Although the Toronto Raptors had a better regular season record than the Brooklyn Nets, the conventional thinking for the playoffs was that the experienced Nets would have their way with the youthful Raptors, whose fortunes rested on two fine players, forward DeMar DeRozan and guard Kyle Lowry.
The Nets managed to slip by the Raptors but it was by the skin of their teeth, as they needed all seven games to do so. Their 104-103 nail-biting win in Sunday’s deciding Game 7 in Toronto typified the whole series. The Raptors had the ball, and a very good chance of winning the game and the playoff round with six seconds to go, thanks to the Nets’ inability to make an inbounds pass, a problem for them all season long. To the Nets’ credit, they played great defense when it counted, as Paul Pierce prevented Kyle Lowry from launching a shot.
No one could have been more relieved with the Nets escaping the first round of the playoffs victorious than their general manager, Billy King. Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov was furious with King last year at this time after the team dropped a seven-game series to the Chicago Bulls, as the feeling around the NBA was that the Nets were soft.
Nets head coach PJ Carlesimo was fired the next day. King knew that he would be next on the chopping block unless he did something dramatic. On the night of the 2013 NBA Draft he traded three future first-round picks as well as some deadweight on the Nets roster to the Boston Celtics for aging veterans Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry, who would later be dealt to the Sacramento Kings.
Next up for the Nets are the two-time defending NBA champion Miami Heat. Coming into this season the Nets had lost 13 straight games to LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Co. The importing of Garnett and Pierce paid off immediately, as the Nets won all four games with the Heat this season, albeit three were by a point and the other game went into double overtime. In short, the regular season is not very indicative of the playoffs, particularly when you’re talking about the Heat.
Nets head coach Jason Kidd was fined $25,000 by the NBA for criticizing the officiating in Game 5 to the media afterwards. If he thinks his team got the short end of the calls against the Raptors, just wait for the Heat. Superstars such as James and Wade always get calls in their favor that regular Joes in the NBA don’t. NBA “follow the money” conspiracy theorists will point out that no team draws better national and international TV ratings and sells more merchandise than the Heat do.
Do you get the feeling that former NBA Commissioner David Stern is enjoying his retirement a little bit more given the fact that he did not have to deal with the Donald Sterling situation? Stern has known Sterling for over 30 years, and you have to believe that he knew that this guy was a ticking time bomb.
My guess is that Stern would have loved to have gotten rid of Sterling in 2009, when one of the NBA’s greatest players and gentlemen, Elgin Baylor, sued the Clippers owner for discriminatory employment practices after he was fired as the team’s head coach.
The problem was that it would have been impossible for Stern to have all the owners back him if he did try to forcibly remove him. His successor, Adam Silver, did not have any such difficulties as every one of Sterling’s fellow owners couldn’t wait to expel him from the lodge, as his repugnant comments were causing blue-chip sponsors to rethink their support of the NBA.
Few people are held in higher esteem than Magic Johnson, but I think that even Magic would agree that last week was not a good one for him.
He showed poor form by publicly cheering Mike D’Antoni’s dismissal as Los Angeles Lakers head coach. Magic may also have been smarting from the fact that he was linked socially to Sterling’s gold digging ex-paramour, V. Stiviano.
I have a feeling that Johnson’s colleagues at the investment firm of Guggenheim Partners probably put the kibosh on a possible purchase of the Clippers because they don’t want his name and theirs dragged through the mud by the media, as they would undoubtedly delve into how Stiviano and Johnson knew each other. Even if it were just a “Hello, how are you?” relationship, it’s probably not worth the aggravation. Magic and Guggenheim are probably better off trying to get the NFL to finally put an expansion team in LA.
It doesn’t seem to matter if the Rockies are good or if they stink — Denver is always a house of horrors for the Mets. The Amazin’s lost the first three games of their four-game series to the Rockies this past weekend. They were spared the ignominy of being swept on Sunday, when Dillon Gee came to the rescue, pitching yet another gem as the Mets finally beat the Rockies 5-1. Gee is one of the best pitchers in the majors and yet gets surprisingly little recognition for his fine work.
With Ivan Nova gone for the season and Michael “Pine Tar” Pineda questionable, the Yankees really need 39 year-old Hiroki Kuroda to step up for them this year. Unfortunately, Father Time appeared to be beating Kuroda, based on what we’ve seen the first month of the season.
This is the first year that Major League Baseball is using technology such as instant replay from a variety of angles to determine close calls. Surprisingly it is the players and not the umpires who appear to be the least happy about its implementation.
Braves second baseman Dan Uggla told me that the delays in the game cause muscles to tense up as well as concentration to lapse. Other players have echoed Uggla’s sentiments even when their team is the beneficiary of an overturned call. They figure that calls even out over the course of a season.
I spoke last week with retired umpire Al Clark, who is promoting his autobiography, “Called Out But Safe” (University of Nebraska Press) , which was co-written with the fine baseball scribe Dan Schlossberg.
“If the technology has caught up with the game then let’s use it,” says Clark, who is a huge proponent of using replay to make decisions.
Clark acknowledged Uggla’s complaint about games dragging because of the use of replay, saying, “My solution would be to have a fifth umpire at the game whose job would be to sit in a technology center at the ballpark who would quickly make a decision on close calls.”
Instant replay is sadly getting rid of one of baseball’s most entertaining aspects, namely those classic rhubarbs between managers and players. A lot of Phillies fans used to go to Veterans Stadium when Larry Bowa was the team’s manager not because they expected to see their team win but rather to watch him argue with the umpires. Bowa used to love it when the crowd screamed “Larry!” “Larry! Larry!” as if they were the audience at “The Jerry Springer Show.” I remember watching Bowa chuckle to himself as he would approach the dugout after losing yet another argument.
Time To Play is the toy industry’s annual spring showcase. After years of creating computerized games and going app crazy, it appears that the long overdue return to basics is finally happening in the toy biz.
Yomega and Mattel both introduced toys designed to improve eye-hand coordination. Yomega showed a simple game that had a ball attached to a rubber string, and the goal was to have the ball land in an egg cup. It’s a lot more difficult than it sounds. Mattel displayed a number of outdoor target practice games.
Wrestling collectors will love the gigantic likeness of World Wrestling Entertainment superstar John Cena that Wicked Cool Toys will be putting out this summer.
After watching videos of the annual White House Correspondents Dinner, I am surprised that this year’s emcee, the witty Joel McHale, who is one of the stars of NBC’s “Community” and the host of E’s “The Soup,” has never come up in conversation by broadcast network executives to host a late night talk show. McHale shares a lot of David Letterman’s comedic qualities.
You have to love the El Rey Network, which shows a lot of ’70s kung fu movies as well as a lot of Pam Grier, Jim Brown, and Richard Roundtree flicks. I watched “Shaft” for the first time in nearly 40 years on El Rey last Friday night.