Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Now or Never, Kobe

Our last chance for a reasonably interesting and exciting NBA Finals rests on the Lakers chances for tonight. Otherwise, it is all Rangers all the time…
David Moore Remembers 2006 for inspiration ..ouch…

The Celtics have put themselves in position to win the title, nothing more. Three consecutive games on the road, beginning tonight at Staples Center, can quickly cut into a team's confidence and shift momentum.

"It is what it is," Kobe Bryant said of the Lakers deficit. "It's not the end of the world. We've come too far to really sweat being down 0-2."

I don't buy that part. The Lakers are sweating. The key is how they respond.
It starts with Bryant. The Lakers don't need him to be the heir apparent to Michael Jordan.

They need him to be the next Dwyane Wade.

Bryant hasn't been bad the first two games of this series. But he hasn't been special, either.

The Celtics have built a wall between Bryant and the basket, forcing him to stay outside and beat them with the jump shot. Boston has stayed at home on the Lakers 3-point shooters and kept them from finding a rhythm until late in Sunday's game. The combination has kept Bryant in a confined space, squeezed the side screen-and-roll he likes to run and made it difficult on LA's halfcourt offense.

The Mavericks had similar success against Wade in the first two games of the Finals in 2006. Wade shot a lower percentage (.369) in those two games than Bryant (.408) has in these two against Boston.

Then he took over. Wade attacked the basket, got to the free throw line and averaged 39.2 points over the final four games to lead Miami to the championship.

Bryant must do the same to turn this series around. The Lakers can't post him as much as they did in Game 2, a move coach Phil Jackson acknowledged got his team out of rhythm. Bryant has to attack from the perimeter and get to the free throw line.
And he needs help. Lamar Odom can't be as confused as he was in the first two games in Boston. Pau Gasol must be a bigger force on the boards early in the game.

Vladimir Radmanovic must offer some defensive resistance against Paul Pierce or take an early seat on the bench.

The Lakers compete in a superior conference. They were playing at a higher level than Boston entering the series. It's hard to imagine that won't kick in now that the series moves to LA.

You might think you have a feel for this series, but no one does yet. Too many variables remain in play.

The Mavericks can put together a power point presentation on the danger of variables if you care to listen.

And Kobe needs to be MJ

Kobe Bryant's Michael Jordan moment has arrived.

Game 3 of the NBA Finals will take place tonight in Los Angeles. The Lakers lost the first two games of the series in Boston. By supernatural standards, Bryant was average.

That will likely change tonight.

It would be silly to suggest that Bryant and the Lakers have the Celtics right where they want them because a Boston victory effectively ends the series. No team has ever overcome an 0-3 deficit to win the title, and it's doubtful that any team ever will.

But, as Mavericks fans painfully know, several teams have lost the first two games on the road and come back to win the series. In the 2006 Finals, Dwyane Wade had his Michael Jordan moment with 42 points and 13 assists to lead the Heat to a 98-96 Game 3 victory over the Mavericks. Miami went on to win four straight.

Bryant is a special player with a special opportunity. The 0-2 deficit provides him with a chance to further demonstrate his greatness. It provides him with the opportunity to advance his legacy.

That's motivation enough, but, if he needs additional incentive, he can listen to Celtics fans and Boston-area analysts who note with an air of inevitability that the Celtics are halfway to their 17th championship. Mathematically, of course, they are. But there is a rather large Kobe in their way.

Jordan was confronted with a similar situation in 1991 when he won his first of six rings. The Lakers and Magic Johnson came to Chicago for the first two games, and when the Bulls captured Game 2 to salvage a 1-1 split, the basketball eggheads nodded and said the Lakers had the Bulls exactly where they wanted them. They would head back for three games in LA, where they would win the title.

Instead, the Bulls went to LA, won three straight and the championship. Jordan was not particularly magnificent. He averaged 28.6 points and shot 48 percent from the field in those three games. But he also averaged 10.7 assists, 6.0 rebounds, played unforgiving defense and led his team to the title.

Bryant struggled with his shot in Boston. He scored 54 points in the two games, but he had 49 field-goal attempts. By comparison, Paul Pierce had 50 points while attempting only 26 shots.

What that means is that Bryant is due for a monster game, and it actually began in the fourth quarter Sunday. In the last 7:51, Bryant had 13 points. He made 4 of 6 field-goal attempts and had two rebounds and two assists. The Lakers were 24 points behind when that stretch started, but, with 38 seconds left, they had reduced the deficit to two and easily could have won the game.

They didn't, but they could at least be encouraged by the explosiveness of their offense. They pelted the best defensive team in the league with 41 points in the fourth quarter or, as Bryant said, "we had to make a stand a little bit."

The last 7 minutes of Game 2 created momentum for the Lakers. Playing in front of their fans will create more. And, if Bryant can unleash one of his games of 40-plus points and also get Pau Gasol a little more involved -- Gasol is shooting 57 percent but has taken only 23 shots in the series -- then the Lakers will make the series much more interesting.

And, amazingly, The Cedric Benson Era comes to a close

Not long after Cedric Benson showed contrition Monday for his latest arrest, the Bears showed him the door.

The team released the troubled former first-round draft pick as a result of Benson's arrest early Saturday morning in Austin, Texas, on a charge of driving while intoxicated. It was Benson's second alcohol-related arrest in five weeks and enough to convince the Bears he just wasn't worth the possible distractions.

"Cedric displayed a pattern of behavior we will not tolerate," general manager Jerry Angelo said. "As I said this past weekend, you have to protect your job. Everyone in this organization is held accountable for their actions. When individual priorities overshadow team goals, we suffer the consequences as a team. Those who fail to understand the importance of 'team' will not play for the Chicago Bears."

Coach Lovie Smith, who brushed off reporters earlier in the day after Monday's practice, had no comment.

The move came less than an hour after Benson issued a statement he had hoped to make at Monday's organized team activity before he was sent home. The statement, crafted with the help of longtime ally and noted sports attorney David Cornwell, attempted to show remorse for putting the Bears through the latest ordeal.

"I apologize for making the poor decision to drink and drive," Benson said in the statement. "Given the incident last month, it was a particularly bad decision. I have no excuse for this lack of judgment. Though I strongly believe that I am not guilty of any crime, I realize that the public and the Bears organization hold me to a higher standard. Though my local attorneys will continue to work hard to prove my innocence, I confess to using poor judgment. Please accept my deepest apology."

Cutting Benson will save the Bears his $820,000 base salary but count about $3 million against the salary cap once pro-rated bonuses are calculated. The team will take a $2.5 million "dead-cap" hit in 2009.

If Benson signs with another team, he still could face league discipline. Greg Aiello, the NFL's vice president for public relations, said, "As with any law enforcement matter involving NFL employees, we are looking into it."

New Bears Starter? Tulane’s Matt Forte

Owens confusing situation

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Terrell Owens has drawn scrutiny from the NFL, which couldn't reach him for a day as it tried to set up drug testing.

Owens has since passed a test for performance-enhancing drugs and, according to a source, has never failed a test.

"This was a communication problem involving cellphone numbers," Owens said in a statement released by his publicist. "It was openly discussed and cleared up in a meeting that I had at the NFL office last week. I have been in the NFL for over 12 years and have never had a positive test for substance of any kind. That includes tests that took place as recently as last month. The matter was resolved to everyone's satisfaction last Tuesday, and everyone has moved on."

Still, the league thought it was important enough to summons Owens to New York for a meeting and an explanation.

The meeting occurred last Tuesday -- the same day Owens and the Cowboys came to terms on a four-year, $34 million contract that included a $12.9 million signing bonus.

Owens missed organized team activity practices that day. Upon signing the contract, he acknowledged his absence Tuesday was due in part to him being in New York to "meet with the league," among other things.

"This was a procedural matter that was resolved last week," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said in a statement. "We were aware of all of the facts prior to Terrell's meeting in New York, and we had no reservations about extending his contract. We make those decisions based upon our knowledge of a player over the course of his entire career. We signed Terrell to the new contract, because there are no issues with Terrell."

According to ESPN, the NFL accepted Owens' explanation for the missed calls.
So instead of fining or suspending him -- which are two possible outcomes when a test is missed or delayed -- they have placed him in the reasonable cause testing program, ESPN reported. Owens is now subject to random testing for performance enhancers, up to a maximum of 24 annual screenings, and these additional screenings can be required, if the NFL chooses to do so, for the remainder of his NFL career.

Michael Strahan calls it a career

Michael Strahan, the longtime leader of the Giants’ defense, is retiring from the N.F.L., leaving his lone Super Bowl victory as the final game of a 15-year career.
Strahan, a defensive end and a likely first-ballot Hall of Famer, told the Giants of his decision on Monday morning. A news conference was scheduled for 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday at Giants Stadium.

“It was important that my teammates knew which way I was going before they got on the field to start the work to defend our title,” Strahan, 36, told Foxsports.com, which first reported his decision. “It’s time. I’m done.”

The Giants will conduct a three-day mandatory minicamp at Giants Stadium beginning on Wednesday. Training camp begins in late July.

“I’m happy for him, in a lot of ways,” Giants General Manager Jerry Reese said in a telephone interview. “He’s going out on top, which every athlete dreams of doing. He’s one of the all-time greats, and we’ll miss him.”

Strahan will retire as the Giants’ leader in games played (216 in the regular season) and sacks (141 ½). He was named to the Pro Bowl seven times, and set the league’s single-season sack record in 2001, with 22 ½. He won numerous defensive player of the year awards.

After pondering retirement before last season, Strahan returned and had nine sacks, including one in the Super Bowl upset of the New England Patriots. He also recorded three tackles, two quarterback hurries, four hits and knocked down a pass in the 17-14 victory over the Patriots.

Along the way, he helped groom defensive ends Osi Umenyiora (13 sacks last season) and Justin Tuck (10), and, despite never shying from controversy or keeping his opinions to himself, became a trusted locker-room leader for Coach Tom Coughlin.

Junior hits 600

The ultimate import of Ken Griffey Jr.'s feat Monday night - hitting his 600th home run - will be determined by historians, but it is significant given that it was accomplished in what is now regarded as Major League Baseball's "steroid era."

The two players who immediately preceded Griffey into the 600 club - Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa - are under clouds because of suspected steroid use.

"There's so much difference in what he's accomplished and what he will continue to accomplish than what Barry Bonds did," said Reds radio man Marty Brennaman. "Barry Bonds will forever be tainted, long after he's gone. I don't think people truly cared that he hit 756 home runs.

"I think baseball fans will look at what Junior did and be quick to point out that he did it the right way, as opposed to some other guys who didn't."

The other three members of the club would have a place on baseball's Mount Rushmore, if such a monument existed. They are Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron.

In a video tribute that was being produced by the Reds, Aaron passed along his congratulations to Griffey.

"Congratulations on hitting your 600th home run," Aaron said, according to a transcript of the video that was released by the team. "I got a chance to see you at the boys and girls club function just recently, you and your lovely wife, and you know you've always been a favorite of mine.

"I played with your dad, I know him very well, but you know I've always said that if anybody was going to reach 700, with no punt intended to anybody, I thought you had an excellent chance. Of course we can't, we don't know how injuries played a very big part, but congratulations to reaching 600."

Griffey's place in baseball's Hall of Fame is secure; his stature among baseball's legends is still growing.

"(Griffey will) be seen as a guy who accomplished things honestly," said Kevin Grace, author, teacher and archivist at the University of Cincinnati, "and will probably be compared to Aaron."

Here is the top 15 list of Home Runs All-Time

1 Barry Bonds 1986-2007(22) 762
2 Hank Aaron 1954-1976(23) 755
3 Babe Ruth 1914-1935(22) 714
4 Willie Mays 1951-1973(22) 660
5 Sammy Sosa 1989-2007(18) 609
6 K Griffey Jr.1989-2008(20) 600
7 F Robinson 1956-1976(21) 586
8 Mark McGwire 1986-2001(16) 583
9 H Killebrew 1954-1975(22) 573
10 R Palmeiro 1986-2005(20) 569
11 Reg Jackson 1967-1987(21) 563
12 Mike Schmidt 1972-1989(18) 548
13 Mickey Mantle1951-1968(18) 536
14 Jimmie Foxx 1925-1945(20) 534
15 A Rodriguez 1994-2008(15) 528

Toby Peterson earned a 2 year deal

Toby Petersen worked a long time for his big break, and it came Monday afternoon. The 29-year-old center signed his first "one-way" contract in the NHL, hooking up with the Stars for two seasons at $550,000 a year.

The one-way contract is important, because it guarantees Petersen will be paid at that level whether he's sent to the minors or not, but it's even more important because the Stars are sort of declaring that they plan to keep Petersen at the NHL level for the next two seasons.

"He received an opportunity to play in the playoffs, and he played very well," Stars co-general manager Les Jackson said. "We feel he's going to be a very important part of this team going forward."

Petersen played eight games during the regular season with the Stars after a call-up from the minors, but he played 16 of 18 playoff games, including some strong performances against Detroit in the Western Conference finals. He is a checking-line center who has some offensive upside and some strong leadership skills with several of the team's younger players.

"He has some intangibles," Jackson said. "He was the captain in Iowa, and he still is looked up to by a lot of our young players. I think that can only help."

Petersen, who is married and has a 1-year-old son, said the contract is a nice piece of stability in an eight-year pro career that has featured stops with three minor league and three NHL teams.
"It's a great feeling of accomplishment, but at the same time it's just the beginning," he said.

The Stars also signed veteran defenseman Dan Jancevski Monday. Jancevski signed a two-year, "two-way" contract, meaning he is paid one salary at the NHL level and another if he is in the minors. Jancevski, 26, will make $525,000 next season and $550,000 in 2009-10 at the NHL level. He will make $225,000 next season and $250,000 in 2009-10 if he is playing in the AHL.

Minor League chaos for the Stars in 2008-09

Moving the Stars' American Hockey League affiliate to the Austin suburb of Cedar Park makes sense on a business level and performance level, but that doesn't mean it's going to be easy.

When ground is broken today on the Cedar Park Entertainment Center, the Stars have more to do than just construct the 6,800-seat building in time for the start of the 2009-10 season. They have to obtain an American Hockey League affiliate willing to move from its current city, they have to make decisions on where they will put their prospects for next season, and they have to figure out a deal for their two minor league coaches, Dave Allison and Paul Jerrard, who are under contract for next season.

"It's a complicated process, but it's one we believe will be worth it," said Stars co-general manager Les Jackson. "To be able to move the affiliate closer to our team and to an area like Austin, that's going to help us long term."

Finding the right home for the team's affiliate has been a challenge for years. Since they moved to Dallas in 1993, the Stars have been in Michigan, Utah and Iowa. They also split their prospects between Hamilton and Houston in the AHL for one season.

When the Stars announced this season that their intention was to build an arena in Cedar Park and change their affiliation in 2009, the Iowa organization ended the agreement early, sending the Stars looking for a temporary home for next season.

Already, Iowa has formed a new affiliation with the Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks have said they hope to keep some of the Stars' prospects in Iowa.

Jackson said he is already studying where to place the Stars prospects. Among the potential affiliates are Iowa, Hamilton, Manitoba and Peoria.

"While it would be nice to put the majority in one place, I think we're looking out for what's best for each of these players," Jackson said. "If it helps them to develop, then that's what we're going to do. We want consistency, but we can bring them all back together the next year."

Jackson said he is prepared to lose Allison and Jerrard, who will probably want to find places to coach next season.

Kyle Gass’ appearance on Seinfeld – don’t blink – he is on today’s show at 2:15

Greatest Goals Ever Scored

1 comment:

Michael O'Neill said...

Half of those "greatest goals" were fairly pedestrian. How do you stave off death from boredom during a real match's slow death march?