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ONE: Danny Kingad happy to play gatekeeper if Geje Eustaquio wins ONE title

Macau, China - ONE: PINNACLE OF POWER in Macau, China on June 23 is one of the deepest cards from top to bottom offered by ONE Championship for its 24-event calendar this 2018. From the preliminary portion to the main card of ONE: PINNACLE OF POWER, there are plenty of bouts with championship and ranking implications, including the three-round flyweight encounter between former title contender Danny Kingad and Chinese prospect Ma Hao Bin. The winner of the aforementioned 61.2-kilogram tussle could earn a shot at the ONE Flyweight World Championship, which will be on the line in the main event of ONE: PINNACLE OF POWER as Adriano Moraes is slated to duke it out with Geje Eustaquio in a much-awaited rematch and title unification contest. Kingad is now trying to build some momentum towards a second crack at the ONE Flyweight World Championship, while Ma has aced six of his assignments since joining the promotion in 2016. However, the 22-year-old Baguio City native finds himself in a peculiar position if he and his teammate Eustaquio will walk out of the Studio City Event Center with respective victories. Kingad knows that he has to be relegated to a gatekeeping role if Eustaquio will be successful in unifying both titles against Moraes at ONE: PINNACLE OF POWER. “I will be super happy for coach Geje if he wins the match in Macau. It’s an honor to be competing alongside him on June 23. I’ve learned a lot of things from him. For this training camp, I’ve spent more time with him. I want him to win the title,” he said. Although he could be knocking on the door for a world title shot again with a decisive win over Ma, Kingad stressed that he will gladly play gatekeeper to Eustaquio. “I don’t mind filling that role if ever he wins against Adriano Moraes. He is my senior, and we are teammates. He is like a brother to me,” he stated. “I am still young. I believe that my time will come.” Kingad is not fond of the idea of squaring off with Eustaquio for the flyweight crown, pointing out that he would not trade his treasured friendship with his Team Lakay comrade for a shot at the world title. “That's not going to happen. We always go at it in practice anyway. I'm happy that I get to spar with him all the time because he pushes me to the limit. We push each other, and we push each other to the next level,” he shared. “I will support coach Geje all the way. For now, I'll just keep getting better as a competitor. I'll wait for my time,” Kingad added. Following an unsuccessful challenge for the ONE Flyweight World Championship this past November against Moraes, which ended in his first professional defeat, Kingad rebounded with an impressive triumph over a battle-tested veteran in Sotir Kichukov four months later. Kingad seeks to sustain his winning groove in ONE Championship as he is set to take on Ma, a Chinese national freestyle wrestling champion with a mixed martial arts record of 11-2. Diligently preparing under the tutelage of head coach Mark Sangiao at Team Lakay in Baguio City, Kingad is fully aware of his opponent’s capabilities. “Training is, as usual, very tough. We are drilling very hard each and every day. I am still working on all areas, be it my striking or my grappling,” he mentioned. “Knowing my opponent is a good wrestler, however, I am particularly working on my takedown defense for this match. I want to keep this fight standing, so I have worked very hard on my takedown defense,” Kingad explained further. Despite the threat that Ma poses in the grappling department, Kingad assured that he is comfortable wherever the bout goes on June 23. “I want to test his stand-up game. I believe I am stronger, faster, and more explosive than he is,” he disclosed. “I am definitely going for a knockout in this match. However, if he does take me to the ground, I will be ready for anything.” Kingad believes that his in-ring meeting with Ma at ONE: PINNACLE OF POWER is a must-win clash as he embarks on a hazy road towards the organization’s flyweight championship. “I must win this bout because honestly, I don’t know what the future holds. What if we don’t get the result that we want for coach Geje? I am ready to step up. I cannot wait to get right back in there and make another run at the title. I know things will be very different next time,” he ended......»»

Category: sportsSource: abscbn abscbnJun 18th, 2018

ONE Championship: Joshua Pacio looks to finally bring home world title

Team Lakay young gun Joshua "The Passion" Pacio will try to bring home a world title for the second time in his young career as he meets Yoshitaka "Nobita" Naito in a highly-anticipated rematch for the ONE Strawweight World Championship at ONE: Conquest of Heroes on Saturday, September 22nd at the Jakarta Convention Center in Jakarta, Indonesia.  The 22-year old Benguet native looks to finally get over the hump as he tries to avenge his loss to the Japanese champion.  In their first meeting in 2016, Pacio showed that he belonged in the cage with the best strawweights that ONE had to offer, pushing Naito to the limit before comitting a costly mistake in the third round that gave the defending champion the opening he needed to secure the submission victory and retain the crown.  Since then, Pacio has won four of his last five bouts, including his current three-fight winning streak and a hard-fought decision win against former titleholder and Muay Thai legend Dejdamrong Sor Amuaysirichoke. Naito on the other hand, lost the title in his second defense against Brazilian Alex Silva, only to win it back just six months later.  A win for Pacio will make him the third current ONE titleholder from Team Lakay, joining reigning ONE Interim Bantamweight World Champion Kevin Belingon and reigning ONE Flyweight World Champion Geje Eustaquio.  A win for Naito solidifies his place as the king of ONE Championship's flyweight division.  Also on the card, Pacio's training partner and flyweight contender Danny "The King" Kingad welcomes Japanese newcomer Yuya "Little Piranha" Wakamatsu to the ONE Championship stage.  Another rising star from the famed Team Lakay camp in La Trinidad, Benguet, 22-year old Kingad comes into Jakarta with his sights set on a third consecutive win after dispatching Ma Hao Bin and Sotir Kichukov. He looks to establish himself as a force to be reckoned with in the flyweight ranks.  Making his promotional debut, the 23-year old Wakamatsu with a 10-2 professional record and a remarkable nine wins coming via KO. The Pancrase veteran will look to make an immediate impact and add Kingad to that list of knockout victims.  In a must-watch prelminary bout, unbeaten Filipina atomweight star Jomary "The Zamboanganian Fighter" Torres will look to keep her record spotless as she meets hometown bet Priscilla Hertati Lumban Gaol.  Torres shocked the world in her ONE debut in 2017, blasting Thai star Rika Ishiga en route to a submission victory. Torres hasn't slowed down since, decisioning Nita Dea and then knocking out Team Lakay bet April Osenio in her most recent outing.  Eager to bounce back from her most recent setback, Jakarta's own Gaol will try to derail the Jomary Torres train in front of her home country.    COMPLETE ONE: CONQUEST OF HEROES   Main Event ONE Strawweight World Championship Yoshitaka Naito vs Joshua Pacio Mixed Martial Arts: 56.7kg   Stefer Rahardian vs Peng Xue Wen Mixed Martial Arts: 56.7kg   Sergio Wielzen vs Rodtang Jitmuangnon ONE Super Series Muay Thai: 61.2kg   Yuya Wakamatsu vs Danny Kingad Mixed Martial Arts: 61.2kg   Koyomi Matsushima vs Marat Gafurov Mixed Martial Arts: 70.3kg   Saygid Guseyn Arslanaliev vs Timofey Nastyukhin Mixed Martial Arts: 77.1kg   Kairat Akhmetov vs Ma Hao Bin Mixed Martial Arts: 61.2kg   Priscilla Hertati Lumban Gaol vs Jomary Torres Mixed Martial Arts: 52.2kg   Fabrice Fairtex Delannon vs Yodpanomrung Jitmuangnon ONE Super Series Muay Thai: 65.8kg   Victorio Senduk vs Sunoto Mixed Martial Arts: 65.8kg   Adrian Mattheis vs Angelo Bimaodji Mixed Martial Arts: 56.7kg   Riski Umar vs Egi Rozten Mixed Martial Arts: 59.0kg (Catch Weight)       Catch ONE Championship: Conquest of Heroes on Saturday, September 22nd at 10:30 PM LIVE on ABS-CBN S+A channel 23!.....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated News14 hr. 0 min. ago

Riding high again, Team Lakay lauded by ONE chairman as best team in Asia

At the end of 2017, Benguet-based MMA stable Team Lakay found themselves on a bit of a downslide. After riding high for the latter part of 2016 and most of 2017, the team absorbed a number of bitter losses, including the KO loss that cost Eduard Folayang his ONE Championship Lightweight world title. Now, a little over seven months into 2018, Team Lakay is once again reaching new heights. 2018 saw flyweight star Geje Eustaquio become the interim flyweight world champion in January, and then unify the titles against Adriano Moraes in June. Friday at ONE: Reign of Kings in Manila, Team Lakay gained another world champion in bantamweight knockout artist Kevin Belingon, who defeated two-division world champion Martin Nguyen to become the interim ONE Championship Bantamweight World Champion. Team Lakay is also home to reigning BRAVE FC Bantamweight World Champion Stephen Loman. Already with three current world champions in their stable, it’s highly likely that there’s more to come. Former champions Folayang and Honorio Banario are currently tearing it up in the lightweight division, and both of them are very much in the title picture. Strawweight standout and former title contender Joshua Pacio is on a solid streak of his own, with three straight wins via stoppage. The 22-year old could be getting another crack at the championship again soon. While names like Edward Kelly, Danny Kingad, Gina Iniong, and April Osenio are also all part of the top-tier of their respective divisions. It’s shaping up to be yet another banner year for Team Lakay, and head coach Mark Sangiao saw it coming. After all, bouncing back isn’t anything new for the Philippines’ most prestigious MMA team. “Mayroon yung mga time, nasabi ko nung huli, nung unang mga ONE, matatalo kami ng 0-5, pero pinilit namin.” Coach Mark said during the post-fight press conference, Friday evening. “Tinignan namin talaga yung mga kulang, yung mga weak side nila, tapos na-improve hanggang sa bumawi kami, same with sa 2016.” 2016 saw Team Lakay go on a 16-fight winning streak, and then in November of that year, Folayang captured the ONE lightweight crown after dethroning long-time champion Shinya Aoki. “Tapos pumunta sa 2017, medyo may mga nag-pabaya.” Sangiao bared. “Nasabi ko nung huli na babalik yung team na mas-malakas pa.” True enough, Team Lakay has managed to bounce back and has gained even more prestige in the last couple of months. In fact, ONE Championship founder and chairman Chatri Sityodtong has even gone so far as to say that he believes Team Lakay is the best team there is in Asia. “ I have massive respect for all fight teams, but I believe there is no question that Team Lakay is now the #1 fight team in Asia today.” Sityodtong said in a Facebook post. “Despite a very modest budget and limited resources, Mark Sangiao has produced one of the best fight teams in the world. Every fighter on Team Lakay is a genuine monster with outstanding skills, unlimited cardio, and extraordinary gameness.” High praise from the head honcho himself, and the owner of Evolve MMA in Singapore, another one of Asia's most talent-laden MMA stables. With all the success that the team is enjoying now, it’s up to them to keep the momentum going. They've been low, and now they're on a high. There's no doubt that they possess the talent, the skills, and the heart to go even higher......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJul 30th, 2018

ONE: Joshua Pacio amazed Renzo Gracie with his Baguio Jiu-Jitsu

Friday night's ONE Championship: Reign of Kings card saw the Philippines pulling off a complete four-for-four sweep, capped off by Kevin Belingon's dominant five-round decision win over Martin Nguyen to capture the Interim ONE Bantamweight World Championship.  Arguably most spectacular win however, came from 22-year old Team Lakay strawweight star Joshua 'The Passion' Pacio, who steamrolled through undefeated Thai striker Pongsiri Mitsatit.  Pacio needed just needed three-and-a-half minutes to mount, brutalize, and submit Misatit with a modified armlock, which he playfully christened 'The Passion Lock." "My gameplan is really to get the Rear Naked Choke," Pacio said during the post-fight press conference. "That submission that I did a while ago, I tried it once in training, and tonight I’m so happy that I showcased it on the international stage." After punishing Mitsatit from the mount, Pacio took the Thai's back, and as he said, tried to go for the choke, but ended up grabbing hold of Misati's arm and torquing it back applying pressure on the shoulders and forcing the tapout.  It was a pretty slick submission on the fly for the kid from Baguio City, who's steadily shown improvement in his ground game, and it's all thanks to a special discipline of martial arts.  "It came from that BJJ - Baguio Jiu-Jitsu." Pacio said, with a laugh.  And while it initially started out as a play on words with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Team Lakay's Baguio Jiu-Jitsu is now becoming a massive part of their game, and it has won the team a number of fights, and world titles.  From Eduard Folayang's submission defense against Shinya Aoki, to Geje Eustaquio's well-rounded approach against Adriano Moraes, and Pacio's seven wins via submission, the Baguio-based warriors have taken what was once their supposed weakness and turned into a pivotal part of their game.  “Please don’t underestimate our BJJ, or what we call Baguio Jiu-Jitsu,” Eustaquio warns. “In more time, we will submit you guys.” Eustaquio said after his world championship win over Moraes in Macau last June.  While striking will always be Team Lakay's bread and butter, as they've shown in their performances as of late, their ground game can hang with the best of the best in ONE Championship.  That improvement was the result of years of coming up short and getting criticized for it.  "Of course, we learned from our past. Yung mga criticism na kinain namin noon, hindi namin tinake as a negative, but we take it as a positive thing, and we worked our ass hard." said former ONE Lightweight World Champion Folayang. "Siyempre kaya may Baguio Jiu-Jitsu ngayon, kasi that’s how we do it. We keep on learning from other people that will help us improve the things that we know we are weak on." Making it even more memorable for Pacio, was the fact that one of the legends of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was there to see him pull that crazy submission off.  According to Pacio, sixth-degree Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt and grappling royalty Renzo Gracie, who was scheduled to fight later on in the card, gave the young Pinoy some props after the win.  "Ayun nga, sa dugout kanina, na-amaze siya. Nagpa-picture siya sa akin," Pacio said jokingly, drawing laughs from the media. "Baliktad, nagpa-picture ako sa kanya, tapos tinuro niya din yung depensa nun." Quite the moment for the kid they call "The Passion. "Syempre napaka-laki, kasi once-in-a-lifetime lang yun.".....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJul 28th, 2018

ONE: Kevin Belingon targeting history against Martin Nguyen as well

If making history as the first three-division world champion in mixed martial arts is what Martin Nguyen is after in his highly-anticipated encounter against Kevin Belingon, the Filipino spitfire could likewise establish a new record for the Philippines in ONE Championship should he win over his Vietnamese-Australian foe. Both men are slated to face each other in the main event of ONE: REIGN OF KINGS, which takes place at the 20,000-seater SM Mall of Asia Arena in Manila, Philippines on July 27. ONE Championship has raised the stakes of the scheduled five-round clash between Belingon and Nguyen as the ONE Interim Bantamweight World Championship will be up for grabs. If Belingon succeeds in securing the gold-plated strap at the expense of Nguyen, the Philippines will set a record of most championship wins in the seven-year history of the promotion. “The main goal for Filipino martial arts athletes like me is to bring pride, honor and glory to our country. This match against Marin Nguyen on July 27 is another opportunity to hoist the Philippine flag aloft on the world stage of this beautiful sport,” he said. To date, there have been four Filipino world champions under the ONE Championship banner since 2013. Honorio Banario became the first Philippine-rooted competitor to notch a huge prize in ONE Championship when he defeated compatriot Eric Kelly by fourth-round stoppage for the inaugural ONE Featherweight World Championship in February 2013. It was followed by Brandon Vera, who crowned himself as the first ONE Heavyweight World Champion by knocking out Paul Cheng in 26 seconds with a high kick in December 2015. Meanwhile, Eduard Folayang pulled off a major upset victory over Japanese legend Shinya Aoki in November 2016 to capture the ONE Lightweight World Championship. Geje Eustaquio joined the list of Filipino world titleholders this past January, claiming the ONE Interim Flyweight World Championship with a split decision win over Kairat Akhmetov in a rematch before becoming the undisputed division kingpin in his second meeting with Adriano Moraes last June. With the ONE Interim Bantamweight World Title on the line, having his hand raised would symbolize so much to Belingon. Ever since losing to Bibiano Fernandes for the bantamweight crown in January 2016, Belingon has won five consecutive matches, routing the best contenders that the division has to offer. For Belingon, he could finally become a mixed martial arts world champion on July 27, which is the goal that he has been chasing ever since he launched his career in June 2007. “Becoming the champion has been my goal since my career started. It is a lifelong dream for me. I need to win my next bout to turn my dream into a reality,” he stated. “This is going to be a very exciting match. To take on an elite athlete like Martin, it will only be good for my experience. I look forward to testing my skills against him,” Belingon added. Sharing the cage with a dynamic knockout artist like Nguyen, Belingon asserted that he likes his chances versus the two-division world champion and shared his thoughts as to how things would play out at ONE: REIGN OF KINGS. “Martin has very good, high-level skills. His wrestling is very strong, and so is his boxing. He is aggressive, and he punches with power. There is no underestimating this guy,” he explained. “But I think his biggest weakness is his speed, especially in this fight. He is not faster than me. I think this will come down to who gets there first.” Although he is known for his explosive striking, massive knockout power, and fearlessness to engage, Belingon assured that he is prepared to go the distance with Nguyen. “I am training very hard to make sure I am well-equipped with everything I need to face any situation. If I have the opportunity to finish him, I will not hesitate to grab that chance. But I am prepared for this fight to go full five rounds as well,” he concluded......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJul 18th, 2018

Filipino Menchavez to make ONE debut in Macau

Another Filipino fighter will strut his stuff in Macau for ONE Championship's Pinnacle of Power card on June 23. Rodian Menchavez (5-1) is set to make his debut in the promotion, making it to the card that features interim ONE flyweight champion Geje Eustaquio (10-6) taking on undisputed ONE World flyweight titlist Adriano Moraes (17-2) in a title unification bout in the co-main event. Eustaquio's Team Lakay stable mates Edward Kelly (10-4) and Danny Kingad (6-1) are also in the card and are scheduled to face against Narantungalag Jadambaa (12-5) and Ma Hao Bin (10-2), respectively. Menchavez will bring his four-fight winning streak on the line against China's Li Kai Wen (7-4)...Keep on reading: Filipino Menchavez to make ONE debut in Macau.....»»

Category: newsSource:  inquirerRelated NewsJun 6th, 2018

ONE: Eustaquio-Moraes title bout moved to Macau, China

After initially being set for Beijing, it has been confirmed that ONE Championship's Pinnacle of Power card will be taking place in Macau instead.  The June 23 card is ONE's third trip to the so-called 'Las Vegas of Asia' and will feature two ONE Championship world title bouts.  Main eventing the card will be China's own ONE Strawweight World Champion Xiong Jing Nan defending her title for the first time against Argentinian Laura Balin, while co-main eventing the card will be Team Lakay star and Interim ONE Championship Flyweight World Champion Geje Eustaquio of the Philippines looking to unify the title against reigning ONE Championship Flyweight World Champion Adriano Moraes.  Eustaquio and Moraes first crossed paths inside a ONE Championship cage back in 2014, with Moraes submitting Eustaquio to claim the vacant ONE Championship Flyweight world title.  Also on the card will be Eustaquio's Team Lakay teammates, featherweight contender Edward Kelly as well as former title contender Danny Kingad.  Team Lakay has been part of ONE Championship's Macau cards since their first trip in 2016, which saw Eduard Folayang, Honorio Banario, and Joshua Pacio all pick up impressive victories.  A year later, Pacio returned to Macau but came up short against Japanese grappling ace Hayato Suzuki.  Macau also played witness to the coming out party of ONE Women's Atomweight contender Jomary Torres, as she shocked the world with a submission win over rising star Rika Ishige.  Macau has also been very good to reigning champion Moraes, who defeated Tilek Batyrov in 2015 to become interim champion, and then defeated Kairat Akhmetov a year later, also in Macau to become the undisputed ONE Flyweight World Champion.    ONE Championship: Pinnacle of Power will emanate for the Studio City Events Center in Macau, China.   .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 30th, 2018

ONE: Geje Eustaquio vs. Adriano Moraes world title unification bout set for Beijing in June

Team Lakay standout and reigning ONE Championship Interm Flyweight World Champion Geje "Gravity" Eustaquio gets the chance to become an undisputed world champion when he challenges reigning ONE Flyweight World Champion Adriano "Mikinho" Moraes this June. The Eustaquio-Moraes title unification bout is set as one of the headliners on ONE's Pinnacle of Power card set for June 16th in Beijing, China.  Eustaquio (10-6), an entertaining striker fighting out of Baguio City, captured ONE's interim flyweight title back in January after outpointing former titleholder Kairat Akhmetov in a five-round unanimous decision win.  Reigning champion Moraes (17-2), an elite grappler from Brazil, is on his second run as ONE's flyweight king. Moraes defeated Akhmetov back in 2017 to reclaim the title, and is coming off a dominant title defense back in November in Manila, submitting Eustaquio's teammate Danny Kingad in the first round.  This will be Eustaquio and Moraes' second time to meet in a ONE cage, as the two flyweight stars locked horns back in 2014 for the vacant ONE Flyweight world title, with Moraes getting the second round submission win.  ONE Championship also revealed that China's own reigning ONE Women's Flyweight world champion Xiong Jing Nan will be making her first title defense against Argentinian Laura Balin.  Also expected to be on the card are Team Lakay standouts Kingad and Edward Kelly.  .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 19th, 2018

24 NBA questions before 17-18 tips off

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

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsOct 17th, 2017

Mourinho enters calm spell as Man United wins 2-0 at Burnley

LONDON (AP) — After the furor that followed straight Premier League defeats for Manchester United, Jose Mourinho's team produced a routine 2-0 victory over Burnley on Sunday. Romelu Lukaku's first-half double put United in control before the second half briefly took a dramatic turn when Burnley goalkeeper Joe Hart saved Paul Pogba's penalty kick and substitute Marcus Rashford was sent off for violent conduct only 11 minutes after coming on. "Even with 10 men for 15 minutes the team was the team that had the chances to score," Mourinho said. "We are all very happy that the boys can go for their international week with the feeling (of winning)." Tottenham, which set alarm bells ringing at Old Trafford by winning 3-0 there six days ago, was unable to carry that momentum to Watford, which came from behind to secure a 2-1 victory at Vicarage Road. Watford has won all four of its Premier League games and joins Liverpool and Chelsea with a maximum total of 12 points at the top of the table. Arsenal, meanwhile, joined United on six points as it secured a first away victory under Unai Emery with an entertaining 3-2 win at newly promoted Cardiff. After storming out of his news conference following United's defeat to Tottenham, demanding "respect, respect" from the media, Mourinho was much calmer ahead of his side's trip to Burnley, and the approach may have brought rewards on the field. Mourinho will have been especially pleased by United's improved defensive performance as it claimed a first clean sheet of the league season. Both the Portuguese and his squad will enter the international break with confidence that United's worst Premier League start for 26 years is firmly behind them. SMALL DRAMAS The only dramas for United this time concerned Pogba's penalty miss and Rashford's red card, but Mourinho wasn't critical of either. After Rashford was fouled in the box, Pogba — who has already scored two penalties this season — had his spot kick saved by Hart. "I never blame a player for missing penalties," Mourinho told BBC Sport. "I blame the ones who refuse to go up there. Paul's scored some good ones for us." The frustration of the penalty miss appeared to affect Rashford more than Pogba and within a minute of the miss the England striker had been sent off. Burnley defender Phil Bardsley tackled Rashford before kicking him in the aftermath of the challenge. Rashford attempted to take matters into his own hands, pushing his forehead into Bardsley's face, and was sent off. "I would say it was naive," Mourinho said. "It was a kid and a very experienced man. Bardsley's been in the game for 20 years and Marcus is a naive boy." SPURS STUNNED With Tottenham having taken the headlines last round with a statement victory over Manchester United, some seemed to forget that both teams held perfect records as Spurs made the short trip to face Watford on Sunday. By the end, there was only one perfect record to talk about — Watford's. The win for Javi Gracia's team was made all the more impressive by the fact Spurs took the lead shortly after halftime, as Abdoulaye Doucoure found his own net as he attempted to clear Lucas Moura's cross. The usually reliable Spurs defense would have been confident of seeing out victory from there, but was undone in the simplest fashion. Troy Deeney and Craig Cathcart both headed in set pieces in the space of seven minutes to turn the match around and keep Watford level with Liverpool and Chelsea at the top of the table. GUNNERS DUO STRIKE It's still early days in Emery's reign as Arsenal manager, but Sunday's win at Cardiff may prove a pivotal moment for the Spaniard. For the first time this season he opted to include both Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette in his starting lineup and was rewarded with a first away victory in the Premier League. While there are still major defensive concerns for Arsenal, the play of the strike duo suggests Emery has a combination that will cause problems for any defense. Shkodran Mustafi gave Arsenal an early lead before Victor Camarasa leveled with Cardiff's first goal of the season in first-half stoppage time. Aubameyang struck after the break as Lacazette flicked the ball into his path, allowing the Gabon forward to find the bottom corner from outside the box. However, Arsenal was pegged back once more as Danny Ward headed the home side level with 20 minutes remaining. Not to be denied, the inspired Lacazette hit an unstoppable effort in at the near post with nine minutes remaining to finally see off Cardiff, which is still looking for a first win of the season......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsSep 2nd, 2018

ONE: Kevin Belingon s world title win is the product of team effort from Team Lakay

Friday night at the Mall of Asia Arena, Team Lakay’s Kevin Belingon became the latest member of Team Lakay to capture a world championship by defeating two-division titleholder Martin Nguyen in the main event of ONE: Reign of Kings to win the ONE Championship Interim Bantamweight World Champion. And while it was Belingon who did the work inside the cage, the win wasn’t just his, rather it was all of the Philippines’ and of course, Team Lakay's. As former ONE Lightweight World Champion Eduard Folayang explained, Belingon’s win was the result of team effort. “Masayang-masaya ako kasi na-predict ko na yan noon pa eh, talagang mananalo si Kevin,” Folayang said during the post-fight press conference. “Of course, because you can see that we worked very hard and of course, smart on our preparation, talagang we helped each other.” Nguyen is, of course, a familiar opponent for Team Lakay, with Folayang having faced the Viet-Aussie star back in 2017. “Kung ano yung pwede naming ibigay na advice or time na maibibigay sa kasama namin, preparing for a fight, we give it.” Folayang continued. With Belingon’s interim title win, he becomes the fourth member of Team Lakay to hold ONE World Championship gold, joining Folayang, former ONE Featherweight World Champion Honorio Banario, and reigning ONE Championship Flyweight World Champion Geje Eustaquio. Add reigning ONE Heavyweight World Champion Brandon Vera to that list, and you have all five world champions representing the Philippines, making it the country with the most world title wins in ONE Championship's seven-year history.  The way Folayang sees it, there’s more on the way. “I think this is one of the memorable moments of our team, because, hindi ko alam, malapit na yata namin kunin lahat [ng championships].” the former lightweight king said playfully. And while what Folayang said was in jest, it isn’t wrong by any means. Friday night’s ONE card had two other winnner from the famed Benguet-based MMA stable, as Folayang decisioned Russian newcomer Aziz Pahrudinov, while former strawweight title contender Joshua Pacio steamrolled through Thailand’s Pongsiri Mitsatit in just one round. Both Folayang and Pacio are riding winning streaks, and both are inching their way closer to title contention. “If ONE Championship or sir Chatri [Sityodtong] will give me the opportunity to face Yoshitaka Naito, why not.” Pacio said at the presser. Should it push through, it would be Pacio’s second go-around with Naito after losing to the reigning ONE Strawweight World Champion back in 2016. If everything goes according to plan for Team Lakay, they could have two, even three more world championships coming back home to La Trinidad pretty soon......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJul 30th, 2018

Belgium, team of tomorrow, hopes to finally win now

By Ronald Blum, Associated Press MOSCOW (AP) — Belgium is the team of tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. De Rode Duivels, as the Red Devils are known, have been playing for 114 years and remain in search of their first major title. A polyglot known for waffles, chocolate and beer, the nation of 11 million hopes for soccer to join the national identity, boosted by a golden generation that includes Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bryune. Belief is growing. Philippe, King of the Belgians, was on hand wearing a bright red tie and team scarf. "Belgium is a small country, you know? So we're very happy that we have this kind of talent," defender Toby Alderweireld said after Saturday's 5-2 rout of Tunisia all but clinched a round-of-16 World Cup berth. "Hopefully we can do something special." Lukaku tied Cristiano Ronaldo for the tournament lead with four goals, becoming the first with consecutive two-goal games in the World Cup since Diego Maradona and Gary Lineker in 1986. Hazard also scored twice , and Michy Batshuayi added a 90th-minute goal after failing to convert a trio of prime chances. Belgium opened with a 3-0 victory over Panama and has an 8-2 goal difference. Ranked third in the world behind defending champion Germany and Brazil, the Red Devils have become a chic choice to join the exclusive club of eight World Cup winners: Brazil (five), Germany and Italy (four), Argentina and Uruguay (two), and England, France and Spain (one). "Belgium was not the favorite because of the history of the country — and especially the history of the other countries," said former Dutch midfielder Clarence Seedorf, now a Fox analyst. "They're growing. Also, they're playing with important team spirit. So for me, it's not really a big surprise what they're doing at the moment." Training is conducted in English under Spanish coach Roberto Martinez, who spent a decade managing in England. Postgame interviews sound like a corridor at European Union headquarters in Brussels, with players alternating among English, French, Dutch and Spanish. Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet has picked up a Scouse accent after five seasons with Liverpool. Seventeen of the 23 players were on Champions League clubs last season, a glamorous group that includes Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain. "That gives them the confidence and the experience to play at the highest level. That is what a World Cup is about," Mignolet said. "For us, it's now the third tournament in a row where we play, which gives you the experience, so nobody's really fussed about the occasion anymore. Maybe the two tournaments were a bit different where we arrived and we were thinking about what was going to happen. Everything was new." After completing the group stage against England on Thursday, Belgium would face Colombia, Poland, Senegal or Japan in the second round, and then could have a possible quarterfinal against Germany, Brazil or Mexico. Since losing their first match under Martinez to Spain two years ago, Belgium is unbeaten in 21 games (16 wins) and has outscored opponents 72-17 during the run. But while outscoring Panama and Tunisia by 8-2, the defense and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois looked like they could be exploited by better opposition. "Today what I saw is a team that it was prepared to suffer, prepared to work for each other, and we look well-balanced in that respect," Martinez said. "So when you've got that, then the individuals can show their talent." Lukaku has 15 goals in his last 10 international matches but left in the 59th minute after injuring an ankle ligament. Hazard came off nine minutes later with a calf problem, and forward Dries Mertens came out in the 86th after an ankle issue. Belgium came closest to a title at the 1980 European Championship, losing 2-1 to a German team that got a pair of goals from Horst Hrubesch. It has reached semifinals twice at major events, losing 2-1 to West Germany at the 1972 Euros and to Maradona's Argentina at the 1986 World Cup. After missing two straight World Cups, the Red Devils returned four years ago, beat the U.S. in extra time in the round of 16, then lost to Argentina in the quarters. At the 2016 Euros, they wasted an early lead in a 3-1 quarterfinal loss to Wales. Given the past and the sound and fury that would follow any misstep, Martinez wants to manage expectations. "To be a favorite in a World Cup, you need to have the know-how of winning a World Cup," he said. "The World Cup is something that probably gives you an advantage psychologically when you've won it before.".....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJun 24th, 2018

ONE: Danny Kingad decisions Ma Hao Bin in Macau

Team Lakay flyweight contender Danny Kingad showcased his superior striking and much improved grappling skills as he grinded out a tough unanimous decision victory over Chinese contender Ma “The Southern Eagle” Hao Bin at ONE: Pinnacle of Power, Saturday evening at the Studio City Events Center in Macau. Kingad opened the bout with a thunderous body kick that reverberated throughout the stadium. It didn’t take long for Ma to go to his bread and butter, as the Chinese grappler shot in for a takedown and successfully got Kingad on the mat moments after. Throughout the bout, Kingad dictated the pace in the striking department, punishing Ma with kicks to the leg and kicks to the body. Ma found some success with his takedowns, but wasn’t able to threaten Kingad from the bottom. In the final frame, the two flyweight contenders went back and forth, trading submission attempts, with Kingad closing out the bout with a kneebar attempt. After three rounds, the Baguio City native did enough to earn the unanimous decision nod from all three judges. #ONEFightNight Danny Kingad does it! Kingad defeats Ma Hao Bin via Unanimous Decision after three rounds. Back to back wins for The King pic.twitter.com/buZMqArJeZ — Santino Honasan🎈 (@honasantino) June 23, 2018 Kingad improves to 9-1 in his professional career after picking up his second consecutive win since suffering his lone loss in a flyweight title contest to Adriano Moraes. The 22-year old is now once again knocking on the door in ONE Championship’s flyweight title picture. Ma, meanwhile, suffers only his second loss in ten bouts......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJun 23rd, 2018

ONE: Interim champ Geje Eustaquio hopes son follows in his footsteps

While becoming a world champion is indeed motivation for Team Lakay flyweight star and reigning ONE Championship Interim Flyweight Champion Geje Eustaquio, the Baguio City native is being fueled by something...or someone else.  Meet Castiel Achilles Gerard Eustaquio, or Cage for short, Geje's four year old son.  "He’s my fuel, as I said, he’s my drive, motivation, and I’m happy and proud that he’s my son." said Eustaquio during a press conference in Macau, two days before his scheduled title unification bout against reigning ONE Flyweight World Champion Adriano Moraes at ONE: Pinnacle of Power on Satuday, July 23rd.  And while most other fighters would wish that their kids rather not follow in their footsteps, Geje believes otherwise.  It would give the 29-year old nothing but joy to see his little boy one day become a martial artist as well.  "Yeah, if he loves martial arts, I will be the happiest father in the world," "Because as I said, martial arts is not about fighting, it’s not about kicking, it’s a way of life." If Cage decided to take a different path however, daddy assures that his support will still be there, 100%  "Kung ibang sports, it depends on the sport. If he chooses basketball, if he chooses soccer, well my  support is a hundred percent."   Geje Eustaquio and Adriano Moraes battle of the undisputed ONE Championship Flyweight World Title at ONE: Pinnacle of Power, Saturday, June 23rd at the Studio City Events Center in Macau, China.  Catch it LIVE starting at 11:00 PM on ABS-CBN S+A channel 23! .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJun 21st, 2018

The Golden State Warriors cannot relax now, or else

By Tim Reynolds, Associated Press OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Learn from your mistakes, Golden State. Learn from how one got away in 2016. Learn from how sleepwalking through the third quarter on Sunday night (Monday, PHL time) made Game 2 of this series much more interesting than it ever should have been, at least until Stephen Curry went wild in the fourth quarter. Learn from Boston, both this year and six years ago. Learn from what cost San Antonio a title in 2013, too. Don’t give LeBron James hope. Or else. Golden State leads these NBA Finals 2-0, after a 122-103 win put the defending champions two wins away from what would be their third title in the last four seasons. Only four teams have ever wasted a 2-0 lead in the finals — and Golden State is one of them, letting a championship ring slip away against James and the Cavaliers two years ago. The series shifts to Cleveland for Game 3 on Wednesday night (Thursday, PHL time). James looked exhausted when Game 2 was over, but he’ll be somewhat rested by then. And he will most definitely be fueled by a boisterous home crowd that will want to both give him an immediate lift — and make one last series of impressions before he goes into free agency and considers leaving the Cavaliers again next month. Game 3 is everything for the Cavs. If they go down 3-0, series over. Game 3 has to be everything for the Warriors as well. They know it, too. “I think because we’ve been here several times, I don’t think I’ll need to say much,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said. “Guys in the locker room, they already know that.” They better. Boston had James in a 2-0 hole this year, then lost Games 3 and 4 in Cleveland and wound up falling in seven. The Celtics had him and the Heat down 3-2 in the Eastern Conference finals in 2012, and couldn’t finish. The Spurs led 3-2 in the 2013 NBA Finals, had a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter of Game 6, and came undone. The Warriors led 2-0 and 3-1 in 2016. This is not the same Golden State team (Kevin Durant helps). This is not the same Cleveland team (Kyrie Irving would really help). But the Warriors would be foolish to not remember that series, not to remember the ultimate cautionary tale. They’re saying all the right things. “It’s nothing to feel happy about being up 2-0,” Warriors guard Klay Thompson said. “This [Cleveland] team plays great at home and we expect their other guys to play better at home too, not just LeBron. So we’re not going to relax at all because this team’s been down and out before and counted out by the media. We’re not going to focus on that. We’re just going to focus on what we can do to win Game 3.” This series at times has been the Cavaliers versus the cavalier. Golden State was fortunate to win Game 1, and realized as such. The Warriors should have been up much bigger than 13 at halftime of Game 2, and found themselves in a dogfight instead of a victory lap in the third quarter when the Cavs got within five on a number of occasions. It took things like JaVale McGee going 6-for-6 and David West stepping up in a critical late-third-quarter moment to hit his first three-pointer in seven months to help the Warriors keep the Cavs at bay Sunday, until Curry ran wild late on his way to a NBA Finals record nine three's and turn the game into a rout. It took James, grotesque-looking eye and all, playing like his version of a mere mortal — 29 points, 13 assists, nine rebounds, 10-for-20 shooting. “It was too easy for them,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said of the Warriors. Give Golden State credit. They adjusted nicely against James after his 51-point barrage in Game 1. They took a page from the 2014 Spurs — who beat James in five games in the NBA Finals that year, the end of his Miami era — and routinely picked him up 30 to 40 feet away from the basket. Do that, and more often than not James will say that giving up the ball is the right play. The Warriors welcome that. They want the other Cavs to have to beat them. The formula worked Sunday (Monday, PHL time). They just have to do it twice more to win another title. And just like the Warriors on the not-wanting-to-relax front, James said he hopes the Cavaliers continue feeling uncomfortable as well. “Just because we’re going home doesn’t mean we can relax,” James said. “This is the last team in the world you want to relax against. They’ve proven they can win on someone else’s floor, no matter if it’s through adversity as people may call it like when they were going through the Rockets series or whatever the case may be.” It’s often been said, even by James himself, that a series doesn’t really start until one team wins on the other’s home floor. All Golden State has done so far has hold serve. That’s true. But by the close of business Wednesday night (Thursday, PHL time), we’ll know if this is a series or not. ___ Tim Reynolds is a national basketball writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at treynolds@ap.org.....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJun 4th, 2018

Another NBA Finals brings another huge challenge for LeBron

By Brian Mahoney, Associated Press BOSTON (AP) — LeBron James will get a couple days to catch his breath, then make his annual June journey to Golden State or down to Houston to face a team far better than his. His eighth straight NBA Finals sets up as one of his most difficult, flanked by a largely unheralded set of teammates who force him to do much more at 33 than most other players are ever asked. But James keeps showing he can do it, and he can’t wait for his chance to win another ring. Dare count him out? “At the end of the day, the game is won in between the lines, and we have an opportunity to play for a championship,” he said after Sunday’s (Monday, PHL time) 87-79 victory over Boston. “That’s all that matters.” James dragged an injured and inconsistent Cavaliers team out of the Eastern Conference and back to the NBA Finals, where they will be an underdog against whichever team wins Game 7 in the West on Monday (Tuesday, PHL time). But after playing all 48 minutes in his 100th game of the season, punctuating one of the greatest series a player has ever had with 35 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists, he sure looks capable of more. And the Cavaliers will need every bit of it. They had to play seven games just to get out of the first round, and seven more to finish a climb out of 2-0 deficit against a younger, more athletic Celtics team. They have to be tired, and that’s no way to go into a series against Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and the Warriors, who blew Cleveland away in five games last year, or James Harden and a Rockets team that can be every bit as potent on one end and lock teams down on the other. The only way it would appear Cleveland would have a chance would be if James can summon his highest level, the kind that perhaps no other player can reach — and then do it three more times. The Celtics have seen him do it, after he averaged 33.6 points, 9.0 rebounds and 8.4 assists to eliminate them in the East finals for the second straight year. “I think we’ve played now until May 25th and May 27th the last two years, and we started on Sept. 25th,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “That’s every day. Every day that you’re totally focused on this, and he’s gone past that eight straight times. It’s ridiculous, and he does it at this level and with the pressure, with the scrutiny. Doesn’t matter. It’s just unbelievable.” This was the year James’ finals streak looked over. Kyrie Irving had been traded to Boston in the offseason, Isaiah Thomas, Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose weren’t the answers as his replacement, and Kevin Love missed significant time with injuries. And even after the Cavaliers remade their team at the February trade deadline, it didn’t look good enough. Cleveland had finished just fourth in the East, never developing the necessary cohesiveness required to be even a mediocre defensive team, let alone a championship-caliber one. They still can surrender open shots everywhere, a flaw that seems fatal against the three-point happy Rockets or Warriors. The only obvious advantage the Cavaliers have is James, the kind of player who can win a Game 7 in Boston with a team that was without its other All-Star because of a concussion and couldn’t shoot straight deep into the first half, with Cavaliers other than James missing their first 10 3s until J.R. Smith hit one with 2:54 remaining until halftime. “I mean, the bigger the stage, the bigger the player, and he’s been doing it for us since we’ve been here,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “The great quote from the great Doc Rivers is you always want to go into the Game 7 with the best player, and we have the best player on our team going into a Game 7. I like our chances.” And he’ll like them again starting Thursday (Friday, PHL time) even if the oddsmakers don’t. The Cavaliers were probably far better last year and could only get a game from the Warriors. But two years ago, they also weren’t given much of a shot against the Warriors, especially after falling behind 3-1 in the finals. Nobody had ever overcome that deficit in the championship round, and Cleveland had to do it against a team that had won an NBA-record 73 games. James led that comeback to Cleveland’s first title, and now he’s got a shot for another unlikely one. “I’ll be available for at least four more games,” James said, “and we’ll see what happens.”.....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 28th, 2018

Bertens powers past Goerges to win Volvo Car Open

By Pete Iacobelli, Associated Press CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Kiki Bertens felt fortunate to escape a tough semifinal match with a victory Sunday morning. She wasn't going to let things get so tight later on in the biggest match of her career. Bertens of the Netherlands overpowered Germany's Julia Goerges to cap a long, chilly Sunday at the Volvo Car Open with a 6-2, 6-1 victory for her fourth career WTA title and third of the past 11 months. Bertens made it to the final by outlasting American Madison Keys as the WTA's first clay-court event of the season had to double up on play after rain Saturday washed out most of the semifinals. Bertens was nearly ousted by Keys, saving a match point in the third set before prevailing in tiebreaker, 6-4, 6-7 (2), 7-6 (5). Preparing for Goerges several hours later, Bertens thought, "OK, you could already have lost this morning, so just give everything and try to go for it," she said. "And yeah, now I'm here with the trophy." Perhaps the most important one of the 26-year-old's career. Bertens, ranked 27th in the world, had won titles last May in Nuremberg, Germany and the Swiss Open against fields not nearly as loaded with top players as here. Bertens had gone 0-15 against top-20 opponents in 2018 entering Sunday before defeating Keys (ranked 14th) and Goerges (ranked 13th) in the space of about eight hours. "I'm just so happy and proud, I think, of myself," Bertens said. "It's a great start of the clay court season, and yeah, hopefully still more to come." Goerges figured to be the fresher finalist, needing only about 25 minutes to finish off her semi with Latvia's Anastasija Sevastova, which was tied at 4-all in the opening set Saturday before the rain came. But it was Bertens, ranked 27th in the world, who showed fire and drive on center court in the finals. She broke Goerges' serve twice to take a 3-1 lead and never let up. When Goerges sailed her shot long on match point, Bertens threw her racquet in the air and held her arms up high in celebration of her latest title. Bertens had in Nuremberg, Germany, last May and the Swiss Open in Gstaad last July. But she had a slow start to 2018 with only four match wins before winning all six of her matches here. Bertens, 26, put things away early as she broke Goerges' serve three times to win the opening set 6-2. Bertens had a run of seven straight games before Goerges, urged on by the crowd that may not have wanted to see the tournament end, took a game to delay the celebration. Among Bertens' prizes was two-year use of one of Volvo's luxury cars. The manufacturer is constructing a new auto plant about 25 miles west of Charleston. She got to design her new vehicle on court during the trophy presentation. "It went so fast," Bertens said about the selection. "It was like, 'Oh, what do I want? Can I still change it?' No, but it was really fun." Goerges, who had played crisply most of the week, figured to be the fresher finalist after finishing her semifinal win over Sevastova. But Goerges was beset by uncharacteristic errors that seemed to give Bertens more energy. "I think that semifinal took a lot of mental effort out of me," Goerges said. In the fourth game, Goerges reached the net in plenty of time for a simple drop shot with Bertens back by the baseline but pushed the shot into to the cord on the way to losing her serve. Down 5-2 and serving, Goerges double faulted twice in a row to get broken a final time in the set. Goerges thought she had done well all week finding answers when pressed by opponents. She came up empty against Bertens, however. "But at the end what's counting is that you find a solution to get, yeah, to get going and to get playing well," Goerges said......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsApr 9th, 2018

‘This is ours’ - New ONE interim champion Geje Eustaquio dedicates title to fellow Filipinos

  Friday night at the Mall of Asia Arena, Team Lakay flyweight Geje ‘Gravity’ Eustaquio brought another championship back to the Philippines, as he bested former ONE flyweight world champion Kairat ‘The Kazakh’ Akhmetov by Unanimous Decision to become the new ONE interim flyweight champion. It was a true test for the Pinoy, who showcased his elite striking and his ever-improving grappling game to earn the judges’ nod after five rounds of action. “The feeling is unexplainable,” Eustaquio said during the post-fight press conference and talked about his teammates Honorio Banario and Eduard Folayang both having runs as ONE world champions. “Honorio had this before, Kuya Eduard had it, he defended it one time. We’re proud and I’m happy, the feeling is unexplainable because one more time, we have this one in The Land of The Orient Pearl.” As far as the Baguio City native is concerned, the new piece of hardware that he’ll be bringing back home to the famed Team Lakay gym isn’t solely his, rather it’s an honor he shares with everyone, from his team, his family, and also his fellow Filipinos. “Every fighter who stands in that cage, dreams to have this one, and I’m proud, with the people on my back, we have this, and one more time, this is not mine, this is ours.” “To all the Filipinos out there, this is ours, to the people who are there on my back since day one, this is ours.” added Eustaquio. “This is a product of team work, it’s not just Gravity who came up to the cage and grabbed this belt. It’s not about me, it’s about the people who stand in my back, its about the people who cheered, who go to Mall of Asia Arena, who watch on their TV in order for this sport to grow.” Along with former featherweight king Banario and former lightweight king Folayang, Eustaquio becomes just the third member of Team Lakay to bring home ONE gold. Furthermore, he becomes just the fourth Filipino to become a ONE world champion, including reigning ONE heavyweight champion Brandon Vera. This isn’t Eustaquio’s first dance for gold however, as he challenged for the vacant flyweight world title back in 2014, losing via submission to current champion Adriano Moraes. With the interim title in his possession, Eustaquio will soon get another crack at Moraes to unify their flyweight champsionships. When asked about his inevitable matchup with the reigning champ, Eustaquio’s response was simple. “If he’s ready, I’m ready. Rock and roll, let’s go.” Eustaquio said with his usual calm confidence. “As I said, I got the best in the business on my back, they can prepare me anytime, anywhere.”.....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJan 29th, 2018

The Patriots and Eagles will square off in Super Bowl 52

By Arnie Stapleton, Associated Press Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are going back to the Super Bowl in search of a sixth title. They'll face a Philadelphia Eagles team looking for their first Lombardi Trophy. Brady led the Patriots (15-3) back from a 10-point, fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Jacksonville Jaguars 24-20 in the AFC championship game Sunday. Starting his 36th playoff game, Brady shook off an injury to his right hand and the loss of top target Rob Gronkowski to rally the Patriots to their record 10th Super Bowl appearance. The Patriots will try to match the Pittsburgh Steelers' six Super Bowl trophies when they face the Eagles (15-3) on Feb. 4 in Minneapolis. Nick Foles, the backup QB who was thrust into the starting role when Carson Wentz blew out his left knee last month, led the Philadelphia to a 38-7 rout of the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC championship game. Foles threw for 352 yards and three touchdowns, showing poise and moxie in going 26 for 33. The Vikings were hoping to become the first NFL team to serve as host to a Super Bowl in its own stadium, but they followed up their "Minneapolis Miracle " with a "Flop in Philly." So, they'll clear out their lockers long before the Eagles and Patriots and their fans take over U.S. Bank Stadium for Super Bowl 52 in two weeks. Oddsmakers like the chances of Brady winning a sixth Super Bowl ring , making the Patriots nearly a touchdown favorite to beat the Eagles. The Patriots and Eagles, who last won an NFL title in 1960, several years before the first Super Bowl, met in the Super Bowl after the 2004 season with the Patriots prevailing 24-21. Hours after Brady's game-winning 4-yard TD pass to Danny Amendola with 2:48 remaining in Foxborough, the Eagles won for the fourth time in five tries under Foles. It started out ominously, however. The Vikings celebrated Kyle Rudolph's 25-yard touchdown catch from Case Keenum on their opening drive by mimicking the Olympic sport of curling for their TD celebration. It was the Eagles who had all the fun after that. Patrick Robinson's spectacular 50-yard interception return got Philadelphia started. Then Foles and his offense tore up the league's stingiest scoring defense, with long TD throws to Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith. LeGarrette Blount had an 11-yard scoring run when things were decided in the first half, and the Eagles were headed to an NFL title game the Vikings (14-4) hoped to be in at their own stadium. "You know everyone was against us," Foles said. "Coming out here and stick together and (we) come away with an amazing victory against a great team." Blake Bortles and the stingy Jaguars (12-7) led New England 20-10 early in the fourth quarter, but couldn't hold against the defending champions. The NFL's second-ranked defense kept Brady and the Patriots at bay for most of the game, but lost linebacker Myles Jack and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus on consecutive plays on New England's winning drive. It was New England's 13th win in 14 games since their 2-2 start. Their only stumble since September was a 27-20 loss at the Dolphins on Dec. 11. Brady, wearing a black bandage on his right hand after needing stitches to close a cut that happened on a play during practice earlier in the week, showed no signs of being hampered. And, with the game — and the season — possibly on the line, the Patriots star came up big again. "I've had a lot worse," Brady said. "I didn't know that on Wednesday. It was a crazy injury. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday was a little scary. Then I started getting some confidence and today we did just enough to win." Brady finished 26 of 38 for 290 yards and two touchdowns to Amendola. It's the eighth Super Bowl appearance for Brady and coach Bill Belichick, who have won five times — including last year's 34-28 overtime rally against the Falcons. "It's pretty amazing," Brady said. "Just to be on a team that wins these kinds of games, it's just a great accomplishment.".....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJan 22nd, 2018

Team Lakay s Geje Eustaquio gets ONE interim title shot in Manila

Team Lakay flyweight Geje 'Gravity' Eustaquio gets a massive opportunity to start 2018, fights for the ONE Championship interim flyweight world title at ONE: Global Superheroes on Friday, January 26th at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City, Manila.  Baguio native Eustaquio will meet former flyweight world champion Kairat Akhmetov of Kazakhstan in a rematch of their controversial three-round war back in 2017 that went to the former champion via split decision.  Regarded as one of the most talented strikers in the flyweight division, the 28-year old Eustaquio had won three of his last four bouts prior to the controversial loss to Akhmetov, which included a successful return to the flyweight division against Thailand's Anatpong 'Mak' Bunrad.  Six of Eustaquio's nine career wins have come under the ONE banner, which includes victories over veterans Gianni Subba, Saiful Merican, and current ONE strawweight world champion Alex Silva.  The owner of an impressive 23-1 professional record, Almaty, Kazakhstan's Akhmetov came into ONE as an unbeaten prospect and immediately left a mark by snatching the flyweight world title from Adriano Moraes in his promotional debut.  Moraes would regain the title back two years later, but not without a fight from the Kazakh.  In Eustaquio and Akhmetov's first meeting back in September of 2017, many believed that the Filipino was denied a knockout win by an errant call from referee Yuji Shimada.  During the first round, Eustaquio landed a barrage of upkicks, stunning Akhmetov. Shimada paused the action and allowed the former champion to recover.  Akhmetov would later get the split decision nod after three rounds.  Eustaquio now gets the chance to avenge his loss and capture interim title gold in front of a partisan Filipino crowd at the MoA Arena.  Joining Eustaquio on the Manila card will be Team Lakay teammates in former strawweight title challenger Joshua 'The Passion' Pacio and featherweight contender Edward 'The Ferocious' Kelly, as well as Filipino lightweight veteran Eric 'The Natural' Kelly.  Full ONE Championship: Global Superheroes fight card to be announced soon.    ONE Championship: Global Superheroes happens on Friday, January 26th at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City, Manila.  Catch the telecast on January 26th, 8:30 PM LIVE on S+A channel 23......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJan 10th, 2018

How will the Spurs meld Aldridge, Leonard?

By Shaun Powell, NBA.com A top-three team in the Western Conference is ready to get its best player back from injury. He's someone who, last season, made first-team All-NBA, had a seat at the MVP roundtable and nearly chopped down the champion Golden State Warriors in a playoff game (before being chopped down himself). And this will be good for the San Antonio Spurs, most would agree. What’s less certain is what Kawhi Leonard’s return from an achy quadricep means for LaMarcus Aldridge, who looks comfortable playing the lead right now without his co-star, yet squirmed to find peace when he had to ride shotgun. The Spurs star could make his season debut on Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time) against the Mavericks. The Spurs’ season rides on a happy balance between the two and a way to once again lurk as the team that gives the Warriors a severe case of the creeps, more than any other in the West. Despite all the fuss made over Chris Paul joining James Harden in Houston, and the star-infused Thunder in Oklahoma City, it’s the same-old Spurs who spooked Golden State in Game 1 before losing the Western Conference finals. They were also the last non-Warriors team to reach the NBA Finals. And look who’s sitting a bounce pass from the top of the West, despite missing Kawhi all season? That opening playoff game last May against Golden State was a flash point for San Antonio. The series of events that followed managed to put Leonard in a bad place physically, saw Aldridge melt epically the rest of that series and generate trade talk in the off-season, forced a major sit-down/showdown between coach Gregg Popovich and Aldridge and then, out of seemingly nowhere and somewhat surprisingly, a peaceful resolution was reached and wins followed. “As you can see, based on the evidence,” said Aldridge the other day, “everything’s good.” Yes, it appears so. With Kawhi out of the lineup, the Spurs are doing what they usually do, using disciplined basketball to stamp themselves as a contender. Some nights, Aldridge has been a force, ripping double-doubles and looming large in close games. The ball is finding him in a greedy groove; Aldridge is taking almost 17 1/2 shots a game and the Spurs’ No. 2 shooter, Rudy Gay, is getting nine. As a result, his scoring average is up from a year ago, from 17.3 points per game to 22.6 ppg, matching his best production during his peak with the Portland Trail Blazers. Now in his third season with the Spurs, Aldridge has never felt this frisky and once again is leaning on his money maker: the floating 18-foot jumper. Most important, the Spurs are winning because of him, and Popovich is gloating over him. “Are you kidding?” Popovich said. “We’d be in the toilet if it wasn’t for L.A. He’s been a complete basketball player at both ends of the floor, great rebounding, defensively, running the floor, scoring. What’s really been great is his leadership. And him bringing it every night.” It’s a short sample size after 25 games, but Popovich and the Spurs are cautiously encouraged by this. The Spurs veered from their usual draft-and-develop ways when they signed Aldridge to a big free-agent contract three summers ago. Because of that, Aldridge was considered an outsider, someone who wasn’t a true Spur, but who was needed by a team that craved proven talent to remain a contender in the post-Tim Duncan era. But it’s been a learning process for Aldridge, Popovich and the Spurs. He came from the Blazers anxious to break free of a team that began to orbit around Damian Lillard, but wouldn’t you know it, Leonard turned into a superstar almost overnight after Aldridge arrived. The timing was good for the Spurs ... and awkward for Aldridge, who was forced to adjust his game with prodding from Popovich. Aldridge bit his tongue last season when he averaged his lowest point total since his rookie season. When Leonard suffered his ankle sprain against the Warriors, Aldridge suddenly had the burden of carrying the load, and he failed spectacularly for the rest of that series. He averaged just 11.3 points in the final three games and became low hanging fruit for critics. Popovich was asked the other day if Aldridge had to atone for that this season and the coach came to his player’s defense. “I don’t know if the word ‘atone’ is accurate,” Popovich said. “If your leading scorer and also your point guard (Tony Parker, who was also out against the Warriors) isn’t there, then it falls on someone else. If you take away the two top players from any playoff team, it’s probably going to be tough to move on. I don’t think he has anything to atone for.” Still, something wasn’t right; anyone could see that. Aldridge requested a summertime meeting with Popovich and came with demands. On the surface, that might seem a risky strategy, given the coach’s credentials vs. someone without a single title, and Aldridge knew he was walking on eggshells. “I didn’t know how it would go because he’s Gregg Popovich. I didn’t know how he’d take me saying things. I didn’t know what to expect, with me coming at a person a different way but I was very honest and I think he could tell this was maybe different from what he was used to. But I was not disrespectful. I was trying to express how I was feeling and he was very receptive to it. We kept talking and things got better. I was pleasantly surprised.” For anyone who thought one of the game’s greatest coaches didn’t have a humble side, guess again. Popovich said: “We broke bread a few times, talked about it, laughed about it, discussed what we thought needed to happen, and frankly 95 percent of it fell on me because I made an error in trying to change him too much. That might sound odd, but he’d been in the league nine years and there’s one way he plays on the offensive end and feels comfortable with. I tried to turn him into Jack Sikma, told him I was going to teach you how to play on the elbow, go on the wing, face up. It was confusing for him. It really didn’t fit his style of play. I was guilty of over coaching in a sense. “We came to an agreement on what had to happen. Well, on defense, I told him ‘I’m going to get on you like I do everyone else. But on offense, I don’t even want to talk to you. When they double you, kick it. Other than that, you be LaMarcus Aldridge.’ You see the result right now. He’s happy, confident and kicking everybody’s butt.” Every star player’s ego needs a degree of pampering, and Popovich did admit that dealing with Aldridge was different than any player he’s ever had, yet says there’s a reason for that. “When guys like Kawhi and Tony Parker and others came to me, they were young kids. When a guy’s been in a league nine years and is used to doing something and I try to take it away, that’s not right. That wasn’t very wise on my part.” Popovich didn’t pull rank in the meeting with Aldridge and if anything, he put his ego in check, something you see from coaches who haven’t accomplished one-fourth of what he’s done. But Pop has never strayed from the first rule in coaching players, especially the good ones: Keep them happy by any means necessary. “You gotta look at things and make it better as a coach,” he said. “It’s your responsibility. This was mostly me.” Here’s Aldridge this season so far: Back-to-back 33- and-41-point games a few weeks ago, sharper court awareness, better rebounding and passing than a year ago. Aldridge: “I was frustrated. I just wanted to help more and I think he understood that. Now I feel as confident as I was in Portland. I’m definitely being myself and playing my game and not overthinking and not worried about what’s going to happen if I don’t play well. I’m not a face-up guy. I like to have my back to the basket more. Pop’s given me the freedom to be myself again and that has shown itself on the court.” The issue, both say, wasn’t necessary the number of shots, though that was certainly one of the issues. It also was about the spot on the floor, when those shots needed to be taken. Aldridge said he has no problem with Leonard as the core -- he called Kawhi “our main guy” -- but wanted the same amount of comforts within the system. “He’s a go-to guy also,” said Aldridge. “The plan is to have him be the guy he is, and I be who I am now.” And there’s the key word: now. Leonard was bothered by the quad all last season and it didn’t respond quickly to offseason treatment. But now he’s nearly 100 percent and hopes a quick return to the level of last season when he jacked his scoring and finished third in the MVP voting, one spot ahead of LeBron James. Count Parker among the teammates who’ve said the obvious about Aldridge and how the power forward, in Leonard’s absence, has looked All-Star quality. “Everything’s going through him right now and he’s doing a better job knowing when to score and when to pass,” Parker said, “along with reading double teams and playing good defense.” But then Parker, the most senior Spur after Manu Ginobili, stressed that everyone, including Aldridge, must sacrifice for Leonard and not vice-versa, for the sake of the system and ultimately, wins. “When you play for the Spurs you don’t get a lot of big stats,” Parker said. “Now that Kawhi is out, he obviously has the ball more and he’s going to shoot more shots.” Then he added the kicker: “When Kawhi comes back we will share” -- Parker said while smiling -- “like we always do here.” 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 NewsDec 9th, 2017