Posted on: June 1, 2009 11:35 am
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.
Posted on: May 24, 2009 2:30 am
DENVER -- In the final 30 seconds, after he'd ripped Nuggets fans' hearts out with a dagger 3-pointer, Kobe Bryant stepped to the free throw line twice. The Colorado crowd serenaded him with the usual assortment of boos, obscenities, and whatever else they could think of.
And Kobe regrets to inform them that they were the reason those free throws went in.
"It really helped me, to be honest with you," Bryant said. "I couldn't feel my legs one bit, not at all. And when they started chanting that, it just reminded me what we're playing for and where we're playing. And it was just kind of, 'You gotta man up, put these in the hole,' because of that."
Bryant sank all four free throws, and the Lakers preserved a 103-97 victory Saturday night to take a 2-1 lead in the Western Conference Finals. Game 4 is Monday night in Denver.
In case you're wondering, Kobe also enjoyed the silence of the crowd after his 3-pointer with 1:09 left gave the Lakers a 96-95 lead. Yes, even more than the "Kobe Sucks" chants when he was at the line.
"It's a great feeling," Bryant said. "It's a much better feeling, actually, than being at home and hearing the roar of the crowd. You enjoy it a lot more, because everybody's against you. And everybody's wanting you to lose, wanting you to fail. And when you hit a shot like that and everybody goes quiet, it feels good. It feels real good."
This was Kobe's answer to LeBron James' heart-stopping, series-saving 3-pointer with one second left against Orlando Friday night. That was at home, where the crowd was dead quiet before the shot went in and apoplectic afterward. Bryant's response, on the road, fit him perfectly. He's always worn the black hat well.
Which is why, despite his denials and those of his teammates, Bryant must've been playing with a little something extra on this night, at the culmination of a 24-hour period in which he played second fiddle to LeBron. The great debate -- LeBron or Kobe -- reached a tipping point with James' heroics. Don't think Kobe didn't notice. LeBron followed Kobe's 61 points at Madison Square Garden during the regular season with a 52-point, near-triple double. Don't think Kobe didn't want the last word this time.
"Kobe Bryant has been playing at a high level for a long time now," Lamar Odom said. "I think it would be childish to even entertain [the comparison]. It's fun for SLAM Magazine and for the newspaper articles, but I mean, how could you compare greatness? I mean, who's better, Bruce Springsteen or Frank Sinatra? What do you like? Are you having wine or beer? You know what I mean? Whatever floats your boat."
At the Lakers' shootaround Saturday morning, Bryant didn't have much to say about LeBron's shot; something about it being a "clean look." In the final question of his postgame press conference, Bryant peered incredulously at a reporter who asked him a "great debate" question.
"Are you serious? No, really?" Bryant said.
He went on to explain that he'd sent LeBron a text message congratulating him on The Shot. "We're all friends," Kobe said. "Everybody tries to make it out like this big thing, but we're all friends. And I told him it was a hell of a shot. He does what he does in Cleveland, and I do what I do here."
Posted on: May 23, 2009 4:19 pm
Edited on: May 23, 2009 4:27 pm
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?
Posted on: April 12, 2009 6:23 pm
It's easy to draw kneejerk conclusions from a blowout over the defending champs in the final week of the regular season. I'm not going to do that. I will give the Cavaliers this: The path to the Larry O'Brien Trophy goes through Cleveland this year, plain and simple.
It's hard to say whether the Celtics are flat-out playing second fiddle to the Cavs now, especially since everyone knows the Celts aren't at full strength and probably won't be until the sometime in their second-round playoff series. Kevin Garnett is expected to chip the rust off in Boston's regular season finale against the Washington Wizards. Even after that, it'll take some time for the Celtics to find the rhythm and cohesiveness that led them to banner No. 17 last June.
I understand there was a reason the Cavs were dancing, strumming air guitars, and mugging for the ABC cameras during a 107-76 evisceration of the Celtics on Sunday afternoon. Not only were they proclaiming their superiority in the East, the Cavs also were celebrating the stranglehold they have on homecourt advantage in the NBA Finals if and when they get there. With their 65th victory of the season, Cleveland would have to lose both of its remaining games and the Lakers would have to win both of theirs for the Cavs to lose their grasp on home court. (If somehow all that happened, the Lakers would get the nod because they were 2-0 against Cleveland this season.) The way the Cavs play at home -- 39-1, for goodness sake -- it would be hard to imagine a more confident team going into a Game 7 against the Lakers in mid-June.
But ... and this is a significant caveat ... the Cavs are better than this. How can you be better than 39-1 at home? For one, you can show class -- not crass. You can show sportsmanship -- not gamesmanship. You can act like you're auditioning for a championship, not "Dancing With The Stars." I want to get LeBron, Mo Williams, and Delonte West in front of Bruno Tonioli for five minutes. They'd never pull stunts like this again.
The Cavs sure looked better than the Celtics on Sunday. A lot better. You can argue that LeBron can do whatever he wants on the bench during the fourth quarter of a blowout he'd so expertly orchestrated. He is the MVP in the league, hands down. His drive to the basket for a 3-point play -- dragging two defenders with him and getting fouled three times -- was awe-inspiring. So was the way he chased down a play from 60 feet and swatted Ray Allen's layup attempt away from the rim. He is an awesome talent at both ends of the floor, and there may very well be no one who can stop him and no team that can stop the Cavs.
But you don't show up the defending champs the way the Cavs did Sunday. You just don't. You celebrate when the season is over and when you are holding the gold-plated trophy on your home court. Not on the last Sunday of the regular season, in the midst of an eminently meaningless regular season game.
The Celtics will remember this. As to whether they're good enough to do anything about it, only time will tell. But I don't like it one bit. One of these days, somebody is going to take that air guitar and smash it over LeBron's head.
Posted on: April 2, 2009 12:24 pm
Edited on: April 2, 2009 12:24 pm
Time to chase away the crickets from that Lawrence Frank post. Can you hear 'em?
Yes, LeBron James is on Twitter. Allegedly. According to J-Cam's reporting, the Twitter folks say it's really him.
Funny thing is, there are 426 followers, but no posts yet. The world awaits breathlessly. My guess is, LeBron is waiting for someone to pay him to Tweet. That's what I'd do, if someone would pay me to Tweet. (I'm working on it.)
As it usually goes on the interwebs, one click leads to another, which leads to another, and by the time I was finished digesting J-Cam's Twitter story, I had learned that Paul Pierce, Baron Davis, Danny Granger, and Chris Bosh are on Twitter, too. Pierce used the social networking site to advise fans to show up at the TD Banknorth Garden at a specified time to get free tickets in his suite.
“first 5 people who meet me at the garden in the players parking lot entrance at 445 with my jersey on get free tickets password is truth,” the Truth wrote. This was no joke. Five fans scored the tix and watched the Celtics beat Oklahoma City from Pierce's personal suite.
I also learned that not only is Bosh on Twitter, but he's on Facebook, too. He has 44,405 friends and counting, all of whom apparently were at his 25th birthday bash, photos of which are posted here. Ah, to be young, rich, and going from one max contract to the next. There's also a photo of the Eastern Conference All-Stars posing with Muhammad Ali in the locker room. Bosh scooped every major and minor news organization in the world with that pic.
Interesting times. I guess the question I'll pose is this: Which is bigger right now? LeBron or Twitter?
Posted on: March 30, 2009 2:16 pm
By now you've seen LeBron James' underhanded, halfcourt-plus shot during the 60 Minutes interview. It's all over the interwebs. Jimmy Kimmel was not impressed.
Caveat No. 1: Someone needs to get Guillermo on the record and ask how many takes Jimmy needed.
Caveat No. 2: I didn't find this all by myself. TrueHoop found it for me.
P.S. This is the long version. It's funnier.
Posted on: March 29, 2009 7:14 pm
ATLANTA -- The ship may have sailed Sunday on the Lakers' chances of securing homecourt advantage for a potential NBA Finals matchup with Cleveland. Just don't expect to find Kobe Bryant standing on the pier waving.
"We can win anywhere," Bryant said after shooting 7-for-19 from the field in the Lakers' 86-76 loss to the Hawks. "No question about it. I just feel like we’re a very good road team. Confidence, maturity, having seen the worst of the worst last year in Game 6 (against Boston) and then having to learn from that and then obviously the road success wthat we’ve been having this year. We’re fine playing on the road."
If they face LeBron James and the Cavs in the Finals, they better get used to it. Cleveland became the first team to 60 wins Sunday, and more importantly, opened a two-game lead on the Lakers for home court if the teams meet in the Finals. If they wind up tied, the Lakers own the tiebreaker by virtue of beating Cleveland twice.
After the Lakers shot 35 percent from the field in a team-wide meltdown Sunday -- the same day Cleveland was blowing out Dallas to extend its league-best home record to 35-1 -- Kobe was asked if the Lakers can catch Cleveland with only nine games left.
"Probably," he said. "They’ll have to give us a couple. But it’s fun. It’s a good challenge for us to see what happens."
The Lakers have won titles with homecourt advantage and without. But last year against Boston, they lost Game 4 of the Finals at home and thus had to go to Boston in Game 6 facing elimination. They were, of course, eliminated.
"Home court is important," Bryant said. "But in my years of experience, if you’re gonna be a champion, you should win on the road anyway. The better team is going to advance no matter where you play. It’s just the way it is."
Coach Phil Jackson has been trumpeting the importance of winning on the road all season, so he's not about to change his tune now.
"The fact that you can establish home court for as long as you possibly can in the playoffs is an added bonus," Jackson said, "but it’s not a determinant about whether you’re going to win or lose." Asked if a two-game deficit with nine to go is insurmountable, Jackson said, "We have no idea. Who knows what's going to happen with Cleveland? They're going to have to win, and we're certainly not going to win out. But we'll continue to put pressure on them."
As Bryant was shaking off the effects of a sore ankle -- it was fine, he said -- and an upset stomach that caused him to miss the morning film session, I asked him to assess the state of another race: the one between he and LeBron for MVP.
"I don’t even think about it. At all," he said. "It’s not something that crosses my mind. It didn’t cross my mind last year, either. I really, really, really, really, really want that championship. Really, really, really want it."
If they wind up playing Game 7 in Cleveland, a game like Sunday's is one they're really, really, really going to wish they could get back.
Posted on: March 22, 2009 6:20 pm
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Somebody is going to try to blame me for this, I just know it.
Having seen Dwyane Wade play in New Jersey Friday night, I of course made the trip across the bridges and tunnels to see his pal LeBron James Sunday. Rule No. 1: Never miss a LeBron appearance in the New York metropolitan area.
As LeBron spoke with the usual gaggle of reporters about an hour before the game, I asked what was intended to be an innocuous question about Wade, his close friend and growing personal rival. This was meant to be a notebook stuffer, something I could incorporate into a story I'm planning for later on.
I asked LeBron a couple of questions that were phrased pretty much the same as those I asked Wade Friday night. One of them focused on the fact that, as long as LeBron and Wade are in the same conference, their rivalry will grow because they'll play each other more often -- but it'll suffer because they'll never compete against each other for an NBA title. Which would he prefer?
His answer is going to be chalked up to another New York-based writer harassing poor LeBron into talking about free agency. But as you can tell from my question, that wasn't my intention at all. LeBron, who always manages to stoke the 2010 flames when he passes through these parts, dropped a juicy little tidbit in his response without any solicitation from me.
"I don’t know, it doesn't matter," LeBron said. "Whatever happens, we’ll go against each other. And you know, maybe we’ll go against each other in practice, I don’t know. That’d be fun, wouldn’t it?"
So LeBron continues to lead the league in not-quite-tampering. As for where LeBron and Wade might become teammates, LeBron wasn't saying. He was just having his usual fun with the media here, IMHO.
After the interview was over, one reporter asked him if his answer about Wade meant that South Beach has now made his list of top five cities.The Miami Heat, after all, will have plenty of cap room in 2010.
"I didn't say I was going to Miami," LeBron said as he walked to the trainer's room. "I didn't say he was coming here. Could be the Olympics."
It's always fun when LeBron comes to town, even before he touches the ball or does his chalk thing in the air. Just for the record, my question and his answer were coming from two different places.