1) Pittsburgh is the hottest team in the league right now, having stolen their eighth win in a row from Toronto on Tuesday night after trailing 4-1 in the third period. They’re missing their largest star, and have found another go-to guy in Evgeni Malkin who has become their fearless leader (that was not a Russian joke, editor’s note). Besides for Malkin’s scoring, the Penguins’ rock has been goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. He’s top five in games played and wins, and is very solid in goal.
2) St. Louis is the most underrated team because of how their team is sorely lacking multiple All-Star players. Brian Elliot is amazing in goal and they ALSO have Jaroslav Halak as the backup to switch to. I wish my team had such problems…they’re sitting pretty five points out of the conference lead. They are a great “team” and with another key guy added before the deadline, they could be killer come playoff time.
3) It might be tough to say this out loud, but Alex Ovechkin might not be the best player in the league anymore. With Sidney Crosby out with a long-term injury and Ovi being very un-Ovilike, the door is wide open for…drumroll… Steve Stamkos. I know, not very surprising, but Stamkos is just amazing. Are you surprised he’s leading the league in goals? I’m not. Is it surprising that he’s a favorite to win the Art Ross trophy EVERY YEAR? Nope. He’s amazing, and benefitting from other stars dropping in the standings. Look out league, this guy is going to be amazing for a long time. Great news for the future of Team Canada.
LOS ANGELES– By Aron Jacobowitz
1) Are the Sixers really ‘contenders’ in the East, or are they impecable pretenders? They have won 13 games thus far by double digits (tied for the most this season with the Bulls – who they play tonight). They are killing their division with the likes of Boston and New York trying desperately to salvage a season, and they don’t even have a superstar.
Are they the East’s Nuggets? Is it too early for this type of question? Hmm. Well at 15-6, it’s safe to say that through a third of the season, you ain’t trippin’. Although they do not have very many quality wins, thankfully, as mentioned above, they are playing Chicago tonight. Because this will be the first legitimate threat to limit the Sixers window of success for the ’11-’12 condensed season.
How are the Sixers doing what they do so far? Two words: Doug Collins. Early season coach of the year? Yes. When you’ve coached Michael Jordan early in his career, you immediately demand the respect necessary to say whatever needs to be said to turn their fortunes around. They rank first in scoring defense (86.1) and fifth in rebounds per game (43.8). That said, they only own three victories against teams with winning records: Indiana, Atlanta and Orlando. Beating Atlanta is most likely the best thing these guys have done all year. However, they don’t choose their schedule. They were given these games, and they’ve plowed right through them. They beat Orlando, who is in complete dysfunction, in the midst of a 1-5 stretch that has seen them play worse than the Tulsa Shock, the WNBA team who went 3-31 last season.
We have watched Coach Collins turn this team into a collective group; a core of young talent (Jrue Holiday, Lou Williams, Thaddeus Young) surrounded by savvy veterans (Elton Brand and Andre Igoudala). As much as I hate to admit it, Elton Brand is actually helping his squad. His numbers aren’t the 20 and 10 he used to put up in Clipperland. However, his minutes are down, his mentoring up, and his contract is also up ($17.1 million). All jokes aside, a win tonight against the East leading Bulls will undoubtedly provide legitimacy to the City of Brotherly Love for the first time since The Answer left the building (the first time).
2) Did Kevin McHale spike the Gatorade after the Rockets dismal 2-6 start? Granted, Houston began the season with one of, if not the toughest schedule in the league. They also began the season with some players pretty damn upset about the failed trade that would have seen their landscape completely change. Kevin Martin and Louis Scola (their two leading scorers at 21 and 15 points per game) were to be shipped off and Pau Gasol was supposed to be brought in. Maybe because McHale thought he could relate better to a seven-foot soft Spaniard?
Kyle Lowry has literally transformed into one of the more efficient PG’s out West putting up 15, 8, 6.5 and the dude’s name has literally never been so much as uttered on SportsCenter before this season. Okay, maybe once or twice, but definitely not with the enthusiasm necessary. He had to fill Aaron Brooks shoes, who put up a monster playoffs a few years back, then disagreed with the coaching staff, and was shipped off to Phoenix (now he’s in China). Speaking of that trade, Goran Dragic was part of that deal and has also used his few years of watching Steve Nash to quietly put together a solid backup PG season (eight points and four assists per game).
The Rockets began the season with losses to Orlando, Memphis, Lakers, Clippers, and Oklahoma City (twice- home and away) while also posting wins against San Antonio and Atlanta (both at home), which accounts for their 2-6 record out of the gate. Since then, they have won 10 of 13 (only playing four road games during that stretch) highlighted by wins against Portland and San Antonio. They have also benefited from a relatively weak stretch, playing the Wizards twice, New Orleans, Detroit, Charlotte (ALL W’s). But at 12-9, the Rockets may slide into the 7th or 8th seed in the West and make some noise. With seven of their next eight games on the road, I’m sure we’ll find out by Valentine’s Day if this team is legit.
3) Fresh off of back-to-back victories against the top two teams in the West (Denver and Oklahoma City), the LA Clippers continue to add to their impressive early season resume. With wins against Miami, Oklahoma City, Lakers, Denver, Dallas, Portland and Memphis thus far, the sky’s the limit.
Early season MVP Chris Paul (although he missed five of their 18 games) has already proven he will be the guy to make the necessary buckets down the stretch. Blake Griffin keeps finding ways to top himself, while also amassing a large amount of haters – and you only gain haters when you increase your media coverage- so he’s doing something right. Mo “Money” Williams, if he keeps up his high energy and hot shooting, will be hoisting that sixth man award in front of the home crowd come May. The dude is approaching 50 percent from downtown, while putting up 15 points per game. This team has five guys averaging at least 15 points per game and they are a Kenyon Martin signing away from going nine-deep and legitimately becoming the best team in the West.
To play the other side, the Clippers have only played six road games (2-4) compared to 12 at the Staples Center (10-2). That’s about to change. They play in Utah tonight, where they were clobber-fisted about two weeks prior. Then they go home tomorrow against Denver before playing eight of their next 10 on the road. Are they battle-tested thus far? Yes. But not on the road. Beating Denver on Sunday in the Rockies was a nice start, but with games at Orlando, Philadelphia and Dallas on the upcoming trip, we’ll see if Vinny Del Negro and his band of Clippers wet the bed or continues to climb the ladder.
Manny Ramirez hit 236 home runs during his 1993-2000 run with the Cleveland Indians before signing a huge free agent deal with the Boston Red Sox.
In 2000, the Pacific Trading Card company took two of his bats, cut one of them and put them in a series of baseball cards. X-Ray evidence revealed that those two bats had cork in them, which is illegal in baseball and has come with suspension for those caught in the past. Jeff Morris, the former VP of Marketing for Pacific, said in a radio interview on Friday that there was no doubt these bats were game used, implying that Ramirez was cheating.
“[W]e got a call from saying, ‘You’re not going to believe this. There’s cork in the bat that we cut up and some of it got onto a card.’ We were very adamant… make sure that does not get onto a card. It was just like a nightmare. And sure enough, there were a couple of them that got out.”
One of those cards are now on eBay for $5,000. Another piece of a Ramirez corked bat was up for auction last April. The second bat? “He’d gone down to the airport and put it through the x-ray machine,” said Morris, “and sure enough, it was corked too.” Hat tip to Cork Gaines at Business Insider for being on the story first.