Posted on: June 1, 2009 11:35 am

LeBron's premature celebration haunts him

Before we get to what will be an interesting and entertaining NBA Finals, there is the small matter of LeBron James that must be addressed.

Was it unsportsmanlike for LeBron to walk off the court without shaking anybody's hand? Yes, but I'm sure it's nothing Dwight Howard or anyone on the Magic found particularly offensive. Was it unsportsmanlike for LeBron to blow off the media after the game? A little bit. I've never been one of these people who believe that a person's character can be boiled down to his relationships and conduct with respect to the media. There have always been and always will be a lot of phonies in sports whose unblemished records with the media only cover up other flaws that the public never gets to see. But LeBron should've known how it would look, and he should've anticipated the fallout. He made a mistake. Hey, he's 24 years old.

Here is the problem I have with LeBron: All that dancing, preening, posing, joking, air-guitar strumming, and shenanigans during pre-game introductions -- and during the games sometimes -- that he and the Cavs liked to do during the good 'ol days when they were rolling and everything was just spectacular in Cavsville? I didn't like it then, and I like it even less now. It was unprofessional then, and it can be viewed in an even harsher light now that it was all for nothing.

During the Cavs' 107-76 thrashing of the defending champion Celtics on April 12, I wrote something in this blog that proves that sometimes, I know what I'm talking about. I wrote that the Cavs' joking and back-slapping and unprofessional conduct on the bench during the blowout -- all of which was orchestrated by LeBron -- was unprofessional. I wrote that it was more than that. It was planting the seeds for payback. I wrote that the Celtics would remember that, and that it would motivate them to make the Cavs pay for their immature behavior.

Well, I was wrong about which team would exact revenge. Had the Celtics gotten Kevin Garnett back for the playoffs, who knows? Maybe they would've beaten Orlando -- I suspect they would have -- and then gotten their chance to make LeBron and the Cavs pay. Didn't happen. But the foolishness certainly came back to bite LeBron and his teammates, and they only looked smaller when LeBron needed 24 hours to face the music once the Cavs' brilliant season ended in defeat.

So here's what I have to say now, and I don't think I need to say it for it to be true: You will not see LeBron & Co. -- whatever players make up the "Co." part -- carrying on that way next season. Or you shouldn't, anyway. I believe the King and his royal subjects have learned a very tough lesson. You don't get to dance, celebrate, and show up your opponents until you are standing on the court next to the championship trophy.

None of this makes LeBron a sore loser for failing to shake hands or blowing off the media after losing to Orlando in the conference finals. But it should -- and I believe, will -- make for a much different LeBron when we see him again next season. From now on, I believe you'll see him save the celebration until there's something to celebrate.

Category: NBA
Posted on: May 27, 2009 12:06 am

Believe in Magic

All those media types Stan Van Gundy is always complaining about? I'm one of them.


Guilty as charged.

I didn't think the Magic had this in them. I admit it.

I watched the Magic throughout the regular season and in the playoffs, too, and I didn't believe. I wrote this column on March 8, after the Magic beat the Celtics -- without Kevin Garnett -- 86-79 in Boston. That day, Van Gundy explained what I thought was the Magic's Achilles' heel, the weakness that would undermine them in the playoffs.

"I don't think we're built to push and shove on people," Van Gundy said. "And here's the other thing: If you look around, compare us, say, to this team. Kendrick Perkins can be as physical as he wants. Him getting in foul trouble is not, from an offensive standpoint, in any way a huge deal to them. Look at a lot of the teams that are built as real physical teams. Those guys inside are not really concerned about foul trouble. Our front line is Dwight [Howard] and Rashard [Lewis]. Our scoring comes from those guys. We can't have those guys down there pushing and shoving and being in foul trouble and sitting on the bench."

And then I wrote these words: Voila. That is why the Magic won't beat Boston or Cleveland in the playoffs.

There, I saved you the trouble of Googling my words and feeding them to me. You're welcome.

Now, after beating the Cavs 116-114 in overtime Tuesday night to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference finals, Orlando is one victory away from beating both Boston and Cleveland in the playoffs.

Bravo, Orlando. Bravo, Dwight Howard. I didn't think you had it in you.

I was wrong.

What happened? Three things. 1) The Celtics without Garnett wound up in the same predicament the Magic were in, without enough big bodies to play physical basketball and contribute on the offensive end at the same time; 2) Cleveland, with lightweight Zydrunas Ilgauskas and shadow-of-himself Ben Wallace, didn't have enough physical big men, either; and 3) The Magic and Howard grew up.

To me, the turning point was Game 6 against Boston, when all the pressure in the world was on Howard's shoulders -- and it was self-imposed. After a Game 5 loss in Boston, Howard unleashed a rare public diatribe, calling out his coach and teammates and demanding the ball. He got the ball in Game 6 in Orlando, produced 23 points and 22 rebounds, and then the Magic had the confidence they needed to go to Boston and beat the Celtics in Game 7. Which they did.

From that point on, there were no more questions about the Magic's mental fortitude. And it showed in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals Tuesday night. Howard is among the most likeable superstars in the NBA, one we will enjoy watching for another decade or more. Since that Game 6 victory against the Celtics, Howard has transformed himself from a happy-go-lucky, not-serious-enough, Mr. Nice Guy into the unstoppable force that he should be.

So when I'm wrong, I admit it. When one of the game's young, formerly immature superstars grows up before our very eyes, I applaud him.

Kudos to the Magic for a job well done, and for making the naysayers eat their words.

Category: NBA
Posted on: May 26, 2009 7:57 pm

Criminal justice, NBA style

LOS ANGELES -- I hope the bosses don't mind, but I'm going to be conducting interviews here in L.A. for a new position I'm creating at CBSSports.com. It's called Senior NBA Flagrant & Technical Foul Writer.

Yes, it's a full-time position, because covering the NBA criminal justice beat is nothing short of a full-time job.

In case you missed it, a flagrant-one charged to Orlando's Anthony Johnson for elbowing Cleveland's Mo Williams in the eye socket was rescinded Tuesday. Supreme Court Justice nominee Sonia Sotomayor, who has an extensive background in sports law, immediately struck down the decision in a scathing, one-paragraph opinion. President Obama issued a statement that he regrets the error; Orlando is not in Sotomayor's jurisdiction.

On to the Western Conference smackdown, the subject of two correct decisions and a hilarious one from the league office Tuesday. Andrew Bynum's two-handed block against Chris Andersen in Game 4 was downgraded to a personal foul (correct), Dahntay Jones' bush-league trip of Kobe Bryant in the same game was upgraded to a flagrant-one (correct), and Lakers coach Phil Jackson was fined $25,000 for criticizing the officials (ha!). Tune into the next episode of Jeanie Vision for the Zen Master's reaction.

Kidding aside, politics has taken center stage in both series. Magic coach Stan Van Gundy chided Mo Williams and Ben Wallace for flopping in the Eastern Conference finals, saying that in Game 3 they both "fell down more than a baby learning to walk." To which Big Ben replied that Van Gundy should "come out here and do something about it" or "shut the ___ up." Good comeback, Ben! Make the check payable to the National Basketball Association and mail it to 645 Fifth Ave., New York, NY, 10022.

In the Western finals, shifting to L.A. for Game 5 Wednesday night tied 2-2, Jones' second straight game with a flagrant-one is no laughing matter. As I wrote Monday night, that brings Jones' total to three flagrant points in the playoffs. One more flagrant-one will result in an automatic one-game suspension. If he's idiotic enough to get a flagrant-two, he'll be subject to a two-game suspension.

Applicants for the new position I've created are welcome to post their qualifications here, as well as suggestions on how they would bring clarity, consistency, and sanity to the NBA's pursuit of equal justice. Judge Sotomayor, unfortunately, must recuse herself. She has bigger fish to fry.

Posted on: May 25, 2009 8:58 pm

Hey Mo, knock it off

The only possible result of Mo Williams' guarantee that's positive for the Cavaliers would be if Patrick Ewing came back with a counter-guarantee. Ewing got his last guarantee right in the Boston series, but he was oh-for-his-career before that.

Seriously, what is Mo thinking?

I'm not so worked up about the guarantee part. That's the most hackneyed trick in the sports journalism book. I'm sick of guarantees. Joe Namath made the only real guarantee. Guarantees are like socks. You can't use them more than once.

But there was more to Williams' comments Monday than a media trick. He spoke extensively, didn't flinch, and made it abundantly clear what he meant. He meant disrespect to the Magic because he downplayed their 2-1 advantage in the Eastern Conference finals and proclaimed that the Cavs are the better team.

This is going back a ways -- and to a different sport -- but Williams' comments remind me of a time when I was covering the NFL. The morning after the Tampa Bay Bucs humiliated the Raiders 48-21 in Super Bowl XXXVII, Oakland's Jerry Porter went on and on in interviews at the team hotel about how the Raiders were the better team. Maybe Porter had a dream about the Super Bowl that turned out differently than the real thing.

Williams is dreaming, too, if he thinks it's a good idea to give the Magic any more motivation than they already have.

The quote that jumps out to me -- and presumably will jump out to the Magic -- is this one from Williams: "They deserve respect. They are a good team. But we are the best team in basketball."

Sorry. Not if you don't beat Orlando, Maurice. And thanks to you, the Magic have something else to motivate them
Category: NBA
Posted on: May 23, 2009 4:19 pm
Edited on: May 23, 2009 4:27 pm

The Shot, Part IX

DENVER -- LeBron James' game-winning shot against Orlando resonated all the way to Denver, where the Lakers and Nuggets marveled at the King's majesty and couldn't help but wonder: Who's next?

"It's always been that way in the playoffs," Kobe Bryant said Saturday after the Lakers held shootaround at the Pepsi Center. "It's always come down to that. Sometimes it's the little things, subtle plays here and there. Sometimes, it’s the big shot. In the playoffs, particularly in this stage of the playoffs, it's always been highly contested down to the last minute."

Never like this, though.

The four conference finals games have been decided by seven points, and, for the first time in NBA history, each of the first four games in the conference finals have been decided for three points or less. Nine postseason games have been decided by a game-winning shot with three seconds or less remaining -- two at the buzzer, and one in overtime. The Orlando Magic have been involved in five of them -- one in their favor, and four not.

Here's the list, courtesy of the NBA:

April 19: Andre Iguodala with two seconds left in Philadelphia's 100-98 victory over Orlando.

April 20: Ray Allen with two seconds left in Boston's 118-115 victory over Chicago.

April 23: Deron Williams with two seconds left in Utah's 88-86 victory over the Lakers.

April 24: Thaddeus Young with two seconds left in Philadelphia's 96-94 victory over Orlando.

April 26: Hedo Turkoglu with one second left in Orlando's 84-81 victory over Philadelphia.

April 28: Paul Pierce with three seconds left in overtime in Boston's 106-104 victory over Chicago.

May 9: Carmelo Anthony with one second left in Denver's 106-105 victory over Dallas.

May 10: Glen Davis at the buzzer in Boston's 95-94 victory over Orlando.

May 22: LeBron James at the buzzer in Cleveland's 96-95 victory over Orlando.

So I ask again, who's next?

"I was sitting at the counter of the greasy spoon having my soup and my greasy burger," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "And the guy next to me said, 'Oh, man, Orlando's going to go up 2-0 and Cleveland's going to be down in the series. Do you want to see Orlando?' I said, 'You wrote off this guy? He can still make a shot from almost anywhere.' And he did. That's the way he is. James is just a terrific player."

Nuggets coach George Karl empathized with Stan Van Gundy and defended the Magic coach's strategy on the last play.

"In a lot of ways, I think Stan did a great job of knowing what they were going to run," Karl said. "Stan Van Gundy has done a great job coaching this year. I know he feels miserable right now. But in some ways, he's got to understand that he's in a great place. They've done their job, and now it's the monster of momentum, how that's going to affect the series -- because I think we all know it's an emotional momentum, it's a big-time scoreboard momentum, and you've also got probably the best player in basketball momentum."

Derek Fisher, who missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer in Game 2 against the Nuggets -- a shot many have argued should have been taken by Bryant -- said those plays are always ripe for second-guessers.

"He made the shot," Fisher said. "I dont know if there was anything different that could've been done. You can question players and coaches all day. Maybe he could have put Dwight Howard on the guy out of bounds. You could put Dwight Howard at the rim and just make sure everybody funnels guys towards the basket as opposed to letting them step back out. But still, at the end of the day, when the guy catches the ball from 27 feet and makes a three like that, there's only so much you can do."

Another factoid for you as you get ready for Game 3 in Denver Saturday night: Nineteen playoff games have been decided by three points or less, which ties an NBA record without even playing a single game on the second team's home court in the conference finals. That means 26 percent of playoff games this postseason have been decided by a 3-pointer or less.

"I think it's going to continue like that," Karl said.

Why wouldn't it?
Category: NBA
Posted on: May 12, 2009 11:04 pm

Magic pull rodent out of hat

I've seen enough of the Orlando Magic to last me a lifetime.

I don't want to hear about Ray Allen's 3-pointer that should've been a 2-pointer in the second quarter. I don't want to hear about the ball that didn't touch the rim that was ruled to have touched the rim.

This wasn't about inches or centimeters or bad breaks or bad calls.

This was about one team having the desire to stay alive in the playoffs and another team possessing nothing but a violent allergic reaction to that.

Possession after possession down the stretch, the Magic did the opposite of what you're supposed to do. The Celtics did exactly what you'd expect them to do. They did the right thing. They made the winning play. They didn't throw the ball wildly off the side of the backboard -- as a skittish Hedo Turkoglu did -- or toss it desperately in the general direction of the rim -- as a schizophrenic Rafer Alston did. They got the ball to Ray Allen, who'd shot the ball like Ray Barrone all series, off a screen in a clutch spot. And bang, of course, he knocked it down. They got a tap-out offensive rebound to keep a crucial possession alive. They inbounded the ball to Allen, a 95 percent foul shooter -- as opposed to Orlando, which inbounded the ball to Dwight Howard, a 55 percent foul shooter. And then they panicked and ordered Howard to miss the second free throw. Why? Because that's what the Magic do. They panic and vomit in their own mouths.

Anyway, that wasn't even the point. As the TNT crew correctly pointed out, it was the first time Howard had touched the ball in ages. How delicious is that? How apropos? How perfect? The Magic have the most unstoppable low-post force in the game, and they're so weak, so cowardly, so insignificant that they're reduced to having that unstoppable force standing 15 feet from the rim and deliberately chucking a ball off the backboard in the final seconds.

The Magic, my friends, get what they deserve.

I don't know if the Celtics close this out Thursday night or not. In my mind, it doesn't matter. Can anyone in their right mind imagine a team with so little heart winning a Game 7 in Boston?  

I will leave you with this. A man with whom I have not always gotten along, Stephon Marbury, gave the Celtics several quality, effective, borderline clutch and spectacular minutes in this game. I have nothing whatsoever against Stephon Marbury and wish to congratulate him. If only the Magic had a point guard that good.

Category: NBA
Tags: Celtics, Magic
Posted on: May 7, 2009 6:18 pm
Edited on: May 7, 2009 6:21 pm

Comic relief aside, Alston, Fisher judged alike

You whack somebody in the head, you get whacked for a game. Pretty simple, right?

At first I thought Rafer Alston's Three Stooges routine on Eddie House might elicit more laughter than punishment from the NBA. After all, it was sort of funny. But Stu Jackson doesn't have much of a sense of humor this time of year. The letter of the law is the letter of the law.

Alston swung and made contact with House's head, and that was enough for the league to park him at home with a one-game suspension to be served Friday night in Game 3 of the Magic-Celtics series.

This is awful news for Orlando, which blew a 28-point lead in Game 1 and got blown out in Game 2. Backup point guard Anthony Johnson was brutal in Game 1, which I witnessed in person. Alston has been no Celtic-killer, either. Advantage Celtics in this one.

Derek Fisher's full-body check on the Rockets' Luis Scola was a much easier call. Fisher looked back to locate Scola, sized him up like a hockey goon at the blue line, and leveled him. Fisher also will serve his one-game suspension Friday night in Game 3, which I will be attending and reporting from my ringside seat. I never miss a cage match.

Category: NBA
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com