Friday Morning Briefing

Like Ron Artest after last night’s NBA Finals, I too believe that all a man needs to be successful in life is a good therapist and a record label that will stand behind him.

I have neither. Maybe that explains a few things. Now, time to explain a few things from various sports quarters. The Agenda today is numbered.

1. World Cup: USA v. Slovenia

Don’t sleep on Slovenia. I’m not being unpatriotic when I say that I wasn’t much impressed with the U.S. 1-1 tie with England. It showed flashes of promise, but that’s about it. I worry about lapses in the back for the U.S., because giving up a cheap or early goal to the Slovenians would be a problem.

Slovenia is in the World Cup to do one thing — keep people from scoring. They’re on the pitch to defend. Sports Illustrated’s March Bechtel put it well: “Slovenia is the smallest country in the World Cup, with a population of two million people — and at times during qualifying, it seemed as if all of them were behind the ball.”

Key for the U.S. will be the play of Jozy Altidore. If he has overcome his pre-tournament ankle injury, he’ll be a major weapon in trying to pierce that Slovenian resolve. But having watched this Cup, there have been so many low-scoring ties that this one strikes me as another good candidate to head that direction, and a tie in this match would not be a positive turn for the U.S., with Slovenia already having collected three points by beating Algeria.

We’ll find out soon. I’m heading out to the Monkey Wrench on Barret to catch this one. Should be a lively morning bunch.

2. NBA Finals

In the end, I’m afraid it was a pretty uninspiring series, even if it did go to Game 7. Boston’s Rajon Rondo, though, did play well in the final game, and hit a huge three pointer late to give the Celtics a glimmer of hope.

It wasn’t a classic series, but it does cement Kobe Bryant’s legacy, though he didn’t need that.

Some selected prose:

Louisville native Bill Plaschke says that for the Lakers, victory has never been harder or sweeter. He calls it one of the franchise’s “greatest moments ever.” Not sure I can go there, but he is right about one thing, this Lakers team “has never looked more human.” [L.A. Times]

Mark Heisler writes about Kobe Bryant coming clean about the pressure on him. Really candid stuff from Kobe: “You know, I just wanted it so bad,” Bryant said of his Game 7 flameout. “I wanted it so, so bad. . . . On top of that, I was on E. Man, I was really, really tired. . . . I was just lying to you guys [about the rivalry with the Celtics]. When you’re in the moment you have to suppress that because if you get caught up in the hype of it all, you don’t really play your best basketball.” [More L.A. Times]
Bob Ryan writes that it was exactly the kind of game that Boston wanted. But L.A. beat the Celtics at it, and the Lakers earned it. [Boston Globe]

3. U.S. Open

The Washington Post’s Tom Boswell, as he usually does, writes a pitch-perfect piece, this time on Tiger Woods from the U.S. Open, posing an absolutely essential question — if Tiger can’t win a major at Pebble Beach or St. Andrews (site of this year’s British Open), where is he going to win one?

Just when Tiger Woods finds his personal life, his golf game and his physical health at the most vulnerable juncture of his career, golf has chosen to give him the fattest, juiciest opportunity he could imagine — a chance to play the U.S. and British Opens at the two venues where he has had his most spectacular success.

Exactly when he needs them, here come his old friends from the epochal days of the Tiger Slam — Pebble Beach, backed up next month by St. Andrews– where he won by 15 shots and eight shots in 2000. What a chance to reclaim his place in the game, repair his imagine, boost his confidence and resume his quest for Jack Nicklaus’s all-time record of 18 major championship wins.

Or, with his neck still aching, the polish on his game months behind schedule and his erratic swing the subject of golf-magazine mockery, has the sport simply given Woods a chance to show that, for now at least, he really isn’t a Tiger anymore?

If he can’t win at Pebble, where he shot a nerve-wracking, no-birdie, 3-over-par 74 in Thursday’s first round, or at The Old Course in Scotland, then the door is open for all others to challenge him.

Read the entire Washington Post column here.

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