Making a Top 10 list of the 2017 NBA Finals could be done with just one player: Kevin Durant.

The move from Oklahoma City to the Bay Area has been a knockout success for Durant and he was the star of these NBA Finals as the Golden Warriors dispatched the Cleveland Cavaliers in five games.

Durant topped 30 points in each contest and was named MVP of the finals. He averaged 35.2 points and shot 55.6 percent from the field.

The good thing for Durant is he no longer has to listen to any nonsense about not having a ring. Now his only issue is trying to win another one.

The Warriors and Cavaliers have met in each of the past three NBA Finals with Golden State winning two of the crowns. It looks highly possible that the two teams could meet against next June.

The only possible problem might be Cleveland GM LeBron James — we know who runs the franchise — messing things up with his latest teammate demands.

Here are 10 takeaways from the 2017 NBA Finals:

 

10. Just how mad is Russell Westbrook tonight after seeing Durant celebrating his NBA title?

9. Television announcer Mike Breen yelled “BANG!” after a 3-point basket … which I’m sure families who have had somebody shot to death always appreciate while watching a SPORTING EVENT.

8. Did Golden State’s David West and Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson kiss when they had that little love scuffle? Who proposed to whom in that scenario?

7. Kind of funny to me that some people are just discovering how good Kyrie Irving is — do they not watch basketball until the Finals?

6. My back gets sore just looking at Warriors coach Steve Kerr. I can’t imagine how painful it must be to battle spinal fluid issues.

5. LeBron James has been in the NBA Finals seven straight seasons. Was about to think how tough that is to do until I see Cleveland benchwarmer James Jones (eight minutes played in the series) has achieved the same thing.

4. No more Doris Burke questions for five months. Thank God.

3. Draymond Green’s annoyance level is now higher than his talent level, a sad development when you consider what a great story it was for a second-round selection to become a big star.

2. Games feel disappointing when Stephen Curry doesn’t make at least one 60-footer in a game.

1. Some buffoons at an Oklahoma City newspaper once called Durant “Mr. Unreliable” in a headline. Hopefully the entire staff was fired.

This will probably sound mean at first but I am really, really glad NASCAR star Jimmie Johnson had skin cancer surgery this week.

Of course, it isn’t that I wanted Johnson — or anybody else — to have a skin cancer situation. It is just that he is a very visible and well-respected public figure who can help awareness.

Johnson had surgery to remove basal cell carcinoma from his shoulder — and that type of skin cancer is something I know very, very well.

I’ve had too many basal cell carcinoma situations to count. My first experience was the scariest — the spot near my nose on the left side of the face required major surgery and the tumor was bigger than a quarter inside my face. Somewhere there is a Polaroid photo of the hole in my face before I was stitched back up.

Nobody I meet ever can tell this occurred without me pointing it out to them so my surgeon did a superb job. But it is hard to forget laying there and having your face cut open — it took 42 stitches to close me back up — and every time the doctor sensed I could feel it, there was another shot to the face.

A needle into the face.

Yeah, 3 1/2 hours of super, duper fun. Not.

I have had three others surgically removed and probably two dozen others frozen off with liquid nitrogen, which is negative 321 degrees. That is also the preferred way to be treated — a 10-second squirt and it freezes the area and the cancer falls off in less than two weeks.

Oh, another reason why I am glad Johnson was dealing with basal cell carcinoma — he didn’t hear the dreaded ‘M word.’

That would be melanoma. That’s the worst word you can hear when you are visiting the skin doctor and he or she identifies something suspicious.

Melanoma leads to things like chemotherapy and radiation and is a death sentence for some people. But basal cell carcinoma doesn’t spread, it is a local cancer and it doesn’t kill you.

Johnson learned the same thing I did during my first experience — if you have to get skin cancer, this is the type to get.

“Carcinoma doesn’t spread. It doesn’t go to the glands,” Johnson told reporters Friday at Pocono Raceway prior to this Sunday’s Pocono 400. “They just have to dig it out and you’re good to go. Once I understood that, my reaction to the ‘C’ word calmed down.”

Good time to mention to read this stellar story about Johnson’s experience — http://www.sportsxchange.com/tsxfiles/?page_id=211&max_colums=20&story_id=168468

Johnson grew up in the San Diego suburb of El Cajon and was often outside in the Southern California sun.

I can relate. When I was a kid you played outdoors all day and there was little talk about sunscreen. I went to hundreds of day-time sporting events while growing up to watch the Padres or Chargers play and I know I was unprotected most of the time.

The sun damage accumulates over time and I have to constantly be aware. I’m diligent and nearly always have sunscreen with me and I still regularly get a new spot or mole that needs to be checked.

There is better awareness this century and that is why I am glad somebody like Johnson can tell his personal skin cancer experience.

People listen to a legendary figure like himself — his Twitter post below from Monday has so far received 763 retweets and more than 2,700 likes.

“Wear sunblock kids. I’ve spent the morning on a table having Basal Cell Carcinoma cut out of my shoulder.”

That type of reaction doesn’t happen when I post about a new skin cancer. I don’t have that type of pull.

But Johnson does and that is why I wasn’t the least bit mad that he joined me as someone who deals with basal cell carcinoma. He is someone who can raise the awareness and I hope his experience leads to some people getting into the habit of applying sunscreen.

Welcome to the club, Jimmie. Hope you never hear the M word.

Are you familiar with Petra Kvitova? No?

Perhaps you should get familiar. She is one of the best sports stories of the year.

The two-time Wimbledon champion probably won’t win an ESPY because ESPN doesn’t know there are other athletes not named LeBron or Gronk.

But wow, the left-handed Kvitova is quite an inspiration after returning to tennis just five months after her left hand and forearm were severely damaged in a knife attack at her home in the Czech Republic.

Kvitova fought off the attacker in the Dec. 20 incident and underwent nearly four hours of surgery. Her tennis future was in severe doubt and she still doesn’t have full use of the hand.

Full details of the injury, the attack and the path of her return are detailed in this stellar story — http://www.sportsxchange.com/tsxfiles/?page_id=211&max_colums=20&story_id=167504

But there she was Sunday playing in the French Open, well ahead of schedule, and turning Roland Garros into a highly emotional tennis wonderland. And Kvitova not only played, she won her match 6-3, 6-2 over American Julia Boserup in her first time on a court since November.

“This match is special to me. I won for the second time, if I can say,” Kvitova said after her match. “I think I played well after six months off. I’m happy with the game, of course, but I mean, it wasn’t really about the game today.”

Kvitova’s attacker hasn’t been found so she treads carefully when discussing the attack. But her courageous return and first-round performance speak volumes.

She is highly popular on the women’s tennis tour and has received a ton of support. One of the social media congratulations on Sunday came from Boserup — the player Kvitova cruised past.

“Congratulations to @Petra_Kvitova for so much more than winning a tennis match today,” Boserup said on her Twitter account.

Hey, can you imagine LeBron congratulating somebody on the Warriors when the Cavaliers lose a game in the NBA Finals?

Neither can I.

LeBron can have all the ESPN love but it’s no contest when it comes to which athlete packs a more inspirational story.

It is Petra Kvitova in a landslide.

The San Diego Padres took this picture shortly after the statue was unveiled.

Baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn would have turned 57 years old on Tuesday if he were alive but his birthday was remembered in a fond way by the city of Poway.

Gwynn lived in the north San Diego County city about 20 miles north of Qualcomm Stadium during his Hall of Fame career and up to his death in 2014 due to salivary cancer. The eight-time batting champion with the San Diego Padres was honored Tuesday with the unveiling of an 11-foot statue of him in his Padres’ uniform tipping his cap and holding daughter Anisha.

And think, because Gwynn had a personal relationship with me, the ceremony was on my radar and I made sure the nice local story went national. http://www.upi.com/Sports_News/MLB/2017/05/09/Tony-Gwynns-hometown-erects-statue-in-his-honor/1141494361490/

It also reminds me of those times Gwynn the college baseball coach would get on my case because my newspaper wouldn’t let me cover more of his San Diego State baseball games. One night in the office, I scored big with this doozy: “Most people want to see more of Tony Gwynn. Tony Gwynn wants to see more of me.”

 

The NFL draft begins Thursday and I am noticing I’m not really looking forward to it.

That’s an odd feeling in that I covered the draft as a professional more than a dozen times at either the professional or college level. And always made sure my Saturdays were clear to watch it prior to that well before this decade’s dumb three-day format.

Analyzing things, I can see why I’m not all that interested in the 2017 NFL draft.

That’s because this is the first draft in my lifetime in which my hometown doesn’t have an NFL team.

Not the least bit interested in who the Los Angeles Chargers pick. Geez, it is hard writing that city’s name before Chargers.

The Chargers belong to San Diego, not the smog clowns and silicone fakes of Los Angeles. The draft is really the first time a big NFL event happens in which the Chargers aren’t referred to as “San Diego Chargers.”

When Roger Goodell reads that phrase off the cue card as the Chargers make their first-round pick, it is a loud reminder to the football world that San Diego is no longer an NFL town.

Dean Spanos had ample opportunities to make it work in San Diego and didn’t have the big-boy leadership abilities to make it happen. Good riddance to him and his poorly run organization.

That is where we will miss the draft — mocking the Chargers for their sad first-round picks.

The lousy picks roll off the tongue easily — receiver Walker Gillette in 1970, running back Leon Burns in 1971, fullback Bo Matthews in 1974, cornerback Mossy Cade in 1984 (Google him to see what a total reject he is) and the biggest draft bust of all-time in quarterback Ryan Leaf in 1998.

There are many other busts — one of my favorites being receiver Craig “Buster” Davis in 2007. I called up Davis’ receivers coach at LSU while writing a profile story and got greeted with all kinds of criticisms of Davis’ desire, toughness and inability to stay healthy.

Guess what Davis was known for during his 26 total games over four seasons with the Chargers? Yep, low desire, no toughness, always injured.

During Davis’ second season, I already wrote song lyrics about him called “Wasted Draft Pick,” to the tune of Rod Stewart’s “Infatuation.”

Great pick, A.J. Smith! Might want to talk a player’s position coach before you select him.

Of course, there were superb first-round picks over the years too — defensive tackle Gary “Big Hands” Johnson in 1975, tight end Kellen Winslow in 1979, defensive end Leslie O’Neal in 1986, linebacker Junior Seau in 1990, running back LaDainian Tomlinson in 2001 and the great quarterback maneuver of 2004 when Eli Manning refused to play for the Chargers but Smith drafted him anyway before working out a trade with the New York Giants for Philip Rivers.

General manager Tom Telesco has fared well in the first round of the last three drafts with cornerback Jason Verrett, running back Melvin Gordon and defensive end Joey Bosa.

The Chargers select seventh this time around so they are positioned well to land another good talent.

But there will be a different feeling when Telesco makes his pick.

You see, these aren’t the San Diego Chargers anymore. So it no longer is a big deal if the team scores with its pick or lands another bust.

Perhaps that is why the draft’s appeal isn’t there for me this year. My hometown doesn’t have a team and the fun is gone.

You see, I could care less if a team from Los Angeles messes up its draft.

Steve Fisher has retired as San Diego State basketball coach and it certainly is the right time for his departure.

His final team wasn’t all that good — 19-14 to snap a streak of 11 straight 20-win campaigns — while playing in a Mountain West that was mediocre at best and now firmly entrenched as a one-bid league when it comes to the NCAA Tournament.

Several times this season, I tossed out social media comments that it would be Fab Five Fish’s final season. It just had that feeling about it.

Longtime assistant coach Brian Dutcher — one of the most genuinely nice people in college basketball — takes over the program.

Fisher, 72, went 386-209 in 18 seasons with the Aztecs and posted 12 20-win seasons and led the program to eight NCAA Tournament appearances, including a string of six straight.

Making six straight NCAA Tournament appearances was surreal for a program which was among the worst in the nation when Fisher was hired.

Remember, I was covering that awful program when Fisher was hired and he was far from the preferred target.

I broke the story that then-Utah coach Rick Majerus interviewed for the job and Majerus was close to taking it a few days later before he said no. Fran Fraschilla also was offered the job (nope, I didn’t break that one) as was then-Gonzaga coach Dan Monson (yep, broke that one and was waiting at the airport for his Sunday night flight to arrive and when he didn’t come out of the jet way, I knew that was a problem for San Diego State).

At that point, then-athletic director Rick Bay turned to Fisher, who was desperate to get back into college coaching. He had been fired at Michigan a few years earlier and I still remember how stunned I was upon meeting him that he had gray hair in 1999, just a few years after having a full head of brown hair while coaching the Wolverines.

The Aztecs were putrid in his first season and went 5-23 and then Fisher booted five inherited players off the team to free up scholarships.

Two seasons later, led by junior-college transfer Randy Holcomb, the Aztecs made the NCAA Tournament. Credibility had arrived for a program that previously had none.

Eventually, the 20-win seasons became an annual thing but there was still the matter of the program having ZERO NCAA Tournament wins. And you really don’t have a program if you’ve never won an NCAA Tournament game.

Finally, the Kawhi Leonard-led Aztecs had the best season in program history in 2010-11 with a 34-3 mark — a season that will still be the best in school history in 2117 if the world exists.

San Diego State finally got that elusive NCAA tourney win by beating Northern Colorado and eventually lost in the Sweet 16 to eventual national champion Connecticut. The Aztecs also topped 30 wins when they went 31-5 in 2013-14 and again reached the Sweet 16 before falling to Arizona.

If you haven’t figured it out, 30-win seasons aren’t supposed to be accomplishments achieved by the San Diego States of the college basketball landscape.

Last season’s final hurrah was not a good one for Fisher but he certainly elevated the program to heights nobody foresaw. Dutcher has been his right-hand man for all of those 18 seasons so the program philosophy won’t change.

The challenge for Dutcher is to have last season’s subpar campaign be an aberration. Once programs like San Diego State fall back into being just another mid-major program in a poor basketball league, it becomes harder to rise back up. Isn’t that right, UNLV?

But know this: Dutcher steps into a far better situation than the one Fisher inherited. The days where nobody cared that San Diego State even had a basketball program seems like centuries ago.

It was a good run for Steve Fisher but good for him to recognize that it was time for him to depart.

They played college basketball’s national championship game on Monday night and it was a foul-fueled disaster.

Referees Mike Eades, Verne Harris and Michael Stephens apparently thought we tuned in to watch them blow their whistles.

The trio of officials prevented either team from developing a flow in the second half before North Carolina played better down the stretch to register a 71-65 victory over Gonzaga.

The championship is the sixth in Tar Heels’ history and the school will certainly cherish it after losing to Villanova in last season’s title game.

But nobody is going to remember this game as a classic, primarily with the referees calling 44 fouls.

Gonzaga’s chances of winning were diminished when freshman 7-footer Zach Collins was saddled with his fourth foul and eventually fouled out. Losing Collins was a blow with center Przemek Karnowski going 1-of-8 from the field and missing close-range shots like that tall awkward fourth grader in the elementary school league.

However, the Zags also sabotaged their own chances with 14 turnovers while North Carolina committed just four. Gonzaga simply didn’t do enough to win, shot just 33.9 percent from the field and unraveled in the final 90 seconds.

The Tar Heels also had trouble dropping the ball in the ocean as they shot just 35.6 percent from the field and went 4-of-27 from 3-point range.

North Carolina guard Joel Berry II scored 22 points and was named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. He was just 9-of-33 shooting in the Final Four, which should give you a pretty good idea about the lack of quality performances in Monday’s title game.

Tar Heels forward Justin Jackson missed all nine of his 3-point attempts while scoring 16 points on Monday.

Gonzaga was in the NCAA Tournament title game for the first time ever and its season finale will prompt mixed memories down the line. But make no mistake, a 37-2 campaign is a terrific accomplishment.

Bulldogs coach Mark Few got the Final Four monkey off his back and recently passed 500 career wins. He’ll eventually make the Hall of Fame.

North Carolina coach Roy Williams is already in the Hall of Fame. Amazingly, he was won more national titles (three) at North Carolina than legendary Dean Smith (two).

Who knows — maybe the result would have been different if the refs had not taken over and gone whistle crazy.

Then again, probably not, the officials were just as poor for North Carolina.

The Tar Heels (33-7) finished the game better than the Zags and deserved their title. But none of us will remember the 2017 title game fondly.

Somehow it is already time for the NCAA Tournament championship game. Seems like the season just started.

Time flies way too quick these days but I won’t spend too much time dwelling about that as I do know why you are here.

You haven’t forgotten that it was me who nearly hit the final score of last year’s game on the head.

While the so-called experts were all falling over themselves to pick North Carolina, I not only selected Villanova as the winner but I almost nailed the final score on the head.

The final score was Villanova 77, North Carolina 74. My predicted score was Villanova 77, North Carolina 73.

Here is the proof: http://www.reuters.com/article/bkc-villanova-northcarolina-preview-idUSMTZEC443VZQAB

Not easy to predict a college basketball score, let alone nearly hit both ends of the NCAA title game.

Perhaps it is those 16 years as an award-winning college basketball beat writer helping in a cause like that. Perhaps it is just nothing but blind luck.

That said, the big tilt between Gonzaga and North Carolina is just hours away. I wrote the national preview on Sunday and I came up with the winner and final score you have been waiting to see.

So did I pick the veteran North Carolina team that has several players back from the team that lost in last season’s title game? Or did I pick all the Gonzaga transfers who have their school in the national title game for the first time?

Either way, I think it will be a terrific game … I think it will be close down to the final minutes … may even come down to another dose of late-game heroics (don’t forget Kris Jenkins’ game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer last season) … I can see the postgame scene in my head and I have decided upon the winner and the final score.

You can find it here … http://news.lakana.com/sports/preview-gonzaga-vs-north-carolina/109634570

Pretty sure I will hit it exactly this time.

Weekly links … NCAA Tournament style

 

Reminiscing about last week’s NCAA Tournament games and I can’t help but think how fun it was to watch South Carolina defeat Duke.

Of course, it is fun anytime Duke goes home the first week of the tourney but it was especially fun because all the Duke excuse makers were out in full force.

You see, it was somehow unfair for Duke to have to play South Carolina in the state of South Carolina.

But for some reason, it never is unfair for Duke opponents to have to play the Blue Devils in the state of North Carolina. How many times has Duke had two quasi-home games in the NCAA tourney?

Yet somehow it was really unfair for Coach K and his team to have to play in a different state.

Duke couldn’t play in the home state this year because the tournament was pulled from North Carolina due to that weirdo transgender bathroom law.

Do they have guards outside the bathroom checking your gender before you are allowed in? What a dumb law.

Anyway, South Carolina and star guard Sindarius Thornwell outclassed Duke. And Frank Martin outcoached Coach K.

South Carolina became America’s Team for a night as most people around the nation enjoyed watching another Duke early exit.

Go Mercer! Go Lehigh! Go South Carolina!

Isn’t Duke an elite program? Well, elite programs should be able to win anywhere.

End of story.

 

Interesting tidbit I dug up: Wisconsin has won more NCAA Tournament games than anyone else over the past four years.

The Badgers are looking for their 14th NCAA win in that time span when they face Florida on Friday.

Normally, I wouldn’t care who wins a game like this. Especially since my bracket has already met the shredder (thanks, Villanova).

Oh yeah, it was Wisconsin causing my bracket to become full of red ink with its impressive victory over Villanova.

But I now realize it is time for the Badgers to go home. Not their fault but I learned that the slimy politician guy named Paul Ryan is from Wisconsin.

Ryan is the dingbat who is somehow coming up with a worse health care plan than the disaster known as Obamacare (the one time Donald Trump is right). I wouldn’t trust that Ryan clown to correctly put English muffins in the toaster. Heck, my mom calls him a jackass.

Go Gators! Make Paul Ryan have a horrible Friday night.

Here is the stellar preview — http://www.cbssports.com/college-basketball/news/wisconsin-looks-to-keep-run-going-versus-florida/

 

Thursday is the night that all of those Gonzaga fans will become really sad.

The Bulldogs don’t have enough ball-handlers to deal with the “Press Virginia” defense that West Virginia is famous for. The Mountaineers have forced 724 turnovers — nobody else even has 600 — and I see them creating havoc all game long.

Gonzaga also is the team with all the pressure on it. The Bulldogs have never reached a Final Four and even coach Mark Few admitted that the Final Four thing will continue to hang over the program until it reaches one.

Well, I don’t see Nigel Williams-Goss and his teammates even reaching the Elite Eight. I see Gonzaga’s season coming to an end on Thursday.

Here is the stellar preview — http://newsok.sportsdirectinc.com/basketball/ncaab-preview.aspx?page=/data/NCAAB/matchups/g6_preview_19.html

 

 

 

Weekly links out of hibernation …

 

Has it really been 29 years ago since Danny Manning led Kansas to the 1988 national title?

The Jayhawks are usually a high-seeded team that underperforms in March Madness. Think of all that tradition and the high number of great players and then ponder that the school has won just three national championships.

But Kansas was a major overachiever the year “Danny and the Miracles” won the national title. The Jayhawks were a No. 6 seed and weren’t even ranked in the final regular-season Top 25 poll.

The team that was 20-10 entering the NCAA Tournament crashed the Final Four. While everybody else pondered whether Arizona, Duke or Oklahoma would win the title, Manning carried Kansas to the crown. First the Jayhawks beat Duke in the Final Four and then they outlasted Oklahoma in the national championship game.

This famous occurrence is on my mind after writing the Wake Forest-Kansas State preview for Tuesday’s First Four game in Dayton.

Manning is Wake Forest’s coach and he has a long history with Kansas State. And it wasn’t always so memorable. Especially when you close your eyes and imagine this visual:

“One of my first games at K-State, that’s a very heated rivalry, they were throwing live chickens at us,” Manning said on Sunday. “I remember going in there and ducking some live chickens, also some not-so-live ones out of a KFC bucket or whatever.”

Yikes … live chickens landing on the court? … how about people bringing their buckets of chicken and slinging thighs and wings at Manning and his teammates?

That sure doesn’t happen in today’s college basketball world. And you know, I kind of miss the 80s era of college basketball.

Here is the stellar preview — http://www.upi.com/Sports_News/College-Basketball/2017/03/13/Kansas-St-vs-Wake-Forest-NCAA-Tournament-First-Four-preview-prediction/6181489433207/

 

One thing about March Madness is you learn some things you otherwise wouldn’t.

Like where the heck is Mount St. Mary’s? How would they match up with big-time schools?

Or the Pelicans aren’t the only basketball team from New Orleans? We got some Privateers crashing the big dance.

Mount St. Mary’s and New Orleans play each other in Tuesday’s First Four and there is no other time that any of us would even care if they played one another.

The winner gets to move on to Buffalo, where it gets to be trampled by defending-champion Villanova. But regardless, the winner gets to brag that it won an NCAA Tournament game. It will be the second in school history for the winner.

Mount St. Mary’s is located in Emmittsburg, Md. I’m not saying it is a town in the boonies (well, yeah I am) but it is closer to Gettysburg, Pa., than any town in Maryland you’ve heard of. Surely, they talk Civil War more than hoops.

As for the big boys, Mount St. Mary’s started 1-11 this season against a slate that included NCAA Tournament teams West Virginia, Iowa State, Minnesota, Michigan, Arkansas and Bucknell.

New Orleans recorded a road win at Washington State and the fact that the school is in the NCAA tourney is a stunner to the locals, who barely pay attention to the school’s team.

But that’s OK because both the city and university were devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and both have recovered. There were no expectations of the Privateers being part of the NCAA field because they went 10-20 last season. So nice turnaround indeed.

Here is the stellar preview — http://www.upi.com/Sports_News/College-Basketball/2017/03/13/Mount-St-Marys-vs-New-Orleans-NCAA-Tournament-First-Four-preview-prediction/6381489438322/