One shining weekend ahead

Are you ready for one of the all-time greatest sports weekends? A quick preview …

Friday: The "Who can tank the most egregiously for Oden and Durant?" contest begins in earnest with Philly hosting the Celtics (playing without Paul Pierce); Charlotte hosting Milwaukee (or as you can start calling the Bucks through April, "The Washington Generals"); and Memphis playing against a Seattle team that's having its tanking efforts thwarted by an unabashed contract push from Rashard Lewis (buyers beware!). If gambling were legal, I'd be wagering against the Celtics and Bucks for the rest of the season. But it's not.

Talkin' hoops with Bill and Chad Ford

Bill Simmons joins NBA Insider Chad Ford and shares his thoughts on the Final Four, Celtics and more.

The Daily Dish

Saturday: Dominated by the most anticipated Final Four since C-Webb was wearing baggy Michigan shorts (more on this in a second), as well as Mr. Fuji's emotional WWE Hall of Fame induction. As long as they show a clip of "Fuji Vice" and he throws salt in somebody's face, I'm happy.

Sunday: Features the Mavs-Suns rematch, WrestleMania XXIII, the start of the 2007 baseball season and the first of at least 250 billion Tony La Russa jokes from baseball fans watching a Cardinals game. And if that's not enough, I'm having a 10-hour draft for my AL-only fantasy league (aka "The League of Dorks") all day Sunday. Just hope and pray that I make it to Monday without the words "trial separation" being involved.

Anyway, I wanted to offer an apology: For the past two weeks, I had been planning on writing an American League preview for today and never pulled it off -- not because I didn't want to write it, but because I couldn't bang out the proper amount of research to make it interesting. And multiple people share the blame:

I blame the Sports Gal for being sick on Wednesday and Thursday and thrusting "Unexpected Parent Duty" on me. I blame my kid for inexplicably getting up at 6:45 every morning. I blame the five-hour baseball draft I participated in Thursday night. I blame the pollen that's been floating around lately, which forced me to pop some allergy pills that made me drowsy. I blame one of our cars for having to go into the shop for a new smog filter. I blame the three Basketball Blog posts that I banged out this week. I blame all the sports that have been on lately. I blame you guys for sending me 4,500 e-mails in four days. I blame my Uncle Bob (a '71 Holy Cross alum) for keeping me on the phone for 30 minutes on Wednesday while repeatedly screaming, "Finally, somebody spoke up!" I blame the Celtics for putting me in a surly mood by eking out a double-OT game when I planned on doing research. I blame "Lost" for gearing an entire show around Nikki and Paolo and flustering me for the rest of the night. I blame "The Best Damn Sports Show" for running a 50 Greatest Shots show and putting Jeff Malone's falling-out-of-bounds 3-pointer at No. 27, putting me in a bad mood for the rest of Thursday night.

Most of all, I blame my wife. Last Sunday, I planned on doing research all night and taking a ton of notes. So she comes home from Blockbuster with two movies: "The Guardian" and "Casino Royale." And I'm begging her to watch "Casino Royale" because I've already seen it -- very entertaining movie, although Tim Hardaway would hate the guy who plays Bond -- but no, she has to watch "The Guardian" because she loves Ashton Kutcher and Kevin Costner, even though she knew there was no way I'd be able to resist a movie that looked as atrociously entertaining as "The Guardian."

So she pops it in and I'm thinking, "Well, maybe I can do research and watch this crappy movie at the same time." Nope. Within five minutes, we were slowing the movie down frame by frame to figure out if Costner had gotten hair plugs or not. (My answer: An unequivocal "yes.") Then Kutcher showed up and reeled me in with his hopeless attempt to pull off Maverick's cocky routine from "Top Gun." In fact, this whole movie was a "Top Gun" ripoff -- like "Top Gun" crossed with "Baywatch." It's horrible. They couldn't even find a smoking-hot female for Kutcher's girlfriend, although the Sports Gal was convinced that Demi Moore vetoed every choice until they got to No. 256 on the list of "Available Pretty Actresses." She's probably right.

Did I mention that the movie was two and a half hours long? By the time this thing ended, it was almost 10 p.m. … and "The Apprentice" was coming on. Well, I had to watch "The Apprentice." As I mentioned a few weeks ago, Tim (one of the potential Apprentices) is a longtime reader dating back to my old Web site. Normally I would have TiVo'ed the show and watched it later, but something terrible has been happening with Tim lately: he fell for one of the female contestants and slowly turned into a slightly less whipped version of Cheyne in "Maui Fever." In Sunday night's show, the project manager from his group was forced to send someone over to the competing group, so he dumped Tim's lady … who, of course, blamed Tim for not sticking up for her. And even though the correct reaction would have been, "Hey, remember, we're all here to become the Apprentice, get over it," Tim was completely frazzled, eventually caved and gave her inside info about the boardroom … and she STILL busted his chops afterward. The lesson, as always: Women are evil, pure and simple.

By the time the show ended, I was more frazzled than Tim. How could he disgrace Sports Guy readers like that? If this week's episode doesn't end with him making out with Trump's secretary to get back at his pseudo-girlfriend, I'm disowning him. Anyway, it took me about 30 minutes to recover from this and stop complaining about it. Then, George Michael's final "Sports Machine" show came on. I always admired this show because it created a specific format back in the mid-'80s (a national sports highlights show with interviews and bloopers), then steadfastly refused to change the format even as ESPN and the Internet changed everything about the way sports news and sports highlights are processed. There's a chance that Michael never found out that the Internet exists, or that there's something called cable TV. Regardless, I always enjoyed the time-warp aspect of the show and thought I was alone until Adam Carolla confessed once that he isn't just a weekly "Sports Machine" fan, he actually TiVo'ed the show and was furious that they stuck George with a peppy female co-host.

As far as I know, we were the only two people who watched "Sports Machine." Maybe that's why it folded up shop. But I had to watch the last show. Needless to say, no research got done on Sunday night. And within about two seconds, it was Thursday afternoon and I realized there was no chance for me to write that preview. So I'm giving you five predictions:

Prediction No. 1: On the morning of May 21, heading to New York for a three-game series with the Yankees, the Red Sox will have the best start-of-the-season record in the history of the franchise: something like 35-8 or 34-9. And you'll be reading stories and watching features with "Best Red Sox Team Ever?" angles.

Why do I think this? Because of Dice-K (who will be unhittable his first time around the league) and because they're starting the season healthy … and when this team is healthy, it's going to be nearly unbeatable. Remember, this is a team with a $160 million payroll. They have no real holes except for second base and the set-up guys, unless you want to include Jason Varitek's bat (his .107 average in spring training doesn't even begin to describe how slow his bat looked). Unfortunately, they have too many "Well, if he can stay healthy" guys -- J.D. Drew, Wily Mo Pena, Curt Schilling, Mike Timlin, Coco Crisp, Varitek, Manny, Tim Wakefield, Brendan Donnelly -- which will unquestionably end up becoming a problem in the summer. But if they can build enough of a lead in those first seven weeks, it might not matter.

Prediction No. 2: Vlad Guerrero for MVP, Big Papi second, Travis Hafner third, A-Rod fourth, Carl Crawford fifth.

Prediction No. 3: Roy Halladay for Cy Young, Johan Santana second, Dice-K third, C.C. Sabathia fourth, Jon Papelbon fifth.

Prediction No. 4: Career years from Crawford, Bobby Abreu, Danny Haren, Erik Bedard, Craig Monroe, Nick Swisher, Felix Hernandez and Mark Teixeira. … Bounce-back years from Garret Anderson, Ichiro (who was already good), A.J. Burnett, Josh Beckett, Mike Piazza, Adrian Beltre (already started after last year's All-Star break). … Breakout years for Alex Gordon (unanimous Rookie of the Year), Dice-K, Andrew Miller (when he comes up), Casey Kotchman, Nick Markakis, Fausto Carmona, Howie Kendrick, Joel Zumaya (as the eventual closer), Ervin Santana (as a legit No. 2), Jeremy Sowers (as an 18-game winner), Zack Greinke, Ryan Shealy and Mike MacDougal. … Bust years from Eric Gagne, Frank Thomas, Carl Pavano, Jim Thome, Corey Patterson, Huston Street, Rich Harden (who should never, EVER be trusted), Rocco Baldelli (ditto), Gary Matthews Jr., Kenny Rogers, Casey Blake, Vernon Wells, Coco Crisp, Jorge Cantu (a sequel to last year's bust year), Scott Kazmir, Miggy Tejada and Justin Verlander.

Prediction No. 5: Boston, New York, Cleveland and the Angels as the four playoff teams. That's as far as I'm going -- I can't pick against the Sox and couldn't possibly tell you who's emerging from the Artist Formerly Known as Quadruple-A. As for everything else, at least I'm on the record.

A few more housecleaning items:

• You can stop e-mailing me that "Hurt" was originally a Nine Inch Nails song. When I linked to that Kermit video yesterday, the point was that Kermit was doing a parody of Johnny Cash's version of the song. It's one of the 10 most memorable songs of the grunge era; everyone KNOWS it's a Nine Inch Nails song. You didn't need to remind me of this. All right? OK? The song was what I thought it was. OK? All right? If you want to crown Johnny Cash, then crown his ass. THE SONG WAS WHAT I THOUGHT IT WAS!

Ian Thomsen's SI.com article (scroll to the bottom) about possible NBA GM candidates absolutely floored me at first. Kiki Vandeweghe? Chris Wallace? Bob Whitsitt? Jim Paxson? John Gabriel? Then he wrote the following paragraph about Jim Paxson that made me realize the column was an elaborate joke: "Now a consultant to his younger brother (GM John) in Chicago, Paxson isn't afraid to make bold moves. He laid the groundwork for Cleveland's current success, and he's far better prepared for his next opportunity than when the Cavaliers rushed him into the GM chair in 1999."

(Well done, Ian Thomsen. Well done. You almost had me. That's one of the better satirical columns in recent memory. Kudos.)

• My Final Four picks: Georgetown over OSU in an all-time classic; Florida over UCLA in a blowout. Can you ever remember someone's draft stock being more directly tied to one game than Roy Hibbert's stock in the OSU game? If he handles Oden, he quickly becomes a top-seven pick. If he flops against Oden, he drops into the low-teens. Meanwhile, Oden can lock up the No. 1 spot with two monster games on Saturday and Monday. (It's just like the Bryant Reeves-George Zidek battle in '95, only the exact opposite.) Throw in Jeff Green, Jonathan Wallace, Mike Conley, Ron Lewis, the possibility of a Thad Matta brainfart down the stretch as Doc Rivers looks on from the stands. … I mean, I am LEGITIMATELY excited for this game. Can't wait. As for the UCLA game, it's hard to fathom a streaky-shooting team beating Kansas, Florida and Georgetown/OSU back-to-back-to-back, which makes me think Bruins fans are better off with a 20-point loss and Arron Afflalo going 2 for 20, then Afflalo, Collison and everyone else returning to play with Kevin Love next season. Assuming Durant and Oden come out, that smells like an undefeated season to me. Or damned close.

• Finally, if you're enjoying the Basketball Blog and want to peruse some of the other posts, just click on any linked date on the calendar that's sitting on the top right of this page. Hold your mouse over any of those links and you can actually see the title of that day's post. Also, as of this week, you can access every "Sports Guy" column since 2001 without being an Insider subscriber. Everything I've ever written can be reached in the complete archives. If you head over to the subject archive page, every relevant column from April '01 through January '07 has been broken down by category. And even though it hasn't been updated since last year, the Glossary links to columns with some specific theories and ideas from the past six years.

And on that note, I don't even need to tell you this … but enjoy the weekend.

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