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Can you remember the last time an NBA season approached the end of January without a clear favorite emerging? I can't take the Celtics at 6-5 odds -- ludicrously, low, by the way -- when they look like this year's Dallas, a superb regular-season team that might not be deep enough and/or have another gear for the playoffs. Normally, I'd grab the Spurs at 9-2 because they turn it on every February, but they've been especially lethargic and the Finley/Bowen/Horry threesome might be washed up. The 6-1 Suns have too many deep-seeded problems with chemistry and defense, and the 6-1 Pistons have the same problem that killed them last spring: they arrogantly believe they can turn it on any time they want, but they really can't. The 7-1 Mavs are too screwed up. The 10-1 Lakers looked intriguing until the Andrew Bynum injury killed any chance they had to trade Kwame Brown's expiring contract for one more big body. The 15-1 Hornets and 15-1 Magic are both a year away.
So who's left? I actually like two dark horse bets: Cleveland at 35-1 and Utah at 30-1. The Cavs have the best player in the league, match up nicely with Boston and look much better lately (12-2 in their past 14 games). The Jazz have the horses and gained some valuable experience last spring, plus, Kyle Korver gives them two things they didn't have last season: a shooting swingman and an outstanding free-throw shooter who can protect leads when the other team has to foul. I'd much rather roll the dice with Cleveland or Utah over any of the "favorites." The odds of a Jazz-Cavs Finals? 200-to-1! Don't say I didn't warn you.
Hold on, I have four follow-up notes from Tuesday's NFL awards column:
1. I mentioned my "Nobody believes in us!" theory (regarding the Giants) but couldn't remember when I first wrote it. Actually, I wrote about it twice: In this 2006 column about sleepers, and in the Niners section of my 2007 preview. See, I knew I wasn't crazy. Thanks to Tim in Charlottesville, Va., for the help.
2. Some Green Bay fans were ticked I thought Favre "single-handedly" cost the Packers that Giants game. Well, he threw a terrible overtime pick that allowed the Giants to kick a game-ending field goal. That interception didn't cost the Packers the game? What am I missing?
3. Matt B. in L.A. makes a great point about my "Sleeping with the Enemy" recap. The movie also proved once and for all that people who refer to dinner as "supper" are inherently and unequivocably evil. The guy is a creepy wife-beater, but the second he says, "I anticipate SUPPER will be on the table for me when I return," you're like, "Man that guy is freaking evil!"
4. In the section about the Cadillac ad, I referenced "Wallace from 'The Wire'" when it was really the guy who plays Daniels. Yikes. According to John Hollinger, since my second kid was born, my PDB (percentage of dumb brainfarts per column) rating has nearly tripled thanks to lack of sleep. Occasionally, you're going to see brainfarts of the Wallace/Daniels variety in my columns, and that's just the way it is. So I'm going to apologize in advance for every ensuing brainfart in 2008.
Speaking of "The Wire," old friend Jason Whitlock and I were exchanging e-mails about the greatest scene in "Wire" history last weekend. I always thought it was the Stringer/Avon balcony scene in the third season when it became clear that (A) one of them was going to kill the other, and (B) each of them was thinking this, only they were pretending it wasn't the case. Just an amazing piece of writing and acting. Whitlock argues for the first Marlo/Avon jail scene (from this season's second episode) and made such a convincing case that I went back to the episode "On Demand" and watched it three straight times and he's right, that's an incredible scene. Now I'm torn. I want to see how Season 5 plays out before I make a final verdict. If you have any thoughts, send them along.
All right, it's time. Let's get to the links• I went on Adam Carolla's radio show last week for another edition of Basic Cable Classics. I wanted to do "Tango and Cash," but got overruled by Adam, who insisted on "Karate Kid III," so we beat down that door for the 10,000th time together: Here's Part 1 and Part 2. One weird moment from the previous segment, which I don't have a link for: Out of the blue, Randee Heller, the actress who played Daniel-San's mother, called in, and we ended up talking to her for a few minutes. She's the one who prompted me to write the following joke in the Karate Kid Trilogy column: "In a five-year span, Randee played Gabe Kaplan's wife in 'Fast Break,' Ken Reeves' stripper girlfriend in 'The White Shadow,' and Daniel-San's Mom in 'The Karate Kid,' and then she was never seen again ... and I guess my point is this: You don't need to work anymore with a résumé like that."
• I had two thoughts after reading the following story: "Good God, Sam the butcher is dead!" And then, "Good God, Sam the butcher was still alive???" When I was growing up, one of my first running jokes was any time Alice went to visit Sam in the butcher shop and I would say in Sam's voice, "Hey Alice, why don't you come in the back. I want to show you this sausage that just came in." This killed me when I was 8. Now he's dead. RIP, Sam the butcher.
• A few more "Wire" links: The Washington Post weighed in with an informative take on the show's perspective on the newspaper world and journalism in Season 5. A few days later, "Wire" creator David Simon wondered in the Post why newspapers don't care as much about hard news reporting anymore -- it's a fairly scathing piece on the future of newspapers and definitely worth reading. And finally, Blair from Charlotte alerts us to "an interview" with the guy who plays Omar on NPR that's worth checking out. I've forwarded it to my parents as well. I never thought I would ever send a link interviewing an actor (Michael K. Williams) who plays a homosexual gangster. Go figure.
• With my 2008 vote still up for grabs, Obama seized the upper hand after I read this New York Times feature and learned his chief speechwriter is a Red Sox fan and a 2003 graduate from the College of the Holy Cross! Let's see, Obama sounds like Cyrus from "The Warriors"; he wears a nicotine patch; he plays hoops; he loves "The Wire"; and now, the guy writing speeches for him went to the Cross. That's pretty tough to top.
• We added a bunch of boxing clips to the always-expanding Sports Guy Collection on YouTube, including Larry Holmes' best fights and Earnie Shavers' best fights. I also came to the conclusion I'll watch any boxing fight that Cosell announced, even if the video is so grainy the boxers look like dotted blobs. Anyway, here are some enjoyable clips suggested by the readers from the past week:
1. Mike in Meriden, Conn.: I saw a fair number of Norm McDonald clips on your YouTube Collection. Check out Norm on "The Daily Show" about two days after the Crocodile Hunter died and jump forward to the three-minute mark. I don't remember anyone else making Jon Stewart laugh this hard.
2. Jon in Cleveland: This link is priceless -- a well-aged Van Morrison gives us one of the most awkwardly passionate on-stage musical performances of all time. I cried watching this with my buddies. You really could just skip to the 5:30 mark and let it roll from there. It really comes to a head at 5:45. This one really sizzles.3. Patrick in New City, N.Y.: Here's Gus Johnson's MSG call at the end of the Knicks-Pistons game two Sundays ago. For the first time all year, MSG management did something intelligent and showed the ending of the Giants/Cowboys game live on the big screen while in a timeout. The Garden went crazy. Gus came back after the timeout and what does he do? Play-by-play of the final Romo interception for the MSG audience. Highlight of the Knicks season!!!!
4. Andrew in Texas: Have you seen Rasheed and the Pistons dancing before the second Boston-Detroit game?
5. Mike in San Diego: Ever want to get into the head of Stephen Jackson? Well here's Jackson mic'd up for a preseason shootaround. What's especially funny is Jackson talking to himself in the third person and laughing at Baron behind his back while Baron actually practices bad shots!
6. Arik M. in Chicago: It's a tragedy you've posted so many YouTube links without sharing the Vader Sessions with the world. Basically, it's scenes from the first three "Star Wars" movies where Darth Vader's lines are dubbed over by James Earl Jones lines from other movies. It's kinda long, but extremely well done and totally worth it.
7. Seth in Burlington, Vt.: This clip might just be on par with the Rocky and Apollo beach hug scene. Were we secretly homosexual in the '80s? Not that there's anything wrong with that.
• All right, as much as I enjoyed skimming through Chad Ford's recap (Insider only) of every Isiah Thomas transaction from the past four-plus years -- it's just a staggering legacy of incompetence -- the piece left me hoping that Chad doesn't grade his international conflict studies as benevolently as he graded Isiah. A "C-minus" for the Marbury/Hardaway trade and the Maurice Taylor and Eddy Curry trades? A "D-plus" for the Jared Jeffries signing? A "D" for the Steve Francis trade? I want to go back to college and take a Chad Ford class! Sign me up!
• Here's the trailer for the upcoming Len Bias documentary that's headed for a theatrical release in April. Hmmmmmm. I can't possibly imagine going to the theater to see this. I just can't. By the way, I wrote about Bias' death in 2001 -- one of my first columns for the Mouse.
• Four Patriots-related links: The Washington Post explains how the physical '04 Pats defense inspired a rule change that eventually allowed the '07 Pats to have a better passing game (thank you, Bill Polian!); the Charlotte Observer writes about mega-Patriots fan Gerald Wallace (a must-read just for the pictures); a 2000 Detroit News article about Tom Brady from right before the 2000 Orange Bowl (intriguing to read after the fact); a Yahoo piece about Bob Kraft jumping into action after the "Punt Pass and Kick" Patriots girl was booed at the Chargers-Colts game.
• My buddy House and I have been arguing about whether the Wizards should trade Gilbert Arenas or not. Last week, House sent this D.C. blog along with the note, "This is why Gilbert is No. 1 in D.C. -- he's a man of the people, even white suburban high-school kids!"
• Brad in Ottawa: I know you've given up on the Bruins, but this article on rookie Milan Lucic is worth reading. It's Exhibit A as to why Canadians love hockey and always will. Lucic was the captain of our national junior team over the summer, a team that beat the Russian juniors 7-0-1 in an eight-game series. He was also the MVP of last year's Memorial Cup, a tournament for the champions of Canada's top three junior-hockey leagues. He's already being compared to Cam Neely. Though I don't think he'll ever be the offensive force Cam was, he does play with the same amount of heart. Lucic has future captain written all over him and if the Bruins ever ditch him, then screw the rules. I'm done, too.• If you're a "Boogie Nights" fan, you'll enjoy Roger Ebert's extended interview of director Paul Thomas Anderson from 1997.
• I really liked Scott Ostler's column about Baron Davis and Jerry West improbably becoming friends last summer. It was really insightful (it would be funny if G-State beat the Lakers in the playoffs because the Logo altered the course of Davis' contract season).
• From Joel in San Fran: Not sure if you are aware Jesse Palmer has been doing NFL analysis for TSN in Canada. Part of these duties is a weekly column, and just as you and I were surprised by how effective he was as a TV color guy (for CBS and ESPN), his column is also surprisingly well done, and his insider stories actually tend to be relevant and entertaining!(On the flip side, Palmer appeared on my friend Dave Dameshek's radio show a few weeks ago and complained afterward because Dave asked him how many women he "bedded" on "The Bachelor." Gee, Jesse, sorry for bringing up the time when you starred on a nationally televised reality show in which you dated 25 people at once. That was totally out of line.)
• Patrick in Houston: A collection of the best postings on craigslist.com. Entertaining stuff!
• Hey, my old intern Jamie bought me a LaDainian Tomlinson "action figure" as a joke present for Christmas, and it has been gaining comedic value over the past two weeks. You have to check out that link -- it's like they knew in advance. Can't they re-release it for 2008 with a Darth Vader helmet?
• Remember when we linked to the New Bedford story that casually mentioned Donte Stallworth and his alien alter-ego last week? Well, this mystery was explained on Sept. 7 in the same newspaper. And you thought Herschel Walker was the only NFL player with multiple personalities. What happens if the Pats make the Super Bowl and Donte/Nicco somehow wins the MVP? Would they have to give them two trophies?
• Joe in Iowa sends along a fantastic blast from the past: I came across this link of Lorenzo Lamas on the first season of "Jimmy Kimmel Live," when Jeff Ross was the guest host. I'm wondering what was Lamas' off-air reaction to the berating he took from Ross (fast-forward to the middle of the clip), and if you can think of a better example of someone talking trash with the knowledge the rolling cameras will save them from getting pummelled.
(Note: After the show, Lorenzo challenged Jeff to a boxing match and Jeff declined. Anyway, you have to watch the entire Lamas segment -- it was remarkable at the time and gets better with age. I totally forgot the "South Park" guys were involved.)
• The Director's Guild signed a deal with the studios last week that looks like it could hasten the end of the writers' strike. (Here's Variety and the L.A. Times on the specifics of the deal, as well as Variety's Monday take on WGA talks resuming this week.) This was the deal the WGA should have pushed for all along, a reasonable short-term compromise on DVD/Internet rights with the promise to re-explore everything three years from now when Hollywood has a better idea of where the Internet medium is going.
How did the DGA leaders succeed where the WGA leaders failed? First, they spent a significant amount of their union's money researching digital revenue and came to the same conclusion that Hollywood had been arguing all along: namely, that it's too early to figure out where Internet revenue is headed, just that something is happening. The WGA leaders foolishly went in the other direction and played the "You're making a ton of money on the Internet. You're holding back! We want some and we want some now!" card. As I wrote last month, NOBODY knows where the Internet medium is going, including ESPN, by the way. By insinuating otherwise, the WGA was basically coming out and saying, "You guys are liars!" And nobody likes to be called a liar, right?
Second, and more importantly, the DGA approached the entire negotiating process from a much more congenial and logical place -- lots of informal meetings, no leaks to the press, no threats, no bullying and a healthy respect for the power and resolve of the other side -- as opposed to the WGA leaders, who came off more petulantly and more entitled than your average rich birthday girl on "My Super Sweet 16." Negotiations are about leverage, respect, human nature and common sense, right? How did the WGA not know this? Now, the success of the DGA has convinced them to adopt a friendlier, more conciliatory mind-set for the next round of negotiations, as evidenced by both sides agreeing to a news blackout (translation: no information from the talks getting leaked) and the WGA dropping its demands for jurisdiction over reality shows and animation.
Anyway, the strike is going to end fairly soon, and when it does, everyone is going to ask the same thing: "Why the hell didn't we get this done three months ago?" Better late than never, I guess.
• Finally, Matt F. in Jersey sends along one of the saddest features I've ever read: Heartbreaking doesn't even begin to describe what happened here -- it's just awful. It's about a junior college coach back on the job a year after his wife killed herself and their 2-year-old son. I've gotten a little choked up at a movie or two, but this is nothing like that. I was sitting at my computer crying while I read it. It has been a week, and I still can't shake it, and I guess that's why I'm passing it along. Yes, it's inspirational, but more than that, it moves me as a husband and parent to savor every moment with my family. Anyway, here's the link. I don't know if I'm expecting you to share this with your readers, or just sit on it and wish you'd never read it. I'm just sending it to you because it's still on my mind, and I'm not sure what else to do.
MORE LINKS: CLICK HERE FOR THE JAN. 15 LINKS