Posts Tagged ‘NBA playoffs’

Blogtable: Taking the best 16

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: The best 2s | Charlotte vs. New York | A sweet 16


> Lately we’ve had some talk on conference imbalance and what can be done about it. One question: Do you like the idea of seeding the top 16 teams in the playoffs, regardless of conference? Any drawbacks?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI like this plan. Some East teams still would have an edge anyway, right, because their records get fattened against the lousiest clubs in their conference? Even so, it would help to squelch the six months of bellyaching we get from some in the media on this topic. I mostly consider this a pendulum problem that will swing the other way in time. But some seem hung up on fixing instantly anything they perceive isn’t “faaaair.” If instituted, their next freak-out would be over the travel demands of a Portland-Atlanta series.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Looking forward to that Miami-Portland first round playoff series. Boston-LA? Memphis-Sacramento? You think the media whining is loud now? Team complaints about travel fatigue? Wait til those happen. So Mark Cuban wants to go to the Eastern Conference because its so hard for his team in the West. For a guy who lives in the “Shark Tank,” he should know life sometimes bites. This is a solution in search of a problem.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The only drawback is that one conference will face a much easier schedule in the regular season and throw off the records that will determine the seedings. Beyond that, rank away. Just make sure to build in enough time. There could be coast-to-coast travel in the first round. If teams are going back and forth in a 2-2-1-1-1 format, and maybe on more than one occasion in that postseason, play will suffer.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The screaming you hear about conference imbalance is based on recent events, or lack thereof, in the East. As you know, these things are cyclical and who’s to say the East won’t be the better conference in another few years? There’s no need to push the red button and force change. Stick with the status quo and keep the conferences balanced in the postseason.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’m not crazy about the idea, but I think it has to be done at this point. This is now 15 of the last 16 years in which the West has been the better conference. Some good teams are missing the playoffs and some bad teams are making them. But if you do it, you have to look at balancing the schedule, which will be tougher to do.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I feel like such a grumpy old man here, but I do not. I don’t think everyone should get a trophy for participation either. Seriously. Enough of this fairness doctrine being spread around the league. I’m reminded of the cyclical nature of sports and the fact that what appears one way now can change dramatically before you know it, rendering a hasty reaction foolish if we’re not careful. The divisional and conference format of the league has to mean something. There has to be some method to this madness. I understand we’re trying to reward teams in the tougher conference and a top-16 would make it “fair” to some. But I don’t believe that solves the problem when, say in a year or two, the Eastern Conference sees the balance of power shift in its direction.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: It would be good if everyone played to a similar schedule. The hard problem to solve here is the scheduling: To fix it without losing a sense of regional rivalry and without adding to travel for the teams.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I do not like the idea. I understand the arguments in favor of the change, specifically that it should ostensibly make for more competitive matchups in the playoffs, which would make the entire league must-see TV and raise ratings (and revenues). But I’m also something of a new-school traditionalist, and I like the conferences and divisions, gerrymandered though they may be. Conferences will have ups and downs and at some point in the future the East will once again have the power while the West will struggle. Until then, that’s just the way it is. (Word to Bruce Hornsby.)

Marc-Oliver Robbers, NBA.com/Germany: Why not? I’m a fan of this approach. The best 16 teams should battle for the title. The question is, do we still need the divisions and conferences? Traveling in our time is so comfortable that this isn’t an argument anymore. And it would be unfair if you change the system but keep the conferences. The teams in the East would have an advantage, because of the easier schedule. You have to change the schedule system. Every team would have to play three times against every team in the league. That would mean 87 regular season games. Too much? I don’t know. But changing things isn’t as easy as you’d expect.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA.com/Greece: For sure! It’s very similar to the European point of view, where the winning record is the only criteria. We will miss some rivalries, but I think that this way the playoffs will be even better.

Aldo Avinante, NBA.com/Philippines: I am leaning towards the top 16 teams in the playoffs, because a lot of talented and exciting teams from the West will be left off again come post-season. Teams like the Pelicans, Suns and Kings all have great young talent. The Western and Eastern Conference format always builds up rivalries, but a great example is the NCAA tournament, no one bothers from what conference or state the schools belong to, it’s just the top teams in the country, period.

Karan Madhok, NBA.com/India: I do like the seeding of the top 16 teams for the playoffs as the first step towards fixing the playoffs imbalance. Too many good teams and superstar players are standing out the playoff picture in the West every year; and meanwhile out East, teams that start 4-13 are still optimistic of finishing in the top six. The drawback obviously is that it will eliminate some of the historical rivalries a little as teams that face each other regularly in the playoffs will now be playing more inter-conference matchups earlier in the playoffs. To be honest, I don’t necessarily think that this is a bad thing: with new alignments and rules, there will be new traditions. The top 16 seeding shouldn’t be the final solution either, because teams in the East will still continue to have an easier schedule during the regular season as they play teams in their weaker conference more often. In the ideal NBA world, I will be hoping that all teams play each other equal number of times through the season for a truly fair idea of where they should stand before the postseason begins.

Nacho Albarrán, NBA.com/Espana: Yes, and we don’t see any drawbacks, because that system could improve the overall competition.

Davide Chinellato, NBA.com/Italy: I really like the idea of seeding the top 16 teams in the playoffs regardless of conference. Traveling isn’t an issue anymore, so why don’t have a postseason with the 16 best teams out of the regular season? It would be really interesting, and I’m pretty sure most teams would like it. Especially Western Conference teams …

Simon Legg, NBA.com/Australia: I do! Let’s get the best teams in the playoffs! It was a complete injustice that the 48-win Suns missed the playoffs last season. Not only did they win 48 games, they won them in the West! No offense to Atlanta, but how does a team that won 38 games make the playoffs? The Hornets really struggled to start the season, but given they’re in the East there’s a chance that they get themselves together and win enough games to qualify. Obviously, the entire system would have to change so that’s probably a drawback, but if you get the best teams in the playoffs then it’s worth it.

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

Top 10 playoff performances of 2014

 By Joe Boozell

Michael Jordan against the Jazz. Reggie Miller against the Knicks. Larry Bird against the Lakers. Magic Johnson against the Celtics.

The NBA playoffs are where legacies are formed. And while any true basketball fan enjoys a night of hoops in January, the playoffs are where the NBA lights shine brightest. Last year’s postseason was as entertaining as ever, as five of the eight first-round matchups went to a Game 7.

Those games — and others throughout the playoffs — featured their fair share of heroes.

As such, let’s look back on the 10 best individual performances from the 2014 playoffs.

10. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio spurs
Game 5, NBA Finals – 20 points, 14 rebounds, 3 blocks


VIDEO: Kawhi Leonard’s all-around play in Game 5 helps clinch the title for the Spurs

It’s almost as if the Spurs are above individual accolades, and by pure numbers alone, there were better postseason performances than Kawhi Leonard‘s Game 5 of The Finals. However, Leonard’s impact goes beyond the box score, as the rangy forward fits perfectly into San Antonio’s offense and happens to be one of the best guys in the league at stopping the best guy in the league, LeBron James. LeBron may have scored 28 points, but he was a team-worst minus -21 for Miami. Meanwhile, Leonard was a plus-23 for San Antonio and logged a team high 39 minutes.

9. Damian Lillard, Portland Trailblazers
Game 6, first round of the Western Conference playoffs – 25 points, 6 rebounds, 6-10 3FG


VIDEO: Relive Damian Lillard’s game-winning basket against the Rockets

Damian Lillard posted a solid stat line of 25 points and six rebounds in the Blazers’ Game 6 clincher against the Rockets, but that doesn’t begin to tell the whole story. What the whole story would tell you, coincidentally, is that Lillard literally clinched the series for the Rockets with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer. The shot was the first since 1997 to end a playoff series (John Stockton accomplished the feat then — ironically against Houston, too), and thanks to the clutch factor, Lillard lands on our list.

8. LeBron James, Miami Heat
Game 2, NBA Finals – 35 points, 10 rebounds, 14-22 FG


VIDEO: The Starters discuss LeBron James’ monstrous Game 2 in The Finals

The only thing more painful than a LeBron James cramp is, well, what the opposing team has to endure following a rough night from The King. After his Game 1 cramping episode, James erupted for 35 points and 10 boards in Game 2 of The Finals. This proved to be the only game the Heat would win in the series against the daunting San Antonio Spurs, as the former MVP sunk all three triples he attempted in a 98-96 Miami victory.

7. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Game 7, first round of the Western Conference playoffs - 27 points, 10 rebounds, 16 assists


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook dominates the Grizzlies in Game 7 of the first round

Questions about Russell Westbrook’s ability as a facilitator were silenced momentarily after Game 7 of the Thunder’s first-round series against the Grizzlies. Westbrook’s 16 assists tied a franchise playoff record set during the team’s Seattle days by Nate McMillan in 1987. It was also Westbrook’s second triple-double in a three game span.

6. Paul George, Indiana Pacers
Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals - 39 points, 12 rebounds, 7-10 3FG

 
VIDEO: Paul George runs wild in Game 4 against the Wizards

After bursting onto the scene in the 2013 playoffs, Paul George flashed superstar potential in the 2014 playoffs. This was especially true in Game 4 against the Wizards, who watched George notch 39 points, 12 rebounds and sink seven 3-pointers. George also spent plenty of time guarding Washington speedster John Wall, holding him to a 4-for-11 shooting night. 

5. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals – 39 points, 16 assists, 5 assists


VIDEO: Kevin Durant pours in 39 points in a Game 6 West semifinals win

No, Kevin, YOU are the real MVP. Although Kevin Durant had an up and down postseason, he certainly had moments when he proved why he captured his first MVP award in 2013-14.  Durant was his usual efficient self as he sank more than half of his shot attempts, made all of his free throws  and was 5-for-8 from long range. KD also posted a game-high 16 rebounds to go with his 39 points.

4. LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trailblazers
Game 2, first round of the Western Conference playoffs – 43 points, 8 rebounds, 18-28 FG


VIDEO: LaMarcus Aldridge dominates the Rockets in Game 2 of the Portland-Houston series

Going into their series against the Rockets, the Blazers were intent on guarding LaMarcus Aldridge with Terrance Jones, not wanting to bring rim-protector Dwight Howard away from the cup. That strategy ultimately sold Aldridge short, who ran rampant the first two games of the series by turning in two consecutive 40-point performances. Aldridge became the first player with consecutive 43-point games in the playoffs since Tracy McGrady did it in April 2003.

3. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Game 4 of the Western Conference finals – 40 points, 10 assists, 5 steals

 
VIDEO: Russell Westbrook does something that Michael Jordan last did in 1989

Perhaps he was rejuvenated by the improbable return of Serge Ibaka, or perhaps Russell Westbrook is simply one of the most talented players around. Either way, Westbrook had his way with Tony Parker in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals, notching 40 points, 10 assists and five steals. He is the first player to accomplish that since Michael Jordan did it in the 1989 NBA playoffs as the Thunder cruised to a 105-92 win.

2. LeBron James, Miami Heat
Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals – 49 points, 6 rebounds, 16-24 FG

 
VIDEO: LeBron James drops a 49-point effort on the Nets in Game 4 of the East semis

In typical LeBron James fashion, The King added to his already stacked playoff resume with a 49-point effort against the Nets. Unfortunately for Lebron, he missed a meaningless free throw in the waning seconds of Game 4 that left him one point shy of notching his first playoff game of 50-plus points. Barring another return to Miami, this game would go down as the highest scoring effort of James’ playoff career with the Heat. LeBron matched his playoff career-high of 49 points that he set in the 2009 Eastern Conference finals as a Cavalier.

1. LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trailblazers
Game 1, first round of the Western Conference playoffs – 46 points, 18 rebounds, 17-31 FG


VIDEO: LaMarcus Aldridge pouts in 46 points in Game 1 of the Blazers-Rockets series

Aldridge seemed determined to single-handedly stifle the notion that the mid-range jumper is dead in today’s NBA, terrorizing the Rockets in Game 1 of their first round series with a flurry of long deuces. He went off for a franchise playoff-high 46 points and added 18 rebounds to an already impressive night. It was a career-high for Aldridge, who scored 16 of his 46 points on post ups. That total almost doubled his season average of 8.3 in that department. Despite fouling out in the extra session, the Blazers held on to beat the Rockets in a 122-120 overtime thriller.

Hakeem to Dwight: It’s mind that matters

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: What does it take to come back from a 3-1 deficit?

HOUSTON — It was 20 years ago when I entered a Rockets locker room in Phoenix and got a lesson in mind games.

Hakeem Olajuwon was sitting at a stall in the cramped room for the visiting team, lacing up his sneakers. His Rockets had lost the first two games at home to Charles Barkley and the Suns, then won Game 3 in the desert.

Still the Rockets were the team in the hole just a little more than an hour before tipoff of Game 4 when I mentioned to Olajuwon that the heat and the pressure were again on his team.

He looked up, smiled peacefully and reached out to pull a folding chair up next to his.

“Sit down and let me explain,” Olajuwon said. “The pressure is all on Phoenix. Because they know if we go back home 2-2 they will have wasted having the advantage. The know we will win Game 5 at home. They will have to fight to survive in Game 6 and then they will not have a chance in Game 7 in Houston. That is why they will feel the pressure. They know they must win tonight.”

The Suns didn’t. The Rockets won in seven and the legend of Clutch City was born.

Fast forward to 1995. This time Barkley and the Suns built a 3-1 lead on the Rockets. This time Barkley and the Suns had home-court advantage.

This time I was sure I had Olajuwon backed into the corner when I approached him again about an hour before Game 5. Now the situation was reversed and the Rockets were the ones on the ropes. He saw me coming.

“Where’s your chair?” he asked with that impish grin.

I sat down and he was immediately off making twists and turns of logic and faith and resolute determination.

“Phoenix must win tonight,” he said. “If they don’t end the series, they know we will go back to Houston and win Game 6. Then we come back here and the pressure to win Game 7 will be so great. They will be tight. They will be tense. They will be afraid to fail and that often leads to failure.”

Which it did. And the Rockets went on to win their second consecutive NBA championship.

Mind games.

That’s where the Rockets are today, trailing the Trail Blazers 3-1 with their toes and their season dangling over the edge.

That’s where Olajuwon comes back in. The Hall of Famer didn’t just work with Dwight Howard on his post moves at practice Tuesday. He worked on his head.

“It is deceiving if you look at the situation as 3-1,” Olajuwon said. “I told Dwight, I told all of them, that the situation is just one game and then everything changes around.”

Three of the first four games have gone to overtime, every Blazers win by five points or less.

Let Kevin McHale and his coaching staff worry about the X’s and O’s, the juggling of the playing rotation, the tweaks to the lineup, how to corral LaMarcus Aldridge. The greatest player in franchise history says all the Rockets have to do is have the right attitude.

“This is the Rockets’ chance not just to win a game, but to dominate, to take control of every play, every possession at both ends of the court and take over the series,” Olajuwon said. “If you think about it, this should be the most free, the most easy game the Rockets have played in the playoffs. Play that way and everything changes.”

That’s how the great ones from Bill Russell to Larry Bird to Magic Johnson to Michael Jordan to Hakeem always climbed the ladder. They played to thrive, not just survive. They never felt their backs were against the wall, because they simply refused to acknowledge the very existence of the wall. The problem is never theirs, but one that belongs to the other guy.

“Portland is feeling good about themselves right now,” Olajuwon said. “They have won three times and they have a chance to close it all out in Game 5. But they better, because if you think about it, this next game is their best chance. If they lose this game, if you punish them, dominate them, you plant that doubt.”

Those Rockets of 1994 and 1995 were a veteran bunch. From Hakeem to Otis Thorpe to Vernon Maxwell to Clyde Drexler to Kenny Smith to Mario Elie, they had been around more than a few basketball blocks. By the second time around, even the youngest bricks in their wall — Robert Horry and Sam Cassell — had lived through the crucible of the first experience.

These Rockets, as far as playoff pedigrees, mostly couldn’t be more wet behind the ears if you tossed them into the ocean.

“That’s why I told Dwight that it’s up to him to set the pace,” Olajuwon said. “He and James Harden are the veterans. But he is the center. He is the one the game goes around, on offense and on defense. Set the pace. Come out strong.

“I am excited about what I see from Dwight since the beginning of the season. I watch and I see many of the things that we’ve worked on coming out in his game. I see moves. I see a jumper that could be a bigger weapon in the future. I see aggressiveness in him that is becoming more consistent.”

What he wants to see, what he needs to see now, is a team leader that doesn’t recognize the current predicament as anything but an opportunity.

Two decades later, a seat in another folding chair and another lesson, for me and for Howard.

“Like I told him,” said Olajuwon, “3-1 is just going out and having fun.”

Mind games.

Another look: KD’s 4-point play

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Kevin Durant’s incredible 4-point play

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — In a season filled with jaw-dropping plays, Kevin Durant outdid himself with that incredible 4-point play from the wing against the Memphis Grizzlies.

Check it from every angle and there’s no way Durant is even supposed to get that shot off over Marc Gasol, let alone swish it as he’s falling out of bounds.

Is it wrong for us to expect to be dazzled again in Game 3 tonight (8 p.m. ET, TNT)?

Of course, not!

It’s the playoffs, where legends are made and jaw-dropping plays happen on the regular. Durant and the Thunder will need to make plenty tonight in Memphis. Game 3 is huge for both teams. The Thunder cannot afford to dig a hole while on the road for Games 3 and 4 and then return home with all of that pressure for Game 5.

Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley won the 2013-14 NBA Sportsmanship Award today, but there will be nothing hospitable about what awaits the Thunder in Memphis tonight. Grizzlies fans will have The FedEx Forum rocking and the battle between Conley and Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook should be as entertaining as ever.

But the hero ball aspect of the Thunder’s attack (namely with Durant and Westbrook taking turns playing hero) has to stop, according to Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman:

Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant have combined to take 100 of the Thunder’s 169 shot attempts in Oklahoma City’s first two games of this first-round series against Memphis.

That’s 59.1 percent of the team’s attempts.

The duo has taken 34 of the team’s 43 shots in the fourth quarters and overtime.

That’s 79 percent.

Hero ball, at least for the time being, appears to be back.

And that’s not a good thing. Never has been for the Thunder.

The question is can OKC get away from that style in Game 3 on Thursday night in Memphis? Against the gritty Grizzlies, it seems the Thunder has to.

“We have to trust what we do and not try to scrap it (and look) for the homerun play,” said forward Nick Collison. “In our history, we’ve gone to that sometimes and it doesn’t work very well.”

Well, a little bit of hero ball never hurts. It worked well for Durant on that 4-point play …

Check out this different take on Durant’s big shot …
KD-4-pointer

 

Aldridge’s passion grows Blazers

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Blazers knock off Rockets in OT of Game 1

HOUSTON — They’ve all seen him do some of those things before.

LaMarcus Aldridge can take the ball on the left side of the basket in the low block and spin like the winds inside a hurricane as he blows into the lane.

Standing 6-foot-11, 240 pounds, he can also use his size and sheer strength to back a defender down and move relentlessly toward the basket.

Then there are those ridiculous turnaround, fadeaway jumpers that practically scrape the ceiling when the big man lets them fly.

Those are all part of the splendidly versatile package of tricks that all of his Trail Blazer teammates have seen time and again.

What was new was the fire. That flame that seemed to lick at his heels from the opening tip. That hot smoke that seemed to pour out of his nostrils on every possession, every shot, every play at either end of the court.

It was more than just a franchise playoff record of 46 points and 18 rebounds that burned the Rockets 122-120 in overtime on Sunday night. It was that match-in-a-dry-meadow spark by Aldridge that said this something entirely different.

“As far as the passion, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him like that,” said point guard Damian Lillard. “With how animated he was with the calls. Guys couldn’t stop him. I saw how bad he wanted to win the game. When your best player and your leader is playing like that, it fires you up.”


VIDEO: Aldridge discusses Portland’s Game 1 victory

If there is a time somewhere down the line where the Blazers raising a trophy over their heads, this might go down as the game that lit the fuse.

In eight NBA seasons, Aldridge has always taken shots. This was the night when he took responsibility. For himself. For his team. For showing them that he could show them how.

Brandon Roy’s veteran leadership of his early career is gone now. The hope and promise of Greg Oden as the No. 1 draft pick and cornerstone has vanished.

Now it’s his team and here was the occasion when Aldridge recognized that fact and acted on it. They have cutting edge talent in Lillard, Nic Batum and Wesley Matthews. What they’ve needed is for Aldridge to bring the hammer.

He was not just hot and good an making shots. He was wickedly tuned in to everything that was happening — stomping his feet at made baskets, barking at calls — and did all that he could to affect every outcome.

“Every guy on this team comes to me and talks to me and they believe in me and tell me that I can dominate a game,” Aldridge said. “I’m always hearing that from my teammates. I’m always hearing those positive affirmations from them. I think I finally understand it.

“I made the playoffs three years in a row and you kind of get comfortable. Then I missed it two years in a row, so just being back here I am very excited about it and I am looking forward to the challenge. I’m playing better than I have in the past. I try to tell every guy that the playoffs is like another level, another season, and tonight I wanted to lead in that way.”

He did it when he helped get the Blazers off to an early start and he did it when he wouldn’t let them get down on themselves when they fell behind by double digits in the fourth quarter.

Aldridge even did it when he eventually fouled out of the game with 1:06 left in the overtime period with the score tied.

“I went to Damian and said ‘take it over,’ “ Aldridge said. “He’s a very confident guy. He’s very skilled. So he took over and he made big plays at the end.”

Not before Aldridge made the big plays all night long. Before the game, he saw Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler, who now does TV color commentary for the Rockets, but spent 11 1/2 seasons in Portland as the best Blazer of all-time.

“When I walked by him I said, ‘I’m coming for you,’ ”Aldridge said. “I meant in every stat possible. He said I still have some work to do, but he said I can do it. I always joke about trying to break all his records.”

No jokes here.

This was LaMarcus Aldridge as even his teammates hadn’t seen him before. Passionate, driven, showing the way.


VIDEO: LaMarcus Aldridge sets a Blazers playoff scoring record in Game 1

Hang time podcast (episode 154) … the franchise player debate and featuring pacers coach Frank Vogel

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS —  A quick list of the NBA’s best and most complete players includes names like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kobe BryantChris Paul and Tim Duncan, just to name a few, at the very top.

The best of the very best.

Winners.

Difference makers.

Proven stars.

Franchise players.

So where does that leave guys like James Harden, Paul George, Dwight HowardKevin Love and Steph Curry, just to name a few, who are stuck in that superstar middle ground. They look like franchise players and get paid like franchise players but in the eyes of some, namely their predecessors who now serve as pundits, aren’t quite on that level, just yet or anymore.

The franchise player debate (is it just someone whose mastered a certain part of the game or someone who has mastered many?) has gone on forever and will continue to do so. We weigh in on Episode 154 of the Hang Time Podcast, which also features an interview with Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel, whose team is struggling right now as George attempts to make that transition from All-Star to franchise player.

As the playoffs get closer and closer, the true franchise players will reveal themselves. And once the postseason hits, there is no hiding …

Dive in for more on Episode 154 of the Hang Time Podcast … The Franchise Player Debate and Featuring Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel …

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.

Beverley loss would bite the Rockets

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Patrick Beverley tears his right meniscus in Thursday’s win over Philly

HOUSTON – Spend $78.78 million for an All-Star shooting guard who might be the best in the business at closing games?

Check.

Spend $87.59 million for an eight-time All-Star center and elite rim protector to give yourself a potent 1-2 offensive punch?

Check.

Have all your best-laid plans for a below-the-radar run as a championship contender come undone because the player with the 13th-highest salary on the team goes down with a knee injury?

Uh-oh.

An MRI showed that Rockets point guard Patrick Beverley tore the meniscus in his right knee Thursday night against the 76ers.

The injury was first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

“He has a torn meniscus, we’re not 100 percent sure how  bad it is or what action we will take,” his agent Kevin Bradbury told Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. “We’re going to get to the docs and determine what’s best for Pat and for the organization. We should have some clarity early next week.

“I would say out indefinitely until we know more.”

In a worst-case scenario, Beverley is through for the season. If the injury is not so severe and the rehab process can be sped up, he could return if the Rockets are playing in later rounds of the playoffs.

It was just 10 1/2 months ago when Beverley collided with Russell Westbrook in Game 2 of a first-round series at Oklahoma City. The result was a torn meniscus in Westbrook’s right knee that required surgery and eventually derailed the Thunder, who lost in the second round to the Grizzlies. Westbrook is still working to fully recover from that injury.

For a team that has ridden the All-Star exploits of James Harden and Dwight Howard to the No. 4 spot in the Western Conference playoff race, Beverley plays a critical role.

The 25-year-old Chicago native who was drafted and cut by Heat, then toiled overseas in Russia, puts significant bite into the face of the Rockets’ defense.

Jeremy Lin can step back into the starting lineup and give the Rockets offense, but he is not the tenacious, in-your-face type defender that the Rockets will need in the playoffs to go against elite level point guards such as Westbrook, Tony Parker, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry and Mike Conley.

While Lin is flashy and creative and can fill up the basket with points when he gets on a roll, it is the just plain down-to-earth toughness of Beverley that often stands out, especially in a backcourt where Harden does not especially like to play defense.

Coach Kevin McHale said it would be 7-10 days before the Rockets would know a timetable for Beverley’s return.

Beverley has played in 53 of the Rockets’ 71 games, missing time with a hand injury. He has averaged 9.9 points in 31.3 minutes while taking over the starting role from Lin this season, but it’s that defensive bite and overall toughness that the Rockets would miss most. Sometimes it’s the littlest pieces of the puzzle that are hardest to replace.

Rockets Face Defining Test Of Their Might


VIDEO: Kevin McHale talks about Dwight Howard’s increased role of late

Since the giant ball dropped in Times Square on New Year’s Eve the Rockets have gone nowhere but up.

Dwight Howard has rocked, James Harden has rolled and a team that was supposed to be still figuring it all out in its first season together suddenly looks like it has all the answers.

Now comes the test.

Call it a dirty dozen days of the schedule. Call it a magnificent seven lineup of (almost entirely) worthy opponents who’ll peel back the curtain to reveal whether the Rockets might be merely a problematic playoff hurdle or a real contender for a Finals run.

From tonight through March 16, the team with the best record in the NBA since Jan. 1 will have to deal with a grueling stretch sandwiched on either end by a home and road set with the two-time champion Heat. As if that alone were not a mouthful, there’s a good deal of meat in between. By the time the Rockets come up for air, they’ll have also faced the Pacers (No. 1 in East) and Blazers (No. 3 in West) at home and the Thunder (No. 1 in West) and Bulls (No. 3 in East) on the road. The only breather is a road game against the young and struggling Magic, but even that comes off the second night of a back-to-back after dueling the Heat.

“It’s definitely going to be a tough couple of weeks,” Harden said. “It will be a good test.”

All season long there has been a general reticence to lump the Rockets in with the so-called true championship contenders. Much of that has to do with their predilection for launching 3-pointers like they were spitballs in a grade school classroom.

But while the 3-pointer makes them wild and crazy, the truth is that the Rockets have grown into more than a novelty act that relies on the long ball and a hyper-caffeinated fast pace.

The Rockets came off their recent five-game West road trip having averaged 55.6 points in the paint per game. Then they went inside on the Pistons Saturday for another 58. It’s all the result of the work Howard has done in the practice gym to learn how to be more effective around the basket. As well, Harden’s growth curve that has turned him into the game’s best closer, regardless of any traffic or would-be defenders in the paint. Since Kevin Durant has played most of the season without Russell Westbrook and LeBron James’ help from Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh comes in fits and spurts, it’s hard to argue that there is a better 1-2 punch in the league.

Not that there aren’t holes in their game. The Rockets have a penchant for running hot and cold, often unable to maintain a consistent intensity or focus. They also tend to throw the ball around, piling up careless and costly turnovers. Then there is the matter of leaving themselves vulnerable to second chance points, which squander away whatever efforts a middle of the road defensive team puts out.

All that said, the Rockets are just three games behind the Spurs for the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. That’s a reachable — and desirable — goal because it would keep them out of the playoff bracket that contains the Thunder and Clippers, who have so far been insolvable (0-5).

Since the ball first went up in the season opener, Howard has been talking about the Rockets being a work in progress as he learns about his new city, his new teammates and his new role while coach Kevin McHale puts the pieces together. Even as a season-long litany of nagging injuries has healed and those pieces have come to fit, Harden has said that life has been good and comfortable in Houston below the radar.

But how long can a dark horse remain in the shadows if the spotlight starts to shine? In the next dirty dozen days, we’re about to find out.


VIDEO: James Harden talks about Houston’s upcoming road trip

Stern Defends Small-Market Finals, Zings ‘Resting’ In Last State-Of-NBA Address

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MIAMI – He’s a short-timer now, with less than eight months remaining in what will be a 30-year run as NBA commissioner, but David Stern came on like anything but a lame duck Thursday night before Game 1 of the 2013 Finals at AmericanAirlines Arena.

In his last official Finals state-of-the-league address (part of an ongoing series of “lasts” that began Feb. 1, one year out from Stern’s official retirement date), the league’s chief executive was vibrant, engaged, enthused even. This wasn’t the man who came out of the rancorous lockout in 2011-12 tired and cranky. It wasn’t Stern unplugged, either, though more and more of his duties are shifting to deputy commissioner Adam Silver, his heir apparent.

This was Stern tackling topics big and small, ranging from anti-flopping rules to nuances of the current collective-bargaining agreement in both its financial and competitive impact. This was Stern looking and sounding as if he could re-up for another term but who, most likely, is into his finishing kick because he can see the end line now.

Stern’s opening comments were brief and not unlike the business-is-good things he has said now, twice annually (All-Star Game and Finals) across three decades. Questions followed, many focusing on issues in play in this championship series, such as Spurs coach Gregg Popovich‘s decision back in November to sit out star players on his team’s visit to Miami. And a suggestion that the Heat’s SuperFriends approach might be good for the league overall, despite the CBA’s new provisions to block such star-hogging roster maneuvers in the future.

Asked if San Antonio’s presence in The Finals vindicates Popovich’s decision a month into the season to “rest” Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker as a way of staying fresh for the long NBA season and postseason — which earned a $250,000 fine from the league — Stern said: “He wasn’t resting Danny Green. It was a game that was being played. I know it, you know it and he knows it.

“I would never, never tell a coach that he shouldn’t rest a player that needs rest. We understand that completely. And that’s not what he did.” (more…)

Hobbling Nash Won’t Give Up The Fight

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SAN ANTONIO — Steve Nash says he expects to feel and play as good as ever next season.

It’s this season that matters, as long as it lasts, and there are probably newly-hatched fruit flies with greater life expectancies than the Lakers. Of course, that was true from the moment that Kobe Bryant tore his Achilles tendon and went from unstoppable offensive force on the court to unfiltered tweeter from the sofa.

But it is especially true if Nash can’t be Nash.

In the series opener on Sunday afternoon, Nash couldn’t find his top gear and make those shifty drives to the basket. He couldn’t get into the paint and create as unpredictably and imaginatively as a basketball Jackson Pollock. He missed open jump shots and finished 6-for-15 with just three assists and two rebounds.

He tried to zig and couldn’t zag. Nash labored and struggled and fought and battled, but for most of the game appeared to be a guy who was 39 going on 69.

“But we need him out there,” said Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni.

The Lakers season couldn’t have been more painful from start to finish if they’d shot themselves with a nail gun and the first hole came when Nash went down in the second game of the season with a broken leg. He didn’t play again until three days before Christmas, didn’t start to develop a real rhythm until around the All-Star break and then went back to the sidelines with a hamstring injury on March 30.

“Yeah, it’s been tough, health-wise,” Nash said. “I’ve never missed this much time by a longshot. Any time you change environments — and we had a lot of guys change environments — it takes time to come together. And with all the injury problems at that same time, we’ve had fought and fought and fought and not got a lot of joy out of the season. That’s why I’m still thrilled to get a chance to play in the series, still fight with my teammates and try to make something good out of all this.” (more…)