May 31, 2006
Raja Bell:
Surprise! Suns sparkplug returns from injury to score 9 points (7 in the 1st quarter) and inspire Phoenix to a series-tying rout at home.
 
 
 
The Lead Item
Two Words For You:
ROCKET.  LANDING.

Maybe it takes an unconflicted outsider to ask why in the world Roger Clemens wouldn't return to the Red Sox for his pending half-season Lotto payout?

I appreciate mixed feelings within Red Sox Nation about bringing back Clemens. And I appreciate Clemens' interests in returning to the Astros to play closer to home.

From Clemens' perspective, can't he suck it up for five months? The Red Sox give him the best chance to play for a title team. The Astros aren't winning the NL Central, and the wild card is, well, a wild card.

(At least for the Astros, it is. They might seem to be on the periphery of wild-card contention now, but check out their modified expected W-L record: 12th-best out of 16 teams in the NL, an ominous sign for postseason aspirations.)

From Boston's perspective, can't the Sox find the extra few million to top the Astros' reported $12 million offer? What's a few million dollars to secure the best pitcher in baseball?

But mostly (and perhaps I'm being overly sentimental), why wouldn't Clemens want to find all-time-classic career closure by returning to the team where his all-time-classic career started?

Here's a guarantee, even without personally feeling the depths of the residual loathing for Clemens by Red Sox Nation:

They would have welcomed him back. Fans wouldn't entirely forgive (or forget) the past, but they would have recognized his value this season in catapulting the Red Sox to a title.

Instead, Clemens likely will end up with Houston (as being reported in Newsday, despite claims from the team and Clemens' agents that no deal is finalized yet).

And the Boston bitterness will follow him into (yet another) retirement. It's a shame that emotional and physical distance (and, yes, probably money) will come between such a perfect match.

But isn't that what triggered his exile from Boston in the first place? Hmm: Maybe this is the most appropriate ending.

Suns Stop Mavs
It wasn't exactly a "Willis Reed moment," but Raja Bell's surprise start obviously inspired the Suns in their 106-86 rout of Dallas that tied the West finals 2-2.

The Suns broke 100 points for just the second time in the series (not surprisingly, they have won both games they have done it).

But maybe it was Bell's feisty presence (he drew two 1st-quarter charges!) that inspired the Suns' D, which held the Mavs to 42 percent FG shooting.

As pointed out by Marc Stein in today's Dime, the biggest shocker was that the Suns bullied Dirk into his worst game of the season (see DQ'd).

How bad of a night was it for the Mavs? Even Avery Johnson's wife lost it, getting into a scuffle with two Suns fans sitting nearby.

It was hard to tell after the game whether Johnson was more upset by his wife's altercation, the treatment of his star (Dirk shot only 5 FTs), his team's off shooting night, or the Mavs letting the Suns shoot 54 percent.

Probably a little of everything.

Flipping Out?
Flip Saunders gave the Pistons the day off yesterday from a formal team practice, nothing if not symbolic of a contender that has evaporated.

It remains to be seen if the Pistons can come together to stave off elimination. They might be able to pull that off tonight at home, where fans and players alike will reek of desperation.

"Our mojo has disappeared a little," Saunders said. "We're not playing how we play."

CHECK OUT THE QUICKIE EVERY WEEKDAY MORNING!
WHO'S GOT THE MOMENTUM ...
Dan Briere: Sabres star scores in OT, sends series to G7
Tiger at the US Open: He's prepping to play at Winged Foot
Wayne Gretzky: Agrees to 5-year deal to stay Coyotes coach
... AND WHO'S GOT NO MO'
Ricky Williams: Ex-Argo CFL'er Joe Theismann rips him
John Nash: Won't return as GM of hit-rock-bottom Blazers
Andy Roddick: Mojo? Mais non! Bounced from French Open
 
It might not matter. Even if this series does go to a 6th (or 7th) game, this won't be the same Heat team that staggered to the finish last year.

Shaq is playing spryly and Wade's ribs are healthy. The pair accounted for 61 percent of the Heat's offense in the two wins in Miami. (In Games 6 and 7 in last year's East finals, Wade was a DNP in the Game 6 blowout loss and limited, if game, in the loss in Game 7.)

With that in mind, Wade better watch out for a little "Bad Boy" treatment at home tonight (ESPN, 8 ET) to try to give the Pistons the edge they found last year in Games 6 and 7.

Bonds on Bonds?
Barry said it would "hurt" if MLB attached an asterisk to his records.

"I would be disappointed," Bonds told ESPN on Tuesday. You know: That's really the first inkling Bonds has given that the asterisk symbol from fans and critics might faze him.

"I'm only human," Bonds said, sounding almost sympathetic (well, almost).

Full coverage here.

MLB Hit List
Message to the A's from all the experts who predicted they would be in the World Series: Uh, anytime now, fellas.

Yes, I know Oakland typically starts slow, but with a 10-inning loss to the Royals, the A's have lost 10 of 11 and are six games under .500.

(Of course, in the mediocre AL West, that's good for 2nd place.)

Last season, the A's started even slower in May (17-32) and finished 88-74. They can only hope to replicate 2002, when they started 25-28 in May, then streaked to a 103-59 final record.

Vernon Wells, Red Sox Killer: Wells has 15 HRs this season after becoming the first AL player this season to hit 3 HRs in one game, an 8-5 Jays win over the Red Sox; 8 of Wells' HRs have come against Boston.

Rumor Mill: The Marlins quashed gossip that they were going to deal Dontrelle Willis to the Phillies in a three-way with the Yankees that would send Pat Burrell to New York and prospects (what else?) to Florida.

Pitching Matchup of Day: Brandon Webb, MLB's most sizzling sinkerballer (8-0, 2 straight CG) faces Pedro Martinez, the NL's most energizing personality (and a not-too-shabby 5-1) at Shea.

D-Rays: No name change. I'm a huge fan of the new Tampa Bay ownership, but they've disappointed me in sticking with the name "Devil Rays" in 2007 (and maybe even beyond).

Fans (and curious onlookers) were promised a name change, to go with the team's new brand (and ownership). Instead, it's more of the same lame "Rays." (More of the same in the standings, too. Correlation? Why not?)

Larry Brown Speaks
"I feel like a dead man walking," Brown told reporters yesterday, describing his state of limbo with the Knicks.

That's such vintage Brown: Fuel the controversy through the media who were staking him out outside Knicks practice.

(At least Brown did it off-camera, which will spare us the visual of his whining.)

It's so hard to sympathize with someone who makes $10 million a year -- or will be bought out and get paid millions for doing nothing.)

College FB Replay
I loved replay in college football last season, but it's most glaring flaw was that replays were at the complete discretion of the replay official.

While that covered most instances, there were other times when a coach would have to burn a timeout simply to give the replay official the extra minute to realize that, yes, the previous call was egregiously wrong.

One of the beauties of the NFL system is that the coaches can ask for a replay; now, college coaches will have that option once per game. It's a great modification. Empower the coaches and pressure the refs to be more vigilant.

Spelling Bee!
I'll admit it: I love the National Spelling Bee, which starts today.

But not in a sarcastic, mocking way. I think that Bee competitors put up with as tough a competitive environment as any other "athlete" in sports.

I love the Bee so much that last year I ran Page 2's fantasy Bee league. Call it "Rotisser-bee."

So if you are inspired to start your own fantasy Bee league, I have two words for you:

Samir Patel.

I had the first overall pick in our 2005 draft and took Patel, who led my roster to a fantasy title after he finished in a tie for 2nd overall.

It's the year of Samir!

Coming tomorrow: The Bee in prime time! Amazing moment in history or sign of the impending end of the world?

Dirk Nowitzki:
Well, of COURSE the Mavs were blown out: Dirk was held to a season-low 11 points on 3-13 FG. (So much for his previous playoff consistency.)
 
 
Today on ESPN.com
NBA Playoffs Index
NBA Daily Dime
Page 2 Index
 
Ranking Clemens' Destinations
Boston
Would be a storybook ending
 
New York
Not BOS? At least stay East
 
Houston
"Close to family?" Bah!
 
Texas
Zzz: Out of running early
 
Stay retired
How? Still MLB's best!
 

NFL: ESPN analyst Rick Spielman was hired as the Vikings' new player personnel guru. Yes, but will he give us inside scoop on any new team turmoil?

Barbaro Update: Everyone involved seems to think that Barbaro is doing progressively better. Still waiting on green light to do stud thing.

Ronaldo may make crazy, Clemens-like money if he comes to the U.S. to play for MLS, but he'll get a rude wake-up call about nationwide fan interest.

Pool legend Steve Mizerak (you might remember him from those old TV pool training-video ads and/or Miller Lite ads) died yesterday. He was 61.

Minor league umps settled their season-long strike, exacting a punishing $100 a month raise. Now they can go to the movies. Striking for a C-note?



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