Kawhi!

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Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors are on the verge of winning the NBA’s biggest prize. After absolutely torching the defending champs in Game 4 — AT ORACLE, mind you — the Raptors are almost rapturous as they stand on the verge of winning their first NBA Championship. Who saw this one coming? It is an upset of epic proportions, as the Warriors were supposed to rip the Raptors in Six Games. Instead, it looks like it will end the other way around. And all of Canada is singing “Oh Canada” and dancing in every Jurassic park north of the order.

This steady and stoic superstar rarely smiles or shows any emotion. Yet this 2019 Finals Championship series has been all about the man who has become the NBA’s most dominant and dominating player — Kawhi Leonard. Leonard has been putting up outrageous numbers during the postseason, dispatching the Bucks in six games after falling behind 0-2, just after sending home the Philadelphia 76ers, after falling behind Philly 2-1, with a Game 7, buzzer-beating, series-winning shot. Now in the NBA Finals, Leonard and the Raptors are one win away from dethroning the defending-champion Golden State Warriors.

Looming over Leonard’s play and the Raptors’ success is the fact that he may most likely decide not to re-sign with the team after the season. It has long been speculated that Leonard wishes to play in his home state of California; with his contract expiring at the end of the playoffs, his future will be entirely in his hands. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. For now, Leonard and the Raptors are trying to get their hands on the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Kawhi Leonard has proved and proven that he is a force to be reckoned with. He’s averaging 31 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists per game. Not too shabby. He’s leading his team night in and night out, with no excuses for a mistake here or there and no regrets, especially for leaving San Antonio. Yes Kawhi left a good team and a great coach in Gregg Popovich for Toronto. Yes Kawhi has been very good for most of his career. And yes Toronto has also been pretty good for the past few years. But for Kawhi, Toronto was an unknown commodity in uncharted territory, for he was getting a new, first year coach and new teammates — and nothing was for sure.

But all of that seems like ancient history now, as Kawhi has led his new team to the summit of the season and the apex of the basketball world. Kawhi has the third highest scoring average in these payoffs, behind Kevin Durant and James Harden. And now he’s takin it to the reigning champs.

Yes there have been players to leave a team they’ve been with for years for another team. Dr. J did it. Moses Malone did it. Kevin Garnett did it. And Kevin Durant did it. All of these players did it to do one thing: win a championship with their new team. But how ironic is it that Durant is injured and not playing against Kawhi now?

And Kawhi has help. Over the course of the Finals, supporting actors the likes of Pascal Siakim and Marc Gasol and Dennis Green and Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka have filled in admirably and taken turns in helping carry the load as Leonard has led the way. Last night, Serge Ibaka scored 20 points on 9-of-12 shooting in 22 minutes off the bench for the composed and confident Raptors. That means Ibaka shot 75% from the floor. These red hot Raptors are shooting lights out when they need to and turning back every Warrior threat at raucous Oracle — where home fans were stunned and silenced when the final buzzer sounded.

Not even the presence of Hall of Famer Al Attles, the Warriors’ former general manager, coach and player, could help the Warriors. Attles attended Game 4 and it was the first game in approximately eight months for the 82-year-old Attles, who has had health issues.

As for the reigning champs, they will have to dig deep and stretch wide and strain to reach higher than they’ve reached in order to pull this one out of the hat. The return of KD – Kevin Durant could help, but then again, after missing nine straight games, a herculean effort is what it’s going to take to overtake the red hot Raptors.

The key is that the Raptors believe. They believe in their coach, themselves and their leader. They are confident, they’ve played confidently, and they are in no way, shape or form being overly optimistic or arrogantly simplistic. Yes they are up 3-1, but they still have to win one more. It’s just one more game, but it’s still a full game. As Lowry said, “We aint done nothing yet.” And he’s right because it aint over till the fat lady sings.

But if Leonard leads like he’s led them so far, it’s over. It is absolutely over. And we’ll be crowning and congratulating a new champion come Monday night.

The lessons learned here are these: be humble, because Leonard is as self-effacing as they come. Be heady, as Leonard is one of the smartest, hardest working players in the league. And be happy for those who happen to be having a season of success. Remember, “Rejoice with them that rejoice.” You’ll want others to rejoice in your success too.

Always Believe In The Underdog!

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Loyola-Chicago’s Lucas Williamson, Nick Dinardi and Christian Negron, from left, celebrate winning a regional final NCAA college basketball tournament game against Kansas State, Saturday, March 24, 2018, in Atlanta. Loyola-Chicago won 78-62. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

 How can you NOT root for Loyola-Chicago?  They just beat Kansas State and won their way to the Final Four in San Antonio. They’ve turned the 2018 NCAA Tournament into the Loyola-Chicago Invitational. And they’ve got Sister Jean!  What’s not to like?

Loyola-Chicago’s coach, Porter Moser, is the ultimate X’s and O’s kind of guy. He’s all heart with a good head on his shoulders, to boot. He genuinely cares for his kids, and he is a genius when it comes to the game of basketball. Backdoor cuts leading to layups are part of the brilliant game plan he drew up these last two weekends for his upstart underdog team.  Yes, the Ramblers are for real!  They are going to the Final Four for the second time since 1963 when they won the National Championship.  Wow.

 “Unlike the other mid-major 11 seeds that made the Final Four (particularly George Mason in 2006 and Virginia Commonwealth in 2011), this Loyola team looks particularly dangerous. These last two weeks weren’t about a hot shooting run or pulling off a series of mega-upsets. Loyola simply played to its level in every game, got a little bit of late-game good fortune and could be a real threat to get to the championship game”.http://www.wwltv.com/article/news/nation-world/loyola-chicago-takes-down-kansas-state-to-continue-historic-run-to-final-four/507-531843318 For the Ramblers didn’t make it here by accident — they are 31-5, after all — and are a result of a perfect storm of coaching, talent and long hours.

“We understand why people are rooting for us,” guard Clayton Custer said. “It’s why people love this tournament. They love rooting for teams that they don’t see all the time, and maybe they picked us in our bracket. But we know we belong here. We know we deserve to be here.” I love it. 

You just gotta believe.

When Bad Teams Play

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The 5-6 Dallas Cowboys are hosting the 5-6 Washington Redskins in prime time. So why bother? 

The fans on each side are saying that this is a “must win” game for each team. Oh brother. Again I ask, “Why bother watching?”  It’s been called the best rivalry in sports. Normally, at least Yankees/Red Sox fans and Michigan/Ohio State fans would beg to differ, but the entire sports world is begging to differ tonight. Tonight when they play on Thursday Night Football, each team will be a shell of their old selves. Dak Prescott is not the Dak Prescott of last year; not by far. And Kirk Cousins and the Redskins, well, let’s just say that they always think they’re in contention.  Poor things.

You know what happens when bad teams play? You get poor play because of poor performers which leads to a poor performance. Essentially, it’s garbage in and garbage out. And who wants to waste precious time watching two lame ducks duke it out to the death?

Dallas has its share of problems: “Now in the middle of what will ultimately be a six-game suspension on their star RB, Ezekiel Elliot, the Cowboys’ offense is in shambles. After averaging a stout 28.25 points per game over the first eight contests, they’ve now failed to score 10 points in three consecutive games — the worse stretch in franchise history. That precipitous nose dive also includes a ‘frustrated’ Prescott admittedly playing some of his worst football, delivering only 500 total passing yards and no touchdowns, but five interceptions. He had only four all of last season.

It’s a long fall from the MVP-caliber numbers Dak Prescott was delivering only one month ago, and the correlation to the absence of Elliott can no longer be denied even if it’s not the sole reason for the downturn. Play calling certainly hasn’t helped his cause, as the Cowboys have also been attempting to overcompensate for the loss of Elliott versus riding impressive outings from Alfred Morris.” https://247sports.com/nfl/dallas-cowboys/Bolt/Dallas-Cowboys-coaches-weigh-in-on-if-absence-of-Ezekiel-Elliott-is-reason-for-poor-Dak-Prescott-play-111288651

And the Redskins have had their share of woes this season too.  So what’s one to do?  Can either team pull out a winning season and make the playoffs?  It’s doubtful, but then again that’s where it all starts. Doubt is the devil that destroys destiny. So since one team has to win (barring a tie, which would be laughable), one team has an outside chance at righting the ship and saving the season.

And therein lies the lesson: there’s always hope. You have to believe that there’s always a chance, a likelihood, a probability and a possibility that things can and will turn around. But first you have to believe that there’s hope, and that there’s hope for you, and that hope will help you too.  

Sweet And Sour Sixteen

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My University of Maryland Terrapins are good enough to go all the way. And, at times, they’re bad enough to go nowhere.  That’s the sweetness and sourness of my team. And Jake Layman has been as sweet and sour as they come. No offense to Melo Tribble, but Layman is the lynchpin. As goes Layman, so go the Terps. When he’s hot, they’re hot, and when he’s not, they’re not. So let’s hope that Layman lays it all down and leaves nothing on the court tonight. That would be sweet. They’ve made it to the Sweet 16 and they’re facing the Top Seeded Kansas Jayhawks tonight. At 9:40 pm. So I’m grateful that I’m not going to work tomorrow.

So how ‘bout it? Do you think my Terps stand a chance? Do the pundits and the experts and the sages and the sports scholars think they stand a chance? But does that even matter? For that matter, does what others think about you matter? Of course not! What matters is, do the TERPS themselves think they stand a chance?

And that’s where most of us miss it. We turn sour and we lose our sweetness and freshness and pureness when we crave the praise of men. When we crave adoration and confirmation and affirmation to the point where we wilt and wane and wither and waste away if we don’t get a pat on the back or a smack on the butt, we’re finished before we even begin. Don’t get me wrong; we all need encouragement, but if we don’t get it we should not give up the fight. What matters most is what God says and what we believe about what HE says. I’ll say my own amen on that one. AMEN!

If I were a bettin’ man, I’d bet the house on my Terps. It’s all or nothing. Do or die. Win or go home.  The sweet part of the Sweet 16 is that 16 teams have advanced this far. The sour part is that there are 52 other teams that did not make it this far and wish they could have. That’s a lot of teams. Michigan State is one of them, but let’s not go there, right? And so a lot of other teams went down to the wire but lost at the buzzer. That’s the sour side of sports in general and the Sweet 16 in specific. Someone has to lose. Just don’t let it be you.

The sweet side is that Maryland is one of a few teams that can boast and brag that they’re played good enough at the right time to be on the national stage under the national spotlight and have an outside chance at winning it all. Most importantly, they believe.

And herein lies the lesson. YOU have got to believe for others to believe.  If you don’t think you’ve got what it takes to take what life’s got, then go home now. Go straight home. Do not pass “GO”. Do not collect $200 (a Monopoly Game analogy, for those that remember and love that great game). Facing Kansas could be taken as a sour taste and an offensive smell. But it’s all a part of the package of life. Kansas is the opponent and they must be beat. To sulk at the prospect of facing Kansas is to doubt and to pout when instead the Terps should believe.

That’s it. That’s it right there. First and foremost, you’ve gotta believe. Because faith without works is dead. So, while you’ll have some days that are dark and some hours that are dour and sour, focus and fixate and zero in and put all the money on the sweet taste of victory. Then you’ve got to give it all you’ve got. So play like there’s no tomorrow. And if my Terps don’t there won’t be a tomorrow. At least not for them.  

From Doubting to Dancing

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We can go from mourning to dancing. We can go from crying to singing. We can go from doubting to dancing and shouting if we believe. David may have said it best: “You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing.” Psalm 30:11

Russell Wilson believed. Down 16 at the half and down 19-7 with 3 minutes left in the game, Wilson and the Seahawks pulled off a comeback for the ages as they stunned the Aaron Rodgers and the football world by winning in overtime, 28-22.  It was incredible.  It was improbable. It was implausible. But it was not impossible.

At games end, with tears streaming down his face, Russell Wilson gave a passionate and impassioned plea to all those who doubt and don’t believe. He wasn’t just speaking about this one unusual and almost unbelievable game; his comments apply to life itself.  

And I say again, who said God and sports don’t go together!

I am a believer, but at halftime I did not believe, and if you want to be honest (for a change) and admit the truth, you didn’t believe either. How many of the “No. 12’s” in the stands and at home thought there was even the inkling of a chance for the Seahawks to win, and win like they did?

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I did not believe that the Seahawks had a snowball’s chance in hell to come back and win the game. But come back and win they did. They turned it all the way around, four interceptions and all. Russell Wilson may have played the worst game of his professional career for 57 minutes, but when the chips were down, he came up with a whale of a win. Terry Bradshaw may have said it best: “How can things go so bad for so long and then suddenly turn around?” Sounds spiritual to me.

And so the next time you face a failure or deal with a dilemma or encounter a crisis or meet a monster of a mess, remember this game and remember this:

All things are possible to him who believes.

Mark 9:23

I Believe In Luck 2.0

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Colts 24 – Broncos 13

I believe in Luck. Andrew Luck, quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts.  In October 2013, Luck and his team bested his predecessor, Peyton Manning and the previously undefeated Denver Broncos in Peyton’s return to Indy, the most anticipated game of last season.  And now, in the Divisional Round of the Playoffs, with Luck on their side, Indy bested Manning again.

Quarterback Andrew Luck has shown that he’s got skills before, as he was the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy in both 2010 and 2011, but now I’m really believer. I believe in Luck. Andrew Luck.

While I believe in Andrew Luck, as he has proven that he can “hang” with best of them, I know that there’s no such thing as luck. Luck or chance is an event which occurs beyond one’s control, without regard to one’s will, intention, or desired result. Saying it was luck or attributing anything to luck denies that God is in control.  We need to give credit where credit is due: the credit for everything that happens to us is God’s. There’s no such thing as luck, because God is alive and well. He cares about us, and is involved in our lives.

While I believe in Andrew Luck, I firmly believe, trust, rely and depend on and have faith in God. Not luck. Not fate nor flukes; not chance or coincidence; not happenstance or circumstance; I believe God.  God has blessed us, so we don’ t have to resort to luck.

Unfortunately, we don’t trust God like we should all of the time. We hope and we wish, but we don’t trust the Lord with all of our hearts. Instead we lean to our own understanding. Such was the case when it came time to choose a replacement for Judas; unfortunately Peter relied on chance, not God.

I believe that Andrew Luck may win a Super Bowl, but I also believe what the Bible says “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our step.”  and “We may throw the dice, but the Lord determines how they fall.” (Proverbs 16:9 and 16:33, New Living Translation)

Let’s trust God to determine our steps.  Let’s trust God to determine how the chips will fall. He knows what’s best for us, and if we acknowledge Him in all of our ways, He will direct our paths (Proverbs 3:6).

So, let’s root for the up and coming Andrew Luck OVER Tom Brady and the New England Patriots next week in the 2015 AFC Championship Game; and let’s NOT believe in Lady Luck, and leave it at that.