Carolina Hurricanes In Round One Of Stanley Cup Playoffs, Charlotte Hornets Prepare For Play-In, Queen City Senior Bowl Becomes A Staple
The Charlotte Hornets prepare for their last regular-season game and first postseason game. The Carolina Panthers' full schedule for next season is released and North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper lifted the state's mask mandate. How will this affect sporting events? With "All Things Considered" host Gwendolyn Glennto talk sports is Langston Wertz Jr., a longtime sportswriter with The Charlotte Observer.
Langston Wertz Jr.: Hey Gwen. How are you doing?
Glenn: I am great. So, it was another loss for the Charlotte Hornets Sunday, 110 to 115 against the Washington Wizards
Eric Collins (sound from game): Hornets Bradley Beal step back three.
Coach James Borrego: Ultimately, we got to make shots and make plays to win in this league. Unfortunately, it has not gone our way. But we fight on. We march on. I know it feels extremely painful right now, but there's still more basketball to play and we are in postseason basketball. So Tuesday night, get another crack at it.
Glenn: That's Hornets Head Coach James Borrego. Sunday's loss, a fifth in a row. Langston, where does this put the team for the start of the post-season games?
Wertz: Not in a good place, Gwen. You know, those bags you're seeing over the gas stations in North Carolina. The Hornets are out of gas. They are a really tired team right now. They're the ten seed in the playoffs. That means you're in the one-and-done scenario. That also means you're on the road in a one-and-done scenario. That's not the place you want to be.
Glenn: The Hornets will go against the Indiana Pacers Tuesday. And if they win that one, like you say, they will play the loser of the Boston Celtics/Washington Wizards game Thursday. How do you think they will do and what will they have to do to win?
Wertz: The Hornets are 3-7 in the last 10 games, Indiana's 5-5, and Indiana's not on a five-game losing streak. Good news—Charlotte is 2-1 against Indiana this season, but they've got to guard Domantas Sabonis, the big man from Indiana who's averaging 20 and 11 and the Hornets have traditionally struggled with big men. The Pacers lead the league at 6.4 blocks per game. That means when LaMelo's trying to drive, there's guys trying to impede his progress. What do the Hornets have to do to win? They got to play better.
Glenn: OK, well, we'll be watching. The Carolina Panthers 2021 NFL schedule was released last week and former Panthers quarterback Cam Newton will be in town on November 9 in the Panthers game against the New England Patriots. Langston, what do you think the environment will be for that game?
Wertz: Well, you know Gwen, Cam's 32 years old, he played pretty well at the beginning of last season. But he nose-dived when he came back from the COVID situation. I think you're going to have a crazy environment when Cam comes home. Remember when Steve Smith came back? How crazy it was. It's going to be that Gwen, but more.
Glenn: OK. And other Panthers news involving another former quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater. Listen, he's getting a lot of attention for his criticism of the Panthers practices.
Teddy Bridgewater: One of the things we didn't do much of when I was there, we didn't practice two-minute really, we didn't practice red zone
Glenn: Now, that was from the All Things Covered podcast where Bridgewater was a guest. And here's Panthers Head Coach Matt Rhule responding to those criticisms.
Matt Rhule: We work hard. I think we're really organized. We try to address all the situations. I'm disappointed to hear that he didn't feel the same.
Wertz: Teddy has always been a pro's pro. He kept saying he didn't want to get in trouble with anybody, but he did go ahead and say what he said. If, in fact, the Panthers were not practicing red zone and giving guys live red zone reps, more than 15 per week, that's something they need to fix. So that can be a learning point for college staff coming to the NFL. But Teddy's moving on, the Panthers are moving on. And ultimately, you know, this will be yesterday's news next week.
Glenn: OK, and let's move on to high school sports. The Queen City Senior Bowl was played over the weekend. It came down to a game-winning 2-point conversion, Langston, and here's the West Side player number 21, Cameron Smith, who scored the winning points, talking about it after the game.
Cameron Smith: It feels amazing because we came back a couple of months ago, we didn't think we was gonna have a season. So, now we're out here with a packed crowd and to be able to do that on my home field as the last play. I think it was really special.
Wertz: Yeah, I mean, it was kind of cool. Cameron Smith is an Olympic High senior. He's one of the best players they've had in several years, he's going to Navy. And I think it was a neat thing for fans to kind of wrap the season up in a bow, being able to go out again to the game and embrace the players and have a true atmosphere. It was really nice. And I think, you know, the Queen City Senior Bowl was the only high school All-Star Game played this season. And I think the Shrine Bowl is going to have some competition. The senior bowl is definitely a thing now.
Glenn: And this weekend, too, you also had some soccer state championships. Tell us about those.
Wertz: Yeah, Myers Park, a perennial soccer power in girls and boys won their first state soccer championship. And then Providence Day, which is No. 3 nationally, has been No. 1 nationally for part of the season. They played No. 9 nationally Charlotte Latin in a really high-level state final and was down two goals, came back to win 4-3 in front of a packed crowd. That was good to see.
Announcer: Carolina is able to cut the lead in half.
Glenn: That's sound from the Carolina Hurricanes game. And tonight they play their first Stanley Cup playoff game at PNC Arena. Who are they playing and how are they looking, Langston?
Wertz: You got to get 16 wins to become the Stanley Cup champions and the Canes hope win one is Monday against the Nashville Predators. Bad news, Gwen, Nashville beat Carolina the last two games in the regular season, but the Hurricanes are at home. I do expect them to win this game and win this series.
Glenn: And there are expected to be more fans at the game. Up to 12,000 will be allowed in.
Wertz: Yeah, they're expecting 11 or 12,000 in PNC Arena. Capacity is just short of 20,000. The social distancing is not required anymore, but masks are required.
Glenn: And speaking of masks, Langston, on Friday, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced the removal of the state's mask mandate. So, Langston, how will this affect sports around the state?
Wertz: Well, we'll have to wait and see. It's like on a case-by-case basis. Everybody's trying to figure it out. Some people selling tickets like the Panthers, like it's normal and some people, you know, like the Knights are allowing fewer people in. They're just trying to figure it out. I think, you know, as we go through the summer and see how everything works out, I think we'll have a really good idea. You know, heading into the fall, when sports kind of kicks back up officially about what everybody will be doing.
Glenn: But didn't the Hornets and NASCAR for their upcoming Coca-Cola 600 and some other teams say that they're going to allow more in?
Wertz: Yeah, the Coca-Cola 600. They're going to have full capacity. You know, fans will not be required to wear masks. They will not be required to social distance in outdoor areas. They are encouraging unvaccinated fans to wear masks. But you know, the big question everybody's been asking, 'how do I know who's unvaccinated, who's vaccinated?' So, again, it's going to be kind of a case-by-case basis. I know the NFL is not going to have 1.2 million fans for the whole season like they did last year. They're going to be more like the 17 million the year before.
Glenn: And finally, Langston, John Force at age 72, won the funny car four-wide nationals race in Concord Sunday for his record 152nd event victory. Tell us, what are funny cars and is this a big event to win?
Wertz: Any time you win something 100 plus times, that's a big deal in a professional environment. Funny cars started back in the '60s. When they started, they looked like the cars you drive to work. They actually created their own special class and allowed them to modify them. But they made them look funny, really, because they have a small front wheel, a big back wheel, the trunk's elongated and they try to give them a name. But everybody kept saying, 'you know what, those cars look funny to me.' So it's kind of... it just kind of kept the funny car name and it stuck and now it's got a pretty decent following.
Glenn: OK. As always, thanks, Langston.