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OT closes its doors

Posted by David Lefort, Boston.com Staff March 9, 2009 08:27 AM

OT, The Boston Globe’s sports weekly that launched last fall, has folded.

The oversize tabloid -- called OT, which stood for ‘‘Our Town/Our Teams’’ -- printed its last issue Thursday.

Although the paper was favorably received among readers, a weakening economy and lack of advertising forced Globe executives to pull the plug.

‘‘It never attracted enough advertising support, and in this economy, it didn’t look like it would, at least in the near future,’’ said Robert Powers, spokesman for the Globe. ‘‘We all are proud of the product that was produced, and we learned a lot from it. We’ll use that knowledge for future products that we develop.’’

The weekly, which had a print run of 13,500 copies, launched Sept. 25 and provided coverage of Boston’s professional sports teams that went beyond the daily news. Stories included previews of upcoming games involving the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics, and Bruins. The tab, which cost 50 cents a copy, had been sold at more than 400 locations across the region.

‘‘Anyone who read OT either in print or online would say that it was an excellent product,’’ said Joseph Sullivan, the Globe’s assistant managing editor for sports.

The weekly was produced by four part-time editors and designers, who were let go today. Sports columnists Chad Finn and Tony Massarotti will continue their coverage for Boston.com and the Globe. (By Johnny Diaz, Globe Staff)

Free rein in Foxborough

Posted by Charles P. Pierce March 5, 2009 06:59 AM

All right, as nearly as I can determine, it's going to take Julius Peppers or someone to make Bill Belichick a genius again. Otherwise, he's traded (at worst) a perfectly suitable intact NFL quarterback -- and a perfectly suitable and relatively intact NFL linebacker -- to the Kansas City Chiefs in return for a bag of magic beans. The only way the complicated transaction that sent Matt Cassel and Mike Vrabel to the land of milk and barbecue sauce makes any kind of sense is if its ultimate purpose was to clear enough space under the salary cap to bring in a free agent like Peppers, thereby shoring up an aging defense that was the prime non-Brady’s-knee reason the Patriots weren’t good enough for the playoffs last season.

Re-establishing Belichick’s reputation as the World’s Smartest Human is a formidable job for Peppers, heretofore a terrific defensive lineman, or for whoever else the Patriots might hire with the money that otherwise would have gone to Cassel and Vrabel. They’re going to have enough trouble learning the complicated New England defensive schemes without having the burden of playing so well that Bill Belichick will be smart again. (I’ve already heard one radio genius deplore a possible Peppers signing because Peppers hasn’t ever played in a 3-4 defense, thereby confusing the Patriots’ defensive huddle with a fusion lab. Trust me. He can pick it up.) However, the commentary since the two Patriots were shuffled out of town suggests that it may not be such a difficult job after all.

Anytime anyone brags again about what a tough, unsparing sports town this is, point them toward the past weekend. Every single argument for what the Patriots did boils down simply to “Bill Knows Best.” Period. This child-like faith came not only from civilians, but from a great number of the former football players who have taken jobs in the local commentariat.

“Well, Bill sees them every day in practice, so don’t you think he knows his value better than you do?”

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Mark your calendars

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff March 5, 2009 05:59 AM

Because the ol’ crystal ball happens to be as clear as the Fort Myers sky at the moment, what say we fire off nine innings’ worth of fearless predictions for your 2009 Red Sox …

1. John Smoltz wins more than twice as many games as Brad Penny. I know, not exactly going out on a limb here, given that Penny showed up at camp looking as though he’d swallowed Larry Bowa whole and has already had his first spring start pushed back because of “weakness” in his right shoulder. That’s the same shoulder that bothered him last season when he put up a 6.27 ERA in the feeble-hitting National League West. Maybe he’ll surprise us, but right now he looks like a prime candidate to be the one among the Red Sox’ low-risk, high-reward pitching acquisitions who doesn’t pan out. Smoltz, meanwhile, has wowed everyone at Sox camp with his conditioning and professionalism, and when he says his arm feels as good as it has in a long time, you can’t help but be giddy about the possibilities, considering that he has — and let’s emphasize this — never been anything less than outstanding in his career. Smoltz will be 42 in May, but he’s one of those blessed freaks of nature, and we’re going to be very glad he’s on this team long before October comes around.

2. Jason Varitek does something almost unheard of for 37-year-old catchers. He improves statistically over his age 36 season. As you might be aware, I’m not exactly a member in good standing of the Varitek Army. I’m on record (all right, repeatedly) as believing that his intangibles have become exaggerated as his tangibles — such as hitting major league pitching adequately — have eroded. But if manager Terry Francona can resist the urge to start him more than 110 or so times — and sit him out against the most overpowering right-handers, who have little trouble exposing his slow bat from the left side — there’s no reason a rested Varitek can’t hit around .235 to .240, with double-digit home runs.

3. J.D. Drew plays fewer games than he did a season ago. The club and the player are both downplaying his decision to have an injection in his problematic lower back. But it’s worth remembering that Drew missed all but two regular-season games after Aug. 17 last season with back issues, finishing with 109 games played overall, and he isn’t known as someone who is comfortable taking the field at less than 100 percent. With a lineup that isn’t as deep as it was during the Papi/Manny heyday, the Red Sox are depending on Drew to be productive and reasonably durable. Right now, the former seems much more likely than the latter. Story of his career, really.

4. The Red Sox will trade for a big bat before the July 31 deadline. David Ortiz is never going to approach 54 home runs again, but he’ll rediscover his Big Papi mojo to some degree — let’s put his over/under on home runs at 33. Mike Lowell I’m not so sure about, and although he’s an integral part of this team in many ways, if he struggles to come all the way back from his hip injury, the Sox will have no choice but to add at least one significant reinforcement. With the economy being what it is, teams that struggle in the first few months are going to be sellers come July, and some enticing hitters might be available. Wouldn’t the Sox have to at least give it some thought if, say, the Tigers shop Miguel Cabrera?

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Chemistry experiment

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff March 5, 2009 05:58 AM

A funny thing happened at the forum known as the Garden last Friday night.

There was the controversial Stephon Marbury, clad in Celtics green, coming off the bench in his debut for his latest team, the first minutes he had played in more than a year following the soap opera that surrounded him in New York. Noted “team killer” and all-around embodiment of the narcissistic professional athlete, Marbury is on board in Boston out of desperation, a move Celtics fans weighed for months with a drastic amount of trepidation thanks to his past transgressions in the NBA.

Yet despite the overwhelming fear that this one player, equivalent to poison in the locker room, might derail a team with championship aspirations, the Garden crowd greeted Marbury with a standing ovation as he strolled onto the parquet. A player many fans had said would be difficult to root for just hours earlier received a hero’s welcome before even scoring his first bucket of the season. Maybe we’re just a welcoming society, and it was a greeting to a new beginning. Or maybe it’s the increasing sycophancy in this town after a decade of professional athletic excellence.

We’ve seen this before. It has been less than two years since the Patriots stole Randy Moss from the Oakland Raiders to the knee-jerk chagrin of Pats fans, concerned that the volatile wide receiver would create a schism in a franchise built on a foundation of team-first preaching. Yet Moss has re-emerged as one of the game’s top receivers, and wouldn’t you know, ever since he donned New England’s colors, he hasn’t been such a bad guy after all.

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Talent spouts

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff March 5, 2009 05:58 AM

Fine times here in New England. When winter begins to fade, we will have a spring like no other in recent memory. Simultaneously, all four major Boston teams seem like legitimate threats for a championship.

Wait.

Anyone else feel a draft?

Professional executives say it all the time, of course. You build from within. Boston is now living proof. From the Red Sox to the Patriots to the Celtics to the Bruins, the last five to 10 years has produced an influx of talent. Boston’s draft strategy has produced everyone from Tom Brady and Jon Lester to Phil Kessel and Kevin Garnett, the last acquired with the “chips” Celtics GM Danny Ainge so dutifully collected through the draft.

Let’s start with the Red Sox. Though general manager Theo Epstein did not take over until the fall of 2002, the current Sox administration assumed control before that season. While Mike Port served as interim general manager, David Chadd was the director of scouting, and Epstein was a front-office assistant. That summer, with the very first selection of the John Henry Era, the Red Sox grabbed Lester with their first selection, albeit in the second round.

A year later, Epstein plucked a group of players in the first five rounds that included David Murphy (now with the Texas Rangers) and Jonathan Papelbon. In the first four years of Henry’s ownership, the Red Sox’ initial selections in each draft were Lester, Murphy, Dustin Pedroia, and Jacoby Ellsbury, each of whom already has made a mark in the major leagues.

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Back in focus

Posted by Gabe Kahn March 5, 2009 05:57 AM

BY LENNY MEGLIOLA

Every move you make, every step you take, I’ll be watching you. — The Police, “Every Breath You Take”

That would be you, Tom Brady. Yes, I know, you are probably thinking, “What’s new? Y’all been watching me forever. I walk Gisele’s dog, you’re there. She hand-feeds me on vacation, you’re there. I cough, and it’s a sound bite.

“You’re there, every step I take.”

That’s correct, Tom, and we do apologize. We feel your pain. A public life can be hell. Too bad you can’t give the slip to the paparazzi and burn the tabloids. You just can’t seem to step out of your long shadow. Damn shame.

And yet, I’d be hard pressed to find a guy in the Western Hemisphere who wouldn’t swap lives with you in a heartbeat. For just a day!

But, hey, let’s talk football. You’ve had a Hall of Fame career, but you had a lousy eight minutes last season, because that was your season. Somehow, the Patriots got by without you. Well, almost. They didn’t make the playoffs, and everybody knows they would have if you’d been around. Not that that Cassel guy was all that bad. No, no.

Well, Matt Cassel’s going to Kansas City, and even if that deal hadn’t been struck, Tom, the most compelling story of the 2009 season was going to be whether you could work your magic again. No use asking how you’re doing. Sure, you’ve been subjected to a couple of on-camera moments, but all you’ve said is that the knee is coming along fine, rehab’s right on schedule, blah blah blah. In Foxborough, it’s easier to get a bank loan than to pry loose info about how it’s going for you. The Belichickian silence is deafening.

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TC with Jacoby Ellsbury

Posted by Tom Caron, NESN Staff March 5, 2009 05:57 AM

In the immortal words of Kevin Garnett, "Anything's possible."

That’s how Jacoby Ellsbury assesses his potential for the upcoming season. Entering his second full season playing in the major leagues, Ellsbury is expected to be the every-day center fielder for the Red Sox now that Coco Crisp is with the Kansas City Royals.

I spoke with Ellsbury, 25, about leading the American League with 50 stolen bases last year, what he did to improve himself in the off-season, and the increased expectations that come with winning the starting job on a big-league team.

TC: You played a lot of baseball last season. How did that shape your workouts this winter?

Ellsbury: I worked real hard last season. Real hard. I was in very, very good shape, but I don’t think I was necessarily in the best baseball shape, in a sense. I had a lot more opportunity to throw and hit in the off-season, and that is helping out a lot. Just being in the warm climate in Arizona, being around big-league guys and training with them in the off-season, talking to them when we’re working out, that sort of thing helps a lot.

TC: What was different? What do you do differently as you progress off-season to off-season, learning about what you need to do to be ready for the season?

Ellsbury: A lot of it is flexibility as far as strength. The stronger you get, you still have to maintain that flexibility, whether it’s the shoulders, legs, or hips. And then I did a lot of baseball stuff in the off-season. Hitting, throwing … I think this year I’m in my best baseball condition. I’ve always been in great shape, that’s never been an issue, but I think maybe [I’m in] the best baseball-condition shape.

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The Chiefs' evil conspiracy

Posted by Mike McDonald March 5, 2009 05:56 AM

Step 1 Kansas City directs a heat-seeking safety at Tom Brady's knee, knocking him out for the 2008 season and into the arms of a Brazilian supermodel.

Step 2 Candles are lit in churches throughout New England, and Matt Cassel's miraculous ascension ensues.

Step 3 The Chiefs steal Patriots vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli, for zero compensation.

Step 4 Pioli channels the ghost of Hank Stram and hypnotizes former boss Bill Belichick into trading a franchise NFL quarterback and his pass-rushing defensive captain for a second-round draft pick and a tuna fish sandwich.

Step 5 Kansas City receives an NFL stimulus package from New England.

Mar-bur-y (v.)

Mar: To spoil or detract from something. To ruin.

Bury: To put a dead body in a grave dug in the ground.

My question about Stephon Marbury isn’t “Can he play?” It’s “What happens when you put a second-team player with a first-team ego on the bench?”

I’m hoping Danny Ainge and Rajon Rondo don’t suffer the dictionary definitions of Marbury.

The name game
In last week’s game against the Celtics, Indiana put Marquis Daniels and Jarrett Jack on the floor at the same time. So for about 10 minutes, the C’s were playing against a backcourt of Jack-Daniels.

From tee to jail
In the same week that Charles Barkley revealed he’d be serving five days in the slammer for DUI, the Golf Channel chose to launch a TV show based on fixing Barkley’s golf swing. Nice timing, Golf Channel.

I can’t be the only guy hoping that the themes of jail and golf collide on reality TV. Remember the old B movies that show guys banging their tin cups along the bars of their cells? That’s how I picture Charles in stir, TaylorMade driver flailing off the floor, toilet, walls, and ceiling.

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Turning inside out

Posted by Tom Wilcox March 5, 2009 05:56 AM

With the surprising inclusion of veteran Mike Vrabel in the Matt Cassel trade to the Kansas City Chiefs for a second-round pick on Feb. 27, it’s pretty clear the Patriots are looking to get younger at the linebacker position.

The immediate impact of rookie Jerod Mayo may have convinced Patriots coach Bill Belichick that younger players can handle the position, even though the team has often relied upon more experienced players at linebacker.

One player who will likely see his role expanded in 2009 is Gary Guyton. The rookie saw more and more playing time as last season progressed, and the 23-year-old could be one of the keys to next season’s linebacking corps.

“I thought it was definitely a pretty good year for me,” said Guyton, who is spending the off-season in his hometown of Atlanta. “I feel I have a lot to learn and can get better. But I did think that I did well as an undrafted free agent, and I was ready when called.”

Guyton, who played at Georgia Tech, signed with the Patriots last May as a free agent. He was the only undrafted rookie to make the team’s opening-day roster. With a steady stream of injuries last season, Guyton was called upon to play inside and the less familiar outside linebacker.

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Opportunity knocks

Posted by Maureen Mullen March 5, 2009 05:55 AM

The World Baseball Classic will have a definite impact on the Red Sox for the remainder of spring training — both for the players participating in the tournament and the roster hopefuls left behind.

Five players from the team’s 40-man roster — second baseman Dustin Pedroia (United States), first baseman Kevin Youkilis (U.S.), designated hitter David Ortiz (Dominican Republic), left-hander Javier Lopez (Puerto Rico), and left fielder Jason Bay (Canada) — left City of Palms Park this week to join their national teams for the second WBC. Non-roster invitees Fernando Cabrera (pitcher, Puerto Rico), Enrique Gonzalez (pitcher, Venezuela), and Angel Chavez (infielder, Panama) also departed camp to join their squads.

Pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka has yet to report to camp, opting to stay in Japan — with permission from the Sox — and work out with his national team.

“They just told us to have fun, be smart, and come back healthy,” Lopez said of the Sox’ instructions upon his departure.

Depending upon how their teams fare, players could be gone for up to three weeks. The first round of the tournament begins Thursday with pool play in Tokyo, Mexico City, Toronto, and San Juan. The championship round is scheduled for March 21 through 23 at Dodger Stadium.

Though happy his players will have a chance to participate in an elite tournament, Sox manager Terry Francona will be happier when they all return to camp healthy.

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Three's not a crowd

Posted by Scott Souza March 5, 2009 05:55 AM

Rajon Rondo and Eddie House have been through this sort of thing before.

This time last year, Sam Cassell landed in the Celtics’ locker room with a long resume and large personality. Though everyone tried to say the right things, they clearly felt uncertainty, for good reason.

Rondo joked that Cassell was there to take all his minutes. Then, for stretches of the early part of the playoffs when Rondo struggled on the road, he did just that.

House said he would stay professional no matter what happened, and to his credit, he did. He sat and watched nearly two full playoff series while the role he’d carved out over the previous six months vanished.

House wound up coming back with a huge impact in some of the C’s biggest playoff victories — most significantly, Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against Cleveland and the Game 4 NBA Finals comeback in Los Angeles — then opted to return to Boston as a free agent when he had longer, more lucrative offers to go elsewhere. Asked in August if he was worried about history repeating, he responded emphatically.

“I don’t think they would re-sign me not to play, or so they could go find somebody else,” he said. “Even though at the time I was unhappy about not playing, nobody knew it. I stayed working hard, waited for my opportunity. Then when I got it, I seized it. That should be rewarded.”

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Familiarity breeds contempt

Posted by Danny Picard March 5, 2009 05:54 AM

The games are played for a reason. Regular-season records go out the window come playoff time, but you wouldn’t know it from talking to the Capitals, who defeated the Bruins, 4-3, in overtime on Feb. 28 at the TD Banknorth Garden.

Washington entered the week tied with New Jersey for second place in the Eastern Conference at 85 points, eight behind the first-place Bruins. Unless the fourth-place Flyers (76) or fifth-place Canadiens (75) make an unlikely run in the final 1½ months of the regular season, the only way the Capitals and Bruins will meet again this season is if both advance to the conference finals.

In the 16-team NHL postseason, the highest remaining seed always plays the lowest seed in each eight-team conference pool. But the Bruins know that regardless of the seeding and regular-season splits, every team starts the playoffs 0-0.

That’s apparently news to the Capitals, who won three of their four regular-season games against the Bruins. A day before their final game of the season against Boston, several Capitals players told the Washington Post about the importance of winning the regular-season series.

“I know for myself, when you play a team in the playoffs, and you look back at [the regular season] and see you only got a point out of them and had a tough time playing against them, that gives an edge for that team,” said Washington goaltender Jose Theodore.

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Sports talk radio-active

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff February 26, 2009 05:59 AM

We don't change the station, and so the station sees no need to change. Ratings are huge, possibly even as huge as the station claims. Its primary demographic has tremendous appeal to advertisers. And New England’s fanatical dedication to the professional sports teams that the station’s hosts bloviate about in four-hour blocks is seemingly endless.

And so there you have it: WEEI. Your sports-radio leader. A perfect storm of arrogance.

What’s that adage about pompous silver-spooners? He was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple? That fits certain WEEI hosts as comfortably as a Bloomin’ Onion–stained Tommy Bahama shirt. They think the station’s success somehow reflects on them, that we tune in for their shrill banter, contrived characters, and prefabricated opinions. We don’t — never have, never will. We listen because we love sports, our beloved teams are enjoying a remarkable run of success, and WEEI happens to have both access and broadcast rights. Most of all, we listen because there is no other decent local alternative with a signal stronger than that of a ham radio.

Now, I’m not suggesting all WEEI programming beats your eardrums into submission. Dale and Holley are engaging in the midday, and Mut and Bradford make those weekend chores pass quicker. But it is telling that the two smartest sports radio shows in the city in recent years — Michael Felger’s drive-time program on ESPN 890 and the Ryen Russillo/Jon Anik/Anthony Pepe crew on WWZN 1510 — were broadcast elsewhere on the dial. If only either had owned a signal that didn’t turn into a French-language station a mile from the Zakim Bridge, they might have gained the appropriate audience.

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Salary cap talk rings hollow

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff February 26, 2009 05:59 AM

I have yet to catch Sean Penn's Best Actor Oscar performance in Milk, but it has certainly already been far better received than John Henry’s last week in what we can only catalog as “sour milk.”

The Red Sox want a salary cap? How convenient. It seems like only a half-decade ago that Henry was shoveling the same line after losing out on Alex Rodriguez, a knee-jerk call to control the liberal spending ways of Boston’s rival to the south. Five years later, the Yankees are coming off the biggest free-agent spending frenzy in baseball history — including, most notably, swiping Boston’s desired prize first baseman right from under its collective nose — and the Red Sox respond with another disingenuous call to implement some sort of salary structure.

It’s plainly obvious that if Mark Teixeira had accepted the Red Sox’ offer of $170 million over eight years in December instead of signing with the Yankees for $10 million more, the Red Sox hierarchy would have never broached the topic. But once again, the Sox lost out on what they believed was the franchise player of their future, once again to their hated rivals. And their petty response, in lieu of chalking it up to being wildly duped during the negotiations, is to call for a cap on spending. That’s rich.

It’s nice of Henry to try to play Robin Hood, but if I want a serious discourse on the benefits of a salary cap in baseball, I’m probably not going to go to the owner of the team with the game’s fourth-highest payroll as my No. 1 source. Yet there were Henry and Larry Lucchino last week in Fort Myers, Fla., trying to tell the assembled media with straight faces how a salary cap is for the good of the game.

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Lonborg looks back -- and forward

Posted by Gabe Kahn February 26, 2009 05:58 AM

BY DICK TRUST

Jim Lonborg hasn't pitched in the major leagues since June 1979, but he's still close to the game of baseball and remains a big — well, he is 6-foot-5 — Red Sox fan.

“I really enjoy having them on the radio during the summer and reading about them in the newspapers,” said Dr. Lonborg, who has been a dentist for 25 years. “I get a chance to go to Fenway Park once a month and do some meet-and-greets up in the Legends Suite.”

Lonborg, who’ll be 67 on April 16, won the American League Cy Young Award in 1967, when the Red Sox’ Impossible Dream team came within a game of winning the World Series. Forty-two years later, the Red Sox have won two World Series titles, in 2004 and 2007. Shooting for a third in this decade, Boston has made a few moves this off-season, and the right-hander gives his old team a thumbs-up.

“I’m very happy with the way they’ve positioned themselves,” he said. “I know they have some money to spend after not having to pay for Manny [Ramirez]’s contract or [Curt] Schilling’s contract. That gives them a little space.

“They’ve gotten a couple of guys who are question marks, but there’s a good chance that John Smoltz and Rocco Baldelli will have good health and be able to help them. Brad Penny certainly has been a productive pitcher when he’s healthy.

“I’m just looking forward to [David] Ortiz, [Mike] Lowell, and J.D. Drew all being healthy. With that lineup, we can compete with anybody. Unfortunately, they’re in the toughest division in all of baseball, with the Yankees and Tampa Bay. One of those three teams is not going to make it to the playoffs.

“On paper, [the Yankees] have some wonderful ballplayers, but a lot of it is going to depend on how good their pitching is,” said Lonborg, a native of Santa Maria, Calif., and a longtime resident of Scituate, where he and his wife, Rosemary, raised six children (they now have three grandchildren). “And I think that our pitching matches up with anybody’s in baseball.”

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The key to the kingdom

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff February 26, 2009 05:58 AM

Kevin Garnett felt a twinge in his knee, and it was almost as if the Celtics’ season came to a crashing halt. An entire following gasped. The C’s have come a long way since this time two years ago, since the reign of Al Jefferson, but they are going nowhere this year without the incomparable KG.

The Celtics can win in the short term, mind you. Monday’s win at Denver improved their record without Garnett to 5-0 this season and 14-2 since the start of last season. Those are numbers the Celtics should be proud of. But for all that the team has endured in the absence of its true leader, no one should be deluded into thinking it’s a championship-caliber team without the man who makes it tick.

Entering Monday’s lopsided win over the Nuggets, the Celtics had allowed 102.3 points per game without Garnett this season, a mere 91.5 with him. Opponents were shooting at nearly a 47 percent clip from the floor. Sans KG, the Celtics transformed themselves from rough-and-tumble masters of the Eastern Conference to virtual roadrunners from the West, and we all know how far that kind of play will take you come playoff time. In the interim, do not underestimate the impact of losing Garnett for any stretch of the regular season, no matter how short. The Celtics of 2007-08 posted far and away the best record in the NBA, a feat that earned them home-court advantage throughout the postseason. They exploited that advantage from the first round of the playoffs through the last, going 13-1 in 14 playoff games at the TD Banknorth Garden. Without home court, they might not have survived the Atlanta Hawks.

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Got milk?

Posted by Mike McDonald February 26, 2009 05:57 AM

Julio Lugo of the Red Sox has revealed that he is lactose intolerant. Judging from his defense at shortstop last year, somebody must have been rubbing milk on the baseballs and making sure his glove was 100 percent cowhide. Lugo is posturing that he might demand a trade if he doesn't get handed the shortstop job. Julio, please! Who's your adviser, Plaxico Burress? For $9 million, if the coach asks you to get him a moon pie and a Yoo-hoo, you say, "Yes, sir." I suggest the Sox trade Lugo to Manchester United, because he boots them like Beckham and rarely gets a "hand ball" call.

Townies
As part of a Red Sox promotion with the state of Massachusetts, Tim Wakefield should be required to live in Wakefield, Mike Lowell in Lowell, and Wes Littleton in Littleton. And on top of that, the Sox' official sports psychologist, Bob Tewksbury, ought to live in ... well, you get the gist.

Ticky-tacky
The Yankees' annual spring training drug drama began with Alex Rodriguez admitting that not only did he do performance-enhancing drugs, but also that a mystery cousin muled the drugs in from the Dominican Republic and back-alley-doctored them into his butt. Hell, I won't let my cousin stick me with a check, let alone a needle filled with some street juice called "boli." If I'm making $25 million a year, I hire a doctor to put a needle into me, not some cousin with 30 seconds of Dominican medical school training. I'm waiting for A-Rod's admission that he had to bite the head off a chicken and do some voodoo to achieve optimal 'roid results.

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TC with Julio Lugo

Posted by Tom Caron, NESN Staff February 26, 2009 05:57 AM

Julio Lugo is entering his 10th year in Major League Baseball. HeÕs in the third year of a four-year, $36 million contract with the Red Sox but has struggled since coming to Boston. After hitting .237 in 2007 with the Sox, Lugo battled through injuries that ultimately knocked him to the sidelines for good last season on July 12. His batting average for 2008 was .268 with just one home run in 261 at-bats.

Now, Lugo, 33, is healthy and determined to reclaim his position as an every-day big-league shortstop. We spoke about his condition, the competition for his job, and what it will take for him to return to the form that led him to a .308 batting average with Tampa Bay in 2006 (although he struggled after being traded to the Dodgers late that season).

TC: You look a little bigger this spring. Have you added weight in the off-season?

Lugo: I worked out a little more. I added 10 pounds. At the end of last season, I was this same size. When I went home, I was able to work out and get more rest even though I didn’t want that rest.

TC: Jed Lowrie played well in your absence last year. There’s been talk about a battle for the shortstop position this year. Are you the starting shortstop on this team?

Lugo: That’s the way I look at it. That’s the way I’m always going to see it no matter what happens. I didn’t play last year for a period of time, and he came in and played well. People are going to forget about you. That’s human nature. You know what? Now I’m here, and people are going to see me working, and people are going to remember me. That’s why I get paid a lot of money. You get paid this much money for a reason. You don’t get paid that money just to be here or to be on the bench.

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Second time around

Posted by Maureen Mullen February 26, 2009 05:56 AM

Josh Bard knows. He remembers his brief time in a Red Sox uniform three years ago as well as anyone. Allowing 10 passed balls and 12 stolen bases in seven games is hard to forget.

Although he appeared in seven games in 2006, he was behind the plate for just six — his final appearance in a Sox uniform came April 27, a one-at-bat, pinch-hit turn. During the other six, Bard caught Tim Wakefield’s knuckleball in five starts. In four of those five games, the fluttering pitch inflicted its damage on Bard.

“Yeah,” Bard replied emphatically, when asked if those games got him down. “It was really frustrating.”

At the time, he felt that his baseball future rode on every pitch.

But “other than bleeding out of my ears,” it wasn’t too bad.

Bard was ultimately sent out of town, traded to the Padres on May 1, while catcher Doug Mirabelli played the part of the returning hero, complete with a memorable cross-country flight on a private jet and a police escort from Logan Airport in time to catch Wakefield against the Yankees that night.

But Bard is back, in line for the Sox backup catcher’s job and the opportunity to catch Wakefield’s knuckleball once again.

It’s different this time.

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Time to get goal-oriented

Posted by Danny Picard February 26, 2009 05:56 AM

Don’t let them fool you. Goal scorers have nightmares, too. And for Phil Kessel, the Bruins’ leading goal scorer, his 14-game drought was anything but a dream.

Prior to the Bruins’ road trip to Carolina and Florida last week, Kessel and coach Claude Julien stood face to face along the half-wall of the Bruins’ practice ice surface in Wilmington. The morning skate was over, but as usual, some players opted to stay out and pepper goaltender Manny Fernandez with pucks without having to go through any drills. Kessel and Julien weren’t participating. By the time they were done talking, most of the team was off the ice.

Unless you could read lips or translate hand gestures, much of the dialogue was unknown. But amidst Kessel’s scoring drought, which resembles every hockey player’s worst nightmare, Julien was trying to deliver his message clearly: We need you.

“As I explained to him, don’t wait for it to happen,” said Julien. “Go out there and make it happen. You want to see your players work through it, and that’s his intention. I’m just making sure that we’re encouraging him to take that approach, and go with it.

“Some people wait for it to happen, and some people work to make it happen,” continued Julien. “That’s the message that we’re giving him. Don’t stop doing things, or don’t be afraid to do extra to get yourself going again. If you have to shoot 100 pucks before or after practice, then do it.”

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On the menu: turnover

Posted by Tom Wilcox February 26, 2009 05:55 AM

After the Patriots didn’t make the playoffs in 2008, Bill Belichick thought missing the postseason for the first time in six years would give the organization a rare chance to take some time to attend to off-season matters.

As it turns out, Belichick has needed all the extra time he can get.

“It’s been a busy off-season, but I feel like it’s been a productive one,” said Belichick at the NFL scouting combine last weekend. “We definitely have a lot of work to do like the other 31 teams in the league.”

In the seven weeks since the Patriots played their final game of the regular season, other franchises have plucked their staff at a level usually reserved for Super Bowl champions.

The Broncos hired offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels as their head coach, special teams coach Brady Seely left for Cleveland, special assistant and secondary coach Dom Capers went to Green Bay, tight ends coach Pete Mangurian departed to become the Buccaneers’ offensive line coach, and former vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli is now the general manager in Kansas City.

As has become customary under Belichick, the coach tabbed replacements from within the organization. He stayed in-house for all but one spot: New special teams coach Scott O’Brien, who had worked with Belichick in Cleveland, came from Denver.

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Shop 'til you drop

Posted by Scott Souza February 26, 2009 05:55 AM

The list of suitors is small, the list of candidates even smaller. For title contenders,
the buyout season — nestled between the NBA trading deadline in mid-February and the March 1 buyout deadline for players to be eligible for the postseason — is like a whirlwind tour through the mall on Christmas Eve.

In the past two years, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has dodged and weaved around the parking lot, then feverishly darted through the last-second sale items. Last season, he emerged with P.J. Brown and Sam Cassell, who both played significant playoff minutes in the title run. On Tuesday, he won the tug of war for 7-footer Mikki Moore. The C’s have one remaining roster spot open, which is expected to go to Stephon Marbury on Friday.

Like most of his competition, Ainge faced tough choices this week. Should he jump at the first big man he sees — in this case, Moore, whom the Kings released Feb. 18 after the trade deadline passed — or hold out for someone potentially more appealing, like, say, Thunder forward/center Joe Smith? Of course, if Smith doesn’t become available or chooses another team (his former club in Cleveland, perhaps), then Ainge risks showing up at the playoff stretch party with no gifts for his team.

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Fantasy basketball

Posted by Ed Ryan February 26, 2009 05:54 AM

I hope your fantasy hoop squad has some depth. An outbreak of injuries to some of the game's biggest stars has left owners scrambling and the waiver wire humming, and unless you drafted well and managed free-agent pickups with an expert touch, chances are you're in trouble.

Some of these injuries were recent, and some happened last month. Here’s a guide to help you remain sane while navigating between your roster and your league’s free-agent list.

Amar'e Stoudemire, F, Phoenix: A few days after rumors of a trade from Phoenix died at the deadline, Stoudemire underwent eye surgery. He was injured while scoring 42 points against the Clippers. Stoudemire, having a decent — not great — season, started to come on after the All-Star break, and his loss, possibly for the season, crushes the Suns as well as his fantasy owners. In Stoudemire’s absence, look for guards Steve Nash and Leandro Barbosa to experience the biggest uptick in production.

Tracy McGrady, G, Houston: Here’s a surprise: McGrady is out for the year with a knee injury. We’ve already examined in this space how much of an assassin McGrady (right) is to fantasy owners, but now that he’s done for the season, expect teammate Ron Artest to step in as a starter and put up big numbers. Artest is gifted in all facets of the game, is an underrated scorer, and will see more of the offense run through him now that McGrady is shelved and point guard Rafer Alston has been dealt to the Magic.

Al Jefferson, C, Minnesota: Jefferson’s season-ending knee injury derailed the surging Wolves, but his injury created a fantasy opportunity for Kevin Love, the 6-foot-10 rookie from UCLA. Love is playing out of position at center, but he’s a double-double machine. Also, Jefferson’s scoring opportunities have now landed in the hands of Minnesota’s guards, Randy Foye and Sebastian Telfair.

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THREE UP, THREE DOWN

Posted by Ed Ryan February 26, 2009 05:54 AM

UP Delonte West, G, Cleveland
West gives you a little bit of everything: points, rebounds, assists, steals, even blocks. He can shoot the three, and he's a fearless competitor. Back from his wrist injury, West is already in the Cavs' starting lineup. Look for Delonte and the LeBrons to take off down the stretch.

UP Andrea Bargnani, C, Toronto
Bargnani's value as the season winds down will skyrocket now that Jermaine O'Neal has been traded to Miami. The Raptors have a balanced, skilled front line of Bargnani, Shawn Marion, and Chris Bosh, and Bargnani showed recently how well he fits in by posting 28 points, 10 boards, and three blocks against the Knicks.

UP Leandro Barbosa, G, Phoenix
As noted above, there are many more scoring opportunities available in Phoenix because of Amar'e Stoudemire's eye injury, and Barbosa -- "The Brazilian Blur" -- should receive many of them. Barbosa has been inserted into the starting lineup, and interim coach Alvin Gentry wants to play up-tempo, a style that suits the ultra-quick Barbosa.

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Fantasy baseball

Posted by Ed Ryan February 26, 2009 05:53 AM

In 2008 the Red Sox finished third in runs scored (with 845, behind Texas and the Cubs) despite an off year from David Ortiz, the trade of Manny Ramirez, and virtually no production from the catcher position. True, the Sox had Ramirez for the first four months of the season, and his replacement in left field, Jason Bay, was solid, but Boston was able to maintain the offensive excellence it has displayed for most of this decade because of patience (the Red Sox led the majors in walks) and depth.

So at your upcoming baseball draft, it won’t be a bad idea to keep a bunch of Red Sox on your radar. Ramirez and his big numbers are long gone, but an interesting mix of position players remains. Boston’s pitching staff/bullpen is also loaded with fantasy-worthy selections, but for now, let’s consider the batters. Here’s a primer on the lineup and what each player should mean to you on draft day.

Catcher Don’t bother. Jason Varitek is the starter, and Josh Bard is the backup. Varitek was certainly fantasy material up until a few years ago, but those days are over. Don’t waste a pick on either player until the season starts and we find out who has earned the bulk of the playing time.

1B After he finished third in the MVP voting, it will be interesting to see how high Kevin Youkilis gets picked. A first-round selection is out of the question, but if you can sign up again for 29 bombs, 115 RBI, 43 doubles, and a .390 OBP, you could do a lot worse in the second round.

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OT Columnists

Charles P. Pierce writes for the Boston Globe Magazine. A long-time sportswriter and columnist, Pierce is a frequent guest on national TV and radio.
Tony Massarotti is a Boston Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. He is currently spotlighted as a featured columnist on Boston.com.
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Tom Caron serves as studio host for NESN's Boston Red Sox coverage.
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Bob Lobel was a WBZ-TV sportscaster for 29 years, anchoring more than 10,000 sports reports.
Chad Finn is a sports reporter at the Globe and founder of the Touching All The Bases blog. Before joining the Globe, he was an award winning columnist at the Concord Monitor.

OT beat writers

Maureen Mullen brings you Red Sox information and insights.

Tom Wilcox covers the Patriots.

Scott Souza is all over the Celtics.

Danny Picard is on the ice with the Bruins.

Mike McDonald takes a look at the humorous side of Boston sports

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