Spurs vs. Heat: Battle of the Big 3s

Spurs vs Heat

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.


“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!

Red Clay Meets Red Clay in Paris

Published in June of 2007, here’s a flashback of our unforgettable experience….

GOLFERS dream of smelling the grass and catching a Tiger lurking behind the woods at Augusta National, home of The Masters. Hoop fans envy fellow columnist Homer Sayson, who owns NBA Finals reserved seats in San Antonio and Cleveland. The feet of soccer fans get ticklish with the words “Germany World Cup.” We all have dreams. I own one. No, four. To watch all the tennis grand slams: Wimbledon, the Australian Open, Roland Garros, and the US Open. The US Open? That dream became reality eight years ago when I spent four straight weeks with my dad Bunny in New York. Seeing Andre Agassi and Serena Williams hold aloft those trophies sent shivers up my spine. I had to pinch myself and slap my face left and right to ensure I was awake.

Wimbledon? The Australian Open? Dreams, yes. Roland Garros?

Six years ago, my father-in-law Jack Mendez gathered the family and announced: “We’re going to Europe!” Three months later, we’re aboard Galaxy, the Princess Cruises ship that’s seven stories tall complete with theaters, a casino, restaurants, and Broadway musicals. By boat, we hopped from city to city. The place I loved the most? Paris.

Imagine the Eiffel Tower, Nortre Dame, Arc de Triomphe, Louvre Museum, Versailles Palace. Touring those sites, it felt like watching a movie. Only this time, the screen was “live,” right before your eyes. The place I loved the most? Roland Garros.

We arrived late in the afternoon. As our van stopped at the entrance, I gripped my fingers, smiled and screamed, “This is it!” To our surprise, no guards manned the gate. We entered. Our first stop was to the right as we walked inside a side court. There it was, before our bare eyes, the red clay, or le terre battue, as the French call it. I stepped on it, bent down and felt the dirt rub against my fingers. Almost like our courts here in Cebu, only thicker and red.

We moved to the open air pavilion. This is the area, I imagined, where spectators relaxed, dined and chatted between matches. We mimicked the statues of the Four Musketeers, some of the best French netters in history: Jean Borotra, Jacques Brugnon, Henri Cochet, and the clothing wear founder, René Lacoste.

Finally, we entered the main stadium, Court Philippe Chatrier (named after the former head of the French Tennis Federation). We absorbed every detail and gazed around. Compared to the US Open’s Arthur Ashe Center Court, this is intimate, I told my wife Jasmin. With us were my daughter Jana, Jasmin’s sisters Michelle and Monette, and brother Jake. It was just us inside, the court laid bare all to ourselves.

We snapped photos, took videos, and lingered wondering how it must feel when the court is jam-packed and inhabited by warriors with rackets. All of a sudden, as we marveled around and chatted, my daughter blurted out, “I want to make poo-poo!” Poo-poo? My two-year-old Jana? At the center court? Was this possible? Will we be caught? Jailed?

As parents all know: When a child has to go, she has to go. And so Jana, with her diapers on and standing on Court Philippe Chatrier, dropped a bombshell that rocked Paris. POOOOT! POOOOT! POOOOT!

We shook our heads. Laughed. Who would have believed such a sight. That was our family’s Ripley’s Believe It Or Not episode. On center court, dozens have been crowned champions, knelt down and wiped tears after victory—the Bjorn Borgs, the Michael Changs, and, this Sunday, Rafael Nadal will win his third straight—but how many can claim they dropped red clay on the red clay of the French Open?

Five tips while watching the French Open

I’ve been playing tennis since our family moved from Bacolod to Cebu when Marcos was toppled and Cory moved into power in the summer of 1986.

Since then, I’ve posed for a photo beside Federer and Sampras in Kuala Lumpur, smacked 27,856 forehands, and been operated on a shoulder injury by Dr. Tony San Juan. I’ve watched Agassi and Serena win the US Open, helped organize the four Davis Cup events in Plantation Bay Resort and Spa (a 5th one is coming this September versus New Zealand!) and helped train a young 14-year-old champion that is my daughter Jana.

Through these 27 years of tennis, what tips can I offer the regular, thrice-weekly player? Here are five clay-court tennis tips — while we’re all watching the French Open each night.

One: Practice your serve. It’s funny. We often spend hours perfecting our backhands and forehands — but spend so little time fine-tuning our serves. Lest we forget, this rule applies: the serve is the only shot in tennis that we have complete control of. Think about it. If one has an excellent serve, one will win lots of free points.

Here’s another idea to remember: If you can’t be broken, you won’t lose. True. Just hold your serve and you won’t lose. Never. I like this saying that differentiates the average club player (that’s us) versus a pro like Novak: “We serve to START the point. The pros serve to END the point.” Got it? On that first shot alone (serve), the pros try to finish the point.

Here’s a favorite saying: “Life is like a game of tennis. He who serves well seldom loses.”

Two: Employ the drop shot. Study the French Open players tonight. (If you subscribe to SkyCable HD, go to channel 702 where the free HD on Roland Garros is found.) On the red clay of Paris, the best players employ a strategy that’s wise and proven successful: When the opponent is far, they hit a feather-like drop shot. It works. The key point is the element of surprise. You can’t hit a drop shot every other point — your opponent will guess it and sprint forward. Disguise. Surprise.

Three: High topspin is best. Watch Nadal. He’s the greatest ever on the dirt surface. What does he have that nobody else has? Tremendous spin. It’s been recorded that his forehand generates 5,800+ revolutions per minute (RPMs) — the most of any pro. (Federer, at 4800+, is a distant second.) The higher the allowance over the net, the deeper the shot. Add more spin with the high-bouncing shot and you’ve got a Rafa-like chance of victory.

Four: Watch only one player. While watching tennis on TV, you really want to learn and improve? Watch only one person. Yup. That’s no joke. Instead of moving your eyeballs up and down, stick to focusing on one player. Observe Maria’s side-to-side movement (not her yellow-colored bikini shorts). Copy the best backhand down-the-line shot in today’s game (Djokovic’s). Relish the inside-out forehand of the Rolex-sponsored Swiss codenamed RF. Watch only one player. You’ll learn more.

Five: Play the game. Majority of readers who’ll read this are non-tennis players. That’s a fact. Few people have ever gripped an Eastern backhand grip and performed a slice shot. Tennis is not as easy to learn as, say, bowling or Zumba. You need a racket. You need a person at the opposite end of the court (although I spent hundreds of hours as a young junior practicing against the pelota court’s high wall — at the old Casino Español). In tennis, you need balls, tennis shoes, grips, new strings (once they break) and cash to pay for the court fees, etc, etc. It’s not as inexpensive as the most inexpensive of sports: running.

Yet tennis is fun. It’s a game you can play from six until 86. It’s a chance to group together with friends. It provides some of the best form of exercise. It enhances your competitive spirit. It offers both rigorous (singles) and recreational (doubles) options. Plus, it’s a game of contradictions, as Billie Jean King once said: “Tennis is a perfect combination of violent action taking place in an atmosphere of total tranquility.”

Categorized as Tennis

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.