June 2, 2006
Katharine Close:
Five-year Spelling Bee vet (all of 13 years old) breaks through in all-girl final duel with Canada's champ. Winning word? "URSPRACHE."
The Lead Item
Two Words For You:

Checking in again with a guess of what Mark Cuban might be thinking about blogging today, following Thursday night:

"I may be known for big talk, but trust me when I say this: Dirk's 50 was the greatest performance in Mavs team history."

"Statistically, it was a franchise playoff high, but it represented Dirk's ascension to the very top tier of NBA players, even in a way that his third-place MVP finish couldn't."

"Because it happened in our franchise's biggest game ever: The 'pivotal' Game 5 (I hate sportswriters); coming off of his season-low 11 in Game 4; playing in front of me and our home crowd (I love our fans); and delivering when we needed it the most."

"(What? Don't talk to me about the Mavs taking the Lakers to Game 7 in the Western Conference Finals in 1988! That was before me! That was before the Internet! That was before fans really cared!)" "You can keep the Roy Tarpley Era. Give me the Dirk Dynasty!"

"22 points in the 4th!"

"33 in the 2nd half!"

"And that magic number: 50!"

"It cements Dirk right up there among the NBA's super-elite, with Steve Nash (boo!), LeBron, Kobe, Shaq and Dwyane Wade, who is the only player even close to Dirk's level right now."

"(Wait: LeBron and Kobe? Hmm: Can I buy them new La-Z-Boys to watch me in the Finals?)"

"Man, I'm rooting like crazy for the Heat. Can you imagine the frenzy? Me versus Pat Riley. Me versus Shaq. Me versus the city of Miami."

"The NBA Finals. My wildest fantasies come true. And we're only one win away. I'm so excited that my fingers are cramping! I'm so excited that I want to hang the number '50' in the arena rafters! I'm so excited that I want to buy Germany and give it to Dirk as a present!"

NBA East Game 6
What are the big differences between the Pistons being down 3-2 to the Heat in the Eastern finals last year and this year?

(1) Dwyane Wade: A year ago, Wade had a DNP in Game 6 -- the Heat's worst playoff loss ever -- and continued to struggle with his injured ribs in Game 7 (7-20 FG).

This season? Despite a slow(er) Game 5, Wade is playing as sharp as anyone in the playoffs. Last year's Game 6 DNP isn't just a bad memory; it might be his greatest motivation.

(2) Track Record: A year ago, the Pistons had already won in Miami (Game 1); winning there in Game 7 wasn't an entirely new experience.

This season? The Pistons have lost both games in Miami so far, and neither was even particularly competitive. It's a tougher obstacle to win their first game there with the playoffs on the line.

(3) Sequencing: Last year, the Pistons played Game 6 in the friendly confines of the Palace to tie the series (remember: with Wade's DNP), then played Game 7 in Miami with all the momentum.

Rod Brind'Amour: Canes' cap leads Carolina to Stanley Cup
Cat Osterman: 18 Ks breaks College Softball W.S. record
Sean O'Hair: 23-y.o. in lead at PGA's Memorial after Round 1
Sabres: More sports disappointment for fans in Buffalo
Raja Bell: Game 4 heroics followed by Game 5 dud (3 pts)
Samir Patel: My Bee pick bounced before prime-time glory!
This season? The Pistons are under pressure to win in Miami first (and, this time, against a healthy Wade), and -- only then -- get the chance to pull the comeback at home in Game 7.

(4) Coaching: A year ago, it was Larry Brown (who, for all his faults, was still a championship coach) versus Stan Van Gundy (removed this year, probably because of last year's Games 6 and 7 results).

This season? The roles are reversed: Pat Riley is the experienced playoff manager; Flip Saunders is treading water in the deep end -- barely.

The last time Saunders had a conference finals Game 6 on the road? His perennially underachieving Wolves lost to Shaq's Lakers.

(5) Aura: A year ago, the Pistons were the defending champs, with an aura of inevitability to their run through the East.

This season? Despite renewing their defensive swagger in Game 5, the Pistons have been stripped of that.

As symbolically significant as Ben Wallace's block on Shaq was in Game 5, it feels more like Shaq is about to take his humiliation out on the Pistons than that the Pistons will continue to dominate the Heat.

Yankees Reeling
It was the Yankees' nightmare scenario come true. In a season filled with injuries, New York received the biggest blow yet:

Mariano Rivera suffered back spasms, reportedly while leaning over to tie his shoe. (That's usually the kind of freak injury that would draw laughs; with the "Sandman," giggles are respectfully muffled.)

Without Rivera, Yankees replacement closer Kyle Farnsworth blew a 9th-inning save and lost the game to the Tigers in a thrilling, series-salvaging ending for Detroit, which had lost 3 straight to New York.

Rivera's status is unclear. He's not lost for the season, like Gary Sheffield reportedly now is (wrist). But back problems are that nebulous kind of injury that can nag a player (and team) all season.

(Meanwhile, everyone keeps insisting Derek Jeter's hand, injured a few games ago, is fine. But he hasn't played since the injury. Still waiting for his return -- and return to productivity.)

Speaking of stupid injuries, how ludicrous is it that Tampa Bay's Carl Crawford hurt his knee after jumping up and down to argue an ump's call? Crawford has no such Rivera-rep protection; what a moron.

Bonds Watch
Hasn't it been eerily quiet on the Bonds front this week? After he hit No. 715 on Sunday, he was a nonfactor all week, taking off a couple of games and otherwise almost laying low.

That ends this weekend when the Giants visit New York City. New Yorkers are loathe to let Philly fans outdo them in anything (except having that deep-seated sense of futility), and the atmosphere at Shea should be fun.

(But now that we're in that twilight zone between 715 and, say, 750, will Bonds' appearances -- and even home runs -- impact the collective fan consciousness? If fans yawned at 715, what will they do for 716?)

Bee Wrap
While still getting over my disappointment about the early exit of Quickie fave Samir Patel...

Even as champ Katharine Close and runner-up Finola Hackett landed haymakers in the championship word round, trading obscure spellings like two great boxers trading roundhouse punches, the most thrilling moment went to the third-place finisher.

Saryn Hooks had been bounced in Round 8, with 10 other competitors still remaining. The Human Dictionary had muffed the spelling of "hechscher."

But no! After further review, the Bee judges ruled that Hook's offering of "hechsher" (no 2nd "c") was actually the right spelling after all; the Bee had it wrong!

Hooks was let back into the competition for Round 9, with the coolest effect being that the TV audience knew before she did, so we got to see her face as the judge alerted her of her "bee-demption."

Hooks took advantage, going on to finish 3rd. Not quite as dramatic as coming all the way back to win it, but still a thrilling moment. Were you watching?

DJ Mbenga:
Mavs backup center may have thought that since he was inactive and in street clothes, going into the stands to help Avery Johnson's wife was OK. Wrong: 6 game suspension. (One more than Antonio Davis?! How is THAT possible?)
Today on ESPN.com
World Cup Ads
NBA Daily Dime
Page 2 Index
Bee Final Top 5
Katharine Close
Won on "ursprache"
Finola Hackett
Lost on "weltschmerz"
Saryn Hooks
Lost on "icteritious"
Rajiv Tarigopula
Lost on "heiligenschein"
Theodore Yuan
Lost on "syringadenous"

NFL: Eagles reportedly asked about sprinter Justin Gatlin as a WR/KR. Fittingly, Gatlin's agent? Renaldo Nehemiah, who says: no thanks.

Ricky Williams Watch: He's expected to play in an exhibition game for the Argos tonight. (Who else can't believe this is on the radar?)

One of the most interesting offseason developments in the NBA is the attempted comeback by Jason "Jay" Williams. Fit in Toronto?

Dodgers closer Eric Gagne was (finally) available to pitch last night, but L.A. didn't need him. Track that story line over the weekend.

NBA Draft: Magic reportedly want to move up from No. 11 to get a top SF (Gay?), SG (Foye? Redick?) or big man (Sheldon Williams?)

The U.S. soccer team arrived in Germany. Check back all next week for my Quickie preview of the World Cup, across all five days!

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