#6 LeBron James #21 Tim Duncan NBA:  2013 NBA Finals San Antonio Spurs vs. Miami Heat Game 1 Game Action American Airlines Arena/Miami, FL, USA 6/6/2013 Credit: John W. McDonough

#6 LeBron James #21 Tim Duncan NBA: 2013 NBA Finals San Antonio Spurs vs. Miami Heat Game 1 Game Action American Airlines Arena/Miami, FL, USA 6/6/2013 Credit: John W. McDonough

By KELTON BROOKS

(@BrooksWeekly)

Don’t call it rematch.

Call it the sequel of an action-packed, shot making, dunk throw-down and ball swatting film that would detonate the box office the same way as Marvel’s “Avengers.” Superman wasn’t in the 2012 box office sensation, but another Superman hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy and Finals MVP trophy in back-to-back seasons, LeBron James.

Now, thrice facing off against Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals (swept by the Spurs 4-0 in the 2007 Finals as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers), LeBron and Duncan will break the tie to cement themselves within the highest pedigree of champions.

For Duncan, a fifth title would increase the argument of Kobe Bryant versus Duncan as the best player of their generations. Check this, the past 16 NBA Finals have included either Lebron, Kobe, Duncan or Dwyane Wade. That eye-popping bite of information personifies greatness, consistency, and prosperity. Duncan is arguably the best power forward in NBA history, and it should be noted that two of Duncan’s rings came after the retirement of another Spurs Hall of Fame player, David Robinson.

Heading into his 17th season and sixth Finals appearance, Duncan is increasingly coming close to his last years in the NBA alongside his future Hall of Fame coach in Greg Popovich, and future Hall of Fame teammates in Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. The three of them are all under contract together for one more season. It’s rare that Duncan ever reciprocate verbal barbs with other teams, but in the back of his mind, he knows he is possibly looking at his last year in the NBA. He wants redemption. He wants revenge. He wants to remove the 3-point dagger Ray Allen thrusted into the hearts of Spurs fan in Game 6 during last year’s Finals.

And Duncan got exactly what he wants, the Miami Heat.

“We’re back here,” Duncan told reporters after ridding the Thunder in Game 6. “We’re excited about it. We’ve got four more to win. We’ll do it this time.“We’re happy that it’s the Heat again. We’ve got that bad taste in our mouths, still.”

That not only motivates Duncan and his teammates, but Miami as well.

Like San Antonio, Miami could also etch their names among basketball’s elite. A three-peat would secure the Heat among legendary statues to join the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers and Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls of the 90s as the only teams in NBA history to win three consecutive championships. For LeBron, this would be his third championship before the age of 30, the same time Jordan captured his third title in a three-peat fashion.

The accolades and adjectives to describe the four-time MVP and two-time champion are but kind gestures now. LeBron is the best player to lace a pair of Nikes on this planet. Physically, mentally, and an overdrive switch to completely dominate a game elevates him into a stratosphere of his own.

The Heat, comprised of three Hall of Fame players in their own right in Wade–who reverted back to his dominate days this postseason–sharp shooting Allen and a fringe Hall of Fame player in Chris Bosh, were woven together by Heat president Pat Riley for this very moment, to win multiple championships.

The Spurs, easily the most consistent team in the NBA all season, battled through the gauntlet that is the Western Conference playoffs, compared to Heat’s breeze through the Eastern Conference playoffs. San Antonio has been haunted by last year’s loss the moment the clocked ticked zero in Game 7. They want this, and they want it bad.

The implementation of the 2-2-1-1-1 format creates much more excitement and fairness for both teams. Here is how I see it breaking down:

Both teams split at home making it 2-2 after four games. The winner of Game 5 will ultimately win the series. I have the Heat taking Game 5 on the road and closing it out at home to reel in the coveted three-peat.

Miami in 6.

Oklahoma City Thunder’s Kevin Durant, left, and Russell Westbrook, speak at a news conference after Game 5 of the NBA basketball Western Conference finals on Thursday. (Darren Abate/AP)

Oklahoma City Thunder’s Kevin Durant, left, and Russell Westbrook, speak at a news conference after Game 5 of the NBA basketball Western Conference finals on Thursday. (Darren Abate/AP)

By KELTON BROOKS

(@BrooksWeekly)

1. Thunder need revamping, no Durant and Westbrook breakup

History has shown no player can singlehandedly win a championship on his own, not even basketball’s royalty himself in Michael Jordan.

The nucleus of Kevin Durant, 25, Russell Westbrook, 25 and Serge Ibaka, 24, will remain intact until an unforeseen catastrophe strikes in the clubhouse of Oklahoma City or salary complications cause the Thunder to wheel and deal, but it was evident who the Thunder wanted to keep after OKC shipped James Harden to the Houston Rockets. The Thunder are undoubtedly receiving criticism after losing in the Western Conference Finals, but they lost to a Hall of Fame coach in Gregg Popovich, Hall of Fame players in Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili, and the most consistent team throughout the season thus far. Although, we could be having a different discussion if Ibaka played in Games 1 and 2.

The pouring outcry of Westbrook outscoring Durant in the Conference Finals (27.2 to 25.4 ppg respectively) gives more ammo to pundits who believe Westbrook should take a backseat to Durant, but Durant averaged 29.4 ppt to Westbrook’s 26.26.7 for the postseason as a whole. The manner in how they scored is the deeper story. No matter the time or place, Westbrook’s assassin’s mentality constantly reveals itself in crunch time, a gift yet an uncontrollable wreck waiting to happen. Durant has tendencies of shying away and not demanding the ball when he should, but neither could go far without each other.

After Durant and Westbrook, there is no consistent scoring threat on the Thunder’s roster, not in the starting line up or especially off the bench. Thunder guard Reggie Jackson has shown flashes, but his ability to maintain additional scoring comes and goes. Durant and Westbrook will win a championship someday, and it will be together on the same team, but the Thunder’s front office have to surround their two young pillars with more firepower.

2. Lance Stephenson will return to the Pacers 

This may blow you by surprise, but the Pacers need Stephenson’s antics. I say this for two reasons: 1) His unusual methods of gamesmanship displays a sense of fearlessness. 2) He is due a big contract, but sadly a team may not think twice about singing him because if reason No. 1.

Before Game 6, reportedly, Stephenson said Indiana’s President Larry Bird told him to stop all the shenanigans, but after a hand to the face of LeBron James and forearm across the head of Heat guard Norris Cole, Stephenson may have overstayed his welcome in Indiana. After the blowout loss to James and the Heat, a reporter asked Pacers’ star forward Paul George if he feels Stephenson should return to the team. George’s response:

“I mean, I don’t know, That’s for [Pacers president] Larry [Bird], [GM] Kevin [Pritchard], for them to decide.”

Not the most convincing endorsement to keep a player that was selected the same year by the same team in the 2010 draft. Despite the subliminal shot and on-court antics, Stephenson’s growth was a major factor for Indiana this season. Stephenson led the league in triple-doubles and was considered an all-star snub. The Pacers have a huge need at point guard and must figure out how to revive any confidence in Roy Hibbert.

3. “Track talk” from Tim Duncan

Up 3-2 in the series, San Antonio was leading by five points with 28.2 seconds left, all but ready to crown themselves as champions.

Then Ray Allen happened.

A 3-pointer made by Allen ignited a fierce comeback and the Heat forced overtime and won. Miami then won Game 7 95-88 to become back-to-back champions.

Tim Duncan seldom exchange pleasantries with any team, but this time it’s different. The shot heard around the world in Game 6 by Allen haunted the Spurs all season. That dagger by Ray Allen motivated the Spurs to return to the promise land to once again take on the Miami Heat, the first Finals rematch since 1998 when the Chicago Bulls beat Utah Jazz for the last of Jordan’s six championships.

After washing their hands with the Thunder in Game 6, here is what Duncan said after the game:

“We’re back here. We’re excited about it. We’ve got four more to win. We’ll do it this time.
“We’re happy that it’s the Heat again. We’ve got that bad taste in our mouths, still.”

“We”ll do it this time.” Translation: We are going to take the crown away from the Heat and become NBA champions.

Not Muhammed Ali smack talk, but head turning words Miami undoubtedly have heard loud and clear. In the words of Pacers’ coach Frank Vogel as he addressed Stephenson’s tactics towards LeBron: “I don’t think it’s ever good … what’s everybody call it? Tug on Superman’s cape. I don’t think that’s ever good.”

4. Frank Vogel will return as Pacers head coach

Neither Vogel nor Stephenson will leave Indiana. In consecutive seasons, Vogel led the Pacers to the Eastern Conference Finals only to twice have their seasons ended by the Heat. The 40-year-old coach couldn’t have been more honest during the post-game press conference in a Game 6 loss about the team who ousted his Pacers two years in a row.

“…But we’re competing against the Michael Jordan of our era, the Chicago Bulls of our era, and you have to tip your hats to them for the way they played this whole series. And you just have to go into the offseason with the mindset that we’re going to reload, and we have a core, a system, a culture that’s going to give us a chance every year.”

Vogel managed to hold together a woefully underachieving all-star in Hibbert, pulling off a Houdini act going scoreless in four times in the playoffs, the inconsistency of a is-he-a-star-or-not in George, and the unpredictable Stephenson throughout the playoffs. Remember when the Pacers traded forward Danny Granger to the Sixers for guard Evan Turner and forward Lavoy Allen?

The midseason trade paid little to no dividends. The former No. 2 overall pick played only four minutes in the Eastern Conference Finals and 12.4 minutes per game in the playoffs. It’s likely Turner won’t return to the Pacers next season.

Vogel deserves to come back.

5. Regular season series mean absolutely nothing in the playoffs 

San Antonio was swept by the Thunder in the regular season (4-0), only to defeat them in the playoffs in six games. The Brooklyn Nets swept the Heat in the regular season 4-0 as well, but Brooklyn lost in five games to Miami. The Spurs swept the Dallas Mavericks 4-0, but the Spurs barely squeaked by, ultimately sending the Mavs home in Game 7.

Redundant and only a small sample size, but the stock that’s getting shoved into the Heat and Spurs matchup during the regular season is about as helpful as a car with no engine. Both games were blowouts and neither team most important players spent extensive time on the court. James’ 18 ppg against the Spurs is misleading, to say the least.

An emotional Serge Ibaka returns from a calf injury to lift his Oklahoma City Thunder to a 106-97 victory against the San Antonio Spurs.

An emotional Serge Ibaka returns from a calf injury to lift his Oklahoma City Thunder to a 106-97 victory against the San Antonio Spurs.

By KELTON BROOKS

(@BrooksWeekly)

Eleven days ago, Thunder big man Serge Ibaka was expected to miss the remainder of the 2014 playoffs after suffering a grade 2 strain of his left calf during the Thunder’s Game 6 victory over the Clippers.

After watching his fellow teammate Russell Westbrook fall victim to a knee injury that sidelined him for the playoffs last season, ultimately resulting in a series loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, Ibaka wanted no part of that.

Falling into an 0-2 hole to the defending Western Conference Champions and watching on as the San Antonio Spurs poured 66 points in the paint in Game 1, then another effortless lane performance with 54 in Game 2, the message to Ibaka was clear:

He was going to give his all even on one leg.

Fast-forward to Sunday, with the swelling in Ibaka’s calf unexpectedly subsiding, OKC’s rim protector went 6-for-7 shooting from the field with 15 points, seven rebounds, four blocked shots, and altering more shots, helping lead the Thunder to a 106-97 much needed victory over San Antonio.

After combing for 120 points in the paint in Games 1 and 2, the return of Ibaka kept the Spurs out of the lane for the majority of night only scoring 40 points inside.

According to ESPN Stats and Info, the Thunder have played nearly an identical amount of minutes against the Spurs with Serge Ibaka on and off the court if you combine the regular season and postseason. With Ibaka on the court–OKC is outscoring the Spurs by 29 points and allowing just 93.0 points per 100 possessions. With Ibaka off the court–the Thunder have been outscored by 44 points and they are giving up 122.6 points per 100.

With or without Ibaka on the court for Game 3, Oklahoma City was not going to go down 0-3, but Ibaka was the spark the Thunder needed, and badly. In most instances The regular season doesn’t carry much weight in the postseason, but the combination of Durant-Westbrook-Ibaka went 4-0 against the Spurs during the season.

In the four victories over San Antonio during the regular season, Ibaka averaged 14 points, 11.5 rebounds and four blocks, nearly the identical numbers he chalked up Sunday. Even on one leg, Ibaka is an athletic nightmare for the aging Tim Duncan.

After scoring 27 points in Game 1, and scoring 14 points in 29 minutes of play in the 112-77 lopsided victory in Game 2, Ibaka held Mr. Fundamental to 16 points in Game 3. Oklahoma City with Ibaka is a bad matchup for San Antonio. The combination of Kevin Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka posses a smooth blend of athleticism, young hunger, yet we’ve-been-here-before-moxy to turn the tide in this series.

But the Thunder still have a steep mountain to climb to to slow down the offensive clinic that is the Spurs. Hall of fame coach–check, the Spurs have it. Hall of Fame players–check, the Spurs have it. Playoff experience and championship-pedigree, they have that too. We’re talking 4-time NBA champions.

The series is far from over, however.

Like the old adage says, “A playoff series doesn’t start until the road team wins.”

 

 

Lance Stephenson guarding LeBron James during Game Three of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena on May 24, 2014 in Miami, Florida.

Lance Stephenson guarding LeBron James during Game Three of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena on May 24, 2014 in Miami, Florida.

By KELTON BROOKS

(@BrooksWeekly)

What happens on the court, stays on the court.

Well, at least not with Lance Stephenson.

Before the Eastern Conference Finals kicked off between the bitter rival Heat and Pacers, the jive Stephenson took a shot at Heat guard Dwayne Wade saying:

“I think his knee is messed up, so I’ve got to be extra aggressive and make him run and have him running around and make his knee flare up or something…I’ll do anything as much as possible.”

The 3-time champion and Finals MVP has responded by averaging 24.3 points per game. If jabbing at Wade wasn’t questionable enough, now Stephenson has began poking the bear, LeBron James.

During the Game 3 matchup, James and Stephenson could be seen exchanging barbs and playing overly-aggressive against one another. James hasn’t been known as much of the trash talker, but according to Stephenson, his antics has led him to believe he is getting the best of the 4-time MVP.

“To me, I think it’s a sign of weakness. Because he never used to say nothing to me. I always used to be the one that said, ‘I’m going to get under you. I’m going to do something to get you mad.’ Now, he’s doing it to me. So I feel like it’s a weakness. I feel like I’m doing something right and I’m getting under his skin.”

James hasn’t had a chance to respond, but I’m sure reporters will enlighten him of Stephenson’s remarks before Game Four tonight (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).

But Lebron or the Heat doesn’t have to verbally respond. They don’t have to mumble a single word. After giving up 107 points to the offensively challenged Pacers in Game One, the Heat have taken a 2-1 series lead in dramatic fashion. LeBron and Wade combined for 45 points in the Game Two victory stealing a game on Indiana’s home floor, but Game Three didn’t look promising at the start for the 2-time defending champs.

A 15-point deficit early in the first quarter almost buried Miami, but they never seem flustered. They never seemed stressed. They never hit the panic button.

The rest was history.

Indiana had no answer James, Wade or Ray Allen–who hit four 3-pointers in the second half–who scored 47 points to the Pacers 45. No matter what Pacer had the ball in their hands, the Heat corralled the ball-handler. The ball pressure led to 19 Indiana turnovers that led to 26  Miami points resulting in a 99-87 victory over Indiana.

Now with a 2-1 series lead, the Heat are two wins away from accomplishing a feat that hasn’t been done in nearly 25 years: making it to four consecutive NBA Finals.

Thanks to Stephenson’s verbal jabs, LeBron may personally bury the Pacers into a 3-1 hole. To give credit to Stephenson, he has backed up his words averaging 17.3 ppg, 7 rebounds and 6.7 assist in the series, but the bevy of defenders in Norris Cole, Wade and James, Stephenson scored zero points in the second half finishing the game with 10 points. Not Stephenson, the pedestrian Roy Hibbert or even the heart and soul of the team in David West will push Indiana pass the Heat, it has to be Paul George.

George has to shed the label of an “up-and-coming star” and become the star if the Pacers have any hopes to dethrone the champs. If Indiana wins Game Four, George will be the reason. But going back home down three games to one is a disastrous situation for Indiana.

That’s a spot the Pacers have to avoid.

If not, the series is over. If Indiana heads back home in a 3-1 deficit, Miami will smell the blood in the water a finish the series off on the road. The Heat won’t admit it publicly, but they have their eyes on the Spurs and they know the Spurs are a well-oiled machine. The Thunder could very well storm back in the series down 2-1 with MVP Kevin Durant, but it doesn’t seem plausible against San Antonio.

But back to the Pacers and Heat. Again, if Miami wins Game Four tonight, this series is over.

Two NBA superstars go head-to-head as the series between Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma Clippers and Chris Paul and Los Angeles Clippers begin Monday, May 5.

Two NBA superstars go head-to-head as the series between Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma Clippers and Chris Paul and Los Angeles Clippers begin Monday, May 5.

By KELTON BROOKS (@BrooksWeekly)

Series clinching 3-point daggers, acrobatic tumbling layups and a historic Saturday where three Game 7s all fell on the same day for the first time in NBA history has finally come to an end.

But that was only the first round. Not too shabby for an opening act of the playoffs, wouldn’t you say?

The Pacers survived becoming just the sixth No. 1 seed in NBA history to lose in the first round. Despite their downward spiral into the postseason, losing to a team who stumbled into the playoffs with a losing record would have been detrimental to the front office leading to an immediate coaching change and figure out if the amber alert on center Roy Hibbert has been lifted.

“Mr. Unreliable” a.k.a., “Slim Reaper” a.k.a. “The Servant”–really–or Kevin Durant as you know him, proved he was reliable after he and volatile yet sensational PG Russell Westbrook narrowly escaped the Memphis Grizzlies–albeit, thanks to the suspension of Memphis’ forward, Zach Randolph because of a sort of push-punch to the face to Thunder forward Steven Adams. And sats off to the Mavericks for making it a series against the defending Western Conference Champion Spurs who I originally picked to win the series in five games. Vince Carter took a sip from the fountain of youth in that series, but we all may have seen the last of him.

Exciting and as can’t-leave-the-couch-because-I-don’t-want-to-miss-anything-good as the first round was, it’s yesterday’s news now. It’s now time for the Semifinals.

Let’s see who I have moving on to the Conference Finals:

Indiana Pacers vs. Washington Wizards (Regular season series; Pacers 2-1)

As hard of a time as the Pacers had stopping Jeff Teague, then how in the world will they attempt to contain John Wall and Bradley Beal?

While it’s easy to say switch Paul George–who needs to play to his all-star capabilities every single game this round–on Wall, then what do you do with Beal and Trevor Ariza? Kyle Korver was lethal behind the arc against Indiana shooting 43 percent of his 3-pointers, but I’d take the trio of Wall-Beal-Ariza, over Teague-Korver-Paul Milsap without hesitation.

The speed and vision of Wall to create will prove hazardous for George Hill and the Pacers throughout this series. Not to mention the coming out part of Beal who only flashed his potential against the Bulls, and the beneficiary of Walls’ ability to create on the perimeter. Matched up against the nuisance but competitor that is Lance Stephenson, will truly test Beal’s drive.

Even with the convincing Game 7 win over the Hawks, the question still remains, are the Pacers back? If they are, George will have to play beyond the level he did in round one, and that says a lot because the young star averaged a double-double (23.9 ppg; 10.7 reb/g) in the series against Atlanta.

But to answer that question, no.

The Pacers have home court advantage, but from what this playoffs have shown us, home court advantage doesn’t mean a thing.

Wizards in 7, grudgingly.

San Antonio Spurs vs. Portland Trail Blazers (Regular season series; tied 2-2)

Damian Lillard has arrived, everyone.

In his first playoff game ever, he dropped 31 on the Rockets, along with a 46 point barrage from LaMarcus Aldridge I might add. But no matter how much time is left on the clock or no matter the deficit his team has to overcome, Lillard remains unfazed.

That 0.9 second clutch shot to send the Houston Rockets fishing was the top play of the playoffs so far. Lillard is the most composed young player in the NBA today, period. However, the Trail Blazers are up against an entirely different beast in the the Spurs. The Spurs have arguably the best coach in the NBA in Greg Popovich. The Spurs have one of the deepest benches in the NBA with Marco Belinelli, Patty Mills, Boris Diaw and Cory Joseph. The Spurs were the best 3-point shooting team in the NBA that was inexplicably off collectively against Dallas, but they can easily heat up against Portland.

Portland is the most impressive team in the playoffs at this very moment, but the craftiness and veteran skillset of Tim Duncan and Tony Parker will get the best of Portland. Spurs in 6.

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Los Angeles Clippers (Regular season series; tied 2-2)

We’re in for a dandy here.

Two of the most dynamic teams square off featuring four players I would rank in the top 10 players in the league in soon-to-be-named-MVP in Durant, and Westbrook, Paul and Blake Griffin. These teams don’t differ much from each other. The Clippers bring Lob City, the most prolific offense in the regular season (109.4 points ppg) and the seventh ranked defense, brought in large part by the defensive minded coach Doc Rivers (102.1 ppg).  A lot of the defensive credit should go to DeAndre Jordan who snagged 18 rebounds and four blocks in three games in a seven game series, the first player ever to accomplish that feat in NBA history.

Oklahoma City ranked seventh in points per game at 108.1, and held opponents to 99.8 ppg, ranking 12th in the league. As big of a problem Durant is for any team, let alone the Clippers, who will decide this matchup is Russell Westbrook. Chris Paul has been hampered by injuries this year and is still nursing his shoulder covered by the sleeve he wears  during games. Paul missed six weeks after separating his shoulder Jan. 3 in Dallas. Guarding the sharp shooting Steph Curry is one thing, but the ultra-athletic Westbrook might prove too much for Paul. Although, Paul did go off for 22 points, 14 assists, four steals in the win or go home game against the Warriors. Maybe he’s not that hurt.

Let’s just throw out all the numbers for a second. When the Clippers hired Doc Rivers in the offseason, I immediately said, this team is going to the Finals. He was the piece this talented team was missing. Doc has been fist pumping on the sidelines, more emotional and strongly encouraging his team. They all needed that after the Donald Sterling fiasco. Am I being too much of a prison of the moment to think that whole ordeal could give the Clippers a mental boost to the Finals? Yes, probably. I’ll play this one smart. Thunder in 7.

Miami Heat vs. Brooklyn Nets (Regular season series; Nets 4-0)

If anything, there won’t be any blowouts this series. In the four regular season games against these two teams, three games were decided by one point and the other game went to overtime. Make no mistake about it, the Nets were constructed this offseason for two obvious reasons: 1) to win a championship; 2) to beat the Heat.

So many variables are at work in this matchup. When Paul Pierce is used as a small power forward, he averaged 21.3 points per game against Miami in the regular season. The Heat’s rebounding woes have been widely documented, but it’s the fast and athletic point guards that causes Miami the most trouble. Nets PG Deron Williams has the ability and talent to play like the best point guard in the NBA when he wants to, but that’s the problem, when he wants to. In Brooklyn’s losses to Toronto, Williams average 12 ppg. In wins, he averaged 20.5 ppg. If Brooklyn is to win this series, Williams has to play to his all-star caliber level.

With the Heat, what will they get from Dwayne Wade who scored 23 points in game 1 against the Bobcats, but dropped down to 15.6 points the rest of the way. But in his defense, he wasn’t needed as Miami soundly swept Charlotte in four games. The Nets are here for a reason, and I see them as a bigger obstacle than the Pacers.

BUT,  Miami does have the best player on the planet in 4-time MVP and 2-time defending champion LeBron James. Heat in 6. 

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MAY 19:  (2nd L) Team owner Donald Sterling of the Los Angeles Clippers watches the San Antonio Spurs play against the Memphis Grizzlies during Game One of the Western Conference Finals of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center on May 19, 2013 in San Antonio, Texas.

SAN ANTONIO, TX – MAY 19: (2nd L) Team owner Donald Sterling of the Los Angeles Clippers watches the San Antonio Spurs play against the Memphis Grizzlies during Game One of the Western Conference Finals of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center on May 19, 2013 in San Antonio, Texas.

 

By KELTON BROOKS (@BrooksWeekly)

Disgusted, but not surprised.

By now, all who are indulged in the sports world, or in the world in general, have heard the racist remarks allegedly made by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling caught on a recording by V. Stiviano, his girlfriend, and released by TMZ.com for bringing African-Americans to Clippers games and for posting photos of herself and African-Americans to her Instagram account.

If not, here it is:

 

“It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?”
“You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that … and not to bring them to my games.”
Don’t put him [Magic Johnson] on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don’t bring him to my games.”

Again, disgusted, but not surprised.

This isn’t the first heinous and racially charged incident by Sterling. In 2006, the U.S. Department of Justice sued Sterling for housing discrimination, claiming he refused to rent apartments to blacks and families with children.

According to the Associated Press, federal prosecutors contend that Sterling, his wife, Rochelle, and their family trust refused to rent to many prospective tenants, treated them poorly and misrepresented the availability of apartments to them in the city’s Koreatown section. Sterling and his family were also accused of refusing to rent to black prospective tenants in Beverly Hills as well as families with children looking to rent apartments that the defendants owned or managed in Los Angeles County.

Sterling had to pay $5 million just for the plaintiffs’ attorney fees and agreed to a $2.765 million in settlement, according to the LA Times. 

Hearing those remarks by Sterling felt like I was listening to a transcript of a southern slave owner after the Emancipation of Proclamation was signed.

Is this how the NBA wish to be represented? By a man who doesn’t want to associate himself with African-Americans, but owns a team majority comprised of African-American players? By a man who has a past of heckling black players, sued by former General Manager Elgin Baylor, who alleged age discrimination and harassment, and by former coach Mike Dunleavy, who sought unpaid wages after he was terminated?

This has been a reoccurring problem for years by Sterling. Personally, it’s easy to ignore ignorance, but in this case, it should not be swept under the rug like all his other issues. You can’t ignore the outcry and league-wide disapproval from fans, players, owners, coaches etc.

In the words of LeBron James, “There is no place for Sterling in our league.”

In a press conference held by new league commissioner Adam Silver he stated:

“…All members of the NBA family should be afforded due process and a fair opportunity to present their side of any controversy, which is why I’m not yet prepared to discuss any potential sanctions against Donald Sterling,” Silver said. “We will, however, move extraordinarily quickly in our investigation.”

Excuse me, but what is the league investigating?

The only issue that needs investigation is to determine if it’s Sterling on the tapes, but if it wasn’t him, I’d think anyone would emphatically deny they made those racist statements. Former Clipper Baron Davis took to Twitter on Sterling’s remarks:

 

The team didn’t play above it all. The players took a stand by covering up the team’s logo, but they were run out of the gym by red-hot Steph Curry in a crushing defeat of 118-97.

But back to Silver’s comments. I understand that everyone deserves due process, but Silver has to act swiftly. This is his first major issue as the commissioner of the NBA. He can’t let this linger and overshadow a thrilling first round of the NBA playoffs.

In recent years, David Stern, Silver’s predecessor, fined multiple players for using inappropriate language : Kobe Bryant was fined $100,000 for using a gay slur during a 2011 game, Pacers center Roy Hibbert was fined $75,000 last year for using a homophobic slang term during a post-game press conference in 2013, and Clippers forward Matt Barnes was fined $25,000 for using “inappropriate language” on his Twitter account earlier this season.

According to Forbes, Sterling is worth in the neighborhood of $1.9 billion. He purchased the Clippers in 1981 for $12.5 million and they are now worth in excess of $700 million.

Slapping Sterling with a fine is as useless as a screen door in a submarine. He doesn’t belong in the NBA. Get him out the league, Mr. Silver.

The young Washington Wizards take on the perennial playoff contenders in the Chicago Bulls

The young Washington Wizards take on the perennial playoff contenders in the Chicago Bulls

 

Only three times in the modern era has a team three-peated: theMichael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls in 1993 and again in 1998, and the tandem of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2002. Since the NBA/ABA merger, two teams, the 1982-85 Los Angeles Lakers and the 1984-87 Boston Celtics, have made it to the finals four consecutive seasons.

The Miami Heat have the chance to etch their place in history by checking off both of these task. Or will the MVP favorite Kevin Durant lead his Oklahoma City Thunder to the Finals and capture his first NBA title.

We will all find out in June, but for now, let’s see who gets out of round one of the 2013-14 NBA playoffs.

 

EASTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFFS

(1) Indiana Pacers vs. (8) Atlanta Hawks
Regular season series tied (2-2)

Despite the Atlanta Hawks backing their way into the playoffs with a 38-44 record, they have won seven of their last 10 games, albeit following a six game losing streak. The scoring backcourt of Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver–and swingman Louis Williams coming off the bench, who could drop 20 on any given night–could pose a legitimate threat to the No. 1 seed Indian Pacers who have developed an allergy to scoring points.

All-star center Roy Hibbert has either been in witness protection or on missing posters with his disappearance in games as of late. In the month of April, Hibbert has averaged 5.3 ppg and 3.2 reb/g–unacceptable for a 7-footer. If the Pacers plan to book a ticket to the NBA Finals, Paul George is going to have to elevate his play to a superstar level.
Regardless, the Hawks are 38-44 for a reason. Look for Indiana to exploit the Hawks inexperience by locking down on defense. Pacers in 6.

(4) Chicago Bulls vs. (5) Washington Wizards
Regular season series (Wizards 2-1)

I’ll admit, this series has me torn. On one hand, the growth of John Wall has placed himself as realistic top-5 point guard in the NBA today. He’s arguably the fastest player in the league in the open court, athletic and fearless going to the basket–not to mention second year guard Bradley Beal has stepped into his own averaging 17.2 ppg. But on the other hand, the NBA playoffs forces a team to play traditional half court-styled basketball, the Chicago Bulls forte.

Joakim Noah is the frontrunner in my eyes for Defensive Player of the Year, and 2011 Coach of the Year Tom Thibodeau is a mastermind on the defensive side of the ball as the Bulls are first in points allowed giving up 91.8 ppg on the season. The Wizards are young, but talented, well-coached and they deserve to play on this stage. Wizards in 7.

Toronto Raptors vs. (6) Brooklyn Nets
Regular season series tied (2-2)

The Brooklyn Nets are made for the playoffs. They are a veteran led team with leadership, versatility, depth and have an identity. Since the All-Star break, the Nets are 33-13. I completely wrote them off at the beginning of the season. If Brooklyn can remain healthy and not look pass the Raptors (winner faces the Miami Heat; Nets swept Heat in regular season), they can take this series in five games.

But a winner of 48 games this season, the Raptors are no pushovers. Leading scorer and should-be-most-improved-player-candidate, DeMar Derozan and Terrance Ross both had 50 point games this season, showing off their depth on offense. But who makes this team go is the scrappy barely 6-foot point guard Kyle Lowry. The seven year guard out of Villanova is having a career year averaging 17.9 ppg and 7.4 ast. He won’t let Toronto go down without a fight, but Brooklyn’s experience and savvy will prove too much for the Raptors who last made the playoffs in the 2007-08 season. Nets in 6.

(2) Miami Heat vs. (7) Charlotte Bobcats
Regular season series (Heat 4-0)

Remember on March 3 when LeBron James scored 61 points, grabbed seven rebounds and still managed to dish out five assist? The Bobcats are still having nightmares.

Since 2010-11, the Heat are 15-0 against the Bobcats, who’ve never won a postseason game. I don’t see any reason why this series will be any different. The Heat haven’t been themselves lately struggling in stretches and trying to get oft-injured/rested Dwayne Wade back into the flow. Bobcats center Al Jefferson will give Miami a fit, but the two-time defending champs will adjust. The Heat will need all the rest they can get if they face Brooklyn in the next round.

Congrats to the Bobcats for making the postseason, but the celebration will quickly come to an end. Heat in 4.

WESTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFFS

(1) San Antonio Spurs vs. (8) Dallas Mavericks

 Regular season series (Spurs 4-0)

The Dallas Mavericks would be the 3 seed in the East. The West is that good and the East is that bad. But the Mavericks are facing the defending Western Conference champs. The Spurs are hands down the best overall team in the NBA right now with the capabilities of beating a team in an offensive shootout, or a defensive struggle. Every year the Spurs are written off: too old, their time is up, they won’t do it again, but the keep finding away to come away with the best record in the league. Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and coach Grep Popovich, they’ve been here before and ready to rid that bitter taste left in their mouth by the Heat in last year’s Finals.

Dirk Nowitzki and Co. are a speed bump in the way of the Spurs. Spurs in 5

(4) Houston Rockets vs. (5) Portland Trail Blazers

Regular season series (Rockets 3-1)

The Rockets have enough talent on their roster to make a run at the title, but they should have more than enough with the $88 million center in Dwight Howard. Howard hasn’t lived up to the lofty expectation placed upon him after his fallout with the Lakers. Averaging a double-double (18.3 ppg and 12.2reb/g) is nothing to dismiss, but a player of his caliber should dominant night in and night out. Luckily, James Harden who launched to stardom as one of the premier players in the league. Although, Howard has elevated his place against Portland in their four regular season matchups averaging (2.5 ppg and 13.5 reb/g).

In their four meetings, each team scored over 100 points with the Rockets taking the last meeting between the two 118-113. Both teams average over 100 points a game, but also give up 100 points a game. Houston does possess the prowess on defense, especially with 3-time defensive player of the year in Howard, but they can be baited in shootouts. I love the combination of LaMarcus Aldridge and Damien Lillard. That is a tandem to reckon with for years to come. Aldridge is the second best power forward in the game behind Anthony Davis. If Portland is to sneak pass Houston, Aldridge will be the reason.

But I don’t see Portland winning this series. Rockets in 6.

(3) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (6) Golden State Warriors

Regular season series tied (2-2)

In the words of Terrell Owens, get ya’ popcorn ready.

Easily the most entertaining playoff matchup, these two teams have the makings of putting on an all-time great series. Star point guards going head-to-head in the surgical Chris Paul and the sharp shooting Steph Curry is a basketball lover dream. But the Clippers have too many options on offense (i.e. Jamal Crawford, J.J. Redick, Darren Collison) and arguably have two of the best players in the NBA right now in Paul and Blake Griffin–who I would put third in the MVP race behind Durant and LeBron. Griffin is having a career year in scoring averaging 24.1 ppg. He has also snagged 9.5 reb/g on the season.

The Warriors too have weapons in Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala and David Lee, but they are missing one big piece. Warriors center Andrew Bogut, who’s out with a back injury, would be kryptonite to Griffin’s high flying Superman act, but without Bogut in the middle, Griffin is free to roam the skies. This game may eventually come down to coaching as Doc Rivers and Mark Jackson make adjust from shifting in an put of smaller lineups and who will have the responsibility of slowing down the each team’s stars.

The Curry-effect could push this series to seven, but I’m banking on Doc. Clippers in 6.

(2) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (7) Memphis Grizzlies

Regular season series (Thunder 3-1)

This is redemption for Kevin Durant and the Thunder. After winning the first game in the 2013 Conference Semifinal against the Grizzlies, they lost four straight to lose the series in five games. That was a bitter pill to swallow for Durant, but Memphis will be the ones taking pills this time getting sick of all Durant’s made jumpers. Durant is the first player since Michael Jordan to lead the league in scoring in five straight seasons, and he broke a Jordan record earlier this season scoring 25+ points in 41 straight games (Jordan’s record was 40 games). It’s also important to note that Russell Westbrook miss last year’s series.

Although, the Thunder seem to bring the best out of the Grizzlies. Memphis’ third-ranked defense has the attitude to slow down the Thunder. Marc Gasol’s ability to contain pick-and-rolls and patrol the paint is a vital key in this series.  Tayshaun Prince and Tony Allen will interchange taking their chance at bottling up Durant and the underrated Mike Conley can go step for step with Westbrook. Some don’t see a Memphis coming out of the series as winner as a surprise, but it would sure surprise me. Thunder in 6.