Blogtable

Blogtable: Worried about Hawks?

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: Remembering Nash’s career | Next moves for Thunder? | Worried about Hawks?



VIDEOHow the Spurs diced up the Hawks in Atlanta

> The Hawks have lost three in a row for the first time all season. Is this team simply in neutral, coasting to the finish line, or have the Hawks run out of gas?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Some of the Hawks’ remarkable achievements have caught up with them, in terms of trying to maintain such excellence so long (think Indiana last season), and some of what befalls any NBA team has been in play too. As in injuries to Kyle Korver and Mike Scott. Once a lot of us in the media started saying, “Yeah, we’re convinced now that Atlanta is good. But let’s see what happens in the postseason…,” it seemed only fair that the Hawks might embrace a little of that attitude, too.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comI’ll go with neither. The Hawks are hardly coasting and I don’t believe they’ve hit the wall. It’s a long, long season and virtually every team goes through some kind of funk. But I’m thinking that by the time the playoffs start in three weeks, the Hawks will have rediscovered their Uptown Funk and gon’ give it to you.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comFirst of all, the losses were to the Warriors and Spurs (plus also the Thunder with Russell Westbrook getting a triple-double). Secondly, it’s was three games. So, no. I’m not seeing running out of gas yet. I’m not seeing coasting either. If this continues for a couple weeks, if the Hawks start falling over face first against Orlando, Charlotte and Detroit within the next five games, then we’ll have something to talk about. Right now, it’s nothing beyond the same tough stretch every team navigates.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comLook, the Hawks simply couldn’t play any better than they did from December through February. Eventually, a slide was coming; the only question was how much? It’s tough to place a sense or urgency on their latest performance only because we’re in the dog days. I trust Al Horford will snap out of it as well as the Hawks once the games take on a greatest sense of importance. That said: Cleveland and LeBron are the favorites coming out of the East, and I thought that way even at the height of Hawksmania.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThey lost to the Warriors, Thunder and Spurs, and they were missing Kyle Korver in the first two games. Questions about how well their defense (which has been really bad in the three games) will hold up in the playoffs are legit, but it’s not time to panic just yet.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com They are certainly not out of gas. And you don’t win 55 games with a month left in the season coasting or stuck in neutral. The Hawks simply ran into that tough stretch of the season where you get exposed a bit. It’s nothing that cannot be cured with some intensive film study, a little introspection and the return to health of several key players who have dealt with injury concerns since the All-Star break. Beyond that, there is nothing to see here folks … until the playoffs get underway.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThere is no shame in losing at Golden State and OKC or at home to the Spurs. And there was no way for the Hawks to maintain their high level of efficiency all season long — as the Warriors have also discovered recently. This little dip should have no bearing on the playoffs, when the Hawks’ success will be defined by the matchups.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Oh, so here it comes. All Atlanta fans knew this was in the cards, because no matter how great things are going, this is how it always ends for Atlanta sports teams — in disaster and sadness and disappointment and despair. Except maybe not this time? Because even though the Hawks have lost three in a row, I’m not ready to count them out just yet. They’ve been without Kyle Korver, Mike Scott and Thabo Sefolosha, three of their best eight players. If anything, their absence has highlighted how important having a full complement of players is for this team. It’s not any one guy, it’s not the four All-Stars, the Atlanta Hawks are a team where guys one through 15 each matter.

Blogtable: Next moves for Durant, Thunder?

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: Remembering Nash’s career | Next moves for Thunder? | Worried about Hawks?



VIDEOIs a playoff push a wise idea for OKC?

> The Thunder have removed Kevin Durant from basketball-related activities and say he is out indefinitely, still bothered by the injury to his right foot. What does this latest setback mean for Durant? For the Thunder?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I think Durant’s extended absence means OKC is not a top threat to emerge from the killer Western Conference this spring, if it makes the postseason at all. That team has shifted and adapted too much – to injuries and to Russell Westbrook-palooza – to reconfigure itself on the fly for an extended playoff run. It also means everything will be on the line in 2015-16 for the Thunder as that franchise takes its last big shot at a championship before Durant hits free agency.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: It means that Durant should temper thoughts of macho heroics and take the longer view of his career. If he can return for the playoffs without doing further damage, fine. But if it’s a risk, starting planning for training camp in October. That goes squared for Thunder management. Heading into the last year of his contract next season, it’s all about the personal connection between Durant and the franchise and GM Sam Presti knows that.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: That it’s probably time to think about next season. We won’t know for sure until the medical bulletins just before the playoffs, but if the Thunder can’t even set a timetable when he will be back, the latest problem is a significant setback. Get him in a good place for the start of 2015-16. One-hundred percent, with no uncertainty. As much as Russell Westbrook is playing in another stratosphere right now, chances are slim that OKC could make a long run with Durant having little or no prep time before the postseason, along with the other injury concerns. If there is any doubt about the ability of the first to hold up through a series or two this spring, focus on the big picture.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I always thought this was a lost year for OKC anyway, based only on karma. Something always seemed to go wrong for OKC and, specifically, Westbrook and Durant, in terms of health. Even if Durant hadn’t suffered this latest setback, the Thunder would’ve faced a tough first-round matchup with the Warriors. In the short term, his injury hurts, obviously. In the long-term, unless the injury is chronic, I can’t see why OKC can’t return to normal right away.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Both parties need to prioritize the future over this season, which will, at best, finish in a first round defeat at the hands of the best team (statistically) since the 1995-96 Bulls. And that means that they need to have a conversation about Durant’s future. He’s got one more year on his contract, and if he has plans to leave, his team needs to know about them now.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: It means Durant should begin his offseason program now rather than weeks from now if and when the Thunder are eliminated from the playoffs. Now is not the time for Durant to take foolish risks with his body, not after all of the peculiar injury issues that have gone on around the league this season. For the Thunder it means you trudge on for the remainder of this season with Mr. Triple-Double himself, Russell Westbrook, creating chaos for the opposition. Any dreams of an upset in the playoffs seem to be just that, dreaming.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comIf healthy and whole, I’d been thinking they could win the championship from the No. 8 seed. What Durant’s continuing absence means is more speculation than ever about his free agency in 2016, most of it premature and unfounded. The reality is that OKC still has Russell Westbrook, who is going to be focused on the here-and-now of trying to upset Golden State – and who’s to say that he can’t, with nothing to lose and the Warriors carrying so much pressure as the heavy favorite?

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: For Durant, it means he needs to sit down and get healthy before he even starts thinking about returning. Durant is crucial to the Thunder’s attack, but that means not just this season, but for as long as Durant is wearing a Thunder uniform. For the Thunder, I just hope they resist any urge to hurry Durant back. I know the summer of 2016 looms large on the horizon, but to me, the best sales pitch to get Durant to re-sign is to put together a championship team. And there is no way that winning a title in Oklahoma City doesn’t involve a healthy Kevin Durant.

Blogtable: Remembering Nash’s career

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: Remembering Nash’s career | Next moves for Thunder? | Worried about Hawks?



VIDEO: How did Steve Nash affect the modern NBA game?

> He was the master of the pick-and-roll, the NBA’s assists leader five times in seven years, a two-time MVP, an eight-time All-Star, a 90 percent free-throw shooter … What will you remember most about Steve Nash’s career?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’ll remember Nash as the Wayne Gretzky of the NBA. Not in terms of total dominance or mountainous statistics but in terms of his wizardry with the ball. Most notably, the way he would dribble down to the baseline, beneath the basket — like Gretzky working from behind the net — and out to find something even better than he might have initially conceived. It was the sense that Nash played chess while other NBA players were mastering checkers. The fact that Nash also is Canadian was just a coincidence for me.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: That for all the fancy passing and graceful floating shots, he was tougher than year-old beef jerky. I’ll always remember Game 1 of the 2007 playoff series against the Spurs when Nash’s bloody, raw, cut-open nose looked like it had gone 12 rounds with Mike Tyson and he stayed in the game to put up 31 points and eight rebounds.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: That he was a textbook. Want to see how a point guard is supposed to look on offense? Watch Steve Nash. He could play fast, he could play halfcourt. He could shoot, he could pass. He was always a good leader by example, dedicated to getting better and keeping his body in a good place, until Father Time finally ran him down, and later in his career seemed to assert himself more as a vocal leader in the locker room. Nash was not at the same level as the likes of John Stockton and Gary Payton among point guards from around the same era because they defended as well, but he should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I’ll remember Nash for triggering the most entertaining style of basketball since the Showtime Lakers. The Suns were pure joy, must-watch TV, and rarely delivered a dud. It was mainly because of Nash and his ability to thrive in the open court and spot teammates and pull up for jumpers. The only point guard to come close since then is Steph Curry. I guess I should remember the two MVPs but those were somewhat controversial. Anyway, Nash was a personal favorite and as a bonus, a total class act.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: That Nash teams led the league in offensive efficiency for nine straight seasons, with him shooting 49.7 percent from the field, 43.9 percent from 3-point range and 91.0 percent from the line, tells me that he’s one of the greatest offensive players in NBA history. That streak includes a season when Amar’e Stoudemire played three games and another season-plus when Shaquille O’Neal supposedely bogged down the offense. Along with Suns coach Mike D’Antoni, Nash changed the way the game is played. And with his shooting, vision, creativity and unselfishness, he’s the prototype for the modern-day, pick-and-roll point guard.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Nash helped revolutionize the game as we see it now, ushering in the up-tempo style that has morphed into the pace-and-space game that has become the rage in the NBA. He did it by being a traditional point guard in the truest sense of the words, excelling as a facilitator with flair the likes of which we hadn’t seen since Magic Johnson. And, Nash was a shooter extraordinaire at the same time. My appreciation for his game increases as time passes and we continue to see point guard play evolve into the mold Nash helped create for the modern point guard. The fact that he’s one of the genuinely great guys in the history of sports certainly makes it easier to appreciate him even more in hindsight. The telltale for me is when you ask those who have worked in the same uniform with him over the years who is their favorite teammate of all time? Nash wins unanimously.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: He brought flair to the game. In an era when the NBA was being overrun by young dunkers who didn’t know how to play for the sake of the team, Nash elevated his teams by way of his skills, creativity and cleverness. He was the thinking man’s star, and he influenced the generation of Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, Rajon Rondo and others as the NBA became a point-guard league.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Actually, the thing I will recall the most is none of that stuff. Back in 2001, I spent a summer day with Nash in Toronto while working on a profile for SLAM magazine. He had a few media appearances to make, so we walked around the city, talking about everything from basketball to soccer to politics to music. He got recognized a few times, but for the most part people left us alone. A few years later, after Nash had bounced from Dallas to Phoenix and redefined the point guard position, we met up in Toronto again. By now, Nash was one of the best players in the NBA and a Canadian icon. The low profile may have been out the window, but Nash was the same regular guy, an unassuming kid from Western Canada who through hard work and will made himself into one of the greatest players in basketball history.

Blogtable: The rest issue …

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: Kyrie’s 57 or Klay’s 37? | The rest issue … | Brighter future: Knicks or Lakers?



VIDEOThe Starters address the issue of resting players

> It’s a trend now, resting players who are healthy and able to play. Sure, coaches should do what’s best for their team. And yes, fans deserve to see the best players. So what can be done about this, moving forward?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com Wait, don’t you know I’m sitting out this “blogtable” question? Two out of three on any given day is a hectic pace and I’m tuckered … OK, here are four suggestions, any of which I’ll happily take credit for if implemented: First, cut the preseason down by 10 days (four tune-up games are plenty) so the regular season can start earlier, sprinkling those days into what used to be four-in-five-night grinds. Second, encourage teams to lighten players’ loads on practice days, travel days and off days. Third, let coaches know that shorter minutes in more games is preferable to zero minutes in some; ticket buyers ought to have a fair chance of seeing both teams’ stars play, say, 24 minutes. And fourth, if all these rest provisions are adopted, mandate that marquee players will play in marquee games (i.e., TNT, ABC and ESPN dates). Those are the nights the NBA sells itself to casual fans and broadens its appeal.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Until both sides — owners and players —  come together for the good of player health and the quality of the game and sacrifice a slice of the gobs of money they take in to play a reduced schedule of, say, 66 to 72 games, everything else is just hot air. The solution is simple. But billionaires and millionaires won’t give up a dollar, which is why all we get is yammering and lineups that should make the league ashamed.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com Nothing. It’s just a new fact of life. Not a good one once lottery-bound teams start sitting players to make sure they are rested for the offseason, compared to the understandable reason of wanting to be ready for the postseason, but I don’t think anything can be done. I’d love to hear the suggestions. Any attempted clampdown would merely encourage coaches to perfect stretching the truth. “My starting center woke up with a sore back. Prove me wrong. By the way, my starting point guard stayed home because of some pressing personal business that needed his full attention. Call his wife if you don’t believe me.” It creates more problems than it solves.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com If coaches want to rest players, fine, I guess that’s accepted nowadays. But pulling a Steve Kerr and sitting four-fifths of your starting lineup is over the top. Stop the madness at that point. What’s really weird is players, this deep into the season, rarely if ever practice. Which means they get days off and nights off? Klay Thompson is 25 and healthy and he needs a breather? You can’t put a player out there for at least 15 minutes? Have some respect for the game, at least, and confine your “rest” to one starter per night, if you must. And Adam Silver, please trim the schedule to 75 games, dump the preseason altogether, return to best-of-five for the first round … and convince the owners that less games and revenue is better for the sport (good luck with that one).

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It really sucks for fans who bought tickets to that particular game to see those particular players. If I lived in Denver and bought tickets for last Friday’s game against Golden State because my kid was a big Stephen Curry fan, I’d be pretty ticked that Stephen Curry didn’t play. Maybe the league can allow fans to exchange those tickets for another game. But resting players will continue to be a smart strategy for good teams who are thinking about the big picture, unless the season is shortened. Fewer games (72 has always been my suggestion) would both allow for more rest and make each game more important.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: A heavy-handed approach will only make things worse. No coach wants to be told how to manage his team. So the league should stay above that fray and institute some general guidelines for resting players who don’t have significant injuries. You want an age limit? How about no one under the age of 30 gets a night off for rest? I could operate on four hours of sleep for six days before my 30th birthday. Rest later, when you are old and cranky. No rest for players on losing teams, never … EVER! And if the integrity of the game means anything, these teams with the blatant maintenance programs must go back to the camouflage of the “sore back” and “tendinitis” as the serial excuses for guys missing games.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: More efficient scheduling can help reduce the wear on players. But I believe this trend of resting players is to be encouraged, actually, because it shows fans that the heart is in the right place — that teams are more concerned with winning games and contending for championships than they are focused on the negative business impact. Isn’t this what fans want — for winning to come first?

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: The only way coaches will be convinced to stop sitting guys is if somehow they realize that sitting these guys, for whatever reason, isn’t what is best for their team. What it reminds me of, to be honest, is the way the Atlanta Braves used to handle resting their players during the stretch run. They’d qualify for the postseason with weeks left, rest guys the last few weeks of the season, then hit the postseason with a roster full of guys who were out of sync and out of rhythm. Resting and focusing on preventative maintenance is great, in theory. But you can’t turn the magic on and off.

Blogtable: Knicks or Lakers in future?

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: Kyrie’s 57 or Klay’s 37? | The rest issue … | Brighter future: Knicks or Lakers?



VIDEOLooking back on better days for the Knicks and Lakers

> Phil Jackson and Jeanie Buss had an in-arena date last week, with Jackson’s Knicks getting a victory over Buss’s Lakers. Which of these high-profile NBA executives will be more satisfied with their team’s rebuild 12 months from now?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Buss. The Lakers, as soon as they have money to spend, will be able to flex their legacy and locale advantages in free agency in ways the Knicks’ miserable recent history will preclude. Also, I get the sense that upbeat Jeanie is more easily satisfied than cantankerous Phil, so personality plays a role in this too.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com Hoo boy, that’s a bar so low that Gumby couldn’t limbo under it. Satisfaction is hardly the word to use. I’ll take a flyer on the Lakers with a healthy Julius Randle and their top five draft pick roughly co-existing with Kobe Bryant’s latest comeback over a top-flight rookie and Carmelo Anthony learning the secrets of the triangle. But neither sniffs the playoffs again, so misery can continue holding hands and making goo-goo eyes with company.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comMore satisfied being the key, since neither will be satisfied in 12 months. The Lakers will have made the most progress by this time next year, with one important disclaimer: as long as they keep their lottery pick that is top-five protected. Neither will be a good situation, barring a shocking veteran pickup in the summer. But the Lakers will be the better of the not good.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comWell, Jeannie isn’t on contract, so I guess Phil will want and need to see some rather significant improvement a year from now. I’ll give the edge to Phil. Kobe is already on record saying the Lakers shouldn’t do anything rash and destructive just to surround him with ready-to-win talent next season, so the Lakers should continue with a gradual rebuild. Meanwhile, Phil convinced the Knicks to invest so much into Carmelo Anthony that some justification is in order for the Zen Master.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: New York. The Lakers already have a Lottery pick — Julius Randle — in hand and, with the league’s fourth worst record, only a 17 percent chance of losing their top-five protected pick to the Philadelphia 76ers. But the Knicks have the better and younger star player, as well as a better chance at one of the top two picks, where the true difference makers will likely be. Furthermore, Derek Fisher probably has a better ability to coach a young team up than Byron Scott, who floundered in a similar opportunity in Cleveland.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Jeanie Buss has the Lakers’ history of always finding their way back to relevance on her side. The lure of playing for a franchise smothered in championship lore and in one of the most desirable locations on the planet will somehow win out. The Knicks have so much ground to make up that they’d need some blind luck to beat the Lakers to the finish line of respectability. I just don’t see them getting there before the Lakers a year from now. Free agency this summer will be the key, of course. Whoever gets the most done in July and August will have the best shot at winning this one.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Lakers are going to be able to sign someone good this summer, add another high pick to Julius Randle (the luck of the lottery willing), hope for a meaningful comeback year from Kobe Bryant, and then go back into free agency in 2016 with the heavy tailwind of the new TV contract and the extra cap space it will create. Jeanie is a better salesperson than Phil, and she has more to sell.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogPhil. The reason I have to give the Zen Master the nod is that both organizations will presumably, at some point, have to tear things down before they build them up. And the Knicks are well on their way to doing that. This time next year, the Lakers will be nearing the end of Kobe Bryant’s contract and trying to figure out where to go next. And if history is any teacher, Lakers management hasn’t exactly inspired confidence.

Blogtable: Thompson’s 37 or Kyrie’s 57?

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: Kyrie’s 57 or Klay’s 37? | The rest issue … | Brighter future: Knicks or Lakers?



VIDEORelive Kyrie Irving’s 57-point game

> Klay Thompson’s 37-point quarter, or Kyrie Irving’s 57-point game? In your eyes, which was more remarkable?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’ll go with Kyrie over Klay for overall remarkability. Thompson’s 37 points in the third quarter against Sacramento in January was breathtaking, but it was the ultimate “in-the-zone” moment that just happened to last a whole 12 minutes. Irving had 53 minutes with which to work, but he got 11 in the five-minute overtime, 27 after three quarters — and did it in a real statement game not against the Kings but against the defending-champion Spurs on a rare night when they weren’t focused on resting.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comHalley’s Comet or a shooting star? While it was great fun to watch (and I was sitting right there courtside at the AT&T Center last week), Kyrie Irving’s feat does not compare to Klay Thompson. The fact is 22 different players have scored at least 60 points in a game 64 times and Irving didn’t even get there. Thompson’s mind-boggling quarter was unprecedented, probably once-in-a-lifetime brilliance.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Irving, because of the opponent, because it was on the road, because it won a game. Anyone who tries to lessen what Thompson did looks foolish, so thanks for holding the door open. But the biggest threat he faced from the defense was staying out of the way as the Kings rolled over. The Warriors were going to win in Oakland even without a quarter that registered on the Richter scale. Irving in San Antonio was more sustained, with bonus points for coming later in the season as part of the Cavaliers revival.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Getting 37 for a quarter was more remarkable, key word “remarkable.” Not more important or meaningful. Kyrie did his damage against the defending champs, on the road, hitting a massive basket to send the game into OT and then followed up with another hoop that was just stupendous. Yes, cramming 37 points into a quarter comes with a slightly better wow factor, but give me Kyrie’s any time.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Thompson’s 37 was more remarkable, for sure. Players have attempted 13 or more shots in a quarter only 11 times this season, so to make 13 shots is kind of ridiculous. But Irving’s 57 was both more impressive and more important. While Thompson’s 37 was a case of a guy getting ridiculously hot over 12 minutes against one of the five worst defensive teams in the league, Irving’s 57 mixed hot perimeter shooting with an uncanny ability to get to the basket against a top-10 defense. And a performance like that in a playoff-like atmosphere might pay off down the line for a guy (and a team — as constituted) that has never been to the playoffs before.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Both were spectacular and equally remarkable, given the circumstances. But the time-sensitive nature of Klay Thompson’s work stands out to me. If Kyrie was on fire during his 57-point overtime showcase, Klay was a human incinerator during his wicked 37-point quarter. I relished every single second of each performance. And I cannot imagine what either one of them could for an encore to top their respective performances (but go ahead fellas and give it a try in this last month of the season). Still, choosing between the two feels a little bit like car shopping and having to choose between a Rolls Royce Phantom and a Bugatti. You’re riding in high style either way.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Irving scored his under pressure to win a big game on the road. His performance had to mean a lot to LeBron James, based on his own rivalry with San Antonio. If the Cavs go on to reach the NBA Finals, that performance will be viewed as their omen.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: This is like Sophie’s choice. I guess I’ll go Kyrie? Don’t get me wrong — Klay Thompson’s eruption in the third quarter that night was incredible and exciting and a signature moment. But it was also just a moment, one quarter of excellence. To me, Kyrie’s night was just that – an evening of greatness, four quarters (and an overtime) of amazing play. Sure, there were ebbs and flows, but he sustained it all night. Also, he didn’t miss a three the entire game, which was remarkable.

Blogtable: Upset-minded team in East?

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: Extend the season? | Rethinking age limit? | Upset-minded East playoff team?



VIDEOPaul George is holding out hope he’ll be able to return for a potential playoff run

> If I told you a sleeper team was going to pull off a major upset in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, which team would you tag to make that prediction come true: Bucks, Pacers, Hornets or Heat?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Pacers, though I say that without trying to predict the first-round matchups. Indiana already is a different team that most foes have faced this season, and if Paul George is able to return and blend into what’s already working, the Pacers could bite a top seed in the behind. Now, if they wind up eighth and Atlanta stays at No. 1, that’s a tall order because the Hawks came close to upsetting them a year ago and are better now. But given the Pacers’ pride and desire to salvage what had been a mostly lost season, I’d take them very seriously.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The Bucks with their stingy, No. 2-rated defense, 3-point shooting ability, rising youth in Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Michael Carter-Williams and the been-there-done-that smarts of coach Jason Kidd. They could be a we-having-nothing-to-lose handful.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Maybe I’m just getting caught up in the good vibrations of the moment — stringing together wins, Paul George back on the practice court — but I’ll go Pacers. Same problems scoring, but Indy defends and rebounds. Tough not to like that as a starting point for an upset, obviously depending on the matchup. I’d put the Bucks a close second.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Honestly, I don’t like any of their chances, but I’ll go with the Bucks. They’ll likely have a better seeding and therefore a more evenly-matched first round. Plus, they’re young with fresh legs that’ll come in handy in late April, and their coach, Jason Kidd, has been there and done that in this league.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Indiana is the clear pick. The Pacers have been the best team in the league (both in regard to record and point differential) since Feb. 1. They have a great defense and an offense that has improved with a healthy George Hill in the starting lineup and Rodney Stuckey coming off the bench. They have a coach and a roster with playoff experience, and maybe one of the league’s best players coming back. But I would still have a hard time picking them against Atlanta, Chicago or Cleveland. 

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’m tagging the Pacers and relishing the idea, based on the standings at this moment, of a Cleveland Cavaliers-Pacers No. 2 vs No. 7 first-round matchup. Talk about a major upset, this one would be colossal. Paul George comes back. Roy Hibbert rediscovers the All-Star within. Coach Frank Vogel gets his revenge for last season’s meltdown and the team’s staggering fall from grace. Doing it at the expense of long-time foe LeBron James would only add to the intrigue of a storybook scenario for the Pacers … and it is indeed an absolute fantasy. I don’t think there are any upsets to be had in the first round. Not based on what we see in the standings right now.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Pacers are the East’s poor-man version of OKC. Based on their current trend with their best players – including Paul George – returning to health, then no one at the top of the standings is going to want to see Indiana.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I have a hard time pegging the Pacers as an underdog, even as long as Paul George is out. This is a team with guys like Roy Hibbert, David West, George Hill, Luis Scola — quality NBA veteran players. I know that they’ve been without George this season and have dealt with other injuries, but if anything, to me the Pacers have the pieces to be better than they’ve been for most of this season. And then it’s not if George returns, it’s which George might return — I don’t expect to see the George who was one of the best players in the NBA, because that will take time to find and get back to, even just mentally. But I do think if they can get back any version of George that provides depth and is able to knock down an occasional open jumper, that could be a huge postseason help.

Upset-minded East teams
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Blogtable: Time to rethink age limit?

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: Extend the season? | Rethinking age limit? | Upset-minded East playoff team?


> An attorney for the NBPA says the union will fight to lower the age minimum during the next round of collective bargaining, and says that forcing players to attend college for one year is “completely ridiculous.” Agree or disagree? And why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Disagree for multiple reasons. One, it’s not “completely ridiculous;” that’s simplistic rhetoric for a topic worthy of legitimate debate. Two, the NBA is within its rights to set hiring policies. It doesn’t have to provide all jobs for all high-school graduates who want to get paid to play basketball. Getting NBA scouts out of high school gyms is a worthy objective. Not starting multimillion-dollar , guaranteed contracts for players so raw their deal is nearly up by the time they’re able to perform is a better one. I don’t give a hoot about the impact on NCAA basketball, but the NBA is a better league when its players (with rare exceptions) have developed more and grown up a little.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Because it is arbitrary. Because we live in the United States of America, where the right to make a living should not be inhibited. And because one year of college does nothing to help the quality of either the NBA or  college games.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comIf the union wants to take a stand on bargaining away the jobs of current members, that’s on them. I can’t imagine it would be a very popular one among the rank-and-file players, primarily the many players whose goal will be to stay employed. Opening the door to more teenagers will increase the difficulty. On the specific topic at hand, though, my position for years has been to lower the age limit, while understanding it’s not the majority opinion. I don’t buy the part about “completely ridiculous” because there is a credible case to be made for requiring a prospect to be 19 years old in the calendar year of the Draft. I just think it doesn’t stand up. Also, point of clarification, no players are being forced to attend college for one season. Go overseas and make money. Go to the NBA D-League and work on your game while making gas money on top of it. College is a choice, not a demand.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The NBA isn’t restricting anyone’s ability to play basketball right out of high school. Anyone can go the Brandon Jennings route and play overseas and make money right away. The NBA is a big-boy league and, therefore, is only right to protect the quality of the game by imposing the current rule. One year of college isn’t a lifetime prison sentence. It not only allows 18-year-olds to spend another year learning the game, but maturing as young men, which sometimes gets lost in the desire to cash in immediately.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The league and its teams should invest more in the NBA D-League, so that it’s a full 30-team system with salaries that can compete with those in Europe or China, or at least make it easier for the country’s best non-NBA talent to stay home. The D-League is where players can go out of high school, get paid, get scouted, and become NBA-eligible in one or two years. More players getting paid more money, without taking any out of the pockets of the players who are already in the league, sounds like a good deal for the union. And if the best 18-and 19-year-olds were in the D-League, the NBA and its teams would get a return on their investment via ticket and TV revenue.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’m a believer in the freedom of choice for anyone old enough to take care of him or herself without the aid of a consenting adult. So I’m fundamentally opposed to the idea of an age limit beyond a prospect’s graduating senior class in high school (or the international equivalent). I agree with the union’s premise that it’s completely ridiculous to force anyone dreaming of playing in the NBA to do anything other than abide by the same rules we ask anyone else who reaches the age of adulthood to abide by. Where we part ways, however, is when we talk about the value placed on the college experience. I think any experience gained while away from the comforts of adolescence is extremely valuable. And I’m thinking about more than just basketball. Some of these guys need to grow up a bit before being thrust into the fishbowl. Bottom line? Allow a prospect to enter the league after completing high school and then give them the opportunity to make their own, grown-up choices about what to do with their own lives.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThe union is fighting on behalf of high school seniors who, for the most part, will contribute very little as rookies because of all they have yet to learn. The union is not thinking about the larger consequences for the NBA overall, because that is not the union’s job. My opinion is that the NBA would benefit from a minimum age of 20 years, which would make sense especially if the NBA D-League became a highly-competitive league that helped players to develop and mature while teaching them how to win for the sake of the team. That scenario would create a better rookie class in addition to more jobs for the union.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: It is completely ridiculous, in that it just seems so random and arbitrary. Why one year of college? And why is the NCAA so complicit in this — the players don’t even have to really go to class to maintain eligibility for one year. At the same time, I get it from the player’s point of view, in the sense that the later guys get into the NBA and get on the clock with their rookie contract, the older they are when they finally hitfree agency. This means they might only get one big free agency contract instead of two big deals, which could be a difference of tens of millions of dollars. So are the guys in the league today really OK with passing that money along to guys who are in high school today? Maybe so. But I’d be surprised if they don’t want some for themselves. Either way, it doesn’t make sense.

Blogtable: Extend the 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: Extend the season? | Rethinking age limit? | Upset-minded East playoff team?



VIDEOThe Starters give their view on extending the season into July

> The NBA says it is considering spacing out the 82-game regular season, and San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is already on record saying he won’t be working in July. Are hot dogs, apple pie and basketball a good mix on Independence Day?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: NBA in July? No thank you. The season goes deep enough into the calendar as it is, players already are squeezed for offseason recovery and down time, there is lots of business already requiring the summer months (draft, Las Vegas, free agency, FIBA). The obvious fix is to shorten the preseason by a week to 10 days, play three or four tuneup games instead of seven or eight and start the NBA schedule a week before Halloween.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The idea is a bigger dud than a wet firecracker on the Fourth of July. The season is already long … too long. With many players choosing to play for their national teams — Tony Parker and Nicolas Batum have already said they’re in for France at EuroBasket next summer — the offseason time to rest and heal would be shortened further.  On one hand, the commissioner talks of trimming off a few preseason games to provide more down time.  On the other, he has already lengthened the All-Star break to a week to make less.  The only truly serious solution to the problem of debilitating fatigue is simple — a shorter schedule, say 66 or 70 games. That would require owners netting less money from fewer home games and require players taking a corresponding cut in contracts. Both sides, of course, are due a windfall when the new TV contracts kick in. But neither side is willing to forgo a dollar. So it is all talk, some of it just silly, with a few cosmetic changes.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Sure. It will look weird at first and feel strange on the body clock because other big events will have to be pushed back –the Draft, NBA Summer League –but that’s nothing compared to the benefit: better play. Fewer back-to-backs or three games in four nights is a good thing for rosters and, therefore, a good thing for fans. There has to be some give as most people agree the extended All-Star break is a valuable rest stop and the idea of a little more breathing room in the schedule is a positive. Turning another page on the calendar, and it might not since that would mean the season going some two weeks longer now, would be a small price to pay.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: No, no, no! Basketball isn’t meant to go beyond Father’s Day, let alone July 4th. Stretching the season is a sure way to turn off some hardcore fans (casual fans would flee like Russell Westbrook on the fast break). If the owners and players and networks really cared about the quality of the game, they would agree to play a 70-game schedule, eliminate exhibition games, start the season by mid-October, eliminate four-games-in-five-nights, reduce back-to-backs, and return to best-of-five for first-round playoff series. Which means, it’ll never happen because money always gets in the way.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I don’t like the idea of pushing into July. I’m all for limiting the preseason to just one or two games and starting the regular season in mid-October, though. That should eliminate four-games-in-five-nights scenarios and reduce the number of back-to-backs. And I think a 72-game schedule (three games against each team in your conference, two against the opposite conference) would help alleviate wear and tear and put extra value on every game.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’m with Pop on this one. There is no need to drag the NBA season into July. That’s Summer League time anyway. I understand the need, for some, to always be about the business of advancing things and tinkering with things for the sake of tinkering. Growing the game (the number of teams, the size and scope of the pool of players, viewership around the globe, etc.) has always the been the rule. And we’ve all benefited from that growth. But bigger isn’t always better, at least not in this case. If we’re going to mess with the NBA schedule, the move needs to be pushing back the start of the regular season until Thanksgiving or Christmas and shortening the 82-game season by roughly 12 games. I don’t think there is any doubt that fans would appreciate the quality of that sort of NBA season over the quantity that Pop (and so many others of us opposed to a 4th of July NBA Finals) is balking at with the spaced out 82-game regular season.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comEverything changes. Of all the changes that have transformed the NBA since the 1979 arrival of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird — overhauls of salary structure, media coverage (including social media), refereeing, global drafting and on and on — the idea of tacking on a few more days is almost not worthy of argument. As the money and the demands grow ever larger, it’s inevitable that the season will keep growing longer.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: To be honest, nothing other than Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum are a good mix on Independence Day. The NBA season need to be done by then, and preferably a few weeks before then. The obvious way to fix this — to space out the schedule while ending the season before July — is to shorten the season. It doesn’t have to be radical — maybe you could shave off 6 or 8 games. Or just cancel the preseason and back up the start of the regular season by a couple of weeks. Either way, whatever you do, I think we all agree that our Independence Day should be properly celebrated by sitting back and watching Randy Quaid invoke the words of his generation while flying a fighter plane nose-first into an alien spaceship. Not by watching the NBA.

Blogtable: Four-Player Race For MVP

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 Race | Post-All-Star Sloppy Play | Statue-Worthy Players



VIDEO:  The Starters: MVP choice

> It’s a four-man race for Kia NBA MVP (Curry, James, Harden, Westbrook). In your eyes, what does one of these players have to do in the final six weeks of the season to separate himself from the rest of the pack and secure the MVP crown?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comFirst, don’t kick anyone in the store and get oneself suspended from a big game. That’s definitely a no-no in the MVP handbook. Second, don’t miss a quarter of your team’s games and, if you do, make sure it wins often enough whether you’re around or not to nail down a Top 4 seed. The ability to impact the game at both ends is nice and, oh yeah, bonus points for making one team The Finals favorite in its conference, then switching teams and making that one The Finals favorite in its conference. Now whom shall I choose?…

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comThere are no set bars to clear, bases to touch.  In a tight race such as this with a handful of candidates, I’ll likely give my vote to the best closer.  Can Curry take the Warriors into the playoffs as the overall No. 1 seed?  Can Harden keep the Rockets in the mix for a top 3 finish?  After a slow start, it would be very impressive if LeBron could get the Cavs to leap all the way to No. 2 in the East.  Now that the question of making the playoffs has pretty much been answered, Westbrook would turn heads if he could help the Thunder leap as high as No. 6.  I’m looking for a finishing kick to seal the deal.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comNothing other than play better the final six weeks than they have the previous months. That’s the challenge: Who will go from an MVP-level of play to an even higher level in the clutch, when players and teams are supposed to be peaking and playoff seedings are on the line? That is particularly important for Westbrook, with every bit of supporting evidence critical after missing the large chunk of time. It might be easier to overcome that deficit other seasons. Not so much in this one with, as you mentioned, several deserving candidates.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: In the case of James Harden, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook, assuming their level of play stays the same, it’s how high they can elevate their teams in the standings. Steph Curry can’t take the Warriors any higher than first place, so he must stay consistent. This could be a photo finish involving Curry and Harden, the two most likely finalists, and if the Rockets finish within 5 games or less of the Warriors, I’d say the trophy is Harden’s.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: All of these guys have great individual numbers and all have made big impacts on their team’s numbers. I think it’s Curry’s award to lose at this point, but James and Harden aren’t too far behind. Harden has been carrying the Rockets all season and we all saw how bad the Cavs were when James took his two weeks off. But both might have to hope that Curry and the Warriors hit a slump between now and April 15.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com​In my eyes, which are working better than ever, it’s all about how you and your team finish. Crazy individual numbers will certainly help solidify the point for all of these guys. But Harden has the best chance to separate himself if, after his one-game suspension for the below-the-belt jujitsu kick on LeBron, he continues to blaze opposing defenses the way he has all season. For him to continue his torrid pace all season while others have come and gone from the scoring race, helps him separate from this pack. Sure, it’s perhaps a shallow way of looking at it. But when you’re checking all of the other boxes, that extra scoring punch could push Harden over the top.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThe only thing LeBron should need is to keep Cleveland in play for the No. 2 seed in the East. It’s this simple: His return turned a hopeless franchise (for four years running) into a title contender. Furthermore, his current teammates have gone 2-9 in James’s absence this season. No rival has made a bigger impact on his team.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogHow about post one signature game? Each one of the guys mentioned have been tremendous this season, so good that I’m not sure they have a lot of room to get much better, at least on a nightly basis. It’s a tight race for the trophy, tight enough that I’m not sure which player has the jump on the award. But what might help push someone over the top is one huge game, maybe on a Thursday night on TNT or a Sunday afternoon on ABC. LeBron scoring 50? Steph Curry hitting a dozen threes? Something like that just may be enough to swing the voters their way.