1. Dirk Nowitzki. Last night, he played like the guy that nearly, almost carried his team to the 2005 NBA title. Although it won't last long, the Mavericks staved off elimination on Monday night at home thanks to an inspired performance by the finest hoopster the mean streets of Wurzburg have ever produced. The Mavs' leader played aggressively (no three point shots and nearly 20 free throw attempts) and went at the rim. He scored 19 of his 44 points in the fourth quarter. He was poised and seemed, for the first time in the series, unfazed by the physicality of Kenyon Martin and the rest of the Nuggets front court. Perhaps because recent events have reminded him that he's not so soft himself, having slept with women more dangerous than K-Mart.
2. The Cleveland Lebronaliers. And, they're through to the Eastern Conference Finals. That was easy. Eight playoff games. All wins. Most of them not even tightly contested. I can't really remember a team since the early 2000s Lakers that outclassed opponents by such a degree in the early goings of the playoffs. They are the team to beat right now in the East. And, seemingly, in all the land. Lebron James is the most valuable player in the National Basketball Association. In every sense. He scores (32.9 in the playoffs). He passes (6.8 assists per game). He rebounds (9.8 rebounds per game). He defends (2 steals per game). He leads the cheers on the sideline when Mo Williams wins a jump ball (once). And, I even discovered the other night that he's got a cocktail named after him: The Lebron Bomb.
3. The Chicago Blackhawks. While the Detroit Redwings are enmeshed in the downy softness of the upstart eighth-seeded Anaheim Ducklings, the Blackhawks somehow became the "team to beat" in the Western Conference. I put that phrase in quotes because I don't entirely believe it. It's sort of like the "importance of Andrew Bynum." I know that people talk about both things and that there is some empirical evidence that those espousing such theories can marshall. But I'm not entirely sold. Although, I'm closer to buying what the Blackhawks are selling. They knocked off Vancouver in six games and are resting up while their dance partner in the Western Conference Finals emerges from a scrum. In hockey, I always believe in rest over rust. Which means that I don't entirely disbelieve in Chicago. Which is an endorsement of Wayne Campbelll's favorite squad. I think. Game on.
4. Derek Lowe. One of just three pitchers to have a 20-win season and a 40-save season on their resume and the only hurler in Big League history to notch the victory in the clinching games of the division series, league championship series and World Series, the groundball machine outdueled Johan Santana on Monday night in Queens. Or, more accurately, he defeated the Mets. I mean, Santana didn't allow an earned run - to lower his NL-leading ERA to 0.78 - which makes it hard to say that he was outdueled. He did still lose to Lowe, who scattered five hits over six and two-thirds innings at Citi Field. Lowe surrendered two runs to the Metropolitans. Who in turn gifted five runs to the Braves. Lowe is 5-1 on the year, has a win over Johan and certainly looks to have been a wiser offseason acquisition than Oliver Perez.
5. Newcastle United. The proper football covered in this space is usually concerns the Champions League or the top clubs in Europe. Which means that Newcastle hasn't gotten many mentions. But with Barca not sewing up La Liga at the weekend, the most exciting result belongs to the Magpies. Thanks to scores from two second-half substitutes, Newcastle topped Middlesborough and likely avoided relegation from top-flight English football. And relegation is when the bottom three finishers in the English Premiership are dropped down to a lower league at the completion of the season and replaced by the top three teams in that league. The aforementioned Middlesbrough, Hull City, and West Bromwich Albion are currently in the drop zone. This tradition makes the season's conclusion exiting at both ends of the league table.