Thursday, June 28, 2012

Party Foul: Rafael Nadal


Violation: Down goes Rafa! Rafael Nadal losing to Lukas Rosol in the second round at the All England Club. The match went for five sets including an epic tie-breaker in the first. 6-7, 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4.

Explanation: Unlike my colleague, Jonathan Mok, I WILL call out Nadal because A) I think he is deserving of the highest of expectations in the tennis world and B) I'm a hater. Although Rafa is undoubtedly my favorite tennis player since Andre Agassi (and his wig), losing in the second round after coming off a historic title at Roland Garros is just downright embarrassing. There's no other way to put it. Rosol had more energy, he was going for the win instead of playing not to lose, and he had more belief throughout the entire match. In fact, Nadal had to resort to things that were pretty petty to be honest. Bumping into the Czech during the change over was pretty strange and pumping himself up after a routine shot was under him.


Punishment: I will admit, Rosol played out of his mind. Every opportunity he got, he went for the winner. And he kept it up for the entire duration of the five-set-match. I really haven't figured out why more players don't have this mindset when they go up against the world's top players.

Photo content courtesy of www.guardian.co.uk and AP Photo


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Standing Ovation: Lukáš Rosol


Normally, when the world #2 is defeated in the 2nd round at Wimbledon by some unknown 26-year-old kid, you would think a Party Foul would be warranted.  However, I am not in the seemingly ever-growing population of people obsessed with Splinter from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Rafael Nadal.  You won't ever hear me saying "vamos Rafa" or anything of the sort because, as my friend Alex so eloquently proclaims, "all-time greats don't lose in the 2nd round during their primes."  Truth.

So today, instead of while criticizing Nadal, let's lift up Lukáš Rosol of the Czech Republic, who won in 5 sets 6-7, 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4.  Since I was at work, I only saw portions of this match, but based on what I witnessed, Rosol definitely deserved to win.  He seemed to do the impossible -- overpower Nadal.  Rosol stayed aggressive and forced his opponent to remain defensive beyond the baseline.  And it also helped that Rosol appeared to be using Thor's hammer as a tennis racket.

My personal favorite part of this major upset is what happened after the match.  Aside from the #Czechmate Twitter hashtags, I loved this quote from Rosol, talking about Rafa: "He's a superstar, I feel sorry for him."  Yes, I know I took that completely out of context, but let me just relish in this moment as I remember back to the days of Sampras/Agassi, when I truly still cared about tennis.  At least this has me talking about the sport again.

Actually, I take back my earlier statement about never saying "vamos Rafa."  Vamos a casa, Rafa!



The Huddle: 2012 NBA Draft Preview


As the hours approach the much-anticipated 2012 NBA Draft tonight, we ask the community of writers at GCAS to give us their take on what we can expect.  The Huddle is a new column where we will ask 5 questions to the GCAS writers and have them answer each question in 100 words or less.  Let's huddle up!


1.  Anthony Davis is _________.

Steven: ...the next Tim Duncan.  Give him some time to polish his offense, and he'll be it.

Leu: ...too in love with his unibrow. Who trademarks a unibrow? I fear no brow.

Phil V: ...better than Hubert Davis.

Alby: ...legit. But grew up in the wrong era.

Peter: ...incredibly self-confident. Besides being the undisputed #1 pick for tonight's draft, Anthony Davis also holds the undisputed #1 spot of the most famous unibrow in the sports world.  To show his brow pride, Davis recently trademarked the phrases "Raise the Brow" and "Fear the Brow."  I'm glad to see a young athlete who's so comfortable with who he is.

JLau: ...a future Hall-of-Famer.

Mok: ...potentially Serge Garnett.  Long, athletic freak who has the ability to close out and block 3-point shooters on the defensive end, but with guard-like skills on the offensive side of the ball (seeing as he was a guard's size about 2 years ago).  But seriously, why does the kid still have a unibrow?  Why?

Phil L: ...the second-least interesting storyline in the draft.

2. Who's going to be the biggest bust?

Steven: Biggest draft bust is going to be Andre Drummond or Harrison Barnes.  

Leu: Going to go out on a limb and say Anthony Davis. The guy played on a squad with 4 potential 1st rounders. It's like 5th graders vs 2nd graders in dodgeball. He's got talent and all, but I don't see him as the perennial all-star that everyone has tabbed him to be.


Phil V: Butch McRae.

Alby:  Andre Drummond - He just doesn't have the mentality to really reach his potential. But guys like David Robinson didn't have that willpower either until he was with the right teammates/coaches. I named Robinson because they are both athletic freaks who need to be nudged in the right direction.
John Henson - Not as athletic as people thought, does not have a good motor, and too thin as a big man. Not saying you can't be successful if you're skinny, but to be a legitimate big man as a slender guy, you have to be superior athletically, and that's not him.

Peter: As much as I want to say Harrison Barnes, the bigger bust in this draft will be none other than Andre Drummond.  I've heard of the comparisons of him to Amare Stoudemire, but I just don't see it.  Though his body and physique is NBA-ready, Drummond is also known to be unmotivated outside of the game.  A big man who can't post or shoot, is immature, and can only dunk?  I'm going to prematurely put him onto every list that contains the name "Stromile Swift." One of those lists is "NBA busts." (I just hope the other list isn't ex-Rockets player.)

JLau: Harrison Barnes.  Overhyped since high school and has never shown up.

Mok: Bradley Beal.  He is projected to be drafted as high as #2, which I think is far too high of a cost for such a one-dimensional player.  Yes, he can sit on the perimeter and hit some open shots, but who can't?  When push comes to shove, the kid is a short SG who doesn't bring much else to the table other than his jumpshot.

Phil L: Any white guy drafted by a lottery team.

3. Who's going to be the biggest sleeper?

Steven: Biggest sleeper is going to be Doron Lamb.  Not even going in the first round I know, but this kid has good skills and a winning attitude.

Leu: Royce White. He carried a mediocre team all year. He can play multiple positions and do it all. He's got great NBA size and intangibles. I still don't get why people have him going in the late first round.

Phil V: Ricky Roe.

Alby: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist - He has all the measurables, is an extremely hard worker, and is motivated to play both on the offensive and defensive ends. Can have a Rudy Gay-like career arc IMO. Reminds me of Demar Derozan coming in.
Perry Jones III - Arguably the most talented player in the draft. If he is put into the right situation (great numbers on a bad team), he has the ability to put up good stats.
Austin Rivers - Overhyped because of the name, but his skills with the ball are off the charts. At worst, he can be a Nick Young. At the absolute best, he can be similar to Allen Iverson. I see him following the career arc of Jamal Crawford.

Peter: This draft is deep. Not 2003 deep, but it's close. So a sleeper in this draft for me would be any lottery pick outside of the top 5. And if Dion Waiters falls to the pre-teens, he's going to be my sleeper. I hope the Rockets can get this guy at the 12th pick because he's got everything you would want in a guard -- 6'4, athletic, strong, can create, can pass, and can shoot.  Sounds familiar? I just described to you D-Wait.

JLau: Zack Rosen.  Gotta give a shout-out to my Penn Quakers!  Rosen will probably go undrafted, but he has a chance to become the next Jeremy Lin.

Mok: Dion Waiters.  Reports have this kid going anywhere from the top to the bottom of the lottery.  Wherever he goes, he's going to produce.  Dion's got some bulk to him, and his offensive arsenal is nearly complete with his outside J, mid-range game, floater, and ability to finish at the basket.

Phil L: Harrison Barnes. Loved him in high school. Received Lebron-like scrutiny by the college basketball community after not living up the standards of being the savior of UNC Basketball. Barnes is going to be an all-star within the next 5 years.

4. True/False. Dwight Howard will be traded tonight.

Steven: False.

Leu: False (but I'm hoping so. It'll show just how bad a decision it was for him to sign his opt-in waiver. I still think he's an idiot.)


Phil V: Who's Dwight Howard?  Doesn't he play for the Phillies?

Alby: False.

Peter: False. Dwight's going nowhere until the 2013 trade deadline. Do the other NBA GMs know that he ended his season with a back injury?  Do they know that he only has one-year left on his contract? Do they know that he loves New York?  It's still too early to go all-in on Dwight at this point.  Nothing to see here, move along.

JLau: False.  Orlando's GM will be too scared to pull the trigger since he just took the job.

Mok: True.  While I'm still not sold on the idea of the Rockets going all-out for an offensively-challenged big man in today's swingman league, Daryl Morey clearly is, and he's pulling out all the stops.  Sooner or later, the Orlando Magic should realize that Houston will offer more value than the rest of the bidders, and I think that this epiphany will come to fruition tonight.

Phil L: The least interesting storyline in all of sports, especially since Dwight will never win a ring.

5. I'm turning off the TV after the __th pick.

Steven: 30th pick.

Leu: Last pick.


Phil V: 5th pick, I think, but I probably won't watch.  There's a new episode of Auction Kings.

Alby: I won't be watching the draft.

Peter: X, where x = the pick where Jared Sullinger will get drafted.  Unlike most years where I stop paying attention after the Rockets' last pick, I'm intrigued to see how Sullinger's story will play out.  Another Ohio State big man with injury problems -- I wouldn't be surprised to see him go in the 2nd round.

JLau: After the Celtics' back-to-back at 21 and 22.

Mok: 31st pick.  The Rockets don't currently own a 2nd-round pick, but I could see us making a move for the 1st pick in the 2nd round ala Carl Landry in 2007.

Phil L: I will be walking the dog during the draft.

Photo content courtesy of: skysports.com, clemagazine.com, bullwatch.com

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Made in China: A Star is Reborn

I'm a sucker for feel-good movies, especially ones where the protagonist is wrongly (or rightly) labeled as the "bad guy," but as the plot plays out, he ends up being the good guy.  It's the reason why Shawshank Redemption, the original Star Wars trilogy, and King Kong have solidified themselves on my top-10 movies list. It is because of this adoration of these perceived antiheroes that I find the ongoing LeBron story so captivating.  But today, I want to present to you a different type of character.  Meet Stephon Marbury.

Chances are, you know the guy. Drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks in the '96 draft, Marbury was quickly traded to the Timberwolves for Ray Allen. Hoping to establish a one-two punch with Kevin Garnett, the Timberwolves were rolling the dice, fully knowing that Marbury carried the label of being a troublemaker off the court.  Here's a lesson in life: when you have that gut feeling that something's going to go wrong, it most likely will (Murphy's Law).  Needless to say, the Marbury/KG era only lasted 3 seasons.  Marbury would later develop into an All-Star with stints in Jersey, Phoenix, and more recently, New York. Along the way, he received the name of "Starbury" as he was the star player of each of those teams.  Though Marbury produced on the court, many of his team's management and coaches were unsatisfied with him and his maturity as a professional.  After feeling like he was left for dead, Marbury left the NBA at 32.



What Marbury did next would probably be what most of us would do: Go to China (I kid, but that's what I did/am doing).  Starbury took his talents to Shanxi, China.  Famous for mountains, coal mines, and extreme poverty, Shanxi also had one of the worst basketball teams in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA). However, as Marbury embraced his role as the leader and face of the team, stories of his new-found stardom flooded the Chinese media. Back in the states, a few of Marbury's anecdotes would trickle into ESPN, often met with laughter and mockery. What many NBA fans failed to realized in the states was that Marbury was serious with his decision to go to China. He engaged with fans and media openly and was set to live out his new life and redefine his legacy. Unlike Shanxi's previous NBA rental, Bonzi Wells, who flew back to the states secretly after just 14 games into his disgruntled season, Marbury found his new life refreshing and famously tweeted "Love is love."  The fans and media absolutely adored their new star.





So imagine the shock he received when prior to the start of his second season, Marbury's team owner told him that they were going to let him go.  Citing difficulties with Marbury's prima donna attitudes and demands, the team owner wanted no part of Marbury on his team.  Whether the reasons were justified or not, here he was, left for dead, again -- this time, in China.

Going through months of depression, Marbury picked himself back up and showed up in the office of another CBA team, the Beijing Ducks.  Though the Ducks wanted to sign Marbury, they had already met the league maximum of signing two foreign-born players. Their last signing was none other than other NBA reject, Steve "Franchise" Francis.  Whether Francis admits it or not, I would like to think that Stevie (along with a handful of other NBA players) came to China expecting to receive the same love and adoration that Marbury received in Shanxi.  Marbury eventually claimed a spot on the roster of a newly formed expansion team. With a team full of rookies, they failed to make the playoffs that year.

Fast forward to the summer of last year. With the NBA lockout, and expectedly, another slew of NBA players escaping to the CBA, Marbury went back to the Beijing Ducks.  With Francis gone, Marbury secured his roster spot on the team.

What happens next is history.  After averaging 27 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds in the regular season, Marbury found himself in the CBA playoffs for the first time. The Ducks would breeze by most of the competition in the playoffs, where Marbury would average 45 points a game. In the semifinals, he faced his old team, Shanxi.  The Ducks would pull out a 3-2 series win in a tough, best-of-five series.  After the clinching win, Marbury escaped the celebration, and leaning with his head on the walls of a bathroom stall, he cried.



Did getting to the championship finals mean that much to him? Come on, it's CHINA LEAGUE? You haven't even won anything yet!  That's what the American sports fan inside of me would say. However, digging deeper, we find a star who went through the ups and downs of a NBA career. Ultimately rejected by the league that drafted him at the young age of 19, Marbury took a risk and looked to reinvent himself.  So, yes. This championship run did mean that much to him because he accomplished it in a China league where fans celebrate him night in and night out; a place where the media shines the spotlight on the positiveness that he brings to the team. And in that moment of getting to his first professional sports finals, Marbury finally realized this: he belonged.

Marbury would ride his high emotions and continue his amazing play in the finals.  In the championship-clinching win against the Guangdong Tigers (and against NBA players Aaron Brooks and James Singleton), Marbury would score 41 and deliver the first ever CBA championship to Beijing.  Pandemonium ensued.




Chinese fans in Beijing would go on to craft a bronze statue to commemorate the championship and celebrate Marbury. Yes, fans got together and made the statue and put it up!  


Touched by the love he's received, Marbury tweeted:


Oh, and here's another lesson in life: Love is love.

Photo content courtesy of: chespn.com, niubball.com, arhenetwork.com, buzzbox.com, gq.com, eurweb.com

What Should the Dallas Mavericks Do?

I love the Dallas Mavericks. They have been my team ever since I was a little boy. I would wake up in the mornings before school to call the operator at Southwestern Bell so I could listen to the box scores from the night before. I didn't have cable TV, the Internet really didn't exist yet, and reading the newspaper simply wasn't the cool thing to do when you're 8 years old.


Fast forward 20 years and you have a franchise that has been the staple of consistency ever since Mark Cuban purchased the team in January of 2000. If you follow the league, I'm sure you all know the story by now -- that 2011 championship run will forever go down as one of the most memorable in the last decade, and in all honesty, probably the most unlikely since the Houston Rockets' second championship when they were the 6th seed in the West.

Since the 2012 season has concluded and the crowning of King James has officially taken place, it's time to focus on the offseason. Wipe that year out of your memories. At least, that is what the Dallas Mavericks' braintrust has told us to do. Fortunately for me, after ESPN and NBATV aired Miami Heat coverage for literally 24 straight hours after they defeated the Thunder, it was easy for me to find closure to the season.

With that being said, F the Heat, and let's go Mavs.

With so many rumors swirling around during this time of year pertaining to the draft, possible trades, and free agent signings, it's hard to decipher what is true and what is not. I admit, there are times where I get completely caught up in the hype as well and am constantly checking every social media news outlet to get the latest bit of information concerning a player the Mavericks may be pursuing. I can't help myself. In fact, a huge part of me actually enjoys this aspect of the league more than the actual games themselves. I think it is due to the elements of faith and optimism. When your team is playing and they suck, you naturally feel defeated. On the other hand, when your team isn't playing, there's always hope... to not suck.

Below are a few scenarios that may become reality for the Dallas Mavericks:

Scenario 1: Acquire Deron Williams, Dwight Howard, AND another star.

Obviously, if you field a team that consists of Deron Williams as your point guard, Dirk Nowitzki as your power forward, and Dwight Howard as your center, you instantly become a legitimate contender for many years to come. According to HoopsHype, the Mavericks have around $41 million tied to salaries for the 2012/2013 year. This means that they have nearly $19 million to spend before diving into the luxury tax to fill our their roster. Additionally, from a purely dollars perspective, it doesn't matter whether they use the amnesty clause on Shawn Marion or Brendan Haywood (the more likely candidate) since they are both slated to make a little over $8 million, respectively, for the upcoming season. This means that the front office will have a total of $27 million to play with during the free agency signing period. In other words, the team has the opportunity to offer two max contracts -- hopefully, one for the aforementioned Williams and one for Eric Gordon. I am in the camp that believes even if Dwight gets traded this summer, he's going to get moved again at the trade deadline. This is where you can make a play for him. I know it sounds crazy, but who knows? Dream big.

I call this the "dream" scenario, but it can also be called the "get real" scenario.


Scenario 2: Acquire Deron Williams and a quality starter-caliber player.

Using the available cap space explained in scenario 1, the team can sign Deron and someone along the lines of Nicolas Batum or OJ Mayo. I would prefer Batum because of his length and defensive prowess. It would give us a ton of versatility on the court because of the skillsets of both Batum and Marion. But it would also provide us flexibility to move Marion to fill another team need. However, if the ball club does decide to sign Deron and a swing player, the Mavericks will still lack adequate size. I personally don't think this is a big deal anymore in today's NBA. But in case you were wondering, here are the notable free agent centers: Roy Hibbert (Indiana is going to keep him by any means necessary), Kevin Garnett (he's more loyal than a dog, he's not going to leave Doc Rivers), Tim Duncan (it's either San Antonio or retirement for him), JaVale McGee (intriguing prospect but I hate players with a low basketball IQ), Brook Lopez (injury-prone), and Chris Kaman (Dirk's teammate on the German national team could be a sneaky pick-up but only for the right price).

Consider this the "gold medal" scenario.

Scenario 3: Lose out on Deron and Dwight.

Deron elects to stay in Brooklyn. The allure of a new arena, more guaranteed money, larger endorsement opportunities, living in New York City, and Jay-Z ends up being too much to turn down even if playing for the Mavericks meant he would be returning home. Dwight gets his wish and joins Deron in Brooklyn and the two welcome in a new era for the Nets' franchise. Dallas has to settle for guys such as Steve Nash, Lou Williams, Jeremy Lin, Gerald Wallace, or Ersan Ilyasova to team up with Dirk Nowitzki as his prime years are quickly fading away. This would be an extremely frustrating outcome for the fan base, especially since they were so devoted to the club and the club's decisions this past year. And also for veterans like Dirk, Kidd, Terry, and others who basically sacrificed a year of their playing careers for the potential of contending for another championship with a reloaded roster.

AKA the "I feel sorry for Dirk" scenario.

Scenario 4: Continue along with the status quo.

The Mavericks lose out on Deron Williams and every other marquee free agent, bring back most of their players from a year ago, and use their first round pick on the 17th best player in the draft. I honestly don't want to elaborate more on this but obviously it would be a disaster of epic proportions. If this happens, Cuban should just sell the team, Donnie should resign, Rick should go back to his TV gig, and Dirk should demand a trade to the Miami Heat. On a serious note, I've never been high on the draft unless you are getting a guaranteed contributor for a professional basketball team. College basketball and the NBA is very different, it takes more than just talent or skills. You have to be mentally and physically well-prepared, disciplined in your day to day activities, and a role model to the community you now represent. This is why for every success story, there are 10 failures. For these reasons, I will more often than not, opt for the proven NBA vet over the potential of a college kid. You will always have exceptions to the rule, such as Oklahoma City, but a lot of luck was involved in the formation of their team as well.

This is the "I can't believe we decided to forego an opportunity to bring back most of our championship team so they can try and defend their title when there are no clear-cut favorites heading into the season" scenario.

In addition to moving back home, being close to friends and family (both his and his wife's families live in DFW), no state income tax (this levels out the contracts between what Dallas and Brooklyn can offer), and playing for a winning franchise, there is another major factor in the Deron sweepstakes: Jason KiddDeron has looked up to Kidd for years now, and he even wore #5 in high school (The Colony) and college (Illinois) in his honor. Today, their friendship appears to be stronger than ever, frequently paired up together on a golf course somewhere and dreaming about playing on the same team. I don't know how much recruiting Kidd is doing behind closed doors (and if the recruitment is even for the Mavs), but don't understate how much value he can bring to the process.


With that being said, these next few weeks are going to be truly exciting to follow. What the front office accomplishes or fails to accomplish will ultimately determine where the Mavericks will be in 1, 2, and 5 years down the road.

What do YOU think the Mavericks should do?

Photo content courtesy of: www.csmonitor.com, www.insidehoops.com,

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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

What Should the Houston Rockets Do?

I love the Houston Rockets.  My first ever sports memory was cheering for my hometown team against the New York Knickerbockers in the 1994 NBA Finals.  I then witnessed the Cinderella story of H-town's 1995 run to the championship as a #6 seed.  Since then, things have been a bit rocky, and while I love Carroll Dawson and all that he did as a general manager for the Rockets, I still miss seeing Sam Cassell and Robert Horry in red and white.

So with all that said, what should the Houston Rockets do in the 2012 NBA Draft?  Currently, the Rockets have the 14th, 16th (thanks Knicks), and 18th (later Chase Budinger) picks in the 1st round.  Below are 4 scenarios for us to choose from:

Scenario 1: Trade up in the draft.

To be honest, I don't see anybody truly rising above the pack that would be worth trading up for in this draft.  I would rather stay at #14, #16, and #18 spots than packaging pick(s) and player(s) for a chance in the top 3, unless maybe it is for the #1 pick.  With that said, the players I would be willing to trade up for that are not mocked to still be on the board at #14 are Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Dion Waiters.  I love Kidd-Gilchrist for his defensive tenacity and intangibles.  I love Waiters for his size and offensive arsenal.

Scenario 2: Keep all of these picks.

GM Daryl Morey has performed rather brilliantly in the draft thus far, so I will trust his expertise in this matter.  However, if it were up to me, this is what I'd be excited about at the end of the day on Thursday:

#14: Perry Jones III
#16: Terrence Jones
#18: Austin Rivers

PJ3 disappointed in his sophomore season, but in a draft where there's no sure thing, why not take the player with arguably the highest ceiling?  With the right coaching staff, he has the talent to become a steal at #14.

Terrence Jones has tremendous defensive versatility and has shown flashes of brilliance on the offensive end. Pair that with his 7'2" wingspan, and sign me up.

I should say now that I am not a fan of Austin Rivers.  At least not the Austin Rivers that I've seen at Duke.  But there is no denying that he has the tools to be a good player.  He possesses the crossover, first step, and jump shot to create his own offense, but he also possesses a me-first attitude -- perhaps not being drafted in the lottery will humble the young man a bit.

(Side note: I want the Houston Rockets to stay away from drafting Andre Drummond, Meyers Leonard, Jared Sullinger, and Marquis Teague.)


Scenario 3: Trade Kyle Lowry, #14, & #16 for Tyreke Evans & #5.

This is reportedly already on the table, and the ball is in Sacramento's court to decide whether or not to pull the trigger.  I would like to keep Kyle Lowry, but somehow in the past year, he has lost favor with this team and seems destined to leave anyway.  I've thought about it all day today, and even though I'm not high on Tyreke Evans, we'd be hard-pressed to find a better deal for Lowry than this.  Let's not forget that Evans is only a couple seasons removed from being the rookie of the year, and maybe, just maybe, we can chalk up his regression since then to the guard-heavy roster of the Sacramento Kings.  And yes, "guard-heavy" is a severe understatement.

If this trade were to happen, I have no earthly idea who I would want the Rockets to draft at #5.  Do we take the best player available in a Harrison Barnes?  Reach for a Jeremy Lamb?  I'd prefer a Lamb over a Barnes in this case, but I doubt any team would be willing to trade up for the #5 pick that's pretty much in no man's land.

Scenario 4: Do Scenario 2 trade, then trade Kevin Martin, Tyreke Evans, #5, and #18 for Dwight Howard.

By now, you might know how I feel about Dwight Howard.  He is #5 on my NBA Hate List, so I definitely do not want him on my team, but moreover, I don't think he's worth pursuing for just a 1-year rental.  After the circus he put Orlando through this past year, trading for him at this point would mean that we'd run a high risk of losing him next offseason.  So, unless you really think we are going to win this year, then why trade half the team for him?  If we pull off the Scenario 2 trade, I wouldn't mind going to battle with a starting lineup consisting of a motivated Tyreke Evans (who would be a restricted free agent after the season), a much-improved Courtney Lee (who will be an unrestricted free agent after the season), an experienced Chandler Parsons (who is dirt cheap and looking like the steal of last year's draft), Luis Scola (same old), and Samuel Dalembert (who impressed me after spending a season with Coach McHale).

If nothing else, some news is good news at this point for Houston Rockets fans, but here's to hoping that that the offseason won't be the most exciting part of our 2012-2013 NBA season.

What do YOU think the Houston Rockets should do?



Photos courtesy of Courtside Post

I Have Committed Treason


There's no easy way to say this, so I'll just be straightforward -- I'm sorry, LeBron King James.  Though it was so easy for me to hate you for the past 9 years, in the back of my mind, I knew this day would come.  And now that's it's finally here, I need to own up to it.

We all know the storyline about LeBron, and I'm sure many of you out there share the same sentiments that I used to have about the "King."  With the "King" and "Chosen One" titles and nothing to show for it in his career, he became the laughingstock of the NBA.  He made it so easy to hate him.  We all expected him to be like the last King -- His Airness, Michael Jordan.  But time and time again, LeBron would let us down. With the loss to the Mavs last year, undoubtedly, we all saw it as karma, destiny, and what goes around comes around.  But now, with LeBron finally capturing his first championship, I'm here to explain why it's so easy to love him.

Just a couple of weeks ago, as I sat in my chair, sulking in the loss of my beloved Celtics in game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, I had a sudden relevation: LeBron James is damn good.  But I knew this 9 years ago when I watched him destroy the competition in high school, and I knew this after each of three MVP trophies he's hoisted up in the last four years.  Even still, it was only through that 7-game series with the Celtics that I knew LeBron had finally arrived.  My cousin, Omar, asked me immediately after the game who I wanted to win in the Finals.  I annoyingly said, "OKC."  LeBron had just beaten PP, KG, Rayray, and Rondo (4 of my top 4 favorite players in the NBA today), and I was in no mood to root for the villain.

For the next 3 days, I rewatched LeBron's game 6 performance at least 5 times. Every replay, I observed something new about LeBron. Determined. Cold. Fearless. Possessed. After every defensive rebound, he would put his head down and roll full speed down the court. This was the LeBron that I saw when I watched him in high school.  This was the LeBron that led his school to a state championship.  There was no denying it, LeBron was on the rise again, and though I was always a big critic of him, it was a thing to behold.  Before the Finals started, I went back to Omar and told him, "I'm rooting for LeBron."

Some will say it's bandwagoning, getting lost in the moment, or flip-flopping -- say what you will about me, but the fact is LeBron is now a champion. He single-handedly turned the sports world and its fans upside-down.  What can we say about him now that he has more rings than any of us combined?  I'm a man who likes to give credit where credit is due. And to LeBron, this credit is long overdue.  LeBron has dominated the league in his own way, not Michael Jordan's way. LeBron has changed the game, his position, and the standard we hold young players to in his own way, not Michael Jordan's way. LeBron has become a champion in his own way -- going through ups and downs on and off the court, battling inner demons, confronting public opinions. He didn't follow Jordan's career arc. And to himself, he never had to. The mistake that we made was that we wrote LeBron's story and expected him to follow it. And because he didn't, we hated him for that.  However, with this first championship, LeBron has taken the pen out of our hands and the page off our desks. He's asked us to watch, to witness, and to read his story, written in his own way.

The first chapter is written. It's been one heck of a ride. And as a sports fan, I absolutely cannot wait for chapters two, three, four, five, six, seven...

Finally.  Finally, the chosen won.


Photo courtesy of Steve Mitchell/US Presswire

Sunday, June 24, 2012

U.S. Olympic Trials: Women’s Gymnastics


The U.S. Olympic Trials are taking place this coming weekend, and with only 5 gymnasts allowed on the team that’ll send 3 people up on each event, the competition is as fierce as ever.  The only way to guarantee spot on the team is to win the all-around competition at the trials.  So based on the countless YouTube videos of competitions and training since the last Olympics, these are my thoughts on who will be on the 2012 U.S. team. 




The 15 women that will compete at trials for a spot on the 2012 Olympic team. 

Courtesy of the USA Gymnastics Website.

Shoo-ins
Jordyn Wieber (Strengths: All-Around)
Jordyn is the reigning World All-Around Champion and is one of the most solid gymnasts the U.S. has.  She performs the super difficult Amanar vault (with a max score of 16.5), and she made the event finals for both balance beam and floor exercise.  Her one weakness is the uneven bars, on which she made a big mistake that almost cost her the gold.  She may not be the most elegant gymnast, but her difficulty levels are high, and she almost always hits her routines.  In the team competition, she’ll definitely be used on beam, floor, and vault.  Depending on who else is on the team, she might have to be the third score for bars.

Aly Raisman (Strengths: Beam, Floor, Vault)
At last year’s worlds, Aly won a bronze medal on floor and missed winning a medal on beam by less than .100 points.  She is the U.S.’s best floor worker and is one of the most consistent gymnasts on beam.  Her mental focus is something that Marta Karolyi has been praising since last year.  She can also perform the Amanar vault but not quite as well as some of the other girls.  Like Jordyn, the uneven bars is her nemesis and will definitely not be used in the team competition.  I will say, though, her bars routine at nationals was a lot better than at previous competitions.  She was actually keeping her legs together and feet pointed which will help her in the individual all-around.

Gabby Douglas (Strengths: All-Around)
Gabby’s best event is the uneven bars, which is the apparatus that the U.S. desperately needs better scores on.  She scored a 15.850 on the second day of nationals, which is comparable to what the Russian and Chinese gymnasts can put up on bars.  Gabby can also be great on the rest of the events, but she has fallen off the beam a couple of times in competitions.  She is going to make the team on her bars strength alone, and it doesn’t hurt that when she is on, she has been very competitive with Jordyn Wieber in all-around competitions.

Others
This is where things get tricky.  The team can only have 5 members, so with only two spots left, the U.S. really need bar workers in order to be competitive with the other countries.  My prediction for the fourth spot goes to Nastia Liukin.  She has trained really hard since nationals two weeks ago and will be able to score a high 15 or low 16 on the uneven bars and a low 15 on the balance beam.  She did horribly at nationals but had only barely begun training bars because of a shoulder injury earlier this year.  I bet her dad whips her into shape Russian-style.

The last spot then goes to McKayla Maroney.  She is the reigning world champion on vault and has scored over 16 points.  She’s decent on floor and not great on beam or bars, which makes her a complement to Nastia.  One thing to note is that she suffered a mild concussion at nationals, so let’s just hope she recovers fully because her vaults are seriously amazing to watch.

The one person that I have left off the list who is definitely in contention is Kyla Ross.  She just entered the senior ranks this year and is a good all-arounder with a bars routine that is pretty good.  Nastia needs to be amazing to take the spot away from Kyla Ross.

Team Prediction: Jordyn Wieber, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Nastia Liukin and McKayla Maroney.

Breakdown:
Balance Beam
Jordyn Wieber
Nastia Liukin
Aly Raisman

Uneven Bars
Nastia Liukin
Gabby Douglas
Jordyn Wieber

Floor Exercise
Aly Raisman
Gabby Douglas
Jordyn Wieber

Vault
McKayla Maroney
Jordyn Wieber
Gabby Douglas or Aly Raisman

Thursday, June 21, 2012

2012 NBA Finals: Game 5 - Running Diary of LeBron James

Game 5
After Mario Chalmers's heroic Game 4 effort, where he scored the team's final five points, the Miami Heat hold a commanding 3-1 lead with an opportunity to win their second NBA championship tonight. Admittedly, his career night saved LeBron James and company from a heartbreaking loss that would have drastically hurt their title chances. But this is how championships are usually won -- role players step up and save their superstars when they need it the most -- Jason Terry and JJ Barea saved Dirk Nowitzki, Pau and Artest saved Kobe, Manu saved Duncan, and Robert Horry saved everyone, just to name a few.

What we've witnessed from LeBron over the course of the last few months has been nothing short of historic. We all know about the numbers he has produced and the leadership he has shown. But the most amazing thing to me is that this is coming after only 12 short months after his debacle in Dallas. This time last year, he was at the lowest point in his NBA career. He had a chance to capture his first title against the Mavericks and temporarily hush all his critics. Undeniably, he shrunk on the game's biggest stage and the entire country was there to see it. But he's back in the finals again and there's no questioning that this is his team now. Hate him or love him, if that is not mental fortitude, then I don't know what is.

I have nothing against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Kevin Durant is 23, Russell Westbrook is 23, James Harden is 22, and Serge Ibaka is 22. IF (and that's a big if) they stay together, this collection of ultra-talented individuals will have plenty more chances down the road. But this is all about LeBron James. Being the polarizing figure that he is, LeBron is the reason why the NBA is the NBA today. He is the reason why everyone will turn on their TVs tonight to see how he reacts if he wins his first title. Will he pop his jersey? Will he cry? Will he let out a primal scream? Nobody knows, and that's why everyone will be watching.

So much has been written about the Miami Heat just on this site alone in the last year.

- The running diaries for Game 1 | Game 2 | Game 3 | Game 4
- The lack of fashion sense from Russell Westbrook.
- The infamous "good job, good effort" kid.
- The Crowning of LeBron, as well as the Coronation of King James.
- The NBA hate list where LeBron sits at the top.
- The times Jonathan Mok met Dexter Pittman and Shane Battier.
- The choke job by LeBron James.
- The awkwardness that is Chris Bosh.

Stat of the night: After Michael Jordan's first retirement in 1993, the Chicago Bulls finished with a 55-27 record and made it to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals without him. With Phil Jackson, Scottie Pippen, and others, they were already a very good team. On the other hand, when LeBron decided to take his talents to South Beach, the Cleveland Cavaliers went from a perennial contender to a team that won the lottery the very next year. Basically without James, they were the worst team in the league. Don't get me wrong, I'm not hating on Michael Jordan at all. I just simply want to put LeBron's worth into perspective.
8:20 PM - After the first 6 minutes, the score is 16-10 Miami. LeBron has a dunk and two and-1 layups: one on Sefolosha and one on Ibaka. If he continues to attack the rim like this, OKC has no chance. Wade picked up two quick fouls, but Coach Spo elected to keep him in the game. Big-time gamble.
8:24 PM - Durant is looking a lot more assertive tonight. He's taking shots even though he's being contested and he's really fighting hard for good position before he receives the entry pass.
8:27 PM - After Bosh's shot fake and dunk on Kendrick Perkins, OKC calls a full timeout. If the Thunder are going to allow Bosh easy layups, this may turn into a blowout.
8:38 PM - Miami is up 31-26 after the first quarter. LeBron with 7 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists. A defensive adjustment from Scott Brooks! So far, when Harden guards LeBron in the post, they are sending a HARD double team to get the ball out of his hands. Durant with two monster dunks and nine first quarter points.
8:47 PM - Mike Miller has gone 3-3 from three-point land. Ugh, James Harden just flopped his way into a LeBron offensive foul. I don't know about y'all, but he's quickly getting on my bad side. If the NBA is really serious about fining players when they flop, I am intrigued to see how much Harden will end up giving back to the league. It's gonna be a three-way battle for first place between the aforementioned Harden, Ginobili, and Dirk. Miami has the lead at 36-32, but you have to give it up to OKC -- this team never gives up.
8:54 PM - The difference in the game right now is that Battier and Miller are making shots while Harden and Fisher are not. Durant is playing fabulous. He's playing aggressively but also kicking out to wide-open shooters when given the opportunity.
9:01 PM - Bosh with unbelievable effort right now. Two huge blocks to go with his 10 points. Miami's biggest lead of the night, 48-36. Timeout OKC.
9:18 PM - Miami is up 59-49 at the end of the first half. LeBron with 15 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists. Westbrook is out of control: turnovers, ill-advised shots, and stupid defensive mistakes. Kevin Durant with 14 points on 14 shots in the first half. Love the mindset tonight. If they lose, it should be on HIS terms. Not Westbrook's, not Harden's, not anyone's. That's what being the man means. Defensively, however, he is getting abused -- Chalmers in Game 4, now Miller in Game 5. In fact, the Thunder's defense as a whole are just not very smart. They are going for every shot fake, committing stupid fouls, and simply not staying disciplined at all.
9:35 PM - It is getting physical out there. After a couple non-calls with some major contact, which team is going to be better at making adjustments? 9:46 PM - Chalmers is stepping up in this second half. His confidence is through the roof right now, and that's only going to make it easier for LeBron, Wade, and Bosh because lanes will be more open. Durant with 21 points, keep doing your thing, young blood. 9:58 PM - The lead has ballooned to 16 points after Fisher's flagrant foul on LeBron James.
10:10 PM - Miami is up 95-72 at the end of the third quarter. LeBron with 19 points, 7 rebounds, and 11 assists. LeBron is picking apart the double teams. Can we all just acknowledge what he's doing right now?
10:17 PM - Mike Miller is 7 for 7 from the three. Just wow.
10:26 PM - The lead is at 20 points with under 8 minutes left. Durant is still competing. And stranger things have happened, especially in this year's playoffs.
10:39 PM - LOL at OKC giving up with over 5 minutes left. Good job, good effort.
10:42 PM - The game is basically over. Miami is up 116-96 with 3 minutes left. LeBron with 26 points, 11 rebounds, 13 assists. Triple double. Dwayne Wade and LeBron James check out of the game. LeBron, knowing it will be Juwan Howard's first ring after 18 years in the league, congratulates him first as he subs into the game.
10:45 PM - The entire crowd is chanting to Kanye West - Power. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?
10:46 PM - 121-106. Game over. Miami wins Game 5 and takes the series 4-1. The 2012 NBA Champions - Miami Heat. It is their second title in seven years, and more importantly, it is LeBron's first.
10:47 PM - The Thunder players realize how much this means for LeBron James. Wow. Great show of class.
10:49 PM - Durant is the only Thunder player crying. Great to see. It reminds me of Dirk and all the heartache he had to go through before reaching the promised land.
10:50 PM - It's official. LeBron James, the 3-time MVP, is now an NBA champion.
10:55 PM - Stern is getting booed! Respect, city of Miami. Respect.
11:01 PM - Bill Russell hands over the MVP trophy to LeBron James. As LeBron hoists the Larry O'Brien and the Finals MVP Trophy, he is now the bonafide face of the league. He has the crown, the throne, and everything else in the NBA kingdom. "It's about damn time."

Congratulations, LeBron James.



ATTENTION DALLAS MAVERICKS FANS:
To be honest, it was easy for me to cheer for the Heat this year. I don't understand how people can call themselves a Mavericks fan but also cheer for one of our biggest rivals (OKC and San Antonio are our top 2). I will never cheer for the Redskins in the NFL, the Angels in the MLB, or the Sharks in the NHL. I lost a lot of respect for you so-called Mavs fans and won't view you guys in the same light. It doesn't matter how much you hate LeBron James, you should hate our arch enemies more.

And honestly, did you guys really want to live in a world where Derek Fisher has more rings than Kobe Bryant?

All times are Central Standard Time.

Photo content courtesy of: AP Photo

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The King's Coronation Is Near



I don’t consider myself a hater.

A hater is someone who hates irrationally.  It doesn’t matter how the subject of said hatred performs, the stream of hate train will come steamrolling in regardless.

While I may hate players for certain reasons, I can still appreciate what they do on the court as a basketball fan.  Case in point: Russell Westbrook.  In my NBA Hate List, I used the following to describe him:
Westbrook is a child trapped in a man's body.  He throws temper tantrums when he doesn't get his way, commits stupid fouls in retaliation, and takes bad shots that he could chuck up whenever he wants to.  If I were to make a bottom 10 low basketball IQ list, Russell Westbrook would definitely be #1 with nobody even close to challenging his throne. 
He is the primary reason why I didn't and still don't think the Thunder will make it to the finals this year.  He is the main reason why I don't think the Thunder will ever win an NBA championship.  But here's his one shot for redemption: if OKC somehow makes it past the Spurs and beat the Heat, then he will instantly be taken off of this list, and you will never hear me utter another negative word about him.  Please, Russell -- I'd love to be wrong here.
All this is not to say that I shake my head every time Westbrook touches the ball.  I don’t.  He made great decisions throughout game 4 and was relentless on the offensive end.  I thought he had the game of his life, and unfortunately, one of the lasting images of his night was his foolish foul on Chalmers with the shot clock winding down to clinch the game.  Does me criticizing that foul mean that I blame him for the entire loss?  No, of course not.  He had one of the best performances in the Finals we’ve ever seen.  Then who exactly should shoulder most of the blame?

James Harden could be a culprit.  During game 4, I tweeted:
I hope @dmorey is watching the NBA Finals so that he doesn’t make the mistake of giving James Harden a max contract.
If the clanking of wide open jumpers wasn’t bad enough, Harden decided to add some terrible turnovers on drives to his resume.  Oh and a blown breakaway layup.  This series would look completely different if he could return to his old self.

Some would say Kevin Durant deserves the blame, seeing as he is their best player.  I may have to go back to the tapes to see where he could be called tentative on offense in game 4, but in my opinion, he knew Russell was feeling it and allowed him to ride out the hot streak.  If anything, I would blame Durant somewhat for not calling out the defensive switch to guard LeBron James earlier in the game, when it became apparent to everybody and their mothers watching the game that the 3-time MVP was having his way with Harden in the low post.  But as with most defensive schemes, matchups, and strategies...

...That should reside with the head coach, Scotty Brooks.  I’m still trying to figure out what exactly the Thunder’s defensive plan was.  With the offense going through LeBron in the post, you can’t just have James Harden guarding him one-on-one.  Bron is 6’8” 250.  The Beard is 6’5” 220.  If this is the option you’re taking, you’re setting up your guy to fail.  On the instances that they did bring a double team, it wasn’t a hard double team, and there was little to no rotation from the weak side to help the doubler, resulting in uncontested 3’s.  I understand that it's almost impossible to stop LeBron from hurting you, but you gotta choose the lesser of two evils.  If you're going to defend him one-on-one in the post, put a guy with length on him who might be able to stand half a chance.  If you're going to bring a double team, make it as difficult as possible for LeBron to pass out of the double team.  Too many times in game 4 the help defender was left in no-man's land -- halfway contemplating staying at home on a shooter, halfway thinking about going to double team.  LeBron saw the defense sagging a bit and focused on him, and he lasered a pass to the open shooters for the J.

Something has to change before game 5.  The Thunder came out on fire and with a sense of purpose in the first quarter of game 4, but they seemed to just as quickly lose that energy with the start of the second.  Personally, I’m hoping Brooks finally realizes that Perkins is completely out of place in this series and just goes with a platoon of Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison at center, but I’m pretty sure I’ll hear Perk’s name in the starting lineups again.  Overall, 3-1 series lead and all, this NBA Finals has been the most entertaining one in recent memory.  If I didn’t hate the Heat so much, I would have bet on the Heat to win the series when people actually considered them underdogs.

As I have said all along, the Miami Heat should win this series.  They have the greatest player in the world, and now my greatest fear is becoming a reality: LeBron is finally playing like he knows it.  This is something completely different than anything we saw during last year’s Finals.  LeBron James has taken the next step, and it pains me to say it, but he’ll be crowned with his first championship within a week [reverse jinx, one time, please].


Photo courtesy of Lynne Sladky/AP

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Legacy of Roger Clemens



After all is said and done with this Roger Clemens mess, I am left with two burning questions.

1. What is the Rocket’s remaining legacy?

2. Why in the world is it Congress’s business whether or not he used PED’s?  


Okay I know the answer to the latter inquiry.  The issue was that Clemens might have lied under oath... about using performance-enhancing drugs.  But we’re talking about baseball here.  Also known as America’s favorite pastime, and as much as I’d love another reason to bash Commissioner Bud Selig for ruining the game and letting the needles get out of hand, it still should never have even sniffed the front porch of Washington, D.C.  

With that said, let’s address my first query.  How will Roger Clemens be remembered?  It’s hard to believe that just a few short years ago, Clemens was highly regarded as the greatest pitcher of all time.  He is an 11-time all-star, a 7-time Cy Young winner, a 2-time World Series champion, and a 1-time AL MVP.  A sure-fire, hands down, shut-it-down-let’s-go-home first ballot Hall-of-Famer.

But now?  Regardless of whether or not you believe in Clemens’ innocence, it’s impossible to think of his name without linking it to PED’s.  And even though he knew that there was no way for him to fully restore his name once the allegations surfaced, the irony in the matter is that’s exactly what he’s been trying (and technically succeeded) to do.  Roger and his family walked away from the courthouse earlier this week relieved with the news that he had been acquitted of all counts of perjury, obstruction of justice, and making false statements before Congress.  But the question of whether or not he used steroids remains unsettled.  If it is validation from the Baseball Hall of Fame that Clemens is looking for, the validity of his impressive career will be left to the voters’ decision as to how to treat this tainted Steroid Era in the MLB.

While the old excuse that “everybody else was doing it” may be the last thing you want to say to your parents, it might eventually work in this case.  There is simply far too much speculation and headache to figure out which specific players used which specific substances during which specific points in their careers.  Do they throw it all out?  Punish the righteous and the sinful and not allow anyone from that generation to be recognized in the Hall?  Or do they accept that it is what it is and strictly go by the numbers?

My two cents?  Baseball wants to push the Steroid Era underneath the rug, but let’s not forget that the Steroid Era also produced the most epic home run record chase of this generation between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa that arguably saved the sport.  Steroids and other PED’s may have been pervasive during that generation, but all you can do now is look forward and try to prevent it from happening again.  Either way, just as Pete Rose doesn't need the Hall of Fame to substantiate the fact that he was perhaps the game's best hitter, Roger Clemens does not need the Hall to substantiate that he was perhaps the most dominant pitchers this league has ever seen.





Photo courtesy of Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

2012 NBA Finals: Game 4 - Running Diary of LeBron James


Game 4

After one of LeBron James's most important performances of his career -- in which he willed his Miami Heat team to an important Game 3 win -- the onus is on him to do it once again. That's what being LeBron James is all about. He will always be put under the microscope by fans, media, and the national public. It doesn't take a game. In fact, it's not even going to take a championship. But that discussion is for another day.

Game 4 is extremely critical because if Miami wins, they will take a commanding 3-1 lead in the series and will have a chance to close it out at home in Game 5. No team has ever come back down 1-3 in the NBA Finals since the 2-3-2 format was implemented. If OKC wins, however, they will tie the series at 2 games a piece and will guarantee at least one more game at Chesapeake Energy Arena, where they've lost only once all postseason. At the same time, nobody expected the Thunder to reel off four straight wins against the San Antonio Spurs, so I guess you never know.

To put it lightly, the superstar matchup has been really entertaining to watch. Durant, arguably the greatest scorer the game has ever seen (remember folks, he's only 23 years old and already has three scoring titles to his name), had a really off night by his standards in Game 3 -- especially in the fourth quarter, going only 1-5 from the field. A lot of that was because he wasn't in a good rhythm due to being in foul trouble for most of the second half; I'm not going to lie, a couple of the calls were pretty ridiculous. But then again, he also has made some pretty egregious mistakes in terms of being smart with his fouls in both Games 2 and 3. With that being said, I absolutely hate it when the refs have such a noticeable impact on the game. The person I blame for this is David Stern. If you don't know this by now, I hate the guy.

Speaking of which, why is the game starting so late tonight anyways?

Stat of the night: LeBron James is the first non-center since John Havlicek to average 30 and 10 after the first three games of the NBA Finals. That's 50 years.

8:04 PM - Alright let's do this! Can OKC come out with a quick start, or will Miami continue to jump to an early lead? I expect a huge game from James Harden tonight. He had 17 points in the first half of game 2 but only 18 points in the other five halves combined. Using the great law of averages, he should show up tonight for the Thunder.

8:08 PM - To hide Durant on defense, he is guarding Mario Chalmers.
8:12 PM - Again, Westbrook is leading his team with his energy and ability to drive the paint and knock down the midrange J. And boom, there's the quick start OKC badly needed. They are up 13-3. Timeout Miami. If you were to ask your friends about Russell Westbrook, I'm sure 9 out of 10 guys will speak negatively of him. But at the end of the day, he is the starting point guard on an NBA Finals team -- he must be doing something right.
8:24 PM - This is end-to-end basketball. The refs are letting them play tonight. The important thing is for them to STAY CONSISTENT with the way they call the game. Wade with two missed free throws followed by another Westbrook jumper. 25-12 OKC. This is the biggest lead they've had during the entire Finals.
8:35 PM - Miami down 33-19 at the end of the first quarter. LeBron with 4 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists. The Thunder is getting out and running on every opportunity they get. Great energy. Both Westbrook (10 points) and Durant (8 points) set the early tone for their team. This is their first lead at the end of the first frame. It looks like it may be one of those "Wade is done" games right now.
8:39 PM - Miami with a 10-0 run! Norris with two big threes. Miami is literally going to James on every possession and LeBron is dominating the paint again. When Ibaka isn't in the game, LeBron needs to realize that there is no shot blocking at all. Just keep attacking and good things will happen. Thabo is getting abused.
8:48 PM - The run stops at 13 straight points for the Heat. LeBron gets his first rest with 9 minutes left. The goal for Miami here is to keep it as close as they can and buy time. If I was coaching Miami, I wouldn't sit LeBron at all. He's just too valuable and Miami's +/- sabermetrics clearly quantifies this.
8:58 PM - Bosh with a hustle rebound drawing Ibaka's third foul. I really can't believe I just typed that.
9:07 PM - Miami down 46-49 at the end of the first half. LeBron with 10 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists, and a steal. I smell a triple double for the 3-time MVP. Norris Cole looking nice with the Fresh Prince fade -- oh and his play in the first half was nice too. Chris Bosh is attacking the glass like a madman again. He's affecting the game in other ways than just scoring, who woulda thought??? Westbrook with 18 huge points to pace the Thunder, which included a ferocious putback dunk at the end of the half. I love the physicality of the game tonight. Love it.
9:29 PM - I'm always intrigued at how teams adjust coming out of the half. After the first few minutes, both teams look pretty settled in. The only major adjustment I see is Chalmers being much more aggressive forcing Durant to have to play some defense. Miami up 55-54.
9:43 PM - Chalmers is really playing well this game. OKC is so talented. I feel like they will never get blown out. You have Miami's role players stepping up, Wade with 20, LeBron with a near triple double, and they are still in the game.
9:49 PM - LeBron has showcased that jump hook on multiple occasions against the Thunder. It's time to just double, no triple team him when he's in the post. This back-to-basket game is reminiscent of Hakeem the Dream! All that work in the summer is definitely paying off.
9:57 PM - Miami up 79-75 at the end of the third quarter. LeBron with 20 points, 9 rebounds, and 12 assists. He is abusing both Harden and Sefolosha in the post. Then he faces up Durant and hits a jumper. OKC must adjust and force the other guys to beat them.
10:04 PM - Looks like it's going to be LeBron guarding Durant and Durant guarding LeBron for the rest of the game! Should be fun to watch. Wow! How does Durant only have 1 rebound? Chalmers is playing out of his mind! 18 crucial points. He is making Alaska proud.
10:12 PM - Russell Westbrook.
10:18 PM - With 5 minutes left, Miami is up 92-90. Westbrook's unbelievable performance may end up turning into a good thing for the Heat because he tends to forget about his teammates. LeBron is suffering from major cramping. Once you cramp up, you're going to continue to get cramps for the rest of the night. Someone get the King some pickle juice!
10:25 PM - LeBron sat out for two offensive possessions and two defensive possessions before he checked back in. Meanwhile, Durant's four quick points have now given OKC the lead. Another epic game in this epic series.
10:27 PM - James simply does not look right. He's definitely in there to be the decoy because they've run the Wade/Bosh pick-and-roll two times in a row now. BOOM! LeBron with a clutch three! This performance will go down as one of the greatest ever! Miami's lead is now back up to 5 points. Wow!
10:32 PM - LeBron with an air ball. He missed that by at least two feet. Less than a minute left, Miami ball, up 3 points, full time out. ABC decides to keep the coverage on and show how much pain LeBron is in. You know it must be really bad when he can't even get into the game. Chalmers with the biggest basket in his career since his shot over Derrick Rose in the NCAA Championship Game. Miami up 101-96.
10:37 PM - LOL! OKC's low basketball IQ shows its true colors. Westbrook foul. Bad coaching from the bench. Bad teammates for not recognizing the situation. Game over. Miami wins 104-98. LeBron with 26 points, 9 rebounds, 12 assists, and 2 steals.

The stories of the game tonight are LeBron's "mind over matter" effort and Westbrook's "Durant who?" 43-point beauty. Both guys really put their teams in position to win. The difference was Wade making two critical defensive plays (a save to LeBron and a great contest on Thabo's three point shot), while Durant and Harden were nowhere to be found. The guys on the court all look exhausted. You have to love the effort being shown by both teams.

Nobody other than Westbrook and Durant scored in double figures for the Thunder tonight. What happened to the team basketball that was the envy of the rest of the NBA? In my opinion, I think it's because they are not used to the physicality of Miami. Most notably, James "I flop" Harden. The Spurs were soft, the Lakers were soft, and the Mavericks were soft.

All times are Central Standard Time.
Photo content courtesy of: Getty Images

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