1. The Houston Rockets. Dylan Thomas would have been a Rockets fan if he were still alive and sober enough to tune his television. As would Captain Kirk (as depicted in the reboot of Star Trek) if he were real and had found himself worm-holed back to 2009. With the unlikely Felix-and-Oscar tandem of Shane Battier and Ron Artest leading the way, the Rockets have not admitted defeat in a seemingly impossible situation - playing without the club's top two players against the league's most talent-rich roster - and have not gone gentle into their seemingly inevitable good night. Trailing, 3-games-to-2, and assured of moral victory, the Rockets won Game 6 in convincing fashion in a bid to achieve actual victory, as well. Kobe Bryant was not pleased. Neither was the die-hard Lakers fan who lives with me. Houston played with verve and vision from the opening tip and stormed to a 21-3 advantage. From there, they held off the comeback bid that came (this time) in the second half. The Rockets withstood the charge. I didn't think they would. I'm pretty sure that Phil Jackson didn't think so either. But they did. The odds are long that the Rockets will make good in Game 7 in Los Angeles but this team has taught us all a few things. About themselves. And about the Lakers. I'll be rooting for them. Quietly, though, so as to not upset the Lakers fan I'll likely be watching the game with.
2. Dwight Howard. Perhaps inspired by their WWOD benching from earlier in the week, the Magic forced a Game 7 by winning last night in Orlando. Howard, in particular, needed a big performance in his team's do-or-die Game 6 in order to quiet his critics and back up of his own criticism. A few days ago, he joined Shaq in publicly calling out Stan Van Gundy's endgame coaching techniques. Superman demanded the ball. He wanted to show off those post moves that he may or may not actually possess. And that may or may not have been passed down to him by Patrick Ewing. Last night, D12 got the ball. He got it from teammates and scored to the tune of 23 points. He got it when it was caroming off the backboard or rim to the tune of 22 rebounds. 10 of those rebounds were at the offensive end. On defense, he blocked three shots and altered several more. It was a complete 20/20 performance. And there shall be a Game 7.
3. Rajon Rondo. Yes. I know. His team lost last night to the Magic. And, said loss does not bode well for his team's defense of the 2008 NBA championship. But, this was not for lack of trying by Rondo. The not-so-secretly cutthroat point guard out of Kentucky paced his team in points (19), rebounds 16), assists (6) and steals (4). He dropped in a 9-footer to pull the Celtics even with just under four minutes to play. The Magic, however, would outscore Boston 8-0 to close out the game.
4. Detroit Red Wings. They play hockey. And, have earned the right to continue doing so in a meaningful manner for the next fortnight. Congratulations.
5. Cal Ripken, Jr. The exemplar of consistency and dependability in baseball was, for a long time, Ripken. In 1995, he set that record for the most consecutive games played. He kept on keeping on even after he got too old to play shortstop and too old to be playing every day. Eventually, in 1998, he voluntarily pulled his name from the lineup. The Maryland-born Ripken had played in 2,632 straight games for the Baltimore Orioles. He had grown up and grown old before our very eyes. He had notched more than 3,000 hits and 400 home runs. He played in 19 All-Star Games. During his final appearance at the Midsummer Classic, in 2001, there was a touching moment when Texas Rangers shortstop Alex Rodriguez swapped infield spots with Ripken to allow him to play shortstop one last time. It was touted as a classy passing-the-torch moment for both players and even commemorated in this priced-to-own commemorative photo available at MLB.com for a paltry $599.99. I find myself enjoying this image today because Ripken has publicly questioned A-Rod's motives for taking steroids and has informed the wider world that he's going to personally get to the bottom of the situation. It seems safe to say that this photo is no longer hanging up in Cal's rec room.
Sixth Man. DMX. The man from Yonkers who brought you "Get At Me Dog" and "Keep Your Shit the Hardest" was released from an Arizona prison yesterday. I'm not totally sure which of his exploits landed him in the penitentiary, but I do know that his stay was extended thanks to a food dispute with a guard.
Benched. Syracuse Graduate School Admissions Department. You let in Greg Paulus? Seriously? I know he (sort of) went to Duke as an undergrad but in today's climate, when so many out-of-work folks are looking to graduate school as a safety net, you gave a coveted spot to a college basketball player hoping to try his hand at college football?