Suns Making Madness of Their Own, Taking Over Most Improved Rankings

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GoranDragicSH1March is about underdogs.

That’s why we love it so much. Well, most of us anyway. (Can someone check Chris Bernucca for a pulse?)

Just kidding, boss.

It’s the incredible stories like Mercer’s upset of Duke, Dayton’s run to the Sweet 16 and Stephen F. Austin’s miraculous comeback against VCU that keep us glued to the TV screen in March, like a month-long Rob Ford press conference.

There’s nothing like a good underdog narrative, and year after year, the NCAA Tournament delivers with several remarkable ones. It’s entertainment at its highest form.

In the NBA, a similar underdog story has been unfolding. It just doesn’t get as much pub because the scrappy overachiever role doesn’t play as well when you’re pulling in $5 million a year.

The Phoenix Suns are a collection of nobodies from nowhere, seemingly cast together like the Cleveland Indians in Major League, waiting for the draft lottery.

Yet here they are in late March, on pace to win 48 games and holding on to the final playoff spot out West. Phoenix has won four in a row and six of eight since Eric Bledsoe’s return from injury, including back-to-back nail-biters over Minnesota and Atlanta.

They’ve got six legitimate contenders for Most Improved Player – including current rankings leader Goran Dragic, who not only held down the fort in Bledsoe’s absence but also snuck into Sheridan’s MVP rankings for a while.

This is Goran Dragic we’re talking about, people!

If that isn’t a true underdog story, then Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story isn’t a true underdog story.

And in a season when tanking has become commonplace and teaching young players how to lose (see: Michael Carter-Williams) is apparently OK, the Suns are showing the value of competing with youngsters and not waiting for ping-pong balls to decide their fate.

It was a bold strategy by first-year GM Ryan McDonough. But it’s paying off for them.

On to the rankings.

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Most Improved Player Rankings: Slam Dunk Contest Decidedly Unimproved

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dunksThis column is supposed to be about improvement, so let’s start it off by declaring that Saturday night’s Slam Dunk Contest was without a doubt the most un-improved thing in the history of All-Star Weekend.

Seriously, what the hell happened there?

After Paul George, John Wall and Damian Lillard – three bona fide stars in the league – actually decided that being considered one of the world’s best dunkers wasn’t beneath them, the league chucked a Snuggie into the Atlantic Ocean and then wrung it out all over the historic Smoothie King Center.

Wet blanket. That’s what I’m trying to say. It was a wet blanket.

And to think, I was excited for the Slam Dunk Contest on Saturday night!

I rushed home from work, shunned the Olympics and the Florida-Kentucky game and flipped on TNT for what I thought was going to be a night of high-flying dunks, excessive laughing and 7-footers in expensive suits falling all over each other.

You know, the usual.

I would have been better off watching bobsledding.

It was like looking forward to a the party of the year at the lax bros’ house and then walking in to find out that they were playing Monopoly and serving 7-Up. Where’s the beer pong? Where are the keg stands? WHERE’S THE IRONIC DANCING TO MILEY CYRUS???

Who decided that a “team format” would make the contest more exciting? I mean, does anyone really care which conference is better at dunking?

I guess ESPN’s DJ Gallo was the only one who truly appreciated the new format:

 

To be honest, that was my favorite part, too.

The rest of it was pretty awful. The entire thing lasted a total of about 15 minutes. There were two rounds, the first of which resembled a layup line. It was unclear whether or not the players believed that round was just a warmup.

The second round pitted East vs. West and consisted of a total of six dunks, the last of which was the only exciting one in the group. Wall’s only individual dunk attempt of the night was pretty cool. Magic Johnson said it brought the dunk contest back.

And then the lights went out.

And it was over.

This tweet from Kings forward Jason Thompson pretty much summed it up:

 

 

One memorable dunk. And the trophy came out. Just when “Party in the USA” started playing.

Yo, Adam Silver:  Not cool, bro.

On to the rankings.

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Most Improved Player Rankings: Seahawks show improvement is the key to life

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Welcome to the real season.

LeBron-Seahawks

Now that the Super Bowl is over and the NFL finally fades into the background of the American sports scene, many casual sports fans turn their attention to the NBA, as if the only sport that existed from Mondays to Saturdays in January was Herm Edwards and Ron Jaworski yelling hyperbolic nonsense at each other.

Football’s bloated specter can be overbearing at times, especially with The Worldwide Leader making Daily Mail stories out of day-to-day NFL occurrences. But sometimes, it can provide a brilliant bastion from which basketball players can draw inspiration.

Ahh, alliteration.

Watching Seattle’s 43-8 beatdown of Denver on Sunday night, I couldn’t help but marvel at the way the Seahawks do things.

The Seahawks get it.

Pete Carroll gets it.

Here they were, the third-youngest team in Super Bowl history, mauling the legendary Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos on the biggest of stages. The moment wasn’t too big for them. They played awesome.

In fact, you could argue that there’s no way they possibly could have played better. Everyone on that defense was on point, all game long, doing exactly what they were supposed to be doing.

LeBron James would have been proud.

In the next few weeks, you will probably hear a lot about how Carroll “loves his players up,” and preaches positivity and holistic wellness. His teams eat right, stretch right, exercise right – hell, they even meditate before practice.

He asks his guys how they’re doing in their personal lives and tries to help them if they’re going through a tough time or not feeling right. No, seriously.

Carroll’s belief is that happier players make better players. But it goes deeper than that.

He knows that if you want to be successful in athletics, you have to work hard. Really hard.

You have to be mature, responsible and accountable. You have to have a kid-like passion, a joyful enthusiasm that gives meaning and reason to the sacrifices you’re putting yourself through. Maybe that’s why the 62-year old Carroll acts like he’s 26.

You need to find that athletic state of mind that only comes with repetition; refine your mental and physical approach so that there is no wasted movement, no wasted thoughts.

And then you need to repeat it. Over and over and over again, until it comes so naturally that you can call on it, on command in any city, any setting in the world, in front of tens of thousands of people and millions more watching at home.

You have to stay positive about what you’re looking to accomplish, even in the face of doubters and negative thinkers.

You have to take a chance and buy in.

If you listened to the Seahawks in their postgame interviews Sunday, they said things like, “We believed we could be a great team. We didn’t know how it was going to work out, but we believed.”

That’s what improvement is about. That’s what life is about.

And that’s why what the Seahawks did on Sunday was so special.

On to the rankings.

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Bledsoe’s Injury Leaves Most Improved Player Rankings Wide Open

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220px-Jason_AlexanderAs the great Jerry Seinfeld once said, knowing George Costanza was like taking a walk through the jungle.

He didn’t know what he was going to find next, and he was real scared.

I feel the same way about this NBA season. All of the injuries – Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Jrue Holiday, Brook Lopez, and now Most Improved Player favorite Eric Bledsoe – have basketball fans treading lightly, hoping not to get eaten by a tarantula or something with five eyes.

You know, figuratively.

The season has become a war of attrition, where you’re rooting for your favorite player’s joints to hold his knee in place just as fervently as you’re rooting for him to knock down that contested 20-footer.

Team doctors are becoming MVP candidates (I think Chris Sheridan has got Harlan Selesnick at No. 5). The phrase “if they stay healthy” has become a required qualifier at the end of sentences. And I’m nervously flipping through every game, praying I don’t dislocate my clicking finger. (That would be a big loss for all of us.)

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Most Improved Player Rankings: Drummond Still a Bright Spot for Dreary Pistons

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Andre DrummondAs the sun sets over 2013, and the meters of our lives continue to run inexorably with no quarter slots, there is one thing in this crazy world that we can know for sure.

Andre Drummond is balling, dude.

Though the rest of his Pistons teammates seem to be lost in an existential paradigm (What’s the point of playing defense; we’re all just going to die anyway?), Drummond has taken control of his destiny as much as one can in our world.

He’s become a double-double machine (again, without quarter slots), averaging 13 points and 13 rebounds and shooting dunking 61 percent from the floor. He ranks 18th in Player Efficiency Rating at 21.90 and has become the only consistent force on a team whose talent clearly exceeds its paltry 14-19 record.

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