Blogtable

Morning shootaround — April 30


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Reports: Thunder, Donovan closing in on deal| Questions arise for Blazers, Aldridge | Report: Rondo didn’t get playoff shareDuncan savoring this playoff ride

No. 1: Report: Thunder closing in on deal with Donovan — It’s looking more and more like the person who will replace Scott Brooks as coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder will be Florida Gators coach Billy Donovan. According to a report by ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, the team and Donovan are closing in on a multiyear deal that could be finalized as soon as today. Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman tidily wraps up all the hubbub surrounding Donovan and the Thunder:

The hunt for the next Oklahoma City Thunder coach heated up Wednesday, with multiple reports that the team had zeroed in on Florida coach Billy Donovan to replace Scott Brooks.

ESPN and Yahoo! Sports reported that Donovan had entered into advanced contract negotiations with the Thunder on Wednesday, but a deal had yet to be finalized by the end of the day. Donovan was expected to make a decision within 48 hours, according to ESPN.com, which cited an anonymous source with knowledge of the situation Wednesday afternoon.

ESPN.com then reported late Wednesday night that the two sides are nearing an agreement, with an announcement expected to come Thursday or Friday.

Donovan has yet to respond to the reports, which first floated his name as a likely successor to Brooks two weeks ago.

Thunder general manager Sam Presti could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Yahoo! Sports reported that Presti met with Donovan on Tuesday in Gainesville, Fla. and that Donovan, who is making roughly $4 million annually at Florida, could be in line for a $6 million annual salary with the Thunder.

The same report went on to say that Thunder star Kevin Durant has reached out to several former Florida players in the NBA to learn more about Donovan and has become positive about the potential hiring. Yahoo! Sports, however, also reported that Presti has not conferred with Durant or fellow stars Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, or their representatives, about Donovan.

Last summer, Presti hired two Gators assistants: Mark Daigneault as head coach of the NBA Development League’s Oklahoma City Blue and Oliver Winterbone as an analyst with the Thunder.

UPDATE, 11:59 A.M.: Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski and Pat Forde report Donovan is in Oklahoma City finalizing a deal to become the Thunder coach as we speak:

University of Florida coach Billy Donovan is finalizing a contract to become head coach of the Oklahoma CIty Thunder, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

After 19 years and two national titles at Florida, Donovan will sign a multiyear deal to take over the Thunder, sources said.

The expectations for Donovan are immediate and massive: He must help convince Kevin Durant to sign a long-term extension with the Thunder, and push an immensely talented roster toward its first championship.

UPDATE, 1:15 PM: Per Adrian Wojnarowski and Pat Forde, the Thunder have hired Donovan as coach:

Billy Donovan has agreed to a five-year deal to become head coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

After 19 years and two national titles at the University of Florida, Donovan is leaving for the NBA.

The expectations for Donovan are immediate and massive: He must help convince Kevin Durant to sign a long-term extension with the Thunder, and push an immensely talented roster toward its first championship.

Durant, the 2014 NBA Most Valuable Player, can become a free agent in the summer of 2016.

Thunder general manager Sam Presti has long targeted Donovan to replace the deposed Scott Brooks, and was the only candidate he pursued, sources told Yahoo Sports.


VIDEO: Inside the NBA talks over the Billy Donovan rumors

*** (more…)

Blogtable: No more Hack-A-Shaq?

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: Cavs in trouble? | Next moves for OKC’s next coach? | No more Hack-a-Shaq?



VIDEOShould the hack-a-player rules be changed?

> Lots of chatter recently about the Hack-a-Shaq strategy. Is sending a weak free-throw shooter to the foul line a sound tactic or a tired tactic, and should the league do anything about it?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI suppose the league could extend the time during which fouls off the ball mean two free throws and possession. To be transparent, I haven’t covered one of these in a long time, and sitting through a bad foul shooter’s repeated misses, with all the stoppages of play, is tougher in an arena than watching from home. But free throws are part of the game – Lord knows, that’s about all the media ever gets to see at the end of practice, guys shooting countless free throws – and everyone from the littlest to the biggest players need to perform in those moments. The status quo doesn’t bother me.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I’m fed up, sick and tired of the complaining by so-called professionals who have not been able to become at least proficient in a fundamental part of the game. When Tiago Splitter was a rookie he was a 54 percent free throw shooter and in the 2012 playoffs, the Thunder fouled him intentionally and effectively turned around the Western Conference finals. Splitter’s answer? He went into the gym and worked. Now he shoots free throws at a 70 percent clip and isn’t being hacked all of the time.  If we’re going to change the rules and bail out DeAndre Jordan, Dwight Howard, Josh Smith and every other foul-line rim-bender, I also propose that every player under 6-foot-3 should be allowed to jump on the back of a 7-footer on the opposing team to make a layup or dunk. It’s just not fair that the basket is so high!  Commissioner Adam Silver should stop listening to the brick-laying crybabies and back away from this one. Just make your damn free throws.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: It’s tired, but it is a tactic. It’s the basketball equivalent of walking the No. 8 hitter to get to the pitcher. That’s not fun either, but it’s strategy. Same think with the Haq. I don’t think the league does anything dramatic. Maybe tweaks it, but it’s not like there is a great outcry from coaches and general managers to alter the rule. The drumbeat for change is mostly from the outside.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comI’ve never seen a situation where intentionally fouling a bad free throw shooter absolutely helped a team win a game by itself. Maybe it contributed along the way. I do know the NBA shouldn’t discourage these acts by putting a rule in place. Why create a rule that just affects a half-dozen players, if that? Makes no sense. And a rule would only discourage players from practicing harder. Adam Silver said he hates the way it looks on TV. But that alone isn’t enough to push for change.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: That somebody who gets paid millions of dollars to play basketball can’t make half his free throws seems ridiculous to me, so I have no sympathy for the player and team being hacked. But I also don’t think it’s that great a strategy from the hacking team’s standpoint. While a 0.9 points per possession return (from a 45-percent free throw shooter) is certainly less than the 1.1 return on a typical opponent possession, they will rebound some of those second misses, and their defense being allowed to set up after a free throw will diminish your own offense a bit. The only great time to do it is at the end of the quarter to get a free possession for your own team.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: It’s tired, but when executed properly a very effective tool. I understand the desire of many to legislate the hack-a-whoever out of the game, but I think that’s a total cop out. Put the onus on the players and teams to make sure guys work on and improve their free throw shooting. Guys find ways to gain weight, lose wait, work on their quickness, improve their jump shot, handle, post moves and ability to shoot from distance. Why can’t the same emphasis be placed on free throw shooting? Seriously, it’s 2015 … make the players accountable this time.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Change nothing. This is a self-correcting mechanism. Don’t enable bad free throw shooting – instead allow Hack-a-Shaq to shame players into learning one of the game’s basic skills.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogOh man, I get irrationally angry about this. There’s one thing and one thing only that the NBA should do about this: Nothing. Nothing at all. If DeAndre Jordan or Rajon Rondo or whomever can’t shoot free throws, maybe they should work on their free throws! The idea that we should change some rules to make the game easier for players who have a fundamental weakness really bothers me. Did they change the free throw rules shooting for Wilt Chamberlain? Shaquille O’Neal (for whom this strategy is named)? Why change them now, because it makes the game less fun to watch? To me it’s ridiculous to even consider it. If you want the game to be more visually pleasing, get Jordan in the gym, don’t change the rules.

Blogtable: Are Cavs in trouble?

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: Cavs in trouble? | Next moves for OKC’s next coach? | No more Hack-a-Shaq?



VIDEOThe Cavs are trying not to wallow in the loss of Kevin Love

> After sweeping the Celtics, the Cavs have to field a completely different starting lineup in the next round that won’t include Kevin Love or J.R. Smith. Are the Cavs in trouble?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’d say “challenged” more than “in trouble.” J.R. Smith will be back in two games, and I expect the Cavaliers to do no worse than split those on their home floor in the conference semifinals. Love won’t be back and, sure, Cleveland will miss his floor spacing (that’s a bigger deal vs. Chicago than Milwaukee, as I see it). But the Cavs still have the two best players in the next two rounds at least — LeBron James in his prime and an all-growed-up Kyrie Irving, and their complementary pieces know how to work around them. I assume they’ll be playing 42-44 minutes of course.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comFirst of all, remember that J.R. Smith is lost for two games, not the entire series. I wouldn’t say the Cavs are in water way over their heads, just that it’s deeper, much rougher and full of more things that can bite them. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving will definitely miss Kevin Love’s ability to make 3s, open the floor and make it easier for them to drive to the basket. Assuming the Cavs face the Bulls in the East semifinals — and that might be assuming too much at this point — they have the bigs in Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol and Taj Gibson that can make life difficult. Hello, Tristan Thompson.  If a repentant Smith backs up all of his contrite words and returns for Game 3 with renewed focus and energy, it will be a boost. In the end, I think we see LeBron and Kyrie rise to the occasion and survive in a series that goes the distance. As far as going all the way without Love, well, that might be too much to ask.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Yes, because the degree of difficulty is about to go way up if the Cavs play the Bulls in the next round, as I believe they will. This could all change with one game, of course — if Milwaukee gets another against Chicago, the mood will quickly change to the Bulls being wobbly. But if it is Cleveland-Chicago, it’s a close series with the Cavs at full strength. With the Cavs down two players, it’s a steeper climb. They are hardly done, but they are in more trouble.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Hard to imagine a team with LeBron James being in trouble for an entire series. Will it hurt initially? Yes, of course. Love and Smith were important rotation guys and Smith in particular an important defender. Still, you must consider two factors before throwing dirt on the Cavs: One, they won’t exactly see the 1986 Boston Celtics in the next round. Two, LeBron has a way of covering up for most if not all player losses. I’m still picking the Cavs to win the East, but not having Love will seriously damage their NBA title aspirations.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The loss of both certainly makes them more vulnerable at home – where they’re 22-1 since LeBron James’ hiatus – in the first two games. This has never looked like a championship team, but the loss of a major cog (Love) will hurt them against every opponent, and maybe on defense as much as offense. This team is not very deep and James will need to play more at the four to properly space the floor. Those lineups aren’t as strong defensively as lineups with him at the three. Assuming they get the Bulls in the next round, I’d call that series a toss-up.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Trouble? Sure. But how much? I’m not sure it’s as severe as I originally thought it might be Sunday night in Boston, when I pondered the Cavaliers’ playoff future and whether or not it could end quickly in the conference semifinals. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving played so many nights without Kevin Love in the mix at crunch time that there should be no shock to their systems without him in uniform for the remainder of the playoffs. J.R. Smith, as solid as he’s been since joining the Cavaliers, will be missed but only for the first two games of the conference semifinals. The rest of the Cavaliers should be able to hold it down until then. Love’s absence for the long-term is, of course, troublesome. But not the season-killer it sounds looks like on paper.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: It’s entirely up to Chicago. The absences of Love and Anderson Varejao can be exploited by the Bulls’ big front line — but only if they are upholding their traditional defensive identity. If the Bulls are unable to renew their old form then Cleveland may yet overcome these latest setbacks.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: No, for one simple reason: The Cavs play in the Eastern Conference! Without Kevin Love the Cavs offense will lack some spacing and the stretch four threat he provided, as well as the ability to go small and use Love as almost a stretch five(!), but even without Love, the Cavs have two things going for them: LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. If they end up playing Chicago in the Eastern Conference semifinals, as long as they can total more than 80 points a game they should be in every game. On the other side of the bracket, Washington has looked OK, but I’m not sure Atlanta/Brooklyn is putting the fear of anything in anyone right now.

Blogtable: Thunder coach’s to-do list?

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: Cavs in trouble? | Next moves for OKC’s next coach? | No more Hack-a-Shaq?



VIDEOSir Charles was not a fan of the Thunder firing Scott Brooks

> If you were named coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder, what would be atop your “to-do list” your first day on the job?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’d pull Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook aside immediately after my introductory press conference to thank them. There’s no way a new coach gets hired there without the team’s two stars signing off on it – it probably is a top priority to have them on board, rather than just hold veto power, over Scott Brooks‘ replacement. Then I’d consult with them on their favorite plays, their preferred practice schedule, their desired minutes vs. rest workload and what their favorite meals are to have aboard our chartered flights. Would that be weenie, letting two players dictate so many team decisions? Not if I want to stay employed as coach and fear the leverage Durant and Westbrook wield with their upcoming free-agency decisions. Such is the power dynamic in the NBA these days.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comAfter I’m finished having an All-Star level suck-up session with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, I’m installing an offense that gets more ball movement and relies far less on both of those guys to make hero shots at the end of every shot clock and game.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Find out what Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are doing that same day. Pick up the phone, arrange a video conference, fax, singing telegram — whatever. I find out how their schedules look and how soon we can visit in person. (Which is probably exactly what will happen, with a lot of the Thunder roster, not just the two stars.)

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I take Kevin Durant to dinner and exchange ideas. That’s a no brainer. Next season will be all about keeping him happy and appreciated and in the loop and engaged. If I can successfully sell Durant on my vision and blueprint for winning a title, then I’ve done my part in keeping him in OKC in the summer of 2016.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’d call Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Russell Westbrook and schedule a day to spend with each of them. I’d ask Sam Presti to trade Dion Waiters. I’d try to figure out if free agent Enes Kanter can help me offensively more than he hurts me defensively. And I’d start making calls in an effort to put together a good staff.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’d need an immediate sit down with my two biggest stars, so we can figure out a happy medium for them in terms of how they co-exist now and in the future. It’s not that the rest of the guys don’t matter, but I need to know where the dynamic stands between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and what exactly I’m working with as their coach. It looks one way from a distance, but could be totally different inside that bubble. We all need to be on one accord about who and what we are, in every sense of that phrase, if we’re going to climb back into the thick of things at the top of the standings in the Western Conference and the league. So there’s no sense in wasting any time talking about anything else.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: First of all, I would recognize that Scott Brooks is an excellent coach who probably tried everything I am going to consider. My priority would be to improve their passing game, enabling  the ball to move from side to side in the half court. I would ask Russell Westbrook to make quicker decisions, and also try to help Mitch McGary become a better defender so that he can spend more time in the game – because he could give the Thunder a crucial passer from the high post.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogMaking sure I had a long-term contract? Going to breakfast with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and making sure they were both committed long-term to continuing to build something there?  No matter who they hire, whether it’s Billy Donovan or whomever, all eyes will be on next summer, when Durant can become a free agent, and the incredibly small window there for the new coach to make something happen. Whether or not it’s a real or imagined pressure, it’s pressure nonetheless and something annoying the new coach will have to deal with. And if these aren’t the things the new coach deals with on his first day, the other thing I’d do is I’d sit down and design an offense that made life easier on all the players involved. What better way to get people to stay?

Blogtable: Staff Predictions – Playoff Edition

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.

–Who will be the last two teams standing in the East?  In the West?  And who is your pick to win it all?

VIDEO: The Hawks and Warriors dominated their respective conferences during regular season. Can they duplicate that in the postseason.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com:

Predictions

East finals: Cavaliers over Hawks.

West finals: Spurs over Warriors.

NBA Finals: Spurs over Cavaliers.

Comment: I’ve had Cleveland reaching The Finals since before the season began. Why? Mostly because of LeBron James in his prime. The Cavs’ rise from 19-20 was merely what a lot of us predicted, learning-curve stuff. Cleveland’s trades fixed flaws, LeBron’s sabbatical got him recommitted and now, the Cavs’ stars provide multiple go-to guys vs. a solid Hawks team that will be playing in rare air. Out West, the Warriors have been magnificent but I learned my lesson counting out the Spurs a long time ago. I do expect LeBron’s team to double- and triple-check the air conditioning this time.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

Predictions

East finals: Cavaliers over Hawks.

West finals: Warriors over Rockets.

NBA Finals: Warriors over Cavaliers.

Comment: It’s amazing how one night, one game can change everything.  The Pelicans beat the Spurs and changed my entire outlook for the playoffs.  Put the Spurs into the No. 2 seed and I thought  the defending champs would be able to finally go back-to-back.  But plain and simple, not out of the No. 6 slot.  Coincidentally, it did happen 20 years ago when the Rockets shocked everyone in 1995.  But they had Hakeem Olajuwon at the peak of his powers.  It’s too tough a road for the Spurs without home court in every round.  With that in mind, I’m going with Golden State and Houston in the Western Conference finals and the Warriors winning.  The top two teams in the East all season have been the Cavaliers and Hawks and there’s no reason to think they won’t meet in the conference finals.  I’ve got the Cavs winning that one to send LeBron James to The Finals for a fifth straight year. But more frustration, another loss.  Warriors win it all in 6.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com:  

Predictions: 

East finals: Cavaliers over Hawks.

West finals: Warriors over Spurs.

NBA Finals: Warriors over Cavaliers.

Comment: I could stay with my preseason pick — Chicago over San Antonio — and still be in a pretty good place. But if you’re asking for an updated perspective, it’s hard to re-invest in the Bulls with the skyrocketing health-insurance premiums, and I thought the Warriors would have a good regular season but not close to magical. So, I’ll say Cleveland over Atlanta in the East, Golden State over San Antonio in the West and Warriors over Cavaliers for the championship as “close to magical” becomes actually magical. It comes down to Golden State being able to win many different ways, in tempo or either side of the ball. And if it is Warriors-Cavs in the Finals, no team is more able to throw obstacles at LeBron James than the Dubs with multiple standout defenders.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com:

Predictions:

East finals: Cavaliers over Hawks.

West finals: Warriors over Clippers.

NBA finals: Warriors over Cavaliers.

Comment:  The Cavs and Hawks are the safest picks in the East, which says more about the East. I’m not feeling either team as a heavyweight but the Cavs have LeBron James who is a difference-maker in a close series. Thinking Cavs in 6. The Clippers and Chris Paul have too much to navigate in the West. Really, they must beat the Spurs and then Harden and then Curry?. OK, I’ll give them the first two because Paul wants to wipe the post-season stench from the past off his resume. But the Warriors will lap them. Thinking Warriors in 5. The NBA Finals will show that this is the Warriors’ year. Too much firepower, too much Splash, too much momentum for the Cavs. I believe deep down, LeBron felt he’d need two years to win a title in Cleveland. He’s right. Thinking Warriors in 5.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com

Predictions

East finals: Hawks over Cavaliers.

West finals: Warriors over Spurs.

NBA finals: Warriors over Hawks.

Comment: I’ll take the Hawks over the Cavs in the Eastern Conference finals, with their last regular season meeting – where Cleveland’s improved defense still couldn’t handle the Atlanta offense – in mind. I’ll go with the Warriors over the Spurs in the Western Conference finals, a series where home-court advantage could really play a big role. And I’ll take the Warriors over the Hawks in The Finals. The numbers say that the Dubs are one of the best teams we’ve seen in the last 30 years – they were a plus-9.8 points per 100 possessions in games played between teams that finished with winning records, while no other team in the group was better than plus-2.4 – and I’m not one to argue with the numbers.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com

Predictions

East finals: Hawks over Cavaliers.

West finals: Warriors over Clippers.

NBA Finals: Warriors over Hawks.

Comment: The Hawks and Cavaliers on a collision course in the East. They’ve been the best two teams in the Eastern Conference, early on and through All-Star Weekend for the Hawks and since then for the Cavaliers. And while LeBron James has the playoff experience and superstar power on his side, the Hawks have the chemistry and championship blueprint (courtesy of that Spurs-lite stuff) on their side. I know everyone assumes that LeBron on your roster equals an instant trip to The Finals, but I’m not sold on the playoff rookies in Cleveland (Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love in particular). So I’m going with the Hawks over the Cavaliers in an epic Eastern Conference finals, stretching all the way to seven games.

The Warriors are the easy and logical pick to face the Clippers in the West. The Warriors are on a championship or bust ride. There are no guarantees, of course. But the Warriors are loaded at every position, have a coach with championship DNA coursing through his veins and whatever playoff experience they lack as a group they will accrue on their way to The Finals. People are counting the Clippers out already in their first round matchup against the Spurs. But this is the year Chris Paul leads the Clippers deep into the playoff waters, where they’ll face off against their rivals from NoCal in the California civil war. The north prevails here again behind the MVP, Steph Curry, and his Splash Bros counterpart Klay Thompson.

 The Warriors and Hawks square off in an entertaining series that treats fans who haven’t tasted the sweet smell of The Finals in decades (in Golden State, and ever in Atlanta. The Hawks won an NBA title in 1958 as the St. Louis franchise ). It’s also a matchup of the two best teams from the regular season, a dream matchup for fans of the space and pace movement. In the end, the Warriors depth and that raucous home court advantage at Oracle is too much for the Hawks. Warriors in 7.

 Ian Thomsen, NBA.com

Predictions

East finals: Bulls over Hawks.

West finals: Warriors over Clippers.

NBA Finals: Bulls over Warriors.

Comment: I feel insane, actually, for picking a team so troubled with injuries. But the Bulls’ main players are now ready to go and their roster is brimming with deep playoff experience. Their defining series will come in the second round against Cleveland, when the Bulls will reestablish their defensive willpower while Rose finds his role. The Clippers will “upset” the Spurs and provide a hard challenge to Golden State, but nothing can prepare the Warriors for the defensive intensity of an NBA Finals against Chicago.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog

Predictions

East finals: Hawks over Cavaliers.

West finals: Spurs over Warriors.

NBA Finals: Spurs over Hawks.

Comment: In the East, I’m going with the Hawks and Cavs to emerge. I think Chicago will give Cleveland a run in the semis, but Atlanta and Cleveland will emerge as victors, with the Hawks continuing their regular season success against Cleveland and coming out of the East. And in the West, The Warriors will continue to roll and meet the Spurs in the Conference Finals, where the Spurs will teach the Warriors an old man lesson and defeat Golden State. In the Finals, Pop and Bud will meet, but the student will not be able to defeat the master, and the Spurs will finally get repeat titles. (And I am definitely not trying to jinx the Spurs if the play the Hawks in the Finals, either.)

For more debates, go to #AmexNBA or www.nba.com/homecourtadvantage.

Blogtable: Favorite memory of 2014-15?

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: Spurs or Warriors out West? | Upset-minded East team? | Lasting moment of 2014-15?



VIDEOThe Starters reveal their top 10 plays from 2014-15

> Looking back: What was your favorite moment from the 2014-15 regular season?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comGreat players doing great things is, uh, great. But I most vividly recall a Cinderella afternoon in January when Miami’s Hassan Whiteside hung a rare points-rebounds-blocks triple-double on the Bulls in Chicago. An NBA D-League refugee who’d bounced through Lebanon and China before opening 2014-15 playing pickup at the YMCA in Charlotte, Whiteside, 25, became the sort of story we don’t get much anymore in a league where everything and everybody is thoroughly scouted, analyzed and plumbed for value. The 7-footer wound up starting 32 games for the Heat, averaging 11.8 points, 10.0 rebounds and 2.6 blocks. But as he went for 14-13-12 in less than 25 minutes off Miami’s bench, he seemed as incredulous as us onlookers. “I told my teammates, man, you won’t believe how things work out in life,” Whiteside said. “[I was] at the downtown Y, just chillin’. Workin’ on my game. I couldn’t even get a team to pick up the phone.”

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comMore than one moment, it was 10 magical minutes on Jan. 23. Klay Thompson breaking the NBA record with 37 points in a magnificent third quarter against the Kings. For anybody who has ever shot a ball at a hoop anywhere on the planet, it was the stuff that dreams are made of.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comI’ll go way outside the box: The retirement of Steve Nash. When the obvious happened and Nash made his exit official, the outpouring of appreciation was a special thing. Players, coaches, executives, league brass and the media offered the kind of words that drove home the level of respect he commanded. It reminded everyone, or at least should have, that this was a unique talent and person. Nash didn’t get to go out on his terms, which is disappointing because he earned that opportunity. But when he did retire, he exit was surrounded in appreciation, not sadness.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I’ll give you my runner-up first: When Russell Westbrook, just days after getting a golf ball-sized crater in his face, put on a mask and dropped a 49-16-10 triple double. Yeah it was against the Sixers, but it counts anyway. My choice, though, is when Craig Sager returned from cancer, a moment even more poignant considering his relapse. Godspeed to him.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Seeing Marc and Pau Gasol jump center against each other in the All-Star Game was pretty cool. To have two brothers from another country at the top of this league is a pretty amazing story and the best example of how far the game of basketball has come since the Dream Team ran through Barcelona in 1992. It doesn’t matter where you’re from. If you can play ball, you can play ball.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Tough question when you have a list that could go a few pages, what with a wicked MVP race raging on all season and the unbelievable runs made by the Golden State Warriors, Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers and, most recently, the San Antonio Spurs. But for sheer enjoyment, the day the best from the East (Hawks) and West (Warriors) hooked up at Philips Arena on a Friday a week before All-Star Weekend was my favorite day of regular season basketball in years. From both teams embracing the magnitude of the moment at shootaround early that morning to the entertaining-from-start-to-finish 124-116 win the Hawks earned that night, it was a day that began and ended with a big time feel, perhaps even a preview of what we could see in The Finals between two teams with fan bases starving for a spot on that ultimate stage.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comKyrie Irving’s 57points in Cleveland’s 128-125 OT win at San Antonio last month was the best showing of the year. We’ll be referring back to that spectacular night if those teams reunite in June.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogCan I go with a video clip? How about this moment:

<script src=”https://platform.vine.co/static/scripts/embed.js”></script&gt;

This happened in January, just as the Hawks were beginning their historic undefeated month. If there was any question that this collection of players was a team that not only believed in each other but was also terrific on the court, this play answered it for me. (Also, shoutout to Mike Muscala with the “stoic googles” celebration.)

NBA-Blogtable-Favorite-Moment-BannerFor more debates, go to #AmexNBA or www.nba.com/homecourtadvantage.

Blogtable: Spurs or Warriors out West?

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: Spurs or Warriors out West? | Upset-minded East team? | Lasting moment of 2014-15?



VIDEOThe Warriors can’t wait for the 2015 playoffs to begin

> The defending champs are red-hot and can lock up the No. 2 seed in the West with a victory tonight at New Orleans. So who’s a better bet to win the West: the Spurs or the Warriors?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI vowed not to count out San Antonio a couple of years ago (or was it back in 2007?). The Spurs know what they’re facing at this time of year, they’ve been there/done this and coach Gregg Popovich has his team rested, prepared and peaking. Two months is a long time to maintain a peak but — aside from the level of competition now — the schedule becomes more geezer-friendly. Golden State has been great fun and I’d welcome watching them for four rounds, but if I have to “bet,” give me the Spurs.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comIt’s certainly hard to pick against the team that’s been the best in the league since opening night. But the one thing the Spurs have never done during that long run is win back-to-back. Now that they are healthy, in rhythm and playing at the top of their game, I’m sticking with the defending champs in what should be a very tasty Western Conference finals. 

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Warriors. Spurs fans shouldn’t whine the choice into “We’re being overlooked again.” San Antonio was my pick at the start of the season to win the West (and lose to Chicago in The Finals.) No one should be surprised that San Antonio is peaking for the playoffs. I just think Golden State has proven it is the best team in the conference. The Dubs win win offense, win with defense, have chemistry and a great home court.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Right now, I like everything about the defending-champion Spurs. They’re surging at the right time, they’re healthy, their role players are dripping confidence and Kawhi Leonard is reborn. Did I leave anything out? Oh, yeah: Tim Duncan and Pop, both championship-tested and approved, are anxious to go back-to-back. The Warriors must navigate through places they’ve never been in the post-season, and I need to see them make it through San Antonio without sprouting a nervous tic.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Golden State. What the Spurs did in last year’s Finals was an incredible display, and they’re heading back toward that level with how they’ve played over the last month. But it’s impossible to ignore that the Warriors have been, by far, the best team in the league all season. They rank No. 1 on defense, No. 2 on offense, and have a point differential (plus-11.4 per 100 possessions) that’s only been topped by three teams — the ’96 Bulls, the ’97 Bulls and the ’08 Celtics – over the last 38 years. No team played the Warriors better than the Spurs in the regular season, but I like the way that Golden State matches up, especially with the ability to shorten their rotation and get Andrew Bogut on the floor more than they did in the regular season.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Spurs have the championship components and experience, so they are the safest best in this scenario, even with all that the Warriors have done this season. Golden State has everything you would ever want from a championship team expect the experience that usually comes with repeated forays deep into the postseason before a breakthrough. They are not a Big 3-era team in that they were created basically overnight. Teams that are grown the way the Warriors have been usually require at least a stumble in the conference finals or The Finals before they learn how to get over the mental and emotional hurdle that leads to a title. There are no other teams, as of this moment, that inspire championship visions for me.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Everyone in the West should view the Spurs as favorites. Golden State has been superior overall this regular season, but the Spurs have been hotter down the stretch and are one missed free throw away from pursuing a third straight championship. The best hope for the Warriors is to view themselves as underdogs in a potential conference final against San Antonio – instead of protecting the No. 1 seed, they should attack as if they have nothing to lose. Because the champs have everything that the Warriors want.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI would love to pick the Warriors, because I feel like everyone has sort of overlooked the Warriors and Hawks because of the way they’ve been able to cost for the last month or so. For instance, now Cleveland seems to be the consensus choice to win the Eastern Conference, even though the Hawks have handled the Cavs pretty well this season. In the West, the zombie Spurs have emerged from the grave and appear to be marching forth, unabated. Normally, I’d side with the Warriors here, with the logic being that they’ve earned the respect over the last 80-odd games. But then, these are the Spurs, the team that reached basketball nirvana in The Finals last year. And just like in the movies, until the zombie is completely snuffed out, I’m not turning my back on them.

 

Blogtable: Ready for an East upset?

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: Spurs or Warriors out West? | Upset-minded East team? | Lasting moment of 2014-15?



VIDEOGeorge Hill lifts the Pacers to a big win over the Wizards

> The Pacers, Celtics and Nets are all battling for the last two seeds in the East. Which of those teams has the best chance to pull off a first-round upset?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Indiana, of the teams you’re offering, has the best chance of a first-round upset – and it’s itty-bitty. I like the Celtics the best of that bunch but there is no way they’re getting past Cleveland in the 2-7 showdown. If Brooklyn gets in, that’s it, they’re done – while they have some big-name players who might ordinarily give Atlanta or potentially anyone else some tough challenges, there’s a lack of spine or fortitude in that team dating back to its Game 7 loss at home to undermanned Chicago that still is an issue, in my view. That leaves Indiana, which couldn’t crack 100 in its double-overtime slog vs. Toronto Wednesday but would have to keep up with Atlanta’s high-octane attack. So yeah, Pacers, itty-bitty.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The Pacers because of their roster loaded with veterans who have been through the playoff wars and because they are capable of playing elite level defense.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The actual answer is “Nobody.” But if I have to pick one, it’s the Pacers. They’re playing well now, the return of Paul George has been an emotional lift as well as an additional scoring punch despite struggling with his shot, coach Frank Vogel on the sideline is always a good thing, and defense, rebounding and playoff experience is a good place to start building an upset scenario.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The easy answer is “none of the above” but if I must choose, then it’s the Pacers. At least their core players know what playoff basketball is about, and there’s the Paul George factor. The basketball gods could repay the Pacers for all they’ve been through with George and take it out on the Hawks, which of course would confirm Atlanta’s status as the choking dog of all sports towns.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: None of them will win more than a game from the Hawks or Cavs, but Indiana is best suited to put a scare in ’em. They’re the best defensive team of the group, so they can keep games ugly and close. They’ve been the best team of the group (in regard to point differential) since the All-Star break and have gotten a boost from the return of Paul George. That being said, I don’t know if they’re even going to be playing this weekend, because they’ll need to win in Memphis on Wednesday to edge out the Nets for the No. 8 seed.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: These teams are doing whatever they can to claw their way into the playoffs and you want to talk about upsets? Actually, the Pacers have the best roster to pull an upset. They’ve got experience and size, decent depth and a star (Paul George, even on limited minutes) capable of going on a tear in a playoff series. They appear spent physically, which is not uncommon this time of year for a team that has been fighting uphill just to stay in the playoff chase. So they’d have to find a way to rest and recharge within the framework of the playoff schedule to even think about pulling off an upset. But again, for teams crawling into the postseason, an upset tends to be more pipe dream than reality.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comLet’s start by acknowledging that the Nets and Pacers won’t be able to run or execute with the Hawks, who went 7-0 against them this year. The Celtics are going to have problems of their own finishing close games against Cleveland, but their small lineup, quickness and ball movement could scare the Cavs for 42 minutes. What coach Brad Stevens has done with young role players over the last two months (23-12) is no fluke: He has been doing for the Celtics what he did for Butler.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: None of them? Honestly, I don’t think any of those teams really have a chance to win a first round series against Atlanta or Boston. But if I had to pick one, which I guess is what you’re saying, I’ll go with the Celtics. Boston has played Atlanta pretty well this season, even beating them once just before the All-Star break. And they beat Cleveland (resting players) twice recently. Adding Isaiah Thomas has given the Celtics another scorer and ballhandler. Is he enough to help the Celtics beat the Hawks or the Cavaliers? That’s a horse of a different color. But what the heck, let’s give them the nod.

Blogtable: 2015’s biggest surprise and disappointment?

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: Surprise and disappointment? | Under-the-radar free agents? | Your All-Defensive team



VIDEOThese guys might have been the League Pass team of 2014-15

> With one week left, what has been the biggest surprise of this NBA season? And biggest disappointment?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: No way, no how did I expect the Atlanta Hawks’ leap in the standings off of last season’s 38-44. Two of Atlanta’s big offseason moves were trading away Lou Williams and drafting Adreian Payne in the first round, so the help didn’t come from the outside. That’s development, building, bonding. My biggest disappointment: the rubble of Oklahoma City’s 2015 championship aspirations. It’s a bummer for the Thunder, the nasty West bracket is a little less head-spinning and it’s always tricky business propping open a window of contention to accommodate injuries. So often, either the time is right or it’s not, and OKC’s might be passing.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Everybody’s been waiting for the injuries to catch up with the Rockets all season, but James Harden’s MVP-level play hasn’t let them fall and could even produce the No. 2 seed in the West. We knew he was good. His play has been shockingly good. The biggest disappointment has been the long list of injured stars that have unfortunately made for more headlines off the court than on: Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Paul George, Russell Westbrook, Dwight Howard, DeMar DeRozan, Jabari Parker, just to name a few. But for sheer, jaw-dropping, oh-my-God-how-did-that-happen, awfulness, I can’t neglect to mention that huge hole in the ground at 7th Ave, between 31st and 33rd Sts. in Manhattan. Nobody expect that big of a crater from the New York Knicks.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The biggest surprise is easy: John Stockton, fresh off releasing a book, starring in insurance commercials, in costume and everything. Who is this guy? The Knicks will come back to make the playoffs on the last night of the regular season, then win the championship, and it still won’t top Stockton, who worked hard to avoid the spotlight as a player, as the king of all media. (If you’re going to insist on a surprise on the court, it’s anyone blowing away the field in the Western Conference standings. This was supposed to be a tight race, right? The Warriors have turned it into a non-race.) Biggest disappointment: Injuries. They happen every year, only this time fate ganged up on the Thunder, costing OKC the chance for a long playoff run, and on the rookies, costing everyone the chance to see three of the best newcomers for more than a portion of the season.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The Celtics might make the playoffs despite dumping their top two players (Jeff Green, Rajon Rondo) and watching another miss games because of injuries (Jared Sullinger). Yes, the East is so bad that somebody with a losing record was destined to make the playoffs, but still this rates as a surprise to a degree. Disappointing? Lance Stephenson bombing almost immediately in Charlotte and never recovering. I figured if nothing else, he’d be a pain off the court, not on it.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The biggest surprise is the dominance of the Hawks and Warriors in their respective conferences. I had Atlanta eighth among East teams in my preseason Power Rankings and only two GMs picked them to win the Southeast Division. They were, by far, the East’s best team until it was time to ease off the gas pedal, beating a lot of Western Conference contenders along the way. The Warriors were projected higher than the Hawks, but I don’t think anybody saw them registering the best point differential since Steve Kerr was playing for the Bulls. The biggest disappointment is Oklahoma City suffering through a wasted season with Kevin Durant’s ongoing foot issue. The Thunder are a title contender when healthy and while they’re still in the mix for a playoff spot, their season really never got off the ground.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The biggest and most pleasant surprise has been the Atlanta Hawks and their improbable rise from an offseason filled with uncertainty. I don’t think anyone but the most die-hard of Atlanta fans would admit to believing the Hawks would put together the sort of season they have. How they finish the story in the playoffs remains to be seen. But there is no doubt the Hawks achieved the unthinkable finishing atop the Eastern Conference regular season standings. The biggest disappointment, and I don’t think we need to belabor the point, has been the bi-coastal dumpster fires that have consumed the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks this season. I knew they’d struggle mightily. But the Lakers and Knicks have been brutal this season. Just brutal.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Hawks have been the most inspiring team: They may be benefiting from the Spurs’ system, but they’ve been running it without Hall of Fame talent, and if their devotion to teamwork could produce a championship then it would be a huge breakthrough for the NBA. The biggest disappointment has been the physical breakdown of so many players: The Rockets, Clippers, Spurs, Cavaliers, Blazers, Bulls, Thunder, Pelicans, Raptors, Wizards, Bucks, Jazz, Pacers, Heat, Hornets, Pistons, Kings, Lakers, 76ers, Timberwolves and Knicks have all been diminished by meaningful injuries this season.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: You’re baiting me, right? How can I not go with the Atlanta Hawks, the team that was pegged by many to be a playoff team, but nobody, not in their wildest dreams, expected the Hawks to have the season they’re having. As for biggest disappointment, it’s hard to overlook the team right up I-85 from the Hawks, the Charlotte Hornets. I know they’ve had injuries throughout the season, but adding Lance Stephenson seems to have just made that whole situation into a mess.

Blogtable: Your All-Defensive Team …

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: Surprise and disappointment? | Under-the-radar free agents? | Your All-Defensive team



VIDEOAndrew Bogut denies Wesley Johnson’s dunk attempt

> Last week it was the All-Rookie first team. This week, we want to hear your All-Defensive first team.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com:
F Rudy Gobert, Utah

F Andrew Bogut, Golden State
W Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio
W Draymond Green, Golden State
W Tony Allen, Memphis

Just so we’re clear, my terminology for this squad is F for “frontcourt” (good enough for All-Star balloting) and W for “wing.” I’m not getting pinned down by the five traditional position designations when I could have guys who can ball-hawk and rim-protect like these five. I’m not sure what sort of offensive numbers my group could put up but I’ll take my chances on yours scoring fewer.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com:
C Andrew Bogut: 
For all the pretty offensive plays the Warriors make, his defense in the middle is driving championship hopes.
F Tim Duncan: 
Only the players he defends and ties into knots every night want Old Man Riverwalk to retire.
F Kawhi Leonard: Pound for pound, inch for inch, simply the league’s defensive knockout champ.
G Draymond Green: He can cover all five positions like Spandex on Beyonce, so I’m sliding him into the backcourt.
G Tony Allen: Still the the one who puts the grind in the Grind House.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com:
C DeAndre Jordan

F Draymond Green 
F Kawhi Leonard
G Tony Allen
G John Wall

Center is so tough, with Andrew Bogut especially and also Tim Duncan, Rudy Gobert, Andre Drummond, Anthony Davis and Marc Gasol all deserving votes. And probably others I am forgetting. The depth is that good.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com:
C DeAndre Jordan
F Anthony Davis
F Draymond Green
G Tony Allen
G Kawhi Leonard

All of the selections are very good but there wasn’t that solid, no-brainer lockdown guy this season. I also liked Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Nerlens Noel. The most improved defender? James Harden. But he only had one direction to go.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com:
C Rudy Gobert
F Draymond Green
F Kawhi Leonard
G John Wall
G Tony Allen

Allen and the two forwards were easy picks, though it’s tough to leave Tim Duncan and Andre Iguodala off the list. I gave Wall the edge over Chris Paul, because the Wizards are a top-5 defense and they’ve been much better with Wall on the floor. And I gave Gobert the edge over Andrew Bogut because he’s played 500 more minutes.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com:
C Andrew Bogut
F Kawhi Leonard
F Anthony Davis
G John Wall
G Tony Allen

As far as postseason awards go, the first five on the All-Defensive team might be the easiest group to identify. Wall and Allen are no-brainer picks in the backcourt. Leonard and Davis have the forward spots locked down. And Bogut gets the nod at center as the league’s most dominant rim-protector and post defender.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com:
C DeAndre Jordan

F Draymond Green
F Kawhi Leonard
G Tony Allen
G Chris Paul

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog:
C DeAndre Jordan

F Draymond Green
F Anthony Davis
G Chris Paul
G Kawhi Leonard

I’m cheating and putting Kawhi at guard but I really feel like he’s one of the best defenders in the NBA and deserves a spot. This is a big-guy heavy team I’ve assembled, but just try and score on them.

amex1
For more debates, go to #AmexNBA or www.nba.com/homecourtadvantage.