April 19, 2006
Albert Pujols:
Hits 10th HR in 14 games. This cannot be made more clear: Why are teams still pitching to him? It's never too early in the season to avoid being shelled.
The Lead Item
Two Words For You:

Tanks but no tanks: Let's get some closure on Tuesday's argument over the NBA's small problem with teams tanking for playoff position.

In the West, no one wanted to be the 5-seed that will face the 4-seed Mavs (the 2nd-best team in the West); the 6-seed not only plays the 3-seed Nuggets but also gets home-court advantage by virtue of a better record than Denver.

Kudos to the Clippers for managing to sidestep victory last night in a head-to-head game with the Grizzlies and to force Memphis into clinching the 5th seed, while "earning" the 6th seed for themselves.

Despite their win, I give the Grizzlies a lot of credit for their tank effort; they sat star forward Pau Gasol for no apparent reason. Pick your euphemism:

"He was avoiding injury!"
"Resting for the playoffs!"
"Giving bench valuable PT!"

It's a testament to the Clippers' desire to maintain the 6th seed that, even though Gasol didn't play, they managed to lose anyway.

The 18-15 first-quarter score says everything you need to know about the two teams' motivation to win. The Clippers scored 33 points at the half. They were down so far that their 62 2nd-half points were meaningless.

You know what? Good for them!

Want to catch a final example of this kind of "effort," before the playoffs come this weekend and ruin the light mood?

Tonight, the Clippers face the Mavs, the playoff opponent they so deftly avoided last night. Hilarity ensues. (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Wiz: Anti-Tankers
Last night wasn't entirely about tanking. The NBA can find some competitive redemption in the East:

With Arenas and Redd dueling (43 points apiece), the Wizards and Bucks gave a playoff-intense effort for the chance to be the conference's 5th seed.

Why the sense of urgency? The East's 5th seed draws the Cavs in the first round rather than the Nets, Heat or Pistons -- and all but assured playoff oblivion.

The Wizards got the huge win and now simply have to beat the Pistons tonight in the regular-season finale to clinch that 5-seed.

On it's face, you'd think that "simply beating" the Pistons would be tough. Detroit is the favorite to win the NBA title, right?

Actually, no: The Pistons packed it in a few days ago, preferring to get ready for the playoffs, rest starters and try to avoid injury.

With the top seed sewn up, what would their motivation be to risk a playoff-sinking problem on a meaningless regular-season finale?

Adam Morrison: Gonzaga scorer expected to go pro today
Luis Gonzalez: Becomes 21st MLBer with 500 2B and 300 HR
"Full Circle": Sat. night NBA p'off game to get treatment
Iverson and Webber: Fined for not showing up until tip-off
Jim Bowden: Nationals GM arrested for DUI in Miami
Rocha: D-Backs minor leaguer given 100-game 'roid ban
"All we need is to be healthy. I don't care what happens [against the Wizards]," MVP candidate Chauncey Billups said.

Will you hold it against the Pistons for not giving a full effort tonight? Of course not. Then why hold it against the Clippers for not giving a full effort Tuesday night?

In the same way the Wiz and Bucks battled, the effort to tank at the end of the regular season is just another interpretation -- equally legitimate -- of how to jockey for playoff position.

Whether your model is the Clippers, Pistons or Wizards, integrity is in the eye of the beholder.

MLB Wrap
Leyland defends Bonds: "Let the guy alone. I guess there weren't rules. I don't know what happened. I don't care what happened. This is a hands-down, go-after-Barry-Bonds thing."

Big Unit Blitzed: Randy Johnson allowed 7 ER (2 HR) and 9 H in barely 3 IP in a shelling from the Blue Jays. (Catch the Yanks and Jays today for a day game on ESPN at 12:30 p.m. ET)

Red Sox Edge D-Rays: No brawls in the resumption of the usually testy rivalry, but Schilling pitches today, a day after admitting the Sox threw at Rays batters last year.

(Sox rookie closer Jon Papelbon showed a vet's mettle, getting out of a bases-loaded problem in the 9th for his 7th save in 7 tries.)

King Felix Watch: Hernandez had 9K and only 1BB, but he allowed 4R and threw 100 pitches in only 5 innings. He's allowed 4 HR in his last 10 IP.

Nats ownership clarity? Longtime Braves president Stan Kasten reportedly will join Ted Lerner's ownership bid, giving Lerner's group much-needed MLB executive experience -- and relationships. (via Wash. Post)

Weird Stat of Day: 44 years later, the Astros finally return to a .500 franchise record (3,507-3,507). The last time they were .500 was 6-6 in '62.

Brown's Knicks Finale?
How ironic that Larry Brown may not even be there for the Knicks' season finale -- the finale of his first and worst (and possibly last) season as Knicks head coach.

Under Brown's "Right Way," the team has tied the franchise record for losses in a season; with a final loss tonight to the rival Nets, the Knicks will crack the 60-loss mark for the first time ever.

Don't let the Brown-nosers fool you: The awful way he ran the team this year -- freaking out the rookies, alienating the vets -- is reflected in the record. Tarnish his otherwise stellar career? You bet it does.

Quickie NBA Awards
Today: Rookie and Fans

Rookie: Chris Paul. Not just the rookie of the year, but, as Hollinger persuasively argued, the best rookie guard since Michael Jordan. He carried the Hornets into playoff contention -- and made a fool of GMs who passed up the chance to draft him.

(I have to offer a runner-up prize to Toronto's Charlie Villanueva, if only because on draft night, this guy was ripped mercilessly by basically everyone after being picked 7th. After averaging 13 and 6 and, arguably, as the 2nd-best rookie, CV deserves the props.)

Fans: Oklahoma City. From the opener, OKCers gave the displaced Hornets their strongest home support ever, resulting in a 13-game improvement in home record and inspiring the team into playoff contention.

Thursday: Coach

NFL Draft Watch
Latest from the Fan Draft:

No. 13 (CLE): DT Haloti Ngata
Will he beat rookie curse?
14 (BAL): WR Chad Jackson
Gator is best WR available.
15 (PHI): WR Santonio Holmes
It's a run on receivers!

Get a recap, and vote today for the Broncos (9 a.m. ET), Dolphins (noon ET) and Vikings (3 p.m. ET).

Quickie Draft Challenge! Be sure to sign up for the new "Daily Quickie Readers" group of ESPN.com's "Draft Forecast" game (open to everyone; no password needed). Test your draft-guru skills! Sign up now!

Stan Conte:
Giants trainer subpoenaed to testify in front of the grand jury investigating the Bonds perjury situation. Oh, the funny stories he must be able to tell.
Today on ESPN.com
Quickie: Live!
NBA Awards
Page 2 Index
NBA All-Rookie Team
Chris Paul
How did they pass on him?
C. Villanueva
Silenced the mockery
Ryan Gomes
30+ mpg after All-Star break
Andrew Bogut
9 and 7 justifies pick?
Channing Frye
Lone Knicks bright spot

Duke Lacrosse Update: Two arrested players are released on $400K bond. Meanwhile, authorities reportedly are trying to build a case against a third (via AP).

NHL Watch: Ottawa vaulted Carolina for the best record in the East, and the Devils won Atlantic Div. in the final game. Cup preview tomorrow.

Kudos to the NCAA for doing something about the "diploma mills" that riddle college hoops. And kudos to the media for shaming the NCAA into action.

See Tuesday's Quickie for my full analysis of Adam Morrison going pro. Let's review: Diabetic mustached scorer a wee bit too tightly wound.

CBB Offseason: Winning a title has its advantages. Gators assistant coach Anthony Grant was hired by VCU to replace Oklahoma-bound Jeff Capel.

I can't bring myself to write a full "Celebri-Baby" item about Tom and Katie's new baby daughter, Suri. Wish her luck (she'll need it).

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