Friday, April 26, 2013

Three Game Changers

Two are in sports; one in international news.

Germany Punishes Spain
No, this is not an economic austerity news story; the shocking news that comes from Europe this week concerns the Champions League, the continental soccer club championship.  In the first leg of home-and-home semifinal matches this week, the broad expectation of a Spanish Classico final (in England) between Real Madrid and Barcelona was disrupted by German teams.  Bayern Munich, last year's Champions League runners-up (defeated by Chelsea, I must remind the reader), defeated the presumptive favorite Barcelona by 4-0, and, just as shocking (maybe more), Borussia Dortmund whipped Real Madrid, 4-1, all four goals being scored by Robert Lewandowski.  In its long history of European leadership, Real Madrid had never suffered such a one-man drubbing.

Still, although it's a tall order for the Spanish clubs to come back and reverse these deficits in the rematch games at home, it is not impossible.  Barcelona, in particular, is so explosive on offense that one can't count out Messi & Co. It just shows a part of the appeal of sporting events, the possibility of surprise.

Lightning Strikes Thunder
The NBA's Eastern Conference playoffs are all about the Miami Heat, and the unlikely possibility that some team might stop them, or at least slow them down.  The Western Conference, on the other hand, is fairly wide open.  The Oklahoma City Thunder have the best record and top seed, and they have shown playoff capability last year, but they are hardly overwhelming favorites, not when the San Antonio Spurs are potential Conference final opponents and  in both good form and reasonably good health, and there are other teams with strong competitive claims, like Denver, Memphis, the L.A. Clippers, and even the Lakers (though they are less threatening without Kobe Bryant).

As for the Thunder, their prospects just took a dramatic downturn last night when their high-scoring playmaker Russell Westbrook tore up his knee yesterday.  They seem likely to make it past the Houston Rockets to the second round, but the Clippers/Grizzlies survivor would be a tough opponent for them without Westbrook.  His injury  reminds me of the injury the Bulls suffered last year when Derrick Rose went out in the first game of the playoffs, the result being an even more dramatic loss than I predicted. The Bulls, still without Rose a year later, are battling on heroically and seem likely to pull off their first-round series against the Nets, but the Heat loom in the next round.
Meanwhile, the Spurs' chances have risen.  They now have Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili back and Tim Duncan healthy, and that combination has acres of proven playoff success. I like their chances to win the West now, and I like them better than any other Western opponent against Miami.

Then, There Was Syria...
The alleged game-changing event (or events) happened some weeks ago.  There is evidence of attack with sarin gas which killed a few people in Damascus and/or Aleppo, evidence that has been detected in autopsy. Who did it, and why, are far from clear--possibly a test to see if it could be done without drawing a strong reaction from the West.  President Obama is proceeding carefully, though he has now gone public with the allegation, and he has repeated his warning that use of chemical weapons is a "game-changer". 

For all that, I'm not sure the game really has changed, though.  It has been, and it remains, getting the Russians, Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad's key ally, to abandon their support for him and help arrange his ouster. It may give Obama a new, persuasive piece to play in the game, though. Another part of the strategy is and has been lining up two nations bordering Syria, Turkey and Israel, to help enforce UN sanctions and a potential no-fly policy (if the proper international support can be mustered), and the allegations of use of outlawed weapons will certainly make their support more likely. 

I am and remain an advocate of strong action to both overturn Assad--through a variety of means short of direct US military intervention--and to purge the rebel forces of Islamic extremists.


Chin Shih Tang said...

Apr. 28 - Not to blame Westbrook's replacement, the promisingly-named Reggie Jackson, but the Thunder blew a 20-plus point lead yesterday against the Rockets before pulling the game out.

The real rocker, though, was the Bulls-Nets game, in which the Bulls made up 10 points or more in the last three minutes to send the game to overtime, then won in the third OT to take a 3-1 lead in the series. It seems hopeless for the Bulls to go far without Derrick Rose (the Heat would be next), but you have to give the Rose-less Bulls credit for carrying on well through the whole season.

Chin Shih Tang said...

The German sweep was completed: Bayern held off Real Madrid with a 4-3 aggregate despite losing the replay 2-0. In the other match-up, Bayern destroyed Barcelona--on the road--with a 3-0 win to complete a 7-0 composite. Messi did not play in the rematch.

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