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Let me be the first to say it now: the Miami Heat will win their third straight NBA world championship this season and complete that rare grand slam.
There are of course certain conditions attached:
First and foremost, their Big 3 has to stay relatively healthy throughout the entire season from opening day to the last game of the NBA Finals. If any of them - reigning MVP LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh - get so much as sidelined for a prolonged period (minimum of four weeks out to missing the entire season) then all bets are off.
Secondly, assuming relative good health on the part of the Heat, there is simply no team out there good enough and together enough to beat them this season.
I can hear what the lot of you are saying out there. What the hell am I talking about? Don't I have Internet access? Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett have joined Deron Williams and Brook Lopez in Brooklyn. Danny Granger is coming back for Indiana and now has Paul George as a proven All Star partner. Forget winning it all; try getting out of the East first.
Pierce and Garnett may be battle tested veterans but they are still newcomers to a team that has yet to find itself. Williams and maybe even Lopez will not be easily bossed about even by the two NBA title holders. George emerged last season as a legitimate All Star, emerging from Granger's shadow, while Granger will try to return as the Pacers leader, the role George effectively arrogated unto himself in Granger's absence. Figuring things out will take a while for both teams.
Out West, the San Antonio Spurs will again most likely start slow only to sneak up on everybody come the playoffs. They pushed Miami hard in last season's NBA Finals. They continue to age, but nobody still wants to face them in the NBA Playoffs. Houston welcomed one-year Laker Dwight Howard and instantly made themselves contenders once again. Oklahoma will be getting Russell Westbrook back from an ACL injury that scuttled their season last year. And of course, count out the Los Angeles Lakers at your own peril.
Still, there isn't a team out there that can say with 100% assurance that they will dethrone the Heat. Contenders, sure, there are plenty, as there are every year. But absent a clear cut powerhouse team guaranteed able to beat the Heat across the board, smart money stays with the reigning champs.
Third, Miami already knows how to get this done, and it is their third go-around. Los Angeles was the last team to win three straight, and they got it done with the overwhelming force that was Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. Miami has such a force in James, now without question the best player in the world and easily worth at least a half-dozen other All Stars. Plus he still has Wade and Bosh, arguably the two best support players in the NBA.
Picture that: Wade and Bosh are really actually just support players for James in Miami's grand scheme. Those two could go to any NBA team right now and take over as stars. In Miami they are caddying for James. How good does that make James?
Fourth, this NBA is so watered down it just plain makes it easier to pile up wins and the good seeding for the playoffs that go with it. Last year Miami put together a 27-game win streak, and it could have easily gone on. Throughout that streak different players stepped up. Granted, it was the regular season and its not like all the teams they beat were playoff teams, but still, 27 games is an awfully long time to go unbeaten.
While duplicating that feat might not necessarily happen this season, stringing regular season wins together is easy enough for the Heat.
Fifth, this could conceivably be the last and best time for any of these guys to get a grand slam. By July 1 next year, the Big 3 can all either opt out or have contracts expiring. Signing all of them to stay together in South Beach after that, if Pat Riley and Eric Spoelstra pull it off, would be a feat worthy of High Mass by Pope Francis at the Vatican.
“That’s not our concern as players, where he’s going to be. We know where he is right now and we know where we all are. Everybody in here has a contract situation and the biggest thing is we’re dedicated to the Miami Heat. We’re dedicated to now," said Wade in one interview. "It does none of us any good to worry about the business side during the season because we won’t accomplish what we are together to accomplish — and that’s to try to win another championship,” he added with emphasis.
By the way, the Heat just beat another contender, Chicago, on opening night 107-95. Looks like the grand slam express is well underway. James had 17 points in a balanced Heat game.
I've always been a fan of the big man in basketball. My earliest idols included Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon and Shaquille O'Neal. Basketball for me was truly a big man's game. In spite of all the stellar guards and swingmen who have played the game, to me nothing beats having that big, strong mastodon in the low blocks ruling inside. Ask any coach or manager what he'd most like to have on his team and the answer will always be "Get me a superstar big man."
In recent weeks the NBA has been all about two of the most talked about big men in the league, 6-foot-11 270-pound center Dwight Howard and 7-foot 265-pound center Greg Oden.
Howard finally ended weeks of speculation about where he would finally go when he signed with the Houston Rockets. He put his name on the line which is dotted for four years and $88 million. He turned down five years and $118 million from the Los Angeles Lakers after spending a woeful season there last year. Not only did the Lakers nearly miss the NBA Playoffs, but there was just so much going on inside and outside the court and beyond anybody's control (including season-ending Achilles tendon surgery for superstar Kobe Bryant) that no one worth his salary cap and luxury tax thought Howard would stay in Los Angeles. Howard and the rest of the Rockets will be playing the Lakers on November 7 this year.
Howard went to the Lakers last year hoping to contend for the NBA championship, and many observers and pundits rightly assumed they would be among the title favorites. After all aside from Howard and Bryant the Lakers had also snagged two-time MVP Steven Nash, apart from having All Star-types in Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace. Their preseason should have been a warning, as the Lakers never played together at all with this or that player out with injuries. That tone carried into the regular season, and at one time they looked like they would compeltely miss the NBA Playoffs.
Houston will be a fresh start for Howard. "This is a great opportunity, a great feeling to be here, to have a fresh start," Howard said during the press conference to formally introduce him to the media and the city. "I made this decision for me. I want to be happy. If you can't be happy when you're playing, it's not fun. I want to get back to being that guy who was playing and having fun but at the same time dominating. If we dedicate ourselves and sacrifice everything we've got for a championship, at the end of the season we should be holding up a trophy." He should note however that this is an NBA City that is used to having superstar centers, from Moses Malone to Olajuwon to Yao Ming.
He will not be carrying the Rockets by his lonesome though. James Harden, another star who made the jump to Houston from an already-lofty perch with the Oklahoma City Thunder, and the fate-smiled Jeremy Lin will be in the backcourt for Howard. Both men are conscientious facilitator types who can also score, and should benefit greatly from having Howard in the low blocks. Do-all forward Chandler Parsons, who grew up idolizing Howard when Howard was still with the Orlando Magic, and power forward Greg Smith will now be able to move more without the ball with Howard planting himself down low. Omer Asik, the versatile, Euro-basket style 7-foot center will now come off the bench and become easily a Top 5 Sixth Man in the NBA. Add in forwards Terrence Jones and Donatas Montiejunas, and guards Patrick Beverly and Isaiah Canaan, and suddenly the Rockets look very balanced, very deep and very talented.
For his part, Oden is just trying to resuscitate an NBA career derailed by potentially career-ending injuries. Oden came out of Ohio State and was the Number 1 overall pick of the 2007 NBA Draft by the Portland Traliblazers, which famously included Kevin Durant (Durant went Number 2 overall behind Oden). Durant is now widely recognized as a superstar and always in the conversation when the best players in the world are discussed. Oden has played in all of 82 games before the Blazers finally waived him in 2012. When healthy he averaged over 15 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks per 36 minutes, playing just about 30 minutes per game, numbers close to Howard's own career averages of over 18 points, nearly 13 rebounds and over two blocks per game.
Oden has always wanted to come back and play in the NBA, and surely no one disputes he has the size and talent to be in the league. He gets his comeback now, and with no less than the back-to-back NBA World Champion Miami Heat. He signed on for one year (with an option for 2014-15) and a little over $1 million, the new league minimum. One can almost hear the howls of protest from those who think Oden is taking the easy way back in and merely hitching his wagon to the star of LeBron James. He reportedly was also in talks with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics
Minnesota Timberwolves and San Antonio Spurs to play in Mexico City and Atlanta Hawks and Brooklyn Nets will play in London
Expanded NBA Global Games Schedule to Feature 10 Games with 12 NBA Teams Playing Internationally
NEW YORK, June 25, 2013 – The National Basketball Association (NBA) today announced an expansion of its comprehensive NBA Global Games schedule that includes regular-season games in London and Mexico City for the 2013-14 season.
NBA Global Games Mexico City 2013 will feature a game between the Minnesota Timberwolves and San Antonio Spurs at the Mexico City Arenaon Dec. 4, while the Atlanta Hawks and Brooklyn Nets will travel to the United Kingdom for a game at The O2 on Jan. 16 as part of NBA Global Games London 2014.
This will mark the first time the league will stage regular-season games in two countries outside of the U.S. and Canada in the same season.
The games build on the comprehensive NBA Global Games preseason schedule set for this October. The full 2013-14 NBA Global Games schedule now includes a total of 12 NBA teams playing 10 regular season and preseason games in 10 cities in seven countries and territories. This will be the most NBA teams to play internationally in a single season in the history of the league.
“With the addition of regular-season games in London and Mexico City, we will play one of the most comprehensive international games schedules in our history next season,” said NBA Commissioner David Stern. “Through these games, we will bring the NBA experience to more fans and provide showcases for basketball and the extraordinary talent and athleticism of our players.”
NBA Global Games Mexico City 2013 will mark the league’s 21st game in Mexico overall, the most NBA matchups held in any country outside the U.S. and Canada. It will be the Timberwolves first game in Mexico and the fifth overall game in Mexico City for the Spurs, who previously played preseason games in 1994 (two games), 1995, and 2010. The Spurs and Timberwolves finished the 2012-13 season with the highest number of international players with San Antonio leading with a league-record of nine and Minnesota second with six.
NBA Global Games London 2014 will be the 12th NBA game in the city dating back to 1993. The Hawks took part in the NBA’s first preseason games in London playing two games against the Orlando Magic. This will be the Nets third trip to London, following the then-New Jersey Nets preseason game in 2008 and the league’s first regular-season games in the UK, a pair of contests against the Toronto Raptors in 2011. The game will be the eighth NBA game played at The O2 since 2007.
In addition to oncourt action, the NBA Global Games will feature a variety of events off the court, including NBA Cares community outreach activities and interactive fan events in select cities. The games will also be supported by a variety of marketing and promotional partners, and will be available to fans on television and through digital media.
This October, the NBA Global Games – which will feature the Chicago Bulls, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Philadelphia 76ers and Washington Wizards – will include the first NBA preseason games to be held in Brazil and the Philippines, and in the cities of Bilbao and Manchester. It will also include games in Beijing, Istanbul, Shanghai, and Taipei.
Following the 2013-14 NBA Global Games, the NBA will have staged 148 games (regular season and preseason) in 20 countries and territories across Europe, the Americas and Asia since 1978. The league will also have played a total of 18 regular-season games in London, Mexico City, and Tokyo, Japan dating back to 1990.
2013-14 NBA Global Games Schedule:
Regular- Season Games
Minnesota Timberwolves vs. San Antonio Spurs Dec. 4 Mexico City, Mexico, Mexico City Arena
Atlanta Hawks vs. Brooklyn Nets Jan. 16 London, UK, The O2
Preseason Games (previously announced)
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Fenerbahce Ulker Istanbul Oct. 5 Istanbul, Turkey, Ulker Sports Arena
Philadelphia 76ers vs. Bilbao Basket Oct. 6 Bilbao, Spain ,Bizkaia Arena at the BEC
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Philadelphia 76ers Oct. 8 Manchester, UK, Manchester Arena
Houston Rockets vs. Indiana Pacers Oct. 10 Manila, Philippines, Mall of Asia Arena
Houston Rockets vs. Indiana Pacers Oct. 13Taipei, Taiwan, Taipei Arena
Chicago Bulls vs. Washington Wizards Oct. 12 Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, HSBC Arena
Golden State Warriors vs. Los Angeles Lakers Oct. 15 Beijing, China, MasterCard Center
Golden State Warriors vs. Los Angeles
People tend to forget that the San Antonio Spurs are one of only five current franchises that have active NBA championship experience. That means they still have a number of the significant players that allowed them to capture the NBA world championship. Center-forward Tim Duncan, off-guard Manu Ginobili and point guard Tony Parker are all still around from the the Black and Silver's last title squad from 2007. The now-31-year old Parker was a 25-year old water bug back then, and he was the youngest of the San Antonio Big 3. Perhaps only their longtime Western Conference nemesis the Los Angeles Lakers can claim to have as many key stars with that much championship experience.
Parker and Company are now up 2 - 1 against the Miami Heat in this year's NBA Finals. In Game 3 they handed the Heat their collective South Beach asses 113 - 77. But unlike previous Spurs championship games, this time it was the unsung, unheralded role players that led the way. Guard Danny Green led all scorers with 27 points. Another guard, Gary Neal, added 24 markers. Forward Kawhi Leonard, the revelation of the season, had 14 points and 12 rebounds and continues to be the straightjacket of LeBron James.
Truth be told it really didn't look like it would be a blowout in the first half, with both teams playing in spurts. San Antonio would go a run, build a lead, then Miami would chase it down, get the lead back, then lose it again on a Spurs run, and on and on it went throughout the first 24 minutes. It should have been an omen though, that the Spurs ended the first half with a buzzer-beating three-pointer from Neal to give his side a six-point lead. He eventually wound up with a half dozen of San Antonio's NBA Finals record 16 three-pointers. That accounted for 48 points right there. Back to back three-pointers from the Spurs late in the fourth and final quarter made it a 30-point bulge for the first time at 103-71. Before that, the Spurs totally owned the third quarter, with 6-foot-10 utility forward Matt Bonner, another role player, getting Neal going by playing a kick out and shoot game. Using Bonner's picks Neal nailed back-to-back treys to give the Spurs the 84-63 lead late in the third.
“Huge win for us. It was just an all-around great team effort,” Duncan stated after the game. “We get our butts handed to us last game, and they played really well, and we came back here and change it up and just put together a great game all around,” he added. A lot of people tend to forget Duncan already has four championship rings himself, and is arguably still at least a Top 5 big man in the league.
San Antonio head coach Greg Popovich had nothing but praise for his starting center, the man he's ridden to the NBA title four times prior. “Just because (Duncan’s) a little older doesn’t mean he’s lost his competitiveness or his professional will to compete,” Popovich said during media availability. “That’s not going to stop, and we all saw it out there today,” Popovich added. Teams that held a 2-1 edge in the NBA Finals have gone on all the way to win the title 11 out of 12 times. Guess who the only team was that failed to take a 2-1 lead all the way to the championship? Here's a hint: they had their asses handed to them in this Game 3.
As much fight as them thar Spurs have shown, it looks like the Heat have been anything but, and might in fact have flashes of the Dallas Mavericks and their 2011 NBA Finals debacle fleeting before their eyes. Dirk Nowitzki and Dallas won their one and only NBA title against these self-same Big 3 Heat two years ago. And those Mavericks literally relied on Nowitzki's shooting and scoring to carry them, unlike the Spurs who collectively and relentlessly jab, prod, then grab and hold and tap opposing teams into submission.
With Leonard all over him, James must be feeling a lot like it really is 2011 all over again. Leonard's unique combination of height, length, speed and strength were scientifically verified by sports scientists and biomechanical specialists as perfect for defending the 6-foot-9 260-pound league MVP. And while Leonard is the man specifically tasked with guarding James, once again it has been the total effort of Popovich and his coaching staff that has the Spurs defending as a team.
James might eventually overpower or otherwise overcome Leonard. It would however be far more difficult for him to do the same against all five Spurs on the floor. While Leonard was his shadow, the other four guys on the floor were funneling James into trap zones along the sideline to take away his driving game. They helped and rotated and switched and recovered the minute he jab-stepped to indicate an attack to the rim, and dared him to beat them with his jumpshot. James wound up with a measly 15 points and made only about a third of his attempts. He and fellow All Star Dwayne Wade combined to score as much as the role
Six years is an awfully long time in the sporting world, especially in the realm of basketball. In six years two summer and two winter Olympics could have come and gone. A player could've played out at least two full multi-year mid-level contracts. Certainly at least three or four NBA champions could have reigned and been dethroned. Six years is also how long it has been since the San Antonio Spurs last won the NBA world championship. A little word about that: I personally think the best basketball on the planet is still being played in the NBA by the planet's best players. So whoever wins the NBA championship is in my book the one, true world champion of basketball, with all due respect to the Olympic gold medal team and the FIBA World champions.
San Antonio, riding high on the multinational trio of center-forward Tim Duncan, swingman Manu Ginobili and pointguard Tony Parker, have won four NBA titles already: 2007, 2005 and 2003. Their first title in 1999 came with their version of twin towers when center David Robinson was in the twilight of his career just as Duncan was an up and coming sueprstar.
Truth be told no one in his right mind would have bet on teh venerable old Spurs even advancing this far, much less having a legitimate shot at winning their fifth title. "At the beginning of the season it was all about the LA Lakers, and their wall to wall All Stars, and how they would win it all. We all know what happened after opening day," mused one long-time assistant coach from a rival Western Conference team. "(Coach) Greg Popovich and (General Manager) RC Buford should be canonized. They worked miracles with this franchise," he added.
Duncan and Ginobili are both pushing 40. Ginobili even spent a good portion of the season in sick bay, returning just in time for the Western Conference Playoffs. No one expected him to contribute worth a damn, much less be a factor. Parker also had bouts of injury throughout the season. Their supporting cast does not seem all that special: Matt Bonner, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter, DeJuan Blair, Cory Joseph... Who the hell are these guys? Tracy McGrady is here as well, but is but a mere shadow of the man who was once an All Star and scoring machine.
Yet they have gone 12-2 in these playoffs, sweeping the injury-ravaged Lakers in the first round, finding a way to beat the dynamic Golden State Warriors in six games in the second round, and sweeping the Memphis Grizzlies in the conference finals. Memphis had upset the then topseeded San Antonio in the first round two years ago. Oklahoma used their speed and athleticism to overcome a 0-2 deficit to San Antonio in last year's conference finals. As much as they could still pile up the regular season wins and get good playoff seeding, the Spurs just didn't seem to have it in them anymore to win another title. Try telling anybody that now. "It feel good. You don't expect that to happen this late in the game with the same group. It's tough to do, to maintain something for that long," Popovich said after their Game 4 sweep.
Indeed the Big 3 of the Spurs perhaps never felt so young. Duncan, at 37 nearly old as sin in NBA years, was huge in the overtime victories for Game 2 and Game 3. He had 24 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks in Game 3, vintage Duncan, as if he was 10 years younger. Parker had a playoff-high 37 points in their Game 4 victory, shooting 15-21 from the field in that 93-86 win. Ginobili hit clutch basket after clutch basket to keep the Grizzlies at bay anytime they threatened to come back. "These guys have been winning together for so long, they just know how to get it done," said Stephen Curry, the superstar guard and leader of Golden State.
As for the rest of the Spurs, Splitter was instrumental in containing the otherwise prolific Zach Randolph, preventing the brawny Memphis power forward from establishing his low post game. Leonard and Green helped open up defenses with shooting and driving hard to the rack. Blair and Bonner provided rebounding coverage and scoring in the lane whenever Duncan needed to sit. Popovich and Buford just have a knack for finding the right kind of talent to keep their payroll reasonable but their winning percentage high.
Now the Spurs have returned to familiar territory, a territory in which they have never lost in their four previous trips. Six years is an awfully long time to be out of the championship fight, but make no mistake these guys are raring to go. No team has ever beaten these Spurs in the NBA Finals. They will face either reigning champion Miami, or surprisingly tough Indiana in the NBA Finals. Both teams are tied at two games apiece in their Eastern Conference Finals match. Whoever they will face, no one is betting against the Spurs anymore, old or not. "Timmy is getting old, and we gotta get it done for him,"