Sports beat 5-11-09

The Lakers 99-87 loss to the Houston Rockets yesterday was both embarrassing and disturbing. While I've seen Laker championship teams come out and lay an egg like this in the past, it's incredibly disappointing that this team displayed no effort for three quarters. Unfortunately, we're seeing many of the problems that have held them back in recent years.

The listless performance was absolutely shocking, considering the Lakers had to know that a solid win yesterday would have crushed the Rockets spirit and prevented them from a necessary return flight to Houston. Yao Ming is an important part of the Rockets, and he is an inside presence that's hard to defend. But Houston did win 22 games in a row without him last year, and Rick Adelman has coached his team well through injuries.

Without Yao, the Rockets are transformed into a running team, and the Lakers were caught flat-footed. I'm really surprised they weren't better prepared to play that style. For Game 5 though, Phil Jackson might want to consider inserting Jordan Farmar into the starting lineup. He has to be feeling confident after his best performance of the year in a Game 3 spot start, and he helps the Lakers to play at a quicker pace. Derek Fisher could be valuable stabilizing the second unit.

The Lakers wound up with 30 points (mostly in garbage time) from Pau Gasol, who needs to take advantage of his matchups with Chuck Hayes. But Lamar Odom's 2 point performance was exceptionally disappointing, and they need him to reappear if they're going to win this series, or any other. Unfortunately, he's only questionable for Game 5.

I still think the Lakers will win this series, but they had to feel ashamed of themselves yesterday.

--Both Bill Plaschke and Kurt Streeter have columns in the LA Times expressing surprise at the many Dodger fans who are supporting Manny Ramirez during his 50-game suspension. Plaschke claims that two-thirds of his e-mails are from fans ripping him for saying Manny should get out of town, and he says he's been physically threatened.

Plaschke hurls the ultimate insult at Dodger fans, comparing them to "Giants fans," while Streeter wonders if he's "out of touch."

First off, anyone who threatens bodily harm to Bill Plaschke is a real loser. But secondly, Streeter's intuition is right: the sports media is out of touch with today's fan. This Manny Ramirez story is just one of example of it.

I've been in the sports industry for a while, and I've studied it closely. I can't tell you how many times I've read a sports writer or listened to a sports talk host who claims to speak for the "fan," when I've seen seen information from market research, focus groups, surveys, relevant data, or even just basic conversations with fans that directly contradict how the media thinks the fan feels.

When you watch a game from the comfort of a pressbox, eat from a pre-game buffet, and talk about the game with other journalists, you're bound to see sports from a different perspective than the average fan. That doesn't mean sports journalists don't have valuable and insightful opinions. It doesn't meant that their opinions can't influence other fans. But sports journalists who think they know and understand the fan are often kidding themselves.

--Very interesting report that came through this evening on from Mark Fainaru-Wada and T.J. Quinn, two of the best investigative reporters out there. According to the report, Manny Ramirez did not test positive for any drug, but rather he tested positive for an elevated level of testosterone, which had been rumored a few days ago. A subsequent investigation revealed that Ramirez had been prescribed hCG, which is banned.

Fainaru-Wada and Quinn also report that Ramirez initially planned to defend himself by saying the elevated testosterone level was due to him taking him DHEA, a steroid similar to Androstenedione, but it's not actually banned. I have no idea why it isn't, but Andro is on the MLB banned list. After the hCG was found, then Ramirez and his camp realized they'd have to account for two substances and decided not to appeal the suspension.

This makes Ramirez's "personal health issue" seem even more preposterous. And I have yet to speak to a doctor who would prescribe hCG to a man for any legitimate reason.

This also goes to show how ineffective baseball's steroid policy is. They've been praised for not being afraid to go after a player of Ramirez's stature. But if DHEA isn't banned, and if there aren't tests for dozens of substances like HGH, then baseball's "steroid era" clearly isn't over.

In the meantime, Ramirez's silence over the issue is deafening. I'm glad he's spoken to Frank McCourt and Ned Colletti after going into hiding, but I'd argue that he does owe a truthful explanation to both his teammates and to the numerous fans who have been supporting him.

--Congratulations to the UC Irvine Anteaters on winning the National Championship in Men's Volleyball. John Speraw's club won a thriller over Bill Ferguson's USC squad. I've called a few USC men's volleyball games this season for and Ferguson has done a remarkable job of kickstarting that program.

But the story for right now is UC Irvine, which is quickly becoming an excellent athletics school. Two weeks ago, I went down to Irvine to broadcast a baseball game between USC and No. 1 ranked UC Irvine. Yes, that's right. UC Irvine has the No. 1 ranked baseball team in the country.

There were few empty seats at Anteater Ballpark that night, and plenty of kids and families were having a great time. UCI came from behind to beat USC 6-5. Under the leadership of former USC coach Mike Gillespie, the Anteaters will be favored to go to Omaha.

--UCLA unveiled plans today for its long overdue renovation of Pauley Pavilion. While we haven't seen any designs of the interior seating, let's hope they eliminate the absurdly long distance from the basket to the first row. I know UC money is tight right now, but there are few basketball venues in the country in greater need of renovation than Pauley Pavilion. It's hard for an elite program to continue using that facility.

In the meantime, congratulations to UCLA for winning the national title in women's water polo.

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