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  1. The Young Are Not Restless

    It is the triumph of youth in the 2012 NBA FInals, with the Oklahoma City Thunder representing the West and the Miami Heat carrying the East. It has been a long time since the NBA has seen a marquee matchup of this sort, the reigning league MVP LeBron James going head to head versus scoring champion Kevin Durant.

    Both teams are young, with the just-about-30 year old Dwayne Wade as the resident geezer in this pack. Wade, the man who won the first NBA championship in franchise history for Miami in 2006, is joined by fellow members of that great draft class of 2003. James of course was the high school phenom out of the great state of Ohio who went straight to the pros. Chris Bosh was in that class as well. All three came together last year in South Beach, in what many said would be a championship team for the ages. Things have not quite worked out as planned. Bosh and James are also pushing 30 but are in their hoops prime. This is a Big 3 looking to go for all the marbles right now and into the near future.

    Oklahoma City is even younger, with all their key stars at 24 years or younger. This is a team that will likely dominate the NBA landscape for the next decade or so, establishing a new dynasty. That they beat the more experienced Heat 105-94 in Game 1 of the Finals is already a major step toward that. Durant is simply a freak of nature, a 6-foot-11, long-limbed jumping jack who can play all five positions just like Magic Johnson a generation ago. He is joined in their youth core by guard Russel Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Serge Ibaka and newly-crowned NBA Sixth Man of the Year James Harden. Steadying the ship are veterans pointguard Derek Fisher, late of the Los Angeles Lakers, and center Kendrick Perkins.

    Oklahoma took a relatively easier route to these Finals, losing only three times in the Western Conference Playoffs while bouncing erstwhile champion Dallas, the Lakers and the aging San Antonio Spurs. Miami had to fight through a 2-3 series deficit in their Eastern Conference Finals versus the tough and battle-hardened Boston Celtics, as that series went the full seven games. They reactivated Bosh only in that Game 7 after he suffered through an abdominal muscle injury.

    Oklahoma is a deeper team with springs for legs. They can easily run right past or jump over any other NBA team, which they showed throughout the playoffs. They certainly made these heat look older than they are with all the running and jumping they did in Game 1. Ibaka and Durant had easily the best dunks done with total impunity in opponents' faces in a Finals series since Shaquille O'Neal was in a Lakers uniform. But the prettiest shot to my mind was when Westbrook made a stop-on-a-dime pull-up jumper in transition that found nothing but the bottom of the net. It was a display of pure athletic prowess that the Heat simply were unable to match.

    This Game 1 showed not just the best players in the world going at it. It also showed why a team game beats sueprstar isolation plays every time. While Miami insisted on all manner of high post, dribble drive and isolation plays featuring James or Wade, the Thunder barely saw the ball touch the floor in their halfcourt sets. Those end-game dunks by Nick Collison that all but giftwrapped the game for the Thunder came off simple short passes and movement without the ball. It was as if the Heat suddenly forgot what a screen-roll and a pick-roll looked like. They drove and they drove and they drove, and yet consistently ran into fast feet on the Thunder defense, cutting off driving lanes, with equally fast hands disrupting passing lanes. Sefolosha had a heck of a time picking passes that resulted into swooping dunks for his teammates.

    Durant led all scorers with 36 points. James had 30 for the Heat. Wade was woeful from the field, missing 10 or 11 of his first dozen or so shots. He still wound up with 19 points and eight assists, but was practically invisible in the second half, leaving James to try and fight the Thunder on his own. Wade insisted in the post-game that he'll do better in Game 2. Durant and Westbrook seemed too polite in the wake of probably the biggest win of their young careers.

    Game 2 will be another raucous night in Oklahoma City. These finalists may be young, but they are far from restless.
  2. Worst to get Second Best

    With only seven wins in this lockout-shortened season, the Charlotte Bobcats were looking to get better through the draft, because they certainly weren't going to get better through trades. Unfortunately, although they had the best chance of nabbing the right to pick first overall in the 2012 draft, they will have to settle for picking second overall. Number 1 went to the New Orleans Hornets, previously owned by the NBA itself in the pro ball equivalent of receivership.

    Here's how the first round draft order looks like in order from 1 to 30.

    1. New Orleans Hornets

    2. Charlotte Bobcats

    3. Washington Wizards

    4. Cleveland Cavaliers

    5. Sacramento Kings

    6. Portland Trail Blazers (via Brooklyn Nets)

    7. Golden State Warriors

    8. Toronto Raptors

    9. Detroit Pistons

    10. New Orleans Hornets (via Minnesota Timberwolves)

    11. Portland Trail Blazers

    12. Milwaukee Bucks

    13. Phoenix Suns

    14. Houston Rockets

    15. Philadelphia 76ers

    16. Houston Rockets (via New York Knicks)

    17. Dallas Mavericks

    18. Minnesota Timberwolves (via Utah Jazz)

    19. Orlando Magic

    20. Denver Nuggets

    21. Boston Celtics

    22. Boston Celtics (via Los Angeles Clippers)

    23. Atlanta Hawks

    24. Cleveland Cavaliers (via Los Angeles Lakers)

    25. Memphis Grizzlies

    26. Indiana Pacers

    27. Miami Heat

    28. Oklahoma City Thunder

    29. Chicago Bulls

    30. Golden State Warriors (via San Antonio Spurs)

    While the Hornets will undoubtedly select Kentucky's Anthony Davis as the top overall pick of this draft, the Bobcats won't exactly be settling for crumbs. Davis, the 6-foot-10 consensus Number 1 pick, is a pretty obvious choice to go first, and New Orleans can certainly use him. He will bring a lot of athleticism, length and excitement to a frontline struggling to regain its NBA footing after bad management almost killed the franchise. Coming off an NCAA championship, Davis will bring a winner's attitude to one of the worst teams in the NBA.

    After Davis there are several choices still up for grabs for Charlotte, all of whom could become big stars themselves. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Davis' fellow Kentucky Wildcat, is the best small forward and among the best players in this draft class. At 6-foot-7, Kidd-Gilchrist already has a game that's 97-98% complete, and like Davis he won't need to change positions in the NBA, normally the toughest thing to do for college stars moving up to the next level. As small forwards go he isn't quite the second coming of LeBron James, but he might become a more athletic version of Paul Pierce down the road if he develops a better outside shot. If the Bobcats do get him, he will surely take Derrick Brown's place as the starting small forward.

    Getting bigger is a priority for Charlotte, as they got constantly pounded off both boards last season. 7-foot wide body Desagana Diop and 6-foot-9 Bismack Biyombo are big and strong athletes but they won't be confused for NBA All Stars. Diop is still a heck of a shotblocker, as is 6-foot-10 backup power forward Tyrus Thomas, but the Bobcats need more from the frontline to help space the floor and open things up for the likes of 6-foot-6 off-guard Gerald Henderson and 6-foot-6 swingman Cory Maggette.

    If the Bobcats want to go for more strength inside, 6-foot-9 Thomas Robinson of Kansas is easily the second-best power forward in this draft class behind Davis. He is within 95-97% of Davis' abilities, and seems to be a little naturally stronger. He brings a blue collar work ethic at the 4 spot that NBA teams covet, and at 6-foot-9 can match up well enough size-wise against most NBA forwards. He can play alongside or alternating with Byron Mullens and Derrick Brown, the incumbent Bobcat starting forwards.

    Either Kidd-Gilchrist or Robinson should help in both the scoring and rebounding ends where Charlotte was worst and second-worst overall in the league this past season. They will also help ease the burden of Henderson on the scoring end, and provide able receivers for pointguards DJ Augustin and Kemba Walker.

    A bit of a stretch and a heck of a gamble in terms of big men is Baylor's Perry Jones III. At a long and athletic 6-foot-11, Jones might be an even better player than Davis. Unfortunately for Jones and any team willing to take him, he is sorely lacking in focus and seems to be on the lazy side, relying on nothing more than his freakish athletic abilities than developing his full skill set. In the last college season he had back to back games where he averaged 18 points, ...

    Updated 06-01-2012 at 12:49 AM by gameface_one

    Categories
    Philippine Basketball , ‎ Others
  3. Old Fashioned Still Works

    San Antonio has won four NBA world championships in the Tim Duncan era, and the all-world big man still isn't done. This year he is chasing down what would be his fifth championship ring, his fourth with his "Texas Triumvirate" of pointguard Tony Parker and swingman Manu Ginobili. Funny how three guys with provenance outside the continental United States where the game was born are once again in contention for the ultimate prize in professional basketball. "I just want to keep winning because I'm already feeling my body telling me it might be time to lay off a bit," Duncan said. He's pushing 40, and that is a dangerous age by NBA standards, not that it shows in his game though. He's still getting rebounds, blocking or altering shots, and taking opposing 5's and 4's to school going box to box and operating in the paint.

    As of this writing they were at 2-0 against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the team many experts and pundits believed would finally be making their first trip to the NBA Finals, maybe even win the 2011-2012 world title. Then they ran into the Spurs. That last win by Duncan and Company now have them at a record-setting 20-game winning streak extending back to the regular season, eclipsing the similar 19-game regular-to-post season win streak by the Los Angeles Lakers in their own 2001 title romp. Parker led the way in this game, ably aided by Ginobili and of course Duncan.

    You would not have known it the way head coach Greg Popovich was in Parker's ear at one point late in the third quarter with the Silver and Black ahead by 16 points. He's been yelling at me for 11 years, so what else is new," exclaimed Parker in the post-game interviews with a broad smile. That response drew an equally big smile from Popovich.

    Playing as well as they have in these NBA Playoffs, sweeping easily through the Utah Jazz and another upstart young team in the Los Angeles Clippers, these Spurs practically told the entire NBA, "Don't count us oldtimers out just yet." Utah was somewhat expected given the youth, inexperience and dearth of talent in this present iteration of the once-fearsome Jazz. It was different against the Clippers though, especially since this once sadsack franchise now has a legitimate leader in pointguard Chris Paul, and the emergent mega-athlete Blake Griffin.

    Both teams were swept clear off the floor with a lot of pick-roll, screen-the-screener, backdoor, quick outlet passes, the requisite tough defense and a bunch of other "old school" tricks from the Spurs. "You knew it was coming and you still just stood there and took it and couldn't figure out how to stop it," said one long-time assistant coach on a rival west coast team whose team did not make these playoffs. He may as well have been speaking for the Clippers and Jazz. Oklahoma City is finding out firsthand exactly what this coach was talking about.

    Oklahoma City was no slouch coming into these Western Conference Finals either, losing only once in the previous playoff rounds - to Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers - and essentially coming off dominating their own first and second rounds. They've already lost twice in this series versus San Antonio, and are in the unfamiliar spot of being behind in a playoff series. "We just couldn't recover after we fell behind as big as we did, not against this team," said newly-crowned NBA Best 6th Man James Harden.

    Someone should have told the Thunder that facing the Spurs, rejuvenated as they seem to be now, is a totally different proposition from taking down the dysfunctional Lakers. There always seems to be someone to blame on the Lakers, but the Spurs are practically family. Their Big 3 of Duncan, Parker and Ginobili have been playing together for a decade or so. None of them know any other team. "I will retire here, we have homes and friends and relationships here," Duncan said in a separate interview.

    It would be a basketball purist's wet dream if they can set up an NBA Finals date against the Boston Celtics, another team long in the NBA tooth looking to go for at least one more great run at championship glory. They need to get past a much bigger hurdle though, as LeBron James has been more force of nature than NBA superstar in these playoffs, and he is ably supported by an almost-force of nature in Dwayne Wade, with evil genius Pat Riley pulling the strings. It is not helping the Boston cause that Rey Allen is essentially playing on only one good ankle, and Rajon Rondo's got a trick lumbar.

    That the Celtics even got this far in the playoffs in a tough Eastern Conference is already a bit of a miracle. They did it in much the same way the Spurs did, lots of "old school tricks" that were once referred to as "fundamentals of the game". Had they been 100% healthy they may have breezed through their own first two series the way the Spurs did. Instead the stubborn Philadelphia 70-Sixers ...

    Updated 06-01-2012 at 12:47 AM by gameface_one

    Categories
    Philippine Basketball , ‎ Others
  4. Standards

    There are certain things that come with being a champion, especially if you've built a dynasty. Standards for you are a lot higher, a lot tougher than with everybody else.

    Take the case of the Los Angeles Lakers. In a lockout-shortened 66-game season, the Lakers were 41-25. Any other team would have been happy with that record and the upper-middle playoff seed that went with it. Not the Lakers though. They were ousted in five games by the younger, hungrier and more athletic Oklahoma City Thunder in the second round.

    Let's think about that for a minute... very good regular season record, good playoff seed, made it to the second round of the playoffs. And still a failure by Laker standards.

    That is what happens when your team is the second winningest team in the history of the NBA, when you win NBA titles in bunches, and when Hollywood A-listers are actually decades-long and very knowledgeable fans. Anything less than an NBA championship just isn't the same.

    In the NCAA it is much the same thing for a program like Duke. While much has been said about how the great Dean Smith's North Carolina teams really only won two NCAA titles, Mike Krzyzewski's Blue Devils have won far more, so much so that Duke fans think a mere trip to the Final 4 is inconsequential. Smaller schools like Virginia Commonwealth or George Mason might see the Final 4 as beyond their wildest expectations, but Duke fans need their Blue Devils to at least fight for the national championship.

    John Calipari and his Kentucky Wildcats are now living in that same surreal universe of much-bloated expectations. Calipari has been very good at getting the one-done phenoms from American prep schools, the latest being uber athletic big man Anthony Davis. His latest recruit Nerlens Noel continues this new trend for him. And with all of this of course comes the expectation that Calipari's first NCAA title this year will be the first of many, possibly annual, championships he will bring home to bluegrass country.

    Perhaps nowhere else in the basketball universe is the impossibly high expectation even more unattainable than with USA Basketball, the program and organization in charge of ensuring that the country that invented the game continues to be at the apex of the game. Krzyzewski will be experiencing all of this again in roughly 60-plus days when the 2012 Olympics rolls around in London, England.

    In a country whose average citizen probably thinks the pick-and-roll is a pastry or a quirky cocktail, Krzyzewski will once again have the thankless and unenviable task of making sure the Americans keep their precious Olympic gold medal in men's basketball. After all, they have the best players in the world, NBA superstars, on their roster, who could possibly stop them?

    Well, they were stopped already in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece and the 2002 World Championships in their own basketball-crazy backyard, Indiana. Did we mention that the Women's Program is actually far more successful in recent international play? Still, Krzyzewski, who coached the American back into international glory in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, is expected to continue stamping American class on international basketball.

    He'll have less than a full deck with Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh and Derrick Rose, all shoe-ins for the London roster, all officially and indefinitely sidelined with various injuris sustained in NBA play. Those three represent easily two starters and the sixth man. Krzyzewski is so bereft of talented size he has had to bring in Davis from Kentucky, techncially an incoming college sophomore who is the consensus Number 1 choice in the next NBA draft.

    Sure, he will still have reigning NBA MVP LeBron James and scoring champion Kevin Durant, as well as James' Miami Heat running mate Dwayne Wade, Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant and maybe even Andrew Bynum and Blake Griffin. That is a roster no other international team could match on a talent-for-talent scale. "America is the worst team tactically, but when James or Wade or Bryant drive or want to score, what can you do?" asked former Smart Gilas head coach Rajko Toroman at dinner one evening. It is a rhetorical question. Or is it?

    That same thing could be said of the Lakers, Duke, Kentucky, maybe even Talk N Text, Ateneo and San Beda in the local scene. But everybody knows any team can beat any other team at any given time. Bilog nga naman ang bola. Holding up even a known and proven team to standards that are already unreasonably high can only result in added and unnecessary pressure. When it all adds up, failure becomes magnified out of all proportion as well.

    This is when fans have to realize that expectations can weigh down a team. The least they can do is wisen up and relieve the burden by first unburdening themselves.
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  5. Ten Kids Top 2012 Jr. NBA National Training Camp

    Four Manilans, 3 from Cagayan de Oro, 1 each from Puerto Princesa, Pampanga and the Alaska Power Camp took the top ten slots in the 2012 Jr. NBA Philippines presented by Alaska to form this year’s Jr. NBA All-Star team.

    After three days of a basketball boot camp jointly conducted by NBA Legend and former Chicago Bull Luc Longley, US Jr. NBA Clinician Chris Clunie, the Alaska Coaching Staff led by PBA Legend Jojo Lastimosa and assorted coaches from the regions, Aljun Jay Melecio, Camillus Altamirano, Patrick Ramirez and John Roald Mayor from the Manila Regional Training Camp; Lui Besa, Felixberto Jaboneta and Arnie Padilla from the Cagayan de Oro camp; Paul Dagunan from the Puerto Princesa camp; Antonio Jeffrey Coronel from Pampanga and Regille Kent Ilagan from the Alaska Power Camp in Manila outshined the competition and emerged as this year’s Jr. NBA All Stars.

    The ten young cagers will be rewarded with a once in a lifetime NBA experience and the chance to travel abroad to play against a counterpart Jr. NBA Team.

    Coach Alan Ayo of ABC Ideas of Sorsogon City and a city councillor was meanwhile selected as the 2012 Jr. NBA Coach of the Year for having grown the sport of basketball in the Philippines while promoting the Jr. NBA S.T.A.R. values of Sportsmanship, Teamwork, a positive Attitude and Respect to young basketball athletes.

    The following players received special awards for their outstanding achievements in the National Training Camp : Alvin Jules Pineda, Joshua Alfonso Gantan, Lawrence Viajar, Gilbert Tague and Jeremiah Joy Sandalo, members of the 2012 Gatorade Performance Team; Miguel Raphael Jison of St. John’s Institute in Bacolod City, the Spalding Sportsmanship Award; Paul Dagunan from San Miguel National High School in Puerto Princesa, the Gatorade Hustle Award, Patrick Ramirez from Manila, the BTV Rising STAR Award, Arnie Padilla from the Sacred Heart School Ateneo de Cebu, the 2012 Jr. NBA Studio 23 All Star Player of the Game; Regille Kent Ilagan, the 2012 Alaska Youth Ambassador. Most Valuable Player of the 2012 Jr. NBA Philippines presented by Alaska is Aljun Jay Melecio.

    The top ten were culled from a group of 50 junior players aged 10-14 who topped their respective regional selection camps in Puerto Princesa, Cagayan de Oro, Pampanga and Manila through all of April and made it to the Jr. NBA National Training Camp which took place from May 3 – 5.

    Three days of boot camp – basketball drills, skills tests, stamina challenges, competitive games and fun games – tested the young cagers’ physical, mental, emotional and spiritual strengths.

    The 2012 Jr. NBA Philippines presented by Alaska was also made possible through the support of the NBA's Official Partners including Gatorade, Spalding, Basketball TV (BTV), Studio 23 and the Basketball Coaches Association of the Philippines.*For more information on Jr. NBA Philippines, including recaps, photos and news, log on to www.jrnba.com.ph.
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