Simmons Blog: Red Sox-Yankees SLOTTED1

You have to love Yankee fans. Before Friday night's Yanks-Sox clash at Fenway, my buddy JackO left one of those taunting, "You don't want to pitch to A-Rod right now, you don't want this, just walk him every time!" messages. By the time the Sox had completed their sweep Sunday night, his cell phone had been mysteriously turned off. I had to leave my giggling, semi-euphoric, "Seriously, thanks for stopping by Fenway, that was great!" message on his voicemail.

Now, there's a chance JackO smashed his phone into 20 pieces during the back-to-back-to-back-to-back homer barrage that sent Chase Wright into permanent psychotherapy. But I doubt it. He didn't want to hear from me. In fact, Yankee fans don't want to hear it, period. They'll spend the day regrouping and playing the "Come on, it's April, you'll be hearing from us this summer" card and anxiously awaiting the rematch at Yankee Stadium this weekend. And they're right -- after all, it is April -- so every revelation from last weekend's series should be taken with a grain of salt.

STATE OF THE SPORTS GUY

Quick programming note:

I'm traveling for work this week so pencil in columns on Wednesday and Friday and that's it. Starting next week: The NBA Playoffs Blog.

With that said, I can't remember a more satisfying baseball weekend in April. Consider the following 10 things:

1. Boston came from behind to win every game, trailing by four in the eighth Friday, then rallying twice Saturday and twice more Sunday. I don't care what month it is -- this doesn't happen against the Yanks. They might blow two games in a series, but never all three. And that's the bigger point: Starting with the Arizona series in 2001, the Yankees have lost a little invincibility every year; now they're at the point where you always feel like your team has a chance against them: Even down 6-2 in the eighth.

2. By the end of the weekend, Boston pitchers finally cooled off A-Rod, who topped off at about 650 degrees with his second homer off Schilling on Friday -- taking a perfect pitch on the outside corner, going the other way with it, knocking it into the right-field bullpen and nearly killing a leaping Coco Crisp in the process. By Sunday, thanks to some careful pitching and Dice burying a fastball in his back, A-Rod had cooled down to 125 degrees. And thank God.

(Note: Watching A-Rod turn into the Dominican Roy Hobbs on the heels of Peyton Manning winning a Super Bowl was a little too freaky for me. Did you know global warming could turn the sports world upside down? Apparently it can. Being scared of A-Rod was one of the strangest sports feelings I can remember.)

3. Three struggling Boston players got untracked in this series: Varitek (waking up offensively), Crisp (a huge triple Friday night, followed by two manufactured old-school runs Saturday) and Pedroia (the game-saving defensive play Sunday). I was deeply, overwhelmingly worried about all three. Now I'm just worried.

4. Joe Torre completely blew Friday night's game, pinch-running for Giambi with a four-run lead (of course, his DH spot came up again with one on and two outs in the ninth, leading to the inevitable Kevin Thompson strikeout to end the game) and botching his bullpen (bringing in Proctor too early, yanking Myers too soon and asking Rivera to get five tough outs). Then, during Sunday's game, he made the ultimate panic move of bringing in Friday's starter (Andy Pettitte) to get three outs. Maybe you'd see that move in October, but April? It's impossible to say who's losing it faster: Torre or Paulie Walnuts.

(Note: The Giambi/Thompson debacle was right out of the Grady Little playbook. In fact, you might remember me complaining about this move during 2003 -- Grady made an art form out of removing one or more of his 3-4-5 guys with a lead, only to have their spot come up again in a tie game two innings later. Seriously, what's more likely ... the slight baserunning upgrade from Giambi to Thompson playing a factor in a four-run game, or Boston rallying against a shaky Yankees bullpen, then Giambi's spot coming up in the ninth?)

5. The Sox came back Friday night with Danny Ainge sitting in the dugout seats next to Boston's dugout. Sadly, I see Danny's face now and associate it with a hard-fought effort that falls just short, followed by a boatload of excuses and contract extensions for everyone involved. So it was nice to, um, win one with him there.

6. After watching that series, would you rather have Rivera with 190,000 miles on his odometer and a cutter that doesn't cut anymore ... or young Jonathan Papelbon? I thought so. Buster Olney did a nice job of breaking down Rivera's problems in Saturday's blog, with one point standing out above everything else: When's the last time you remember Rivera getting frustrated and throwing at someone's head, like he did with Julio Lugo during the tail end of that inning?

(Astounding career numbers for Paps as a closer: 75.2 innings, 88 K's, 17 walks, 41 saves, six blown saves, seven earned runs, 0.85 ERA. Holy schnikes. My Papelboner has become priapismic.)

7. ESPN kept a particularly bizarre streak alive: networks briefly simulcasting the Japanese broadcast crew during Dice's starts in an ongoing effort to prove that, yes, baseball games can be announced in Japanese. We get it. Really, we get it. Unfortunately, none of us understand Japanese. We don't enjoy this segment for the same reason we'd never flick over to a Japanese channel and watch a program. And why is that? BECAUSE IT'S IN ANOTHER LANGUAGE!!!!!!!!! STOP IT! JUST STOP! I'M NOT KIDDING! STOP IT!!!!!!

8. Hideki Okajima (or as my dad calls him, "The Lefty Japanese Guy") emerged as a reliable reliever for Boston, which was crucial because the list of Reliable Boston Relievers heading into the series looked like this: "Papelbon." Now we have two. With Papelbon unavailable Friday night, Okajima's dramatic save (on the heels of the five-run bottom of the eighth) ranked among the most randomly exciting moments in recent Red Sox history. Hard to explain unless you watched it. During every baseball season, there are always fork-in-the-road moments when you learn about particular players on your team. Either they come through or they don't. Friday was a fork-in-the-road moment for Okajima and he came through. Now we have two reliable relievers. This is a good thing. By June, my dad might even remember his name.

9. The defining moment of the weekend: Back-to-back-to-back-to-back homers Sunday night (Manny, then Drew, then Lowell, then Varitek). Just a thrilling sequence that had to have been otherworldly to watch in person. My favorite part was Jon Miller and Joe Morgan not remembering for a couple minutes (and even then, they were probably reminded by a producer) that (A) the Dodgers did this last September during a pennant race, and (B) Drew was involved both times.

10. Maybe Dice wasn't dominating (seven innings, six earned runs) Sunday night, but he plunked A-Rod and Jeter and exposed a recent Yankee weakness from the past few seasons: You can throw inside on their guys, nail them with pitches, hit them two or three times in the same game and they never seem to retaliate because of Torre's whole "we're classier than that" mantra.

Along those same lines, who are the loose cannons on this particular Yankees team? It's a passionless group, isn't it? Torre, Mattingly, Jeter, Rivera, Abreu, Giambi, Pettitte, Posada, Mussina, Wang, Damon, Proctor, Igawa, all the glassy-eyed pitchers and no-name bench guys ... where's the fire? Who's kicking over chairs in the clubhouse after a sweep? Who's screaming at Dice from the dugout after his second HBP? It's a soft team. It really is. They might need to triple Kyle Farnsworth's caffeine intake before next weekend.

The bigger picture: The Red Sox haven't led the Yankees from wire to wire since I was in college, still a few years away from setting my Clemens jersey on fire. Everyone expects the Yanks will rally this summer -- after all, they always do -- but Boston plays them 12 times in the first two months, including next weekend, mid-May and the first weekend in June. If the Red Sox can go 9-3 or 8-4 in those games (and they're already 3-0), the Yanks will have an exceedingly hard time catching them down the road, especially if Rivera doesn't come around.

When my uncle Ricky sent me a preemptive e-mail this morning just to say, "As you should know by now I never worry until after the All-Star break, this is all just warm-ups," technically, he was right. But what if they're eight games back at the break? What then? Boston finishes the last month of the season with seven games against Baltimore (who will have imploded by then), six against Toronto (an absolute train wreck) and six against Tampa Bay (headed for another 65-win season). The Yanks aren't making up ground in September. It's not happening. So it would have to happen in August, a brutal month for the Sox with nine- and 10-game road trips (including three at Yankee Stadium).

Well, you know what? I don't think it's happening. Not this year. You can play possum too many times. In the big scheme of things, winning the division doesn't mean that much, but it means something, and it would be fun to watch the Yanks slumming it in the wild-card spot for once.

I'd tell JackO all of this, but his cell phone is still turned off. You have to love Yankee fans.

Basketball Blog: Weekly links

I have breaking news: After 22 years of jokes, we now have indisputable video evidence that something fishy happened with the 1985 NBA Lottery. David Stern thought all videotapes of the event had been destroyed ... but no!!!!!!!!!!!! You can find the entire 10-minute lottery on YouTube.

ESPN RADIO

The Pulse on ESPN Radio: Bill Simmons explains why there should be an announcer bullpen and who should win the NBA MVP.

Just in case they pull down the clip between the time we post this blog and the time you read this, here's what happens: when an accountant from Ernst & Whinney throws the seven envelopes into the glass drum, he bangs the fourth one against the side of the drum to create a creased corner (we'll explain why this is relevant in a second). Then he pulls a handle and turns the drum around a couple of times to "mix" the envelopes up. At the 5:23 mark of the clip, Stern heads over to the drum, unlocks it and awkwardly reaches inside for the first envelope (the No. 1 pick). He grabs three envelopes that are bunched together, pretends not to look (although he does) and flips the three envelopes so the one on the bottom ends up in his hand. Then he pulls that envelope out at the 5:32 mark ... and, of course, it's the Knicks envelope.

Now ...

A reader named Greg K. from Fair Lawn, N.J. (I'd give you his whole name, but I don't want him to be randomly found dead in his bathtub tonight), pointed this out to me: If you look closely right at the 5:31 mark, right as the commish yanks that Knicks envelope out, there's a noticeable crease in the corner of the envelope. You can see it for a split-second -- as he pulls the envelope up, it's on the corner that's pointing toward the bottom of the jar.

There's a giant crease! It's right there! The same one the accountant created as he was throwing the envelopes into the drum!

So you're telling me that, out of the seven envelopes in that glass drum, during a lottery when the NBA desperately needed the most ballyhooed college center in 15 years to save the league's marquee franchise, the commissioner coincidentally pulled out the envelope with a giant crease in the corner that happened to have the Knicks logo in it? This is the Zapruder film of sports tapes, isn't it? Where's Oliver Stone? Can we pull him out of the editing room for the "Alexander: The Really, REALLY Long Director's Cut" DVD?

Three other things kill me about this tape: First, the host was Pat O'Brien, who's now relegated to stories like "Are Paris and Nicole feuding again? We'll have the story next!" Second, as Pat is pumping up Ewing's pro potential, he passes along a quote from a scouting director who said, "'We've had the Mikan era, the Russell era, the Kareem era ... now we'll have the Ewing era,' and he added, he doesn't see another era on the horizon." Good call, scouting director! And third, as the envelopes get counted down, it's legitimately exciting -- you could even call it the most exciting random sports moment ever. At least until May 22, 2007.

Anyway, the weekly batch of links needs some sort of catchy hook, so here's what I came up with: "The Weekly Links." Now that's genius. You have to hand it to me. I didn't have time for additional commentary because I'm working on a column for Friday, so I'm turning everything over to you guys. As always, thanks for taking the time. Here's what you came up with:

Scott from Middletown, Conn.: "Great old clip of a Marv Albert promo during his Channel 4 days in the mid-'70s. Still has the same hair."

Eric from Chicago: "Thought you might enjoy this piece on Dwyane Wade's $8.9 million pad. I went to Marquette while he was there and he was the most down-to-earth guy. If I didn't hear so many good stories about him, by looking at this link, I'd think Wade's ego is ginormous -- and maybe it is. But this link is enjoyable nonetheless."

Tim in Syracuse: "This is the greatest SNL clip maybe ever. I remember seeing it for the first time with my college roommate and we cried. I've spent years trying to find it. So, I present to you, the Mercury Mistress."

Justin from Indy: "As a Pacer season-ticket holder I received a DVD in the mail this month. I guess it's a nice gesture on their part to have Larry Bird and Reggie Miller (who's being interviewed either in the TNT studio or Pee Wee's Playhouse, you decide) letting us know they appreciate our support through these 'challenging' times. I especially enjoyed Reggie instructing me that 'there are no such thing as fair weather fans, you're either with us or against us!' But my favorite part is the end with the tag line: 'We need you back.' I guess this was a 'welcome to NBA mediocrity for at least five seasons with mid-round draft picks, zero cap flexibility, and an eighth seed if you're lucky' gift."

Justin in Tustin, Calif.: "After viewing this clip, I am sure of one thing: It's only a matter of time before Carl Lewis joins the ranks of Denzel Washington, Jamie Foxx and Forest Whitaker as an Oscar-winning actor. OK ... all sarcasm aside ... I'm not sure which is actually worse, the dialogue OR Carl Lewis' 'acting.' Hmmm?"

Drew from Boston: "Wonder what a 'brawl' in the Japanese League looks like? Check out this crazy clip of Rod Allen, who loses his mind after being hit by a pitch. I won't ruin the clip for you. This must've set U.S.-Japan relations back 200 years."

From Colby in Newburyport: "I dare you to buy your wife anything from this line. If women didn't already think Alyssa Milano was a tramp, they most certainly will now. My question is, do fake, trashy tattoos come with every order?"

BB in NYC: "As a big pro wrestling fan, thought you might want to check this out. I think I would rather read all the stories they checked out but deemed too depressing to put on this Web site. If the feel-good story is Jake the Snake overcoming drugs and booze for pro fishing, well, I'd like to know what everyone else is up to."

Nick S. in South Jersey: "I watch this clip three times a day and can now say Billy King was right in giving Sammy D the big extension. You can't put a price tag on this."

Heath in NYC: "Heidi and Spencer give their side of the story. Don't you think Spencer should get a spin-off?"

Clint from Fresno: "I thought you would enjoy this if you hadn't already seen it. It is a site with all of the 'real men of genius' radio commercials. It is a great time killer and always good for a laugh."

T-EZ in DC: "Check this old Washington Bullets promo from back in the day. Too funny to watch just once and you can have fun trying to indentify who's who from back then. Go Bullets, go Bullets!

Curtis, South Jordan, Utah: "Thought you would enjoy this article about Danny Ainge's son. Not necessarily the article, but the second-to-last paragraph. He's accepted a full-time assistant coaching gig right out of college. He doesn't want to coach in the NBA because he would have people like his dad picking his teams for him. Not even his son would want to be the coach of his team."

Joanna from Cherry Hill: "I got this link from a friend and had to pass it on to you in case no one else had yet. I can't decide which is the best part -- the oddball options you can get the players to say like 'while you are at home perfecting your comb-over,' hearing Jeter turn the best friend forever option into 'BFF' or waiting exactly one minute after you send the message to receive the inevitable phone call from the call's recipient which basically starts 'What was that?' Recommended: repeatedly send Jeter phone calls to a person so they can honestly say, 'Derek Jeter won't stop calling me.'"

Jonathan M. in New Zealand: "Over at Google Video, there are a whole host of classic NHL playoff games (Game 7 of the 1994 Finals etc ...). For your pleasure, here's Game 6 of the 1974 Finals (Flyers and Bruins) and the infamous Game 7 of the 1979 conference finals -- the 'Too many men on the ice' game."

Brooks from Indy: "Just in case you missed it, they had an unofficial meeting of the Mock Turtleneck Club last week."

M T from Alpharetta: "You should take this column in the spirit of 'if you HAD to write a defense of Danny Ferry and Dan Gilbert, here's what it would look like.' But he does make some good points. Not getting a deal done for Mike Bibby was his biggest sin."

Cam from Providence: "Here's a link of Robbie Schremp, one of Edmonton's top prospects. It shows two moves he pulled off in a shootout. Both of them are absolutely ridiculous. I've tried both and all it has resulted in is a bunch of nasty spills."

Justin K. from Kalamazoo: "I've got something else for you. This is the exact opposite of the 'Singles' soundtrack. For that, I apologize. This is what the '90s are now, man."

George C. in Boston: This week's New Yorker had an amazing feature about Manny. It's both hilarious and insightful. Although it makes me even more angry with the Boston media who are so busy getting pissy that he doesn't kiss their ass to bother actually reporting anything new or interesting on the guy. How come we had to get all this good information from someone outside the Boston sports media? I think the answer is obvious: This author didn't have an ax to grind, or an ego to coddle."

Dave from Blacksburg: "I am a student at Virginia Tech and this woman basically singlehandedly led our campus from utter despair to a feeling of hope. I was just hoping you could pass this clip along so that maybe some other people out there could feel the same thing. I appreciate it."

Basketball Blog: Dice-K and links SLOTTED

Here's when fantasy baseball rips your heart out: Last summer, my buddy Hench and I were trying to win our A.L.-only keeper league without trading Felix Hernandez, our prized stud who was locked up as a keeper through 2009. Our roster was loaded enough that we could conceivably carry a 20-year-old phenom, weather his up-and-down starts for six months and still win the league. We were simply hoping for a 14-12 record, a 4.20 ERA, 180 innings, 175 K's and a decent WHIP. Seemed reasonable.

Nope. Through the first two months, Felix murdered us: ERA in the high 5's, terrible WHIP, opponents hitting .289, shelled every other start. Meanwhile, a last-place owner named Jack was already rebuilding around young guys and prospects for 2008. Jack had one major trade chip: Johan Santana in the last year of his fake contract. The logical deal was Felix for Santana -- Jack would get a building block for the future, Santana would win us the league. Every week, Jack e-mailed us the offer. Every week, we turned him down. Finally, Felix got shelled in an early June start and we couldn't hold off anymore ... we pulled the trigger, hoping and praying that Felix wouldn't turn things around.

Well, Santana ended up winning us the league. Whether it's your real sports team or your fantasy team, you can't regret any trade that directly results in a championship. You just can't. The whole point is winning a title, even if it's the League of Dorks. Still, it was hard to remember that axiom as Felix destroyed Daisuke Matsuzaka and the Red Sox at Fenway last night. The pitching line (111 pitches, one hit, six K's, two walks) didn't do the performance justice. Boston never had a chance. There wasn't a single moment where you thought, "All right, we're gonna get him this inning."

And sure, there's a chance Felix might not become a superstar over these next three seasons, whether it's because of his weight issues, Seattle's shaky bullpen, Mike Hargrove's penchant for blowing out young arms or whatever. You never know with young pitchers. But after watching Felix blow through Fenway like Clint Eastwood in a Spaghetti Western, I'd believe any outcome for the next few years of his career. The ceiling of the Felix Era has officially been removed.

Looking back, would I make that Santana-Felix trade again? Yes. We won the league because of it. I keep telling myself this. Over and over again.

(And again. And again.)

Time for some Thursday links ...

• Remember when I linked to the "Jackie Rogers Jr." SNL sketch last week? Well, I missed something delightful at the tail end of the clip, as Casey from Pittsburgh explains: "How could you have possibly put up that link without making reference to the last thirty seconds: Bruce Willis dancing around a porch and singing an advertisement for Seagram's wine coolers. Did you see the tightness of those jeans? He's holding a wine cooler like a microphone, for God's sake. I thought the skit was funny, then the commercial was hilarious."

Jon from Cincinnati adds: "Wow ... just wow. While the $100,000 jackpot wad was good, it paled in comparison to the Seagram's wine cooler commercial. I bet that if you polled everyone born after 1982, 99 [percent] would think that was another SNL sketch that was tacked onto the end. God bless Bruce Willis and his leap into the 50 Best Damn Unintentional Comedy Moments."

(After going back and watching it, I agree -- it's funnier than the SNL sketch. The '80s were especially magnificent because celebrities thought they could sing and there wasn't an Internet around to ridicule them, so they just kinda kept plowing along and coming up with moments like that Seagram's ad. VH1 really needs to get going on a "50 Most Embarrassing Celebrity Career Moves of the '80s" show. That's a ratings layup.)

• Jeremy H. in Illinois has a picture to bolster the case that Scottie Pippen had the worst shaved head in NBA history: "A picture of the 'Oatmeal Toupee' at its finest. Looks kind of like the short half of Wesley Snipes' head in 'New Jack City.' "

• We might need to send some reality-TV cameras to follow Jim Ed Rice for a few weeks. Seems like he's getting even nastier in his old age. I received a few e-mails from readers who attended this event; everyone agreed that the only way it could have gone worse is if Borat and Azamat ran into the luncheon naked and started wrestling in front of the podium.

• Wait, they're cracking down on ticket scalping at Fenway Park? I feel violated for some reason. Whatever happened to the good old days, when you could scalp tickets as a cop stood three feet away?

• Brendan from Scottsdale, Ariz., writes, "Here's the Cincy Mayor trying to redeem himself on Jimmy Kimmel's show. How can this guy get re-elected now?" You know why the mayor choked so badly? Because he didn't Jimmy that day.

• Had a couple of screwups in Wednesday's blog about the NBA lottery: First, two more top-four picks (Darko Milicic with the '04 Pistons, Glenn Robinson with the '05 Spurs) technically won titles, although they never played and were completely inconsequential. Second, Antonio Daniels ('99 Spurs), Marcus Camby ('99 Knicks) and Antonio McDyess ('05 Pistons) all played in the conference finals or NBA Finals with teams other than the ones that drafted them, so you could add them to the list (which now includes Camby, Daniels, McDyess, Kidd, Stackhouse, Wallace, Van Horn, Billups, Bibby, and LaFrentz). I like to pretend that the '99 strike season never happened, but there's no excuse for forgetting McDyess. Third, I forgot that Utah traded with Portland to get Deron Williams in the 2005 draft (the Martell Webster deal ... ouch), which means there are only five top-four picks playing on the top-six teams right now. And fourth, I forgot the league made a rule in the mid-'90s that expansion teams couldn't get the first pick. ... In '96, Toronto "won" the first pick (Iverson) but dropped to No. 2 because of the rule.

While we're here, the Charlotte fans keep e-mailing me the same argument, as summarized by Andy B. in the Queen City: "It's absurd that you think Charlotte isn't a market that can support an NBA team (or a professional sports team at all). That was a concern when the league made Charlotte an expansion city, but they had consistently over 23,000 attendance since the inaugural season, peaking in '95 through '97 with over 24,000. The reason the Bobcats are struggling is because the lingering bitterness from George Shinn still resonates with the fans that have been around for a while. The fact that Charlotte is the second-fastest growing city in the country, coupled with the love of the Queen City for the Panthers, should be clear that the fan base is completely capable of supporting the team."

Look, I'm not arguing that you DID support the team once upon a time. But you said it yourself ... Shinn turned off the entire city to the point that fans stopped attending games and the franchise had to relocate. Even when the NBA threw you a bone with the Bobcats, you're still not supporting them for whatever reason. Look at the attendance numbers: The Bobcats are fourth from last. I've never heard a fan base whine more than Charlotte's NBA fans. We don't like the owner, they don't market the team well enough, we're still mad about George Shinn ... Charlotte fans act like theirs is the only franchise that's had it rough -- I guarantee Shinn didn't do anything as catastrophic to his fan base as that slime-ball Paul Gaston refusing to re-sign Rodney Rogers and Erick Strickland to keep the 2002 Celtics together, green-lighting the Vin Baker trade, then selling the team two months later. Would you rather have a morally questionable guy own your team or someone who willingly destroyed the long-term cap flexibility of the franchise right before he left? I'll take the morally questionable guy.

Anyway, get over yourselves, Charlotte fans. If you don't think the fans of the T-Wolves, Pacers, Kings, Knicks and Sonics have it worse than you right now, you're crazy.

• One more follow-up link to those tanking columns: A few readers wondered if the contraction of three teams would really solve the competitive problem right now. Check out this column I wrote back in 2003 about how expansion destroyed the competitive ceiling of the league. It's a fun column to re-read just for my mock dispersal draft in which I had Alvin Williams ranked six spots ahead of Shane Battier.

And while we're here, here's another relevant column from the archives (now open to everybody) since Drew Bledsoe retired Wednesday: My 2002 column right after Bledsoe was traded from the Patriots. Hard to believe how much changed for the guy over the past seven years.

• At long last, Frankie Williams' epic performance on "Piper's Pit" makes it to YouTube! It's now the Mona Lisa of YouTube clips.

• Two enjoyably dopey glitches on the Web right now:

1. Brandon from Wilmington, N.C., instructs us, "Go to Google.com, click on 'maps,' then click on 'get directions.' Type in 'New York, NY' as your starting point and 'Paris, France' as your destination. Once it computes your directions scroll down to No. 23. Just plain funny."

2. Bazzy from Knoxville, Tenn., (along with many others) sent this one along: "Check out Robert Horry's line for the Spurs game against the Suns. This has to be the funniest thing I've ever seen in a box score."

• Lou from Farmington Hills is about to ruin the last "Sopranos" for you: "I just had an epiphany about the ending of the 'Sopranos.' It fits into one of your three possibilities, but it could almost be its own category: Tony gets killed by Janice. We know that Bobby was talking about DNA, and the kid he killed ripped his shirt. He's probably got fibers under his fingernails and those fibers have sweat and whatever on them. Anyway, that's going to get Bobby arrested, and it's going to piss Janice off. She knows that Tony ordered it, so she'll blame him and end up killing him. She's done it before. I think it fits in perfectly because when you think about it, the women have been the most powerful people throughout the whole series. They pretty much control the men and their happiness. Also, in closing, Janice is effing crazy."

(Agree with everything. Also, it would make sense if David Chase's original plan for the last show was to have Tony's mother kill him -- a premise that's seems plausible in the pilot -- but since she died in real life, Janice took the torch as the female Soprano who kills Tony. Also, we've already seen her blow away Richie Aprile, so we know she has it in her. I like this theory.)

• Speaking of TV, my favorite TV critic is Tim Goodman from the San Francisco Chronicle -- he's just like Tom Shales, only entertaining, funny and likable. Anyway, a few people sent his well-done column on the new season of "Entourage" so I couldn't resist passing it along.

• Hey, remember when I passed along the clip of the great Ronald Jenkees pounding away at his keyboard? Whooooooooooo! Well, Keith from Harrison writes, "You don't know the diamond in the rough you have found when you posted Ronald Jenkees. That guy can lay down a beat! Watch his face and tell me he isn't jamming out."

• A charity link for Red Sox fans living in the NYC area: Gordon Edes and friends have been working on behalf of the Jimmy Fund for the past few years. Their first event is in NYC on April 28, and to kick it off, they're doing a pre-event auction of two tickets to Sox-Yanks on April 21. This auction can be found here.

• Roy from Omaha: "Stumbled across a Web site you should see ... it's funny at first but becomes really creepy really fast." I'd like to think that it becomes eventually creepy after five or six minutes. But whatever.

• James H. in L.A. follows up on the craziness of my buddy Daniel being able to watch a Red Sox game on his Treo as he's driving: "How dare you!?!!? Telling us that one of your buddies has figured out a way to watch live sports in the palm of his hands at anytime ... without providing at least a description or a link on HOW TO DO IT was just wrong! So I got off my butt and found some information that was pretty comprehensive in case your other readers have the same needs (there are six pages total). Now excuse me while I figure out a way to configure my Treo to pick up In-N-Out and open a Newcastle."

• Nancy from Washington, D.C., (and many others) passed along the WATFO Link of the Week: "You may have already been sent this by hundreds of readers, but here you go. I personally don't watch the Hills or Laguna Beach because I can't tell the characters (they're not really real people) apart and they're annoying. That said I thought this tidbit might add to your claim that we are living in the Golden Age of Reality TV."

• Multiple people sent this along: One of the best NBA reporter/bloggers out there (Sekou Smith) had a funny take on the latest incident that got Josh Smith suspended and directly defies Peter Vecsey's New York Post story about an "incident" between Smith and Zaza Pachulia. Thought this was really good.

By the way, I'd pay at least $500 to have someone who gives a crap like Seiko Smith covering the Boston Celtics. I'm not kidding. Something tells me he wouldn't be regurgitating the "young players have really improved under Doc!" (a bold-faced lie, by the way -- the only one who's gotten better is Al Jefferson) and "you never want to enter a season with a lame duck coach" B.S. (really, the players give a crap if their coach is in the final year of his contract?) and hoping Doc Rivers comes back just because another season of Doc makes their job easier. The way the Celtics have been covered over the past few years makes me want to throw up. Shame on everyone. This team has changed its long-term plan four times in four seasons, they don't play defense, they have one guy who's gotten better in three seasons, they're the second-worst team in the NBA ... and every Boston media member is fine with the coach and GM coming back? Nobody's even questioning it?

• Great point from Josh R. in L.A.: "I'm very disappointed you didn't figure this out, but the player Corey Brewer most resembles is Latrell Sprewell (at least offensively). From the out-of-control dribbling to the streaky shooting and the uncanny ability to morph his body mid-air, Corey Brewer is the second coming of Spree. This is a compliment by the way."

• The editors of Rotten Tomatoes sent this along: A list of the best-reviewed sports movies of all time. I couldn't look at it yet because my week has already been ruined by the possibility of a Doc Rivers extension ... and you know lists like this make me crazy. So I can't click on it yet. But I'm going to assume it's readable.

• Four columns I really enjoyed this week:

1. Geoff Calkins celebrating the night that Memphis clinched the worst record in the NBA.

2. Our old friend Jason Whitlock had a superb take on the Imus/Rutgers debacle.

3. Really liked Michael Wilbon's take on the situation as well.

4. The Sports Law Blog did a good job of breaking down every possible reason why tanking occurs in the NBA and not other sports. I think it's a little more simple: The NBA season is so damned long, it lends itself to throwing in the towel ... especially if there's a franchise rookie coming out. But I liked all their theories.

• Andre from Portland says, "All right, first I apologize for making you spend $64 on a hoodie. But you live in L.A. so that's gotta be pretty reasonable. Anyway, I know you won't be able to resist this one." Andre, I resisted. But you did make me think it over.

• Four funny links for the hell of it:

1. Dan from San Fran: "Here's a link to what I love most about the '80s. I totally want to party with this guy.

2. Justin from Kalamazoo, Mich.: "This guy has Carl Lewis beat. Trust me."

3. T-Ap in Burlingame, Calif.: "This is one of my favorite clips of all time. You've gotta love the talent at the Home Shopping Network."

4. Jeff from Chicago passed along a VERY intriguing NBA gambling story from a blog called The Angry T. Thoroughly enjoyed this one.

• Many thanks to HRE in Birmingham, UK, for passing along the following clip and the note, "Christian Laettner lives and dies for hip-hop." This decimated me. I was a puddle. If somebody spliced all the parts of Laettner dancing and worked it into the Apache video, every one of my internal organs would be in danger.

• Marius from Vancouver alerts us, "That's right, Lil' John is apparently doing a NHL playoff blog for NHL.com. My first thought upon seeing this was that Bill Simmons must be alerted." That was the right first thought. I support any form of journalism that could lead to excerpts like this: "The first Thrashers game I went to they got into a shootout. That was amazing, and they won, and I was like dope!"

That reminds me: In an honest effort to get sucked into the NHL playoffs (which look fantastic in HD, assuming you can find the channel), I decided to wager on the Penguins (+150) and Canucks (-120) in Round 1. Unfortunately, gambling isn't legal, so these were, um, pretend wagers. But I am paying attention. A little. Also, my old friend Haven from "Jimmy Kimmel Live" (one of the biggest NHL fans I know) has a knack for picking a Stanley Cup sleeper every spring. This year's pick from Haven: the Predators at 20-to-1. Consider yourself warned.

• Finally, if you want to send along a link, it really helps us out if you put "LINK" in the subject heading of the e-mail. Thanks.

Basketball Blog: NBA draft lottery SLOTTED

I couldn't cram everything into this week's 1,200-word magazine column about the NBA Lottery, so let's follow up with some hardcore data to fully illustrate the futility of the current system.

The basic premise of my magazine column was twofold: First, the LOTTERY system encourages the same thing it was originally created to prevent (tanking); and second, since weighted Ping-Pong balls effectively guarantee that elite rookies will start their careers on terrible teams, the overall quality of the league has been compromised (because we effectively eliminated the chance of an elite rookie giving a boost to a half-decent team). Right now, there aren't enough good teams or enough bad teams -- hence, the nearly unwatchable 2006-07 regular season, when four-fifths of the league seems handicapped by its roster to some degree -- and as the past 13 years have proven, we're much more likely to see a top-four pick make the conference finals or NBA Finals with a team other than the team that originally drafted him.

One other note that was left on the cutting room floor from that mag column: The three most dominant teams from 1977-1988 came together more because smart teams snookered dumb teams over anything else. The Celtics stole Kevin McHale and Robert Parish from Golden State for Joe Barry Carroll. The Sixers landed Julius Erving because the Nets couldn't afford him after the ABA/NBA merger and sold him for $3 million. The Lakers landed Magic Johnson and James Worthy by trading New Orleans and Cleveland mediocre players for future first-round picks (for instance, Marc Stein's head would explode if a 2007 team made the equivalent trade of Cleveland giving up an unprotected 1982 first-round pick for Don Ford). One-sided heists simply don't happen anymore, so it's harder and harder for good teams to become great (especially with the salary cap and luxury tax hindering everyone).

Anyway, check out the following top-four picks in every draft since 1994. In parentheses, we put the Ping-Pong seed of the team that drafted in that spot (for example, Dallas had the worst record in '94):

1994
1. Glenn Robinson, Milwaukee (No. 2, tied)
2. Jason Kidd, Dallas (No. 1)
3. Grant Hill, Detroit (No. 2, tied)
4. Donyell Marshall, Minnesota (No. 4)

1995
1. Joe Smith, G-State (No. 5)
2. Antonio McDyess, LAC (No. 1)
3. Jerry Stackhouse, Philly (No. 4)
4. Rasheed Wallace, Washington (No. 2, tied)

1996
1. Allen Iverson, Philly (No. 2)
2. Marcus Camby, Toronto (No. 3)
3. Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Vancouver (No. 1)
4. Stephon Marbury, Milwaukee (No. 4)

1997
1. Tim Duncan, San Antonio (No. 3)
2. Keith Van Horn, Philly (No. 5)
3. Chauncey Billups, Boston (No. 2)
4. Antonio Daniels, Vancouver (No. 1)

1998
1. Michael Olowokandi, LAC (No. 3)
2. Mike Bibby, Vancouver (No. 5)
3. Raef LaFrentz, Denver (No. 1)
4. Antawn Jamison, Toronto (No. 2)

1999
1. Elton Brand, Chicago (No. 3)
2. Steve Francis, Vancouver (No. 1)
3. Baron Davis, Charlotte (No. 13)
4. Lamar Odom, LAC (No. 4)

2000
1. Kenyon Martin, New Jersey (No. 7)
2. Stromile Swift, Vancouver (No. 4)
3. Darius Miles, LAC (No. 1)
4. Marcus Fizer, Chicago (No. 2)

2001
1. Kwame Brown, Washington (No. 3)
2. Tyson Chandler, LAC (No. 8)
3. Pau Gasol, Atlanta (No. 5)
4. Eddy Curry, Chicago (No. 1)
5. Jason Richardson, G-State (No. 2)

2002
1. Yao Ming, Houston (No. 5)
2. Jay Williams, Chicago (No. 1, tied)
3. Mike Dunleavy, G-State (No. 1, tied)
4. Drew Gooden, Memphis (No. 2)

2003
1. LeBron James, Cleveland (No. 1, tied)
2. Darko Milicic, Detroit (thru Memphis, No. 6)
3. Carmelo Anthony, Denver (No. 1, tied)
4. Chris Bosh, Toronto (No. 3)

2004
1. Dwight Howard, Orlando (No. 1)
2. Emeka Okafor, Bobcats (expansion)
3. Ben Gordon, Chicago (No. 2)
4. Shaun Livingston, LAC (No. 3)

2005
1. Andrew Bogut, Milwaukee (No. 6)
2. Marvin Williams, Atlanta (No. 1)
3. Deron Williams, Utah (No. 4)
4. Chris Paul, New Orleans (No. 2, tied)
5. Raymond Felton, Bobcats (No. 2, tied)

2006
1. Andrea Bargnani, Toronto (No. 5)
2. LaMarcus Aldridge, Chicago (via NY, No. 2)
3. Adam Morrison, Charlotte (No. 3)
4. Ty Thomas, Portland (No. 1)

Some follow-up notes ...

• The No. 5 seed (Smith, Bargnani, Yao) won the lottery more times than the No. 1 seed (LeBron and Howard) and the No. 2 seed (Robinson and Iverson). Kinda funny when you consider the widespread tanking that's happening right now.

• Out of 39 potential top-three spots in those 13 lotteries, teams seeded lower than No. 5 cracked the top-three five times: two 6-seeds ('05 Milwaukee and '03 Detroit via Memphis), one 7-seed ('00 New Jersey), one 8-seed ('01 Clippers) and one 13-seed ('99 NO/Charlotte). In other words, you had about a 13 percent chance of seeing ANY TEAM seeded lower than No. 5 crack the top three in any given year ... which means the league's crappiest teams had an 87 percent chance of grabbing an elite rookie and infecting the first stage of his career with nonstop losing (call it the Elton Brand Corollary).

• Since 1994, the Grizzlies have drafted in the top-four seven times (with their 2003 pick going to Detroit); the Clippers have done it six times; and the Bulls have done it six times since 1999 (once via a New York pick). Why do we keep rewarding poorly managed teams with elite rookies? Why? It makes no sense.

• Four teams had top-four picks for at least three straight years: The Sixers during 1995-97, the Grizzlies during 1996-2000, the Clippers during 1998-2001 and the Bulls during 1999-2002. The Sixers eventually played in the 2000 Finals (and lost). The Grizzlies haven't won a single playoff game. The Clippers finally made the playoffs last season ... now they're on the fringe of the lottery again. And the Bulls made the playoffs in 2005 and 2006 but never seriously contended.

• Since 1994, only three top-four picks won a title: Duncan three times with the Spurs (who drafted him), Wallace with the '04 Pistons (his fourth team) and Billups with the '04 Pistons (his fifth team).

• Only two top-three picks played in a Finals with the teams that originally drafted them: Martin (the '02 and '03 Nets) and Iverson (the '00 Sixers). Only one top-three pick played in a conference finals with the team that originally drafted him: Robinson (the '00 Bucks).

• Seven top-four picks played in either the NBA Finals or a conference finals with a different team than the team that drafted them: Kidd, Stackhouse, Wallace, Van Horn, Billups, Bibby and LaFrentz. All of those players were traded by their original teams within four years.

• Only four teams immediately became playoff teams by landing a top-four pick: The '98 Spurs with Duncan (20 wins to 56), the '00 Hornets with Davis (26 wins to 49), the '04 Nuggets with Anthony (17 wins to 43) and the '07 Raptors with Bargnani (headed for 45-plus wins and a top-four seed).

• Four other teams became playoff teams within two years of landing a top-four pick (without help of a trade): the '96 Pistons (46 wins, first-round loss), the '04 Rockets (45 wins, first-round loss), the '05 Bulls (47 wins, first-round loss) and the '07 Jazz (headed for 50-plus wins and a top-five seed).

• Of the 15 different franchises that had top-four picks from '94 to '99, eight landed back in the top four within five years: the Bucks ('94/'96 and '05), the Grizzlies ('96-'98 and '03), the Warriors ('95 and '02), the Clippers ('95 and '00; '98-99 and '04), the Hornets ('99 and '04), the Nuggets ('98 and '03), the Raptors ('98 and '03 or '06), the Bulls ('99 and '04) -- and two more are slotted for top-five picks in this year's lottery (the Celtics and Hawks). That's 10 of 15 teams.

• The top six 2006-07 teams (Dallas, Phoenix, San Antonio, Detroit, Utah and Houston) feature just six top-four picks (Stackhouse, Duncan, Wallace, Billups, Deron Williams, Yao), only three of whom were drafted by their current teams.

What does all of this mean? We can summarize it in four points:

1. The lottery system was originally created to prevent teams from tanking for better draft picks ... which is exactly what's happening right now (as described in the magazine column). So they completely failed in that regard.

2. The lottery system also hoped to turn the fortunes of struggling franchises. Well, as we just proved, it completely failed in that regard, too. If anything, top-four picks have a significantly better chance of struggling for a few seasons, then getting traded before finally landing on a contending team. It's much, much, MUCH less likely that they will turn around their first franchise themselves.

3. We've had one major lottery success story so far -- the Spurs winning three titles with Duncan -- which was actually a complete fluke because the Spurs averaged 59 wins from '94 to '96, then dropped to 20 wins because their best two players (David Robinson and Sean Elliott) played a combined 45 games in '97. In the past 20 years, only two No. 1 picks won titles for their original teams: Robinson ('87) and Duncan ('97).

4. For everyone rooting for tanking franchises right now and dreaming of multiple titles with Oden or Durant ... just remember, you never know.

Basketball Blog: Masters, MLB and HBO SLOTTED

With the Basketball Blog on hiatus until the NBA playoffs start, I woke up on Monday morning, made some coffee, answered a few e-mails, sat down in front of my laptop and typed down my weekend thoughts for the rest of the morning. Here's what transpired:

My six favorite things about the 2007 Masters:

1. Tiger's incredible tree shot in which he snapped his 4-iron on the follow through. I'd watch an entire "Outside The Lines" devoted to this baby. How did he not get injured? How did he get off such a good shot? How would you even learn to hit a shot like this? At any point did his caddy say, "Dude, you can do this, just promise me I'm not gonna get fired?" Why weren't the cameras trained on every major Nike executive for their reaction as it was happening? When is that busted 4-iron going up on eBay? The whole time, I felt like I was watching the middle of a Kevin Costner movie in which he's playing a superstar golfer who gets a little cocky at the Masters, breaks every bone in his left wrist and may never play again ... until Kelly Preston nurses him back to health.

2. Justin Rose's duck hook drive at 17 when he realized he was within a stroke of the lead. Can you blame him? Which got me thinking -- wouldn't it be cool if we could see every golfer's heart rate throughout the Masters? Uh-oh, Jim, Justin Rose is over 190 right now ... we might want to tell the gallery to move back. They should try this for the PGA Championship. Nobody cares about the PGA, anyway.

3. My mom (visiting for the weekend) thought Zach Johnson was Joaquin Phoenix and kept saying in a deep voice "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash" every time a close-up of him was shown. (Note: I was much more excited about her comedy chops until I logged onto my mailbox and had about 200 Phoenix/Cash jokes waiting for me.) And let's face it -- he looked EXACTLY like Joaquin Phoenix. Which raises the question, out of the 300 announcers CBS had covering this event, couldn't one person have brought this up? Is it a rule that your sense of humor gets disabled as soon as you're within 10 miles of Augusta? Does everyone take themselves seriously there, even during the 51 weeks when the Masters isn't going on? I just picture the locals gingerly walking around and whispering to one another.

4. I enjoyed Stuart Appleby's hair/cap contraption all weekend (it looked removable) and couldn't figure out what it reminded me of ... and then Jose Luis in Monterrey, Mexico, reminded me: Jeff Daniels in "Dumb & Dumber." There you go.

5. Suggestion if you're ever watching a golf major in a room mixed with males and females: Any time a no-name golfer wins and hugs his wife, if the wife doesn't look like a supermodel, quickly start making the "Uh-oh, time to trade her in!" and "Looks like somebody needs to go the dealer for an upgrade!" jokes. Any woman within earshot will flip out. High comedy.

6. I started the fourth round rooting for Tiger under the "tournament is always 10 times more interesting if Tiger Woods is involved" corollary ... but I'm a sucker for Cinderella stories and Joaquin Phoenix certainly qualified. As soon as he started to pull away, much to my shock, I kept rooting for Tiger to catch him and even found myself muttering things like, "Come on, Tiger" and "Bang this one close to the pin" during his shots. If he had caught Phoenix, I would have rooted for Tiger in the playoff. So here's my question: Does this make me a Tiger Woods fan? By definition, the answer would seem to be "yes," right? I'm not sure how this happened or what to do about it. Lemme chew on this for a few more days.

(On the flip side, the one thing I hated over everything else was CBS killing my favorite part of the post-tournament show -- right before the interview with the champion and the green jacket presentation, when Jim Nantz would exchange a few gushing words with the Masters chairman while grinning like a serial killer. For whatever reason, they cut away from Jim as fast as possible; it's almost like they discussed it in the production booth beforehand. Come on, fellas. I don't ask for much.)

My eight favorite things about the first week in baseball:

1. Elijah Dukes wearing a ski mask during his second game at Yankee Stadium. This killed me on about 200 different levels -- it was like the new ad for Bad Idea Jeans. If somebody sold a framed photo of this, I'd buy it and stick it in my office.

2. Finding out that DirecTV offers a "Superfan Package" for an extra $39.95 that provides two games per day in HD ... but only a few teams have HD cameras, so I'll be getting more than a few Red Sox games in HD (including some road contests in which I normally would have been stuck watching the other team's announcers on a non-HD channel). They could have charged an extra $900 for this and I would have paid it.

3. Papelbon's ridiculous five-out save in Texas on Sunday night. One look at his face jogging in from the bullpen and you knew the Red Sox weren't losing that game. Not a lot of guys you can say that about. As Bill from Gainesville wrote afterward: "This is coming from a Yankee fan. Watching Papelbon work 1.2 innings against a potent Ranger lineup was simply jaw-dropping. He threw 15 pitches to five hitters, simply three pitchers per batter. I have to say that was a Mariano-like performance. Kudos."

4. The return of Sammy Sosa in HD. You can see every dubious muscle and every crevice of his prolonged cranium. I studied him like Jim Garrison studying the Zapruder film last night.

5. Kei Igawa's abominable "I hope they kept the receipt on that guy" start against the Orioles. I'll let Steve from South Windsor, Conn., explain:

"I'm watching Igawa's dreadful Yankee Stadium debut right now. After giving up a home run to Melvin Mora in the fourth to make it 7-2 Orioles, the YES announcing crew discuss how Igawa had fallen behind 15 of the 23 batters he faced. Right after they say [that] Igawa gets an out and then goes 2-0 on the next hitter. The YES camera crew zooms in on pitching coach Ron Guidry who was absolutely staring daggers into Igawa, like he just found out Kei knocked up his daughter or something. The camera stayed on Guidry for about eight seconds of the stare, then Guidry rolled his eyes."

(My favorite part of this story: My buddy Mikey spent $12 on Igawa in our AL-only league. How do you say "sunk cost" in Japanese?)

6. This YouTube clip of Joey Gathright jumping a car.

7. On Friday afternoon, I co-hosted Dave Dameshek's new sports radio show in Pittsburgh (the Man Station, 93.7 FM), which he's doing from the West Coast for now. Because it's a Pittsburgh show, our TV was showing the Pirates-Reds game, so we were watching the game as the show was happening. Two things killed me: First, the Pirates had a starter named Paul Maholm; one of his strengths in the thumbnail scouting report for him was, "He comes right after hitters." I love that. That's the pitching equivalent of somebody describing a QB as "he knows how to manage a game." Needless to say, he got shelled. And second, it was 30 degrees there and they cut to a young couple in the stands at one point ... both of them were shivering to the point that it looked like they were enduring an earthquake. We might need to work on the whole "it's OK for cold-weather cities to host games in early April" thing.

8. Enjoying the Devil Rays for selfish reasons (Rocco Baldelli and Elijah Dukes on my fantasy team) and legitimate reasons (they have the greatest collection of young athletes I've ever seen on a baseball field). Seriously. If MLB ever staged some sort of offseason "Superstars"-like decathlon where teams had to send 10 representatives to compete in touch football, basketball, bowling, golf drives, the 100-yard dash and so on, the Rays would legitimately destroy everyone else. It's absurd.

(Note: I'm worried because the Sox and Rays have bad blood dating back to Pedro Martinez plunking Gerald Williams during the 2000 season -- although nearly every guy from that game is gone, bad feelings inexplicably remain, almost like the Bloods and the Crips when nobody knows exactly what started the fight in the first place, just that they're supposed to hate the other guys. And I mention this only because you do NOT want to get in a bench-clearing brawl with the 2007 Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Dukes alone would turn into Sly Stallone during the last 15 minutes of "Cobra." Anyway, I suggest Terry Francona calls the Rays tomorrow and offers an immediate truce. Just trust me on this.)

Seven thoughts about Sunday night's HBO block of programming (SPOILERS INCLUDED):

1. Seconds before last night's fight on "The Sopranos," I would have set the gambling line like this: "Soprano (-400) Bacala." What a shocker! Has there been a bigger upset since Douglas-Tyson? We needed Jim Lampley and Larry Merchant to show up after the show to give us a historical perspective. Maybe even a little Harold Lederman. Oh-kay Jim, I scored that round 10-8 for Bobby Bacala ... he controlled the fight, worked the body well and gets the extra point for the knockdown ...

2. I've always, always, ALWAYS enjoyed Carla Gugino's work and believe that she and Ali Larter were the two most underappreciated actress/babes of the past 10 years ... but I'm not sold on her as a Hollywood agent. No way. It's not just a stretch, it's a Bob Beamon leap. I couldn't get past this for the entire show.

3. Hey, does anyone else scream out loud during every sex scene with Tony and Carmela? Or is it just me?

4. "Entourage" has just about exhausted the homoerotic card at this point. Between Drama's masseuse ruining the Vegas episode, the threesome at Sundance, the episode in which Drama loved another guy's calves and last night's obvious "Ari and Vince as a broken-up couple" theme ... I mean, um ... can we go back to the whole "four guys bagging chicks in Hollywood" theme? Please? Pretty please?

5. Somebody needs to break the news to David Chase that there's been music released since 1974.

6. "John from Cincinnati" ... I have to say, I'm intrigued.

7. My Sopranos prediction for the final episode: Carmela kills Tony. Why? Because Chase has maintained from the beginning that he always knew exactly how the series would end and never wavered from that statement, not even once. And since that's the case, there are three ways it can end: Tony gets whacked; Tony goes into a witness protection program; or Tony gets killed by his wife. Given the past six seasons and the way everything has been carefully set up, I'm going with the "Carmela kills Tony" scenario. It makes the most sense. Regardless, there should be a way we can wager on those three scenarios along with "the field" of every other scenario.

Seven other thoughts just for the hell of it:

1. Going from Tubby Smith to Billy Gillispie is like upgrading from a '93 Saab Turbo to a souped-up 2007 BMW M3. Unbelievable. Kentucky just extended the life expectancy of every fan it had older than 75 years old. And while we're here, either players should be able to transfer schools right away or coaches should have to wait a year to switch schools. You can't have one and not the other.

2. When LeBron James hosts the ESPYS in July, should we expect him to mail in the first hour of the show and then turn into Chris Rock during the second hour?

3. I wish reporters could have interviewed me after a rash of injuries caused me to bow out in the semifinals of the Celeb Fantasy League, just so I could have said, "Even if I beat Kid and Pam, I don't think my guys had enough left to handle Meat Loaf."

4. Watching "Risky Business" on cable last week, I realized something: There's a decent chance that the Scientologists replaced Tom Cruise with someone else at some point during the past 15 years. There's no way Joel Goodson and Mr. Katie Holmes are the same guy. It's impossible. Same for John Travolta in "Wild Hogs" versus Travolta in "Saturday Night Fever." Different human beings. Replaced.

(Speaking of cable TV, Dameshek and I had a conversation Friday about how there's a cable rotation of movies that get beaten into the ground. One month, "Boogie Nights" will be on all the time, the next month it will be "Risky Business" or "Boogie Nights," and it's always one-two movies, but they change every month, with one exception ... "Road House." That one's always on. It's like the Johan Santana of the rotation -- the No. 2 through No. 5 starters change every month, but "Road House" remains the Johan Santana of the rotation. And it's been that way for about 10 years. Intriguing. You'll think of us when you're flicking channels tonight and stumble across Patrick Swayze and Sam Elliott. You will.)

5. Last night I had a nightmare that the Celtics extended Doc Rivers' contract.

(Pause)

Wait ... that WASN'T a nightmare???

(AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

6. Between "Sons of Hollywood," "Real World: Denver," "Debbie Does Dallas Again," "Amazing Race," "The Hills," "The Bachelor," "The Apprentice," "Survivor" and the upcoming "Real World/Road Rules Challenge," we should be calling this The Golden Era of Reality TV. It's like being a heavyweight boxing fan during the '70s. Between these shows and a healthy dose of "Sesame Street" and "Teletubbies" every day, I feel like I'm getting dumber by the hour. I will not be able to break 10 on the Wonderlic test by June.

7. At a dinner party on Saturday night, my buddy Daniel showed us his Trio, which was hooked up to his Slingbox, which was hooked up to his DirecTV, which was showing the Sox-Rangers game as it happened. That led to this exchange:

Daniel: "I was even watching this as we drove over."
Me: "Wait, were you driving?"
Daniel: "Yeah."
Daniel's girlfriend: "I thought we were going to get into an accident the whole time."

(These are the conversations you have as a sports fan in 2007.)

Basketball Blog: One big-time tank battle, and lots more SLOTTED

Get ready for an epic battle in Milwaukee tonight: Ersan Ilyasova and the Milwaukee Bucks battling Allan Ray and the Boston Celtics, in what Chris Harrison is calling "the greatest double-tank job yet!" Here are the tentative matchups:

Milwaukee starters: Brian Skinner, Ilyasova, Michael Redd (unless he's poisoned before the game), Charlie Bell, Mo Williams.

Boston starters: Kendrick Perkins, Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green, Delonte West, Rajon Rondo.

Bench players who should see action: Bassy Telfair, Leon Powe, David Noel, Ruben Patterson, Dan Gadzuric, Allan Ray.

Coaches: Doc Rivers (career record: 272-294) vs. Larry Krystkowiak (career record: 2-7).

Sidelined stars with dubious injuries who might be in attendance: Paul Pierce, Al Jefferson, Andrew Bogut, Charlie Villaneuva.

(The NBA … it's FANNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN-tastic!)

Some follow-up e-mails about various topics covered in this space over the past two weeks:

1. Dre from Chicago agreed with every Rik Smits comment from Monday's blog except this part: "Smits was the all-time answer to the trivia question, 'Which NBA player looked the worst with a shaved head?'"

Dre's counter-argument: "Did you miss Scottie Pippen in '94 or '95 when his head looked like a bad oatmeal toupee? Find a pic, I dare you to post it, you may scare away readers."

(Excellent point. If anyone can find a picture of Scottie's oatmeal toupee, please send it along.)

2. Couldn't agree more with this rant from Jason R. in Michigan:

"Has any other year been as ruined as 2007 for fantasy basketball in the Oden/Durant sweepstakes? Leagues need to start the playoffs 3-4 weeks earlier … by that time you know who's going to be making the playoffs anyway, and teams aren't in full tank mode just yet. Take a look at all of the fantasy studs who WON'T be helping your team in the playoffs: Michael Redd, Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson, Ray Allen, Zach Randolph … and then you've got other decent guys like Bogut, Charlie V and Mike Miller. If you have two or more of those guys on your team you can basically stick a fork in your season."

That reminds me, I made the semifinals of NBA.com's Celebrity Fantasy League even after getting racked by injuries down the stretch: Dwyane Wade (that killed me obviously), Andrew Bogut (out for the year with tankasitis), Shaun Livingston (blown-out knee), Andrea Bargnani (knocked out for the season right when he was coming on) and Jermaine O'Neal (whose knee is so unreliable from game to game that I actually benched him this week because I couldn't take it anymore). My team has been thinned down to the point that I have Ersan Ilyasova AND Anderson Varejao starting against the Pam Anderson/Kid Rock juggernaut this week. Frustrating. But if …

(Hold on, here's a sentence I never, ever thought I'd write in my life.)

… But if I can just hold on against Pam Anderson and Kid Rock this week, and Wade can come back for the final few games, I truly believe my team could give Meat Loaf a run for his money in the finals.

(Let's just move on.)

3. Jeff from Mississippi passed along these thoughts before Greg Oden's monster game on Monday night, but they were still interesting:

"I saw every one of Shaq's TV games in college and many more in person (LSU had some great nonconference games with UNLV, Duke and Loyola Marymount). Shaq was infinitely more raw than Oden at this stage but you KNEW he was something special every time he laced them up. The pure power and quickness he displayed was otherworldly in a man that size. They had to keep extra goals on hand because he would break their hydraulic components. Shots weren't blocked so much as thrown into the stands (I grant it would have been nicer to see him tap them to himself like Russell, but it was intimidating as hell). My point is you aren't the only one watching Oden who fails to see the 'inevitability' to which his name is so often linked. The freshman year stats for O'Neal and Oden are pretty similar, but you've seen a lifetime of hoops and Oden apparently hasn't displayed 'it' in your eyes. Why is that?"

4. Intriguing argument from Kevin A. in Bristol, Tenn.: "Instead of a rich man's Varejao, I prefer to think of Joakim Noah as a multimillionaire's Renaldo Balkman. I saw them play each other in college a couple of times and they're very similar. Both hustle all over the floor, rebound and block shots despite being a little undersized. Both are quick and athletic. Both can handle the ball surprisingly well, bringing it up the court when the point guard is being denied the ball. Both have interesting hair. Noah can win his second NCAA title tonight; Balkman won two NIT titles. Noah blocked a Balkman shot at the buzzer of the SEC title game in 2006 that would've sent it to overtime. Noah's got a much better shot, better size and an overall more refined game, but they always remind me of each other."

(By the way, in case you haven't been following the Knicks, that's a compliment. The Balkman pick turned out to be Isiah's finest moment other than snagging David Lee.)

5. Loved this story from Little Swen in Newton, Mass.:

"The LeBron era was summarized on Sunday night in Boston (I went to the game): LeBron, who had inexplicably taken the night off, was suspiciously absent from the Cavs' bench for the first five minutes of the third quarter. After arguing with my friends as to whether or not he realized he was wearing a purple suit in the first half and decided to change, LBJ finally strolled in from the locker room, only there were no seats left on the bench. He wandered to where David Wesley was sitting, and stared at him for about seven seconds, before Wesley got up and more or less sat on Damon Jones' lap. Wesley and Jones remained in the same seat, looking extremely awkward, for about five minutes until the next timeout on the floor occurred. Priceless."

(See, this is why there need to be cameras on every NBA bench at all times.)

6. This e-mail cracked me up from Ryan in Herndon: "Multiple choice, which thug gangsta said this: 'We're gonna do it BIG tonight. We're gonna do it HUGE all day and all night. You guys have no idea what I'm talking about, but my boys know. Dem Gator boys know.'

"A. Vanilla Ice
"B. Kevin Federline
"C. Joakim Noah"

7. Lots of feedback on the "what NBA player does Corey Brewer most resemble?" question, with the two most common answers being Josh Howard and Tayshaun Prince. I like the Howard comparison, although Brewer is a more explosive scorer than Howard. Don't see the Tayshaun comparison as much -- I'd put Tayshaun on the Charles Barkley All-Stars for "unique players that we will probably never see again." He's just too original. But Howard definitely works. With a little Manu and a little Ricky Davis thrown in.

8. Maine reader Ben. H. sums up the thoughts of a few readers: "I don't think Billy Packer was making a slur against gays on the 'Charlie Rose' show. What he said was, 'You always fag out on that one for me.' I'm pretty sure he was using 'fag' as a verb. The OED entry reads: 'v. (fagged, fagging) 1. colloq. a. tr. (often toll. by out) tire out, exhaust.' They say it all the time in Britain (and New Zealand and Australia). 'I'm really fagged out.' Now Packer's usage might not quite make sense in that Charlie Rose isn't tired and is actually (to use the parlance of our time) 'flaking' or 'punking' out -- that is, not showing up -- rather than getting tired and not doing his job as a runner. It's the preposition 'out' that really gives it away, but I don't think there is any malevolent homosexual slur there at all. Probably Packer is just so old that he's still speaking the King's English, albeit imprecisely. The error here is one of diction and not of bigotry. Maybe I'm wrong, but that's how I see it."

Very fair point. As Tommy Heinsohn proves during every Celtics game (most recently with the Yao Ming/chopsticks joke), every public figure over the age of 65 should receive a little leeway when they're speaking in public -- they just don't know any better and there's always a chance they might make a joke or use a certain phrase without realizing that it's not acceptable anymore. I don't think Packer should be replaced by CBS for what he said; I think he should be replaced because they could find somebody who's more entertaining than him. Big difference. Besides, it looks like this story is already fagging out. Thank God.

Time to bang out some mid-week links:

• Reason No. 895 why I love my readers: After I ran the YouTube link of the ambulance in Madden '92, then asked for a montage of "late-hit" injuries from the year they allowed us post-whistle cheap shots as Pat Summerall said gravely, "Oh, no, there's a man down," Matt from Old Orchard Beach, Maine, sprang into action with this montage of injuries from Madden '96 (that was the year). He points out, "I like the classic scenario in the second clip of both guys going down and not getting up as you wait in anticipation of who actually got hurt."

• Jason from Westerville, Ohio, writes: "After growing up in Cincinnati, I'm embarrassed to send this clip, but this is the highest of unintentional comedy. The 'pitcher' is the mayor of Cincinnati and the 'catcher' is ex-Red Eric Davis. The look on Eric Davis' face is unbelievable. When you hit somebody standing 25 feet wide of your target on a 55-foot throw, I think you need to decline the offer to throw out the first pitch. Come up with something less embarrassing like, 'Sorry that's the day I spend with the transvestite hooker.'"

• From Simon T. in Washington: "Your Love-Mayo column was dead-on right about the philosophical differences in basketball today. And you're not alone. Check out this Time piece on Georgetown's 'Princeton' offense. As GU shows, it's not a race thing, but about playing the game the right way and to hell with stats and personal accomplishments."

• At last, a link to one of the greatest SNL skits of all time: Jackie Rogers' $100,000 Jackpot Wad. Thanks to a reader named Adam for sending it along. Any time Jim Belushi's career peaks in a sketch with Martin Short, Chris Guest and Billy Crystal, you know something magical has happened.

• From Sean L. in Santa Monica, Calif.: "Before you hop on the Kevin Love bandwagon, check out a potential piece of baggage: his dad. This guys makes Marv Marinovich seem like the dad from 'Family Ties.' Overbearing sports dads are always the hidden cause of can't-miss prospects flaming out."

• Ahmar from New York: "Check out the dunks that Michael Finley was talking about (in the article about James White being left out of the 2007 Dunk Contest) from last year's NCAA Dunk Contest. The nastiest one is the one he missed, mainly because he had the b*lls to try and land it."

• Curtis Granderson … my new favorite non-Red Sox player!

• From Joel B. in Sneads Ferry, N.C.: Here's the Web site for Tammy from the 'The Real World: L.A.' Go to the tab 'About Tami,' you'll find some great insight about her courtship, marriage, career management and divorce from Kenny Anderson.

(Note: There were a number of things that killed me about this site, especially the "Blockbuster" section where she posts the video boxes for all the movies she's "been in," but I think my favorite part is in "About Tami" when she pretends that she had no idea who Kenny Anderson was. Remember, she was a self-professed gold-digger on the show and even had an abortion during that season because the guy who knocked her up wasn't making enough money. Then they had a "Real World" reunion show a few years after the L.A. season and showed pictures from her wedding with Kenny … and Tami was about 6-7 months pregnant. Poor Kenny. She may have been the original loathsome reality-TV character. And now, the genre has been retired by Sean Stewart on "Sons of Hollywood." Which you need to watch. Immediately.)

• Hey, if you like voting on things, check out ESPN's Tribeca site for the "baseball movies" bracket. I was a little upset that "The Natural" was a No. 2-seed … and that "Fever Pitch" wasn't relegated to the NIT.

• Thoroughly enjoyed this conspiracy theory from Kevin F. in Boston: "I just figured out what nobody in the media has reported on yet: why the Patriots' exhibition game in China this August was canceled. On March 31, the U.S. hit China with a tariff on imported Chinese coated-paper. One day later, the Pats-Seahawks game was oddly and abruptly canceled. My theory is that Kraft's paper business was expanding its presence in China (hence, he lobbied for the China Bowl game so he could hob-nob with top Chinese officials which would be good for business) and the Chinese were pissed about the U.S. paper tariff news, so they abruptly canceled the NFL game and the Krafts have remained mum on the topic because they don't want to ruffle feathers. Notice how they keep refusing to comment on the situation? If you don't believe me, check out the Pravda-like NFL spin. How great is that?"

• Bernard from Chicago passes along an intriguing Chicago Tribune article about incoming Memphis point guard Derrick Rose that includes this quote: "Tell people that I'm humble and intelligent. I stand back from all the showy stuff and don't like all the attention on me." I have high hopes for this kid.

• I always thought my first friend to have a site like this would be the J-Bug. Nope.

• Just an outstanding clip from Jake in Denver: "The best of botched wrestling moves. After seven-plus minutes, you're quite impressed by the end. I now want to create a video montage of every lottery bust over the last 10 years." Anyone who ever liked wrestling at any point in their lives needs to watch this entire thing.

• From Mike K. in Toronto: "Here's an interesting link for you: The Toronto Star asked some Toronto-area pro athletes to provide playlists of their favorite songs. Pay special attention to Mo Pete's list -- I'm guessing it was 'Wonderwall' that got him fired up to hit that game-tying 3-pointer against the Wizards last week."

(That reminds me, I love the celebrity playlists on iTunes, if only because Jared Leto, a charter member of the Tony Potts Hall of Fame for Celebrity D-Bags, picked two of his own songs for his playlist. But wouldn't you love to read an ongoing feature where NBA players picked playlists? For instance, what would be on Sam Cassell's playlist? Josh Smith's? Gilbert Arenas'? Eddy Curry's? Brian Scalabrine's? You're telling me that, if I provided links to the playlists for every NBA player, you wouldn't click on it? I'm bringing this up at the next Page 2 ideas meeting.)

• Multiple readers sent along the clip of Alanis Morissette's parody of the Black Eyed Peas song "My Humps," which crushes Fergie and everything she stands for AND manages to be strangely hypnotic. You have to love Canadians. They always deliver the goods.

• Some great points from Nathan W. in New Brunswick, N.J.: "How is it possible that this story was not picked up by Fox and broadcast in prime time? The highlights: outdoor women's boxing … convicted meth dealer boxing for WBC women's flyweight title … match took place ON THE GROUNDS OF A BANGKOK PRISON … transvestite inmates were allowed out of their cells to carry round placards … because she won, she'll now be paroled to fight around the world.

"Maybe the fact that this would have received more PPV orders than Mayweather-De La Hoya would have been the final deathblow for legitimate boxing, but tell me Fox couldn't have ponied up the money to get Bert Sugar ringside and set an HD camera up to capture him eating his Fedora over this spectacle?"

• Finally, I have to pass along Amy Nelson's feature on Elijah Dukes, the feel-good member of my League of Dorks team. (We made him the 23rd pick of our 2006 minor league draft. Yes, the League of Dorks has a minor league draft.) After Elijah's umpteenth off-the-field incident last summer, co-owner Hench and I tried to trade him all summer … with no takers. So when we heard reports that he was turning heads in spring training, needless to say we were dubious. But Dukes kept crushing the ball and made Tampa as a fourth outfielder, and he homered on Opening Day against the Yankees, and today his inspiring story leads the main page of ESPN.com. After going through roto hell and back with him, we can honestly say that we never imagined a day when Elijah Dukes would lead the main page of ESPN.com for any other reason than the headline, "TAMPA OUTFIELDER KILLS TEAMMATE IN BATTING CAGE DISPUTE." Good times all around.

Basketball Blog: Oden is No. 1 SLOTTED

I'll remember Monday night's Florida-OSU game for five reasons: Florida cementing its status as one of the best non-UCLA college teams of the modern era; Billy Packer and Jim Nantz overlooking this very fact for most of the night; Greg Oden finally earning the No. 1 spot in the 2007 draft; Corey Brewer catapulting himself into the top seven (and possibly higher); and Nantz's hysterical reaction after Joakim Noah's "we're gonna do it right!" postgame interview, which could best be described as, "I can't wait to get to Augusta."

Let's tackle the first two points because they go hand in hand ...

Clearly, the night's major theme was Florida's winning consecutive titles without being seriously threatened in either tournament. Not counting the obligatory Round 1 blowouts, the Gators won their other 10 playoff games by 11.2 points per game (with only the '06 Hoyas coming within seven points of them) and their four Final Four games by scores of 73-58, 73-57, 76-66 and 84-75. That's ridiculous. Looking at the bigger picture, three Florida players are top-10 picks (Noah, Brewer and Al Horford) and two more are projected as second-rounders (Taurean Green and Chris Richard), the most impressive collection of NBA-ready talent in years. But their selflessness stood out over everything else: They loved playing with one another and genuinely didn't care who received the most attention. One of Monday night's enduring images was Noah (suffering through a notably mediocre night) cheering like a 12th man on the bench as his teammates finished off the Buckeyes down the stretch. Did it matter to Noah that his draft stock was taking a sizable dent? Absolutely not. He just wanted to win the game.

THE SPORTS GAL SPEAKS

Be sure to check out the Bachelor Blog where the Sports Gal gives her weekly review on Lt. Andy Baldwin's quest for love.

• The Bachelor: Episode 1

Did Nantz and Packer expand on any point from the previous paragraph? Nope. Not really.

Their commentary revolved around the following things: how Oden needed to avoid foul trouble; how Florida had three big guys to rotate on Oden; how Oden and Noah looked tired; how Oden was avoiding foul trouble; how Oden and Noah looked tired; which guys were in foul trouble; how Oden looked tired; and how Oden looked tired. They completely underplayed the Florida/greatness angle; hell, if there was ever a subject in which Packer's opinion would have carried some weight (since he's announced every Final Four game since 1975), it was that one. They ignored any discussion of the 2007 draft because of CBS's policy of "let's only concentrate on the college game," ignoring the elephant in the room. They underplayed the fact that OSU killed itself by missing so many 3-pointers until the last few minutes, when the stats made this fact impossible to ignore. And when it became obvious that Florida would win, we got to hear Nantz's extended thoughts about the greatness of Mrs. Billy Donovan and Mrs. Thad Matta, followed by Nantz gently reminding Packer (legitimately in a pro-Oden frenzy by the game's end) that Oden couldn't win the "Most Outstanding Player" of the Final Four because Florida won the tournament.

Needless to say, the Packer-Nantz broadcast left, um, a little to be desired. I'd delve into this topic further, but we're bound to hear more about Packer in the next few days after he used a slur about gays on "Charlie Rose" last Friday. (Note: Jimmy Kimmel aired the complete clip on his show on Monday night.) Fairly or unfairly, CBS's lead college basketball announcer joking on TV that Rose would "fag out" of a wager has the potential to become the major sports story of the week.

As for Oden, some OSU fans apparently misconstrued the point of Monday's "Oden hasn't earned the No. 1 pick yet" mini-column, considering my mailbox was crammed with "Oden shoved it in your face!" and "how does that crow taste now?" e-mails this morning. I don't blame them for missing the point; after all, Ohio State is a state school. Just kidding. But allow me to give a little lesson in reading comprehension. When somebody writes the following lines ...

• I've watched OSU 15-16 times this season and there wasn't a single game that left me saying, "Wow ... that guy's gonna be unnnnnnnn-beeeeee-leeeeeeeeevable."

• What's the case against Oden then? You could sum it up in one sentence: He hasn't earned that No. 1 spot yet.

• Barring a monster effort against Florida, we could make it through the entire college hoops season without a definitive "Oden Game."

... that doesn't make him an Oden Hater.

Look, I'm a basketball fan. I want to watch as many great basketball players as possible; the more the merrier. Everything I ever write about basketball is based on a simple premise: I want the product to be better, I want the players to be better, I want the games to be better. So when I'm questioning why everyone is handing the No. 1 spot to Oden when he hadn't played a single dominant college game, or pointing out that I was disappointed because this year's most ballyhooed high school recruit (O.J. Mayo) bombed at the McDonald's All-American Game by repeatedly jacking up terrible shots in traffic, then screwing up an easy three-on-one with the game on the line so he could brick an gawd-awful 3 ... I mean, these things weren't written because I was sitting around thinking, "Which player can I ream today?" As I wrote yesterday, I'm in the pro-Oden camp. I just wanted to see one monster college game from him. Just one.

Monday night? We got it.

Greg Oden was awesome. He was the best player on the court. He kept OSU in the game by himself. And I turned off the TV thinking two things.

1. Greg Oden is the No. 1 pick in the draft. The debate is over. He pulled a Private Ryan and earned that spot.

2. After watching Thad Matta butcher that game (not resting Oden, not using his timeouts, not pounding the ball inside enough, not doing anything to control the pace of that game) to the point that Oden nearly keeled over in the final three minutes, we might need to re-evaluate whether Matta and his teammates were holding Oden back to some degree. (Note: Matta did a nice job in the Georgetown game but was BRUTAL on Monday night. You can't expect a guy who's been battling foul trouble all season to suddenly give you 38 end-to-end minutes against a rotating group of future NBA big men.) How would Oden look playing in an offense that was built around him? We'll have to wait until next season to find out.

I'm just happy we have a definitive Oden college game to remember, highlighted by the surreal two-handed stuff of Brewer in the first half that CBS refused to replay for whatever reason. He was a beast. He was a man among boys. Florida won, but so did Greg Oden.

The other winner: Corey Brewer, who emerged this month as the most intriguing draft prospect other than Kevin Durant. My buddy House and I spent a few minutes on the phone Monday night trying to find the right comparison for a 6-foot-8, 190-pound guard who's unlike anyone in the NBA right now -- ultimately, we settled on a 6-foot-8 Ricky Davis, only if you surgically implanted Manu Ginobili's brain in Ricky's head. Why Manu? Because of his open-court play and penchant for sneaking away from his man to cause turnovers. Because of the way he rises to the occasion in bigger games. Because of the deadly 3-point shooting. And especially, because of the unconventional angles that Brewer takes when he's driving to the basket.

If you want to get technical about it, he's the player we always wanted Todd Day to be. And since he's a better athlete and defender than Manu, and since he's a winner and all, the question remains ... why isn't Corey Brewer being considered for a top-five spot in this draft? Is there a chance he could make a Ben Gordon-type leap as we get closer and closer to end of June, and the lottery teams realize, "Wait, why are we killing ourselves trying to figure out who's better between Noah, Horford and Hibbert ... why don't we just take Corey Brewer?"

Actually, yes.

I'm starting to believe it will play out this way, especially when individual workouts start and Brewer aces every test along the way. (Other than Durant or Oden, can you think of anyone who'd come off better in a workout than Corey Brewer? We might need to hose down Chad Ford now just to be safe.) For instance, let's say the standings hold on May 22 (aka, D-Day) and Milwaukee gets the third pick. The Bucks already have four spots locked up in their starting five: Andrew Bogut, Charlie Villanueva, Mo Williams (assuming they re-sign him) and Michael Redd. They have a glaring need for a shooting guard who can make 3s and play defense. Why wouldn't they jump on Brewer? Can you come up with one reason?

And then there's this ...

Let's say you ranked the lottery picks in the draft based on the premise "If you had to bet your life on it, which guys are the safest bets to become good pros?" (Ironically, every draft should be approached this way, but as we've endlessly documented in this space, teams always end up getting seduced by workouts and upside, so many of them end up throwing all logic out the window, and we end up with situations like Atlanta taking Marvin Williams over Chris Paul.) Here's how the top 13 would look solely based on the aforementioned premise.

1. Oden: Earned the spot Monday night.

2. Durant: Stuck at No. 2 barring a miraculous string of workouts that include his making 24-of-25 halfcourt shots and dunking from the 3-point line. By the way, I'm not ruling this out.

3. Brewer: A mortal lock to become a quality 3-guard.

4. Brandan Wright, Al Horford, Roy Hibbert (tie): Depends on the team picking in this spot. If they want an inside scorer who's more of a finished product, they'd grab Horford. If they had time to wait on Wright's UPPPPPPPPPPPPP-side, they'd go with him. If they already had a competitive team and needed a center, they'd reach for Hibbert. Right now, these are the next three picks in some order. Somebody in the 4-6 range will need a center and talk themselves into Hibbert. Guaranteed.

7. Mike Conley Jr.: The best point guard if he comes out. By a mile. I'd be shocked if one of the first seven lottery teams didn't need a potential All-Star point guard.

8. Noah: Dropping him here for one reason: I found out from a reader Monday that Noah turned 22 last February. Twenty-two!?!?!?!?!? How did I miss this???? For instance, Wright is only 19, Horford and Hibbert are both 20 ... is it safe to say that Wright, Horford and Hibbert will be better two years from now than they are now? Absolutely. Since Noah hasn't outplayed any of those guys, he HAS to be ranked behind them. With that said, I continue to believe that he'll be a good pro and an asset to any team ... even if his best move last night was hogging 30 inexplicable seconds of postgame camera time from CBS's director so he could find his mother.

9. Yi Jianlian: He's the 7-footer from China billed by Chad Ford as "the best Chinese prospect since Yao." Wait, so he's better than Sun Ming Ming? Are we sure? Anyway, I haven't seen this guy play and won't pretend to know anything about him ... but he'd have to blow away teams in the workouts to crack that top eight.

10. Julian Wright: Took a major hit with consecutive no-shows in Kansas' last two games. Does he have a little too much Tim Thomas in him? Possibly. If he's smart, he'll go back to school.

11. Ty Lawson: Based on the premise that two teams in the top 13 will need a point guard, even one who's not quite ready for the pros. You could call this the Ray Felton Corollary. If he's smart, he'll go back to school.

(Notice a recurring theme here?)

12. Jeff Green: We covered this Monday: When somebody's major draft-day gimmick is, "I come through when it matters," and then he disappears in a Final Four game ... well, that's not good. I'm trying to look at this objectively because he was one of my favorite college players, so here's the overriding question: The best comparison for Green is Danny Granger -- they have similar games and do similar things. Well, check out Granger's stats for an underachieving Pacers team this season. Would you spend a top-10 pick on him in a loaded draft? Probably not.

13. Al Thornton, Acie Law IV (tie): I'd bet on these two guys making it over everyone else in the draft, with the possible exception of Chase Budinger (another guy who needs one more year in college) and Brandon Rush (the sleeper of Round 1).

So there you go. Yes, that's a list in progress.

Four more notes and then I'm done:

1. The shame of Monday night's game was that had OSU made a few more 3s, we could have been looking one of the all-timers for NCAA title games. For all we know, there could have been six first-rounders, five lottery picks and 10 potential NBA players out there. It's going to be awhile before we see a college team execute as well offensively as Florida did Monday night. OSU just couldn't hang with them.

2. Packer beat it to death, but it's worth mentioning again: Lee Humphrey drained 15-of-28 3s in the final three 2007 tournament games and 10-of-20 3s in last year's two Final Four games. That may have been my favorite quality of this Florida team -- if you were building the ideal college team from scratch, you'd want a solid point guard who could shoot (Green), a deadly 3-point shooter (Humphrey), an athletic swingman who could make 3s (Brewer), and three athletic frontcourt players who could rebound, defend, run the floor and create their own shots near the basket (Horford, Noah and Richard). Florida came about as close as anyone will realistically come to nailing all of those things, right?

3. In Monday's column, I mentioned the Ewing Theory potential of Oden (and how OSU seemed to play better when he wasn't on the floor). According to a March 30 post on the kenpom blog, the numbers don't back that assertion up and they suffered greatly when Oden wasn't on the court. The lesson, as always ... well, you knew already.

4. One final FYI: Two more days of the Basketball Blog and we're done. I swear. We're moving into baseball/NBA/mailbag mode on Friday.

Basketball Blog: Greg Oden and the Final Four SLOTTED

You know what's strange about Greg Oden's freshman season, considering everyone regards him as a franchise center and all? I've watched OSU 15-16 times this season and there wasn't a single game that left me saying, "Wow ... that guy's gonna be unnnnnnnn-beeeeee-leeeeeeeeevable." There were glimpses of greatness here and there, as well as a few dominant 10-minute stretches (like during the second half of the Memphis game) ... but for someone repeatedly advertised as "The Next Russell" or "The Next Ewing," we really didn't see it for four straight months.

What did we see? Excuses. Lots of them.

You know, like these ...

He spent half the season playing with one hand. … He's only 19. … He's just a serene guy by nature. … He's afraid to let loose because he doesn't want to hurt his wrist again. … He's further along than Alonzo Mourning, Hakeem Olajuwon and Shaquille O'Neal at the same age. … It's not his fault that the refs keep calling him for chintzy fouls.

On and on and on. Look, I'm in the pro-Oden camp. He didn't receive enough credit for playing one-handed during the first half of the season. I do subscribe to Bill Walton's theory that Oden has been holding back because he doesn't want to get injured again (especially on plays around the basket where he's jumping in traffic), which explains why his two "holy s---!!!!!!!" plays of the tournament (the block at the end of the Tennessee game and the near-facial of Jeff Green in the Georgetown game) happened at crucial moments when he said "screw it" and let loose. Everyone keeps criticizing Oden's demeanor, but as I've written before, the same approach worked for Robert Parish, who won three rings and made the Basketball Hall of Fame. And by all accounts, you need to watch Oden in person to fully appreciate him -- there's a force-of-nature quality about him that prejudices anyone who's watched him live.

(Quick tangent: I haven't seen Oden in person yet, but the last point makes total sense to me. Young Shaq resonated in a similar way, as did David Robinson and LeBron James right now. You could call this the Bo Jackson Corollary -- when watching an athlete live is a totally different experience than watching him on TV. Robinson was my favorite example because he'd glide onto the court for pregame warmups and you'd feel everyone staring at him and thinking the same thing: "Holy crap, that guy is a physical SPECIMEN." Then the game would start and he'd zoom around like a shooting guard in a 7-footer's body for 48 minutes. Just awesome to watch. If you were asked to build a center from scratch, you'd build David Robinson and call it a day. Sadly, the same thing that made him such a valuable superstar for NBA purposes also made him a bit of an underachiever: He was too nice a guy. But that's a whole other story.)

So given that we're conceding all these points, what's the case against Oden then? You could sum it up in one sentence: He hasn't earned that No. 1 spot yet.

Barring a monster effort against Florida, we could make it through the entire college hoops season without a definitive "Oden Game." On my Celtics message board, a poster named Rocco (a Durant backer) has been playing devil's advocate with Oden's "franchise center" tag all season, writing over and over again, "If he's really a franchise center, when are we actually gonna see it?" That's an irrefutable point. We haven't seen it. Not for an entire game, anyway. Saturday's victory over Georgetown was the quintessential Oden experience: Two cheap fouls in the first half, followed by the weird phenomenon of Oden's team playing better without him (a recurrent theme with OSU games this season ... EWING THEORY ALERT!!!!), and then Oden making just enough happen in the second half to keep the door open that he's a franchise center masquerading as a freshman who averages a 15-9, keeps getting into foul trouble and rarely takes over games.

Anyway, we have one last chance to watch him tonight against a Florida team that features the best collection of college big men in recent memory: Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Chris Richard (my favorite sleeper for the 2007 draft). If there was ever a time for Oden to kick ass in a big game, tonight would be the night. Still, I just can't shake the feeling that we're headed for another spotty performance, followed by the usual round of excuses, then six weeks of everyone wondering whether Oden will turn pro, or why we should care that much in the first place. Would I be more excited if Kevin Durant was playing tonight? Yes. Yes I would.

Some other scattered thoughts heading into tonight's NCAA title game:

1. Like everyone else, I was disappointed with the quality of the Final Four games but blame bad luck over anything else: It's far too easy for a big college game to get sidetracked by foul trouble, which is why I continue to push for a change to the rules -- nobody can foul out until his sixth foul, but if he's called for that sixth foul, he's disqualified and the opposing team gets two shots plus the ball (like with an intentional foul). Problem solved.

2. I hope Thad Matta pops that zit before tonight's game.

3. Roy Hibbert is looming as the most divisive lottery pick this June -- some believe his lack of athletic ability makes him a backup center at best, while others see him as a potential All-Star. I'm closer to the latter camp because he reminds me a little of Rik Smits, who was unequivocally one of the most underappreciated players of the past 20 years.

Maybe Reggie Miller received the most attention on those contending Indiana teams in the mid-'90s, but Smits was their most valuable player -- he gave them a low-post offense and always commanded a double team, which opened the floor for Reggie. In his prime (a four-year stretch from '95 to '98), Smits averaged 18 points and 7 rebounds a game, shot 52 percent from the field and 78 percent from the free-throw line and shined during the '95 playoffs (averaging a 20-7 over 17 games and outplaying Ewing). Unfortunately, he couldn't crack an All-Star team until the tail end of his prime ('98) because Mourning, Ewing and Dikembe Mutombo were always blocking the way. But that Pacers team made three runs at the title ('94, '95 and '98) with Smits providing the entire low-post offense.

And if that's not enough, he had a great nickname (The Dunking Dutchman), he kept the middle-part hairdo going for about eight years after it became taboo, he made one of the most underrated playoff game-winners ever (a buzzer-beater in the '95 playoffs against Orlando in a game in which the lead changed hands four times in the last 15 seconds), and he delighted NBA fans to no end when he shaved his head during the '98 playoffs (became the all-time answer to the trivia question, "Which NBA player looked the worst with a shaved head?").

Needless to say, I enjoyed the Smits Era and he's the center on my All-Underrated Team from the past 20 years, along with Tom Chambers, Detlef Schrempf, Nick Anderson and Mark Price, as well as Ricky Pierce and Eddie Johnson coming off the bench. (Note: Big Shot Brob would have been the starting power forward as recently as three years ago, but everyone appreciates him now so he's fairly rated.) Hibbert won't be as good offensively unless he can develop Smits' deadly 17-footer, but he's a better shotblocker and rebounder, as well as someone who could take advantage down low against smaller players in the pros. He's also a legitimate 7-foot-2, which gives him something in common with only 5-6 players in the NBA right now. I like him. He's a top-eight pick in my mind. Unquestionably.

4. As for teammate Jeff Green, I had him pencilled into my top six until Saturday's ghastly performance against OSU, when he reverted back to pre-February "maybe I'll let the game come to me instead of taking it over" mode. Bad move. Was he nervous? Was he intimidated by OSU's big guys? Impossible to say. But when somebody's major draft-day gimmick is, "I come through when it matters," and then he disappears in a Final Four game ... well, that's not good.

5. Did we ever figure out how Dick Vitale can endorse Pizza Hut and DiGiorno's at the same time? Isn't that like doing ads for Pepsi and Diet Coke?

6. We're officially adding Mike Conley Jr. to the list of college studs who should be mailed the tape of Shaun Livingston's gruesome knee injury. I remember the specific moment of the season when he turned the corner -- the tail end of the home Wisconsin game on Feb. 25, about two minutes after Billy Packer said something along the lines of "Conley needs to realize that he's the guy on this team who takes over at the end of games," and then he did just that (and made the game-winner in the final 10 seconds).

Here's the thing I love about Conley, other than his athletic ability (off the charts), his decision-making (nearly flawless) and his ridiculous 2.76 assist/turnover ratio (as a freshman!): Just like Isiah Thomas and John Stockton back in the day, Conley spends the first 90 percent of the game running the show and getting everyone else involved and making his teammates happy, then easily switches gears and takes over games if they need his offense down the stretch. Juggling that delicate balance between "facilitator" and "playmaker" is the single hardest challenge for any young point guard; even someone as great as Isiah didn't figure out how to pull it off until his sixth NBA season. Conley already knows how to juggle that balance ... and he's only 19 years old.

Does he need another year in college to improve his 3-point shooting (only 30 percent this season) and hone the finer points of his game? Yeah, probably. But who's to say those refinements couldn't happen at the pro level? Right now, he's a top-10 pick and the best point guard in a loaded draft. Sounds good to me. As Shaun Livingston would tell you, carpe diem.

7. I was trapped in the car during the first few minutes of the OSU-Georgetown game and heard something crazy: Westwood One's radio announcers were Kevin Harlan, Bill Raftery ... and John Thompson.

Forget about the fact that 100 people out of 100 would rather listen to this team than CBS's TV team ... how could John Thompson possibly announce a game being coached by his own son? Even if you removed the obvious red flags about his objectivity, just from the standpoint of the father-son thing, how could any caring father shut the Dad Switch off for two hours like that? What father wouldn't want to just watch the game and root for his kid? Wouldn't you abstain from doing the game just for that reason alone? I mean, he raised his son, taught him everything he knew, made him into a man, hired him as an assistant, handed over all his knowledge to him and, eventually, his son returned to his father's old school and rejuvenated the failing basketball program. Now, that same kid brought Georgetown to the Final Four and Thompson the Dad was like, "Boy, this is great, I can't wait to call this game objectively for Westwood One!" I just think that's bizarre.

8. One final note: I thought Joakim Noah and Corey Brewer were superb in Saturday's dominating win over UCLA ... although it's becoming increasingly clear this entire Florida team was playing with an on/off switch over the course of the season. (Hey, they'll fit right in with everyone in the NBA!) Brewer's stifling defense, dead-eye 3-point shooting and freakish, jawdrop athleticism (sorry Chad!) this month catapulted him into the top 10 of the draft, and he should climb even higher once teams start working him out. Meanwhile, Noah rebounded from some dicey February performances and embraced the qualities that made him great: hustle, energy, competitiveness, leadership, rebounding and shotblocking. He's a rich man's Anderson Varejao.

Now, some people disagree with the logic that a rich man's Varejao should be the No. 3 pick in such a stacked draft. And I agree, it's a little weird on paper. At the same time, I'm watching the Celtics improbably blow top-two ping-pong pole position (while everyone else is in Full Tank Mode, no less) and resigning myself to a life without Oden or Durant. You know what? Noah wouldn't be a bad consolation prize. The Celtics need shotblocking, rebounding and energy. They need another good teammate to go along with a team of good teammates. They need somebody with a winning pedigree, someone who expects to win every game and hates losing. Noah solves all of these problems. So when Florida is beating OSU tonight (and I think they will), I'll be rooting for them because of future Celtic Joakim Noah. We're not getting Durant, we're not getting Oden, and that's just the way it is.

(I will now break a champagne bottle over my own head.)