Posts Tagged ‘John Schuhmann’

Blogtable: A Tussle in Texas

VIDEO: Houston beat the Mavericks in Dallas on Jan. 29 to split the season series, 2-2

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

Movers and shakers | Texas throwdown | LeBron’s future

A couple of Texas teams are bunched in the West. If they meet in the playoffs: Houston or Dallas?

Steve Aschburner, Houston. By a pretty wide margin. The Mavericks, in my opinion, have nothing that can touch the James Harden-Dwight Howard-Chandler Parsons trio, with Terrence Jones in the mix as well. That group can further jell and is backed up with backcourt depth and Omer Asik as needed up front. Dallas, to me, has maxed out.

Fran Blinebury, I might be overreacting to the Rockets’ recent good run.  They have been up and down all season.  But it seems they are learning to get the ball inside to Dwight Howard consistently and the Mavs still don’t have a stopper in the middle. With James Harden, the simple math says Houston’s two All-Stars beat the Mavs’ one.

Chandler Parsons (l), Dirk Nowitzki (Glenn James/NBAE)

Chandler Parsons (left), Dirk Nowitzki
(Glenn James/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, Dallas has no answer for Dwight inside and on the boards, no resistance for James Harden Euro-stepping into the lane or for Chandler Parson’s lining up 3s assassin style. They split the regular-season, 2-2, but only because of Houston’s keystone cops approach to big leads. The Mavs might be able to outscore the Rockets in a game or two, but over a seven-game series, the Rockets got this.

Scott Howard-Cooper, Ask me again after the trade deadline Thursday, when rosters will be closer to locked in. But, for now, the Rockets’ offense combined with the Mavericks’ defense makes it a pretty easy call. Dallas can score, but Houston’s defense can slow the Mavs. The same cannot be said the other way around. I’d like the Rockets in five or six. How about we get to April, though? Or at least the end of the week.

John Schuhmann, Houston. They’re the much better defensive team and would have home-court advantage. They don’t have a great Dirk defender, but James Harden and Jeremy Lin would chew up Dallas’ perimeter defense. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Rockets in the conference finals.

Sekou Smith, I like Dallas, even though I think Houston has the better overall talent. If there is one coach and staff you don’t want to see in a best of seven series where the teams are fairly equal, it’s Rick Carlisle and his crew from Dallas. I watched Carlisle and the Mavericks take apart team after team during their 2011 championship march through the Western Conference playoffs, sizing up one opponent after another, zeroing in on their weaknesses and then finishing them off with superior execution. I realize this Mavericks team is not the same savvy veteran bunch Carlisle was working with then, but I do think that he has a dangerous group to work with, regardless of who the Mavericks face in the first round.

Lang Whitaker, All Ball blogHouston. Mainly because they’d have home court advantage and they’ve been good at home (and Dallas is .500 on the road this season). But I also feel like Houston could get Dallas into a running game against them and make it into a shootout, which is what Houston wants. Worth noting: The playoffs may not shake out this way — Houston has been playing great but has a lot of road games the rest of the way.

Akshay Manwani, NBA IndiaI’d pick Houston. The regular season is all about consistency and grinding it out while the postseason is about talent. Between an aging Dirk Nowitzki and the mercuial Monta Ellis on one side and Dwight Howard and James Harden on the other, the latter pairing is more likely to be more effective in the postseason. Also, the Rockets are better defensively (def rtg of 102.1 versus 105.1 for the Mavs). Houston for me.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA GreeceI really like the Mavericks. I’ll pick them. Nowitzki plays like a teenager, Monta Ellis is looking like his old self and the trio of Calderon-Carter-Marion adds veteran leadership. They have roles, they have poise, they have what it takes to become the upset-team in this postseason.

Karan Madhok, NBA IndiaMavericks have veteran savvy and experience on their side, but I think their old legs won’t be able to hang with their free-spirited and fast-moving Texas cousins. Dwight, Harden and Co. have been on a tear recently and will only get better as they get more comfortable together. I think a playoff series between the two would definitely go in the Rockets’ favor.

Blogtable: LeBron’s Next Move

VIDEO: LeBron James discusses his future in an exclusive NBA TV interview with Steve Smith

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

Movers and shakers | Texas throwdown | LeBron’s future

LeBron says he can’t envision leaving Miami. Can you? What do you see, this summer and beyond?

Steve Aschburner, He’s staying put. This ain’t 2010 anymore. James has checked off the big thing from his bucket list (multiple NBA titles) and doesn’t need to be the chaser anymore. Miami is a destination market for most NBA players anyway, and more so with LeBron as its sun, exerting real gravitational pull on those in search of rings. At this point, LeBron is like Moe Greene (“No, I buy you out, you don’t buy me out!”) but with the clout and game of the Corleones.

Fran Blinebury, As long as puppet master Pat Riley is there pulling all the right strings, I believe LeBron stays in Miami and eventually recruits new partners to replace Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

Jeff Caplan, Where’s he going to go, Cleveland? Really? Chicago? The Lakers? I don’t see it. It makes no sense to hopscotch around the league when he’s already got Pat Riley, sunshine and palm trees. Yes, Dwyane Wade is on the decline, but instead of going elsewhere, LeBron can recruit any talent he wants to South Beach. That’s what I envision.

Scott Howard-Cooper, You’re asking the guy who for the longest time didn’t think he would leave Cleveland, so definitely bet everything on this prediction. But since you did ask: He does not become a free agent this summer specifically to put off the decision about whether to stay or go and give the Heat every chance to show they can build a bridge to the future. He stays on in a situation he apparently likes a lot but retains the option to change his mind before too much longer.

John Schuhmann, No. Dwyane Wade’s health is obviously a concern and the importance of Shane Battier retiring (if Shane Battier does indeed retire) shouldn’t be understated, because he’s a key cog in their positionless rotation. But success in the NBA starts at the top, and LeBron should have confidence that Micky Arison, Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra will put him in a position to compete for more championships.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comFor the life of me I cannot figure out why LeBron would leave what he has helped build in Miami. There is no reason to flee the scene in search of championship glory elsewhere when the Heat have the chance to reload and rebuild another contender around James starting with the moves they make this summer. So no, I can’t see it. I can’t see him departing Miami for greener pastures in … I don’t know where it is he’s supposed to go that could provide a better platform than the one he’s created for himself in Miami. People keep talking about LeBron’s potential move but I’m much more interested in seeing what Pat Riley has up his sleeve and who he will try and lure to Miami to work with LeBron in the next phase of his career.

Lang Whitaker, All Ball blog: As I’ve said all along, I don’t think there’s any way he leaves Miami this summer. And to be honest, I don’t think it’s really close. I understand that Cleveland is basically home for him, but he left before, so the need to play nearby apparently isn’t all that important. Why stay? The Heat have shown an ability to continually put together a championship-level team since LeBron’s arrival, and that doesn’t look to be changing any time soon. Besides, have you seen those Samsung commercials? He’s got an infinity pool right by the water! You really think he’s giving that up?

Philipp Dornhegge, NBA Deutschland: Let’s start with what I don’t really see at this point — and that’s another successful title defense. What I do see, however, is Dwyane Wade on a downward trajectory (even though he has his occasional Wade games or moments) and an aging supporting cast which won’t be able to sustain that defensive intensity for much longer. Miami will have to change some of its pieces in the near future, and you never know how that plays out. Ultimately though, there are no guarantees for LeBron anywhere else, either. Unless he really wants to follow in the footsteps of some of those Laker legends, I think he stays — possibly for the rest of his career.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: Honestly, I don’t see right now a team that could attract LeBron the way Miami attracted him in 2010. The Heat went to LeBron with a plan to win and win now. Do you see a team that can offer him the same next summer? I don’t. So I think LeBron will most likely keep his talents in South Beach next season. But Dwyane Wade’s health will play a key role in his decision: the longer D-Wade is the great player we know, the longer LeBron will stay.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: From day one, the idea of LeBron leaving his destination of choice seemed far-fetched to me, but then again, so did Miami putting together a superteam with three All-Stars in their primes when it happened. It will come down to what happens in the postseason; if Dwyane Wade does look washed up and they fall to Indiana, LeBron might see that it’s gonna be hard to rebuild the team to championship level and could test his options on the market. If Miami gets to the Finals again, winning or losing, I feel either way LeBron will think they still got it, will just need to replace some pieces, and stays.

Blogtable: Big Movers Of Second Half

Golden State's Klay Thompson, David Lee and Steph Curry (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

Golden State’s Klay Thompson, David Lee and Steph Curry (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

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

Movers and shakers | Texas throwdown | LeBron’s future

Which team will be the big mover of the second half? Why’s that?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comMinnesota. Want-to doesn’t mean it’s going to happen, but I can’t come up with a team that has more urgency to pick up the pace in search of a playoff spot. Convincing Kevin Love that he’ll be able to win with the Timberwolves long-term is what the next 16 months are about in the Twin Cities. That suggests a move of some sort by Thursday’s trade deadline but more so, a desperation to end the Wolves’ decade-long postseason drought. If the current No. 8 (Dallas) continues at its present pace (.582), Minnesota needs to finish 22-7 to catch up.

Fran Blinebury, I don’t think there are going to be any dramatic moves made.  But assuming the Grizzlies hold onto Zach Randolph past the trade deadline, I think they’ll jump up and squeeze into the playoffs in the West.  Of course, if they do that, it could be at the expense of Golden State and then maybe Mark Jackson makes a dramatic move toward the door.

Dwyane Wade (Glenn James/NBAE)

Miami’s Dwyane Wade (Glenn James/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, Paging Golden State, Paging Golden State… The Warriors better make a big move up or else… But they’re not my choice. You’d be stunned to see the Heat ratchet up the defense and go on a tear? Me either, but they’re not my choice. People, I’m talking the Washington Wizards — that’s right, the Wiz. I know they slipped before the break, but they seemed to be discovering themselves just prior and even got over .500 for the first time since, like, the moon walk. John Wall and Bradley Beal return from fun All-Star experiences in New Orleans with, I believe, a seriousness, a real sense of the job at hand. And the schedule should be advantageous. Of their next 22 games (through March) only seven are against teams with winning records and that includes Toronto (twice), Memphis and Phoenix.

Scott Howard-Cooper, I’ll stick with my preseason prediction: the Warriors are one of the better teams in the West, not a team that should be scraping by at the end to hang on for No. 7 or 8. They have definitely earned that spot so far. But a solid locker room that has the ability to focus when it matters most – or the threat of being embarrassed by a bad finish – will drive Golden State away from the danger zone.

John Schuhmann, As long as Andrew Bogut’s shoulder issue doesn’t linger, Golden State should move back up the Western Conference standings into a 3-5 seed. Their point differential is better than their record, they have a top-five defense, and they play one of the easier schedules in the West going forward, including nine games against East teams under .500 and four against the Jazz, Kings and Lakers.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comAs crazy as it sounds, I think it’s going to be the Miami Heat. They’re not going on another 27-game run like they did last year, chasing history and making a mockery of the rest of the league on their way to the best regular-season record and eventually their second straight championship. But I think they’re going to ride the wave of emotion that LeBron James is playing with, and has been since we all started talking about Kevin Durant challenging him for league supremacy. The Heat needed motivation, they needed a cause to inspire them through the 82-game marathon that will mean next to nothing if they don’t win a third straight title. They’ve found it now and it’s defending their honor and the honor of their leader and best player. Indiana’s hold on that No. 1 spot in the East is tenuous at best. It’ll be interesting to see the Heat as the hunter as opposed to the hunted the rest of this season.

Lang Whitaker, All Ball blogMemphis. As of today they’re out of the playoffs, and they may not have placed anyone on the All-Star team, but they’ve finally got everyone healthy (well, except for Tony Allen, and by all accounts he’s just days away). They haven’t made as many headlines as when they were the Hang Time Grizzlies or the Grit N’ Grind Grizzlies, but they’ve quietly put together a 15-4 run over the last few weeks. I think they’ve got the experience and health to continue playing the way they have of late and put together a late-season push that launches them into the postseason.

Simon Legg, NBA AustraliaGolden State. They’re currently seventh in the West but this team is too good to be that low. I can see them overtaking Phoenix and Dallas, then taking aim at Portland. Surprisingly, they’re ranked 12th in offensive efficiency but their dynamic starting lineup has played only 647 minutes of their 2,559 minutes on the floor. Their offensive rating with the starting five is 112.8. Without them, it’s 104.2. Expect their starters to get more minutes as we turn to the playoffs and for the Warriors to move up the standings.

XiBin Yang, NBA ChinaThe Grizzlies have found the rhythm again, and it’s a relief that Marc Gasol’s injury was not serious. He’s still the core of this team. With Conley’s return, they could trace their winning pace last year.

Aldo Aviñante, NBA Philippines: I think the Miami Heat will string off another huge winning streak to try and get the number one spot in the standings. The stakes are getting higher. They had a historical 27-game winning streak last year that started right about the same time this season and they might gun for another one in the home stretch.

The Pacers Of Contrast

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — A few weeks ago, we looked at how the Indiana Pacers are a much better team in the second half of games. No other team comes close to the improvement that the Pacers make after halftime.

Biggest difference, NetRtg, half to half

Team 1st half Rank 2nd half Rank Diff.
Indiana +1.2 13 +15.4 1 14.2
Portland -0.7 17 +6.5 6 7.2
Orlando -8.5 28 -1.8 18 6.7
Toronto +1.3 12 +6.7 5 5.4
Sacramento -5.4 25 -0.1 13 5.3

NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

The difference is kind of like the home Pacers and the road Pacers …

Biggest difference, NetRtg, home vs. road

Team Home Rank Road Rank Diff.
Indiana +15.3 1 +0.9 10 14.5
Cleveland -0.4 20 -11.3 30 10.9
Orlando -0.5 21 -10.8 27 10.3
L.A. Clippers +11.7 2 +1.9 6 9.8
Houston +9.5 4 +0.9 9 8.6

And also like the rested Pacers and the without-rest (playing on the second night of a back-to-back) Pacers…

Biggest difference, NetRtg, rest vs. no rest

Team Rest Rank No rest Rank Diff.
Indiana +11.9 1 -0.3 10 12.2
L.A. Clippers +8.9 2 -1.0 12 9.9
Denver +0.2 14 -7.7 27 7.9
Golden State +5.9 6 -1.2 13 7.1
Dallas +4.1 9 -2.3 16 6.5

So yeah, the Pacers, with the biggest difference in each category by a pretty wide margin, are a little weird. As you’d figure, they’ve been really good in the second half of home games when they didn’t play the night before (plus-21.4 points per 100 possessions), and really bad in the first half of road games when they did play the night before (minus-16.2)…

Pacers efficiency

Situation GP OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
No rest, home, 2nd half 3 115.0 6 80.5 1 +34.5 1
Rested, home, 2nd half 25 106.5 10 85.1 1 +21.4 1
No rest, home, 1st half 3 106.7 10 95.3 7 +11.4 6
Rested, road, 2nd half 13 107.9 4 96.8 2 +11.2 1
Rested, home, 1st half 25 100.4 25 93.1 1 +7.3 13
No rest, road, 2nd half 11 104.9 14 102.7 9 +2.2 9
Rested, road, 1st half 13 99.1 20 97.6 2 +1.5 9
No rest, road, 1st half 11 84.4 29 100.6 7 -16.2 25

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions

The good news for them is that they’re tied with the Thunder in the loss column for the best record in the league and have a much easier schedule now than OKC. Holding the league’s best record would give them home-court advantage throughout the playoffs … when there are no back-to-backs.

Advanced Stats: West All-Stars

NEW ORLEANS — All-Star weekend marks the one-year anniversary of the new version of This season brought SportVU player tracking to the site and just Thursday night, player tracking stats were added on the boxscore level, so you can see how far a player ran or how many of his shots were contested on any given night.

All-Star weekend also means that it’s time to dive in with statistical nuggets for all 25 All-Stars. Here are the 13 guys representing the Western Conference…

Kobe Bryant, G, L.A. Lakers

Stephen Curry, G, Golden State

Kevin Durant, F, Oklahoma City

Blake Griffin, F, L.A. Clippers

Kevin Love, F, Minnesota

LaMarcus Aldridge, F, Portland

Anthony Davis, F-C, New Orleans

James Harden, G, Houston

Dwight Howard, C, Houston

Damian Lillard, G, Portland

  • Leads the league with six field goals (on just nine attempts) in the final 30 seconds with the score tied or his team behind three points or less.
  • Of 181 players who have attempted at least 100 shots from both in and outside the paint, Lillard is the only one who has shot better from outside the paint (42.5 percent) than from in the paint (42.2 percent).
  • Has attempted only 16.3 percent of his shots from mid-range, the second lowest rate among All-Stars (higher than only that of Howard).
  • Video: Watch Lillard’s six baskets that tied the game or gave his team the lead in the final 30 seconds.

Dirk Nowitzki, F, Dallas

Tony Parker, G, San Antonio

Chris Paul, G, L.A. Clippers

Advanced Stats: East All-Stars

NEW ORLEANS — All-Star weekend marks the one-year anniversary of the new version of This season brought SportVU player tracking to the site and just Thursday night, player tracking stats were added on the boxscore level, so you can see how far a player ran or how many of his shots were contested on any given night.

All-Star weekend also means that it’s time to dive in with statistical nuggets for all 25 All-Stars. Here are the 12 guys representing the Eastern Conference…

Kyrie Irving, G, Cleveland

Dwyane Wade, G, Miami

Carmelo Anthony, F, New York

Paul George, F, Indiana

LeBron James, F, Miami

Chris Bosh, F-C, Miami

DeMar DeRozan, G, Toronto

Roy Hibbert, C, Indiana

Joe Johnson, G, Brooklyn

Paul Millsap, F, Atlanta

Joakim Noah, C, Chicago

John Wall, G, Washington

Blogtable: What Next For The Pistons?

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

Fixing the Pistons | Take a break | Three simple words

VIDEO: The Starters take a look at the Pistons

Detroit has fired another coach: What does GM Joe Dumars do now?

Steve Aschburner, Since he’s unlikely to find a taker over the next week for Josh Smith, a dubious addition from the get-go, Dumars needs to do two things: Trade Rodney Stuckey by the Feb. 20 deadline to a playoff aspirant that craves more scoring punch off the bench, and then devote what’s left of the schedule to figuring out the best ways to use Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond as a full-time tandem. If the two can’t thrive on the floor together, each logging 35 minutes, then Monroe should be dealt this summer for a nice return.

Fran Blinebury, If he can’t unload the big contract he just gave Josh Smith, and that’s highly doubtful, then he might have to make a move a he doesn’t want to do, trading Greg Monroe.  The big lineup of the Pistons didn’t work under coach Mo Cheeks and there’s no reason to think it will work under another coach. That’s a chemistry and rotation problem that was created entirely by Dumars.  It’s time for Dumars to stop handing out free-agent money just because he has the available space — Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva, Smith.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comThe obvious thing to do is get rid of Josh Smith and that ridiculous contract he was awarded over the summer. Only one small problem: No GM is dumb enough to take it under today’s CBA. Is there a chance to get out of Brandon Jennings‘ contract? Doubtful, but I’d try like heck. Otherwise, there’s some cap room coming this summer, so try to fill positions of need to maximize players’ strengths.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comBuild a time machine, go back and not sign Josh Smith and not sign Charlie Villanueva, although at least Charlie V comes off the cap after this season. Beyond that, Dumars does have options. Greg Monroe will be a restricted agent. Dumars can trade him by the Feb. 20 deadline and get something in return, and teams will be interested. Or do a sign-and-trade in July and get a return then (though with fewer options because that would be Monroe dictating the team the Pistons would have to strike a deal with) or keep Monroe with Andre Drummond.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comTrading Greg Monroe is still the best way to go. But whether he trades Monroe, trades Josh Smith or trades neither, Dumars needs to acquire more shooting. The Pistons could be more successful by staggering their big three’s minutes, with a 30-minutes-per-game small forward who can space the floor (and play some defense). Shooting is so critical these days and the Pistons are the worst jump-shooting team in the league.

Sekou Smith, Joe Dumars doesn’t do anything now. His owner, Tom Gores, is the man who better have a master plan for what comes next. Because he’s now undercut Dumars twice (the first time was forcing Lawrence Frank on Dumars when Frank clearly was not his choice as head coach and now firing Cheeks just 50 games into this season). The fact is, Dumars had a fantastic run with the Pistons as both a player and executive that, barring a miraculous turn of events between now and the playoffs, has likely come to an end. It’s just time to pack up and move on.

Lang Whitaker, All Ball blog: Can Joe D. come out of retirement and play the three? It seems like everyone watching seems to realize that the Pistons have a logjam on the interior, with Monroe, Drummond and Josh Smith jockeying for playing time and floor space amongst themselves. Signing Smith wasn’t Mo Cheeks’ fault, but attempting to use him as a three out around the perimeter was. You want a quick fix? Trade Monroe or Drummond, move Smith to his natural four, and crank up the volume in Motown.

Aldo Aviñante, NBA PhilippinesI think he should stay put and not tinker with the roster too much. They just came together this year, so a little patience should be practiced with the roster that he has put together. They have the talent — it’s just a matter of building chemistry, teamwork and letting the team create its own identity.

Philipp Dornhegge, NBA DeutschlandFrom what I saw in the Spurs game the players really did respond to what Loyer was doing and saying. So it might have been the right decision to move on from Cheeks after all. Having some inside information through a colleague, I know that Chauncey Billups will have a bigger part on the coaching staff, Rasheed Wallace will have a more important role. So the dynamics will be a bit different. In terms of players it will be important to make Brandon Jennings happy again because he was close with Cheeks. Andre Drummond, on the other hand, has some issues with the former coach. I don’t think the Pistons will make a trade going forward.

XiBin Yang, NBA ChinaIf Dumas won’t move the three big guy lineup, he really needs more consistent shooters. When you got two or even three big men on the front court at the same time, you’ve got to make the open court for them, which is tough with guys like Stuckey or Bynum, who have been living to get to the basket. Billups seems get ready to be an assistant coach or a head coach like Kidd, so it’s time to find some reseve guards such as Ridnour or Blake who can play both 1 and 2 guard position, to balance the spacing of the floor. Pope is good, but he may not provide what the team needs badly at this stage.

Blogtable: Three Words, Whole Story

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

Fixing the Pistons | Take a break | Three simple words

VIDEO: Durant wins Kia Player of the Month honors for January

Give us three words to describe the NBA season so far.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comHobbled, for all the injuries to notable players. Warped, for the East-least, West-best tilt. And Reaped, for Kevin (the Slim Reaper) Durant’s rather large and cold-blooded step up to MVP favorite.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comIt’s Durant’s world.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comInjuries really suck (stink).

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comWhere’s the doctor?

John Schuhmann, “Threes and D.” The league is shooting more 3-pointers than ever and floor spacing is so critical to any offense. But the Indiana Pacers have the best record in the league because they’re so much better defensively than any other team.

Sekou Smith, New World Order … from Kevin Durant’s MVP takeover to the Indiana Pacers, Portland Trail Blazers and Phoenix Suns all challenging the power structure in their respective conferences, these upstarts made the first half of the season enjoyable. Even Adam Silver taking over the big chair from David Stern speaks to a certain changing of the guard that is going on right now and perhaps this season, if those teams can carry what they’ve done thus into the postseason. I’ll say this, without them the first half of the season would have been miserable to digest. Our entire focus would have been on overanalyzing the Miami Heat, all of the injuries to star players and the dysfunction run amok in New York (both the Knicks and Nets early on, even though the Nets have regained their composure here the last month or so). But instead, we’ve had some fresh faces and new storylines to keep us busy. And that’s always a good thing.

Lang Whitaker, All Ball blogPass to Durant! There have been surprises in Portland and from several players, but as great as Kevin Durant has been in the past, I don’t think anyone suspected the sustained level of production we’ve seen from him this season. He alone has made every Thunder game must-see TV.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA GreeceTwo words: Antetokoumpo-mania!  Or does that count as one?

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA BrasilSlim Reaper Cometh“, or something like that. This “first half” of the NBA season had a lot of surprises – from Indiana and Portland running away with the conference leads in the first couple of months to Phoenix playing like a true playoff contender, to New York, Cleveland and Minnesota playing way below expectations and Brooklyn taking so long to work things out. But the story of 2013-14 for now is how Kevin Durant rose to the next level. Hitting 50-40-90 last season was amazing, but now KD has shown improvement in all areas, especially in leadership, and has taken the Oklahoma City Thunder to new heights. Now, there is an argument on who the best player in the world is, and right now at this moment, the answer is Kevin Durant.

Simon Legg, NBA AustraliaReally open season!‘ For the first time in a few years, we have a number of contenders, so the league is in a good space right now.

Blogtable: Who Needs A Break?

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

Fixing the Pistons | Take a break | Three simple words

It’s All-Star time: Which team needs this break the most?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comThe Timberwolves have dropped four in a row and seven of their last 10 heading into their pre-All Star finale vs. Denver Wednesday. They’re banged up (Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Martin) and even their coach, Rick Adelman, had to miss their most recent game (personal reasons). At 24-28, this season hasn’t gone at all the way the organization and fans had hoped, and a newly blueprinted practice facility across the street from Target Center in downtown Minneapolis isn’t going to keep Kevin Love around if it doesn’t get used consistently in late April and May, never mind June. That’s down-the-road fodder for worrying, though – the Wolves need a breather right now, for they return from the break having to face Indiana, followed by a five-game trip out West.

Tony Parker of the Spurs (Allen Einstein/NBAE)

Tony Parker of the Spurs (Allen Einstein/NBAE)

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comThe Spurs are beaten up, broken down, aching, ailing, worn out. And old.

Jeff Caplan, First inclination is to say the Sixers after getting blown out by 45 and 43 points on consecutive nights. Not sure I’ve ever seen that before. But whatever Philly does the rest of the year is only consequential in terms of ping-pong balls. The Warriors and Suns really need the time off. Golden State is dealing with some internal turmoil and needs to get things straightened out over the break. Phoenix just has to be dead tired and will need the rest to go for one of the more improbable playoff runs in recent memory. I guess that’s one positive to Goran Dragic not making the West squad.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comThe Spurs. They need pages turning on the calendar without games being played. The more days that pass, the closer they are to good health, or at least better health, without having to play with the patchwork lineup. The closer they are to good health, the more Spurs-like they will seem.

John Schuhmann, My initial answer was the Timberwolves, but break or no break, they’ve probably sunk too far to have a shot at the playoffs. The Warriors, meanwhile, had sunk to the eighth spot before getting some help from the Heat and Bobcats on Tuesday night. David Lee and Andrew Bogut have been banged up and their starting backcourt has been taxed by their lack of depth. This team can be great on both ends of the floor when it’s playing well, but it’s been barely treading water since the end of its 10-game winning streak five weeks ago.

Sekou Smith, The Philadelphia 76ers need the break to get here … last weekend. These epic losses are getting ridiculous. It’s one thing to be a young team, a lottery team, and an uneven bunch that simply is not ready for prime time on a nightly basis. It’s another thing to get your doors completely blown off the way coach  Brett Brown‘s team has here recently. They’ve given up 108 or more points in seven straight games, all losses, and surrendered a mind-boggling 123 points each in back-to-back losses to the Los Angeles Clippers (123-78) and Golden State Warriors (123-80). Again, the All-Star break cannot get here fast enough for our friends in Philly.

Lang Whitaker, All Ball blog: I have found myself increasingly interested of late in the happenings in Golden State. Mark Jackson‘s honeymoon period seems to be over, as he and Andrew Bogut publicly disagree over injuries, and ownership has made it clear that they aren’t happy with several home losses the Warriors have had lately. To me it just feels like every one could use a vacation to refocus. It wouldn’t hurt to spend a few days not only looking ahead at how far they have to go, but also remembering just how far they’ve come.

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: The Atlanta Hawks. Of the top eight teams in both conferences, no team other than the Hawks have lost successive games. The Hawks, on the other hand, are in the midst of a four-game slump and fell below Chicago in the East standings after their loss to the Bulls on Tuesday night. They could use the All-Star break to regroup, take a bit of a breather and fight their way back to the No. 3 or No. 4 spot in the East.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: The teams that will make the most out of the All-Star break are the veteran crews of the league, the Nets in the East and the Spurs in the West. San Antonio had 5 losses in their last 10 games, so they could use the time off to find their breath and regain their focus. Brooklyn, on the other hand, hopes to give some rest to the veteran players. The All-Star Weekend is like a psychological barrier. It can turn out to be the check point where the Nets push the button and get into post-season mode.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: It’s too easy to say the Lakers, but how can you not? Their injury list is longer than their rotation and a break is much needed. Guys like Pau Gasol and Steve Nash would benefit a lot from a week off and coach Mike D’Antoni could use that time to figure out the rotation. Waiting for Kobe Bryant, who is too proud and competitive to give up on the season.

Who Will Be The Dunker Of The Night?

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — So, who ya got?

The 2014 Sprite Slam Dunk has a new format, where the Eastern and Western Conference dunkers will compete against each other in a freestyle round and a battle round.

The freestyle round has the potential to be pretty cool if the teammates plan it and execute it well. Imagine Paul George, Terrence Ross and John Wall throwing down three windmills from three different directions in the span of three seconds. It could happen.

And the battle round is straightforward. My dunk vs. your dunk.

And while it’s East vs. West, there will be an individual winner. Judges will determine the East-West winner, but for the eighth straight year, the best individual dunker will be determined by a fan vote. He will be crowned the Dunker of the Night and he will receive a trophy.

So, who ya got?

Here’s a look at the six participants…

Harrison Barnes

VIDEO: Harrison Barnes highlights

As a rookie, Barnes had one of the best dunks of last season. Nikola Pekovic won’t be in New Orleans to act as a prop, but Barnes doesn’t need anything in his way to make a dunk look spectacular.

Paul George

VIDEO: Paul George highlights

Personally, I still favor the Birdman Facial, but George basically announced his candidacy for this year’s dunk title with his reverse 360 against the Clippers last month. And let’s not forget this dude jumped over Roy Hibbert two years ago.

Damian Lillard

VIDEO: Damian Lillard highlights

You may think of Lillard as more of a shooter, but the reigning Rookie of the Year can get up. Heck, his first NBA highlight was a major throwdown in Summer League. At 6-3, he’s the smallest guy in the competition and little man dunks often look the best.

Ben McLemore

VIDEO: Ben McLemore highlights

The rookie is the dark horse pick, but he can certainly fly and might just have a foul-line dunk in him. This in-game dunk from November was a little Jordanesque.

Terrence Ross

VIDEO: Terrence Ross highlights

The defending champ reminded us all of what he can do when he saw Kenneth Faried in front of him on the break last week. Mercy.

John Wall

VIDEO: John Wall highlights

Wall is more known for his acceleration in a horizontal direction, but fast-twitch muscles are fast-twitch muscles and John Wall has fast-twitch muscles. He can do the in-game 360 thing too.

So, who ya got?