Thursday, March 27, 2008

Step It Up, Boys

Well, it is a big sports day for our two teams that are being highly doubted these days.

The Mavericks must figure out how to win on the road without Dirk. At Denver tonight, and at Golden State Sunday. Meanwhile, the Nuggets and Warriors play on Saturday night. So, by Monday, the Mavericks could either be way up on Denver, or they could be completely out of the playoffs.

At the absolute minimum, they have to split.

Meanwhile, the coldest team on ice visits the hottest team in the NHL. I know the Stars have a great record in San Jose, but it will be tested tonight.

The Stars are still virtually assured that they will make the playoffs, but with only 2 points in the month of March, they have slid from a potential #2 seed all the way down to #6 this morning, and only 1 point above the #7 seed Colorado.

Home ice appears long gone, and now they just need to get some confidence back by having a successful road trip. For that to happen, they will need to step up as they play the Sharks and Ducks on the road. Otherwise, their confidence will be long gone as the playoffs arrive.

Who can get it done? Both? Neither? The truth shall be told tonight...

Mavs at Denver tonight – Denver Post asks for more from Melo

On one hand, you have a luminous all-star, a 23-year-old who is the NBA's fourth-highest scorer, who has improved his rebounding and who often unleashes a thought-you'd-seen-it-all move.

On the other hand, you have a lackadaisical defender who has never gotten his team past the first round of a playoff series, who is continuously "maturing," who is a star on a ninth-place team.

The juxtaposition that is Carmelo Anthony is a continuous debate in Denver in barrooms, locker rooms, and newsrooms. As good as he is, should he be doing more? Notably, as a team leader and a defender?

To dissect Anthony, who is not prone to introspection about his game, it's best to go to those who know the source — coaches, teammates and NBA analysts.

"We all think — from players, coaches to the organization — that Melo has constantly made improvement," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "Now, is he there yet? I think we want more. I think he wants more."

Tonight, Anthony and the Nuggets (43-28) host Dallas (45-26) in a game of utmost importance, rivaled, though, by Saturday's home game against Golden State (43-27). If the season ended today, the season would end for the Nuggets. They are in ninth. But they trail eighth-place Golden State, sitting in the Western Conference's final playoff spot, by just a half-game, and Dallas is reeling without all-star Dirk Nowitzki.

If Denver is going to ascend into the playoffs over its final 11 games, it will likely do so because Anthony delivers.

Yes, you can pencil in Melo for 20-plus points and five-plus rebounds a night. That's not bad.

But in games Denver wins, he averages 26.7 points and 7.7 rebounds; in losses, 23.6 and 6.7. And recently, Anthony sputtered in losses against great teams. At Detroit, he scored just four first-half points when the Pistons blew the game open. And, in a close loss at San Antonio, Anthony didn't even get a shot off in the fourth quarter.

Like him or hate him, at least admit Bill Simmons is usually right when he has something to say about the Mavericks …and here he says more….

7. DALLAS (45-26)

Scouting report: The Mavericks didn't shake things up after one of the biggest collapses in modern sports history, played half the season before realizing that they needed more leadership and toughness (wow, really?), then mortgaged everything for Jason Kidd, which would have been fine except he's not really a leader and peaked about five years ago. ... They're not a great halfcourt team, they're not a great running team, they're not a great defensive team. ... And on top of that, it seems like they hate their coach. ... And now Dirk Nowitzki might be out for the season and they have eight tough games left (including road games at Denver, L.A., Phoenix, Golden State and Portland).

Biggest strength: In the third quarter of 20-point blowouts against terrible teams, they look like the Showtime Lakers reincarnated. So, um, they have that going for them.

Biggest weakness: Against good teams in tight games, it's amazing how many bad shots they get and how many good shots they give up. On the bright side, they can throw out a lineup of Jamaal Magloire, Jerry Stackhouse, Juwan Howard, Jason Kidd and Eddie Jones. Ladies and gentleman, your 1999 Eastern Conference All-Stars!

Biggest mistake: Not trading Dirk for Kobe before the season. Getting the best player in basketball would have been a good move. I'm almost positive.

Biggest X factor: Josh Howard is in danger of becoming the next Ben Wallace -- someone who was underrated for a while, received too much credit for bring underrated, then eventually became overrated even as everyone continued to maintain that he was underrated. We're 97 percent there.

Unsung hero: The guy in Dallas' organization who insisted that the 2008 No. 1 pick in the Kidd trade was lottery-protected. Hey, at least one good thing happened this season.

Best-case opponent: Houston.

Worst-case opponent: Everyone else.

Prediction: The ninth seed, no playoffs, a summer of "Should they fire Avery?" stories ... followed by everyone coming back and Avery getting fired in January. I wish there was a way to wager on this.

Eventual 2007-08 legacy: Their own chapter in Charley Rosen's upcoming book, "My 20 Favorite Panic Trades of the Last 60 Years."

This week, Modano and Richards are together

Many thought before the trade deadline that co-general managers Brett Hull and Les Jackson would get a scoring partner for Modano. In fact, Hull said that was exactly what he was looking for. However, the Stars ended up getting Richards, a playmaker, and have since been trying to make that move fit on the ice.

While Richards played right wing with Modano at center a few games back in what Tippett determined was a disappointing fit, the switch should have Modano as the shooter, Richards as the playmaker and Stu Barnes as the puck hunter on a second scoring line.

"That's fine with me, I'll look to shoot," Modano said. "Brad is a great passer and Stu is smart and does great things with the puck."

The move should allow Modano and Richards the opportunity to find answers together – and possibly take some pressure off the top line.

"The bottom line is, we need some production out of Richards and Modano," Tippett

Reminder: Last week, we had to keep em separated

The assimilation of Richards, who was acquired from Tampa Bay on Feb. 26, has been an issue. Tippett has tried the versatile forward at center on several lines and as a right wing with Mike Modano. But the coach said after a 4-3 loss to Vancouver on Saturday that Richards will stay at center.

"We like him as a center, and we like Mike [Modano] as a center, and that's the way we'll go forward," Tippett said.

Mike Ribeiro is expected to center a line with Brenden Morrow, Richards will center a line with Jere Lehtinen, and Modano will probably center a line with Steve Ott, who has one game remaining on a three-game suspension. The other parts will mix in, Tippett said.

The great Pat Kirwan Mocks his draft ….

22. Dallas Cowboys (From Cleveland) Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
CB, Tennessee St.

There's always speculation the Cowboys are packaging their picks to move up for Darren McFadden. They can stay right where they are and satisfy two big needs, corner and wide receiver. The run on either spot earlier in the draft will determine which area they address first. Rodgers-Cromartie would be an excellent compliment to Terence Newman, but he might have to start his career as the nickel back. A 4.33-second 40-yard dash and size make him a steal at this spot.

28. Dallas Cowboys DeSean Jackson WR, California

Jerry Jones and Co. take the receiver/returner who can replace Terry Glenn and help open up the offense. Jackson's size and some injury history should make him available at this point in the draft.

Rangers go with Laird at Catcher

Gerald Laird said he knew he would show the Texas Rangers enough this spring to make him the starting catcher. His chief competition, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, said he knew it, too.

Both got the news they expected Wednesday, as the Rangers settled the catching competition. Laird is the starter, veteran Adam Melhuse is the backup and the 22-year-old Saltalamacchia will start the season at Triple-A Oklahoma.

"Gerald came out and did his job," said Saltalamacchia, who added he had a feeling this off-season that he'd start the season in the minors. "He's the starting catcher and he didn't do anything to lose his job.

"I'm a little disappointed because I did everything I possibly could. I left it on the field, but at the end of the day it wasn't good enough. That upsets you. But I'll take it and go to Triple-A, and be an MVP there."

Saltalamacchia batted .251 with seven home runs and 21 RBIs in 167 at-bats over 46 games for Texas as he split time with Laird the final two months of last season. He was the centerpiece of the trade that sent Mark Teixeira to Atlanta at the trade deadline.

After a 2-for-3 day in the Rangers' 12-7 win over San Diego, Laird was batting .293 this spring with four homers and 11 RBIs. Saltalamacchia's numbers weren't bad – a .250 average with eight RBIs – but in the end, it was a case of the incumbent never allowing the challenger to take his spot.

Laird, 28, told manager Ron Washington on Wednesday that he learned a lot from his disappointing 2007 season and he's ready to play at a higher level in 2008.

"I've had a lot of success in this game and last year was an experience, a really humbling experience," Laird said. "I didn't do as well as I thought I would. Honestly, it was discouraging. I learned from it, I've grown from it, and I think it's going to make me a lot better player."

Laird hit .224 with nine homers and 47 RBIs in his first season as a full-time starter. Washington challenged him to take control of the pitching staff and become a leader. It took time, but Washington believes Laird has done that.

Wow! A win in Europe for the US??? …amazing

In the run-up to the United States' friendly with Poland on Wednesday, U.S. men's national team manager Bob Bradley talked of how games in Europe reinforce the importance of doing the little things well. And if their 3-0 victory in Krakow is any indication, the Americans are becoming more adept at the subtleties needed to win international games on the road.

But the increased attention to detail by most of the players has resulted in a striking change in road form for the U.S. in the last six months. A 1-0 victory in Switzerland in October was followed by an identical result against South Africa a month later. And Wednesday's result was the team's third consecutive road triumph, a record for the U.S.

Only three times previously had the U.S. ever won so many as two road contests in succession, and those always included at least one CONCACAF foe. Now the U.S. has a three-game winning streak that includes two triumphs in Europe, which has never been much of a happy hunting ground for the Americans.

The Yanks' newfound road strength certainly bodes well for the start of World Cup qualifying in June, not that away games in CONCACAF have been overly troublesome in the recent past. During qualification for the 2006 World Cup the U.S. recorded a 4-2-3 record, losing only to Mexico and Costa Rica. And the recent road resilience not only bodes well for the Americans' qualifying campaign, but it at least gives an indication that the U.S. might be capable of bigger things when the stakes get higher and the venues become tougher.

Can Davino go on Sunday?

If he wants to play in FC Dallas' opener against Chivas USA on Sunday, Duilio Davino has three days to tune up.

The Mexican defender has been nursing a left knee bone bruise since the team's trip to Brazil this month, and has been training separately from the main group since last week.

"We are hopeful that he restarts practicing today and joins the team," club spokesman German Sferra said.

The last time Davino trained with the team was March 14, the day before FC Dallas faced the Los Angeles Galaxy in an exhibition. He reinjured the knee while shooting after a corner kick in that practice.

Davino has not played a full 90 minute match for FC Dallas. He signed with the team in January.

Aaron Pitchkolan, 25 and in his fourth MLS season, took over Davino's role as the starting central defender in two matches at Pizza Hut Park this month.

Though the team took Wednesday off, Davino continued his rehabilitation at the club's facility.

Drum video that may be labeled as insane….or cool…

FC Dallas chaos from last weekend…watch at about the 2:30 mark for disrespect for officials from the opponent…


Jay said...

re: stars, i would like to be interested but i'm just not until the playoffs roll around

re: mavs, please win, please?

dingus mcdouchey said...

soccer clip - the ref deserved to go down for allowing both teams to wear the same colors.

TheDude said...

Bill Simmons is pretty good, yes. You're right, he usually does have accurate insights about the Mavericks and the NBA in general. But it's more pop-culture ridiculousness: Charley Rosen's upcoming book? Score a Dennis Miller witty-point for Simmons!

And even worse is his gay-ass emailers that try like hell to tie things like the starting centers of the NBA Eastern Conference with various brands of breakfast cereal; I say to people like that, "Dude, there are reasons you don't write for a living..."