Blogtable

Blogtable: On-court style police

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


BLOGTABLE: Indy’s roster tweaks | Style police | Most dynamic duo



VIDEO: The GameTime crew weighs in on the topic of ads on game jerseys

> Sleeves, leg warmers, ads on game jerseys … what are your thoughts on the state of the NBA’s on-court style?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comSome of these players have on more armor and apparel than NFL or NHL players. And regarding the marketability of sleeves, I don’t see what the problem is with fans wearing T-shirts under their replica tank-top jerseys. But swooshes and other logos embroidered on the shirts as a source of revenue? No one is stepping in front of that gravy train. As for sheer style, I’m hoping the league goes back to belted shorts, just so I can throw around the adjective “Mikanesque.”  

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: After trashy cheerleaders, silly mascots, every timeout sponsored by somebody, blaring music that won’t allow you to think, playoff games that tip off at 10:40 PM Eastern and TV timeouts that drag on longer than the gestation period of an elephant, NOW you want to ask about the purity of the game?  Where it’s headed is to whatever brings in the highest dollar amount.  Maybe next year Chick-Fil-A can sponsor the Heat uniforms and LeBron could see how he likes shooting while wearing a cow costume.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Don’t like the sleeves, don’t really care about the tights (although didn’t the NBA outlaw these once before?) and HATE ads on jerseys. They are only as “inevitable” as new commissioner Adam Silver wants them to be. Sure, ads on jerseys will produce new revenue, but I thought NBA franchises were doing just great? Just because European soccer splashes logos on their game jerseys doesn’t mean we might as well do it over here. It cheapens the uniform and, simply, it looks tacky. The revenue generated from ads on jerseys will not be immense and therefore the ads are unnecessary, as inevitable as they may be. Maybe owners should work harder to put forth a better product, work harder to sell sponsorships and work harder to market their product. Jersey ads are simply a lazy way to create new revenue.

Harrison Barnes in a short-sleeved jersey (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

Harrison Barnes in a short-sleeved jersey
(Rocky Widner/NBAE)

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: You would have to search a long time for someone who cares less than I do. Maybe it’s better to say I care since style is important, but this issue is somewhere in triple digits on the list of priorities. As long as the long sleeves don’t affect play. As for the ads on uniforms, that has been coming for years and teams in other sports around the world have already tapped into the revenue stream. Someone should grab Chico’s Bail Bonds as a sponsor for the back of jerseys before it’s too late.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It doesn’t matter to me much. I don’t mind the sleeved jerseys, but can understand why players would. I like that all of a team’s accessories (headbands, arm sleeves, etc.) need to be the same color and wonder why they started allowing guys to wear different colored shoes.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I don’t have to work in a uniform, so I cannot sympathize with LeBron James or others who are worried about sleeves and other style details that have absolutely nothing to do with one’s ability to complete whatever their daily tasks are on the job. If we’re headed for a world of sponsorship logos on jerseys, so be it. NBA players wouldn’t be the first group of professional athletes to operate with that as a part of their mandated attire. In the grand scheme of things, uniform details seem like a rather inconsequential element of the entire process. No offense to the uniform makers, but as long as they look good and everybody’s uniforms match … this from someone who played on a team as a kid where our uniforms consisted of white t-shirts with numbers that had to be ironed on by our parents and whatever pair of shorts you could muster.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: I am probably the wrong person to ask about this. I’m one of those people who loves it when the players want to be as accessorized as possible, who enjoys sleeved jerseys and is an enthusiastic supporter of teams rocking nicknames instead of surnames. I appreciate very much that the NBA has for the most part not legislated individuality out of the game the way the NFL has the last few years. I know ads on jerseys are a hot-button issue among fans, but I feel like that’s an inevitability going forward. I own my share of soccer jerseys with ads on them, and the ads don’t take away from my enjoyment of the sport.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: The sleeves don’t concern me too much. I like them as an extra jersey for teams and understand the commercial reasons. I must admit that I’m slightly concerned about the advertising on game jerseys because one of the things I love about the NBA compared to other professional leagues is that they’ve shied away from this is in the past. Clearly it was trialed during the All-Star Weekend and didn’t really cause too much of an issue, though, and I don’t think NBA fans are too concerned. Adam Silver is  a smart guy, so I’m sure he’ll be able to manage the ads in a classy way and make sure they don’t dominate the jersey but I do hope this doesn’t come in for a little while yet.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: That’s the way fashion rolls. In cycles. Wearing accessories isn’t something new. It was something Allen Iverson and his generation brought to the table (and the hardwood). I am not against it. I like watching players with different stylistic choices. Sometimes it becomes part of their character (LeBron’s headband for example). And you know what? Basketball is a game of confidence, so let the player feel as confident as they can possibly can. If it that means that they want to wear their lucky sleeve on their shooting arm, so be it. But I believe that we are still far away from having any real idea about where this is going.

Blogtable: The NBA’s most dynamic duo

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


BLOGTABLE: Indy’s roster tweaks | Style police | Most dynamic duo



VIDEO: LeBron James and Chris Bosh combined to snuff out Portland’s chance at a win Monday

> Right now — taking health problems and everything else into consideration – who would you name the most formidable pair of teammates in the NBA?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: This reminds me of the trivia question about baseball’s all-time brother act among HR hitters. Of course it’s the Aarons, on the strength of Henry’s 755 and Tommie’s 13. To me, any pair of teammates that includes LeBron James as one of them is a serious contender as top tandem. Some might argue that Chris Bosh is Miami’s second-best player now, but I’ll stick with a rested and recuperating Dwyane Wade as wingman to the NBA’s best player (not necessarily the 2014 MVP), based on how well Wade and the team have managed his health and workload.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Because there are questions going forward about how Russell Westbrook will hold up over the long haul of the playoffs and because there are constantly questions about Dwyane Wade’s knees, you have to go past the obvious.  I’ll put Chris Paul and Blake Griffin at the top of my 1-2 punch list.  Paul can run the break, get everybody a good shot at any time and Griffin has raised his all-around game to be part of the MVP conversation.  Formidable isn’t the word to describe Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, just incredibly efficient.  The pairing that could leap up and make an even bigger splash still in the playoffs is James Harden and Dwight Howard.

Blake Griffin, Chris Paul (Noah Graham/NBAE)

Blake Griffin, Chris Paul (Noah Graham/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comKevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. I know Westbrook’s been in and out of the lineup and might be a knee bump away from potentially being shelved again, but together this tandem of 25-year-olds is a two-way terror like none other. Durant is the best player in the game right now, simply unguardable. Put the strength and speed of Westbrook, practically unguardable in his own right, next to KD and say goodnight.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comFour first names and two players equal one top tandem: Chris Paul, Blake Griffin. The best point guard in the world and one of the top, maybe the top, power forward gives the Clippers a dynamic inside-outside pairing with a season of Griffin’s commendable improvements and Paul coming back from the shoulder injury. James Harden-Dwight Howard and Paul George-Roy Hibbert (defense, defense) are in the conversation. Paul is not 100 percent, but the potential challengers of Westbrook-Durant, Lillard-Aldridge, Rose-Noah have larger health issues.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comLeBron James and Chris Bosh. James is the best player in the world and Bosh is the next most important player on the Heat, with his ability to defend the pick-and-roll and space the floor offensively. Dwyane Wade can create more offense when James is off the floor, but Bosh is the better complement. He’s bigger and a better perimeter shooter.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The most lethal pair of teammates, injuries included, remains Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. There aren’t two guys working in tandem that can wreak more havoc or affect more change, on both ends of the floor, during the course of a game than the Oklahoma City Thunder’s dynamic duo and their Miami Heat counterparts. When they crank it into high-gear, who else can wade into that deep water and still stay true to what they do best? Sure, Westbrook and Wade have dealt with more than their fair share of injury issues this season. But the entire league knows what happens when they have it going. They are the obvious choices for the most obvious of reasons, we’ve seen them go to that next level so often over the past three or four years that there should really be no argument here.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: I’m sure we’ll see nominations for Westbrook and Durant, Harden and Howard, maybe even LeBron and Bosh. But I think I’ll go with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. I don’t think CP3’s leadership or toughness have ever been questioned, and with CP3 missing time this year due to injury, I think we saw exactly how good and complete a player Blake has become. The thing I also like about these two is that they combine to form a terrific inside-out combination, or at least as much of an inside-out combination as exists these days in the NBA.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: Right now it’s the Chris Paul-Blake Griffin duo. The smartest PG in the league paired with one of the most athletic big man gave us Lob City, but now that Griffin is evolving into something more than just a spectacular dunker, the Clippers have a spectacular duo who’s winning a ton of games. They can both win games by themselves, as a duo or involving their other teammates. I really like what Doc Rivers has turned them into. Without injuries, I’d go with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade over Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

Philipp Dornhegge, NBA Deutschland: I was thinking about Howard/Harden, Nowitzki/Ellis, Paul/Griffin and Westbrook/Durant. But right now I don’t believe that any duo is as good on both sides of the floor as LeBron James and Chris Bosh. In his fourth season with the Heat, Bosh is so much more than the third-best player of the team. You could argue that Miami would be going nowhere if they didn’t have the lefty big man. He takes and makes big shots with great regularity and is capable of a key defensive play anytime. And LeBron is just the best player on the planet. I really believe that if you have those two players working together, you’re guaranteed a shot at the title. And they’re the only duo I think about in those terms.

Blogtable: The MVP of the LAC

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


BLOGTABLE: The rest of the East | The MVP of the Clippers | Phil Jackson’s debut


Point guard Chris Paul and forward Blake Griffin of the Clippers (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Point guard Chris Paul and forward Blake Griffin of the Clippers (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

> MVP of the Clippers: Studly power forward or savvy veteran point guard?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI’m sticking with Chris Paul as the Most Valuable Clipper because he organizes their offense, initiates their attack and shoulders the greatest responsibility for taking them where they want to go. Even in his injury absence he brought value: Blake Griffin stepped up his game and their group is better for it. It’s a tough choice, but if I were running that team and had to do without one, it’d be the power forward. I want my point guard.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I know that Blake Griffin did excellent work while Chris Paul was injured. But it’s still CP3 that makes the Clippers’ engine run at full throttle. I’m giving the edge to the little man, but he’s got to show leadership and get them at least to the second round.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comBlake Griffin. Who carried the team through 18 games without CP3? Yeah, Jamal Crawford was great, but Griffin emerged as the leader he needs to be. It was a major step forward in his mental and emotional development to go along with the great strides he’s made in his physical game.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Chris Paul is the best point guard in the world, and that is a unique level of special considering the position, but the highlight-smasher is the MVP of the team. Blake Griffin was just as great with Paul out with a shoulder injury and with CP3 regaining his rhythm as with Paul in a good place. The Clippers are better this season because Griffin is better. He should get third-place votes in the real MVP race, the league-wide one.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Blake Griffin is their regular-season MVP, because he carried the Clips to a 12-6 record (along with one more win in November) and the No. 1 ranking in offensive efficiency in that month-plus that Chris Paul missed. But point guard is still the most important position on the floor and they’ve been much better defensively when Paul has been healthy. So he’s more important to their success in the postseason, though they wouldn’t get out of the first round if either of the two wasn’t close to 100 percent.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: This is a great question and one that I’m sure Doc Rivers is glad he doesn’t have to answer. I’m going to split hairs and make it clear that Blake Griffin, as of this moment, is the Clippers’ best player. He’s done more this season, with and without Chris Paul in the lineup, than even the most optimistic of fans (yes, I’m talking about you, Clipper Darrell) could have imagined. Griffin will rightfully finish in the top three or four of the MVP race and has legitimized his profile as one of the league’s truly elite power forwards and overall players. But if someone asks who the Clippers’ most valuable player is, Paul has yet to relinquish that title. The Clippers’ turnaround that began before the arrival of Rivers, was spurred by Paul. He was a culture-shifter and franchise-changer for a Clippers outfit in dire need of some project rehab work in both departments. Best player right now? Griffin. Most valuable player? Paul.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blogHow about neither? Honestly, I’d like to cast a vote for the guy who has the offense clicking, who has the defense playing a million times better than they were the first few weeks of the season, who has figured out how to overcome the loss of guys like that gritty point guard, and who has put the highlight-smashing power forward in position to succeed, and who has added guys like Hedo Turkoglu and Big Baby Davis and Danny Granger. I’ve said all along that this season, the Clippers’ MVP has to be Doc Rivers.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: My man is Blake Griffin. He has been consistent all season long, he has grown into a complete basketball player, he added a weapon as important as the mid-range shoot to his arsenal of spectacular dunks, he became not only the terminal of Lob City but also the assist-man. And he also proved he can be a leader for this team, given the way he played when Chris Paul was injured. CP3 is still the mind of this Clippers, but I think Blake should be their MVP this season. They make a tremendous duo who can take the team very deep into the postseason.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: Forget Kevin Spacey. The NBA is the house of guards. Basketball is the game of the perimeter players (forgive me Kareem). They are the ones to handle the ball, to make plays, to decide, to execute at crunch time. That’s the way things go, so Chris Paul is the man for the Clippers.

Blogtable: Grading Phil’s debut

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


BLOGTABLE: The rest of the East | The MVP of the Clippers | Phil Jackson’s debut



VIDEO: Phil Jackson, new president of the Knicks, lays out some reasons he came back to the game

> You saw Phil Jackson’s return: What was your takeaway? Any questions?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: His comments about Carmelo Anthony sounded like recruiting pitches (though I’ve always thought ‘Melo was going to stay right where he is). Now he can stick around for the maximum money while claiming it’s a mission to win. The delusions of grandeur that have been part of his problem in the past will be stoked anew by Jackson’s praise and pledge to help him reach his “next level.” Anthony – who has had a hard enough time realizing he isn’t LeBron James or Kevin Durant – now will think of himself as Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, the all-timers who needed Jackson to get their rings. Please.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Biggest takeaway is that Phil Jackson’s first day on the job will be the easiest day he has. Standing behind that microphone was like a politician making promises. Changing the short-term fix culture of the Knicks will be the heavy lifting. Can he get ownership, Carmelo Anthony and, just as important, the New York media to buy into a seismic shift? If he can do that, Jackson doesn’t just have the Knicks on a steady course by 2016, he’s perfectly timed that same year to run for President.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: The stuff about seeing Carmelo Anthony with the Knicks and living in New York, and that was great. Bigger than any one particular thing Phil Jackson said was simply the credibility, the rock of stability, he put on display by acting like the man in charge. New Yorkers should rejoice, James Dolan‘s paranoia and utter lack of interpersonal skills are being pushed to the side and overshadowed by a very tall and wise Zen Master, a true master in the art of communication. This is big.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comThere was no big takeaway. If anyone had a chance to make one, in what is ordinarily a very scripted setting, it would be Jackson, but even he kept it simple and straightforward. He is excited, the Knicks can have a big future, it’s a special organization. Yada yada yada. James Dolan had a good one, though. Gratefully giving up the power. Funny stuff. As for whether there is anything else I need to know: You mean besides everything? This only becomes real once a man with no front-office experience starts making moves, and that can’t happen at a press conference.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I liked that he brought up continuity, which is something that has been missing in New York, with all the different general managers, coaches and high-priced players that have come through over the last 12 years. Keeping a core together for several years is more difficult under this CBA, but just having a team president and coach who are on the same page for four or five straight years would be a big step in the right direction.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I watched every second of Phil’s first media rodeo as president of the Knicks and it was exactly what I was expecting, the (Zen) master taking over the room from the start. He disarmed the assembled media, let James Dolan off the hook (“we’re here to take the pressure of making basketball decisions off of his plate” … I’m paraphrasing) and then stuck him with it later (“I wouldn’t be here if we hadn’t established that I do this my way” … again, paraphrasing), smiling the entire time. He wants to work with Carmelo Anthony and does not appear to have any plans to do the same with Mike Woodson beyond this season. And yet the biggest takeaway from the entire affair for me was his declaration that he will indeed be a hands-on manager of the basketball operation in New York and engage himself in the process in every way. He is NOT going to coach this team. I don’t know how many different ways he can say it. But that was also the one other major item I took away from his maiden effort as the public face of the franchise. It’s Front Office Phil’s show from here on out, for better or worse. The Knicks and certainly the league become much more interesting with Phil Jackson in an active role.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: If you don’t trust Phil Jackson by now, I’m not sure there’s anything I can do to help you. I think the thing I took away from the press conference wasn’t anything Phil said, but moreso that Knicks owner Jim Dolan seemed as enamored of Phil as he is The Eagles. Dolan appeared to be willing to fully hand over basketball ops to Phil and get out of his way, which for Knicks fans must be an encouraging thing to have heard. Phil has a huge task at hand — not sure if he can create draft picks out of thin air, for instance — but either way, having Phil in charge should buy the Knicks a few more years to find their footing and get some sort of traction regarding the future.

Karan Madhok, NBA India: The biggest takeaway at Phil’s introductory speech was the beacon call to the good ol’ days of basketball in the mecca, the late 60s and early 70s when the Knicks played the most team-oriented brand of basketball ever and won their only two championships. Jackson was part of that team, and he wants to bring the same philosophy to the franchise more than 40 years later. He spoke about bringing a system of ball-movement and unselfishness. But the big question is: how? The Knicks don’t have much room to upgrade this roster, so the change will have to come from the within – a Zen-like philosophical adjustment – than from the outside.

Iñako Díaz-Guerra, NBA España: I love Phil Jackson. I think that he’s one of the greatest minds of sports history, but … I listen to all his great words and can’t stop thinking: “Great, but how are you going to make that happen? Black magic?” Look, I love the Knicks and I love Phil Jackson, but the contracts of Amar’e, Bargnani and J.R. Smith aren’t going to disappear. Will Jackson have the patience for at least one more year of losing? That’s my doubt.


VIDEO: Jackson offers his thoughts on Carmelo Anthony and running the triangle offense

Blogtable: Pacers, Heat … then what?

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


BLOGTABLE: The rest of the East | The MVP of the Clippers | Phil Jackson’s debut



VIDEO: The Starters break down John Schuhmann’s weekly NBA.com Power Rankings

> OK, so it’s Miami and Indiana. How do you see the rest of the East shaking out?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: No one should want to be No. 7 or No. 8, no matter how vulnerable Miami or Indiana has looked in recent weeks. That creates some serious pressure from down under in the East bracket even if the newly invigorated Knicks do not. Six games separate Nos. 3-8, which could make for a wild finish. But I expect the current order to hold. Toronto is the best of the bunch overall, followed by the ever-overachieving Bulls. Brooklyn and Washington each might think it is better off facing the Raptors, but then, there’s that nuisance of going back and forth through customs in a long series. Charlotte is just happy to be there and Atlanta, as the sub-.500 entry, is just lucky to be there. Viva la status quo! (Oh, and the Raptors, Bulls and Bobcats have the best chance of making upset mayhem in the conference semifinals, depending on matchups.)

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Since the Knicks have won six in row, we know from past experience that things will soon turn bad. I don’t expect them to creep into the playoffs just because of Phil Jackson’s Zen magic. The Cavs are also dead. So we have the eight teams. It’s only a question of the order. I could see the Nets beating out the Wizards for No. 5. But do they want to walk into a possible 4-5 first round meeting with the meat grinder that is the Bulls? I could really look forward to a first round series between the Heat and Bobcats. Charlotte is a team that finally has a purpose and a direction and Al Jefferson could make things interesting.

Carmelo Anthony (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Carmelo Anthony (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Of course you have to be impressed with Toronto and the job coach Dwane Casey has done in the final year of his contract. And coach Tom Thibodeau and the Bulls, what more can be said about this group’s resiliency? But check out the Brooklyn Nets. Coach Jason Kidd has figured out a thing or two, not the least of which is how to stalk a sideline. The talent on this team has really shown itself since the calendar turned to 2014. Deron Williams has endured injury and struggle and is playing some of his finest ball of the season. Joe Johnson‘s been solid. Paul Pierce has seemed to finally embrace the journey. The addition of Marcus Thornton has provided a nice jolt. Put it all together and the Nets are a savvy, veteran ballclub that won’t wilt under pressure.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Bulls get past the Raptors, the Nets get past the Wizards, and the Bobcats stay in the top eight. Most of all, I see the playoff group is set. The Knicks have some forward momentum so breaking in wouldn’t be the biggest surprise. But the jockeying will mostly be within, the order of the first eight. One of the subplots will be getting to at least sixth to avoid a 1-8 or  2-7 with the Heat and Pacers.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThe Bulls have the easiest remaining schedule (they have six more games against the Sixers, Bucks, Celtics and Magic), so they should grab the 3 seed, with Toronto, Brooklyn and Washington finishing behind them in that order. There’s very little chance that Charlotte or Atlanta budge or win more than one game in the first round. Those 3-6 and 4-5 series should be a lot of fun (even though Bulls games are the ugliest in the league) and the teams with the experience (Chicago and Brooklyn) should have the edge. But I love that we have some fresh blood in there with the Raps, Wiz and future-Hornets.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I think the eight Eastern Conference playoff teams we’ll see in mid-April are the same eight teams that are occupying those spots today. New York and Cleveland had their windows of opportunity to catch the Hawks for that eighth and final spot in the standings (the Hawks lost almost every time they hit for the floor for dang near an entire month and still had a cushion). Whatever that 3 through 8 breakdown is at the end of the this regular season is almost inconsequential to me. In fact, I joked to Lang Whitaker and Rick Fox last week on the Hang Time Podcast that we should go ahead and play the No. 3-vs-No. 6 and No. 4-vs-No. 5 series, whoever matches up in those spots, give the Pacers and Heat a first-round bye and tell the bottom two teams that we appreciate all of your hard work but there is no need in you getting your noses bloodied merely for our entertainment.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: One of the teams that is currently in the playoff picture — but only one team — will not make the postseason. I think Atlanta is due for a run, after their long losing streak, and even as well as Charlotte has played of late, my guess is they’ll hit a tailspin as we head down the stretch. Which means? That’s right, Phil Jackson’s New York Knicks will make a late push and qualify for the playoffs. They don’t have their own Draft pick anyway, so why not go all out?

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: I think it will stay as-is, meaning that the Knicks won’t make it. The eight teams that are in there should stay, it’s just going to be a question of where they’ll all finish and who will secure third and fourth position –  and that hugely important home court for the first round. Charlotte and Atlanta seem to be the obvious candidates to finish in seventh and eighth, but the battle between Toronto, Chicago, Washington and Brooklyn will be intriguing. Just 2.5 games separates those four teams.

XiBin Yang, NBA China: The Bobcats really played some good games after the All-Star break. Al Jefferson has reached his summit of career, and he demonstrated that he could play some solid defense, if the coach is able to establish an effective system. Maybe they could make a leap in the last month. The schedule of Brooklyn is better. So, if the Nets continue to embarrass their opponents, maybe it’s not so far away to see them eventually seize a home-court advantage in the first round.

Blogtable: Contenders’ concerns

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


BLOGTABLE: Contenders’ concerns | What can Phil do? | Which team is better?



VIDEO: The GameTime crew examines the Thunder’s defensive problems

> Rank by level of concern for their recent play (most to least): Heat, Pacers, Thunder. Why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Ranking those three, I go Pacers, Thunder, then Heat. Miami figured to fiddle around with the regular season regardless, relatively speaking, and might have been wishing Indiana hadn’t even come back to within striking distance, just so they wouldn’t have to bother chasing. The Heat have what’s left of the regular season and then the first round to ramp up toward another title defense. Oklahoma City has a good excuse for its churning – it is working back in an All-Star and one of the best athletes in the game. Russell Westbrook is an asset, not a liability, but he does require a period of adjustment for that team. The Pacers, meanwhile, put themselves in a potential psychological box by turning the No. 1 seed into the Grail – woe is them if it eludes them. As it is, they’ve got to find another mental and physical gear, with a couple of parts (Evan Turner, Andrew Bynum) entirely new to their attack and their chemistry. Seems like a lot.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Oh boy, a 3-for-1 hit on the panic button! First, let’s stop and consider that when we get to the conference finals in a few months, these are three of the four teams that will be there.  So please, Blog Master, breathe into a paper bag and stop hyperventilating.  OK, now we’ll play the game: No. 1 on the list of worries is the Pacers.  I have always had a question about whether they can score enough points to win a championship, and the addition of Evan Turner to the rotation has so far not helped one bit.  If they can’t get back to being the tough, hard-nosed defensive team they were in the first half of the season, quite simply, no rings. No. 2 is the Thunder, but you have to factor into their recent slump the absence of Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins to injuries. We’ll assume they’ll be fit for the playoffs, so no worries. No. 3 are the Heat.  Because they are the Heat. Because LeBron is LeBron. Because the constant rush to push them over the edge is downright silly.

Paul George (Jordan Johnson/NBAE)

Paul George (Jordan Johnson/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comThe Pacers most concern me. Why? They can’t score. Their offense is painful at times. They play slow and spend a lot of time pounding the rock and often don’t get anything decent until late in the shot clock. And hey, I like Paul George, but he’s not LeBron or KD, two guys that can torch anybody, anytime at anywhere on the court with the ball in their hands. If Indiana’s defense is not locked in, which it has not been during this skid, they are susceptible to going down hard against high-octane, efficient offenses. Next, the Thunder. Their defensive issues are concerning, but they’re also missing their perimeter stopper, Thabo Sefolosaha, and their brutish center, the Rodney Dangerfield of the league, Kendrick Perkins. Even without those guys, OKC needs to take a hard look at its fourth-quarter defense. It’s been a joke and continues to cost them games. The Heat concern me least. My opinion is LeBron’s been flat-out exhausted coming off a long road trip interrupted by the business of the All-Star break followed by more road games. I don’t really worry about the Heat. They know what’s up.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comThunder, Pacers, Heat, with Indiana/Miami essentially a tie. And it doesn’t matter one bit. A month from now? Yes. Early March? Not so much. The only thing being proven now is that there is no perfect team, and that was already clear. The Thunder aren’t healthy, so this really isn’t the right time for snap judgements. And while the turnover problems are a concern, that has been an issue for years.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com1. Indiana.  2. Oklahoma City 3. Miami. Even with Paul George playing as well he was early in the season, the Pacers weren’t a very good offensive team. Now both George and Roy Hibbert are struggling, their defense hasn’t been as dominant as it was early on, and they’ve lost their grip on the top seed in the East. The Thunder should be concerned about their defense, especially since there’s no guarantee that Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins will return in a timely manner or at 100 percent. The Heat haven’t been consistent enough defensively either, but they’re the champs, they’ve been better on that end of the floor when Dwyane Wade has played, and they already have four wins against winning teams since the All-Star break, twice as many as the Thunder (two) and Pacers (zero) combined.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comFirst is the Pacers. They are the group with the most glaring wild cards (still developing superstars and stars, transition time for newcomers Evan Turner and Andrew Bynum and the most fragile championship construct). They are finding out the hard way just how difficult it is to be a championship-level team from start to finish, something very few teams can handle. The Heat didn’t even finish the deal the first time around. Second is the Thunder. With the Russell Westbrook factor and injuries to Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins, there is reason for pause, even if it’s just temporary. Third is the Heat. They’ve shown us the past two seasons that they are capable of rebounding from whatever adversity there is and handling it in their own way.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blogI’ll go Pacers, then Thunder, then Heat. To work in reverse, as I’ve said before, the Heat strike me as the type of team that understands their limitations and are focused only on June and the NBA Finals. They may lose a game here and there, but as long as they’re ready this summer, that’s all that matters. To me the Thunder struggling of late isn’t as much about Westbrook assimilating but the loss of Perkins and Sefolosha. They already work with such a thin bench, to be without two starters is really tough. As for Indy, that’s the team I’m most concerned with. I know they’re trying to work in their own new guys (Turner, Bynum), and perhaps we’re just seeing a bit of boredom/insolence work its way out of their systems, but as a group that hasn’t been to The Finals, to me they’re the one team of these three with something to prove. They can’t afford to coast.

Iñako Díaz-Guerra, NBA EspañaIndiana, Oklahoma City, Miami. We all know that Miami in the regular season is like a clever but lazy student: he’s going to be fine when final exams arrive. And OKC, well, they have key injuries and Westbrook is still shaking off the rust, but he’s better every day. But the Pacers, well, that’s another story because taking the first seed in the East is crucial for them and, perhaps, we underestimated the importance of Danny Granger as a leader of such a young team. They need to wake up soon.

Philipp Dornhegge, NBA Deutschland: Pacers, Heat, Thunder. They all got back to their winning ways, but it’s Indiana that still seems to struggle. The Pacers’ offense looks shaky and they seem to can’t wait for the playoffs. The Heat have holes and I’ve stated numerous times that reaching four Finals in a row is a tough task. I’m not sure if LeBron will be able to save them this year. OKC has been my Finals pick all year and I’m sticking with them. The win against Houston was impressive and I see no reason to believe that they’re not the favorite to win the West.

Blogtable: How can Phil fix the Knicks?

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


BLOGTABLE: Contenders’ concerns | What can Phil do? | Which team is better?



VIDEO: The GameTime crew discusses the rumblings surrounding Phil Jackson and the Knicks

> What must happen for Phil Jackson to have a chance of fixing the Knicks?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comA fistful of compromising photos of Mr. Dolan? OK, failing that, patience on everyone’s part to get to the summer of 2015, not 2014, for a massive overhaul to really take shape. I’m not even sure how Jackson feels about Carmelo Anthony, but if we assume Anthony sticks in NY, it won’t be until 2015 that the Knicks’ payroll cooperates with a desire for real change. Here’s my Jackson concern: Will rival GMs be loathe to deal with him? He has had an air of condescension toward other organizations in the past, and many could shy away from transactions that might grow his legend further.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Pigs must fly. Hell must freeze over.  The always hungry, ridiculously partisan NY media must face reality. There is no quick fix, but living on the back pages of the tabloids has never afforded the Knicks to take a prudent, patient approach. Assuming there are no shenanigans such as frozen lottery envelopes — wink! wink! — in the early days of the Adam Silver regime, it is a long-term project. The Rockets never took a dive to the bottom for lottery salvation, and GM Daryl Morey needed seven years to finally reel in the combination of James Harden and Dwight Howard. Can the NY media wait that long with out its collective head exploding? Good luck, Phil.

Carmelo Anthony (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Carmelo Anthony (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comJames Dolan has to get out of the way. Write the checks to Phil and let Phil take the wheel. That’s the deal right? Arguably the most messed-up franchise in all of sports hires the Zen Master to make it all better. Well, get out of the way and be quiet. There’s no guarantees Phil the Rookie Executive can get this done, but if you hire him, back off. Also: Don’t re-sign Melo, get the books more in line with the CBA and start from scratch.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: First, he has to have the job. If that happens, he needs to be three times the general manager he was as a coach. He needs to be more than great, in other words. Not only are the Knicks overhyped and mediocre, they’re not in a very good place to do anything about it. Jackson would be looking at two summers of heavy lifting before New York has a chance, just a chance, of becoming real, unless he finds a genius general manager who will take Amar’e Stoudemire or Andrea Bargnani. Otherwise, it will be seeing what the Knicks can get for Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith, etc. They want to keep Carmelo Anthony, but doing that also means a commitment to trying to win now that will stand in the way of the necessary renovation job.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: A lot of time must pass. This is not a quick fix. Not only are Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Andrea Bargnani on the books for almost $50 million next season, but the Knicks have hardly any assets in the cupboard. So, while some 2015 cap space is nice, they must also find and develop young talent to fill out the rotation, have available if a star can be acquired via trade, and to give any potential success a longer shelf life.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: A Zen-fueled asteroid storm that reverses time and takes us back 40 years to the … no seriously, there is no chance. None. It’s not happening. Fixing the Knicks is like beating Floyd Mayweather … 45 men have tried and 45 have failed. No one has better championship credentials than Phil. But he’s never had to bring a patient back who has gone to the other side. He’s never done it. Never even had to think about doing it in his previous stops. So it’s hard to just assume he can or will with the Knicks. Watching him try, though, could be some of the best fun any of us have had observing the Knicks.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball Blog: I’ve heard the questions about how Phil Jackson will fit into the power structure of the Knicks organization, and I get it. But to me the only real way for the Knicks to build a championship contender is to rebuild. Ditch all the high-priced contracts and go young, even if that means a team of D-League players. If I’ve learned anything living in New York the last 14 years, it’s that New York City loves the underdog, the people who have to fight for everything. I mean, remember Linsanity? Rebuilding might mean they may lose a bunch of games for a few years, but if the Knicks leave it all on the floor, they’ll at least earn the respect of Gotham as they build toward something bigger down the road. Which is more than this current crew has done.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: Well, what do the team’s owners want them to be? That’s the big question. He needs to make sure that he has a positive relationship with James Dolan. Then make sure Carmelo Anthony signs, try and somehow acquire some meaningful assets and just do well on draft day. Then he has a platform to build from.

Karan Madhok, NBA IndiaTo allow Phil Jackson to do more with the Knicks, team owner James Dolan has to do less. This means more autonomy to Jackson in the decision-making process in hiring the coaching staff, negotiating trades, player contracts, drafts, etc. Jackson may not be a proven executive yet, but he’s a proven great basketball mind. And for him to achieve more, the owners have to take a step back and allow him his free space, like Pat Riley in Miami.

Blogtable: Teams better than we thought

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


BLOGTABLE: Contenders’ concerns | What can Phil do? | Which team is better?


Dallas' Jose Calderon, Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion (Bart Young/NBAE)

Dallas’ Jose Calderon, Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion (Bart Young/NBAE)

> With 20 games left, which team stands out as better than you thought? How’d they get that way?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Phoenix, I’m guessing, is the obvious answer here. But I’ll go another way, assuming the Suns get their due from others. I honestly didn’t expect Dallas to be as good as it has been. Monta Ellis? DeJuan Blair? Vince Carter? Devin Harris? The Mavericks’ roster looked like a garage sale to me, and I figured Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion for pretty big drop-offs. But Dallas’ shooting keeps it dangerous, the Mavs take care of the ball and Rick Carlisle has done swell work coaching them up. Their schedule toughens up – they’re under water against good teams – but you wanted a snapshot, not a projection.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The obvious answer is the Suns.  Picked by the Vegas oddsmakers to win 21 games at the start of the season, rookie coach Jeff Hornacek has them at 36-27 and battling for a playoff spot in the very tough West with a diversified offense and an attitude that won’t quit.  But I’ll also admit that the Rockets have outperformed my expectations.  I thought they’d be a team to get home-court advantage in the first round, at best. But with a healthy Dwight Howard blending seamlessly with James Harden, and a supporting cast that loves playing together, they must be considered real contenders.

Toronto's DeMar DeRozan (David Liam Kyle/NBAE)

Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan (David Liam Kyle/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: The season-long answer is the Suns, but I’ll go with the more short-term feel-good story in Toronto. The Raptors have been outstanding since the Rudy Gay trade, and I’m not suggesting the trade is the cause of the upswing because I like Rudy. But it did unclog things on the floor and has allowed DeMar DeRozan to really emerge as a star-quality performer. They’ve bought into Dwane Casey‘s defense, they’re getting All-Star-worthy play from Kyle Lowry and Terrence Ross just might be a stud after all.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Easy: the Suns. Several new arrivals paid off — GM Ryan McDonough, coach Jeff Hornacek, Eric Bledsoe, Miles Plumlee, Gerald Green. Previous Suns improved — Markieff Morris, P.J. Tucker. Channing Frye returned. Goran Dragic played at an All-Star level. Phoenix defended at a high level for about the first half of the season. The surprising success has been the result of a collective effort.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The biggest surprise list starts with the Suns, but they’re such an obvious choice that I’ll note Dallas’ success. Given his past, I thought the Monta Ellis signing was destined to be a failure. But his more in-control pick-and-roll play has actually worked well with Dirk Nowitzki’s mid-range game. The Mavs’ defense hasn’t been very good (and that’s not a surprise), but their offense has been so efficient that they’re 11 games over .500, which is better than I thought they’d be.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comThe Toronto Raptors, who still don’t get enough love for turning things around this year. They’ve been a completely different outfit since trading Rudy Gay, too often a victim of the they-really-are-better-since-he-left syndrome. But everyone, from All-Star swingman DeMar DeRozan and fireplug point guard Kyle Lowry and an underrated supporting cast to head coach Dwane Casey and especially general manager Masai Ujiri, deserve credit for believing in the collective strength and resilience of the group. It certainly helps to have a depressed Eastern Conference as your canvas. But the Raptors deserve credit for creating the season they have so far.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: Dallas. After everyone else either made splashy moves or decidedly un-splashy moves (perhaps with an eye toward the 2014 Draft), the Mavs mostly stood pat, other than bringing in Monta Ellis and, as Mark Cuban explained, zagging when everyone else was wigging. And with Dirk Nowitzki and Rick Carlisle, guess what that brings? Yeah, another trip to the playoffs, at least it would appear. Everyone overlooked them, but here they are with weeks left in the season still part of the playoff picture. If the Western Conference is a shark tank, the Mavs are the shark.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: I pick the Bulls. I thought they were already planning for next season when they traded Luol Deng to Cleveland following Derrick Rose‘s season-ending injury, but they’re fourth in the East with a chance to finish third. Yes, the Eastern Conference is weaker than the West, but still. Tom Thibodeau did a heck of a job not allowing his players to give up, Joakim Noah emerged as one of the toughest players in the league, a big man who can score and grab rebounds while dishing out assists like no other big man can do. Hats off.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: If I say another team than the Blazers, then I’ll be lying. Portland has made a tremendous run so far. They’re at 42-22, they have the second-best offense in the league, they have been winning tough games with big shots… In other words they have everything. I didn’t see that coming. Also, I think that the Raptors and the Bobcats have upset (don’t forget the March Madness is about to start) the predictions, but the biggest surprise comes from Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Co.

Blogtable: Remembering Steve Nash

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


Deciding factor, KD vs. LBJ | Next step after preps | Remembering Nash



VIDEO: Nash on his career and overcoming injuries

Mike D’Antoni says Steve Nash may be done for the season. He may be done for his career. If so, how will you remember him?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: My personal memory of Nash is my first glimpse of him, sitting in the Minnesota Timberwolves’ locker room in the spring of 1996 after a draft workout for the team. He looked impossibly young and innocent, all smiles, and he happened to be wasting his time: The Wolves were going to figure out some way to land Stephon Marbury in that draft, either by selection or trade, to team with buddy-at-that-time Kevin Garnett. Never, ever imagined that kid would become a two-time MVP and, as the premier point guard of his generation, a certain Hall of Famer.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comGreat ball handler, creative passer and sparkplug to those fun to watch run-and-gun Suns teams. But in no sane world should he ever have been a two-time MVP, especially when Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant have only one apiece.

Steve Nash, June 1996 (Andy Hayt/NBAE)

Steve Nash, June 1996 (Andy Hayt/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I’ll remember Steve Nash in a Suns uniform with his stringy hair bouncing up and down as he dribbles, dribbles, dribbles from the top of the key to the baseline, under the basket, through the trees, out the other side and back into the paint for a fallaway 8-foot floater that tickles the twine.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: As a guy with bad hearing. He didn’t listen when most every college in the United States said he wasn’t good enough to deserve a scholarship. He didn’t listen when NBA people said he was too slow to make it big as a point guard in the pros. He didn’t listen when Mark Cuban said Nash wouldn’t hold up long enough to earn the kind of contract other teams were willing to offer — before Nash won MVPs in Phoenix. Nash has been a brilliant point guard and one of the best parts of the league for a generation, all while exceeding expectations.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’ll remember Nash as a brilliant pick-and-roll point guard, who made creative passes with incredible vision. I’ll remember him as the floor general of the league’s most efficient offense for nine straight seasons (with two different franchises). And I’ll remember him as a funny and thoughtful interview. I hope he’s not done.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: If Nash is done for the season, that’s fine. I’ve said for weeks now that he and Kobe Bryant should spend the rest of this season in designer duds on that Lakers bench and plot their revenge, as Kobe mentioned on radio recently, for the 2014-15 season. I’m conflicted on Nash’s career. He was a breath of fresh air when he transitioned from an All-Star point guard in Dallas to an All-Star in Phoenix and helped turn the Suns into one of the most entertaining teams of his generation. A great player? No doubt. An all-time great player? Yup. But a back-to-back MVP during the primes of Kobe, Tim Duncan and Shaq? I’ve never been able to reconcile that one (let’s just say I didn’t vote Nash No. 1 on my ballot in either of those seasons). Nash did his thing. He was fantastic. but he didn’t vote for himself. The blame should be shouldered by some of the other guys commenting here and the scores of other media types who voted and got caught up in the Suns’ narrative, which was no doubt a compelling one. Either way, Nash will be remembered as one of the greats of his era and all time. He’s earned that distinction.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: Early in Nash’s career, I went to Toronto one summer to write a profile of Nash for SLAM magazine. I spent a day with Nash walking all around Toronto, from visits at Much Music to a speech to the kids at Jane & Finch. At the time, Nash was a burgeoning All-Star, and he wasn’t recognized that often. A few years later, Nash had become one of the most famous people on the planet. You can debate whether his MVPs were deserved, but the truth is Steve Nash is a two-time MVP who had a huge impact on the game of basketball, both in the NBA and internationally. And maybe that’s good enough.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: I still believe Nash’s career isn’t over. Call me a dreamer, but I think a fighter like him can’t accept going down like that. He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer, the best PG of the 2000s and one of the best PGs ever. He deserves a ring. So I still expect to see him with a Laker uniform next season. He probably won’t win the title he deserves, but I’m sure he’ll give it another shot.

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: Whatever memories I have of Nash, it will be in his Phoenix Suns jersey. Really, as the executor of Mike D’Antoni’s’ ‘Seven Seconds or Less’ he played quite a few memorable seasons with the Suns, which earned him MVP honors and in 2005 and ’06. But above all, it was the bloodied nose, the swollen eye, the leave-it-all-out-on-the-floor attitude for which Nash will endure in my mind.

Emeka Enyadike, NBA Africa: Steve Nash is the epitome of greatness, and what a career he’s had. How I would like to remember him: I think of him every time I see the movie “White Men Can’t Jump.” Steve went into the court like someone going into his neighborhood courts for a pick-up game. He was always relaxed. 2005 was the year I’ll never forget because of how he helped to change the fortunes of the Suns. We also love Steve even more here in Africa because he was born here in Johannesburg. Despite his British and Canadian citizenships, he was our gift to the game.

Selcuk Aytekin, NBA Turkiye: Steve Nash is one of the greatest playmakers and one of the best shooters in league history. His ability and playing style are purely unique. He is only missing a championship ring, but over the course of his time in the NBA, he’s put up 17,361 career points and 10,296 assists. Numbers don’t lie, and they tell the story of a living legend.

Blogtable: How Do You Pick This MVP?

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


Deciding factor, KD vs. LBJ | Next step after preps | Remembering Nash



VIDEO: Greg Anthony, Chris Webber and Ernie Johnson break down the MVP race

What will be your deciding factor in picking between Kevin Durant and LeBron James for MVP? Are there any other contenders?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: It’s a two-man race. And ultimately, it’s going to come down to their team’s regular-season records and playoff seeding. The rest of the criteria might cancel itself out: James has his reputation as the NBA’s best player working for him, while Durant gets handicapping points for Russell Westbrook‘s long absence. Durant might win another scoring title, while James draws raves for his shooting percentage. One of them might slip below 30.0 on the PER scale, which could swing votes of the numbers crunchers. One still might (knock on wood) get laid up by an injury. But when the smoke clears, the Thunder or the Heat will have the better record and berth, and that team’s guy will be the MVP.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: In a beauty contest that might be like choosing between Charlize Theron and Halle Berry — there are definitely no losers — overall team performance will likely tip the scales. The fact that Russell Westbrook has missed exactly half of the schedule and yet Kevin Durant has the Thunder positioned to win the No. 1 seed in the West, and maybe overall in the NBA, means K.D. has done more heavy lifting. Those two are separate from the pack of contenders.

Durant, James (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

Durant, James (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: The deciding factor will be which player, KD or LeBron, shines the brightest down the stretch. What we see last sticks, and that’s the way it will be with the voters. Blake Griffin should be in the running. The Clippers were without Chris Paul for six weeks, J.J. Redick‘s been hurt for two extended stretches and they have some real deficiencies on the wing. But right now it’s KD’s and LeBron’s universe.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: This will probably be business as usual — player performance (meaning both avoiding a collapse) plus team success (ditto) plus big individual moments (see: LeBron James, Monday, Miami). Injuries to teammates are the potential X-Factor. Durant obviously got a bump when he carried the Thunder in Russell Westbrook’s absence. Those stretches, taking on adversity, can matter. People notice MVP play more in the challenging situations. And, no, no one else is in the running.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Once you figure out who the top candidates are via the standings and overall production, then the impact each guy has on his team numbers should be considered. Durant currently has the edge there, mostly because the Heat defense has been much better with James off the floor. And no, there is no other candidate. Kevin Love’s team (and defense) isn’t good enough, Chris Paul’s team played well with him out, and Paul George has Roy Hibbert anchoring that No. 1 defense.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The efficiency of both players this season makes it extremely difficult to separate them. In fact, I don’t know that there is way to separate them statistically. They’ll both have individual numbers that are unparalleled by anyone else in the league. Their teams will finish at or near the top of the standings in their respective conferences. And their impact on games on a nightly basis is undeniable. Like any good race, this one comes down to who finishes stronger. There is enough time left in the regular season for one of these guys to create enough space to win the MVP on finish alone. And there will still be a vigorous debate about whether the right man walked away with the hardware. And if they both shut it down today, I’m not sure anyone else could lay legitimate claim to the MVP.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: In my mind it’s down to to two, LBJ and KD. What makes the MVP voting so interesting is that the criteria is so undefined. For me, I try to look at the totality of the player’s value to his team. So that means offense, defense, leadership — the total package. At this point I have no idea who I’ll be voting for, just that it’ll be either a guy known for two initials or one initial.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: It will be in the crunch of the numbers. Whoever gets a small but decisive edge on any of the major stats, maybe on the modern “analytical” categories, will take it. Right now, I’m leaning on consistency, record, PIE and PER — and all of those still favor, by a slim margin, KD.

Philipp Dornhegge, NBA Deutschland: It’s “unfortunate” for the rest of the league that these two players are so extraordinarily good. Guys like Paul George, Steph Curry or Blake Griffin probably won’t get a single vote when it’s time to determine the MVP. Between the two megastars, I think it will ultimately come down to their respective team’s playoff positioning. OKC is primed for the top spot in the West, while Miami is in a battle with Indy. That’s why KD is my favorite right now.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: Every race must have its underdog. Sure thing: LeBron James and Kevin Durant are the favorites to win it, and to be honest nobody thinks that there is another player that can steal their thunder. But – here comes the but – it is not fair to Paul George and the Pacers to take him out of the picture. His team is leading the NBA standings! So, despite how slim his chances are, you cannot leave him out.