Ahhhh yes, the so-called “coronation of King James” finally happened Thursday night as the Miami Heat beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 4-1 for the NBA Championship. LeBron James, the self-proclaimed King, earned his crown in his ninth season in the League, leaving everyone asking questions like “is this redemption,” and “does a title signify the pinnacle for James and will it quiet the haters?”
With one notch on his Championship belt comes a level of respect for James that even the toughest of the haters must acknowledge. You don’t have to like the guy or forgive some of the crappy choices he’s made in the past, but with this title comes the confirmation that LeBron is more than just a superstar; he’s a winner.
James has experienced a true career evolution, but in reverse. As a high school phenomenon, James was, without earning them, handed the keys to the kingdom -based on talent, not results- before making an NBA roster. While he was a celebrity from Day 1 and showcased an arsenal of offensive skills in his very first season as a Cleveland Cavalier, it took James a few years to get his defense up to par, which elevated his game and reputation significantly.
Since becoming the complete package circa 2009, the question seemed to be not “if” but “when” James would win a Championship and enter the elite ranks of the NBA.
For years, nobody doubted James’ talent, instead, using non-basketball reasons to pick the man apart. From the rumored affair between ‘Bron’s mom Gloria and Delonte West, to Handshake-gate vs. the Magic, to The Decision and The Heatles, much of the James-hatred was self inflicted.
The criticisms of being unable, and even worse, unwilling to take “big” shots tainted James’ on-court image just enough to change the question to, “will he EVER win a title?”
Individual talent is no longer good enough for those playing team sports. The debate exists, “can you be at the most elite level without a Championship ring?”
Look at Dan Marino, or Peyton Manning before he finally led the Colts to a Super Bowl victory in 2006?
With career averages of 27.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, 48 percent shooting in 39.9 minutes per game, PLUS a host of hardware including three MVP awards, four NBA All-Defensive First Team honors and eight All-Star appearances, all that remained was a Championship to put a bow on an already-Hall of Fame worthy career.
John Stockton & Karl Malone, TOGETHER, never won a championship.
Eglin Baylor never won a championship.
Charles Barkley never won a championship.
Reggie Miller never won a championship.
Dominique Wilkins never won a championship.
Patrick Ewing never won a championship.
These guys are some of the best to EVER play the game of basketball, an opinion backed up by the fact that each one is a member of the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame. Had James failed to win a title during his career, he would still be in great company. That said, he would be haunted forever, just like the men listed above remain, to this day.
Michael Jordan won his first of six Championships in his seventh season. It took Shaquille O’Neal eight years, and poor Dirk Novitzki toughed out 13 seasons before winning it all.
While second place is indeed the first loser, there is something to be said for the fact that James had already been to the Finals twice, with two different teams. Neither the Cavaliers nor last year’s Heat team would’ve made it there without James on the roster.
Every great individual basketball player needs a good team surrounding him (or her) to win at the highest level. It took James a LONG. ASS. TIME. to get the right people around him on the court, clipboarding on the bench and sitting in the front office before he could possibly put on a ring.
After Miami’s Big Three went through all kinds of trial and error in its first season together, the players finally fell in place this year as the Heat figured it all out. Miami completely dismantled a Thunder team that looked unstoppable, losing a mere three playoff games heading into the Finals.
There would be no taking a backseat for James in the Finals this year, no sir. He did not defer to his teammates. James was the first option, period. That says a lot when Dwayne Wade is on the court as well. I don’t care if Wade looked old and beat up at times, he’s still a damn good basketball player who was dwarfed by LeBron in this series, a few specific moments aside. James averaged 28.6 ppg and 10.2 assists in the series, earning him the title of Finals MVP.
After the series-clinching Game 5 win, Wade said of James, “I don’t know if I could be happier for another guy, another man to succeed in life as I am for him.”
Talk about a different tune. Not so long ago, word would occasionally leak from Cleveland depicting a young, cocky and often times selfish player who was so untouchable that the head coach was afraid to discipline him, causing resentment among fellow Cavs players. Now, it sounds like James is clearly adored by his Miami teammates, including Wade, the brightest of stars in his own right.
The haters will keep on hating. “Well, how many rings will he get? I mean, Mark Madsen has more rings than LeBron.”
True. But who cares?
In my book, all it takes is one, therefor James can finally rest on top of the mountain and enjoy the view.
The Kings went from trying to make happy history by winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in the franchise’s 45-year existence to possibly ending up on the wrong side of history with a hockey collapse of epic proportion.
In a seven-game series, a 3-0 lead looks insurmountable regardless of the sport. A deficit of that magnitude has never been overcome in an NBA playoff series. The Boston Red Sox were the first to break the barrier in their legendary ALCS win against the New York Yankees en route to the World Series title in 2004.
Compared to baseball and hoops, Hockey teams are entitled to have hope when down 0-3, albeit just a tiny sliver. Three times in NHL playoff history has a team climbed out of the huge 3-0 hole to win the series.
As a No. 8 seed ripping through the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Kings have not only taken the hockey community by surprise, but it’s own home city of Los Angeles has been transformed from a collection of beach-going basketball and baseball fans to a population of people warmly embracing the cold ice of hockey along with the excitement and edge the fight for the Cup creates.
Winning 10 consecutive road games in this year’s playoffs (12 dating back to last season) en route to series victories over the 1, 2 and 3 seeds out West had the media and most fans crowning the Kings invincible heading into the Cup Finals against the also surprising New Jersey Devils.
Beating the Devils twice in Jersey only continued the clamor for the Kings, despite both games being decided in overtime and the Devils actually outplaying L.A. in Game 2. But Game 3 in L.A. was all Kings as the home team crushed the visiting Devils 4-0 making the sweep look pretty realistic.
The Kings had twice led three games to none in these playoffs and lost the fourth game at home, so it shouldn’t have shocked anybody that a desperate Devils team staved elimination with a Game 4 victory, sweeping the brooms aside. But the Kings are better on the road than on home ice making a Game 5 win all the more difficult for the Devils.
The Kings have vastly improved over the last few months (after a trade and coaching change) as the players have become so in synch with each other that L.A.’s lines seem to move in flawless formations with each man knowing exactly what each of his teammates is doing and where on the ice he’s doing it.
L.A. has won games while being outplayed because the Kings players have consistently been in the right place at the right time for rebounds, redirects and deflections near the net, on faceoffs, etc. Despite playing extremely well in Game 5, the Kings lacked their usual “right place, right time” magic. Missed shots that lingered deliciously close to Martin Brodeur and were ripe for the taking went untouched by the Kings who were often times nowhere near position when it came to rebounds and second chances. The Kings were off-kilter while the Devils were carried on the back of Brodeur.
With Bryce Salvador’s shot deflecting off of L.A.’s Slava Voynov and into the net, along with captain Zach Parise’s goal, the Devils found themselves with the “right place, right time” style typically fit for the Kings.
With the 2-1 victory, the Devils became the first team to force a Game 6 after losing the the first three in the Stanley Cup Final since 1945 and only the third team ever (out of 26) to do so since adopting a seven-game series format in 1939.
Only the 1942 Maple Leafs have overcome a 0-3 deficit in the finals to win Lord Stanley’s cup. 33 years later, the New York Islanders turned the 0-3 upside down on the Penguins, beating Pittsburgh in seven games in the 1975 quarterfinals.
But what has me worried is what I watched with my own two eyes while I lived in Boston in 2010 as the Philadelphia Flyers became only the third team (in 167 tries) in NHL history to overcome a 3-0 deficit to win a series. The momentum shift was palpable in that series, like a ship swaying back and forth on choppy waters. The ship finally settled in Philly’s favor after the Flyers took Game 5. That was the turning point, the halfway mark.
It’s easy to say, “boy, it sure is hard to beat a team four straight times.” Heck, I thought there was NO WAY that after winning 20 straight games, the Spurs could lose four in a row to the Thunder. It just didn’t make sense.
But it does make sense, especially in a sport like hockey where one mistake can cost an entire game. The first two games in this series could’ve gone either way. The series easily could have returned to L.A. with the Devils leading 2-0. That’s why it is so hard to predict “if the Kings lose Game 6, they’re done. The momentum will be clearly on the Devils’ side and it’s over.” All of the momentum in the world can’t stop one guy from making one mistake, turning the tide.
If the Kings do lose Game 6 at home, Game 7 will prove to be one fierce battle for the crown as it will truly be anyone’s game. I say Kings in six, or Devils in seven.
If you’ve watched even one NBA playoff game this year, you’ve probably heard “the end of an era” used in reference to (insert any old team here). The cliche might be warranted, depending on the team.
Should the Celtics big three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen dissolve in any fraction during the offseason (win or lose against Miami, or Oklahoma City), “end of an era” would seem appropriate considering the impact those men had on the franchise.
Then we have Boston’s western counterpart in the Lakers, who were there every step of the way as the Celtics established their long-awaited reemergence as a league power.
After a failed attempt at trading Pau Gasol in the offseason, the likelihood of seeing the Lakers nucleus of the Spaniard, Andrew Bynum and Kobe Bryant remain in tact for 2012-2013 is slim. Dismantling the L.A. trio would certainly signify the end of the Lakers latest championship era.
But we’ve seen this act before. When Shaquille O’Neal and Phil Jackson left L.A., the Lakers were doomed. That was the end of an era. That is, of course until the Lakers acquired Gasol from Memphis for peanuts (thanks again, Jerry West). Then a new era of winning began as the Lakers made three straight NBA Finals appearances bringing home two Championships.
L.A.’s second title in the latest era came against the Celtics, who, after January 1, 2010, were a .500 team. The Big Three was too old and too injured. They weren’t even expected to win a first-round playoff series, much less make it to a Game 7 of the Finals and come within minutes of title No. 18. No, that era had ended with a regular season loss to the 12-win New Jersey Nets.
How ‘about the San Antonio Spurs? How many times have they been “done?” Who would’ve imagined a 36-year-old Tim Duncan would average more than 15 points per game and 9 rebounds per game while the 30-year-old Tony Parker would have the best statistical season of his career? This “old” team was the fastest and most entertaining Spurs team I’ve seen in the last five years. The Thunder are the only team with comparable ball movement and quickness. Who’s to say with good health and a few minor adjustments that the Spurs can’t get right back in the saddle next season?
“Out with the old, in with the new,” is inevitable for any dynasty or successful NBA team. The Chicago Bulls spent plenty of time in the toilet after the Jordan era and have just recently returned to glory in the last few years, thanks to Derrick Rose. After one magical run led by Shaq and Dwayne Wade back in 2006, the Heat needed LeBron James and Chris Bosh to get back to the Championship ranks.
Neither the Bulls nor Heat are that “young,” as the average player’s ages are 27.9 and 28.6, respectively. In fact, when you look at the last ten NBA champions (Mavs, Lakers, Celtics, Spurs, Heat and Pistons), most of those teams were comprised of “mature” players with a sprinkle of youth and veteran savvy mixed in.
That’s where the Oklahoma City Thunder enter the equation. The Thunder are the seventh youngest team in the NBA with players on the roster averaging 25.8 years of age. OKC’s nucleus of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden is barely old enough to get into the club as KD & Westbrook are 23 years old and Harden, a mere 22. That said, we’ve watched this team get to the top the old fashioned way, by working hard and improving every single year, climbing its way up up the mountain.
When a team this young makes it this far (which is extremely rare in general in the NBA), I would usually peg it as an anomaly with few expectations for the future. But the Thunder seem to be the real deal after disposing of the Mavs, Lakers and Spurs -three of the last four NBA championship teams- in one postseason.
Just because the Thunder are legit and likely to stay atop the NBA standings for the foreseeable future doesn’t mean that the torch has been passed for good. I look at it like a game of tug of war. The Celtics, Lakers and Spurs are all on one side of the rope while the Heat and Thunder are pulling from the other end with neither side able to force the other into the mud pit.
Does that mean there is room at the top for all five teams? Nope! Somebody has to give, it’s just a matter of who gets pulled down first.
If two of the Celtics’ Big Three remain on the roster next year and Boston makes it back to the Finals, clearly, they still won’t officially be over the hill, despite our best efforts to put them there. The Lakers can trade Gasol and still end up with a team in title contention. Should Gregg Popovich rest the Spurs elders from time to time throughout next season, I wouldn’t be surprised to see San Antonio win it all.
For now, we’ve got the Thunder in it to win it, and the possibility of the new Big Three or the old Big Three trying to show those young bucks from OKC how its done.
In a condensed season that has lacked consistency in quality of play and top-notch rivalry games, the NBA fed its hungry fans with a prime time basketball feast on Wednesday night. Both the Thunder vs. Heat and Lakers vs. Clippers games were full of excitement and intensity, fueling the competition as the league prepares for the playoffs.
The Heat and Thunder proved that in fact, basketball is a game of runs, and typically the team that puts their foot on the gas last comes out the victor. Oklahoma City couldn’t sustain its early lead as the Heat came roaring back in what turned out to be a nail-biting 98-93 finish, good for Miami’s 17th consecutive home win, which is the longest streak in the league this season.
Sitting just two games behind the Bulls for first place in the East, Miami would do itself a huge favor by pulling ahead of Chicago as home court clearly means a lot to this team which is poised to, once again, do real damage to opponents come the playoffs.
That was just one of a few pertinent messages delivered by the Heat with a victory in which they overcame an 11-point second quarter deficit and were held to a dismal 37 percent shooting overall. Apparently, some people think the Heat are a bunch of wussie, prima donnas. Now, the latter might be true but this is one tough group of players that has battled injury, top-notch defenders and physical play throughout much of their careers.
Wednesday night brought more of the same as the Thunder weren’t the least bit intimidated by the defending runner-up Heatles. It was no guts, no glory for OKC which was evident in their chippy style of play and the willingness of Russell Westbrook and Kendrick Perkins to go one or two body slams short of WWE on LeBron James and Dwayne Wade. With the evolution of Perky in OCK comes more and more of a Celtics-like attitude of entitlement and fearlessness that the Thunder need to survive the playoffs out West.
Despite relinquishing an early and ultimately losing the game, the Thunder made just as big of a statement as the hometown Heat in the fact that they are a forced to be reckoned with on the court, both physically and fundamentally. With the media’s coronation of these two as eventual Finals foes, both teams had to send a message and both did, even though only one team got the “W” at the end of the night.
Across the country in Downtown L.A., another edition of intra-Staples Center play commenced between the Lakers and Clippers, duking it out in front of a Red and White home crowd.
It is truly fascinating how one player can change the tone of a team, and thus the ambiance of an entire rivalry.
Blake Griffin brought boatloads of excitement and confidence to the Clippers in his debut NBA season last year and while the “other” L.A. team certainly improved, they didn’t exactly instill fear in their bully big brothers wearing Purple and Gold.
But this season is completely different. Not only are the Clippers in the playoff hunt - and by that, I mean actually going to make the post season, instead of hovering between 8th and 12th out West (and that’s during a good year!) - but the team’s attitude has undergone a complete makeover with the addition of Chris Paul.
It started with the first two pre-season games on the schedule for both teams, which saw the two LA squads playing each other. From opening tip, there were no smiles and only scowls, specifically on the face of Blake Griffin, which would soon spread to the rest of his Clippers teammates.
The Clipps put the Lake Show on notice: we’re no longer the lovable underdog who you share an arena with and whose fans buy our cheap season tickets just for the two games here at Staples where you, the Lakers are considered the “road team.” We have an All-Star-caliber lineup of our own with Paul, Griffin, De’Andre Jordan and Chauncy Billups (pre-injury, of course), so don’t mess with us or you’ll be sorry.
The Clippers carried that swag right into the regular season and have not let up against the Lakers. Heading into their third and final meeting of the regular season, the series was tied 1-1, with those two games consisting of 11 individual technical fouls between both teams.
A red-hot Kobe Bryant and the Lakers put the little Clipps in their place early on in the rubber match, but the Red and White fought back with a massive run of their own, making the Heat’s comeback look lame in comparison to CP3 & company’s comeback from a 15-point third quarter deficit.
There were dunks, threes, and fouls galore in a game full of high-flying antics and brutal physicality that scared the Lakers straight, as late-game defense coupled with the hoops-heroics of Bryant and Bynum sealed a 113-108 Lakers victory.
The Clippers are now 2 1/2 games behind the Lakers who own the 3-spot in the Western Conference, at least for the time being. More importantly, the Lakers own the tiebreak as they won the season series against the Clippers 2-1.
Including the two pre-season games, each of the five meetings between the Lakers and Clippers this season were worth watching as every one of them involved a sense of urgency, rivalry, bitterness and importance. A few years ago, when the Clippers made the playoffs for the first time in what felt like forever, there was a possibility that the Lakers would meet their neighbors in the second round, but that never came to fruition as the Phoenix Suns knocked out the Lakers in round one before giving the Clippers the same treatment in the second round.
A Lakers/Clippers playoff series could easily go seven games even though I think the Lakers are a stronger team on many levels at this point.
Aside from providing ratings gold for the NBA and various TV networks, both a Lakers vs Clippers and Heat vs Thunder playoff series would be a welcome treat for basketball fans.
Alrighty ballers, the fun is over.
You’ve had two months to remember how to play basketball, learn to play alongside your current teammates, and use the fact that you were without an organized off-season as an excuse for playing poorly. We all had fun watching the All-Star weekend festivities. We laughed, we cried (well, hopefully not, but I’m sure somebody did) and it seemed like the players enjoyed themselves (sans Kobe’s nose), whether they were in Orlando or relaxing elsewhere and taking advantage of the time off.
With all of that nonsense out of the way, it’s time to quit playing games and step up it up on the court. After nearly 40 games of the 66-game schedule played thus far, most teams have not impressed during this truncated season. The Bulls, Heat and Thunder are the cream of the crop, but there’s a significant drop-off after the top three. The difference isn’t necessarily in wins and losses, but in consistency.
Oklahoma City is fresh and fierce. These young bucks have finally honed that killer instinct mentality allowing them to demoralize the opponent and kick it in to high gear down the stretch if need be. I’m interested to see if the Thunder will lose any firepower once the playoffs start as teams with older rosters will benefit from the rest between games.
Miami is out of this world when all of the guys are healthy and have their heads screwed on straight. As most pundits said from day one (and I agree), it’s the Heat’s championship to lose. Aside from last night’s loss to Utah and the occasional slip-up, I’m curious to see if Miami can maintain the standard they’ve set for themselves. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it all come crashing down at some point, but as usual, that would most likely come not in the regular season, but in the playoffs where it counts.
I think the Bulls are the most fun team in the league to watch (with the Timberwolves right behind them, believe it not) because they have blended fight and finesse together, creating a smooth yet edgy style of play. Obviously, if Derrick Rose suffers any relatively long-term injury, the team is in trouble, so lets all say our prayers at night that that doesn’t happen. For now let’s enjoy Rose, the great team around him and the sweet sounds of Tom Thibodeau screaming about defense from the sidelines.
As for the other 27 teams in the league, get your act together! I know it can’t be easy, going from couch potato to NBA player once the owners lifted the lockout, but you should be properly conditioned by now. If not, perhaps the coaches need to re-evaluate how they rest their players (see Greg Popovich in San Antonio).
The time is now to put aside any differences or bulging egos in the spirit of team sportsmanship and winning. Quit hogging the ball and pass it to the open man or someone with a higher shooting percentage than you. It won’t kill ya! I promise. Well, I guess that applies to everyone but LeBron. Sorry dude.
Sure, some teams aren’t even in the running to make it through April, but so what? That wouldn’t stop the Honey Badger from playing his butt off, would it? No. He don’t give a s*** about the playoffs! He just wants to kick ass and take names.
Charlotte, I KNOW you can win at least 12 games this season. Seriously. If not for your own pride, do it for the poor media that has to cover you and somehow find a different way to write about losing evert night. A few years ago, the Nets were on the brink of finishing the season with the worst record in modern NBA history and even they managed to escape that fate. Bobcats, you can do it!
All of the teams in playoff contention today are talented and worth watching, but the team that excites me the most here in the second half is the Minnesota Timberwolves. They are only two games out of the final playoff spot out West and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them sneak in as the last few seeds could easily shuffle around several times before the post-season begins.
They remind me of the 1999-2001 Clippers teams that only won maybe 20-30 games a year, but were so fun to watch. Those teams had some wonderfully talented guys and decent role players too, they just never found a way to win together, but gave it one hell of a shot on most nights making their games very entertaining.
I love Kurt Rambis, but Rick Adelman seems to be a better fit for the TWolves, a team with an astounding six players who were Top 5 draft picks. With a coach who knows how to harvest talent, this team is a move or two away from a Thunder-like assent over the next few seasons. For now, I’ll watch Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, Derrick Williams and a red hot Michael Beasley any night. Rubio is a highlight reel all on his own and once he has an NBA season or two under his belt, WATCH OUT.
Instead of watching players get injured and burned out, I’m hoping the rest of the NBA regular season is fruitful with skill, drama and competition. After all, that’s the way it should be.
If the NBA Playoffs started today, hoops fans would be happy campers! Why? A first-round Heat vs. Knicks match-up alone would be enough to send ratings through the roof and keep the many TV talking heads yapping from here to eternity.
Can you imagine? The Heatles versus Linsanity? Then again, it would be somewhat of a letdown if the most exciting series of the playoffs came in the first round. Either way, it’s a win-win situation, right?
If the NBA playoffs started today, we’d have a familiar cast of characters out East:
8. New York
…and an eclectic and somewhat surprising group in the West:
1. Oklahoma City
2. San Antonio
3. LA Clippers
5. LA Lakers
The teams in playoff contention (at the moment) in the Western Conference aren’t that shocking in and of themselves, it’s their seeding that brings the element of surprise.
Before the Chris Paul trade (umm, the second trade… to LA’s “other” team), who would’ve guessed the “Clippers” and “playoffs” would be words spoken in the same sentence? Sure, the Clippers had potential with a young nucleus of Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Eric Gordon and a veteran in Chris Kaman, but still… Donald Sterling’s team would be the type of squad to evoke a statement like “I’ll believe it when I see it” in conversation.
Instead, Chris Paul and the Clippers are only 3.5 games behind the first place Oklahoma City Thunder, a team that has risen to power the old fashioned way; through hard work and experience. This could be the year we finally see ThunderUp in the NBA Finals. Perhaps the youth of the Thunder’s roster gives them an advantage in this shortened season as OKC trails only the Heat and Bulls with a 23-7 record. Could an older, more experienced team catch up to them in the playoffs when everyone has a few days rest between each game? Sure, but Kevin Durant and Co. look pretty good halfway through the season and have been fascinating to watch in the playoffs in the last two years.
Sandwiched between the Thunder and Clippers are the aging San Antonio Spurs who could earn Greg Popovich a second Coach of the Year award (he also won the award in 2003). The Spurs have managed to stay atop the Western Conference without their star guard, Manu Ginobili who has missed 22 of the Spurs’ 31 games with an injury. What the Spurs have done is quite impressive, and as usual, until the playoffs, San Antonio will be largely ignored by many in the mainstream media. The Spurs have never been a flashy team full of typical stars or large personalities, but come playoff time, you’d better hope your favorite team doesn’t have to play them.
The Dallas Mavericks are basically back on track after an ugly start to the season and if they can stay healthy, I think they have a great shot at returning to the NBA finals. The Lakers, Grizzlies, Rockets and Nuggets are all in the hunt, each within two games of the 4-seed Mavs. All of these teams have a legitimate shot at making the post season, but it wouldn’t shock me if Portland, Utah or even Minnesota finds a way to sneak in, knocking a current contender out of the race. With young players like Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams sharing the court, the Timberwolves are easily the most entertaining team to watch on any given night. They remind me of the Thunder a few years ago: they are one or two pieces short of putting the puzzle together. If they can make a personnel move or two, these guys will be ready to shine after another year or so of learning how to play together.
If I had to predict today, who we’ll see in the NBA Finals, I’m going with a rematch (or three-match) of Heat vs. Mavericks, with the possibility of Heat vs. Thunder at a close second.
The Miami Heat are ON FIRE right now. So what if they lose a few games here and there, that doesn’t matter too much. We’ve watched them win with only two of their Big 3 healthy and playing, so barring a catastrophic injury, the Heat can easily survive the wear-and-tear of a typical NBA regular season. Miami leads the league in scoring, field goal percentage and three-point field goal percentage. The Heat are third in free throw attempts and somewhere in the middle of the pack when it comes to defense and rebounding. I think the Heat will roll right through the regular season and will once again have a chance to prove their worth in the NBA Finals. Of course, all the focus will be on LeBron James and whether or not he has the mental fortitude to win it all. From taking the last shot to making bizarre comments in the press, it will once again be the LeBrown Show should the Heat make it back to the Finals. In the words of Bart Scott, CANTWAIT!
The only team I can picture challenging the Heat in the East is Chicago. If Derrick Rose can overcome his back problems in the near future, there is no reason the Bulls shouldn’t make it to the Conference Finals. Chicago is second in the NBA in defense allowing 88.1 points per game (the 76ers and Celtics are tied for first, allowing 87.2 ppg), second in rebounding and ninth in scoring. The Bulls are tied for 15th in free throw attempts (22 per game) which surprises me, and are 25th in terms of free throw makes, capitalizing on only 72 percent of their attempts. The Bulls are a good team, even without the superstar Rose on the court. But can Chicago make it to the Conference Finals without Rose? I don’t think so.
The 76ers, Magic, and Hawks are all within five games of the Heat and Bulls, but none of them excite me all that much. I think Philly is the best of the bunch and would welcome a first round playoff series between them and the Indiana Pacers, which is what we’d get if the playoffs began today.
The Pacers are an interesting team that is flying under most peoples’ radars, including mine. I had forgot that Indiana made the playoffs last season and was reminded of it only when they pulled off an impressive come-from-behind victory over the Lakers at Staples Center back in January. I see the Pacers as a younger, Eastern Conference version of the the Spurs. They won’t razzle-dazzle you, but they’ll find a way to beat your team down for the win. Like last year, I think this group will put up another tough fight in the playoffs with the difference being that I think they’ll pull off a first-round victory this time.
Now we come to the Celtics and the Knicks. The Celtics and Lakers, oddly enough, are in the same boat. Each squad’s Big 3 is no longer good enough on it’s own to propel their teams to victory. It’s sad watching both LA and Boston unable to do what came quite easily over the last few years knowing each team is probably just one player away from being a championship contender this year. For the Lakers, it’s a point guard, for the Celtics, it’s a dominant center. The Celtics are still fun to watch because you never know which team is going to show up each night so there is always an element of mystery when they take the court. As we’ve seen recently, the Celtics seem to take a nose dive after the half-way point in the season when age and health start to take a toll, but come playoff time, the older guys have adequate time to rest between games and get re-energized. As long as Boston makes it into the playoffs, they are in good shape. I’d be shocked if Danny Ainge doesn’t make a move of some sort by the trade deadline so who knows what the Celtics will look like in April.
Because of the NBA lockout, many teams have needed more time than usual to adjust, working out the kinks long into the start of the regular season. This might be the year where the NBA looks more like the NHL, where playoff seeding means virtually nothing as the lower seeds frequently beat the higher seeds in post season play.
The Knicks are a wildcard right now. Jeremy Lin has seemingly taken over the basketball world and we are all in a tizzy over how he has turned the Knicks around overnight. The story is sensational, in both meanings of the word, and hopefully New York can keep the train rolling. When the Knicks are good, it’s good for basketball. Period.
The Knicks are playing well at the moment, but who knows how the chemistry will change once Carmelo Anthony returns. As instrunmental as Lin has been to New York’s success, the addition of JR Smith might prove to be just as important as Smith is already in post season form after playing for several months in China. Plus, it would be helpful for Amare Stoudemire to turn into his old self by upping his shooting percentage.
But back to the “important” stuff… If Mike D’Antoni can figure out a way for Lin and Anthony to coexist, we won’t get a first-round Heat/Knicks match-up because there’s no chance New York will head into the playoffs as the eighth and final seed in the east. If Lin and Anthony can work together, the Knicks will not only make the playoffs for only the second time since 2004, but they could find themselves hosting a first-round series at Madison Square Garden. Wouldn’t that be something?
This is why Kendrick Perkins is one of my favorite athletes to cover as a reporter. He looks mean and scary but the Oklahoma City Thunder center is actually a really nice guy and also happens to be exceptionally honest.
A week or so after getting dunked on by Clippers forward Blake Griffin, Perkins had a lot to say, not only about the dunk itself, but about LeBron James who famously tweeted after the dunk, “Dunk of the Year! @blakegriffin just dunked on Kendrick Perkins so hard!!! Wow! I guess I’m No. 2 now. Move over #6.”
I was in Indianapolis covering Super Bowl week when the dunk happened, and when I saw James’ tweet up on SportsCenter, my first thought was, “wow, LeBron can’t help but show arrogance even in trying to compliment someone else! Go figure.” It turns out I wasn’t alone as Perkins absolutely ripped James in a conversation with Yahoo Sports writer Marc J. Spears.
Take a gander at this missile Perky launched directly at the Heatles super star:
“You don’t see Kobe [Bryant] tweeting,” Perkins said. “You don’t see Michael Jordan tweeting. If you’re an elite player, plays like that don’t excite you. At the end of the day, the guys who are playing for the right reasons who are trying to win championships are not worrying about one play.
“They also are not tweeting about themselves talking about going down to No. 2. I just feel [James] is always looking for attention and he wants the world to like him.”
I had a hot flash reading that. So juicy. So angry. So real.
Perkins - a former alter boy who once told me he needed custom-made robes to fit his large frame as a child - threw down SO hard on LeBron right there that he should probably go to church and ask for forgiveness. On the other hand, Big Perk is just speaking the truth, isn’t he?
“The people that move out the way and stuff are the people who have insecurity problems,” preached Perkins. “That’s my job. How will my teammates look at me if next time I just back out the way and just let him dunk when I’m supposed to be defensive-minded, a shot-blocker? That would be a coward move on me. He’d just have to dunk on me again.”
I love that. Perkins would rather get posterized while doing the right thing than save himself the embarrassment by backing down.
I have yet to meet a reporter who knows Kendrick Perkins and doesn’t like him. While the Big 3 and Rajon Rondo possessed the top talent in Boston, Perkins had become the heart and soul of the Celtics. Perkins represented what that Celtics group was at its core, becoming an extension of Kevin Garnett in terms of ferocity, intimidation and drive.
The Thunder are lucky as hell to have a veteran like Perkins to keep the young guys on track and teach them what defense and determination are all about. In most cases, I would think a move like this by a player was a calculated way of using the media, but knowing Perk, Spears might have just asked the perfect questions that solicited honest answers from a genuine, hard-working man.
Sunday, March 25… Mark your calendars folks because LeBron and the Heat will face Perky down low and the rest of the Thunder in Oklahoma City. The teams meet again in Miami on Wednesday, April 4. I’m guessing LeBron will play with an air of oblivion, as if Perkins did not verbally abuse him in the press. As for Perkins, I expect him to put on his meanest and nastiest game face yet, using the tweet and his own comments as big-time motivation next time he takes on the Heat. A la Bart Scott, “CANTWAIT!!!”
To read the rests of Perkins’ gritty comments, click the link for the original story from Marc J. Spears: http://sports.yahoo.com/nba/news?slug=mc-spears_kendrick_perkins_lebron_james_blake_griffin_020712
Thanks to the groups of lawyers representing the NBA and its players, we were given the gift of the professional basketball this Christmas. Opening day of the shortened 2011-2012 NBA season was no throw-away as each of the five games had something to positive offer as well as something to hate on. In the spirit of Christmas, we present the naughty and nice of NBA’s opening day!
The Justin Beiber/NBA Holiday Promos: Was the idea that the Beibs has the power to draw in the under 18 female viewers? Surely, the NBA’s target audience was cringing while being force-fed spoonfuls of the talented teeny-bopper throughout the day.
Rajon Rondo, But In A Good way: The Celtics guard stole the show for me (despite Carmelo Anthony’s performance) as many wondered if preseason trade rumors would distract Rondo and make his already questionable attitude worse. If anything, Rondo did what the best competitors do as he excelled among controversy (real or perceived), picking apart the Knicks defense and dropping 31 points and 13 assists while logging five steals in Madison Square Garden. While the Knicks escaped with a 106-104 win, Rondo’s performance was encouraging for a team playing without the injured Paul Pierce and boasting Jermaine O’Neal as the starting center.
Lamar Odom: Adding insult to the injury of his new team being humiliated by the Heat, Lamar Odom got himself tossed out of his first game playing for the Dallas Mavericks. Coincidently, the ejection was the second in as many games for Khloe’s husband dating back to last season when Odom was ejected in what would be the Lakers final playoff game after being swept by the Mavs in Dallas. This time around, Lamar got tossed because he barked at the referee about a foul call in the third quarter, or as my Mom explained to my Dad, “he sassed the ref.” Looks like L.O.’s track record in American Airlines Center could use a turn-around real soon.
Dallas Mavericks: The reigning NBA Champion Mavericks were god awful in their season debut leaving a sellout crowd disappointed in Dallas as last season’s finals foe, the Miami Heat trounced the home team 105-94. The game was nowhere near as close as the final score with the Heat leading by 35 points midway through the third quarter. We’ll address the Heat in the “nice” section, but the Mavs, while still reigning champs, lost several vital pieces of the title-winning team, such as J.J. Barea and Tyson Chandler. The addition of Sixth Man Of The Year Lamar Odom is fantastic, but with Vince Carter and Delonte West also new to the roster, Rick Carlisle, Dirk Nowitzki and the gang have a lot of bonding to do in order to find the right team chemistry.
Dwight Howard: The Orlando Magic big man had a less than Super performance on Sunday as the Oklahoma City Thunder held Dwight Howard to only 11 points. Thunder bigs Kendrick Perkins and Nazr Mohammed did most of the damage on Howard helping OKC to a 97-89 win. Sure, it was an ugly team effort for the Magic as only three players scored in double figures, but as the leader of your team, trade talks or not, Howard needs to shoot better than 4-12 from the field (he’s 7 feet tall, c’mon now) in 38 minutes. Howard grabbed 15 rebounds, so I’ll give him credit for that, but if nobody on the team can convert rebounds into points, why bother? Meanwhile Kevin Durant balled out, dropping 30 on Orlando in a solid overall team win by the Thunder at home. By the way, if you folks haven’t checked out Kendrick Perkins on Twitter (he recently joined), you are missing out big time. He is one of my favorite athletes I’ve covered as he is sweet, sincere and brutally honest. Follow him on twitter for some good laughs and Perky knowledge bombs at @KendrickPerkins
Drunk Santa Harassing LeBron James: A lovely man dressed as Santa Claus heckled LeBron James with an alcoholic beverage in hand as the Heatles star shot free throws during Miami’s shellacking of the Mavs. Santa, clearly a Dallas homer, shouted to James, “What do you want from Santa? A ring?” I would give this guy props if he had anything original to say to James, but not only was he boring, but his team was getting hammered which makes heckling a bit pointless.
Carmelo Anthony: On a day where the New York Knicks led by 17 points and trailed by 10 in the same game, Carmelo Anthony provided the only real consistency for the home team in MSG. Anthony scored 20 of his 37 points in the second half and sunk two free throws which proved to be the game-winning points for the Knicks. After trying to pull a Sprewell on former teammate Billy Walker after the game, Celtics big man Kevin Garnett told reporters, “They seem to have a little swag and confidence behind them. It’s good for the city. It’s good for the Knicks. I’m going to see how consistent they are with that, but for the most part Carmelo played really well.” When KG shows you love after you beat him, that is saying something.
Los Angeles Clippers Swagger: There was no shortage of confidence among the Clippers starting lineup; Caron Butler, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Chauncey Billups and Chris Paul took the court at ORACLE Arena in Oakland beaming with pride and a sense of belonging as they faced the Golden State Warriors. While the Clippers performance was far from perfect and the 105-86 win over the Warriors was closer than the score indicates, the Clipps season opener was encouraging as the guys demonstrated noticeable differences from Clippers past. As an L.A. native and long time Clippers fan, I have never seen a Clippers team with this kind of swagger. There was a time when a young run & gun collection of guys like Darius Miles, Quentin Richardson and Lamar Odom got cocky after doubling their win total one year after a 15-win season. Once Blake Griffin took off last season, the Clippers showed more and more confidence with each game they played, but this season, that positive attitude is on a different level. Now watching the Clipp Joint play with legitimate energy and boldness from the opening tip (backed up by their play in the preseason and down the stretch vs. Golden State) until the final buzzer sounds is really refreshing.
Miami Heat: Yes, it was only the first game of the season but it was important for the Heat to get off to a good start this year, especially given the time and place of their 2011-2012 debut. Heat head coach Eric Spoelstra kept his team sequestered as the Mavericks unveiled their championship banner and celebrated last season’s finals win over Miami on the court before the game. It was a small gesture that sent a strong message that their finals failure was in the past and it was time for the uber-talented Heat to start anew. That they did as Miami scored at least 30 points in each of the first three quarters, and at one point, held a 35-point lead en route to smoking the Mavs 105-94. LeBron James and Dwayne Wade scored 37 and 26 points respectively as the Heat finally got the better of the Mavs; at least for one game.
NAUGHTY & NICE
The final minutes of the Bulls/Lakers game played out like a poetic Wagner opera, full of surprise, joy and heartache. My eyes began to water and butterflies took over my stomach after Chicago’s defense forced a turnover resulting in a gorgeous Derrick Rose floater good for a one point Bulls lead with 4.8 seconds to play. The beauty of DRose’s shot coupled with the anticipation of watching perhaps another Kobe Bryant game winning shot was a bit overwhelming for me on Day 1 of the NBA season.
While the home team Lakers started strong despite a torn ligament in Kobe’s shooting wrist as well as being without center Andrew Bynum (who is serving a four game suspension), L.A. let it all slip away in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. The Bulls fell flat for a good chunk of the game, seemingly unable to hit air with the basketball or play anything resembling defense. But that all changed when Chicago woke up as Rose went down with 3:34 left to play after the league MVP took a shot to the head, care of teammate Luol Deng’s elbow, as he landed a pretty up & under for two points. Rose hit the deck shortly after, and clutching his head, the Bulls took a timeout to make sure he was okay and had not received a concussion. Rose stayed in the game and from that moment on, Chicago’s offense and defense were synchronized enough to dig them out of an 11-point hole and lead them to a one-point, 88-87 win over LA.
For the Lakers, they have to be pleased with the play of Kobe as well as Pau Gasol, despite the drama surrounding a failed trade that would’ve sent the Spaniard to Houston for Chris Paul. Role players (aka guys you probably didn’t know existed) like Josh McRoberts, Devin Ebanks and Steve Blake were impressive in running Mike Brown’s new offense as well as variations of Phil Jackson’s old triangle. The Lakers defense was also spectacular until the final minutes. It is not encouraging for LA that they had the Bulls down in the dumps and couldn’t keep them there, at home, on opening day, with the Staples Center going crazy.
As for the Bulls, they struggled to shoot and rebound for much of the game, despite having scoring ability and being one of the league’s top rebounding teams last season. The defense was non-existent which was shocking as the Bulls had the top defense in the league last season. Despite a long rough patch in this one, the team managed to turn water into wine, pulling the win out of nowhere. As usual, DRose did his part but Deng was also sensational, playing stellar defense down the stretch and scoring 21 points, second only to Rose’s 22 for the Bulls. I think this young Bulls team started slow and just needed a while to realize the lockout truly is over, for real, and no, they weren’t playing in a charity game or Vegas league contest. The Bulls are incredibly talented and fun to watch, thus I wouldn’t anticipate too many more slow starts like the one we witnessed against the Lakers on Christmas.
The Boston Celtics announced Saturday that the contract of Jeff Green will be voided as a result of the forward being diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm. The 25-year-old will undergo season-ending heart surgery to repair the problem.
This incident is important on both micro and macro scales.
After reporting to training camp on Dec. 9, the condition was discovered when Green failed a stress test during his physical. Several cardiac specialists recommended the surgery that should allow Green to resume his basketball career next season.
According to the Mayo Clinic website, an aortic aneurysm (which can cause fatal bleeding) is described as, “a weakened and bulging area in the upper part of the aorta, the major blood vessel that feeds blood to the body. Because the aorta is the body’s main supplier of blood, a ruptured thoracic aortic aneurysm can cause life-threatening bleeding.”
Green is not the first professional athlete this year who has discovered a life-threatening condition via a team physical.
In October, the Eagles medical staff discovered a brain tumor when running back Jerome Harrison underwent a required physical after being traded by the Detroit Lions to Philadelphia. The Washington Post reported that Harrison told the Eagles doctor he suffered from headaches, prompting the doctor to order an MRI which revealed the tumor. ESPN reported that Harrison’s surgery was successful as doctors removed the entire tumor.
Had Harrison not been traded, or Green not signed a new contract, both of their lives would still be in medical jeopardy, at best.
News of Green’s heart condition elicited sad memories for Celtics fans as the death of Reggie Lewis in 1993 still haunts Boston. The late Celtic died during an off-season practice after having previously shown symptoms of a heart condition (including collapsing during a playoff game) in the months leading up to his death.
Lewis died of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, commonly referred to as an an enlarged heart, the same condition that took the life of Fred Thompson, an Oregon State freshman football player who died on Dec. 7.
Like Green’s condition, an enlarged heart can easily go undetected due to lack of physical symptoms. According to an Associated Press story about the death of Thompson, “Dr. Karen Gunson said Friday that the 19-year-old had increased thickness of the heart muscle, which can cause an irregular heartbeat during strenuous exercise. She says the condition is a common cause of death in young athletes who seem completely healthy but die during heavy exercise.”
Despite the fact that few people exhibit symptoms of an enlarged heart, some do, and others could if they underwent physical testing, such as the stress test that helped reveal Green’s condition. According to the Mayo Clinic website, “in a small number of people with this condition, the thickened heart muscle can cause signs and symptoms, such as shortness of breath and problems in the heart’s electrical system resulting in life-threatening abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias).”
If an athlete exhibits any symptoms, a simple, painless test called an Echocardiogram (ECG) could be administered to diagnose an enlarged heart and other heart conditions. In fact, several countries and the International Olympic Committee now require athletes to undergo screening including an ECG before partaking in sports, according to a story written by CNN’s Elizabeth Landau in March of this year after four high school student athletes died of heart conditions during athletic competition within a two week period.
“There are about 50 to 100 sudden deaths among athletes in middle, high school and college every year, said Dr. Marlon Rosenbaum, associate clinical professor of medicine and pediatrics at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons,” wrote Landau.
The same article ( http://tinyurl.com/6nfepto ) cites two differing studies; one of which found mandatory ECG testing did not affect the number of sudden athlete deaths in Israel and another study which previously found a reduction in sudden deaths among athletes after the implementation of mandatory testing in Italy.
While the impact of screening is debatable, that is exactly the point; there should be a debate. I have long maintained that professional athletes (and even college athletes for that matter) should undergo both physical and mental evaluations three times per year. Once during the preseason, again during the season and once more at season’s end.
Why should some football and hockey players suffer head injuries in a game and not be given a concussion test immediately?
Why should an athlete wait to get traded to undergo a simple test that would subsequently reveal a brain tumor?
Why should three NHL enforcers fight mental demons which stemmed from the game and resulted in their deaths?
While Derek Boogaard addressed mental health and addiction issues by going to rehab, he was embarrassed and worried about how his reputation might be impacted ( http://nyti.ms/vvLrZM ). Surely mandatory physical and mental evaluations would simultaneously help to reduce the stigma of weakness associated with health issues and perhaps, reveal life threatening conditions before its too late.
Click here to read Elizabeth Landau’s article on how teen athlete deaths can be prevented: http://tinyurl.com/6nfepto
Click here to read “Punched Out: The Life and Death of a Hockey Enforcer,” a fascinating 3-part series about Derek Boogaard by John Branch of the New York Times: http://nyti.ms/vvLrZM