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Thunder GM Presti evolves, surrounds Westbrook with stars

em>By Cliff Brunt, Associated Press /em> OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Sam Presti has evolved with the times. Oklahoma City’s general manager is perhaps best known for drafting Kevin Durant, James Harden and Russell Westbrook. Over the years, instead of adding big-name free agents and making blockbuster trades, he has added relatively inexpensive players around his stars and built through the draft. His plans have mostly worked. The Thunder have played in the Western Conference Finals four times and the NBA Finals once since Presti took the job in 2007, and both Durant and Westbrook have won MVP awards. Not everything has been rosy. Presti couldn’t work out a contract extension with Harden in 2012. And last year, Durant left Oklahoma City for Golden State. Durant recently criticized Thunder management for failing to put the right players around him to compete for a title. In a perfectly timed move, Presti shook the NBA by trading for 10-time All-Star Carmelo Anthony. The Thunder already had traded for four-time All-Star Paul George in the offseason. With the addition of the kind of talent Durant so desperately wanted in Oklahoma City, it appears Presti has turned over a new leaf. The man who always has focused on the process has shifted gears and built a super team in a matter of months. Last Friday, a day before reports of the Anthony deal got out, Presti talked about how the league had changed. “The league is in transition, but that’s what happens all the time,” Presti said. “The league is always changing. The rules are always changing. There’s so many different dynamics and forces at work that drive a lot of these different things. All I can tell you is the way we’ve always looked at it is, our job is to take the circumstances, try to understand them the best we can, and try to work as hard as we can to put the team in position to have a chance to contend and a chance to continue to grow.” None of the Thunder stars responded to Durant’s criticism directly, but George made a point to thank Oklahoma City’s front office for putting the stars together. Whatever commitment Durant felt the Thunder lacked in the past, it has shown it in the present. “The front office is that active in the summer and free agency, and not only acquiring players, but acquiring superstar players — it says a lot about the front office, it says a lot to Russ they’re committed to bringing guys and putting guys around him that is going to give them the best chance to win,” George said. “That’s what you want to see out of the front office.” George said it’s necessary in today’s NBA to have multiple superstars to win at the highest level. Westbrook won the league MVP award last season, but had just one playoff win. “We get criticized a lot for being friendly and not being able to do it alone,” George said. “Honestly, in this league, it’s hard to do it alone. You know, Russ averages a triple-double, and, you know, he couldn’t get out of the first round. That’s a special talent and a guy that did everything he could to win.” Anthony said he has respected the Thunder organization for years, so when he had to make a quick decision, Oklahoma City was on the short list. “Believe it or not, Oklahoma City was a team that me and my team talked about,” Anthony said. “We discussed it. And if the opportunity presented itself, whereas though we can kind of bring a deal to the Knicks organization is something that both parties feel comfortable with. This is a team, this is an organization, this is a city that I had no problem coming and being a part of.” George felt good about heading to Oklahoma City before. He said Presti’s latest move is a game changer. “Adding someone like Carmelo takes this team to another level,” he said. “In my eyes, he’s one of the best players that this league has ever seen, and it’s a luxury to play alongside him instead of having to deal with a cold tub right after the game and playing him.” Westbrook said he has respected Presti since the Thunder made him the fourth overall pick in 2008. “He’s finding ways to constantly keep making us a better team,” Westbrook said. “You definitely are very, very thankful to have somebody like that in charge of making those decisions. He’s done an amazing job with that.”   .....»»

Category: sportsSource: abscbn abscbnSep 27th, 2017

BLOGTABLE: Would the Thunder have had three MVPs?

NBA.com blogtable Former Oklahoma City Thunder teammates Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden could all have Kia MVP trophies after this season. That still could have happened if they had stayed together, right? * * * Steve Aschburner: No, it wouldn’t have happened and this question raises a good point. In a league that has half as many superstars as it has franchises, it is a good thing when elite players seek out (or wind up on) their “own” teams and spread the talent around. That’s why Harden blossoming as an MVP candidate and future Hall of Famer in ways he might not have had he stayed with the Thunder has been a boost not just to the Houston Rockets, but also to the league. It’s why people are intrigued, for instance, about Klay Thompson’s ability to be an A-lister elsewhere rather than a third- or fourth-wheel with Golden State. It’s also why Durant joining the “1-percenter” Warriors irritated and annoyed so many. That said, we got teased with that original OKC3 in the 2012 Finals, then saw them pre-empted before they ever reached their potential. That, too, is something for which NBA fans root.    Tas Melas: More playoff success sticking together? Sure. More individual accolades? Not in today’s voting system. See: Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry taking votes from each other. Shaun Powell: They wouldn't have gotten three. Maybe two. Maybe Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook get the MVPs, with James Harden collecting a few Kia Sixth Man awards. All three would've been All-Stars virtually every season and my hunch says they'd have at least one championship by now. Yes, it's hard to say for sure; so many unforeseen circumstances could've thrown them and OKC for a loop. Still, my reasoning: They all got along and respected each other during their brief time together. And winning titles would've kept them together. John Schuhmann: Of course not. But it's more interesting to wonder if the Thunder would have won a championship and if Durant would have stayed in Oklahoma City had they not traded Harden when they did. Sekou Smith: No way. Absolutely not. Durant would have his trophy, but I don't believe Westbrook would have gotten his without KD's departure. I also don't think Harden would have gotten to this point, where he looks like the clear favorite to win it this year. What an unbelievable player haul by the Thunder. GM Sam Presti deserves credit for nailing those lottery picks in those drafts. And kudos to all three players for maximizing their talents. But I cannot imagine a scenario where these guys could have all claimed MVP hardware if they'd never split up. The splintering of votes for three superstars would have squashed those dreams time and time again. As much as I'd have loved to see how log they could have lasted as a Big 3, I truly believe the league is better with all three of them in their current situations......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMar 8th, 2018

BLOGTABLE: What are you looking forward to in 2018?

NBA.com blogtable What one thing are you most eager to see in 2018? * * * Steve Aschburner: More competitive playoff series than we got a year ago and, most of all, the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers really being pushed to the wall in at least one round each. I think last year’s hunger for The Rubber-Match Finals made us accept without too much grumbling the relative breezes both Golden State and Cleveland had through the April and May portions of the postseason. But seeing some new blood, however unlikely, would be fine, maybe even welcome, this time around. That requires some fine team on either side -- Toronto, Washington, Boston out East, Houston, San Antonio, Oklahoma City to the West -- mustering a serious challenge. And, allowing for an injury or suspension or whatever, maybe pulling off something more notable than that. We can always find context and storylines for The Finals, if we get a bit of freshness dialed in. Shaun Powell: I'm eager to see the playoffs and if someone can come along and disrupt another Golden State Warriors-Cleveland Cavaliers matchup in June. Because nobody is creating much doubt as of yet. The team that's coming the closest is the Houston Rockets but they have three people who have underperformed in the playoffs: Mike D'Antoni, Chris Paul and James Harden. There's always the San Antonio Spurs, yet they seem a star shy. And in the East, the Boston Celtics of 2019 stand a better chance and the rest ... meh. Which means, I'm most eager to see Warriors-Cavs in June. John Schuhmann: I want to see what will happen with the Thunder, both on and off the floor. Can they continue to make progress offensively and if they do, will that encourage Sam Presti to keep the group together through the trade deadline? Or will the threat of Paul George leaving in free agency (and the long odds at beating the Warriors) force Presti to see what he can get for George by Feb. 8? Is it a guarantee that Carmelo Anthony will decline his early termination option this summer and stay under contract for another year? Do other stars want to play with Russell Westbrook? Sekou Smith: As much fun as the trade deadline can be in a given year, I have to admit that the free agent summer has me daydreaming about the chaos that a couple of moves could cause. Of course, LeBron James could turn the basketball world upside down if he were to decide to take his talents elsewhere (I'm not suggesting he should or I even think he will, I'm only thinking about the seismic activity it would cause). What happens with Paul George is also another potential game-changer for several teams around the league. That said, it's the great unknown that most intrigues me about 2018. None of us saw the Kyrie Irving trade request coming or the Chris Paul-to-Houston move coming. Things like the Draft and trade deadline offer a season of speculation that usually centers on name players we know will be involved in the process. It's the moves we don't see coming, the things we cannot forecast, that produce the best drama......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJan 4th, 2018

Eight NBA Playoffs storylines to watch

By David Aldridge, TNT Analyst Suddenly, we’re not quite as certain that Warriors-Cavs, Part IV, Sure to be Way Better than “Jaws: The Revenge” and “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace”, is going to make air, are we? The 2018 playoffs are just about here, and Stephen Curry isn’t, and Kyrie Irving won’t be, and Joel Embiid might be, and Jimmy Butler will be -- if his team is, that is. And both conference champions from a year ago are equally unsettled going into the postseason, for different reasons. The Golden State Warriors are banged up, while the Cleveland Cavaliers are brand new. Golden State hasn’t looked like an offensive leviathan, while Cleveland has been one of the league’s worst defenses. And, most importantly, each has legit challengers this year in Houston and Toronto in its respective conferences -- deep, tough, elite defensively, hard to stop offensively, and tempered/hardened/driven by recent playoff failures. Which should make late May and early June even more compelling than normal. At the least, we’ll have the Warriors going for three rings in four years, and LeBron James going for an eighth straight Finals appearance -- each representing something special. The postseason, then, should provide some theatre that Meryl Streep will drop what she’s doing to watch. Among the biggest storylines: 1. The Hinkie Referendum, Passed The Philadelphia 76ers’ scintillating run to end the regular season sets up them for a glorious postseason run, that will finalize a season in which the decisions by former GM Sam Hinkie -- the successful ones, anyway -- are rightly celebrated. (The failures of Jahlil Okafor and Michael Carter-Williams to fire as stars after Hinkie took each high in the first round are not only not ignored by Hinkie’s biggest supporters, they are cited as proof that he had to do what he did for as long as he did, because you’re going to have some misses at the top of the Draft. God, I love Hinkie Stans.) It says here that a healthy Joel Embiid and an exponentially improving Ben Simmons are the one team that can give LeBron’s Cavs true night sweats in the Kyrie-less east playoffs. Embiid is a problem for any team, but especially for the defensively indifferent and ineffective Cavaliers, who have no one remotely capable of keeping “The Process” from running wild. Since New Year’s Day, only Curry (120.4), Chris Paul (116.1) and Jamal Murray (114.7) have better Offensive Ratings among point guards than Simmons’s 113.9, per NBA.com/Stats. Who, from among George Hill (6'3"), Jose Calderon (6'1"), Jordan Clarkson (6'5") and J.R. Smith (6'5") is Cavs coach Tyronn Lue going to put on the 6'10" Simmons? Yes, Lue could try James on Simmons, who is no threat to shoot from deep or run through a maze of pindowns. But that doesn’t make him any easier to slow down. No matter who Philly plays in the postseason, the Sixers are going to be a problem. 2. Indiana George and the Tempo of Doom It’s taken the Oklahoma City Thunder much longer than any of us thought, but OKC is a win from the postseason (even if the Thunder can’t beat the Heat in Miami tonight, the Cancun-bound Memphis Grizzlies will be in Oklahoma City Wednesday). And that’s when Paul George will determine whether his future is in the 405 or elsewhere. The Thunder’s up-and-down regular season doesn’t provide much clue to how far they could go in the playoffs, thought OKC looked formidable in ending the Rockets’ 20-game home win streak Saturday (Sunday, PHL time). It was a game that featured Russell Westbrook successfully taking on the challenge of defending James Harden down the stretch. When Oklahoma City plays with pace and gets up and down the floor, it can beat anyone. The Thunder will likely have to take down an elite unit like Houston at some point in the playoffs to convince George to stay. 3. A Series of Fortunate Events With Irving’s injury, the Washington Wizards’ failure to launch and other maladies to Eastern Conference contenders, the Cavaliers have an increasingly clear path back to The Finals. Doing this is best way to keep LeBron: The Sequel in town for an extended run, but the proof will be in the doing, of course. Cleveland will need Larry Nance, Jr., Rodney Hood and Jordan Clarkson to perform under playoff pressure, which Nance and Clarkson have never had to do and Hood did briefly in the 2017 playoffs with the Utah Jazz. 4. She packed my bags last night, pre-flight/Zero Hour, 9 a.m The Rockets have been the best team in the league most of this season -- an offensive and defensive juggernaut, the logical extension at both ends of the floor of the standards the Warriors set the last few seasons. James Harden will likely walk away with Kia MVP honors after the season and Chris Paul has been everything Houston hoped he’d be. But Houston must finish the deal with a championship to make its own mark. 5. Jurassic Park Everything is set up for Toronto, as well -- the Raptors have the Eastern Conference’s best record and are tied with Houston for the best home record (34-7) in the league. They have home court until The Finals. Their two lynchpins, All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, are healthy. They’ve diversified their offense and learned to love the 3-pointer. They’re back to guarding at an elite level. The East is laid out open for a Toronto run to The Finals. There’s no excuse for the Raps not to. 6. ‘Brow’, Beating We don’t know for sure that the New Orleans Pelicans will make the playoffs. As of this writing, they haven’t clinched yet, although beating the Warriors in Oakland on Saturday went a long way toward their getting to the postseason. But assuming New Orleans is playing next weekend, its success in the playoffs can only help the franchise as it recovers from the recent death of former owner Tom Benson. “The Brow” (aka Anthony Davis) may have got us on April Fool’s Day, but the next couple of weeks will be dead serious. What if the Pelicans manage a first-round upset? Don’t say it’s not possible with the way Davis is playing. That would go an awful long way to quieting the “How the Boston Celtics Will Get Anthony Davis in 2020, Vol. MCMLXXXVII” hot takes. 7.  The Boston Medical Group The Celtics as imagined played exactly five minutes together this season. Everything that’s transpired since has been wrapped in gauze and sutured shut. Kyrie Irving’s latest knee procedure has everyone hopping off the Celtics’ postseason bandwagon -- a mistake, unless coach Brad Stevens pulls a hammy before Game 1 in the first round. Stevens has coached up whatever 12 guys are active pretty damn well since he’s come to the NBA, and he’ll still have a lot to work with in the playoffs: Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Terry Rozier (the Celtics hope they can get Marcus Smart back after the first round). The bigger issue, of course, is Irving’s health going forward -- and into next season, after which he can opt out of the last year of his deal and become an unrestricted free agent in 2019. The current belief in Boston is that Irving’s knee -- the cartilage, ligaments, tendons and bones -- is sound and that he’ll have no long-term issues with it. But Irving and the team thought taking out the tension wire that had helped heal his broken patella after his 2015 surgery would do the trick. It didn’t.   There should be no doubt Boston will be all in on Irving. But after missing these playoffs after going out in Game 1 of the Finals in ’15, Irving will again have to show he’s able to handle a season-long campaign and still be able to bring his best to the postseason. 8. Bah Gawd, That’s Kawhi Leonard’s Music! We have all worked on the assumption that Leonard isn’t going to play for the Spurs any more this season as he rehabs his quad injury, even though they’ve never quite actually said he’s out for the year -- and he, as per usual, has said next to nothing. The Spurs have ridden LaMarcus Aldridge’s All-NBA-level season to the cusp of the playoffs, but no one has much expectation they’ll be there very long if they make it without their former Finals MVP. “Do I have any expectation I’ll see Kawhi?,” Danny Green said a week ago, repeating my question to him. “As of right now, my mindset is no. I’m just going to forward without him … if he does come back, great. Our mindset is this is the group we have today, this is the group we’ll have tomorrow. If somebody does come and join, we’ll have them and it’ll be great. But right now we’re moving forward with the expectation that this is who we have.” But, it’s not like we haven’t seen guys come back suddenly for the playoffs after missing large chunks of a season. A fellow named Michael Jordan played just 18 regular season games in his second season with the Bulls in 1986, recovering from a foot injury and not returning to the lineup until mid-March. True, he did get 15 games under his belt before the playoffs. But that did not prepare anyone for his showing up in Boston Garden in Game 2 of the first round against the Celtics and dropping 63 on the home team. There are, to be sure, issues between Leonard and the Spurs, and maybe they’re insurmountable. But if, somehow, “The Klaw” wakes up one morning this month and says he’s good to go, and reports for duty … who doesn’t think San Antonio can’t start assimilating opponents into its collective just like old times? 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 NewsApr 10th, 2018

With LA as backdrop, NBA opens latest ASG chapter

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

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsFeb 19th, 2018

With LA as backdrop, NBA opens latest ASG chapter

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

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsFeb 18th, 2018

All-Stars collide in LA with teams picked by LeBron, Steph

By Greg Beacham, Associated Press LOS ANGELES (AP) — The NBA All-Star Game added spice to its 67th edition by allowing the captains to pick their teams. Team LeBron vs. Team Steph has replaced the traditional East-West format, shuffling allegiances and turning antagonists into uneasy teammates. But with the world’s best basketball players all converging on Los Angeles, the hungry fans of the hometown Lakers are eager to pick their own dream team as well. For instance, a gathering of a few hundred fans at media day in the Los Angeles Convention Center on Saturday (Sunday, PHL time) caught sight of Paul George, Oklahoma City’s All-Star scorer and a Southern California native. The pro-Lakers crowd immediately launched into a chant of “We want Paul! We want Paul!” at the smiling George, who can be a free agent this summer. From his podium elsewhere in the room, Russell Westbrook — the Thunder’s other All-Star and LA native — snarled with sarcastic anger: “That’s out! He ain’t going nowhere!” The game is never really the thing at the NBA’s All-Star weekend, and that’s particularly true while the show is in Hollywood for the record sixth time. Aside from the new team format in the Sunday (Monday, PHL time) showcase, many of the NBA’s biggest stars are returning home, since they already make their summer homes in LA. Lakers fans are most interested in the potential 2018 free agents who could immediately resurrect the 16-time champion franchise, which is currently stumbling toward its unprecedented fifth consecutive non-playoff season. Lakers fans want George, but they also want LeBron James — and they’ll let both stars know it at Staples Center. James dismissed free agency questions Saturday, just as he has done all season, but his palatial house in Los Angeles is among the reasons Lakers fans believe they’ve got a chance to create their own All-Star team in a few months. But before that, James and Stephen Curry will lead two talent-laden teams at Staples Center for the annual showcase of the NBA’s best. Both captains are cautiously optimistic that this tweaked format will pay off with better play than in other All-Star games, which often turn into pickup games with a fraction of the entertainment value of even the Drew League, the famed pro-am circuit in which many stars participate every summer in South Central LA. “It should be a little bit more competitive, a little bit more intense on the court,” said Curry, the Golden State Warriors’ shooting star. “It means a little more when it’s Team LeBron and Team Steph.” The team selection process wasn’t made public, but the results will be very visible. The decision to keep the draft private disappointed fans — and even a few All-Stars. “I thought it was going to be televised,” Team LeBron center Andre Drummond said. “I thought it would be a cool spinoff: Live, LeBron and Curry picking guys. But hopefully next year they do it.” Curry picked his Golden State teammates Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, but lost Kevin Durant to James. LeBron also tantalizingly picked Kyrie Irving, the Boston guard who campaigned to leave James’ side in Cleveland last summer. Irving said it was “pretty awesome” to be James’ teammate again: “It’s normal. Sorry, I know that sounds like not a lot, but it’s just normal.” And everybody will be curious about what happens when Westbrook reteams with Durant, who ditched him in Oklahoma City in 2016 to win a championship in Oakland last year. James’ original roster has been dramatically altered by injuries to DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall, Kristaps Porzingis and Kevin Love, who all won’t play. But LeBron and Toronto coach Dwane Casey could still roll out a nightmarish lineup featuring, for instance, New Orleans’ Anthony Davis and James alongside Durant, Westbrook and George. Curry and Houston coach Mike D’Antoni could counter with a galaxy of shooting stars including James Harden, Damian Lillard, Thompson, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Curry himself. “I think it’s exciting,” said Harden, the product of nearby Artesia High School in Lakewood. “The All-Star Game, there are a lot of highlights, but we’re trying to win, and we’re going to go out there and prove that we’re trying to win.” Westbrook says this novel game format will “definitely” be more competitive than past editions of the midseason showcase. “My experience, my record with the West, we don’t lose much,” said Westbrook, who came out of Leuzinger High School and UCLA. “So I’m just saying. We usually win. Just saying.”.....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsFeb 18th, 2018

Storylines abound after 2018 NBA All-Star draft

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

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJan 26th, 2018

Superteams and superpowers: Basketball in 2017

The common theme in basketball as of late is rather simple: build yourself a superteam and see where it goes. 2017 saw a bunch of superteams take the court in all levels. Some panned out and some did not. Nevertheless, we live in a world of superteams. Either your favorite basketball team is one or it's not.   Warriors World For the 2016-2017 NBA Season, the 73-win Golden State Warriors, a superteam in their own right, added former Most Valuable Player Kevin Durant. Oh my goodness. The Dubs then proceeded to decimate the NBA, winning 67 games in the regular season. Golden State was even better in the playoffs, making a serious play for a postseason sweep before finishing with a 16-1 record and a second title in three seasons.   Seriously, it's a Warriors World that we live in Golden State's success has prompted other teams to try and create their own superteam. Houston snatched Chris Paul away from the Los Angeles Clippers and now the Rockets have a potent backcourt combo that also feature MVP contender James Harden. Oklahoma City completed two incredible trades that made Paul George and Carmelo Anthony members of the Thunder. Oh, OKC also has MVP winner Russell Westbrook running point. The Timberwolves also have something going on in Minnesota as Jimmy Butler joined Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins for a young and intriguing Big 3. The Eastern Conference landscape changed when Cleveland traded Kyrie Irving to Boston. The Celtics previously signed Gordon Hayward and all of a sudden, the winningest NBA franchise is in position to take over the East now and the forseeable future. Speaking of Cleveland, LeBron James is still with the Cavs and they've added Dwyane Wade of all people to join an aging but still scary superteam. The King started this whole superteam craze. Golden State just happened to perfect. We all live in a Warriors World.   Feer the Beer Over in the PBA, the Philippines' premier superteam is still pretty effective despite its stars each playing almost 40 minutes per game. A year removed from the "Beeracle Run," San Miguel made history by being only the second team to capture the Perpetual Trophy following three straight Philippine Cup titles. Then the Beermen, with the top-3 MVP candidates in June Mar Fajardo, Alex Cabagnot, and Chris Ross, plus Arwind Santos and Marcio Lassiter, ended the franchise's 16-year championship drought in the Commissioner's Cup. With the help of import Charles Rhodes of course. San Miguel had legitimate chances to win the Grand Slam of course, but the team ultimately fell short in the Governors' Cup. However, the Beermen did add 6'8" Fil-German Christian Standhardinger to the fold. Superteam.   Return of the Kings It was the perfect set up. Meralco earned the number 1 seed and was rolling all the way to the Finals. Meanwhile, the Gink Kings had to go through yet another emotional and heated series against rival TNT in the semifinals in order to have a chance to properly defend their title. The series before that? The Gin Kings had to end San Miguel's Grand Slam dreams. In the 2017 Governors' Cup Finals, Meralco was in perfect position to take The Rematch and allow the birth of a new PBA rivalry. After seven games, none of that happened and Ginebra won back-to-back titles by virtue of their quote unquote superteam. Greg Slaughter, Japeth Aguilar, Joe Devance, Justin Brownlee, LA Tenorio, Sol Mercado, and Scottie Thompson. How is that not a superteam? The Kangkong jokes sure died a slow death.   Systematic Mayhem Even in college hoops, superteams are the way to go. However, in the amatuers, you just have to recruit your way into building one. La Salle has perfected this method and the Green Archers are certainly the biggest --- and loudest and most aggressive ---- recruiters. The Taft superteam featuring Ben Mbala and co. got the Green Archers to two UAAP Finals and one championship. Only one championship because another superteam, quietly built in Katipunan with surgical, perhaps even robotic, precision, beat them this year. That's right, Big Bad Blue is once again on top of the UAAP as the Ateneo Blue Eagles scored a sensational, near-sweep of UAAP Season 80. Coach Tab Baldwin has a collection of incredible players that may not look like it on first glance but they do certainly qualify for superteam status. Dom't believe it? Maybe you will after they complete a five-peat. It could happen.   Sweep In the other collegiate league, two superteams dominated the NCAA for two separate periods in one season. First, Lyceum, the surprise superteam, made history by completing an 18-game sweep of the elimination round. However, the Pirates ran into the league's decade-old superteam in San Beda and the Red Lions ended up sweeping the Finals for yet another title. Most of the major characters from both squads will return for a new season and if a San Beda-Lyceum rematch does not happen, well, that's just disappointing isn't it?   OVERTIME 2017 also saw the rise and fall and rise of the Gilas Pilipinas program. Well sort of. The Philippines got off to a great star this year by absolutely dominating the SEABA Championships. Then, disaster struck in the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup when Gilas was embarassed by an old foe in South Korea. To end the year, the Philippine national team recovered, albeit in an ugly fashion, to take an early lead in the 2019 World Cup Asian Qualifiers. Gilas is more than capable of forming a Pinoy superteam that could compete, and even beat, the best of Asia. Let's hope we get that in 2018. Finally, 2017 also saw the Civil War PBA edition. It wasn't funny and it wasn't good. Fortunately, it seems that bright and peacuful days are ahead of our beloved league. Let's hope that's the case and let's just leave the bad memories behind this year. Time to move on and forget about that stuff. There are basketball games to be played.     --- Follow this writer on Twitter, @paullintag8.....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsDec 28th, 2017

5 questions ahead of the NBA s 2017 Christmas Day games

It's already December 25 in the Philippines, but that's still a few hours away in the United States, meaning we have to wait before holiday's best tradition will take place: the NBA's annual slate of Christmas Day games. This year's batch of games sees the 76ers head to MSG to play the Knicks, the Cavaliers go to the Bay to face the Warriors in an NBA Finals rematch, the Wizards tackle the Celtics in an Eastern Conference semis redux, the Rockets battle the Thunder, also a 2017 postseason rematch, and the Timberwolves face off versus the Lakers. While you're unwrapping gifts and munching on Noche Buena leftovers, here are five questions to ponder: 1. Will the injury bug play Grinch to this set of holiday games? The Golden State Warriors officially ruled out Stephen Curry from playing. The LA Lakers just announced that Lonzo Ball is sidelined. Chris Paul is a question mark, while fingers are crossed that Joel Embiid and Kristaps Porzingis will be able to go long when they face off. Injury report for tomorrow's game vs. Cleveland: Shaun Livingston (sore right knee), Kevon Looney (gluteal strain) & Zaza Pachulia (left shoulder soreness) are probable. Stephen Curry (sprained right ankle) is out. — Warriors PR (@WarriorsPR) December 25, 2017 Hurt superstars are definitely the coal in an NBA fan's stocking, but let's hope that despite the absence of some of the bigger names, the games will still be able to provide plenty of entertainment. Bonus question: We may not get Curry vs. LeBron this Christmas, but how great of a consolation gift is Durant vs. LeBron? 2. Who will be the Christmas unicorn? Kristaps Porzingis is of course, the OG unicorn, having the tag bestowed upon him by Kevin Durant. The nickname refers to the mythical convergence of height, ball-handling, skill, and three-point shooting, all of which, Porzingis possesses. He's not alone though, as the 76ers' Joel Embiid has all of that in spades too, it's just that, seeing him on court has been more rare, due to an assortment of injuries that have held him back. Imagine, I suppose, if My Little Ponies could draw DNPs. When Porzingis' Knicks and and Embiid's 76ers collide, all eyes will be on the two, as they will inevitably go head-to-head against each other. As of writing, the Knicks are in the eighth seed in the East, while a 1-9 stretch in their last 10 games has the 76ers on the outside looking in at 10th place, three back of the Knicks. Therefore, it's not just pride at stake here; the East is wide open and every game will matter, as both squads harbor postseason dreams. Bonus question: Will 76ers rookie point guard Ben Simmons wind up stealing the show? 3. Who will triumph in the Wall vs. Irving point guard duel? After some strong starts to the season, the Boston Celtics and the Washington Wizards, the two squads most picked to be potential spoilers to the Cleveland Cavaliers' march to yet another Finals, are going through some rough patches. The Celtics of course, lost Gordon Hayward and started 0-2, but eventually righted the ship through tough defense, only to finish just 5-5 in their latest stretch (though they're still #1 in the conference). Meanwhile, injuries to John Wall and some of their role players have really prevented the Wizards from taking off. They're 18-15, and occupy the seventh spot in the East right now. If someone's going to take charge for either side in this Christmas duel, it'll be each side's respective point guards. Kyrie Irving has embraced being the man for the green and white, while John Wall is an established superstar in the Chocolate City. A Christmas day win for either team could be the foundation for a lengthy run of wins if they can maintain momentum. Bonus question: Who will be the better Morris twin - Boston's Marcus or Washington's Markieff? 4. Which nu-super team will do the most damage, the Rockets or the Thunder? The two most aggressive teams this offseason in revamping their roster to take on the defending champs were without a doubt, the Houston Rockets and the Oklahoma City Thunder. H-Town added Chris Paul and a bevy of long-limbed, rangy defenders who can nail open three's, while OKC formed their version of a big three by trading for Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. The early returns have looked better for the Rox than the Thunder. Even with Paul sidelined, the team was able to shoot to the top of the West standings, and looked even better when CP3 was healthy alongside the Beard, James Harden. On the other hand, it's been an on-going adjustment for reigning MVP Russell Westbrook to integrate the two other established stars. Their defense has been on-point, but their offense is prone to long, fatal droughts. Chris Paul has been listed as doubtful for this one (among several other Houston players), so we may not get the full experience, but this Western Conference Playoffs rematch from last season should still be interesting, even if it's just in an offense versus defense kind of way. Bonus question: Better odds of happening in this game, Harden scores 50+ for a third straight game or Westbrook adds another triple-double to his season tally? 5. Can Kyle Kuzma carry the Lakers? One can make a pretty convincing argument that Kyle Kuzma should be the Rookie of the Year. Despite not being a lottery pick, Kuz has had a major impact on the court, his scoring prowess adding quite the punch to a Lakers team that needs some (okay, a lot). Originally, this question was going to involve Lonzo Ball too, but with the Lakers announcing that his shoulder will keep him out of this game and the rest of the week, this could be a rare opportunity for Kuzma to steal the LA spotlight. Doubly so if Brandon Ingram remains sidelined too. Sure, he'll likely need to contend with the Timberwolves placing super-stopper Jimmy Butler on him, but wouldn't that be a fun duel to watch? Bonus question: How bummed are you that we won't be having LaVar Ball Christmas shenanigans with Lonzo out? The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or ABS-CBN Sports......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsDec 25th, 2017

Oladipo, Sabonis helping Pacers move forward

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com INDIANAPOLIS – Victor Oladipo has a fever and the only prescription is ... no, not more cowbell. Cowbell might make sense, if you factor in Oladipo’s love of and commitment to music (his debut R&B album has been available since Oct. 6). But the fever currently afflicting Oladipo, shooting guard for the Indiana Pacers, has nothing to do with extracurriculars and everything to do with the odes and anthems he’s been performing within the confines of 94 feet by 50 feet. If the fifth-year guard out of Indiana University, by way of the Orlando Magic and Oklahoma City Thunder, looks comfortable in his new star turn for the Pacers, well, just remember that’s your word. Not his. “You could say I’m comfortable with the people here,” says Oladipo, who spent three seasons with the Hoosiers before becoming the No. 2 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. “I played in front of these fans, they mean a lot to me and I gave a lot to them just like they gave a lot to me while I was in college. “But I’m never comfortable in any situation I’m in. I will never be comfortable. That’s what kind of makes me get up and work every day. It’s like, never be satisfied. Because for some reason, ever since I was a little kid, I always wanted more.” Oladipo’s eyes just about glow after a weekend practice as he delves into his unflagging intensity. He doesn’t undercut it with a smile or a token laugh. This is real heat. “Maximize my talent and exhaust my potential,” he says. “In order to do that, I’ve got to come to work every day. That’s my thought process. Wake up each day and be great that day.” Each day would include tonight, when Oladipo will share center stage at Bankers Life Fieldhouse with the more decorated and once-beloved star who preceded him in the Pacers lineup. Paul George, a four-time All-Star and Olympic gold medalist during his seven seasons in Indiana, was due to face his old team for the first time since being traded to Oklahoma City in July. It was a parting necessitated by George, who had made clear his desire to sign a maximum-salary contract with the Los Angeles Lakers in the summer of 2018. But the trade was orchestrated by Kevin Pritchard, the Pacers’ president of basketball operations, and Chad Buchanan, their general manager, who surprised the NBA by swapping George to OKC for Oladipo and big man Domantas Sabonis. You want intense? The initial reaction to that deal was intensely negative, quickly reaching hysterical proportions. The Pacers immediately were mocked for having traded George for nickels on the dollar. Reports out of Boston characterized Indiana’s POBO as more of a bobo for allegedly spurning a Celtics’ offer of multiple players and draft picks. *Takes a well deserved nap for 3 hours ** Opens Twitter: pic.twitter.com/xWNYaVfKTy — Myl3s Turn3r (@Original_Turner) July 1, 2017 The west is sick!!!! Best conference in the world!!!! — Patrick Beverley (@patbev21) July 1, 2017 Vic to the Pacers?! He might as well run for governor while he's at it! — Cody Zeller (@CodyZeller) July 1, 2017 Former Thunder star Kevin Durant called the move “shocking” and of George said “Indiana just gave him away.” Among much of the media that covers the league, there was a general feeling of “rubes” afoot -- that the Pacers had been snookered in taking back an overpaid ($21 million annually through 2020-21) second-tier talent and an overbilled guy who had disappeared in OKC’s postseason. And now? Not so much on any of those fronts. ‘He knows how good he is’ George’s stats are down in the “OK3” core he’s formed with reigning Kia MVP Russell Westbrook and aging Carmelo Anthony. The Thunder (12-13) are the NBA’s consensus disappointment, team category, with nearly a third of their season in the books. Sabonis has boosted the Pacers off the bench in a half dozen ways. And Oladipo has all but earned himself a spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star team while speeding his new team’s fans past their heartbreak over George’s jilting. Generally, the best trades in sports are win-win, but for Indiana right now, a bit of win-lose has made the start of 2017-18 downright sublime. “We happened to really like Sabonis in the draft,” former Pacers president and ongoing consultant Donnie Walsh said last week. “We wanted more of everything in the trade too. But when it came down to it, we had this offer with Oladipo, who we also liked. They’ve come in here and the more they’ve been here, the more we like ‘em. We’re happy.” The Pacers also are 16-11, two weeks ahead in the victory column over their 42-40 finish last season that was good for a playoff berth. Oladipo is the biggest reason why, averaging more points per game (24.5) than George ever has. The 6'4" guard who attended famous DeMatha High in Hyattsville, Md., spent much of last season being beaten up for his contract and negligible impact in Oklahoma City. He had taken grief earlier for his status as the second pick in 2013, a lofty status not of his doing. And here he was again in the summer, hearing it all over again for a transaction he didn’t design. “He came in with a chip [on his shoulder],” Pacers coach Nate McMillan said. “I thought he should come in with a chip.” Some would have flinched from the pressure. A few might have curled up, full blown fetal. Oladipo has gone entirely the other way. “His confidence is at an all-time high,” backup point guard Cory Joseph said. “He knows how good he is.” As Joseph spoke after the Pacers’ upset of Cleveland Friday, a game in which Oladipo scored 20 of his game-high 33 points in the third quarter, a lilting voice drifted from behind the scenes in the home dressing room. “Look at it right now, he’s singing in the shower,” Joseph said, tilting his head and laughing. “He’s confident. You guys are all in here, he’s just singing. He’s a confident guy. Everybody in this locker room, everybody in this organization definitely welcomes that.” Trade not driving Oladipo’s breakout season Don’t misunderstand. The critics still are out for Oladipo. “My mom told me yesterday I need to work on my free throws,” he said with an eye roll after practice Saturday (Sunday, PHL time). She had noticed, during her son’s run of big games in December -- 36 points at Toronto, 27 vs. Chicago, 33 against the Cavs the night before her chiding text -- that he had missed 18-of-31 foul shots. This, by a career 80 percent shooter from the line. “I’m over that,” Oladipo said. “I’m not going to miss no more. I’ll make ‘em next time. And if I miss ‘em, I’ll make ‘em the next. If that’s my problem right now, I think I can fix it.” Twenty-four hours later, Oladipo took 13 free throws against Denver and made 11. He scored 47 points in all, hitting 15-of-28 shots and half of his 12 three-pointers. The comeback victory in OT got the Pacers to 4-for-4 on their six-game homestand and continued to shrink whatever chip it was that the 25-year-old was shouldering. “In the beginning of the year, I said, ‘I don’t have a chip. I have a brick house on my back,’” Oladipo said. But not anymore, right, now that some folks are referring to it as “the Victor Oladipo trade” rather than “the Paul George trade?” “That’s what I feel like every morning, no matter what’s going on,” he said. “I don’t even think about the trade, honestly. It’s in the past for me. People’s opinions are going to be there whether you like it or not. From the outside looking in, I guess you could say [then] that was a great trade for OKC. That’s what they believed. But it wasn’t going to change the way I worked. It wasn’t going to change my approach.” This step up in status is considered perhaps the most difficult an NBA player can make. Suddenly, opposing coaches are X&O-ing him to death. The player dogging him up and down the court is the other guys’ best defender. Often, they’ll send double-teams to get the ball into one of his teammates’ hands. “He hadn’t had that,” McMillan said. “When he was in OKC, the game plan was focused on Westbrook. When he was in Orlando, he was just a young player. Now he is seeing the defenders like a LeBron [James], like a [DeMar] DeRozan, what these stars are seeing. He’s seeing the best defenders and he’s seeing teams game-plan to take him out. “Learning how to play and be consistent every night with that challenge is something he’s going through.” Oladipo’s quick success with the Pacers has kept any crowd critics at bay. They were pre-disposed to like him just as their rebound date after George, but had he underperformed, Oladipo’s service time in Bloomington wouldn’t have protected him for long from criticism. But now, it’s George who likely will get the harsh reception. Oladipo, overtly after each of the recent victories, has made it clear to the home fans via some emphatic pointing and body language that the Fieldhouse happens to be his house. “I don’t say it, they say it,” he said. “I just do the gesture and they do the rest of the work for me. I let them do all the talking. We feed off them -- when they’re into it, we play better. I don’t know why, that’s just how basketball’s always been. They’re our sixth man and we need ‘em every night.” Oladipo’s breakout season has been bolstered, too, by the Pacers’ second-through-15th men. Those who already were in Indy knew how valuable George was at both ends. Those who, like Oladipo and Sabonis, were new this season were within their rights to be as skeptical as the national headlines of the guys coming in trade. Go-to guy emerges for Pacers OKC was a specific challenge, Oladipo having to learn on the fly how to fit his own darting, ball-heavy style to only the second man in NBA history to average a triple-double. Westbrook’s usage was off the charts, rendering the other Thunder players to supporting cast whether suited to that role or not. Just like that, Oladipo had to catch and shoot as someone to get Westbrook into double digits in assists. It wasn’t his nature and it made for an individually forgettable season. “I had a role. I tried to play that role to the best of my ability. And I improved certain areas of my game in that role,” was all he’d say Saturday, stiffly, about the OKC experience. Said Walsh: “I felt like he was going to get a different opportunity here. ... When he got to Oklahoma City, he was playing wih a guy who was averaging a triple-double. And he liked Russell Westbrook. But he comes here, he’s got an opportunity to be ‘our guy.’ “I think he might have been looking for that. I never asked him. He’s a really cool guy. He knows what he wants to be, I think.” Oladipo needed this and the Pacers needed him to need it. With George gone, they were like a smile missing a front tooth. The other teeth weren’t just going to move up in the pecking order -- no matter how good young big man Myles Turner is -- and replace the one they’d lost. If they were going to have any success this season, if McMillan was going to be able to coach and adjust in his second year taking over for Frank Vogel, the players needed to fill their roles and welcome this new addition. That’s why this tale of Oladipo’s growing success is about what the Pacers have done for him, as much as it is what he’s done for them. “We didn’t really present it like that,” McMillan said, “because we were still trying to develop who our ‘go-to guy’ was. He has been slowly taking on that role through the things he’s done. I haven’t had to say anything. He’s making good decisions with the ball. And the guys are getting a feel for what we’re doing down the stretch because we’ve had some success, and we’ve had it with Victor having the ball.” Chemistry change for Pacers There might be NBA teams with chemistry as solid as the Pacers’ right now, but it’s hard to imagine there are any with better. It’s more than mere relief that someone has stepped up, easing their own loads a bit. It is a genuine eagerness for Oladipo to max out, for each of the rest of them to do the same in whatever lane they’re riding. “Vic’s been everything at this point,” Turner said. “He’s done a great job of stepping up and being that guy, being that dude. It’s amazing to have that when you’re going through a situation where it’s a brand-new team. We’re still learning each other and he’s showing that he’s ready.” Did Turner know this would happen and, if so, when? “First couple days he started texting me in the summertime,” the big man said. “I saw what his mindset was, and I loved it from the jump. He carried that right in when we started playing pickup this summer. “Vic’s been traded, what, [two] times? He finally comes back home and he has a team that’s telling him to go, telling him to be him. I don’t think he had that with his former teams. Now that he’s here and he’s doing that, I’m pretty sure he’s [enjoying it].” Said Joseph: “He’s been a beast for us and he’s going to continue to be a beast for us. ... He’s been running with that opportunity and opening eyes around the world.” Even strong-willed, uber-confident Lance Stephenson, has backed up for Oladipo. “There’s no hate, know what I mean?” he said over the weekend. “Some guys get mad about somebody doing good. This team wants its teammates to do good. That’s what’s going to make us even better.” Oladipo keeps referring to the other Pacers in a legit lubricating of the “no I in Indy” process. “Honestly I think it’s the personalities and the men that we have in this locker room,” he said. “My teammates are phenomenal people -- not just basketball players, phenomenal people. When you surround yourself with great people, people who sincerely care about you and your team, the chemistry just comes naturally.” Sabonis shows glimpses of success, too The other guy in the trade, Sabonis, has developed more organically, his maturation seemingly inevitable regardless of locale when you tote up his youth, his work ethic and his bloodlines (son of Hall of Famer Arvydas Sabonis). He has gone from that rookie who logged just six minutes in the Thunder’s five 2017 playoff games against Houston to an essential piece in McMillan’s rotation. “Once I got traded, I knew this was a great opportunity for me to show people what I can really do,” said Sabonis, the No. 11 pick in 2016. “I was a rookie last year. Everything was new. Here, I’m being used more at the 5. That’s more the position I’ve been used to playing my whole life.” Sabonis’ minutes are up from 20.1 in OKC to 24.6 off Indiana’s bench. His scoring has doubled from 5.9 ppg to 12.1. And his PIE rating has soared from 4.9 last season to 12.6, a sign of the versatility the skilled big man possesses. “I love Sabonis,” Walsh said. “His father was one of the greatest players in the world, so I don’t like that comparison -- it kills him. He [Domantas] is just more of everything you think he is. He’s stronger than you think. He can shoot the ball better. He’s got good hands, he can catch the ball. I’ve seen him make moves in game that I’ve never seen him make in practice.” Said Turner: “I played against Domas in college -- I knew what kind of player he was. I was excited when we got him. He’s gotten bigger and stronger since then, obviously, and he just didn’t have a chance to show himself last year. But he’s been big for us now, especially when I was out with the concussion. He stepped up huge in that role and we’ve played well since then.” The Pacers are playing faster this season, up from 18th in pace last season to 10th now, part of their improvement from 15th in offensive rating (106.2) to 6th (108.3). They’re doing better, too, in contesting shots and throttling opponents’ field-goal accuracy. The biggest reason why has been Oladipo’s blossoming. Whether due to the sunshine of new, happier surroundings or from that darker, more intense place, to prove cynics wrong. No one can now talk of the Pacers’ bungling of what, after all, was a deal to rent George, not to have him long-term. Fans at Bankers Life figure to boo George on his first visit back, with an inventory they haven’t needed or used on Oladipo. Some might see that as ingratitude, others as respect. It’s a little bit of love lost, too. “Look, they loved Paul when he was here,” Walsh said. “They guy is a great player. One thing I’ve always felt: These guys that play here, they always know more about what they want for their lives than we do. How you gonna argue with that? He treated us good, we treated him good. No bad blood here. I don’t know about fans.” Folks in Indy have a new crush now, one they hope lasts for a while. Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsDec 14th, 2017

BLOGTABLE: Assessing aftermath of Paul George trade

NBA.com blogtable As Paul George returns to Indiana tonight for the first time since he was traded by the Pacers, who should be happier with how things have turned out: Pacers fans, or Paul George? * * * David Aldridge: Uh, Pacers fans. This isn't close right now, is it? PG-13 is miserable in OKC, which inexplicably hasn't been able to figure out how to win regularly yet with three All-Stars, each of whom should be considerably motivated to make it work with the other two guys. George may well have the last laugh if he walks to the Lakers next June, as most still suspect will happen. They have a young core that's promising, and he'll be back home. But Indy isn't a laughingstock, as I and most people thought it would be. Victor Oladipo (One DeMatha!) is having an All-Star season, and Domantas Sabonis looks like a 10-year guy at the the four. I was wrong about how bad the Pacers would be. Way wrong. Loud wrong. Stupid wrong. For now. Let's see where we are in March. Steve Aschburner: Paul George should be happier, even in the muck of the Thunder’s season so far. He’s on his way to what he really wants, which is a key role for the Los Angeles Lakers. Once his perfectly legitimate ambition became publicly known, his days as the Pacers’ best player and leader were over. So much so that I wrote at the time, the best move for all considered -- for George, for the Lakers, for the NBA -- would have been for Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka to have done a deal in the summer. It’s not healthy for the league to have a star and a team pining away for each other from afar. But Indiana’s Kevin Pritchard pulled the trigger on the trade with OKC and that was OK. More than OK, given the play so far of Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. But let’s not forget the fine years of service George gave to the folks in Indianapolis, and his desire to please extended to sometimes being too candid in interviews. It’s just too bad his journey home to California has to be a two-step process. Shaun Powell: The longer I watch the Thunder, I'm not sure what Paul George can be happy about. And of course, Pacers fans are elated with their team in the playoff mix (OK, it's early) and actually looking entertaining some nights. Victor Oladipo has turned out better than expected and has the floor to do what he wants, now that he doesn't answer to Russell Westbrook anymore. We should wait until summer to check the happy-meter of George, who could be moving on to another place in search of joy. John Schuhmann: I won't pretend to know how George feels. Maybe the Thunder's struggles, if they continue, will make it easier for him to choose a new team next summer. But he can't be happy with the results or the lack of chemistry in Oklahoma City. Pacers fans should surely be happy with how things have turned out. The Pacers have been a better team than the Thunder, Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis (who were both clearly misused in OKC) have been terrific, there's more stability in Indiana, and there's still room for improvement. Myles Turner isn't yet the player he can be and Glenn Robinson III hasn't played all season. Of the 16 teams in playoff position, the Pacers are the biggest surprise. Sekou Smith: With the way Victor Oladipo is playing, Pacers fans have every reason to feel like happy heading into the Christmas holiday. The trade that looked so lopsided early in the summer looks like a smashing success for Kevin Pritchard and the rest of the franchise braintrust. It's not just Oladipo playing like an All-Star, though that's a huge part of it. It's Domantas Sabonis playing as solid as he has and the splendid chemistry this group has shown in coach Nate McMillan's second season at the helm. The Thunder haven't had an easy time transitioning George and Carmelo Anthony into a cohesive Big Three. But I'd caution Pacers fans to refrain from gloating too much tonight. There is still plenty of time left in this season. Be careful of celebrating prematurely. If the Pacers make the playoffs and Oladipo continues on his current trajectory, there will be plenty of time to rub in the faces of everyone who doubted things would turn out well in Indianapolis......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsDec 14th, 2017

Westbrook’s triple-double helps Thunder rally past Jazz

OKLAHOMA CITY --- With all the excitement about the Oklahoma City Thunder's new Big Three this season, Steven Adams had become a bit of an afterthought. Not anymore. The 7-foot center had 20 points and nine rebounds to support Russell Westbrook's triple-double, and the Thunder defeated the Utah Jazz 100-94 on Tuesday night. The Thunder have won three straight, and Adams' offensive play has been critical. During the streak, he has averaged 22 points and 8.3 rebounds and made 28 of 34 shots from the field. "That's good, mate," the New Zealander said. "Good stuff." The two new stars did their parts, too --- Paul George scored 11 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter and Ca...Keep on reading: Westbrook’s triple-double helps Thunder rally past Jazz.....»»

Category: newsSource:  inquirerRelated NewsDec 6th, 2017

Boston streak ends, Westbrook shines as Thunder roll

LOS ANGELES, United States – The Boston Celtics' 16-game winning streak came to an end with an upset defeat against the Miami Heat on Wednesday as Russell Westbrook won his duel with Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City's rout of Golden State. Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters were the stars for Miami ........»»

Category: newsSource:  rapplerRelated NewsNov 23rd, 2017

Thunder add reinforcements for MVP Westbrook

em>By Cliff Brunt, Associated Press /em> OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Russell Westbrook did it all last season and it wasn’t enough. Westbrook averaged a triple-double and topped Oscar Robertson’s single-season record for triple-doubles on his way to winning the league MVP award and the scoring title. He led the Thunder to the playoffs after Kevin Durant left for Golden State in the offseason. A five-game playoff exit at the hands of the Houston Rockets was typical of Oklahoma City’s season — great play from Westbrook but the team falling short. Reinforcements have arrived. The Thunder have acquired All-Stars Paul George and Carmelo Anthony in trades, and now, Oklahoma City is poised to return to elite status. “To be able to play with those two guys and the rest of the guys we have is amazing,” Westbrook said. “I’m excited. I’m looking forward to making a great run, and I’m happy they’re here.” Anthony, now 33, appears to have plenty in the tank. He averaged 15.8 points and 6.5 rebounds in the preseason. He said he expects to score, but he will do what is needed to fit in with coach Billy Donovan’s system. George led the Indiana Pacers to the Eastern Conference finals in 2013 and 2014. He missed most of the 2014-2015 season after breaking his leg, then the Pacers lost in the first round of the playoffs the next two seasons. His early adjustment appears to be going smoothly — he averaged 20.3 points in the preseason. He believes that being paired with superstar talent gives the Thunder a chance to be special. “You need guys of that stature and that level to be able to help and create something special,” George said. “It’s just that era where you’ve got to face teams that are going to have two or three guys that can take over games and be iconic to this league.” Here are some things to watch from the Thunder this season: strong>BACKUP POINT GUARD /strong>: The Thunder sometimes ran into trouble last season when Westbrook would go to the bench to rest, and it was a particularly big issue during the playoffs. New pickup Raymond Felton should be an upgrade. The veteran has 657 NBA starts and averaged 9.5 points per game just two seasons ago for Dallas. strong>ADAMS’ DEVELOPMENT /strong>: Center Steven Adams had his best season last year, and he will be in position to be even better this year. He ranked seventh in the league in field-goal percentage last season, and with George and Anthony drawing attention, he should be open a lot more this season. He shot 62 percent from the field during the preseason. strong>HIGH-FLYER: /strong> Rookie guard Terrance Ferguson played professionally in Australia last season. He showed off his springs on several highlight-reel plays while averaging 6.3 points in the preseason. There’s substance to go with the flash. “He’s a guy that comes in and works hard, does the things we ask him to do on both ends,” Anthony said. “Wants to get better. You can’t ask for a better rookie than that. A guy who wants to be out on the court and working his way to have an opportunity to gain some minutes. So he is a guy that you guys will be hearing more of in the future.” strong>THREE-POINT SHOOTING: /strong>Oklahoma City was the worst three-point shooting team in the league last season at 32.7 percent. The addition of George, Patrick Patterson and Anthony should help that. All are good shooters, and they should get plenty of open looks playing off of the other talent on the roster. strong>REPLACING ENES: /strong>The Thunder had to give up Enes Kanter to get Anthony. Kanter was one of the best reserves in the league — just two years ago, he finished third in the race for Sixth Man of the Year. He’s an elite offensive rebounder and one of the league’s most efficient shooters. “Enes was a great guy, he was a great teammate,” Donovan said. “He in my opinion is maybe the best offensive rebounder in the game. You know, I think he’ll be missed.” .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsOct 12th, 2017

Camp time! Warriors, Wolves prepare to open training camp

em>By Jon Krawczysnki, Associated Press /em> The Golden State Warriors were the last team standing when the NBA season closed in June. Thanks to a preseason trip to China, they are one of the first teams to get going this season as the league gets up and rolling again. The Warriors and Minnesota Timberwolves will hold their media days on Friday and open training camps Saturday, a few days ahead of the rest of the league as they prepare for an early October trip to China for games in Shanghai and Shenzhen as part of the league’s ongoing efforts to grow the game in the basketball-crazy nation. Golden State will be the headliner in China, just like it has been in the NBA for the last three seasons. And the Warriors open camp this season with a major advantage over everyone else that goes above and beyond the sheer talent the organization has assembled with Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. While the rest of the league spent the entire summer scrambling to upgrade in a desperate attempt to enter Golden State’s stratosphere, the Warriors return almost the entire roster from the team that won its second championship in three seasons. In fact, Golden State should only be better this year because it will not have to spend part of the early season figuring out how to incorporate Durant’s game with three other All-Stars. Meanwhile, teams like the Rockets, Cavaliers, Thunder, Timberwolves and Celtics will need all of the preseason and then some to get on the same page with the new stars in town. There will be no such orientation process in Golden State. Free agents Nick Young and Omri Casspi will have to acclimate, but that is a lot easier to do when Durant and Curry are showing them around. ___ So as media days and training camps get up and running, here are a few things to watch at the outset: strong>HARD FEELINGS? /strong> It appeared that Durant was on his way to mending some fences in Oklahoma City after he left the organization to join Golden State last season. But the fence posts may have been torn down again when Durant disparaged the Thunder team and coach Billy Donovan as the biggest reasons he left to join the Warriors. Durant has since apologized , but the topic will likely come up again when he speaks to the media on Friday. And it should be interesting to see if Russell Westbrook has anything to say about it when the Thunder open early next week. strong>CP3 ARRIVES: /strong>The most intriguing roster experiment this year may be in Houston, where GM Daryl Morey is teaming James Harden with Chris Paul in a star-studded backcourt. Harden finished second in the MVP voting last season after moving from shooting guard to point guard and now will have to move back to accommodate Paul. Both players are used to having the ball in their hands and orchestrating the offense, so there will likely be some feeling-out that needs to be done in camp. The two have already appeared in a television commercial together, so they’re off to a running start. strong>KYRIE’S MOVE: /strong>The biggest headline in a wild offseason was Kyrie Irving’s request for a trade from the Cavaliers. He landed in Boston in a move that could define his legacy, the All-Star who didn’t want to play with LeBron James. Irving did little to shed light on his motives in an enigmatic interview with ESPN and likely will be bombarded with questions about it at media day. How the Celtics handle the early crush of attention and move past Irving’s exit from Cleveland could play a big role in their ability to truly challenge the Cavs in the Eastern Conference. strong>CRASH COURSE: /strong>The Timberwolves are one of the teams that made significant roster changes this summer after a disappointing 31-win season in Tom Thibodeau’s first year as coach. They added Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson and Jamal Crawford while trading away Ricky Rubio in an offseason overhaul aimed at ending the league’s longest active playoff drought at 13 seasons. Thibodeau asked owner Glen Taylor to allow the team to hold training camp in San Diego before they head out to China to get them away from the distractions of home and allow them to bond in a preseason that only includes three games. That Butler and Gibson played for Thibodeau with the Bulls should help that transition, but it will no doubt be a process worth watching. strong>RULES CHANGES: /strong>When players start taking the court for exhibition games, it will offer an opportunity for them to start to adjust to rules changes and points of emphasis that are new every season. One notable difference this year will be the “James Harden rule,” a change in the way the game is called aimed at reducing the number of instances a player tricks a defender into fouling them and then goes into a shooting motion to try to earn free throw attempts. Harden is the master , though dozens of players do the same thing. .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsSep 23rd, 2017

Game 4s: Jazz look for 3-1 lead, Wolves aim to tie Rockets

By Tim Reynolds, Associated Press Russell Westbrook is averaging a triple-double, so he gets plenty of attention. Ricky Rubio just had a triple-double, earning him some time in the headlines. Donovan Mitchell has been great in his first three playoff games, so the fascination with the rookie star is only growing. It’s easy to notice those guys. Rudy Gobert should be getting noticed as well. Utah is taking a 2-1 lead into their Western Conference first-round series against Oklahoma City on Monday night (Tuesday, PHL time), and Gobert is probably as responsible for the Jazz being in that position than anyone. He’s controlling the backboards, he’s changing shots, he’s thwarting Westbrook and he’s showing why he’s the likely Defensive Player of the Year. “It makes the guards’ jobs a lot easier,” Mitchell said of the French safety net with the 7'9" wingspan who protects the rim for the Jazz. “You feel more secure on the wing. ... The whole season, I’ve been saying if somebody gets by me, it’s like, ’All right, go ahead, try it. Because I’ve tried it. And it doesn’t work.” Westbrook probably would agree: He’s 1-for-7 in this series with Gobert waiting at the rim for him. There’s two Game 4s on the schedule Monday (Tuesday, PHL time), with Houston at Minnesota leading off before the Oklahoma City-Utah game. The Rockets fell in Game 3 to the Timberwolves on Saturday (Sunday, PHL time), but still lead that series 2-1. Westbrook is not happy, and the reigning NBA MVP wasted little time in vowing that things will be different in Game 4. He was talking about slowing down Rubio, but he might be better served getting himself going again. Going back to the regular season, Westbrook hasn’t shot better than 40 percent in any of his last six games — the worst such streak of his career. ___ Here’s a look at Monday’s (Tuesday, PHL time) games: ROCKETS AT TIMBERWOLVES Rockets lead 2-1. Game 4, 8 p.m. EDT (8am, PHL time) NEED TO KNOW: The Timberwolves bounced back from a 20-point loss in Game 2 with a sellout-crowd-inspired 16-point victory over the Rockets in Game 3 that was the franchise’s first win in the playoffs since 2004. Jimmy Butler had 28 points and Karl-Anthony Towns had 18 points and 16 rebounds for the Timberwolves, who were more aggressive than they were in Games 1 and 2. “I felt like they outworked us, and that should never happen,” Rockets guard Gerald Green said. KEEP AN EYE ON: The Rockets shooting three-pointers. They needed 41 attempts to make 15 behind the arc in Game 3, as many as the Wolves swished in 27 tries. Harden was just 3-for-8, his rainbows often drifting to the left, as the Wolves kept up what has been a better-than-usual defensive performance in this series. “We’re just making it harder on them, making them take tough shots and just trying to find ways to stop a high-powered offense,” Towns said. PRESSURE IS ON: Rockets center Clint Capela. After a 24-point, 12-rebound production in Game 1, Capela had only seven points on six shots in Game 3. On the other end of the court, Towns finally got going after two bad games thanks in part to Capela’s defense. The Rockets could use a strong response from the Swiss standout in the attempt to keep the Wolves from tying the series. INJURY UPDATE: Butler, who missed a total of 21 games this season due to trouble with his right knee, clutched his left ankle in pain after twisting it late in the first half of Game 3. He didn’t miss any time, though, and didn’t even acknowledge the injury when asked about it in his postgame interview. “At the end of the day if you tell your mind it doesn’t hurt, it doesn’t,” Butler said. ___ THUNDER AT JAZZ Jazz leas 2-1. Game 4, 10:30 p.m. EDT (10:30am, PHL time) NEED TO KNOW: Utah has won each of its last five first-round series as the No. 5 seed, and the Jazz are halfway to extending that streak. The crowd in Salt Lake City was extremely loud on Saturday and will likely be again on Monday (Tuesday, PHL time). The Thunder are 5-6 in their last 11 games, and no one needs to remind them of how low the success rate is for teams that go down 3-1 in a series. KEEP AN EYE ON: Carmelo Anthony and Russell Westbrook from deep. Paul George has been great from three-point range (15-for-31) in the three games, but Westbrook and Anthony are a combined 9-for-31. The Thunder need to get something going consistently from the perimeter to soften up Utah’s stout interior defense. PRESSURE IS ON: Utah. Most would think it’s the team trailing that would feel the most pressure, but Utah has a chance to take total command of the series. A loss would be doubly deflating; not only would the Jazz lose home-court, but they would go back to Oklahoma City for Game 5 with the Thunder thinking they have control of the matchup. INJURY UPDATE: Westbrook was getting treatment on some sort of upper-body issue in Game 3 and was coy about it afterward, pointing out that most players are ailing at this time of year. But if he’s limited in any way, that’s obviously a huge problem for the Thunder. ___ AP Sports Writer Dave Campbell in Minneapolis contributed to this report.....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated News21 min. ago

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......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsApr 21st, 2018

Jazz G Mitchell has left foot bruise, uncertain for Game 2

By Cliff Brunt, Associated Press OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell has a left foot bruise and his status is uncertain for Game 2 of the Western Conference playoff series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Mitchell left Oklahoma City’s 116-108 win Game 1 on Sunday (Monday, PHL time) after stubbing his toe in the third quarter, and he played sporadically the rest of the way. A team spokesman said Mitchell had an MRI on Monday (Tuesday, PHL time), and the team will provide a status update on Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time). When asked if he was concerned about missing Game 2 on Wednesday (Thursday, PHL time), Mitchell said, “Not at all.” “I can walk,” he said. “I think tomorrow will be the deciding factor, but I feel fine. I feel fine right now.” Mitchell is one of the league’s top rookies. He averaged 20.5 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists during the regular season. He had 27 points and 10 rebounds in Game 1. Mitchell did not try to run on the foot on Monday (Tuesday, PHL time), saying there was no need to. He said he expects to be able to help the Jazz bounce back. “We were stagnant,” he said. “The ball didn’t move as much as we had hoped or as we would like. We made those adjustments in practice just now.” Oklahoma City’s Carmelo Anthony and Russell Westbrook were asked about Mitchell after Sunday’s (Monday, PHL time) game. At one point, Anthony said he’d already answered one and he’d let Westbrook take the second. Westbrook deflected it. “We just came out and competed,” Westbrook said. “Both teams played hard.” As for the actual game, Mitchell said Westbrook was focused defensively and Thunder guard Corey Brewer was a better defensive player than he thought. He said being exposed to the environment should pay off on Wednesday (Thursday, PHL time). “Now that we’ve got the first game under our belt — some of us haven’t played in the playoffs — we know the atmosphere, we know how loud it’s going to be in here,” he said. “I think coming out the second game, we’ll be more poised and more calm.”.....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsApr 17th, 2018

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