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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

BLOGTABLE: 2018 pre-playoffs predictions

NBA.ph blogtable 1) Which first-round series in the West is most likely to see an upset result (lower seed beating higher seed)? Enzo Flojo: For sure it’s Portland-New Orleans. I love Damian Lillard’s game, but the Pels are a really tough bunch with a lot of weapons, even sans Boogie Cousins. Jusuf Nurkic will have a really tough time containing AD; that’s one reason this has a high potential for an upset! Migs Bustos: The Jazz and Thunder matchup. It's a tale of upward momentum versus inconsistency. The Jazz have won seven out of their last 10 games, and OKC are 5-5 in their last 10. With how the Jazz are playing great team basketball, led by super rookie, Donovan Mitchell, they have a great chance of upsetting the erratic OKC Thunder. If maganda ang gising ng Utah for four games, may tulog ang OKC sa kanila. Marco Benitez: I think the Thunder-Jazz series is the one where most likely we will see an upset. The Thunder experiment of Westbrook-George-Anthony has been up and down all season, while the Jazz are a well-coached team anchored on a great defensive presence in Gobert. The Thunder win if Westbrook dominates the game and Adams is able to neutralize Gobert. But if OKC becomes stagnant on offense and their usual selves defensively, then the Jazz can wreck havoc on this matchup. Favian Pua: Portland Trail Blazers vs. New Orleans Pelicans: In order for the Pelicans to stun the Blazers, Anthony Davis must cement his status as the best player on both ends of the floor throughout the series. A Playoff Rondo sighting paired with the feisty defense of Jrue Holiday should stymie the backcourt attack of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Adrian Dy: If it turns out Kawhi Leonard was just saving himself for a postseason run, then the Spurs would absolutely wreck the Stephen Curry-less Golden State Warriors. Barring such a comeback though, I'm riding high on the Pelicans. The Blazers don't have the bigs to even slow down Davis, and the Jrue Holiday + Playoffs Rajon Rondo combo could make things really tough for Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum 2) Which first-round series in the East is most likely to see an upset result (lower seed beating higher seed)? Enzo Flojo: Don’t look past the veteran-laden Miami Heat. Philadelphia is by far the deeper team, sure, but if Embiid is hampered by his injury and both D-Wade and Goran Dragic have their way, Miami can push the Sixers to the distance and an upset may not be that surprising. Also, coach Spo shines in 7-game series! Migs Bustos: In the East, it's a bit more challenging. We all know about the success of the Sixers this season; no matter what seed Lebron's team is, it will be hard to upset them; the Raptors have been long consistent at the number 1 spot all season. So, the best bet would be the Bucks overthrowing home court advantage. And this is because Kyrie is out of the season. It's just up to Giannis and Co. to take advantage of that disadvantage by the Celtics to pull through. Marco Benitez: The plague of injuries to the Boston Celtics really hurt their chances of contending in the East, much less win a championship this season. Without Kyrie, Marcus Smart, and Gordon Hayward, the Celtics are vulnerable against the Greek Freak-led Bucks, who are long and talented. With that being said, Boston is still an extremely well-coached, albeit young team, and Giannis will have to be the best player on the floor for most of the series for the inconsistent Bucks to pull off the upset. Favian Pua: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Miami Heat: Though the Sixers are rolling into the playoffs, only J.J. Redick and Marco Belinelli can boast of a legitimate postseason resume. Led by All-Star Goran Dragic, the Heat are an unrelenting unit of two-way veterans who can both muck it up inside and bait opponents into a long-range shootout. Joel Embiid’s uncertain status will force Sixers head coach Brett Brown to find a counter for Hassan Whiteside. Adrian Dy: Though I have the 76ers advancing, it wouldn't surprise me if the Heat shut down Ben Simmons and shut up Joel Embiid. Erik Spoelstra has a knack for getting the best out of his squads, Dwyane Wade could have some clutch moments, and if the aforementioned Embiid doesn't return as soon as expected, South Beach could be singing after round one. 3) Which team that missed the playoffs has the best shot at making it next season? Enzo Flojo: I’d love to say Denver, but their being in the West really makes their window tight. That’s why I’m picking the Detroit Pistons, who have enough talent to make quite a big impact in the East, especially if their big names (e.g. Drummond, Griffin, Jackson) all stay put and stay healthy! Migs Bustos: To be honest, there are not much compelling story lines on teams that barely missed the playoffs this year. There's nothing like one of the most recent examples -- the Heat's 2016-2017 season where they made a late season run but just missed it at .500 (41-41), or how about Phoenix having a winning record at 48-34 in the 2013-2014 season missing out? The 16 teams were more or less 'predicted' to make the postseason this year so there wasn't a big surprise. Marco Benitez: I think a healthy Memphis Grizzlies team, with Conley, Gasol, Parsons and Tyreke Evans (assuming all are still with the Grizzlies next season) will be a lock to make the playoffs after a disappointing 22-60 win-loss record this season that saw a season-ending surgery for Conley happen in late January. Favian Pua: The Denver Nuggets. Nikola Jokic and his ragtag bunch of scorers were an overtime loss away against the Minnesota Timberwolves from getting their first taste of the postseason. To do so, the Nuggets will need to handle their business and take care of bottom-feeders, as it was backbreaking losses to the Memphis Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks in March that prevented them from securing an outright playoff berth. Adrian Dy: The Dallas Mavericks. Dirk Nowitzki will likely want to go out with a bang, Rick Carlisle is still a really good coach, Dennis Smith Jr. is a fantastic attacking guard, and if the lotto balls bounce the right way, they could return to the upper echelon of the West. 4) Which team that made these playoffs has the biggest chance of missing it next season? Enzo Flojo: It may sound crazy, but the Spurs are at great risk for next season. Kawhi continues to be a huge question mark and their veterans will get even older in 2018-2019. They nearly didn’t make it this year, and next year could be the tipping point! Migs Bustos: I'd have to go with the San Antonio Spurs. No doubt all of the other teams are on the up-swing, and they all boast of youth. If Kahwi does not play for the Spurs next season, expect younger teams with great potential like the Nuggets and Lakers to overtake SAS. Marco Benitez: Depending on what happens in terms of offseason trades, and assuming that the rest of the Western Conference regains full strength next season, the two teams I feel have the biggest chance of missing the playoffs next season are Miami and New Orleans. For Miami, DWade is not getting any younger, and Hassan Whiteside has not been at a consistent All-Star level all season. With Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond getting a full year under their belt in Detroit and Kristaps Porzingis back at full strength in New York, I see Miami as the most likely team to get bumped off in the East next season. For New Orleans, the Davis-Cousins experiment did not necessarily turn them into a legitimate playoff contender in the West, and when Cousins fell to injury, they've had to rely on AD to carry them almost entirely on his shoulders. With the ultra competitive West getting healthier next season, unless the Pels are able to get better on the wings -- assuming of course Cousins doesn't bolt in the offseason -- they may find themselves out of the playoffs. Favian Pua: Cleveland Cavaliers. Hinging on the premise that LeBron James bolts for the Sixers or Los Angeles Lakers in free agency this offseason, the Cavaliers are headed for a massive nosedive towards the number one pick in the 2019 draft. No other team has more to lose than the Cavaliers this postseason, and it is highly probable that winning the title is the only way The King stays in The Land. Adrian Dy: If we get another round of LeBron James free agency sweepstakes, and he winds up getting the Banana Boat Gang together in Houston, it's hard to see the Cleveland Cavaliers being competitive, let alone back in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Should that happen, I'd expect them to trade guys like Kevin Love, and hope that lotto luck favors them anew. 5) Which team is your early favorite to win it all? Enzo Flojo: Despite all the injuries and all their inconsistencies, the Warriors are still my odds-on fave to win it all. They have four big time playoff performers, and they know this is where their real season begins. Migs Bustos: Don't count out the Warriors. Even though they have been plagued with injuries towards the end of the season, the Dubs will hope that they will be healthy in time and turn 'on' the button with their championship experience Marco Benitez: Still the Warriors. Although they'll be without Steph in the first round, I foresee the same dominant Dubs starting the second round all the way to the Finals. The regular season has been a bit of a drag for them this season, and I believe that's why we haven't seen the same Warriors squad as that of past years. But come playoffs, there's no reason why the defending champs don't get locked in; and when they do, frankly, there's still no better team in the league than Golden State. Favian Pua: The Houston Rockets. The playoffs is all about trimming the fat in the roster and letting star power take over in the biggest moments. In James Harden and Chris Paul, the Rockets will always have at least one elite shot creator and facilitator on the court for all 48 minutes. Flanked by capable three-point shooters and wing defenders acquired specifically to neutralize the Golden State Warriors’ juggernaut, Clutch City is on track for its first Larry O’Brien trophy since 1995. Adrian Dy: Yes the defending champions are banged-up and looked uninterested as the regular season wound down, but now that it's winning time, I expect the Warriors to do their thing, although there's no way it'll be as smooth as their 16-1 romp last season......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsApr 14th, 2018

MVP Ladder: No topping Harden in award chase

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

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsApr 14th, 2018

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

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

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMar 31st, 2018

BLOGTABLE: Who are the favorites to win Rookie of the Year?

NBA.com blogtable Your top three candidates for Kia Rookie of the Year? * * * David Aldridge: In alphabetical (!!) order, and with apologies to Kyle Kuzma: 1. Donovan Mitchell  2. Ben Simmons  3. Jayson Tatum Steve Aschburner: Ben Simmons, Donovan Mitchell and Jayson Tatum, in that order as of this date. The Boston Celtics’ Tatum gets the edge over the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kyle Kuzma because of the way he stepped into a vital role for an Eastern Conference contender and for the way he’s roared back in March (16.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg) from a February sag (11.9, 2.7). Mitchell is the best “pure” rookie in my opinion, and the most dynamic and important offensive player on the playoff-bound Utah Jazz. But Simmons has been 1A to the Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid, and they have the Sixers headed toward homecourt advantage in the first round. His across-the-board stats are elite for a rookie and he has lived up to or exceeded some awfully lofty expectations. Tas Melas: 1. Ben Simmons. 2. Donovan Mitchell. 3. Jayson Tatum. Tatum has shown some ridiculous skills handling and shooting. Mitchell is that times two. He’s been the best scorer of the rookie crop, but Simmons gets the edge because he’s been the best lot of things: assisting, rebounding, defending, and, he’s got plenty of scoring touch too. Shaun Powell: First: Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers. Plays like a poised veteran most of the time, helps in multiple ways (mid-range shot, passing, court awareness, rebounding) and is triggering a turnaround in Philly. Award is his to lose. Second: Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz. He became the primary option almost from opening night, which is rare for a rookie, and thrives even though he hasn't really played point guard in his life, lacks the benefit of a No. 2 scorer and gets the ball in the crunch. Third: Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics. He suffered through a few lapses, perhaps due to the length of an NBA season, yet had a strong start and appears to be finishing up solidly as well. The Gordon Hayward injury forced him to become a scoring option for a contender and grow up quickly and he has for the most part. John Schuhmann: 1. Ben Simmons, and I really don't think it's a close race. He's just been the best all-around player among rookies, making a big impact on both ends of the floor for the fourth place team in the East. 2. Donovan Mitchell. That the Jazz are a middle-of-the-pack offensive team is a huge surprise, and Mitchell is a big part of that. He's the only guy on the roster who can consistently create a shot for for himself. 3. I'll give Jayson Tatum an edge over Kyle Kuzma. Kuzma has better raw numbers (points, rebounds and assists per game), but some of that is pace-aided. Tatum has been the more efficient scorer and an integral part of the league's No. 1 defense. Sekou Smith: Philadelphia's Ben Simmons is first on my list. I know, he's a redshirt rookie, but he's a rookie nonetheless. He's a future superstar based on what we've seen from him so far. I feel the same way about Utah's Donovan Mitchell, who gets the nod as my rookie surprise for this season. I had no idea he would turn in the kind of season he has. He's been every bit as crucial to his team's rise this season as Simmons has been to the Sixers' renaissance. Boston's Jayson Tatum is third on my list. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge was wise to swing the deal he did to get a player who fits perfectly into what they're building. The Celtics are going to be a team to be reckoned with for the foreseeable future and Tatum's going to be a huge part of that foundation......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMar 30th, 2018

Behind the glitz, France has problems to solve before WCup

By Jerome Pugmire, Associated Press PARIS (AP) — France's attacking soccer can be compared to an All-Star basketball game: showy moves, flashy individual skill and outstanding finishing. Up front France boasts Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele, two of the world's three most expensive players, and the 2016 European Championship's top scorer in Antoine Griezmann. When everything comes together, it's a joy to watch but, behind the glitz, France has significant problems to resolve before its World Cup campaign begins on June 16. As Euro 2016 runner-up, France will rightly be considered among the favorites in Russia. But rivals will marvel at the ease with which Colombia pierced France's feeble defense and overran its tentative midfield on Friday. Trailing 2-0, Colombia rallied to win 3-2 in a tactical master class of positional switches and pressing which flummoxed France coach Didier Deschamps. France showed similar frailties against World Cup winner Germany in November, twice squandering the lead in a 2-2 draw. Both times, France fluffed chances because of some complacent finishing — trying to score highlight-reel goals — and was then ruthlessly punished. It is particularly worrying for Deschamps, who places high importance on tactical discipline, commitment, leadership and risk-free defending. Those were hallmarks of France's triumphant teams at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 tournaments — with the combative midfielder Deschamps as captain — but they were missing against Colombia on Friday. "We have to do more in terms of attitude, energy and playing with more heart," France captain Hugo Lloris said. "We have to give more." In adding that Colombia "maybe has less talent but is a real team" Lloris highlighted the glossy veneer and soft underbelly of his side. Striker Olivier Giroud criticized a lack of "aggression and determination," adding it was important to understand why France was missing such "crucial values." Deschamps has another friendly, away to Russia on Tuesday, before he names his 23-man World Cup squad. He will then have three matches left to iron out evident flaws in his side, including a lack of leadership, lapses of concentration in defense, and a misplaced sense of superiority when dominating games. "When things are going well, we're capable of doing very good things. When things get tense we're a lot more vulnerable," Deschamps said. "It's also a question of character, perhaps we are too self-satisfied and the highest level doesn't forgive that." ___ LACK OF LEADERSHIP France's second-half capitulation against Colombia was not just tactical; it was also because Les Bleus had no leader to spark a response. France's long-standing captain is goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. While there is no doubt over Lloris' position as No. 1 — the Tottenham goalie is among the most consistent in the Premier League and has nearly 100 international caps — his position on the field works against him in communicating with his team. Lloris has long been considered too soft-spoken and lacking enough of a vocal presence. Deschamps complained his side lacked aggression against Colombia, and he may question why he's sticking with Lloris as captain when he is anything but aggressive, both in his body language and communication. ___ DEFENSE WEAKNESSES France plays such scintillating attacking football that its defenders must sometimes be tempted to put their feet up and admire it. Unfortunately, at times they seem to do just that. Deschamps is still trying to decide on his best center back pairing: Real Madrid's Raphael Varane alongside either Barcelona's Samuel Umiti or Arsenal's 50-cap veteran Laurent Koscielny. He went with Varane and Umtiti against Colombia and it was thoroughly unconvincing. Forward Luis Muriel regularly got behind Varane, and Umtiti clumsily gave away a late penalty, from which Colombia made it 3-2. But bringing Koscielny back in won't solve everything, either. While he is a fine reader of the game, and one of the best ball-playing center halves around, Koscielny has a habit of giving away penalties and his man-marking can be poor. Right backs Djibril Sidibe and Benjamin Pavard are attack-minded but so are left backs Layvin Kurzawa and Lucas Digne. Against Colombia, Sidibe and Digne raced forward almost at will, leaving gaping holes behind them for Colombia to exploit. ___ MIDFIELD CONUNDRUM With N'Golo Kante, Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi, the last position Deschamps should worry about is midfield. However, Pogba has fallen out of favor at Manchester United and looks out of form. Against Colombia, Deschamps paired Kante and Matuidi as holding midfielders in a 4-4-2 formation, but they were at times completely overrun when Colombia countered on the break. A 4-3-3 formation — Kante holding with Pogba and Matuidi either side — appears to offer more protection. But Pogba's tactical indiscipline means he often drifts out of position and, while he's among the world's most expensive players, Deschamps may be better off using him as a substitute. Instead, Deschamps could opt for a 4-3-3 with Bayern Munich's Corentin Tolisso, who is far more disciplined and a crisp passer with a good eye for goal. He scored 14 for Lyon last season, including long-range strikes, and has found the net several times for Bayern. Tuesday's match against Russia could prove important for Pogba's chances of starting France's World Cup opener against Australia......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMar 25th, 2018

Cuban s tanking talk raises key issue for NBA

By David Aldridge, TNT Analyst The NBA fined Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban $600,000 for being honest. Cuban told Naismith Memorial Hall of Famer Julius Erving on Erving’s podcast a couple of weeks ago that he told his players during a recent dinner that “losing is our best option. Adam (Silver) would hate hearing that…(but) we want the players to understand. As a player, you know that even though you may not agree, but at least if you respect the fact that someone took the time to talk to you, and you understood their perspective, you’re going to give me your feedback, but you’re part of the process.” But the league fined Cuban for what it called “public statements detrimental to the NBA” three days later. And Silver sent a memo to all 30 teams last week detailing the league’s position. “Throughout this period,” Silver wrote, “we have been careful to distinguish between efforts teams may make to rebuild their rosters, including through personnel changes over the course of several seasons, and circumstances in which players or coaches on the floor take steps to lose games. “The former can be a legitimate strategy to construct a successful team within the confines of league rules; the latter -- which we have not found and hope never to see in the NBA -- has no place in our game.” Yet Cuban did not in any way, nor has any evidence to the contrary emerged, state the Mavericks were losing games on purpose; that is, players were intentionally missing shots, or not putting forth effort on defense to let the other team score, or anything like that. (Even Silver acknowledged in the memo that the league has “no basis at this time to conclude that the Mavericks team is giving anything less than its best effort on the court, and Mark has assured us that this is not the case.”) So, why the fine? Was what Cuban said so incendiary? ‘’Mark knew his comments were public, so it surprised me that he was so candid, but that's who Mark is,” said one very high-ranking official from another team over the weekend. “To me his comment wasn't indicating tanking as their strategy but more about setting the expectation that playoffs were not a possibility. The only consolation of not making the playoffs is being in the lottery. You can't blame a team from trying to turn the lemon (losing) into lemonade (top 4 pick). The league needs to find a way not to reward losing.” Exactly. What Cuban said was spot on -- losing to improve the Mavericks’ Draft position was, and is, the best and quickest way for Dallas to get better and start winning games again. That doesn’t mean everyone agreed with Cuban being so blunt. “I think it was a totally inappropriate to say that to players,” said another extremely high-ranking team official for another team. “Whatever the team’s strategy may be, I firmly believe that the players should always play to win. The fine is meaningless to Mark; in fact, sometimes I think he enjoys the publicity he gets from the fines.” But. We ask people to be truthful and not lie about their intentions. We tell our kids that no lie is worth telling, and that telling the truth, no matter how painful, is always the best choice. So Cuban is honest and tells the truth, that short-term losing makes more sense for his franchise’s long-term interests, and he’s relieved of 600 large by the league. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia 76ers are lauded -- and revel in their slogan, “Trust the Process,” celebrated by the team’s most ardent supporters -- whose central tenet was to lose, and keep losing, until you could draft a player good enough to build around and win down the road. Which is, exactly, what Dallas is doing now. Indeed, increased tanking is the logical extension of an analytics-dominant league. If three is greater than two -- the reasoning behind the primacy of the 3-pointer in today’s NBA -- then doing anything you can to get more ping-pong balls in the hopper is the correct thing to do. You can’t just embrace the parts of doing it by the numbers that are pleasant. This is the flip side. Burying one’s head in the sand and pretending teams don’t do this doesn’t make sense. Everyone does it in every sport, or don’t you recall “Suck for Luck,” the chant of Indianapolis Colts’ fans before the 2012 NFL Draft? What of Major League Baseball’s Houston Astros losing 324 games from 2011-13? Were they trying to win games, or did we all imagine them going from $102 million in payroll in 2009 to $26 million by 2013? “I resist the word ‘tanking,’ but I’m very pro ‘rebuilding,’ when it’s necessary,” said Los Angeles Dodgers President Stan Kasten, who in a former life ran the Hawks as general manager in the ‘80s and ‘90s, by telephone Sunday. “And, it’s painful,” Kasten said. “You’ve got to explain it to your team, your fans, to your front office, to your coaches, to your wife, to your kids, to the country club. It’s hard. It’s painful. It’s nobody’s first choice. But if it’s necessary, it’s often the quickest way to get the team back to winning. And don’t lose sight of that.” Kasten’s Dodgers lost the World Series to the Astros, who methodically built their team the last four years around young drafted players like Series MVP George Springer, last fall in seven games. But not only is he not angry with Houston for the way management took the franchise’s foundation to the studs -- compared with his high-spending Dodgers -- he admires the speed with which they went from worst to first. “I have real feelings about what they did,” Kasten said. “Because Mark Walter (the CEO of Guggenheim Partners, the global firm that bought the Dodgers in 2012) and I, before we bought the Dodgers, we were looking at Houston. Because they were available. And truthfully, when we looked at where they were, we were going to do the same thing. It had to be done. Because they were not on a track to win. And frankly, I don’t think I could have done it as fast, or as well, as (Astros owner) Jim Crane, or (GM) Jeff Luhnow. Because doing that, to the extreme, takes real intestinal fortitude.” Kasten makes a strong distinction between a team cutting payroll and going young and that winds up losing, and one that’s actively seeking ways to lose more games. “All of these owners are hyper-competitive, and they want to win,” Kasten said. “And truthfully, the quickest way to win, at least if you look at the last three world champions, is to rebuild and get young and get prospects and do it that way. And if you don’t think that’s the better way to go, ask the fans in Houston and Chicago and Kansas City how they feel. You won’t get one fan who disagrees with what is done. It is the quickest way to win.” Please do not misunderstand. I hate tanking. I hate the idea of introducing losing into your shop, even indirectly. It’s like a virus, extremely difficult to get rid of once it gets in a franchise’s bloodstream. A ticket is, in essence, a contract between parties: I pay top dollar, you give me top-dollar product in exchange. When a team tanks, it violates that compact; I don’t recall any team that’s given fans a tanking discount. It is also very difficult to tank effectively in the NBA. The last three teams with the best odds of getting the No. 1 in the Draft going into the Lottery -- Boston (2017), Philadelphia (2016) and Minnesota (2015) -- have indeed won. But prior to that, the team with the best odds didn’t get the first pick for 10 consecutive years, and 22 times out of the last 25 years. And even the teams that did buck the odds and get the first pick often picked wrong, or did I miss Anthony Bennett Night in Cleveland, or the Andrea Bargnani statue outside of Air Canada Centre? “The Draft is often a crap shoot anyway,” the official from the second team said. “So why not give your fans the best product that you can and then draft Donovan Mitchell,” as Utah did this season. The Jazz traded for the rights to the Kia Rookie of the Year candidate, who was taken near the bottom of the Lottery (13th overall by the Denver Nuggets). This came a season after the Jazz went 51-31 and won its first-round playoff series. I agree. Tanking does not reward excellence in team building -- good drafting, good free-agent signings, good player development -- it rewards the exact opposite of that. It’s a Golden Ticket that doesn’t even require you to buy an Everlasting Gobstopper. But, tanking is reality. You can’t pretend it isn’t. And the only way to completely get tanking out of pro sports is to eliminate the Draft in all sports, including the NBA. We don’t want to have that conversation, do we? Personally, I’d love it. Can you imagine the fight that would set up between interested teams -- and who wouldn’t be interested? -- in a certain 7-foot-1 freshman center almost certain to leave school early who currently plays for a school that’s been in the news for all the wrong reasons lately? Would he help the Lakers? The Knicks? The Bulls? The NBA team in the state in which the college player currently plays, which rather desperately needs another star to pair with its one really great player (whose name, if you must know, rhymes with “Nevin Cooker”)? Would he help any team in the league that doesn’t currently employ Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid or Karl-Anthony Towns in the middle? Most assuredly. And if he could control where he wanted to go, and for how much, the process would be must-see TV. Yet, while the real-world implications would be fascinating, I’m not sure how you could eliminate the Draft without loosening the underpinnings of the entire pro basketball enterprise (and, yes, one could make a moral case for doing just that, as it does go against the whole Manifest Destiny thing to artificially bind someone to a company rather than letting them market their services to the highest bidder). If there was no Draft, why would any player with Lottery-level talent go to college? Yes, there would be the occasional Grant Hill/unicorn who wants to go to college to better themselves intellectually and/or embrace the person growth that often comes from being on your own for four years. But, while sad to say, most kids with NBA dreams go to college because that’s the path through which they can ultimately get to the pros the fastest. With no Draft, and few of the top college-age players thus needing/wanting to go to college, you’d have a very different March Madness than you have now. And as that is a multi-billion enterprise, both for the broadcast networks that air it (including Turner Sports, which runs NBA.com) and the colleges that reap the financial deluge it produces, the likelihood of across the board support for a new player acquisition model is slight. Not to mention, you’d have a much different salary structure in the NBA, as there would be no rookie slotting for drafted players. And if you think the game’s superstars would stand idly by and watch more of that cheddar that they helped produce go out the door to guys who haven’t yet done anything … you’d be wrong. So, the Draft isn’t going anywhere. Which means the NBA must decide whether it wants to continue to be shocked, shocked that tanking is going on in its league, or accept the reality that there is not much patience for being in the middle ground in a league where every team is now worth more than $1 billion. There is only, as Pat Riley said a long time ago, winning and misery. 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 NewsMar 6th, 2018

New era, new challenges emerge for Warriors

By David Aldridge, TNT Analyst "It’s the lack of faith that makes people afraid of meeting challenges, and I believe in myself. He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life. I figured that if I said it enough, I would convince the world that I really was the greatest." -- Muhammad Ali Ali defended his heavyweight championship 20 times, during two eras: when he was young and unstoppable, after beating Sonny Liston in Miami in 1964, and when he was old and vulnerable, after beating George Foreman in Zaire in 1974. He was the fastest heavyweight ever in the first era; he was smart and could take a punch in the second. A generation later, the Golden State Warriors are defending their NBA title for a second time, in three years. But they, too, are doing so in two eras. In 2014, no one had seen anything like what Golden State did on a basketball court, and how Stephen Curry’s and Klay Thompson’s shooting range changed the geometry of NBA defenses. They stretched to the breaking point trying to get out to Curry and Thompson. They couldn’t figure out how to handle the Warriors’ five-man switching defenses. They couldn’t stand up under Golden State’s withering pace. There is no need to hold a telethon yet for the Warriors, three years later. They are 49-14 today, with four All-Stars among their five starters, including Kia MVP candidate Kevin Durant, in the prime of his career, who wasn’t there when the Warriors first beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2015 Finals. They are still first in the league in Offensive Rating, first in True Shooting Percentage, first in Effective Field Goal Percentage. They still are unsolvable to most opponents. But maybe not all, not anymore. The margin of separation between Golden State and the rest of the league is still there, most of the time. But there are tiny signs of slippage. Tiny. You recall what Warriors assistant coach Bruce Frasier said in the preseason, when no one is injured and everyone thinks they’re going 82-0. “Teams are starting to figure us out a little bit,” he said then. “We’re talented, so that sometimes overrides strategy. But I feel like teams are figuring certain things out to do to counter what they’ve seen. Year one, it was really hard, because it was all new. The pieces have changed a little bit, but I feel like our challenge will be to see if we can layer on some of the offense, our fluid movement, and counters, and change things up, and execute better. Defense is always big, too, so I wouldn’t go into the complacent (problem). I think it’s going to be more execution, and how smart can we really be, and can we keep that energy up through this year?” In each of their previous three seasons, the Warriors led the league in margin of victory -- 10.1 points in 2014-15, 10.8 points in 2015-16 and 11.6 points last season. This year, though, they’ve fallen to third, behind the Houston Rockets and Toronto Raptors -- and their win margin is down to 8.5 points per game. Two years ago, the Warriors were fourth in the league in Defensive Rating (100.9). Last season, Golden State was second (101.1). This season, the Warriors are fifth, at 103.4. In 2014-15, they were 14th in the league in points allowed in the paint; this year, they’re 24th (to be fair, they were 23rd last year, when they won it all anyway). Are they bored? Tired? Aging? Is their bench inconsistency this year the result of vets saving themselves for the playoffs, or guys just getting old? And will it matter against anyone other than Houston? “Once you start getting a little older, it’s harder and harder,” guard Shaun Livingston said last week. “We definitely need the youth, we definitely need the health. We’ve got to be healthy. We’ve got to be healthy. Sometimes you see teams that maybe are over the hill -- they have the experience, but maybe not (the ability). It’s human nature. Obviously, I don’t think we’re there yet. We’ve got guys that are still in their prime. It’s mental now.” In the Jean-Pierre Coopman phase of their latest title defense (oh, how one misses spectacles like Ali fighting Coopman, the “Lion of Flanders” -- with Pat Summerall and Tom Brookshier on the call!), the Warriors came to Washington last week. There was no White House visit on the docket, only time with D.C. area kids and a trip to the African-American History Museum, with owner Joe Lacob and GM Bob Myers on the trip as well. They have been in the public eye for five years now, back to Mark Jackson’s last season as coach, when the Splash Brothers exploded into the national consciousness. That’s a long time for one NBA team to have all that light and heat on it. For a minute, the Warriors tried to convince themselves that there was a backlash building against them nationally, that people had grown tired of their 3-pointers and video game point totals. It was, of course, a ridiculous posit -- Golden State and its players are more popular than ever, the love for Curry such that he felt perfectly comfortable posting a photo of the glass table he accidentally smashed in his hotel room on Instagram, any criticism surely to be muted amid America’s love for the two-time MVP.   when you feel like you’re on the @pgatour so you gotta get some swings going in the hotel room 😂😂😂 #idiot A post shared by Wardell Curry (@stephencurry30) on Mar 1, 2018 at 1:33pm PST “There was a little guy who was probably eight years old, and he came up and introduced himself,” Steve Kerr said. “His name was Ryan, and I’m talking to him, and he goes ’oh, my God, there’s Quinn Cook!’ And he ran over to Quinn Cook. Not Steph, not me -- he loved Quinn Cook. That was cool.” Throughout the Warriors’ run, they’ve faced down different challengers in the Western Conference -- the first iteration of the Rockets with Harden, a hybrid inside-out attack where Houston unhappily and unsuccessfully tried to meld Harden and Dwight Howard in the post. The Durant/Russell Westbrook one-two combo in Oklahoma City. The Spurs, morphing from the Tim Duncan/Tony Parker-led team to the Kawhi Leonard-dominant one. The “Lob City” Clippers, followed by the Chris Paul/Blake Griffin halfcourt version. But this season’s Rockets, with Paul at the point, may be the most unique and dangerous threat to the Warriors. They are much more than a team that just rains 3-pointers on you -- though they most certainly do that, and do it historically well. They’re also an outstanding defensive team, with the additions of P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute giving them a grit they haven’t had in past seasons to pair with the shot blocking and rim presence of Clint Capela. The numbers are stark: Houston is 32-1 this season when Paul, Harden and Capela all play, including two wins over the Warriors The Rockets have no obvious weakness. They have no fear of Golden State, either, having won two of the three meetings with the Warriors this season. It’s not just that they’re good, it’s how they’re good that makes them look like the greatest challenge yet to Golden State’s hegemony in the West. “I mean, yes, because they do it a different way, I guess,” Curry said last week. “They adopted the power of the three ball and try to use it as a main weapon, and obviously with James and CP together. Honestly, we know that they’re playing well. We’re chasing that number one seed and keeping tabs on how they’re playing and whatnot. But at the end of the day, we’ve got a lot of time left before we have to face them again. We know they’re serious. But so are we.” The Warriors have had to deal with great adversity during their run, to be sure. The biggest challenge came about this time last year, when a collision between teammates -- Zaza Pachulia and Durant, in D.C., ironically -- culminated in a Grade 2 MCL sprain and bone bruise for Durant, taking him out of the lineup at the worst possible part of the season. Golden State had just ripped off wins in 23 of its previous 27 games since a lamentable Christmas Day loss to the Cavs. Curry had started to figure out how to play with KD, and vice versa. They were in the middle of a brutal stretch of seven road games in eight overall, with the one brief return home to play the Celtics. When Durant went down, the initial fear was that he’d torn his ACL and would be out for the season. The Warriors’ locker room was funeral after the Wizards game. “Obviously, we were trying to figure out if he was like ’done-done’ for the year, or whether or not there was going to be a chance he’d return,” forward David West said. “We were, at the time he got hurt, we were just starting to figure out the sort of roles, everybody was getting comfortable with roles. We basically had to reset., change some of the functions we were doing. We lost a few games  trying to literaly just figure out and recalibrate and re-balance. That was one of those periods where we were just looking at each other, trying to start this thing -- we lost this huge, huge piece.” Yet the Warriors figured it out on the fly. And how they responded then provides a big clue to how they might respond to the challenge the Rockets present to them now. “It took us, I think we needed to get home before we were able to stablize,” Kerr said. “I want to say we lost three of the last four on the trip or something  (they did lose three of four, but one of the three losses was at Oracle in that one home game with the Celtics). We got home and righted the ship and got going. But sometimes (an injury is) a galvanizing force when a guy gets hurt, and you have to do certain things. Like, for us, when Kevin got hurt, we talked about it and we said we have to be the best defensive team in the league. We don’t have that luxury of throwing the ball to Kevin and saying ’get us 30 points tonight.'” During that stretch without Durant (March 2, 2017 to April 5, 2017), who returned just before the start of the playoffs, the Warriors led the league in the league in Defensive Rating (100.0, just head of San Antonio’s 100.2), first in opponent field goal percentage (.429), tied for second in opponent 3-point percentage (.316) and fourth in opponent points allowed per game (100.9). And once Durant returned for good, the Warriors again flexed. They tore through the West, winning all but one game en route to a third straight NBA Finals. And they took the Cavaliers apart in five games for their second title in three years. “You could see Draymond, Klay, Andre, Shaun, those guys, even Loon (Kevin Looney), were like, ’we didn’t have KD last year,’ ” West said. “For someone like myself, I just followed their lead. Klay got a little more aggressive. Draymond sort of settled everybody defensively. And we started winning.” That muscle memory will come in handy this year. Durant and Curry have missed time with injuries, and Golden State hasn’t figured out things at center just yet. (Would it shock me if rookie Jordan Bell played a big role there down the stretch? No, it would not.) But the Warriors still are smoking people in the second halves of games; per teamrankings.com, the Warriors lead the lead in third-quarter scoring margin at 5.3 points per game, more than double the margin of the second-place Denver Nuggets. Whether it’s adjustments or something else (“mainly, fiery halftime speeches, Knute Rockne style,” Kerr opines), they have again put a lot of opponents away with 12 minutes to spare. Since the All-Star break, they’re fourth in the league in opponent field goal percentage (.433) and Defensive Rating (100.3). “This year, obviously, knock on wood, we want to stay healthy,” Curry said. “We want to continue to push in the right direction. Every year’s different. That’s the fun part about this league. No matter how much success you’ve had and what your expectations are, it’s a different journey every year. We’re right in the middle of that right now. We have an amazing record, considering how we’ve played. I think we’d all say we haven’t lived up to our own expectations. That’s okay. We have an opportunity to build the right habits and the right momentum going into the playoffs this year and do it, all 15 guys.” 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 NewsMar 6th, 2018

DOC VOLLEYBALL: Baring their Talons (Adamson vs. La Salle Analysis)

Coming off back-to-back close losses from UST and Ateneo, the Adamson Lady Falcons mustered enough grit to snatch their biggest win so far at the expense of the De La Salle University Lady Spikers. With simple and clean defense and execution, the Airess Padda- mentored squad was able to play technically sound volleyball. However, it was not an easy win for Adamson as La Salle showed moments of dominance when their middles were at work and when their services were coming off heavy. Set 1 AdU 25, DLSU 18 The Lady Falcons soared in confidently with an early lead, capitalizing on hitting miscues by the Lady Spikers off the pass. With an early 8-4 advantage from the start, the Lady Falcons were firing from all areas as setter Fhen Emnas showed commendable ball distribution. Adamson’s lead could have actually been higher early on if not for a couple of well placed serves by DLSU’s Des Cheng on zone 5 to disrupt the approach of Queen Falcon Jema Galanza from the left wing. Though it may seem that DLSU’s Michelle Cobb had some stuggles in the setting department, she was actually making good decisions on ball distribution. However, the Lady Spikers were simply not able to terminate especially with their first point conversion attempts off the pass. In most instances, DLSU’s first balls were low and flat, disabling Cobb to square properly into the net to find Majoy Baron or Aduke Ogunsanya and effectively attack from the middle. On the other hand,the Lady Falcons kept this pressure on the Lady Spikers by serving mostly to zone 1 to eliminate the threats from the middle and load up on their block on the wings, which were then successful in a couple of kill blocks as well as one-touches to help them convert in the transition. Adamson’s simple and disciplined defense was beneficial in holding DLSU at bay for the entire set. Set 2 DLSU 25, ADU 15 Quick to adjust from their 1st set lapses, the Lady Spikers went to regroup and prevented the Lady Falcons from getting an early lead once more. Whereas Adamson was able to force in some pipe attacks off poor passes in the 1st set, the DLSU blockers were better at reading the back row attacks of Adamson especially from a broken play. Contrary to their first set as well, the Lady Spikers were able to run their strongest assets, which are their middles as passing was higher, enabling Cobb to better position herself and locate her middles. With a barrage of low and flat floaters care of Queen Spiker Baron and Tin Tiamzon towards zone 5, DLSU was able to shut down the Lady Falcons’ offense to get the lead mid game. Adamson then went to adjust by the mid-game to start their own run. Targeting zone 5 as well, the Lady Falcons forced their counterparts to pass too tight and low, making it easy for Mylene Paat to set up her net defense and chip in a couple of kill blocks to minimize the lead. However, as soon as Baron went back to the service line, her aggresive serves spelled the end for the Lady Falcons as she continued to put pressure on zone 5, forcing Adamson’s passers and hitters to a series of mistakes costing the latter the set. Set 3 AdU 25,  DLSU 19 The third set opened with La Salle continuing its momentum from the second set with Baron racking some kills from the middle as well as disrupting the Adamson offensive with her services. Despite being one of the top receiving teams so far in this season, the Lady Falcons continued to show some struggles with low and flat floaters which the Lady Spikers continued to exploit. Adamson was then able to get ground once Eli Soyud showed that they were also capable of serving aggresively to shift the game to their favor. Serving fast floaters to zone 5, Soyud was able to prevent DLSU middle Ogunsanya from making a good approach, leaving the wings easier to defend. The Lady Spikers were then quick to adjust and reclaim momentum as they played aggresively from the serve and at the net care of Des Cheng and Baron. Down 11-16 in the middle of the set, Adamson made a spectacular 8-1 run as Mylene Paat put pressure on zone 1 with her services. This proved problematic for DLSU as it prevented Cobb once again from squaring properly into the net thereby eliminating any threat from a quick middle play. As a result, attacks from the wings by the Lady Spikers were easily defended by the Lady Falcons either with blocks or digs. Adamson’s better conversion off the transition towards the end of the set was instrumental in their 3rd set victory. Set 4 AdU 25, DLSU 22 The Lady Spikers mounted an early comeback at the start of set 4 as they once again challenged the Lady Falcons’ passing with heavy floaters from the service line. This proved effective in disabling Adamson from getting first point conversions, but the Lady Falcons proved they could hold their ground in the transition play. The middle of the set was when Adamson finally showed its talons making an amazing run care of Joy Dacoron’s consistent targeting of zone 1. With the DLSU attack strategy disrupted, Adamson had enough free balls to maximize their offense with Mylene Paat from the right wing. Adamson completely stunned DLSU as Paat, despite being a middle, continued to rack points from shoot plays from the right pin. The barrage continued as Emnas consistently served into zone 1 once more to eliminate the threat from DLSU’s middles. With only the left wing to defend, Paat showed dominance over the net as she set up back to back roofs to maintain the lead. The Lady Spikers mounted a run towards the end by targeting Galanza from the serve, but Adamson’s grit in transition defense enabled them to outplay DLSU and snatch away perhaps their biggest win in recent history. Take away points Given that one of the Lady Spikers’ main advantage is their middle play, the team must ensure that the first ball is optimal for the setter to locate the middles. With Adamson clearly exposing how zone 1 targeted serves prevents Cobb from squaring into the net and running a middle play, DLSU is challenged to minimize low and tight passes coming from Cobb’s blind side to lessen their attack predictability. In addition, back row attacks by Kim Dy from the right were sorely missed in the match leading to the left wing being heavily defended by Adamson blockers especially on a broken play. On the other hand, Adamson has clearly shown that they can consistently locate their serves as well as convert points from the transition. What proved to be crucial in their transition play is their disciplined floor defense that shows minimal extra movements. If the Lady Falcons can improve the speed and lower the height of their serves, they would be a significant threat since their transition defense would highly complement a more aggresive.  .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsFeb 27th, 2018

Denver Nuggets face tough test in fight for playoff spot

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com The Denver Nuggets seem to be a big beneficiary of the Blake Griffin trade this week. At the time of the deal, the LA Clippers were just one game behind the Nuggets for the final playoff spot in the West. And if the Clippers were going to fade after trading their best player, the Nuggets' chances of ending a four-year playoff drought were going to increase dramatically. But the Clips are still hanging around, the Nuggets still have some work to do, and the work will be tough in February. Denver has one of the league's toughest February schedules, with seven of their 10 games against teams that are currently at or above .500. That includes six games against the Warriors, Rockets (x 2), Spurs (x 2) and Thunder. Denver has the league's toughest February schedule in regard to both opposing offenses and opposing defenses. Through January, the Nuggets are 8-16 against the other 15 teams that are currently at or above .500, having allowed more than 110 points per 100 possessions over those 24 games. Ten of those 16 losses (including two to Boston and San Antonio in the last three days) were games that were within five points in the last five minutes, though. And there is good news with the Nuggets' February schedule. Seven of their 10 games are at home, where they're 19-7 (6-5 against other teams that are currently at or above .500) and where they've been 10.9 possessions better than they've been on the road. Only Utah (13.4) and New York (11.9) have bigger home-road NetRtg differentials. The Nuggets also have just one February back-to-back, and the second game is in Phoenix. They have three games this month with a rest advantage (where their opponent played the night before but they did not). The Utah Jazz, coming off wins over Toronto and Golden State, could be Denver's biggest threat in regard to that last playoff spot. The Nuggets and Jazz have already finished their season series, with each team winning its two home games. But if the Clippers are still hanging around in a few weeks, the Nuggets' most important February game could be their last, when they host LA on Feb. 27 (Feb. 28, PHL time). Note: Every team has at least seven full days off for the All-Star break. Two teams - Dallas and San Antonio - have the longest All-Star breaks: nine days off between games. Rest advantage / Rest disadvantage: Games in which one team (at a disadvantage) played the day before and the other (at an advantage) did not. Teams are currently 120-82 (.594) with a rest advantage, 98-49 (.667) at home and 22-33 (.400) on the road. Here's a breakdown of every Western Conference team's February schedule... More Western Conference notes... - James Harden just scored 60 points against the league's 27th ranked defense and will get more bad defenses to pick on in February. The Rockets visit the second-ranked defense (San Antonio) on Thursday and will spend most of the month on the road, but they play a league-high seven February games against bottom-10 defenses. - With the All-Star Game in L.A., the Clippers and Lakers have the league's most road-heavy February schedules. Both will play seven of their 10 February games away from Staples Center. - The Timberwolves, with the league's third-ranked offense, are the only team that doesn't have any February games against teams that currently rank in the top 10 defensively. - The Thunder are one of four teams that doesn't play any February games against opponents on the second game of a back-to-back. But they have five games (only the Lakers have more) against the eight teams that are currently 14 or more games below .500. - The Spurs will play a league-low nine games this month, but that includes a league-high six games against the league's top 10 offenses, as well as the annual rodeo road trip, which is split by the All-Star break. After hosting the Rockets and Jazz this week, the Spurs will have a three-game trip going into the break and then another three-game trip coming out of it. But no team has a longer All-Star break (nine full days off between games). Their last game before their break and their first game before the break are both in Denver. - After visiting the Raptors and Celtics this weekend, the Blazers will play seven of their final eight February games against teams that are currently under .500. But their road trip concludes with a visit to Detroit on Monday (Tuesday, PHL time) and they'll have two important games against the 10th-place (and improving) Jazz. - The Jazz are coming off wins over the Raptors and Warriors, and have a chance to climb back into the playoff picture, with three games against two teams - New Orleans and Portland (x 2) - they're chasing in the West. Two of those games are on the road, where the Jazz will be for five of their first six February games. Utah won in Toronto last week, but as noted above, the Jazz have the league's biggest home-road NetRtg differential. They've been 13.4 points per 100 possessions better at home than on the road. They will play their last two pre-break games at Vivint Smart Home Arena, and they'll begin their post-break schedule with a four-game homestand.     Eastern Conference The Washington Wizards have not lived up to expectations this season, unable build off a trip to Game 7 of the conference semifinals last May. They're in fifth place in the East, but their bad losses (11 to teams that are currently at least six games under .500) have overshadowed their quality wins (they're 5-5 against teams with the league's eight best records). Now, the Wizards are dealing with an extended absence for John Wall, who had knee surgery on Wednesday (Thursday, PHL time). Things could certainly come together for the Wizards if Wall returns healthier and stronger in April and May (they won't have to play the Nets or Mavs in the playoffs), but as they look to stay in the mix for a top four seed in the East, they'll have a difficult schedule to navigate without one of their All-Stars. Seven of the Wizards' 12 February games are against the other seven teams in playoff position in the East. That includes four games against the three teams - Indiana, Milwaukee and Philadelphia (x 2) - behind them and within two games in the loss column in the standings. Three of the Wizards' other five games are on the road. And they'll finish the month of February by hosting the Warriors on the second night of a road-home back-to-back (with the Warriors not playing the day before). But it doesn't end there. That Golden State game will be only the second game of 12 straight against teams that are currently over .500. The Wizards' March might be tougher than their February, and just staying in playoff position at all could be a challenge. More Eastern Conference notes ... - It's a big month for the Celtics and Sixers in regard to the Lakers' pick in this year's Draft. The Sixers get the pick if it lands at No. 1 or at No. 6 or higher, while the Celtics get it if it lands at Nos. 2-5. The Lakers currently have the league's ninth worst record, but the team with the fifth worst record (Phoenix) has just one fewer win. And L.A. will play six of its 10 February games against the eight teams currently below them in the combined standings. A bad month could have them slide into that range where the Celtics get the pick (while also increasing the Sixers' chances of getting the No. 1 pick). - After hosting the Hawks on Friday (Saturday, PHL time), the Celtics will go into the All-Star break with six straight games against teams that are currently at or above .500. That includes big games against Toronto and Cleveland. And then they'll come out of the break with four straight games against teams with losing records, though that includes a visit to Detroit. - The Hornets are the only team with four back-to-backs in February. - The Pistons, with Blake Griffin set to make his debut on Thursday (Friday, PHL time), have the most home-heavy February schedule, with nine of their 12 games at Little Caesars Arena. And they'll have a rest advantage (with their opponent playing the second game of a back-to-back) in six of the nine home games, including each of their first four games this month. - Entering the month, only two games in the loss column separate the fourth-place Heat from the eighth-place Sixers, and Philadelphia actually has the stronger point differential. To settle the record vs. point differential debate, those two teams will play each other three times in February. Two of those meetings (including a matchup on Friday) will be in Philadelphia, and the second of those (Feb. 14) will be a rest-advantage game for the Sixers. In total, the Sixers have five February games against opponents playing the second game of a back-to-back, with three of those being rest advantage games. - The Bucks are one of four teams that doesn't play any February games against opponents on the second game of a back-to-back. John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsFeb 2nd, 2018

Salah saves Liverpool; Man United draws again

By Steve Douglas, Associated Press If Virgil van Dijk cost Liverpool $100 million, imagine how much Mohamed Salah is currently worth? The Egypt forward is exceeding all expectations in his first season at Anfield and scored another two goals to help Liverpool come from behind to beat Leicester 2-1 in the Premier League on Saturday. That's 23 goals in all competitions by the turn of the year — matching the 56-year club record held by Roger Hunt — of which 17 have come in the league. "He is still a young player," Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp said of the 25-year-old Salah. "He can improve." It is looking like 42 million euros ($49 million) well spent this summer following Salah's move from Roma. Van Dijk was in the directors' box to watch his new employers after agreeing this week to a move to Liverpool from Southampton for double that fee. The Dutch center back will do well to match Salah's impact at Anfield. Events hours later made it an even better day for Liverpool, with Manchester United held 0-0 at home by Southampton for a third straight draw over the Christmas period. Liverpool, in fourth place, is only three points behind United. Chelsea beat Stoke 5-0 to climb to second place, 13 points behind Manchester City, which plays Crystal Palace on Sunday. ___ SALAH'S RECORD Salah responded to Jamie Vardy's third-minute opener at Anfield to score in the 52nd and 76th minutes, and move onto 23 goals by the turn of the year, the same as Hunt had in the 1961-62 campaign. An errant pass by Joel Matip, who might end up losing his place to Van Dijk, led to Vardy's goal that was set up by Riyad Mahrez. Salah had four decent chances before equalizing eight minutes into the second half, running onto Sadio Mane's back-heel and holding off Christian Fuchs and Daniel Amartey to pick his spot beyond goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel. He grabbed the winner in the 76th after another back-heel, this time from James Milner. Salah is one goal behind the league's top scorer, Tottenham's Harry Kane. ___ LUKAKU HURT Man United striker Romelu Lukaku was carried off on a stretcher, wearing an oxygen mask, in the first half of his team's draw against Southampton. Lukaku required a long period of treatment after a clash of heads with Southampton defender Wesley Hoedt. He wasn't immediately taken to hospital. United had already drawn against Leicester and Burnley over the past week, damaging further its slim hopes of catching City. The priority now might be holding onto its place in the top four. Southampton rebounded well from its 5-2 loss at Tottenham last time out. ___ CHELSEA ROUT A big Chelsea win was predicted as soon as the team sheets came out an hour before kickoff. Already hit by injuries, Stoke rested a number of key players for its tough trip to Stamford Bridge in view of an important match with fellow struggler Newcastle on Monday, and was made to pay. Antonio Rudiger, Danny Drinkwater and Pedro Rodriguez scored in the opening 23 minutes, before further goals by Willian — from the penalty spot — and substitute Davide Zappacosta. "We had to protect a number of players," said under-pressure Stoke manager Mark Hughes. "I take responsibility for this, it was my decision. But the feeling is we're in better shape for Monday." ___ CARVALHAL'S IMPACT Carlos Carvalhal made the perfect start as Swansea manager, winning his first game in charge and seeing the team climb off the bottom of the standings. Jordan Ayew scored an 86th-minute equalizer and Luciano Narsingh grabbed the winner in the 90th minute in Swansea's 2-1 victory at Watford. Carvalhal was hired on Thursday as the replacement for Paul Clement, just four days after parting company with under-performing second-tier team Sheffield Wednesday. It was only Swansea's fourth league win this season. West Brom is now in last place. ___ ALLARDYCE RUN OVER Sam Allardyce's unbeaten start as Everton manager is over. In his seventh league game in charge, Allardyce saw his team fall to a 2-1 loss at Bournemouth thanks to Ryan Fraser's 88th-minute winner. Fraser had scored the opening goal at Vitality Stadium, with Idrissa Gueye equalizing in the 57th. It was the first time ninth-place Everton has conceded more than a goal in a game under Allardyce, who made it his first task to shore up the defense. ___ STALEMATES It was the third round of matches in this extremely busy period in the Premier League and it might be taking its toll on some teams. Excitement was in short supply as Huddersfield drew 0-0 at Burnley, while there was also a goalless draw between Newcastle and visiting Brighton......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsDec 31st, 2017

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

The Pistons are 10-3, and might be the surprise of the NBA

By Tim Reynolds, Associated Press The Detroit Pistons are heading on the road for a few days, so maybe someone will see them play. They’ve certainly been worth watching. Detroit’s 10-3 start, good for No. 2 in the Eastern Conference standings, is one of the biggest good surprises in the NBA through the season’s first month. The Pistons already have a road win at Golden State, swept a five-game homestand — possibly to the delight of all those unoccupied red seats at Little Caesars Arena, more on that in a moment — and are off to their best start in 12 years. “I know that we’re playing as a team right now,” Detroit’s Luke Kennard said. “We’re really locked in. We’re really playing together and we play hard. When you have a team that does that together, you win.” Now comes the test. Starting Wednesday (Thursday, PHL time), the Pistons play five of their next six games on the road — visiting Milwaukee, Indiana and Minnesota before returning home to face Cleveland, then heading right back out for a trip to Oklahoma City and Boston. After topping Miami to finish off a 5-0 homestand Sunday (Monday, PHL time), Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy made no effort to hide how pleased he is right now. “We did a great job here, and now you just move on to the next challenge,” Van Gundy said. “Now 9-of-11 on the road, the next three games on the road against teams you beat at home so you know they want back at you. The challenges just keep mounting, but you put wins in the bank.” Maybe at some point, there will be fans in the seats. The brand-new Detroit arena has a listed capacity for basketball at 20,491, which was the announced crowd for opening night. In seven games since, the Pistons have announced crowds between 13,709 and 17,683 — and those numbers may be generous, given how empty the building looks on television. Officially, Detroit sold 76 percent of its tickets in those seven games. ___ GIANNIS WATCH Technically, no foreign player has ever won an NBA scoring title. Dominique Wilkins has one and he was born in Paris, but only because his father was in the U.S. Air Force. Giannis Antetokounmpo may change that in a few months. And if not this season, then probably soon enough. The Milwaukee star who hails from Greece went into this week averaging just over 31 points per game and leading the league in that department. He was the Most Improved Player last season and don’t be surprised if he gets more votes for that trophy this season — along with MVP ballots as well. “He plays now to destroy you,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich told reporters last week before Antetokounmpo scored 28 in Milwaukee’s road win over San Antonio. “In the beginning he was pretty darn good and he would do this and he would do that. But now he knows he can do it to you every time. He’s for real.” Antetokounmpo turns 23 on Dec. 6. The only other players in the last 50 years with 5,000 points, 2,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists before celebrating their 23rd birthdays — Hall of Famer Tracy McGrady, and future Hall of Famer LeBron James. ___ ANNIVERSARIES A couple of significant milestone dates are nearing. Sunday (Monday, PHL time) marks the 13th anniversary since the so-called “Malice at The Palace,” the infamous brawl involving Indiana and Detroit after Metta World Peace (then Ron Artest) went into the stands after a fan hit him with a drink. The aftermath included nine players being suspended, and security in NBA arenas has been different ever since. And Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time) is the 16th anniversary of the first call-up from what is now called the NBA G League — the Denver Nuggets brought eventual NBA champion Chris Andersen up from the Fayetteville Patriots, a move that paved the way for hundreds of players to truly view the development league as a springboard to the NBA. ___ THE WEEK AHEAD Some games to keep an eye on over the coming days: — Philadelphia at L.A. Lakers, Wednesday (Thursday, PHL time): Ben Simmons and Lonzo Ball, a matchup of future NBA assist leaders. — Golden State at Boston, Thursday (Friday, PHL time): An NBA Finals preview? The road team has won five straight in this series. — Oklahoma City at San Antonio, Friday (Saturday, PHL time): Russell Westbrook has triple-doubles in his last two games vs. the Spurs. — Houston at Memphis, Saturday (Sunday, PHL time): The Rockets’ wide-open offense goes up against the Grizzlies’ airtight defense. — Washington at Toronto, Sunday: John Wall vs. Kyle Lowry might get overlooked on an NFL Sunday, but shouldn’t. ___ STAT LINE OF THE WEEK Paul George, Oklahoma City: His 37-point, eight-rebound, five-assist game against Dallas on Sunday (Monday, PHL time) wasn’t even his best game of the week (he had 42, 9 and 7 two nights earlier against the Clippers). But the Sunday (Monday, PHL time) game gets the nod since it came on Russell Westbrook’s birthday and when asked what he got his teammate, George said “I got him 37.”.....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsNov 15th, 2017

History will have to wait as Azkals, Nepal battle to scoreless draw

The Philippine Azkals needed just one more win to make history by clinching a spot in the AFC Asian Cup for the first time, but home team Nepal had other ideas, holding the Philippines to a scoreless draw, Tuesday afternoon at the ANFA Complex in Latipur, Nepal.  Close chances were the story for both teams, as the Azkals and Nepal had a number of golden opportunities to get on the board, but just couldn't find the back of the net.  Hoping to finally secure a spot in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup with a game to spare, the Azkals ramped up the intensity in the second half, pushing the offense, but still couldn't buy a goal.  Playing without anything to lose, already-eliminated Nepal gave the Azkals some fits in the second half, including a late strike that was deflected by Junior Muñoz.  The Azkals came very close in the 83rd minute mark, with headers from Daisuke Sato and Mike Ott ulitmately getting denied by the Nepalese defense.  Tense moments as the Azkals are still looking to break through the Nepalese defense. #ACQ2017 pic.twitter.com/KuZP1wDX53 — ABS-CBN Sports (@abscbnsports) November 14, 2017 With four minutes of injury time added, the Azkals again had their closest chance to claim history with just seconds remaining, when a Neil Etheridge free kick led to another header attempt that was denied by the right post.  Sato tried to keep the ball in play, but it was ultimately cleared by Nepal.  Azkals were so close to breaking through. The final attempt hits the post after the gorgeous FK by Neil Etheridge. #ACQ2019 pic.twitter.com/qURxhCHVkG — ABS-CBN Sports (@abscbnsports) November 14, 2017 The Azkals figure in their third straight draw, but remain unbeaten and at the top of Group F with nine points in five matches played.  The Pinoy side will have to wait until March of next year for another opportunity to clinch history, when they close out the third round of qualification against Tajikistan at the Panaad Park and Stadium in Bacolod. .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsNov 14th, 2017

Top spot in AFC East on line with Patriots vs., uh, Jets?

em>By Barry Wilner, Associated Press /em> It's difficult to decipher which is more unexpected: The New England Patriots losing twice at home in the first month of the NFL, or the New York Jets holding a 3-2 win record, the same as the Patriots. They meet on Sunday at MetLife Stadium, and with Buffalo on a bye, the winner grabs first place in the AFC East division. Heady atmosphere for New York, commonplace for New England. Jets quarterback Josh McCown, who is new to this rivalry that the Patriots have dominated for years, winning 10 of the past 12, says: 'What they've done so well over the years is game-planning for you. Having 10 days to prepare for us, we know that they'll be ready to go.' That's right: The Patriots haven't played since an Oct. 5 victory at Tampa Bay. Patriots passer Tom Brady has been nursing a sore left shoulder, but promises he'll be behind center going for a record 187th regular-season win for a quarterback. He's tied with Brett Favre and Peyton Manning. Brady's 211 combined career wins, including regular season and playoffs, are already a league record. The Kansas City Chiefs are relishing the opportunity to exact a little revenge on visiting Pittsburgh. The last time the Steelers went to Arrowhead Stadium, in January in the playoffs, they beat the Chiefs 18-16 without scoring a touchdown. The Chiefs are much better now, the NFL's lone unbeaten team through the first five weeks. On offense, they're more dynamic. Alex Smith is the league's top-rated passer, receiver Tyreek Hill has built on his dramatic debut season, and rookie Kareem Hunt has emerged as a premier running back. On defense, they return just about everyone who held Ben Roethlisberger and Co. in check in January. Last week against Jacksonville, Roethlisberger tossed five interceptions, two of them returned for touchdowns, and the Jaguars rolled to a 30-9 victory. Roethlisberger wasn't panicking: 'We're still top of the AFC North. We're right there in the hunt in the AFC.' The Green Bay Packers can really establish themselves as the cream of the NFC North by extending their superiority over the Vikings. Green Bay has won five of its past seven road games versus Minnesota, though it lost at U.S. Bank Stadium a year ago. Aaron Rodgers has been at the top of his game in the tightest situations such as last week at Dallas, and he likes facing Minnesota. Rodgers is 12-6 as a starter against the Vikings, with a 68.3 percent completion rate, 4,810 yards, 40 touchdowns, and six interceptions. He will need to be aware of defensive end Everson Griffen, who has at least one sack in each of five games this season, tying a career-long streak. An 11-day road trip begins for the Los Angeles Rams, fortunately for them in Jacksonville, then across the Atlantic to face division rival Arizona in London next week. The team will spend four days in Jacksonville following Sunday's game. The Jaguars have an NFL-worst 9-28 record at home (not including five London games) since 2011. They have dropped eight of their past nine at EverBank Field. A highlight could be the running games, with rookie Leonard Fournette for Jacksonville and Todd Gurley, the 2015 top offensive rookie, for Los Angeles. Week 6 began with Philadelphia beating Carolina 28-23 on Thursday. Carson Wentz threw for 222 yards and three touchdowns to help the Eagles improve to an NFC-best 5-1. Cam Newton threw three interceptions for Carolina. .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsOct 14th, 2017

Gano field goal lifts Panthers over Patriots 33-30

FOXBOROUGH, Massachusetts (AP) — Graham Gano hit a 48-yard field goal as time expired, helping the Carolina Panthers stun the New England Patriots 33-30 on Sunday. The winner served as redemption for Gano, who missed an extra point in the third quarter. It was the second home loss this season for the usually unbeatable Patriots at Gillette Stadium. The defeat marked just the second time since 2012 that Tom Brady has lost two home starts within a season. Cam Newton threw for three touchdowns and ran for another . Jonathan Stewart rushed 14 times for 68 yards to pass DeAngelo Williams and become the franchise's all-time leading rusher. Newton finished 22 of 29 for 316 yards and an interception, picking apart a New England defense that was giving up an NFL-worst 461 yards and 31.7 points per game. The Patriots (2-2) forced a pair of turnovers, but had trouble containing Newton's stable of targets. Carolina (3-1) finished with 444 total yards, marking the fourth straight game the Patriots have given up at least 300 yards. Brady finished 32 of 45 for 307 yards and two scores. strong>BRONCOS 16, RAIDERS 10 /strong> DENVER (AP) — The Broncos throttled running back Marshawn Lynch and sent quarterback Derek Carr to the sideline with a back injury, then sealed their win on safety Justin Simmons' interception of EJ Manuel at the Denver 8 in the closing minutes. Despite holding Lynch to 12 yards on nine carries, the Broncos found themselves in danger of frittering away an AFC West showdown they had dominated. Trailing by six, Manuel heaved a high toss to Amari Cooper just after the two-minute warning. Simmons, who won the job from three-time Pro Bowl safety T.J. Ward this summer, came down with the ball just shy of the goal line and took it out to 8. The Broncos ran out the clock to hit their bye week at 3-1. Oakland (2-2) had cut its deficit to six on Giorgio Tavecchio's 38-yard field goal with 5:23 remaining. That came after Brandon McManus hit the left upright from 29 yards out early in the fourth quarter after nailing kicks from 28, 36 and 46 yards. strong>CARDINALS 18, 49ERS 12, OT /strong> GLENDALE, Arizona (AP) — Carson Palmer threw 19 yards to Larry Fitzgerald with 32 seconds left in overtime for the game's only touchdown. The scoring had been limited to nine field goals on an ugly afternoon in the desert before Palmer directed a seven-play, 75-yard drive with 1:52 to play. Fitzgerald, who had three catches for 13 yards before the winning grab, rose to catch the ball under tight coverage by Rashard Robinson. Robbie Gould kicked his fifth field goal, a 23-yarder with 2:24 left in overtime to put the 49ers ahead 15-12. Phil Dawson kicked four field goals for the Cardinals (2-2), whose two victories both have come in overtime. The 49ers (0-4), losing to the Cardinals for the fifth time in a row, won the coin toss to start the overtime. They used up 7:36 of the extra session, which was shortened from 15 to 10 minutes this season. strong>EAGLES 26, CHARGERS 24 /strong> CARSON, California (AP) — Carson Wentz passed for 242 yards, LeGarrette Blount rushed for 136 and the Eagles extended their promising start to the season. Rookie Jake Elliott kicked four field goals for the Eagles (3-1), who had thousands of roaring fans in the Chargers' temporary stadium while they hung on to win on the road for the second time in 10 tries. Playing without several injured defensive regulars, the Eagles matched last year's 3-1 start even though they blew most of an early 13-point lead. Rookie Austin Ekeler rushed for a score and Hunter Henry made a one-handed TD catch during the Chargers' fourth-quarter surge. But Blount rushed for 88 yards in the fourth quarter alone, and Philadelphia ran out the clock after Henry's TD catch with 6:44 to play. Philip Rivers passed for 347 yards and two TDs for the Chargers, who have lost nine consecutive games dating to last season in San Diego. Tyrell Williams caught a 75-yard touchdown pass , but the Bolts are off to their first 0-4 start since 2003 — three years before Rivers became their starting quarterback. New coach Anthony Lynn is still winless after Los Angeles' new team wrapped up a three-game homestand. strong>BUCCANEERS 25, GIANTS 23 /strong> TAMPA, Florida (AP) — Jameis Winston threw for 332 and three touchdowns without an interception, and Nick Folk kicked a 34-yard field goal as time expired. Folk redeemed himself after missing two field goals and an extra point earlier in the day, booting the winner after Winston answered Eli Manning's second TD pass of the day with an impressive drive that began at his 25. The Giants (0-4) lost on a last-second field goal for the second straight week. They took a 23-22 lead on Rhett Ellison's 2-yard TD reception with 3:16 remaining. Manning threw to Odell Beckham Jr., in the rear of the end zone for a 2-point conversion that was disallowed because the receiver had stepped out of bounds before making the catch. Winston threw TDs passes of 6 yards to Mike Evans and 58 yards to O.J. Howard in building an early 13-0 lead. His 14-yard scoring pass to Cameron Brate put the Bucs up 22-17 midway through the fourth quarter, setting the stage for an exciting close. strong>RAMS 35, COWBOYS 30 /strong> ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Todd Gurley scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 53-yard catch-and-run, and Greg Zuerlein kicked a career-high seven field goals. Gurley finished with 215 total yards — 121 rushing and 94 receiving — as the Rams overcame two first-half touchdowns from Ezekiel Elliott the day before a federal appeals court hearing related to the star Dallas running back's blocked six-game suspension over a domestic incident in Ohio. The Rams (3-1) rallied from 11 points down late in the first half and matched their start from a year ago, when they went 1-11 the rest of the way as No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff was sitting and later lost the first seven starts of his career. Goff showed more poise in first-year coach Sean McVay's offense, throwing for 255 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. He has seven TD passes and one interception this season. The Cowboys (2-2) are already a loss shy of their total from last season when Dak Prescott was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and Elliott led the league in rushing, also as a rookie. strong>BILLS 23, FALCONS 17 /strong> ATLANTA (AP) — Stephen Hauschka kicked a tiebreaking, 56-yard field goal with less than five minutes remaining and the Buffalo Bills made a last-minute defensive stand. The Falcons lost star wide receiver Julio Jones to a hip injury and also saw fellow WR Mohamed Sanu (hamstring) leave the game. Hauschka padded the lead with a 55-yarder with about three minutes remaining. Buffalo's defense stopped the Falcons at the Bills 10 with less than a minute remaining when Matt Ryan couldn't complete a fourth-down pass to Taylor Gabriel, and Atlanta became the last NFC team to lose this season. Tre'Davious White returned a fumble recovery 52 yards for a third-quarter touchdown as the tough Buffalo defense delivered again even when it yielded its first passing touchdown of the season. Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes hit Ryan's arm as Ryan was trying to pass, forcing the fumble. It was one of three turnovers by Atlanta (3-1) on a day the Bills (3-1) set a team record for consecutive quarters without a turnover. Ryan threw two interceptions, giving him five in his last two games. strong>STEELERS 26, RAVENS 9 /strong> BALTIMORE (AP) — Le'Veon Bell rushed for 144 yards and two touchdowns to seize first place in the AFC North. Though held to a touchdown over the final 30 minutes, Pittsburgh (3-1) mounted enough of an attack before halftime to earn its first win in Baltimore since 2012. Ben Roethlisberger went 18 for 30 for 216 yards and a touchdown. Bell did more than his share, carrying the ball 35 times to help the Steelers amass 381 yards on offense. The Ravens (2-2), meanwhile, looked every bit like the 32nd-ranked offense in the NFL. Baltimore trailed 19-0 at halftime, generated only 154 yards through three quarters and stumbled through a second straight game with only one touchdown. Joe Flacco completed 31 of 49 passes for 235 yards, was sacked four times and intercepted twice. strong>TEXANS 57, TITANS 14 /strong> HOUSTON (AP) — Rookie Deshaun Watson threw for four touchdowns and ran for another as the Texans scored the most points in franchise history. Watson, the 12th pick in this year's draft, became the first rookie to throw four touchdowns and run for another one since Fran Tarkenton in 1961, and tied an NFL record for most TDs by a rookie quarterback. The Texans (2-2) outdid their previous highest point total of 45 set in a victory over the Titans in 2014 and are the first NFL team to score 50 points since the Jaguars scored 51 in December 2015. Houston's defense got things going when Andre Hal intercepted Marcus Mariota on the game's third play. It was the first of four interceptions for Houston's defense. Mariota, who became the first Titans quarterback with two rushing touchdowns in a game since Steve McNair in 2003, injured his hamstring and didn't play after halftime. Matt Cassel took over for the Titans (2-2) and threw for 21 yards with two interceptions. Watson then led Houston's offense to touchdowns on three straight possessions for a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter. It was the first time since Oct. 19, 2008 that Houston scored a touchdown on each of its first three possessions. strong>LIONS 14, VIKINGS 7 /strong> MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Anthony Zettel led a ferocious performance by Detroit's defense with two sacks, four hurries and a fumble recovery, as the Lions forced three turnovers while holding Minnesota scoreless in the second half. The Lions turned two fumbles lost by the Vikings in the third quarter into 11 points, taking the lead on Ameer Abdullah's 1-yard touchdown run five plays after rookie Dalvin Cook fumbled at the Minnesota 29. The Vikings (2-2) lost more than just possession when Cook limped off with an injury to his left knee and did not return. Tahir Whitehead recovered that fumble for the Lions, plus one by Adam Thielen with 1:43 left at the Detroit 45 that ended the last-chance drive for the Vikings. Detroit (3-1) leads the NFL in turnover margin at plus-9. Abdullah came close to ending a four-year stretch by the Lions without a 100-yard rusher, finishing with 94 yards on 20 carries before leaving with an undisclosed injury. Matthew Stafford was sacked six times for 55 yards, but he hung on to the ball each time and completed 19 of 31 passes for 209 yards, plus the key 2-point conversion to T.J. Jones to give the Lions a seven-point lead. Case Keenum started in place of Sam Bradford at quarterback for the Vikings for the third straight game, going 16 for 30 for 219 yards. He was sacked by Zettel for an 11-yard loss on third-and-goal from the 3 right before the two-minute warning, and his fourth down heave into the end zone sailed over Thielen's head. strong>SAINTS 20, DOLPHINS 0 /strong> LONDON (AP) — Drew Brees threw for 268 yards and two touchdowns and the Saints scored all but three of their points in the second half. Michael Thomas had a touchdown reception in the third quarter, Alvin Kamara added one in the fourth and Will Lutz made two of his three field-goal attempts for New Orleans (2-2), which arrived for the game on Monday and won the lowest-scoring game ever held in London. It was expected to be a big homecoming for the Dolphins' Jay Ajayi, who was born in the city, but the running back finished with 46 yards on 12 carries. Lutz missed his first try, a 41-yarder, wide right on the second play of the second quarter, and the teams threatened to have the first scoreless opening half since Week 14 of the 2011 season until Lutz connected from 43 yards with no time remaining. Brees found Thomas, who had eight catches for 89 yards, on a 4-yarder to push the score to 10-0 in the third quarter, and Kamara took a shovel pass from Brees 12 yards into the end zone with 3:57 remaining to wrap up the victory. strong>JETS 23, JAGUARS 20, OT /strong> EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey (AP) — Chandler Catanzaro kicked a 41-yard field goal with 28 seconds left in overtime, lifting the Jets to a wacky win. After Catanzaro split the uprights, he and his teammates celebrated wildly in the middle of the field — but then had to wait because there was a penalty flag on the field. The officials ruled there actually was no penalty on the play, giving the Jets the victory. Bilal Powell rushed for a career-high 163 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown, and rookie Elijah McGuire had a 69-yard score and finished with 93 yards rushing as the Jets (2-2) ran all over the Jaguars (2-2). But New York blew a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead because of some big mistakes, then had to hold on in the extra period. After Jacksonville went three-and-out, on the punt Paul Posluszny was called for unsportsmanlike conduct for taunting as the Jets' Dylan Donahue went down on the Jaguars sideline with an elbow injury. It put the ball on the Jacksonville 25, and after two 1-yard runs, Josh McCown spiked the ball to set up Catanzaro's field goal. McCown finished 22 of 31 for 224 yards with an interception and the Jets outgained the Jaguars 471-311 in total yards, including 256-175 on the ground. strong>BENGALS 31, BROWNS 7 /strong> CLEVELAND (AP) — Andy Dalton threw three of his four touchdown passes in the first half and Cincinnati's offense found the perfect opponent to work out some early season struggles. Dalton only missed on one of 18 throws in the first half as the Bengals (1-3) built a 21-0 lead. He connected with A.J. Green, Tyler Croft and Giovani Bernard while dissecting the young Browns (0-4), who were again plagued by mistakes and were down three defensive starters. Dalton, the NFL's 30th-ranked QB, finished 25 of 30 for 286 yards. His second TD to Croft in the third quarter made it 31-0, and sent even some of the most die-hard Browns fans toward the FirstEnergy Stadium exits. The Browns avoided a shutout with 1:54 left. .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsOct 2nd, 2017

Donnie Nietes: A Decade of Championship Greatness

The Philippines has produced many boxing legends, from the likes of Pancho Villa and Gabriel “Flash” Elorde to Luisito Espinosa and Gerry Peñalosa, and Manny Pacquiao and Nonito Donaire Jr. However, none of those mentioned above can measure to the longevity of the reign of one Filipino boxing champion, who up to this day remains on top of his game and has never been beaten in a world title fight. His name is Donnie Nietes. For Donnie 'Ahas' Nietes, the journey to greatness started on September 30, 2007, when he defeated Thailand's Pornsawan Porpramook for the vacant World Boxing Organization (WBO) minimumweight title. The victory gave Nietes his first world boxing championship, but nobody knew back then that it was the start of what would end up as the longest reign in Philippine boxing history. Believe it or not, ten years after he became a world champ for the first time, Nietes remains a world champion, only in a heavier weight class that is the flyweight division. Previously, Gabriel 'Flash' Elorde held the record for holding the world junior lightweight title from 1960 to 1967, a period of seven years. Nietes held the WBO minimumweight title from 2007 until 2011, when he was forced to relinquish it after winning the WBO light flyweight crown on October 8, 2011. Nietes held the WBO light flyweight crown until 2016, when he gave it up to move up in weight and challenge for the world flyweight title. From September 2007 until May 2016, Nietes reigned uninterrupted as world champion in two weight categories -- a period of almost nine years, thus making him the longest reigning champion in Philippine boxing history. In April 2017, Nietes added another feather on his cap by winning the IBF flyweight title and becoming the country's third three-division world champ after Manny Pacquiao and, Nonito Donaire Jr. Overall, Pacquiao won an unprecedented eight division titles while Donaire captured four regular world crowns. But here's what sets Nietes apart from Pacquiao and Donaire Jr.: Neither Pacquiao nor Donaire Jr. enjoyed a title reign as long as Nietes.' Also, unlike Pacquiao and Donaire, Jr., Nietes has never been knocked out in a world title fight. Nietes has actually never lost when a world title is at stake as the only loss in his career happened in a non-title bout in September 2009 against Angky Ankota. Nietes is unbeaten in his last 32 fights, with only three fights ending in draws. He answered, “After I lost that fight against Ankota, I trained hard to improve my skills and movement. I stay focused during practice. I give my best and I work really hard. For me, it is very important to always have self-discipline” the humble champion added. Nietes is also the true “Mexecutioner,” as he has never lost to a Mexican challenger. Ahas is 16-0 with one draw against Mexican opponents. Whenever he fights in Mexico, he always gets the rock star treatment that he truly deserves as boxing fans there know very well of his greatness. While he does not get the same adulation here, the good thing is that Filipinos still have a chance to appreciate and cheer for Nietes as he seems to get even better and stronger through the years.  Nietes is a tireless workhorse in the ring, which explains why he remains a world champion to this day despite being already 35 years old. He has no trouble making the weight for his fights which speaks well of his conditioning. When he is asked about his motivation, he answered, “I always get prepared whenever I have a scheduled fight. I want to remain a World Champion and give honour to my family and my team ALA boxing stable”. Nietes also offers an unconventional fighting style that allowed him to stay this long as world champion. On offense, Nietes can box and brawl and owns an overhand right that carries above-average power. On defense, Nietes' penchant to crouch low has made him a hard target to find. Nietes always keeps himself ready for the next fight. On regular days, the Filipino Champion loves to do biking. Sometimes he travels with groups.  span style="font-size: 13px;">Sometimes by himself. But what makes it really special is that his biking group conducts a feeding program for children on those provinces that they visit. “For me its dual purpose, I could stay fit through biking and at the same time I could share my blessings with other people and meet new friends.” /span> Giving back has always been part of Nietes’ goals, as someone who grew up in poverty. He was working as a janitor in the ALA Boxing Gym before taking up boxing. From his modest earnings as boxing champion, Nietes has built two homes, one in Mandaue and the other in his native Bacolod, and financed his siblings' education. He describes himself as a kind, simple and an ordinary person. “I am a boxer who is trusts in God. Before my fight, I always pray because on the ring, there is no one to help me but God.” When asked about his humble beginnings, he says, “In order to succeed, you must listen to the advice of your parents. For me, the number one rule is to honour them and avoid disobedience. They always tell me to do good deeds. We must follow. We may not agree with their decisions but your parents is always thinking on what is good for you” he added. In his most recent interview, an overjoyed Nietes expressed his appreciation for all his supporters and the people behind the success of his career, saying, “I would not have been celebrating my 10th year as a world champion if I weren’t given the chance to box in the first place, so I want to thank my manager, sir ALA,” talking of the ALA Boxing Group’s top honcho, Tony Aldeguer. “I’m very grateful to my promoter, ALA Promotions, our partner TV network ABS-CBN, the local and international media, my family, friends, fans, and of course, God Almighty who made all this happen. It has been a long journey, but nothing beats the happiness I feel being identified as Donnie “Ahas” Nietes, the longest-reigning Filipino world champion” he added. Unbeaten in the last 13 years and a world champion in three weight divisions, Nietes has indeed earned his place in the pantheon of great Filipino world champions. Thankfully, Filipinos can still witness his greatness because the country's longest reigning boxing champion is not done winning yet.  br />   .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsSep 30th, 2017

Morata making the most of his time in the spotlight

em>By Steve Douglas, Associated Press /em> Alvaro Morata was only a few weeks into life at Chelsea when some of the vulnerability that has cropped up during his career appeared to strike again. 'They're already killing me,' Morata said of his perceived critics following his miss in Chelsea's penalty shootout loss to Arsenal in the Community Shield. They were worrying words from a player who was about to start the season as the undisputed No. 1 striker at a top club for the first time. Could he handle filling the boots of the larger-than-life Diego Costa, a title-winning striker who would become estranged from Chelsea? How would he adapt in a new country following his move from Real Madrid? Could he live with his club-record transfer fee, an initial 58 million pounds (now $77.5 million)? It turns out there was no need to worry. Morata has been one of the revelations in the early weeks of the Premier League, scoring six goals in six games and showing with his movement, aerial ability and turn of pace that he can be the heir — albeit a different, slicker version — to Costa and Didier Drogba before him. On Wednesday, Morata scored the equalizer to spark Chelsea's comeback in its 2-1 win at Atletico Madrid and next faces leader Manchester City in the biggest match of the Premier League season so far. 'I think he is showing,' Chelsea manager Antonio Conte has said, 'that he is a really complete player.' Conte suspected as much three years ago. Then the Juventus coach, it was Conte who set up the transfer of Morata to the Italian club from Madrid in July 2014, only to resign a few days before the move was completed to take over as Italy coach. Conte has finally got to work with the Spain striker, and likes what he sees. At 24, Morata is making the most of his belated time in the spotlight. In two spells at Madrid (2010-14 and 2016-17), he was popular and proved to be an opportunistic finisher but never established himself as the first-choice striker ahead of Karim Benzema. At Juventus from 2014-16, Morata had an impressive first season — the best of his career, during which he scored twice in the 2015 Champions League semifinals to help eliminate Madrid — before a dip in his second and an eventual move back to Madrid on a buy-back option. Still, Morata only started around half of the league matches during his time at Juve and the club's goalkeeping great, Gianluigi Buffon, said the striker had 'negative thoughts in his last period' with the team. Morata has spoken in other interviews of his mental fragility and frustration at not being given a real chance at club level to prove his worth. To many, Morata is regarded as a so-called 'super-sub,' clearly a natural finisher and a danger in the final minutes to swing results but someone who mostly excels as a back-up. He scored 20 goals in all competitions for Madrid last season, despite having just 14 starts in La Liga and one in the Champions League. 'Alvaro, don't forget, in his previous experience didn't play a lot at Juventus or at Real Madrid,' Conte said after Morata's hat trick against Stoke in the Premier League last weekend. 'Now he has a great chance to show that he is a really good striker.' Costa's drawn-out transfer to Atletico Madrid was sealed this week, only serving to confirm that Morata really is the main man up front at Chelsea. It's time to see how a player with just 54 top-flight league starts can cope in a grueling, intense season in the Premier League. Sitting atop the Premier League scorers' chart with Romelu Lukaku and Sergio Aguero, it hasn't been a bad start. Here's what else to watch out for this weekend: ___ strong>STUBBORN CITY /strong> Morata will need to break down a Man City defense that has conceded just one goal in six games this month, and three goals in nine games all season. City's attack has been getting plenty of plaudits with the team averaging four goals a game this month, but the defense is holding up even without injured captain Vincent Kompany and its full backs playing virtually as wingers. Left back Benjamin Mendy will be unavailable this weekend, however, while he awaits the results of tests on a right knee injury sustained last week. ___ strong>UNBEATEN STARTS /strong> The Manchester clubs are the only teams yet to lose in the league. While City's unbeaten start will be put under severe pressure at Stamford Bridge, United is expected to have an easy afternoon on Saturday against Crystal Palace — a team with the unwanted English top-flight record of having no point and no goals after six matches. .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsSep 29th, 2017

Lady Bulldogs outclass Lady Tams for 5-0 start to season

strong>STANDINGS /strong> br /> NU 5-0 br /> UST 4-1 br /> UE 3-1 br /> Ateneo 2-3 br /> FEU 2-3 br /> Adamson 1-3 br /> DLSU 1-3 br /> UP 0-4 Brand new big three, same old positive outcome for National University in the UAAP 80 Women’s Basketball Tournament. Yet again riding the more than capable shoulders of Jack Animam, Rhena Itesi, and Ria Nabalan, the Lady Bulldogs stamped their class on upstart Far Eastern University, 71-48, on Wednesday at the Araneta Coliseum. Jack Animam remained a force with 11 points and 23 rebounds while Rhena Itesi had her own 14-point, 14-rebound double-double as the three-time defending champions cemented a 5-0 beginning in their title defense. “It’s (Animam and Itesi’s) job to do that,” a more than satisfied head coach Pat Aquino said. “They’re really working hard for all those stats that they make.” It wasn’t until the third quarter, however, that NU turned the game into a laugher as Nabalan’s five unanswered points punctuated their 14-3 run leading to a score of 67-45. They would not be threatened the rest of the way. Nabalan wound up with 15 points and six rebounds to make sure her team her team’s winning streak dating back to 2014 remains intact. They have now won 53 wins in a row. On the other hand, the Lady Tamaraws suffered a second straight setback to get dragged down to a 2-3 standing. Precious Arellado led them in the losing effort with 15 points. Meanwhile, University of Sto. Tomas moved into solo second after dispatching Ateneo de Manila University, 71-65. Jhenn Angeles showed the Tigresses the way to 4-1 by firing nine of her 20 points in the final frame. “Jhenn is playing in her last year and she’s more mature now. She knows how to take care of the ball so I guess she’s my ace,” mentor Haydee Ong said of her prized ward who also had six rebounds and two steals. Sai Larosa contributed 14 points and nine rebounds for the Espana-based squad’s third consecutive victory. For the lady Eagles, Jollina Go topped the scoring column with 26 points on top of eight rebounds and three steals. Without much help, however, she saw her team drop back-to-back games and drop to a 2-3 standing. BOX SCORES FIRST GAME NU 71 – Nabalan 15, Itesi 14, Animam 11, Sison 10, Antiquera 8, Harada 7, Del Carmen 2, Ano-os 2, Cacho 2, Camelo 0. FEU 48 – Arellado 15, Mamaril 9, Gerner 8, Quiapo 4, Taguiam 3, Ouano 3, Bastatas 2, Jumuad 2, Balleser 2, Antiola 0, Okunlola 0, Payado 0, De Guzman 0. QUARTER SCORES: 23-18, 38-29, 53-42, 71-48. SECOND GAME UST 71 – Angeles 20, Larosa 14, Penaflor 9, Anies 8, Rivera 8, Portillo 7, Aujero 2, Magat 2, Jerez 1, Isanan 0, Capilit 0, Gandalla 0. ATENEO 65 – Go 26, Yam 10, Deacon 10, Villamor 7, Buendia 4, Newsome 4, Cancio 4, Uy De Ong 0, Joson 0, Payac 0, Veloso 0. QUARTER SCORES: 20-9, 38-28, 51-43, 71-65. --- Follow this writer on Twitter, @riegogogo. .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsSep 27th, 2017

Towns, Timberwolves return home in big hole against Rockets

By Dave Campbell, Associated Press MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The first taste of the NBA playoffs for Timberwolves All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns has been rather bitter, thanks to the three-point-happy Houston Rockets. The two-game totals tell a frustrating story for the 22-year-old: just 13 points, 5-for-18 shooting and a 2-0 deficit in the series against the Rockets. Towns has found himself the subject of pointed criticism from analysts, fans and even his own team. The switch-heavy Rockets have double-teamed Towns to a stifling effect, and the Timberwolves sure haven’t helped their seven-footer out by getting him the ball in favorable situations in the post. “They’re coming to double. He knows that. He has to face up, be strong with the ball, make quick moves,” point guard Jeff Teague said. “But we have to figure out how to get him running, get him some easy buckets.” The team’s struggles have taken a little luster off Minnesota’s first postseason home game in 14 years, but the fans who remember the Timberwolves reaching the Western Conference finals in 2004 will surely be eager to witness the playoffs in person no matter the daunting challenge in this first round. “This organization, all of our fans, they deserve this moment,” Towns said. And they want a win. The Timberwolves host the Rockets on Saturday night (Sunday, PHL time) in Game 3. Earlier in the day, Miami takes on Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference and New Orleans hosts Portland, both in Game 4. Later, Utah visits Oklahoma City in Game 3. Towns tried his best to shrug off the bad vibes and stinging rebukes when speaking with reporters on Friday (Saturday, PHL time). “You dwell too much on the past, you forget that you’ve got to take care of the present,” Towns said. The chatter on TV and Twitter, he said, has escaped him. “I live my life very Amish-like,” Towns said. “Other than video games, I don’t think I have a reason for electronics. It’s a life that I’ve always loved.” ___ 76ERS AT HEAT 76ers lead 2-1. Game 4, 2:30 p.m. EDT (2:30am, PHL time) NEED TO KNOW: It’s simple: The team that has imposed its will is 3-0 in this series. Philadelphia took the pace where it wanted it in Games 1 and 3. Miami out-toughed the 76ers in Game 2. The Heat have to find a way to keep Philadelphia’s 3-point shooting in check; the 76ers made 18 shots from beyond the arc in Game 3. Joel Embiid is back from a concussion and a broken bone around his eye, and an already-confident Philadelphia bunch seems to have even more swagger now. KEEP AN EYE ON: 76ers guard Marco Belinelli. The 76ers are 25-6 when he plays and 14-1 when he scores at least 15 points. In this series, he’s 13-for-27 on shots from 20 feet and deeper, and many of those makes have been daggers for Miami. PRESSURE IS ON: Heat center Hassan Whiteside . Backups Kelly Olynyk and Bam Adebayo have played a combined 145 minutes in this series, while Whiteside has played only 41, with 11 points, nine fouls, seven turnovers and three field goals in the three games. There’s no room for error now for Miami, so either Whiteside will figure it out fast in Game 4 or the Heat will get someone else into his spot. HISTORY LESSON: This is the fourth time in Dwyane Wade’s career that the Heat have trailed an Eastern Conference opponent 2-1. In the three previous Game 4s in that scenario, Miami has won all three with Wade averaging 26.7 points in those second-round games against Indiana (2004 and 2012) and Toronto (2016). ___ TRAIL BLAZERS AT PELICANS Pelicans lead 3-0. Game 4, 5 p.m. EDT (5am, PHL time) NEED TO KNOW: The sixth-seeded Pelicans are on the cusp of a surprising sweep of the third-seeded Blazers, and their margin of victory has grown in each game. They dominated Game 3, leading by as many as 20 points in the first half and 33 in the second. Veteran guard Rajon Rondo has masterfully run the offense, and the Pelicans have played unselfishly with a different scoring leader in each game: Anthony Davis with 35 in Game 1, Jrue Holiday with 33 in Game 2 and Nikola Mirotic with 30 in Game 3. KEEP AN EYE ON: Portland’s body language, intensity and aggressiveness. Guard Damian Lillard challenged the Blazers to ramp up those aspects of their game, stressing that the Pelicans were “a lot more aggressive than we were and we didn’t dish it back out. I think in the playoffs and in a situation like this, when a team is coming for you like that, you’ve got to maybe go out of your way to do it back, even if that means foul trouble or some altercations happen out there.” PRESSURE IS ON: Lillard. The Pelicans have sold out to stop the Portland star, who missed 9-of-14 shots in Game 3. “It’s either going to be a tough shot, or I’ve got to give the ball up,” Lillard said. “I’ve got to trust making the right play, and when it comes time I’ve got to take my chances and I’ve got to take those tough shots.” INJURY UPDATE: Blazers starting forward Evan Turner missed Game 3 because of a toe injury in Game 2. The team did not update his status on Friday (Saturday, PHL time). ___ ROCKETS AT TIMBERWOLVES Rockets lead 2-0. Game 3, 7:30 p.m. EDT (7:30am, PHL time) NEED TO KNOW: The Rockets cruised to a 20-point victory in Game 2 despite only 12 points on a staggering 2-for-18 shooting performance by James Harden. After squandering their chance to steal Game 1 on the road in a three-point loss, the Wolves are back home in a big hole against the team with the best record in the NBA. They’ll need a big boost from a home crowd celebrating the team’s return to the postseason to send the series back to Houston for a Game 5. KEEP AN EYE ON: Gerald Green. The 32-year-old journeyman, once acquired by the Wolves in the franchise-altering 2007 trade that sent Kevin Garnett to Boston, made five three-pointers in Game 2 for postseason career-high 21 points. PRESSURE IS ON: Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau. Though cornerstones Towns and Andrew Wiggins are getting their first taste of postseason, Thibodeau and veterans Jimmy Butler, Jamal Crawford, Taj Gibson and Teague he brought in last summer have plenty of playoff experience. The Wolves have been largely directionless on offense against the Rockets and their underrated defense. INJURY UPDATE: Rockets forward Ryan Anderson, who has sat out the first two games with a sprained ankle, is likely to play in Game 3. Forward Luc Mbah a Moute, who dislocated his shoulder in the second-to-last game of the regular season, said this week he wouldn’t rule out a return in this series. ___ THUNDER AT JAZZ Series tied 1-1. Game 3, 10 p.m. EDT (10:00am, PHL time) NEED TO KNOW: In the first two games, the higher-rebounding team has been the winning team, with Game 1 going to Oklahoma City and Utah taking Game 2. A critical part of this trend will be Thunder center Steven Adams and his presence on the floor. He played just 22 minutes in Game 2 before fouling out. The Thunder will have to do better against Utah center Rudy Gobert and forward Derrick Favors, who combined for 31 rebounds in Game 2. KEEP AN EYE ON: Russell Westbrook. He has taken a secondary role at times in this series, but that might change. With Oklahoma City’s inability to close in Game 2 after leading in the fourth quarter, Westbrook could look to be more of a scorer in Game 3. He’ll need more help from Carmelo Anthony, who has made just 11 of 31 field goals in the series. PRESSURE IS ON: George. The man who called himself “Playoff P” before the series began came out with 36 points and eight three-pointers in the opener. He followed that with a dud, just 18 points on 6-for-21 shooting. INTRIGUING MATCHUP: Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell vs. Thunder guard Corey Brewer. Mitchell used his speed to slice through the Thunder defense for 13 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter of Game 2 . He was essentially unstoppable once he decided to stop shooting three-pointers. The Thunder could be forced to put George on him more if Brewer struggles defensively again. ___ AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds in Miami and AP Sports Writers Cliff Brunt in Oklahoma City and Brett Martel in New Orleans contributed to this report......»»

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