Thursday, June 21, 2012

LeBron James Finally Earns His Long Deserved Championship

(Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)
He's finally done it. LeBron James is an NBA champion.

It might have taken him nine seasons, but LeBron James can finally be called King James. James and the Heat took care of the young and restless Oklahoma City Thunder in only five games.

Despite defeating tough veteran teams like the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers, and San Antonio Spurs, the Thunder weren't able to defeat the team closest to their playing style.

James will always face criticism for as long as he plays in the league, but with this championship, he will silence a few critics. Some might never forgive him for leaving Cleveland, while others might never forgive him for his cocky "not three, not four, not five..etc" comment during his introduction two summers ago. But unless you're a bitter Cavs fan, or a jealous Knicks fan, there is no reason to hate The King.

How can we, as sports fans, hate the most talented player on the planet? This guy might go down as one of the greatest, if not the greatest (I went there) player of all-time.

From a physical standpoint, the league has never seen a player like James. As a 6-8, 250 lb beast, James can play any position on the court. He's known as a point forward- a player who takes up the ball and acts as the point guard or floor general, when really he is more comfortable playing in the post. Now add to James' already amazing physical stature, his world class speed and agility. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson both had the bodies and skill to be point forwards, but neither had the speed that James possesses. That's why James loves to grab tough rebounds on the defensive end, sprint across the court, and finish hard with a layup or dunk on the other end. No one does it better in the league.

The road to this championship wasn't a walk in the park for the Heat.

For starters, the season may have never happened if it weren't for a twentieth hour move by the league and commissioner David Stern just a week before Christmas. What the Heat didn't know though was that they were getting the best Christmas present of their life.

The Heat finished the 66-game season with a record of 46-20, which was good enough to earn the second seed in the Eastern Conference. When Derrick Rose went down with a heartbreaking ACL tear in the first round of the playoffs, the pressure on the Heat quadrupled. Everyone knew it was their championship to lose.

After a very easy first round series against the New York Knicks, the Heat figured they'd be fine. They assumed they would roll over the Indiana Pacers just as easily as they did against New York.

They assumed wrong. Despite winning Game 1, the Heat would go on to lose Games 2 & 3 and all of a sudden, the sports world was turning again on Miami. Analysts were saying that if the Heat were to go home early again without a championship, then the Big Three would need to be broken up. Others said they still needed more help than they already had.

None of that mattered though, because James and the Heat would respond and win three straight games to take the series. LeBron combined for 98 points in the three wins. He wasn't losing this year, no matter what.

After the Pacers, came the Boston Celtics. Again, the Heat found themselves in a similar hole. Despite going up 2-0 and looking unstoppable, Miami blew three straight games, and again faced extreme criticism and adversity. One more loss and their season was over. No surprise though, James came up huge in Games 6 & 7 (45 points, 15 rebounds, 5 assists in Game 6; 31 points, 12 rebounds, 2 assists in Game 7), and the Heat were once again back in the NBA Finals.

But this time, the Heat weren't the favorites. The red-hot Oklahoma City Thunder were coming off an impressive series win against the Spurs, and looked as if they were the best team in the world. Many thought that Durant's clutchness would outshine James' lack of clutchness in the Finals.

Boy did LeBron prove them wrong once again.

The Heat found themselves in an unfamiliar situation after dropping Game 1 in Oklahoma City. It was as simple as Durant outplaying James in Game 1. His 36 points were greater than James' 30, Westbrook was a better sidekick than Wade, and Ibaka and Perkins outplayed Bosh in the post.

When the Heat won a Game 2 thriller though, everyone figured the series would go to seven. Everyone except for the Heat, that is.

James and the Heat came out firing in Game 3, jumping out to a six point lead at the end of the first quarter. James' 29 points matched Durant's 29 points, but it was James' 14 rebounds that decided the game. The Thunder actually out-shot the Heat in Game 3, shooting nearly 5% better from the field. It was Miami's seven rebound advantage that won them the game. They lived off of second chances, both in this game, and in this past season.

Game 4 was another barnburner. Russell Westbrook played the best game of his life, but a brainless last second foul ruined any chances Oklahoma City had of winning the game. James posted another double double, this time with 26 points and 12 assists.

Despite leading 3-1 and having all the momentum in the world, the Heat still weren't the clear favorites going into Game 5. Thunder hopefuls believed their team would respond and force a Game 6 back in Oklahoma City.

Not on the King's watch. As he did in every pre-game huddle this series, LeBron told his teammates to treat this game like Game 7. No regrets.

And that's exactly how they came out tonight, in Game 5. Relentless, powerful, and determined, the Heat came out ready to end the season and be declared champions. By the time the game was in the third quarter, the Heat had built up a 25 point lead. No chance was Durant and Co. coming back from this one. When it was all said and done, Miami had conquered Oklahoma City, 121-106.

James again had another Hall of Fame worthy performance, finishing his MVP season off with a triple double. He also continued his streak of 25+ points in a game, a streak he began 15 games ago during Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

But he's not clutch, right guys? It's crazy to think that LeBron James' postseason career is based off of six games against the Dallas Mavericks. It's as if the world forgot that his stats are actually BETTER in the postseason than they are in the regular season. It's as if the world forgot he has made it to the NBA Finals three times in nine years. It's as if the world forgot that he torched the Detroit Pistons a few years back, putting up 40+ point games with ease.

Hopefully tonight, fans remember just how talented LeBron James is. Hopefully fans remember that James is in fact clutch, that James is in fact the best player on the planet, that in fact James is human just like the rest of us. Hopefully fans tonight will realize that they are witnessing the next Jordan, that there may not be another player like James, and that this could be the first of many to come for James and The Big Three.

I'll say it again just like I did last June. The Miami Heat will be champions next year too. Never count out on King James ever again.

Monday, June 18, 2012

New York Yankees Back On Top

(Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
The Yankees have been red hot in the month of June. Robinson Cano has been leading the
Yankees at the plate recently, batting .333 this month.

Last time we checked up on the New York Yankees, they were 23-21 and fourth in the AL East. Since then, the Yankees have gone 17-4, and have propelled themselves to the top of the entire American League.

What has caused the Bronx Bombers to turn it around lately?

Ever since late May, the Yankees have been getting more production from their bats, specifically from Cano, Teixeira, and Rodriguez, who all struggled early on in the season.

Let's start off with Cano. The second basemen has turned it around as of lately, and has now reached the .300 plateau on the season. He's getting on base more often than he was earlier in the season, with a OBP of .424. That means he is getting on base in nearly half his at-bats. Cano's success with getting on base has actually sparked the play of Mark Teixeira.

Tex had a painfully slow start to the 2012 season, but has begun to find his groove. He's up to batting over .250, and is second on the team with 39 RBI's. In addition to Teixeira, A-Rod has also been playing better.

But what is really helping out the Yankees on offense is the continued success of Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson.

Where would the Yankees be if they didn't have their captain, Derek Jeter? He brings so much to the team, whether it's his leadership, fielding, or batting. Jeter is leading the team with a .314 batting average, and has struck out just 37 times in over 275 at-bats. And despite being the oldest every day batter on the Yankees, Jeter has only missed one game this season, which is second best on the team.

While Jeter leads the team at getting on-base, Granderson has been converting those base hits to runs. Granderson is batting .257 but leads the team with 21 home runs and 40 RBI's. He has the third most base hits on the team, and leads them in Slugging %.

Nick Swisher has also been great all season long. Swisher is batting .262 with 10 homeruns and 40 RBI's in just 58 games.

 In addition to the stellar offensive improvements, the pitching has been phenomenal. Now, it's not just CC Sabathia who is winning games for the Yankees, but it's Phil Hughes, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, and Andy Pettitte too.

Ever since Pettitte made his returns to the Major Leagues, the Yankees have been lights out. Pettitte is 3-2 with a 2.77 ERA, which is the best ERA on the team. Kuroda has dropped his ERA by one whole run, and is now 6-6 with a 3.43 ERA. Nova's ERA is still high for his standards, but the young ace still leads the AL with a 9-2 record. And who can complain about CC? He is in the Top 5 in wins, strikeouts, and innings pitched.

The Yankees, who have won their past nine games, look to continue their win streak with a series against the Braves tonight. After Atlanta comes another Subway Series with the Mets, before returning to American League play.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Miami Heat Returning To The NBA Finals

(Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
LeBron James and the Heat will be returning to the NBA Finals for the second year in a row.
They will face Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Thanks to two great performances by MVP LeBron James, the Miami Heat will be returning to the NBA Finals. Despite being down 3-2 to the Boston Celtics, the Heat rallied to win two big games, Game 6 in Boston and then Game 7 in Miami in order to make it back to the title series.

James and the Heat won Game 6 with ease, defeating the Celtics 98-79. Just when he needed to quiet the critics, LeBron had one of the most spectacular games in NBA playoffs history. In fact, he became the first player since Wilt Chamberlain to score 45 points and grab at least 15 rebounds in a playoff game.

From the opening tip, James dominated the game, scoring 14 points on 6-7 shooting in the first quarter. But it didn't stop there for James. He made 12 of his first 13 shots, putting the Heat up 55-42 at the end of the first half. With Dwyane Wade not playing his best basketball, and Chris Bosh playing with limited minutes it was crucial that James stepped up

The current MVP was going to make sure that if the Heat went down, it wouldn't be because of him. Not only did James have a prolific night on the offensive end, but he shut down the Celtics on offense. Guarding multiple positions all night, James helped the Heat limit the Celtics' Big Three to just 33% shooting. Pierce, Garnett, and Allen combined for 31 points, the lowest of any playoff game they've all played in together.

While Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh combined to shoot 8-25 from the field, James shot over 70%. With the Celtics trying to make several runs early in the second half, the Heat weren't giving into anything. Every time the Celtics would come close to getting back in the game, James would silence them with a basket.

Despite James' historic night, it wasn't enough to turn his reputation around. Critics were still saying that if the Heat didn't win Game 7, then they would need to make major offseason moves, which could have possibly included breaking up their Big Three.

James and the Heat didn't get off to the hot start they wanted to in Game 7. James shot the ball just four times in the first quarter, and the Heat found themselves down four at the end of the first quarter.

The second quarter was composed of many runs from both teams. Every time the Heat would tie up the game, the Celtics would go on a run of their own and push the lead to double-digits.

While the Heat were weren't shooting great in the first half, the Celtics were hitting everything. Even Brandon Bass was contributing for the Celtics, scoring 10 points in a span of four minutes in which the Celtics out scored the Heat 14-3.

The Heat came out red hot in the second half though, and by the time the game entered the fourth quarter, it was tied up at 73. Chris Bosh had his best game of the postseason, scoring 18 points on 8-10 shooting. Bosh also hit three clutch three pointers that gave the Heat leads. In addition to his 18 points, he grabbed eight rebounds in just 31 minutes of play.

As Bosh was heating up in the second half, LeBron's game improved as well. He started driving to the basket more, and was either making layups or getting fouled on every possession.

Regardless of how well the Heat played in the third quarter, Boston wouldn't go away. There were over seven lead changes in the third quarter, and once the Heat tied it up, neither team led by more than two points for the rest of the quarter.

The Heat would eventually pull away in the fourth quarter. Thanks to another three pointer by Bosh, and a 30 foot three pointer from James, the Heat got themselves a comfortable lead early in the fourth.

By the time there were under five minutes to play, the Heat were up by nearly ten points, and Boston's season looked finished. When the final buzzer sounded, it was 101-88 Miami.

LeBron finished the game with 31 points and 12 rebounds. Wade had arguably the best game of the series, finishing with 23 points, six rebounds, and six assists.

The Heat will now play the Thunder, with Game 1 kicking off tonight.

Despite making their second trip to the NBA Finals in as many years, the Heat are still underdogs by most standards. The Thunder are playing fantastic basketball, coming off a six game series with the Spurs. After dropping the first two games in San Antonio, the Thunder rallied back to win four straight games and send Tim Duncan and Co. home.

Here's my NBA Finals Prediction:

Despite how temping it is to take them in five, I'll take the Miami Heat in Six. Here's why.

LeBron James is deservingly playing like the best player on the planet. It has been said that when it comes down to such a close matchup like this, the team with the best player wins. That being said, if Durant outplays LeBron, it's a no-brainer that the Thunder will win the title.

But LeBron isn't going to be outplayed by anyone. If you haven't noticed, or you've lived under a rock since last June, LeBron can't stand the fact that he played so poorly last year against the Mavs. He's been quoted saying that he's going to have no regrets in the finals, and go all out.

With that being said, LeBron is going to put up the series of his career, and quiet the haters one more time, at least for now. He may not get to the six and seven rings he promised, but I'll promise he brings one home this year. It's his ninth year in the league, and his third trip to the NBA Finals. He knows exactly what he has to do, and will deliver.

The only man standing in his way is Kevin Durant. In my opinion, both players have very close skill sets, and it will come down to LeBron's physical strengths. I think it will be too difficult for Durant to stop James on the drive, since he is too strong for Durant.

LeBron isn't going to be the only one who steps up for the Heat. Dwyane Wade is going to need to play much better than he did against the Celtics and Pacers if the Heat want to win it all. Chris Bosh has been playing great in the minutes he has gotten, but will need to provide some offense down-low for Miami. Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins are going to make it tough for Bosh, so he needs to make sure he can score on them.

In the end though, it all comes down to the James vs. Durant matchup. Whoever outplays the other will come home with the ring. Some thing it will be Durant and the Thunder winning this matchup, but I've got LeBron and the Heat. I just don't think he can live with himself knowing that he has gotten this far just to lose again.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The 2012 NBA Draft Lottery And Other NBA Conspiracies

The Hornets landed the top overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft.
Was it by luck, or was it a favor the NBA owed the Hornets after losing Chris Paul?

When NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver announced that the New Orleans Horntes would select first in the 2012 NBA Draft, a whole new NBA conspiracy was created. What exactly is an NBA conspiracy? It's a very sketchy story that includes some inside and possibly illegal moves that the NBA is involved with. The thing is, no conspiracies have been proven. That's for us to decide. But before we go into NBA conspiracies, here's how the 2012 Lottery turned out.

1. New Orleans Hornets
2. Charlotte Bobcats
3. Washington Wizards
4. Cleveland Cavaliers
5. Sacramento Kings
6. Portland Trailblazers
7. Golden State Warriors
8. Toronto Raptors
9. Detroit Pistons
10. New Orelans Hornets
11. Portland Trailblazers
12. Milwaukee Bucks
13. Phoenix Suns
14. Houston Rockets

So now that you have the lottery results in your mind, let's figure out how this could have possibly happened (from the mind of a conspiracist). As many NBA fans already know, the New Orleans Hornets are currently owned by the NBA, since they were bankrupt. Although the New Orleans Saints' owner Tom Benson, bought the team two months ago, the NBA doesn't hand over operations until this summer. Going into Wednesday night's lottery, the Hornets were projected the 4th pick and had a 13.7% chance of landing the top pick.

Here's how a meeting between Commissioner David Stern and Tom Benson could have went:

Stern: So I hear your Saints aren't doing too well?

Benson: Yeah, it's unfortunate.

Stern: Well how about I give you a nice low-ball deal to buy the Hornets and keep the attention away from the Saints?

Benson: No way, the Hornets stink, and I would only buy them for $100 million less than your offering.

Stern: What if the Hornets somehow landed the top pick in the draft though?

Benson: What do you mean?

Stern: You know exactly what I mean.

Benson: Commish, you've got yourself a deal.

Did Tom Benson have inside information on whether or not the Hornets would select the top pick in the draft? No one will ever know, and that's why it's a conspiracy.

After losing franchise player Chris Paul right before the start of the season, the Hornets were doomed to find a new owner. With Eric Gordon sidelined for the majority of the season, nothing was looking good in the Big Easy. But with a healthy Gordon next season, and two Top 10 picks, along with Emeka Okafor, this team doesn't look too bad anymore.

And that's exactly what David Stern was thinking (in the mind of a conspiracist).

But why would Stern screw over the Bobcats, who just last season, had the lowest winning percentage of all-time?

Maybe Stern knew Davis wouldn't be a good fit for Charlotte. Maybe he knew that Michael Jordan would be much better off grooming a 6-7, 230 lb small forward than a 6-10 frail as could be power forward. Maybe Stern knew that the Bobcats needed a scorer, and a leader, and not a shot blocker and rebounder.

Maybe Stern had nothing to do with it at all.

With that being said, here are three of my all-time favorite NBA conspiracies.

1985 NBA Lottery

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is where conspiracies all began. In case you didn't know, here's the background info you need. It's 1985, and the New York Knicks (David Stern's favorite team growing up as a kid) hadn't had a productive season in years. Good news for them though, was that the 1985 draft class was headlined by the next big-man superstar, Mr. Patrick Ewing. Supposedly Ewing was the best franchise player coming out of the draft in years.

The only thing wrong was that the Knicks weren't projected the #1 pick in the draft. So how could David Stern turn his team back into the championship team they were a decade before?

Back in 1985, the way the lottery worked was that each team had a large envelope, and those envelopes were placed in a large sphere that was to be spun around to "randomize" them. After the envelopes were shuffled, David Stern was supposed to then look away and randomly select an envelope, which would then decide who would get that pick. Rumor has it that Stern folded a crease on the Indiana Pacers envelope, so he knew to take that one out of the sphere to give them the #2 pick in the draft. This would leave his Knicks with the #1 pick in the draft, and line them up to select Patrick Ewing.

Watch to see how the lottery unfolded. As you can see, Stern selects the Pacers' envelope giving them the #2 pick in the draft. Former Knicks star, and at the time the president of basketball operations, Dave Debusschere, then acts shocked when finding out that the Knicks had won the lottery.

As we now know, Ewing never won that NBA title Knicks fans (Stern included) had been dreaming for ever since the day of the lottery. Ironically, many stars ended up coming out of that same draft including Joe Dumars, Chris Mullins, Karl Malone, and A.C. Green.

Even if David Stern runs the NBA, karma is always looking over his shoulder.

Michael Jordan's Secret Suspension

So here's the background information you need to know on this one. MJ is coming off of his third straight title, and is clearly the best player in the world. The only problem is, the NBA knew he had a gambling problem, and they believed that his father's death could have been related to a gambling or debt issue.

But how could David Stern suspend the greatest player of all time? Would that mean, like Pete Rose, Jordan would never be matriculated into the NBA Hall of Fame? Would that mean that people would stop buying Jordan's sneakers and other brands he endorsed?

No, because David Stern wasn't going to let the world know that Michael Jordan gambled on basketball. He wasn't going to humiliate and defame the reigning 3-time NBA champion and Finals MVP. So what was he going to do?

In a supposed secret meeting with NBA officials, Jordan was told by Stern that he would be suspended for one year, to get his mind off of gambling. In order to cover it up, Stern told Jordan that he should try playing baseball, to stay in shape, and to make it seem like his retirement didn't come out of nowhere.

So why does this make sense? Jordan was a competition and a gambling freak. He took things so seriously that he would bet thousands or even millions of dollars that he could do certain things. Isn't it also fishy that Jordan missed exactly 100 games, before coming back mid-season to play?

Again, none of this has been proven true, and it is likely a big coincidence, but it is something interesting to think about.

2002 Western Conference Finals

Out of the two conspiracies already mentioned, this one is the most likely to be true. In fact, it's already been written about on multiple websites and even in a book.

Here's the background info you need. The Lakers and Kings are set to play each other in the Western Conference Finals. The Lakes were coming off of two straight championships, but believe it or not, weren't the better team in the series. Mike Bibby, Chris Webber, Vlade Divac, and Doug Christie were playing unbelievable basketball at the time, and helped earn the Kings the top seed in the conference.

So how did the Lakers manage to come back from being down 3-2 in the Western Conference Finals?

By shooting ridiculous amounts of free-throws.

So how could this happen? Because Tim Donaghy was refereeing the game. Not only did Donaghy bet on the Lakers, but so did most of America. They were America's team. The NBA knew that a having the Lakers in the finals would bring so many more viewers than if the Kings advanced to the finals. It was simply a business move. But how could the refs control the game, and make sure the Lakers won?

The Lakers got every call possible in Games 6 and 7.

In fact, the Lakers shot 40 free-throws in Game 6, 27 of which came in the fourth quarter alone. Not to mention that they shot 17 more free throws then the Kings in the fourth quarter. Is it a coincidence that the game ended 106-102. No chance, that game definitely came down to officiating and free-throws.

Same story in Game 7. The Lakers outshot the Kings from the free-throw line, and won in a six-point game in overtime.

Don't believe me. Read straight from Tim Donaghy's book here:

And the rest of you should know the story from here. The Lakers advanced to the NBA Finals, swept the Nets, and clinched their first three-peat in over 45 years.

Again, don't go off after reading this thinking that all of these stories are true. Because they're not (at least not yet). These stories are conspiracies that get the mind thinking.

I would like to know your thoughts on your favorite NBA conspiracies. Comment below with your opinions.