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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: abscbn abscbnApr 14th, 2018

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

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

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMar 31st, 2018

LeBron James has a favorite for the MVP award - himself

By Tim Reynolds, Associated Press MIAMI (AP) — LeBron James has someone in mind for the MVP award this season. Himself. This is a season where prohibitive MVP favorite James Harden has done phenomenal things with NBA-leading Houston, where reigning MVP Russell Westbrook has been fantastic again for Oklahoma City, and where Anthony Davis has found a new stratosphere to take his game, especially after New Orleans lost DeMarcus Cousins. James raves about them all. But ... “I would vote for me,” James told The Associated Press. “The body of work, how I’m doing it, what’s been happening with our team all year long, how we’ve got so many injuries and things of that nature, guys in and out, to be able to still keep this thing afloat, I definitely would vote me.” It’s not an unreasonable take. His numbers this season compare favorably — or exceed — the five-season run between 2008-09 and 2012-13 where he won the MVP award four times. His averages then: 27.8 points, 7.6 rebounds and 7.3 assists on 52 percent shooting while playing 38 minutes per game. This season’s numbers: 27.4 points, 9.1 assists and 8.6 rebounds on 55 percent shooting. They are MVP-worthy, without question. “He’s continued to prove everybody wrong and find new levels,” said Miami guard Dwyane Wade, James’ longtime friend and two-time former teammate. “In his 15th season, to be 33 years of age and to be playing the way he’s playing, as consistent as he’s playing, that is as impressive as anything that anybody has ever done.” Averaging 27 points, nine assists and eight rebounds is an NBA rarity. Oscar Robertson had numbers like those five times, in five consecutive seasons from 1960-61 through 1964-65 (he won his lone MVP award in the 1963-64 season). No one posted averages like that again until last year, when Harden and Westbrook both pulled it off. Robertson, Harden and Westbrook were all twentysomethings when they had those numbers. James is in position to join them, at 33. A fifth MVP wouldn’t define him. He’s long been a Hall of Fame lock, but believes this one would be earned. “At this point in my career, I’m just trying to break the mold, break the narrative of guys in their 15th year. ... I’m trying to do things that have never been done before,” James said. “It’s crazy because I’m not setting out to do it. It’s just kind of happening organically. I’m just training my body and training my mind and going out and playing and seeing what happens.” The Cavaliers are in the mix to finish as high as No. 3 in the Eastern Conference, despite having 21 different players on the roster, 24 different starting lineups and counting, a slew of injuries, even with head coach Tyronn Lue falling ill and missing games. The season has been rocky. James says he’s been at his best anyway. “I’ve said it,” James said. “Obviously, I’ve had some unbelievable seasons before, but I’ve said it: This is the best I can go, just from a complete basketball player standpoint.” Time will tell if MVP voters agree. ___ STORM LIFE The Heat got stuck in Indianapolis on Sunday night (Monday, PHL time), losing in overtime to the Pacers and then being unable to get home because of plane difficulties. They made the best of the situation. A quick call to the Capital Grille in Indianapolis — where the manager initially didn’t believe that the Miami Heat, travel party of 51, were on the way — set up dinner for everyone, and hotel rooms were secured while everyone dined. The restaurant was in shutting-down mode for the night, then scrambled to get the staff needed to deal with that many diners arriving all at once. The team wound up flying out Monday morning (Monday evening, PHL time). ___ THE WEEK AHEAD Some of the games to watch over the next seven days: — Boston at Utah, Wednesday (Thursday, PHL time): The game that was slated to be Gordon Hayward’s return to Salt Lake City still matters plenty to both teams. — Milwaukee at Golden State, Thursday (Friday, PHL time): The Warriors think this is the game where they’ll get Kevin Durant back in the lineup after a rib injury. — New Orleans at Cleveland, Friday (Saturday, PHL time): Notable for one reason in particular: Larry Drew coaches the Cavs, son Larry Drew II plays for the Pelicans. — Toronto at Boston, Saturday (Sunday, PHL time): The Raptors are trying to lock up the No. 1 seed in the East, and the Celtics are the only team still in their way. — Houston at San Antonio, Sunday (Monday, PHL time): One of 13 games on Sunday’s NBA schedule, before everybody gets Monday off for the NCAA championship. — Indiana at Denver, Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time): The Pacers are in and now thinking about seeding, while the Nuggets are merely trying to stay in the West chase. ___ STAT LINE OF THE WEEK Kemba Walker, Charlotte: His 46-point effort on March 22 (Mar. 23, PHL time) was against tanking Memphis, but it still should be remembered for at least a couple of reasons. One, he needed only 28 minutes to score like that. And two, he became just the third player in NBA history to make at least 10 three-pointers and 10 free throws in the same game. The others? Kyrie Irving in 2015, and Joe Dumars in 1994......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMar 28th, 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

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

Legacies at stake for Rockets, Warriors in Game 7

By Shaun Powell, NBA.com HOUSTON — So much riding on one game, which goes beyond which team reaches The Finals and which one reaches for the golf clubs. Reputations and images and legacies also can and will be determined in this winner-take-all battle between the Warriors and Rockets. Such is the way of professional sports and instant analysis and fortunes, both teams and players and coaches. That said, here’s what’s on the line for the main figures in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals: * James Harden. He can make a solid case for being the second-best player in the NBA over the past three seasons, having finished top three in Kia MVP voting twice and will perhaps take home the award this season. But LeBron James went to The Finals three times in that span and won once. Harden, on the other hand, doesn’t know what June basketball feels like since he joined the Rockets. He’ll have his best chance Monday (Tuesday, PHL time). He’ll be on his court, playing before his crowd, 48 minutes away from facing LeBron and the Cavaliers for a championship. If he loses against the Warriors, then Harden will keep the crown as Best Active Player Without A Championship, which isn’t an honor he embraces. With the possibility of playing this game without Chris Paul, Harden might need to explode for 40 points or more. And that still might not be enough. He’s still in his prime, but reaching The Finals, much less winning, isn’t guaranteed to happen. Remember how Oklahoma City was “destined” to return to The Finals when Harden played there? * Kevin Durant. His championship demons were destroyed last summer when he joined a loaded team and did exactly what everyone expected. Yet Durant didn’t sign up for a one-and-done. The only way to justify leaving OKC is by winning multiple titles. His performance in this series has gone hot and cold. This isn’t the same Durant who tore through everyone last spring and summer; he seems bewildered at times by the Houston defense. If he comes up flat and the Warriors lose, the sensitive Durant might want to stay off social media. * Chris Paul. Warriors coach Steve Kerr said what everyone feels about Paul and his hamstring injury: It stinks. Paul deserves so much more, especially after such a solid run through the playoffs in every round, including outplaying Steph Curry until the injury. Paul never reached the conference finals until now and at 33 is running out of chances to play for the championship. He’ll become an instant hero in Houston if he pulls a Willis Reed and inspires the Rockets in Game 7, then again if he beats his pal LeBron in The Finals. If not? Then he’ll wonder why the Basketball Gods are against him. * Steph Curry. A fourth straight trip to The Finals would make Curry the LeBron of the West. He shook himself free from a shooting slump to recover nicely in this series and save the Warriors from elimination in six games. * Mike D’Antoni. Validation would come finally for D’Antoni should he mastermind a victory over the four All-Star Warriors, especially so should he do it without Paul in Game 7. D’Antoni heard too often about how his offenses weren’t built to last in the postseason but nobody’s saying that now. Anyway, the Rockets employ a far different system than the one he used in Phoenix. Translated: Give him credit for adjusting and cooking up an offense to suit the talents of his players and not vice versa. Also, with the help of lead assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik, the Rockets’ defense is causing plenty of issues for the Warriors this series. Overall, D’Antoni has pushed all the right buttons. * Steve Kerr. Has he already done enough for induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame as a coach just off two championships alone? If not, then a fourth straight trip to The Finals might be the trick. But Kerr hasn’t always convinced his players to remain calm in fourth quarters. Why did the Warriors’ offense suffer costly breakdowns in Games 4 and 5? Yes, Houston’s defense rose up, but adjustments by Golden State were slow to come, if at all. * Andre Iguodala. He isn’t expected to play Game 7 and if the Warriors advance, you wonder if he’ll be ready for another shot at LeBron. The Warriors gave him a nice contract extension here in his twilight because of what he means to them in spring and summer. They could use his on-court leadership. * Draymond Green. The Warriors are still looking for a breakout game in this series from their emotional leader. It’s not that Green has been a ghost; rather, he just hasn’t stood out in the small lineup or made his presence known in a big way, other than with the referees (as usual). It would help if Green began hitting those open three-pointers the Rockets are generously giving him. * Daryl Morey. Often celebrated as one of the top general managers in the game, Morey built this Rockets team with beating the Warriors in mind. He traded for Paul and signed P.J. Tucker last summer, and those two have repaid that faith with solid playoff performances. How many more times must Morey tweak the Rockets here in the Harden era before Houston finally strikes gold. For his sake, hopefully, this was the final time. But again, much depends on Paul’s hamstring. Sometimes, the fate of your team is beyond your control. Sometimes, you need luck. * Houston. This city endured a deadly flood, then lifted itself with the help of ordinary citizens and a handful of local athletes and celebrities, then celebrated its first World Series triumph courtesy of the Astros. For the last several months, therefore, Houston has been in the headlines, and would like to add another late Monday night (Tuesday, PHL time). Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting. .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 28th, 2018

Thompson, Warriors force inevitable Game 7

By Shaun Powell, NBA.com OAKLAND, Calif. -- The final game of the Western Conference season will tip on the last Monday in May (Tuesday, PHL time) at the Toyota Center in Houston, as it should. This is the route the GPS mapped out back in October and never had any reason to recalculate from since. Warriors at Rockets in a winner-take-all. Never in doubt, no? A pair of championship-quality teams will go 48 minutes and the previous six games in this series tells us to expect a tense jump ball-to-buzzer affair. With or without Chris Paul. Paul’s inflamed right hamstring is a significant flaw, no question, yet the Rockets do have home-court advantage and will hear a crazed crowd trying to fill the void with noise if as expected Paul misses a second straight game. The Rockets didn’t have their point guard and spiritual leader Saturday (Sunday, PHL time) and still sent an early chill through the defending champions on enemy soil, going up 17 after the first quarter and 10 at halftime. Oracle Arena and the Warriors were confused. Then Game 6 flipped suddenly and drastically in the second half, as the Warriors rolled to a 115-86 victory. and here we are. Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni: “We got what we want, a seventh game on our home court, now it’s up to us to go get it.” Warriors guard Klay Thompson said: “I feel like we’re the best team in the world.” The Rockets constructed this team specifically to challenge and beat the Warriors. Meanwhile, the Warriors paced themselves through the regular season partly to conserve their attention and energy for Houston, which has Golden State’s attention like no team before in the West playoffs. Both are causing each other irritating problems. The Rockets’ defense with its switching and hand-in-the-face pressure is forcing Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry to work hard for their shots. The Warriors’ ability to thrive even if not all four of their All-Stars are clicking is testing Houston’s limits; such was the case in Game 6 when Thompson, the No. 3 Guy, broke loose for 35 points with nine threes. That’s what makes the Warriors tough to erase: They don’t need to be perfect, and good for them, because they haven’t been in this series, with the exception of their 41-point victory in Game 3. About Thompson: He was locked in, emotionally and physically, popping off screens, catching and shooting, creating space to get good looks and punching the air after big three's. The energy and the shots saved the Warriors from a lackluster and potentially deadly start. Thompson stayed in rhythm most of the night while Curry (29 points) and Durant (23) went through off-and-on cold stretches and afterward joked how he was “born” for this. “Man, that felt good, to be honest,” Thompson said. “I just wanted to play with as much passion as I could. I probably sounded more vocal than I am.” There was a natural link to the last time Thompson was this splashy in a Game 6 elimination game, two summers ago when he dropped 41 on Oklahoma City to trigger a comeback from 3-1 down. Durant was on the wrong side of that performance. “Please don’t go there,” begged Durant, bowing his head. “Next question.” Mindful of what happened right after that series -- the Warriors would blow a 3-1 lead of their own to Cleveland -- Curry said: “I think we both blocked that whole year out of our memory.” Actually, that volcanic performance by Thompson helped convince Durant to leave Oklahoma City, which led to last year’s championship and helped build a solid case for the Warriors to repeat next month. Thompson’s latest piece of work helped awaken the Warriors from being trapped in an extended state of stun, courtesy of how fierce the Rockets came at them right from the start. The Houston lead grew to double digits within minutes and stayed that way through the break. This was further evidence that the Rockets, in this game and actually for the series so far, refuse to concede anything and believe this West title is realistic even with Paul’s status uncertain. “I saw a lot of things that I liked,” said D’Antoni, “and I think we’re in a good position.” Eric Gordon, a strong candidate to win the Kia NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award, started in place of Paul and was a concern for the Warriors, drilling deep shots and scoring 19 points. Also, Harden rediscovered his own touch from that distance; he’d missed 22 straight threes in this series but made four and scored 32 points. Houston missed Paul’s composure and steady point guard hand, which could be expected. The Rockets had 22 turnovers, with the Harden-Gordon backcourt combining for 14. The other issue for the Rockets was depth. With Gordon in the starting lineup, D’Antoni was forced to give minutes to Luc Mbah a Moute, still struggling after hurting his shoulder just prior to the playoffs. He wasn’t a factor and neither was the bench. Assuming Paul sits another game, the Rockets will undoubtedly need major scoring and playmaking from Harden, solid shotgun work from Gordon and at least two members of the support group -- Trevor Ariza, P.J. Tucker, Clint Capela -- to break loose in order to make Game 7 interesting. Remember, the Rockets have now gone four straight games without breaking 100 points, and Harden appeared beaten in the fourth quarter Saturday where he went scoreless. The Warriors are also dealing with a missing part, with Andre Iguodala’s inactive streak now at three. They’re crossing fingers whenever Kevon Looney, Jordan Bell and/or Nick Young are pressed to play more than 15 minutes. None of them have distinguished themselves since Iguodala suffered a bone bruise on his left knee in Game 3. So that’s the tale of the tape. Between now and tipoff, the Rockets’ therapy staff will work on Paul’s hamstring, hoping for some intervention from the Medical Gods. In the perfect basketball world, Paul and Iguodala would be fit to play; why should the finish of this series be deprived of them, of less than what it should be? Last fall, before training camp, Paul, Harden and Tucker vacationed in the Bahamas for one last moment of chill before preparations for a season of big expectations. Obviously, they talked shop. They set goals and their sights on the Warriors. Tucker asked Paul and Harden: Imagine if we get them on our court for a Game 7. They all nodded and agreed it would be a logical scenario to launch themselves into the NBA Finals. “Obviously we hope to have our starting point guard back,” Tucker said. “If not, we need to be ready.” The Warriors held no such pre-camp huddle -- champions have what others want -- yet knew that once the Rockets added Paul, Houston would be their toughest test since Durant signed up. Warriors vs. Rockets in a single-game elimination is the proper stage, then, to determine who reps the West in the NBA Finals. D’Antoni said: “It should be a great game.” Curry: “It should be fun. This is what you play for, to be in a situation where you’re one win away from going to The Finals. You’ve got to want it.” Truthfully, neither team would rather be in a winner-take-all. Sweeping would be vastly preferred. But the other part about what Curry said is definitely true: Who wants it? Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting. .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 27th, 2018

Future is now: Tatum, Celtics push Cavaliers to the brink

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com BOSTON - Someone might want to change their All-Rookie team ballot after this one. Jayson Tatum, so young that he actually drinks the Gatorade that’s on the table when he has a podium game rather than leaving it there for cameras and branding, got 99 out of a 100 possible first-place votes from media folks for the newbie honors announced Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time). That left him a vote shy of both Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons and Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, the dueling favorites for the NBA’s Rookie of the Year Award when it’s announced next month. If Tatum merely is the Boston Celtics’ favorite rookie, though, that’s plenty. And wherever Simmons and Mitchell are at the moment, their seasons and postseasons are over. The Boston kid still is playing. Tatum scored 24 points, grabbed seven rebounds, dished four assists, pilfered four steals and blocked two shots to led the Celtics to their 96-83 Game 5 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers Wednesday night (Thursday, PHL time) at TD Garden. His plus/minus rating of plus-19 was second only to veteran Al Horford’s (plus-22) and in a pivotal game in which his teammates shot a combined 34 percent, Tatum -- who turned 20 on March 3 -- hit three of his seven three-pointers, all but one of his eight free throws and seven of his 15 field-goal attempts overall. “I think his composure [is impressive], he plays above his age,” LeBron James said earlier in the day. “I think the unfortunate events of the injuries that they’ve had have allowed him to, I believe, get better faster than I believe they expected here. It’s given him an opportunity to make ... make mistakes and learn from them and still be on the floor.” Losing Gordon Hayward to a gruesome leg injury in the season’s opening game and having Kyrie Irving limp into knee surgery and the sunset of this season in March did bump most of Boston’s players, the rookie included, up a couple spots in coach Brad Stevens’ pecking order. The No. 3 pick in last June’s Draft, Tatum was going to get his share of playing time. But he wound up becoming the fifth rookie in NBA history, and the first since Stephen Curry in 2009-10, to score at least 1,000 points and hit at least 40 percent of his three-pointers. Only eight previous rookies in Boston’s storied franchise history totaled 1,000 or more points. Jaylen Brown, Boston’s second-year wing, developed in tandem with Tatum. The pair of lithe, skilled players dripping with potential has most of the league’s personnel execs and coaches drooling. Except, with Game 6 on Friday night (Saturday, PHL time) in Cleveland for the first of two shots at eliminating the Cavaliers, the Celtics are playing as if their future is now. A truism in the NBA is that, by the end of a rookie’s first arduous season, he’s not a rookie anymore. Mix in some force-feeding due to Boston’s two injured stars and now three playoff rounds, and Tatum is racing to the right on his learning curve. “I think that we misuse the word ‘development’ sometimes,” Stevens said. “I think we're in the business of ‘enhancement.’ I think Jayson was ready to deal with everything that comes with this because of who he is and his family and all his coaches before, because he's a very emotionally steady, smart player that was going to perform at a high level above his age. “I don't know that anybody could guess this as a rookie, but you knew he was going to be really good.” Tatum sorta had to be in Game 5. Brown got matched up in a lot of Boston’s defensive coverage of James and picked up his second and third personal fouls in the second quarter. Point guard Terry Rozier looked like his road alter ego, missing 6-of-7 shots in the game’s first 24 minutes. But Tatum -- who averaged 12.7 points against Cleveland in three regular-season meetings but is at 17.2 so far in the East finals -- had 12 points by halftime, helping the Celtics to their 53-42 lead. “I just enjoy playing in the big moments, in the big games,” Tatum said. “I think that’s when I have the most fun, when things are on the line.” It was Tatum racing downcourt to chase down Kevin Love’s errant pass into the backcourt and finish with a layup that had Boston up 74-58. And it was Tatum who drew a foul on Kyle Korver with 3:11 left, prompting Cavs coach Tyronn Lue to pull a weary James. “I thought he was aggressive. I thought he was poised,” Lue said of Tatum. “Even though he was scoring the basketball, he didn’t try to rush or he didn’t press. ... He played like a veteran.” Tatum put in his work defensively Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time), but also got as good as he gave. It’s become a familiar tactic for defenders to get physically aggressive with him, trying to exploit what at this stage still is limited strength by NBA standards. His father Justin, a basketball coach in St. Louis, has said he plays tall and hasn’t yet learned to utilize his base. “JR [Smith], Jeff Green, they're playing really hard on Tatum and making it very tough,” Stevens said. “He's had a lot of experiences over the last couple weeks dealing with playoff defense. I thought Milwaukee guarded him exceptionally hard and were really committed when he drove to the rim to having multiple bodies there. I thought that Philly obviously guarded him very hard. It's hard to make plays at this level in these games, and he's done that pretty consistently.” The numbers back that up. Tatum by halftime had become only the sixth rookie in league history to reach 300 points in the postseason, the first since Jack Sikma in 1978. It was his ninth playoff game of 20 points or more, tying him with Mitchell this season and David Robinson in 1990 for second most by a rookie since 1964; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had 10 in 1970. Tatum, Brown and a few other young Celtics have given credit for the team’s unexpected success -- considering the injuries, anyway -- to Al Horford, the most obvious grown-up in Boston’s locker room. When Horford was asked late Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time) what it’s like for him being around “these kids,” he sounded a little like James three years ago. That’s when Irving was hobbling, eventually blowing out a knee that spring, and Kevin Love was done for the playoffs due to a shoulder injury suffered in the first round. That’s also when James looked at the raw help he had from guys such as Tristan Thompson and Matthew Dellavedova, and locked in on the possibility of reaching the Finals. “It's a lot of fun, just because these guys, they want to play the right way,” Horford said. “They play hard. I feel like we hold each other accountable out there. I think that's a big thing.  And when those things happen, it becomes fun. It's fun to me. And there's no coincidence why we're in this position right now.” Youth is being served, at least on the Celtics’ floor. 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 NewsMay 24th, 2018

Harden, James, Davis finalists for NBA MVP award

NEW YORK --- Houston's James Harden, Cleveland's LeBron James and Anthony Davis of New Orleans are the finalists for the NBA's MVP award. Harden, who led the league in scoring, has twice been a runner-up for the award, including last year when Russell Westbrook won. James has won the MVP award four times. The three finalists for the individual awards were announced Wednesday. The winners will be announced on June 25 in Santa Monica, California during the NBA Awards show. Davis was also a finalist for Defensive Player of the Year, along with Utah's Rudy Gobert and Philadelphia center Joel Embiid. The other finalists: ROOKIE OF THE YEAR Donovan Mitchell, Utah Ben S...Keep on reading: Harden, James, Davis finalists for NBA MVP award.....»»

Category: newsSource:  inquirerRelated NewsMay 17th, 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

Rockets, Jazz are almost there

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - James Harden scored 36 points as the Houston Rockets moved to the brink of a Western Conference first round playoff series victory with a 119-100 rout of the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday. Harden underscored his status as front-runner for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award after….....»»

Category: newsSource:  journalRelated NewsApr 24th, 2018

James Harden hits heights as Rockets soar over Timberwolves

LOS ANGELES — James Harden scored 36 points as the Houston Rockets moved to the brink of a Western Conference first round playoff series victory with a 119-100 rout of the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday. Harden underscored his status as front-runner for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award after leading a stunning third quarter performance […] The post James Harden hits heights as Rockets soar over Timberwolves appeared first on BusinessWorld......»»

Category: newsSource:  bworldonlineRelated NewsApr 24th, 2018

Harden hits heights as Rockets soar over Timberwolves

  LOS ANGELES, USA – James Harden scored 36 points as the Houston Rockets moved to the brink of a Western Conference first round playoff series victory with a 119-100 rout of the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday, April 23.  Harden underscored his status as front-runner for the NBA's Most Valuable Player award ........»»

Category: newsSource:  rapplerRelated NewsApr 24th, 2018

Paul and Harden lead No. 1 seed Rockets against Wolves

By Kristie Rieken, Associated Press HOUSTON (AP) — So far the trade for Chris Paul to give the Houston Rockets another superstar to help James Harden has worked famously. Now the two, who have both had their fair share of playoff disappointments, will try to carry their regular-season success into the postseason when the Rockets open a first-round series with Minnesota on Sunday night (Monday, PHL time). The guards have been effusive in their praise for one another, with Harden recently joking that his relationship with the nine-time All-Star was "love at first sight." Paul didn't go quite that far, but a huge smile crossed his often serious face when asked how their pairing has worked. "Unbelievable," he said. "You just [don't] get this opportunity too often in a career to play with somebody like James ... you get a chance to appreciate greatness. "What he's doing on a nightly basis and stuff like that, it's crazy and I'm in awe," Paul continued. "I'm grateful I get to play alongside him." When told of what Paul said about him, Harden was quick to answer. "You can tell," he said. "It feels like it's been forever but it's not even been a year yet." Their work in the regular season led the Rockets to a franchise-record 65 wins, their first No. 1 seed and sixth straight playoff appearance. They are looking to win the title for the first time capturing back-to-back championships in 1994-95. For the 32-year-old Paul, it's a chance for him to finally shake off years off playoff woes after making nine playoff trips without advancing past the second round. But if he is haunted by the ghosts of playoffs past, he wouldn't acknowledge it and was dismissive when asked if he thought this was his best chance to win it all. "I don't know," he said. "I don't think about all that." What he and the Rockets do know is that they're facing a talented team in the eighth-seeded Timberwolves, who had to win their last regular-season game to get into the postseason. They ended the NBA's longest active playoff drought with their berth, putting them back in the postseason for the first time since 2004 when they lost to the Lakers in the Western Conference finals. Getting the Timberwolves into the playoffs is a huge accomplishment for the entire team, but might mean just a little more to star Karl-Anthony Towns, who made a vow the night Minnesota selected him with the top overall pick in the 2015 draft. "It means more than I think words can express honestly," he said. "I made a promise to ... Flip Saunders and it meant a lot to me that I was able to keep my word." Some things to know as the Timberwolves and Rockets open their series: BACK HOME The series is a homecoming for Minnesota's Jimmy Butler, who grew up in Tomball, a suburb about 35 miles from downtown Houston. But he insists he won't have any time to get back out there this week. "Nope," he said. "Zero [time]. I ain't even going home. I'm here to work." But he did spend a little time on Saturday (Sunday, PHL time) reminiscing about his high school days when he idolized a former Rockets star. "I used to walk around the hallways and in the gym thinking I was Tracy McGrady," he said. "I remember it like it was yesterday. He was my favorite player. I wanted to wear his number, wear his tennis shoes, all of that good stuff." Butler, who returned on April 6 (April 7, PHL time) after missing 17 games with a knee injury, said he's fully recovered from his injury and is "well-rested" entering the playoffs. PLAYOFF HISTORY This is the second time these teams have met in the playoffs. Their other meeting came in Minnesota's first trip in 1997, when the Timberwolves were swept in three games. That Houston team was led by Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and Charles Barkley, and the Wolves featured Kevin Garnett, Stephon Marbury and Tom Gugliotta. LIMIT KAT FROM LONG RANGE The Rockets are resigned to the fact that Towns, who led the NBA in double-doubles, will get his points under the basket and plenty of rebounds. "He's going to get a double-double," Houston coach Mike D'Antoni said. "That's who he is." However, they are not OK with letting him shoot three-pointers. The seven-foot Towns ranked 14th in the league with a 42 percent average from three-point range and knocked down a career-high 120 three-pointers this season. "We [can't] leave him open or let him walk into a 3 because we're not guarding him," D'Antoni said. "We have to be aware of that. You can't take away his post-ups and his moves in there. He's going to score on anybody, but you can do a really good job on the three's." HARDEN'S MOTIVATION Despite finishing as the runner-up for MVP last season and being a front-runner for this year's award, Harden still faces plenty of criticism for some of his past performances in the playoffs, notably, a terrible performance in an embarrassing 114-75 elimination loss to San Antonio in the conference semifinals last season. But he has never been motivated by criticism, and he finds his drive in a far different place. "Just going out there and being the best that I can be," he said. "There's no negativity that someone can say that can motivate me. Some people can get motivated by that. I don't really care.".....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsApr 15th, 2018

2018 MLB preview: AL East

By The Associated Press Capsules of American League East teams, listed in order of finish last year: ___ Boston Red Sox 2017: 93-69, first place, lost to Houston in ALDS. Manager: Alex Cora (first season). He's Here: DH J.D. Martinez. He's Outta Here: Manager John Farrell, RHP Doug Fister, OF Chris Young, RHP Addison Reed, OF Rajai Davis, LHP Henry Owens, LHP Fernando Abad. Projected Lineup: RF Mookie Betts (.264, 24 HRs, 102 RBIs), LF Andrew Benintendi (.271, 20, 90), 1B Hanley Ramirez (.242, 23, 62) or Mitch Moreland (.246, 22, 79), DH J.D. Martinez (.303, 45, 104 with Tigers and Diamondbacks), 3B Rafael Devers (.284, 10, 30 in 58 games), SS Xander Bogaerts (.273, 10, 62), CF Jackie Bradley Jr. (.245, 17, 63), C Christian Vazquez (.290, 5, 32) or Sandy Leon (.225, 7, 39), 2B Eduardo Nunez (.313, 12, 58, 24 SBs with Giants and Red Sox) or Dustin Pedroia (.293, 7, 62, .369 OBP in 105 games, expected to be out until late May following knee surgery). Rotation: LH Chris Sale (17-8, 2.90 ERA, MLB-best 308 Ks, MLB-high 214 1/3 IP), LH David Price (6-3, 3.38, 11 starts, 5 relief appearances), RH Rick Porcello (11-17, 4.65), LH Drew Pomeranz (17-6, 3.32, expected to begin season on disabled list with strained left forearm), RH Hector Velazquez (3-1, 2.92) or RH Steven Wright (1-3, 8.25 in 5 starts) or LH Eduardo Rodriguez (6-7, 4.19). Key Relievers: RH Craig Kimbrel (5-0, 1.43, 35/39 saves), RH Carson Smith (0-0, 1.35, 1 save in 8 games), RH Matt Barnes (7-3, 3.88), RH Joe Kelly (4-1, 2.79), RH Tyler Thornburg (injured in 2017, expected to begin season on DL). Hot Spot: Starting Rotation. This group has the potential to be the strength of the team, with two Cy Young Award winners and four All-Stars to choose from. But other than Sale, it has been spotty. And in the four-game playoff loss to the eventual World Series champion Astros last year, the Red Sox didn't get a single quality start as the rotation totaled just 11 1/3 innings. The first four spots are spoken for, aside from the injury to Pomeranz. Among those competing with Velazquez for the fifth spot are Wright, Rodriguez and Brian Johnson. Wright, a knuckleballer and 2016 All-Star, had left knee surgery in May and missed the rest of the 2017 season. Rodriguez had major right knee surgery in October. It's possible neither will be ready for opening day, but both could be back by mid-April. Outlook: The Red Sox won 93 games last year for the second straight season and claimed the franchise's first back-to-back AL East titles. But Farrell was fired after they failed to advance in the playoffs for the fourth year in a row. The key — and really only — addition is Martinez, who gives them someone to replace longtime slugger David Ortiz after finishing last in the AL in homers without Big Papi in 2017. The theory behind Boston keeping up with the reloaded New York Yankees goes something like this: A full season of a healthy Price will bolster a rotation that already has a quality ace in Sale, plus 2016 AL Cy Young Award winner Porcello and All-Stars Pomeranz and Wright. The Red Sox also are staking their chances on the hope that Ramirez can be more like the player he was in 2016 (.286, 30, 111); that Pedroia will return quickly and be healthy and productive; that 20-year-old third baseman Devers will be able to stay up for a full season; and that Bradley won't have another second-half slump. The bullpen, anchored by Kimbrel, remains strong. ___ New York Yankees 2017: 91-71, second place, wild card, lost to Houston in ALCS. Manager: Aaron Boone (first season). He's Here: OF Giancarlo Stanton, 2B Neil Walker, 3B Brandon Drury. He's Outta Here: Manager Joe Girardi, 2B Starlin Castro, 3B-1B Chase Headley, 3B Todd Frazier, DH Matt Holliday, LHP Jaime Garcia. Projected Lineup: LF Brett Gardner (.264, 21 HRs, 63 RBIs, 96 runs, 23 SBs), RF Aaron Judge (.284, AL-leading 52, 114, MLB-high 208 Ks), 1B Greg Bird (.190, 9, 28 in 48 games), DH Giancarlo Stanton (.281, MLB-leading 59, MLB-best 132, 163 Ks with Marlins), C Gary Sanchez (.278, 33, 90, 120 Ks in 122 games), SS Didi Gregorius (.287, 25, 87), CF Aaron Hicks (.266, 15, 52 in 88 games), 2B Neil Walker (.265, 14, 49 with Mets and Brewers), 3B Brandon Drury (.267, 13, 63 with Diamondbacks). Rotation: RH Luis Severino (14-8, 2.98 ERA, 230 Ks in 193 1/3 IP), RH Masahiro Tanaka (13-12, 4.74, 194 Ks), LH CC Sabathia (14-5, 3.69), RH Sonny Gray (10-12, 3.55 with Athletics and Yankees), LH Jordan Montgomery (9-7, 3.88 in 29 starts). Key Relievers: LH Aroldis Chapman (4-3, 3.22, 22/26 saves, 69 Ks, 50 1/3 IP in 52 games), RH David Robertson (9-2, 1.48, 14/16 saves in 61 games with White Sox and Yankees), RH Dellin Betances (3-6, 2.87, 10/13 saves, 100 Ks, 50 2/3 IP in 66 games), RH Tommy Kahnle (2-4, 2.59, 96 Ks in 62 2/3 IP with White Sox and Yankees), RH Chad Green (5-0, 1.83, 103 Ks in 69 IP), RH Adam Warren (3-2, 2.35 in 44 games), LH Chasen Shreve (4-1, 3.77 in 44 games). Hot Spot: Starting Rotation. There is little seasoned depth if injuries develop, with Luis Cessa the first candidate to step up, and Chance Adams and Justus Sheffield needing more time in the minors. Sabathia turns 38 in July and while he is coming off his best and most durable season in five years, his surgically repaired right knee requires periodic injections of painkiller. Severino must maintain his consistency of 2017 after going 3-8 the previous year, when he was demoted to the minors. Montgomery is expected to increase his innings from 155 1/3. The back end of New York's rotation puts pressure on its bullpen: While Severino averaged 99 pitches per start, Gray 98 and Tanaka 94, Sabathia and Montgomery were at 87 each. Outlook: New York figures to score a lot and strike out a lot, a reason the Yankees signed the switch-hitting, high-contact Walker during spring training. Drury also was a late addition, enabling New York to start prospects Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar in the minors. Betances faded in the second half last season, struggling with his mechanics and control and diminishing from a four-time All-Star to a mop-up man. After a pair of injury-decimated seasons, Bird is being counted on as a left-handed power bat in the middle of the batting order who can prevent opponents from bringing in right-handed relievers to attack Judge, Stanton and Sanchez. Hicks missed nearly half of last season with oblique injuries but has displaced Jacoby Ellsbury as the regular center fielder. Having never managed or coached at any level, Boone succeeded Girardi and must establish with players and the public that he knows what he is doing. ___ Tampa Bay Rays 2017: 80-82, third place. Manager: Kevin Cash (fourth season). He's Here: OF Denard Span, 1B C.J. Cron, RHP Nathan Eovaldi, OF Jake Bauers. He's Outta Here: 3B Evan Longoria, RHP Alex Cobb, RHP Jake Odorizzi, OF-DH Corey Dickerson, OF Steven Souza Jr., 1B Logan Morrison, 1B-DH Lucas Duda, RHP Brad Boxberger, RHP Steve Cishek, RHP Tommy Hunter, OF Peter Bourjos, INF Trever Plouffe, RHP Chase Whitley. Projected Lineup: LF Denard Span (.272, 12 HRs, 43 RBIs, 31 2Bs, 12 SBs in 129 games with Giants), CF Kevin Kiermaier (.276, 15, 39 in 98 games), C Wilson Ramos (.260, 11, 35 in 64 games), RF Carlos Gomez (.255, 17, 51 with Rangers), 1B C.J. Cron (.248, 16, 56 with Angels), DH Brad Miller (.201, 9, 40), 3B Matt Duffy (sidelined by Achilles tendon injury), 2B Daniel Robertson (.206, 5, 19) or Joey Wendle (.285, 8, 54 in 118 games with Triple-A Nashville), SS Adeiny Hechavarria (.261, 8, 30 with Marlins and Rays). Rotation: RH Chris Archer (10-12, 4.07 ERA, 249 Ks in 34 starts), LH Blake Snell (5-7, 4.04 in 24 starts), RH Nathan Eovaldi (missed season following Tommy John surgery), RH Jake Faria (5-4, 3.43 in 16 games, 14 starts). Key Relievers: RH Alex Colome (2-3, 3.24, 47/53 saves), RH Matt Andriese (5-5, 4.50), RH Sergio Romo (3-1, 3.56 in 55 appearances with Dodgers and Rays; 2-0, 1.47 in 25 games with Rays), LH Dan Jennings (3-1, 3.45 in 77 games with White Sox and Rays), RH Andrew Kittredge (0-1, 1.76 in 15 games), RH Chaz Roe (0-0, 9.00 in 3 games with Braves), RH Austin Pruitt (7-5, 5.31), LH Joe Alvarado (0-3, 3.64). Hot Spot: Starting Rotation. Normally, the Rays are built around good, young starting pitching and solid defense, a formula that will be tested after losing Cobb to free agency, trading Odorizzi and settling on a plan to use a four-man rotation, instead of the customary five. Cash intends to use multiple relievers on floating "bullpen days" slotted to allow the four starters to pitch on regular rest. It may not be a conventional setup, but the Rays are confident they have enough good arms to make it work. Outlook: The Rays sport a new look after a winter of trimming payroll. In addition to the departures of Cobb and Odorizzi, the heart of a batting order that hit a club-record 228 homers — Longoria, Dickerson, Souza and Morrison — is gone, too. Archer, a two-time All-Star, is set to make his franchise-record fourth opening day start, and Colome is back at closer, too. The question that remains unanswered is, for how long? Cash and general manager Erik Neander aren't making any bold predictions but they insist that despite all the changes, the Rays have a chance to be a lot more competitive than it appears on paper. ___ Toronto Blue Jays 2017: 76-86, fourth place. Manager: John Gibbons (sixth season of second stint, 11th overall with Blue Jays). He's Here: LHP Jaime Garcia, OF Randal Grichuk, OF Curtis Granderson, RHP Seung-hwan Oh, INF Yangervis Solarte, INF Aledmys Diaz, RHP John Axford, RHP Tyler Clippard, INF Danny Espinosa, RHP Taylor Guerrieri, INF Gift Ngoepe, LHP Sam Moll, RHP Sam Gaviglio. He's Outta Here: OF Jose Bautista, OF Ezequiel Carrera, RHP Dominic Leone, LHP Brett Anderson, INF Darwin Barney, RHP Leonel Campos, OF Darrell Ceciliani, RHP Taylor Cole, INF Ryan Goins, C Raffy Lopez, RHP Tom Koehler, RHP Dominic Leone, C Miguel Montero, INF Rob Refsnyder, OF Michael Saunders, RHP Bo Schultz, RHP Cesar Valdez. Projected Lineup: 2B Devon Travis (.259, 5 HRs, 24 RBIs in 50 games), 3B Josh Donaldson (.270, 33, 78), 1B Justin Smoak (.270, 38, 90), DH Kendrys Morales (.250, 28, 85), LF Steve Pearce (.252, 13, 37) or Curtis Granderson (.212, 26, 64 with Mets and Dodgers), C Russell Martin (.221, 13, 35), SS Troy Tulowitzki (.249, 7, 26 in 66 games), RF Randal Grichuk (.238, 22, 59 with Cardinals), CF Kevin Pillar (.256, 16, 42). Rotation: LH J.A. Happ (10-11, 3.53 ERA), RH Aaron Sanchez (1-3, 4.25 in 8 games), RH Marco Estrada (10-9, 4.98), RH Marcus Stroman (13-9, 3.09), LH Jaime Garcia (5-10, 4.41 with Braves, Twins and Yankees). Key Relievers: RH Roberto Osuna (3-4, 3.39, 39/49 saves), RH Ryan Tepera (7-1, 3.59, 2 saves), RH Danny Barnes (3-6, 3.55), RH Seung Hwan Oh (1-6, 4.10, 20 saves with Cardinals), LH Aaron Loup (2-3, 3.75), RH John Axford (0-1, 6.43 with Athletics), RH Tyler Clippard (2-8, 4.77, 5 saves with White Sox, Yankees and Astros). Hot Spot: Shortstop. Tulowitzki is owed $20 million in each of 2018 and 2019, and $14 million in 2020, the final season of a 10-year contract he received from Colorado. Tulo has missed at least 30 games in six straight seasons, and will begin 2018 on the disabled list because of a bone spur in his right heel. Although the Blue Jays have multiple backup options, they could be waiting at least a month, if not longer, for the five-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove winner to return. Tulowitzki sustained a season-ending injury to his right ankle in late July last year. Outlook: The powerful Yankees and reigning division champion Red Sox are considered playoff favorites in the AL East, so the expectation is the Blue Jays will be left to compete for the second wild card. If Donaldson and Smoak help the offense rebound from last season's injury-induced stumble, when Toronto scored an AL-low 693 runs, and the starting pitching stays strong and healthy, the Blue Jays might be able to mount a playoff push. Health concerns remain plentiful, however. Besides Tulowitzki's troublesome heel, Travis will need scheduled downtime to rest his surgically repaired right knee. Stroman was slowed by a sore shoulder in spring training, and Sanchez will be closely monitored after making just eight starts last year because of blister issues. ___ Baltimore Orioles 2017: 75-87, fifth place. Manager: Buck Showalter (ninth season). He's Here: RHP Alex Cobb, RHP Andrew Cashner, OF Colby Rasmus, LHP Nestor Cortes Jr., C Andrew Susac, INF Engelb Vielma, OF Austin Hays. He's Outta Here: C Welington Castillo, SS J.J. Hardy, RHP Ubaldo Jimenez, LHP Wade Miley, RHP Jeremy Hellickson. Projected Lineup: LF Trey Mancini (.293, 24 HRs, 78 RBIs), 2B Jonathan Schoop (.293, 32, 105, 35 2Bs), SS Manny Machado (.259, 33, 95, 33 2Bs), CF Adam Jones (.285, 26, 73), 1B Chris Davis (.215, 26, 61, 61 BBs, 195 Ks), 3B Tim Beckham (.259, 12, 36 in 87 games with Rays; .306, 10, 26 in 50 games with Orioles), DH Mark Trumbo (.234, 23, 65, 149 Ks), RF Colby Rasmus (.281, 9, 23 with Rays), C Caleb Joseph (.256, 8, 28). Rotation: RH Dylan Bundy (13-9, 4.24 ERA, 152 Ks), RH Kevin Gausman (11-12, 4.68, 179 Ks), RH Alex Cobb (12-10, 3.66 with Rays), RH Andrew Cashner (11-11, 3.40 with Rangers), RH Chris Tillman (1-7, 7.84) or RH Miguel Castro (3-3, 3.53 in 39 games, 1 start). Key Relievers: RH Brad Brach (4-5, 3.18, 18/24 saves), RH Darren O'Day (2-3, 3.43, 2 saves), LH Richard Bleier (2-1, 1.99), RH Mychal Givens (8-1, 2.75). Hot Spot: Starting Rotation. The late addition of Cobb fills out a previously shaky unit, but depth and experience are still an issue. Bundy and Gausman were decent last season, but the young right-handers must take another step forward. Jimenez and Hellickson have been replaced by Cashner, on his third team in four years, and Castro, a converted reliever with one career start. Tillman, re-signed as a free agent, has to prove that his miserable 2017 season was merely a fluke rather than the beginning of the end of a career that two years ago appeared to be blooming. Should any of the starters get injured, the team has very few options on the staff and in the minors beyond right-hander Mike Wright, who's got a lifetime ERA of 5.86. Outlook: The Orioles were 25-16 and in first place last year before fading to their first losing season since 2011. The prospect for improvement will rest on a power-laden lineup that needs Davis and Trumbo to rebound from poor performances, but both sluggers fought through injuries this spring and Trumbo will be on the disabled list on opening day. With a shaky rotation and a bullpen that is without injured closer Zach Britton, the Orioles must score plenty of runs to make some noise in the AL East. Baltimore's defense, usually a strong point, was not particularly efficient in 2017. The team addressed the problem by switching Machado to shortstop and working hard on fundamentals this spring. Most important, this could be the last season in Baltimore for Jones and Machado, whose contracts expire after 2018. If the Orioles are sputtering in July, the most intriguing aspect of the team might be whether one or both stars get jettisoned before the July 31 trade deadline......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMar 29th, 2018

Messi begins road to Russia as Argentina chase World Cup glory

Lionel Messi begins his road to World Cup redemption on Friday as Argentina take on Italy in a glamour friendly, desperate to win a major international prize to crown his glorious career. In Barcelona's colours, Messi has experienced nothing but success, winning eight La Liga titles and four Champions League crowns, while earning FIFA's Ballon d'Or award five times. But pulling on Argentina's blue-and-white striped shirt has brought the forward some of the most painful moments of his career. Rarely able to hit the same heights with Argentina that he routinely scales with Barcelona, Messi has endured stinging criticism from albiceleste fans at times. Nobody would dispute...Keep on reading: Messi begins road to Russia as Argentina chase World Cup glory.....»»

Category: newsSource:  inquirerRelated NewsMar 22nd, 2018

By the Numbers: Westbrook s 100th triple-double

By Brian Martin, NBA.com On Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time) in Atlanta, Russell Westbrook became just the fourth player in NBA history to record 100 career triple-doubles. He finished with 32 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists to lead the Thunder past the Hawks on the second night of a back-to-back (he had a triple-double on the front end as well) to join some elite company in the 100 triple-double club. All-Time Leaders: Career Triple-Doubles Box Scores: All 100 Westbrook Triple-Doubles Here are 10 key numbers on Westbrook’s run to the triple-double record books. 4: Westbrook joined Oscar Robertson (181), Magic Johnson (138) and Jason Kidd (107) as the only players in NBA history to rack up 100 triple-doubles in their career. Considering Westbrook is only in his 10th season and has 63 of his 100 triple-doubles in the past two seasons, he has a strong chance to challenge the all-time mark of 181. 29: Westbrook is the only player to record a triple-double against all 29 opposing teams. Westbrook’s 100th triple-double came against the Atlanta Hawks, who have allowed four of Westbrook’s triple-doubles. However, the Hawks are not the most frequent victim of a Westbrook triple-double. That honor goes to the Philadelphia 76ers, who have allowed six Westbrook triple-doubles, with each coming in an OKC win. Westbrook's Most Triple-Doubles By Opponent 6: Philadelphia 5: Houston, Indiana, New Orleans, Orlando, Sacramento, Utah 4: Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Memphis, Milwaukee, Minnesota, New York, Phoenix, Washington 42: Westbrook holds the single-season record for triple-doubles as he recorded 42 in his run to last season’s Most Valuable Player award, breaking Robertson’s record of 41 that had stood for 55 years. Westbrook has also recorded 42 of his 100 triple-doubles on the road. 50: Westbrook has three 50-point triple-doubles in the regular season and one in the postseason. Last March, he set the record for most points scored in a triple-double with 57, but that mark was topped by James Harden (60) in January of this year. In addition to his three 50-point triple-doubles, Westbrook has eight more with at least 40 points. 82: The Thunder have won 82 of the 100 games in which Westbrook has recorded a triple-double for an incredible .820 win percentage. Since Westbrook entered the league in 2008-09, the Thunder have gone 482-310 overall (.609). If you take away Westbrook’s 100 triple-double games, the Thunder have gone 400-292 (.578) since he was drafted. 736: Westbrook’s 100th triple-double came in his 736th career game, making him the third-fastest to reach the 100 triple-double milestone behind Robertson and Johnson. 849: The Thunder have outscored their opponents by a total of 849 points when Westbrook records a triple-double. Between his plus/minus and the Thunder’s win percentage, there is no doubt of the correlation between Westbrook’s triple-doubles and team success. 2,689: Westbrook has scored 2,689 points during his 100 triple-doubles for an average of 26.9 points, which is four points greater than his career average of 22.9 points per game. 1,232: Westbrook has grabbed 1,232 rebounds during his 100 triple-doubles for an average of 12.3 rebounds, which nearly doubles his carer average of 6.5 rebounds per game. Of his 1,232 rebounds, 211 came on the offensive glass and 1,021 came on the defensive glass. 1,264: Westbrook has dished out 1,264 assists during his 100 triple-doubles, for an average of 12.6 assists, which is four-and-a-half more than his career average of 8.1 assists per game. Westbrook is on pace to lead the league in assists for the first time this season with an average of 10.2 per game......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMar 14th, 2018

Fajardo to receive fourth straight PSA Mr. Basketball award

June Mar Fajardo is expected to cast a giant shadow over next week’s staging of the SMC-PSA (Philippine Sportswriters Association) Awards Night at the Maynila Hall of the Manila Hotel. The San Miguel big man will be bestowed the Mighty Sports Mr. Basketball award during the Feb. 27 rites presented by MILO and Cignal TV for another dominant PBA season last year which saw the 6-foot-10 Cebuano pride romp off with an unprecedented fourth straight MVP trophy.  Fajardo became the first-ever player to win the league’s highest individual award four consecutive seasons - and only the third in history to emerge a four-time MVP after legends Ramon Fernandez and Alvin Patrimonio. This will also be the fourth straight time the oldest media organization in the country is honoring the 28-year-old center for excellence in basketball. Last year, Fajardo further established his claim as the biggest name in Philippine basketball today after steering the Beermen to a record-tying three straight Philippine Cup championships that allowed the fable franchise to become only the second team in PBA annals to bring home the June Bernardino Perpetual trophy after TnT Katropa.  The former no. 1 pick out of University of Cebu also proved his worth by leading Gilas Pilipinas to a sweep of the Southeast Asian Basketball Association (SEABA) Championship, and then suited up for the national team in its FIBA Asia Cup campaign despite suffering a strained calf muscle prior to the ballclub’s departure for Beirut, Lebanon. Previous players hailed as Mr. Basketball include Calvin Abueva and Terrence Romeo.  Volleyball players Dawn Macandili and Marck Espejo as well as well as golfer Clyde Mondilla are also recipients of special awards during the affair that has the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) as major sponsor and backers in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), Mighty Sports, Globalport, Rain or Shine, and Smart.  Macandili, adjudged second Best Libero during the 2017 Asian Women’s Volleyball Championships here, will be handed the Ms. Volleyball title, while Espejo is Mr. Volleyball on account of him winning a fourth UAAP MVP trophy after steering Ateneo to a third straight championship.  For topping the Philippine Golf Tour Order of Merit (OOM), Mondilla is Mr. Golf of the year. The four special awardees are part of the total 105 personalities and entities which make up the season’s honor roll list, topped by PSA-Tapa King Athlete of the Year Jerwin Ancajas, Carlo Biado, and Krizziah Lyn Tabora. Agriculture Secretary Manny Pinol, a former sportswriter, columnist, and boxing analyst, will be the special guest of honor of this year’s event......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsFeb 21st, 2018

With LA as backdrop, NBA opens latest ASG chapter

By Shaun Powell, NBA.com LOS ANGELES — There’s a very real chance of seeing it all at the NBA All-Star Game from the world’s greatest players and athletes, who are trained to entertain. And they deliver on that, every year, for the most part. Which brings us to this year’s showpiece: Will we finally see the All-Stars play defense, or not? Simple question. Over the last three years, they game morphed into a blob of uncontested shots and layups with the pace of a NASCAR event and the intensity level of a turtle race. Last year Steph Curry comically dropped to the floor rather than putting his body between Giannis Antetokounmpo and the rim (maybe wisely, but still). That was a flash-point moment. Perhaps because of fear of getting injured, or maybe the body just needs a break after a half-season, players rarely spent much energy trying to stop anyone. That led to wild and repetitious scoring sprees, where the losing team averaged 170 points, and ultimately, new changes designed to encourage players to at least simulate a real game and turn it up two notches. And so, Sunday’s (Monday, PHL time) game at Staples Center will serve as the laboratory rat and perhaps usher a new era for the midseason game. If today’s players treat it the way the old-timers did, then this could be special. If not, this could be 194-187. “I think it’ll be different,” said Curry. The rules committee was alarmed enough by the public backlash of the last two games, where the winning West team came a combined 12 points from hitting the 200-point mark, that the traditional format was scrapped. No longer is it East vs. West, now it’s the leading vote-getter in both conferences choosing their own squad, regardless of conference. Therefore, Team Stephen will tip against Team LeBron with the mixed squads lending some intrigue and could cure the defense and intensity issues. As an added bonus, each member of the winning team will receive $100,000 vs. $25,000 for the losers, although it must be mentioned that the only player in an All-Star uniform making below eight figures is Karl-Anthony Towns. Still, the idea was to raise the incentive level and hoping it raises the fourth-quarter heat. The coach of the LeBron team, Dwane Casey of the Raptors, said he plans to do his part by shuffling the minutes based on who’s trying the hardest. “I went to our players individually and asked two questions: ‘Do you want to put on a show, or do you want to win? Let me know.’ I’d like them to go and compete. I want to win. We owe it to the league and the fans to let them know that the NBA isn’t about rolling the ball out there. There are a lot of fundamental things we can do on the court, and it starts with the All-Star Game, with everyone watching.” It helps that the game will feature a few subplots designed to make it interesting. Such as: LeBron and Kyrie Irving, together again. They had a mysterious split last summer after Irving, two years removed from a championship in Cleveland and with the chance of additional chances to win another, demanded and received a trade. He’s in Boston now, creating a rivalry with Cleveland whereas none existed before the deal. But apparently there was no acrimony generated by the split and the two have remained on decent terms, based on the chatter between them. Nothing personal, in other words. And anyway, LeBron chose Irving for this team. The reunion, says Irving, will be “pretty awesome.” LeBron: “Listen, anytime I get an opportunity to be with a fellow teammate of mine on the same court, and then you add on the fact of what we were able to accomplish in the three years, they just make it special. You automatically start thinking about the moments. There was a time when I was in Miami when I thought about if there was a chance for me to be Kyrie's teammate at All-Star Weekend. I thought about that. I didn't think it would be possible, and then we became teammates. We were on the same All-Star court together as teammates. Those thoughts still go into my head of how great it was to break the drought in our city, over 50-plus years, when the both of us had magical, magical Finals runs. So, it's always special. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, together again. Well, the two ex-Thunder ‘mates did play for the West squad last season, yet kept their distance, both on and off the court, the entire weekend. Also, they had testy exchanges this season, evidence that if nothing else, the competitive spirit between them remains high. Yet, all seems civil regarding the split two years later, maybe because Westbrook gained a half-measure of revenge when Paul George arrived this season. Curry and James Harden, together. As team captain, Curry selected Harden, and at least for one weekend, the two will put aside some natural conflict. One: They’re among the leading candidates for the MVP award, and those in the Harden camp believe he was robbed of the second MVP won by Curry. Two: The Warriors and Rockets are engaged in a thermal race for top spot in the West, with the Rockets beating Golden State twice this season so far. (Side note: Curry responded “Ha” the other day when asked who should win the MVP this year, him or Harden. Just “ha.”) Joel Embiid. The fun-loving big man makes his All-Star debut and promises to bring his infectious personality to the game and also his astonishing skills, rare for a seven-footer. Look for Embiid to make a strong big for game MVP and doing so apologetically. His competition could come from Antetokounmpo and either winner would signal a victory for a league looking for yet another superstar. But, the game itself. Will it be taken seriously? “We've talked about it.” said Irving. “Like I said, I think it's more individually based in terms of the competitive fire. But I know that we're pretty excited to be out there and compete and go at one another for a little bit and have a little fun.” Last year, Antetokounmpo was playfully chastised by his teammates for going full-tilt and challenging shots and essentially treating it like a playoff game. It was his first All-Star appearance and he was surprised by the mild tone of the pace. Victor Oladipo, a first-timer this year, doesn’t believe that’ll happen to him. “My competitive nature is going to get the best of me,” he said. The unspoken concern, of course, is injury, although there’s no documented case of a player ever pulling up lame in the game. Imagine the outcry, for example, if the intensity soars and someone grabs a body part. The fallout will be steep, and with that in mind, many coaches tell their players to ease off the gas pedal. “I don’t want anyone to get hurt,” said Casey, “but we want to change the narrative about this game and how it’s played. I find that when players do things half-way or go through the motions, that’s when they’re more liable to get hurt.” And so, with that in mind, with a revamped format and a bit more pocket change for the winner and an audience that would like to see some floor burn for a change, the All-Stars just could make this game interesting. That starts with defense. “The challenge is, if you’re going to play to win, you’re going to compete on the defensive end, especially in transition,” said Casey. “That’s where the all-star game kind of deteriorates. You got to start your transition defense, our one on one defense, and put defense in the game because if you don’t, it will be 160, 170 points. I don’t know if we’re going to change it all in one game, but that’s our goal is to try to be more serious on defense, and not trick passes and trick shots and circus mentality. “These guys can entertain and also play defense and give a more competitive game. They are good enough to pull it off. That’s what I hope to see and what fans hope to see.” Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting. .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsFeb 19th, 2018

With LA as backdrop, NBA opens latest ASG chapter

By Shaun Powell, NBA.com LOS ANGELES — There’s a very real chance of seeing it all at the NBA All-Star Game from the world’s greatest players and athletes, who are trained to entertain. And they deliver on that, every year, for the most part. Which brings us to this year’s showpiece: Will we finally see the All-Stars play defense, or not? Simple question. Over the last three years, they game morphed into a blob of uncontested shots and layups with the pace of a NASCAR event and the intensity level of a turtle race. Last year Steph Curry comically dropped to the floor rather than putting his body between Giannis Antetokounmpo and the rim (maybe wisely, but still). That was a flash-point moment. Perhaps because of fear of getting injured, or maybe the body just needs a break after a half-season, players rarely spent much energy trying to stop anyone. That led to wild and repetitious scoring sprees, where the losing team averaged 170 points, and ultimately, new changes designed to encourage players to at least simulate a real game and turn it up two notches. And so, Sunday’s (Monday, PHL time) game at Staples Center will serve as the laboratory rat and perhaps usher a new era for the midseason game. If today’s players treat it the way the old-timers did, then this could be special. If not, this could be 194-187. “I think it’ll be different,” said Curry. The rules committee was alarmed enough by the public backlash of the last two games, where the winning West team came a combined 12 points from hitting the 200-point mark, that the traditional format was scrapped. No longer is it East vs. West, now it’s the leading vote-getter in both conferences choosing their own squad, regardless of conference. Therefore, Team Stephen will tip against Team LeBron with the mixed squads lending some intrigue and could cure the defense and intensity issues. As an added bonus, each member of the winning team will receive $100,000 vs. $25,000 for the losers, although it must be mentioned that the only player in an All-Star uniform making below eight figures is Karl-Anthony Towns. Still, the idea was to raise the incentive level and hoping it raises the fourth-quarter heat. The coach of the LeBron team, Dwane Casey of the Raptors, said he plans to do his part by shuffling the minutes based on who’s trying the hardest. “I went to our players individually and asked two questions: ‘Do you want to put on a show, or do you want to win? Let me know.’ I’d like them to go and compete. I want to win. We owe it to the league and the fans to let them know that the NBA isn’t about rolling the ball out there. There are a lot of fundamental things we can do on the court, and it starts with the All-Star Game, with everyone watching.” It helps that the game will feature a few subplots designed to make it interesting. Such as: LeBron and Kyrie Irving, together again. They had a mysterious split last summer after Irving, two years removed from a championship in Cleveland and with the chance of additional chances to win another, demanded and received a trade. He’s in Boston now, creating a rivalry with Cleveland whereas none existed before the deal. But apparently there was no acrimony generated by the split and the two have remained on decent terms, based on the chatter between them. Nothing personal, in other words. And anyway, LeBron chose Irving for this team. The reunion, says Irving, will be “pretty awesome.” LeBron: “Listen, anytime I get an opportunity to be with a fellow teammate of mine on the same court, and then you add on the fact of what we were able to accomplish in the three years, they just make it special. You automatically start thinking about the moments. There was a time when I was in Miami when I thought about if there was a chance for me to be Kyrie's teammate at All-Star Weekend. I thought about that. I didn't think it would be possible, and then we became teammates. We were on the same All-Star court together as teammates. Those thoughts still go into my head of how great it was to break the drought in our city, over 50-plus years, when the both of us had magical, magical Finals runs. So, it's always special. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, together again. Well, the two ex-Thunder ‘mates did play for the West squad last season, yet kept their distance, both on and off the court, the entire weekend. Also, they had testy exchanges this season, evidence that if nothing else, the competitive spirit between them remains high. Yet, all seems civil regarding the split two years later, maybe because Westbrook gained a half-measure of revenge when Paul George arrived this season. Curry and James Harden, together. As team captain, Curry selected Harden, and at least for one weekend, the two will put aside some natural conflict. One: They’re among the leading candidates for the MVP award, and those in the Harden camp believe he was robbed of the second MVP won by Curry. Two: The Warriors and Rockets are engaged in a thermal race for top spot in the West, with the Rockets beating Golden State twice this season so far. (Side note: Curry responded “Ha” the other day when asked who should win the MVP this year, him or Harden. Just “ha.”) Joel Embiid. The fun-loving big man makes his All-Star debut and promises to bring his infectious personality to the game and also his astonishing skills, rare for a seven-footer. Look for Embiid to make a strong big for game MVP and doing so apologetically. His competition could come from Antetokounmpo and either winner would signal a victory for a league looking for yet another superstar. But, the game itself. Will it be taken seriously? “We've talked about it.” said Irving. “Like I said, I think it's more individually based in terms of the competitive fire. But I know that we're pretty excited to be out there and compete and go at one another for a little bit and have a little fun.” Last year, Antetokounmpo was playfully chastised by his teammates for going full-tilt and challenging shots and essentially treating it like a playoff game. It was his first All-Star appearance and he was surprised by the mild tone of the pace. Victor Oladipo, a first-timer this year, doesn’t believe that’ll happen to him. “My competitive nature is going to get the best of me,” he said. The unspoken concern, of course, is injury, although there’s no documented case of a player ever pulling up lame in the game. Imagine the outcry, for example, if the intensity soars and someone grabs a body part. The fallout will be steep, and with that in mind, many coaches tell their players to ease off the gas pedal. “I don’t want anyone to get hurt,” said Casey, “but we want to change the narrative about this game and how it’s played. I find that when players do things half-way or go through the motions, that’s when they’re more liable to get hurt.” And so, with that in mind, with a revamped format and a bit more pocket change for the winner and an audience that would like to see some floor burn for a change, the All-Stars just could make this game interesting. That starts with defense. “The challenge is, if you’re going to play to win, you’re going to compete on the defensive end, especially in transition,” said Casey. “That’s where the all-star game kind of deteriorates. You got to start your transition defense, our one on one defense, and put defense in the game because if you don’t, it will be 160, 170 points. I don’t know if we’re going to change it all in one game, but that’s our goal is to try to be more serious on defense, and not trick passes and trick shots and circus mentality. “These guys can entertain and also play defense and give a more competitive game. They are good enough to pull it off. That’s what I hope to see and what fans hope to see.” Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting. .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsFeb 18th, 2018

Storylines abound after 2018 NBA All-Star draft

NBA.com staff report There is an alternate universe in which LeBron James and Kyrie Irving are once again teammates, where the Warriors' star quartet is divided, and where players who very recently exchanged barbs must now share locker rooms. Welcome to the world of the 2018 NBA All-Star Game, which sports a very different twist after Thursday's (Friday, PHL time) inaugural draft in which team captains James and Stephen Curry selected their teammates. Here is what we know: James had the first pick, Curry the second, and so on, back and forth until the rosters were set. We do not know in what order the players were picked despite the valiant efforts of TNT's Ernie Johnson. The dust has settled and the rosters are set, with the line between East and West officially dissolved. The focus is squarely on players rather than conference. Here's a look at the most intriguing takeaways after Thursday's (Friday, PHL time) results: Hello Old Friend The offseason parting between LeBron James and Kyrie Irving was dramatically awkward, with the latter leaving the former in order to show his athletic independence. Irving has since proved capable of leading the Celtics to contender status despite the opening-night loss of fellow All-Star swingman Gordon Hayward. James, meanwhile, has been forced to do much of the heavy lifting while the rest of his teammates have either plateaued (Kevin Love), dropped off (J.R. Smith, Tristan Thompson) or been unavailable (Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas). The Cavs have suffered as a result, posting one of the worst records in the league since the calendar flipped to 2018. Could it be that James is hoping to recapture some of his old magic by temporarily reuniting with Irving? Or does he just miss/like the guy despite their on-court differences? "To be able to team up back with Kyrie is always special, along with Kevin Love," James said during a post-drat interview with TNT. "Just for us to have another weekend to bring some of the memories we had when we were all together. Kyrie was available on the draft board. He's one of the best point guards we have in our league. So, it was an easy choice for me." Other reunions are scattered among Team LeBron's roster. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant will enjoy an encore of their much publicized All-Star get-together last season. The Thunder guard will also play with his old college teammate, Kevin Love, for the first time since they both represented the Western Conference in the 2012 midseason classic.   Bench Mob. #TeamLebron #NBAAllStar A post shared by @ kevinlove on Jan 25, 2018 at 4:23pm PST Don't forget, too, that Pacers guard Victor Oladipo is making his All-Star debut alongside Westbrook, the man many now think held back the former No. 2 overall pick in Oklahoma City. After putting up his worst numbers since his rookie year while playing alongside Westbrook, Oladipo is enjoying a career year while guiding the upstart Pacers to the middle of the playoff pack. I Never Can Say Goodbye Some teammates are just meant to stay together. Curry and James certainly struggled to separate several dynamic duos, including those from the Timberwolves (Butler/Towns), Pelicans (Davis/Cousins), Wizards (Beal/Wall) and Raptors (Lowry/DeRozan). The NBA teammates not sticking together are those from Golden State and Boston. James managed to chip away at the Warriors' dominant quartet, selecting Kevin Durant for his squad before Curry made sure to keep Klay Thompson and Draymond Green on his own team. Curry also selected Al Horford, presumably at some point after James took Irving. What Have You Done For Me Lately? Most All-Stars already come with a bag full of accomplishments under their belts, and this year is no exception. How they are distributed, however, is interesting to note. Everyone who made the team this year and has won an All-Star Most Valuable Player award in the past is on Team LeBron. Good luck guessing which one will make a push for a repeat at that honor (assuming someone new doesn't beat them to the punch). Meanwhile, the majority of most recent Olympic gold medalists resides on Team Stephen: Jimmy Butler, DeMar DeRozan, Draymond Green, Kyle Lowry and Klay Thompson. Team LeBron sports three Olympians from that year: Cousins, Durant and Irving. One skill that surely matters on All-Star weekend is simply putting the ball in the bucket. And wouldn't you know it, Team Stephen sports the top three scorers in the league in Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Of course, Team LeBron carries the next four names from that scoring leaders list. It's Too Late to Apologize Some words you can't take back, and it would be difficult to see Russell Westbrook or Damian Lillard doing so after recent events. Oklahoma City's star guard took exception to teammate Paul George not being voted in as an All-Star, proceeding to call out the Warriors for having four players so honored. Then he targeted another player, and though he didn't use names, it seemed pretty clear that he was talking about  Lillard when he referred to "guys complaining about being snubbed so they can get in." Lillard has been extremely vocal on social media about not making the All-Star teams the last two years despite both those seasons marking career years. That was after making the All-Star team in 2014 and 2015. The Blazers guard seemed to pick up on the hint, and he responded directly to his Western Conference counterpart. "I respect Russ a lot, so it was kind of disappointing to see him say that," Lillard said prior to Wednesday's game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. "Because he's played against me, he's played against our team, he knows what I've accomplished. Not just this year, but over my career." Will the point guards clear the air, or will tension linger heading into the game? Also worth monitoring: does James' All-Star selection of Kevin Love mean all is well between the much-maligned forward and his team? Reports surfaced earlier this week that several Cavaliers expressed frustration with Love's recent illness that caused him to miss most of a game and a practice. Perhaps the King's stamp of approval will silence that once and for all. If it doesn't, Charles Barkley will surely continue to defend Love's case......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJan 26th, 2018