Lakers, Clippers set to star in wide-open NBA season

LeBron James, left, and Anthony Davis of the Los Angeles Lakers look on during a game in Los Angeles. (AFP)
Updated 21 October 2019

Lakers, Clippers set to star in wide-open NBA season

  • the Golden State Warriors’ march to the finals that has defined the past five seasons looks to be a thing of the past

LOS ANGELES: It’s a whole new ballgame in the NBA, where a seismic shift in star talent has flung the door wide open to an array of 2020 title contenders.

The NBA, whose sudden row with China promises to linger, will be hoping on-court excitement in the wake of unexpected off-season moves will pull attention from simmering tensions when the 2019-20 campaign tips off on Tuesday.

With Kevin Durant gone and Klay Thompson ruled out for the first half of the season after knee surgery, the Golden State Warriors’ march to the finals that has defined the past five seasons looks to be a thing of the past.

Stephen Curry says a championship is “still the goal” for him, Draymond Green and the rest of the Warriors’ new-look team after Golden State fell to the Toronto Raptors in last year’s title series.

But just as the Warriors open their glitzy new $1.4 billion Chase Arena in San Francisco, the center of gravity in the still powerful Western Conference has shifted south.

The Los Angeles Clippers are the top pick to contend in a survey of NBA general managers, thanks to the arrival of Kawhi Leonard from the reigning champion Toronto Raptors and Paul George from Oklahoma City.

The revamped Clippers are out to usurp the Lakers as Los Angeles’ top team, although the LeBron James-led Lakers won’t go quietly.

A “very motivated” James, whose first campaign in LA ended with him missing the playoffs for the first time since 2005, says the team is ready to contend with former New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis lining up alongside Dwight Howard, Kyle Kuzma and newly arrived Danny Green.

“I’m not in talk-about-it mode,” James said.

The Clippers and Lakers kick off the season on Tuesday, when the Raptors will launch their title defense — and raise their championship banner — in a game against the Pelicans.

The Clippers-Lakers matchup is the first of four games in the season between the Tinseltown rivals, who also feature in the star-studded Christmas slate.

In December, the league ventures south of the border with two games in Mexico, and league icon Michael Jordan’s Charlotte Hornets take on reigning Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo of Greece and the Milwaukee Bucks at Paris in January.

However, the league that has painstakingly cultivated overseas markets and welcomed a steadily increasing number of international players received a jolting reminder of the pitfalls of global growth on the eve of the season.

Commissioner Adam Silver admits he doesn’t know “where we go from here” after lucrative Chinese sponsorship and telecast deals were left limbo after Houston Rockets executive Daryl Morey tweeted support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.


Even the PM’s a fast bowler: Pakistan cricket’s need for speed 

Updated 12 sec ago

Even the PM’s a fast bowler: Pakistan cricket’s need for speed 

  • Pakistan have eight quicks in their 20-man squad for the three-Test series against England 
  • The production line is so consistent that when one player goes, another is ready to take over 

KARACHI: To understand the culture of fast bowling in Pakistan, look no further than Imran Khan — once a feared quick, and now the country’s prime minister.
Not all of Pakistan’s pacemen will fly so high, but Khan’s rise underlines a tradition where speed is king, and blistering pace is essential for any team.
As if to reinforce the point, Pakistan have eight quicks in their 20-man squad for the three-Test series against England, starting on Wednesday, ready to unleash their trademark pace and swing.
They carry the baton passed by predecessors such as Khan, left-arm great Wasim Akram and his destructive partner Waqar Younis, the unassuming Aaqib Javed, and Shoaib Akhtar, the feared “Rawalpindi Express” who is considered the fastest bowler in history.
The current generation includes the precocious Naseem Shah, still only 17, Shaheen Shah Afridi and Wahab Riaz, and the accurate Mohammad Abbas.
The production line is so consistent that when one player goes, another is ready to take over — as seen in 2010 when Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif, banned for spot-fixing, were replaced by Junaid Khan, Riaz, Mohammad Irfan, Ehsan Adil and Rahat Ali.
Even Amir’s decision to retire from Tests at just 27 did not slow Pakistan, as Shaheen became the spearhead and Naseem announced himself with a stunning Test hat-trick.
But the steady emergence of quicks — left-armers, right-armers, even one who is ambidextrous — raises an obvious question: how does Pakistan keep doing it?
Former fast bowler Sarfarz Nawaz, regarded as the pioneer of reverse swing in 1970s, said the factors included Muslim Pakistan’s meaty diet — unlike mainly vegetarian India, once known for its spinners.
“We are a nation obsessed with fast bowling,” Nawaz told AFP. “We eat meat which strengthens the body, we love wickets clattering and the batsman shivering so it’s natural that we produce fast bowlers.”


Nawaz passed on his reverse-swing skills to Khan under whose tutelage Wasim and Waqar became “The Two Ws,” a menacing partnership in the 1980s and 1990s.
Wasim said he followed Khan’s legacy, and that pace bowling matches the Pakistani mentality.
“I think it’s the culture (to become a fast bowler), especially this generation of Waqar and I and then Akhtar, we all had a role model in Khan,” he said.
“Generally, when we talk about cricket it’s mostly about the fast bowlers, they get batsmen caught napping. We are aggressive people in nature and that’s what helps.”
Wasim often holds camps to train emerging fast bowlers, swelling Pakistan’s ranks.
“When I came I always wanted to be a fast bowler and then a crop of fast bowlers came, and now we have Naseem, Shaheen, Mohammad Hasnain and Musa Khan who bowl at 140-150 kph (87-93 mph),” he said.
However, perhaps the most decisive factor is Pakistan’s legion of tape-ball players, who play in parking lots and disused patches of land using tennis balls wrapped in electrical tape to make them heavier, putting the onus on pace rather than spin.
Lahore Qalandars, a Pakistan Super League franchise which has been at the forefront of nurturing fast bowlers in recent years, received more than 350,000 applicants for their talent-hunt program — nearly half of them tape-ball players, including the ambidextrous pace marvel Yasir Jan.
“We give them platform in our development program and send them to Australia to hone their talent,” said head coach Aaqib Javed.
According to Wasim, fast bowling is so deeply ingrained that Pakistan’s stocks will never run out.
“Many natural resources will dry up, but not Pakistan bowling’s reservoirs,” he said. “Our fast bowling future is secure as they follow footsteps and run-ups.”