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Monday, May 1, 2006
Page 2 Quickie: May 1, 2006

The Lead Item
Two Words For You:

I can't decide what was more impressive: Kobe's twisty-turny "eephus"-style layup to send Game 4 into OT or his twist-the-knife jumper at the OT buzzer to win the game.

For all his end-of-regulation and end-of-OT heroics, I would actually argue that his most dazzling feat in the game was his 8 assists, giving him 25 in 4 games. If there's any reason the Lakers are up 3-1, that's it.

Forget Kobe's scoring binges: He is so much more impressive now that he has bought into the team concept (and his teammates are stepping up to help him).

The most telling play came after he made that freaky layup to send the game to OT. He embraced Smush Parker, who produced the key steal preceding the layup, and whispered validations to his young, erratic teammate.

Kobe isn't necessarily the Most Valuable Player in the NBA. But, thanks to his sudden maturity, he's been more valuable to the Lakers in the last week than he was in the regular season.

However, if I knew Kobe would convert his regular-season "me-first" style into this playoff leadership of his too-young-to-know-better Lakers over the ought-to-know-better Suns, I might have picked him for MVP.

Leinart a Loser?
Is Matt Leinart still waiting in the NFL draft's Green Room?

When the Titans went for Vince Young's potential over Matt Leinart's polish, you could see the shock on Leinart's face.

Given his "golden boy" image, he improbably became that draft guy: The Green Room loser who is snubbed pick after pick as the Top 10 creeps by.

"But, hey, that's OK! I'll end up in New York, where I wanted to be all along! The new Broadway Joe ... wait, what? They took a lineman? Wait: Where are you all going? I'm supposed to be in New York! Me! I'm Matt Leinart!"

With everyone all talked out about Texas choosing Williams over Bush, Leinart's slip became the next story. When Suzy Kolber interviewed his new agent, Tom Condon, you could smell the desperation through the TV.

The picks slipped by:

Packers? Nope. They'd rather stick with last year's Green Room Loser, Aaron Rodgers. (Adding insult to injury, Rodgers is a Pac-10 rival from Cal.)

49ers? Nope. I'm sure the Niners' draft room chuckled at the irony that if Leinart had come out last year, they would have picked him No. 1 overall. (Or maybe they winced: They could have had Braylon Edwards last year and Leinart this year.)

Raiders? Nope. Even Al Davis resisted making a "sexy" pick, going with defense. So the Raiders effectively chose Aaron Brooks over Leinart.

Bills? Nope. Buffalo liked J.P. Losman more than Matt Leinart. Think about that for a minute. Then wonder who Donte Whitner is.

Lions? Nope. The Jets reportedly tried to trade for this pick to grab him, but Detroit wisely stayed put and (finally) drafted for D.

(At one point, it looked like his handlers even hid Matt from the "LoserCam" that kept cutting to the Green Room to catch his reaction shot after each pick. You could catch a glimpse of him hunched over in a chair.)

Finally, he ended up with the Cardinals; the cheers from Jets fans in Radio City Music Hall were out of sympathy, not excitement.

At least Leinart will play with great skill position players around him! (That's the sad attempt at positively spinning his personal draft debacle.)

Leinart spent last season talking about what a great choice he made to stay in school for his senior year. After losing the national title (and his draft-day pride), do you think he still believes it?

Saints Win Big
For all the good Reggie Bush would have done for the Texans, Houston would have continued to stink and, ultimately, would have dragged down even the uber-elusive Bush, too.

Now, Bush will do something for the Saints that transcends on-field performance: He'll make them nationally relevant.

Last season, the only interest they drew was out of pity (God knows it was earned). Their 2006 home opener is on Monday Night Football; instead of being, "Welcome back to the Super Dome," it will be "Welcome Reggie!"

So let the Texans slug out snoozers with their revamped "Super Mario" defense, keeping games close enough that Houston's super-pallid offense will frustrate fans even more.

Because at the same time, Texans fans will be watching Bush run wild for the Saints, making New Orleans a new star of the highlight shows and his jersey the season's hottest (see Big 5).

Houston fans are cursed with "What if?" Saints fans are blessed with "What is."

More Draft Winners

(1) Vince Young: Now Young has two huge wins over Leinart: One for the national title, and one for the title of "King QB" of the draft. The Titans love his potential over Leinart's polish -- and I loved that the Titans had a No. 10 jersey ready for Young to pose with.

(And adding insult to Leinart's draft-day injury, the Titans ended up stealing LenDale White in the early 2nd round. Norm Chow gets an ex-USC stud to work with after all. A motivated White is a scary White.)

(2) New York Jets: It's a sign of how respected the new Jets brain trust is that picking OT Ferguson over the overhyped Leinart was greeted with nods of "good pick, good pick" all around.

(Meanwhile, the Jets cleaned up with a new starting center, Nick Mangold, and even a backup QB, Kellen Clemens, who doesn't rate too much lower than Leinart. I trust Jaworski, who raved about him.)

(3) Florida St./Ohio St.: USC and Texas? Bah. The 'Noles and Buckeyes accounted for eight of the 1st round's 19 defensive players picked (9 of 32 overall).

(4) Jay Cutler: He might be the new Big Ben. All the Broncos need is to have Jake Plummer suffer some freak injury to give Cutler his chance. You know the much-mocked "Plummer moments"? Cutler doesn't have 'em.

(5) Vernon Davis: Tears in the Green Room are a sign of enthusiasm, not weakness. What a fantastic moment as the Maryland tight end went to San Francisco at No. 6.

Kiper's draft grades

Pasquarelli's analysis

Clayton's winners/losers

NBA P'off: Home Cooking
Combined with Kobe's heroics, this first week of the NBA playoffs have been as good as any fan could want:

LeBron and Arenas are dueling in a new version of the classic Bird-Wilkins playoff series scoring spree in '88 (just get to a Game 7).

Last night, LeBron set a Cavs playoff record with 25 first-half points, but Arenas scored 26 in the 2nd half (20 in 4th) and the Wiz held serve at home (series tied 2-2).

The Heat are falling apart. Payton and Wade got into it, with a little 'Toine thrown in, as Miami lost in Chicago for a second straight game.

Maybe you'd be frustrated too if you were on the wrong end of a 31-5 FT disparity. Ever seen a stat like that in the playoffs?

Kings tie up Spurs: Now Sacto has its own blowout to match the Spurs' from Game 1. After two losses on the road, it looks like the Spurs are going to need every bit of that home-court advantage to advance. (Weren't they supposed to be everyone's lock to win the West title?)

All eyes on the Clippers tonight: With a win at home in Game 5, they can win their first playoff series since the team moved to California in 1978.

Yanks-BoSox, Rd 1
The backdrop for today's first Red Sox-Yankees game of the year (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET) from Fenway is that it is only going to be the first skirmish in a divisionwide war of attrition.

After just 25 games, it looks like the AL East will be the tightest race in baseball. Three teams locked at .5 GB the Red Sox (and the last-place D-Rays are coming off a weekend winning 2 of 3 from them).

But what would a Yankees-Red Sox game be without some bad feelings? That's why we've got the Johnny Damon Subplot. Will there be booing? Oh, yes, there will be booing.

MLB Wrap
Clemens Watch: Rocket's agent says he's still a month away from even beginning to figure out if he'll pitch again. Presumably, he wants to keep an eye on the standings, but when the Astros officially start courting today, they can boast of the third-best record in the NL.

Cards win 17 in April, setting a new franchise record for wins in the opening month. Amazingly, they're not in sole possession of first in the NL Central. Tied with the Reds, that makes today's series opener against Cincy a must-follow.

Thome back in Cleveland: Somehow, I don't think the reception Jim Thome will get from Indians fans today (even as a member of the hated White Sox) will match what Red Sox Nation will dish at Damon.

Bonds passes Babe: Get used to the sound of that, because the career home-run list is due for a momentous shake-up as early as this week. Meanwhile, Bonds vaulted Ruth on the career extra-base hit list.

Steve Howe, 48: The death of MLB pitcher and 7-time drug-suspended pitcher is a tragic end to one of the more troubling stories in baseball history. Too many chances?

(Rob Neyer has a must-read.)

USC Scandals
Is USC the new SMU? Let's recap the last week for a program only last season ranked among the greatest ever:

• Bush Scandal: Reggie's parents living in a sick house isn't a Bush problem; it's a USC problem.

Result: Pac-10 investigating.

• Sanchez Scandal: Police arrest backup QB and allege that he sexually assaulted a female student.

Result: Sanchez released after posting bail; police still investigating.

• Jarrett Probe: All-American WR reportedly lived in an upscale condo with Leinart, mostly paid for by the QB's dad.

Result: USC investigating.

Any one of these, on its own, is bad enough. Taken together, you have to ask what the USC coaches are doing out there.

"We needed to see this coming, and we didn't," Pete Carroll told the LA Times. "It's gone beyond all the heads up, all the alerts, all the education we give these kids. We need to do more."

Hmm ... ya think?

(Meanwhile, don't forget that this week, USC also lost top QB recruit Jimmy Clausen to rival Notre Dame. And the whole double-draft debacle.)

Tribeca Film Festival
Continuing Quickie coverage of the "sports" films being screened in my hometown Tribeca Film Festival:

Today: "Goal!" This might become "The Lord of the Rings" of sports movies, an epic trilogy with worldwide appeal. (Will a soccer story play with U.S. viewers?)