Posts Tagged ‘John Schuhmann’

Blogtable: On LeBron’s Hot Streak …

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


Week 16: All-time favorite Dunk Contest dunk? | On LeBron’s hot streak … | Winning it all without a star


What can LeBron possibly do better than what’s he doing right now? And this hot streak he’s on: Remember one as hot?

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Steve Aschburner: I suppose James could regularly guard five positions rather than just four; we’ve seen scant minutes logged against centers, after all. I guess he could dazzle us with more stylish, less brawny off-the-dribble moves. But c’mon, this truly is nitpicking. He’s the best player in the league by a wide margin, as good as Kevin Durant is. As for the second part, please child! We live in an insta-age, where everything important presumably either happened three hours ago or won’t happen until tomorrow. I’ll just offer up this: Wilt Chamberlain averaged more than 50 points a game in 1961-62. From Dec. 8-13, 1961, he strung together five consecutive games of 50 or more. On Dec. 16, he started a new streak of seven games over 50. Two weeks after that, Chamberlain stacked up six more scoring at least 50, from Jan. 11-19. Then he put together another five-gamer from Feb. 25-March 4 of at least 58, including his 100-point classic. My work here is done.

Fran Blinebury: Come on, LeBron. I want the hot dogs plumper, the popcorn butterier, the beer colder and somebody to pat my back and burp me between quarters. See what you can do. My first season in Houston (1982), Moses Malone went on a similar tear where he was virtually unstoppable, making 30 points and shooting 60 percent seem routine. It produced the second of Moses’ 3 MVP awards.

Jeff Caplan: First, let me say, no, I can’t recall any streak by any player quite like this. It’s elevated LeBron’s field-goal percentage to a ridiculous 56.2, the kind of number that centers who mostly only dunk rarely even put up. But, let’s tackle the more pressing issue: Hey LeBron, how about learning how to shoot free throws, will ya? I mean 73.8 percent? You wouldn’t be shooting technicals on my squad, no sir. Not that you’ve ever been a great free throw shooter like, um, Kevin Durant, but you haven’t shot them this poorly since 2007-08 when you couldn’t ride your bicycle to home games because it’s too freaking cold in Cleveland. And let’s not stop at your free throw percentage, how about just getting to the line? What’s up with 6.9 attempts a game? Seriously? What happened to 10.1 like in 2009-10 or 9.4 the year before or, heck, 8.1 last season? And you call yourself an all-around talent. Hmph.

Scott Howard-CooperHe is blowing it by not playing the lottery. Anyone in this kind of hot streak has to play the lottery, unless maybe he just does not aspire to be wealthy. The other thing he can do better is make free throws. He is a good shooter, except from the line. (You said to nitpick.) And while I join the rest of the world in being impressed with the streak, there have been no shortage of magical playoff runs through the years. I’ll take Michael Jordan in a couple of the early Bulls title runs or Magic Johnson in the mid-80s. An extended hot streak in the postseason is on a different plateau than a hot streak in the regular season.

John Schuhmann: I guess, as a team leader, he could do a better job of keeping the Heat focused on defense. They’re still not very consistent on that end of the floor. But yeah, that’s nitpicking. And no, I can’t remember anything like this. That time (in the middle of the 2005-06 season) when Kobe Bryant scored 40-plus in five straight games was somewhat comparable. He only shot 45 percent in that stretch, but he was shooting more from the perimeter.

Sekou Smith: Really? We’re going here in the midst of one of LeBron’s all-time great stretches? I guess he could shoot 90 percent from the floor every night for a week or two, average a quadruple double and drive the Heat’s first bus to the airport after road games. Seriously, LeBron is playing on another level right now, even by his own ridiculous standards. But this has been done before, at least in some form or fashion. Wilt Chamberlain played in this realm on a daily basis. And Oscar Robertson did average a triple double for about five straight seasons. And Michael Jordan had stretches throughout his career where he reached this sort of statistical craziness. I go back to Jordan’s 1988-89 season (I know I’m dating myself here) from March 25 to April 14 and he had a 10-game stretch where he was playing like he was in “Space Jam”; triple-doubles in 10 of 11 games. Preposterous!

What Happened To The Warriors’ D?

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Golden State Warriors were the feel-good story of the first half of the season. Mark Jackson was a Coach of the Year candidate, David Lee and Stephen Curry looked like All-Stars, and the Dubs had a top-10 defense … without Andrew Bogut.

On Jan. 2, the Warriors beat the Clippers for the second time this season and stood at 22-10. They were just percentage points behind the 20-9 Grizzlies for fourth place in the West and a full four games ahead of the Houston Rockets, who stood in fifth.

As the Warriors prep to host the Rockets tonight (10:30 ET, NBA TV), they still have a four-game lead over Houston in the loss column. But they’ve been passed by the Denver Nuggets for fifth place and they’ve lost sight of the Grizzlies, who haven’t exactly been tearing it up of late.

So what happened? Well, that top-10 defense turned into a bottom-five defense.

Warriors efficiency

Timeframe W L OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
Through Jan. 2 22 10 104.8 9 100.2 9 +4.6 6
Since Jan. 2 8 11 102.8 17 108.4 26 -5.5 25

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

For the season, the Warriors now rank 16th defensively, allowing 103.2 points per 100 possessions. And a deeper look at the defensive numbers shows that they’ve basically regressed across the board …

Warriors defense

Timeframe Opp2P% Rk Opp3P% Rk DREB% Rk OppTOV% Rk OppFTA Rate Rk
Through Jan. 2 46.3% 7 33.1% 3 75.5% 3 14.0% 26 .300 26
Since Jan. 2 49.7% 21 36.3% 17 72.9% 19 12.9% 29 .267 16

DREB% = Percentage of available defensive rebounds obtained
OppTOV% = Opponent turnovers per 100 possessions
OppFTA Rate = Opponent FTA/FGA

Curry (five games) and Jarrett Jack (three games) have each missed some time in the last month, but not enough to really affect things too much. Bogut has returned, but hasn’t yet played many more minutes than he played at the start of the season.

The regression does seem to be somewhat schedule-related. Just nine of the Warriors’ first 32 games were against top-10 offensive teams. Of the last 19, another nine have been against those same top-10 offensive teams, with six of those coming on the road.

And on the road is really where the issues have been. In fact, the Warriors have allowed less than a point per possession in home games since Jan. 2. They’ve just turned into an absolutely atrocious defensive team away from Oracle Arena.

Warriors efficiency

Timeframe W L OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg
Home through Jan. 2 11 4 105.4 98.6 +6.8
Road through Jan. 2 11 6 104.2 101.6 +2.6
Home since Jan. 2 5 2 102.6 99.9 +2.8
Road since Jan. 2 3 9 102.9 113.3 -10.3

Those 12 road games in January and February have included visits to the Clippers, Nuggets, Spurs and Thunder. And another four have been the second night of a road-road back-to-back. But the Warriors have been blown out in a handful of games (they’ve actually been outscored by three points for the season) and the contrast between their 2012 road defense and their 2013 road defense is too stark to dismiss as just a schedule thing.

The good news is that the Warriors are home for 19 of their final 31 games, and that they’ve got Bogut back to help stabilize the D. The bad news is that they’re probably going to start the playoffs on the road, and will have to figure some things out in the next two months.

Blogtable: Draft The Rising Stars




Tonight, on TNT (7 ET), the participants for the All-Star Saturday Night events will be revealed: the Sears Shooting Stars, the Taco Bills Skills Challenge, the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest and the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest.

Also on TNT tonight — before the big Los Angeles Lakers-Boston Celtics game — Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal will draft the teams for the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, a game between some of the NBA’s best rookies and sophomores that will be held on Friday night of All-Star weekend (Feb. 15 on TNT, at 9 ET).

Each week in the NBA.com blogtable, we ask our stable of scribes 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. In this special edition, we’ve asked our guys to look at the pool of players for the Rising Stars game and give us their top three choices. Here they are:

Steve Aschburner: This is easy. I take Kyrie Irving with my No. 1 pick because he’s the best player on the board. I take Kenneth Faried No. 2 because he has only one gear — he can only play with a high-revving motor, which puts him way ahead of anyone else in an exhibition like this. Plus, I like “sophomores,” who don’t want to lose to the newbies. But that said, I take Damian Lillard with my No. 3 pick because this will be his chance to make a Rookie of the Year statement on a huge stage. Two point guards? Bah! I remember the havoc caused by Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury down the stretch in the 2001 All-Star Game.

Anthony Davis, by Noah Graham/NBAE/via Getty

Anthony Davis, by Noah Graham/NBAE/via Getty

Fran Blinebury1.) Kyrie Irving — All-Star games are all about scoring points and nobody here can do that better than Irving, who’s already good enough to also be playing in the main event on Sunday. 2.) Anthony Davis — The No. 1 pick in the Draft has trailed Damian Lillard from opening night in the Rookie of the Year race in an up-and-down season. But he’s got all the tools to the foundation player for the Hornicans/Pelinets and can use this chance to strut his stuff at both ends of the floor. 3.) Chandler Parsons — Never miss an opportunity to suck up to the hometown crowd in an All-Star Game. And he’s the kind of excitable guy who could rise to the occasion.

Jeff CaplanKyrie Irving: Look around, the NBA is the League of the Point Guard right now and this kid is phenomenal, already an All-Star in just his second season. I know I’m not alone with this pick (Damian Lillard is a solid choice, but I think a distant second right now) because Irving is so dynamic with the ball and is a scoring machine. Get him some offensive help and his assists will go up. I love that he’s deadly from 3-point range (41.2 percent) and is an excellent free-throw shooter (86.2 percent in first two seasons). Anthony Davis: To go with a top-notch PG, you need a big man that can get the job done on both ends of the floor. As the 6-foot-10, 220-pound Davis matures, he’ll be a double-double machine. He’s shooting 53 percent from the floor, 72 percent from the free-throw line and he’s averaging 1.8 blocks a game, a number that will surely rise as well. It’s been a relatively quiet season for Davis after a ton of hype as the No. 1 pick, but this kid is going to be really good for a really long time. Kawhi Leonard: Now you need a solid wing to go with the point guard and center and I can’t think of a more well-rounded player than Leonard. He plays the game the right way, which is why he’s fit like a glove in San Antonio. He’s going to give you excellent defense on every possession and his offensive game is really nice, too. His numbers (9.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg) would be more impressive on a team that wasn’t loaded with offensive weapons. Still, what’s tremendous about this kid is he can put it on the floor, shoot the mid-range jumper and, hugely important, he he can really pop the 3-pointer — he’s shooting it at a nearly 40 percent clip — while shooting 48.4 percent overall.

Scott Howard-Cooper1. Kyrie Irving. Because he’s not just one of the top young players in the league. Irving is on his way to being a star in any age group. 2. Anthony Davis. Interior defense, rebounding, the ability to handle pressure or accept a complementary role, plus an underrated offensive game. 3. Klay Thompson. If I have Irving and Davis, I next want someone who will make defenses pay from the perimeter. I thought hard about going with Bradley Beal off his breakthrough shooting in January, and because I was a Beal guy to begin with, but the injury and Thompson’s longer track record swayed me to Golden State.

John Schuhmann: My first pick is Kyrie Irving and I don’t have to give you a reason. My second pick is Andre Drummond for his size and athleticism. He can finish at the rim offensively, protect it defensively and run the floor with my franchise point guard. And my third pick is Kawhi Leonard for both perimeter defense and shooting. I think he’d be the best complement to the other two.

Sekou Smith: Kyrie Irving is an easy No. 1 pick in a game like this, given the nature of the game and the fact that he’s the best player available. But we’re trying to build a team here and that means I need balance, which makes Kenneth Faried my no-brainer choice for pick No. 2. There other guys who are true centers in this game, but none of them operate with a motor that can match what Faried brings to the party. If Kyrie needs someone to run the floor or fill the lane, Faried will be there. Rebounds, defense and pure energy in its rawest form is what you get from “The Manimal.” My third and final pick is Klay Thompson, the best pure shooter in the game. He can just line up and pick his spots and wait for the dish from Kyrie and see if he can’t break the 3-point shooting mark for this game.

More History Awaits As Lakers Visit Celts

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HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The craziest thing about the Los Angeles Lakers’ struggles this season is that the Boston Celtics have been dealing with very similar issues. The two franchises with the most NBA championships have been this season’s two most disappointing teams.

At this point in the season, both the Celtics and Lakers are going through what may be the most adversity they’ve faced yet. Boston has lost Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger for the season. L.A. has been without Dwight Howard for the last three games and just lost Pau Gasol for an extended period with a torn plantar fascia.

Yet, both teams are playing their best basketball of the season. The Celtics have gone 5-0 without their point guard, while the Lakers have won six of their last seven.

So it’s a great time for these two teams to meet tonight (8 ET, TNT) for the first time. The Lakers, still three games out of a playoff spot, have more on the line. But the Celtics can move up a spot to seventh (avoiding the Heat in the first round would probably be a good thing) in the Eastern Conference standings and surely would love to knock off their cross-country rivals.

When these two teams met in Boston two seasons ago on TNT, Ray Allen made history by passing Reggie Miller for the most 3-pointers in NBA history. And on Thursday, we’re going to see another milestone for a man in green.

Kevin Garnett is six points away from being the 16th player in league history to score 25,000 career points. Garnett’s scoring average has dipped quite a bit over the last five years, but he still ranks second on the all-time list among active players.

Most career points, active players

Rank Player G PTS PPG
5 Kobe Bryant 1,210 30,834 25.5
16 Kevin Garnett 1,303 24,994 19.2
18 Dirk Nowitzki 1,075 24,427 22.7
21 Paul Pierce 1,073 23,479 21.9
22 Ray Allen 1,193 23,424 19.6
24 Tim Duncan 1,154 23,300 20.2
30 Vince Carter 1,034 21,750 21.0
37 LeBron James 735 20,279 27.6
42 Antawn Jamison 1,028 19,590 19.1
71 Jason Kidd 1,357 17,385 12.8

The 10 guys listed above have all scored in different ways. Garnett has been Mr. Mid-range, attempting 52 percent of his shots from between the paint and the 3-point line, the highest rate of the group.

Garnett has never been a traditional big man and has always attempted about half of his shots from mid-range. But over the last two seasons (strangely coinciding with his move from power forward to center), that number has been at 58 percent.

Of the group above, only Antawn Jamison has had a higher percentage of his shots assisted. Since the 1996-97 season (his second year), Garnett has been assisted on more than 68 percent of his buckets, by 101 different teammates.

Most assists to Garnett since 1996-97

Player FGM
Rajon Rondo 878
Terrell Brandon 485
Paul Pierce 454
Sam Cassell 372
Wally Szczerbiak 370

Among the players with exactly one assist to Garnett are former Celtics Rasheed Wallace and Brian Scalabrine. TNT analyst Shaquille O’Neal had exactly four assists to KG.

Because he spent 12 seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Garnett has scored his most points against Western Conference opponents. The Lakers are currently fifth on the list, but could be third by the end of the night.

Kevin Garnett, most points by opponent

Opponent GP PTS PPG
Sacramento 57 1,184 20.8
Golden State 55 1,137 20.7
L.A. Clippers 55 1,088 19.8
Houston 54 1,073 19.9
L.A. Lakers 55 1,072 19.5

 

Lakers Get Gritty To Get Back On Track

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BROOKLYN – By any means necessary. That’s Los Angeles Lakers’ new mantra. Hollywood’s team of stars now has little choice but to get hardened and gritty if they’re going to get themselves back to the playoff stage.

On Tuesday, the Lakers gutted out a character-building, 92-83 victory in Brooklyn. Despite the absences of two starters — Metta World Peace and Dwight Howard — who have won a combined four Defensive Player of the Year awards, they held a top-10 offensive team to just 83 points on 92 possessions. It was L.A.’s sixth win in their last seven games, the best stretch of basketball they’ve played all season.

“It feels good to be able to pull out a win like this,” Kobe Bryant said afterward. “But now, reality kind of sets in.”

Reality is another injury. With less than five minutes to go in the fourth quarter, Pau Gasol injured his right foot. After the game, the Lakers called it a plantar fascia sprain, but Gasol said afterward that he “felt a pop” in the bottom of his foot. He’s set to have an MRI in Boston on Wednesday to determine the full extent of the damage.

For Bryant, despite the Lakers’ much-needed and much-deserved win, the night was an overall negative.

“It got worse,” Bryant said three times when asked about the situation his team is in. “We can’t afford to lose Pau for a long stretch. We need to get him back.”

It’s been noted that the Lakers are better with just one of the Gasol/Howard pairing on the floor than they are with both. But with neither? Yikes.

That’s the situation they may be facing for the remaining three games of their road trip. Howard is dealing with a partially torn labrum in his right shoulder and says he’s not in any rush to get back. And nobody sounded very optimistic about Gasol’s status.

“I’m very, very concerned, to say the least,” Bryant said.

Of course, no Gasol and no Howard was the situation the Lakers faced in the final 3:52 in Brooklyn on Tuesday. And they managed to survive. They also survived stretches at the start of both the second and fourth quarters with five guys not named Nash, Bryant or Gasol on the floor.

“We had to really scrap,” Steve Nash said. “Guys were guarding people bigger than them at every position. And we had to rotate and scramble and still get on the glass and try to get some boards. So that was what I was most proud of.

Earl Clark, who recorded his seventh double-double of the last 15 games on Tuesday, and was tasked with defending All-Star Brook Lopez down the stretch. Clark has played a critical role of late and Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni believes in him — as does the fifth leading scorer in NBA history.

“He’s just a really good player,” Bryant said, adding that the Lakers “would be in deep crap” if they didn’t have Clark, who was essentially a throw-in in the Howard trade.

The Lakers now believe that they can get through some adversity. Things changed a couple of weeks ago, and they’ve seemingly put their issues behind them, even if Gasol isn’t happy about his role (when Howard is healthy).

“We’re more of a team,” Nash said. “We’re sharing the ball. We’re playing better defensively. We have a sense of cohesion and camaraderie that’s improving. I think that brings empowerment, that brings belief, enthusiasm. Everyone’s contributing. In some ways, we’ve turned a little corner. But we’ve still got a long ways to go.”

We think of the Lakers as a team of stars that can get by on talent. They’re not exactly an underdog when they’ve still got Nash and Bryant in their backcourt, and they’ll get World Peace back from his one-game suspension on Thursday in Boston. But to get through this stretch and keep their playoff hopes alive, they’re going to need more toughness than talent.

“I think going through what we went through at the start of the season has kind of gave us a little more fortitude, a little more grit,” Bryant told NBA TV. “So when these things happen to us, we don’t get discouraged. We just keep on battling and continue to think strategically.”

Blogtable: What To Do With Bynum




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


Week 15: New York, Indiana or …? | The Bynum dilemma | Coach of the half-season


You’re Philly’s GM: What do you do with free-agent-to-be Andrew Bynum?

Steve Aschburner: Tough one. They made the trade and gave up a valuable asset in Andre Iguodala, so letting Bynum walk (limp?) away after one lost, partial season would be difficult. Then again, overpaying and putting your team on the hook for years to come for a player of dubious durability and questionable heart would be way worse. The Sixers need Bynum to get on the court and, at some point, go as hard as he can for as long as he can. Then they need to fix a price in their heads, well south of a max contract or at least with some non-guarantees, and stick to that. If the market for Bynum goes crazy, they should in good conscience let him go.

Fran Blinebury: His name [Philly's real GM] is Tony DiLeo and he and I both wait for Bynum to get out onto the floor and show what he can do down the stretch of the regular season. There’s no reason to rush and panic and trade him away at the deadline. If Bynum can prove he’s healthy, Tony and I have the best center in the Eastern Conference.

Jeff CaplanYou do what you have to do and that’s get him signed to a long-term contract and cross your fingers. Skilled 7-footers don’t grow on trees, even ones with suspect knees and, at times, a suspect mind. If his wonky knees were a non-issue (and I know that’s a huge “if”), I’m a bigger fan of Bynum than Dwight Howard simply because of his fully evolved offensive capabilities. You can literally throw it into him on the low block and let him go to work old-school style, he’s that smooth. He’s not the defensive presence that Howard is, but no one is. Unfortunately, those knees are always going to be an issue and there’s nothing anybody can do about it, so you swallow hard, pay the man and hope to goodness he stays healthy (and for goodness sake put a no-bowling clause in the contract). If Bynum can stay healthy, the Sixers suddenly have one of the best inside-out combos in the game with All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday.

Scott Howard-CooperI try to re-sign him. I have to. How hard I try depends on what the doctors tell me. If the exam results show reason for concern, the team has to be protected. That could mean trying for a deal loaded with incentives, with enough potential payoff that Bynum would take such a package that might initially seem unattractive.

John Schuhmann: I offer something a lot less than a max contract, both in dollars and years. And if he doesn’t like it, I watch him walk out the door and I spend my money elsewhere. Obviously, his health is always going to be an issue, but so is his attitude and drive. When healthy, Bynum has a great combination of size and skills, but he’s just not a franchise player. Philly made a mistake by trading Andre Iguodala and Nikola Vucevic for this guy, but they shouldn’t compound that mistake by giving him a contract that has a good chance of being a serious burden in a couple of years.

Sekou Smith: Look at him, shake your head (while cursing him out under your breath) and then when you go back to your office and no one else is around you punch the wall. Had he showed up and played just a little bit, you would have had some idea of what you were getting in the former Lakers big man. What can you do with him? You basically have to hold on to him until the summer and then decide if you want to outbid someone for a 7-footer you paid all season but still don’t really know what he can do for your team.

Blogtable: Coach Of The Half-Season

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


Week 15: New York, Indiana or …? | The Bynum dilemma | Coach of the half-season


Who’s your pick for coach of the half-season?

Steve Aschburner: Gotta go with San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich for posting the league’s best record to this point while masterfully managing both the Spurs’ games and their roster. I’m a big fan of the overachievements so far by both Golden State and Chicago, which earns Mark Jackson and Tom Thibodeau excellent marks here at mid-terms. But San Antonio still is eight or nine games better than both of them and Pop isn’t leaning on any superstar-in-his-prime either. (Honorable mention to ensemble master George Karl in Denver.)

Fran BlineburyMy preseason pick is right on track: Tom Thibodeau. Take the best player off any other top 4 seed in either conference for the entire season and tell me they’re still a top 4 seed.

P.J. Carlesimo, by Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty

P.J. Carlesimo, by Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty

Jeff Caplan: First I’ll give you the obvious candidates: Tom Thibodeau, Frank Vogel, Mike Woodson, Gregg Popovich, Scott Brooks, Mark Jackson, Terry Stotts and even Lionel Hollins. Vinny Del Negro might be dropping off with the Clippers’ recent struggles even if they have come without Chris Paul. That’s quite a list and all have done great jobs.

Now, here’s my winner for coach of the half-season: P.J. Carlesimo. P.J. took over the Titanic, a sinking luxury (tax) liner with little hope of survival after stubborn star guard Deron Williams crashed into Iceberg Avery. This thing was going down and going down fast in the first eight weeks of a hugely important season in which the franchise had just been rebranded and plopped in a billion-dollar building in Brooklyn. Nothing could have been worse than a season destroyed by the end of December. Talk about pressure. Carlesimo truly saved the day, going 14-6 since taking over for the fired Avery Johnson after a 14-14 start. Hey, who knows how this thing finishes up? But the Nets were on the brink of disaster until Carlesimo pulled it out of icy water and set sail on a course for renewed hope.

Scott Howard-CooperMark Jackson, over Tom Thibodeau and Mike Woodson. Jackson was the Warrior under the most pressure at the start of the season, after the front office delivered a roster ready for the playoffs, and so he gets the credit now that so much has gone right. The reworked defense has produced big results at the same time Golden State is winning with three rookies, succeeding mostly without Andrew Bogut and entirely without Brandon Rush, and with newcomers seamlessly incorporated into important roles.

John Schuhmann: Gregg Popovich. The Spurs have the league’s best record and rank in the top four in both offensive and defensive efficiency, even though they’ve been less-than healthy. Manu Ginobili hasn’t been himself for more than a game or two at a time. And though Tim Duncan is having a throwback season, he currently ranks 93rd in total minutes played. This team is getting great play on both ends of the floor from the top of the roster to the bottom. And I don’t think there’s another coach that can elicit the same kinds of contributions from role players like Danny Green, Tiago Splitter or Gary Neal.

Sekou Smith: Because we’re handing out imaginary trophies for imaginary awards, I might as well split mine in half. Golden State Warriors head man Mark Jackson gets the Western Conference Coach of the Half-Season Award and New York Knicks coach Mike Woodson gets the Eastern Conference Coach of the Half-Season Award. Players have shared season awards before (Grant Hill and Jason Kidd shared Rookie of the Year honors in 1995), so it isn’t completely far-fetched that two coaches would share this award at the halfway mark. Jackson’s Warriors have certainly been a surprise with what they’ve done this season. But it’s hard to overlook what Woodson’s Knicks have done in his first full season at the helm.

Blogtable: Next Best In East

Carlos Boozer (right) and David West, by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images

Carlos Boozer (right) and David West, by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images

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


Week 15: New York, Indiana or …? | The Bynum dilemma | Coach of the half-season


For argument’s sake, say Miami wins the East. Next: New York, Indy or …?

Steve Aschburner: I’ve been a skeptic on New York for a long time — never been a huge ‘Melo fan and I try to filter Knicks hype by half because of the media glut there. Mostly I’ve been proven wrong this season. But I’m not convinced yet, so I’m sticking with Indiana. The Pacers have a terrific locker room to go with a strong starting lineup, an emerging superstar in Paul George, David West‘s old-school game down low, a bench with helpful parts, a rim-protector in Roy Hibbert (frustrating as he can be) and a brashness from their coach, Frank Vogel. They also have an ace in the hole if Danny Granger‘s return goes well. Besides, Indiana gave Miami more of a scare last spring than the Knicks did.

Fran Blinebury: The chalk says the Knicks, the head says the Pacers. But I’m gonna crawl way out on a limb here, say that Derrick Rose comes back after the All-Star break and is feeling good by April. So by late May it’s the Bulls.

Jeff CaplanOr is right … as in OR the Chicago Bulls. Derrick Rose is coming back and the psychological boost alone has the potential to really juice the hardest working team in basketball. John Wall‘s very impressive return in Washington should really have Chicago jazzed for Rose’s chances to quickly get his game going and for the club to mesh after such a long layoff. Rose’s return has the power to transform and the Bulls are already holding down the No. 4 spot with the ability to quickly make a move up the standings after the All-Star break.

Scott Howard-CooperOr … Chicago. Not at the moment, but if the topic is projecting the second-best East team for the playoffs, since the question is based on the premise of the Heat winning the conference, it’s the Bulls with Derrick Rose. Indications are that he will be back in more than enough time to be rolling by the postseason. The Bulls are in the mix for No. 2 anyway. The Bulls with a good Rose puts them ahead of the other challengers.

John Schuhmann: I don’t know if they’ll finish second in the standings, but I think the team most likely to face the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals (unless they’re on the same side of the bracket) is Chicago. And I say that with a relatively conservative outlook on what they’ll get from Derrick Rose between now and May. I think the Bulls have the defense that neither New York or Brooklyn have and, with Rose (at somewhere less than 100 percent), the offense that Indiana doesn’t have.

Sekou Smith: As recently as three weeks ago I would have dismissed the idea of the Pacers being in the same space with the Knicks or Heat. But they’ve finally started to look like that team we all saw give the Heat fits in the playoffs last season. Frank Vogel has been coaching that way all season but his team didn’t catch up until recently. Now that they have, I think they could very well be that “second-best” team in the East. And they pose matchup issues for the Heat with their frontline and with a rangy athlete like All-Star swingman Paul George coming into his own. The Pacers are going to be a serious problem for anyone that sees them in the playoffs.

Knicks Turn Up The D After Halftime

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NEW YORK – If we only counted stats after halftime, the New York Knicks would be the best team in the league.

Like the Miami Heat, who seem to be fine with playing their best in only half of their games, the Knicks have a version of cruise control. They don’t start defending until after halftime.

On Friday, the Knicks allowed the Milwaukee Bucks to score 53 points on just 44 first-half possessions. And then, they held the Bucks to just 33 points on 45 second-half possessions to pull out a 96-86 victory.

The improvement was sparked by an adjustment with the Knicks’ pick-and-roll coverage. Early in the third quarter, Mike Woodson switched it up, because the Bucks’ quick guards were taking advantage of Amar’e Stoudemire on switches. New York started trapping the pick-and-roll, forcing the guards to give up the ball.

“They were trying to get [Monta] Ellis on a big,” Jason Kidd said afterward. “You want to protect Amar’e from having to see that on a repeated basis. We decided to start trapping it, and it changed the whole game around.”

Sometimes, an adjustment like that can elicit more energy from a team. It seemed to work on this night.

“That kind of jump-started us from a defensive standpoint and got us back in the game,” Woodson said.

But this was nothing new, really. Through Friday, the Knicks rank 28th in first-half defense, allowing 106.2 points per 100 possessions. And they rank seventh in second-half defense, allowing just 99.5. That’s the second biggest discrepancy in the league.

Biggest difference, first and second half defense
(points allowed per 100 possessions)

Team 1st Half Rank 2nd Half Rank Diff.
Washington 103.9 19 96.3 3 -7.6
New York 106.2 28 99.5 7 -6.8
Atlanta 104.2 20 98.2 5 -6.1
Charlotte 111.3 30 105.5 25 -5.8
Brooklyn 105.9 27 101.6 11 -4.3

Knicks coach Mike Woodson is plenty aware of the discrepancy between his team’s first-half defense and its second-half defense. But that doesn’t mean he knows why its happening.

“I wish I could explain it,” he said after the game Friday.

The Knicks basically do everything better defensively in the second half. They defend both 2-point shots and 3-points shots better, they rebound better, and they force a lot more turnovers.

It’s not like Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler only plays in the second half. In fact, he’s played 723 first-half minutes and 724 second-half minutes.

The Knicks most-used lineup in the second half has been Raymond Felton, Kidd, J.R. Smith, Carmelo Anthony and Chandler. And it’s been excellent defensively, allowing less than 89 points per 100 possessions in 99 second-half minutes. The same lineup has allowed 101 points per 100 possessions – good but not great – in 52 first-half minutes.

“For some odd reason,” Kidd said, “after halftime, we tend to pay a little bit more attention to the defensive end.”

Maybe, like the Heat who know they can flip the switch when they need to, the Knicks know that they can beat certain teams as long as they don’t get totally blown out in the first half.

But they’re still better when they defend early. Though they managed to come back on Friday, the Knicks are 14-2 when they allow less than 101 points per 100 possessions in the first half.

The New York offense is always going to be there. They rank fourth in first-half offense, first in second-half offense, and third overall. But they’re a below average defensive team, ranking 16th overall, because, on most nights, they don’t bring focus on that end until the third quarter.

“That’s something that we understand,” Chandler said. “We can’t just play great defense against the Miamis and San Antonio Spurs of the world. We’ve got to pick it up every single night. Especially after this All-Star break, that’s one of the things that we really have to focus on.”

Knicks efficiency by half

Half OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
First 108.3 4 106.2 28 +2.1 13
Second 109.1 1 99.5 7 +9.6 1

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

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John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. Send him an e-mail or follow him on twitter.

Heat Often Put Themselves On Cruise Control … Just Not Against Brooklyn

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BROOKLYN – Poor Nets.

They played the Miami Heat three times this season, and all three times, the defending champs were engaged, focused or motivated. Pick whichever of those three words you prefer to describe the way the Heat have played only some of the time this season.

The Heat completed a three-game season sweep on Wednesday in Brooklyn, blowing out the Nets in the third quarter on their way to a 105-85 victory. They won the three meetings by an average of 21 points and LeBron James has now won 17 straight games against the team owned by his friend Jay-Z.

So the Nets never got to see the Heat team that shows up at the arena and mostly goes through the motions, the team that knows it can flip the switch in the postseason, or the team that seems happy with just a game-and-a-half lead in the Eastern Conference.

The Knicks, the team trailing the Heat, saw that Heat team two times already, once in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and once when they were missing Carmelo Anthony. The Spurs, similarly, saw that Heat team when they decided to send four players home before that TNT game back in November. And the Celtics, missing Rajon Rondo, saw that Heat team on Sunday.

Yes, the Heat are in first place. But should they really be 11-10 on the road? Should they really rank 11th in defensive efficiency and allowing 4.3 more points per 100 possessions than they did last season?

The Heat have the best player in the world, two more All-Stars and maybe the best shooter in NBA history. And they’ve been relatively healthy all season. Yet, they’re barely ahead of a New York team that went 8-10 from Dec. 17 to Jan. 26 and has missed countless games to injury.

A championship team on cruise control through the regular season is nothing new. But it’s still OK to be a little disappointed in how the Heat have played this season.

“We understand that 10-10 on the road is not to our potential,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said before his team picked up road win No. 11 on Wednesday. “But we’ll have many opportunities to correct that in the second half.”

Sometimes, as it was on Sunday, the problem has been offense.

“Turnovers are the key,” Shane Battier said. “Everyone wants to kill us for rebounding, and our numbers are poor. No question. But that’s not the barometer of our success. The turnover battle is the end-all, be-all for us. When we get extra possessions and we limit giving away extra possessions, we’re going to score. We’re a high-efficiency offensive team.”

Indeed, the Heat are 17-2 when they’ve committed 13 turnovers or less. They had 21 in Boston on Sunday, their second-worst offensive game of the season in terms of efficiency. They were much sharper against the Nets.

But defense has been the larger problem. The Heat ranked fourth defensively last season and are 11th this year. Only four teams have regressed more defensively.

The Heat are at their best when they’re active and aggressive defensively, using their speed and athleticism to its fullest. And maybe it’s just not possible to play elite defense like that for 82 games. But a little more defensive effort could give them the cushion they need in case they do suffer an injury or two in February or March.

“It just required concentration, and our concentration has not been great, especially on the road,” Battier said. “Everyone knows the system here. It’s not a matter of ignorance. It’s a matter of effort and concentration. When we’re dialed in and supply that concentration, we’re a pretty darn good defensive team. When we don’t, we’re pretty porous.”

On Wednesday, the Heat proved that, when they’re “dialed in,” they’re in a class above the Nets, who had the league’s No. 1 offense in January before they were held under a point per possession by the champs.

“I think we were really aggressive against these guys all three times, both offensively and defensively,” Battier said. “It was good to see tonight on the road. We haven’t been this aggressive on the road in a while. We really attacked them and tried to take them out of their sets.”

On Friday, the Heat visit the Pacers, the team that held them to a season-low 77 points in Indiana in early January. It’s a second-straight opportunity to take one of the East’s season-tier teams and knock them down a peg. So it will be interesting to see which Heat team shows up.

For the Nets, no matter how much success they’ve had under P.J. Carlesimo and no matter what they do over their last 36 games, they’ll know that they haven’t been able to hang with the champs. Knowing that there’s no avoiding the Heat in the playoffs, they should have treated this like their most important game of the season. Maybe they did, and maybe they just caught the Heat on the wrong day … again.

“In any sport, you measure yourself up against the champions, and they are the champions,” Gerald Wallace told Newsday. “They’ve embarrassed us all three times, so what does that say for us as a team trying to be a championship team?”