Blogtable

Blogtable: Predicting the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff race

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: Predicting East’s middle seeds? | Predicting West’s bottom seeds? |
Top moment from 2016 HOF class?



VIDEOHeat solidify their playoff chase with win vs. Pistons

> By this time next week, which teams will be seeded No. 3, 4, 5 and 6 in the Eastern Conference? And which team (if any) is most at risk of falling into No. 7 or 8 territory and why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

No. 3: Heat
No. 4: Hawks
No. 5: Celtics
No. 6: Hornets

This isn’t merely how I think they’ll land — to me, this represents the relative strength and playoff readiness of the four teams involved. Miami knows how vital it will be to land in the third (or sixth) spot, just to avoid facing Cleveland for as long as possible. I don’t think any of the four is in danger of slipping to No. 7 or No. 8. That’s the East’s “green room,” with Indiana and Detroit likely to get bumped fast and asked to return next year.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

No. 3: Celtics
No. 4: Hawks
No. 5: Heat
No. 6: Hornets

Minimal shuffling from current standings.  Boston will beat out Atlanta because of a favorable home schedule and having the critical Jae Crowder back in the lineup.  Also a pair of road back-to-backs will keep Charlotte down in the sixth spot.  I don’t believe any of these teams are in danger of slipping out of the middle of the pack.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com

No. 3: Celtics
No. 4: Hawks
No. 5: Heat
No. 6: Hornets

As much as this is the latest opportunity for a lot of people to wrongly overlook the Hawks again, because they are capable of a nice postseason run, it’s tough not to like the Boston defense as a difference maker in this race within the race. The return of Jae Crowder is a big boost. I don’t think anyone falls into 7 or 8.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com

No. 3: Celtics
No. 4: Hawks
No. 5: Heat
No. 6: Hornets

I’d be wary of the Heat, only because they might not feel necessary to press Dwyane Wade into heavy minutes for the stretch run. Miami could falter. Otherwise, this is a four-team coin flip.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com

No. 3: Hawks
No. 4: Celtics
No. 5: Heat
No. 6: Hornets

This is just a wild guess, because we don’t know what teams (out of this group or their opponents) are going to rest guys in the final eight days. I’ll guess the Hawks and Celtics finish at 49-33 (Atlanta would take head-to-head tiebreaker with a win on Saturday), while the Heat and Hornets finish at 48-34 (Miami wins division-record tiebreaker). And no, none of them are in danger of falling down to 7 or 8.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com

No. 3: Hawks
No. 4: Celtics
No. 5: Hornets
No. 6: Heat

The hot Hawks have a favorable schedule and can clinch their tiebreaker vs. Boston with a home win against the Celtics. The Celtics, for their part, close their season with three games (two at home) against these rivals — but it isn’t reasonable to forecast a sweep, given the tight competition within this grouping. The Hornets have been terrific on the road lately, which can enable them to hang in despite four remaining games away from home. It has been a month since the Heat has won more than two games in a row, and so a major move is unlikely now.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog

No. 3: Hawks
No. 4: Hornets
No. 5: Celtics
No. 6: Heat

The Hawks have a relatively tough schedule remaining (home against Toronto and Boston, plus at Cleveland and Washington), but they’re due to win one against Toronto or Cleveland, and have played Boston and Washington well this season. Charlotte has been playing well, and they’re 10-6 this season against the teams they have remaining. And Miami has three games left against Boston and Detroit, who they haven’t won against all season.

Blogtable: Most memorable career moment from 2016 HOF class?

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: Predicting East’s middle seeds? | Predicting West’s bottom seeds? |
Top moment from 2016 HOF class?



VIDEOGet to know the 2016 Hall of Fame class

> Shaquille O’Neal, Yao Ming and Allen Iverson headline the new Hall of Fame class. Which player had the most memorable moment, what was it and why does it still resonate with you?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’m going with Shaq and the moment is personal, because I was in Orlando on April 20, 1994 when the big man dropped 53 points on Minnesota. Wait, make that threw down 53 points. I know Shaq eventually would top that – he got 61 for the Lakers on his 28th birthday – and he had lots of other unforgettable plays. But I’ll never forget the cannon sound effect the Magic used back then for dunks and how, with Shaq destroying Christian Laettner, Mike Brown and Stanley Jackson inside, it sounded like they were playing the “1812 Overture” without the band. O’Neal made 22 of 31 shots, grabbed 18 rebounds and even hit nine of his 13 free throws that night. It was as if he was playing against Jabbawockeez, not Timberwolves.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comOne moment for these three? Really? It’s just not possible. That single tear that Shaq shed in the moment after he won his first championship with the Lakers? The smile of acceptance when the combative, criticized Iverson raised his first All-Star Game MVP trophy in Washington, D.C. in 2001? But I will say the one that made me chuckle loudest was a Dec. 2006 game with the Rockets at Clippers. A dominant Yao Ming scored 32 points and after making one especially nifty fourth quarter turnaround jumper over Chris Kaman that sealed the win, he turned and shouted at the Clippers bench: “You can’t (bleep)ing stop me!” It was a positively raw moment that bridged the cultures of China and the United States. Pure playground, pure basketball, pure Yao.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comIt’s Shaq taking the lob from Kobe Bryant, slamming it through the net with his right hand and running back downcourt with his eyes bugging out in marvel at what had just happened. That exclamation moment had just happened, for one thing, in the final minute of Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference finals, but it was the entire fourth quarter at Staples Center really. It changed history. The Lakers went from 15 points down with about 10 minutes to play, well on their way to being eliminated, to a six-point lead with 41.3 seconds remaining after the Kobe-Shaq connection. It was the final step to the pair winning the title together as part of a fourth quarter that was a huge step in what became a threepeat.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Yao Ming couldn’t get anywhere in the playoffs and also dealt with too many injuries. This is really a two-man contest between Shaq and Iverson, and does any pure “moment” from Shaq compare to Iverson’s step-back and step-over shot against Tyronn Lue in the 2001 Finals? That gets replayed almost as much as Iverson’s rant about practice.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: There are more basketball fans in China than there are people in the United States. I got a little taste of that when I was sitting near the top of the arena on the first night of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. The atmosphere was electric for China-USA and the building exploded when Yao opened the scoring by hitting a 3-pointer. He was recovering from foot surgery and out of shape, but he had an obligation to be out there for the biggest game in his country’s history. Shaq and Iverson had incredible careers, and basketball was popular in China before Yao came along. But that moment, for me at least, just illustrated how much of an impact he’s had on a global scale.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Shaq won four championships, the first three when he was the world’s dominant player, and it is not any single moment that resonates so much as his run with the Lakers when all of the NBA was loading up to overcome a single player. The 2003-04 champion Pistons collected four 7-footers around center Ben Wallace; they were inspired by Shaq to gamble the No. 2 pick in 2003 on Darko Milicic. It speaks to O’Neal’s majesty that his “moment” carried on for three years.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: This is a particularly memorable class for me, because I began my career as a writer as Shaq and Iverson were entering the NBA. I got to spend a good bit of time with each of them during their careers, and as a fan I enjoyed watching both of them play, a couple of polar opposites of the NBA. But while Shaq seemed like a Hall of Famer from the moment he was drafted, Iverson’s professional path was never guaranteed, so his ascension to the HOF seems like a geniune accomplishment. As for a single moment, I have to go with Iverson crossing over Michael Jordan. That was a true changing of the guard.

Blogtable: Predicting the bottom of the Western Conference playoff race

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: Predicting East’s middle seeds? | Predicting West’s bottom seeds? |
Top moment from 2016 HOF class?



VIDEOBlazers take down Kings in Sacramento

> By this time next week, which teams will be seeded No. 5, 6, 7 and 8 in the Western Conference? And which team is most at risk of missing the playoffs and why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

No. 5: Grizzlies
No. 6: Blazers
No. 7: Jazz
No. 8: Mavericks

I think the Jazz-Mavericks slotting will hinge on their game in Salt Lake City Monday. And I don’t think any of the four is in danger of missing the playoffs, because if there’s any justice in this silly association, the Houston Rockets need to suffer the same fate in the West that the disappointing Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards experience in the East. They’ve been playing with fool’s gold, kidding themselves that they had the makings of a title contender built around their version of a bearded Carmelo Anthony and the Big Tease.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

No. 5: Blazers
No. 6: Grizzlies
No. 7: Rockets
No. 8: Jazz

If the broken Grizzlies had built themselves one game less of a cushion, I might have said they were headed for one of the great swan drives since Greg Louganis retired. But a big win at home Tuesday night over the Bulls means they’ll only lose a spot and slip to sixth, moving the Blazers up into fifth, where they could even have a longshot upset chance in first round against the Clippers. I believe Houston at Dallas Wednesday night is the elimination game in the West. If the Rockets win, they hold tiebreaker over Utah and take seventh. If Mavs win, they’ll barely hang at No. 8. The loser is the odd man out of the playoffs.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com

No. 5: Blazers
No. 6: Grizzlies
No. 7: Mavericks
No. 8: Jazz

Memphis is heading in a bad direction, with enough reason for concern the last couple weeks or so that the Grizz might be fortunate to only drop one spot from the current standings. Obviously Dallas and Utah are both at risk of dropping out of the top eight. The Mavs are probably at a greater risk because the closing schedule is Rockets, Grizzlies, at Clippers at Jazz, Spurs.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com

No. 5: Blazers
No. 6: Grizzlies
No. 7: Jazz
No. 8: Rockets

The Mavericks have own four straight but that was a soft stretch. Their remaining games are all difficult and they close out in San Antonio, where the Spurs haven’t lost, although admittedly Dallas will likely see the B team.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com

No. 5: Blazers
No. 6: Jazz
No. 7: Mavericks
No. 8: Rockets

Another “who the heck knows” question. So much depends on Wednesday’s Houston-Dallas game, and you never know what version of the Rockets you’re going to get. I’ll guess that Portland wins out and finishes 45-37, while the other four teams in the mix finish tied at 42-40. That would leave Memphis as the odd team out, with a 4-7 record against the rest of the group. Of course, they would just need to win one of their last four games to avoid that fate (if I somehow correctly guessed the results of the other 17 games involving these teams).

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com

No. 5: Blazers
No. 6: Mavericks
No. 7: Rockets
No. 8: Jazz

“The Revenant” turned out to be a bad omen for the tormented Memphis Grizzlies: As ravaged as they’ve been by injuries, they’re unlikely to win any of their remaining five games against winning teams. And so everybody gets to move up. The unreliable Rockets (along with the Blazers) have a favorable schedule, which can enable them to jump two spots. Am I showing too much faith in them? Maybe.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog

No. 5: Blazers
No. 6: Mavericks
No. 7: Jazz
No. 8: Grizzlies

I hate to say this, but I don’t think the Rockets are gonna make it. When they’re on, they can be a lot of fun, but when they aren’t clicking, they are a disaster. And I know Memphis is the five seed now, but they’ve lost six straight, have more players injured than healthy, and have a killer schedule down the stretch, including two games against the Warriors, plus games at the Clippers and Mavericks. If I’m Golden State and have the wins record locked up, would you rest guys the final game against Memphis if it guarantees facing them in the first round?

Blogtable: The best backup point guard in the NBA is …?

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: Another early exit for Raptors? | NBA’s best backup point guard is …? |
Impact of Griffin’s return?



VIDEODennis Schroder stars in Hawks’ win vs. Lakers

> Who is the best backup point guard in the NBA today?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Isn’t The Professor always the answer? All right; if I have to pick someone besides 71-year-old Andre Miller, I’ll go with Shaun Livingston — who I don’t believe has missed a single shot this season. Maybe it just seems that way.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: If I were going by sheer numbers, I’d tip toward Atlanta’s Dennis Schröder. On a per-36-minute basis, the Hawks’ feisty backup to Jeff Teague is averaging nearly 20 points and eight assists. But one of the traits I value most in a backup PG is stability, which is why I choose Sacramento’s Darren Collison. He has the experience and temperament to master that role, leading the Kings’ reserves without unduly seeking out his own stats or disrupting the pecking order. At 16.5 points and 5.0 assists per 36 minutes, his numbers are strong enough — including a career-best 48.0 field-goal percentage and 39.8 percent on 3-pointers.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: G’day, Mate. I’m riding with Patty Mills. As coach Gregg Popovich micro-manages the minutes of his Big Three, Mills is playing more than 20 minutes per game behind Tony Parker. Mills keeps the pace up, penetrates and has a knack for hitting big 3s. He was instrumental in the 2014 championship run and even more important two years later in a graying lineup.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Probably Shaun Livingston. He makes shots (though without great range) and smart plays, is dependable and has the size that not only can create mismatches but is also a nice contrast to Stephen Curry. Dennis Schröder is in the conversation as well. And Darren Collison, since he has returned to a backup role after starting last season.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comI love the spunk that Jeremy Lin is giving the Hornets, but my pick is Dennis Schröder of the Hawks, who has raised every facet of his game (11.5 points and 5 assists in 20 minutes per). Tough and fearless, Schroder has often played better this season than Jeff Teague, who slumped badly early on. I just wish the German would go all-out with his hair as he does on the court. Go full blond. Be daring.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I love the way Cory Joseph is being used in Toronto in relief of Kyle Lowry, as well as when he and Lowry work together. Coach Dwane Casey found something in that point guard rotation. But the best game changer at the position off the bench this season has been Atlanta’s Dennis Schröder. He can play at any speed and shreds defenses when he’s attacking the basket and finishing over much bigger players. Something has to give eventually with he and Jeff Teague both wanting the keys to the car in Atlanta. But for now, Schroder will have to settle for being the best back-up point guard in the NBA.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: I’m going with Shaun Livingston because of his efficiency, experience and game-changing length. But the real proof is in the results: The Warriors have been as close to perfect as any team we’ve seen in two decades, and if Livingston wasn’t providing the highest level of leadership off the bench then we would definitely notice.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogA couple of names came to mind, guys who are currently backups but, given the chance, should or could be able to lead NBA teams: Ty Lawson, Brandon Jennings, Michael Carter-Williams. But to me the best back-up in the NBA is Atlanta’s Dennis Schröder. He ain’t perfect — Schröder can be inconsistent, his jumper needs improving, and he sometimes struggles with understanding when to attack and when to pull back. But when he’s on, Schröder keeps an All-Star in Jeff Teague on the bench during crunch time. And there aren’t a lot of back-ups who can say that.

Blogtable: How will Blake Griffin’s return impact Clippers?

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: Another early exit for Raptors? | NBA’s best backup point guard is …? |
Impact of Griffin’s return?



VIDEODoes Blake Griffin’s return make the Clippers a contender?

> Blake Griffin’s return to the Clippers’ lineup will be _____.

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Mandatory for any hopes the Clippers have in the playoffs. It’s a rite of spring to bash Blake’s postseason production — and coming off his recent shenanigans, he won’t get the benefit of the doubt from anyone, nor should he. But dude averaged 25.5 points, 12.7 rebounds and 6.1 assists in the 2015 playoffs. Let me say that again: 25.5 points, 12.7 boards, 6.1 assists. Per game. And he shot 51 percent. Yeah, he’ll help.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com Intensely chronicled. No one likes it when their office, store or factory runs too smoothly without them around — everyone wants to be missed and feel wanted, at some level — but the Clippers’ 29-14 mark without Griffin this season (compared to 17-13 when he has played) has convinced some they’re better off without him. I disagree, while acknowledging that he’ll probably need to tread lightly in his return so as to not upset the current pecking order. He can’t play chastened but he needs to be appropriately humble about the position he put L.A. in with his foolishness. Then it’s on coach Doc Rivers to bring it all together Ubuntu-style. All the while, writers both locally and nation wide will have their hands clamped to Griffin’s and his teammates’ wrists, constantly monitoring their pulses. It’s a tricky situation at an inopportune time.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com Overwrought and overanalyzed. As soon as Griffin hits the floor, the chat and rumors about him getting traded over the summer will grow louder with every missed shot and Clippers loss. The silly talk that the Clips are actually better without him will be resurrected. Just plain dumb. For the Clippers to be contenders, Griffin has to be a big, big part.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com Filled with drama. It’s the Clippers so that’s a given, right? But especially in this case. Griffin was out this long after a leg injury because during that absence he also punched an assistant equipment manager. The Clips had their best stretch of the season when he was out. The playoffs are coming soon and he needs to get back in a good place with his rhythm and conditioning pretty quick. There are layers of intrigue as he returns.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com Scrutinized. He let his teammates down with that silly decision to clobber a club employee and perhaps cost Los Angeles a chance to move to the No. 3 spot and avoid the Warriors in the Western Conference semifinals. I also wonder if the time off will create rust, which won’t go over well in the playoffs which demand intensity. Griffin will likely feel guilty enough to elevate his game and make up for lost time, but he needs to play at MVP level to help Chris Paul and the Clippers finally reach the elusive conference finals.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Interesting, to say the least. So many roles have changed since Christmas, the last time we saw Griffin in game action with his Clippers teammates. Someone will have to sacrifice a bit of what they’ve been doing if Griffin is going to resume his role as one of the Clippers’ top two players. I said it before the season, before Griffin’s torn quad and long before he lumped up his buddy/equipment staffer at that restaurant in Toronto. The Clippers did better than expected in Griffin’s absence, thanks in large part to the heavy lifting done by Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan. Having Blake back in the lineup and ready to go for the playoffs should provide a huge boost for a team that will need it throughout its playoff run.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com Stunning. One of two outcomes is sure to follow: Either the Clippers will struggle to reintegrate him, or else this resilient team that persevered without Griffin will be inspired by the return of a Top-10 star playing on fresh legs with a lot to prove. I’m guessing on the latter.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog *Insert fire emoji*. Absence seems to make the heart grow dumber, if not fonder. I think with Griffin out and the Clippers winning, at least initially, it was easy to forget that Griffin was one of the NBA’s best players last season, who finished top ten in MVP voting and third-team All-NBA. While he’s done a valiant job carrying the load in Griffin’s absence, Chris Paul is seemingly wearing down, as evidenced by his backing out from USA Basketball consideration, and could use some scoring help. The Clips are adding an elite talent at exactly the right time.

Blogtable: Another early playoff exit for Toronto?

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: Another early exit for Raptors? | NBA’s best backup point guard is …? |
Impact of Griffin’s return?



VIDEOThe Starters discuss the Raptors as the playoffs near

> Toronto’s push for the top seed in the East seems to have run out of steam. Should Raptors fans be worried about another early exit this postseason?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Define “early.” If you mean before the conference finals, heck yes, they should be worried. The Raptors are respected, to be sure, but I don’t think any of the potential Top 3 seeds in the Eastern Conference (Boston, Miami, Atlanta, Charlotte) would be terrified by not having home court against Toronto in a semifinal series. The Raptors are a combined 9-3 against that quartet going into Wednesday’s game with the Hawks (7:30 ET, NBA TV), but they were 4-0 in the regular season against the Washington Wizards in 2014-15, and we know where that got them. But: at least Paul Pierce is safely in the Western Conference now, and can’t torment Toronto for a third straight postseason. And: the Raptors have two lockdown units, featuring Bismack Biyombo, Patrick Patterson, Terrence Ross and Cory Joseph  with either Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan as the fifth wheel. They rank third (with Lowry) and fourth (with DeRozan) in the league in defensive rating among five-man rotations that have logged 200 or more minutes this season. But can that group get a big bucket against a top-shelf defense that takes either Lowry or DeRozan away?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Worried is too strong a word, in addition to being a complete waste of time that accomplishes nothing. The bottom on the Eastern Conference isn’t exactly a minefield of first-round terror, so while there is pressure on Toronto not to exit early again (as it did against Brooklyn and Washington the past two postseasons), there also ought to be confidence and optimism. The Raptors’ baby steps have gotten them to this point, where they can take a significant stride by winning a playoff series for only the second time in the franchise’s two decades. Nothing, however, is guaranteed — even against Indiana or Detroit — and until the Raptors do it, they’ll be doubted. So rather than worry, Toronto fans should hope for the best while preparing for the worst.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: There’s every reason to think the Raptors have what it takes to get out of the first round this year. But until it actually happens, there’s every reason to worry. Nobody has more to prove in the first round this season than Toronto and the core of the lineup going forward.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: No more than any other fan group with high hopes should be worried about an early exit. If the Raptors win three in a row or four out of five, we’ll be back to “Should the Cavaliers be worried about the Raptors?” Toronto has a lot of reason to remain encouraged. Let’s see how the Raptors are doing in another five or seven games, see who they’re playing in the first round, and maybe then start to sweat. But not now.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comIn the first round, the Raptors are likely to see either Detroit or Indiana, two teams with severe performance mood swings. So, Toronto is likely safe this year. I’d be more worried about the semifinals. Both the Hawks and Heat are hotter teams at the moment and the Raptors would have their hands full against either, even with home court advantage. If the Raptors don’t put up a fight this spring, it’ll be a failure if only because of the quick exits the last two years. Would coach Dwane Casey survive another such disaster?

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Raptors fans should be worried right up until the moment their team finishes that fourth win in their first-round series this season. And I would say the same for any fan base that has endured back-to-back first round exits with their team as the higher seed. I like the Raptors’ chances much better this season. But like most, I need to see them advance before pondering what’s to come for this bunch. And for the record: I have no problem with a fan base worrying themselves into a state of panic until their team breaks through.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThey’re going to worry, because Indiana is one of the NBA’s best defensive teams, and Detroit is loaded with firepower. But the Raptors are fully deserving of their No. 2 seed: Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Dwane Casey have invested three years in building something together, and they’re not going to fall short this time. Their commitment to one another transcends the matchups. They’ve earned the right to reach the semifinals — and maybe the conference finals.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I’ve always believed in setting reasonable goals. The Raptors haven’t made it out of the first round of the NBA playoffs since 2002. Yes, they’ve been terrific this season, but I don’t know that anyone should be expecting a trip to the NBA Finals so quickly. To me, advancing to the Eastern Conference semis is a reasonable (and do-able) goal for the Raptors. And if they go further? That’s the cherry on top. And for what it’s worth, I don’t think Raptors fans have anything to worry about, at least when it comes to escaping round one.

Blogtable: What did we learn from Warriors-Spurs, Round 2?

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: Lessons learned from Warriors-Spurs, Round 2? | Giannis’ future as a point guard? |
State of Cavs as playoffs near?



VIDEORelive the best moments from last weekend’s Warriors-Spurs game

> Biggest takeaway from Warriors-Spurs Round 2?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Not much, though both teams were outstanding defensively. The Spurs can feel good that they were able to slow the Warriors down for a night, but until they do it against the “Lineup of Death”, there can be no real peace of mind. It will be interesting, though, to see what Golden State’s coverages on LaMarcus Aldridge are going forward.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: The seven-game series we get between these teams this spring, assuming the basketball gods smile on us, won’t necessarily be a pyrotechnics show, all showy and shiny offense. And it still will be good, with plenty of moves and counter-moves, adjustments to adjustments, raw human emotion and all the expected drama. But the Spurs looked determined to have someone other than Stephen Curry beat them, an approach most Golden State opponents either haven’t fully embraced or managed to deploy. Over 100 points or under, this still is what we want, “The Finals” before The Finals.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Much has to be held in reserve considering that Andre Iguodala, Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli did not play for the Warriors. However, writing off the outcome as a “good loss” for the Warriors because they simply didn’t shoot the ball well is a bit naive. The Spurs defense — the way they guarded Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, kept men in their faces, had bigs come out to guard the perimeter — had a lot to do with that poor shooting. In the end, it was simply the latest move in a grand chess match that will only be great fun to watch in the Western Conference finals.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: That Warriors-Spurs in the real Round 3 — the Western Conference finals — would be a great chess match of coaches. We pretty much knew that anyway, along with the fact that it would be a great series in a lot of other ways, but Saturday night in San Antonio was a good reminder of possibilities for lineup maneuvers. I don’t think this regular-season game provided many real takeaways, though, at least beyond the news flash that Stephen Curry is human. Two championship-caliber teams? A terrific San Antonio defense? The Warriors feeling run down? We already knew all that too.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: We know nothing, really, because Andre Iguodala didn’t play. That said, if Tony Parker and Patty Mills can use their quickness to disrupt Steph Curry and LaMarcus Aldridge can effectively be a consistent go-to scorer, then two of the Spurs’ biggest worries are solved. It’s all a chess game right now until they meet in the West finals if we’re all so lucky.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The Spurs’ plan of countering the Warriors with size bore some fruit. San Antonio played through Boris Diaw and LaMarcus Aldridge in the post early and often, slowed down the pace, and racked up 24 second chance points, while also keeping the Warriors from getting out of the break, by beating them up on the boards. Andrew Bogut‘s absence played a part (the Spurs grabbed just one offensive rebound in 17.3 minutes with Bogut on the floor in January), but we saw why the Spurs went the other way last summer while the rest of the league moved toward trying to imitate the champs.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Western Conference finals between the Warriors and Spurs is going to be every bit as intriguing as I suspected it would before their first game of this regular season. Two of the best and most complete teams we’ve seen in recent years battling it out for every single inch, that is the way I like it come playoff time. The past, present and future of the league on display in this one series. And we get to see it in a best-of-seven series with a trip to The Finals on the line … my big takeaway from Spurs-Warriors Round 2 is I can’t wait for Rounds 3 and 4 and the rubber match in the Western Conference finals.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: How hard is it to beat the Warriors? They were finishing a back-to-back, on the road, against an opponent seeking revenge after a 30-point loss, Stephen Curry couldn’t make a shot — and it was still a tight game. The takeaway is that the best any contender can hope for is to give itself a chance by slowing the pace, because Golden State is not going to be routed in a seven-game series. (Also, isn’t it hard to imagine the Spurs winning any series in which they bench Tim Duncan? No matter how much sense it makes tactically, isn’t he their soul?)

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog That the Warriors not only have a margin of error, it’s perhaps slimmer than we realized. I know the Warriors were without 3 of their rotation players, but they’ve been without guys the last few weeks and managed to mostly just roll along. The Spurs felt like they somehow managed to slow the pace while still controlling the tempo, and of course Curry never really got going. Either way, I want to see a fully healthy Golden State team in this match-up before arriving at any conclusions.

Blogtable: State of Cavs as playoffs approach?

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: Lessons learned from Warriors-Spurs, Round 2? | Giannis’ future as a point guard? |
State of Cavs as playoffs near?



VIDEOThe Starters discuss the recent LeBron James social media issues

> The Cavaliers were 30-11 when they fired David Blatt and they’re 20-9 since. What exactly has changed under new coach Tyronn Lue? And who you taking in the Eastern Conference bracket, the Cavs or the field?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: I’m not sure a lot has changed, though the Cavs occasionally flash some of the devastating potential they have when all their oars are pulling the boat in the same direction. I still think their ultimate success or failure this season will depend on whether Lue can convince LeBron to play at the four full-time, which allows Cleveland to get Iman Shumpert on the floor and is, IMHO, the Cavs’ best potential defensive lineup (and I say that knowing NBA.com/Stats ranks the Matthew Dellavedova/J.R. Smith/James/Kevin Love/Tristan Thompson quintet as their best defensive group). I still take the Cavs over the field in the east — unless you can guarantee me seven healthy games from Chris Bosh in Miami. That would be appointment-viewing Eastern Conference finals TV.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comWhat’s changed is the Cavaliers can’t blame the coach anymore. They played that card when they fired David Blatt, shifting the onus from that moment forward onto the locker room, their three stars and LeBron James specifically. This is a sloppy, edgy, needlessly dramatic push they’re making to get back to The Finals — some of it due to their chemistry and flaws, some of it the result of being relatively ignored in a Warriors-and-Spurs season, some of it inevitable whenever James is involved. But the Cavaliers are going to get there, facing whoever’s still standing from the West. No other East team is beating them four out of seven, regardless of the level of hand-wringing or angst around Cleveland.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Nothing, except their defense has gotten worse and their head coach is not as condescending. The Cavs remain the overwrought drama queens of the NBA and, yes, I’m taking them against the East field.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I’m still taking the Cavs, only with more pressure to succeed than before. (Which is saying something considering the expectations that had been in place.) They’re saying the mood in the locker room is much better, and that matters. Maybe it will matter more in the playoffs because it hasn’t translated to the regular-season standings. David Blatt produced results — a competitive showing in The Finals last June while severely shorthanded, the best record in the East this season at the time of the firing. If the Cavaliers go backward in the playoffs that’s a new set of pressure on the new coach.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The only thing that has changed under Tyronn Lue is LeBron James’ goofy tweets. Otherwise, this team is the same-old, same-old, capable of looking super and stinky in the same week, and even that means nothing right now. It’s all about the playoffs for the Cans and I still give them an advantage in the East over everyone because they still have LeBron.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThey’ve been almost as good as the Warriors offensively since the coaching change, but their defense has regressed. When two of your three “stars” are defensive liabilities, it’s tough to be a consistent and elite team on that end of the floor. The challenge for Lue will be finding the right combinations to complement LeBron James, especially in The Finals, where the Cavs are going for the second straight year. As improved as the top half of the Eastern Conference has been and as much I look forward to the East playoffs this year, I can’t take the field.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: They’ve certainly looked like a different offensive team under Lue. Kevin Love has looked more comfortable and they’ve been able to incorporate Channing Frye into the mix with relative ease. Their defensive slippage has been a bit alarming, especially for a team that prided itself on being proficient in that part of the game. But I didn’t expect some major spike from the 30-11 wave they rode under Blatt. Bottom line, these Cavaliers know just like we all do that their season will not be measured on wins and losses between November and April. The true measure of this team comes from mid-April until late June. It’s that simple. And yes, Cleveland gets the nod over the field.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com Lue was promoted with orders to make changes to a winning team. Clearly those changes have been backfiring, especially on defense. Even so, I’m still picking the Cavs to reach The Finals in spite of themselves. What is most clear, based on the recent backslide, is that these players had little right to be blaming Blatt for anything. It’s still too early to make final pronouncements, but right now it looks very much like Blatt was the grownup in this relationship.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: To be honest, they don’t look all that different to me, other than perhaps playing with a little more pace. We aren’t entirely privileged to knowing how things were in that locker room before Blatt was deposed, but my guess is the biggest change post-Blatt is in the locker room dynamic and around the organization. And sure, the field may be closer to the Cavs than they were a year ago, but I’ll still take the Cavs.

Blogtable: Antetokounmpo’s future as a point guard?

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: Lessons learned from Warriors-Spurs, Round 2? | Giannis’ future as a point guard? |
State of Cavs as playoffs near?



VIDEOAntetokounmpo makes history for the Bucks

> Since moving to point guard, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo has been dazzling. How high could Antetokounmpo’s stock rise in this new ball-handling role?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: We literally have seen nothing like this — a 7-foot point guard! My reflexive reaction was to say ‘yeah, but he still can’t shoot,’ which is true. But he’s lessened the impact of that — at least so far. Since the All-Star break, he has a PIE of 16.8, which is 12th-best in the league over that period — better than past and present All-Stars like LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard, Dirk Nowitzki, and Paul George. Those are also all guys who have really picked up their games the second half of the season. He mitigates the shooting issue by going to the rim, and, really, who has the length to swat at the ball when he has it in his hands? I’m still not convinced this is a long-term solution for the Bucks at the point, but you can’t ignore the numbers or the impact.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: This guy is going to be an All-Star at one position or another, and even the “backcourt” and “frontcourt” designations on that ballot might not be broad enough to accommodate his skill set. The difference in Antetokounmpo being thrown in at point guard occasionally in his first two seasons and even earlier in 2015-16 vs. the guy now who is directing traffic and taking charge as Jason Kidd‘s surrogate is remarkable. He needs shooters and he himself has to keep working on his range to soften up defenses, but that’s going to come — fast.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comNot sure what this means. Are you asking to place the bar now at Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson, LeBron James level? Not yet off small sample. Let’s just say that right now stopping Giannis Antetokounmpo is tougher than spelling his name.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The phrase “unlimited potential” comes to mind. This is what coach Jason Kidd had in mind two summers ago when he began to experiment with the idea of point guard Giannis. And this is just Antetokounmpo warming up. He could be even better there in the future. Hello, very interesting possibilities for the Bucks.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: He is Not A Point Guard. Period. It’s nice that he’s having some fun here in the dog days of the season when there’s nothing on the line, but he and the Bucks are better off using him at the swing position and finding a real point guard this summer. My choice: Rajon Rondo.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comHis stock was already high, no matter what position he was playing. But if the ball is in his hands and he’s making plays, his inability to shoot becomes less of a problem. He still needs to improve in that regard, but if the Bucks can consistently get him (and those long strides of his) going downhill with the ball in his hands, he’s going to be a serious problem for opposing defenses.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Giannis is on his way to shattering whatever expectations I had for him after that impressive first glimpse he provided during his rookie season. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Jason Kidd, one of the best point guards of all time, recognizes something in Giannis that leads him to believe he can best fulfill his immense potential by using him as a facilitator. Giannis definitely has All-Star potential, even if he was playing a more traditional position or role for the Bucks. As a point-forward, the possibilities are endless, depending on how well he masters that role.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Wasn’t this always his promise — to become the NBA’s longest, sleekest point guard? As always, the key will be whether he can apply those strengths on the ball at the defensive end. Because then Antetokounmpo can have a profound influence.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: He has been interesting, but I think there’s a ceiling, as teams will start adjusting and forcing him to shoot more or handle the ball in places where he’s uncomfortable. Thus far, his transcendent athleticism has allowed him to flourish. But while Giannis might be able to play the point guard position, that doesn’t make him a point guard. As a former high school back-up point guard, I can attest that point guard is as much a state of mind as a position. If this is a long-term thing, Giannis has a lot of learning to do. Perhaps Giannis at the point is better as a change of pace to occasionally catch opponents off their guard.

Blogtable: What should Knicks do in free agency?

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: State of Karl-Cousins relationship? | Knicks’ free-agency plan is ___? |
Agree with Davidson’s decision to not retire Curry’s jersey?



VIDEOThe Starters on the state of the Knicks

> Carmelo Anthony says the Knicks “gotta do something” in free agency. What should that “something” be?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comPay out a maximum-salary contract to an aging star who needs the ball and mostly plays only one end of the floor. Wait, what? Oh yeah, the Knicks did that in 2014 when they re-upped ‘Melo. Here’s what the Knicks need to do: Get Anthony to sign a loyalty oath accepting his spot in the pecking order, henceforth and forthwith, as the team’s third-best player. Then procure as No. 1 or No. 2 to align with Porzingis, and rely on Anthony as a volume scorer and closer but not as the tent-pole guy anymore. That — and dialed-up defense — would have a chance at climbing in the East.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Trade Carmelo Anthony and start building all over the right way around Kristaps Porzingis and more young talent. There are no shortcuts. ‘Melo and the Knicks should know that by now — they have tried all of them.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Something for the long term. The Knicks have the chance to build something for the long term, with Kristaps Porzingis and the strong possibility of another lottery pick as starting points. The free agents they add should work for the long term, not for the quick fix that might get them into the first round. That’s probably not what a veteran like Anthony wants to hear.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I don’t know what the Knicks “gotta” do but I know what they shouldn’t: Make a rash decision based on desperation and buy another Jon Koncak. Even with a rise in cap room they should spend wisely and understand, despite Melo’s urging, this is a gradual process and unless Kevin Durant wants in, there are no shortcuts. ‘Melo’s not worth panicking over. He’s not going anywhere, unless he wants to, and then I gladly make a deal.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Figure out where Anthony wants to be traded. The Knicks probably aren’t going to get the free agents they need to compete for a top 3 or 4 spot in the East, and Anthony will 32 years old in May. He’s already lost trade value, it will only go down from here, and teams that are closer to a championship will have the cap space to take on his contract. They Knicks should try to get some building blocks in return, look at a realistic, 3-5 year plan for contending for a championship, and move on. ‘Melo could help get another team over the hump, but the Knicks aren’t building a contender around him.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Phil Jackson coaching home games only next season is certainly not the “something” Carmelo is talking about. The Knicks need a measured approach to what they do next. Their personnel staff should have spent this season studying potential free agents of every stripe (not just the marquee names), and figure out who the guys are that can thrive in the isosceles triangle offense Phil insists on using. They have two sound pieces to build around in Carmelo and Kristaps Porzingis, so a desperation move — overpaying someone with a name but a game that doesn’t fit — is exactly what they don’t need this summer. I know Carmelo’s clock is ticking, but he has to be patient if they’re going to get it right in New York.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: It should be something smart. By this time next year we’re going to be saying that Porzingis is potentially the best player to ever team up with Carmelo. With two stars locked in at the forward positions, the Knicks absolutely must hire a coach worthy of commanding Anthony’s respect. This quality is more important than any knowledge of the triangle offense. The Knicks have a few high-level years to squeeze out of their best player, and that time cannot be wasted on an ideological pursuit. Give ‘Melo a boss in whom he can believe. Hire Tom Thibodeau, sign complementary free agents who will feed a winning mentality and aim for nothing less than the Eastern Conference semifinals next season – these are all reachable goals.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog The Knicks still need to improve at several positions, including their bench, but to me the primary need is a point guard with the quickness to penetrate on offense and defensively keep up with other quicker guards. So at midnight on the first day of free agency, Phil Jackson should call Mike Conley and, if Conley’s not taking calls, perhaps someone like Brandon Jennings. To be clear, no one player is going suddenly make the Knicks champs again, but the point guard slot is where the Knicks can make an immediate impact.