Shanoff's WUC: Series, Celts, Arenas, Favre

Today's Calls: Yankees vs. Phillies, KG vs. LeBron, Kobe vs. Gilbert, Favre vs. Lambeau, Dez Bryant vs. the NCAA, Vince Young vs. Jeff Fisher, Brian Westbrook vs. Andy Reid, Andre Agassi vs. Meth and More. ↵

↵CC SabathiaThe Opening Pitch: The Yankees have one option. Reclaim championship glory or end the season as a failure. ↵

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↵The Phillies are under no such pressure — after last season's title, they are absolved. Their only urgency is recognizing how rare it is for a defending champ to get back to the World Series with a chance to repeat. ↵

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↵Philly's experience last year was against the just-happy-to-be-here Rays. It is another thing entirely to go against a team obsessively (and financially) focused on nothing but winning the World Series. ↵

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↵But if any team is mentally prepared for that challenge, it is the Phillies — who know they have the hitting to keep up with the Yankees' lineup. ↵

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↵Tonight's Game 1 will reveal everything: CC Sabathia vs. Cliff Lee puts the two best pitchers of the postseason against each other — beyond them, both teams have rotation questions. If the Yankees win, it puts an inordinate amount of pressure on Pedro tomorrow night, in the cold (conditions in which he has historically struggled). ↵

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↵If the Phillies blitz Game 1, it could be 1990's Reds-over-A's all over again — all of a sudden, A.J. Burnett is the shaky ALCS version, Andy Pettitte is old and Sabathia is looking at three-days' rest in Philly on Sunday. ↵

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↵Before these playoffs started, I picked the Yankees over the Phillies in five. (Unsurprisingly, Jimmy Rollins has it going the other way.) ↵

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↵What makes this World Series the most competitively exciting of the decade is you can make a strong case for both teams. We haven't had a great Series since 2003 — notably, the Yankees were widely expected to win THAT one, too. ↵

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↵If the Yankees DO dethrone the defending champs, don't say we all saw it coming: They will have done it under the most crushing expectations in baseball history. Since the end of last season: Win the World Series or bust. ↵

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↵Yankees in five. ↵

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↵NBA Talking Points: Opening Night! ↵

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↵— It is very hard to take a single regular-season result seriously when it comes to the Celtics and Cavs, especially in a season opener. ↵

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↵Oh, there's plenty of symbolism — LeBron's metronomic brilliance, KG's return (good: double-double, bad: -4 +/-), the contributions of newcomers Shaq and Anthony Parker versus Rasheed Wallace and Marquis Daniels — but it's hard to read too much into the result until ... May. Settle in. ↵

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↵— Gilbert Arenas is back (29 pts, 9 ast, Bethlehem Shoals-approved spryness), but the real revelation was the Wizards' depth (Blatche: 20; Foye: 19) beyond the Big Three of Butler (16/8) and Jamison (DNP). ↵

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↵— Lakers get rings. More to come? Kobe was typically prolific in the box score (33 pts), but the supporting cast showed why the Lakers are still the team to beat: Bynum (26 and 13), Odom (16 and 13, with 5 ast). Artest? Kind of an afterthought (10/5/4) but with a team-high +14 +/-. ↵

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↵— 51-33: That was Portland's rebounding — and game-winning — advantage over the height-challenged Rockets. (Greg Oden Watch: Only took three shots, but was disruptive with 12 rebounds and 5 blocks.) Oh, and if you're not following Rockets GM Daryl Morey on Twitter (@dmorey), you really should be. ↵

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↵— SN Award Picks: SN likes Kobe for MVP (I took Dwight Howard) and Tyreke Evans for Rookie (WUC: Jonny Flynn), but we both agree Flip Saunders is a shoe-in for Coach of the Year. ↵

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↵— Must-Read: From his native Free Darko site, Shoals on mythology vs. reality in the current NBA age. Well worth your energy to read. ↵

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↵W.S. Must-Read: Dan Levy on the rival loyalties that will tear New Jersey apart. ↵

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↵Politics: Will the World Series impact the crazy N.J. gubernatorial race? None of the three candidates will get the Phillies vote — they are all Yankees fans. (Deep-pocketed incumbent Jon Corzine is expected to buy ads during the games. He should remember most fans do NOT want their sports and their politics to mix — will his consultants come up with a clever way to combine them?) ↵

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↵MLB Job Board: The Red Sox are the feeder organization for the rest of the league's management. Earlier this week, Theo Epstein's top lieutenant Jed Hoyer was hired as the Padres GM; yesterday, the Astros hired Terry Francona's bench consigliere Brad Mills as their new manager. ↵

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↵Favre-Lambeau Homecoming: Sick of this yet? Good, because you will need all of your reserves for the coverage throughout the rest of the week. Michael Tunison offers an interesting angle: Why isn't the NFL putting this game on Sunday night? In theory, that makes sense, but this is Fox's biggest NFL game of the regular season — they aren't going to simply hand it over to NBC. And the massive audience tuning in for that game will help as a lead-in for the World Series game that night. Yes: On Fox. (Even if Fox wasn't showing the World Series and the NFL's "flex" option for Sunday nights was in effect — which it isn't yet — Fox would NEVER allow this marquee match-up to be yoinked away by NBC.) ↵

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↵Larry Johnson suspended: Twitter that. ↵

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↵Injury Watch: Brian Westbrook. Compare the way the NFL coaches handle concussions to the way college football handles concussions (at least in the wake of Tebow's). If you'd like to know why the NFL has a serious problem with brain injuries, don't ask Andy Reid. ↵

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↵Vince Young Update: He can't do much worse than the Titans are already doing, can he? The worst part is that it's not like in this lost-cause of a season, Jeff Fisher will experiment with nothing-to-lose innovations like letting VY run a Wildcat-ish system. ↵

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↵NFL Must-Read: Some invaluable and intrepid reporting by the Washington Post's Dan Steinberg (Sporting Blog alum) on the state of fan-team relations in D.C. (Spoiler: They are terrible.) ↵

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↵CFB: Dez Bryant done for good? If the NCAA doesn't accept his appeal, he will be. His suspension hasn't seemed to derail Oklahoma State, but with Texas coming to town this weekend for the biggest game of the decade for the Cowboys, his presence will surely be missed. ↵

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↵Who's really No. 1? No offense to Dave Curtis' methodologies, but check out Saurian Sagacity's analysis of why — as it relates to the criteria of past BCS champs — Florida is in much better shape than the naysayers suggest. ↵

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↵Speaking of Florida, the No. 1 Gators' defense is the best in the country — remember: take away the two pick-6s, and Mississippi State only scored a measly 6 points on Florida's D — and on Saturday vs. Georgia they will get back up to four key players who have been injured. ↵

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↵CBB Countdown: No. 14 Butler. The best team in Indiana? (Well, Purdue might have something to say about that.) The best mid-major? Quite possibly. (As always, Butler's non-conference schedule is something to marvel at: Ohio State, Minnesota, Xavier, UCLA, West Virginia, Clemson, Texas A&M, Georgetown. Wow.) ↵

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↵The Last Word: Andre Agassi, a meth-head? It's hard to look at the dad and tennis elder statesman in 2009 and picture that, but go back to his go-go career in the 90s and you can sort of picture it. Still: Meth? You would presume that someone as rich as Agassi would have the money for higher-end illegal drugs. ↵

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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. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/danshanoff. ↵

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

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