A Dream Weekend for a Sports Fan

If ever there was a weekend to be stuck in a hospital awaiting heart bypass surgery, this was the weekend. With the Blues continuing to roll, with Mizzou and SLU picking up key wins, and with the advent of Jeremy Lin of the New York Knicks, there was plenty to watch on TV. Add to that the news of the Rams hiring Les Snead as their general manager, and it was a sports fan’s dream.

Some takes, in no particular order …

The Blues are just really, really good. The win over New Jersey on Thursday night was telling. Jaroslav Halak didn’t have a good night and was pulled in favor of Brian Elliott. David Perron continued a hot streak that started in Ottawa. And the Blues picked up a rare shootout win against a team that has Ilya Kovalchuk. Once the game went to the shootout, I just assumed that the Devils would prevail. Elliott was terrific between the pipes, as he has been all season, and the Blues did win.

There really isn’t a reason for the Blues to fail to be in the hunt for the Western Conference title at the end of the season. Sure, they’re going to have a very tough stretch drive on the road, but with their goaltending and their clutch scoring, they can play with anyone. More on the Blues below.

I was certainly skeptical of Jeremy Lin heading into Friday night’s game against the Lakers. Sure, in his first three starts, and his first four games with significant minutes, Lin turned in some big numbers. But let’s be honest; with the NFL season over, ESPN is looking for something to fill time with, and Lin is their story du jour. That being said, he sold me with his game against the Lakers, a 38-point, seven-assist, four-rebound performance. The interesting thing about Lin is that he doesn’t have a standout physical skill. He doesn’t jump well, or run well, or have great, imposing size. He has basketball skills. He can shoot, he can dish, he’s aggressive, and he’s a better defender than given credit for.

It’s no shock, after seeing Lin play, that New York is 5-0 in his starts. The Knicks can mess this up if the egos of Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony don’t accept the necessary changes in their game Lin presents. He can make them better, but they can’t be taking every shot. If Anthony thinks he needs to take 25 shots a game, the Knicks will start losing. He needs to play a role similar to Shawn Marion in Phoenix when the Suns were great. He needs to take the ball to the hole more aggressively, and utilize Lin’s Steve Nash-like ability to pass. Stoudemire needs to be what he was in Phoenix. And those two have to accept that Lin gets everybody involved. Lin has uncanny court awareness. He’s the real deal. He proved that when he led New York to a road win over the T-Wolves 24 hours after the Lakers win. He’s so good, when I get a chance I’m going to order a LINSANITY Knicks T-shirt pretty soon.

Saturday afternoon, the Mizzou Tigers beat Baylor for the second time this season. They raced from a 35-35 tie early in the second half to a 72-57 win. As Bears coach Scott Drew told Vahe Gregorian of the Post-Dispatch, “When Missouri is on, there is nobody in the country that is as good as them offensively. Nobody. Period.”

It does appear to be a nightmare for opponents. Do you pressure the shooters, and allow the nation’s field-goal percentage leader, Ricardo Ratliffe, do his damage inside? Or do you collapse on Ratliffe, leaving at least one from among Marcus Denmon, Michael Dixon, Kim English or Paul Pressey to beat you? Overall, the Tigers are third in the nation in field-goal percentage and seventh in scoring. Under Frank Haith, they take smart shots, and hit them. They certainly have some weaknesses. The Tigers are 275th in rebounding among 344 Division I teams. They don’t appear to have enough size to play with the big boys. But they’ve beaten Baylor twice and Kansas so far, so I might be over-analyzing. It looks like it could be an unexpected, magical season in Columbia. And it’s a fun team, a good group of people. They deserve credit, and I’m glad to see regular sellouts at Mizzou Arena.

SLU went a long way toward nailing down an NCAA tournament bid with two huge road wins over St. Joseph’s and LaSalle. The Billikens are alone in second place in the A-10, and beat two pretty darn good teams. SLU is the only 20-win team in their conference, and may have finally made up for the home loss to Temple in their conference opener. Remaining for the Bills are road games against the 14th- and ninth-place teams in the conference, Rhode Island and Duquesne, and home games against Richmond and Fordham, which should be wins, and Xavier, which is very winnable. If SLU takes 24 wins and a 12-4 conference record into Atlantic City, I would think they’re pretty close to being an NCAA team. It can never hurt to win the tournament, though. Kudos to Rick Majerus and his staff for getting SLU back to a level of respectability that they haven’t enjoyed in a while.

The Blues came away with wins against Colorado, in overtime, and then San Jose on Saturday and Sunday. The wins were notable in that Colorado had been a thorn in the Blues side for a couple of years. Last year, they were 1-3 against the Avalanche, and this year were 1-1-1. So beating them in overtime was a big boost for the Note. As the Blues played Colorado, a good, first-place San Jose team rested here in St. Louis with their coach, Todd McLellan, in attendance at the game. Even though the Sharks had the rest and numerous quality players, the Blues shut them out 3-0. Halak tied for the league lead in shutouts with six, and Alex Pietrangelo was terrific with two goals and an assist. The Blues tied the Rangers and Bruins for the league lead with 11 shutouts, two short of the Blues’ season record.

As an added bonus, Andy McDonald came back after missing 51 games, and played a typical Andy McDonald game with speed and tenacity. The Blues improved to 26-0 when scoring three or more goals. They are a highly entertaining, highly successful team.

One other weekend note: I think Tiger Woods has become LeBron-esque. For all the grief LeBron James takes about not showing up in the fourth quarter of big games, Tiger is the same way in the fourth round of golf tournaments. It used to be that if Tiger was in the hunt going into the final round, he was at the very least a major threat. Since he came back from his scandal and his injuries, he’s played very well in the first three rounds of most tournaments. But on Sunday, he’s been a massive disappointment. Sunday at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, Tiger was one shot out of the lead after six, but then turned in three straight bogeys. He finished with a 75, three over for the day, and wasn’t within space-shuttle distance of winner Phil Mickelson. It’s been a long time since Tiger won on the PGA tour, and one wonders whether he has that laser focus to win tournaments like he used to.

Finally, the Rams hired their general manager in Les Snead from Atlanta. The big thing the Rams need is to get better players. It’ll be interesting to watch his work as it unfolds over the next several seasons. We wish him luck.