The Spurs are In, time to remember how much they suck …
The good news for Nowitzki, as well as Garnett and Nash and others still chasing the dream, is they still have time. Nowitzki is solidly in the middle of his career and is a couple of years younger than Duncan.
"They're still winners, and they're still future Hall of Famers," veteran Juwan Howard said. "That's not a knock on a career. We have a championship-caliber team, but if you want to win it, you have to go through San Antonio."
Which brings us to tonight's contest. The Mavericks are aware that no championship can be won or lost tonight. But they also know they must treat every meeting with San Antonio like it's a benchmark game.
Until they win a title, the Mavericks won't be able to consider themselves on the Spurs' level. And Barkley said he believes the Mavericks may have missed their opportunity.
"I honestly thought the Mavericks had broken through when they beat the Spurs in Game 7 a couple years ago," Barkley said, referring to the year Dallas beat San Antonio in the Western Conference semifinals and lost to Miami in the NBA Finals. "I thought they'd crossed over.
"But it's harder to stay there. When you don't win it all, you obviously weren't good enough. So you got to make changes. And they haven't made any changes of significance. You saw their flaws in the Golden State series last year. They match up well with the Spurs, but not with other teams."
Jason Terry off the bench? Manu has been doing this for years …
Through eight games this season, Ginobili is averaging 19.9 points off the bench as the centerpiece of the NBA's most potent reserve unit, supplying the Spurs with a nightly dose of instant offense.
It's the same role Ginobili filled during the Spurs' NBA title runs of 2005 and 2007. It has worked so well, in fact, that it has inspired a copycat 275 miles to the north.
For proof, look no further than the home bench at the American Airlines Center tonight, when the Spurs face the Dallas Mavericks. Avery Johnson has his own Manu Ginobili.
His name is Jason Terry.
After starting 558 games in his career, Terry has shifted into the role of sixth man this season, for precisely the same reasons Ginobili made the move.
Terry provides Dallas with just-add-water offense, helps create matchup problems with other teams' second units and helps set Johnson's rotation as such so that he never has to do without a prime scorer — even when Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard are resting.
So far, Terry has taken to his new role like a salmon to swimming — averaging a team-leading 22.3 points per game, which includes a 31-point night against Houston earlier this month.
Like Ginobili, Terry has already been his team's leading scorer four times. Like Terry, Ginobili already has a 30-point game under his belt.
"I'm very comfortable in this role," Terry said. "I'm going to go out there and give us what we need, a good punch off the bench every night."
As a result, tonight's game between Southwest Division rivals won't only feature firepower in the starting lineup. Each team has a not-so-secret weapon poised to explode off the bench.
The Spurs and Mavericks boast the two most productive benches in the NBA. The Spurs are getting 44.5 points a night out of their reserves; the Mavs 42.3.
Most of the credit goes to Ginobili and Terry, All-Star caliber players willing to submit themselves to the role of super-sub.
It is a job that comes at the expense of the ego.
By agreeing to life as a reserve, for instance, Ginobili has severely hindered his chances of ever making another All-Star team.
He knows it. He doesn't care.
To football, are you curious who the most coveted unrestricted free agents are this winter? here is Pro Football Weekly’s bit ….
Not all free agents are created equal. In the cutthroat world of the NFL, some are looked on as franchise cornerstones, while others are merely footnotes on a transactions page. From athletic marvels to legal deviants to consummate professionals, no two players offer an identical package. As voted on by the PFW editors, here are the 10 most intriguing free agents-to-be, all of whom bear following as the season progresses.
1. WR Randy Moss, New England Patriots
New England won’t shell out top dollar for Moss, but he may decide to remain with the Pats, regardless.
2. SS Bob Sanders, Indianapolis Colts
Look no further than a healthy Sanders as the biggest reason for the Colts’
3. DT Albert Haynesworth, Tennessee Titans
Vilified in 2006 for cleating Andre Gurode’s face, Haynesworth is now abusing O-linemen the right way.
4. CB Asante Samuel , New England Patriots
Immune to being franchised again, Samuel will have a hoard of suitors longing for his signature.
5. LB Lance Briggs, Chicago Bears
Equally abusive to ballcarriers and automobiles, Briggs has been better than teammate Brian Urlacher in ’07.
6. RB Michael Turner, San Diego Chargers
LaDainian Tomlinson’s understudy is too explosive to remain a No. 2 option in San Diego.
7. OG Alan Faneca, Pittsburgh Steelers
Faneca didn’t get the extension he was seeking in Pittsburgh, so it’s nearly certain he’s gone in 2008.
8. TE Dallas Clark, Indianapolis Colts
The versatile Clark is a better bet to receive a long-term deal in Indy than teammate Bob Sanders.
9. LB Terrell Suggs, Baltimore Ravens
Despite sagging sack numbers, Suggs is on pace to set a career high in tackles.
10. CB Nnamdi Asomugha, Oakland Raiders
Rarely tested by opposing quarterbacks, Asomugha has yet to nab an interception after eight picks in ’06.
And the same publication looks at the Cowboys issues …
Potential UFAs: OT Flozell Adams, WR Patrick Crayton, S Keith Davis, S Ken Hamlin, RB Julius Jones*, CB Nathan Jones, CB Jacques Reeves.
Potential RFAs: RB Marion Barber, OG Joe Berger, DE Chris Canty, LS L.P. Ladouceur, DT Jay Ratliff, RB Tyson Thompson.
Analysis: By getting QB Tony Romo’s six-year, $67.5 million contract extension — patterned after Rams QB Marc Bulger’s deal — done now, the team takes the higher salary-cap hit this year and can turn its attention to other players: Marion Barber, Patrick Crayton and Chris Canty. Barber is due for a raise, especially if Julius Jones is not re-signed. Placing the first-and-third-round tender on him would cost the team $2.56 million next year and buy more time to work out a longer-term deal in the 4-5-year range. Team officials won’t say it, but they view Barber as the future at the position. Crayton has been pretty good, though a bit inconsistent, replacing Terry Glenn as the No. 2 wideout. If the emerging Crayton and his agent demand a signing bonus in the range of Drew Bennett, the top No. 2 WR signing last year, he could price himself out of Dallas, even with very little in terms of proven depth behind him. Canty has been better than your average fourth-round pick and will command a raise. He might be third on their priority list, though. That is, unless the team is thinking of redoing the contract of OLB DeMarcus Ware. With the recent signings of Bills DE Aaron Schobel (seven years, $50.5 million), Saints DE Charles Grant (seven years, $63 million) and Colts DE Dwight Freeney (six years, $72 million, $30 million in bonuses) — all 4-3 pass rushers in the same mold as Ware, a linebacker in the 3-4 defense — it might be wise to get Ware a new deal in the offseason when the price is still manageable and the cap space (potentially as much as $20 million under in ’08) is fairly ample. The early guess is that the team will let OLT Flozell Adams walk. There has been talk that Leonard Davis eventually will make his way over to left tackle.
20c4afe.html> Is Big Len OK? …
The Cowboys received a scare Wednesday when right guard Leonard Davis went down in practice with a left ankle sprain.
Davis, who received the highest signing bonus in team history at $16 million in the off-season, got tangled up with some players before hitting the turf. He did walk off the field under his own power.
"We don't know the extent of it," coach Wade Phillips said. "He did walk off, but we are going to have the doctors check him and go through that process."
Davis has received praise from Phillips, assistant head coach Tony Sparano and owner/general manager Jerry Jones for his play this season.
But if Davis cannot play, the team will be forced to turn to Cory Procter at right guard. Procter has been with the Cowboys since November 2005 and hasn't played in a regular-season game.
"He's worked hard, and he's ready to play," Phillips said of Procter. "Like a lot of our guys, you think, 'Well, gosh, if they're not playing, they're not really working to get ready.' He works to get ready. He's real contentious about that."
Davis last missed a regular-season game on the final week of the 2005 season, when he was with Arizona. Davis had a knee injury.
The Redskins limp in to Dallas …
As the Redskins (5-4) prepare to play the Cowboys (8-1) on Sunday in Dallas, they will adjust the secondary again because of injuries, including one to Taylor, their anchor in deep coverage in the base cover-2 defense. Springs, considered Washington's best defender in man-to-man overage, has played well while his father has been hospitalized for weeks in Dallas, and the unit will lean heavily on him in an effort to curb the Cowboys' fast-paced passing attack. The secondary faltered late in the game as the Redskins squandered another second-half lead in losing to Philadelphia last Sunday, and it must rebound quickly against another NFC East rival.
"In this league, last week was a challenge, this week will be a challenge and the next week is always going to be a challenge," safety Pierson Prioleau said. "Obviously, we didn't finish the game like we wanted to, and it always hurts to lose a player like Sean, but we're just going to have to have other people step up this week. It's our job. It's what we do."
Their work became more difficult when Taylor, who leads the Redskins with five interceptions, sprained his right knee late in the third quarter of a 33-25 loss to the Eagles on Sunday at FedEx Field. Without Taylor, the secondary struggled down the stretch, contributing to the Redskins' third loss this season -- and 13th since 2004 -- in a game in which they had led at halftime. An MRI exam Monday confirmed Taylor has a Grade 2 sprain of his medial collateral ligament, and the Redskins expect him to be sidelined at least two to three weeks.
Although the Redskins are confident about their depth in the secondary, Coach Joe Gibbs acknowledged that the hard-hitting Taylor is "an unusual player," adding that opponents are reluctant to take shots downfield because of Taylor's presence deep in zone defenses. In 2006, the Redskins were last in the NFL in yards allowed per pass attempt, giving up an average of 6.91 yards. Springs missed seven games because of injuries and Prioleau hurt his knee on the opening kickoff of the first game against Minnesota and was sidelined the remainder of the season.
With Taylor playing a more disciplined style this season, Springs and Prioleau back in form, the return of Smoot, who re-signed with Washington after two seasons in Minnesota, and the addition of rookie safety LaRon Landry, the Redskins are tied for fourth this season at 6.1.
Last season, the Redskins gave up a league-worst 55 passes of 20 yards or more.
Washington has given up 22 passes of more than 20 yards this season, ranking 10th.
"Obviously, we've been so used to Sean being back there, and he got off to a great start this year with a bunch of picks," Gibbs said. "And to be quite truthful, I think most football teams, when they see him back there, they pretty much rule that out. Even New England, they kind of took the approach, 'We aren't going back there.' Guys are going to have to step up and play well in his place until he gets back."
But the secondary was stretched thin even before Taylor was injured.
Rogers tore his right anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in a 52-7 loss to the Patriots on Oct. 28. He underwent season-ending surgery last week. Smoot has played at less than full health all season (he has been inactive three games) because of hamstring problems, and Springs's family situation has been a concern for the whole team. Ron Springs, a former Cowboys running back, has been in a coma since having surgery to remove a cyst from his elbow Oct. 13.
In February, Ron Springs underwent a kidney transplant, receiving a kidney from Everson Walls, a teammate of his with the Cowboys and a close friend. Ron Springs has had diabetes for 16 years, requiring dialysis three times a week, and awaited a transplant for several years. He rejected his son's offer to be tested for a possible transplant match. As Ron Springs struggled to become healthy enough for a transplant, potential matches with other family members failed to materialize, prompting Walls to volunteer to help his friend, who uses a wheelchair because of the amputation of a foot.
With Gibbs's permission, Springs left the team to be with his family in Dallas the week of an Oct. 21 game against Arizona. He returned and played well in a 21-19 victory at FedEx Field. "Football is my sanctuary," Springs said after the Jets game Nov. 4. "When I'm out on the field, I just focus on the game and what I have to do to help my team. Football . . . that's just fun for me."
Springs has been excused from team activities Monday and Tuesday of every week since his father slipped into a coma. He has traveled to Dallas in support of his family and returned in time to practice. His teammates say he has inspired them with his display of inner strength and commitment to the team.
I highly recommend www.andrewsstarspage.com for all of your Stars needs. Here, he has assembled many views From Some National Hockey Scribes on the Stars events …
Scott Burnside, ESPN.com
Hull is clearly ill-qualified for this role given his lack of experience as a talent evaluator and there remains a significant question about whether he's got the work ethic to learn on the job.
When Hull was doing "analysis" last season for NBC, the knock on him from those in the business was he didn't do the work. He showed up, sprayed off a few bon mots and railed about this and that for a few minutes and went home. That's not analysis. Analysis is studying trends, watching tape and talking to players, not just your hockey buddies on the golf course.
Before that, Hull embarrassed himself by showing up to Coyotes training camp wildly out of shape and played just five post-lockout games for his buddy Wayne Gretzky before pulling the pin on his Hall of Fame career.
We recently had a chance to talk to folks like Blues front-office men Larry Pleau and John Davidson and Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford about the transition of Hall of Famers Al MacInnis and Ron Francis to their new front-office jobs in St. Louis and Carolina, respectively. The common thread was that both players were working their buns off.
It's frankly hard to imagine Hull patrolling dark, damp arenas with bad coffee in the hinterland looking for the next Stars' scoring star or blue-chip defenseman. But he'd better, because that's what this team needs. The Stars' cupboard is bare and it's going to take time and a boatload of hard work.
Wonder if the "Ambassador of Fun" is up to it.
Darren Dreger, TSN.ca
Doug Armstrong has a lot of friends around the world of hockey, so there was a moment of disbelief when the Dallas Star announced Armstrong's firing on Tuesday.
That moment was fleeting as many of his friends are also management colleagues who have either experienced a similar fate, or understand few NHL general managers have sound job security.
However, replacing Armstrong with a managing tandem that includes Brett Hull is a tough sell for this group, who also believe Les Jackson represents short term insurance and will act as "buffer" while Hull learns on the job.
"It's only a matter of time before Jackson is pushed aside," is how one manager reads the situation.
Hull's appointment didn't come completely out of left field. His name was quick to surface as word broke of Armstrong's demise. According to sources, Stars owner Tom Hicks has bought into the celebrity appeal that Hull, who helped Dallas to a Stanley Cup in 1999, will bring to the organization.
The question some league executives are asking: "What else will he bring?"
His credentials as a player don't over-shadow a resume that offers little to support his rapid advancement from a hockey commentator, to special advisor to now, co-general manager.
Eric Duhatschek, Globe and Mail
Hull broke in with Calgary in 1986; his first agent was none other than Brian Burke, now the general manager of the Anaheim Ducks. The idea that Hull and Burke will be on the phone together, talking trade at some point in the season, is too delicious for words. They'll both need to keep trading-deadline diaries for USA Today, expletives and all.
Burke would be the first to remind you, never sell Hull short. After all, Hull wasn't supposed to amount to much as a player. A sixth-round choice in 1984 as a 20-year-old, in his third year of eligibility for the draft, Hull eventually forged a Hall Of Fame career and finished with 741 goals, the third-highest total in NHL history.
So you never know. The same people prepared to overlook Hull as a player might want to remember his unlikely successes now that he's co-interim GM. It might work out and it might not. About the only thing you can say for sure: With Hull involved,
it's guaranteed to be interesting.
EJ Hradek, ESPN
Stars owner Tom Hicks' decision to fire GM Doug Armstrong wasn't a harsh reaction to the club's third-period meltdown in Los Angeles on Saturday night (they blew a 4-0 lead with just over seven minutes left in regulation time en route to an OT loss). And it wasn't a move based solely on the club's herky-jerky 7-7-3 start.
After all, it wasn't too long ago that Hicks extended Armstrong's contract through the 2010-11 season.
No, this decision wasn't a rash move by an impatient owner. Rather, Hicks decided to act after he verified two simple facts over the past several weeks.
First, Hicks learned that several key members of the organization, including players and staff, didn't appreciate Armstrong's management style. Apparently, it was creating a negative vibe around the club.
The owner also found out that those who didn't have a "style" issue with Armstrong had lost confidence in his ability to do the job. Armstrong's decision to trade a first-round pick to the Coyotes for rental winger Ladislav Nagy last February went a long way toward pushing some staffers to that conclusion.
In the end, when Hicks began seeking answers from within the organization, he found that Armstrong didn't have many allies. In any business, that's usually not a good thing.
So, with the Stars in the midst of a long, slow decline in their own market (great regular seasons followed by dismal playoff performances don't excite fans), Hicks decided to do something. He must have figured Armstrong's departure would invigorate the disgruntled parties within his group. Maybe he'll be right.
I am pretty fired up to see what happens when The Sooners play the Red Raiders in Lubbock… I sense it could be awfully tight…Tech is due for a tip-top effort…
Oklahoma has played in more Big 12 championship games than any other team. The third-ranked Sooners look to add to their total as they try to clinch the Big 12 South title for the sixth time in eight years when they visit Texas Tech on Saturday.
The Sooners (9-1, 5-1) have a one-game advantage over second-place Texas in the South Division, but they own the tiebreaker over the Longhorns because of their 28-21 win in the Red River Rivalry game on Oct. 6. Oklahoma needs one win in its last two regular-season games to guarantee at least a tie with Texas and therefore, another shot at the conference championship.
Oklahoma, which has won a record four Big 12 titles in its five championship game appearances, extended its conference win streak to five games with a 52-21 win over Baylor last Saturday. The Sooners moved up one spot in the AP poll, matching their highest ranking of the season.
Since suffering their only loss Sept. 29 at Colorado, the Sooners have outscored opponents 180-94 during their win streak.
The streak has helped the Sooners move into the fourth spot in the BCS rankings, and with only one undefeated team from a BCS conference remaining, the door is open for a one-loss team to sneak into the national championship game. Oklahoma's potential matchup with undefeated No. 4 Kansas in the Big 12 title game would then have major BCS implications.
"I realize we're in a good position. Is it the best position? No," coach Bob Stoops said. "But with two or three games to go, the bottom line is all I can do anything about is getting prepared to be as good as we can be against Tech.
"That's what I've said to the players. All this talk and all this banter about, what does it do? The bottom line is Tech is all that matters to us - winning at Tech, and if we do we're a step closer."
The Red Raiders (7-4, 3-4) have an entirely different set of distractions as they try to put a controversial week behind them and finish their regular season on a high note.
Last Saturday, coach Mike Leach criticized the officiating crew after two Texas Tech touchdowns were disallowed in the third quarter of the Red Raiders' 59-43 loss to then-No. 15 Texas in Austin.
The fallout from Leach's comments overshadowed another strong game from Texas Tech's Graham Harrell, who completed 36 of 48 passes for 466 yards, five touchdowns and one interception. He leads the Football Bowl Subdivision with 421 completions, 4,878 yards and 43 TDs.
Harrell has guided a Texas Tech offense that leads the FBS with 542.8 yards per game and ranks sixth with 42.5 points per game. The defense, however, has given up 43.7 points per game in three losses in the Red Raiders' last four games.
Texas Tech has lost six of its last seven meetings with Oklahoma to fall to 3-11 all-time against the Sooners. The Red Raiders, though, won the teams' last matchup in Lubbock 23-21 on Nov. 19, 2005.
This is insane: ESPN has decided the Celtics are worthy of all-time greatness comparisons ….
Crotch grabbing controversy hits Green Bay …
The Wookie Back-Pack …awesomeness….
The Sooner Band Rocking the Thriller Dance
Classic: Go Raiders