LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers may have stumbled heading into the playoffs, going just 23-23 over its last 46 games (including 10-14 since March 1) in the regular wars, but the reigning National Basketball Association titlists are the first team to advance to the second round of the ongoing four-tier playoffs following a 4-0 sweep of the 7-seed Indiana Pacers in their best-of-seven East duel.
James chalked up 33 points, 10 boards, four dimes, four steals and two blocks to power the second-seeded Cavs to a 106-102 victory over the Pacers today in Game 4 of their first-round series in Indiana.
James also won his 21st consecutive first-round playoff assignment under the current 16-team, four-tier postseason format established in 1984. This shattered the previous league mark of 20 straight victories shared by the Los Angeles Lakers? Earvin (Magic) Johnson, James Worthy and Michael Cooper. (Overall, he?s 48-7 in his career in first-round games.) The four-time league Most Valuable Player also is now 12-0 for his career in opening-round playoff series wins without a loss (trailing just Robert Horry and Derek Fisher, both at 16-0)
For the four-game series, LeBron averaged 32.8 points on .543 (50-for-92) FG and .579 (22-for-38 FT shooting), 9.8 rebounds and 9.0 assists, Kyrie Irving normed 25.3 scores and 3.0 assists and Kevin Love owned clips of 15.5 ppg and 9.3 rpg.
The series was more closely-fought than the final result indicated. Cleveland won the series by a combined total of just 16 points ? matching the smallest margin of victory in a four-game sweep set by the Golden State Warriors in their 1975 NBA Finals triumph over the Washington Bullets.
The Cavs will face the winner of the series between No. 3 Toronto vs. No. 6 seed Milwaukee, which is deadlocked at 2-2 going into today?s Game five in Air Canada Centre, in the second segment of the four-round playoffs.
In another East first-round matchup, the top-seeded Boston Celtics and No. 8 seed Chicago Bulls are tied at 2-2 entering Game 5 on Thursday April 27, Manila time, at the TD Garden. Each of the first four games has gone to the dark-colored (road) team ? the first time it has happened in the postseason since the 1994 Western semifinal series between Houston and Phoenix that stretched to seven games with the homecourt-advantageous Rockets emerging victorious not only in the series but eventually securing the league crown via a 4-3 decision over the New York Knicks in the 1994 NBA Finals.
Coping with the effects of the emotional rollercoaster ride arising from the death of the 22-year-old sister of point guard Isaiah Thomas, the Celtics? top scorer and the NBA?s third-leading scorer Isaiah Thomas during the regulars at 28.9 ppg, Boston dropped the first two games of the series at home. The Green, however, bounced back to take the third and fourth games in Chicago, which lost playmaker and former Celtics championship star (200 Rajon Rondo due to a fractured right thumb after leading the Bulls to a 2-0 lead on averages of 11.5 points, 10 assists 8.5 rebounds and 3.5 steals.
The winner of the Boston-Chicago series will clash with the winner of the series between No. 4 seed Washington vs. No. 5 seed Atlanta, which the Wizards lead, 2-1, going into Tuesday's Game 4 in Atlanta, in the second round.
In the West, the 2015 NBA champion and the 2017 playoffs? No. 1 overall seed Golden State Warriors have taken a commanding 3-0 lead over the eighth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers despite the absence of Kevin Durant in the last two games due to a strained left calf and head coach Steve Kerr in Game Three ? and also his unavailability in Tuesday's Game Four in Portland ? due to head and neck pains arising from his chronic back problems.
No team in NBA playoff history has ever come back from a 0-3 deficit to win a best-of-seven series.
The winner of the Golden State-Portland setto will take on the winner of the series between No. 4 seed Los Angeles Clippers and No. 5 seed Utah Jazz, which is evened up at 2-all following a 105-98 home win by the Jazz in Game 4 today that coincided with the return of Utah?s 7-1 French center Rudy Gobert following a two-game absence due to a left knee injury. The LA Clippers? Blake Griffin is out for the remainder of the playoffs after sustaining a right toe injury in the first half of Game 3.
The series between the No. 2 seed San Antonio Spurs and the No. 7 Memphis Grizzlies is tied at 2-2 with each of the first four games having gone to the home team. Game Five will be held Tuesday (Manila time) in San Antonio.
The San Antonio-Memphis series victor will tangle with the No. 3 seed Houston vs. No. 6 seed Oklahoma City series winner in the second round.
Houston leads OKC, 3-1, after the Rockets took Game Four, 113-109, today on the
Sometimes you don?t need to be an outstanding player to win a championship in team sports.
You don?t have to be very talented so long as you have a star athlete or two for a teammate.
You only need to be lucky and be in the right place at the right time.
Vagabond frontliner Cris Bolado easily comes to mind. The roly-poly Bolado from the Beau Belga factory captured numerous championships in the local professional league with nine teams from 1994-2003.
In the 71-year history of the U.S. National Basketball Association, there are several marginal players (or so-called ?role? players) from the Boston Celtics that earned title rings by simply hopping onto the broad shoulders of all-time great Bill Russell during his storied 13-year pro tenure from 1956-57 through 1968-69.
Chief of the lot was rugged James (Jim) Loscutoff Jr., a menacing enforcer who endeared himself to the Celtic Nation with his defensive tenacity and hard-driving physical moves. He was known as the Hub City squad?s hatchetman who did the all the dirty jobs inside the paint.
A 6-5 power forward, ?Jungle Jim? or ?Loscy? snared six NBA championships in 1957, 1959, 1961, 1962, 1963 and 1964 with the Green. He sat out the 1960 playoffs ? which also produced an NBA crown for the Celtics ? due to an injury.
Loscutoff, who was born in San Francisco, California of Russian parents, registered pedestrian averages of 6.2 points, 5.6 rebounds and 0.7 assist in 511 regular games during his entire nine-year career with Boston from 1955-64.
If it were any big deal, Loscy as a second-year pro knocked in the final two free throws in the Celts? 125-123 double-overtime success against the St. Louis (now Atlanta) Hawks in the deciding Game 7 of the 1957 NBA Finals at the now-defunct Boston Garden that gave the Green its first of 17 NBA championships.
After calling it quits in 1964, the Celtics organization sought to honor Loscutoff but he asked that his jersey number (1 not be retired so that a future Celtics player could wear it. Instead, Boston added a banner with his nickname ?Loscy? to the banners of retired numbers hanging from the rafters of the Boston Garden (then to the current TD Garden). The No. 18 was eventually retired in honor of Hall of Famer David (Dave) Cowens.
Loscy died on December 1, 2015 at the age of 85.
How lucky Loscutoff was in comparison to fellow Celtic products Larry Bird and Kevin McHale, both Hall of Famers who won only three titles each in 1981, 1984 and 1986 as teammates.
Even William Walton (Bill) Sharman snared only four rings with Boston in 1957, 1959, 1960 and 1961.
Sharman is one of four two-time Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductees (the others are John Wooden, Lenny Wilkens and Tommy Heinsohn), turning in the trick in 1976 as a player (Boston) and in 2004 as a head coach (having steered the Los Angeles Lakers to a 69-13 record during the 1971-72 regular season and subsequently rewarding the franchise with its first NBA crown since moving out of Minneapolis in 1960).
For the record, Russell is the winningest player in NBA history with 11 championships in 12 trips to the Finals.
Maundy Thursday (Manila time) marks the final playdate of the National Basketball Association?s 1,230-game regular season. It?s one exciting finale for various seeding positions entering the real season that is the 2017 playoffs have yet to be determined.
A total of 14 games are scheduled to be played on the last day of the regular wars ? Detroit at Orlando, Toronto at Cleveland, Milwaukee at Boston, Philadelphia at New York, Washington at Miami, Brooklyn at Chicago, Dallas at Memphis, Minnesota at Houston, Denver at Oklahoma City, Atlanta at Indiana, San Antonio at Utah, Sacramento at the Los Angeles Clippers, the Los Angeles Lakers at Golden State and New Orleans at Portland.
Seven of the aforementioned contests have playoff implications.
All eight playoff tickets from the Western Conference have been secured although the Los Angeles Clippers (50-31) and Utah Jazz (50-31) are still fighting it out for the important No. 4 seed. The two teams are slated to tangle in the first-round playoffs but the fourth-seeded team will enjoy home-court advantage against the No. 5 seed in their best-of-seven series.
Out in the Eastern Conference, six teams have qualified for the postseason but the final two (seventh and eighth) are still being contested by three teams ? Indiana Pacers (41-40) Chicago Bulls (40-41) and Miami Heat (40-41) ? and the No. 1 overall seed in the conference is still up for grabs between Boston (52-29) and the reigning NBA titlist but slumping Cleveland Cavaliers (51-30).
Here are the playoff scenarios heading into the final regular playdate on Thursday, April 13 (Manila time):
1-If the LA Clippers beat the lottery-bound Sacramento Kings or Utah loses to No. 2 seed San Antonio (61-20), the Clippers will secure the No. 4 seed. Granting that LAC and Utah both win or both lose, the Clippers will still land at No. 4 because of their tie-breaking, season-series win over the Jazz. If LAC loses and Utah wins, the Jazz will get the 4-seed.
Golden State, which owns the best regular-season card in the NBA for the third year in a row at 66-15, will have home-court advantage during the entire playoffs, including the NBA Finals, assuming the Warriors advance that far.
With Houston (54-27) locked in at No. 3 and Oklahoma City (47-34) at No. 6 in the West, a Rockets-Thunder matchup in the first-round playoffs ? and Clash of the Titans warfare between the top two NBA Most Valuable Player contenders and scoring and triple-double machines in James Harden (21 T-D games) and Russell Westbrook (an all-time league record 42 T-Ds) ? is guaranteed.
Memphis (43-3 is a lock at No. 7 and Portland (41-40) has the No. 8 slot.
2-If Boston beats No. 6 seed Milwaukee (42-39) or if Cleveland loses to No. 3 seed Toronto (50-31), the Celtics will have the No. 1 seed in the East. If Boston loses to the Bucks and the Cavaliers beat the Raptors, the Celts and Cavs will be deadlocked at 52-30. However, Cleveland will have the tie-breaker advantage because of its 3-1 season-series win over Boston.
If Cleveland loses to Toronto, both the Cavs and Raptors will own identical records. Cleveland, though, owns the tie-breaker advantage over the Raptors and will still be ranked No. 2.
A loss by Toronto and a win by No. 4 seed Washington (49-32) over Miami will produce a deadlock between the Raptors and Wizards at 50-32. Toronto will be ranked higher at No. 3 because of its tiebreaker advantage over Washington.
3-Atlanta (43-3, with its 100-76 victory over Charlotte today, has clinched the No. 5 seed even with a loss at Indiana tomorrow. The Hawks (43-3 own the tie-breaker edge over temporary No. 6 seed Milwaukee (42-39) in case Atlanta loses to Indiana and the Bucks beat Boston to create a deadlock at 43-39.
Atlanta will take on No. 4 seed Washington (49-32) in the first-round playoffs with the Wizards enjoying home-court advantage.
If Toronto (50-31) loses to Cleveland and Washington beats Miami tomorrow, both teams will be 50-32. The Raptors will be seeded No. 3 with their tiebreaker advantage over the Wizards.
A win by Indiana (41-40) over Atlanta and a loss by Milwaukee (42-39) to Boston will create a deadlock between the Pacers and Bucks at 42-40. Indiana will move up to No. 6 and Milwaukee will slip to No. 7 due to a tiebreak advantage.
4-If Indiana (41-40) beats Atlanta and Chicago (40-41) beats Brooklyn in their respective games today, Miami (40-41) will automatically eliminated even if it beats Washington. The Bulls own the tiebreaker advantage over the Heat, which was once mired at 11-30.
A final-day loss by either Chicago or Miami will assure the Pacers of a playoff berth even if they drop their game against the Hawks. If both Indiana and Chicago lose and
Recently-retired National Basketball Association and Los Angeles Lakers icon Kobe Bryant said that point guards Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder and James Harden of the Houston Rockets should share the league?s Most Valuable Player award this season.
With the declaration, Bryant was probably just being polite and his belief may be politically correct considering the tight MVP derby that is expected to come down to a toss-up between Westbrook and Harden, both of whom have had mind-boggling individual accomplishments to back up their respective cases ? even if statistics have never been a basis for MVP selection since the league institutionalized the award in 1955-56.
Until 1979-80, the players controlled the MVP balloting. But since 1980-81, the sportswriters and broadcasters that covered the league games have taken over the chores.
Though, it has likely come down to Westbrook and Harden, a one-time Manila visitor, it does not mean there are no other worthy MVP contenders in this history-filled season. There?s Cleveland?s LeBron James, a four-time awardee in the past; San Antonio?s Kawhi Leonard, and even Golden State?s Stephen Curry, the back-to-back reigning titlist whose Warriors have secured the best regular-season record in the NBA for the third consecutive year.
To have a tie for the MVP award when this has never ever happened before is easier said than done.
The NBA MVP voting system is the culprit. A nationwide media panel of 125 sportswriters and broadcasters ? three from each of the 30 member clubs that cover the league games and the remainder by national media ? does the balloting. They are asked to name their top five choices according to their preferences with points being assigned (10 points for a first-place vote, 7 for second, 5 for third, 3 for fourth and 1 for fifth) on the basis of their rankings.
It?s the overall points accumulated ? and not the number of first-place votes secured ? that will determine the MVP winner.
As such, the voting system would likely preclude the possibility of a deadlock in the race for the Maurice Podoloff (MVP) hardware. Only an identical points total by multiple players will produce a tie.
There have been cases in the past where one player had the most first-place votes and yet lost the MVP race. The most recent occurrence came in 1990 when burly forward Charles Barkley of the Philadelphia 76ers had 11 more first-place votes than the eventual winner Magic Johnson of the LA Lakers.
During the 1961-62 wars, Oscar Robertson of the Cincinnati Royals (the predecessors of the Sacramento Kings) chalked up 41 triple-double games and registered a T-D average, but the ?Big O? placed only third in the MVP race.
That same campaign, the Philadelphia Warriors' Wilt Chamberlain had his 100-point game for an all-time NBA record and averaged 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds - both NBA season highs - in 80 games. The Big Dipper finished only second in the MVP poll by the players.
The winner: Boston's Bill Russell (18.9 ppg, 23.6 rpg).
Note that at the time, and even as it is now, regular-season stats were only used as a guide, nothing more.
Russell, of course, went on to power the title-streaking Celtics to the NBA crown in 1961-62.
The 6-3 Westbrook posted his 42nd triple-double game of the season today ? 50 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists in 37 minutes during the Thunder?s 106-105 win over the Nuggets in Denver on his first career game-winning buzzer beater, a three-pointer from 36 feet ? to shatter the old NBA single-season record for T-D games he previously shared with Robertson.
With two games remaining (at Minnesota, Apr. 12, Manila time; and against visiting Denver, Apr. 13, MT), Westbrook is averaging a nine-year career-high 31.9 points, 10.7 rebounds and 10.4 assists in 80 appearances for the playoffs-bound Oklahoma City, which is seeded sixth in the Western Conference with a 46-34 record.
Westbrook is a cinch to capture his second NBA scoring title. The first came in 2014-15 when he normed 28.1 ppg in 67 assignments for a Thunder unit that missed the playoffs.
In contrast, the 6-5 Harden himself has produced an NBA second-leading 21 triple-doubles, including a 35-point, 11-rebound, 15-assist performance in the playoffs-headed Rockets? 135-128 road victory over the Sacramento Kings today.
In averaging an eight-year career highs of 29.4 points (in a tight battle with Boston?s Isiah Thomas for second place in the NBA) and 11.3 assists (best in the majors) and grabbing 8.1 rebounds in 79 outings (he missed a game due to flu), ?The Beard? has powered Houston to the third-best record in the West at 54-26 (with two games remaining) after the Rockets barely qualified for the postseason a year ago as the
Mr Libog treat my self and my wife to lunch over the weekend.
As is the usual practice, talk at our table centered mainly around basketball, specifically recruitment.
"Malapit na Fil Oil ah," he stated, referring to the Fil Oil-Flying V Premiere Cup, the summer basketball tournament organized by the local petroleum company that bears the same name.
I nodded, knowing this tournament would begin after the Holy Week, so it was only about a week or two away.
"Sino mga bago natin?" he inquired, referring to who the new players might be on our varsity roster.
I shrugged. Apart from transfer student Gab Reyes, and two players who failed to make the last season's regular roster for different reasons, I actually had no clue who any of our new talent (if any) there might be.
I told him about Reyes, and the other two guys: Tyler Tio and Gian Mamuyac. He was of course familiar with all three, since we had followed their developments even as far back as their high school days. I said they were doing well in the offseason tournaments like the Fr Martin Cup and the Milcu Got Skills Challenge Cup.
He didn't sound too impressed. "That's it?"
"So what we have is an athletic forward who Lord only knows has been doing what the last couple of years we haven't heard a thing from him, a guy who should have been lined up last season were it not for paperwork that had nothing to do with his game, and another guy who we both agreed should have been lined up ahead of at least three other guys who didn't actually do shit for us last season. Would that be accurate?"
I nodded again. Although I did add that at least we're getting three guys who aren't total greenhorns and who could come in and play right away within the system of the team and the coach, which is always valuable.
"Valuable, yes, but doesn't guarantee us a title does it?" he asked, rhetorically as usual.
My wife was busy putting fried rice, squid heads, beef, broccoli, tofu, and clams on our plates while we were engrossed in our little discussion. It pays to marry the right woman, I tell you. She will make sure you can keep enjoying a good meal without having to skip a beat in your in-depth basketball conversation.
I said that with Reyes, Tio, Mamuyac we would have a better perimeter now, that can provide firepower, defense, experience, and much-needed speed.
"I hardly think Tyler and Gab will provide speed, only Gian is a natural runner in that bunch. You are correct though that Tyler can provide additional firepower, Gab too, because Gab I think is a better shooter than Thirdy Ravena. But then again Gab might be what, in his fourth year in college by now, dapat lang naman sigurong gumagawa na siya, athletic naman siya, may pukol, sa edad niya dapat lang naman kaya na niya gumawa. So once again we have to thank Lasalle for another guy they couldn't use, because now he gets to play in a blue uniform," he expounded.
"Alam mo totoong tanong diyan: ano ba ginagawa nung mga tao na dapat naghahanap ng talent para sa team? Bakit pa sila pinapasweldo? Troy Mallilin hindi nakuha. Justin Baltazar hindi nakuha. Ricci Rivero hindi nakuha. Aljun Melecio hindi nakuha. Lahat ng mga players na gusto ko, 'yun ang mga hindi nila nakuha. Wala na ngang clearance na kailangan, wala na ngang residency, hindi pa din natin sila nakuha."
"So sino-sino ba mga nakuha natin? Mga good students? Kung good students kailangan natin huwag na natin padala sa US ang team tuwing summer, magtayo na lang sila ng separate scholarship fund specifically for good students who make the basketball team. OK lang naman kung ganun ang gusto nila eh, pero pupusta ko lahat ng yaman ko, never mananalo ng UAAP championship ang team na good students ang lahat ng players. No way," he declared.
So was he saying we would have a losing season?
"Far from it, I think we will return to the Finals at the very least, where once again our problem will be how to match up against (Benoit) Mbala. Sino pantatapat natin sa kanya, sina (Chibuezee) Ikeh at George (Go) na naman? Hindi porke nakapalag tayo kahit papano last year ganun-ganun lang magagawa natin ulit 'yon this year."
"We can be thankful na wala na si Jeron (Teng), and he really is a big loss for them, kasi hindi ganun kadali replace ang scoring at veteran leadership niya. Kaya lang papano kung mag-step up naman sina Baltazar, Ricci (Rivero), Melecio, makabalik din ng maganda 'yung Gboy Gob, or maka-contribute right away 'yung Troy (Mallilin), talented players lahat ang mga 'yon ha."
"Pero sabihin na lang natin na lahat nung mga locals nila hindi gumawa as expected, andiyan pa din si Mbala eh, at 'yon walang katapat sa buong liga. So papano na tayo niyan?"