Saturday, November 04, 2006

CFB Saturday Live-Comment Tailgate

I've been so immersed in Florida-Vandy and Northwestern-Iowa (on the P-I-P) -- thank you, GamePlan -- that I am late in posting our weekly Live-Comment Tailgate. Have at it!

Update: How 'bout them Northwestern Wildcats! Meanwhile, I don't want ANY griping from Michigan fans this week when I vote Louisville No. 2 ahead of Michigan. Any team that lets Ball Effing State hang around isn't worthy of the No. 2 ranking. (Not like it matters: If the last two weeks are any indication, Michigan is going to get its ass handed to it by Ohio State anyway. Ball State? Come on! I shake my head at you, Michigan fans... And don't give me that "We were saving it for the Ohio St game" b.s. Ball State -- Ball State! -- was an incompletion away from taking the game to OT. What a joke. Stop griping about some entitlement to the No. 2 spot and learn how to put away the weak teams.)

Update 2: You know what? Take what I said about Michigan and apply it to Ohio St, too. I don't care that it was a conference game on the road: It was ILLINOIS! 17-10 is pathetic. Anyone who thinks that Ohio St is unstoppable is simply wrong. Based on watching them today, they could lose to Louisville, they could lose to a couple of teams in the SEC, they could probably lose to West Virginia (not that we'll ever find out). And, yeah, they could probably lose to Michigan (but not likely). But the point is: Ohio St. might be No. 1 -- unquestionably -- but that doesn't mean that OSU winning the BCS title game should be some kind of given.

Update 3: I've worked through my frustrations with both Michigan and Ohio St, and I think I agree with the general consensus on TV and online: Today was NOT a day to find style points from the top of the BCS (1 OSU, 2 Michigan, 4 Florida). And yet, doesn't that make Louisville's strong peformance in a win over the No. 3 team in the country THAT much more impressive?

Update 4: Wow. LSU's win over Tennessee was a hell of a game (particularly given LSU's last-gasp TD to come from behind on the road in Knoxville, where they haven't won since 1988), a real showcase of how good the SEC is. Particularly on a day when so many of the SEC's "name" brands (Florida, Georgia, Alabama) pooped the bed.

Saturday A.M. Quickie:
Kobe Returns (as No. 24)

As a first-year parent, my Friday nights are spent with a combination of delivery pizza (depressing), catching up on my DVR archive and, last night -- gratefully -- skimming around NBA League Pass's free preview, plus the games on ESPN, which included a sight that demanded a double-take: Kobe in uniform No. 24.

It WAS strange. I DID find myself looking at the screen going, "Wait: I haven't seen that No. 24 before, but he's pretty damn good." Can you think of another superstar pro player who switched numbers without switching teams? (Yes, this is what I think about on a Friday night.)

Obviously, college stars switch numbers all the time when they jump to the pros, but the pro star doesn't switch: His number is part of his brand. The most notable one I could think of was Shaq, who went from 32 to 34 when he went from the Magic to the Lakers. But that was switching teams. When was the last time this happened to a star who stayed on his same team?

If Kobe's intended effect was to make fans feel -- if only to a certain degree -- like they were watching a new player, I have to admit it sort of works. On its face, it's a superficial change, but star players' jersey numbers become part of their identities. He has let go of his "8"-ness. It's a form of reinventing himself:

"No. 8 Kobe" was the selfish gunner who blew it in Game 7 of last year's Western Conference playoffs vs. the Suns.

"No. 24 Kobe" scored 23 and seemed generally happy to be around his teammates, who HAD managed to go 2-0 without him. I had previously suggested that maybe the Lakers were better off without Kobe, with trading him for value that would make the overall team better.

I think I was talking about trading "No. 8 Kobe." Because the Kobe in jersey number "24" looked like the player ready to help this team defy preseason expectations (uh, mine) that they would miss the playoffs and be a drag on the West.

Welcome (back) to the NBA, Lakers No. 24.

-- D.S.

Friday, November 03, 2006

NFL Week 9 Preview and Picks

Yeah, it's been a busy morning:
Friday A.M. Quickie Roundup
Louisville-WVA Reactions
CFB Weekend Preview

Now, Week 9 NFL Preview...

Obviously, the Game of the Week is Sunday night between the Colts and Pats, the best rivalry in the NFL right now. Sorry it's so brief today:

Packers over Bills: Pack at .500? Whaaa?!
Bears over Dolphins: No repeat of '85.
Falcons over Lions: Vick as NFL MVP?
Chiefs over Rams: It's Huard-Mania.
Giants over Texans: Bring back Sage!
Saints over Bucs: Colston over Bush.
Cowboys over Skins: Brunell needs Bledsoing.
Jags over Titans: VY a poor man's Garrard.
Bengals over Ravens: Chad vs. Ray-Ray. Yes!
Niners over Vikings: Have to pick ONE upset
Broncos over Steelers: Def. champs 2-6?!
Chargers over Browns: No Merriman? No prob.
Pats over Colts: There's your No. 2 team.
Seahawks over Raiders: Seneca sensation!

Last week: 6-8
Season: 63-51 (Ugh.)

Comments Question: What are your biggest storylines for Week 9? How do you size up the matchups and how do you pick 'em?

-- D.S.

CFB Weekend Preview:
1-Loss Teams Jockey

Click here for:
Louisville-WVA: What's it all mean?

Friday 11/03 A.M. Quickie

With No. 1 Ohio St and No. 2 Michigan having gimmes this weekend, the focus shifts to the one-loss teams on the outside of the BCS looking in, jockeying for position:

Most notably, Tennessee can boost its cred immeasurably (or KO themselves for good) with a win over LSU, the best 2-loss team in college football.

And staying in the SEC, still-underrated (12) Arkansas has a trap game at South Carolina. Auburn has never rooted harder for Steve Spurrier.

Here's the Top 25 rundown:
(Upsets in bold)

1 Ohio St over at Illinois
2 Michigan over Ball St.
4 Texas over Oklahoma St.
6 Auburn over Arkansas St.
7 Florida over at Vandy
13 LSU over at 8 Tennessee
9 USC over at Stanford
10 Cal over UCLA
South Carolina over 12 Arkansas
16 BC over at 22 Wake Forest
17 Wisconsin over Penn St.
21 Texas AM over 18 Oklahoma
19 Clemson over Maryland
NC St. over 20 GA Tech
Miami over 23 VA Tech
24 Oregon over Washington
25 Washington St over Arizona

Comments Question: What are your biggest storylines for the weekend in college football?

-- D.S.

BCS Mania: Why Louisville is Worthy

Friday A.M. Quickie here.

My question for those who watched L'ville's win over WVA last night: Were you impressed enough with Louisville that, if they run the table, you'll be satisfied if they're the second team in the BCS title game?

I was. No team is going to be able to stop Ohio St.* But at least we know Louisville can score on them -- on anyone -- with as explosive an offense as there is in college football. Giving Bobby Petrino a month to scheme for an offensive game plan for the title game seems unfair.

Louisville will presumably jump to No. 3 – taking WVA's place -- in all the major polls, including the only one that counts: The BCS poll. Then, all L'ville has to do is:

(1) Take care of their own business. (And that's no gimme: I cannot WAIT for Louisville at Rutgers next Thursday in primetime.

(2) Wait for a loser to emerge from Ohio St-Michigan.

(3) Hope to god that a 1-loss SEC champ doesn't out-rate them in the final BCS poll. (I suspect it won't, even with an Auburn-Florida SEC title game. But it'll be close.)

But if you had any concerns before (or, like me, presumptions that WVA was going to win last night), fans can feel good about this Louisville team being BCS title-game worthy. As one commenter pointed out, I'm a year late in picking Louisville to run the table via the Big East and make the BCS title game. I had them pegged for that result LAST season. D'oh.

(That said, please keep in mind my sentiment below: Who DOESN'T want to see Rutgers beat Louisville, win out and crash the BCS title game? America's Team!)

-- D.S.

(* - Too presumptuous? I'm sorry: Michigan's offense doesn't scare me as much as Ohio State's offense does. Meanwhile, I think if any team can put points up on Michigan's sick D, it's Louisville.)

Friday 11/03 A.M. Quickie:
Louisville Rules BCS?

Top Story: L'ville 44, WVA 34. Louisville sizzles, West Virginia fizzles, and the BCS enjoys a little more clarity. If they can win out, L'ville has put itself in a position to meet the OSU-Mich winner in the BCS title game. More on that a little later this morning.

More on today's biggest news:

Suddenly, how huge is next Thursday's primetime matchup between Louisville and unbeaten Rutgers (at Rutgers)? Come on: Who ISN'T rooting for Rutgers?

(And I'm not talking about rooting for Rutgers for the purposes of helping your one-loss SEC, Pac-10, Big 12, Big Ten or "Independent" team of your choice; I'm talking about rooting for Rutgers because HOW ALL-TIME AMAZING WOULD IT BE IF RUTGERS MADE THE BCS TITLE GAME? Exactly.)

And how much of an instant non-factor is WVA? I'm sort of embarrassed I put them at No. 2 this week.

Melo ejected for bitching: You kind of expected Rasheed Wallace to get caught in the NBA's crackdown on player whining. But it's fascinating to see Carmelo Anthony, basketball's poster guy for the offseason (best player on the USA Oops team), get thrown out in Game 1.

Spurs beat Mavs in Dallas, and Tim Duncan didn't even have that great of a game. Of course, when you're talking about these two teams, Game 1 doesn't matter. Come talk to me when they're playing 95 games from now in a Western Conference playoffs Game 7.

Daunte Culpepper could miss the rest of the season. The Dolphins are considering putting him on injured reserve. That qualifies Daunte (along with the Dolphins, more generally) as the Bust of the Year.

David Garrard to start for the Jags: Byron Leftwich seems mystified, but presumably Del Rio doesn't like the state of the health of his former No. 1 QB. Controversy ahead.

NFL to gut "12th Man" home-field advantage: The league is reportedly going to test radios inside all players' helmets, effectively negating the effect of crowd noise on a visiting offense. The NFL claims its to speed up the games by limiting false-start penalties, but isn't that precisely the impact that loud home crowds are going for?

Daisuke Matsuzaka: Let the bidding start at...? Teams have until Wednesday to post their bid to earn the rights to negotiate exclusively with the Japanese pitching sensation. If he really would come in as one of the Top 10 starting pitchers in MLB (which I think he would), how can you NOT break the bank to sign a front-line guy? What's your over-under on the highest posting bid? I'll take the Boss for $30 million.

MLB Gold Gloves: Does Kenny Rogers' fourth straight G.G. (5th overall) come with a bit o' stick 'um on the edge?

Tennessee AD doesn't like potty language: I'm sorry, I can't agree with this. The student section should be encouraged to come up with the most clever cheers possible. Yes, even if they contain nasty phrasing. Hell, especially if they contain nasty phrasing. It's part of their charm.

NYC Marathon: All eyes on Lance Armstrong. In addition to being the big attraction of the event (who needs, you know, winners?), he'll be paced by Alberto Salazar, Joan Benoit Samuelson and Hicham el-Guerrouj. I paced my sister at the Chicago Marathon a couple years ago; needless to say, I don't expect it to be similar.

Breeder's Cup: Coming off my Pick of 2006 (Barbaro at the Kentucky Derby), I feel I have to weigh in. I'm liking the hype for Lava Man.

Coming later today:
NFL Week 9 Preview/Picks
CFB Weekend Preview/Picks

Last word: Borat.

-- D.S.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Special-Edition Thursday CFB Live-Comment:
West Virginia at Louisville

Sorry for the lack of updates this afternoon, but for those with the biggest game of the year (so far) in college football on their schedule for tonight, I invite you to add your pre-game, in-game and post-game commentary here. -- D.S.

Want a College Football Playoff?
You've Got One in WVA-Louisville

Tuesday A.M. Quickie here: Knicks win! (and other NBA observations), the state of Boise, Malkin Mania, NFL Quick Hits and more.

West Virginia-Louisville is the biggest game of the college football season so far, edging out Ohio St-Texas. If this game's winner proceeds to win out, it will be the second-biggest game of the season, period. (Behind, OSU-Mich, obvs.)

Why? Because, as I've been saying since the summer, it's a de facto national-championship semifinal game: The winner -- again, if they win out -- will likely be the second team in the BCS title game, meeting the Ohio St-Michigan winner.

Now, "winning out" is suddenly no guarantee (The Rutgers Factor! Can you believe we have a "Rutgers Factor?!?!"), but it will be very hard to deny the legitimacy of West Virginia, if they beat a Top 5 team on the road (or Louisville, if they beat a Top 3 team at home).

What makes this all the more intriguing is that WVA and L'ville have the entire stage to themselves tonight in primetime: Every college football fan will be paying attention, and there are no other games to distract us.

A spectacular showing by one or the other (or both, as in last year's wild barn-burner) will do more than all this season's previous games combined.

There's a fascinating kicker from Big East commish Mike Tranghese in Pete Thamel's profile of the Big East in today's NY Times, which ends with Tranghese's feelings if an unbeaten Big East champ is nudged out of the national-title game by a one-loss champ from, say, the SEC:

"I'd be disappointed. But if the worst thing that happens to the Big East is that we have a 12-0 team who finishes third in the country left out of the championship game, and we go play in another major bowl, it isn’t so bad."

I appreciate the attempt to manage expectations and I appreciate how far the Big East has come from two years ago when the league was a BCS laughingstock, but this is precisely the wrong thing you'd want to hear from a commissioner of a conference trying to earn everyone's respect. I wonder how WVA or L'ville (or Rutgers) fans/boosters/coaches feel about that?

Comments Question: What's your take on the game? The stakes? Is this game getting enough hype? Too much? Too little? Have at it.

-- D.S.

Thursday 11/02 A.M. Quickie:
Knicks Win! Knicks...Win?!?!

Stunner: Knicks win! They blew a massive fourth-quarter lead and it took 3 OTs, but the only thing that matters is that the Knicks are 1-0, with the type of win that they would NEVER have earned a year ago.

It's obvious: The players are so much happier playing for Isiah Thomas than for Larry Brown, it's laughable.

I mentioned it Tuesday in touting Isiah as my predicted NBA Coach of the Year: He needs only to top LB's 23 wins from a year ago to prove that last season was mostly Brown's fault; Thomas is well on his way.

My five most intriguing points from last night's NBA openers:

(1) LeBron (26 pts, 10 reb, 5 ast) continues to have the Wizards' number. And what the hell happened to Gilbert? (2/12 FG)

(2) Dwight Howard (27 pts, 11 reb) picks up where Amare Stoudemire left off. Anyone still doubt his value as a No. 1 overall draft pick?

(3) If Adam Morrison needs 13 shots to score 14 points, he's a long way from that Rookie of the Year award so many want to coronate him with.

(4) Chris Paul, after one game (20 pts, 10 ast, 7 reb) has re-established that he's the best PG in the NBA.

(5) The Lakers are 2-0, and that's WITHOUT Kobe. I repeat from yesterday: It's not crazy to wonder if they're at least as good (if not better) without him (assuming they could get valuable assets for him in a trade).

More on today's biggest news:

The biggest story of the day is tonight's West Virginia-Louisville game, which doubles as a de facto national playoffs semifinal game. More on that later this morning.

Boise St routs Fresno St: Maintains unbeaten season and BCS-bowl dreams. (No, not BCS *title-game* dreams, but how about just crashing the 10-team BCS payout-party?) Yet fans watching closely know that this season, Fresno is a shell of its former competitive self.

Michigan St fires John L. Smith: But now finds itself in the AWK-ward position of having him coach out the string. That's like living with your girl/boyfriend, then breaking up, but yet continuing to live with them. No, it's not pretty. Yes, I'm speaking from experience.

Quick, hide Jake Peavy: The Padres are going to interview Dusty Baker about managing. Just think of all those young pitching arms, just aching to be abused by Baker.

Evgeni Malkin: I believe! 6 goals in his first 6 NHL games sets a new standard in hockey history. I'm no hockey fan, but I can't help but find this kid's talent totally fascinating.

College hoops exhibition season tips off: UNC frosh flex their talent in a rout, but Louisville and Maryland barely survive. No. 1 Florida has its EXHB opener tonight.

Chad Johnson shaves his Mohawk: As promised. Any bets on what his next hairstyle might be? I'm rooting for some kind of weave.

Byron Leftwich practices, but Jack Del Rio isn't saying who his starting QB will be this Sunday. That can't be good for anyone.

Pats-Colts: The hype is already out of control...

-- D.S.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

NBA Sort-of-Opening Night Live-Comment

LeBron James vs. Gilbert Arenas.
Isiah's debut as Knicks coach.
Rising Raps vs. Big Three Nets.
Darko vs. Big Ben.
And So. Much. More.

It's a full slate of NBA games tonight to really tip off the season. I'm going to post this to hopefully spark a night of comments about the various storylines, etc. Have at it!

LeBron James = Sascha Baron Cohen
A.K.A. "The 'Bron-Bron/Borat Theory"

Have you seen the new ad campaign for LeBron James' new shoes? Cripes, how could you have missed it? And it's been launched for about 2 seconds. A slick TV ad campaign, online ads everywhere. (And, if you don't get tired of it, it's extremely well done.)

Most notably, the LeBron ad campaign going to take over tonight's 6 p.m. SportsCenter: Every ad on the show will be for the new shoes; it's unprecedented on the network.

(There was a rumor that LeBron himself will make cameos throughout the show as the various characters he plays in the ad campaign. ESPN denies that level of advertorial will be happening, however.)

If you've seen the TV ads (or remember from last year), you know what I'm talking about when I reference his "characters": Nike has created 3 LeBron alter-egos -- sides of his personality, I think is what they're supposed to represent.

Then I had an epiphany:

With the hysteria over the new "Borat" movie and the hysteria over "LeBron" dove-tailing at virtually the same (pop-)cultural moment, I realized that Sascha Baron Cohen is the LeBron James of comedy. Or perhaps vice versa. Both have genius-level ability in their respective fields.

But look one level deeper: The similarities between their alter-ego characters/archetypes is striking:

(1) "The Jabbering Fool"
LBJ: "Wise LeBron"
SBC: "Ali G"

"Wise LeBron" -- LeBron's most popular character is made up to look like a gray-bearded senior -- is supposed to represent LeBron's commitment to the "old school." (Watching the ads, he delivers subtly gifted physical comedy in an impression of how aging players move their bodies.) In one edition of the new TV ad campaign, "Wise" comments on a dunk: "Ain't been nothing good like that since 'Sanford and Son.'" He is a constant, chattering, trash-talking presence, yet ironically laced with mockery toward old-school values.

"Ali G" is Cohen's flagship character (at least he WAS, until Borat Mania hit). He is a hip-hop wannabe, with all of that archetype's professed interest in "keeping it real." If "Wise LeBron" is supposed to be an O.G., Ali G is supposed to represent the younger generation's adulterated attempt to emulate and honor the old school. It's all captured in his not-quite-right catch-phrase: "Respeck."

(2) "The Effete Aesthete"
LBJ: "Business LeBron"
SBC: "Bruno"

"Business LeBron" is the most fascinating of LeBron's alter egos: Nattily and proudly dressed in European-style suits, he speaks in a high, soft -- and intentionally effeminate? -- whisper. He is constantly on the cell phone (Doing deals? Wooing sexual partners across the spectrum?) and seems to disdain his fellow LeBrons. After losing a dunk contest to "Athletic LeBron," he complains, "Dunk contests are bourgeois." Representative of the superficiality of athletic culture, he intentionally sets himself apart from the other LeBrons.

"Bruno" is an Austrian fashion reporter, created to prod Americans' fears and hostilities toward (a) Europeans and (b) gay people. Similarly to "Business LeBron," he has an accent affected to play up his effeminate side. He is an outsider, attempting to expose or highlight the superficiality of U.S. culture. (Bruno is also scheduled to be Cohen's next movie; he just sold the distribution rights for $50 million.)

(3) "The Mischievous Naif"
LBJ: "Kid LeBron"
SBC: "Borat"

"Kid LeBron" is sort of strange to look at. It's LeBron's head on what appears to be a CGI mash-up with a kid's body. (In the linked clip, "Kid" seems to have perhaps been inspired by Lily Tomlin's Emily Ann on Sesame Street.) "Kid" is presumably supposed to embody LeBron's playful side – the arrested development that comes with being a "prep-to-pro" player and, despite his best-in-league talent, his continuing status as one of the NBA's youngest players.

"Borat" is similarly intellectually stunted or underdeveloped – but because of his cultural ignorance, rather than because of his age. The character is able to endear himself to so many of the people he meets precisely because of the perception (or projection) of his child-like innocence. Those who end up mocked don't see it coming; they are taken in by Borat's naive charm.

Update: Brian from YAY!Sports smartly noted one more fascinating similarity that I overlooked, but shouldn't have: Both LeBron and Cohen are extremely guarded about their real personalities are like. And thus the characters...

There you have it. Ah, in my previous life, this would have made a hell of a fun analysis for Page 2. My consolation: I can make truthful pronouncements like "Both LeBron and Sascha Baron Cohen are f'ing geniuses."

-- D.S.

Wednesday A.M. Quickie:
Heat Are Defending Chumps?

My favorite part about the first game of any major pro sports season is that it's the ultimate moment for Instant History:

(1a) The Bulls routed the Heat by 42 points in Miami: The Bulls are ready to take over as the best team in the East! (Oh, who predicted THAT?)

(1b) And coming off a title, have the Heat players lost their motivation?! (Uh, didn't predict THAT.)

(2a) *Without Kobe*, the Lakers beat the Suns: So much for my pick of the Suns as the best in the West (or my pick of the Lakers as destined to miss the playoffs).

(2b) And let the speculation begin: Could it be that the Lakers better off without Kobe?! (Hmm: Maybe they should build their team around man-child sophomore C Andrew Bynum, who had 18 pts, 9 reb and 5 ast.)

Tonight's NBA slate is a packed one, with the featured matchup being the most popular player in the NBA (LeBron James) vs. the player who SHOULD be the most popular (Gilbert Arenas).

More on today's top storylines:

Shawne Merriman will sit his 4 games for using steroids, without an appeal. It's an implicit admission of guilt, but more trouble for the Chargers' defense to lose its best player.

The Bulls signed Kirk Hinrich to a 5-year contract extension ($47.5M), and he must have felt either liberated or motivated, because he led all scorers last night with 26 points.

What do the Suns and Heat share – besides an opening-night "L" in the standings? Both are rumored to be in the running for paid-off ex-Knick Jalen Rose, who seems like a good fit on either. Hmm: Which team would YOU rather play for? The defending champ or the fun-n-run contender?

MLB Free Agency: My Top 3 most intriguing free-agents, in order: (1) Daisuke Matsuzaka, because he could command a package of up to $100 million (and we all know starting pitching is everything); (2) Barry Bonds, who will likely break the all-time HR record in whatever uniform he's wearing in 2007 (I love the idea of a reunion with Jim Leyland in Detroit); (3) Barry Zito, because he's the best (not to mention most expensive) domestic starting pitcher available.

Texas Tech hoops problems: Hold off on those predictions of a Top 15 season, friends. Red Raiders leading scorer Jarrius Jackson has been suspended indefinitely for academics.

It's going to be official today: Curtis Martin's season is over. The only question is whether his CAREER is over, and how soon we can start the clock ticking for his Hall of Fame induction.

What do the Maryland women's hoops team and the Florida men's hoops team have in common? Both won the national title last year, both return all five starters and both are No. 1 in their coaches' preseason poll.

Only one more day until the first half of college football's de facto national-title semifinal showdown. Much more tomorrow...

And, in today's sad story, 111-year-old former Negro League player Silas Simmons – who it feels like fans only these last few months got to know about – died yesterday. Truly the end of an era.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Halloween!


NBA 06-07 Preview: Playoff Picks
Who Will Win West, East?

Running all day: My NBA season preview.
More: MVP | Coach | Rookie | Storylines

How will the conferences play out?
I'd say there are five Finals contenders (Spurs, Suns, Mavs, Heat, Bulls), and the rest of it is up in the air for the right to not make the Conference Finals. For many teams, that's progress. Here's how I have it:

1. Spurs
2. Suns
3. Mavs
4. Clippers
5. Kings
6. Nuggets
7. Jazz
8. Warriors
West Champs: Suns

1. Bulls
2. Nets
3. Wizards
4. Heat
5. Pistons
6. Cavs
7. Raptors
8. Magic
East Champs: Heat

Heat over Suns

Comments Question: What is YOUR prediction for how the conferences will shake out? Who will be in contention? Who will be this year's surprise? How will the NBA Finals play out?

-- D.S.

NBA 06-07 Preview: Storylines
What Will Fans Be Talking About?

Running all day: My NBA season preview.
More: MVP | Coach | Rookie | Rankings

1. New ball. I can't believe that a piece of equipment will be the biggest storyline of the season, but if games get too sloppy because of the slippery new ball, the league will have to deal with it, won't they? Won't they?!?!

2. No bitching. Without the griping about calls, no-calls and everything in-beteween, how will top players express themselves? Watch for players to test the refs; will the league have the stones to T up LeBron every time he complains? That's a lot of T's.

3. No defense. Well, not exactly. Stops are necessary if you want to, say, win the NBA title, but for the 25 teams that are NOT championship contenders, offense is the way to go to simply be competitive enough to make the playoffs.

Riffing off the Suns' model in the West, Don Nelson seems poised to bring points back to Golden State. In the East, the gun-n-gun Wizards are my pick to surprise with a 3rd-place finish, and the Raptors' Suns-style makeover makes them my surprise "leap" team.

Comments Question: What is YOUR prediction for the NBA's top storylines this season?

-- D.S.

NBA 06-07 Preview: Rookie
Well It AIN'T Adam Morrison

Running all day: My NBA season preview.
More: MVP | Coach | Storylines | Rankings

I know who I'm NOT picking for Rookie of the Year: Adam Morrison. His preseason didn't live up to the hype. Not even close.

He can't play D. He doesn't rebound or create assists. He was supposed to be this great scorer, but his 36 percent FG shooting in the preseason was horrible. What are you left with? A lot of commercial appeal, but no Rookie of the Year Award.

What does a top ROY contender need?

Minutes, for starters. That's why Marcus Williams might be the "per-48-minutes" ROY, but he won't be able to win it simply being the Nets backup PG.

Stat-stuffing helps, too. Points, rebounds, assists, the whole thing. That's why I'm on the Brandon Roy bandwagon. The Blazers NEED him to be the leader, and so far, he's shown an interest in assuming the role.

(Looking for a darkhorse? How about second-round phenom Paul Millsap? What if the Jazz forward can get enough minutes to expand on his rookie-leading 7.4 rpg (in only 17 mpg).

Comments Question: Who is YOUR prediction for NBA Rookie of the Year? Who will be in contention? Who will be this year's surprise?

-- D.S.

NBA 06-07 Preview: Coach
Isiah's Expectations Management

Running all day: My NBA season preview.
MVP | Rookie | Storylines | Rankings

Isiah Thomas is my prediction for NBA Coach of the Year.

OK, please stop laughing. After all, last year, I picked Pat Riley – before he even returned to coaching – and I'd say I wasn't too far off base, especially if ballots were allowed to consider the playoffs.

How many wins would you need to see from the Knicks to give Isiah the C.O.Y. award?

I actually have a number in mind: 24, precisely one more win that Larry Brown earned for the Knicks a year ago. The Knicks might owe LB $40 mil, but there would be no bigger F-U to Brown than to confirm that the Knicks' disgrace from a year ago was, more than anything, HIS fault.

And I think Isiah can do it, simply by NOT being Brown. I think the players will be motivated to reach "24" simply out of spite for their old coach.

Topping Brown STILL might not be enough to save Isiah's job*, but it's enough to salvage Isiah's pride.

(* - I have a little theory working that James Dolan will hire Billy Donovan away from Florida as soon as the Gators win their back-to-back title next spring.)

Runner-Up: Don Nelson. This is the bandwagon pick, and I'm happy to acknowledge that. From all available evidence, Nelson has taken his fingers and given the Warriors the coaching equivalent of the shocker. They averaged 98 ppg last season; in the preseason, they are 16 ppg ahead of that pace. He doesn't need to win the title to win COY; contending for the 8th playoff spot would be more than enough.

3rd: Scott Skiles
4th: Eddie Jordan

Comments Question: Who is YOUR prediction for NBA Coach of the Year? Who will be in contention? Who will be this year's surprise?

-- D.S.

NBA 06-07 Preview: MVP
LeBron Gets What He Deserves

Running all day: My NBA season preview.
More: Coach | Rookie | Storylines | Rankings

Did you catch LeBron James on "The Daily Show" last night? It was LeBron at his most Jordan-esque: Blandly appealing, saying nothing to potentially erode "Brand LeBron," flashing teases of playfulness to keep viewers (and Jon Stewart) hooked in fascination.

It was a master class on display of how LeBron has, at 21, completely perfected his image. Jordan didn't reach that point for years and certainly didn't have it at age 21. Similarly, LeBron's skills, at 21, are greater than MJ's skills at 21. LeBron's skills are, in fact, greater than any 21-year-old basketball player who has ever lived.

By all accounts, metrics, formulas or arguments, LeBron should have been the NBA's MVP *last* season. (He was MY pick.) Based on the consensus that the Cavs will improve significantly in the standings, I think he's a lock for MVP this season. Presumably, his few remaining critics were just waiting on more wins.

Runner-Up: Gilbert Arenas

I have said before my favorite player is Agent Zero. You're certainly allowed to have your own favorite player – but I can't imagine that Arenas isn't the top contender to be fans' SECOND-favorite player. How can you NOT love him? That's why I highly recommend getting yourself the hottest T-shirt of the fall season from the geniuses at Free Darko.

3rd: Kobe Bryant
4th: Dwyane Wade

What about reigning MVP Steve Nash? He's been "Jordanized": After 2 MVPs, voters will be tired of giving him the award and look around for someone new. (I thought this would happen last year; it'll definitely happen this year.)

Comments Question: Who is YOUR pick for NBA MVP? Who will be in contention? Who will be this year's Elton Brand-style surprise contender?

-- D.S.

Halloween Mania:
Should I Use "Boos-day?"

Tuesday A.M. Quickie here.

No, I shouldn't, but as I hustled my five-month-old out the door this morning to day-care dressed in his frog costume, I am caught up in the spirit of the holiday.

(No sports costume for him, you ask? I actually bought him a complete infant-sized Florida basketball uniform – shorts, jersey, shooting shirt – but "cute" outweighed "f'ing amazing." OK, for this year...)

So I got a press release yesterday that Adam Morrison is going to be the cover-guy for EA's NCAA March Madness '07 game. (Immediate thought: Will he be pictured (a) crying or (b) giving up before the game is over?)

Hey, Morrison isn't a bad choice for a sports-themed Halloween costume:

First, you could easily find his Bobcats jersey (though then you'd be stuck with it after the holiday, and it's looking more and more like the guy's going to be a bust -- or at least not the stud his slurpers proclaimed he would be).

Next, you could find the right wig and the obligatory fake moustache. Runny mascara (to indicate weeping) is optional. (And don't even think about adding in a diabetic insulin pump or holding a syringe... out of bounds.)

Here's my question: What would be your most clever sports-themed costume idea – and how would you execute it? (And "Carl Monday" is great but ineligible: It's already claimed by Deadspin.)

-- D.S.

Tuesday A.M. Quickie:
Brady, Brown, Bush and Boo!

There's a ton to cover today, so I'm going straight into the Quickie-style run-down. Much more to come throughout the day...

Brady, Pats crush Vikings: Forget Brady's 372 yards or 4 TDs. How about the stat that he threw to a season-high 10 receievers? The Pats are rolling. If the Pats were playing the Colts or Bears next week with a playoff spot on the line, would you pick against them right now? I wouldn't.

Knicks, Larry Brown settle: Now, does ANYONE know (or even have a guess) what the terms were? C'mon: This is the MOST important detail!

I like the Celtics' uniform tribute to Red: A black clover-leaf on their jerseys. It's better than the standard black bar on the shoulder.

Soriano wants Beltran money: Apparently, that's what he told the O's, which would make his demands 7Y/$120 mil. (Is he worth it? If you think Beltran is worth that much, Sori is, too.)

Aramis Ramirez files for free agency: How about this – the Yankees trade A-Rod, then use 2/3 of his $16 million paycheck to get Ramirez, saving $5 mil to deploy as part of their package for a new SP.

Bonds' agent argues that all 30 teams could use him: You know what? He's not necessarily wrong. I like the O's interest; they could use the p.r. boost (for better or worse).

Is Curtis Martin's career over? His season likely is -- and his career is, too. Has any Hall of Fame RB had a quieter career? But I have him as a HOF lock.

Dennis Green's job is safe... for now. Management wasn't exactly effusive, saying it's not like a coaching change would make things better... for now.

Shaun Alexander won't play next week vs. the Raiders on MNF. Wouldn't it be unreal if Oakland could string together 3 wins in a row?

Why is David Carr still starting? The Texans should take a lesson from their cross-state rivals in Dallas. Bring out the backup!

Reggie Bush says his ankle injury isn't serious. Maybe now he can focus on explaining why he shouldn't be considered a rookie bust.

Mario Manningham could play as soon as Saturday: That's good news for Michigan, because without him, they aren't a Top 2 team. But I'd argue why risk putting him in too early? Save him for the OSU game.

Why would WVA coach Rich Rodriguez even THINK about coaching at UNC? He's worthy of a MUCH bigger job -- he could take over at FSU and I think Noles boosters and fans would be pretty damn happy.

It's the "Cuban Rules": The NBA isn't just going to crack down on players who get too hysterical on the court; owners sitting nearby will be closely monitored and controlled, too. Boo!

Harold Reynolds is suing ESPN for wrongful termination: Oh, THAT will be an interesting deposition...

That Magic fan who yelled a racial slur at Dikembe Mutombo had his season tickets revoked. Agreed. (But it's interesting: The guy seems contrite. It doesn't excuse his actions, but usually, damage control like he's trying – public apologies, donations to Mutombo's charity, not returning to a game until Mutombo accepts his apology – usually works effectively.)

Story of the Day: The Tennessee State women's hoops coach was on "Deal or No Deal" last night and won $265K. She makes $75K, so I say "Deal!"

It's the start to the NBA season. I'm going to be posting my 06-07 NBA preview in dribs and drabs throughout the day. As far as televised games, it's a pretty good opening slate: Bulls-Heat and Suns-Lakers tonight, with Arenas-LeBron tomorrow.

-- D.S.

Monday, October 30, 2006

MNF Live-Comment Mania:
Pats vs. Vikings

Use the Comments section to (a) comment on the Pats-Vikes MNF game, (b) get in your final shots on Week 8, (c) identify the big storylines for THIS week and (d) look ahead to Week 9. Have at it!

Coming tomorrow: Finally, I get serious about my NBA preview...

BCS Analysis + New Top 25:
Yes, We HAVE a 4-Team Playoff

I thought I had an epiphany this weekend that the BCS title game would be between the Ohio St-Michigan winner and...

The Ohio St-Michigan loser.
(At least, if their game is close.)

I have since come to my senses. If the WVA-Louisville winner wins out, that team will be ranked No. 2 in the BCS formula, directly behind the OSU-Mich winner.

Don't worry about the computer polls as they stand today: You'd be ranked in the double-digits too if you had as weak of a schedule as WVA has had... SO FAR.

The thing is: Both WVA and L'ville's schedules get much tougher (starting, obviously, with their own game this Thursday against each other). That remaining schedule should be enough to nudge the winner (again, provided they win out), up the computer polls and into that No. 2 slot.

And so we're left with a very interesting scenario:

The possibility that we have a pair of de facto national semifinal games, albeit weeks apart: WVA-L'ville and Ohio St-Michigan. Guess what? It is effectively the 4-team playoff you've been griping about having for years. (Is it perfect? No. Is it good enough? Quite possibly.)

If the WVA-L'ville winner somehow stumbles before the end of the season, all bets are off, but in that scenario, I contend the pole position will go to the one-loss SEC champ, particularly if it's Florida (and even more so if it's Florida over Auburn in the SEC title game).

The second-most-likely one-loss contender would be the Ohio St-Michigan loser. Then, the "S.O.L." One-Loss Crew: Texas, USC/Cal winner and, if USC wins that, the USC/Notre Dame winner.

But as long as the WVA-Louisville winner runs the table, the BCS formula numbers should work out for them at No. 2, and it'll be hard – even for a one-loss SEC champ or one-loss OSU-Mich runner-up – to win the day. Ask Auburn about being the "People's Champ." It's hollow.

Now, on to my rankings for this week, and you Michigan fans will be unhappy. Why did I drop Michigan from No. 2 to No. 3? Because they could only beat Northwestern 17-3 at home. Don't give me "weather conditions." Don't tout the rush defense. UM should have smoked NU, but didn't. Period. And as a Northwestern person, I would know.

1. Ohio St.
2. West Virginia
3. Michigan
4. Louisville
5. Arkansas
6. Auburn
7. Florida
8. Tennessee
9. Texas
10. Notre Dame
11. USC
12. Rutgers
13. LSU
14. Cal
15. Clemson
16. Georgia Tech
17. Boise St.
18. Wisconsin
19. B.C.
20. Texas A&M
21. Oklahoma
22. Oregon St
23. Wake Forest
24. Washington St.
25. Oregon
Honorary Vote: Temple

-- D.S.

R.I.P. Red Auerbach
(Or, An All-Time "What If?")

It's been 36 hours of memories and meaning as analysts, experts, fans and others discuss the life and impact of the late Red Auerbach.

I have a different angle:

If things had gone a little differently more than seven decades ago, perhaps I would be the scion of the Celtics. Let me tell you a story...

My grandmother grew up in the old Brooklyn neighborhood with Auerbach. He was 89 and she is now 88, so they were contemporaries.

Anyway, one time my gram and I were hanging out, and Auerbach's name came up. I must have read that he grew up in Brooklyn, because I asked her if she knew him. She said she knew him pretty well, that they had hung around in the same Williamsburg social circles, even though back then he was an athletic big-shot.

Then, she told me that not only did she know him, but he had pestered her for a date. (This was a few years ago; when I reminded her about that detail this morning, she kind of laughed it off and said he wasn't her type, "but a nice enough kid." I think I regret never tracking down Auerbach in my hometown of D.C., where he lived, to ask if he remembered her.)

Anyway, at the time she told me about this proffered date (or, perhaps, what I had projected to be a proffered date), my mind raced with the possibilities: What if?!

What if my grandma had married Red Auerbach and I had ended up being the scion of the Celtics basketball empire? Would I be in charge right now, getting ripped by local media and Bill Simmons?

Would I have been consulted on the hire of Rick Pitino? Or about draft strategies? Would I have been a part of the team's management -- some sort of DNA inheritance? Would I have picked them apart as an outsider? I can't imagine that I would have NOT had a huge career in basketball.

That's where this dovetails with the obitu-analysis of Auerbach's life and career: Correctly asserted, there will never be (or, more accurately, CAN never be) be another Auerbach.

An "heir to Auerbach's legacy?" Whether you're talking about the Celtics or the NBA as a whole, there simply can't be.

There will never be a sports-team owner who gives up the first pick in the draft (hello, Bill Russell!) in exchange for a week's worth of gate receipts from the Ice Capades. Or being the only one to see the draft loophole that netted the C's Larry Bird. Or the sociological moment of the impact of being the first basketball GM to draft a black player -- or the first coach to field an all-black starting five.

In the "post-Red" era of the NBA, coaches are at the whim of their personnel limitations; rare is the innovator like Mike D'Antoni. In the "post-Red" era, GMs are -- optimally -- technocrats who effectively balance budgets with statistically enabled scouting. Think of the new gold standard: Toronto's Bryan Colangelo, hardly an NBA celebrity.

The Celtics' dominance of the late 1950s and 19060s was intriguing far more for the brains behind the team than simply the team's skill or success. That's what made Auerbach so unique in basketball.

Anyway, back to my story: It ended all for the best that my gram was merely friendly with Auerbach and not, say, his spouse for a half-century.

As it turned out, my grandma married my grandfather, whose 40-year career as a newspaper reporter and editor and the New York Times was a -- and perhaps THE -- profound influence on my decision-making about having a career in journalism.

And so instead of running the Celtics, I'm writing about the Celtics. Instead of getting ripped by local media and Bill Simmons, I have gotten tweaked by bloggers (uh, and Bill Simmons).

But it remains one of the more intriguing (if far-far-fetched) sports-related "What If" hypotheticals of my life. R.I.P., Mr. Auerbach.

-- D.S.

Update: Here are a few links to Red-related content. I'm partial to the WashPost sports section (the one I grew up on), but that's not the only reason I'd point you to John Feinstein's take in today's paper. He also wrote a book with/about Auerbach and is quite his expert.

*John Feinstein's take
*Boston Globe's Blog
(lots of links)
*'s links

World Series Reax:
Was It All a Dream?

A Friday night World Series title means that by Monday, no one gives a shit.

I'm serious. It's been less than 72 hours and does anyone -- outside of Cards fans -- care (or barely remember) the Cards won the World Series?

No, actually. Any lingering interest on Saturday morning was eclipsed on Saturday evening by USC's upset loss, throwing the BCS into turmoil, then Sunday's NFL action, which tends to eclipse everything anyway.

Combine the early-weekend win with the fact that this was the least-watched World Series ever, and the Cards' title will go down as the least memorable in baseball history.*

(* - By the way, that won't be fair at all: As far as superlatives go, to have the worst-ever regular-season record for a champ is tremendous. It could be the closest we ever get to the dream of the champion with the sub-.500 record.)

Usually after major-sport championships, we spend a lot of time trying to figure out how the champ established the new "blueprint" for how a team can win a title.

Not this time: What, exactly, about the Cards' run was a template for future success? "Stave off the all-time worst regular-season collapse!" or "Rely on the vagaries of chance in the postseason!"

The "unnotableness" of this Cards champ actually sort of makes them all the MORE notable. We spend so much time looking for "meaning" in our champions; isn't it refreshing to have a meaningless one?

-- D.S.

Monday A.M. Quickie:
Who DOESN'T Like Tony Romo?

An interesting week in the NFL was capped last night by the most unlikely starring performance:

Tony Romo leading the suddenly surging Cowboys to 35 straight points in a 35-14 primetime win over the suddenly sucking Panthers.

It's not crazy to use "explosive" as an adjective for the Cowboys offense (and not mean "like T.O.'s diarrhea of the mouth"). Drew Bledsoe has seen this movie before; it doesn't end well for him.

Here's my complete NFL Week 8 breakdown.

NFL Week 8 Awards:
NFL Player of Week 8: Michael Vick
NFL Tandem of Week 8: Manning/Wayne
NFL Rookie of Week 8: Marques Colston
NFL Backup of Week 8: Sage Rosenfels
FFL Player of Week 8: Larry Johnson

More from today:

BCS Rankings Update: Though I remain convinced that there will be a lot of pressure to create a BCS title game that pairs the winner of Ohio St-Michigan with... the loser of Ohio St-Michigan, I think if WVA runs the table by beating Louisville and Rutgers, they'll have the formula points to edge out a 1-loss OSU-Mich loser or a 1-loss Florida.

Reggie Bush injured: I'm not unsympathetic to his injury, but I stand by my analysis from yesterday. As a No. 2 overall pick, he's been more dud than stud and certainly hasn't lived up to the hype. But it all worked out for the Saints: Who else has Colston Fever!

Bye week for Cards: Bye-bye week for Dennis Green?

Rudi Johnson is pissed he only got 12 carries. I don't blame him.

David Carr gets benched: If the Texans knew their best offense would consist of backup QB Sage Rosenfels and 6th-round RB draft pick Wali Lundy, do you think they would have taken Reggie Bush?

World Series TV ratings: Worst Ever. More on that later today.

MLB players file for free agency: Those top pitchers are the most important names, but Barry Bonds' situation is by far the most intriguing. If I was the Angels or Dodgers, I'd sprint to sign him.

Red Auerbach funeral today: There are a ton of obituary analyses of Auerbach around the mainstream media. I've got my own contribution. More on that later today, too.

Knicks to waive Jalen Rose: Don't cry for him; they're going to buy out the rest of his contract.

Florida QB Chris Leak played the second half of the Gators' win over Georiga with a concussion: He was wrong to not tell his coaches about it, and it obviously affected his play. Think the "Tebow Effect" had anything to do with his decision-making? I do.

Rutgers wins! Ugly, pretty, it doesn't matter. The dream lives on another week.

We are truly living in a glorious era when the phrase "Florida State QB controversy" really doesn't mean squat.

-- D.S.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

NFL Week 8 Wrap-Up

A few half-baked thoughts following Sunday's games:

Early-afternoon games:

Not-so-dirty Birds: Amazingly, for the second straight week, the Falcons were involved in winning the Best Game of the Week. And, though I didn't think it was possible, Mike Vick was even BETTER this week than last week.

Can we all agree that if you just saw the stats and didn't know the player's name was "Reggie Bush," you'd say that – as a No. 2 overall pick -- he's been more dud than stud. (In fact, he's miles behind even being the best rookie on his own team! That would be Marques Colston.)

The Vince Young Era is in full effect. 7/15 for 87 yards passing? Who cares? How about those zero INTs? And how about that 10 yards-per-carry average, complete with a rushingTD? He did just enough to win the game, and that's all that matters.

Two words: L. J. Uh, were people really wondering if Larry Johnson was worth the preseason Fantasy hype?

Someone needs to explain the Jags. Someone needs to explain the Eagles. They get together and play and they both remain mystifying. Why do I get the feeling this is the one great game a year that Fred Taylor uses to keep tantalizing everyone?

The Giants' D is very very good. I'm not saying that Bruce Gradkowski was supposed to pick them apart, but New York totally neutered the Bucs.

It's a banner day, as the pride of Jewish fans everywhere – Texans backup QB Sage "Chosen One" Rosenfels – came off the bench to throw 3 TDs. Even in a loss, it's progress.

Apparently, Rex Grossman has excised whatever fart had been lodged in his brain during the Monday Night debacle at Arizona.

Steve McNair makes the Ravens a playoff team. I'm back to touting his "MVP" worthiness. I'm not saying he IS MVP, but you certainly can't deny the affect he has on the team when he's playing.

The Cardinals are bad... How bad are they? The Cardinals are SO bad... that they make the PACKERS look good.

Late-Afternoon Games

Shawne Merriman: 3 sacks. Think he's playing with much motivation, knowing he might be out four games in the future? (Meanwhile, Tomlinson hit the 8,000-yard mark – in his 6th season – and tied Emmitt as the 2nd-fastest player ever to 90 TDs. Sick.)

The Colts became the first team to start 7-0 in back-to-back seasons since the Packers in 1930, but let's be honest: That doesn't mean jack if they don't win the Super Bowl. That's why the game's far more important milestone was Adam V. kicking the game-winning FG. Sign of things to come down the road... when it REALLY counts?

You have my sympathy, Jets fans: I'd be upset too if I lost to the Browns. That it happened on a controversial play is kind of beside the point. (Although it begs the question why officials' "judgment calls" aren't reviewable. Totally ludicrous.)

Finally, let's make it VERY clear: Playing Ben Roethlisberger cost the Steelers the game. He threw for 301 yards and 1 TD, but it would have been 426 yards and 3 TDs if you count the two INT-TDs he threw. It's very likely this was the final nail in the Steelers' "title-defense"; the season isn't even halfway over and they are as good as done.

Use the Comments section to have your say about all the NFL developments of the day.

-- D.S.