The NBA: Not Bad Anymore

Lebron_James__The_King_.

If you’re not watching the NBA this season, you need to give me a good reason. Because I’ll give you three reasons you should be watching, NOW:

#1: There are at least ten teams who have a legitimate shot at winning the championship, and this is my list, in my rank order: 

  1. LA Lakers
  2. Milwaukee Bucks
  3. LA Clippers
  4. Philadelphia 76ers
  5. Toronto Raptors
  6. Boston Celtics
  7. Denver Nuggets
  8. Dallas Mavericks
  9. Houston Rockets
  10. Miami Heat

LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the revamped Lakers are a blistering 17-3. The Lakers have a legitimate shot at shooting down the entire league en route to another ring for the King. However, there are a few teams (nine to be exact) who would gladly like to go head to head with the Lakers in a seven game series, and one of them plays in the same city and in the same building. Does the name Kawhi Leonard ring a bell, anyone? 

#2: The West is not the best. The Western Conference AND The Eastern Conference are offering up games that are literally much see TV in this early season. My Sixers seem to have righted the ship as they are now 15-6. The Boston Celtics are playing better than expected and the Raptors surprising everybody. And then there’s Giannis.

#3: The Season and the Playoffs are too long, and so the NBA is toying with the idea of changing the season schedule, whatever that means. So if you don’t watch now and don’t watch out, the NBA could tinker with the way things are, and there’s no guaranteed that things will be better.

 

So you better watch out, you better not cry, you may want to pout, and I’m telling you why —  you need to watch the NBA . . . now.

Don’t Give Up On Your Team

Brett Brown
Philadelphia Coach Brett Brown doesn’t seem to have any answers as the Sixers have lost consecutive games twice early in the 2019-2020 season.

Do you pray for your favorite team? I need to. And I might need to pray for extra strength to continue to cheer for the home team. Because the Philadelphia 76ers are trying my patience and vexing my spirit. On paper, the Sixers are supposed to be better now than they were last season. That hardly seems to be the case.

Last season the Sixers finished strong, taking the eventual NBA Champion Toronto Raptors to a Game seven in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. It all came down to a four bounce bucket by Kawhi Leonard, the Finals MVP, in a loss at the buzzer.

This season we don’t have Butler and Reddick but we do have Al Horford and Josh Richmond. Great! AND Simmons is supposed to have a jump shot. So what’s wrong?

So now I’m writing without shame or chagrin because there’s plenty wrong with this edition. I’m trying not to give up on my team. And of late, MY team, the Philadelphia 76ers, are sometimes hard to root for and thus easy to give up on. But that’s where faith hope and love come in. And since the greatest of these is love, we’ll have to focus on how much Philadelphian’s love their Sixers.

But first, let me get this out of my system:

As of this writing, early in this the 2019-2020 season, the Sixers’ just lost two in a row, last night to the 3-7 Oklahoma City Thunder and then Wednesday night to the then 3-7 Orlando Magic. The Sixers got us all happy and giddy as they began this season 5-0, but since then they’ve lost three in a row, then another two in a row. Over the last week, they have dropped 5 and won only 2.

As for the Orlando game, yes it was the second night of back to back games; no the Sixers didn’t have Embiid (he was “resting”); yes it was on the road; and, one more yes, it is still early in the season. But the playing and the coaching are wanting, as other teams seem to have figured “it” out, even in early November.

Here’s how the Philadelphia Inquirer reported on the Orlando loss:

“The Sixers (7-4) missed a lot of easy baskets in the fourth quarter, committed costly turnovers, and had a tough time defending. All those deficiencies were on display during the Magic’s game- clinching 16-4 run that gave them a commanding 102-89 lead with 3 minutes, 12 seconds remaining.”

THEN in Oklahoma City, the Sixers had a 9 point lead late in the fourth quarter but then managed to mismanage their time and their effort. The game went to OT and the Sixers got outscored, out muscled, out played and out coached in the extra session. Sound familiar? The story of the Ben Simmons/Joel Embiid Sixers is sounding more and more like an old, broken record that no one wants to hear.

So what’s a fan to do? Can we “the people” fire Coach Brett Brown? We want to, but no. Can we the fans force Ben Simmons to shoot jump shots? Of course not. And can the Philly fan base limit Joel Embiid’s turnovers? Fat chance. All we the Philly faithful can do is root, root, root for our home team, and hope that the love we show them is reciprocated and turns into wins and a championship ring.

So that’s it. The bottom line is “Don’t give up on your team.” At the end of the day, Philly fans still love the Sixers AND the Eagles, even though they aren’t playing up to their potential.

It’s called grace. We all need it, but in order to receive it, we need to give it too.

Kawhi Leonard: 2019 NBA Champion & Finals MVP

Kawhi wins NBA Championship with Toronto

His hands are raised Heavenward, his eyes looking upward, his heart and soul certainly looking onward, all the while celebrating the moment inward,  Kawhi can now say “mission accomplished!”  How spiritual is that? Kawhi is the example of how we should be; our hands lifted up and our mouths filled with praise, celebrating the Victory.

Kawhi came to Toronto for one reason and one reason only — to win an NBA Title.  Done.    

Kawhi crushed and killed every living opponent that came a calling by playing lights out night in and night out. At times he played like a rabid wild animal, demanding the ball from friends and commanding the attention of his enemies. Most times he played consistently excellent and masterfully brilliant, dicing and slicing his way to nightly double doubles from game to game and from series to series as he led his new team to the NBA’s promised land.

The Toronto Raptors defeated the Golden State Warriors, 114-110, in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals, the last Game at Oracle Arena, sealing the first title in franchise history and claiming Canada’s first championship in a major American sports league since the Toronto Blue Jays won the 1993 World Series.

Kawhi Leonard, who posted 22 points, six rebounds and three assists, was named Finals MVP for the second time in his career, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and LeBron James as the only players to win that award while representing multiple teams. The all-star forward, who sealed the title with three free throws in a surreal closing second, previously won in 2014 with the San Antonio Spurs, who traded him to the Raptors last summer

Now, Kawhi can demand whatever he wants from whomever he wants. And now he’s got his newly stocked resume to back up every commanded penny. From his four bounce buzzer beater against the Sixers to win Game 7 of that series to overcoming and overpowering and overtaking Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference Finals to outperforming and overwhelmingly whupping the defending champs, Kawhi and the Raptors earned every bit of this championship. Every bit.

On the other hand, we must mention and acknowledge the wounded Warriors. The hobbled and humbled defending champions fought like cornered canines but in the end it wasn’t enough.  In the end, anything and everything the Warriors did or even tried to do wasn’t enough. Even the injured Klay Thompson running back out of the tunnel onto the playing floor to shoot his two free throws wasn’t enough.  The weary and well-worn Warriors were well on their way to defeat long before Klay went down,  for the SECOND time. Physically dent and emotionally spent, the W’s were tired and they were beat long before the final buzzer sounded. Curry was not himself and the team was reduced to a shell of their former championship form. But fight they did.

Here’s how ESPN Senior Writer Ramona Shelburne put it:

“This season has been a war of attrition and attention for the Warriors. At times, the team seemed to be dragging itself along — too talented and proud to surrender, but too tired and injured to mount the kind of fight it has become known for.  Five straight years of breathing the same air with the same group of human beings can wear on the most gentle soul. Five years of doing that under the spotlight that accompanies being the best team in the NBA is when pipes start bursting.”

But surely we digress. This is Kawhi’s time. This is Kawhi’s moment. So Congrats to the Raptors who ripped Kawhi from San Antonio. Congrats to first year Coach Nick Nurse who came from out of nowhere to do what previous and banished head coach Dwane Casey couldn’t do. Speaking of Coach Nick Nurse, what about him? He’s got a feel good, upsets, comebacks and turnarounds story all of his own as well.

“Coach Nick Nurse’s team Toronto defeated Orlando, Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Golden State in these playoffs. That means Nurse got his team past ones coached by Steve Clifford, Brett Brown, Mike Budenholzer and Steve Kerr. That foursome is about the toughest draw a first-year coach in the league could get in his maiden postseason voyage.

‘He’s one of the hardest-working coaches I’ve seen,” Raptors assistant Jamaal Magloire said during Toronto’s victory celebration after the title-clinching win. “When it comes to this team’s success, he deserves every bit of it.” Nurse played at Northern Iowa, started his coaching career there as an assistant and wound up becoming a head coach at Grand View when he was 23. He coached in Belgium and Britain. He won a pair of British Basketball League titles as a coach, in Birmingham in 1996 and London in ‘00, then got a couple of titles in what is now called the G League.

The second G League crown got Nurse noticed. He was at Rio Grande Valley, guided them to a title in 2013 and that’s when the Raptors called and wanted to talk to him about offense. They ended up hiring him as an assistant.” And the rest is history.

Finally, congratulations to this Raptors team that made it work. Kawhi’s teammates, from Pascal Siakam in Game 1 and certainly to Kyle Lowry Game 6 — with Serge Ibaka and Fred VanFleet and Marc Gasol mixed in between — they all pitched in. And whenever they would and wherever they could, each did their part, and it amounted to a total team win.

So always remember, it’s “Team, team, team;” that’s what it always takes to pull off a quantum victory  like this.


Oh Cananda!

Kawhi!

kawhi.jpg

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.

Did Kawhi Leonard Beat the 76ers?

kawhi-leonard

Some will say that Kawhi Leonard beat the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals in Toronto. Yes, Kawhi had 41 points. Yes Kawhi hit the fadeaway, game winner from the right corner falling out of bounds with no time left on the clock. And yes Kawhi was the best player on the court, hands down. But the 76ers shot themselves in the foot time and again.

Note to file: that game winning shot wasn’t a swish; in other words, it didn’t hit all net. What had happened was quite to the contrary. Kawhi shot the ball high enough to get the it over Joel Embiid who was lunging at him, then the ball hit the right side of the rim, bounced up, bounced high off the right side of the rim again, then bounced twice off of the left side of the rim, THEN it fell through the net. It felt like it bounced around the rim for what seemed like an eternity, but the ball eventually bounced in, not out. Game, set, match – Toronto. But that miracle is not what beat the Sixers. The Sixers beat themselves.

First, the Sixers came out jittery, fidgety and frazzled and played that way most of the game. But at times the Sixers had the lead, and at one point they went on a 17-0 run and took what looked like a commanding seven point lead. AND Jimmy “Buckets” tied the game at 90 with 4.2 second left! (Note to file: keep Jimmy Butler and ban Brett Brown from anything that has to do with the 76ers organization from now, henceforth, and even forevermore). In other words, all of Philly is not down with Coach Brown. He’s got ta’ go.

While the Sixers had their chances, their play and their coach failed them down the stretch. Embiid and Simmons, their best players, coughed up the ball time and again, committing turnover after turnover in the final minutes. They even committed TWO – count ‘em — TWO shot clock violations with the game on the line. Oh well.

The moral of the story is this: don’t beat yourself. Unforced errors, careless mistakes and the lack of effort all combine to confound and contradict all of the positives you may have going your way, no matter how hard you try.

Let’s all learn the lesson. Don’t beat yourself.

A Young Lad Goes From Bad To Sad: The Markelle Fultz Story

Markelle-Fultz
Markelle Fultz’s Future in Philly is Fairly Debatable

It’s not just bad — now it’s turned so, so sad for this young lad. The Markelle Fultz story in Philly has quickly gone wrong in a hurry. It’s not just bad, it’s really, really sad. It really is. First let’s talk about the bad.

It seemed like a good thing that Markelle Fultz was the No. One overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. The Philadelphia 76ers picked him because of his explosiveness, his ability to drive to the hoop, and most importantly, his ability to shoot the ball. But all that’s gone. Game over. This kid’s game is kaput, out the door and over and done with, or so it seems.

No one seems to be able to put their finger on it, but the thing we can point to is that this kid can’t shoot, he’s scared to drive, and his verve and his nerve have evaporated into thin air. AND, if that wasn’t bad enough, he’s lost his confidence. You can see it in his eyes.  Fultz has lost his sureness and his certainty and his assertiveness. In other words, Fultz has lost his faith.  And his loss of faith leads us to the sad part.

Markelle Fultz looked so good on paper as far as potential for the NBA was concerned.  He’s so young, but so gifted, that it doesn’t seem possible that he would be struggling like he is. In college Fultz was “a player who jumped off the page athletically and possessed creative scoring instincts and playmaking skills. Everyone everywhere held that Fultz would be the consensus among sports analysts to be the first overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft.”  But that was then, and this is now.

Now, “Markelle Fultz and the Philadelphia 76ers could be headed into an inevitable divorce after rumors circulated that the former No. 1 overall pick is no longer considered part of “The Process.” Fultz has been a huge disappointment since the 2018-19 NBA season started, and as of now, he remains on the sideline, dealing with shoulder and wrist injuries.” (Bleacher Report)

So what’s the lesson to be learned here? How can Fultz regain his faith and overcome his fears?  The same way you and I can: go back to what works.  Stop listening to the “experts” and the pundits and listen to the voice you hear from above that speaks to your inner man.

Fultz can get back and come back if he listens to what God says, and not what man says. And that’s what we need to do too.  God says that we are more than a conqueror through Him that loved us. God says that it’s not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit. God says that I’m the head and not the tail, above only and not beneath. God says that the enemy is under my feet, and that I’m healed by the wounds in his side. God says that one can chase a thousand, and two can put then thousand to flight.  God says that we are to fight the good fight of faith and lay hold on eternal life!

So let’s say what God says.

 I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.

 Philippians 4:13  KJV

 

We are confident of all this because of our great trust in God through Christ. It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own. Our qualification comes from God.

 2 Corinthians 3:4-6,  New Living Translation

The 76’ers Are Now The New “Beast in the East” — a.k.a., Who Wants To Bet That The Sixer’s Win The East?

Butler Game Winning Three Pointer
Jimmy Butler hits the game winner on the road in OT against the Charlotte Hornets, November 17, 2018

Here’s a note for Philadelphia 76er’s fans everywhere:  “Have no fear, Jimmy Butler is here!”  Not the question is this: with Butler, will the Sixers win the East? After what I saw last night, there’s no reason not to believe they can.  But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves;  let’s just start with Jimmy Butler and last night.

Did you see last night’s game? No? Don’t worry, I didn’t either. But I saw the highlights, and Jimmy “Bucket” Butler is as good as advertised.  Last night, in just his third game with his new team, Butler and the Philadelphia 76er’s defeated the Charlotte Hornets 122-119, in OT. hopefully, it is a healthy harbinger of what is to come with Butler and Embiid and Simmons playing together, who now make up the new “Beast in the East.”

Butler didn’t sink the potentially game winning basket at the end of regulation, but he did block Kemba Walker’s shot near the end of overtime. He also saved the ball from landing out-of-bounds, and THEN managed to sink the game winner from beyond the arc for a thrilling, last second, game winning three-point basket to the chagrin of everyone at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, but to the glee of every 76er’s fan anywhere.   

Despite a ridiculous game from Kemba Walker, Butler and the Sixers managed to pull another rabbit out of the hat.  Walker scorched the Sixers for a season high 60 points in one game, but he couldn’t seal the deal when it mattered most. Butler, on the other hand, had a mediocre game – he finished with 15 points — but he had the heroics when it mattered most and hammered the nail down on the coffin so that the Sixers put the Charlotte Hornets to bed for the third time this year. 

Once again, we see that a team can be impacted by just one player, for good or for ill.  Indeed, when it matters most, one man, or one woman, can make a difference.  And that’s the message:  you can make a difference. So stop saying that you’re only one person and that what you do doesn’t matter and that you’re small part doesn’t amount to much. Just stop it!  You can make a difference.

And what a difference Jimmy Butler is making. He’s glad to be in Philly, he genuinely enjoys playing with Embiid, Simmons, JJ and the gang, and he’s excited about what the future holds.  You just can’t put a dollar value on effort and hustle and guts. You just can’t.  And Butler brings all of that to the table, and some.

And so there you have it: after just three games, Jimmy Butler has proven that he’s worth his weight in gold as he has seamlessly sewn himself into the Philly fabric. Butler has made himself useful in more ways than one. Amen to that. 

And here’s to more to come.