Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Win One, Lose One

There are many reasons why living in a big sports city like this one is better than living in a one-horse town. One of them is mornings like this morning. For instance, if this were just a Stars town, we would be depressed with the absurd effort the Stars rolled out in St Louis. Instead, we will lead with the nice win from the Mavericks in Phoenix.

To the victors go the lead on the blog:

Mavs get a big and rare road victory

They improved to 39-25, five games ahead of the Suns. They also will have the tiebreaker over Phoenix if they win the series finale in Dallas in April. The Mavericks aren't mathematically in the playoffs yet. But the odds are heavily in their favor. If they go just 9-9 the rest of the way, the Suns would have to go 14-4, plus win in Dallas, to catch the Mavericks for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.

They remain eighth in the West, but only two games out of fourth.

"We know Phoenix is a team that's behind us," said Kidd, who was 4-of-8 from the field, all on 3-point shots, and had 12 points and eight rebounds. "Now, we're the ones chasing. We're looking up, not behind us. We want to get as high as we can."
The Mavericks' first road win against a Western Conference contender since Christmas Night in Portland came because they were tougher than the Suns in the second half. There's a reason why they came out and took this game by the throat. Carlisle sent a strong message at halftime.

"Coach always talks about how he's not a motivator, but he came in here at halftime and really tore into us," said Jason Terry, who had 25 points. "That's the first time I've seen him do that. He said, 'You guys are better than that team, so play like it.' "

Added J.J. Barea, who got the start in the backcourt in Josh Howard's absence and had 16 points, 14 in the first half: "He said we weren't tough enough, our basketball game is OK, but we got to be nastier."

And then there was Ryan Hollins, the slender center who comes close to literally being half the man that 300-plus-poundish Shaquille O'Neal is. But Hollins played big on this night, taking a hard elbow to the nose on one possession, drawing an offensive foul and finishing with six points and four rebounds in 14 quality minutes after Erick Dampier got in foul trouble.

"I've been waiting for this game for weeks," Hollins said. "History shows that when I guard bigger players, it's something I enjoy. I just tried to stay in front of him."

O'Neal had only eight of his 21 points and just two of his eight rebounds after
halftime, when Hollins got all of his minutes.

The road win was the Mavericks' first since Feb. 2 at Orlando and their first against a Western Conference team since the LA Clippers on Dec. 28.

The Suns are having a funeral

It's over. It hurts. It's for the best.

In this case, the truth is that these Suns need to miss the playoffs. They need to take their chances in the NBA draft lottery, even though it's considered a shallow talent pool. Maybe the Suns can catch their first real break in a long time.

Maybe they end up with a top eight pick, and luck into a player who can lead this franchise into the future. After all, they certainly won't get that player in the 2010 draft, when the Suns do not own a first-round pick.

Without a playoff berth, the Suns can break up this flawed team without remorse or explanation. They can trade Shaquille O'Neal to Cleveland, a team that made a run at Shaq at the trading deadline and surely would be interested again if LeBron James doesn't bring them a championship in June.

They can trade Amaré Stoudemire and get something of value before it's too late.
They can start over with Alvin Gentry, a pro's pro and a great man who could make an imprint with a young team to call his own.

"I would love to be back," Gentry said.

In the NBA, it's easy to get trapped in mediocrity, where your team is good enough to make the playoffs, yet flawed enough to lose in the first round. That cycle can go on forever.

Such cold-hearted pragmatism isn't easy. Basketball fans in the Valley have poured their sweat and soul into this franchise, and over the past four postseasons the Suns have been a civic obsession. In perception, they were the gutsy team battling their own axis of evil: the dastardly Spurs, the crooked referees and the vengeful commissioner.

In the end, they have been the Little Engine that Couldn't. The emotional investment in this team has been massive, and the payoff has been only heartbreak. Cheers have led to tears, without fail.

As a result, it's hard to move on. It's hard to accept that the run is over, that our patience and persistence will go unrewarded.

It's easy to make excuses. This season, the Suns tried Terry Porter's way, and then Porter changed his ways, and then the Suns changed coaches. Though the lack of continuity has been crushing, the team still is playing hard.

Now, on to that nonsense in St Louis:

I would like to bravely look at my keyboard and assure every who reads this blog that everything is going to be alright in the wake of the St Louis Blues third pounding of the Stars in 3 tries this season.

But the reality is, after the debacle in Dallas Sunday night, and the no-contest in St Louis on Tuesday, this season appears to be hanging by a thread.

Is it just too much? Too many injuries? Too much adversity? Too many teams around the Stars now playing very well (Columbus, Edmonton, Nashville, St Louis) while the Stars cannot get a point out of the last 6 home games?

Have there been too many requests to Marty Turco to take the ice game after game? Have they pushed too many guys too far up the lineup hoping to replace 10, 91, 56, 26, and the rest of the injured?

Before last night’s game (if you can call it that), I figured the Stars would have to go 10-6 in their last 16 games. Well, now they need to figure out how to get 10 wins of their final 15. This will not be easy at all.

Is this how it ends? Or in this crazy roller-coaster ride of a season, is there yet another twist?

Let’s hope so.

But, let’s stay out of St Louis. Something about that match-up doesn’t seem to fit the Stars very well. That is a cumulative score of 14-4 so far this season. Somewhere, Doug Armstrong is pleased.

Thursday, let’s hope for a better effort on home ice.

Must win? dnspostarslede.3c434e0.html> FAIL

The Stars suffered a similar fate. They got knocked down early, and like Parrish, never got back into the game. A close score was all that was missing in the bone-rattling contest at the Scottrade Center.

The Blues, who began four points behind Dallas in the tight Western Conference race, flexed their muscles. Although the Stars were willing to tangle – as Krys Barch's marathon fight against Cam Janssen showed – Dallas couldn't recover from the 3-0 hole they dug in the first 11:56.

Stars goalie Marty Turco was pulled after surrendering those three scores. And the Stars never got closer than two down.

"It wasn't my night," Turco said. "The guys battled hard but the mistakes ended up in our net. It's so much more disappointing because when you lose, you lose so much ground; you have to depend on others for help."

The Blues, 3-0 against the Stars, took control just 59 seconds in, when David Backes ripped a snapshot over Turco from the left circle. David Perron scored the first of his two goals just over five minutes later, and then former Star Brad Winchester stood unchallenged in the crease, swatting at the puck until he finally scored. That led to Turco's exit.

Here is Stephen Jones …unaffected by the gag order…

Stephen Jones discussed all of the Cowboys’ off-season moves to date, and looked forward to the draft:

Jones put his thumb and forefinger maybe an inch apart to explain the differences the coaching staff explained to him between defensive ends Chris Canty and Igor Olshansky.

The Cowboys lost Canty in free agency and signed Olshansky as his replacement. Jones would not say Olshansky would start, but it’s expected he will.

The team got no takers on trading safety Roy Williams.

"With what we are trying to do with our safeties he didn’t fit," Jones said.
The addition of free agent safety Gerald Sensabaugh on Tuesday means the Cowboys will likely not move Orlando Scandrick to safety.

Jones said the team plans to move Alan Ball from corner to safety.

Jones said the team wants to address the safety position as well as linebackers, quarterback and reserve offensive linemen in the draft.

He did not rule out re-signing free agent Keith Davis. If Davis returns, it will likely be at a veteran minimum.

The team is still negotiating with linebacker DeMarcus Ware, but "I’m terrible on speculating on when things will get done," Jones said.

BP check’s the Rangers farm

Five-Star Prospects
1. Neftali Feliz, RHP
2. Justin Smoak, 1B
3. Derek Holland, LHP

Four-Star Prospects
4. Michael Main, RHP
5. Engel Beltre, CF
6. Elvis Andrus, SS

Three-Star Prospects
7. Martin Perez, LHP
8. Max Ramirez, C
9. Taylor Teagarden, C
10. Neil Ramirez, RHP
11. Wilfredo Boscan, RHP

Just Missed: Julio Borbon, CF; Blake Beavan, RHP; Jose Vallejo, 2B

Liverpool spanks Real Madrid

Rafael Benítez insisted Liverpool can force their way back into the title race at Old Trafford on Saturday having watched his side inflict the heaviest Champions League defeat in Real Madrid's history on the fallen Spanish giants at Anfield.
"Awesome", was Steven Gerrard's description of last night's inspired 4–0 triumph, one that secured Liverpool a 5–0 aggregate victory over Juande Ramos's side and a place in the quarter-finals for the fourth time in five seasons under their manager from Madrid. The Liverpool manager admitted to surprise at the extent of the rout but, having delivered so emphatically at the start of a defining week in Liverpool's season, he claimed his team could maintain its outstanding form at Manchester United this weekend.

"This is the best way to approach the Manchester United game," said Benítez. "When you have an important game coming up and the players are playing this well and scoring four goals against a team like Real Madrid, you have to be pleased.

"We play a very good team on Saturday and we have to win. If we can reduce the gap we will be in the title race but we have to wait and see what happens at Old Trafford. Hopefully we have given Manchester United something to think about but they have a very good team. At least we will approach the game with a lot of confidence."

Liverpool were dominant from the first whistle at Anfield in what Benítez hailed as a complete team performance. "We played well from the beginning until the end," the Spaniard added. "I am very pleased for the players, the fans and the club. The whole team was good from the start, the players, the doctor, the physios, everyone. They all deserve this victory.

"I could not have imagined a 5–0 when the draw was made. When you play Madrid you know it will be difficult and tight, but we played very well away and won and did the same tonight playing a different way. That shows we are a very good team."

Today: Inter visits United

After the final whistle, the Inter Milan players traded their sweaty, black-and-blue-striped jerseys for their Manchester United opponents’ bold red ones, and the crowd cheered. The postgame ritual provided the perfect cover for José Mourinho to slip away unnoticed by more than 85,000 people at San Siro stadium on Feb. 24.

Mourinho, the Inter manager, has done few things quietly since taking over Italy’s top club in June. But after the 0-0 draw in the Champions League knockout round, during which he repeatedly jumped from his bench to the sideline to shout instructions to his players and to argue with the referee, Mourinho left the field through a private door without shaking hands with his opposite number, Alex Ferguson.
Later, Mourinho, suave as ever, assured his friend and rival he meant no disrespect.
“I left a £300 bottle of wine in the hotel with a note saying we would meet each other after the game at Old Trafford,” he said, already looking forward to the pivotal return leg of the two-game series. “I am always close to him. I am always a friend. I will be there after the second game.”

But before the game on Wednesday night in Manchester, which will decide who will advance in soccer’s most prestigious club tournament, and before he faced the voracious Italian and British news media, Mourinho had some questions to answer for himself.

“There is always a question mark in the decision I make, in the decision I should make, in the reasons we did well, in what we didn’t do so well,” Mourinho said. “I am a man of question marks. I am not saying doubts, but a man of questions.”

The American species of football coach is a curious character, often overweight and disheveled, who stalks the sideline with a play sheet and a comically large headset — like Parcells, Belichick, Reid and Holmgren.

The European species, like the game, has evolved differently. Its epitome is
Mourinho, 46, the confident, handsome, polyglot tactician who catapulted to the top of the soccer world when he won the 2004 European Champions League title with F.C. Porto in his native Portugal.

Mourinho has since delighted members of the European news media, who relish his bravado-filled news conferences, and entertained soccer fans, who find this confident and debonair coach almost as thrilling to watch as any superstar player.
“In Italy, we have many sorts of managers, and very, very rarely are Italians taken by surprise in football because they think they’ve seen it all,” said Gianluca Vialli, a former star on Italy’s national team and now a television analyst for Sky Italia. “Mourinho makes being a manager look cool.”

Mourinho always wears a finely tailored suit on the sideline and a carefully tied scarf around his neck. “It’s not a symbol,” he said. “I have a commercial relationship with Armani. This scarf is their scarf.”

Looking cool is only part of it. Acting cool is at the heart of his appeal, and his success. He speaks very highly of himself and of his abilities as a strategist, tactician and motivator. Although he takes credit for his team’s triumphs, he is careful to shower praise on his players. In defeat, Mourinho shoulders the blame.
“At this level of pressure,” he said in heavily accented but pointed English, “if you are not self-confident, if you don’t believe in your work, you are a step down. If you are a leader and you can influence people’s attitudes and you want people to follow you up and be as strong as you are, you must be strong.”

And finally, Ed Belfour takes his frustration out on Martin Lapointe

Getting to know Igor

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