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NBA Playoffs Sweet 16 Preview: Western Conference

Saturday, April 19, 2014

While we can easily pick the winners in the East First Round series, the Sweet 16 battles in the West could go down the wire considering the strengths of the eight playoff teams there. Here's my preview in the West First Round.

(1)San Antonio vs. (8)Dallas
This could be the last hurrah to the Last Dance for veteran stars Dirk Nowitz-
ki and Tim Duncan. Bleacher Report
In a Texas battle, the San Antonio and the Dallas Mavericks rekindle their cross-state rivalry in the Sweet 16. The Spurs hold the homecourt advantage all throughout the playoffs, but they are fighting the Mavs, who were resurgent late in the season. And considering the record of the Mavs (49-33), the Spurs may need extra effort to eliminate them. Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis, and Vince Carter are up for the task to handle Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and Tim Duncan. But it could boil down to the support crew, which the Spurs have an advantage. San Antonio in six.

(2)Oklahoma City vs. (7)Memphis
Has Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder found the solution to ea-
sily dispatch the Memphis Grizzlies? NBA
This series could be a must-watch. We all know how the Memphis Grizzlies have given the Oklahoma City Thunder a tough time in their recent playoff clashes. The difference is that out goes Lionel Hollins and in comes David Joerger for Memphis. Still, the Grizzlies are putting up solid defense all season long considering their intact core featuring Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, Mike Conley, and Marc Gasol. Of course, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka will find a way to score against Memphis' "Grit-and-Grind" system. I see this going to a Game 7 with OKC winning a close one.

(3)L.A. Clippers vs. (6)Golden State
The Clippers-Warriors showdown could be the series of the Sweet 16 round
as their budding rift is expected to go notches higher. Kelley Cox
Many say this is the series to look at. Why not? This has been a budding rivalry recently considering how their battles went, es. This California showdown is simply "Lob City vs. Splash City" as Chris Paul and Blake Griffin battle Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. Like how their four regular season games went, I'm smelling a close and grueling one in their best-of-seven affair. What if I say it's the Warriors in seven?

(4)Houston vs. (5)Portland
Who will wax hot in the Rockets-Blazers series? James Harden or LaMarcus
Aldridge? Sports Illustrated
Then there's Houston vs. Portland. Both the Rockets and the Trail Blazers are tied at 54-28 with the Rockets taking the home turf edge via season series win. But come the playoffs, it will be a different story. Expect a big man battle between LaMarcus Aldridge and Dwight Howard with the Dame Lillard-James Harden match-up to spice up the series more. Rockets in six for me.


NBA Playoffs Sweet 16 Preview: Eastern Conference

Easter Sunday is NBA Playoffs day for a country who treats basketball as a "religion". And after a grueling regular season, the real thing is upon us. Here's my look ahead at the first round match-ups in the Eastern Conference.

(1)Indiana vs. (8)Atlanta
Can Roy Hibbert get out of a late season slump and help the Pacers?
Kevin Cox
Curiously, both the Indiana Pacers and the Atlanta Hawks had a rough late March-early April that could have taken them off their seedings. In the end, however, Indy topped the East (in an also intriguing way) and Atlanta escaped the wildcard race against a little-too-late-to-go-hot New York Knickerbockers. The problem for the Hawks is on how they can pull a huge playoff run without their key star, Josh Smith, who went to Detroit. Well, I don't see Jeff Teague and Al Horford leading Atlanta to pull this one out as I have Paul George and Indiana by a shutout.

(2)Miami vs. (7)Charlotte
LeBron James and the Miami Heat take on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and the
young Charlotte Bobcats. AP (file photo)
As aforementioned, it took an intriguing move by the Miami Heat to give the Indiana Pacers the top seed in the East by resting two of the Big 3 in the last two games of the season, which were must-wins in order for them to snatch Seed 1. Some say that the Heat are trying to escape an early showdown with either the Chicago Bulls or the Brooklyn Nets in the quarterfinals. Thus, the alleged "tank-off". Well, Miami ends up with fellow Southeast Division club Charlotte in the Sweet 16. This is only the second playoff appearance of the Bobcats franchise, all with Michael Jordan around. Some, however, say that the Cats are beginning to build for the future a la Oklahoma City Thunder. We'll see if this could indeed be a bright start for Al Jefferson, Kemba Walker, and the Charlotte Bobcats, but I have LeBron James, Chris Bosh, a comebacking Dwyane Wade, and the Miami Heat in four. A plot twist for the Heat, though, is that the Nets fell to number six in the East, making an early match-up possible.

(3)Toronto vs. (6)Brooklyn
Young meets old as Kyle Lowry and the Toronto Raptors battle Paul Pierce
and the Brooklyn Nets. Kathy Willens
The Toronto Raptors and the Brooklyn Nets face each other in what technically is a "Battle of New York" series (the Nets represent NY City, while the Raptors in a way represent the NY Upstate). While many laud the Canadian dinosaurs for overachieving (and surprisingly even taking the Atlantic Division title) this year, one must not deny that Brooklyn is a red-hot team in CY 2014 (although the Nets lost their last two to fall to sixth place). It's more of veterans vs. young guns as the Nets' battle-tested Deron Williams, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Joe Johnson team up against the Raptors' younger core featuring DeMar DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross, and Kyle Lowry. I'm smelling an upset here (Or is it?). Brooklyn in five.

(4)Chicago vs. (5)Washington
Can Joakim Noah and the Chicago Bulls erase the "Nightmare of 2005" ag-
ainst Nene and the Washington Wizards? Charles Arbogast
Flashback: The last time the Chicago Bulls and the Washington Wizards faced off in the first round of the postseason was in 2005 (with exactly the same rankings), when the series was decided by a Gilbert Arenas' Game 5 dagger at the United Center and a late rally by his Wizards teammates in the ensuing game at the Verizon Center to steal the series against Bulls squad featuring a very good Kirk Hinrich and an explosive Ben Gordon. Nine years later, Hinrich seemed to have lost some of that All-Star self, Ben Gordon is "nowhere to be found", Agent Zero is now of a zero visibility in the NBA, and all we have now for both Chicago and Washington as stars are Joakim Noah and John Wall respectively. Unlike 2005 when Washington won it in six, it's the exact opposite this time as I have Chicago in six. A plot twist: this series could end even quicker if Derrick Rose, who's rumored to return for Chicago in time for the playoffs, will be that Derrick Rose.


Rookie Blue Devil Parker Declares for NBA Draft But Vows to Finish School in Duke

Friday, April 18, 2014

Jabari Parker joins Andrew Wiggins in the NBA Draft, but the Duke Blue Dev-
il still values education. Scott Bruty
The Duke Blue Devils' freshman sensation Jabari Parker declared for the NBA Draft in a sit-down interview with Sports Illustrated's Jeff Benedict.

Parker, among the cinches for the number one pick in this year's draft, told Benedict that after his Blue Devils got stunned by the Mercer Bears in the second round of the NCAA tournament, he needed to clear his mind.

He added that he took the blame for Duke's early exit and took some time off from basketball and weight training, but after realizing that handling defeats was the true test, he returned to the court few days later.

Although Parker still dreams about playing in the NBA, he considered staying for another year with the Blue Devils. "I've gotten pretty attached to life at Duke, and I don't want to utter the word goodbye," Jabari said.

Parker added that his Duke teammates, Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski and his coaching staff, and even the school's professors have become important men in Jabari's life. He even described Coach K as a father figure.

Parker also said that Jahlil Okafor's decision to commit to Duke made him think about staying with the Blue Devils more.

But Parker finally decided to make the NBA move after realizing that the pros is the best opportunity for him to grow on and off the court. He later clarified that money is not the reason for him to go pro.

Despite officially declaring for the draft, Parker told Benedict that he will continue his schooling at Duke. "I was an honor student when I arrived at Duke, and I'd like to graduate as one," said Jabari.

The 6'8" Jabari Parker averaged 19.1 points and 8.7 rebounds a game in his lone year as a Duke Blue Devil, who finished 26-8 in the college basketball season.

He joins fellow freshmen Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid among the early entrants to the draft. Also among the early entrants is Filipino-American junior Jordan Clarkson from Missouri.

Parker, Wiggins, and Embiid are the top candidates for the number one pick in the NBA Draft to be held on June 27.


Can Liverpool Win It All?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Can Steven Gerrard finally win his first Barclays Premier League title?
Liverpool FC
Today marks the 25th anniversary of one of the most tragic sports-related events in history, the Hillsborough disaster, which resulted in the death of 96 Liverpool fans after finding themselves jocking for better viewing positions with thousands of fellow club fans in the FA Cup semifinal battle between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. Every year since then, Liverpool, cross-town rival Everton, and even domestic rivals and soccer clubs from around the world are paying tribute to the Liverpool fans who put their lives at risk just to to show their support to their club. But now, Liverpool might be set for another event, this time at the right side of the track. The club is two points ahead of Chelsea for the Barclays Premier League championship with four games each left in their season, including a match-up against each other at the Anfield. The question: Can Liverpool write a happily-ever-after conclusion to its BPL season? First, the preliminaries...

The current standings [W-D-L-P (GD)]:
Liverpool: 24-5-5-77 (+51)
Chelsea: 23-6-5-75 (+42)
Manchester City: 22-4-6-70 (+54) (City have two postponed matches in hand)
Note: Everton and Arsenal are still in contention for the title, but their chances of stealing the title is small despite each having one match in hand.

Remaining Games:

Liverpool: @Norwich, Chelsea, @Crystal Palace, Newcastle
Chelsea: Sunderland, @Liverpool, Norwich, @Cardiff
Manchester City: Sunderland, West Bromwich, @Crystal Palace, @Everton, Aston Villa, West Ham

If you will notice, except for Liverpool vs. Chelsea on April 27, Everton vs. ManC on May 4, and Liverpool vs. Newcastle on May 11 (all in Philippine Time), all the remaining fixtures for the three clubs involve teams at the bottom half of the league table, all still fighting for their dear Division 1 lives, especially Sunderland and Cardiff. I see Liverpool's remaining fight calendar as the relatively toughest since it still has two Top 10 teams to settle, especially Chelsea in what could be a title eliminator. City's sched is the second toughest. Despite having to play six games, only Everton is safe to the BPL next year, and by the time they will face each other, the latter could already be out of title contention. Chelsea's fixture is the easiest in terms of power because despite having to face Liverpool, it will play a Bottom 3 team in Sunderland first. Chelsea's season will end against another Bottom 3 club, Cardiff (the Bottom 3 teams will automatically be relegated to the Sky Bet Championship).

My fearless forecast (in order of play):

Liverpool-W, D, W, W
Chelsea-W, D, W, W
ManC-W, W, W, D, W, W

So my projected final team standings are as follows:

Liverpool: 27-6-5-87 (+56)
Manchester City: 27-5-6-86 (+65)
Chelsea: 26-7-5-85 (+50)

It's sad that the victims of the Hillsborough tragedy are not witnessing Liverpool's dream season. But I'm pretty sure the players are dedicating their games (and they always do) to them. I have Liverpool to win the BPL. How about you?


Round-by-Round Analysis of Pacquiao-Bradley 2

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Manny Pacquiao is back as a world champion as he retook the WBO Welterweight Championship he lost from Timothy Bradley in their rematch. Here's how I tallied the match:

Round 1-Both fighter sizing up each other. Manny was aggressive, while Tim was patient. I have Pacquiao by a close one.

Round 2-Manny waxed hot midway through. Tim tried to go aggressive too, but that round belongs to the former champ.

Round 3-The canvass was slippery, but Manny still found a way to glide through the squared circle. 30-27 Pacman.

Round 4-A big right from Tim slowed Manny late in the round. That might be enough to give the Desert Storm the round.

Round 5-Looks like Manny was still recovering the huge blow from Tim at Round 4 as he was not as active as the first four. Bradley took Round 5, but Pacquiao was still in the lead, 48-47.

Round 6-Pacquiao is still not as active as before until late in the round as Bradley challenged him at the ropes but to no avail. Tim now ties the match. Mommy D stole the show, however.

Round 7-Manny took over late in the round, giving him the lead anew.

Round 8-Reports were in that Timothy Bradley hurt his right hand, and it looked like it took a toll on him. Pacquiao won that round.

Round 9-Manny almost floored Tim early on, proving he still has that KO power. It's now 87-84 for the Pacman.

Round 10-Pacquiao was now controlling the fight. 97-93 Manny

Round 11-Bradley was now frustrated. "How can I sneak in against Manny?" 107-102 Pacquiao

Round 12-Both guys put it on early in the round, but lost steam in the end, especially for Bradley, who lost the round.

My scorecard: I had it 117-111 for Pacquiao, just between the official scorecards (116-112 2x and 118-110).


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