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David Aldridge

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Paul Pierce (right) vs. Ron Artest is just one great matchup to watch in the 2010 Finals.
Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

Lack of a true favorite should make these Finals shine


Posted May 31 2010 1:32AM

In all honesty, in the last 20-plus years, The Finals have often been a fait accompli.

If memory serves, Michael Jordan's Bulls were solid favorites four of the six times they were there (Blazers, Sonics, twice against the Jazz) and a slight favorite against the Suns. The only time they won as underdogs was the first time, when they took the torch from Magic's Lakers in 1991.

The Shaq-Kobe Lakers were a prohibitive bet in each of their three runs to the championship (Pacers, Sixers and Nets). The Spurs were clearly better in three of their four title seasons (Knicks, Nets, and Cavaliers).

After Byron Scott (pre-series) and Magic Johnson (Game 2) both went down with hamstring pulls, Detroit's road to the '89 title was cleared; the following season the Pistons' edge over Portland was clear.

Really, there have been only two Finals during my two decades covering "the L" where there wasn't a clear favorite: 1994, with New York and Houston, and 2005, with Detroit and San Antonio. (As it turned out, both series went seven games, the only times since 1988 that we've had a seven-game Finals.) And there have been only two real upsets: the Pistons' win over the Lakers in 2004 and the Heat's win over the Mavericks in 2006.

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That's what makes the 12th Finals matchup of the Lakers and Celtics, starting Thursday, so intriguing. Two evenly-matched teams. Both stumbling badly down the stretch of the regular season, making many -- OK, making me -- wonder if they could get past the second round, much less to the championship series.

Both teams were chasing legacies, with equal but different pressures. Both having uncertainty at the coaching position past this season. Both capable of winning on the road. Both playing better and better as the playoffs have gone on.

And it's the Celtics and Lakers! What more could a fan of the orange leather ask for: Jack, leprechauns, Laker Girls, Celtic ghosts, Lawrence Tanter, Gino, bi-coastalness, genuine hatred, all of it, a rivalry on par with Yankees-Red Sox, Carolina-Duke and Colts-Patriots. It is the perfect antidote to another month of WWLBD (What Will LeBron Do?) stories; for a week, or maybe two, free agency will take a back seat to what's actually happening on the court.

Each team probably played its best in the second round, when the Lakers dismantled Utah and Boston shocked Cleveland. Each endured in the conference finals after building huge leads. Paul Pierce went for 31 and 13 in Game 6 against Orlando; Kobe Bryant was otherworldy against the Suns in Game 6, leaving my Twitter universe speechless.

"The playoffs is just another process," Bryant said at the end of the regular season. "You try to get better and better by games, and as you advance each series, hopefully you're a better team the next series than you were the series before. And that was the case for us last year. Denver (whom the Lakers beat in the Western finals) really helped us take our game to another level."

Two years ago, of course, these Celtics, revitalized with the acquisitions of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, beat the Lakers in six games. They overcame a 20-point deficit in Staples Center in the key Game 4, with Allen driving past a clueless Sasha Vujacic for the game-clincher. Then, they embarrassed the Lakers back in Boston in Game 6, crushing them by 37. The last six minutes were a series of hugs and Gatorade showers, with the sellout crowd in Boston taunting the Lakers -- who had to sit through every excruciating second of it. I was five feet from Phil Jackson as he and his team walked off the floor, covered in confetti.

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Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant are set to duel once again in The Finals.
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

"Top of the world, Ma!," KG screamed afterward, which is where my weekly top 15 team ranking gets its name.

One suspects Bryant also recalls that evening.

He recalls how Pau Gasol was pushed around and rendered ineffective for most of that series, how Lamar Odom disappeared for long stretches; how Derek Fisher couldn't stay in front of Rajon Rondo or make him work at the defensive end. It's also likely that he's reminded Gasol, Odom and Fisher of that for most of the last two years. For while Bryant has accomplished just about everything he can, there are a few things left on the list, and beating the Celtics is one of them.

Bryant has four rings. The next will put him one behind Jordan, the man whose career Bryant came into the league trying to emulate. That Bryant has forged his own identity and his own standard of excellence that compares to Jordan's is amazing, but it's just as real as the ridiculous jumper he hit over Grant Hill to put the West finals away.

A fifth ring would also separate Bryant, probably permanently, from Shaquille O'Neal, with whom he shared his first three championships and who also has four titles. But unless Shaq signs on as a true role player on a contender next season -- meaning limited minutes coming off the bench -- it's hard to envision him winning another ring. A fifth title for Bryant would also break a tie with Tim Duncan, and give Bryant a leg up on "greatest player of his generation" honors. At 31, Bryant would have two or three years left to equal or better Jordan's half-dozen.

But Boston is fighting the pressure of history, too. How many ex-Celts have dined out over the years on the franchise's 17 titles? The Celtics remain the NBA's premier franchise, the one against whom all others are measured. The Lakers now have 15 championships -- including the five they won in Minnesota -- making the margin with Boston mighty close. Beat the Lakers this season and Boston will once again own a three-title edge, which Bryant may not be able to equal before he is done playing. But an L.A. win this year makes it 17 to 16, with Bryant still capable of leading the Lakers to one or two more rings.

And there is this: no Celtics core group has ever won just one championship. The Russell-Cousy-Heinsohn-Havlicek Celtics, famously, won 11 in 13 seasons. The Dave Cowens-led Celts won two; the Bird-McHale-Parish-Dennis Johnson crew won three. KG, Rondo and Allen are still relatively new to town, but Pierce, a Celtic for 12 seasons, has to get a second ring to cement his legacy as one of the franchise's all-time greats.

Like Bryant, longevity and sustained excellence has helped Pierce shed some of the baggage from earlier in his career, when he teamed with Antoine Walker to provide the occasional excitement in Boston, but precious few postseason victories. (Pierce also learned from a brush with death in 2000, the victim of a stabbing outside a Boston nightclub, which he was lucky to survive. We all know about Kobe's lessons learned off the court.)

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Pau Gasol was hardly a factor at times in the 2008 Finals against the Celtics.
Elsa/Getty Images

\With better teammates at his back, Pierce has morphed into something special, a finisher, the 2008 Finals MVP and the heart of this current Batch of Green. The Celtics can win when Allen doesn't score and when Rondo doesn't dish, but they don't usually win when Pierce isn't engaged in some fashion.

And so, these Finals can be as special a championship series as we've had in some time. How do the Lakers plan to flatten out or slow down Rondo, a fourth straight premier guard that Fisher has to stay in front of? (Scorecard: C- against Russell Westbrook, B+ against Deron Williams, B against Steve Nash.) What can the Celtics possibly conjure up to keep Bryant from rolling up 30 to 40 every night? How much will the officials let Kendrick Perkins get away with in the paint (and keep in mind he's one technical foul from a one-game suspension)?

How long will it be before Kobe asks (demands?) to guard Rondo, leaving Derek Fisher to chase after Allen? Who will win the KG vs. Gasol matchup? (Or, if Andrew Bynum is limited or can't play with his sore knee, the Gasol vs.Perkins rematch?) How much zone will the Celtics throw at L.A., figuring their length can negate any gaps in coverage? Can Pierce shed Ron Artest, who came on toward the end of the Phoenix series? Pierce bullied Vladmir Radmanovic (remember him?) two years ago, the weak link in the Lakers' starting unit; Trevor Ariza won a ring for L.A. last season but the Lakers got Artest just for a series like this, where the balance of power teeters on an edge the width of cardboard.

Can Rasheed Wallace match or better Lamar Odom, the X factor that no other team in the league can handle? Who among the other reserves --Tony Allen, Glen Davis and Nate Robinson for Boston; Jordan Farmar, Vujacic or Luke Walton for Los Angeles -- will be an unlikely hero?

Two years ago, Bynum didn't play.

But Rondo wasn't as dynamic as he is now.

Two years ago, Allen was sensational.

But Gasol got in the weight room and made himself stronger.

Can the Celtics hold off Father Time?

Can Kobe be denied?

Can't wait until Thursday, 9 p.m.

Dribbles

In this business, you guard against rooting. Not fair to the other team, the other team's fans, etc. You are supposed to be neutral.

Having said that, I'm rooting for Stanley Robinson.

The University of Connecticut forward is currently projected as a late first-round or early second-round selection in next month's Draft. The 6-foot-7 Robinson averaged 14 points and seven rebounds for the disappointing Huskies, but his ability to score and defend multiple frontcourt positions, combined with superior athletic ability (his 37 1/2 inch vertical jump was tied for fourth-highest at the Chicago pre-Draft camp), makes him an intriguing prospect. But that's not why I hope he makes it.

After two years of college, Robinson was at a crossroads. He wasn't doing so well in the classroom and he wasn't sure where life was taking him. So he did what a lot of students do; he took a semester off. But he didn't backpack through Europe; he got a job, working at a scrap metal factory in nearby Willimantic, Conn., for six months. He didn't do so willingly; he did so because his coach, Jim Calhoun, had suspended him for the first half of the 2008-09 season because of his immaturity as a freshman and sophomore, and told him if he wanted to get back on the team, he had to earn his way back by seeing what real work felt like.

"Coach Calhoun taught me into being a man," Robinson recalled at the pre-Draft camp.

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UConn's Stanley Robinson learned the hard way to work hard on the court, too.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

And Robinson had brought others into the fray as well. He already had two daughters -- Kamilah and Kelsi, then 3 and 1 -- who needed their father to straighten himself out if he was going to earn an NBA paycheck that could take care of them.

So, scrap metal.

"I started working with fire materials, copper and iron," Robinson, now 21, said. "It was rough, but it showed me how much I missed the game. I came back to the game and I just loved it even more ... I love the game. I mean, true enough, I had to help my kids out, but at the same time, I love the game as much, to just come back. I'm dedicated."

He made $700 a week, which came in handy for rent and food once he came back to school in December, 2008. Though he struggled getting his timing and shot back, a huge performance in the Final Four against Michigan State (15 points, 13 rebounds) had him thinking about leaving UConn early. He thought better of it, though, and returned for his senior season. He shot 52.5 percent for Connecticut last season, and his open-court ability kept him on NBA scouts' radar even as the Huskies swooned at the end of the regular season and wound up missing the NCAA tournament, losing in the second round of the NIT.

"I think I developed a lot, being more consistent," he said. "The whole time I've been there, I wasn't consistent in my game. I was averaging over 10 points, at least 12, 13 points a game, and I was proud of myself about that ... it was me. Just being less mentally focused. I got back into it, staying focused and more hungry. I think I can shoot a lot. I think I can do it all. But at the same time, I always need to make improvements."

Since the end of the season, he's been working on his handle and other aspects of his game with the likes of Oklahoma State's James Anderson -- projected as a high first-round pick -- and Cincinnati's Lance Stephenson with famed trainer Joe Abunassar, whom numerous pros from Kevin Garnett to Chauncey Billups swear by. His future is clearer, and a role in the NBA is possible if he continues to value hard work as he did in picking himself off the scrap heap.

"I love playing defense," Robinson said. "I'm long. I'm athletic. I think I can shut down the perimeter. I just do whatever it takes to win."

Top O' the World, Ma!

(Conference finals edition)

1) Boston (1-2): Orlando made it interesting, but the Celtics make their 21st trip to the Finals.

2) L.A. Lakers (2-1): Trying to win back-to-back titles for the fifth time in franchise history.

3) Orlando (2-1): J.J. Redick made himself some money in these playoffs.

4) Phoenix (1-2): You think NBA players are all about the money? Hope you peeped Nash in tears after Game 6.

5) Utah: I think the Jazz would love it if all these mock drafts are right and Greg Monroe falls to them at nine. Wouldn't hold my breath on that happening, though.

6) Cleveland: Here's a question someone posed late Friday night: Why would the Cavs fire Mike Brown if they weren't certain LeBron was coming back? Otherwise, what would be the point of firing him? If you know LeBron is leaving, a new coach isn't going to make you any better. Does someone have an alternative explanation that makes sense?

7) Atlanta: Sounds like Avery Johnson is a stride or two ahead of Dwane Casey at the moment. Hawks are trying to decide how much course correction they want from Mike Woodson -- a 180 (Johnson) or a slower turn (Casey).

8) San Antonio: If you think Tim Duncan has one or two good years left, it's hard to see a scenario where trading Tony Parker makes a lot of sense.

9) Chicago: Per the Chicago Tribune, Lakers assistant Brian Shaw is the latest prospect whose tires are being kicked by Bulls management.

10) Oklahoma City: Last year, the Thunder had trouble getting Draft prospects to come in and work out. This year, no problem.

11) Denver: Some hard questions for the Nuggets this offseason. They're over the cap, they have no Draft picks and no one knows for certain what George Karl's long-team health will be. How do they get better, in a conference where everyone else is likely to improve over the summer?

12) Portland: Assistant Monty Williams, still in the running for the Hornets' job if Tom Thibodeau winds up elsewhere, will have a head job very, very soon. The latest fruit from the Popovich Tree.

13) Dallas: Caron Butler blogged that he'll probably stay in Dallas after his contract expires ... as long as Dirk Nowitzki is still around.

14) Milwaukee: Assistant Kelvin Sampson gets the attention of the Cavaliers and Clippers as they start forming their early lists of potential head coaches.

15) Miami: D-Wade announces summit meeting in July with LeBron, Bosh and Joe Johnson. Trying to imagine Bird, Magic and Jordan getting together as free agents to discuss their moves. Can't.

16) Charlotte: Gone Fishin'.

Team of the Week

(Conference finals edition)

Lakers (2-1): Kobe was brilliant, of course, and Derek Fisher and Ron Artest made major contributions to help put Phoenix away, but give all the players and coaches credit for adjusting to the Suns' zone, which had stymied L.A. in Games 3 and 4. Instead of running their cutters all the way to the basket as they'd been doing, the Lakers exploited the "short corner" behind the zone, sneaking players like Lamar Odom to the baseline. "The triangle," an assistant coach with years of experience working the offense texted Sunday, "is an overload offense designed to play against zones, anyway." That's why I like best-of-seven series; the superior team, usually, figures out a way to win.

Team of the Weak

Slovenia: What's up between Sasha Vujacic (who was cut from the national team last summer) and fellow countryman Goran Dragic, who almost got into it twice (hereand here) during the Lakers-Suns series? Hard to imagine that Dragic and Vujacic won't be the starting backcourt for Slovenia at the World Championships in Turkey in August, so someone needs to get these two in a room and figure it out, because the Slovenians' group at the Worlds includes the United States, Croatia and rapidly-improving Iran. Hug it out, sobrat!

Nobody Asked Me, But ...

Are we 100 percent certain the 76ers are taking Evan Turner?

There are 25 days before the Draft and we are in the middle of Silly Season when it comes to rumors and the like. But a couple of pieces of intel caught my attention this week and made me wonder about the seeming certainty everyone has that Philadelphia, picking second, is locked into taking Turner.

First, a source says that less than a week before the June 24 Draft, the Sixers have tentatively scheduled a workout in Philly that will feature Kentucky center DeMarcus Cousins and Georgia Tech forward Derrick Favors, the top two big man prospects in the Draft. There would be no reason to schedule such a workout -- and certainly no reason for either Cousins or Favors to attend -- if there wasn't some kind of indication sent by the Sixers that they're seriously considering one or the other with the second pick.

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Evan Turner may not be the sure-thing pick for Philadelphia after all.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Second, new coach Doug Collins is certainly going to have major say in who is selected. General manager Ed Stefanski has survived the job review of the 76ers' terrible season with his job intact. But after hand-picking Eddie Jordan as coach -- which turned out to be a disaster -- and giving Elton Brand $80 million two summers ago, Stefanski can't have much in the way of a final say on the pick. Accordingly, another source tells me, "Chris (Doug's son and the associate head coach at Duke) is a big Derrick Favors fan. And Doug is going to hire Michael Curry as an assistant, and Michael is a big Favors fan."

Now, maybe this is all smoke, or pre-Draft nonsense, and the 76ers will make the safe pick. No one would criticize them for taking Turner, who could slide right in at shooting guard next to Jrue Holiday and solidify Philly's backcourt for the next 10 years. But taking a big isn't a crazy idea, either. Samuel Dalembert, mercifully, is in the final year of his contract, and if he isn't dealt, he certainly isn't going to be re-signed. So there's a rising need to find a starting center. Ergo, Cousins.

But a four wouldn't be a reach, either. The one thing the Sixers do have a lot of is swing players, so if they were to take Favors to play at power forward, they could move Thaddeus Young to small forward and Andre Iguodala to shooting guard. If they took Cousins, they could slide Young from three to four and Iguodala from two to three, and play either Lou Williams or Jason Kapono at the two as a stopgap. Or, if Collins can light a fire again under Brand, Brand could again be the starting four. (See below.)

If Turner were somehow to slip past Philly, it would make Minnesota, picking fourth, extremely happy. The Wolves would then be assured of either Turner or Syracuse's Wes Johnson, no matter who the Nets, picking third, select. If Minnesota doesn't take a two guard, what few fans that are left at Target Center will revolt. Or, shrug their shoulders and wait to see when Favre shows up.

... And Nobody Asked You, Either

As always, send your comments, snark and other pleasantries to daladridgetnt@gmail.com. Then, come back next week to see if you are famous.

Forget Superman; Saturn doesn't have as many rings as Mr. Russell. From David Madlock:

Is it possible that Dwight Howard (1) is not an NBA center who is a first scoring option, aka Bill Russell? Or (2) is he simply a power forward in the mold of Maurice Lucas' "enforcer-type" who simply protects his center, gets the rebounds that his center misses, and blocks shots? It appears he is Defensive Player of the Year for a reason. Maybe concentrating on his offense detracts from his dominant rebounding and defensive talents. Russell affected the game tremendously without scoring a lot. Howard appears to be the second coming of Russell and that is not a bad thing. I realize this is as much about Orlando's coaching philosophy as it is utilization of talent, but I wonder what your thoughts are on this.

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Is Dwight Howard's offense causing him to be less of a defensive force?
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Howard is a center in today's NBA, where big men want to face the basket and shoot 3-pointers as much as, if not more, they want to bang in the post. Thirty years ago, when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Moses Malone and Wes Unseld and guys like them played in the paint, Howard may have been a Lucas-like four. But with the dearth of quality pivots now, Orlando doesn't have any choice. As far as his offense detracting from his D, I don't buy it. He makes a lot of money; it's not too much to ask him to be more than a one-dimensional player.

The more popular Elton in Philly is John, not Brand. From Steve McQuarrie:

My question(s)/comment are concerning the 76ers. Apart from dealing their pick, (which I don't see happening with Turner or Wall on the board) do you see the 76ers being active in the offseason with Brand, or has his value diminished around the league so much that [coach Doug] Collins would need to play him to do the equivalent of the NBA's pump and dump? Or do you see Collins being able to put Brand on the floor in some kind of system that can accommodate him along with such active players at the wings and guards?

I think Elton is one of the main guys Doug was talking about when he said at his news conference that he had to get "the joy of the game" back into some of his players. In 2006, Brand was the leader and lynchpin of a Clippers team that made the second round of the playoffs for the first time in 30 years. But injuries (Achilles', shoulder) and mismatched style of play (whatever made anyone think Brand could flourish in the Princeton offense will remain one of life's great mysteries) have made him an expensive afterthought in Philadelphia. I think Collins can find a role for Brand that would work, if Brand comes to camp in incredible shape and can accept less force-feeding of the post.

Wait 'till he hears my rant against Australian Rules Football. From Steffen Gottwald:

Just one little remark on "Not Feeling 7)": Im not a cycling guy either-but do you REALLY think, men get muscles like in a Marvel comic by workout and seafood diet? Come on ... Have a look on bodies like the one of LeBron or D-12 (Superman!) and tell me you truly believe that there are no chemicals involved ... Id love to believe you!

If there was a history and/or culture of performance-enhancing drugs in the NBA, you might have a point, Steffen. But there is none. That's not to say NBA players don't abuse drugs -- they do -- but it's usually not steroids and/or HGH. Do I believe there could be some players using 'roids and other PEDs to get big? Sure. But that's a far cry from the world of cycling, where this guy and this guy and this guy and this guy and this guy have all been implicated in, if not sanctioned for, performance-enhancing scandals in the past five years. (To be fair, some of them have been clean for the last year or two and are racing again.)There are many who think the NBA's drug policy doesn't go far enough, but there has been at least some testing for steroids since 1999, and the league and the union have agreed to increase both the number of drug tests and the penalties for positive tests in the last 10 years.

As always, send your column critiques, draft questions and snark to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If you write it (first and last name, please), and we like it, we just might print it. You've been warned.

Playoffs MVP Watch

(May 24-30)

1) Kobe Bryant (3 games: 35 ppg, 8 rpg, 7 apg, .527 FG, .778 FT): You should keep that SI story from last week, the one about how Grant Hill had reinvented himself as a defender, and was about to take on Bryant, as an example of why magazine stories can, in just a few days, seem incredibly dated and inaccurate.

2) Rajon Rondo (3 games: 14 ppg, 3 rpg, 6.7 apg, .395 FG, .550 FT): Nagging hurts and improved play from Jameer Nelson slowed Rondo's roll a bit, but he got Boston off to yet another fast start in the clincher against Orlando Friday.

3) Pau Gasol (3 games: 15 ppg, 7 rpg, 3.3 apg, .405 FG, .789 FT): He didn't have the huge series against Phoenix that he'd had against Utah, but he still contributed a couple of huge putbacks down the stretch of Games 5 and 6, and has been waiting for a chance at revenge against Boston in the Finals for two years.

4) Paul Pierce (3 games: 27 ppg, 9 rpg, 3.7 apg, .479 FG, .879 FT): The Truth has had a sensational postseason, taking out Miami in the first round with a dagger at the buzzer of Game 3, giving up his offense to defend LeBron James in the second round and coming on like a freight train against Orlando in the conference finals, with 31 and 13 boards in the clincher. Pierce lived at the foul line the last three games with the Magic, averaging 11 free throws.

5) Steve Nash (3 games: 21.7 ppg, 4 rpg, 9.3 apg, .548 FG, .824 FT): The Nashty One did everything he could, though he did have a couple of bad turnovers at key fourth-quarter moments in Games 2 and 6. A great performance from a truly great player.

Dropped out: Kevin Garnett

By the Numbers

75 -- Estimated crowd of fans for a Thursday rally outside of Staples Center, before the Suns and Lakers played Game 5 of the Western Conference finals, in support of the Clippers' pursuit of LeBron James. It was unknown at press time how many fans had been fined by the NBA for violating the league's anti-tampering policy.

94 -- Consecutive series victories, without a loss, for NBA teams that have taken a 3-0 lead in a seven-game series, after Boston held off Orlando to win the east.

191 -- Career playoff games for Kobe Bryant, which breaks the franchise's record for postseason apperances, set by Magic Johnson.

I'm Feelin' ...

1) This man is ridiculous.

2) Loved the utter indifference both the Lakers and Celtics showed while being awarded the conference championship trophies. Look up at Staples and TD Garden. They don't hang conference championship banners there.

3) Doc Rivers is getting a lot of credit for predicting Nate Robinson would help the Celtics win a playoff game, but it was Danny Ainge that kept pushing to acquire Robinson from the Knicks, fearing that his bench wasn't quite up to postseason snuff. A pretty good call from the GM, as well as not trading Ray Allen to Washington for Caron Butler at the trade deadline.

4) Good moves by the Kings in bringing in Bill Walton and Jim Gray to do a handful of games next season. Co-owner Joe Maloof texted Saturday, "we wanted to enhance our broadcasts, so we hired them." I wonder if it could help the Kings, who have been at the bottom of the pack for years in local broadcast rights, get a little more scratch for their telecasts.

Not Feelin' ...

1) Easy to sit on my couch and criticize, but I thought Alvin Gentry left Steve Nash and Grant Hill out too long in the fourth quarter of Game 6.

2) Vince: 36 percent from the floor, 21 percent from three, 13.7 scoring average against the Celtics. Perhaps a double reunion of unhappy cities with their unhappy players is in order? Probably not.

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Vince Carter's showing in the East finals was hardly memorable.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

3) I know the guy that wrote this. He's covered politics for the last 15 years. A lot of people who cover politics think they can cover sports. I think I can cover politics. Why won't someone let me write an op-ed about Elena Kagan?

4) I like the Wages of Wins guys; they do strong work and can make compelling arguments. But in this case we will have to agree to disagree. Numbers in a vacuum, without any context (the Wizards, coming off of their disastrous, star-player-is-indicted season, cannot afford to take any kind of gamble with the first pick) are as meaningless as "gut feelings" without any empirical data.

5) I thought NFL players were the biggest, toughest, baddest athletes around. So why are there so many collective panties in a twist about the Super Bowl being played in the new Giants/Jets stadium in New Jersey in 2014? If the owners and big rollers are so effete that they can't sit outside in 30 degree weather to watch the championship of pro football, may I suggest they give their tickets to real fans who are used to watching games out in the elements?

6) Sad to hear about Gary Coleman. Being a child actor does not seem to turn out well for many of them.

7) We are all going to be coated in oil by the end of the year. Pass the sand.

8) Don't know if it does them any good, but venting is certainly understandable in their case (alert: some of the words in the story are not for the kiddies).

9) This is a great, great read about the continuing struggles and hardships former player Manute Bol endures to help the impoverished in his native Sudan, and how all of us in the basketball world should be ashamed of ourselves.

10) Someone, either in your family, your neighborhood, or your church, isn't with us today because they gave their lives in service to our country. Take a few seconds to remember that person, or those people, on this Memorial Day.

Tweet of the Week

Do you guys wanna see me & Barkley play one on one? If he loses he has to cook for Shaq, Mutumbo & Larry Brown. WHEN I WIN...I go on TNT.
-- Former Knicks and Bulls forward Charles Oakley (@CharlesOakley34), Tuesday, 11:10 p.m., challenging the Chuckster to a game that I would pay cold hard U.S. currency to see, just for the cussing alone.

They Said It

"It is so unsettling to work so hard at rebuilding the trust of the Grizzlies' organization, my teammates and my family only to have my image tarnished by someone else's questionable behavior."
-- Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph, responding to accusations in an affidavit filed in Indianapolis last week that he wasa "financier" of drug dealers and provided marijuana to others. A 32-year-old friend of Randolph's was arrested last week driving an SUV owned by Randolph; police say they found 90 grams of marijuana in the car. But police also said that despite the affidavit, Randolph was not an active subject of their investigation.

"It's very similar to college. Once you get it out of your system, everything's OK. It's like a Friday night, you know, frat party."
-- Suns coach Alvin Gentry, describing how he felt better after he threw up while sitting on the bench during the first half Game 5 of the Lakers series. Gentry got ill after eating grilled artichoke earlier in the day; after getting sick he received an IV at halftime.

"My Celtics are in the finals! And by 'my Celtics,' I mean my 2nd cousins. They're all in the final stage of liver cirrhosis."
-- Conan O'Brien, my Turner cousin, making with the funny.

Longtime NBA reporter and columnist David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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