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29 May 2011

F1 2011: Lewis Hamilton's weekend to forget

7 days after appearing to be getting his season well and truly on track, Lewis Hamilton went into meltdown mode in Monaco.

McLaren's Hamilton watches Saturday qualifying.
(Photo: EPA)
It started with a strategical disaster in qualifying that left him doing his only timed lap on cold tires. It then emerged that he had cut the chicane setting it and was demoted to 9th.

The race began and Hamilton was mugged into Loewes hairpin by Michael Schumacher. This was soon reversed thanks to a brave overtaking move into turn 1. The afternoon began to unravel as Hamilton, trapped and frustrated behind Felipe Massa's Ferrari, dived recklessly into the side of Massa's car at the same hairpin that Schumacher got him. This earned him a drive-through penalty that was probably justified. Massa's afternoon ended two corners later as he ran wide under pressure from Hamilton in the tunnel and crashed into the wall.

Things appeared to be back on track for Hamilton until Adrian Sutil made contact with the wall and caused a multi-car pileup as others tried to avoid him. Buemi's Toro Rosso rode up the back of Hamilton causing damage to his rear wing. Vitaly Petrov then followed into the wall and was stuck in his car causing the race to be red-flagged with 6 laps remaining. The McLaren engineers did a fine job in repairing Hamilton's rear wing in just 15 minutes for the restart.

Following close behind Pastor Maldonado's Williams, Hamilton tried to get by into turn 1 but the young Venezuelan did not see the Brit coming and turned in, contact was made, Maldonado's afternoon ended in the barrier but Hamilton, again, carried on as he finished in 6th despite being given a 20-second penalty for the Maldonado crash.

It was in his post-race interview with the BBC that the crap hit the fan as Hamilton went into full rage mode. When asked about his incidents with Massa and Maldonado he said that the other drivers were "frickin' stupid for turning in on him," and that it was "frickin' ridiculous that he had been in front of the stewards 5 times in 6 races. His most controversial comment came when he was asked why he had been to the stewards office so many times. He replied: "Maybe it's because I am black, isn't that what Ali G said, I don't know."

Clearly marked as a joke, the F1 world and wider community has taken his remark out of context, many accusing him of blatant racism and calling for disqualification, suspension and even asking him to be banned from Formula 1. This, taken out of context, is a big mistake from Hamilton that he will regret. Hamilton will no doubt be wishing he took just a few minutes longer to collect his thoughts before opening his mouth. Taken in the context as it should be, this is simply a young man wondering why he has been to the FIA more times than any other driver, but choosing the wrong words at the wrong time in a world where there are people looking to take issue with everything you do or say.

A bad weekend that he will be desperate to imagine never having happened.

16 May 2011

The keys to a still-young series.

The Chicago Bulls lead the Miami Heat 1-0 in their Eastern Conference Finals match-up.

A lot of experts and pundits alike picked the Heat to win this series and seemed to be writing off the Bulls' chances before the opening tip. Now, these same people are having to revise their opinions quite drastically after Chicago dished out a 21-point battering on a flat-looking Heat squad.

The Bulls certainly played their best ball of this post-season following on from a high performance in Game 6 of the previous series. However, they won't play quite as well again in this series one would expect as the Bulls' bench brought Chicago an incredible advantage for Game 1.

You could also expect that Lebron James and Dwyane Wade will not combine for only 33 points again in this series, they will both go on to have a huge game themselves that could provide the scoring needed to overcome a smothering Bulls' defense. It's not even like Miami shot poorly (47%), even shooting better than the home team's 43%. It was the rebounding that killed the Heat in this one. Out-rebounded 45-33 in the game, 19-6 on the offensive end. Though rebounding was a major issue for the Heat in the season-series between this pair: 131-99 Bulls in 3 games.

Keys to the Series:


1. Limit the Bulls rebounding. Rebounding was the killer in this game and it has been all season against Chicago. Their rebounders need to do a better job of getting themselves between the ball and Bulls' players crashing the boards. Easier said than done, but the Heat went small in Game 1 as Ilgauskas and Dampier weren't even in uniform. Expect at least one of them to be activated for Wednesday night.

2. Get into the paint. Chicago also did a good little number on Wade and James as they struggled to get into the lane for easy points and had to settle for contested jump-shots. Bosh was left alone by his defender and Miami did do a good job of finding him inside.

3. Move the ball. Wade and Lebron tend to play a lot of isolated, 1-vs-1 plays that rely on themselves only. This plays right into the hands of a Bulls defense built on stopping this sort of play. Miami had very few assists and this contributed to their downfall. If they can move the ball more they can move the Bulls out of that defensive shell around the paint, opening up space for Lebron and Wade to get into the paint.

1. Limit Turnovers/fast-break points. If the Bulls hadn't committed 8 first-half turnovers, this game would have been a non-contest at half time. The Heat's offense is unstoppable in the open court, they scored their first 4 points on fast-break dunks that looked to set the tone for a long night for Bulls' fans.

2. If you're name is Rose, get to the rim. Derrick Rose took a lot more jump shots than viewers are used to seeing. He needs to do a better job of getting into the paint. When he gets into the paint, the defense collapses around him and this opens up the outside shooters the Bulls have enough of to be dangerous. Another plus of this defensive collapse is that the Bulls can crash the boards so much easier. Rose also attempted just 6 free-throws although this was a game-high. (Wade and James had 4 each).

3. Get more from Boozer. Boozer may have had a good game on first viewing. 14 points though is not his real level. Luol Deng won't be going off for 21 points every game so Boozer's offense becomes that much more important especially considering the Chicago bench won't be scoring just as much again either.

I still stick by my prediction of the Bulls in 7 as the Heat have enough talent to win at least their home games. I think the Bulls team-oriented style will beat the Heat's individual-oriented style: when James and Wade don't get their points the Heat have very few alternatives to ask to make up the difference.

East Finals Game 1: Bulls beat Heat 103-82

Experts? Really, are they still allowed to call them that?

A good 90% of the NBA 'experts' picked the Miami Heat to win this series. Memo, not if the Heat play like this again. They play like this again then this series is only going to have 3 more games.

The Heat are now 0-4 against Chicago this season. I don't see Chicago playing quite as well as Sunday night but they won't need to as this wasn't even close. Miami had just 28 shots in the second half to Chicago's 43. That's a huge plus especially in the Playoffs. The Bulls were regarded as the better rebounding of the pair though last night was something exceptional; Chicago out-rebounded Miami 45-33, 19-6 on the offensive end that resulted in all those extra shots for the Bulls and a 31-8 advantage in 2nd-chance points scored. 31 second chance points being a new high for this year's Bulls team.

Make no mistake, this series is by no way over, but this game fully exposed and humiliated the Heat's weaknesses: Rebounding, size and offensive plays.

Miami came out of the blocks at the start with 2 dunks off Bulls turnovers. It looked like it could be a long night with 9 first-half turnovers for Chicago. Miami led 24-20 after 1 quarter, Bosh with 17 of that 24 on a stellar night for the .5 of the Miami two-and-a-half men. Into the 2nd the Bulls stepped up defensively holding Miami again to 24 points to the Bulls 28 as Gibson hit a run with 7 of 9 Bulls points including a flat-out "get outta my" dunk over Dwyane Wade that electrified an already frenzied crowd. The half ended tied at 48 as the Bulls struggled some to stop the Heat getting points easily.

Wade will be having nightmares
for a little while...
Into the 3rd quarter with the Bulls up 58-57 and this is when things got out of hand. Lebron James had only 2 points in the third quarter as he couldn't hit a thing all night long. The Bulls bench unit completely outplayed their Heat counterparts as Watson, Korver, Brewer and Asik all had standout performances. Watson came in and did a great job hustling after the loose ball, highlighted by a chase-down on a loose ball with 3 seconds left on the shot-clock, CJ turns around, step-back 3 from deep to beat the buzzer. Korver didn't get too hot on his shooting missing a couple wide open before making a three after the game was not a contest, Thibodeau gave him 16 minutes as he did a decent job on Wade in the first half. The Bulls used Korver as the pick with Rose to get Korver more wide open shots against the Heat's terrible defense on the roll. Ronnie Brewer came in and tipped plenty of passes and made one great steal that resulted in 2 Free Throws and a possession after that had Brewer run off the baseline for a dunk. The Heat need to remember that the baseline exists as Brewer was free to move along it all evening.

Omer Asik had a fantastic night. I've yet to see a big man defend the rim and alter so many shots without fouling the shooter. He rebounds at both ends and never has shots blocked as he goes up strong two-handed for the dunk. Taj Gibson as mentioned above was charged up for this game, and his performance was rounded off by a see-to-believe putback dunk over two Heat defenders with hardly any time left in the game.

Erik Spoelstra was out-coached by Thibodeau as Spoelstra inexplicably went small against a Bulls team which has big players who are just as quick as a small, shown when Noah and Gibson blocked Wade and James' jump-shots respectively as they put on a masterclass in staying in front of the attacker.

Game 2 will be crucial in this still-young series: if Chicago can fend off an inevitable James/Wade fight-back and take a 2-0 lead to Miami then they will fully be in control and putting the pressure on the Heat. If the Bulls go in 2-0 up the Heat need to win that third game, as teams 3-0 down have never won the 7-game series (0-99 in history). The Heat will have the pressure of an unforgiving home crowd that could prove more of a burden if things get nasty in Game 3.

The roller-coaster has only just started.