Can Golden State Win Without Their Wounded Warrior?

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For those who haven’t heard, Steph Curry, the reigning MVP of the NBA and the best player on the best team, is out for two weeks. That puts him on the bench for the Fifth Game of the first Round of the 2016 Playoffs. And presuming that they shoot down the Rockets, Steph will be down and out for most if not all of the Second Round series against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Players play hurt all the time, but it’s not good for them or for their team in the long run. So, sitting Steph is the smart thing to do. That said, this leaves it up to his teammates to carry the load and continue the fight without him. And so the question is not can the Warriors win another NBA Title, it’s “can they even win playoff games without Steph?” That’s a whole different question that begs an entirely different answer.

“What does this mean, potentially? Curry is tremendous and more valuable to this team than anyone else in the league is to theirs, but the Warriors roster is filled with talented stars who can assume larger roles if he’s out for the foreseeable future. The most recent piece of evidence came in the second half of Sunday’s game, when the Curry-less Warriors exploded all over the Houston Rockets, outscoring them 65-38 in the final two quarters.” Michael Pina, Fox Sports http://www.foxsports.com/nba/story/stephen-curry-mri-results-golden-state-warriors-knee-injury-042516

Sean Deveney of Sporting News said the same. On Sunday April 24th in Houston, “the Warriors proved up to the task, responding to another injury suffered by the reigning (and soon-to-be repeat) league MVP with a masterly performance in a third quarter in which they scored 41 points, knocked down eight 3-pointers in 13 attempts, dished out 12 assists on 14 made shots and saw Klay Thompson and Draymond Green lead the way with 25 combined points.

So with Steph Curry out for anywhere between a week and two weeks with a sprained MCL, suffered in a slip just before halftime in Sunday’s Game 4 in Houston, all the Warriors will need to do is continue to put together quarters like that until Curry comes back. Simple enough.” http://www.sportingnews.com/nba-news/4703250-stephen-curry-injury-update-warriors-playoffs-draymond-green-klay-thompson-steve-kerr-rockets-clippers 

Biblically, we believe that we are stronger when we are weak; we are fiercer when we are faint, and we are full of God when we are empty of ourselves. It sounds crazy and silly and stupid and senseless and outrageous and outlandish, but it’s as real and rational and standard and statutory as can be, if you are spiritual.

So, it may sound funny, but it’s the formula. When we are weak, we are made strong. When we decrease, God gives us increase. When we humble ourselves, He exalts us and lifts us up. Yes it’s counterintuitive to conventional wisdom, but then again, everything spiritual is.

Submitting to the power and providence of God is the formula for winning when you think all hope is lost, and triumphing when you don’t seem to stand a chance. It’s the answer to the questions we ponder when we have unpaid bills and overdue notices and we are short on supply and long on demand. But that’s how Heaven helps. Heaven gives the most help when earth has the most need. And for the Warriors, now is the time to dig deep and to believe way beyond the stars, and for some of us it’s that time too.

A Prince And A Pauper

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Music icon Prince played organized, team basketball. That’s right. 5’2” Prince played for both Bryant Junior High and Central H.S. in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His H.S. coach said he was an excellent player. Prince also played (musically) the halftime show for Super Bowl  XLI in Miami in 2007. Billboard said it was the best Half Time show ever. But I missed it. I didn’t watch this half time show because I’m not a Prince fan. What a shame. And last year, Prince, a Minnesota Lynx fan, gave the team a concert at his mansion after they won the WNBA Championship.

So here’s to Prince Nelson Rodgers. While I was not a Prince Fan, I can pause and ponder and posit the effect his career had upon the music industry. He was different and dissimilar and divergent. His sudden and shocking death has distinguished him with the likes of Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston. They each lived kingly and queenly and princely lives as the King of Pop and the Queen of Soul and as  . . . “Prince.” Unfortunately, their departures from this life left us waning why and wondering what could have been if they could have lived a lot or even just a little bit longer.

So, since I was not a Prince fan, I feel that I am a pauper for missing out on his impact and his influence and the impression he left on song and sound and sports and society. We are princes and princesses because of an icon’s life, but we are left paupers if we do not stop for a moment or sit for a spell or at least stall and don a pall with the rest of the music world and reflect and respect and redeem the good that the great music maestros of our day delivered to us.  

Why Was I Doing My Taxes Instead of Watching Kobe Score 60 Points In His Last Home Game?, a.k.a., The NBA Now Stands for “Not Bad Anymore”

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I don’t have a good answer. I don’t. But my taxes are done and I don’t owe. That’s what matters. But I missed the game. Kobe’s LAST GAME! Seriously!? So . . .

The NBA is BACK! The Warriors broke the Bulls record for wins in a season, Steph Curry broke his own record for 3 Pointers in a season, and Kobe went out with a bang.

First, the Golden State Warriors have indeed made the NBA fun again. They play with pizazz and shoot with sass and pass with panache. They’re the golden team from the Golden State that is sitting on a golden goose of a future if they can keep this pace up. They’ve beaten the NBA’s best, and so the only drama for the playoffs is to see if San Antonio can give them a run in a seven game series or if Cleveland can in fact reach the Finals for the relished rematch we all rave to see.

Steph Curry, the darling denizen of the NBA’s elite echelon, is only 28 years old. He’s got more than a few good years left on those legs, and he can carry his team like only Mike and Kobe could (with an honorable mention to LeBron and Bird and “Magic” and of course Wilt “The Stilt” and Bill Russell). That said, His team won 73 games. Do they have it in them to win another title? That is the ONLY question. But it’s a question worth tuning in for to find the answer.

And finally, Kobe. Yes Kobe. His sayonara send-off tour got more press than his play, but his play ruled the day on the last night of his consummate and accomplished career. Kobe knocked down 60 – that’s right 60 – points in his final act at Staples Center. What a way to go. And I didn’t see it. But we went over that already. Anyway, Kobe couldn’t miss, and Utah couldn’t stop him, so we had one of the most epic and epochal ends to an ecstatic and euphoric 20-year career.

Kobe scored 33,643 points over 20 seasons, the third most all-time. He was surpassed only by the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Hall of Famer Karl Malone. Mike came in at number four, and Wilt Chamberlain is No. 5 on the all-time points list. Not bad company. In fact, it’s rarified air indeed. AND, he scored the most points in his now legendary last game. In other words, Kobe scored more points in his last game than any other NBA player, EVER! By Far! And I missed the game! (As you can see, I’m still not over it yet). And so, like him or lump him, you cannot deny him his place in the annals of basketball lore.

So, the lesson is this: just when you think things are bad and bottoming out, here comes a Steph Curry to carry the League. Just when you think Kobe doesn’t care and the NBA is not relevant, you have records being ripped and story book endings being written. It just goes to show ya, the tango of sports and life are inseparable, not insufferable.

The Golden State Warriors: When Good Is Michael Jackson “BAD!”

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Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors just beat the best team (next to them ) in the NBA by being bigger and better and “badder” down the stretch. And in so doing, they broke their 33-game losing streak in San Antonio and the Spurs 2015-2016 home winning streak. Yes, just like when I came up, good is “BAD,” just like Michael Jackson said:

Because I’m bad, I’m bad – come on
You know I’m bad, I’m bad – you know it
You know I’m bad, I’m bad – you know it, you know.

Yes, good is “bad.” In sports and in life, it’s bad to be bad, and really good is not just good. Really good is a notch and a neck and a nose better than the rest. As another iconic, albeit sexist song from the ‘80s said, the Warriors are “a bad mama jama; just as fine as they can be.” And that’s what we all should strive to see. Not just to be good, but to be better than just good.

So here’s to the “Dubs:” the Warriors just tied Michael Jordan and the ’95-96 Chicago Bulls for the best record in the regular season. And on Wednesday night they can break the record in their regular-season finale against the Memphis Grizzlies and notch 73 wins against just 9 loses in a season. That’s just not being good; that’s being “bad to the bone.”

Villanova vs. UNC – The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat

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Villanova beat Kansas. They beat up and beat down Oklahoma. And in the end, on the last play of the game, with a three pointer at the buzzer, they beat North Carolina too. “This was the stuff of legends, after a malaise of mediocrity and blowouts had settled over the NCAA Tournament. This was a championship game for the ages after meager and mediocre Final Four.”

Nova earned this. They completely earned the National Championship Trophy. The Wildcats dominated Oklahoma in the first game of the Final Four. They found their groove from beyond the arc just as March turned wild, with their team at the helm. And then they outlasted arguably the best team not to win a national title. On any other night, North Carolina would have been good enough to win, but not last night.

Last night, the Villanova win and the North Carolina loss was one for the ages. And while the win was earned and very real, it was also almost imaginary and make believe. It was real and unreal, surreal and serene, fabulous and fantastic, unbelievable and improbable, absurd and bizarre all at the same time. The game, unlike any other game, was dreamlike in the wildest sense and nightmarish in the worst.

Magic is not a word you hear in church or find in a good sense in the Bible. But it’s a good word nonetheless. Yes there is “Black” magic, but that has no place here. I’m talking about virgin magic as pure as freshly falling, driven snow. And Villanova, while not a Cinderella team last night like they were oh, so many years ago in 1985 when Rally Massimino’s team beat Georgetown, found the glass slipper and slipped it on just seconds before midnight.

The Villanova / North Carolina game was truly made of magic, as it had all of the same ingredients that magic has. No, magic is not a “Christian” word, per se, but the essence of magic is certainly spiritual. And anything spiritual is wonderful and delightful and charming and captivating and thrilling and chilling all at once.

Villanova’s winsome win was misty and mystic, miraculous and yes, magical.

This game, above just about any other and every other NCAA game we’ve ever seen, was fairy-tale fanciful, story book beautiful and yes, enchanting; it was simply full of pixy dust dazzle. “This game was magic and mania, containing the soul-crushing sorrow and unbridled joy of the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, all at once.”

Magical moments included one with Marcus Paige, who channeled so much will and hope and toughness in a surging North Carolina 10-point comeback over the final five minutes, stepped up to the plate and did the impossible: he heaved a 3-point shot, after a double-clutch, and tied the game. Paige pulled this rabbit out of his hat with everything on the line that he and his teammates and his coach craved.

Then there was Kris Jenkins, who took a perfect pass and hit a perfect shot; Jenkins broke the tie and hit the game winner with a buzzer-beater that swished through the net with no time left on the clock. It was a shot heard round the basketball world, never to be forgotten.

This game was so riveting, so exhilarating and so electrifying that “it amplifies the joy and the sorrow for the winners and losers alike. No wonder then that the greatest ending perhaps of all time also gave us the worst heartache ever. Right along with the kind of joy that is reserved for the very few, and the very fortunate, and of course the very deserving.

“But there is, as always in life, another side. It’s our complications that reach us, the disparities and razor-thin margins between joy and depression that makes sports so pure. That ebullient moment in time on the floor was as real and powerful as what was unfolding” so near and yet so far away on the North Carolina bench as heads were hung low and tears began to flow.

In one of the greatest basketball games ever played, we saw the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. And such is life. In life there are times when we win big and there are times when we lose large. We both come close and fail and almost lose it and win. And that’s the mystery of this life. Our failures seem like the end and our victories seem like we’ve only just begun. And the mystery of this life is learning how to both enjoy the thrill of victory and endure the agony of defeat, both all at once at the same time.

March Madness: ALWAYS Have a Plan “B” (Oklahoma!)

hield-buddyBuddy Hield averages 29 points a game. He single handedly carried his team on his back through their bracket en route to the Final Four in Houston. And Oklahoma was supposed to give Villanova a run, or at least a game, IF Buddy and his buddies could hit their three pointers. Not! It didn’t happen. In fact, the unthinkable happened; Oklahoma got blown out of the gym, losing 95-51. Unbelievable.

The Sooners didn’t just lose, they were creamed and crushed, slaughtered and massacred, trounced and pounced right out of the Final Four. It was their worst loss of the season and the worst margin of defeat in Final Four history. Hield, who won several national player of the year awards, finished with nine points. Nine points. He came into the game shooting 46.5 percent from 3-point range, but finished 4 for 12 from the field, including 1 of 8 from beyond the arc.

Hield, who became the Big 12’s all-time leading scorer in the game, said Villanova was ”one of the best teams I’ve ever played in college.” Hield had more to say: ”Just credit them for what they were doing. They made it tough on me throwing multiple bodies at me,” said Hield, who had six points against West Virginia, the only other time this season he was held below 10 points. ”They just played terrific tonight.”

So, for Villanova, they had a game plan. Several Wildcats get credit for their great defense against Hield, as Nova used multiple players to chase Hield all over the court. They limited his shots by not allowing much separation when he didn’t have the ball and smothered him even more when he did. ”We were just loading into him,” Mikal Bridges said. ”We just tried our best to limit his touches and load to him when he had the ball.”

So, since the Oklahoma Plan “A” did not work, what was the backup plan? What was their Plan “B?” There wasn’t one. That’s right; they had NO contingency plan. No options for unlikely exigencies or unforeseen eventualities. What if Buddy had a bad game? What if the team had a cold shooting night? What if Oklahoma couldn’t make a shot or buy a basket and Villanova couldn’t miss? You guessed it? That’s exactly what happened.

My dad taught me to “plan for the worst and hope for the best.” He taught me that everything won’t go your way. And anything can happen. Nothing is for certain. At least not in sports. And in life, life happens. So you need to plan for what might happen. And that’s why you need more margins in your life. You need margins on your term paper and margin in your bank account and margin in your commute to work and margin in your marriage. You just do.

So here’s to Villanova and North Carolina; they play in the National Championship game tonight. So each team certainly has a game, plan. Let’s just hope that if each team’s Plan “A” doesn’t work, that they have a Plan “B” in their hip pocket.

The Final Four and Basketball Body Language

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I love taking and critiquing a good photograph, especially a sports photograph. A really good photo must be formed and framed, fashioned and formatted. Not surprisingly, the photos I choose for each blog are as important and as the blog itself. I agonize and scrutinize dozens of stock photos to get just the right one for each blog. The pictures and the prose go hand in hand.

In the first photo, both hands are raised and the eyes are ablaze (or should be) and the winning Villanova teammate is celebrating a big win over mighty Kansas. It’s a picture of positive body language. Nuff said.

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The next photo, showing two of my Maryland Terrapins, is a classic lesson in negative basketball body language. You don’t have to know the final score to know that these two didn’t win. You didn’t even have to watch the game to know that their team didn’t move on. You just have to watch and study the body language.

Rasheed Sulaimon, the player on the left, is moving slowly, the shoulder on the left slightly lower than the shoulder on the right. Melo Trimble, his partner in crime, is also moving slowly as he sulks and saunters his way off of the court and out of the competition for the National Title. Both heads are hung and all four shoulders have none of the bounce or buoyancy that they had just minutes before. Both player’s bodies are slumped like they’ve been dumped and they’re wilted and faded like an old flower that has faded. Both players seem empty and dry, without direction and with simply no words left to mention.

How different will the body language be for the winners of tonight’s Final Four games? Either North Carolina (my pick) or Syracuse, Oklahoma or Villanova will be laughing and leaping and running and dancing and shouting and screaming.  There will be joy and gladness and rejoicing and yes, shear utter madness.

Winners and losers have different body language. And these two languages are as far as the east is from the west, and as far apart as night is from day, and as sunshine is from rain, and as the dead of winter is from the high heat of summer.

And so the lesson is this: don’t let the roller coaster emotions of March Madness get the best of you. Don’t let your body dictate your language.  Yes you can be elated or deflated, up or down, jubilant or jettisoned, but you don’t have to let these emotions drive the train. Yes the winners will be glad, and yes the losers will be sad, but the seasoned veterans will be able to take it all in and eventually be moderate regardless of the final score.

And in life, we should be too.