Friday, February 17: WEEKEND EDITION
TheSportsNotebook goes into the weekend offering condolences to the family of baseball’s Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter. The 57-year-old who played with the Montreal Expos (now the Washington Nationals) and the New York Mets lost his battle with cancer. Carter’s peak years were just as I was really becoming a junkie for sports in general and baseball in particular. In 1979, when I was nine his Expos splashed onto the scene and nearly edged out Pops Stargell’s Pirates for the NL East title. A similarly close loss took place the following year to the Phillies, another team who went on to the World Series. Montreal won the division in ’81 and came within a run of the World Series. The Expos, as hard as it is to believe today, were baseball’s hot young team back in those days and Carter—along with Andre Dawson, Steve Rogers and Warren Cromartie—were the biggest reasons why.
When Montreal started to slip it was time to get something for their stars in trade. The Mets were looking for veteran help, particularly at catcher, and a deal was struck to put Carter in Shea Stadium. He was the starter and a key player on the 1986 team that won 108 games and then won epic postseason battles against Houston in the NLCS and Boston in the World Series. In the tributes going around online this morning, the fact Carter got a two-out, no one on hit to start the historic rally of Game 6 of the World Series, is getting most of the play. That hit deserves attention, but if you go through the boxscores of that World Series what stands out the most is the way Carter stepped up big in the Series’ middle three games at Fenway Park. New York had lost the first two at home, and if Carter doesn’t hit like he did in Games 3 & 4, we never get to Game 6. That’s called clutch.
Gary Carter now crosses over, and TheSportsNotebook salutes him.
Looking ahead to the weekend between the lines, here’s the weekend preview package
And the coming of NASCAR has not escaped TheSportsNotebook’s attention. I won’t be covering the Budweiser Shootout, essentially the biggest “pre-season” race that goes Saturday night in Dayton. But starting next week we’ll preview the coming Sprint Cup season in general, along with the Daytona 500 in particular. I look forward to introducing readers to my brother Bill, the NASCAR junkie who will be our analyst on this topic all the way through the end of the season in November.
Thursday, February 16
I’m finally giving up on the idea of ignoring Lin-Sanity in New York. One of today’s features here at TheSportsNotebook will be a look at the New York Knicks hot streak behind their dyanmic new point guard out of nowhere, Jeremy Lin. And in college hoops, our Bracket Busters tour of the midmajors stops at Lin’s alma mater in Harvard, and also includes looks at Long Beach State, plus the three lead contenders from the Colonial–George Mason, Drexel and Virginia Commonwealth. And as though writing about the Knicks and Harvard weren’t enough of a pander to the local media blaze for Lin, I’ve added a banner at the bottom right of the home page where you can buy his stuff. I am nothing if not shameless in an effort to cash in on a movement that I think would never happen if it were in Utah.
Thursday night means marquee night in the NBA, with the TNT doubleheader, and we’ve got Boston-Chicago and LA Clippers-Portland. Derrick Rose is still out with back spams, while the Celtics are coming off a loss in Detroit last night. The Clips are playing good basketball even with Chauncey Billups gone for the year, and the late game is realistically the better of the two.
College basketball has a key night in the ACC race, with Duke and Florida State both at home and needing to win to keep pace with North Carolina, who got a tough win over Miami last night. You will note in the Morning Line yesterday (right below), that I saw the pointspread of Miami (+5) and figured if I were having a breakfast in a Vegas lounge I’d take a flyer on the underdog. They lost by nine. This is why I’m breakfasting near Phoenix this morning and not the Strip. Anyway, Duke hosts N.C. State, who’s fighting for an NCAA bid, and Florida State hosts a bad Virginia Tech team. Other key games include Oregon-Cal in the Pac-12, and there’s a big one in the Big Ten, as Wisconsin visits Michigan State (7 PM ET, ESPN)
The collapsing Chicago Blackhawks have a chance to right the ship tonight for an NHL Network audience when they go to MSG and play the New York Rangers. The Blackhawks have gone from Cup contender to being tied with Los Angeles for #7, and only two points up on #8 Phoenix, who was one of three teams featured here yesterday. The Kings and Coyotes have a game themselves in LA.
Wednesday, February 15
Wednesday always mean a big night of college basketball, as this is typically the busiest weeknight, and there’s a big game on the docket tonight on ESPN. North Carolina-Miami tip off from Coral Gables at 7 PM ET and all the implications you can want are in play. The Tar Heels have to keep up with Duke and Florida State in the three-way ACC race. Miami is looking to drive to the NCAA Tournament. They’ve already beaten Duke and played Florida State tough the last two games, and a win tonight puts the Hurricanes in commanding position.
Miami’s one of the few ACC teams with a puncher’s chance of matching up with Carolina inside. Reggie Johnson can do it all at center and Kenny Kadji is solid support at power forward, and Miami can score in the backcourt. UNC comes into this game as a (-5) favorite and if I were having breakfast in a Vegas lounge this morning I’ll admit I’d be tempted to grab a ticket on the underdog.
In the Mountain West, San Diego State-New Mexico won’t get TV coverage, but the winner gets sole possession of the MWC lead, as UNLV was upset in overtime by TCU last night. Three teams with more than just conference title hopes at stake lost as well—Mississippi State, Alabama and Minnesota, needing wins for an NCAA drive, all lost.
All of which is good news for the midmajor teams fighting for at-large berths in the NCAA field, and TheSportsNotebook continues its Bracket Buster Week series today with a look at the Missouri Valley, specifically Wichita State and Creighton.
*Miami’s more heralded NBA team continues to play great basketball, in dropping Indiana decisively and they and Chicago continue to be the class of the entire league. Tonight, NBA-TV opted to televise Memphis-New Jersey, and ESPN is giving us Portland-Golden State. Better games like Philadelphia-Orlando, Oklahoma City-Houston and Denver-Dallas will be left for League Pass subscribers.
*In the NHL, Boston’s loss to the New York Rangers last night means the Bruin lead in the Northeast Division is down to just four points over Ottawa. The Senators go to Southeast-leading Florida tonight, while Boston gets an NBCSN date with archrival Montreal.
A key game in the West is Colorado-Vancouver, where the Avalanche are one of three teams hotly contesting the conference’s last playoff spot. Colorado, Calgary and Phoenix are all within three points of the other and TheSportsNotebook takes a closer look at those contenders today.
Tuesday, February 14
You may have a spouse or significant other to tend to on Valentine’s Day, but there’s still plenty of sports rolling in if you have a chance to grab some television time or sneak a peek at the scores.
*In college hoops it’s a do-or-die kind of night for some teams looking to push their way into the NCAA Tournament. Minnesota needs a big win, and Ohio State comes to the Twin Cities (9 PM ET, ESPN). In the game right before that on ESPN, Alabama, which needs to right the ship after a weekend loss to LSU, hosts Florida. In the Big 12, Texas has played its way into better shape the last few games, but could still use a win at Oklahoma. And Seton Hall simply has to get it done at home against St. John’s.
*Can I tell you how much I love this NBA lockout-induced schedule? The slate is full with interesting matchups most nights, and tonight’s no different. The most significant game isn’t the sexiest—Houston goes to Memphis, but it’s a big one in the joust for the final playoff spots in the West. The Lakers are at home against a quietly good Atlanta team, while Miami visits Indiana (7 PM, NBA-TV). In the NBA network’s late game from the west coast, its Washington-Portland, and I have to echo the call ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy made on Sunday when he advocated just not televising Wizards games anymore. Ever.
*Two good games are up in the NHL, although given NBCSN’s (The Network Formerly Known As Versus) obsession with showing every Anaheim Ducks game possible, neither will be on TV. The high-flying New York Rangers go to Boston, while reeling Chicago goes to Nashville. The Rangers-Bruins is mostly for show, but the Blackhawks really need to stem the tide, especially if they still harbor any hopes of getting home ice in the first round.
Here at TheSportsNotebook today, our Bracket Busters coverage starts in earnest, as closer looks at some of the best midmajor conferences and teams begins. Conference USA gets the focus, with Southern Miss being the lead dog, and we also check in on Central Florida, Tulsa and Memphis. And in the NBA, the veteran San Antonio Spurs have gotten quietly hot and won seven straight. TheSportsNotebook takes a look at the win streak and the team’s overall performance as we seek to figure out if the Spurs are a vet team with a real shot to win the title.
Monday, February 13
TheSportsNotebook headquarters have escaped the bitter cold of Wisconsin and come to you right now from sunny Arizona, where I’m just outside Tempe and awaiting pitchers and catchers to report. While weather might make this an ideal place to be, the fans in New York are still riding high. As though a Super Bowl win weren’t enough, the New York Rangers are still flying high, the Knicks have gotten red-hot with Jeremy Lin. And while Syracuse is far enough from NYC that I can’t give The Big Apple credit for the Orange in the Fan-O-Meter, we can’t deny there are surely a lot of ‘Cuse fans in the city.
All of which means New York sports are the Monday focus here in TheSportsNotebook’s daily features. We go inside Syracuse’s six-man rotation, the same as was done last week with Kentucky, to see just how good Jim Boeheim’s team really is. And we take a closer look at the Rangers, to see the hows and whys of what’s driven their ride to the top of the NHL’s Eastern Conference. To complete the New York focus, I’ve also featured stories about 1986 and 1990 in New York from our Historical Museum. This should eliminate any notions that I let my personal preferences drive content selection here, because as a Boston fan this positively makes me sick, and I’m hoping nobody from Boston Sports Then & Now, the site, where I do some side contributions for drops in and catches me at this.
Syracuse gets national TV coverage tonight in the Big East’s Monday ESPN slot (7 PM ET) in a game against Louisville that’s the highlight of the night. If you’re an NBA League Pass subscriber, it’s worth checking out Miami’s trip to Milwaukee and the red-hot LA Clippers in Dallas.