Knicks’ trade for Derrick Rose a gamble, NBA Draft tonight

The Knicks took a risk acquiring Derrick Rose from the Bulls for Robin Lopez, Jerian Grant and Jose Calderon.  Getty Images

The Knicks took a risk acquiring Derrick Rose from the Bulls for Robin Lopez, Jerian Grant and Jose Calderon.
Getty Images

Yesterday, the Knicks acquired former league MVP Derrick Rose from the Bulls. The full trade includes Justin Holiday,  a Bulls 2017 second round pick with Rose in exchange for Jerian Grant, Robin Lopez and Jose Calderon.

As it turned out, the rumors were true. For some reason, Knicks President and General Manager Phil Jackson wanted the oft injured Rose to fill the void at point guard. Unfortunately, Rose is an old 27 whose injury history has limited his explosiveness. Once one of the game’s best combo guards who could get to the basket at will, he’s a shell of his former self.

At 22 in Year 3, he won MVP leading the Bulls to the Eastern Conference Final. However, he was shutdown by LeBron James and the Heat, who prevailed in five games. He still averaged over 23 points for the series but was held to 35.0 percent shooting and 23.3 from three. Losing to James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade was no embarrassment. They were a better team. Though I do find it interesting that when resident Rose hater and buddy John “JPG” Giagnorio brings it up, how come he doesn’t mention how the Heat choked in the NBA Finals against Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks? 😉

Getting back to Rose, his career changed due to a torn left ACL in the 2012 playoffs against Indiana. The injury and rehab cost him the entire ’12-13 season. Despite hints he could return for the first round, he decided it was better to sit out. Without him, the Bulls were eliminated by Miami again in the second round.

The run of bad luck continued when he tore his MCL in his right knee 10 games into the ’13-14 season. That cost him another year. He played in 51 games in ’14-15 averaging 17.7 points on 40.5 percent shooting and 4.7 assists. Unfortunately, another right knee meniscus tear kept him out 20 games. Rose returned for the playoffs helping the Bulls reach the Eastern Conference Semifinals. He participated in 12 games averaging 19.3 points with 6.2 assists and 4.6 rebounds. It was his first real postseason since his MVP year when he went for 24.1 points, 6.8 assists and 3.8 rebounds. The Bulls were eliminated by James and the Cavs in six after leading the series 2-1.

By now, Rose had become the Bulls’ second option behind Jimmy Butler. With Joakim Noah breaking down and Pau Gasol in a contract year, Chicago struggled to a 42-40 record missing the playoffs under first-year coach Fred Hoiberg. Rose was able to play in 66 games averaging 16.4 points on 42.7 shooting with 4.7 assists and 3.4 rebounds. He also averaged 2.7 turnovers.

As the season progressed, speculation was that the Bulls were looking to move him. He had fallen out of favor. With a year left on a big contract he signed after his MVP season for five years and $94.3 million, he was getting over $20 million in ’15-16 and owed $21.3 million in the final year. It made sense for both parties to split. It was time. Rose had become an easy target. He no longer could be the guy. The injuries took their toll.

Now, Rose is a Knick for the ’16-17 season. He has much at stake. In a contract year, can he stay healthy and help the Knicks who are built around Kristaps Porzingis and Carmelo Anthony reach the playoffs? Most observers like the deal. I’m not in love with it because it subtracted the team oriented Lopez, who could’ve been a good fit in new coach Jeff Hornacek’s up-tempo system. However, the Knicks did free up cap space by subtracting the final $42 million over three years left on a four-year $55 million contract he signed last summer.

The Knicks will probably pursue available centers which range from shot blocker and rebounding extraordinaire Bismack Biyombo to Hassan Whiteside, Dwight Howard or Al Jefferson. Noah is also available. He could come home and be a solid fit in a similar role to Lopez. Noah isn’t a big scorer but can rebound, block shots and is a good passing big. The best of the lot is Whiteside, who is a huge rim protector and can intimidate while having offensive upside. I’m not sure about Biyombo, who has no offensive game but really raised his stock with a strong playoffs for Toronto. As for Howard, who shares a birthday with me, supposedly there’s interest. But is he hungry enough? Obviously, he can’t be the main guy and wouldn’t have to be. I think he’s better off in a less pressure packed environment. Jefferson has some strong post moves and can bound. But I don’t see him as a fit.

As for giving up on Grant, I hate throwing away a kid they just drafted. It was a smart move when they traded the one-dimensional Tim Hardaway, Jr. to the Hawks for the rights to Grant at 19th overall last Draft. The former Notre Dame star didn’t get consistent playing time. There were moments where he showed spurts but others where he didn’t. He needs to play. I guess it’ll be with the Bulls.

Calderon has one year owed at $7 million. The 34-year old vet never worked out here. But he did shoot 41.4 from three. Not sure he fits in the Bulls plans. Especially if they unload Butler as has been rumored and start a full rebuild.

The NBA Draft is tonight. There’s not much to report other than Ben Simmons will go first overall to the 76ers. He’s got huge upside but isn’t the brightest bulb. I wonder if Philadelphia will make Jahlil Okafor available. It’s been widely speculated that they”d be willing to include him in a deal for the Celtics’ third overall pick. We’ll see. With the 76ers, you never know what they’re thinking.

As for the Draft, it’s weak. Brandon Ingram is expected to go number 2 to the Lakers. I like him. Kris Dunn and Buddy Hield also figure to go in the top 5. I believe both will be good pros. Denzel Valentine could be a steal for someone. So could Brice Johnson.

The Knicks and Nets don’t have first round picks due to awful trades. Toronto has the Knicks’ first at No. 9 overall thanks to the brutal Andrea Bargnani trade. The Celtics have the Nets first at third overall due to the Kevin Garnett/Paul Pierce failure. Holy cow. Boy, did they miscalculate. At least they have a second round pick. As for Boston, they have eight total picks in two rounds including three in Round 1 which is why they’re expected to be wheeling and dealing once Simmons and Ingram are scooped up.

The Knicks are rumored to be interested in trading into Round 1. With what remains to be seen. I guess we’ll find out later. The NBA Draft can be seen on ESPN with it going off at 8 PM. I’ll catch the latter part around 9 PM.

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Believe In Cleveland! Finals MVP LeBron James delivers on promise as Cavs make history

Finally, Cleveland can celebrate. After 52 years, their wait is finally over. LeBron James delivered on his promise by leading the Cavs to their first NBA championship. They did it by making NBA Finals history in becoming the first team to ever rally from a 3-1 series deficit. They completed the comeback in epic fashion by beating the defending champion Warriors 93-89 in a memorable Game 7 at Oracle Arena.

“I came back for a reason,” James said. “I came back to bring a championship to our city. I knew what I was capable of doing. Knew what I learned the last couple of years that I was gone. And I knew I had the right ingredients and the right blueprint to help this franchise get back to a place we’ve never been.”

They did it by shutting down the league’s highest scoring team. In a tightly played fourth quarter, the Cavs held the Warriors to 13 points. It wasn’t a matter of outscoring a record setting 73-win team who only lost twice at home all season. It was about out-executing and outworking them in crunch time. Golden State didn’t score a single point the final four and a half minutes. Unheard of for a team that could put up points in bunches.

Against a determined Cleveland Cavaliers squad who wanted it more, the Golden State Warriors ran out of gas. They blew a 3-1 lead losing twice on their home floor in Games 5 and 7. They never could put away the Cavs. Even with a quick 8-2 start, they never could escape a more together team that had the game’s most dominant player. Even on a night where he didn’t shoot particularly well, James recorded a triple double going for a team high 27 points with 11 rebounds and 11 assists. However, he was able to deliver when his team needed it most. Take drawing a three shot foul on Festus Ezeli. With the Cavs trailing by four, James coolly knocked down all free throws.

The biggest play the NBA Finals MVP made was on the defensive end. On a turnover which led to a two-on-one Golden State fast break, James hustled back to perfectly block Andre Iguodala’s lay-up pinning it off the backboard with the game still tied at 89-89. At that point, neither team could score. Each continued to misfire on empty trips. Both looked nervous and tired. If James doesn’t reject Iguodala, there’s no telling if Cleveland wins. That kind of athleticism from a complete player was huge. It kept the game tied and gave the Cavs momentum.

It was Kyrie Irving who delivered the knockout blow when he pulled up from three over Stephen Curry, hitting nothing but net to give the Cavs a 92-89 lead with over a minute left. While James averaged 29.0 points-per-game, Irving averaged 27-plus hitting on 41 percent of three-pointers. He was the perfect sidekick during Cleveland’s historic comeback. It was him and James combining for 82 with each going for 41 in the Cavs’ momentum shifting 112-97 win in Game 5 that allowed them to force a Game 6 at home. Irving was an assassin in that one. It was James who did the heavy lifting in the Cavs’ 115-101 win in Game 6, scoring 41 again with 16 rebounds. In Game 7, the dynamic duo combined for 53 of the Cavs’ 93.

As much as we talk about Irving’s scoring, it was his passing that allowed Cleveland to seal it. After Curry missed a wild three from way out, there was a four-second difference between game and shot clock. An aggressive Irving penetrated before finding a wide open James for a dunk attempt. But Draymond Green fouled him cleanly, sending James flying to the floor in pain. James was holding his right hand. But after a couple of minutes, he got up. After missing the first free throw, he made no mistake draining the second for the final margin.

All that was left was for the Warriors to force a couple of contested three’s which had no chance. Following a wild miss from Marreese Speights, a pumped up Cavs bench mobbed the floor celebrating with James, Irving, J.R. Smith, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson.

The best part was when an emotionally and physically spent James knelt to the floor and kissed it while crying tears of joy. It was a heartfelt moment that will be remembered forever in NBA history. A superstar from Akron, Ohio who originally went number one overall to his hometown team had come home and made good on his promise. He sealed his place in history as one of the all-time greats. Winning three NBA titles and three Finals MVP’s. The four-time league MVP had finally won the most important Larry O’Brien Trophy in his brilliant career. It took a lot more time than most thought. He had been here before twice with Cleveland losing the first time and then returning last year in this second act.

Cleveland finally can celebrate again. For the first time since 1964 when Jim Brown and the Cleveland Browns won the NFL championship, they will have a parade celebrating their first ever NBA championship. As James said during an emotional interview, they deserve it. This is for all those true believers. All the witnesses. A hometown kid who made good. It’s not about The Decision anymore to leave Cleveland and go to Miami and win two of four NBA Finals with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. This is what James will always be remembered for.

“Throughout my 13-year career I’ve been nothing but true to the game, give everything I have to the game, put my heart, my blood, sweat and tears into the game and people still want to doubt what I can do.

“So that was a little icing on the cake.”

The Cavs prevailed because they truly were better. All the role players stepped up. That included Love, who had his best game of the series. He pulled down a game high 14 rebounds (4 offensive) and played a gritty game. Love scored nine but was a game best plus-19 with him on the floor. Thompson also scored nine on a perfect 3-of-3 shooting and 3-of-4 from the line. But only had three boards. It was Love and James who were towers of strength helping the Cavs to a 48-39 rebounding edge.

Another role guy who fit in well this year was Smith. The former Knick who hit for four treys in Game 6 had 12 points on 5-of-13 from the field with two three’s. He also grabbed four boards and had two assists. In one of the coolest scenes during the post game press conference, an emotional Smith cried while praising his parents for all the love and support they gave him with his Dad present on Father’s Day. When he finished talking, he gave his Dad a big hug.

Cleveland pulled this off with practically no bench. However, Richard Jefferson played a solid role. The likable 35-year old vet gave coach Tyrone Lue valuable minutes throughout. In 25-plus, he grabbed nine boards and had two points with a steal. Afterwards, he announced his retirement. What a way to go out.

Iman Shumpert also saved his best for last. He scored six points off the bench in 19 minutes. None bigger than a miraculous three that went down leading to a four-point play. Shumpert was awful from the outside all postseason. But that one made three and free throw were huge.

On the Golden State side, neither Curry nor Klay Thompson had a night to remember. Each struggled mightily with their shot. Curry got off to a decent start but finished with just 17 bricking 10 of 14 three’s. The unanimous league MVP was a huge disappointment during the rematch only going over 30 twice. He never got in rhythm and looked frustrated by the Cavs’ defense. Curry was a goat in crunch time forcing some terrible shots that didn’t come close. He never once looked for his teammates. Meanwhile, Thompson wound up with only 14, shooting a woeful 2-of-10 from three and 6-of-17 overall. The Splash Brothers combined for only 31 while missing on 24 of 36 field goal attempts including 6-for-24 from downtown.

The only Warrior who showed up was Green. After hurting his team with the Game 5 suspension and not doing much in Game 6, he was on fire. Green hit on five three’s in a well played first half. He scored most of his game high 32 in the opening 24 minutes. Green was dynamic pacing the Dubs in points (32), rebounds (15) and assists (9). However, he did miss one wide open three with the game tied. It was really his only miscue on what was a great night in defeat. The good Dray shot 11-of-15 from the field including 6-for-8 from downtown and a perfect 4-for-4 from the charity stripe in a game high 46:54, narrowly missing a triple double.

Had either Curry or Thompson gotten hot, Golden State prevails. Coach Steve Kerr didn’t have a good end to the series. Even in Game 7 with it all on the line, he kept Curry on the bench to start the fourth quarter. Granted. That’s what he always did. But this was a one-point game in Game 7 of the NBA Finals on their home court. At that critical point, you play him all 12. Go with your best. Look no further than what Lue did playing LeBron without rest when the chips were down. He did find a couple of minutes for Irving to rest before his clutch dagger.

It was odd how the Warriors went away from Green. He was the biggest reason they had a chance to repeat. For a second consecutive game, Iguodala was ineffective offensively only finishing with four. Maybe the bad back factored in. He still gave a strong overall effort pulling down nine boards while blocking two shots and recording two steals with four assists. But he misfired badly on three three-point attempts.

Shaun Livingston was effective again off the bench contributing eight in 16 minutes while going plus-eight. He and Leandro Barbosa (3) had good series. Harrison Barnes contributed 10 including two treys but again didn’t shoot well missing 7-of-10 field goals.

In the end, both teams went at it toe to toe in the deciding seventh game. Unlike the first six where one took control to win going away, neither did. Each made runs delivering flurries. But both came back making it anyone’s contest. With it remaining close throughout, I felt that favored the Cavs. They knew how to win in this situation. Had they fallen behind, it probably would’ve been curtains. They never gave in. That’s why they prevailed.

When it was over, a downcast Klay Thompson left the court without congratulating the Cavs. You had to figure he was upset with Curry, who was selfish with just two assists. He also had four turnovers including an awful behind the back pass that went out of bounds with Thompson the target. The bottom line is he played careless ball. That’s how Golden State played throughout. They relied too much on the three and didn’t pass the ball enough. Going against what got them last year’s title.

It can’t always be about one player being the hero. Even LeBron James needed his teammates to get it done. Otherwise, there’s no championship for Cleveland. Congrats to the Cavs on finally winning that NBA title. Hope all celebrate with class and in style. Enjoy it Cleveland. Do it the right way!

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Video of Day: RIP P.M. Dawn’s Prince Be Attrell Cordes

P.M. Dawn’s Attrell Cordes, who was better known as Prince Be passed away Friday at age 46. We remember his contributions along with brother Jarrett to the R&B 1990’s music scene.

When it rains, it pours. It’s been a tough year already with big stars passing away. From David Bowie to Prince joining Vanity. Most recently, legendary Muhammad Ali passed away followed by emerging pop star Christina Grimmie. A week following Grimmie’s tragic death and the unforgivable Orlando tragedy, Prince Be passed away at the age of 46 due to kidney disease. Originally Attrell Cordes, he and brother Jarrett Cordes formed a memorable 1990’s R&B group that became known as P.M. Dawn.

Together, they were terrific releasing two successful albums. That included their debut album in 1991 entitled Of The Heart, of The Soul and of The Cross: The Utopian Experience. It’s biggest hit was Set Adrift on Memory Bliss. It hit number one in the U.S. and ranked third in the United Kingdom. I remember discovering it as a wide eyed teen listening to the radio on my walkman. Seriously. 😉

Their second album The Bliss Album…? was also a success. Released in 1993 by Gee Street and Island Records, “I’d Die Without You” and “Looking Through Patient Eyes,” became hit tracks. It was voted the 12th best album by The Village Voice in 1993. In the big hit 1992 comedy movie Boomerang featuring Eddie Murphy, Robin Givens and Halle Berry, “I’d Die Without You” was featured on the soundtrack. One of Murphy’s last big films.

Since this is a tribute to Attrell Cordes AKA Prince Be, here are three of my favorite videos:

My favorite part of “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss” is how they sampled the old classic Milli Vanilli beat from “Girl You Know It’s True.” Only P.M. Dawn made it sound cooler and of course more authentic. If you also listen closely, you can also catch a cool sample of Spandau Ballet’s “True” at the climax. It makes for a killer hit track that is a feel good mood. 

“I’d Die Without You” has that cool piano at the beginning setting the tone with the fancy beat that sounds like a finger snapping. Only better. Plus some dope lyrics. Highlights of Boomerang. Classic. Here are my favorite lines which feature the memorable chorus:

Oh, I apologize for all the things I’ve done

But now I’m under water and I’m drowning 

If I have to give away

The feeling that I feel

If I have to sacrifice 

Oh, whatever babe, whatever baby

If I have to take apart 

All that I am 

Is there anything that I would not do

Cause inside I’d die without you

Yeah baby 

Cause inside I’d die without you

Cause inside I’d die without you

This was also one I remember in the early 90’s. P.M. Dawn’s “Sometimes I Miss You So Much,” sampled Al B. Sure’sNight and Day.” It really is a good song. Then again, it combines two great R&B acts perfectly. Almost symmetrically.

That was what defined P.M. Dawn. Their unique style. Let’s remember that in this Video of Day tribute to Attrell Cordes. RIP Prince Be. 🙁

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Hard Hits Late Night: Derek and Justin talk Cavs and Warriors

Since I’ve returned to blogging here, shows have returned. Every week, I host Hard Hits on my own Hard Hits Network. You can catch any show on Blog Talk Radio. Hard Hits has been around for nearly a decade. On and off but here we are back working on rebuilding an audience. Last night, I was joined by Justin “JNF” Felix for a Hard Hits Late Night. Catch the show archive or download the podcast on I-Tunes.

Plenty was covered. Among the notable topics were the Cavaliers’ run at history. Having rallied from 3-1 down to become only the third NBA team to force a Game 7, LeBron James and the Cavs look to make history by becoming the first team in NBA Finals history to complete a comeback from a 3-1 deficit. They’ll have to do it by again winning at Golden State for a pressure packed Game 7 tomorrow night on ABC!

How will the Golden State Warriors respond to the challenge? Faced with adversity similar to last round when they were the team who came from behind to stun the Thunder, now it’s their reputation at stake. The defending champs who won a record 73 games including a flawless 39-2 on home court must defend their home turf. If unanimous MVP Stephen Curry and Splash Brother Klay Thompson aren’t successful, it’ll be classified a choke. Their season a failure.

Who will step up? Is it LeBron’s time to deliver on his promise finally bringing a championship back to the city of Cleveland for the first time in 52 years? Or can Curry and a rattled Golden State respond and deliver a repeat? There are plenty of key performers on both sides. The Cavs featuring the dynamic duo of James and Kyrie Irving with role players Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith, Richard Jefferson and Kevin Love. A deeper Warriors’ cast that includes Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa.

Who will step up? Will either Love or Barnes do anything to tilt a deciding seventh game to their side? Neither has been a factor. What about Iguodala, who tweaked his back? How effective will he be with an extra day off? He was a non-factor offensively. And what of the moody Green who didn’t show up with his ‘A’ game after serving a one-game suspension? What about Tristan Thompson, who has continued to be a main contributor for the Cavs during their comeback thanks to some strong work inside and on the glass? There are many factors in play.

Are the Warriors able to refocus after Curry fouled out and got tossed with coach Steve Kerr getting fined $25,000 for criticizing the officiating? His team hasn’t defended the Cavs well with LeBron in full attack mode. The Cavs have adjusted. Does Kerr have an answer? What about Curry, who had to deal with wife Ayesha Curry losing it on Twitter by calling the NBA fixed before deleting her tweet? Then admitting that her father was mistook for a criminal in false identity by the Cleveland security? How much will the distractions help or hurt the Warriors?

Plus plenty of baseball discussion from the Felix Bros. The Yankees remain a .500 ball club. Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman could be available next month. Will the Cubs, Giants and Nationals come lining up? What of certain All-Star Carlos Beltran, who with another home run upped his total to an earth shattering 18 in a Yankees’ 7-6 win over the awful Twins? The 39-year old right fielder could be a great addition for a contender.

Which NL ace is the best? The Felix Bros discuss Clayton Kershaw’s dominance and who it reminds them of. Plus Derek continues to eulogize Christina Grimmie and the all the victims of the Orlando shooting. An overtime that includes some Wimbledon discussion from the tennis expert.

We also remember Prince Be, who passed away at 46 last night. A musical genius whose r&b style and dope lyrics contributed to P.M. Dawn’s early 1990’s classic hits “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss,” and “Die Without You.” Known as Attrell Cordes, he teamed up with brother Jarrett Cordes to form P.M. Dawn.

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LeBron James and Cavs with great chance to make history

LeBron James blocks Stephen Curry sending a message in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.  AP Photo courtesy Getty Images Licensing Agreement www.nydailynews.com

LeBron James blocks Stephen Curry sending a message in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
AP Photo courtesy Getty Images Licensing Agreement
www.nydailynews.com

How does one define greatness? For LeBron James, he’s out to prove a point in this NBA Finals rematch. Since the Cavs fell behind 3-1 to the record-setting 73-win Warriors, they were written off. Most observers figured there would be a coronation in Game 5 with Golden State celebrating a repeat on their chaotic home court at Oracle Arena. James and Kyrie Irving had other ideas. Each going for 41 points in a 112-97 win to force a Game 6 back home in Cleveland.

The focus has been different for James and his teammates since losing Game 4 at Quicken Loans Arena. With their backs to the wall, the Cavs have played with more intensity on both sides of the floor. They’ve executed the game plan handed out by coach Tyrone Lue. There’s no doubt that the Warriors not having knucklehead Draymond Green for Game 5 hurt their momentum. Whether you agree with the NBA’s decision to upgrade his double foul incident with James to a flagrant-1 which meant an automatic one-game suspension, it doesn’t matter. He woke up the beast.

James has been a different player since. He followed up a 41-point, 16 rebound, seven assist, three blocks and three steals performance with an even more dominant Game 6, leading the Cavs to a 115-101 home win before screaming Cleveland fans who chanted, “One more game!” during an emotional interview with guest reporter Craig Sager. Sager has continued to bravely fight leukemia and got the chance to work his first NBA Finals game in 30 years. Full credit to both TNT and ESPN for agreeing to make it happen. #SagerStrong has been a popular hashtag on Twitter. The man with the best outfits covering NBA games is a true inspiration. The emotional interview is too good to pass up.

“How in the hell did you go 30-plus years without working an NBA Finals game. That don’t make no sense,” an emphatic James told the beloved Sager, who as usual played it off because he’s so cool. The 64-year old sure deserved that moment. Hopefully, we will see him for the biggest game of the season. Game 7 tomorrow night at Golden State.

ABC lead play-by-play man Mike Breen called both James and Sager legends. He’s right. They are. Speaking of which, the four-time league MVP delivered back-to-back 41-point games against the best team in the league. This one was even better. After they built a remarkable 31-9 lead in the first quarter, the Cavs couldn’t put away the resilient Warriors. They shot themselves back in it. Unanimous league MVP Stephen Curry had it going from three. He made some long treys to keep the defending champs afloat. Cleveland finished the first half strong behind James and Irving (20 first half points) taking a 16-point lead to the locker room.

One thing about Golden State. They never give up. Even with the Cavs coming out quickly in the second half to lead by more than 20, the Warriors continued to come back. The ice cold Klay Thompson heated up in the third quarter scoring 15 of his 25. It was his quick buckets in transition along with Leandro Barbosa’s timely shooting that suddenly made it a game in the fourth quarter. The Warriors only trailed by seven with plenty of time left. But James wasn’t having it on Thursday night. Coincidentally, it was the one-year anniversary of the Warriors winning the NBA title in Cleveland for Game 6. In attack mode for a second straight game, James delivered a personal 8-0 run. Dating back to the end of the third quarter, he scored 18 straight points for the Cavs. That included a huge step back three and two identical tough fade away jumpers over the hobbled Andre Iguodala.

It was vintage LeBron. Unlike the first four games where he wasn’t in attack mode looking to score, James had the eye of the tiger. Make no mistake. The Cavs coukdn’t come back and win this series unless James took over. Similar to what he did last year when he averaged over 36 points in a six-game series loss minus Irvin and Kevin Love. James made so many great plays to help even the series. There were two beautiful lobs off hard drives to Tristan Thompson for easy slams that ignited the crowd. Thompson had feasted on the smaller Warrior interior going for a huge double double with 15 points and 16 rebounds. In fact, he had it by halftime. A role player stepping up when the Cavs needed it most.

Golden State lost center Andrew Bogut for the series. While coach Steve Kerr doesn’t play him much due to opting for a smaller lineup featuring Iguodala and more quickness and athleticism, Bogut was a presence who protected the rim. He blocked shots and altered others. Without the oft-injured Australian big man, the Warriors are easier to attack. It’s not surprising that the Cavs have since gotten to the basket at will and are finishing more consistently. But also, they have changed the strategy. With James able to pick apart the switches along with Irving, they’re taking full advantage. James has also made his outside shot. Something he didn’t have confidence in early on. He’s shown a willingness to pull up on drives when defenders have backed off. He’s also been unafraid to step out and take and make the three in stride.

With a more confident James in beast mode, it’s made it that much harder for Golden State to play D. When he’s hitting from the perimeter, that means they must play up on him which opens up the middle for the most dominant force to drive and either score or set up open teammates. With him scoring, it has spaced out the floor for J.R. Smith, who connected on a big triple from the key off a James pass. He scored 14 including four from downtown. When Smith is confident, he’s able to find room and connect from the outside.

The Cavs are doing this without Love, who just hasn’t fit in. In Game 6, he picked up three early fouls including one phantom call that put him on the bench. The officiating has been inconsistent for each side. It was some calls on Curry that finally led to him snapping. In foul trouble, he was called for two reaches for his fifth and sixth fouls, fouling out for the first time this season. Neither call was correct. Both looked like clean steals. The second coming on James, who moments earlier made a resounding rejection of a Curry offering with some choice words.

“Get that stuff outta here,” is essentially what an emotionally charged up LeBron said to loud cheers. It was refreshing to see him let Curry know about it. Not on my watch. In the past, we haven’t seen him that fired up. When James plays with an edge, he’s more effective. Clearly, the criticism early in the series along with the Warriors going after him for the Green suspension are on his mind. He’s channeling it in a positive way by leading the underdog Cavs back. James always plays both ends which is why he’s the most complete player in the NBA. Still the best. Nobody can defend like him. Along with his game high 41 on an efficient 16-for-27 which included three treys and 6-for-8 at the line, he dropped 11 dimes, pulled down eight boards, had four steals and three blocks.

The big man can do it all. It’s why the Cavs should feel pretty good about their chances on Sunday night. They’re only the third team in NBA Finals history to force a Game 7 after trailing 3-1. No team has ever come back from that deficit. So, they’re looking to make history. As James noted to Sager, “Records are made to be broken.”

Given that Cleveland’s more aggressive defense has frustrated Golden State and their offense has been in better sync, they are psychologically ready. We don’t know what the Warriors’ mindset is entering a seventh game. However, they did rally to beat the Thunder from the same 3-1 deficit in the Western Conference Final. They will be home. A place they have dominated opponents. If there is one thing to watch for, neither Curry or Thompson have yet to dominate a game together against the Cavs in this series. There’s always a chance that the Splash Brothers could erupt. If ever there was a time for it, it would be in Game 7 with the pressure mounting.

Imagine winning a record 73 games and losing only twice on your home floor. Having Games 5 and 7 at home where you went 39-2. Imagine losing three straight games including those two home games. It’s the Warriors, whose legacy is on the line. The Cavs aren’t supposed to be here. They were supposed to roll over and pack their bags for the summer. Instead, they’re trying to deliver a championship back to the city of Cleveland for the first time in over 50 years. You have to go back to the 1964 Cleveland Browns when they won the NFL Championship before the merger. They also won it three times in the 50’s.

The long history of Cleveland has been well documented. From the original Browns losing two heartbreaking games to the Broncos in consecutive years to the Indians losing the World Series in excruciating fashion to the upstart Marlins. Michael Jordan over Craig Ehlo is still fresh. So too is James walking off the court after losing to the Celtics en route to The Decision. After four years away going 2-2 with the Heat in four consecutive NBA Finals, he returned to his home for one reason. To deliver that elusive championship to Cleveland. Last year, they fell short losing in six to the Warriors. This time, James is trying to change the end result.

If he can, it’ll be with plenty of help from his teammates. Every role player must come to play. Irving probably will need to score 30 for the Cavs to pull it off. He had 23 the other night. He and James won’t get any rest. It’s the final game of the season. As James told Sager, he’s gonna leave it all out there and give his team everything he has. That’s what Game 7 is all about. Do it one more time successfully and they’ll return home heroes to a wild celebration.

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More Hitting Back: Syndergaard, Ichiro, Yankees

New York Mets starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday, May 12, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

New York Mets starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday, May 12, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

It’s been a while since I actually did a More Hitting Back piece. Well, it’s really More HB for short. Especially since this is a sports and music and now a news blog when I see fit. The news is pretty depressing. So, for the most part I’ll stick to my favorite two topics. Sports and Music. 😀

-With another virtuoso outing, Noah Syndergaard continues to impress in Year 2. He came within two outs of a complete game shutout of the Pirates in a blowout 11-2 Mets win at Citi Field. Syndergaard is already a top five pitcher in the Senior Circuit. He upped his record to 7-2 by going eight and a third permitting two runs (one earned) on five hits with one walk and 11 strikeouts. Thor now sports a 1.91 earned-run-average. In now 85 innings, he only has walked 13 batters and fanned 106.

-Syndergaard’s numbers would put him right in the mix for the NL Cy Young. However, Clayton Kershaw’s got him beat. He also pitched yesterday into the eighth inning to pick up his 10th victory. Kershaw allowed two earned on five hits walking one and fanning 11 in seven and a third. When the three-time Cy Young winner issues a pass, it’s a story. In now 108 innings, the best pitcher of our generation has walked six. That’s astonishing. He’s now up to 133 K’s which leads the majors. What else would you expect from a guy that’s the best lefty probably since Steve Carlton or Sandy Koufax. Yeah. I went there.

-If you had to rank them from 1-5 in the NL, how would you go? Here’s mine:

1.Kershaw

2.Arrieta

3.Bumgarner

4.Syndergaard

5.Greinke

-Honorable mentions include Jose Fernandez, Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer and Jacob DeGrom. That’s probably two too many honestly.

Ichiro passing Pete Rose for the most total hits all-time with the majors and Japan combined should be recognized. No. It’s not the same as Rose being the all-time hit king with an unbreakable 4,256 all in the major leagues. With two hits in yesterday’s Marlins 6-3 loss at San Diego, Ichiro is now 21 shy of 3,000 hits in the big leagues. Shouldn’t that be appreciated?

-The 42-year old wanted to come back for one more season. Here he is hitting .349 in 55 games with Miami. This after only batting .229 last year in 153. And the difference between Ichiro and Rose is class. Charlie Hustle is a scumbag off the field. It doesn’t take away from his accomplishments which include three batting crowns, an NL MVP and Rookie of the Year. Rose was a 17-time All-Star who hit .303 for his 24-year career. On the field, he’s a legend. Too bad he tarnished his legacy by betting on baseball. Does he belong in Cooperstown? Sure. Will he ever make it? Probably not.

-Ichiro is still hitting over .310 for his 16-year big league career with over 500 stolen bases, an AL MVP and two batting crowns. He led the majors in hits seven times and topped 200 hits for the first 10 years of his career. All coming with the Mariners from age 27 through 36. The only thing missing from his Hall of Fame resume is a World Series. Unfortunately, he and Seattle lost to the Yankees in ’01. Ironically, his only other postseason came with the Yankees in 2012 when Seattle traded him. The Yanks were swept in the ALCS by the Tigers. Ichiro did hit .353 going 6-for-17 with a home run and two RBI’s. Unfortunately, no one else hit for the Bronx Bombers.

-The Yankees dropped their fourth in a row losing 6-3 to the Rockies at Coors Field. Ivan Nova was hit hard giving up five earned and 10 hits in just five frames. That included a go-ahead two-run shot to Nolan Arenado in the home fifth. He leads the majors in home runs (20) and RBI’s (57). Basically, Arenado is everything the Yankees lack. A young, athletic superstar who is in his prime. Too bad he’s stuck in Colorado.

-The Bronx Bombers lack that star player who can carry them. Alex Rodriguez is nearing the end of his career. Mark Teixeira might be done too. Brian McCann is already slowing down. There’s no big bat that can get hot and help a team that has now fallen to three games under .500 (31-34) and sits in last place in the AL East. Greg Bird will have to wait another year. Aaron Judge hasn’t hit consistently in Triple-A Wilkes/Barre-Scranton. Gary Sanchez can hit but is behind Austin Romine.

Jorge Mateo is 20 and is batting .281 with five homers, 32 RBI’s, 44 runs scored and 24 steals in High-A Tampa. The young shortstop has a bright future in Pinstripes. With Didi Gregorius holding down short, there’s no rush. Mateo can be brought along slowly. Too often, the Yankees rush their prospects. Mateo is the best one they have. So, they better not screw him up.

-As for the current Yankee roster, they’re not making the playoffs. There are too many if’s. When the calendar hits July in a couple of weeks, GM Brian Cashman must explore what he can get back for power lefty relievers Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller. Both are lethal and can close games. Chapman hits triple digits regularly with his heater. Miller throws in the high 90’s. The Cubs, Giants and Nationals all are in contention in the NL. Each will come looking for a big arm that can be a game changer this October.

Carlos Beltran has had a remarkable year. Cashman should see what he can get for Beltran. The 39 year-old has only played in one World Series. At age 36, he and the Cardinals lost to the Red Sox in 2013. Beltran deserves one more chance. Hopefully, he gets it.

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Video of Day: Christina Grimmie fea. Sam Tsui “Just A Dream” (Nelly Cover)

Sometimes, there really are true talents out there who can be discovered. That was true about Christina Grimmie. A star was born out of YouTube. Astonishingly, back to her teenage years she collaborated with Sam Tsui to cover the popular Nelly hit track “Just A Dream.”

Hard to fathom that this was made back in 2010. It sure explains a lot about Grimmie’s remarkable work. A perfect voice that was heard throughout America on The Voice. It’s still devastating that at only 22, her life was cut short. She was living out the dream performing in concerts. Why did it happen in Orlando when she was two more shows away from finishing a tour with Before You Exit? It remains a hard question to answer.

Why did 49 more people have to die in such an awful shooting a night later at Pulse nightclub in Orlando? It really breaks your heart. What the media should do is not discuss the dead murderer who was a ticking time bomb. Ditto for the loser who killed Grimmie and then committed suicide after being tackled by her brother Marcus. There are no words.

Let’s remember all the lives lost.

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Video Of Day: “It Can’t Rain All The Time”

Lately, I’ve been in deep thought about the terrible tragedies that took place in Orlando over the weekend. It’s hard to fathom. It was bad enough some knucklehead shot and killed the talented Christina Grimmie. Ending a life full of so much promise. I still can’t get over it. She was only 22. On her way to stardom. A concert no less and autograph session meeting and greeting fans. It shouldn’t happen.

But these aren’t normal times. What followed in the late hours at a club in Orlando was enough to make you sick. Another crazed psycho who shouldn’t have been on the street, using an automatic rifle and murdering 50 people and injuring many others. Why? Because hate exists. I am not going to bother with the ridiculous debate on whether it’s a hate crime or a terrorist act tying into ISIS. It was a gay club where a community hung out. So many lives gone for no good reason.

Hate is a strong word. How much hate should there be? Many on social media continue to fight over who’s to blame. The NRA or the lack of security. As usual, the blame game has turned ugly. In a Presidential Election year with two controversial candidates, it’s always each side attacking the other. There’s no winner. Nobody is right. While the silly bickering goes on and our President defends Islams and Muslims in the latest politically correct speech that takes aim at Donald Trump, he isn’t as angry about the 50 dead people. Why not? Shouldn’t they matter more? Not if you’re Barack Obama.

Sometimes, it’s not about defending one race. But rather a course of action. “What are you going to do now?” A common question that Sugar (Frankie Faison) asked Lucas Hood (Antony Starr) in my favorite show Banshee, which concluded after four heart racing seasons on Cinemax. Every time one of these horrible tragedies takes place, our President and the government have egg on their faces. They still haven’t done anything. Eight years in office with the leadership which includes Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Still no response. Instead, they point fingers.

Gun control. While I do believe there should be stricter rules for safety and background checks, I’m not sure it’s just about guns. There are plenty of people who are gun owners that don’t use them as assault weapons. The problem is sometimes, guns wind up in the wrong hands. Would changing the rules help? Possibly. Would it automatically prevent a Sandy Hook from happening? Not necessarily.

What about the mindset of the people who commit these crimes? They’re clearly mentally unstable. What about making sure these dangerous people are off the streets? I guess healthcare reform didn’t take into account the psychological battle some have. Whether it’s dealing with proper medication or inpatient and outpatient programs, there need to be more avenues that prevent these people from being released. Sadly, Arkham Asylum as seen in Gotham which actually takes place at Bayley Seton Hospital in Staten Island exists.

The world is falling apart. Our principles must change. We must learn as a society to think freely and love each other. Hate only makes things uglier. I can disagree with you over a key issue. But that doesn’t mean I don’t respect your opinion. We all have them. There needs to be more tolerance. More acceptance and togetherness.

Maybe that’s why Jane Siberry’s memorable song at the end of one of my favorite movies “The Crow” has been playing in my head repeatedly. It can’t rain all the time.

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A New Beginning

It began so suddenly one cool September morning. Before the alarm clock even rang at six AM, Alexander was awakened by the birds chirping. It was almost as if they were humming a song for a new beginning. Somehow, that felt appropriate. It was the first day of high school. Alex’s nervous energy and excitement had him jump out of bed and into a shower. The luke warm water was refreshing.

He quickly toweled off and got dressed. Wearing a brand new pair of faded blue jeans and a long sleeve shirt full of Fall colors, Alex made sure to throw some aftershave on. He borrowed it from his Dad. Ralph Lauren had a nice scent. It was perfect for the occasion. The first day of school.

Alex marched downstairs and had a couple of apple cinnamon Eggo Waffles minus the butter and syrup. The sweet taste didn’t need it. Besides, he was in a rush. Even though he would leave the house 10 minutes early and walk down the block to the bus stop, it was due to the anticipation. How would it go? Would there be anyone he knew at his new school. What about the girls?

Then, his attention turned to his schedule. Nine classes from eight ‘o clock on. Hopefully, the teachers wouldn’t be too hard on the first day. Finally, the bus squeaked and came to halt at the stop. Alex got on and found a seat on the right side by the window. As it took off, he stared back at his block. There was a bit of wonder as it pulled away to the first traffic light. This was it. The start of something special. A new journey in his life was about to begin.

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Irving and LeBron each score 41 to lead Cavs past Warriors 112-97 in Game 5

2016 NBA Finals - Game Three

AP Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images License Agreement

A record performance from Cleveland’s two stars allowed them to prevent Golden State from a celebration on its home court. Kyrie Irving and LeBron James became the first pair of teammates in NBA Finals history to each score 40 points or more in a game. They each poured in 41, combining for 82 of the Cavs’ 112 in a resounding 112-97 win over the Warriors in Game 5.

The virtuoso performance from both kept the Cavaliers very much alive in the best-of-seven series. Following a disappointing Game 4 loss, James said their focus was just on winning one game and getting it back to Cleveland for Game 6. Mission accomplished. Playing much more aggressively in score first mode, James looked more like last year’s version taking apart the Warriors for 41 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists, three steals and three blocks. Unlike Game 4 when he had seven turnovers, he only had two.

James was more explosive attacking the basket while also taking what the defense gave him. Playing without Draymond Green, who served a one-game suspension due to a Flagrant-1 foul, the Warriors struggled to contain the deadly combination of James and Irving. Without the versatile Green, who is a strong defender that protects the rim, they were unable to get any stops. The tandem of James and Irving also made tough shots. Both hit from the outside with Irving a sizzling 5-of-7 from downtown and James connecting on 4-of-8 triples. That clutch shooting opened up holes in the Golden State defense which also lost center Andrew Bogut due to a left knee sprain. He underwent an MRI and is unlikely to return for Game 6. Given his injury history, he probably is done for the series.

James did most of his damage in the first half scoring 29 of the 41. He was dominant on both ends. This was vintage LeBron. A determined and hungry player intent on forcing Game 6. There would be no coronation for Golden State. LeBron shot well hitting on 16-of-30 from the field. Most notably, he used his quick step to back off a weakened Warriors’ defense and hit pull up jumpers. He also wasn’t afraid to step back and knock it down from beyond the arc. He was confident in his shot. Something that wasn’t true in the first four games of this NBA Finals rematch.

While James did his thing, Irving was unconscious. He had one of the best games for a guard in a pressure situation. He couldn’t be stopped. The explosive Irving took apart Stephen Curry off the dribble. He shot a ridiculous 17-for-24. Aside from being hot from outside, Irving lit up the Warriors on an array of drives finishing lay-ups. Particularly when Golden State crawled within six on consecutive three’s from Klay Thompson and Curry, he put Cleveland on his back by starting a 13-0 run that ballooned the lead back up to 19. That included a ridiculous and-one on a beautiful spin move and sweet finish. The next time down, he launched one from way downtown that hit nothing but net, silencing the crowd.

On a night they got nothing out of Kevin Love, who had two points and three rebounds in nearly 33 minutes after returning from a concussion, this is who the Cavs had to be. A two-man team just destroying the Warriors on the match-ups. Only J.R. Smith was the other player to hit for double digits netting 10 in a inconsistent performance due to foul trouble. Tristan Thompson did most of his work on the glass grabbing 15 rebounds while scoring six including 4-of-10 from the line. The Warriors tried the hack-a-Thompson strategy in the third. But after missing three straight, Thompson made the last two to help the Cavs build a nine-point lead after three quarters.

Unlike in most games, the Warriors went ice cold in the fourth quarter. They scored only 13 points including just one in the final six and a half minutes. The Cavs outscored them 19-13 to win comfortably by 15. Golden State was unable to knock down their shots from three-point range, clanging 28 of 42 attempts. That included both Curry and Klay Thompson misfiring on wide open looks. Curry was only 5-for-14 finishing with 25 points in an uneven performance. Thompson did most of his damage in the first half scoring 25 of his 37 before halftime. He was the more explosive Splash Brother shooting 11-of-20 overall and 6-for-11 on three’s. The more aggressive and stronger Thompson also got to the line, sinking all nine of his free throws.

Harrison Barnes had his worst game making only 2-for-14 from the field while missing on 5-of-6 three-point attempts. Normally, he shoots a higher percentage. Like Curry (8-of-21), they weren’t going in.

The only Warrior who had a consistent effort was valuable Sixth Man Andre Iguodala. Starting in place of the suspended Green who took in Game 5 next door from a luxury suit at Oakland Coliseum, Iguodala finished with a double double going for 15 and 11 while recording a team high six assists. When that’s your leading assist guy, it’s not a ringing endorsement. After a good first half, Curry disappeared. Maybe he can show off his disgusting mouthpiece after such a listless game that saw him get schooled by Irving.

If there has been an unsung hero for Cleveland in their two wins, it’s likable vet Richard Jefferson. The 35-year old former Net when they were an actual franchise in New Jersey, played a solid supporting role off the bench. He scored eight going 4-of-6 with three steals. Jefferson’s effort defensively provided a lift for the Cavs. So did Iman Shumpert, who will never light it up offensively. But the former Knick can be counted on for aggressive defense. He blocked two shots and added four points including a sweet finish off a great Irving set up.

The question for the Cleveland is this. When the NBA Finals resume for a do-or-die Game 6 in their building Thursday night, can they get another heroic effort from the dynamic duo of Irving and James? Most likely, they’re gonna need it just to force a Game 7. Especially with the annoying Green returning.

Let’s say the Cavs don’t get a combined 80 from Kyrie and LeBron. Then either Love or Smith must step up. Cleveland doesn’t have much off the bench. Matthew Dellavedova and Channing Frye have been non-factors. In fact, Frye didn’t play last night. With Dellavedova, who can provide grit defensively not supplying anything, does maybe coach Tyrone Lue go to the more offensive-minded Mo Williams?

Basically, it comes down to the Cavs’ starters. How much will a supporting cast that features Love, Tristan Thompson and Smith give James and Irving? They know what they’ll get from Jefferson and Shumpert. But can a seven-man unit become the first team in NBA history to pull off a comeback for the ages. No team in Finals history has ever rallied from a 3-1 deficit.

As for the Warriors, you have to wonder why they didn’t play with more killer instinct. It was like they were just out for a walk in the park. There was no intensity. Matador D. Too many stars relying on their talent and home court. Too much fanciness. They had 17 turnovers and 18 assists. A bad ratio. The Cavs were no better finishing with one more turnover (16) than assist (15). But the dominant performance from James and Irving were enough to win. They also still combined for 13 assists and six turnovers. Curry had four assists and four turnovers. Another disappointment from the two-time MVP.

So, what will happen? It says here that a focused Cavs refuse to lose Game 6 this time at home. I see a Game 7. If they force it, anything can happen. Maybe even history.

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