Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Soft Opening

Always with a flair for the dramatic, Kobe Bryant created instant buzz on social media on the very first day of the 2014-2015 NBA regular season. The five-time champion did not mince words as he called his former teammate Dwight Howard "soft" after a rebounding scuffle. The tension between both stars has been well-chronicled in their lone tumultuous season together.
There is no love lost between the Black Mamba and Superman.
Houston went on to win the game at Staples Center, 108-90. James Harden led the way for both squads with 32 points. Julius Randle was taken out on a stretcher due to a broken right leg.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The LG Electronics’ ‘Asian Basketball Showdown’

LG customers get two premium seats to the game; also open to public for free upon online registration

Before Koreanovelas and K-Pop became hits in the Philippines, Korean cagers had first caught the attention of Filipinos as the country’s fierce rivals in international basketball.

One man in particular made the Korean national team a wrecking squad for the Filipinos’ bid for an Asian or world title.  He is Shin Dong Pa, hailed as SoKor’s and one of Asia’s greatest basketball players. He would score an average of 30 to 40 plus points per game in the Asian Championships to rally his team to victory.

Now in his late 60s, Shin remains a respected sports icon in Korea and in Asia. Recognizing the Philippines as a basketball-loving country like his own, he has visited the Philippines several times to help improve the quality of basketball here. His last visit was in 2013 when he cheered on the Korean contingent before its game against Gilas Pilipinas at the FIBA Asian Championship held in Manila.

This year, Shin graces the country once again to show his support for the “Asian Basketball Showdown” happening on September 9 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City.

Modern-Day Shins
Relive how modern-day Shin Dong Pas showcase their country’s epic rivalry on the hard court at the Asian Basketball Showdown presented by LG Electronics Philippines. This historic event will be bringing to the Philippines one of South Korea’s top basketball teams, the Changwon LG Sakers, to compete with the Philippine Basketball Association's (PBA) Barangay Ginebra San Miguel.

An all-time favorite of Filipino fans, Barangay Ginebra currently holds eight PBA championship titles. Meanwhile, LG Sakers is South Korea’s most watched team, whose members are touted as modern-day Dong Pas.

LG customers who will register online using the sales invoice or official receipt number of the LG product purchased are each entitled to two premium seats (Patron tickets); free tickets are available as well  to  the  public.  Register  via  the ‘LG  Sakers  vs  Ginebra’ registration also found in LG Philippines’ official Facebook page. Tickets may be redeemed on August 30-31 and September 5-7, 2014 in LG Mobile concept stores and Titan stores within Metro Manila. Complete details on ticket redemption will be e-mailed to the registrants.

Those who will be able to watch the games live will get a chance to win the newest premium LG products including the simplest yet smartest LG G3; the young and pop LG G Pad, your launchpad; and the sleek, always on Android Wear LG G Watch.

For  more  information,  visit or;  like  LG Philippines’ Facebook page; or follow LG on Twitter and Instagram @LGPhilippines.

About LG Electronics, Inc. LG  Electronics,  Inc.  (KSE:  066570.KS) is a global  leader and technology innovator in consumer electronics, mobile communications and home appliances, employing 87,000 people working in 113 locations around the world. With 2012 globalsales of USD 45.22  billion (KRW  50.96  trillion),  LG comprises four business units – Home Entertainment, Mobile Communications, Home Appliance, and Air Conditioning; Energy Solution – and is one of the world’s leading producers of flat panel TVs, mobile devices, air conditioners, washing machines and refrigerators. LG Electronics is a 2013 ENERGY STAR ®Partner of the Year. For more news and information on LG Electronics, please visit

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The 10 Must-See Games of the 2014-2015 NBA Season

The NBA has released the 2014-2015 schedule. Here are the 10 games to watch out for:

Dallas Mavericks @ San Antonio Spurs 
(October 28, 2014 - 7PM)
This seven-game classic was touted as the real 2014 NBA Finals. Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich will collect the ring for the thumb. Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and Mavs free agent acquisition Chandler Parsons will set off fireworks as the season goes underway.

Cleveland Cavaliers @ Portland Trail Blazers 
(November 4, 2014 - 7PM) 
Now on a loaded squad, Kyrie Irving is out to prove that he is the better up-and-coming point guard over Damian Lillard. Nike and Adidas will have a field day as Hyperrev and Boost slug it out.

Chicago Bulls @ Washington Wizards 
(December 23, 2014 - 7PM)
Though the Bulls have a returning Derrick Rose, a proven veteran in Pau Gasol, and rookies Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott, the Wizards have an intact nucleus bolstered by clutch veteran Paul Pierce. An early Christmas treat and a potential Eastern Conference Finals preview.

Cleveland Cavaliers @ Miami Heat 
(December 25, 2014 - 5PM)
Santa Claus knows you were good this year. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have never met against each other in the postseason. This holiday treat could be a foreshadowing of things to come. For one last time in 2014, the King takes his talents to South Beach.

Washington Wizards @ Oklahoma City Thunder 
(January 2, 2015 - 8PM)
As the calendar year flips anew, the clock continues to tick towards Kevin Durant’s free agency. Will John Wall and Bradley Beal put on a showcase that will make The Slim Reaper reconsider his ultimate destination 18 months from then?

New Orleans Pelicans @ Charlotte Hornets 
(January 7, 2015 - 7PM)
Buzz City! This will be the second matchup between both teams and the first one at the reconstructed Hive. The swarming nature of Lance Stephenson and Kemba Walker will take a backseat to the MVP-caliber performance Anthony Davis is about to display over Al Jefferson.

San Antonio Spurs @ Los Angeles Clippers 
(February 19, 2015 - 9:30PM)
Fresh from the extended All-Star break, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are ready to test their championship mettle against a unit primed on winning back-to-back titles. It also happens to be an apt 27th birthday gift to yours truly.

Oklahoma City Thunder @ Chicago Bulls 
(March 5, 2015 - 7PM)
Most of the cobwebs have already been dusted off. Rose would have already thrown down a couple of posters along the way. Durant would have already received numerous MVP chants at the line. March Madness will have to wait for these two heavyweights to settle the score.

Golden State Warriors @ Los Angeles Clippers 
(March 31, 2015 - 7:30PM)
A couple of Stephen Curry triples short of advancing to the second round last season, the Golden State Warriors wrap up the fourth and final game of the series against their esteemed rivals. Are we ready for another “first to 40” between Paul and Curry?

Oklahoma City Thunder @ Memphis Grizzlies 
(April 3, 2015 - 7:30PM)
As if 20 extra minutes of overtime in last year’s first round were not enough, the #ThunderGrizzlies take on each other four more times this season. With the regular season winding down, seeding implications are in play and you can be sure that none of the stars will be rested.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Last Home Stand left behind emotional scars

The night was supposed to be a final opportunity to celebrate Gilas Pilipinas before they embark for international warfare. Coined as the Last Home Stand, the event instead left thousands of supporters inside the Smart Araneta Coliseum feeling stood up.

Before anything else, think about this reality for a moment. By no fault of their own, Gilas Pilipinas will indelibly remember one thing as they walked off the court that evening, hearing an avalanche of boos raining down from the patron seats to the nosebleed section as they headed into the dugout. They never wanted any of this bizarre sequence of events to take place. No one did. But they were collateral damage of an evening gone wrong for a myriad of reasons.

We can go on and on about the logistical and legal brouhahas that took place. But the sentimental side in me wonders how much of an emotional toll this will take on our players. Yes, they are grown men and professionals, but they are our national team, wearing our country's colors with pride and honor. Deep down, feelings were hurt, and that might have a residual effect when they head off to Spain a month from now.

Now, you might be telling yourself, "Wait a minute! These guys just played side by side with some of the greatest athletes the sport has to offer! There's no way they would be on the losing end of this farce! I'd give an arm and a leg (ok, maybe not that much) just to play with Kawhi Leonard and Damian Lillard! Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard!"

But that's where our opinions part ways. See, that's not the point. What I am trying to get at is that this was everyone's last chance to scream ourselves hoarse for our team. That's right. Our team. We are segregated by our UAAP and NCAA alma maters, as well as our PBA and NBA fandoms. But our national team bonds us as a unified whole. And we couldn't overlook past the shortcomings beyond Gilas Pilipinas' control to give them this one night.

Paul Lee deserved a lot more love, especially after his heroic bronze-sealing free throws against China in the FIBA Asia Cup. Marc Pingris, beloved by many for his unrelenting hustle against South Korea, could have used the morale boost. The same goes for Jimmy Alapag and Gary David, the elder statesmen on the squad who are out to prove that they are far from washed up.

It is easy to play the blame game. East West Private Holdings, the organizing body who failed to secure the necessary permits to sanction an actual basketball match from the NBA, deserves all the criticism hurled towards it. I know the boos last night were meant for the organizers. But for the players who are on the court, they do not have the luxury to differentiate who the heckling is directed towards. Heck, they have to spend so much focus just to keep their eye on the ball.

There is a tone of dismay towards the NBA guests who were raring to put on a show. On his third trip here in Manila, James Harden was definitely not expecting such a negative reaction after an outpouring of adulation in his first two visits. At least, you know the players tried to please the crowd even in their limited capacity. A special shoutout goes to 2013 Slam Dunk Contest Champion Terrence Ross, who was really testing the furthest limits of his collective bargaining agreement contract with all the high-wire acts he displayed out there.

Unlike many fair-weathered viewers who walked out right from the start, my friends and I soldiered on to the finish, even moving several rows forward to catch a better glimpse of the action. For the fans who stayed until the bitter end (and did not boo), know that your presence did not go to waste. For all intents and purposes, Gilas Pilipinas was expecting to get the road team treatment next month, not last night.

Yes, you spent a couple of hours that you will never get back. I can't argue with that. But you will get a refund as promised. So you didn't spend P23,300 to see the most expensive practice session drills that will soon be listed in the annals of the Guinness Records.

Unfortunately, some things cannot be taken back. Those jeers cannot be recalled into their owners' voiceboxes. If we could only do it all over again, we should have given Gilas Pilipinas a standing ovation one more time. One last hurrah, before they head to the land of our conquerors.

Monday, July 14, 2014

LeBron James finds redemption in his homecoming

LeBron James is coming home.

On the eve of James' decision to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers on July 11, 2014, there were various speculations going around the league. These rumors ranged from cryptic to very, very cryptic. No one had any idea what was running in The King's mind and anyone who claimed to know otherwise was merely grabbing attention. Chris Sheridan put his credibility at stake with a premature hint of James' return. David Thorpe is now rehabilitating his reputation after claiming that the two-time champion is a 99% lock to return to the Miami Heat for the 2014-2015 season.

The image of James removing his jersey after Cleveland's loss to the Boston Celtics in the 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals remains vivid. Is that the last time we will see LeBron James in a Cavaliers jersey? Thankfully, we now know the answer to that.

LeBron was on camera for 11 minutes during The Decision, but the only part anyone remembers is "This fall, I'm going to take my talents to South Beach." They didn't even hear the "Man, this is tough" that preceded it, which indicated just how difficult it was for him to leave Ohio. They don't remember his reason for choosing Miami that was perfectly valid and even prophetic: "The best opportunity for me to win." They've forgotten this part, which is more relevant than ever today: "I never wanted to leave Cleveland. My heart will always be in that area."
Think about how this whole saga has unfolded and gone full circle. In 2010, James packed his bags and received a vitriolic letter from Cavs owner Dan Gilbert. Four years later, it is James writing a letter and the entire city of Cleveland is more than ready to accept him with open arms, albeit a little too eagerly. Indeed, the Prodigal Son has come home and is forgiven.

Many wondered if James' image could be rehabilitated with a championship. It did, but only to an extent. When James won the 2012 title, it purged all the "King without a Ring" jokes. When James led Team USA to another Olympic Gold, he was perceived as a leader among leaders. When James won the 2013 title, he was elevated into the pantheon of the greatest players to ever play the sport. He is the second-greatest small forward in history and is nipping on Larry Bird's heels.

And yet, even as James collected more hardware, the chase seemed to be heading nowhere, a fruitless search for affirmation. The casual fan was more inclined to root against James than for him, regardless of how the media attempted to validate all of James' accomplishments.

Nothing mends broken ties like forgiveness, but it had to go both ways. James and Gilbert needed to put the past behind them and move forward with a common goal in mind. So when James had his letter published with the help of's Lee Jenkins, it became a moment of clarity. In it, we saw a more mature James. One who looked back and admits The Decision was a farce, took the time to acknowledge his Miami cohorts, and expressed how holistically he went through the process of determining his future.

Normally, people are told to use their brain over their heart when making a life-changing choice. Write down all the pros and cons before coming to a final verdict. We tell people to think about it, not feel about it. So in principle, it was hypocritical that when James used his head in 2010, he received so much flak for choosing winning over loyalty, but when he used his heart four years later in favor of the latter, he received nearly unanimous support from all corners. As Pat Riley said, "No one can fault another person for wanting to return home."

Rebuilding the Cavaliers will be a long, arduous process. If the 2015 Playoffs were to start today, the Cavaliers would be fortunate to have the fifth seed, well behind the Indiana Pacers, Washington Wizards, Miami Heat, and Chicago Bulls (in that order). Barring a Kevin Love trade, Cleveland's chances of winning the title, let alone reaching the Eastern Conference Finals, are close to nil.

On a personal note, I cannot wait to grab my Cavaliers shirts gathering dust out of the closet. I am excited to see how head coach David Blatt incorporates his Princeton offense and Euroball influence with James and Kyrie Irving. Reconnecting with Anderson Varejao, James' teammate for seven years, will be an interesting dynamic. The Canadian trio of Andrew Wiggins, Tristan Thompson, and the meme-generating Anthony Bennett will be tantalizing, entertaining, and frustrating all at the same time, under the assumption that they will still be on the roster when the season tips off.

We have witnessed 11 years of unparalleled athleticism, power, and showmanship, all in one package. Now it is time to patch up those tattered Cleveland Cavaliers jerseys and start with a clean slate. The LeBron James Show will begin its third act, coming soon in fall 2014.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Revisiting the 2009 Draft Class

Of course we have to start this story with a photo of Hasheem Thabeet and Jonny Flynn, the two biggest busts of the 2009 NBA Draft. While they are not accountable for being selected so early*, they also blew multiple chances to salvage their careers. Thabeet now rides the pine on the Oklahoma City Thunder bench while Flynn was last seen strutting his wares for the Sichuan Blue Whales in the Chinese Basketball Association.

On a more serious note, 2009 is actually a sneaky deep draft that has showcased multiple All-Stars and a plethora of savvy ballhandlers. We ran through the pool of 60, then rearranged the top 10 based purely on impact and production and disregarded team need. In short, we went with the best player available if we could have done the draft all over again.

Let’s do a mulligan!

On the Bubble:
Marcus Thornton (selected 43rd by the Miami Heat)
Career: 330 games, 13.4 points, 3 rebounds, 1.5 assists
Thornton has been the type of player to wear out his welcome prematurely. After producing sterling numbers in his first season with the Hornets and Kings, his numbers would plummet in Year 2 particularly in the scoring department. He is the classic case of a player with good stats on a mediocre team, and now that he has been traded to the quasi-contending Brooklyn Nets, his true measure as a sparkplug off the bench will be gauged. Thornton’s ceiling remains untapped and should soon see some more quality opportunities as Joe Johnson begins to decline at the shooting guard spot.

Ricky Rubio (selected 5th by the Minnesota Kahns)
Career: 168 games, 10 points, 4.2 rebounds, 8 assists
There is no debate about Rubio’s court vision. A crafty playmaker, he finds the tiniest of creases on pick-and-roll defenses, slotting in pinpoint passes to a cutting teammate. The elephant in the room is his shooting. With nearly three seasons under his belt, the Spaniard has mustered 35.7%, 36%, and 37.4% from the field, making it impossible to take him seriously when he is in triple threat position. Is Rubio doomed to shoot below 40% for the rest of his career? Scouts have pointed to his very flat release as the main culprit, giving the ball a very little margin of error. Failure to improve this aspect of his game will hasten his expiration date once his athleticism starts to diminish.
Brandon Jennings (selected 10th by the Milwaukee Bucks)
Career: 360 games, 16.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, 6.1 assists
This leftie is a one-hit wonder. The Pterodactyl (Basketball Reference gave him that nickname! I did not make that up!) scored 55 points in his seventh game as a rookie. It has been downhill from there. He has been branded as a volume shooter who can’t shoot, topping 40% field goal shooting only once in five seasons. Jennings has also been brash, calling out a six-game upset against Miami in last year’s first round of the playoffs. We all remember how that turned out. A change of scenery was supposed to be what the doctor ordered, the way Monta Ellis is now thriving with the Mavericks. Unfortunately, Jennings has been unable to properly direct the flow of offense for Detroit. Though Jennings averages 7.8 assists this season for the Pistons, the spacing is so discombobulated and congested that it results in so many atrocious jump shots between Josh Smith and himself.

The Top 10:
10. Darren Collison (selected 21st by the New Orleans Hornets)
Career: 366 games, 11.8 points, 2.7 rebounds, 4.9 assists
Is Collison overrated, underrated, or properly rated? When then-Hornet Chris Paul went down with an injury, Collison spelled him admirably. Collison went berserk from February to April 2010 where he masqueraded as an elite point guard, stringing together games of 22-10, 26-11, 16-20, etc. Expectations inflated unreasonably high as he moved to Indiana and Dallas, where he put up relatively decent numbers, although his transition game was not maximized by those two teams whose offense revolved around the halfcourt. Now on his second go-round as Paul’s reliever with the Clippers, Collison is what he is, a reliable backup who can fire up a team’s offense in spurts, and a properly rated one at that.
 9. Tyreke Evans (selected 4th by the Sacramento Kings)
Career: 319 games, 16.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 4.8 assists
Has Evans’ time of wreaking havoc come to an abrupt end? If his 20-5-5 rookie season seems like a distant memory, it’s because it is. Kirk Goldsberry tried to solve the enigma that is Evans, who shoots very well at the foul line at 82% yet cannot buy a jumper outside eight feet. After a frustrating experiment of letting Evans come off the bench for Eric Gordon, Pelicans Head Coach Monty Williams has inserted him into the starting lineup, where he and Anthony Davis have done some serious damage offensively. Evans has been harkened as Corey Maggette 2.0 for his propensity to get to the line. If Evans has to visit the free throw line 15 times to be a game-changer, then so be it. It’s where he is most effective. It may be ugly and boring basketball, but it’s less ghastly than shooting 22% from outside eight feet.

8. Jeff Teague (selected 19th by the Atlanta Hawks)
Career: 221 games, 10.4 points, 1.9 rebounds, 4.6 assists
Playing with relative anonymity in the Highlight Factory, Teague introduced himself to the league with several impressive showings in the 2011 Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Chicago Bulls. It was his stepping stone to respectability that made Kirk Hinrich expendable. One thing must be made clear: Teague is more of a facilitator than a scorer. He needs several options to thrive, as his numbers have taken a slight hit since Al Horford went down for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. Hawks GM Danny Ferry is also slightly concerned with the baggage of Teague’s four-year, $32 million deal and is looking for ways to unload him. Don’t take Teague for granted though, as he is a poor man’s version of Tony Parker with the ability to gather for burst-of-speed layups and to throw off multiple defenders with jump-stop baby floaters.

7. Taj Gibson (selected 26th by the Chicago Bulls)
Career: 361 games, 9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 0.9 assists
Gibson’s crowning moment of glory came in the 2011, when he elevated and detonated over Dwyane Wade. Carlos Boozer might cannibalize Gibson’s offensive numbers, but it is on the defensive end where the latter’s impact is truly felt. Is Gibson’s hustle a byproduct of Bulls Head Coach Tom Thibodeau’s suffocating system? Will he be as effective playing for another team like, say, Portland? Gibson’s relentless effort makes him a fan favorite alongside Joakim Noah, and he relishes making life miserable for opposing power forwards. He is the leading candidate for the Sixth Man of the Year Award and he is inked on the books until 2017. Gibson is also improving his footwork in the paint, learning to maneuver his way to the basket without barreling or backing down his opponent too predictably.
6. DeMar DeRozan (selected 9th by the Toronto Raptors)
Career: 373 games, 16.6 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists
Thrust into the upper echelon of shooting guards, DeRozan forms half of the Raptors lethal backcourt together with the peaking Kyle Lowry. When he signed a four-year, $40 million contract back in 2012, most pundits perceived him to be overpaid because of his one-dimensional game. All he was good for was his East Bay Funk Remix dunks, which he proved everyone wrong the moment they traded away Rudy Gay to Sacramento. DeRozan has gotten to the line a lot more, drastically improved his on and off-ball defense, raised his PER significantly, and now commands double teams from time to time. DeRozan has also developed a reputation of demanding the ball during crunch time. That doesn’t mean he has been successful at it... yet. His name became news fodder last month when he got the All-Star nod over Lance Stephenson and his own teammate Lowry, but it is a testament of how coaches believe that he has finally made the leap in Year 5.

5. Jrue Holiday (selected 17th by the Philadelphia 76ers)
Career: 332 games, 13.5 points, 3.6 rebounds, 6 assists
Revisionist theorists may look at Holiday and wonder if New Orleans outsmarted themselves too much during the 2013 Draft, acquiring him for Nerlens Noel, who was projected to go first overall that night. Did they mortgage their future for a one-time All-Star who will always be overlooked behind the Russell Westbrooks and Damian Lillards of the West? Holiday is no slouch; similarity scores peg him to emulate Terrell Brandon’s career. Like Brandon, Holiday has a knack for thievery. Out for the remainder of the season to repair a stress fracture in his right tibia, Holiday will need use the offseason as an opportunity to further improve his passing game and recognize where Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson are located once the following season begins. He must establish himself as the team’s de facto third option moving forward.

4. Ty Lawson (selected 18th by the Minnesota Kahns)
Career: 337 games, 14 points, 2.9 rebounds, 5.9 assists
Bolstered by winning the 2009 NCAA title with the UNC Tar Heels, Lawson was shocked to hear 17 other players called to the podium before him. He was not an overnight sensation, learning the ropes behind Chauncey Billups as he acclimated to the air pressure of Mile High City. Once former Nuggets Head Coach George Karl handed Lawson the keys, the diminutive point guard went full throttle. Since Lawson became a full-fledged starter, the Nuggets have never finished below the top five in pace. Lawson came into the league with a mean streak from downtown, knocking down 41% from beyond the arc. However, a notable concern is his efficiency. His field goal percentages have steadily dropped since his rookie season as his burdens and responsibilities increased. What was once 51.5% is now down to 43.2%. Whether it is an adjustment to the triangle offense current Head Coach Brian Shaw is implementing or simply fatigue setting in after carrying a decimated lineup all season, Lawson is still feeling out his role as the number one option.

3. James Harden (selected 3rd by the Oklahoma City Thunder)
Career: 360 games, 17.7 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.8 assists
Harden is one of only two players on this list that were “correctly” selected. The way his first three seasons have played out in Oklahoma City felt like a honeymoon. Entering the 2012 Finals, the Thunder had a squad with a fixed pecking order ready to oust the Heat. And then the wheels came undone. Harden had an abysmal series and suddenly whispers of his status with the team grew louder and louder. It did not matter how he had just won the Sixth Man of the Year. One thing led to another, and he was off to Houston because they offered him more money and the promise of being their go-to guy. This story bears repeating because it provides a different dimension of the Harden blockbuster deal and how it shook the landscape in the West. Two years and two All-Star selections later, Harden is now the clear-cut best shooting guard in the league. If there were still any doubts earlier in the season, there shouldn’t be any now. His defense will play hooky from time to time when class is in session, but you can be sure that his offense will be there to deliver. The Beard’s mastery of the gather move and the Eurostep make him a ridiculously potent threat once he slashes through the shaded area.

2. Stephen Curry (selected 7th by the Golden State Warriors)
Career: 326 games, 20.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, 6.6 assists
Stephenphetamine. The Stephen Curry Heat Check Alert is the meme that launched a million tweets. There is a magical aura that makes one believe that every single shot Curry releases is bound to go in. Coaches have adjusted their playbooks with one call that includes sending a double team at Curry right at the three-point line… even if he does not have the ball yet. But things weren’t so rosy 16 months ago, when the Warriors inked Curry to a four-year, $44 million extension. Those vulnerable ankles that seemed to twist like Play-Doh with one wrong cut to the basket were a red flag. Fans held a collective breath whenever he goes down in a heap. There’s no telling what could happen. But looking back, Curry almost did not become a Warrior. In a parallel universe, hewould have been playing for the Suns or Knicks. He would have been the metaphorical acetylyne torch that the Lady Liberty holds up in the Big Apple. Instead, he is in the Bay Area, where he announced his playoff arrival last season with a total dismantling of the Denver Nuggets before giving the San Antonio Spurs all it could handle. Curry will never be an inside threat taking it strong to the hoop, but as long as he can stay healthy on the court, his long range bombs will always be a sight to marvel at.
1. Blake Griffin (selected 1st by the Los Angeles Clippers)
Career: 300 games, 21.4 points, 10.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists
Mozgov’d! Oh me, oh my! Blake Griffin’s arrival in the league marked a cultural revolution of sorts. The year he took off for rehabbing his knee was a blessing in disguise. When he broke into the scene in 2010, he entered right as social media became instantaneous, where you can watch GIFs of his eviscerating Kendrick Perkins and Pau Gasol within minutes of the actual murder… er, highlight. Bill Simmons prematurely touted Griffin as the possible second coming of Sidney Wicks due to his declining scoring output in Years 2 and 3. Then, Vinny Del Negro was shipped out and in came Doc Rivers. Griffin and Chris Paul called Lob City dead, putting away the gimmicky approach for more serious, championship-caliber basketball. Suddenly, a rejuvenated Griffin became a two-way monster, corralling every loose ball and playing with the mindset of an MVP. Even with Paul sidelined for several weeks, Griffin did not slow down as he ramped up his game to a whole new level with an improved arsenal from the midrange and at the charity stripe. Let’s face it: he has the power to manipulate the psyche of opposing teams. There are opposing players who are subbed in with the sole purpose of throwing off Griffin’s focus and composure in the hopes that he will retaliate. They push and undercut him in the post with extra gusto. The amount of punishment he takes is staggering. He may be a superstar on the rise, but he definitely is getting no superstar treatment.

*Thabeet was selected 2nd by the Memphis Grizzlies; Flynn was selected 6th by the Minnesota Kahns.

Monday, April 22, 2013

2013 NBA Western Conference Quarterfinals Predictions: Oklahoma City vs Houston

(1) Oklahoma City Thunder 60-22
(8) Houston Rockets 45-37

Season Series: Thunder 2-1
November 29: Rockets 98-120 @Thunder
December 30: Thunder 124-94 @Rockets
February 21: Thunder 119-122 @Rockets

The storylines could not be laid out more neatly. It took the final game of the regular season for the plot to thicken, and here it is. From the return of the $80 million beard to a tussle of the second and third-best offenses in the league, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets are expected to light up the playoff skies with fireworks in store.
Racking off at least 119 points in each of their three regular season meetings, the Thunder can expect such production to continue in the playoffs. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka are not the type of players who slow down their pace and drop off during the playoffs. If I am Coach Scott Brooks, I will immediately recognize that Omer Asik is Houston’s solitary post presence. Armed with this knowledge, Brooks must instruct Durant and Westbrook to penetrate on every possible possession, get Asik in foul trouble, and force Coach Kevin McHale’s hand at the vastly inexperienced trio of Greg Smith, Donatas Motiejunas, and Thomas Robinson.

The Thunder are also expected to thrive on numerous corner threes coming from Ibaka, whose range has stretched out that far back (35.1% from downtown this season) and Kevin Martin, who would like nothing more than to stick it to his former team. The Thunder can do no wrong in terms of matchups. Insert Kendrick Perkins, the bruiser who will make James Harden work for his shots. Throw in Nick Collison for an added shot of offensive post moves. Unleash Hasheem Thabeet sparingly for the extra length to frustrate Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons.

Thabo Sefolosha will have his hands full containing Harden, which is news for the Thunder, because on the other end, Harden will be spending a lot of time fronting Durant, a mismatch in every sense of the word. The Thunder’s scouting report is clear as day: Houston only takes three-pointers and layups. Prevent those two from happening and the Rockets will be left with perimeter jumpers, the equivalent of basketball purgatory for Daryl Morey.

Harden will be the sole indicator of Houston’s feast-or-famine evenings. His game is as bipolar as it gets. He can have 37 points on 16 shots in one game, followed by 17 points on 19 shots in the next. Harden is sure to continue his foul-baiting exploits, but in a physical series, the Thunder can get away with a couple of bumps without any whistles being blown. The job falls on Jeremy Lin, Carlos Delfino, and Patrick Beverley to free themselves up for looks at the top of the key or along the elbow.

The Rockets are virtually playing four-on-five offensively with Asik as a massive offensive liability. Moreover, Houston needs to maximize their possessions and cannot fumble the ball away the way they had during the regular season, having led the league in turnovers with 15.8 a game. In the same light, Houston must force Oklahoma City into errors (5th, 14.6 per) on the other side of the floor to initiate transition attacks where the former is most efficient.

The Thunder must forcefully impose their “big brother” stance on the Rockets if they want to make quick work of them. None of the Rockets are defensively capable of staying in front of Durant and Westbrook for four quarters. Only a 40-point aberration from The Beard could swing a game in Houston’s favor, nothing more.

Prediction: Thunder in 5

2013 NBA Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Predictions: Miami vs Milwaukee

(1) Miami Heat 66-16
(8) Milwaukee Bucks 38-44

Season Series: Heat 3-1
November 22: Bucks 106-113 @Heat
December 30: Heat 85-104 @Bucks
March 16: Heat 107-94 @Bucks
April 10: Bucks 83-94 @Heat

Metrics, standard or advanced, fail to emphasize the gulf of talent between these two teams.
The Milwaukee Bucks feature incredible firepower in the backcourt, thanks to the troika of Monta Ellis, Brandon Jennings, and J.J. Redick. All three are expected to cannibalize stats in an attempt to get a huge paycheck this summer. It is also important to note that they are all mediocre defenders, and playing them simultaneously is akin to preparing a layup line for the opponents.

Most Bucks fans (at least I believe they have fans) are scratching their heads, wondering how their most viable young asset, Tobias Harris, was sent packing in exchange for Keanu Reeves/Penn Badgley’s doppelganger and a bag of peanuts.

Whatever potency the Bucks backcourt gives in scoring is matched by the frontcourt’s inability to get buckets. Ersan Ilyasova is the lone bright spot, but he roams too far out and camps in the three-point line more frequently than desired, when they already have too much fauna roaming in that vicinity, especially when you throw Mike Dunleavy, Jr. in the mix. At the very least, Ilyasova has ratcheted up his points and rebounds as of late after a subpar November.

Now on to the glaring problem. LARRY SANDERS! (taking the Zach Lowe route here), Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, John Henson, and Samuel Dalembert are no-shows on the offensive end. We can probably give SANDERS! a hall pass since he has been a defensive beast, sending back close to three shots a game into the 10th row. He serves as a help defender and as a last line of defense, similar to what Chris Andersen did for the Denver Nuggets and does now for the Miami Heat.

It is difficult to imagine SANDERS! effectively closing the door on LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, not that any one man can humanly stop those two in close-range combat. In addition, Chris Bosh will smartly draw him out on pick-and-pop plays, thereby limiting his effectiveness even further.

To exacerbate matters, SANDERS! could find himself on the wrong end of ejection calls (hint: there is no right end) on several instances if his frustration gets pent up and unleashed towards the officials. SANDERS! has to stay in the game; at times he is the only one saving the Bucks on defense (20th, 100.4 points allowed per).

The worst thing Jim Boylan can attempt is to counter the Heat attack with his own version of small-ball, utilizing Mbah a Moute as a stretch four even though he has no range beyond 12 feet from the basket. Instead, the Bucks should resolve to playing huge lineups, similar to what the Indiana Pacers did against the Heat during the East Semis last season. It won’t be pretty, but having Ekpe Udoh and Gustavo Ayon could be the Bucks’ best chance (most likely it won’t, but desperate times call for such actions).

From the Heat’s perspective, the game plan is to stop Jennings and Ellis, the latter whom they have been very successful at limiting during the regular season at a paltry 9.5ppg. Those two Bucks account for nearly 40% of the team’s total points (12th, 98.9ppg), and if the Heatles chop their heads off and mount them on the wall, that will ultimately spell the Bucks’ doom.

The Bucks stop here. The coup de grace will come swiftly.

Prediction: Heat in 4

Sunday, April 21, 2013

2013 NBA Western Conference Quarterfinals Predictions: San Antonio vs LA Lakers

(2) San Antonio Spurs 58-24
(7) Los Angeles Lakers 45-37

Season Series: Spurs 2-1
November 14: Spurs 84-82 @Lakers
January 10: Lakers 105-108 @Spurs
April 15: Spurs 86-91 @Lakers

“Kobe is watching us at home. Dr. Buss is watching us up high. Let’s let it out tonight. Everything we got. Everything!” –Dwight Howard

The Los Angeles Lakers have gone through several season restarts. They mourned over Dr. Jerry Buss, the architect of Showtime. They lost Howard, Pau Gasol, Jordan Hill, Steve Nash, and Kobe Bryant at various points of the season. They went through two coaching changes. Phil Jackson came in the building and made Lakers fans swoon at the false hopes of a comeback. Mike D’Antoni adjusts uncomfortably in his hot seat. Though the Lakers have renewed his contract, job security comes at a high price.

Now, D’Antoni attempts to climb his personal Mt. Everest, better known to the public as the San Antonio Spurs.
Of course, annexing the summit rests on D’Antoni’s prized playmaker. How healthy will Nash be if and when he returns in this series? All the attention falls on him and how he gets Howard and Gasol involved on pick-and-rolls, keeping the spacing manageable even as the Spurs defense sees the play developing from the moment he brings the ball upcourt. The challenge falls on two other Lakers to step up: Metta World Peace and Jodie Meeks.

World Peace has experienced a fluke season, with his numbers spiking up slightly after it started taking an egregious downturn since he brought the Wheaties box along after Game 7 of the 2010 Finals. He has taken the second-most threes per game in his career this season (5.5 attempts), and with the return of Nash, he will be tasked to convert on many more kickouts.

The same goes with Meeks, who has struggled since starting in place of Bryant. He has gone 5/21 in his last two games and will need to find a way to bury jumpers because he will get a lot of open looks when the Spurs collapse on LA’s frontcourt.

Other Lakers will be under unfair (but necessary) scrutiny. Steve Blake had back-to-back breakout games, one against these same Spurs, and should be expected to handle defensive chores on Tony Parker, who has not yet fully recovered from his sprained ankle. Antawn Jamison, who has bounced back and forth between surprise X-factor and frustrating momentum-killer, will lick his chops at the sight of guarding Tim Duncan for the first time in the postseason.

There have been a lot of murmurs surrounding the Spurs as they faltered down the stretch with a 12-10 record to wrap up the regular season. Besides Parker, the absence of Manu Ginobili (strained hamstring) has carved up the guard rotation, forcing extended minutes from the likes of Gary Neal and Patty Mills. Boris Diaw also missed time with his own injury woes (spine cyst).

Worse, internal strife was present in a normally professional locker room, as Stephen Jackson was given the boot for complaining about a decreased role on the team. Of course Jackson being buried in the rotation was bound to happen. Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green have both submitted reliable downtown shooting, a large reason why the Spurs continued to be a threat from downtown (4th, 37.6%). The Spurs have given these two youngsters the confidence that they are competent pieces made elite by the system Coach Gregg Popovich runs.

However, Ginobili’s absence is a key loss for the Spurs, because the shooting guard position was supposed to be where they would dominate against the Lakers but now that advantage has been somewhat neutralized. As long as Ginobili is playing hurt, rotation guys like Cory Joseph and Nando De Colo will be forced to produce beyond their limitations. This is definitely a knock on those two, who have gotten minutes but have not yet played up to their billing.

Another concern is the Spurs’ very shallow frontcourt. Behind Duncan, there is DeJuan Blair and Aron Baynes. Matt Bonner as a power forward among the potpourri of Lakers big men could turn into rebounding suicide, as he only averages 1.9rpg. Suddenly, employing Smite-a-Dwight may not be as optimal for the Spurs as it initially sounds. There are times when the Spurs rotation will resemble that of the Austin Toros.

The reason that the Spurs still have the upper hand is not because of Tracy McGrady. McGrady will play a bit role in this series and might not even see significant minutes in the first couple of games. It will be the Spurs’ ball movement that will play a huge factor. The fluidity of the offense is hinged on quick inside-out passing (1st in assists, 25.1 per), making it difficult to close out on a single shooter or post up player.

In a series of banged-up players, the team that has the best player available should be able to lead his team to victory. That player is Duncan, who is having a renaissance year as his 37th birthday fast approaches. Watch him have a slugfest with not only Howard and Gasol, but also with Father Time as he hopes to add to his collection of vintage performances.

Prediction: Spurs in 6

Saturday, April 20, 2013

2013 NBA Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Predictions: Indiana vs Atlanta

(3) Indiana Pacers 49-32*
(6) Atlanta Hawks 44-38

Season Series: Tied 2-2
November 8: Pacers 86-89 @Hawks
December 30: Pacers 100-109 @Hawks
February 6: Hawks 103-114 @Pacers
March 26: Hawks 94-100 @Pacers

Lance Stephenson vs DeShawn Stevenson.

The matchup above reflects the overall temperament of this series. Some fake tough guys, studio gangsters, and players only seeing action due to injuries, etc. These two teams have been so under the radar that this will be the forgotten series when the 2013 playoffs are casually discussed five years from now. It is a shame that such an impression lingers, as these two teams fought vicious battles from 1994-1996, from Dale Davis to Stacey Augmon to Vern Fleming to Daron Oshay Blaylock (yup, Mookie).

Thanks, Basketball Reference. Now, on to the snoozefest.
Indiana has been the East’s darkhorse all season, playing the anti-Heat role. They win through sheer intimidation, crashing the boards, and wiping the glass clean. Though none of their players average double figures in rebounding, it has been a duty shared among Roy Hibbert (8.3), David West (7.7), and surprisingly, Paul George (7.6), who is widely known for his defense, three, and athletic ability. With Tyler Hansbrough and Ian Mahinmi coming off the bench, the Pacers will make life very difficult for the likes of Al Horford and Josh Smith.

Defense will be the calling card of the Pacers, who finished second in points allowed (90.7) thanks to that enormous lineup. It will be interesting how the Hawks try to carve up the defense, as Indiana is not a team that goes small-ball. They force opponents to keep up with their size rather than adjust the other way around.

However, the Pacers have experienced serious slippage, barely going over .500 in the last 20 games of the season, which ultimately costed them homecourt advantage through the East Semis. Coach Frank Vogel has insisted that the team is still establishing its identity as a power-post team and this will be essential as they establish superiority over the Hawks.

In order to achieve this, the guy finding the bigs will need to be 100%. George Hill, who is battling hip and groin injuries will have to come out and face Atlanta’s plethora of point guards. If not, the onus falls on D.J. Augustin, who has vastly underperformed since his breakout season with the Charlotte Bobcats (Good stats/bad team alert!).

For the Hawks, it will be difficult to gauge the two regular season wins against the Pacers, as Lou Williams saw action in both of those games. Without him, the Hawks have given Kyle Korver a more significant role as the team’s fourth option and are squeezing out every ounce of talent from sophomore Shelvin Mack and rookie John Jenkins. Jeff Teague, who was once upon a time not even worth a footnote on the Hawks rotation, is now suddenly expected to carry the team as its bonafide third banana.

On Smith’s part, he knows that this will be the series that general managers will be zeroing in for his next hefty payday. Together with Teague, the two of them form one of the better passing duos in the league, a huge reason behind Atlanta’s finishing among the league leaders in the assists department (2nd, 24.5 per). If Smith turns into the guy with decent shot selection (big if), prevents George from morphing into Reggie Miller Lite (another big if), and boxes out Indiana’s frontline successfully (so many conditionals), he might just dupe a general manager into paying him cash that would make Rashard Lewis blush.

Given those details, the Hawks have too many holes that the Pacers can and will exploit. Atlanta cannot get to the free throw line enough (27th in attempts, 19.7 per), and when they do, they cannot get the ball in the basket (26th, 71.5%). This is an essential shortcoming because Atlanta’s only chance is to get Indian’s frontcourt in foul trouble. To compound matters, Atlanta plays the fifth-worst free throw defense (76.3%), something that they cannot control but needs to be mentioned nonetheless. They get beat on the boards (-2.8) as well. How Larry Drew got the team 44 victories is a minor miracle in itself.

It is a shame that Danny Granger and Williams will be on the sidelines when the series tips off. But then again, neither player would have made the series TNT-worthy.

Prediction: Pacers in 4

*The Indiana Pacers only played 81 regular season games.