Monday, April 27, 2009

Having a Ball

Is it just me, or are the NBA playoffs about 180 degrees (okay, maybe 150 degrees) different from the regular season? It's the selfishness, the lackadaisical play, the lack of teamwork that limits my interest in the sport from October through March. But the first round of the playoffs--highlighted by the Bulls-Celtics series--has nearly lived up to the not-so-great slogan, Where Amazing Happens.

The 76ers came back from an 18-point deficit in Game 1 to beat Orlando, then hit a game-winning shot with two seconds left in Game 3, and had a chance to tie Game 4 at the buzzer.

Three of the four Rockets-Blazers games have been decided by four points or less.

Deron Williams hit a game-winning shot with under five seconds left in Game 3 to keep the Jazz in their series with the Lakers.

But the best of them all has been the Bulls and Celtics. Game 4 managed to top the Game 1 thriller, as Ben Gordon grabbed the ball (pun intended) and drilled a game-tying three-pointer to send the game into double overtime. Ben Gordon must never need an ice bath after games because he's got ice-cold blood running through his veins. He's also got something in his shorts he'd like you to see:

After playing Game 3 as if they thought it was a best-of-two series, the Balls--I mean Bulls showed up in a big way Sunday, going back and forth with the defending champs and giving the United Center faithful a game to remember. Young guards Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose engaged in battle, and with one more Rose assist, they both would have finished with triple-doubles.

All seven Bulls who saw action scored in double figures, and all five Celtics starters did the same. The win guaranteed that the United Center will see more NBA playoff action, and while it's anyone's guess as to which Bulls team will take the court that day, here's hoping for some more excitement the likes of which we haven't seen since last June. Hopefully Ben Gordon will be at full strength for Game 5--he strained his left hamstring during Game 4.

Cubs salvage one
The Cubs are quickly turning into an Abbott and Costello routine. Ramirez and Marmol were unavailable Sunday, and after Lee left the game early with neck spasms, it appeared for a second after Soriano was hit in the helmet by a pitch that Lou Piniella would have to add himself to the 40-man roster and play left field (remember, Bradley's out as well). For most of Sunday's 10-3 victory, the Cubs had an atrocious defensive infield comprised of Mike Fontenot, Ryan Theriot, Aaron Miles and Micah Hoffpauir.

Luckily, they don't expect Lee to go on the DL, and Ramirez and Marmol could be ready as early as today. Bradley's status remains more mysterious than that polar bear on Lost.

Despite all the injuries, the Cubs offense finally exploded, scoring 10 runs behind Fukudome's five RBI (on his 32nd birthday), Micah Hoffpauir's second homer of the season, and a solid six innings from Rich Harden. Fukudome is now fourth in the league in batting and tied for eighth in RBI. Kosuke started strong last year as well, so I'm not quite ready to assume he'll do this all year. But he sure looks a lot more confident at the plate than he did post-All-Star Break last year. And it's worth pointing out that through April last year, Fukudome had one home run and 10 RBI; so far this year he has four home runs and 15 RBI.

The Cubs now head to the desert to face a struggling 7-11 Diamondbacks team with no Stephen Drew. Lilly, Zambrano and Dempster will face Dan Haren, Yusmeiro Petit and lefty Doug Davis.

Did you know ...
-Fukudome's home run Sunday was the 14th of his career, but his first off a left-hander.

-The Rays have struggled and find themselves in last place, 6.5 games out of first.

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