LeBron hits brick wall known as Pistons …
LeBron James drove to the rim on Richard "Rip" Hamilton, who is quick as his slash and stick nickname, but he also is spindly, like a jagged splinter that can fester if it wounds you. Hamilton is 6-6, not even 190 pounds. James is 6-8, 250.
You expect James to bulldoze him.
James has met a lot of expectations in the four years since he entered the NBA as the most hyped rookie ever. But he has not met the expectations of making a winning play against the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Cavs lost again, 79-76, the second straight brutal finish to an ugly game.
He passed in the first game with the Cavaliers down two, and Donyell Marshall missed the would-be winning 3-pointer.
Thursday night, with the Cavs down one, James missed a twisting, off-balance half-hook off the glass as Hamilton swiped at the ball and seemed to rake his arm. You don't get that call, not on this floor, not in that clock situation. Maybe you should, but that is not the way games have ever been called.
Let the players decide it, is the referees' motto. Decide what? Sumo wrestling in short pants instead of those loincloth thingies? Goat-roping and bulldogging, like in the rodeo?
Basketball is not much of a game if the only way to stop great players is to mug them. This is how two of the four teams still playing professional basketball manage not to even reach 80 points in 96 minutes of clumsy action.
Pistons continue to walk slippery slope …
This time, LeBron James shot it. This time he missed it, and another Cavalier missed, and another Cavalier missed, and in those frantic final seconds, we saw what this series has become, before our wincing eyes.
The Cavaliers keep battling, and the Pistons keep making one more play at the end, one more play than James. It's pretty obvious now, this isn't going to get any easier for the Pistons, no matter how much tougher they make it for James.
Detroit's victory in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals Thursday night looked almost exactly like the opener. The score -- 79-76 -- was the same. The difference? The right player missed the last shot, although the Cavs loudly protested James was fouled by Richard Hamilton with 7.9 seconds left and Detroit hanging on to a 77-76 lead.
Maybe he was fouled. Maybe a seasoned superstar gets that call. Or maybe the sweaty final seconds remain the experienced Pistons' domain, as do the taut second halves, when they wiped out a 12-point deficit with a familiar suffocation that was borderline inhumane.
James finished with 19 points, five in the second half. Rasheed Wallace scored 16 and had 10 of the Pistons' final 13, including the tough winner with 24 seconds left. His defense was nearly as good as his clutch offense.
"Since we started the playoffs, 'Sheed has been extremely locked in, extremely motivated, and down the stretch, he wanted the ball," coach Flip Saunders said. "It was just a matter of who was going to make a few plays down the stretch."
Down the stretch -- that's when you're defined in these games. It's not how much you score but when you score. It's something Detroit's veterans know, something James and the Cavs are still learning.
That learning curve is starting to twist, slowly. If not for little-used reserve Jason Maxiell, who scored 15 and showed phenomenal energy, this night was trouble for the Pistons. A technical foul on Cleveland coach Mike Brown with one second left settled it, but nothing has been settled yet.
Meanwhile, In former BaD Radio intern news, Mike Bacsik continues his Cinderella Story …
There is no accounting for the way Mike Bacsik pitched Thursday night, or the way he pitched last week in what was his first major league start since 2004. But the 29-year-old Washington Nationals left-hander -- a man who thought he might be out of baseball when these very same Nationals released him in 2006 -- somehow spun 7 2/3 innings of three-run ball in a 4-3 victory over the Cincinnati Reds, a decision that gave Washington three wins in this four-game series.
Each time Bacsik squinted in to look for the sign, he stared at the fingers of one Brian Schneider, his catcher. Such is the status of the Nationals these days that even when they get a 3-for-4, two-RBI performance from first baseman Dmitri Young, even when they get a home run from shortstop Cristian Guzman, even when Chad Cordero makes hearts thump when he closes it out in the ninth, the most important player on the field, day-in and day-out, might be the guy who went 0 for 4 Thursday.
This hodgepodge staff -- one that has four-fifths of the starting rotation on the disabled list, one that has used 17 different pitchers this year -- is now getting production from all sorts of unexpected sources. Not the least of those is Bacsik, who notched his first major league win since Aug. 4, 2004, when he was in Texas, and now has a 1.98 ERA in his first two starts with Washington.
So, as the Nationals have fashioned 10 wins in their past 14 games, nods have gone out to pitching coach Randy St. Claire, who stitches it all together, and a few more to Ricardo Aponte, the bullpen coach who's keeping the relievers focused on a nightly basis.
But the one man who is there each night is Schneider, the 30-year-old who has a staff of pitchers who, almost every time, throw the pitch he wants to throw.
"We can talk all we want about our pitching staff and the great job that Randy's doing, and Rick Aponte," Manager Manny Acta said. "But Brian Schneider's been huge."
As the Nationals have waited for offense -- they had only twice scored seven runs in a game before this week, and they did so three times in this series -- they have chewed through pitchers. The turnover has been so rapid that last week, when lefty Billy Traber came up from Class AAA Columbus, Schneider didn't get to say hello until he met Traber on the mound for his first appearance.
"You got guys coming up here I haven't caught since spring training," Schneider said. "It's tough, being able to talk to them about what's been working for them down there, to what might work here. Where to set up. What counts to get out there on the corners. There's a lot of things going on, but it's all about what's going to make them the most comfortable."
So Bacsik got comfortable with Schneider quickly. When he made his Nationals debut with six scoreless innings against Baltimore on Saturday, he shook Schneider off once. On Thursday night, when the only runs he allowed came on a solo homer to Adam Dunn in the fifth and a two-run blast from Alex Gonzalez in the eighth, he followed Schneider's advice on each and every one of his 100 pitches.
"When he goes over the hitters before the game," Bacsik said, "he has a commitment to what he says, and he knows it's going to work, which makes me believe it's going to work, too."
Schneider, then, convinced Bacsik of the game plan, and then went out and executed it. Bacsik, with no guarantees as to how long he'll be here, essentially put his career in another man's hands.
"I don't know if I could do that," Schneider said. "If I'm a pitcher, just say, 'Whatever this guy calls, I'm throwing it.' For someone to do that, you got to respect him."
So it worked Thursday, even as Bacsik said: "I got away with some pitches. Those were crush-me pitches."
Yet the reeling Reds didn't crush many of them. After Dunn homered in the fifth, he came up again with a man on in the seventh and struck out on a flat, 75-mph curveball.
"Luckily, I think it was so pathetic that he missed it," Bacsik said.
Still need more Bacsik? …
There was a time not long ago when Mike Bacsik wondered whether he would get a chance to win another major league game.
"Sure," the bald-headed, physically uninspiring pitcher said. "Last year, April 1, when Washington told me: 'You know what? We don't have any spots for you in Triple-A, and we're going to release you.' "
So when Bacsik completed his journey back last night to beat the Cincinnati Reds 4-3 and earn his first win in three years, it was reason enough for the 29-year-old to smile.
That it came wearing the uniform of the same Nationals team that released him just more than a year ago made the story all the more impressive.
Bacsik had no reason to re-sign with Washington last winter, not after getting dumped by the organization, then going 11-0 for the Arizona Diamondbacks' Class AAA affiliate in Tucson. He could have signed with anyone.
But Nationals assistant general managers Mike Rizzo and Bob Boone pleaded with him to come back. They admitted their mistake in letting him go, and despite some reservations, Bacsik agreed to come to spring training and again compete for a job.
"They were really persistent," the left-hander said. "They called and they called, and I thought to myself: 'I've got to give this another chance.' "
Bacsik again didn't make the major league roster, but he did earn a spot in Class AAA Columbus' rotation, and the way he handled the whole situation convinced Washington manager Manny Acta he deserved a shot to be called up last week.
"Character. Big-time character," Acta said. "This guy got released by us last year and went and had an 11-0 season in Triple-A and decided to come to camp with us. That shows a lot."
And now Bacsik has his first big league win since Aug. 4, 2004, (when he pitched for the Texas Rangers) to show for it. In thoroughly befuddling the Reds over 72/3 innings last night, he helped Washington win three out of four from Cincinnati and improve to 10-4 over the last two weeks.
Sox in tonight; here comes Daisuke …
The numbers – 6-2, 4.06 ERA, the seventh-most strikeouts in the American League (58) – tell part of the story of Boston Red Sox rookie phenom Daisuke Matsuzaka. Let teammate David Ortiz tell the rest.
"He's so under control that he reminds me of Pedro when he's out there doing his thing," Ortiz said, referring to former Red Sox star Pedro Martinez. "It doesn't matter what the situation is. He always looks like he's in control."
Matsuzaka, 26, is beginning to live up to and maybe even surpass the hoopla that comes when a team spends over $100 million to acquire your services. He's scheduled to make his first appearance against the Rangers tonight in Arlington after being named last week's AL Player of the Week. He is 3-0 with a 1.88 ERA in his last three appearances, pitching seven innings in each of them. He hasn't walked a batter in 17 innings.
We live in a time when there are no secrets, even if you come from the other side of the world. The hype machine has been operating at full whirl since last November, when the Red Sox won the posting bid for Matsuzaka. Most New Englanders, even those who have been paying little attention since then, probably know more about him than they do about their neighbor.Matsuzaka became eligible to pitch in the majors last winter following his eighth season with Japan's Seibu Lions. He wowed American observers during spring training 2006 by leading Japan to a surprising victory in the first World Baseball Classic and followed that with his best season for the Lions – 17-5 with a 2.13 ERA.
Boston was awarded the rights to negotiate with Matsuzaka with an unprecedented $51.1 million bid to the Lions. The Red Sox eventually stared down uber-agent Scott Boras through 29 contentious days of negotiations, signing Matsuzaka to a contract far closer to their original offer (the final deal was six years, $52 million) than Boras' original demand (three years, $48 million).
And they did it while consciously bending their approach to the Japanese norms of civility and respect. Matsuzaka, in fact, said he decided to sign with the Sox when he realized they would help his family make the cultural adjustments to the United States.
Love Bill Simmons; Don’t love his constant Boston subjects…Happy Celtics lost lottery …
Remember yesterday I was in love with the Mavericks going to get Zach Randolph? Sam Smith looks at his rap sheet …I might want to adjust my opinion…
Sure, there have been troubled players who have succeeded, like Rasheed Wallace with the Pistons and Dennis Rodman with the Bulls.
But this, according to newspaper reports over the years, is what you also get with Randolph:
•1995. Thirty days in juvenile detention for shoplifting.
•High school years: Thirty days of house arrest for battery.
•Thirty days in juvenile detention for receiving stolen property, a gun.
•2002. Underage drinking arrest in Marion, Ind., his hometown.
•2003. Team suspension by the Trail Blazers for sucker-punching teammate Ruben Patterson in practice and breaking his eye socket.
•2003. Arrested in Portland for driving under the influence of intoxicants and marijuana.
•2004. Accused by police of lying in an investigation of his brother shooting three men in an Indiana nightclub.
•2006. Suspended by the Trail Blazers for making obscene gestures to fans after a game in Indiana.
•2006. Sued by a Portland woman for sexual assault, though prosecutors didn't file criminal charges.
•2007. Left a strip club without paying the bill while he was on bereavement leave from the team and missed three games after the death of his girlfriend's cousin.
•2007. Earlier this month, police were called to the parking lot of a strip club where Randolph and teammate Darius Miles were part of a gathering and a gunshot was fired.
It all reminds you of the wonderful scene from the Bill Murray movie "Stripes" when the characters played by Murray and Harold Ramis are undergoing the Army enlistment process and the recruiter asks if they were ever convicted of a felony.
Murray pauses considerably and says, "Convicted? Not convicted."
It happens every spring: A story about hockey not getting a television audience …
Two measures of hockey's TV troubles came during the NHL playoffs. Last weekend, NBC broke from an Ottawa Senators/Buffalo Sabres game in overtime to broadcast a pre-race show for the Preakness Stakes, directing fans to cable network Versus. And a first-round NBC broadcast of a Calgary Flames/Detroit Red Wings game generated lower ratings than the poker tournament that preceded it.
But NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman maintains that hockey is largely on track after its lost season. "The definition of a troubled franchise has changed dramatically," he said. "We don't have any franchises going out of business. We don't have any franchises in real distress."
The league is believed to have grown its regular-season revenue by about 6% to $2.3 billion this year — about where the league was before the lost season. The NHL had skated itself into a corner before the labor dispute, in part because of a rapid expansion in Sunbelt cities without a strong hockey heritage. Player salaries also had surged, and heading into the canceled 2004-05 season, the league claimed a $272-million loss.
The new labor agreement reached in 2005 gave NHL owners immediate financial relief with a 24% player salary cut. A revenue-sharing plan was instituted to help weaker franchises and bolster parity on the ice. Bettman acknowledged that it will take time to fix all of the league's problems: "Those are not things that happen by throwing a light switch. They take time."
As it stands, even a winner on the ice easily can slip from profit to loss.
The Carolina Hurricanes turned a $10-million profit while winning the Stanley Cup last season. The franchise spent $10 million in the off-season to retain key players and led the league in ticket revenue growth by setting another regular-season attendance record. But the team missed the playoffs — along with postseason ticket revenue — and will lose money.
"We walk a very, very fine line," Hurricanes Chief Executive Jim Rutherford said. "Our owner made the decision to continue to keep this team competitive, to keep it appealing enough so that more people will come to see our games."
NHL franchises focus hard on attendance because the league can't command broadcast riches enjoyed by the NFL ($4 billion annually), Major League Baseball ($600 million) and the NBA ($600 million). Its NBC deal calls for profit-sharing rather than a guaranteed check, and the Versus cable network will pay the NHL about $60 million this year.
The average number of viewers watching the nine regular-season NHL games that NBC broadcast fell by 2% from a year ago to 1.3 million, and viewership for playoff games through the conference finals was down 5% to 1.4 million.
Average viewership for Versus' regular-season coverage rose 31% to 212,366, and is up by 7% to 409,369 so far during the playoffs. The network has expanded its reach to 72 million households, up from 69 million last year.
MMA is everywhere …
Its success, usually viewed through the prism of the hypermarketed Ultimate Fighting Championship, has been building for years. But in the past few months, M.M.A. has catapulted into the mainstream. It is forging an identity distinct from the more venerable combat sport of boxing — or, M.M.A.’s leaders argue, nudging the sweet science further into the sports periphery.
The U.F.C. is Sports Illustrated’s cover story this week, and its premier star, Chuck Liddell, was the cuddly cover boy (holding his 8-year-old son) recently for ESPN the Magazine. “60 Minutes” has done a story about the sport, and ESPN.com promotes sherdog.com, a mixed martial arts Web site.
One of M.M.A.’s newcomers, the International Fight League, has one new alliance with USA Wrestling and another one with the U.S.O., which this week allowed seven of its fighters to sail aboard Navy ships from Norfolk, Va., to Manhattan and Staten Island with 3,500 sailors for Fleet Week.
All this appears to be the multichapter prologue to tomorrow night’s Liddell-Quinton Jackson light heavyweight championship match in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, where a capacity crowd of 13,318 was announced yesterday, with gate receipts of $4.4 million anticipated.
But to Dana White, the high-energy, combustible president of the U.F.C., the fact that major news media organizations are now recognizing M.M.A.’s appeal is merely symptomatic of their previous ignorance.
“No disrespect to the media, but this has been the hottest thing for 18-to-34 males for the past few years,” he said. “The media franchises are supposed to have their finger on the pulse of things, but they’ve been way behind here.”
Liddell vs. Rampage
Chuck Liddell with Rome
I’m originally from Dallas and was a long time Ticket listener, as well as a big time Liverpool fan. I hear that the AAC had a watching party yesterday and that there was a pretty big turn out. Were you guys involved? How was the turnout? Any pictures?
Picture #1 - I lead the crowd in You'll Never Walk Alone
Picture #2 - Crowd is sad that Liverpool is getting beaten.