Posts Tagged ‘NBA’

"In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have. I’m ready to accept the challenge. I’m coming home." -LeBron James said in his letter to SI.com Bill Kostroun, Associated Press file photo

“In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have. I’m ready to accept the challenge. I’m coming home.” -LeBron James said in his letter to SI.com
Bill Kostroun, Associated Press file photo

By KELTON BROOKS

Twitter: (@BrooksWeekly)

Ten years from now, no, 20 years from now, one will ask a question of an action that scratched a ripple into the space-time continuum: “Where were you when LeBron James announced his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers?” I was at work tweeting my butt off.

Flabbergasted but impressed. Confused yet in awe. Intrigued, although, I completely understood it all. I’ll be the first to admit that I believed LeBron was returning to Miami, but after reading his letter on why he returned to Cleveland, I’ve never been more happy to be wrong. His statement was beyond sincere, completely honest and poured out straight from his heart.

Cleveland deserves its hometown hero.

In his letter to SI.com announcing his return to Cleveland, his opening paragraph gave me goosebumps. It made me draw my eyes beyond champion rings, MVP trophies and clutch game winning shots.

It simply made me look beyond the game of basketball.

Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio. 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. People there have seen me grow up. I sometimes feel like I’m their son. Their passion can be overwhelming. But it drives me. I want to give them hope when I can. I want to inspire them when I can. My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.

Four years ago, the King embarked on a journey of riches. He led the Miami Heat to a championship appearance in each of his seasons in South Beach, coming away with two elusive championship rings that he so badly coveted, two Finals MVP trophies, two regular season MVP awards, and averaged 26.9 points per game, 7.6 rebounds and 6.7 assist per game.

But before he set off, LeBron ignited a fire storm in his hometown of Akron, Ohio and the city of Cleveland. Jerseys were burned, tears flowed, groans bellowed, and billboards of his legendary status were stripped down and disposed. Even the Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert expressed his hurt and disgust in his own letter after LeBron set sail for a voyage to more promising lands.

It was rocky sail at sea, but LeBron hit the nail on the head in his letter on his time in Miami:

Miami, for me, has been almost like college for other kids. These past four years helped raise me into who I am. I became a better player and a better man. I learned from a franchise that had been where I wanted to go. I will always think of Miami as my second home. Without the experiences I had there, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing today.

Miami taught LeBron how to win when it counted.

In seven seasons with the Cavaliers, he left as the all-time leading scorer with 15, 251 points, minutes played with 22, 108, and all-star appearances with six. The Cavaliers won more playoff games in seven seasons with LeBron James (42) than in 37 seasons without him (28), according to ESPN Stats & Info. But the Cavaliers only made one Finals appearance with LeBron and he was swept by the same team that beat his then Miami Heat in five games, the San Antonio Spurs.

Those numbers are gaudy and teasing, but unfinished. LeBron knows the city of Cleveland is starving to hoist a champion trophy of any sport into the air. A major Cleveland pro sports team has not won a championship since the Browns in 1964 (141 seasons), the longest active drought of any city. LeBron made it clear what his mission is in his return to Cleveland:

When I left Cleveland, I was on a mission. I was seeking championships, and we won two. But Miami already knew that feeling. Our city hasn’t had that feeling in a long, long, long time. My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question. But what’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio.

Westgate Las Vegas has Cleveland and San Antonio as co-favorites at 4-1 odds to win the championship. For the Spurs, they are the defending champions, I get it. But for the Cavaliers, I should be shocked, but I’m not. LeBron stated in his letter that “we’re not ready yet,” meaning the Cavaliers current roster with all-star point guard Kyrie Irving, No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins, Dion Waiters and the growing Tristian Thompson. A say current because Cleveland could easily trade some of these assets to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Kevin Love.

Although, this is the Eastern Conference we’re talking about. The Atlanta Hawks made to playoffs with a 38-44 record and the No. 3 seed in the West, the Los Angeles Clippers, would have been the top seed in the East with a 57-25 record.  The only team that would give the now Cavaliers team any cause for concern would be the Chicago Bulls if they signed Carmelo Anthony.

When the LeBron took the Cavaliers to the Finals in the 2007-08 season, the starting lineup was: PG: Larry Hughes; SG: Sasha Pavlović; SF: LeBron James; PF: Drew Gooden; C: Žydrūnas Ilgauskas. The only player that is of any relevance of that team remaining in the NBA is Anderson Varejão. Even at their youth (if a Love trade doesn’t happen), a roster of LeBron, Wiggins, Irving, Waiters and Thompson is head and shoulders above the skill set and talent compared to the 2007-08 Cavaliers roster. Not to mention a LeBron that is motivated playing for his home team and light years ahead of his younger days with the Cavaliers.

That’s what the Heat didn’t have anymore. Youth. Miami was becoming old and slow, steadily signing veteran band-aid pieces that will stick around for a few years. The Heat have plateaued. They wouldn’t have gotten better than they already were at the time with LeBron, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. Cleveland offers the chance to win now and in the future with Irving and Wiggins primed to take the throne left by Lebron.

I’m still astonished at the reception and how the world was at bay waiting for LeBron’s decision. Lebron’s return might be the most significant moment in Cleveland sports’ history.

And by the end of his career, LeBron might go down as the most influential athlete in the history of professional sports.

Which team will land the 7-time NBA all-star?

Which team will land the 7-time NBA all-star?

By KELTON BROOKS

(@BrooksWeekly)

The forgone conclusion is officially confirmed. Carmelo Anthony has opted out of the final year of his contract with the New York Knicks and will test the open market that is free agency.

He will officially become a free agent July 1.

The 7-time all-star and former NBA scoring champion (28.7 ppg; 2013) now has the flexibility to: A) sign a maximum contract worth $129 million over five years with the Knicks or B) sign a maximum deal worth $96 million over four years with another team.

The teams that reportedly have the likeliest chance to land Anthony—not named the Knicks—are the Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks.

The Houston Rockets presents an appealing destination with James Harden and Dwight Howard in place, but signing Melo would create a clog in the engine in Houston. Melo is a ball stopper. He will dribble, dribble, dribble until the end of the shot clock before hoisting up the shot, a bad habit that he frequently does way to often.

The way the ball sticks to Anthony’s hand would also minimize Howard’s touches in the paint. After signing Howard to a four-year $88 million contract last summer, Houston wants to feed Howard early and often. This won’t cause as much friction as some would think with Harden because he is a proven facilitator. Harden has also created a bad rep of disappearing in crunch time. He shies away from the spotlight. Anthony welcomes it. Still, both would have to sacrifice their scoring.

On the business aspect of swooning Melo, Houston would have to move salary off its roster to create much needed cap space to offer Anthony a max contract. Anthony can make $22 million in the first year of a max contract starting next season.

The Rockets’ front office would have to ship big-salary players such as Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin to make room for Anthony.

The Knicks can offer Melo a full max contract, familiarity with his friends and family, and Phil Jackson.

Nothing beyond that.

New York won 37 games last season and is not in contention to win a title in the near future.  Andrea Bargnani woefully underperformed last season as he was singed to become a key acquisition, J.R. Smith broke an NBA record of most 3-point attempts in a game with 22, and the hiring of the player turned coach in Derek Fisher doesn’t scream championships.

The Mavericks have been linked to Melo, but reportedly, Dallas has much stronger interest in signing Los Angeles Lakers’ forward/center Pau Gasol.

The superstar should sign with the Chicago Bulls, and here’s why:

If we’re strictly talking about basketball and not the idea of moving his family to a different city, where does he want to spend the rest of his career and the right living environment, then signing with the Bulls is Melo’s best chance to win a ring.

The match is almost too perfect.

The Bulls have one of the top coaches and minds in the NBA in Tom Thibodeau, and a healthy Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah would undoubtedly far outweigh any talent of teammates Anthony has had on his previous two squads. During the NBA All-Star break, Noah and Anthony had conversations on the bench about teaming up, which reportedly turned into a sales pitch to lure Melo to the Windy City.

Anthony would provide the offensive punch needed on a point-starved team who thrives on the defensive end of the ball. The Bulls ranked dead last in scoring (30th) with 93.7 ppg this past season. Melo is not a willing defender, but he won’t have a problem in Chicago if Jimmy Butler is retained. Butler will continue to guard other teams best player or scorer. Anthony has played under defensive minded head coaches in George Karl and Mike Woodson. Playing under Thibodeau would not create a stir on or off the court.

To sign Melo, the Bulls will have no choice but to part ways with the likes of Carlos Boozer, and possibly Butler, Taj Gibson, Mike Dunleavy, their two first-round picks (16 and 19).

Melo, 30, at this stage in his career, reaching the Conference Finals once and winner of only three playoff series, he should strongly consider taking less money to sign with the Bulls.

According to ESPN’s Chad Ford, the Bulls are trying to make moves by offering Taj Gibson, Tony Snell, the No. 16 and 19 pick in Thursday’s draft for Minnesota Timberwolves’ power forward Kevin Love. If Anthony is seeking money, then he has no intentions of signing with the Bulls. But if he has aspirations of winning a ring before his career is over, he’ll take his talents to Chicago.

The San Antonio Spurs celebrate with the Larry O'Brien NBA Championship Trophy after the Spurs defeated the Miami Heat 107-84 in Game 5 of the NBA Finals to win the NBA Finals Championship, June 15, 2014 in San Antonio,Texas.  From left are: MVP Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Patty Mills.   The Spurs won the best of seven series 4-1.  AFP PHOTO / Robyn BeckROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

The San Antonio Spurs celebrate with the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy after the Spurs defeated the Miami Heat 107-84 in Game 5 of the NBA Finals to win the NBA Finals Championship, June 15, 2014 in San Antonio,Texas. From left are: MVP Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Patty Mills. The Spurs won the best of seven series 4-1. AFP PHOTO / Robyn BeckROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

 

By KELTON BROOKS

(@BrooksWeekly)

Game Recap:

Quick turnovers that led to fast-breaks by Miami, LeBron James attacking the rim with ferociousness, couple that with a few generous whistles by the refs in favor of the Heat, it appeared the back-to-back defending champs were about to steal one early in San Antonio up 22-6 in the first quarter.

It was a promising sight as the Heat were outscored by 38 points in the first quarter throughout the series.

But the Heat flamed out. The 16-point lead was the champs last hurrah.

A five-point spurt by Manu Ginobili in the middle of the opening quarter sparked a fierce Spurs rally who were down 29-22 at the end of the quarter. The furious run of precision passing and bombs beyond the arch carried in the second quarter as the Heat watched their lead diminish falling behind 35-37 after Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard buried a 3-pointer to take the lead.

It was over right then and there as Miami never went ahead in the scoring column again for the entire game. Just like that, Miami’s two-year title reign was over as the Spurs captured their fifth title in a 104-87 victory that wrapped up the series in five games.

Confetti fell, the champions were crowned, and a sense of redemption was all too sweet after losing to this team 12 months ago. Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker became the winningest trio in NBA postseason history. Leonard, 22, became the fourth youngest Finals MVP averaging 23.7 points in Games 3-5 and admirably defended James throughout the series. While Leonard received the MVP honors,  a host of Spurs players were in consideration of the award, especially Ginobili. The now 5-time champion nearly outscored the Heat’s bench by himself in the clinching Game 5 24-19.

The first-ballot Hall of Famer in Duncan is not only the greatest power forward of all time, but one of the greatest players of all time with 5 rings. That’s one shy of the mythical Michael Jordan and tied evenly with Kobe Bryant. Duncan, 38, may now get to coast into the sunset winning champions years apart from each other. This was the Spurs first championship since sweeping then LeBron’s Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2007 NBA Finals.

Reaction: 

Five games? The back-to-back defending champs possessing the best player in the world would lose to a “boring, old and slow,” team in five games? If you had told a person to identify the old and slow team on the court, he would point at the Heat like a witness pointing at the accused in a courtroom. It was a crime how poorly the Heat played in the last three games.

San Antonio attacked from all angles on the hardwood, made the extra pass that led to easy or wide open buckets, and played unselfish. Unsung hero Patty Mills went 5-8 from behind the 3-point line and 6-10 from the field scoring 18 points in Game 5. No hero ball, only a team who dominated the Heat winning each of their games by +15 points in the series.

After a disappointing showing by point guard Mario Chalmers who struggled mightily in every game of the series (14 total points and 10 turnovers), Heat coach Erik Spoelstra elected to start Ray Allen in place of Chalmers. That decision made the Heat’s bench go bad to worse. Miami’s bench was outscored 41-6 by the Spurs’ reserves by the end of the third quarter.

LeBron averaged 28.2 point per game and 7.7 rebounds in the series. In Game 5, James led the Heat in points (31), rebounds, (10), assist (5), and blocks (2). Over the last six quarters, LeBron has outscored the rest of Miami’s starters 48-46. That’s including Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. In Game 4, James accounted for 90 percent of the team’s points in the third quarter.

Where were the King’s men?

Wade averaged 17.5 in four games against Charlotte, 18.2 against the Brooklyn Nets in five games, and averaged nearly 20 against the Indiana Pacers. An upward trend that crashed in the Finals as Wade averaged 15.2 points per game. Bosh disappeared in games 3-5 after scoring 18 in both Games 1 and 2. The rest of the Heat were non-existent.

You can have the best player on the planet on your team all you want, but if he’s not getting any help and averages 38 minutes per game in the regular season and played 1,800 more minutes than Bosh and Wade, not even LeBron’s broad shoulders can carry a team by himself against a well-oiled machine  that is the San Antonio Spurs.

With Miami’s ‘Big 3′ all able to opt out of their contracts, this may be one of the most entertaining off seasons yet.

Derek Fisher is introduced as coach of the New York Knicks. (Photo by Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE via Getty Images)

Derek Fisher is introduced as coach of the New York Knicks. (Photo by Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE via Getty Images)

By KELTON BROOKS

(@BrooksWeekly)

The New York Knicks hired Derek Fisher as head coach

My initial reaction to the Knicks hiring Derek Fisher was one word: puppet.

Unlike Jason Kidd in Brooklyn who leaped from player to coach in one year, Kidd didn’t have the presence of a Hall of Fame coach in Phil Jackson lurking beyond his shoulders. Truthfully, this was the last move Jackson could make to bring in the type of guy he wanted on his sideline, a young, eager, sponge he could mold into his image. Awarding a five-year, $25 million contract to a first time head coach who is only weeks removed from knocking down shots in an Oklahoma City Thunder jersey in the Western Conference Finals sounds insane, but Jackson knows: A) He can run his triangle offense through Fisher, B) Mold him into the coach he believes Fisher can become, C) Unlike the Nets, Fisher doesn’t have a playoff ready supporting cast in the Knicks’ locker room, allowing him to start fresh and build.

If Carmelo Anthony leaves the Big Apple, which he will, the Knicks are essentially starting from scratch. Fisher only has one way to go, up, especially with Jackson pulling the strings.

Still No Decision on Jim Irsay

What I think: NFL Commissioner Roger Godell has no idea how to discipline Indianapolis Colts’ owner Jim Irsay.

Should he dock draft picks? Should he suspend him and force him not to attend games? Should the NFL fine Irsay?

The answer is all of the above. Goodell cements his words and iron fist on protecting the integrity of the league and letting the legal process work itself out. Well, Irsay has been arrested and released after paying a petty lump-sum of $22,500. Maybe a lot to you and me, but not a lot to an owner who owns a team with a net worth of $1.s billion, according to Forbes.

On March 16, Irsay was arrested on charges of four felony counts of possession of a controlled substance and a misdemeanor charge of operating while intoxicated. According to police in Hamilton County in Indianapolis, Ind., Multiple Schedule IV prescription drugs were found in pill bottles in Irsay’s vehicle, but they were not associated with any prescription bottles found in the vehicle. Police also found nearly $30,000 in the vehicle.

In an interview with CBS reporter Will Brinson, Irsay’s reason of having a hill of dough in his vehicle was this response:

“I don’t know why that was leaked to the press or what it had to do with anything,” he said. “You’re talking about someone who is extremely generous, and I say that humbly. That’s the way I try to live my life and it has nothing to do with the law. What’s been reported out there, there’s been a sensationalizing about things that have nothing to do with the law. It shouldn’t be an issue.”

Multiple prescription pills and nearly $30,000 in cash in his vehicle, and Irsay’s reasoning is that he’s “extremely generous?”

Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Sean Smith was arrested on an allegation of driving under the influence Monday. Smith put himself and the lives of others in danger the same way as Irsay. If Smith is suspended before Irsay, this speaks volumes about the NFL and Roger Goodell.

NBA Finals: Game 4

The San Antonio Spurs shot the lights out the gym Game 3 in Miami delivering to fans the most prolific start to an NBA Finals game shooting 86.7 percent in the first quarter and 75.8 percent in the first half, entering the locker room with a 21-point lead. When the Spurs are clicking on all cylinders, San Antonio is unbeatable. It’s troublesome enough to deal with the original ‘Big 3′ in Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, but when the budding star in Kawhi Leonard goes of f0r 29 points and helping to collectively force LeBron James to commit seven turnovers, not even the King and his men can stop the offensive juggernaut that is San Antonio.

If the Heat lose Game 4 at home, they can kiss their three-peat dreams goodbye. Still, if Miami evens the series at a 2-2 tie, the winner of Game 5 will win the series and go on to win the title in Game 6.

Jun 5, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; Miami Heat forward LeBron James (6) shoots the ball over San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) during the first quarter in game one of the 2014 NBA Finals at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Jun 5, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; Miami Heat forward LeBron James (6) shoots the ball over San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) during the first quarter in game one of the 2014 NBA Finals at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

By KELTON BROOKS

(@BrooksWeekly)

With four seconds left in Game 5 against the Pacers in the Conference Finals, LeBron James drove hard to the paint drawing in two defenders only to see Chris Bosh waiting in the wings.

James made the pass. Bosh missed the shot. James was ridiculed. Yells of ‘he should’ve took the shot, he’s the best player in the world’ peered out from every crack in the Earth.

Fast-forward to Sunday in San Antonio in Game 2 of the NBA Finals, the identical play transpired, but this time with an alternate outcome. James made the pass to the corner of an awaiting Bosh and he knocked down the contested jumper with 1:17 left in regulation to take a 95-93 lead.

The Heat never let go of the lead the rest of way to wrap up Game 2 with a 98-96 victory.

Whether you deem it as the right basketball play in either series to pass it to the open man–which it was–LeBron made sure to not let the game’s faith slip out of his hands. After a shaky 1-4 start with 2 points in the opening quarter, James went on a shooting clinic in the following three quarters knocking down all three of his 3-point attempts while going 13-18 from the field for a 35 point, 10 recount, 3 assist night.

LeBron James has 11 career playoff games with 35 points, 10 rebounds and, three assist. Only two players have done that more in last 30 years; Shaquille O’Neal did it 15 times, Dominique Wilkins with 12 and Michael Jordan hauled in those number nine times.

In the post game press conference, Spurs’s coach Gregg Popovich pointed out two reasons that led to the Heat’s win: 1) Well, LeBron is good, and 2) He makes smart plays on the court.
“You can double him if you want, he’s a pretty good player,” Popovich said. “He’ll find the open man.”

No cramps, no problem.

As prolific as LeBron was in Game 2, the Spurs missed four straight free throws late in the fourth quarter that could’ve put the Heat on ice. After the gut punch by Heat guard Mario Chalmers to Tony Parker, who fell to ground griping in pain, the Spurs stayed down with him. That elbow to the rib cage of Parker turned out to be a pivotal turning point in the game.

Two missed free throws by Parker and two missed free throws by Tim Duncan. If San Antonio would’ve cashed in at the charity stripe, they would’ve taken a a 91-88 lead with 5:15 left in regulation.

A late chip-in 3-pointer by Manu Ginobili made the game closer at the end.

The Heat are 6-0 in Game 2′s when trailing 1-0 in the James-Wade-Bosh era and have won each series. Miami lost Game 1 of the 2012 and 2013 NBA Finals but still went on to win the title. Besides Bosh’s clutch three in the corner, he was attacking the rim consistently throughout the night, what you’d expect from a 6’10″ power forward. It was refreshing to watch him play the style of his penciled in position instead of a tall power forward disguised as a shooting guard.

Nothing that transpired in Game 1 or 2 has changed my decision on the series. I expect Miami to win Game 3 in Miami, but lose in Game 4. All squared away in the series at  2-2 in Game 5. Miami will win both Games 5 and 6 to take home a third straight Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Let me leave you with this: According to ESPN Stats and Info, the Game 3 winner of a tied NBA Finals series goes on to win the series 83 percent of the time (30-6).

See you in Miami.

#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.