Overwatch League Expansion Tier List: What cities will we see next?

It was recently reported that the Overwatch League was looking to expand with a price tag of a cool $30 to $60 million. Activision Blizzard also announced that they are now looking to add four or six teams instead of the two they were planning on originally. This adds numerous possibilities, and many different cities will be vying for spots in the league.

With that in mind we are going to look at which cities have the best chance of getting Overwatch League teams and rank them into three tiers.

Rankings will be based on the following questions:

  1. How big is the city?
  2. Has the city had any involvement in esports before? If so, how successful have those events been?
  3. Is there a known investor/franchise that is from that city that would want to put it there?
  4. Are there teams in close proximity to this city already? (i.e. another LA would not be likely)

There will be other factors to keep in mind as well. If they only go with four teams will they just keep the two divisions? If they go six do they split them up? Also, they will want to keep the divisions equal. To do so, there are only so many teams from certain areas that can can be considered.

Not happening this time

There are some cities that will probably be mentioned but, it is very unlikely that they will get a spot for one reason or another.

Detroit, Minneapolis-St. Paul, St. Louis, Kansas City- While all of these cities have a good amount of traditional sports teams, it is unlikely in this first expansion that they will pick two Midwest cities – especially ones that don’t have a huge connection to esports just yet.

Rome, Barcelona- Both are huge for soccer/futbol. That being said they aren’t necessarily known for esports and while they could eventually get teams there is no chance they beat out most of these other cities.

Tier 3- Unlikely but Possible

Brooklyn-  This was originally going to be a complete no, but looking at a couple factors changed that. To start, the Season 1 playoffs are happening at the Barclays Center. Also, most traditional sports have at least two teams in the big apple. Lastly, Los Angeles already has two teams so why not put two in New York as well? The main reason this is a long shot is that the Overwatch League wants to be a global league and there are areas of the United States and Europe that need teams more. Remember, there can only be two or three teams coming from the Atlantic area.

Overwatch league expansion

Courtesy of: Knights.gg

Beijing- The market in Asia is huge for just about any esport, especially China. Beijing did host the 2017 World Finals for League of Legends in an arena that held 91,000. The real problem is that there are at least two other cities that will be on this list that the OWL will want more for their Asian market. Truthfully, if Shanghai hadn’t come first, it is very likely that Beijing would be a higher priority.

Pittsburgh- This city is the least expected one on this list. That being said there is already an established esports organization that is officially the esports team of the city, the Pittsburgh Knights. With investors already coming in and the city backing them, it would be very easy for the OWL to establish a team in this city. Also Rob “Leonyx” Lee, owner, already has a ton of experience within the world of esports and would be able to help grow the new league.

The major problem is that without the already established team, Pittsburgh would never be considered. They don’t host any big events, it’s one of the smaller cities on this list, and the Philadelphia Fusion are in the same state.

Denver- DreamHack being in Denver put this city on the esports map. It’s in a very good location as there aren’t any teams already established anywhere nearby. That is about all it has going for it when it comes to a potential team, though. Unless a major investor with connections to this area comes forward, it is hard to see the Mile High City getting a team this time around.

Tier 2- Close but just out of reach

Atlanta- There is a lot to like about putting a new team in Atlanta. To start, there are no other teams in the area, so they could hit a whole new demographic. Their newest team in the MLS is bringing more fans to their games than any other team which means that this city receives new teams with enthusiasm. Lastly, Atlanta is a hotbed for hosting esports events such as DreamHack, the CWL, and more. The only thing going against Atlanta is that there are a limited number of spots.

overwatch league expansion

Courtesy of: Dribble.com

Washington D.C.- With a plethora of investors to choose from, a brand new NBA2k league team, and it being the capital of the United States it makes it hard not to at least consider D.C. The city is obviously big enough. The problem is that there are already so many teams in close proximity, such as New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. If D.C. wants a team and they don’t get one this time around, it wouldn’t be surprising to see one in serious consideration next time.

Cleveland- The Midwest desperately needs an Overwatch League team. The closest ones are either on the East coast or in Dallas. While Cleveland may not have been on the list before, that has changed majorly in the last year and a half. There is clearly investment interest as Cleveland has added two major esports franchises in the Cavs Legion from the NBA2k League and 100 Thieves from League of Legends. Both franchises are expected to perform well as the Cavs Legion have a top team lead by Hood and 100 Thieves recently finished 2nd in the NA LCS.

Tier 1- Very Likely

Chicago- We will start with the city that most likely will take Cleveland out of the running this time. Chicago is a major sports city and it has hosted numerous major esports events. Most consider Chicago to be the New York of the midwest and for good reason. It is a very cultural city that has incredibly loyal fans and has the biggest population in the Midwest. Did we mention that the Midwest needs a team? Even if there were only two spots available it is likely that Chicago would be highly considered, now with the possibility of three, Chicago had better be ready for an esports team.

Courtesy of: Leagueoflegends.com

Hong Kong- Like Cleveland being overshadowed by Chicago, Beijing won’t be considered because of this city. Hong Kong has been one of the major Asian cities for the last century and is one of the most Westernized cities on the continent. Combine this with the fact that it is likely that the OWL wants to reach more fans in China, and you get a top tier city. With a company like Tencent being in the area it is highly likely that they may want a piece of the OWL pie as well.

Paris- MSI for League of Legends will be happening here in just a few days. Paris has hosted esports events and is one of the major cities in Europe. Lets not forget that the London Spitfire are the only team representing Europe in a global league. If you don’t think Nate Nanzer is thinking about this then you’d be dead wrong. This city makes a ton of sense and like Chicago, even if they were only bringing in two teams overall it is likely Paris would be near or at the top.

Berlin- Almost everything that has been said about Paris can be said about Berlin. Although there is one distinct advantage, League of Legends EULCS is based there. This shows that people will attend games and the esports scene is growing there quickly. That being said, this may also be a reason why the league wont go here. As of right now it seems as though both leagues aren’t exactly on great terms (check out what happened to Immortals), so it is possible that the OWL could look elsewhere for now.

Seattle- Esports are based on the West Coast. It is where most of the studios are and it is where every team currently is based. With connections to Microsoft, many esports events being hosted there, and the general acceptance of esports in this city, it is likely they would be considered. Seattle would continue building the base of esports in the west and thus continue to grow it.

Overwatch League Expansion

Courtesy of: TheVerge.com

Toronto- The fact that there was not a team in Toronto to start was a little surprising. This city has a massive esports culture. It has hosted many events and it has one of the new NBA2k League teams. Canada needs to be represented in this league and Toronto is an obvious choice to make it happen.

Las Vegas- A year ago this may not have been a top choice. But with their new esports arena (used by Ninja for a Fortnite tournament), a new hockey team that is doing extraordinarily well, and a new NFL team, this city is ripe for an OWL team. The stereotype of Las Vegas being the sin city is still there. However, in the last decade or so it has become much more family friendly. With all of the new major venues and teams coming to Vegas, an OWL team just makes sense to join them.

Tokyo- Last but certainly not least is the biggest city in Japan. There is a massive culture built around gaming and esports in this city and country. They even have heroes and a map representating them in game. If a slot buyer comes forward with connections to the city then it would be very hard for the OWL to pass up the opportunity to bring Tokyo into the mix.

What do you think?

These are some of the top cities that could be considered for Overwatch League spots. As of right now there have been no announcements as to the bidding process, who has made a bid, or just about anything other than what we know from that original report. Speculation will increase the hype as the league starts their last stage this week.

What cities do you think will receive teams? Are there any that were missed? Comment below and let us know!

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Dwane Casey

Toronto fires Dwane Casey

Just two days after being awarded NBA’s Coach of the Year award, Dwane Casey was fired by the Toronto Raptors.

Casey led the Raptors to a franchise-best 59-23 record in 2018, securing them the East’s top seed. While they won their first-round series against the Washington Wizards, Toronto was swept by LeBron and the Cavaliers in the semifinals.

This marked the third time in three years Cleveland ousted Casey’s Raptors from the playoffs. It was also the second year in a row the Raptors were swept out of the second round. In the 2015-2016 NBA season, the Cavs and Raptors met in the Eastern Conference Finals (in Toronto’s first trip ever) before falling in six games.

Playoff woes

During his seven-year tenure with Toronto, Dwane Casey led the Raptors to playoff berths in five straight seasons. Three of those five playoff appearances ended in sweeps. In 2015 it came at the hands of the Washington Wizards. As previously mentioned, the other two were the work of James and the Cavaliers.

Dwane Casey

Casey coaches DeMar DeRozan. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Does this speak to a coach that fails to make adjustments? Or has it simply been bad luck?

The Raptors brass seems to believe it is the former. Their President, Masai Ujiri, released a statement today saying that “this is a very difficult, but necessary step the franchise must take,” as they try to get over the hump and find their way to the NBA Finals for the first time.

With the exception of a five-game dip from 2016 to 2017, Casey saw his team’s record improve with every season he was in Toronto. Culminating in the best regular season the Raptors have ever had.

Regular season records do not mean much, however, if the team does not hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy in June. Just ask the 2016 Golden State Warriors.

Coach of the Year?

Casey’s peers voted him Coach of the Year for 2018 on May 9. Two days later he is unemployed. What is worth noting is that, while the award is his, he has not accepted it yet. That comes on June 25th, at a special ceremony, which might end up being a little awkward.

Firing the Coach of the Year because he had the unenviable task of facing LeBron James is a questionable decision at best. After all, LeBron-led teams have blown through the rest of the Eastern Conference in seven straight seasons. By that logic, every coach that has faced LeBron since 2010 has grounds to be let go.

Given his credentials and his proven ability to increase win records, Casey will probably not be out of a job for long. It would be surprising if the summer ends without him holding some sort of coaching position.

Summary

NBA fans shouldn’t weep for Casey for long. Instead, they should take the time to appreciate LeBron James. He is, without a doubt, the driving force behind this firing. Because he took Toronto to task for three straight years, Dwane Casey no longer has a job.

Dwane Casey

Casey and Raptors superfan Drake stand courtside. (Photo by Richard Madonik/Toronto Star)

Another factor could be his inability to maximize Lowry and DeRozan, but that blame should be split 50-50 between the players and the coach. Casey can draw up the offensive sets, but he cannot make the ball go in the basket. He can suggest innovative ways to defend LeBron, but he cannot stop him from being the best player in the world.

All in all, Toronto has some soul searching to do. After shaking their Game 1 woes in their first-round series, the choker label was plastered on the franchise yet again after running into the NBA’s most consistent buzz saw. Needless to say, if the Pacers had not lost in their Game 7 against LeBron, Casey might still be holding a clipboard.

Featured image by Tony Dejak/Associated Press

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Multi-Esport Cities

While the Esports industry is very young, franchising has allowed for it to mature much faster than its traditional sports counterpart. With franchising coming into play there are many different groups and people buying in, and these entities want esports teams in their cities.

This means that many fans will start to want to see their teams in person and thus esports arenas are the next step, you can check out why that is here.

The teams in League of Legends have not officially stated what cities they will be based in, so some of this is a bit of guessing as either they were founded in these cities or have major investments from them.

Now here is a list of US/NA cities that already have multiple teams in them:

Boston:

  • Boston Uprising (Overwatch League)
  • Celtics Crossover Gaming (NBA2k)

Cleveland:

  • 100 Thieves (League of Legends)
  • Cavs Legion (NBA2k)

Dallas:

  • Dallas Fuel (Overwatch League)
  • Mavs Gaming (NBA2k)

Houston:

  • Clutch City (League of Legends)
  • Houston Outlaws (Overwatch League)
  • OpTic Gaming (League of Legends)

Los Angeles:

  • LA Gladiators (Overwatch League)
  • LA Valiant (Overwatch League)
  • The Overwatch League
  • NALCS

Miami:

  • Florida Mayhem (Overwatch League)
  • Heat Check Gaming (NBA2k)

Milwaukee:

  • Bucks Gaming (NBA2k)
  • FlyQuest (League of Legends)

New York:

  • Counter Logic Gaming (League of Legends)
  • Echo Fox (League of Legends)
  • Knicks Gaming (NBA2k)
  • New York Excelsior (Overwatch League)

Oakland/San Francisco Bay Area:

  • Golden State Guardians (League of Legends)
  • San Francisco Shock (Overwatch League)
  • Warriors Gaming Squad (NBA2k)

Philadelphia:

  • 76ers GC (NBA2k)
  • Philadelphia Fusion (Overwatch League)

Toronto:

  • Raptors Uprising GC (NBA2k)
  • Team Solo Mid (League of Legends)

 

We will make sure to continue updating this list as more esports franchise, more teams commit to cities, and more teams join the already franchised leagues. An EU and Asia list will come out once a couple other franchising esports leagues finalize.

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playoffs

Raptors vs. Cavaliers series preview (after Game 1)

The NBA playoffs feature some great second-round matchups. But perhaps more exciting than any of them is this Eastern Conference Semifinal round featuring Toronto and Cleveland.

The Toronto Raptors finally own the East’s number one seed, while fourth-seeded Cleveland needed all seven games to get past the Indiana Pacers. 2018 marks the third year in a row that these two teams have met in the playoffs.

According to sources from Sports Betting Dime, Raptors are the favorite to win (-260) against the Cavaliers (+220).

The regular season and roster point towards the Raptors. The recent history favors the Cavaliers. Here is The Game Haus’ analysis after a closely contested Game 1.

Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavs’ up and down season carries over into the playoffs and continues to give Cleveland fans everywhere palpitations.

Coming off of a grueling seven-game series against the scrappy Indiana Pacers, the Cavaliers now face the top team in the Eastern Conference. No easy task, but Cleveland has clawed its way past the Raptors in the past two NBA playoffs.

After Sunday’s Game 7 win over Indiana, LeBron James said he was tired and, “ready to go home.” This may be the very first time in James’ quest for eight straight finals appearances where he has admitted fatigue.

playoffs

LeBron James recorded his 21st playoff triple-double in Game 1. (Photo by Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)

It makes sense, though, considering all four wins in the first round series came by only 14 points combined. If that does not paint a picture of a hard-fought series, nothing does. Add on that James had the entire roster on his back through all seven games, even rabid LeBron haters would say he deserved the rest.

Through eight games, LeBron is averaging 33.4 points, 8.4 assists and 10.1 rebounds. He has climbed to number two in the all-time playoff triple-doubles, with 21. This includes a triple-double in yesterday’s Game 1 overtime win.

Those 33.4 points per game are good for first among all playoff scorers. To put into perspective just how much The King is willing his team to victory, the next closest Cleveland player is Kevin Love at number 62.

With Game 1 decided by just one point in overtime, it is clear that the Cavaliers will have their hands full yet again. LeBron must keep scoring in bunches, and Kevin Love cannot keep disappearing if they want four NBA Finals in a row. Taking James out of the game is nigh impossible, but Cleveland struggles when he gets no help. Getting players not named LeBron should be their focus from here on out, because The King will get his.

Toronto Raptors

Toronto may have more to prove than any other team in the playoffs. They are a perennially good team, but have never advanced past the Eastern Conference Finals in franchise history. With this core, a fantastic bench and great coaching, it seems like this should be their year.

In their seven games, their All-Star backcourt of DeRozan and Lowry are scoring at a clip of 26 and 17.3 points per game, respectively. The team is scoring 109.6 points per game, which is fifth among playoff teams. Their defense is allowing 108 points per game to opponents, which is good for sixth best.

Their previous series against the Raptors came in six games. The first round series was full of double-digit wins for both sides. It seems as if when a team gives the Raptors trouble, they really give them trouble. That has been the story of the Raptors and Cavaliers history of late.

playoffs

Valanciunas and Lowry after missing several potential game-winning shots in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter. (Photo by Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)

As previously mentioned, the Cavs have ousted Toronto during the previous two playoffs. This time, though, the Raptors clearly have the superior roster and the better regular season record.

But their old ways reared their head again. “The North” blew a 10 point lead with less than 10 minutes to go in the fourth quarter.

The Cavaliers have beaten Toronto in nine of their last 11 playoff matchups. It seems as if LeBron is truly their kryptonite. Their path to victory narrows with every shot he makes. The game plan for them, here should not be to take him out of the game. It should be making sure that the rest of the Cavaliers’ roster continues to play as poorly as they have been during these playoffs.

A one-point overtime loss in game one after having and missing eight second-chance opportunities in the last five minutes is debilitating, to say the least. But if they are going to advance further in these playoffs, it is poetic that they must go through the Cavs.

All in all, Toronto needs to be confident in the fact that their roster is better, and try to forget Game 1 and the past two years. This Cavaliers team is vulnerable, and coach Dwane Casey needs to exploit their weak spots.

Preview and Predictions

Although it seems like the Raptors should be the ones worrying, it really should be the Cavaliers’ lack of production that will be the focal point of this series.

The bench matchups here are what Toronto can win, and win big. Cleveland uses so many different lineups because they are unsure what will work on a nightly basis. Toronto does not have that problem. Their bench is one of the best in the NBA and they can absolutely dominate these haphazard Cavs lineups.

Since they are playing the best player in the league, DeRozan and Lowry will both have to show up every night. One needs to cancel out LeBron’s points, while the other pads the lead.

Serge Ibaka will win his matchup against Love if he can deny him the ball. Love tends to fade into the background if he does not get going early enough. Tristan Thompson is mired in off-court controversy, but he is playing some great basketball. If this trend continues, he can overshadow a clearly superior center in Valanciunas.

A prediction here is hard because so many things come into play. Including and especially recent history. Toronto has to do everything in their power to put the Cavaliers away early. Cleveland panics when down too much and takes ill-advised shots. If the Cavs can keep it close, though, it is very much LeBron time, which will probably win them the game.

If this series goes the distance, the Cavaliers will probably walk away victorious. However, faith needs to be put in the Raptors that they want to shake off the “chokers” label they have amassed through the years.

Raptors in six

Featured image by John E. Sokolowski/USA TODAY Sports

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first round

NBA playoff roundup: Summaries and analysis after two games

The first round of the NBA playoffs is here.

With every series shifting to the lower seeded team’s home court, it is time to take a look at where each team stands matching up with their opponent, some potential focus changes and predictions on how the next games will shake out.

Here is a summary of every series now that the first two games are in the books.

Eastern Conference

Raptors vs. Wizards

The Toronto Raptors finally shook the first game monkey off of their backs.

Up until Saturday, the franchise had never won the first game of a playoff series. Now, they hold their first-ever 2-0 lead.

Game 1 ended in a 116-104 win for the Raptors, although the final score does not quite tell the whole story. Toronto started off well, and got out to an early lead. By the end of the third, though, they only lead by one point. The bench players sealed the win in the fourth quarter, which is unsurprising, as Toronto’s bench has been fantastic all season.

first round

Lowry guards Wall during Game 1. (Photo by Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Game 2 was all Raptors, as the Wizards could not keep up after Toronto put up a 44-point first quarter. DeRozan led all scorers with 37 points, as the game wrapped with a 130-119 final score.

Although players like Serge Ibaka and Mike Scott have been terrific, the real story here is the battle of the backcourts. DeRozan and Lowry are winning this battle handily. Lowry is averaging 12 points and 10.5 assists, and DeRozan is giving the Raptors 27 points and 5 assists.

Wall seems to have no more rust to shake off, however, as he is putting up 26 points per game, and distributing at a clip of 12.5 assists per game. While Beal, who has played all year and earned his first All-Star appearance, can only muster 14 points and 3.5 assists.

The series is now shifting to Washington, but that is not necessarily a gigantic advantage. The Raptors away record is two games better than the Wizards’ home record. Expect the home crowd to give the Wiz a boost, but if the Raptors continue their trend of incredibly timely scoring, this series could be over in four or five games.

Celtics vs. Bucks

Although the Celtics are up 2-0 in the series, it has not been as lopsided as the record indicates.

In Game 1, Boston needed overtime to beat the seventh-seeded Bucks, after Khris Middleton knocked down a Hail Mary 3-pointer with 0.5 on the clock. It was a game of runs, as Boston had a 15-0 run to end the first quarter, with Milwaukee answering with a 21-5 run in the second. It was only fitting that a game that back and forth got an extra period.

As the old adage goes, though, better teams win in overtime. The Celtics outscored the Bucks 14-8 in bonus time, and took the win.

Game 2 ended with a 120-106 Celtics victory, but the Bucks were not hopelessly behind for the entire game. Rather, they hung around, but just could not muster the defense necessary to hold off Boston’s balanced attack.

As expected, Antetokounmpo has been the driving force behind Milwaukee, averaging 32.5 points and 11 rebounds in the two games. Middleton, the Game 1 hero, has been a scoring machine, giving the Bucks 31 points in the first game and 25 in the second. Outside of the Greek Freak’s 13 rebound performance in Game 1, though, no other Buck has had a double-digit rebound game. This likely has contributed to their 0-2 hole.

Without Kyrie Irving, the Celtics have looked just fine. In Game 1, four Celtics scored 20 or more, with Jayson Tatum only being one point shy of making it five. Six of Boston’s players had double-digit scoring games in Game 2. Not bad for an injury-laden team whose offense was written off after the All-Star break.

If the Bucks can break out of some bad habits and lackluster defense, they could even this series at home. But look for the Celtics to take the series with their more complete team and better coaching. Biding time until Marcus Smart can return in May, Boston has a lot to play for.

76ers vs. Heat

This series has been great, and will likely stay that way.

The “watchability” factor is due in part to the fact that Game 1 was an absolute blowout. The 76ers carried their cocky attitude and potent offensive attack into the playoffs to the tune of a 130-103 win. Even without Embiid locking down the paint, this young Sixers team found ways to score and keep Miami from doing much offensively.

Veterans and newbies stepped up for Philadelphia in the 27-point drubbing of Miami. Redick and Belinelli contributed 28 and 25 points, respectively, while Saric gave a 20-point performance. Ben Simmons, the possible Rookie of the Year, was one rebound shy of a triple-double, and Ilyasova turned in a double-double. There is not much an opposing team can do about that.

first round

Wade against Simmons in Game 2. (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

The story of Game 2 was vintage Dwyane Wade rearing his head. Wade played outside of his mind, scoring 28 points. He was playing off of the ball, however, only tallying three assists. Five other Miami players scored in double figures, including Dragic’s 20-point performance.

Saric and Simmons both had good second games, but while they received support scoring-wise, the defense was not enough to stop the Heat.

As the series moves to Miami, it will be the talk of the NBA if Wade can keep playing at this level. With Embiid still out, the series is up for grabs, as the mixed veteran and young talent of Miami tries to take advantage of the 76ers’ mostly inexperienced roster.

Hopefully, we are looking at a classic seven-game first round series.

Cavaliers vs. Pacers

The Pacers put an end to LeBron’s historic 21-game first round winning streak in Game 1 of this series. Considering all of Cleveland’s struggles this season, it is not really that surprising this is the year it came to an end.

In Game 1, the Pacers were on a mission to earn some respect. In the first quarter, they outscored the Cavs 33-14, and did not look back. Victor Oladipo, as he has been all year, was the focal point of Indiana’s offense. He scored 32 easily, while Stephenson, Turner and Bogdanovic all had double-digit scoring games.

LeBron had a triple-double, putting the Cavs on his back. It was not nearly enough, however, as they lost by 18 points on their home court. Only two other Cavaliers scored more than nine points, which cued the calls of “LeBron needs more help.”

Game 2 was a full-fledged LeBron takeover, though, as he was determined to not go down 0-2. James had 46 points and 12 rebounds, and outscored the entire Pacers team in the first quarter. As the Pacers cut an 18-point lead down to just four, more LeBron heroics sealed the win, as the Cavs came away with the three-point victory.

Any series featuring this Cavaliers team will be put under a microscope. The issues this team has had are not only well-documented but numerous. The second half of their season was less tumultuous, but it is generally agreed upon that 2018 could possibly put an end to LeBron’s streak of seven straight NBA Finals appearances.

Are the Pacers good enough to knock this battle-tested Cleveland team out in the first round, though? Probably not. Especially if LeBron continues his ageless 2018 campaign. Indiana does have a six-game advantage at home, versus Cleveland’s road record. But the Pacers continue to lean heavily on Oladipo.

Averaging 26 points in these first two games, probable Most Improved Player, Victor Oladipo, has no choice but to keep playing this well if the Pacers want to keep winning. Everyone knows what the Cavaliers can do when they put it all together, so, even though NBA pundits will say otherwise, the pressure is on Indiana to continue to impress.

 

Western Conference

Trail Blazers vs. Pelicans

The Pelicans have taken a surprising 2-0 lead in this third versus sixth seed first round series. It is magnified by the fact that both of these games have taken place in Portland, which features a fantastic home court advantage.

The first game was close, but the margin of victory would have been two possessions, if McCollum did not hit a prayer of a three-pointer at the buzzer. As with many NBA games, the final two minutes were the most exciting of the game. The Trail Blazers were within one point with one minute left, after a McCollum three.

The last minute was punctuated by poor decisions and turnovers by Portland. Not to be overshadowed, though, was some excellent defense by Jrue Holliday, which included a massive block with nine seconds left.

Another bad second half cost Portland Game 2 as well. The Pelicans dominated the turnover game and took advantage of every opportunity handed to them. Playoff Rondo is back in full force, falling one assist shy of a triple-double in Game 2, and had a massive 3-pointer late in the fourth quarter. He even stole the spotlight from Anthony Davis, which is no easy task.

first round

Jrue Holliday celebrates after a late foul was called against Portland. (Photo by Sean Meagher/Oregon Live)

It is hard to pick the brightest spot on the Pelicans roster over the first two games. Mirotic has proven to be an important addition, averaging 16.5 points and 9.5 rebounds. Jrue Holliday, as mentioned earlier, is playing well on both ends of the floor. Rondo contributed with his passing in Game 1, with 17 assists, and in all areas in Game 2. And of course, Davis has gotten his, with a 35-point, 14 rebound first game, and a 22-point, 13 rebound second game.

On the flip side, it is easy to pick out the problems for the Blazers. Lillard and McCollum have outright failed to carry the team the way that they did during the regular season.

Lillard is averaging 17.5 points, and McCollum has just a 15 point average. This is a far cry from Lillard’s 26.9 point and McCollum’s 21.4 point regular season average. These two simply need to play better, because when they do, the rest of the team feeds off of them. This is not an easy task, however, if Holliday and Rondo are going to continue to guard them as well as they are.

Yet another problem for the Blazers, is that the series now shifts to New Orleans. Not having the home court fans behind them has been a problem for Portland. The team is only one game above .500 on the road. The Pelicans only hold a three-game advantage at home, so expect the series to stay hotly contested.

Thunder vs. Jazz

Back-and-forth games have been the calling card of this series. Both games have been closer than their final scores indicate, due to late-game fouls and free throws. Lead changes are at a premium, and it appears that these two teams are evenly matched.

Game 1 featured two of the “OK3” have terrific nights. Paul George and Russell Westbrook combined for 65 points and 20 assists by themselves. Carmelo Anthony added 15 points and 7 rebounds, which helped carry the Thunder to a win.

Donovan Mitchell continued his dismantling of NBA defenses, with a 27-point night. He was also good for a double-double as he notched 10 rebounds. Six other Jazz players were in double figures in the scoring column, but the OK3’s 80 points were too much for the rookie-led Utah team. Both teams scored over 100, setting the stage for, possibly, the most exciting first-round series, depending on preference.

Continuing that trend, Mitchell did it again on Wednesday, earning 28 points. Derrick Favors turned in a double-double, and Ricky Rubio flirted with a triple-double. There were 13 lead changes in the game, but the last one in the fourth quarter belonged to the Jazz.

Westbrook, George and Anthony combined for 54 in Game 2. But Utah’s scoring was much more timely. The Thunder played well on the offensive end, as they usually do, but the defense that the Jazz are known for kept them ahead when it counted.

If the Thunder’s big three can continue averaging 67 points per game, it simply will be up to the Thunder’s bench to outscore Mitchell. The other big obstacle is Rudy Gobert, who locks down the paint with the best of them.

Utah’s home court advantage is significant, but the Thunder can score anywhere. Westbrook will have to continue to get his teammates involved, and Mitchell will have to play his brand of basketball to keep this series as fascinating as it has been.

Much like the Sixers-Heat series, we could be in line for a seven-game shootout here in the first round.

Warriors vs. Spurs

It seems as if the Warriors are doing just fine without Stephen Curry.

This is looking like the most lopsided series in the first round of the playoffs, because neither Game 1 nor Game 2 were close. The Spurs took minimal leads during Game 2, but they were short-lived. Other than those few instances, it has been all Warriors.

Gregg Popovich and the Spurs are showing their age, and the absence of Kawhi Leonard is glaring. Even the Warriors’ bench is looking to be too much for San Antonio. The Spurs have lost both games by 21 and 15, respectively.

first round

McGee and Thompson both go up for a block on Dejounte Murray. (Photo by Christopher Chung/The Press Democrat)

They allowed Durant and Thompson to score over 30 in Game 2. Their only real scoring threat on a consistent basis is LaMarcus Aldridge. Even so, the Warriors can allow him to score whatever he wants as long as they continue to lock down the rest of the offense.

Meanwhile, the Warriors are playing so well that they have managed to take over the series despite just one double-double from any player in either game (Draymond Green, 12 points, 11 assists). Steve Kerr and this Warriors team are not only accustomed to the playoffs, but they have grown used to playing without Curry. Playing without the two-time MVP may not even cost them a game in this round.

The Warriors might perform sweeps of the Spurs in back to back years. Their only hope of salvaging a game is hoping Aldridge can keep repeating his 34 point, 12 rebound performance he put up in Game 2. Along with that, they will need Rudy Gay, Patty Mills and Manu Ginobili to score 15 or more while playing good defense.

Other than that, all the Spurs have to look forward to is the trip home, where they play well. But it is very likely the advantage will not mean much.

Rockets vs. Timberwolves

Game 1 of this series saw what is probably the closest the Timberwolves will come to snatching a victory away from the best team in the NBA.

Losing by only three points, the Wolves lost their chance to tie on an abysmal final possession that ended with Andrew Wiggins losing the ball out of bounds with less than a second remaining on the clock. Minnesota played well, and Houston played as poorly as they are going to, and it still was not enough.

James Harden went off for 44 points, as he essentially scores at will. Only Capela and Paul could muster offense worth mentioning, as Harden was option number one, two and three for the Rockets.

Burgeoning star Karl-Anthony Towns only took nine shots in the entire game, making three of them. That is not winning basketball for the Wolves. It seems as if their only hope is to overpower the Rockets with Towns in the paint, as Capela makes his shots, but gets no plays ran for him.

Game 2 was the kind of blowout one might expect for the one seed versus eight seed matchups.

The Rockets won by 20, and only needed 12 points from James Harden to do it. Chris Paul was the standout in this game, backed up by Gerald Green. Only three Wolves scored in double-digits, none of them scoring 20 or more.

Frankly, the Timberwolves are outmatched and outclassed. As the series moves to Minneapolis, a crowd that has not seen a playoff game in 14 years may shake the Rockets enough to allow Minnesota to steal a game away, though.

It is going to take more than 6.5 points per game from Towns to do it, though.

Featured image by Ravell Call/Deseret News

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“From Our Haus to Yours

Cleveland Browns free agency

Who the Cleveland Browns should target in free agency

The Browns have several needs, which were mentioned in a previous article. Luckily, they have a plethora of cap space and draft picks for this offseason, along with a new experienced general manager.

Free agency begins on March 12, and there are some young free agents that would be ideal for the Browns to go after to allow them to focus on other positional needs. The important thing for the Browns to do is to sign younger veterans that can grow with the team and teach the new rookies, rather than bringing in high salary contracts for big stars, who will not be with the team for long.

Sammy Watkins, wide receiver

Cleveland Browns free agency

Photo from Dailynews.com

Last season with the Rams, Watkins totaled nearly 600 yards and eight touchdowns as a complimentary piece on the highest scoring offense in the NFL. The 24-year-old had his best season since 2015 when he played in 13 games and still had over 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns.

 

 

Watkins was able to prove that he can stay healthy for a season, which was due to the other talented receivers in the Rams’ offense. His combination of size and speed, along with his consistent hands, should be able to mesh well with Josh Gordon and Corey Coleman.

Injuries have been a concern in the past, but after playing 15 games last season, he could bring a young, veteran presence to the wide receiver group.

Whether or not they sign a receiver in free agency, it is inevitable that the Browns will add another weapon from the draft. Other options include Mike Wallace, Taylor Gabriel and Eric Decker.

Tahir Whitehead, outside linebacker

Cleveland Browns free agency

Photo from Detroit Free Press

Why shouldn’t Cleveland look north and go after one of the highest-rated linebackers according to Pro Football Focus? Whitehead played 16 games last season, racked up 110 tackles and recovered four fumbles. This followed a season where he had 132 tackles and five pass breakups.

 

Whitehead has been incredibly healthy as he has only missed one game over the last five seasons. This is something the Browns have had an issue with, so bringing in a linebacker like Whitehead will provide this young defense with a leader and someone who can play both inside and outside linebacker.

He will be able to fit into Cleveland’s system well and help relieve a need, but it is going to cost the Browns. Whitehead is expected to earn a yearly salary as high as $9.25 million, which would put him in the middle tier of starting linebackers. Other options include Connor Barwin, Aldon Smith (who has not been reinstated yet) and Nigel Bradham.

 

Garry Gilliam, right tackle

Cleveland Browns free agency

Photo from ESPN.com

Right now, there is not a high-caliber starting right tackle on the market. However, the Browns should bring in a seasoned veteran to compete for the position. Gilliam has played in 52 games so far in his four-year career and played in eight games last season as a member of the San Francisco 49ers.

In 2017, he earned a grade of 68.5 from Pro Football Focus, which is much better than Shon Coleman, who started the season as Cleveland’s right tackle and he received a 53.0 grade.

Though their best bet would be to go after a tackle in the draft, the Browns can bring some depth because offensive line health issues have been an prevalent thing for this team. Other options include Byron Bell, James Hurst, LaAdrian Waddle.

Wrap up

Cleveland has a lot of resources, and it will be interesting to see how involved they will get come free agency time. It would be great for the Browns to gather these types of players to fill holes and to loosen the chains on the player personnel department. This fan base has been disappointed for too long, so hopefully this new management will be different.

 

Featured image by Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Deliver us from Manziel Mania

The gauge of greatness is measured in time. For the league’s most heralded superstars, their careers have been evaluated, scrutinized, criticized and praised, all in accordance of time. Some superstars find solace in individual recognition while others define their legacy along with the team’s they coveted. That success comes in waves or spurts. Some might see success fairly early in the career, cashing in on a team’s expectations on the individual. Other might be left to stay on the sideline in their anticipation for one day to sitting on that illustrious throne (ex: Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady).

But for all players that set foot into the NFL, the vast majority don’t achieve much. Some don’t ever find their rightful place to call home. Even when all arrows lead up, some players can’t just get pass the hump. For those, we wonder what if and how. For example, the spotlight of our discussion, Johnny Manziel.

Johnny Football

Johnny Manziel was one of the most electrifying college football  players in history. With a strong arm, vision, ability to move around the pocket and scrambling prowess, Manziel was a legitimate threat to defenses. What critics frowned upon either being too small to play in the league or downright reckless, his fans praised his ability to be instinctive and play with heart. Despite being only a three star recruit out of high school, with performances against heavily loaded Southeastern athletic conference bill, Manziel was able to reach heights unlike before.

Getty Images

In his first year starting as a redshirt freshman, Manziel went on to break many records in the SEC and for NCAA. He became the first freshman to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a season. After an amazing year, Manziel became the first freshman to win the Heisman trophy, the youngest in history.

After completing his third year at Texas A&M, Manziel would forgo his last two years as a college athlete and pursue a career in the NFL. But the critics came on hard about whether drafting Manziel was wise. As the success came in heaps, so did the pressure to stay on the up-up. During his stay at Texas A&M, Manziel  was center stage for a number of controversies. From suspect tweets wanting to leave College Station to Manziel being suspended for allegedly receiving payments for signing autographs. Even when before Manziel became starting quarterback at Texas A&M, the redshirt freshman at the time was arrested and charged with three misdemeanors. After pleading guilty with failure to produce identification, the other charges were dropped and Manziel was named the starting quarterback for the Aggies.

An Inevitable Downfall

(AP Photo)

Despite his size and the nature of his game on and off the field, the… Cleveland Browns selected Manziel in the first round as the 22nd pick of the 2014 NFL Draft. Unfortunately, for Manziel, the trouble didn’t stop. Honestly, it got worse. Even though Manziel proved that he was able to see playing time on the professional level, his off field antics kept him off the field. After a season that showed promise for the young quarterback, it unfortunately led to an early ending for Manziel after suffering a concussion and he would not return for the 2015 season. The day before the Browns’ final game, Manziel was seen in a Las Vegas casino. The next day, as mandatory for all concussed players, Manziel failed to appear in front of the team medic.

Ugly, Ugly, and more Ugly

Not too long after, Manziel saw a string of problems going forward. In 2016, LRMR, a marketing agency that represented Manziel, reported that they would no longer work with him. Later that year, after only two months representing him, Manziel’s new agent removed Manziel from his itinerary of represented clients. Manziel stayed in the negative light due to an ongoing investigation by the Dallas Police Department. The investigation included a claim of domestic violence against Manziel’s former girlfriend. According to the victim, Manziel had forced her in a car, pulled her hair and threatened to kill her and himself. Manziel eventually accepted a plea deal that included counseling and monitoring by the state for a year or face prosecution.

From then, Manziel spent the next year at the bottom of bottles alleging an alcohol addiction. Manziel was also on record for abusing drugs, however, which drugs were never specified. In the beginning of the 2016 season, Manziel was suspended by the league for violating the leagues substance abuse policy. Soon after, the Browns released Manziel. In addition to the death of his playing career, Manziel’s supporters had concern of his well being.

His father, Paul Manziel, told ESPN, “”He’s a druggie. It’s not a secret that he’s a druggie. Hopefully, he doesn’t die before he comes to his senses. I mean, I hate to say it, but I hope he goes to jail. I mean, that would be the best place for him. I’m doing my job, and I’m going to move on. If I have to bury him, I’ll bury him.” After a year of counseling Manziel found out that he was suffering from bipolar disorder and is now medicated.

A Bright Future

Johnny Manziel sat with reporters from ABC News discussing his new outlook on life. He talked about getting engaged, following his recovery and embracing his roots. All which see that point to a comeback. First and foremost, this article is not an advocation for Manziel’s defense. A lot can point to his downfall from his upbringing or his destination in Cleveland. Manziel came from a wealthy background, received more recognition than players that had worked harder and (or) were better, played in the NFL and threw his life away because of his sense of entitlement.

With that being said, the boy can play, which means a lot in this day and age of football. The Browns were looking for a player when Manziel needed a sense of mentorship. A franchise that is arguably the worst in NFL history didn’t have enough leaders for a kid like Manziel. From what he was in the past and his tenure with the Browns and how we see it today, no one can be surprised at the outcome.

(AP Photo | DAVE MARTIN)

What’s Important?

At the age of 25, despite not playing football for about two years, Manziel is more than able to make a comeback in this league. For the ones that see it as impossible, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Manziel had been offered with a chance to play in the Canadian Football League and for Manziel, that is a good enough platform to show his skills and the progress he made as a person during his hiatus.

Manziel is a good player that allowed his personality and behavior off the field inveigle who he was on the football field. Some might believe that that attitude gave him that star studded ability. That is for us to see going forward. The prospect of Manziel joint the NFL one day are pretty high depending on his performance in the Canadian Football League. Fortunately, Manziel is in no rush. At 25, a start in a career would be he usual for an NFL quarterback. Manziel has already seen the good, the bad, and the ugly and seems to be looking towards the right path.

Like always, only time will tell whether Manziel would be ever to step up to the plate. Fortunately, the pressure is as high at it can get for him. To being able to take care of himself and live an honest life should be enough as his top priority. Football should definitely come second unless it is paramount for his recovery. What people will say, fans and doubters, shouldn’t matter as his destiny lies in only one person’s hands. For Manziel, well, he has a lot of time, none for mistakes but much to prove his rightful spot in this league or at least his place in our universe.

 

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A trail of tears from Cleveland

Scott R. Galvin/USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland natives tend to feel the cold fronts coming off of Lake Erie this time of year. Unfortunately, what seems of late, they can settle for the bitter cold feeling of their once beloved football team. For at least a half a century, the city has been on the wrong side of history. Fortunately, recent success has come from the anchors of The Land, the Indians and the Cavaliers.

For the Indians, who haven’t had scent of a world title since the Truman administration, the tide is turning for the Wahoos. The past seasons have been pretty fortuitous to say the least. Coming off of a 100-win season in 2017 and World Series appearance the year prior, the Indians’ future looks brighter than ever. This upcoming season, the Indians are predicted to compete for a title as a top baseball club.

The Cavaliers have been through their own personal battles but still hold their position as Cleveland’s best export. The return of LeBron James has been filled with fortune and serendipity. The Cavs Captured a title in 2016 and ended the championship the fifty-year drought for the city. As long as King James and the Cavaliers are one of the heavyweights in the NBA, they will forever be the epicenter of Cleveland sports.

However, the Browns are at an all time low. Coming off a 2016 season that only amounted to a single win, 2017 couldn’t be any better. In fact, it wasn’t. The worst team of the past became the worst team of the present. And at this rate, they look to be the worst of all time.

On January 7, 2018, along Alfred Lerner Way, Brown fans celebrated their “perfect” season. Instead of cheers, cries for help were heard adjacent of the FirstEnergy Stadium. A parade that mirrored a funeral buried the 2017 Browns along with the NFL’s list of deplorable winless teams. With a platform built by greats including Ozzie Newsome, Lou Groza and Jim Brown, Cleveland has yet to return to such heights.

Enveloped in the lingering scent of their 1964 championship, which unfortunately now has only seen by a handful. The majority of the fan base still cringe over the most gut wrenching moments as the world recognizes them as miracles. The Fumble, The Drive, The Move, all still remain in many fans’ hearts as the lowest points in the franchise. Since the golden ages of the 80’s, the Browns haven’t been able to capitalize in the turn of the century.

Scott R. Galvin/USA TODAY Sports

Without a playoff birth in almost two decades, fans questions have turned to prayers. With a lack of a notable franchise star, a questionable and ever-changing coaching staff and poor management, the future looks pretty dim as of right now. Even at the franchise’s lowest point, it seems that it is going to get worse as the years go by. Only thing that is safe to say, is that the Browns are here to stay. The efforts of Art Modell in moving the team to Baltimore in 1995 was disastrous. Other than setting precedent for franchise relocations and expansions of the future, for Cleveland, it was futile.

With that being said, Cleveland will have to bare what is to come. In doing so, the seasons of the future might mimic the franchise’s lack accomplishments like the display this past year. For Cleveland to turn things around, this particular off-season will prove to be detrimental for the squad.

 

A star…?

In the past, Cleveland has harbored quite a few franchise cornerstones. Some of who were regarded as not only arguably the best in their respective position like Ozzie Newsome, Bernie Kosar and Lou Groza but also the best player in the league. From 1957 to 1965, Jim Brown reigned as the best player in all of football. Bringing home a rookie of the year trophy, three NFL most valuable awards, and garnishing the franchise’s last championship in 1964.

At the height of his career, Brown retired from professional football in 1965, leaving the franchise in search for a new star. Spurts from Hall of Famers like Bobby Mitchell, Greg Pruitt and Leroy Kelly proved to be promising. Unfortunately, the void left by Brown became too hard to fill. That void still plagues the franchise fifty-years later.

An addition of a prominent all-pro player or an emergence of a young star may speak vibes for the team going forward. After an impressive season by the Buffalo Bills that ended in a playoff berth, the Browns now have the longest current playoff drought in the NFL. In other words, the way the organization is going, the Browns won’t be seen in the winter anytime soon. Great confidence, effort and camaraderie comes from leadership, something the Browns lack. A star could be the epitome of these components and their focus and pursuit in becoming a contender.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

A bright spot in the tumultuous past has been the career of all-pro left tackle Joe Thomas. Thomas, who holds the NFL record for most consecutive snaps played, has proven to be remarkable with nine all-pro selections and ten Pro Bowl appearances. But questions mount as the organization looks to move on from arguably the best lineman in football. According to Cleveland.com, reports show that the 33 year old might consider retirement after a ten year career with the Browns. On a laundry list of problems, this holds as the highest priority for the franchise.

Let’s be honest, Cleveland isn’t the most attractive destination for a free agent or even a draft pick. It does not have the appeal of Los Angeles, Miami, New York or even Texas. The golden age of the city is long gone so a potential of a star wanting to play in Cleveland is slim.

When asked about Cleveland, New York Knicks center Joakim Noah said during an interview with TNT in 2009, “I don’t know about this place, man. I just stayed in my hotel room, man. Every time I look out my window, it’s pretty depressing out here, man.” He reiterated his position in a later press conference season after facing the Cavaliers. He was asked if he had regretted his comments, he replied, “Not at all. You like it? Do you think Cleveland’s cool? I mean, I’ve never heard anybody say ‘I’m going to Cleveland on vacation.’ What’s so good about  Cleveland?” The franchise has to offer more than just Cleveland to reel in targets.

 

A move in Free Agency

The Browns’ organization has been in a rebuild mode since the beginning of their playoff drought. Though certain components of the franchise might seem unattractive, it can be a valuable home for player looking to revitalize their career. A quarterback is  probably the most inconsistent position for the franchise since the departure of Bernie Kosar… literally. Since Tim Couch, the last quarterback for the Browns to start an entire season in 2001, the Browns have started 25 different quarterbacks in 16 seasons, the league’s highest.

This one seems a bit far fetched, but any big name potential targets in this years free agency wouldn’t be any different.  Drew Brees, who has plagued the NFC South Division with four division titles and a Super Bowl in 2009 might look for a change in scenery. After an astounding season with 4,208 passing yards with 23 touchdowns on 73% completion, an NFL record, Brees looks better than ever. The only ones looking forward to Brees departure are the Buccaneers, the Panthers and the Falcons. More than likely, if Brees is to leave, he would want to play for a contender. As tough as the AFC North is, contending for a title isn’t in the team’s imminent future. Brees would be the best case scenario. His pedigree would add appeal for free agents to come to Cleveland.

Patrick Smith/Getty

Kirk Cousins at the moment, is having a difficult time with management of the Redskins. During an interview on the Pritchard and Cecil Hour Podcast, former Redskins GM Scot McCloughan told the tandem when questioned about Cousins, “He’s a good player. Is he special? I don’t see special”. McCloughan was responsible for putting the two franchise tags on Cousins. For that, Cousins has something to prove, something he won’t get from a contender. Cousins has to prove he is a legitimate franchise player.

A career in Washington may not be the answer. With franchise tags it seems that Washington is not 100 percent sold on Cousins. NFL analysts expect the ‘Skins to take a quarterback in this upcoming draft. The only downfall is that Cousins has dealt with a shifting front office. His trust of Cleveland management might not be enough to sign and he’s not wrong for thinking so. To counter that, Cousins play has reflected the ‘Skins success. But it seems a contending team’s management may not think so. Cousins might have to settle with a rebuilding franchise.

Cleveland as a destination could be in consideration. Not only for the money, but a list of players who also have a chip on their shoulder. Browns receiver Josh Gordon is looking to prove the critics wrong and have his named edged in consideration as one of the league’s top wideouts. Also free agent pick ups like Marquise Lee or Terrelle Pryor could be a good addition to the core. Pryor/Lee and Gordon could be wonderful targets for Cousins or Brees or even a younger quarterback.

The Draft

Luckily for the Browns, bad seasons return great draft picks. The team gets an A+ for drafting Myles Garrett last year. After tallying seven sacks in only ten games, the rookie out of Texas A&M might break the chain of poor draft picks for the Browns. This year, they have a chance to do the same as they have the first and fourth pick (via Houston) of the first round in the draft.

Free agent targets like Kirk Cousins and Drew Brees might be out of reach for the Browns. Because so, the organization might have to settle for drafting a quarterback. Luckily, a whole slate of quarterbacks can fit the bill. Wyoming’s Josh Allen, USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen and Heisman trophy winners, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson all look promising for any team. The only problem is the fourth pick, which is a good problem to have. A perfect execution can be the foundation for the future and help pull the Browns out of this hole.

As a prediction, in the first round, the Browns are getting a quarterback and a running back. If the Browns are sold and solely want a particular quarterback, they should pick him first.

Jeff Roberson/AP

As the mock boards have it, the Giants have their eyes on Josh Rosen or Sam Darnold. If the Browns want Josh Rosen, they should draft him. However, that leaves a home run hitter like Penn State’s Saquon Barkley on the board. If Josh Rosen is taken first by the Browns, the Giants or the Colts could take Barkley for the second and third picks respectively. If that’s the case, the Browns should draft Barkley first. The Giants will probably take Rosen, but the Colts won’t draft a quarterback. This leaves Darnold, Mayfield and others on the board for the fourth pick which should be suitable.

Injuries make most players question their futures but ultimately the doubt will fade. More than likely, Joe Thomas will stay with the Browns. He has a lot more football to play and like the Browns, he has something to prove. With that being said, the Browns should look to fortify their defensive line or secondary instead. Best bet is defensive tackle, Trenton Thompson from Georgia at the 33rd pick and Mike Hughes, defensive back from UCF with the 35th pick to replace the released Joe Haden. If the future of Joe Thomas fears the organization, Offensive tackle Connor Williams from Texas looks valuable at the 63rd pick. In the end, Spencer Drango looks promising after filling in for the injured Thomas this year if Thomas decides to hang it up.

 

The fan base

As the transportation hub of the Great Lakes, Cleveland rose to prominence in the mid nineteenth century. By the 1920’s, it became the nation’s fifth largest city. The progressive era brought on businesses and businesses brought a booming economy that welcomed an influx of people. This economy aided the birth of sports as Cleveland was dubbed, City of Champions.

Matthew Emmons- US Presswire

Because of these roots, the love for sports have seeped into the culture. There is no discussion, no fan base is more loyal than Cleveland fans. When most of our country’s industries of energy, automobile manufacturing, and agriculture slowly left the region, the residents of the 216 embraced sports. As the surrounding area seemed to deteriorate, Baseball, Football, Basketball, were seen as beacons of hope for natives of northeast Ohio. Camaraderie means everything to a team. A mystery lies whether if there is enough among the players. However, the fans show to not disappoint.

Over the last seven seasons from the ball club, the team’s record has only amounted to an abysmal 89 loses and 23 wins. However, the Browns fans have been able to keep up almost a full attendance at FirstEnergy Stadium over those years. That can be music to a free agent’s ears. There is nothing like home, but a place where you are wanted can move mountains. A free agent like Kirk Cousins, who has been doubted by  his own ball club’s fan base would instantly be accepted among the dawg pound.

Cleveland’s downfall has come by its own merit. Poor management, lack of a stable roster, and a questionable coaching staff have prevented the franchise from reliving those glory days of the past and give what their respected fan base deserves. To no surprise, the Cleveland Browns’ organization is moving toward being the worst franchise, not only in the NFL but in professional sports. Not only because of its dysfunctional team’s performance, but the potential the team should have based upon the foundation it lays upon.

Despite all of this and what their record was this past season, there should optimism in Cleveland. It literally cannot get any worse than this. Anything is better than current situation of the franchise. And there’s hope. The region was built on determination and grit. The energy and commitment of the fans exhibit those roots. As grim as it may seem, light is always at the end of tunnel. But there aren’t any miracles in northeast Ohio, at least not in favor of Browns. No magical superstar is going to fall out of the sky and it’s unlikely LeBron James will take his talents to the Cleveland backfield.

With that being said the Browns are all they got. There are going to be desperate changes. Maybe a couple drifter-like free agents ever now and then, a couple of hiring and firing of coaches and questions of leadership will still linger. But maybe some advice from it’s parallel sport franchises in the Indians and Cavaliers might be of some help. As they’ve been able to pluck themselves out of their downfalls. It is well known the teams are built around stakeholders and the community. If any motivation the Browns are going to get, it lies within the roots of the fight that the city of Cleveland is willing to put up.

 

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Isaiah Thomas return

Should the Cavs have waited to bring back Isaiah Thomas?

Isaiah Thomas said he had “no feel for the game right now,” per Dave McMenamin of ESPN after the Cavaliers’ 17-point win over Portland.

That’s interesting considering his 17 points were scored on 6-for-12 shooting in just 19 minutes. Not to mention those 17 points he scored was the exact margin of victory for the Cavs. Suffice it to say, if he doesn’t have a feel for the game now, may God help the Eastern Conference when he gets it back.

The problem here wasn’t with Thomas’ performance, it was with the team on the receiving end of said performance. Specifically, the fact that they weren’t wearing green and represented by a leprechaun.

The Cavaliers chose to make Thomas available for the game against Portland on Tuesday, eschewing the primetime matchup against his former team in Boston on Wednesday. The team did not want Thomas to play back-to-back games after his long awaited return from a torn labrum, lest they risk an injury to one of the big pieces of their playoff hopes.

So, why not just wait one more day and give the NBA the marquee, probable Eastern Conference finals matchup it has been waiting for? With both teams at nearly full strength, this would be a perfect opportunity for both squads to get a feel for what the other team’s game plan might be in the spring.

First, let’s argue for why he should sit.

Sit him

Very simply, the Cavs and Tyronn Lue may just not have a plan they are ready to execute for Thomas against Kyrie Irving and the Celtics.

Isaiah Thomas return

Isaiah Thomas warms up for his Cavs debut. (Photo by Tony Dejak/Associated Press)

Irving has the best handles in the league, and it won’t inspire confidence in fans, players or the media if Thomas keeps getting cooked by Irving every time down the floor. Not to mention hip injuries limit mobility, so if Lue does have a plan, who’s to say Thomas could even execute it well enough to justify the minutes?

Apropos to that last point, Lue may be playing some mind games with Celtics coach Brad Stevens. Perhaps purposefully not showing Boston what they can do against Irving in an effort to force them to change their defensive set pieces later on in the season.

Another obvious reason for him to sit would be concern over the physicality of a rivalry game. Considering these two teams will almost certainly meet at some point during the playoffs, this will be a chance for both teams to rough each other up to show them what they’ve got. What Boston might have for a 5-foot-9 point guard is a hard screen or a shoulder to the chest that sends him to the floor with a re-aggravated hip.

Finally, the Cavs don’t want to look like they were just sitting on their hands regarding Thomas’ return until he could come back and burn his old team. That is a bad look for an organization that has pretty much dominated the Eastern Conference for three straight years.

Now, why should he start in a potentially dangerous back-to-back?

Start him

The first and most glaring reason for starting Thomas is for the fans. If it’s a forgone conclusion that these teams will be meeting in the playoffs, (which it is, barring some sort of major collapse), then the fans deserve the full playoff atmosphere. With every player that can suiting up and showing us what we’ll get in May.

Isaiah Thomas return

Isaiah Thomas makes his season debut against the Trail Blazers on Jan. 2. (Photo by Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports)

That’s without even mentioning the great storyline that could have been if Thomas suited up for his first game against his former team that he believes heavily devalued him. But, since he played against Portland, that storyline is less sexy than it had the potential to be.

Regarding playoff atmosphere, why wouldn’t Lue want his best players and best scorers in the game as much as possible? The Celtics are a top-tier team. They can score and suffocate teams defensively. A guy who scored almost 29 points per game last year would be a logical play if points will be at a premium.

Lastly, it makes sense to test Thomas’ hip in tough back-to-backs when the season is not even at its halfway point. Thomas will have the entire All-Star break to rest and rehabilitate. Another injury to that hip is frightening, especially when it cost him nearly eight months. But a full tear is unlikely, and it would be a calculated risk considering the opponent.

Regardless of all of that, the decision has been made. He did not play.

Thomas was not drilling 3-pointers while a man a foot taller than him stumbled to get his hand up. He was not flexing his defensive capabilities against one of the most invaluable point guards in the league. He was also not passing it to the human fountain of youth that is LeBron James.

But, for everyone’s sake, especially the Cavs, let’s all hope he will be by May.

 

Featured image by KEN BLAZE-USA TODAY SPORTS

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avoiding elimination game drama

Avoiding elimination game drama in Game 5

The Houston Astros came from behind in Boston on Monday, becoming the first team to make their way in to a league championship series. They produced some late inning heroics and walked out of Fenway Park 5-4 winners. Avoiding elimination game drama in the division series is one of the most important tasks of any World Series hopeful.

The Los Angeles Dodgers also join the Houston in moving on to the next round of games, sweeping Zack Greinke and Arizona right out of the playoffs. They now await the winner of Chicago versus Washington in the NLCS.

Why it Matters

Elimination games are the proverbial pressure cooker in MLB. There is perhaps nothing that can reduce hardened veterans to looking like a rookie quite like an elimination game. Getting the wins early on in the series is the name of the game.

In all division series that have ever been played, you might think having that deciding game at home would be a big feather in your team’s hat. Surprisingly that’s not the case.

avoiding elimination game drama

Luis Severino celebrates a huge out against the Cleveland Indians in Game 4. (Photo courtesy of: Adam Hunger, USA TODAY Sports)

In the American league, there have been 17 divisional series elimination games since New York defeated Milwaukee in 1981 at Yankee Stadium. Since that inaugural Game 5, the home team has won nine, whilst the visitors have won eight. It’s a true pick ‘em type of proposition. Nothing could be more disastrous to a 102-win Indians team like losing a pivotal Game Five at home.

This is exactly the position Cleveland now find themselves in after last night’s 7-3 Game Four loss. The season, for both clubs, now rides on a fateful Game 5 showdown on Wednesday night at Progressive Field in Cleveland.

In the National League, the odds are far worse for the home club. There have been 13 Game 5’s in the history of the NL and, get this, the home team has a paltry four wins to the road crew’s nine collective Game 5 triumphs.

When you roll them all together, that’s a cumulative record of 13-17 for the home team in division series elimination games. The games have been played a litter tighter in the AL than in the NL, but those are odds that I’m not at all interested in tempting if it’s my team gunning for the league title.

The Astros

It would be fair to say this year’s incarnation of the Houston Astros has been brilliant. They pitch, they hit, they hit and they hit. They do a lot of hitting, that would be the main take away here.

Houston has the best team offense in MLB  powered by three-time American League batting champion Jose Altuve. The little spark plug had another momentous year taking home the batting title during the regular season. Altuve however, has saved perhaps his best for last in 2017.

avoiding elimination game drama

Jose Altuve goes deep in ALDS action. (Photo courtesy of: Shanna Lockwood, USA TODAY Sports)

The slight statured Altuve stands 5-foot-6, but he might have the sweetest stroke in the game this side of Tony Gwynn. The work he’s doing this postseason is shaping up to be legendary. If Altuve continues to hit at the torrid pace he’s thus far established, his could be one of the best performances of all-time in postseason play.

Like, Lloyd McClendon in 1992 good. For the Pirates that year, McClendon set the record for postseason batting average. He hit .727 in 16 plate appearances over five games. Of course, with the difference in the amount of games the playoffs entail post-1994, McClendon’s record is probably safe for all times.

Red Sox pitching finally solved Altuve in Game Four at Fenway Park. As a result, his average plummeted to a “meager” .533.  However, the sweet-swinging righty did manage to push across the game’s first run. Albeit he did so by grounding into a double play. Altuve won’t get credit in the box score for an RBI, but that run is no less important in the bigger picture.

Houston has come from off the deck not once, but twice. They’ve showed real resolve for a team with World Series aspirations. The Astros are for real.

The Dodgers

What can be said about the Dodgers that hasn’t already been said?

Los Angeles is certainly looking like the team that finished 2017 with the game’s best record. The Dodgers won 104 games during the regular season and has just kept on winning. And they are fresh off the only sweep in division series play this postseason, taking down Arizona 3-1 last night.

avoiding elimination game drama

Cody Bellinger had a huge Game 3, hitting a his first postseason homer and making this spectacular catch. (Photo courtesy of: fanragsports.com)

The best part of L.A. getting the sweep last night, is they get the extra rest for the pitching staff leading in to the NLCS. This could be the biggest advantage the Dodgers have. With the way Yu Darvish was throwing last night, the Dodgers are going to be a tough out this year. He looked strong.

Also, Count on perennial Cy Young candidate Clayton Kershaw being ready to rock and roll come Game 1 of the NLCS. Take that to the bank. He’s easily been the most dominant pitcher of the last decade. Kershaw just needs some postseason glory to fully cement his status as living legend. Apparently his evil sorcery on the mound isn’t already enough.

Right now it appears the pitching for L.A. is getting stronger. Sure-fire Rookie of the Year Cody Bellinger is finding his playoff power stroke. And the rest of the lineup just continues to hit. There really is no question that the Dodgers are starting to play excellent baseball at the right time.

Dodgers fans are hoping for better tidings this year in the NLCS. This will mark the fifth appearance in the league championship series for Los Angeles since 2008. Is this the year L.A. takes it home?

The Rest of the Field

The Cubs lead their division series with Washington, two games to one after taking another closely pitched game 2-1. With 2016 playoffs hero Jake Arrieta taking the hill, Chicago has a chance to slam the door on this series at home. Washington and Chicago square off later today (5:30 EST) at Wrigley Field.

avoiding elimination game drama

Anthony Rizzo is the difference maker as he bloops a vital RBI single for Chicago in the eighth inning of an epic Game 4 showdown. (Photo courtesy of: AP/David Banks)

The division series between Washington and Chicago stands out because of the pitching. While the rest of the league should be considering protective netting around the outfield bleachers, pitchers in this series have been throwing well. The craziest game in the series has been the 6-3 Nationals win in Game 2. Whoa guys, slow down!

Don’t count Washington out yet though! This team has more than enough life in that pitching staff to put the clamps on any offense. The Cubs will be looking to seal the series tonight and stave off a dreaded Game 5. Washington on the other hand, will be looking to force a Game 5 meet-up in Washington D.C. for Thursday.

The Indians meanwhile, are now in a situation where the series comes back to Cleveland for Game 5. The silver lining for Indians fans is that staff ace Corey Kluber is bringing it back on the mound. Kluber will be looking for the win, but it remains to be seen whether that alone will be enough. It’s why they play the games.

There is no discernible trend of good outcomes for hosting an elimination game in the divisional round. In these types of sudden death meetings, home field advantage counts for very little.

 

(feature photo courtesy of: Stan Grossfeld/Boston Globe)

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