Shanoff's Wake-Up Call: Kobe, MMA, More

↵Today's Calls: Kobe vs. Duncan, Big Unit vs. Clemens, ChiSox vs. Rays, Doug Collins vs. Oblivion, Rip Hamilton vs. Ray Allen, Ty Lawson vs. Sriram Hathwar, MMA vs. CBS and More. ↵

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↵The Opening Pitch: Winning the West was bigger than winning the Finals in at least one way. ↵

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↵Despite the Lakers' long historical rivalry with the Celtics (and even the Pistons), dispatching the rival Spurs -- the defending champs -- was about as significant a symbolic achievement as any the Lakers could have earned in this playoff season. ↵

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↵By slaying the Duncan Dynasty, the one player with more of a claim than Kobe to a decade's worth of dominance, Kobe snatches back top billing. Certainly, if any team could have kept Kobe from his goal, it was the Spurs. And it is hard not to see the title crown passing from one to the other. ↵

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↵(An argument can be made that winning the West is harder than winning The Finals, anyway. And now, the Lakers should be installed as The Finals favorite, no matter who advances from the East.) ↵

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↵Kobe's 39 gave him his first "solo" Western Conference title (to go with his MVP award and his team's "top-seed" status). Given the enormity of the moment, Kobe's 17 points in the fourth quarter to break the Spurs' spirit should go down as one of the best quarters of his career. ↵

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↵What next for the Spurs? They will be just fine. Manu Ginobili was held in check last night (9 pts on 3/9 FG), but their big three are intact -- the supporting cast might need tweaking. Besides, isn't the Duncan Dynasty all about collecting non-consecutive titles? ↵

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↵Bulls hiring Doug Collins? What a dud that would be. When Collins was last seen coaching in the NBA, he was the lap-dog of Michael Jordan, who was ruining the Wizards. And when Collins was last seen on the Bulls bench, he was showcasing his inability to win WITH Michael Jordan. So of COURSE John Paxson would want him managing a young, talented team hubbed around a rookie super-duper-star. ↵

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↵(This is an issue for another time, but how weak is the coaching development pipeline in the NBA when your choices are consistently either retread NBA coaches -- usually recently fired -- or ex-coaches who are on TV. Unlike college hoops, there are no "hot" prospects -- and I'm talking throughout the NBA. What a weird endemic weakness.) ↵

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↵MLB Instant History: The Giants are the new D-backs! Not quite, but who would have called the Giants sweeping the D-backs in Arizona? Meanwhile, the Big Unit tied Clemens for career Ks (presumably without the extra baggage handling fee), but will have second-place on the all-time list to himself as early as next week. ... ↵

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↵More: Jesse Litsch joins the 7-Win Club. ... Fantasy Stud: Phil Dumatrait (7 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 9 K, W). ... Jay Bruce Watch: Held H-less and BB-less (hey, no one ever said it was going to be THAT easy). ... That would be HR No. 17 for Lance Berkman. ... Joe Torre was back in New York, and his return was like his exit: Losing. ↵

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↵MLB Weekend Preview: If you thought that ChiSox-Rays last night was unique, you are right: It was the first time two division-leading teams have ever played at the Trop. It is the series of the weekend, led off by a White Sox win, in front of a grand total of 12,636 fans. ↵

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↵Celtics-Pistons Game 6: Is Rip Hamilton going to play? That may be the difference between the Pistons holding serve at home and being ousted. However, they still have the Celtics' general road woes -- not to mention win-or-go-home desperation -- in their favor. Prediction: Rodney Stuckey will step up, and we're headed to Game 7. ↵

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↵Meanwhile, one reader wrote in to complain that I was unfairly targeting Celtics fans as being hard on Ray Allen throughout the playoffs. I'm happy to agree to disagree, but I wanted to make sure that his point was heard here. We'll see how Celtics Nation reacts if Allen can't sustain games like he had two nights ago. ↵

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↵NBA Draft: UNC's Ty Lawson is earning raves down at the Orlando predraft camp as the best player in camp -- at least, the best player who is actually playing. Meanwhile, Donte Greene is staying in the draft; he hired an agent. (And why not? He's a top 20 lock.) ↵

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↵NHL: If there is one thing the NHL has done totally right, it is the "Winter Classic," held outdoors. The game in Buffalo was a smashing success, and the impending announcement that the 2009 game will be at Wrigley Field only ups the ante. ↵

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↵Condolences to the Canucks network of teammates, family and friends on the loss of 21-year-old D Luc Bourdon in a motorcycle accident yesterday. ↵

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↵CFB Recruiting: SEC football coaches approve of an early-signing period, with only a handful of holdouts (most notably Urban Meyer, who thrives in the post-verbal commitment twilight). I think this issue gets approved nationwide within two years; it seems to work for hoops. ↵

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↵Women's College World Series: Louisiana-Lafayette upsets No. 1-seed Florida. For Florida fans, it's a good thing the CWS is double-elimination. Then again, that is why the double-elim format is so lame. Imagine UNC getting another shot after they lost to Kansas. ↵

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↵Triple Crown Watch: Big Brown trainer Rick Dutrow says it's a "foregone conclusion" that his horse will win the Triple Crown. If a human player were to say something like that, they would get crushed. But a trainer saying it about a horse? Eh: Who am I to argue? ↵

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↵Spelling Bee Update: My guy Sriram Hathwar did not make it through Day 1. Then again, he is only 8 -- a second-grader! -- so I presume he will make the most of his half-decade of remaining opportunities. ↵

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↵The Last Word: MMA goes mainstream. Tomorrow night is arguably the biggest yet in the meteoric rise of mixed martial arts -- a primetime slot on CBS, with blog icon Gus Johnson calling it, no less. ↵

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↵MMA had dominated pay-per-view and made inroads on guy-centric cable nets like Spike and Versus, but this is as big of a platform as the sport will get. ↵

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↵Dan Wetzel is right to point out that the sport isn't doing itself a service with the product it is showcasing tomorrow night. Will casual fans pick up on the difference between CBS' "Elite XC" and market-leading UFC? (And any of the half-dozen other UFC wannabes?) ↵

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↵That said, it is a big step: Can MMA as a sport find mainstream appeal with fans of other sports, or will it be more like NASCAR, with a huge (but separate) fan base? Even in the Internet Era, there is a legitimacy that comes with being on "broadcast" TV. We have come a long way from the label of "human cockfighting." ↵

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↵MMA is here, it is for real, and if you had to put your stock in a sport to ascend to "Big" national status alongside the NFL, college football and baseball, it would be MMA. ↵

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↵Dan Shanoff writes The Wake-Up Call every weekday morning for SportingNews.com and blogs daily at DanShanoff.com. Got any comments, questions or feedback? Email Dan at shanofftsn-[at]-gmail-[dot]-com. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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