Bernucca: Among the Elite, Thunder the Team to Beat

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Kawhi Leonard A look at the overall NBA standings shows four teams at the top – Indiana, Oklahoma City, San Antonio and Miami – separated by one game in the loss column. In fact, they were dead even until three of them lost Sunday. 

Just a notch below them are three more teams – Houston, the Los Angeles Clippers and Portland – separated by two games in the loss column. They also would have been dead even had the Blazers held on Sunday against the Rockets.

Let’s call these teams the Magnificent Seven, because your NBA champion is somewhere among them. Dismiss any of them at your own peril; these are the only teams who, at the season’s three-quarter pole, have won at least two-third of their games.

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Bernucca: Who Is On Your Team’s Mount Rushmore?

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rushmoreThis past week, NBA TV released excerpts of an extended interview with LeBron James (airing in its entirety Monday night) in which Steve Smith asked “The King” to name his Mount Rushmore of basketball.

James offered a quartet of Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson. But it’s really an unfair question, because in addition to those four players, there are at least three more – centers Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Russell – who are in the “best ever” conversation. And that group doesn’t include active players who eventually will join the conversation as well, like Kobe Bryant and James himself.

A better exercise might be establishing a Mount Rushmore for each team.

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Warner: Can Kevin Love pull a Wilt Chamberlain?

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KevinLoveSH1I know it’s early, but Minnesota’s Kevin Love has an outside chance to do something that’s only been accomplished by three players in NBA history: Lead the league in scoring and rebounding in the same season.

Love leads the NBA in rebounding with 13.9 per game and is third in scoring with a 25.9 average. He trails scoring leader Kevin Durant by 2.2 points a game, a substantial margin but one that’s not impossible to overcome with more than two-thirds of the season remaining.

Love is the only current player with a serious shot at the scoring-rebounding double. Only two other players have top 10 rankings in both categories — Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge and Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins – but neither Marcus is a legitimate contender to finish first in scoring or rebounding.

In fact, Love is the only player in recent years to finish in the top five in both categories. During the 2011-12 season, he was second in rebounding (13.35) and fourth in scoring (26.4).

If Love captures both titles, he would join Neil Johnston, Bob Pettit and Wilt Chamberlain as the only players to pull off the scoring-rebounding double. Johnston did it for the Philadelphia Warriors in 1954-55 and Pettit accomplished the feat for the St. Louis Hawks the following season.

wilt1Chamberlain led the league in scoring and rebounding an astounding five times — four seasons in Philadelphia and once in San Francisco.

(Note: Scoring and rebounding leaders were determined by totals until the 1969-70 season, when they were changed to averages. Also, rebounding titles weren’t awarded until the 1950-51 season, when rebounds became an official stat.)

In the past 30 years, only Kevin Garnett and Shaquille O’Neal have come close to winning the twin titles. Garnett led the NBA in rebounding in 2003-04 and was third in scoring, while O’Neal was runner-up in both categories in 1992-93.

Moses Malone won the rebounding title and was second in scoring for two straight seasons, in 1980-81 and 1981-82. (He was runner-up in scoring to Adrian Dantley and George Gervin in those seasons.) Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had a 1-2 finish in 1975-76, leading the league in rebounding while finishing second in scoring.

That season, Abdul-Jabbar was runner-up to Bob McAdoo, who won his third straight scoring title. McAdoo was third in rebounding in 1973-74 and fourth in 1974-75.

Elvin Hayes won the rebounding title and was third in scoring in 1969-70. However, the “Big E” did lead the NBA in scoring his rookie season, making him one of five players (George Mikan, Pettit, Chamberlain and Johnston are the others) to win scoring and rebounding crowns during their careers.

Mikan, the NBA’s first great center, deserves a footnote here. He won scoring championships in 1948-49 and 1949-50 and probably led the league in rebounding those seasons too, but he isn’t credited with the feat since nobody tracked rebounds then.

Rick Warner is a former sports writer who is currently teaching English in China. He plays pickup hoops at his university, Henan University of Technology in Zhengzhou, China, where he is currently a playground legend.

Bernucca: The Top Five NBA Finals Game 7′s

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Tim DuncanYounger NBA fans have been spoiled by Game 7s.

Tonight’s showdown in Miami between the Heat and Spurs is the third Game 7 in the NBA Finals in the last nine years. Prior to that, there had been just one in the previous 16 years.

Game 7′s are like tax returns, pizza and sex; they’re never really bad. But they can be really good, and as Game 7′s go, we haven’t had a really good one in a long time.

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The Great Eight: NBA Comebacks From 3-1 Deficits

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noahBruised and bloodied, the Chicago Bulls have no chance of overcoming a 3-1 deficit against LeBron James and the Miami Heat, right?

Right?

Well, don’t be so sure. Some pretty good players have been on the wrong end of 3-1 comebacks in the playoffs. Guys like Kobe Bryant. Patrick Ewing. Julius Erving. Charles Barkley. George Gervin. Jerry West. And Wilt Chamberlain.

And Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant and New York’s Carmelo Anthony don’t have enough help to overcome a 3-1 deficit and win their respective series, right?

Right?

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