Posts Tagged ‘Lang Whitaker’

Blogtable: How to fix the Pacers

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.


BLOGTABLE: Buying into the Spurs | Fixing Indiana | West 5-6-7-8



VIDEO: Sam Mitchell examines the recent freefall of the Indiana Pacers

> You’re Frank Vogel. Your Pacers are crumbling, inside the locker room and on the court. It’s time for some bold, major moves. Isn’t it? Got any?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Look, it’s probably too late for clever coaching tricks: a lineup shake-up, a mini-boot camp where there are 2-3 loose days in the schedule or even the counter-programming and pressure release of taking the team to Vegas for a night. Frank Vogel has fiddled with his rotation to no real result. At this point, all that comes to my mind is going all-in on inside-out play, demanding that the offense find Roy Hibbert and David West down low, pounding the ball down low and cutting the temptation for hero ball from Paul George and Lance Stephenson. Keep the wings and guards moving and cutting — Indiana has been standing around an awful lot lately. Get C.J. Watson back, because his outside shooting is a scarce commodity with this club. Oh, and if Andrew Bynum can get with the program and stay available, great. If not, bye-bye.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Major moves?  Like a UFO from Darryl Dawkins’ home planet of Lovetron landing in an Indiana cornfield and delivering a young Reggie Miller or Larry Bird?  Other than swinging a big club in the locker room, Frank Vogel’s only play is to calm things down, go back to basics and remind his team that they were good enough to build the league’s best record for most of the season.  Teams are always telling us that the regular season means nothing once the playoffs start.  Now the Pacers get to hit the reset button and walk that walk.  Maybe a team viewing of highlights of the 1995 Rockets (No. 6 seed) would help.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: All that’s left is for Frank Vogel to confront his team, demand they look each other in the eyes and ask them how they want to be remembered. Do they want to go down as one of the biggest collapse jobs ever, or as fighters? We can go through a litany of on-court issues, particularly on the offensive end, but this is now all about the players playing for one another and figuring out how to get their mojo back. If not, it’s lights out — maybe even in the first round.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Yes, it is time for something bold. No, I don’t have any. This is about attitude and approach, so Vogel needs to manage personalities. Seven games to go before the playoffs isn’t the time to make drastic changes to the offense that is grinding gears or to the lineup. The rotation has worked for much of the season, so it can work again. But Vogel has to be an assertive leader to ensure the locker room gets back to a good place. He can’t let this fracture more.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: “This was the best team in the league for four months with a defense that was able to stop the most potent offenses. They could certainly find their footing and get back to that level.” – John Schuhmann, March 26, 2014. Yeah, they stink right now, but April 2 isn’t the time to be making changes. The Pacers will never be a great offensive team, but they have a system that works well enough when guys are playing well and playing together. I don’t know if they’ll get there in time to make it out of the second round, but it’s more likely to happen if they stick to their identity rather than try to recreate it.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball Blog: Actually, I think it’s time for the opposite. The Pacers have gotten to where they are by mostly being deliberate. They’ve had this core intact for years, including coach Vogel, as the team organically developed into Conference contenders. This season, actually, has probably had more upheaval than any recent season, between signing Andrew Bynum and trading Danny Granger for Evan Turner. To me the last thing they need is something else to shake things up. I say they trust the infrastructure they have in place and let the new guys embrace their roles the last few weeks of the season. In many ways they seemed to treat this season like a sprint instead of a marathon, and perhaps they can use a few weeks “off” before the playoffs get started.

XiBin Yang, NBA China: First, I’d break the so-called privilege of a superstar. Maybe George could become a genuine superstar someday, but he has not reached that level yet. You could give him a chance to make it happen now, but that doesn’t mean he’ll get there…yet. He’s had a fantastic year, by and large, but he has not been ready to confront everything, which a superstar has to go through, such as how to deal with a double- or triple-team for a whole night, and get to the basket all by himself, or make clutch shots whenever the team needs. The Pacers were established by all kinds solid role players. Before George confirms to everyone that he is the guy that the front office of the Pacers wants him to be, he still ought to play team-first basketball. To break the spell, everybody needs to know his role and play within his role, just as the Spurs do.

Philipp Dornhegge, NBA Deutschland: At this point, I think you have to roll with what you’ve got. You can just cross your fingers and hope that the guys will return to form come playoff time. You could, of course, think about taking Lance Stephenson out of the first unit, but I don’t really believe that it would resonate very well with him. And the Pacers need him. I think you can trust the guys that if the going gets tough in the first round against the Bobcats, guys will step up, overcome adversity and take some momentum into the next round(s). You have to.

Iñako Díaz-Guerra, NBA España: To me, a bold move was the beginning of their fall: the Evan Turner trade. I believe that this isn’t something that Vogel can fix, it’s a locker room issue. Perhaps the leadership of Danny Granger was more important than they thought and now they need one of their younger players to take control of the team. Is Paul George ready for it? Hibbert, perhaps? They need a new leader and the only thing that Vogel can do is wait and pray for it.

Blogtable: The rest of the West

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.


BLOGTABLE: Buying into the Spurs | Fixing Indiana | West 5-6-7-8



VIDEO: Shaquille O’Neal predicts the Mavericks will hang onto a spot in the West

> How do you see the final four spots in the West finally being settled? In what order? And how do you figure that?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: With Houston and Portland rasslin’ around at Nos. 4 and 5, and Golden State’s breathtaking overtime victory at Dallas Tuesday creating a little space, I’m thinking it’s three teams fighting for the final two spots. The Mavericks better not reel long from that loss Tuesday; they’re in the midst of a tough late trip, with even Sacramento and Utah looking scary when you have more at stake than they do. Memphis faces San Antonio and Miami a little more than 72 hours apart next week, and closes with games against Phoenix and Dallas. I’ve underestimated the Suns all season, but I’m not going to do it now. They could miss the postseason and still consider this an upbeat year. Dallas and Memphis? Not so much. I’m guessing Grizzlies in, Mavs out, decided on the season’s final night in Memphis.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: When you asked a version of this question several weeks ago, I said the scrappy, overachieving Suns would be the team left out.  Then they went and won six in a row.  However, I still believe Phoenix misses the playoffs.  The Suns have the toughest schedule — three at home and five on on the road to finish, including six games against West playoff teams.  In order, I’ll go with: Portland, Golden State, Memphis, Dallas.  The Blazers have weathered the storm, and with LaMarcus Aldridge back in the lineup, they have the easiest path to the finish with five home games and only one roadie at Utah left.  Of the Warriors’ final eight games, only two tough road games at San Antonio and Portland.  The Mavs and Grizzlies will battle it out for those last two spots and if it comes down to that final showdown game of the regular season, I’ll take Memphis at home.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: The Warriors’ injury situation makes this especially tricky. But this is how I see it shaking out: No. 5 Trail Blazers No. 6 Warriors, No. 7 Grizzlies, No. 8 Mavericks, No. 9 Suns. I still think Golden State has enough to hold onto the spot they’ve occupied for nearly the entire season. Memphis has the least threatening schedule of the remaining three teams. Dallas doesn’t have an easy path by any stretch — and they finish with Phoenix and Memphis — but the Suns, to me, have the roughest finishing kick. They’ll look back at their non-effort blowout loss at the Lakers on Sunday as a playoff killer.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Warriors, Trail Blazers, Grizzlies, Mavericks. I would have dropped the Rockets into that bottom four because of the health problems, but they have a pretty easy finishing schedule of three playoff teams the final nine games, albeit with some back-to-backs. The Warriors have tough road games against the Spurs tonight and the Trail Blazers, but look at the next four after San Antonio: Kings, Jazz, Nuggets, Lakers. If there’s a momentum-builder in the Western Conference, that’s it. I dropped the Suns because their next opponents are the Clippers, Trail Blazers, Thunder, Pelicans and Spurs. But Phoenix has been beating logic all season, so watch it happen again.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Portland is safely in the No. 5 spot, with a one-game edge in the loss column and only one road game (in Utah) and three (potential) playoff teams left on its schedule. Golden State looks good for sixth, with a two-game edge on the other three teams and six of their eight remaining games against the bottom six in the West. So it will (sort of) come down to the Dallas-Memphis-Phoenix round-robin on the 12th  (PHX @ DAL), 14th (MEM @ PHX) and 16th (DAL @ MEM). I think they’ll all go 1-1 in those games, but Memphis will pick up an extra win elsewhere (they have more remaining games against non-playoff teams) and the Mavs will win the Dallas-Phoenix tiebreaker thanks to a win in that April 12 game. So I’m sticking with what I wrote a month ago. The Suns will miss out because they have the toughest schedule of the group.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball Blog: As of today, Portland, Golden State, Dallas and Memphis are in the 5-8 spots, and they are each 6-4 in their last 10 games.  And Phoenix is right behind them, 8-2 in their last 10.  If I had to choose a team not to make it, and I guess that’s what you’re making us do here,  I’d go with Phoenix. They’ve been so good all season, but at some point their magic has to run out. Doesn’t it? And as far as the other four teams finishing, I’ll go Portland, Golden State, Memphis, Dallas, although you might as well just flip a coin and see how it all plays out.

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: I am counting Minnesota out of the race and think that Portland and Golden State will hold on to their fifth and sixth rankings irrespective of the remainder of the schedule. Those two teams have an adequate buffer on Memphis, Phoenix and Dallas. Of the Grizzlies, the Suns and the Mavericks, the latter two teams play five of their remaining games on the road compared to the Grizzlies’ four games away from home. All three teams have one set of back-to-back games. But Phoenix’s schedule is most daunting because other than playing Portland, San Antonio and Dallas on the road, the Suns also have to host the Clippers, Oklahoma City and Memphis in their last eight games. And Dallas and Memphis, with their veteran experience, would certainly be favorites ahead of Phoenix to maintain their composure down the stretch. So — in short — my final four spots would be Portland, Golden State, Memphis and Dallas.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: That’s a tough race, but I think it will end with Blazers, Warriors, Mavs and Grizzlies in this order. I’m sorry for the Suns, but they have the most difficult schedule and they lack a veteran guide. The Blazers got their mojo back with LaMarcus Aldridge and the Warriors are too far to surpass them. The final two spots are the most difficult to predict. Dallas, Memphis and Phoenix are in a tight race that will probably be decided only in the final days of the regular season, when each team plays against the other two. And once again, I’m sorry for the Suns.

Hang time podcast (episode 153) featuring NBA.com’s Fran Blinebury and Iowa Energy Coach Nate Bjorkgren

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS —  The Miami Heat, a team everyone assumed was immune to the doldrums that smother teams made up of mere mortals, suddenly look every bit as vulnerable as the rest of the field.

The Indiana Pacers are scarred, too. The Oklahoma City Thunder? Yep. The Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers, too.

What once looked like a clear-cut championship field to the naked eye has a very different feel to it these days.

LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Heat will get a chance to solve their own drama with Wednesday night’s head-to-head battle (8 p.m. ET, ESPN) with the Pacers and their own struggling cast of stars, led by All-Stars Paul George and Roy Hibbert.

We’re analyzing the contenders and pretenders on Episode 153 of the Hang Time Podcast with help from NBA.com’s very own Fran Blinebury and Iowa Energy coach Nate Bjorkgren, who was crazy enough to let a member of the crew join his staff for a brief stint last weekend. We couldn’t help but touch on some of the hot topics of the day — Kobe Bryant, Phil Jackson and more — and we score yet another Dwight Howard debate (some folks never tire of the Dwight debate).

There is no shortage of drama as the regular season winds down and we cover it all here. And don’t forget about this week’s edition of Braggin’ Rights.

Check out all of that and more on Episode 153 of the Hang Time Podcast Featuring NBA.com’s Fran Blinebury Iowa Energy coach Nate Bjorkgren …

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 engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– 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.

Blogtable: Tweaking Indiana

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.


BLOGTABLE: Indy’s roster tweaks | Style police | Most dynamic duo



VIDEO: Paul George on rival Miami, and Indiana’s own offensive struggles

> Indiana does not look good. Are Larry Bird’s roster tweaks (Evan Turner, Andrew Bynum) ever going to help? What next?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Yes, it is getting late for the Pacers. Bynum was a calculated risk who might not pan out after all – maybe he can sign with and not play for all 30 teams before he’s done. Turner needs only to be better than more-rusty-than-recovered Danny Granger, and that still might happen in time to make a difference. Indiana’s stagnant offense has slowed Turner’s impact (not the other way around), but ultimately this team rises or falls on its starting five

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Turner has been underwhelming and Bynum barely on the court.  It was always questionable how much Turner would help them because, in order to get the most out of his offense in Philly, he needed the ball in his hands a great deal of the time.  He’s just not an instant-offense type player.  If Bynum is nothing more than an occasional contributor, the thin offensive production has not been improved.  The Pacers are going to have to do it all with their defense and that’s probably too much to ask.

Evan Turner (Ron Hoskins/NBAE)

Evan Turner (Ron Hoskins/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Help? Looks like those moves have demoralized his team, not that I heard anyone, including myself, suggest such a thing might happen at the time of either big move. Andrew Bynum’s done, so forget that. Shipping off Danny Granger seems to have done a psychological number on this young team who looked up to the former All-Star. It really was a great feel-good story with Granger coming back, albeit in a reduced role, and, yes, he didn’t exactly sprint out of the gate, but … now he’s helping the streaking Clippers, who really needed a boost on the wing.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Evan Turner will help a little, which is all anyone should have ever expected. How good did people think he was when the 76ers couldn’t give him away? Turner for Danny Granger was a good trade for the Pacers because it gave them someone with a better chance to contribute here and there than Granger. If Turner wins a playoff game for Indy with a bench spark, that’s a reasonable return. Take that approach and multiply it times a thousand for Bynum. He may never help, which, again, should have been expected all along. What next if neither help? There is no next. Just the roster that will defend their guts out and can beat anyone four times in seven games without Turner and Bynum.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I doubt that Bynum’s going to help. Even if he does get healthy, Frank Vogel might trust Ian Mahinmi more in the postseason. Turner has never been an efficient scorer, so even when he has a good game, he’s not going to give them a huge lift. But there doesn’t necessarily need to be a “what’s next.” This was the best team in the league for four months with a defense that was able to stop the most potent offenses. They could certainly find their footing and get back to that level.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comI didn’t think the roster tweaks were necessary. When you are already running ahead of the pack in the conference, roster tweaks are a luxury. Larry Bird was praised by most for being proactive, as he should have been. Turner and Bynum aren’t the Pacers’ problem. It’s their core guys — Paul George and Roy Hibbert specifically — who are not playing at the consistently sky-high level they were earlier this season. What’s next is the Pacers’ core group relocating that defensive focus and offensive flow that led them to the top of the Eastern Conference standings … a spot they might not hold on to much longer.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: Put it this way: I don’t really thing Bird’s roster tweaks are going to *hurt,* at least long-term. I just think we’re seeing what happens when you make changes on the fly — you have to learn on the fly. This goes against how the Pacers have built their team, taking their time and growing nearly organically. They lost a guy averaging about 9 points a game, sure, but that shouldn’t take a team from being a contender to a pretender. Hopefully they have enough time to figure it all out before the playoffs roll around.

Philipp Dornhegge, NBA Deutschland: Actually, I’m not as concerned about the Pacers as many other people. Indy seems to coast a little, which affects their offense. Paul George has been off lately, Roy Hibbert recently appeared to criticize Lance Stephenson (without mentioning his name) for ball-hogging. All of that indicates that Indy is bored, at least to me. It’s true that Bynum and Turner haven’t helped yet, but the moves also haven’t hurt the team as Bynum came for free and Granger hadn’t given Indiana much. I’m hopeful that both of them will be valuable come playoff time. The only thing that worries me is that the Pacers might lose home-court advantage to the Miami Heat.

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: Is this even about Bird’s roster tweaks anymore? I mean, in any case, the rotation during the playoffs is much shorter than the regular season, with the starters seeing a lot more playing time. If the Pacers have to do better, Paul George’s 30-for-95, David West’s 26-for-72 and Roy Hibbert’s 20-for-48 field-goal shooting efforts in Indiana’s last six games have to improve. If not, Indiana will cede home-court advantage to Miami and could possibly exit the playoffs even before the Conference finals.

Blogtable: On-court style police

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.


BLOGTABLE: Indy’s roster tweaks | Style police | Most dynamic duo



VIDEO: The GameTime crew weighs in on the topic of ads on game jerseys

> Sleeves, leg warmers, ads on game jerseys … what are your thoughts on the state of the NBA’s on-court style?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comSome of these players have on more armor and apparel than NFL or NHL players. And regarding the marketability of sleeves, I don’t see what the problem is with fans wearing T-shirts under their replica tank-top jerseys. But swooshes and other logos embroidered on the shirts as a source of revenue? No one is stepping in front of that gravy train. As for sheer style, I’m hoping the league goes back to belted shorts, just so I can throw around the adjective “Mikanesque.”  

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: After trashy cheerleaders, silly mascots, every timeout sponsored by somebody, blaring music that won’t allow you to think, playoff games that tip off at 10:40 PM Eastern and TV timeouts that drag on longer than the gestation period of an elephant, NOW you want to ask about the purity of the game?  Where it’s headed is to whatever brings in the highest dollar amount.  Maybe next year Chick-Fil-A can sponsor the Heat uniforms and LeBron could see how he likes shooting while wearing a cow costume.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Don’t like the sleeves, don’t really care about the tights (although didn’t the NBA outlaw these once before?) and HATE ads on jerseys. They are only as “inevitable” as new commissioner Adam Silver wants them to be. Sure, ads on jerseys will produce new revenue, but I thought NBA franchises were doing just great? Just because European soccer splashes logos on their game jerseys doesn’t mean we might as well do it over here. It cheapens the uniform and, simply, it looks tacky. The revenue generated from ads on jerseys will not be immense and therefore the ads are unnecessary, as inevitable as they may be. Maybe owners should work harder to put forth a better product, work harder to sell sponsorships and work harder to market their product. Jersey ads are simply a lazy way to create new revenue.

Harrison Barnes in a short-sleeved jersey (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

Harrison Barnes in a short-sleeved jersey
(Rocky Widner/NBAE)

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: You would have to search a long time for someone who cares less than I do. Maybe it’s better to say I care since style is important, but this issue is somewhere in triple digits on the list of priorities. As long as the long sleeves don’t affect play. As for the ads on uniforms, that has been coming for years and teams in other sports around the world have already tapped into the revenue stream. Someone should grab Chico’s Bail Bonds as a sponsor for the back of jerseys before it’s too late.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It doesn’t matter to me much. I don’t mind the sleeved jerseys, but can understand why players would. I like that all of a team’s accessories (headbands, arm sleeves, etc.) need to be the same color and wonder why they started allowing guys to wear different colored shoes.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I don’t have to work in a uniform, so I cannot sympathize with LeBron James or others who are worried about sleeves and other style details that have absolutely nothing to do with one’s ability to complete whatever their daily tasks are on the job. If we’re headed for a world of sponsorship logos on jerseys, so be it. NBA players wouldn’t be the first group of professional athletes to operate with that as a part of their mandated attire. In the grand scheme of things, uniform details seem like a rather inconsequential element of the entire process. No offense to the uniform makers, but as long as they look good and everybody’s uniforms match … this from someone who played on a team as a kid where our uniforms consisted of white t-shirts with numbers that had to be ironed on by our parents and whatever pair of shorts you could muster.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: I am probably the wrong person to ask about this. I’m one of those people who loves it when the players want to be as accessorized as possible, who enjoys sleeved jerseys and is an enthusiastic supporter of teams rocking nicknames instead of surnames. I appreciate very much that the NBA has for the most part not legislated individuality out of the game the way the NFL has the last few years. I know ads on jerseys are a hot-button issue among fans, but I feel like that’s an inevitability going forward. I own my share of soccer jerseys with ads on them, and the ads don’t take away from my enjoyment of the sport.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: The sleeves don’t concern me too much. I like them as an extra jersey for teams and understand the commercial reasons. I must admit that I’m slightly concerned about the advertising on game jerseys because one of the things I love about the NBA compared to other professional leagues is that they’ve shied away from this is in the past. Clearly it was trialed during the All-Star Weekend and didn’t really cause too much of an issue, though, and I don’t think NBA fans are too concerned. Adam Silver is  a smart guy, so I’m sure he’ll be able to manage the ads in a classy way and make sure they don’t dominate the jersey but I do hope this doesn’t come in for a little while yet.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: That’s the way fashion rolls. In cycles. Wearing accessories isn’t something new. It was something Allen Iverson and his generation brought to the table (and the hardwood). I am not against it. I like watching players with different stylistic choices. Sometimes it becomes part of their character (LeBron’s headband for example). And you know what? Basketball is a game of confidence, so let the player feel as confident as they can possibly can. If it that means that they want to wear their lucky sleeve on their shooting arm, so be it. But I believe that we are still far away from having any real idea about where this is going.

Blogtable: The NBA’s most dynamic duo

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.


BLOGTABLE: Indy’s roster tweaks | Style police | Most dynamic duo



VIDEO: LeBron James and Chris Bosh combined to snuff out Portland’s chance at a win Monday

> Right now — taking health problems and everything else into consideration – who would you name the most formidable pair of teammates in the NBA?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: This reminds me of the trivia question about baseball’s all-time brother act among HR hitters. Of course it’s the Aarons, on the strength of Henry’s 755 and Tommie’s 13. To me, any pair of teammates that includes LeBron James as one of them is a serious contender as top tandem. Some might argue that Chris Bosh is Miami’s second-best player now, but I’ll stick with a rested and recuperating Dwyane Wade as wingman to the NBA’s best player (not necessarily the 2014 MVP), based on how well Wade and the team have managed his health and workload.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Because there are questions going forward about how Russell Westbrook will hold up over the long haul of the playoffs and because there are constantly questions about Dwyane Wade’s knees, you have to go past the obvious.  I’ll put Chris Paul and Blake Griffin at the top of my 1-2 punch list.  Paul can run the break, get everybody a good shot at any time and Griffin has raised his all-around game to be part of the MVP conversation.  Formidable isn’t the word to describe Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, just incredibly efficient.  The pairing that could leap up and make an even bigger splash still in the playoffs is James Harden and Dwight Howard.

Blake Griffin, Chris Paul (Noah Graham/NBAE)

Blake Griffin, Chris Paul (Noah Graham/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comKevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. I know Westbrook’s been in and out of the lineup and might be a knee bump away from potentially being shelved again, but together this tandem of 25-year-olds is a two-way terror like none other. Durant is the best player in the game right now, simply unguardable. Put the strength and speed of Westbrook, practically unguardable in his own right, next to KD and say goodnight.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comFour first names and two players equal one top tandem: Chris Paul, Blake Griffin. The best point guard in the world and one of the top, maybe the top, power forward gives the Clippers a dynamic inside-outside pairing with a season of Griffin’s commendable improvements and Paul coming back from the shoulder injury. James Harden-Dwight Howard and Paul George-Roy Hibbert (defense, defense) are in the conversation. Paul is not 100 percent, but the potential challengers of Westbrook-Durant, Lillard-Aldridge, Rose-Noah have larger health issues.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comLeBron James and Chris Bosh. James is the best player in the world and Bosh is the next most important player on the Heat, with his ability to defend the pick-and-roll and space the floor offensively. Dwyane Wade can create more offense when James is off the floor, but Bosh is the better complement. He’s bigger and a better perimeter shooter.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The most lethal pair of teammates, injuries included, remains Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. There aren’t two guys working in tandem that can wreak more havoc or affect more change, on both ends of the floor, during the course of a game than the Oklahoma City Thunder’s dynamic duo and their Miami Heat counterparts. When they crank it into high-gear, who else can wade into that deep water and still stay true to what they do best? Sure, Westbrook and Wade have dealt with more than their fair share of injury issues this season. But the entire league knows what happens when they have it going. They are the obvious choices for the most obvious of reasons, we’ve seen them go to that next level so often over the past three or four years that there should really be no argument here.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: I’m sure we’ll see nominations for Westbrook and Durant, Harden and Howard, maybe even LeBron and Bosh. But I think I’ll go with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. I don’t think CP3’s leadership or toughness have ever been questioned, and with CP3 missing time this year due to injury, I think we saw exactly how good and complete a player Blake has become. The thing I also like about these two is that they combine to form a terrific inside-out combination, or at least as much of an inside-out combination as exists these days in the NBA.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: Right now it’s the Chris Paul-Blake Griffin duo. The smartest PG in the league paired with one of the most athletic big man gave us Lob City, but now that Griffin is evolving into something more than just a spectacular dunker, the Clippers have a spectacular duo who’s winning a ton of games. They can both win games by themselves, as a duo or involving their other teammates. I really like what Doc Rivers has turned them into. Without injuries, I’d go with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade over Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

Philipp Dornhegge, NBA Deutschland: I was thinking about Howard/Harden, Nowitzki/Ellis, Paul/Griffin and Westbrook/Durant. But right now I don’t believe that any duo is as good on both sides of the floor as LeBron James and Chris Bosh. In his fourth season with the Heat, Bosh is so much more than the third-best player of the team. You could argue that Miami would be going nowhere if they didn’t have the lefty big man. He takes and makes big shots with great regularity and is capable of a key defensive play anytime. And LeBron is just the best player on the planet. I really believe that if you have those two players working together, you’re guaranteed a shot at the title. And they’re the only duo I think about in those terms.

Hang Time Podcast (episode 152) featuring Joakim Noah and Steve Aschburner

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Phil Jackson‘s basketball roots run deep in New York, dating all the way back to his playing days with the Knicks, when he was a part of teams that won the franchise’s only championships, all the way up to his being introduced Tuesday as the Knicks’ new team president.

But there is no denying his connection to Chicago, the place where he enjoyed some of his greatest moments in the game, including the six titles he helped bring to the city along with Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and the dynasty Bulls.

And Phil and Chicago is where we go on Episode 152 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring Bulls All-Star center Joakim Noah and NBA.com’s senior writer and Chicago-area native and Hang Time bureau chief Steve Aschburner. Whether or not that championship connectivity comes into play for Phil Jackson and the Knicks (and right now, Carmelo Anthony and his current crew) remains to be seen, but if Jackson’s Knicks grind the way Noah and the Bulls do under Tom Thibodeau, Knicks fans would have plenty cheer about.

The bigger and perhaps better questions center around what kind of power, drawing and otherwise, Phil brings to the Knicks. Can Phil attract the other superstar needed to pair with Anthony so the Knicks can contend? Would LeBron James listen to a pitch from The Zen master if and when he becomes a free agent? And what does that mean for Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Pat Riley in Miami?

So many questions … and needed answers, plus this week’s edition of Braggin’ Rights, can be found here.

Check out all of that and more on Episode 152 of the Hang Time Podcast Featuring Joakim Noah and Steve Aschburner …

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 engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– 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.

Blogtable: The MVP of the LAC

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.


BLOGTABLE: The rest of the East | The MVP of the Clippers | Phil Jackson’s debut


Point guard Chris Paul and forward Blake Griffin of the Clippers (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Point guard Chris Paul and forward Blake Griffin of the Clippers (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

> MVP of the Clippers: Studly power forward or savvy veteran point guard?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI’m sticking with Chris Paul as the Most Valuable Clipper because he organizes their offense, initiates their attack and shoulders the greatest responsibility for taking them where they want to go. Even in his injury absence he brought value: Blake Griffin stepped up his game and their group is better for it. It’s a tough choice, but if I were running that team and had to do without one, it’d be the power forward. I want my point guard.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I know that Blake Griffin did excellent work while Chris Paul was injured. But it’s still CP3 that makes the Clippers’ engine run at full throttle. I’m giving the edge to the little man, but he’s got to show leadership and get them at least to the second round.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comBlake Griffin. Who carried the team through 18 games without CP3? Yeah, Jamal Crawford was great, but Griffin emerged as the leader he needs to be. It was a major step forward in his mental and emotional development to go along with the great strides he’s made in his physical game.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Chris Paul is the best point guard in the world, and that is a unique level of special considering the position, but the highlight-smasher is the MVP of the team. Blake Griffin was just as great with Paul out with a shoulder injury and with CP3 regaining his rhythm as with Paul in a good place. The Clippers are better this season because Griffin is better. He should get third-place votes in the real MVP race, the league-wide one.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Blake Griffin is their regular-season MVP, because he carried the Clips to a 12-6 record (along with one more win in November) and the No. 1 ranking in offensive efficiency in that month-plus that Chris Paul missed. But point guard is still the most important position on the floor and they’ve been much better defensively when Paul has been healthy. So he’s more important to their success in the postseason, though they wouldn’t get out of the first round if either of the two wasn’t close to 100 percent.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: This is a great question and one that I’m sure Doc Rivers is glad he doesn’t have to answer. I’m going to split hairs and make it clear that Blake Griffin, as of this moment, is the Clippers’ best player. He’s done more this season, with and without Chris Paul in the lineup, than even the most optimistic of fans (yes, I’m talking about you, Clipper Darrell) could have imagined. Griffin will rightfully finish in the top three or four of the MVP race and has legitimized his profile as one of the league’s truly elite power forwards and overall players. But if someone asks who the Clippers’ most valuable player is, Paul has yet to relinquish that title. The Clippers’ turnaround that began before the arrival of Rivers, was spurred by Paul. He was a culture-shifter and franchise-changer for a Clippers outfit in dire need of some project rehab work in both departments. Best player right now? Griffin. Most valuable player? Paul.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blogHow about neither? Honestly, I’d like to cast a vote for the guy who has the offense clicking, who has the defense playing a million times better than they were the first few weeks of the season, who has figured out how to overcome the loss of guys like that gritty point guard, and who has put the highlight-smashing power forward in position to succeed, and who has added guys like Hedo Turkoglu and Big Baby Davis and Danny Granger. I’ve said all along that this season, the Clippers’ MVP has to be Doc Rivers.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: My man is Blake Griffin. He has been consistent all season long, he has grown into a complete basketball player, he added a weapon as important as the mid-range shoot to his arsenal of spectacular dunks, he became not only the terminal of Lob City but also the assist-man. And he also proved he can be a leader for this team, given the way he played when Chris Paul was injured. CP3 is still the mind of this Clippers, but I think Blake should be their MVP this season. They make a tremendous duo who can take the team very deep into the postseason.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: Forget Kevin Spacey. The NBA is the house of guards. Basketball is the game of the perimeter players (forgive me Kareem). They are the ones to handle the ball, to make plays, to decide, to execute at crunch time. That’s the way things go, so Chris Paul is the man for the Clippers.

Blogtable: Grading Phil’s debut

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.


BLOGTABLE: The rest of the East | The MVP of the Clippers | Phil Jackson’s debut



VIDEO: Phil Jackson, new president of the Knicks, lays out some reasons he came back to the game

> You saw Phil Jackson’s return: What was your takeaway? Any questions?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: His comments about Carmelo Anthony sounded like recruiting pitches (though I’ve always thought ‘Melo was going to stay right where he is). Now he can stick around for the maximum money while claiming it’s a mission to win. The delusions of grandeur that have been part of his problem in the past will be stoked anew by Jackson’s praise and pledge to help him reach his “next level.” Anthony – who has had a hard enough time realizing he isn’t LeBron James or Kevin Durant – now will think of himself as Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, the all-timers who needed Jackson to get their rings. Please.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Biggest takeaway is that Phil Jackson’s first day on the job will be the easiest day he has. Standing behind that microphone was like a politician making promises. Changing the short-term fix culture of the Knicks will be the heavy lifting. Can he get ownership, Carmelo Anthony and, just as important, the New York media to buy into a seismic shift? If he can do that, Jackson doesn’t just have the Knicks on a steady course by 2016, he’s perfectly timed that same year to run for President.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: The stuff about seeing Carmelo Anthony with the Knicks and living in New York, and that was great. Bigger than any one particular thing Phil Jackson said was simply the credibility, the rock of stability, he put on display by acting like the man in charge. New Yorkers should rejoice, James Dolan‘s paranoia and utter lack of interpersonal skills are being pushed to the side and overshadowed by a very tall and wise Zen Master, a true master in the art of communication. This is big.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comThere was no big takeaway. If anyone had a chance to make one, in what is ordinarily a very scripted setting, it would be Jackson, but even he kept it simple and straightforward. He is excited, the Knicks can have a big future, it’s a special organization. Yada yada yada. James Dolan had a good one, though. Gratefully giving up the power. Funny stuff. As for whether there is anything else I need to know: You mean besides everything? This only becomes real once a man with no front-office experience starts making moves, and that can’t happen at a press conference.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I liked that he brought up continuity, which is something that has been missing in New York, with all the different general managers, coaches and high-priced players that have come through over the last 12 years. Keeping a core together for several years is more difficult under this CBA, but just having a team president and coach who are on the same page for four or five straight years would be a big step in the right direction.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I watched every second of Phil’s first media rodeo as president of the Knicks and it was exactly what I was expecting, the (Zen) master taking over the room from the start. He disarmed the assembled media, let James Dolan off the hook (“we’re here to take the pressure of making basketball decisions off of his plate” … I’m paraphrasing) and then stuck him with it later (“I wouldn’t be here if we hadn’t established that I do this my way” … again, paraphrasing), smiling the entire time. He wants to work with Carmelo Anthony and does not appear to have any plans to do the same with Mike Woodson beyond this season. And yet the biggest takeaway from the entire affair for me was his declaration that he will indeed be a hands-on manager of the basketball operation in New York and engage himself in the process in every way. He is NOT going to coach this team. I don’t know how many different ways he can say it. But that was also the one other major item I took away from his maiden effort as the public face of the franchise. It’s Front Office Phil’s show from here on out, for better or worse. The Knicks and certainly the league become much more interesting with Phil Jackson in an active role.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: If you don’t trust Phil Jackson by now, I’m not sure there’s anything I can do to help you. I think the thing I took away from the press conference wasn’t anything Phil said, but moreso that Knicks owner Jim Dolan seemed as enamored of Phil as he is The Eagles. Dolan appeared to be willing to fully hand over basketball ops to Phil and get out of his way, which for Knicks fans must be an encouraging thing to have heard. Phil has a huge task at hand — not sure if he can create draft picks out of thin air, for instance — but either way, having Phil in charge should buy the Knicks a few more years to find their footing and get some sort of traction regarding the future.

Karan Madhok, NBA India: The biggest takeaway at Phil’s introductory speech was the beacon call to the good ol’ days of basketball in the mecca, the late 60s and early 70s when the Knicks played the most team-oriented brand of basketball ever and won their only two championships. Jackson was part of that team, and he wants to bring the same philosophy to the franchise more than 40 years later. He spoke about bringing a system of ball-movement and unselfishness. But the big question is: how? The Knicks don’t have much room to upgrade this roster, so the change will have to come from the within – a Zen-like philosophical adjustment – than from the outside.

Iñako Díaz-Guerra, NBA España: I love Phil Jackson. I think that he’s one of the greatest minds of sports history, but … I listen to all his great words and can’t stop thinking: “Great, but how are you going to make that happen? Black magic?” Look, I love the Knicks and I love Phil Jackson, but the contracts of Amar’e, Bargnani and J.R. Smith aren’t going to disappear. Will Jackson have the patience for at least one more year of losing? That’s my doubt.


VIDEO: Jackson offers his thoughts on Carmelo Anthony and running the triangle offense

Blogtable: Pacers, Heat … then what?

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.


BLOGTABLE: The rest of the East | The MVP of the Clippers | Phil Jackson’s debut



VIDEO: The Starters break down John Schuhmann’s weekly NBA.com Power Rankings

> OK, so it’s Miami and Indiana. How do you see the rest of the East shaking out?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: No one should want to be No. 7 or No. 8, no matter how vulnerable Miami or Indiana has looked in recent weeks. That creates some serious pressure from down under in the East bracket even if the newly invigorated Knicks do not. Six games separate Nos. 3-8, which could make for a wild finish. But I expect the current order to hold. Toronto is the best of the bunch overall, followed by the ever-overachieving Bulls. Brooklyn and Washington each might think it is better off facing the Raptors, but then, there’s that nuisance of going back and forth through customs in a long series. Charlotte is just happy to be there and Atlanta, as the sub-.500 entry, is just lucky to be there. Viva la status quo! (Oh, and the Raptors, Bulls and Bobcats have the best chance of making upset mayhem in the conference semifinals, depending on matchups.)

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Since the Knicks have won six in row, we know from past experience that things will soon turn bad. I don’t expect them to creep into the playoffs just because of Phil Jackson’s Zen magic. The Cavs are also dead. So we have the eight teams. It’s only a question of the order. I could see the Nets beating out the Wizards for No. 5. But do they want to walk into a possible 4-5 first round meeting with the meat grinder that is the Bulls? I could really look forward to a first round series between the Heat and Bobcats. Charlotte is a team that finally has a purpose and a direction and Al Jefferson could make things interesting.

Carmelo Anthony (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Carmelo Anthony (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Of course you have to be impressed with Toronto and the job coach Dwane Casey has done in the final year of his contract. And coach Tom Thibodeau and the Bulls, what more can be said about this group’s resiliency? But check out the Brooklyn Nets. Coach Jason Kidd has figured out a thing or two, not the least of which is how to stalk a sideline. The talent on this team has really shown itself since the calendar turned to 2014. Deron Williams has endured injury and struggle and is playing some of his finest ball of the season. Joe Johnson‘s been solid. Paul Pierce has seemed to finally embrace the journey. The addition of Marcus Thornton has provided a nice jolt. Put it all together and the Nets are a savvy, veteran ballclub that won’t wilt under pressure.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Bulls get past the Raptors, the Nets get past the Wizards, and the Bobcats stay in the top eight. Most of all, I see the playoff group is set. The Knicks have some forward momentum so breaking in wouldn’t be the biggest surprise. But the jockeying will mostly be within, the order of the first eight. One of the subplots will be getting to at least sixth to avoid a 1-8 or  2-7 with the Heat and Pacers.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThe Bulls have the easiest remaining schedule (they have six more games against the Sixers, Bucks, Celtics and Magic), so they should grab the 3 seed, with Toronto, Brooklyn and Washington finishing behind them in that order. There’s very little chance that Charlotte or Atlanta budge or win more than one game in the first round. Those 3-6 and 4-5 series should be a lot of fun (even though Bulls games are the ugliest in the league) and the teams with the experience (Chicago and Brooklyn) should have the edge. But I love that we have some fresh blood in there with the Raps, Wiz and future-Hornets.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I think the eight Eastern Conference playoff teams we’ll see in mid-April are the same eight teams that are occupying those spots today. New York and Cleveland had their windows of opportunity to catch the Hawks for that eighth and final spot in the standings (the Hawks lost almost every time they hit for the floor for dang near an entire month and still had a cushion). Whatever that 3 through 8 breakdown is at the end of the this regular season is almost inconsequential to me. In fact, I joked to Lang Whitaker and Rick Fox last week on the Hang Time Podcast that we should go ahead and play the No. 3-vs-No. 6 and No. 4-vs-No. 5 series, whoever matches up in those spots, give the Pacers and Heat a first-round bye and tell the bottom two teams that we appreciate all of your hard work but there is no need in you getting your noses bloodied merely for our entertainment.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: One of the teams that is currently in the playoff picture — but only one team — will not make the postseason. I think Atlanta is due for a run, after their long losing streak, and even as well as Charlotte has played of late, my guess is they’ll hit a tailspin as we head down the stretch. Which means? That’s right, Phil Jackson’s New York Knicks will make a late push and qualify for the playoffs. They don’t have their own Draft pick anyway, so why not go all out?

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: I think it will stay as-is, meaning that the Knicks won’t make it. The eight teams that are in there should stay, it’s just going to be a question of where they’ll all finish and who will secure third and fourth position –  and that hugely important home court for the first round. Charlotte and Atlanta seem to be the obvious candidates to finish in seventh and eighth, but the battle between Toronto, Chicago, Washington and Brooklyn will be intriguing. Just 2.5 games separates those four teams.

XiBin Yang, NBA China: The Bobcats really played some good games after the All-Star break. Al Jefferson has reached his summit of career, and he demonstrated that he could play some solid defense, if the coach is able to establish an effective system. Maybe they could make a leap in the last month. The schedule of Brooklyn is better. So, if the Nets continue to embarrass their opponents, maybe it’s not so far away to see them eventually seize a home-court advantage in the first round.