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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. UAAP Dominates Summer Tournaments

    Reigning UAAP champion Ateneo De Manila and emergent powerhouse National University led the UAAP in dominating the Fr Martin Cup and Fil Oil Preseason summer tournaments respectively. UAAP teams also swept the podium in the Fil Oil, with Lasalle coming in second and the Ateneo placing third. Jose Rizal University was the only non-UAAP team to finish near the top, as runner-up to the Ateneo in the Fr Martin Cup.

    Fil Oil numbers showed Ray Parks and Emmanuel Mbe of NU led the tournament in statistical points, as the duo led the Fil Oil Mythical 5, along with Ateneans Kiefer Ravena and Greg Slaughter and Norbert Torres of Lasalle. Parks was named Fil Oil MVP. In the Fr Martin Cup, Slaughter emerged as the best player there according to Gameface metrics, averaging a double-double with over 16 points and 10 rebounds per game.

    On the NCAA side of things San Beda saw its summer run ended with a four-point loss to the Green Archers in the semifinals of the Fil Oil. Julius Armon, the 6-foot-3 Filipino-American swingman who was supposed to see action for the Red Lions this season decided to remain in the United States and did not return with his team. San Beda insiders say it was an amicable enough parting, certainly not as if Armon just flaked and deliberately missed the flight back.

    Without the super athletic Armon, the Red Lions have become a noticeably slower team, far from the red and white expressway they were. Although they have talented guards and active such as Anjoe Caram, Melo Lim and Baser Amer, the perimeter game just has not been as smooth sans Armon. Armon used his superior athleticism to break down defenses and get out in transition, sometimes singlehandedly. This of course led to easier baskets on early offense opportunities. Without him, the San Beda guards look as if they are running a gauntlet instead of busting out for the fastbreak.

    As for the Heavy Bombers, they will still live and by with their guards, like Jon Villarias, Alex Almario and Nate Matute. In their game against the Ateneo, these three picked apart the perimeter defense of the now-vulnerable Ateneo backcourt. Dribble drives, drive-draws and dump passes were the order of the day for the Heavy Bombers, along of course with the long toms of Matute and Villarias. Their great guard play allowed even their undersized forwards like Jon Lopez, Ron Carampil and Ralph Monserat great opportunities against the tall Ateneo timber.

    NU for its part seems to be coming together at just the right pace this time around. Last year they seemed to show too much in the preseason and wound up losing steam as early as the end of the first round of eliminations. Now they are peaking and still picking up by all accounts. Parks has become an accomplished and more willing passer, trusting his teammates more and spreading the wealth. Mbe has benefited the most from this, getting better looks for that jump hook and even the occasional all-alone dunk when defenders get lost on the sliding door, like they did against the Ateneo in the Fil Oil semifinals.

    Lasalle for its part seems to have rediscovered their winning ways. This is a far cry from the Green Archers of last year, when Torres fancied himself a local version of Dirk Nowitzki instead of playing inside like any good big man should. Torres has learned to use his thcik torso and long limbs in gobbling up rebounds, even tough ones that seem to bounce out of his reach. Yutien Andrada has also become a defensive presence with better shotblocking, something they both showed against San Sebastian and San Beda in the Fil Oil. The duo made life tough for Mbe and Parks in the Fil Oil Finals. Mbe may have gotten 15 rebounds in that finale but he sure had to work much harder to get them.

    Jed Manguera has also emerged as a new vital cog for Lasalle. Although the former RP Youth mainstay is homegrown by way of Lasalle Zobel, he was inexplicably kept off the roster during the incumbency of Dindo Pumaren. That was rather strange considering further that Dindo's brother and predecessor Franz was Manguera's coach with the Youth squad. Now Manguera has proven to be more than the gunner he was in high school, playing tough D on Ravena and Parks with strong laterals and the ability to body up and fight through screens.

    Teams from other leagues barely registered during the summer, as Olivarez College, last year's Collegiate Development League finalist, didn't fare so well this summer. NAASCU mainstay STI joined the Fr Martin Cup but had a so-so tournament. Indeed for the summer of 2012, the UAAP reigned supreme.
  3. End of Summer

    With the start of the rainy season according to our weather bureau and the start of classes this week, that brings the summer to an official end. That means in about a month's time the college basketball season will once again commence. But not before the summer basketball tournaments wrap up though. Fr Martin and Fil Oil would have completed their respective quarterfinals by the time most of you read this. No surprises are expected, with the likes of the Ateneo, San Beda, San Sebastian, National University and maybe Far Eastern University and De La Salle somewhere in the mixed bag of teams who will compete for the two summer titles.

    Interestingly enough, the two great rivals - the Ateneo and Lasalle - may yet end up disputing both summer titles. Ateneo was playing Perpetual Help in the Gabby Severino Quarterfinals of the Fr Martin Cup at the sweltering San Beda gym in Mendiola as of this writing. Ateneo will be taking on FEU tomorrow in the Fil Oil at the Arena. Lasalle will take on University of the East in the Fr Martin quarters later this afternoon, while the Green Archers face a much tougher foe in San Sebastian in the Fil Oil quarters tomorrow afternoon. This would be a first in recent summer tournament history and would be a fitting finale for both tournaments.

    As much as that would be ideal for the rabid partisans of both schools, it will also be a boon for tournament organizers. Ateneo-Lasalle championship fights are always a blockbuster. For the record, Lasalle beat the Ateneo for the fifth straight year during their elimination round encounter in the Fil Oil just last weekend 62-59 behind the game-long heroics of prize rookie Jeron Teng. Teng, the 6-foot-2 swingman who set the new Tiong Lian single-game scoring record last season, led the Archers with 17 points, including a high-pressure three-pointer that sent the game into overtime.

    His feats eclipsed the comeback game of star-crossed Blue Eagle swingman Ryan Buenafe. Still overweight, the 6-foot-2 Buenafe, himself a former high school superstar out of San Sebastian, lead the Blue Eagles with 21 points on 62% shooting. Were it not for a last-second play gone awry with Kiefer Ravena, Buenafe might have salvaged this win for the Ateneo. Still, it was a good game for the man who lost a year in the UAAP due to some off-court drama best left to a Law & Order episode.

    San Beda has not escaped the publicity light themselves this summer. At the start of the summer preseason tournaments, the Red Lions were pretty much penciled in as the incoming NCAA champions. After all they did have the formidable duo of 6-foot-8 African import Ola Adeogun and 6-foot-3 Filipino-American swingman Julius "Juice" Armon. Having these two expatriates in the roster all but guaranteed that the Red Lions would be completing their second 3-Peat, a la Chicago Bulls in the Michael Jordan era. Armon however did not return with the team from their annual summer training in the United States. Some reports have it that Armon decided to forego with a college stint and go straight to the PBA D League when he returns to the Philippines.

    Adeogun has not been spared the nagging bite of uncertainty. Some arcane NCAA rule or other supposedly disqualifies an NCAA athlete from competing in his sport if he has been meted a venue ban in any of the other events. So if a basketball player gets into some kind of trouble at say a volleyball event. and that trouble results in him getting banned from watching any of the other NCAA events, that supposedly disqualifies him from participation in basketball or any other NCAA sport. Does that sound like someone we know? This of course is up for definitive clarification in the coming weeks in that oracular assembly known as the NCAA Policy Board. What happens next is anybody's guess. But one might be tempted to ask who, if any, would benefit from Adeogun being unable to play in the NCAA next season? Ask the nine other NCAA teams.

    Even in the face of these manpower developments, the Red Lions are going into the Fil Oil quarterfinals tomorrow an unbeaten team. They have a battle-tested and veteran core who can win it all with or without Adeogun. We will see the Red Lions in the semifinals of this tournament for sure. Check that, we will see them in the Finals. And they may yet arrange a rematch with the Blue Eagles if the Ateneo holds up its end and makes it all the way themselves.

    NU may have something to say about that though, as the Bulldogs have proven that they are a legit powerhouse now. Apart from San Beda they are the only other undefeated team in the Fil Oil. With 6-foot-3 swingman Rey Parks and 6-foot-6 center Emmanuel Mbe leading the way, these Bulldogs surely will take major bites out of anybody they face. They outlasted the Golden Stags in a rough and tumble elimination game here, and pulled the same escape act against the well-coached Adamson ...
  4. 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
  5. 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
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