1. Carlos Beltran. With characteristic calm (like check-for-a-pulse calm), Beltran is hitting an even .400 for the down-and-up Metropolitans. He effortlessly covers the expansive outfield at Citi Field with the nonchalance of a cat stretching on a window sill. His off-the-charts athleticism makes the game so easy for him. And occasionally that can be a bad thing. Like last week, when he, also nonchalantly, opted not to slide into home plate and was promptly called out on a play that may have cost his team a win. But then last night he crushed two home runs to carry his team over the hated Braves. He is a Hall of Famer wrapped in a catatonic.
2.Yao Ming. Not only did Yao get the Rockets out of the first round of the playoffs, but he helped them to a 1-0 lead in their best-of-seven second round series with the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers. All thoughts that the Rockets were satisfied just to have the first-round monkey off their backs were dissipated by the sight of a bloodied Shane Battier gesticulating wildly and yelling at officials in the first half of this game. The Biggest Man had 28 points, 10 boards and one seemingly serious knee injury. But unlike Paul Pierce, who let himself be wheeled back to the locker room without being seriously hurt, Yao barely let himself be talked into heading into the tunnel and never reached the training table for further treatment or x-rays. He made his own prognosis and he returned to the floor shortly.
3. The Orlando Magic. With Dwight Howard sort-of-almost becoming a smiling villain thanks to his suspension-worthy elbow in the Magic's Round 1 series with the 76ers and the way in which the Garnett-less Celtics well-examined vulnerability was further exposed by the Bulls, Orlando is sort-of-almost the heavy in this pairing. In true sort-of-almost favorite fashion, they took Game 1 in Boston. And, it didn't seem strange or surprising. It seemed matter of fact.
4. Zack Greinke. To paraphrase the cover of the most recent Sports Illustrated, this dude has been classified as Section-8 but has now landed himself in a class all his own. He went the distance last night for his sixth win, shutting out the White Sox at the refurbished Kauffman Stadium in Kanas City. He struck out 10 to bring his season tally up to 54 K's. He allowed zero runs to lower his ERA to a startling 0.40. And, he didn't walk a batter. The 25-year-old righty joined Fernando Valenzuela and Walter Johnson as the only pitchers to open up a season 6-0 with an ERA 0.40 or better. Johnson is one of the greatest hurlers in the history of the game and Valenzuela won the Cy Young Award, the Rookie of the Year Award and a world championship in 1981 when he had a similarly hot start.
5. Ron Artest. Speaking of guys we thought were crazy but who played well last night, Artest's hot start - he scored or assisted on each of his team's first five made field goals - gave the Rockets the confidence they needed to hang tough against Kobe and the Lakers in the waning moments of Game 1. And, most importantly, he sported a Anthony Masonesque engraving in his hair. The well-coiffed Artest finished with 21 points, 7 assists, 3 rebounds, 1 steal, two personal fouls (one each in third and fourth quarters and none used on Kobe Bryant) and a team-high +19 in the +/- category.
Sixth Man. Mike Skinner (also known as The Streets)
Benched. The Los Angeles Lakers Dominance. And Kobe's habit of being passive early just so that he can seem like more of a hero when he takes over late.