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Sports Morning Headlines - Friday, 5/4/12

News from around the Texas Sports Scene for Friday, 5/4/12.

Nowitzki: Mavs took step back from last year - Slumped in his chair, microphone in hand, Dirk Nowitzki struggled to find the words to explain the 95-79 defeat the Dallas Mavericks had just suffered to the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 3 of their first round series.  Sitting for about seven minutes in the press conference room at American Airlines Center, Nowitzki spoke about what went wrong during the prior couple of hours. And despite everything he had to say about the game, perhaps his most interesting quote -- which was also his last -- had nothing to do with one game.  The question: What makes Oklahoma City a better team than they were last year?  The answer lasted one minute, describing how point guard Russell Westbrook has become "stellar," how center Serge Ibaka has "took a step forward" and how the role players in Oklahoma City have done their jobs.  And then Nowitzki, who finished with 17 points on 6-of-15 shooting, followed with: "I don't think we took a step forward as a team. We took a step back."   READ MORE

Thunder isn't as experienced as Mavericks, but they're younger - The experience that was such an advantage for the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 NBA playoffs has become old age.  The youth of the Oklahoma City Thunder that was such a problem in their Western Conference Finals series against the Mavericks is now a distinct advantage. This is how one year, and a few points, can dramatically change perception.  The Mavericks were the oldest collection of old guys to ever win a title last year, and in just one year they are too old?  "At this level, at this time of year, age is a plus. Experience is something that counts," Thunder guard Thabo Sefolosha said. "But at the same time we want to keep running and getting some easy baskets."  The average age of the Dallas Mavericks is 30.33, the oldest in the league.   READ MORE

Spurs can’t help but smile at play of stoic Leonard - The 66th game of his NBA career had ended. The TV lights had faded and most of the microphones that had semi-circled his locker just moments earlier had disappeared in search of someone more quotable.  It was then and there, in the aftermath of the Spurs’ resounding Game 2 victory over Utah on Wednesday, that Kawhi Leonard chose to reveal his best-kept secret.  “I do smile,” Leonard said.  And then he did. Sort of. The left corner of Leonard’s mouth inched north ever so slightly, briefly transforming the Spurs’ enigmatic rookie small forward into a Mona Lisa in braids.  Just like that, it was gone. The instant passed without anyone bothering to capture photographic evidence of the Loch Ness monster of NBA facial expressions.  For Leonard’s teammates, who have come to regard the soft-spoken 20-year-old as the type of player who could make it stone-faced through a tickle fight, the moment was one that had to be seen to be believed.  “I don’t think I’ve ever seen it before,” Manu Ginobili said of Leonard’s grin. “Not for more than a second. Or a fourth of a second.”  In the crucible of his first NBA playoff series, which the Spurs lead 2-0 heading into Game 3 on Saturday in Utah, Leonard’s seeming inability to feel neither pleasure nor pressure has been a blessing.   READ MORE

Light load continues to keep Duncan fresh - Even with his primary backup missing the last six quarters, the first two games of the Spurs-Jazz first-round playoff series have not required much of an increase in the workload for 36-year-old Spurs captain Tim Duncan.  After playing a career-low 28.3 minutes per game in 58 regular-season games, Duncan has played only 58 minutes and three seconds of two convincing wins. He produced double-doubles in both games, getting 17 points and 11 rebounds in a 106-91 Game 1 victory in which he played just over 31 minutes; 12 points and 13 rebounds in just under 27 minutes in a 116-85 blowout in Game 2.  Tiago Splitter was expected to assume a significant role behind Duncan against Utah’s big, physical front line, but a bone bruise in his left wrist limited him to seven-plus minutes in the first half of Game 1.   READ MORE

It’s time to make the NBA draft lottery a true lottery - The NBA announced today that the draft lottery May 30 will be in New York at the Disney/ABC Studios at Times Square. Assuming that the lottery teams have suffered enough, the NBA will not ask them to spend spring in Secaucus, N.J.  This minor announcement, like the lottery itself, offers something to look forward to for most of the teams and their fans excluded from the postseason, and to distract the Jazz, who would get the Warriors’ pick if it falls from the top seven, from feeling too bad about getting smacked around for two games in San Antonio.  It also offers an invitation to fix the lottery.  In reality, if you are a fan of a team such as, let’s say, the Rockets and you’re feeling left out again during the playoffs’ first week, you really don’t have much lottery hope.  In their familiar spot at No. 14, the Rockets have a .5 percent chance of winning the lottery and a 1.8 percent chance of moving up to the top three. There is little hope, few expectations. No one so far back in the pack punches a fire extinguisher over the draft lottery results.   READ MORE

Roy Hibbert, anyone? - One of the biggest issues keeping the Houston Rockets from making a joy run into the playoffs these last few years has been their lack of consistent interior defense. With Sam Dalembert and Luis Scola taking a majority of the team’s minutes at center last season (Marcus Camby only filled in for 5% of playing time at the position, according to, they allowed 44.5 points in the paint per game. Only the Kings and Bobcats were worse. There never was no reliable giant, with enveloping hands and a head the size of a small microwave, who from night to night could suit up and create a human moat around the basket for 30 or so minutes—an intimidating presence who not only would block about two shots per game, but efficiently score in the post when you chose to slow the game down.  For Houston, and almost every other team in the league, Roy Hibbert could be that player. He’s 7’2″ from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet. But when he extends his arms and leaps for a rebound, that number grows to something like 13 feet. Coming off his first All-Star appearance last year, Hibbert is a restricted free agent this offseason, which is good news for his agency, and bad for his current team. Taking into account the money that centers made on first year deals this year—DeAndre Jordan ($10 million), Marc Gasol ($12.9 million), Tyson Chandler ($13.1 million), and Nene ($13 million)—if the Rockets were to sign Hibbert, there’s a chance, depending on how they play their hand with Kevin Martin, he’d become their highest paid player. When you take into account Motiejunas and the two first round picks (as of now), Houston’s cap space dramatically shrinks.   READ MORE

Rangers' Andrus getting silent treatment - why that's a good thing - When Washington isn’t talking to shortstop, things are going good.  Breaking news from the Rangers’ clubhouse: Ron Washington is not talking to Elvis Andrus these days.  Actually, that’s a good thing.  In the past when Washington talked to Andrus, it was anything but polite conversation. It may have been a pep talk. It may have been a scolding. It may have been a flat out butt-chewing.  This season, it’s been only congratulations.  “If he doesn’t talk to me at all, it means I’m doing my job right,” Andrus said during the Rangers’ series at Toronto. “I know when he talks to me, he’s helping me. And there are times when I need it. He wants me to grow as a player and as a person. That’s important.”   READ MORE

'If Josh Hamilton goes a whole year without a contract, I think you’re going to see a great year' - On if Hamilton’s start will lead to ramp up contract negotiations during the season:  Moore: “The question has always been can the Rangers afford to sign Josh Hamilton to a long term contract right now, given his injury history. I’ve always flipped that. I’ve always said can the Rangers afford not to sign him long term given where they are competitively as a team and I think from what you’ve seen from this start, I don’t see how the Rangers can not re-sign Josh Hamilton so I believe this is going to continue, and they’ll try to get something done.”   READ MORE

Luhnow looking forward to reunion with Cards - He was one of the key people behind the success the Cardinals have enjoyed in the past nine years, a span that involved three National League pennants and two World Series championships. Jeff Luhnow poured his heart and soul -- and his brainpower -- into the St. Louis organization for nearly a decade before jumping at the chance to lead the Astros.  With that mind, the Cardinals' visit to Minute Maid Park for a three-game series beginning Friday is anything but your routine early May series. Luhnow's Astros, who are off to a respectable 11-14 start, will face his former team, the defending World Series champs, for the first time. First-place St. Louis is 16-9 and five games ahead of Houston.  "Once you're with an organization for eight or nine years, you feel like you're a part of it forever, and I take a lot of what I learned over there and apply it over here," said Luhnow, who was hired Dec. 7. "Those relationships will be there with those individuals. It was a special time in my life, going through three World Series and winning two of them with the club, and it's something I hope we can replicate over here."   READ MORE

Astros Player Performance Rankings - May 4, 2012 - I'm changing the format a bit and including every player who has been with the Major League team a majority of the year. This means guys like Brian Bixler, Jordan Lyles and Fernando Abad are not on the board because they've spent most of their times in the minors and have very little data at the Major Leagues.   READ MORE

NFL star Seau's family considers brain study - Football great Junior Seau's family is considering having his brain studied for evidence of football-related injuries after the retired linebacker killed himself at his California beach front home, the family's pastor said on Thursday.  Seau, a 12-time Pro Bowl (all-star game) selection who played for 20 years in the National Football League, was found unconscious at his home by his girlfriend on Wednesday with a gunshot wound to the chest and a revolver nearby, police said.  An autopsy conducted by the San Diego Medical Examiner's Office confirmed Seau killed himself. But the coroner's office was awaiting family permission for outside researchers to examine the brain of the longtime San Diego Chargers star for damage from repeated head injuries.  Seau's death at age 43 comes at a time of heightened scrutiny of the effects of repeated blows to the head in football, and the potential for such injuries to contribute to depression and long-term health problems in players.  The Seau family's pastor, Shawn Mitchell, a former chaplain for the Chargers, said Seau likely suffered concussions during his long football career.  "He would go in head-first," Mitchell said of Seau, who lived in Oceanside, just north of San Diego.  After meeting with Seau's family, Mitchell told Reuters in a phone interview family members were "considering" having his brain studied for evidence of injuries.   READ MORE

Checking The Pulse: Post-Draft, How Do You Feel About Wide Receiver? - While there could still be a veteran addition or two, it's fair to say that what you've got at WR for your Houston Texans right now is probably pretty close to what you'll see once the regular season opens. Now that DeVier Posey, Keshawn Martin, and Dwight Jones are in the fold, and Jacoby Jones has been advised to seek other means of employment, how are you feeling about the Texans at wide receiver?   READ MORE

Texans' GM succeeding behind the scenes - MEET THE NEW GUYS: Take a look at every player the Texans added during and after the draft.  Usually it is Bob McNair, the owner, in the locker room after the game talking to reporters. The job suits him. He's got that whole old-guy Texas way about him, with the slow, pebbled drawl.  Then it goes to Gary Kubiak, the coach, another native Houstonian. He's younger, but he's got that thing, too.  And then there is Rick Smith, the general manager. He's not from around here, and seems content to exist behind the scenes while the light bounces off the foreheads of Kubiak and McNair. The result is that you don't hear much about Smith, within Houston or without. He is not a glamour GM.  Like yeast in a ball of dough, you only know he's there because the whole thing keeps rising.   READ MORE

What Might Have Been For The 2012 Dallas Cowboys Draft - Opportunity cost. It is a term that means that whenever you make a specific decision to get a specific result, you give up all the alternative outcomes. This is a subject of much anguish among us humans, because we always think about the good things that might have happened. You know, if you buy the new family car the wife wants, you have to put off getting the pickup with the big wheels and all the fancy chromey stuff. But you don't think about the fact that the new, un-sexy sedan may have kept your family safe in that nasty rainstorm. No, you just wish you had a big toy like Bubba down the street. And the miserable home life that would have resulted.   READ MORE

Cowboys Rookie Mini Camp Preview - While most of the attention is on rookie draft picks each year, sometimes it’s the undrafted free agents that really make a rookie class.  Among the current Cowboys starters who went undrafted are quarterback Tony Romo (2003), wide receiver Miles Austin (2006), and center Phil Costa (2010).  So, who are the rookies we need to keep an eye on at this week’s Cowboys Rookie Mini-Camp?  Danny Coale, Matt Johnson, Lance Dunbar, Tim Benford, and Donavon Kemp are my picks to click this weekend:  Quarterbacks---Nathan Dick – Central Arkansas – (6-3, 215) – Allen HS product is here on a tryout basis and has very little chance of making team.   READ MORE

World Championship begins Friday - The 2012 World Championship gets underway Friday in Sweden and Finland, and seven Dallas Stars players are at the tournament.  Defenseman Alex Goligoski and goaltender Richard Bachman are playing for the United States. Forward Jamie Benn is playing for Canada. Loui Eriksson is among the several NHL players on Sweden’s roster. Kari Lehtonen is the Finland’s No.1 goaltender. And Philip Larsen is suiting up for Denmark.  Stars forward Tomas Vincour is with the Czech team, but it’s still not clear if he’ll be playing in the tournament. He apparently won’t be playing Friday since he was not among the players registered by the Czechs on Thursday. The Czechs registered only the 20 players who would dress for Friday’s game against Denmark.   READ MORE

Dallas Stars Top 20 Prospects: #17 Jyrki Jokipakka - Last summer the Dallas Stars made some noise in the NHL Entry Draft when they selected mammoth defenseman Jamie Oleksiak in the first round. In the fifth round the Stars drafted another big defenseman, Troy Vance, and it was clear the Stars were looking to retool their blueline corps with big, mobile defensemen that could offset some of the smaller guys the team had been targeting for the few years prior. This was after taking Patrik Nemeth in the 2010 draft as well.  As the Stars approached the seventh round in 2011, they decided to use their final pick on a European player that had gotten some pre-draft consideration from scouts yet had fallen all the way to the seventh round. Jyrki Jokipakka, a skilled defenseman out of Finland, represented a player with the potential to become a decent all-around blueliner with good upside - especially for a seventh round pick.   READ MORE

---Staff and Wire Reports contributed to this story



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