Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Durant’

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Indiana Pacers star and NBA All-Star Paul George and I chat after the U.S. men’s national team’s practice on Thursday. Photo courtesy of: Cassy Athena/cassyathena.com

W.G. Ramirez

I’ve heard, read and written the same adjectives you’ve all seen when it comes to describing Paul George’s gruesome injury Friday night at the Thomas and Mack Center.

See, I did it again.

Nearly 24 hours later, with about two hours of sleep in between reporting, texting, tweeting, sharing notes, communicating – you name it – about the incident, I can tell you it’s not one of my high points in 27 years of journalism.

Sure, I wrote a story that went global via The Associated Press, but these are not the stories you live for, especially when it’s about a young man with exquisite talent, and is as graceful on a basketball court as Baryshnikov was on stage and who is quite the diplomat in representing the NBA and men’s national team in a respectful manner.

George, considered a sure-bet to make the final 12-man roster for the World Cup of Basketball that starts later this month in Spain, emerged as the Indiana Pacers’ franchise player after averaging 21.7 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists last season. The team figured it would build around him now that Lance Stephenson has bolted to play for the Charlotte Hornets, while many believe he was penciled in as a starter alongside Kevin Durant for the men’s national team.

After undergoing successful surgery to fix a right leg, open tibia-fibula fracture overnight, George has a long road to recovery.

And Indianapolis hearts are breaking as we speak.

But it’s not just because the Pacers have seemingly dropped out of the Eastern Conference picture about three months before the season begins, it’s because it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. I mean, from what I can tell, most of the players in town last week are all nice. Some are just over-seasoned a bit, and perhaps weary of dealing with media sorts. They give their garden variety quotes, do their required media sessions and then move on.

But George was someone who seemed different. He came across the exact way Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski expected every member of the national team to come across, with a sense of brotherhood for his fellow teammates, and a great representative toward our country.

George stopped to speak to me in one of his last interviews of the week (he may have conducted a phone interview between our chat and Friday’s tip-off), just before the players boarded their charter bus after practice on Thursday. And the one thing I gathered was his true grasp for Krzyzewski’s goal of bringing together a fine-tuned group with the best chemistry, based on their personalities.

For George, he said he understood last Sunday, in the team’s first meeting at the Wynn.

“He put the video on and showing the guys celebrating, ya know pulling for one another – it’s a real brotherhood here,” said George, referring to previous national teams that won gold medals in the World Championships and Olympics. “You’re not only representing yourself, you’re not only representing the U.S. – you’re representing one another. And us being ambassadors of the NBA, of the US, we gotta carry that well.”

By the end of Thursday’s practice, George said everyone involved – from the invitees, to the select team, to the coaches and even the trainers – they were all on the same page and it had turned into a celebratory occasion, that being the first week together on a tour that next stops in Chicago on Aug. 14.

“We’re working hard, we’re getting a better understanding of one another, gaining that chemistry and I think really that’s what this is about,” George said. “We all can play ball, but it’s about learning how to play together and building chemistry, which is gonna win us that gold medal. A lot of us can do special things individually, but if we’re not on the same page, it’s gonna be tough.”

George said because players competing for other countries generally play together year round, they already have the camaraderie these group of NBA All-Stars are looking for, and began building in Las Vegas.

“For us to pick everything up in this short coming, it just speaks volumes of how much we’re willing to really sacrifice and make some changes to our games to win gold,” he said.

Durant_Reaction

Team USA’s Kevin Durant reacts after teammate Paul George collided with a backboard stanchion and broke his leg. Photo courtesy of:
Cassy Athena/cassyathena.com

And one of those sacrifices is putting your body at risk, over about six weeks, to attain global greatness. We saw how rough it can get last month in the FIFA World Cup, with several physical soccer matches. Here we are just one week into the U.S. team’s training camp, and the guy with one of the most infectious personalities and genuine attitudes Krzyzewski is looking for is not only lost from this team, he conceivably might not be ready to train with the Pacers until this time next year.

Durant, who USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo has said is the face of the team, told me he’d grown close with George this past week, especially after the two, along with James Harden, spent extra time after practice rotating in and out of 1-on-1 competitions inside the Mendenhall Center.

Scary thing is, it was exactly like the play in which George was injured, that we watched the trio perform over and over on Wednesday and Thursday.

“It’s been fun, just getting to know Paul,” said Durant, the 2014 NBA MVP. “Of course I know James, but it’s competing against ’em. We’ve been competitive the last two days of playing one-on-one, it’s just getting us all better. We respect each other a lot, there’s a mutual respect for all of our games.”

George concurred: “And we rely on one another, we hold one another accountable for all of our actions. But it’s all about pulling for one another. At the end of the day, we’re all we really have, going over to Spain and playing for a gold medal. So we gotta make sure that everybody feels confident and comfortable, knowing that we got each other’s backs.”

DCousins_Reaction

DeMarcus Cousins reacts after teammate Paul George suffered a broken leg Friday night in Las Vegas.
Photo courtesy of: Cassy Athena/cassyathena.com

That couldn’t have been more evident immediately after George’s right leg crumbled into the basket stanchion 27 seconds into the fourth quarter of the USA Basketball Showcase. Harden reacted first, since it was his lay-up George tried contesting. Durant doubled over looking as if he wanted to burst into tears for his now-closer friend. DeMarcus Cousins was flailing his arms up and over his head repeatedly. Stephen Curry sat worried, visibly shaken, with a towel over his head.

And the leader of the brotherhood, Coach K, he looked like a concerned parent as he hovered over George while the medical team and George’s parents were there with them. You’re not supposed to be emotional, and not supposed to care as a reporter. But it was disheartening, and touching, and sad, and moving – all rolled into one. For about 12 or 13 minutes, soaking up the scene, it was an indescribable role I’m not sure I’d want to be a part of again. I love what I do, but that was downright frightful.

And there I did it again, another adjective.

“There’s a brotherhood in the NBA and to me, at moments like this, family or brotherhood shows its heart, it shows its depth, and that’s what I thought our players showed during that time,” Krzyzewski said at the post-game press conference. “We as a coaching staff just told them to relax. We felt at that point we should not go forward and not to worry about playing again, let’s put all of our focus and all of our energy, whatever, if you believe in a higher someone up there above, let’s focus on that in regards to Paul.

“We focused on prayer, and thinking about Paul George.”

How profound.

And touching.

Not to mention revealing, of that camaraderie and brotherhood everyone spoke of the first four days of the training camp, then exercised Friday night when a member of the brethren went down.

“That’s the type of environment we try to set, and we try to live by,” said Derrick Rose during an exclusive interview. “As a brotherhood playing together, just leaving our egos at the door, that’s what makes us a stronger team.”

Even – and especially – when a member of that team experiences a horrific injury.

See what I did there? Again…

Get well soon PG

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Okay, so now that I’ve given all grace and glory to LeBron James and the Miami Heat, enough is enough.

I’ve never been a fan of the self-proclaimed King, and the only thing I’ve ever liked about the Heat, realistically is Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal raising the roof in 2006. Watching Wade do so with James after winning this year’s title didn’t bother me much, but what I can’t stand seeing now is all the articles about a rematch and how this is the next big rivalry of the NBA.

Uhm, excuse me. Did anyone forget about Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls?

Anyone else forget if his season painfully ended in the first round of the NBA Playoffs, and it was a torn ACL-injury in Game 1 that ultimately played a significantly played a role in the Bulls losing in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs to the Philadelphia 76ers?

Just as Michael Jordan, albeit never forgotten, was seemingly becoming a distant memory, April 28 became a day Bulls fans had nothing about His Airness to ponder until next year.

Well, as I saw the 2013 NBA Championship Future Odds come out not too long after James proclaimed “It’s about damn time” on national television, and I saw the Thunder and Heat were both +250 to win next year’s championship, I see Sportsbook.ag agrees with me that Chicago is going to be right back in the hunt.

The Bulls are next in line at +500, followed by: the Spurs (+700), Lakers (+1200), the Mavericks (+1500) and at +2000, the Celtics and Pacers.

So I’m not sure why there are so many columnists out there talking about the Thunder and Heat returning for another trip to the NBA Finals next June.

The Thunder? I can see it.

The Heat? I’m not so sure they have an easy path.

First order of business is to get Wade healthy, even if that means shipping him off to Germany to see the Kobe Bryant’s doctor to get that knee back in shape. I’m telling you now, if he doesn’t get that knee fixed NOW, the Heat won’t be around later. Next order of business, find a legitimate big man who can defend guys like Roy Hibbert, Joakim Noah, Brook Lopez and Dwight Howard. Also, there has to be some sort of stipulation that Wade does not play in London, while James and Bosh get enough rest before and after the 2012 Olympics, cause it can be a tiring experience that cuts into needed rest. The Olympics begin in a month, with a full warm-up schedule preceding the games. Remember, Bosh was injured earlier in the playoffs, and we don’t know how he’s feeling now.

Now, as for the Bulls, this is what I read on their website:

“Derrick Rose is doing terrific. He’s been diligent in his rehab. He’s made tremendous progress to this point,” Bulls general manager Gar Forman said. “The surgery obviously was a huge success. The biggest thing that has been encouraging about Derrick has been his mentality towards the rehab. He’s working each and every day, putting a lot of effort into it. We’re optimistic that if he continues to make the kind of progress that he has that we will see Derrick back on the floor at some point next season.”

That’s encouraging news for the Bulls, and the city of Chicago.

Again, I can see the Thunder returning, cause of the Western Conference contenders in line to make a run, I don’t trust the Spurs, Lakers or Mavericks. After the Thunder, the next viable number I see that might be worth an investment at its price: the Los Angeles Clippers at +3000. I mean, why not?

That organization has already started building for the future, while the Spurs, Lakers and Mavs have yet to clean house and start over. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see the Clippers continue their ascension in the Western Conference to challenge for the title and move into the NBA Finals.

HOTTIE – If you read my Blog before Game 5 of the NBA Finals, you read about my note regarding Miami-based model/professional sports dancer Alexis Augusto. Well get used to reading about her here, cause I’m going to remind all my players, readers and followers to vote for her every chance I get. I promised her I’d do so, as she is in the running for Maxim Magazine’s Hometown Hotties. And the first step is to get her into the Finals, that way we can get a bit more intimate with her, as I told her Thursday we’d conduct a one-on-one interview so her fans could get to her know her better.

She’s all in! Now it’s up to you to go to her PAGE and vote for this sports fanatic hottie. And trust me, she knows her game.

She’s been on the Miami Dolphins cheerleading roster, she’s been on the Florida Panthers Ice Dancer roster. She was a cheerleader for Florida Atlantic University. She’s a fitness model for VPX Redline and loves her some Yankee pinstripes. The list goes on, but believe me, this lady is all about competition.

As a betting man, my money in the Maxim Magazine Hometown Hottie competition is on Italian-American bombshell from Brooklyn, New York.

Goto her PAGE and vote for her now.

Prior to this series, I told you the Miami Heat were the value play, at anywhere from +150 to +170.

Anyone out there questioning me now about my NBA Finals series pick on the Heat – which again, you got at no charge just before the series started? I tried to tell you the value was with the Heat, and that we’d see experience take over, and a bit frustration take hold of the young and inexperienced Oklahoma City Thunder.

And no, I’m not counting my chickens before they’ve hatched, but now that I’m up 3 games to 1 in this series, I can tell you I’m in position to get back my initial investment by betting Oklahoma City on the moneyline in Game 5. The Thunder are +135 pretty much across the board. So if you bet the Heat to win this series on my recommendation, here’s how you need to figure on getting your initial investment back IF you want to hedge.

For every $100 you wagered on the Heat to win the series, you can wager $74 on the Thunder tomorrow night. So let’s say you $500 invested on Miami to win it all, a $370 wager on the Thunder at +135 tomorrow would get back $499.50 provided the Thunder win.

If the Heat wrap it up tomorrow night, you’d lose the $370, but you’d also win about $800 for your series bet. Subtract your hedge, and you’re still up a little more than $400. The hedge is entirely up to you though.

Personally speaking, I would probably be out to recover anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of the initial investment if I were you. And then progressively grab some of your investment as the series moves forward.

KING – As one of his biggest critics, I have to admit, LeBron James is playing his ass off this postseason. If the self-proclaimed “King” James scores 29 more points in this series, he will join Allen Iverson, Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Michael Jordan as the only players to have scored 700 points in one postseason.

Notably, only two players – but three times – in postseason history has a player averaged 30 points per game, 9 rebounds per game and 5 assists per game: Oscar Robertson in 1963 and James in 2009 and this postseason.

It’ll be long overdue if he can finally place a ring on his finger. I’m just wondering if I will finally be able to call him “King” after doing so.

TIGER – Haven’t had a chance to comment on last week’s collapse in San Francisco yet, but let it be known I am a big Tiger Woods fan. I will root for him until he retires, and already am watching the odds on next month’s British Open. According to Golfodds.com, he is a 10/1 favorite to win the Major, which will be held at the Royal Lytham & St. Annes course in Lancashire, England, from July 19-22.

Strange enough fact I came across from last week, and prior to Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s win, the last time Junior won a race had been coincidentally the exact same weekend Tiger Woods captured his last major victory (U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, in San Diego, CA.) on June 15th, 2008. Since that day, Junior had been mired in an unlucky 114 race skid. And though Tiger had won eight tournament victories in 2009, none of them were majors.

HOTTIE – Last, but certainly not least, I have to mention Miami-based model/professional sports dancer Alexis Augusto. Caught up with her recently and promised I’d mention to all my readers/followers/players she is in the running for Maxim Magazine’s Hometown Hotties.

This girl is a sports fanatic, and trust me, she knows her game.

She’s been on the Miami Dolphins cheerleading roster, she’s been on the Florida Panthers Ice Dancer roster. She was a cheerleader for Florida Atlantic University. She’s a fitness model for VPX Redline and loves her some Yankee pinstripes. The list goes on, but believe me, this lady is all about competition.

As a betting man, my money in the Maxim Magazine Hometown Hottie competition is on Italian-American bombshell from Brooklyn, New York.

Goto her PAGE and vote for her now.

So here we go, it’s time for the Miami Heat to put up or shut up.

Game 2 of the NBA Finals at Chesapeake Energy Arena now becomes the most pivotal game of the championship series for the two-time Eastern Conference champs. And even though they’re just 4-5 on the Playoff road, let’s keep in mind two of those wins were pivotal.

Sure, if they lose tonight, then win three straight at home, they will face another big Game 6. But the Heat don’t want to worry about that scenario. I’m sure they’d much rather try to steal this one.

Bad news for Heat fans, since moving to Oklahoma City entering the 2008-09 season, the Thunder are 3-0 in series when they win Game 1.

And how important is winning Game 1? Well, teams winning Game 1 of the NBA Finals have won the title 47 of 65 times (.723).

How do the Heat contend with the Thunder tonight?

Simple… put LeBron James on Kevin Durant, who scored 36 points in Oklahoma City’s Game 1 victory of the NBA Finals. Durant is the ninth player in NBA history to score at least 36 points in his NBA Finals debut. James is going to have to step up in this one, and not only put together an offensive show, but will have to stop Durant.

Durant exploded in the fourth quarter, scoring 17 of his game-high tally in the final 12 minutes. Durant’s 17 points in the final quarter are tied for the most fourth-quarter points in an NBA Finals game over the last 15 postseasons.

The Thunder outscored the Heat 58-40 in the final 24 minutes, as Durant and Russell Westbrook took over the game. Thus, I think the Heat are going to have to spread themselves out much more efficiently in this one, saving some of that oomph for the fourth quarter.

On offense, James scored 17 of his 30 points on 58 percent shooting against Kevin Durant, but was held to seven points on 29 percent versus Thabo Sefolosha. He’s going to make some adjustments on both ends of the court.

Especially knowing Game 2 might be even more critical than Game 1. Only three teams in NBA history have overcome a 2-0 deficit in the NBA Finals: the 1968 Boston Celtics, 1977 Portland Trail Blazers and, looky here, the 2006 Heat.

The Heat are mired in ATS slides of 3-8 versus the Northwest Division, 0-4 in NBA Finals games and 0-8 as the underdog. On the flipside, the Thunder are on ATS streaks of 6-0 as the chalk, 5-0 at home and 22-7 against Eastern Conference teams.

While the Oklahoma City Thunder have opened up as series favorites over the two-time Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat, I implore all of you Kevin Durant lovers/LeBron James haters to remember my Top 5 points before making your future bets on the NBA Finals.

1. The Miami Heat, under the guidance of Pat Riley and Dwyane Wade, albeit with Shaquille O’Neal in the middle, have already won an NBA title once, and know what it takes at this point.

2. These particular Miami Heat were already undone once, last season, by another team out to win their first NBA title, like the Oklahoma City Thunder, that being the Dallas Mavericks, who won in six games, 4 games to 2.

3. Those Dallas Mavericks knew what it was like to lose in the NBA Finals, as they fell in the 2006 Finals to the Miami Heat, the ones led by Riley, Wade and O’Neal. The Mavs were spearheaded by veterans like Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd and Tyson Chandler – not a group of youngsters like the Thunder.

4. This will be LeBron James’ third trip to the NBA Finals, and though I hate to use cliches, “the third time is a charm” might be in order at this point in his career. The three-time league MVP averaged 22.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 6.8 assists for the Cleveland Cavaliers, in the 2007 NBA Finals, won by the San Antonio Spurs. Last year he averaged 17.8 points, 7.1 rebounds and 6.8 assists in the Finals, but the Mavs took home the trophy. This year, so far in the postseason, he is averaging 30.8 points, 9.6 rebounds and  5.1 assists. He could very well be on a mission boys.

5. And again, there’s the youth factor. As much as I admire the Thunder, and how they did knock off the last three NBA champions – the Mavericks (2011), Lakers (2009-10) and Spurs (2007) – make note of the personnel on those teams. The Mavericks were a shell of last year’s surprising championship team, especially without Chandler. The Lakers were a mess all season, even the oft-injured and aging Kobe Bryant. And the Spurs, well, they were the No. 1 seed over teams like the Mavs, Lakers and even the Thunder. But in the end, they just couldn’t hang with OKC. Now the Thunder gets a team with plenty of talent, and one that will have been rested by the time Game 1 comes around.

As of 10 a.m. (pst) Sunday, Sportsbook.ag had the Thunder as -160 favorites. Ask me, and the value right now could very well be on the underdog Heat, at +140.