Wednesday, March 9, 2016

J-Speaks: The Conclusion Of A Lifetime For A Game Changing Signal Caller

This past Monday afternoon, one of the greatest to ever play the quarterback position in the National Football League (NFL) said goodbye after 18 unforgettable seasons. In those 18 years, he not only changed the way signal callers at the professional level, but how they prepared and how much worked was necessary to put in to become one of the greatest in the game of professional football. He set records on the field; was a great ambassador for it off the field; brought personality to his endeavors in terms of commercials, but more than anything he respected the game at a level that earned the admiration of players, past and present, fans, the media and the teams of the two cities that he played for as well as other professional athletes. His retirement press conference was one for the ages where he covered the start of his football journey to its conclusion that saw him walk off with the ultimate prize.
No. 18 Peyton Manning, son of Olivia and NFL legendary QB Archie Manning, the second of three siblings Cooper and New York Football Giants signal caller Eli Manning is saying goodbye to a 18-year career in the NFL with the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos that saw him rewrite the record books and the rare feet of walking away a champion after leading the Broncos to their third Super Bowl in franchise history last February when the Broncos, behind their great defense won Super Bowl 50 21-10 over the NFC champion Carolina Panthers, improving his career playoff record to 14-13. Those 27 appearances in the postseason are the most by a starting in NFL history
“I revere football. I love the game,” Manning said in his retirement press conference at the Broncos Headquarters of UC Health Training Center in Inglewood, CO on Monday afternoon. “So you don’t have to wonder if I’ll miss it. Absolutely, absolutely I will.”
He became only just the second quarterback in NFL history to call it a career after winning a Super Bowl ring. The first was his boss in Broncos general manager John Elway, who signed him to the Broncos after he was cut by the Colts, who drafted Manning No. 1 overall back in 1998 out of the University of Tennessee. Not only did Manning led the Broncos to their first Super Bowl victory since Elway led them to back-to-back titles back in 1997 and 1998 seasons, but along the way he finished second to Elway in team history in completions (1,443); passing yards (17,112) and passing touchdowns (140). Manning finished first in completion percentage in Broncos history at 66.5 percent.
The career resume of Manning is one of the greatest in NFL history. The future first ballot Hall of Famer finished with the most wins by a QB in NFL history with 200, 186 of those coming in the regular, which tied Green Bay Packers great Brett Favre. Manning is the all-time leader in touchdown passes (539), passing yards (71,940) and 4,000-yard passing seasons (14). He won five Most Valuable Player Awards (2003-04, 2008-09, 2013), most in NFL history; was a 14-time Pro Bowl selection; 7-time First Team All-Pro selection and engineered 54 game-winning drives in his career. In his postseason career, Manning threw 40 touchdowns passes, which is 4th all-time and just 25 interceptions. In the 2013 season, Manning set the single-season record with 55 touchdown passes and 5,477 passing yards.
Manning, who will turn 40 years old on Mar. 24 is the only quarterback ever to win a Super Bowl with two different head coaches in Broncos head man Gary Kubiak and Tony Dungy, when the Colts beat the NFC champion Chicago Bears 29-17 in Super Bowl XLI in Miami back in 2007. He is also the only QB to reach Super Sunday under the guidance of four different head coaches. The aforementioned Dungy and Kubiak, current head man of the Detroit Lions Jim Caldwell and former Broncos head coach and current leader of the Chicago Bears John Fox.
“When you look at everything Peyton has accomplished as a player and person, it’s easy to see how fortunate we’ve been to have him on our team,” Elway said back on Sunday.
“Peyton was everything that we though he was and even more – not only for the football team, but in the community. There’s no question that his work ethic is what made him into one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.”
“We are forever grateful for Peyton’s unmatched contributions to the game and know that his success will continue in the next phase of his life,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement this past Monday.
The NFL journey for Manning began in Game 1 of the 1998 season against the Miami Dolphins with his first completion to Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk and the first touchdown pass of his career went to a guy he would complete many passes in his Colts career to in future Hall of Fame wide receiver Marvin Harrison, who will be inducted this August.
The opposing QB in that contest was Hall of Famer and Manning’s second favorite player after his aforementioned father Archie Dan Marino.
Later, Manning said he complete a pass to tight end Marcus Pollard down the middle of RCA Dome Field and he took a major hit after the throw.
“After I got up, I told myself, ‘I know I can play in this league,” Manning said.
The Colts went just 3-13 in Manning’s first season under center. One of the team’s the Colts faced that season was at the Baltimore Ravens in Baltimore. It was the Colts first visit to the place they used to call home since they moved to the Midwest back in 1984. The Colts lost the game 38-31.
“We didn’t exactly get a warm reception that day. The fans were screaming at me and I kept thinking, ‘Hey. I was only eight years old then. Get off my back,” Manning said.
At the end of the game, Manning met and shook the hand of the late great Colts QB and a name synonymous with professional football in Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas and he told the young Manning to stay at it and that he was pulling for him to do well. Manning did stay with it, for 18 glorious years, which produced 45 fourth-quarter come from behind victories.
“I hope No. 19 is up there with his flat top and maybe his black high tops on and I hope he knows that I have stayed at it and maybe he’s even a little proud of me,” Manning said. “There’s just something about 18 years. Eighteen is a good number. Today I retire from pro football.”
Manning in his speech thanked the people from where his life journey began, New Orleans, LA, where his father played 12 of his 14 NFL seasons as the signal caller for the New Orleans Saints. He also had brief stints with the then Houston Oilers and Minnesota Vikings.
“New Orleans is my hometown and off course they support their own team, the Saints,” Manning said of the place where he group up and of the team who beat him and the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV 31-17 in Miami, FL. “But they also support their own and that city and state have backed me from the start.”
Nearly 19 years ago to the day, Manning announced that he was going to remain at the University of Tennessee for his senior season. He called it one of the smartest decision that he ever made and that he cherished his time in Knoxville, TN, in particular his last year.
Manning expressed to Volunteer nation of the very special role that the school played in the life of the future Hall of Famer.
He then thanked the Colts organization and every fan that rooted for him across the U.S.
“You can’t fathom how much I enjoyed my 14 years there or the warmth that my family feels for you,” Manning said. “I’d be wrong not to mention Jim Irsay [Colts owner], Bill Polian [former Colts GM and Team President from 1998-2011 and Hall of Famer]. Some great coaches, support staff and a host of wonderful Colts teammates, many of whom will be lifelong friends.”
When Manning was drafted No. 1 overall by the Colts 18 years ago, they started at the bottom of the barrel, but slowly but surely turn Indianapolis from a basketball and car racing town into as Manning said on Monday afternoon, “football evangelist.”
In that aforementioned rookie season of 1998, Manning set the rookie record with 28 interceptions, which still stands today. Manning said each year he pulls for a rookie to break that record from the likes of Andrew Luck of the Colts, the man that essentially replaced him four years back. Matthew Stafford, Eli and Cam Newton.
“I still kid Eli that that he’d would’ve broken it if he’d started all 16 games,” Manning said of his younger brother, who was also drafted No. 1 overall in 2004 out of Ole Miss by the San Diego Chargers, but was traded to the Giants.
Manning said that the team’s struggles in his rookie season were agonizing. His grandfather would call him weekly to ask when his favorite announcers in legendary play-by-play man for FOX Sports Pat Summerall and his partner in the booth John Madden would be broadcasting one of his grandson’s games.
Manning during one phone call said to the gentleman he calls “Papa” that the team is only 2-8 at that time and that the Colt’s next opponent was the 3-7 Cincinnati Bengals and that Madden and Summerall do not broadcast those kinds of games. Fast forward to Manning’s second season, where the Colts finished 13-3, the Colts hosted the Dallas Cowboys and the eventual Hall of Fame “Triplets” of quarterback Troy Aikman, running back Emmitt Smith and wideout Michael Irvin and Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders in Week 8 of the 1999 season.
Manning called to tell his grandfather the good news that Madden and Summerall would be broadcasting the game and Manning’s Papa said, “I can’t believe it.
Manning said that his grandfather was elated and proud and he led Colts to a 34-24 win that week, sending a signal that Colts had arrived.
It got better from there as the Colts made the playoffs in 11 of the next 12 seasons. The team won at least 12 games for seven consecutive seasons. One of those seasons of winning at least 12 games concluded with a victory in the aforementioned Super Bowl XLI back in 2006. Manning won Super Bowl MVP.
Fast forward five years, Manning had another neck surgery that cost him the 2011 season and the Colts finished 2-14. It was only just the second season in which the Colts did win at least 10 games.
With the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 draft in their hands and a $28 million roster bonus due to Manning, the Colts made the tough decision to say goodbye to their great signal caller on Mar. 7, 2012 and they drafted Luck out of Stanford that April with that No. 1 overall pick.
Nearly two weeks later, Manning signed with the Broncos for five years and $96 million. Although the No. 18 was retired by the Broncos in honor of former Heisman Trophy winning, the late great Frank Tripucka, he gave Manning permission to where it.
In four years as the Broncos signal caller, Manning not only proved that he had plenty left in the tank as evidenced by the numbers mentioned earlier in his Broncos career, he helped them win the American Football Conference (AFC) West Division four straight seasons and was a part of their third Super Bowl victory in franchise history back as mentioned this past February.
“There’s a saying that goes, ‘Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he could be and he will become what he should be. When I visited Denver four years ago, if John Elway had sat me down and said, ‘Peyton. Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to win over 50 games. Win four straight division championships. Lose only three division games in four years and none would be on the road. We’ll beat the Patriots in two championship games. You’re going to win NFL Comeback Player of the Year. Another MVP. Your offense will set single-season passing records. You’ll break a couple of all-time records and we’ll go to a couple of Super Bowls. I think I would’ve taken that deal,” Manning said.
Most people in life, let alone pro sports get a second chance. Manning got that second chance from Broncos’ owner Pat Bowlen, Chairman and CEO Joe Ellis and said that he was truly “grateful” for that second chance.
He also thanked his teammates as he said for what they did for, “this old quarterback.” 
He also thanked the head coaches that he had in his career in Jim Mora, Tony Dungy, Jim Caldwell, John Fox and Kubiak that not only made Manning one of the greatest at his craft, but even a better human being.  
Manning also gave thanks to the representation that he has had for nearly 20 years in Tom Condon who he said represented him with class at every step and will always be a great friend.
While his football families in Indianapolis and Denver have been an important part of Manning’s success, he made sure to express his thanks and gratitude to his true family. His aforementioned parents Olivia and Archie, his aforementioned brothers Cooper and Eli and his wife of 15 years Ashley and their five-year-old twins, son Marshal Williams and daughter Mosley Thompson.
Manning told the story that a week before Super Bowl 50, Mosley asked her father that if this is the last game. Manning replied that this is the last game of the season.
Mosley said to her father, “I sure want you to win that trophy.”
Manning replied, “I do to Mosley. And that’s what were gonna try to do.”
Manning’s daughter then asked if this is the last game ever?
Manning said that is when he shook his head in amazement because he was thinking that ESPN’s NFL Insider’s Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter had gotten to his five-year-old daughter to cultivate a news source. It got a rise out of the reporters.
When any pro athlete retires, the question that comes up more than anything else is what will they miss about the sport they played or a great one like Manning dominated?
He said that what he will miss about the game that he “revered,” a steak dinner at St. Elmo Steak House in Indianapolis after a win. Battles with some of the greatest defensive players that ever played the game who will be in the Hall of Fame safety John Lynch, Brian Dawkins, Troy Polamalu, Rodney Harrison, Rod Woodson and Ed Reed; linebackers Ray Lewis, London Fletcher, Tedy Bruschi and the late great Junior Seau.
Many of those players and many others, including his teammates took to twitter to express their feelings about Manning’s retirement.
Former Bears future Hall of Fame linebacker Brian Urlacher @BUrlacher54 said, “Congrats Peyton it was an honor to play against you. Enjoy the next chapter of your life #goat #sbchamp #manning
Two time NFL Defensive Player of the Year in Texans’ defensive lineman @JJ Watt said, “It was an honor and a privilege Peyton,” #FarewellSheriff.
Former Broncos tight end, who now plays for the Jacksonville Jaguars Julius Thomas @Julius_Thomas said, “Too much respect for my guy!”  
Manning said he will also miss the mind games against some of the greatest defensive coaches like Jeff Fisher, Rex and Rob Ryan, Bill Belichick, Monty Kiffin, Wade Phillips, the Broncos current Defensive Coordinator; Ron Rivera, Dick LeBeau, Dom Capers, Marvin Lewis and the late Jim Johnson.
Phillips @sonofbum said, “Wonderful tributes to Peyton—as they should be—the amazing thing is that some of his records will never be broken.”
Broncos’ safety T.J. Ward @BossWard43 said, “Congrats to P. Manning on your retirement. It has been an honor to play with you the past two seasons. #GOAT #PMONEY.
Manning said he will miss figuring out blitz schemes with his longtime center with the Colts Jeff Saturday; perfecting a fake handoff with his running back in his time with the Colts Edgerrin James; how Broncos’ wide receiver Demaryius Thomas telling told him that he loved him and thanking him for coming to Denver after every touchdown he threw to him; putting in a play with offensive coordinators Tom Moore with the Colts and Adam Gase, the new head coach of the Dolphins that ends in a touchdown on game day; picking out game balls with the equipment guys; talking football with the broadcast crews before the game and recapping the game with his dad; checking to see if the Giants won and calling Eli when both reach their team’s respective buses and the handshake with rival signal caller Tom Brady of the Pats’ who he lost six of 17 all-time meetings including the postseason and the plane rides home after a win with 53 teammates standing in the isles celebrating during the whole flight.
“I will miss playing in front of so many great fans, both at home and on the road and I’ll even miss the Patriot fans in Foxboro [MA],” Manning said. “And they should miss me because they got a lot of wins off of me.”
The feeling was mutual from Brady, who on his Facebook page this past Monday said, “Congratulations Peyton, on an incredible career. You changed the game forever and made everyone around you better. It’s been an honor.”
Pats’ head coach Bill Belichick, in a statement about Manning said, “For 18 years, we battled fiercely, but regardless of each game’s outcome, I always walked off the field with the utmost appreciation for the highest level of competition in which those games were prepared for and played. I can honestly say that I never ‘enjoyed’ our meetings, but the respect I have for Peyton Manning as a competitor was, and will likely remain second to none.”
He may not have had the greatest arm in the game. He may not have been the fastest guy at the quarterback position. He might not have been the most talented quarterback in the game. Three things are set in stone about Peyton Manning. He was one of the hardest working signal callers to ever play the game. He had one of the greatest minds, which made him unstoppable at times and he was one of the most prepared players in the game. On top of that he had a love for football and he had a great respect for it. It showed in the victories and it really came through in some difficult defeats.
Manning has had more early playoff exits, meaning losses in the Wild Card or Divisional playoff round when his team has had a First-Round Bye with nine. Despite winning two Super Bowls in his soon to be Hall of Fame career, Manning's 13 postseason losses are the most of any Super Bowl winning signal caller.
In 12 career contest against Brady and the Patriots in the regular season, Manning and the Colts and Broncos played eight of those contest in Foxboro where Manning went just 2-6, but he is just one of three quarterbacks to win multiple times against Brady and Belichick in Foxboro, MA.
With the playoffs being the ultimate judge of a QB's success and failure, Manning's teams have faced Brady and Belichick on five occasions and he is 3-2 against them in those contest and in four matchups in the AFC Championship Game, Manning has won three of the four chances against arguably the greatest quarterback/head coach combination in NFL history with an appearance in the Super Bowl on the line.
It is hard to fathom that one of the greatest to ever play the position has been judged on what he has not done than what he has. Peyton Manning has accomplished a lot in his career. He put one team on the NFL map and got another back to the promise land.
Besides being well respected by the players he played and coaches he played with and against, Manning also gained a level of respect from those in the media both print and broadcast that covered him during his 18-year career.
NFL on CBS color analyst and two-time Super Bowl champion with the Giants Phil Simms said on this past Monday’s edition of “Time to Schein,” with Adam Schein on CBS Sports Network about Manning is, “He is the greatest player I’ve ever dealt with in production meetings. It’s every time… We sat in there and if we had questions, he would sit there and answer them.”
ESPN NFL analyst Trent Dilfer, who led the Ravens to a 34-7 win against the Giants in Super Bowl XXXV back on Jan. 28, 2001 said on Twitter @TDESPN, “Peyton, you changed the way the position is played and taught. Your influence & legacy extend much further than you accolades. Thank you.”
“When he talked about football being a relationship business, he could not had said it better and I so appreciate he went there with it,” Saturday, also a NFL analyst for ESPN and who was a part of the Super Bowl XLI title team with the Colts said back on Monday afternoon.
“It was an honor, really. To hear that from the one opponent that I respect more than all others that I played up against,” Bruschi, now an NFL analyst for ESPN said on the Monday after addition of “NFL Live.”
“I can honestly say this about Peyton Manning that the biggest compliment that I can give him guys is that he made me a better player because knowing what type of quarterback he was. Knowing everything that he put into it and watching that film and the complexity and the intellectual challenge that I knew it was going to be, it made all of us that played against him a better player. NFL football offensively, but also defensively I think got better because of who he was as a player.”  
He was a great professional athlete that was relatable from the fact that he could be in commercials for companies like Nationwide, Papa John’s Pizza, DirecTV to hosting “Saturday Night Live,” on NBC and he might be the only guy that can call a play that represents the name of a town Omaha, NE and it becomes a part of popular culture forever. It made him one of the most respected professional athletes to ever play.  
While he may no longer be playing football, he will always be a part of the game, especially at his Passing Academy that he founded back in 1996 that takes place at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, LA.
Peyton Manning was a once in a lifetime football player and pro athlete that was the easiest to route for, respect and love from no matter if you were a diehard football fan or just a casual fan. He made your viewing experience whether it was watching him perform on the small screen or in person at the stadium one you will never forget and he will miss very much.
“I fought a good fight. I finished my football race and after 18 years it’s time. God Bless all of you and God Bless football,” Manning said at the conclusion of his press conference.    
Information, statistics and quotations courtesy of 3/7/16  Newsday article, “Peyton Leaves On Top,” by Bob Glauber; 3/7/16 2:30 p.m. edition of ESPN’s “NFL Live” with Trey Wingo, Ryan Clark, Tedy Bruschi and Herm Edwards;  report from Denver, CO from Bob Holtzman, Bill Polian and Jeff Saturday; 3/7/16 6 p.m. edition of “Time to Schein,” with Adam Schein on CBS Sports Network;;;;;;   

Friday, March 4, 2016

J-Speaks: The Oscars Were "Rocked"

There are moments when something is about to happen you want to be front and center to see it unfold. You want to either see it on the small screen or in person if you can. Take in what is about to take place, especially if it is something that has been talked about at great length; has been a hot topic of discussion for a lengthy period or something that has become a rallying cry or a point of emphasis. That is what this past Sunday’s 88th Annual Academy Awards, also known as the Oscars at the Dolby Theatre on ABC with no African Americans nominated in any category for the second consecutive year. It was something that many hoped host and comedian Chris Rock would tackle in a major way and he did so with full force.

He began his opening monologue by saying, “Hey! Well, I’m here at the Academy Awards, otherwise known as the white People’s Choice Awards.”

Rock then proceeded to take a jab at himself as the host by saying, “You realize if they nominated hosts, I wouldn’t even get this job. Y’all be watching Neil Patrick Harris right now.”

Rock really expressed the displeasure of many African Americans from the Twitter campaign that began back in January #OscarsSoWhite by saying, “This whole no-black-nominees thing has happened at least 71 other times. OK? You’ve got to figure that it happened in the ‘50s, in the 60s…I’m sure there were no black nominees some of those years and black people didn’t protest. Why? Because we had real things to protest at the time. We were too busy being raped and lynched to care about who won best cinematographer… When your grandmother’s swinging from a tree, it’s really hard to care about best documentary foreign short.”

For this Academy Awards season, people did care that people of color were not recognized like Idris Elba, Michael B. Jordan or Will Smith. So much so that Smith, his wife Jada Pinkett, filmmaker great Spike Lee and even Rev. Al Sharpton vowed to stay away from the ceremony which they did. They even urged people to not watch the ceremony. 

Lee and his wife were not even in the state of California. They were at Madison Square Garden to see the New York Knicks (25-37) get their doors blown off 98-81 by the Miami Heat (35-26) this Sunday night.

He even called out the Smiths. First Will, who was in the acclaimed film “Concussion” by saying, “It’s not fair that Will was this good and didn’t get nominated. You’re right. It’s also not fair that Will was paid $20 million for ‘Wild Wild West,’ OK?

Rock took a jab at Will’s wife Jada by saying, “Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties. I wasn’t invited. That’s not an invitation I would turn down.”

While it might not have been the best of the jokes in his monologue, to me it illustrated a very important point. This awards show is the cream of the crop during awards season. Only the best of the best, get invited to this. It is an opportunity for the world to see you, hear you when you get interviewed on the red carpet. Above all else, it a chance to be celebrated for the grind, focus and energy that the best of the best put into the greatest form of artistry in the world both in front of the camera and behind it.

This Oscars show had only 34.5 million viewers this past Sunday night, which is the lowest mark since former Comedy Central host of “The Daily Show” John Stewart hosted the 80th Academy Awards, which was viewed by 31 million back on Feb. 24, 2008.

In New York, protestors crowded the outside sidewalk of the WABC/Channel 7 Studios on the Upper West Side at Columbus Circle trashing the Oscars.

There were even protest that took place just blocks away from the Dolby Theatre that was attended by Rev. Sharpton.

“We gave them the benefit of the doubt last year,” the host of “Politics Nation” on MSNBC Sunday mornings said on Sunday before attending the protest.

“They said they’d make changes. It never happened. We decided that we are going to escalate with some of the advertisers. We’re starting today to say, yes, shouldn’t enter into new negotiations for next year unless some concrete changes are made now.”

The real burning question is Hollywood racist?

Rock in continuing with his opening monologue said, “You’re damn right Hollywood’s racist. But it isn’t the racism you’ve grown accustomed to. It’s sorority racism.”

He used the example of a lady named Rhonda and said that the powers that be like you, they just do not think you are the kind of person to be a Kappa.  

The fact that no people of color were nominated should make the brass of Hollywood stomachs turn inside and out. It is an embarrassment that the only black and brown people to grace the stage on Oscar night were presenting certain awards and Rock, who many called by a lot of his peers to step down as host. He made his feelings very clear on that.

“They said, ‘Chris you should boycott, Chris, you should quit.’ How come it’s only unemployed people that tell you to quit something? No one with a job ever tells you to quit.”

Rock said that he thought about quitting. He gave a lot of thought to it, but it dawned on him that the show was going to go on without him. It is not going to be canceled because he did not want to host.

“And the last thing I need is to lose another job to Kevin Hart,” Rock said.

What Rock did in his opening monologue is remind everyone of his greatness as not just an African-American comedian, but one of the greatest comedians ever. What we saw this past Sunday night was his greatness, somewhat tame from of his raw, coming right at you, no apologies blockbuster HBO comedy concerts like “Bringing the Pain” and “Bigger and Blacker.”

A perfect example of this is Rock told a quick story about when he attended a Hollywood fundraiser for President Barack Obama, where only four African-Americans were present, which included himself, Quincy Jones, “the usual suspects.”

Rock said as he was about to take a photo with Mr. Obama, “Mr. President, you see all these writers, producers and actors? They don’t hire black people and they’re the nicest white people on Earth. They’re liberals. Cheese.”

In that one story, Rock just drew a picture of how all minorities do not even get the opportunity to be nominated to even be in the running to win an Academy Award, whether they are in front of the camera or behind hit.  

All minorities want is the opportunity to be recognized. To let it be known that they are just as good as their Caucasian counterparts whether they are in the picture itself or behind the scenes of that particular film.

“I’m tired of the whitewashing in Hollywood, I’m tired of seeing African and Egyptian gods being portrayed by Swedish or European actors,” Khadija Amon-Ra, a 45-year-old makeup artist from Chelsea, NY said this past Sunday while protesting on the Upper West Side in New York, NY. “We all should be represented and be rewarded for what we do.”

A lot has to change. For starters, I learned over the course of this process that those who are responsible for nominating who will be in the running for an Oscar are golden age folk. If films like “Concussion” or “Creed” ever have a chance of getting nominated in a category, it will take Hollywood having younger individuals and more diversity as well of those who do the nominating.

What also has to happen is Hollywood must make it a point to greenlight the kinds of projects where the story of minorities is told on their terms. For instance, “Straight Outta Compton” is the kind of film that depicted how the group NWA created lyrics that were controversial and tough to swallow. It also depicted a time where the authorities and the African American community were at odds. It sure was not the kind of movie that Caucasians might have been shocked to see, but it was the kind of film that brought a reality of what life was like, particularly in the tough parts of Los Angeles and how the group N.W.A. wanted to give a voice to the voiceless and they not only became the group that many rallied behind, but they created legendary Hip Hop music that took the world by storm and again brought to light issues that were swept under the rug and minorities were suffering.  

It might not be Oscar worthy, but this movie was a story about something very relevant back in the late 1980s into the 1990s and very real and is just as so today.

Rock brought that point up in his monologue when he spoofed that, “In the memoriam package, it’s just going to be black people that were shot by the cops on their way to the movies.”

It was hard not to have any African American not be nominated at the Oscars for the second straight year. Chris Rock made it a point to bring that to the attention of those in the Dolby Theatre and those that did watch on television and he was magnificent. People protested on both the East and West Coast. The pressure is now on Hollywood to change its act, no pun intended. They are front and center and how they react to this will decide a lot in the years to come.

Information and quotations are courtesy of 2/29/16 Daily News article, “Rock-In The Joint,” by TV Editor Don Kaplan; 2/29/16 New York Post articles “Protest Got Rock-Rolled,” by Kyle Smith and “Chris Turns Race Into a Serious Laughing Matter,” By Kate Sheehy and David K. Li; 2/29/16 Newsday article “Rock’s Jabs Land Laughs,” by Verne Gay and “Protestors, Actors Demand Diversity,” by Laura Figueroa;;  

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

J-Speaks: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly In February In NBA

With the All-Star break in the rearview mirror, each NBA team is marching towards the end of the season and for many teams, they have their eye on the playoffs. The defending NBA champs are gearing up for a major playoff run and their lead guard and reigning MVP has been playing out of his mind. The five-time champs from Texas have been on their heels this entire season and their anchor for nearly two decades achieved some major milestones, while the future face of the league put on a performance to remember two Sundays ago. Two teams that was not on the postseason radar to start the season are now in the thick of it now. The boys from Salt Lake have been up and down and find themselves in a tussle with last season’s West runner’s up to just make the playoffs. The team that goes by the mantra “We the North” sustained some head scratching losses this month. In the Midwest, a playoff team from a year ago has played more down than up this season Things have gone from bad to worse in the “Valley of the Sun,” the “Big Apple” and the “Windy City.” Here is the good, the bad and the ugly in the NBA in February.

The Good

Defending Champs Make Statement

Whether it is one of the best teams in the league or a bottom feeder, the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors have taken on all comers and have beaten them by blowing their doors of or taken their hearts out in the closing moments. On top of that when head coach Steve Kerr’s team has had a setback in the loss column this season, they have come back emphatically and leading the way has been the soon to be named back-to-back MVP.

In front of a national television audience, Stephen Curry began February in a big way with 51 points going 19 for 28 from the field, including 11 for 15 from three-point range with seven boards and three steals in 36 minutes in leading the Warriors to a 134-121 win at the Washington Wizards (28-30) on Feb. 3 on ESPN.

How good was the Western Conference Player of the Week for Feb. 21-Feb. 27 and the soon to be back-to-back MVP’s performance? His 51-point performance outshined his counterpart Klay Thompson, who had 24 points and went 6 for 13 from three-point range. Curry’s performance overshadowed a triple-double from Draymond Green, who had 12 points, 10 boards, 12 assists and five blocks. He outplayed his opposite in All-Star John Wall, who had a season-high 41 points going 17 for 25 from the field to go along with 10 assists.

Curry and Green became the 5th pair of teammates in the last three decades to record a 40-point performance and a triple-double multiple times in a single season.

The Warriors added three more victories to extend their winning streak to 11-games entering the All-Star break.

Coming out of the break, the then streaking Portland Trail Blazers (32-28), put a halt on the Warriors in their gym on Feb. 19 with a 137-105.

The Warriors had a very rare off night shooting just 39.1 percent from the field. The Trail Blazers had 28 assists and just 13 turnovers compared to the Warriors 25 assists and 20 miscues, which led to 17 Trail Blazer points and 13 of those turnovers came in the third quarter. The Warriors were outdueled from three-point range as the Trail Blazers went 17 for 30 (56.7 percent), while the Warriors were 12 for 34 from long range (35.3 percent).

The Warriors have regrouped and got back on track very quickly grinding out a big time win the next night at the arch rival Los Angeles Clippers (38-20) 115-112.

Thompson led the way with 32 points on 11 for 22 from the floor, including 4 for 9 from three-point range to go along with seven rebounds and three steals. Curry had 23 points, despite going just 5 for 15 shooting, 3 for 8 from long distance, but did go 10 for 12 from the free throw line with nine assists and three steals. Green had his NBA leading 11th triple-double of the season with 18 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. Harrison Barnes also had 18 points.

Last week, Hall of Famers Oscar Robertson and Isiah Thomas made some statements about the reigning MVP saying basically that his great play over the past two seasons is the product in their minds of the unbelievably terrible perimeter defense being played and the fact that the rules are different.

All Curry and the Warriors did was let their play to the talking and they made their feelings loud and clear.

Curry had 36 points, six boards, eight assists and three steals in leading the Warriors to a 102-92 win at the Atlanta Hawks (33-27) on Feb. 22, becoming the first team to reach 50 wins this season and earning their third 50-plus win season in a row, a new franchise record.

Curry and Thompson, also known as the “Splash Brothers” rose to the occasion in the fourth quarter in squeaking by the Miami Heat (33-26) in their own gym 118-112 two nights later.

Curry, who tied the record for consecutive games with a three-pointer at 127 with the Hawks Kyle Korver had 12 of his game-high 42 points in the fourth quarter going 14 for 29 from the floor, including going 6 for 12 from three-point range with seven boards and seven assists.

Thompson scored 15 of his 33 points in the final stanza going 13 for 25 from the field, including 4 for 8 from distance with four steals.

The last time Curry did not make a shot from long range was back on Nov. 11, 2014.

He became the new record holder at 128 straight by hitting a three-pointer at the 5:45 mark of the first quarter in the Warriors 130-114 win at the Orlando Magic (26-32) earning their fourth win in a row.

Curry had 51 points, marking the third time this season he scored 50 or more in a game and the first to do so since Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade and his former teammate now Cleveland Cavalier forward LeBron James did it in the 2008-09 NBA campaign.

The reigning MVP went 20 for 27 from the floor, including 10 for 15 from three-point range with seven rebounds and eight assists.

The Warriors broke the game open in the third quarter outscoring the Magic 40-28, shooting 60.2 percent from the field; out-rebounding the Magic 42-37 and recording 35 assists.

The Warriors concluded the week and their road trip with a gritty come from behind 121-118 win at the Oklahoma City Thunder (41-18).

Curry had a game-high 46 points going 14 for 24 from the floor, including 12 for 16 from three-point range, which tied the record for most triples in an NBA game with future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant, who did it back on Jan. 7, 2003 when he had 45 points going 12 for 18 from three-point range and 16 for 28 overall from the field in leading the Los Angeles Lakers to a 119-98 win versus the then Seattle Supersonics. Former Toronto Raptors’ forward Donyell Marshall back on Mar. 13, 2005 with 38 points off the bench hitting 12 for 19 from three-point range and 13 for 22 overall from the floor as the Raptors won versus the Philadelphia 76ers 128-110.

Curry scored 31 of his 46 points after sustaining ankle injury in the third quarter and 12 of those points came in the extra frame. He also broke his own record for most three-point connections in a season, which now stands at 288. He hit 286 a season ago. He hit 261 in the 2013-14 campaign and 272 triples in 2012-13.

Prior to Curry’s assault on the NBA three-point record books for a season, the most triples made in a season was 269 done by future Hall of Famer and two-time champion with the Heat, Ray Allen, who hit 269 trifectas for the then Seattle Supersonics in the 2005-06 season. He broke the record of sharp shooter and current NBATV analyst and host of 3D TV Dennis Scott, who hit 267 threes when for the Magic back in the 1995-96 season.

Thompson had 32 points going 12 for 23 from the field.

As I mentioned in a prior blog post on the defending champs, Curry and Thompson made grab all the headlines and the attention as they have well earned, they are not winning games at a high rate, nor are they champions without the contributions of their teammates.

Green, who had just 2 points, was 0 for 8 shooting and just 2 for 5 from the charity stripe, had 14 rebounds, 14 assists, six steals and four blocks. Last season’s Finals MVP Andre Iguodala hit two critical free throws after being fouled by Thunder All-Star forward Kevin Durant in the closing seconds of regulation hit two big free throws that tied the score at 103 to send the game into the fifth quarter.

In the final seconds of overtime, Curry connected on a triple from 32 feet with 00.6 seconds left to break his own single season record for threes made in a season; tie the aforementioned record for triples made in a game and to send the Warriors to their 53rd win of the season and marking the 129 consecutive contest that Curry made a three-pointer.

The Warriors became the fastest team to clinch a playoff spot since the 1985-86 World Champion Boston Celtics. They also became the first team to punch their ticket to the postseason in February since the 1987-88 World Champion Los Angeles Lakers, who became the first team in 19 seasons to win back-to-back titles.

“Coach said if we got a clear rebound, we can push it,” Curry said to ESPN’s Lisa Salters after the game this past Saturday night. “Andre got it to me in the backcourt. They were kind of shuffling trying to load up in transition. They didn’t pick up a body. I had just enough daylight to get it in.”

What the Warriors have done going back to last season is remarkable. It is long be said that a jump shooting team cannot win a title. Well the Warriors became the first a season ago and they have not looked back. They have gone a historic run that has them in position to overtake the 1995-96 World Champion Chicago Bulls for the most wins in a season. That Bulls team led by Hall of Famers Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and then Head Coach Phil Jackson.

That is what makes the comments by Robertson and Thomas so disappointing. Sure this is a different era of basketball, but greatness is greatness and Stephen Curry, who is 22 for 31 from three-point range the last three games and averaged 43.8 points per game last week learned how to be great from his dad, 16-year veteran shooter and current analyst for the Charlotte Hornets on FOX Sports Southeast and the Warriors are doing is great, unbelievable, remarkable and all other adjectives in between. On top of that, he has put in the time in the off-season and particularly before games. One person who has seen this up close is reserve guard Shaun Livingston.

“Were witnessing greatness out there,” Livingston said to Vince Cellini, Rick Fox and Steve Smith on NBATV’s “Gametime” this past Saturday night.

“What he’s doing night after night, when the defense is constantly game planning for you, obviously he went down in the third, comes back and to put on a performance like that, I think shows his character and the amount of work he puts in his game. It’s truly amazing what we’re watching.”

There’s a Buzz in Charlotte, NC

Coming into this season, the Charlotte Hornets (30-28) were very much under the radar. Not a whole lot of people in NBA circles were giving them much of chance to make the playoffs, especially after what happened a season ago. Entering 2016, they were 17-14 and making believers out of many, but a 6-11 January brought them back down to Earth. However, they picked themselves off the pavement this month and not only are they in the thick of the playoff race in the East, they stand a good chance of maybe having home court in the opening round if they make it.

The Hornets got off on the right foot this month with a 106-97 with a 106-97 win versus the East leading Cleveland Cavaliers (42-17), thanks to a 33-17 third quarter that put them ahead for good.

Leading the way was guard Jeremy Lin, who had 24 points, eight assists and five rebounds. Marvin Williams had 16 points, going 3 for 5 from three-point land. Rookie Frank Kaminsky had 15 points and six rebounds off the bench. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had 11 points and 13 rebounds and Nicolas Batum had 10 points, five boards and five assists.

The Hornets defeated the defending East champs, who they out-rebounding them 56-36, including 11-3 on the offensive glass. The Hornets had 26 assists to the Cavs 16; had 19 fast break points to their 12 and outscored them in the paint 44 to 34.

Following a tough 98-95 loss versus the Heat, the Hornets went on a five-game winning streak to push their record to 29-26. The last time the Hornets were three games over .500 was back on Dec. 30, 2015 after a 122-117 loss versus the Clippers.

They wiped the floor versus the Chicago Bulls (30-28) 108-91 back on Feb. 8 behind 30 points and eight assists from lead guard Kemba Walker; the 20 points, seven boards and two blocks from Kidd-Gilchrist and the 19 points, 13 boards, eight assists and two steals from Batum.

The Hornets led 38-20 after the first and never looked back. They held the Bulls to 38.9 percent from the field; out-rebounded them 64-46 and went 14 for 36 from long range.

The Hornets concluded the unofficial first half of the season in style by blowing out the Indiana Pacers in their own gym 117-95 back on Feb. 10. Walker had 25 points, seven rebounds and two steals for the Hornets, who shot 51.7 percent and went 12 for 28 from three-point territory and held the Pacers to just 4 for 18 from distance. They out-rebounded the Pacers 56-46; out-scored them 18-7 in fast break points and had 50 points in the paint.

The Hornets have won three of their five games out of the All-Star break, but have dropped two of their last three to conclude February. Despite that, GM Rich Cho has given Head Coach Steve Clifford a lot to work with this season and it is paying off big time.

The additions of Lin, Batum, Jeremy Lamb and Kaminsky and the growth of Walker, Cody Zeller and Williams are why the Hornets sit currently in the No. 6 spot in the East and are just two games behind the Heat for the lead in the Southeast Division and the No. 4 spot overall in the East.

The aforementioned additions have helped the Hornets in a major way at the offensive end, particularly from long range. A season ago, the Hornets made 498 triples, which was 26th in the league. This year, the Hornets have made 590 three-point field goals, which is a new franchise record, beating the old record 584 back in the 1995-96 season.

The offense should greatly improve with center Al Jefferson back in the fold after missing 35 games because of knee surgery and suspension as well as the acquisition of veteran guard Courtney Lee, who they got via a three-team trade with the Grizzlies and the Heat at the deadline on Feb. 18. They sent guard P.J. Hairston to Memphis along with four second round draft picks.

He had six points and five boards in 23 minutes back on Feb. 19 in the Hornets 98-95 win at the Milwaukee Bucks (25-35). His best game of the five that he has been back came two nights later when Jefferson had 18 points, seven rebounds in 24 minutes as the Hornets won at the Brooklyn Nets (17-43) 104-96.

“It’s nice to have him because the guards had to make a lot of plays, especially down the stretch,” Walker said to NBATV’s Matt Winer, Vinny Del Negro and Rick Fox on this past Saturday’s edition of NBATV’s “Gametime.”

“It’s good to go in and play off him because he such a good playmaker as well and he can get you a bucket. So it’s good to have him.”

The key for this Hornets going forward is to continue to balance their great offense with their stingy defense, which took a hit with the loss of Kidd-Gilchrist who had season-ending shoulder surgery.

Rising Blazers

When the 2015-16 NBA season began, the Portland Trail Blazers (32-28) were behind the eight ball. They lost 80 percent of their starting five via trades or free agency. They were putting the keys of their franchise in the hands of a very talented, but unproven leader and a third-year guard was finally going to get his first crack at major minutes. On top of that, a lot of other young players were going to be given an opportunity to play. At first, the Trail Blazers looked like lottery bound team at 15-24. Since then, they have taken off and are in the playoff picture.

They split their first two games of the month and proceeded to win six games in a row from Feb. 6 to Feb. 23 to finish the month at 9-2.

The biggest win in the aforementioned stretch for the Trail Blazers and Western Conference Coach of the Month Terry Stotts came against the defending champion Warriors, who they dominated 137-105 handing them their worst loss of this season back on Feb. 19.

That aforementioned young star in Damian Lillard showed out with a career-high of 51 points, seven assists and six steals going 18 for 28 from the field, including 9 for 12 from three-point range and no turnovers.

He became the first Trail Blazer to register a 50-plus point game since veteran guard of Andre Miller had 52 points at the Dallas Mavericks back in Jan. 2010.

“We got the best point guard in the league coming in here with the best team. Defending champions,” the Trail Blazers lead guard, who signed a five-year $120 million contract extension in the offseason said to Comcast SportsNet Northwest’s Michael Holton after the game.

“It’s a challenge. You’ve got to be ready to embrace that challenge. That’s what I came in on my mind tonight. I probably play the toughest position in the league.”

The All-Star snub outplayed soon to be back-to-back MVP Stephen Curry, who had 31 points, five assists and two steals going 12 for 23 shooting, including 7 for 13 from distance.

Defensively, the Trail Blazers held the defending champions to 39.1 percent shooting; had 28 assists to the their 25; had 12 steals and forced 20 turnovers, 13 of which happened in the third quarter, which is the most miscues in a period by a team since 2008.

“We got to give a lot of credit to our defense. We deflected a lot of passes. We limited them to a lot of one shot possessions and we was able to get out and run,” Lillard said to Holton.

Lillard’s running mate and close friend on the team C.J. McCollum, who has continued his strong play from the playoffs a season ago, where the Trail Blazers fell to the Memphis Grizzlies in five games had 21 points in the win with seven assists and two steals going 9 for 18 from the field and 3 for 4 from long range.

McCollum continued to roll 48 hours later with a 31-point effort going 11 for 21 shooting as the Trail Blazers took down the Utah Jazz (28-30) 115-111 to win their 8th straight at the Moda Center and their 10th victory in their last 11 tries. Lillard added 30 points. Maurice Harkless had 17 points and seven boards off the bench and fellow reserve Ed Davis had 11 points and five rebounds.  

Lillard became the first Trail Blazer to score 30 points in four straight contest since Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler, who accomplished that back in 1991.

The dynamic backcourt came through in a major way again with 34 points each in leading the Trail Blazers to a 112-104 win versus the Nets on Feb. 23.

Lillard and McCollum are the first Trail Blazer teammates to score 30-plus in back-to-back contest since Geoff Petrie and Sidney Wicks accomplished that back in 1973 and Lillard became the first Trail Blazer to have at least 30 points in five straight games since Petrie did it in the team’s inaugural season of 1970-71.

Things could have been a lot different in this matchup. Why you say? Four years ago at the trade deadline, the Nets traded their own Top 3 protected first-round pick to the Trail Blazers for forward Gerald Wallace.

The Nets missed the playoffs that season and that lottery pick for the Trail Blazers ended being the No. 6 pick in the draft that June, which the team used to draft Lillard out of Weber State. He went on to be the unanimous Rookie of the Year and the rest is history.

Then GM Billy King said of the 2012 Draft Class, “It’s a deep draft… But a lot of times, you can take guys that’ll take two to three years and we didn’t feel that there were guys further down that were franchise guys.”

Well Lillard has become that franchise that could have been in New York and maybe the Nets might be in a better place. It is the Trail Blazers who are the thankful ones and the Nets are the ones wondering what could have been.

The good times concluded in front of a national audience on TNT when the Trail Blazers six-game winning streak was snapped on Feb. 25 by the Houston Rockets 119-105.

The Trail Blazers, who were outscored 33-12 in the fourth quarter and 70-41 in the second half defeated the underachieving Rockets 96-79 on Feb. 6 in Texas and 116-103 on Feb. 10 back at the Moda Center.

Lillard on that night was just 6 for 20 overall from the floor and 3 for 10 from long range for 23 points, six boards and seven assists. McCollum had 20 points on the evening.

It did not help that Portland had 21 turnovers that led to 26 Rockets points; that they were outscored 62-26 in the paint and 16-9 in fast break points and were out-rebounded 56-43.

The Trail Blazers did bounce back with two straight road wins at the Chicago Bulls 103-95 this past Saturday and at the Pacers 111-102 to begin a six-game trek on the East Coast.

Lillard got back on track with 31 and 33 point performances respectably in those contest.

While Lillard and leading candidate for Most Improved Player in McCollum, the Portland has gone 17-4 also because of the emergence of Allen Crabbe and Meyers Leonard off the bench; the dirty work of new editions Al-Farouq Aminu, Mason Plumlee, Ed Davis, Gerald Henderson, Noah Vonleh and Harkless.

Their shooting ability of Crabbe, Henderson, Leonard and Harkless and the dirty work defensively and on the glass from Aminu and Plumlee have been invaluable to leading candidate for Coach of the Year in Terry Stotts.

If the Blazers can take care of business on this road trip, they could move up to as high as No. 5 in the West. It will not be easy though because the back end of this road trip consist of the Boston Celtics, who have been rolling at TD Garden, the Toronto Raptors, who have won 10 straight at the Air Canada Centre and the Pistons, who are in battle to get into the No. 8 spot in the East.

After the road trip, five of the next eight games are at the Warriors on Mar. 11; at the Thunder on Mar. 14; at the San Antonio Spurs (50-9) on Mar. 17 and a home and home with the Dallas Mavericks (32-28).

History Making Moments for the Centerpiece of the Spurs and the future of the Pelicans

Future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs and the future face of the NBA in New Orleans Pelicans’ (23-35) forward/center Anthony Davis have a lot of things in common. They were both No. 1 overall picks with Duncan being selected first overall out of Wake Forest University in 1997 and Davis going first in the 2012 draft out of University of Kentucky. Both were considered faces of the franchise. The difference between the two is that Duncan has built an amazing resume that will land him in the Hall of Fame, first ballot when his retires and Davis is hoping to come close to having the kind of career Duncan has had. They each reach some major milestones near the end of February.

In leading the Pelicans to a 111-106 win at the Pistons back on Feb. 21, Davis put on an unforgettable performance with a career-high, an NBA high for the 2015-16 season and a Pelicans franchise record of 59 points and 20 rebounds on 24/34 from the field and 9 for 10 from the charity stripe.

The previous club record was held by Jamal Mashburn, who scored 50 on the noise on the aforementioned exact date 13 years ago against the Memphis Grizzlies.

Davis joins Shaquille O’Neal and the late Wilt Chamberlin as the only players to register 55-plus points and 20-plus boards in a game in NBA history.

Davis also joined O’Neal, the late Hall of Famer Moses Malone and Chris Webber as the only players since 1980 to score 50-plus points and grab 20 plus boards. O’Neal, had 61 points and 23 rebounds on his birthday back on Mar. 6, 2000. Malone had 53 points and 22 boards back on Feb. 2, 1982 and Webber had a career-high of 51 points and 26 rebounds back on Jan. 5, 2001.

“I don’t think it will sink in until tomorrow what I did,” Davis, who scored 14 of his 59 in the fourth quarter after having 19 in the third quarter said after the game. “But being in the history books with C-Webb and Shaq? That’s something special.”

In their 104-94 win at the Rockets this past Saturday night, Duncan had a quiet line of six points, six boards, six assists and one block, but he made history in the process.

The block shot he had on All-Star guard James Harden in the opening stanza made him the fifth player in league history to register 3,000 block shots in their career. The only other four players to accomplish this since block shots became an official stat in the 1973-74 campaign are Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon (3,830), who was in attendance for the game at Toyota Center this past Saturday night; Dikembe Mutombo (3,289), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (3,189) and Mark Eaton (3,064).

His six caroms move him past Hall of Famer Karl Malone (14,968 career rebounds) into sixth place on the NBA’s career rebounding list. Duncan has grabbed 14,971 boards in his career.

“I don’t know what to say,” Spurs’ lead guard said about Duncan, who he has won four of the team’s five titles along after the game. “He’s been unbelievable; an unbelievable career obviously. And 3,000 blocks, that’s a lot, that’s a lot of great defense. [He’s] maybe one of the best defenders ever in the NBA.”

The other big difference between these two teams is how they celebrated these milestones.

After Davis’ incredible performance, he got a Gatorade cup bath from teammates Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday, who was the only other player in double-figures with 20 points to along nine assists and seven boards as he was being interviewed after the game by Pelicans sideline reporter Jennifer Hale of FOX Sports New Orleans.

The Spurs were pretty much quiet about what the rock of their franchise accomplished.

Spurs’ head coach Gregg Popovich said of the achievement, “He doesn’t care.”

Duncan said of the milestones, “Nice.”

In a joking way, he also said, “I haven’t gotten off the floor since my 2,000th.”

For the Spurs, it has always been about team success and if the individual accolades come, they come.

They care more about the fact that they became the second team this season to register their 50th victory, which gives them 17 consecutive seasons of reaching that mark and that they finished their Texas Rodeo Road Trip at 7-1.

To put the Spurs’ latest belt on their greatness as a franchise into perspective, since the arrival of Duncan 19 years ago, the Spurs have won 50 or more in every season except for the lockout shorten season of 1998-99 when they went 37-13 on their way to winning their first title when they defeated the New York Knicks in The Finals 4-1 that season.

On two occasions this season, Duncan for the first time in his career finished a game without scoring one point and he did not grab a single board. He jokingly said when he was informed “I guess I screwed that up.”

“You guys tell me after [the milestones] happen. I’m not really out here chasing them. It is what it is, and I’m honored to be mentioned with some of these guys’ names.”

For the Spurs and Pelicans, their pillars are at different moments in their careers. Davis is figuring out at 22 years of age how to lead the Pelicans, while trying to grow his game, which has grown in his young career. Duncan is trying to help the Spurs win their six title in franchise history.

One thing is for sure though, Davis wants to help his team be successful just as Duncan has done for the Spurs and the Pelicans main focus is to put themselves in position to get that No. 8 and final playoff spot in the West, where they stand 5.5 games behind right now.

The Bad

Questions Concerning the Raptors

When you go 7-4 in a month in the NBA, you should be feeling pretty good about your team, especially when one of those wins comes against the cream of the crop in your conference as well as the entire league. When those setbacks comes against teams that on paper you should beat, it kind of taints the record.

The No. 2 Seeded Toronto Raptors (39-19) began February with a 112-93 loss to the Denver Nuggets (23-36) on Feb. 1, ending their franchise record 11-game winning streak.

The Nuggets shot 54.2 percent from the floor and held the Atlantic Division leaders to 37.2 percent. Out-rebounded them 54-48; registered 28 assists to the Raptors 13; outscored them in the paint 60-26 and17-7 in fast break points.

Three straight wins from Feb. 2 to Feb. 8 in the middle of their six game road trip should have gotten the Raptors back on track, but they sustained another head scratching loss at the Minnesota Timberwolves (19-41) on Feb. 10 right before the All-Star break.

Things did not get better nine days later when they sustained a 116-106 loss at the Bulls. It was the Raptors third loss of the season to their opponent in as many chances, their eighth straight setback overall to the Bulls and it ended their 11-game winning streak against the Eastern Conference.

The Raptors wasted a strong performance by their so-called “Big Three of their All-Star starting backcourt of Kyle Lowry (27 points and eight assists) and DeMar DeRozan (22 points) and center Jonas Valanciunas (25 points and 12 rebounds).

That is because the Raptors defense was shaky again as the Bulls shot 51.6 percent; out-rebounded the Raptors 57-54; had 32 assists to the Raptors 22; outscored them 50-48 in the paint and 27-19 in fast break points and the Bulls got 49 points from their reserves compared to the Raptors 28 bench points. Second-year forward Doug McDermott had 30 of those points going 13 for 17 from the field, including 4 for 5 from three-point range.

The Raptors again rebounded with four straight victories and the biggest of those came versus the first place Cavaliers this past Friday night 99-97, thanks to the eventual game-winning jumper by Lowry with 3.8 seconds remaining.

Lowry, who was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week for Feb. 21-Feb. 27 finished with a career-high 43 points on 15 for 20 from the field to go along with nine assists in leading the Raptors to their 10 straight win, a new franchise record at the Air Canada Centre and their 18th win in their last 21 games, the best stretch in franchise history. The win also gave the season series for the Raptors over the Cavs 2-1.

“Good team win man,” Lowry who averaged 28.7 points and 8.7 assists last week said after the game. “We came in here focused on defense. We held a good team under 100 points and we got the win. At the end of the day were focused on Detroit. This was just one game for us.”

It was just one game and with Lowry sitting to rest, the Detroit Pistons put it to the Raptors in the second half this past Sunday taking them down 114-101, to win their fourth game in succession.

The Raptors allowed the Pistons (31-29) to shoot a season-high 57.7 percent from the field. Detroit went 12 for 23 from three-point range; out-rebounded Toronto 46-37; recorded 28 assists to the Raptors 21 and outscored them in the paint 44-38.

While February was uneven for the Raptors, they still have all their goals in front of them to reach. Baring an unfeasible, the Raptors will win their third straight Atlantic Division title; win 50 games for the first time in team history and have a chance to catch the Cavs for the No. 1 Seed in the East, which they trail by just two games. Also Lowry, who disappeared in the second half of last season has come out of this unofficial All-Star break at the top of his game averaging 26.2 points, 8.2 assists and 5.2 rebounds per contest on 55.1 percent shooting and 36.7 from three-point range.

Going forward though, the Raptors must not play down to the level of their competition. If they can get up for the elites of the league, they should take down the bottom feeders. If they don’t, they could flame out in the opening round for the third straight season, especially if they meet up with the Bulls.

Up and Down and Back Up Pistons

Coming into this season, the goal was very simple for the Detroit Pistons and head coach Stan Van Gundy, make the playoffs.

They were right on track to do that, but a five-game losing streak and eight losses in their last 10 games knocked them out below the playoff line in the East.

In need of reinforcements, the Pistons in the early part of February acquired forward Tobias Harris from the Orlando Magic for guard Brandon Jennings and forward Ersan Ilyasova.

At the trade deadline, the Pistons traded for forward Donatas Motiejunas and guard Marcus Thornton and sent forward/center Joel Anthony to the Rockets to help their bench. Unfortunately Motiejunas, who has been on the shelf for most of the season because of a back injury did not pass his physical and the trade was rescinded.

Since Harris has moved into the starting quintet four games ago, the Pistons have gone on a four-game winning streak to close the month. Harris has scored 14, 22, 15 and 14 points in those contest.

In their last contest versus the No. 2 Seeded Raptors, the Pistons beat them 114-101, thanks to a 37-20 third quarter that broke the game open from a 52-52 tie at intermission.

Reggie Jackson led the way with 19 points and eight assists. All-Star center Andre Drummond recorded his league leading 51st double-double of the season with 15 points and 18 rebounds. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 16 points along with five assists and Marcus Morris had 14 points. Jackson’s understudy Steve Blake had 10 points and five assists off the bench.

The Pistons right now are just one game on the loss side behind the struggling Bulls for the No. 8 and final playoff spot and just one game on the loss side behind the No. 7 Hornets.

They have winnable games on paper in March, but the front end of the upcoming month pits them at the might Spurs this Wednesday on ESPN and the conclusion of March has them versus the No. 3 Seed in the West the Thunder to close out March.

If the Pistons are going to make the playoffs, they need to take care of business in the middle part of March.

Rough Tunes Being Played by the Jazz

Entering the month, the Jazz were staring straight at a playoff spot thanks to a seven-game winning streak from Jan. 27 to Feb 9. Since then however, the Jazz have been out of tune and find themselves in a fight with the Rockets for the No. 8 and final playoff spot in the West.

The Jazz troubles began with a tough 100-96 loss at the Pelicans on Feb. 10 before the All-Star break.

Things did not get better eight days later as the Jazz lost at the Washington Wizards (29-30) 103-89, who shot 48.8 percent from the field; outscored the Jazz 34-10 in fast break points and in the paint 54-38 and gave up 27 points off 23 turnovers.

The Jazz got back on track with two victories in their next three chances which began with a 111-93 win versus the red hot Boston Celtics (36-25) on Feb. 19.

Derrick Favors led the way with a double-double of 23 points, 10 rebounds, a career-high of six assists and three blocks. Gordon Hayward had 22 points. Rookie lead guard Raul Neto had 15 points. Rudy Gobert also had a double-double of 11 points, 15 rebounds and four block shots.

The Jazz shot 54.4 percent on the night, while holding Boston to 37.0 percent shooting; out-rebounded the C’s 68-41 and outscored them in the paint 44-30.

They bounced back from a 115-111 loss at the Trail Blazers 48 hours later to grind out a 117-114 overtime win versus the Rockets to retake the No. 8 spot and final playoff spot and they own the first tie breaker as the Jazz lead the season series 2-1 with one more meeting in Texas on Mar. 23.

The Jazz unfortunately finished the month with three consecutive defeats. The first was versus the Spurs 96-78 last Thursday night. On Saturday night, they sustained a tough loss versus the Nets 98-96 and this past Monday night, they lost at the Celtics in a rematch 100-95.

The Jazz still have the goal of making the postseason in front of them as they are just a half game out of the No. 8 spot. With that being said, they have a rough stretch ahead with three more games remaining on their current East coast swing with stops at the Raptors, the Grizzlies (35-24) and at the Pelicans. They will also be meeting up with the Warriors twice, the Bulls; the Cavaliers; the Wizards again; the Thunder and aforementioned Rockets.

That is why acquiring guard Shelvin Mack at the trade deadline was huge because they have a veteran point guard to lead them as they close the season.

With that being said, the Jazz are going to sink or swim behind Favors, Hayward, Gobert and Hood. They have to play great if the Jazz expect to make the postseason party.

To Fear or Not Fear The Deer

There have been times this season when the young but very talented Milwaukee Bucks (25-35) look like a team that might get back into the race for the playoffs. Other times, the group of Jabari Parker, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Michael Carter-Williams, Greg Monroe, John Henson, Khris Middleton and Jerryd Bayless look like a team that will need more time before they are a consistent playoff participant.

There are three occasions in February in which the Bucks played like they did a season ago.

In a gritty 117-109 overtime win at the Hawks on Feb. 20, The Bucks held the Hawks to 41.5 percent shooting and to an abysmal 9 for 41 from three-point range. Milwaukee out-rebounded Atlanta 82-54; outscored them in the paint 58-50 and 21-18 in fast break points.

Parker had a career-high of 28 points going 11 for 21 from the field with 13 rebounds. Monroe off the bench also had a double-double of 24 points and 12 rebounds going 10 for 20 from the floor. Antetokounmpo had a double-double as well with 19 points and 12 caroms to go along with two blocks. Carter-Williams had 17 points, nine boards and three blocks. Middleton had 12 points.

The Bucks won their second straight on the back end of a back-to-back at home defeating the struggling Los Angeles Lakers (11-49) 108-101 in future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant’s final game at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.

Antetokounmpo led the way with his first career triple-double of 27 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists going 12 for 17 from the floor with three steals and four block shots. Middleton had 18 points and Parker had 15 points and nine boards. Miles Plumlee had 14 points, O.J. Mayo had 12 points as did Monroe off the bench along with eight boards and two steals. Carter-Williams chipped in with 10 points, five boards and two steals off the pine.

The Bucks broke the game wide open in the second half behind a 36-18 scoring output in the third quarter. They shot 51.2 percent for the game and held the Lakers to 36.8 percent from the field. They had 32 assists to the Lakers 18; had 10 steals and forced 17 Laker turnovers, which resulted in 20 points. The Bucks outscored the Lakers in the paint 58-22 and 32-17 in fast break points.

After a rough 112-107 loss at the Celtics on Feb. 25 and a 102-91 loss at home versus the Pistons 48 hours later, the Bucks got back on track in a major way this past Monday night in defeating the Rockets 128-121 at home.

Parker established a new career-high of 36 points going 16 for 25 from the floor. Antetokounmpo had his second triple-double of the season with 18 points, a career-highs 17 rebounds and 11 assists to go along with four steals and two blocks. Middleton had 30 points and went 15 for 15 from the free throw line. Bayless had 18 points off the bench and hit three of his five three-pointers in the fourth quarter. Monroe had 10 points and six boards off the bench.

Going 5-6 in February did not help the Bucks chances for making a run for the playoffs as they six games behind the Indiana Pacers (31-29) for the No. 8 and final playoff spot in the East. There is oodles of talent on this team as mentioned earlier. Talent does not win you ball games unfortunately.

The rest of this season will be very important for head coach Jason Kidd and the Bucks because this team has the players to be a major factor in the East for years to come. For that to happen, they have to get into the habit of playing winning basketball night in and night out. Playing with maximum effort on both ends, sharing the basketball and allowing the likes of Parker, Antetokounmpo, Carter-Williams and Middleton to grow together and understanding that All-Stars and superstars bring it every night like Bryant has done for 20 seasons. If they can get to that point, the Bucks will be factor in the East for the next decade. 

The Ugly

The Rotten Apple

At 22-22 on Jan. 20 after a 118-111 win versus the Jazz, the New York Knicks had their dreams of making the playoffs right in front of them. Since then unfortunately, they have had the most gut wrenching reality check one can go through.

Since then, the boys of the “Big Apple” have lost 14 of their last 17 games, which includes a 2-9 mark in February. It did not matter if they went against the best competition in the NBA or a bottom feeder. The Knicks were blown out of games, lost close games and had games where they came back from double-digit deficits to give themselves a chance only to see those games slip away.

Superstar Carmelo Anthony, who has struggled with his shot all season, has had a tough time putting the ball in the basket this month shooting just 38.6 percent and averaging just 22.2 points per contest.

Back on Feb. 22 The Knicks lost at home versus the Raptors 122-95. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan each had 22 points to lead the way and Lowry had his first triple-double of the season with 11 boards and 11 assists.

The reason I mentioned this specific date is it was on this day five years ago that the Knicks acquired Anthony from the Denver Nuggets along with “Mr. Big Shot” Chauncey Billups and sent Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Timofey Mozgov, Raymond Felton the rights to a 2014 first-round and the right to swap 2016 draft picks.

While conventional wisdom says you make that trade in a heartbeat, the Nuggets ended up being the clear winners in this trade by getting key players and assets that has their future looking bright, even though they are going through a rough patch right now, while the Knicks have not gotten any closer to a championship.

Rookie Kristaps Porzingis has averaged a solid 14.8 per contest in February along with 5.9 boards and 2.1 blocks, but he has also struggled with his shot as well at 43.2 percent.

The Knicks only wins have come at the struggling T’Wolves 103-95 on Feb. 20, the first win for interim head coach Kurt Rambis and this past Friday versus the struggling Orlando Magic at Madison Square Garden 108-95.

The shame of all this is that one Knick has really played well this month and that has been starting center Robin Lopez, who has garnered five double-doubles this month and has averaged 14.5 points, 10.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks on 62.6 percent from the field this month.

Right now, the New York Knickerbockers stand 6.5 games out of the No. 8 and final playoff spot in the East and looking at the schedule, those playoff dreams look very bleak.

It looks like the NYC faithful are going to have wait till next year again.

Rough and Cloudy Days in the Valley of the Sun

It is hard to win one game in the NBA. To put together a plan that will give you the best chance to win. That has surely been the case in Phoenix where has been as difficult as calming a new born baby when it cries late at night.

Since Dec. 18, 2015 when they beat the Pelicans 104-88, the Suns have gone 2-28. I will say that again 2-28.

They have had losing streaks of nine in a row from Dec. 20, 2015 to Jan. 6, 2016; a six-game skid from Jan. 8 to Jan. 23 and their latest losing streak of 13, which they brought to a halt with a 111-106 win versus the Grizzlies this past Saturday evening.

Perhaps the real bottom of the barrel, the low point for the Suns came on Feb. 22 when they were taken to the cleaners at the Los Angeles Clippers, who beat them 124-84 to hand them their 12th straight defeat and their 15th setback in a row on the road. The Suns have not won a road game since Dec. 7, 2015 when they won at the Bulls 103-101.  

To put how badly the Clippers beat the Suns into full view, they lead 36-17 after the first quarter. The Clippers 23-point output in the second quarter was their lowest of the game as they scored 31 and 34 points in the third and fourth quarters respectably.

Other than the 25-point output the Suns had in the second period, the managed the aforementioned 17 points in the opening stanza and 19 and 23 points in the third and fourth quarters respectably.

Losing starting lead guard Eric Bledsoe, reserve forward T.J. Warren to season-ending knee injuries and having guard Brandon Knight on the shelf because of injury has not helped either. The team fired head coach Jeff Hornacek earlier this season and replaced him with assistant coach Earl Watson, who won his first game as mentioned earlier this past Saturday night.

Things are a serious mess in Phoenix, but the good thing is that the cupboard is not bare.

For the remainder of this season, the Suns will get a good look at the likes of Devin Booker, Mirza Teletovic and Archie Goodwin. This will also show the kind of leadership they have in veterans like Tyson Chandler and P.J. Tucker.

All of those guys brought it on Saturday night to end the aforementioned 13-game skid. Len had a game-highs of 22 points and 16 boards to go along with two blocks. Teletovic had 18 points and seven boards off the bench and went 4 for 9 from three-point range. Tucker had 17 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. Booker had 15 points. Goodwin and Ronnie Price had 12 points each for the Suns who shot 46.3 percent from the field; went 12 for 32 from three-point land; out-rebounded the Grizzlies 65-42, including 16-7 on the offensive glass and outscored them in the paint 42-38.

Winning is hard in professional sports. It takes the entire organization from the front office to the players on the floor and the coaches on the sidelines to be connected. United as one. That is not happening right now in Phoenix. It probably will not happen anytime soon. A new head coach needs to be found. Bledsoe must come back sometime next season and be healthy and more than anything else, the front office and team itself must come up with a plan and stick with it for this to work.

Tough Times in the “Windy City”

It is hard to fathom that a team with the kind of talent they have. Veterans that have been through thick and thin the last few years and young talented players that can play is struggling to just make the playoffs. That is where the Chicago Bulls stands right now.

How can a team with the likes of Derrick Rose, a former MVP, Pau Gasol a two-time NBA champion and international royalty, two-time All-Star Jimmy Butler and talents like Mike Dunleavy, Taj Gibson, Aaron Brooks, Nikola Mirotic, Doug McDermott, Joakim Noah and Bobby Portis be struggling like this.

Injuries to key players. Rose has miss the last three games because of tendinitis in his hamstring and he has missed 10 games overall this season. Butler has not played since Feb. 5 because of left knee strain he sustained at the Nuggets. Mirotic has not suited up in a game since Jan. 25 because of an appendicitis and Noah is gone for the remainder of the season after having surgery on his left shoulder that he dislocated in the Bulls’ 83-77 loss versus the Dallas Mavericks (32-28). Noah is an unrestricted free agent at season’s end.

Playing down to the level of competition has not helped the Bulls cause either and having a head coach that in Fred Hoiberg that is not the grinder, take charge we will do it no matter what mentality of Tom Thibodeau.

That is how you go 10-8 in February like the Bulls did and are in a fight to just make the playoffs.

Sustaining a five-game losing streak from Feb. 5 to Feb. 18, which included setback at the Nuggets (115-110 on Feb. 5); at the Timberwolves (112-105 on Feb. 6) and at the Hornets (108-91 on Feb. 8) does not help the mental makeup either.

What is even more frustrating is the fact that this team has shown flashes that they can be great like they did when they beat the Raptors for the third time in as many tries this season on Feb. 19 116-106, which began a three-game winning streak.

 Back-to-back losses to close the month at the Hawks 103-88 this past Friday night on national television (ESPN), their seventh loss in their last eight chances on the road and then falling versus the Trail Blazers 103-95 when Gasol has a triple-double of 22 points, 16 rebounds and a career-high of 14 assists. He became the oldest Bulls’ player at 35 years and 236 days of age to garner a triple-double surpassing Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman, who accomplished that at 34 years and 248 days old.

The Bulls right now are in the No. 7 spot in the East and if the playoffs started today, they would face the Raptors, which would be a favorable matchup for them.

It is on them to decide how the rest of this season is going to go. They can get it together and play to their potential or continue to play up or down to the level of their competition and barely make the postseason or not at all. It is up to them.

Information, quotations and statistics are courtesy of; 2/28/16 “Spurs’ Tim Duncan Continues To Pile Up The Milestones,” by staff writer Michael C. Wright;; http://en/m/;;; 1/26/16 article "Bulls' Joakim Noah: I want to prove I have a lot more basketball in me" by ESPN Staff Writer Nick Friedell; 2/9/16 6 p.m. edition of “Time to Schein” with Adam Schein on CBS Sports Network, hosted by Brandon Tierney; 2/11/16 1 a.m. edition “NBA Tonight” on ESPN 2 with Cassidy Hubbarth and Antonio Davis; 2/20/16 1 a.m. edition of “NBA Tonight” on ESPN 2 Doug Kezirian and Antonio Davis; 2/20/16 3 a.m. edition of NBATV’s “Gametime” presented by State Farm with Rick Kamla, Dennis Scott and Grant Hill; 2/22/16 1 a.m. edition of NBATV’s “Gametime” with Vince Cellini, Rick Fox and Brent Barry; 2/23/16 5:30 a.m. edition of NBATV’s “Gametime,” presented by KIA with Matt Winer, Dennis Scott and Brent Barry; 2/24/16 12:30 a.m. edition of “NBA Tonight” on ESPN 2 with Doug Kezirian and Brad Daugherty; 2/24/16 5:30 a.m. edition NBATV’s “Gametime,” presented by KIA with Rick Kamla, Steve Smith and Isiah Thomas; 2/25/16 7 p.m. contest between the Golden State Warriors versus Orlando Magic on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area with Bob Fitzgerald and Jim Barnett; 2/27/16 1 a.m. edition of NBATV’s “Gametime,” presented by State Farm with Vince Cellini, Steve Smith and Vinny Del Negro; 2/28/16 2 a.m. edition of NBATV’s “Gametime,” presented by State Farm with Matt Winer, Rick Fox and Vinny Del Negro; 2/28/16 11 p.m. edition of NBATV’s “Gametime,” presented by KIA with Vince Cellini, Rick Fox and Brent Barry 3/1/16 2:30 a.m. edition of NBATV’s “Gametime,” presented by KIA with Matt Winer, Dennis Scott and Brent Barry.