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1. The Houston Rockets
They did it again. The improbable, feel-good story of the past few weeks continues as the Rockets beat the New Jersey Nets last night in Houston for their 19th straight victory. They are now one game back of the Lakers and Spurs (and 6 up on Denver) for first place in the Western Conference. They've got Atlanta on Wednesday and the Charlotte Bobcats on Friday. If they can safely navigate those two games, then we're all going to be treated to a major showdown on Sunday when the Los Angeles Lakers travel to Houston. To put all of this in perspective, it's important to realize that the New York Knicks have only won 18 games all season long. The Rockets have now won 19 in a row!
There was some magic at the Jenny Craig Pavilion (seriously?) in San Diego last night as the unranked Toreros upset Gonzaga to win the WCC championship and secure an auto bid to the Big Dance later this month. San Diego had lost a baker's dozen on the bounce to the Zags before pulling the stunner last night. Before even reaching the Final of the WCC tourney the Toreros had come back from 17 down in order to vanquish the much higher touted St. Mary's. It's these upsets at the mid-major conference tournaments that make things difficult for the bubble teams from the power conferences. San Diego just "stole" someone's bid. Was it Syracuse's? Or maybe it would have gone to either Florida or Ohio State?
Also securing bids last night: Davidson, George Mason and Siena.
3. Pete Sampras
Though I'm not certain that Federer wasn't carrying him through much of the match, retired champ Pete Sampras showed flashes of brilliance last night while taking on today's-best and likely the best-ever, Roger Federer, at the Garden. The three-set match was definitely entertaining even if not contested 100% by either man. Federer took the first set. Sampras took the second and then built a 5-2 lead in the third before Federer took the win. Tiger Woods was in attendance and looked like none to pleased with his pal's handling of the aged legend. You know Tiger wanted Roger to embarrass Pete in straight sets.
Tim Duncan led the way with 23 and 18 as the San Antonio Spurs beat the Denver Nuggets last night to right themselves after losing to Phoenix at the weekend. They are as steady as a team comes and still tied atop the standings.
It's not often that these two are mentioned in the same breath, but last night they both notched triple doubles. The Turk went for 23 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds while the leader of the Lebronaliers notched 24 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists. It was Hedo's second career triple dip and LBJ's 17th. But, Turkoglu's Magic have a 3.5 game lead on Cleveland in the standings and seem locked in at the 3 spot in the East. Of course, based on the amount of press the Magic get you would think that they are a dozen behind the Cavs.
Benched: The New York Yankees
Wasn't it just last week that bitter pinstripers were throwing Joe Torre under the bus for not getting the team focused during last year's Spring Training? That happened, right? And, the way to remedy that this season is by signing comedian Billy Crystal to a one-day contract and letting him participate at camp? Really? This is the way to start of the Girardi regime? By complaining about other teams playing too hard and letting aged funny men get more attention than young guys trying to make the team. I loved Throw Momma From the Train as much as the next guy but that doesn't mean I'd let this happen. Ever. If I'm Crystal, of course, I jump at the chance. But why would the Yankees ever let this happen when they need more than ever to act like they are getting ready for a crucial season? You just know that this is going to brought up down the line if, and when, they falter. Why give your detractors the ammunition?