#DigSportsDesk - The Lede

Bruins Enter Playoffs as No. 1 in NHL

BOSTON, April 14, 2014 -- The Boston Bruins rested many of their regulars and dropped their regular-season finale Sunday against the New Jersey Devils, but Boston still heads into the postseason as the top overall seed.

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  • Boston, the Atlantic Division champion, opens the playoffs against the Detroit Red Wings, who earned the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.

    The Bruins captured the Presidents' Trophy by earning the most regular-season points, and the Bruins easily posted the league's top goal differential at plus-84.

    The other Atlantic Division playoff matchup features the second-place Tampa Bay Lightning against the third-place Montreal Canadiens.

    The Metropolitan Division champion Pittsburgh Penguins square off against the top wild-card team, the Columbus Blue Jackets. The New York Rangers, who came in second place in the Metropolitan Division, face the third-place Philadelphia Flyers.

    The top seed in the Western Conference, the Pacific Division champion Anaheim Ducks, will face off against the wild-card Dallas Stars in the only first-round playoff matchup that crosses division lines. The second-place San Jose Sharks and third-place Los Angeles Kings meet in an all-Pacific series.

    The Colorado Avalanche, champs of the Central Division, will play the wild-card Minnesota Wild. The St. Louis Blues, who barely missed out on the Central title, will skate against the third-place Chicago Blackhawks, the reigning Stanley Cup champions.

    The winners within each division will meet in the second round, and then each division's playoff champion will square off for the conference championships.

    NHL FIRST-ROUND PLAYOFF MATCHUPS

    EASTERN CONFERENCE

    ATLANTIC DIVISION

    No. 1 Boston Bruins (54-19-9) vs. No. 4 Detroit Red Wings (39-28-15) -- Regular-season series, Detroit 3-1-0

    No. 2 Tampa Bay Lightning (46-7-9) vs. No. 3 Montreal Canadiens (46-28-8) -- Regular-season series, Tampa Bay 3-0-1

    METROPOLITAN DIVISION

    No. 1 Pittsburgh Penguins (51-24-7) vs. No. 4 Columbus Blue Jackets (43-32-7) -- Regular-season series, Pittsburgh 5-0-0

    No. 2 New York Rangers (45-31-6) vs. No. 3 Philadelphia Flyers (42-30-10) -- Regular-season series, tied 2-2-0

    WESTERN CONFERENCE

    PACIFIC DIVISION

    No. 1 Anaheim Ducks (54-20-8) vs. No. 4 (wild card from Central Division) Dallas Stars (40-31-11) -- Regular-season series, Dallas 2-1-0

    No. 2 San Jose Sharks (51-22-9) vs. No. 3 Los Angeles Kings (46-28-8) -- Regular-season series, Los Angeles 3-1-1

    CENTRAL DIVISION

    No. 1 Colorado Avalanche (52-22-8) vs. No. 4 Minnesota Wild (43-27-12) -- Regular-season series, Colorado 4-0-1

    No. 2 St. Louis Blues (52-23-7) vs. No. 3 Chicago Blackhawks (46-21-15) -- Regular-season series, St. Louis 3-2-0


Rapper Drake Could Cost Raptors $50 Large

(Special to the Digital Sports Desk)

DALLAS. April 6, 2014 -- The NBA's Toronto Raptors could be looking at a fine of $50,000 or more after Drake, their team's "global ambassador" took an opportunity to walk into the University of Kentucky locker room after the Wildcat's national semifinal win over Wisconsin Saturday night, April 5. The NBA recently leveled a $50G fine against the Brooklyn (then-New Jersey) Nets when team minority owner "Jay-Z" waltzed into the UK locker after an Elite 8 victory in 2011. The league can levy upwards of $250,000 in fines or dock a team of draft picks for "directly or indirectly" contacting basketball players with remaining NCAA eligibility.

On September 30, 2013, the Toronto Raptors officially named the popular rapper as the team's global brand ambassador with the goal "of making the Raptors cool again," according to Drake's self-proclaimed job description. Drake noted that he "would add everything he can" in terms of assisting the team. Recently, that job description was stretched to assist the Raptors' sister club, the MLS FC Toronto futbol team to recruit FC sriker Jermain Defoe. Raptors and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment President and CEO Tim Leiweke recently made an appearance on a Canadian talk show hosted by George Stroumboulopoulos and began his appearance discussing the fact Drake led the team's recruitment of Defoe. The blatant use of the rapper Drake to recruit players might make the NBA gauntlet come down harder on the Raptors than it did against the Nets three years ago.
 
The NBA private eye process likely will begin on Monday when the league office's legal and security squads can convene and begin the full investigation. However, the NBA gumshoes can fire-up their twitter accounts and search "Drake and Raptors" to find a slew of photo tweets of Drake shaking hands with UK freshman E.J. Floreal right in the NCAA locker room just minutes after Kentucky's 74-73 win over the Badgers. 
 
Inquiries to the NBA late Saturday night were not successful, but the league's track record of taking steps in the Nets-JayZ case clearly paint a problematic picture for the Raptors, a team destined to lose a cool 50-large (US).

March Madness: Final Four Saturday Review

Kentucky 74, Wisconsin 73: Aaron Harrison hit the game-winning 3-pointer with 5.7 seconds left as the Wildcats defeated the Badgers to reach the NCAA title game in Arlington, Texas.

James Young scored 17 points and Julius Randle added 16 as eighth-seeded Kentucky (29-10) advances to face seventh-seeded Connecticut in Monday’s championship. Harrison scored just eight points but made the decisive basket in the final seconds for the second straight game when he drained a 3-pointer from about four feet behind the arc.

Sam Dekker and Ben Brust scored 15 points apiece for Wisconsin (30-8), which took a 73-71 lead with 16.4 seconds left when Traevon Jackson hit two of three free throws. Jackson scored 12 points and had a chance to atone for the free-throw miss but was off the mark with a 15-footer as time expired.

The Badgers used a 15-4 surge to turn an eight-point deficit into a 58-55 lead on Jackson’s basket with 10:52 left but Kentucky recovered and tied it at 69 on two free throws by Randle with 3:48 remaining. Alex Poythress scored at the rim with 2:16 left to push Kentucky back ahead before Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky – who was held to eight points – tied the game at 71 on a hoop with 1:16 remaining.

An early 10-0 burst allowed Wisconsin to lead most of the first half before taking a 40-36 lead into halftime. Dekker made a 3-pointer to start the second half before Young scored six points during a 15-0 run to give Kentucky a 51-43 lead with 15:33 remaining.

GAME NOTEBOOK: Kentucky C Willie Cauley-Stein (ankle) sat out with the injury he suffered against Louisville on March 28. … Wisconsin was 19-of-20 from the free-throw line – Jackson’s crucial miss being the lone one – while the Wildcats were 14-of-21. … Kentucky held a 32-27 edge on the boards and committed just four turnovers, all in the first half.


Connecticut 63, Florida 53: DeAndre Daniels led the way with 20 points and 10 rebounds as the Huskies ended the Gators’ 30-game winning streak at the Final Four in Arlington, Texas.

Shabazz Napier collected 12 points, six assists and four steals and Ryan Boatright added 13 points and six rebounds for No. 7 seed Connecticut (31-8), which will face Kentucky in the National Championship game Monday. Niels Giffey scored 11 points for the Huskies, who shot 55.8 percent from the field en route to the school’s fourth championship game.

Patric Young scored 16 of his 19 points in the second half for top-seeded Florida (36-3), which suffered its previous loss at Connecticut on Dec. 2. Casey Prather scored 15 points but Scottie Wilbekin was held to four points on 2-of-9 shooting for the Gators.

Napier found Daniels for a layup to make it a 51-41 lead with 5:37 left, part of a stretch of nine straight converted field goals for the Huskies. Young’s dunk cut it to 53-47 with just over four minutes to play but Napier and Daniels combined on a 6-0 run and Giffey’s transition dunk off a long feed from Napier provided an exclamation point as Connecticut closed it out.

Florida jumped out to a 16-4 lead just past the halfway point of the first half before the Huskies woke up with an 11-0 burst spanning 1:41 and surged to a 25-22 lead at the break. Connecticut scored the first six points of the second half and led 39-29 after Boatright’s jumper with 12:43 to play.

GAME NOTEBOOK: Connecticut improved to 7-1 all-time in Final Four games - the best winning percentage of any school with three or more games in the Final Four. … Florida’s 22 first-half points marked a season low for the opening period, and the 53 for the game matched a season low. … Wilbekin, who dealt with knee soreness early in the second half, committed three turnovers after totaling two miscues in the first four NCAA tournament games.


Tribute to Sports TV Director, Sandy Grossman

Sandy Grossman, the great sports director who worked the glory years of the NBA on CBS passed away on April 3, 2014 after a long bout vs cancer, the dreaded disease. Here is a story written a month or so ahead of Grossman's death.  His collegues at CBS Sports and FOX Sports assured me this story made his day in mid-February. This story was a tribute to Sandy amd his cohorts at CBS SPorts, Mike Burks and Ted Shaker.


By TERRY LYONS, Editor-in-Chief of Digital Sports Desk

NEW ORLEANS, February 14, 2014 -- The last time the National Basketball Association tipped an All-Star Game without David Stern at the helm, we were "looking live" at The Fabulous Forum in Inglewood, California where Showtime was certainly underway with the LA Lakers but the NBA's scope of an all-incompassing All-Star Weekend consisted of a few media pick-up games as the prelim to the Continental Basketball Association's All-Star Game on Saturday morning. The Saturday activities were scheduled adjacent to the East and West All-Star practice sessions and the general public was admitted free of charge, if they dared to spend a day indoors on a beautiful Southern California afternoon. The NBA barely had a sponsor signed and only the likes of Red Auerbach and Tommy Heinsohn breaking through a Miller LITE advertising banner could be mistaken with anything close to sports marketing.

Little did anyone know, but the foundation for a league about to explode, "globally," as Stern often says, was being laid in quick-dry cement just a season after the NBA held its All-Star celebration at the brand, spanking new Brendan Byrne Arena in New Jersey when there were two franchise folders on former Commissioner Larry O'Brien's desk. Those franchise folders, assigned to the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz, were destined to be merged into one back in 1982, as the Jazz franchise was damn-near belly-up less than a decade after becoming the NBA's 18th franchise, established in 1974 in this very Louisiana town.

The writing was on the wall and in the San Diego edition of the Los Angeles Times. The NBA was a league where some "75% of the players were on drugs," read the scandalous article which was picked up nationally and published after the next deadline passed because there was no such communication vehicle like the Internet available to fans. No Twitter, no Facebook, no USA Today, No TNT. Just a vast landscape of six and eleven o'clock sportscasts sprinkled alongside a start-up in Bristol Connecticut, called The Entertainment and Sports Programming Network.

Julius "Dr J" Erving and Kareem Abdul Jabbar ruled the roost. It was "still" their league as Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Larry Bird were yet to renew their rivalry from that memorable 1979 NCAA championship game between Michigan State and Indiana State. Yes, the Lakers had won in 1980 and '82 and Bird celebrated his first NBA Championship Series victory cigar with Boston's legendary GM, in Auerbach, back in '81, but there was a league to be saved and no one seemed to know how to begin the resuscitation process. Clearly, CBS Sports was not a factor, as the network reduced the NBA regular season to about eight broadcasts and the playoffs, as long as they didn't interfere with a Boom Boom Mancini fight of the week, the Daytona 500 or The Memorial golf tournament.

Back in '83, before Commissioner Stern made the decisions, the NBA pretty much rolled out the ball racks, emblazoned with the Wilson (not Spalding) basketballs with O'Brien's signature etched in black ink. That Sunday game was just a regular part of the weekend programming on CBS but there was a very important aspect of the NBA's glorious history being hatched in those very CBS Sports production trucks parked deep in the ramp at The Forum. There was a groundswell of enthusiasm in those trucks, led, believe-it-or-not, by the color commentator hired by CBS, the same guy cracking open those "old school" LITE cans, alongside Red, and the Jones boys, Sam and KC. Yes, Tommy Heinsohn was teaching the nuances of the NBA game to the great CBS Sports director Sandy Grossman and his young counterpart, Mike Burks, the lead producer for the NBA on CBS.

Their boss, a guy named Ted Shaker, saw the same thing Stern saw in the discarded gem the NBA property had become. The game needed a little polish, a fresh coat of paint or luster and it needed someone to give it a chance.

Shaker, Burks and Grossman saw it and helped polish the stone. They saw it better, maybe sooner than anyone before them. Heinsohn taught them what to look for and he coached his play-by-play partner, the great Dick Stockton, to play it straight. The game plan - to let the game speak for itself and let the players - play. Burks liked to plot and plan and he placed the cameras as close as physically possible and he fought for more and better equipment to be loaded into his trucks. He "made it Kool" to work on the NBA and the many talented technicians and cameraman drank the Kool Aide.  In fact they partied with it and embraced the game, like never before. The foundation was being poured and CBS Sports was laying the cables right into the very Super Slo-Mo cameras that would now capture, "The World's Greatest Athletes."

That '83 All-Star Game came well after the memorable rookie debut of Magic Johnson, aired on late night tv. It came well after the amazing performances by Johnson and Jamaal Wilkes in the '80 championship series when magic jumped center to fill-in for the injured Jabbar. It came a couple of years after Bird and Cedric Maxwell schooled Moses Malone and the Houston Rockets. But it came right into your living room with the hip, back-beat sound of Marvin Gaye crooning a live version of the U.S. National anthem that will never, ever be equaled. It came after Grossman had his cameras zooming in to the faces that sports fans already knew on a first name basis, but had somehow forgotten when it came to viewing choices, albeit the few they had at the time. Grossman relied on his main game cameras, but he often cut to those low courtside cameras to show viewers the sweat dripping off of those ever-so-familiar aces belonging to athletes who were as physical as boxers but as versatile as acrobats or ballet dancers.

When it came time for a commercial, the advertisers started to jump on the band wagon and along came major league marketers shopping razors and blades and airline tickets. When it came time for a public service anouncement, the NBA began telling fans that "The NBA ... was Fan-tastic," and the league showed the highlights to prove it. Kids and adults, alike, stampeded back to their tvs from a halftime bathroom break just to see the 30-second spot, created by NBA Entertainment's very first employee, Paul Gilbert, who was stolen from CNN Sports, by one David Stern.

Grossman's cameras during that February, '83 All-Star game captured one of the most entertaining NBA All-Star openings ever staged. After a turnover or two to start the game, the play-by-play typist (yes, typist), could barely keep up with the action when guards like Johnson and Gus Williams pushed the ball at a pace nearly impossible to the weekend warrior. Erving and Bird countered and the likes of Maurice Cheeks, Bernard King and Sidney Moncrief displayed their athleticism and pure desire. The play cotinued until a time-out, mandated by tv, brought the opening salvo to a halt.

The memory runs so clear, because that night, late after the game, in a hotel hospitality room at Century City in LA, Grossman had a three-quarter inch tape of the All-Star game that he had recorded and he played the sequence again-and-again as a small gathering watched in awe. Grossman re-wound the tape to Gaye's national anthem and hit "play,"much to the delight of every person who walked into the room.  If you were new and missed the previous showtime but had heard the oohs and aahs from a roomful of the congregation already converted by Heinsohn's wisdom, old Sandy played it again.  And again.

While there were obvious first steps to the NBA's renaissance, including CBS' very own pounding of the drum for NCAA March Madness, the glorious Doctors of Dunk from Louisville, the drafting and subsequent success of Magic and Larry, then the whole Michael Jordan phenomenon, it was that '83 game that started the NBA's full monty of a comeback. It started in a CBS truck and carried into a hospitality suite, then a boardroom at 51 West 52nd Street - Blackrock - to those who know it. The NBA had become must-see tv.

O'Brien would pass the baton to Stern on February 1, 1984, and as we know from the recent wave of publicity brought to you on a half-a-dozen 24-hour sports channels and hundreds if not thousands of sports radio stations, brought to you online via Twitter and Facebook and 1,000 other IPO wanna-bes, brought to you from 215 countries and territories in three dozen languages spoken by people in every corner of the globe, Stern passed the baton to his protege, Adam Silver, just a few days ago. Happily, the names of Grossman, Burks and Shaker came up at Stern's small, classy, dignified retirement party in late January, and, thankfully, Shaker was there to shake the outgoing Commissioner's hand and welcome the young Commissioner Silver to an NBA world that no one could've ever imagined 30 years ago.


A YEAR AGO: Thoughts from a Terrible Afternoon of the Boston Marathon, 2013

By TERRY LYONS (Editor-in-Chief, Digital Sports Desk)

BOSTON, April 16, 2013 -- I am sick of giving my thoughts and prayers.  I am sick of standing for a moment of silence. I am sick of it all. Whether it was the catastrophic events of September 11, 2011 or the lone-wolf criminal acts of Oklahoma City in April of 1995 or bombing of Centennial Park in Atlanta at the 1996 Olympics, or so many, many others, I'm just sick and tired of it all.

When I feel like this, my writing always comes up empty, because I just can't reach for my feelings.  It hurts too much.

It hurt too much this past December 14th, as a senseless act took the lives of 20 young children and six brave adults at the Sandy Hook elementary school in nearby Newtown, Connecticut, a town I literally drove through that very morning when returning from my native New York to my new hometown of Boston. That crime hurt so much because of the little children robbed of their lives and taken from this earth in the years of their absolute innocence.

Now, here in Boston, we mourn again.  We were enjoying a wonderful holiday in the Commonwealth and we were all celebrating in a day where the Boston Marathon weaves its way from Hopkinton through Wellesley and up the hills of Newton right on through Brookline and into Boston.  The day was aptly described by weathermen everywhere as "perfect."

The elites ran off at 9am for the women, leading some 11,000 fellow females on to one of the most challenging marathon courses a runner will ever see. The elite men ran off at 10:00am and they chased the women and the physically challenged runners all the way toward Copley Square, some 26.2 miles away on a glorious spring day when the very best of Boston was on display under a clear blue sky.

Out in Lexington and Concord, tributes were paid to the men and women who fought for the American Revolution.  They are the Patriots we hold forth and celebrate each year on Patriots' Day in Massachusetts and even though I'm only a newfound Bostonian, Patriots' Day is in my blood.  I wake and I feel it every year.  It is part of the fabric of the Boston community and we feel it.

And talk about fabric, like non-other, the Boston Red Sox are this community and the Red Sox toss the ball out at 11:00am on Patriots' Day every year and it is the toughest ticket in town, especially on a glorious spring day when the temperature pushes 55-degrees fahrenheit and the Sox are off to a great start.  To be at Fenway on Patriots' Day is as good as it gets, unless you have a front row seat for the Boston Marathon.

And guess what?

We ALL have that!

Whether you make your way out to Hopkinton, as I like to do, or you take your lawn chairs up the block to Commonwealth, as I have done many a time, or you head downtown to take in the sights along Mass Ave or in Brookline, it just doesn't get any better than cheering on the runners.  Runners like 66-year old Amby Burfoot who I had the pleasure of working with all this past week as he prepped for the 45th anniversary run of his 1968 Boston Marathon victory.  Amby - nobody calls him Burfoot or Mr. Burfoot - was quite the story this year and he made the rounds on all the radio and TV circuits, he spent time with the Boston Herald and the Boston Globe and he was a gracious guest on all of the shows, inviting the average guy, the average runner to join him and his family as they ran the race with two things in mind - to have fun and to finish healthy.

Amby was stopped short of that goal on Mass Avenue in Boston because there was a terrible disturbance in the force, the force that guides all runners and marathoners.  The force of sportsmanship, competitiveness and the force of reaching deep into the human spirit was ransacked by a cowardly criminal act.  As some of the thousands of runners were crossing the finish line at Copley, two bombs detonated and the world changed again, sadly to the extreme far opposite side of righteousness and into the depths of hell where the cowards will exist in the afterworld.

The terror was extreme and the death toll rose from two to three souls overnight, and the police and authorities worked every waking hour to try their very best to restore order and to track down the criminals responsible for this act, but overnight the worst of the worst of the worst news surfaced.

The face of this act is that of an innocent eight-year old boy and his family.

Why?

At this early point in the criminal investigation, we do not know why.  We lash out against why, we try to figure out why, but we just don't know why.

Runners and fans, athletes and their families are as far away from political figures as you can get. They compete and they entertain us.  They are sportsmen and, ever increasingly, sports women. They are global citizens, especially at a world class marathon where people from all over the world come to celebrate their sport and test their endurance in a race where they must qualify to do so. Boston is history, it's the Wimbledon of running.  It is classy and it is beautiful, even on a 96-degree day like last year or a 32-degree day like so many before.

Hundreds of innocent people stood in Copley Square, many smiling and celebrating as their loved ones crossed the finish line.  Then, like New York in 1993 and 2001, like Atlanta in 1996, like countless other cities and towns - in the USA and worldwide - we experienced the cowardice of crime and terrorism inserted, once again, into our daily lives.

Why?

That is the question my little girl looked up and asked of me yesterday afternoon when she didn't know an 8-year old was murdered. Now, with the (even more) terrible news of an 8-year olds fate, that is the question every parent is being asked again today, many by a youngster who will relate to the late Martin Richard.

None of us have an answer and unfortunately, there's a good chance we never will.