If this space were a late night talk show, this week's column would be the animal act wedged between Hugh Grant and Nickelback. To be honest, I simply wasn't sure where to go with football now in the books.
There is basketball of course. But after sweating out the fantasy football final, does anyone really care that Jeff McInnis is averaging 17.5 points and 7.5 assists in his past four games? Hmmm, maybe you should. Then there's hockey. Are you folks taking note of Joe Nieuwendyk's recent resurgence? Didn't think so.
I don't mean to overstate my value in this fantasy universe, but I simply can't commit to either sport right now. After Week 16 of fantasy football, penning a hockey column would be like Simon Cowell following up "American Idol" by judging a junior high science fair. The drop in stakes is just too great.
Baseball looms as a hot topic, but there are still free agents to be signed. Plus, the offseason depresses me. My team, the A's, recently acquired Michael Barrett from Montreal for a player to be named and then shipped him to Chicago for a player to be named. Unless I'm mistaken, the net result was Oakland traded a player to be named later for a player to be named later. Can we get a hint and go after the big names? Vlad? Sosa? I'm holding my breath.
Remember George Miller, the comedian who regularly appeared on David Letterman and pitched himself as the comic without a gimmick? As a tribute to the performer who passed away earlier this year, I'm offering my column without a topic.
Allow me to start by answering the question posed by Mike Harmon in his latest column. I'm not sure I get a vote, but Jamal Lewis is my 2003 fantasy football MVP. Sure, Priest Holmes was better, but he came with a first-round price tag. Lewis played every game. He was consistent. He single-handedly won matchups for you in Weeks 2, 14 and 16. Not bad for a third-round pick.
Now, let's talk about my vacation. Like any good junkie looking for a fantasy fix, I spent my first post-football week overdosing on live sporting events.
Tuesday it was off to the Arena in Oakland for my first Warriors game of the season. Like most Golden State fans, I shell out for tickets only when the team is on a roll, or a marquee opponent is in town. Since the Webber/Nelson breakup, I can count on one hand (OK, maybe two) the number of times I've made the trek.
Conditions were perfect for a visit on Tuesday. Despite limping home after back-to-back losses that included an inexplicable 26-point meltdown at Orlando, the Warriors are exceeding all expectations. To sweeten the pot, the Lakers and their Hall of Fame farewell tour were in town. Threat level orange or not – this one I had to check out.
It was good to see Troy Murphy back in uniform. After missing the team's first 23 games with a foot injury, this was Murphy's first game seeing more than 20 minutes of action. Few players in the league work harder to find perfect rebounding position. On this night he pulled down 13 boards in 25 minutes.
Murphy has yet to find his shooting touch, but it's time for fantasy owners to work him back into their lineups. Just two days after Golden State upset the Lakers, it broke a 15-game losing streak to Sacramento. Murphy's 15-point, 14-rebound contribution was a key element. He'll average a double-double the rest of the way.
Sadly, Murphy's return spells the end of Brian Cardinal's fantasy value. He looks like a first-episode castoff from Average Joe, but he was just productive enough to peak interest in those leagues deep in starting frontcourt positions. He's still a fan favorite, but against the Lakers he saw only 10 minutes and scored only four points.
Kareem Rush is a guy fantasy owners should keep an eye on. If you blink, you'll likely miss his first shot. Tuesday he checked into the game and nailed a fadeaway jumper before the ball boy had time to fold his sweatpants. On the season, he's averaging a shot every 2.75 minutes (Shaq shoots once every 2.64 minutes).
Rush is not going to fill up the stat sheet. By contrast, he logs roughly 34 minutes per assist and 17 minutes per rebound. The key here is Kobe Bryant's situation. If legal proceedings force Bryant to miss significant action at any time, Rush and his quick trigger become a good short-term addition.
Speaking of Bryant, he absolutely took over the Warriors game in the fourth quarter after it looked like it was out of reach. In a six-minute span, he nailed three contested shots from beyond the arc and scored 13 points. Watching Bryant turn it on at will drives fantasy owners crazy. A guy capable of averaging 30 points a game should rarely fail to reach 20, which Kobe has done 12 times this year.
On this particular Tuesday, Shaq was Shaq. On his way to scoring 21 points, he knocked over more defenders than Jerome Bettis in the red zone. Justice was served though as he missed seven of 10 free throws. Five NHL teams on Tuesday had better success converting power plays.
The Beat L.A. theme continued on Friday as the NHL Kings paid a visit to San Jose. I watched the Sharks play for the division lead while the Raiders and Niners were preparing to play out their seasons with little more than pride (if there's any left) on the line. If we've learned one thing in California this year, it's that anything can happen.
Two of the hottest players in fantasy hockey combined to shutout the Kings. Patrick Marleau scored two goals in a 30-second span to reach the 15-goal plateau earlier than he ever has. Since he's generally a slow starter, Marleau owners have to be salivating over the possibilities this year.
I missed out on Marleau, who was briefly a free agent in my league, but I did recently sign Kyle McLaren to fill what I like to call my "rotating under-producing fantasy defenseman" position. He responded Tuesday with two assists, a plus-four rating and a hit along the boards that nearly knocked Martin Straka back to Pittsburgh.
With a lead established, it was up to Evgeni Nabokov to continue his remarkable resurgence. After a winless October sent many fantasy owners scrambling to the waiver wire for Vesa Toskala, Nabby is once again the man in San Jose. His shutout Friday combined with Saturday's tie brought his December record to 4-1-2 with a 1.52 goals-against average and a save percentage hovering near .950.
Things got a little chippy late, and as we departed my brother commented that Saturday's game could get ugly. Sure enough, it took less than 10 minutes for Mark Smith and Sean Avery to stage a rematch of their Friday brawl. With fighting on the decline, fantasy owners can do worse than sign enforcers for the second game of back-to-backs.
Saturday it was off to 3Com Park at Candlestick Point, where if you aren't stuck in the parking lot two hours after the game you didn't see the second half kickoff. Honestly, do all fans in the league have it this bad?
All week I was looking forward to a day free from fantasy anxiety and endless searches for game updates and stats. Football appreciated for what it is – the best sport in the world. Then the public address announcer began to taunt me. Intended for Koren Robinson Completed to Robinson Intended for Robinson.
I had completely forgotten about the bitter fantasy owner effect, and it was in my face all day on this chilly afternoon. I had drafted Robinson in three leagues. As those of you who owned him know, it was a season of frustration after he showed promise with touchdowns in two of the first three weeks. By season's end, he was regularly a healthy scratch in my lineup.
Saturday, however, Seattle decided to call his number 14 times. Fourteen times they threw to him. Six catches, 85 yards and a spectacular touchdown later, my blood pressure was right back at Week 16 levels. Oh well, at least Seattle won to keep me alive in my Yahoo! Sports Pick'em pool.
I hope you all enjoyed a relaxing holiday with family and friends. Have a safe and enjoyable New Year and we'll see you back here in 2004.