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By now, almost every blogger out there would have put out their own predictions for the Conference Finals.

Being one of them, I thought I'd join in on the fun! But a word of caution: the basketball channel in my household switched over to another cable provider at the start of the year, so since January I haven't been able to watch the NBA on a consistent basis. And even in the playoffs, I missed some great games, and that sucks. I've been doing my best to make up for it by scouring the net for blogs, articles and features, but it's just not the same.

Still, I think I've read and know enough about the teams playing to make, at least, some sensible predictions.

And with that, I present my thoughts on the NBA Conference Finals.

Boston Celtics in 7

This is it. The dream match-up. The one almost everybody saw coming since the season began. The Cavs almost screwed it all up, but we finally have it.

I'm picking the Celtics in 7 games, though. Despite their obvious troubles on the road and Ray Allen's nightly flirtations with mediocrity, they have found ways to win. I think those tough tests should only prepare them better for Detroit, who is oozing experience and team chemistry. Ray Allen is too good not to get better (although he did shoot 3-10 in Game 1), and Kevin Garnett has somehow increased his role in the offense. Pierce showed the world how much he wants to win the title this year when he answered the call in Game 7, so I feel all the Celtcis will follow suit. Oh, and yeah, they will finally win a road game in the Playoffs.

The Pistons, I believe, will prove to be a tough test. Although you have to question their mindset. Let's not forget, this is the same team that claims to perform better when unappreciated. But with Celtics underachieving, mostly everybody favors the Pistons now. And that could rob them of their intensity. Especially Rasheed Wallace, who thrives on adversity. Detroit will still come out focused, though, and you can bet Chauncey will keep his boys in check all throughout.

Every obvious advantage goes to the Pistons (deeper bench, rock-solid chemistry, championship experience, and a clutch player), but somehow, I feel it's the Celtics' time. Paul Pierce wants it, Kevin Garnett also wants it, Ray Allen should want it, and they just survived two taxing match-ups. I think they're ready for the next step.


Los Angeles Lakers in 7

As much as I disregarded all conventional wisdom in my pick for the East Finals, I have to be more realistic with the Spurs-Lakers series.

Like the Pistons, the core of the Spurs have been together for so long now. Also, like the Pistons, they have been playing virtually the same core for years now, have won championships and always is a threat to win the title any given year.

But that's where the similarities end. Unlike the Pistons, the Spurs have no motivational issues, plays the same way whether they're the underdogs (HA!) or the favorites. They have one of the best coaches in the league, they never implode at the most inopportune times, and they seem to have mastered the black arts while getting away with it.

HOWEVER, the Lakers have the reigning MVP. But, unlike Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant can never be considered as "soft" or "un-clutch". And, as dirty as Bruce Bowen can be, he cannot contain The Black Mamba. With Kobe playing for something meaningful again, expect him to rise to the occasion like he always does.

The biggest question here is whether the bench will answer the call. This is a pretty young group of guys, with no one exceptional having been on a stage as big as this. Fortunately for them, they have an international champion in Pau Gasol, a Lamar Odom who seems to have turned the corner, and the valuable leadership and toughness that Derek Fisher provides.

This will be a great series, and with two coaching genuises at the helms, it's going to be fun seeing them one-upping each other game after game.

But in the end, I think the Lakers will take this in 7. The Spurs are tough, but the series against the Hornets showed they have somehow really slowed a little. And I just can't vouch for a team that deliberately hurts other players.

And yeah, the Spurs are allergic to consecutive titles.

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"You Shall Not Doubt"

Why is it that we never learn? We used to do it with the Spurs, calling them "old and tired" whenever they finished with less than the # 2 spot in the West. Doubting that they'd be able to win a championship that particular year.

Well, at least we've moved on from that absurd notion. Now, despite the Spurs finishing # 4 in the West, despite being down in a 0-2 hole, despite them actually aging and tiring, we are smart enough never to count them out. Never ever.

I think it's about time we treat LeBron with that kind of respect.

For seasons now, we have been doubting LeBron's (and the Cavs') abilities to get it done in the postseason. We cite far too many reasons, and while most are valid or even clearly evident, we keep forgetting one thing.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have LeBron James.

I started to notice this last season. Everybody was pretty disappointed with him during the regular season. Cleveland's record (and LeBron's stats) somehow gave off the vibe that their superstar is coasting. People got on him for obviously not giving his 110% night-in and night-out. Faulting him for looking at the bigger picture (fresher legs come the Playoffs) and declaring that his team would not even get past the 1st round.

And how did he respond? He basically slayed the Eastern Conference Gods (the Pistons) single-handedly, bringing the Cavaliers to their first-ever Finals appearance since never and showing the world that he will dominate when necessary.

He showed his mortality against the Spurs, but hell, even the Spurs couldn't win the championship every year.

I thought that by this season, we (including me) would have learned something.

But no. People believed that the Wizards could beat the Cavs. People thought the Hawks stood a much better chance against the Celtics, and that Cleveland would never even get to sniff the possibility of beating Boston. Yet here we are, four games in the Eastern Semis later, and the series is tied 2-2. With the momentum clearly now in Cleveland's favor.

Once again, LeBron is dismissing the notion that they have gotten worse.

I don't mean for this piece to sound like a declaration that Cleveland will win the title. Far from it, in fact.

What I mean, however, is for us to start viewing LeBron James (and the Cavs) in the same light as the San Antonio Spurs. That no matter what their regular season's record is, no matter who the players are on the roster, no matter how formidable their foe is, we should never, EVER count the Cavaliers out of any game. Ever again.

As long as they have King James... As long as they have The Great Equalizer... As long as LeBron plays (he can beat you without scoring)... They can beat any team. Any team. Just ask the Pistons. Then maybe we'll need to ask the Celtics later on.

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Deep down inside, the nerd in me is yearning to break free. And in all honesty, I might have to oblige.

It was jump-started by Blade, made lucrative by Spider-Man, gained respectability with Batman, and now has been transformed into an art form by Iron Man.

Having seen Iron Man just last Saturday, I am convinced that the day has come for us to take comic book/video game/TV cartoon films seriously. Gone are the days when fan boys cringe at the thought of movie adaptations of their beloved franchises.

By now, simply "reviewing" Iron Man would be moot. It's either you've seen it, are planning to see it, or you're simply dead. But there is no way a sane person would miss this.

So with that, I'd love to get my nerd on and list down a few things that have me chirping about the bright future of franchise films.

3. Crossovers!!! - Why didn't they think of this sooner?! Comic books do this all the time. The X-Men appear in X-Force, Spider-Man buddies up with the Fantastic Four... Hell, even Sabrina makes occasional appearances with The Archies! So why is it happening just now with movies? I have no clue, but I certainly am not complaining. This, by itself, is enough to make me go watch the next Hulk film. Pure genius by Marvel.

2. The BioShock film - The game was the absolute bomb. The story was deep and intriguing, the atmosphere was downright twisted, and it presented to you choices that no human would hopefully have to make. In other words, it would make the perfect movie. In fact, you might even say that this is an "interactive film". But right now, only XBox 360 fan boys can relate. Rest assured, though, after the film's release, the word "Harvest" will take on a completely new meaning.

1. G.I. Joe - Need I say more? Anybody who's ever been a child will surely remember these guys. I used to think that this movie will definitely blow. This, however, changed my mind. And, man, it'll feel so good to get re-acquainted with ol' Snake Eyes.

P.S. I haven't forgotten about Watchmen (voted as one of Time's 100 best novels), I just don't know too much about it to get really excited.

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With Kobe Bryant's recent coronation as the NBA's Most Valuable Player, I felt that now is as good a time as any to re-post my last piece on The Black Mamba. As someone who used to hate the Lakers, it's amazing how Kobe has changed most fans' (and the media's) perception of him. Much love, Kobe. 

Originally Posted on September 13, 2007

2000 Western Conference Finals: Blazers up by 15, 3rd Quarter, Game 7. Winner goes on to the NBA Finals. Life was good.

And then the 4th quarter came. In 12 minutes, I went from hoping Portland would win to hoping LA would lose. Every game. EVER.

And, on that moment, Kobe-hating was born.

You see, I used to like Kobe. He came in at a time when skipping college was relatively rare but becoming more appreciated. KG started the movement, and Kobe was one of the first recipients of the hype machine. I even used to collect his rookie cards! I remember watching him flame out in a playoff series against Utah early in his career. I like the fact that despite airballing his shots, he never hesitated. Hell, I admired him after that! So you see, I have nothing against Kobe the person.

And then that game above had to happen. I hated LA. I hated anything associated with the Lakers. Shaquille was just too dominant a player. Kobe was just too good. Add them up, and you get three years of frustration. Frustrated why a team fielding Rick Fox and Samaki Walker in the starting lineup could win championships. Wondering why a team as balanced as Portland and Sacramento could never get over the hump. From 2000-2002, the Lakers were the best team in the world, and Kobe was probably half the reason why. Actually, I feared him more than Shaq. He was able to score from almost anywhere, able to shoot over anyone, and able to send shivers down your spine you'd start to think he was ice. So let the hate pour, I did.

But then, the scandal happened. Kobe allegedly raped (or whatever is the more appropriate term) a girl in Colorado. When first read the story, I said "Whoa. Crazy." It surprised me, but I wasn't shocked. After all, it's not like he's the only athlete, hell, PERSON, who's done that kind of stuff. A few reports here and there would be enough, I assumed. So imagine my shock when this thing not only threatened to ruin Kobe's career, but also almost destroyed his image. The media talked about it as if he killed another person. It was all over the news, it was the subject of many a magazine cover... It was basketball, for some time.

Damn, people hated Kob' so much they basically threw out common sense. It was possible, after all, that it was not rape. It could simply have been extortion. Yes, I believe Kobe did it, and even he admitted it. But I had a hard time accepting the fact that it was rape.

Anyways, that should have given me more reason to hate Kobe. That should have been the proverbial nail-in-the-coffin, the last straw. But miraculously, it did the opposite. Whereas Kobe used to seem so self-assured on and off the court, it brought him to earth. The admission of the truth, the handling of the sheer craziness that ensued, the apology... Everything. Kobe handled it well. As much as I hated him (basketball-wise), I never wished him harm.

But now, we see a new Kobe. Yeah, the swagger's still there, and the instinct is still killer. But we see someone who wants to play team ball. Who wants to share the spotlight. Who knows his place.

More importantly, we see a Kobe who's not letting a second chance pass. The stigma is still there, somewhat. But that doesn't faze him. He almost lost the tag of Best Player Alive (of which there is no doubt). But that didn't faze him. He was thisclose to losing Nike's support. But that didn't faze him. Hell, he might've almost lost his family! That didn't faze him! He still did his thing, and I've got nothing but respect for that. Kept it all in and just worked for the things he almost lost. Shit, I'm even glad he visited the Philippines last week. The love he got from the people was satisfying, and I wish I could've been there.

I'm not quick to label him a totally changed man, and I'm not saying he's suddenly perfect. But we could all learn a lesson from Kob'. Maybe he learned his lesson, maybe it's all for show. That's for God to decide.

But I'm seeing a man that outlasted the pain. Who didn't change for anyone, but just changed for the better. And I respect that. It just goes to show you that even a person as self-assured as Kobe might go through shit. The great equalizer is our response. And I don't want to look far ahead at something this negative, but I just hope I will be smart about it. Like Kobe, I hope to re-emerge unscathed and better than ever.

A Lakers jersey still won't ever touch my back. And the Lakers will still be hated to death. But Kobe? Man, I respect the dude. Give credit where credit is due.

If nothing else, give the man a f*cking chance.

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Remember those "Things I want to do before I die" lists that cheery high-schoolers used to make? Well, I never made such a list (at least not to the point where I actually wrote it down), but I have to admit that there were some ideas that crossed my mind.

Be a DJ by night, make a music video, watch the NBA live, meet Shawn Michaels, be able to simultaneously love and hate the Los Angeles Lakers... Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Go ahead and chalk one up for me.

We went to Samal this weekend and, between waiting for the low tide to pass and lunch to be served, a rare moment of lucidity somehow chanced upon us.

It started off innocently enough, with our "Guitar Hero PUGO" Gio strumming tasty nothings out of his guitar. As I bobbed my head to the beat looking for the perfect lyric, Jasna reeled off this gem: "Taba, taba, taba..." With a chorus in place, I started spitting random thoughts that somehow, some way, started to make sense. They were mostly Nicolas family inside jokes, so I don't really need to mention them here. But soon enough, we had created a hook, refrain and chorus and the laughs were all around. I fancied myself a lyrical genius, although I am just merely below that bar. I kid, I kid.

Later that afternooon, we decided to go buckwild with what we had. It wasn't enough for us to simply make fun of ourselves now. It was time to ice it, go mainstream, and we had to have lyrics that everybody could relate to.

So, after some much-needed tweaks lyrically and musically, "Pangalawang Tanghalian" was completed. And with it, the birth of Salocin.

But, like a pack of Jugheads, we stayed hungry. "Pangalawang Tanghalian" was money in the bank, no doubt. However, we wanted versatility, man. We wanted to diversify. And with a perfect topic to talk about (leaving for the States soon), I felt the timing couldn't have been better.

Once again asking Gio to strum anything, I was able to hum a potential chorus. After solidifying the lyrics of the chorus, it was on to formulating the verse. But we felt the melody was strong enough to stand on its own, and we wanted a song that sounded familiar but was somehow different structurally. With no mic in my hand, I started singing (yes, singing) what I've been wanting to speak about for some time now. It took a little work and polishing, but most of the lyrics were spontaneous and really heartfelt. In about 30 minutes, we were able to finish "Needing You".

With limited resources and a tight budget, we decided to just simply record the song at home. And so, we went into a dresser (which was really enclosed perfectly to trap in the sound), locked all the doors, focused and, despite the sweltering heat, completely lost ourselves in the music.

And that was that. Salocin had suddenly produced two quality songs (in our opinion) in two days. Yes, this was truly a labor of love.

All kidding aside, though, we really think highly of the two songs. Yes, they are not that complex, the lyrics ain't really that deep, the singing was often off-key and only an acoustic guitar was used... But damn, this felt good. Really good.

That's one life goal, and many more to go.

Next up? Music videos. Yeah.

Download: Needing You
Download: Pangalawang Tanghalian

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