“I’ve been second my whole life. I was the second-best player in high school. I was the second pick in the draft. I’ve been second in the MVP voting three times. I came in second in the Finals. I’m tired of being second. I’m not going to settle for that. I’m done with it.”

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These were the words of Oklahoma City star Kevin Durant in a recent article done by Sport’s Illustrated and they reflect much of his career. Throughout his high school career, Durant was regarded as the second best high school prospect in the nation behind Greg Oden. This carried all the way through college and even the draft where Durant was selected second overall by the Seattle Supersonics after the Portland Trailblazers selected Greg Oden first overall. Their careers ended up very differently and despite the success Durant has had in the league, LeBron James outdoes him. James has won the MVP multiple times with Durant placing second. James won his first championship by beating Durant and OKC.

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LeBron James has continued to prove why he is the best player in basketball year after year. Last year when he finally won his first championship, he put many critics to rest. While he still has his fair share of critics, James’ consistent play makes it hard to find a good argument against him. Over the last few years, James has become one of the most criticized athletes in all of professional sports, starting mainly from his lavish decision to leave Cleveland to pursue a championship in Miami. When the Big Three’s inaugural season ended with a lost to the Dallas Mavericks in the Finals, LeBron’s poor performance during the fourth quarter in the series gave critics a reason to label LeBron as  “unclutch” and “unreliable”. James has since proven many times that he has improved and rarely puts a poor performance including during the playoffs. Durant and LeBron both are surrounded by talented teammates that have no doubt contributed to their success. LeBron has the likes of Bosh and Wade who help make the Heat one of the best teams in the league while Durant has Westbrook and Martin to help carry the load. This playoff run started off  a  lot different for Durant as he lost his All Star sidekick in Westbrook to a season ending knee injury early in the first round. Many belive this was the perfect opportunity to help Durant prove himself more at the NBA level. After all he said he is tired of always being second, so why not go prove your case that you are the best player in the league by leading your team throughout the playoffs?

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The Memphis Grizzlies are such a well-balanced team it’s scary. Just ask Chris Paul and the Clippers who had huge expectations going in to the postseason, after having such a great regular season. Despite all of the Clippers talent, they couldn’t even get past the first round. Why? Because of the Memphis Grizzlies. So what do the Grizzlies  do when they play the number one seed in the West with a player like Kevin Durant on the other team? They not only beat them, but they fully contain Kevin Durant. During the regular season, leading up to the trade deadline, rumors swirled that the Grizzlies were likely going to trade Rudy Gay who at the time was Memphis’ leading scorer. Already having a great regular season, people believed their was no reason they should trade Gay. Well they did and in return they got Tayshaun Prince, a seasoned veteran who had played his entire career with the Detroit Pistons as well as some bench pieces that included Austin Daye and Ed Davis. Prince brought valuable playoff knowledge and he can still shoot definitely, however, the Grizzlies front office received plenty of criticism and many wondered if the Grizzlies could still be a dominant team without their number one scorer. Well right now the Memphis front office looks like a bunch of geniuses as Tayshaun Prince showed he’s still go it with his defensive play especially during the fourth quarter. Who was he guarding ? Kevin Durant.

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Durant gave everything he could in this series, but he showed that all those years of success he’s had in the league have been in part because of Westbrook. Until now many consider Durant a clutched shooter, but the critics have come in droves as he was not the elite shooter he usually is.  Without Westbrook’s presence there, Durant was forced to make many more plays than usual especially the last final games against the Grizzlies, he’d come out empty-handed. Durant has never had many critics in the past, but next season come the playoffs he will be under the microscope more than ever. For years LeBron went through the same phase, as he was often deemed “unclutch, “LeChoke”, and an assortment of other nicknames. Right now, it’s safe to say those critics have been put to rest after he has proven to be very reliable during the fourth quarter the past two seasons. The future for Durant looks very bright, no doubt, but this playoff series has definitely left several questions and no doubt shown Durant has a long way to go before he can be deemed the best.

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For the second year in a row, LeBron James has dominated the competition nearly unanimously winning his second straight MVP and  his fourth overall. Placing a distant second, Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder followed by Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks. These three players represent the best of the best in basketball, the cream of the crop you could say. In fact it’s highly likely for the next five years or so these three players will always be top contenders for the  MVP award. Once upon a time though, in fact only two years ago, a different player other than LeBron reigned as MVP. He represented his hometown and became a popular player after being drafted number one overall despite only having a 1.7% chance of being drafted by that team. After having a controversial season in college, he showed no trouble dominating in the pros. When the Big Three of LeBron, Wade, and Bosh decided to take their talents to South Beach, this player was deemed as a possible  kryptonite for the star-studded Miami team. Two years ago Derrick Rose was the best player in the league so where is he now?

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After an injury riddled regular season last season, Rose hoped to dominate in the playoffs and lead the Chicago Bulls to their seventh championship. That goal was cut short after Rose tore his ACL during the first round of the Playoffs, which cut the morale of the Bulls enough for them to get an early knockout by the 76ers. When the news of Rose’s injury broke, the original belief by many was Rose would  likely miss a good part of the regular season. Typically ACL injures take 6-8 months to fully heal, and in some cases less time. With the knowledge that they would not have Rose a good part of the season, the Bulls signed veteran guards Kirk Hinrich and Nate Robinson in the offseason. The hope of this organization was to remain in playoff contention until Rose would come back, however, possible deadlines for his return kept getting pushed farther and farther.  His decision to continue to sit out until he believes he is fully ready to come back has caused much criticism from fans even from his own brother.  This did not deter the Bulls too much, as they had a great season proving how great of a team they are without their star. Hinrich has provided his part while Robinson has contributed the most of all their players this season. His clutch shooting has won the Bull’s many games including their Game One win at Miami earlier this week.

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     Rumors have been going around that Rose could come back this series and the question is how will he fit in to this Bull’s team that in many ways is different since he left the court. They certainly could have used him during the Brooklyn series which dragged out to seven games where Rose would have been a better defensive presence guarding Deron Williams. Which brings up a valuable factor in this Heat series. Despite Robinson’s clutch play, his size will always be an issue especially when the likelihood of reigning MVP LeBron James will be guarding him. If in fact Rose returns for this series, he will be an important factor in whether they win or lose this series. If Rose can dominate and flow well with this Bull’s team and somehow manage to beat the reigning NBA champs, he can help lead this team glory and the Chicago native can bring his hometown its first championship since number 23 reigned in the Windy City.

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 On April 12th, Los Angeles Lakers’ superstar Kobe Bryant went down with what he said was a torn Achilles tendon, it was announced Bryant would be out for the rest of the season. Many Lakers’ fans held their head down, because they thought at the moment what else can go wrong this season. Other Laker fans were thinking this is the end of our disappointing season. But, it turns out it really wasn’t the Lakers won two crucial games versus the San Antonio Spurs and the Houston Rockets to clinch the 7th seed in the Western Conference.

The Lakers will be playing the Spurs in the first round of the 2013 NBA playoffs. Some people are saying the Lake Show doesn’t stand a chance, but i believe the Lakers have a better chance to make a deep run without Bryant than with him. Yes, i did in fact say that. The Lakers have a better chance to make a deep run without Bryant than with him.

The key to a deep Lakers’ run is Dwight Howard. The man they traded for in the off-season. For the last few years I have always wondered with the Lakers why aren’t they running through their two seven footers. They have a mis-match on nearly every opponent and they shouldn’t be running from the outide-in the Lakers should be running from the inside-out. And when you have a guy like Bryant, that maybe a problem because he wants his share of touches too. 

 At the start of the season I expected them to run through Pau Gasol and Howard, but they weren’t. I understand that Howard was still trying to recover from his shoulder injury, but when you have a mis-match nearly every night it should be obvious on what you should be doing.

Now that Bryant is out for the rest of the season, we maybe able to see what we should have seen all season. Constantly feeding Howard and Gasol every time you come down the court. One big negative on doing that is you have to worry about Howard getting fouled and when he gets fouled a lot he starts getting angry. Howard expects Gregg  Popovich to use the ‘Hack-a-Howard‘, but it seems like Dwight has a positive attitude going into the serious and won’t get frustrated. Which should make Dwight happy.

Dwight says: “If they want to do that the whole series, God bless them,” Howard said when asked about the Spurs using a “Hack-a-Howard” strategy on Friday. “There’s nothing I can do about it but go up there and shoot the free throws. Even if I make them, they’re still going to do it. So, that’s not my concern. My concern is what I can control on the defensive end and then on the offensive end, just dominate. If they foul me, they foul me. We’re going to make them pay.”

Only Superman Can Lead Lakers To Glory

Posted: April 19, 2013 by Mario Pages in NBA
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Somehow the Lakers managed to make the playoffs despite such a disappointing season and even more surprising they made it as a 7th seed. Just a few months ago, LA seemed  on track to have one of the most disappointing seasons of all time, after bringing in two future hall of famers in Nash and Howard during the offseason. But the Kobe led team fought until the last day of the season. I say Kobe led because his scoring and play played a huge role for keeping this team alive in the playoff race.The main issue with Lakers’ this season has been chemistry, they have the talent they just need to use all that they have learned this tumultuous season and use it on the court during the playoffs.

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     Despite the Black Mamba tearing his ACL a few weeks ago, the Lakers managed  to pull together enough strong outings without Kobe to make the playoffs. While the Lakers’ had a very disappointing season, they can still prove themselves where everything matters most. You might ask how they can even get far without their franchise star Kobe Bryant who has carried this team since his early years well the answer relies on Dwight Howard. All the drama in LA has really had many people distracted from the fact that Lakers still have the best center in the league hands down. Yes his numbers went down this season, but that’s to be expected coming to a team with so much more talent, especially to a team with Kobe Bryant. He’s still an elite defender and at the prime of his career. His play ultimately will decide the Lakers’ fate come the playoffs and could prove just how great of a player Howard is.

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     With a new contract on the horizon and rumors that Dwight would like to stay in LA, proving himself worthy of a max contract this postseason will earn this seven-time NBA All Star a lot more dough come the offseason. Howard certainly has an advantage being in the Western Conference now, as not many big men can contain him and this could help LA in the playoffs. His first challenge, the still very dominating future hall of famer Tim Duncan, will provide a tough challenge, however, an injury ridden San Antonio can be beaten if the Lakers are on their top game.  Howard has already made the NBA Finals with a lot lesser talent on his team, so as long as he does his part and dominate during the playoffs, don’t be surprised how far LA goes. The spotlight shines on Superman and many wonder if he can carry this team to glory or to a gloomy ending of uncertainty.

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This season had its ups and downs for the Michigan Wolverines. After starting an incredible 16-0, they struggled the rest of the year with Big Ten opponents and never really dominated great teams. Going in to the tournament many thought they would flop, including me who had them losing to VCU. They proved everyone wrong and reached their full potential with star play especially from Burke and McGary.  Making it to the championship game really proved how much depth and talent this team has. While no doubt all this success has proven great for a basketball program that has struggled since really the days of the Fab Five, it has left a big question mark on the future of Mitch McGary, Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr, and Glen Robinson III with Michigan. Their tournament run has caused most of their draft stocks to skyrocket expect for maybe Hardaway who never had a strong showing during the tournament.

College basketball, no doubt, reserves its place amongst the most popular sports in America, especially come March. Just like college football, it is a platform for nobodys to become somebodys. Whether you’re a fan of one team or just enjoy watching the sport, there’s nothing like watching these young athletes prove themselves. College sports, as popular they may be, suffer from the reality that for the athletes themselves there is no money to be made unless they go pro. This especially applies to college basketball where players are only required to stay one year in college, before being able to turn pro. College basketball is often a revolving door of young talented athletes and new stars every year. Money is money and however loyal a player may be to his team the opportunity of lifetime is too enticing for most to leave on the table.

As of recently, not one U-M player has declared for this year’s draft, although this could change soon. Star point guard Trey Burke leaving offers a strong possibly as he almost left last year for the NBA draft. Burke, in my opinion, is truly the only NBA ready player on Michigan’s roster right now. After winning so many national awards and achievements, he really proved himself this year. His stock, most likely, will never be this high. If Burke somehow were to stay though, that would definitely put Michigan as a serious contender to win a National Championship next year. Not only would that, but him staying also likely be very enticing for all of Michigan’s star players to stay. While him staying sees very unlikely, there’s no reason for Michigan fans to hold a grudge against him as he has contributed so much in the two years he’s been a Wolverine.

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The case of Tim Hardaway Jr. is an interesting one. While he has shown his talent, he’s had an up and down year. He often shoots the ball too much and can be a little bit selfish at times. Staying one more year certainly would benefit Hardaway as he seems to be the least NBA ready of the four players despite being the most experienced. He should really utilize his senior season to help improve his shot selection and his stock could rise in next year’s draft. I see no reason he needs to leave for the NBA as he comes from a wealthy family. Hardaway proved to be a very versatile player for Michigan this season and he no doubt will be next year if he were to stay.

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Glenn Robinson III came to Michigan mainly just a talented player. This season proved while no doubt he has talent there is a lot of room to improve. He definitely can shoot the ball, but throughout the season he showed inconsistency with his shot. When U-M played tough opponents he seemed to struggle the most which isn’t too alarming considering he’s only a freshman. Nonetheless returning for his sophomore season will really help him develop as a player and he can look at Trey Burke as a great example. Like Hardaway, Glenn comes from an affluent family and while his projected stock right now is high, he could raise it by having an even better season. If Robinson were to choose the NBA path, he could very well struggle his first few seasons as the NBA consists of well pro players who provide tougher competition for Glenn who already seems to struggle at times against great college teams. With Burke’s departure very likely, Robinson could assume the role of the star player on U-M and possibly take them just as far.

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I remember when Mitch McGary first committed to Michigan. I thought of him as talented player who could provide a huge presence for Michigan in the paint and thought if Burke were to stay another year how good this tandem would be. Boy was I right. McGary proved how great of a player he was in the tournament when he started his first game.  Throughout the entire tournament not only did he fill the stat sheet, but his hustle and determination gave Michigan a huge boost. If it weren’t for McGary, there would have been no championship game for Michigan. He came to U-M as top rated prospect from a small town in Indiana and now he’s praised as one of the most talented and athletic big men in college basketball. Earlier in the tournament McGary said he would return for his sophomore season, however, given his recent play which caused his draft stock to skyrocket McGary has not been answering any questions about his future with the team which could be seen as a red flag to some. Hopefully McGary makes the right decision to return to Wolverines where he could take his game to the next level. He contributed so much to Michigan’s great season and the sky seems to be the limit for what he could to for U-M next year. If he does declare for the draft, it is uncertain how well he would do. The best case for Mitch is he could end up like Andre Drummond who left U-Conn after his freshman year and has had a dominating rookie season. Without Mitch McGary though , the Michigan Wolverines would certainly not be the same team next year.

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While it may seem easy for us as fans to look at these players and wonder why would they leave Michigan just to probably go to some crappy NBA team where there may not be as many fans and playing in a whole other atmosphere, you have to remember these guys are really just kids who are looking at a once in a lifetime opportunity to be a pro basketball player ,which for so many is a dream come true. The other side of this is the money plain and simple. These young guys are all projected to possibly be Lottery picks with the exception of Hardaway which means they are looking at a few million dollars each. Majority of people will never see that kind of money ever and sometimes it is too enticing to pass up especially when you never know what could happen tomorrow. The fear of suffering a career ending injury or never being as good as you were often give players reason to leave for the NBA where they have financial security. These Michigan stars would no doubt improve by staying another year and contend for a National Championship, but U-M fans should not hold any grudges against these players as they are just looking out for what’s best for them in the long run and you certainly can’t blame them.

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Video  —  Posted: March 24, 2013 by Tyler's Sportsdebates in NCAA Basketball
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