Flashback to February of 2016, a time where comic book movies were in a strange place. Most of them took themselves too seriously, and Marvel had hit a bit of a lull with the disappointing results of “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” This was also a time when the team-up of DC Comic’s biggest heroes in “Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice” seemed like a sure thing. Meanwhile, audiences were welcomed by “Deadpool”, a fourth-wall breaking, quipping, Spider-Man looking superhero that was the least beacon of hope for Ryan Reynold’s career. Most importantly, it was the first mainstream R-rated comic book movie in nearly a decade, with the prevailing wisdom that such movies couldn’t be made and be financial and critical successes. “Deadpool” more than bicked the trend, it destroyed it, as the film went on to becoming the highest grossing R-rated film of all time and was beloved by critics and audiences alike. Neatly two-and-a-half years later, the long awaited sequel, “Deadpool 2”, has finally arrived in theaters, hoping to capitalize on the successes of the first film.
“Deadpool 2” sees the return of Wade Wilson/ Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds), who continues life being the “Merc with a Mouth” as a contract killing anti-hero. While assisting in a mission with X-Men allies Colossus (Stefan Kapičić) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), he encounters a troubled youth named Russell Collins/ Firefist (Julian Dennison), who is being hunted by futuristic time traveler Cable (Josh Brolin). With Cable after Russell due to his dooming visions of the future involving the fiery mutant, its up to Deadpool to stop Cable and rescue Russell in order to alter the youth’s future.
Needless to say, Ryan Reynolds remains born to play the “Merc with a Mouth”, as his fourth wall breaking, foul-mouthed quips, and self deprecating humor distinguishes the character as one of the most memorable in the Marvel cannon. Even though we know what to expect from the character, Reynolds is also able to give Wilson enough humanity to make us empathize with him, something that even the Marvel Studios films tend to overlook in their sequels. His willingness to also make fun of his previous comic book movie sins also retain hilarity, and pay big dividends in the film.
Josh Brolin’s Cable may not be nearly as complex as Thanos, but he’s still able to deliver a solid performance as the antagonistic and physically threatening nemesis. Zazie Beetz’s Domino is also a welcome addition, as her comedic timing and screen presence make her a strong female hero that many will find relatable, and her star should undoubtedly rise to new heights after her turn in the film.
The action is definitely bigger this time around and has more CGI effects behind them. While still not a mega-budgeted comic book film despite the success of the first film, “Deadpool 2” has thrilling action that although sometimes strains its budget, still flows nicely thanks to director David Leitch. Leitch previously helmed “John Wick” and “Atomic Blonde”, and his star continues to rise as one of the best action directors in the business thanks to his capable direction.
While the humor definitely reeks of repeating itself and isn’t nearly as fresh the second-go-around, “Deadpool 2” is still quite funny. Sure, it follows many of the same tropes of the same genre it expertly made fun of in the first film, but its willingness to level with the audience and call itself out on its own storytelling makes it one of the most honest film franchises around.
The unfortunate fate the film suffers like many of its counterparts is a case of sequelitis. Not only do the filmmakers believe bigger is better, but the story is merely an afterthought and derivative of previous movie sequels. This leads to the underdevelopment and downright unlikability of Julian Dennison‘s Russell/ Firefist, who comes across as a mutant with fiery powers doing a impersonation of Rebel Wilson, not the desired result when considering the character’s troubled backstory.
Deadpool 2 at times comes across as a cash grabbing sequel it critiques, but as one of the few films willing to take risks with its R-rated thrills and jokes and isn’t afraid to communicate with its audience, it works more often than not. It’s clear Reynolds and company have love for the character and desire to continue on as the near antithesis of mega-budgeted films, but it the sequel can’t help but follow the same tried and true path as other comic book movie sequels. “Deadpool 2” may have its flaws, but its still a rousing good laugh and thrill ride that suffers the unfortunate fate of having to live up to the expectations of its groundbreaking predecessor, a fate even Deadpool himself could quip endlessly to his audience about.
Rating: 3 out of 4 stars. Pay matinée price.
“Deadpool 2” stars Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Morena Baccarin, Julian Dennison, Zazie Beetz, TJ Miller, Brianna Hildebrand, Stefan Kapičić, and Eddie Marsan.It is in theaters now.
Eastern Conference Finals: 4. Cleveland Cavaliers Vs. 1. Boston Celtics
The Boston Celtics have defied all odds in making it to the Eastern Conference Finals. Most had the Celtics DOA after prizes free agent signing Gordon Hayward suffered a gruesome leg injury minutes into the season, but other prized off-season acquisition Kyrie Irving was able to propel Boston to the top of Eastern Conference in his absence. If not at the beginning of the season, most people especially had the Celtics as good as dead after Irving was pronounced out for the season due to knee surgery. They kept winning.
This is a testament to the great coaching prowess of Brad Stevens, who has gotten the most out of his young roster and has made a strong case for not only being the Coach of the Year, but also the best coach in the league. Reserve players like Terry Rozier have made star turns this postseason, and the development of young talent like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have the Boston Celtics future decade long run at success all but a given.
Unfortunately, they have now run into their reckoning: LeBron James. LeBron has carried the Cavaliers well beyond the point most of his detractors had him going, especially since it took a herculean 7 game effort from “The King” for the Cavs to beat the Indian Pacers in the First Round. Very few had them beating the first seeded Toronto Raptors in the Conference Semifinals despite owning them the past two postseasons. James and the Cavs swept the Raptors and now have them partaking in an overhaul in their leadership.
Even if the Cavs role players revert back to struggling like they did in the First Round, Boston is too young to dethrone “The King”. The likes of Brown and Tatum are no match for James, and much like how LeBron renamed the city of Toronto “LeBronto” in the Conference Semifinals, Boston will be renamed “LeBoston” after yet another dominant series against the Celtics and reach his eighth straight NBA Finals.
Prediction: Cavaliers in 5.
Western Conference Finals: 2. Golden State Warriors Vs. 1. Houston Rockets
The current makeup of the Houston Rockets was constructed by analytically driven general manager Daryl Morey in an attempt to not only be the top team in the Western Conference, but to dethrone the Golden State Warriors as the Western Conference Champions. So far, the Rockets have accomplished the first step, as they have home court advantage over the Warriors after winning a franchise record 65 games in the regular season.
The latter half of Morey’s master plan can accomplish its final goal in this upcoming series. Despite some hiccups, the Rockets have blasted past their playoff competition in convincing fashion, with a 50 point quarter in the first round and a close out performance of the ages from off-season acquisition Chris Paul, who has thrived along with the presumed MVP of the league James Harden. Houston is confident heading into the series, as center Clint Capela boasted the Rockets are better than the Warriors back in January after defeating them twice in their three meetings this season.
If the postseason play of the Warriors against the San Antonio Spurs and the New Orleans Pelicans is any indication, Houston shouldn’t be. Despite Stephen Curry not playing for over a month, including the First Round of the playoffs, he has been seamlessly reinserted into the lineup and Golden State looks as unstoppable as ever. Kevin Durant has more than picked up the slack, and continues to be the cherry on top of the already stacked sundae the Warriors have served for the last four seasons.
Head coach Steve Kerr commented on how he felt about his team heading into the much anticipated match-up against Houston, saying he feels comfortable with where they’re out because his players have rings on their fingers. While it’ll definitely be an offensive fireworks show, one cannot blackout memory of Rockets superstar James Harden failing to get off a game winning shot and falling to the floor in Game 2 of the 2015 Western Conference Finals. He and Houston are built better to compete three years later, but it won’t be enough to execute the second part of their master plan.
Ahh the Toronto Raptors, a team birthed due to the popularity of the 1993 Steven Spielberg film “Jurassic Park” as part of the NBA’s thirst for the Canadian dollar. To be fair, I myself used to be a fan of this team when I was younger due to their logo and exciting superstar players. In their beginnings, the Raptors were just another expansion franchise struggling to remain relevant. In the early and mid 2000s, the Raptors were a bonafide fringe contdender. They have mistakenly taken this status and have attempted to sneak into the NBA’s Contenders Club with a fake I.D. Let’s revisit their franchise’s history.
1994: The Raptors are born due to then NBA Commissioner David Stern’s Manifest Destiny expansion into Canada along with the Vancouver Grizzlies. In a press conference in which the team’s name and logo were introduced, their first General Manager and partial owner, NBA legend Isiah Thomas, pops out of the team’s logo like a supervillian ready to inflect misery and sadness onto the city of Toronto.
1995-1996 Season: After a debut home win against the then New Jersey Nets, the first season for the Raptors goes as anticipated as the team struggles immensely on the court under the guidance of first year coach Brendan Malone. They somehow inexplicably beat the 72 win Chicago Bulls en route to an 21-61 season and start off an endangered species. There is promise, however, as the team boasts NBA Rookie of the Year Damon Stoudamire, who averages 19 points and 9 assists per game, and drafts UMass center Marcus Camby with the second pick in the absolutely stacked 1996 NBA draft. Next year should be an improvement.
1996-1997 Season: The Raptors don’t make the playoffs but improve to 30 wins under new head coach Darell Walker. Marcus Camby averages nearly 15 points per game while Damon Stoudamire averages 20 points and nearly 9 assists per game. They also select a raw but talented high schooler in Tracy McGrady with the ninth pick in the 1997 NBA Draft. The next season should see contention for a playoff spot.
1997-1998 Season: The Raptors suffer a catastrophic set-back, finishing 16-66 and remain extinct. Head coach Darell Walker is fired mid-season and is replaced by Butch Carter. The team blows it up mid-season by trading away Damon Stodaumire to the Trailblazers. Toronto continues their reshuffling in the offseason by trading away Marcus Camby to the New York Knicks in exchange for tough-guy veteran Charles Oakley and mid-season acquisition Chauncey Billups is traded to the Denver Nuggets. The good news for the team is that they are able to swindle the hapless Golden State Warriors in the 1998 NBA Draft by trading forh overall pick Antwan Jamison for Tracy McGrady’s high-flying cousin, Vince Carter, the fifth overall pick. 1998 should see brighter days.
1998-1999 Season: Carter is able to reignite the fanbase with his tremendous leaping ability and wins Rookie of the Year by averaging 18 points per game as Toronto becomes the land of “Vin-sanity”. Players like McGrady steadily improve and the Raptors finish 23-27 in a lockout shortened season. Just imagine if this team had a full season to gel, they would surely be able to make the playoffs. The new millennium should see the Raptors rise from extinction and capture their first playoff birth.
1999-2000 Season: The Raptors combination of savy veterans like Oakley and Kevin Willis and young guns in Carter and McGrady lead them to a franchise best 45 wins. The Raptors put themselves further on the map due to Carter’s Slam Dunk Contest win at the 2000 All-Star Game. They develop a unique home-court advantage in their first full season at the Air Canada Centre as basketball fever intesnifies in Canada. Sure, they’re the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference and are facing the defending conference champion New York Knicks in the first round, but maybe they can shock the world.
2000 NBA Playoffs: The Raptors are slapped around by Latrell Sprewell and the Knicks and are swept in three games. Head coach Butch Carter is blamed for this failure and is fired and replaced by coaching legend Lenny Wilkens. Sure, the team loses T-Mac to the Orlando Magic in the offseason but have gained more veteran leadership in Antonio Davis and draft Michigan State National Champion Morris Peterson in the first round of the 2000 NBA Draft. Next year will be their year.
2000-2001 Season: See?! The Raptors win a franchise best 47 games and make the playoffs as the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. Vince Carter officially solidifies himself as a superstar by averaging 27 points per game, good for fifth in the league. They can enact revenge on those darn Knickerbockers in the first round.
2001 Eastern Conference Playoffs,First Round: The Raptors battle back from a 2-1 series deficit and defeat the Knicks in Madison Square Garden in a deciding Game Five. Savor this moment Toronto, it won’t come around very often. Their reward? A date with the Allen Iverson led 76ers in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.
2001 Eastern Conference Semifinals: The Raptors battle valiantly against the Sixers but lose a heartbreaking Game Seven in which Vince Carter misses a fade-away jumper that would’ve won the game. Maybe Carter would’ve had more energy if he hadn’t attended his college graduation ceremony earlier that day. But who can be mad at this? Toronto exceeded expectations and Vinsanity will have plenty of cracks at the playoffs. Better luck next year!
2001-2002 Season: Toronto becomes the last stop on Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon’s retirement tour in the hopes it will turn them into a true contender. After a 29-21 start, the Raptors lose 17 of 18 games, including 13 in a row, but bounce back with a 9 game winning streak and finish the season 42-40, good for the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. Vince Carter struggles with a knee injury throughout the season which causes him to miss the 2002 NBA Playoffs. They face an offensively challenged Detroit Pistons squad in the First Round, so maybe they have a miracle in them and can get Carter back for a long playoff run if they win the series.
2002 Eastern Conference Playoffs, First Round: The Raptors cannot overcome the loss of Carter and lose in five games to the Pistons. But a healthy Vince next year should be just what the doctor ordered for next season.
2002-2003 Season: The Raptors are sent back to the Stone Age with a 24-58 record.Carter becomes injury prone as he is limited to 43 games due to his previous knee injury. Lenny Wilkens is fired and replaced by Kevin O’Neil. Toronto is able to secure the fourth overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft and select Georgia Tech standout Chris Bosh as the next Raptors superstar. Next year the Raptors should emerge from their seeming extinction.
2003-2004 Season: Nope. The Raptors win only eight games after the All-Star break due to injuries and finish 33-49. Chris Bosh shows promise in his rookie season as his superstar turn looms. Kevin O’Neil is fired and replaced by Sam Mitchell in the offseason. While Carter has a bounce back year, he becomes frustrated with upper management, fearing the Raptors won’t build a contender. This probably won’t end well.
2004-2005 Season: Vince Carter plays just 20 games and is traded to the then New Jersey Nets in exchange for scraps, including an embarrassing saga in which the team buys out Alonzo Mourning’s contract and then states he did not meet the medical conditions to be cleared to play. Mourning plays for the Miami Heat later that season. Although Chris Bosh continues to improve and is now the team’s de facto superstar, the players openly clash with each other and head coach Sam Mitchell and finish 33-49. Extinction continues.
2005-2006 Season: Another meteor hits the Air Canada Centre and the Raptors suffer extinction yet again by finishing 27-55. Chris Bosh improves but gets injured. The also team falls victim to Kobe Bryant’s 82 point game masterpiece in a contest in late January. They are able to secure the first pick the 2007 NBA Draft and select the promising Andrea Bargnani from Italy and acquire T.J. Ford and Rašo Nesterović in the offseason. Maybe these moves made by newly appointed general manager Bryan Colangelo can turn this franchise around quickly.
2006-2007 Season: Toronto emerges from the Stone Age and wins the Atlantic Division by tying their franchise record 47 wins and finish with the third seed in the Eastern Conference. Bosh averages career highs with 22.6 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. Andrea Bargnani shows flashes of being a dangerous stretch forward for years to come. Head coach Sam Mitchell and GM Bryan Colangelo win Coach of the Year and Executive of the Year awards respectively. They have a chance at revenge by taking out ex-franchise player Vince Carter and the Nets in the first round. Does someone smell a playoff series win for the first time in six years?
2007 Eastern Conference Playoffs, First Round: The Raptors cannot solve the rubik’s cube known as the Nets veteran leadership led by future hall of famer Jason Kidd and lose in six games to that darn “Vin-sanity” guy. But the Nets have been through this routine before, practice makes perfect and the Raptors should be able to build upon their success next season.
2007-2008 Season: The Raptors trend backwards despite another All-Star season from Chris Bosh and finish 41-41. They sneak into the playoffs as the seventh seed and face an upstart Orlando Magic team with a promising young big man in Dwight Howard. Perhaps this is Bosh’s moment to prove he is the big man on campus in the East?
2008 Eastern Conference Playoffs, First Round: Orlando works their Magic and transports the Raptors back to the stone age by defeating them in five games. Chris Bosh turns out not to be the kryptonite to Orlando’s Superman, Dwight Howard, and the team decides to go all-in during the offseason by acquiring the services of former All-Star Jermaine O’Neal from the Indiana Pacers to help bolster their frontcourt. Next year is their year to rise from the ashes!
2008-2009 Season: The team gets off to a disappointing 8-9 start, head coach Sam Mitchell is blamed for this underachieving and is fired and replaced by Jay Triano. The Jermaine O’Neal experiment does not work and he is traded mid-season to the Miami Heat for another former All-Star in Shawn Marion. This experiment also does not work as the Raptors finish 33-49 and wastes another career year from Chris Bosh. Toronto may be back in the desolate Stone Ages but they draft USC superstar and high-flyer DeMar DeRozan with the ninth pick in the 2009 NBA Draft in the hopes he will be the next Vince Carter. They also steal Hedo Türkoğlu away from the Portland Trailblazers and totally reconstruct their roster. With the final year of Chris Bosh’s contract looming large, they have better be good in order to keep Bosh in Canadia.
2009-2010: The Raptors miss the playoffs yet again with a 40-42 record and waste Chris Bosh’s best season as a pro. He chooses to join forces with Dwayne Wade and LeBron James (*remember this name) to form “The Big Three” in Miami with the Heat in the offseason. Oof.
2010-2011 Season: Andrea Bargnani has a career year and DeMar DeRozan improves mightily. This does not save them from extinction as they are absolutely devastated by Bosh’s spurning and finish 22-60. But there is hope, as Jay Triano is fired as coach and is replaced by Dwane Casey, a longtime assistant coach who devised the defensive game plan against LeBron James in the 2011 NBA Finals to make him look weak and secure the Dallas Maverick’s first NBA Championship. The Raptors won’t remain in the Stone Age for long.
2011-2012 Season: Toronto remains extinct in a strike shortened season and finishes 23-43. Chris Bosh wins his first title with the Miami Heat, a reminder of what could have been.
2012-2013 Season: The Raptors now boasts an intriguing backcourt of DeMar DeRozan and journeyman Kyle Lowry but finish the season 34-48. General Manager Bryan Colangelo steps down and is replaced by his protege Masai Ujiri. They ship that underachieving first overall pick in Andrea Bargnani to the Knicks in exchange for role players that should provide depth that will carry them back into the postseason. In other news, Chris Bosh wins his second straight championship with the Miami Heat. Yet another reminder of what could have been.
2013-2014 Season: What a turnaround! The Raptors win a franchise record 48 games and win the Atlantic Division yet again. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry have career years averaging over 22 and 17 points per game respectively. They can get revenge on those darn Nets coached by Jason Kidd residing in Brooklyn now in the First Round as the third seed in the Eastern Conference. Let’s go!!
2014 Eastern Conference Playoffs, First Round: Raptors GM Masai Ujiri decides the best time to piss off the veteran savy Nets consisting of a washed up Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce by screaming “@#$% Brooklyn!” at a fan rally prior to Game 1 at home. The Raptors lose this game but bounce back to take a 3-2 series lead. They proceed to lose Game 6 on the road and choke like dogs by losing Game 7 at home. So much for homecourt advantage. Maybe the Raptors and Ujiri will learn from this failure and actually win a playoff series for the first time in over a decade next year.
2014-2015 Season: The Raptors are even better off. They win a franchise record 49 games, their second consecutive Atlantic Division title as DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry continue to wreck havoc on the league’s backcourts. Toronto finishes with the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference and face another team with a backcourt tandem of John Wall and Bradley Beal in the Randy Whitman coached Washington Wizards. This is their time!
2015 Eastern Conference Playoffs, First Round: Savy veteran Paul Pierce unfortunately now plays for the Wizards and plays mind games with the Raptors by saying Toronto doesn’t have “it.” Loudmouth GM Masa Ujiri takes the bait yet again at another fan rally prior to Game 1 at home proceeds to say “We don’t give a @#$% about ‘it’!”. The Raptors proceed to get swept. Guess the Raptors don’t have “it” after all.
2015-2016 Season: This should be the year for Toronto. Sure they overpaid for players like DeMarre Carroll and Corey Joseph but the two guard tandem of DeRozan and Lowry have career years by averaging over 23 and 21 points per game respectively. Tornoto finishes with the second seed in the Eastern Conference by posting a franchise best 56 wins. Sure, we’ve heard this story the previous two seasons, but this year is different.
2016 Eastern Conference Playoffs, First Round: Tell me if you’ve hear this one before… The Raptors blow Game 1 at home against the seventh seeded Pacers. They manage to bounce back and take a 3-2 series lead, but then lose what could’ve been a series-clinching Game 6 on the road and must play a deciding Game 7 at home. As Toronto fans proceed to get their liquor to drown their impending sorrow, the Raptors shock everyone and win their first playoff series since 2001. Only took them fifteen years. Indiana isn’t the powerhouse they once were though so this is nothing to brag about. Next up are the three seeded Chris Bosh-less Miami Heat whose best players are a declining Dwayne Wade and Joe Johnson. The Conference Semifinals should be a breeze.
2016 Eastern Conference Semifinals: Tell me if you’ve heard this one before… The Raptors blow Game 1 at home, again. They manage to bounce back and take a 3-2 series lead but proceed to once again lose a series clinching Game 6 on the road. Toronto fans are hopeful but keep their hands on handles of alcohol just in case. They proceed to drink it in celebration as the Raptors take out those pesky Heat. The series lasted longer than it should have but they’ve moved past their choking and extinct reputation. Next up is LeBron James and the first seeded Cavaliers. They’re projected to be moped up but maybe they can shock the world.
2016 Eastern Conference Finals: The Raptors participate in the first six game sweep in NBA history and get smacked around by LeBron and the Cavs. You finally lived up to expectations, have a participation banner. Next year you’ll learn from this lesson and come back with a vengeance.
2016-2017 Season: Despite rumors of returning home to Los Angeles, Toronto re-signs DeMar DeRozen to a five-year, $139 million contract in the hopes of gearing for another championship run in the face evidence their two guard tandem can’t win a title. Unfortunately, the Raptors fall behind the emerging superpower in the Boston Celtics in their own division despite trading for Serge Ibaka mid-season and finish with the third seed in the Eastern Conference with a record of 51-31. The tag-team of DeRozan and Lowry once again have career years and take on a raw but young Milwaukee Bucks squad in the First Round. Their experience of making it to the Conference Finals should enable them to dispose of these deer.
2017 Eastern Conference Playoffs, First Round: To no one’s surprise, the Raptors blow Game 1 at home and fall into a 2-1 series deficit at the hands of “The Greek Freak”, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and head coach Jason Kidd. Miraculously, the dinos awaken from their impending extinction and win the next three games to finish off the deer in six games. Up next is a chance at revenge with LeBron and the Cavs, who have struggled all season with consistency. This is their time.
2017 Eastern Conference Semifinals: LeBron James owns Drake’s dinos and sends them back to the stone age. The Raptors don’t even win a game against the Cavs this time and are swept.
2017-2018 Season: The Raptors decide to re-sign Serge Ibaka to a three-year, $65 million contract in the hopes there is something to build upon with him anchoring the frontcourt. They also re-sign Kyle Lowery to a three-year, $100 million contract with the intent of dismantling the definition of insanity despite more mounting evidence their two guard tandem cannot defeat LeBron. The team, however, soars to new heights by winning a franchise record 59 games and finish with the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. The team has depth that is built to carry them past their postseason shortcomings in CJ Miles, Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, and OG Anunoboy. Even Drake releases hit single “God’s Plan” during the season and Toronto believes it is indeed the lord’s plan for them to finally make it to the NBA Finals. Sure they lose their final two games to the LeBron and the Cavs but those were on the road, and they face an imploding Washington Wizards team whom they can enact revenge on. Someone may be shedding their choker label this year!
2018 Eastern Conference Playoffs, First Round: The two guard tandem of DeRozan and Lowry stupidly put unnecessary pressure on themselves by saying Game 1 at home is like a Game 7 due to their franchise’s woes in home game 1s. They somehow win their first two games at home, proceed to drop the next two on the road, and overcome this adversity by beating the Wizards in six games. They get to face LeBron and the Cavs in the conference semifinals, and Bron Bron is exhausted from carrying the team on his back in a hotly contested first round series against the Indiana Pacers. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD THIS HAS TO BE THE YEAR!!
2018 Eastern Conference Semifinals, Game 1: The Raptors are up by as many as 14 in the second half. It is destiny… for them to miss their final 11 shots in regulation and lose in overtime despite LeBron not scoring a single point in the extra period. The look on the Raptors faces is one of distraught, as if they lost Game 7 of the NBA Finals at home. But they can bounce back, right?
2018 Eastern Conference Semifinals, Game 2: Despite scoring 63 first half points, the Raptors are sent back to the stone age by LeBron James’ fadeaway jumper extravaganza in the second half as he scores 43 points. Toronto is aptly re-branded LeBronto as the Raptors seem to have no answers. But they’ll put up a fight on the road, right?
2018 Eastern Conference Semifinals, Game 3: The Raptors are down by 14 points entering the fourth quarter and DeMar DeRozen is struggling to the point coach Dwane Casey must bench him. But by god, the Raptors battle back and tie the game at 103 with 8 seconds left after a clutch 3-pointer made by OG Anunoboy. This must be Drake’s “God’s Plan” being put into action… if by that you mean Dwane Casey is out-coached by Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue, who draws up a full court play that enables LeBron to go coast-to-coast and sink a game winning floater off the backboard. “God’s Plan”? More like Bron’s Plan.
2018 Eastern Conference Semifinals, Game 4: Coach Dwane Casey devises the brilliant game plan of benching Center Jonas Valanciunas for CJ Miles, DeMar DeRozan is ejected, Cleveland’s starters shoot nearly 69% from the field combined, and the endangered species known as the Raptors are put into extinction as they are whooped by the Cavs by 35 points. The Raptors show no fight and once again go out on a whimper at the hands of their owner, LeBron James. LeBronto Forever.
To be somewhat fair, not all NBA teams are created equal. The Raptors weren’t inserted into the NBA to become a true contender, their true purpose was to sell merchandise and toys to an untapped market. Even with the recent re-brand spearheaded by “Brand Ambassador” Drake, this continues to be their main selling point. They’ve experienced a turnstile at the head coaching position and have never capitalized on the superstars they’ve drafted like Vince Carter and Chris Bosh. Obviously, the Raptors are the most successful team to venture into Canada, as the Grizzlies moved to Memphis after just six seasons in Vancouver. But even the Grizzlies appeared in Conference Finals before the Raptors did, as the Grizzlies made it to the Conference Finals in the much tougher Western Conference in 2013, three years before the Raptors got there in the weaker Eastern Conference.
Toronto’s recent failures are due to stubbornness and fraudulence, as the team has continually relied upon DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry to carry them to the promise land when this over reliance has only led to their demise. If the Raptors hope to emerge as true contenders, they must blow up the current make-up of their roster and start all over. It is clear DeRozan and Lowry aren’t the guys to take them to the Finals, GM Masa Ujiri can’t keep his mouth shut, and coach Dwane Casey’s defensive scheme for LeBron has been rendered useless by “The King’s” ability to make fade-away jump shots ad-nauseam against them. Knowing the dinos, they will chose to continue living in the Stone Age, forever solidifying their status as pretender despite their regular season accolades. It is “Bron’s Plan” in LeBronto. “We The North” has become “We The Choke”. The Raptors’ legacy can be summed up in one word, one that relates to the team’s mascot and name: extinction.
The east and west’s final four duke it out for the right to be in the NBA’s final four.
After a first round that saw some series have predictable results and others that were nothing short of shocking, we have reached the halfway point of the NBA Playoffs. While the Western Conference Semifinals have already gotten underway and should yield expected outcomes, the Eastern Conference Semifinals should prove to be a much more compelling watch.
2. Golden State Warriors V. 6. New Orleans Pelicans, GS leads series 1-0
Remember when the sky was falling due to the Warriors finishing the last seventeen games of the regular season 7-10? That proved to be an aberration, a team that was bored and wanted to play in the postseason already. Golden State blew past an over matched San Antonio team, and that was without their heart and soul, Stephen Curry. The Pelicans undoubtedly surprised most by sweeping the higher seeded Trailblazers in the first round, and with the emergence of Anthony Davis and the two guard combo of Drue Holiday and Rajon Rondo, looked like they could prove to be a worthy foe against the Warriors. If game one was any indication, the Pelicans may not be as strong as we thought they were. And with the impending return of Curry to the Warriors’ lineup, the Pelicans may be blown away in this series.
Prediction: Warriors in 5.
1. Houston Rockets V. 5. Utah Jazz, Hou leads series 1-0
The Jazz are a nice reminder that well built teams still exist in the NBA today after defeating the more talented Oklahoma City Thunder. The rise of rookie Donovan Mitchell is a sight to behold, and should the Jazz be able to keep the core of Mitchell, Ricky Rubio, and Rudy Gobert together a few more seasons, Utah could prove to be a contender for years to come. Unfortunately, their scrappy defense has nothing on Rockets MVP candidate James Harden, as Houston is the far more talented team and should dispose of the Jazz quickly, especially if Ricky Rubio is battling an injury.
Prediction: Rockets in 5.
2. Boston Celtics V. 3. Philadelphia 76ers
The Sixers have become the popular pick to emerge as the Eastern Conference representative in the NBA Finals after their series win over a Miami Heat team that was a shell of their former glory days. “The Process” seems to have panned out for young stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, who dominated against Miami. They face a tough challenge in the Boston Celtics, however. Sure, it took them seven games to dispose of an underachieving Bucks team, but the fact this team was able to win a playoff series without star players Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving is a testament to Celtics coach Brad Steven’s coaching prowess, as he is able to get the most out of rotational players like Terry Rozier of all people. It’s a classic showdown reminiscent of the teams’ 1980s playoff showdowns, and is without question the most compelling of the remaining playoff series since it could go either way.
Prediction: Sixers in 7.
1. Toronto Raptors V. 4. Cleveland Cavaliers
The Raptors seemed to have gotten the monkey off their back after winning a tough series against a game Washington Wizards team, but now they must face their arch nemesis who has dominated them time after time: LeBron James. Sure, it took the Cavaliers seven games to beat a better constructed team in the Indiana Pacers, but the herculean effort of “The King” proves LeBron James is a team all by his lonesome. One can’t believe James’ supporting cast won’t show up at all for a second straight series, but LeBron’s path to the NBA Finals may prove to be more bumpy this season than previously anticipated.
There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe thrilling us again and again with each new release. Over the last decade, Marvel Studios has meticulously built their universe to the point where each new release wasn’t just an event to behold on the silver screen, but also a necessity to see. Marvel’s gamble seemed to have paid off large dividends with the release of their first team up film, 2012’s “The Avengers”, breaking numerous box office records at the time and came with the promise that bigger and better was coming. Even with the disappointment of 2015’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron”, audiences have waited in anticipation for Marvel’s promise to bring every single Marvel Cinematic Universe character and film together in “Avengers: Infinity War”. Even though the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the envy of Hollywood to the point multiple studios have tried copying the formula but to less than stellar results (*see the DC comics extended universe and Universal’s Dark Universe*), could the mighty MCU crumble under their own ambition of assembling most, if not all, of its heroes into one feature length film?
“Avengers: Infinity War” takes place immediately after the events of “Thor: Ragnarok”, where Thanos (Josh Brolin) is on a quest to collect the six infinity stones in order to restore balance to time and space. With the threat of doom to mankind and the universe at stake, it’s up to the heroes of earth and the galaxy to team up and stop Thanos before he accomplishes his task and the cosmos are affected.
Marvel has once again aptly sown all of its unique, intricate pieces together into the class of super hero movies. Much credit must be given to the superstar directing team of the Russo brothers, Anthony and Joseph, who have yet to make a bad MCU film. It’s wonder how the directors of “You, Me, and Dupree” have made arguably two of the best MCU films, “Captain America: The Winter Solider” and “Captain America: Civil War”, and yet have somehow outdone themselves once again by tackling the most ambitious and perhaps even the most expensive films ever made.
The stakes couldn’t be higher in “Infinity War”, and the film definitely illuminates the catastrophic consequences. One of the benefits of building a universe for a decade is the audience is attached to all of the intertwining characters and story lines, so there’s a true sense of loss and despair when the likes of Iron Man, Captain America, Black Panther and company come face to face with impending doom. In regards to the film’s central villain, Josh Brolin’s Thanos may come with some trademark villainous background, but he’s easily one of if not the most complex and interesting villains the MCU has ever seen, and the exploration of his relationship with his adoptive daughter Gamora (Zoe Saldana) packs an emotional punch. But the film is not bereft of laughs at all, as Marvel’s trademark timely humor is also ever present and as belly aching as ever, a welcome necessity considering the dire outcomes facing the heroes we have come to grow with and love.
As mentioned early, the Russo brothers are somehow able to make sure every seemingly single character we’ve come across in the MCU over the last decade gets their time to shine. This lends itself well to the action sequences, which are breathtaking to say the least. The constant shifting from set piece to set piece could come across as jarring for most, but it feels like a natural progression in “Infinity War”. There’s no doubt the film is exhausting at two and a half hours trying to include everyone, but it feels almost necessary for the film to be this way, and the film’s ending cliffhanger leaves audiences asking questions and yearning for answers.
“Avengers: Infinity War” is the Marvel to end all marvels. Its blending of every single major Marvel Cinematic Universe film and character into one cohesive story that serves as only a part one to what should be a tremendous book end to an incredible era nearly tops 2012’s “The Avengers” and 2008’s “The Dark Knight” as the best comic book films ever made. Nobody does it better than Marvel Studios, as they have once again changed the game in terms of not only the genre of film they make, but Hollywood blockbusters in general. Sure, by the end of it you may feel distraught, begging for answers, and perhaps even needing a nap, but “Avengers: Infinity War” isn’t just a marvel to see unfold on the silver screen, but a tremendous achievement that sets a new standard in blockbuster filmmaking.
Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars. Pay full price.
“Avengers: Infinity War” stars Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Don Cheadle, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Danai Gurira, Lettia Wright, Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana, Tom Hiddleson, Idris Elba, Karen Gillan, Benedict Wong, Pom Klementieff, Peter Dinklage, Carrie Coon, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Chris Pratt, and Josh Brolin. It is in theaters now.
2018 could be a return to glory for the red and gold.
For the San Francisco 49ers, the release of the 2018 NFL Schedule couldn’t have come soon enough. After a disastrous 1-10 start in 2017, the 49ers ended their season on a five game winning streak thanks to the emergence of new franchise QB Jimmy Garoppolo. His play earned him a five year, $137.5 million contract extension, the richest in NFL history. With all the excitement surrounding him and one of the NFL’s marquee franchises, let’s take a look and analyze the 49ers schedule for 2018.
Week 1: at Minnesota Vikings (10 a.m. PST, Sunday September 9th)
Week 2: Detroit Lions (1:25 p.m. PST, Sunday September 16th)
Week 3: at Kansas City Chiefs (10 a.m. PST, Sunday September 23rd)
Week 4: at Los Angeles Chargers (1:25 p.m. PST, Sunday September 30th)
Week 5: Arizona Cardinals (1:25 p.m. PST, Sunday October 7th)
Week 6: at Green Bay Packers (Monday Night Football, 5:20 p.m. PST Monday October 15th)
Week 7: Los Angeles Rams 5:20 p.m. PST (Sunday Night Football, Sunday October 21st)
Week 8: at Arizona Cardinals (1:25 p.m PST, Sunday October 28th)
Week 9: Vs Oakland Raiders (Thursday Night Football, 5:20 p.m. PST, Thursday November 1st)
Week 10: New York Giants (Monday Night Football, 5:20 p.m. PST, Monday November 12th)
Week 11: Bye
Week 12: at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10 a.m. PST, Sunday November 25th)
Week 13: at Seattle Seahawks (Sunday Night Football, 5:20 p.m. PST, Sunday December 2nd)
Week 14: Denver Broncos (1:25 p.m. PST, Sunday December 9th)
Week 15: Seattle Seahawks (1:25 p.m. PST, Sunday December 16th)
Week 16: Chicago Bears (1:05 p.m. PST, Sunday December 23rd)
Week 17: at Los Angeles Rams (1:25 p.m. PST, Sunday December 30th)
For a team that went from middling aspirations in 2018 prior to trading for Jimmy Garoppolo to now being mentioned as a possible contender, the 49ers start to the season couldn’t be any harder. Three of their first four games are on the road, and all four games come against teams that posted records of 9-7 or better in 2017, including the NFC runner-up Minnesota Vikings in Week 1. Within the first quarter of the season, we’ll know whether the playoff aspirations for the 49ers are legitimate or not.
The 49ers then have a stretch where four of their next five games will be played in front of a national television audience. These games include a Lambeau Field showdown against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, a home divisional battle the next week against the upstart Rams, a battle of the Bay Area less than two weeks later against their cross town rival Raiders, and a classic NFC slugfest against a historical rival in the Giants. The 49ers five game wining streak at the end of 2017 caught the eyes of many, and they’ll be playing under the lights in prime-time five times in 2018.
Of course, one would be remiss if they failed to mention the 49ers late season match-ups against the Seattle Seahawks. While the Seahawks have won the last 9 games is in the series, including the 2013 NFC Championship game where then Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman had his miraculous deflection in the back of the end zone to linebacker Malcolm Smith for a game sealing interception send them to Super Bowl XLVIII. In 2018, Sherman will find himself on the opposite side of the rivalry, and look for him to perform at an All-Pro level against his former team in Weeks 13 and 15.
The end of the 49ers season resembles that of a homebody, as three of their last four games will be played at Levi’s Stadium. This includes a Super Bowl XXIV re-match against the Broncos, the aforementioned NFC West battle against the Seahawks, and a gimmie game against the lowly Bears. This could result in a nice end of the season run to the postseason should they take advantage of the home for the holidays crowd.
The 49ers are in a prime position in 2018 to not only move out of the basement of their division, but also be a surprise contender in the NFC. Head Coach Kyle Shanahan seems to have found his quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo, as he elevated a putrid offense into the the best offense statistically in the NFL during the last five weeks of 2017. While trouble looms over linebacker Reuben Foster over his domestic violence case (and should’ve been cut already), the defense still boasts young talent in Solomon Thomas and DeForest Buckner along the defensive line, and the previously mentioned addition of Richard Sherman improves the secondary. Even with a tough start and a series of under the microscope prime-time games, the 49ers should be players for the postseason should everything fall into place.
Jon Gruden and the Raiders look to improve upon a disappointing 2017 season in 2018.
While we’ve known who the Raiders opponents will be in the 2018 NFL Season since New Years Eve 2017, the NFL has finally released every team’s full schedule for the 2018 season. Sure, there’s still the NFL Draft to get through and we haven’t even reached training camp, but let’s analyze how the 2018 schedule stacks up for Jon Gruden and the Oakland soon to be Las Vegas Raiders.
Week 1: Los Angeles Rams (Monday Night Football, 7:20 p.m. PST, Monday September 10th)
Week 2: at Denver Broncos (1:25 p.m. PST, Sunday September 16th)
Week 3: at Miami Dolphins (10 a.m. PST, Sunday September 23rd)
Week 4: Cleveland Browns (1:05 p.m. PST, Sunday September 30th)
Week 5: at Los Angeles Chargers (1:05 p.m. PST, Sunday October 7th)
Week 6: Seattle Seahawks (10:00 a.m. PST, Sunday October 14th in London)
Week 7: Bye
Week 8: Indianapolis Colts (1:05 p.m. PST, Sunday October 28th)
Week 9: at San Francisco 49ers (Thursday Night Football, 5:20 p.m. PST, Thursday November 1st)
Week 10: Los Angeles Chargers (1:05 p.m. PST, Sunday November 11th)
Week 11: at Arizona Cardinals (1:05 p.m. PST, Sunday November 18th)
Week 12: at Baltimore Ravens (10 a.m. PST, Sunday November 25th)
Week 13: Kansas City Chiefs (1:05 p.m. PST, Sunday December 2nd)
Week 14: Pittsburgh Steelers (Sunday Night Football, 5:20 p.m. PST, Sunday December 9th)
Week 15: at Cincinnati Bengals (10 a.m. PST, Sunday December 16th)
Week 16: Denver Broncos (Monday Night Football, 5:20 p.m. PST, Monday December 24th)
Week 17: at Kansas City Chiefs (10 a.m. PST, Sunday December 30th)
Once again, the NFL has not been kind to the Raiders schedule. It’s not like they have much of a choice, however. Especially after owner Mark Davis pillaged Las Vegas for nearly a billion dollars in public funds for their new stadium in Las Vegas and begged the NFL to move there, the Raiders are at the whim of the league and their scheduling.
They begin the season away from home for four out of the first six weeks of the season. This includes divisional clashes against the Broncos and Chargers, and a trip to South Beach against the Dolphins.One of the recurring themes of the Raiders schedule since 2014 is effectively losing a home game in Oakland to play a “home” game internationally, and this year their reward is to play the earliest scheduled London game in Week 6 against the Seahawks. Sure, the Raiders have international appeal due to their global brand, but taking away yet another home game from the soon to be abandoned Oakland fans adds insult to injury.
To end the season, the Raiders face divisional foes three out of their last five games, including two tilts against the Chiefs and a Christmas Eve battle against the Broncos. They also face two tough AFC North foes in the final five weeks, with their historical rival in the Steelers coming to town in what could be a potential playoff match-up and a grind it out early kickoff against the Bengals. This stretch could make or break the Raiders playoff aspirations, and they must take care of business in their final divisional games and stand up to the bullies of the AFC North.
In regards to marquee time slots, the Raiders appear on prime-time television four times in 2018, down from the five nationally televised games last season. They’ll get exposure on all three prime-time time slots, with two home game Monday Night Football tilts against west coast rivals in the Rams and Broncos, a road battle of the Bay Area on Thursday Night Football against the 49ers, and a Sunday Night a Football slugfest against the Steelers.
After a disappointing 2017 that perhaps had too much unwarranted hype going into it, the Raiders should improve upon last season’s disastrous campaign. Yes, the defense may have to bend and not break once again, but 2016’s Defensive Player of the Year, defensive end Kahlil Mack, can anchor this defense, and should receive a contract extension at some point before the start of the regular season. Quarterback Derek Carr is a franchise player who regressed to the mean last year, and should bounce back under the tutelage of Jon Gruden. Adding veteran wide receiver Jordy Nelson should help wide receiver Amari Cooper regain his Pro-Bowl form, and the one two punch of running backs Marshawn Lynch and free agent acquisition Doug Martin should result in a potent running attack. Mark Davis can only hope his ten year, $100 million investment in Jon Gruden pans out in year one of the second Chucky era. By the looks of the 2018 schedule, the Raiders should be able to contend for the postseason, but as always, it’ll be a grind for the Silver and Black.