Bayern Munich, Fernando Tatis Jr., the Canucks and much more in Five Things From the Week.
1. Bayern Munich came a long way in a short amount of time
On Nov. 2, 2019, Bayern Munich lost 5-1 to an Eintracht Frankfurt team that finished ninth in the Bundesliga. Manager Nico Kovač left the next day and Hansi Flick took over. At that point, Bayern had taken 18 points from 10 league games and were without a high-profile victory in the Champions League knockout stage since defeating Juventus in 2015-16. Less than 10 months later, they are champions of Europe and unbeaten in their last 30 games (29 wins, one draw).
It is not a coincidence Bayern’s dramatic turnaround coincided with the re-insertion of treble-winning World Cup champion Thomas Müller into the starting lineup. As good as Müller is on the field, he is arguably more valuable off it. Nobody understands what it takes to be successful at Bayern better than the man who’s spent his whole career there. Of course, the rise of Alphonso Davies helped too. But what Bayern were lacking was not talent. It was a ruthless mentality and joy, two things that returned with a vengeance under Flick. A coach’s No. 1 job is to get the most out of their players, which starts by earning their trust and respect. Once that happened at Bayern, the rest took care of itself.
2. One game doesn’t mean much in these NBA playoffs
Three days into the NBA playoffs, the Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers were a combined 1-3. Had Kristaps Porzingis not been ejected for an incredibly soft second technical foul, that record may very well have been 0-4. They are 5-0 in regulation since with an average margin of victory of 13.8 points. All of a sudden, the first round looks the same way it always does and the series aren’t nearly as interesting as they were a few days ago.
What is different is that the Lakers and Clippers are playing teams capable of taking multiple games from them. Those matchups are more suited for the second round than the first, and neither L.A. team started their series well at all. They had the luxury of doing so because it doesn’t matter that Portland and Dallas stole “home court advantage” by winning a “road” game. The Lakers won a game in which LeBron James scored 10 points by 23 and got 38 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists from him in the next one. The Blazers aren’t lasting more than six games when that’s happening. It took overtime, the Clippers blowing a 21-point lead and a ridiculous performance from Luka Doncić for the Mavericks to even the series at two. The bubble has spoken: Don’t overreact to one game when nobody has the advantage of going home.
3. Baseball should be fun
The fact that numerous players and managers had to come to Fernando Tatis Jr.’s defense after he was criticized for hitting a home run on a 3-0 count explains why baseball is having so much difficulty attracting young fans. First, Tatis missed a sign. It happens, especially in a situation where you’re not necessarily expecting managerial instruction. Second, Tatis’ Padres were up seven, the exact amount of runs the Philadelphia Phillies scored in one inning the next day. Teams cannot afford to cough up big leads in a 60-game season. You score every run you can. Third — and most importantly — don’t allow someone to score 14 runs if driving up the score is going to be an issue.
Tatis leads baseball in home runs (12), runs (29) and RBI (29) while also ranking tied for fifth in hits, fourth in slugging and seventh in OPS. He is an exciting 21-year-old superstar in the making, the kind of player that grabs people’s attention. The conversation should be about his remarkable start to the season, not whether he violated an unwritten rule by doing his job. To its credit, the baseball community has by and large rallied behind Tatis. These “controversies” need to stop for this sport to move forward. Baseball becomes fun when you let the kids play.
4. It’s about time the Timberwolves had something to get excited about
The Minnesota Timberwolves have had a rough go of it the past few months with the death of George Floyd on the streets of Minneapolis and the passing of Karl-Anthony Towns’ mother. Sports have always provided a distraction from the darkest, most challenging parts of life, and these unprecedented times are no exception. The Wild were invited to participate in the NHL playoffs and the Twins are currently atop the AL Central. Until the draft lottery on Aug. 20, the Timberwolves had been at the back of their city’s mind.
As the owners of the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, the Timberwolves will be front and center for at least the next couple of months. They already have a franchise cornerstone in Towns, which opens up all kinds of possibilities. Minnesota can focus on finding the best piece to fit with Towns and D’Angelo Russell instead of someone to carry the weight of an organization on their shoulders. Or the Timberwolves can trade the pick for established pieces and try to build a contender. Whatever they choose, the important thing is that they’re in control. The buzz is palpable. It’s amazing what ping-pong balls and envelopes can do for a city and team hurting so badly.
5. The youthful Vancouver Canucks have arrived
The oldest player with more than eight goals or 33 points for the Vancouver Canucks during the regular season was 28-year-old Tanner Pearson. Elias Pettersson, age 21, was the team’s joint-top goalscorer with J.T. Miller, age 27. Defenseman Quinn Hughes, who does not turn 21 until Oct. 14, tied with Miller for the team lead in assists with 45. Vancouver entered the bubble with a very respectable 36-27-6 record, especially for a team relying so heavily on young players.
The Canucks didn’t get the memo about experience mattering in the postseason as they dispatched the Minnesota Wild in four games. That set up a meeting with the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues. Vancouver scored five goals in Game 1, won Game 2 in overtime, lost Game 3 in overtime and closed the series out with a 6-2 victory in Game 6. Pettersson, Hughes and 25-year-old captain Bo Horvat have 11 goals and 20 assists in Vancouver’s 11 playoff games. No matter what happens the rest of the way, the Canucks have put the league on notice, and not just for what they could be three years down the road. These guys are ready to compete right now.
Kudos to the NCAA for giving all fall athletes an extra year of eligibility regardless of whether they play this season or not. Coaches get better, more mature players, which means a more entertaining product for consumers. The athletes leave college with more education and more life experience. Players who don’t want to use it don’t have to. The NCAA did the right thing and everyone benefits as a result.
Photo by Frenchieinportland / Wikimedia Commons