NBA

Dirk Nowitzki Wrote His Name into the Record Books as “Champion”

If you want to be considered one of the game’s best performers, a championship ring is a necessity. Charles Barkley is one of the greatest NBA power forwards in history, but he does not have a championship wrapped around his finger. The same can be said about Patrick Ewing or Steve Nash.

Once upon a time, Dirk Nowitzi was among those names. Soon enough, Nowitzki will be sized up for his precious jewel. In doing so, he eludes any controversy about his status as one of the greatest in history.

Once the Dallas Mavericks won the title over the Miami Heat, his name was being inscribed in the NBA hall-of-fame.

Nowitzki has showcased his talents for years, but with limited success. The Dallas Mavericks knocked on the championship door once before in his career. However, Shaquille O’Neal and a young Dwayne Wade made up the German’s fierce competition.

Obviously, the big gap in the middle with Shaq no longer in Miami, and the new Heat wave of players included the so-called “King” LeBron James, Chris Bosh and a host of other bench players could not stop Dirk and the Mavericks.

In the end, it is pretty difficult to shutdown a seven-footer who can either take the ball to the basket with his size, or display his touch by hitting nothing but net from long distance.

If you try to get a hand in his face, Nowtizki will still find a way to score. The defender didn’t matter one bit. Whether it was Bosh, or even James, Nowitzki won the battle. Well, at least he did in this year’s NBA Finals, and that is all that counts.

From now on, he is Dirk Nowitzki, World Champion.

Published June 14, 2011 

“Kris Francis On Sports”

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Dwight Howard, It’s Time to Take Your Talents to Los Angeles

The National Basketball Association has transformed into a league built on the next move. Each year, the next star wants to “take his talents to” the next big city.

LeBron James made a personal documentary for all to see on how not to handle a “decision” of that magnitude. Since then, big stars have bolted from smaller market for the big city in near silence.

Yet, the Orlando Magic’Dwight Howardwill be a free agent in well over a year, but the rumors have already begun.

Being a physical, overpowering Orlando Magic center, the comparison to the early days of Shaquille O’Neal is evident.

Comparisons are natural in sports, but Dwight Howard and Shaq might be compared for years to come. Both of their offensive and defensive games are near replicas.

Unfortunately, their free throw shooting are mirror images of each other. Even down to the similarity of their next team: the Los Angeles Lakers

Shaq left Orlando for the bright lights of L.A. and went on to win three titles for the Lakers.

Dwight Howard has reached the finals already, just like Shaq did early in his career with Orlando, only to lose series to a Western Conference foe.

As this season unfolded, it was clear that Howard needed more help to win a title. The playoffs came and went in a flash for the Magic, and Orlando won just a single game.

To win a title, Howard has to leave Orlando, just like Shaq.

The perfect fit would be the Lakers.

As Kobe Bryant is advancing into the twilight of his career, a capable sidekick is necessary to compete for elite status.

Although the Lakers have won two straight championships with Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom as big men inside, this year’s playoff run for the Lake Show has shed a different light on the trio.

Most notably, Gasol has played in horrid form throughout the playoffs. And that is not stretching the facts.

Tough, physical and overpowering are antonyms for Gasol. His in-game intensity has been laughable, or stomach twisting, depending on which team you are rooting for.

Andrew Bynum, on the other hand, has shown his physicality in the paint for the Lakers. Since the playoffs began, Bynum has registered a double-double in each performance.

Those stats used to accompany Gasol, but his days in L.A. might be numbered.

As the clock wound down at the Staples Center this week, boos rained down from the rafters, as well as the high priced celebrity seats. No one is happy with the Lakers performance in the playoffs this season.

If the fans are dissatisfied, you can bet the general manger and owner are looking for answers. The Lakers have responded, rebuilt and rebounded before.

Unfortunately, Dwight Howard or any other player will not help the Lakers immediately in this year’s playoffs, but that day may come soon enough.

Published on May 8, 2011

“Kris Francis On Sports”

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L.A. Lakers: Where Did the 2-Time Defending Champion Lakers Go?

The Los Angeles Lakers are a foreign entity right now. As the series is firmly in the grasp of the Dallas Mavericks at 3-0, “The Lake Show” is about to go on hiatus.

Each player wearing purple and gold appears indistinct. Even Phil Jackson doesn’t look the part.

Who would think that the Mavericks would be so affective with the likes of J.J. Barea, Peja Stojakovic, and Jason Terry?

Certainly, most Laker fans would expect Kobe Bryant  to outscore that trio on any given night.

However, in a crucial game three to save the series, Bryant scores 17 points on 16 attempts. A performance that screams impersonator!

The Lakers do not look like themselves. It was clear after the game two debacle in Los Angeles.

The media went searching for the problem. Lakers center, Andrew Bynum, believed the losses were “trust issues”. He was right.

During the game two loss at home, the fans at Staples Center were in disbelief. The crowd had no trust in their beloved Lakers.

The confidence left the building, along with the Lakers’ game.

Dallas was supposed to be the city where they regained their form, but it was not meant to be.

Even with Bynum’s 21-point and 10 rebound performance, it was not enough. The Lakers needed something special.

Instead, Pau Gasol continued to struggle through referee complaints, fumbled rebounds and another elementary shooting performance.

It certainly doesn’t help that Gasol’s shooting woes have harmed his defensive skills, too. After time, a coach can only take so much.

And Phil Jackson even tapped into his gritty, former-player mentality for inspiration with Gasol. Yet that failed to hit home with Gasol and the Lakers.

None of these descriptions are fit for a two-time defending champion. However, no one pictured the Lakers losing the first three games of this series, or any series.

But the Mavericks Dirk Nowitzki has been a perennial threat for years. This just happens to be the Lakers and Mavericks first meeting during the Kobe-Dirk era.

Right now, Nowitzki and the Mavericks are hungry for a championship, and their play exudes that sentiment. Dallas wants what the Lakers have.

At this point, Kobe, Phil and the Lakers are allowing the Mavericks to take their crown with little resistance.

Perhaps the three-year stretch of reaching the championship series has added miles to the Lakers’ aging ride. An excuse like that would fit, but not for a player like Kobe Bryant.

Bryant said, “Call me crazy, but I still think we can win.” Maybe he is right, but it’s tough to believe him, not only because no team has ever comeback from a three-game hole, but because Kobe has not shown that typical “Black Mamba magic”.

J.J. Barea should never outscore Kobe in the final quarter of any game, unless Bryant did not play. However, Kobe left fans in shock, only to play out that scenario.

Laker fans were shocked, and are still in disbelief.

This could be the end of the Lakers run.

Everyone across the media outlets has said, “The series is over.”

Most would tend to agree, even in Los Angeles. With minimal enthusiasm and fight from the Lakers, the argument for the contrary falls on deaf ears.

Even with Kobe, Phil, the lackluster Gasol, the ejected and suspended Ron Artest, as well as the cast of others cannot complete this Hollywood scripted, fairy tale comeback.

It might be time to read the Lakers last rights, but with games still to be played, anything can happen. It is only four straight victories, right?

Are you willing to put your trust into the Lakers?

Published on May 7, 2011

“Kris Francis On Sports”

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The Heat Wipe Their Tears against the Lakers, but Who Will Weep in the End?

Last summer, the Miami Heat “rolled-out” to a rock concert-type atmosphere, with a huge stage, smoke machines, the whole nine yards. Now, in March, not even eight months after the Heat formed their version of the “Big Three,” everyone from coast-to-coast is questioning the validity of the Heat.

And nobody likes a cry baby. From what Erik Spoelstra said following Miami’s fourth straight loss this week, a few of the guys in the locker room were “crying.”

Who cries after a regular season game? Honestly, it could not have been a deep bench player. Simply put, they do not have enough invested in the game emotionally to all out bawl.

After all, none of us said the Miami Heat was going to win upwards of seven NBA championships with this new squad. Even the common fans expected the Heat to bawl.

Now all the talk is about the Heat “bawling.” At this rate, Miami, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh need to focus first on winning one title—not multiple.

The Heat showcased against the two-time defending world champion Los Angeles Lakers. Although Miami carried a five-game losing streak into the contest, Wade guided the Heat to its second victory over the Lakers this year.

Remember back on Christmas, the entire Lakers team and coaching staff voiced their displeasure for, once again, playing as the featured game. Many wrote that game off as a half-hearted effort by the Lake Show, and it was.

However, last night felt like a playoff game. Perhaps the Heat desperately needed to taste victory. Dwayne Wade sure acted like he needed that win, and he did.

Chris Bosh openly criticized his shot selection and offensive statistics. The Lakers allowed Bosh to score 19 points in the first half. That alone is a story.

But of course, we can’t forget “King James.”

Wade played well and finished, because he had a playmaking facilitator in James. James is at his best when he penetrates and sets up shots for teammates. Just look at his assist numbers last night.

Miami is a better product on the court when Wade is featured, LeBron sets up “Flash” and when Bosh is showing some resemblance of physicality in the low post.

All three of those styles were featured against the Lakers.

Maybe the Heat was trying to make a statement by beating the Lakers, again. On the other hand, it had to be a goal to defeat a winning team.

In the end, the only winning teams will be playing for the golden ball when it matters most.

And you better believe the Lakers will be looking forward to a rematch under those circumstances.

Published on March 11, 2011

“Kris Francis On Sports”

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The New York Knicks, finally, got their man: Carmelo Anthony

The NBA’s trade saga dubbed, “Melo Drama” has come to an end. After the free agency tour landed Amar’e Stoudemire in the Big Apple with the Knicks this past summer, another piece of the championship puzzle is now in place.

With Carmelo Anthony’s move to the New York Knicks, former Laker great Magic Johnson weighed in on the transaction saying, “Congratulations NY, you just won a championship title in two years.”

Although Magic –a man who knows an awful lot about championship rings– might have declared a championship before Carmelo even put on his No. 7 Knicks’ jersey, in all aspects, this trade is a win-win situation for all parties involved.

Maybe this trade will not pan out this season for the New York Knicks, but no one doubts the Knickerbockers’ validity in the coming seasons. With Anthony and Stoudemire, the Knicks have a duo to compete with other beasts of the east, almost instantly.

For the Denver Nuggets, the forecast for the near future looks gloomy, at best. Since Carmelo Anthony arrived in Denver, the Nuggets have been a mainstay in the western conference playoffs. In 2008-09, Carmelo rallied the troops in Denver, to nearly pull off an upset of the then soon-to-be world champion Los Angeles Lakers.

Those days are a distant memory, and are only growing further away, each day. But, the days of “Will Melo stay, or will Melo go?” are over.  The focus is now on the future.

Unfortunately, it is a future without, arguably, the best player in franchise history.

Denver’s impending look now includes the young talents of Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Danilo Galinari, and Timofey Mozgov. All those names, I’m sure are household names in your book, with emphasis on the great Timofey Mozgov, who most recently, turned out to be just another prop for slam dunk champion Blake Griffin.

So, the forthcoming squad doesn’t look entirely murky for Nuggets’ fans. At least, fans in attendance will be treated to high-class slam dunk entertainment on a nightly basis. Plus, George Carl and the Nuggets coaching staff acquired three first round picks to utilize in future drafts. Any coach will tell you, “A rebuilding process is a dream come true.”

As for the New York Knicks, the player to compliment Amar’e has arrived. There will be a time period for getting acclimated with each other, and subsequent new roster members. However, that time is not the preseason.

Earlier this season, the Miami Heat had the luxury of finding the right combination for success in the preseason and the early weeks of the NBA season. With that being said, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh’s Miami Heat squad, still, started the year with a 9-8 record.

The Knicks do not have that same wiggle room with the season, again, underway following the all-star break. In fact, with the Knicks sitting in the sixth position in the eastern conference, chemistry will be key to maintaining their standing.

Carmelo and Amar’e will undoubtedly increase the number of wins, but this deal was made to bring a championship back to New York. Maybe not this season, but just like all good things, it takes time.

Championship talk excites a success-driven fan base, but don’t get ahead of yourself. The Knicks lost a key chunk of their supplemental role players while acquiring Anthony. Albeit, the Knicks record was not impressive at 28-26, but Mike D’Antoni’s young players were continuing to fight. The MSG crowd responded to their play, and began to take over the arena, once again.

Now, a new group of players will have to show the New Yorkers, what they’re made of with their performances on the court. In the Big Apple, that is easier said, than done. In the case of Carmelo Anthony, the former Syracuse Orange superstar, is now coming home, and has openly declared his love to be in NYC. The fans already adore Anthony; his performances can only increase the fans’ love.

Along with Carmelo Anthony, a key piece to the trade that many pundits have neglected is Chauncey Billups. Let’s make this clear, he is not a throw-in, or a bench warmer for the Knicks. Billups is a perennial all-star selection, and still a consistent performer in the NBA.

At this moment, D’Antoni will use Billups as the facilitator and point guard of the Knicks high-octane offense. Billups could very well be the glue that brings the Knicks blockbuster trade and free agency moves together.

Who thought that would be the case last summer when Amar’e signed with the Knicks?

Carmelo Anthony is a completely different story. At the beginning of the season, rumors were swirling around about a trade to the Knicks. Most expected the deal would eventually get finalized. Now, most hope, and trust Anthony to produce at a dynamic level.

After averaging 25 points a game in Denver, and exceeding 30 points frequently as a trade talks escalated, those numbers will be expected each performance on Broadway. Anthony is now in the same conversation with Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant, if he wasn’t already considered an elite level player in your book.

And after previously playing with Stoudemire on the USA basketball team in past summer tournaments, the duo will look to rekindle past glory, and medal winning success.

Carmelo and Amar’e’s first step towards a championship title –like Magic said– will come tonight against the Milwaukee Bucks. In Melo’s last game with the Nuggets, he scored 30 points on the Bucks. The Garden will be rocking tonight, even with the lowly Bucks in town.

Tonight will be the first impression for Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks’ fan base. Some say, “first impressions last a lifetime”. Although, Melo will be looking to show New York what he is capable of tonight –in a virtually meaningless regular season game– the ultimate judgment of character in the Big Apple comes with winning titles.

Fans in any city adore winning, even Denver. New York City is a completely separate entity for Carmelo Anthony. It will be very interesting to see how the “Melo Drama” unfolds with the Knicks for the coming years, not just tonight, and this season.

Last summer, Amar’e Stoudemire said, “The Knicks are back.” Now, with Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups arriving this week, Amar’e replied, “Now, the Knicks are really back!”

This trade was made to bring a championship back to New York City.  With Carmelo and Amar’e teaming up, that goal seems far more reasonable today.

Published on February 23, 2011

“Kris Francis On Sports”

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It’s The All-Star Break, Are the Lakers Still The Favorites to Three-peat?

As the Los Angeles Lakers prepare to unveil a statue of former Laker great Jerry West, the acclaim might be subdued. After all, the Lakers will be returning to L.A. following a seven-game road trip, complete with three-straight losses to Orlando, Charlotte, and oddly enough, the woeful Cleveland Cavaliers.

After beating the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks on back-to-back nights, the “Lake Show” appeared to cruise into the All-Star break riding high. Yet, Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic limited L.A. to only 75 points to begin a string of defeats.

If that performance did not call for a warning, losing to Charlotte, and Cleveland—a team the Lakers beat 112-57 a month ago—left Laker fans scratching their head.

The last three games were alarming, to say the least. But once again, it is the All-Star break. This Lakers team is not comprised of spring chickens. Perhaps, a break is what the doctor ordered.

All the Lakers need to worry about is playoff position. Defending their two-time NBA crown does not take place in the winter or spring.  A team can’t win a championship or lose a championship at this point of the season, unless the losses continue to pile up. However, That seems moot with Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson calling the shots.

Even with a dreadful finish to the first half of the season, the Lakers are in second place in the western conference behind the San Antonio Spurs. Finding a way to steal home-court from the Spurs would be ideal, but not a safe bet.

The Lakers dropped their last game at the Staples Center to the Spurs by one, and lost by 15 earlier this year in San Antonio.

But can the Lakers turn on the switch, when it matters most?

When these concerns and question marks occurred the past two years, panic sparked. In the end, each individual player stepped up when needed and called upon.

When Andrew Bynum needed to be healthy and perform, he did exactly that. When clutch shots at crucial segments during the playoffs were necessary, Derek Fisher was the man with the touch.

The list goes on, and on, even down to names like Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic. Both players had integral roles during the past two-playoff runs. Nobody is sure how Matt Barnes, Steve Blake, and Theo Ratliff will perform down the stretch in similar situations.

Although, desperate times call for desperate measures, the Lakers have not reached that stage yet. Talks of Carmelo Anthony coming to “La La Land” are absurd. A move like that would drop a bomb on what Los Angeles accomplished in recent memory with this core group of guys.

If there is an effort to improve this team, it should be done within, not by bringing in a completely foreign entity. The time and effort it would take to build a new comfort level with Kobe and ‘Melo with the other Laker stars would be counterproductive.

Certainly, this roster is currently capable of contending with the other beasts of the league. The Lakers just proved that against Boston last weekend.

There is no need to press the panic button, yet. Kobe is still Kobe. Pau Gasol is still averaging a double double. While, Lamar Odom is filling in the blanks on both ends of the court. Now, if only Ron Artest can manage to score more than one point a night, and couple that with tough Queens, NY defense, the Lakers will be just fine.

Maybe the Lakers are a team that “flips the switch” when the games really and truly count, but those results vary. The Boston Celtics have attempted a similar feat the past two seasons, but came out on the losing end.

The panic button has not been pressed yet, but the Lakers might need to flip the switch soon, to solidify their position in the west, attempt to secure home court, and if nothing else, build confidence for a third-straight title run.

Right now, confidence is scarce. This All-Star break might be the best thing for the Lakers. With a few days off to think about their dreadful performances to end the first half of the season, this will only make Kobe and the Lakers that much hungrier.

If it doesn’t, then someone “flip the switch”

Published on February 17, 2011

“Kris Francis On Sports” 

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Has the Public Anointed LeBron James a “King” While He’s Still a Prince?

I know LeBron James has a catchy nickname, “King James,” and now ESPN is running a segment called “Courting the King,” following a city-by-city breakdown of his potential courtship in free agency.

But what exactly makes LeBron James a “king?”

In the state of Ohio, and especially in the surrounding areas of Cleveland and Akron, James is a king due to his stature as a quality homegrown talent of heroic proportions. In high school, James soared above the rest, not only in size, stature, and talent, but also in terms of rings to go with his Ohio household alias, “King James.”

High school championships are one thing, but an NBA championship is a totally different story. Unfortunately for James, he has not won a ring in the league yet, and that story is still yet to be written. With that being said, after seven seasons playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers, he has only achieved personal success on and off the court and generated revenue for himself and the Cavaliers.

The King has not conquered the mountaintop thus far, and during the 2010 playoffs, his attitude and demeanor with his teammates for pregame antics seemed distracting to him and others. James then took his on-court persona to another level with his distinctive displeasure and disregard toward the coaching staff during timeouts.

All of these were actions of someone who already had his foot out the door, not of a “king” or champion.

NBA Most Valuable Player awards and All-Star teams are nice to add to a stat sheet, but the ultimate goal in competitive sports is to win a championship. And for LeBron, a single championship will not be anywhere close to the all-time great players he’s constantly compared to: Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Earvin “Magic” Johnson.

LeBron is not even in the ballpark yet.

Sure, James is a great specimen on the basketball court, but compared to other free agents, Dwyane Wade should be the most highly sought-after free agent due to a couple of factors: an NBA championship ring in 2006, as well as being named NBA Finals MVP that same year—two characteristics that “King James” cannot claim to his name.

Sure, having a lucrative Nike shoe contract is a considerable achievement for anyone who is 25 years old, but money and fame should not be James’ driving force in his basketball career. Moreover, at this moment, when a possible new chapter in both his life and his playing career are about to commence, the last thing James should be considering is the biggest paycheck or marketability.

Money and fame can lead to happiness in life. However, in a life that’s driven through the sport of basketball, championships are a must. To be marked down in the history books as the greatest of all time, or “The Chosen One,” as LeBron has tattooed on his back, rings on your hand and championship banners in the city you played for are the ultimate goals.

To add malice to that statement, just take a look at the great Bill Russell and Michael Jordan. Russell has the NBA Finals MVP trophy named in his honor, and Jordan has a statue outside of Chicago’s United Center. Thus far, LeBron James has his own shoe deal, while Russell and Jordan have 17 NBA championships combined.

James’ career to this point is unfinished, and at the young age of 25, he still has an abundance of writing left to do in this book of a king. The question is: Have we anointed a man a “king” while he’s still a prince?

Published on June 25, 2010

“Kris Francis On Sports”

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