The Spurs listened for the better part of a week about how LeBron James had lifted the Cleveland Cavaliers onto his shoulders and carried them into the NBA Finals.
They heard how James had finally given the nation a championship series worth watching. How James was ready to join Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird in the pantheon of great playoff performers.
The Spurs also smiled at this. For if there is one thing they have learned over the past five years, it's that no matter whom they're facing — no matter how LeGreat that person may be — their defense can usually find strength in numbers.
So with the Finals opening Thursday night, the Spurs threw Bruce Bowen on James. Then they ran Tim Duncan at him. And when James tried to penetrate, they crowded the lane with another defender or two.
And when the Spurs were through? They had an 85-76 victory, James had 14 points and the rest of the country had reason to go back to sleep.
"This was one of the few times," Robert Horry said, "we carried out our defensive scheme almost to a 'T.'"
Buck Harvey examines Lebron, Global Icon …
The Global Icon didn't dunk. Not even once.
Oh, there's a moment worth a large, glossy photo. It even involves the Global Icon. Then, halfway through the opening quarter, he drove, and Tim Duncan stretched out for the kind of block he's made once or twice in his postseason career.
The Global Icon retreated backward for the basketball, and Duncan followed him as if he had his scent. Duncan flexed his legs, pulling up the shorts at the knees for a looser feel. He then challenged the Global Icon into a 3-point miss.
At that point, with eyes intent under his freshly shaved scalp, Duncan looked as if he remembered talk of another poster that came out of a November game. The execs will move on. No need to dwell on the negative.
Someone in the meeting will then emphasize the positive. Didn't the Global Icon start this series the same way he started against Detroit? He did, with only 10 points against the Pistons. He also took severe criticism for passing up a final shot. And that worked out, didn't it?
The Global Icon sure wasn't concerned Thursday night, just as Duncan wouldn't have been had he struggled. "I feel good," he said. "A lot of the shots I took are shots that I make. They felt pretty good. Things like that happen."
But most in the meeting will understand there are several differences between Detroit and San Antonio. For one, the Spurs sent two and three defenders at the Global Icon, and one of them was Bruce Bowen.
For another, the Spurs still managed to run out on the Cleveland shooters. As Denver, Phoenix and Utah know, things like that happen.
Worse, though, is what else the Global Icon did. Whereas he went for nine assists in the opening game against Detroit, Thursday he had more turnovers than assists.
He also didn't do much with Tony Parker when he defended him. Midway through the fourth quarter, with the Global Icon on him, Parker reared back and threw in a 20-footer over him.
That gave the Spurs an 18-point lead, meaning the rest of the game was mostly insignificant. At that point, before the padding of stats would commence, the Global Icon was 2 of 14 with two assists and five turnovers.
The execs will come to another depressing conclusion. Days after the American media tried to figure out if the Global Icon had played the best game in playoff history, now they will try to figure out if this was the worst by a great player since Dirk Nowitzki was last seen in public.
Rangers get the local kid …
For the Rangers, the first two picks in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft were equal parts bright and baffling, not so much because of who they picked, but because of who they did not.
Selecting Irving High School right-handed pitcher Blake Beavan made perfect sense. Almost all pre-draft projections had him gone by the time the Rangers made their first pick at No. 17. From the perspective of talent and good local public relations, he was an easy choice.
At No. 24, they drafted Michael Main from DeLand (Fla.) High School. Main was projected to be a late first-round pick, and that's exactly where he went.
But the Rangers had a chance to select Rick Porcello of Seton Hall Prep in West Orange, N.J., with their second pick. Porcello was projected as the second-best player in the draft, but dropped no doubt in part because he is represented by agent Scott Boras, who has made it clear that Porcello will need a large signing bonus.
So the Rangers, who have had numerous dealings with Boras, joined many other teams in passing on Porcello. With a history of questionable decisions involving pitchers and a starting pitching staff with the highest ERA in the last 50 years in baseball, it would seem the Rangers would not have the luxury of passing on top talent.
"I'd rather not get into it," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said when asked
about passing on Porcello. "I'd prefer to talk about the guys we did pick. I don't think it's appropriate to comment on other teams' players."
Porcello went three picks after the Rangers chose Main as pitching-rich Detroit pounced on him. The Tigers have an excellent record in recent years of selecting pitchers in the draft, and also trading for good, young talent. They didn't pass on Porcello.
"Every pick you make is a risk-reward evaluation," Daniels said. "Some players are riskier because of the profiles, some are riskier for makeup, some are riskier for medical reasons, some are riskier as far as signability. All the players we selected carry risk as well, but we were comfortable with the risk-reward equation."
For the 6-foot-7, 210-pound Beavan, it was a nervous time and a dream come true. He has been a Rangers fan all his life and grew up idolizing Nolan Ryan and John Wetteland.
"I always wanted to play for them as a little kid," Beavan said. "Thick or thin, I always went with the Rangers. I never changed my mind on the team. I like the organization. They need pitching and that's what we're going to give them."
Beavan had a sensational high school career. As a senior, he went 8-2 with an 0.21 ERA. He had 124 strikeouts in 66 innings and struck out 18 in a perfect game against Irving MacArthur. The official stats indicated he had only four walks, but Beavan corrected it, saying, "three in 66 innings."
Main and Neil Ramirez, whom the Rangers selected with the 44th pick in the draft, also have excellent pedigree. They were on the same staff as Beavan when the U.S. Junior National Team played in Cuba. Beavan struck out 11 and pitched a complete-game shutout.
The first five rounds of the draft were Thursday. That included the supplemental round -- which provides teams picks for free agents lost the previous off-season -- between the first and second round. The 50-round draft will conclude today.
With their nine picks Thursday, the Rangers selected five right-handed pitchers, one lefty, two outfielders and a third baseman. They chose six high school and three college players.
They also got lucky when Julio Borbon, a center fielder from the University of Tennessee, slipped to them at No. 35. Some publications had the Rangers taking Borbon, who has outstanding speed, with their first pick. The Rangers had Beavan, Main and Borbon rated in the top 17 on their draft board.
Obviously, I am excited to get Beaven. He seems abrasive, hard-nosed, and over-confident. Perhaps these are all things you need from a stud pitcher. Now, let’s see if he has the goods at the big league level.
But, if you wanted an “Aw-shucks” kid who is just happy to be here, you got the wrong guy.
Channel 8 video of his draft day reaction …
And on the field, the Rangers get their butts beat again …
On a day when Texas loaded up on prospects – many of them pitchers – in the amateur draft, the 2007 version of the Rangers showed why they could use some of those guys right now.
The team with baseball's worst record struggled in all aspects of the game in an 11-4 loss to Detroit.
The problems started, as they have all season, on the mound. Starter Kameron Loe, the only homegrown pitcher in the starting rotation, gave up nine earned runs in just 2 2/3 innings. The ERA of the Rangers' starters continues to soar to levels never seen since the stat was first kept 50 years ago. It's now at 6.97, well in front of the 1996 Tigers, who own the worst starting rotation ERA for a season at 6.64. It's the eighth straight game the ERA has gone up.
But the rising ERA isn't the only alarming trend for the starters. Some other startling stats:
•Texas leads the league in starts of three or fewer innings with 11.
•Thursday was the 10th consecutive game without a starter pitching six innings.
•A starter hasn't pitched past the fourth inning in 18 games this season (that's 30 percent of the games).
•When Loe left, the Rangers were down, 8-1. It was the 25th time in 60 games the Rangers have trailed by five or more runs.
Loe said he's feeling the pressure and said the more he struggles "the closer I am to going out of here." Manager Ron Washington, though, said there are no plans to move Loe to the bullpen.
But starting pitching wasn't the only problem area Thursday. Texas compounded its difficulties with mental errors. They had one official error – Jerry Hairston Jr. threw wide to first in the first inning.
But there were other mistakes, two of them coming in the third to help the Tigers put together a big inning. Victor Diaz misjudged a fly ball to right field that should have been the second out, but instead was a double. Moments later, Ian Kinsler threw to the wrong base on a ground ball, allowing a runner to come home in the process.
Detroit scored four more runs after that to take a commanding lead. When the Rangers finally ended the inning – after pitching to 11 batters and giving up six runs – the 22,990 in attendance mockingly cheered.
Jayson Stark notices that the Rangers have the deadline names …
So here it comes, the first Stark Market report of the year on the biggest names who just might be available in July for your shopping enjoyment:
Rangers GM Jon Daniels may have sworn this week that he has no plans to "shop" Teixeira. But an official of one team that has spoken with Texas says, flatly, that the Teixeira talk is "real."
In fact, the Rangers almost have to dangle this guy, if only because he's a Scott Boras client, a prospective 2008 free agent and a fellow who has given them no indication he's inclined to sign any early extensions and stick around. So the big question is whether he'll be exported in a deadline deal or an offseason deal. In a market with possibly no other whompers, the line would be long for Teixeira's services, starting with the Angels and Dodgers.
"The only way they can get value for Teixeira is to move him now," said one prominent baseball man. "You can't get down to the final year and expect teams to give up what they're going to be asking."
Yep, the second name on this list is another Ranger. You'd better be prepared to memorize their whole roster, because this team is already 17 games under .500, has lots of parts it could sell off, and needs to accumulate starting pitching. So you'll be hearing the names of Brad Wilkerson, Kenny Lofton and even Sammy Sosa, among others. But the most interesting name of all could be Gagne, given the desperation for impact bullpen arms by about a dozen potential contenders. The question teams keep asking about Gagne, however, is this: Is he still one of those impact arms? And even if he is, is he a breakdown waiting to happen?
Here is a refreshing story….NOT Greg Ellis says “blah, blah, blah” …sorry, Greg. Not interested.
Cowboys outside linebacker Greg Ellis, unhappy with his current status and unable to get a meeting with Jerry Jones to discuss it, wants to be traded, released or have his contract restructured.
Ellis said that Jones, the Cowboys' owner and general manager, had planned to meet with him, but changed his mind. Ellis said he was disappointed to learn of this through the media.
"I would like for him to make a move," Ellis said following the last of the organized team activities (OTA) Thursday. "Let me know and let [the media] know, 'Greg we do want you here.' With him saying, 'No we're not planning to sit down with Greg or his agent or anybody,' I think that pretty much sums it up."
Jones said he doesn't meet with players under contract.
Ellis, a nine-year veteran whose contract ends in 2009, wants a restructured deal because he fears first-round pick Anthony Spencer, who plays the same position, will take his spot.
However, coach Wade Phillips has said Ellis is the starting outside linebacker, as have several of the defensive coaches.
Ellis isn't buying it.
"For the way the NFL is structured today with these [higher] signing bonuses, the young guy has to get [playing time] because he's a first-rounder," Ellis said. "Jerry can't afford it and I don't blame him. I wouldn't sit [Spencer] on the bench either despite what the coaches are telling me."
Devin Harris speaks bravely …
Despite speculation nationally and locally that Harris' connection with the Mavericks is tenuous, he says he is ready to be the player the Mavericks need him to be.
"I really want it," Harris said. "I want to take this by the horns, and I want to be a 40-minute player for this team.
"I think I need to be that kind of player to allow Jet to freelance more and for us to get back where we were," he said, referring to teammate Jason Terry. "Last year, this same backcourt got us to the NBA Finals. We know what we're capable of."
The Mavericks had the best record in the NBA this season with 67 wins. They were slammed out of the first round of the playoffs by Golden State.
Earlier this week, coach Avery Johnson gave a glimpse into the Mavericks' off-season prioritieswhen he said, "Devin Harris' improvement is our best chance to improve at point guard."
Harris said last year that he was hoping to become the full-time starting point guard. It didn't quite work out that way, although he did start 61 games alongside Terry in an undersized backcourt. His minutes per game went up from 22.8 in 2005-06 to 26.0 this season.
One season after reaching the Finals, the Mavs didn't make significant changes in playing time. That's got to change for Harris, the No. 5 overall pick of the 2003 draft, to continue his growth.
Harris' contract status is also likely to change. The Mavericks can negotiate a long-term extension with Harris beginning July 1. Last year, Josh Howard was in the same situation and signed a four-year deal worth about $40 million.
USA gets off to a good start with a win in Gold Cup …
In the larger scheme of things, the goal that Clint Dempsey scored Thursday night to earn the United States a 1-0 victory over Guatemala does not rank particularly high on his list of recent soccer accomplishments.
There was, for instance, the goal he scored against Ghana at the World Cup in Germany last summer. That certainly ranks higher.
And there was the goal he scored against Liverpool this spring that gave Fulham, his London club, a vital victory and kept it from being relegated from the English Premier League. That ranks considerably higher still.
But Thursday's effort, in front of a boisterous crowd of 21,334 at the Home Depot Center, was satisfying all the same for the former New England Revolution standout. It started the U.S. out on the right foot in defense of the Gold Cup title it won in 2005 and it gave Coach Bob Bradley a winning start in his first competitive match in charge of the American team.
"When you play with confidence you play your best, and I think I'm starting to get sharp again," said Dempsey, who also scored during a 4-1 rout of China in a warm-up friendly in San Jose on Saturday.
It took the U.S. less than half an hour to solve Guatemala's overly defensive approach, which involved playing the game in its own half and relying on occasional counterattacks.
The goal came in the 26th minute off a move started by Chivas USA defender Jonathan Bornstein, who redirected a Guatemalan clearance out to DaMarcus Beasley on the left wing.
Beasley, the third-most experienced U.S. player on the field behind Frankie Hejduk and Landon Donovan, passed the ball down the wing to Taylor Twellman, who sent a square pass through the penalty area for the onrushing Dempsey to side-foot into the net.
The goal took all of 20 seconds to create and execute and was Dempsey's eighth in 27 appearances for the national team.
Sicko – The Trailer (I realize my “Conservative Card” may be revoked, but I dig a good documentary)