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Winnipeg ready for its close up, tearful Heat, Cuban for tanking and more

New York Knicks' Carmelo Anthony (L) is embraced by Miami Heat's LeBron James prior to their NBA basketball game in Miami, Florida February 27, 2011. REUTERS/Hans Deryk


Seriously, the NHL could be coming back to Winnipeg. My only advice would be to trade for a 1992-93 version of Teemu Selanne as quickly as possible.

We have that, the latest meltdown from LeBron and Miami, some good sports nerd stuff and MLSE's efforts to suck up to the next great Canadian soccer hope.

1. Winnipeg rises like a Phoenix...

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There is a sense, finally, that the Phoenix Coyotes saga is lurching to some kind of conclusion, with the news over the weekend that the City of Glendale is considering litigation against the Goldwater Institute for scuttling the proposed deal to sell the team to Matthew Hulsizer because they viewed the bond issue required to make the math work as a contravention of a state law prohibiting public funds being used to prop up private enterprise. This could be a very good week to be an NHL fan in Winnipeg, but in the meantime, Stephen Brunt speculates about how the blame for the failure of the Coyotes will get spread around: In any case, let's skip straight to the next stage, which will be the apportioning of blame.

Glendale? It'll obviously blame the evil Goldwater Institute. The Goldwater Institute? It'll blame Glendale for going against state law.

The NHL? Given all the tall tales spun by commissioner Gary Bettman over the past three years, there are plenty of options, plenty of potential scapegoats, but here's betting the league ignores the current mess and the current players and lays this whole thing at the feet of poor old Jerry Moyes, who took the Coyotes into bankruptcy, and by extension, at the feet of Jim Balsillie, going all the way back to the aborted Pittsburgh Penguins sale.

It's a good story. Easier to sell than the failure of NHL hockey in a sunbelt market. Easier to explain than how, in order to protect a territorial-rights clause in its own constitution that may or may not be legal, the NHL jumped through hoops to block a guy who would have overpaid for the Coyotes (or the Predators, or the Pens) and written Glendale a cheque for $50-million, all for the privilege of claiming a small slice of the world's best hockey market, currently the exclusive domain of the Toronto Maple Leafs, saving the league considerable expense and considerable embarrassment in the process.

No slight to Winnipeg, where many a prayer is about to be answered. But given all that's happened, all the damage done, does anyone really believe this is the better outcome?

2. Can Winnipeg take the pressure?

The city has been pining for the return of their beloved Jets for years; and now it might actually happen. Can Winnipeg deliver? Gary Lawless of the Winnipeg Free Press warns it's time : As a city, we've talked the talk. Well, it's potentially bell time around here and now we'll have to prove we can walk the walk. Can and will Winnipeg support an NHL team? It's no slam dunk and, for an NHL franchise to work in this community, there will have to be a tight management strategy and fuel to feed the engine. That fuel is cash, put forth by individual fans as well as business big and small. Strategic and effective ownership, supported by an invested fan base, will make this enterprise work. Make no mistake, an NHL team in Winnipeg playing in the league's smallest arena will not have the same resources as such monster franchises as Toronto and Chicago.

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The NHL in Winnipeg will work at one speed and one speed only -- full throttle.

3. Cry, Cry, Cry -- The Miami Heat story

The Miami Heat are the team a lot of sports fans love to hate, so the notion that some of their players were in tears following Miami's loss -- it's fourth straight -- to the Chicago Bulls hardly inspires sympathy among, well, anyone. As Charles Oakley tweeted when someone asked him if he'd ever cried after a game in the NBA: HELL NO. Why? Do better next time. But as the team that LeBron James and Dwayne Wade built -- with Chris Bosh holding the ladder -- staggers under the weight of expectation, the question is can they hold it together? Adrian Wojnarowski suggests not, with LeBron's over-reaching ego a major factor: [James]didn't go to Miami to construct a partnership, as much as he did gather superior sidekicks. He's going to keep trying because the solution will never be to bend to the I-told-you-sos that insist Wade's the closer on this Heat team. The Heat have two of the best five players in the world, and they still can't play together when it matters most. Derrick Rose(notes) never wanted to play with James, but he welcomed the idea of Wade as his shooting guard. Wade must have some regret that he hadn't gone home to Chicago in free agency and spared himself this most unhappy ever-after with the Heat.

It's March, the playoffs aren't that far away, and the Heat are still regressing. New York survives two shots out of James in the final seconds. Orlando makes a wild comeback to beat them. San Antonio blows them out. Chicago makes James miss a wild, driving shot in the final seconds. Four straight losses, and the gulf between James and Wade widens with every embarrassment.

"I'm used to coming down in the fourth, having the ball, making mistakes, getting a chance to make up for them, etc., " Wade told reporters Sunday. "You try to do your best. That's all you can do. That was one of the things we got to understand when we all decided to come together. That there were going to be sacrifices that have to be made. And you live with the consequences."

Yes, you live with the consequences. Wade has started to say publicly what he's been saying privately for a long time: Why don't I get the ball when it matters?

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4. Tracy McGrady: Not big on the 10,000 rule:

As someone who got to see Tracy McGrady play early in career, I can vouch for those who say he was a 'freak' when it came to natural talent: the package of size, quickness, grace and court awareness he had simply doesn't come along very often. No wonder, perhaps, that at this weekend's Sloan Sports Analytics Conference at MIT McGrady's name came up when author Malcom Gladwell began quizzing J eff Van Gundy and other NBA types about the value of pure talent compared with with work ethic: T he talk dealt with how the "10,000 hour rule" that Gladwell discussed in his 2008 book "Outliers" - that the key to success in any field is the purposeful practice of a specific task for 10,000 hours - relates to an athlete's development.

In considering that notion, Gladwell asked the panelists what value should be placed on pure natural talent - the innate genetic gift that we often view as the line of demarcation between the elite and the merely professional - in relationship to, say, work ethic and the capacity to accept instruction.

As often occurs when discussing abstract ideas, talk turned quickly to a physical example - in this case, McGrady, whose combination of size, speed, power and grace beguiled the NBA in the last years of the 20th century and made him one of the league's most dominant offensive forces in the early years of the 21st.

But while McGrady's abilities were awe-inspiring, his willingness to further cultivate them wasn't, according to panelist and ESPN NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy, who coached the Florida-born star with the Houston Rockets from 2004 through 2007.

Van Gundy estimated McGrady at "probably 1,000 hours of practice," just one-tenth of Gladwell's rule, a figure that elicited laughter from the crowd. Noting that McGrady was as close to he's ever seen as a basketball natural, Van Gundy went on to say that T-Mac "should be a Hall of Fame player."

"His talent was otherworldly," Van Gundy said.

5. The CSA may owe Maple Leaf Sports a thank-you note:

In England to cover the Toronto Raptors games agains the New Jersey Nets over the weekend, the first regular season NBA tilts played in the UK, Dave Feschuk also visited with Junior Hoilett of Brampton, a 20-year-old with Blackburn who has now scored two EPL goals in his brief career. Hoilett is still non-commital about whether to play internationally for Canada, but maybe he'll be a little more inclined after getting some hometown press and just a bit more: Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo also invited four last-minute guests to Saturday night's game. Hoilett and his Brampton pals - not to mention Jamie Clarke, Hoilett's old friend from Blackburn's youth academy - made their way by taxi from the soccer match to the arena. They sat a few rows behind the Toronto bench, all of them watching their first NBA game in the flesh. And soon enough, Hoilett was being glad-handed by executives from Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, the company that owns the Raptors and, among many things, Toronto FC. It never hurts to build a relationship.

6. Canucks head to California, rediscover their third line:

All it takes is two straight wins and the Charlie Sheen references start flying: You'd have to be at Charlie Sheen's house to find a threesome who had more fun in Los Angeles on the weekend than Manny Malhotra, Jannik Hansen and Raffi Torres.The Canucks' third line - invisible in January, indispensable now - produced a pair of goals by Malhotra in Sunday's 3-0 win that gave Vancouver its first sweep of Los Angeles in 2 ½ years.

Hansen scored in Saturday's 3-1 win up the interstate against the Los Angeles Kings.

It was a terrific 27 hours for the third line and their team. The Canucks were the best team in the National Hockey League before the weekend and they've got the best record now, so let's not pretend two good road wins in March translate to a defining moment.

But after nearly a month of win-one-lose-one hockey in which the Canucks' intensity lagged at times against opponents who were already in playoff mode, Vancouver looked like an elite team again in winning a pair of difficult, physical games.

"It doesn't make the season or playoffs, but people were starting to wonder where our playoff intensity was," rookie goalie Cory Schneider said after a 26-save shutout that was his first in NHL. "To play gritty games like this on the road is huge."

7. On the merits of tanking:

The Dallas Mavericks are one of the most successful franchises in sports, at least according to regular season measures: They are well on their way to their 11th straight 50-win season. But don't expect Mark Cuban to be trying to prop his team up to scrape into the playoffs with the 8th seed when the good times come to an end; this also from the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference: Cuban confessed that once Dirk Nowitzki retires he expects the Mavericks to lose, and, if he gets his way, they'll lose badly ...There is no championship future for a middling team that is stuck in the embattled space between those who struggle to make the playoffs and those that struggle and miss. Cuban has no desire for the Mavericks to be such a team.

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