Mark Garcia reviews the NBA Playoffs

He putts on the Cebu Country Club golf course and swings a tennis forehand but ask Mark Garcia which game he loves most and his reply will echo as loudly as the slogan… I Love This Game!

The NBA. And, yes, after five months, we’ve reached the Final 16 (of the total 30) as the playoffs started last Saturday. “I think the Cavs and the Lakers will meet in the finals with Cleveland winning,” said Mark. “The Cavs have loaded up their team with Shaq and Jamison. They also have a deeper bench. The Lakers also have been banged up this year, which is a concern. The advantage of the Lakers is their experience being defending champs and that they have the best closer, Kobe. But I think that this is going to be Cleveland’s year.”

Mark Garcia has, like millions of us worldwide, followed the NBA for decades. But what few of us have experienced is watching an NBA game. Live. Mark’s done that five times. “The first one was Game 2 of the 1992 playoffs between Detroit and New York in Madison Square Garden. Detroit had Isiah, Dumars, Rodman, Laimbeer (The Bad Boys); Knicks had Ewing, Mark Jackson, Kenny Walker and were coached by Pat Riley.”

In 1996, Mark saw three games. On one occasion, together with his cousin Chris Aldeguer and best friend Quinito Moras, he saw Chicago vs. the Clippers in LA. “The Bulls lineup were composed of Jordan, Pippen, Rodman.. and MJ scored 40 points. That was the game when he closed his eyes for one free throw,” he said. “We were six rows from the court and Jack Nicholson was across us.”

Mark Garcia (right) with Chris Aldeguer

(All photos by Mark G.)

Last year, Mark watched the pre-season game in Las Vegas between the Lakers and Kings and saw top rookie, Tyreke Evans, plus, said Mark, “Kobe who played 30 minutes and put on a show with three dunks.”

KB24? Yes. “My favorite players are Kobe and Lebron. Kobe because of his work ethic and will to win attitude like Jordan. He’s also worked hard to make himself the best clutch shooter. He came into the league as a pure scorer but learned how to play the team game (like Jordan).

“LeBron came as the most hyped NBA player but he exceeded all expectations. Like Kobe, LeBron has gotten better every year. His jump shot and defense have improved every season. LeBron’s understanding of the game at a very young age is amazing. Plus, both have great charisma.”

But who, among the two, is No.1? “Last year, Kobe and LeBron were about the same level,” he said. “Both of them were dominant offensive players and made the all defensive first team. This year has been different. LeBron has been amazing in almost every category and will surely win his second straight MVP with the second place far behind. LeBron is the better player now and will be for many years.”

Cleveland will win, assures Mark. “I love the Lakers but I think the Cavs’ defeat last year against Orlando will be enough to motivate LeBron and Co. It’s like the Lakers when they lost to the Celtics during the ‘07-’08 finals.”

How about the Boston Celtics? “I think this is going to be their last run at a championship with the Big 3 (Garnett, Pierce and Allen). If healthy, they might be able to get to the conference finals because of their experience but I don’t see them going to the finals. They haven’t played consistently.”

For the best first round playoff match-ups, Mark lists three:  Celtics vs. Heat (“A good one since the Heat closed the season on a high note winning 12 of their last 13 games), Dallas vs. San antonio, and Denver vs. Utah.

As to which teams might surprise us, “I think Dallas has a chance since they have an experienced lineup with Kidd and Dirk. They also pulled off the best trade this season with Butler and Haywood. San Antonio, now healthy, can also do well. Orlando has also gained experience from last year’s finals plus they have Vince Carter.”

Mark’s final words: “This year’s Playoffs will be great since there’s no clear-cut favorite. Whichever team gets hot in the next month could win, like Miami in 2006. A lot of the playoff seedings were determined on the last day of the regular season which shows how close the teams were.”

Johnvic and Boy on KB24, Phil and ‘Cry Baby’

Two basketball tacticians I conferred with yesterday. JOHNVIC GULLAS, whose family owns the University of the Visayas (UV), stands over 6 feet tall and, during his schooldays, shot eight triples for Sacred Heart (Boys) in one game and nine three-pointers in a Velez College intrams contest. ELMER “BOY” CABAHUG is a celebrity. A former PBA star, he has since led the UV Green Lancers, as head coach, to eight straight CESAFI titles. Here’s my Q & A with the two:

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(Emmanuel Dunand/AP)

ON L.A. Gullas: The Lakers played the Magic so well that I was not surprised they dominated. Look at Game 3 when the Magic shot a record 75% (first half) but won by only four, 108-104. That shows you that for the Magic to win they have to play at an extraordinary level. The Lakers’ big men exposed Howard’s lack of a low post play. The Lakers defense on the perimeter vs. the Magic was excellent, preventing them from hitting open shots (with Game 3’s exception). Cabahug: It’s all about experience. Orlando is new in the Finals. The crucial games were 2, 3 and 4. The Magic had chances and it could have been 3-1 in their favor. But what LA always does is to ‘take the last shot.’ They control the game’s final outcome, win or lose. They were also very composed in their execution. Their experience made the difference.

No hypnotic magic can stop the Lakers now

ORLANDO WINS GAME 4! THEY DID IT! SERIES NOW TIED, 2-ALL!!!

Sorry. That was supposed to have been the script. Orlando should have won. They led 24-20 after 12 minutes, held a 12-point advantage during halftime, led 67-63 after the third quarter and, with just 39 ticks left, led by five. Then, with the same length of time it takes to count “1.. 2.. 3.. 4.. 5,” they owned a three-point edge. But, left unattended because the enemy believed they’d rely on Kobe The Great, a forgotten elderly named Mr. Fisher was left open. Swoosh! It was 87-87. It’s called “LeShot” of these NBA Finals.

It’s called Experience.

For here he was, 34 years old in a league where the average age is 26 years young. Wasn’t Derek Fisher a bygone? Obsolete? An abandoned relic? Not with that three-pointer he converted to force OT. And not when, minutes later with 31 seconds left, he scored another 3-pointer. To think that, prior to those two heroic bombs, he attempted five 3-pointers and missed all five. Isn’t that called luck? Swerte? No.

It’s called Experience.

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Categorized as NBA

Kobe stumbles, Orlando revives Magic touch

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Last February, Sports Illustrated conducted a survey where 190 NBA players were asked, “With the game on the line, which NBA player would you want to take the last shot?” Dwayne Wade got two percent; Paul Pierce got three percent, same with Chauncey Billups and LeBron James. Who received a staggering 76 percent? You guessed it right: Kobe Bean Bryant.

But, as we all saw yesterday, with less than 30 seconds left in the game clock and Orlando Magic leading by two, Kobe dribbled left, then right, penetrated—then he fumbled! From a potential game-tying two-pointer, he lost the ball… and the ballgame. Worse, minutes earlier, he missed a free throw. Not once but five bungled free throws out of 10 attempts. And he’s the man proclaimed by 76 percent of his peers as the game’s “best closer?”

Orlando vs. LA? Cebuano NBA fans choose

Yayoy Alcoseba: LA, 4-2. They have Kobe and Pau Gasol plus Phil Jackson who has 9 titles. Also, their experience in the Finals last yr was impt. Orlando is good but not in the same caliber. Howard can also be contained by Gasol. Plus, none of Magic players have any Finals experience.

Bimbo Bael: I’m for Orlando, the underdog. Who would have thought they’d make it to the finals! Now that they have, the momentum is on their side.

John Cheu: LA in 6 or 7. Kobe & d deep bench of LA will make d difference. But Coach Van Gundy is a great strategist and will give Phil a hard time.

Chester Cokaliong: Orlando. Have never been a Laker fan. Howard, MVP, because he is their Heart & Soul. He is unstoppable inside while the Lakers has Gasol as a go-to guy in the absence of Kobe.

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(Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images)

Alone, LeBron’s magic vanishes against Magic

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Would you believe that, had LeBron James not made “LeShot” in Game 2 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals, the series today would have been 4-0? Yes, Four… Zero. A clean sweep by the Orlando Magic against the team who owns the regular season record, who embarrassed Detroit and Atlanta in the earlier playoffs, 8-0, and boasts of Player No. 23 who’s proclaimed as “Today’s Michael Jordan.”

Confounding? Hard-to-believe? Perplexing? Yes, yes, yes. For how did a team that was destined to reach The Finals (while Kobe and L.A. would struggle) almost got obliterated, 4-0? How?

NBA’s No.1, with 0:01 left, bangs ‘The Shot’

Call it any adjective you prefer—“Amazing,” “Incredible,” “Breathtaking”—what transpired 24 hours ago at the Quicken Loans Arena in Ohio will forever be etched in NBA history. Down 0-1 in the Eastern Conference Finals, down 93-95 with the same length of time it takes to say “goodbye,” LeBron James does the unthinkable: He grabs the inbounds pass, spins around and, barely looking at the goal and with roughly 0.4 seconds left, unleashes a missile that dribbles against the rim of the basket and slides down the net.

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Swoosh! Wasn’t that stunning? It wasn’t a Steven Spielberg movie—it was better; a real-life script with turns and twists that no one could have plotted and whose ending, wow, was spectacular and unknown until after the buzzer sounded.

Best of all, wasn’t that a Michael Moment? For while LBJ had accumulated a multitude of accolades—Rookie of the Year, MVP, scoring champion, Olympic gold medalist—he’s never had that one moment like MJ.

Now, this. The LeBron Moment. “The biggest shot I’ve made in my career,” he said. Hey, it may have been the biggest shot in all of the National Basketball Association.

Near drowning, Kobe rescues the Lakers

Yesterday, like many of you, I watched part of the Lakers-Nuggets game. From start to near-the-finish, Denver led. They led 5-0 after the opening tip, led by 13 points during the First Quarter, led by 11 at half time, led by 7 points with 7:01 left. But, as we all know, the term led during the game is nowhere near the same as led at the end of the game. Because in sports, the beginning and middle are essential—but what’s most imperative and paramount is The End.

Take swimming. Many a backstroke swimmer has led Michael Phelps at the start only for the Olympic gold medalist to overtake in the end. The same with cycling. A few overeager pedalists sprint to the front when the starting gun is fired—only to evaporate towards the finish line.

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Which brings me to Kobe. Is there any ballplayer who’s a better closer? Who, when the seconds are ticking and the enemy is bloodying you, stands up front, lifts his sword like King Arthur and bludgeons his way to victory?

As LeBron is crowned, a retrospect on No. 23

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Valentine’s Day three months ago at the sprawling and expansive Asturias farm of Frederic Chiongbian, seated around the dining table were Chris Aldeguer, Meyrick Jacalan, Frederic and myself. We debated. The topic? Who, among the billions of earthlings who have inhabited this planet, is the greatest athlete of all time.

“Lance Armstrong!” I said. As rapid as our Pambansang Kamao’s left punch, my trio of friends—all ardent bikers and devotees of Lance—quickly shot down my proposal and, in unanimous decision, echoed with one answer: No. 23.

I soon retreated. And concurred. It’s MJ. Think about it: In the 1990s decade and the 15 years that we’ve been blessed with his soaring presence dribbling that orange ball, weren’t those weeks and months the best in sports? Don’t those mental photos—of an identifiable black object flying inside the United Center skyline—bring back joyous memories?

Remember the tongue-wagging? The shiny scalp? Those baggy shorts? The Air Jordans? The diamond earring? Those dunks that slam. The red Chicago Bulls jersey with the most famous number in sports, 23? Remember those contests between Bird and Magic? The two Olympic gold rings? Space Jam? Best of all, remember the smile?

Freddie says De La Hoya’s too old, overstaying

It’s not aired on local or cable TV but it’s a must-watch. I’m referring to HBO’s documentary called “24/7,” which features Oscar de la Hoya and Manny Pacquiao. I first heard about this bio-short film from Chris Aldeguer. The youngest son of ALA, Chris is now in the U.S. preparing for two mega-events: he’ll watch the Dec. 6 blockbuster at the MGM Grand and, just hours later, at 6 a.m. the following day (Dec. 7), he’ll run the Las Vegas Marathon—the first-ever 42-K by Chris after training for over 12 months.

Back to HBO’s 24/7 film, what a story! It contrasts DLH’s training at the immaculate confines of his brand-new gym at Big Bear, California with MP sweating amidst the noise and commotion of the Wild Card Gym.

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Categorized as Cesafi, NBA