Speed Read: Magic Ready To Ruin Dream Finals

Somehow LeBron James ended another game against the Orlando Magic in their Eastern Conference Finals with the ball in his hand and a chance to win the game. But unlike Game 2, he couldn’t find the miracle the Cavaliers needed, as his desperation heave from 35 feet was off the mark, wrapping up the Magic’s 116-114 OT victory. Orlando now holds a commanding 3-1 series lead, as the Cavaliers are threatening to take a page from the Ohio State football team and choke at the worst possible moment.

LeBron James

And perhaps it was fitting, since the game only went to overtime on two James free throws on a questionable foul committed by Mickael Pietrus with six seconds left - with James needing a friendly roll to get the second. (And honestly, how can the best player on the planet be so average and unreliable from the free throw line? Do you ever remember feeling nervous when Michael Jordan stepped to the line at the end of a game?)

Dwight Howard

It’s hard to blame James for Game 4: after all, he did have 44 points and 12 rebounds. Even the eight turnovers in the box score are more a reflection of him trying to do everything because he had to than any faults. No, the big problem for Cleveland is that they’ve pretty much turned back into King James and His Inept Court of Jokers this series, with his supporting cast basically providing nothing (Delonte West and Mo Williams combined to go 12-for-30 in Game 4, including 0-for-6 from behind the arc.)

Meanwhile, the Magic were unconscious from three-point range, going 17-for-38, with Rafer Alston leading the way with six threes on the way to a 26 point night. And Dwight Howard played angry in overtime - perhaps over picking up his sixth technical foul of the season, or because he thought he was fouled at the end of regulation. No matter what the reason, he took it out on the Cavaliers, scored on three straight dunks en route to 10 points in the extra session. So a dominant big man plus great outside shooting is a good thing, I guess.

Sidney Crosby

Also a good thing: having your league’s best player and leading scorer on the same team. That’s exactly what the Pittsburgh Penguins have, and why they are heading back to the Stanley Cup after a 4-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes to sweep the Eastern Conference Finals. And even though they didn’t score in the series-clincher, Penguins stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin had done more than enough, proving to be way too much for a game but overmatched Carolina side. So while the NBA is wincing at losing their dream match-up, the NHL has to be thrilled with a likely Penguins vs. Red Wings rematch.

Mike Tyson

Finally, to update a tragic story we told you about earlier today, KPHO-TV in Phoenix reports that Mike Tyson’s daughter Exodus, 4, has died from injuries she sustained in a freak accident at her family home in Arizona. No matter what you think about Mike Tyson as a person, monster or character in a classic Greek tragedy, your heart has to go out to him and his family. For anyone with a child, reading about this gets your stomach all tied up in knots.

  • So after what PRO FOOTBALL TALK had reported was a tug-of-war to sign John Lynch as an NFL analyst, NEWSDAY says that the winner is Fox, snatching the former Buccaneers and Broncos standout from ESPN. Lynch will likely be replacing Brian Baldinger, which means that he’ll need to have his finger run over with a steamroller to match the “analyst with the gross digit” quota at the network.
  • Brian Baldinger and his gross finger

  • Is this a sign that the Anquan Boldin contract mess is about to come to an end?: ESPN.COM says that the disgruntled Cardinals wide receiver has fired Drew Rosenhaus as his agent. Stepping in? This guy.
  • Ready for a career switch to the exciting and fast-paced world of sports business? Fat chance, says the NEW YORK TIMES, as tough economic times have made jobs in the industry tougher to get than ever. In fact, it’s so bad that people actually want to work for the Cincinnati Bengals.
  • A new blog is asking people to vote Manny Ramirez into the 2009 All-Star Game to prove a point about how ridiculous MLB’s stance is on steroids. I say let’s really send a message and vote Jose Guillen in.
  • A STERN WARNING digs up an old Japanese tire commercial featuring Dennis Rodman, and it’s every bit as weird and indecipherable as anything you would expect involving Japanese TV and The Worm. But at least there weren’t any midgets involved:

  • As the BOSTON HERALD says, this is how bad it’s gotten for David Ortiz: last night against the Twins, he was dropped to the No. 6 spot in the line-up for the first time in more than five years. Not that it mattered; thanks to another lousy start by Jon Lester, Boston fell to Minnesota 5-2.
  • Top Orioles prospect Matt Wieters is getting his call-up to the big leagues, and is expected to make his big-league debut as a catcher on Friday against the Tigers. CAN’T STOP THE BLEEDING wonders if the Baltimore sports media is making too big of a deal about this. (i.e. could Peter Schmuck please remove his tongue from Wieters’ mouth?)
  • The NEW YORK TIMES has the latest from Roland Garros (English translation: Ron Garrett) Stadium and the French Open: Serena Williams serves a “horrendous” performance, while James Blake is bounced yet again.
  • Just how dominant has Zack Greinke been this season for the Royals? As the KANSAS CITY STAR reports, he gave up one earned run in his fifth complete game of the season, a 6-1 win over the Tigers…and his ERA actually went up slightly, “ballooning” to 0.84.
  • Probably not what Marshall wanted to hear about their prized football recruit A.J. Graham: the TALLAHASSE DEMOCRAT says that Florida’s “Mr. Football” was arrested on robbery charges - just hours before his scheduled high school graduation.

Who is the best NBA player to never win a title?

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Speed Read: Mets Finding Creative Ways To Lose

Hey, it looks like Brett Favre is not going to have surgery anytime soon, and…you know what, I’m not even going to pretend to give a crap about any of this anymore. So let’s talk about something else, like the Mets going full-on Chico’s Bail Bonds last night at Dodger Stadium.

Bad News Bears

Luckily for the Mets, the game ended so late last night that their incredible ineptitude wasn’t able to make it onto the back page of the morning papers (although the DAILY NEWS already has a “Follywood” story up online). In one of the stranger endings to a game I’ve seen, the Dodgers were handed no fewer than three gifts in the 11th inning, allowing them to take a 3-2 win and move to an MLB-best 27-13 on the season. Let’s recap the fateful 11th:

1) With two out in the top of the inning and the score tied 2-2, Angel Pagan tripled into deep right-center with Ryan Church on first base. But Church missed third base on his way home, and after he scored the Dodgers appealed at the base. Church was called out, Pagan’s hit was reduced to a single, and the inning was over.

1a) Angel Pagan’s playing? I hope they didn’t let him drive to the game. Pagan might be the first player ever with a suspended license to have four hits in a major league game (I don’t know if BASEBALL REFERENCE keeps that stat).

2)  In the bottom of the inning, Pagan and Carlos Beltran has a communication breakdown on a routine fly ball to left center, resulting in Pagan diving out of the way at the last minute and Beltran dropping the ball.

3) After an intentional walk to Juan Pierre(!) to load the bases and a pop-out, and Beltran now playing as part of a five-man infield, Orlando Hudson hit a routine ground ball to Jeremy Reed. Reed went to home for the easy force out, but his throw was about 10 feet wide of Ramon Castro, who was already standing several feet away from home plate. Dodgers win. And, as if Reed needed anything else in his way, pitcher Brian Stokes decided it would be a great idea to run over and stand right in between Reed and Castro, ducking out of the way at the last minute to avoid being beaned in the head by Reed’s errant toss.

Angel Pagan

Seriously, the Mets have some defensive issues to work out. They made five errors last night, with two of them coming from Ramon Martinez, who was called up earlier in the day from AAA to play shortstop while Jose Reyes is sidelined. Reed, who is actually an outfielder, was only playing first because he pinch-hit for Fernando Tatis and somebody had to play the position. Carlos Delgado won’t be playing it for a while, as he’s having hip surgery tomorrow.

Speaking of the DL, Twins pitcher Glen Perkins is joining it after informing the team that he has tingling and discomfort in his pitching elbow. Of course, they probably would’ve rather he told them that before he gave up six runs in 2/3 of an inning at Yankee Stadium last night. Because then they might’ve been able to just start R.A. Dickey, who gave up no runs in the next 4 1/3. The Twins lost the game 7-6 — a totally fitting end to a four-game sweep that saw them lose the first three in walk-off fashion.

Glen Perkins

(”I gotta go on the DL, Gardy. I got a mean case of Chien-Ming Wang-itis.”)

Much like Dante in Clerks, Philippe Boucher wasn’t even supposed to be there last night. But the Penguins’ seventh defenseman scored the winning goal in a 3-2 victory over the Hurricanes in Game 1 of the NHL’s East finals. The ‘Canes almost rallied to tie the game late, but Marc-Andre Fleury denied Eric Staal on the doorstep with 30 seconds left to preserve the win and bring us one step closer to the same exact Stanley Cup finals matchup as last year (except this time Marian Hossa will be playing for the winning team). While the NHL playoffs have been great thus far, there’s a sense of impending dread that it will all be downhill from here since the Pens-Caps series will be nearly impossible to top.

Penguins Hurricanes

• ESPN’s Ric Bucher wrote a great piece about ex-NBAer Brian Grant’s battle with Parkinson’s Disease. Grant found out in January that he has the disease, and has reached out to Michael J. Fox and Muhammad Ali, the two most famous victims of the degenerative condition.

• The Brewers got some bad news yesterday when they learned that Rickie Weeks is going to miss the rest of the season with a wrist injury. It did, however, allow them to recall top prospect Mat Gamel from AAA, who promptly homered in his first big-league start in an 8-4 win over the Cardinals. Gamel, however, might make Crew fans wish Ryan Braun was still playing third, as he made a mind-boggling 93 errors over the last 2+ seasons in the minors (and one last night, of course).

• PGA golfer Briny Baird and Padres GM Kevin Towers took turns bombing golf balls off the roof of a hotel in San Diego yesterday. It’s OK, P.F. Chang’s set it all up. In fact, because Baird was able to hit a target 268 yards away (and 340 feet below him) in Petco Park, America is now entitled to a free lettuce wrap at Chang’s. Go here to register for your free app.

Briny Baird tees off

• Why doesn’t anyone want to ride Mine That Bird? The horse than won the Kentucky Derby and would’ve won the Preakness if the race was about 20 feet longer is going to be on its third jockey in three races at the Belmont because the most recent rider has decided his time will be better spent riding a horse in a race that isn’t on national TV that day. Meanwhile, there is growing sentiment that Rachel Alexandra should skip the Belmont, considering she nearly ran out of gas in the shorter Preakness.

Terrell Owens was given the key to Buffalo yesterday. Which is kind of a waste, since Buffalo’s going to have to spend a bunch of money to change its locks when T.O. wears out his welcome in October.

Terrell Owens

(”Is it OK if I make a copy for Rosenhaus?”)

• The Nationals’ ground crew is about as good at putting a tarp on the field as the team is at playing baseball (thanks to BAREKNUCKS):

• The NHL says that Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes can’t declare bankruptcy and sell the team to Jim Balsillie because Moyes gave Gary Bettman ownership of the team a few months ago in exchange for a financial bailout and thus doesn’t have the authority to make any decisions concerning the team’s future. It’s nice to see that Bettman is hell-bent on keeping the team in a place where it will continue to suffer instead of letting it go somewhere that will go crazy supporting it because he doesn’t want to be known as the guy who failed at bringing hockey to Arizona.

• The news isn’t all bad for the NHL, though. Sunday’s broadcast of the Red Wings-Blackhawks game drew the highest ratings ever for a non-Stanley Cup final or Winter Classic game on NBC, according to FANHOUSE. This despite the game being aired opposite the Lakers-Rockets Game 7 on ABC.

• RACIN NATION says Jeremy Mayfield was told exactly what he tested positive for, and it’s not Claritin, as Mayfield has contended. Stop denying it Mayfield, we all know you were drinking ayahuasca with a shaman in Peru.

England kicked off a campaign to get the 2018 World Cup yesterday. And when they bring out the big guns like Lord Triesman for the launch party, no other country has a chance. Well, except that the TIMES is still convinced that the U.S. is going to end up with the Cup if Barack Obama decides he wants it here.

What is least likely to happen?

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Speed Read: Cardiac Canes Will Break Your Heart

As evidenced by Wednesday night’s Pittsburgh Penguins’ romp over the Washington Capitals, not every Game 7 in hockey is something special. But let’s face it - most of them are. And when you throw overtime into the mix? It’s about as good as it gets. It’s drama that you cannot turn away from - at any second, the game and the series could be over with one thunderbolt.

Carolina Hurricanes

So it was that the Carolina Hurricanes and Boston Bruins skated at the end of the first overtime in their Game 7 in Boston, looking for all the world like they were going to a second extra period - or more. And then out of nowhere, a shot was flipped towards the net, Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas was unable to control the rebound, and winger Scott Walker pounced to put the puck in the net for his first career playoff goal to end the game 3-2 and the series.

Boston Bruins

And the fact that it was Walker who scored the series-winner had to hurt Bruins fans doubly, since he was the person who sucker punched Bruins defenseman Aaron Ward near the end of Game 5. According to NHL rules, Ward should have been suspended for Game 6, but the league rescinded the suspension after a hearing on Monday. So he went from almost breaking Ward’s face to definitely breaking the Bruins’ hearts.

(Of course, even though it was a Game 7 overtime winner, it arguably wasn’t as impressive or as cold-blooded as how the Hurricanes scored two late goals to send the New Jersey Devils packing in Game 7 of their first-round series. If I’m the Penguins in the Eastern Conference finals, I’m doing everything I can to close them out early.)

Red Wings versus Ducks

The Detroit Red Wings’ Game 7 victory over the Anaheim Ducks didn’t go to overtime, but it sure had its share of drama. Detroit went up two goals early, only to see Anaheim claw back to level the score at 3-3. But Dan Cleary scored with three minutes to go to give the Red Wings the go-ahead goal and Detroit’s defense was able to make it stick, setting up a Western Conference Finals match-up with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Dwight Howard

Oh, you say that you prefer NBA Game 7s? Well, you’ll have your chance for satisfaction soon enough, as two teams fought off elimination to earn one deciding game. In Orlando, the subtle message that Dwight Howard sent to Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy through the media (i.e. “quit being an idiot and get me the ball”) must have sunk in, as Howard had 23 points and 22 rebounds and the Magic forced a return trip to Boston with an 83-75 victory over the Celtics. None of which apparently excited Orlando fans to show up, as there were “patches of empty seats early in the game.”

Kobe Bryant

No wonder Commissioner David Stern was at the Lakers vs. Rockets game. And speaking of late-arriving - someone might want to tell the Lakers that Houston is in a different time zone, because they clearly aren’t showing up for games there until it’s too late. Much like in Game 4, Los Angeles put themselves in a huge hole they never could get out of, at one point closing an early 16-point deficit to two points but finally running out of steam and falling 95-80 to force a Game 7 at Staples Center. Meanwhile, the Denver Nuggets wait and rest.

Here’s some more sports news to digest while I try to figure out how to be part of “Bike To Work Day” when I work from home.

Which postseason is the most exciting?

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Speed Read: Floyd’s Follies Continue to Roil USC

Tim Floyd, USC’s men’s basketball coach for the moment (and this after almost becoming a leader of Wildcats), allegedly paid a handler a thousand dollars in cash to be delivered to O.J. Mayo in a successful attempt to encourage the young point guard to follow through on joining USC for a season after signing his letter of intent.  (No, the handler wasn’t Li’l Romeo.  Good guess, though.)

O.J. Mayo Tim Floyd

Everyone from the handler to Floyd to USC could be in varying levels of trouble if true.  Therefore, absolutely no one except YAHOO! SPORTS’ source will speak on the record.   Their investigative journalism has been hit and miss, though their commitment to providing original reporting has not wavered.

It’s unclear how seriously the reporting from the site with the silly name can be taken, though, as they clearly do not have fake conversations where they hype their stories around a ridiculously small table while being filmed in black-and-white.  It’s not really journalism if it’s colorized.

E60 from ESPN

(Journalism!)

From one stereotypically smoky back room to another, Delaware’s legislature has passed a law permitting sports betting in a desperate attempt to fill a gaping $600 million maw in the state budget.  The governor has promised his signature on the bill once the state Supreme Court has spoken to the state constitutionality of the bill.

Delaware is one of only four states with a legal exemption to a 1992 federal law banning sports gambling and the only one east of the Mississippi.  State lawmakers have high hopes of becoming a gambling mecca for sports enthusiasts; one called the opportunity “an unbelievable cash cow”.  Again, it’s unclear how true this can be if no one will be allowed to gamble on the Wilmington Blue Rocks.

Wilmington Blue Rocks - Rocky Bluewinkle

(The only thing you can tease here is the moose, sir)

Finally, from one set of rocks to another, Boston came back to defeat the Orlando Magic 92-88 last night to take a 3-2 series lead in a highly predictable collapse from the team in blue that has only one mode: jack the three up and cross your fingers.

Magic against Celtics

Houston also got a condescending pat on the head for their Game 4 effort without Yao Ming before being penetrated 118-78 by the Lakers and falling behind 3-2 in their series. The Rockets now only have one reliable position: fetal.

Phil Mickelson and wife

(”… so that’s winning!  Interesting.”)

On the other hand, three fine NHL Game 7s have now been scheduled after wins by Anaheim and Boston last night.  Detroit never found its offense despite approximately 40392109 minutes on the power play while Carolina’s Cam Ward couldn’t quite figure out what all that goalie equipment should be used for. One possibility: handing off $1,000 in cash to the next O.J. Mayo?

Anaheim Ducks

And now a hail of bullet points discovered behind the olive loaf sandwich in the break room fridge; you know, the fridge that sent half your office to the hospital

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Maria Verchenova On Par As One Gorgeous Golfer

• Meet Maria Verchenova, on course to be the Maria Sharapova of golf.

Maria Verchenova

Glen “Big Baby” Davis had Orlando Magic fans in tears last night after sinking the game-winning shot - and running over a kid on the sidelines. But now the youngster’s peeved papa demands satisfaction.

• Not taking too kindly to the taunting of her son, a Little League mother attacks one of the name-calling kids and calls him “white trash” in return.

• Speaking of matriarchs in sports, Mark Cuban gets into it with Kenyon Martin’s mom, telling her her son is a “thug“.

Dennis Rodman reportedly dines & dashes from a Miami restaurant, but not before one of his men mauls the manager.

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Canes’ Walker Not Suspended For Sucker Punch

Near the end of Boston’s 4-0 Game 5 downgrading of the Hurricanes last night, Carolina winger Scott Walker decided to take out his frustration on the Bruins’ Aaron Ward - with a sucker punch to Aaron’s face.

Scott Walker punches Aaron Ward

Check that - first Walker came flying in with an unexpected elbow to Ward’s face, then Scott slugged Aaron, which may have resulted in a broken orbital bone for the battered Bruin.

After witnessing such a sucker punch, you might think that Walker deserves some kind of suspension. And that’s why you won’t get a job with the National Hockey League front office anytime soon.

(Video of Walker wailing on Ward after the jump.)

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Speed Read: Celts’ Davis Makes Magic Cry Uncle

If anyone was going to step up and hit the game-winning shot in a must win game for the Boston Celtics, of course if was going to be Glen “Big Baby” Davis, right? I mean, just look at the guy’s track record. It’s…OK, basically it’s him getting screamed at by Kevin Garnett on the sidelines and crying into his towel. So what I mean to say is that there is no possible way that Glen Davis hits the biggest shot of the season for the Boston Celtics.

Glen Davis

But there he was, with the clock running down on Sunday night against Orlando and the Celtics trailing by one, draining a 21-footer after the Magic had swarmed Paul Pierce to give Boston the 95-94 victory to tie their Eastern Conference semifinal series at 2-2. And there he was charging down the court like he was chasing down the ice cream truck as it took off down the street, taking out some helpless kid on the sidelines in the process. Make sure you keep an eye on the kid’s friend shooting daggers at Davis:

Yeah, kid, I’m sure you could have taken him down if he just wouldn’t have run away so fast. But back to the shot: it’s not that the shot was too uncommon for Davis to hit - he does have that kind of range from the outside. But to hit that shot in that situation is just uncanny. Almost as uncanny as Paul Pierce having the guts to pass to him and let him take the shot with the Celtics’ season basically on the line. Can you imagine Kobe Bryant passing the ball to Andrew Bynum in the same situation?

Meanwhile, remember how the Rockets’ season was supposed to be doomed when Tracy McGrady went out for the season? That didn’t happen, as Houston won a playoff series for the first time in 47 years (approximately) before giving the Lakers all they could handle in their Western Conference semifinal series. But the news that Yao “Bamboo Bone” Ming would miss the rest of the playoffs with a broken foot suffered in Game 3 was surely the end of their run.

Kobe Bryant and Luis Scola

Then what in the world were the Lakers doing trailing by as many as 29 points to a team starting a 6-foot-6 center (Chuck Hayes) before falling 99-87 to have their series evened up at 2-2? For one thing, the Lakers had no answer for Chris Rock Aaron Brooks, as the diminutive guard ripped Los Angeles for 34 points, while the combination of Ron Artest and Luis Scola held Kobe Bryant to just 15 points.

As Phil Jackson predicted, it may have just been a case of a team playing full of emotion after having their backs to the wall; and yes, the Lakers did still regain home court advantage during the two games in Houston. But watching the Lakers and comparing them to the molten hot ball of basketball destruction that is the Denver Nuggets right now, perhaps that Cavaliers vs. Lakers NBA Finals isn’t as much of a sure thing as we previously thought.

Meanwhile, in those “other” playoffs, the Bruins followed the lead of their basketball brethren from Boston, although their prospects are still far more bleak. Despite their 4-0 win over the Carolina Hurricanes, Boston still trails 3-2 and needs to win at Carolina in Game 6 (where the Hurricanes have lost just once this postseason) in order to extend things to a Game 7. And in the Western Conference, the Red Wings pushed the Ducks to the brink with a decisive 4-1 victory to take a 3-2 series lead.

Other stories you might have missed as you were voting for your mayor to shave his handlebar mustache:

  • While the Celtics and Bruins were in their playoff battle, the Red Sox were simply beating the Rays 4-3. But how could one fan celebrate everything that was going on in the Boston sports world on Sunday? BUGS AND CRANKS found one fan who had the perfect answer: a Celtics jersey pulled over a Bruins jersey, topped with a Red Sox cap:
  • The Ultimate Boston Fan

  • Just to finish our Boston sports orgy: are you ready for a reality show starring Troy O’Leary as the baseball version of Simon Cowell? The BOSTON GLOBE says O’Leary hopes you are, as he’s developing a new TV show called “Play Big or Go Home” that is trying to find baseball diamonds in the rough. My choice for the Paula Abdul spot at the judges’ table? The San Diego Chicken.
  • England national team soccer star Ledley King was arrested over the weekend after allegedly assaulting a bouncer at a London nightclub and insulting his Pakistani heritage. THE SUN says that King got to sleep it off in the drunk tank, literally, as he passed out in the stony lonesome for five hours.
  • While that was happening, the TELEGRAPH says that Manchester United was throttling Manchester City 2-0 to put a stranglehold on the English Premier League title with two games remaining. But mercurial United star Cristiano Ronaldo found something to mope about, throwing a fit after being removed by Sir Alex Ferguson just short of an hour into the match:

  • PRO FOOTBALL TALK says that Drew Rosenhaus is, as usual, stirring up more problems. This time he’s using Twitter to start trades for one of his disgruntled players, saying that he thinks teams would give up a 1st round pick and more for my client Darnell Dockett.” 
  • NASCAR’s head of drug testing isn’t exactly buying Jeremy Mayfield’s claim that a reaction to an allergy medication led to his positive drug test, telling USA TODAY that “in my many years of experience, I have never seen a violation like this due to the combination of over-the-counter or prescription products.” But maybe he was trying to get pregnant?
  • The TERRE HAUTE TRIBUNE STAR reports that Milka Duno was bumped from a spot in the Indianapolis 500 during time trials on Sunday and will have to try again this coming weekend. I wouldn’t mind bumping her either, if you know what I mean…
  • Milka Duno

  • The DALLAS MORNING NEWS passes word that author Edwin “Bud” Shrake, who co-wrote the seminal golf instruction manual “Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book” with the teaching legend, died Friday morning of cancer at the age of 77.
  • With college athletes getting in trouble about Facebook postings on a seemingly daily basis, you would think that universities would avoid social networking sites like the plague. But the IDAHO STATESMAN says that Boise State is embracing the concept in a big way, complete with Facebook pages, YouTube channels and more. (h/t to THE WIZ OF ODDS)
  • Former Vikings and Falcons linebacker Henri Crockett was one of four men arrested in Toronto early Saturday morning after a scuffle with police during a traffic stop when they found Crockett and others with a handgun in their car.

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Speed Read: Celtics/Bulls Series An Instant Classic

April is the best month to be a sports fan, and last night was a classic example of why. It was a virtual buffet of scrumptious viewing options. And a really good buffet, too, like the ones you find in downtown Vegas where all the locals eat, not one of those lousy chain buffets where everything from the decor to the food is a monochrome tan color palette and seems to be from the 1970s. (I’m looking at you, Hometown Buffet.)

Paul Pierce

Case in point: Game 5 between the Celtics and the Bulls, which took an already great series into uncharted territory. With their backs to the wall and missing two of their Big Three (Kevin Garnett to injury and Ray Allen after fouling out with 5:27 left in the fourth quarter), Boston found a way to get past Chicago 106-104 in overtime. And that way was Paul Pierce, who made three straight jumpers in the final 77 seconds of OT to carry the Celtics to a 3-2 series lead.

Just how historic is this series? The two teams have set a record with three overtime games in one series - and there’s still as many as two games left to go. (And let’s be honest: anyone who isn’t a Boston fan has to want this to go to seven games.) Bob Ryan of the BOSTON GLOBE believes it’s the best No. 2 vs. No. 7 match-up in league history, and it’s pretty hard to argue the point.

Brad Miller

Of course, there were other heroes who made the win possible for the Celtics: Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins and Brad Miller. Yeah, that Brad Miller, the big, vaguely stiffish center who plays for the Bulls. Miller had a chance to send the game into a second OT when Rondo was called for a foul on Miller’s missed layup with two seconds left. But Miller clanked the first one and then failed to hit the rim while trying to miss the second one.

Meanwhile, Dwight Howard is just destroying things. Mainly the 76ers, as evidenced by his 24 point, 24 rebound performance in the Magic’s 91-78 victory to get their own 3-2 series lead. And more specifically, he destroyed the 76ers Samuel Dalembert with an elbow to the head which earned him a technical foul. Philadelphia coach Tony DiLeo has said the team has already informed the league about Howard’s foul (in hopes of getting him suspended for Game 6), but since David Stern was actually at the game, the phone call was probably unnecessary.

But like any weapon of mass destruction, Howard can be as dangerous to his allies as his enemies (think of him as the basketball version of Doctor Manhattan, except with less giant blue wang), as proven when he KO’ed Orlando starting point guard Courtney Lee, sending him out of the game and to the hospital with a likely concussion. Which means that Orlando could be very short-handed when heading back to Philadelphia for Game 6. This series is far from over.

New Jersey Devils

Meanwhile, let’s turn our attention to something slightly less violent: the NHL playoffs. Unless you consider death by choking to be too graphic for your tastes. Because that’s exactly what the New Jersey Devils did in their Game 7 against the Carolina Hurricanes, finding a way to lose in regulation despite having a 3-2 lead … with 80 seconds left.

No OT needed here, just a total and complete collapse started by Jussi Jokinen’s game-tying goal at 18:40 in the 3rd period and completed with Eric Staal’s game and series-winner with 37 seconds left. And keep in mind that this all happened in New Jersey: If you want to know just how quiet a sellout crowd can be, just watch this video of the Hurricanes’ furious rally:

Finally, I guess that Major League Soccer has finally reached the big time. Sure, their attendance is lagging and their TV ratings are at XFL levels, but now they can claim to be on par with a big time league like the NBA in one capacity: a referee game-fixing scandal. The COLUMBUS DISPATCH says that MLS referee Jair Marrufo is under investigation for allegedly accepting an autographed jersey from Chicago Fire star Cuauhtemoc Blanco in the referee’s room after their 2-2 draw against the Columbus Crew on Saturday. (And a hat tip to SOCCER BY IVES for finding the original story.)

Jair Murrafo

Accepting a gift from a player is a pretty awful idea if you’re an official of any sport, much less a professional official at the highest level. But when you add to this the fact that Marrufo called a controversial red card on the Crew’s Gino Padula for a foul on Blanco in the second half, and that the Fire rallied for two late goals against the man-down Columbus side for a 2-2 draw, and things get downright shady.

As someone who has covered the MLS in recent years, I don’t think Marrufo purposefully threw the match; Given the lousy quality of MLS referees (including Marrufo), I don’t think the majority of them have the wherewithal to fix a bowl of cereal, much less a match. It’s more likely the whole incident was a mix of horrible on the field and post-game judgment by an MLS referee, a shockingly common occurrence.

Some more sports news you might have missed while trying to hack that small tree out of your lungs last night:

  • You’ve probably heard by now that as a publicity stunt, the Albany Firebirds of arenafootball2 had offered Michael Vick a contract with a base salary of $200 a week and a $50 bonus for a win. Now here comes the twist: the ALBANY TIMES-UNION says that Firebirds owner Walter Robb is ticked off, because he says the offer was made without his knowledge, and that as a dog lover he “doesn’t want anything to do” with Vick.
  • Michael Vick Files For Chapter 11 Bankruptcy

  • Speaking of people I wish would go away but haven’t quite yet: Please get ready to head to your fallout shelters until the start of the regular season. PRO FOOTBALL TALK says that the Jets have given Brett Favre his release, meaning he’s now a free agent. And Favre’s response to the news (“at this time, I am retired and have no intention of returning to football”) has me feeling very nauseous and woozy.
  • Derek Bell’s World Series ring fails to meet the minimum reserve price on eBay. Everyone assumed it was a fraud, since no one remembers him actually winning the World Series.
  • Some good news, Phillies fans: your team won 7-1 and Cole Hamels only gave up four hits while lowering his ERA. The bad news: he only went 4-1/3 innings before shutting it down after spraining his ankle fielding a bunt. And that new “lower” ERA is still at 7.27.
  • In case you missed it on Monday night, James Jones of the Miami Heat scored eight points in 11 seconds against the Hawks, thanks to back-to-back four point plays. And Miami still lost by about a billion points - imagine how much worse it could have been (OK, eight points worse, but still). BALL DON’T LIE has the video proof of the Reggie Miller-esque scoring outburst:

  • The CHATTANOOGA TIMES FREE PRESS says former Tennessee OL Cameron Mayo was arrested on charges of sexual assault. The former Volunteer was working at Dalton High in Tennessee as a substitute teacher at the time of his arrest.
  • JOE SPORTS FAN wants you to fondly look back at the wonderful world of obviously posed shots from the 1987 Topps card collection.
  • COLLEGE FOOTBALL TALK says that former Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman has fired back in his war of words with Texas Tech boss Mike Leach. Wait, Mike Sherman is still coaching the Aggies? Next you’re going to tell me that Charlie Weis hasn’t been fired yet. HUH?!?
  • In other Red Raiders news, Texas Tech’s baseball team recently had a “Turn Back The Clock” night, so UNI WATCH says their video department decided to make a retro style highlight package. Someone had a lot of fun making this, so please watch:

  • More fallout from the swine flu epidemic: the AP says that CONCACAF has canceled its regional beach soccer tournament scheduled to begin tomorrow in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. The good news: if you’re going to be stranded somewhere because of a horrible flu outbreak, at least it’s the beach.

What’s the greatest playoff comeback in sports history?

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Speed Read: Cleveland Is A Hot Mess Right Now

It was an incredibly tumultuous night in Cleveland, and the Cavaliers losing to the Wizards was the least shocking news of the night. (Although as the WASHINGTON POST’s Michael Lee points out, Washington joins the Lakers and Celtics as the only teams to beat Cleveland twice this season.) Yes, it’s not often that the best team in the league loses to the worst team in the league, but the Wizards are a unique case, with Gilbert Arenas and Brendan Haywood finally back playing after missing almost all of the season with injuries.

Jay Cutler Brady Quinn Jason Campbell

No, most of the evening drama in Cleveland involved the Browns. First came some fallout from Jay Cutler’s trade to the Bears, specifically reports that Cleveland had tried to work out a three-way deal with the Broncos and Redskins that would have sent Brady Quinn to Denver and Jason Campbell to Cleveland. Browns coach Eric Mangini spent Thursday night denying these reports; expect Quinn to demand a trade because the Browns tried to trade him sometime within the next week.

Donte Stallworth

And later in the evening, there was news in the DUI manslaughter case against Browns WR Donte Stallworth, and it was more than just his first appearance at a court hearing. It turns out that Stallworth was already in the NFL’s substance abuse program at the time of his arrest, which opens him up to a whole range of punishment from the league. Of course, he’s facing charges that could land him in jail for at least eight years, and having a history of substance abuse issues is not going to help his case, so I’d say that Roger Goodell is the least of Stallworth’s problems right now.

Bernie Williams

Meanwhile, there were no problems at the opening of the Hard Rock Cafe Yankee Stadium yesterday, just a lot of unintentional comedy as reported by MLB.COM. What do I mean? How about Yankees’ Executive Vice President Hal “The Pretty One” Steinbrenner joining rock stars/C-list celebs with nothing better to do Ace Frehley of KISS, Scott Ian and Frank Bello of Anthrax, Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, Bernie Williams and members of the Seminole Nation to smash guitars instead of cutting a ribbon. And yes, this means rock and roll is officially dead.

(Oh yeah, “Late Show With David Letterman” band drummer Anton Fig was there, which only means one thing: even Paul Shaffer had too much dignity to show up to this thing.)

Other news while you were rioting in the streets of State College to celebrate Penn State’s NIT victory:

  • As PUCK DADDY notes, it must be like getting their hearts ripped out all over again for Hartford Whalers fans to see a Hurricanes jersey with the Whalers’ logo (and a God awful color combination). Although I’d love it if the Ravens wore Browns jerseys for “Turn Back The Clock” day against Cleveland.
  • Whalers jersey

  • While the Jay Cutler trade solved one long-running NFL saga, the Anquan Boldin/Arizona Cardinals mess continues to fester. The latest comes from NFL.COM which reports that Boldin told a Florida radio station that he would “love to” play in his home city of Miami.
  • I had hoped that the America’s Cup had gone the way of 1980s fads like The Lambada, Swatches and The California Raisins. But apparently it’s still happening, and it’s now the focus of lawsuits involving people with more money than they know what to do with. The AP has the latest news, as software tycoon Larry Ellison and his boat “Oracle” have won the right to challenge the current Cup holders, Judge Elihu Smails and his boat “The Flying Wasp” (seen below at its coronation):

  • It looks like things are going anything but “perfect” for former Cincinnati ace Tom Browning: THE NEWS & OBSERVER reports the Reds have dropped him as the pitching coach for the Carolina Mudhens after he was arrested on Friday for failure to pay child support.
  • If you’re a former NFL player who gets arrested on drug charges, you would hope that the headlines wouldn’t call you “forgettable.” But that’s just how NBC DALLAS FORT WORTH described former Cowboy Leonardo Carson, arrested yesterday on intent to sell charges, and I’ll be damned if they aren’t right.
  • Now that Tim Floyd has turned down Arizona, TUCSON CITIZEN columnist Anthony Gimino wants to know if there’s anyone left who wants the Wildcats’ coaching job. May I make a suggestion: Former Baylor coach Dave Bliss is available and ready to talk. Sure, he’s got a checkered past, but the guy knows how to win. Barring that, perhaps Jerry Tarkanian is available.
  • Sports is creeping its way into politics in Los Angeles, as the LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS reports that City Attorney candidate Carmen Trutanich is being ripped by his opponent and NOW for successfully representing former USC defensive back Eric Wright on rape charges in 2005.
  • I can’t imagine why parents in Shenendehowa, NY are upset to find out that a part-time track coach had his teaching license revoked 11 years ago after an alleged sexual abuse case. WTEN-TV says that while Don Paretta was not convicted, he admitted to giving a former student a note at graduation saying he would “miss the student’s face and body.” And this guy coached pole vaulting: let the jokes commence.
  • According to the NEWARK STAR-LEDGER, Boston College DT B.J. Raji - a projected Top 10 pick in the NFL Draft - committed a crime worse than scoring single digits on the Wonderlic test: he reportedly flunked a drug test at the NFL Combine.
  • Finally, HOME RUN DERBY sends a hearty congratulations to Manatee Community College, which defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-4 yesterday. Yes, those Pittsburgh Pirates, as in the “allegedly major league Pirates.” Bill Mazeroski would be rolling in his grave, if he were dead.

Who would you rather have as your franchise QB?

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Speed Read: Clippers Beat Celtics, Panic Ensues

I’m not going to suggest that the Boston Celtics weren’t completely focused last night, but…for God’s sake, they lost to the freakin’ Los Angeles Clippers! I know that they were without Kevin Garnett, and then Paul Pierce dislocated his thumb in the third quarter. And I know that the axiom that there are no easy road games in the NBA.

Zach Randolph

Except when you are playing the Los Angeles Clippers - I don’t care where you play them or what the circumstances are, that should be an “easy game” for any team. If they can’t beat the Clippers, then I guess we can eliminate the Celtics as legitimate NBA Finals contenders. We might as well go ahead and crown the Lakers…

Clippers vs Celtics

…who lost to Sacramento earlier this year, who actually somehow have managed to be worse this season than the Clippers. OK then, how about the Cavaliers?  What, they lost to Washington earlier this season? We’re going to wind up with the Spurs as champions again, aren’t we. The point is: it was a really, really bad loss, but no worse than any other team has during the course of a season. Let’s not freak out to much about it yet.

Nothing against Nolan Smith, but doesn’t anyone who isn’t a Duke fan feel good about seeing a Blue Devil get laid out by a vicious screen? Maryland’s Dave Neal was the one delivering the shot, flooring Smith and causing Mike Krzyzewski to fume. Smith had to be helped off the court but didn’t appear to be seriously injured, allowing us to enjoy our little moment of schadenfreude:

Of course, as the CHARLOTTE OBSERVER points out, that screen might have been the worst thing that could have happened to the Terrapins, as Duke’s Gerald Henderson came out of the ensuing time out as a man on a mission, scoring 11 of his 19 points in the game’s final 15 minutes and change afterward. Or, it could just be that Duke is a much better team than possibly NIT-bound Maryland; either way, Duke won 78-67.

Indiana Hoosiers

Meanwhile, this is how bad it’s gotten for Indiana: they were swept by Northwestern. The Wildcats did what would have seemed improbable going into this season, breaking a 35-game losing streak at Indiana on Wednesday with a 75-53 victory. Then again, even with a young, inexperienced team, thinking that Indiana would be 6-21 overall or 1-14 in the Big Ten would have been pretty loopy before the season started.

More sports news as you fire up your NES and decide whether to play “Wrestle Jam” as Randy “The Ram” Robinson or The Ayatollah:

  • Remember those Powerade commercials that had LeBron James sinking one full-court shot after another to the amazement of a local reporter. After watching this pre-game video found by BALL DON’T LIE of King James swishing a more than half-court shot - underhanded- I’m starting to wonder how much editing trickery was used:

  • Congratulations to Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun for notching his 800th career victory, a 93-82 victory over Marquette. Go buy yourself something nice and extravagent, and make sure you send the receipt to that idiot writer.
  • Further proof that Alex Rodriguez just doesn’t get it: FOX SPORTS says that after hitting a home run in his first Spring Training game, he left the stadium in an SUV … with his cousin Yuri Sucart, the same cousin who was allegedly his steroid supplier.
  • Updating a story about 82-year-old former professional wrestling star Verne Gagne allegedly killing his assisted-living center roommate, the AP says a coroner in Minnesota has ruled the death a homicide.
  • REUTERS says Australian swimmer Nick D’Arcy - pulled from the Olympic team after allegedly caving in another athlete’s face during a barroom brawl while celebrating making the team - will have to wait another month to learn his fate.
  • I know it’s from the Celebrity Game during All-Star Weekend, so it’s a little bit old, but seeing ESPN’s Jon Barry bite this hard on the old Harlem Globetrotters “Confetti in the Bucket” trick is worth it. Didn’t he ever watch the Globetrotters on “Wide World of Sports” as a kid?:

  • Another day, another investment scam impacting sports. This time NEWSDAY reports that two former New York Islanders executives have been arrested and charged with “with misappropriating more than $500 million in client investments, including tens of millions allegedly taken for things like expensive stallions and pricey Teddy bears.”
  • More news in the slow, inevitable slog towards Manny Ramirez finally signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers:  the LA TIMES reports that the team has made him a two-year, $45 million offer that he could respond to as early as today.
  • CANES COUNTRY has another sign that either newspapers are dying or economy is falling through a well (or both): the News & Observer has decided to not send reporters to Carolina Hurricanes away games, likely for the rest of the season and possibly beyond.
  • The PALM BEACH POST reports that Michael Jordan and his 30-year-old paramour, Cuban model Yvette Prieto, are moving in together in a house in suburban Miami. Michael: if you find Charlie Sheen coming out of your house at odd hours of the night, you have bigger things to worry about than your underwear.
  • Yvette Prieto and Michael Jordan

Other than Indiana, which former big-time college basketball program has fallen the farthest this season?

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