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  1. NBA Draft: Is Fultz No. 1?

    It has never happened before in National Basketball Association (NBA) draft history but there could yet be a first in this year's point guard-stacked grab-bag at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York on June 22 (June 23, 7:00 a.m., Manila time).

    History will be made if the teams that own the first three overall selections in a draft trade away their first-round picks even before the draft proceedings commence.

    In the past, there have been occasions wherein the team with the right to select first in an entire draft gave up the opportunity via a trade.

    This year will follow that same route as the Boston Celtics, who owned the No. 1 selection in the entire draft, agreed in principle on June 17 to ship that pick to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for the 76ers' own No. 3 overall choice plus the 2018 first-rounder that the Sixers had earlier obtained from the LA Lakers due to a pair of past trades ? the July 2012 deal that sent Phoenix?s Steve Nash to LAL, and the February 2015 three-way swap that jettisoned the Sixers? Michael Carter-Williams to Milwaukee, the Bucks? Brandon Knight to Phoenix and the Suns? top three-protected first-rounder via the Lakers to Philly).

    That 2018 first-rounder is to be transported to the Celtics only if the Lakers? selection is not anywhere from No. 2 to No. 5 overall. Otherwise, the Sixers will send to the Celtics the 2019 first-rounder they had previously acquired from the Sacramento Kings.

    While Boston owned the best regular record in the Eastern Conference at 53-29 and subsequently reached the conference final playoffs, the boys from Beantown got to make the first dance in the draft proceedings after winning the draft lottery utilizing Brooklyn?s first-round pick that was obtained in a trade four years ago.

    The moribund Nets posted the NBA?s worst record during the 2016-17 regular wars at 20-62 and would have had the best chance to secure the No. 1 selection in the college/international draft. However, a July 12, 2013 trade with the Celtics changed the entire landscape.

    Brooklyn shipped Kris Humphries, Keith Bogans, Kris Joseph, Gerald Wallace, three first-round draft choices and a second-round pick to Boston in return for a trio of past-their-prime stars in Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry along with journeyman D.J. White.

    Anent to the transaction, the Celtics owned the option to exchange first-rounders with Brooklyn this year and utilized it because of the Nets? porous regular performance.

    With the No. 1 choice in the 2017 NBA draft, Philadelphia is expected to take the University of Washington's much-coveted 6-4 point guard Markelle Fultz.

    An athletic, high-scoring playmaker, the Maryland-born Fultz, who turned 19 last month, averaged a Pacific-12 Conference-best and freshmen-leading 23.3 points, 5.9 assists and 5.7 rebounds and shot 41.3 percent from three-point range in his only season with the Huskies, who, however, failed to make the NCAA playoffs due to a losing (9-22) record under coach Lorenzo Romar, a former NBA guard who was fired after 15 seasons at the helm.

    The Lakers have the No. 2 selection but are not solid on taking UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball with the pick as they question the 6-6 Bruins star?s work ethic and unorthodox shooting form (for sure, it has nothing to do with his loud-mouthed and controversial dad).

    While Ball is the front-running choice, El-Ay is also considering Kentucky point guard De?Aaron Fox and Kansas forward Josh Jackson (a third-team Associated Press All-American) at No. 2.

    Ball, who turns 20 in late October, is a native Californian. He played prep ball back home and posted a triple-double average (23.9 points, 11.3 rebounds and 11.7 assists per game) as a senior for a 35-0, state champion Chino Hills High School team.

    As a college frosh in 2016-17, Ball topped the NCAA Division I in assists at 7.6 a game (shattering the school record for most assists in a single season) and averaged 14.6 points (shooting .551 from the field, including .412 from trifecta land), 6.0 rebounds and 1.8 steals every time out for UCLA, which plays in the same conference as Fultz?s Washington Huskies.

    The Bruins posted a 31-5 record this past campaign (after a frigid 15-17 mark in 2015-16) and reached the Sweet Sixteen of the 2017 NCAA tourney before dropping an 86-75 decision to Kentucky, which also has a top-five draft prospect in 6-4 Fox (who racked up 39 points against UCLA for an NCAA tournament freshman record).

    The Pac-12 Freshman of the Year (over Fultz), Ball was awarded the Wayman Tisdale Award (named after the late former NBA player) by the United States Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) as the country?s top frosh and earned Associated Press All America First Team honors (in contrast, Fultz ...
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  2. KD Was the NBA Brightest Star in Season 71

    What a 71st National Basketball Association renewal it was! ?This is why we play? was the season?s slogan and it resulted in several league records broken, including one that had stood for more than half a century.

    Hard-hat star Russell Westbrook, the meal ticket of the Oklahoma City Thunder, took the American pro league by storm during the 2016-17 regular season, shattering a pair of 55-year-old league records of ?The Big O? Oscar Robertson in chalking up 42 triple-double games and also registering a T-D average of an NBA-high 31.6 points (a nine-year career high), 10.7 rebounds and a league third-best 10.4 assists in 81 appearances. Westbrook captured his second NBA scoring crown but unlike the first that came in 2014-15, the Thunder made the playoffs this time.

    In 1961-62, Robertson of the Cincinnati Royals (the forerunners of the Sacramento Kings) garnered 41 triple-double games and averaged 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists in 79 games as a sophomore pro out of the University of Cincinnati.

    Westbrook?s co-finalist in the 2017 NBA Most Valuable player derby, silky-smooth operator James Harden of Houston, propelled his Rockets to a 14-game turnaround ? from 41-41 to 55-27. ?The Beard? ranked first in the majors in assists (11.2 apg) and second in point production (29.1 ppg) and averaged 8.1 rebounds in 81 outings ? for an eight-year career high in all three categories.

    Harden topped the NBA in double-double games at 64 (to the second-place 62s of Westbrook and Minnesota?s Karl-Anthony Towns) and trailed only Westbrook in triple-double performances at 22. The Rockets beat the Thunder, 4-1, in the first-round playoffs before dropping a 4-2 decision to the Texas rival San Antonio Spurs in the West semifinals.

    Meanwhile, LeBron James of the 2016 titlist Cleveland Cavaliers was not among the top three finalists for this year?s Maurice Podoloff (MVP) hardware to be contested by Westbrook, Harden and San Antonio?s Kawhi Leonard during the NBA?s first-ever Awards Night on June 26 (June 27, Manila time).

    The snub served as a motivation for The King, a four-time league MVP (2009 and 2010 in his first tour of duty with Cleveland and 2012 and 2013 when he powered Miami to a pair of championships).

    During the 2017 NBA playoffs, James, who reached the NBA Finals for an eighth consecutive season (including the last three with the Cavs), elevated his numbers in minutes played, scoring, rebounding (career-high 8.6 rpg during the regulars), steals, shot blocks, field goal percentage, three-point field goal percentage and free throw percentage from the regular campaign.

    A 14-year pro out of high school, the 6-8, 32-year-old native of Akron, Ohio averaged 41.3 minutes, 32.8 points, 9.1 rebounds, 7.8 assists, 1.9 steals and 1.3 blocks in 18 games (13-5) with shooting clips of .565 (playoff career-tying) from the field, including .411 (an all-time postseason best) from three-ball country, and .698 from the free-throw line.

    James was even better in the NBA Finals, posting the first-ever triple-double average in NBA championship-round history with 33.6 points, 12.0 rebounds and 10 assists with a .564 (66-of-117) field goal percentage.

    However, James fell to his fifth defeat in eight Finals trips as the Cavs were beaten by the Golden State Warriors in five games.

    And that?s because of Kevin Durant, a big fella who left Oklahoma City last summer following nine title-less seasons, including a 4-1 loss to James? Heat in the 2012 Finals despite the Thunder owning the home-court advantage and a 1-0 series lead, to go west with Warriors in search for a championship ring.

    Success finally found the 6-9, 28-year forward this year but it was not easy. Durant overcame injuries in the second half of the regular season ? he missed 19 consecutive regular games (March 2-April 5) due to a strained MCL and a bone bruise in his left leg and even into the early part of the playoffs ? he sat out Games 2 and 3 of the first-round, 4-0 sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers due to a strained left calf) - to turn in a memorable Finals effort.

    In the Finals, Durant averaged 35.2 points ? going 38, 33, 31, 35 and 39 in the five-game series ? 8.4 boards and 5.0 handouts and became the first player in NBA history to shoot at least 50 percent from the field (.556), 40 percent from beyond the arc (.474) and 90 percent from the charity stripes (.927) with that high a scoring average in the Finals.

    For the entire 2017 postseason, he posted averages of 28.5 points (on .556 FG, .442 3-FG, .893 FT shooting), 8.0 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.33 blocks in 15 games.

    In the end, it was the star of Durant that shone brightest in helping the Warriors secure the Larry O?Brien hardware for the second time in three years and in his ...
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  3. NBA Finals: Warriors in 5

    A historic playoff perfection was not theirs to claim but the Golden State Warriors were rewarded with the ring that matters most to their gallant troops and the hardware that 29 other member teams in the National Basketball Association had coveted all season long ? the Larry O?Brien trophy that goes to the league champions.

    Deservedly so, the Warriors claimed their second NBA title in three years with a 4-1 decision over the Cleveland Cavaliers ? their 2016 Finals tormentors ? in the best-of-seven titular showdown that came to a close yesterday with a 129-120 victory in Game 5 before their home folks at the Oracle Arena.

    Cleveland, which pinned Golden State with its first defeat in 16 games in the just-concluded playoffs with a 137-116 rout in Game 4 at the Quicken Loans Arena, came out strong off the gates to lead by as many eight points (20-12) in the first quarter that ended in its favor, 37-33.
    The Cavs were still ahead by four, 43-39, when the Warriors pulled off a torrid run in the second quarter that gave them a lead of as much as 16 points (69-53) before settling for a 71-60 advantage at intermission.

    Cleveland, which a year ago became the first team in NBA Finals history to rally from a 3-1 series deficit and steal the NBA diadem from Golden State on its home floor with a Game 7 win, was still within striking distance as it trailed by just five, 98-93, after three points. Then came the customary offensive avalanche that the Dubs have made against the opposition throughout the regular season (67-15) and playoffs (16-1), pulled away from the Cavs halfway through the payoff canto behind Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and the X-Man Andre Iguodala, the 2015 Finals MVP when the Bay Area squad corralled its first NBA title following a 40-year famine.

    Durant, who last summer left the Oklahoma City Thunder following nine ring-less seasons to join Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green at Golden State, received a unanimous vote from an 11-member media panel as this year?s Finals MVP, validating his controversial decision to move West with the Warriors.

    The 6-9, 28-year-old Durant went 5-of-8 from beyond the arc and shot 14-of-20 (.700) overall from the field ? the best percentage ever in a title-clinching victory in Finals history (with a minimum of 20 attempts) ? grabbed seven rebounds and dished out five assists in 40:15 minutes.
    In the five-game series, the Washington D.C. native, whose love for his mom is eternal (?she?s the real MVP? for singlehandedly raising his son), posted averages of 35.2 points, 8.4 rebounds and 5.4 assists with shooting clips of .556 (60-of-10 from the field, including .474 (18-of-3 from rainbow territory, and .927 (38-of-41) from the charity stripes.

    Durant?s 35.2-point average is the highest in NBA Finals history for a player who shot 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from the three-point area and 90 percent from the free-throw line ? far better that Orlando?s Anfernee (Penny) Hardaway?s 25.5 ppg in a 1995 loss to Houston by a 4-0 sweep and Detroit?s Chauncey Billups? 21.0 ppg in 2004 in a 4-1 Pistons win over the Los Angeles Lakers.

    KD also is the first player since the Lakers? Shaquille O?Neal in 2000 to register five straight 30-point games in a Finals series. (O?Neal?s team beat Indiana, 4-2, in that year?s Finals.)

    In the series-clincher, Curry collected 34 markers (10-20 FGA), six boards, 10 assists and three steals to finish with averages of 26.8 ppg, 8.0 rpg and 9.7 apg while his Splash Brothers mate Thompson struggled with 11 points on 4-of-13 floor shooting and wound up with a series norm of 16.4 ppg. Green, who had been off offensively throughout the Finals (19-of-55, .345), shot a frigid 3-10 from the field for 10 scores but he made up for this deficiency with a team-high 12 boards and five assists.

    But what turned out to be a pleasant surprise for the Warriors was the performance of Iguodala on both ends of the floor, netting 20 points (9-14 FGA), three rebounds and three assists off the pines while making life a bit harder for LeBron James on defense.

    Be that as it may, James still managed to chalk up 41 points (around 10 of them in the final minutes when the game was already practically decided) on 19-of-30 FG shooting, 13 rebounds and eight handoffs in 46:13 of playing time for the dethroned Cavs.

    Kyrie Irving shot 9-of-22 to get his 26 points in Game 4 and normed 29.4 ppg overall in the Finals for the wine and Gold. His backcourt partner J.R. Smith, drilled in a series-high 25 markers on 9-of-11 floor clip, including 7-of-8 from trifecta. Smith averaged 18.7 ppg in his final three appearances by going 19-of-31 from the field, including 17-of-27 (.630) from three-ball country, after tallying just a triple in the series opener and being held scoreless in Game 2. ...
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  4. NBA Playoffs: Warriors in Finals, Cavs Ahead 3-1 vs. Boston

    The red-hot Golden State Warriors whitewashed the injury-riddled San Antonio Spurs, 4-0, in their best-of-seven West final playoffs in the National Basketball Association (including a 129-115 cakewalk in the series-clinching Game Four where the Spurs did not have the services of three injured players in franchise cornerstone Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker and David Lee) to become the first team in league annals to open the postseason 12-0 and enter the NBA Finals for the third consecutive year.

    The Warriors also are the first team in league annals to sweep three best-of-seven series in the same postseason.
    In the past, there were two 11-0 starts through the first three rounds of the four-tier playoffs ? both registered by the 1989 and 2001 Los Angeles Lakers ? albeit with contrasting results in the Finals. The first round was a best-of-five at the time before it was stretched to a seven-game affair in 2003.

    The Lakers reached the 1989 Finals against Detroit but were swept in four games by the Pistons due to injuries to starting backcourters Byron Scott (before the series opener) and Earvin (Magic) Johnson (after Game 1). In the 2001 edition, El-Ay dropped the opening game of the championship series against Philadelphia but eventually beat the 76ers, 4-1, to retain the NBA crown and complete the playoffs with a 15-1 record, the closest to NBA playoff perfection.

    In the lockout-shortened 1998-1999 season, the San Antonio Spurs defeated the New York Knicks, 4-1, in the Finals and accomplished something that hoop fans are remembering them by. En route to the first of five titles in franchise history and a 15-2 overall record, the Spurs won 12 straight playoff games at one stretch (victories in the final two games of a first-round 3-1 decision over Minnesota, 4-0 sweeps against the Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers in the West semifinal and final series, respectively, and a 2-0 lead in the Finals against the Knicks).

    That team mentored by Gregg Popovich was led by Twin Towers Tim Duncan (the Finals Most Valuable Player recipient) and David Robinson and valuable substitute guard Steve Kerr, now Golden State?s third-year bench tactician whose availability for the 2017 NBA Finals remains in doubt after missing the team?s last 10 playoff assignments (since Game 3 of first-round series vs. Portland) due to complications arising from a pair of back surgeries he underwent in the summer of 2015.

    As Golden State?s associate current associate head coach, Mike Brown, who had had a pair of tours of duty with potential Finals rival Cleveland and was the first NBA coach of LeBron James in the mid-2000s, has temporarily taken over the Warriors? reins from Kerr.

    In sweeping Portland, Utah and San Antonio in the ongoing NBA playoffs, the Dubs have posted an average winning margin of 16.3 points an outing.

    Two-time reigning NBA MVP Stephen Curry is averaging a team-high 28.6 points on .502 field shooting, 5.5 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 1.92 steals in the postseason for the Warriors. Kevin Durant, who missed a pair of games due to an injury, owns per-game clips of 25.2 ppg on .556 floor shooting, 7.8 rpg and 3.7 apg. Two-guard Klay Thompson is struggling offensively, making a frigid .383 of his attempts from the field and tallying just 14.4 scores every time out. Do-everything frontliner Draymond Green is the straw that stirs the Warriors? drink with norms of 13.9 ppg (.500 FG shooting), 8.7 rpg, 7.2 apg, 1.92 spg and 2.08 blocks. The energetic Green leads the team in rebounding, assists and shot blocks and is tied with Curry in steals.

    Golden State awaits the winner of the East final series between reigning NBA titlist Cleveland and upset-conscious Boston, which the Cavaliers lead, 3-1, following today's 112-99 victory in Game 4 at the Quicken Loans Arena behind a playoff career-high 42 points from Kyrie Irving; 34 points, five rebounds and six assists from LeBron James (who had 10 points and four fouls in the first half but never fouled thereafter); and a fourth straight double-double from Kevin Love, who collected 17 points, 17 boards and five dimes. (Boston?s Game 3 hero Avery Bradley topped the Celtics with 19 points but his backcourt partner Marcus Smart, who knocked in a team-high 27 in the Game 3 win, was held to eight scores.)

    With a 3-1 series lead, the Wine and Gold go for the jugular in Game 5, which is set for Friday May 26 (8:30 a.m. Manila time) at the TD Garden in Boston. If necessary, the sixth game will be held in Cleveland on Sunday May 26 (8:30 a.m., MT).

    Meantime, Golden State will have nine days off before the 2017 NBA Finals commence on June 1 (June 2, 9:00 a.m., Manila time). The Warriors will enjoy homecourt advantage against Cleveland or Boston by virtue of their league-best 67-15 mark during the regular campaign.

    The Dubs have posted a 207-39 ...
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  5. NBA Playoffs: Cavs Bite the Dust

    No one team in National Basketball Association playoff history has reached the championship round with an unblemished record of 12 consecutive victories, let alone both qualifiers to the Finals.

    The Golden State Warriors, the 2015 NBA titlists, have an opportunity to enter the Finals at 12-0 if they defeat the injury-riddled San Antonio Spurs on May 23 (Manila time, 9:00 a.m.) in Game 4 of the best-of-seven West finals at the AT&T Center for their third consecutive series sweep (4-4-4).

    In contrast, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the reigning league champions who opened the postseason with 11 consecutive victories, blew their chance at perfection after dropping a stunning 111-108 home decision to a gritty Boston team that played without its injured meal ticket Isaiah Thomas in Game 3 of the East final series at the Quicken Loans Arena.

    The Celtics? miraculous win, which came on Avery Bradley?s up-and-down, trickling triple with 0.1 second left in the game clock that broke a 108-108 deadlock, sliced Cleveland? series advantage to 2-1 with the fourth game still to be hosted by the Cavs on May 24 (MT, 8:30 a.m.)
    Boston was trounced badly in the first two games of the series at home, losing 117-104 and 130-86 at the TD Garden.

    In today?s Game Three where all the odds were stacked against them, the Celtics? gallant starting backcourt of Marcus Smart and Bradley combined for 47 points to offset the season-ending injury to 5-9 meal ticket Isaiah Thomas, who led the Celts with 23.3 points and 6.7 assists in 15 postseason appearances but was declared out of the playoffs following a re-aggravation of a torn right hip in the first half of Game 2, a 44-point debacle in which Boston trailed, 72-31, at intermission for the largest halftime deficit in NBA playoff history.

    Smart contributed 27 points, five rebounds and seven assists and made seven of his 10 attempts from beyond the arc and 8-of-14 from the field overall. Bradley, the game hero, had 20 scores and four dimes. In the frontline, forward Jae Crowder had a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds and center Al Horford got 16 points and half-a-dozen assists. Bruising forward Kelly Olynyk shamed the King LeBron James ? at least for one game ? with 15 points and even his fellow substitute, 6-8 forward Jonas Jerebko out of Sweden, got into the act, tallying 10 points on 4-for-4 field shooting (including a pair of threes) and grabbing five boards off the unsuspecting eyes of LeBron.

    A listless and fatigued James had a bad day in the office for the first time in 11 playoff appearances. Coming into the game, the do-everything star was shooting .569 from the field, including. 458 from the three-point area. In this one, he was just 4-of-13 from the field (including 0-for-4 from the three-point area) and 3-of-6 from the charity stripes for a measly 11 points after registering eight straight playoff games with at least 30 points ? the longest since a gangling center by the name of Lew Alcindor (now known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) accomplished the feat with the Milwaukee Bucks in 1970.

    The King, who won?t finish in the top three in this year?s NBA Most Valuable Player race for the first time since 2008 after the league announced just before Game 2 of the Cleveland-Boston series that Oklahoma City?s Russell Westbrook, Houston?s James Harden and San Antonio?s Kawhi Leonard were the three finalists in the derby for the Maurice Podoloff Trophy, grabbed six rebounds and dished out six assists in 45 minutes but also coughed up the rock six times.

    Kyrie Irving topscored for the Cavs with 29 points along with seven assists, Kevin Love posted his third straight double-double with 28 points and 10 rebounds for the Wine and Gold, which also got a D-D from Olynyk?s Canadian compatriot Tristan Thompson, who chalked up 18 points and 13 reebies.

    After enjoying a 77-56 lead midway through the third quarter, the Cavaliers look complacent and eventually saw their NBA record-tying 13-game playoff winning streak (including the final three games in 2016 when Cleveland overcame a 3-1 Finals deficit against Golden State to snare its first-ever NBA crown) over two years come to a shocking halt with the Game 3 loss. (The Los Angeles Lakers previously won 13 straight playoff contests in 1988 ? becoming the first NBA team to successfully defend its title with a 4-3 win over Detroit after trailing 3-2 in the Finals ? and 1989 when they opened the playoffs with 11 consecutive victories but were swept, 4-0, by the Pistons in the Finals.)

    Boston took Game Three but the series odds remain tilted in favor of Cleveland. LeBron?s teams (Cleveland, Miami and then Cleveland again since 2015), are 20-0 all time in playoff series in which they have owned a 2-0 lead.

    Expect James, who?s averaging 32.2 points, 8.3 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 2.18 steals ...
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