Category Archives: NBA

Lousy Knicks, lively entertainment

Knicks gameNEW YORK — Jasmin, Jana and I watched the New York Knicks vs. Dallas Mavericks game the other week (Dec. 16). We sat in Row 225 inside Madison Square Garden. This arena is iconic; built in 1968, its tagline reads, “The World’s Most Famous Arena.”

Today, MSG hosts over 300 sporting events each year and is home to three pro teams: the Knicks, the NY Rangers (hockey) and the NY Liberty (women’s NBA). For basketball, the seating capacity is 20,000.

Entering the coliseum, I was expecting a derelict facility (given that it’s 46 years old) but was surprised to see a spanking world-class arena. Newly-renovated last year, MSG was comfortable; the seats were cushioned; on top of the basketball court was a gigantic HD screen that endlessly projected slow-motion replays, up-close shots of the players and other highlights.

When we arrived at 7:45 p.m., the players were warming-up. As the Mavs and Knicks stars were introduced, the last man to be called was the most “sikat:” Carmelo Anthony. He wore an orange bandana that was the same orange color that spread across the Knicks uniforms.

Finally, the announcer says, “Let’s… play ball!” All the lights were off. The girls danced an intro number. After the players stood ready, Margot Bingham was called to sing the national anthem. Like we see on TV, once the song reaches those last few lines, everybody sings along. Someone screamed, “Let’s go New York!” It’s wonderful to see Americans so proud of their song, people, nation.

Game on! New York had possession after the jump ball. But, like an ominous sign of the bad things to come, they didn’t even fire a shot: they were penalized after a 24-second shot violation. Bad sign! Seconds later, Tyson Chandler was lobbed an alley-hoop pass which he barreled into the ring. A slam dunk for the Mav’s first two points. Shot after shot, the Mavs wouldn’t miss. They converted on their first six attempts. No miss. After four minutes, the score was lopsided: 19-7. Chandler had one more dunk. And another. Three dunks in five minutes.
Dallas is an amazing offensive team. They lead the NBA in points, averaging 113 per game. It was evident that night: after six minutes, they amassed 27 points. Moments later, the score was 29-11. Led by Dirk Nowitzi, the Mavs led from the first minute until the last. From beyond the arc, they buried 15 of 33 three-point attempts. This wasn’t a ballgame, it was a New York massacre.

You know Americans; they’ll let you know in your face how they feel. They’re blunt and direct. And the New Yorkers let their players know how they felt. They booed. They turned quiet. The initial atmosphere of excitement was replaced by oh-no-here-it-comes-again…. another beating.

By the end of the first quarter, the score was 36-24. At that point, the Mavs made 79 percent of their field goal attempts. Amazing statistic. As bad as the Knicks were, the Mavs were unstoppable — they were possessed when they possessed that ball.

The Knicks weren’t a team of five players on-court; they’re a one-player squad. Carmelo Anthony led with 26 points but that was it; everybody else was lousy. This is nowhere near the team that won the NBA crown back in 1973 (their last win) that had Bill Bradley, Walt Frazier, Jerry Lucas and Phil Jackson, now the Knicks president.

But as lousy as the Knicks were, the entertainment was fantastic. Plenty of celebrities watched. Golfer Jason Dufner. Actor John leguizamo. Devon Kennard of the Giants. Even John Starks came to watch.

During timeouts, they have what’s called a “Dance Cam” where they find spectators who’ll dance and they’ll showcase their moves on the large screen. One man juggled balls. They also had these “machine guns” where they’d fire t-shirts to the crowd. One shirt was fired towards us and Jana caught it. They had a Tic Tac Toe game played by two men. They had all these side entertainment gigs to make the lousy game fun. In all, it was fun despite the Knicks losing by 20.

Samsam in the land of Uncle Sam

First District Representative Gerald Anthony “Samsam” Gullas, Jr. is now in the U.S. There for a short break to visit family and friends, the 29-year-old congressman is excited for the twin events that will happen next week.

On November 11, he’s watching the game between the Golden State Warriors and the reigning NBA champions, the San Antonio Spurs. This will be at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. Two nights after (Thursday next week), he’ll return to the same stadium where the Warriors will face the New Jersey Nets. I’ll get the first-hand experiences of Samsam after next week but, before that, I asked him to comment on the current NBA season.

“Overall, it is just GOOD to have high quality basketball back,” said the team manager of the University of the Visayas basketball squad.

Exciting NBA teams? Now that he’s in San Francisco, he talked about the Warriors: “New coach, new system; it showed in the first three games.” GSW is 3-0. In the Western Conference, they trail the Houston Rockets (5-0) and Memphis Grizzlies (4-0) as the only teams to sport undefeated streaks. In the East, only one team has not lost a game — and they’re playing without LeBron James. That’s the Miami Heat at 3-0.

“I like the Hornets. Bringing the name back was a great idea,” said Gullas, of this team that was previously named Bobcats. “Plus, having Michael Jordan sit on the end of the bench makes you think… Will he enter the game with 3 seconds left?”

On LeBron rejoining his former team, “It’s great to see him back home,” he said. “It’s what I thought he would do. It was the right decision.”

I next queried about the worst-performing team in the league today (0-5); a team name that is synonymous with championships and is one of the most recognizable sporting brands in the world: the Los Angeles Lakers.

“When the Lakers signed Kobe to a 2-year, $40-million plus contract, that was the beginning of the END,” said Gullas. “On the Lakers part, was it a decision to win more championships or just to get fans in Staples because of Kobe’s presence? Kobe is Kobe. Some people hate him and others praise him but he himself should have known, his contract won’t bring anyone to LA. He could have followed what Dirk did. Taking less money so they could sign Parsons.”

How about the rumor that’s circulating in the internet, of Kobe Bryant, all of 36 years very old and having stayed with the L.A. Lakers his entire career since 1996 — the gossipmongers whisper that he’ll move east to New York?

“It would be nice to shake up the East even more,” said Gullas. “Question: Will the Knicks have to trade their First Five minus Melo (Carmelo Anthony) to get Kobe? This is a rumor but I strongly believe that the Zen Master has called the Lakers about this.”

This story has inflamed excitement because of these possibilities: uniting Melo and Kobe in one doubles team plus reuniting the trio of Kobe, Derek Fisher (Knicks head coach) and Phil Jackson (Knicks president) in the Big Apple.

Gullas cites one player among the league’s hundreds. “People hate him for his aggressive style of play but I have always loved Russell Westbrook’s game. Saddened with his injury but I really thought he’d be an MVP candidate this year. By the end of the year, he’d replace Curry and Paul as the best point guard in the NBA.”

As to the top contenders, Samsam likes the Cavs/Bulls and “maybe even the Heat” for the East. As to the West, he picks Houston, Thunder, Dallas, Clippers, Memphis and, maybe he’s biased because he’s in San Francisco now and will watch their games next week, “the Warriors will be in the 2nd round or even finalists.”

The Spurs? “Always!” Final prediction: Warriors/Thunder/Spurs VS Cavs for the 2015 NBA championship.

Home is where the heart (not Heat) is

You cannot please everybody. That’s a fact of life. No matter how good you are or how sincere your intentions are, there will always be that one person — or 20.5 million Floridians — who’ll despise you. That’s life. “You can’t please everyone, nor should you seek to,” said actor Dylan Moran, “because then you won’t please anyone, least of all yourself.”

Agree. Pat Riley must be fuming bad. What happened to their four year ride, reaching The Finals all four seasons and winning twice?

Yes, but then LeBron James is The King. As today’s Jordan, his decision is honored. He is not only basketball’s best but this planet’s greatest athlete. And when you’re at the Mt. Everest of your game and only 29 years of age, you can do as you wish. The Chosen One chooses.

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After getting embarrassed by the San Antonio Spurs, LeBron must have looked at his pal Dwayne Wade’s 32-year-old banged-up body and concluded, “Man, he’s old.” This is a fact: If Miami Heat had remained with the same roster for next season, the result will be the same: they’ll get clobbered by Manu and Tony and Tim.

Stay with the old or gamble with the future? In “The Decision Part 2,” LeBron followed his heart. His heart had always resided in Ohio, where he was born. “Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio,” wrote LeBron in Sports Illustrated. “It’s where I walked. It’s where I ran. It’s where I cried. It’s where I bled. It holds a special place in my heart.”

The King is coming home. Who’d have expected that? Given their success in Miami, wasn’t the logical move to at least try one or two more seasons before leaping? I’m sure LeBron pondered on that thought. The Heat and our fellow Pinoy Erik Spoelstra have been good to him and helped him purchase what couldn’t buy in Cleveland: two NBA rings. And, yes, while Miami cracked and wilted against the Spurs, surely with some tweaking and importing of new blood, they’d have the best chance next season, right?

Maybe. But that’s now forgotten. What’s important is that a decision has been reached and it’s an astonishing one. “I always believed that I’d return to Cleveland and finish my career there. I just didn’t know when,” added LeBron. “After the season, free agency wasn’t even a thought. But I have two boys and my wife, Savannah, is pregnant with a girl. I started thinking about what it would be like to raise my family in my hometown.”

Though this issue isn’t about money, it’s not bad receiving extra: While he started with $4 million as a Cleveland rookie in 2003, James took a pay-cut when he flew south to Miami, pocketing $14.5 million in his first season. Obviously, big bucks — but for a giant of his stature, that’s small. Believe it or not, in his whole career James has never been his team’s highest-paid member. That will change starting this October with the Cavs when he pockets $22.2 million.

This story is also about forgiveness. One of the major stumbling blocks of his return was the animosity he received from the Cleveland fans, most notably the Cavs owner Dan Gilbert. Four years ago when LeBron shocked his employer with his goodbye, Gilbert wrote a scornful letter, saying LeBron was a coward. LeBron never forgot that (justified) cruelty.

Now he has. In a secret meeting last Sunday, Gilbert was said to have told LeBron, “We had five great years together and one terrible night. I told him how sorry I was, expressed regret for how that night went and how I let all the emotion and passion for the situation carry me away. I told him I wish I had never done it, that I wish I could take it back.”

LeBron reciprocated, saying that he, too, was sorry for “The Decision” that aired on worldwide TV in 2010. And so, the two shook hands, probably hugged, and ‘Bron’s coming home.

Which means that Cedar Point, the “roller coaster capital of the world,” will have to fulfill its promise of a new ride: a roller-coaster named, “King James.”

I can’t wait for the roller-coaster ride called the NBA.

In ‘The Rematch,’ can the Heat three-peat?

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Greg Slaughter is the Tim Duncan of the PBA. No wonder, when I texted him yesterday asking for his prediction, this was his reply: “Hey John! I think the spurs will win because they want it more this year.”

Makes sense. After that unbelievably painful experience 12 months ago when, in Game 6 of The Finals against Miami, the Spurs led by five points with 28 seconds left and, soon after, were 10 seconds from winning the NBA title before Chris Bosh rebounded a LeBron James miss then tossed the ball to Ray Allen for a three-pointer to force the overtime … which led to Miami not only winning Game 6 but also snatching Game 7 when Tim Duncan missed a layup in the final minute — ouch, that’s hurtful.

But, like any champion, defeat makes one better, not bitter. “Our guys, they actually grew from the loss last year. They showed an unbelievable amount of fortitude,” said Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. “If I can compliment my own team humbly, to have that tough loss — especially the Game 6 — and not have a pity party, and come back this year and get back to the same position. That’s fortitude.”

That’s scary — for Miami. Given that nightmare, the Spurs want it more. They’re hungrier. Plus, who knows if this will be the final year for the 38-year-old Duncan whom Greg Slaughter, in his message yesterday, calls “the ultimate efficient winning machine.”

Said Duncan in a prelude to Game 1: “We’re happy it’s the Heat again. We’ve got that bad taste in our mouths still.”

Game on! So, who’s your pick? When I meet friends and ask, the answers are varied. Some prefer the Spurs because “we want to see another team win.” Those who choose SAS agree with this analysis from NBA great Jerry West: “The Spurs are the prettiest team in basketball to watch because of their ability to pass the ball, the way they play together and the efficiency of the way they run their offense.” True. But, when I query friends, more tilt towards Miami Heat. That’s understandable; they’re more flamboyant and they possess the one-man-MJ/Magic Johnson of today. And, of course, there’s a Pinoy in the mix, Erik Spoelstra.

You know why this series is so compelling? Let’s start with Duncan. A 17-year NBA veteran, although he still has one more year to go in his $10 million contract, if he wins this month he might opt to retire.

The Big 3. There are two sets: Wade-James-Bosh and Parker-Duncan-Ginobili. Our hope is that all of them will be injury-free during the contest, especially Parker and Wade.

If Miami wins, the “Heat Three-Peat” will elevate their status as among the league’s best squads. Remember that this three-straight-wins feat has not been achieved since 2002 (by the L.A. Lakers). Plus, only two franchises have reached four straight NBA Finals, the Lakers and Celtics. “We don’t take this for granted,” said Wade, “and hopefully our fans in Miami, our supporters don’t take this for granted, neither. This is not something that happens every day.”

With LeBron, here’s an interesting fact: He can win Trophy No. 3 before he’s 30. (He turns that age this Dec. 30.) As comparison, MJ was a few months older when he did the Bulls 3-peat.

Michael Wallace of the Heat Index Blog added: “While it’s pretty much established that LeBron, at age 29, is already one of the top five talents to ever play the game, this series can fortify his legacy more than any he’s played to this stage. A win, and LeBron has done something his idol, Michael Jordan, and his biggest contemporary co-superstar, Kobe Bryant, have achieved with a three-peat. A loss drops LeBron-led teams to a 2-3 record in the Finals.”

In every one of the five Game 1s (NBA Finals) that San Antonio has played, they’ve won. On the flip side, every single Game 1 that LeBron has played on the road — he’s lost. He’s 0-7. Which means that the Spurs are sure to win tomorrow, right? Right. But if they don’t.. that’ll be a huge first punch to San Antonio. It’s a must-win for the team from the Wild, Wild West.

Cold-blooded Heat

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Unstoppable. Remorseless. A wipeout. Mortifying. How do you describe yesterday’s performance by Miami versus Indiana? How about “No match.” Yes, it was a mismatch. Leading 9-2 in the first minutes of Game 6, I thought the Pacers had a chance. They didn’t. It turns out, they were just given a few moments of bliss followed by endless minutes of agony. Have we seen a more dominant LeBron & Co.? Blowing away their tormentors by a whopping 37 points in the 3rd quarter? How’s that for a statement.

After scoring a measly seven points in Game 5, LeBron was MIA. Yes, “MIA” means Miami but it’s also “Missing In Action.” In Game 5, LeBron was embarrassed. Well, he embarrassed the Pacers the next game. How many times have we watched a completely boring 2nd half — when the outcome was so obvious … in the final game prior to the NBA Finals! Very few. That’s because very few teams in the history of this 68-year-old league are like Miami.

“Not satisfied with our performance… we can still play better,” said LeBron James. We’d understand if he uttered those 10 words after Game 5. But he said that right after the first half, when the score was 60-34. Leading by 26 points, he wasn’t happy. He wasn’t satisfied. And that’s the hallmark of all champions, from Jon Jones to Ronaldo to Usain: they’re relentless, forever looking to improve, always asking how they can do better. “Just what you expect from greatness,” said the NBA commentator (and former coach) Mark Jackson.

Attack, attack, attack. That’s what champions do. That’s how they respond. That’s the LeBron James mantra. It worked yesterday and the previous two years when they won the NBA rings; it will work for No. 6 as he aims not just for a three-peat but for that Ring No. 6 in a few years‘ time. He’s only 29 — at his prime. And “he’s not Michael” said the commentator, referring to His Airness, MJ. “He’s Michael and Magic.” I agree. This is the great thing about the greatness that we observe in LeBron. He’s unselfish. While he can penetrate and shoot every time he’s handed that ball, he always looks for the best way to score — an open teammate, a drive that draws the defendants like a magnet then he dishes out a zip of a pass. He’s got Magic’s height and passing talent coupled with Michael’s drive and jump-shooting and air-defying prowess.

As to Lance Stephenson? Ha-ha. Guess who has the last laugh? He tried to bully his way into a mind-games battle against LBJ. It failed. Sure, this soon-to-be-a-free-agent has the guts to shoot faraway three-pointers and is unafraid … but his antics against the Heat (including that painful slap on Norris Cole’s face) backfired.

LET’S GO HEAT! This was the constant chant that reverberated inside the Florida stadium. They’ll need it. Whoever Miami faces in the finals will have home-court advantage. If the Spurs win today (that’s no guarantee given the tremendous lift that tilts towards the home team), it will be a rematch of 2013. If OKC wins, it’s Game 7. Either way, we know who the favorites are. When you’ve arrived at The Finals for four straight years, experience is guiding your brain. It’s called, in lay man’s terms, confidence. You don’t panic when you’re in trouble. You stay calm. You attack.

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What’s dangerous about MIA is that they’ve got so many weapons, from Dwayne Wade’s playing Robin to the Batman that is LeBron, to Chris Bosh’s stellar offensive play of late, to Birdman’s return from his nest to grab rebounds and scare the opponents with his tattoos, to Ray Allen’s beyond-the-arc loopers — these are pellets of ammunition that Erik Spoelstra, our proud fellow Pinoy, can utilize to dismantle the opposing squad. Just ask Frank Vogel or Larry Bird.

I admit bias. After the era of the Los Angeles Lakers when I rooted for them against Kevin McHale and Robert Parish of the Boston Celtics … after the Chicago Bulls domination over the Pistons and human race’s reverence for Jordan … I’ve been cheering for the planet’s hottest five.

Pacers-Heat vs. Spurs-Thunder

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Of the 30 NBA teams, 29 reside in the U.S. while the Toronto Raptors are, obviously, from Canada. The 2013-14 season started last Oct. 29. Now, seven months later, it’s down to the last four.

It’s No.1 vs. No.2, in both conferences. This hasn’t happened since 2005 — when the top four seeds advanced. In fact, during the first round last month when five of the eight match-ups reached Game 7, we thought there’d be some upsets; but no, the best squads advanced.

LeBron James. Is there any doubt who’s the best? Ha-ha. Yes. There’s Kevin Durant, the undisputed MVP. But when the Playoffs arrive, nobody rises higher to the expectations than Miami’s No. 6. In the first two rounds, the Heat scored 8-1. And this was the Florida-based team that was criticized for being weaker than their previous two years? “On the outside, there’s more doubt,” said Udonis Haslem. Well, after compiling a 54-game winning record in the regular season (12 less than last year), it’s understandable for fans to be insecure. But there’s no one more secure than the South Beach players. “Within here,” adds Haslem, “we’re still confident in one another. We still know what we can do.”

It’s a rematch. Pacers-Heat. During this time 12 months ago, they reached Game 7. Twenty four months ago, Indiana led Miami in the playoffs, 2-1. But they couldn’t overtake Dwayne Wade’s team. Now it’s different. Why? Right after their Game 7 loss last year, Pacers coach Frank Vogel huddled his downtrodden players and vowed to accomplish a mission: grab the No. 1 seed and gain that home-court edge over the Heat. Mission accomplished. Will their goal to “Beat The Heat” be realized in the coming weeks?

Let’s see. What we can foresee is another nail-biting series. With games 1, 2, 5 and 7 to be held at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, this changes the dynamics of the contest. The question is: Which Pacers will show up? At the start, they won 16 of 17 games. Unbeatable, the journalists proclaimed. But in the end, they sputtered, closing on a 10-13 collapse and barely escaping Atlanta in the first round.

Miami is great, that’s a given. This is NBA’s version of “The Avengers.” If Indiana, led by the erratic plays of Paul George and Roy Hibbert, don’t elevate their game, it will be a routine six-game-series win for the two-time defending champs.

“In their fourth season together, the Heat know exactly who they are,” wrote John Schumann in an NBA.com piece. “They have the best player in the league, who draws the attention of the entire defense. He doesn’t force anything and he trusts his teammates. As a group, they take what the defense gives them. More importantly, the Heat don’t panic. And when you have talent, teamwork and resolve, you win big games.”

That’s in the East. Over at the West, it’s a repeat of the 2012 confrontation. It’s Tony Parker vs. Russell Westbrook; Kawhi Leonard vs. Kevin Durant. “The Spurs don’t make mistakes and instead capitalize on their opponents’ all the time,” said Adi Joseph of USA Today. “They will look to divide and conquer, forcing Westbrook and Durant onto islands without help scoring while attacking the Thunder’s inconsistent role players on both ends.” He believes that’s the key for San Antonio, who have the home-court advantage. Plus, Serge Ibaka is injured.

Still, Oklahoma has to be confident, having passed two tough rounds against Memphis (4-3) and the Clippers (4-2), including the distractions swirling around racist Donald Sterling.

“Durant and Westbrook are two of the five-or-so best players in the world,” said Adi Joseph, this time arguing in behalf of the Thunder. “No one on the Spurs can match them individually, and Leonard is the only player on the team with hopes of defending either one-on-one. The Spurs have struggled against elite athleticism this season, and the Thunder are chockful of that.” As evidence of the Spurs’ struggles, they lost all four regular season games against Durant & Co.

In all, this will be another amazing few weeks for the NBA whose slogan reads, “Where Amazing Happens.”

Samsam Gullas previews the NBA Playoffs

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Play ball! After 82 regular-season games per team that started last October 29, the Sweet Sixteen of the NBA have been selected. It’s the Playoffs, beginning today! It’s two-months-long and eight of the best squads per division (East and West) have advanced. It’s a best-of-seven series per contest. The playoff format is 2-2-1-1-1. This means that games 1, 2, 5 and 7 go to the one with the home-court advantage. And, starting this season, this format (not 2-3-2) will also be used for the NBA Finals.

Can Miami win three in a row? Who will be upset in Round 1? In the KD vs. LBJ contest for the MVP crown, who wins?

I asked Rep. Gerald Anthony “Samsam” Gullas, the former team manager of the UV Green Lancers, for his thoughts. Here’s our Q & A:

What surprised you the most with the NBA’s top 16? “Charlotte Bobcats and Al Jefferson finally playing to his true potential. He finally found a team that he truly fits in. Too bad they’ve got to face the defending champs in the 1st round. New York’s bad record also surprised me. They were one of the top seeds in the East last year and were prepared to make a splash this year. It just never worked out for the Knicks. Carmelo should go the Bulls.”

Who are strongest entering the playoffs? “Miami heat. LeBron will always be a different player when it’s the playoffs. It seems like with every playoff series LeBron’s legacy will always be on the line. He’s just that good that everyone believes he will win the Larry O Brien trophy every year and a Heat exit will be a failure on his part. The Spurs are very strong contenders as well. I believe with great coaching, teamwork and great star play from Parker, Duncan and Ginobli, it’s OKC or Spurs out West.”

What do you think of the first round match-ups; which ones will be the most exciting? “I love great 1on1 match-ups especially GSW and LAC. That’s two of the best point guards of the league going at it in the first round of the playoffs. Houston and Portland seems like a very good matchup as well. Those teams are complete and play with the same mentality. They are well coached and both possess great 1-2 punches. Harden and Howard vs Aldridge and Lillard.”

Predictions? “East is an Indiana-Heat final with Heat winning in six games. They have to because if it’s game 7 on Indiana’s home floor. I don’t like their chances.”

Who are the dark-horse teams? “In the East don’t count out the Chicago Bulls. They are very good defensively and when the game starts to slow down like it does in the playoffs, I believe Chicago even without Derick Rose will give the Heat and Pacers a run for their money.”

MVP: looks like Durant has it locked up? “Locked up, no doubt. He was definitely the most valuable player for his team in the regular season. He carried the load with Westbrook out. Scoring has gone up. Assists are up. And rebounds are up. While shooting close to 50-40-90 from the field.”

What are Miami’s chances to three-peat? They’ve had the ‘worst’ regular season record compared to the previous two years. “I was disappointed that Miami didn’t lock up that number 1 seed. I hope it won’t haunt them if ever they face pacers and the series reaches game 7. But I will never count out a team that holds the best player in the planet. Heat will win against OKC or Spurs in seven or 6.”
For me, I’d always been a star-player fan. When Michael Jordan ruled the air, I was a Bulls follower. When LeBron arrived, I rooted for the Ohio-native. And, the past three years, it’s been Miami. Come June 5th when the NBA Finals begin, I’m hoping for a mano-a-mano face-off between Kevin Durant and LeBron James.

For MVP, can Durant dethrone King James?

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Basketball is not boxing. It’s not one-on-one. It’s five on five. But, for the race for the Most Valuable Player honors in the NBA, there’s a slugfest, mano-a-mano style, going on this 2014. It features two Nike endorsers. One stands 6-foot-9. The other is an inch shorter. One is lean, long-legged and loves shooting three-pointers; the other is Superman-like muscular, solid as a Veco post, and loves dunks that rock Miami.

It’s Kevin Durant vs. LeBron James. Who’ll win the MVP plum? A total of 121 votes will determine the MVP winner. This is decided by a panel of sportswriters and broadcasters who will cast votes when the NBA Regular Season ends mid-April. So there’s still one month to go… But there’s no doubt that the pick will carry either of two initials: KD or LBJ.

“I think Durant will be MVP this year,” said Greg Slaughter, in our exchange of text messages yesterday. “He has been playing better than he ever has in his career and had time to shine when Westbrook was out. Also, LeBron’s in the same situation when Steve Nash won MVPs and I think they want a new one.” Good points from the PBA’s No.1 vote getter. Added Greg on Cebu… “Can’t wait to go back!”

I also asked Harry Radaza, the basketball-playing councilor of Lapu-Lapu City, and he, too, picks the Oklahoma City forward, saying, “Tough choice. I would go for KD. More consistent and efficient.”

My pick? KD. Nobody this season has played better. Durant scored 42 points yesterday in OKC’s 106-98 victory over the hot Houston Rockets. If my computations are correct, he’s averaging a whopping 31.9 points per game. Add to that 7.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists per outing. His field goal percentage is 50.9 percent and he makes 86.9 percent of his free throws. Those are astronomical, MVP-like numbers. Plus, his Oklahoma squad is the No. 2 ranked team in the league today, sporting a 47-17 win-loss record (compared to 44-17 for Miami).

It’s a done deal, right? We might as well award the Maurice Podoloff Trophy, named after the NBA’s first commissioner/president, to Durant The MVP, right? Almost. He’s close. But, like I said, there’s still one month to go before voting and there happens to be a 250-lb. giant, a four-time MVP recipient, who won’t back down and easily hand over the title like an easy assist. LeBron is LeBron is I-Won’t-Give-Up.

Last week, in leading Miami over Charlotte, LeBron scored a personal best 61 points behind these outlandish numbers: he made his first eight 3-point attempts; he scored 25 points in the third quarter; he shot 22-of-33 from the field. This fight isn’t over yet.

Sports Illustrated’s Rob Mahoney said it perfectly: “Every passing week seems to bring new heat to the MVP race, which is shaping up to be a too-close-to-call verdict between LeBron James and Kevin Durant. The two are spiraling around and toward one another in a riveting display of one-upmanship, with a great performance from one motivating the other to similar heights.

“As a result, the balance of the award seems to shift on a weekly basis. If that waffling persists, James and Durant could be closing in on one of the tightest MVP races in recent memory, if not in NBA history.”

For now, though, the stats favor Durant. His 31.9 PPG average compared to James’ 27.0 is a huge gap – that’s almost five points more per game. And – and this is important – the public often wants to celebrate a new face. If KD wins, it will be his first taste of basketball’s highest accolade.

If, however, for some miraculous March and April, the Miami Heat No. 6 pulls off the award, it will be his 5th MVP, with only three others who’ve done the same or better: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (the leader with six MVPs) and Bill Russell and Michael Jordan, with five apiece. (Interestingly, Kobe Bryant only has one MVP.)

Jeremy Lin comes home to Taiwan

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(Photo: Yao Kai-shiou/Taipei Times)

Taichung, TAIWAN — Jasmin and I are in this beautiful, must-visit metropolis of Taichung, the third largest city in Taiwan, next to Taipei and the famous Kaohsiung (bus). Will write more about Taichung in my business column this Thursday. For now, all the commotion here is focused on one celebrity: Jeremy Shu-How Lin.

Last Sunday, it was as if Manny Pacquaio were fighting Mayweather inside MOA Arena. Yes, that’s the hype and pandemonium surrounding the NBA’s first-ever star of Taiwanese descent.

While Jeremy was born and raised in California, his parents grew up in Taiwan before they migrated to the U.S. in the ‘70s. So you can imagine the ruckus and noise in Taipei upon the arrival of their very own son.

After the Houston Rockets defeated the Indiana Pacers at the MOA Arena last Thursday, the two teams flew to Taipei for their second encounter.

Unlike Manila’s, it wasn’t the first time for Taiwan to host an NBA pre-season game. Back in 2009, the Pacers played the Denver Nuggets. But, back then, while basketball was huge in Taiwan, it wasn’t gargantuan huge — as it is today because of someone named Lin.

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GAME. Taichung to Taipei is about 189 kms. in distance (or 58 minutes by the 300kph High Speed Train). I wasn’t able to make the trek to watch the ballgame last Sunday at 1 p.m., but I did get to watch the game (via Chinese commentary) on TV.

At the warm-up, all the TV footages were zeroed-in on their man. Upon the Rockets’ first-five introduction, James Harden was called first… Dwight Howard was second to the last… and, finally: JEREMEEEEE….. LINNNNN! screamed the announcer.

Unusual but necessary in this type of exhibition match at his home country, Jeremy was asked to speak. In Mandarin, he addressed the crowd like a rockstar hero.

Game on! Would you believe, in the first offensive attempt of Houston, guess who receives the ball and jumps to take the shot? And not just an ordinary jumper — but, right at the top of the key, a three-pointer…

Ringless! Jeremy Lin scores a 3! The 13,000 in attendance stand and wave their flags and go hysterical. This can’t be real! It is. As the game progresses, the unbelievable pressure imposed upon Jeremy is matched by his extraordinatry talent.

In one possession, Jeremy goes one-on-one as he escapes from his guard, flies on air and, with a tall defender fronting him, hurls the ball high up on the Taipei air as it floats, hits the backboard and swims inside the ring. In defense, Granger is rushing for a breakaway as Jeremy glides from behind and slams a fascinating block shot.

Another 3-pointer? Sure. This time, several feet behind the arc — he fires the ball and, like a magnet, it’s sucked into the goal. In all, Jeremy finished with 17 points, 4 assists, 3 steals, 2 rebounds and that monstrous block shot as Houston won 107-98. Superman drifted inside the Taipei Arena.

PAPERS. The next day (yesterday), as expected, the newspapers here published banner stories on their action hero.

The China Post, Taiwan’s leading English paper, had “‘Linsanity’ comes to Taipei” — not on the back sports pages but on the front page! In another paper, when you flip open the entire spread (think of the front and back pages of SunStar), it reveals a full-color, full-spread photo of their NBA treasure.

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To top it all, you know what movie is being shown in the theaters here? Sure, “Jobs” and “Gravity” are big hits, but one 88-minute biopic is also being broadcasted here.

The movie is about this obscure, frail, too-small-for-the-NBA Chinese player who graduates with a 3.1 grade point average in Harvard (Economics) and goes on sleeping in friends’ rooms because he can’t afford to pay for the hotel. Junked by the NBA, he doesn’t give up his dream of playing alongside Kobe Bryant — he enlists in the D-League. Finally, given one chance, he proves his worth with the New York Knicks, transfers to the H. Rockets and lands in Taipei last weekend to become this nation’s most famous personality.

The movie? Both playing in Taiwan theaters and playing in real life? Linsanity.

p02-130815-a2(Photo: Yao Kai-shiou/Taipei Times)

Perfect 10-10 as NBA rocks Manila

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Anybody who’s somebody will be inside the MOA Arena tonight. How often does it happen? When stars like Paul George and James Harden land in our Southeast Asian nation? When two of this season’s top contenders — Indiana and Houston — will dribble and dunk beside the humongous Mall of Asia?

Ten. Ten. Whatever the outcome, I’m sure, to all who watch, the experience will be an absolute 10. Ticket prices, as expected, are exhorbitant. The most expensive, I heard, go for P51,000. Those are front-row seats. The least expensive, all the way up to the roof, sell for a few thousand. Still overpriced. But with these overpaid superstars here — and you don’t have to travel to America to watch them — then… sulit.

Of all the players, the one I’d like to meet is a non-player: Larry Bird. Who doesn’t admire the 6-foot-9 Boston Celtic who was a 3-time MVP and won for his green team the titles in ‘81, ‘84 and ‘86? I was an LA Lakers and Magic Johnson backer but you’d have to applaud the sweet-shooting jumper of Larry Bird.

He’s here. They’re all here, as part of the first ever NBA Global Games — when a mixed group of teams travel to various cities around the globe. Starting with Istanbul, Turkey last Oct. 5, NBA teams travel for pre-season games to Bilbao, Manchester, Taipei, Rio de Janeiro, Beijing and our very own Manila. They cap the tour when Golden State meets the LA Lakers on Oct. 18 in Shanghai.

The above-mentioned cities are some of the richest on Earth. For Manila to be included in the short line-up means that we truly are basketball crazy. And we are.

“It has blown me away,” Jeremy Lin was quoted in a Phil. Daily Inquirer story yesterday. “The second I got off the airplane until now, everyone had been over the top. I’m definitely feeling the love from the Philippines.”

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As the most famous Asian after Yao Ming to play on the biggest stage, Jeremy Shu-How Lin will surely be the most photographed, especially when his team flies to Taipei for the game there on Sunday. He’s the NBA’s first American-born player of Taiwanese descent.

Another player who professed his fondness for Manila is Dwight Howard. “I’m so excited to be back here in Manila,” Howard was quoted by Joey Villar in The Phil. Star. “I always told people in the years I’ve been in the NBA, one of the best places I’ve been is the Philippines and I think they are the best fans in the world.”

One major reason why the NBA Global Games is in the Philippines is because of Henry Sy. Thanks to his billions of pesos in spending power, he built the MOA Arena. From what I heard, not only did they offer our country as the venue but the Sy family also plunked down tens of millions of pesos for the NBA to play here. Talk about “marketing expense.”

Like what Manny Pangilinan did when the FIBA Asia Championship was held here last August, the Smart/MVP group of companies overspent; this means that, surely, all their expenses cannot be recouped by the gate tickets and sponsors’ money. But never mind. What’s important is that mega-events such as these arrive in Manila.

Same today. SM is willing to spend money (OK, this is just small change for the multi-billionaire) to get it done. For such initiatives, we thank the Sy family and MVP.

Talking about the MOA Arena, I bring back the issue again of this similar complex being built at the South Road Properties (SRP). If I recall the conversation my dad and I had with Ms. Marissa Fernan, SM’s top official outside of Manila, a few months back, it’s confirmed: SM will build a billion-peso Arena at the SRP. While Manila’s is called MOA, ours is more relaxed-sounding, suited perfectly for Cebu: SM Seaside City.

Mayor Mike: Given that no astute businessman will spend for hundreds of millions (if not a billion pesos ++) for such a sports coliseum — even Atty. Gus Go has been hesitant to rehabilitate his Cebu Coliseum — then I guess we just have to apply some patience and do this: Wait for the SM Seaside Arena.

It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s…….

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Michael Jordan? Yes. Today’s version. The way King James played two days ago reminded us of His Airness. He unleashed 3-pointers. He soared for lay-ups. He drilled 18-footers as effortlessly as free throws. The entire world’s basketball population — hundreds of millions of us, earthlings — expected the best from our planet’s best. He delivered.

It may be premature to compare MJ to LBJ — No. 23 had six NBA rings and five MVP awards compared to No. 6’s two rings and four MVPs — but the way LeBron played on the biggest game of his career was vintage Jordan.

The pressure of that winner-take-all Game VII was unbearable. LeBron had been ostracized for his transfer to Miami. He has been labeled as “Choker” for the occasions when, with seconds left on the clock, he’d rather pass than drive.

LeBron’s performance this season (26.8 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 7.3 APG), in these playoffs (25.9 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 6.6 APG) and especially with his Game 7’s output of 37 points (five 3-pointers) and 12 rebounds — these numbers should silence the harhest of critics.

LeBron is the world’s greatest athlete today. That’s undeniable. Nobody comes close. But as examplary as his statistics reveal, what I recently found most remarkable about the 28-year-old is this trait: He’s humble.

Yes, LeBron is a nice guy. If you listened to his post-game interviews, he didn’t call attention to himself. He thanked his teammates. He applauded San Antonio. He used the words “I’m blessed” like a priest would in a homily. LeBron is blessed. He knows it. We know it. But what’s amazing is that he doesn’t put extra focus on himself — unlike Kobe and, at times, Chicago’s No. 23.

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In line with this selfless attitude, he’s also not “buaya.” (Again, sorry to Kobe fans but this differentiates the two.) Didn’t we often complain that he looks to pass more than to score?

LeBron is like a little kid in Disneyland. This amusement park is called the American Airlines Arena. “I’m from Akron, Ohio. From the inner city. I’m not even supposed to be here,” he says, with all gratefulness. When he was asked in the press-con what motivates him, he said that he plays the game “to inspire the youth to play basketball or to become better at what they do.” Perfect. He knows his role — to be a role model.

GAME 7. Didn’t the final game mirror the entire NBA Finals series? Every single minute was close — until the final moments. One team wouldn’t lead by more than four. It was the same in the entire series. But in the end, in James vs. Duncan, the current MVP defeated the former MVP.

James converted on his jumpers. Duncan missed two nearby attempts that could have tied the game at 90 in the final minute. The Spurs didn’t score another point. It was that close. “Probably, for me, Game 7 is always going to haunt me,” Duncan said.

What I enjoyed most about the NBA Finals — one of the most-followed in history — was because so many players emerged as heroes. Ginobili in Game 5. Wade in the fourth game. Danny Green’s record 27 3-pointers. Tony Parker’s heroic basket in Game 1. Miami’s Big 3 scoring 85 in Game 4. And, of course, the one shot that will forever be etched in our brain’s internal hard drive: Ray Allen’s 3-pointer in Game 6.

In Game 7, apart from LBJ’s 37 points (scoring nearly 40 percent of the Heat’s entire team score), the hero was Shane Battier, who made six of eight 3-pointers. “I believe in the basketball gods,” Battier said. “I felt they owed me big time.” Like I said, a different MVP for each game. (Interesting stat: among all the Miami players, only five scored last Friday; Allen, Miller, Haslem and Bosh had zero points!)

How about Kawhi Leonard for the Spurs? With Tony Parker a non-factor (him scoring only 10 points will not win the trophy for his team), it was the 21-year-old who aggressively attacked and scored a crucial 3-pointer in the dying minutes. Like Paul George of Indiana, Leonard will be a youngster to watch.

But that’s in the future. For now, there’s only one champ with the initials “MJ.”

Mr. James.

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Improbable! Scorched and burned, the Heat survive

Forget the loss-win, loss-win, loss-win erratic first six games of the Miami Heat. Forget the fact that the last time they won back-to-back was 12 games ago (last May 15). Forget the idea that Miami has been inconsistent, that each time they seem to gain the momentum, they falter.

They won’t falter in Game 7. Not after yesterday. Not after dying and coming to life. Not after trailing by as much as 10 after three quarters, not after being 5.2 seconds away from humiliation and ridicule — not after the ups and humps and bumps they’ve endured since the NBA season started last October 30.

It comes down to one game. Broken down to four 12-minute quarters, that’s 2,880 seconds. In each of those seconds, the entire world, from Balamban to the Carribean to Talamban, will be glued to their TV monitors tomorrow (9 A.M., Phil. time) for this grand finale.

This is why we love sports so much. It’s like a movie. Only, better. Because in reel stories, we can predict the ending. (Superman always survives.) In the real world, we never know.

But this we know: Momentum, for the first time, will be behind the backs of team black-and-red. How can they not ride on the inspiration from Mike Miller’s one-foot-with-socks three point shot? Who could have scripted a better 3-pointer — and he’s not Danny Green.

After yesterday’s thriller and this see-saw series, tomorrow will be one of the most awaited of sporting events.

GULLAS. A huge basketball fan, here’s Congressman Samsam Gullas: “What comes around goes around. We may have forgotten Tony Parker’s shot during Game 1 and how that hurt the Heat. Well, Allen’s 3 with 5 seconds left was a dagger that may be embedded on the Spurs heading towards Game 7. Advantage heat on Thursday. But since the ball is round it may go either way. Not to mention LeBron showed us that the he’s clutch after all. Someone who wouldn’t agree that LeBron was 95% of the reason Miami won that game is truly a Heat or LeBron hater. Heat would be crying now if it wasn’t for the best player in the planet.”

STEPHANIE FROM MIAMI. Thanks to the help of friends (among them, Spanish Consul Anton Perdices, my former classmate), I was able to find someone in Florida who can give us the feel and atmosphere in Miami.

Stephanie Ignacio, watching Game 6 with family (all Filipinos) at a Miami resort, said they “almost got kicked out for screaming too much.” Here’s Steph, straight from Miami yesterday:

“Right now I am answering this as I watch Game 6. So far its been nerve wrecking… There’s a lot of screaming and excitement as you can only imagine a close Pacquiao fight in the Philippines. It’s what we wait for all series, this is it!

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“I have been to many games, but the most recent game was against the Pacers. They played strong but ugly… It was a good game all the way through.. To the last buzzer of the 4th qtr, Lebron gave us a shot for overtime. Of course, we won.

“To say that I am a HUGE Heat fan would be an understatement… There aren’t a lot of Filipinos down here that I can say are as crazy. But if you live here, you’re bound to be that ‘crazy’ Heat fan. As for any Filipinos Heat parties going on tonight.. I don’t know ha! But one thing I do know is, my family, the Ignacios are in a crazy screaming match as we speak..

“It’s big for the city because the Heat are pretty much the only good team in Miami. They account for a large amount of revenue for Miami. Even though the Marlins just built a new stadium they still can’t draw in fans.

“Over here in south Florida, we idolize the Heat. Especially when it comes down to the Finals, everybody gets together and makes a party out of it. It’s as fun as it is almost a serious event for us.”

FINALLY… LeBron said: “It was by far the best game I’ve ever been a part of. The ups and downs, the rollercoaster, the emotions, good and bad throughout the whole game. To be a part of something like this is something you’re never going to be able to recreate once you’re done playing the game and I’m blessed to be a part of something like this.”

Jump ball! It’s anybody’s game in the NBA Finals

It all comes down to tomorrow — or Friday. I’m hoping for Friday. I’m wishing for that tingling, sweat-on-the-palms, heart-pounding excitement that can only happen if Miami wins Game 6 tomorrow.

Can the Spurs, spurred by their season’s final victory in San Antonio, steal one game — like they did in Game 1 — in Miami? The Heat are pressured. Anybody who’s facing extinction will feel scared and anxious. One mediocre 48-minutes, a few lousy turnovers, or another sub-par, 16-point outing by LBJ — and that’s it.

Miami losing in Miami will be the most painful experience for these defending champs. They’d rather lose on the road — when the crowd’s against them anyway — than be silenced at home, in front of their kids.

This series has been as unpredictable as last month’s Cebu elections. You never know who’s going to win. While the Heat won 66 games during the regular season (including 27 straight), now they’ve gone 11 straight without winning two games in a row.

Nobody’s achieved the “M” word. That’s momentum. Just when we thought one team would gain the upperhand, the opposite happens. This finale has been an up-and-down, we-don’t-know-what-will-happen-tomorrow drama.

Manu Ginobili’s been absent. He’s the hero in Game 5! Wade’s a non-factor. He scores 32 in Game 4! Ray Allen shoots another 3-pointer. Wait, it’s Danny Green!
Miami’s Big 3 are the Lousy 3. They go on to score 85 points in Game 4!

There have been so many twists and plots and surprises — nobody can guess the next outcome. But this we know: Since the NBA adopted the 2-3-2 format in 1985, the team that won Game 5 after a 2-all tie has gone on to win 7 out of the 10 finals. This bodes well for San Antonio.

Still, ever the optimist, LeBron is looking to win back-to-back at home. “We’ve been here before,” said James. “We’ve been on both sides of the fences. It doesn’t matter if you’re up (3-2) and you need one more win, or you need one more win [otherwise] you’re out. You can’t sleep. Especially at this point. We’ve got an opportunity to do something special. So we look forward to the challenge.”

On why the Spurs are so difficult to defeat, even with Miami’s roster of super heroes, I like what Michael Wallace of ESPN wrote yesterday in “Will Heat thrive again on cliff’s edge?” He calls them the ‘four necessary intangibles’ of San Antonio.

“They’ve got an efficient attacking point guard in Parker, who even on a gimpy hamstring is exposing the Heat’s position of greatest inconsistency,” Wallace said. “They’ve got an aggressive and smart big man in Duncan, who commands a double team and creates issues for a smallish front line. Add a bevy of capable 3-point shooters, with dynamo Danny Green smashing a Finals record for makes beyond the arc. And last, but certainly not least, the Spurs possess the combination of championship experiences and leadership from Popovich…”

THREE-POINTERS. I had a long and lively discussion yesterday with Cebu’s version of Danny Green… Chester Cokaliong. I asked him to comment on Green’s record-breaking 23 three-pointers.

“This is an amazing record,” Chester said, “but it doesn’t mean to say Danny Green was like this the entire season. He was not. I don’t think Green has even qualified for the three-point shootout. But now, he’s on a streak — and it’s perfectly-timed during the finals.”

Chester’s all-time favorite long-shooter? Larry Bird. “He won three straight three-point shoot-out contests. Next, I like Reggie Miller,” said Chester.

GAME 6. On flying to Florida, Tony Parker had this to say: “We understand Miami is going to come out with a lot of energy and they’re going to play better at home. They’re going to shoot the ball better. Their crowd is going to be behind them. For us, we need to finish as soon as you can. We did that against the Lakers and Golden State and Memphis. So hopefully, we can do the same thing.”

But it won’t be easy. The Heat are 6-0 in the playoffs after a loss. Like I said last Sunday, I’m hoping for one thing: Game 7.

Hoping the Spurs win so the Heat can be champs

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There’s a pattern brewing in the NBA Finals. The Spurs win Game 1, followed by the Heat’s victory. The Spurs win Game 3, then the Heat follows suit. Will San Antonio win Game 5, following the script of this win-loss, win-loss, see-saw battle?

I hope so. I’m no Spurs fan. Like the color (or shall I say, no color) of their jerseys, they’re gray — not as colorful and acrobatic as the red-hot Heat. And, unlike others who prefer the underdogs, I’ve always rooted for the MVPs. Back when MJ wore No. 23, I cheered for Chicago. Same when Magic weaved his magic with Kareem for the Lakers. And, after all the hate that LeBron’s been through after The Decision, it’s a terrific feel-good (from hate to beloved) story for Mr. James. Plus, before we forget, there’s only one Pinoy in the roster of both teams. He’s Erik.

Still, I wish for a Spurs win tomorrow. Why? Because I love Game 7s. They’re the 5th set of a Wimbledon final. They’re the sudden-death playoffs of golf’s U.S. Open. Game 7 is like a 12th round of Pacman-Marquez Part 5 — with Manny scoring a KO in the dying seconds. It’s thrilling. It’s the entire 2012-2013 NBA season coming down to 48 minutes. It’s all-eyes-on-the-TV-this-Friday-morning if this happens.

Don’t we all want a 7th game? But this perfect ending is only possible if Miami loses tomorrow. Because if they win and carry a 3-2 advantage heading towards South Beach, then it’s game over for this Texas – Florida match. There’s no chance for SA to win back-to-back in MIA. And so a Spurs victory in Game 6 is a must for their survival.

BIG 3. Even before the series began, talks centered on the Duncan-Parker-Ginobili vs. Wade-Bosh-LeBron contest. Which Big 3 will triumph?

In Game 4, we witnessed the answer. Miami’s Big 3 combined for five blocks, nine assists, 10 steals, 30 rebounds and a whopping 85 points — scoring 78% of the Heat’s entire output. This is the Miami team that everyone’s feared. This is the squad that we all expected to win — not just two but — four NBA rings.

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The question for tomorrow is this: Which player or trio or team will show up? It’s been an erratic four games.

In his first three outings, LeBron scored 18, 17 and 15 points. That’s a super-lowly 16.6 PPG average. In Game 3, he had one of the worst performances of his career in a big-game moment — 7 of 21 scoring, 1 of 5 from 3-point range and zero free throws taken. Can you believe LeBron not taking any free throws?

“As bad as I played in Game 3, I put all the pressure on me to say I can’t afford to play like that and hope for us to win. Not at this level,” James said. “So I was able to forget about it. It hurt. I watched the film. It hurt watching it. I didn’t like the way I was playing.”

Champions are graded based on how they respond. Author Sherrilyn Kenyon once said, “Sometimes things have to go wrong in order to go right.”

True. As wrong as Game 3 was, it was the right impetus for Game 4. Like Clark Kent turned mad, LeBron unleashed 33 points and pulled down 11 rebounds. From a dark, dark knight, he soared like Superman.

Same with D-Wade. Not until their team was pushed to the brink of embarrassment (no team in the Final has won from a 1-3 deficit) did he transform into his old nickname, Flash. “Yeah, I needed a game like this,” said Wade. “No, I don’t feel like it’s 2006. But it felt good.” Chris Bosh added 20 points in Game 4. It was the first time since March 15 that Miami’s Big 3 each scored 20 or more points. Shane Battier, their Miami teammate, said it best: “Tonight was a Big 3 night. It just was. We all knew it on the bench. It was their night.”

That’s all past. It’s now 2-2. It’s best-of-three. It’s also the best scenario for NBA officials — knowing that, as days prolong, more and more TV viewers from Guatemala to Guadalupe will be watching.

Go, Spurs. Win it tomorrow. Go, LeBron. Win both in Miami. Prove to us what we’ve long suspected: that underneath that No. 6 jersey resides an emblem with the letter “S.”

Spurs vs. Heat: Battle of the Big 3s

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Miami is in Florida while the city of San Antonio is in Texas. I’ve never been to either state. But, based on my little research, no two cities can be more different.

Miami is the “Cruise Capital of the World” and is located along the Atlantic coastline. We all remember the hit TV show, “Miami Vice,” right? We picture a city with blue skies hovering, red Ferraris sprinting, and green palm trees lined-up along Miami beach.

San Antonio is large. It’s the 7th most populous city in the U.S. (1.3 million) and it hosts several military bases — apart from having a rich history of cowboys. The city is named after Saint Anthony of Padua.

MIA v. SAN: Starting tomorrow morning (Phil. time), all eyes will be on both basketball squads. Plenty of questions arise: Is Miami weary and tired? The 10 days of rest between games, will that make San Antonio rusty? How will each team clamp down on Tony Parker and LeBron James? Which coach is better: our Fil-Am Erik or Gregg Popovich? Miami hosts games 1, 2, 6 and 7 — will this home-court advantage help?

I guess that — excluding Game 7 — the most crucial game in the series is Game 1. If the Spurs win that game, it sets the momentum. It transfers the home-court advantage in their favor. It adds extra pressure on the Heat to win Game 2 because if they also lose that fight, then it’s game over. If the Heat win Game 1, then all order is restored. They’re not tired after all. They’re on track to receive the trophy that’s been awarded to them even before the season started.

Another question remains: Can LeBron finally beat Tim Duncan? Six years ago, the Cleveland Cavaliers faced the Spurs in the Final. They were humiliated with the 4-0 win by Duncan.

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“I think our team is more experienced, first of all,” James said after his team defeated the Indiana Pacers in Game 7. “My Cleveland team, we were very young, and we went up against a very experienced team, well-coached team. And they took advantage of everything that we did.”

Back in 2007, LeBron was only 22 years old. He did not own an MVP award yet. Today, at 28 years of age, his season includes averaging (per game) 26.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 7.3 assists. He made 56.5 percent of all his field goals. To top these amazing statistics, he is a four-time MVP, a six-time All-NBA first-team member and was, for five straight years, part of the All-Defensive first-team. “I’m a much better player (now),” said James. “I’m 20, 40, 50 times better than I was in the 2007 Finals.”

One more question: Which Big 3 will dominate? San Antonio has Manu Ginobili, Parker and Duncan. Miami has Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and James. (On Wade and Bosh, they’ve played sub-standard games against Indiana. Wade averaged only 14.5 points per game before scoring 21 last Tuesday. Bosh, in his last four games, was worse: making only 8 of his 34 shots.)

My pick, of course, is Miami. But plenty choose San Antonio. One of them is Ben Golliver of SI.com who picks the Spurs to win in 6. He says: “Rested, experienced, balanced, intelligent, disciplined and potent, San Antonio is a nightmare matchup for any opponent, particularly one struggling with team-wide inconsistency and, possibly, a series-altering health concern in the form of Dwyane Wade’s ailing knee.”

I asked former PBA star and UV coach Elmer “Boy” Cabahug for his assessement. Here’s what he said: “Spurs is doing great. Consistent game of Duncan, Mano and Parker are big, big factors. Plus, McGrady might be their secret weapon. If they scouted the game between Miami and Pacers, the Pacers won when their team had balanced production: Low post and outside shooting. Miami lost when Wade and Bosh were off. Miami’s outside shooting must be consistent. That is their first option (shoot outside); they don’t have a post-up man. These two teams should stay healthy; any injury will cost them the championship. It will all depend on coaches’ strategy and counter-strategy.”

The NBA: Where amazing happens tomorrow!

Miami wins 4-2? Yeah, ‘Yoy says

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Almost like a ritual, each time the NBA Playoffs gets underway, I make a phone call. It’s no ordinary Samsung-to-iPhone conversation. That’s because the person on the other end of the line is no ordinary basketball follower. He’s Raul “Yayoy” Demerry Alcoseba, the Phil Jackson of Cebu.

“Miami owns championship experience,” said Yayoy Alcoseba, moments after the Miami Heat defeated the Indiana Pacers, 90-79, last Friday. “This is the huge edge of Miami. Plus, of course, LeBron James. Wow. His third quarter was unbelievable.”

The no-holds-barred forecast of Coach Yayoy? He said: “Miami will win Game 6 (today) and win the series, 4-2.”

We talked at length about Miami’s player with the jersey number 6. “The reason why LeBron has improved so much, especially this year, is because he’s surrounded by good players,” Yayoy said. “There’s Bosh, Wade, Haslem. Unlike his time with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He was alone. Iya tanan. Now, he not only scores but also has double figures in assists and rebounds. He’s complete.”

The winningest coach in Cebu basketball history, Coach Yayoy gave me a phone lecture on what makes a team successful. “It’s never a one man show,” he said. “Sure, there will be superstars. There will always be stars. Look at Michael Jordan. He was the star. But he would not have become great and won for Chicago all those titles if not for Pippen and the rest of the team.”

It’s the team, says Yayoy. It’s never about one player. Although what we witnessed in Game 5 — when LeBron performed a one-man demolition job; outscoring the Pacers, 16-13, in the third quarter, for example — was different, throughout the season, LeBron has relied more on this teammates than at any other point of his career. “Chemistry,” Yayoy adds, “is essential to success.”

Miami Heat has become an even better team this year, he says, because the other players have contributed more. Yayoy spoke about Ray Allen, Norris Cole and Chris Andersen. “They may not contribute with points but with the defense,” he says. And when LeBron penetrates to the rim, he has many options in case the defense is overwhelming. He can pass and the others will score. Look at Haslem.

This is what’s scary about Miami — scary for their opponents. Because while all the focus is on LeBron and/or The Three Kings (LeBron, Wade, Bosh), it appears that they have other weaponry available — thanks to the other teammates. “Their bench is very deep,” Yayoy adds.

What if Indiana wins today (Game 6) and upsets Miami in Tuesday’s Game 7?

Yayoy laughed. “The ratings will go down!” he said. Few want an Indiana-San Antonio NBA finale. That will be boring. The NBA is about superstars and, devoid of figures like Durant or Kobe or LBJ, that championship will have the lowest ratings in years.

How about a Miami-San Antonio final, what’s Yayoy’s prediction. “Four-two, Miami,” he said.

CEBU. Speaking of local politics, Raul Alcoseba, after three terms as Cebu City councilor, ran for Provincial Board member in the last elections. Never used to losing, he, obviously, won.

“I’ve spoken to Governor-elect Junjun Davide,” said Yayoy, “and I hope to help with sports. That’s my expertise. And not limited only to basketball but to the whole sports program of the Province of Cebu. We will help identify and develop athletes.”

Back to coaching, has he resigned? Reports have surfaced saying that he will no longer coach the Southwestern University (SWU) Cobras.

“I have to finish my contract,” he said. “I have one year to go. I just got very busy with the campaign and the elections that I had to reassess my coaching job.”

Coach Yayoy is excited about the improvements being done to the Aznar Coliseum. “SWU has spent P1.7 million for the rehabilitation of the flooring,” he said. “Plus, Michel Lhuillier, through M. Lhuillier, has spent P1 million for brand-new, NBA-caliber goals. Once reopened, this will be a great-looking gym!”

That’s in Cebu. But for now, at 8:30 A.M. (PHL time), our focus is in Indiana. Go, Pacers. I’m rooting for a Game 7.

Samsam, Dennis preview the NBA’s Final Four

When the NBA season started last October 30, there stood 30 teams. Today, there are only Memphis, Miami, Indiana and San Antonio.

Of the “Final Four,” my good friend Dennis Que is most impressed with the Memphis Grizzlies. Weeks back, he picked Miami Heat vs. Indiana Pacers (East) and San Antonio Spurs-Oklahoma City Thunder (West); he got 3 out of 4 right.

Memphis, meanwhile, grizzled and sizzled. “They’ve been playing the best basketball so far in the playoffs,” said Dennis. “They play with intensity and they reminded me of the 2004 NBA champions Detroit Pistons. There’s the defense of Marc Gasol, along with Tony Allen and Prince, the steady play-making of Mike Conley and the resurgence of Zach Randolph.”

Memphis_Grizzlies

Dennis e-mailed me his comments the other night. This was, of course, before the Spurs embarrassed the Grizzlies yesterday, 105-83. Still, this team has been down before — and won. “They’ve beaten the Clippers despite being down 0-2; they defeated OKC four straight games after losing Game 1,” said Dennis, who is so confident with Memphis that he expects them to reach the NBA Finals and beat Miami in Game 7.

GULLAS. Another expert I consulted is Cebu’s new congressman, Gerald Anthony “Samsam” V. Gullas.

An excellent ballplayer who still practices with his University of the Visayas squad (he’s the team manager), Samsam doesn’t believe in “upsets.” To him, the rankings are overrated, citing New York as an example. “They ranked #2 but if Rondo was available, Celtics would have won against the Knicks. Denver and OKC both lost first round match up but that’s without Gallo and Westbrook,” he said. “I also feel frustrated with Rose in Chicago. He was cleared to play, getting paid millions and yet left everyone hanging if we would play or not. A simple yes or no would have sufficed.”

When I asked Rep. Gullas who surprised him most, he answered two. First, Memphis. He belies trading Gay was a good move. “Memphis is a physical inside-out team and they did that against the Thunder. It seems like Gasol and Randolph made Perkins and Ibaka look like boys in a man’s game,” he said.

Second, the Golden State Warriors, whom he considers a young team with young stars, a great coach and the best home-court crowd. “My brother-in-law, who is constantly at the games, sends me messages on how the fans are at the Oracle; 15 mins prior to tip-off, fans are cheering, and they barely sit down when the game is on.”

Of the Final Four teams left, Samsam credits their “good big men and good backcourt play.” He’s reminded of the ‘90s teams like the Knicks and the Rockets.

“Every team in the final four play inside-out basketball and a physical brand of basketball,” Gullas said. “Miami is an exception, they are the hybrid type. They are playing fantastic with small ball and have great rotations defensively. Not to mention this guy named LeBron who can guard and play all 4 positions. I am excited to see have he will fare against Indiana’s physical big men West and Hibbert.”

Miami-Heat-07-HD-Wallpaper

As exciting as the Final Four is, Samsam believes less people will follow the NBA playoffs today compared to before. The reason: no Lakers, no Celtics, no Knicks.

“People follow big market teams such LA, Boston and New York. Miami is in but the Spurs, Memphis and Pacers are small-market teams. More people may be watching in that state but I don’t think majority of the fans will be following the smaller market teams due to the lack of superstars.” Good point.

Finally, on his “fearless forecast,” while Dennis Que picks a wild-card in Memphis, Samsam is going safe with the Heat and the Spurs.

“Heat caused I’m biased and they have the best player in the world. Spurs because they have everything you would want in a team: great team chemistry, great coaching, unselfish superstars, role players who accept their role, very good defensively and players who do not care about the box score, and players who know what to do to win games. But with the NBA rule changes that tend to favor fan-friendly run-and-gun teams, I see the Heat winning it in 6.”

NBA’s First round! Who’ll get KO’d?

Ask anybody. Ask Dennis Que. Ask Kyle Kokseng. Ask anybody not named Kobe the same question and you’ll receive the same reply: Miami Heat will win it all.

LeBron & Co. are not the favorites. They are EXPECTED to win. After ending the regular season by winning 37 of their last 39 games, what else can we expect?

“They have a deeper bench this year and the Big 3 (LeBron, Wade and Bosh) are all healthy,” said Dennis Que, an avid Cebuano basketballer who not only watches the NBA on TV everyday buts adds, “My day starts when all the NBA games are finished.”

Kyle Kokseng, another close friend and the owner/general manager of Banilad Town Centre (BTC), concurs on Miami. He cites two words and three letters for the team’s impending triumph: Chemistry. Firepower. LBJ.

FIRST ROUND. The NBA Playoffs begin today. With Dennis, we did a “Que & A” on the most exciting 1st round contests:

1) 4th seed LA Clippers vs. 5th seed Memphis Grizzlies. A rematch of last year, “Both teams are evenly matched and they finished the season with identical win/loss records,” Dennis says. Expect a Game 7.

2) 4th seed Brooklyn Nets vs. 5th seed Chicago Bulls. The Nets are seeded higher but the Bulls won 3 of their 4 regular season games.

3) 2nd seed New York Knicks vs. 7th seed Boston Celtics. “Both teams hate each other and the Carmelo Anthony/Kevin Garnett drama continues. Stay tuned,” warns Dennis.

With Mr. Kokseng, I asked the same query and got this quick reply: MEM/LAC and SAS/LAL.

“LAL,” of course, stands for Los Angeles Lakers. Aren’t we all smiling that they entered the Final 16? Imagine the playoffs without the Lakers?

“They’re the NBA’s darling team,” Dennis says. “I’m sure a lot of people are happy, especially Charlie Pages. But I don’t see them winning against a superior San Antonio team and not without Charlie’s idol, Kobe.”

Kyle Kokseng replies: “All my bball friends know I’m anti-anti-Kobe, but LAL making it in is good for the sport. They have a chance against SAS. If they don’t make it, they’ll go down in 6 or 7 games.”

Speaking of “first round upsets,” Dennis thinks the Celtics have a chance against the Knicks — granted they can slow down Carmelo Anthony. (Doesn’t the entire sporting world love this “New York vs. Boston” rivalry? And, I ask, what sentimental motivation will the recent Boston Marathon bombing have on this series? I believe this will give extra impetus to the Celtics.)

As to the team that might surprise us the most, Kyle and Dennis came up with the same answer: Denver Nuggets. “They might challenge the Thunder in the Western finals,” Dennis says.

Kyle adds: “But if Dwight and Pau continue to play like they did the last 2 games, could be scary.”

FINAL FOUR. For Kyle Kokseng, it’s Miami-Indiana (“both teams play excellent defense and IND has good inside-out offense”) and Memphis-San Antonio (“MEM has best opponents’ PPG in the league, SAS – Graig Poppovich”).

Dennis Que agrees on Miami-Indiana in the East (“Miami will cruise past the Bucks, Nets; Indiana might face a tough Knicks team but will win because of their experience and depth”) but thinks Oklahoma will beat San Antonio to meet Miami (again) in the NBA Finals this June.

MVP? No question. The award hasn’t been given yet but, as sure as Dennis is that Miami will win the trophy, it will be LeBron holding aloft his 4th MVP award. (When, not If, this happens, LBJ will be nearing the 5 MVPs of Michael Jordan. Also, will the NBA see its first-ever “unanimous” MVP winner in LeBron? I hope so.)

NBA TODAY. Finally, I asked Dennis Que if today’s league is more exciting than the past…

“Yes and No,” he replies. “It’s always exciting to watch the NBA in different eras. Before, there were physical plays, fighting and brawls. The no-harm, no-foul rule applied. Through the years, the NBA managed to control that. Now, with the evolution of bigger, faster and stronger players and less physical plays, we are treated with never-before-seen cross-over moves and high-flying dunks.”

LeBron: Hybrid MJ, Magic, Pippen, Robertson

With limited TV time the past three days, I only got to watch the NBA festivities last Sunday night.

Erik Spoelstra beamed an earful smile. As head coach of the league-leading Miami Heat, he got to coach the Eastern All-Stars, including his three players in the starting five: Bosh, Dwayne, LBJ. How cool is that? The Filipino-American looks relaxed as ever. He’s won an NBA crown and is headed for another one this June.

I watched the practice session when the West and East stars shared half-a-court each. While the West All-Stars were tutored seriously by their coach, Gregg Popovich, the Team from the East were joking: they positioned themselves across each other, passed two balls simultaneously, rotated their giant bodies across the rectangle.

To any basketball fan, watching this NBA weekend “live” must be a dream. In one arena, in one floor, in one game — the best of the best gather. They’re relaxed. They score up to 143 points. They dunk and dunk.

SAMSAM GULLAS. Each time I need expert inputs on the NBA, I always seek the advice of one man: Gerald Anthony V. Gullas, Jr.

The AVP for Finance and Administration of UV, if Samsam were not working for the family-owned university (or not running for Congress this May), he’d be a full-time basketball player or coach.

“I love the new concept of the East vs. West Format for all the events,” said Gullas. What he likes most? The trait the Gullases are most known for: giving back to community. (During the All-Star Weekend, the winning team was given $350,000 for their charity while losing team, $150,000.)

How about the weekend’s most awaited contest? “The Slam Dunk competition was very entertaining compared to last year but without NBA stars I believe it still lacks the kind of hype it had in the 80’s and 90’s,” he said. “It’s just sad to only see clips of the 80’s and 90’s when the stars took stage in the Slam Dunk Contest. MJ, Nique, Spud, Kobe, etc. I believe the All-Star Game would showcase the REAL slam dunk contest.”

Asked to name a standout player, Samsam picks Kyrie Irving who, he says, should overtake Chris Paul as the league’s top point guard. “He is smart, athletic, possesses a great shooting stroke and most importantly, clutch. Just ask the Thunder,” said Gullas.

MJ vs. Kobe vs. LeBron? Samsam answers: “MJ turns 50. More than a decade removed from the game, we still hear stories of MJ joining Bobcats practices and even challenging Bobcats rookie sensation Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to a one on one game and won. The best thing about MJ is that he will always be a competitor.

“MJ had the talent to be the best basketball player in the world, but his will to win and love of competition made him, the G.O.A.T. MJ hated to lose, that’s why he has been to the finals six times and is a six time NBA champion and a six time NBA Finals MVP.”

As to Jordan saying Kobe is better because “5 will always be more than 1,” Samsam cries foul. It’s unfair, he says.

“Even being a Kobe Bryant fan, I’d have to say talent-wise, LeBron is the best basketball player in the world today. Kobe Bryant in his prime vs. LeBron today would definitely be a tossup, but today, it’s a no contest. I think it is unfair for MJ to use the 5 vs. 1 ‘rule’ because I believe he is the G.O.A.T and I will never pick Bill Russell to be a better player who has 11 rings to Jordan who has 6. With the way LeBron has been playing, he will definitely have 3-4 more rings added to his collection. Kobe will always be the closest thing to Jordan but LeBron is the first hybrid of Jordan, Magic, Pippen and Oscar Robertson.”