The series from hell is finally over, as the Lakers beat the Rockets 89-70 to win Game 7. As noted in earlier posts, I felt the Rockets posed a tough matchup for the Lakers, and said this series could very well go the distance. What I didn't expect was for the Lakers to come out with a marginal effort in Games 4 and 6, and suddenly make everyone question whether they have the heart and will to win a championship.
The Lakers should learn from this Rockets series some tips on how to adjust their basketball operations department. The Rockets have MBAs serving up a heavy dose of computer and statistical analysis that allowed a team without its two best players to push the Lakers to the limit. Basketball is changing, and the Lakers should invest in the same technology and analytical methods as the Rockets if they want to continue to be one of the premier teams in the league.
Moving onto the Western Conference Finals, I like this matchup for the Lakers. Yes, the Denver Nuggets have been impressive in their first two series, but they haven't been tested. In the first round, they beat a New Orleans Hornets team that was imploding. In the second round they beat a mediocre Dallas team that only went that far because Manu Ginobili got hurt. And that series could have easily gone another game or two had there not been a blown call at the end of Game 3, which the NBA admitted was the wrong call.
Chauncey Billups does pose some matchup problems for the Lakers, but I really think they can contain the Nuggets by clamping down on Carmelo Anthony. This could be Trevor Ariza's chance to shine defensively. I don't see Kenyon Martin being able to stop Pau Gasol, and if Bynum plays like he did in Games 5 and 7, then his matchup with Nene is effectively a wash. At the end of the day though, I'd be shocked if Denver is able to contain Kobe Bryant the way that Houston did.
My prediction: Lakers in 5.
-- The more articles that come out on Manny, the more likely it seems that he was just using an illegal performance-enhancing substance. This week's LA Times, reported that no HCG was found in Ramirez's test. They also spoke to a medical expert who said that DHEA, would not have significantly raised the testosterone in Ramirez's system enough to cause the test to be flagged.
Furthermore, I spoke to another physician very familiar with the effects of DHEA, and learned that there is no actual evidence proving that DHEA improves athletic performance. DHEA is a safe and legal steroid (although the IOC bans it), and it would make little sense for a seemingly healthy adult male professional athlete to take. Regardless, the Times article reports that Ramirez's tests showed no traces of DHEA. It would seem that Ramirez's story about taking DHEA for elevated testosterone levels would not have worked.
In the meantime, Manny has not addressed his fans who continue to lovingly adore him and support him. And his speech to his teammates was reportedly awkward and lacking in information. I doubt we'll get much more out of him.
The most logical explanation right now is that Ramirez likely took a banned substance in the offseason, which for him was longer than normal due to his contract situation. The substance that he took was either undetectable by baseball's drug test, or out of his system by the time he took the test in spring training. (I know that MLB does some testing in the offseason, but I'm not sure if they test free agents) Still, during the test in spring training, his testosterone level was still elevated, as I've been told that sometimes it can remain elevated for several weeks after taking a steroid. Right now, it would seem Ramirez is most embarrassed and upset that he got caught, and he has little motivation to offer specific details.
So in all likelihood, Ramirez will play come July 3, say very little about what happened, offer some non-descriptive apologies to the fans, and Dodger fans will probably welcome him back if he hits well.
In the meantime, the Dodgers have won their last two series after beating the Marlins 12-5 today.
-- I have no idea whether Tim Floyd paid Rodney Guillory $1,000 to get OJ Mayo to come to USC, but my first reaction to the story was: "It only cost $1,000 to get OJ Mayo to come to USC?"
If that's the case, then where was Lute Olson with the $1,500 check?
Recent comments from a former USC player and manager make the allegations seem somewhat less plausible, but they're out there and will be hard to refute and hard to prove.
Either way, with all of the attention recently focused on the USC athletic department, I find it hard to believe that the NCAA won't come down with some kind of penalty. They need to prove to the public that they haven't ignored this. At the same time, they recognize the importance of USC to college football, and it's unlikely they'll come down too hard on the Trojans. The allegations against USC are damning, but hard to prove that the school knowingly engaged in any wrongdoing.
My guess is that the NCAA will cite USC for a "lack of institutional control" and take away few scholarships while putting both football and basketball programs on probation. I also thing that the penalties against the basketball program will be slightly more severe.
In the meantime, the USC basketball program has seen a dramatic turn of events in the last two months. After nearly defeating national runner-up Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament, Tim Floyd told his players of the great things they could accomplish together next year. The next day he took a plane to Tucson, only to later turn down the Arizona job (and I'm sure they're thrilled he declined).
USC then lost top recruit Solomon Hill to Arizona of all schools. And then they had to back off of their other top recruit Renardo Sydney. Now DeMar DeRozan is going to the NBA. Taj Gibson looks like he'll join him (albeit in the second round). And Daniel Hackett wishes he could join them in the pros, but I'll be he'll be a pro in Italy.
That leaves Dwight Lewis serving as the team captain for a squad that will feature Nikola Vucevic, Leonard Washington, Marcus Simmons, UNC transfer Alex Stepheson, and rapper 'Lil Romeo. They've suddenly gone from a Final Four contender to a team that will be lucky to go over .500.
-- Apparently not everything is peachy with the renovation plans for Pauley Pavilion. Aside from the squabbles over interior design, row length, and concourse size, donors and long-time season ticket holders could be fighting over seats in the renovated building. My guess is they'll solve this dilemma by moving students further away from the floor.
-- The upcoming "Moneyball" movie, starring Brad Pitt as Billy Beane will also feature comedian Demetri Martin as former Dodgers GM Paul DePodesta. I like Martin, but really? Demetri Martin as Paul DePodesta? Was Paul Rudd unavailable? He looks way more like DePodesta. Anyhow, I hope Martin does a great job of playing DePodesta, who I still believe was unfairly judged during his time in LA. DePodesta did struggle with the media, but they were after him from the start.