to be made, Shanahan goes against rational thought each time. Now he is at a crossroads, where the decision between being right and wrong is bleaker than ever. If he benches RG3, it is because he has an alternate agenda. If he doesn't bench RG3, he is holding on to some faint hope that last year's offensive rookie of the year will suddenly show everyone why they traded up to get him.

As Mike Wise of the Washington Post notes, the move from RG3 to Cousins is for all the wrong reasons. Instead of making this decision before the season, Shanahan only prolonged the inevitable. What's done is done. If Shanahan believed the questions and doubt would cease with this one move- then he's more oblivious to reality than we all thought.

Like it? Love it? Hate it? Let me know @SeanNeutron

Friday, December 6, 2013

Rip City's Finest: Breaking Down the Blazers

Raise your hand if you had the Blazers making the playoffs. Ok, a few of you. Now raise your hands if you had Portland as number one at any point this season, let alone starting it off 16-3. Anyone? Put your hands down, Bill Walton and Rasheed Wallace. The questions are certainly there, so let's not waste any time delving into them.

Where the hell did the Blazers come from?

The short answer? Oregon- Portland to be exact. The long answer- well that takes a little more explaining.

Before this season started, a number of people had the Blazers out of the playoff picture altogether. If anything, they were fringe contenders sitting somewhere around 8-10 (and that's being generous.) I myself had them ranked 8th, right in front of the Denver Nuggets- another surprise team so far. Questions during the summer from people who needed storylines were centered around veteran big man LaMarcus Alridge wanting to be traded. The rumors proved thin at best, as he likely hadn't pushed very hard for it. Now that he happens to be on the #1 team in the ultra-competitive West?  Not a chance.

One question I had about Aldridge was "Where does he go this year?" Not in terms of actual location, but in regards to his potential. The answer is simple....up. The former Longhorn is posting his best career stats, with averages of 23.5 points and 9.7 rebounds a game. He has also upped in steals and has the lowest per game foul average of his career (1.8). We always knew the big guy was a star, but underrated indeed. With his refined post game, ability to drain free throws and long range jumpers along with his athleticism and shot blocking abilities- how could you not think of him as one? Aldridge is still only 28 in his eighth year, which only means good things for a big guy who rarely if ever gets hurt or misses games. He is the model of consistency.

The other piece to the puzzle of success for Portland would be second year point guard Damian Lillard. The Weber State alumni has increased his assists from last year (5.7 to 6.3) and his field goal percentage is higher. While his 37% behind the arc is down from last year's 40%, it's still solid considering his game revolves around including his teammates while also creating his own shots. He's only a point off last year's 20.3, but as a secondary star to Aldridge, that's all the Blazers need from Lilliard.

OK, well what else besides Aldridge and Lilliard make the Blazer so good?

Robin Lopez. Ok, you can stop rolling your eyes now. To me, I'd take his 8.7 ppg and 8.4 rpg over Brook's 19.3 and 5.8 any day.

Wait, what?

Robin doesn't need to be a scorer. He just needs to be effective and efficient and know his role. As a seven footer, he is still quite awkward and non-traditional. He hasn't made the progress you see with players such as Hibbert and Alrdidge- but he plays hard and has an impact on his team. While Brook has flashes of being a threat down low, he can never put together a full season or even string together a few quality games. For instance, on December 3rd against Denver, Lopez only had two rebounds. TWO. Yes, the Nets are awful, but Dwight Howard enters the game with two rebounds, or so it seems. Brook also has yet to post a game with double digit rebounds, recording 9 twice.

Nicholas Batum can also go off any given night. The lanky Frenchman has an incredible wingspan for defense, and can shoot the three. He is a terror all over the floor with 13.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg and 5.0 assists. He helps spread the floor for Aldridge and Lilliard. Rarely does the lane ever get clogged (unless they play Leonard and Lopez together).

But if you want a true three point threat, look no further than the team's third best scoring option, Wesley Matthews. His sole purpose on the floor is to score, although 4.4 assists is not too shabby.

Portland also had a really solid 2013 NBA Draft, picking up Allen Crabbe and CJ McCollum. While they aren't polished yet, it only adds to their overall depth and bodes extremely well for their future. Their second year big man Miles Leonard is still awkward, but does provide size in case Lopez or Aldridge get into foul trouble. The most underrated addition of the offseason happened when Houston traded Portland PF Thomas Robinson for literally nothing. The #5 pick of the 2012 Draft is at his third stop in the NBA, which is unusual at this point. But I believe it is because he is a victim of circumstances. The Kings had no business drafting him when they already had numerous big men at the time, and inexplicably moved him to Clutch City during the season. As much as Houston would have loved to keep him, they knew it was not financially possible with the addition of Dwight Howard.

Are they that good, or are the Blazers a fluke? 

I can confidently say today- they are not a fluke. Fluke teams might beat one, maybe two elite teams in one season. By my count, they have beaten three in nineteen games (OKC, San Antonio and the Pacers.) They also beat two very good teams (Warriors and Nuggets). Portland doesn't just scrape by, either. They beat those five teams by  an average of  9.6 ppg.

The most interesting part of their season is that their three losses are from two teams: The Houston Rockets and wait for it.....keep waiting....the Phoenix Suns- TWICE. The first two losses were against those two teams in the first four games, preventing the Blazers from starting 15-0.The Rockets at that point had yet to play a solid game together and still have issues with chemistry and health, so that loss for Portland was especially interesting.  The second loss to Phoenix prevented them from being undefeated, but was not even close, losing 120-106. So without losses to two VERY inconsistent teams, Portland would be 19-0.

What's their biggest weakness? 

Right now, I'd say their youth. Aside from Aldridge, the team is very young and lacks and real playoff experience. While playing hot is impressive in the early part of a season where no one pegged them to be anywhere close to the playoffs, playing well in May and June is exponentially better. 

Where will the Blazers finish at the end of the year?

This question will be the hardest to answer. You could literally have them anywhere from 1-8 based off how young the season is, and how wild the West can be. The fact that they have been so resilient in the face of pressure and quality opposition, along with their young, talented core make them a true threat this season. Combine that with their consistency, and I would have them finish 3rd in the West, bumping the Clippers and Rockets down a notch.

Like it? Love it? Hate it? Let me know @SeanNeutron

Thursday, December 5, 2013

WWE Puts Its "Universe" in a Sleeper Hold

It is fitting that Randy Orton is half of the equation in the title unification match at Tables, Ladders and Chairs (TLC) against World Heavyweight Champion John Cena. He is most known for his plodding style filled with plenty of restholds (moves designed to slow down the match and give it more pacing), especially the classic sleeper hold. But this time it's not Orton's opponent who is being put to sleep- it's the WWE Universe.

Over the course of the last few months, the WWE has gone from a white-hot Daniel Bryan screaming "YES!" along with the whole crowd. During that time, the tag team division seemed to flourish with the Shield, Usos and Rhodes brothers all putting on exciting matches that told a story in the ring each and every week. Dolph Ziggler and Damien Sandow were poised to make "the leap" from midcard fodder to main eventers. Daniel Bryan and the rest of the young lions in the WWE seemed ready to carry the ball for the WWE.

The key word being seemed.

Last month I brought up WWE's notorious nature of short-sided booking. A lot of times you watch HHH come out and bring the new talent down to Earth with some sort of ridiculous storyline aimed to test their will. Will they snap and be put further down the card? Will they grit their teeth and stay the course in hope of future glory? All the while, I sit there like many others thinking, "Wait and see where this goes."  Trouble is, I have waited before...and it has yet to truly pay off. Vince McMahon and his team of bookers and writers always seem to go back to the well- even when it is drier than a desert. When something new and trendy comes along- whether it is the Nexus showing up in 2010, Zack Ryder and CM Punk's respective risings in 2011, or Daniel Bryan's most recent run up until Hell in a Cell- those in charge seem to prematurely end it without any actual sense of closure or logical conclusion.

Bryan was randomly kidnapped following a match with The Wyatts and CM Punk, while his onstage and real-life girlfriend Brie Bella was too busy getting Michael Strahan's autograph. It was not until afterwards in a short 15 second Tout that she showed her concern...half-hearted at best. The promising part is that Bryan is involved with Bray Wyatt- a promo artiste on the mic. Wyatt is bent on Bryan joining him to bring down the machine- so while D-Bry could easily be in the title picture, at least Wyatt makes us wonder if he can align himself alongside the Bearded One.

As for Ziggler and Sandow, the duo has been resigned to facing each other in singles competition where two gimmick style matches led to a number one contender's match. Sandow came out on top and will now be in line to face Big E Langston at TLC. (Surely a regressive step, no?) Better than Dolph- who looks to continue his wandering minstrel impression, just showing up on shows guided not by incentive, but simply a paycheck for his troubles. Which, when you think about it, is not that bad...but Ziggler like a host of others is capable of so much more.

This time of year has always been known to be the doldrums for the WWE. It's that awkward time between Summerslam and Royal Rumble, when they have been known to go by the numbers and experiment with their titleholders. Last year they had Ryback to play with, but booked him so inconsistently that even Hornswaggle could pin him these days. The difference this year is by the way they have gone about booking possible moneymakers like Bryan and Ziggler and a host of others, they have to rely on old faithful- John Cena and Randy Orton. The problem? It seemed rushed, but also as I mentioned last week- no one cares. WWE tried to make us care by mentioning all the titles won by both star throughout the careers during the show (on at least 10 different occasions), but their efforts seemed futile. In an effort to make this match seem "epic" as the announcers and even an on-screen graphic showed, WWE has ignored the other storylines and put together one of the worst RAW shows I have ever witnessed. (The fact that it was three hours did not help matters.)

The one shining star throughout these last few weeks? Mark Henry. After his incredible tear-jerking, bait-and-switch promo on John Cena back in  June, he is back and balder than ever. He came up short in the summer, when WWE was too afraid to take the belt off their cash cow, but rumors have him in the runnings for the title very soon. Even if it's a life achievement award reign, it will still be satisfying, not only for Henry- but also for fans. Why? Because it would be different. Regardless of his age, Henry can still put on a show for the fans and with Vince's famous love of big men in the ring, why not?

But here we are, only days away from TLC. A card with two belts to be unified with the top two stars in the company in a gimmick match. It's a match that doesn't need the added stipulation, but will get one anyway. It's also a card that includes Bryan and Punk in separate 3-on-1 handicap matches, because we have never seen a handicap match before. (An all-too familiar crutch these days.)

If this  supposed "big match" between the company's two biggest stars fails- instead of blaming it on the alcohol, McMahon will have no one else to blame but himself.

Like it? Love it? Hate it? Let me know @SeanNeutron.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Squared Circle Sound-off: Ruthless Regression

Back in 2002, Vince McMahon first coined the term "ruthless aggression." He was looking for a new crop of talent to infuse into the WWE to help transition from the old guard (Undertaker, Kane, Steve Austin, Rock, HHH, etc.). Two new stars would burst onto the scene that year. From the moment they came up, the two were thought to be a future WrestleMania main event...or string of main events. While it was tantalizing back then, in 2013 it is anything but.

The first was a young buck out of Ohio Valley Wrestling. His name was Prototype, but would later be known by his real name: John Cena. He had the look of a bodybuilder, similar to the current day version. His biceps and torso seemed almost Herculean and unreal. He came out (in his colored trunks) after Kurt Angle issued a challenge to "anyone in the back". Cena grabbed the mic, delivered McMahon's new phrase with all the vitriol he could muster, and took Angle to his limits before succumbing to the savvy ring veteran. There was an "L" in the books for Cena, but everyone watching whether fans or fellow wrestlers new one thing: a star was born.

The second star to arrive was Randall Keith Orton, or as he is known today: Randy Orton. His shtick at first was simply being a third-generation wrestler- a rarity in the business, but also thought of as a leg up on the competition. Curtis Axel (a.k.a. Joe Hennig) is currently trying to help disprove the notion. Soon after, Orton would team up with HHH, Ric Flair and another massive young superstar- Dave Bautista, a.k.a Batista. He was young by industry standards but past the age of 30 when he made his debut. Orton would become the "Legend Killer", attacking former wrestlers in an effort to gain respect. He had his immature moments, and at times management would come to question if he could be the future after a horrible initial title reign- but it changed at Backlash 2004. Orton would face the Hardcore Legend, Mick Foley. There he would be taken to hell and back, even being decorated with thousands of thumbtacks and a barbed-wire baseball bat to the head. That was when Orton's star was cemented, one that has evolved (and plateaued since).

This past Sunday at Survivor Series, WWE Champion Orton defeated the Big Show in a snoozer of a contest. John Cena had an even more by-the-numbers World Heavyweight title defense against one Alberto Del Rio. After Orton's match, Cena came out to the ring to raise his belt. An all-too familiar match-up was unofficially set for at least the next month's pay-per view; possibly beyond. Then on RAW this past Monday, Cena and Orton officially sealed the deal and made a dual-title match for Tables, Ladders and Chairs (TLC) in December. The night ended when Orton laid out Cena with his title belt -and picked up Cena's- posing with both, his foot atop the fallen Massachusetts native. Orton's foot might have well been WWE's dependence on their two top stars, while Cena's prone body represented the younger stars looking to become a fixture in the company's top tier.

After a month which saw the previously "unemployed" Big Show contend against Orton, is this match-up supposed to get fans excited for a potential title unification?

I put unemployed in quotes, because any time a wrestler is fired in a storyline, they end up either taking a week or two off...or they are booked on every show thereafter. Sometimes it is by buying a ticket and becoming a member of the crowd, or other times (like this one) it is simply a seven-foot two giant's wish to enter the ring and obliterate anything in his way. Or the time he commandeered a company camera and satellite feed (seemingly in front of a Pizza Hut) to get the attention of HHH and Stephanie McMahon.

Don't get me wrong. Cena and Orton do represent dollar signs for the WWE as they have been their anchors for over a decade now. But the problem is- no one aside from the children decked out in Cena's gear- wish to see the two matched up again. In 2009 alone, the duo had no less than five title matches together. But in 2013, the rivalry is a little played out- especially when they have a roster which features CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler and Cody Rhodes. Any of those young stars could be a title contender.

The notion that WWE wishes to feature these two after such a disastrous pair of title matches at Survivor Series (buy rates pending) is especially odd after Monday's show. During the setup to the eventual title match, the crowd broke out in chants of "YES! YES! YES!" and "Dan-iel Bry-an *clap clap clap clap clap* repeatedly. The YES chant may have caught on like Austin's "WHAT?" back in 2001, but saying a performer's name during a segment he is not even involved in- that as some would say, is rich. This wasn't a crowd bent on attention, yelling random things for the heck of it. No, this was a crowd that was a microcosm of the WWE Universe. No one wanted to see Big Show against Orton at Survivor Series. The RAW the night after Hell in a Cell was essentially a three hour process of the WWE taking a pin to the Daniel Bryan balloon. Now all of a sudden he had forgotten about being wronged multiple times during his quest for the WWE title and just wanted to beat up the Wyatts? While the Wyatts are not pushovers by any means, Bryan's short term memory and sudden shift in his agenda's course seemed jarring.

The WWE is famous for its love of nostalgia. That is why they continue to bring legends back on special legends contracts. That is why they continue to bring back the Rock, Brock Lesnar and the Undertaker for prominent matches on the biggest shows of the year. There is a niche for the market, but not one that would hog the spotlight from present-day stars trying to make a name for themselves.

Yes, Cena and Orton are future WWE Hall of Famers, but that does not mean they need to hold both belts hostage in an effort to sell merchandise or pay-per-views. The last time both titles were held by one man was in 2001, when  an up-and-coming Chris Jericho defeated both Austin and the Rock. It was a monumental occasion. Both belts would later become the Undisputed WWE Title, and it had that much more meaning when put on the line. Since then, many a fan has wondered when they would unite both belts again.

For the record, the unification was never officially announced. HHH and Stephanie only made it clear that the winner at TLC would have possession over both belts. The unification was simply implied.

Now fans can assume it will be at TLC- a show with such  a rich tradition of history and long lineage of epic title matches. Oh, wait....that's right. The show has only been around since 2009. It's most famous title match was an upset of Cena by Sheamus; one in which Cena literally succumbed to gravity and crashed through a table, losing his WWE title to the young Irishman in the blink of an eye.

Recent rumors have Daniel Bryan not being at fault for the low Summerslam buyrates, as the company believes there is a market for the "smart" wrestling community- or the geeks like me who invest time and emotion in how storylines play out from a booking standpoint. The rumor insinuates Bryan will be in the title picture by year's end, but with the recent turn of events it is not a definite thing.

For now, though, WWE fans are now entrenched in a match-up we have seen many a time before. What is different this time? How will WWE make us care to invest time and emotion into a feud outside of the "Hey, it's our two top guys!" argument? If recent history proves anything, they won't- and they'll let the two names sell the shows. When the numbers don't reach their lofty expectations, WWE will be left wondering how they let themselves slip into 2013's ruthless regression.

Like it? Love it? Hate it? Let me know on Twitter @SeanNeutron.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Linsanity 2.0


With the recent resurgence of Jeremy Lin as a game changer (32.5 ppg in his two games and 18.1 on the season), the third year NBA guard looks to rekindle the magic that was on display in 2012. Is this just simply two games linked together? Can Lin become not just a serviceable point guard- but a star one? To answer those questions, one must delve back into when it all began.

On December 27th, 2011 Jeremy Lin was signed by the New York Knicks after bouncing around the league with stops at Golden State and Houston (both of whom had to make room for other signings, but would later regret their decision to cut the future phenom). It wasn't until January 20th, 2012 that Lin became more than just a face in the crowd. That day, Lin had a triple double for the Erie Bayhawks in a 122-118 win.  He was called up a few days later by the struggling Knickerbockers in an effort to energize the line up.

He first garnered attention by lighting up the Nets. Soon after he would have to go up against the Kobe Bryant-led Lakers, a surefire test of his abilities indeed. Lin would score a career-high 38 points against them and "Linsanity" grew from there. It was the new "Tebowmania". In the span of 35 games, he started 25 to help carry the Knicks into the playoffs, a run that would ultimately see him play limited time due to a knee injury At the time, Lin was questioned about his toughness by some and if he was just in it for the money.

But Lin's run was thought to be a fluke and a small sample-size. He couldn't keep up the pace for a full 82-game schedule, right?  Obviously it would be hard for any player heading into their second year under the national spotlight to keep that pace of scoring going. He would sign a poison pill contract with the Houston Rockets, ending Linsanity in NYC.

There are two periods of time in Houston Rockets basketball: BH and AH- Before Harden and After Harden. It was BH, and Lin was signed along with former Bull Omer Asik in the summer of 2012. They were expected to be a lottery team and noting more. Then right before the season began, the Rockets miraculously traded for former Thunder guard and sixth man of the year James Harden. Lin didn't have to be "the man", but his style was similar to Harden's. Each had their shining moments, but the team belonged to James. Once again, Lin's season would end with an injury that limited his playing time as he collided with Kevin Durant in their first round series against who else? The Thunder. OKC would win 4-2.

The knock on Lin was that he was turnover prone and not a starting point guard in the NBA. Maybe he was valuable off the bench as an energy guy but nothing more, some thought. Even so, he finished the season playing in all 82 games with averages of 13.4 and 6.2- respectable, but nothing groundbreaking.

Heading into 2013, Lin was thought to be pushed further down the Rockets' totem pole when the emergence of backup Patrick Beverley threatened Lin's starting status. The defensive dynamo was quick and feisty, and more capable than the offensive-minded Lin. Also added to the mix was Dwight Howard, who would only take more touches away from Lin and make him more of an afterthought. While they are continuing to find their chemistry on the court, Houston has struggled to keep leads and find a rhythm so far in 2013. Injuries to Harden and Chandler Parsons have already affected the team, but they march on- and as of late, to the beat of Lin's drum.

His 31 point outburst Monday against the Raptors brought everyone back to the times of Linsanity. But Wednesday in a 123-117 loss to the 76ers, Lin brought the magic again with 34 points and nine- yes nine- three pointers. It only helped his case as a starting guard in the league, and kept the Rockets in the game (which saw Harden sit due to his bruised feet). While they came up short, Lin has put himself on the NBA radar in 2013 and looks to establish himself as a factor in the Rockets' rotation.

It is impossible that he can be the man on a team that features a trio of Harden, Howard and Parsons, this week he has proved he can carry a team in crunch time. His innate ability to mix it up inside and draw contact while still making shots and getting to the line makes him a threat on any possession. When he's not inside, he can drain them from deep (a scorching 51% from three point land in 2013). He can push the break for Houston, one which has struggled mightily with Howard and Asik on the court together. But when they are on, Lin is a playmaker with an eye for the assist.

Tonight Lin returns to where it all began: MSG. Houston looks to bounce back from a loss, while the Knicks try to win without Tyson Chandler. Can Lin bring back a little New York Nostalgia in the form of "Linsanity"?  Carmelo and company hope not, as they are trying to find their footing in a muddled Eastern Conference.

It's early in the season and this hubbub could all be for nothing, but the chance of catching lighting in a bottle twice is always intriguing- especially under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden.

Like it? Love it? Hate it? Contact me on Twitter @SeanNeutron.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

As the Basketball Turns: The Return of the Squeaky Shoes

Now that the doldrums of the summer are over, basketball is in full swing. NBA Free agency being a hot topic is now more than just discussion points- it’s a reality you can watch unfold via ESPN, TNT and NBA League Pass. Normally I’d say this is where the talking stops and the playing starts- but NBA pundits need to keep talking, since stances can change at the drop of a hat (or basketball). Time to see what there is to make of the first week of the 2013 NBA season. Let’s have a look, shall we?

Disappointment is the New York State of Mind

The Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks wanted to remain relevant in the offseason, but how much of it made sense? So far both teams are a combined 3-5 and combine to average 94 points per game. What’s the hold up, exactly?

First and foremost- most of the moves were more window dressing than changing anything on the interior. Joe Johnson is another year older and slower, as is Kevin Garnett. Williams and Pierce will be productive but worn by season’s end. Brook Lopez has yet to have more than 7 rebounds in a game. So much for that 82 million dollar cap penalty being worth it, Nets fans. Granted this is only the beginning, but losing to Orlando by 21 and shooting 38% is not a promising sign at all. The Nets -like the Rockets in the West- have to build chemistry in order to succeed. The difference is that the Nets are supposed to be in “contend now” mode, and don’t have the luxury of time to figure out the identity of their team.

The Knicks seem to view themselves as the “Lakers of the East”: a storied franchise who thinks it is a premiere destination for star players. That couldn’t be further from the truth, as no one is willing to join such a disheveled franchise. Amare Stoudemire continues to struggle through his injury woes along with Kenyon Martin. Tyson Chandler is not the same center who helped the Mavericks hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy in 2011. JR Smith was inexplicably resigned, even amidst reports he had just had a knee surgery that would set him back. Carmelo Anthony is still Carmelo Anthony which is good for the Knicks, and bad. Anthony has seemed content in recent years to plateau and be nothing more than a premiere scorer. His defense is average at best, and he still grinds the Knicks offense to a halt when he gets the ball. Case in point: his 32 point effort against Charlotte still wasn’t enough as the Knicks lost, 102-97. They’ll be lucky to make the playoffs. If they do- it’s almost a certain first round exit.

Battle for L.A….What Battle?

Ever since the Clippers turned the corner and began attracting new fans with Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul, the narrative each time they faced the Lakers was that they were fighting for control of basketball supremacy in Hollywood. While the Kobe-less Lakers surprisingly won by 13 opening night, the Clippers have since gone 3-0, their most recent win a dominating 137-118 rout of the 4-1 Houston Rockets. The Lakers have gone 1-3 since. Chris Paul after a handful of games has poll position in the MVP race, weaving in and out of defenses to create shots and find teammates. With Kobe out for an unknown length of time, L.A. officially belongs to the Clippers in 2013.

He’s Back

Russell Westbrook returned ahead of schedule in a Thunder win last week, as they are now 2-1. There is more doubt than in recent years in OKC, and it has almost zilch to do with 0’s meniscus. Some are wondering the lingering effects of last season’s James Harden trade, while also trying to figure out OKC’s draft strategy. No one is exactly sure what to make of the Thunder so far, so for now let’s go with “Ask Again Later”.

The Dwight Stuff

Dwight Howard opened up his season with an eye-opening 17 pt, 26 rebound performance against the Charlotte Bobcats last Wednesday. Since then, he is averaging 15 per game along with 14.5 points. His work with Olajuwon and Kevin McChale is very apparent, as he his faster and nimbler. His go to is a spin move he loses defenders with, and before they can catch up, his shot is in the air and they more often than not end up fouling him. In their most recent win over Portland, Howard finished with 29 pts, 13 rebounds and went 8-10 from the charity stripe. Howard is healthier than he has been in years, and looks to put it to good use with his new team as they sit at 4-1.

Interesting Starts

Raise your hand if you had the 76ers starting 3-0 with a win over the defending champion Heat? Put your hands down, liars. The Warriors brought the Sixer back to Earth on Monday with a 110-90 throttling, but for a team without any playoff expectations- the Sixers will be fun to watch this year with rookie Michael Carter-Williams and veteran Thaddeus Young. Rumble, young men, rumble.

Also random but fun- the Suns’ 3-1 start. Rookie Miles Plumlee looks to make a dent in the rotation, compiling 13 boards and 13 points the other night. Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic will run the show, but they may not be as bad as I and others predicted.

The Wizards are 0-3 and second to last in the East (in front of 0-4 Boston). I don’t see them beating the 76ers Wednesday night, but I do see a chance for a W against Brooklyn this coming Friday. If not then, the Wizards have a tough road ahead of them and a realistic chance to start 0-11, snapping the skid on November 22nd to Toronto.

Week 2 Big Game Spotlight:

November 6th:

Chicago vs Indiana- a possible ECF preview.
Golden State vs. Minnesota- two of the new era’s brightest teams face off.

November 7th:

Lakers vs. Rockets (TNT)- It’s more sizzle than steak. Unless Kobe rushes on court to attack Dwight, Houston should be favored in this anti-climactic primetime showdown.

Clippers vs. Heat (TNT)- A possible NBA Finals preview. Doc Rivers and Chris Paul battle LeBron James and, well….everyone else on the Heat not named LeBron James.

Friday, November 8th

Warriors vs. Spurs: A rematch from last season’s playoffs, except this time Golden State is favored. On a side note, where is Danny Green? (3.3 ppg, 25% from the field)

Saturday, November 9th

Clippers vs. Rockets: Two times in less than a week. Can the addition of Patrick Beverley help disrupt Chris Paul’s dominance? Will the Clippers run over Houston again? Only time will tell.

Pacers vs. Nets: Likely a lopsided affair, but will be played up as a battle of two EC titans.

Celtics vs Heat: Just kidding.

Warriors vs. Grizzlies: Can the Warriors’ uptempo shooting style outdo the Grizzlie’s powerful bigs physical presence?

Like it? Love it? Hate it? Contact me on Twitter @SeanNeutron.