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Sports Morning Headlines - Thursday, 2/23/12

News from around the Texas Sports Scene for Thursday, 02/23/12.

The Difference: Los Angeles Lakers 96, Dallas Mavericks 91 - You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.  The Mavs are undoubtedly disappointed in their collective inability to capitalize on the opportunities presented them, but ultimately, this was a pretty commendable effort. Lamar Odom, Delonte West, and Rodrigue Beaubois were out of the lineup, leaving Brian Cardinal (three points, 1-4 FG) and Yi Jianlian (four points, 2-3 FG) to play significant minutes. Pau Gasol played solid defense on Dirk Nowitzki (25 points, 9-22 FG, 12 rebounds), and prevented him from dominating offensively. Dallas shot .250 from beyond the arc, and .400 from the field overall. Yet both teams were deadlocked virtually every step of the way in the second half, a literalization of the seeding battle between Western Conference teams. The Mavs and Lakers are both talented teams capable of making the Western Conference Finals, and the same could be said of about half a dozen other clubs. It’s all going to come down to minor differences in record and the random resulting matchups, much like this particular game was ultimately determined by a thin margin and specific matchup advantages.   READ MORE

Defensive task taking toll on Shawn Marion - If anyone needs the All-Star break, it's Shawn Marion. Badly. The dude is exhausted.  After successfully chasing around Kobe Bryant for 37 minutes Wednesday night, the latest in a mammoth, eight-game defensive grinder, Marion, the lone Dallas Maverick to play in all 34 games prior to the All-Star break, is indisputably the team's first-half MVP and deserving of and desperately in need of a recharge.  "Honestly, It’s been really, really, really bad for me," Marion said after the Lakers' 96-91 win in which Marion held Bryant to 15 points with seven turnovers -- two potentially fatal ones in the fourth quarter. "It hit me in Philly; I was tired, I was beat up. It’s not easy trying to fight off and contain these little fast guys and guys who get all these shots up, and I ain’t 27 no more, 25 years old no more. I’m going to do what I can to sustain it and make sure I put ourselves in a position to guard them better."   READ MORE

Rockets win physical matchup against 76ers - Rockets coach Kevin McHale sat at the dais and shared details on how much last Friday's loss to the Timberwolves gnawed at him, how it burrowed under his skin like a parasite and festered there all through the night and into the early stages of the following morning.  He recounted this experience with a broad, almost boastful smile on his face late Wednesday night. His Rockets had just survived a wrestling match with a team – the 76ers - seemingly better equipped for such a physical affair, and for a fleeting moment McHale was proud and elated.  The Rockets showed no fear of getting down and dirty, and when the moment came for them to respond to what the 76ers presented, the Rockets responded and closed out a 93-87 victory at Toyota Center.   READ MORE

As Rockets send McHale from tortured to triumphant, he shares why and how he suffers through the madness - The day after Kevin McHale was tormented by a loss he could not let go, the Rockets and their season might have changed in the ways he could not dare hope.  He was in agony the night before that practice, but knew when the Rockets reconvened the next day that his team would know exactly how he felt. The video session lasted two hours, going so long the Rockets had a brief break to stretch in the middle. The practice that followed filled an intense hour.  The Rockets vowed to have learned from that loss to the Timberwolves and the way they had been pushed around, but they still had much to prove.  They have not lost since, taking wins against the Jazz, Grizzlies and 76ers. They reach the break six games over .500 for the first time since 2009-10. They are 3-2 against the first-place teams they have played and are 15-10 against teams with .500 or better records even with their stumbling 3-7 start.  Most of all, they are a better team than they were a month, even a week ago.   READ MORE

Spurs’ blowout loss blemish in big picture - The first half of the don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it Spurs season ended with a calculated thud in Portland on Tuesday night.  The outcome of the 33rd game of the 66-game post-lockout season was a 40-point loss that will skew some of Gregg Popovich’s favorite statistical benchmarks: opponent points allowed and opponent field-goal percentage.  The Trail Blazers’ 137 points and 59.3 percent shooting were season highs for a Spurs opponent.  Count on the Spurs’ coach to use those defensive efficiency measures as a prod when he needs a motivational tool.  Loss aside, it was rest for his top two scorers one night after claiming the team’s seventh victory of the nine-game rodeo road trip that mattered to Popovich — not extending an NBA season-best 11-game win streak heading into tonight’s game in Denver.   READ MORE

Project Spurs:  About that James Anderson problem... - Yesterday, San Antonio Express News columnist Buck Harvey reported that James Anderson's agent is encouraging the Spurs to trade the second year shooting guard who has been buried on the bench since he had a poor start to in the first half of his first start of the season against Golden State.  James AndersonHe's shown flashes of why the Spurs drafted him (his play during the near come back against the Mavs comes to mind) but he's also looked really bad in other games (last night's Portland game was awful).  In a way I feel bad for Anderson. First he got benched and despite two of their top three guards being injured for most of the season, he still couldn't get some time on the court. Then his contract option didn't get picked up, so he has to worry about being a free agent this summer and isn't getting any playing time to show other team what he's got.   READ MORE

Cardinals' Lance Berkman takes dig at Rangers: 'You all don't want Dallas to win anything' - St Louis Cardinals right fielder Lance Berkman played a huge role in denying the Rangers their first World Series title. Berkman's big hit in Game 6 helped the Cardinals stage a dramatic comeback victory and win the World Series the next night.  While he's currently playing for a team in the Midwest, the former Houston Astro said he felt it was his duty to deny the Rangers as a Houstonian. As CultureMap Houston reported, Berkman took a nice dig at the Rangers while speaking at the Western Galleria on Wednesday.   READ MORE

After fun-filled off-season, Rangers' Derek Holland gets serious - Over the winter, Derek Holland played whiffle ball with Dirk Nowitzki and wore a green-screen T-shirt to fade into a weather map on WFAA-TV (Ch. 8).  What will the wacky Holland do next?  Well, nothing wacky.  The wildest thing about Holland at the start of Rangers training camp may be hair so unkempt it looks like you would have to work to mess it up that badly. That aside, Holland said Wednesday that the time for goofiness ends when he gets to the field.   READ MORE

Competition abounds for final rotation spot - With first four slots set, Astros to make tough decision for No. 5.  The candidates come in all shapes, sizes and ages. From the robust 15-year veteran Livan Hernandez, to the tall, slender 21-year-old Jordan Lyles, the Astros have made sure to create a wealth of competition for their starting pitching rotation.  The top four spots in the rotation appear to be set with Wandy Rodriguez, Brett Myers, Bud Norris and J.A. Happ, and general manager Jeff Luhnow created an all-out frenzy for the final spot by signing Hernandez and Zach Duke to Minor League deals and trading for Kyle Weiland.  For the next month-plus, Luhnow, manager Brad Mills and pitching coach Doug Brocail will watch countless bullpens and pore over hours of video in an effort to try to identify the right guy for what at this point appears to be one rotation spot.   READ MORE

Weiland looks to become latest to capitalize on trade to rebuilding Astros - Kyle Weiland is looking for the Astros bump, that little increase in individual stature that can result when one goes from being just another guy on a contender to a prominent piece of the Houston rebuilding project.  It won’t be handed to him, though, like the playing time that has been bestowed upon some who have been traded for the Astros’ big pieces in the recent demolition of the roster.  Weiland has to earn it as he competes for a spot in the Astros’ rotation of, if not the present, the near future.  It won’t be the same presumed starting role that was handed to the more experienced Jed Lowrie, with whom Weiland was traded for Mark Melancon —himself once a beneficiary of the bump. Melancon became the Astros’ closer after struggling to stay with the Yankees.   READ MORE

Texans don’t need starters, but they’ll look for some finishers - For the first time since he became the Texans’ coach in 2006, Gary Kubiak did not come to the scouting combine looking for a starter in the NFL draft.  The Texans are coming off their best season — a 10-6 record, an AFC South title and a first-round playoff victory — and for the first time, they’re not desperate for a starter in the first round of the draft.  Aside from defensive tackle Amobi Okoye (2007), every first-round pick since Kubiak became coach started last season. The Texans have the 26th pick — tied for the lowest they’ve ever selected. General manager Rick Smith traded down two times in 2008 before he selected offensive tackle Duane Brown.  Even if the Texans lose outside linebacker Mario Williams in free agency, they won’t have to draft a starter to replace him because they have Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed.   READ MORE

2012 NFL Mock Draft 2.0 - The build-up to the draft seems to start in about late November these days, but the week of the league's annual Scouting Combine in Indianapolis is when it begins to really engulf us and dominate the discussion in the NFL. As I head back to Indiana once again -- I'll be able to vote there any day now -- for the opening of the league's week-long extravaganza of workouts and Wonderlics, here's our latest attempt at mocking out the draft's first round:  The Texans were exposed as painfully thin at receiver once Andre Johnson suffered his hamstring injuries last season, and the bottom of the first round is a good slot to get an underrated prospect in this year's receiving class.   READ MORE

Cowboys need déjà vu on draft day - As the NFL Scouting Combine begins, it's obvious the Cowboys desperately need help on the defensive side in the upcoming draft.  The Cowboys should ignore the obvious. They should do exactly what they did last year: draft another big ol' boring offensive lineman.  Sure, the secondary is so full of holes it looks like someone took a shotgun to it. The defensive line, other than DeMarcus Ware, doesn't generate enough pressure to blow up a party balloon.   READ MORE

2012 NFL Mock Draft 2.0 - The build-up to the draft seems to start in about late November these days, but the week of the league's annual Scouting Combine in Indianapolis is when it begins to really engulf us and dominate the discussion in the NFL. As I head back to Indiana once again -- I'll be able to vote there any day now -- for the opening of the league's week-long extravaganza of workouts and Wonderlics, here's our latest attempt at mocking out the draft's first round:  This may look a bit high for Gilmore at the moment, but he's a slightly off-the-radar junior who some believe is going to fly up teams' draft boards once they see him work out at the Combine. He's got good size, plenty of speed, tackles well and plays strong press coverage.   READ MORE

Stars at Blackhawks, 7:30 p.m.: Can Stars exploit Blackhawks' penalty killing woes? - Thursday's preview: Dallas Stars at Chicago Blackhawks.  7:30 p.m. today. TV: FSSW. Radio: KTCK-AM (1310).  Key matchup: Mike Ribeiro vs. Patrick Kane.  With Jamie Benn (leg) and Jonathan Toews (upper body) not expected to play, the battle between Kane and Ribeiro should be front and center. Kane has 22 points (11G, 11A) in 17 games against Dallas. Ribeiro has eight points (2G, 6A) in his last eight games.   READ MORE

Terrell Owens Drops Ceremonial Puck At Allen Americans Game - Only in Texas would football and hockey meet in such a unique way. Following what can only be described as a roller coaster career, Terrell Owens signed this offseason with the Allen Wranglers. The Wranglers, who share the Allen Event Center with the Allen Americans, is an indoor football league. Announcing his signing via a video posted on Twitter, Owens has been introduced to the community at a welcoming party for #81 already. He continued getting out into the Allen community by dropping the ceremonial puck at the Allen Americans game on Tuesday night. He was received fairly well by the crowd, although not by everyone - the occasional "boo bird" was heard as well.   READ MORE

---Staff and Wire Reports contributed to this story



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