Wednesday, June 22, 2005


--> Game 7 of the NBA Finals is set for Thursday, as the Pistons won in San Antonio on Tuesday to force the first deciding game in the NBA Finals since 1994. Hopefully, no celebrity wanted for murder will get involved in a slow-speed chase and steal the spotlight this time around. For Detroit's sake, let's hope that Richard Hamilton doesn't turn into John Starks, who missed just about every shot he took in that 1994 Game 7. By nature, a championship series that goes seven games is memorable. However, this series has been anything but. Unless Game 7 itself is a classic, this might go down as one of the worst seven-game series in NBA history. We've had two close games out of six so far, with one very good game out of six (Game 5).

--> What to watch for tomorrow night? Unfortunately, one thing to look for is the officiating crew. The Pistons are 13-0 in the playoffs when Danny Crawford isn't one of the officials working the game (2-7 when Crawford is working, including the Game 6 win). Crawford worked the last two games, making it unlikely that he'll draw the assignment again tomorrow. That has to be considered a good sign for Detroit. The officiating in the playoffs has been awful, and the officiating in this series is enough to make Eric Gregg complain. I don't know that the NBA could have more inconsistent officiating if they actually wanted it that way. Give the Pistons credit. They didn't get much of anything in the way of calls in Game 6, yet won a tough road game to force an all-bets-are-off Game 7.

--> Tim Duncan needs a big game. He was okay in Game 6 (21 points, 15 boards), but he's been bad from the free throw line in the last couple of games (9 for 21), and he hasn't stepped up as the go-to guy that he is expected to be in this offense. If the Spurs lose on Thursday, Duncan will have to answer a lot of questions about his ability to step up and perform in the truly big games for San Antonio. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are obviously important players, but the Spurs don't win without Duncan playing well.

--> For the NBA's sake, I hope it's an entertaining, well-officiated game. Unfortunately, that's not what I expect. I expect an 85-77 clunker with some bad shot selection, bad offensive execution, bad free-throw shooting, and bad officiating. I hope I'm wrong.

--> The Minnesota Twins are floudering, having lost 10 of their last 13 games as of this writing. The latest loss, a 7-2 setback to Detroit, saw the Twins fall nine games back of the White Sox in the Central. While the Sox are playing some great baseball day in and day out, the Twins are merely a .500 team since the end of April. The middle infield has been beset with injuries, and nobody who plays there has been hitting. The pitching staff has taken a step back, with Brad Radke suffering a neck injury and Kyle Lohse reverting back to Kyle Lohse form after pitching like Radke for about a month. Joe Nathan has struggled mightily (5.73 ERA in May, 7.50 ERA so far in June) after a near-perfect April (11.1 IP, 5 H, 0 ER). Juan Rincon's ERA is hovering around 4.50 since his return from a suspension for using a banned substance. The Twins need veteran help in their lineup, and the talk seems to surround Joe Randa of the Reds right now. Randa is cheap enough, can hit a little, and is a pretty good defensive player at third base. Such a move is not a certainty at this point, but I like the point Jim Souhan (who covered the Twins as a beat writer before becoming a general columnist at the Star Tribune) made this morning: The Twins need the kind of spark they got from Shannon Stewart when they were scuffling in 2003.

--> Across the border, things are significantly worse. The Milwaukee Brewers have dropped well below .500 despite having one of the best pitching staffs in baseball. The Brewers are fourth in the National League in ERA, both with the starters and bullpen. However, Milwaukee has hurt themselves with a team batting average that is 15th in the NL, and a team defense that is one of the worst in baseball. The "defense" leads the NL in errors, and may have downgraded itself by replacing Junior Spivey with rookie Rickie Weeks at second base. There is no excuse for Spivey's defensive breakdowns given his experience and past performance, but Weeks is still learning on the job. The Brewers brought him up and dealt Spivey knowing that Weeks would struggle. What they didn't figure on was a mistake-prone outfield defense to make matters even worse, and they probably didn't expect the offense to continue to flounder despite the addition of Carlos Lee and the vast improvement of Bill Hall. Congrats to Hall, by the way, who hit his career-high tenth dong of the year in Tuesday's loss to the sCrUBS at Miller Park (his first career multi-homer game, too). It's always fun when a young player starts to come into his own.

--> Speaking of the sCrUBS, it's always grating to see the most annoying fan base in sports take over your favorite team's stadium for a few days. sCrUB fans come by the thousands to Miller Park, both because they can't get into Wrigley Field and because they want to see a real baseball stadium. I don't usually mind visiting team fans, in fact I kind of enjoy being one (specifically, I enjoy mingling with Gopher and North Dakota hockey fans when their teams visit UMD). What I do mind are the stories I hear from Brewer fans of how the Brewer organization seems to cater to these fans both before and when they come to Milwaukee. As a Brewer fan, nothing could bother me more than the organization basically endorsing the transformation of their stadium from Miller Park to Wrigley Field North. I know Brewer fans don't populate that stadium enough to merit special treatment, but that doesn't mean sCrUB fans should get it in Milwaukee. The organization needs to stop encouraging their visits, and they need to make it more expensive for sCrUB fans to come to Brewer games. The way to do that is to make anyone who wants tickets to see the Brewers and the sCrUBS buy tickets to other games against teams like the Rockies, Marlins, and others that don't draw well when they're on the road. If your stadium is going to be invaded by a bunch of obnoxious fools (or, maybe you prefer to call them "sCrUB fans"), the least you can do is make some money off of them. Maybe they can help the Brewers buy a key free agent or three.

--> The Milwaukee Bucks fired Terry Porter on Wednesday, a strange move, given that the Bucks announced six weeks ago that Porter would return.'s Mark Stein reported that the organization wants to make a run at a more experienced coach (i.e. Flip Saunders or Nate McMillan), but one has to wonder what really happened. My theory, which has no solid information backing it up, is that GM Larry Harris and Porter had a disagreement over who the Bucks would pick with the first overall pick in Tuesday's NBA Draft. Harris fired Porter as a result, and when he doesn't get Saunders or McMillan (and he won't...McMillan will end up back in Seattle, and Saunders will go to either Detroit - if Larry Brown leaves - or Portland), Harris will be stuck where he was when Porter was hired. He'll be stuck with an inexperienced coach. Or maybe he'll lure Don Nelson (worse yet, maybe his father, Del Harris) back. Ugh.

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