Thursday, May 27, 2010

Lakers Wins The Game – Thanks To Ron Artest

Basketball fans catch up their breath when the Lakers' small but terrible forward Ron Artest made only one of his eight shots in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals, misfiring on a late three-point attempt that drew the ire of Coach Phil Jackson.

But Jackson had a funny feeling Ron Artest was capable of something special in the final minutes of a tight game against the Phoenix Suns, so he sent the struggling player back into the game midway through the fourth quarter.

Good thing for Ron Artest, and a good thing for the Lakers. Ron Artest cut across the lane to grab an errant Kobe Bryant three-point attempt and tossed it into the basket with 0.8 seconds left to give the Lakers an exhilarating 103-101 victory tonight at Staples Center.

"He has an uncanny knack of doing things," Phil Jackson said of Ron Artest, whose shot joins Derek Fisher's 0.4-second heave against San Antonio six years ago in Lakers' playoff lore.

Ron Artest finished with only four points for the Lakers, who have a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series that shifts to US Airways Center in Phoenix on Saturday for Game 6. The home team has won each of the five games in the series.

"I thought Kobe got fouled on the shot, so I figured it was going to be short," Ron Artest said. "You've just got to continue the play."

The Lakers needed those heroics after Phoenix had battled back from a 101-96 deficit with 1:38 remaining on a 20-foot jumper by Steve Nash and a banked-in three-pointer by Jason Richardson with 3.5 seconds left. Steve Nash finished with 29 points on 12-for-20 shooting and he had 11 assists.

Kobe Bryant attempted a three-pointer from the wing while falling out of bounds with two seconds left, but the shot was well short and Ron Artest grabbed the ball and quickly shot it while turning toward the backboard.

"Bottom line, we didn't box Ron out," Phoenix Coach Alvin Gentry said. "We let him walk right in and get the rebound."

Kobe Bryant finished with 30 points and Fisher had 22 for the Lakers, who have won their last nine Game 5s under Phil Jackson, including a pair of triumphs this season. The Lakers are 8-0 at home in the 2010 playoffs. Pau Gasol added 21 points and Lamar Odom led the Lakers with 13 rebounds.

Phoenix Suns won Games 3 and 4 at home by utilizing a zone defense, repeatedly getting to the free-throw line and enjoying several breakthrough performances from its bench. Only one of those factors -- free throws -- worked in the Suns' favor in Game 5.

Phoenix did attempt 29 free throws to the Lakers' 23, but the Suns' bench combined for 31 points after getting 54 in Game 4.

The Lakers also scored 38 points in the paint and 23 points off 15 Phoenix turnovers. Phoenix Suns went with its reserves to start the second and fourth quarters, and the unit failed to reproduce its Game 4 magic. Guard Goran Dragic did little besides shove the Lakers' Sasha Vujacic early in the fourth quarter, resulting in offsetting technical fouls.

The Lakers appeared to have put the game out of reach late in the third quarter when a free throw by Lamar Odom gave them an 18-point lead at 74-56. But the Suns closed the quarter on a 16-4 run that included a four-point play by Jared Dudley, who was fouled by Pau Gasol on a three-point basket and made the ensuing free throw.

"It was a crazy game," Steve Nash said. "Just when you thought everything was OK, we lose."

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Sharks Have To Decide Between Marleau And Nabokov

When the goal is hoisting the NHL Stanley Cup, anything short of that is perceived as failure, so here are the San Jose Sharks once again going thru the annual post-mortem of a season that ended too soon. Only two members of the Sharks have played in both of the team's NHL Western Conference finals appearances.

Will both be back for another run at the Cup? Patrick Marleau, the franchise's all-time leading scorer, and goaltender Evgeni Nabokov are among San Jose's five most notable unrestricted free agents, and it might be tough for the team to keep both.

Three days after being eliminated from the post season, the Sharks packed up their gear, signed some final autographs, and said goodbye. But it still stings that they're not in the Stanley Cup finals.

Each is an elite player and will be pursued by other clubs, and though there are breakdowns that show how teams can get all their current players to fit under the salary cap, several Sharks executives Wednesday emphasized that the figure that San Jose really considers is its own budget.

Maxing out the cap (which is expected to be about $58 million) isn't something the Sharks are looking to do, and forget long-term back-loaded deals that might hog-tie future payrolls. That means the team is unlikely to retain all its unrestricted free agents.

"Systemically, that's not a reality," Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said at the team's practice facility. "Every team has to go through tough decisions, that's part of the business. Right now, sitting here, it would be premature to assume anything."

"When you lose, you think the world is going to end and then you kind of have a couple of days to think about it, reflect on the year and I think we had a pretty darn good year. It was a big step we took this year, and we just have to learn from it and build on for next year," says Sharks center Joe Thornton.

The team will now begin putting together next year's roster with three key free agents: Sharks center Patrick Marleau, Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabakov, and Rob Blake.

"People should not get into the point of premature assessments or jump to any conclusions. We will make those decisions going forward. These are people who have done tremendous jobs for this organization," says Sharks general manager Doug Wilson.

Patrick Marleau and Evgeni Nabakov have the longest tenure in this locker room and both would like to come back and finish what they've started.

"Sometimes when you're part of something for so long, and you get the job done so you want to be here to get the job done," says Evgeni Nabokov.

"To help put that work in and get that feeling of winning a couple of series, it's an experience you've got to build up," says Patrick Marleau.

"This season is a success as long as we do something with the growth next year. If we take a step backwards, we can't look at this as being a successful one," says Sharks head coach Todd McLellan.

Two restricted free agents, forwards Joe Pavelski and Devin Setoguchi, are looking at hefty raises, making it even less likely that both Patrick Marleau and Evgeni Nabakov - who each made more than $6 million last season - can return.

There are good arguments for keeping each man: Patrick Marleau is coming off a 44-goal season and he was San Jose's best player in the conference finals. Evgeni Nabakov is among the game's top goaltenders, and the Sharks have few other options in net.

Should the team part ways with Nabokov, Wilson would have to look to the free-agent or trade markets; there are some notable restricted free-agents there, including Montreal's Jaroslav Halak and ... Chicago's Antti Niemi.

Patrick Marleau , Nabokov and useful one-year contract additions Scott Nichol and Manny Malhotra all expressed a desire to come back.

"We've put down roots here and love the area," said Marleau, whose wife is from the South Bay. "It's become home."

Evgeni Nabakov raved about the organization and said, "We took a huge step this year. I hope to be a part of it the next couple of years. ... Let's face it: The mission is not accomplished yet. I want to be a part of it but I don't know if it's up to me. We'll see."

Asked if that means it's up to the Sharks, Nabokov said, "I think so. That's how things are. It's not in my court, really. It's a weird situation. I don't know the right answer.

"I don't like to not finish something. I'd like to finish something and say, 'Now I can sleep well.' "

Along with some personnel changes, there will be some tweaks coming in terms of the team's play. Head coach Todd McLellan said that after reassessing the sweep by Chicago, he and his staff will look at potential issues such as the Sharks' drop-off in scoring from the blue line during the NHL season, as well as the lack of secondary scoring in the conference finals.

"Just when you think you have it solved because you're getting it, it goes away," he said.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

San Francisco Giants Win Over Washington Nationals

Baseball player Edgar Renteria's flare to left won't look like much in the box score, but the way the Giants offense had been going, it might as well have been a 550-foot blast into McCovey Cove. The fifth-inning single brought Todd Wellemeyer home, snapping a streak of 24 consecutive scoreless innings. The Giants had gone 25 at-bats with a runner in scoring position without a hit, but Renteria's knock opened the floodgates.

San Francisco Giants tacked on three more in the inning, and snapped a five-game losing streak with a 4-2 win over the Washington Nationals at AT&T Park on Tuesday night.

Todd Wellemeyer more than held up his end on the mound. The right-hander had been in danger of losing his spot in the rotation but looked sharp against Washington, allowing two earned on four hits in six innings.

Todd Wellemeyer (3-4) improved to 3-1 with a 3.03 ERA at home this season. He ran into trouble in the seventh and left with a run in and two runners on, but relievers Sergio Romo, Guillermo Mota and Brian Wilson combined for three hitless innings of relief.

When the Giants wasted a leadoff double by Andres Torres and stranded Renteria on third in the fourth inning, there appeared to be no end in sight to a scoreless streak that started in the eighth inning of Friday night's loss to the A's.

But after three games of hitting hard shots in all the wrong spots, the team caught a break in the fifth inning when Wellemeyer's soft fly ball landed just inside the line in right. Torres followed with a single up the middle, setting up Renteria, who is 4 for 10 since returning from the disabled list.

Mired in a five-game losing streak, manager Bruce Bochy has repeatedly stressed that all it would take was one or two guys to get the whole lineup going.

Renteria's single did the trick.

Freddy Sanchez followed with a two-run double to right, and Pablo Sandoval brought him home with a double to deep center.

For the second straight game, Bochy made big changes to the lineup in search of a spark. Torres was moved to the leadoff spot Sunday, and for Tuesday's series opener, three players were on the move in the field. Juan Uribe was back in the starting lineup at third base, which moved Sandoval to first and Aubrey Huff to the outfield for the first time since 2006.

"There's no getting around it, we're having a tough time putting runs on the board, so we're trying different things to see if they can get going," Bruce Bochy said before the game. "It's really the same guys, but we mixed it up to hopefully get the offense going.

"That's our biggest issue and we know it."

The Giants pulled out of their collective slump, and as an added bonus, the new-look defense didn't lead to any problems. Huff told Bochy that he felt comfortable playing left field, and he looked it.

The first ball of the game was hit right at him, and he later made a nice running catch on the warning track. Sandoval was also tested right off the bat, but he had no problems coming up the line and applying an inning-ending swipe tag when Renteria's throw sailed wide in the first.

With San Francisco Giants nursing the lead late, Huff was replaced in left and Sandoval and Uribe returned to third and short, respectively.

The Giants have just one error in their past 11 games, and their 17 errors on the season are the fewest in the National League.

Soccer News: England Wins Over Mexico

England's soccer ace players left coach Fabio Capello frustrated at their lack of aggression in an unconvincing 3-1 victory over Mexico on Monday. While defenders Ledley King and Glen Johnson scored and Peter Crouch had a contentious goal, problems on defence made it an uncomfortable night for England at Wembley Stadium.

England, which opens its World Cup campaign against the United States on June 12, relied on goalkeeper Robert Green and a tactical change at halftime to beat its fellow World Cup qualifier.

The manager wanted more aggression from the whole team,” England midfielder Steven Gerrard said. “They had too much possession in the first half, we stood off them and let them play. In the second half we got in their faces and stopped them playing. We need to be more aggressive.”

Returning after a three-year international absence, King headed in England's opener in the 17th minute after Crouch's setup across the net.

And Crouch, King's Tottenham teammate, managed to score a second — with the help of his arm — in the 34th from a rebound after goalkeeper Oscar Perez touched Wayne Rooney's header onto the crossbar.

England, though, was being outplayed, with Green twice denying Mexico's Arsenal forward Carlos Vela, while Carlos Salcido hit the goal post.

Guillermo Franco claimed a goal for the visitors seconds before halftime when left back Leighton Baines cleared Rafael Marquez's header at the far post straight to the forward, who scored from close range.

Mexico are technically very good — they are faster than us and it was not easy getting the ball back,” Fabio Capello said. “Not all the teams we play against will be like this, but it is very important to press the ball and win it back quickly.”

Fabio Capello made several changes at halftime with Green, captain Rio Ferdinand, who partnered King in central defense, and Crouch replaced by Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart, Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher and Tottenham forward Jermain Defoe.

James Milner, who had been ineffective in central midfield with Michael Carrick, was shifted out to the left, with Gerrard moving into the middle.

We need to be able to adapt to different formations during a game and also for different opposition,” Steven Gerrard said.

And two minutes into the second half, Johnson restored England's two-goal cushion with a curling shot from 20 yards and the home side looked more comfortable.

We can play better than we did tonight. There's still time to sharpen up,” Steven Gerrard said.

There was one late scare for Fabio Capello, with striker Rooney indicating he wanted to come off in the closing minutes.

He said he had a small problem in his neck, but it is not a problem,” Capello said. “Rooney is OK. At this moment he just needs to play and find his form.”

The four Chelsea players — John Terry, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole and Ashley Cole — and Portsmouth goalkeeper David James, who played in last weekend's FA Cup final, were rested. Capello will assess them in Sunday's final friendly against Japan in Austria before the 30-man squad is trimmed to 23 by the June 1 FIFA deadline.

Ledley King will be allowed to rest his knees on Sunday. The Spurs captain, never featured before in Capello's 30-month reign, looks to have ensured his place in the squad after finally making his 20th England appearance.

It wasn't one of my best games, but it was tough out there,” King said. “The knee is getting better; the more I play the better I get.”

Despite the scoreline and being frustrated at how the goals were conceded, Mexico coach Javier Aguirre saw some encouraging signs before his side faces host South Africa in the World Cup opener June 11.

We need to keep our style and we want to try the same thing again on the 11th of June,” said Aguirre, who needs to trim just one player from his squad. “We need to convert our chances more and not concede so early and that will take us to our next level.”

Mexico is in soccer action again on Wednesday against the Netherlands and takes on Gambia on Sunday.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Venus Williams Create A Straight-Set Win At French Open

Tennis superstar Venus Williams beat Patty Schnyder for the second time this month on clay, opening Sunday at the French Open with a 6- 3, 6-3 win, as holder Svetlana Kuznetsova pulled her clay game together to advance. With a lacy, black overlay giving it the illusion of being see-through, and bright red trim on the bodice, Venus Williams' corset-like get-up made her look as if she were ready to perform in a 19th century Parisian cancan chorus line. Her tennis game, a mix of power and niftier-than-usual footwork on this day, was very 21st century, and befitting a star of the show.

Venus Williams explained that her look was "about illusion," which, she noted, is "a lot of my motif this year" when it comes to clothes design. She also said she might not wear that particular dress again on court. Then again, perhaps she will. She's not sure. Either way, Venus Williams comes to a tournament with eight to 10 outfits, just in case the victories keep coming. 

Venus Williams, newly promoted back to second in the world, followed up her defeat of the veteran Swiss early this month in Rome. The American player overcame 21 unforced errors, breaking six times to make the difference. Kuznetsova steadied after losing the first three games to emerge with a face-saving first-round win, defeating Romanian Sorana Cirstea 6-3, 6-1.

The Russian sixth seed came to the court with just one clay victory this season from a sparse four matches. The seed advanced on her second match point against No. 34 Cirstea, a quarter-finalist a year ago. She will next play German Andrea Petkovic, a winner over Russian Elena Vesnina 4-6, 6-1, 6-4.

"Definitely I was a little bit nervous in the start, and it was rough start for me, but I'm very happy about it," said the relieved Russian.

"I managed to come back and fight for every single game. It didn't matter if I was down 0-40 or 15-40, whatever was it. I was just playing as many balls back as I could. The first two matches are very important, so the second match is gonna be very hard mentally."

Venus Williams' only real problems came at the very end against Patty Schnyder, who fell to 0-11 against the American but certainly is no slouch, particularly on clay. The 31-year-old lefty from Switzerland has been a Grand Slam semifinalist, has been ranked No. 7, and leads active women in career clay-court victories.

She forced Venus Williams to fend off three break points in the final game, and also made her accumulate four match points before finally ending things with a forehand winner.

"It's just too tough to really play good, and then on top of that, to beat her," Patty Schnyder said. "She has a great answer to my lefty serve, she has the backhand down the line, which hurts me a lot, and she's a great mover."

That last part hasn't always been the case on clay, but the 29-year-old Williams had neither of her sometimes-bothersome knees wrapped Sunday. She covered the court quite well, both side-to-side and moving forward, which helped her win 12 of 14 points at the net.

It's part of a resurgence on the slow surface this season for Venus Williams: She is 13-2 on clay.

"Look at her results," Patty Schnyder said. "She's coming into the tournament playing good clay-court matches, winning clay-court matches."

And she's dressed for success, you might say.

And she plans a lengthy stay in Paris this time around, perhaps capped by a title.

"I always — goes without saying — believe I can win," said Venus Williams, whose biggest hitches Sunday were eight double-faults.

Venus Williams lost in the third round at each of the past three French Opens and only once has been beyond the quarterfinals in 13 previous trips: She lost to younger sister Serena in the 2002 final. Still, Venus' hitting partner, David Witt, said after Sunday's victory: "If she goes out there and is smart and plays smart tennis, I think she can win the tournament."

There are others who will have some say in that, of course, including defending champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, who also won in straight sets Sunday, and the top-ranked Serena, whose first-round match is Monday. Venus  Williams is back at No. 2 in the rankings for the first time since May 2003, and was not shy about saying she wants to bump her sister off the top spot.

"It feels good to be moving up the ranks. Obviously, when you get to 2, of course, the next dream is 1," Venus Williams said.