Now, on to Spooooooorrrrrrttttttsssss.
Eric Neel won. He wrote a column to draw Mavericks fans offside. It worked. He said things about the Mavericks and sort of got me going, but then he said that Dirk doesn’t have a signature move. If that knucklehead thinks so little of Dirk to suggest that Dirk doesn’t have a signature move (I believe I would go with the free-throw line back down into a fade away), then why should anyone care what he thinks? Also, no defining moment? I sure thought that his hoop and a foul in Game 7 at San Antonio would qualify. Perhaps you are saying that doesn’t count since Dirk didn’t win it all, but when did Nash and Lebron get their rings?
Here is the column …
The other day a friend said to me, "Hey, check out the Mavs," as if they were underdogs on a little hot streak, as if they were a penny on the sidewalk or a roadside attraction spotted through a car window, as if they weren't actually running roughshod over the league night in and night out. We should be trained on them, geeked, obsessed, awed, but we aren't. The Suns -- Steve's boys, the fuel-injected fun ball gang, a brotherhood forged in dedication to a philosophy, a dream -- are captivating. The Pistons -- a gangly, tough, scrap-heap collective straight out of "Kelly's Heroes," a bunch, even with a title in the bag, who are absolutely certain you don't believe in them -- inspire. The Mavs don't compete historically and they don't compete now.
Mark Cuban's part of the problem. He's smart, funny and insightful. He speaks truth to power and sometimes goes on entertaining, ridiculous rants (see the Dwyane Wade smackdown a couple weeks back) for all the world to see. I love him. But there's no denying that he overshadows the team on the floor. He's the maverick Maverick, the face of the franchise. Entertaining as he is, he's no pathway to connecting with the team or the game they play. I don't root for him. I don't root for them because of him. He's ownership. I want to give a damn about labor.
And even if I look past Cuban, all I see is Nowitzki. Which means all I see is accurate, somewhat wooden jump shots and hard-to-guard head-fake finishes. The guy is a superstar, probably the league MVP given what the team is doing. He gets banged on nightly and he wears the mantle of being The Man with seeming ease and determination. He's a fantastic player. I admire the hell out of him. But he's also, I'm sorry, boring to watch. No signature move. No defining moment (as of yet). No edge, no magic. Think of him next to the other top-tier players in the league right now. Play word association. Nash is Miraculous, Wade is Relentless, James is Terrifying, Arenas is Nutty and Garnett is Fierce. Nowitzki is, I don't know, Proficient?
Mavs beat the Lakers so easily …
The Dallas Mavericks are rolling, playing the best ball in team history.
The Los Angeles Lakers are nearing the other end of the spectrum, but help might soon be on the way.
Josh Howard scored 24 points, Dirk Nowitzki added 19, and the Mavericks took control early in humiliating the Lakers 108-72 Sunday night to extend their franchise-record winning streak to 17 games and match the longest winning streak in the NBA this season.
"We've been able to do a lot of good things with our defense," said Jerry Stackhouse, who had 13 points for the Mavericks. "Something we learned from the playoffs last year is we have to finish. Momentum's what we're trying to build now, build up enough momentum during the regular season to steam through the playoffs."
The Mavericks (52-9) blew a fourth-quarter lead and lost their last visit to Los Angeles a little over two months ago, snapping a 13-game winning streak. They were never in jeopardy this time after taking a 59-35 halftime lead, getting their most one-sided win of the season and their most lopsided victory ever over the Lakers.
The loss was the worst setback at home for the short-handed Lakers since they moved to Los Angeles from Minneapolis in 1960. They played without injured forwards Luke Walton, Vladimir Radmanovic and Lamar Odom, and guard Smush Parker was ejected early in the second quarter after picking up his second technical foul.
"I'm frustrated how the ballclub is going in a nosedive," Parker said. "I'm not pleased with my play, and I'm not pleased with the team's play. I know I can play better than this."
The Lakers hope that Walton, who hasn't played since spraining his right ankle Jan. 28, will return to action Thursday night at Denver. Odom, who sustained a torn labrum in his left shoulder March 2, not only said he was doing better than he expected, but plans to play Thursday night as well.
"I will play on Thursday -- no doubt about it," he said.
Odom was cleared to practice Monday.
Jason Terry scored 14 points, Austin Croshere added 13, and DeSagana Diop had 13 rebounds for the Mavericks, who have won 38 of their last 40 games. Their only loss since being beaten by the Lakers 101-98 on Jan. 7 was an 11-point setback in Chicago on Jan. 25.
The win was just the third for Dallas in its last 32 games against the Lakers in Los Angeles.
The Phoenix Suns also had a 17-game winning streak this season. Those streaks are tied for the fifth-longest in NBA history. The Mavericks are the first NBA team to have three winning streaks of 12 or more games in a season.
Kobe Bryant had 25 points and nine rebounds for the Lakers (33-31), who have lost six straight to equal the longest losing streak of coach Phil Jackson's career. No Jackson-coached team had ever lost more than five in a row before this season -- the Lakers also had a six-game skid last month.
Cuban was close to selling – he says …sorry. Don’t believe it…
Mark Cuban spent most of the Sunday conversation on ESPN's SportsCenter complaining about the NBA's crappy marketing and making strange references to sex talk with David Stern.
Then he dropped a bomb near the end, saying he came "real close" to selling the Mavs during the summer. Even told David Stern of his plans.
"I couldn’t deal with the NBA," Cuban said. "There was things that I couldn’t imagine happening in the Finals that happened in the Finals. You don’t even know a tenth of it – stuff I didn’t get fined for and that was just too outrageous for me to even say publicly. And so I was like, ‘I’m done.'"
Meanwhile, the Spurs keep winning …
After the Spurs lost at Miami on Feb. 11 to fall nine games behind Dallas, Manu Ginobili didn't need long to deduce what it would take to catch the Mavericks for the Southwest Division title:
If the Spurs intended on trying to track down Dallas, they would have been better off signing Harry Potter. In the Western Conference this season, dozen-game winning streaks apparently don't count much in the wizardry department.
The Spurs won their 12th consecutive game by beating New Jersey 93-77 on Saturday, but their recent success hasn't translated into a surge in the standings. They entered Sunday still trailing the Mavericks by nine games in the loss column, the same gap between the teams as a month ago when the Spurs' winning streak began.
Dallas had won 16 consecutive games going into their meeting with the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday night. Including the Spurs' current run, there have been six winning streaks of at least 12 games in the West this season with Dallas owning three and Phoenix the other two.
The Spurs might find all of this frustrating had they not already stopped measuring themselves against the Mavericks.
"I turned that off a long time ago," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "It's about improving every day, it's about getting better. It's not about what anybody else's records are.
In NCAA news, The Big 12 gets 4 …
Even though the Big 12 got only four in, Kansas, the No. 1 seed in the West; Texas A&M, the No. 3 seed in the South; and Texas, the No. 4 seed in the East, are all potential deep threats.
Texas Tech, a No. 10 seed in the East, will be the underdog to seventh-seeded Boston College in a first round game Thursday in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Two other Texas schools earned No. 15 seeds. North Texas is making its first appearance since 1988, and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi is making its first appearance.
Fans of Texas A&M were hoping the Aggies would be shipped to New Orleans for the first- and second rounds. Instead, A&M will be in Lexington, Ky., against 14th-seeded Pennsylvania with a possible second-round date against sixth-seeded Louisville in what would be a virtual home game for the Cardinals.
Coincidentally, A&M coach Billy Gillispie has been rumored to be a candidate to replace Kentucky's Tubby Smith, who is supposedly on the hot seat.
The good news is if A&M survives and advances, the Aggies are headed to San Antonio, where the 12th Man would relocate to the Alamodome with a Final Four berth on the line.
If Texas can win its first two games against 13th-seeded New Mexico State and either Southern Cal or Arkansas, they will go from Austin to Spokane, Wash., back to Austin, to East Rutherford, N.J., site of the East Region, in a span of 10 days.
Texas Tech will be making its fourth NCAA Tournament appearance in six seasons under Knight. Boston College is a balanced team with four starters averaging double-figure scoring, led by 6-7 senior forward Jared Dudley (19.0 ppg, 8.3 rpg).
While Tech can play pressure-free as an underdog, all the pressure is on Kansas and Self to get out of the first round for the first time in three years.
Aggie goes to Kentucky …and hopes to not leave its coach there…
As a consensus Top 10 team most of the season, Texas A&M experienced a different drama during Sunday's NCAA Tournament selection show than they did last year, when the Aggies sat on the edge of their seats just hoping they would make the field.
But leave it to the selection committee to add a little suspense by making A&M wait until the final bracket was announced to learn its fate. But it was worth the wait as the Aggies were made the No. 3 seed in the South Regional — an all-time-high seeding for the program — and were paired against No. 14 Penn in the opening round Thursday at Lexington, Ky.
The A&M players, sitting quietly, erupted as they did last year when their bracket was revealed. Coach Billy Gillispie sounded as though he literally was wiping the sweat from his brow after worrying that his team's Big 12 quarterfinal loss to Oklahoma State might have hurt more than anyone could have imagined.
"You never know you're in until they put your number up there," said Gillispie, whose team finished 25-6 and was the Big 12 regular-season runner-up. "Last year, we were the first one up, I think. But this year, you are thinking you are in the Tournament, but then you think, 'Maybe we shouldn't have gotten beat at Oklahoma State.' You can never take anything for granted."
That goes for the favorable position the Aggies would find themselves in should they reach the Sweet 16. The South Regional will be played at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
But getting there could be problematic for the Aggies, who could end up facing sixth-seeded Louisville in the second round at Lexington, Ky.
But that's only if A&M can make it past the Quakers, who earned an automatic bid
after winning the Ivy League.
The fact that Penn (20-8) is making its third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance gives Gillispie plenty of reason to play the "take nothing for granted card."
Longhorn with a tough region …
Not long after their startling Big 12 tournament run ended with a hard-fought overtime loss to Kansas in Sunday's title game, the Longhorns learned they had secured a No. 4 seed in the East Regional of the NCAA tournament.
UT will square off against 13th-seeded New Mexico State in the first round Friday in Spokane, Wash.
Facing a gantlet that could include perennial power North Carolina in the Elite Eight, UT players — many of them experiencing their first taste of March Madness — vow not to be intimidated.
"We've grown," said point guard D.J. Augustin, one of four freshmen to grace the Longhorns' starting lineup. "We've been in situations that have prepared us for what we're about to get into."
In Rangers news, Ron Washington with some touch words …
Rangers manager Ron Washington got his second look at starting pitcher Robinson Tejeda on Saturday and it didn't put him in a warm and cuddly mood.
Tejeda gave up two runs and three hits in two innings in the Rangers' 13-9 loss to the San Francisco Giants, and Washington was critical of the performance after the game.
"I'm not happy about the way we pitched," Washington said. "We just put too many on the [bases] in front of those hitters and they came through and then we made mistakes."
It was the second day in a row that a young Rangers' pitcher was pounded, but Washington said there was a difference in the way Tejeda pitched Saturday and Brandon McCarthy pitched Friday when he gave up seven hits and five earned runs to the Cubs.
"The difference for me is McCarthy pounded the strike zone and got hit," Washington said. "I can handle that. Tejeda didn't pound the strike zone. He was all over the strike zone. That I can't handle."
Washington did not confine his critique to Tejeda, however. He also said catcher Gerald Laird shared the blame.
"You got a young kid out there and [Laird is] going to be the starting catcher," Washington said. "He has to get him in the strike zone. He can't have him out there overthrowing and flying. He has to keep him in his mechanics. It's the most important thing that he has to do. I don't care about his hitting. What I care about is him handling those pitchers and getting them through innings."
The Rangers are hoping that Tejeda starts the season in late-summer form. After a bumpy start last season, he returned to the big leagues on Aug. 19 and went 4-2 with a 2.32 ERA over the last six weeks of the season.
During that stretch, his ERA was second only to Minnesota's Johan Santana (1.76).
But Washington said Tejeda threw too many pitches Saturday and when he left the game, the manager let him know that was not acceptable.
"I did tell him when he came off that you can't be throwing 50 pitches in two innings," Washington said. "And I got Gerald, too, to let him know that he has to get him through innings better than that. He's as much to blame as Tejeda."
Football: Patriots realize that paying players isn’t a bad idea ….
The New England Patriots of the Bill Belichick era have been celebrated for their fiscal responsibility, exercising a restraint in player acquisition that stands in sharp contrast to the annual splashes into the free-agent pool performed by the Washington Redskins and others.
So what about that megadeal with guarantees up to $20 million given to Adalius Thomas, a linebacker, only hours after free agency opened last weekend? In a little more than one week of aggressive dealing, the Patriots signed Thomas, one of the most coveted free agents this year; tight end Kyle Brady; and running back Sammy Morris. They also acquired receiver Wes Welker for two draft picks.
Yesterday, they bolstered their offense by signing receiver Donte’ Stallworth, a former first-round draft pick. After falling short of the Super Bowl the past two seasons, the Patriots, from the outside at least, seem to have undertaken a philosophical shift. They have eschewed the patient plucking of under-the-radar players who formed the foundations of three championship teams for the moves that grab headlines and award fat contracts.
Belichick and the Patriots’ owner, Robert K. Kraft, see it differently.
“In my mind, it’s not a philosophical thing to do or not do,” Belichick said Saturday, in a telephone interview before the Stallworth deal was done. “Just because something wasn’t done in another year doesn’t mean that if the opportunity had been there it wouldn’t have been done. In some years, we didn’t have much cap space. There was no money to spend. You work within the constraints you have. To me, we’re taking the same approach to the season that we have every season: do what you think is best.”
Todd Archer looks ahead …
We're only a week into the 2007 free-agency period, but it's never too early to look ahead.
Romo, Flozell Adams, Patrick Crayton (provided he doesn't get a new deal), Keith Davis, Aaron Glenn and Julius Jones are among the top players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents after next season.
What to do?
The Cowboys will take their time in talks with Romo. There is no need to rush the talks of a quarterback with only 11 games under his belt. See how he performs and then lock him up. If you can't come to a deal, there's always the franchise tag.
Adams' age and the signing of Leonard Davis make it possible for the Cowboys to take their time with Adams, who was added to the Pro Bowl team last season after missing 10 games in 2005 with a serious knee injury, as well. Davis spent the last three years in Arizona playing left tackle, so he could slide there if needed in 2008. And remember they really like the potential of Pat McQuistan, a seventh-round pick a year ago.
Crayton was given a $1.3 million tender offer as a restricted free agent because the club thought somebody (New Orleans?) would make a run at him with the low tender. With thirty-something receivers Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn, they should look at Crayton for a longer-term deal.
Jones offers the most unique case. Is he a franchise back? He ran 1,084 yards in 2006 and played in every game for the first time in his career. He has the ability to break the long run. He showed toughness last year. But Marion Barber was the team's closer on the goal line. Bill Parcells obviously did not believe Jones was a 25-carry-a-game guy, and a two-back system is a growing trend. Barber, who will be a restricted free agent after 2007, is a more powerful runner, but can his style last for 16, 32 or 48 games at 20-plus carries a game?
Sorry to read this story …
A Cardinals assistant coach was arrested Thursday night after police said he solicited an undercover police officer posing as a prostitute.
Phoenix police officers took Richie Anderson, 35, into custody about 9:30 p.m. during a "customer apprehension program" at Pointe South Mountain Resort.
Anderson, the Cardinals' wide receiver coach, was booked into 4th Avenue Jail and released after posting bond just before 2 a.m. Friday, according to Lt. Paul Chagolla, a Maricopa County Sheriff's spokesman.
Jimmie Johnson wins in Vegas ….
When he first drove onto the newly configured Las Vegas Motor Speedway track in practice Friday, Jimmie Johnson was singing the same tune as other drivers did all during the UAW DaimlerChrysler 400 weekend.
“He was saying, ‘Oh, this tire is terrible for this track,’” crew chief Chad Knaus
said Sunday after Johnson had held off Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon to win the race. “I told him, ‘Hey, we will do a better job of figuring this out than anybody else, this is an opportunity.’”
And so they did.
Johnson pounced as Gordon was occupied with trying to hold off Jeff Burton the late going, passing his teammate and then, on Lap 240, Burton to take command en route to his 24th career Nextel Cup victory.
Johnson, the reigning series champion, said he’s proud that his team seems to look at potential setbacks as openings.
“I am confident that this team seems to figure things out at a fast pace,” Johnson said. “Whenever there’s a new rule or we go to a new track, we seem to smile and say that’s a chance for us to step up and figure things out before other teams do.”
Accepting that as fact, Johnson should have been obvious choice to win this weekend. Not so much because he’d won here the previous two years, but because all of the teams arrived at this newly configured track with very little to work with.
After a good weekend of FA Cup football, the new draw is released for the Final 4 …
Premiership heavyweights Manchester United and Chelsea could be set for a dramatic FA Cup final meeting at the new Wembley Stadium after being kept apart in the semi-final draw.
Both teams must overcome tricky replays before confirming their place in the last four with Chelsea meeting Tottenham at White Hart Lane and United facing Middlesbrough at home.
Blackburn will play the winner of Chelsea against Spurs and the top flight's bottom club Watford have been drawn against United or Boro.
The ties will be played on the weekend of April 14, 15. Venues are to be announced.
Andrew WK in a Ticket t-shirt
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