Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Power Ranking of World Leaders

Here's the new power rankings of world leaders. The last one was posted on May 18.

Rank Leader Country Previous Rank
1 Xi Jiangping China 1
2 Kim Jong-un North Korea 2
3 Moon Jae-in South Korea 5
4 Lee Hsien Loong Singapore Not Ranked
5Vladimir Putin Russia 6
6 Donald Trump United States 7
7 Ali Khamenei Iran 3
8 Benjamin Netanyahu Israel 4
9 Mahathir bin Muhammad Malaysia 10
10Mohammad bin Salman Saudi Arabia 8

1. The big winner of the U.S.-North Korea summit? China. Nothing of substance came about, but tensions do seem to be thawing. The U.S. also promised to end joint military exercises with South Korea. Xi couldn't have drawn it up better.

2. Kim got his wish to sit down with a U.S. president and sign a joint declaration of friendship. The cherry on top came when the president called Kim "honorable" and "talented." Between the summit with South Korean president Moon and this summit with Trump, Kim is apparently the most popular belle at the ball.

3. Moon worked hard to restore the summit after Trump cancelled it over hurt feelings last month. While the summit didn't accomplish world peace, it did keep the process going, which is ultimately helpful to South Korea and Moon's legacy.

4. The summit put the spotlight on Singapore, one of the most successful countries in the world. Singapore has the rare distinction of being a trade partner with North Korea and also a close ally of the U.S.

5. Putin was kicked out of the G-7 for invading Crimea in 2014. Putin critics argue he never should've been invited in, but the invasion exposed him as the bad faith actor he is. Now U.S. president Donald Trump has inexplicably whined that Putin should be let back into the club, despite killing dissidents and breaking international laws by invading other sovereign nations. Putin should hire Trump as his agent. Plus, the World Cup is in Russia starting tomorrow.

6. The summit with Kim was a positive step. Despite his critics' fears, Trump didn't mess things up and induce nuclear war. It was a rare success for Trump, who hasn't seen much else go right- usually due to his own actions. He insulted America's allies at the G-7 meeting, initially cancelled the summit like a petulant child before looking ridiculous and making an about-face, and promised to end joint military exercises with South Korea without getting any concessions from the North Koreans or consulting the South Koreans. And that was just in the last few weeks. That doesn't include ripping up the Iran deal (a deal similar to the one he hopes to get with North Korea), moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem without getting any concessions from Israel, starting a trade war with China, starting a trade war with our allies, and walking away from the TPP before asking to get back in.

7. It looks like Iran will restart its nuclear weapons program if the other parties in the JCPOA can't save it. That favors the hardliners like the Grand Ayatollah in Iran over moderates like president Hassan Rouhani.

8. Despite being interviewed by police for corruption this week, Netanyahu is doing well thanks to Trump. The U.S. moved its embassy to Jerusalem and Israel didn't have to give anything up. Netanyahu also convinced Trump to get out of the JCPOA.

9. Prime Minister Mahathir hopes to reinvigorate his country and has invited Ali Baba head Jack Ma and Indian prime minister Narendra Modi to Malaysia in recent weeks in order to do just that.

10. MbS falls down the list as activist women were arrested last month showing that either MbS isn't the reformer he has tried to portray himself as or the crown prince doesn't have as much power as he hopes. His war in Yemen is a disaster, but he has become close to Trump.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Game Four - Thrice as Nice

The Golden State Warriors won their third championship in four years to cement their legacy as a dynasty. Led by Stephen Curry's 37 and Finals MVP Kevin Durant's triple double, the game's outcome wasn't in much doubt from the outset.

The core of the team over the past four seasons has been Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green with Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston acting as key role players. Reserve Kevon Looney joined three years ago. When Kevin Durant arrived before last season, the Warriors solidified their position as perennial favorites. David West, JaVale McGee, Zaza Pachulia, and Patrick McCaw arrived with Durant and contributed differing levels of help. This year, Quinn Cook filled in admirably for an injured Stephen Curry towards the end of the regular season and Jordan Bell and Nick Young also provided some key minutes. And thus, the 2018 Golden State Warriors were formed.

Cleveland never really had a chance. The Cavs were fortunate even to make the Finals for the fourth time. Without LeBron James, who is a free agent, Cleveland is a lottery team. The trades int he middle of the season were ill-advised. Gone was all star Isaiah Thomas. Key glue player Jae Crowder was also shipped away. Some solid talent in George Hill, Larry Nance, Rodney Hood, and Jordan Clarkson were acquired, but it left the Cavs with a plethora of serviceable players, but fewer standouts.

The new talent could've been molded into a winner, but head coach Ty Lue was too late in making adjustments. Hood sat on the bench for much of the playoffs and it was too little too late by the time he got in during the Finals. He managed to score 15 in Game 3, but his shot was inconsistent from sitting on the bench so much and he struggled to score 10 in Game 4. A nearly 17 ppg scorer in Utah this season, Hood sat much of Game 7 in the first round against Indiana even though he had been score efficiently during the series.

Neither Nance, nor Tristan Thompson played enough in the Finals. Too often Lue was trying to matchup his inferior players to Golden State, instead of forcing Steve Kerr to make any hard decisions. After burning up during most of the playoffs, Kyle Korver struggled in the final six games. But his presence on the floor creating openings down low. Instead of giving Korver confidence, Lue stripped him of minutes. Jeff Green defended his friend Kevin Durant well in the Game 1, but then his minutes were cut too.

Instead, J.R. Smith and George Hill, the two goats from Game 1, were trotted out on the floor like some Russian soldiers without weapons during World War I. Hill had one decent game in Game 2, but otherwise contributed virtually nothing despite playing nearly 30 minutes a game. Hill had a couple of good games during the playoffs while playing over 30 minutes, but most effective as a bench scorer in the Indiana series. Smith played terrible all series long and should've been pulled as soon as Lue realized he wasn't going to recover from his Game 1 blunder. The realization came to everyone else after Game 2's first quarter. Smith played 32 minutes a game in the Finals and scored 9 and half points per game on 31.7% shooting from the field. He made up for it by playing poor defense.

For Golden State to keep the dynasty going, the big question is Kevin Durant's impending free agency. Having won two Finals MVPs during his time in Oakland, perhaps he wants to establish his legacy further by taking a less talented team to the promised land. The original core should be back for another season, which makes the Warriors a contender regardless of Durant's decision.

Golden State's 108-85 victory ended the first sweep in the Finals since 2007 when the Spurs won four straight against an under-talented Cavs team led by LeBron and only the second time since the Lakers swept the Nets in '02.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Game Three - One More 'Til Three for Four

Golden State took a commanding three games to nothing lead in the 2018 NBA Finals thanks to timely buckets by Stephen Curry and the greatness of Kevin Durant.

Cleveland started Game 3 at home with a bang, but by the end of the first quarter, the Cavs' lead was only one. LeBron James, who had a 33-point triple double, kept his team in the game throughout. Kevin Love rebounded well, grabbing 13 missed shots and scoring 20 points. Tristan Thompson had another good game with 8 points, including an acrobatic layup on the other side of the rim from which he started, and 7 rebounds. Otherwise, only Rodney Hood had a noteworthy game for the Cavs. After spending much of the Finals on the bench, he chipped in 15 points.

Golden State featured balanced scoring and the offensive genius of Kevin Durant. Durant had an incredibly efficient 43 points on 23 shots. He added 9 assists and was a clutch shooter down the stretch, including a late three from well beyond the arc as the shot clock ended. The Warriors need his performance because Curry and Klay Thompson showed that they are human, not three-point making machines. They shot 7 for 27 collectively. But Curry had a late lay up and a three that helped propel Golden State forward in tight game.

The Warriors also got good bench play. Andre Iguodala came back from injury to score 8 points. Shaun Livingston added 8. Two of Golden State's centers, JaVale McGee and Jordan Bell scored 10 points.

Cleveland lost 110-102 and now are one game away from elimination. But LeBron James did complete a play for the ages. He flew by McGee, threw the ball of the backboard, and slammed it down hard.

Sunday, June 03, 2018

Game Two - Curry For Three

Golden State intended to punish the downtrodden Cleveland Cavaliers after the latter's heartbreaking Game One loss. The Warriors knocked down 10 of their first 11 field goals, but Cleveland valiantly hung on and trailed by only four after one.

The Warriors made a run in the second and went into halftime with a double digit lead. In the third, Cleveland kept pace, cutting the lead to five at one point. Kevin Love had another strong game with 22 points and 10 rebounds. Thirteen of his points came in the third.

Golden State broke the game open in the fourth. Stephen Curry hit five of his NBA Finals-record nine three points in the final quarter including a ridiculous fade-away buzzer-beating 28-footer that swished beautifully. He amassed 33 points with 8 assists and 7 rebounds. Klay Thompson (20 points) and Kevin Durant (26 points) both made well over half of their shots. Neither JaVale McGee nor Shaun Livingston missed a shot from the field. McGee scored 12 points on six field goals and Livingston scored 10 on five. Draymond Green had another strong all-around game.

LeBron James had performed well- if not legendarily. He scored 29 points on 50% shooting with 13 assists and 9 rebounds. After being poked in the eye in Game One, he sported a severely reddened sclera. Tristan Thompson scored 11 points and grabbed 5 rebounds, but for some reason, head coach Ty Lue only played him 23 minutes. George Hill added 15 points.

J.R. Smith's Game One blunder carried over into Game Two. He scored only 5 points in 31 minutes. During his lone free throw attempt, the Warriors' faithful began sarcastically chanting "MVP! MVP!" Smith missed.

The Warriors pulled away in the end and won 122-103 to take a two games to nothing series lead.

Friday, June 01, 2018

Game One - J. R. Smith's Blunder

Stephen Curry and LeBron James had each just made clutch drives to the basket. Curry, who ended with 29 points, zipped by J.R. Smith and was fouled on his penetration and nailed the free throw give Golden State a one point lead, 107-106, with 23.5 seconds remaining.

LeBron, who notched a career playoff high 51 points, dribbled the ball until he found a cutting George Hill. Klay Thompson grabbed him and a foul was called with 4.7 seconds left. Hill stepped up to the line and tied the game on his first attempt. He then missed the go-ahead free throw.

J.R. Smith improbably grabbed the offensive rebound as Kevin Durant inexplicably found himself under the basket. Wide open for an easy putback, Smith dribbled out to center court. LeBron implored Smith to pass towards the basket and even tried to call timeout. Belatedly, Smith passed to Hill, who didn't have to time to release a proper shot. The game went into overtime where Golden State blitzed Cleveland, winning 124-114 to take Game 1.


Cleveland and Golden State are meeting for the fourth straight NBA Finals. Both teams needed Game 7 wins on the road after each trailed the conference finals 3-2. Cleveland traded away several key players for mostly untested talent in return in the middle of the regular season. Head Coach Ty Lue then decided not to trust the new acquisitions. Only LeBron's greatness pushed the Cavs past Indiana in 7, Toronto in 4, and Boston in 7 to return to the Finals.

Golden State limped through the regular year, finishing second behind the Houston Rockets in the West. Their bench proved weaker than in years past and the Warriors often looked disinterested and beatable. They trailed by double digits in both Games 6 and 7 against Houston only to win both and try for their third title in four years.

Cleveland was surprisingly competitive early in Game 1. The Cavs took a one point lead heading into the second quarter and Klay Thompson, Game 6 hero against Houston, sustained a leg injury in the first quarter when J.R. Smith rolled onto him.Thompson would come back and scored 24 points while making half his shots.

Only a deep Curry three at the buzzer sent the game into a halftime tied. Golden State had its customary explosive third quarter to take a six point lead into the fourth. The fourth went back and forth when Smith made his crushing mistake.

Thirty four years earlier, Derek Harper dribbled out the clock in Game 4 of the Western Conference semis with the scored tied. The Lakers beat Harper's Mavs in overtime. Golden State's Shaun Livingston made sure history would repeat itself. The reserve scored 6 of his 10 points in the extra period.

Kevin Durant struggled shooting, scoring 26 points while making just 36.4% of his field goals. Jeff Green defended him especially well. Draymond Green was one assist shy of a triple double. For Cleveland, the only non-LeBron players to score in double figures were Kevin Love (21 points, 13 rebounds) and Smith (10 points). Larry Nance Jr. added 9 points and 11 boards in his first Finals game.