Blogtable

Blogtable: Your advice for Tim Duncan?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Smartest coaching move of offseason? | Your advice for Tim Duncan? |
More pressure on Lakers or Sixers in Draft?


> You’re Tim Duncan’s closest friend, his confidant. When he asks for advice regarding next season, what do you tell him?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: I tell him it’s time. Could he squeeze one more year out of those knees? Maybe. Could the Spurs make one last stand next season and make one more Finals? Perhaps. But what would the point be? You’re on the shortest of short lists of greatest big men to ever play the game. After Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who’s definitely ahead of you? You have five rings, and you led one of the greatest comebacks from the emotional dead in league history, after blowing that 3-2 lead to Miami in the 2013 Finals. They will write books about how your team rallied from that devastating loss to crush the Heat in The Finals rematch a year later. You are (were) the key man in a dynasty that has spanned almost two decades of excellence. Your kids love you; you can do anything you want in San Antonio the rest of your days, in the relative anonymity you crave.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: The biggest thing I would tell Tim Duncan is, think five years out from now: do you want to share the stage at the Hall of Fame with all the Kobe Bryant hoopla? Given Duncan’s near-reclusiveness, relative to Bryant’s love of the spotlight, maybe that’s the simplest way for the San Antonio legend to slip into Springfield with little more than a “thank you” as his acceptance speech. As far as basketball-related advice, the show biz ethos of “Always leave ’em wanting more” applies only if you plan to keep doing what you’re doing and hope to attract future audiences. With athletes, I’d advise sticking around a year too long rather than leaving a year too soon, because once you go, you’re pretty much gone. If Duncan still enjoys the life, he can contribute plenty to the Spurs off the court and still have some moments on it.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: After all these years, I am long past the point of telling players when and how to retire or play on. It is a very personal, very different set of factors for each individual. If Tim Duncan still gets joy out of playing the game and is comfortable going forward as more of a mentor than an on-court force, I’m all for it. If he wants to quietly fade away, I’m for that too.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: “Follow your gut.” That’s obvious. “If you feel like you want to keep going, do it. If this feels like the right time to get off the ride, do it.” Most of all, though, I make sure he takes all 2015-16 into consideration, not just the bad ending. So many people are focusing on the playoff struggles as a sign that it is time to retire, but Duncan played at a high level in the regular season. He can still be an important part of a championship contender. I saw months and months of a guy who was anything but breaking down.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: “Timmy, you’ve done everything in this league. Your place in history is secure. You don’t need the money, I’m assuming. There’s nothing to prove. Do you really want to spend another season as a glorified ornament, kept in the freezer for 82 games until the post-season, with no guarantee you won’t struggle as you did this spring? Aren’t your standards higher than that? If so, then retire as only you can — quietly, with a one-sentence press release next month, while wearing flip-flops and shorts.”

John Schuhmann, NBA.comI would tell him that, after 19 years, nobody knows better than he does what it takes to get through an NBA season, the work that goes into it, and the rewards that come out of it. It’s a personal decision, one for only Duncan to make. Though he’s not the player he was in years past, the Spurs would still benefit from having him, his basketball IQ, and his leadership around.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: “Big fella, how do you feel, physically and emotionally? You need to take stock of these things and sit back and take your time making a decision on what to do next. If anyone that’s played this game has earned that right, it’s you. As the backbone of the Spurs’ organization, you have always put the franchise and the team first. But this one time, I need you to think about Timmy and what will satisfy you at this late stage of your career. If you think you have more to give, go for it. If not, you don’t owe anyone another second of your time. In the end, do you!”

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com I’m telling him, “If you have any doubt, then keep playing.” But in the end, aren’t the doctors going to provide the crucial opinion here? Duncan’s knee may be making the decision for him.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogAm I also a robot? Kidding! No, if Tim came to me and asked me for my advice, I’d ask just one question: Do you still enjoy it? Because at the end of the day, that’s all that really matters. It’s not even a question of productivity, because Duncan can surely still get you a couple of points and rebounds a game. I think it’s more about whether Duncan has the desire to drag himself to the gym every day and break a sweat every day, or if he’d rather take a break and just sit around and play video games and read comic books and work on his cars and wear oversized work shirts. The camaraderie and being part of a team is the stuff almost other player has trouble walking away from. That’s the part guys genuinely like and miss when they’re finished. And despite his singular greatness on the floor, I don’t think Tim is all that different from anyone else in that regard.

Blogtable: Lakers or Sixers under more pressure in Draft?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Smartest coaching move of offseason? | Your advice for Tim Duncan? |
More pressure on Lakers or Sixers in Draft?


> Who’s under the most pressure to nail it on Draft night, the Sixers or the Lakers?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: The Philadelphia 76ers. The Lakers aren’t what they used to be, but they still have a whole bunch of banners in Staples Center. They were lousy the last two years, but that was all about Kobe Bryant, and everyone knew it. Philly has spent the past three years conducting a referendum on exactly how much you can push a fan base before alienating large chunks of it forever. (I always suspected the “trust the Process” folk were more vocal minority than the status quo; people who didn’t like what the Sixers were doing simply didn’t use the product — they didn’t watch on TV and they didn’t show up at the arena. Hard to measure people who aren’t doing something.) So the 76ers’ new regime needs to hit the ground running, and take someone who’ll be ready to play — and play well — on opening night.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: The Los Angeles Lakers. What the Sixers have on their hands is going to require some untangling for most of next season and the expectations remain low. Los Angeles didn’t nail it, exactly, last June with D’Angelo Russell and the crowd at Staples Center is way less patient than most NBA fan bases.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com The Philadelphia 76ers are under more pressure for several reasons. First, they have the No. 1 pick, so they can make the bigger error. The Lakers are in the “Kevin Durant position” of sitting back and taking whichever player of Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram falls to them. Second, after three years of intentionally failing miserably and alienating the fan base, they need to hit a home run and and show that the suffering was worth it. Third, the Lakers are still the Lakers and, now that Kobe Bryant is retired, helping free agents are far more likely to be lured to L.A than Philly.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com The Philadelphia 76ers. Not that L.A. officials ever get actual reduced pressure, but Philly is the one that has to make the call at the top of the draft. The Lakers will take whoever the 76ers do not. Plus, it’s the first time on the clock for Bryan Colangelo as the new head of basketball operations. This is a particular proving ground for him.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Well, since the Philadelphia 76ers have the No. 1 pick, the burden is completely on them. Draft night has worked out the best possible way for the Lakers, who really have no decision to make. They’ll just take either Brandon Ingram or Ben Simmons, whomever the Sixers drop in their lap at No. 2, and thus be spared any second-guessing.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The Philadelphia 76ers, for multiple reasons. The Sixers are the team that needs to choose between the top two guys. They’re the team that has sacrificed the most to be where they are. They’re the team that didn’t have a Hall-of-Famer around this season to keep their fanbase engaged. And they’re less of a free agent destination, making the Draft more important.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Philadelphia 76ers have the ultimate pressure with that No. 1 pick, because they set the tone for the remainder of the Draft. Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram? That choice provides built-in pressures that every choice that comes at the top of every Draft. That said, the Lakers cannot afford to pull the fast one they did last season, choosing D’Angelo Russell instead of Jahlil Okafor, neither of whom had a chance to unseat Karl-Anthony Towns (the unanimous Kia Rookie of the Year). There’s plenty of pressure on both the Sixers and Lakers to get it right, more importantly it’s important that whatever choices are made, the Sixers and Lakers have to move heaven and earth to make sure the players they draft are developed into the starts their talents suggest they could be.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com The Los Angeles Lakers have to get this right for all kinds of reasons. They hope to go many years before drafting here again, so they have to score a great player either in the draft or with a trade. Jimmy Buss supposedly needs to be back in contention if he wants to remain in charge of the roster. Plus they need to win more games in order to devalue the pick that will be forwarded to Philadelphia in 2017. Having said all of that, however, the choice may not be difficult – if this really is a two-player draft, then the Lakers will be waiting to catch either Simmons or Ingram.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Oh, the Los Angeles Lakers. Last year they passed on Kristaps Porzingis to take D’Angelo Russell, and even though it’s only been one season, that choice already looks questionable. This year the choice between Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram may not be entirely up to them, but they really need to nail it because they still owe a first round pick to the Sixers that will vest eventually. For the Sixers, despite the change in management and desire to put the pedal down on the rebuild, they’ve got a lot of assets to indulge in the next few seasons even if they don’t get it right this year. In Los Angeles, expectations already exist for the Lakers, even if they aren’t all that realistic.

Blogtable: Smartest coaching move of the offseason so far?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Smartest coaching move of offseason? | Your advice for Tim Duncan? |
More pressure on Lakers or Sixers in Draft?


> What has been the smartest coaching move (so far) this offseason?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Orlando hiring Frank Vogel to replace Scott Skiles. Bringing Skiles in always seemed odd, and his decision to walk had the optics of disaster for the Magic’s highest-ups, who pushed for his return. Fortunately, Vogel became available, and he’ll be a much better fit for the team’s young core. Whatever you think of Elfrid Payton, the Magic’s basketball people think a lot of him and want him to succeed, so he should have a coach who believes in him and can get the most out of him. Vogel should be able to do that, as well as find ways to maximize the Magic’s youth and length to raise its defensive profile.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comEach of the interviewees and candidates who turned down the Sacramento job? The hierarchy there, both formal and unofficial, should trouble any solid basketball professional, in my view. But let’s not dwell on the negative. I’ll go with Tom Thibodeau’s hiring in Minnesota. He was the best available candidate landing in the best situation as far as talent base and a willingness to (finally) make significant changes. He has the authority in his dual role to make the necessary changes and he’s already made a few in the front office. The Timberwolves are on their way up and Thibs will end up doing Flip Saunders‘ legacy proud.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comThere’s a lot to like. Luke Walton has the smarts, the championship experience as player and coach as well as the Laker bloodlines to make his hiring the right move. Frank Vogel should be the guy who finally gets the Magic shifted out of neutral. But I’m going with Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota as exactly the right prescription to get the young talent of the Timberwolves howling on defense and taking the first steps to become a long-time force in the Western Conference.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Jazz and Quin Snyder doing an extension. I don’t think many others will make the same choice, and there are other good moves to pick, but Snyder-Utah is such a good fit. His background of working with veterans and developing prospects has already come through, and I sure would have liked the Jazz’s chances to be in the playoffs if they were anywhere close to healthy. This is a team obviously heading in a good direction. Snyder is one of the reasons.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Tom Thibodeau took a year off after getting booted from the Chicago Bulls, rather than jump at the first offer. In hindsight, this was the best offseason move. He waited for the best opening this season, and now gets the luxury of coaching a young and intriguing Timberwolves team that’s on the way up and also serving as GM. On paper anyway, it appears to be a solid match, especially if Thibodeau learned from the mistakes he made in Chicago.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThere were also big upgrades in New York and L.A., but it’s hard not to like the addition of Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota the most. The Wolves have a group of young talented players that’s ready to take the next step and can play great defense with the right direction. The offense will come, but if Thibodeau can take them from the bottom five to above average in defensive efficiency, they can be a playoff team next year.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The smartest coaching move, by far, is the Los Angeles Lakers adding Brian Shaw to the staff to assist Luke Walton. No one knows the importance of a top flight assistant head coach like Walton does, having served in that role for reigning NBA Coach of the Year Steve Kerr this season. Shaw would have been a fine coaching candidate himself, but lands in the perfect spot with a franchise he knows inside and out after years of experiences in The Finals as both an ex-Lakers player and assistant coach (under Phil Jackson). For an organization that hasn’t earned praise for much recently, this is one of the better moves they’ve made.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comMany of them — Tom Thibodeau to Minnesota, Scott Brooks to Washington, Frank Vogel to Orlando and Nate McMillan’s elevation with Indiana — make a lot of sense. One that was not so obvious was the contract extension for third-year coach Quin Snyder, which speaks to Utah’s investment in the longterm. The Jazz, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2012, appreciate the direction of their steadily-improving young team and with Snyder they’re looking to build a program that can last.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: The move that keeps coming to mind for me is the Magic grabbing Frank Vogel. They really lucked into him, in a lot of ways, with Scott Skiles surprising everyone by stepping down, and Larry Bird removing Vogel in Indy despite what seemed like Bird not really wanting to part ways. Vogel took a young Pacers team a few years ago and made them a legitimate challenger to the Heat’s Big Three, and came up with a defensive scheme that made Roy Hibbert an All-Star. In many ways, it’s thanks to Vogel that we still talk about “verticality.” Now Vogel has a roster he can shape and mold to play any style he wants.

Morning shootaround — May 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry, Warriors fall in Game 1 | Bosh, Heat face uncertainty | Vandeweghe: No changes ‘imminent’ to Draft lottery | TNT’s Smith won’t get Rockets gig

No. 1: Curry can’t save day in Game 1  Golden State fans awaken this morning undoubtedly in a state of shock or disbelief after their Warriors blew a 14-point lead in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals. The eventual 108-102 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder has the Warriors trailing in a playoff series for the first time in the 2016 postseason. Perhaps more shocking to Golden State fans, though, is that the reigning Kia MVP, Stephen Curry, couldn’t save the Warriors’ bacon as Game 1 wound down. Marcus Thompson II of the Bay Area News Group has more one what Curry and the Warriors must do better come Game 2:

There were several moments Monday night that called for Stephen Curry to put on his cape and save the day. There were several times when past practice made you believe the Warriors would turn on the jets.

But Curry never pulled off the magic that he so often does, no matter how hard the home crowd begged. And the Warriors never woke up.

In what has been a rarity this season, Curry didn’t shine the brightest in this meeting of stars. He finished with 26 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. But it wasn’t enough to cover his seven turnovers, his 1-for-6 shooting in the fourth quarter, and his questionable decision making.

In what has been a rarity this season, the Warriors were not the team to get it downe down the stretch. Monday was their first loss to one of the league’s top four teams when fully healthy.

“I do think we lost our poise a little bit,” coach Steve Kerr said, “and that had a lot to do with the quick shots. I think we were trying to rectify the situation in one or two plays instead of letting it play out. So that’s something we’ve got to get better with.”

Is Curry’s right knee an issue, or was it the Warriors’ game plan to use him as they did?

Curry still has pain, he said, but it’s tolerable. It’s not 100 percent, he said, but it’s good enough.

In Game 1, Curry spent a lot of time off the ball. The Thunder responded as other teams have, grabbing and holding Curry away from the sight of the officials. When Curry didn’t get the ball, Draymond Green or Klay Thompson became the one-on-one players.

Late in games, the ball in Curry’s hands might allow him to get a better rhythm and allow him to set up for his teammates. It forces the Thunder to adjust their defense to stop him and could result in him getting some free throws. Curry went to the line only twice in nearly 40 minutes Monday.

“We have to heighten the sense of urgency and heighten the sense of ball possessions and pace and flow,” Andre Iguodala said after scoring six of the bench’s 16 points. “It’s good to get hit in the mouth. That’s when it really shows.”

Was Game 1 a sign that Oklahoma City has found the formula to beat the Warriors?

The Thunder were the Warriors’ toughest foe during the regular season. Even though the Warriors swept OKC, all three games were closely contested. Neither San Antonio, Cleveland, Toronto nor the Los Angeles Clippers could stake such a claim. And Monday, OKC played with a comfort that suggested a feeling of superiority.

The Thunder got better as the game wore on. The Thunder made adjustments, fixed their ills. It was the OKC point guard — not the Warriors’ popint guard — who took charge of the game.

“There were several key (plays) in the second half when we kind of lost our momentum,” Kerr said. “Careless passes. Didn’t have the flow to whatever set we were running. And I thought we lost our aggressiveness and momentum offensively. A lot of that had to do with his speed and aggressiveness.”

Or was this the Warriors not bringing it like normal? Was their demise their own doing? Did the weight of their historic chase finally catch up with them?

In their mind, they played out of character. They failed to live up to their standard.

Blogtable: Which teams will win in the conference finals?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Key player in West finals? | Key player in East finals? |
Which teams will reach The Finals?


> Your prediction for the Western Conference finals and the Eastern Conference finals? Who will win and why?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Warriors in seven. This is going to be one great series, with star power coming out of its pores. It’s taken a long time, but OKC finally got strong play from its supporting cast in toppling San Antonio, and the thought here is that guys like Steven Adams, Dion Waiters and Enes Kanter should be able to continue that stretch against the Warriors, who enter the series banged up. If Andrew Bogut‘s adductor is an issue throughout the series, OKC’s size will have an even greater impact. The reasons for sticking with GSW are these: 1) Klay Thompson does as good a job as anyone I’ve seen guarding Russell Westbrook. He doesn’t stop him, of course, but he makes it as hard as possible, not allowing Russ to break him down off the dribble. 2) Haven’t seen anyone slow down the Lineup of Death all season, and I don’t see the Thunder having the solution to it, either. 3) One team has the MVP, who makes shots no one else would even contemplate taking, and makes them. The other doesn’t. Fin.

In the East, it’s Cavaliers in six. So glad for Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, who faced down their playoff demons from past years (and the Indiana series in this year’s first round) to take their team somewhere it’s never been. But it ends against a Cleveland team that just has too many players clicking on too many cylinders. Yes, the Raps won the regular season series. But that Cavs team is buried somewhere near the old Richfield Coliseum. This one has been hyper-hot behind the three-point line, and even if that cools off a bit, Cleveland’s found chemistry that it lacked for long stretches of the regular season. A healthy Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving have made a huge difference, and LeBron James has gotten a week’s rest. Too many weapons, too much motivation to return to The Finals.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI’m already on record in our series preview as picking Cleveland in 5. The Cavaliers’ 3-point tsunami, even if it’s not quite what it was against Atlanta, still is going to be too much for Toronto, which has trouble scoring even against less potent opponents.

Out West, give me Golden State in 6. Greater depth, the Warriors’ counters to OKC’s bigs and the defending champs’ gang tactics against Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will decide this one. Then we get a repeat – but entirely different version – of last year’s Finals matchup.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comThe Cavaliers in five in the East. Let’s not underestimate the job coach Tyronn Lue has done in getting LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love to feel comfortable within themselves and with each other. The Cavs went to The Finals a year ago despite slogging through injuries and battling self-doubt. Now they’re healthy, confident and have added the 3-ball to their arsenal. They’re ready and capable to get back to June and finish the job.

The Warriors in six in the West. The Thunder are now playing with tremendous confidence that borders on cockiness. They’ve been getting solid contributions up and down the roster. That’s enough to make the series interesting. But the Warriors are still the best team in basketball, won the regular season series 3-0 and are on a mission to show all the critics of last year’s championship what they’ve been missing about depth and drive.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comWarriors in 6. I could see it going 7. The Thunder will not go quietly, but Golden State beats opponents from too many directions. The Dubs’ health is obviously a big factor.

Cavaliers in 5. This is the Cleveland team a lot of people thought possible all season but has not spotted until recently.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comIn the West, I’m going with the Warriors in a seven-game classic. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook should enjoy a tremendous series, and their support help was a bit better than expected through two rounds of the playoffs. And yet: Golden State is a better defensive team, makes fewer mistakes, has Steph Curry and too many additional weapons that will ultimately wear down OKC in a long series.

In the East, folks are sleeping on the Raptors, who are battle tested after a pair of punishing series against the formidable Pacers and Heat, which they survived even after losing Jonas Valenciunas for good. Therefore, I suspect they’ll push the Cavs to four games.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThe Raptors needed seven games to beat the offensive anemic Indiana Pacers and the score-in-the-paint-or-don’t-score-at-all Miami Heat. The Cavs are more potent than both of those teams combined, but I’ll give Toronto a game because Game 7 on Sunday was the best they’ve looked in the postseason. Cavs in 5.

The Thunder have two of the most dangerous offensive players in the world and can slow down the Warriors by beating them up on the glass. But Golden State has the defenders to make Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook work hard for their buckets, as well as the league’s No. 1 offense, which never goes stagnant. Warriors in 5.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’ve gone with the Warriors all season and will not change my mind now, even with the Thunder looking like they are capable of beating anyone they face right now. The Warriors won 73 games for a reason. Golden State will need six games to finish off the Thunder and get back to The Finals for a chance to repeat.

Cleveland has been resting nicely after two sweeps in their first two playoff series. If they play half as well as they did against the Pistons and Hawks, they advance without much of a scare. I’m sure the Cavs would love to make it three straight sweeps, but the Raptors win one up North as the Cavaliers win it in five.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThe Cavaliers in 5. They’re at at full strength and playing their best basketball of the season.

In the West I’m going to with the Warriors in seven games, because for two years they’ve been the NBA’s most competitive team. Golden State was the hungriest contender in the league all season, which is an amazing achievement for the defending champs. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are talented enough to prevail, but can they summon the intensity and focus necessary to upset Golden State? I’m not saying they can’t; I’m just pointing out that no one has done so for a long time.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogCleveland will win in 4. They are focused and playing so well right now, and Toronto will be tired and are still dealing with injuries.

On the other side of the country, as I predicted on last week’s Hang Time Podcast, I think the Oklahoma City Thunder will win in seven games. I know, my Twitter mentions are going to go crazy, but the Thunder are white hot right now, and Westbrook and Durant are playing at the peak of their powers. Every year, some team gets hot in the postseason. And right now it’s the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Blogtable: Key player to watch in Western Conference finals?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Key player in West finals? | Key player in East finals? |
Which teams will reach The Finals?


> A key player in the Western Conference Finals – a player who needs to come up big — in order for his team to advance to the NBA Finals?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Andre Roberson. No secret the Warriors will likely put Steph Curry on him on defense to give the MVP an “easy” assignment and let him rest, saving energy for the other end of the floor, while Klay Thompson takes on Russell Westbrook. Roberson’s offensive output in Game 6 against the Spurs — 14 points on 5 of 8 shooting, along with seven rebounds and solid defense against Kawhi Leonard (23 shots to score 22 points) — was key in OKC’s series-ending rout. Roberson shouldn’t be expected to be a go-to guy every night, but anything he can do to make Curry move and expend energy will help the Thunder in the long run.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com Sounds like we’re looking for someone from the underdog team, so I’ll go with Enes Kanter for Oklahoma City. I voted for Kanter as my Kia Sixth Man choice and that’s the guy the Thunder needs against Golden State, coming onto the floor (and staying out there) to wreak havoc with his scoring and work on the offensive glass. The Warriors aren’t a bigs-friendly foe, which makes the challenge even greater.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I’m going to assume here that Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will all be big and all have their shining moments. So I’m going to reach off the marquee and say that OKC’s Steven Adams must repeat his solid performance at both ends of the floor and step into the spotlight against the Spurs. The Warriors will play small to try to take him out of the game. But if Adams can catch the ball at the rim as he did in the last round, he can punish Golden State and together with fellow big man Enes Kanter could make this series, very, very interesting.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Enes Kanter. I might have picked him anyway, but now, with Andrew Bogut hurting and questionable for Game 1, OKC especially needs to exploit its size advantage inside. If the Thunder can hurt the Warriors on the boards, a possibility, it could take minutes away from Golden State’s small-ball Death Lineup. Maybe not — Bogut’s health could prompt Steve Kerr to go small sooner and more often. If sixth man Kanter can make the Warriors pay with his offense and rebounding, and not get exploited too much on defense, that would be an important step in the OKC upset bid.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: OKC needs something every game from Enes Adams. Or is it Steven Kanter? You get the idea. The big man combo of Enes Kanter and Steven Adams is the ace card for the Thunder. The center position is where they have the decided edge over the Warriors. Sure, the Warriors will combat by going small ball, but why should OKC play them at their game? Golden State is bringing a limping Andrew Bogut and, while Festus Ezeli had moments throughout the playoffs, he’s not as skilled as Kanter/Adams. Kanter came up big in the first round against the Dallas Mavericks and Adams was the same in the Western Conference semifinals against the San Antonio Spurs. You sense a pattern, where both might loom large this round?

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThe Thunder starting lineup was the best high-usage lineup in the league and was a plus-23 in 32 minutes against the Warriors this season. But Billy Donovan was hesitant to use it late in games, because Andre Roberson‘s inability to shoot made it easier for opponents to defend OKC’s offense. If Roberson can make a few shots (like he did in Game 6 vs. San Antonio) and make the Warriors respect him somewhat on the perimeter (or via off-ball cuts), Donovan won’t have to use Dion Waiters as much, the Thunder will play more minutes with their best lineup on the floor, and they’ll have a better chance of upsetting the champs.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: There are so many obvious names to choose from, but we always expect the stars to rise to the magnitude of the moment. My pick, though, is the two-man big man tandem of Steven Adams and Enes Kanter for the Thunder. They showed up in a major way as the Thunder eliminated the San Antonio Spurs in the conference semifinals and will need to do the same if the Thunder have any chance of upsetting the Golden State Warriors. The Thunder’s ability to go big and force the issue on the inside on both ends could be the winning difference, if they are indeed to spring that upset.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Russell Westbrook is going to be crucial at both ends, beginning with his defense against Steph Curry and/or Klay Thompson. Can he neutralize them to some extent? And can he attack efficiently enough to occupy the Warriors’ defense and enable Durant and others to score from the perimeter? OKC’s hopes of creating an upset will revolve around Westbrook’s aggressive leadership.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: There are some obvious answers to this question – Russell Westbrook, for one – but I’m going to give you a deep cut here: The guy who I think the Thunder could really use a strong series from is Dion Waiters. For so long the Thunder have tried to find an off-guard to pair with Westbrook, particularly in fourth quarters – from Derek Fisher to trading for Randy Foye this season. Waiters was really good against the Spurs, understanding his role offensively and playing tough defense. The Warriors have the best backcourt in the NBA. The Thunder are going to have to at least attempt to slow them down.

Blogtable: Key player to watch in Eastern Conference finals?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Key player in West finals? | Key player in East finals? |
Which teams will reach The Finals?


> A key player in the Eastern Conference Finals – a player who needs to come up big — in order for his team to advance to the NBA Finals?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Bismack Biyombo. The Raptors’ backup center was a catalyst in Toronto’s clincher Sunday, and he’ll have to do the same for seven games if Toronto is to have a chance at pulling off the upset against Cleveland. The Cavs’ playoff lineup with Channing Frye at center has been one of the most lethal in the postseason, with an offensive rating of 127.2 AND a defensive rating of 88.1, per NBA.com/stats. The Raptors have to have a counter to match up against it, and it turns out that they do — with Biyombo, Patrick Patterson, DeMarre Carroll, DeMar DeRozan and Cory Joseph. That quintet’s defensive rating is even better than Cleveland’s, at 87.8 points allowed per 100 possessions. Biyombo’s 17-point, 16-rebound effort Sunday has to be the norm against the Cavs.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com Not sure the Raptors can count on this, but if Terrence Ross can have two or three of his mindlessly hot scoring nights, Toronto’s ability to generate points improves dramatically. Ross scored 20 or more four times in 73 appearances, but I’m calling for him to get 20 at least three times if the Raptors are going to push their series to six or seven games.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comA year after he had an rather uncomfortable season trying to fit into the Cavaliers picture and then missed virtually all of the playoffs, Kevin Love has been a steady force through the first two rounds and if he keeps it up makes Cleveland quite capable of winning it all.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comLeBron James. Not exactly an X Factor, but let’s face it. He is the perfect fit for the answer: If LeBron comes up big, his team advances. He can singularly dominate a series as a player no opponent can counter, someone who can initiate the offense as a point guard and pound the boards like a power forward-center.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love should be enough to send Toronto home in four. But for insurance’s sake, it’ll be less wear on those three if Channing Frye can continue pulling weight on Cleveland’s amazing 3-point surge. The goal for the Cavs is to win this series quickly and safely — remember, Love and Irving were injured last spring — and efficiently, saving gas for the NBA Finals.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThe Cavs don’t need J.R. Smith to continue to shoot 50 percent from 3-point range to get back to The Finals, but Smith is the ultimate wild card. Cleveland swept through the first two rounds on the strength of its 3-point shooting and Smith (31-for-61) was a big part of that. He’s been given license to shoot (as 61 of his 69 shots have come from beyond the arc), and a free-shooting Smith probably scares both coaching staffs. LeBron James makes him a better shooter and 45 of those 61 threes have been off the pass, but regression from Smith (either with shot selection or success rate) would make this series more interesting.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Two words I honestly never thought I’d utter or write in response to this question: Bismack Biyombo. I know, it sounds crazy. But with Jonas Valanciunas on the mend and the rebounding machine that is Tristan Thompson eager to show off for the local (Cleveland) and hometown (he’s from Toronto) fans, the Raptors will need someone to match his energy, effort and relentless hustle on the boards. After seeing the impact Biyombo had against the Miami Heat in the conference finals, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he steps up against the Cavaliers.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: LeBron James is the reason Cleveland will continue to dominate the Eastern bracket. The Cavs’ goal should be to finish off this series ASAP in order to send LeBron onto the NBA Finals on fresh legs, because they’re going to need 40 minutes or more per game from him against Golden State or OKC. This conference final is all about preparing Cleveland to win the NBA Finals.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Well, Cleveland is going to win this series, so instead of saying the obvious like LeBron James or Kyrie Irving, how about let’s go with Kevin Love? He seems to have found his fit with the Cavs as they’ve gone smaller, and this will be the deepest he’s ever played in his postseason career. I’m curious to see if Love can continue stretching the floor like he did against the Hawks in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Blogtable: Top 5 MVP contenders next season?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: MVP favorites for 2016-17? | Lottery-to-playoffs in 2017? | Who wins Raptors-Heat series?


> Steph Curry is now a two-time Kia MVP. Looking ahead, who are your top five candidates for next season’s MVP?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comAt the rate he and his team are going, Stephen Curry could be an MVP candidate again, but my hunch is the media beast will demand someone new. So how ’bout Draymond Green? If the Warriors continue their ride atop the league, their versatile and loquacious big-small man might get some love for the impact he has on Golden State’s lineups and success. Then there’s Kyrie Irving, who may be ready to ease LeBron James‘ load sufficiently and thus relieve him of some MVP votes. Damian Lillard might make the leap from snubbed All-Star to serious Podoloff trophy candidate, if he can coax another improved season out of the Trail Blazers. What I’m seeing right now in the playoffs suggests Kevin Durant isn’t going to be content with one MVP – and (wink wink) he might not be splitting votes with Russell Westbrook next season. For a long shot, considering the heavy lifting required, give me Anthony Davis over Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo. Of course Davis would have to stay healthy while also keeping a few teammates out of the trainers’ room to boost New Orleans big-time in the standings.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Steph Curry, Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Damian Lillard, Kevin Durant.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook. That is purposely in alphabetical order. It’s challenge enough narrowing the list of possibilities to five. I would love to squeeze Damian Lillard, Chris Paul and maybe a few others on as well. But I will give my very top candidate: Leonard. That’s with the understanding that a lot can change between now and the start of the season, since roster moves obviously effect roles.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comI believe we’ll have the usual suspects once again: Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin. My choice is Westbrook, even if Kevin Durant signs elsewhere. Westbrook is that good, and more important, he’s due.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comCurry, Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James are obvious answers. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant finished fourth and fifth while on the same team this year and could earn more votes if they’re on different teams next year. Honestly, it’s hard to find someone who finished outside the top five this year that could crash the party next year, unless TNT’s therapy session for Dwight Howard on Tuesday somehow hits home and leads to much better chemistry and much better defense in Houston (or wherever Howard goes this summer).

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’m seeing a list of the usual suspects, with Steph gong into the season as frontrunner followed by Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Shuffle that list up any way you’d like, but if we’re at this point in May of 2017 with the same names finishing in the top five, I won’t be shocked.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Curry will be there, obviously, and so will LeBron James, as always. Kevin Durant will be another MVP candidate, wherever he is next year. I’m looking for Blake Griffin to demand consideration on the hunch that he’ll be motivated to make amends for this season. I’m also looking for a big bounce-back year from Anthony Davis; but if Durant should wind up leaving OKC, then I’ll move Russell Westbrook into MVP consideration ahead of Davis.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Well, Curry clearly remains the favorite, and I’m also loath to remove any of the other guys I voted for this season: Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. But for the sake of argument, and who doesn’t enjoy a good argument, we should probably also be willing to discuss Draymond Green, who continues to prove his worth to the NBA’s best team. The other guy who should probably be in the mix is Chris Paul, who carried an injured Clippers team to a top spot in the Western Conference.

Blogtable: Will Heat or Raptors win series?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: MVP favorites for 2016-17? | Lottery-to-playoffs in 2017? | Who wins Raptors-Heat series?


> More likely to win this series: The Heat without Hassan Whiteside, or the Raptors without Jonas Valanciunas?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Assuming Whiteside doesn’t make it back for what’s left of this series, I think his loss is more damaging. I’ll leave the respective net-ratings calculus to Schuhmann and just note how Whiteside’s absence defensively in Game 4 emboldened Toronto players, notably DeMarre Carroll, to attack the lane with abandon. Plant the Heat’s big center down there and those opportunities are gone, Raptors probing elsewhere. Toronto still has Bismack Biyombo as a fairly productive, fairly traditional big and seems comfortable enough at small ball with Patrick Patterson as a surrogate center. The Heat’s crew behind Whiteside – Udonis Haslem, Josh McRoberts, Amar’e Stoudemire – is a little creaky, a little little or both. Now if Whiteside’s “day-to-day” status has him available for Games 6 or 7, ignore all of the above.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comMy head says the Raptors, but my gut is watching Dwyane Wade as the throwback Flash, so I’ll pick the Heat.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Party in Jurassic Park. The Raptors without Jonas Valancuinas. Not by much, but Toronto has a slight edge. It would be bigger if the Raptors could get consistent production from Kyle Lowry and/or DeMar DeRozan.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comIt really doesn’t matter; the winner of that series will only last four more games. But if we must choose, then I’ll go with the Raptors. Because Kyle Lowry can’t be this bad and DeMar DeRozan can’t miss this many shots for much longer, right? Also, Bismack Biyombo can at least provide some defensive presence in the absence of Valenciunas.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comI’m not sure that either team has deserved to win any of the four games we’ve seen so far, so it’s difficult to pick a winner of this series other than the Cleveland Cavaliers, who should be making June 1 dinner reservations for their favorite restaurant in San Francisco. I’ll stick with my pre-series pick of Heat in 6, because the only Raptors I believe in right now are role players, while the Heat player who has managed to rise above the fray is named Dwyane Wade.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The way Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are struggling in this series, it’s impossible for me to go with the Raptors. There’s so much playoff muscle memory in Miami with Dwayne Wade, Joe Johnson, Luol Deng and some of those other veterans. The deeper this series goes, the more I expect those vets to show up and rule the day.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comIf not for Kyle Lowry’s shooting elbow and DeMar DeRozan’s shooting thumb, I’d be picking the Raptors to exploit their homecourt advantage. As it is, Toronto’s best players are shooting a combined 33.1 percent in the playoffs, while Dwyane Wade has elevated his game throughout this postseason. Wade gives Miami the advantage.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Having just spent the weekend in Miami watching this series up close, I think Miami is poised to win this. Toronto has two superstars, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, who are struggling with injuries, and neither can find any consistency, particularly DeRozan. Miami, meanwhile, not only has Wade playing like 2006 Wade, but also have a bunch of quasi-stars around Wade in Joe Johnson, Luol Deng and Goran Dragic, who can make big shots and create for their teammates. Miami coach Erik Spoelstra has talked about the Heat needing to play with pace, and they seemed to finally hit the mark at the end of Game 4 when they went super-small. So I’m most interested to see if the Heat can continue to play the way they closed out Game 4.

Blogtable: Which team will go from lottery to playoffs next season?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: MVP favorites for 2016-17? | Lottery-to-playoffs in 2017? | Who wins Raptors-Heat series?


> Of the 14 teams in next week’s Draft Lottery, who could be playing (instead of watching) at this time next year?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comAre we counting the Boston Celtics and the Toronto Raptors, who have lottery presences thanks to Brooklyn and Denver, respectively? Toronto is playing at this time this year, and the Celtics are one solid piece, i.e., a lottery player, away from May competition (though a veteran star is the real need). If we’re limiting it to teams that earned their lottery status via losing, I think Washington has the best chance to advance two steps because of its proven rotation players (if kept together), its appeal to at least one significant free agent this summer and the distaste management had – and thus, the mandate given to new coach Scott Brooks – for falling out of the playoffs this year. John Wall, Bradley Beal and the rest have to be peeved, too, to have missed out, considering the trajectory on which they’d had themselves.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comIf you’re talking about the conference finals, none of the above. But if you just mean winning one round of the playoffs, then I’ll go with Washington and Chicago as a longer shot.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Jazz, possibly the Bulls depending on several key TBA roster decisions. I could see the Bucks getting back and the Magic taking that next step forward. But that is obviously based on 2015-16. Offseason moves can change everything, including once we know the lottery order.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comThe easy answer is the Celtics, who own Brooklyn’s pick. But if we discount them, then I’d say the Bulls, for two reasons: They have an All-Star in Jimmy Butler and they play in the East. A wild card would be Minnesota — look for a big sophomore season from Karl-Anthony Towns — but being young and in the West isn’t a great combination.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I probably answered the Utah Jazz to this question last year, (Editor’s note: Actually, it was OKC) but I’ll do it again anyway, because they have a big frontline that gives them a chance to be a top-five defensive team. They need to get more creative offensively, but the continued development of Rodney Hood will help on that end of the floor.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Utah Jazz have been knocking on the door for the past two seasons. I hope they finally find a way next season. The Minnesota Timberwolves are my darkhorse pick to chase the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference playoff race. If the Giannis Antetokounmpo point guard experience works out in Milwaukee, I’m going with the Bucks as the team ready to invade the party in the Eastern Conference.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Wizards missed the playoffs by three games. A healthier season for John Wall and Bradley Beal can move them into the postseason, and new coach Scott Brooks can help them reach a strong seed. But the truth is that we’re flying blind on this question in advance of the least predictable summer in memory. Who knows what these rosters are going to look like three months from now?

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Well, clearly, the Minnesota Timberwolves are poised to make a leap, with the addition of Tom Thibodeau and a roster of exciting young players. But the Western Conference remains no joke, and the Wolves would have to be a dozen wins better than they were last season just to sniff the No. 8 seed. I think the team best poised to make a leap out of the lottery is Washington, which has a new coach with fresh ideas and already has a superstar in John Wall.