Adam Morris tonight wrote this:
Last season, after 57 games, the Rangers were 20-37, 15 1/2 games back of first.
This year, they are 29-28.
He Leads Them.
Months after they began a season with one whining diva and seven dwarfs, the Lakers are bringing a legitimate fable into the NBA Finals.
From Shock to Awe.
With a 100-92 victory over the San Antonio Spurs, the team that began the season as an NBA joke is now just four wins from an NBA championship.
No more punch lines, just punch, a dozen playoff wins in 15 playoff games.
No more laugh track, just tracks, huge and imposing, most recently on the backs of the defending NBA champs, who were buried Thursday for the fourth time in five games.
"We have so many ways to win," said Jordan Farmar, shaking his head in the wonder that envelopes his city today.
They seemingly used them all in the Western Conference finals clincher, a game that was a metaphor for a season.
The Lakers won after a horrendous start left them trailing in the second quarter by 17 points.
"My heart's still pumping, that adrenaline is still running," Lamar Odom said later.
The Lakers won after pulling ahead by a point at the end of the third quarter with improved play by Pau Gasol, then Kobe Bryant owned the fourth, in which he scored 17 points as the crowd roared with his every twitch.
"He's the best closer in the game," said Luke Walton. "We just let him do his thing."
Four wins in five games against the reigning best team in the NBA and now . . . could the Lakers really finish this season taking their place?
Late in Thursday's game, the crowd chanted, "We want Boston, we want Boston!"
Be careful for what you wish.
Do the Lakers really want to play the healthy Celtics instead of the battered Detroit Pistons in the Finals beginning Thursday?
Whoever they play, for the first time in this postseason, the Lakers will not have home-court advantage.
But for the fourth time, they will have home-run advantage.
Nobody's season has involved a bigger, wilder swing than the Lakers.
Nobody's season has connected harder.
"A dream come true," Bryant told the crowd afterward. "The answer to a prayer."
Last summer, remember, Bryant's prayer was that he leave everyone.
Now, his prayer is that everyone follow him.
"We all share in this," Bryant said. "It is not me at the forefront. That's just now how we roll."
We've asked it before, we'll ask it again, there's no real answer, but it remains a real question.
How did this happen?
How did a dysfunctional team on the verge of collapse become a bunch of happy, hugging dudes on the verge of history?
This just in: According to Bodog, the odds of Big Brown winning the horse racing Triple Crown are way better (1 to 3) than the odds of either Berkman (30 to 1) or Hamilton (25 to 1) winning a baseball Triple Crown. And friends, that's one sad state of affairs.
Not to deny Big Brown his day in the saddle. But it's been so long since anybody in baseball even got close to a Triple Crown, it would be one of the great stories of the millennium if this turned out to be the year. And it just might. Berkman ranks no worse than second in any of the three Triple Crown categories. And as recently as last weekend, Hamilton actually led in all three. So the question is: Can they keep it up?
Berkman is trying to join Mickey Mantle as the second switch-hitter in history to win this trifecta. And we're a little worried about him, now that his batting average for the month has dropped under (gasp) .500. But he sure has been hanging at the top of the leaderboard in all three categories for a long time now.
Scouts say they're not sure Berkman "has enough power" to win the home run title. But he's finished in the top five in homers three times. So why not? The big issue with us is actually the batting race. He has to outhit Chipper, and his average hasn't topped .316 since his first full season in 2001. Here's another worry: Berkman's current .438 average from the right side is 162 points higher than his career average. So while it's tough to put anything past the electrifying Big Puma, his odds are long.
But Hamilton's odds feel even longer. How do you project what a guy with no real track record is capable of, no matter how talented he may be? Hamilton did hit .347 in the Appalachian League once upon a time. But he has never played 100 games in any professional season. So how well will he hold up as he tries to survive his first big-league marathon, let alone trying to win a Triple Crown along the way? Can't say. But it's astounding how many people are pulling for him.
"We all have our doubts, but when I've seen him, he's gotten as many hits going to left and left-center as he has by pulling the ball," said one scout. "And this guy is so strong -- and by that I mean baseball strong. He's hitting balls so hard that he's shooting them through the hole so fast that the infielders are taking one step and the ball's already behind them. And man, that's special. And so is he."
Before we jump into things lets first take a look at what the perceived problem is. Roy and his covering ability seem to have the Cowboy nation going crazy. First and foremost for everyone saying Roy gets beat in coverage a lot that's not true. Roy is asked to do very little from a man to man stand point which means the times you think Roy gets beat is a combination of things. One of which being the type of coverage, and another being the weakness of the defense. I'm not saying he does not get beat because every defensive player in the NFL has given up more than one big play in their (wink wink) life time.
Let's take a look at the holes in the zone. Another translation for this would be the weakness in the defense or the dead area. This is where you as a player and the coaching staff knows when we are in this coverage we can be beat here at this spot. This is also used as dictation to the offense letting them know they only have one place to throw or run the ball, but it's up to you to find it. Finally you have the place where you say hey if they throw the ball here we can't do anything about it but tackle the guy (usually a blitz, which we do a lot of). Every defensive play in any playbook has a weakness.
With that being said we also have to know this is also a team game. So no one person can be held totally responsible every time something goes wrong. I say this because as soon as teams complete a pass Roy is blamed and he is not even in the picture (don't say because he got beat either guys). Take into account the pass rush and the play call from both sides of the ball. The last time I checked every player in the NFL is called a PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL PLAYER. Meaning anyone on the field has a chance of making a professional or game changing play. I'm going through all this gymnastics to say that the guys in different uniforms get paid to make plays as well. Know this teams chart everything for instance, we chart every time an offense runs a particular play, the down and distance in which they ran the play, the number of times they have ran this play in the last four games, along with the formation and maybe the signal (Patriots). Teams study tape and they are going to know how to attack you as a defense and as a player. They will also know your weakness, but more important they are going to run plays that you have never seen before. This is done for no other reason but to confuse you and teams will do this all game long until they score. The New York Football Giant are the best example of this concept. They have 5 run plays and 5 pass plays. That's not a lot right until you throw in a shift or a motion, change the formation a couple of times. After they do this a few times you come off the like what just happened (after they score a touchdown)?
What are you saying Kevin? Roy is simply the fall guy when all else fails blame Roy.
I have never been a believer that one man causes a team to lose. What may seem like Roy getting beat may be someone making a good play or a good call for the defense we're in. Let's develop this a little bit more. In cover two there are two areas are teams teams try to attack. The turkey hole shot which is between the corner and the safety, two being vertical routes down the middle of the hash marks and or the insides of the numbers. Hopefully some of you follow me. This puts an enormous amount of stress on your safeties but more on you underneath coverage. Why? If you don't get the receivers off the vertical land marks with a re-route/ jam your safeties are in the deep end of the pool. Know this if somebody underneath misses a re-route or jam it's either a touchdown or big gain. NO COVERAGE IS BULLET PROOF. So yeah it's a lot of pressure on Roy in some situations but he doesn't always wear the sombrero. If you don't believe me check the stat sheet J.J. Taylor has them (I know because he gave them to me one day).
The Blues addressed both present and future needs in one big swoop Thursday, extending the contract of general manager Larry Pleau through the 2009-10 season and hiring former Dallas Stars general manager Doug Armstrong to be his eventual replacement.
Until he takes over in 2010, Armstrong will carry the title of vice president of player personnel, though both he and team president John Davidson say Armstrong has no set job description and will handle any and everything within the organization.
"We need experienced help now," Davidson said, "plus we need protection in the future. ... He'll be helpful in many ways. He'll start Monday morning when we have our amateur people in to get ready for the draft. He'll be out in the field. He's got lots of experience, and that's very important with Larry's situation. He helps us out in all areas and that's very important, to have someone else's eyes, ears and brains looking at things."
Pleau has had a reduced role with the team while his wife battles cancer and has had to stay close to St. Louis much of the time. At the end of his contract, he'll be 63 and will retire.
"I'll be able to continue on with the team and continue to work with J.D. and the new ownership," said Pleau, who has been with the team since 1997. "And we bring in a young man with lots of experience. The franchise is in great shape. The ultimate goal is to win the Stanley Cup and for me to be able to stay in, with my family, my wife. I'm excited about it."
Armstrong is 43 and worked 17 years for the Dallas Stars franchise — he began when they were the Minnesota North Stars — before being fired in November after the team started 7-7-3.
As he considered his options for getting back into the day-to-day hockey business — Toronto reportedly also was interested — he looked at the Blues' organization and liked what he saw.
"I wanted to go to a team with a vision, with a plan of where they wanted to go, with people I could learn from and respect," he said. "The organization has started the rebuilding process and have a lot of top prospects. It seemed like the right time and the right group to help them move along."
And to do that, he'll do a lot of different things.
"I have no set job responsibilities," he said. "I'll come in and learn the system, learn the work environment and assist any way I can, if that's traveling with the NHL team or the minor-league team or something else. I have a lot to learn about the St. Louis Blues. I'll come in and lend a hand and do what I can do to make the team better and reach the success we want, which is the Stanley Cup. That's why I chose the Blues: they're not afraid to talk about their goals.
"In a couple of years, there will be a turnover and my responsibilities will be a little more defined. Right now, my job is do whatever I can do to help the Blues."
At least part of the mystery of Stonehenge may have now been solved: It was from the beginning a monument to the dead.
New radiocarbon dates from human cremation burials among and around the brooding stones on Salisbury Plain in England indicate that the site was used as a cemetery from 3000 B.C. until after the monuments were erected around 2500 B.C., British archaeologists reported Thursday.
What appeared to be the head of a stone mace, a symbol of authority, was found in one grave, the archaeologists said, indicating that this was probably a cemetery for the ruling dynasty responsible for erecting Stonehenge.
“It’s now clear that burials were a major component of Stonehenge in all its main stages,” said Mike Parker Pearson, an archaeologist at the University of Sheffield in England.
Some scholars have contended that the enigmatic stones, surrounded by a ditch and earthen banks in concentric circles, more than likely marked a sacred place of healing. The idea is at least as old as medieval literature, which also includes stories of Stonehenge as a memorial to the dead. So there could be an element of truth to both hypotheses, experts say.
There were two prevailing themes that emerged from the first two games of the Stanley Cup finals -- the Detroit Red Wings were really, really good and the Pittsburgh Penguins were junk.
The Red Wings are good, but the Penguins announced Wednesday night they didn't sneak into the finals in the back of the turnip truck with a hard-hitting 3-2 victory that for the first time revealed the kind of hockey this series had promised at the onset.
Game 4 is here Saturday and the Penguins will be looking to run their home playoff record to 10-0. The Penguins have not lost at Mellon Arena in regulation time since Feb. 13.
"[The] media's going to be media, and obviously when you're down 2-0, they're not going to say probably too many positive things about you," said Pittsburgh defenseman Darryl Sydor, who was inserted in the lineup for the first time since March 31. "But we know in this room, as a family here, we felt confident. We just tried to narrow it down to coming out today and winning this game and tomorrow's a new day."
When you get to this point of the playoffs, the two remaining teams have enjoyed far more success than failure. So when the inevitable happens and one team falls behind, those moments of failure become magnified because they are so foreign to that team. The offensively gifted Penguins had failed to score in the first two games and the reviews suggested this was going to be a Stanley Cup flop.
"You know what, for a lot of those players, this is their first win at the Stanley Cup final, and it's huge for them," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. "And it's huge for the confidence, especially the way that we play at home, the way that the crowd supports our team."
So, did the Penguins learn they were actually a good team on Wednesday night, or did they know it all along and simply start to execute? Maybe a bit of both.
"As far as creating things, I think we did a better job creating more. I think that came from patience," said Crosby, who moved back into a tie for the NHL playoff scoring lead (23 points) with Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg after his two-goal performance. "They're a team that plays in your face, but sometimes you realize you have a little bit more time in certain plays, and just focusing on deciding when to hold onto it and when to dump it in. [It] probably just took a little time to get used to."
The Spurs hit the floor at Staples Center for Game 5 tonight, for the first of what they can only hope will be three elimination games.
There are three bullets to dodge, three miracles to pull off. The Spurs’ season has been pronounced terminal, and all they can do is try to keep it alive, one day at a time.
“If you’re a fan, it’s like politics — it’s killing you, and you talk about it and talk about it,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said before the team left for Los Angeles on Wednesday afternoon. “We have to let it go. If you don’t, you can’t focus on the task at hand.
“By the time we land in L.A., it will be gone and we’ll be concentrating on just what we can do to win basketball games.”
The Spurs have never won a playoff series after trailing 3-1. In fact, before they came back on New Orleans in this year’s conference semifinals, a 3-2 deficit was a death sentence.
In order to survive their latest bout with 3-1, the Spurs must put together a three-game winning streak against a Lakers team that hasn’t lost three in a row since Pau Gasol arrived in February.
The Spurs find themselves here courtesy of two very different kinds of heartbreakers.
In Game 1, they were up by 20 points in the third quarter on the Lakers’ home floor, only to see the whole thing dissolve into an 89-85 defeat. In Game 4, it took a Brent Barry miss at the buzzer — as well as a controversial no-call — to secure the Lakers’ victory.
Of the three Spurs’ losses in this series, only Game 2 — a 101-71 affair in Los Angeles — was lopsided.
This series, coupled with the nail-biting, seven-game affair with New Orleans in the semifinals, has reaffirmed Popovich’s belief that winning a championship requires a whole lot of luck.
Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker Greg Ellis will not participate in the last day of organized team activities today because he's upset with his repetitions being reduced in practice, sources said.
Ellis missed the first two days of OTAs this week and doesn't plan on coming back to practice at Valley Ranch unless he gets more repetitions.
Last week, the Cowboys told Ellis some of his practice time would be reduced to give 2007 first-round pick Anthony Spencer more time on the field. The Cowboys like Spencer's speed and intelligence, and coach Wade Phillips praised his performance in practice Wednesday. But Phillips said Ellis remains the starter.
According to the sources, the Cowboys have told Ellis they don't want to wear down his 32-year-old body in May. But a source said Ellis doesn't trust the team's motives.
Ellis was unavailable, and his agent, James Williams, declined to comment.
Team owner and general manager Jerry Jones downplayed Ellis' absence, saying the OTAs are voluntary.
But as linebacker Bradie James jokingly added, "It's the off-season, so you know Greg is upset about something."
The Dallas Cowboys want wide receiver Terry Glenn on the field for the organized team activities.
But because of the fragile status of his right knee, the team has requested that Glenn accept a $500,000 settlement that would go into effect if he re-injures the knee and is lost for the season, sources said.
Glenn has refused to sign the settlement, and until he does, the Cowboys will not allow him to practice.
"I really want to play," Glenn said. "I thought the team had confidence in what I was doing in the off-season program that I can make it through the season. But with this contract, there might not be that much faith at all."
Worrick Robinson, an attorney for suspended cornerback Pacman Jones, told a Nashville, Tenn., television station the player has money problems. Also, the same television station, Fox 17 News, reported that Jones' Nashville townhouse was foreclosed in April.
Jones has a 3,000-square-foot home in Franklin, Tenn., for sale at about $1.8 million.
"He has not played football in 18 months or so," Robinson told the television station. "That was his primary source of income; that's why it's very important to him to be reinstated and get back on the field."
The Stars have wasted little time in their preparations for next season, re-signing co-GMs Brett Hull and Les Jackson and head coach Dave Tippett to three-year contract extensions.
Long-time Stars forward Mike Modano said he’ll return next season, but the futures of several of his teammates remain uncertain.
Veterans Stu Barnes and Mattias Norstrom are slated to become unrestricted free agents this summer and may also be considering retirement. Should they both opt to return, the Stars could place more emphasis on re-signing Norstrom.
Other potential UFAs include forwards Niklas Hagman, Antti Miettinen, Toby Petersen and Brad Winchester and backup goalie Johan Holmqvist.
The most likely to be retained are Petersen and Holmqvist. Hagman and Miettinen struggled offensively in the post-season, which could factor into any potential decision by management to re-sign them.
With just over $43 million committed to payroll next season the Stars have the cap space to re-sign restricted free agents Loui Eriksson and Trevor Daley to affordable new contracts and still have enough to retain their key UFAs and perhaps add scoring depth via the unrestricted free agent market.
This was the best of the three performances under Fabio Capello. That was not a major achievement, after the disordered win over Switzerland and the defeat in Paris , but there were aspects here that will hearten the Italian. After a sluggish half-hour, England passed the ball conscientiously. The next friendly, with Trinidad & Tobago on Sunday, will be viewed with interest.
No one dare be disdainful of these occasions under Capello. There was a keenness in a starting line-up that contained seven men who might have been jaded after the Champions League final. One of them found relief in scoring the opener. John Terry, who had also notched the first goal at the new Wembley, against Brazil, must have found the place therapeutic after the Luzhniki Stadium.
Others were also supposed to find a new beginning. Capello had spoken of wishing to see the return of the Wayne Rooney who played with such zest at Euro 2004. The manager did what he could to recreate the circumstances in which the forward had dazzled. Since Michael Owen, absent with a virus, could not operate ahead of Rooney as he had in Portugal, Capello put another poacher there in the shape of Jermain Defoe.
The value of the pairing is still open to debate. Any link was sporadic and the Portsmouth striker was wasteful when he missed after purposeful build-up by
Rooney and Steven Gerrard in the 34th minute. The erratic aspect of Defoe would be obvious again when he tamed an Ashley Cole cross perfectly and then hit a mediocre shot at the substitute goalkeeper Brad Guzan.
The United States were quite durable in open play and it took a Beckham set piece to highlight their weaknesses with an opening goal seven minutes from half-time. Ricardo Clark fouled Wes Brown and the former England captain flighted the free-kick towards the man who wore the armband last night. Terry leapt to head it low into the corner of the net.
There was an irony in a finish of such aplomb into the same spot, beyond a goalkeeper's left hand, that the Chelsea centre-half had been aiming for when he missed that penalty in the Champions League shoot-out with Manchester United, but Terry did not look as if he was brooding on that. Joy mingled with relief that he had once more imposed his mighty willpower. A match such as this did not offer many opportunities to show that he should lead England but Terry had come up with a way to make a case for himself.
He had been abetted by Beckham, the 33-year-old who was honoured beforehand for collecting his 100th cap against France two months ago. His accurate use of the ball was a reprimand to those who mistook the presentation for a retirement gift. The midfielder took part for a mere 45 minutes but his distribution was reliable and David Bentley, who took over, had no such impact.
Capello had been correct to sense that Beckham, who is in the early days of the Major League Soccer season, would be fresh for this game. It was Gerrard, all the same, who made the deepest impression. The 27-year-old relished a position on the left last night which was almost that of a winger. Rooney found the Liverpool captain after 34 minutes and Defoe ought not to have missed the target from Gerrard's careful cut-back.
England, sporadically, had looked capable of breaking free and Rooney enjoyed one particularly forthright run, but he was an intermittent force, which is perhaps understandable since he will now have the hernia operation that had been put off for a few weeks.
As it did in their first meeting of the season, FC Dallas let a seemingly sure victory slip away in the waning moments against defending champion Houston on Wednesday night at Pizza Hut Park.
Dwayne De Rosario's goal in the 93rd minute led to a 2-2 draw.
"It takes focus all the way through 90 minutes and the extra time," said FC Dallas interim coach Marco Ferruzzi, who is 1-0-1. "We are still building our mental fitness and toughness and getting through those last couple of minutes.
"We'll get there."
It's the third time this season FC Dallas has allowed a tying score in the final minutes.
During the Texas rivals' first match of the season, on April 6, FC Dallas led most of the match before allowing a goal by Geoff Cameron in the 91st minute for a 3-3 tie.
On Wednesday, Kenny Cooper's sixth goal of the season, in the 35th minute, opened the scoring. Dallas native Drew Moor headed in his first goal of the season in the 69th minute off Andre Rocha's corner kick.
The Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) has released the fighter payouts for UFC 84 “Ill Will” this past Saturday. As usual the total fighter payout is around one million dollars (unless Chuck Liddell or Cro Cop are on the card).
Keith Jardine pulled in a disappointing $10k for his loss to Wanderlei Silva. Love him or hate him, the guy has fought tough fighters like Chuck Liddell, Forrest Griffin, Wanderlei Silva, Houston Alexander, Wilson Gouveia, Stephan Bonnar and Mike Whitehead.
UFC 84 Payouts
B.J. Penn ($250,000 to fight and win)
Sean Sherk ($35,000 to fight)
Wanderlei Silva ($150,000 to fight, no bonus)
Keith Jardine ($10,000 to fight)
Goran Reljic ($6,000 to fight and win)
Wilson Gouveia ($18,000 to fight)
Lyoto Machida ($100,000 to fight and win)
Tito Ortiz ($210,000 to fight)
Thiago Silva ($50,000 to fight and win)
Antonio Mendes ($4,000 to fight)
Rousimar Palhares ($10,000 to fight and win)
Ivan Salaverry ($20,000 to fight)
Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou ($80,000 to fight and win)
Kazuhiro Nakamura ($20,00O to fight)
Rich Clementi ($40,000 to fight and win)
Terry Etim ($10,000 to fight)
Yoshiyuki Yoshida ($12,000 to fight and win)
Jon Koppenhaver ($8,000 to fight)
Dong Hyun Kim ($40,000 to fight and win)
Jason Tan ($3000 to fight)
Shane Carwin ($12,000 to fight and win)
Christian Wellisch ($10,000 to fight)
Total Payout: $1,098,000 - 3.8 Million in just ticket sales
These numbers do not include sponsorships or fight bonuses. Fighter also incur the cost of taxes, medical, licenses, gym dues, and more.
Fighter Bonuses of $75,000 go to:
Fight of the Night: Goran Reljic and Wilson Gouveia
Knockout of the Night: Wanderlei Silva.
Submission of the Night: Rousimar Palhares
Read this this morning from Evan Grant's column on the game last night...
"I've been having trouble seeing here, and it's been kind of frustrating," said Hamilton, who broke a season-long RBI drought of four games with five RBIs. "I saw the ball leave his hand. It looked like a sinker. I closed my eyes and swung hard. When I opened them back up, it was heading towards the seats."
Does that sound strangely like he should have had his blast shield down all weekend? Maybe Rudy-Wan Kenobi should be whispering "Stretch out with your FEELINGS, Josh." Of course, right after that, Alderan was blown up by the evil empire... when do the Yankees come to town...? [fortunately not til june 30]... Is it the FUTURE I see??
Maybe we've got 2 jedi [Romo and Hamilton] in town... Should have him checked for Midi-chlorians.
Curtis in Carrollton
Josh Hamilton is getting so good at knocking in runs that he can do it with his eyes closed.
That's what happened in the eighth inning Tuesday, as Hamilton blasted a grand slam to right to break open the game as the Texas Rangers defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 12-6.
The victory moved the Rangers back to the .500 mark at 27-27. They'll try again today -- their fifth attempt -- to move above .500 for the first time since being 5-4 on April 10.
Hamilton's 13th homer of the season didn't look like it would be needed after the Rangers scored seven runs in the first two innings. But Tampa Bay, which came into the game with the best record in baseball, had chopped the lead to 7-5 going into the eighth.
After Ian Kinsler's RBI single off J.P. Howell pushed the lead to 8-5, Howell walked Michael Young, loading the bases. The first pitch the lefty threw to Hamilton was sent deep into the seats in right field.
Hamilton didn't know he had hit the ball until he heard the contact. He thought the sinker was going way inside, and his eyes closed in anticipation of the ball hitting him.
Instead, he hit the ball.
"When I swung, my bat path made contact with the ball and I actually closed my eyes for a split second," Hamilton said. "When I heard it hit, I opened up my eyes. I saw it when I was running to first."
Hamilton, who had gone four games without an RBI, tied his career high with five Tuesday. He has 58 in 54 games but still has work to do to catch Juan Gonzalez's 1998 pace. Gonzalez had had 71 RBI after 54 games on his way to a team-record 157.
The Rangers needed all Hamilton's work Tuesday.
"It was bigger than big," Rangers manager Ron Washington said of the slam. "It was huge because we put some distance between those guys. All night long, those guys battled. It seemed like when he hit that slam, we had six outs to get from that point and it certainly felt good."
The Rangers' offense needed 16 hits to put away the Rays. A 7-0 lead for Vicente Padilla (7-2) was 7-5 after the Rays scored two in the second, two in the fourth and one in the sixth, giving the Rangers an uneasy feeling that lasted until the five-run eighth.
Padilla has won five consecutive decisions for the first time ever and struck out 10 for the first time since July 5, 2006. He did so on a night when he didn't have his best command, giving up four walks and seven hits in six innings.
One lucky shot deserves another, Shaquille O'Neal once famously said.
That was the last time the Lakers were in San Antonio for the playoffs. Then Tim Duncan threw in a leaning jumper for the lead — and Derek Fisher and 0.4 followed.
This time — with Fisher again involved — one bad call deserved another.
This time the refs didn't see that a Fisher jumper had grazed the rim, not resetting the shot clock. This time the refs chose to look the other way when Fisher leaped and landed on Brent Barry.
This time the Lakers deserved what they got.
They clearly outplayed the Spurs.
The ending never should have had any drama, not after the Lakers were smarter and more active for 47 minutes. They never trailed while pounding the Spurs on the boards. Duncan's 29 points and 17 rebounds didn't reflect an uneven performance as Pau Gasol defended him well. And the other Lakers looked younger and livelier, led by Kobe Bryant and his 28 points.
Those consumed with Joey Crawford and this officiating crew should look at another number. Bryant shot 29 times and never went to the free-throw line.
When the U.S. men's national team squares off against England on Wednesday, it will mark the beginning of perhaps the most daunting stretch of friendly games the U.S. has ever undertaken. A matchup against host Spain in Santander will follow on June 4, with a home match against Argentina finishing off the run on June 8; all so the Americans can be in peak form for their World Cup qualifying series against Barbados one week later.
It's a bit like using Everest, K2 and Annapurna as preparation for scaling the hill around the corner, but U.S. coach Bob Bradley knows better than anyone that there will be more difficult mountains to climb as the team heads deeper into the qualifying cycle, and the three matches should reveal much about the team's long-term prospects.
It all starts against an English team still smarting from its failure to qualify for this summer's European championships. Yet the imperious presence of new coach Fabio Capello now dominates the English footballing landscape, and after suffering his first defeat in March against France, he'll be eager to get his charges back on track against the Americans.
Dominic Oduro has another shot to prove he's a 90-minute player, but only FC Dallas interim coach Marco Ferruzzi knows whether the forward will start Wednesday night's game on the bench or on the pitch against Houston.
Oduro, from Ghana, has averaged 35 minutes off the bench in the last two matches. In those games, he closed Steve Morrow's coaching chapter with a goal and welcomed Ferruzzi with two more goals, which included the game-winner against Real Salt Lake on Saturday.
"Dominic is a hot hand right now," Ferruzzi said. "He is putting away goals – you have to respect that, reward it – but it doesn't take away the job that the other boys are doing."
Oduro has played 113 minutes this season, always coming off the bench. He sees the current coaching transition as a chance to capitalize on his playing time.
"Every coach has his tactical way to field a team," Oduro said. "Steve had his way; Marco has his way. Obviously, we all are fighting for a spot, so I think I just have to do what I need to make the team."
Kenny Cooper, FC Dallas' top striker, feels comfortable playing alongside Oduro.
"He has incredible pace, and he's showed it in the last two games," Cooper said. "His finishing is in great form. I have confidence in him. Hopefully, he can just keep on going."
And here’s about when you figure I trash the Pittsburgh Penguins.
They don’t have a goal since the Eastern Conference finals. Monday night they didn’t have a shot until they trailed the Detroit Red Wings 2-0. All the line juggling from the 4-0 loss in Game 1 to the 3-0 loss in Game 2 amounted to zilch in the Stanley Cup finals. And their coach, Michel Therrien, stooped to whining about the officiating afterward, as if anyone is going to buy that commentary for the reason his team is halfway done for the season.
But no, this is not a time to rag on the vastly talented team that is happy to be heading home after two games in Detroit. This is what would be happening if the opponent was the Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers or Montreal Canadiens.
This was exactly what happened when the opponent was the Dallas Stars, Colorado Avalanche and Nashville Predators.
It’s simple: The Red Wings are head and shoulders above everyone in an otherwise parity-filled league, and time is running out to be proven otherwise.
Monday night’s clinic didn’t do much to boost viewer interest as we all wave goodbye to another year of “national” coverage by Versus. (How will we get by without studio host Darren Eliot and sideline reporter Bob Harwood?) Detroit is must-see TV these days only to see what 29 other teams will try to do in the fall.
How else do you explain, with the onus on Pittsburgh to respond Monday from Saturday’s setback, how the Red Wings not only took it to the Penguins from the drop of the first puck, but scored twice before the visitors could put a measly shot on goal? If the tone of Ryan Malone’s first-period intermission interview was any reflection of what it sounded like in the locker room just behind him, then we know that Pittsburgh’s spirit was broken after just 20 minutes in Game 2. And can you blame the Penguins?
It must be nice – when leading 2-0 midway through a second straight dominating performance – to be able to nit-pick your squad for experiencing a lull in the second period, getting bottled up between the blue lines and not working hard enough to get pucks behind the defense as Detroit coach Mike Babcock did during one of those intrusive Versus bench interviews.
It’s hard to find anything wrong with what the Wings are doing in this series, in these playoffs and during this season.
Therrien was grasping at straws when he said Detroit was the best team he’s seen at “obstruction.” Only Therrien knows if he really believes that. These postgame Q&A’s have gotten to the point where coaches don’t respond with what they really think as much as they say what they want an opponent or an official to hear.
“He’s a good actor,” Therrien said of Wings goalie Chris Osgood in the postgame media conference. “I know our players are frustrated right now. It’s tough to play the game, but Osgood did the same thing against Dallas.
“Our team never goes to the goalie. We never did it, and we don’t target the goalie. You want to talk about experience, he goes to players, and he knows what to do, I guess.”
Sounds like Therrien is using the media to influence calls later in the series and get under Osgood’s skin.
It’s really all he has until Tuesday when he and the Penguins start talking about how returning to The Igloo, where they are 8-0 in the postseason, winners of 16 straight overall, will be what turns the tide. How about this dose of reality: Detroit is looking for a split so it can go home and skate to the franchise’s 11th Stanley Cup on home ice Monday night.
If this really is the NHL's dream matchup, the Red Wings are destroying it and enhancing it at the same time. They're doing their share, more than their share, multiple shares, and they're turning the poor Penguins into frustrated flailers.
The Wings are back on one of their familiar rolls, filling familiar roles, and here's a truth no one should ever forget: Once they get going, they're awfully difficult to stop. That's really bad news for the Penguins, who are looking more and more like dumb, flightless birds.
The Wings are squeezing the life out of them, smothering them with dominant defense, a noisy crowd and more rock-steady doses of Chris Osgood. This was yet another brutally efficient effort, and after the Wings' 3-0 victory Monday gave them a 2-0 lead in the Stanley Cup Finals, it's apparent the Penguins have few answers for the Wings' dizzying mix of speed and spunk.
Sidney Crosby? Evgeni Malkin? Anyone seen Pittsburgh's stars yet, buried under all that red, outscored 7-0 in two games? The Penguins' top three centers, Crosby, Jordan Staal and Malkin, have been about as effective as Crosby, Stills and Nash, only with mangier beards.
The Penguins even mixed in a ridiculous display of nastiness in the third period, when Gary Roberts leveled Johan Franzen with a hit to the face. Yes, just as Franzen returned from concussion-like symptoms, Roberts pathetically leaped at a chance. Franzen returned to the ice but was furious, a rightly riled Mule.
Really, this series is laughably lopsided right now, and there aren't a lot of reasons to think it'll change.
Speed? The Wings are skating as if they own the ice, and in this one, they absolutely did. On the clinching goal in the third period, Valtteri Filppula zipped past defenseman Kris Letang, swiveled brilliantly and fired the puck in, even as he was being tripped.
Spunk? The Wings catch your eye with flash, then slam back. Niklas Kronwall remains a hitting machine. And early in the third period, when Ryan Malone bashed Henrik Zetterberg into the boards, here came Pavel Datsyuk leaping after Malone, swinging away.
"No, we didn't expect (two shutouts)," defenseman Brad Stuart said. "We wanted to limit their chances and we've done that. I don't know (if the Penguins got frustrated) but if you don't score in two straight games, maybe you do. It's not any of our concern. We're not gonna get caught up in that."
Penguins coach Michel Therrien sounded positively flustered, complaining the Wings' defense gets away with obstruction, scoffing that Osgood embellished a fall when he was clipped late in the game.
The Wings reacted with modest shrugs.
"The way we try to do it is, we play as hard as we can between the whistles, and we try to shoot the puck in the net when you take penalties," Mike Babcock said. "To me, we just try to keep our poise and play."
This is the formula that almost always works for the Wings when they get this far. It's their puck and their time, and they dare anyone to take it away. Going back to 1997, they're an astounding 14-1 in the Stanley Cup Finals, an imposing number that should make the green Penguins quiver.
Osgood was his normal, lonely self, making big saves when needed, which wasn't often. The Wings didn't wait around, jumping immediately after the last chunks of pregame octopus gunk were scraped from the ice. The Wings played so precisely with the puck, and so responsible defensively, the Penguins couldn't know what hit them.
History suggests the Penguins have very little hope of winning the Stanley Cup this season.
Reality suggests they have absolutely none, unless they can figure out how to make some radical changes during the rest of the series.
Start doing some dramatically different stuff, like scoring a goal every now and then.
They haven't managed that in the first two games of the Cup final, including a 3-0 loss to Detroit in Game 2 at Joe Louis Arena last night that gave the Red Wings a 2-0 lead in the series, which will shift to Mellon Arena for Game 3 tomorrow night.
This defeat came in the wake of a 4-0 loss to the Red Wings in the opener, and makes the Penguins the first team since Anaheim in 2003 to be shut out in the first two games of the final.
"Obviously, it's a surprise," Penguins left winger Gary Roberts said. "We've had some success scoring goals in the playoffs."
True enough, but they are shooting 0 for 41 from the field and, while Detroit goalie Chris Osgood obviously has made every stop he has had to, there have been times when his greatest challenge simply has been to avoid the temptation to nap.
Times like the first 12 minutes of Game 2, when the Penguins didn't have a shot and Osgood's teammates staked him to a 2-0 lead.
With the way Detroit can clog the neutral zone -- there are times when opponents couldn't get through it if they were using machetes -- a two-goal lead, even one with 21/2 periods to play, can seem almost insurmountable.
The Texas Rangers' run back to respectability over the last month has brought them to .500, but never above.
For the third time in 10 days Monday, they ran straight at the hurdle and fell face first. Of course, there were extenuating circumstances in the 7-3 loss to Tampa Bay. They were facing the team with the best record in baseball (now 31-20). And they were facing that team's ace: Scott Kazmir.
"I can't recall the reasons for the other losses right now," manager Ron Washington said. "But tonight was all Scott Kazmir. Good pitching stops good hitting, and he certainly stopped us tonight."
Kazmir dominated the Rangers, piling up 10 strikeouts while allowing just three hits in seven innings to win his fourth consecutive game. But the Rangers shouldn't feel all that bad. Since a rough first outing of the year after a month on the DL, Kazmir has won his last four games and put up a 0.69 ERA while doing so.
He made it clear quickly: He had no time to mess around. Relying primarily on his fastball-slider combo, Kazmir struck out the side to start the game. He threw 16 pitches in the first inning; only three were balls.
And just in case anybody missed it, he struck out the side again in the third. In that inning, he threw 17 pitches. Four of them were balls. By the time he left after the seventh inning, Kazmir had struck out every Rangers starter.
"He didn't have his electric stuff, but he was just in the right place at the right time all night," Marlon Byrd said. "He didn't really follow his usual setup of guys, and that kept guys off balance."
While Kazmir dominated, Sidney Ponson, coming off a complete-game win, struggled to keep the Rangers in it. Ponson allowed 15 hitters to reach base in five innings.
THE NEWBERG REPORT
You can’t win ’em all on Draft Day – nobody does – but yeah, June 4, 2002 wasn’t a real good day in Rangersland.
(Or in Exposland, where Montreal hung out at the correct high school field but chose the wrong guy . . . or in the war rooms of nearly half the teams who had the chance to name their player before the Mets came up):
1. Pittsburgh, Bryan Bullington, rhp, Ball State
2. Tampa Bay, B.J. Upton, ss, Greenbrier Christian Academy, Chesapeake, Va.
3. Cincinnati, Chris Gruler, rhp, Liberty HS, Brentwood, Calif.
4. Baltimore, Adam Loewen, lhp, Fraser Valley Christian, Surrey, B.C.
5. Montreal, Clint Everts, rhp, Cypress Falls HS, Houston.
6. Kansas City, Zack Greinke, rhp, Apopka (Fla.) HS.
7. Milwaukee, Prince Fielder, 1b, Eau Gallie HS, Melbourne, Fla.
8. Detroit, Scott Moore, ss, Cypress (Calif.) HS.
9. Colorado, Jeff Francis, lhp, U. of British Columbia.
10. Texas, Drew Meyer, ss, South Carolina.
11. Florida, Jeremy Hermida, of, Wheeler HS, Marietta, Ga.
12. Anaheim, Joe Saunders, lhp, Virginia Tech.
13. San Diego, Khalil Greene, ss, Clemson.
14. Toronto, Russ Adams, ss, North Carolina.
15. N.Y. Mets, Scott Kazmir, lhp, Cypress Falls HS, Houston.
So much has changed since the fifth inning of that August 2007 game by the bay. And yet, these two career ballplayers are connected by a singular moment and a stark reality.
Bonds is no longer a San Francisco Giant. Bacsik is no longer a Washington National.
And they both want the same thing: another chance.
"I was 22 when I first reached Triple-A," said Bacsik. "There were some veteran guys on that team who had played in the big leagues. I remember thinking, 'Man, I'm not going to sit around here when I'm 30 years old playing Triple-A baseball. If I haven't established myself by then, I'm not going to be here.'"
A short pause.
"So here I am," he said, "30-years old, sitting on a bus from Toledo to Columbus, trying to make it to the big leagues."
If you want to root for somebody in baseball these days, Bacsik is a nice place to start. You root for him because he's taking those bus rides again, this time as a converted reliever for the Columbus Clippers of the International League.
He doesn't want to be there. Who would? Nine months ago he was a starting major league pitcher facing arguably the game's greatest hitter in one of the game's greatest moments. Now he's facing the Lehigh Valley (Pa.) IronPigs.
Bacsik has thought about quitting. He's talked about it at the weekly chapel services, about -- how did he put it? -- "letting go and being free of the game." And then the game pulls him back.
"I love this game so much," said Bacsik. "[Union executive director] Donald Fehr wouldn't want me to say it, but I'd go play in the big leagues for the same salary I'm getting here."
Do you think Bonds loves the game as deeply as that? Or does he love the game only when the game loves him back? I'm just asking.
You root for Bacsik because on April 4, the day after Opening Day at Columbus, Clippers manager Tim Foli handed Bacsik a phone in the clubhouse. It was Bacsik's wife, Sue. There were complications with the pregnancy.
The condition is known as Placenta previa. There was hemorrhaging and had it continued without medical attention, both Sue and the baby could have died.
A clubhouse manager rushed Bacsik to his apartment. Then they followed the ambulance to nearby Riverside Methodist. Sue, a pediatrician herself, spent the next 20 days in the hospital. So did Bacsik when he was in town.
"Hospital in the morning ... game ... back to the hospital ... sleep," said Bacsik.
Jacob Ryan Bacsik was born April 21, 2008, by C-section. Mother and son were fine. The father fainted during the procedure.
Years from now Bacsik will take Jacob to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. The Hall of Fame gave Bacsik a lifetime pass after he donated the Nationals ball cap he wore the night he gave up the dinger to Bonds.
What will he tell Jacob that day? That he pitched against the man who was tied for the all-time home run lead with Henry Aaron. That in 1976, Bacsik's father, Mike Sr., pitched against the great Aaron when Aaron had 755 career homers. That when it became obvious that Bacsik would face Bonds in that Aug. 7 start, Mike Sr. told him, "Go after him with your best stuff. If you strike him out three times, nobody will ever remember you. But I will."
Bacsik gave it his best, but the pitch stayed middle up and that was that. Bonds' bat left a bruise mark on the ball.
Afterward, Bacsik and Bonds met briefly. Bacsik congratulated him on the historic home run. That's when Bonds said something that caused Bacsik to do a double take.
"He said, 'I'll see you on TV next year,'" said Bacsik.
It could only mean two things: Bonds thought he would play in the American League this season. Or Bonds thought his career was finished.
Six years ago, he was given the opportunity to become the face of the Dallas Cowboys. As a rookie in 2002, he was one of the few bright spots on a 5-11 team, and his No. 31 jersey quickly overtook No. 22 in the Texas Stadium crowd.
But now as the Cowboys prepare to christen a $1 billion stadium in 2009, there's a
good chance Williams won't be around for the grand opening. How could a player with so much promise fall off the map? Well, it's important to go back to the beginning.
In his first two years, Williams became one of the most feared players in the NFL because of his punishing style. Turns out, though, that Jerry Jones and his scouting department overlooked flaws in Williams' game leading up to the 2002 draft.
In recent conversations with men who were privy to those discussions, I learned that former secondary coach Clancy Pendergast, now the defensive coordinator for the Arizona Cardinals, had serious concerns about Williams' ability to learn the defense. When he traveled to the Oklahoma campus and put Williams on the dry erase board, he quickly learned that it would be a difficult transition for the college All American. Veteran scout Jim Hess, a former college coach, agreed with Pendergast's assessment.
Jones and his right-hand man, Larry Lacewell, were able to look past that potential flaw because they knew Williams would be playing next to Darren Woodson, one of the league's best safeties.
The Cowboys thought Williams could be much like John Lynch was in the vaunted Tampa 2 defense, but even more dynamic. And for the first two years of his NFL career, they were rewarded. Playing next to Woodson in 2002 and 2003, Williams was a bone-crunching playmaker. Running backs and receivers flinched when they sensed his arrival.
Williams began his string of five Pro Bowl appearances in 2003, although you can make a strong argument that the past couple have been on name-recognition alone. The 2004 season started off with a bust when QB Quincy Carter was released only days into training camp. The story line that got buried was that Woodson's injured back was preventing him from practicing. The Cowboys placed him on the physically unable to perform list and hoped for the best.
But it was apparent from the start that the odds were against Woodson, and he was eventually forced into retirement. Suddenly Williams was thrust into a leadership role in a secondary that included cornerback Terence Newman, a first-round pick in 2003, and safety Keith Davis, who had starred in NFL Europe the previous spring.
"I take a lot of blame for what Roy has had to endure," said Woodson, now an ESPN analyst.
"[Former defensive coordinator Mike] Zimmer and myself just wanted him to be a football player when he first came into the league. He didn't have to think about where he needed to be because we made the scheme pretty simple. He could just come downhill and wreak havoc. I'd never seen a player with that type of ferocity. But I didn't involve him in what the corners were doing and some of the linebackers' gaps. He could change the whole outlook of a game because of his ability to separate players from the ball. But we probably kept it too simple for him."
In Woodson's defense, he thought he had at least two more seasons left in the league before his injury forced him from the game.
"I would have approached it differently if I'd known," Woodson said. "He looked at me like a big brother, and we were always honest with each other. He used to ask me why I was in such a bad mood during practice, and I'd say, 'This is the way I am in practice.' We could say anything."
Stanley Cup final
(1) Detroit v. (2) Pittsburgh
Series starts Saturday
(Detroit without Chelios and Hasek: 31.13)
Pittsburgh 6 foot 1.8"
Detroit 6 foot 0"
Pittsburgh 208.95 lbs
Detroit 195.26 lbs
Can USA Euro
Pittsburgh 45.0% 30.0% 25.0%
Detroit 39.1% 13.0% 47.8%
Chris Chelios, 46 years, 4 months
Dom Hasek, 43 years, 4 months
Gary Roberts, 42 years
Dallas Drake, 39 years, 3 months
Nick Lidstrom, 38 years, 1 month
Jordan Staal, 19 years, 9 months
Sidney Crosby, 20 years, 10 months
Kristopher Letang, 21 years, 1 month
Darren Helm, 21 years, 4 months
Evgeni Malkin, 21 years, 10 months
Tyler Kennedy, 21 years, 10 months
Marc-Andre Fleury, 23 years, 6 months
Over 6 foot 3
Hal Gill, 6 foot 7
Ryan Malone, 6 foot 4
Ryan Whitney, 6 foot 4
Jordan Staal, 6 foot 4
Under 6 feet
Brett Lebda, 5 foot 9
Brian Rafalski, 5 foot 10
Jiri Hudler, 5 foot 10
Kris Draper, 5 foot 10
Chris Osgood, 5 foot 10
Sidney Crosby, 5 foot 11
Pavel Datysk, 5 foot 11
Darren Helm, 5 foot 11
Tyler Kennedy, 5 foot 11
Maxime Talbot, 5 foot 11
Henrik Zetterberg, 5 foot 11
Tipping the scales
Hal Gill, 250 lbs
Georges Laraque, 243 lbs
Ryan Malone, 224 lbs
Jordan Staal, 220 lbs
Andreas Lilja, 220 lbs
Johan Franzen, 220 lbs
Brooks Orpik, 219 lbs
Ryan Whitney, 219 lbs
Rob Scuderi, 218 lbs
Dom Hasek, 166 lbs
Darren Helm, 172 lbs
Chris Osgood, 178 lbs
Marc-Andre Fleury, 180 lbs
Jiri Hudler, 182 lbs
Tyler Kennedy, 183 lbs
Dallas Drake, 186 lbs
Kris Draper, 188 lbs
Ice time leaders (forward)
Henrik Zetterberg 21:24
Pavel Datsyuk 20:49
Evgeni Malkin 20:22
Marian Hossa 19:49
Sidney Crosby 19:44
Ryan Malone 18:16
Johan Franzen 18:08
Dan Cleary 17:08
Ice time leaders (defence)
Sergei Gonchar 24:45
Nicklas Lidstrom 24:42
Brian Rafalski 24:02
Niklas Kronwall 22:10
Brad Stuart 20:58
Kris Draper 63.4%
Henrik Zetterberg 57.9%
Pavel Datsyuk 55.8%
Jordan Staal 52%
Valtteri Filppula 52%
Johan Franzen 50%
Sidney Crosby 49%
Ryan Malone 62
Brooks Orpik 62
Jarkko Ruutu 42
Pavel Datsyuk 37
Dallas Drake 34
Brad Stuart 34
Jordan Staal 33
Brooks Orpik 33
Sergei Gonchar 31
Hal Gill 25
Rob Scuderi 21
Brad Stuart 18
Kristopher Letang 18
Gary Roberts 40%
Johan Franzen 25%
Georges Laraque 25%
Jordan Staal 21.4%
Pavel Datsyuk 17.6%
Ryan Malone 16.2%
Henrik Zetterberg 84
Evgeni Malkin 59
Mikael Samuelsson 58
Marian Hossa 58
Pavel Datsyuk 51
Johan Franzen 48
Brian Rafalski 43
Sidney Crosby 41
Dan Cleary 38
Ryan Malone 37
Henrik Zetterberg 25
Evgeni Malkin 23
Johan Franzen 19
Tomas Holmstrom 18
Brian Rafalski 16
Pavel Datsyuk 14
Sergei Gonchar 14
Marian Hossa 14
Petr Sykora 14
On Wednesday night, May 28, the Detroit Red Wings will travel to face the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 3 of their Stanley Cup Finals series, as the action shifts to NBC. On that same night, and if necessary, will be Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals in the NBA, as the Detroit Pistons travel to face the Boston Celtics on ESPN.
There's already been a firestorm of controversy over the scheduling conflicts between the two popular Detroit teams. But NBC Sports' hockey analysts are convinced that Motor City sports fans are going to choose hockey over hoops.
"It's called Hockeytown for a reason, said Pierre McGuire, NBC's "inside the glass" reporter, on a conference call earlier this week. "I don't think because there's a basketball game being played head-to-head with a Red Wing game it's going to have any effect, due to the fact that it truly is Hockeytown. Their fans are going to watch on TV, and I think they're going to keep their eyes glued to what could be one of the best Stanley Cup Finals we've seen in a long time. Hoorah for Hockeytown!"
Well, that was emphatic. NBC color commentator and former Penguins coach Eddie Olczyk went even further than McGuire. "I will guarantee you that the people of Detroit will have our game on before they'll have that final or whatever the Pistons are in, in the Eastern Conference," he said. "Pierre hit it right on the head: It is a hockey town, and this being a Stanley Cup Finals Game 3 versus whatever game it would be in the Eastern Final for the Pistons ... I'm not afraid of stepping out, and I would say that Game 3 on NBC, we will win that ratings war."
Gary Bettman, in an interview with WDFN-AM, expressed remorse that there was a conflict for Detroit fans, and wasn't sure what the ratings would look like:
The answer is basketball fans will watch basketball, hockey fans will watch hockey and the casual fans will probably flip back and forth. Whatever game seems to be more compelling at the time will probably do the higher number. I will be interested to see. Most people will assume that basketball will beat us from the ratings. We'll have to see what happens.
He's right: If Game 5 is an elimination game for the Pistons -- meaning they could be eliminated -- the Wings get a bump. If Game 3 is a blowout either way for the NHL, and the NBA series is still competitive, then the NBA gets a bump. There can't be any generalizations; it's all about the specific conditions in place next Wednesday.
Hamilton shook off his day-time malaise and hit a 10th-inning homer – on a 3-and-2, two-out fastball – to give the Rangers an 8-7 win in a game in which it looked like no lead was safe.
Hamilton's homer and some efficient relief work by beleaguered closer C.J. Wilson allowed the Rangers to split the four-game series in Minnesota after losing the first two. They have not lost any of their last eight series. They head to Cleveland today once again within a game of .500 (24-25).
Hamilton, who turned 27 on Wednesday, has been the difference in a handful of games already this season, and he was again Thursday.
He also moved to the top of the AL's Triple Crown race. His homer tied him for the AL lead with 12. He leads the planet with 53 RBIs. And his afternoon, combined with an unsuccessful pinch-hitting appearance by Minnesota's Joe Mauer, gave him the batting lead at .335. Mauer, who began the day at .336, is now at .333.
And this is from a guy who has had a serious handicap in afternoon games. He began the day hitting .365 at night but just .236 during the day. In the outfield, he misjudged several balls in the daylight.
Hamilton said he'd been more uncomfortable at the plate than in the field during the day.
"I'm not sure what it is, because I didn't have any problems in spring training," Hamilton said. "But in spring training, you pretty much have a routine, and everything happens during the day. During the regular season, with different starting times, the routine isn't as set.
"I'm sure it's not just me, but it's something I've got to get used to. And it's not that way every game."
Said Washington: "I think that's just Josh's youth. I know [outfield instructor] Gary Pettis has worked with him, and he'll make the adjustment. We'll blow that off as just youth."
Hamilton rescued the Rangers when it looked like they might just waste leads of 4-0 after the first, 6-3 through 5 ½ and 7-5 through 7 ½. Wilson, who blew a save in the 12-inning loss that began the road trip, put the finishing touches on things with a 12-pitch, 10-strike 1-2-3 bottom of the ninth.
Wilson gave the Rangers what they needed after relievers Jamey Wright, Frank Francisco and Joaquin Benoit combined to walk or hit six batters from the sixth through the ninth.
The latest contractual trend in baseball is to lock up players with less than two years' experience to deals that extend well past eventual free agency.
In the wake of several recent deals, the Rangers have started exploring the possibility with Josh Hamilton. Hamilton, who has one year and nearly two months of major league service time, is at the forefront of the AL Triple Crown chase.
There have been some internal discussions and at least one casual conversation with his agent.
"What's meant to happen is going to happen," Hamilton said after acknowledging some conversation. "The more I read the Bible, the more I realize it doesn't make any sense to worry. I'm not going to be able to add one day to my life by worrying. I know God will provide for my family.
"I feel like I'm where I'm supposed to be. I feel like I mix well with these guys and have felt that way since the first day at spring training. Since I started playing baseball, this is the most comfortable I've ever felt."
Hamilton's twisting path to major league stardom makes doing a deal more complicated than the ones recently signed by Evan Longoria with Tampa Bay and Ryan Braun with Milwaukee.
Longoria signed a deal that could keep him with the Rays for nine seasons; Braun signed an eight-year, $45 million deal. But both players are younger than 25 while Hamilton turned 27 on Wednesday.
The sides would probably also have to consider Hamilton's difficult past, which included three years out of baseball because of drug-addiction issues.
With CHI winning the lottery, the Bulls have to decide who fits in right now, as well as how much better can he get (i.e., his upside).
As I look at this year's draft, if I was sitting in the Bulls' position, I'd ask myself where would D. Rose and M. Beasley be right now at their position?
Rose would rank among the league's top 10 point guards right now, behind only C. Paul, D. Williams, S. Nash, T. Parker, G. Arenas, and B. Davis. Rose is that good. In fact, I think he'll be better than D. Harris, Billups (Chauncey's getting older), J. Kidd (so is Jason), and M. Williams in MIL.
Looking at Beasley today, I don't think he'd rank among the top 10 at either forward spot. Just look at the NBA's best power forwards -- Dirk, KG, Bosh, Boozer, Gasol, Jefferson, Marion, Brand, Aldridge, Jamison, West, Josh Smith. How about small forwards? LeBron, Pierce, Butler, Anthony, Howard, Turkoglu, Iguodala, Kirilenko, Gay, Deng, Artest...
Of course Beasley is a great player. But the NBA is loaded with talented forwards.
Here's my case for taking Rose:
1. You'd immediately have one of the league's top 7 point guards.
2. You can trade Hinrich for a team need. I'm sure the Bulls are already getting calls about his availability.
3. In order to win in the NBA, you need a great PG (Paul, Williams, Nash, etc.)
4. Rose is a Chicago kid.
Regardless, both Rose and Beasley will be terrific pros. Because they're so young and talented, they've got plenty of upside.
It was just one game, just Game 1, just a beginning.
It felt like seven games, Game 7, an ending.
The Lakers didn't just come back from a 20-point deficit to steal an 89-85 victory over the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference finals opener Wednesday.
They turned basketball's smartest crunch-time team into dummies.
They turned basketball's toughest veterans into twitching rookies.
They stole a victory from a team that was doing everything right, and they stole it after doing everything wrong.
In the end, after another Spur had bricked and another Laker had dived and wonderful spring chaos had once again returned to 11th and Figueroa, both locker rooms were quiet.
The Spurs, because they were trying to leave.
"We're supposed to be smarter than this," said Robert Horry, rushing into the hallway.
The Lakers, because they were trying not to laugh.
"I would think a loss like this might take a little bit out of their sails," said Jordan Farmar, dressing slowly.
The last time the Lakers pulled off a playoff comeback this large, they needed Horry to win it with that infamous last-second shot against Sacramento in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals.
You know what happened next.
The last time the Spurs blew this sort of lead and lost this sort of close game under this sort of pressure was, well, almost never.
You can almost guess what will happen next.
The weary champions have a 20-point lead on the court of the young team, and hold that team to under 90 points . . . and still lose?
The aging champions have a chance to throw a huge first punch on the road against a team that played with rust and dust . . . and they miss?
"Obviously we were up 20 and we hoped to put that one away and put them on their heels, but we didn't," said Tim Duncan, shaking his head. "We have to recover."
Recover? How do you recover from something such as this?
The answer is, you probably can't.
The Lakers may have won this series by winning a game in which their best player and league MVP made one basket in three shots -- three -- in the first half.
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant had just nine points when he strode to the foul line midway through the third quarter Wednesday night, but the home crowd didn’t seem to notice. They gave him the “M-V-P” treatment anyway.
The star-studded denizens of the Staples Center, it seems, knew what Bryant knew.
“I can get off at any time,” Bryant said.
Behind by 20 points to the defending NBA champions, in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, seemed as good a time as any.
Bryant scored 25 of his 27 points after halftime, willing his team to an 89-85 comeback victory that the Spurs will still be feeling in the morning.
Given a chance to steal home-court advantage, staked to the kind of second-half lead that in any other circumstance might have afforded them the chance to flip on cruise control, the Spurs instead watched Bryant erase it all with a stunning second half that everybody saw coming.
This ought to make the Spurs grumpier than a week’s worth of nights spent on a grounded plane.
“We had a great opportunity and didn’t take advantage of it,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “It hurts like hell.”
Bryant, with his peculiar brand of first-half rope-a-dope, applied much of that hurt. He took three shots in the first half, 17 in the second.
His last attempt — a floating 9-footer sunk over Bruce Bowen — broke an 85-85 tie
and proved to be the game-winner. The Spurs had a final shot at taking back the victory, but Manu Ginobili’s corner 3-point attempt with 10 seconds left bounced out.
The Spurs squandered a 30-point, 18-rebound night from Tim Duncan, as well as a decent night for their defense. They held the Lakers, who came into the game averaging a league-best 112.1 points per game in the playoffs, to 23 fewer than that.
The Spurs were doomed by a game-closing stretch of 7:19 in which they made one basket.
Though the Spurs were loath to admit it, fatigue likely played a factor late. They were two nights removed from Game 7 of the conference semifinals in New Orleans, and had spent a restless night on an airport tarmac.
“I don’t want to give any excuses,” said Tony Parker, who as the anti-Bryant had six of his 18 points in the second half. “We were in pretty good shape. We had a good lead.”
With 5:54 to go in the third quarter, the Spurs led by 20 points on the Lakers’ home floor. It’s a luxury that might not come again.
“Those are the kind of games that keep coaches up late at night,” Bowen said.
A good bit of the blame for the Spurs’ next sleepless night goes to Bryant.
The Spurs have flown their last flight with Champion Air.
Team chairman Peter Holt said the league assured him Tuesday another carrier would transport the Spurs to San Antonio after Game 2 of the Western Conference finals Friday and would also fly them to the rest of their road playoff games.
Word of the change came less than 24 hours after the Spurs spent seven hours on a tarmac in New Orleans after mechanical problems grounded the Boeing 727 provided to the team by Champion, which declared bankruptcy in March and is set to ground its 16-plane fleet May 31.
“The league called the next morning and said they were working on it right away,” Holt said. “They said they would find us another airplane that (it) will be with you as long as you are in the playoffs. That’s another thing we didn’t want to have to do, keep switching.”
Holt said he made it clear to the league they were done with Champion. The league arranges for the Spurs’ carrier, but the team foots the bill.
“We just told them we obviously don’t have any faith or trust any more (in Champion),” Holt said. “I don’t know if it is a safety issue, as much as we don’t want to be stuck again, especially with us playing every other day from this point on.”
Holt said he hasn’t spoken to anyone from Champion.
“Not interested in Champion,” Holt said. “We’re done.”
Different perspective: What’s it like spending 11 hours onboard an aircraft after you have expended most of your energy in Game 7 of a playoff series?
“Not fun,” Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said.
But Ginobili had a different take on the ordeal that followed the Spurs’ victory Monday night than most of his teammates. He played three seasons in the Italian League, where long bus rides were commonplace.
“It’s not the first time it happened to me,” he said. “I’ve slept many times on buses, so it was not much of a difference.”
Some of his teammates, Ginobili said with a smile, have had it too easy.
“They are spoiled,” he said. “I’ve spent 20 hours on a bus. So it’s no big thing.
Probably never the day before a game. That’s kind of different, but it happened, and we’ve just got to face it.”
Two poor starts in the span of five days last week sent Sidney Ponson back to school to resurrect a season that could resurrect his career.
A flaw in his mechanics had caused his best pitch, the sinker, to move sideways instead of down. Too many fly balls were being hit, and too many runs were scoring.
That changed Wednesday in the Texas Rangers' 10-1 victory over the Twins.
A sinker that stunk during Ponson's past two outings produced 18 ground ball outs, and he sunk his former team with his first complete game in more than three years.
Ponson won for the third time this season, allowing only one run on six hits as the Rangers ended a three-game slide and a six-game losing streak in the Metrodome. They scored seven times in the sixth inning to break open a scoreless game.
"My mechanics were much better tonight," said Ponson, who threw 110 pitches in the Rangers' third complete game this season. "I made a couple mistakes, but we won. The team hit and played good defense behind me."
Designated hitter Milton Bradley and manager Ron Washington were ejected after the top of the second inning by home-plate umpire Jeff Nelson. They missed Ponson's best effort in six starts since being recalled from Triple A Oklahoma last month.
He had allowed 13 runs (nine earned) and saw his ERA jump from 1.33 to 3.52. There aren't many pitchers who wouldn't want a sub-four ERA, but Ponson admits that he was off in those starts.
He was sharp again Wednesday. He matched his season-high with five strikeouts, and 18 of the 27 outs came on groundballs. The Twins didn't have a flyball out until the fifth.
Their only run came in the sixth after a leadoff triple and a one-out sacrifice fly. But the Rangers led 7-1 after ruining what had been a pitcher's duel between Ponson and Nick Blackburn in the top of the inning.
Michael Young led off with his fifth home run, and the inning got away from Blackburn (4-3) thanks to an error on a potential double-play grounder that led to six unearned runs.
The big blast was a three-run homer by Ian Kinsler, his fifth, and the final five runs were scored with two outs.
Josh Hamilton celebrated his 27th birthday by going 3-for-5 with two runs scored and his first stolen base. Chris Shelton went 3-for-4, Gerald Laird homered, and David Murphy had two RBI doubles.
"It's exactly what we needed tonight," Kinsler said. "We're good offensively, and
we're going to score a lot of runs. Hopefully, we can get back in a groove."
Ponson made seven starts for the Twins in 2007, going 2-5 with a 6.93 ERA. He has said that he thought that stint was the last chance he would get to pitch in the major leagues.
But the Rangers signed him during spring training, and he is 3-0 with a 2.95 ERA since he returned from Oklahoma on April 26.
Brad Richards said he's setting the bar very high for the Stars next season.
"I think we need to have the goal of winning the Stanley Cup," Richards said, emphasizing that he felt the goal was realistic.
"You don't throw that around lightly, but I think we've proven that's what we should be shooting for. Expectations, for me, are going to be really high next year ... and they should be."
And with that, Dallas players left the Dr Pepper StarCenter on Wednesday with their marching orders. After a season in which they advanced to the sixth game of the Western Conference finals, the Stars say they want more and are ready to embrace the challenge.
While players such as Mike Ribeiro, Brenden Morrow, Stephane Robidas and Steve Ott had career-best seasons, they say that level now has to be a baseline.
"We're at a point where we should be setting a new career high every season," Ott said. "That should be a goal for each of us, and it should be a very realistic goal."
And if the main players continue to improve, then the team should continue to improve, coach Dave Tippett said.
"You're not accepting of being just all right anymore," Tippett said. "Now you want to be better every day."
The Stars say they can be because they have gotten a whiff of their potential.
"We're improving," captain Brenden Morrow said. "We made good strides this year, but it makes you realize how hard it is to get here and how hard we have to work to get back."
Not even a month after being cleared of a felony battery charge, former NFL football player Darren Hambrick was back in legal trouble.
Hambrick was arrested April 12 and accused of hitting his longtime girlfriend, Ileana Quiles, and stopping her son from calling 911.
Hambrick, 32, pleaded not guilty at an arraignment Monday and was assigned a court-appointed attorney. That means Hambrick doesn't have the money to hire his own lawyer.
Hambrick, of 38827 Coit Road in Lacoochee, is accused of pulling Quiles' hair and punching her in the head, according to a Pasco County Sheriff's Office report.
Hambrick then struck Quiles in the leg with a glass table lamp, the report states.
Quiles told her son to call 911, but Hambrick intimidated him so he wouldn't, the report shows. When Quiles, her son and nephew attempted to call authorities again, Hambrick took away the phones, the report states.
Hambrick, who is free on bail, faces charges of tampering with a witness, a third-degree felony, and misdemeanor battery. A hearing is scheduled for June 17.
Hambrick was a Pasco High School football star who played five seasons for the Dallas Cowboys, Carolina Panthers and Cleveland Browns. His NFL career ended in 2002.
He and his brother Troy led Pasco High to its only state championship in 1992.
Troy Hambrick, 31, was sentenced to five years in federal prison this month after pleading guilty to selling 78 grams of crack cocaine to an undercover informant.
Manchester United are once more engulfed in the delirious joy of Champions League melodrama. They were on the verge of defeat in the shoot-out as the Chelsea captain, John Terry, came up to take the penalty that would have taken the trophy to Stamford Bridge. His standing foot slipped as he struck the ball and the effort flew wide. A failure by Cristiano Ronaldo had been cancelled out.
The momentum was irreversibly United's and, in the end, Edwin van der Sar ensured that the trophy would come to Old Trafford for the third time by saving the spot kick from the substitute Nicolas Anelka. This is a club that cannot come by glory in this tournament until it has scared itself senseless. The Luzhniki Stadium witnessed a spectacle to compare with the comeback in 1999 when Bayern Munich were overtaken at the close of the final.
The memorability of such a moment depends as well on the images of the losers' pain. Terry had been magnificent and, 11 minutes into extra-time, had somehow twisted his neck to head away a shot by the substitute Ryan Giggs that was bound for the net. It seemed inconceivable then that such a character could be brought low.
He is no culprit. The single person meriting blame is Didier Drogba, sent off four minutes from the close of extra-time for aiming a slap at the United centre-half Nemanja Vidic following a mêlée after Chelsea had expected the ball to be returned to them at a throw-in. That folly by the Ivorian did not mar one of the most engrossing Champions League finals of modern times. Its main side effect was to promote Terry to taking the fifth penalty.
There is always a craving to consecrate winners as deserving of their prize. It is tempting to do that because, in the first half particularly, they scored, wasted openings and were thwarted by the goalkeeper Petr Cech. That was an outstanding spell but Chelsea's self-belief was also imposing. At times they appeared ready to overpower Sir Alex Ferguson's team.
The Scot declared this to be the first major shoot-out to have gone his way, dismissing the bauble of the Community Shield that was won in just such a fashion, against Chelsea, at the start of this season. Ferguson has now conquered in all four of his European finals since the days with Aberdeen.
It might all have been different in Moscow. Drogba had struck the woodwork in the 78th minute and Lampard would do likewise in stoppage-time. Nothing, it appears, goes in favour of the Chelsea manager, Avram Grant, for long. The Israeli could well have imagined that his luck was turning when his team came through an initial
bombardment. Now there will be more uncertainty and disquiet.
Terry's failure from the spot brought a gesture of wry exasperation from Roman Abramovich. The owner will ask himself if he is employing an unlucky manager or one who falls a little short of what is needed. Either way the Russian, deliberating in Moscow last night, cannot ignore the fact that Chelsea have failed to take a trophy for the first time in four seasons. Nor would he have liked the way in which United initially took his side by surprise.
To Chelsea's regret it turned out that it is possible for one of these teams to surprise the other. United did more still, disconcerting the opposition with tactics that helped Ronaldo score against these adversaries for the first time in his career. United had been sent out in a 4-4-2 formation that some might have supposed had been stashed in the Old Trafford museum. The purpose of it was to exploit the narrowness of Chelsea's 4-3-3 system and bedevil the full-backs. Michael Essien was the principal target. Accustomed as the midfielder is to operating on the right of the defence, he has no experience of the suffering to which Ronaldo subjected him.
The winger had left him utterly stranded in one incident and then embarrassed him more severely with the opener in the 27th minute. Paul Scholes exchanged passes with Wes Brown on the right and the latter stroked an unexpectedly good inswinging cross with his left foot. Ronaldo skipped in front of a static Essien to glide a perfect header low into the net.
It was a bruising encounter, with Scholes, for instance, requiring attention to a
bloodied nose after a crash between himself and Claude Makelele that led to a yellow card for each of them. All the same United were not diverted from performing with freedom. Owen Hargreaves brought his running power to bear from right midfield, the position in which he got his earlier Champions League winners' medal with Bayern Munich in 2001.
Ten minutes before half-time United should have been in a virtually unassailable position but Petr Cech parried Carlos Tevez's header and then reached Michael Carrick's shot from that rebound. There was a further opportunity nine minutes later when Tevez could not quite get to the low ball by Wayne Rooney that had eluded Makelele. Nonetheless United by then had been given a clue as to Chelsea's powers of recovery. When Drogba headed a deep cross into the centre after 34 minutes Rio Ferdinand, under pressure from Michael Ballack, knocked it towards his own net, only for Van der Sar to tip the ball on to the bar.
Chelsea had their fortune when pulling level. Essien's 25-yarder cannoned of Vidic and then Ferdinand to set up Lampard for a coolly taken goal. Though Chelsea had been rallying, their feelings much have contained a measure of relief. It invigorated the team thereafter. Each side took the other to its limits