LeBron’s Legacy

 

King James goes airborn.

King James goes airborn.

Sometimes, I can’t believe what I hear on the airwaves. The premature talk about LeBron Jameshouldn’t exist. Not because he isn’t a once in a lifetime NBA player. It’s due to his career being far from over. The 28-year old has much to prove before we start defining his legacy. Tonight, the Miami Heat start their NBA Finals Series against the San Antonio Spurs. It’s James’ fourth Finals appearance. He’s 1-2 including a nightmarish sweep in ’07 against those same Spurs.

Of course, much has been made of King James exacting revenge for a loss with a lesser roster in Cleveland. That was six years ago. It’s much different. He’s more dominant than ever before. James doesn’t make the same mistakes which plagued him before last year’s title run. He can take over at any moment. Most notably, the league MVP saves it for the second half like in a crucial Game Five win over the Pacers. He doesn’t have to get 50. He can score or distribute which makes him dangerous. Combine his pure athleticism and defensive capabilities and you have a valid argument that he’s already one of the all-time best.

It’s important to distinguish fact from fiction. James already has put up remarkable numbers. His combination of size, speed and strength is uncanny. It’s a rare breed which defies one of the most electrifying players in basketball history. However, the comparisons to Michael Jordan must stop. There was only one MJ. Let’s leave it at that. Air Jordan is the greatest player of all-time. He was six for six in the Finals dominating like no other. It shouldn’t be about that. Rather another great player who’s still trying to make his mark. The Heat aren’t what they once were. Dwyane Wade is a year older and a step slower due to balky knees. Chris Bosh is hit or miss. The role players are more vital. Last year, Mario ChalmersShane Battier and Udonis Haslem came through. This year, they’re still there along with Chris Andersen and Ray Allen. It varies game to game who Erik Spoelstra relies on.

Against the Spurs, the Heat must be at their best. Without a doubt, you know LeBron will be. This isn’t ’07. He’s matured and can impact a game like no other. San Antonio boasts the trio of Tim DuncanManu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Parker is now the most lethal able to slice and dice defenses while stepping out from the perimeter. Duncan is still formidable and could be a match up headache. Ginobili isn’t as consistent but must be accounted for. At any moment, he can get hot. San Antonio has better depth with well respected coach Gregg Popovich getting the most out of Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Tiago Splitter. He isn’t afraid to go to Gary Neal or vets Matt Bonner and Boris Diaw. Perhaps the most intriguing thing is the coaching match-up which pits a four-time championship winner against a younger first-time one who aims for a repeat led by the game’s best. This is a part that’s being overlooked.

Is Miami that much better than San Antonio? I don’t think so. Much depends on what LeBron gets out of sidekicks Wade and Bosh. They can’t show up when they want. That might’ve worked against a less experienced roster in the last round. It won’t against the Spurs. Unless their youth and athleticism is too much, I expect a long competitive series. Don’t be shocked if it goes the full seven. I’ve underestimated San Antonio all year. They shouldn’t be taken lightly anymore. They’re more rested which should benefit vets like Duncan and Ginobili.

One way or another, James will complete his fourth Finals. It shouldn’t fall all on his shoulders. If it does, Miami could be in trouble. Let the man play. Judge him when his career is over. He’s still got a lot ahead. Enjoy him while we can.

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More HB

-It’s amazing how a couple of wins in a row by the Mets over the Phillies can change the tune in these parts. Before a solid performance by Mike Pelfrey and outfield find Angel Pacon’s 11th inning heroics, Amazin fans were already in panic mode after a disappointing final Shea Opening loss to Philly sent their team to a third consecutive defeat and 2-4 through half a dozen games. Heck. Even on the WFAN official site, nearly half the fanbase voted that their team would get swept by the Phils. Geez. Talk about waiting for the sky to fall.

It’s just way too early for such pessimism. Especially if you’re a New York baseball fan. God forbid our teams didn’t have the resources to spend the dough and get marquee stars. What would fans do? Jump off a building. Try being a Pirates fan. We’ve got nothing to complain about.

-The start by Melky Cabrera is definitely something for Yankee fans to hang their hats on. Especially if this new found power stroke continues.

-I don’t pretend to be an expert but can anyone rationalize why new Yankee skipper Joe Girardi used Kyle Farnsworth before Ian Kennedy the other night in Kansas City due to rain? Talk about throwing in the towel.

-It might be early but that young staff the Royals got might keep them in a lot more games this season. Especially with ex-Met Brian Bannister anchoring it and Zach Greinke now looking as advertised. Closer Joakim Soria sure looks pretty legit too.

-Can anyone explain why Evan Longoria isn’t at the hot corner for Tampa other than it costing a little more cash?

-The Miguel Cabrera E5 tracker is at three and counting. He’s also hitting .138 so far with nine K’s in 29 at bats for the 1-8 Tigers.

-Remember when the Nats got out to a 3-0 start? They’ve now dropped seven in a row. So much for being tired of losing.

-Find me a more entertaining ballplayer than Hanley Ramirez. 

-It’s nice to know that the Caps vs Flyers series will actually get underway tonight. Gotta love that playoff schedule. Especially with hockey fans itching to see the best player in the game Alexander Ovechkin.

-He’s done it so much in the past that it’s hard not to see Marty Brodeur bouncing back from his Game 1 gaffe later tonight against the Rangers. Especially in such a must win situation for the Devils.

-It really is ashame that either Denver or Golden State won’t be in the NBA playoffs.

-Just for those Knick fans keeping score, Donnie Walsh still hasn’t changed coaches yet.

-That clutch shot by Mario Chalmers will be remembered forever in Kansas. You talk about a money shot to send the championship game to overtime propelling the Jayhawks to an improbable victory over Memphis. It don’t get much better.

-Missed free throws can always comeback to bite you and it sure did to John Calipari.

-If you didn’t get out to MSG the other night, you missed one heck of a show by Santana. Definitely one of the most underappreciated and best guitarists of all-time. He just doesn’t get the respect he deserves. He’s a genius.

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How to choke away a national championship

Copyright Getty Images

Despite a brilliant second half, Memphis freshman Derrick Rose tensed up at the free throw line in crunchtime.Kansas hero Mario Chalmers celebrates money three which allowed his school to win first national championship since assistant Danny Manning led Kansas to an upset of Oklahoma 20 years earlier. Chalmers was named the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player.

“It will probably hit me like a ton of bricks tomorrow, that we had it in our grasp.”-Memphis coach John Calipari 

It’s been a few hours and I’m still not believing what I saw with my own eyes. There was John Calipari’s 38-win Memphis Tigers a couple of minutes away from the school’s first ever national championship. They led Bill Self’s Kansas Jayhawks by nine with 2:12 left.

Then came one of the worst final couple of minutes you’ll ever witness from a No.1 seed which had looked invincible to that point. For most of the night, freshman sensation Derrick Rose had been kept in check but when he went off for 15 of his 18 including what looked like a dagger in a fadeaway jumper (replays helped change it to a two), the Jayhawks surely were done.

Apparently, somebody forgot to tell Mario Chalmers. Instead of the Tigers icing the game, Rose and teammate Chris Douglas-Roberts misfired on five of six free throws to open the door for a miraculous comeback.

Following one of two at the line by Rose and 10.8 seconds left with no timeouts, Kansas guard Sherron Collins hustled the ball up court and then handed it to a cutting Chalmers, who stepped into a desperation three. Even with Rose’s hands extended, the clutch shot hit nothing but the bottom of the net to tie the game at 63 with 2.1 seconds left.

“I had a good look at it,” the Final Four Most Outstanding Player later indicated after finishing with 18 including the memorable shot which gave Kansas their first national title in 20 years when current assistant Danny Manning led them to an upset of Oklahoma.

“When it left my hands it felt like it was good, and it just went in.”

“Ten seconds to go, we’re thinking we’re national champs, all of a sudden a kid makes a shot and we’re not,” a very disappointed Calipari said after watching his team give up the first six points in overtime losing the title it should’ve won 75-68 instead.

“We got the ball in our most clutch player’s hands, and he delivered,” a still floored Self said.

It was the first national championship men’s Div.I basketball game which required OT in 11 years when Arizona got the better of Kentucky 84-79 for all the marbles.

Truth be told, Kansas controlled much of the action dominating the paint with Darrell Arthur netting 20 points and 10 rebounds. They controlled the pace slowing down the Tigers with Collins blanketing Rose most of the night. When the Jayhawks led by five, it seemed like they’d march on without a problem but then Rose got hot scoring 14 of 16 to ignite a Memphis run which saw a 14-point swing.

Even after a rare Kansas trey sliced the deficit to three, the Tigers still looked like they’d win their record 39th game of the season against only a close home loss to Tennessee when they were ranked No.1. They even got a couple of key offensive rebounds to extend possessions. However, all season Memphis’ wasn’t the best free throw shooting team finishing 59 percent.

Calipari always told doubters his team would hit them when it counted most. During their run to a second championship game, they’d stepped up. This time, Douglas-Roberts and Rose cracked under the pressure.

For much of the night, Douglas-Roberts had picked up the scoring slack when running mate Rose struggled, pacing the Tigers with 22. He usually is pretty cool at the charity stripe. If not for three misses late, he would’ve been a flawless six-for-six.

The missed free throws added up this time as Memphis clanged seven of 19. At least six came in the second half. So, they definitely left the jar open while their opponents converted an efficient 14-of-15.

It allowed Kansas to stay afloat. Self’s team never gave up and did what they had to do scoring quickly while fouling and watching the Tigers choke away the championship in historic fashion.

This was like watching the Knicks get done in by Reggie Miller that time when he scored nine points in a row to Spike Lee’s dismay.

When Chalmers lined up that three even with stellar D played by Rose, I knew Memphis was done. Especially when Roger Dozier’s desperation heave was way off. Besides, their one physical player Joey Dorsey had fouled out. He might not have done much but his presence was sorely missed in OT when the Jayhawks got essentially dunks and lay-ups including one from a gutsy Brandon Rush, who also played tenacious D on Douglas-Roberts.

By then, the Tigers were a beaten up team both mentally and physically probably replaying in their heads those missed free throws.

How did they let this one get away? Especially after Rose sprung to life and took over the game finishing with 18 points, eight assists and six rebounds. He earned every single one against a solid defensive team which played him extremely tough doubling sometimes.

To Calipari’s credit, he took the blame afterwards. There was no excuse for letting it slip away. Ultimately though, if his best players had knocked down their shots from 15 feet out uncontested, the former UMass coach would be a championship coach instead of a goat.

It’s a bitter pill. Sports can be heartbreaking sometimes. Especially when you have it within your grasp and then collapse a la the 2004 Yankees and last year’s Mets. But it’s even tougher when you’re that close to winning a championship.

I still can’t fully grasp what happened last night in San Antonio. Just imagine how Calipari and his players feel.

The winning coach summed up the improbable 1986 Mets-like Game Six victory perfectly:

“It’ll probably be the biggest shot ever made in Kansas history.”

The special kind which shall be remembered for a long time by college basketball fans.

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And then there were 1′s: Kansas edges Davidson to make history

Kansas center Sasha Kaun came up large in his school's two point win over Davidson to advance to the Final Four. It's the first time in NCAA tournament history that all four one seeds have advanced to the Final Four. 

AP Photos Courtesy Getty Images by Gregory Shamus

And then there were ones. For the first time ever, four No.1 seeds came out of their respective regions each advancing to the Men’s Division I Final Four in San Antonio next weekend.

After Memphis rolled past Texas 85-67 to win the South region, all that was left was for Kansas to beat upstart Davidson and win the Midwest. It didn’t come easy for Bill Self’s Jayhawks, who had to survive a Jason Richards wide miss from 25 feet before hanging on to a well earned 59-57 win over Stephen Curry and the pesky 10th seeded Wildcats.

They were able to do so thanks to some splendid aggressive man-to-man defense which featured a box in one on the tournament’s leading scorer Curry helping to wear him down. The sophomore who was justifiably named the region’s Most Outstanding Player finished just 9-of-25 from the floor and misfired on 12-of-16 contested three’s. Though he drained his last one which put the outcome in doubt for the topseeded Jayhawks, Curry ran out of gas after netting 15 in an effective first half.

“We just forced him into tough shots in the second half,” New York City product Russell Robinson noted after finishing without any points and an uncharacteristic four turnovers despite helping blanket Curry. “We didn’t let him get into a rhythm.” 

Fatigue was definitely a factor,” a disappointed Curry later admitted. “That four-guard rotation they had really took a toll.”

As it turned out, the 20 year-old Charlotte native was human after all despite demonstrating such poise throughout a brilliant tournament which saw him get 30-or-more against Davidson’s first three victims- No.7 Gonzaga, No.2 Georgetown and No.3 Wisconsin.

It looked like he was well on his way to another 30-point day with 22 and still plenty of time left but Kansas really picked up the pressure forcing Curry into some ill advised shots. In fact, it was his teammates who stepped up giving hopeful fans who came to Detroit what they wanted to see. An actual competitive Regional Final. With apologies to Rick Pitino and Louisville, the other three games sucked lacking any late drama which is what most want to see unless your name is John “JPG” Giagnorio. ;-)

Kansas won thanks to the key contribution of overlooked senior center Sasha Kaun. The 6-11 250 pound Melbourne Florida native took advantage of his size advantage, hurting the smaller Wildcats by scoring inside for 13 points hitting on all six field goals. He also grabbed 10 rebounds.

With less than nine minutes to go, it looked like Cinderella might spoil the party. It wasn’t because of Curry either but rather roommate Bryant Barr, who dialed from long distance three consecutive times to give Davidson a 51-47 lead allowing the packed house to sense another possible upset.

The big question heading in was whether Kansas would wilt if put in a tight game. The Midwest’s top seed answered myself and other skeptics by outscoring Davidson 12-2 thanks to the combination of Kaun and Brandon Rush (8 of 12 pts in 2nd half). Rush, who had been ice cold for most of the well played defensive game finally made some plays including a nice runner off the glass as part of a three-point play (he didn’t get fouled but that’s the breaks).

Suddenly, it was Kansas by six with the finish line very much in sight. Especially when Curry had prior misfired on a wide open trey from the left arc off a Jason Richards feed which would’ve made it a one-point game. Instead, Rush swished a pair of free throws to help the Jayhawks extended their lead to six, matching the biggest of the game.

After another Curry miss, it looked like the end for the Wildcats but the Jayhawks couldn’t put the final nail down giving their resilient opponents one more slight crack with under 60 seconds to play. Following one of two at the line from teammate Thomas Sander, the Wildcats’ hustle allowed them to get the ball back. When Curry quickly came off a double screen to drain one from downtown suddenly slicing it to 59-57 with still 54 seconds to go, it was back to being up in the air.

Davidson turned up the defensive pressure forcing Kansas into a bad shot before the shot clock expired getting the ball back down two with under 20 seconds remaining.

This is what they came for. This is why you turned on CBS today. To see this kind of exciting finish where here was another underdog trying to pull another George Mason and knock off a major heavyweight to its hit list of Gonzaga, Georgetown and Wisconsin.

Davidson teammates Stephen Rossiter, William Archambault, Jason Richards and Thomas Sander look on from the bench during Regional Final against Kansas.

Following a timeout, everyone knew who would have the ball. Maybe that was the problem for Davidson. Instead of allowing Richards to take the Kansas guards off the dribble, they opted to let Curry decide it. There was no way the Jayhawks were going to allow that to happen. They wisely doubled forcing Dell Curry’s kid into some indecisiveness which cost his school in the end.

Instead of passing off to an open teammate at the top of the key, he continued to dribble to the right before drawing another double and passing back to Richards, whose desperation off balance 25-footer hit off the left of the backboard.

Stephen Curry couldn't save Davidson this time walking off disappointed.

“They had a lot of bodies and a lot of athletic guys who could chase me,” Curry said. “They did make me work hard, and I had good looks at the end, but they weren’t falling like they did all tournament. We can’t hang our heads. We had opportunities. We just didn’t execute.” 

Kansas winning coach Bill Self finally could celebrate a Final Four trip though his school made it interesting.

It allowed Kansas to hold on for dear life and give their coach the big victory he had lacked. Self had guided three different schools to this juncture before only to bow out. However, this time would be much sweeter allowing an emotional coach to bend down and slap the floor as if to say, ‘Thank you.’

Who could blame him? He’d been doubted by many including yours truly. And for once, his team in the face of adversity rose up to the challenge advancing to a Final Four showdown against former coach Roy Williams and North Carolina Tar Heels.

“We expected to win,” Davidson coach Bob McKillop stated.

“We didn’t come here content or satisfied. We expected to win. This has been a 12-month mission. It came down to one final play. That’s the beauty of this game that we play.”

Notes: Kansas guard Mario Chalmers matched Kaun’s output with 13 including three triples. … Richards finished with seven points and a game high nine assists. The senior Davidson point guard led the nation in assists averaging better than eight. With a strong showing, he boosted his NBA Draft stock. While many will point to a talented crop which could include Memphis’ Derrick Rose (21 pts, 9 assists, 6 rebs vs Texas), USC’s O.J. Mayo, UCLA’s Darren Collison, Texas’ D.J. Augustin (16 pts, 4-of-18 FG, 3 assists, 4 turnovers) and UNC’s Ty Lawson, Richards should also be in the mix along with Stanford’s Mitch Johnson and Marquette’s Dominic James. … The loss snapped Davidson’s nation best 25-game win streak. … It will be Kansas’ 13th trip to the Final Four and first in five years when they fell to Syracuse in the championship game.

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