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Warriors get their payback from Houston s mental mistakes

WASHINGTON, USA – The Houston Rockets thought that they had it their way at the start of the game  on Monday, May 14 (Tuesday, Manila time), as they held a double-digit lead in the first quarter.  However, the Golden State Warriors battled back, taking their first lead of the ........»»

Category: newsSource: rappler rapplerMay 15th, 2018

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

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com CLEVELAND -- These combo coronation-funerals can be tricky. Imagine the crowning of a new monarch where the royal subjects couldn’t stop chattering about the freshly deposed or deceased predecessor. Where the traditional cry of continuity and succession, “The king is dead! Long live the king!” got flipped, with what was overshadowing what is. That’s pretty much how it went Friday night (Saturday, PHL time) at Quicken Loans Arena, with the Golden State Warriors’ latest NBA championship having to share the stage with speculation, instantly revved up, about LeBron James and the choice he’ll soon make about his next employer. The Warriors are the kings, claiming pro basketball’s throne yet again by completing a sweep of James’ Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2018 Finals. But of course, James is the King, and as so many of us learned in sophomore English – thanks, CliffsNotes! – “Uneasy lies the head (of those who fret and obsess about the future whereabouts of the NBA superstar) that wears a crown.” Long live the kings! The King is ... gone? There was so much energy before, during and after Game 4 Friday (Saturday, PHL time) poured into the last game/next game conjecture about James, the Cavaliers and seismic shifts in the league’s 2018-19 landscape that even the player’s surprise reveal near the end of the night – a bruised and bandaged right hand – couldn’t derail it. Turns out, as James ‘fessed up, the sore shooting paw was an injury he had been playing with ever since Game 1 in Oakland eight days earlier. He had “self-inflicted” it in a fit of pique when he smacked a whiteboard in the visitors’ dressing room at Oracle Arena after Cleveland’s overtime loss in the series-setter, an outcome driven at least in part by some teammates’ mistakes and an arcane wrinkle in the NBA’s replay rules regarding block/charge fouls. Despite the hordes of media people chronicling every waking detail of the Finals, James had kept the injury on the down-low (along with the possibility that J.R. Smith’s nickname amongst his Cavs teammates might be “whiteboard”). The cameras zoomed in and clicked in a paparazzi frenzy of motor drives every time James raised the hand, wrapped in black tape, above the table during his postgame podium remarks. Whether a legit Page-2-the-rest-of-the-story factor in the championship series or a too-late alibi, the contused hand wound up as a sidebar to where James plans to be using it when training camps open in a few months. As of Friday (Saturday, PHL time), it had been 95 months since “The Decision,” the 2010 announcement that James made in a tone-deaf vanity TV production that he was taking his talents from Cleveland to South Beach. Nearly 47 months had passed since he broke the news of his return in a Sports Illustrated ghost-written essay, envisioning much of what actually has unfolded in the four years since. Now savvy insiders and casual observers alike presume James will be on the move again, pushed to leave the franchise he has defined in an urgent search for more and better talent with which he can compete. As in, y’know, some horses, some horses, his kingdom for some horses. James’ free-agency process next month (he can opt out of a $35.6 million deal in the final season of his current contract) is expected to dictate the market of player movement this summer like an oversized domino. It easily could swing the balance of power, if not quite at Golden State’s lofty level then immediately below it. The monster he helped create Dr. Frankenstein eventually was done in by his macabre creation, and it can similarly be argued that James has no one but himself to blame for the predicament in which he again finds himself. He set in motion the machinery of the super team, after all, when he chose to join forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami eight years ago. Oh sure, the Boston Celtics in 2007-08 got there first by luring Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to join Paul Pierce, but that was about knitting together three stars, all age 30 or older, for what would be their last best chance to win in an extremely limited run. That group won one title, went to two Finals in three seasons and was done, Allen leaving to join James & Co. with the Heat while Garnett and Pierce morphed into trade chips for Boston POBO Danny Ainge. When James, Wade and Bosh teamed up, they were in their basketball primes and their initial giddy boasts of “not four, not five, not six” championships turned off fans league-wide as much for its portent as its pretension. That crew went 4-for-4 in Finals, winning two rings before James, nudged by staleness and chafing as well as his grand plan for northeast Ohio, went home. From there, a line can be drawn through the ill-conceived 2012-13 L.A. Lakers of Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol all the way to this season’s Houston Rockets of James Harden and Chris Paul and the talent-gorged Golden State roster. James was the centerpiece as Cleveland replicated the Big Three concept around him with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, two younger, playoff-stymied All-Stars. The new-look Cavaliers went to the Finals in their first season together and clambered atop the basketball world to win the franchise’s first NBA title by the end of the second, becoming the first team in league history to do so after digging a 1-3 hole in the best-of-seven series. In that moment, regardless of the two Finals trips that followed, James’ bill was stamped: Paid In Full. Misguided fans might burn his jersey if he leaves again, but James burned the mortgage after that Game 7 in Oakland in 2016 as far as any remaining obligation to fulfill. “I came back because I felt like I had some unfinished business,” he said after elimination Friday (Saturday, PHL time). “To be able to be a part of a championship team two years ago with the team that we had and in the fashion that we had is something I will always remember. Honestly, I think we'll all remember that. It ended a drought for Cleveland of 50-plus years, so I think we'll all remember that in sports history.” James added: “When you have a goal and you're able to accomplish that goal, it actually – for me personally – made me even more hungry to continue to try to win championships. And I still want to be in championship mode. I think I've shown this year why I will still continue to be in championship mode.” In other words, James intends to sustain his high level of performance. He expects to win. And he presumably will do whatever – and go wherever – is necessary to achieve that. There’s no perfect fit So what does that mean for the NBA’s best player (never mind what the annual MVP balloting says in any given season)? It means this: compromise. There is no ideal situation, certainly no easy answer to the guesswork surrounding James’ looming free agency. He could transform any of the 30 teams, but not without some trade-offs for him, for them or for both. Most of them won’t be in play. Teams in markets such as Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Portland, Sacramento, the Twin Cities and so on can’t scratch James’ itches for either championship-worthy depth chart or spotlight. New York and Chicago, among the biggies, are out of synch with his timeline. Toronto? No way James is resettling his brand north of the border, and given his stated desire for teammates who have not just sufficient basketball skills but also mental toughness, well, the Raptors teams he and the Cavs have dominated do not qualify. The Boston club that stretched Cleveland to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals is built for the long haul and would have to surrender much of that to adjust to James’ career calendar. There’s a little Kyrie problem lurking there and, truth be told, the Celtics look to be on their way and are doing just fine without the 33-year-old heading, one of these years, toward decline. At some point in each of the 2018 Finals’ final three days, James spoke admiringly of the Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs title teams that blocked his path whether in Miami or Cleveland. He was at it again even as the Warriors were dousing the opponent’s locker room at The Q with Moet champagne. “I made the move in 2010 to be able to play with talented players, cerebral players that you could see things that happen before they happened on the floor,” James said. “When you feel like you're really good at your craft, I think it's always great to be able to be around other great minds as well and other great ballplayers. “That's never changed. Even when I came here in '14, I wanted to try to surround myself and surround this franchise with great minds and guys that actually think outside the box of the game and not just go out and play it.” Where might James find that now or recruit that swiftly? Hard to say. There are asterisks and “buts” everywhere: * If he were to sign with the Houston Rockets, James would be hitching his star to Chris Paul, a buddy with an injury history that’s about the mirror opposite of his own. He would be teaming up with an elite coach in Mike D’Antoni, something he’s never had (though Miami’s Erik Spoelstra was just young and unproven, on his way to big things). But it also would require another big ask of James Harden, who had to adapt last summer to Paul’s arrival and need for the ball. * If James chooses the Lakers, he has the chance to hit reset with the league’s glitziest franchise, in a market that can meet his every off-court wish and where he and his family already own one or more ultra-comfortable homes. The Lakers have young talent to help James transition into a lower-usage veteran’s role, favored status as a destination team for other top free agents and the salary-cap space to get it done this summer with the likes of Paul George or his pal Paul. But that roster might not be capable of insta-contending, which could burn a season or two when James’ clock most definitely is clicking. * If it’s San Antonio, James could link up with the elite coach in Gregg Popovich, where the winning culture is in the DNA rather than some acquired taste. The Spurs have talent, particularly if Kawhi Leonard finds happiness again there. But they might not have enough to rattle the Warriors’ cage. And for all their professed admiration, James and Popovich might both fare better by keeping their relationship long-distance vs. the 82-game grind. * If it’s Golden State? Perish the thought. The NBA might have to board up itself if competitive balance were capsized to that extent. And as Draymond Green shrewdly noted on Thursday (Friday, PHL time), if James climbed aboard, it likely would require him and several other Golden State teammates to be dispatched to parts unknown. * If James prefers to stay East, where the winning comes easier, he could pick Philadelphia. The Sixers have two foundational young stars at positions that matter most, center Joel Embiid and point guard Ben Simmons. But Simmons is a non-shooter at the moment, the antithesis of what makes a great complementary LeBron teammate. As for Embiid, James never has had to play off of and service a top center. And Philly might feel like a basketball-only move, with the hungriest and most demanding of any new fan base he would embrace. * If it’s Miami – wait, could it be Miami? Could he go second-home again? The Heat always strive to be competitive and offer a talent base deep enough for the East and lots of familiarity. But they also have players such as Hassan Whiteside and Dion Waiters whose mental approaches don’t seem to fit the model James was cooing about in Golden State and with the Tim Duncan-era Spurs. * That brings us to Cleveland, where it’s possible James might choose to remain. Staying with the Cavaliers, after leading them to four Finals and that heady 2016 title, would be the easiest choice as far as pressure to win. He owes these fans nothing anymore – in fact, had the bargain been offered to them in 2010 (“LeBron will leave and win elsewhere for four years, but will come back and deliver a championship and four Finals trips”), most would have grabbed it. Here, James and the fans who have watched him even through the interruption develop from ridiculously touted high schooler to one of the world’s most famous athletes could grow older together. Then he could partner up and buy the team from owner Dan Gilbert for a long-term future. Certainly, staying has a certain place in his and the rest of the James clan’s hearts. “The one thing that I've always done is considered, obviously, my family,” he said at series end Friday (Saturday, PHL time). “Understanding especially where my boys are at this point in their age. They were a lot younger the last time I made a decision like this four years ago. I've got a teenage boy, a pre-teen and a little girl that wasn't around as well. So sitting down and considering everything, my family is a huge part of whatever I'll decide to do in my career, and it will continue to be that.” It’s worth noting that as James contemplates his options as a modern pursuer of championship excellence, the prospect of him moving again qualifies at some level as a failure. Not just by the support system in Cleveland, where he and Gilbert have their friction and James gets snidely mentioned as the team’s unofficial GM and head coach, but by him too. He’s the one who went off to seek his “college education” in south Florida in what it takes to win, whether on the court, in the front office or in and around the seams 365 days a year, straight out of the Pat Riley handbook. The teams about which James talks so glowingly in Oakland now and in San Antonio then have cultures he covets, stability up and down the flowchart he craves. In Cleveland, for a variety of reasons, his team has been incapable of establishing and maintaining that to a lasting degree. He is part of that missed opportunity and he has to own it, no matter if he goes or stays. James is inseparable from the dynamic of the Cavaliers’ ever-changing and often melodramatic roster maneuvers. Spending big, swapping out draft picks to import current stars and supporting players, and overvaluing secondary guys like Smith and Tristan Thompson are risks the Warriors and the Spurs largely avoided thanks to shrew drafting and laudable continuity. The Cavs’ scrap heap, by contrast, is high with traded picks, scuttled plans, panic deals, short-term patches and folks such as former coach David Blatt and former GM David Griffin. And maybe James could have nurtured a little better relationship with All-Star point guard and 2016 title sidekick Kyrie Irving, enough to have kept Irving from bailing on them all with his trade demand last summer. Now he’s on the verge of casting about again, prioritizing what matters most for however long he continues to play. James is more at peace with it than he was before, particularly in 2010, and surely can enjoy the leverage he wields and the riches it delivers. But there is a burden there as well, one that could be seen as completing a circle. So many of the NBA’s greatest stars have been stuck playing and living in the Age of LeBron, right? Their paths to the Finals blocked, on one whole side of the league, by him and his? Well, LeBron James is stuck now in the Era of the Warriors, freshly swept and anxious to close the gap. What goes around comes around, though the key more pressing of the big W’s now is, where? Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJun 11th, 2018

Miscues push Warriors to brink of elimination

By Shaun Powell, NBA.com HOUSTON — The hefty equipment bag sitting next to the visitor’s locker room entrance after Game 5 of the Western Conference finals never had a chance. Whack! went Draymond Green’s fist against it as he walked by. Well, at least the Warriors hit something as the night grew late. Once again, the defending champions, the team with four All-Stars, the franchise with a pair of former MVPs still in their prime and two of the most efficient machines of this generation went flatter than Texas when it counted. Missed shots, failed stops and poor decisions all piled on their heads. That fourth quarter was mostly a 12-minute mess. It doomed them at the finish, for the second straight game, and now has them on the brink — really! — in the conference finals. The Warriors awaken today with a pair of potential saving graces: Game 6 is in Oakland and Chris Paul is gimpy, and might be done for good. That could be enough to push this series to seven games. Yet nothing is for certain anymore in the Warriors’ world, if only because of the weird and uncharacteristic — for them — developments in the clutch. Simply put, their lack of composure and smarts is the reason they’re in a bind. Imagine: The Rockets don’t score 100 and James Harden missed all 11 of his three-pointers and the Warriors still lose. It was a strange, empty night for the Warriors where nothing made sense for them. Yes, Paul went nuts in the fourth quarter and Houston’s defensive rotations and traps are catching the Warriors — and especially Kevin Durant — by surprise, and yet the Warriors are also doing a good job of stabbing themselves. Thursday's (Friday, PHL time) 98-94 loss was another blown opportunity, another one that got away, and for the first time since The Finals two summers ago the Warriors are staring at elimination. The face of the Warriors in these back-to-back losses belongs to Durant, and it wears the look of a man confused and dumbfounded. He is 1-for-9 shooting over the last two fourth quarters, reduced to a supporting actor, a backup singer, instead of a beast. He’s not the total reason for this, but a strong symptom nonetheless. Could they fall short of The Finals, a place where they were all but destined to go? It’s a reality, obviously, and their margin for error is toothpick-like. But that’s not what coach Steve Kerr’s gut tells him. “I feel great about where we are right now,” he said. “That may sound crazy, but I feel it. I know exactly what I’m seeing out there … we got everything we needed. Just too many turnovers, too many reaches. If we settle down a little bit we’re going to be in really good shape.” Maybe some of Kerr’s mood has something to do with Paul grabbing a hamstring in the final moments, perhaps stripping the Rockets of their best player in this series. Maybe it’s just hard to fathom the Warriors losing four times in a best-of-seven. All that talent and past success can make a man stubborn, almost refusing to ponder the possibility of defeat. Fine, but Kerr and crew must find a way to clean up the bad choices they’ve made with the game on the line, before it becomes habit-forming. Eighteen turnovers isn’t a recipe for winning. “We can learn from it,” said Durant, “and we’ve got another opportunity at home. We’ll be ready to play.” Trailing by a point with 49 seconds left, here’s what the Warriors coughed up: * Quinn Cook missed a three-pointer. The big surprise is that the ball found Cook and he actually took a shot at that stage of the game. * Curry missed a driving layup, and rather than grab the rebound, Green slapped it out toward the perimeter, hoping a teammate would grab it. Trevor Ariza scooped the lose ball instead. * Then: Down three points and seconds left, the play was designed for Curry to spring loose for a three, but Green fumbled a pass that hit him in both hands. Game over. “We were supposed to score,” said Green. “I lost the ball. Nothing more, nothing less.” Before these self-inflicted misadventures, the Warriors were repeatedly punished by Paul, who recovered from an 0-for-7 first half with 18 points in the second half — complete with a payback shimmy aimed at Curry — before pulling up lame with 22 seconds left. Also, Eric Gordon dropped 24 points and went to the line 10 times, thanks to reach-in fouls by beaten Warriors defenders. “What we can’t live with is reaching and jumping on Eric Gordon’s pump fakes,” said Kerr. “We reached on James and he shot nine free throws. We’ve got to be a little more disciplined.” Overall, the Warriors withstood a manic Toyota Center and were locked in a tight finish against a 65-win team, but never led after the eight-minute mark and weren't nearly sharp enough to capture the lead. They were without Andre Iguodala again, but he’s a defensive specialist and for much of the night defense wasn’t a big issue for the Warriors; the Rockets shot 37 percent and Harden didn’t hurt them. Their problems were mistakes and missed shots. Anyway, Golden State has four All-Stars to Houston’s two, and now with Paul’s status questionable, maybe just one. That means, although the Warriors trail 3-2, they’re in a reasonably good position to keep the series alive. They’re not worried. There’s another emotion running through their bodies. “I think they’re angry,” said Kerr. “As they should be. They’re competitors.” This is new territory in the Durant Era. Remember, the Warriors lost only once last season and until the West Finals didn’t perspire much. As expected, the Rockets are indeed the biggest threat they’ve faced. It’s the series that’s meeting the high expectations for drama and suspense and a chance to see the mighty Warriors ousted. Does Paul’s injury linger and ultimately bail out the Warriors? Can Durant rediscover his touch in the clutch? Will the Warriors wise up or once again wig out? There’s nothing at stake, really, except a dynasty that a loaded team was created to become. Curry plans to remain cool and confident, and the Warriors really don’t have any other choice but to adopt that mentality. “We’ve played the last two games good enough to win but just haven’t gotten the job done," he said. "The way we played tonight, if we can repeat that, take care of turnovers, just stay mentally locked on the details for 48 minutes, we know we can get a win. “Just the talent we have on this team and the resiliency, you know we can get the job done. We know we haven’t been in this position before, so it’s a chapter we need to figure out and finish the story.” Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting. .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 25th, 2018

Warriors need just one game to establish superiority

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com HOUSTON — Months of building up the hard shell required to wade this deep into the NBA’s merciless playoff waters can evaporate in a snap. One bad rotation, followed by a missed layup on the back of yet another dagger from the other team and even a mighty, 65-win juggernaut can see it all unravel. The Houston Rockets know the feeling now, after living through it on what could turn out to be the biggest night of the best [regular] season in the history of the franchise. They invited the Golden State Warriors in, dared to beat the reigning NBA champions at their own game in these Western Conference finals with an emphatic win and came up woefully short of that goal in the opener. The home court advantage they worked for all throughout a brilliant season is gone. The comfort provided by a 2-1 record against the Warriors during the regular season series the Rockets held tight since January was blown away after just four quarters. Whatever aura they thought they owned heading into the Toyota Center Monday night (Tuesday, PHL time) for Game 1, they shed long before the final seconds of their decisive 119-106 loss to the Warriors. It looked good early, when James Harden had the Rockets rolling to a nine-point lead in the frenzied opening minutes. But Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Stephen Curry and the rest of a Warriors team making its fourth straight appearance in the conference finals, they don’t fold at the first sign of danger. “You’re not going to just come in and knock them out,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “I mean, there’s just too many times we had mental lapses. We either didn’t switch properly or we didn’t switch hard enough. We turned the ball over  little too much. Every time we missed a layup, which we missed a lot of layups, they ran out. “They’re really devastating. We’ve got to make layups, don’t turn it over and do a little bit better job of mentally just staying up on people.” The fact that they were starting this series away from the friendly confines of Oracle Arena for the first time during their recent run did nothing to shake their belief in themselves. And if there is anything that is clear after just four wild quarters of this most anticipated series, it’s that the Warriors’ collective confidence is far superior to the artificial skin the Rockets wrapped themselves in leading up to the opening round of this heavyweight fight. Harden played inspired, for most of his 35 minutes, finishing with a game-high 41 points and seven assists. Chris Paul’s 23 points, 11 rebounds and three assists look good on paper. But it wasn’t enough. It was nowhere near enough to offset the Rockets’ self-inflicted mistakes or the fury the Warriors can rain down on their opponents this time of year. “They’re obviously champions for a reason,” D’Antoni said. “If we want to beat them, we have to be mentally sharper. KD, he’s tough. Obviously, he was on tonight. Hey, you can live with that. But you can’t live with that and then make mental mistakes, and that's what we do. The combination of the two was devastating.” Durant was hell bent on devastation, torching an assortment of Rockets defenders for his 37 points. Thompson drilled the Rockets for 28 points of his own, his 15 attempts from beyond the three-point line serving as a more demoralizing dagger for a Rockets defense designed to limit those attempts. With so much attention on them, the Rockets seemed to lose their defensive focus on basically everyone else. “Defensively, we’ve got to be better,” Paul said. “You know it’s funny, I got caught helping a couple times in the first half and I think Nick Young hit three [three-pointers] off those plays. Some games, some series, you may make those mistakes and guys don’t make the shots. But tonight, every time we did it, they made the shot. They make you pay when you make mistakes.” Just to be clear about what kind of armor the Warriors travel with these days, they’ve won a game on the road in 18 consecutive playoff series, well before the Durant era. So as much as this is about the back and forth between Durant and Harden, the former Oklahoma City Thunder teammates who once got this point in a season together and elbowed their way into The Finals in 2012, it’s about Curry, Thompson, Green and Andre Iguodala, the 2015 Finals MVP. Those are the other four members of the Warriors’ “Hamptons Five” lineup that started the game, the group that withstood everything the Rockets threw at them Monday (Tuesday, PHL time) and then beat them up over the final 15 minutes of a must-have game on their home floor. “They’re a good team,” Eric Gordon said, stating the obvious. "They’ve been playing together, they know who they are. They’ve been to four straight Western Conference finals. We just got to be a little better.” The Rockets’ must-win game is now Wednesday (Thursday, PHL time). The pressure shifts to a Game 2 effort that has to be much better offensively if they want to keep pace with the Warriors. They’ll also need a much cleaner effort that doesn’t include sloppiness (the Warriors converted 16 turnovers into 17 points) and deficient defense (the Warriors shot .525 from the floor and .394 from the three-point line) that was on display in Game 1. These are all things D’Antoni believes to be correctable. And they could be. Indeed, they better be if the Rockets plan on stretching this series to the limit. Because there is still no way to account for the experience factor, the muscle memory edge the Warriors have when it comes to recognizing the time and place to apply the ultimate pressure on an opponent that’s ready to break. They sniffed it late in the third quarter, when the Rockets were reeling under a relentless barrage of Durant buckets. The only thing that saved them then were crucial baskets of their own from Eric Gordon and Gerald Green, and Warriors coach Steve Kerr subbing Durant out for a breather the Warriors closer did not want. “Yeah, he wasn’t really thrilled and I probably should have left him in,” Kerr said. “Late third he was going pretty well. I knew I had to get him some rest at some point. As soon as I took him out, they went on a quick run, so he was not thrilled. But he came back in and got us back on track.” You can toy with a team like the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round, dropping Game 3 on the road only to come back and close out the series with back-to-back wins, especially when you are clearly the superior team and own that coveted home-court advantage. You might be able to get away with it in next round against a team like the Utah Jazz, when you lose home-court advantage in Game 2, but are are once again clearly the superior team and win three straight games to squash that challenge. Slip up a third time, as the Rockets did Monday night (Tuesday, PHL time), against a team that has won two of the last three Larry O’Brien trophies, a team with their sights set on a third, and … and there might not be another chance. Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 15th, 2018

LeBron shines in debut, but Lakers still have lots to do

By Shaun Powell, NBA.com PORTLAND, Ore. -- His first basket of this new era was much like many others, in terms of impact and its ferocity and jaw-dropping nature. LeBron James stole the Trail Blazers’ cross-court pass and before him was the open court … and thousands of open mouths, all bracing in anticipation of a moment. His fast-break dunk was just as you expected it would be, jammed through the basket with a cocked arm and followed by a brief pose at landing, for emphasis and style. The greatest player in the game was back in full soar Thursday but, as it were, his new team remained stuck to the floor. Overall, this process is gonna take some time, you think? Before the Los Angeles Lakers whip the basketball world into a frenzy, they must whip Portland. And also the Houston Rockets, who visit Staples Center on Saturday (Sunday, PHL time) for the Lakers’ home opener. And the Golden State Warriors. And Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans. And any team in the Western Conference that considers itself a contender. But you knew this, right? “We’ll have to go through some moments,” LeBron said after the Lakers lost at Moda Center, 128-119. “We’ll have some adversity.” True, this isn’t an overnight sensation in the making. “Not as fast as you (media) guys think it’s going to happen,” LeBron said. The Lakers will get more chances to make a first impression, and that’s a good thing for them as they navigate through a potentially tricky transition period with their shiny new showpiece. There is only one thing that’s a lock through this bumpy path: LeBron is still the force he was in Cleveland and Miami, his only other NBA stops. Months before turning 34, his flow and his basketball instincts remain steak-knife sharp and his pride is intact. He tipped off his season by playing 37 minutes -- so much for reduced minutes here after 15 years of deep tread wear on his wheels -- and delivered 26 points, 12 rebounds and six assists. “I mean, that’s crazy, a guy to be in his 16th year playing at that pace and above the rim the way he was,” said Blazers guard Damian Lillard. “He looked like himself.” That said, he and his teammates are still working on their wavelength. This was evident for much of the night, when connections were missed and confusion reigned at times. On Thursday (Friday, PHL time), LeBron threw a behind-the-back pass that in Cleveland or Miami would usually hits is mark to teammates aware of his tendencies and timing. Last night, LeBron tried it and the ball dribbled out of bounds, all of which flummoxed LeBron and Kyle Kuzma (the nearest Laker). After the whistle blew and possession went to Portland, LeBron and Kuzma had a brief chat. “I expected Kuz to pop,” explained LeBron, “and he rolled. Then another time (Rajon) Rondo went to the hole, JaVale (McGee) thought it was going to him and it was meant for me. We’ll get better at that.” These first few weeks, if the Lakers are fortunate, will be conducted in a vacuum and a laboratory. Transitions are usually like that. LeBron had a similar one in Miami eight years ago, when a 9-8 start playing alongside Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh had folks thinking the sky was falling. With these Lakers, the reaction will -- or should, anyway -- be more muted if only because the expectations aren’t through the ceiling this season. The Lakers are trying to nourish the limited basketball experience of Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and Brandon Ingram with LeBron (and Rajon Rondo) taking on more of a mentor role. That means class will be in session most, if not all, season. LeBron is preaching patience not only for those in and outside of the organization, but for himself as well. Sometimes, it’s easier said than done. LeBron realizes that he’s on the clock personally, even though his stamina and level of play remain high. “A lot of these guys don’t have as much experience, so I have to understand that,” James said. “And I do.” LeBron seems cursed by celebrated season openers, falling to 0-4 all-time in his debut games. He scored 25 points in his rookie opener, but Cleveland lost to the Sacramento Kings. He had 31 in his Miami opener in a loss to the Boston Celtics. And he had 17 points in his Cleveland return in 2014, a home loss to the New York Knicks. The Lakers’ crime Thursday (Friday, PHL time) was a failure to tighten up defensively and of course the mistakes that could be blamed on a getting-to-know-you game. And then there’s another issue that LeBron will soon discover, if he hasn’t already: He’s not in the easy East anymore. “There’s a tough game every night,” Lillard said. The West had 10 teams with winning records last season fighting for eight playoff spots. Coaches and players in the West were fond of tweaking their neighbors across the Mississippi in 2017-18, saying the non-playoff teams in the West should take some East spots. Of last season’s playoff teams, none return seriously weaker -- unless you’re ready to bury the San Antonio Spurs (who have a 21-year playoff streak going) or Minnesota Timberwolves (who are coping with the Jimmy Butler crisis). The Blazers were the No. 3 seed and were swept in the first round by the Pelicans, which puts the depth and overall strength of the West in perspective. Only three games separated the Blazers and the ninth-seeded Nuggets during the regular season. Meanwhile, the Rockets and Warriors were beyond the reach of mortals. LeBron chumped the East eight straight times to reach the NBA Finals. Yet by most indications, he’s an A-list teammate away from spooking the Warriors -- and that teammate isn’t in a Lakers uniform this season. This journey through the West could either humble LeBron or, at the least, make him realize the work needed for the Lakers to regain contender status. Heck, the Lakers couldn’t even prevent Nik Stauskas from having the biggest night of his NBA life. He scored 24 points and made more three-pointers (five) than the Lakers’ starting lineup (two). It was telling that Lakers coach Luke Walton started Rondo over Ball at point guard -- an understandable move after Ball missed several months recovering from knee issues. Rondo was mainly stellar (11 assists, three steals) while the Lakers’ fourth-quarter lineups excluded Ball. Meanwhile, Hart (20 points off the bench) earned crunch time minutes. “Everyone had different roles last year,” Walton said, “and some of those roles could change.” Well, someone’s role will remain the same. Regarding that guy, Walton said: “Glad he’s on our team. He’s pretty good at the game of basketball.” 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 NewsOct 19th, 2018

LOOK: Who should rep NBA teams in 3X competition?

With the NBA 3X Philippines Playoffs kicking off this weekend at the SM Mall of Asia Music Hall, the mind inevitably drifts off to imagining how actual NBA players would do in a three-on-three competition. To aid that musing, here are our picks to represent the 30 NBA franchises, should the league decide to have such a tournament. Of course, this was easier for some teams, compared to others, and perhaps that challenge is what makes the mental exercise so intriguing. Disagree with our four-man selections? Let us know in the comments! Atlanta Hawks - John Collins, Taurean Prince, Trae Young, Vince Carter The Hawks go young with their squad, and could have even gone younger, plugging in rookies Kevin Huerter or Omari Spellman into their fourth spot. However, the very chance of 41-year-old Vince Carter dunking on people in a 3X game is too tantalizing to pass up. Boston Celtics - Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Al Horford, Jaylen Brown The deep, deep Celtics have plenty of ways to go. You could field a defense-oriented squad with Marcus Smart and Aron Baynes leading the way, or go guns-blazing with Jayson Tatum. However, we're opting for a middle-of-the-road approach here, with the established superstars leading the way, plus the ultra-versatile Jaylen Brown filling the fourth seat. Brooklyn Nets - Spencer Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Joe Harris The Nets have acquired plenty of veterans in exchange for draft picks over their rebuilding process, and a Jared Dudley-Kenneth Faried-Allen Crabbe-Ed Davis quartet has some appeal. We're opting for some of their younger stars though, and you could definitely make the argument that D'Angelo Russell should be somewhere in the mix too. Charlotte Hornets - Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller, Nic Batum A pretty obvious selection for Buzz City here. We will possibly revise this if Malik Monk makes a second-year leap. Chicago Bulls - Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, Wendell Carter Jr., Lauri Markkanen Sure Denzel Valentine and Jabari Parker have claims to a spot, but the above four are definitely the pieces Chicago seems to be building around long-term. Cleveland Cavaliers - Kevin Love, Larry Nance Jr., Cedi Osman, Collin Sexton We'll pretend that Jordan Clarkson is off at Gilas practice and unavailable. Also, JR Smith not knowing the score might be more problematic in a 3-on-3 game, so he'll sit this one out. Dallas Mavericks - Dirk Nowitzki, Luka Doncic, Dennis Smith Jr., DeAndre Jordan The Mavericks' two super-kids in Doncic and DSJ are obvious shoo-ins, as is the venerable Dirk. The fourth spot is a bit up for grabs, but I'm opting here for their offseason acquisition Jordan. Harrison Barnes though would be deserving of the spot too. Denver Nuggets - Paul Millsap, Gary Harris, Jamal Murray, Nikola Jokic This is Denver's core and boy is it a powerful one, though Millsap will probably have to take on the bulk of the defensive chores. It's also tempting to figure out a way to add Isaiah Thomas, who has the potential to go off in such a tournament. Detroit Pistons - Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin, Reggie Jackson, Stanley Johnson Detroit's 'Big Three' of Drummond, Griffin, and Jackson are obvious shoo-ins. The question mark is the fourth guy. Henry Ellenson for a little jack-of-all-trades? Luke Kennard for shooting? In the end, I'm going with Stanley Johnson, crossing fingers that under new coach Dwane Casey, his stats will take a leap forward. Golden State Warriors - Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Kevin Durant With DeMarcus Cousins still iffy with his achilles tear, we'll have to "settle" for GSW's All-Star quartet. Also, we may have found the thing to start a little in-fighting among the Dubs - figuring out who of the four starts on the bench. Houston Rockets - Chris Paul, James Harden, Clint Capela, Carmelo Anthony Maybe there's a possibility that PJ Tucker would be a better fit than Melo, but Chris Paul says Anthony's in, and who am I to argue? Indiana Pacers - Victor Oladipo, Myles Turner, Domantas Sabonis, Bojan Bogdanovic The Pacers surprised many last season, and this quartet was at the center of their uprising. One extremely hard cut? New signing Tyreke Evans, though he would duplicate a lot of what Oladipo brings to the table. Los Angeles Clippers - Avery Bradley, Danilo Gallinari, Tobias Harris, Patrick Beverley, Injuries aside, this is a very potent four-some from the Clips. The Bradley + Beverley combo should put the clamps on anyone, while freeing up Gallo or Harris from downtown. Los Angeles Lakers - LeBron James, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma I was tempted to go with a Meme Team lineup of Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson and JaVale McGee, along with LBJ (and apologies to Michael Beasley), but let's go with the Lakers kids instead. The mix of youth and James' experience ought to be a potent combo.   Memphis Grizzlies - Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, Chandler Parsons, Jaren Jackson Jr. Once upon a time, a Grit 'N Grind four of Conley, Gasol, Tony Allen, and Zach Randolph probably could have run away with this. Instead, we're hoping Parsons is healthy enough to spread the floor, and that Jackson Jr. is as impressive as he was in Summer League. Miami Heat - Bam Adebayo, Goran Dragic, James Johnson, Josh Richardson There are plenty of ways to go with the Heat. Kelly Olynyk was a great addition last offseason. Hassan Whiteside, despite his clashes with the coaching staff, could still submit a dominant performance. A healthy Dion Waiters is a very 3x3-esque player. Oh, and if the Heat bring back Dwyane Wade, he's got to be a shoo-in. All of that said, I like this mix of players, but you can certainly change my mind. Milwaukee Bucks - Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, Thon Maker The Greek Freak is the centerpiece of any squad you form out of the Bucks. With the way the court is shrunk, you can be sure Antetokounmpo will be everywhere, on both offense and defense. The challenge is finding guys to complement him. Middleton is the obvious pick, while Bledsoe versus Malcolm Brogdon is a bit of a toss-up. To round out the team, I can't help but give the nod to Maker, you know, just in case we need someone to unleash a Mortal Kombat-esque flying kick. Minnesota Timberwolves - Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Jeff Teague Coach Thibodeau wouldn't reallllly consider a Butler-Taj Gibson-Derrick Rose trio right? *pause* Let's move on. New Orleans Pelicans - Jrue Holiday, Anthony Davis, Nikola Mirotic, Julius Randle This is as jumbo a line-up as you can get here, with Holiday being the only real guard, and that's what makes this Pelicans team so intriguing. New York Knicks - Kristaps Porzingis, Frank Ntilikina, Kevin Knox, Tim Hardaway Jr. The Knicks go young with Zinger, Frank and the rookie Knox. The only real question is the fourth player. You could make the case for Enes Kanter, or even the resurgent Trey Burke, but my pick here is for THJ for more perimeter scoring. Oklahoma City Thunder - Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Steven Adams, Andre Roberson When this four-some were on the court last season, the Thunder slapped opposing teams into straitjackets and tossed them away into some dark cell. If Roberson's healthy again, this group will probably do the same in 3X. Orlando Magic - Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier, Jonathan Isaac, Mohamed Bamba It's all about the wingspan for the Magic. Philadelphia 76ers - Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Robert Covington, Dario Saric We're going to trust the process here, and roll out the 76ers' core group. Sure you might want JJ Redick to address the lack of a true knockdown shooter, or roll the dice on the possibility of Markelle Fultz looking like a number one overall pick, but it's hard to argue with the skillset of this four. Phoenix Suns - DeAndre Ayton, Devin Booker, Josh Jackson, Trevor Ariza The first three in the desert are all young and unpolished to varying degrees. That's why we're rounding out Phoenix's squad with veteran Trevor Ariza, in order to show this group how to notch W's. Portland Trail Blazers - Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins Obviously you go with the Dame-CJ one-two punch. Nurkic, after signing his extension, is a lock too. The question comes with the fourth chair. Evan Turner? Seth Curry? Mo Harkless? Ultimately, my pick is second-year player Zach Collins, as the team could use his hustle, and a guy who doesn't really need a whole lot of touches. Sacramento Kings - De'Aaron Fox, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Buddy Hield, Marvin Bagley III We're going young again here, and it's hard to argue with this Kings quartet. However, don't sleep on Harry Giles, who red-shirted what would have been his rookie season last year. He is primed to break out, based on his Summer League performance. San Antonio Spurs - LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Dejounte Murray The Spurs throw out a veteran squad, with the exception of the long-armed, defensively-stout Murray. Patty Mills might be a better option if you're worried about the team's lack of shooting, and you could certainly debate slotting in Pau Gasol for Rudy Gay as well. Toronto Raptors - Kyle Lowry, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby In the regular season, the Raptors thrived thanks to a deep bench, but that's not an option in 3X. Instead, we'll make defense their calling card, as highlighted by new get Kawhi Leonard. Pairing "The Klaw" with Siakam and Anunoby turns any game into a defensive slugfest, and of course, Lowry is there to run the show. Utah Jazz - Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, Joe Ingles, Ricky Rubio You could very well make the argument that this is the second-best squad in this field. Washington Wizards - John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Dwight Howard Guys, when even John Oliver is making fun of Dwight Howard, you know we've all gone too far. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or ABS-CBN Sports......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsAug 24th, 2018

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

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

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsAug 11th, 2018

Towns, Wiggins step up for Timberwolves in win vs Warriors

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com MINNEAPOLIS – Certain games count more than others over the course of an NBA team’s 82-game schedule, and the one the Timberwolves played – and won 109-103 – against the Golden State Warriors Sunday afternoon (early Monday, PHL time) at Target Center was one of those. Did it count double what some ordinary contest might have? Triple? Keep going. More like exponential. It’s too early to claim that Minnesota’s resiliency in the comeback from 12 points down, against the defending champ, saved their season. But the dueling scenarios, win vs. lose, were rather stark for a team facing a rigorous and largely uncharted final month. Fail Sunday (Monday, PHL time), and the Wolves would be lugging a four-game skid on the road to face Washington Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time) and San Antonio Saturday (Sunday, PHL time). By the time they got home to face Houston Sunday night (next Monday, PHL time), the losing streak could be six, going on seven. The Timberwolves at the All-Star break was a surprising third seed in the West. However, since Jimmy Butler’s absence from the lineup after a right meniscus tear on Feb. 23 (Feb. 24, PHL time), the Wolves have gone 2-4. Now the Wolves, whether they admit it publicly or not, are driven simply to qualify. Period. Ending up seventh or eighth is no prize, given a likely first-round ordeal against either the Rockets or the Warriors. But for a franchise that hasn’t reached the postseason since 2004, either would be far better than landing ninth. By beating the Warriors, though, the Wolves bought themselves time and opened a smidgen of breathing room over the next few days. More than that, they responded to a serious challenge the way a playoff wannabe is supposed to. They didn’t unravel, they stuck to what was working and they had players slide into Butler’s roles as primary defender, go-to scorer and late-game closer. That is essential until the All-Star wing and obvious team leader returns, ideally, for playoffs that his teammates can deliver. Center Karl-Anthony Towns scored 14 of his team-high 31 points in the fourth quarter. Wing Andrew Wiggins scored 22 of his 23 in the first three quarters to help Minnesota claw back to an 84-84 tie. Those two stepping into the void of Butler’s injury suggested the sort of growth that, frankly, coach Tom Thibodeau and the team’s followers might look back on after this season (and postseason?) as a turning point. “This is a great opportunity for everybody, and certainly those two, in that whenever you have someone like Jimmy go out, it’s an opportunity to grow and get experience in different situations,” Thibodeau said. “We’ve talked about it a lot. We have good veterans on the team. But this is an opportunity for them to step up and lead.” Sure, Golden State was playing without team MVP Steph Curry (ankle) and ace reserve Andre Iguodala (wrist). But the visitors still had three All-Stars and the motivation of Friday’s (Saturday, PHL time) loss in Portland to propel them through the matinee. So, the Wolves did well to start with what Towns admitted was both “urgency” and “desperation.” They did even better to close with aplomb. Towns and Wiggins, both still 22-years-old, stayed cool in reacting and thwarting Golden State double-teams. Wiggins, who still needs to attack and earn his way to the foul line more often, wound up with a team-high plus-21. Towns shot 6-of-10 in the final quarter, while Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson were combining to go 3-for-13 and 11 points. Butler’s presence this season often has taken the ball out of the two younger stars’ hands late in games. But Towns is so skilled, inside and out, he should get more opportunities when games are on the line – and will in Butler’s absence. He came in averaging just 3.2 field-goal attempts in the fourth quarter this season, with 1.8 buckets and 5.1 points. Compare that to his 5.7 makes, 10.6 shots and 15.4 scoring averages through the first three quarters of games so far this season. His usage rate drops from 22.4 to 20.9 when it ought to go up. You’d believe that too if you saw his work in the final three minutes, from bulling through Draymond Green for a layup that made it 101-96 to stepping in for a left baseline jumper two possessions later. At 104-103, Towns posted up Green near the end line again, banged a bit, then spun for a fadeaway jumper. Next time down, he followed up a shot against Durant to all but clinch it. The play of Towns, Wiggins and the other three Minnesota starters took any onus off Derrick Rose. Newly signed by his old Chicago coach, Rose had a rusty, regrettable debut with the Wolves, missing five of his six shots with two turnovers and a minus-17 in just 6:36. But his presence, if nothing else, ought to remind Towns and Wiggins that 22 is plenty old enough to grab a pack of Wolves by the scruff of their necks and take responsibility. Rose was 22 when he became the youngest MVP in NBA history, leading the Bulls all the way to the Eastern Conference finals that season. Minnesota basically is in the playoffs now – every outcome matters, bolstering or damaging its run to the postseason. There’s no running away now, no hiding either. “I think we’re more prepared because we’ve had most of the season to go through experiences,” Towns said. “Now that we’re at this point, we have the chance to do something great. It’s for us as a group to take all the experiences we’ve had – of losing close games, winning big, winning games offensively, winning games defensively – and putting them to [use].” It is vital that the Wolves’ young stars stay focused on the opportunities before them, rather than succumbing to the pressure. Said Towns: “The thing is, you don’t ever want to have pressure turn to stress. We have to make sure we keep our composure. Obviously, the situation we’re in, it’s a lot of pressure on us. But we can’t turn that into stress, because that’s when we start becoming undisciplined and start making errors that are more mental.” The proof now is in the playing, said Thibodeau. “The best leadership you can have is your actions,” the coach said. “What are you doing? It’s not what you say. Oftentimes people say things and never do what they say. It’s what you do.” 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 NewsMar 12th, 2018

New era, new challenges emerge for Warriors

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

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMar 6th, 2018

24 NBA questions before 17-18 tips off

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

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsOct 17th, 2017

MVP Ladder: Giannis bolsters case with key win in Houston

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com Giannis Antetokounmpo doesn’t think he’s quite “there yet” when it comes to the Kia MVP chase. With all due respect, Mr. “Greek Freak,” the basketball world begs to differ. You are definitely there, sir, based on your performance through the midpoint of this NBA season. In fact, if there were hardware to hand out from Kia Race to the MVP Ladder HQ at this point, Antetokounmpo would be the recipient (edging out a crowded field that includes the reigning MVP, James Harden). By the grace of the scheduling gods, the two leading candidates just happened to hook up on Wednesday night (Thursday, PHL time), the official halfway point of 2018-19. And they put on a show worthy of MVP mention, with Antetokounmpo’s Milwaukee Bucks knocking off Harden’s Houson Rockets at Toyota Center. Harden continued his torrid scoring streak, collecting his league-leading 14th 40-point game of the season. In doing so, he tied Tracy McGrady for the second-longest 30-point streak since the ABA/NBA merger at 14. (Kobe Bryant has the record at 16 straight.) But Harden didn’t have his most efficient outing (shooting 13-for-30 overall with nine turnovers) as the Bucks took control late. All Antentokounmpo did was shred the Rockets for 27 points on 8-for-16 shooting to go along with a career-high 21 rebounds, five assists and yet another showcase performance for his MVP resume. (The Bucks pounded the Rockets to the tune of a 70-24 advantage in points in the paint and outscored them 19-2 in fast break points.) The Bucks have won seven of their past eight games heading into today’s game against the Washington Wizards at Capital One Arena. They’ve stormed the top of the Eastern Conference standings and own a 10-5 record over Western Conference opponents with Antetokounmpo as their undisputed leader and, yes, MVP. Not there yet, huh? Yeah, right. * * * The top five this week in the 2018-19 Kia Race to the MVP Ladder: * * * 1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks Last week: No. 2 Season stats: 26.6 points, 12.8 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.5 blocks, 1.3 steals Antetokounmpo seems to be the only person on the planet who isn’t moved by his consistent brilliance this season. If he doesn’t think he’s "there yet," then the rest of the league should brace themselves for whatever comes next. He’s been an unstoppable force on both ends of the floor, but particularly as an offensive catalyst on one of the most improved teams in the league. Doing it without the aid of a reliable long-distance shot is what has made watching Antetokounmpo crush the competition so intriguing. If there was any skepticism about the Bucks being both a legitimate threat in the East and a title contender, that should be vanishing as the second half of the season begins. As long as Antetokounmpo stays focused and healthy (he’s probable Saturday, PHL time, with right quadriceps soreness and a left hip bruise), the possibilities are endless. 2. James Harden, Houston Rockets Last week: No. 1 Season stats: 33.9 points, 8.6 assists, 6.0 rebounds, 2.0 steals Harden has moved into hallowed ground with his current scoring barrage, as his 14 straight games of 30-plus points ties Hall of Famer (and fellow Rockets legend) Tracy McGrady for the second-longest streak since the ABA/NBA merger. Those debates about whether or not Harden is the best offensive player ever aren’t out of line, not when you consider the way he generates offense for himself and his teammates. Harden has a chance to obliterate the record with the Rockets’ friendly upcoming schedule (they play seven of their next 10 games at Toyota Center). The only glitch for Harden as he's hit this nuclear level is the one key flaw in his game is rising, too. He’s averaging 5.7 turnovers this season, which ties his career-high from 2016-17. He's up to 7.3 tpg in his last five games, which he, of course, would point out is world-class nit-picking of a guy playing as well as he is. 3. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors Last week: No. 3 Season stats: 28.9 points, 5.5 assists, 5.2 rebounds, 1.3 steals Curry shot a rather un-Splash Brother-ish 5-for-19 in Tuesday’s (Wednesday, PHL time) home win against the New York Knicks, which includes an ugly 3-for-12 showing from three-point range. That was a huge come down from his 42-point outburst (including 10 made three-pointers) Saturday (Sunday, PHL time) in a road win against the Sacramento Kings. But as often happens with a rare rough shooting night for the two-time former MVP, Curry displayed a brilliant floor game against the Knicks. He finished with 14 assists (and just one turnover) while grabbing seven rebounds as Klay Thompson went off for 43 points and Kevin Durant dropped 24. Curry’s had just three hiccups since returning from his 11-game, groin-injury induced absence on Dec. 1 (Dec. 2, PHL time). Over his last 18 games, Curry has failed to score at least 20 points only once. What should worry the Chicago Bulls, who visit Oracle today, is what Curry has done in those other two games after he struggled (averaged 32.0 points). 4. Kawhi Leonard, Toronto Raptors Last week: No. 4 Season stats: 27.3 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.9 steals MVP voters must decide if the work Leonard did while he was playing outweighs how good the Raptors were all season whether he was in or out of the lineup. As convenient as it might be to try to diminish what Leonard has done by knocking him for the games he missed, you’d be wise to pay attention to just how good he's been when he plays. The Milwaukee Bucks can certainly attest to his impact after what Leonard did to them Saturday (Sunday, PHL time). He logged 30 points and a season-high five steals, playing his trademark lockdown defense, as the Raptors won the battle between the NBA’s top two teams (in the standings). Leonard has such tight control over his own game that he continues to play as efficiently as anyone on this list. He has notched eight games this season where he’s scored 30 or more points while shooting better than 50 percent, including his last two games (30 on 50 percent shooting in the win against the Bucks and 31 points on 61.1 percent shooting in their recent win against the Hawks). 5. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets Last week: No. 7 Season stats: 19.2 points, 10.2 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 1.5 steals Jokic continues to deliver for the Nuggets in every category, doing his crafty best to help keep coach Michael Malone’s team at the top of the Western Conference. He notched his 21st career triple-double (18 points, 14 rebounds, 10 assists and two blocks) in Thursday’s (Friday, PHL time) win over the LA Clippers. It was his second straight triple-double, coming two days after lighting up the Heat in Miami for 29 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. In doing so, he tied Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the second-most career triple-doubles by a center and can now chase Wilt Chamberlain’s big man record of 78. Jokic will probably dig into that deficit considerably the season if he keeps playing the way he has to kick off 2019 (27.2 points on .523 shooting, 12.6 rebounds, 7.2 assists and 1.4 steals in his last five games). Jokic and the rest of the Nuggets are focused on team goals first, of course. After missing out on the playoffs on the season's final night in 2017-18, they’re making sure to avoid any such drama this time. * * * The next five 6. Paul George, Oklahoma City Thunder 7. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers 8. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers 9. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors 10. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans And five more: DeMar DeRozan, San Antonio Spurs; Kyrie Irving, Boston Celtics; Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers;Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers; Lou Williams, Los Angeles Clippers 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 NewsJan 12th, 2019

Patrick Beverley s trademark defense getting new test

By Shaun Powell, NBA.com There was a foul, followed by a stoppage in play, a scene replayed dozens of times in NBA arenas. Except in this case, the victim was former two-time Kia MVP Stephen Curry and the punisher was the notorious Patrick Beverley. And so the situation (of course) turned snippy. Beverley has fought against better players his entire basketball life and carries an underdog gene that tends to flare in these situations. That explains why he tried to slap the ball from the Warriors guard after the whistle. Curry wasn’t having it, and so there was a gentle shove. And then a shove was returned. Then a staredown with noses just inches from each other. Then a separation of bodies. This was Beverley doing what he does by reputation: namely, irritate and push his defensive aggression and agenda to the very limit … and then some. His “crime” was restricting Curry’s movement with a forearm. Sometimes Beverley gets away with it, but in today’s NBA, no longer with any regularity. Such is the new normal. He’s a defensive-minded player with the LA Clippers and works in a league that suddenly favors scoring and shooters. He’s quite possibly, in his estimation and that of others, someone who’s forced to evolve or perish. For him, there’s no other option. “It would be very hard,” Beverley said, “to come into the league today and try to play defense like we did years ago.” Before this season, the NBA's Points of Emphasis centered in part on freedom of movement. The goal is to help players move without barriers, which creates high-scoring games, which makes games more entertaining for fans. Halfway through the season, the evidence is convincing: Scores are up, stops are down. To date, 11 teams have an offensive rating greater than 110 and 18 teams are scoring more than 110 points per game. Last season, those numbers were six and six, respectively. For players born with height, wingspan and leaping ability, these defensive rules don’t handcuff them much. But Beverley buys his clothes off the rack, so to speak. He’s a shade over six feet and is therefore a normal man trying to make a living in a big man’s world. At 30, Beverley deals with players who are often taller and even quicker. It’s his job to make their life tougher -- but here in the new age of barely-contested shots and 120-point games, the opposite is ringing true. He’s averaging a career-high 3.6 fouls per game and can’t get away with much. As Draymond Green, a defensive demon himself and teammate of Curry’s said recently: “Defense is not allowed. You can’t really play defense in this league. I guess that’s not what they want.” ‘We’re forced to adjust’ Green's words are perhaps an extreme assessment and a touch of exaggeration. Fifteen teams averaged at least 106 ppg last season; now it’s 26. Calls are less forgiving, as only 13 teams are averaging 24 free throw attempts per game (it was five last season). The ball moves and there’s less restriction, which was the intention. And there appears to be little blowback in the basketball universe from those who observe and play. It’s just … accepted. For the most part. Even Beverley offers a shoulder shrug. “Guys who make a living off defense, we’re forced to adjust,” he said. This evolution of shifting away from certain defensive tactics is decades in the making. The NBA once allowed defenders to shove a forearm into the back of a post-up player, and subtle jersey grabs were often excused. And there was the hand-check, too. All have been outlawed. The game is far less physical, which means the “Bad Boys”-era Detroit Pistons would have little chance of winning one championship today (let alone two). The NBA has sought to distance itself from that brand of ball, from Pat Riley’s New York Knicks (and their “no free layups” mentality) and from the 85-80 scores that often stifled the creativity of the game. The result is a game that sees open lanes and quicker whistles, and less of what helped players like Beverley overcome tremendous odds to reach the NBA. “There is where we’re at,” he said. “They want to see more scoring, more up-and-down, more points and all that, which is understandable. Of course, it makes it hard for me.” Relishing his ‘instigator’ role This is Beverley’s sixth year in the NBA, but his 10th in professional basketball. His journey curved through various stops overseas before he became rooted with the Houston Rockets, his first true NBA home. It speaks to Beverley’s doggedness and his value, at least initially, as a defensive specialist assigned to the grunt work. With the rise in scoring point guards across the NBA landscape, Beverley’s role became more important, and difficult as well. In a typical week, Beverley could guard Curry, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard and opposing shooting guards, too. He brings an edge to the job that he learned from growing up on the West Side of Chicago to a single mother as well as a grandmother who adopted a dozen kids. Daily life was a chore. He was one of the main characters in the documentary “Hoop Reality,” the sequel to the acclaimed “Hoop Dreams.” Beverley was friendly rivals with former Kia MVP winner Derrick Rose since grade school and was actually a scorer in high school, averaging a state-best 37 points as a senior. After getting kicked out of Arkansas in 2008 after two years for academic issues -- a tutor wrote a paper for him -- he played three years in Russia and Greece before filling the point guard void on the 2012-13 Rockets caused by Kyle Lowry’s trade to Toronto the summer before. “I wouldn’t change one thing about how I got here,” he said. “Sometimes you don’t get in through the front door. Sometimes you don’t get in through the back. Sometimes you got to climb through the window. That doesn’t mean the opportunity wasn’t there. There’s a way; you’ve just got to find it.” He immediately became singled out for eyeball-to-eyeball defense that teetered on the edge. The moment that earned him a name was in the first round of the 2013 playoffs against Oklahoma City. He went for a steal on Westbrook in Game 2 while Westbrook signaled for a timeout, causing his knee injury five years ago. He still answers for that, even to this day; not that the play on the ball was reckless, but was it necessary? “I don’t go out there to hurt people, I don’t even know how to attempt to hurt somebody,” Beverley said. “I play hard, bring the edge. I’m an instigator. That gets me going. I like to bump people, to feel me getting into somebody’s jersey. I’m just different. I like contact, like physical play, like pushing and holding. But I’m not dirty.” Beverley hasn’t spoken with Westbrook -- their on-court relationship is clearly frosty -- and with the exception of Rose, he doesn’t encourage any friendships beyond his teammates. “I don’t talk to anybody,” he said. “I don’t want personal battles that take away from the team. I’m trying to win games. When I come to San Francisco or Oklahoma City or Portland, I know I’m going straight to my room because there’s people I got to be ready to play the next day. And I know they do the same. There’s respect that’s not being said. When it comes to Steph, Dame, Westbrook, I make sure I get my rest. But they get their rest, too. They know what I bring to the table.” A game that won’t change Beverley was an All-Defensive first teamer two seasons ago, both a career highlight and confirmation of his devotion to studying film and learning opponents’ tendencies. He has also overcome microfracture knee injury in 2017-18 that limited him to 11 games in his debut season with the Clippers. “I worked my ass off and I’m still working,” he said. “If it’s not one thing it’s another. Me getting hurt, coming back faster and stronger. Got kicked out of school, had to go overseas, knew I was going to the NBA anyway. I didn’t know how. But I knew. “This is bigger than me. It’s for my mom, grandmom, seeing how hard the women in my life worked to raise me. It’s not easy being a single mother raising a kid in the inner city but she made it happen. She taught me to stand on my own two feet and get the best out of hard work, which becomes part of your mindset, especially when you see two women doing it every day.” And now comes another challenge for Beverley and those like him. How do you thrive in a league that’s suddenly married to offense? “Maybe after the All-Star break they’ll stop calling ticky-tack fouls,” he said. “The better defender you are, the more you’re singled out. But I’m going to go out there and be Pat. Don’t care. Won’t change.” Beverley estimates that “70 percent” of the players he guards are rattled by him, to different degrees. He said “only a few don’t,” which he refused to name (for strategic reasons). The game may not be designed to help the underdog, average-sized player who brings intensity and defense. But there’s no sense waiting for Beverley to make excuses. He’s come too far for that. “When you’re done with this game, you don’t want to go around saying, ‘Man I wish I could’ve done this, put more time into that.’” Beverley said. “Every year I go out like a person fighting for my spot, fighting for my contract. That’s the way I train. That’s how I prepare. That’s why I’m still in the league.” 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 NewsJan 10th, 2019

Curry scores 42 points, Warriors hold off Kings 127-123

By Michael Wagaman, Associated Press SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Stephen Curry scored 20 of his 42 points in the fourth quarter and had 10 3-pointers, and the Golden State Warriors held on to beat the Sacramento Kings 127-123 on Saturday night (Sunday, PHL time). Kevin Durant added 29 points, nine assists and five rebounds, and Klay Thompson scored 20 points to help the Warriors complete a three-game sweep of the season series. The three games were decided by a total of 10 points. Coming off a 135-134 overtime loss to Houston on Thursday night (Friday, PHL time) when they let a 20-point lead slip away, the Warriors blew another big lead in the third quarter before storming past the Kings over the final 12 minutes. Curry led the way with five of his triples in the fourth, and had a pair of key three-point plays. Curry also closed out the quarter with a pair of free throws with 9.4 seconds left. Buddy Hield scored 32 points on a career-high eight 3s for Sacramento. The teams combined for an NBA-record 41 three-pointers, and the Kings set a franchise record with 20. Justin Jackson added a career-high 28 points, and Willie Cauley-Stein had 14 points and 13 rebounds. The teams exchanged 15-0 runs in the first half. Golden State made four consecutive three-pointers, including a four-point play by Quinn Cook, and Durant soared through the key for an emphatic two-handed dunk that put the Warriors up 37-22 in the first quarter. The Kings made their surge in the second behind three's. Sacramento trailed by 16, but pulled to 70-69 in the first half. TIP-INS Warriors: Durant needs two blocks to reach 900 for his career. ... Golden State shot 8-of-11 beyond the arc in the first quarter. ... Cook scored 10 points in 9.5 minutes off the bench. Kings: Hield had five three's in the third when Sacramento turned an 81-73 deficit into a 103-96 lead. ... Marvin Bagley III is expected to resume basketball activities within the next 10-14 days. The second overall pick in the draft, Bagley has been out since Dec. 14 (Dec. 15, PHL time) with a bruised bone in his left knee. ... Iman Shumpert was held out with a sprained right index finger. UP NEXT Warriors: Host New York on Tuesday night (Wednesday, PHL time). Kings: Host Orlando on Monday night (Tuesday, PHL time)......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJan 6th, 2019

Harden hits game-winner to lift Rockets past Warriors

SAN ANTONIO, USA – James Harden showed once again that he is at the top of his game, rattling in the winning basket with two seconds left in overtime to lift the Houston Rockets to a 135-134 win over Golden State. The reigning NBA MVP drained the three-pointer despite being double ........»»

Category: newsSource:  rapplerRelated NewsJan 4th, 2019

James Harden still unstoppable, rallies Rockets past Warriors in OT

OAKLAND, California --- James Harden hit a contested 3-pointer with 2.7 seconds left in overtime and finished with his second triple-double of the week and fifth straight 40-point game, rallying the Houston Rockets past the Golden State Warriors 135-134 in a thriller between Western Conference powers Thursday night for their sixth straight victory. Kevin Durant's long 3-pointer missed as the buzzer sounded in what will go down as one of the best games this regular season --- a rematch of the seven-game Western Conference finals won by two-time defending champion Golden State. Stephen Curry put the Warriors ahead with 23.1 seconds remaining in OT on the way to 35 points --- a ba...Keep on reading: James Harden still unstoppable, rallies Rockets past Warriors in OT.....»»

Category: newsSource:  inquirerRelated NewsJan 4th, 2019

James Harden rallies Rockets in OT to beat Warriors 135-134

By Janie McCauley, Associated Press OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — James Harden hit a contested three-pointer with 2.7 seconds left in overtime and finished with his second triple-double of the week and fifth straight 40-point game, rallying the Houston Rockets past the Golden State Warriors 135-134 in a thriller between Western Conference powers Thursday night (Friday, PHL time) for their sixth straight victory. Kevin Durant's long three-pointer missed as the buzzer sounded in what will go down as one of the best games this regular season — a rematch of the seven-game Western Conference finals won by two-time defending champion Golden State. JAMES HARDEN WINS IT FOR THE @HOUSTONROCKETS FROM DOWNTOWN! 😱😱 Final in Oakland:#Rockets 135#DubNation 134 pic.twitter.com/SOJ374U8P0 — NBA (@NBA) January 4, 2019 Stephen Curry put the Warriors ahead with 23.1 seconds remaining in OT on the way to 35 points — a basket that shouldn't have counted because Durant was clearly out of bounds when he flung the ball back in. Harden, however, had one more improbable, acrobatic moment still in him. He released the ball with at least four hands in his face for the game-winner. The reigning MVP finished with 44 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds, while Clint Capela contributed 29 points and 21 rebounds for Houston. Harden also hit three-pointers at the 3:52 and 2:02 marks of OT in a game featuring dazzling displays on both ends by some of the game's biggest stars. Klay Thompson made a go-ahead layup with 40.6 seconds left in the extra period, then Harden tied it at 132 on a pair of free throws with 33.5 seconds left. Durant added 26 points and seven rebounds. Harden also had a triple-double Monday (Tuesday, PHL time) against Memphis of 43 points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists but he was disappointed with nine turnovers he thought gave the Grizzlies too many transition opportunities. Including his 50-point game Dec. 13 (Dec. 14, PHL time) against the Lakers, Harden has scored at least 30 in 11 straight. Warriors coach Steve Kerr's simple message about defending Harden, who went to the line 27 times Monday: "Don't foul him!" Harden shot five free throws in the first quarter Thursday (Friday, PHL time) and nine in all. His jumper with 5:37 left in regulation cut Golden State's lead to 112-111. He also got the Rockets close by knocking down two three-pointers and assisting on another basket in the final 1:26 of the third as Houston cut its deficit to 98-92 going into the final quarter. Thompson scored 26 points and hit consecutive three-pointers late in the first half. After struggling to find his stroke from deep, Thompson is 10-for-17 on three-pointers the past three games. With his first triple at the seven-minute mark of the opening period, Durant became the 32nd player in NBA history to reach 22,000 points. Falling backward as he released the ball over Harden, Durant swished a three with 59.2 seconds left in the first half. The cold-shooting Rockets fell behind 70-53 at halftime. Houston was just 6-of-23 from long range, 3-for-9 by Harden, while the Warriors shot 62.8 percent. TIP-INS Rockets: F James Ennis, who had been questionable with a strained right hamstring, returned after missing the previous 10 games. ... G Eric Gordon sat out a second straight game with a bruised right knee. Warriors: C Kevon Looney scored in double figures for the ninth time this season. ... Durant is one of six active players in the 22,000-point club, joining LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki, Carmelo Anthony, Vince Carter and Dwyane Wade. ... Durant has 12 straight games with 20 or more points. ... Golden State dropped to 10-3 when dishing out 30 or more assists. RUN TMC As part of the final season at Oracle Arena, the Warriors honored the "Run TMC" era featuring the trio of Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin. They were recognized on the big screen during a first-quarter timeout and Hardaway was shown sitting courtside next to Warriors owner Joe Lacob. UP NEXT Rockets: At Portland on Saturday (Sunday, PHL time). Warriors: At Sacramento on Saturday (Sunday, PHL time) looking for a fourth straight road win vs. the Kings......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJan 4th, 2019

Best, worst NBA teams for December 2018

By Khari Arnold, NBA.com Just when mock drafts were beginning to list the San Antonio Spurs as a certified lottery team -- something that hasn’t happened in over two decades -- a vigorous December stretch has Gregg Popovich’s squad clicking and back among the top eight in the Western Conference standings. The Spurs struggled severely in November, pairing their below-average offense with the NBA’s worst defense. They finished the month with a 5-10 record and sat 10-12 overall, just in front of the lowly Phoenix Suns. Injuries began to pile up, LaMarcus Aldridge struggled shooting and their ability to win on the road was nonexistent. While the latter issue still hasn’t been fixed, a shift occurred for the Spurs in December. San Antonio finished No. 1 in offensive efficiency during the last month of 2018 and ranked among the top 10 in defensive efficiency. Seeming to have found their rhythm, the Spurs shot a league-high 51.2 percent from the floor in December, boasted the NBA’s best Net Rating and closed the year out winning 10 of their last 13 games. Talk about ending a year on the right track. Here’s a look at the best records, offenses and defenses based on numbers from Dec. 1 to Dec. 31 (Dec. 2-Jan. 1, 2019, PHL time) only. Five best records Indiana Pacers: 12-3 Houston Rockets: 11-4 Milwaukee Bucks: 10-4 San Antonio Spurs: 11-5 Golden State Warriors: 10-5 The Pacers have quietly climbed to third in the Eastern Conference standings, holding the same amount of wins as the first-place Bucks. Five worst records New York Knicks: 2-12 Cleveland Cavaliers: 4-12 Detroit Pistons: 4-11 Phoenix Suns: 5-11 Memphis Grizzlies: 5-10 The sweepstakes for Zion Williamson, who played at Madison Square Garden in December, roll on. Top five offenses (Points scored per 100 possessions) San Antonio Spurs: 116.6 Boston Celtics: 115.5 Houston Rockets: 113.4 New Orleans Pelicans: 112.2 Minnesota Timberwolves: 111.6 While the Spurs are rolling, the hottest team in Texas -- and the NBA for that matter -- is Houston. James Harden is carrying the Rockets offense without Chris Paul at a historic pace. Bottom five offenses Chicago Bulls: 98.7 Orlando Magic: 101.7 Detroit Pistons: 102.4 Memphis Grizzlies 102.7 New York Knicks: 104.6 Dwane Casey's first year in Detroit hasn't gone according to plan -- yet at least. His offense committed the second-most turnovers per game in December. Top five defenses (Points allowed per 100 possessions) Indiana Pacers: 99.6 Utah Jazz: 100.5 Oklahoma City Thunder: 101.7 Milwaukee Bucks: 102.1 Miami Heat: 104.1 The Lakers, who had a top-three Defensive Rating in November, fell out of the top 10. Bottom five defenses Cleveland Cavaliers: 116.9 New York Knicks: 115.9 LA Clippers: 114.3 Atlanta Hawks: 112.6 Phoenix Suns: 112.4 The Clippers' defense is tumbling despite being in the playoff hunt. Top 10 individual scorers (Points per game) James Harden: 36.4 Paul George: 30.8 Anthony Davis: 29.6 Kawhi Leonard: 29.1 Stephen Curry: 28.1 Damian Lillard: 27.1 Bradley Beal: 26.5 Devin Booker: 26.2 Kevin Durant: 26.1 LeBron James: 25.8.....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJan 2nd, 2019

Curry s 34 points help Warriors scorch Suns, 132-109

By Jose M. Romero, Associated Press PHOENIX (AP) — Stephen Curry scored 34 points and Kevin Durant added 25, leading the Golden State Warriors to a 132-109 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Monday night (Tuesday, PHL time). The Warriors beat the Suns for the 17th straight time, including eight in a row in Phoenix. Golden State was 14-for-28 on three-pointers, with Curry going 5-of-9. Deandre Ayton had 25 points and 10 rebounds for the Suns, who have lost 5-of-6. T.J Warren added 24 points and Devin Booker 20. Golden State led for all but one minute, 17 seconds of the first quarter, and went ahead 39-31 on a three from Curry with 10 minutes to go in the second. Curry had 12 points in the second quarter and added a team-high nine rebounds for the game. The Suns scored the next eight points to tie it, and were even at 45 before the Warriors closed out the half on a 24-7 run. A triple from Andre Iguodala, a layup and free throw from Jonas Jerebko and Iguodala’s pair of free throws gave the Warriors a 69-52 lead at the break. Ayton’s hook shot with 6:19 left in the third quarter cut the Warriors’ lead to 82-72, but Golden State took control again. A three and two free throws from Durant gave the Warriors a 100-81 lead with 1:38 to play. Quinn Cook knocked down a triple just before the third-quarter buzzer for a 108-87 lead, and Curry’s two three's early in the fourth quarter helped Golden State go up by 27 points. DEFENDING DEANDRE The Warriors, in the absence of a true big man, used starters Kevon Looney and Draymond Green plus Jordan Bell off the bench to guard the 7'1" Ayton. No Golden State defender on Ayton was taller than 6'9". Bell was the most physical of the group and was rewarded with extended minutes. He blocked Ayton’s shot under the basket in the third quarter and forced Ayton to work at the other end by making all five shots he took for a season-high 10 points. TIP-INS Warriors: For the 10th time this season, the Warriors’ starting lineup was Durant, Green, Looney, Klay Thompson and Curry. They’re 6-4 with that group. ... Curry has scored 30 or more points in 13 games this season. ... The Warriors’ point total was the third-highest in a game this season. Suns: Backup C Richaun Holmes missed the game due to illness, the second game in which he’s not played this season. That opened up minutes for seldom-used Dragan Bender, who played for the first time since Dec. 17 (Dec. 18, PHL time) and scored for the first time since Dec. 11 (Dec. 12, PHL time), 10 games ago. ... F Josh Jackson fouled out late in the third quarter and played only 14 minutes, his lowest total since Nov. 21 (Nov. 22, PHL time). ... C Eric Moreland made his Suns debut when entered the game in the fourth quarter. Moreland signed with Phoenix on Dec. 10 (Dec. 11, PHL time). UP NEXT Warriors: Host Houston Thursday night (Friday, PHL time). Suns: Host Philadelphia Wednesday night (Thursday, PHL time), the fourth game of a season-high seven straight at home.  .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJan 1st, 2019

S+A to air Rockets v Warriors to welcome 2019 with a bang

NBA on ABS-CBN action will continue to sizzle to start the new year. After a jam-packed December slate, S+A will once again air a bevy of games this January, starting with the early clash of Western Conference titans Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors on January 4, 2019. It will be the first of three match-ups between the Western finalists from last year's playoffs. Meanwhile, the top dogs of the Eastern Conference will have a showdown as well when the Toronto Raptors take on the Milwaukee Bucks on January 6. Check out the full January 2019 NBA schedule on S+A:  NOTE: Featured game on January 5, Saturday will be Utah Jazz vs. Cleveland Cavaliers at 8:30 am on ABS-CBN channel 2......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsDec 31st, 2018

Harden has Rockets rolling with visit to Warriors looming

By Brian Mahoney, Associated Press James Harden and the Houston Rockets were one half away from the NBA Finals last time they played at Oracle Arena. The way the Rockets are rolling now, they might just get another shot at the champs this postseason. The Rockets try to wrap up a perfect month at home Monday (Tuesday, PHL time) against Memphis, then visit Golden State for the first time since the Western Conference finals, having recovered from a rough start thanks to Harden’s torrid stretch. He has scored 40 points in three straight games and 35 or more in seven straight, the longest streak since LeBron James did it in nine in a row in 2006. The NBA scoring leader’s quest to repeat as MVP is clearly on track. And after a poor start, so are the Rockets (20-15). They have won four straight and nine of their last 10 games overall, and are 8-0 at home in December after dropping their first four games at the Toyota Center. Just like Game 6 of the West finals, when they blew a double-digit lead, they will play at Golden State for Thursday’s (Friday, PHL time) nationally televised game without Chris Paul because of a hamstring injury. But instead of what had been a shaky season getting worse, the Rockets have surged in his absence because of Harden. “Somebody said the other day that we can only win if he scores 40. OK, that’s kind of a bad thing, but the good thing is he can score 40 every night, so we’re OK with that,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “Tell him to keep going.” NEW YEAR, OLD HOME Kawhi Leonard’s first trip of the new year is to his old home. The Toronto Raptors visit San Antonio on Thursday (Friday, PHL time) for what became one of the most anticipated games of this NBA season this summer when the Spurs gave Leonard the exit he had been seeking, trading him to the Raptors. Leonard was the NBA Finals MVP when the Spurs won their last championship in 2014 and had become one of the league’s most complete players by last season. But he was limited to nine games because of a quadriceps injury and his relationship with the organization became strained. The Spurs dealt him along with mainstay Danny Green to Toronto, getting All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan back. Leonard led Toronto to the best record in the league for most of the season and the two-time Defensive Player of the Year’s absence has shown on the Spurs’ defense, long one of the league’s best but well back in the rankings now. While the game Thursday (Friday, PHL time) is the most newsworthy, it’s not the most important of the week for Toronto. The Raptors follow it Saturday (Sunday, PHL time) by visiting the Milwaukee Bucks, who have inched ahead of them for the NBA’s best record and have won both meetings this season. OTHER GAMES TO WATCH THIS WEEK: Orlando at Charlotte, Monday (Tuesday, PHL time). Magic coach Steve Clifford returns to face the team he coached for five seasons. Oklahoma City at Lakers, Wednesday (Thursday, PHL time). Chance for Californians Russell Westbrook and Paul George to put on a show for the fans back home. Atlanta at Milwaukee, Friday (Saturday, PHL time). Mike Budenholzer’s move from Atlanta to Milwaukee couldn’t look much better. Dallas at Philadelphia, Saturday (Sunday, PHL time). The reigning Rookie of the Year (Ben Simmons) against the player (Luka Doncic) who could succeed him. AYTON IN ACTION Deandre Ayton will finish his strong December by testing himself against the NBA champions. Then he opens January against a different kind of test — perhaps the toughest in the league at his position. The rookie center squares off for the second time against Joel Embiid on Wednesday (Thursday, PHL time) when the Phoenix Suns host the Philadelphia 76ers. Luka Doncic might already have too much hype and highlights to be caught in the Rookie of the Year race, but Ayton’s strong play certainly shouldn’t be overlooked. The No. 1 pick scored a season-high 33 points on 16-of-20 shooting and added 14 rebounds Saturday (Sunday, PHL time) in a 122-118 loss to Denver, after he came into the game averaging 16 points and nearly 12 boards for the month. “You can feel game-to-game he is getting better,” coach Igor Kokoskov said last week. “He is working on his game. He is a very dedicated player. It was just a matter of time.” That improvement has helped the Suns go 5-4 in their last nine games — one more victory than they had during a brutal 4-24 start. After facing Golden State on Monday (Tuesday, PHL time), it’s on to his second matchup with Embiid, one of the league’s biggest talkers who was already chirping about Ayton even before he’d played his first game. After the former Arizona star was compared to him in June, Embiid wrote on Twitter: “Don’t compare Ayton to me either. I play DEFENSE.” He then told ESPN in a preseason interview that Ayton was “about to get his (butt) kicked.” Embiid had 33 points to Ayton’s 17 in the 76ers’ victory in Philadelphia in November......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsDec 31st, 2018

James Harden has Rockets rolling with visit to Warriors looming

James Harden and the Houston Rockets were one half away from the NBA Finals last time they played at Oracle Arena. The way the Rockets are rolling now, they might just get another shot at the champs this postseason. The Rockets try to wrap up a perfect month at home Monday against Memphis, then visit Golden State for the first time since the Western Conference finals, having recovered from a rough start thanks to Harden's torrid stretch. He has scored 40 points in three straight games and 35 or more in seven straight, the longest streak since LeBron James did it in nine in a row in 2006. The NBA scoring leader's quest to repeat as MVP is clearly on track. And after a poor...Keep on reading: James Harden has Rockets rolling with visit to Warriors looming.....»»

Category: newsSource:  inquirerRelated NewsDec 31st, 2018