Maundy Thursday (Manila time) marks the final playdate of the National Basketball Association?s 1,230-game regular season. It?s one exciting finale for various seeding positions entering the real season that is the 2017 playoffs have yet to be determined.
A total of 14 games are scheduled to be played on the last day of the regular wars ? Detroit at Orlando, Toronto at Cleveland, Milwaukee at Boston, Philadelphia at New York, Washington at Miami, Brooklyn at Chicago, Dallas at Memphis, Minnesota at Houston, Denver at Oklahoma City, Atlanta at Indiana, San Antonio at Utah, Sacramento at the Los Angeles Clippers, the Los Angeles Lakers at Golden State and New Orleans at Portland.
Seven of the aforementioned contests have playoff implications.
All eight playoff tickets from the Western Conference have been secured although the Los Angeles Clippers (50-31) and Utah Jazz (50-31) are still fighting it out for the important No. 4 seed. The two teams are slated to tangle in the first-round playoffs but the fourth-seeded team will enjoy home-court advantage against the No. 5 seed in their best-of-seven series.
Out in the Eastern Conference, six teams have qualified for the postseason but the final two (seventh and eighth) are still being contested by three teams ? Indiana Pacers (41-40) Chicago Bulls (40-41) and Miami Heat (40-41) ? and the No. 1 overall seed in the conference is still up for grabs between Boston (52-29) and the reigning NBA titlist but slumping Cleveland Cavaliers (51-30).
Here are the playoff scenarios heading into the final regular playdate on Thursday, April 13 (Manila time):
1-If the LA Clippers beat the lottery-bound Sacramento Kings or Utah loses to No. 2 seed San Antonio (61-20), the Clippers will secure the No. 4 seed. Granting that LAC and Utah both win or both lose, the Clippers will still land at No. 4 because of their tie-breaking, season-series win over the Jazz. If LAC loses and Utah wins, the Jazz will get the 4-seed.
Golden State, which owns the best regular-season card in the NBA for the third year in a row at 66-15, will have home-court advantage during the entire playoffs, including the NBA Finals, assuming the Warriors advance that far.
With Houston (54-27) locked in at No. 3 and Oklahoma City (47-34) at No. 6 in the West, a Rockets-Thunder matchup in the first-round playoffs ? and Clash of the Titans warfare between the top two NBA Most Valuable Player contenders and scoring and triple-double machines in James Harden (21 T-D games) and Russell Westbrook (an all-time league record 42 T-Ds) ? is guaranteed.
Memphis (43-3 is a lock at No. 7 and Portland (41-40) has the No. 8 slot.
2-If Boston beats No. 6 seed Milwaukee (42-39) or if Cleveland loses to No. 3 seed Toronto (50-31), the Celtics will have the No. 1 seed in the East. If Boston loses to the Bucks and the Cavaliers beat the Raptors, the Celts and Cavs will be deadlocked at 52-30. However, Cleveland will have the tie-breaker advantage because of its 3-1 season-series win over Boston.
If Cleveland loses to Toronto, both the Cavs and Raptors will own identical records. Cleveland, though, owns the tie-breaker advantage over the Raptors and will still be ranked No. 2.
A loss by Toronto and a win by No. 4 seed Washington (49-32) over Miami will produce a deadlock between the Raptors and Wizards at 50-32. Toronto will be ranked higher at No. 3 because of its tiebreaker advantage over Washington.
3-Atlanta (43-3, with its 100-76 victory over Charlotte today, has clinched the No. 5 seed even with a loss at Indiana tomorrow. The Hawks (43-3 own the tie-breaker edge over temporary No. 6 seed Milwaukee (42-39) in case Atlanta loses to Indiana and the Bucks beat Boston to create a deadlock at 43-39.
Atlanta will take on No. 4 seed Washington (49-32) in the first-round playoffs with the Wizards enjoying home-court advantage.
If Toronto (50-31) loses to Cleveland and Washington beats Miami tomorrow, both teams will be 50-32. The Raptors will be seeded No. 3 with their tiebreaker advantage over the Wizards.
A win by Indiana (41-40) over Atlanta and a loss by Milwaukee (42-39) to Boston will create a deadlock between the Pacers and Bucks at 42-40. Indiana will move up to No. 6 and Milwaukee will slip to No. 7 due to a tiebreak advantage.
4-If Indiana (41-40) beats Atlanta and Chicago (40-41) beats Brooklyn in their respective games today, Miami (40-41) will automatically eliminated even if it beats Washington. The Bulls own the tiebreaker advantage over the Heat, which was once mired at 11-30.
A final-day loss by either Chicago or Miami will assure the Pacers of a playoff berth even if they drop their game against the Hawks. If both Indiana and Chicago lose and
Recently-retired National Basketball Association and Los Angeles Lakers icon Kobe Bryant said that point guards Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder and James Harden of the Houston Rockets should share the league?s Most Valuable Player award this season.
With the declaration, Bryant was probably just being polite and his belief may be politically correct considering the tight MVP derby that is expected to come down to a toss-up between Westbrook and Harden, both of whom have had mind-boggling individual accomplishments to back up their respective cases ? even if statistics have never been a basis for MVP selection since the league institutionalized the award in 1955-56.
Until 1979-80, the players controlled the MVP balloting. But since 1980-81, the sportswriters and broadcasters that covered the league games have taken over the chores.
Though, it has likely come down to Westbrook and Harden, a one-time Manila visitor, it does not mean there are no other worthy MVP contenders in this history-filled season. There?s Cleveland?s LeBron James, a four-time awardee in the past; San Antonio?s Kawhi Leonard, and even Golden State?s Stephen Curry, the back-to-back reigning titlist whose Warriors have secured the best regular-season record in the NBA for the third consecutive year.
To have a tie for the MVP award when this has never ever happened before is easier said than done.
The NBA MVP voting system is the culprit. A nationwide media panel of 125 sportswriters and broadcasters ? three from each of the 30 member clubs that cover the league games and the remainder by national media ? does the balloting. They are asked to name their top five choices according to their preferences with points being assigned (10 points for a first-place vote, 7 for second, 5 for third, 3 for fourth and 1 for fifth) on the basis of their rankings.
It?s the overall points accumulated ? and not the number of first-place votes secured ? that will determine the MVP winner.
As such, the voting system would likely preclude the possibility of a deadlock in the race for the Maurice Podoloff (MVP) hardware. Only an identical points total by multiple players will produce a tie.
There have been cases in the past where one player had the most first-place votes and yet lost the MVP race. The most recent occurrence came in 1990 when burly forward Charles Barkley of the Philadelphia 76ers had 11 more first-place votes than the eventual winner Magic Johnson of the LA Lakers.
During the 1961-62 wars, Oscar Robertson of the Cincinnati Royals (the predecessors of the Sacramento Kings) chalked up 41 triple-double games and registered a T-D average, but the ?Big O? placed only third in the MVP race.
That same campaign, the Philadelphia Warriors' Wilt Chamberlain had his 100-point game for an all-time NBA record and averaged 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds - both NBA season highs - in 80 games. The Big Dipper finished only second in the MVP poll by the players.
The winner: Boston's Bill Russell (18.9 ppg, 23.6 rpg).
Note that at the time, and even as it is now, regular-season stats were only used as a guide, nothing more.
Russell, of course, went on to power the title-streaking Celtics to the NBA crown in 1961-62.
The 6-3 Westbrook posted his 42nd triple-double game of the season today ? 50 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists in 37 minutes during the Thunder?s 106-105 win over the Nuggets in Denver on his first career game-winning buzzer beater, a three-pointer from 36 feet ? to shatter the old NBA single-season record for T-D games he previously shared with Robertson.
With two games remaining (at Minnesota, Apr. 12, Manila time; and against visiting Denver, Apr. 13, MT), Westbrook is averaging a nine-year career-high 31.9 points, 10.7 rebounds and 10.4 assists in 80 appearances for the playoffs-bound Oklahoma City, which is seeded sixth in the Western Conference with a 46-34 record.
Westbrook is a cinch to capture his second NBA scoring title. The first came in 2014-15 when he normed 28.1 ppg in 67 assignments for a Thunder unit that missed the playoffs.
In contrast, the 6-5 Harden himself has produced an NBA second-leading 21 triple-doubles, including a 35-point, 11-rebound, 15-assist performance in the playoffs-headed Rockets? 135-128 road victory over the Sacramento Kings today.
In averaging an eight-year career highs of 29.4 points (in a tight battle with Boston?s Isiah Thomas for second place in the NBA) and 11.3 assists (best in the majors) and grabbing 8.1 rebounds in 79 outings (he missed a game due to flu), ?The Beard? has powered Houston to the third-best record in the West at 54-26 (with two games remaining) after the Rockets barely qualified for the postseason a year ago as the
Mr Libog treat my self and my wife to lunch over the weekend.
As is the usual practice, talk at our table centered mainly around basketball, specifically recruitment.
"Malapit na Fil Oil ah," he stated, referring to the Fil Oil-Flying V Premiere Cup, the summer basketball tournament organized by the local petroleum company that bears the same name.
I nodded, knowing this tournament would begin after the Holy Week, so it was only about a week or two away.
"Sino mga bago natin?" he inquired, referring to who the new players might be on our varsity roster.
I shrugged. Apart from transfer student Gab Reyes, and two players who failed to make the last season's regular roster for different reasons, I actually had no clue who any of our new talent (if any) there might be.
I told him about Reyes, and the other two guys: Tyler Tio and Gian Mamuyac. He was of course familiar with all three, since we had followed their developments even as far back as their high school days. I said they were doing well in the offseason tournaments like the Fr Martin Cup and the Milcu Got Skills Challenge Cup.
He didn't sound too impressed. "That's it?"
"So what we have is an athletic forward who Lord only knows has been doing what the last couple of years we haven't heard a thing from him, a guy who should have been lined up last season were it not for paperwork that had nothing to do with his game, and another guy who we both agreed should have been lined up ahead of at least three other guys who didn't actually do shit for us last season. Would that be accurate?"
I nodded again. Although I did add that at least we're getting three guys who aren't total greenhorns and who could come in and play right away within the system of the team and the coach, which is always valuable.
"Valuable, yes, but doesn't guarantee us a title does it?" he asked, rhetorically as usual.
My wife was busy putting fried rice, squid heads, beef, broccoli, tofu, and clams on our plates while we were engrossed in our little discussion. It pays to marry the right woman, I tell you. She will make sure you can keep enjoying a good meal without having to skip a beat in your in-depth basketball conversation.
I said that with Reyes, Tio, Mamuyac we would have a better perimeter now, that can provide firepower, defense, experience, and much-needed speed.
"I hardly think Tyler and Gab will provide speed, only Gian is a natural runner in that bunch. You are correct though that Tyler can provide additional firepower, Gab too, because Gab I think is a better shooter than Thirdy Ravena. But then again Gab might be what, in his fourth year in college by now, dapat lang naman sigurong gumagawa na siya, athletic naman siya, may pukol, sa edad niya dapat lang naman kaya na niya gumawa. So once again we have to thank Lasalle for another guy they couldn't use, because now he gets to play in a blue uniform," he expounded.
"Alam mo totoong tanong diyan: ano ba ginagawa nung mga tao na dapat naghahanap ng talent para sa team? Bakit pa sila pinapasweldo? Troy Mallilin hindi nakuha. Justin Baltazar hindi nakuha. Ricci Rivero hindi nakuha. Aljun Melecio hindi nakuha. Lahat ng mga players na gusto ko, 'yun ang mga hindi nila nakuha. Wala na ngang clearance na kailangan, wala na ngang residency, hindi pa din natin sila nakuha."
"So sino-sino ba mga nakuha natin? Mga good students? Kung good students kailangan natin huwag na natin padala sa US ang team tuwing summer, magtayo na lang sila ng separate scholarship fund specifically for good students who make the basketball team. OK lang naman kung ganun ang gusto nila eh, pero pupusta ko lahat ng yaman ko, never mananalo ng UAAP championship ang team na good students ang lahat ng players. No way," he declared.
So was he saying we would have a losing season?
"Far from it, I think we will return to the Finals at the very least, where once again our problem will be how to match up against (Benoit) Mbala. Sino pantatapat natin sa kanya, sina (Chibuezee) Ikeh at George (Go) na naman? Hindi porke nakapalag tayo kahit papano last year ganun-ganun lang magagawa natin ulit 'yon this year."
"We can be thankful na wala na si Jeron (Teng), and he really is a big loss for them, kasi hindi ganun kadali replace ang scoring at veteran leadership niya. Kaya lang papano kung mag-step up naman sina Baltazar, Ricci (Rivero), Melecio, makabalik din ng maganda 'yung Gboy Gob, or maka-contribute right away 'yung Troy (Mallilin), talented players lahat ang mga 'yon ha."
"Pero sabihin na lang natin na lahat nung mga locals nila hindi gumawa as expected, andiyan pa din si Mbala eh, at 'yon walang katapat sa buong liga. So papano na tayo niyan?"
File this under "Wala Lang, Walang Kinalaman Sa Basketball", specifically under "Food and Drinks".
I just had a long discussion with an old college friend and one of my best friends of all time, Babymaker.
Babymaker is from an old Albay family, really old school, old roots Bicol, and he makes a mean "laing".
For lack of a better translation, let me roughly describe this to those unfamiliar with the dish as the top leaves of tubers, cooked in coconut cream, with the usual Filipino spices and seasonings.
"Here is the basic 'recado' (ingredients): Bagoong Alamang, the colorless variety (a kind of aggressively salty, fermented fish paste), Tinapa (smoked fresh fish), leftover Adobo (a kind of pork braise in soya sauce and vinegar), garlic, onion, ginger, siling labuyo (the red devil chili), siling malaki (the long green finger chili), and native suka (vinegar), and of course kakang gata (first pressing of the coconut cream)," he enumerated.
"The cooking is very tricky, and only the old masters get it right most - I repeat, most - of the time, that is to say, even the master cooks of Old Bicol will never get the cooking of laing done just right every time," he noted.
"Genuine Bicol laing, at least as I grew up with it, ends up dry-ish, dark green, all leaves, absolutely no stems, and the coconut cream must have rendered out its natural coconut oil without burning of course, and you cannot, indeed must not, stir or mix while cooking, again while making sure it doesn't scorch or burn. It is as much about timing as it is about technique," he expounded.
"The stuff you get here in Manila is utter and absolute crap," he teased with his usual derisive guffaw.
I've tasted his laing a number of times, and indeed he never claimed to be a master cook of the dish, so those times were I would say 50-50, at least in terms of him hitting all the marks of the traditional laing he grew up with.
One thing I must note however: Although he says he hit the mark maybe only half the times when he served it to me, to my unbiased mind and taste buds, I'd have to say he actually made a delicious laing maybe 9-out-of-10 times.
That got me to thinking: If the stuff was delicious, even if it wasn't the genuine article, or the real thing, especially to someone who grew up with the dish, and was from the dish's native locale, doesn't that still make it the real thing after all?
Consider: we cook in order to eat, and of course since we go through the trouble of cooking, we try (or at least I'd like to think most reasonable people try) to cook something delicious. You're going to eat it, you cooked it, you might as well make it taste good, right?
Now if something is considered genuinely delicious to an eater - whatever that eater's threshold is for "delicious" - does that not make the dish successful, and therefore the real thing?
It is like that old publicity gimmick, the blind taste test. You get a product, you get two of your competitors' products, you make a bunch of people sample each of the products, and hopefully they choose your product as the best tasting among the lot they tasted.
To a non-Bicolano, especially to someone who doesn't know how to cook, if a dish strikes us as delicious, then that should be the happy ending for all and sundry, yes? It may not have been cooked perfectly according to the cook's knowledge of how the dish should have been cooked, but if the eater still found it genuinely delicious, then that dish should by all accounts still be considered a success, yes?
For all we know, had the cook cooked that dish the "right" way, and it had come out "perfect" per the cook's standards, the eater might not have liked the dish. What are we to make of the dish then? That the real deal is actually unpalatable and the "wrong version" of it is the one that is actually delicious?
My friend of course, known for his bullheadedness on all matters, especially his native cuisine, would have none of it. "I've never had a complaint yet about my laing," he huffed.
"But my friend," said I, "if your laing was only 50-50 on the mark the times you made it for me, and I still found it delicious 9-out-of-10 times, isn't my opinion of more weight than yours? You are after all cooking it for me, a non-Bicolano."
"If you were a barbarian, sure, no problem," he gruffly retorted, "but I know you are a civilized man with a sophisticated palate, and I tell you that laing can only prepared the way I have described it, using the ingredients I have enumerated, and anything short of those two things blending in perfect harmony, is a failed laing! And if you think a failed laing is delicious then perhaps I must rethink my opinion of your civility and the sophistication of your palette!"
Sam Miguel usually handles the PBA, but this time he let me have a go at it.
It was over one of our regular dinners with Mr Libog that the subject of comparing the great San Miguel Beer teams came up.
Coincidentally I just had an interesting exchange with the great Bill "William the Conqueror" Velasco the afternoon earlier about this same topic.
Here's the deal: Which of the three great San Miguel Beer teams is the best, the 1989 Grand Slam team, the 2-Danny's team of the late 1990's to early 2000's, or the current 2017 team of June Mar Fajardo.
Of course the discussions we had were much too free-flowing, so maybe let us set some "parameters" if we can.
First off, it is easy to be tempted to look at individual players and their stats and just say this guy scored more, rebounded more, passed more, etc etc, and therefore he is clearly better than the other guy. We can't really do that. Remember, those stats were not made against each other, these teams never played against each other, so those stats were only for a particular point in the fabric of the basketball time-space continuum. They might be useful but they cannot be the be-all and end-all of this discussion. The same thing holds true for individual awards like the MVP trophy. You all know how I (and Sam) feel about the very concept of an MVP in the first place.
Secondly, we have to look at them as teams, and from the particular eras in which they dominated. This must hold especially true for the 1989 team because of the presence there of Ramon Fernandez, the man widely recognized as the best Filipino basketball player ever. (More on this particular point later.) In 1989 Fernandez was a year removed from the last of his four MVP awards, and was no longer the stud he was from say the late 1970's to maybe the earlier half of the 1980's. He still had great game of course, but he was no longer at the peak of his powers here. This will be very important to keep in mind.
Third, since this is 2017, we will compare these three great teams through the prism of current PBA officiating, so in terms of officiating we will look at this in terms of what is allowed, and no longer allowed by current PBA rules, such as the Flagrant 1 and Flagrant 2 distinctions.
Fourth, and I cannot stress this enough, if you do not believe that both the game and the players have somehow or other evolved, at least from 1989-onward, then we can end this discussion right here.
Fifth and last, let us pretend that all three teams could be put in a mini-tournament, triple round robin eliminations, so each team gets six elimination games each, with the top two teams facing off in a best of seven Finals.
Bearing all of these in mind, let me get straight to the conclusion Mr Libog and I agreed on: the Finals would be between the 2-Danny's team and June Mar's team; the Grand Slam team would get its licks in but in the end would not have enough size and talent to knock off either of the later-generation teams.
Let's get the admitted facts out of the way first.
Mr Libog and I agreed that Allan Caidic, hands down, is the only one from the 1989 team who could still play the game as it is being played in 2017. Caidic is without a doubt the best damn shooter ever that this country has produced. Ever. Take all of the best shooters across all the generations and Caidic would be the best among that esteemed lot.
June Mar Fajardo will go down in history as the best player ever, regardless of position. At his young age he will probably win at least a dozen more PBA championships, and maybe at least a half dozen more MVP awards. He has truly changed the game just by being here. You're talking about a 6-10, 260- to 270-pound player who has touch, good footwork, agility, and mobility, and can even run in transition. Yes, Fernandez displayed far more skill, coming close one season to averaging a near-triple double for an entire year. But Fernandez never changed the game the way Fajardo did, simply because for all his wondrous talent, Fernandez was a normal-sized Filipino big man, in that 6-5 to 6-5 range. Had Fernandez been at least 6-8, then maybe we'd have a different opinion. But Fajardo is completely different owing precisely to his sheer size, and he isn't the barely-skilled lumbering lummox that say Bonel Balingit, or Chris Bolado, or EJ Feihl, or Dong Polisitico were. Fajardo, far more certainly, is better than fellow skilled skyscraper types such as Marlou Aquino and Yancy De Ocampo. And let us not forget, he is not only tall and long, he is thick-bodied and massive. It is that complete package that has allowed him to amass the titles and accolades he has, and he isn't even 30 years old.
"Dynamite" Danny Seigle will go down in PBA history as the best player never to win an MVP award. This is a very