Posts Tagged ‘Chris Paul’

Robertson applauds players union for adding James’ clout as VP

NEW YORK – The adversaries that get drawn in bold strokes in any NBA collective bargaining negotiations (and too often, subsequent lockout coverage) are the owners vs. the players. The commissioner – now Adam Silver, before that David Stern – vs. the head of the union. Michele Roberts has that title now as the NBPA’s executive director now, filling the job previously held by Billy Hunter.

But there’s an underlying tension, too, between the stars of the NBA and its so-called working or middle-class players. They are the league’s role players. They are the guys who typically make up The Other Nine on teams fortunate enough to have A Big Three. They are the league’s “82.7 percent” if you want to go by the percentage of NBA players who makes less than $8 million, about 372 of approximately 450.

About two-thirds of the league’s performers are paid less than $5 million, and according to ESPN.com data, nearly 40 percent (173) draw salaries between $1 million and $4 million. That means, in a union set-up, the vast rank-and-file has the votes. When push has come to shove in recent collective-bargaining agreement talks, middle-class issues from salary maximums to mid-level exceptions have been served, generally at the superstars’ expense.

But there is a place for star power. The NBPA showed that in its unanimous vote of player reps Friday to add LeBron James to the union’s executive committee, moving into the position opened when Roger Mason Jr. retired to take an NBPA management role.

And Oscar Robertson, an authority on star power in sports labor relations, concurred. Robertson – the game’s legendary “Big O,” worthy of any NBA Mount Rushmore as the game’s all-time triple-double threat – spoke Saturday about his nine years as union president. Fifty years ago this summer, after the Maurice Stokes benefit game at Kuthser’s Resort in the Catskills, Robertson was courted by retiring NBPA president Tom Heinsohn, Jack Twyman and union director Larry Fleisher to take over as president.

Robertson provided the sort of high profile leadership that James, teaming with current NBPA president Chris Paul, can offer when the next CBA talks ramp up toward 2017. He shared with ESPN.com his experience and his perspective on James’ impact:

“I think it’s wonderful, the stars need to lead by example,” Robertson said on Saturday. “There’s so much to be done in the next few years.”

Robertson believes that James can leverage his position as the league’s signature star in ways he could not 40 years ago and that is why having him and Paul as the face of the union could be valuable.

“It’s not a risk for LeBron because he’s a star; there’s nothing they can do to LeBron,” Robertson said. “You have to be successful and then you can put yourself in that position. Times have changed, there is nothing the owners can do. Years ago, owners didn’t want players in (union leadership), they tried to trade you or get rid of you and get you out of the league. They’ll deny that but it was true.”

Robertson put his name on the lawsuit in which the union successfully challenged the reserve clause, leading to free agency in the NBA much as Curt Flood‘s fight paved the way in baseball. The Cincinnati and Milwaukee star guard felt he paid a price after his playing days, losing out on broadcasting, coaching or executive positions out of NBA owners’ resentment.

But in recent years, Robertson felt the game’s stars weren’t doing enough of the union’s work, leaving the decisions and public-relations goodwill to players with lower profiles.

“LeBron can get instant access to the media and the fans,” Robertson said. “In this day and age, it isn’t always what you do behind closed doors. Sometimes it’s public and getting the mass of people behind you. I’m sure he can do that.”

Morning shootaround — Feb. 14


VIDEO: Highlights of Friday’s Rising Stars Challenge and Celebrity All-Star Game

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant: Players should vote for awards | Rising Star MVP Wiggins craves Olympics | Union fires shot across NBA bow | Mason’s condition shows some progress

No. 1: Durant: Players should vote for awards — It’s Valentine’s Day, so you might want to send some extra flowers or candy to your nearest sports media person after Kevin Durant hurt their feelings on Friday. The Oklahoma City star took the occasion of the NBA’s All-Star Media Availability at a New York hotel ballroom to question the media folks’ credibility as voters for the league’s annual awards, such as Most Valuable Player, Sixth Man, Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player. Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.com was among those to capture Durant’s critical comments:

“I think (the) media gets too much power to vote on stuff like that. Quite frankly I don’t think you really know a lot about as much we know about it,” Durant said when asked if MVP winners should be allowed to vote on the MVP like former Heisman Trophy winners are allowed to do with the annual award for the best college football player. “So we play against these guys every single night, we battle against these guys, we know what they say on the court, we know how they handle their teammates, we know how they approach the game, and our votes should count.

“Our opinions should count. I don’t think you guys know as much we do, and I don’t see why you have more power than we do.”

Durant won his first MVP for the 2013-14 season, totaling 1,232 points in voting, including 119 first-place votes. The award is decided by a 124-member panel consisting of sports writers and broadcasters throughout the United States and Canada. There’s also an NBA.com MVP fan vote that counts as one vote, making for a total of 125 ballots overall. The same panel of U.S. and Canadian sports writers and broadcasters also casts votes for the other awards, but the MVP award is the only one for which fans can vote.

Players are awarded 10 points for each first-place vote, seven points for each second-place vote, five for each third-place vote, three for each fourth-place vote and one for each fifth-place vote.

“We really know these guys inside and out,” Durant said of why players should vote for the awards. “There are a lot of guys that deserve Defensive Player of the Year or Sixth Man of the Year but you guys (decide sometimes because) they are not the sexier names. A lot of people will see the names of these players and don’t look at the other guys that contribute to our game as well.

“You guys aren’t in the scouting reports, you’re not in the team meetings and the film sessions to really break down each player’s games. I don’t see why you have more power in voting than we do. We are out there on the court playing with them. We appreciate how you guys blow the game up and bring attention to the game but at the same time, to keep it pure, the players should have more say in that stuff.”

***

No. 2: Rising Star MVP Wiggins craves Olympics — For a lot of fans at Barclays Center in Brooklyn or viewing elsewhere, it probably took a moment to sink in that Andrew Wiggins, the Minnesota Timberwolves’ rookie participating in the Rising Stars Challenge Friday was on the right team. Wiggins played for the World squad, against the USA group of rookies and second-year players, because he was born and raised in Canada. He was feeling some maple-leaf pride after his swell performance, as chronicled by our man Scott Howard-Cooper:

Already at the forefront of Canada’s planned ascent on the global basketball stage — well under way with the recent influx of players in the NBA the last few seasons — Wiggins added to that with 22 points on eight-for-11 shooting to win the MVP award as the World beat the U.S. 121-112 on Friday nigh

Asked if he is looking forward to playing Team USA — the real one — in international competition, Wiggins said, “Definitely. That’s a game I dream of. And hopefully we can play in the Olympics.”

Pressed if he would play for his homeland this summer, in the tournament to qualify for the 2016 Olympics (as the reigning World Cup champion, the U.S. is exempt) Wiggins said, “Right now I’m taking it day by day. But it’s something I would love to do.” Coming attractions, indeed.

***

No. 3: Union fires shot across NBA bow — This is relative peacetime in the NBA, more than three years removed from the league’s last costly lockout, with a labor deal in place at least until July 2017. But businessmen and unions do what they do, so the National Basketball Players Association’s annual All-Star player rep meeting offered a glimpse into some jargon and rhetoric with which fans soon might become all too familiar. Our own Steve Aschburner explained a money issue that already has surfaced:

They’re here now, with the union’s rejection of two “smoothing” proposals from the NBA to manage the flood of new money from dramatically increased TV rights fees beginning with the 2016-17 season. Michele Roberts, the NBPA’s new executive director, said the team reps voted unanimously to reject both proposals during a meeting that included about 50 players.

What that could mean, if left unaddressed, would be an abrupt hike in the league’s salary cap from an estimated $68 million in 2015-16 to, say, $90 million for 2016-17. That’s when the new nine-year, $24 billion TV deal kicks in at nearly triple the current broadcast fees. Boosting the cap number that suddenly could make virtually every team in the NBA a bidder for the lucky free agents of 2016. Rosters could be entirely rebuilt, or completely destroyed, all in a few weeks time.

The NBA apparently had pitched two versions of a proposal to “smooth” that infusion of money into the system to avoid artificially bidding up salaries of the players who happened to hit the market that summer, at the expense of the majority who would remain under contract. By “smoothing” the increase — with the cap rising by lesser amounts, with the difference from the players’ CBA-guaranteed share of the league’s revenues divvied up proportionally among them all — those locked into contracts would benefit from the added cash.

But the NBPA’s economic consultants determined that a typical player would make less money overall by signing contracts into an artificially constrained salary cap (for example, $80 million vs. $90 million) while receiving “shortfall” checks, than he would signing a new deal without the smoothing constraints on the cap.

The NBPA also voted LeBron James onto its executive committee as first vice-president, teaming the Cleveland star with union president Chris Paul of the L.A. Clippers to add heft to the hierarchy. Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com had more on that:

With Paul, James and new, aggressive executive director Michele Roberts, the union has loaded up with high-profile faces for a fight for a bigger portion of what could be a $7 billion revenue pie two years from now.

Just how big a role James eventually will play, though, is yet to be seen. He did not attend the meeting because he was committed to a sponsor’s event across town. He talked to various members of the executive committee over the phone and plans to meet with Roberts this weekend.

The union believes having James and Paul, the Los Angeles Clippers’ All-Star point guard, on the front line will increase the pressure, both publicly and privately, on owners.

“I cannot tell you how delighted I am; the union is supported by players across the spectrum,” Roberts said after leading a meeting of approximately 50 players, including All-Stars Carmelo Anthony, Russell Westbrook and Kyrie Irving.

***

No. 4: Mason’s condition shows some progress — In a perfect world, Anthony Mason, longtime NBA forward who had helped the Knicks reach the Finals in 1994, would have been a visible presence this week during All-Star festivities. Instead, he continues to fight for his life in a hospital bed after suffering what his former agent Don Cronson called “congestive heart failure.” But Mason’s condition had improved slightly by Friday, as reported by ESPNNewYork.com’s Ian Begley:

[Mason] has made “small, but real” progress the last two nights after being “near death” Wednesday, his former agent said.

“He isn’t out of the woods, but he’s had two good nights,” Don Cronson, Mason’s agent during his playing days, said by phone Friday night.

Cronson said he’s received updates from Mason’s family.

“It seems like he’s day-to-day now. Before it was hour-to-hour,” Cronson said. “Thankfully, the last two days have been better.”

The New York Daily News had more details of the events leading up to Mason’s incident Wednesday:

Before he was hospitalized, Mason, 48, was scheduled to attend a press event Wednesday at the Times Square Knickerbocker Hotel, where Mason’s former teammate, John Starks, announced his business partnership with the Zipway company. Cronson said he is sure Mason was preparing to be a visible presence during the NBA All-Star Game week in the Big Apple.

“This originally happened a week ago today,” Cronson said Friday. “(Mason) was in the hospital. I think he was having some discomfort, some kind of chest pain. One of his guys said, ‘You have to have yourself looked at.’ He goes into the hospital and the whole event took place there. I spoke to family members, and had he been in the (hospital) lobby as opposed to the third floor, where he was, he would have died. Fortunately, he was close enough to the emergency facilities that were brought to bear and saved his life.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Pacers and Paul George let it be known last week that the All-Star wing player, out since Aug. 1 after suffering leg fractures in a Team USA scrimmage, planned to be practicing March 1. Now he’s targeting March 14 for a possible return to game action. … Washington’s John Wall has his eye on the All-Star MVP trophy and Magic Johnson’s single-game record of 22 assists. … Knicks boss James Dolan doesn’t quite apologize for tangling with an unhappy fan via email, but he knows he shouldn’t have done it. … If Jeff Van Gundy can air out the Bulls for alleged friction with coach Tom Thibodeau, it only follows that Stan Van Gundy can do the same with the Kings in their handling of Tyrone Corbin. … Anthony Davis isn’t participating, but he talked the other day about ways he hopes to improve and about NBA life in general. … Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousin concurs – George Karl is a good coach. … How Portland’s Wesley Matthews transformed himself from undrafted offensive liability to a serious scorer. … Atlanta interested in Gary Neal? The Budenholzer connection. … How could the NBA spruce up All-Star Weekend? Consider these suggestions.

 

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 189) Featuring NBA Commissioner Adam Silver (Video)

NEW YORK — We pride ourselves on fighting the power around here, going against the grain in every way imaginable.

On and off the court, on and off the bus (“it’s the Road Trip playa”), we’re avoiding the tug of conformity.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is making it tough to maintain our regular mode of operation, though. A new age commissioner for a game on the cutting edge in basically everything that’s done, Silver, just one year into his tenure, has redefined what it means to be the boss.

He joins us live from the Sheraton Hotel in the heart of Times Square for a special edition of the Hang Time Podcast (Episode 189) from the 64th NBA All-Star Weekend, the epicenter of the basketball universe for at least the next 48-72 hours.

We saw LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and so many other superstars in town for the weekend. But the Commissioner goes first. And nothing is off-limits and no, he was not coerced into joining the crew (we even extended an invite for The Commish to join us on the next Hang Time Road Trip)!

Check out Episode 189 of The Hang Time Podcast … Featuring NBA Commissioner Adam Silver …

WATCH HERE:


VIDEO: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver joins the Hang Time Podcast crew live from New York and NBA All-Star Weekend

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best sound designer/engineer in the business,  Andrew Merriam.

 

Morning shootaround — Feb. 9


VIDEO: Highlights of the games played Feb. 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron calls out Love … and it works | Clippers in a tail-spin | Karl and Kings close on a deal | Dwight Howard the big cheerleader?

No. 1: LeBron calls out Love … and it works — Even when he’s being a bit of a heel, LeBron James gets it right. He called out Kevin Love, who has admittedly struggled with his transition from focal point in Minnesota to third option in Cleveland behind James and All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving. That he took to Twitter to do it will bother some, okay plenty of folks, with old school sensibilities about how to lead. But it’s hard to argue with the results. Love had one of his best games of the season Sunday in a win over the Los Angeles Lakers. Joe Vardon of the Northeast Ohio Media Group has more:

LeBron James has nearly 18.7 million followers on Twitter, but a tweet he sent at 11:37 Saturday night was likely, almost certainly, directed at a single person.

His teammate, Kevin Love.

James posted to his Twitter account: “Stop trying to find a way to FIT-OUT and just FIT-IN. Be apart of something special! Just my thoughts.”

Those words — “fit out” and “fit in” — were the same Love used to reporters in October when discussing his adjustment to playing for the Cavaliers.

“it’s not a coincidence, man,” James told a few reporters, following the Cavaliers’ 120-105 win over the Lakers Sunday. Love scored a season-high 32 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.

“I lost the Finals in 2007, 2011 and 2014 and that was the same day I came back to Cleveland. Put it together, seven, 11, 14. Coincidence” James said, proving his point.

For reference, it is indeed true that James announced his decision to return to Cleveland via free agency on July 11, 2014.

James was asked about his tweet following Sunday’s game and Love’s big night. James nearly recorded a triple-double with 22 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists — three of those assists went to Love on three-pointers.

“It wasn’t even about this team, it was more about people in general,” James said initially, to a larger group of reporters. “It was just a general thought that I had, and obviously whatever thought I had people try to encrypt it and Da Vinci Code it and all that stuff. It’s just a general thought, that’s all that is.

“And people are always trying to fit out instead of fitting in, instead of being a part of something special. And that’s all that was about.”

In October, Love told reporters that “I’m just trying not to fit in so much” and that nameless Cavs teammates had told him to “fit out and just be myself.”

“Fit in” and “fit out” of course, were written in all caps in James’ tweet.


VIDEO: Kevin Love talks after the Cavs’ win over the Lakers

(more…)

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 7



VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Davis delivers | Hawks are No. 1 | LeBron hurt in loss | Spurs beat Heat again | CP3 moving on
No. 1: Davis’ brow beater saves the day — We’ve all seen Anthony Davis do plenty of amazing things this season, but on Friday night he topped himself with another first. He capped off an incredible 41-point night with a stunning, 28-foot, double-clutching 3-point, buzzer-beater that delivered a win at Oklahoma City and allowed the Pelicans to gain a critical split of their back-to-back set of games against the Thunder. It was next step up in carving the growing reputation of the 21-year-old star and Davis’ first 3-pointer of the season. Maybe best of all, it wasn’t the play that coach Monty Williams drew up. John Reid of the New Orleans Times-Picayune has the details:

”The play was supposed to be a lob just throw it at the rim and try to go get it,” Davis said.”’But they went under and I kind popped and I saw KD (Kevin Durant) and I think that was West (Russell Westbrook) on the other side flying in to me, so I double pumped and just threw it up there.

”I double pumped, but I tried to look to see if it came off the right finger. I was falling so I couldn’t really see the shot. But I could see that it was on line and I knew the ball was in the air before the red light came on.”

Appearing to be on a mission in his third season to get the Pelicans in playoff contention in the tough Western Conference, the ninth-seeded Pelicans (27-23) moved a game behind the eighth-seeded Phoenix Suns and they have a two-game lead over Oklahoma City.  The Pelicans, who play host to the Chicago Bulls on Saturday night at the Smoothie King Center ( 7 p.m. ET on NBA TV), won three of the four games against the Thunder. In December, Davis scored 38 points to lead the Pelicans to a 101-99 victory at Oklahoma City.

Davis said never made a 3-point under such conditions before. From his ability to take over games with his shot-blocking, mid-range shooting, inside play, there is little question about Davis’ emergence as a rising elite player.

”That’s just a superstar shot,”Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson said.”You rarely see a shot like that go in and leave it to Anthony to make it. It’s just crazy, but he has the ability to make shots like that. Beyond his game-clinching 3-pointer, Davis helped carry the Pelicans beyond their own miscues late in the game.

***

No. 2: Hawks take over top spot in NBA — It’s not often that the game lives up to all of the hype and those rare occasions are usually memorable. Take the Super Bowl for instance. Take Friday night’s showdown between the top two teams in the NBA. With the Warriors in the house and Atlanta in a frenzy, the Hawks delivered in a big way with a victory that elevated them to the best record in the league. Our man Sekou Smith tells the tale of a wonderful tale that’s been a decade in the making:

Ten years ago today the Hawks were in the midst of what would be a 13-69 season, a low point for a franchise that had seen plenty of dark days, far too many to regurgitate for long-suffering Hawks fans who lived through every painful misstep.

Friday night, they delivered in ways that not only stirred the emotions of a fan base and city, they  also checked every basketball box on the way to an unbelievable sense of what might be this morning. At 42-9 and the clear class of the Eastern Conference, the Hawks have become the model for downtrodden teams around the league. They are 14-3 against the mighty Western Conference, have won 35 of their last 38 games, own a 25-3 on their home floor, and remain on pace for a 68-win season. They are also making a mockery of any doubts about their ability to sustain this beautiful, pace and space game being cultivated under the meticulous and watchful eye of Mike Budenholzer.

It’s hoops karma that took years of hits and misses to get right, a gestation period not everyone could stomach, that has birthed a full-blow movement in a city where this wasn’t supposed to be possible.

Make no mistake, from the heart of the city to the suburbs that sprawl in every direction, it’s real.

I’ve been here for every step, sometimes closer to it than in recent years but always watching, and it is as real as the traffic congestion and late arriving crowds and finicky fans everything else that comes along with professional sports in this complicated and diverse metropolitan area of 6 million people.

Through the haze of a yet another pair of say-it-ain’t-so moments, courtesy of owner Bruce Levenson and exiled general manager Danny Ferry, these Hawks have provided a storyline that overshadows all of the foolishness.

From their All-Stars, the deserving trio Jeff Teague, Al Horford and Paul Millsap, to their equally deserving other stars, Kyle Korver and DeMarre Carroll, to super subs like Dennis Schroder and Mike Scott (all brilliant in their own right at times in the win over the Warriors) the Hawks have stumbled upon the winning formula for capturing the imagination of basketball fans around the globe and most importantly here at home.

“It was amazing,” Teague said of the playoff-like atmosphere. “The crowd was into it. Everybody was into it. Kyle was yelling out. That was a first. It was a good game.”

***

No. 3: Cavs loss leaves LeBron in pain — It was one thing to see their 12-game winning streak come to an end Friday night at Indianapolis. But more painful for the Cavs were wrist and ankle injuries to LeBron James and an offensive foul call against The King that proved pivotal in enabling the Pacers to claim the win. Joe Vardon of the Cleveland Plain Dealer delivers the news:

James re-injured the sprained right wrist he originally hurt on Jan. 27 in Detroit that caused him to miss a game last week, when he was fouled on his way to the basket with 48.6 seconds left in the third quarter by Indiana’s Roy Hibbert.

He stayed in the game and scored nine of his 25 points after that, but asked out of the game with 12.4 seconds remaining and Cleveland trailing by five because of what he described later as a recurring ankle injury.

The loss snapped Cleveland’s 12-game winning streak and left the Cavs one game short of tying the franchise record for consecutive wins, set (and tied) the last time James played for Cleveland in 2009-10.

James has already missed a career-high 10 games due to injury this season, and the Cavs are 2-8 in those games. But the last one went well – a 99-94 win over Portland Jan. 28 when Kyrie Irving scored 55 points.

“It’s going to hurt a lot worse tomorrow,” James said, speaking primarily of the wrist. James had a chase-down block, a dunk, and scored six consecutive points early in the fourth quarter.

“It’s the same thing,” James continued. “I already know and I’m not looking forward to it. I’m going to start my treatment tonight and just try to stay on it so hopefully I can go on Sunday.”

James fell hard to the floor and stayed down for several seconds when he was fouled by Hibbert, reminiscent of the original injury suffered against the Pistons.

That night in Detroit, James was trying to block a shot when he fell hard on both hands. It wasn’t immediately clear which wrist he’d hurt, and he scored 10 points against the Pistons after the injury.

This time, James switched between clutching the right wrist and showing signs of frustration. Hibbert was called for a flagrant foul on the play.

“It’s been better,” James said. “It’s scary for me sometimes, you know, I’ve broke my wrist before on those type of plays. I’m thankful that I could just get up, again, and hopefully I’ll continue to do that.”

James told Cavaliers coach David Blatt to remove him from the game late in the fourth, then was seen grabbing his lower legs while the team huddled for last-ditch comeback. James later told the Northeast Ohio Media Group he’s been hobbled a bit by a sore right ankle since Jan. 21, when he tweaked the ankle against Utah.

***

No. 4:  Spurs on the rise — It didn’t have nearly the same atmosphere as the previous time the Spurs and Heat met in San Antonio last June. But with their win over Miami and the upcoming Rodeo Trip looming, it looks like the defending champs are finally healthy and ready to stake their claim as a force to be reckoned with in the Western Conference. Our own Fran Blinebury was on hand for the Spurs’ latest step forward:

However, the Spurs still can think ahead because of all that they’ve endured and still managed to keep themselves afloat.
“Baby steps,” said Parker.

But the challenge is all in the deep, choppy waters of the Western Conference. For while the Spurs closed out a 10-4 month in January — second-best in the West behind Golden State — have won nine of their last 11 games and just wrapped up a 5-1 homestand, they remain stuck at the No. 7 spot in the playoff race, though tied in the loss column with the Mavericks and Clippers, the two teams just ahead.

Now they head out on their annual Rodeo Road Trip. The Spurs will play nine straight — broken up by All-Star Weekend — away from home that will cover 8,084 miles and won’t play their next home game until March 4. But the yearly forced evacuation by the San Antonio Livestock Show & Rodeo has been both therapeutic and a proving ground since it began in 2003 with the move to the AT&T Center. The Spurs have never had a sub-.500 record on the rodeo trip.

This time it’s coming just as all of the sore hamstrings, wrists, shoulders and assorted achy parts are on the mend and could give the defending champions an opportunity to get back in touch with who they are and forge an identity for the stretch run and looming postseason.

“We definitely want to find a rotation where everybody knows their role and get ready for the playoffs, because it’s going to come fast after the All-Star break,” Tony Parker said. “Everybody knows, with nine games, it’s gonna go super fast. So hopefully everybody can stay healthy and Pop can make his decisions and get a rotation and we can start playing good basketball.”

***

No. 5: Paul says ref criticism not about gender — If there’s one thing Chris Paul would like to put in the past as much as the Clippers’ current three-game losing streak, it’s the self-created furor over his criticism of referee Lauren Holtkamp on Thursday night in Cleveland. Speaking prior to Friday, Paul said his blast had nothing to do with Holtkamp’s gender, according to Melissa Rohlin and Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times:

“You know, last night was about a bad call,” he said, “that’s all.”

Paul is under heat for his comments about Holtkamp following a technical he received during Thursday’s 105-94 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. He was given the technical in the third quarter after the Clippers tried to quickly inbound the ball after a Cavaliers free throw.

“We’re trying to get the ball out fast every time down the court and when we did that she said, ‘Uh-uh,’ and I said, ‘Why uh-uh?’ and she gave me a tech and that’s ridiculous,” the Clippers point guard said. “If that’s the case, then this might not be for her.”

Holtkamp, 34, is in her first full season as an NBA referee and is one of two active female officials. Some questioned whether Paul’s comments were sexist.

“Like I said, last night was about a bad call, that’s it,” Paul reiterated.

Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said he didn’t approve of Paul’s remarks, but he said there were no sexist undertones behind them.

“I just think he was upset at the technical,” Rivers said. “I don’t think the technical was warranted either, to be honest, but that’s not a gender issue. That’s an issue that you disagree with the tech.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Mavericks might be first in line if Amar’e Stoudemire is cut free by the Knicks… The Players Association is firmly in Chris Paul’s corner in Ref-Gate….Anthony Davis shows up in the Horry Scale…The Hawks have had talks with Ray Allen…Long time veteran referee Norm Drucker, the only man to toss Wilt Chamberlain out of a game, dies at 94.

ICYMI(s) of The Night: A sequence like this illustrates why Paul George is among the best two-way players in the game today …:

VIDEO: Paul George gets the steal and then caps the break with a fancy jam

Lillard calls All-Star snub ‘disrespect’


VIDEO: Lillard feels disrespected

HANG TIME BIG CITY — Last season, Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard made his first All-Star Game. He followed that up by leading the Blazers into the postseason and showing just how clutch he could be even on the biggest stages.

This season, Lillard continued his growth, averaging 21.8 points, 6.2 assists, and 4.6 rebounds for the 32-14 Blazers. But it apparently wasn’t good enough to earn an All-Star selection from the Western Conference coaches, who voted in Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul ahead of Lillard. This caused some outrage in Portland, to the point where the Portland Police Department tweeted that they may have to look into the perceived robbery …

Earlier today, NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced that to replace the injured Kobe Bryant he was appointing Sacramento center DeMarcus Cousins. (According to ESPN’s Marc Stein, Cousins was ahead of Lillard in the voting of the coaches.)

With the Blazers in Atlanta to take on the red-hot Hawks tonight, Lillard spoke to the media about his All-Star non-selection, and promised to use it as fuel to continue his season.

“I’m definitely going to take it personal,” Lillard said. “I said I’d be pissed off about it. And I am. I just felt disrespected. Because I play the game the right way, I play unselfishly, I play for my team to win games and I produce at a high level. I think what I bring to the game as a person, my makeup mentally, how I am toward my teammates, how I am toward the media, how I am toward fans; I think what an All-Star represents in this league, and what you would want people to look at as an All-Star, I think I make up all those things. For me to be having the type of season that I’m having, which is better than any one that I’ve had before, and my team to be third in the Western Conference, I just see it as disrespect. I’m not one of those guys that’s going to say, ‘Oh, I should be in over this guy or that guy.’ I’m not a hater. I’ve got respect for each guy that made the roster. And I think they deserve to (make the team). But at the same time, I feel really disrespected, and that’s just honestly how I feel.”

Harden, trio of Hawks and first-timer Thompson highlight All-Star reserves


VIDEO: Trio of Hawks headline All-Star reserves for East

HANG TIME BIG CITY — The 2015 All-Star Game will definitely have star power.

Boldfaced names like Chris Bosh, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and Russell Westbrook headline the list of players selected by coaches to be reserves for the 64th All-Star Game, which will take place Sunday, February 15, and televised exclusively on TNT.

NBA All-Star 2015The list of players chosen for the game seems to suggest that the coaches voting for the reserves valued familiarity — 11 of the 14 have previous All-Star experience. Meanwhile, a team that prides itself on succeeding without stars also made a mark. The Atlanta Hawks ended up having a trio of players — Al Horford, Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague — named reserves for the Eastern Conference team, which will be helmed by Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer. But while the Hawks are 38-8 and hold a commanding seven-game lead over the rest of the conference, this apparently wasn’t enough to secure a spot for Atlanta’s fourth All-Star candidate, shooting guard Kyle Korver.

Still, the Hawks lead all teams with three players in the All-Star Game. Chicago, Cleveland, Golden State, the Clippers, Miami and Oklahoma City all had two players each. The last time the Hawks had three players in an All-Star Game was 35 years ago, when they sent John Drew, Eddie Johnson and Dan Roundfield.

While the willing can argue around most of the selections, it’s worth remembering that the All-Star reserves were selected by opposing coaches. So those who made the cut were probably chosen as some vague combination of mutual respect, lifetime achievement and time spent worrying about playing against them.

Perhaps the most surprising selection was in the Western Conference, where coaches chose Oklahoma City’s Durant. Although Durant was last season’s MVP and a “star” by any definition, he has played in less than half of Oklahoma City’s 46 games this season, while averaging 25.6 points in those games he has played.

The 64th NBA All-Star Game will be exclusively televised on TNT live from New York City’s iconic Madison Square Garden on Sunday, February 15, 2015.

Eastern Conference

Chris Bosh, Heat — With LeBron James gone, Bosh has assumed a larger role, averaging 21.3 points his highest total since the 2009-10 season, and posting a 28.7 usage rate, tying his career high. This is Bosh’s 10th consecutive All-Star Game.

Jimmy Butler, Bulls — Made himself into a genuine offensive threat for Chicago to go along with his already terrific defense. Averaging a career-high 20.1 points. This is his first All-Star Game.

Al Horford, Hawks — While Horford’s numbers are nothing spectacular — 15.3 points and 6.8 rebounds — his return from two pectoral injuries has anchored the Hawks’ interior and provided a paint presence. This will be Horford’s third All-Star Game, following selections in 2010 and ’11.

Kyrie Irving, Cavaliers — After being voted as a starter for last year’s All-Star Game, Irving messed around and won the game’s MVP award with 31 points and 14 assists. This season he’s struggled to be comfortable alongside LeBron James and Kevin Love, although last night’s 55-point explosion would seem to suggest he’s found his way.

Paul Millsap, Hawks — Maybe the best post player in the Eastern Conference. After making last year’s All-Star Game, his first, Millsap has added 3-point range this season and frequently bails out the Hawks at the end of shot clocks when Atlanta’s pace-and-space offense breaks down.

Jeff Teague, Hawks — The straw that stirs the drink for the Hawks. In his sixth season, has developed into an elite point guard with a complete game, and has managed to find the consistency he lacked earlier in his career. Averaging 17 points and 7.5 assists, both career highs.

Dwyane Wade, Heat — A 10-time All-Star, Wade has played in 35 of Miami’s 45 games, averaging 21.4 points and 5.4 assists, and has the highest PER (22.55) of any shooting guard in the Eastern Conference. Wade’s availability for the All-Star Game may be in question after injuring his right hamstring on Tuesday.

The Lowdown — Things are a bit more cut-and-dried in the Eastern Conference than the West. Korver stands out by his absence, apparently a victim of his teammates’ success. It’s hard to justify omitting a player with the highest 3-point shooting percentage in the history of the NBA, but it’s equally difficult to defend giving four of the Eastern Conference’s roster slots to players from one team. Milwaukee’s Brandon Knight has also drawn acclaim as the Bucks have bounced back from last year’s disastrous season and are in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Orlando center Nikola Vucevic is averaging a double-double, 19.5 points and 11.2 rebounds, and despite his team’s 15-33 record, an argument can be made for his inclusion.


VIDEO: First-timer Thompson headlines All-Star reserves for West

Western Conference

LaMarcus Aldridge, Trail Blazers — Portland’s big man is averaging a career-high 23.6 points as he attempts to play through a torn thumb ligament. This will be his fourth consecutive All-Star Game.

Tim Duncan, Spurs — The Big Fundamental’s numbers aren’t eye-popping, at least not for him — 14.7 points, 10.1 rebounds. But Duncan is a 14-time All-Star and has been the most consistent player during the first half of the season for the reigning NBA champions. Hard to leave the 38-year-old home in what may be one of his final campaigns.

Kevin Durant, Thunder — A five-time All-Star, when healthy Durant is arguably the best player in the NBA. The issue this season has been health, as Durant has nursed a broken foot and a sprained toe, missing 25 of Oklahoma City’s 46 games this season.

James Harden, Rockets — A no-brainer for the coaches, and the player most likely to get the injured Kobe Bryant‘s starting spot, although that choice ultimately belongs to Western Conference coach Steve Kerr. Harden is currently leading the NBA in scoring at 27.3 points and, with the Rockets rolling at 32-14, a legitimate MVP candidate.

Chris Paul, Clippers — CP3 has long been one of the best all-around point guards in the NBA, as evidenced by seven All-Star appearances in nine seasons. Paul leads the league in assist-to-turnover ratio and has the Clippers firmly in the Western Conference playoff race.

Klay Thompson, Warriors — Thompson is perhaps the best two-way guard in the league, and has teamed with Curry to make the Warriors the best team in the NBA this season. Thompson is averaging a career-high 23 points, and his 52-point game last week probably didn’t hurt his case. This will be his All-Star debut.

Russell Westbrook, Thunder — Westbrook is one of the most dynamic players in the NBA, and after a few injury-plagued seasons (and a broken hand earlier this year) has bounced back to lead the Thunder while Durant has been out. Westbrook is averaging a career-high 25.2 points this season for the 23-23 Thunder.

The Lowdown — Unlike in the East, the competitive Western Conference provides more opportunities for debate. (Also, it’s worth noting that with Kobe Bryant out, NBA commissioner Adam Silver will be adding at least one player to the roster.) With Paul and Westbrook on the team, a few deserving point guards find themselves looking in from the outside. Last year, Portland’s Damian Lillard made his first All-Star Game, but despite averaging a career-high 21.8 points, didn’t make the cut this season. Memphis point guard Mike Conley has directed the Grizzlies to a 33-12 record, behind only Golden State in the West. And in Phoenix, Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe could each make a case for a New York visit. Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki has made a dozen All-Star Games, but will be staying home this year, along with his teammate Monta Ellis. And Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins has had a big season, averaging 23.8 points and 12.3 rebounds, both career highs. Great numbers, but apparently not good enough in the Western Conference.

All-Star reserves to be announced tonight on TNT


VIDEO: The Inside the NBA crew picks their East All-Star reserves

HANG TIME BIG CITY — For the Atlanta Hawks and the 2015 NBA All-Star Game, it’s not a question of if a Hawk will make it, but rather, how many of them will be there?

TNT will exclusively televise the announcement of the 2015 NBA All-Star reserves tonight during a special one-hour edition of “TNT NBA Tip-Off presented by AutoTrader.com” at 7 p.m. ET.

The Hawks lead the Eastern Conference by 7 games with a 38-8 record, but had no players finish among the Eastern Conference leaders in fan voting. Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer has already been tapped to coach the East, and with the League’s coaches choosing his reserves, the New York-hosted All-Star Game could have a distinctly Southern flavor. A couple of Hawks are in contention for roster room, like former All-Stars Paul Millsap and Al Horford, as well as guards Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver. The last time the Hawks had more than two All-Stars was in 1980, when they sent John Drew, Eddie Johnson and Dan Roundfield.

If four Hawks make the roster, which Eastern Conference players will be squeezed out? Chicago’s Jimmy Butler is probably as close to a lock as there is in the East. The Bulls shooting guard, who was named Eastern Conference player of the month for November, is averaging a career-high 20.1 points per game while leading the NBA in minutes per game, at 39.5 a night.

Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving finished fourth among Eastern guards in fan voting, after winning the All-Star Game MVP last season, but with his 55-point effort last night against Portland, Irving seemed to send a message that he belongs in this season’s game. Miami’s Dwyane Wade was among voting leaders in early returns before being passed late for a starting spot by Toronto’s Kyle Lowry. Wade, who is averaging 21.4 ppg this season, has made 10 consecutive All-Star Games. Wade has missed 10 of Miami’s games this season, and a hamstring injury may affect his availability for the All-Star Game.

In the frontcourt for the East, the coaches have some tough choices to make. Kevin Love was a starter last season in the Western Conference, but the move to Cleveland to take a supporting role has dropped his ppg from 26.1 a season ago to 17.1 as a Cavalier. Miami’s Chris Bosh has made nine consecutive All-Star appearances, and his chances this season should be bolstered by his 21.3 ppg average, his highest rate since 2009-10 when he was a member of the Toronto Raptors.

Orlando center Nikola Vucevic has put up terrific numbers — 19.5 ppg and 11.2 rpg — but for a team that is 15-33 and near the bottom of the conference. Detroit’s Greg Monroe is averaging a double-double — 15.2 ppg and 10.3 rpg — for the first time in his career and has been an integral part of the Pistons turning things around midway through the season.

Houston’s James Harden merits serious MVP consideration, and should headline the Western Conference reserves. The only question involving Harden, who leads the NBA at 27.3 ppg, is if he will be selected by Western Conference coach Steve Kerr to replace the injured Kobe Bryant in the starting lineup. Kerr’s choice is complicated by the stellar first half of Golden State shooting guard Klay Thompson, who staked his claim to an All-Star (and possible starting) spot last week with a 52-point night against Sacramento.

Also out West, will the coaches select Oklahoma City star (and reigning NBA MVP) Kevin Durant? He has battled injuries and played in just 21 of Oklahoma City’s 46 games this season, but he’s been terrific (25.6 ppg) when he has played. Likewise, teammate Russell Westbrook, a three-time former All-Star, is among the league leaders in points (25.2 ppg) and steals (2.3 spg), but has missed 14 games.

Besides Westbrook, there are several point guards who have built strong cases for their inclusion. Memphis’ Mike Conley has never been an All-Star, but his Grizzlies have had a sparkling first half of the season and, at 33-12, are No. 2 in the Western Conference. Portland’s Damian Lillard made his first All-Star Game a year ago, and this year has improved his numbers across the board, averaging 21.8 ppg and 6.2 apg. And don’t forget about Clippers guard Chris Paul. The sheen may have worn off Lob City, but the seven-time All-Star is still averaging 17.5 ppg and 9.7 apg for a 32-14 Los Angeles squad.

In the frontcourt, Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins is averaging 23.8 ppg and 12.3 rpg, both career highs. He’s also shown emotional growth, collecting just four technical fouls this season after totaling 16 last season.He also played a key role in Team USA’s gold-winning performance at the FIBA Basketball World Cup. Despite a torn ligament in his thumb, Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge has postponed surgery and is averaging a double-double for the Blazers. Or, could coaches reward Golden State forward Draymond Green, perhaps their most versatile player and a key cog in the Warriors’ early run?

Finally, might 38-year-old San Antonio Spurs big man Tim Duncan make his 15th All-Star appearance? Duncan, who last played in the 2013 All-Star Game, is currently averaging 14.7 ppg and 10.1 rpg for the defending-champion Spurs, who are in sixth place in the West.

The 64th NBA All-Star Game will be exclusively televised on TNT live from New York City’s iconic Madison Square Garden on Sunday, February 15, 2015.


VIDEO: The Inside the NBA crew picks their West All-Star reserves

Blogtable: Your All-Star reserves are …

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: Your All-Star reserves | Reflecting on Klay | Bold second-half prediction



VIDEOInside the NBA’s crew picks their Western Conference All-Star reserves

> All-Star 2015 reserves will be announced tomorrow on TNT. But you get to go first: Select seven reserves for the East, and seven for the West (and remember it’s two guards, three frontcourt players and two others regardless of position).

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com:

East guards: Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague.
East frontcourt: Paul Millsap, Chris Bosh and Al Horford.
East wildcards: Kyle Korver and Kyrie Irving.

The biggest question for me in picking All-Star reserves is, how many Hawks? Would two Atlanta players be too few? Would four be too many? Nah, I don’t think so. That’s the beauty of an ensemble team, much like Detroit a decade ago, and I think there’s room without glaring omissions.

West guards: Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook.
West frontcourt: LaMarcus Aldridge, Tim Duncan and Kevin Durant.
West wildcards: Chris Paul and Klay Thompson. West injury replacement for Kobe Bryant: James Harden.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com:

East guards: Jeff Teague and Jimmy Butler.
East frontcourt: Chris Bosh, Al Horford and Paul Millsap.
East wildcards: Kyrie Irving and Dwyane Wade.

West guards: James Harden and Damian Lillard.
West frontcourt: LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMarcus Cousins and Tim Duncan.
West wildcards: Klay Thompson and Mike Conley.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com:

East guards: Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague.
East frontcourt: Paul Millsap, Chris Bosh and Nikola Vucevic.
East wildcards: Kyle Korver and Kyrie Irving.

Vucevic may not be a popular pick, but his numbers are undeniably good. He shouldn’t take a hit because Orlando has youth and injuries.

West guards: James Harden and Chris Paul.
West frontcourt: LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMarcus Cousins and Tim Duncan.
West wildcards: Damian Lillard and Klay Thompson.

Yeah, I know it’s Kevin Durant. But when the competition is this intense, missing about half the games is a difference maker for best play of the season. Besides, there will be at least one (Kobe Bryant) and maybe two (Aldridge) injury replacements coming. There’s still time for Durant and Westbrook.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com:

East guards: Jeff Teague and Jimmy Butler.
East frontcourt: Paul Millsap, Chris Bosh and Al Horford.
East wildcards: Kyrie Irving and Brandon Knight.

West guards: Klay Thompson and James Harden.
West frontcourt: LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Durant.
West wildcards: Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook.
West injury replacement for Kobe Bryant: James Harden.

Really didn’t sweat too much about these selections. Even though he’s missed a chunk of games, I’m sorry, KD is an All-Star. I’m not going to punish him. Didn’t Magic Johnson make the team when he missed the entire season? OK, then. It’s an All-Star Game and people want to see KD.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com:

East guards: Kyle Korver and Dwyane Wade.
East frontcourt: Chris Bosh, Al Horford and Paul Millsap.
East wildcards: Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague.

West guards: James Harden and Chris Paul.
West frontcourt: LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMarcus Cousins and Tim Duncan.
West wildcards: Damian Lillard and Klay Thompson.
West injury replacement for Kobe Bryant: Russell Westbrook.

The East is pretty cut and dry and I’m keeping Kyrie Irving off the list, because he still doesn’t play both ends of the floor and the Cavs would be terrible without LeBron James. The West is much deeper, but the picks were still fairly simple. My toughest omission was actually Zach Randolph, because 21 games from Kevin Durant isn’t enough for me.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com:

East guards: Kyrie Irving and Jeff Teague.
East frontcourt: Chris Bosh, Al Horford and Paul Millsap.
East wildcards: Jimmy Butler and Marcin Gortat.

West guards: Klay Thompson and James Harden.
West frontcourt: LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMarcus Cousins and Tim Duncan.
West wildcards: Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook.
West injury replacement for Kobe Bryant: Monta Ellis.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com:

East guards: Jeff Teague, Dwyane Wade, Jimmy Butler and Kyle Korver.
East frontcourt: Chris Bosh, Al Horford and Nikola Vucevic.

West guards: James Harden, Chris Paul, Klay Thompson and Mike Conley.
West frontcourt: LaMarcus Aldridge, Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I know some guys have missed chunks of time due to injury, but I want some stars in my All-Star Game, which affects my selections.

East guards: Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague.
East frontcourt: Nikola Vucevic, Al Horford and Paul Millsap.
East wildcards: Dwyane Wade and Kyrie Irving.

West guards: James Harden and Klay Thompson.
West frontcourt: LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Durant and Tim Duncan.
West wildcards: Russell Westbrook and DeMarcus Cousins.

All-Star reserves picksFor more debates, go to #AmexNBA or www.nba.com/homecourtadvantage.

Blogtable: Bold second-half predictions

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: Your All-Star reserves | Reflecting on Klay | Bold second-half prediction



VIDEOThe Beat’s crew takes stock of the season so far

> We’re about one week past the halfway point of the season. Still plenty of ball to be played, so give me one bold prediction for the second half (the key word being “bold”).

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: The Clippers will make it out of the West to reach The Finals. And here’s a second bold prediction to bolster the first: They’ll acquire Kevin Garnett from Brooklyn one way or another (buyout by Nets?) to heighten their intensity and tighten their defense. Point guard Chris Paul is acutely aware of his window and his horizon, and he’ll draw out some of the Clippers’ untapped potential. This team will remember, too, how unfairly it got derailed last postseason.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The Thunder do not make the playoffs. Since a seven-game win streak immediately upon Kevin Durant’s return to the lineup, OKC has struggled to find consistency and rhythm in its game. That’s a fatal flaw with little margin for error in a brutal Western Conference race.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Clippers lose in the first round of the playoffs. This is the ultimate in flawed crystal ball-ness because a lot will depend on the matchup, not just L.A. itself. But this is a hurting team, and that comes from someone who picked the Clips to win the West a season ago. They have so many ingredients to be good, even championship good, but the defense has taken a giant step backward and the bench is weak. There is still time to recover — and for me to change the pick once the opening series is set. But there is reason to be concerned.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Bold: OKC won’t make the playoffs. Everyone keeps waiting for the Suns to falter, and yes they’re young and vulnerable to a degree. But even if the Suns do collapse, New Orleans will make it ahead of OKC. And of course, coach Scott Brooks will suffer as a result.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Come April 1, the Boston Celtics will be in the mix for a playoff spot. That might not be very bold considering the state of the bottom half of the Eastern Conference, but it’s bold considering the state of the Celtics (still in tear-down mode). They have the seventh best NetRtg (point differential per 100 possessions) in the East, having played the fourth toughest schedule. But they have a deflated record because they’re 8-16 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes. Still, having gone 3-2 on their trip West (with only Wednesday’s game in Minnesota remaining), they’re just a game in the loss column behind the eighth-place Hornets. They have an easier remaining schedule than Brooklyn, Charlotte or Detroit. And they have a positive point differential (plus-24) in almost 900 minutes with neither Jeff Green nor Rajon Rondo on the floor.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The key word is “bold” which usually translates to “crazy” or at least “preposterous.” I can live with that. So here goes “bold;” Kevin Durant shakes off these toe, foot and ankle injuries and takes his All-Star snub personally and goes on a tear for the ages to claim his second straight MVP trophy, leads the Thunder to a playoff spot and then guides them through the Western Conference playoff chase all the way to The Finals. You said “bold,” right?

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Pacers will make the playoffs — which will be a big surprise, even in the horrid East, considering the injuries and hard times they have endured since last summer.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: The Cleveland Cavaliers will win the Eastern Conference. Right now the Cavs are a dozen losses behind the Hawks for the No. 1 spot in the East, but the bulk of Cleveland’s record belongs to the Cavs of LeBron James before he took that eight-game break. The Cavs are currently riding a seven-game win streak, all of which have been decisive wins. They’ve embraced an uptempo offense, James is playing like the MVP, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving seem more comfortable and new guys like J.R. Smith and Timofey Mozgov clearly fit in well. My bold prediction may fall flat and Cleveland may not be able to catch the one spot in the conference, but it’s clear the Cavs are back.