Tag Archives: Blake Griffin

My Mid-Season NBA Prediction.

NBA BannerNBA Banner 2Mark the date, NBA fans. Today I’m announcing that the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Los Angeles Clippers will face each other in the 2015 NBA Finals.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Atlanta HawksFull disclosure: I was born and raised in Cleveland – and I’ve spent the bulk of my adult life living in Los Angeles. So, you’d be justified in thinking that I’m less than objective. But you’d be wrong.

I’m not betting on The Cavs and Clips just because they’re my favorite Eastern and Western Conference teams. I’m banking on the basketball brilliance of LeBron James and Blake Griffin, Kyrie Irving and Chris Paul, Kevin Love and DeAndre Jordan.

The Cavaliers and Clippers both began the season with high expectations – and both spent much of the first half of the season dashing those lofty hopes.

458127466-jpgFans and detractors alike expressed concerns about the Cavalier’s first-year head coach. It didn’t help that his name was Blatt – and his team played flat. But just as speculation rose that Blatt’s all-star players were gunning for him behind his back – LeBron and Kyrie and company ran off eight straight wins. (And counting as of this writing.)

DeAndre Jordan, Omer AsikThe Clippers have also gelled in recent weeks – with Lob City finally airborne and the league’s best sixth man, Jamal Crawford, raining shots from every corner of the court. With Doc Rivers, their sage head coach and general manager, making just the right personnel moves, the Clipper’s improving chemistry has been evident in their recent six-game winning streak. (And counting as of this writing.)

Both teams have the talent to get to the finals.

Both teams have the postseason experience.

Both teams have superstars at three positions, a brace of perimeter sharpshooters, dominant inside power and rim protection, speed and athleticism.

2013-04-23T193255Z_1_CBRE93M1IB000_RTROPTP_3_SPORTS-US-NBA-CLIPPERS_JPG_475x310_q85And both teams are improving. Just this week, Cavs guard Kyrie Irving just dropped 55 points on the 32-14 Portland Trailblazers – winning without LeBron. And Clippers super sub Jamal Crawford filled it up for 21 points in the 4th quarter to beat the Denver Nuggets.

And they’re just getting started.

Sorry Warriors, Hawks, Blazers and Wizard fans.

It’ll be The Cavaliers versus The Clippers in the NBA Finals this year.

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Heat Make History in My Hometown!

Heatbannerdm_130320_Heat_CavsOkay, last week I admitted that my head was buried in the NBA season as it drove toward the playoffs — and that my favorite teams were the Los Angeles Clippers featuring Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, and the defending NBA Champion Miami Heat, led by LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh.

Well, on a night like tonight – March 20, 2013 – it’s easy to see why I’m captivated by the drama playing out on the NBA hardwood.

Blake Griffin, Lavoy AllenBy the time my Western Conference team, The Clippers, walked off the court after trouncing the Philadelphia 76ers at Staples Center in downtown L.A. by 29 points, 101-72 – my Eastern Conference team had already come back from a ridiculous, impossible-to-overcome deficit to earn its 24th consecutive victory.

LeBron James and The Heat were playing The King’s former team, The Cleveland Cavaliers (my hometown franchise). LeBron & Company were behind by 27 points with about 7 minutes left in the third quarter – and still managed to pull out the victory to extend the second-longest winning streak in NBA history, surpassing the 2007-08 Houston Rockets.

Miami Heat v Cleveland CavaliersWith a roaring, rabid, sellout Cleveland crowd of 20,562 taunting their former hometown hero at the foul line — with the game on the line — a cold-blooded LeBron, the reigning NBA MVP, drained two free throws to win the game 98-95.

The moment was ridiculously dramatic. The irony was exquisite. That LeBron should cap such a furious, historic comeback cooly at the foul line was one thing — but that he should do it against the team that he left so infamously a few years ago was the final scene of an almost preposterously perfect script, played by the greatest actor currently performing on an NBA court.

Even though I’m a proud Clevelander, I gotta give props where they’re due.

Now, LeBron and The Heat are within nine games of matching The Los Angeles Lakers’ record of 33 consecutive wins during the 1971-72 season – a mark of excellence once thought to be untouchable.

28881ce4e59d4828b272e73ff34f5a18-97853ab7c7a4492bab5da78724f98aac-1“This was one of the most bizarre, unique days of my life with everything that happened,” said James, referring to the fact that a fan ran onto the floor, wearing a t-shirt encouraging him to re-sign with Cleveland next year. “It also was one of the best comebacks I’ve ever been a part of. The streak wasn’t on my mind, but us getting blown out was.”

LeBron, of course, scored a triple-double — with 25 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.

L169_CIFR8bfd2ef1fe6d2e87beb90f4a0628dc1aMiami’s 27-point comeback was the largest collapse in the Cavaliers’ 43-season history. Miami, down 23 points at intermission, set a franchise record for its largest halftime comeback.

WlQ7t.Em.56How special was Miami’s comeback?

ESPN just informed me that in the long history of the NBA — in games where a team was behind by 23 points or more at halftime — the team that was losing lost the game more than 2,000 times.

And only a dozen of them hung on to win the game.

What a wild, historic night.

Can’t wait for the playoffs!play_r_cap0320b_mb_576

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Why My Head is in The NBA…

Bballbannerbanner201obama18-950x594I have to admit that after the exhausting, exhilarating and ultimately victorious contest that was the hotly contested 2012 Presidential Election. I’m taking a breather from politics to immerse myself in the NBA Basketball season.

Cardinals enter the Sistine Chapel at thThough I’m paying close attention to the Papal Conclave, the Sequester melodrama, Rand Paul’s drone strike filibuster, the Chuck Hagel affair, Paul Ryan’s continuing budgetary impudence — and everything else that Lawrence O’Donnell is covering on MSNBC — the fact is, I don’t have much disposable time.

Between my day-to-day work in television, writing The New Vic & Paul Show with my hilarious wife, the imminent graduations of my two younger daughters (Eva from Louisville High School in May and Emilia from Northwestern University in June) — and trying to develop some new TV shows to pay for it all, I have scant time for recreation and vicarious emotional release.

That’s where the Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Clippers fill the bill.

Let’s be clear. I am not a front-runner. Never have been.

Austin_carr_top_000As a Cleveland native and Cavaliers fan since the days of Austin Carr in the Cleveland Arena during my grade school years, I was nonetheless completely supportive of LeBron James’ move to join Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh with the Miami Heat.

After seven years of servitude under an owner who surrounded The King with nothing better than Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison, LeBron had a right to pursue a championship in Miami.

So, in the East, I am rooting for LeBron James and The Heat.

In the West, my preferences are just as personal and idiosyncratic.

Michael JordanAfter spending my post-Northwestern University, early adulthood in Chicago in the 1980’s, I was a Michael Jordan and Bulls fan who had just moved to Los Angeles in 1991 — when Air Jordan and the Bulls defeated The “Showtime” Lakers for the first of six NBA titles. If I had any money at all that June, I could have made a mint betting against all the overconfident Lakers fans I watched those NBA finals with.

f256fb37612dd205421094a3ce4251bcDespite living in Los Angeles, I was never really a Lakers fan. I loved former Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson – and I hated Bulls owner Reinsdorf and his General Manager, Jerry “players don’t win championships, organizations do” Krause. But while I celebrated The Zen Master’s success with The Lakers, I could never embrace Kobe Bryant, despite his incandescent talent.

elton-brand-02So, like Billy Crystal, I turned my attention to the underdog Los Angeles Clippers. I enjoyed the rise of The Clippers during the Elton Brand/Chris Kaman era – but, in the past two years, my devotion to The Clippers has been repaid with interest.

chris-paul-blake-griffinThis year, The Clippers have been the greatest show in the NBA. “Lob City” has been a nonstop showcase of team play, dazzling, high-flying dunks, aggressive, larcenous defense – and the deepest bench in the NBA. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Chauncey Billups, Caron Butler, DeAndre Jordan – and super subs Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes and Eric Bledsoe have raised expectations for what The Clippers can do in the NBA playoffs.

So, whoever gets elected Pope – and whatever those a*#holes in the GOP do to President Barack Obama’s agenda – I’ll be rooting for a Miami Heat versus Los Angeles Clippers NBA Final.deandre-jordan-alleyoop-dunk-over-pistons

After that, I’ll get back to what really matters.

But, boy oh boy – would I love to see LeBron James go one-on-one with Paul Ryan…

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Survivor: The NBA Playoffs

“Outwit. Outplay. Outlast.”

Starting with its second season in 2001, I’ve been an avid, devoted fan of CBS’ long-running reality competition series, Survivor. There’s nothing on television to match Survivor’s gripping mix of offbeat characters, team drama and cutthroat competition — as 16 castaways on a tropical island contend to outwit, outplay and outlast each other in order to win a million dollars.

Unless it’s the 16 basketball teams filled with millionaires contending for a championship in the NBA Playoffs.

Like the contestants on Survivor, the NBA playoff teams run a prime time gauntlet in which only one contender takes the prize. (Though unlike Survivor, backstabbing teammates is not a good strategy for winning the NBA playoffs.) Yet, the best NBA playoff teams are those that can outwit, outplay and outlast their opponents.

OUTWIT

Strategy is key on Survivor but often overlooked in the NBA – a league filled with spectacular athletes who can do marvelous, almost miraculous things on the basketball court.

In the 7-game series format of the NBA playoffs, brains can often outweigh brawn – and savvy game strategy, mental discipline, and smart decisions on the court take on added value.

Great coaching is key. According to conventional wisdom early this season, the old, fading stars on the San Antonio Spurs had little chance to go deep into the playoffs. But head coach Gregg Popovich is a basketball genius with more playoff experience than any coach who will oppose him.

In the NBA playoffs, where a mental edge matters, Coach Popovich is a difference maker. So is Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers – another guy who’s kept an aging ballclub in contention.

As for players who can outwit opponents, there are point guards like the Spurs’ Tony Parker and the Clippers’ Chris Paul who can dissect a defense on the fly, break it down, and create shots for either themselves or their teammates – all in a series of split-second decisions. LeBron James can do it, too.

It’s called “basketball IQ”, and champions have it.

Then there are those talented players who are undone by their lack of mental discipline. Even a smart guy like Boston’s Rajon Rondo – who has a relatively high basketball IQ – managed to hurt his team by chest-bumping a referee with just 41 seconds remaining in a Game 1 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, earning him an automatic ejection – and a suspension for Game 2.

Los Angeles Lakers power forward Meta World Peace (aka Ron Artest) momentarily lost his (volatile) mind in the last game of the regular season and sent Oklahoma City’s James Harden crashing to the floor with a vicious elbow to the head. The league hit World Peace with a 7-game suspension, sending The Lakers into the first round of the playoffs without him.

In another mad mental breakdown, New York Knicks forward Amare Stoudemire, took out his frustration after the Knicks’ Game 2 loss to the Miami Heat by putting his fist through the glass door of a fire extinguisher case. Stoudemire’s lapse of judgment required 15 stitches in his left hand, and his status for Game 3 – and beyond — is in doubt.

The NBA playoffs are a mental endurance contest, and Rondo, World Peace and Stoudemire are prime examples of what happens when players let their emotions overwhelm their judgment.

Remember when the legendary Dennis Rodman played relentless mental games with less-disciplined players and baited them into foolish fouls?

Rodman won 5 NBA championships by getting into his opponents’ heads.

In another sign of the importance of the mental game, Chris Paul led the Clippers to an historic come-from behind victory after falling behind 27 points late in the third quarter of Game 1 against the Grizzlies in Memphis.

When Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro tried to rest Paul early in the fourth quarter of what appeared to be an inevitable losing cause, his All-Star point guard urged his coach to keep him in the game. “Give us a chance,” he implored De Negro. That attitude proved infectious.

Later in the quarter, with less than nine minutes in the clock and The Clippers trailing by 24, the team huddled – and reserve forward Reggie Evans stepped up to say, “C’mon, man, we’re not quitting.” And, according to Clippers All-Star forward Blake Griffin,  “That was the attitude we had the rest of the way.” It was an attitude that Chris Paul reminded Griffin about when he stepped to the line to shoot two critical free throws in the closing moments of the game. “Give us these two. Just give us a chance,” Paul told Griffin – and the usually unreliable free throw shooter knocked them both down to cut Memphis’ lead to one before the Clippers closed out the Grizzlies 99-98 to steal home court advantage in the series.

The Clippers kept their wits about them – and the Grizzlies lost theirs. Thus, the Clippers survived.

OUTPLAY

Contestants on Survivor talk a lot about wanting to be respected as players of the game. But to be a great Survivor player, you’ve got to excel at both sides of the game: in the challenges and back art camp. A skilled and athletic player can win rewards and immunity in a challenge – but if they don’t watch their back at camp – where alliances are made and schemes are set in motion — a treacherous blindside might await that player at Tribal Council even if he or she has won immunity.

There have been few challenge players better than big, strong James on Survivor: China in the show’s fifteenth season.  James managed to win one immunity idol and he found another – but he was a lousy strategic player in camp and got blindsided in spectacular fashion: getting voted off the island while holding both immunity idols because, overconfident and out-of-the-loop, he failed to play one at Tribal Council. It was the first (and probably the last) time that happened to anyone on the show.

The best Survivor challenge competitor ever, Ozzy, won five out of six individual immunity challenges on Survivor: Cook Islands. At the final Tribal Council, he was praised for his physical skills, yet criticized for being a loner at camp. So, despite the fact that host Jeff Probst said Ozzy had dominated physically like nobody ever has, he finished in second place. On Survivor: Micronesia, after dominating the challenges again, Ozzy managed to get himself voted out while holding an immunity idol.

In Survivor, champions must excel on both sides of the game.

Likewise, the NBA Playoffs require great play on both ends of the floor: offense and defense.

You don’t make it to the NBA Playoffs if you can’t play. At this level, everyone on the floor is a skilled player. But if you want to win an NBA title you must play at a high level consistently, minute-to-minute, quarter-to-quarter, game-to-game – on both the offensive and defensive end. You’ve got to do the pretty work and the dirty work.

Why are the exceptionally talented Oklahoma City Thunder, blessed with the young and gifted Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, struggling to stay just one lousy basket ahead of the aging Boston Celtics? Because The Thunder doesn’t bring intensity to the defensive end. And on offense, The Thunder is not doing the hard work of getting into the paint, drawing contact, and taking the ball to the rim. Jump shooting is nice. 3-point shots are really cool. But NBA championships are won by hard-nosed play in the lane.

Everyone knows the Miami Heat have great players. In fact, they have three of the league’s best in LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. But it’s not Miami’s highlight reel offense that wins games – it’s their suffocating, athletic defense. As amamzing as LeBron James is on the offensive end – he plays even bigger on the defensive end, often taking on the role of stopper against the other team’s best player. That’s not something you’ll see The Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony do. And that’s among the reasons you won’t see Carmelo getting a ring anytime soon.

The Lakers’ playoff chances rise when their defense stiffens – and their title hopes soared when their mercurial center Andrew Bynum blocked 10 shots in their Game 1 victory over Denver. Bynum doesn’t always play defense (or offense) with that kind of intensity. He’ll have to play consistently at a high rate on both ends of the floor if the Lakers hope to have a shot at the title – despite how well Kobe Bryant plays. (And you know killer Kobe will bring his A-game each and every night.)

OUTLAST

The third key to Survivor and NBA Playoff victory is not always in the player’s control: just like when this season’s nasty, scheming villain Colton was forced off Survivor island due to appendicitis.

Colton was carried off on a stretcher by the Survivor medical team — still clutching his now-worthless immunity idol.

Sometimes, an NBA player, like Stoudemire, will take himself out of the playoffs with an injury he could have easily avoided. But far more often, fate deals a shockingly cruel blow – as it did to Chicago’s star point guard, Derrick Rose, who tore his ACL in the closing moments of the Bull’s Game 1 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers, ending his season and, perhaps, the Bulls title hopes in 2012.

Later that same day, The Knicks’ valuable rookie guard Iman Shumpert injured his knee during their brutal 33-point Game 1 loss to the Heat, tearing both his anterior cruciate ligament and his meniscus. (Ouch!)

Without Stoudemire and Shumpert (and Jeremy Linn who’s also out with a severe knee injury) it doesn’t look like The Knicks will outlast anyone in these NBA playoffs.

The Clippers resounding comeback victory in Game 1 against The Grizzlies was marred by a late-game injury to their starting forward, Caron Butler. A key piece of the Clipper’s winning puzzle, Butler is set to miss the next four to six weeks with a broken left hand, which he caught in an opposing player’s jersey. It was a freak injury – and a blow to the Clippers’ playoff hopes.

A team has got to stay healthy to outlast the field in the NBA Playoffs.

Outwit. Outplay. Outlast.

That’s what I love about Survivor – and the NBA Playoffs.

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