Wednesday, March 12, 2008

What to watch this week

After enduring the last week of the sporting world treating Brett Favre’s retirement like it was the death of Superman, I figure it’s time to get back into the swing of things. So here are the top three stories to check out this week that don’t involve the tragic departure of a hero we will always have in our hearts and on our minds.

When will the Rockets come back down to Earth?
This week the Yao-less Houston Rockets extended their win streak to 19 straight, a franchise best and third best all time for the NBA. For a team that was almost immediately written off by most once their big man went down, the Rockets certainly don’t seem to suffer from a lack of confidence. Since their 7’6” centerpiece Yao Ming went down for the season with a stress fracture in his foot (rumor has it that a fan dropped a penny from the observation deck atop his head and the speed it picked up on the way to landing on his foot is what caused the break) the Rockets have not shown any signs of slowing. Winning 6 straight with a combination of suffocating defense and a faster moving offense, Houston has made all of their doubters think twice before dismissing them without Yao. His absence has led to more minutes for rookie big man Carl Landry along with an unexpected boost from the always staunch defense of the ageless Dikembe Mutombo. In spite of being upwards of 75 years old, Dikembe has proven he can still be a defensive stopper, as well as the fact that no matter how crucial the game situation may be he will always stay backcourt for his trademark finger-wag after a block.
The “role players” on this team seem out to prove that the Rockets are not just Tracy McGrady and a bunch of drill cones he can use for screens. And going into games this week against Atlanta and Charlotte, they have a legitimate chance to push their streak to 21, which would leave them in second place all time to the ’71-’72 Lakers 33-game win streak. The true test should come on Sunday when they face off with the Lakers. So if they are able to beat the Lakers and extend the streak to 22 games, will we believe in them then? Nahhh, they got Boston after that.

The Yankees showing pre-season panic?
The New York Yankees of the last decade or so have gained a reputation for signing one-time superstars at the tail end of their career, and it hasn’t exactly always worked out in their favor; Randy Johnson, Jason Giambi, Rondell White, Roger Clemens, and now… Billy Crystal. That’s right, the New York Yankees have signed the actor/comedian and long-time Yankee fanatic to a one day minor league contract that he will fulfill on Thursday, March 13, one day before he turns 60!
“I’ve been waiting 50 years for this call,” Crystal said in a statement released by the team. “I’m overwhelmed by the generosity of the Yankees and commissioner Selig. I know this’ll be tougher than the Broadway Softball League, but I’m looking forward to helping the younger players, which by the way is all of them. Oops, I have to go, Scott Boras is on the phone.”
So are the Yankees doing this as a friendly publicity gag for the fans to enjoy? Or, are they so worried about their recent lack of playoff success that they’re willing to see what anyone out there has to offer? Crystal is clearly passed his prime in any regard. The closest he has been to baseball since high school was when he directed the Yankee-based movie “61*”. Sure, this is only a one day contract, but if he performs well will the Bombers consider giving him a shot at the opening day roster? Only time will tell, but the possibility of Crystal looking like he truly belongs out there is definitely in the cards… his one day contract will be fulfilled against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

UNC-Duke rubber match?
One of my favorite weeks of the year, NCAA basketball conference tournament week is upon. This week has already provided several upsets that will vault more mid-majors into the tourney, but like most I am looking forward to the weekend and the big conference play it has to offer. Especially the ACC tournament.
Consistently one of the most fun conferences to watch, the ACC tournament offers entertaining and competitive games year in and year out. And once again, the focal points of that tournament will be UNC and Duke. With both teams a part of the nation’s elite this season, and a split regular reason record, a third match-up in the ACC tourney could provide us with the game of the year.
One of the greatest rivalries in sports, Tarheels-Blue Devils is always a knock-down, drag out competition with all of the weight of Tobacco Road resting in the balance. And this year, a tiff between the coaches has added an extra little bit of drama into the mix. UNC coach Roy Williams didn’t take to kindly to coach K’s words that he felt were a shot at his team. With UNC suffering injuries throughout the year, Williams couldn’t help but think Krzyzewski’s little “unlike other teams, we don’t talk about all of our injuries” comment was directed at the Heels. And after a radio tirade that had the generally gentlemanly Williams spouting “gosh darn its” and “dadgums”, things seemed to get a little personal.
So if both teams advance far enough in the tourney to face off again, expect a war. Will Duke take the season series with another barrage of three pointers? Or will UNC win the year with another stellar defensive showing? Who knows? One thing is for sure though; you won’t hear coach K talking to the media about the injury his point guard sustained taking a vicious tea-bagging to the face.

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