Don't pull the Sox plug yet

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Don't pull the Sox plug yet

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

Some random thoughts after a sports-filled weekend (otherwise known as a weekend):

Red Sox, DOA?
On the heels of a mediocre Red Sox road trip at a time when "mediocre" just doesnt cut it brace yourself for the arrival of countless Sox obituaries on the shores of our precious Internet.

On one hand, there's no doubt the outlook looks less than sexy.

Theres nothing that the Sox can do to bring Youkilis back, and with Ellsbury's latest setback you have to assume he's done for the year (and, given his recovery speed, wonder if he'll ever play again). The injuries are killers. Then you've got the uncertainty at the end of bullpen (a nice way of saying Jonathan Papelbons arm is about as trustworthy as a BP exec), and the fact that while there are still 40-plus games left on the year, the Sox are at least beginning to run out of time.

But as we most recently learned with the Celtics, and so many other times before that: In sports, conventional wisdom and logic are only temporary. Theyre always day-to-day.

Sure, at the moment, the idea of the Sox catching Tampa feels Bay far-fetched. But what if Boston sweeps, or even takes two of three from, the fading Angels this week? How quickly will that tune change?

Or how about this: The Sox and Rays will play a three-game series at the Trop from August 27-30. In the meantime, the Sox play nine games (all at home) against the fading Angels, faded Mariners and the Blue Jays. Meanwhile, the Rays play 10 games three against the red-hot Rangers, and then a seven-game West Coast trip against LA and Oakland.

Advantage, Sox? Without question. Looking at that schedule, its completely reasonable to think that Boston, even in its current state, can make up a few games before Aug. 27, at which point, anything is possible.

If they don't, then, yeah, maybe theyre not good enough. Maybe they'll have run out of chances. Maybe its time to bump all the Pats pages to the front of your bookmarks bar.

But not yet. We just dont know. We cant know. Nobody does. It's too early to be pronouncing teams dead.

Fine, maybe I'll go out on a limb and say that the Orioles wont make the playoffs this year. But to use the term "dead" about a team thats only five out with 43 games left is reactionary insanity.

Am I about to run online and bet my rent check on the Sox winning the pennant (only 7-1 odds, by the way)? Of course not. But would I be shocked if they snuck into the Wild Card and stirred up a little chaos in the postseason? No way.

Moving forward
One mans take on the four players whom the Sox success most hinges on:

1. Josh Beckett (left)John Lackey

Ideally, both these former All-Stars will come around and make good on disappointing 2010 seasons, but if even one of them can turn back the clock over these next six weeks, and join Lester, Buchholz and, I guess, (man, this feels weird to type) Dice-K in the ranks of respectable Sox starters, the team will enter into a new echelon, at the perfect time.

2. Dustin Pedroia

In baseball, it's hard for one player especially a position player to dominate the ebb and flow of a game, but when Dustin Pedroia returns from injury on Tuesday he will have to be that guy. Obviously, his on-field production will be the greatest help, but Pedroia also needs to inject some life and emotion into the fray. He needs to put that contagious, sometimes overwhelming, attitude and energy and hope that it infects every single person in that clubhouse (yes, even J.D. Drew). He needs to be AugustSeptember 2008 Dustin Pedroia, and nothing less. Or the Sox will likely do nothing.

3. Jonathan Papelbon

Unless things get much, much worse for Papelbon let's say, at least two more blown saves I have a very hard time imagining the Sox moving him out of the closer role.

Why?

Terry Francona.

Seriously, if you had one word to describe Terry Francona's managerial style, what would it be?

Loyal, right? That's how Tito rolls. Sometimes to a fault and that's with guys he's only had for a couple months. You really think he'll have the nerve to pull the plug of one of his most accomplished and longest-tenured guys? Short of Paps morphing into 2007 Eric Gagne, I just don't see it. Not this season, at least.

That being the case, the Sox need Papelbon to just morph into 2007 Jonathan Papelbon. Hell, they'd even take the 2009 version.

The Sox future not to mention the extent of Paps' future earnings depends on it.

Naming Wrongs
Wondering how long did it take the guys in Texas to come up with the name: Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

Did they even call a meeting for that one? Or maybe they were stuck in the world's longest meeting, couldn't come to a consensus, and after 11 hours just said, "Eff it, lets just call it what it is and make a tee time."

Either way. Well done, Texas.

The Big Ego
Im starting to get a bit more comfortable with the idea of Shaq wearing green next season. The expectations seem reasonable, Shaq seems committed, and the fact that KG broke off vacation in Hawaii to be in Waltham for the press conference says a lot for where he stands on the matter. For now, there's reason to err on the side of optimism

But what I still dont get is how or why everyone or at least a good handful of people have been so quick to anoint Shaq as this egoless and selfless saint who'll fit seamlessly into the Celtics locker room. What has he done in his career to predict this? He's had problems with that kind of thing since he came into the league.

I do believe he's committed, at this very moment, to putting everything aside for the greater good, but he's far from egoless. He may have accepted that hes no longer a threat to win the MVP, but he still thinks he can dominate; I guarantee you he believes he's the best the center on the Celtics roster. And at some point this year, that belief will be tested. Do you really think that Shaq who's been in the starting line-up for all but 9 of his 1,170 regular-season games will be comfortable coming off the bench in favor of Kendrick Perkins? Nope. And if that's a problem, what's Doc's other option? Relegating Perk to the bench, upsetting his already fragile confidence and psyche, and breaking up the starting five that still yet to lose a playoff series when healthy?

I'm not saying drama is unavoidable, but it should be pretty damn interesting.

Big Man Mystery
On the above note:

NBA Big Man A 2010 stats: 23.4 minutes, 12 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.2 blocks

NBA Big Man B 2010 stats: 28.4 minutes, 13.6 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.4 blocks

NBA Big Man C 2010 stats: 29.9 minutes, 14.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, .8 blocks

So, what do you think? Even with the minute disparities, these three guys are pretty comparable, right? Wouldnt you look at these three stat lines and assume A, B and C are all playing at about the same level?

Anyway, to end the paralyzing suspense:

NBA Big Man A = Shaquille O'Neal
NBA Big Man B = Jermaine O'Neal
NBA Big Man C = Kevin Garnett

Yeah, I know. This doesnt account for defense blocks don't tell the whole story or the emotional intangibles that put KG in another level compared to the O'Neals, but the comparisons still interesting, considering all the "washed-up" talk thats surrounded Shaq and JO's arrivals in Boston.

Maybe it means that we've all been a little too quick to write off the careers of the two new guys, or maybe . . .

Nah, lets just go with that.

Dustin Johnson: Tough Break, Honest Mistake, or Ridiculous Rules
Ill go with a little of all three.

First things first (and obvious): You have to feel awful for Johnson (right). He was in prime position to win two Majors this season an achievement that would have thrust him into golf's elite and made him millions and millions in sponsorships. Hes had two shots, when most guys are lucky to even have one, and on both occasions, he's choked it away. Thats not to say Johnson is without the skills, going forward, to be in contention four times a year, but nothing's set in stone. Anything can happen. Ask David Duval. With two Majors, Johnson would have been on the path to greatness, but for now, hell have to settle for Greg Norman comparisons.

As for Bunker-gate (damn, it feels good to be able to use the played-out "-gate" phrase), I think the PGA got it right.

It's ridiculous they'd allow the crowd to occupy an area that qualifies as a bunker, but at the same time, they also went out of their way all week to hammer home the hazard rules, and considering the stakes, it was Johnson's (or his caddys) responsibility to know the story. When that kind of dough and prestige is on the line, ignorance cant be an excuse. You have to play it right. And even if the PGA might lose a few casual fans who'll cite the organization's rigidness as a reason to stop watching golf (along with the reason that Tiger stinks), not making the proper call would have caused more harm in the long term. It would have set a dangerous precedent.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

With Thomas drawing attention, Stevens turns to Rozier in big moment

With Thomas drawing attention, Stevens turns to Rozier in big moment

BOSTON – Prior to Saturday’s game, Terry Rozier talked to CSNNE.com about the importance of staying ready always, because “you never know when your name or number is going to be called.”

Like when trailing by three points in the fourth quarter with less than 10 seconds to play?

Yes, Rozier was on the floor in that scenario and the second-year guard delivered when his team needed it.

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But Rozier’s fourth quarter heroics which forced overtime against Portland, did not provide that much-needed jolt that Boston needed as the Blazers managed to fend off the Celtics in overtime, 127-123.

For Rozier’s part, he had 15 points on 6-for-13 shooting.

The 15 points scored for Rozier was the most for him since he tallied 16 in a 30-point Celtics win at Orlando on Dec. 7.

But more than the points, the decision by head coach Brad Stevens to draw up a play for him in that moment, a time when most of what Boston does revolves around the shooting of Isaiah Thomas who has been among the top-3 scorers in the fourth quarter most of this season, was surprising to many.

And at that point in the game, Thomas already had 13 fourth-quarter points.

Stevens confirmed after the game that the last shot in the fourth was indeed for Rozier, but Thomas’ presence on the floor was important to its execution.

“He (Thomas) also draws a lot of attention,” Stevens said. “So I think you just weigh kind of … what kind of shot you’re going to get, depending on who it is.”

Rozier had initially screened for Thomas, and Thomas came back and screened for him.

“I was open as soon as I caught … and I let it fly,” Rozier said. “Coach drew up a play for me and it felt good to see the ball go in.”

Being on the floor at that time, win or lose, was a victory of sorts for Rozier.

He has seen first-hand how quickly the tide can change in the NBA for a young player.

After a strong summer league showing and a solid training camp, Rozier had earned himself a firm spot in the team’s regular rotation.

But a series of not-so-great games coupled with Gerald Green’s breakout night on Christmas Day, led to his playing time since then becoming more sporadic.

Rozier, in an interview with CSNNE.com, acknowledged it hasn’t been easy going from playing regular minutes to not being sure how much court time, if any, he would receive.

But he says the veterans on the team have been good about keeping his spirits up, and one in particular – Avery Bradley – has been especially helpful.

Like Rozier, Bradley’s first couple of years saw his playing time go from non-existent to inconsistent. But Bradley stayed the course and listened to the team’s veterans who continued to tell him that his hard work would pay off sooner or later.

Those same words of wisdom Bradley received in his early days, he passes on to Rozier.

“It’s big,” Rozier told CSNNE.com. “He (Bradley) tells me things like that. I felt I was ready for this (inconsistent minutes) after all that he told me. It’s big to have a guy like him that has been through it all with a championship team, been around this organization for a while; have him talk to you is big. It’s always good. That’s why I stay positive, and be ready.”

Which is part of the reason why Stevens didn’t hesitate to call up a play for the second-year guard despite him being a 33.3 percent shooter from 3-point range this season – that ranks eighth on this team, mind you.

“He’s a really good shooter,” Stevens said of Rozier. “I think with more opportunity that will show itself true, but he made some big ones in the fourth quarter. We went to him a few different times out of time-outs, and felt good about him making that one.”

And to know that Stevens will turn to him not just to spell Thomas or one of the team’s other guards, but to actually make a game-altering play in the final seconds … that’s major.

“It helps tremendously,” said Rozier who added that his confidence is through “the roof. It makes me want to do everything. You know defense, all of that. It’s great, especially to have a guy like Brad trust you."