The Mavericks get a big finish, win in Houston ...
Josh Howard invoked some words Thursday night that are no less than hallowed in Houston.
The Mavericks had just polished off a 3-0 road sweep with an 80-77 win over the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center, and the pride was beaming throughout the locker room. The Mavericks had rolled into the All-Star break with a nine-game winning streak, with Thursday's victory coming in gutsy, hard-fought fashion.
"We had three tough games, games we could have easily lost," Howard said. "But we fought through adversity and finished off each game. That's the heart of a champion for us."
The heart of a champion.
That was a rallying cry in these parts when then-coach Rudy Tomjanovich guided the Rockets to the 1994 and '95 championships.
The Mavericks are showing it on a nightly basis this season, improving to 44-9. The latest success came as Dirk Nowitzki and Tracy McGrady had a riveting battle of MVP candidates. It was Nowitzki who won the battle, the war and the honor of having the most timely help from a sidekick, Jason Terry.
Down 77-74 after Houston got McGrady's 3-pointer and a free throw by Shane Battier, the Rockets worked the ball to Terry, who was having a miserable night (2-for-10 from the field).
He got fouled and made two free throws. After a couple of wayward possessions by both sides, Terry curled off a screen and hit a 15-foot jumper for a 78-77 lead with 1:09 to play.
By then, the Mavericks were trapping McGrady whenever he got the ball, forcing him to get rid of it and taking their chances with the other Rockets. Guard Luther Head missed a couple of shots and Juwan Howard missed another in the final 53 seconds as McGrady could not get a shot off.
Terry was fouled with 4.2 seconds to play and hit two free throws for the final margin. The Rockets could not get a shot off before the buzzer.
"Extremely proud," Avery Johnson said. "Three road wins, are you kidding me? I don't care if they're against my son's team. It's a good win. I'm very hard on this team. But they tolerate me, and I'm trying to stretch them and pull them and they did some good things. We gutted that one out."
The Story from Houston ...
Tracy McGrady hit a jumper and drove to a lefthanded dunk, but the Dallas Mavericks did not change their defense.
McGrady put in a 3-pointer tying the game, but Mavericks coach Avery Johnson resisted the urge. He sank another 3, pulling up and firing quickly to give the Rockets a lead with 3:17 left.
Finally, Johnson had seen enough. Dallas called timeout and returned to the floor, sending two defenders to McGrady wherever he went.
McGrady never took another shot. The Rockets never made another. And with the Rockets shut down, the Mavericks resurrected Jason Terry for the final three minutes to frustrate and then stun the Rockets with an 80-77 victory before 18,270 at Toyota Center on Thursday night.
"I've got to do better when they're committing two guys to McGrady, even without the ball, and it's four-on-three," Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "We didn't play with the assertiveness and poise that you need to. If they're going to commit two to one guy without the ball, you need to get better shots.
"I think we have shot-makers. I think we have enough. It's on me to have us play better than that."
Nashville shakes up the NHL by trading for Forsberg ...I think Nashville is now the team to beat if Forsberg has health...
Peter Forsberg never gave Philadelphia a firm answer about a contract extension because of lingering concerns about his right foot.
So the Flyers decided his short-term future for him, trading the star center to the Central Division-leading Nashville Predators on Thursday night for forward Scottie Upshall, defenseman Ryan Parent and two draft picks.
"I liked it here and everything. It's just hard when I couldn't commit, and that's why they had to move me," Forsberg said. "I understand that."
The 33-year-old Swede, in the final months of a two-year, $11.5 million contract, had 11 goals and 29 assists in 40 games for the Flyers this season, his second with Philadelphia after 10 years with Quebec and Colorado.
The former NHL MVP has acknowledged he thought about retiring at the end of this season because of a painful condition that makes his right foot feel crooked in his skate. He had offseason surgery to repair loose ligaments in his right ankle, but the operation has made little difference.
"I'm going to evaluate this summer how I feel and if I'm going to continue to play," he said.
Forsberg can become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, and the Flyers decided to get some value for their captain rather than risk losing him for nothing.
"I'm a little shocked," Forsberg said. "I could not commit to another year because I don't know what's going to happen. I felt like I was being fair to give up the no-trade clause and they get something for me. It kind of worked out."
Forsberg, drafted by Philadelphia in 1991 but dealt to Quebec in 1992 in the Eric Lindros trade in 1992, was the NHL's most valuable player with Colorado in 2003. He helped the Avalanche win the Stanley Cup in 1996 and 2001.
The Predators are 39-16-2-1 for 81 points, seven points ahead of Anaheim in the conference standings entering Thursday night's games.
"It's not a fun day, even though I'm going to a good team," Forsberg said. "I'm sure I'm going to be OK in a couple of days, but today is not a good day. I didn't sign here two years ago to stand here today."
Forsberg, a late scratch for Philadelphia's 4-2 loss to Toronto on Thursday night, has visited with doctors around the globe to find out why his foot hasn't felt right in his skate, the health issue mostly responsible for keeping him out 16 games this season. Since Forsberg returned from an All-Star break trip to visit a foot specialist in Sweden, he has three goals and nine assists in nine games.
"We didn't want to do it, he knows we didn't want to do it, but at the end of the day we had to do it," Holmgren said.
Forsberg, expected to be in Nashville's lineup Friday night at St. Louis, said he wouldn't consider signing with any team before he can become a free agent July 1.
"Clearly, we have paid a high price for this," Predators general manager David Poile said.
Poile said he knows that it is gamble giving up so much for one player. But the Predators need to do very well in the playoffs to boost season ticket sales and business interest in a nontraditional, Southern city, and they noticed what winning the Stanley Cup did for Carolina and Tampa Bay.
Elias on Peter the Great ...
The Flyers traded Peter Forsberg to the Predators on Thursday night. As we've reported previosuly, Forsberg's career average of 0.90 assists per game is the fourth highest in NHL history, behind only the three players widely considered the best of the expansion era -- perhaps of all time: Wayne Gretzky (1.32), Mario Lemieux (1.13) and Bobby Orr (0.98).
But Forsberg still has something left in the tank, having collected 19 assists in his past 16 games. Only four players have more assists during that time (that is, since Dec. 28): Joe Thornton, 27 (20 games); Sidney Crosby, 25 (20); Henrik Zetterberg, 24 (23); and Martin St. Louis, 21 (22).
Bob McKenzie on the case ...
In the wake of the Peter Forsberg trade, there will be a rush to judgment.
Some will proclaim the Predators just dealt their way to the Stanley Cup.
Others will say the Flyers parlayed a rental player into a bountiful harvest of picks and prospects.
We are likely to get the early returns on Nashville's half of the equation before Philadelphia's, but it is fair to say both scenarios are fraught with peril.
Forsberg could be one big hit or a flare up of his chronic foot condition away from the end of his season. He has to make it to the playoffs to be a factor and that's no slam dunk, given his history.
The Flyers, meanwhile, need Upshall and Parent to be players for them. Upshall couldn't crack Nashville's top nine but he will get a better chance to play in Philadelphia. No guarantees, though. Parent should emerge as a top-four defensive defenceman and it's always tough to know what becomes of picks, especially in a draft year that is not spectacular.
But here's the bottom line for both teams.
Forsberg was expendable and the Flyers took a future consideration package from Nashville that was, by far, the best offered to them.
And Nashville has more than enough depth and emerging prospects that they can afford to roll the dice on a potential high impact Cup clincher.
As for the teams that lost out on the Forsberg sweepstakes, now keep your eye on the St. Louis Blues. Keith Tkachuk and Bill Guerin never looked so good.
Lundqvist trying to stick with the big boys …
Stars rookie forward Joel Lundqvist worries that his next trip to the minors could be right around the corner.
"That's kind of how I look at every game," Lundqvist said. "I don't want to give them a reason to send me back to Des Moines. I play every game here like it could be my last."
There's little chance the Stars will send Lundqvist back any time soon. At 24, the rookie has proven to be ready for the NHL. Playing on a line with Jeff Halpern and Stu Barnes, he has carved out about 15 minutes of ice time in recent games. And playing a physical style that has him averaging 3.67 hits per game, Lundqvist is giving the Stars something they dearly need.
"He's been a great addition," Stars coach Dave Tippett said. "He plays with an edge to his game."
Halpern said Lundqvist is a smart player who reads opponents well and skates hard. He said the fact that Lundqvist can lay down a shuttering shoulder check doesn't hurt when it comes to intimidating the opposition.
"When you're checking people, you either want to keep the puck away from them and play in their zone or you want to get them off of their game when they have the puck," Halpern said. "With the way he hits, he makes them feel a little bit uneasy. You can see it in their eyes; they're watching to see where he is, and that's just one more thing that gets them off of their game."
Lundqvist has been slow to earn a regular spot in the lineup because this is his first season in North America. He was a regular in Sweden and helped the Frolunda club win the Swedish Elite League championship two years ago and return to the championship last season. He also helped Sweden win the World Championship last season.
Daytona is Sunday, and yes, I am planning to watch like I do every year. The Cheating stories are quite interesting, especially since I always rail on Nascar for "punishing" cheating without actually punishing cheating. Well, now they are trying to get a bit tougher, but still not tough enough...
Mike Bianchi has more ...
Michael Waltrip says he didn't know anything about the illegal substance.
He says he didn't know what exactly was being put into his car.
He says some unknown team member slipped it into his engine without him even knowing about it.
Next thing you know, Waltrip is going to tell us his crew chief told him the mysterious substance was flaxseed oil.
The only thing missing from this, the biggest NASCAR cheating scandal in history, is Waltrip standing up before Congress and declaring emphatically, "I have never put anything illegal into my intake manifold -- period."
Close your eyes and replace the names of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro with Waltrip, Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne, and you have NASCAR's version of the BALCO investigation.
Hmmm, so what exactly was that gooey substance found in Waltrip's engine -- the cream or the clear?
NASCAR, like baseball, has allowed rampant rule-breaking to go on for far too long and now finally is starting to crack down. Suspending more than one-tenth of the crew chiefs for Sunday's Daytona 500 is a good start, but NASCAR needs to go even further. Instead of kicking out a few anonymous mechanics, how about really getting everybody's attention by suspending the drivers themselves?
And if racing really wants us to take this crackdown seriously, how about retroactively stripping defending Nextel Cup champion Jimmie Johnson of last year's Daytona victory? Johnson, if you'll recall, won last year's Dishonesty 500 only a few days after Chad Knaus, his habitually cheating crew chief, was kicked out of Daytona for breaking the rules again.
Is there really a difference between Bonds, the cheater, pursuing the greatest record in American sports, or Johnson, the cheater, winning the Great American Race? And is there really a difference between Bonds claiming he didn't know his trainer was giving him something to enhance his body and Waltrip claiming he didn't know a crew member was doing something to enhance his engine?
"What took place was the act of an individual or individuals," said Waltrip, the owner of his race team. "This is not a reflection of our team, our sponsors or our manufacturer."
You wouldn't know it by listening to Dale Earnhardt Jr., who said of Waltrip: "When the driver's the owner, he should have quite a bit of knowledge about what's going on."
Or Joe Nemechek, who said of Waltrip: "I think he got off easy. If somebody gets caught that blatant, they probably shouldn't be in the Daytona 500."
Or Jim Aust, the chief executive of Toyota Racing, who called the scandal, "Toyota's worst nightmare."
Toyota, a global company that prides itself on its integrity and good reputation, is new to NASCAR and, therefore, new to the old NASCAR mantra: "If you ain't cheatin', you ain't competin'."
And this is why NASCAR should come down even harder on the blatant cheaters -- because mainstream Fortune 500 companies are pouring more and more sponsorship dollars into the sport and don't want to be tainted by such corruption and chicanery.
Studio 60 is in BIG trouble ...
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is on the outs...maybe for good.
Aaron Sorkin's much hyped new series, once touted as the wunderkind of NBC's fall schedule (and originally slotted to take on Grey's Anatomy and CSI, no less), has been yanked from its Monday time slot a week early to make way for the organized-crime drama The Black Donnellys.
After scoring its lowest ratings yet this week (and that's saying a lot, considering it airs after the actual freshman highlight of NBC's season, Heroes), Studio 60 will be benched a week earlier than planned, starting Feb. 26. The show had been slated to run through February sweeps. No return date has been set.
Taking its place will be The Black Donnellys, which was originally set to premiere Mar. 5.
Because of its early start, the incoming mobster series from Oscar winner Paul Haggis could also benefit from an extra week of having Heroes as its lead-in, before the average-Joes-equipped-with-extraordinary-abilities drama takes several weeks off after a Mar. 5 cliffhanger.
Studio 60, with its top-notch cast led by Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford (and hefty $3 million-plus-per-episode production budget), has struggled to find an audience all season, topping out at 13.4 million viewers...with its Sept. 18 premiere. Close to 3 million pairs of eyes had tuned out by week two.
Things went downhill from there, with even a so-called special Christmas episode attracting only 7.3 million.
Despite its ratings woes, however, NBC gave Studio 60 a full-season, 22-episode pickup in November, and Sorkin tweaked the series, about the behind-the-scenes drama at a Saturday Night Live-style sketch comedy show, to focus more on the various romantic story lines in recent episodes.
Still, this week's installment managed a scant 6.9 million viewers, giving the Donnelly brothers the cue to step up.
EW reviews Lost ...
Pippen wants to play again? ...
He's back. Almost.
It's not quite the impact of Michael Jordan's famous two-word return to basketball in 1995, but Scottie Pippen is seriously considering a comeback and hopes to play for a contending team in this season's playoffs.
Pippen, who turned 41 on Sept. 25, says he's in better condition and health than at any time in the last five years. And in the Eastern Conference, his veteran presence could change the balance of power and be a major influence in the playoffs. Or he might be the long-sought backup to relieve the pressure on the Suns' Steve Nash. The possibilities are intriguing.
Pippen will give an indication of where he is physically when he teams with the Bulls' Ben Gordon and the Chicago Sky's Candice Dupree in the "Shooting Stars" contest part as part of Saturday night's All-Star festivities.
"I'm thinking of trying to come back for the playoffs," Pippen said. "Something like the last two months of the season, somewhere I can come back and play limited minutes to start, play point forward for someone and build toward the playoffs. It's something I've been thinking about for the last three months."
Pippen last played for the Bulls in the 2003-04 season, when knee problems limited him to 23 games. He said he's considering the right situation and plans to talk to some teams and players during the weekend.
"Being out of the game, my body feels great," Pippen said, adding that his body fat is at an all-time low 5 percent and he's at his top playing weight of about 220 pounds.
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