Serge Protector

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By Stefan Anderson

When the Western Conference Finals began, I believed that it would be highly competitive series with Oklahoma City and San Antonio. With the Spurs big 3 searching for the next title on their “closing” window, and the Thunder searching for their first title as a young core.  But after the first two games of the series, I was proved wrong after the Spurs came out looking the Spurs destroying the Thunder in a fashionable manner. Allowing an average of 117 points in the first two games, the Thunder looked out of sort and looked to see a similar fate as in years prior.

But their rim protector, 3rd option on offense and best defender was missing in action.

During a game 6 win versus the Clippers, Serge Ibaka had early exit due to a calf injury and was scheduled to miss the rest of postseason, which would put the Thunder in the same predicament as last season when they lost Westbrook to a freak knee injury.  But the first two games were finished; team doctors upgraded Ibaka’s status from out indefinitely to day to day, which changed a lot this series.

After watching the first two games of the series’ most believed whether Ibaka played or not that Spurs were in rare form and looked like a team determined to get their redemption and hoist up another championship trophy. But after game 3, the doubters were proved wrong after Ibaka’s return. In his return he gave his team that added scorer need after starters other than Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook only scored 9 points in two games, chipping in 15 points.

His offense was an addition to the Thunder’s game plan, but was obvious for the defensive end as well. Ibaka presence was felt as it always is it, providing consistent shot blocking (he has finished with the most blocks in the past 4 seasons in the NBA), brought the rim protection his team needed.  During the past 2 games, Ibaka has accounted for 7 of the 18 blocks his team has taken away from the Spurs hot offense. His presence in the post was well needed after witnessing the Spurs 66 and 54 of their points in the paint, exploiting the Thunder’s inferior front line, but when Ibaka returned he has cut those numbers down to 40 and 36 in the following games. With play like this that Ibaka was snubbed of the DPOY in the past two seasons, but his impact can be seen throughout the floor.

I don’t know what the outcome of the series is going to be but I am going to say if the past is anything like the present then the Spurs are in trouble. With the Thunder being the last Western Conference team to eliminate them in a playoff series (after erasing a 2-0 deficit ) and owning them in the season series ,without Russell Westbrook in two of those games, it appears the Thunder have the Spurs number. But u can never justify Pop’s willingness to have the other team in a chess match and just baiting them into a checkmate. I want to believe that the Spurs have one more legendary run in them before that window closes but the Thunder just don’t want any more breeze and have the opportunity to end one of the greatest dynasties in NBA history.

My Prediction: OKC in 6, I think that moment will allow them to steal one in San Antonio lead by monster game by the MVP Kevin Durant going for somewhere close to 45 and then they will close out the series at home in Oklahoma City, to set up a epic rematch for LeBron and Durant.

Turning Points

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Kings, Rangers Benefit From Adversity
By Greg Hudson
 
When the final whistle blew on game three of the Western Conference quarterfinal, the Los Angeles Kings found themselves at the edge of a cliff. Trailing the San Jose Sharks 3-0 in the best-of-seven series, the Kings were a loss away from an early exit to the Stanley Cup playoffs, and faced with an obstacle only four teams had ever done before: overturn a 3-0 defecit to win a playoff series.
 
But while almost everyone thought the Kings were down and out, the Kings fought back against San Jose, forced a seventh game, and won comfortably on the road 5-1. They carried their momentum into the conference semis against the Anaheim Ducks and raced out to a 2-0 series lead, but just as suddenly as they found their form, they lost it, and dropped three straight to trail 3-2 and find themselves once again in a win-or-go-home scenario. But they rallied in front of their home crowd at the Staples Center to win game six, and coasted to a 6-2 win in game seven across town.
 
Meanwhile, in the Eastern Conference, the New York Rangers also overcame a seven-game first round challenge from Philadelphia to face the Pittsburgh Penguins. After a solid performance in a game one win, they dropped three straight in woeful fashion, proving inept at almost every element at the game, with the exception of stalwart goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
 
But after the game four loss at Madison Square Garden which put them behind 3-1 in the series, while the Rangers got ready to travel to Pittsburgh for a do-or-die game five, Rangers star Martin St. Louis’s mother passed away suddenly. and few expected St. Louis to dress for game five.
 
Not only did he dress, he came out and led the Rangers to a resounding 5-1 win en route to a remarkable comeback that culminated in a 2-1 win in Pittsburgh in game seven to advance to the Conference Final against the Montreal Canadiens.
 
After so much adversity in the first two rounds, the Rangers and Kings have responded, even thrived on adversity. When everyone else counted them out, they counted on each other and found a belief in themselves and their team. Both teams now hold an advantage in their Conference Final series, despite not having home ice advantage. Each team is posed to become the first team to reach the Stanley Cup Finals after playing 14 games in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
 
And each team believes it will get there, but only one team can lift the Stanley Cup, and neither team has sealed its place in the finals just yet. Whether or not they have what it takes to reach the finish line remains to be seen, but if recent form is any suggestion, the Rangers and Kings could make for one sensational Stanley Cup Final.

Left Behind

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Landon Donovan Excluded From US World Cup Squad

By Greg Hudson
 
When the United States Men’s National Team touches down in Rio next month for the 2014 World Cup, they’ll be without their all-time leading goal-scorer Landon Donovan.
 
Donovan, 32, has scored 57 goals in 156 games for the USMNT in 14 years since his promotion to the team as just an 18-year-old. His five World Cup goals tally more than Leonel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Robin van Persie combined.
 
Yet on Thursday, when USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann named his 23-man roster for Brazil, Donovan and several other veteran players had been scratched and replaced with youngsters who have yet to prove their mettle in international competition, to the shock of fans across the country.
 
But while shocking, Klinsmann’s decision isn’t entirely unheard of: in fact, it’s more common than one would think. Major countries, including those favored to reach the semi-finals or even win the World Cup this summer, have made significant strides to add youth and energy to their sides.
 
England, looking to win the World Cup for the first time since 1966, have named eight players under age 24 to their 23-man roster, including 18-year-old Luke Shaw and 19-year-old Raheem Sterling.
 
The ever-menacing German team has 11 players age 24 or younger in its side, and has excluded from its ranks the likes of Mario Gomez and Piotr Trochowski in order to make way for a younger generation of players like Marco Reus and Mario Gotze.
 
Finally, let’s look at host country Brazil. 2010 captain Lucio, and standout midfielder Lucas are both missing from this year’s team sheet, as are veteran strikers Robinho and Luis Fabiano whose sensational careers are still very much in action.
 
The trend in the “youth-enization” of teams expands beyond international competition, with clubs like Liverpool in England, Atletico Madrid in Spain, and Bayern Munich in Germany gaining high esteem for utilizing younger players to great effect. So is Klinsmann’s decision understandable.
 
To a certain extent, yes it is. Young players, while often lacking the maturity to handle the pressures of such a high-stress environment as a World Cup, bring energy, creativity, and a certain level of fearlessness that comes with inexperience, and a USMNT that has often struggled of late to find ways to score in games that matter could really use that injection of pace and confidence.
 
But at a World Cup, each team needs a born leader. The USMNT has that in goalkeeper Tim Howard, but had it in Landon Donovan as well, and perhaps in a more meaningful way. It was Donovan’s stoppage time goal against Algeria that put the U.S. into the knockout stages of the World Cup in 2010, and his experience and leadership could prove to be just a valuable as the youth and energy he’s been left behind to accommodate.
 
The team’s performance in Brazil this summer, and how the decision to leave Landon Donovan behind effects that performance, could make or break Jurgen Klinsmann’s career as the USMNT manager.
 
But more importantly, it’s a sign that in world football, there’s truly no glory without gutsy desicions. Will this one pay off? The world will watch and see.

The Luck of Curse

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By Stefan Anderson

49 years with no Championship title the 3rd longest streak other than Ottawa and San Diego, Cleveland has seen its darkest days. With no NBA Title, no Super Bowl and a 1948 World Series title. Fans in the city of Cleveland still have nightmares of the Infamous Drive, Jordan’s jump shot over Craig Ehlo even more recently, LeBron James leaving. But there is hope with Johnny Football heading to the Browns and the Cavaliers earning the number one overall pick in this year’s draft, the second in 2 years and 3rd time in 4 years.

The decision now depends on what they do on the first pick in the star studded draft class of 2014.

The Cavaliers have spent their past 4 seasons searching for player(s) to replace the void once held by LeBron James. Pairing up Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, and Tristan Thompson and of course Anthony Bennett with their last 4 lottery picks, the Cavaliers have yet to put together a winning season since the departure of King James. With 8 expiring contracts, the Cavs are looking to right ship and have their youth feel what postseason play feels like.

With a team option on current big Anderson Varejo, expiring contract of Spencer Hawes, the Cavs will be looking for a rim protector and can collect one with Joel Embiid. Embiid stock still remains high even after a back injury suffered late in the season.  The 7-footer has the skills set and can give the Cavs a rim protector along with offensive scoring in which he showcased at Kansas, averaging  11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in his freshman season.

Andrew Wiggins will still available and be put in the position he has been built for since entering his senior year of high school.  With tremendous amount of potential and athletic abilities that are out of this planet, Wiggins can be a great impact for player for the Cavaliers. Giving the Cavs, that proflic player they have been missing on the perimeter that plays both ways. Wiggins will add another Canadian player to that could bring a great foreign chemistry with Thompson, Wiggins, and Bennett.

There’s also Jabari Parker who can be a stretch 4 or great small forward depending on how his weight is this upcoming season. With reports that his weight has gone up since the past college it’s no questioning how in shape he is but there is no questioning Parker’s talent level. If Cleveland decides to select him with the 1st overall pick he can be another Coach K product that pans out very well, al a Kyrie Irving.  He would be a great fit as they Cavs will be looking for a swingman with Luol Deng (another one and done  Duke product) becoming a free agent this summer.

With so many options to choose from in this year’s upcoming draft, there is a big time superstar that is there can provide immediate help to the Cavaliers roster, Kevin Love. Love’s ability to crash the board without effort and ability to provide consistent scoring, in the paint or the perimeter, would be a great tandem for Kyrie Irving and propel their team to playoffs status.  But is Kevin Love worth risking your future for? Cleveland is a big city to most but how much better is it than Minnesota? Is he willing to resign and build his future there? Questions we don’t have the answers to.

What the Cavs do with their first pick shall be very interesting to say the least but hopefully it brings their team what is essential for success in a weak Eastern Conference. All of the talent can help their talent but only the draft will tell the real story. Who’s says losing your star can’t help you out for the future? Look at the way karma worked in Cleveland in way. Maybe the King can return to his crown next summer when he becomes a free agent. 

Separating the Men From the Boys

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By Greg Hudson
 
As the Conference Finals roll around, it’s crunch time. It’s the business end of the playoffs and it’s the time when the players with the goods to deliver need to take the driver’s seat.
 
Insert another dozen cliches and you’ll sound just like the average New York sports fan who couldn’t name the Rangers’ second line but is a diehard Blueshirts fan come playoff season, dusting off the old Messier shirt to watch his team take on the challenge of a race for the Stanley Cup.
 
Cliches are common – perhaps too common – but the reason for their over-use is the fact that there’s truth to their meaning. While it isn’t quite time for “champions being made, not born,” it IS time to separate the men from the boys.
 
Eastern Conference – Montreal Canadiens v. New York Rangers
 
There are a lot of good men in this matchup. Habs boast the hardest-shooting man left in the playoffs in P.K. Subban, and perhaps the most under-rated goaltender in the National Hockey League: Carey Price. Max Pacioretty has come up big in tight games and scored pivotal goals this post-season, and the hard-hitting duo of Tomas Plekanec and David Desharnais have helped lead a devastating forecheck that even the tight-run Bruins defense couldn’t cope with.
 
But with all those strengths, the Rangers have a definitive edge in this series. And while a fair portion of that edge is due to the blinding form from tender Henrik Lundqvist, the real key to the Rangers’ edge is their belief. They have real he-men buried in the lineup, from the courage of Martin St. Louis carrying on after the sudden passing of his mother, to the physical toughness and work ethic of Carl Hagelin, to the determination of Rick Nash to find ways to contribute even when he wasn’t putting the biscuit in the basket. The Rangers put themselves against the wall against Pittsburgh but their rally has given them a surge of belief, and it’s visible watching them play.
 
The men: New York Rangers
The boys: Montreal Canadiens
 
Western Conference – Chicago Blackhawks v. Los Angeles Kings
 
When you look at this matchup it’s easy to understand why many hockey analysts believe that the winner of this series will hoist the Stanley Cup. These two teams have won three of the last four Cups, and it’s clear why. Chicago has perhaps the single best lineup in the National Hockey League, while the Kings bring an irresistible style and quality that even the best of teams can’t cope with.
 
Chicago is a team stacked with talent. They play hard, they play rough, they play tough, and they make you play their game if you want to beat them. They’re a team full of men, and the boys in the team quickly learn the way. They go into the Conference Finals with an undefeated record at home in the postseason this year and with home ice advantage, it should give them an edge in the series.
 
But like the Minnesota Wild, the L.A. Kings have just the right mix of quality, speed, and creativity to really give the Blackhawks a run for their money. And perhaps most importantly in this series, unlike Minnesota, the Kings don’t consider the Blackhawks a superior team. They aren’t afraid of falling behind in the series, or of having to win on the road. Both the Kings’ first two rounds went to game seven, and the Kings won both of those games away from home. But the real reason you can’t count the Kings out (no, it isn’t just Jonathon Quick, although he’ll be very important) is the fact that they play well under pressure. This postseason the Kings have played six win-or-go-home games, and won all of them, by mostly comfortable margins. If the Blackhawks don’t bring their A-Game for all 60 minutes of every game in this series, they won’t play for a chance to defend the Cup. That being said, if they do bring the A-Game, it will take a Jonathon Quick miracle to keep the tribe out of the Cup Finals.
 
The men: Los Angeles Kings
The boys: Chicago Blackhawks

Heart of a City

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By Stefan Anderson

Seems like a redundant theme or trend for better terms, but Superstar or All-Star player leaves their small market in pursuit for a better team, richer lifestyle, more lucrative contract and fulfilling their dreams of becoming a NBA champion.  The latest player on the path to follow his personal endeavors is Superstar power forward Kevin Love. After a report given by Yahoo Sports on Sunday, Love intends to opt out of his final year of his player option and his name on the star studded free agent class of the summer of 2015.

There is no denying Love’s talent but I believe that he choice to share the news prior this year NBA draft and the season even begins put a lot of things in limbo, including his career. For example, what if Minnesota’s all or nothing attitude results in a trade to another small market team that is rebuilding to return prominence i.e. (Milwaukee Bucks who have a 25.0% percent chance of winning this year’s lottery) and you waste another year in your career and tarnish your market value from playing on a horrific roster.

With teams like Chicago Bulls, Golden State Warriors, Boston Celtics, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns all on the prowl for the former UCLA standout, The Kevin Love Sweepstakes have begun.

Some of the teams in heavy discussion have been the Lakers and Celtics, who have seen their worst season in the years past, are now searching for the answer for their loyal fans are inquiring for Love’s availability. With Love being a California kid and Kobe on the waning years of his, it would seem fitting to pair the two for contention. With a possibility of obtaining a top-5 pick in years draft, pending on the bouncing of the balls, can put together the right offer to sway the superstar forward. Boston is presented with same kind of offer they have a great deal of expiring contracts along with the future draft picks obtained in their process of rebuilding. Boston has great deal with Minnesota dating back the KG trade with sent a boat load of draft picks that brought in players like Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and honorable mention to Johnny Flynn.

Whether Minnesota wants to deal and reports have shown that are now more open to moving their star after years of watching him win the fans of Minnesota. With the fear of losing their star player like a LeBron James for nothing and are still searching for a light since his departure to South Beach.  They have been put in a hot seat to figure out how they are going to maneuver this upcoming season and future’s ones.

Love’s optimism puts a lot of things in motion, Timberwolves Front Office, Teams that need that extra star to win and the endless possibilities to acquire the All Star.  This saga should be an interesting one to watch as the moments pass by and more deals get put on to the table.  By June 26, 2014, we should have an idea of where the All-Star should be headed Minnesota cannot afford to miss out on the talent presented in years draft. They are bound to lose Love during the offseason and cannot sway any big names to come to Minnesota other than Kris Humphries, so do make a deal that ultimately make their team better and plan for the future is the best option available.

Scapegoat or Savior

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By Stefan Anderson

A lot of people put unfair criticism on you as a player, and I’m the first to have your back through it all. Just stay the person you are. Everybody loves you here. I love you.” MVP Kevin Durant uttered those words about his running mate Russell Westbrook after receiving the honor of becoming the league’s superior award.  But the speculations about Westbrook have been love or hate, or maybe hate to love from the majority of sports fans. I believe that Russ takes the blame for things that he has no fault taking blame for.

When Kevin Durant went on his miraculous tear this season, due to a Westbrook injury many questioned the necessity of keeping the tandem together. In the prior it was shown that Westbrook was vital to Oklahoma City’s success. After a second round exit by the Memphis Grizzlies, it proved that Russell Westbrook is what they needed after defenses set their plan against taking out Durant. A formula that worked previously, did not work this year when Memphis faced OKC in the first round that featured Westbrook.

The Thunder posted a 24-9 record while Westbrook, The team seen the emergence of many roles players including Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, and Serge Ibaka to help fill void of the Thunder’s secondary superstar. Although they played well without him they are fairly better offensively and defensively with Westbrook. With Westbrook the Thunder score nearly 5 more points and hold teams to almost 4 less points a game.

The majority of Westbrook’s criticism comes from his shot intake and erratic play but you cannot blame him for his needed offense. Although Ibaka has shown improvement over the years, his offense is still inconsistent along with Perkins and Sefolosha, lacking that 3rd scorer the Thunder lost when they traded James Harden.  With 2 guys that start and cannot scratch close to 10 points a game, his shot selection is explained well. 

What I can argue with is why Westbrook decides to make himself a better playmaker at times. His playoffs stats are a small sample size but show how he can improve his game slightly. In games that his team has lost this postseason, he averages more points less assists and rebounds (29 ppg, 8 rpg  and 7 apg) in opposite to when his teams wins (24 ppg, 9 rpg, 9apg). But Russell Westbrook competitive spirit is second to none, which is why he is so valued. If Kevin Durant goes cold as he did in Game 5 (6-22 from the field), you need a Russell Westbrook to win games as he showed in tonight game. Westbrook went off for 38 points, including the clutch steal over Chris Paul and then sinking the 3 game winning free throws.

“An emotional guy who would run through a wall for me. There are days when I want to just tackle you and tell you to snap out of it sometimes. I know there’s days you want to do the same with me. I love you man. Durant echoed those words after winning his first MVP award but he meant tonight, as Westbrook proved that he should never be the scapegoat for the losses but credited for all his efforts.