Oi Referee, What Was That For?

For any individual who has played sport, there would have been an instance when they were perplexed by a certain decision made by the match official. With a mixture of feelings – anger and injustice to be the most likely – the player in question would likely have approached the official in charge, only to be dismissed with a shrug and a cold-shoulder. If players aren’t given an explanation, then what chance do the fans have?

Well …

That was until a decision was made by the NBA to allow fans to get in touch with NBA officials over Twitter, to ask them any question they have. NBA fans will be able to send their questions over during two live games this week. The first game will be on Monday (Jan. 21), when Golden State Warriors visit the Los Angeles Lakers. The second game will be on Wednesday (Jan. 23) during the San Antonio Spurs and Philadelphia 76ers match-up.

How to get in touch?

Via Twitter, fans will be able to tweet at the account @OfficialNBARefs or use the hashtag #RefWatchParty to garner responses from officials who will be following the games in real time.

Is this a good idea?

I’m a fan of the NBA, and all of the extra-curricular activities that the players are obligated to do. I’d say it’s about time that referees were thrown into the mix, too. It’s no secret that most fans of the league question the integrity and impartiality of those officiating. Although such feelings will still be present, the gains from such a publicity act far outweigh the negatives.

So, can the “World’s Game” learn from other sports?

Personally, I can understand why football referees don’t want to slow up the game. But what I can’t understand is that those same officials are never held accountable for decisions they have made incorrectly. Decisions that have clearly affected the outcome of the game and, in turn, have caused disappointment for a huge group of people – or an entire nation.

Moreover, professional referees are forbidden from addressing the media directly until  they retire. Yet the same geniuses who forbade the referees made it compulsory for the manager of a club to attend press conferences.

Seems fair, right?

Surely it wouldn’t be a bad idea to try something in football that would help eliminate the schism created between officials and the rest …

Having said that, I am very much against the concept of contacting referees via Twitter, as Twitter attracts mindless “trolls” who will just hurl about abuse. (Though admittedly, some referees deserve all the abuse that they get.) If this were the case, the governing body of the sport would surely just shut down the account, and never again entertain such a channel for fans and officials to communicate.

Their reasoning: “We tried it, and it didn’t work!”

Yeah, well the Financial Fair Play (FPP) hasn’t worked either, has it?

Twitter is a no. What else?

Another option could be for referees to speak to the media. After all, it would be a safe environment. The questions would be delivered by a professional sport’s journalist, and the majority of what they are to say would help appease angry players or fans who could then try to understand the official’s point of view.

Win, win and win.

Nigel Owens (one of the best Rugby Union referees) dealing with players.

If this is not possible, then why not mic-up the referees, like they do in rugby and the NHL? In cricket, rugby and NBA, they even mic-up the players, which has led to some amazing moments.

NBA players chatting to one another.

Such a change would allow fans to eavesdrop on what is being said and actually understand what is going on. Eventually, (hopefully) you could begin to see change in football culture. Which, truth be told, is a culture based on bias, abuse, distrust and corruption, from top to bottom.

I realise that one issue this presents is that the language footballers use is atrocious. However, with the referee mic’d-up, the players would be held accountable and fined per F-word. That money could even go to a children’s charity. Even the dumbest footballer would eventually make the connection.

“I say F-word, money go down.”

“I talk nice, money stay.”

Whatever way you look at it, the NBA, NFL, NHL, rugby and cricket have shown that allowing the outside world onto the pitch is both doable and effective. Maybe it’s time for football to take some steps towards allowing the true sufferers of the sport – the fans – a chance to be involved. After all, without the fans, the game wouldn’t exist.

Predicting Football Scores: Luck or Knowledge?

Many people fancy themselves good at predicting the outcome of a sporting event. They’re always giving it the big one about how they knew that team would win.

Well, in a predictions game that I run with five friends/enemies, there’s no room for hindsight. The original predictions game was on the BBC, but unfortunately, at the start of the 2018/19 season, they stopped providing such a game.

Heart-breaking!

So I, with a little convincing (and a small fee), decided to provide the spreadsheet and scoring for our league as we entered our fourth year.

How does it all work?

I send out the weekly fixtures to the other guys, and state the deadline. They’ll fill it out and send it on back. However, this isn’t as simple as just picking a win, loss or draw. Everybody needs to type a score for each game.

For example, a selection may look something like, Liverpool vs Chelsea 2-1. In that instance, if Liverpool win 2-1, the competitor is rewarded three points. If Liverpool win, but it isn’t 2-1, then the competitor is given one point. If the game is a draw or Chelsea wins, then they receive absolutely nothing.

Over the season, each one of us will have predicted the scores  for a total of 380 games. Come the end of the season, one of the six of us will be able to gloat about winning, and yes, there is a small wager involved. Winner takes all.

All pretty simple, right?

So simple, in fact, that my partner, Alexandra, asked if she could join in to see how well she does. It is important to know that Alexandra has practically no knowledge of some of the teams in the Premier League. I commonly hear her say, “I’ve never even heard of these two teams.” I roll my eyes and a bead of sweat trickles down my temple at the thought of her outscoring me. See, she does have a rough idea of more likely results.

We are in the midst of the 10th week of her participation, but before I share her results, I want to introduce the six “knowledgable” members of the “Bonerleague.”

Don’t ask me why we called it that.

I asked each member, including myself, to answer the following questions:

  1. What is your strategy when making predictions?
  2. What do you think is the most important factor when making predictions?
  3. How would you describe your football knowledge?

(Each person was to also provide a photo of themselves)

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Current position: 1st. Chance of winning: 8/10.
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Current position: 2nd. Chance of winning: 8/10.
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Current position: 3rd. Chance of winning: 6/10.
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Current position: 4th. Chance of winning: 4/10.
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Current position: 6th. Chance of winning: 0/10.

(Unfortunately, Bryan, A.K.A Champ & Fav, wasn’t able to respond to the questions. It is partly believed that he is busy after recently becoming a father. However, rumour has it that the media duties that are thrust upon the reigning champion, along with his poor performance this year are the main reasons behind his absence. Current position: 5th. Chances of winning: 2/10)

So, what about Alexandra?

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Chances of winning if in the Bonerleague: Better than Charles

Since Week 13 (we’re currently on Week 22), the table for the seven people mentioned in the article are as follows:

Dean – 70 points
Mehmet – 66 points
Alexandra – 63 points
Ryan – 63 points
Bryan – 61 points
Charles – 58 points
Matt – 53 points

Luck or Knowledge?

So, in conclusion, clearly luck plays a huge part, but knowledge is definitely more important. Football is one of those games that usually goes according to plan, making it easier for someone with knowledge to take the spoils come the end of the season.

After all, football is not like horse-racing, where seasoned punters spend hours reading the form, only to see an old lady pop in, look through the names of the horses, pick one that she likes the sound of and then go home with a nice little win.

Sigh.

The only hope that I have is that eventually luck runs out, and in the game of predictions, as with life, people with knowledge come out on top.

Title Decider?

We are only half-way through the season, yet the game tonight between Man City and Liverpool has the ring of a title decider.

A win for the Reds (Liverpool) will put them nine points clear of a very inconsistent Tottenham, and ten ahead of Man City, who are the only serious challengers. I realise that there are still 17 games after this one, with a total of 51 points to play for, but that will not be enough for the chasing pack to pass a formidable Liverpool side (that have only failed to obtain six of the 60 available points possible so far).

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Mohamed Salah

More importantly, Liverpool are playing with freedom, and a swagger that no other team seems to have this year. In Salah, Mane, and Firmino, they have goals. Defensively, they are stronger, and there is a lot of force and doggedness in midfield. Shame about the lack of quality on the bench.

Will a win secure the title with half the season to go?

Short answer: Yes, I believe so!

Looking ahead to Liverpool’s fixtures, they play both Chelsea and Tottenham at home, which is a great advantage. The only tough-looking away fixture is to Old Trafford – to face a rejuvenated Manchester United – on February 24th (a trip that Manchester City also have to make on March 16th).

So, if Liverpool win, the title is theirs.

Can Manchester City stop Liverpool?

Manchester City will be defiant going into the game, despite being on a bit of a bad run of late. Three defeats in the last five league games has put them in a bit of a precarious situation in terms of the title, yet they can go into the game knowing that they dominated Liverpool at Anfield. On that day, surprisingly the game ended goalless. The recent lack of points for Manchester City coach Pep Guardiola shouldn’t surprise anyone. Even at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, it was well-known that if you could get past the initial pressure exerted by Pep’s teams, you had a chance to catch the defence short-handed – something that Chelsea, Palace and especially Wolves have done.

Liverpool are a cut above all three of those teams, and have the ability to demolish what feels like an ageing Manchester City side. Fernandinho doesn’t seem to be able to recover as quickly. David Silva is missing more games than usual. De Bruyne isn’t quite fully fit yet, and Aguero isn’t his usual prolific self.

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No time like the present, Sergio!

Recent history isn’t looking favourably on Man City’s chances either. Liverpool beat their rivals three times during the last campaign, and have only lost twice in their last 11 meetings.

What will happen?

Whatever way you look at it, this is a huge game in the title race. Both Man City and Liverpool are gunning for the trophy, and if Liverpool win, they will all but secure it in my eyes. And yet, I see Man City showing up and closing the gap to the top with a convincing 3-1 win. Eventually, Man City will be able to grind down Liverpool as the season progresses. The expected cries from Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool’s coach) will be about how his players are tired, especially if they progress to the latter stages of other competitions. That’s the reason they weren’t able to secure the title.

Or …

Liverpool win tonight.

They then go on to lift the title …

… And I look like a fool!

 

Phooooah! Was That You?

As I was looking through the BBC, I noticed a smelly article from a top level sporting event. The said match was between Gary Anderson and Wesley Harms during the Grand Slam of Darts.

Gary Anderson & Wesley Harms deny farting accusations at Grand Slam of Darts

Some of the quotes were exceptionally funny. Wesley Harms declaring that it would “take him two days to get rid of the rotten smell” and Gary Anderson swearing on his children’s lives that he didn’t do “it.” His children are still alive, so, guess we have to believe him now.

However, Anderson has admitted to “blowing” the opposition off the stage in the past, and as we know, “once a farter, always a farter.”

Anderson did then go on to add, “It was bad. It was a stink, then he (Harms) started to play better and I thought he must have needed to get some wind out.”

The match took place on Thursday, and ended up finishing 10-2 to Anderson. Unfortunately for him, somebody’s backside took the plaudits.

You’re all probably wondering how far Anderson got in the tournament. Who cares!

Who Next For Real Madrid?

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Photo by Vienna Reyes on Unsplash

As mentioned several days ago, Julen Lopetegui has been relieved of his duties at Real Madrid. So now, the question on every football fan’s lips is: Who will be the next permanent manager?

As it stands, ex-player Santiago Solari has taken the role as caretaker-manager. This basically means, “You are the manager until we find someone who is actually worthy of the position.” Now, that doesn’t mean that Solari has no chance of being named the permanent manager. Historically, many clubs use caretaker-managers to give themselves a chance to make the right appointment, and then end up giving that individual a full-time position, especially if those in power see a rejuvenated team start to perform.

It is also very important to know that a club like Real Madrid prefers to appoint managers who have grown up with, played for, or been involved with the club in the past. They need people at the club who understand the Madrid way, so they can eliminate the need for a honeymoon period. Solari fits the bill in this instance, as he was the manager of Real Madrid Castilla (Real’s reserve team) and, prior to that, was in charge of the youth team at the club. He also played over 130 games for the club between 2000 and 2005.

When you put these aspects together, Santiago Solari is rightfully the bookies’ favourite to be given the permanent manager role, especially if he can get the team playing well. He will be following in the footsteps of Zinedine Zidane, who was promoted to Real Madrid manager whilst being in charge of the reserve team.

Unfortunately for Solari, I don’t think he has the technical nous or knowledge to be successful at the top of the game, meaning that Perez will need to look elsewhere.

That leads us nicely onto the most obvious candidate … Antonio Conte.

Conte is currently available, which makes him a fantastic target. As Real Madrid will not need to pay any compensation to another club for stealing their manager from them. After forking out a fortune to sack Lopetegui, this might be the best option for them. Plus, it’s not like Conte is a terrible manager. He brings with him a fantastic record, winning five trophies in his three years in charge of Juventus (3x Serie A, 2x Supercoppa Italiana), receiving plaudits as Italy manager, and picking up a couple of trophies in England with Chelsea (Premier League and FA Cup). Conte is a winner, and Real Madrid need to find a way to win.

Yet, Perez will be tentative to go knocking on Conte’s door just yet. Last thing anybody at Real Madrid wants is a manager who will happily criticise the board members in front of the media, or sulk at not getting what he wants (both of which were things that Conte was happy to do regularly before getting the boot from Chelsea chairman Roman Abramovich).

My Italian isn’t up to scratch, so, I can’t verify what he is saying … but going on his facial expressions, he isn’t being very nice…

Other alternatives may include Roberto Martinez (Belgium’s coach), Joachim Lowe (Germany’s coach), or Jose Mourinho (with Manchester United). Unfortunately, those options wouldn’t be of any use to Real Madrid, as they are all tied up in well-paying jobs elsewhere.

So, it comes down to one of two options, as I see it:

Mauricio Pochettino (left) and Arsene Wenger (right)

Perez’s first choice is likely to be Mauricio Pochettino, who would be an exceptional fit for Real Madrid. Pochettino is a manager who has won plaudits wherever he has gone, despite not having any trophies to his name as a manager. Unfortunately for Perez, he is unlikely to get his wishes right now, and would have to wait until the end of the season before finalising any deal for Pochettino. The added bonus for waiting would be that Pochettino would probably be able to convince star striker Harry Kane to come along with him.

The only other possibility for Real could be to hire Arsene Wenger. Wenger has been out of work, by choice, since he resigned as Arsenal’s manager at the end of last season, after 22 years in charge. This opportunity with Real Madrid may be the one that brings Wenger back into management, as it’s a club that has the right tools for him to be successful.

It is important to know that Real Madrid do have time to make the right decision for them, as neither Mauricio Pochettino or Arsene Wenger are likely to be signing a contract anytime soon. Pochettino will not leave halfway through a season; he has clarified that on many an occasion. As for Wenger, he is only likely to join a top team from a top league, and that list is not very expansive. Especially if you rule out that he would unlikely go to Arsenal’s rival team, and all the other major teams are pretty happy with their managers, as it stands.

What will happen then?

For me, one of the following two possibilities will materialise, but it all depends on how Solari gets the team playing.

Option No. 1: Hire Solari until the end of the season and then approach Pochettino. He will very likely take the job. This option would be perfect, knowing that Wenger could be a very likely back-up.

Option No. 2: Approach Wenger now, knowing that he will definitely want a long-term contract. As a result, approaching Pochettino would be out of the question come the end of the season.

Whatever way you look at it, there will be a quality manager at the helm next year. Teams like Real Madrid don’t stay in a slump for too long.

Not a “Real” Shock to See Julen Go

“I’m from the future and it doesn’t work out very well for you!”
(So says the wise comment below a YouTube video)

I understand that this could be said to many: Donald Trump; Prince Salman; Theresa May; the list goes on and on. On this occasion, it’s Julen Lopetegui who has been the unlucky recipient. In fact, it turned out to be very true a mere three days after the humiliating 5-1 defeat at the hands of their biggest rivals, Barcelona, when Lopetegui was sacked.

Let’s wind back five months or so …

Spain are being classed as one of the favourites for the 2018 World Cup after a magnificent qualifying campaign, and their coach, Julen Lopetegui, is being hailed as one of the best in the world. It was hard to argue with the claim.

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2018 World Cup qualification – UEFA Group G (Via Wikipedia)

Unbeaten in 10 games, winning 9 of them. They only conceded 3 goals and scored a whopping 36! For many people, Spain was back and ready to get their hands on the title they had given up to Germany four years prior.

With a week left to the start of the highly anticipated tournament in Russia, Zinedine Zidane decided to step down as Real Madrid’s coach. And there are no surprises in guessing who Florentino Perez, Real Madrid’s president, eventually wanted at the helm. Yep, you got it: Lopetegui accepted the job, giving up his chance to take charge of Spain at the World Cup as a result. (His decision to take the Real Madrid job was seen as disrespectful by the Spanish football association (RFEF), and so they relieved him of his duties.)

From Day 1, Lopetegui was thrown in at the deep end.

Task 1: Try to keep the club’s talisman and star, Cristiano Ronaldo, at the club.

Failed.

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Cristiano Ronaldo – Joined Juventus (Via Wikicommons)

Task 2: Find replacements who can provide the goals that Ronaldo provided.

Failed.

Task 3: Have a good start to the season.

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Spanish La Liga 2018/19 Season (Screenshot from Google)

… Failed!

Most football fans know that a seven-point gap in football is not that big. However, that idea can be thrown out the window in some countries. At seven points ahead, teams like Barcelona in Spain, Bayern Munich in Germany, and PSG in France are practically uncatchable.

Not only were the results not going well, but the team was performing very poorly. During Julen Lopetegui’s short reign as coach, Real Madrid won only six of 16 games, scored a mere 21 goals, and conceded 20. These are figures that are unheard of for the “best” club in the world, (termed so in terms of financial clout, trophies and an international fan base). After defeats against Sevilla, Alaves, and Levante in the league, a draw against Madrid rivals Atletico and a somewhat unlucky defeat against CSKA Moscow in the Champions League, everyone knew that a defeat in the El Clasico (the term for Barcelona vs Real Madrid games) could be the final straw for Florentino Perez. And so it proved to be.

Left: Julen Lopetegui. Right: Florentino Perez.

So, what next for Lopetegui?

Let’s get one thing straight. He is financially in very good stead. As his contract has been terminated by the club, he is due to receive a good compensation package.

Have a guess how much.

A reported €18 million (£15.9 million).

For that sort of money, you can sack me any day. I would happily sack myself. However, once we look past the money, it is important to understand that Lopetegui is unlikely to get another opportunity at one of Europe’s major clubs. So, he will more than likely return to international football. Spanish national team selectors are unlikely to take him back, and most of the major footballing countries prefer their own countrymen. This leaves the only viable option as a Middle Eastern national team, especially as they seem to love a foreign coach.

Sounds enticing, doesn’t it?

Come to think of it, I bet Julen Lopetegui would have appreciated the aforementioned YouTuber’s help five months prior. After all, it would have saved his reputation, and helped him avoid two sackings in quick succession.

NBA: Will It Be The Warriors Again?

After 120+ days, we have finally tipped off with the start of the 2018/19 NBA season. The pre-season was one of activity to say the least, and many questions were being asked. Most important of those was answered by the L.A. Lakers, who ended up securing the signature of “The King”, LeBron James. Despite the media frenzy surrounding his departure from where he referred to as home, there were other major moves that have resulted in a potentially exciting NBA season ahead of us. A season that won’t be easy to predict for a change.

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Lakers, looking to return to winning ways.  (Photo by Ramiro Pianarosa via Unsplash.com)

Major Movers and Potential Impact

As previously mentioned, LeBron has moved from “The Land” to “La La Land.” He has been followed there by a bunch of experienced players, like: the feisty Rajon Rondo (who already got himself into trouble for punching Chris Paul); Lance Stephenson; and Javale McGee. All very good players. Add the incredible youngsters they already possess amongst their ranks, and you have a franchise that is not only going to make the playoffs, but could even go all the way.

The second major move was that of Kawhi Leonard. He made sure everyone knew he no longer wanted to play for the San Antonio Spurs. This news got the attention of all the general managers. After all, Leonard is one the best two-way players in the league. Not convinced? Well, the fact that the Toronto Raptors traded the face of their franchise, DeMar DeRozan, for him, tells you everything you need to know. This signature is a bit of a risky one, though, to say the least. Toward the end of the last season, his attitude was more reminiscent of that of an adolescent teenager. Combine that with the question mark of an injury he is still recovering from, and you have a very shaky foundation beneath your feet. Having said that, a fully fit Leonard, with the right attitude, is unquestionably better than DeRozan.

Other major movers: DeAndre Jordan (Clippers to Mavericks); Carmelo Anthony (Thunder to Rockets); Trevor Ariza; Ryan Anderson (Rockets to Suns); and DeMarcus Cousins (Pelicans to Warriors).

Will it be the Warriors again?

For some people, this is easy to answer:

“Absolutely!”

“No doubt!”

And it’s very hard to disagree with them. After all, they are a great team. The best I have ever seen, and maybe the best ever. My home in Beijing has more weaknesses than the roster they had last year. (Unfortunately, that’s not even a joke. Ah, a new crack’s appearing on the wall …)

Yikes.

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Kevin Durant (foreground) and Steph Curry (background) during a pre-game warm up.  (Via Wikicommons)

I do believe, though, that the Warriors’ domination is nearing its end. It should have ended last year, but injuries to key opposition players aided the Warriors on their way to a third title in four years. This year, they are unlikely to go down without a fight, likely because of the addition of DeMarcus Cousins. That improves their starting line-up, as long as Cousins can adapt. By adapt, I mean, understand that Draymond Green tells you what to do, Steph Curry controls the ball and Kevin Durant gets the ball when he wants it. I’m not sure if Cousins will be very happy with that. Losing McGee (who’s now with the Lakers) is a huge blow, as he brought a ton of energy and scoring off the bench. It is the lack of bench scoring that will be Warriors’ downfall come the playoffs.

Last year, the likes of the Rockets, the Thunder, and the Jazz, amongst others, were able to compete with their starters, giving the impression that the Warriors were in trouble. Let’s say Durant, Curry and Thompson (Klay) go to the bench. The game is tied. Your coach thinks, “Right, better give my guys a rest, too.” Then, the next time you’re back in the game, you’re facing a 10+ point deficit. Last year, this scenario was happening again and again, against every different team.

This is not likely to be the case this year. Don’t get me wrong, the Warriors are still the team to beat. However, they are more likely to be beaten for a change. The Lakers have beaten the Warriors in a competitive-looking pre-season friendly, and they haven’t looked very convincing. Then again, the Warriors never stress themselves until the playoffs. After all, they will be regarded the team to beat, even if they are the lowest-ranked outfit in the playoffs.

Who can stop them?

James Harden
James Harden doing what he does best.  (Via Wikicommons)

Houston Rockets should have won last year, and despite losing two key defensive players, Ariza and Anderson, they are still full of talent. The biggest worry for them is that they have a very injury-prone Chris Paul, aka CP3. CP3 seems to solidify his importance to a franchise by making sure he misses some key playoff games through injury every year. His absence always results in defeats. The Rockets are led by the reigning MVP, James Harden, the most lethal scorer in the league. They have also signed some very good players to bulk up their bench. Defensively, the Rockets will be much weaker, and will probably concede a century in most games, which is a huge X towards their chances. Having said that, any team that keeps them below 115 points will have done well.

The likes of the aforementioned Lakers, as well as the Nuggets and Jazz, will provide some worthy opposition to the Warriors in the Western Conference. All three have a balanced squad. These sides are sharing the ball and making sure that the points get spread around, whereas previous contenders, such as the Spurs and Trailblazers, are expected to fall away drastically as the season progresses.

From the East, expect the Boston Celtics to do very well. Last year, they were being touted as potential title winners. They had just signed two superstars, Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, only to witness Hayward break his leg at the start of the season. Think of this season as, “Take Two.”

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Gordon Hayward looking to make up for a lost season. (Via Wikicommons)

The Raptors will need Kawhi to perform, and the Philadelphia 76ers will need the likes of Joel Embiid, Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons to stop thinking they are amazing, and actually show that they are.

Whatever happens, it will be an intriguing season with a lot of possibilities. My prediction: The Western Finals will see the Rockets and Warriors face off for a second year running. The Eastern Finals will be between the Celtics and Raptors. The Rockets will eventually beat the Celtics in the NBA finals, and put an end to Golden State’s domination.

Oh wait …

Did you guys hear that?

Yep. CP3 just twisted his ankle at the thought of winning a title.