Wednesday, August 20, 2008

James Improvises an MVP Performance in the Big Easy

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images
LeBron James' clutch dunk with 55 seconds left put the East up two,
capping his MVP performance.

Surrounded by an abundance of friends and family members, LeBron James was the center of attention at the postgame photo shoot following Sunday’s NBA All-Star Game.

After posing with the members of his inner circle for numerous serious pictures, James had a suggestion to liven up the room:

“Let’s do it again except for this time I want everybody to freestyle,” said James, who less than an hour earlier had the best improvisation of the night:

With the game tied and under a minute remaining, James stole an errant pass, dribbled up the sideline and crossed the first defender in his path, Amare Stoudemire, at the 3-point line before rising up to dunk in the face of defender No. 2, Dirk Nowitzki.

Besides bringing the New Orleans Arena crowd to its feet, the jam put the East in front to stay en route to a 134-128 victory.

“I didn’t want to settle for a jump shot,” said James, who was named the game’s MVP for the second time in three years. “I wanted to be aggressive and try to get to the hole to get the layup.

“When I saw those bigs coming, I didn’t want to lay the ball up because they would have definitely made a play and tried to block it. I was able to go strong and dunk it through.”

While James’ slam is the play that everybody will most remember from the game, it is not the only reason he received top player honors.

Like he has done all season, James showed the world why he is the league’s best all-around player, finishing with 27 points (12-for-22 shooting), handing out nine assists, grabbing eight rebounds, blocking two shots and making two steals.

He fell one assist and two rebounds short of the first All-Star Game triple-double since 1997.

“I just wanted to win the game,” James said. “They beat up on us pretty bad last year in Las Vegas and as the East, we didn’t want to allow that to happen again.”

While some All-Star Games are sloppy due to players trying to get too cute with the ball, this one had the feel of an intense regular-season game.

“This was the most competitive All-Star Game I’ve played in,” James said. “Guys really wanted to win the ballgame. As fans and everybody that watched the game, I think they would think the same thing.”

The West wiped out a 16-point deficit thanks to the play of hometown hero Chris Paul, who had 16 points, 14 assists and four steals.

The final five minutes of the game, during which the West rallied to take a slight lead only to get its heart broken, are probably getting shown on an instant classic channel right now.

Ray Allen helped set the stage for James’ late-game theatrics by draining three 3-pointers in the final 3:15 on the way to a game-high 28 points for the East.

“Ray hit some big shots,” James said. “Some of the biggest shots of the game and he kept it flowing. I put the finishing touch on it.”

James, who was also named MVP of the 2006 game, is the 11th player to win the award more than once.

“I mean to add the MVP trophy with the win means a lot to me,” James said. “I played well and I helped our team win. It means a lot to go out there and perform the way I was able to in front of the fans of New Orleans

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Spain's Rubio plays well beyond his years

Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio brings a calming influence to his team -- despite being just 17-years old. Rubio and Spain face their toughest test yet when they play Team USA Saturday at 10:15 a.m. ET.

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Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio brings a calming influence to his team -- despite being just 17-years old. Rubio and Spain face their toughest test yet when they play Team USA Saturday at 10:15 a.m. ET.

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Getty Images

Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio brings a calming influence to his team -- despite being just 17-years old. Rubio and Spain face their toughest test yet when they play Team USA Saturday at 10:15 a.m. ET.

At the core of Spain's reigning World Championship basketball squad are seven former, current or future NBA players (Marc Gasol and Rudy Fernandez will join the league this season).

But when the team was getting rocked by China in a preliminary game last Tuesday, on the verge of suffering a huge upset, the player who righted them and turned the game around was a skinny 17-year-old making his national team debut.

That kid was point guard Ricky Rubio.

The 6-3 Rubio finished with only one point, but his quickness and defensive mindset turned the game around as he harassed the Chinese guards into several turnovers, picked the pockets of NBA players Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian and threw Pau Gasol a perfect lob for a powerful, momentum-changing dunk. Rubio's relentless pressure shook up the Chinese backcourt into losing their flow and confidence.

Afterwards, coach Aito Garcia Reneses -- who also coaches Rubio on DKJ Joventut -- shrugged off a question about why Rubio was on the court ahead of more experienced players.

"This 17-year-old kid is actually a very mature player and I don't see any problem putting him on the court in overtime, or in any crucial situation," Reneses said.

Indeed, in the third quarter, when Spain looked rattled by the huge, extremely loud crowd and on the verge of succumbing to China's momentum, it was Rubio who stayed cool and composed. His confidence, lack of hesitation and apparent unflappability are startling in a player so young.

"We were looking to pressure a lot and I was just focused on defense," Rubio said after the game, wearing flip-flops and a slight grin. "Everything flowed from that."

Rubio will face a formidable backcourt challenge when Spain takes on Team USA on Day 8. These Olympics may represent Rubio's debut to much of the world, but hoops heads have known about him for a while. His reputation exploded in the final of the 2006 FIBA U-16 Championships, where he torched Russia for 51 points, 24 rebounds, 12 assists and 7 steals. He played his first game for DKV Joventut in the demanding ACB League at age 14 and became a starter this year, his first full season.

Rubio will be eligible for the NBA Draft next year, but is signed to his current team through 2010 and resists all attempts to ask him about his future plans. "I will play in the ACB next year and I'm not thinking about two or three years down the road and whether or not I'll be in NBA or Europe," he insisted.

Lang Whitaker, executive editor of Slam Magazine, traveled to Barcelona in February 2007 to spend time with Rubio and his family, and came away impressed with both his support system and his basketball skills.

"It was pretty remarkable to see Ricky at 16 dominating against a bunch of men," said Whitaker. "While his shot could still use some improving, he has an innate sense of the game and he seems to understand that scoring isn't always the most important part of a play."

In that regard, Whitaker believe that Rubio's closest comparison is Magic Johnson, though early American press tends to compare him to "Pistol" Pete Maravich, the scoring machine who starred for the New Orleans Jazz 30 years ago.

"That is an almost purely physical connection - similar looks and body types -- because basketball-wise they are nothing alike," Whitaker said. "Maravich was a scorer first, while Ricky seems suited to being a distributor first and scorer second, though he's tall enough that he'll be able to score in the post against smaller guards once he gains some muscle."

For his part, Rubio is definitive about to whom he hopes to be compared:

"I play like Ricky Rubio."

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

National Basketball Association

NBA logo depicting Jerry West

The National Basketball Association (NBA) is North America's premier professional men's basketball league, composed of thirty teams from Canada and the USA. It is an active member of USA Basketball (USAB), which is recognized by the International Basketball Federation as the National Governing Body (NGB) for basketball in the United States. The NBA is one of the four major North American professional sports leagues, which also includes the NHL, the NFL, and MLB.

The league was founded in New York City, on June 6, 1946 as the Basketball Association of America (BAA). The league adopted the name National Basketball Association in 1949 after merging with the rival National Basketball League. The league's several international as well as individual team offices are directed out of its head offices located in the Olympic Tower at 645 Fifth Avenue in New York City. NBA Entertainment and NBA TV studios are directed out of offices located in Secaucus, New Jersey.

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UConn's Thabeet not 'not your average 7-3 guy'

Hasheem Thabeet will be one of the best players in college basketball next season, writes Mike DeCourcy.

To explain how far Hasheem Thabeet has traveled as a basketball player, you could start in Tanzania, the place of his birth. That would be intriguing, but it only conveys his long journey to play the game in a circumstance where he can learn, improve and test himself against the best competition among players his age.

You could go back to his first days as a freshman at Connecticut, when he'd run up and down the court like Asafa Powell but stumble around the lane like Will Ferrell. That would be entertaining, but it only suggests he once was fearful -- not that one day he might become fearsome.

No, the best place to go for an understanding of how profoundly Thabeet has improved is inside the mind of the point guard whose job it is to get him the basketball. A.J. Price ran the UConn offense last season, when the 7-3 Thabeet averaged 10.5 points and shot 60.3 percent from the floor as a sophomore center. Price says he frequently hesitated to throw an entry pass to Thabeet, even when he had perfect post-up position with a defender at his back and no double-team in sight.


Michael Jordan goes for a slam dunk

Basketball is a team sport in which two teams of five active players each try to score points against one another by propelling a ball through a 10 feet (3 m) high hoop (the goal) under organized rules. Basketball is one of the most popular and widely viewed sports in the world.

Points are scored by shooting the ball through the basket above; the team with more points at the end of the game wins. The ball can be advanced on the court by bouncing it (dribbling) or passing it between teammates. Disruptive physical contact (fouls) is not permitted and there are restrictions on how the ball can be handled (violations).

Through time, basketball has developed to involve common techniques of shooting, passing and dribbling, as well as players' positions, and offensive and defensive structures. Typically, the tallest members of a team will play center or one of two forward positions, while shorter players or those who possess the best ball handling skills and speed, play the guard positions. While competitive basketball is carefully regulated, numerous variations of basketball have developed for casual play. In some countries, basketball is also a popular spectator sport.

While competitive basketball is primarily an indoor sport, played on a basketball court, less regulated variations have become exceedingly popular as an outdoor sport among both inner city and rural groups.

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