There was just too much bad news in the international sports scene in recent days for this Hoopster to absorb.
In a span of seven days, Philippine boxing suffered a double debacle with the loss of world titles by Brian Viloria and Nonito Donaire Jr.
The 32-year-old Viloria lost by a 12-round split decision to the taller 22-year-old Juan Francisco “El Gallo” Estrada of Mexico last April 6 at the Cotai Arena in the Macau Venetian Resort Hotel, surrendering the World Boxing Organization and World Boxing Association flyweight championship belts that he snared in a unification bout in November last year.
The Fil-American boxer known as the “Hawaiian Punch” thus lost for the first time in seven bouts and three years.
On April 13, it was the turn of “The Filipino Flash” Donaire to bite the dust as the 30-year-old California-based he gave up his WBO super bantamweight crown with a 12-round unanimous-decision defeat to Cuba’s two-time Olympic gold medalist Guillermo Rigondeaux, the 32-year-old concurrent WBA junior featherweight titleholder who is unblemished at 12-0, at the Radio City Music Hall in New York.
It was Donaire’s first loss in 12 years and 31 fights and brought his overall record to 31-2 with 20 knockouts.
Then there was the National Basketball Association season-ending injury to Los Angeles superstar and five-time Manila visitor Kobe Bryant.* The 6-7, 34-year-old Bryant, the fourth all-time leading scorer in NBA annals (behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone and Michael Jordan) with nearly 32,000 points, completely tore his left Achilles tendon with three minutes left in the Lakers’ 118-116 win over the Golden State Warriors last April 12 and underwent surgery one day later.* He had suffered two other injuries earlier in the game.
According to Lakers trainer Gary Vitti, Bryant will need some six to nine months for recovery although the five-time NBA championship star might just be ready for the start of the 2013-14 campaign with his strong will and determination.* Bryant has a year remaining on his contract, which will pay him $30.5 million.* Only Jordan has earned at least $30 million in a single season and he did it twice - $30 million in 1996-97 and $33 million in 1997-98.
Bryant’s injury was the most serious in his illustrious 17-year pro career, all with the Lakers.* He finished the season as the league’s No. 3 scorer with a 27.3-point average (along with 5.6 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game), trailing only New York’s Carmelo Anthony and Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, whose three-year reign as NBA scoring king is about to end.
Today (April 18), the NBA’s 1,230-game regular season ends with the Lakers (44-37) hosting James Harden, Jeremy Lin and the Houston Rockets and the Utah Jazz (43-38) traveling to Memphis to face the Grizzlies.
For the Lakers to clinch a playoff spot from the West, they must beat the playoff-bound Rockets or have the Jazz lose to the Grizzlies (another playoff-bound squad).* The Tinseltown boys can ill afford to end with an identical record with Utah since the Jazz own the tie-breaker with their 2-1 decision over LA in their head-to-head season series.
There are three possible scenarios for the LAL.* 1-The Lakers would be seeded No. 7 should they beat the Rockets and equal them at 45-37 (tie-breakers:* season series is 2-2 and their conference records are LA, 28-24, and Houston, 24-28, meaning the Rockets would drop to No. 8 seed with a loss.) 2-The Lakers will qualify for the playoffs regardless of their game against Houston if the Jazz lose to the Grizzlies.* 3-The Lakers will miss the postseason if they lose Houston and Utah wins over Memphis.
What’s the NBA playoffs without Kobe?* Not much interest.* What’s the NBA playoffs without the Lakers?* Absolutely no interest at all.* In either scenario, I could not care less which team wins the Larry O’Brien championship trophy.* Just send in the results through the mail after the postseason is over in late June.
As if things were not bad enough, another tragedy struck the sports world on Monday, April 15, when a pair of bombs exploded near the finish line of the prestigious Boston Marathon, killing three people, including an eight-year-old kid, and injuring more than a hundred.
Only a crackpot or a lunatic would ever think of pulling off such as a dastardly act.* Only evil people do.
Because of the incident, the Indiana-at-Boston NBA game scheduled for yesterday (Manila time) was cancelled.* No make-up game will be held since both the Pacers (No. 3 East seed) and Celtics (No. 7 East seed) have clinched their respective playoff seedings.* It marked the first time since the 1952-53 season that some member teams did not complete their schedule.
It’s said that there is a silver lining
Gonzaga got the Number 1 seed for the national collegiate basketball tournament, otherwise known as the NCAA or March Madness. I dare anyone out there to name at least one of the three superstars for Gonzaga, or even where it is exactly. Most ordinary basketball fans probably remember Gonzaga only as the school that produced Utah Jazz legend and all-time NBA assists leader John Stockton. As to their superstars, I'll give you a hint: one is a lean 7-foot forward-center with a hard-to-pronounce, hard-to-spell surname.
If you say Victor Oladipo you've got the wrong guy. Oladipo is a college basketball superstar indeed, but he belongs to powerhouse Indiana. I can't blame you since you probably mistook Gonzaga's 7-footer for Indiana's 7-footer, Cody Zeller, and got yourself all confused.
All of this is understandable. There just doesn't seem to be a marquee name, or heck even a marquee school throughout the last couple of months leading up to the national basketball tournament. Duke has been the "all-hype" pick if the social media and message boards are to be believed. And they don't have a big-name, sure-top-draft-pick player on their roster. Their story has been the return of 6'10" forward Ryan Kelly, and really not much else.
Speaking of marquee names, Kentucky, the erstwhile defending champion, didn't even make the tournament this year, going 21-12 in the Southeastern Conference, their season dying with much-hyped recruit Nerlens Noel. Their humiliating fall from grace was made all the more so when they bowed to never-heard Robert Morris in the NIT. John Calipari, who made a living recruiting one-season wonders like last year's Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Number 1 NBA draft pick Anthony Davis, simply said "It has been humbling." Making $3.8 million this year will either make things easier or harder on poor Cal.
Kentucky seemed disbelieving at first that they would not even get a chance to defend their national title. They did still have a good enough core, although of course not as deep or as talented as last year's champions. They also have to seethe through the thought of seeing hated rival Louisville, and their own millionaire coach Rick Pitino, play in the bluegrass school's home court. "We will come back a tougher team next year," Calipari insisted.
Gonzaga in the meantime went 31-2including 16-0 at home while playing superb team basketball built on having no freshmen leaders. Indiana also did not rely on a single freshman. Zeller, who thought about being a one-done guy and making the jump to the NBA last year, is now a sophomore. Oladipo, a strong contender for consensus college player of the year, is a junior.
Brackets be damned and all, but this is one March Madness season that incredibly enough might be a fitting end to so-so conference play throughout the last five months. There just wasn't much to be excited about. Now though, this might be the time we see the coaches making a tithe of the millionaire coaches whipping big-team deriere. This might be the time we see the small schools upsetting fancied bigger programs. This might be the time we might even see a cinderella school finally take the title.
This is also a fitting time to look at the NBA talent playing in the next couple of weeks. Aside from the aforementioned, other NBA-ready talents who made the national tournament include 6'5" guard Michael Carter-Williams of Syracuse, 6'6" swingman Shabazz Muhammad of UCLA, and 6'8" forwrd Otto Porter of Georgetown. Others might have a good enough tournament to catch the eyes of NBA scouts, like undersized 6'7" UNLV forward Anthony Bennet, or gargantuan 7'5" New Mexico center Sim Bhullar.
As for the tournament itself, could it be a Gonzaga-Indiana match in the Finals? That certainly looks good for the TV folks. Syracuse, with its New York following, could also hold some promise; the deathless Jim Boeheim is always great television. And of course there is the cinderella syndrome still working for Butler and youthful head coach Brad Stevens. Personally I'd like to see Stevens and his Bulldogs bring the trophy home to Indianapolis. Tom Crean however wants to bring another trophy home to Bloomington. An All-Indiana State Finals perhaps?
Anyway, put the office, dorm and neighborhood pools together, folks. The big and the small have seemingly switched places, and it looks like it is all for the better in the 2013 edition of March Madness. I'm putting my money on The Orange.
In less than a month the annual midseason classic called the NBA All Star Weekend will be upon us once again. Some of the most stellar names from both the West and the East will once again thrill us with their skills and utter disregard for the concept of defense. Of course no one actually comes to the All Star extravaganza expecting a clinic on how the game should be played. They can get that just by watching say the San Antonio Spurs or the Boston Celtics on any given night. What the fans do come for, and this year they will be coming to the great city of Houston, Texas on February 17, are dunks, fancy passes, long long long three-pointers and a few as much hotdog and showboat as the stars can deliver.
In fan balloting so far no surprises are evident. Fans vote for the five starters (nominally by position, but really two backcourt and three frontcourt players) - a center, two forwards and two guards - while whoever is selected as coach will pick seven other players to make up the bench regardless of position. Bench players used to be picked position-wise as well, i.e. another center, two more forwards, two more guards and two utility guys regardless of position. Fan voting has never been a barometer of talent and skill so much as popularity, hence Yao Ming getting the most votes for a couple of years running thanks to the online votes of those milllions of Chinese fans.
This year the two players widely regarded as the two who dispute the title of best player in the world are the top two vote getters: Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers (with over 1,170,00-plus votes) and Lebron James of the Miami Heat (behind Bryant by only some 20,000 votes at still over 1,100,000 total votes). Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder with a little over 1,000,000 votes is followed by Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks at third and fourth place respectively.
Rounding out the respective starting fives are: Chris Paul and Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers, and another Laker in Dwight Howard for the West, then Rajon Rondo of the Boston Celtics, another Heat in Dwayne Wade, and another Celtic in Kevin Garnett for the East. As it was for the Top 2 vote getters, so the rest of the starting units do not show any surprises.
Allow me however to say that if any changes were to be made, and if I were the omnipotent Hoops God, I'd replace the West's starting center. Howard is playing on an inexplicably awful Lakers team ths season, and is clearly not at 100% capacity after back surgery in the offseason. If anybody deserves to start at center for the West it is none other than the venerable Tim Duncan of the Spurs. At 36 years young Duncan is nearly as old as sin in NBA years. But he has put together his usual boringly productive and efficient season while making sure his Spurs remain among the top teams out west.
As for the reserves, those would be up to the coaches of course. Although right off the top of my head I'd automatically have Chris Bosh of Miami, Tyson Chandler of New York, Paul Pierce of Boston, Deron Williams of the Brooklyn Nets, Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Josh Smith of the Atlanta Hawks and Carlos Boozer of the Chicago Bulls completing the East roster. That would make for a high-skill and balanced roster for the East. It should be interesting to see how Anthony and Garnett will get along after their chippy game a few weeks back that saw Anthony get suspended one game by the league. Rondo will also be interesting to watch since he will start alongside Wade and James, two guys he does not really take a fancy to and about which he has not been shy to say so.
For the West I would need to have the hometown heroes Jeremy Lin and James Harden from the Rockets (of course!), Duncan since it looks like he won't be a starter but should be, Zach Randolph of the Memphis Grizzlies, Lamarcus Aldridge of the Portland Trailblazers, Russell Westbrook of Oklahoma and another Grizzly in Marc Gasol. Gasol beats out his older brother Pau and Dirk Nowitzki because he's 100% healthy, which is the same reason the popular Kevin Love is not on my roster because of his recently broken hand. Lin still has about 24 hours to get voted into the starting five, which would make Paul part of the West bench.
You'll notice I do not have any rookies on either roster, in spite of the terrific play of Damien Lillard of Portland. I also do not have Stephen Curry, David Lee, Monta Ellis and a whole host of other top vote getters. I simply think that for all the showmanship for this particular game that the coaches still need to go for the win, and these rosters have all the elements that will better ensure that. I don't see any of the guys left off actually being much better than the guys I want to play, so no loss there, really.
Speaking of coaches, Vinny Del Negro of the Clippers and Eric Spoelstra of Miami deserve
Updated 01-16-2013 at 09:49 PM by gameface_one
Los Angeles is a basketball town. There's no two ways about it. There is simply no other sport in the city that is as associated with winning and winning big than basketball. From Jerry West to Wilt Chamberlain to Kareem Abdul Jabbar to Magic Johnson to Shaquille O'Neal to Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles has always been associated with basketball greatness.
Los Angeles is also the only NBA city that has two teams. And while the Lakers and their purple and gold are the dynasty, the Clippers have been associated with nothing but bad tidings since, in the words of one writer, before Milton was Berle. Where the Lakers have 16 NBA championships, the second most in the league behind their famed rival the Boston Celtics, the Clippers have been in and out of the draft lottery so many times they may as well have a VIP Box to the event.
That is no longer true. In fact, the opposite now holds.
At 25-6 as of this writing, the Clippers are on top of the NBA standings. Did you feel weird reading that? Because I sure felt weird writing it. I cannot ever recall a time the Clippers were ever leading the NBA standings. Ever. Sure, they've been to the playoffs a couple of times. But compared to the Lakers who seem to make making the playoffs a booked trip every year, the Clippers were seldom if ever mentioned in the same breath as the post-season. Even as the "other" LA team is leading the league, the once-mighty Lakers are at 15-15 as of this writing, having made the worst start ever to the season in franchise history at 1-5.
This was not how it was supposed to go. After all, the Lakers brought in Dwight Howard, a Defensive Player of the Year, and Steven Nash, an MVP, and they retained both Bryant and Pau Gasol. This was supposed to be a team that would march back into the NBA Finals and reclaim the championship that the LA faithful claim as a birthright. Injuries to some key players however saw the Lakers unable to play together as a full unit throughout the preseason, effectively throwing a wrench in the works.
As for the Clippers, they went an immaculate 16-0 in December, ending the year with a 17-game winning streak dating back five weeks. Although they lost to the Denver Nuggets 78-92, they still accumulated enough wins in that historic December run to stay on top of the leader board. They matched the 1971-72 Lakers and the 1995-96 San Antonio Spurs as the only NBA teams to ever go a full month undefeated. Even the Celtics, Chicago Bulls of the Michael Jordan era, and other great championship teams have not pulled off such a feat. Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro was part of that 1995-96 Spurs team as part of the starting backcourt along with Avery Johnson. "I never thought I'd be part of something like that again," Del Negro beamed in one interview.
What they need to watch out for now is once again becoming the sad-sack Clippers of yore. When a franchise is not used to winning, even an amazing run can be offset easily enough by a bad loss, which is the case with their game against Denver. Veteran pointguard Andre Miller led the Denver assault with 12 points and 12 assists, while Danilo Galinary led the Nuggets with 17 points. Four other men scored in double figures for Denver. "It just makes it easier for them, being on a hot streak like that, which is what makes this a huge win for us," Miller said after the game.
LA however didn't seem that bothered by the loss. "The good thing about the NBA is that you have another game, and another chance to get back on track," said power forward Blake Griffin. One can only hope that those words can be backed up by action, as there is still a lot of history to overcome on the part of LA. As of this writing they were still playing the Golden State Warriors and the Warriors were handing them their arses. As amazing an accomplishment as going 17-0 is, the Clippers need to focus on the end result every NBA team wants: the NBA championship.
Therein lies the real challenge for Del Negro, Griffin, Chris Paul and the rest of the Clippers: they have to make it into the playoffs and play good, strong ball to make every other contender accept the fact that they are for real. Every season brings a strong season from a team no one expected to perform all that well. The Houston Rockets in Hakeem Olajuwon's title reign were like that, as were the Memphis Grizzlies the last two seasons. It is all about making the playoffs and actually playing ball so well it either gets you the championship or at least the respect of your peers. "As good a job as Vinny's done for the Clippers, they still need to contend to be taken seriously," said a rival Western Conference team executive.
Granted these Clippers have a lot of good players on the current roster. Griffin and Paul are All Stars who are joined by players who were also All
Updated 01-03-2013 at 09:40 PM by gameface_one
I'm calling time for the holidays. Let me digress from my usual basketball writing and bore the three or four people who read this drivel with something else, it being the holidays and all.
On Christmas Day the missus and I had lunch at the Dusit Thani in Makati. Now the Dusit Thani is a hotel that I am pretty familiar with, having known it by its original name of The Manila Garden Hotel back in the 1980's. A few months back I had the pleasure of interviewing three-time NBA champion and Australian basketball royalty Luc Longley (thanks to the venerable Tessa Jasmines) when he was billeted there for his NBA Cares tour here in the country.
But what really brought me to the Dusit Thani for Christmas Day was Chef Greg Galang, the Senior Sous Chef of Basix, the all-day outlet of the hotel. Greg is a relatively recent acquaintance but a good friend. He used to put his culinary prowess on display at the Makati weekend markets, but has since hooked up with the Dusit Thani. It was he who told me about the crossover-themed lunch buffet at the hotel for Christmas Day.
It was quite a spread, and an experience I must say.
Diners had a run of everything that Basix and the three other dining outlets of the hotel had to offer, Tosca (Italian), UMU (Japanese) and Benjarong (Thai and Southeast Asian).
There were the buffet staples of any 5-star establishment such as American prime rib roast at both Basix and Tosca, sashimi and sushi and tempura at both Basix and UMU, and the usual hot and cold entrees that run the gamut from meat and seafood to starches like grains and pasta (prepared to order at Tosca of course), and a whole bunch of other entrees to satisfy practically any hankering or craving.
Old school fellow that I was I asked Greg to park me as near to the prime rib in Basix as he could. True to form he had me at a table less than two yards from the carvery. I must have had easily two kilos of that prime rib. I also had a taste of the tempura, sushi, sashimi, pasta, dimsum, lobster, oysters and some stuff from the hibachi teppan grill of UMU. Not one to miss a good cheese tray, I also sampled some above-average bree and camembert, as well as the lamb and shrimp from the Tandoori grill and the regular grill.
My wife also had a ball sampling little bites from almost every outlet. She was particularly drawn to the noodles, such as the pasta, soba noodles of UMU, and of course the Pad Thai of Benjarong. She also had quite a sampling of the cured / smoked meats from Tosca. I thought the Parma (or was it prosciutto...) was on the bland side of cured, not quite biting enough with the salt for my taste, although the salami was excellent, best I've had in this country in probably the last 12 years.
Did I mention drinks were included in the buffet? That's right. They had a soda dispenser, variou juices and iced tea, as well as San Miguel Beer, both pale pilsen and light versions, and wine. How's that for value?
One thing that ruined what should have been a homerun for Dusit Thani though: two pieces of Hakaw I got from the dimsum station weren't properly done yet, as in the insides were still frozen; not cold mind you, frozen. Other than those two aberations though eveything else was either spot-on or truly exemplary.
A tip on the prime rib: Ask to get the ends cut off first so you can see how the whole roast turned out. Personally I prefer medium rare to medium at most for my prime rib, so I avoid the ends and at all cost since those are the parts that are of course the most well done having taken most of the heat from the roasting process.
I also suggest you have the lobster and the prawns in the seafood station grilled even if just two minutes per side. Coming off the ice may make them fresher longer but I have this thing against cold seafood. If you're all right with seafood cold like the crazy white people then go ahead and knock yourself out. Their smoked salmon and salmon carpaccio are also top-notch.
Speaking of value, how much did this all cost? The princely sum of only P2,000 net per person. That's right, a 5-star hotel buffet with lots of cooked-to-order food, plus beverages, for all of two grand. Greg was generous enough to extend his employee discount to me and I saved quite a bit off the final check.
If they have this again on New Year's Day we will definitely return.
A very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to one and all!
Updated 12-28-2012 at 10:12 PM by gameface_one