Talk is cheap - cheaper, apparently, than wins over bad teams like the Philadelphia 76ers, apparently. So the Toronto Raptors will understand why after yesterday's 114-101 loss to the Sixers, it's the words of Antoine Wright that resonate more than the usual "we need to do better" blather.
"I'm not talking about the west coast trip," Wright said, when asked whether the Raptors non-competitive approach to a game at the Air Canada Centre bode ill for a four-game trip that begins tomorrow night against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Milwaukee's playing great," Wright continued. "Chicago's playing great. There's really not much room for error. You can find yourself going from fifth to seventh quick. You don't want to be in a position where you have to fight your way in." After missing six games with a sprained left ankle and another one due to dehydration, Chris Bosh played 32 minutes and 52 seconds and was 6-for-14 without making a trip to the line - although that latter statistic can be chalked up to post-injury lack of rhythm and some understandable tentativeness. Andrea Bargnani had another sleepy day in another one of those insipid noon starts and with Hedo Turkoglu (sore ankle) actually absent in body and not just in mind, the 76ers' raw physical skills were too much for the Raptors.
"Long and active," as head coach Jay Triano described them, the 76ers had 30 fast-break points. As for his own team? "I can't fault their energy and effort," said Triano, "but maybe their focus." Inexcusable, that.
Broken in training
Russell Martin showed up at Los Angeles Dodgers spring training boasting about an extra 25 pounds of muscle and, predictably, the Chelsea, Que., native was diagnosed on Saturday with a groin/abdominal pull, and will miss four to six weeks. That's truly discomforting news for somebody who has averaged 150 games plated over the past three years, and who has led all Major League catchers with 414 starts and 3,693 innings caught. Martin's game fell off measurably last season and he is at a crossroads, with whispers of a team and position change. This is another manifestation of a player not comfortable in his own skin.
Ricciardi hits the airwaves
J.P. Ricciardi said yesterday that he does not see his role with ESPN as "being somebody whose job is going to be to go in there and rip people." Damn. No, seriously: the former Toronto Blue Jays general manager - who has been hired by ESPN to be part of its 'Baseball Tonight' show and who will make his debut on March 30 and 31 - sees himself as being able to "shed some light on why a decision might or might not have been made," at the general manager's level. So, he won't operate at the mouth-breathing level of the Mike Milburys of the world. "Really, it's a way to keep my hand in the game in a way that suits my lifestyle," the father of two, whose home in Worcester, Mass., is a comfortable commute to ESPN's studios in Bristol, CT, said in explaining his decision to come over to the dark side. Ricciardi also auditioned for a job on the MLB Network, and admits he's going in with eyes open. "It's going to be a totally different avenue for me," he said. Prediction: Ricciardi is not only going to grow into this job quickly and be really good at it, he's going to like life on the dark side. And if he wants to talk ESPN colleague Bobby Valentine into coming to manage the Blue Jays, that's OK, too.
Leafs v. Habs
Sophomore Steve Stamkos takes his franchise-record 16-game point-scoring streak out for a spin Tuesday in Montreal, after which the Tampa Bay Lightning play the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday. Stamkos has 15 goals and 14 assists during the streak and he's a walking advertisement for the virtues of Gary Roberts' off-season conditioning philosophy. Stamkos, no titan physically when he was drafted, worked out regularly with Roberts' guidance last summer and showed up for training camp with a hardier disposition and frame. If I'm a 6-footish, 180-poundish junior, I might be looking into this thing.
The breakfast of champions
Finally, one last pull on the Olympics bell-rope. Last time; I promise. The Canadian women's hockey team and their stogies and beers on-ice celebration is significant because it suggests a culture of entitlement, especially on a day when IOC President Jacques Rogge called out women's hockey for being a stagnant enterprise without traction outside the U.S. and Canada. If somebody's looking for an excuse to get rid of your sport, a better idea would be to take your gold medal and just slip away for a while, no?
Guay finds a way
"It's been a long time since I've been on top of the podium. I took a lot of risks and it paid off. ... I've had a lot of close calls, fourths and fifths and I am going to push hard in the last races next week and see what happens." This just in from the Better Never Than Late Dept.: Erik Guay of Mont Tremblant, Que., looks ahead to next weekend's final alpine ski races in Garmisch-Partenkirchen after winning Sunday's men's Super-G race in Kvitfjell, Normay. Canada's alpine ski team was the country's biggest flop at the Olympics.
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