Posts Tagged ‘Kawhi Leonard’

New stats tools helpful in heralding league’s defensive best

Capturing defensive value and impact through analytics, most NBA numbers-crunchers will acknowledge, still is pretty challenging. Compared to how those folks feel about their ability to track, measure and assess a player’s or team’s offensive components, the other side of the ball remains an inexact science.

But the NBA clearly is trying, as evidence by the supporting info provided with the release of its All-Defensive teams for 2014-15.

Consider what was noted about San Antonio forward Kawhi Leonard‘s finish as the first team’s top vote-getter. The league’s release read:

Leonard teamed with [Tim] Duncan to help San Antonio hold opponents below 100 points per game (97.0) for the 20th consecutive season. Leonard averaged career highs of 5.9 defensive rebounds and a league-leading 2.31 steals for the Spurs, who were 5.1 points better per 100 possessions on defense when he was on the floor than when he was off the floor, according to NBA.com/stats.

Most of those are old-school stats, no big deal. But the use of defensive rating and on/off numbers is an indication that even the so-called expert voters don’t have to guess, go by reputation or rely solely on anecdotal observations anymore.

Similar numbers were invoked supporting Golden State’s Draymond Green and Memphis’ Tony Allen as elite defenders:

The Warriors allowed a league-low 98.2 points per 100 possessions, a defensive rating that dropped to 96.0 with Green on the court and increased to 102.1 with him off the court. Memphis’ defensive rating was 8.7 points better with Allen on the floor (94.9 per 100 possessions) than with him off the floor (103.6 per 100 possessions). Green ranked 14th in the NBA in defensive rebounding (6.7 per game), and Allen finished third in steals (2.05 per game).

Also of interest in the announcement of the honors was the order of finish. The top three finishers in DPOY balloting – Leonard, Green and the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan – all made the first team, but because positions are specified on the all-defensive ballots, Allen actually had the third-most points. First-team votes count two points and second-team votes count one.

With four guard spots available vs. two center spots, Allen had a better chance to appear on more ballots overall. Allen received 88 firsts and 31 seconds for 207 points, while Jordan went 84-19-187.

None of the breaks between first-team and second-team selections, or second-team and “others,” was close on points. But there were a couple quirky finishes. For instance, LeBron James received six first-place votes at forward to Duncan’s five, but missed a second-team forward spot on points, 64-47. Russell Westbrook got 13 first-place votes at guard, more than John Wall‘s seven, but also lost on points, 67-35.

Pop’s, Doc’s Game 7 Numbers Tell Story


VIDEO: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich poked his team after their Game 6 loss at home to the Clippers

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Ask most observers who they would like to have pushing buttons in a winner-take-all, NBA playoff Game 7 and they’d tell you Gregg Popovich, Doc Rivers or both.

The most accomplished coach of his era (Pop) against the best motivator of his era (Doc), they’ve got the championships and big game experience oozing out of their pores with Saturday’s Game 7 of their first round series at Staples Center looming on an overstuffed sports weekend, the likes of which we might not see again anytime soon.

The NFL Draft, the Kentucky Derby, Mayweather-Pacquiao and, of course, that almighty Game 7 between the reigning champion San Antonio Spurs and wanna-be champs Los Angeles Clippers. It’s all there for your consumption this weekend.

But nothing beats the pressure-packed chaos of a Game 7 and to get it with two of the marquee coaches in the game, with Hollywood as the backdrop … it doesn’t get much better.

And when you toss in the metrics, things get even more interesting.

Doc has a 5-5 career record in Game 7s, 5-2 at home. Pop is 3-2 in his career, 1-1 on the road.

Doc and the Clippers have the most compelling numbers on their side is the 79.8 percent winning percentage (95-24) home teams own in Game 7s. But on the flip side, there has been a road win in a Game 7 in each of the past three postseasons and all in the first round (Brooklyn over Toronto in 2014, Chicago over Brooklyn in 2013 and the Clippers over Memphis in 2012).

Does it mean anything?

Not really. At least not in a tangible way that either the Clippers or Spurs will be able to use after opening tip.

Both Pop and Doc won Game 7s on their home floors last season, the Spurs beat back Dallas in the first round last season and the Clippers did it a day earlier against Golden State. So they have fresh memories of what needs to be done in this situation, as do their teams.

For all of Pop’s playoff experience, no active NBA coach knows the rigors of Game 7s the way Doc does. The Boston Celtics played in seven of them during his time running the show there, his veteran crew tested in each and every way imaginable during their glory days together.

All that said, the Spurs’ lone Game 7 win on the road in four tries, came in 2008 against the New Orleans Hornets and their All-Star point guard … one Chris Paul.

If you believe in any of the minutiae, that any of these numbers have a story tell, that should be more than enough to chew on between now and game time.

As much as we’d like to make this about the coaches, the bottom line is the players, on both sides, will have the final say.

Does Tim Duncan have one more superstar effort in him? Can CP3 finally slay the dragon and drive his team over the proverbial hump? Can Blake Griffin keep it going? Or will Kawhi Leonard win the battle of the young big men? Can J.J. Redick play hero? Will Tony Parker shake off whatever ails him and deliver like the former Finals MVP he is? Will DeAndre Jordan makes his free throws? And who serves as the Game 7 wild card among Jamal Crawford, Manu Ginobili, Austin Rivers, Patty Mills, Matt Barnes and Boris Diaw?

Someone will have to decide who moves on to the conference semifinals and that date with the Houston Rockets.

And instead of it being Pop or Doc, it will have to be someone else … then again, perhaps it’s best to go with the guys with the Game 7 track records.


VIDEO: Clippers coach Doc Rivers talks about his team’s mettle down the stretch in their Game 6 win over the Spurs

Morning shootaround — April 25




VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday’s playoff action

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Kawhi shines for Spurs | Small Wizards big hit | New Rose blooming | Pelicans pick up pieces | Hack-a-Shaq to get review

No. 1: Leonard makes another statement for the Spurs — On the night he was presented with the Kia Defensive Player of the Year Trophy, Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard added to his growing legend by proving that he is more than a one-trick pony. Just ask the Clippers, who watched him bury jumpers, throw down lob dunks and do virtually anything he pleased in carrying his team past L.A. 100-73 to take a 2-1 lead in the first-round playoff series. Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News had the blow-by-blow:

“He’s like Deion Sanders,Doc Rivers said. “You’re trying to find where the hell in the backfield he is.”
The answer Friday: Everywhere.

Rivers wasn’t sure if Leonard’s 32 points — on 13-for-18 shooting — spoke volumes Friday, but conceded they might have.

“I think he was trying to tell all the voters he’s a player, not just a defensive player,” Rivers said.

With Leonard playing Pied Piper, the Spurs unleashed the kind of fury that seemed like a nightly occurrence last spring, en route to torching Miami in the most lopsided Finals in NBA history.

They shot 51.6 percent, a high for the series, and hit 41.7 percent from 3-point range. That was a marked improvement from Games 1 and 2 in Los Angeles, when the Spurs made only 18 of 58 from long range.

“I don’t know about effort and execution,” Rivers said. “I know we got our butt kicked.”

Afterward, Gregg Popovich was quick to put the blowout in perspective.

“We just had a heck of a night,” Popovich said, “and it was just one night.”

***

No. 2: Wizards go big by getting small — Back in the the 1970s, Steve Martin had a hit comedy album called “Let’s Get Small.” Is Wizards coach Randy Wittman ready to hit the charts with an updated version? Is it possible that Wittman had this planned all through the second half of the regular season, when the Wizards played rope-a-dope with the rest of the league and just reeled everyone in? A team that looked barely mediocre over the last 2 1/2 months has looked stunning in building a 3-0 lead on the Raptors and the Wiz have done it by going to a small lineup that makes the most of Paul Pierce and Otto Porter, according to our own John Schuhmann:

Then the regular season turned into the playoffs and a different Wizards team emerged. This one plays a small lineup, with Paul Pierce at power forward, liberally. This one has scored 116 points per 100 possessions over the last two games, and it took just 12 of its 76 shots from mid-range in Game 3 of the first round on Friday.
This Wizards team took two games in Toronto and is up 3-0 on the Raptors after a 106-99 victory back at home, with a chance to complete the sweep on Sunday.

Game 3 of this series followed a similar script as Games 1 and 2. The Raptors had a lead midway through the second quarter when Wizards coach Randy Wittman unleashed his secret weapon, a lineup that features Pierce and Otto Porter at the forward spots.

Pierce is the 37-year-old, grizzled vet who’s been here before.
Friday was career playoff game No. 151.

“That’s why we brought him here,” Wittman said, “for these kind of situations.”

Porter is the 21-year-old, former No. 3 pick who played a grand total of 319 minutes as a rookie last season and who was again out of the rotation just a month ago. On March 27 against Charlotte, he was a DNP, coach’s decision. Friday was career playoff game No. 6.

“He’s just growing up, right before your eyes,” Pierce said of Porter. “What better way to come out like this than in the spotlight of the playoffs.”

One of the reasons Porter got some minutes in early April was to keep Pierce fresh for the playoffs. After March 3, the pair never played more than seven minutes together in a game.
But apparently, Wittman was playing possum.

“We finally tweaked some things we’ve been saying we want to do all year,” Pierce said. “It makes us more versatile as a team, moving me to the four, giving John more space to get to the lane, opening up things for our scorers and our shooters.”

For the third straight game, the Wizards took the lead when Wittman went to the small lineup in the second quarter. This time, it was needed again in the fourth.

***

No. 3:  That’s not the same old Rose leading the Bulls — Forget everything that long-time basketball playwright William Shakespeare ever told you. The same old Derrick Rose by any name is not the sweet young thing that won the 2011 MVP and used to fly recklessly around the court for the Bulls. The new Rose, in a reflective mood, tells our Steve Aschburner that he’s smarter and better now:

“It’s over,” he said. “That player that you saw, that reckless player is smarter now.”
Rose laughed.

“If I didn’t grow in this game, I’d be mad at myself,” he said. “Just trying to take the shots that they’re giving me, trying to adjust while I’m playing.

“I love this player. This player’s better. Smarter. More effective. I think I’m not rushing anything while I’m out there. Letting the game come to me. The only thing I’ve got to handle is my turnovers, but in crucial situations I think they haven’t cost us. Every game I have it on my mind to try to keep the turnovers down, but playing the game of basketball, it’s not a perfect game.”

Breaking into stages his repeated and occasionally aborted comebacks from multiple knee surgeries, Rose has managed to keep them reasonable and, so far this time, achievable. With his play through three games against the Bucks — he’s averaging 24.0 points, 8.0 assists, 10-of-22 on 3-point attempts and a mighty 120/96 split in offensive and defensive ratings — Rose unofficially has reached the “pinch me” stage for the Bulls and their fans.

Many of them never thought they’d see again the day they could enjoy, free of worry, Rose’s romps through the lane and violent bursts in changing direction. To them, Rose’s comments were meant to be reassuring, offering up a player who might not drop jaws quite like the 22-year-old who took home the Maurice Podoloff MVP trophy but one who is better equipped to stick around and lead the Bulls where they all want to go.

***

No. 4: Pelicans must grow from painful lesson — The shock and pain of watching the ugly game video from the stunning Game 3 loss is past. The hurt of seeing Stephen Curry’s game-tying 3-pointer out of the left corner has numbed them. The knowledge that a chance to throw a real scare into the Warriors has slipped through their fingers has sunk in. Now comes the heavy lifting for the Pelicans, says our Fran Blinebury. Turning the agonizing lesson into fuel for the future fire:

On one hand, just making the rally to get into the playoffs should have been the accomplishment for a nascent roster to grow on. But to win a game when they had their hands around the best-record-in-the-league Warriors’ necks for most of the night would have been a shouting-from-the-rooftops cry that their day was coming fast.

“You have to take ownership of it,” said coach Monty Williams said. “You can’t sugarcoat it. We’re all feeling like dirt right now, so obviously you want to build them up, but there is nothing that can build you up in a situation like that. It can be a growth moment for us. It’s just tough. To have the game, and to lose it that way, there is no way to fix it right away. We’ve got to deal with it and own it.”

The Pelicans gave Curry not one, but two chances to tie the game in the final six seconds of regulation. They gave up 10 offensive rebounds and 16 second-chance points in the fourth quarter. They didn’t smartly foul Marreese Speights when he pulled in the critical rebound and before he got the ball back to Curry in the left corner. They watched a Warriors team show that the only way to really close out a game is to keep hammering and hammering away at it until there is not a single tick left on the clock.

For all the game situations and different looks and predicaments that can be encountered over the long 82-game regular season schedule, they are not the kind of lessons that can be learned in December and January or even March and April. It takes the finality of the playoffs — win or go home — to be the stern, painful, enduring teacher.

***

No. 5:Poor free-throw shooters of the world can celebrate — Let rim benders rejoice. No more long, tedious hours in the gym wasted on improving one of the most fundamental parts of your craft. NBA commissioner Adam Silver told Tim McMahon of the ESPNDallas.com that there will be serious discussion about the “Hack-a-Shaq” rule in various league meetings this spring:

Silver, who replaced the retired David Stern as commissioner in February 2014, acknowledged that the discussion is “in part” about weighing the value of entertainment and strategy.

It’s been a talking point during the playoffs, with the San Antonio Spurs sending the Los Angeles Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan to the foul line 17 times in a playoff victory earlier this week.

“I really don’t know. I think we’re clearly going to look at it, and even though I have D.J. [Jordan], I still go back and forth on it,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers told reporters before Friday night’s Game 3 against the Spurs. “I was put on the committee to look at what’s good for the league, not our team, and it’s still a tough one for me even though it’s obvious for everyone. Every ref, every game it starts, he [Jordan] looks over at me and says, ‘You guys have to stop this.’”

Rivers’ conflicted opinion of the strategy mirrored Silver’s.

“It’s a tough one for me. I go back and forth on it because I look at the other side as if you make it, they won’t do it,” Rivers said.

“That’s too simple, I think, and I think fans watching it, I don’t think it’s that enjoyable to watch and we’re all waiting for the game where a team has one [poor free throw shooter] on each team and the coaches go back and forth and do it. The game is going to last forever, No. 1, and it would be ugly to watch, so that’s my answer.”

Silver reiterated his awareness and responsibility of the balance between protecting how the game is played and creating a compelling product.

“But at the end of the day, it’s about the game,” Silver said. “I used to run something called NBA Entertainment, but I always remind myself in my job now as commissioner and managing the league office, it’s the game above all. So I think we have to [determine] what makes the most sense for the game.

“That’s why I’m sensitive about guys being able to make their free throws, and I also find that sometimes it’s a fascinating strategy,” Silver said. “We’re very conservative when it comes to changing the rules of the game. That’s why changing the rules of the game requires more than the majority of the owners; it requires a super majority. So we’ve got to be very careful, but it is something that we’re looking at closely.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Down 3-0 to the Rockets, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle comes out swinging at the referees…After a career playoff high 26 rebounds, there are no more questions about Dwight Howard’s health…Kyle Lowry’s struggles continue as Raptors go down 3-0…By the way, league office says OT might not have been necessary.  Stephen Curry was also fouled on that clutch game-tying 3-pointer at the end of regulation Game 3… Count the Celtics as being surprised that the situation between Rajon Rondo and the Mavericks blew up so badly…Kawhi Leonard will remain a Spur next season and could help recruit LaMarcus Aldridge to join him in San Antonio.

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

Green not defensive about award loss

NEW ORLEANS — Draymond Green figures if a guy can get the most votes and not wind up as the leader of the free world, what right does he have to complain?

The Warriors’ versatile forward and attack dog was philosophical about finishing second to San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard for the Kia Defensive Player of the Year balloting, even though he actually received more first-place votes.

“That’s not the end of the world,” Green said at the Warriors Thursday shootaround prior to Game 3 of the playoffs against the Pelicans. “Al Gore won the popular vote and didn’t get elected president, so I’m not gonna sit here and kill myself over not winning Defensive Player of the Year. We’ve got a bigger goal. That’s to win a championship.”

Green, in fact, was magnanimous in his praise of Leonard.

“Congratulations to Kawhi,” he said. “He’s a great defender. Phenomenal defender. He impacts the defensive end just as good as anybody in the league. So congratulations to him.

“Kawhi is what we all strive to be. He’s a champion. So you can’t sit here and beat yourself up or worry about what happened. He’s a champion. How can anybody complain about that?

“Disappointed? Yeah … but to be angry? That man’s a champion and we all strive to be that. You can’t knock that. He’s done that at the highest level. He’s helped carry his team to a championship on the defensive end.”

Collectively, the Warriors expressed more shock that Green was left entirely off the ballot by nearly one-third of the 129 voting members of the media. He was not listed first, second or third on 42 ballots.

“Obviously, we’re disappointed he didn’t win,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. “You can’t argue with Kawhi winning. He’s a great player. My only real disappointment is someone just told me that like 20 people left Draymond off the ballot entirely. That’s a little tough to swallow.

“I can understand giving your first-place vote to someone else. But for what Draymond has meant to us this year. We have the No. 1 rated defense in the league, the way the game is played, where you have to guard everybody, that’s what Draymond does. He was the focal point of our defense. So I don’t know how you couldn’t have voted him third, but that’s the way it goes.”

Teammate Stephen Curry agreed.

“Draymond being so close to getting that award, I don’t know how you leave him off the ballot entirely,” he said. “To go through the season and see how we play and his impact on the game and for him not to be on pretty much everybody’s ballot somewhere one, two or three is pretty crazy to me.”

With center Andrew Bogut finishing sixth in the voting, the Warriors did get recognition that they’re about much more than simply firing up 3-pointers.

“I think people who follow the league closely are well aware that defense is really the key to our team and fuels our offense. Bogues had a tremendous season and he’s continued to shine in the playoffs. His rim protection and intelligence with all of coverages, calling out schemes, he’s been really great.”

Green said losing out on the award will not add to his motivation on the court.

“I’m a motivated guy already,” he said. “I don’t need little jabs to motivate me. If anything else motivates me, it’s gonna motivate me the wrong way and then I’ll be too excited, too fired up. I don’t need anymore motivation. I go out here and play basketball, try to win the series and try to move on to the next round. That’s been the goal since Day One.

“I didn’t come into the season with the goal to win Defensive Player of the Year. It would have been great. I’m not gonna sit here and lie and say it wouldn’t have. It definitely would have. But at the end of the day, the goal that I came into the season with is still alive and that’s the most important thing.”


VIDEO: Spurs’ Leonard named Kia Defensive Player of the Year

Blogtable: Spurs or Warriors out West?

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


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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Playoff scenarios aplenty in play on final day of 2014-15 season


VIDEO: Celtics coach Brad Stevens and his crew don’t have to sweat out the final night of the season

NEW ORLEANS — It must be nice to be Brad Stevens and the Boston Celtics this morning. Your hard-earned playoff berth, the No. 7 seed, is locked up. You already know you have a date with LeBron James and the No. 2 seed Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs.

The mission, so to speak, is complete, courtesy of a 95-93 win over the Toronto Raptors Tuesday night.

But not everyone slept as soundly the night before the final day of this NBA season.

For plenty of teams on both sides of the conference divide this is the biggest night of the regular season. For teams still fighting to get into the playoffs and jockeying for postseason positioning, it all comes down to these final 48 (or more) minutes.

The constantly changing playoff picture is still a bit fuzzy for much of the field.

For some the math is simple — win and you are in. That’s the scenario the Pelicans are facing here tonight at Smoothie King Center (vs. San Antonio, 8 ET, League Pass). The Pelicans and Oklahoma City Thunder enter tonight 44-37, but New Orleans holds the tie-breaker over OKC. As such, the Pelicans need to at least finish tied with the Thunder record-wise, but a win tonight can secure them the 8th and final spot in the Western Conference.

The Spurs are locked in a fight to the finish for the No. 2 seed in the West behind the No. 1 seed Golden State Warriors, who locked up that top spot weeks ago and have not looked back. Knock off the Pelicans and the Spurs clinch the Southwest Division and secure that No. 2 spot. Lose and they could tumble to the No. 5 or 6 seed.

So much for that maintenance program Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is famous for employing with his veteran stars. There is too much at stake for all of the teams in that 2-through-7 mix.

In the Western Conference, the Warriors (No. 1 seed), Portland Trail Blazers (No. 4, but no home court) and Dallas Mavericks (No. 7) already have their seeds locked in.

In the Eastern Conference, the Atlanta Hawks (1), Cavaliers (2), Washington Wizards (5), Milwaukee Bucks (6) and Celtics (7) are set.

A quick look at what is at stake for teams still caught up in the crosshairs on the final night of the season

Houston (vs. Utah, 8 ET, League Pass): James Harden and the Rockets need a win over an improved Utah Jazz team, plus a loss by the Spurs, to secure the No. 2 seed and the Southwest Division title. The Rockets could finish with 56 wins, third most in franchise history behind the 1993-94 NBA championship team that won 58 games and the 1996-97 team that won 57.

L.A. Clippers (season complete): They’ve handled their business, winning seven straight games to finish the season and 14 of their final 15, only to have to sit and watch tonight to see who they’ll face in the first round. The Clippers can finish as high as No. 2 (if the Rockets and Spurs lose tonight) and no lower than No. 3 and will host their first-round series. Their opponent? It could be Memphis, the Rockets, Spurs or Dallas Mavericks.

Memphis and Indiana (vs. each other, 9:30 ET, ESPN): The Grizzlies face an energized and motivated Pacers team, fresh off of a must-have double overtime win over Washington Tuesday night. While the Grizzlies have a host of complicated scenarios that can move them up to No. 5, the Pacers are playing for their playoff lives. A loss by Brooklyn or a win by Indiana pushes the Pacers in, where they will face the Hawks in a rematch of last season’s first-round matchup (when the Pacers were the No. 1 seed and the Hawks No. 8). A loss by the Pacers plus a Brooklyn win would put an end to Indiana’s season.

Oklahoma City (at Minnesota, 8 ET, League Pass): The Thunder need to knock off Minnesota in their finale and the Spurs to handle their business against the Pelicans to make sure we get at least four more games of Russell Westbrook. (If the Thunder and Pelicans finish the season with 45-37 marks, the Pelicans get in because they won the season series with OKC 3-1.) The Thunder don’t control their own destiny, but that’s not a concern for a team that has been dealt one severe injury blow after another throughout 2014-15. A loss to the Timberwolves (or a Pelicans win) ends their season, literally and figuratively.

Chicago (vs. Atlanta, 8 ET, League Pass): The Bulls are locked in for home-court advantage in the first round and face the Hawks in a game that has ramifications beyond the first round (they are trying to avoid Cleveland in the second round, provided both teams make it through). They need a win over the Hawks to secure the No. 3 seed. A loss sends them to No. 4.

Toronto (vs. Charlotte, 7 ET, ESPN): The Raptors have a clear path. Beat the Hornets and couple that with a Bulls loss to the Hawks and they secure the No. 3 seed. They have home court either way and will try to exploit that much better than they did last season.

Brooklyn (vs. Orlando, 8 ET, League Pass): The Nets need the playoffs in the worst way, but could see their hopes go up in smoke tonight if the Pacers knock off the Grizzlies later in the night. They need to beat Orlando and hope that the Pacers used up all their mojo in that double-OT home win vs. the Wizards Tuesday.

The possibilities are endless tonight, when we close the curtain on a spectacular regular season and prepare for a postseason that should include much more of the same.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 197) Changing The Game

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Russell Westbrook‘s exploits on the basketball court this season have wowed us all.

The fury, focus and fearlessness he has displayed is truly awe-inspiring.

But is the Oklahoma City Thunder superstar playing an outdated style for today’s NBA? For all of his hard work, Westbrook will likely find himself on the outside looking in when the MVP votes are tallied — giving way to either Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors or former teammate James Harden of the Houston Rockets, or both — due to conditions beyond his control.

The iso-era of the NBA is over, having been replaced by a universal embrace of a pace and space game that lends itself to teamwork as much as it does individual star power. The San Antonio Spurs used the system to perfection last season to dethrone LeBron James and the Miami Heat in The Finals. And the Golden State Warriors and Atlanta Hawks have used it to rise to the top of the standings in the Western and Eastern Conferences, respectively.

The game is changing before our very eyes … but is one of the league’s most mercurial talents paying attention? We debate and discuss that and so much more on Episode 197 of the Hang Time Podcast: Changing The Game.

While Rick Fox is “on set” for one of his many potentially award-winning roles, the rest of the crew dives in on the playoff possibilities, the business of ballots that come with the end of the regular season and a vigorous debate about the shape-shifting of the game of basketball from the NBA all the way down to the grassroots level (the good and the bad changes).

You get it all and more on Episode 197 of The Hang Time Podcast … Changing The Game …

LISTEN HERE:

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 Merriman.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook just doesn’t care what you or anyone else thinks about the way he plays the game

Blogtable: Your All-Defensive Team …

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


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



VIDEOAndrew Bogut denies Wesley Johnson’s dunk attempt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com:
C DeAndre Jordan

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

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

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

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

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

One Stat, One Play: Spurs will make you put the ball on the floor


VIDEO: One Stat, One Play: Spurs limit the catch-and-shoot

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The San Antonio Spurs are coming alive.

The champs have their second-worst winning percentage of the Tim Duncan era, but have won six straight games to move up to sixth place in the Western Conference. With the team’s top four perimeter players all shooting better than 50 percent during the winning streak, the Spurs’ offense has been the sharpest its been (112.6 points scored per 100 possessions) since early December.

The Spurs still rank outside the top 10 in offensive efficiency for the first time in six years. Their shooting has dropped off both in the paint and from 3-point range.

Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard have both dealt with injuries and taken steps backward on that end of the floor. And Boris Diaw hasn’t provided his usual brilliance off the bench.

But the Spurs have been getting the job done defensively all season. They rank in the top five in defensive efficiency for the third straight season and 14th time in Duncan’s 18 years in the league. No other franchise has ranked in the top five more than seven of those years.

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One reason the Spurs are so good defensively is their ability to limit their opponent’s catch-and-shoot jumpers. They allow just 21.2 per game, the fewest in the league.

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Effective field goal percentage drops significantly when you can make your opponent put the ball on the floor, mostly because your pushing him inside the 3-point line. But catch-and-shoot jumpers are also better shots (for the offense) from a pure make-or-miss perspective.

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The Spurs limit their opponent’s catch-and-shoot opportunities in a few different ways…

  1. They pressure the ball, making it tougher to make a direct pass to an open shooter.
  2. Their bigs hang back on pick-and-rolls, so that their teammates don’t have to help much on the roll man and can stay at home on the shooters.
  3. They close out aggressively, but at an angle to keep the ball away from the middle of the floor, where more passing lanes are available.
  4. If there is any help on pick-and-rolls, it doesn’t come out of the strong-side corner.

The video above is the latest installment “One Stat, One Play,” a look at a possession from Sunday where the Spurs prevent a Bulls catch-and-shoot jumper with a lot of the principles listed above. Chicago shot just 3-for-13 on catch-and-shoot jumpers in the Spurs’ win.

The Spurs put their six-game winning streak on the line against the visiting Cavs at 9:30 p.m. ET on Thursday in the second game of TNT’s doubleheader. Cleveland doesn’t shoot a lot of catch-and-shoot jumpers as a team, but Kevin Love and J.R. Smith both rank among the league leaders.

Morning shootaround — March 9


Video: Highlights from games played March 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Westbrook joins historic company | Here come the Spurs | Still no love between Warriors, Clippers | Rajon Rondo is willing to stay in Dallas

No. 1: Westbrook joins historic company — At this point, perhaps we just expect it. The last few weeks, with his teammate Kevin Durant out and the Oklahoma City Thunder fighting for their playoff future, the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook just keeps carrying the Thunder. Last night against the Raptors, Westbrook posted his fifth triple-double in the last six games. Luckily for the Thunder, Westbrook, who is averaging a triple-double since the All-Star break, shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. In the meantime, writes Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman, Westbrook is keeping some historic company…

Another short list — make that three lists — of achievement with legends of the game. This time Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson and Michael Jordan.

“It’s been crazy,” said teammate Anthony Morrow. “I nicknamed him Maniac Russ. He’s incredible. His ceiling is so high.”

Westbrook’s ceiling is so high, his numbers against Toronto didn’t even move the meter: 30 points, 11 rebounds, a career-high-matching 17 assists, four steals.

Eyebrows rose only when you learned that only Magic has posted those minimum numbers in an NBA game. And when you learned that Westbrook joins Robertson as the only players ever with at least 200 points, 50 rebounds and 50 assists over a five-game span. And Westbrook joined Jordan as the only players in the last 50 years to average 33 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists over a 10-game span.

It’s not crazy to ask if anyone has ever played basketball like Russell Westbrook is playing it.

This is a national phenomenon. Nightly must-see NBA TV. Forget the playoff race. Forget even the MVP debate. Who needs a trophy? America has spoken. Basketball can’t take its eyes off Russell Westbrook.

“If you find somebody who has slowed him down, let me know,” said the Raptors’ DeMar DeRozan.

***

No. 2: Here come the Spurs — They’ve spent most of the season dealing with injuries and trying to keep above water. While other teams have made headlines, the San Antonio Spurs finally have everyone healthy and — talk about good timing — according to Gregg Popovich, are finally playing their best basketball of the season. Yesterday against the Bulls, the Spurs were able to withstand Tim Duncan‘s first-ever zero field goal performance thanks to a big game from Tony Parker. Don’t look now, but with five straight wins under their belt, the Spurs are looking strong, writes Jeff MacDonald in the San Antonio Express-News

Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard are joined by Finals MVP awards, and for a large chunk of December shared space on the injured list.

After the Spurs claimed their fifth consecutive victory Sunday, this one a 116-105 handling of admittedly short-handed Chicago at the AT&T Center, no two players have been as vital in the champs suddenly looking like the champs again.

“When the ball is moving and we’re making shots, everything is easier,” said Parker, who poured in a season-high 32 points. “The energy is good and we’re playing defense. We’re pushing the ball. Everybody is playing better.”

Sunday’s victory, combined with the L.A. Clippers’ loss at Golden State, moved the Spurs (39-23) into a virtual tie for fifth in the Western Conference.

It doesn’t take a basketball savant to pinpoint the pair whose revival has sparked the Spurs’ recovery.

Asked before the game to diagnose the Spurs’ resurrection after a rough February, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau began his answer this way:

“It looks like Parker’s getting back to being Parker.”

Backing up Thibodeau’s point, Parker had everything working for a national television audience on ABC.

Parker buried a jumper on the Spurs’ first possession, albeit after dribbling off his foot. He had his spin move working. He wiggled for tough shots and — most importantly of all — knocked down the open ones.

Parker finished 13 of 19, putting further distance between himself and a ragged rodeo trip. When he was done, Parker had his highest-scoring outing since Game 1 of last season’s Western Conference semifinals against Portland.

“He’s been in that mode for the last two or three games, and feeling very confident about his health,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “I think he is where we’d like him to be.”

***

No. 3: Still no love between Warriors, Clippers — The Clippers are still waiting for the return of Blake Griffin, which seems to still be uncertain, but in the meantime, the Clippers ran into their longtime Western Conference foe the Warriors yesterday. And while the Clips gave them a good run, the Warriors won, 106-98. But, as usually happens when these teams square off, these teams once again almost squared off. During the postgame interview with Golden State’s Draymond Green, Clippers forward Dahntay Jones delivered a bump to Green. Later, Green told reporters he was taking the high road, writes ESPN.com’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss

During the segment, Clippers guard Dahntay Jones walked into view of the camera, bumping Green as he went past. Green did not take the gesture kindly, and told reporters as much in the locker room.

“I think he wanted a reaction from me, but he don’t play,” Green said, taking note that Jones is averaging a career-low 4.6 minutes per game this season.

He explained his lack of reaction, saying, “Me getting suspended and him getting suspended, it’s different.”

He added, “If [Dahntay Jones] gets suspended they may not even notice.”

Green expressed that the bump should warrant scrutiny, saying, “I definitely expect that to be reviewed by the NBA. For him to look at me, look at me again, and bump me when I’m doing a postgame interview; that’s really smart, too, when it’s on ABC. The postgame interview is the highlight of that segment and you bump somebody.”

Green wasn’t finished with Jones. In explaining the shooting guard’s behavior, he said: “He got some camera time, which he needed because there wasn’t much celebration from their bench today, so you didn’t see him much. He got the camera time he was looking for.”

Jones denied that the bump was intentional, telling reporters, “That’s not how you bump somebody if you purposely want to bump them.”

***

No. 4: Rajon Rondo is willing to stay in Dallas — The Dallas Mavericks made a splash a few weeks ago when they traded for Rajon Rondo, with the idea that Rondo would re-sign with the Mavs this summer and give the Mavs an All-Star level point guard. But it hasn’t been that simple. While the Mavs have remained above-average with Rondo, their offense has had growing pains, some of which have bubbled over into the public consciousness, including an on-court showdown between Rondo and coach Rick Carlisle that resulted in a Rondo suspension. Still, as Rondo told Yahoo’s Marc Spears, he’s still open to staying in Dallas beyond this season…

Q: What do you think about the perception that you want to depart from Dallas?

Rondo: “First of all, I’m misunderstood in general. I don’t mind because I’m very quiet and I stay to myself. People are going to say what they want to say. I don’t talk, so I don’t know why they would say that. I don’t think I play as if I don’t want to be here. I give it all when I’m out there on the court.

“I’m always in communication trying to learn and get better and learn what’s better for the team. All I care about is winning. I made a lot of sacrifices, I believe, coming here. I try to give up the ball and move without the ball a lot more. It’s hard to adjust. But for the sake of the team to win that’s what I’m trying to.”

Q: So you are open-minded to re-signing with Dallas?

Rondo: “Why would I not be? There are a lot of things that I really love. Even the practices, we listen to music, my type of music. It’s the little things. Say we are going to California, we will play Too $hort and West Coast music. If we are going to Houston we might play chop and screw, Bun B or something like that. If we are going to New Orleans we might play Lil Wayne at practice, during shooting 30 minutes before practice. It’s a cool way they run it. We get our work in.

“It’s a player’s organization. Players first, from our plane, the way we travel. I don’t take that for granted. We eat good. We stay at the best hotels. Of course, it’s the NBA. But this organization has the best. They have PlayStation in the lockers. I don’t play games, but it’s nice to know I got a PlayStation. TVs in your own locker. I heard about it – [Brandon Bass] and J-Terry [Jason Terry] told me – but seeing it and experiencing it.

“I love it here. I don’t dislike anything. I’m not uncomfortable. Of course, the system is different, but I’ve been here for two months. It’s going to take time. Hopefully, sooner rather than later.”

Q: Are you excited about being an unrestricted free agent for the first time next offseason?

Rondo: “Not really. I never had it, but I want to live for today. When it’s going to come is when it’s going to come. One thing that will help me is that when I tore my ACL that made me realize to live in the moment. Don’t think about next month or think about two months from now. Life isn’t guaranteed. Enjoy the situation you are in now. We’re blessed and what is going to happen is going to happen.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Would the Knicks trade their first-round pick? … Erik Spoelstra says George Karl is already having an impact on the Sacramento Kings … The Heat have signed Michael Beasley to a second ten-day contract … Danny Ainge says Ray Allen still has basketball left in him … Swaggy P is going to be out for at least a few more games