The Pulse: Dirk as a franchise player, MLB and the Cup

Welcome to The Pulse, the place to find out what the sports world is thinking. Every day on ESPN.com, SportsNation registers its opinion on a wide range of topics by casting votes and offering opinions. We'll collect the daily highlights and create a running file throughout the week to measure The Pulse of SportsNation on a wide variety of issues. Check this page every day for an update of what the 'Nation is saying.

Friday's Big Questions
1. Is Dirk Nowitzki the NBA's top franchise player?
2. Which AL team is a pretender?
3. Who will win the Stanley Cup finals?

Dirk is getting plenty of love after dropping 50.
Dirk Nowitzki unleashed a blitzkrieg on Phoenix in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals, dropping 50 points and grabbing 12 rebounds to will Dallas to a win and a 3-2 series lead over the Suns. No matter who guarded him Phoenix had no answers for Nowitzki as the big German scored 24 of 34 points during a late run that put the game away.

The display led ESPN.com's Bill Simmons to say no one can guard Dirk right now. SportsNation disagrees somewhat, saying only Shaq and LeBron are tougher defensive matchups than Nowitzki but placing him ahead of Kobe and Kevin Garnett. Would SN build a franchise around Dallas' athletic 7-footer? One-fourth of the 'Nation would, but LeBron is the runaway leader on the list with better than 60 percent of the vote as the top franchise player in the NBA.

Franchise player or not, SportsNation overwhelmingly picks Dirk and his Mavericks to get past the Suns and into the NBA Finals.

  • Which of these players presents the toughest matchup for opponents?
    32.8% Shaquille O'Neal
    26.0% LeBron James
    22% Dirk Nowitzki
    15% Kobe Bryant
    4% Kevin Garnett

  • If you were starting a team who would you take first?
    62% LeBron James
    41% Dwyane Wade
    34% Kobe Bryant
    30% Tim Duncan
    26% Dirk Nowitzki

  • How will the NBA's Western Conference finals end?
    42% Mavericks in 6
    37% Mavericks in 7
    21% Suns in 7

    I have always marveled at Dirk's outside game for a 7-footer. The big thing the past two seasons is that he is attacking the rim and posting up now. You have to give Avery a little credit for getting that out of him.
    DC (Altoona, PA)

    I would love to see LeBron and Dirk play a game of one-on-one.
    Matt "The Intern" (Chicago)

    Before we anoint Dirk the G.O.A.T., let's see what he does the rest of the playoffs and the next few years. He had a monster game at home where he got a million-and-one calls.
    Mat (Scottsdale, AZ)

    Mike & Mike were arguing over who they would take before Dirk if starting a team today. My picks: LeBron, Kobe, Wade, then Dirk
    Darin (Orlando)

    Mavericks and Heat would be the BEST. FINALS. EVER. For me, at least.
    Jarred (Oklahoma)

    The Sabres and Oilers face elimination.
    The Red Sox visit the Tigers this weekend for an unlikely matchup of division leaders with aces Curt Schilling of Boston and Kenny Rogers of Detroit taking the mound in the opening game of the series.

    Most expected the Sox to be contenders in the AL East but virtually no one figured the Tigers would be postseason contenders under new manager Jim Leyland. You know, since they haven't had a winning season since 1993 and all. Despite beginning June with the best record in baseball, though, Detroit is getting little respect from fans across SportsNation, half of whom think the Tigers will be on the outside looking in come playoff time

  • Which of these teams is most likely to miss the postseason?
    51% Tigers
    27% Yankees
    14% Red Sox
    8% White Sox

    Forget the Pistons. TIGERS ARE BACK!
    Zack (Detroit)

    Dud: Maroth's injury for maybe causing the Tigers to come back to Earth.
    Keith (Grand Rapids)

    It's smoke and mirrors right now in Detroit. Leyland has made a difference, but they're still a year away, people.
    William (New York)

    The Detroit Tigers rallied in the 9th to keep from getting swept by the Yankees. It shows they are for real even if they lost four straight before that.
    Dan (MI)

    The Sabres and Oilers face elimination.
    The Stanley Cup finals are now set, with Carolina dispatching Buffalo in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals to set up a date with Edmonton to play for the Cup. What many call the most grueling postseason in sports is nearly over and the 'Nation is fairly evenly divided on the question of which team will hoist the hardware when all is said and done.

  • Which team will win the Stanley Cup?
    52% Edmonton Oilers
    48% Carolina Hurricanes

    You have to wonder if the 'Canes are spent. Oilers have been every bit for real in the playoffs and they bring a physical play to the Western Conference style that may be too much at both ends of the ice for Carolina. X-factor? I say it's the fact Edmonton has been in New York state this week, acclimating to the time difference and will be more ready for Game 1 than the 'Canes. They'll take that momentum and win in six.
    Rob (Warwick)

    Edmonton's been getting rusty for a few days, and while the 'Canes are beaten up right now they have at least been staying sharp. Carolina in seven thanks to home ice.
    Ryan (Michigan)

    Well, maybe if a bunch of defensemen go down for the Oilers then the 'Canes will have a better shot. I think the Oilers are rolling right now. And they are physical and have timely scoring. I say Oilers in six. NO CUP IN THE SOUTH.
    Jonathan (Buffalo)

    Any chance the Canes wear Hartford Whalers throwbacks in the finals? Let's be honest, that would be awesome.
    Jason (Chicago)

    Thursday's Big Questions

    1. Will you watch the Spelling Bee in prime time?

    2. Who meets Edmonton in the Stanley Cup finals?

    3. Can the Heat close out the Pistons?

    The National Spelling Bee moves into prime time.
    The Scripps National Spelling Bee moves into the big time Thursday night when ABC broadcasts the final round. Putting the Spelling Bee on TV started in 1994 when ESPN started airing the Bee finals. It's now progressed into competing against other networks' prime time shows, as well as three other sporting events: Game 7 of the NHL Eastern Conference finals between Edmonton and Buffalo, Game 5 of the NBA Western Conference finals between Dallas and Phoenix and the women's college softball World Series.

    Most of SportsNation plans on watching the Mavs-Suns game, followed by the Sabres-Hurricanes, the Spelling Bee and the softball World Series. However, the 'Nation might benefit from watching some of the Spelling Bee, as SN got only nine of 20 words correct on the 4th Annual SportsNation Spelling Bee.

  • What will you be watching tonight?
    59.5% Suns-Mavericks Game 5
    25.5% Sabres-Hurricanes Game 7
    11.3% Scripps National Spelling Bee
    3.7% Women's College World Series

  • Center court at the French Open...
    34.2% Court Philippe Chartrier
    31.8% Court Phillippe Chartrier
    17.2% Court Phillippe Chatrier
    16.8% Correct Answer: Court Philippe Chatrier

  • Calgary Flames goaltender...
    32.7% Mikka Kiprusoff
    24.7% Mikka Kipprusoff
    24.7% Correct Answer: Miikka Kiprusoff
    17.8% Miikka Kiprussoff

    I got 12 out of 20 right on the ESPN Spelling Quiz. On the one hand, I'm ecstatic I did that well, on the other, I'm a little concerned that it may be my highlight of 2006.
    Christian (High Point, NC)

    Let's see ... There isn't enough pressure on the kids in the spelling bee. How can we make it worse? Let's see ... How about we put it on major network television. Maybe this year there will be more than one kid pass out in his chair. It's ridiculous that it is on ABC.
    DC (Altoona, Pa.)

    I fear the contestants will go all "T.O." on us with this increased exsposure. You know, posturing for the camera, mirrored sunglasses, refusing to spell certain words, situps while waiting for their turn to spell. It could get ugly.
    Mark (Detroit)

    Absolutely!! It is good to show these kids that being smart is cool!
    Tim (Atl.)

    In a society that idolizes sports, it is nice to see a network put a spotlight on an educational sport. Hopefully this leads to a growing push in education in this country.
    Darin (Orlando)

    The Sabres and Oilers face elimination.
    The depleted Buffalo Sabres limp into Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Edmonton Oilers. With three defensemen already out with injuries, the Sabres announced Thursday that Jay McKee, a fourth defensemen, will also not be available for Game 7. Yet, the Sabres have persevered through the playoffs so far, and anything is possible in a Game 7.

    Despite all the injuries, SportsNation still believes that Buffalo will win the Eastern Conference.

  • Who will win Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals?
    53% Buffalo Sabres
    47% Carolina Hurricanes

    Everybody root for Buffalo tonight. This squad is destined to bring the Cup home. Let's go Sabres.
    Dougie Fresh (DC)

    I love Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff, calling the Hurricanes arrogant. Get these guys off their game.
    Jonathan (Buffalo)

    Does Carolina know there is a game 7 tonight or are they busy watching cars go around a track?
    Steve(Garden City Park)

    GO CANES! They are going to beat the Sabres tonight in Game 7 in Raleigh. Rutherford is finally getting some well deserved recognition with his snatching of Recchi, Cullen, Weight, and Cory Stillman. These players, as well as Eric Staal, and the captain Rod Brind'Amour have put together a magical season that no one in the Raleigh area could have expected or even dreamed of for that matter.
    Ben (Winston-Salem, N.C)

    Can the Heat finish off the Pistons?
    The Miami Heat took a big lead on the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference finals when they went up 3-1. However, the Pistons fought back in Game 5 to stay alive. Now the Heat go home for Game 6. SportsNation gives the Heat a big edge to win the series. However, if the Heat can't close the series in six games, SN thinks the Pistons have a good shot to win it in seven.

  • How do you think the NBA's Eastern Conference finals will finish?
    63% Miami Heat in 6
    30% Detroit Pistons in 7
    7% Miami Heat in 7

    If the Heat dont get it right tommorrow night it's OVER. No way anyone is beating Detroit in a game 7 at the Palace, no matter what the circumstances.
    David (Ind.)

    Increased pressure on Heat role players + Pistons still playing w/their backs against the wall + no great game yet from Sheed, Billups, Hamilton = game 7 in the D on Sunday
    Mark (Detroit)

    Last night's game was simply Detroit getting theirs at home. The game was tight until the last half of the fourth quarter AND Miami did miss their free throws. When this game returns to Miami it will be a Heat win. Game. Set. Match.
    Darin (Orlando)

    The Heat needed to do it in 5. Detroit is gaining momentum, and if they win game 6, they will win game 7 at home. All the pressure is back on Miami.
    Brian (Newburyport, MA)

    Wednesday's Big Questions

    1. What impact will Roger Clemens have on the Astros' season?

    2. Will the Detroit Pistons stay a title contender in the future?

    Houston cheered Roger's comeback. Does SN?
    In the old Western movies, the hero cowboy rides off into the sunset, having finished what he needs to do in town, never to be heard from again. In the case of Texas gunslinger Roger Clemens that ending is incomplete. With the talent to still compete, Clemens, the modern day cowboy, rode back into town (in this case Houston) Wednesday, signing a one-year deal with the Astros. His deal is officially a one-year, $22,000,022 deal, which will be prorated from the date that he makes his major league debut. That amount is expected to be about $12.25 million if he rejoins the Astros in late June.

    Most of SportsNation is happy to see Clemens return, agreeing with his decision to resign with the Astros. The 'Nation also believes that this will be Clemens's last season, that he will be good but not great and that he's not worth the money for just four months.

    However, the 'Nation does believe that with Roger in the rotation Houston will win the wild card, but without him, the Astros would have missed the playoffs.

  • How far will the Astros go this season with Clemens?
    38.4% Win NL wild card
    37.5% Miss playoffs
    10.1% Win World Series
    7.0% Reach World Series
    7.0% Win NL pennant

  • How far would the Astros have gone without Clemens?
    76.6% Miss playoffs
    19.3% Win NL wild card
    1.8% Win NL pennant
    1.3% Win World Series
    1.0% Reach World Series

  • Are you glad to see Clemens back?
    73.7% Yes
    26.3% No

  • How do you rank the best living pitchers?

    1. Roger Clemens
    2. Nolan Ryan
    3. Sandy Koufax
    4. Greg Maddux
    5. Bob Gibson

    My thoughts? Who cares? I have lost all respect for him over the last couple of years the way he's selfishly putting himself above any team that wanted to sign him. If he's a baseball player, he should be with the team during the entire season, or he shouldn't be paid for a season.
    Lance Manion (Louisiana)

    I feel it is great for the game and I'm excited to watch Roger pitch this season. That said, as a Red Sox fan I dearly wish he would have come back to Boston for a grand finale. In his interviews today he does sound as if he really did consider the Red Sox - and that reality makes it even more disappointing.
    Matt (San Diego)

    Who cares anymore. It's just like Favre. All of it makes me sick. You play with a team from beginning to end. Very selfish by Clemens. Greed is all it is.
    Mike (North Olmsted, OH)

    It's amazing to me that people think this is all about money. This isn't about money, it's about boredom. Roger is in great physical condition and he's been rotting on a couch the last few months going stir crazy. Baseball is all this guy knows, and if he still feels he can perform, then coming back is the right decision.
    Eric (Boston)

    As a Cubs fan, I'm really unhappy that he re-upped with Houston. I think he will dominate again.
    Eddie (Chicago)

    Roger made a really tough personal decision and I think it was a great one. A pitcher as great and competitive as he is needs to keep playing as long as he can at the level Clemens is on.

    Mike (Austin)

    Ridiculous, two months of dragging this out and he is back where he was last season. Houston is going no where and he just basically took an extended vacation for himself only to come back and cash in for a few months work.
    Mo (Philadelphia, PA)

    The Pistons have not looked like the champs of old.
    During the 2006 playoffs, the Detroit Pistons have not looked like the well-oiled machine of the last few years. Going into Wednesday night's Game 5 against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Pistons have not scored more than 100 points in the last 10 games. They've topped 90 points only once in the last nine games.

    With the sudden decline in the Pistons, everyone is asking what's wrong? With the Heat holding a commanding lead in the series, the blame game has already started in Detroit. But SportsNation believes that any blame tossed the direction of coach Flip Saunders is just people using him as a scapegoat. The 'Nation also believes that while this postseason has been filled with glitches, the Pistons will remain title contenders next season.

  • Are the Pistons done for this year? For the future?
    59.9% Done this year but they will be back
    23.5% Done this year and for the foreseeable future
    16.6% Pistons will rebound and win the East this year

  • Why has it gone wrong for Flip Saunders?
    31.3% Saunders is a scapegoat
    27.7% Lousy luck in having the team fall apart right now
    14.0% Lousy development of bench
    11.6% Saunders is the wrong guy for the job
    9.9% Lousy coaching job
    5.6% Lousy timing in following Larry Brown

    The moment a team starts pointing fingers and squabling, they're done. The Pistons are doing that. They are done. They are giving up and trying to pass the blame, and especially with a team like the Pistons, where they're whole thing is the team function, when that breaks down, they're done.
    Chris (Boston via Paris)

    Heat close it out. Why, you ask? D-Wade. BEST. PLAYER. TODAY. Better than LeBron, better than Kobe, better than Steve Nash.
    Ted (Pittsburgh)

    Normally, I would say that the Pistons show up and play with hearts of champions, but they haven't really played that way all playoffs. So I'm going with the Heat to close it out tonight and shock the home crowd.
    Charles (SuperBurgh)

    I think Detroit has been exposed. The Cavs were supposed to be in a class below the Pistons and came within a rebound of eliminating them. The Heat were supposed to be on par with the Pistons, but have shown that *they* are the ones in a class above. The Pistons can't do anything but squabble and point fingers at this point.
    JT (Cleveland)

    Pistons win here and take the series. They have listenend to all the critics and now have the drive to win three straight games and take the series. They will drive up the intensity when they have to.
    Matt (Toronto)

    Tuesday's Big Questions
    1. Is Barry Bonds No. 2 in your book?
    2. Will Ricky Williams be a success in the CFL?

    Bonds celebrated No. 715. What about SN?
    The wait is over. Barry Bonds finally hit is 715th home run last Sunday to break a tie with Babe Ruth and move into second place on baseball's all-time home run list. He now stands 40 homers shy of Henry Aaron's career record but SportsNation doesn't think Barry will catch Hammerin' Hank.

    A vast majority of the 'Nation says Bonds will fall short of perhaps the most hallowed number in all of baseball, but where do voters rank Bonds among the all-time best sluggers? He's behind the big three of Ruth, Aaron and Willie Mays but ahead of other modern sluggers embroiled in the steroids controversy such as Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro.

    And now that the home run record has been tarnished for many because of steriods, SN ranks Joe Dimaggio's record hitting streak as the most sacred record in the game.

  • Will Bonds break Henry Aaron's record of 755 career home runs?
    75% No
    25% Yes

  • How do you rank the top 10 home run hitters of all time?
    1. Babe Ruth
    2. Henry Aaron
    3. Willie Mays
    4. Barry Bonds
    5. Frank Robinson
    6. Reggie Jackson
    7. Harmon Killebrew
    8. Mark McGwire
    9. Sammy Sosa
    10. Rafael Palmeiro

  • How do you rank the most sacred records in baseball?
    1. Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak
    2. Ted Williams' .406 average in 1941
    3. Cal Ripken Jr.'s 2.632 consecutive games
    4. Pete Rose's 4,256 career hits
    5. Bob Gibson's 1.12 ERA in 1968
    6. Nolan Ryan's 383 strikeouts in 1973
    7. Hack Wilson's 191 RBI in 1930
    8. Orel Hershiser's 59 consecutive scoreless innings
    9. Denny McLain's 31 wins in 1968
    10. Rickey Henderson's 130 stolen bases in 1982

    Non-event for me. How can you celebrate a guy passing the NUMBER TWO guy on the list? Ruth is not the record holder and has not been for 30 years. When Bonds passes Aaron, then I will show some interest.
    Kev Wash (Richmond, VA)

    Ruth is the face of baseball because the media says so. No thanks. I didn't care because 714 isn't the record. I'll be excited when Bonds approaches 755.
    Rafael (Blacksburg)

    Bonds should retire now that he is the left handed home run champ.
    Jim (Dallas, TX)

    The next Bonds watch will be 'When will he retire?', rather than, 'When will he reach 755?'
    Dave (Toronto)

    Congrats to Barry Bonds. Now that the Ruth chase is over, Bonds will relax and end up hitting .280, 26-30 home runs and 85 RBI. Not great, but not bad for a guy playing on one leg.
    Kito (NJ)

    I love Barry but I am praying that there is not another Bonds Watch until he is within five home runs of Aaron. It only makes people hate him more!
    Ken (Jersey)

    Because Bonds has never tested positive there will never be an asterisk and he will hold a legitimate record. This was one of baseball's most cherished records and now its a joke. Real shame.
    Kyle (NY)

    Will Ricky be back in the NFL?
    The Miami Dolphins have relented and allowed erstwhile running back Ricky Williams to play in the Canadian Football League while serving his one-year suspension for violating the NFL's drug policy. Williams has signed with the Toronto Argonauts and is already working out with the team.

    What will happen for Williams north of the border? SportsNation thinks Ricky will put up very good numbers for the Argos, with nearly three-fourths of voters looking for more than 1,00 yards from Williams. And while it has been pointed out that the CFL has no drug testing policy Williams is still subject to up to 10 random tests a month under the NFL policy since he hopes to return to the Dolphins, something SN thinks will happen.

  • How many yards will Ricky Williams rush for in the 18-game 2006 NFL season?
    39% 1,000-1,499
    35% Over 1,500
    20% 500-999
    5% 0 to 499

  • Will Ricky Williams ever play in the NFL again?
    77% Yes
    23% No

    Williams will have a great year and become a better receiver. You watch, the Dolphins will beating down his door after the CFL season.
    Bryan (Windsor, Ontario)

    Ricky will have a great year in Canada and everyone will say he's ready to come back to the NFL, but he'll stay in the CFL where the game is less physical and there's less pressure.
    James (Brighton, MI)

    Ricky will be a bust in Canada. Mark my words.
    Henry (Winnipeg)

    How about one of Ricky Williams' new Toronto Argonauts teammates saying of Ricky, in all seriousness, 'He's extremely disciplined.' Now THAT'S comedy.
    Troy (Gainesville, FL)

    CFL preseason games start this Friday!! Anyone else pumped? Niche sport? I know Ricky Williams is the new star in Toronto, but its still Eric Crouch's team. (I couldn't stop laughing while typing this!)
    Brian (Newburyport, MA)

    So, the CFL is filled with ex-NFLers and has no drug testing? I'm going to set up a pharmacy in Toronto.
    Ephraim R. (Maple Shade, NJ)

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