Ok- As of tomorrow, you shall most likely be treated to the blogging of Ty Walker. So, please enjoy that – I will be back on Tuesday.
I have been asked by a few of you to detail my plans in England for the weekend. Here it is.
Saturday – 6:45 am (CST) Manchester United at Liverpool – if you like depressed Bob, please cheer against Liverpool on Saturday morning.
Sunday – 7:30 am (CST) Blackburn at Bolton
Both games are on Setanta Sports (so I am guessing 99% of you don’t pay $12 a month for that channel on Directv)- But, the EPL Review Show will cover both games extensively and is on numerous times on Fox Soccer Channel with the first showing Sunday night, 7pm.
I shall be in the USA back Monday night.
Now, on to the blog:
Mavs are so good it is silly …
Offensively, the Wolves (26-31) -- losers in 15 of their past 21, 6-11 under Wittman, 0-3 this season against Dallas -- were a wreck. Either they would launch shots after one pass or no passes or they would bull their way through plays without heeding the defense.
Wittman called that "exhausting the play to the very end, instead of 'Oh, the big [man] jumped out, I'm going to throw the ball back and see how they react to that.' "
Dallas' Big Three of Dirk Nowitzki, Josh Howard and Jason Terry did the heavy lifting for the league's winningest team, a 48-9 club that, with 13 consecutive victories, has its third distinct winning streak this season of 12 or more (an NBA first). Eleven franchises -- Minnesota included -- never have had even one streak that long.
Nowitzki scored 15 of his game-high 23 points after halftime, Howard scored 15 of his 17 before halftime, and Terry split his 18 right down the middle. But who and when mattered less than what, which was the Wolves playing with no flow, no smarts and no resourcefulness (they never forced action inside to earn trips to the foul line, a cure for sickly shooting).
"It felt like we was running in sand," said Kevin Garnett, who shot 5-for-16 and sat down with 3:41 left with 15 points and 13 rebounds.
Meanwhile, the Mavericks -- a staggering 11-0 when playing on the second night of back-to-back games -- stuck the Wolves with the lowest scoring total of any opponent ever. The previous low was 68, and that spans 2,157 games in Dallas history.
"Obviously, it's not all defense," said coach Avery Johnson, whose team dominated the boards, too. "We won't flatter ourselves. But give our defense some credit. DeSagana Diop had one of his better games, closing down the middle, trying to play Garnett as best we can. Our rotations were sound."
By the end, the difference on the scoreboard was 26. The games-behind in the standings is 22. But the gap between the teams overall is more vast than that.
In one locker room, Wolves guard Marko Jaric talked of his team's lack of chemistry or character. "It's about pride and that we don't have it right now, and we need to find it," he said.
Simultaneously, the Mavericks' Jerry Stackhouse already had moved on.
"We will be more impressed in June," he said.
One question: What's June?
Guerin dealt away – St Louis writes …
Guerin, 36, who led the Blues in goals (28) and points (47), approved the waiving of his no-trade clause Tuesday morning. In the end, San Jose won out over Anaheim and Detroit for Guerin, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.
"You can prepare for it as much as you want, but it’s still tough getting traded, leaving a group of guys that you’re comfortable around," Guerin said. "It’s tough, but in the same line, I’m excited to be going to San Jose. They’ve got some tremendously talented players there, and a good team, well-coached . . . they play hard every night. I’m excited about going there and playing in the playoffs and competing for a Stanley Cup."
The Sharks have a record of 38-24-1 and are ranked sixth in the Western Conference with 77 points.
Guerin’s agent, Bob Murray, said that he had conversations with the Blues on Monday about the team re-signing the right winger. But those talks didn’t appear to go any further Tuesday, as Guerin made it clear that he wanted to be in the playoffs this season.
"We had some discussions (with the Blues)," Guerin said. "We didn’t get into negotiations or anything like that . . . just very candid discussions. It was nothing . . . I don’t want to say serious because it’s all serious . . . but we didn’t get down to the nitty-gritty or anything like that."
Guerin said that late Monday night he had a couple of glasses of red wine to calm all of the emotions he was feeling about his future.
"Last night, I thought it was Detroit for a little while," Guerin said. "Then I thought it was San Jose. Then I thought it was Anaheim. I don’t know. My brain was going a million miles an hour and I’m not comfortable at that speed. I didn’t know what was going on."
The San Jose take on the trade …
The Sharks' dirty little secret, you see, is that they have drifted from being one of the league's elite teams to a scary but flawed team that has been playing poorly for the last month -- unless of course you think going 5-9 since the start of Super Bowl week is your idea of priming for the playoffs. The Guerin deal is the show stealer, sure, one that seems to have fallen into the Sharks' lap late in the process.
Until then, Wilson's deal for Rivet, a large and stern right-handed defensive defenseman, seemed to have been a minor but potentially sufficient upgrade in and of itself, given that the Sharks only lost sixth defenseman Josh Gorges and one of their two first-round picks in what is expected to be a mediocre draft.
Rivet, at 32, is coming off a good 2006 but is having a mediocre 2007, capped by a spat over a punitive scratch in January by Montreal head coach Guy Carbonneau, and a subsequent bout with pneumonia. He was also the oldest Shark for approximately 60 hours, and while defensemen typically can peak late in a career, the new rules have probably shortened Rivet's window a bit.
Still, he was one of maybe a half-dozen defensemen with the veteran/right-handed/stay-at-home/take-the-body skill set Wilson wanted, and the BA (best available) on that list, which Wilson, ever the covert operator, identified only by saying, "None of the others were traded."
But when Guerin suddenly popped up, courtesy of St. Louis president/general manager John Davidson's inability to get Guerin to sign a new deal to stay a Blue as late as Monday evening, Wilson renewed his own interest with a phone call that led to true love. Wilson gave up no more in terms of usable talent than he had for Rivet -- Nieminen, Jay "The Freshman" Barriball and a conditional first-round pick (either this year or next, depending on where the New Jersey Devils end up -- don't ask how).
And though trades break opinions as often as validate them, this looks like a pure, ski-mask-and-Taser steal, even more one-sided than the Thornton deal with Boston, which in only 15 months has boiled down to Thornton for Marco Sturm.
Guerin becomes a potential linemate with Thornton and Mark Bell, thus allowing head coach Ron Wilson to move Jonathan Cheechoo to either the Patrick Marleau or Joe Pavelski lines in hopes of relocating the touch Cheechoo had a year ago. He could also move/inspire Steve Bernier from his extended dry spell, or have an option in case he never emerges.
But the back side of the Guerin deal is that he didn't go to the Ducks or Red Wings. Indeed, Anaheim got shut out on the players they most coveted (Guerin, Dainius Zubrus and the ubiquitous Smyth), and had to "settle" for veteran winger and clock-cleaner Brad May, who has missed much of the season with a shoulder injury.
ESPN looks at the Guerin and Norstrom deals …
Bill Guerin traded from St. Louis to San Jose for a first-round pick in 2007, Ville Nieminen and Jay Barriball
Coupled with the Sharks' acquisition Sunday of defenseman Craig Rivet from Montreal, San Jose has gone from teetering on the brink to Stanley Cup contender in the blink of an eye. At least that's how it appears on paper.
Guerin will ramp up an offense that now stacks up against any in the Western Conference. The Sharks have lost five of seven, fallen off the pace of Pacific Division-leading Anaheim and, as of Tuesday morning, were sixth in the conference. This deal should change those dynamics in short order.
This deal not only brings a proven scorer (Guerin has 28 goals so far this season), but it also reinforces in the Sharks' dressing room that management believes this is a Cup-contending team. Guerin and defending Hart Trophy winner Joe Thornton are familiar with each other from their days in Boston, so that should help in the transition.
For a team that has been so conservative about its prospects and draft picks, giving up two first-rounders in a little more than 24 hours signals GM Doug Wilson believes the time is now, if at all.
Mattias Norstrom, Konstantin Pushkarev, third- and fourth-round picks in 2007 traded from Los Angeles to Dallas for Jaroslav Modry, Johan Fransson, first-round pick in 2008, second- and third-round picks in 2007
Solid and eminently dependable, Norstrom quietly has established himself as one of the most underrated defensemen in the NHL. The longtime member of Sweden's national teams has played 823 NHL games, all but 43 in the relative anonymity of Los Angeles. Adding Norstrom to a group that includes Sergei Zubov, Philippe Boucher, Darryl Sydor and Stephane Robidas, will make the Stars only that much more difficult to play against.
The Stars rank second in the NHL in goals-against, allowing an average of 2.34 goals per game (only New Jersey is better) and they are second only to Detroit in allowing the fewest 5-on-5 goals. There will continue to be questions about the team's offensive capabilities (only Vancouver has scored fewer goals of the top eight teams in the conference), but the earlier acquisition of Ladislav Nagy from Phoenix should alleviate some of those concerns. But defense wins Cups, and the Stars are as solid as they come on the back end.
I must admit, the Norstrom deal struck me as “out of left field”. I have always like Mattias, but I just didn’t think he was coming here. Anyway, now the Stars have traded away 2007 and 2008’s draft in exchange for Nagy and Norstrom. It surely looks like Doug Armstrong has concluded two things:
1) Mike Modano and Sergei Zubov are the stars of this team, and at their age, the window of opportunity is open for about another 18 months. So, go for it now, and worry about the rebuild overhaul when it gets here.
2) If the Stars don’t get out of the first round this spring, the Stars may have a new coach and GM trying to figure out what to do with the future. Doug Armstrong, Dave Tippett, and even many of these players MUST get out of the first round of the playoffs to insure job safety.
Ribeiro and Nagy get the Stars the win in Tampa Bay …
Mike Ribeiro never met a space he didn't like, even if it doesn't seem like much space at all.
The crafty center is becoming a master of the well-timed, well-placed pass. A few of his early ones Tuesday didn't work, but that didn't mean he was going to stop trying.
Not surprisingly, he was rewarded.
Ladislav Nagy scored the winning goal, on a feed from Ribeiro, and the Stars had another strong showing as they beat Tampa Bay 2-1 in overtime. Dallas took sole possession of second place in the Pacific Division, five points behind Anaheim.
"I thought our team played pretty solid tonight," Stars coach Dave Tippett said. "We have to stay in games and find ways to win, and, tonight, we found a way to win."
Ribeiro's final pass Tuesday went through traffic and hit Nagy's stick. The left wing wristed it home for his second goal in three games since joining Ribeiro's line.
"All through the game, I was trying to hit a skate or a stick," said Ribeiro, who has eight points in his past seven games. "That's what I'm trying to do."
Marty Turco, who stopped 19 of 20 for his second consecutive victory, said Ribeiro's passes are impressive.
"Ribs can put it through the holes in skates," Turco said. "It's no surprise he got it through, and it's certainly not a surprise that it went in."
Nagy, who came to Dallas in a Feb. 12 trade with Phoenix, said he's reaching a comfort level on his new line.
"We see each other pretty good," he said. "He was looking for me, and he's just an unbelievable passer. I just close my eyes and shoot."
It was hard to find a weakness with the Stars on Tuesday, especially early. The first time the Joel Lundqvist-Jeff Halpern-Stu Barnes line hit the ice, they kept the puck in the Lightning zone for almost their entire shift, which was more than a minute.
"That set the tone, didn't it?" Tippett said. "That was a nice, hard-working shift. We don't like our players being close to a minute, but they were having success, so they went at it."
Also, the Stars' defense killed off a two-minute 5-on-3 early.
And Jere Lehtinen extended his goal streak to three games, scoring his sixth goal in seven games. With assists from Mike Modano and Jussi Jokinen, Lehtinen scored his 22nd goal for a 1-0 lead.
Brodeur gets his 12th shutout of the season! …seriously, can there be anyone else for the Hart Trophy?
Martin Brodeur set a career high with his 12th shutout of the season in leading the Devils to a 1-0 win in Pittsburgh. It was Brodeur's third 1-0 shutout of the season and the 19th of his career, the most by any goaltender in the NHL's "modern era" (starting with the 1943 introduction of the red line). (Back in the pre-red line days, George Hainsworth set the all-time mark with 32 shutout wins by the minimum margin.)
But Brodeur really had to work to earn his shutout -- at least by his standards -- making 31 saves. It was the first of his 12 shutouts this season in which he faced 30 or more shots on goal, and only the 14th of his 92 career shutouts in which that was true.
Peter King from the Combine …
1. Calvin Johnson is atop everyone's draft board. Two team executives told me that not only is the Georgia Tech wide receiver the No. 1 player on their boards, but also he might be 32 for 32. The amazing thing is, there's a good chance he'll last until the fourth overall pick.
Oakland is 1 and has to pick a quarterback. Detroit, 2, would be excommunicated from the NFL if it picked its 43rd wide receiver in the last four drafts. Cleveland, 3, recently took Braylon Edwards in the first round, and its coach, Romeo Crennel, craves meat and potatoes. Tampa Bay, picking 4, already has Michael Clayton and Joey Galloway and needs help elsewhere, but I don't see Jon Gruden passing on the best receiver to come out in a while.
I'm not a big wideout guy this high, because I think you can find receivers down the line and the washout factor of first rounders -- by my count, only 10 of the last 30 wideouts picked in the first round are what I'd call impact players today -- is far too high. "Not many people have my size, speed and strength,'' Johnson said while in Indy. Right. Like, none. Not many 6-5, 239-pound wideouts with 4.4 speed and production.
2. Wisconsin tackle Joe Thomas was a breath of fresh air. He's a left tackle who runs like a linebacker (4.92 in the 40), looked svelte doing all the drills here, and looked very, very much like Rod Marinelli's kind of guy. Marinelli is trying to rework the Detroit locker room and make it an egoless place. Imagine getting a fixture tackle for a decade who thinks like this:
The Wisconsin defensive front had a spat of injuries near the end of the 2005 season and so Thomas, who played defense for one game as a freshman, volunteered to fill in at defensive end. In his first game back at defensive end, he tore his ACL, threatening his draft prospects for this year. Why'd he do it?
"We had a couple injuries during the year, and I just raised my hand and said I'd like to step in and help the team win. And we won. So who cares about the injury?''
I don't know Thomas. Maybe that's rehearsed. But if the Lions can determine that Thomas is legit and not the best actor in the '07 Combine, they've got to take him. "I'd love to play for Detroit,'' he said. Send the plane, Mr. Ford.
Sports by Brooks on the seedy life of Tom Lasorda …
JJT on the Cotton Bowl blame game …
If we can be honest, the Cotton Bowl had become an irrelevant game played in an outdated stadium.
For that we can blame politicians like Mayor Laura Miller for lacking the foresight to do what it took to facilitate a deal with Jerry Jones to ensure that his new stadium was built in Dallas County. It's too late for the $50 million now approved to give the stadium a facelift.
There's no guarantee the Cotton Bowl will ever be relevant again, which is sad. In its day, it was a great game that generated wonderful memories spanning decades and generations.
The only hope for the game to become a major player in college football again is if it's in the Cowboys' new domed stadium. Given Jones' influence and a state-of-the-art stadium, maybe the game could become part of the BCS championship game rotation in a few years. Or if the BCS decides to add another game, the Dallas-Fort Worth area would have to be one of the more attractive sites.
It's too bad it had to come to this, but blame the politicians – not the Cowboys – as it relates to this matter. After all, it was the City of Dallas that stood still and watched the Cotton Bowl leave. Trust me, the Texas-OU game is next, followed by the annual Grambling-Prairie View A&M game.
At this rate, it's only a matter of time until the City of Dallas becomes a virtual sports ghost town.
Tonight, Aggie plays Longhorn in Austin …
The No. 7 Aggies (24-4, 12-2 Big 12) and No. 15 Longhorns (21-7, 11-3) meet again tonight at the Erwin Center, in perhaps the most meaningful basketball tussle in the series' 90-year history.
For the first time, both teams will face each other while ranked in the top 15. Both still control their own destiny for a share of the conference title.
For the Longhorns, who not long ago dominated this series with an iron hand, it is a chance to reclaim their place as the state's basketball kingpin.
For the newly elite Aggies, who walloped UT 100-82 in a Feb. 5 meeting in College Station, it is a chance to take one more step toward completing the unfathomable about-face from Big 12's worst to Big 12's first.
I really don’t like this idea …
The Oakland Raiders are trying to dump Randy Moss and the Green Bay Packers definitely are interested if the former all-pro wide receiver would agree to a restructured contact in order to play with a better team and Brett Favre.
Sources close to the situation said the Packers had explored trading for Moss, the temperamental former Minnesota Viking who once pretended to moon the crowd at Lambeau Field.
The two teams have had preliminary dialogue but at this point the Packers consider Moss to be an economically unfeasible solution to their need for another receiver alongside Donald Driver and Greg Jennings.
Moss has two years left on his contract, including base salaries of $9.75 million in 2007 and $11.25 million in '08. Moss' business agent is Tim DiPiero, but some of his affairs are handled by James "Bus" Cook, the only agent Favre has ever had. Mindful of tampering rules, general manager Ted Thompson and Packers coach Mike McCarthy have carefully avoided talking about Moss. Yet, neither has denied interest in him, either.
Poor Ron Santo …
Ron Santo's heart was broken again Tuesday when he was denied entrance into the Baseball Hall of Fame, leaving the former Cubs icon to wonder whether his day ever will come.
The nine-time All-Star learned Tuesday morning the Veterans Committee again declined to admit any former major-leaguers into their exclusive club, the third time since 2003 that no one made the grade.
Santo finished first on the Hall of Fame ballot with 57 votes out of the 82 cast, or 69.5 percent of the total. That was five votes shy of the necessary 75 percent for induction, making the news that much harder to stomach.
Santo was too distraught to talk to the media, and his good friend and former teammate, Billy Williams, said he probably was devastated by the news.
"I felt sorry for him because he was so looking forward to getting the call," Williams said. "I felt really good about it this year. I talked to Ernie [Banks] yesterday and I think everybody who was involved [wanted it to happen]. Maybe we were a little partial to him because we were teammates, but I really thought with the credentials he had, he was deserving."Santo was followed in the voting on the players' ballot by former pitcher Jim Kaat, who garnered 52 votes (63.4 percent). Former Dodgers first baseman Gil Hodges finished third with 50 votes (61 percent), while former Twins outfielder Tony Oliva was fourth with 47 votes (57.3 percent). The candidate getting the most votes on the composite ballot, featuring managers, umpires and executives, was former ump Doug Harvey with 52 votes.
Though no one has been voted into the Hall by the Veterans Committee in the three years it has held a vote—2003, 2005 and 2007—Hall of Fame Chairman Jane Forbes Clark said "we feel strongly the process is open and fair."
Please don’t watch Livingston blow out his knee if you have a weak stomach