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Bucks making case as favorites to win title

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com MILWAUKEE -- In the wake of a wire-to-wire, 125-103 victory in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals, a question for the group: Shouldn't the Milwaukee Bucks be the favorites to win this thing? No, not the conference finals. At this point, they're obviously the heavy favorite to win the East. Prior to this year, 72 teams had a 2-0 lead in the conference finals, and 67 of them went on to win. But why aren't the Bucks the favorites to win the NBA championship? Is there a case to be made against 1) what was the best team in the regular season and 2) what has been an even better team in the playoffs? [Watch the Playoffs on NBA League Pass for 30% less with this limited time offer! Select Annual package and use code SAVE30 at checkout to redeem] Maybe this is a we'll-believe-it-when-we-see-it league. How can you pick a team to win a championship when its best player had never won a playoff series prior to this year? Until they lost in five, it was easier to imagine the Celtics, with their talent and with their recent history of playoff success (back-to-back trips to the conference finals), being the team to represent the East in The Finals in the first year A.L. (after LeBron). And then the Bucks outscored the Celtics by a total of 65 points over the last four games of the conference semis. It's similarly difficult to pick against the Golden State Warriors until they actually lose. The two-time defending champs have Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. Presumably, they'll have Kevin Durant back for The Finals should they finish off the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference finals. And even without Durant, the Warriors boast the same 2-0 conference finals lead the Bucks currently possess. But the Warriors haven't been as sharp as they were in each of the previous two postseasons. Five of their 10 playoff wins have been within five points in the last five minutes. Last year, only four of their 16 wins were within five in the last five. In 2017, it was four of 16 as well. With the postseason's 10th-ranked defense, Golden State has outscored its opponents by 6.4 points per 100 possessions over its 14 games. The Bucks have outscored their opponents by more than double that: 15.1 per 100. That feels like the mark of an eventual champion. Through 10 playoff wins last year, the Warriors had outscored their opponents by 9.6 points per 100 possessions. Through 10 playoff wins in 2015, they had outscored their opponents by just 7.7 points per 100. It was only in 2017, when they won their first 15 playoff games in Durant's first season in Golden State, that the Warriors were as dominant as the Bucks have been thus far. At 10-0 two years ago, Golden State had outscored its playoff opponents by 16.5 points per 100 possessions. At that point, the Warriors had the No. 2 offense and the No. 1 defense in the postseason. That's exactly where the Bucks stand after Game 2 on Friday (Saturday, PHL time). Milwaukee is a complete team in more ways than one. The defense has been there almost every night. The Bucks have held their opponents under a point per possession (the measure of elite defense) in six of their 11 games and only once (their Game 1 loss to Boston) have they allowed them to score more than what was the league average (109.7 points scored per 100 possessions) in the regular season. Even with the rise in three-point shooting over the last few years, the most important shots on the floor remain those at the basket, and no team has been better at both preventing and defending those shots than the Bucks. After allowing a league-low 29.6 points per game in the restricted area in the regular season, the Bucks have allowed just 22.0 per game in the playoffs. In this series, Raptors drives have been met with a swarm of Milwaukee defenders, making it difficult to either score in the paint or get off a clean pass to an open shooter. After shooting 57 percent in the paint through the first two rounds (in which they faced two very good defenses), the Raptors have shot just 49 percent (36-for-73) in the paint through the first two games of the conference finals. On Toronto's first possession of Game 2, Marc Gasol posted up Khris Middleton after a switch and spun around Middleton for a layup, only to be rejected by Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Raptors went scoreless on their first five possessions, had just 39 points on 49 possessions at halftime, and were too far behind for a 39-point third quarter to matter much. "I think the way we played on both ends of the court in the first half," Budenholzer said afterward, "is what we're trying to get to." After a bit of an offensive struggle in Game 1, the Bucks broke out on Friday (Saturday, PHL time). The elite defense led to 28 fast-break points, a size advantage inside led to 17 second-chance points, and six of their nine rotation players scored in double-figures. Three of those six came off the bench. While Toronto coach Nick Nurse has had to both shorten and alter his rotation in these playoffs, Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer has seemingly found contributors wherever he has turned. George Hill and Pat Connaughton were huge in the Boston series, Malcolm Brogdon didn't need long to find his rhythm after missing the first eight postseason games, and on Friday (Saturday, PHL time), Ersan Ilyasova had what Budenholzer called "clearly his best game of the year," scoring 17 points, drawing three charges, and registering a plus-22 in just over 21 minutes off the bench. The Bucks have the presumed Kia MVP, but their biggest strength in these playoffs has been their depth. Through 11 games, they've outscored their opponents by 12.0 points per 100 possessions with Antetokounmpo off the floor. Unlike his fellow Eastern Conference coaches, Budenholzer has never had to rush his best player back onto the floor. And this team is now 10-1 with Antetokounmpo ranking 40th in postseason minutes per game at 32.3. While the Raptors' offense has struggled to take advantage of the attention paid to Kawhi Leonard, every Bucks rotation player has played with confidence and freedom. "They're not going to let me play one-on-one," Antetokounmpo said after registering 30 points, 17 rebounds and five assists in Game 2. "So this series is not going to be about me; it's going to be about my teammates being ready to shoot, being ready to make the right play." "We try and empower them," Budenholzer said of his team's role players. "We try to play a way where they all feel like they can contribute and do things. Hopefully that's paying off for us." There's no argument to the contrary. But is there an argument against this team being the favorite to win the championship? While it remains difficult to pick against the team that won last year and remains intact, new champions come along all the time, and it's easier to see them in hindsight than in the moment. Of course, as good as they've been playing and as special as this run has felt, Bucks players refuse to get ahead of themselves. "You can't," Eric Bledsoe said. "That's how you lose focus. The biggest thing with this group is just taking a game at a time, and not looking forward to The Finals. Anything can happen. So we're focused on Game 3." "It's a great opportunity that we have," George Hill added, "but it means nothing until we get there." The players have to keep their minds on Toronto. But the rest of us can feel free to envision the future, one that includes an NBA championship. John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for NBA.com. 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: abscbn abscbnMay 18th, 2019

All-Decade Team: Some names to watch in 2020s

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com Picking the best players of the past decade can be a delightful process, a walk down memory lane that highlights the best of the NBA’s best from the most recently completed era. We took care of that for you earlier this week with NBA.com's All-Decade Team for the 2010s. Data and established success provide the context needed to make a strong case when you're looking back. But you can't rely on those conventions when trying to decide what, and perhaps more appropriately, who, comes next. Questions linger for the big stars of the 2010s who would normally transition into the next decade with similar status. How will Kevin Durant look when he comes back from a season lost to an Achilles injury? What will Klay Thompson’s game look like post-ACL injury? There’s no saying how the summer’s superstar free agent and trade shuffle will impact career trajectories for older stars like Durant (going from Golden State to Brooklyn) and Russell Westbrook (going from Oklahoma City to Houston). Young stars just entering the league (or still finding their way) are bound to emerge in the coming years. On the other hand, established veterans will see the inevitable fading of their star status. That uncertain future for so many is part of what makes today’s exercise so much fun. We are peering into our crystal ball and projecting the future, identifying the stars who, a decade from now, might find their names on the best-of-the best list for the 2020s. * * * * = players who made a 2010s All-Decade Team Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks * "The Greek Freak" finished off the 2010s with his first Kia MVP and should be poised to compete for more this decade. He’s only scratched the surface of his immense potential and should be in the thick of the race for best player of the decade. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors * One half of the sweetest shooting backcourts in NBA history, Curry and his fellow Splash Brother, Thompson, could make the next All-Decade Team, too. That would require them to prove they’re still playing championship-level basketball in the Bay Area post-Durant. Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers * Davis is finally positioned to chase championships and will do so as he enters the physical prime of his career. With Davis and LeBron James leading the way, the Lakers begin the next decade poised for a return to legitimate contender status. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks The reigning Kia Rookie of the Year gave us all a preview of what’s to come. Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis are the foundational players expected to fuel the Mavericks the way Dirk Nowitzki did the past two decades. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers If Embiid stays healthy, he’s good enough to challenge for the unofficial title of best player of the 2020s. His availability is the most critical component for a Sixers organization that believes it is on the cusp of championship contention. Paul George, LA Clippers * George has fully bounced back from his devastating leg injury in 2014, earning a place among the NBA’s elite by finishing third in the Kia MVP voting to close out the 2010s. The only thing left on his to-do-list is to make the championship dreams of Clippers fans a reality. James Harden, Houston Rockets * Finding a new groove alongside Westbrook will determine the Rockets’ championship fate and perhaps Harden’s legacy. Harden’s Hall of Fame status is secured. He just needs a title to complete his trophy case.   LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers * Could he win a Kia MVP in three different decades? LeBron has broken the mold in just about every way imaginable to this point of his career, so it would be foolish to doubt him. He’s also got a chance to add to his title haul in the next decade as well. As for Father Time … what does that matter? Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets After winning a title as the supporting star in LeBron’s homecoming story in Cleveland, Irving hopes to revisit that magic in Brooklyn once Durant is healthy again. While Irving has some repair to do to his reputation after his final season in Boston, his talent remains undeniable. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets Some would argue that Jokic (and not Embiid) finished the decade as the NBA’s best big man. The Nuggets are banking on it, as they’ve built their operation around the triple-double versatility of the 24-year-old All-Star known as “The Joker.” Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers * Leonard load managed his way to a title in Toronto but has already declared himself ready to play without limitations as he attempts to bring a championship parade to his hometown. He’s at the height of his powers right now and, with good health, will be for the foreseeable future. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers Lillard was noticeably absent from the 2010s All-Decade Team, but he shouldn’t have to worry about that happening in the 2020s. The face and soul of the franchise in Portland, Lillard knows that the next step for he and CJ McCollum is a Finals berth. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz If the addition of veteran Mike Conley has the impact Utah’s braintrust expects, Mitchell is primed to rise any ranking of the West’s (and NBA’s) top players. Don’t be surprised if he snags a scoring title (or two) in the next decade. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics With Kyrie Irving gone, Tatum and the Celtics can get back to the performances he provided during the 2018 playoffs as a rookie. The Celtics have refused to trade Tatum for a reason. He’s got the array of skills that a team values in a wing scorer. Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks Any pre-Draft trepidation about Young was overturned after his strong finish to his rookie season. A splendid passer with Splash Bros.-type range, Young will grow and mature physically into the leader of a franchise revival in Atlanta. 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 NewsAug 8th, 2019

PBA: T-Jones on TNT’s Finals opponent: “I like my team vs. anybody“

With another triple-double effort in Game 4 of the Commissioner’s Cup semifinals, Terrence Jones has helped bring back TNT to the PBA Finals. Jones was a man on a mission Thursday, leading the KaTropa with 24 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists. With the win to dethrone Ginebra, the KaTropa have made it back to the Finals for the first time in two years and Jones likes their chances against whoever. In the other semis bracket, San Miguel leads Rain or Shine, 2-1. “Man I like my team vs. anybody,” Jones said. “We worked very hard this whole year to create this chemistry and belief in one another. We’re gonna continue on having that same belief in each other,” he added. SMB? ROS? It doesn’t matter as Terrence Jones will take his TNT team over anybody in the 2019 PBA Commissioner’s Cup Finals#PBA2019 #PBAFinals #TNT #TNTKaTropa pic.twitter.com/RANlXPW29J — Paul Kennedy Lintag (@paullintag8) August 1, 2019 The KaTropa enter the Finals as the no. 1 seed and with only three losses all conference long. Still, Jones says they’re not the favorites. With TNT making the Finals for the first time in two years and having not won a title since 2015, the KaTropa certainly have that chip on their collective shoulders. That starts with Jones, who would for sure want to finish the job this conference with a championship. “This is my first time here so I’m just experiencing everything and taking it one game at a time. I don’t feel like we’re the favorites,” Jones said. “I know we haven’t won in a long time so we feel we’re the underdogs, we’re gonna come in excited an trying to get something special done that hasn’t happened for our organization in a long time,” he added.   — Follow this writer on Twitter, @paullintag8.....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsAug 1st, 2019

Lowry, Holmes share Open lead as McIlroy leaves with cheers

By Doug Ferguson, Associated Press PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland (AP) — Everyone in the massive grandstand rose to cheer and celebrate a bold performance by Rory McIlroy, who longed for such support and affection on his walk toward his final hole at Royal Portrush in the British Open. Except this was Friday. And now McIlroy can only watch on the weekend as one of his best friends, Shane Lowry of Ireland, goes after the claret jug. Lowry birdied four of his opening five holes on his way to a 4-under 67 and shared the 36-hole lead with J.B. Holmes, who had a 68. Lee Westwood and Tommy Fleetwood were one shot behind. Brooks Koepka and Jordan Spieth were three back. That can wait. This day was all about McIlroy, who kept the sellout crowd on edge as he tried to make the cut after opening with a 79. The roars had the intensity of a final round as McIlroy ran off five birdies in seven holes to brighten a gloomy sky over the North Atlantic. Needing one last birdie, his approach took a wrong turn along the humps left of the 18th green. He made par for a 65. "It's a moment I envisaged for the last few years," McIlroy said. "It just happened two days early." He was disappointed. He was proud of his play. Mostly, though, he said he was "full of gratitude toward every single one of the people that followed me to the very end and was willing me on." "As much as I came here at the start of the week saying I wanted to do it for me, by the end of the round there today I was doing it just as much for them," he said. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson won't be around, either. It was the first time in 77 majors they have played as professionals that both missed the cut in the same major. Darren Clarke, who honed his game on the Dunluce Links as a junior and now calls Portrush home, missed the cut in a most cruel fashion with a triple bogey on his final hole. And now the first British Open in Northern Ireland since 1951 moves on without them, still with the promise of a great show. Lowry was so nervous he was shaking on the tee when the tournament began Thursday, swept up in the emotion of an Open on the Emerald Isle, and on a course he knows. He gave fans plenty to cheer when he opened his second round with three straight birdies, added a birdie on the fifth and holed a 40-foot birdie putt on No. 10 to reach 10 under, making him the only player this week to reach double figures under par. The cheers were as loud as he has heard. "Just incredible," Lowry said. "You can't but smile, but can't but laugh how it is. There's no point trying to shy away from it. It's an incredible feeling getting applauded on every green, every tee box. I'm out there giving my best, trying to do my best for everyone." He three-putted the 14th, saved par on the next three holes with his deft touch around the greens, and closed with a bogey to fall back into a tie with Holmes, who played earlier in the day and was the first to post at 8-under 134. Holmes won at Riviera earlier this year, and then failed to make the cut in eight of his next 12 tournaments as he battled a two-way miss off the tee and felt so bad that he never thought he'd recover. But he did enough in Detroit three weeks ago to regain some confidence, and he has been in a groove at Portrush. "You can have that great round and that day where everything goes right. But it's nice to get two rounds in a row," Holmes said. "It shows a little consistency. And two days in a row I've hit the ball really well and putted well." Fleetwood and Westwood, two Englishmen at different stages in their careers, each had a 67 and will play in the group ahead of Lowry and Holmes. Westwood is 46 and can make a case as the best active player without a major considering his status — a former No. 1 in the world and on the European Tour — and the number of near misses in the majors, such as Muirfield and Turnberry at the Open, Torrey Pines in the U.S. Open and Augusta National when Mickelson out played him in 2010. Is it too late? Westwood wasn't willing to look that far ahead. "There's too much ground to cover before Sunday night," Westwood said. "There's a long way to go in this tournament. I've never felt under that much pressure, to be honest. You lads write about it. I've always gone out and done my best. If it's going to happen, it's going to happen, and if it doesn't, it doesn't." The experience of winning majors was behind them. Justin Rose had a 67 and was two shots behind, along with Cameron Smith of Australia and Justin Harding of South Africa. Another shot back was a group that included Koepka, who has won three of the last six majors. He was in a tie for eighth, the 16th time in his last 17 rounds at the majors he has ended a round in the top 10. Koepka wasn't happy with much about his 2-under 69, calling it "a little bit disappointing," perhaps because he played in dry weather and only a mild wind. "But at the same time, I'm close enough where I play a good weekend, I'll be in good shape," he said. Spieth hasn't quite figured out how to get the ball in play more often — too many bunkers on Thursday, too much high grass on Friday. But that putter is not a problem, and it carried him to a collection of mid-range birdie and par putts for a 67. "I'm in contention. I feel good," Spieth said, winless since his Open title at Royal Birkdale two years ago. "I feel like if I can continue to improve each day, hit the ball better tomorrow than I did today, and better on Sunday than Saturday, then I should have a chance with how I feel on and around the greens." Graeme McDowell, born and raised in Portrush, played well enough to make the weekend. He finished with four straight pars for a 70 to make the cut on the number at 1-over 143, and felt the pressure of sticking around for the home crowd. Woods, meanwhile, began this major championship season as the Masters champion, ended it as a mystery. He missed the cut in two of the next three majors, and never seemed fully fit or engaged at the British Open. He was 3 under for his round through 11 holes with hopes of making it to the weekend, but he had no more birdies and finished with two bogeys for a 70 to miss by five shots. "I'm going to have my hot weeks. I'm going to be there in contention with a chance to win, and I will win tournaments," Woods said, facing the reality of a 43-year-old who has gone through eight surgeries on his knee and back. "But there are times when I'm just not going to be there.".....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJul 20th, 2019

It s a new day in the NBA, and a welcomed change

By Tim Reynolds, Associated Press LAS VEGAS (AP) — There is no favorite. This is what the NBA wanted. And needed. The biggest piece of valid criticism about the league in recent years has been its predictable. Golden State got to the last five NBA Finals. LeBron James had made it there eight years in a row, four with Miami and then four more with Cleveland. Brooklyn used to be the 'other' team in New York, and the Clippers used to be the 'other' team in Los Angeles. No more. Welcome to a new NBA. If you think the Clippers can win it all next season, or the Lakers, or Utah, or Philadelphia, or Milwaukee, or Houston, or Denver, or even Golden State and maybe a few others, you're right. Get your first look at the NBA’s top Rookies during NBA Summer League LIVE on NBA League Pass! Technically, there is a favorite: The sports books in Las Vegas, after hearing the news that Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are heading to the Clippers, listed them as the best bet Saturday to win the 2020 NBA championship. Yes, the Clippers. A team that has won exactly four playoff series since moving to Los Angeles in 1984. A team that had 12 consecutive losing seasons a generation ago. There wasn't much NBA intrigue at this time last year. The Warriors were adding DeMarcus Cousins to a team that won the last two championships and were seemingly locks to win a third consecutive title. Everyone knows it didn't work out that way. Toronto took care of that. It was just more proof that what seems obvious at this time of year doesn't always come to fruition. This year, though, the newfound balance of power — dare we say "parity" — seems like a done deal. The East still has a 60-win team in Milwaukee returning the reigning MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo and shooting guard Khris Middleton, so the Bucks may be the favorite right now on that side of the league. Philadelphia lost JJ Redick and Jimmy Butler, adding Josh Richardson and Al Horford to a team that looks be dominant defensively. No one will count out Boston, because of Brad Stevens and now Kemba Walker. Miami got better even after losing Dwyane Wade with the addition of Butler — and the Heat might throw their hat in the ring if Russell Westbrook is indeed available following the George trade to the Clippers. Brooklyn gets Kyrie Irving this season and now knows it'll be adding Kevin Durant next season, once he returns from his Achilles rehab. Atlanta's young core may be the most promising in the NBA. And let's not forget the East also has the reigning NBA champion Raptors, albeit without Leonard and Danny Green.) But the West ... wow. The Clippers kept Patrick Beverley, have an amazingly talented bench led by Lou Williams, a coach everybody wants to play for in Doc Rivers and now gets two of the very best players in the game with Leonard and George. The Lakers still have James, added Anthony Davis, kept JaVale McGee and Rajon Rondo, signed DeMarcus Cousins and Green — and might be in the market for another shooter. Portland went to the West final last season and have an elite backcourt in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Utah had a brilliant summer, giving Donovan Mitchell more good players like Mike Conley to surround himself with. Houston still has James Harden and Chris Paul. Dallas figures to be better if Kristaps Porzingis is healthy to run alongside Luka Doncic. The Lakers are almost certainly coming for someone's playoff spot out West. Same goes for the Heat in the East. And before long, New Orleans with Zion Williamson and David Griffin at the controls, Atlanta with that core led by Trae Young and Kevin Huerter, potentially Memphis with the Ja Morant era set to begin, it'll be their turn at the playoff table. It's been a top-heavy league for a long time. Only five different franchises have represented the West in the NBA Finals over the last 20 years. In the East, it's five over the last 15 years. Right now, the odds-makers in Vegas are predicting next June it'll be Clippers vs. Bucks. A couple days ago the Lakers were the betting favorites. A new day is here in the NBA. ___ Tim Reynolds is a national basketball writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at treynolds@ap.org.....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJul 7th, 2019

Seven takeaways from Lakers reported trade for Anthony Davis

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com Here are seven takeaways on the reported blockbuster trade sending New Orleans star forward Anthony Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers. 1. Davis gets what he wanted all along Davis and his camp, fronted by agent Rich Paul, first made noise about getting out of New Orleans in January, when he still had a year and a half to go before he even reached the player-option year in his Pelicans contract extension. New Orleans management, notably GM Dell Demps, resisted the power play then. Of course, Demps lost his job after resisting the trade demand and seeing the ripple effects undermine his own team’s season. Demps’ replacement, David Griffin, took over on a more traditional timeline -- one year out from the dreaded possibility of having a star free agent walk without compensation. After apparently trying to change Davis’ mind, Griffin did what he felt he had to do. So the six-time All-Star doesn’t have to wait until the summer of 2020, or even the trade deadline in February, to swap a less glamorous market for the bright lights and a franchise that has never won for the Lakers’ legacy of champions built around elite big men. 2. Will future franchise players do the same? What cost did Davis pay for his trade demand? Not much. His playing time plummeted from about 37 minutes in the first four months of 2018-19 to 22 in the 16 games he actually played after Jan. 18 (Jan. 19, PHL time). He did not participate at all in 21 games as New Orleans tried to protect its asset, which derailed any ambitions with which the Pelicans began the season. They went 12-24 in those 36 games to fall into the lottery – and land the No. 1 pick. But that didn’t concern Davis. He got what he wanted. The Pelicans got what they could. 3. Right package at right time for Pelicans There’s a time-value to money and there’s a time-value in trades, too. The best time for Griffin to deal was now, with the No. 4 pick in this year’s Draft in play to team with the No. 1 pick that presumably will be on Duke’s Zion Williamson. Landing that, along with two more first-round picks from the Lakers, a Draft pick swap, and players Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart (per ESPN’s report), shifts New Orleans into full rebuild mode with an exciting core of current and maybe future young players. Could Griffin have gotten more had he waited deeper into the offseason or heading toward the in-season trade deadline? Perhaps. But Boston, the other oft-purported suitor for Davis, no longer could count on teaming Davis with Kyrie Irving, who will explore free agency (and likely leave). Besides, the Celtics never did want to part with Jayson Tatum, so what they could offer the Pelicans was limited. Didn’t matter, anyway. Griffin didn’t want to drag this into a new season. In fact, he might work the phones to find point guard Jrue Holiday’s market value. As strong as Holiday is as a leader and two-way player, at 29 with 10 seasons in, he’s out of sync with the new era in N’Awlins. 4. Griffin should have held out for Kyle Kuzma OK, the Lakers had committed publicly to keeping Kuzma, the overachieving forward and No. 27 pick in 2017, out of the deal. And as noted above, the Pelicans were on the clock to make a clean break with Davis pre-Draft. But would the Lakers really have scuttled the deal if Griffin had held out for Kuzma? Some say yes, as the time factor gave them leverage. I’m not so sure. I’m reminded of the blockbuster deal that sent Kevin Garnett from Minnesota to Boston in 2008. Word eventually got out that Kevin McHale, the Wolves’ president of basketball operations, had wanted a raw point guard named Rajon Rondo in the package of players Minnesota received. His Celtics’ counterpart and buddy, Danny Ainge, pushed Sebastian Telfair instead. But with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen on board, and Garnett so close to his wearing o’ the green, would Ainge have blown up the trade over young Rondo? Same applies here. So the positive spin on Kuzma staying put is, the Lakers did well to keep him. 5. LeBron gets his greatest sidekick yet That statement might offend a few folks. Dwyane Wade for one. Maybe Irving, Chris Bosh or Kevin Love, too. Heck, Davis might bristle at the idea of being anyone’s “sidekick” after being the man in Mardi Gras to this point in his career. But the truth can’t be controversial, and the success of this deal will be measured in the short-term by how well Davis meshes with James in the superstar’s quest for a fourth ring and beyond. Some believed that agent Rich Paul, who represents both James and Davis, was more concerned with helping the former than the latter, which Paul refuted a few days before news came out on this blockbuster trade. Who’s to say AD wouldn’t have thrived and won sooner in Boston had the Celtics and Pelicans worked out a Kawhi-like rent-a-player price? What if James not only is past his best years, but his most durable ones, and injuries intervene as he heads to age 35 and beyond to stymie title hopes? For James, though, there’s no downside to this. Ingram, because of the blood clot issue that cut short his 2018-19 season, is an unknown for now. Ball isn’t essential with James as a ball dominator. Hart actually backslid in his second season. And James has little or no use for draft picks at this stage of his career. Davis is good enough to carry the bigger load relative to James, more than any of his past Super Friends who all caught him in his extended prime. But it’s still to be determined how they’ll work that out – the two previous elite big men that he played alongside, Bosh and Love, wound up as No. 3 options once they teamed with James. 6. Kemba Walker might be next in Lakers’ sights Walker is a free agent who has served his time in Charlotte, a team that might not want to be locked into a super-max deal for their lone star anyway. He would be a nice backcourt complement to James and Davis, another scorer if not the pure shooter L.A. would seem to need. Speaking of which, that suggests other free-agent implications as the Lakers search for shooters. Say, if not J.J. Redick himself, then the next Redick perhaps. 7. So long Warriors, hello Lakers in 2020 Finals? You’ve got to admit, it would be something to see LeBron James pop up on the Western Conference’s finalist vying for a championship, in what lately has been Golden State’s accustomed spot. That’s what some anticipated for this June, until the Lakers went sideways with injuries and dysfunction. But with ESPN’s report of the Davis trade, a team that already was ranked atop the NBA’s contenders for 2020 saw its odds improve. Caesars Sportsbook put the Lakers as 7-2 favorites, ahead of the Bucks (6-1), the L.A. Clippers (6-1), the newly crowned Raptors (8-1), the Rockets (8-1) and what would be a distinctly different Warriors team (11-1). 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 16th, 2019

Five things we learned from Game 1 of the 2019 Finals

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com TORONTO – Five things we learned from the Toronto Raptors’ 118-109 victory over the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 of The Finals Thursday (Friday, PHL time) at Scotiabank Arena ... 1. So much for ‘glad to be here’ If we thought we had learned one thing about the Toronto Raptors when it comes to the NBA playoffs, it was this: They back their way into most series. Losing the opener was a tradition for this franchise -- they were 3-15 in Game 1s prior to Thursday (Friday, PHL time), dating back to their inaugural playoff run in 2000. Nothing shoves a team closer to elimination in a best-of-seven showdown than a lousy start. That’s why grabbing the opener against Golden State was so essential. Had the Raptors squandered their home-court advantage on the first night, we all would be assuming the worst for these Finals in competitive, stylistic and entertainment terms. Only by rocking the Warriors in Game 1 -- and most impressively, by refusing to cough up all of their 12-point lead in the second half -- could the Raptors generate legitimate excitement for Game 2 and beyond. Had we all been honest (and able to pull this off), we would have begun this series by spotting Toronto to a 1-0 lead -- just to handicap the defending champions and force them to show us something they haven’t in their four previous Finals trips. But such a move would have been demeaning, of course, to the Raptors. Instead, coach Nick Nurse and his affable newbies seized early control themselves. How Portland looked in the Western Conference finals, as if the Trail Blazers had maxed out and were just happy to still be involved? Toronto wanted none of that. It found a way to win when Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry were ordinary at best. And now we have a series worthy of the Larry O’Brien Trophy. 2. Triple-doubles continue to decline in value It’s fun as a game progresses to track stats, whether it’s Pascal Siakam’s absurd 11 consecutive field goals or Stephen Curry’s refusal to miss a free throw. We’re always aware of the leading scorer and his growing point total, particularly as it passes the big round numbers (30, 40, 50…). But Draymond Green’s latest triple-double was a reminder that the bar has been set too low for that stat from its inception. Green finished with 10 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, which makes it a minimalist’s triple-double at best and more of a statistical fluke than an achievement. Ten assists? That’s strong any night. Ten rebounds? Solid, and necessary if no one else on your roster is claiming more than six. Ten points, though? Come on now. Green had a Jason Kidd triple-double, which isn’t mean to disparage the Hall of Fame point guard but speaks to Kidd’s limitations as a scorer for most of his career. Heck, the Warriors’ versatile forward had six turnovers, inspiring the bad “quadruple-double watch” that Kidd sparked on occasion. What Green didn’t do was put the ball through the net effectively, shooting 2-for-9 overall and 0-for-2 on three-pointers. Yes, his value to Golden State usually doesn’t rise or fall on his scoring, but he could have been more helpful in that area Thursday. When Oscar Robertson averaged a triple-double in 1961-62 (and cumulatively did it over his first six NBA seasons), he was scoring 30 points per game. When Russell Westbrook matched what had been a rare feat two years ago, he too was up above 30 points nightly. But Westbrook has done it the past two seasons as well, with his scoring average dipping below 23 this season. That would seem to be near the minimum -- say, 20 points -- to gush over a player’s triple-double on a given night. We get it, double figures means 10 or more. But 10 points is no big deal at all in the NBA, so it seems silly to celebrate it when it’s the free rider on the triple-double quirk. 3. Don’t double-dawg dare an NBA player Warriors coach Steve Kerr admitted after Game 1 that, by mistake more than by design, his team didn’t defensively do its job well in the early minutes against center Marc Gasol. “Gasol we left a couple times early in the game and didn't rotate, we just gave him a couple of dare shots and he knocked them down,” Kerr said. Daring is not defending, and the Warriors would be well-advised not to do that again to a player as proud and as accomplished as Gasol. He’s struggled at times as a shooter in these playoffs, shooting 34 percent in the Eastern Conference finals while going 2-for-9 on three-pointers in Games 1 and 2 of that series (both losses). It was embarrassing at times to see the affable 7'1" Spaniard miss shots badly, whether he felt that way or not. But Gasol was 10-for-20 on three-pointers entering The Finals, all during the Raptors’ four consecutive victories to eliminate the Bucks. He went 2-for-4 in Game 1 of The Finals, scoring a playoff-high 20 points to help compensate for Leonard’s and Lowry’s muted firepower. Asked about it afterward, on taking such a “dare” personally, the big man shrugged. “If you're open, you got to shoot them. Dare, no dare,” he said. “And then we go from there. If they go in, great. If not you keep taking them with confidence.” That’s speaking truth to a dare. 4. The ratings for Game 1 will soar… … if they can somehow count the number of times the Warriors and the Raptors watch and re-watch the video tape. A big theme heading into this series was the relative lack of familiarity the teams had with each other. Now, that’s a common aspect of The Finals, pitting the champs of opposite conferences and all. But given Golden State’s knowledge of the Cleveland Cavaliers after four consecutive Finals, Toronto is a relative stranger. Beyond that, key players from both sides were absent in the two regular-season meetings. But now they have a whole 48 minutes to dissect, digest and learn from. For the Warriors, who spoke about it the most, they saw things they might not have expected and things they definitely did not like. Such as? Try Siakam’s attacks on the basket (in transition and otherwise), their own inability to be the team that pushes pace and Fred VanVleet as the game’s essential reserve (15 points on a night when his three-point shot was MIA). Green, in particular, sounded as if he was going to binge-watch Siakam’s romp and figure a way to thwart the unorthodox flip shots the forward from Cameroon deployed. “He's become ‘a guy,’” Green said phrasing that as a nod of respect. “He put a lot of work into get there and I respect that. But like I said, I got to take him out of the series and that's on me.” Toronto can make use of the video for as long as the Warriors roster stays the way it is, which means sans Kevin Durant. Which leads into … 5. Who's here (and who isn't)? (And no, we don’t mean LeBron James.) Durant’s continued absence with a calf injury since Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals became an official problem in Game 1 of The Finals (the team’s first loss without him). Questions that had been bottled up for a couple weeks -- What did you miss most without Durant? How might he have changed your offense or defense? -- came spilling out from the large media crew that covers the NBA’s glamour team. Neither Kerr nor his players took the bait, which was smart. Not only would it look like excuse-making (considering how they hadn’t needed those before), it might have opened a crack of vulnerability into something wider and more troublesome. Durant is out for Game 2, but per a Yahoo Sports report is expected back at the series’ midway point (read: Game 3 or Game 4).  “KD's an all-time great player on both ends of the floor,” Curry said, “so I could sit here and talk for days about what he adds to our roster.  We obviously have proven that when he's out we can have guys step up, and that's going to be the case until he gets back.” Rushing him back would seem desperate, something the Warriors aren’t and shouldn’t be. Plus, it is early in a long series. And it really is irrelevant: NBA players and teams’ medical staffs don’t “rush back” anyone these days. Then again, once they’re ready to play -- as Golden State showed in using DeMarcus Cousins in Game 1 -- there’s no sense in letting talent help languish in street clothes. No time too, either. 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 1st, 2019

Lillard, Blazers clinging to pride at playoffs edge

By Shaun Powell, NBA.com PORTLAND, Ore. — He’s top-10 in the NBA in talent, perhaps top-five in likability and there’s no question where Damian Lillard ranks in the only place he has ever called home in the NBA. Taken as a bundle, the Trail Blazers guard presents an impressive case for himself as a player worthy of your respect, something he craves and certainly deserves to a large degree. [Watch the Playoffs on NBA League Pass for 30% less with this limited time offer! Select Annual package and use code SAVE30 at checkout to redeem] Lillard had his Playoff Moment when he sank the buzzer-and-series-winning shot from nearly half-court to erase Oklahoma City and his nemesis, Russell Westbrook, from the first round. It was the kind of play that separates the truly great players from the very good. It was as if the casual basketball fan discovered Lillard overnight, or rather, the next morning on social media and TV highlight replays, since that game ended well past bedtime for much of the country. But as Kenny Smith, the former player and popular commentator on TNT once said: “The regular season is when you make your fame. The playoffs is when you make your name.” And so, with that in mind: Since Lillard has since been unable to duplicate those heroics of three weeks ago and is struggling mightily here in his first taste of the Western Conference finals, what do we call him in this, his seventh season? Great? Or very good? Right now he gives the appearance of a marathon runner who wheezes toward the finish line only to see someone cruelly push it forward another mile. His ribcage might not be totally intact (to what extent only he knows) after Warriors forward Kevon Looney fell on Lillard while they chased a loose ball in Game 2. The Warriors are causing additional problems for Lillard by trapping him constantly with elite defenders Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala, making him work for shots and space. "I'm seeing Draymond Green, and he's behind that kind of like tracking my movements," Lillard explained. "So it's like a next layer of defense that I'm paying attention to... I'm not, I guess, wanting to explode and get around that guy because I see what's waiting for me, and then just the crowd, and I put myself in a tough position." Clearly, he’s not right physically. The Warriors are singling him out defensively, and the Blazers are one loss from elimination partly, if not mainly, because Lillard’s impact has been minimized. His pain goes beyond his ribs and frustration. To know Lillard is to know his pride is certainly aching as well. This is his chance to get his due, to shine deep into May for once, and do that against the two-time defending champions, and yet it’s all going wrong for him. Even if healthy, Lillard lacks a high level of championship savvy talent around him, and elimination from the conference finals was probably destined to happen regardless of Golden State riding without Kevin Durant. The Warriors are that good and the Blazers are that raw. But with Lillard shooting 33 percent in the series, they might get swept, and that’s too bitter of a pill for any player with Lillard’s credentials. He’s one of the most complete shooters in the game, someone who mixes three-pointers, mid-range jumpers and rim attacks to rank annually among the top scorers in the NBA. He’s also smart with the dribble and deadly in isolation. This season was one of his best, when he averaged nearly 26 points and helped the Blazers to a No. 3 seed. This will surely place Lillard on one of the All-NBA teams, perhaps even First Team, which is difficult to do in a league rich with standout combo guards. Even more admirable is Lillard doing this on a team largely of role players, with the exception of CJ McCollum. Even including the other half of their backcourt, the Blazers have only one player with All-Star honors: Lillard. He’s the rare player under 6'4" who carries a team. On that note, Lillard always bristled when he felt he wasn’t getting his proper respect, be it All-Star mentions or MVP discussions. And most of the time, he had a point. Lillard suffers from two issues: his regular season games tip at 10:30 ET and, until now, he never took the Blazers beyond the second round. His playoff record is 19-31. Last spring was especially agonizing: Lillard was outplayed by Jrue Holiday and the Blazers were swept by the Pelicans in the first round. He made redemption a goal and this year’s first round was a smashing success made sweeter by the series-winning shot. And yet, did the grueling seven-game second round against Denver drain the energy from Lillard? Including the last game of that series, he’s shooting just above 30 percent in his last four games. Against the Warriors, he has one more basket than turnovers (15 to 14). The rib injury certainly hasn’t helped (although Lillard downplayed it). "It's there, but it's not something that's affecting anything that I'm doing,” he insisted. “Obviously you feel it, but that's it." Although he’s averaging more career points against the Warriors than any other team, those were mainly regular-season numbers. It’s an entirely different level in the postseason and particularly this deep into it. The Warriors are forcing the ball from his hands, daring other Blazers to take shots, and when Lillard does keep the ball, his looks aren’t always clean. "It's tough,” he admitted. “They're doing a good job in their coverages.” So what’s left of the Blazers? Unless there’s a premium performance coming from Lillard and McCollum in Game 4, their season is likely done after Monday night (Tuesday, PHL time). With Green and Stephen Curry looking nostalgic, the Warriors have that 2015 feeling when they won a title without Durant. The Warriors also know they’ll get nine days’ rest with a sweep, as if they need any further motivation. At this point, all the Blazers have is their pride, with none bigger than Lillard’s. Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. 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 NewsMay 20th, 2019

Bucks lead East finals 2-0, and now series shifts to Toronto

By Tim Reynolds, Associated Press Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry have more than held their own against Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton so far in these Eastern Conference finals. Other than some pretty boxscores, the Toronto Raptors have nothing to show for those efforts. [Watch the Playoffs on NBA League Pass for 30% less with this limited time offer! Select Annual package and use code SAVE30 at checkout to redeem] The supporting cast hasn’t supported much for Toronto, and with what is almost certainly a must-win Game 3 of the East title series looming on Sunday night at home, Raptors coach Nick Nurse is weighing lineup tweaks. Nurse suggested Saturday (Sunday, PHL time) that Serge Ibaka may start at center over struggling Marc Gasol, and Norman Powell may get minutes that would figure to come at Danny Green’s expense. “We’ve got to be better, man,” Nurse said Saturday (Sunday, PHL time). “We’ve got to be more physical, we’ve got to hustle more and we’ve got to work harder.” He may as well have punctuated that by adding “or else.” In this playoff format that was put into play in 1984, teams that win the first two games at home of a best-of-seven series have ultimately prevailed 94% of the time. And that’s the luxury Milwaukee has right now, leading the series 2-0 after rallying to win the opener and then controlling Game 2 start to finish. “We can’t rest,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We can’t relax. We can’t assume anything.” So the odds are stacked against the Raptors. Nurse was told the lack of success teams have when down 0-2 in a series, and insisted he doesn’t care. “I don’t really give a crap about that,” he said. “I just want our team to come play their (butt) off tomorrow night and get one game and it changes the series.” Leonard and Lowry are outscoring Antetokounmpo and Middleton 107-77 — which would figure to have been a boon to Toronto’s chances. It hasn’t worked that way. Add up everyone else’s scoring in the series, and it’s Bucks 156, Raptors 96. Rebounding has been one-sided in both games, with Milwaukee controlling things on the backboards. Bench scoring has tilted heavily toward Milwaukee as well. “We’re just trying to be us,” Bucks center Brook Lopez said. “We’re not playing any differently, regular season or postseason. We’re just trying to go out there and play Bucks basketball. It starts with our defense. Getting stops. Getting out. Playing in transition. Playing with pace. Sharing the ball and being aggressive and attacking the basket.” The Raptors don’t have to look at the history books to know this series isn’t over. All they need to do is recall the 2012 Western Conference finals. Leonard and Green were with top-seeded San Antonio, and Ibaka was with second-seeded Oklahoma City. The Spurs won Games 1 and 2 at home — then lost the next four, and the Thunder went to the NBA Finals. “We have another chance to bounce back on Sunday,” Gasol said. “That’s all that matters right now. That’s all that matters.” Here’s some of what to know before Game 3: QUICK WIT: Leonard, who isn’t the most talkative guy in the league to put it mildly, had a simple answer when asked where the Raptors go from here after the Game 2 loss. “I’m going to Toronto for Game 3,” Leonard said. WE (BARELY) THE NORTH: The series now shifts to Toronto, where the Raptors’ motto is “We The North.” It is, but barely in this case. Toronto is about 430 miles east of Milwaukee by air, and is only slightly north. And it should be noted that Toronto isn’t even the northernmost city that will be playing host to conference final games this weekend — Portland holds that distinction. GREEK FREAKS: Census figures show that at least a quarter-million Greeks live in Canada, and roughly half of those live in Ontario. Antetokounmpo isn’t expecting an overly warm welcome, but has seen a few Greek flags in the crowd on his past trips to Toronto. Antetokounmpo said he’d be touched if they were there Sunday, but isn’t thinking about it too much. “I’m going to try not to focus as much in the people and the Greeks and the population in Toronto,” Antetokounmpo said. “Just focusing on Game 3 and what we’ve got to do.” OFF, WISCONSIN: Including Games 1 and 2 of this series, matchups in Wisconsin are rarely kind to Nurse. He played at Northern Iowa, a conference rival of Green Bay — and his teams went 1-8 in those games, 0-4 at Green Bay’s former home court, the being-demolished Brown County Arena. Nurse said it was a nice place, but wasn’t upset to hear it’s coming down. “There weren’t very many good memories for me,” he said. BREAK FROM DRAKE: At least one Milwaukee radio station is taking this series extremely seriously. WXSS-FM is not allowing any songs by Raptors superfan Drake to be played on its station until the East finals are over. “We’re taking a break from you,” the station wrote in an open letter of sorts to the Toronto native and courtside ticketholder......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 19th, 2019

Rose seeks 2nd major at PGA Championship at Bethpage Black

By Barry Wilner, Associated Press FARMINGDALE, N.Y. (AP) — Justin Rose sees uniqueness in the PGA Championship because, well, it doesn't have a specific identity. Unlike the Masters and its green jacket, the U.S. Open and its "toughest test in golf" character, and the British Open with its links-style golf and often inclement weather, the PGA doesn't stand out in individuality. It is, of course, a major title, and one that Rose — and every other golfer in the 156-man field — covets. "I've always felt that the PGA Championship is the championship that probably doesn't have an identity in terms of a style of golf," said Rose, who owns one major, the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion, and a third, fourth and ninth in his 16 previous PGAs. "You know, I feel like it's dependent on the golf course. It's dependent on the time of year. And it doesn't try to sort of fit in any particular category. "Even par doesn't mean anything necessarily at a PGA Championship. You get what the course gives you. And I think we've all respected that, to be honest with you." Still, there is a taste of the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black this week. The public course has hosted two of those, won by Tiger Woods in 2002 and Lucas Glover in 2009. The rough is going to be deep and, if the rain that plagued Long Island for nearly a week returns — it was dry and sunny Wednesday — this monster of a course will play even longer than its 7,459 yards. "I think this one in particular, this one, if I was to bring — I don't want to bring in the word U.S. Open — but the golf course has more of that feel to it this week, I would say. And if it was a U.S. Open, you would say, 'Wow, this is a really fair test of golf.' "So I think from that point of view, it's going to be fun for the players. I think we all regard this test and this setup as incredibly fair but demanding. And it's probably ... one of the most demanding PGA Championship setups and venues that I've seen in those 17 years." The 2016 Olympic gold medalist , Rose, 38, has been a mainstay on the European Ryder Cup team, making five appearances. He is usually near the top of the leaderboard in the most pressure-packed events on the PGA Tour and is the current FedEx Cup champion. So big-time challenges are more routine for Rose than for most athletes. Yet he has just the one major among his 10 PGA Tour victories. "I think the pressure of trying to win a second is far less than the pressure of trying to win your first," he said. "From that point of view I haven't given it a second thought. Obviously I want to win more; I've been close on a couple of occasions; lost in a playoff there at Augusta (to Sergio Garcia in 2017 ). So a putt here, a putt there, a chip here, a chip there, I could have added a second to it. "And yeah, I feel like I'm still waiting for my run in the majors. I'm still waiting for a hot run where I can hopefully get an opportunity to put two, three, four away quite quickly." That's territory few golfers ever reach. Sure, Tiger Woods is way up there with 15 majors, and defending PGA champ Brooks Koepka has won three in the last two years. They are favorites this week, and Rose feels he should be in that category, too, among what he estimates as 30 players with a true shot to leave with the Wanamaker Trophy. "You know, I feel like the style of golf does suit me generally, so I'm still working hard," Rose said. "There's still a lot of focus for me. I try to build my whole year around trying to play well and peak in the majors. I still feel at this point in my career, yeah, second major, and then obviously on from there will kind of define my career from that point of view. I've done a lot of other really cool things, obviously, alongside my major championship win, but more majors equal a better career, there's no doubt.".....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 15th, 2019

Harden, Durant both covet championship, mantle of best player

By Shaun Powell, NBA.com Houston -- Steve Kerr’s mind is made up. He’s seen enough. The debate is closed and conquered, the election over and the firm conclusion has been reached, at least from where he stands. Kevin Durant “is the best player in the world, the most skilled player in the world” according to Kerr, who may be biased, but he didn’t sound like it. Kerr said this not once, but four times in the last two weeks, just in case someone didn’t get the message. [Watch the Playoffs on NBA League Pass for 30% less with this limited time offer! Select Annual package and use code SAVE30 at checkout to redeem] It’s hard to see where the Warriors’ coach is going wrong. Durant is evidently on a mission to (a) win his third and perhaps final championship with the Warriors, and (1-a) become universally recognized as the singularly greatest force in the league, a distinction that means so much to him. To paraphrase Durant, y’all know who he is by now. Durant is sitting at the mythical 50-40-90 threshold in the playoffs, the benchmark for shooting accuracy and efficiency from the floor, three-point range and free-throw line. He’s averaging 35 points in the postseason, 39 in the last seven games. He has two near-masterpieces, the 50-point closeout of the Clippers in the first round and 46 on the Rockets in Game 3 of this series. He’s making contested jumpers from all over the floor and from all angles. There’s really no defense for him. But when this series is over, James Harden hopes to change the conversation. If he does, that means (a) the Rockets will pull off a stunning comeback from being down two games, and (b) Harden out-dueled Durant in the process. Is either possible? Well, Harden might be the only player qualified to do so, even with a left eye that still looks like the Japanese flag. He managed to minimize if not eliminate that poked eye by chopping down the Warriors and pulling the Rockets within 2-1 of the series. “I was just being aggressive,” he said. “I was in attack mode.” He’s attacking something else. Harden, too, wants exactly the same as his friend and former Oklahoma City teammate. A championship would be his first, so obviously that’s paramount. The mantle of “game’s greatest player” is also desired because Harden believes the last four years bear that out. In that span, he won the MVP award and finished runner-up twice, better than anyone. Of course, the missing prize is the championship, which is the final and most authentic validation, and this season at least he must go through Durant to achieve that. Harden’s postseason hasn’t been as stellar as Durant’s, although perhaps Game 3 marked a shift. Harden scored 41 points and sent the Warriors home on a step-back three-pointer in the final seconds of overtime. He and the Rockets are bringing a fresh sense of confidence and also have Game 4 in their house. Sending this series all square back to Oakland wouldn’t be beyond his or their abilities. “In `Harden World,’ that was good, but he can play better,” said Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni. “That’s James. That’s what he does.” There’s a growing sense among the Warriors, and with some justification, that Harden’s bloody eye is no longer an issue. Harden’s vision was pure when it counted two nights ago and every day brings him a step closer to normalcy, if he isn’t already there. “I think he’s good to go,” said D’Antoni. The other concern for Golden State: Harden’s beginning to figure out the rotations and the Warriors’ defensive scheme. They know Harden adapts quickly to defenders and their tendencies because, at this point, he’s seen it all. Harden is a tough cover because of his shooting range and unwillingness to lose confidence after a string of misses, and his craftiness off the dribble while attacking the rim. “He had 41 points and it was a good chess game,” said Andre Iguodala. “He made some really tough shots. Some shots, where you pat him on the butt, and you say ‘helluva shot’. I felt like it was a little bit of cat and mouse. A guy like that -- you can’t stop him one on one. The defense did a good job of helping off and stopping him. We just have to try to make it hard as possible for him.” The nightmare game for the Warriors is Harden hitting enough early baskets and forcing them to double, then finding teammates for open looks that they make, such as Eric Gordon. In that scenario, points would come in an avalanche and place stress on the defense and possibly get key players into foul trouble, most notably Draymond Green and a suddenly-foul-prone Steph Curry. There’s also an intriguing subplot in the works: The Harden-Durant can-you-top-this drama. With Curry and Chris Paul both performing below their standards in this series, the series seems fixated on Harden and Durant and  what they’re capable of doing to the other team and, by extension, against each other. There’s a genuine and hefty amount of respect between the two, who are friends away from the floor as well. Both left OKC and have since generated millions in endorsement money and find themselves near or at the top of the superstar pecking order. Durant has what Harden doesn’t, a championship. But perhaps Harden has what Durant craves, a team to call his own. That would be the only reason Durant leaves the Warriors in free agency this summer, because it’s difficult to imagine him signing with a team that offers a better chance to win championships or make more in salary than the one he’s already on. Durant earned more points with Harden a few days ago when he defended the Rockets guard, saying Harden doesn’t “cheat the rules” when he tries to draw fouls and manipulate the referees. Durant added: “He can do everything. If you’re not focused, he can drive past you, hit you with the shoulder because he’s strong, and finish with either hand. He can shoot floaters now. Obviously the step-back 3-pointer is one of his staples, but I never believed he was just a free throw guy. He can score in a variety of ways.” Harden must prove that in this series. Last season in the Western Conference finals, he turned to vapor as that series stretched seven games. He made just 24 percent from deep and, after Paul suffered a hamstring pull in Game Five, couldn’t handle the load. In the elimination game, he missed 11-of-13 from deep. Durant, meanwhile, was the star and weeks later would clinch another title and Finals MVP award, outplaying LeBron James in the process. So Kerr’s contention about Durant has much weight and credibility. Through three games of this second-round series, there’s been no reason to question the coach’s claim. Only one person can flip that perception and create doubt. James Harden, therefore, has a tough job ahead. 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 NewsMay 6th, 2019

UP, UE share 2019 s king of recruiting crown

Who was our King of Recruiting in 2018? Find out here. --- Last season, the University of the Philippines, at long last, broke through in the UAAP. Behind the leadership of Paul Desiderio and key contributions from Season MVP Bright Akhuetie and Mythical selection Juan Gomez de Liano, the Fighting Maroons made their first Final Four since 1997 and first Finals in 32 years. Now, even without the iconic Desiderio, State U is nothing but confident it could build on its breakthrough. The reason? Well, because two of the brightest young stars in Kobe Paras and Ricci Rivero are now orbiting Diliman. Paras has all the physical tools to take any league by storm and now in maroon and green, he is out to continue the legacy of his father Benjie who delivered the school’s first and only championship. Meanwhile, the Euro-stepping Rivero already knows a thing or two about taking the UAAP by storm, having been chosen for the Mythical Team when he was still playing for De La Salle University in 2017. Add big man J-Boy Gob, another transferee, to that and, indeed, UP is only equipped to keep contending. On the strength of the transfers of Paras and Rivero alone, the Fighting Maroons would have been worthy of the title of 2019 King of Recruiting. Right up there with them, though, in terms of getting a big boost in the offseason is University of the East. Absent from the Final Four in the last decade, the Red Warriors will be heading into the upcoming season with a fully stocked arsenal. Now up front for them – alongside stalwart Philip Manalang, of course – will be 6-foot-9 Senegalese Adama Diakhite, three-time champion and two-time MVP in the CESAFI Rey Suerte, and college-ready Harvey Pagsanjan, the no. 7 high school player in the 2019 NBTC 24. Diakhite is a hulking presence who will prove to be a tough matchup even for the likes of reigning MVP Akhuetie and last year’s Rookie of the year Ange Kouame. Suerte, a gifted scorer from anywhere on the court, fills right into the hole left behind by scoring dynamo Alvin Pasaol while Pagsanjan can continue making all the right plays he had been doing as the longtime beacon of hope for Hope Christian High School. Also flanking them are former Ateneo de Manila University forward John Apacible, defensive stopper Neil Tolentino, Filipino-Kiwi swingman Richie Rodger, and Filipino-Australian point guard Jasper Rentoy. And with that, UP and UE will have joint custody of the crown of the 2019 King of Recruiting. They dethrone National University which claimed the crown a year ago behind a big-time recruiting class that included Ildefonso brothers Dave and Shaun, John Lloyd Clemente, and John Galinato. Just like last year, there remains no doubt that the new Fighting Maroons and Red Warriors will make their respective sides forces to reckon with come UAAP 82. Still, several squads also made it a point to be better in the offseason. In fact, the graduating players in the 2019 NBTC 24 have been spread out among eight different teams. From the 2019 NBTC 24, the annual ranking of the best high school players in the country, 14 are moving on up to the Seniors. Adamson University is the biggest winner in terms of recruits from that ranking, with three of the top 15 players now in San Marcelino. Ninth-ranked Aaron Fermin is a double-double machine in the NCAA Jrs. and is nothing but determined to realize his potential as a two-way force under multi-titled mentor Franz Pumaren. In CESAFI standout Joshua Yerro and UAAP Jrs. Mythical selection Joem Sabandal, coach Franz also has young blood to bolster the backcourt that will no longer have Koko Pingoy. The Soaring Falcons also scored four other former Baby Falcons in big man Lorenz Capulong and wings Adam and Andrey Doria and AP Manlapaz. When it comes to reaping the rewards of its high school program, though, nobody could still touch Mapua University which again got two keep its Jrs. studs in Clint Escamis and Dan Arches, both of whom made it into the top two-thirds of the 2019 NBTC 24. Escamis and Arches are offensive guards who will give much-needed firepower to a promising core comprised of fellow Mapua HS products Warren Bonifacio, Eric Jabel, Noah Lugo, and Laurenz Victoria. Also, the Cardinals are the favorites to land NCAA 94 Jrs. Finals MVP Paolo Hernandez, another Red Robin. Also bagging two prized prospects from the 2019 NBTC 24 is La Salle which is now the place where the talented tandem of Joel Cagulangan and Joshua David get to work. Cagulangan has long been a star in the making and the NCAA 94 Jrs. MVP is, without question, Taft Avenue’s point guard of the future. The even better news is that he will still have wingman David, a tried and tested glue guy, to grow with. Also set to debut for the Green Archers are Filipino-Americans Jordan Bartlett, a speedster guard; Tyrus Hill, a high-flying forward; and Kurt Lojera, a big-bodied swingman. In all, there are six graduates from the top 10 of the 2019 NBTC 24. All of them would be on different teams in the Srs. Two players from 2019 NBTC 24 are yet to commit to any school, but there is no doubt that Red Robin Hernandez and Greenie Inand Fornilos will be able additions to any collegiate team. For the second straight year, Aldin Ayo will be adding a top three recruit out of high school as incoming sophomore CJ Cansino will now join forces with another triple-doubling talent in Mark Nonoy, a rookie who plays way beyond his years. But wait, there’s more as UST also welcomes with open arms its newest foreign student-athlete in Beninese Soulemane Chabi Yo whose speed and skill will make him a problem for the other foreign student-athletes more used to being powerhouses. Sprinkle in stretch four Sherwin Concepcion as well as versatile forwards Rhenz Abando and Brent Paraiso and there’s a reason why the Growling Tigers are now very much a darkhorse contender. L-Jay Gonzales and RJ Abarrientos remain FEU’s backcourt for tomorrow, but in the meantime, the former is poised for a breakout just as the latter is poised to wrap up his K-12 schooling. Yes, Abarrientos is not yet good to go come UAAP 82, but his steady hand is still the perfect pairing for the burst of energy that is Gonzales. Make no mistake, however, the Tamaraws have gotten help in the form of 6-foot-10 Cameroonian Patrick Tchuente as well as former Baby Tams Daniel Celzo and Jack Gloria. Letran is already the biggest it has ever been up front with NCAA 94 Rookie of the Year Larry Muyang alongside Jeo Ambohot, Christian Balagasay, and Christian Fajarito. Now, the Knights have also beefed up at the wings with Allen Mina and Mark Sangalang as well as former Red Warrior and Growling Tiger Jordan Sta. Ana. LPU will have to prove it could continue contending even without NCAA 93 MVP CJ Perez, but the good news is that now backtopping Marcelino twins Jaycee and Jayvee are former San Sebastian College-Recoletos key cogs Alvin Baetiong, Jayson David, and Renzo Navarro. That’s still a pretty solid lineup in our books. Just like last year, the now two-time UAAP champions are mostly intact, only losing team captain Anton Asistio as well as reserve guard Aaron Black. That doesn’t mean, however, that there are no new faces in Ateneo. Geo Chiu, Kai Sotto’s twin tower, decided to stay in Katipunan just as fellow ex-Blue Eaglets RV Berjay and Jason Credo are now seeing minutes in head coach Tab Baldwin’s rotation. And oh, there is a possibility that double-double machine Fornilos, who placed no. 13 in the 2019 NBTC 24, is bound to be a Blue Eaglet. Perps is nothing but determined to build on the triumphant return to the NCAA of head coach Frankie Lim and to do that, they will be leaning on former San Beda University pillar Ben Adamos as well as ex-Adamson HS workhorse Jefner Egan. Count out the Altas at your own risk. JRU is just on the first phase of a grand rebuild, but there is no doubt that things are looking up for Kalentong. In John Amores, they now have an end-to-end force who is all set to make an immediate impact as a rookie. These are the new names to watch for the teams: Baste CSB National U San Beda --- Follow this writer on Twitter, @riegogogo......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 3rd, 2019

UAAP 82: UST opens double championship defense

University of Sto. Tomas opens quest for another golden double in the UAAP Season 82 Beach Volleyball tournament Sunday at Sands SM By The Bay. Ushering the post-Sisi Rondina era, the Tigresses will set in motion their bid for a fourth consecutive crown against University of the Philippines at 10:40 a.m. UST begins its back-to-back men's title bid against National University in an early showdown of favorites at 8 a.m., before returning in the afternoon session with a 1:20 p.m. duel with University of the East. Babylove Barbon, last season's top rookie who is more than ready to carry the Tigresses torch in the years to come, will have Gen Eslapor as her new partner. Setting its sights for a record seventh championship overall, UST will have to do it without Rondina, who has already completed her checkered collegiate career in the sand court. In her five years with the Tigresses, four-time MVP Rondina gave her school four titles. A perennial contender in the highly-popular Beach Volleyball Republic On Tour and were among the Philippine representatives in the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour Boracay Open 1-Star last May, Barbon and Eslapor are looking good to continue UST's dominance in the sport.  Derie Virtusio will be the third player. Jaron Requinton, who with Krung Arbasto put the Growling Tigers back in the throne last year, will have Efraem Dimaculangan as his partner. De La Salle hopes to give UST a run for its money behind Tin Tiamzon and rookie Justine Jazareno. The Lady Spikers will play their season opener versus the Lady Bulldogs at 11:20 a.m. Together with Michelle Morente, Tiamzon led De La Salle to a runner-up finish last year. The Lady Maroons will have a brand new set of players, with Rosie Rosier, Euricka Eslapor and alternate Noreen Estrellanes hoping to sustain their podium finishes that Isa Molde, Justin Dorog and Tots Carlos gave in the last two years. In other season-opening matches, Ateneo, with Ponggay Gaston and rookie Roma Mae Doromal in tow, goes up against Far Eastern University at 12 noon, before Adamson University and UE caps first day of women's action at 12:40 p.m. Seeking to rebound from last year's third place finish, the Bulldogs will bank on James Natividad and James Buytrago. Incidentally, UST and NU are tied for the most number of men's titles with four. The Bulldogs' other opening day opponent will be Ateneo at 2:40 p.m. FEU's Jude Garcia and Doy Barrica will be one of the Tigers' biggest threats for the crown as the last season's second placers tackle Adamson University at 8:40 a.m. and UP at 2 p.m. Other men's morning matches are UE-Ateneo at 9:20 a.m. and UP-De La Salle at 10 a.m., while Adamson University-De La Salle will round up opening day action at 3:20 p.m......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated News21 hr. 59 min. ago

30 Teams in 30 Days: Solid finish, playoff push prompts Magic to run it back

Like most summers in the NBA, the 2019 edition was chock full of trades, free agent news and player movement. From the defending-champion Toronto Raptors to just about every other team in the league, change was the most applicable word when it came to describing team rosters for the 2019-20 season. With the opening of training camps just around the corner, NBA.com's Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise as it sits today -- in order of regular-season finish from 2018-19 -- as we look at 30 teams in 30 days. * * * Today's team: Orlando Magic 2018-19 Record: 42-40, lost to Raptors in first round of playoffs Key additions: Al-Farouq Aminu (free agency), Chuma Okeke (Draft) Key departures: Timofey Mozgov The lowdown: It perhaps escaped your notice, but the Magic actually raised a banner in 2018-19. They won the admittedly-weakened Southeast Division, and while that might make folks snicker, any progress is good progress for a franchise still looking to gain traction in this, the unfulfilled post-Dwight Howard era. They were beastly down the stretch, going 11-2 to fight their way out of a midseason slump to reach the playoffs. Plus, they took a game from the eventual-champion Toronto Raptors in the first round. It helps to be in the Eastern Conference, but let’s not water-down what the Magic did too much. They received solid seasons from Aaron Gordon and Evan Fornier, a career season from Terrence Ross and an All-Star season from Nikola Vucevic. (It didn’t hurt that Vucevic and Ross were pending free agents playing for money.) The club also responded well to new coach Steve Clifford. However, there were mild disappointments -- mainly from the last two first-round picks. Jonathan Isaac didn’t take a leap in his second season and seemed unsure whether to be a stretch-four or use his size advantage in the paint. He wound up being just OK at both (9.6 points, 5.5 rebounds per game). Rookie Mo Bamba looked like a project throughout the season as injuries limited him to just 47 games. All told, the Magic made the playoffs for the first time in seven years and won more games in any strike-shortened season since 2010-11. That was enough to pacify the home crowd and finally show up on NBA radar, however faint. Summer summary: For the second time this decade, the Magic arrived at a crossroads regarding their All-Star center and had to make a decision with fairly large future ramifications. Last time, it was Howard. This time, it was the guy who replaced Howard. The decision now, as then: Should they re-sign the big man? Actually, it was a dual decision. Orlando had to want "Vooch" and vice-versa, considering he was an unrestricted free agent, and it wasn’t an automatic call in either case. Vucevic and his family enjoyed Orlando, yet the franchise, despite finally posting a winning season, was hardly in contender condition. He had options as a number of teams -- the LA Clippers among them -- expressed interest in the center with a soft touch and sound footwork. As for the Magic, they’d just drafted Bamba in 2018 with the No. 6 overall pick. The idea, at least you’d think, was having Bamba replace Vucevic at some point. By keeping Vucevic, what signal were they sending to Bamba? Why would they stifle the growth of a player whom they took over Wendell Carter Jr. and Collin Sexton? In the end, both the Magic and Vucevic agreed and Orlando delivered a four-year, $100 million deal. The team's thinking? Vucevic is an asset and so it’s better to keep him, even at a high price, rather than let him walk and get nothing back. Bamba must wait his turn, and he’ll need more time to develop after a raw rookie season. The other investment was in Ross, who spent much of his previous six NBA seasons as an athletic swingman who teased a lot. Last season, he was (for once) a primary option and shot well from deep (38.3 percent), earning himself a four-year, $54 million deal from Orlando. The Magic believe Ross, 27, is tapping into his prime later than usual. Then Orlando added depth at that position with Aminu. He can spread the floor and is decent defensively ... but isn’t a shot creator because of a weak dribble. At three years and $29 million, Aminu was a reasonable buy. In recent years past, Orlando was a fixture at the Draft lottery, and then their fate changed abruptly by making the playoffs. The downside, though, is Orlando had a middle first-round pick, where future superstars don’t normally live. Those picks are where teams take risks, and the Magic did so by selecting Okeke, who missed Auburn’s Final Four appearance after injuring his knee in the Sweet 16. Before the injury, the 6-foot-8 Okeke showed strong instincts around the basket, especially rebounding, while also shooting 3-pointers. Most scouts believe he would’ve been a lottery pick, and perhaps taken in the top-10, if not for the injury. The Magic spent the summer mulling whether to “redshirt” Okeke as they have another young player at his spot in Isaac. Plus, Okeke can heal thoroughly and also get reps in the NBA G League. There's also former No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz here, too, whom the Magic added in a deadline-day trade last season with the Philadelphia 76ers. He's still recovering from the thoracic outlet syndrome he was diagnosed with last season and hasn't played a game for the Magic. Still, Orlando believed in him enough to exercise his contract option for 2020-21. If he's ever healthy and shows the talent that made him a star a Washington, Fultz could help Orlando rise up as a real East contender. Other than big-money decisions on Vucevic and Ross, the Magic was content to make only minor changes. They still lack the superstar needed to rise the ranks in the East, yet their core is proven and capable of knocking on playoffs' door for a second straight season. Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. 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 18th, 2019

FIBA: Alapag humbled and honored to be considered as next Gilas coach

MACAU — Gilas Pilipinas has no head coach following Yeng Guiao’s resignation last week. Several names have been mentioned as possible replacements and one such name has been that of Jimmy Alapag. Alapag, who hit perhaps the most significant shot in Gilas history back when he was still playing, has seen the posts and comments on social media. Coach Jimmy is honored to be mentioned but says that kind of stuff is way out of his control. “It’s hard to comment because that decision-making process is out of my control. But I’ve seen the comments and it’s humbling,” Alapag told a handful of Filipino reporters here. “It’s an abosolute honor. You all know how much the Gilas program means to me,” he added. Gilas legend Jimmy Alapag is humbled and honored to be considered as next head coach of the national team ????????????#Gilas #GilasPilipinas #FIBAWC #PBA2019 pic.twitter.com/v76EHNOgOI — Paul Kennedy Lintag (@paullintag8) September 17, 2019 Coach Yeng’s resignation from Gilas came at the heels of the national team’s last-place finish in the 2019 FIBA World Cup. Despite losing by a combined 147 points in China, Alapag says Gilas is still more than capable of competing against the world’s best, it’s just a matter of putting it all together overall. The countdown for the national team is at four years as the country will be the main host of the 2023 World Championships. “This last World Cup, it was tough. I think we all know it wasn’t our best performance and we’re capable of much better. It happens,” Alapag said. “Rather than blame anyone or anything like that, it’s just a matter of how can we move forward and be better. We have time to prepare but that time will pass really fast so it’s gonna be important for whoever makes the decision that we understand what we want to do,” he added. There’s no clear favorite on who will take over as head coach for Gilas Pilipinas. But if Alapag gets the call, he’s ready to go. “I would be ready,” he said. “I think that job is a unique opportunity but it’s also a huge responsibility. We all know how passionate we are about basketball, I share that same passion. If ever that were the case, we’ll see,” Alapag added.   — Follow this writer on Twitter, @paullintag8.....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsSep 17th, 2019

TERRIFIC 12: Blackwater opens group play vs. Seoul SK Knights

MACAU — The East Asia Super League’s The Terrific 12 tournament is finally here and action starts right away Tuesday with all three PBA teams suiting up. Blackwater will be up first as the Elite take on South Korea’s Seoul SK Knights in Group A action. The Elite are coming off a strong campaign in th2 2019 PBA Commissioner’s Cup where they had their best regular-season finish and made the playoffs as the no. 3 seed. Unfortunately, Blackwater’s playoff run stopped in round one, losing to Rain or Shine in the quarterfinals. In Macau, the Elite look to add to their experience with hopes of making a deeper run in the Governors’ Cup. Last year, Blackwater also suited up in the East Asia Supe League, with its All-Filipino team seeing action in the Summer Super 8. The Elite finished with a 2-1 record in group play but missed the semis after quotients were considered. When they returned to the PBA, Blackwater made the Governors’ Cup playoffs as a top-5 seed. The team is looking to have the same results, if not better, this time around. The Elite will have its local team plus imports Alex Stepheson and Marqus Blakely here and they open the Terrific 2 tournament against the Knights. Seoul was the KBL champions two seasons ago and are using the Terrific 12 to prepare for a rebound campaign in Korea next year following a disappointing title defense in the 2018-2019 season. The Knights will have Jameel Warney as one of their imports. Former KBL MVP Kim Sunhyung and former KBL no. 2 pick Choi Junyong will lead Seoul as its top locals. Tip off for Blackwater-Seoul will be at 3:00 p.m. Tuesday at the Tap Seac Multi-sport Pavilion here.   — Follow this writer on Twitter, @paullintag8.....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsSep 16th, 2019

30 Teams in 30 Days: Nuggets to keep rolling with Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray

Like most summers in the NBA, the 2019 edition was chock full of trades, free agent news and player movement. From the defending-champion Toronto Raptors to just about every other team in the league, change was the most applicable word when it came to describing team rosters for the 2019-20 season. With the opening of training camps just around the corner, NBA.com's Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise as it sits today -- in order of regular-season finish from 2018-19 -- as we look at 30 teams in 30 days. * * * Today's team: Denver Nuggets 2018-19 Record: 54-28, lost in the second round of the playoffs Key additions: Jerami Grant, forward (trade); Bol Bol, forward (draft). Key subtractions: Trey Lyles, forward; Isaiah Thomas, guard. The lowdown: The steady growth of the Nuggets was evident in a 50-win season and a first-round victory in the playoffs over the more-experienced Spurs, which was clearly a step forward; then the journey ended with a sour taste after Denver lost a Game 7 at home to a lower seed, the Blazers. In all, the Nuggets received almost everything they’d hoped for from a developing contender, especially in the form of Nikola Jokic. The multi-skilled Serb established himself as the league’s most talented big man, if not the best period, with a stellar performance that attracted some MVP notice. He averaged 20 points, almost 11 rebounds and seven assists in an offense that ran through him, rare in today’s spread-the-floor league where centers are being phased out or pegged as role players and pick-setters. Jokic reminded many of Bill Walton or maybe Vlade Divac for his precise and sometimes entertaining passing skills from the high post. His co-star was Jamal Murray, who made generous strides as a leader and shot-maker and fit well with Jokic. The Nuggets also played some of the best defense in the league for much of the season and had solid back-court depth with Monte Morris and Malik Beasley averaging a combined 21 points off the bench. There were mixed reviews, however, from Gary Harris; the starting two-guard didn’t improve and in some areas actually regressed as he struggled with injuries in a 57-game season. Same for Will Barton, who shot 40 percent and played 43 games. But those were nit-picks. The Nuggets finally arrived after going a league-leading 34-7 at home, reaching the second round of the playoffs for the first time in a decade, and using the draft and trades to remake the roster over the last few years to stay in the attic in the very competitive West, which was no easy task. Summer summary: When an NBA team reaches a critical stage of the developing process and checks all the necessary boxes, it’s time to keep the continuity. Which means, time to pay up, and the Nuggets did just that this summer with two of their important figures: Murray and GM Tim Connelly, and both were easy calls. Murray went from a rookie who played behind Emmanuel Mudiay to a dependable, sometimes clutch-shooting guard in just three seasons. While he’s obviously the starter at the point for the Nuggets, Murray’s value lies in his flexibility; he can play off the ball and be just as valuable whenever Jokic assumes the “point-center” role. He averaged 18.2 points and 4.8 assists and showed growth despite struggling at times in his first postseason. He also doesn’t turn 23 until February. So the Nuggets gave him $170 million over five years, banking on his continued growth, which appears to be a safe investment. Therefore, Denver’s two most important players, Jokic and Murray, are under contract together for the next three seasons. Connelly replaced Masai Ujiri in 2013 and repaid the Nuggets’ faith by overseeing a basketball operation that has run mostly smoothly ever since. He drafted Jokic at No. 41 and hired Mike Malone as coach. The Nuggets have gone from 33 wins in Malone’s first season to 54. Even better, the meat of the roster is trending in the right direction and there’s no dead weight. This summer, the Wizards, after firing Ernie Grunfeld, chased after Connelly, a Baltimore native who attended college in D.C. Connelly broke into the business as an intern for the Wizards and has family ties to the D.C area, so the prospect of leaving Denver was a real threat. Ultimately, Nuggets boss Josh Kroenke was successful in persuading Connelly to stay. Usually that comes with a promise of a significant raise, but more importantly, Connelly saw what he’s building in Denver and couldn’t leave unfinished business. Denver has solid mix of youth and vets and is coming off a season where it was the No. 2 seed in the West. Hard to walk away from that. Paul Millsap also cashed in when the Nuggets agreed to pick up his 2019-20 option year for $30 million. There was some question whether the Nuggets would tie that much into a soon-to-be 35-year-old forward who, statistically anyway, is coming off his worst season since 2009-10 and his fewest minutes since 2008. But Millsap still brings a solid defensive mindset and experience, and anyway, the Nuggets were all about maintaining the flow this summer. Plus, Denver will remain under the luxury tax with with Millsap’s option. Millsap’s minutes could be reduced this season because the Nuggets traded for a more athletic option in Grant. With the Thunder, Grant improved his 3-point shooting last season and became more of a well-rounded forward. If used correctly by Malone, he can thrive in Denver, which badly needs his physical gifts. Of course, there’s also the wild card: Michael Porter Jr. The club’s first-round pick two summers ago sat all last season while recovering from a back issue, then was scratched from summer league play in July because of a minor knee issue which was more of a precautionary move. In a best-case scenario, Porter stays healthy and gives the Nuggets three options at power forward. Connelly didn’t have a first-round pick this summer but swung a deal to fetch a second-rounder once Bol Bol dropped to No. 44 in the draft. The son of former NBA player Manute Bol, he suffered a foot injury last season at Oregon and NBA teams were wary of his potential for recovery. Well, Connelly and the Nuggets will essentially treat Bol as they did Porter; Bol will be an injury red-shirt and prepare for 2020-21. And so, the Nuggets’ summer wasn’t about making wholesale changes, but keeping the pace they’ve set over the last three seasons and rewarding some of the key personnel responsible for it. Patience has allowed the Nuggets to get this far and so there was no reason to panic or rush the process this offseason. Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. 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 15th, 2019

30 Teams in 30 Days: Pelicans could be in for seamless rebuild

Like most summers in the NBA, the 2019 edition was chock full of trades, free agent news and player movement. From the defending-champion Toronto Raptors to just about every other team in the league, change was the most applicable word when it came to describing team rosters for the 2019-20 season. With the opening of training camps just around the corner, NBA.com's Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise as it sits today -- in order of regular-season finish from 2018-19 -- as we look at 30 teams in 30 days. * * * Today's team: New Orleans Pelicans 2018-19 Record: 33-49, did not qualify for the playoffs Key additions: Zion Williamson (Draft), Lonzo Ball (trade), Brandon Ingram (trade), JJ Redick (free agency), Derrick Favors (trade), Josh Hart (trade), Jaxson Hayes (Draft), Nickeil Alexander-Walker (Draft) Key departures: Anthony Davis, Julius Randle, Elfrid Payton The lowdown: There were teams with worst records and teams with more drama. But no team had a combination of both quite like the Pelicans. It all swirled around Davis, the best player in franchise history, who pulled a power move by switching agents to Rich Paul, business partner of LeBron James. Everyone saw what was coming next except Dell Demps, the beleaguered GM who refused to be proactive and instead tried to fight a losing battle. Through Paul, Davis made a private trade request in the fall and then went public a week prior to the trade deadline when Demps hesitated. When the deadline passed, Davis was still in New Orleans and that was a problem. The rest of the season was a disaster, as Davis was in an awkward state of limbo and the Pelicans, anxious to preserve their only true asset, managed his minutes. The fallout was severe: Fan backlash toward Davis, a fractured locker room, a state of emergency within a franchise that wasn’t among the league’s healthiest to begin with, and Demps getting the boot. Everything else about the Pelicans was overshadowed, such as Randle’s solid production in his first (and subsequently only) season in New Orleans and Jrue Holiday’s continued splendid play on both ends. In the end, Davis had long checked out, the Pelicans fell back into the lottery a year after reaching the second round of the playoffs, and a housecleaning was ordered by ownership. Summer summary: History might reflect that the Davis fiasco, in hindsight, was the most important moment in franchise history, and in a positive way. That’s because a much-needed series of changes were forced to happen because of it, and just maybe the Pelicans will be better off for it. It created a change in command, with David Griffin replacing Demps and tackling the Davis situation head-on rather than tiptoeing around it. And because Davis was essentially benched the entire second half of the season, that allowed the Pelicans to fall into the lottery, where they got lucky and landed the first overall pick in one of those drafts that contained a potential game-changer. New Orleans flipped almost overnight, getting an impressive haul for Davis in the long-awaited trade with the Lakers, and adding Zion Williamson, an explosive talent with gate appeal. It was a best-case scenario for the Pelicans, who went from laughingstock to landing a game on Christmas Day this season. Griffin played his hand skillfully, unlike Demps. Griffin didn’t create distrust or burn bridges and instead maintained good communication with Davis and all potential trading partners. He created a robust market for Davis and then negotiated with the one team that needed Davis the most: the Lakers with an aging LeBron James. Not only did Griffin get promising young players in Ball, Ingram and Hart, he also acquired the Lakers’ future with a collection of first-round picks and first-round swaps. Essentially, if the Lakers collapse in the post-LeBron era, the Pelicans will be awash in assets similar to the Boston Celtics when those Brooklyn Nets’ first-rounders turned to gold. Williamson should never have to worry about talent around him in New Orleans as Davis did. And unlike Davis, Williamson won’t be in a hurry to leave in a huff. There’s no reason for the Pelicans to tank, knowing that ample picks are coming their way. With that in mind, Griffin seized the moment to ramp up the rotation, adding some much-needed shooting in Redick and a reliable veteran in Favors. It’s very possible that the Pelicans can compete for a playoff spot in 2019-20, and again, this seemed remote when last season ended. There’s plenty of hope for Ball. He’ll have the relief of playing away from L.A. for the first time in his life and the advantage of suiting up next to Holiday, who can play off the ball if necessary. Ingram will be returning from a health scare related to blood clots that cut short his season but the prognosis is good. In addition to Williamson, the draft also produced Alexander-Walker, who brings good size (6-foot-5) to the backcourt, and Hayes, a raw big man who’ll instantly enroll in the Pelicans’ development school. To make the upcoming season as stress-free as possible, Griffin handed coach Alvin Gentry a one-year extension. The pair once worked together in Phoenix, when Gentry led the Suns to the Western Conference finals. For the first time in his tenure with the Pelicans, Gentry has ample talent and a solid plan. Now it’s up to him to put the right pieces in place. Clearly, though, the big prize is Williamson, who comes with robust talent and also a personality that reflects well on him and the franchise. Williamson can be a savior and, once Drew Brees retires, the face of New Orleans sports. It all depends if he makes good on the immense expectations. Given his knack for making crowd-pleasing plays on both ends, the burly forward has star potential -- which is exactly what a small market needs. There’s a reason why the Draft lottery results caused Gentry to curse with joy and team employees to dance on tables. Perhaps never before has a franchise fallen hard, then rose suddenly, quite like the Pelicans did in a matter of weeks. They’re still partying in New Orleans. Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. 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 10th, 2019

FIBA World Cup By the Numbers: Reality check for Gilas

In the end, not even Gilas Pilipinas’ best start in the 2019 FIBA World Cup ended with a win. The Philippines bowed to Iran Sunday to end the World Championships. Gilas Pilipinas will head home from China with five losses. Gilas will also come home wih valuable lessons learned from a tough trip. Let’s wrap this thing up with a final By the Numbers for Team Philippines.   -147 With a 0-5 record, Gilas Pilipinas is guaranteed to finish in the bottom four of the 2019 FIBA World Cup. As of right now, the Philippines is in last place. Japan (-115) and Jordan (-132) still play one game and if they both win, Gilas will finish last. If they both lose, they need to have worse point differential than the Filipinos or else, the Philippines will keep its last place finish in the 2019 FIBA World Cup.   6 Total three-pointers connected by Gilas in the opening period. It was the best shooting start for the Philippines in the World Cup, making 6/11 from deep in the first 10 minutes. Then Gilas went cold. The national team went 5/16 the rest of the way and lost by 20.   24 Total points scored by Gilas in the opening period. The Philippines trailed by six to Iran after one, 24-30. Gilas only scored 26 in the second and third quarters however and the Iranians put the game away. After three, Iran was up, 75-50, and ended the game with a 95-75 win.   12 Total points for Andray Blatche. In what could be Andray’s final game for Gilas, the big man shot 4/12 for 12 points to go along with five rebounds and five assists. He also had five fouls, the last two being technicals in the fourth quarter that led to his ejection.   4 Number of years before the next World Cup in 2023. The Philippines will co-host with Japan and Indonesia, with Manila serving as the primary. Gilas is qualified for that World Cup but it would take quite a few changes in order to not see a repeat of this 2019 performance. We’ll see if that’s the case in 2023.   — Follow this writer on Twitter, @paullintag8.....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsSep 8th, 2019

Americans top Antetokounmpo, Greece at World Cup 69-53

By Tim Reynolds, Associated Press SHENZHEN, China (AP) — Kemba Walker scored 15 points, Donovan Mitchell scored 10 on his 23rd birthday and the U.S. contained NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, defeating Greece 69-53 in a second-round game at the World Cup on Saturday. Harrison Barnes and Derrick White each scored nine for the U.S. (4-0), which can clinch a quarterfinal berth Monday in multiple ways. It needs either a win over Brazil or a Greece win over the Czech Republic or through a three-way tiebreaker, if necessary. Antetokounmpo, the Milwaukee Bucks star and reigning NBA MVP, scored 15 points but Greece (2-2) was eliminated from contention for a spot in the quarterfinals. The U.S. national team has won 57 consecutive games in international tournaments with NBA players, starting with the 2006 world championships bronze-medal game and continuing through every FIBA Americas, world championships, World Cup and Olympic event since. The streak started after a 101-95 loss to Greece in 2006 — a defeat that forced the U.S. to change its program. The Americans haven’t lost in the biggest tournaments since. “I thought we played well,” Walker said. “Stuck to the game plan.” Antetokounmpo’s eyes were closed as he mouthed along with the words of Greece’s national anthem. After the U.S. anthem played and the rosters from both sides met at midcourt for the customary pregame exchange of gifts, the NBA MVP shook hands with Bucks teammate Brook Lopez and gave him a quick hug. Other than that, there was no pregame interaction between Antetokounmpo and the Americans. He was super-aggressive from the jump, spinning his way to a layup on the first possession, making a 3-pointer on Greece’s second possession and he got fouled on a baseline drive on the next trip down the floor. So that was five points in the first 43 seconds for Antetokounmpo. He scored four in his next 18 minutes of playing time. The Americans kept a steady stream of different looks coming at the MVP — who was guarded in the first half alone by Harrison Barnes, Khris Middleton, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Myles Turner. The Celtics players, perhaps mindful of what he did against them in last season’s playoffs, held him scoreless in the half and the U.S. went into the break with a 38-25 lead. Antetokounmpo had a steal and dunk late in the third, which got plenty of fans out of their seats and Greek fans waving flags. But the outcome was never in doubt, and the MVP was on the bench for the entire fourth quarter in a somewhat puzzling move. TIP-INS U.S.: Mitchell’s birthday came a day after Joe Harris turned 28. ... Smart, who has twice missed time with leg injuries this summer, slipped and fell as he chased a loose ball out of bounds with 1:11 left in the first. He stayed in the game. ... The U.S. shot only 36%. Greece: The outcome came five years to the day after the Greeks were ousted by Serbia in the Round of 16 at the 2014 World Cup. ... Nick Calathes became the third Florida player to be part of a loss to the U.S. this summer; Andrew Nembhard played in the Americans’ pre-World Cup win over Canada in Australia, and Scottie Wilbekin played for Turkey in its overtime loss to the U.S. in the group stage. HOLDING LEADS Through four games, the U.S. has trailed for all of 7 minutes, 48 seconds — out of a possible 165 minutes. The Americans have led for 147:02, and games have been tied for 10:10. CLAMPING DOWN The U.S. has held Japan and Greece to a combined 98 points in the last two games. That represents the fewest points the U.S. has allowed in consecutive games of a major international tournament since the 1988 Olympics, when the Americans gave up 92 in a two-game stretch against Egypt and Puerto Rico. UP NEXT U.S.: Face Brazil (3-1) in a second-round finale Monday in Shenzhen. Greece: Face the Czech Republic (3-1) in a second-round finale Monday in Shenzhen......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsSep 7th, 2019

Hall of Fame: Jack Sikma s reverse pivot clears lane to induction

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- When Jack Sikma officially enters the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Friday night (Saturday, PHL time), one of his presenters will be Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Which is a terrific example of game recognizing game. Or in this case, move recognizing move. Just as Abdul-Jabbar ranks as the NBA’s most prolific scorer and arguably its greatest player ever, so does his signature sky hook loom as the league’s most famous individual move. Most unstoppable, too, and for defenders, most deflating. Well, Sikma had a signature move of his own, one that helped elevate him from an NAIA program at Illinois Wesleyan to seven NBA All-Star appearances, a championship with the Seattle SuperSonics in 1979 and now to the brink of his craft’s highest honor. It was the reverse pivot or inside pivot, which were its names when it was an arcane maneuver used by a small number of big men, taught mostly at the sport’s lower levels. Once Sikma learned it in 1974, brought it with him to the NBA in 1977 and helped the Sonics reach The Finals as a rookie and win the championship a year later, though, it swiftly became known as his: The Sikma move. “It was just an experiment after my freshmen season,” Sikma said Thursday (Friday, PHL time) at the Hall, after being introduced at a news conference as one of the Class of 2019’s 12 honorees. Others being inducted this weekend: coach Bill Fitch; NBA stars Bobby Jones, Sidney Moncrief and Paul Westphal; as well as WNBA legend Teresa Weatherspoon. Longtime Warriors player, coach and executive Al Attles was elected as a contributor. NBA center and current Sacramento GM Vlade Divac was chosen by the international committee. Being honored posthumously are: guard Carl Braun, a star in the 1950s; and Chuck Cooper, the first black player drafted by an NBA team (Boston, 1950). Finally, there are two college team entries: the Wayland Baptist women’s teams from 1948-82 and the Tennessee A&I teams from 1957-59. Divergent paths, compelling stories all. Including the one about the slender, blond kid from Kankakee, Illinois, whose offensive game needed a makeover. “My college coach [Dennie Bridges] and I sat down and he said, ‘Jack, you’ve just got to be more effective in the post if you want to take the next step.’ I was a good shooter – I’d learned the game as a wing and grew late, so I was comfortable facing the basket. “He had a friend who suggested, ‘Hey, down in southern Illinois there are some coaches who do an inside pivot with their guys to face the hoop. It might create a little space for Jack.’ I was really thin – I just wanted to get dislodged from the defender.” Basically, Sikma choreographically held a mirror to the post-up moves of traditional centers of the time. Holding the ball with his back to the basket, rather than turning on his pivot foot to the outside and attacking over his shoulder, he would spin to the inside. That motion would set up him a few feet back, facing the hoop, allowing for a simple hop and shot. And then there's this priceless Hubie Brown interview, in which Sikma teaches the move:  “A lot of coaches would pooh-pooh it because you’re catching the ball in one spot and then you’re stepping three feet farther away from the basket,” Sikma said. “That’s not the concept of big-men play, right? But I’ve got to hand it to Coach. He said, ‘Jack, I think this is it.’ And I said, ‘I’m not uncomfortable with the pivot.’” Sikma went from averaging 15.4 points as a freshman to 20.3 as a sophomore, with his shots increasing from 14.5 per game to 17.9. By his senior season, he averaged 27.0 points. As Sikma honed it in the NBA, at 6-foot-11, he would hold the ball above his head with a high release point that gave him the option of flipping up his shot or faking, then powering inside. In 14 seasons, by Sikma’s count, he played against 15 Hall of Fame centers, including Abdul-Jabbar. So he wanted every edge he could get. “You didn’t know which way he was going to go with it,” said fellow inductee Bobby Jones, a Sikma contemporary known for his defensive prowess. “Most of the time he would go back and shoot that shot, but sometimes he would go forward and draw the contact. I was just sitting there thinking, with all the other [inductees], if I ever blocked his shot. And I don’t think I ever did.” Jones, at 6-foot-9, matched up with him early in Sikma’s career (when Sikma was cast as a power forward for Seattle). Later, Jones had to decide how much help to give the teammate guarding Sikma. “The only thing I could ever have done was maybe come from behind and get him,” Jones said. “But he was a pretty good passer too. To ever leave your man that much, there’s a danger there.” Opponents weren’t the only ones made uncomfortable by Sikma’s unusual tactic. “I know I surprised some of the officials because I got called for traveling a few times,” Sikma said. “And I said, ‘Nope, I’m not traveling. I’ve got my foot up in the air, I plant it and then I pivot on it. By stepping out, that creates the space.’ “So even though it was a long time ago, they had film. They checked it out and they realized it wasn’t a walk. But I got called two or three times doing it.” Sikma laughed, recalling chatty Sonics teammate Fred Brown pleading his case for him to some of the referees. “I’d get called and Fred was in the ref’s face, ‘That’s his move! That’s his move! It’s not a travel,” Sikma said. “Fred had seen it enough in practice and figured it out.” Sikma had another facet to his game with which current NBA fans might be more familiar: he was a protypical “stretch 5.” Said Sidney Moncrief, another 2019 Hall newcomer who played for Milwaukee before and after Sikma was traded there for his final five seasons: “People don’t remember this about Jack Sikma, but Don Nelson was the first coach who started emphasizing 3-point shots for big men. He put Jack on the perimeter to take the big men out of the lane so we could make plays.” Not unlike current Bucks center Brook Lopez, Sikma underwent a late-career transformation as a deep threat. In his first 11 seasons, Sikma took 68 3-pointers and made seven (10.3 percent). During his final three seasons – from age 33 to 35 – Sikma shot 550 times from behind the arc and made 196 (35.6 percent). Still, it’s the quick inside step about 10 feet from the hoop that puts Sikma in a select subset of Hall of Famers already enshrined and those who will be. Call it the Alcove of Famous Moves. Hakeem Olajuwon’s “Dream Shake,” Kevin McHale’s up-and-under, George Gervin’s finger roll, Dominique Wilkins’ double-pump reverse, Allen Iverson’s crossover, Dirk Nowitzki’s one-legged fadeaway and Abdul-Jabbar’s sky hook will be joined, in time, by James Harden’s step-back 3-pointer, Manu Ginobili’s Euro-step, LeBron James’ chase-down block and Steph Curry’s long range pull-up 3. Each became or has become a signature move. But that only matters if the idea works. “They made it look good, so it was effective,” Sikma said. “If I tried to do the sky hook, if I tried to do the up-and-under, you’d probably think, ‘Meh, that’s not such a good move.’ A lot of it has to do with how effective a person is doing it.” The 2019 Enshrinement Ceremony at Springfield’s Symphony Hall will air on NBA TV Friday (Saturday, PHL time) beginning at 6:30 p.m. ET. 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 6th, 2019