Posts Tagged ‘NBA playoffs’

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 201) Survive And Advance

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Survive and advance.

That is the phrase all of the teams still alive in the NBA playoffs should have plastered on those shirts splashed across the seats in the arena on game day.

Survive and advance. It’s what the best of the best do on the rugged road that leads to The Finals.

Derrick Rose, Paul Pierce and LeBron James — buzzer-beater heroes for their respective teams over a wild playoff weekend — know exactly what we’re talking about on Episode 201 of The Hang Time Podcast: Survive and Advance.

It’s the same attitude James Harden must have if the KIA MVP runner-up wants his season to continue beyond tonight’s Game 5 showdown against the Los Angeles Clippers. The same attitude KIA MVP Stephen Curry showed in the Golden State Warriors’ season-saving Game 4 win in Memphis against a Grizzlies team that had Curry and his screw on the edge heading into that pivotal tilt.

The aesthetics are meaningless at this stage of the season.

No one really cares if you win big or win in style.

The only thing that matters is that you survive and advance to the next round.

Tune in to see who we think will accomplish that goal on Episode 201 of The Hang Time Podcast: Survive And Advance

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best sound designer/engineer in the business, Andrew Merriman.

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


VIDEO: Three buzzer-beaters to end three consecutive Eastern Conference semifinal games highlighted a wild playoff weekend

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 200): Cinco De Playoffs!

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — It’s a holiday.

Pick one.

Cinco De Mayo … Taco Tuesday … the NBA’s conference semifinals on both sides of the playoff conference divide are upon us.

Whatever you do tonight and for the foreseeable future, you’ve got the playoffs to enjoy. And so far, there have been no disappointments.

The newly minted KIA MVP, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors, are making sure of it. Same goes for LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and (soon to show up) J.R. Smith of the Cleveland Cavaliers; Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol and Jimmy Butler of the Chicago Bulls; John Wall, Bradley Beal and Paul Pierce of the Washington Wizards; Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul (as soon as he returns from resting that hamstring) of the Los Angeles Clippers; Al Horford, Kyle Korver and Paul Millsap of the Atlanta Hawks, James Harden, Dwight Howard and … ah, you get the point.

Instead of focusing on who is not coming to our Cinco De Playoffs party, we’re focusing on those who are present on Episode 200 of The Hang Time Podcast. And despite a tremendous marketing campaign to the contrary, there are plenty of guys interested in playing hero this time of year. In fact, it’s a right of passage.

So whoever you root for, wherever you are, pull up a seat and join us for Episode 200 of The Hang Time Podcast: Cinco De Playoffs?

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best sound designer/engineer in the business, Andrew Merriman.

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


VIDEO: Stephen Curry is your new KIA MVP

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 199) Dirty Play or Playoff Basketball?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Dirty play or just playoff basketball?

It’s a legitimate question to ask now that the postseason fate of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and the Cleveland Cavaliers has been tweaked by two plays that occurred in the Cavaliers’ Game 4 win over the Boston Celtics Sunday at TD Garden.

Kelly Olynyk‘s arm bar on Kevin Love yanked Love’s shoulder out of socket. The dislocation and subsequent labrum tear will keep him out of the Eastern Conference semifinals and perhaps the remainder of the postseason, according to Cavaliers’ general manager David Griffin. J.R. Smith‘s two-game suspension for knocking out Celtics swingman Jae Crowder will also have a huge impact on the start of that next series for the Cavaliers, who will be down two starters whenever they hit the floor.

What looks like a dirty play to one set of eyes is nothing more than playoff intensity-level basketball, good and physical play that we’ve all come to expect at this time of year from players and teams around the league. Which side of that line you come down on depends on your perspective. Love called Olynyk’s play “bush league” and James said it was “not a basketball play.”

The same could be said of Smith’s, no-look, swinging right-hook that knocked Crowder to the ground. Again, it depends on whose perspective you subscribe to and also what era of the NBA you were raised on.

Whatever your view, the playoffs, certainly in the Eastern Conference, were changed fundamentally with just two plays. And we factor that into our discussion about the postseason and where it goes from here on Episode 199 of The Hang Time Podcast: Dirty Play or Playoff Basketball?

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best sound designer/engineer in the business, Andrew Merriman.

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


VIDEO: Kevin Love talks to the media after dislocating his shoulder in Game 4 against the Boston Celtics

Blogtable: Extend the season?

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: Extend the season? | Rethinking age limit? | Upset-minded East playoff team?



VIDEOThe Starters give their view on extending the season into July

> The NBA says it is considering spacing out the 82-game regular season, and San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is already on record saying he won’t be working in July. Are hot dogs, apple pie and basketball a good mix on Independence Day?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: NBA in July? No thank you. The season goes deep enough into the calendar as it is, players already are squeezed for offseason recovery and down time, there is lots of business already requiring the summer months (draft, Las Vegas, free agency, FIBA). The obvious fix is to shorten the preseason by a week to 10 days, play three or four tuneup games instead of seven or eight and start the NBA schedule a week before Halloween.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The idea is a bigger dud than a wet firecracker on the Fourth of July. The season is already long … too long. With many players choosing to play for their national teams — Tony Parker and Nicolas Batum have already said they’re in for France at EuroBasket next summer — the offseason time to rest and heal would be shortened further.  On one hand, the commissioner talks of trimming off a few preseason games to provide more down time.  On the other, he has already lengthened the All-Star break to a week to make less.  The only truly serious solution to the problem of debilitating fatigue is simple — a shorter schedule, say 66 or 70 games. That would require owners netting less money from fewer home games and require players taking a corresponding cut in contracts. Both sides, of course, are due a windfall when the new TV contracts kick in. But neither side is willing to forgo a dollar. So it is all talk, some of it just silly, with a few cosmetic changes.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Sure. It will look weird at first and feel strange on the body clock because other big events will have to be pushed back –the Draft, NBA Summer League –but that’s nothing compared to the benefit: better play. Fewer back-to-backs or three games in four nights is a good thing for rosters and, therefore, a good thing for fans. There has to be some give as most people agree the extended All-Star break is a valuable rest stop and the idea of a little more breathing room in the schedule is a positive. Turning another page on the calendar, and it might not since that would mean the season going some two weeks longer now, would be a small price to pay.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: No, no, no! Basketball isn’t meant to go beyond Father’s Day, let alone July 4th. Stretching the season is a sure way to turn off some hardcore fans (casual fans would flee like Russell Westbrook on the fast break). If the owners and players and networks really cared about the quality of the game, they would agree to play a 70-game schedule, eliminate exhibition games, start the season by mid-October, eliminate four-games-in-five-nights, reduce back-to-backs, and return to best-of-five for first-round playoff series. Which means, it’ll never happen because money always gets in the way.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I don’t like the idea of pushing into July. I’m all for limiting the preseason to just one or two games and starting the regular season in mid-October, though. That should eliminate four-games-in-five-nights scenarios and reduce the number of back-to-backs. And I think a 72-game schedule (three games against each team in your conference, two against the opposite conference) would help alleviate wear and tear and put extra value on every game.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’m with Pop on this one. There is no need to drag the NBA season into July. That’s Summer League time anyway. I understand the need, for some, to always be about the business of advancing things and tinkering with things for the sake of tinkering. Growing the game (the number of teams, the size and scope of the pool of players, viewership around the globe, etc.) has always the been the rule. And we’ve all benefited from that growth. But bigger isn’t always better, at least not in this case. If we’re going to mess with the NBA schedule, the move needs to be pushing back the start of the regular season until Thanksgiving or Christmas and shortening the 82-game season by roughly 12 games. I don’t think there is any doubt that fans would appreciate the quality of that sort of NBA season over the quantity that Pop (and so many others of us opposed to a 4th of July NBA Finals) is balking at with the spaced out 82-game regular season.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comEverything changes. Of all the changes that have transformed the NBA since the 1979 arrival of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird — overhauls of salary structure, media coverage (including social media), refereeing, global drafting and on and on — the idea of tacking on a few more days is almost not worthy of argument. As the money and the demands grow ever larger, it’s inevitable that the season will keep growing longer.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: To be honest, nothing other than Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum are a good mix on Independence Day. The NBA season need to be done by then, and preferably a few weeks before then. The obvious way to fix this — to space out the schedule while ending the season before July — is to shorten the season. It doesn’t have to be radical — maybe you could shave off 6 or 8 games. Or just cancel the preseason and back up the start of the regular season by a couple of weeks. Either way, whatever you do, I think we all agree that our Independence Day should be properly celebrated by sitting back and watching Randy Quaid invoke the words of his generation while flying a fighter plane nose-first into an alien spaceship. Not by watching the NBA.

Blogtable: Why doubt the Hawks?

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: Buy Hawks or Nets? | Who is Atlanta’s All-Star? | Are the Hawks legit?



VIDEOCan the Hawks keep up their immense success once the playoffs begin?

> They’re the top team in the East right now, but they’ve also steamrolled their Western Conference opponents during this recent 23-2 run. This team is legit, isn’t it? Why are there still so many Hawks doubters out there?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comAny team that ranks in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency this deep into a season is legit in my mind. The Hawks defend without fouling, or at least without giving away a lot of cheap points at the line. They shoot lights-out. They have worker bees to run down those vaunted 50-50 balls. I think any reluctance to give them their full due as a contender stems from three things: Limited history as a power since the ‘Nique years, the absence of an easily accessible marquee name/personality and, most of all, their style. Atlanta went “3-crazy” in the playoffs last spring out of necessity — no Al Horford — and doesn’t hoist ’em from way deep quite like that now (five of their eight most prolific shooters in the postseason took 45 percent of their FGA from the arc vs. just two now). But the Hawks still score fewer points off 2-pointers than all but four teams and more off 3-pointers than all but six, and that heavy reliance on range doesn’t fit the imagery of grinding, assertive playoff offense.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comYes, they’re legit. Their smackdown of the so-called power teams from the West proves that. The only reason that people doubt the Hawks is the long franchise history of mediocre basketball, early playoff exits, empty arenas and no excitement outside of Dominique Wilkins. They’ll fight their own past until they get a chance to do something about in the 2015 playoffs.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comYes, this team is legit. The doubt comes because of the Hawks’ history, not the Hawks’ present. People are getting caught up in reputations. And the instability in the front office and ownership doesn’t help. But this isn’t this isn’t a sudden flash that needs to stand the test of time. People could see Atlanta coming at least a season ago and maybe longer. Besides, half a season with some of the wins the Hawks have had is a pretty good test of time. That’s a roster with talent and a smart coach who will have a lot of success.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The doubters exists because (a) the Hawks are guilty by association with regard to the crummy East, and (b) they have no stars, and (c) the Hawks have never won two playoff rounds in their Atlanta history, so folks are waiting to see what happens in April/May. Also, there’s the sense that when the Bulls get it together, it’s their conference to lose.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comI can’t say why other people don’t believe in the Hawks, but I’m pretty convinced. They have the best record (9-3), the best offense (107.4 points per 100 possessions) and the second best defense (101.4) in games played between the league’s 12 best teams (the top 4 in the East, the top 8 in the West). Overall, they’re one of two teams that ranks in the top six on both ends of the floor, and they’ve played a tougher schedule than the other one (Golden State). Though Al Horford has come a long way since the beginning of the season, interior defense is still a bit of a question, so I’ll be curious to see them against Chicago on Saturday if both Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah are (relatively) healthy. Noah missed the first meeting in December.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comThe Hawks are indeed “legit,” and then some. Yet, as a veteran of some of the most diabolically bad basketball ever unleashed on fans in Atlanta (13-69 in 2004-05 was uglier than the numbers indicate), I get the reluctance to buy-in locally. It’s hard to believe in a team with the history the Hawks have acquired over the years is as putrid as we all know it to be. Every glimmer of hope has been met with a door slamming in the face of Hawks fans eager to jump on a bandwagon with no wheels. That said, I don’t believe in the ghosts of basketball past muddying up things for the ghosts of basketball present and the future. And these current Hawks are giving you everything you need to believe that they are destined for something special this season. The Eastern Conference crown is there for the taking … so why not the Hawks?

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: They don’t have anyone known for raising his level of play. That’s what the great players do, and that’s why they win championships. Will the Hawks be able to raise their level in the postseason? But then again, if the Bulls aren’t healthy three or four months from now, there may be no rival in the East capable of forcing the Hawks to achieve that higher level of play. What they’re doing right now may be good enough to earn them a place in the NBA Finals.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogAtlanta sports fans have something I call the hammer of history constantly dangling over their heads. Over the last three decades, there have been so many Atlanta teams with championship aspirations who showed promise and got the city and the fans fired up, and then fell short. The Braves won 14 consecutive division titles and managed one World Series title. The Falcons made it to the Super Bowl in 1998 and got whacked. Georgia Tech made it to the NCAA Basketball championship game in 2004 and getting bumped off by UConn. It’s been all tease and minimal payoff, and Atlanta fans are understandably tired and suspicious of handing over their hearts too soon. So I get it, I do. The thing is? Right now, this Hawks team is for real. There’s still a lot of season to go, and I know it’s hard to embrace anything with that hammer above, but enjoy it Hawks fans. Stuff like this doesn’t come along very often.

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