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Barkley leaves ’em laughing

Predicting the NBA playoffs is no easy task. Charles Barkley makes a lot of predictions, so it’s inevitable that some will blow up in his face. But Barkley is good at laughing at his own expense.

Barkley sits alongside former players Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith and host Ernie Johnson on TNT’s “Inside the NBA,” a must-see show that is half basketball analysis and half comedy.

In a recent interview with Parade magazine, Barkley said, “I’ve had an amazing life. I got paid to play basketball; now I’m getting paid to watch it. I should always be in a good mood.”

Barkley was not in a great mood Monday night. Maybe that was because on TNT’s pregame show he predicted the Los Angeles Lakers would win their Western Conference semifinal series against the Oklahoma City Thunder, who took Game 1 by 29 points.

In the Parade interview, Barkley, who was nicknamed “The Round Mound of Rebound” and “Boy Gorge” during his 16-year playing career, said weight loss is a subject he’s taking seriously.

“I’d gained, like, 100 pounds since I retired, and that wasn’t good,” said Barkley, who is 6 feet 5 inches tall and 292 pounds after trimming about 60 pounds since becoming a Weight Watchers pitchman.

Poking fun at his heavyweight status is easy for Barkley.

“I’ve dressed like a woman on ‘Saturday Night Live,’ so it doesn’t bother me at all,” he said. “My message is about health.”

■ POWER RANGER – Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers has passed two Los Angeles stars – the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp and the Angels’ Albert Pujols – as the best player in baseball.

Hamilton hit .467 with nine home runs and 18 RBIs last week. According to ESPN Stats & Information, he had a better week than the Astros, Padres, Tigers and White Sox, four teams that combined for six homers last week – three fewer than Hamilton.

Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune wrote: “You would think teams would be lining up to chase Hamilton as a free agent. But he presents a difficult question for owners and executives, as his dark side of drug addiction and depression is always part of the package, along with a body that has caused him to miss an average of 48 games the last three years.”

Hamilton’s next contract could fall in the range of deals signed by Kemp (eight years, $160 million) and Pujols (10 years, $240 million), but the Rangers aren’t showing their hand.

“I pray all the time that God’s going to have us where he wants us to be,” Hamilton said. “At the end of the season, if that’s Texas, then it’s Texas. If not, then I’ll be happy to go wherever he wants us to go.”

According to inside sources, God’s plan includes Hamilton getting big offers from the New York Yankees and San Francisco Giants.

■ SPEED DATING – Jamaican sprint star Usain Bolt ended his six-month relationship with Lubica Slovak, a 28-year-old Slovakian fashion designer, so he can focus on winning more gold medals in the Summer Olympics in London.

Rumors are Slovak was ready to break up, too. She was bored being with a guy who hit the finish line in less than 10 seconds.


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