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  1. NBA Playoffs: Right place at the right time

    Sometimes you don?t need to be an outstanding player to win a championship in team sports.

    You don?t have to be very talented so long as you have a star athlete or two for a teammate.

    You only need to be lucky and be in the right place at the right time.

    Vagabond frontliner Cris Bolado easily comes to mind. The roly-poly Bolado from the Beau Belga factory captured numerous championships in the local professional league with nine teams from 1994-2003.

    In the 71-year history of the U.S. National Basketball Association, there are several marginal players (or so-called ?role? players) from the Boston Celtics that earned title rings by simply hopping onto the broad shoulders of all-time great Bill Russell during his storied 13-year pro tenure from 1956-57 through 1968-69.

    Chief of the lot was rugged James (Jim) Loscutoff Jr., a menacing enforcer who endeared himself to the Celtic Nation with his defensive tenacity and hard-driving physical moves. He was known as the Hub City squad?s hatchetman who did the all the dirty jobs inside the paint.

    A 6-5 power forward, ?Jungle Jim? or ?Loscy? snared six NBA championships in 1957, 1959, 1961, 1962, 1963 and 1964 with the Green. He sat out the 1960 playoffs ? which also produced an NBA crown for the Celtics ? due to an injury.

    Loscutoff, who was born in San Francisco, California of Russian parents, registered pedestrian averages of 6.2 points, 5.6 rebounds and 0.7 assist in 511 regular games during his entire nine-year career with Boston from 1955-64.

    If it were any big deal, Loscy as a second-year pro knocked in the final two free throws in the Celts? 125-123 double-overtime success against the St. Louis (now Atlanta) Hawks in the deciding Game 7 of the 1957 NBA Finals at the now-defunct Boston Garden that gave the Green its first of 17 NBA championships.

    After calling it quits in 1964, the Celtics organization sought to honor Loscutoff but he asked that his jersey number (1 not be retired so that a future Celtics player could wear it. Instead, Boston added a banner with his nickname ?Loscy? to the banners of retired numbers hanging from the rafters of the Boston Garden (then to the current TD Garden). The No. 18 was eventually retired in honor of Hall of Famer David (Dave) Cowens.

    Loscy died on December 1, 2015 at the age of 85.

    How lucky Loscutoff was in comparison to fellow Celtic products Larry Bird and Kevin McHale, both Hall of Famers who won only three titles each in 1981, 1984 and 1986 as teammates.

    Even William Walton (Bill) Sharman snared only four rings with Boston in 1957, 1959, 1960 and 1961.
    Sharman is one of four two-time Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductees (the others are John Wooden, Lenny Wilkens and Tommy Heinsohn), turning in the trick in 1976 as a player (Boston) and in 2004 as a head coach (having steered the Los Angeles Lakers to a 69-13 record during the 1971-72 regular season and subsequently rewarding the franchise with its first NBA crown since moving out of Minneapolis in 1960).

    For the record, Russell is the winningest player in NBA history with 11 championships in 12 trips to the Finals.
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  2. NBA: Final Day Fireworks

    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 ...
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  3. NBA MVP: Westbrook or Harden?

    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 ...
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  4. What Are They Doing, Really? Part 1

    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?"

    I nodded.

    "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?"

    We ...
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  5. The Real Thing

    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!" ...
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