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Category: lifestyleSource: abscbn abscbnOct 12th, 2018

Q& A: Hornets Walker starts season in scoring groove

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com With the new season underway, and with his game as hot as almost anyone to start, Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker was asked what impressed or surprised him about the first 10 days or so of 2018-19. “Nothing besides my own play,” Walker said, laughing after a shootaround Friday (Saturday, PHL time). “Nothing besides seeing my name near the top of the NBA scoring, which is pretty weird.” Eh, maybe not so weird. Walker, a two-time All-Star, is the Hornets’ all-time leading scorer. At 28, the former ninth overall pick in the 2011 Draft is in his prime as a player. The 41 points he dropped on Milwaukee on opening night and the fact he’s gone for at least 23 every game since (with three more games of 30 or more) seems like the next logical step. It earned him the season’s first Eastern Conference Player of the Week honor and as Week 2 ended, his 31.7 ppg trailed only Golden State’s Stephen Curry (33.9) and Portland’s Damian Lillard (33.8). “It was [gratifying]. Who wouldn’t want it to keep going?” Walker told NBA.com. “I know teams will be gearing up on me and double-teaming me. But I just want to win, man. I want to get back to the playoffs any way possible. I don’t care what I average the rest of the year.” Walker, in the final year of a four-year, $48 million deal he signed in 2014, never has shot the ball so well -- 40.5 percent from the arc, 46.6 percent overall. Neither has he shot it so often and from such range. Walker is averaging 23 shots, including more than 11 3-point attempts. His usage rate of 33.5 trails only Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo (35.1) and his 29.4 PER puts him ahead of Kevin Durant and LeBron James. Is it sustainable? That was one of multiple topics Walker talked about with NBA.com’s Steve Aschburner: *** Steve Aschburner: On Media Day, you made it sound as if you would hit this season hard from the start, and that’s exactly what we’ve seen. How do you explain it? Kemba Walker: I knew I had a good summer. I put in the work and the time and the effort to get better. And I’m healthy -- I haven’t felt healthy like this in a long time. Over the last three summers, I wasn’t healthy, having knee surgeries and ‘scopes. So I was rehabbing. This summer, I had a chance to work on my game. Being able to work on my shooting over a long period of time really helped as well. SA: You took as many 3FGAs last season as you shot your first two seasons combined. Now you’re launching them at a pace (11.3 per game) to break Steph Curry’s single season record (886). Is this a conscious change by you or a reaction to the league’s preferred style? KW: Both. The league definitely has changed from the time I first came in. Everybody’s shooting more threes, no matter their position. Me, I’ve just become more confident. I worked on my shot tremendously to get to this point. I’m comfortable now shooting it, whenever I can get to my spots. SA: What’s your preference -- pull-up threes, spot-up threes or those halfcourt threes like Steph takes? KW: Not at all [laughing]. Steph is a different type of shooter, maybe the best to ever shoot the basketball. But I’m comfortable shooting them however. It doesn’t matter. If I can get ‘em up, I try to make ‘em. But I do love for my teammates to create for me and get me some easy ones. It does take some stress, some pressure, off of me. SA: Your coach, James Borrego, has talked of using you more off the ball. Does that suit you? KW: It really helps. It gets me a little bit of rest, and it opens up a different dynamic in my game. As well as giving other guys a chance to have the ball in their hands and create for others. But the main thing is, it just keeps me fresher, which is huge for me. SA: What’s your take on the Charlotte rookies? KW: Oh, I’m a huge fan. Devonte’ [Graham] really hasn’t gotten a chance to play yet, but I’ve always been a huge fan, even when he was at Kansas. Just love his game, love his poise. And that’s skill -- I don’t think people understand how much of a skill it is to be poised, especially at a young age. It’s something that I didn’t have, something that took me a very long time to get. Miles [Bridges], he’s a hard-playing kid. Smart, always in the right spot on both ends of the floor. I can see him getting more minutes as the season progresses. SA: Malik Monk is a second-year guy who didn’t have the most satisfying rookie season. What do you see from him, and can he become a reliable backcourt mate? KW: Oh yeah, he’s growing. Every single day. His efficiency will come. He needs time to learn, needs time to develop, to figure out where his shots are going to come. He’s getting better already. He’s passing the ball really well, getting other guys involved. He needs to know we need him every night, with him coming off the bench for us. SA: Your rookie season was about as challenging as could be -- delayed by a lockout, rushed through training camp and a quickie preseason, and then a 7-59 experience. Did that set you back as a player? KW: Nah, it wasn’t a setback. It was humbling. I took it as a point in my career where I was going through adversity. It was tough -- nobody likes to lose -- and through my basketball career I felt I had been a winner. But I just stuck to it, just kept working hard. SA: You said you don’t want to talk anymore about your free agency next summer -- and your general manager, Mitch Kupchak, is on record saying, “Our intention is for him to end his career in a Hornet uniform.” Some people wonder what the market might be, though, given how many terrific point guards are out there. So let’s address that another way: what is it like competing with all those rivals? KW: It’s unbelievable, man. Every night. Every single night, somebody is there to … I can’t even explain it. Every team, there’s so many great point guards out there who are just ready to showcase their talents. There are young guys ready to show how good they are. Yeah, it’s a point guard league. SA: We’re seeing more and more teams switching everything defensively. How hard is that on a 6-foot-1 point guard? KW: It’s … tough sometimes. Some matchups, you don’t want to get. But I rely on my teammates to help out as much as possible. The most challenging part probably is boxing guys out. But I’m always up for the challenge. SA: Some players talk or at least play like defense is optional. Your thoughts? KW: Not at all. I’m paid to do it all. It’s not even about being paid -- I’m just competitive. I want to play defense. I want to score. I want to do it all. SA: I’ve often wondered what it’s like to play for the team that Michael Jordan owns. Other teams, the owners aren’t basketball experts. But that’s not the case for the Hornets. Is it intimidating? KW: I wouldn’t say intimidating. I love it. I want my owner to have played. He knows what’s going on, he knows how it feels after losses, after wins. Traveling. Being tired. He’s been through it. He knows what it takes to win games in this league. Even though basketball’s a bit different now from when he played, but still, he knows. I feel like I’m at an advantage because I can go to him, I can ask him things. Or he can just come to me, or text me or call me to let me know things. And let me know how to get past things. No, it’s an honor for us, it’s an honor for me to have him as an owner. SA: How is basketball different from when Jordan played? KW: For me, just the threes. A lot of bigs shooting threes. The bigs are different in general, you know? Back with MJ, I feel like the shooting guards and the forwards were dominant, and it was more of a post-up league. Now it’s a point guard’s league for the most part. And it’s not a post-up league much anymore. There are so many threes up in the air. SA: Do you little guys resent the stretch-fours and stretch-fives coming out onto your turf these days? KW: Yeah, man, it’s crazy. But it’s fun. Just seeing the development and the change. Even from when I first got in the league it wasn’t like that. But guys are so talented nowadays, it’s unbelievable. SA: Tell me about the Big Brothers Big Sisters work you do, mentoring four kids -- two boys and two girls -- in the Charlotte area. KW: Just to be in their lives. I take ‘em out to eat, take ‘em to Dave & Buster’s every now and then. It’s fun. I try to avoid the cameras. It’s not for social media. It’s not for anything but them. The kids are doing great in school. That’s the biggest progress, that’s what you want. They’ve really started to love basketball now -- they come to games sometimes. It’s been fun to see them grow, each and every time I see them. One of the kids, his mom passed away. I know it’s been a struggle for him. For me to be able to help get his mind off of that for a time, just be there for him, that’s definitely rewarding for me but I hope it’s more rewarding for him. SA: You’re in your eighth season, and you’ve played a total of 11 playoff games. What stands out for you about the postseason? KW: I remember every game. We played Miami twice. The first year [2014] was when they had LeBron, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. They swept us, but I thought we played really well. Obviously it wasn’t enough -- they had three Hall of Famers. I remember the level of intensity those guys played with. I remember telling myself, the next time I get to the playoffs, I’m going to try my best to play like that. The next time [2016], that’s what I did. People thought we might get swept again, but we went to seven games. It was really fun. The whole atmosphere was so intense. I loved it. You have to take your game to a whole ‘nother level. You have to play hard every possession, every second of those games. The competitiveness, the toughness, everything goes up. SA: A problem that team had, it still has -- you’re carrying such a big load offensively. Do you need a second reliable scorer, and is that guy on the roster now? KW: Of course. We need it. I’m not going to have huge games every night. It’s on one of these guys to step up. I think guys are still searching for their roles at this point, especially with a new coach, new system. We’re still learning. But as the season progresses, I think they will. We have guys who are capable of putting points up for us. SA: The All-Star Game this season is in Charlotte. You’ve been selected twice. What would you think of playing in that game in your market? KW: That’d be amazing. To be in Charlotte, the team that drafted me, the team I’ve played with for eight years now, it would be a really special moment. Hopefully I can get there. It’d be fun. A really important and fun moment in my career. Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsOct 30th, 2018

Q& A: Hall of Fame Bob Lanier

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com Bob Lanier turned 70 Monday, a big number for a big man. In fact, that number can be linked to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer in several ways. It was in 1970 that Lanier was the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, selected out of St. Bonaventure by the Detroit Pistons. And it was the 70s as the decade in which Lanier excelled, earning seven of his eight All-Star appearances while averaging 22.7 points and 11.8 rebounds for the Pistons. Dinosaurs ruled the NBA landscape back then, with Lanier achieving his success against the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, Dave Cowens, Willis Reed, Nate Thurmond, Elvin Hayes, Artis Gilmore and other legendary big men. Yet it was Lanier who was the MVP of the 1974 All-Star Game, who won the one-off, 32-contestant 1-on-1 championship tournament run by ABC in 1973 as part of its national broadcast schedule and who (with Walton) got name-dropped by Abdul-Jabbar in the 1980 Hollywood comedy “Airplane!” [“I'm out there busting my buns every night!” he tells a kid as “co-pilot Roger Murdock.” “Tell your old man to drag Walton and Lanier up and down the court for 48 minutes!”] Lanier’s Detroit teams never got beyond the conference semifinals, though, so in 1979-80 he asked to be traded. In February 1980, the Pistons dealt him to Milwaukee for Kent Benson and a future draft pick. With the Bucks, who averaged 59 victories in Lanier’s four full seasons there, Lanier flirted with his greatest team success, yet never reached The Finals. He was 36 when bad knees and other injuries forced him to retire. Those knees still are trouble, preventing Lanier from attending this year’s Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony -- he was elected in 1992 -- and limiting his ability to travel from his home in Arizona to catch his daughter Khalia’s volleyball games at USC. But the man nicknamed “The Dobber” was as chatty and opinionated as ever in a phone conversation last week with NBA.com: NBA.com: The league still keeps you busy, doesn’t it? Bob Lanier: Well, it did. But about 15 months ago, I had knee replacement surgery on my right leg and that is not going very well. It still aches and it gets me unbalanced. That’s what I was trying to get away from. The surgeon said mine was the most difficult one he’d ever done. I was supposed to get the left one done but I couldn’t, because the right one was bothering me so much. I can’t even stand to hit a golf ball. NBA.com: You were part of the original Stay In School initiative, if I recall correctly. BL: I was involved with a little bit of everything from the time David [Stern, longtime NBA commissioner] first called me in 1988. It started off with wanting me to do something for kids who stayed in school. We did “P-R-I-D-E,” with P for positive mental attitude, R for respect, I for intelligent choice-making, D for dreaming and setting goals, and E for effort and education. It was really amazing. The first year, we were talking about giving out 25,000 Starter jackets for kids who came to the rally. Shoot, we needed double that amount, the numbers we got. Everything is kind of under the same umbrella now with NBA Cares. Kathy Behrens [president, social responsibility and player programs] has done a wonderful job of taking this to a whole ‘nother level, her and Adam [Silver, NBA commissioner]. NBA.com: Have you ever had one of those kids whose lives you touched reach out to you years later? BL: [Laughs]. You know what, I’m laughing because you don’t expect to hear from anybody. The only time that somebody really validated something we were doing was when I wrote those books. (The “Hey, Li’l D!” series of kids books, loosely based on Lanier’s childhood adventures. Co-authored with Heather Goodyear in 2003, the Scholastic Paperbacks books still are available.) I was on a plane and one of the passengers asked me to sign the book for her, for her child. I was so taken aback by that, I was shaking while I was signing the autograph. That was really good -- I thought, maybe I did something right. NBA.com: But none of the Stay In School kids? BL: Look, in our business, in community relations and social responsibility areas, you don’t really … when you’re building houses for people, the folks who work with you side by side give you a thumbs up and say thank you before it’s over. When we do the playgrounds, we use kids in the neighborhood who are going to enjoy playing in it and having dreams -- they’re thankful. But there’s so much need out here. When you’re traveling around to different cities and different countries, you see there are so many people in dire straits that the NBA can only do so much. We make a vast, vast difference, but there’s always so much more to do. NBA.com: I know you’re not in it for the thank yous. BL: No. The only thing that stands out to me is from when I was still playing in Milwaukee and I was getting gas at a station on, I think it was Center St. A guy came up to me and said, “My dad is sick. And you’re his favorite player. Could you come up to the house and say hello to him? The house is right next door.” So I went over, I went upstairs. The guy was laying there in his bed. His son said, “This is Bob,” and he was like, “I know.” And he just had a little smile, a twinkle in his eye. And he grabbed my hand and squeezed it. And we said a little prayer. About two weeks later, his dad had died. And he left a card at the Bucks office, just saying “Thank you for making one of my dad’s final days into a good day.” NBA.com: It probably wasn’t, and isn’t, uncommon for you to be spotted out in public like that. At your size (6-foot-11, 250 pounds as a player). BL: As time passes on, people know you at first because you’re a player. Then you stop playing. And 10 years after, when a player like Shaquille O’Neal comes along, they know him and figure you must be Shaq’s dad. “You’re wearing them big shoes.” I just go along with it. “Yeah, I’m Shaq’s dad!” NBA.com: That has to sting, seeing as how Shaq took your title for the NBA’s biggest sneakers. You were famous for your size-22s. BL: Yeah, he sent me a pair one time and I think they were 23s. For some reason, I recall he would wear 23s and three pairs of socks or something instead of the 22s. NBA.com: Isn’t it sobering how quickly sports fans forget even distinctive-looking players such as yourself? BL: Absolutely correct. But that’s why we in the NBA and at the players association have to do a better job of passing down the history of our game. In a way that they’ll absorb it. Not necessarily that they’ll have to read it – it could be in a video game form, because that seems to hold interest a lot. NBA.com: You have been as busy in your post-playing career for the NBA as you ever were while playing, right? BL: I’ve really been blessed. You know this story: I started serving people with my mother [Nattie Mae] at church. Getting food to people who were sick or needy, taking it to the hospital, taking it to people’s houses or feeding them right after church. My mother was a Seventh Day Adventist and she was in the church all the time. She had me and my sister and a bunch of kids, we would all be there every Saturday. You start off doing it not only because your mother tells you to, but the food was good. Then David asked me to come help with the Stay In School, which was the start of it all. If I hadn’t graduated from college, I probably would never have gotten an opportunity to do that with the NBA. Plus, the amazing number of young people I’ve met around the country, around the world, that I think I’ve touched … some lives. I can’t say I touched everybody, but some. I always had a knack of selecting -- when I’d call up kids to help me with the presentation -- a girl or a boy who needed it. It’s amazing how many times a teacher has said to me, “You picked Joe” or “You picked Dorothy, and that’s a really difficult kid. You made them feel good.” You never let a kid fail. NBA.com: You never were a shy and retiring type. What do you think of the NBA these days? BL: I’ll tell you what, I wish that I were playing now. It’s not as physical a sport. You can do stuff anywhere in the world. You can make tons of money off the court -- I can’t imagine how much I’d make with a speaker deal and those big-ass sneakers of mine. The only thing I would not like about this era is that you’ve got to be so conscious of social media. And people taking photos of you when you don’t know they’re taking them. And having those things that zoom over your home and take pictures of your house. That part I wouldn’t like at all. NBA.com: It’s hard enough to avoid the public eye at your size. By the way, are you as tall as you used to be? BL: No, no. I remember standing next to Magic [Johnson] last year at some function we had, and I was looking at him eye-to-eye. I said, “Damn, I thought I was 6-11 and you were 6-9. You look like you’re taller than me now.” NBA.com: You might have fared well today, with the range you had on your jump shot. A big man like you or Bob McAdoo would fit right in. BL: But Mac was a true forward and I was a true center. With the game the way it is now, I think guys like he or I -- Dave Cowens, too -- could shoot from outside, inside, open up the lanes, make good passes. I say that gingerly with Mac, because every time it touched his hands it was going up. He’s my boy but that’s the truth. NBA.com: Wayne Embry, the NBA lifer as a player and executive, recently said to me about the current style of play, “C’mon, the big man likes to play too.” The game has gotten so much smaller. BL: I kind of like this game a little bit. If you’re a big who has skills, it helps to stretch the floor. You can always post up, if you’ve got a big can post up. But now you’ve got these bigs who are elongated forwards. Boogie Cousins is probably our last post-up big that I’m aware of. I think I just saw him on TV somewhere making about 10 3-pointers in a row. NBA.com: Any team or individuals to whom you pay particular attention? BL: I like watching ‘Bron [LeBron James], obviously. I like this Golden State team, too, because they play so well together. I like the kid [Anthony] Davis. With Boogie, my concern is whether he’ll be healthy this season. NBA.com: What’s your take on the “super team” approach of the past few years? BL: I think both of ‘em have their sides. Back in the day, we would never do that. There wasn’t a lot of huggin’ and kissin’, all that stuff, when you were competing. You were out there to kick each other’s butt. But with AAU ball, it’s become guys playing together on these premier teams at all these tournaments around the country. So they get to know each before they ever go to college. NBA.com: Do you think today’s players appreciate the work you and other alumni did to build the league? BL: I think everything evolves. The best thing I could say as a player is, you want to leave the game in better shape than when you came into it. You want to leave a legacy, a better brand. You want players to be making more money. You want the league to be stronger. And since we’re partner in this, it’s important that those kinds of things happen. NBA.com: The 1970s seems to be pretty neglected, as far as NBA memories and highlights. At times it’s as if the league went from Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics dynasty to Magic Johnson and Larry Bird carrying the NBA into the 80s. The league had some popularity and PR issues back then, but eight different franchises won championships that decade. BL: Back in the 70s, a lot of people were feeling that the NBA was drug-infested. Too black. That’s one of the reasons the league came up with its substance abuse program, one of the first in sports to do that. The point was not to punish guys but to help guys who needed it to get clean. As that passed, then Larry and Magic came in. The media money started going up, and then Michael [Jordan] came in in ’84 and everything took off from there. So I can see how you could kind of forget about the 70s. NBA.com: And yet now folks complain that each season starts with only three or four teams seen as capable of winning the title. Why was it different then? BL: I think everybody competed a lot. And guys didn’t change teams as much, so when you were facing the Bulls or the Bucks or New York, you had all these rivalries. Lanier against Jabbar! Jabbar against Willis Reed! And then [Wilt] Chamberlain, and Artis Gilmore, and Bill Walton! You had all these great big men and the game was played from inside out. It was a rougher game, a much more physical game that we played in the 70s. You could steer people with elbows. They started cutting down on the number of fights by fining people more. Oh, it was a rough ‘n’ tumble game. NBA.com: There were, of course, fewer teams. Seventeen when you arrived, for instance. BL: There was so much talent on every team. Every night you were playing against somebody really damn good, and if you didn’t come to play, they’d whip your behind. NBA.com: You know, I’m surprised I never heard about you being the target of a bidding war with the old ABA? Did they ever come after you? BL: Got approached at the end of my junior year at St. Bonaventure. They offered me a nice contract. But I wanted to stay in school because I thought we had a real chance at winning the NCAA title. NBA.com: Gee, that almost sounds quaint by today’s get-the-money standards. BL: Yeah. Well, I trusted them as a league -- it was the New York Nets, a guy named Roy Boe -- but I knew we had a really good team. And we did. We got to the Final Four. Then I got hurt. NBA.com: You went down against Villanova, your tournament ended by a torn ligament. I’m surprised, looking back, you were considered healthy enough to get drafted No. 1 and have a pretty strong rookie season. BL: I wasn’t healthy when I got to the league. I shouldn’t have played my first year. But there was so much pressure from them to play, I would have been much better off -- and our team would have been much better served -- if I had just sat out that year and worked on my knee. NBA.com: From the Final Four to the start of the NBA season isn’t much time to rehab a knee injury. Then you played 82 games, averaging 15.6 points and 8.1 rebounds in 24.6 minutes. BL: That was stupid. My knee was so sore every single day that it was ludicrous to be doing what I was doing. I wanted to play, but I was smart and the team was smart, everybody would have benefited. NBA.com: Did you ever fully recover? I know your later years were hampered by knee pain. BL: Oh, I fully recovered. Going into my third year, I think I had my legs underneath me a lot. NBA.com: Your coach as a rookie was Butch van Breda Kolff, who had butted heads with Wilt Chamberlain in Los Angeles. Did you have any issues with him? BL: He was a pretty tough coach, but he was a good-hearted person. As a matter of fact, he had a place down on the Jersey shore where he invited me to come and run on the beach to help strengthen my leg. I went there for about 2 1/2 weeks. I liked Butch a lot. NBA.com: Your Detroit teams had you as an All-Star nearly every season and of course Hall of Fame guard Dave Bing. Did you think you’d achieve more? BL: I think ’73-74 was our best team [52-30]. We had Dave, Stu Lantz, John Mengelt, Chris Ford, Don Adams, Curtis Rowe, George Trapp. But then for some reason, they traded six guys off that team before the following year. I just didn’t feel we ever had the leadership. I think we had [seven] head coaches in my 10 years there. That was a rough time, because at the end of every year, you’d be so despondent. NBA.com: So by the time you were traded to Milwaukee, you were ready to go? BL: I wanted the trade. But until you start getting on that plane and leaving your family and start crying, you don’t realize it’s a part of your life you’re leaving. I got to Milwaukee and it was freezing outside. But the people gave me a standing ovation and really made me feel welcome. It was the start of a positive change. I just wish I had played with that kind of talent around me when I was young. The only time I thought I had it was that ’73-74 team they messed up. But if I had had Marques [Johnson] and Sidney [Moncrief] and all of them around me? Damn. NBA.com: I got my start around those Bucks teams, and feel I often have to remind people how good they were deep into the ‘80s. You just couldn’t get past the Celtics and the Sixers in the same year, in a loaded Eastern Conference. BL: They were always a man better than us. We had to play our best to beat them and they didn’t have to play their best to beat us. It haunts me to this day. NBA.com: How did you like playing for Bucks coach Don Nelson? BL: Loved him. It was just like playing for your big brother. He was a player’s coach, for sure. He’d been through it, won championships. Knew what it was like to be a role player, knew what it took to be a prime-time player. Didn’t get upset over pressure. He was just a stand-up guy. NBA.com: As we talk, I’m looking at my office wall and I have that famous All-Star poster from 1977, painted by Leroy Neiman. That game was notable, too, because it was the first one after the NBA/ABA merger. So you had Julius Erving, George Gervin, Dan Issel and those other ABA stars flooding their talent into the league. BL: You know what? I think you could put 10 players from the 70s into the league today and be as competitive as anybody. Think of the guys who could really play and were athletic. And with the rule changes, that would make us even more effective. “Ice’ [Gervin]. Julius. David Thompson, a huge athlete. I don’t know who could mess with Kareem at all. NBA.com: What about Nate Archibald? BL: You took the words right out of my mouth. Tiny! He could scoot up and down and do what he needed to do. These guys knew the game, they played the basics of it so well. NBA.com: No one disputes the advances in training, nutrition, travel and rest. But in raw ability, you think it was close to today? BL: One thing I will say about this group of young men, they seem to be more athletic than we were. They seem to be able to cover so much more ground. Whatever that new step is, the Eurostep? And another thing they do differently know is, they brush-pick. They brush and then they pop. You rarely see a guy do a solid pick and then roll with the guy on his back to cause a mismatch. Everybody’s looking to open the floor to shoot 3’s. This has become the weapon of choice now. NBA.com: No rings for that Milwaukee team from which you retired has meant, so far, no Hall of Fame for Marques Johnson or Sidney Moncrief, the two stars.   BL: That’s what rings hollow in your ears. You hear people saying, “Where’s the ring? The ring!” And we don’t have any rings. That’s what we play for. NBA.com: Didn’t stop your enshrinement though. BL: They must have been blind, crippled and crazy, huh? It’s a short crop of brotherhood that gets in there. I just wish there was more time on those weekends where we could spend time just talking with one another. You rarely see each other, and it would be nice to have a quiet room where you could just re-hash old times and plays, and maybe have your family so your grandkids could listen to Earl the Pearl tell about this or [Bill] Walton tell about that. Just rehashing stuff that brought people a lot of joy. Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsSep 11th, 2018

Oladipo, Sabonis helping Pacers move forward

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com INDIANAPOLIS – Victor Oladipo has a fever and the only prescription is ... no, not more cowbell. Cowbell might make sense, if you factor in Oladipo’s love of and commitment to music (his debut R&B album has been available since Oct. 6). But the fever currently afflicting Oladipo, shooting guard for the Indiana Pacers, has nothing to do with extracurriculars and everything to do with the odes and anthems he’s been performing within the confines of 94 feet by 50 feet. If the fifth-year guard out of Indiana University, by way of the Orlando Magic and Oklahoma City Thunder, looks comfortable in his new star turn for the Pacers, well, just remember that’s your word. Not his. “You could say I’m comfortable with the people here,” says Oladipo, who spent three seasons with the Hoosiers before becoming the No. 2 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. “I played in front of these fans, they mean a lot to me and I gave a lot to them just like they gave a lot to me while I was in college. “But I’m never comfortable in any situation I’m in. I will never be comfortable. That’s what kind of makes me get up and work every day. It’s like, never be satisfied. Because for some reason, ever since I was a little kid, I always wanted more.” Oladipo’s eyes just about glow after a weekend practice as he delves into his unflagging intensity. He doesn’t undercut it with a smile or a token laugh. This is real heat. “Maximize my talent and exhaust my potential,” he says. “In order to do that, I’ve got to come to work every day. That’s my thought process. Wake up each day and be great that day.” Each day would include tonight, when Oladipo will share center stage at Bankers Life Fieldhouse with the more decorated and once-beloved star who preceded him in the Pacers lineup. Paul George, a four-time All-Star and Olympic gold medalist during his seven seasons in Indiana, was due to face his old team for the first time since being traded to Oklahoma City in July. It was a parting necessitated by George, who had made clear his desire to sign a maximum-salary contract with the Los Angeles Lakers in the summer of 2018. But the trade was orchestrated by Kevin Pritchard, the Pacers’ president of basketball operations, and Chad Buchanan, their general manager, who surprised the NBA by swapping George to OKC for Oladipo and big man Domantas Sabonis. You want intense? The initial reaction to that deal was intensely negative, quickly reaching hysterical proportions. The Pacers immediately were mocked for having traded George for nickels on the dollar. Reports out of Boston characterized Indiana’s POBO as more of a bobo for allegedly spurning a Celtics’ offer of multiple players and draft picks. *Takes a well deserved nap for 3 hours ** Opens Twitter: pic.twitter.com/xWNYaVfKTy — Myl3s Turn3r (@Original_Turner) July 1, 2017 The west is sick!!!! Best conference in the world!!!! — Patrick Beverley (@patbev21) July 1, 2017 Vic to the Pacers?! He might as well run for governor while he's at it! — Cody Zeller (@CodyZeller) July 1, 2017 Former Thunder star Kevin Durant called the move “shocking” and of George said “Indiana just gave him away.” Among much of the media that covers the league, there was a general feeling of “rubes” afoot -- that the Pacers had been snookered in taking back an overpaid ($21 million annually through 2020-21) second-tier talent and an overbilled guy who had disappeared in OKC’s postseason. And now? Not so much on any of those fronts. ‘He knows how good he is’ George’s stats are down in the “OK3” core he’s formed with reigning Kia MVP Russell Westbrook and aging Carmelo Anthony. The Thunder (12-13) are the NBA’s consensus disappointment, team category, with nearly a third of their season in the books. Sabonis has boosted the Pacers off the bench in a half dozen ways. And Oladipo has all but earned himself a spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star team while speeding his new team’s fans past their heartbreak over George’s jilting. Generally, the best trades in sports are win-win, but for Indiana right now, a bit of win-lose has made the start of 2017-18 downright sublime. “We happened to really like Sabonis in the draft,” former Pacers president and ongoing consultant Donnie Walsh said last week. “We wanted more of everything in the trade too. But when it came down to it, we had this offer with Oladipo, who we also liked. They’ve come in here and the more they’ve been here, the more we like ‘em. We’re happy.” The Pacers also are 16-11, two weeks ahead in the victory column over their 42-40 finish last season that was good for a playoff berth. Oladipo is the biggest reason why, averaging more points per game (24.5) than George ever has. The 6'4" guard who attended famous DeMatha High in Hyattsville, Md., spent much of last season being beaten up for his contract and negligible impact in Oklahoma City. He had taken grief earlier for his status as the second pick in 2013, a lofty status not of his doing. And here he was again in the summer, hearing it all over again for a transaction he didn’t design. “He came in with a chip [on his shoulder],” Pacers coach Nate McMillan said. “I thought he should come in with a chip.” Some would have flinched from the pressure. A few might have curled up, full blown fetal. Oladipo has gone entirely the other way. “His confidence is at an all-time high,” backup point guard Cory Joseph said. “He knows how good he is.” As Joseph spoke after the Pacers’ upset of Cleveland Friday, a game in which Oladipo scored 20 of his game-high 33 points in the third quarter, a lilting voice drifted from behind the scenes in the home dressing room. “Look at it right now, he’s singing in the shower,” Joseph said, tilting his head and laughing. “He’s confident. You guys are all in here, he’s just singing. He’s a confident guy. Everybody in this locker room, everybody in this organization definitely welcomes that.” Trade not driving Oladipo’s breakout season Don’t misunderstand. The critics still are out for Oladipo. “My mom told me yesterday I need to work on my free throws,” he said with an eye roll after practice Saturday (Sunday, PHL time). She had noticed, during her son’s run of big games in December -- 36 points at Toronto, 27 vs. Chicago, 33 against the Cavs the night before her chiding text -- that he had missed 18-of-31 foul shots. This, by a career 80 percent shooter from the line. “I’m over that,” Oladipo said. “I’m not going to miss no more. I’ll make ‘em next time. And if I miss ‘em, I’ll make ‘em the next. If that’s my problem right now, I think I can fix it.” Twenty-four hours later, Oladipo took 13 free throws against Denver and made 11. He scored 47 points in all, hitting 15-of-28 shots and half of his 12 three-pointers. The comeback victory in OT got the Pacers to 4-for-4 on their six-game homestand and continued to shrink whatever chip it was that the 25-year-old was shouldering. “In the beginning of the year, I said, ‘I don’t have a chip. I have a brick house on my back,’” Oladipo said. But not anymore, right, now that some folks are referring to it as “the Victor Oladipo trade” rather than “the Paul George trade?” “That’s what I feel like every morning, no matter what’s going on,” he said. “I don’t even think about the trade, honestly. It’s in the past for me. People’s opinions are going to be there whether you like it or not. From the outside looking in, I guess you could say [then] that was a great trade for OKC. That’s what they believed. But it wasn’t going to change the way I worked. It wasn’t going to change my approach.” This step up in status is considered perhaps the most difficult an NBA player can make. Suddenly, opposing coaches are X&O-ing him to death. The player dogging him up and down the court is the other guys’ best defender. Often, they’ll send double-teams to get the ball into one of his teammates’ hands. “He hadn’t had that,” McMillan said. “When he was in OKC, the game plan was focused on Westbrook. When he was in Orlando, he was just a young player. Now he is seeing the defenders like a LeBron [James], like a [DeMar] DeRozan, what these stars are seeing. He’s seeing the best defenders and he’s seeing teams game-plan to take him out. “Learning how to play and be consistent every night with that challenge is something he’s going through.” Oladipo’s quick success with the Pacers has kept any crowd critics at bay. They were pre-disposed to like him just as their rebound date after George, but had he underperformed, Oladipo’s service time in Bloomington wouldn’t have protected him for long from criticism. But now, it’s George who likely will get the harsh reception. Oladipo, overtly after each of the recent victories, has made it clear to the home fans via some emphatic pointing and body language that the Fieldhouse happens to be his house. “I don’t say it, they say it,” he said. “I just do the gesture and they do the rest of the work for me. I let them do all the talking. We feed off them -- when they’re into it, we play better. I don’t know why, that’s just how basketball’s always been. They’re our sixth man and we need ‘em every night.” Oladipo’s breakout season has been bolstered, too, by the Pacers’ second-through-15th men. Those who already were in Indy knew how valuable George was at both ends. Those who, like Oladipo and Sabonis, were new this season were within their rights to be as skeptical as the national headlines of the guys coming in trade. Go-to guy emerges for Pacers OKC was a specific challenge, Oladipo having to learn on the fly how to fit his own darting, ball-heavy style to only the second man in NBA history to average a triple-double. Westbrook’s usage was off the charts, rendering the other Thunder players to supporting cast whether suited to that role or not. Just like that, Oladipo had to catch and shoot as someone to get Westbrook into double digits in assists. It wasn’t his nature and it made for an individually forgettable season. “I had a role. I tried to play that role to the best of my ability. And I improved certain areas of my game in that role,” was all he’d say Saturday, stiffly, about the OKC experience. Said Walsh: “I felt like he was going to get a different opportunity here. ... When he got to Oklahoma City, he was playing wih a guy who was averaging a triple-double. And he liked Russell Westbrook. But he comes here, he’s got an opportunity to be ‘our guy.’ “I think he might have been looking for that. I never asked him. He’s a really cool guy. He knows what he wants to be, I think.” Oladipo needed this and the Pacers needed him to need it. With George gone, they were like a smile missing a front tooth. The other teeth weren’t just going to move up in the pecking order -- no matter how good young big man Myles Turner is -- and replace the one they’d lost. If they were going to have any success this season, if McMillan was going to be able to coach and adjust in his second year taking over for Frank Vogel, the players needed to fill their roles and welcome this new addition. That’s why this tale of Oladipo’s growing success is about what the Pacers have done for him, as much as it is what he’s done for them. “We didn’t really present it like that,” McMillan said, “because we were still trying to develop who our ‘go-to guy’ was. He has been slowly taking on that role through the things he’s done. I haven’t had to say anything. He’s making good decisions with the ball. And the guys are getting a feel for what we’re doing down the stretch because we’ve had some success, and we’ve had it with Victor having the ball.” Chemistry change for Pacers There might be NBA teams with chemistry as solid as the Pacers’ right now, but it’s hard to imagine there are any with better. It’s more than mere relief that someone has stepped up, easing their own loads a bit. It is a genuine eagerness for Oladipo to max out, for each of the rest of them to do the same in whatever lane they’re riding. “Vic’s been everything at this point,” Turner said. “He’s done a great job of stepping up and being that guy, being that dude. It’s amazing to have that when you’re going through a situation where it’s a brand-new team. We’re still learning each other and he’s showing that he’s ready.” Did Turner know this would happen and, if so, when? “First couple days he started texting me in the summertime,” the big man said. “I saw what his mindset was, and I loved it from the jump. He carried that right in when we started playing pickup this summer. “Vic’s been traded, what, [two] times? He finally comes back home and he has a team that’s telling him to go, telling him to be him. I don’t think he had that with his former teams. Now that he’s here and he’s doing that, I’m pretty sure he’s [enjoying it].” Said Joseph: “He’s been a beast for us and he’s going to continue to be a beast for us. ... He’s been running with that opportunity and opening eyes around the world.” Even strong-willed, uber-confident Lance Stephenson, has backed up for Oladipo. “There’s no hate, know what I mean?” he said over the weekend. “Some guys get mad about somebody doing good. This team wants its teammates to do good. That’s what’s going to make us even better.” Oladipo keeps referring to the other Pacers in a legit lubricating of the “no I in Indy” process. “Honestly I think it’s the personalities and the men that we have in this locker room,” he said. “My teammates are phenomenal people -- not just basketball players, phenomenal people. When you surround yourself with great people, people who sincerely care about you and your team, the chemistry just comes naturally.” Sabonis shows glimpses of success, too The other guy in the trade, Sabonis, has developed more organically, his maturation seemingly inevitable regardless of locale when you tote up his youth, his work ethic and his bloodlines (son of Hall of Famer Arvydas Sabonis). He has gone from that rookie who logged just six minutes in the Thunder’s five 2017 playoff games against Houston to an essential piece in McMillan’s rotation. “Once I got traded, I knew this was a great opportunity for me to show people what I can really do,” said Sabonis, the No. 11 pick in 2016. “I was a rookie last year. Everything was new. Here, I’m being used more at the 5. That’s more the position I’ve been used to playing my whole life.” Sabonis’ minutes are up from 20.1 in OKC to 24.6 off Indiana’s bench. His scoring has doubled from 5.9 ppg to 12.1. And his PIE rating has soared from 4.9 last season to 12.6, a sign of the versatility the skilled big man possesses. “I love Sabonis,” Walsh said. “His father was one of the greatest players in the world, so I don’t like that comparison -- it kills him. He [Domantas] is just more of everything you think he is. He’s stronger than you think. He can shoot the ball better. He’s got good hands, he can catch the ball. I’ve seen him make moves in game that I’ve never seen him make in practice.” Said Turner: “I played against Domas in college -- I knew what kind of player he was. I was excited when we got him. He’s gotten bigger and stronger since then, obviously, and he just didn’t have a chance to show himself last year. But he’s been big for us now, especially when I was out with the concussion. He stepped up huge in that role and we’ve played well since then.” The Pacers are playing faster this season, up from 18th in pace last season to 10th now, part of their improvement from 15th in offensive rating (106.2) to 6th (108.3). They’re doing better, too, in contesting shots and throttling opponents’ field-goal accuracy. The biggest reason why has been Oladipo’s blossoming. Whether due to the sunshine of new, happier surroundings or from that darker, more intense place, to prove cynics wrong. No one can now talk of the Pacers’ bungling of what, after all, was a deal to rent George, not to have him long-term. Fans at Bankers Life figure to boo George on his first visit back, with an inventory they haven’t needed or used on Oladipo. Some might see that as ingratitude, others as respect. It’s a little bit of love lost, too. “Look, they loved Paul when he was here,” Walsh said. “They guy is a great player. One thing I’ve always felt: These guys that play here, they always know more about what they want for their lives than we do. How you gonna argue with that? He treated us good, we treated him good. No bad blood here. I don’t know about fans.” Folks in Indy have a new crush now, one they hope lasts for a while. Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsDec 14th, 2017

Drama, the long ball center of early season NBA intrigue

By Kyle Hightower, Associated Press There has been some early tinkering to lineups, a few hiccups and lots of drama to start the NBA season. None of the league’s final four teams from last season — Boston, Cleveland, Houston, Golden State — look like locks to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy this time. The addition of Carmelo Anthony to the Rockets’ roster produced more thorns than fruit, and now he is out. In Boston, the Celtics are having early trouble trying to figure out how best to use their overflowing mix of young and veteran talent following the return of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward from injuries. And Cleveland has gotten off to a predictable slow start to the post-LeBron James’ era, but few expected the total collapse by the Cavaliers. However, there is no drama like championship drama and the defending champion Warriors suddenly look more like the cast of a reality series than a harmonious lineup rolling along and vying for a third straight championship. Draymond’s Green public outburst at Kevin Durant during the Warriors’ overtime loss to the Clippers on Nov. 12 lingers. Now there is tension on a team that has managed to remain mostly drama-free during its run. Durant’s impending free agency, Green’s lack of an apology, and Steph Curry’s injury has opened a window for teams. Some of the NBA’s most recent mini-dynasties have dissipated because of infighting. Squabbling between Michael Jordan and Chicago Bulls management at least contributed to their decline after Jordan’s second three-peat and subsequent second retirement in 1999. Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal couldn’t coexist long enough to extend the Los Angeles Lakers’ run of three straight titles from 2000 to 2002. Green has vowed the Warriors will still be there in the end. That remains to be seen. 3'S COMPANY Little guys doing work outside and big men camped out close to the basket is an old-school approach to basketball that’s starting to look as old as James Naismith’s original peach baskets. The NBA needs to send out thank-you cards to the ABA. Everyone digs the long ball. Next year will mark the 40th anniversary of the adoption of the 3-point shot in the league. Over those four decades it’s gone from being one of the handful of innovations carried over from the ABA to a necessity for any player — from guards to seven-footers — wanting to have longevity in the league. During the 2012-13 season, 33 NBA players listed at 6'8" or taller averaged at least one three-point attempt. That number grew to 124 last season. The 2018-19 season is barely two months old, but two teams (Boston and Golden State) have already logged 24 made three-pointers in a game. The record of 25 was set late last season by Cleveland. And in case anyone needed a reminder of the shot’s increased popularity, look no further than Milwaukee’s Brook Lopez. He became the third seven-footer in NBA history to hit eight three-pointers in a game when he did it against Denver last week. “You see the way the game’s trending, it’s definitely moving in that direction,” Lopez said. “I’m just trying to be professional, do my job, try to get my work in. I want to be as good as I can in every possible area of the game.” Lopez said Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer has been supportive of him stepping out beyond the arc. “Regardless if I miss, if I have off-games where I don’t shoot as well, they just tell me” to keep shooting, Lopez said. Other veteran big men around the league are hearing similar refrains. THE WEEK AHEAD — San Antonio at New Orleans, Monday (Tuesday, PHL time): DeMar DeRozan had 26 points and LaMarcus Aldridge added 22 points and 12 rebounds during the Spurs’ win in San Antonio earlier this month. The Pelicans look to return the favor after recovering nicely from a six-game losing skid. — Los Angeles Lakers at Cleveland, Wednesday (Thursday, PHL time): In a pre-Turkey Day appetizer, LeBron James returns to face Cleveland for the first time this season following his free agency departure to L.A. — New Orleans at Philadelphia, Wednesday (Thursday, PHL time): The Pelicans get their first crack at the new-look 76ers following their acquisition of Jimmy Butler. — Portland at Golden State, Friday (Saturday, PHL time): The Warriors get a look at one of their chief challengers in the West when they meet the Blazers for the first time this season. ___ AP Sports Writer Genaro Armas in Milwaukee contributed to this report......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsNov 19th, 2018

MAJOR POINT: Finding Family Away From Home

I’ve been in the Philippines now for over 21 years. I can’t believe it has been that long, but I just checked my passport stamp the other day and sure enough my arrival stamp says August 2, 1997. So many things have happened since then that it puts me in this weird nostalgic state of mind thinking back to how I was back then. I had no idea what was in store for me when I decided to try my luck in professional basketball in the Philippines. I thought I knew. I thought I knew everything, but I really had no clue. I was recruited by a Filipino agent living in the United States to come to the Philippines to play basketball. This made me feel pretty special. I had put together a solid playing resume in high school and college and had played a year professionally in Denmark. I thought I would come to the Philippines, play basketball for 11 years, retire, go back to Michigan and get into coaching. That was my plan. It was pretty simple to me. I never thought about the people I’d meet or the relationships I’d build during my stay in the Philippines. And even though I knew nobody in the Philippines, I didn’t hesitate to take the opportunity to go to the Philippines to play basketball. There were a few things I underestimated when I came to the Philippines back in 1997. Being from Michigan, the heat was a often times painful adjustment to get used to. I had never lived in a big city before, so Manila and its traffic was also something to get used to. I don’t speak Tagalog, so getting around that can still be difficult at times. The style of play here in the Philippines is different than I was used to, so I had to get used to that. But, the biggest adjustment for me was that I knew absolutely no one when I came to the Philippines. I had no friends. My mom is from Lawaan, Eastern Samar. She had only been back once since she had left the Philippines in the late 1960s. Most of my relatives on her side of the family still live in the province. So while, I have family in the Philippines, I don’t have any relatives in Metro Manila. So, here I was, on the other side of the planet with no family and no friends. Like most people, I like having friends. I had always had a close group of friends in high school and college. Playing a year in Denmark, not having my friends around was probably my biggest adjustment and I went through a rough period of homesickness there. Now that I was in the Philippines, I was in a different, but also similar situation. In my early years here in the Philippines, I played for two great teams. My first team was Tanduay Rhum. My first coach was Alfrancis Chua and my first boss was Boss Bong Tan. Both of those guys took great care of me. After four years with them, I was then traded to Barangay Ginebra. My boss there was Boss Henry Cojuangco. He also took great care of me. I had many great teammates through the years, including my years on those two teams. My teammates were very welcoming of me and I enjoyed my time on the court with those guys. However, when practice ended. My teammates would go back to their friends, family and responsibilities and I would go back to an empty condo unit. Everyday I would have practice in the morning from 9-12. After practice, I’d eat and then go find a gym to workout in. By the time I was done with my workout at 3 or 4 in the afternoon, I would then have to figure out what to do from 3 or 4 until the time I went to bed around 10 or 11. I thought a lot differently back then than I do now, so most of that time was wasted. I spent a lot of that time alone, bored, in front of the TV, just waiting for the day to end, so I could get up and do it again the next day. Although I was living my dream of playing professional basketball, it was strange for me to be living that life day after day after day. My first couple of years here, I didn’t have a car. I didn’t know my way around Manila. I didn’t know anybody outside of my team. I was living in Quezon City in a non-walkable area. It was a grind. I often wondered how long I could continue to stay on that type of grind. It wasn’t until after 18 months of living that way that I started to meet other Filipino-Americans that were going through similar experiences. In the late 1990s, the PBA landscape was much different than it is today. One thing that was a lot different, was there weren’t as many Fil-Ams as there are today. Having Fil-Am players playing in the PBA was still a new thing. There was a novelty about us. We were the new kids in school, in a way. Guys like Jeff Cariaso, Andy and Danny Seigle, Nic Belasco, Ali Peek, Noy Castillo, Rudy Hatfield and myself had played college basketball in the United States. The basketball fans here in the Philippines didn’t know who we were before we went high in the PBA Draft and then started playing in the PBA. Most of us were the only Fil-Americans on our teams. Upon meeting them, I found out that these guys were living the similar grind I had been going through. It’s hard to explain, but after meeting some of the other Fil-American basketball players, my life instantly got better. It was so refreshing to hear about their experiences. Although, we were all different and from different areas of the US, we were basically going through the same thing at near the same stage of our lives. We were all out here on our own trying to make it in professional basketball in country that was new to us. I found comfort in learning that other people were struggling with similar things that I was struggling with. There is always pressure to win in professional sports. My new friends helped me deal with that pressure. Learning about other peoples experiences in similar situations, having an outlet and having fun with new friends off of the court, helped bring balance to my life. I related to those guys. I smiled and laughed more when I was around those guys. Two guys in particular that helped me were Jeffrey Cariaso and Andy Seigle. Both of those guys are older than me and had been in the country and the PBA before I was. I looked to both of them for advice and valued their opinions. Jeff is from San Francisco was drafted in the PBA in 1995. By the time I had met Jeff in 1999, Jeff had won the PBA Rookie of the Year, had won multiple championships and was a multiple time PBA All-Star. Jeff was always a guy I respected for the way he handled himself on the court and off of it. Jeff was also a leader in the Fil-Am community here, organizing dinners and get togethers. Even today, it is nice to be able to message Jeff and he is still always willing to listen or give advice. Jeff will always shoot you straight. A friend like him is hard to find. Andy was the number one overall pick in the 1997 PBA Draft. At 6 for 10 Andy was the first Fil-Am from my generation to have big expectations put on his shoulders the very first day he stepped on a PBA court. Dealing with that pressure must have been tough, but Andy was one of the most accommodating, giving people I have ever met. Whenever he was doing something, he would invite me. Random days out of the blue, he would invite me to his house to have dinner with his family. Andy would host dinners at his house for holidays, where families from different teams would get together to celebrate. I was fortunate enough to eventually play with Andy at Ginebra, where we won three championships together. Having him in practice and as a friend made my life better in the Philippines. Just as Jeff and Andy helped me, I also tried to help new Fil-Americans that came to the Philippines after me. Rudy Hatfield came to Tanduay a couple of years after I had been there and I tried to show him the ropes. We became very close friends. When Jimmy Alapag and Harvey Carey were new to the country in 2002 and 2003, respectively, I tried help where I could. I can’t say I ever really mentored anybody, but I always tried to listen, and share. Even if I can only help you laugh or smile more, I know that can help. Those guys have also become close friends of mine. I know they have also helped others that have come after them. Since Alapag and Carey arrived, there have already been a couple generations of new Filipino American basketball players. I still see the younger Fil-Ams from different teams hanging out together. While I’ve heard that some people view that as Fil-Ams trying to separate themselves, I don’t believe that is true. Just like guys from the same province or same school are more likely to hang out together, young Fil-Ams are more likely to hang out together. It’s a natural thing to gravitate to things and people you relate to and have something in common with. It’s not the easiest thing to do, to go to a foreign country where you have no family and friends to start a new career. I know. I’ve been there. A lot of things have changed for me since 1997, when I first came to this country. I am now married and have two small children of my own. My wife, kids and her family provide my support system now, as I do for them. However, there was a time and a long time where I didn’t have that. My Fil-American friends were my family and support system. And while that wasn’t ideal, I was always taught to do the best with what you had. I’m thankful for what I had. Eric Menk played in the PBA from 1999 to 2016. Menk is a four-time PBA champion, three-time PBA Finals MVP and one-time PBA MVP (2005). He currently writes for ABS-CBN Sports weekly. Menk also has his podcast Staying MAJOR as welll as his own YouTube channel ......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsNov 2nd, 2018

Eight new stars who have risen in UAAP Season 81

It all begins here. That has been the UAAP theme this year and the names you will see on this list have been embracing their new beginnings and are delivering with promise despite all the pressure. The UAAP’s 81st season has been wild right off the bat with teams pulling wins out of nowhere, impressive individual performances, and lit on-court actions, which everyone has caught live on ABS-CBN S+A, S+A HD, LIGA, and LIGA HD every Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday. However, eight names have already shown why they are head and shoulders above everybody else in the season. Let’s take a look at the idols of future ballers and coaches here: 1.) Ange Kouame, Ateneo De Manila University The Ivorian big man is having a great debut with the defending champs in Season 81 and has been announcing his arrival to the league big game after big game, punctuated by his 33-point 27-rebound performance against potential Final Four contender, the FEU Tamaraws. While Thirdy Ravena continues to be the Blue Eagles’ leader on the floor, Kouame is slowly turning himself into a problem on a nightly basis. He’s constantly improving and learning about the college game thanks in part to fellow Ateneo big, who saw his play blossom last year, in Isaac Go.   2.) Sean Manganti, Adamson University Jerrick Ahanmisi is the Falcons’ leading scorer and main attraction. But let it not distract you from the fact that Sean Manganti has improved vastly to be the actual barometer of the team as it continues its stellar season. To prove a point, Manganti has also hit big shots for the Falcons including that game-winning dagger against the UP Fighting Maroons. Part of the reason for his impressive season so far is due to his training with former UAAP MVP Kiefer Ravena, who has been teaching him all the tricks in his bag.   3.) Justine Baltazar, La Salle  Justine Baltazar was a diamond in the rough coming to the Green Archers’ side of the fence after a stellar UAAP Juniors showing for National University. This season, without Ben Mbala up front, people are shocked by the massive improvement of Balti’s game as he has been the Green Archers’ consistent pillar of strength next to Aljun Melecio and Leonard Santillan. Balti is yet to have a bad game this season except when he had to contend with Ateneo’s hulking Ange Kouame, who is way heavier than the lanky center.   4.) Hubert Cani, Far Eastern University What a journey it has been for the former UAAP Juniors Finals MVP Hubert Cani, who went to Ateneo for two years before transferring to FEU and debuting last year. The 5’11” point guard has trimmed down immensely in preparation for Season 81 and it has clearly shown that his deadly Juniors form is back in harness. While FEU has been see-sawing lately in the standings, Cani has been the constant as much as teams prepare to stop FEU’s top scorer Arvin Tolentino.   5.) Juan Gomez De Liano, University of the Philippines Juan’s sophomore year has been anything but a disappointment. The UAAP Season 80 Rookie of the Year recently stopped the UAAP triple double drought when he posted a 15-point, 12-rebound, 12-assist line against the UE Red Warriors last Sunday (October 21). With team captain Paul Desiderio struggling in the start of the season, the former UAAP Juniors MVP stepped up to the plate and show improvement across the board and has become a huge headache for opposing teams alongside prized recruit Bright Akhuetie everytime he steps on the court.    6.) CJ Cansino, University of Sto. Tomas The Growling Tigers rookie is living up to lofty expectations heaped on his shoulders as a UAAP Juniors MVP coming out of the UST Tiger Cubs program. Cansino is already displaying a grown man’s game despite being at the collegiate level. His basketball IQ is off the charts while maximizing the most of his physical tools at hand along with the system new Head Coach Aldin Ayo has put in place. With the keys in his hand, Cansino has responded and what a way for a rookie to, already having an 18-point, 18-rebound game and constantly hovering around a triple-double.   7.) Dave Ildefonso, National University The younger Demolition Brother has been a treat to watch. Along with Cansino, they are both starring for their teams as rookies, leading the way, and leaving fans with jaws on the floor because of the level of talent they are displaying. He has shown great scoring instincts and has been at the forefront of the Bulldogs’ rebuild. 8.) Joe Silva, University of the East We’re giving the last and final spot in the list to UE’s neophyte coach, who’s the driving force behind the rebuilding Red Warriors. Coach Joe maybe younger in terms of age and experience compared to his UAAP counterparts, but he is definitely no pushover with two UAAP Juniors championship under his belt with the Ateneo High School Blue Eaglets. So far, he is off to a good start in building a winning culture in the current UE Red Warriors lineup. This is evident in how feisty his team fights game in and game out despite the talent gap they face. These eight guys are not the only impressive names we should all watch out for as you never know who will suddenly come out of the woodwork and starts pumping impressive game after impressive game. Get to see these stars in action every UAAP Season 81 game day during Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays on ABS-CBN S+A, S+A HD, LIGA, and LIGA HD starting at 2 pm. For more sports news, follow ABS-CBN Sports on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram or visit sports.abs-cbn.com. .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsOct 26th, 2018

West take notice: Lakers top unbeaten Nuggets

By Shaun Powell, NBA.com LOS ANGELES -- There are foreign roads to navigate, traffic to curse and weather to bless. Change can be a mixed bag, even for LeBron James, and we haven’t yet mentioned his other new and complex surroundings, meaning, teammates to break in. There’s also a third layer to this unfamiliar skin, and this could be the most uncomfortable of them all. Yes, if LeBron and the Lakers are to deliver more than just must-see TV for insomniacs around most of the country, they must find a way to flex muscle in the Western Conference. As LeBron has already discovered, he ain’t in Kansas anymore. Actually, make that Orlando, Charlotte, Brooklyn, etc., etc., etc. For a superstar who doesn’t take nights off, well, he can’t afford to do so anyway in the West, where there’s seemingly another potential 50-game winner staring from the other bench. That’s what Thursday (Friday, PHL time) was all about, planting concern into the heads of the elite teams of the West and making them notice what’s taking place in Los Angeles. The Nuggets came into Staples Center undefeated and left with some clues about what LeBron and the Lakers can be in the near future, after they deal with the early bonding process. “Growth that’s continuing to happen,” is how Lakers coach Luke Walton described it. LeBron had his first triple-double as a Laker and given the circumstances -- no Rajon Rondo or Brandon Ingram, both suspended, for a second straight game -- they delivered their most impressive 48 minutes of the season with a 121-114 win. “The first couple of games when we fell behind, we stayed behind,” said LeBron, noting how the Lakers seized control from the Nuggets for good late. “The best teacher in life is experience.” These are the type of games he will see more frequently than he did with the Cavaliers and Heat. For someone who spent his entire career in the East, the upgrade in competition will force LeBron and the Lakers to sharpen their learning curve. Already the West shows few signs of fall-off from a year ago when 10 teams finished with winning records; because only the top eight make the playoffs, the remaining two had to go home, wishing they were in the East. It’s a small sample size so far, yet once again, it’s business as usual in the better conference: The Warriors remain the class of the conference and league, with all the usual suspects that delivered three championships in four years accounted for. OK, sure, Klay Thompson might need to dispatch his trusty dog Rocco to search for his missing jumper. But: Did you see Steph Curry drop 51 on the Wizards the other night? Well, then. What’s interesting and most frightening about the Warriors is how they’re still a few months from suiting up DeMarcus Cousins, who has advanced to light work and dropping sweat in non-contact drills. Last season’s West runner-ups, the Rockets, are obviously missing the perimeter defense and shooting of Trevor Ariza, who signed with the lowly Suns (purely a money-grab for him). Meanwhile, Carmelo Anthony is shooting 26 percent from deep and straining while trying to keep this from becoming an extension from his Oklahoma City stop. Also: James Harden is dealing with a tweaky hamstring and Chris Paul, fresh from wiping Rajon Rondo’s DNA off his face, his serving out a suspension. Yet this will not last long; already, Rockets GM Daryl Morey is up to his tricks, scheming to trade a plate of Texas brisket to the Timberwolves for Jimmy Butler. If Morey pulls that off, the Rockets will have three All-Stars in their starting five, second only to the Warriors. LeBron must beware of Rondo’s old team, which is playing like it isn’t missing Rondo as much as some folks were led to believe. The New Orleans Pelicans is flourishing with a breezy style that’s a carryover from their surprising second-round run in last spring’s playoffs, with Niko Mirotic putting up more points than Anthony Davis and ex-Laker Julius Randle fitting right in next to AD. Speaking of the unexpected, the Spurs with DeMar DeRozan off to a good start could make it 22 straight playoff appearances after all the changeover and injuries. And Pat Beverly said the Clippers are the best team in LA; take that for what it’s worth, but it shows you that nobody is rolling out the red carpet for the Lakers just because they added LeBron. The Nuggets missed the playoffs on the final regular season day last season and they’re perhaps wiser for it. Nikola Jokic is making his top-three center case and Denver’s defense is rating No. 1 in efficiency. What they saw Thursday (Friday, PHL time) was a controlled and efficient game from LeBron (28 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists); Lonzo Ball strip Jamal Murray in the open floor for one of his five steals; former Warriors role player JaVale McGee actually getting 16 shots and doing something with it with 21 points; and highly entertaining energy from Lance Stephenson off the bench. Nuggets coach Mike Malone was an assistant from 2005-10 in Cleveland and therefore saw the LeBron Effect first-hand in those formative years. “Sure, the West is tougher,” Malone said, “but also this is his first time playing with all those guys. As he said, this will take time. It doesn’t happen overnight, just as it didn’t last year in Oklahoma City when they brought in Paul George and Carmelo Anthony and everybody thought they were going to be great right away. Playing with LeBron isn’t easy. It easy, but it isn’t easy. When we traded for guys like Wally Szczerbiak, he comes in and says `I’ve never been this open in my life.’ He had a hard to making shots because he was so open. “LeBron is bringing all those guys confidence up. Josh Hart, Kyle Kuzma, they’ll be better off for it. He’s a great player and slowly the team will round into form. My definition of greatness is, what can you do for everyone around you? Can you take them to new heights? And he has done that repeatedly throughout his career. He’s doing the same thing now in LA.” A week into the season tells us this about the Lakers: They’ve played four of their five games against playoff teams, winning only one but taking the other three well into the fourth quarter. They’re two missed LeBron free throws from a winning record. LeBron is MVP-like and sturdy as ever, and the other pieces are slowly dropping into place. Whether it’ll be good enough to make traction in a tough conference will take months to sort out. Yes, the West is better. But that’s also because the Lakers fueled by LeBron, no longer the post-Kobe pushovers, are better as well. Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting. .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsOct 26th, 2018

LeBron shines in debut, but Lakers still have lots to do

By Shaun Powell, NBA.com PORTLAND, Ore. -- His first basket of this new era was much like many others, in terms of impact and its ferocity and jaw-dropping nature. LeBron James stole the Trail Blazers’ cross-court pass and before him was the open court … and thousands of open mouths, all bracing in anticipation of a moment. His fast-break dunk was just as you expected it would be, jammed through the basket with a cocked arm and followed by a brief pose at landing, for emphasis and style. The greatest player in the game was back in full soar Thursday but, as it were, his new team remained stuck to the floor. Overall, this process is gonna take some time, you think? Before the Los Angeles Lakers whip the basketball world into a frenzy, they must whip Portland. And also the Houston Rockets, who visit Staples Center on Saturday (Sunday, PHL time) for the Lakers’ home opener. And the Golden State Warriors. And Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans. And any team in the Western Conference that considers itself a contender. But you knew this, right? “We’ll have to go through some moments,” LeBron said after the Lakers lost at Moda Center, 128-119. “We’ll have some adversity.” True, this isn’t an overnight sensation in the making. “Not as fast as you (media) guys think it’s going to happen,” LeBron said. The Lakers will get more chances to make a first impression, and that’s a good thing for them as they navigate through a potentially tricky transition period with their shiny new showpiece. There is only one thing that’s a lock through this bumpy path: LeBron is still the force he was in Cleveland and Miami, his only other NBA stops. Months before turning 34, his flow and his basketball instincts remain steak-knife sharp and his pride is intact. He tipped off his season by playing 37 minutes -- so much for reduced minutes here after 15 years of deep tread wear on his wheels -- and delivered 26 points, 12 rebounds and six assists. “I mean, that’s crazy, a guy to be in his 16th year playing at that pace and above the rim the way he was,” said Blazers guard Damian Lillard. “He looked like himself.” That said, he and his teammates are still working on their wavelength. This was evident for much of the night, when connections were missed and confusion reigned at times. On Thursday (Friday, PHL time), LeBron threw a behind-the-back pass that in Cleveland or Miami would usually hits is mark to teammates aware of his tendencies and timing. Last night, LeBron tried it and the ball dribbled out of bounds, all of which flummoxed LeBron and Kyle Kuzma (the nearest Laker). After the whistle blew and possession went to Portland, LeBron and Kuzma had a brief chat. “I expected Kuz to pop,” explained LeBron, “and he rolled. Then another time (Rajon) Rondo went to the hole, JaVale (McGee) thought it was going to him and it was meant for me. We’ll get better at that.” These first few weeks, if the Lakers are fortunate, will be conducted in a vacuum and a laboratory. Transitions are usually like that. LeBron had a similar one in Miami eight years ago, when a 9-8 start playing alongside Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh had folks thinking the sky was falling. With these Lakers, the reaction will -- or should, anyway -- be more muted if only because the expectations aren’t through the ceiling this season. The Lakers are trying to nourish the limited basketball experience of Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and Brandon Ingram with LeBron (and Rajon Rondo) taking on more of a mentor role. That means class will be in session most, if not all, season. LeBron is preaching patience not only for those in and outside of the organization, but for himself as well. Sometimes, it’s easier said than done. LeBron realizes that he’s on the clock personally, even though his stamina and level of play remain high. “A lot of these guys don’t have as much experience, so I have to understand that,” James said. “And I do.” LeBron seems cursed by celebrated season openers, falling to 0-4 all-time in his debut games. He scored 25 points in his rookie opener, but Cleveland lost to the Sacramento Kings. He had 31 in his Miami opener in a loss to the Boston Celtics. And he had 17 points in his Cleveland return in 2014, a home loss to the New York Knicks. The Lakers’ crime Thursday (Friday, PHL time) was a failure to tighten up defensively and of course the mistakes that could be blamed on a getting-to-know-you game. And then there’s another issue that LeBron will soon discover, if he hasn’t already: He’s not in the easy East anymore. “There’s a tough game every night,” Lillard said. The West had 10 teams with winning records last season fighting for eight playoff spots. Coaches and players in the West were fond of tweaking their neighbors across the Mississippi in 2017-18, saying the non-playoff teams in the West should take some East spots. Of last season’s playoff teams, none return seriously weaker -- unless you’re ready to bury the San Antonio Spurs (who have a 21-year playoff streak going) or Minnesota Timberwolves (who are coping with the Jimmy Butler crisis). The Blazers were the No. 3 seed and were swept in the first round by the Pelicans, which puts the depth and overall strength of the West in perspective. Only three games separated the Blazers and the ninth-seeded Nuggets during the regular season. Meanwhile, the Rockets and Warriors were beyond the reach of mortals. LeBron chumped the East eight straight times to reach the NBA Finals. Yet by most indications, he’s an A-list teammate away from spooking the Warriors -- and that teammate isn’t in a Lakers uniform this season. This journey through the West could either humble LeBron or, at the least, make him realize the work needed for the Lakers to regain contender status. Heck, the Lakers couldn’t even prevent Nik Stauskas from having the biggest night of his NBA life. He scored 24 points and made more three-pointers (five) than the Lakers’ starting lineup (two). It was telling that Lakers coach Luke Walton started Rondo over Ball at point guard -- an understandable move after Ball missed several months recovering from knee issues. Rondo was mainly stellar (11 assists, three steals) while the Lakers’ fourth-quarter lineups excluded Ball. Meanwhile, Hart (20 points off the bench) earned crunch time minutes. “Everyone had different roles last year,” Walton said, “and some of those roles could change.” Well, someone’s role will remain the same. Regarding that guy, Walton said: “Glad he’s on our team. He’s pretty good at the game of basketball.” Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting. .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsOct 19th, 2018

Improved Buccaneers insist fast start isn t a surprise

By Fred Goodall, Associated Press TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The red-hot Tampa Bay Buccaneers scoff at the notion that their first 2-0 start in eight years is a surprise. "I think that's where we expected to be," quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said after throwing for 402 yards and four touchdowns in Sunday's 27-21 victory over the reigning Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. "I don't know if everybody else expected us to be there," the 14th-year pro filling in for suspended starter Jameis Winston said, "but we're just going to continue to ride this momentum." Next up is a prime-time matchup next Monday against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Suddenly, what once looked like a potentially tough start to the season with Winston serving a three-game ban for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy is turning into one of the league's best feel-good stories. The Bucs, coming off a 5-11 finish last season, haven't made the playoffs since 2007. "You can't peak too early. We have a lot of football left," receiver DeSean Jackson said. "I just know this team and this locker room is a different team than how we were last year." So are the Eagles (1-1), who fell behind on Jackson's 75-yard TD reception of the first play of the game and never fully recovered. Nick Foles threw for 334 yards and one TD without an interception, however an injury-decimated offense hurt itself with turnovers, penalties and other mistakes. The loss left Eagles coach Doug Pederson in no mood to draw comparisons to last season. "I'm not going to go back and pull out old memories," Pederson said. "New team, new faces. We've got our own set of circumstances now." Some things to know about the Bucs' victory over the defending Super Bowl champs: FAST START Fitzpatrick threw for more than 400 yards and four touchdowns for the second straight week. In addition to teaming with Jackson on the first play from scrimmage, the 35-year-old quarterback connected with tight end O.J. Howard on a 75-yard scoring play in the second quarter. Chris Godwin and Mike Evans had TD catches, too, and Jackson finished with four receptions for 129 yards. "It's unbelievable," Jackson said of Fitzpatrick, who thrown for 819 yards and accounted for nine TDs in two games. "He's playing out of this world right now." SLOW START Philadelphia's defense yielded 271 yards passing and three touchdowns in the first half. The offense, already playing without Carson Wentz, Alshon Jeffery and Darren Sproles, wasn't helped by losing running back Jay Ajayi, receiver Mike Wallace and left tackle Jason Peters in the first half. Nick Foles wound up throwing for 334 yards, but by the time the Eagles began to move the ball consistently they trailed 27-7. "A lot of self-inflicted wounds," Pederson said of his team's sloppy play early. "Guys step up all the time and that's what we did," Foles said. "We gave ourselves an opportunity to win this game." NO TIME TO PANIC Foles, who stepped in for Wentz after the Eagles lost their starting quarterback to injury late last season, tried to put the loss and the team's offensive woes in perspective. "We didn't win every single game last year. I think people forget that," Foles said. "There's a lot of expectations for us, but we can't put that kind of pressure on ourselves." Nelson Agholor's 2-yard TD reception trimmed Philadelphia's deficit to 27-21 with 2:46 remaining. "We had our shots. I just feel like if we had got that ball back one more time, we would have a chance to try to win it," Peters said. "But we were pinned back there with 20 seconds left and we didn't have a lot of options." THE LAST TIME The Bucs are 2-0 for only the second time since 2005, when they went on to finish 11-5. They also won their first two on the way to a 10-6 record in 2010, but did not earn a playoff berth......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsSep 17th, 2018

Worth a thousand words: NBA photographer Andrew Bernstein details his best shots

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com Andrew Bernstein knew he wanted to be a sports photographer or maybe a documentary filmmaker. Trouble was, he recalled recently, his school at the time – the University of Massachusetts Amherst – offered courses in neither photography nor film. Not exactly a well-planned start to his chosen career. So Bernstein transferred to the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif. And once the native of Brooklyn stepped off the plane into 85-degree sunshine, he was hooked. Thus began a professional path that has taken him around the world, yet kept him Los Angeles-centric as the NBA’s senior photographer. A part-time job as an assistant to Sports Illustrated shooters helped Bernstein score his first NBA gig as a photographer the 1983 All-Star Game at L.A.’s famous Forum. He’d eventually serve as team photographer for the city’s Dodgers, Lakers, Clippers and Kings, but it was in his work for the NBA that Bernstein made his greatest mark. In 1986, Bernstein helped create NBA Photos as the league’s in-house licensing agency, for which he served as senior director until 2011. He chronicled Team USA through its 1992, 1996 and 2000 Olympic championships, and has worked 36 NBA Finals and All-Star Games. Next month, his hardcover collaboration with Kobe Bryant -- “The Mamba Mentality: How I Play” -- will hit bookshelves everywhere. This week as part of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, the 60-year-old photographer will be honored as a recipient of the 2018 Curt Gowdy Media Award. To shed light on his craft and share some behind-the-scenes tales, Bernstein -- prior to heading to Springfield, Mass. -- talked with NBA.com about some of his favorite and most famous images. Come fly with him ... Details: Michael Jordan soars with several Lakers in futile pursuit at the 1988 Hall of Fame preseason game between Chicago and Los Angeles at the Springfield Civic Center. Bernstein: “It was one of those crazy moments -- in those days, I could only do one remote camera. Now I can do almost an infinite number because it’s all done by radio. But back then, you had to hard-wire into the strobe [lighting] system for the big flashes, and you could only fire one. I chose the one shooting through the glass, behind the backboard. A lot of things could have gone wrong. His hand could have been in his face. He could have been out of the frame instead of just on the edge. I could only take one shot every four seconds [with the strobe] -- it’s not like I could lean on the motor drive and then pick one frame out of 10. … But it became known as “Come Fly with Me.” It did kind of define him at the time as being able to fly.” Back story: Bernstein added: “If you have a microscope, you can actually see me on the other side of the court, sitting there with a little trigger button. Then there’s the trivia question of all time -- who’s the other guy? That No. 3 happens to be [University of Virginia star and NBA role player] Jeff Lamp.” MJ: Champion, finally Details: Michael Jordan and his father, James, in the visitors’ dressing room at the Forum, after Game 5 of the 1991 Finals. Bulls 108, Lakers 101. Bernstein: “The network would do the trophy presentation in the winning team’s locker room, and the visitors’ side at the Forum was about the size of a closet. There seemed to be a thousand people in there, and all hell was breaking loose. I got up on top of a table in the middle of the room for a vantage point. When they came back live from a commercial, they wanted to have Michael on -- but they couldn’t find Michael. Some sixth sense said, ‘Look to your left,’ and there he was, in the locker, hugging that trophy, crying his eyes out with his dad next to him. I always felt, if he’d had to play that whole season for free to get to the mountain top, he would have. I knew this was a special moment. I banged a couple of frames really quick.” Back story: After James Jordan was murdered in 1993, Bernstein got a phone call from Michael’s office saying he “would love it if I made a print and sent it to him,” Bernstein said. “Which I did. I was very close with my dad and Michael Jordan knew him -- my dad was with me through the entire Dream Team experience [in 1992]. And I knew his dad. So it was a poignant moment in my career to have him request that photo. If I had to pick one photo to put on my tombstone, this would probably be it.” ‘Mamba’ coiled to strike Details: Shot from a camera suspended in the rafters at the Forum, a Hasselblad 120mm with a 350mm lens. “A heavy rig,” Bernstein called it, anchored with multiple clamps and safety cables on the catwalk, aimed straight down. Bernstein: “I love the composition of this photo and how everything just came together. The Forum had that beautiful Laker-gold ‘key.’ This was young Kobe, his first or second year, and he was a dunk machine back then. Look how he’s cocked back like that and flying thorugh the air, the basket right there. All the elements came together. When I saw this the next morning -- I had to take the film to the lab after the game, drop it off, then go back in the morning after sweating it out all night, hoping that I’d see something like this -- I was like, ‘Wow!’ All the preparation, hours and hours, setting the equipment up, and it all paid off.” Back story: It’s not common to see the top of a player’s head and the bottom of his sneakers in the same shot. Bernstein knew he had to share it and, thanks to the large-format film, he knew he could share it big. “As soon as I saw this,” he said, “I immediately made a giant print for Kobe -- I mean, like 50 [inches] by 70. Huge. I framed it and drove it to his house. He was living with his parents in Pacific Palisades at the time. I hope he still has it. I had given players like Magic [Johnson] and whomever 8x10s, but I never had framed something I was super-proud of.” Old Kobe ‘dunking’ again Details: Kobe Bryant, deep in his career, before a game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden in January 2010. Bernstein: “During a long East Coast trip, the Lakers had played the night before in Cleveland and were at the Garden less than 24 hours later. Kobe was banged up that year. This was an hour and a half to game time, and he was literally willing himself to play that night. Both ankles are in ice. He’s got the finger in a little cup of ice. During my pregame routine, walking from the locker room to the training room, I just saw him there. Other guys were coming and going, but he was in this meditative state. I took one frame -- God forbid the click of the camera disturb or distract him. Phil [Jackson] called this ‘The Thinker,’ like Rodin’s sculpture.” Back story: A skilled photographer learns how quickly how to be unobtrusive, a “fly on the wall.” Said Bernstein: “You have to, to get behind-the-scenes intimate photos of players away from the bright lights, and what goes on in the bowels of the arena or during travel. In 2009-10, Phil and I collaborated on a book called ‘Journey to the Ring,’ which took the Lakers from media day to whenever their season would end. They ended up winning it all that year, which was unbelievable for the project. The photos were in black-and-white, which was a conscious decision Phil and I made.” Photographer, shoot thyself Details: Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bernstein before the 2016 NBA All-Star Game, Western Conference locker room at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre. Bernstein: “This was his last All-Star Game and it was a true Kobe love-fest. I spent the entire weekend just with him, followed him everywhere he went. I mean, I didn’t cover it like I normally do for the NBA, and NBA Photos was very generous for letting me cover it through him. It was a beautiful weekend. He took it all in and was very appreciative. His humility came out -- a lot of people don’t think Kobe is humble, but I think he was. And he was very grateful, that he had an impact on all these All-Stars who were grateful to him.” Back story: The locker room was closed to the media, but as the league’s guy, Bernstein always has special access. “A couple of people were coming over to get photos with him -- Gregg Popovich, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul and a couple others,” the photographer said. “And I just jumped in myself. Very, very rarely -- I mean, four times in our 20 years together -- did I jump in the picture with him. But I couldn’t resist.” Shadowing the superstars Details: Another overhead shot at the Forum, this time during the 1991 Finals, with Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan fighting for what eventually will be a rebound. Bernstein: “With this angle, it’s always a crap shoot what you’re going to get. The rim could be blocking a guy’s face. Somebody could be too far under the basket. The focus point is so critical -- you have to be right on where it’s focused. As for the shadows, if you can imagine lights in each corner of the court, way up high. It just depended on where the players were placed. If one of them is blocking the light on one side, you get a shadow off to the other side. It’s always dramatic with the strobe. But just to get these two icons in the same frame was difficult.” Back story: Just as the famous parquet court at Boston Garden looked so iconic on TV and from afar, the Forum was best viewed from a distance. The paint worn off the top of the rim by balls and hands was something few ever saw. “The Forum was a dump,” Bernstein said. “The walls were caked with dirt. Nobody ever cleaned it. They used to feed us under the stands where the rodents were. It was like a Hollywood impostor, and it’s in Inglewood, which is not your glitzy Hollywood location. But they made it look good on TV. It was a tough place to work, I have to tell you.” Brothers in arms Details: A fisheye lens captures the moments immediately after Game 5 of 2017 Finals, with Golden State’s Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry front and center. Bernstein: “I’ve gotten good at getting out and being the first guy in the scrum. When a championship is won, I sharpen my elbows and just go for it. I try to be right next to the TV guy and well, I guess people know me and I make my way to wherever I have to be. This particular time, I knew there had to be a moment in there where Curry and Durant had an interaction. And it was amazing -- they’re almost like one body. It’s Kevin’s first championship and Steph is so happy for him as his teammate. And the pressure that was on the whole team to win this championship. I love this picture. It shows so much about the way I work and how I think about what I need to do in the moment.” Back story: Bernstein’s camera captured Durant’s mother Wanda to the left, crying and enjoying the moment. But a few seconds earlier, he said, “his mom came up and grabbed him by the front of the jersey. She kept yelling, ‘We did it! We did it!’ That’s a great picture too.” ‘Uncoachable?’ Unforgettable Details: Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson share a moment after beating the Magic in Game 5 and winning the 2009 NBA championship at Orlando’s Amway Arena. Bernstein: “If you remember the 2008-09 season, there was a lot of pressure on Kobe. People had been saying that he couldn’t win without Shaq, Phil had actually written that he was ‘uncoachable.’ But there’s such a paternal father-son thing going on in this picture. … I know I’ve got to go to the star player immediately at the buzzer. So I ran out and found Kobe. Phil and he had just come together and they were hugging, which is a nice picture. But I knew the instant after a hug can be just as special. Something told me to wait till after the hug -- because [with the limitation of the strobe lights] I can’t shoot rapidly -- and bing! They broke the hug and Phil’s looking like, ‘Job well done, son.’ And Kobe has this amazing look of relief and sense of accomplishment and exhaustion.” Back story: Bernstein said this is the only print of his work that his wife, Mariel, allows him to hang in their house. “We have three teenagers [at the time] who basically were the same age, all within a year of each other, and when all hell was breaking loose at our house, we’d stand the kids in front of this photo. My wife would say, ‘Look at that! If those two guys can get along and be respectful, we can do it in this house.’ ” Forever linked Details: The Celtics’ Larry Bird and the Lakers’ Magic Johnson fight for rebounding position along the foul lane at Boston Garden in the 1987 Finals. Bernstein: “This is probably my most well-known image, other than the one of Jordan hugging the trophy. Remember, these guys played different positions. They never really matched up. You’d never see Magic D-ing up Bird like you would with Michael or Isiah Thomas. And you’d never, ever see Bird D-ing Magic. I had to be unbelievably conscious of when they were on the court together, where they were on the court and somehow, if they would end up in my frame. The only times, honestly, I could ever get them in the same frame was the ‘captains’ meeting’ five minutes before tip at center court, shaking hands, and a free-throw situation. When, by the grace of God, they would line up facing me. That’s what this was. Back story: Just as Bird and Johnson were linked literally, arm in arm, in this photograph, their careers were linked figuratively through the NBA of the 1980s. “It kind of defined the era,” Bernstein said. “These two great guys intertwined, neither of them looking superior to the other. Jostling for position, just like the Celtics and the Lakers did. I love this picture, and I know both of those guys love it. This picture is hanging in the Hall of Fame.” Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsSep 4th, 2018

Golden State Warriors not just good, they re lucky too

By Shaun Powell, NBA.com LAS VEGAS -- In this town, fates and fortunes can turn drastically any day, hour or minute. A flip of the card, pull of the switch or roll of the dice can make or break souls. Which brings us to NBA Summer League, the Golden State Warriors and the field. The league is holding its annual gathering of executives, coaches and player hopefuls here, and 29 of the 30 NBA teams are wondering about their chances this upcoming season and why the Warriors are the Chosen Ones. Meanwhile, the Warriors, winners of three of the last four championships, are no doubt doing some head-scratching about how a key injury is once again helping their cause and making them stronger. This is about luck, then, and why those chasing the Warriors can’t seem to get a break, and how the Warriors managed to make themselves both good and lucky. There is considerable buzz among the basketball throng in Vegas regarding the Warriors, who are less than a month removed from a convincing sweep of LeBron James and the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals and how they won twice this summer: championship and then free agency. The collective moan from the rest of the NBA seems to say: What the hell? DeMarcus Cousins agreed to a one-year deal with the Warriors for the NBA equivalent of loose change in a sofa: $5.3 million. Just like that, the Warriors added a dominant and versatile center, maybe the best in the game, which made coach Steve Kerr wisecrack about how the Warriors “needed another All-Star.” This was made possible because of a quirky circumstance that caused Cousins a lot of pain, which translated into plenty of gain for Golden State. When Cousins tore his Achilles last spring with the Pelicans, his market value in free agency fell to the floor right along with him. Suddenly, the rest of the league, including the Pelicans, became wary about investing heavily in a hulking center who most certainly would need most of the 2018-19 season to rehab, without any guarantee Cousins would return to form once medically cleared to play. Cousins averaged 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.6 blocks last season, perhaps the best of his career. He turns 28 in late August. Had he avoided injury, he would’ve been far too expensive for the Warriors to afford. They’re well over the luxury tax and are limited to exceptions, which allow them to sign players but only on the cheap. A healthy Cousins was destined to command in excess of $20 million a season, more had he stayed with the Pelicans. “If he’s healthy, he’s the best player at his position in the league,” said Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry. Well, when free agency opened, Cousins’ phone didn’t ring, and you probably know the story by now: He personally called the Warriors and signed up on the spot. His reasoning: If my only choice in this league is a short-term deal, might as well be with the team in the midst of a dynasty. The Warriors understandably were shocked, but why would they be? This isn’t the first time an injury went their way. Steph Curry’s chronic ankle sprains once threatened his career. He underwent surgery in the summer of 2011 and played only 26 games the next season. At that time, Curry was a good player, but far from the superstar who’d win a pair of MVPs and destroy three-point shooting records. So the Warriors were understandably worried, especially once Curry was due a contract extension. The two sides made a compromise that protected both parties: Four years, $44 million. The risk the Warriors took is Curry would continue having ankle issues and never see a full season. Curry’s risk: He’d remain healthy and see his production swell and spend most of that contract as a bargain. A bargain, for sure: At the end of that deal, Curry was the fourth-highest-paid player. On his own team. The upside for the Warriors and Curry: That contract helped them extend Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala and more importantly, add Kevin Durant. When you’re good and lucky -- remember, the Warriors won their first title over the Cavs when Cleveland was largely without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, and beat the Rockets last spring after Chris Paul suffered a series-ending hamstring injury -- then you get plenty of rings. The beauty of the Cousins situation is the Warriors don’t need him during the regular season. This was mentioned more than a few times by rival general managers and coaches in Vegas. Cousins’ rehab is expected to require another five or six months -- full recovery form Achilles surgery is usually a year -- yet there’s no rush. Golden State won 73 games a few years ago without him and won 58 games last season on cruise control. They can wait until next spring, where Cousins could return, say, in March and use the final few weeks as a warm-up for the playoffs. After using the likes of the plodding Zaza Pachulia and quirky JaVale McGee in the middle, the Warriors are legit at center. Cousins fits the Warriors’ style because he can shoot 3s and is a willing and efficient passer from the high and low post. “That’s really an area where they’ve struggled and been inconsistent,” said Gentry, a former Warriors assistant coach before taking the top job in New Orleans. “It’s going to be a position where they make an upgrade." Meanwhile, Houston lost Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute, a pair of athletic swingmen, this summer from free agency and therefore aren’t a better team on paper than last season, although the Rockets might soon add Carmelo Anthony, for whatever that’s worth. The Lakers welcome LeBron, but they didn’t get Paul George, who stayed in Oklahoma City, and the idea of trading for Kawhi Leonard this season remains a fantasy, at least for now. Which means the Warriors are once again the odds on favorites across town in the Vegas casinos to sip champagne next June. “Hey, that’s the NBA,” said Gentry with a shrug. “It’s supposed to be that way. You’re supposed to put out the best team you can. It’s up to the rest of us to catch them. They’ve put together a great team, drafted great, and guys in free agency wanted to come there. That’s what it’s all about. We have to pick up our game, it’s not that they should say, 'Oh we’re too good, let’s give away players.’ We all have to find a way to catch them, not them coming back to us.” Damian Lillard, the star guard for the Trail Blazers, spoke for the field when he said: “It's just going to get tougher and tougher. It is what it's always been, but just a little tougher. But you know what? Once the season starts, we gotta go. Nobody’s got time to be out there, not having fun and being stressed and all that BS. We gotta find to make it happen.” Twenty-nine teams, and especially the contenders in the West, are at a disadvantage regarding the Warriors because of a lack of All-Stars; not only do the Warriors now have five, but they’re all in their prime years. It’s one thing to try to be as good as the Warriors. Nowadays, you must rise to their level of luck as well. Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting. .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJul 12th, 2018

New putter doesn t do much for slumping Woods

By Doug Ferguson, Associated Press POTOMAC, Md. (AP) — The guy who has been fiddling with putters because he wasn't happy with the results finally saw his share of putts go in. If only Tiger Woods could have looked behind him, he might have seen J.J. Spaun match his best score of the year with a 7-under 63 to share the lead with Andrew Landry in the Quicken Loans National. Spaun, who has gone back-and-forth with putters four times in his last six tournaments, quietly went about his business Thursday while most of the attention was on Woods in the group ahead of him using a mallet-style putter to help him shake out of a slump. A new putter gave Woods a better feel, but the same middling results. He had six birdie chances from 10 feet or closer and made two of them to offset a double bogey early in his round, and he had to settle for an even-par 70. "I shot about the score I should have shot today," Woods said. Landry shot his 63 in the morning when the TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm was soft, though still punishing with its thick rough. Spaun did his work in the windier afternoon, even if no one noticed. He played in the group behind Woods, and didn't even get leftovers from thousands of fans watching golf's biggest draw. "Hell, no," Spaun said with a laugh. "They don't even know who I am. They played so fast, actually. They were a solid hole ahead of us. ... I was kind of nervous, but I was more excited. I was like, 'Oh, I'm going to get to see his second shots from looking back from the tee.' But they played so fast, I didn't even see him at all. I just saw his pink shirt way in the distance." He would have seen solid play early, some wild shots off the tee by Woods in the middle and flawless work from tee-to-green late. Spaun wouldn't have seen many putts go in. Woods had five straight birdie chances from 8 feet or closer on the back nine. He made two of them — one of them from 3 feet — and didn't make a putt longer than 10 feet the entire round. Woods kept the round from getting away from him two big par saves to start the back nine, both times having to chop it back to the fairway. He got up-and-down from 147 yards on No. 11 by making a 6-foot putt. "I rolled it well," Woods said. "I mean, hey, if I'm hitting putts on my line with my speed, then I'm happy. They'll go in eventually." It was the first competitive round for Woods on the TPC Potomac, and his first time playing the tournament since 2015. This also is the last edition, and the field is among the weakest this year on the PGA Tour. Rickie Fowler is the only player in the top 10 in the world, and he also rallied for a 70. Even when he kept it in the short grass off the tee, Woods didn't have a reasonable birdie chance until No. 5, and he missed from 10 feet. And then he ran into trouble on the par-4 sixth, starting with a tee shot he pulled left that caromed off a tree and landed in a the mown path that leads from the tee to the fairway. Woods tried to hit a 3-wood to the green and it came up short and into the hazard. He had to drop it in more rough, came up just short of the green and wound up making a 4-foot putt to escape with double bogey. Going with an iron off the tee at the par-5 10th, he pulled that into the hazard but at least was able to chop it back to the fairway, rip fairway metal around the green and chip it close to save par. On the next hole, he blasted a tee shot well right, over the gallery, and had to pitch out back into play again. That par felt like a birdie. "That kept the momentum somewhat on my side," Woods said. "I knew I had some birdie holes coming up to try to get back to under par for the day, and I was close." The course was the fourth-toughest on the PGA Tour last year, trailing only three majors, though it was soft enough and the wind was mild so that low scores were available. Kyle Stanley won at 7-under 273 last year. Landry and Spaun shared the lead at 7 under after one round. "I expect that if we don't get any rain the next few days, the course is going to firm up, greens get firm, get a little bit quicker, but it's not going to be like last year," Billy Horschel said after his 64. "So you're going to have to go out with the mindset that it's a little bit different course, you can't be as conservative, you've got to still try and make birdies." Andrew Putnam also was at 64 while playing in the afternoon. Beau Hossler and Abraham Ancer were another shot behind. Woods has been at least six shots behind — and no better than a tie for 29th — after the opening round of his last six tournaments dating to the Masters......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJun 29th, 2018

Ayton arrives as symbol that Suns are on the rise

By Bob Baum, Associated Press PHOENIX (AP) — Since the heady days of Steve Nash came to an end, there have been few signs of joy from a dwindling fan base that watched the Phoenix Suns tumble to the bottom of the NBA standings and miss the playoffs for the eighth year in a row. Then came the announcement that Deandre Ayton would go to the Suns with the first overall pick. A huge cheer went up from the several thousand fans at Talking Stick Resort Arena on Thursday night (Friday, PHL time) for the draft party. General manager Ryan McDonough, owner Robert Sarver and coach Igor Kokoskov came out of their meeting room to watch and bask in that rare moment of sheer joy from the fans. “It was a pretty special moment for our franchise,” McDonough said. Not only that, but McDonough engineered a last-minute trade for swingman Mikal Bridges of Villanova, the 10th pick. It was a spendy move because Philadelphia demanded and got Miami’s unprotected 2021 first-round pick. But the Suns are weary of stockpiling assets. It’s time to cash in, they figured, and did it with that trade. “We weighed the pros and cons of trading it heavily and carefully,” McDonough said. “We were only going to put it in play if we had a chance to get a special player and that’s how we feel about McKell.” All four of the Suns’ picks showed up on a crowded dais in Phoenix on Friday (Saturday, PHL time) — Ayton, Bridges, French point guard Elie Okobo (chosen 31st) and forward George King of Colorado (the 59th selection). The 7'1" Ayton towered over the others, in a white unbuttoned collared shirt and a sharp blue suit, but he looked and sounded a bit weary from the whirlwind of being the No. 1 draft pick. His only sleep lately, he said, was a couple of hours on the plane ride from New York on Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time). “I’m just excited to finally get a jersey on and be able to play five-on-five again,” Ayton said. Ayton had been the frontrunner for the No. 1 pick ever since the draft lottery and any doubts were erased when he went through an individual workout with the Suns, the only team which he did so. McDonough said that Ayton’s workout “in and of itself was as impressive as I’ve ever seen in my 16 drafts in the NBA.” Ayton is seen as strictly a center, so how does he fit in the modern style of the NBA, when center plays is diminished and players are essentially interchangeable, is a question. Ayton replied that he’s no ordinary center. “I don’t like it when people think I’m just a guy down low,” he said. “They haven’t watched me shoot the basketball.” Ayton and Bridges say they got to know each other well at the college awards ceremony in Los Angeles but never figured they’d be on the same team. “It’s like I’ve known him my whole life,” Bridges said. Now comes the hard work, molding a team with Ayton, Devin Booker and Josh Jackson. A billboard of those three already has been erected downtown. The Suns, so bad for so long, seem on the brink of being relevant. “We’re very hungry,” Ayton said. “I think the great team chemistry and the work ethic that we have, especially us guys coming in, we’re going to bring it to the next level. We’ve got young lets. We can run all day. ... We can really start a winning legacy.” And Ayton is the reason for the sudden leap in optimism, even though he won’t turn 20 until next month. “I embrace it a lot,” he said of the expectations placed upon him. “Through my career I’ve always had that on my shoulder, the expectations. I represent a whole nation [Bahamas] I just do that the best that I can and just help this community start over and be the best player I can possibly be. I just want to be the best great player.” Kokoskov says Ayton possesses “a unique talent for the decades.” Ayton said he wants “to be the best person on and off the court.” Now the Suns move on to the next phase. Free agency starts July 1 (July 2, PHL time) and McDonough wants some veteran players to add to this very young core. He said the team should have $15 million to $20 million to spend. “We were aggressive last night with the picks and the trade up to get Mikal,” McDonough said. “We’re going to continue to be aggressive for the next couple of weeks in free agency. We’ve got some money to spend and we’re looking to spend it on the best players we can get.”.....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJun 23rd, 2018

Modern bigs to dominate 2018 Draft

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com NEW YORK – There was a ballroom full of NBA centers in midtown Manhattan Wednesday – not one of them eager to follow in the sizeable footsteps of Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone, Shaquille O’Neal or Dwight Howard. In fact, on the very day that the top prospects for the 2018 Draft were made available to the media – a talent pool particularly long on length this year – Howard was on the move again, in a reported deal from Charlotte to Brooklyn that will land the eight-time All-Star with his fourth team in four seasons and sixth overall. That bit of news – of an old-school NBA big man being shuffled off again,  primarily for salary-cap purposes, into what looks to be basketball irrelevancy – served as a counterpoint to the young giants just starting out. There will be plenty of guards and forwards selected in the first round Thursday at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, including Michael Porter Jr., Trae Young, Collin Sexton, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Mikal Bridges, Kevin Knox and Lonnie Walker. But the lottery will be top-heavy with big men, with Deandre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III, Mo Bamba, Jaren Jackson Jr., Wendell Carter Jr., and Robert Williams all hearing their names called. All six are listed at 6'10" or taller, though they’ll bear little resemblance in style or production to the Hall of Famers cited above or even to Howard. The last time last time six players that size were drafted in the top 10 was 2007, when Greg Oden, Al Horford, Yi Jianlian, Brandan Wright, Joakim Noah and Spencer Hawes all went early. Much has changed in 11 years. These young guys represent basketball’s new-age pivot men, er, which means we’d better drop the “pivot men” nomenclature. Rather, the word that got tossed around most often Wednesday during conversations about these guys’ fit – with specific teams and in the league generally – was modern. Modern centers for a modern NBA. “Modern-day 5,” is how Mamba put it. “Defend multiple positions, can shoot it, handle it a little. Can do a little bit of everything,” the 20-year-old from Harlem, by way of Pennsylvania and Texas. Said Jaren Jackson, Jr., fresh from one season at Michigan State: “At times, I’ve heard that I’m right on time for the way the game is going. A lot of bigs can handle the ball and be versatile and they’re able to make plays.” If you want to feel old, consider the NBA’s prevailing definition of “modern.” With major league baseball, for example, what’s known as the “modern era” historically is thought to have begun in the year 1900. By contrast, the NBA’s modern era dates back to about a week ago last Tuesday. That’s how quickly the contributions from the center position have changed. After ruling the NBA landscape for most of the league’s first 50 years, traditional big men looked at now as dinosaurs, both in form and function. Plodding isn’t allowed. Posting up, back to the basket, and backing into the paint seems as dated in this league as helmetless players in the NHL. There have been noticeable markers along the way. In the ‘90s, players who naturally would have been trained and used as centers – Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Rasheed Wallace, Amare Stoudemire, Antonio McDyess – demanded to face the basket and be referred to as power forwards. Then in 2012, the league joined them, eradicating “center” from its All-Star ballot and opting for “frontcourt” as a catch-all category for everyone from 6'5" wings to seven-foot shot swatters. This latest era dates back just a few years, if you go by a few key analytics. A recent ESPN.com story tracked the minutes played by seven-footers in the playoffs, compared to the regular season, and identified the tipping point as the 2016 postseason. Even if you back it up by a year to include Golden State’s heavy use of small ball in winning its championship in 2015, that’s still barely more than a heartbeat. But the full embrace of the three-point shot and the type of pace favored by a majority of current NBA coaches has put a premium on centers – we’re taking liberties in even calling them that anymore – who are mobile, who can switch defensively, challenge perimeter shooters, do some of that shooting of their own and still crash the boards and protect the rim. The next Shaq or Kareem? Now the model is Houston’s efficient Clint Capela, Boston’s savvy Al Horford or Minnesota’s ridiculously skilled Karl-Anthony Towns. Big guys such as DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis have added range to their shots. Some – Andre Drummond, Jonas Valanciunas, a few more – have status or contracts assure them minutes. Yet other old-style bigs are out of the league (Roy Hibbert, Andrew Bogut) or logging long stretches on the bench (Greg Monroe, Al Jefferson, Hassan Whiteside). Just two years ago, Jahlil Okafor was the No. 3 pick in the 2016 Draft. These days, he’s an afterthought with little market value. Teams don’t want to play the way Okafor and others like him need to play. So the challenge for a fellow such as Ayton, projected to be the near-consensus No. 1 pick this year, is to make sure no one confuses him or his game with DeAndre Jordan. Asked about the trend Wednesday (Thursday, PHL time), Ayton at one point sounded a little defiant. “I’m not changing my way of play in the NBA,” he told reporters. “I’m still an inside-out type of player. I’m going to start inside and establish myself down low until I have to stretch the floor.” It helps, of course, to have that option. Ayton already is built like an NBA veteran, but he has sufficient quickness to cover ground defensively and to keep up with a faster offensive pace. And for those who haven’t been paying attention to him since the NCAA tournament ended – or in Arizona’s case, barely got started with that opening loss to Buffalo – Ayton has a surprise: a more reliable three-point shot he’s willing to unleash. “The NBA three-ball is way farther than the college three-ball,” he said. “I’ve really put on some range and put on some muscle. When I’m fatigued in games, I really can [still] get my shot off in a perfect arc.” Bagley, depending where he lands, might end up playing more out on the floor than the other bigs in this draft. That’s his experience, having had Carter next to him at Duke to handle the basics. Williams will likely benefit from shifting in the opposite direction. He played a lot at power forward for Texas A&M but is rated highly for how his game translates to, you guessed it, modern center play. Bamba has drawn comparisons to Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, as much for his charisma as for any play similarities. He allegedly has overhauled his shot this spring, and also was eager to tout his three-point range Wednesday (Thursday, PHL time). Then there is Jackson, who has been rated as the best two-way player of the bunch. That includes not just his defense against fellow bigs but his ability to keep up with and guard nearly any position. Jackson seemed to speak for all the big men among the future pros in New York Wednesday (Thursday, PHL time). Unlike a previous generation of centers, many of whom got caught in the NBA’s transition to a smaller, faster, position-less style, the young centers of 2018 grew up watching it. And preparing for it. Nothing frustrating about it, Jackson said, though it’s a far cry from the league in which his father, Jaren Sr., (1989-2002) played. “No. Whatever helps each team do their best is what lineup they’re going to put out,” Jackson said. “They’re going to put the best players on the floor every time. You look at a team like the Warriors, they switch everything. They can play all different positions. That’s what they’re good at.” That’s what these guys, given their size, are remarkably good at too. Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJun 21st, 2018

Russia talks LGBT tolerance for WCup but locals have doubts

By James Ellingworth and Iuliia Subbotovska, Associated Press MOSCOW (AP) — Tolerated during the World Cup, Russia's LGBT communities face a return to widespread discrimination when the FIFA circus packs up and leaves the country in mid-July. As head of Russia's LGBT Sports Federation, Alexander Agapov says he can't advertise sports events without hiring security and he's been attacked on public transport. Still, he predicts foreigners arriving for the World Cup won't notice a thing. "In the stadium and around it will be quite safe, I believe," to display symbols of gay activism like the rainbow flag, he told The Associated Press. That echoes the tolerant line from Russia's government-run World Cup organizing committee. "All visitors to Russia in 2018 - regardless of race, gender, religion, ability or sexual orientation - can expect a warm welcome," it said in a statement. "Persons will not be fined for expressing their feelings. The display of rainbow flags in the stands or at public celebrations will be allowed." Rainbow flags are generally seen by Russian authorities as banned "gay propaganda". Under Russian law, anyone who displays a rainbow flag in a public setting where children are present — such as a stadium — could be fined. Jonny Dzhibladze of the "Coming Out" organization in St. Petersburg suggested foreign LGBT fans will be treated better than locals. During the tournament, "if there's some kind of attack or abuse, then maybe the authorities will even start to investigate it or publicly condemn it as a demonstration case," he said. "But, knowing Russian media and the homophobic rhetoric that they use, it will probably be framed as: 'These crazy rainbow people have come from Europe. Let's forgive them and put up with them while they're here. They're guests. But as soon as they leave, we return to our Russian traditional values.'" A 2013 law bans so-called "propaganda" of homosexuality to under-18s. In practice, it's been used to stifle debate in any public context or to prevent protests in any public context where a child could conceivably see or hear. Russian anti-gay rights groups have used social media to out LGBT teachers and have them fired. Some criminals, Dzhibladze says, use gay dating apps to find targets to rob, assuming their victims won't trust the police. The law puts a financial burden on Agapov's sports federation. A football competition might only require two fields in a sports complex, he says, but the organization has to hire a third nearby, just to block it from being rented for a children's event. If that happened and children could see the LGBT competition, it could be breaking the law. Vitaly Milonov, a lawmaker who played a key role in passing the "gay propaganda" law, has called for a harder line on World Cup fans. Comparing gay people to chimpanzees, he said "sodomites" flying the rainbow flag had no place at the tournament. "I want to remind them that, no matter how much they try lobbying, their hideous way of life is condemned all over the world," he told the AP. "They do not have the right to propagandize their hideousness." Last year, reports emerged from the predominantly Muslim region of Chechnya in southern Russia that men were tortured and killed on suspicion of being gay. Chechnya will be home to the Egyptian team during the World Cup. Dozens spoke about torture at secret prison facilities overseen by allies of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who has claimed there are no gays in Chechnya. A Russian government investigation said there was no proof. Russia's World Cup is also a test for FIFA's image ahead of the 2022 tournament in Qatar and a possible 2026 World Cup in Morocco, both countries where gay sex is illegal. FIFA says it has a "zero-tolerance approach to discrimination" and has discussed gay rights issues with Russia. "We are absolutely aware of discriminatory concerns and have always addressed them in close collaboration with the (local organizing committee), the Russian Football Union and the Russian authorities," FIFA's head of sustainability and diversity, Federico Addiechi, told the AP by e-mail. Russia has no openly gay professional athletes. However, Agapov says he's had messages of support from closeted athletes and knows of one well-known male footballer who dates men. "We will be happy if one day a gay footballer will come out in Russian football because we know that there are gay footballers," he said, recounting how he found the player using a gay dating app in a World Cup host city. "It works in Russian football like 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'. He's open to date with guys, but he's not open to speak about his sexuality in public." The World Cup is unlikely to change much, Agapov predicts. "The World Cup is over, we are still here, and the persecution of LGBT people in Chechnya and other regions is still going on." ___ Subbotovska reported from St. Petersburg, Russia......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJun 2nd, 2018

Rondo, Green serve up spicy subplot in NBA playoffs

By Brett Martel, Associated Press NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Rajon Rondo and Draymond Green have won NBA titles and never have been known to shy away from conflict on the court. Now their combustible convergence in the playoffs is providing spicy subplot to the Western Conference semifinal series between New Orleans and Golden State. “We’re here to fight,” Rondo said following New Orleans’ lopsided Game 3 victory that trimmed the Warriors’ series lead to 2-1. “With my guys on the court, I’m going to fight as hard as I can ... and do whatever it takes.” Green and Rondo had to be separated after whistles twice in the first three games — never mind some other antics in the flow of the game — and they’ll be back at it again in one of two pivotal Game 4s to be played on Sunday (Monday, PHL time). The other pits Houston against Utah in a series that the Rockets lead 2-1. The Rondo-Green sideshow is compelling because of what both players mean to their teams. They are not the type of trash-talking, loud-mouths who otherwise play marginal roles. They are accomplished leaders who produce. Rondo had 21 assists in Game 3, while Green nearly had a triple-double with 11 points, 12 rebounds and nine assist. It just so happens they also are renowned for their masterful command of psychological gamesmanship. Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry might have the best perspective; he’s coached them both. Gentry was a Warriors assistant on Golden State’s 2015 championship team and maintains a friendly off-court relationship with Green. “If he’s on your team you love him and if he’s not on your team you despise him — and to me those are the kind of players that I like to have,” Gentry said of Green. “I appreciate who he is and how he plays because he’s all about winning. And if you’re verbally weak, he’s going to take advantage of that.” Warriors coach Steve Kerr calls Green his team’s “heart and soul,” and its “engine.” Kerr also added lightheartedly that the fact Green hasn’t been assessed a technical foul in the postseason is “one of the great stats in this year’s playoffs.” Green bristled at the notion that he started any of the dust-ups with Rondo, insinuating that Rondo was the instigator. He asserted that his awareness of Rondo’s intentions is why he hasn’t been suckered into escalations that could result in a technical foul or ejection. “I’m not an idiot,” Green said. “I can see what they’re trying to accomplish a mile away.” Green added: “At some point, somebody’s got to tell the truth. It ain’t Draymond this time.” But Green has been in the face of other Pelicans players, tangling with All-Star Anthony Davis behind the play in one instance and yelling at the Pelicans’ bench in another. Green’s antics even agitated TNT studio host and former player Charles Barkley, who said he wanted to punch Green in the face. Barkley later apologized for his word choice, if not the sentiment. Pelicans forward Solomon Hill explained that Rondo — accomplished, playoff-savvy veteran that he is — seeks to neutralize Green’s psychological effect by taking on a “big brother” role for the Pelicans. “If somebody’s yelling in your ear, you’re going to get to a point where it’s about respect,” Hill said, referring to Rondo by his nickname, ‘Do.’ “And that’s kind of where ‘Do’ is. ’Do’s like: ‘We’re going to be respected. You’re not going to come out here and dance around and disrespect us as competitors.’” A closer look at Sunday’s (Monday, PHL time) games: WARRIORS AT PELICANS Warriors lead 2-1. Game 4, 3:30 p.m. EDT (3:30am, PHL time) NEED TO KNOW: Although the Warriors lead the series, the Pelicans have not lost at home yet in the playoffs and have improved considerably in each game since losing by 22 in the series opener. New Orleans lost by only five points in Game 2 and then won by 19 when the series shifted to New Orleans. KEEP AN EYE ON: Warriors stars Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant. They combined to miss 36-of-59 shots in Game 3 and will be eager to regain their shooting strokes. “I still don’t think K.D. or Steph was aggressive enough,” Green said. “I’ve said to both of them, I need them to be aggressive. They’re our guys. That’s who we’re going to to get buckets. We need them to be aggressive at all times and they’ll be that way” on Sunday. INJURY UPDATE: Curry will be in his third game back after missing more than a month with a sprained left knee. Kerr said he wasn’t surprised to see Curry’s production dip in his second game back. “Game 2 is always the hardest one after you come back from an injury,” Kerr said, adding that “it just takes some time,” for NBA players to regain their energy, legs and rhythm. PRESSURE IS ON: The Pelicans, who don’t want to go back to the West Coast down 3-1 and on the brink of elimination. “We’ve just got to avoid any kind of letdown,” Gentry said, adding that his players “understand who we’re playing and they understand the situation.” ROCKETS AT JAZZ Rockets lead 2-1. Game 4, 8 p.m. EDT (8am, PHL time) NEED TO KNOW: Following a surprising home loss in Game 2, the Rockets roared back to life in Game 3, picking apart the Jazz on both ends of the court. A fast start, highlighted by a 39-point first quarter, put Houston back on track. The Rockets shot 59 percent from the field before halftime and never looked back. “From the beginning of the game, we made a conscious effort to get stops and offensively push the pace and get shots, and we did that,” Rockets guard James Harden said. KEEP AN EYE ON: Rockets sixth man Eric Gordon has been a tough cover for the Jazz. Gordon broke out for 25 points on 8-of-13 shooting in Game 3, resembling what he did against Utah earlier, averaging 21 points on 48.4 percent shooting in three regular season meetings. ROOKIE STRUGGLES: Utah’s Donovan Mitchell is averaging 16 points on 32 percent shooting in the series while filling in at point guard for Ricky Rubi. He went just 4-of-16 for 10 points in Game 3. “I didn’t really do much,” Mitchell said. “That can’t happen. ... It’s like I would have been better off not showing up — and that’s what I did. I didn’t show up for my teammates. I’ll fix it.” PRESSURE IS ON: The Jazz. A second straight home loss would put Utah in the unenviable position of needing two victories in Houston to stay alive......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 6th, 2018

Ateneo s Fab 5: The Fearless Underdogs of UAAP Volleyball

Newly-appointed head coach Roger Gorayeb looked at his line-up heading into UAAP Season 71. A champion mentor of NCAA powerhouse San Sebastian College - Recoletos, Gorayeb had in his hands a gargantuan task of rebuilding Ateneo de Manila University women’s volleyball program. Just a few months before, Ronald Dulay, the mentor before him landed a trio of blue chip recruits who were fresh from a successful stint in the Palarong Pambansa. Angeline "Dzi" Gervacio, Fille Saint Cainglet and Jamenea "Jem" Ferrer just joined the Katipunan-based squad. Gervacio and Cainglet were products of St. Scholastica's College in Manila while Ferrer was a gem from Hope Christian School under girl’s volleyball guru Jerry Yee. Looking at his 15-woman line-up with the season just a few months ahead, Gorayeb knew he needed to do something drastic. The roster just won’t do. Talking to then athletic director Ricky Palou and team manager Tony Boy Liao, the mentor told the team officials that he intended to cut five players from the list. One could just imagine the shock in their faces. “Nakita ko may line-up pero player-playeran lang yung ganoon bang tipo, 15 ata yun. Sabi ko ‘Magtatanggal ako ng lima then magre-recruit ako,’” he said. The three rookies were in. Middle Bea Pascual, Kara Acevedo and libero Steph Gabriel retained their spots. He needed more. “Sa mga tinira kong players, si Kara Acevedo sabi niya, ‘Coach mayroong player ang ICA (Immaculate Conception Academy) na gumraduate naka-exam na rito pasado.’ Sabi ko, ‘Sige papuntahin mo,’” said Gorayeb. It was Gretchen Ho. “Sa akin kasi ang talagang nagyaya sa akin si coach Ron Dulay. Si Kara Acevedo teammate ko and she’s been recruited by Ateneo. So one summer wala akong magawa naki-train lang ako noon tapos nagustuhan nila ang laro ko and then fourth year noong graduate na ako I passed the ACET then niyayaya na nila ako,” she said. “Then nagbago ng coach na si Coach Roger and dun niya ako nakita.”   “Pagdating ko ng March (sa Ateneo) wala na akong way para maka-recruit pa. Ang nangyari yung tatlo accepted na kaagad. Si Gretchen tinanong ko sabi ko, ‘ano ba ang laro mo?’ Sabi niya the usual panggitna, tres,” Gorayeb recalled. “So sinubukan ko pero ang laro niya tres hindi quick. Siya panggitna pero hindi quicker na gusto ko saka yung height niya (maliit). Kaya lang si Gretchen takbo ng takbo, mahilig magtatakbo so sabi ko sige pwede na yan. Wala namang player na during that time. So kinuha ko si Gretchen.” Gorayeb just needed just one more. “Ngayon nagkaroon ng STCAA (Southern Tagalog Calabarzon athletic association) eh kulang pa ako ng isa, wala akong panggitna. Ang gitna ko during that time si Bea lang tapos si Gretchen so wala akong pamalit. So naisipan ko may nakita ako sa STCAA,” he said. He spotted a lanky player from Canossa Academy-Lipa, Aillysse Nacachi. “Sabi ko kay Sir Tony pagtyagaan ko na lang ito kahit hindi naman kalakasan at wala naman na rin akong choice na makapili kasi rush ang pagdating ko dyan. Nakiusap lang sila sa akin na magbuo ako ng team kasi si Ronald nag-resign,” said Gorayeb. Another freshman could’ve had ended up with Ateneo, Hope’s libero Melissa Gohing. But a few obstacles prevented her from fulfilling her promise to join Ferrer in Ateneo. She instead chose to join the ladies in green and white in Taft.    SOMETHING PROMISING December 7, 2008. Far Eastern University Gym. Excitement filled the air. Fans, mostly volleyball purists and some who just came to support their classmates or were just curious to see a new spectacle after the basketball season ended, slowly settled in their seats for the women’s division’s second game. It was Adamson University, the previous year’s runner-up, which just visited the turf of their arch nemesis and defending champion FEU, which was led by that era’s finest and most popular volleybelle Rachel Anne Daquis. Fans wanted to see if the Lady Falcons still had the same firepower they had the previous season with the loss of top setter Janet Serafica and power hitter Sang Laguilles. A rookie-laden Ateneo squad should be easy pickings with Angela Benting, rookie Pau Soriano and libero Lizlee Anne Gata in the roster. Besides the Lady Falcons got the Lady Eagles’ number. Or so they thought. “Naalala ko nu’ng time namin sinasabi sa amin ng seniors namin na, ‘Hay naku ang lakas ng Adamson, never kami nanalo dyan,’” Cainglet, now happily married to film director Lino Cayetano and with three beautiful children, recalled.  But the Lady Eagles stunned Adamson in the opening set. The Lady Falcons took the next two frames. Ateneo stole the fourth.  “Ako naalala ko ano eh, parang alam namin na lahat kasi kami palaban. Nasa amin yun. Tapos binigyan kaming lahat ng chance to be in the first six so parang dream come true,” said Ho, now an ABS-CBN host. “Naalala ko rin na palaban kaming lahat kumbaga nothing to lose eh so ang ano namin, sumasabay kami sa laro and nu’ng nakita na namin na ‘Ay kaya pala natin ‘to guys. Kaya pala naming lumaban.’” Still, Adamson had the upper hand in experience. The Lady Falcons, used to pressure and were steady at crunch time, outlasted Ateneo.           The young Katipunan-based squad fell short, 25-22, 22-25, 15-25, 25-15, 8-15. But for the Fab 5, it was a loss that felt like a resounding victory. “Parang sobrang natutuwa kami and everybody in the crowd, kaya siguro kami natawag na Fab 5 kasi rookies kami pero kahit ganoon palaban kami,” said Ho. “Saka close game. Five sets yun.” However, it was the first of five five-set matches that Ateneo will drop that season including one in the second round against the Manilla Santos-bannered De La Salle University. “Pero ang problema di kami nananalo ng five sets. Parang ilan lang ang naipanalo namin na ganoon. Feeling ko na-overwhelm kami na ‘Uy nananalo tayo.’ May ganoong disbelief ng konti pero alam namin na may ibubuga kami,” said Ho. “Definitely, our rookie season was full of five-set matches. It was tough, we felt like we were so close, but still so far away. At some point, it gave us frustration also. We just couldn't figure out that time what is it that's still lacking because we couldn't win the five-set matches,” according to Nacachi. “People said, it was because the team was still so inexperienced. We still didn't have the tenacity unlike of those more matured teams. But we didn't take it as bad, it was a learning experience for us all at the end. We had to learn how to develop that finishing will to be able to win games like that in the future.” The Fab 5 finished their rookie season with a 6-8 slate at fifth spot.   ‘MAY MEDAL NA TAYO’ Gorayeb remembered on their second year the look on Pascual’s face in their last elimination game match against Adamson. Already wrapping up their first win over the Lady Falcons, Pascual was giddy. “Natatawa nga ako dyan kay Bea kasi papanalo na kami nu’n tapos sumesenyas na siya ng tres. Sabi ko, ‘Hoy anong ginagawa mo?’ Yun pala sobrang saya na niya kasi for the first time in 30 years magkaka-medal na sila,” he said. It was the most important match of the season for the Lady Eagles. With the Fab 5 already in their sophomore year, Ateneo was already making great strides. The Lady Eagles closed that season’s elims with five straight wins capped with a victory over Adamson. Ateneo posted a 10-4 win-loss mark to enter the Final Four legitimately. “Ang nangyari kasi nu’ng time nila Charo (Soriano) kaya sila nakapasok sa semis kasi may nag-squeal na si (Jacq) Alarca di pala naka-enroll nu’n kaya na-forfeit mga laro ng La Salle,” said Gorayeb. The Fab 5 proved that they were not just a bunch of much-hyped up pretty faces. They backed it up with their skills on court. It didn’t matter that Ateneo were swept by eventual champion University of Sto. Tomas in the Final Four.      But the podium finish of Season 72 was short-lived. Adamson got its revenge in the last game of Season 73 elims, bumping off the Lady Eagles in the podium finish. The loss put Ateneo in a collision course with the twice-to-beat DLSU, who could’ve completed an elims sweep if not only for a forfeited match against University of the East after UAAP found out that Carmela Garbin and Clarisse Yeung participated in a ‘ligang labas’ while the season was onoing, in the Final Four. Ateneo gave the Lady Spikers a scare before succumbing in another heartbreaking five-set match. The Lady Eagles finished fourth but that lone semis game gave Ateneo and its maturing Fab 5 enough experience to dream for something big – A ticket into the Finals.      ‘HINOG NA KAYO’ The first three years saw the gradual improvement for Ateneo. But Season 74 proved to be the turning point for the Fab 5. A fresh new recruit from University of Sto. Tomas high school, who just completed a year of residency, came into picture and with the Fab 5 armed with years of experience, the Lady Eagles’ fate will forever be changed. Alyssa Valdez, a highly recruited open spiker just like Gervacio, Cainglet-Cayetano and Ferrer years back, gave renewed excitement for the Ateneo faithful. “Alyssa's joining with Ateneo was a great turning point for us. We needed as much support we can get, and Alyssa's entrance to the team was a great boost to the team's morale,” said Nacachi. “The girl is a powerhouse and we felt like with her presence, the team finally became solid.” “We were able to play around with the positions and the rotations, since we had different versatile open players who can also greatly play other roles,” she added. “We were also able to formulate a lot of plays and attacks because Alyssa can generally do all kinds; open, running, quick, name it all. She gave the team the power and the versatility that we previously lacked from the past seasons.” Social media was just gaining traction then but the Lady Eagles were already on the radar of volleyball purists through online forums. For the first time, Ateneo was considered a legitimate contender.   The Fab 5 proved it by winning 11 games in the elimination round, losing only to UST once and dropping two against the Lady Spikers. Valdez’s arrival gave Ferrer an even broader option on offense. It eased the scoring load off the shoulders of Cainglet and Gervacio, who was then moved to an opposite position. “I guess sakto lang din yung dating niya because by that time Kara Acevedo graduated so someone had to fill in her spot so coach Roger decided for me to move to utility or opposite,” said Gervacio. “And then sakto Alyssa naman could fill in the spot na other open spiker.” “So timing din na we had all the pieces put together at the right time,” she added. With a good performance in the elims despite missing a legit middle in Bea Pascual and the entry of Aerieal Patnongon barred by academic problems, Ateneo finished second and for the first-time was armed with a twice-to-beat advantage in the stepladder semifinals. The Lady Eagles faced an experienced Tigresses side in the last stepladder semis stage. UST just came from a hard-fought four-set do-or-die match against FEU and were banking on their four-set win over Ateneo in the second round to force another sudden death. Ateneo’s date with destiny was sealed with a four-set win over the Tigresses, who then bid goodbye to Maika Ortiz and Judy Anne Caballejo. “Pinu-push na rin kami ni Coach Roger noon eh, ‘Hinog na kayo ngayon. Kasi dalawang taon na lang, kailangan makapasok na kayo sa Finals,’” said Ho. “Somehow senior na rin kami,” added Cainglet.  “Season 74 was really the target season for us to be in the finals and target even to win the championship,” according to Nacachi. “During this time, we were already thinking we could not afford to not go in the finals.” “So it was with our mindset and our level of commitment that we were able to finally reach our goal of reaching the finals,” she added. “We had enough experience that time already, and it was really time for us to show the level of game maturity the team had obtained from the past seasons.” But then they had to face an unbeaten team. Unscathed in 14 games, De La Salle University was poised to complete a perfect season. The Lady Eagles spoiled it. Ferrer outplayed DLSU setter Mika Esperanza, 57-42, in excellent sets as Ateneo handed the Lady Spikers its first loss after 25 straight victories in a come-from-behind 23-25, 28-26, 25-23, 25-17, Finals opener win. Witnessed by 3,002 spectators inside the then The Arena in San Juan, all of the Fab 5 produced points. Cainglet had 19 behind Valdez’s 24, Gervacio scored 12, Ho had 10, Nacachi finished with five while Ferrer had one. Gorayeb made a big gambit and it worked. “Dahil sa wala kong panggitna, yung laro namin ng La Salle, ginawa kong quicker si Alyssa. Kasi si Alyssa nakakapalo. Nagulat si Ramil (de Jesus) dun.” It was a big win. A huge upset. Unfortunately, Ateneo needed to win two more.  DLSU held a thrice-to-beat advantage.   THAT SWAG After Ateneo made a miracle in Game One, fans began to feel a new rivalry born. The attendance spiked. From just 3,000 spectators, the gate attendance more than doubled its size. The interest was there. Fans of traditional powers began to notice the Lady Eagles as a rising team. For the first time, a squad with no previous championship experience except for a title during the Marcos era in a different collegiate league, made a giant jolt. Everybody wanted to see what these girls would do next.    The Lady Eagles, still high on adrenaline after their Game 1 upset, took the opening set in Game 2. But just like in their opener, a well-experienced DLSU squad adjusted to take the next three frames to move a step closer to a repeat crown. With then Rookie of the Year Ara Galang, Season Most Valuable Player Aby Marano, an intimidating Michele Gumabao and a very efficient Finals MVP Cha Cruz teaming up for the kill, the Lady Spikers ripped Ateneo apart in Game 3 in straight sets, 25-16, 25-22, 25-13. “Sabi nga ni Dzi na nadyan na lahat eh. So I guess noong Season 74 nandoon na pero may kulang pa rin,” said Ho. “I guess we we’re able to make it to the Finals pero wala pa kaming championship experience.” Ferrer agreed. "Siguro ang kulang yung championship experience kasi nasa La Salle na ‘yun eh. Ilang years na silang nagpa-finals, nag-champion and for Ateneo doon pa lang namin sinimulan," said the three-time Best Setter. Lacking championship experience is one thing, but Ateneo during that time wasn’t ready for DLSU’s most feared weapon: the Lady Spikers’ swag.  “They have that swag,” said Gervacio. “Everyone knows about it naman. It’s really coach Ramil’s style talaga kasi as I remember when we were first year, four out of six of the players inside the court were rookies and even if we go against the powerhouses UST, FEU, Adamson, hindi sila yung nakikita nyo na kapag championship na rivalry, na swag, angas, stare down. Pero La Salle talaga kahit sino ang kalaban nila they’ll bring that attitude inside the court.” That Finals series cemented a new rivalry that will become one of the most celebrated in the sport. “I think it also helped that Ateneo-La Salle basketball didn’t face also,” said Gervacio. “Siyempre nandoon ang hunger for the rivalry eh and timely din na its been Ateneo-La Salle na rin sa volleyball.”   CLOSING A CHAPTER The Fab 5 were now in their fifth and last year. They wanted to leave a winning legacy. The pieces were already there. Gorayeb had at his disposal five seniors, a rising star in Valdez, a sophomore middle in Amy Ahomiro, a versatile Ella De Jesus, a steady libero in Denden Lazaro and a new kind of weapon – a massive crowd that can turn any venue into a sea of blue.              As expected, the second installment of the Ateneo-DLSU rivalry was set into place. Both sweeping their semis opponents. The Lady Spikers crushed National University while the Lady Eagles shot down Adamson. Game One was a shocker. DLSU heading into the Finals are on a 14-game roll but were stunned in the first two sets with Ateneo stepping on the gas. But a string of miscues, mostly from the service line, did the Lady Eagles in as they allowed the Lady Spikers to force a decider. DLSU, smelling blood, punished Ateneo to eke out a 20-25, 17-25, 25-22, 25-22, 15-6, victory inside the Big Dome witnesses by 17,342-strong gate attendance. Then the series transferred to a newly-built, state-of-the-art Mall of Asia Arena that drew a crowd of 18,799. The first two frames were frustrating for the Lady Eagles.   Ateneo came back to life in the third set to gain a 9-5 lead. But DLSU easily erased it with Ateneo crumbling under pressure. The Lady Spikers were on an onslaught. Sophomore Galang pushed DLSU at matchpoint with a cold-blooded ace that went in a few inches from the baseline. The score, 24-16. It was a tense moment for the Fab 5. A long rally ensued in the next play. Gervacio, with all her might pounded a kill. Her hand making a great contact on the ball off Ferrer’s backset.     Smack! The ball ricocheted off the hands of DLSU’s Wensh Tiu before falling on the same landing area of Gervacio, who tried to dive for a dig together with Lazaro. DLSU swept Ateneo, 25-23, 25-20, 25-16. Game over.          “Kahit hindi kami nanalo alam naming ibinigay namin ang lahat namin, all-out talaga kaya wala kaming pagsisisi,” said Ho. It was the end of the Fab 5 era, but they left more than what any of them could have imagined. "I remember so many people or fans telling me that they started really watching UAAP Volleyball because of our batch. And that is really touching and fulfilling to know. Knowing that you were able to leave an impact like that to people. We were not able to bring even a single championship to our school, Ateneo, but we were able to touch a lot of people's hearts despite that," Nacachi shared. The Fab 5 closed a colorful chapter of Ateneo volleyball in tears. They were there during the Lady Eagles’ birth pains. They labored. They shed tears, blood and sweat. They laid the foundation for something big. The Fab 5 planted the seeds that would eventually bear fruit and would change the course of Ateneo women’s volleyball program forever. Glory didn’t happen during their time. It started in theirs.    Amidst the roar of the crowd, the falling confetti, banging of drums and the echoing chant of ‘Animo La Salle’ from the sea of green, the Fab 5 hugged each other tight. They found comfort in each other. It was their time to say goodbye. For those who remained – Valdez, Lazaro, Ahomiro, De Jesus – the defeat added fuel to their already blazing desire to bring glory for the blue and white. They were the next in line, heirs to unfinished business. WATCH: FAB 5 Reunion Part 1 and Part 2 --- Follow this writer on Twitter, @fromtheriles.....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsApr 20th, 2018

Wade turns back the clock and 76ers in Game 2 Heat victory

By Dan Gelston, Associated Press PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Dwyane Wade turned in a vintage performance, scoring 28 points to end the 76ers' 17-game winning streak and lead the Miami Heat to a 113-103 Game 2 win over Philadelphia on Monday night (Tuesday, PHL time) and even the first-round playoff series. Playing without injured All-Star center Joel Embiid for the 10th straight game, the Sixers nearly pulled off an epic comeback and rallied from 16 down to just two points late in the fourth. Philly fans were going wild and suddenly the home-court edge that had made the Sixers unbeatable for a month seemed like it would perk the team back up for one more notch on the winning streak. Wade buried two big buckets down the stretch that pushed back the Sixers and tied the series as it shifts to Miami for Game 3 on Thursday (Friday, PHL time). The Sixers lost for the first time since March 13 (Mar. 14, PHL time) to Indiana. They won 16 straight to end the regular season and the first game of the playoffs. Wade's play resembled his glory days at times and he carried the Heat in a sensational second quarter that was the difference. He pump-faked his way to 15 points in the quarter — impressive enough, even moreso that he outscored the potent Sixers by two points. The 36-year-old Wade made his first seven shots of the game and passed Larry Bird for 10th on the NBA's career postseason scoring list. After a Game 1 victory where they couldn't miss, the Sixers couldn't make a big bucket in the first half. The Sixers made a team playoff-record 18 three's in Game 1 and missed a whopping 16-of-18 three's in the first half. Robert Covington missed all five and Dario Saric was 0 for 4. The Sixers made four baskets and scored 13 points in the quarter. The Heat slowed the game down — exactly the kind of style where the Sixers needed Embiid in the middle — and used a collective of defenders on Ben Simmons that rattled the rookie point guard early. The passing-and-pushing offense that got the Sixers to the No. 3 seed in the East failed them for the first time since early March. But there was life left in the fourth. Saric was fouled by Wade and sank both from the line to make it 91-82 and he followed with a three the next time down that sent the crowd into a frenzy. Saric broke up a pass on defense that led to a Simmons dunk and suddenly 18 straight wins was within reach. Ersan Ilyasova made a tip shot to close to 98-96. Wade contributed with baskets, assists and free throws over the final 4 minutes to close out the win. Simmons led the Sixers with 24 points and Saric had 23. TIP-INS Heat: Goran Dragic scored 20 points and James Johnson had 18. 76ers: Philly native and Hollywood star Kevin Hart rang the ceremonial Liberty Bell and sat courtside a few seats down from Allen Iverson. ... Team consultant Jerry Colangelo was at the game. EMBIID UPDATE Embiid wore his black mask and put on a three-point shootout in pregame that had fans going wild with each shot. Again, there was no timetable on when Embiid would return this series, if at all. "I can't wait to get him back," coach Brett Brown said. "He, to me, is the difference maker. Joel Embiid changes the dynamics in many ways of this team. There will be a reintroduction of him back into the team." LINEUP CHANGE Ilysaova got the start at center for the first time in Embiid's absence over Amir Johnson. REMEMBERING GREER The 76ers held a moment of silence for Hall of Famer Hal Greer. Greer died Saturday (Sunday, PHL time) after a brief illness. He was 81. He's the 76ers' career leader in points, field goals, field goals attempted, games and minutes played. "He was a graceful man. He was class. He was a gentleman," Brown said. UP NEXT Game 3 is Thursday (Friday, PHL time) and Game 4 is Saturday (Sunday, PHL time) in Miami......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsApr 17th, 2018

Eight NBA Playoffs storylines to watch

By David Aldridge, TNT Analyst Suddenly, we’re not quite as certain that Warriors-Cavs, Part IV, Sure to be Way Better than “Jaws: The Revenge” and “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace”, is going to make air, are we? The 2018 playoffs are just about here, and Stephen Curry isn’t, and Kyrie Irving won’t be, and Joel Embiid might be, and Jimmy Butler will be -- if his team is, that is. And both conference champions from a year ago are equally unsettled going into the postseason, for different reasons. The Golden State Warriors are banged up, while the Cleveland Cavaliers are brand new. Golden State hasn’t looked like an offensive leviathan, while Cleveland has been one of the league’s worst defenses. And, most importantly, each has legit challengers this year in Houston and Toronto in its respective conferences -- deep, tough, elite defensively, hard to stop offensively, and tempered/hardened/driven by recent playoff failures. Which should make late May and early June even more compelling than normal. At the least, we’ll have the Warriors going for three rings in four years, and LeBron James going for an eighth straight Finals appearance -- each representing something special. The postseason, then, should provide some theatre that Meryl Streep will drop what she’s doing to watch. Among the biggest storylines: 1. The Hinkie Referendum, Passed The Philadelphia 76ers’ scintillating run to end the regular season sets up them for a glorious postseason run, that will finalize a season in which the decisions by former GM Sam Hinkie -- the successful ones, anyway -- are rightly celebrated. (The failures of Jahlil Okafor and Michael Carter-Williams to fire as stars after Hinkie took each high in the first round are not only not ignored by Hinkie’s biggest supporters, they are cited as proof that he had to do what he did for as long as he did, because you’re going to have some misses at the top of the Draft. God, I love Hinkie Stans.) It says here that a healthy Joel Embiid and an exponentially improving Ben Simmons are the one team that can give LeBron’s Cavs true night sweats in the Kyrie-less east playoffs. Embiid is a problem for any team, but especially for the defensively indifferent and ineffective Cavaliers, who have no one remotely capable of keeping “The Process” from running wild. Since New Year’s Day, only Curry (120.4), Chris Paul (116.1) and Jamal Murray (114.7) have better Offensive Ratings among point guards than Simmons’s 113.9, per NBA.com/Stats. Who, from among George Hill (6'3"), Jose Calderon (6'1"), Jordan Clarkson (6'5") and J.R. Smith (6'5") is Cavs coach Tyronn Lue going to put on the 6'10" Simmons? Yes, Lue could try James on Simmons, who is no threat to shoot from deep or run through a maze of pindowns. But that doesn’t make him any easier to slow down. No matter who Philly plays in the postseason, the Sixers are going to be a problem. 2. Indiana George and the Tempo of Doom It’s taken the Oklahoma City Thunder much longer than any of us thought, but OKC is a win from the postseason (even if the Thunder can’t beat the Heat in Miami tonight, the Cancun-bound Memphis Grizzlies will be in Oklahoma City Wednesday). And that’s when Paul George will determine whether his future is in the 405 or elsewhere. The Thunder’s up-and-down regular season doesn’t provide much clue to how far they could go in the playoffs, thought OKC looked formidable in ending the Rockets’ 20-game home win streak Saturday (Sunday, PHL time). It was a game that featured Russell Westbrook successfully taking on the challenge of defending James Harden down the stretch. When Oklahoma City plays with pace and gets up and down the floor, it can beat anyone. The Thunder will likely have to take down an elite unit like Houston at some point in the playoffs to convince George to stay. 3. A Series of Fortunate Events With Irving’s injury, the Washington Wizards’ failure to launch and other maladies to Eastern Conference contenders, the Cavaliers have an increasingly clear path back to The Finals. Doing this is best way to keep LeBron: The Sequel in town for an extended run, but the proof will be in the doing, of course. Cleveland will need Larry Nance, Jr., Rodney Hood and Jordan Clarkson to perform under playoff pressure, which Nance and Clarkson have never had to do and Hood did briefly in the 2017 playoffs with the Utah Jazz. 4. She packed my bags last night, pre-flight/Zero Hour, 9 a.m The Rockets have been the best team in the league most of this season -- an offensive and defensive juggernaut, the logical extension at both ends of the floor of the standards the Warriors set the last few seasons. James Harden will likely walk away with Kia MVP honors after the season and Chris Paul has been everything Houston hoped he’d be. But Houston must finish the deal with a championship to make its own mark. 5. Jurassic Park Everything is set up for Toronto, as well -- the Raptors have the Eastern Conference’s best record and are tied with Houston for the best home record (34-7) in the league. They have home court until The Finals. Their two lynchpins, All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, are healthy. They’ve diversified their offense and learned to love the 3-pointer. They’re back to guarding at an elite level. The East is laid out open for a Toronto run to The Finals. There’s no excuse for the Raps not to. 6. ‘Brow’, Beating We don’t know for sure that the New Orleans Pelicans will make the playoffs. As of this writing, they haven’t clinched yet, although beating the Warriors in Oakland on Saturday went a long way toward their getting to the postseason. But assuming New Orleans is playing next weekend, its success in the playoffs can only help the franchise as it recovers from the recent death of former owner Tom Benson. “The Brow” (aka Anthony Davis) may have got us on April Fool’s Day, but the next couple of weeks will be dead serious. What if the Pelicans manage a first-round upset? Don’t say it’s not possible with the way Davis is playing. That would go an awful long way to quieting the “How the Boston Celtics Will Get Anthony Davis in 2020, Vol. MCMLXXXVII” hot takes. 7.  The Boston Medical Group The Celtics as imagined played exactly five minutes together this season. Everything that’s transpired since has been wrapped in gauze and sutured shut. Kyrie Irving’s latest knee procedure has everyone hopping off the Celtics’ postseason bandwagon -- a mistake, unless coach Brad Stevens pulls a hammy before Game 1 in the first round. Stevens has coached up whatever 12 guys are active pretty damn well since he’s come to the NBA, and he’ll still have a lot to work with in the playoffs: Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Terry Rozier (the Celtics hope they can get Marcus Smart back after the first round). The bigger issue, of course, is Irving’s health going forward -- and into next season, after which he can opt out of the last year of his deal and become an unrestricted free agent in 2019. The current belief in Boston is that Irving’s knee -- the cartilage, ligaments, tendons and bones -- is sound and that he’ll have no long-term issues with it. But Irving and the team thought taking out the tension wire that had helped heal his broken patella after his 2015 surgery would do the trick. It didn’t.   There should be no doubt Boston will be all in on Irving. But after missing these playoffs after going out in Game 1 of the Finals in ’15, Irving will again have to show he’s able to handle a season-long campaign and still be able to bring his best to the postseason. 8. Bah Gawd, That’s Kawhi Leonard’s Music! We have all worked on the assumption that Leonard isn’t going to play for the Spurs any more this season as he rehabs his quad injury, even though they’ve never quite actually said he’s out for the year -- and he, as per usual, has said next to nothing. The Spurs have ridden LaMarcus Aldridge’s All-NBA-level season to the cusp of the playoffs, but no one has much expectation they’ll be there very long if they make it without their former Finals MVP. “Do I have any expectation I’ll see Kawhi?,” Danny Green said a week ago, repeating my question to him. “As of right now, my mindset is no. I’m just going to forward without him … if he does come back, great. Our mindset is this is the group we have today, this is the group we’ll have tomorrow. If somebody does come and join, we’ll have them and it’ll be great. But right now we’re moving forward with the expectation that this is who we have.” But, it’s not like we haven’t seen guys come back suddenly for the playoffs after missing large chunks of a season. A fellow named Michael Jordan played just 18 regular season games in his second season with the Bulls in 1986, recovering from a foot injury and not returning to the lineup until mid-March. True, he did get 15 games under his belt before the playoffs. But that did not prepare anyone for his showing up in Boston Garden in Game 2 of the first round against the Celtics and dropping 63 on the home team. There are, to be sure, issues between Leonard and the Spurs, and maybe they’re insurmountable. But if, somehow, “The Klaw” wakes up one morning this month and says he’s good to go, and reports for duty … who doesn’t think San Antonio can’t start assimilating opponents into its collective just like old times? Longtime NBA reporter, columnist and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsApr 10th, 2018

MVP Ladder: Davis shrugs off pain, makes case for MVP

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com You’ll have to forgive New Orleans Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry for not feeling the need to mount some coordinated public campaign for Anthony Davis for Kia MVP. Gentry figures the voters have eyes, so they've seen the same jaw-dropping things from the superstar big man that he sees every night. “He’s great, man. Just an absolutely great player in every aspect,” Gentry said in a hallway at the Smoothie King Center after Davis and the Pelicans came up short in a critical game against the Portland Trail Blazers. “You want to know what kind of guy he is? He’s in there beating himself up saying he should have done more. What more could he have done? He got 36 and 14 with three guys handing on him all night. Come on, man, he’s just a great, great player.” Davis finished with 36 points, 14 rebounds, six blocks and played the final 17 minutes in pain after injuring his left ankle late in the third quarter. He took a minute to shake it off and finished the game favoring the ankle, that required treatment after the game. These are the sorts of performances he’s turned in routinely this season, particularly since the Pelicans’ other All-Star big man, DeMarcus Cousins, went down with a season-ending Achilles injury Jan. 26 (Jan. 27, PHL time). He and Cousins were on pace to become the first pair of teammates in NBA history to each average better than 25 points and 10 rebounds. Davis is averaging 31.1 points, 12.3  rebounds and 3.6 blocks since the All-Star break, after averaging 27.4, 10.7 and 2.1 in the 51 games before the break. So the “M-V-P” chants he heard in those final minutes against the Trail Blazers were well warranted for a player with range and versatility as a two-way performer that might be unrivaled in the league. “I can only think of a couple guys in this league who can impact a game the way he can from end to end. It’s AD and … ” Gentry said, before a reporter blurted out the name of the other player he was thinking of, “yeah, LeBron. I mean, these guys can guard from the three-point line to the rim and can score from those same spaces on anybody. Guys like that, wth that ability and those talents, they are just very rare.” James and Davis (who occupy the No. 2 and 3 spots, respectively, in this week’s Kia Race to the MVP Ladder) will square off today at Quicken Loans Arena. It’ll be another chance for Davis to be measured against the league’s standard-bearer in regards to the MVP conversation. James has four MVPs in his war chest, and could (and probably should) have a couple more. Meanwhile, Davis is still searching for his first. At 33, James has shown a durability and staying power that Davis, 25, is also still searching for. If there is a knock on his game, it’s that he’s struggled with injuries, bumps and bruises to a degree that’s greater than you’d expect from a player as physically gifted as the 6'11", 253-pound dynamo. Tuesday night’s (Wednesday, PHL time) spill against the Trail Blazers marked the 11th time this season Davis has had to exit a game because of an injury. The reaction of the crowd, a collective hush as Davis writhed in pain under the basket, was followed by wild cheers when he got to his feet and limped to the bench. Davis refused to go to the locker room, choosing instead to take a moment to gather himself and return to the game, knowing the severity of his injury was overshadowed by the weight of the Pelicans’ current predicament. They need every single game to reach the postseason for just the second time in his career, the same postseason he suggested the Pelicans would have dominated had Cousins not gotten injured. That’s why he’ll play through whatever lingering discomfort he has to against the Cavaliers tonight. The gravity of the Pelicans’ situation demands that he fight through the pain, dust himself off and get back on the floor the same way he did Tuesday night (Wednesday, PHL time). “Just knowing the type of situation we’re in,” Davis told reporters in New Orleans Thursday (Friday, PHL time), “I just wanted to be on the floor. I felt I couldn't leave that game, even though it was bothering me. I just tried to tough it out and just play through it.” * * * The top five in the Week 24 edition of the 2017-18 Kia Race to the MVP Ladder: * * * 1. James Harden, Houston Rockets Last week: No. 1 Season stats: 30.7 points, 8.7 assists, 5.4 rebounds Harden took a rare night off Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time) and the Rockets still rolled over the Chicago Bulls. The Rockets are good enough to go on auto-pilot the way they’re playing. They’ve already set the franchise record for wins in a season and secured the Western Conference's No. 1 seed ... all with seven games to go in their season. Harden’s work from the start of training camp has been the catalyst for this special season for the Rockets. He worked to integrate the new additions to the lineup, but did so without sacrificing any of the things that made him the strong MVP candidate he was last season. Topping his performance from last season should be more than enough to secure his first Kia MVP. The official word will come on June 25 (June 26, PHL time) at the NBA Awards show. But with the way the Rockets have played down the stretch of this season with Harden leading the way, the suspense in this MVP chase has evaporated. 2. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers Last week: No. 2 Season stats: 27.6 points, 9.1 assists, 8.6 rebounds You have to appreciate LeBron’s admission that he would indeed vote for himself if he had a say in the race for the Kia MVP. And it’s hard to argue with his logic. Given all that the Cavaliers have endured since Kyrie Irving’s trade request was made public, it’s truly remarkable that he’s been able to compartmentalize the way he has and continue to play at an otherworldly level. If not for James Harden, LeBron would be clearing space on his mantle for his fifth Maurice Podoloff Trophy. Instead, he’ll have to settle for another season of milestones and his continued assault on nearly every career statistic the league has to offer. Not to mention he's still on track to play all 82 games for the first time in his career. And if you were wondering how the old man (relatively speaking, of course) bounces back after tough night (18 points in their Wednesday, PHL time, loss to Miami), catch the highlights from his 41-point, 10-rebound, eight-assist masterpiece in Charlotte on the second night of a back-to-back set. 3. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans Last week: No. 4 Season stats: 28.3 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.5 blocks Back-to-back losses at Houston and at home to Portland have put Davis and the Pelicans in a familiar position in the Western Conference playoff chase. Every game until the finish is a must-win affair, with today’s tilt against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers serving as the ideal showcase for Davis. He’s been an absolute monster of late (29.6 points, 11.5 rebounds, 3.8 blocks and 2.4 assists in his last 10 games). He knows what it will take to push the Pelicans into the playoff mix without DeMarcus Cousins, as that is something Davis had to do three years ago to secure his lone playoff voyage. It took a home win over San Antonio on the final night of the regular season to clinch a spot and it might take the same this time around -- Davis and the Pelicans finish up the regular season April 11 (April 12, PHL time) with a home game against the Spurs. 4. DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors Last week: No. 3 Season stats: 23.3 points, 5.2 assists, 3.9 rebounds Saturday’s trip game in Boston (Sunday, PHL time) couldn't have come at a better time for DeRozan and the Raptors, who still have some work to do secure the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Their lead over the Celtics is down to three games. Given Toronto's recent losses to the Cavs and LA Clippers, a statement win on the road against the surging Celtics would go a long way towards resetting the Raptors' collective confidence. DeRozan’s continued evolution as a playmaker has remained on full display (15 assists in his last two games) and will be crucial to the Raptors’ offensive effectiveness in the playoffs. That's assuming coach Dwane Casey does indeed plan to keep his rotation as deep in the playoffs as he has all season. But the scoring prowess that has propelled DeRozan to All-Star status the past four seasons will be just as important, if not more so, given the relative inexperience of several of the Raptors’ role players. Both DeRozan and fellow All-Star Kyle Lowry know how vital it will be for them to be in a good rhythm for the postseason. 5. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers Last week: No. 5 Season stats: 26.8 points, 6.5 assists, 4.5 rebounds Lillard was spectacular in a critical road win in New Orleans Tuesday night, finishing with a game-high 41 points (and nine rebounds, six assists and four steals). He did all that while out-dueling fellow MVP candidate Davis in what was a thrilling, must-see fourth quarter. It didn’t matter who was guarding Lillard -- sometimes it was Davis and other times it was Pelicans defensive wiz Jrue Holiday. Lillard was locked in and on absolute fire in a playoff atmosphere. His importance to the Trail Blazers, though, was even more evident a night later when he was missing from a deflating road loss to in Memphis. Lillard missed the game for a good reason: the birth of his son. But it should be clear by now that these Trail Blazers will go only as far as the mercurial Lillard can take them in the postseason. C.J. McCollum is as good a No. 2 option as you’ll find and Terry Stotts has done Coach of the Year-caliber in developing the roster. It’s Lillard’s scoring and playmaking, however, that takes them from a solid team to a top-three seed in the Western Conference. The next five: 6. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors 7. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder 8. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors 9. Kyrie Irving, Boston Celtics 10. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves And five more ... LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs; Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks; Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers; Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets; Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers Next up? An inside look at LaMarcus Aldridge from an Western Conference advance scout: “I would love to know exactly what was said in the conversation he had with [Spurs coach Gregg] Pop[ovich] after last season, from both sides. Because whatever it was, it’s produced the best season I’ve seen from LA since he’s been in the league. And I’m dating that back to his best years in Portland. The Spurs aren't close to the team they are with all of the heavy lifting he’s done this season. He’s been more physical and much more active on the defensive end than he was last season and obviously, with Kawhi Leonard missing from the lineup for basically the entire season, his responsibilities as the No. 1 option for them offensively has been tremendous. He’s always been a skilled, face-up big. Working from the L and on the baseline extended, he’s as tough a cover as you’ll find at that position. "He embraced the other stuff, though, and perhaps at Pop’s urging. He’s made himself a more physical presence around the basket and at the rim. When he’s working in space against opposing [centers], that’s when he really has an advantage, because he’ll abuse guys his size and bigger who aren’t as mobile, guys who cannot match his quickness. He’s not an above the rim guy or a rim protector that causes you any concern, but he’s stronger than he looks and this season, he’s mixed it up more when necessary. He’s been more physical than usual. I’d suggest that’s a direct result of what Pop was trying to convey to him. Without Kawhi out there, someone had to play that role as their offensive catalyst and to do that LaMarcus was going to have to toughen up and show more fire than he did last season. I give him credit for stepping up to that challenge. I’ll admit, I was a bit of a skeptic when he was the hot free agent name a couple summers back. It’s easy to forget that. He was the player everybody wanted and the Spurs got him. And it seems like he’s finally comfortable there now in the role he’s playing leading that team right now. I’ve gained a lot of respect for him and his game with the way he’s played this season.” Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMar 31st, 2018