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Draw of another title lights postseason path of Warriors

By David Aldridge, TNT Analyst One of the Golden State Warriors’ people, walking out of Smoothie King Center Sunday (Monday, PHL time), summarized the team’s season so far in detailing Kevin Durant’s 38-point performance against the Pelicans in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals. “Sometimes, people forget,” he said, a wry smile on his face -- and, yes, they do. With all that has gone on around the league this season, the Warriors’ storyline hasn’t been quite as eyeballed nationally this season compared with previous years. (Not that they should care. It’s just an observation.) The Cleveland Cavaliers blew things up last summer and reformed in the fall, blew it up again in the winter and reformed again in the spring. The Boston Celtics are displaying amazing resilience through seemingly devastating injuries to put themselves on the brink of another conference finals. The Philadelphia 76ers have their Fun Bunch. There was Paul George’s trade to Oklahoma City (and all that entailed, now and later) and the Toronto Raptors’ dramatic and successful changes throughout the year. And, at the forefront, there was the Houston Rockets’ rise as a legit and serious challenger to the Warriors in the Western Conference. During the regular season, the Warriors’ energy and productivity dropped off ever so slightly, like the planet killer in “The Doomsday Machine,” one of the all-time best original “Star Trek” episodes, after the doomed Commodore Decker drove a Shuttlecraft right down its throat. (Of course, Captain Kirk figured out to destroy it. Dude, come on. This is James Tiberius Kirk we’re talking about.) And at the end of the regular season, they were hit with a series of body shot injuries: Stephen Curry’s MCL strain, Durant’s ribs, Klay Thompson’s thumb injury, Draymond Green’s hip, and on and on. Those all sapped their continuity and made them look mortal down the stretch of the 2017-18 season, and the Warriors went 7-10 as the season waned. But, after dispatching the Kawhi Leonard-less Spurs in five games in the first round, and taking a 3-1 lead on the Pelicans now, they’re again on the precipice of the Western Conference finals. A date with Houston is looming and a chance at a third title in four seasons is still on their racket. “I think as the playoffs go on, every series requires a different intensity level,” Green said last week. “I think we met that standard that it takes to win playoff games at the level we’re at right now, which is the second round. It’s not our first rodeo. We’ve been here a lot of times and we know what it takes.” Steve Kerr rolled the “Hamptons Five” lineup out Sunday (Monday, PHL time), the Lineup Formally Known as Death -- Curry, Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Green and Durant. It’s been their trump card for almost two years, the lineup that can’t be solved by the opposition, even as it’s chipped away at most of Golden State’s other conventional units. Durant went for 38, and the Warriors rolled to a 118-92 win and a 3-1 series lead. They didn’t use it much this season -- that quintet only played 127 minutes together this season, after logging 224 minutes last season -- because of all the injuries, because they tried to limit their biggest players’ minutes and because using Iguodala as a starter thins out Golden State’s bench. The Warriors’ most frequently used five-man unit this season featured Zaza Pachulia at center; among five-man units leaguewide that played 200 minutes or more together this season, per NBA.com/Stats, that quintet was third in the league in Offensive Rating, at 118.6. But Pachulia hasn’t played a minute in the playoffs, and if the Rockets are the Warriors’ next opponent, he may not play much then, either, against Clint Capela. Kerr often points out that the Warriors have six centers on the current roster, and most of them have gotten at least a little run at various points. But after JaVale McGee was ineffective in Game 3 against New Orleans Friday (Saturday, PHL time), Kerr pulled his trump card. It’s still a game-changer, and when a season comes down to a best-of-seven series, one game can be the difference. “We all bring the best of each other,” Curry said of the Hamptons unit. “We increase the pace of the game, but the versatility [is] at the defensive end -- Andre, Draymond, KD shoring up the paint, switching a lot of the screens and the action from the offense and Klay doing what he does on the perimeter. I think the biggest thing offensively is that we’re all playmakers, try to look for the best shot, stay within ourselves and just make the right play.” Going back to the old playlist may give the Warriors comfort in what has been another drama-filled season, with the contretemps about being disinvited from the White House by President Trump in September getting things off to a rollicking start. But the end of the season was what raised eyebrows around the league. Curry’s absence down the stretch combined with a teamwide ennui -- “I really don’t like talking about it,” Thompson said -- that gave potential playoff opponents hope they might be able to catch Golden State napping. The Warriors’ boredom showed up most at the defensive end. After being in the top seven in both unadjusted and adjusted Defensive Rating in each of the last four seasons -- including first in the league in both categories in the first championship season of 2014-15 -- Golden State fell to 11th and 12th, respectively, in the regular season. They came out of the All-Star break focused -- they were fifth in the league in Defensive Rating on March 1. But all the injuries blunted their momentum, and the scariest of all -- a serious injury to second-year guard Patrick McCaw in Sacramento March 31 (April 1, PHL time) -- shook the team more than people on the outside realized. “Throughout that time, we had spurts,” Durant said. “We played a great OKC team. We went in there and won. Then we lost to Indiana by 20, and then it’s like, when you’re riding just on emotion a lot, you tend to go up and down. It’s like a roller coaster. I think that’s what it was. We had those spurts where we played well and played a focused game, but then Patty goes out, boom, and there was just so much that went on with that. Then Steph goes out with a freak injury. So much went on with that. I think we were just so up and down emotionally it kind of blinded us from our goal, which was to be good every single night as basketball players.” McCaw’s injury -- a bone bruise suffered when he fell after a dunk attempt against the Kings, which required him to be carried off the court in Sacramento on a stretcher -- hit everyone hard. “When Pat got injured, I think that took a little bit out of us,” Durant said. “It took a little bit out of Steve as well. You could just feel it, when Steph went out, then I went out, then Draymond, then Klay. Our emotions were so up and down. When your emotions are, you have too many emotions in the game of basketball, it can kind of blind you from what you really have to do. This is a technical game. So when you put too many emotions into it, it kind of took us away from what we wanted to do.” McCaw, who played in 57 games this season, was not only a part of Kerr’s rotation. He is also a well-liked person who was getting better on the floor. He was re-evaluated last week and will be checked out again in a month. Though he’s been traveling with the team during the playoffs, his season is almost certainly over. And as his injury came during the Warriors’ many injuries down the stretch, its chilling effect was multiplied. “It definitely got to everybody,” Green said. “Kind of the uncertainty of not knowing what’s going on with him. The rotations. Everybody’s like, ahh, kind of tiptoeing around, trying to make sure you get to the playoffs healthy. A lot of that makes a difference. I mean, that’s our brother. To see him down like that, not be able to walk off the court under his own power, him not being around us for two or three weeks, it was kind of like the unknown. It sucked. And I think it definitely had an effect on everything.” But Durant doesn’t like the metaphor of the proverbial switch being turned on at playoff time explaining the team’s improvement the last couple of weeks. “I don’t like when you call it a switch,” he said. “Because guys come in and get extra work in every single day. They work on their bodies every day, they get treatment. You come in here any time, you see guys in here working on their games. I think when you say ‘a switch turned on,’ if guys went cold turkey on everything as professionals during the season, and just tried to pick it up in the playoffs, I think that’s turning on a switch. Mentally, focus-wise, game plan-wise, I think you can turn on a switch, because you can lock in on an opponent, you know their tendencies, you can just focus in on one group of players instead of one day it’s San Antonio, the next day it’s Phoenix, next day it’s Sacramento. You’re going so up and down. If that makes sense. “So I think everybody’s putting in that work individually all year, and as a team, you know, stuff has to come together. We have to focus in on what we need to do, game plan wise, tendency wise, just try to take away things. I think that’s where you kind of turn it up just a bit.” Golden State has performed in fits and starts in the first two rounds. The Spurs didn’t have enough firepower to be a serious threat, but they played hard and were increasingly effectively on defense as the series went on. The Warriors didn’t really have an answer for LaMarcus Aldridge after Game 1. New Orleans had, until Sunday (Monday, PHL time), been more and more successful at making the Warriors shoot contested shots. That certainly gibes with Curry’s return after five weeks. He’s healthy, but rusty. After his adrenaline-filled return last Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time) in Game 2 against the Pelicans, he made just 14-of-33 from the floor in the two games in New Orleans. There was talk afterward about breakthroughs for Curry cardiovascularly. The next few games will tell whether Curry is truly recovered and ready to be two-time Kia MVP Steph … or will he just be on the floor (as he was for long and important stretches in the 2016 playoffs after returning from a Grade 1 knee sprain). The Warriors still made The Finals, but Curry wasn’t Curry against Cleveland, and everyone, starting and ending with LeBron James, knew it. No one in NBA history has changed the geometry of basketball more than Curry, and when he’s on the floor, the ball starts flying around. “Our formula is simple: if we out-pass people, we win,” Warriors forward David West said. “Ball movement. With guys going in and out of the lineup, it causes moments where guys try to carry the load, maybe try to shoulder the load individually. But the strength of the group is the group.” But the Warriors can still throw so many different things and people at you. Iguodala shot a career-worst 28.2 percent on three-pointers in the regular season. He’s at 39.3 percent in the 2018 playoffs. Does anyone doubt he was biding his time until the postseason? No one wearing an NBA uniform is in better shape than the 34-year-old Iguodala, no one is smarter about the game or matchups, and no one is a prouder, fiercer competitor. The 2015 Finals MVP brings his bag of intangibles with him on the road even more than at home, as he did Sunday. In that game, he was making life miserable for the Pelicans’ Nikola Mirotic, creating deflections, making the right reads and impacting the game despite scoring just six points. Kerr likened him to Scottie Pippen after Game 4, but Iggy wasn’t buying it -- “Steve just does that to make sure I don’t get mad ‘cause I don’t shots,” Iguodala quipped. He may be right. But Iguodala and Green have a mind meld defensively that’s at the heart of the Hamptons’ effectiveness. “Andre and I, we’re usually on the same page,” Green said. “Two guys who really think the game, especially on that side of the ball. Sometimes we can talk things out and it works perfect and not say a word, and know what each other’s going to do. It definitely helps our team out defensively kind of having two coaches out there on the floor on that side of the ball.” Whether it’s switching to guard each other’s man, running at an open shooter to close before the ball gets there with the other man rotating, they know what the other guy is going to do. And that second or so the Warriors save defensively keeps them from being broken down. “How fast can you make that decision?,” Green says. “How demonstrative are you going to be about that decision? Are you going to second guess that decision? That’s usually when it doesn’t work; if you’re going to go, just go. That’s kind of the motto that Andre and I go by. If you’re going to go, just go; everybody else fall in line and rotate, and we’ll work it out from there.” And while Green and Rajon Rondo have been exchanging pleasantries throughout this series, Green didn’t pick up his first postseason technical foul until Sunday (Monday, PHL time). He’s been under control, coming up to the edge without going over. Someone without access to the internet asked Kerr if he’d ever played with anyone who instigated or tried to get under the skin of opponents. It’s a testament to Kerr’s comic timing that he actually did wait a beat before answering. “I did play with Dennis Rodman,” he said. Never be fooled by Kerr’s overall pleasant disposition and quick-with-a-quip acuity, though. He is a fierce competitor that wants to win big, the same as his current point guard, who is similarly underrated on the competition scale. Kerr has seven rings as a player and coach, and it’s not a coincidence he’s frequently been around teams that got it done in June. But the Warriors are playing for even bigger stakes than just winning the 2018 title. Legacies are created this time of year. A third title in four seasons, with four straight Finals appearances, would put Golden State in very rarified air in the modern game. San Antonio won three titles from 2002-07. But the Spurs, famously, never have won back-to-back titles. The Kobe Bryant-Shaquille O’Neal-led Lakers, which won three straight from 2000-02, are the closest modern-day team to pulling off what the Warriors are trying to accomplish. Before then, you’re talking about the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls, with six titles in eight seasons -- the two non-title seasons coinciding with Jordan’s sojourn to the minor leagues of baseball. Moreover, the Warriors are the hub around which the modern NBA now spins. And that is an even bigger legacy. Almost everyone (hi, Thibs!) tries to play the way Golden State does now -- the quick hitters, ball movement, pace. Teams do it in different ways. The 76ers look very different than the Warriors, with Joel Embiid their centerpiece of operations, and with 6'10" Ben Simmons taking up so much space with the ball in the halfcourt. The Rockets look different still as there’s not a ton of ball movement. There’s just an unending series of screen and rolls with Chris Paul and James Harden with the rock, looking for the inevitable open man in the corner or way, way behind the three-point line. A lot of things have happened the last 15 years to lead us where we are now. The league changed almost all the rules regarding zone defense, and got rid of almost all defensive contact on the perimeter. Rockets GM Daryl Morey and others led the burgeoning analytics movement, which championed shooting more and more three-pointers as a primary means of scoring, not as a novelty. Mike D’Antoni’s Phoenix Suns went with Amar’e Stoudemire at center, surrounding him with four smalls that could all shoot it from deep, and scoring came out of its coma leaguewide. Kerr and Pelicans Coach Alvin Gentry have always been quick to credit D’Antoni’s influence on the modern game, starting in Phoenix and working through his current team in Houston. “He’s the guy that just eliminated the center position -- let’s just go small and fast and shoot more threes,” Kerr said of D’Antoni. “I was inspired by Mike, but I was also inspired by Pop (the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich) and Phil Jackson in terms of basic ball movement, screening. But pace is the name of the game these days, and people go about it in different ways. Ironically, Mike’s team (in Houston) is the slowest team in the league now. I didn’t see that coming.” But no one has put all of it together -- pace, small ball, shooting and defense -- like the Warriors have the last four seasons. The Rockets are the closest thing we’ve seen to Golden State, and they’re hungry, and they’re coming. And the Warriors and Rockets are just a win apiece away from seeing the clash of the Western Conference titans. They are in the middle of it, so they can’t stop and think about what it all means. We get that. But everyone wants to put a marker out there that’s hard to catch. LeBron is chasing a ghost. The Warriors have already made their mark on the game. They’re almost in position to do more. History is forever. “It’s important, because it’s what’s right in front of us,” Curry said Sunday. “We don’t think about the historical context of anything. For us, we have an amazing group of guys, amazing coaches sitting behind us. We’re appreciating the moment. That’s really all it is. You have tunnel vision for Game 5 at home, then a new series, hopefully (after that). The historic context doesn’t really seep into the locker room when it comes to what that means. It’s just about this year.” Longtime NBA reporter, columnist and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource: abscbn abscbnMay 8th, 2018

DA s 2018 NBA Offseason Rankings: The Bottom 10

By David Aldridge, TNT Analyst Wonder what the rental market is like in San Luis Obispo, Calif. San Luis Obispo is, give or take a few miles, one of the closest cities that is near the midway point between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Given the events of the NBA’s offseason, it’s not hare to imagine national reporters are going to be spending a lot of time in California next season, bouncing back and forth between the Bay and L.A. Catch LeBron James and the Lakers on Wednesday and then, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and the Warriors on Thursday. The Western Conference only got stronger and deeper with James leaving Cleveland for a second time, this time to go to the Lakers. Add four of the top five Draft picks -- including No. 1 overall selection Deandre Ayton (Phoenix Suns), No. 2 pick Marvin Bagley III (Sacramento Kings) and international phenom Luka Doncic (No. 3 pick, acquired by Dallas Mavericks) -- going to Western Conference teams, and the talent disparity between conferences only seems greater. But did Eastern Conference teams take advantage of Cleveland deflating to make their teams better? And how effective were West teams in making their teams better prepared to at least compete with the Warriors? That’s where this year’s Offseason Rankings come in -- big, bold, definitive. You love them, if the amount of hate tweets and e-mails I get after they’re published are any indication. Every year, we rank how all 30 teams have done since the end of their respective seasons. We look at everything -- how they drafted, what trades they made, what players they signed in free agency, and for how much -- or if they didn’t participate in free agency much at all. We look at if they’ve changed coaches, executives, owners, or if they’re moving into a new building that can generate big revenues. And you have to decide which ones you liked the most. Here's what these rankings ARE NOT: A predicted order of finish for next season. It's an opinion that seeks to answer a question: is the team better now than at the end of last season? The ranking reflects the belief on whether, and how much, that is so. (I liked certain guys who were in the Draft more than others, so if your team took them, I probably weighed it more positively. Doesn't mean I'm right.) I do not expect the Suns, for example, to have a better record than the Celtics, just because they had a better summer. It is not a ranking of the teams in order from 1 through 30 right now; I do not believe the Mavericks are now a better team than Rockets. This is just one person’s opinion about offseason moves -- offseason moves only. Is your team better now than it was before? - If your team is ranked in the top 10, it doesn't mean I love your team.       - If your team is ranked in the bottom 10, it doesn't mean I hate your team. It's an opinion that seeks to answer a question: is the team better now than at the end of last season? The ranking reflects the belief on whether, and how much, that is so. (I liked certain guys who were in the Draft more than others, so if your team took them, I probably weighed it more positively. Doesn't mean I'm right.) What plays into the rankings: - This isn’t science. It’s an educated guess, weighing the impact both of the Draft and free agency, but also assessing whether teams got value in their free-agent signings. Overpaying the right player is as much a sin as signing the wrong player. A good new coach can coax some more wins out of a roster. But if a team’s players don’t believe in the system their team uses, the best Xs and Os on earth don’t matter.       - Teams that are rebuilding obviously have different priorities than teams making a championship push. That's factored in. So Chicago, for example, gets credit for adding young, affordable players as it stockpiles its talent -- but that talent has to fit together, as Wendell Carter Jr. does with Lauri Markannen. And a team like the Warriors that shows it’s willing to go deep into the luxury tax -- which most teams try to avoid -- in order to keep winning has to be commended, and its rankings reflect that commendation.       - Continuity matters here as well. The most successful teams usually not only identify a core group of players, they keep them together for a while, finding that sweet spot: everyone doesn’t get a max contract, but most get paid well enough to keep the train moving down the tracks. That reflects both good roster construction and good financial management -- and, again, is rewarded. The explosion in the cap means everyone has to spend; keeping your powder dry for another day doesn’t have as much cache as it used to. But you still have to manage your money wisely. Salary numbers, with a couple of exceptions, come from Basketball Insiders, whose Eric Pincus does the best job of anyone in the game of keeping track of all the moving financial parts, quickly and accurately -- which is why we use him at NBA TV during the Draft and free agency to tell us what the hell this all means. The Bottom 10 * * * 21. DETROIT PISTONS 2017-18 RECORD: 39-43; missed playoffs ADDED: Coach Dwane Casey; New executive Ed Stefanski; G Bruce Brown (No. 42 pick, 2018 Draft); G Jose Calderon (one year, $2.3 million); C Zaza Pachulia (one year, $2.3 million); G/F Glenn Robinson III (two years, $8.3 million); G Khyri Thomas (No. 38 pick, 2018 Draft) LOST: Former coach Stan Van Gundy; G Dwight Buycks (waived); F/C Eric Moreland (waived); F Anthony Tolliver (signed with Wolves) RETAINED: None THE KEY MAN: F Blake Griffin. And he will be for some time. The Pistons need him to be his former All-Star self again, able to take slower defender to the basket, able to stretch the floor if he plays the five in small-ball lineups. They need him to be a playmaker, to get Reggie Jackson more looks off the ball and Andre Drummond some high-low lobs at the rim. They need him to sell tickets at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit’s revitalized downtown -- a building that seems to be more for the NHL’s Red Wings than the NBA’s Pistons. And they need Griffin to be an anchor that draws players to the Motor City during the life of his extension. THE SKINNY: Owner Tom Gores agonized over firing Van Gundy, but he finally did so, and was fortunate that Casey was available and willing to step right back into the fray after being cashiered in Toronto. Casey will be quite in his element building a defense around Drummond, but, like Van Gundy, Casey will need Jackson to stay healthy; he’s missed a combined 67 games the last two seasons. Detroit did well for not having a first-round pick to come out of the Draft with two solid guard prospects deep in the second in Thomas and Brown. However, the new coaching staff will have to get more out of the team’s last three first-rounders: Stanley Johnson (2015), Henry Ellenson (2016) and Luke Kennard (2017). 22. BOSTON CELTICS 2017-18 RECORD: 55-27; lost in Eastern Conference finals ADDED: G Brad Wanamaker (one year, $838,000); C Robert Williams (No. 27 pick, 2018 Draft) LOST: G Shane Larkin (signed to play in Turkey); F Abdel Nader (traded to Thunder) RETAINED: C Aron Baynes (two years, $10.6 million); F Jabari Bird (two years, $3 million), G Marcus Smart (four years, $52 million) THE KEY MAN: F Gordon Hayward. All indications are he’s well on his way back from that horrific injury he suffered on opening night last season. He can do so many great things in coach Brad Stevens’ system, and if he’s 100 percent by the playoffs, Boston may well be the one team that can match up, player for player, with Golden State in a Finals meeting. (Remember this when people inevitably say I ranked the Celtics 23rd in offseason moves.) THE SKINNY: Boston got its biggest work done after Smart couldn’t loosen up an offer sheet from the Sacramento Kings or Dallas Mavericks, and eventually worked out a deal for less than he sought to return. Smart’s deal puts Boston in the tax for the foreseeable future, but the Celtics knew that was the next step in keeping a Finals-capable core group together. With Kyrie Irving and Hayward expected back on line Stevens can throw so many different lineups out there, all committed to stifling opponent movement with long, switching defenders led by Smart, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Williams was worth an end of the first flier, though he didn’t get off to a great start. If he gets a good wake-up alarm on his phone, he has a chance to be the Celtics’ center of the future. 23. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS 2017-18 RECORD: 52-30; lost in Eastern Conference semifinals ADDED: F Wilson Chandler (acquired from Nuggets); F/C Mike Muscala (acquired from Hawks); G Zhaire Smith (No. 16 pick, 2018 Draft); G Landry Shamet (No. 26 pick, 2018 Draft); G Shake Milton (No. 54 pick, 2018 Draft) LOST: Former GM Bryan Colangelo (resigned); F Justin Anderson (traded to Hawks); G Marco Belinelli (signed with Spurs); F/C Richaun Holmes (traded to Suns); F Ersan Ilyasova (signed with Bucks); G/F Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (traded to Thunder) RETAINED: C/F Amir Johnson (one year, $1.5 million); G T.J. McConnell (picked up team option); G J.J. Redick (one year, $12.2 million) THE KEY MAN: G Markelle Fultz. His rookie year laid waste by a combination of injury and the yips -- which the Sixers have finally copted to -- Fultz is reportedly rebuilding his shot successfully under the learned eye of development coach Drew Hansen. If that carries over to the fall, Fultz will get a true opportunity (he had some cameos late in his rookie season) to show a skeptical Philly fan base he was worth the top pick in 2017, and worth Philly trading up to get him. He definitely could fill a need with the 76ers for a second playmaker to go with and occasionally in place of reigning Kia Rookie of the Year winner Ben Simmons. But if Fultz has another setback, physically or otherwise, it will be hard for him to stick much longer in Philly -- not a town known for patient reflection with regard to its sports teams. THE SKINNY: Coach Brett Brown was quite clear when he said the Sixers were hunting for a superstar this summer with the cap space they’d assiduously cleared the last couple of years. But the summer has come and gone and there’s no LeBron, no Kawhi, no trade, at least not yet, for Jimmy Butler or anyone else at that level. Belinelli and Ilyasova both played huge roles for Philly in the playoffs; maybe Fultz (see above) takes on some of that role, and Chandler will help. But this doesn’t feel like a successful offseason for one of the real risers in the East. 24. PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS 2017-18 RECORD: 49-33; lost in first round ADDED: G Seth Curry (one year, $2.7 million); G Nik Stauskas (one year, $1.6 million); G Anfernee Simons (No. 24 pick, 2018 Draft); G Gary Trent Jr. (No. 37 pick, 2018 Draft) LOST: G/F Pat Connaughton (signed with Bucks); F/C Ed Davis (signed with Nets); G Shabazz Napier (signed with Nets); C Georgios Papagiannis (waived) RETAINED: C Jusuf Nurkic (four years, $48 million) THE KEY MAN: Assistant coaches David Vanterpool, Nate Tibbets, Dale Osbourne, Jim Moran, John McCullough and Jonathan Yim. With the Blazers mostly landlocked the next two seasons -- they’re currently above the projected luxury tax line both for next season and 2019-20 -- there aren’t likely going to be many significant roster changes for a while. And in the West, especially, standing pat is often falling behind. It will thus fall to Portland’s excellent staff behind coach Terry Stotts to maximize the production of the current group. They can point with some pride to success stories like Will Barton and Allen Crabbe, now in Denver and Brooklyn, respectively, along with Maurice Harkless and Al-Faroqu Aminu. For Portland to take another step up, they’ll have to coach up someone like 2017 first-rounder Zach Collins or this year’s first-rounder, Simons. They must have them exceed expectations to become a third legit star behind Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. THE SKINNY: Lillard insists the rumblings heard in some quarters that he’s unhappy in Portland aren’t true, and the franchise better hope he’s being honest. The decisions the Blazers made in 2016 continue to lock them in place; if they catch a favorable first-round matchup (a grumbling Rockets team in 2014; an injury-strafed Clippers squad in 2016), they can advance a round. But last year’s 4-0 sweep by the New Orleans Pelicans had to give everyone pause. How does Portland respond mentally? Re-upping Big Nurk in the middle on a very reasonable deal -- $12 million for a starting center was the going rate five years ago, when the Wolves gave Nikola Pekovic a five-year, $60 million contract -- was necessary. But losing Davis, a locker room and fan favorite for superior work ethic, will hurt, even though Collins should sop up a lot of those minutes. 25. ORLANDO MAGIC 2017-18 RECORD: 25-57; missed playoffs ADDED: Coach Steve Clifford; C Mohamed Bamba (No. 6 pick, 2018 Draft); G Isaiah Briscoe (three years, $3.9 million); F Melvin Frazier (No. 35 pick, 2018 Draft); F Jerian Grant (acquired from Bulls); F Justin Jackson (No. 43 pick, 2018 Draft); F Jarrell Martin (acquired from Grizzlies); C Timofey Mozgov (acquired from Hornets) LOST: C Bismack Biyombo (traded to Hornets); G Mario Hezonja (signed with Knicks); C Dakari Johnson (traded to Grizzlies); G Shelvin Mack (waived); G Rodney Purvis (traded to Thunder) RETAINED: F Aaron Gordon (four years, $82 million) THE KEY MAN: G D.J. Augustin. A vet’s vet, he’s played 10 years in the league and started 226 games for eight teams, including 56 over the last two for the Magic. He’ll enter this season as the unquestioned starter at the point with Elfrid Payton in New Orleans and Orlando still looking to solve its long-term search for a point guard. It’s Augustin’s turn. THE SKINNY: At some point, Orlando’s yearly gambles on size and potential will pay off. Bamba could be the goods; he’s got a demeanor and toughness that should keep him together while he learns the craft at the pro level. But -- again -- it will take some time for Bamba, like 2017 first-rounder Jonathan Isaac, and Gordon, in whom Orlando invested a sizeable sum in July, to flourish. And Magic fans rightly can ask exactly how long they’re to remain patient. Clifford is supposed to improve the defense, but so was Frank Vogel … and so was Scott Skiles … and so was Jacque Vaughn. 26. NEW ORLEANS PELICANS 2017-18 RECORD: 48-34; lost in Western Conference semifinals ADDED: G Tony Carr (No. 51 pick, 2018 Draft); G Elfrid Payton (one year, $3 million); F Julius Randle (two years, $17 million) LOST: C DeMarcus Cousins (signed with Warriors); G Rajon Rondo (signed with Lakers) RETAINED: G Ian Clark (one year, $1.7 million); F Nikola Mirotic (picked up player option) THE KEY MAN: Owner Gayle Benson. Mrs. Benson took control of the team after the death of her husband, Tom, last March. She displayed great grace in the days and weeks after Tom Benson’s death, making it clear at the time she had no interest in selling the team and would continue to make outlays to keep the team competitive. The Pels didn’t blink last summer giving Jrue Holiday $126 million, and that will have to remain the case going forward if New Orleans is to repeat its surprising run to the Western Conference semifinals last spring. THE SKINNY: Can’t lose your starting point guard and your starting All-Star center in one offseason -- no matter what the circumstances -- and come out of it with high offseason marks. And especially when Rondo seemed like the perfect fit for the team. Mirotic mentioned during the Warriors series how good Rondo was at picking him up and connecting him quickly with the team after he was traded to New Orleans from Chicago. And, yes, coach Alvin Gentry mentioned he may have exchanged cusses with Rondo every now and again, too. Life in RondoWorld. The path forward is narrower, but not impassible; Randle can be tantalizing at times, maddening at others, but he could plug-and-play at the four, and he can take some of the playmaking burden off of Holiday. But big minutes on the ball for Holiday again is not what New Orleans had in mind. Payton is going to have to perform immediately. And losing “Boogie” Cousins is a big minus. It’s not what the Pelicans gave up to get him. It’s the fit and flow he had with Anthony Davis before the injury, and what the promise of a return this season could have meant toward carrying the momentum of last year forward. 27. MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES 2017-18 RECORD: 47-35; lost in first round ADDED: F Anthony Tolliver (one year, $5.7 million); G Josh Okogie (No. 20 pick, 2018 Draft); F Keita Bates-Diop (No. 48 pick, 2018 Draft) LOST: C Cole Aldrich (waived); F Nemanja Bjelica (signed with Kings) RETAINED: G Derrick Rose (one year, $1.5 million) THE KEY MAN: Vikings QB Kirk Cousins. He signed for big, big money by NFL standards (three years, $84 million), and the Vikings have Super Bowl aspirations. So all the light will be on the Vikes most of the fall and winter in Minneapolis, keeping it off of the still-young Wolves, who won’t be able to sneak up on anyone after breaking their long postseason drought. THE SKINNY: The Wolves should be positioned to build on their playoff run, especially if Butler can get through a full season healthy and Karl-Anthony Towns adds consistency to his prodigious talents. But they didn’t do much in the offseason, and the team that they beat out on the last day of the regular season, Denver, looks to be much improved. Tolliver should help the Wolves’ depth; they essentially traded him for Bjelica, and he shot slightly better on 3-poiners last season than Belly. Plus, they don’t come better as a guy than Tolliver and he can help Minnesota in the locker room. The issue of Butler’s contract isn’t going away; there will be a reckoning at some point, and he’ll have a lot more options next summer than free agents had this summer. Until then, coach Tom Thibodeau has pretty much the same team that he has to cajole better defense out of next season (22nd in Defensive Rating; 17th in points allowed). 28. CHARLOTTE HORNETS 2017-18 RECORD: 36-46; missed playoffs ADDED: Coach James Borrego; GM Mitch Kupchack; C Bismack Biyombo (acquired from Magic); F Miles Bridges (No. 12 pick, 2018 Draft); G Devonte' Graham (No. 34 pick, 2018 Draft); F Arnoldas Kulboka (No. 55 pick, 2018 Draft); ; G Tony Parker (two years, $10.2 milliion) LOST: G Michael Carter-Williams (signed with Rockets); C Dwight Howard (traded to Nets); C Timofey Mozgov (traded to Magic); G Julyan Stone (traded to Bulls) RETAINED: None THE KEY MAN: C Cody Zeller. It’s a guess -- Borrego could opt for Frank Kaminsky III -- but Zeller would seem to be the replacement at center for Dwight Howard, who wound up in Washington after the Hornets traded him to the Nets. Zeller started 58 games two years ago and was very good in screen and rolls with Kemba Walker. Zeller only played in 33 games last season because of a left knee injury; if he returns to form, the Hornets could pick up offensively and actually have a little more diversity at that end than last season. THE SKINNY: Team owner Michael Jordan cleaned house after a disappointing 2017-18, bringing another Tar Heel back home in the veteran Kupchak. Kupchak dispatched Howard and then got Mozgov’s guaranteed 2019-20 season off his books to take back Biyombo, who’d left Toronto two years ago for $72 million from the Magic and who’s got a player option for 2019-20. Well before then, the Hornets are going to have to decide what to do with Walker, who’ll be one of the top free agents available next summer if Charlotte can’t get him re-signed or extended. The Hornets were 8.8 points worse when the two-time All-Star was off the court rather than on. Nicolas Batum has to make a return to the all-around talent that enticed Charlotte to trade for him and give him a $120 million extension; he averaged just 11.6 points per game last year, his lowest in three years. Howard’s presence in the paint may have clogged things up some, but that’s no longer the case. 29. CLEVELAND CAVALIERS 2017-18 RECORD: 50-32; lost in The Finals ADDED: F Channing Frye (one year, $2.3 million); G Collin Sexton (No. 8 pick, 2018 Draft) LOST: G Jose Calderon (signed with Pistons); F Jeff Green (signed with Wizards); F LeBron James (signed with Lakers); C Kendrick Perkins (waived); F Okaro White (waived) RETAINED: F Kevin Love (contract extension) THE KEY MAN: GM Koby Altman. Altman has a blank slate now after trying to steer a championship-contending ship that had been stripped of a few propeller blades in the last 13 months. With James gone, as well as former GM David Griffin, the 35-year-old Altman has team owner Dan Gilbert’s charge to rebuild the Cavs without taking them down to the studs (as the Cavs did after James first departure in 2010). Altman’s next task after working out Kevin Love’s $130 million extension is clearing the roster of all the veterans brought in the last three years mainly because of their ability to play off of James. THE SKINNY: There weren’t any widespread jersey burnings this time in the Land. James left for L.A. with relative good will from his hometown, having delivered the championship it had waited 52 years for in 2016. Truly, the Cavs’ rebuild started the minute Kyrie Irving demanded a trade; last season seemed more rearguard action than an attack at another title. Extending Love through 2023 with no outs -- keeping him locked with rookie Sexton through the latter’s last controllable season before hitting unrestricted free agency -- gives Cleveland a base upon which to build. Cap room will follow in 2019, but next season will be difficult; Sexton has a lot of toughness and potential, but rookie point guards tend to get their lunch handed to them. 30. MIAMI HEAT 2017-18 RECORD: 44-38; lost in first round ADDED: None LOST: None RETAINED: G Wayne Ellington (one year, $6.2 million); F/G Derrick Jones Jr. THE KEY MAN: G Josh Richardson. Like many of his teammates, Richardson got an extension a couple of years ago -- four years and $42 million. Last season, he was (again) a solid two-way player for Miami -- almost 13 points per game, 84.5 percent from the line, 37.8 percent on 3-pointers. But if the Heat is going to shake out of the middle lane in which it currently seems stuck, Richardson will have to expand. Miami’s current roster makes it complicated; Pat Riley thinks Richardson’s probably more of a two, but he plays mostly three for coach Erik Spoelstra because Miami’s best lineups were small ball ones. Another offseason at P3 in California will help Richardson continue his development. THE SKINNY: No, Heat people: I don’t hate your team. But when you have no Draft picks, and you have no cap space, and thus you literally could do nothing in the offseason, and basically did nothing in the offseason, and your biggest, most newsy event was whether your 36-year-old future Hall of Fame guard will come back for one more season or play over in China … well, what am I supposed to do with that information? Rank you first? The question is, how much better is your team now than it was at the end of last season? It’s essentially the same team; other than the likes of Richardson (see above) or Justise Winslow, it’s not like there’s a great step up expected from Hassan Whiteside or Goran Dragic, is there? The Heat is not any better than last season. It isn’t any worse. It just … is. So, 30. Longtime NBA reporter, columnist and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsAug 8th, 2018

Dub Dynasty: Warriors sweep Cavs for second straight title

By Tom Withers, Associated Press CLEVELAND (AP) — Golden State. Golden still. Stephen Curry scored 37 points, NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant added 20 and a triple-double and the Warriors stamped themselves a dynasty after winning their second straight title and third in four years Friday night (Saturday, PHL time), 108-85 over the Cleveland Cavaliers to complete a sweep and perhaps drive LeBron James from his home again to chase championships. Overcoming obstacles all season long, the Warriors were not going to be denied and won the fourth straight finals matchup against Cleveland with ease. "This is so hard to do and doing it three out of four years is incredible," guard Klay Thompson said. It was the first sweep in the NBA Finals since 2007, when James was dismissed by a powerful San Antonio team in his first one. His eighth straight appearance didn't go well either, and now there's uncertainty where the superstar will play next. James finished with 23 points and spent the final minutes on the bench, contemplating what went wrong and maybe his next move. Act IV between the Warriors and Cavs featured a drama-filled and controversial Game 1. But from there on, Durant, Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green and the rest of this California crew showed why they're the game's gold standard. And they may stay that way. "Can't get enough of this feeling so we're going to celebrate it together," Curry said. Not wanting to give the Cavs or their fans any hope despite the fact that no team has ever overcome a 3-0 deficit in the NBA playoffs, the Warriors built a nine-point halftime lead when Curry ignored a closeout by James and dropped a three-pointer. Then the league's best team tightened the screws on Cleveland in the third quarter, outscoring the Cavs 25-13 and prompting Golden State fans to begin those drawn-out "War-eee-orrss" chants that provide a perfect musical accompaniment to their three-point barrages. By the start of the fourth quarter, the only question was whether Curry would win his first NBA Finals MVP or if it would go to Durant for the second year in a row. And again, it was Durant, who added 12 rebounds and 10 assists — more satisfaction and validation for a player who couldn't beat the Warriors so he joined them. After surviving a rougher-than-usual regular season and beating top-seeded Houston in Game 7 on the road in the Western Conference finals, the Warriors withstood an overtime scare in Game 1 and joined an elite group of teams to win multiple championships in a four-year span. Only Bill Russell's Boston Celtics, the "Showtime" Lakers and the Los Angeles squad led by Kobe and Shaq, and Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls have been as dominant in such a short period of time. The Dub Dynasty. The path to this title was more precarious than the first two for coach Steve Kerr and the Warriors, who overcame injuries, expectations, a built-to-dethrone-them Rockets team and the brilliance of James, who scored 51 points in the series opener and carried a Cavs team from the beginning of their rollercoaster season until the end. It may have been the final game in Cleveland for the 33-year-old, who is expected to opt out of his $35.6 million contract for 2019 next month and become a free agent. James was pulled from the game with 4:03 left, and he slapped hands with the Warriors before heading to the bench. He plopped down in a chair and draped a towel over his broad shoulders, looking like a boxer on a corner stool. James averaged 34 points, 8.5 rebounds and 10 assists in the series, but as has been the case in the past, he didn't have enough help. Another Summer of LeBron is officially underway and there are already teams stretching from Philadelphia to Los Angeles hoping to land the three-time champion, who may have to go elsewhere to put together a cast strong enough — and as James made clear this week, smart enough — to bring down the Warriors. Right now, the Warriors are on another tier and with Durant expected to re-sign with them in weeks and Curry, Thompson, Green and the rest still young and hungry, their reign could last much longer. Heading into the playoffs, the Warriors appeared vulnerable. There were lingering questions about Curry's sprained left knee that sidelined him for almost six weeks and kept him out of Golden State's first-round series against San Antonio. Kerr was forced to mix and match lineups, and it became obvious the Warriors weren't going to go 16-1 and storm their way to a title like they did in 2017, when their only postseason loss came in Game 4 after the Cavs made 24 three-pointers. Kerr used 27 different starting lineups during the regular season, which ended with a head-scratching 40-point loss to Utah. The Warriors began defense of their title as a No. 2 seed and their season was in serious jeopardy when they fell behind 3-2 to presumptive MVP James Harden and the Rockets. But Golden State, catching a break when Houston star guard Chris Paul was forced to sit with a hamstring injury, showed a champion's poise by winning two straight. That set up another reunion with James and the Cavs. Maybe the last. TIP-INS Warriors: Curry made a three-pointer in his record 90th consecutive postseason game and extended his mark for three's in road playoff games to 44. ... Green is the only visiting player to post a triple-double in the playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena, doing so in Game 6 of the 2015 finals. ... Became the ninth team to sweep a finals and first to win consecutive titles since James did it with Miami in 2012 and 2013. ... Golden State has won a road game in 19 straight playoff series, tying the Heat's NBA record. ... With his 43-point performance in Game 3, Durant joined Jordan and Shaquille O'Neal as the only players to score at least 25 points in their first 13 finals games. Cavaliers: Appeared in its 26th NBA Finals game, moving past Atlanta/St. Louis into 10th place all-time. ... James averaged 34 points in his 13th postseason, his second-highest total. BROWN OUT Longtime network broadcaster Hubie Brown injured his knee while sitting courtside preparing before the game. He was treated by a medical staff on site and taken to the hospital. The 84-year-old Brown was replaced on the radio broadcast by Jon Barry. Brown was working his 17th NBA Finals......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJun 9th, 2018

MVP Ladder: No topping Harden in award chase

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com Stump speeches aren’t necessary. Not when your campaign drives itself on performance alone, when you elevate the conversation with each and every outing, the way James Harden did from the opening tip of this regular season until the final buzzer. So if it seems like Harden has skillfully avoided getting caught up in this reporter-crafted Kia MVP pickles that often drive the rest of our NBA dialogue on a daily basis, it’s by design. Besides, who needs to dive in on the debate when you have unsolicited celebrity endorsements from the likes of Kobe Bryant, who made clear to USA Today Sports that Harden’s time is now. “It’s got to be James,” Bryant said. “I really don’t understand the debate about picking somebody else. I don’t get it. Like, what the hell does this guy have to do? I mean for the last three years, the guy has been absolutely lights out, and now you still want to sit here and debate who should be MVP when he leads the league in scoring (30.4 points per game), his assists numbers (8.8 apg) are off the charts, they have the best record in the league (65-16). “If he doesn’t win MVP this year, what the hell is he supposed to do to win MVP, average 40 [points], 15 [assists] and 15 [rebounds]? I mean, come on now. Enough is enough.” After coming up short twice in the past three seasons, Harden is poised to capture the Maurice Podoloff Trophy. It is something he felt he earned last season, when his former Oklahoma City Thunder teammate, Russell Westbrook, used a triple-double season to claim the hardware. Stephen Curry won the award in 2015 and 2016, his star rising in concert with the Golden State Warriors' surge from lottery team, to contender to championship-winner in two of the last three seasons. While Curry claimed those awards, Harden won MVP honors in a vote of his peers at the NBPA’s first Players Awards in July 2015. There will be no dispute this time around. There is no other narrative that trumps Harden’s.   No other player's performance rises above what he’s done for the Rockets this season, the first with he and fellow superstar point guard  Chris Paul sharing the leadership load of the league’s best team. Not even four-time Kia MVP LeBron James, who turned in one of the finest seasons of his 15 year career in Cleveland, could catch Harden on the Kia Race to the MVP Ladder or in the minds of most voters. Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni coached Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and two-time Kia MVP Steve Nash. Yet it was Harden who received D'Anton's greatest compliment after a win in Portland last month when called Harden the “best offensive player I’ve ever seen.” “He’s a hell of a player, first off,” D’Antoni told USA Today Sports when asked to explain his declaration. “It’s a combination of everything. There are other players who might be better at this, or a little bit better at that. But when you put everything together, and the way he passes, the way he sees teammates, the way he can lob, the way he can fight through a foul. I mean even on an off night, he’s probably getting 30, 40 points, and I mean efficiently. And he doesn’t even have anything going. But he’s so efficient, and he gets other guys involved.” If the strength of Harden’s MVP case this season was just his own individual offensive brilliance, he’d still have a rock-solid case. He did record the first 60-point triple-double in NBA history this season and won the scoring title a season after leading the league in assists. But, as D’Antoni noted, Harden's ability to raise the level of play from teammates like Clint Capela, Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza and others is what stands out. “I don't think there's a player that's had to create as much as I've had to in these last three years," Harden said in a GQ profile that came out this week. "I don't know if there's a guy in NBA history.” That comment can be interpreted in a number of ways, and it’s sure to spark yet another debate as the conversation continues deep into this postseason about who is most deserving of Kia MVP honors. But we’re done here. “It’s James Harden, no doubt about it,” a Western Conference executive told me when asked if there was any dispute about this season’s most valuable player. “Harden in a landslide.” * * * The top five in the Final Edition of the 2017-18 Kia Race to the MVP Ladder: 1. James Harden, Houston Rockets Last week: No. 1 2017-18 season stats: 30.4 points, 8.8 assists, 5.4 rebounds Harden declared early on that this was the Rockets’ season. He felt they finally had the pieces to challenge the Golden State Warriors for the top spot in the Western Conference standings, and, therefore, the entire league. He served notice on opening night, when he and the Rockets spoiled the Warriors' championship banner and rings celebration at Oracle Arena by claiming a win. Harden’s 27 points, 11 assists and six rebounds was the opening salvo in what turned into the best season in Rockets history. Harden’s ability to blend his point guard responsibilities with his role as the most lethal scorer in the league fueled one brilliant performance after another. As well, Harden also silenced the critics who suggested he and Paul would not be able to play well off of each other. The Rockets enter the postseason with the No. 1 overall seed and with all the confidence needed for a championship run. 2. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers Last week: No. 2 2017-18 season stats: 27.5 points, 9.1 assists, 8.6 rebounds LeBron put the final touches on his outstanding 15th NBA regular season by capturing Eastern Conference Player of the Month honors for March/April, the fourth time this season he took those honors (October/November, December and February). In addition to the parade of milestones LeBron reached this season, he also piled up a career-high 18 triple-doubles, led the Cavaliers through a tumultuous year that ended with 50 or more wins for the fourth straight season. He shot better than 54 percent from the floor (.542) and also had his best shooting from beyond the 3-point line (.367) since returning to Cleveland from Miami before the 2014-15 season. The true test of his super powers, though, will be on display in this postseason. The Cavaliers finished as the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference but go into the playoffs as the favorite, in the eyes of most, to survive the gauntlet due in large part to LeBron’s work the past seven seasons guiding his teams to The Finals. 3. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans Last week: No. 3 2017-18 season stats: 28.1 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.3 blocks Davis turned it on when the Pelicans needed it most, after DeMarcus Cousins went down with a season-ending Achilles injury. He powered the Pelicans with 50 double-doubles, one triple-double and, when the Pelicans needed grind their way into the postseason as 2017-18 waned, he picked his game up even more. He averaged 29 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.8 blocks, 2.4 assists and 2.2 blocks during the Pelicans’ season-ending five-game win streak that helped them secure the No. 6 seed. That sealed up Davis' second career playoff run and he’s still looking for his first playoff win. His ability to carry the load for the Pelicans the way he did, though, is easily the most impressive part of his season. There was no guarantee the Pelicans would make the playoffs in a rugged Western Conference even with Cousins healthy. To do it without him speaks volumes about the impact Davis had on his team. 4. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers Last week: No. 4 2017-18 season stats: 26.9 points, 6.6 assists, 4.5 rebounds Lillard has done what few thought possible after the Portland team he joined as a rookie was taken apart and rebuilt around him. The catalyst for a Blazers team that finished third in the West, Lillard forced his way onto that short list of names in the best-point-guard-in-the-game discussion. He lacks the championship and/or Kia MVP hardware guys like Curry, Kyrie Irving and Westbrook all have. But his body of work as the face of Portland's franchise makes it difficult to leave him out of the discussion. The Blazers wouldn't have come anywhere close to that No. 3 seed without Lillard going nuclear in February (31.4 points, six assists and nearly five rebounds in 10 games). This has been a transformative year on and off the court for Lillard, who is not only had a career-best season, but also celebrated the birth of his son late last month. 5. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors Last week: No. 5 2017-18 season stats: 26.4 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5.4 assists Durant followed up his 2017 Finals MVP honors with a steady season, by his lofty standard, but not one that pushed him closer to the top of this list. His understanding of the way the regular season connects to the postseason no doubt played a role in the way he paced himself. That’s not to say that Durant didn't have an outstanding regular season, because he did. But just like James and to an extent his All-Star teammate, Curry, Durant’s seasons are now measured against the high standard he’s set in past ones. He actually averaged more points and assists this season compared to his first with the Warriors. And he set a career-high with 1.8 blocks per game, showing off his improved awareness and effectiveness on defense. With Curry out for the first round of the playoffs due to injury, Durant will get a chance to remind the San Antonio Spurs and the rest of the league just how dangerous he can be with everything on the line. The next five 6. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder 7. DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors 8. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors 9. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks 10. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers And five more: LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs; Kyrie Irving, Boston Celtics; Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets; Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers; Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves 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 NewsApr 14th, 2018

24 NBA questions before 17-18 tips off

By David Aldridge, TNT analyst The season starts on Tuesday night (Wednesday, PHL time). You’ve been waiting patiently all summer with your questions. Fire away.     1. So … what’s the point of playing this season? The Golden State Warriors are still the prohibitive favorites to repeat this season, next season and into the foreseeable future. But it was good to see a good chunk of the Western Conference -- the Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder and Denver Nuggets, to name three teams -- not fold before the first card is dealt. That fact alone is incredibly important. The Warriors are still the best team in the West, without question. But if teams don’t even try to get better, or spend money to compete, the whole rationale for playing fades away. The Thunder could have rode Russell Westbrook alone to another first-round playoff loss, watched him walk out the door in free agency next summer and thrown up its hands, plead ‘woe is us and all small-market teams,’ and enjoyed a luxury tax-free life for the next few years. The Rockets could have just kept selling tickets to fans to watch James Harden and his pals shoot 50 threes a game for the next two or three years. It’s an appealing brand of basketball. Denver could have just kept building through the Draft, climbing a few more wins here or there for a while, and snuck into the eighth seed, choosing to be comfortable rather than bold. But they didn’t. They’ve called and raised. In all likelihood, it won’t be enough to beat Golden State. But those teams can sleep well at night. They’re not cheating their players, or fans. 2. So, is OKC now a legit threat to the Warriors? The short answer: no. But it’s closer. Carmelo Anthony will be as good a third option as anyone in the league has, though; he will eat regularly on the weak side as defenses scramble to handle Westbrook-Paul George pick and rolls; a quick seal and ‘Melo will be off to the races. If coach Billy Donovan goes small ball with Patrick Patterson at the five, there will be many nights when OKC drops a 130 spot. Yes, the Thunder’s defense is going to be an issue; while Enes Kanter was a sieve off the bench, he was coming off the bench, playing behind Steven Adams. Anthony will be starting and playing big minutes, many at the four. But it won’t matter most nights when the Thunder is up 20 to start the fourth quarter, after 36 minutes of Westbrook sorties, George 3-pointers and transition dunks, and Carmelo post-ups and spot-ups (he shot 44.8 percent last season on catch and shoot shots. Among forwards who played 30 or more minutes last season, per NBA.com/Stats, only Kevin Durant, Otto Porter and Kawhi Leonard shot better). The Thunder can guard you with George, Andre Roberson and Adams and they can outscore you with Westbrook and George and ‘Melo. They have a solid bench (Patterson, Ray Felton, Jerami Grant, Alex Abrines) and Westbrook won’t be physically spent by the end of the 2018 playoffs. Wait; what am I saying? Of course he’ll be spent. But he’ll also be playing way deeper into May. 3. Did not getting Anthony hurt Houston or nah? The Rockets -- okay, Chris Paul -- wanted this done bad. It won’t hurt Houston in the regular season, when Paul and James Harden will dominate. And while Harden didn’t like Kevin McHale’s critique of his leadership, Mac was spot on. That doesn’t make “The Beard” a bad guy or teammate -- people gravitate to their comfortable roles in life, and CP3 is a natural-born leader. Harden will, one thinks, be more comfortable with slightly less light on him. They’ll do fine playing together and off one another. But the shadow of the Rockets’ implosion from deep -- 29 of 88 on three-pointers the last two games against the Spurs in their Western Conference semifinals series -- still hangs over them. Ryan Anderson was negated in the postseason. There’s a reason CP3 pushed for ‘Melo so hard. The Rockets will need unexpected consistent offense from a P.J. Tucker or Luc Mbah a Moute in May if they have any hopes of playing in June. 4. Can we just start the Cleveland-Boston East finals now? Maybe Toronto, with C.J. Miles shooting 40 percent on 3-pointers to complement Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, will break up what seems inevitable. Maybe Washington, with its super-solid starting five intact, now has the mental toughness to bust past the second round, where it’s been beached three of the last four postseasons. But it doesn’t feel like that. Boston, ultimately, should be a lot better this season than last. It will take a while for coach Brad Stevens to figure out the rotation and whether Jaylen Brown can really stick at the two, but ultimately, the Celtics have two dynamic playmakers/scorers in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, and with Al Horford providing the glue at both ends, they’re going to be a load by the end of the season. And while Cleveland will have to wait a while for Isaiah Thomas, the Cavs have more than enough firepower until Thomas can make his debut. Whatever Dwyane Wade has left will be accentuated playing with James, and Kevin Love (holy moly, is he underrated) will feast drawing slower, bigger centers out to him on the perimeter. J.R. Smith doesn’t like losing his starting job to Wade, and he should be ticked. But he nonetheless will help Cleveland’s bench, which will be incredibly difficult in its own right with Tristan Thompson and Kyle Korver complementing Smith. And that’s before Thomas returns, which will put Derrick Rose on that second unit. There won’t be any rest for defenses who’ll then have to contend with a rested James, et al, coming back. It says here that not only will the Cavs not miss Irving offensively, they could be even more diverse and difficult to guard this season. Not to mention that James is supremely motivated to make an eighth straight Finals. 5. Could Curry break his record of 402 3-pointers in a season? At first glance, with Durant and Klay and Draymond (and, now, Nick Young) all needing to get fed as well, it would seem impossible for Curry to best the mark he set two years ago, on the 73-9 regular season team. But consider: coach Steve Kerr thinks a new guy always blossoms in his second year with the Warriors, which means Durant should be even more lethal offensively this year, as the Warriors’ offense reaches an even higher level of efficiency. And the way they move the ball, it’s not a stretch to think that with defenses tripping over themselves to get to Durant, Curry could get into one of those ridiculous grooves that could leave him within striking distance of 402 by the end of the season. 6. Could the last one in the Eastern Conference turn out the lights? The New York Knicks were hardly a power in the East before trading Anthony, but his departure creates one more team that will struggle to win 35 games this season. With the paucity of talent there should be at least four 50-win teams in the East -- Cleveland, Boston, Toronto and Washington -- with the Milwaukee Bucks knocking on the door. 7. Who’s going to regret their offseason? The Bucks were fine off the court -- their new arena is already more than halfway constructed and looks like it’s going to be a gem -- although the surrounding mall that is supposed to be part of the complex is not going up as quickly. But the Bucks didn’t address their bigs-heavy roster and move some of the surplus -- how can coach Jason Kidd keep all of Greg Monroe, Jabari Parker and John Henson happy with Thon Maker scarfing up more and more frontcourt minutes? -- for the shooting Milwaukee still needs. The East is so open, and Milwaukee is so close to breaking through into elite status with Giannis Antetokounmpo an elite performer. 8. Rudy Gay -- sneaky good pickup? Gay says he’s cool starting or coming off the bench for the Spurs, but he’d best as San Antonio’s sixth man, at least to start things. Bringing Pau Gasol off the bench didn’t work so well, so if he’s starting at center, coach Gregg Popovich can’t go small ball with “Cousin” LaMarcus Aldridge at the five and Gay at the four alongside Kawhi Leonard. (Current state of Spurs fans’ cuticles here and here as they consider a season with an extended Klaw absence if this quad injury doesn’t improve soon.) The Spurs could have some serious firepower in reserve if Gay and Patty Mills come off the bench, but Mills or Dejounte Murray will likely have to start at the point until Tony Parker comes back. 9. Speaking of Popovich … Should he and Steve Kerr and Stan Van Gundy stick to sports? No. 10. Who’s gonna be Kia Rookie of the Year? I say Markelle Fultz. What, you thought I was gonna pick against a DeMatha Catholic man? (Actual unretouched photo of me as a sophomore at the most successful high school in the history of the United States may or may not be here). Playing off of Joel Embiid, J.J. Redick, Robert Covington … it’s hard to see Fultz not looking really good when he should have all kinds of room to operate. Lonzo Ball will put up bigger numbers, and Tatum will be on a better team. But Boston was good last year, and Jayson Tatum will likely not play as much as the others. The Sixers are poised for a big jump up in the standings, and that’s always a narrative that voters like and get behind -- which is what will hurt Dennis Smith Jr.'s chances in Dallas. 11. What does Dwyane Wade really have left? Now that the inevitable buyout of Wade’s $24 million deal by the Bulls has led to the equally inevitable trek to Cleveland to play with James, can the 35-year-old Wade still be a significant contributor on a title contender? Given the general dysfunction in Chicago last season, you can dismiss most of the good and bad numbers Wade put up, with two exceptions: he still averaged almost five free throw attempts per game, and he shot 31 percent on 3-pointers -- not great, but more than double his anemic 15.9 percent behind the arc in 2015-16, his last with the Miami Heat. Wade obviously knows the cheat code for how to most effectively play off of James, so he’ll use the regular season to learn his teammates and be ready for the playoffs. But can Wade hold up over seven games defensively if he has to chase, say, Bradley Beal around, or try to deny DeRozan his preferred mid-range spots, and still be productive offensively? 12. Back to the Sixers -- how good will they be? My guess is they’ll pretty good in the 60 or so games I anticipate Embiid will play this season -- I’m assuming several designated off days for him during the season, not another injury. The mix of young talent (Fultz, Embiid, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, Covington) and crafty vets (Redick, Amir Johnson) should mesh to make the 76ers a very tough team to defend. But Philly has to resolve the Jahlil Okafor situation, and in fairness to him, give him a fresh start somewhere else with a trade as soon as possible. If I were a good team that would be hard-pressed to add a free agent any time soon and feels a player short of true contention -- I’m looking at you, Memphis Grizzlies and Wizards -- I’d work hard to get the new, slimmed-down Okafor on my squad while he’s still on his rookie contract and make him the focal point of a kick-ass second unit. 13. Should we feel some kind of way about the Trail Blazers? I’m picking up what you’re putting down. A full season of the “Bosnian Beast” in the middle, it says here, will vault Portland into the top four in the West. Note I said “full season.” That means Jusuf Nurkic has to give coach Terry Stotts between 65-70 starts for the above premonition to be, as they say in the legal world, actionable. If so, Nurkic’s underrated scoring and passing out of the post will only make Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum that much more deadly out front, along with improving Portland’s defense. Per Basketball-Reference.com, the Blazers were 11.6 points per game better than the opposition with those three on the floor together and a +5 when their regular five-man lineup with Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu joined the guards and Nurkic. And that’s pronounced, “Noor-kitch,” accent on Noor. 13. A little movie break ... Kevin Costner’s accent in “Robin Hood” -- worst ever, right? Yes, but Natalie Wood’s in “West Side Story” was painful, too. 14. Many have written the post-CP3 Clippers off. Should they? The Clippers are my darkhorse this season -- if they do the right thing and go small more often. They’re doing it more in practice so far than in games because Danilo Gallinari is working through a foot injury, but Blake Griffin at the five and Gallinari at the four could be spicy during the regular season. That would mean Sam Dekker and/or Wes Johnson would have to become credible and dependable at the three, allowing coach Doc Rivers to play a Pat Beverly-Milos Teodosic backcourt more often, which will just be fun. This would, of course, mean less DeAndre Jordan, and … that may not be the worst thing. Nothing against DJ, who is the best defensive big in the league, bar none. Unfortunately, the NBA isn’t about defense any more -- at least not in the traditional sense. Even someone like Jordan who doesn’t just block shots, but also helps snuff out opposing pick and rolls, becomes less valued by the league’s advanced stats crowd if he doesn’t contribute more offensively. The three has gone a long way to tyrannizing the defense-dominant big man out of the game. (Zach Lowe recommends the Wizards try to get Jordan via trade, and it’s not the first time I’ve heard that name mentioned in connection with Washington, the idea being the only chance the Wizards have of beating Cleveland or Boston is to slow them down enough defensively that Wall-Beal-Porter can try and keep up offensively. Washington is definitely a load when Wall gets locked in on D and creates turnovers, and the idea of Jordan inhaling lobs from Wall is enticing to think about. But the Wizards are not -- not -- going to take on a fourth big contract, and Jordan’s surely going to opt out after this season; he’s rightly expecting a massive payday in 2018, and the Clippers certainly now have motive and means to retain him.) Anyway, some Lou Williams, Austin Rivers and/or Teodosic and Willie Reed off the bench isn’t bad, either. 15. Could Kyle Kuzma be the best rookie on the Lakers this season? Don’t @me, LaVar. Kuzma has followed up a very strong Vegas Summer League with high notes in preseason, averaging better than 19 points per game for the Lakers. He’s been dazzling at times, displaying in-between skills that intrigue, and showing why so many teams were trying to trade back into the first round to get the Utah forward before L.A. snagged him with its second and much less heralded first-round pick last June. And there will be minutes available at the four this season. So far, Kuzma has displayed unusual strength for a rookie and confidence in his ability to score. Of course, he’s inexperienced, and like all rookies, has to differentiate between an open shot and a good shot. The other, more famous first-rounder, Lonzo Ball, will almost certainly be the better all-around player in time. For this year, though … hmmm. 16. What does a Hawks fan have to look forward to this season? Honestly, not much. But they’ll always be well-coached and get better. I’d pick one of the young players, like rookie John Collins or second-year small forward Taurean Prince, and concentrate on them during the season. See what they do with their minutes on the floor, and watch how they gradually expand their games at both ends. Seeing a young guy get better as he gains experience and accepts coaching is one of the great joys of watching the NBA every night. 17. Orlando? What gives there? The team’s new braintrust of Jeff Weltman and John Hammond will need some time to fix the roster -- a mélange of athletic wings that have trouble defending and guards that have trouble shooting. The former is addressed somewhat with the signing of Jonathon Simmons from San Antonio, but I don’t see a solution to the latter with any of the existing backcourt contributors. Unless coach Frank Vogel figures out some way to get more turnovers/runouts from his group, they just can’t get in transition enough for their length and legs to make a difference. 18. New Orleans? What gives there? The short answer is, I have no idea. All of NBA Earth has DeMarcus Cousins out of there one way or another (he’s an unrestricted free agent in ’18 and wants to be on a contender/the Pelicans will never pay him what he wants and will have to trade him by the deadline/no way he and Anthony Davis fit together/Wall agitates for a reunion with his former Kentucky big man in D.C./your departure theory here) by this time next year, but we’ll see what coach Alvin Gentry has come up with for “Boogie” and “the Brow” after a summer to think it over. Rajon Rondo being out hurts their depth, but I have to be honest -- I don’t see how he and Jrue Holiday can possibly work together in a backcourt, and Holiday’s the guy the Pelicans just gave $125 million to, so he should probably have the ball in his hands every night, shouldn’t he? I like Ian Clark and Frank Jackson down there, but that untethered three spot burns a hole in the New Orleans sun. Well, at any rate, should be more fun than watching reruns of My Life on the D-List. 19. Favorite D-List Muppet? Beaker. 20. LeBron is leaving Cleveland again after this season, isn’t he? Everything points to yes, and a relocation to Los Angeles to play with the Lakers or Clippers next year – except … what if the Cavs win it all again this year? That’s not an impossible scenario -- in fact, it’s a pretty simple one to lay out: Cavs run roughshod through the Eastern Conference in the playoffs again, get through a good but hardly great Boston team in the conference Finals and set up a fourth straight encounter with Golden State. It’s easy now to say the Warriors dominated the Cavs in last season’s Finals -- but only if you ignore the fact that Cleveland led by six with just more than three minutes remaining in Game 3, only to see the Warriors score the game’s last 11 points to take a 3-0 lead instead of 2-1. And given that Cleveland vaporized the Warriors in Game 4, a 2-2 series would have meant the Cavs just needed to win once in Oracle -- which they’d done twice in the 2016 Finals -- to have a real shot at repeating. The point is, the difference between the teams isn’t as big as Draymond Green would have you believe; the Cavs have no fear of the Warriors, and Jae Crowder gives coach Tyronn Lue a viable on-ball defender for Kevin Durant, leaving LeBron free to play off of Green. And: that unprotected Nets pick, whether one or three or five or seven, is Cleveland’s best recruiting tool. LeBron knows everyone in college basketball and he can literally pick whoever he’d like to finish his career with in Cleveland before handing over the reins. I’m not saying he’s definitely staying, either -- only that his departure isn’t the lead pipe cinch some would have you believe. The season to come will have a lot to do with his next decision. 21. So, how will the playoffs go this season? Eastern Conference (seeds No. 1-8): Cleveland, Boston, Washington, Toronto, Milwaukee, Miami, Detroit, Philadelphia Western Conference (seeds No. 1-8): Golden State, Houston, Oklahoma City, Portland, San Antonio, Memphis, Utah, Minnesota Eastern Conference semifinalists: Cleveland, Boston, Washington, Milwaukee Western Conference semifinalists: Golden State, Houston, OKC, San Antonio Eastern Conference finals: Cleveland over Boston Western Conference finals: Golden State over OKC (you heard me) NBA Finals: Golden State over Cleveland (in seven games) 22. Tell me something crazy that’s going to happen this season that no one’s predicting! Giannis Antetokounmpo. NBA MVP, 2017-18. 23. Are you high? No, ma’am. 24. So, why 24 questions? As always, we start the season with 24 questions (or predictions, or issues, whatever) in honor of Danny Biasone, the late owner of the Syracuse Nationals, whose discovery in 1954 helped save the league. At that time, the NBA was in the midst of a literal slowdown, in large part by teams that were desperate to figure out some kind of way to stay competitive with George Mikan, the league’s first superstar big man, and his team, the Minneapolis Lakers. Teams would hold the ball for minutes at a time without shooting in an effort to shorten the game and give them a chance to beat Minneapolis late. But the end result was boring -- very boring -- basketball. At the owners’ meetings that year, Biasone came up with an idea. NBA games were 48 minutes long. Biasone figured out that in a normal game, one not waylaid by the slowdown tactics, about 120 shots -- 60 per team -- were taken. So, why not just divide the number of minutes in every game -- 2,880 -- by the number of shots in an average game -- 120 -- to come up with some kind of a time limit in which a team had to shoot. And thus, the 24-second shot clock (2,800/120) was born. With the implementation of the shot clock in the 1954-55 season, scoring went way up, as did the quality of play. Teams were now running up and down the floor in order to try and beat the shot clock, complementing the “fast break” game that many colleges had played for years. But the new style in the pros was immensely popular with fans. And it still is. Plus, there’s just something iconic about that clock counting down every 24 seconds. It’s unique to the NBA. Thus, we ask 24 questions, in honor of the guy who owned a bowling alley as well as the Nationals for much of his adult life, and probably enjoyed the bowling more. Longtime NBA reporter, columnist and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsOct 17th, 2017

Red Warriors win confidence-boosting title in Taipei

The University of the East is nothing but confident that its rebuild is on the right path. The biggest boost thus far for the confidence of the new-look Red Warriors came when they triumphed in the recently concluded 2018 BK Squad Invitational in Taiwan. There, Alvin Pasaol and company downed a Taiwanese club team boasting of one player from the Chinese Taipei national team, two former veterans of the Asean Basketball League, and one former pro from the Australian State Basketball League to win the championship. The champions 🏆🏀🥇 ue red warriors! #ballaholic #23 #taiwan pic.twitter.com/30lIynMwaN — alvinpasaol (@wisha112) Agosto 10, 2018 For UE’s main man Pasaol, who famously scored 49 points in a game last season in the UAAP, the title in Taiwan grants them a mental edge heading into Season 81. “We believe in ourselves and we are unstoppable,” he said, full of confidence. While sharing the same confidence Pasaol has, head coach Joe Silva preferred to say that the championship is primary proof that the Red Warriors will not be pushovers in the looming collegiate wars. “Our championship in Taiwan just shows that we can compete with any team in the UAAP as long as we follow the system and do our jobs,” he said. Hopefully the first of many. #culture #discipline #family #sipag — joe silva (@joesilva18) Agosto 10, 2018 --- Follow this writer on Twitter, @riegogogo......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsAug 13th, 2018

BLOGTABLE: How many games will Rockets win in 2018-19?

NBA.com blogtable The Rockets led the league with 65 victories last season. How many games do you think they can win in 2018-19? * * * David Aldridge: Fewer, but that's not a big deal. The assumption here is they'll rest Chris Paul more and more going forward to give him the best chance at getting to the postseason, so that may cost them 4-6 meaningless regular season wins. And if you take away another handful because of the dual loss of Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute, let's pencil Houston in for 55-57 regular season wins. Don't think that will be a big deal as long as they don't finish fourth in the west and have to face Golden State in the second round. Tas Melas: The general sentiment among basketball fans is that the Rockets will be far worse (the over-under line in Vegas is 55.5 wins!). What actually happened with the roster to forecast such a drop-off? It’s basically Carmelo Anthony and James Ennis replacing the departed Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute (leaving out the additions of RJ Hunter, Michael Carter-Williams, Markel Brown and draft picks at this point). Everyone will point to the defensive issues with Melo starting over Ariza. Defense is an attitude. Yes, a coach needs the personnel, but as much as it is about the guys on the floor, it’s also about the locker room, and I still think there’s enough with Clint Capela, Chris Paul and PJ Tucker (Ariza was part of mediocre Rockets defenses the two years before last season, which were also before James Harden improved defensively). And Melo replacing Ariza is why Ennis was signed – to be the defensive yang to Melo’s offensive ying. Melo can play primarily in the 1st and 3rd with Ennis playing the most important defensive minutes in the 4th. Exposing Melo might happen more in the playoffs, but for the regular season, I see this as a 62-win team. They do still realize that they need the 1-seed to beat Golden State. Shaun Powell: I'd go with the under here and say 60 wins for the Rockets, not because they're in for a steep decline. I'm just not sure they're willing to press for wins in April, given the unpredictability of Chris Paul's vulnerable body, which potentially cost them the Western Conference title (and maybe an NBA title) last season. The Rockets needed to get best record and home-court advantage in the West last season for their mental health. That's not necessarily the case now. John Schuhmann: Even if the Rockets kept the same team together and were relatively healthy, another 65-win season would have been difficult in a deeper Western Conference. And the departure of Trevor Ariza and the loss of depth at the forward positions should hurt them, especially on defense, where they ranked sixth last season. They still have a terrific core of five guys -- Harden, Paul, Capela, Eric Gordon and Tucker -- and should be plenty motivated to get back to where they were a few months ago, so I'll guess that they finish with 59-61 wins, which would still be good for the second best season in franchise history. Sekou Smith: I think the Rockets are capable of another 60-win season. But it'll take a monstrous effort to duplicate the season they had a year ago. And I'm not sure it's worth the energy. The Rockets need only maintain an advantage over the Golden State Warriors to ensure that a potential Game 7 in the Western Conference finals is played at the Toyota Center (only this time with a healthy Chris Paul). If the Warriors decide to attack the 2018-19 regular season the same way they did the 2017-18 regular season, the Rockets would be wise to push only hard enough to maintain a reasonable cushion ahead of the two-time defending champs. There's nothing else to prove. We know the Rockets are capable of winning it all. We witnessed it last season, right up until the moment that Paul suffered his injury......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsAug 11th, 2018

LA-bound LeBron leaves lasting gift, Akron always home

By Tom Withers, Associated Press AKRON, Ohio (AP) — LeBron James stood on a stage near one of the streets he walked as a troubled kid and looked out at thousands of faces. He felt connected to every one of them. While his three-year-old daughter, Zhuri, played at his feet, James watched as his mother, Gloria, raised a flag in front of a school that is perhaps his greatest triumph. His incredible life. Full circle. Before leaving for Los Angeles, James gave his hometown quite a gift. James, who ended his second stint with Cleveland earlier this month by signing with the Los Angeles Lakers, on Monday opened his I Promise School, a year-around learning center devoted to some of the city’s most challenged youngsters — ones just like him. For James, who recalled missing 82 days of school as a fourth grader while he and his mom “looked for stability,” the opening culminated years of planning by his family foundation. “This means everything,” James told The Associated Press in an interview before the public event. “I think this is the greatest accomplishment for me because it’s not just me. A championship is for a team, that’s for an organization and a city. But these kids, this is for generation after generation after generation and it’s for these kids, so it means everything.” It was an emotional day for James, who also made his first comments since signing the $154 million deal with the Lakers — a move still causing tremors across in the NBA. James recalled beating the odds of his youth when life was a daily struggle for him and his mom. Nothing was easy as the pair constantly moved and it was only with the help of others than James found structure. Now, he’s giving kids with the same problems a path. “There is no way I could have imagined this,” he said. “I remember our foundation having a bike-a-thon, and I never thought a five-mile bike ride would turn into a school. This is something I’m at a loss of words for.” As far as basketball, the 33-year-old superstar said the decision to leave Cleveland again was difficult, but he didn’t rule out a second homecoming with the Cavaliers. “Listen, I don’t close the chapter on anything or close the book on anything,” James said when asked if he would return to Cleveland to end his career. “But hopefully I can sit there one day and watch my jersey go up into the rafters, that’s for sure.” When James announced on July 1 that he was leaving the Cavs, Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert, who famously ripped him when he left the first time, said the franchise would retire “the famous #23 Cavs jersey one day down the line.” James was unaware of Gilbert’s pledge. “I didn’t hear that,” he said. “I haven’t been in the news. That’s awesome.” James led the Cavs to an NBA title in 2016, ending Cleveland’s 52-year championship drought, and to four straight Finals — a run he admitted he didn’t think was even possible when he returned in 2011 after four seasons in Miami. James didn’t offer many details about what prompted him to sign with the Lakers, but the lure of playing for one of the most successful franchises in all of sports was more than intriguing. “There’s no reason you should become a Laker, became a Yankee, become part of Man U [Manchester United], become part of some franchise or clubs and you don’t think about winning championships or winning at the highest level,” James said. “That’s what the history is all about.” James has his work cut out for him in Los Angeles. He’ll join a young team that added some interesting pieces — Lance Stephenson, Rajon Rondo, Michael Beasley and JaVale McGee — during the offseason but a squad that has a long way to go before it can challenge the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors. “What my expectations are for the team, we don’t have any right now,” James said. “But we’re definitely going to be better than we were the previous year. I think there’s going to be months where we’re really good, there’s going to be months where we’re not so good and that’s just going to come from familiarity.” Unlike his previous forays into free agency, James didn’t waste any time making a decision. Once his eighth straight appearance in the Finals ended with a sweep against Golden State, James met with his family and agent before agreeing with the Lakers on the first day. “I did my due diligence after the season on the pros and cons of a lot of different teams, including the Cavs, including Philadelphia, including Houston and Los Angeles,” James said. “It wasn’t as quick as it may seem. It just wasn’t as July 9 as it was before. After talking to my family more than anybody, I felt this was the next step in my journey.” This trip will take him thousands of miles from home. But as James reminded students, family and friends in the closing moments of his remarks, he’ll never be far away. “No matter if I’m playing in Los Angles or not, Akron Ohio is always home for me,” he told the crowd......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJul 31st, 2018

BLOGTABLE: Where do Spurs rank in the West with DeRozan?

NBA.com blogtable Where do you see the Spurs right now -- as currently constructed -- in the Western Conference hierarchy? Steve Aschburner: I think they’re about where they were last season, maybe a bit better because they’ll be swapping in a full season of DeMar DeRozan for just nine games of Kawhi Leonard. So something in the 45-50 victory range seems reasonable. Now, given the arms race out West, that might not be enough to get the Spurs into the postseason (it took 47 this spring to qualify). At least in adding DeMar DeRozan to LaMarcus Aldridge, their status as Monsters of the Mid-Range is secure. Tas Melas: The Spurs are the third best team in the West behind Golden State and Houston. There was a gap between those two teams and the rest and the Spurs just filled it. Two All-Stars plus Gregg Popovich looks like a 50-plus win squad to me. There is a lot of faith in the green Dejounte Murray and in the greying rest of the roster, but the old school mid-range shootin’, high post passin’, draining all that shot clockin’ will be fun to watch. Shaun Powell: The Spurs are in the middle class, which is where teams usually don't want to be. They're not title contenders and at best are title spoilers for someone else. But I'm not sure things would be different had they kept Leonard. John Schuhmann: If you look at it one way, they've replaced Danny Green with DeMar DeRozan on a team that won 47 games last season. They've finished in the top five defensively in each of the last six seasons (and in 17 of the last 21), but have lost something on that end of the floor with the departures of Green and Kyle Anderson. Offensively, they should take a step forward with DeRozan, but spacing will be an issue and the DeRozan-LaMarcus Aldridge dynamic could be more of a my-turn-your-turn situation than a cohesive duo. With the amount of isolations that they'll run and mid-range shots that they'll attempt, it's hard to see them ranking in the top 10 on that end of the floor. And of course, the Western Conference is so strong from 1-10 that there's a chance of the Spurs' 21-year playoff run coming to an end. Sekou Smith: The Spurs are in much the same space they were last season when Kawhi Leonard played in just nine games and knew they weren't a serious challenger to the Rockets or the Warriors in the Western Conference. I really like some of the young pieces, especially Dejounte Murray and Lonnie Walker, and what they could become down the road. But the Spurs front office understands where they fit in the bigger picture right now and are taking a very pragmatic approach......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJul 19th, 2018

Anderson tops Isner 26-24 at Wimbledon; other SF suspended

By Howard Fendrich, Associated Press LONDON (AP) — To say that Kevin Anderson won this interminable Wimbledon semifinal, and that John Isner lost it, didn't really seem fair. To Anderson, anyway. They had played on and on, through 6 1/2 hours of ho-hum hold after ho-hum hold, during the second-longest match in the history of a tournament that began in 1877, all the way until the never-ending serving marathon did, finally, end at 26-24 in the fifth set Friday, with Anderson claiming the most important of the 569 points — the last. So when Anderson left Centre Court, well aware that his 7-6 (6), 6-7 (5), 6-7 (9), 6-4, 26-24 victory earned him the chance to win his first Grand Slam title at age 32, the South African said: "At the end, you feel like this is a draw between the two of us." He continued: "John's such a great guy, and I really feel for him, because if I'd been on the opposite side, I don't know how you can take that, playing for so long and coming up short." Only one match at Wimbledon ever lasted longer: Isner's 2010 first-round victory over Nicolas Mahut, the longest match in tennis history. It went more than 11 hours over three days and finished 70-68 in the fifth on Court 18, which now bears a plaque commemorating it. Friday's contest lasted so long, the day's second semifinal didn't finish. Novak Djokovic was leading Rafael Nadal 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (9) in a compelling showdown filled with entertaining points that was suspended as soon as the third set concluded at just past 11 p.m., the curfew at the All England Club. Some people in the stands booed the decision to halt the match after a fantastic tiebreaker in which Nadal wasted three set points at 6-5, 7-6 and 8-7. Djokovic cashed in on his second when Nadal's backhand found the net after an 18-stroke exchange. Because Nadal and Djokovic didn't begin playing until after 8 p.m., the retractable roof above the main stadium was shut between the matches and the arena's artificial lights were turned on. Now they'll come back Saturday to figure out who will face Anderson in the final, resuming at 1 p.m. local time, under the roof. The women's final between Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber will then follow. That creates an unusual situation: Instead of a standard 2 p.m. start, Williams and Kerber won't know exactly when their match will begin. Anderson will certainly appreciate the chance to put his feet up ahead of Sunday's final, while Nadal and Djokovic — who have a combined 29 Grand Slam titles between them, five at Wimbledon — push each other some more. Anderson's fifth set alone lasted nearly 3 hours as his semifinal became a test of endurance more than skill. "He stayed the course incredibly well," said the No. 9 seed Isner, a 33-year-old American playing in his first major semifinal. "Just disappointed to lose. I was pretty close to making a Grand Slam final and it didn't happen." Anderson finally earned the must-have, go-ahead service break with the help of a point in which the right-hander tumbled to his backside, scrambled back to his feet and hit a shot lefty. "That definitely brings a smile to my face," said Anderson, the runner-up to Nadal at last year's U.S. Open. "At that stage, you're just trying to fight in every single moment, and I was like, 'Just get up!'" The No. 8 seed Anderson eliminated eight-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer in a 13-11 fifth set in the quarterfinals Wednesday. Between that and the energy-sapper against Isner, it's hard to imagine how Anderson will have much left for his second Slam final. Wimbledon doesn't use tiebreakers in the fifth set for men, or third set for women, so there's nothing to prevent a match from continuing ad infinitum. Both Isner and Anderson said they'd like to see that change. At one point in the fifth set, a spectator shouted, "Come on, guys! We want to see Rafa!" The 6-foot-8 Anderson and 6-10 Isner go way back, to their college days, Isner at Georgia, Anderson at Illinois. In the pros, Isner had won eight of 11 previous matchups. But this one was as close as can be. There wasn't a whole lot of intrigue, or momentum shifts. The serving, though, was something else. Isner pounded his at up to 142 mph; Anderson reached 136 mph. They combined for 102 aces: 53 by Isner, 49 by Anderson. "The effort they both put in and the performance and the guts, the way they competed — a lot to be proud of," said Justin Gimelstob, one of Isner's coaches. Both failed to seize early opportunities. Isner wasted a set point in the opener. Anderson served for the third at 5-3, got broken, and then had a pair of set points in that tiebreaker, double-faulting one away. By the latter stages, with break chances so rare, murmurs would spread through the Centre Court stands whenever a game's returner got to love-15 or love-30. Could we be about to see the sixth and last break of a match that would end up with 90 holds? Repeatedly, the answer was, of course, "No," even when Anderson held break points at 7-all, 10-all and 17-all. The 10-all game ended with Isner hitting a forehand passing winner on the run to hold, then letting his momentum carry him directly to his sideline chair, where he plopped himself down. By the end, he was looking exhausted, leaning over to rest a hand on a knee between points. "I feel pretty terrible," Isner said afterward. "My left heel is killing me and I have an awful blister on my right foot." He never got a break point in the fifth set. Anderson finally came through on his sixth for a 25-24 lead, when Isner wearily put a backhand into the net. Then Anderson served out the victory, with Isner sailing a forehand wide on match point. Soon, they were meeting for an embrace......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJul 14th, 2018

GM Pelinka: Lakers landing LeBron is ultimate validation

By Greg Beacham, Associated Press EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) — Rob Pelinka says the Los Angeles Lakers aren’t trying to beat the Golden State Warriors at their own game. Instead, they’re building a team around LeBron James to do something different. Pelinka spoke publicly Wednesday (Thursday, PHL time) for the first time since the Lakers’ remarkable offseason overhaul began, and the irrepressibly optimistic former agent radiated excitement about the future for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in five seasons. “To get the commitment from LeBron James to come to the Lakers for four years was really the culmination of everything we’ve been working towards,” Pelinka said. “When LeBron chose to come here, it was the ultimate validation for the moves we’ve made and what we’ve been building since we started.” The longest postseason drought in franchise history could be finished after James chose the Lakers in free agency. The club also added veterans Rajon Rondo, JaVale McGee and Lance Stephenson alongside their young core while parting ways with Julius Randle and Brook Lopez, among others. Pelinka and top executive Magic Johnson hope the result is a sturdy, defense-minded team with enough up-tempo offense to trouble the Warriors, the Houston Rockets and every other contender for the title. “I think to try to play the Warriors at their own game is a trap,” Pelinka said. “No one is going to beat them at their own game, so that is why we wanted to add these elements of defense and toughness and depth and try to look at areas where we will have an advantage.” Pelinka said the Lakers focused their free agency recruitment efforts on versatile, playoff-tested talents who can score and defend, instead of looking for elite players with only one specialty. He hopes the result will be a flexible, dangerous team under coach Luke Walton — and a different look around James, whose Cleveland Cavaliers teams often looked like a collection of perimeter shooters whose deficiencies were exposed by Golden State and others. Pelinka praised Rondo as a gritty guard whose championship pedigree will fill a void on the roster. He also described Stephenson as providing “an extreme toughness and an edge,” comparing his skills to Dennis Rodman’s contributions to Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, or Metta World Peace’s work with Kobe Bryant’s late-career Lakers. “The road to the NBA championship has to go through the team that won last year, and we all know the guys up north have a special group,” Pelinka said. “But one of the ways to attack what they have is with defensive toughness. I think we saw that in the Houston series with some of the players that Houston has.” Pelinka’s desire for flexibility extended to the payroll as well. After years of trading away draft picks and acquiring high-priced veterans in an effort to win now with Bryant, the Lakers were overextended until Pelinka and Johnson spent the past 16 months creating enough salary cap space to sign two elite free agents. They only got one, although the Lakers still appear to be in contention for disgruntled San Antonio star Kawhi Leonard, who has a year left on his contract with the Spurs. No matter what happens, Pelinka said the Lakers’ series of one-year contracts around James will put them in position to have ample cap space again next summer, when several stars could be available to join James. Pelinka said the Lakers will have “an open training camp” in September, with only James guaranteed to be a starter. That means Rondo and second-year pro Lonzo Ball will compete to be Los Angeles’ starting point guard, a possibility that was welcomed by Rondo after he signed. Pelinka also said Ball will be fully healthy for training camp. The point guard has a torn meniscus in his left knee. Pelinka’s idiosyncrasies shone through again Wednesday (Thursday, PHL time), with the GM beginning his news conference by reading a passage from Brazilian author Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist,” a book recommended to him by former client Bryant and carried by James throughout the playoffs. The passage describes the process of making a decision being “only the beginning of things.” “Hopefully it will lead to things ... happening that are bigger than our dreams could ever imagine,” Pelinka said......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJul 12th, 2018

Lillard dismisses talk of unhappiness with Blazers

NBA.com staff report Only five months ago, Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard was telling reporters he wanted to someday be known as 'the best Trail Blazer ever.' That statement came just about two years after he talked of being a part of an the Blazers' organization for his entire career. Yet, this summer, a report surfaced that the Los Angeles Lakers might try to trade for Lillard. Lillard himself, though, isn't having such talk and made sure to discourage any notion he is unhappy in Portland. While he was indeed disappointed to see Ed Davis leave via free agency (he signed with the Brooklyn Nets this summer), Lillard is overall pleased with the Blazers and the direction of the team. Joe Freeman of The Oregonian has more: "I'm not unhappy," Lillard said Sunday. "I love where I live. I love the organization. I love our coaching staff. I love where I am." Lillard spoke to reporters after watching the Blazers' NBA Summer League game in Las Vegas, where he has been working out in preparation for a USA Basketball minicamp, and addressed a wide range of topics, including Davis' free agent exodus, the Blazers' offseason moves and the loaded Western Conference. He admitted to being upset the Blazers let Davis go. Not only did Davis want to stay in Portland, but Lillard had lobbied for it to happen, saying he hoped the respected and hard-working veteran big man would become Portland's version of Miami's Udonis Haslem. But shortly after free agency opened, Davis agreed to a 1-year, $4.4 million deal with the Brooklyn Nets, prompting Lillard to tweet a broken heart emoji. ... "I loved Ed," Lillard said. "One of my best friend's in the league (and) favorite teammates I've played with. To lose him, that's a loss for our team. Bazz played big minutes for us. Pat played big minutes for us. So we lose three rotation players that gave us a lot, that contributed to our season last year." ... At this point, Lillard said, he's accepted the obvious: The Blazers' finances and Portland's reputation among NBA players were to blame for the relative quiet offseason and his path to the playoffs will only be more challenging next season. "It's going to be a battle," Lillard said. "The way I see it, you're going to have the Golden State's, the Rockets. We were the third best team in the West and every other team behind us, they brought their guys back. So they're going to be one more year experienced together, probably going to be a little bit better. Teams like Denver, Utah and Minnesota, all those teams are going to be improved. So, us, we can't look at free agency and who we didn't get and (say) we didn't make this trade and all that stuff. Once the season starts, we've got to go. And we've got to do what we've got to do ... we've just got to find a way to make it happen." In 2017-18, Portland made it to the playoffs for the fifth straight year after finishing the season 49-33 and winning the Northwest Division title for the seventh time in franchise history. The Blazers were boosted by a 13-game winning streak that started with a victory over the Golden State Warriors just before the All-Star break, and secured the third seed in the Western Conference. The team’s streak matched the franchise record. Lillard drove the team’s success during that span. In March he averaged 27.9 points, 4.6 rebounds and 6.5 assists. He also set a franchise record by making 64 straight free throws. He was named the West’s player of the week twice. And, at season's end, he was named All-NBA first team for the first time in his career. Aside from sharing his thoughts on the Blazers' offseason and his happiness with being in Portland, Lillard also recently commented about the WNBA -- specifically how much the league's players are paid. In an interview at Saturday's (Sunday, PHL time) Connecticut Sun vs. Las Vegas Aces game, Lillard spoke with HerHoopStats on Twitter about WNBA wages: .@dame_lillard on the @WNBA: “They deserve a lot more respect. They deserve to make a lot more money than they do. I think it’s time people start recognizing that they are professional athletes and they should be treated like it and their league should be elevated...” pic.twitter.com/QHgst1dSjI — Her Hoop Stats (@herhoopstats) July 8, 2018 In addition, Toronto Raptors star guard DeMar DeRozan spoke out about WNBA wages, too, in an interview with HerHoopStats: .@DeMar_DeRozan: “Women’s game in general is awesome. I think they deserve way more recognition than what they’re getting and tonight’s game is a great example of that. The excitement, how hard they play...” @WNBA #wnba #WatchMeWork pic.twitter.com/rtkxCtkKGO — Her Hoop Stats (@herhoopstats) July 8, 2018 Information from The Associated Press was used in this report......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJul 9th, 2018

LeBron s free agency decision could swing NBA s balance of power

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com CLEVELAND -- These combo coronation-funerals can be tricky. Imagine the crowning of a new monarch where the royal subjects couldn’t stop chattering about the freshly deposed or deceased predecessor. Where the traditional cry of continuity and succession, “The king is dead! Long live the king!” got flipped, with what was overshadowing what is. That’s pretty much how it went Friday night (Saturday, PHL time) at Quicken Loans Arena, with the Golden State Warriors’ latest NBA championship having to share the stage with speculation, instantly revved up, about LeBron James and the choice he’ll soon make about his next employer. The Warriors are the kings, claiming pro basketball’s throne yet again by completing a sweep of James’ Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2018 Finals. But of course, James is the King, and as so many of us learned in sophomore English – thanks, CliffsNotes! – “Uneasy lies the head (of those who fret and obsess about the future whereabouts of the NBA superstar) that wears a crown.” Long live the kings! The King is ... gone? There was so much energy before, during and after Game 4 Friday (Saturday, PHL time) poured into the last game/next game conjecture about James, the Cavaliers and seismic shifts in the league’s 2018-19 landscape that even the player’s surprise reveal near the end of the night – a bruised and bandaged right hand – couldn’t derail it. Turns out, as James ‘fessed up, the sore shooting paw was an injury he had been playing with ever since Game 1 in Oakland eight days earlier. He had “self-inflicted” it in a fit of pique when he smacked a whiteboard in the visitors’ dressing room at Oracle Arena after Cleveland’s overtime loss in the series-setter, an outcome driven at least in part by some teammates’ mistakes and an arcane wrinkle in the NBA’s replay rules regarding block/charge fouls. Despite the hordes of media people chronicling every waking detail of the Finals, James had kept the injury on the down-low (along with the possibility that J.R. Smith’s nickname amongst his Cavs teammates might be “whiteboard”). The cameras zoomed in and clicked in a paparazzi frenzy of motor drives every time James raised the hand, wrapped in black tape, above the table during his postgame podium remarks. Whether a legit Page-2-the-rest-of-the-story factor in the championship series or a too-late alibi, the contused hand wound up as a sidebar to where James plans to be using it when training camps open in a few months. As of Friday (Saturday, PHL time), it had been 95 months since “The Decision,” the 2010 announcement that James made in a tone-deaf vanity TV production that he was taking his talents from Cleveland to South Beach. Nearly 47 months had passed since he broke the news of his return in a Sports Illustrated ghost-written essay, envisioning much of what actually has unfolded in the four years since. Now savvy insiders and casual observers alike presume James will be on the move again, pushed to leave the franchise he has defined in an urgent search for more and better talent with which he can compete. As in, y’know, some horses, some horses, his kingdom for some horses. James’ free-agency process next month (he can opt out of a $35.6 million deal in the final season of his current contract) is expected to dictate the market of player movement this summer like an oversized domino. It easily could swing the balance of power, if not quite at Golden State’s lofty level then immediately below it. The monster he helped create Dr. Frankenstein eventually was done in by his macabre creation, and it can similarly be argued that James has no one but himself to blame for the predicament in which he again finds himself. He set in motion the machinery of the super team, after all, when he chose to join forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami eight years ago. Oh sure, the Boston Celtics in 2007-08 got there first by luring Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to join Paul Pierce, but that was about knitting together three stars, all age 30 or older, for what would be their last best chance to win in an extremely limited run. That group won one title, went to two Finals in three seasons and was done, Allen leaving to join James & Co. with the Heat while Garnett and Pierce morphed into trade chips for Boston POBO Danny Ainge. When James, Wade and Bosh teamed up, they were in their basketball primes and their initial giddy boasts of “not four, not five, not six” championships turned off fans league-wide as much for its portent as its pretension. That crew went 4-for-4 in Finals, winning two rings before James, nudged by staleness and chafing as well as his grand plan for northeast Ohio, went home. From there, a line can be drawn through the ill-conceived 2012-13 L.A. Lakers of Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol all the way to this season’s Houston Rockets of James Harden and Chris Paul and the talent-gorged Golden State roster. James was the centerpiece as Cleveland replicated the Big Three concept around him with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, two younger, playoff-stymied All-Stars. The new-look Cavaliers went to the Finals in their first season together and clambered atop the basketball world to win the franchise’s first NBA title by the end of the second, becoming the first team in league history to do so after digging a 1-3 hole in the best-of-seven series. In that moment, regardless of the two Finals trips that followed, James’ bill was stamped: Paid In Full. Misguided fans might burn his jersey if he leaves again, but James burned the mortgage after that Game 7 in Oakland in 2016 as far as any remaining obligation to fulfill. “I came back because I felt like I had some unfinished business,” he said after elimination Friday (Saturday, PHL time). “To be able to be a part of a championship team two years ago with the team that we had and in the fashion that we had is something I will always remember. Honestly, I think we'll all remember that. It ended a drought for Cleveland of 50-plus years, so I think we'll all remember that in sports history.” James added: “When you have a goal and you're able to accomplish that goal, it actually – for me personally – made me even more hungry to continue to try to win championships. And I still want to be in championship mode. I think I've shown this year why I will still continue to be in championship mode.” In other words, James intends to sustain his high level of performance. He expects to win. And he presumably will do whatever – and go wherever – is necessary to achieve that. There’s no perfect fit So what does that mean for the NBA’s best player (never mind what the annual MVP balloting says in any given season)? It means this: compromise. There is no ideal situation, certainly no easy answer to the guesswork surrounding James’ looming free agency. He could transform any of the 30 teams, but not without some trade-offs for him, for them or for both. Most of them won’t be in play. Teams in markets such as Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Portland, Sacramento, the Twin Cities and so on can’t scratch James’ itches for either championship-worthy depth chart or spotlight. New York and Chicago, among the biggies, are out of synch with his timeline. Toronto? No way James is resettling his brand north of the border, and given his stated desire for teammates who have not just sufficient basketball skills but also mental toughness, well, the Raptors teams he and the Cavs have dominated do not qualify. The Boston club that stretched Cleveland to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals is built for the long haul and would have to surrender much of that to adjust to James’ career calendar. There’s a little Kyrie problem lurking there and, truth be told, the Celtics look to be on their way and are doing just fine without the 33-year-old heading, one of these years, toward decline. At some point in each of the 2018 Finals’ final three days, James spoke admiringly of the Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs title teams that blocked his path whether in Miami or Cleveland. He was at it again even as the Warriors were dousing the opponent’s locker room at The Q with Moet champagne. “I made the move in 2010 to be able to play with talented players, cerebral players that you could see things that happen before they happened on the floor,” James said. “When you feel like you're really good at your craft, I think it's always great to be able to be around other great minds as well and other great ballplayers. “That's never changed. Even when I came here in '14, I wanted to try to surround myself and surround this franchise with great minds and guys that actually think outside the box of the game and not just go out and play it.” Where might James find that now or recruit that swiftly? Hard to say. There are asterisks and “buts” everywhere: * If he were to sign with the Houston Rockets, James would be hitching his star to Chris Paul, a buddy with an injury history that’s about the mirror opposite of his own. He would be teaming up with an elite coach in Mike D’Antoni, something he’s never had (though Miami’s Erik Spoelstra was just young and unproven, on his way to big things). But it also would require another big ask of James Harden, who had to adapt last summer to Paul’s arrival and need for the ball. * If James chooses the Lakers, he has the chance to hit reset with the league’s glitziest franchise, in a market that can meet his every off-court wish and where he and his family already own one or more ultra-comfortable homes. The Lakers have young talent to help James transition into a lower-usage veteran’s role, favored status as a destination team for other top free agents and the salary-cap space to get it done this summer with the likes of Paul George or his pal Paul. But that roster might not be capable of insta-contending, which could burn a season or two when James’ clock most definitely is clicking. * If it’s San Antonio, James could link up with the elite coach in Gregg Popovich, where the winning culture is in the DNA rather than some acquired taste. The Spurs have talent, particularly if Kawhi Leonard finds happiness again there. But they might not have enough to rattle the Warriors’ cage. And for all their professed admiration, James and Popovich might both fare better by keeping their relationship long-distance vs. the 82-game grind. * If it’s Golden State? Perish the thought. The NBA might have to board up itself if competitive balance were capsized to that extent. And as Draymond Green shrewdly noted on Thursday (Friday, PHL time), if James climbed aboard, it likely would require him and several other Golden State teammates to be dispatched to parts unknown. * If James prefers to stay East, where the winning comes easier, he could pick Philadelphia. The Sixers have two foundational young stars at positions that matter most, center Joel Embiid and point guard Ben Simmons. But Simmons is a non-shooter at the moment, the antithesis of what makes a great complementary LeBron teammate. As for Embiid, James never has had to play off of and service a top center. And Philly might feel like a basketball-only move, with the hungriest and most demanding of any new fan base he would embrace. * If it’s Miami – wait, could it be Miami? Could he go second-home again? The Heat always strive to be competitive and offer a talent base deep enough for the East and lots of familiarity. But they also have players such as Hassan Whiteside and Dion Waiters whose mental approaches don’t seem to fit the model James was cooing about in Golden State and with the Tim Duncan-era Spurs. * That brings us to Cleveland, where it’s possible James might choose to remain. Staying with the Cavaliers, after leading them to four Finals and that heady 2016 title, would be the easiest choice as far as pressure to win. He owes these fans nothing anymore – in fact, had the bargain been offered to them in 2010 (“LeBron will leave and win elsewhere for four years, but will come back and deliver a championship and four Finals trips”), most would have grabbed it. Here, James and the fans who have watched him even through the interruption develop from ridiculously touted high schooler to one of the world’s most famous athletes could grow older together. Then he could partner up and buy the team from owner Dan Gilbert for a long-term future. Certainly, staying has a certain place in his and the rest of the James clan’s hearts. “The one thing that I've always done is considered, obviously, my family,” he said at series end Friday (Saturday, PHL time). “Understanding especially where my boys are at this point in their age. They were a lot younger the last time I made a decision like this four years ago. I've got a teenage boy, a pre-teen and a little girl that wasn't around as well. So sitting down and considering everything, my family is a huge part of whatever I'll decide to do in my career, and it will continue to be that.” It’s worth noting that as James contemplates his options as a modern pursuer of championship excellence, the prospect of him moving again qualifies at some level as a failure. Not just by the support system in Cleveland, where he and Gilbert have their friction and James gets snidely mentioned as the team’s unofficial GM and head coach, but by him too. He’s the one who went off to seek his “college education” in south Florida in what it takes to win, whether on the court, in the front office or in and around the seams 365 days a year, straight out of the Pat Riley handbook. The teams about which James talks so glowingly in Oakland now and in San Antonio then have cultures he covets, stability up and down the flowchart he craves. In Cleveland, for a variety of reasons, his team has been incapable of establishing and maintaining that to a lasting degree. He is part of that missed opportunity and he has to own it, no matter if he goes or stays. James is inseparable from the dynamic of the Cavaliers’ ever-changing and often melodramatic roster maneuvers. Spending big, swapping out draft picks to import current stars and supporting players, and overvaluing secondary guys like Smith and Tristan Thompson are risks the Warriors and the Spurs largely avoided thanks to shrew drafting and laudable continuity. The Cavs’ scrap heap, by contrast, is high with traded picks, scuttled plans, panic deals, short-term patches and folks such as former coach David Blatt and former GM David Griffin. And maybe James could have nurtured a little better relationship with All-Star point guard and 2016 title sidekick Kyrie Irving, enough to have kept Irving from bailing on them all with his trade demand last summer. Now he’s on the verge of casting about again, prioritizing what matters most for however long he continues to play. James is more at peace with it than he was before, particularly in 2010, and surely can enjoy the leverage he wields and the riches it delivers. But there is a burden there as well, one that could be seen as completing a circle. So many of the NBA’s greatest stars have been stuck playing and living in the Age of LeBron, right? Their paths to the Finals blocked, on one whole side of the league, by him and his? Well, LeBron James is stuck now in the Era of the Warriors, freshly swept and anxious to close the gap. What goes around comes around, though the key more pressing of the big W’s now is, where? 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 11th, 2018

The 10 most intriguing free agents of summer 2018

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com The summer of 2018 promises to change the landscape of the NBA. It starts with the best player in the world having the ability to choose his next team, but it continues with good teams in Minnesota, Portland and Washington that might feel the need to shake things up, as well as a situation to monitor in San Antonio. The trade market can be unpredictable. It wasn't until late July last year that we learned that Kyrie Irving wanted out of Cleveland, and it wasn't until late August when he was dealt to the Boston Celtics, who finished the summer with only four players remaining from the team that reached the conference finals. The free agent market is a little more predictable, in that there are only so many teams with the available cap space to sign a premium free agent outright. Most of the big contracts signed in 2016 (when almost every team had cap space) are still on the books and a lot of teams just don't have much flexibility. LOOK: NBA.com Free Agent Tracker But the trade market and the free agent market are tied together. In 2014, the Cavs created the space to sign LeBron James by trading Jarrett Jack and Tyler Zeller. And after signing James, they traded for Kevin Love. With that in mind, the players listed below aren't the 10 best free agents (or potential free agents). They're the 10 most interesting in regard to where they're going and what kind of contract they get. For players to be on this list, there needs to be some intrigue regarding their (and/or their team's) decision this summer. Kevin Durant is the second best player in the NBA and has a player option on his contract, but there appears to be little chance that he's leaving the Golden State Warriors. Re-signing with Houston is probably Chris Paul's best path to another year of contention. It's hard to see Clint Capela or Jusuf Nurkic (both restricted as well) going anywhere. The same goes (to a lesser degree) for Aaron Gordon and Fred VanVleet. There's intrigue in the terms under which Nikola Jokic is in Denver next season - either with the Nuggets exercising a $1.6 million team option or declining it, making him a restricted free agent, and signing him to a new deal - but we can be sure that he will be in Denver next season. The market for centers seems particularly small, taking away some of the intrigue with DeAndre Jordan and Brook Lopez. 1. LeBron James, F, Cleveland (Player option) At 33-years-old and in his 15th season, James remains the best player in the world. Would he leave Cleveland a second time? This is clearly the worst team he's been on since the first time he left the Cavs, and there are teams out there who can give him a better secondary playmaker to take some of the offensive load off his shoulders. Whatever team he's on next season is a contender and if if it's a different team than the one he's on now, it would be fascinating to see what happens with Love. Number to know: James' true shooting percentage of 62.1 percent this season was the third highest mark of his career. 2. Paul George, F, Oklahoma City (Player option) In trading Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis to Indiana last summer, the Thunder knew that they might have George for just one season. There's been speculation about his next destination since he arrived in Oklahoma City, and the Thunder season (which ended in the first round of the playoffs) has to be seen as a disappointment. George's free agency is tied to what happens in San Antonio with Kawhi Leonard, who is eligible for a max contract extension this summer. If that extension doesn't happen (either because the Spurs don't offer it or because Leonard doesn't accept it), Leonard will become a trade target for teams that are also in the market for George. And there are a couple of teams that have the ability to bring two of the George/James/Leonard trio together. Number to know: George ranked second in the league in steals (2.0 per game) and tied for the league in deflections (3.9 per game). 3. DeMarcus Cousins, C, New Orleans Just when the Pelicans were hitting their stride with Cousins and Anthony Davis together, Cousins tore his Achilles. And then the Pelicans hit their stride without Cousins, winning 20 of their last 28 games in the regular season and sweeping the Blazers in the first round of the playoffs. If the Pelicans were to lose Cousins, they don't have the cap space to replace him. But there's obviously risk in giving him a big contract coming off an Achilles tear, and the the Pels' two bigs aren't a perfect fit together. As part of their February trade with Chicago, the Pelicans exercised the team option on Nikola Mirotic's contract for next season. So Mirotic is there as Davis' power forward complement for at least another year. Number to know: Cousins accounted for 47 percent of the fouls that the Pelicans drew while he was on the floor. That was the highest rate among 275 players who played at least 1,000 minutes this season. 4. Julius Randle, F, L.A. Lakers (Restricted) Randle is still just 23-years-old and developed into a pretty efficient scorer in the final year of his rookie deal. Among 126 players with at least 500 field goal attempts in each of the last two seasons, he saw the fifth biggest increase in true shooting percentage (from 54 percent to 61 percent). But the Lakers' have their eyes on bigger names and might have to renounce their rights to the restricted free agent to clear as much cap space as possible. Number to know: Randle ranked fifth with 802 total points scored in the restricted area this season. 5. Marcus Smart, G, Boston (Restricted) Marcus Smart is intriguing more for what his departure would mean for the team he's leaving than for any other team he might join. And it's quite possible that he doesn't have the same value outside of Boston. Putting value on a bad shooter who makes "winning plays" is difficult in the first place. What happens with Smart affects how the Celtics deal with Terry Rozier, who will be a restricted free agent next year and would draw more interest from other teams as a starting point guard (if the Celtics don't give him an extension this summer). It's hard to imagine the Celtics keeping both behind Kyrie Irving long term, but the decision could be delayed a year if Smart were to accept the one-year qualifying offer. Number to know: Smart is one of six players who averaged at least 20 minutes in 40 or more games and with their teams allowing less than a point per possession with them on the floor. 6. J.J. Redick, G, Philadelphia The Sixers are another team that will be big-name shopping in July, which affects the status of Redick, who was signed to a one-year $23 million deal last summer. The Sixers don't have his bird rights, but wouldn't have to pay nearly that much (per year) on a long-term deal. Redick is a terrific complementary player on offense (an aggressive shooter who draws the defense's attention with relentless movement), but can be targeted on the other end of the floor, as was the case in the Eastern Conference semifinals against Boston. Number to know: Redick shot 45.9 percent on catch-and-shoot three-pointers, the fourth best mark among 101 players who attempted at least 200. 7. Derrick Favors, F, Utah There were times this season when the frontline duo of Favors and Rudy Gobert wasn't working out, and Utah had some success with smaller, more versatile players at the four. But overall, the Jazz outscored their opponents by 7.2 points per 100 possessions with the two bigs on the floor together, and having both gives them a rim-protecting center on the floor at all times. Utah could create cap space and go free agent shopping, but that would require them to renounce their rights to Favors and Dante Exum. Number to know: Among 160 players with at least 400 field goal attempts in each of the last two seasons, Favors saw the third biggest increase in effective shooting percentage (from 49 percent to 57 percent). 8. Isaiah Thomas, G, L.A. Lakers Thomas' stock fell precipitously from being a top-five MVP vote-getter last season to being a liability in Cleveland upon returning from his hip injury, and then requiring surgery in March. Still, the Lakers' offense was pretty efficient (scoring 110 points per 100 possessions) with him on the floor and the last time he was healthy, he had a historically good season. There are teams (Orlando and Phoenix, especially) in need of a starting point guard, but Thomas may have to settle for a short-term deal and a bench role in order to restore his value around the league. Number to know: Among 160 players with at least 400 field goal attempts in each of the last two seasons, Thomas saw the biggest drop in both in effective shooting percentage (from 55 percent to 44 percent) and true shooting percentage (from 63 percent to 51 percent). 9. Dwyane Wade, G, Miami No, Wade is not one of the 10 best free agents out there. But he's a future Hall of Famer who has said that Miami is the only team he'll play for going forward. We saw in Game 2 of the first round against Philadelphia that he can win a game for you on any given night. But over a full season, he'd be a much better fit with the Heat (who have a handful of versatile non-shooters) if he had, at some point, developed a three-point shot. That he hasn't increases the chances that his career is over. Number to know: Wade had an effective field goal percentage of 36.8 percent from outside the paint, the second worst mark among 207 players who attempted at least 200 total shots from the outside. 10. Jabari Parker, F, Milwaukee (Restricted) Parker should look much better in the fall than he did in playing just 38 games (including playoffs) after returning from a second ACL tear in his left knee. He has issues to fix on both ends of the floor and isn't an ideal complement to Giannis Antetokounmpo in that neither shoots very well from the perimeter. Parker still has top-two-pick talent, but injury issues and defense issues make him a fascinating case in restricted free agency for a team that's looking to take a step forward with an MVP candidate and a new coach. Number to know: In the playoffs, the Bucks' offense was more than 14 points per 100 possessions better with Parker off the floor (scoring 114.9 per 100) than it was with him on the floor (100.6). John Schuhmann is a staff writer 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:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 30th, 2018

Warriors await word on top defender Iguodala as LeBron looms

By Janie McCauley, Associated Press OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Klay Thompson sat on the floor in the middle of his teammates and pointed to his “2018 NBA FINALS” hat during a locker-room photo. An important face was missing from the moment: Andre Iguodala. In a postseason defined by uncertainty for the defending champions, Golden State could be without one of its top defenders as the Warriors chase a repeat title — taking on LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in a fourth straight NBA Finals matchup. Iguodala’s status for Game 1 on Thursday night (Friday, PHL time) is a question as he recovers from a bone bruise in his left knee, which caused him to miss the final four games of the Western Conference finals against Houston. Cleveland’s Kevin Love is in concussion protocol, so he might not be ready, either. Coach Steve Kerr has said Iguodala, the 2015 Finals MVP, will return when he can run without pain. The Warriors sure could use his presence against King James, who is making an eighth straight Finals appearance. “We’re still without Andre, which is a big blow for us,” Kerr said before Monday’s (Tuesday, PHL time) Game 7 at Houston. “In a different way. He’s not a scorer for us as Chris [Paul] is for Houston, but a huge component. So you go through the playoffs and things happen, and you’ve got to be able to bounce back no matter what and keep going.” Last month, Kerr became concerned his team’s defense wouldn’t return to its top form after Golden State struggled late in the regular season and even endured a particularly poor stretch in which the Warriors dropped seven of 10 games. Yet here they are in a familiar spring spot as June approaches. Once the buzzer sounded and the 101-92 Game 7 win over Houston was official, the Warriors could exhale. It hasn’t been pretty for much of these playoffs, a far cry from that remarkable, record-breaking 16-1 romp through last year’s postseason. There is clearly some relief to be back where this All-Star group expected to be all along. Stephen Curry kept the game ball tucked under his left arm long after Monday’s (Tuesday, PHL time) game, toddler daughter Ryan held in his right arm. Kevin Durant hugged general manager Bob Myers, while always-animated Nick Young beamed wearing his Finals hat and “Champions of the West” T-shirt, then enjoyed hoisting the shiny trophy. Draymond Green smooched his 1-year-old son, Draymond Jr. Back home, fireworks went off in the East Bay as everyone anticipates another battle with King James. “There’s a lot of just built-up anxiety, I guess, about this moment. When you walk off the court with a win and get this fancy hat, it’s a good feeling,” Curry said. “We had to work for it, and you’ve got to appreciate the moment. Somebody asked, ‘It’s four years in a row getting to The Finals, do you appreciate it?’ Yes, because it’s really hard. So all the smiles and embraces you have with your teammates, your coaches, it’s well deserved.” Golden State struggled to hit shots for stretches. The stars went through funks and the Warriors had to play catch up time and again — including from double-digit deficits in the final two games to beat James Harden and the 65-win Rockets on their home court after settling for the second seed in the West. James has willed his Cavs this far, saying, “I don’t know how I can compare it to other seasons because I can only think about this one in the present.” “Definitely a different team but we know everything goes and stops with LeBron James with them,” Green said......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 30th, 2018

Eduard Folayang and his familiar path to glory

Eduard Folayang has been here before. Back in 2014, after racking up back-to-back wins in in a span of half a year, the Team Lakay star was slowly building a name for himself as a top-tier contender in ONE Championship’s lightweight division. A third straight win would have possibly put him in the title picture. And then, he ran into Russian Timofey Nastyukhin. A sequence that will forever be burned in the minds of Filipino MMA fans, Nasytukhin dropped Folayang with a well-timed flying knee to the jaw, and then finished it off with a crushing soccer kick, back when soccer kicks were allowed. While it wasn’t Folayang’s first stoppage loss, it was arguably his most violent to date. The Filipino MMA star lay motionless in front of a Filipino crowd at the Mall of Asia Arena. It took Folayang over a year before he made his return, a decision win over Tetsuya Yamada. That win would set Folayang on his path to the ONE Lightweight Word Championship, one of the most celebrated stories in MMA in the past couple of years. Roughly three years removed since his knockout loss to Nastyukhin at the Mall of Asia Arena, it would seem like a cruel repetition of history, as Folayang would once again find himself staring up at the MoA Arena lights in late 2017. Folayang, a single day away from celebrating his one-year anniversary of being a ONE world champion, saw his spot at the top of the lightweight division taken away with one, well-timed overhand right, courtesy of Martin Nguyen. Nguyen made history that night at the expense of Folayang, becoming ONE Championship’s first ever two-division world champion. For the Pinoy MMA hero, it was another setback, not unlike the many he’s faced through the course of his career.   The Road to Redemption No matter what other people said, those who knew him knew he’d be back, and one of those whose believe never wavered was that of ONE Championship Chairman and CEO Chatri Sityodtong, saying that this is just the start of Folayang's journey.  So finally, when it was announced that Folayang would indeed be coming back to the cage, it was a big deal. Immediately, it was clear that redemption was on the former champion’s mind. “Yun naman ang nagpapa-sarap sa isang life story, yung paano ka mag-rise after you fall, and it adds a lot of spices sa life if ganun ulit yung mangyayari, although syempre may different versions yung story ng bawat isa sa atin, and I’m still looking forward on my redemption in this upcoming fight.” Folayang said. Folayang’s return was set for May, in one of the most-stacked ONE cards of the year, and even with three world title bouts featuring the biggest ONE Championship stars also on the card, Filipino fight fans’ eyes were on Folayang’s highly-anticipated return.   Parallel Experiences With 25 professional bouts under his belt, Eduard Folayang isn’t new to the game, by any means. From fighting in front of small crowds to main eventing a packed Singapore Indoor Stadium for the world title, Folayang has seen it all and done it all, that’s why pre-fight jitters isn’t expected to be an issue for a fighter the caliber and experience of ‘The Landslide.’ And while it wasn’t so much as jitters, Folayang admits that he had a lot going through his head in the days leading up to his comeback fight. “Yung siguro sa akin lang, andaming pumapasok sa isipan ko, hindi mo maiiwasan yung mga ‘what ifs’ mga paano kung natalo ulit ako dito, ganun,” Folayang told ABS-CBN Sports. Having already been in this situation before, Folayang added that it was indeed a big help being able to look back at a parallel experience. “Oo naman, nakatulong, kasi looking back noong 2014, nung na-knockout din ako kay Timofey, tapos yung same feeling nung kakalabanin ko ulit nung 2016 si Tetsuya Yamada, andaming tumatakbo sa utak, mas lalo na since naging champion ako, syempre hindi mawawala yung expectations ng tao and andyan na yung mga bashers e, naka-ready na sila. So the best thing to do is dapat maging mentally strong and accurate sa pagpapatupad ng gameplan para manalo.” And implement a gameplan successfully, he did.   The Comeback Against an undefeated grappler in Russian Kharun Atlangeriev, Folayang was visibily patient and picked his shots while shrugging off takedown attempts to earn the unanimous decision win. “Yun yung isa sa mga nakita ko na parang naging cautious ako, siguro yung thinking na talagang parang masyadong worth yung game, as much as possible talaga, hindi mo na iniisip na maging fancy  yung fight, mas nananaig yung goal mo na manalo.” Folayang said of his performance against Atlangeriev. “Siguro yun yung isa sa mga pinaka-reason kung bakit medyo naging conservative yung approach ko sa fight, at saka napansin ko din, although gusto ko mag-all out, very passive yung kalaban eh, hindi mo alam kung ano yung iniisip niya, yun din yung isa sa mga naging reason.” Folayang went on record and gave himself a three out of five rating in his comeback fight. While ultimately he was happy with the result, the Baguio City native believes that he could have done way more, and that’s what he intends to do in the future. “Masaya, although sa akin I believe I can do much better, syempre ngayon comeback fight kasi kaya andyan palagi yung pressure, the more we learn a lot of lessons, the more na magiging maganda yung adjustment natin for the upcoming bouts na dadating.” Step one of the comeback was complete.   Second Shot at Glory And again, Eduard Folayang finds himself on the comeback trail. The 34-year old Team Lakay star has successfully bounced back from a loss, but arguably more important now is what lies ahead. With the win, Folayang is on his way, if not already back in the title picture, and if you ask him, he’ll be the first to tell you that he’s ready to get back what was once his. “Parang more na na-boost yung desire ulit para makabalik dun sa nawala sa atin, and hopefully this year, magkaroon ulit ng opportunity para maka-laban for the title.” Fueling the fire even more for Folayang is the fact that after seeing Nguyen’s last two bouts - a unanimous decision loss to ONE Bantamweight World champion Bibiano Fernandes and a split decision win over Christian Lee - he feels he can perform better if given a second go-around. “Especially after panoorin yung last two fights nung tumalo sa akin, parang nasasayangan ba. Feeling ko talaga, mas deserving na ako yung nakahawak, parang ganun yung pakiramdam ko.” Folayang shared. “Parang I could have done better kung hindi lang ako naging careless on one point, and kung na-oversee ko lang talaga na yung strength ko, dun ako papasukin.” While only time will tell whether or not Folayang does get a shot at the title again, whether a rematch or be it against someone else, the former champ is certain that he’s still in this, and he’s hungrier than ever for another taste of glory. “Malakas pa rin eh [yung hunger], it’s just a matter of paano natin alagaan yung career natin, yung health natin, iba kasi, yun din yung kagandahan ng mixed martial arts eh, the more na pumupunta yung age mo, the more na mas nagiging cautious ka, hindi na lang puro lakas yung ilalaban mo kundi parang nagiging wiser ka na din sa approach mo.” “I think yung hunger ko andun parin, I’m still hungry.” Folayang adds. When it’s all said and done, Folayang won’t be happy with just being at the top once and then crashing down after. For the Team Lakay star, there are still chapters to be written as he begins what is hopefully another run towards the pinnacle of the sport. “Yun naman yung gusto natin, hindi yung natapos na yung end ng chapter ng story natin, kundi may mga magaganda and exciting stories pa na maisusulat in that book.” After all, “multi-time world champion” Eduard Folayang has better ring to it, no? “Yun yung gusto natin, mas magandang pakinggan.” Eduard Folayang’s been here before, and if you’ve been paying attention, you know that this is just the start of great things to come......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 28th, 2018

Rockets return home for Game 5 against Warriors

By Kristie Rieken, Associated Press HOUSTON (AP) — The Houston Rockets have a chance to take their first lead in the Western Conference finals with a victory over the Golden State Warriors on Thursday night (Friday, PHL time). To do that they’ll need their superstars to step up again, with the pressure on James Harden and Chris Paul to deliver after their big performances in Game 3 spurred Houston to the road victory that tied the best-of-seven series at 2-2. “We’re back to even,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We know what we have to do and see if we can do it against a great team.” After two blowout losses in this series, including an embarrassing 41-point rout in Game 3, the Rockets know they don’t have any time to celebrate Tuesday’s (Wednesday, PHL time) win. It was a victory that snapped Golden State’s NBA-record 16-game home playoff winning streak. “We have to get down to normal sea level real quick, because we’ve got a lot of work left,” D’Antoni said. “We know it’s not going to be easy, but also they know now it’s not going to be easy. We’re looking forward to it ... with the right type of fear and the right type of excitement.” It’s a huge opportunity for Harden and Paul, who’ve both had their fair share of playoff disappointments in the past, but combined to score 57 points Tuesday’s (Wednesday, PHL time) 95-92 win that put the top-seeded Rockets back in the driver’s seat in this series. The 33-year-old Paul is a conference finals rookie after failing to get out of the second round in his previous nine playoff trips. Though he’s never reached this level in the postseason before, his 13 years of NBA experience have proven invaluable as the Rockets try to knock off the defending champions and advance to the NBA Finals for the first time since winning consecutive titles in 1994-95. Though the Rockets are heading to Houston for Thursday’s (Friday, PHL time) game, they know that playing at home doesn’t give them an excuse to let up. “Both teams have the ability to win on the road,” Paul said. “We had to prove that to ourselves. Weathering the storm, the runs that they made, and knowing that now we get a chance to go back home, we knew we had to get at least one win here. We got it, so now it’s a three-game series.” Though the pressure to perform is heightened for Harden and Paul, Rockets players and D’Antoni agree that they can’t get it done without plenty of help from Houston’s supporting cast. P.J. Tucker and Clint Capela combined for 29 rebounds on Tuesday night (Wednesday, PHL time), and in Houston’s Game 2 victory the Rockets had five players score 16 or more points. “It’s a close series so without any of them you don’t get there,” D’Antoni said. “So everybody has their role and some play a bigger role — bigger meaning they shoot the ball more so we as a society give them a bigger role — but everybody is just as important.” While the Rockets are thrilled to see the momentum of the series swing their way for perhaps the first time in the series, the Warriors are upset that they let what they feel like was a winnable Game 4 get away. Draymond Green is OK with his team having its back against the wall and believes the Warriors play well when faced with adversity. “I know what we’re capable of and I know the level of focus and intensity that this team brings when that is the case,” he said. “We blew a golden opportunity but it’s not one that we can’t get back. We can get it back. So there’s no panic.” Stephen Curry said he spent much of Wednesday (Thursday, PHL time) going over each possession of Golden State’s 12-point fourth quarter in his mind and thinking of ways he and the team could have done things better to close the game out after leading by double digits early in the period. “It’s a frustrating feeling obviously ... but we’re great at turning the page and being resilient and finding a way to bounce back,” he said. This series has already had so many ups and downs that it could give a young person gray hair. For the already silver-locked D’Antoni, who at 67 would be the oldest coach to win an NBA title if Houston gets it done, the exhilaration of this journey has been well worth any stress it has caused. “It makes me feel alive, I know that much,” he said. “It feels good. You coach all year for this or even your whole career to get here or get as close as you can. It’s great competition, against one of the best teams ever.”.....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 24th, 2018

Resilient Rockets strike back with Game 4 victory

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com OAKLAND, Calif. -- Maybe they are built for this after all, these rugged Houston Rockets. Twice they absorbed knockout blows from the reigning champion Golden State Warriors in a do-or-die Game 4 of the Western Conference finals in a raucous Oracle Arena. And both times the Rockets got up off the floor and battled back, showing championship mettle of their own, to do what no team has done to these Warriors since Kevin Durant joined them. The Rockets showed up five minutes late, battled back from a 12-0 blitz to start the game and a 27-8 third quarter avalanche to win 95-92 and tie this series at 2-2 and reclaim the home-court advantage they lost in Game 1. With the game, and their franchise-best 65-win regular season and basically everything on the line, the Rockets outplayed the mighty Warriors down the stretch to snap the NBA playoff-record 16-game home win streak. They proved that they belong on this big stage and that they are who they thought they were when they were dominating the league throughout the course of the regular season. “I just think this was confidence,” said veteran forward Trevor Ariza, the only player on the Rockets’ roster who owns a championship ring (Los Angeles Lakers, 2009). “We're a confident team. We believe in ourselves and we went out and showed that we can win anywhere.” It was the Warriors, the group with all of the experience in these moments, that melted down late in the game, not the Rockets. The pressure that Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni insisted was on the Warriors after his team’s 41-point loss in Game 3 Sunday (Monday, PHL time) was there. The Rockets outscored the Warriors 25-12 in the fourth quarter. The Warriors shot just 3-for-18 after torching the Rockets for 34 points, 17 from Stephen Curry, in a third quarter that looked like one of their signature waves that usually slams the door on the opposition. But not this time. Not with the Rockets playing their best defensive quarter of the season, according to D’Antoni. “Yeah, I thought it was the highest level we’ve ever played defensively, without a doubt,” he said. “Because you're talking about maybe the best offensive team ever, and they got on a roll. Even when we were down 12-zip, there was some good defense in there to get us back, because we weren’t lighting it up to get it back. “So [we] just got a lot of tough stops and a lot of tough rebounds, getting loose balls and we didn’t get into foul trouble too early. It was just a lot of good things. Great switching and they got a little tired in the fourth quarter, and that’s because they felt us for three quarters. If we can repeat that, and that’s what the formula is, and we’ll see if we can do that when we get to Houston.” The Rockets couldn’t have gone home even without the work Chris Paul put in during the first pressure-cooker game of this series. Playing on a sore foot, he was nothing short of magnificent in the fourth, scoring eight of his 27 points, while showing the sort of toughness the Rockets lacked before his arrival last summer in a blockbuster trade. “Man, he’s been doing it for so long,” James Harden said of his fellow superstar point guard. “Now he has an opportunity to do it on this stage. I mean, everybody knows how great he is, from his passing ability to his big shot-making ability, and even to his defense. He was huge for us tonight." That’s all Paul was focused on. One game. One night. One chance to make things right. “It was a good win for us,” he said. “We knew we needed it, but we said all along with both teams home court doesn’t really matter. Both teams have the ability to win on the road. We had to prove that to ourselves. Weathering the storm, the runs that they made, and knowing that now we got a chance to go back home, we knew we had to get at least one win here. We got it, so now it’s a three-game series.” D’Antoni only used seven players to get the job done, leaning on his core group in a grueling game to flip this series into a best-of-three with the Rockets back in a position of power. The trust and faith he showed in his core group paid off. “We’re confident in what we do,”Ariza said.“When we are locked in to what we are doing and what we are supposed to be doing, we are a really good defensive team. We’re a really good team, period. We just came out and played hard tonight. For all the hard-earned hype about the Warriors and what they are capable of, the Rockets still haven’t lost consecutive games in this postseason. They are 4-2 on the road, 2-0 in games decided by three points or less and a perfect 5-0 when Paul scores 25 or more points. They still have work to do in this series, of course, but they are on a path that suggests they possess the sort of fiber needed to make it into the championship discussion. D’Antoni called them soft after that Game 3 embarrassment. He praised their toughness on this night, and rightfully so. “We’ve been doing it all year long,” said Harden, who scored just two of his game-high 30 points in the fourth quarter. “That’s the main reason we’re in the position we’re in today. That third game was just one loss. We all know that. We’ve got the mentality that we’re going to win Game 4. We talked about it. We’ve preached it. “They made runs and they were going to, especially at home. And we kept fighting, kept fighting and defensively kept locking in and making big-time shots. Chris and Eric [Gordon] and Trevor, guys made big-time shots in that fourth quarter.” A fourth quarter that changed this series and could potentially change the entire postseason landscape, depending on what comes next from this team with its destiny back in its own hands. 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 NewsMay 23rd, 2018

The NBA’s Final Four: Cavs, Celtics, Warriors, Rockets

By Tim Reynolds, Associated Press The franchise with the most titles. The best player of this generation. The reigning champions. The probable MVP. The NBA has its Final Four. It certainly does not disappoint. Boston’s win over Philadelphia on Wednesday night (Thurday, PHL time) brought down the curtain on the postseason’s second round — one that wasn’t exactly loaded with drama, since it was the first time since 2002 that none of the NBA’s four conference semifinal series went past five games. Cleveland swept Toronto, while Houston, Golden State and the Celtics all prevailed by 4-1 counts. Everyone gets to catch their collective breaths for a few days, with the league going dark until the weekend. Cleveland and Boston don’t tip off the Eastern Conference finals until Sunday (Monday, PHL time), and the Warriors and Rockets start their West title series on Monday (Tuesday, PHL time). And yes, the Cavaliers and Warriors are four wins away from a fourth consecutive meeting in the NBA Finals. A few things to know going into the conference finals: LEBRON, OF COURSE Any list of anything this time of year basically has to start with LeBron James, still generally considered the best player on the planet even at 33-years-old and in his 15th NBA season. Cleveland’s star is trying to reach the NBA Finals for the eighth consecutive season — something only four other players have done, and they were all Boston Celtics. Bill Russell went to 10 straight title series, Sam Jones and Tom Heinsohn went to nine, and Frank Ramsey went to eight. James is already the NBA’s all-time playoff leader in points, steals and minutes played. He’s fifth in playoff wins with 152, behind only Derek Fisher (161), Tim Duncan (157), Robert Horry (155) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (154). CAVS-CELTICS HISTORY This is the eighth time Cleveland and Boston have met in the postseason. Boston has won four of the previous seven meetings, but Cleveland has won the last two — including the East finals last season. WARRIORS-ROCKETS HISTORY This is only the third Golden State-Houston playoff meeting, and all have come in the last four seasons. The Warriors are 2-0 in the series, winning both times in five games — the 2015 West finals and a first-round matchup in 2016. SEEKING 10 Golden State is trying to reach the NBA Finals for the 10th time, a mark that two other franchises have reached. The Los Angeles Lakers have made The Finals on 31 occasions (winning 16 titles), and the Celtics have gone 21 times (winning a league-high 17 titles). If the Warriors successfully defend their NBA title and go back-to-back, it’ll be the franchise’s sixth time as the last team standing — and would tie Chicago for the third-most championships in league history, behind the Celtics and Lakers. MVP WATCH Houston’s James Harden seems like the probable winner of the NBA’s MVP award this season, with the only other realistic candidate for top honors probably LeBron James. They won’t know who won until June 25 (June 26, PHL time) — after the season. Regardless, they could wind up adding to a recent trend. The league MVP has played in the NBA Finals in four of the last six seasons — James and the Miami Heat won titles in 2012 and 2013, Stephen Curry and the Warriors won in 2015 and lost to Cleveland in 2016. MATTER OF TIME Ray Allen is still the league’s all-time leader in playoff three-pointers made, with 385. LeBron James and Stephen Curry are coming his way. James is No. 2 on the all-time list with 346 playoff three-pointers. Curry is No. 3 with 329 — in only 79 playoff games. Allen played in 171, and James has played in 228. WELL DONE, SCHEDULE MAKERS Here’s how the NBA season began, back on Oct. 17 (Oct. 18, PHL time): Boston at Cleveland, and Houston at Golden State. Almost seven months later, the conference finals begin with Cleveland at Boston, Golden State at Houston. WIN GAME 1 Winning Game 1 of any NBA playoff series is important; under this format that the league has been using since 1984, teams that take 1-0 series leads ultimately win those matchups about 80 percent of the time. That’s even more pronounced in this round. Of the 68 teams that have taken 1-0 series leads in the conference finals, 57 have gone on to make the NBA Finals. But four times in the last seven years, a team has dropped Game 1 in this round and made The Finals anyway. MORE DAYS OFF? The NBA Finals start May 31 (June 1, PHL time). That means there could be a lot of days without basketball before then. If both series end in sweeps — unlikely, of course, but possible — the Boston-Cleveland winner would have 10 days off before The Finals and the Houston-Golden State winner would have nine. Starting Thursday (Friday, PHL time), there will be no games five times in a nine-day span. There’s no games until Sunday (Monday, PHL time), and there’s no games in either series on May 17 and 18 (May 18 and 19, PHL time). Those needing a basketball fix on those last two days, fret not — there will be NBA Combine activities going on in Chicago on those two days. POOL UPDATE The NBA’s playoff pool for this season is $20 million, and here’s a look at how much the four remaining teams have made so far in this postseason — along with a look at what they could get. Rockets: $2,322,122. Would finish with $4,669,069 if they lose the NBA Finals, $5,864,018 if they win the title. Celtics and Warriors: $1,646,226 each so far. They’d get $3,993,173 if they reach The Finals and lose, $5,188,122 if they win the championship. Cavaliers: $1,478,543. Would finish with $3,825,490 if they lose the NBA Finals, $5,020,439 if they win the title. Teams use the playoff pool largely for bonuses for players and staff after the season. The 12 playoff teams that have already been eliminated will be getting checks adding up to about $7 million from the league......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 10th, 2018

Curry, Durant lead Warriors into Western Conference finals

By Janie McCauley, Associated Press OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Stephen Curry had 28 points, Kevin Durant scored 24 and the Golden State Warriors advanced to the Western Conference finals by dismantling Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans 113-104 in Game 5 on Tuesday night (Wednesday, PHL time). Klay Thompson added 23 points for the Warriors, who with a 15th straight home playoff win tied Chicago for an NBA record. The Bulls did so from April 27, 1990, to May 21, 1991. Davis had 34 points and 19 rebounds for a Pelicans team that overcame the loss of DeMarcus Cousins to a season-ending torn Achilles tendon three months ago to make this strong run. The Pelicans shaved the lead to seven points with two minutes left on a basket by Davis before Draymond Green's turnaround fadeaway moments later. The Warriors advance to play the top-seeded Houston Rockets in what has long been an anticipated Western Conference finals matchup — with a Finals feel, perhaps — and one Golden State will start on the road Monday night (Tuesday, PHL time). The teams didn't meet during the 2017 postseason, but the Warriors won a five-game series in the first round of the 2016 playoffs. Houston eliminated Utah in its Game 5 earlier Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time). Curry, who returned for Game 2 after nearly six weeks out with a knee injury, knocked down an open three-pointer midway through the third and raised his hands to get the crowd going, then made another less than two minutes later. He converted three free throws at the 6:25 mark following a hard foul by Jrue Holiday. In the second quarter, Holiday shoved Curry hard into the basket, enraging the two-time MVP who let the officials know how upset he was by the push and no call. Holiday contributed 27 points and 11 assists, but even with better shooting, New Orleans couldn't stay with deep, score-at-will Golden State. The defending champions are serious about a repeat title, and took one step closer to that goal. So far this postseason, with Durant and Green leading the way, the Warriors have admirably defended the slower San Antonio Spurs and now the imposing, push-the-pace Pelicans. Green had another superb all-around night on both ends with 19 points, 14 rebounds, nine assists, three steals and two blocked shots. The Warriors came out of halftime with a 10-0 run over the opening 1:54, forcing two Pelicans timeouts and taking control for the rest of the game. Thompson hit back-to-back three-pointers midway through the first to put Golden State up 17-10, the second right in front of his own bench as teammates erupted in celebration. He began 6-for-9 and had 14 points by the 4:10 mark of the first. Durant became irate when Nikola Mirotic made a late, hard bump on a three-point try with 5:23 left in the first — a play that was reviewed and Mirotic received just a common foul. As Durant took free throws, Green tried to listen in on the Pelicans' huddle before official Josh Tiven pulled him away. CURRY'S SERIES Curry went 10-for-16 in 37 minutes playing his fourth game back from a sprained left knee he hurt March 23 (Mar. 24, PHL time). His minutes have increased each game he plays, up to 31 in Game 4 and 37 on Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time). He added eight assists and seven rebounds in Game 5. He was 32-for-67 with 15 three's in the series. On a side note, he went 0-for-5 on his signature tunnel shots before the game. TIP-INS Pelicans: New Orleans made 6-of-9 three's in the first and finished 10-for-24 from long range. ... New Orleans got back in it with an 11-0 run in the second. Warriors: Golden State shot 4-of-14 from deep in the first half. ... Durant scored 20 or more points in a 17th straight postseason game. His first five points moved him past two players — Chris Mullin (685) and Harrison Barnes (687) — into 10th place all-time for the Warriors in postseason scoring. ... Curry (366) passed Paul Arizin (364) for second place on the franchise postseason list for made free throws. ... Curry (19) and Thompson (16) have made all of their free throws this postseason. ... The Warriors are 9-1 in Game 5's since 2015. They also clinched their first-round series with San Antonio at home in Game 5. ... Durant received the Al Attles Community Impact Award in a pregame ceremony. The Warriors Community Foundation will donate $15,000 to the charity Durant chose, Oakland Elizabeth House, which provides residences to women and children who have been homeless or faced violence or addiction. QUOTEABLE Steve Kerr on whether he needed to check in with his players on the urgency of closing out the series: "I dial people on my rotary phone. Nobody seems to answer, though. Nobody answers a home phone anymore. No texts necessary. Our guys know what's at stake.".....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 9th, 2018

Davis, Pelicans thump Warriors in Game 3

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com NEW ORLEANS -- The fear factor remained until the very end for Alvin Gentry. His memory is as long as Anthony Davis from head to toe, so like everyone else in the Smoothie King Center Friday night (Saturday, PHL time), the notion that a 20-point lead late in the fourth quarter against the Golden State Warriors was safe just didn’t compute. Gentry was caught up in the moment, trying to win a game in this Western Conference semifinal after dropping the first two in Oakland. And he was trying to block out the memory of the Pelicans’ last home game against these Warriors in the playoffs. He had the perfect seat then, next to Warriors coach Steve Kerr, his top assistant and offensive coordinator, the man in charge of engineering an epic comeback from a 20-point deficit that would lead to a Game 3 win in that first-round series and an eventual sweep of the Pelicans that helped propel the Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green-led Warriors to the NBA title in 2015. So yeah, it was on his mind, even if everyone else in the building tried to say it wasn’t, that it was ancient history and that it had no impact on this current Pelicans team. Gentry knew better than that and confessed as much as his team drew blood in this series with an emphatic 119-100 Game 3 win this time around. “Obviously, it’s going to stick with you,” Gentry said of that pivotal 2015 game that ultimately led to the Pelicans hiring him away from the Warriors. “I was on the Warrior bench then and I thought [the Pelicans] played great game. And because I was on the Warrior bench it made it so scary tonight … I was there when Steph started making threes and then Klay started making threes and before you know it a 20-point lead was nine points and then seven points, and then all of a sudden Steph made a shot out of the corner, which by the way I have a picture of that on my phone that I’ve kept all of these years and now I can eras it off. “But there just a scary team, you never feel comfortable. Even when he [Kerr] took his guys out, I was like ‘let’s play two more minutes before we take [our] guys out. Because you are just never comfortable with that team.” Gentry helped chase the ghost of that 2015 game away for the a franchise, a city and especially his stars on Friday night. Both Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday were on that team that collapsed three years ago. They needed this win more than they realized, more than they cared to acknowledge late Friday night (Saturday, PHL time) after the building had cleared out and everyone had a chance to process what had just transpired. The Pelicans beat the Warriors at their own game, employing the “appropriate fear” Gentry joked about with the media afterwards. It was all there, starting with relentless defense and sweet shooting; 14-for-31 from beyond the three-point line. It continued with the sudden bursts of energy from all directions; Solomon Hill knocking down three deep three-pointers early and reserve guard Ian Clark, crushing his former team for 18 points, including daggers down the stretch. It was punctuated by Davis and Holiday grinding away like the guys who fueled the Pelicans’ first-round sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers, and veteran point guard Rajon Rondo breathing as much verbal fire as Green, while also driving the Pelicans with 21 assists, the first player with at least 20 in a playoff game since he did it in himself in 2011 when he was with the Boston Celtics. The Warriors simply couldn’t keep up. And Curry didn’t the have the same touch or adrenaline he had in his playoff debut in Game 2, when he torched the Pelicans for 28 points in 27 minutes off the bench during his first action after missing nearly six weeks with a knee injury. “Most of it is attributed to the Pelicans,” Kerr said. “Their defense was great. They were the aggressors. I thought they brought the force, the necessary force to the game on their home floor, and these are the ebbs and flows of a playoff series, especially when you get past the first round. Everybody is really good and that’s a team that just swept Portland in the first round and on their home floor down 2-0, this is kind of what you expect.” Gentry has unleashed all that. When the Pelicans lost All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins to a season-ending Achilles injury in late January, the framework for this team had to be altered completely. The Pelicans had to lean on Davis to dominate the way he did (33 points on 15-for-27 shooting, 18 rebounds, four steals and three assists). Holiday (21 points, seven rebounds, five assists) had to be set free to resume the All-Star ways he showed earlier in his career. And Rondo needed the keys to the car and the freedom to guide the Pelicans’ young stars to the edge the way he has throughout this postseason, complete with at least two more face-to-face skirmishes with Green Friday night (Saturday, PHL time). “That’s the way he plays, he talks a lot of …” Rondo said after being informed that Green suggested he was trying to bait him into a confrontation. Rondo, who joined Magic Johnson and John Stockton as the only players in NBA history with multiple 20-assist games in the postseason, understands the process a team must go through to reach that next level. He was a young point guard in Boston when he learned it from Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Doc Rivers during the Celtics’ 2008 title run and the years they spent as a contender after that. And he knows success at this stage is more about the Pelicans and what they do than it is about any beef, real or perceived, between he and Green. “It definitely is, but it starts with defense,”he said.“We were able to get some stops, defensively. It’s hard to run and keep pace when you’re taking it by the net every time which we did in game one so we cleaned up a little bit better in game two and three and look forward to making adjustments for game four.” Without Gentry understanding and trusting that same process, and facilitating the perfect environment for all of his players, especially his three biggest stars, this Pelicans team could have easily fallen out of the playoff mix in a wild Western Conference. That race that went down to the final night of the season for the Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets and affected the seeding for every team after the No. 1 Houston Rockets and No. 2 Warriors. Gentry had to empower Rondo to infuse the right kind of bite in both Holiday and Davis, whose voice grows louder with each game -- he didn’t hesitate to make a statement in a second half huddle Friday night, barking to his teammates that “we are not going to lose this game.” “That was the message,”he said.“We can’t lose this game. It’s always tough to come back from 0-3. Our mindset is to go out there, play, and do what we’re supposed to do from all the game planning. Whatever results happen, happen. We followed the game plan to a T tonight.” And now the real fun begins. The atmosphere will be electric for Sunday afternoon’s (Monday, PHL time) Game 4. The expectations will have changed dramatically for the Pelicans in just a few hours. Can they do it again? Will they exhibit the same appropriate fear against a championship Warriors team that will be smarting from a Friday night (Saturday, PHL time) dose of their own medicine? Gentry, the architect of this perfectly brewing storm, is counting on it. 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 NewsMay 5th, 2018