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.
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…)
The 2012-13 NBA regular season is over, and the playoffs are about to begin. NBA TV’s experts take a look back and a glance forward with their picks for each of the six major awards and for The Finals.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The end of one season parts the waters for the beginning of a new one every year this time in the NBA.
For some, the end can’t get here fast enough, while others will fight until the very end to be a part of the new season. For Kobe Bryant, his bittersweet ending to his 17th NBA season comes with loads of uncertainty.
Will the Los Angeles Lakers’ icon return to form after tearing his Achilles April12? Will he ever be the same? Is it reasonable for anyone to expect him to?
Instead of just asking the questions we sought out the experts for answers on Episode 113 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring legendary trainer Tim Grover, the man who has helped the likes of Kobe, Dwyane Wade and Michael Jordan before them, set the standard as the ultimate competitors in their field. We also picked the brain of Dr. Thomas Best, the Director of Sports Medicine Research at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, for some history and cold hard facts about what Kobe is facing from medical standpoint.
Grover’s already mapping out an extensive plan for Kobe to get back sooner rather than later and you can identify some of his strategies in his new book, “Relentless: From Good To Great To Unstoppable,“ which highlights the training methods the greats have used to separate themselves from the pack.
We’ve also discuss our picks for MVP (LeBron James) and several other awards, debate whether or not Kevin Durant should have chased a fourth scoring title instead of handing this year’s trophy to Carmelo Anthony and handed out a little internal hardware of our own with the crowning of the regular season winner of Braggin’ Rights (and believe it or not, the rookie did it)!
Check out all of that and so much more on Episode 113 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring Tim Grover and Dr. Thomas Best.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The start of the NBA playoffs is just days away and that’s always a signal for superstars to ready themselves to step into the spotlight on the game’s biggest stage.
It’s also the time for those unsuspecting guys, the unsung contributors on playoff teams from throughout the league, to raise their level of play with their respective seasons on the line. We like to call them Hang Time’s Playoff Wild Cards, guys who will impact their teams and potentially the outcomes of their respective team’s first round series.
The Starting Five of HT’s Playoff Wild Cards Team (and just like Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, we don’t get caught up in positions. We’re going with the best five Wild Cards):
JEREMY LIN, PG, HOUSTON ROCKETS
By now Rockets fans know that the star point guard they snatched away from New York last summer is not the same guy who inspired Linsanity. What they’ve got is a guy who is much steadier and just as productive, statistically, through 82 games with the Rockets (13.4 ppg, 6.0 apg and 3.0 rpg) as he was in 25 games with the Knicks (14.6, 6.2 and 3.1). What makes Lin a Wild Card is knowing that he’s capable of getting on the kind of roll that created the Linsanity phenomenon. The right matchup in the playoffs could be all he needs to morph back into the player we saw during his magical ride in New York.
DANNY GREEN, SG, SAN ANTONIO SPURS
Green is easily overlooked on a team with superstars like Tony Parker and even Tim Duncan who are often foolishly overlooked by the masses when the conversation turns to the true superstars in the league. What cannot (and should not) be overlooked is Green’s season-long penchant for taking and making big shots, not to mention his 43 percent shooting (for the second straight season, mind you) from beyond the 3-point line. Green is the beneficiary of defensive attention being paid to Parker and Duncan, and he takes full advantage of defender’s inattention to detail all the time.
JEFF GREEN, SF, BOSTON CELTICS
If the Jeff Green that showed up after All-Star weekend is the same Jeff Green that shows up for the playoffs, the Celtics will be one of the postseason’s most dangerous lower seeds. Green has averaged 17.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg and 2.7 apg in 34.1 minutes a night since the break (compared to the 10.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg and 1.0 apg he posted in 24.6 minutes before the break). Green has the size, athleticism and skill on both ends of the floor to battle elite small forwards. The Celtics need him to do it every night in the postseason.
JIMMY BUTLER, SF, CHICAGO BULLS
In a season when Derrick Rose‘s supporting cast has been under scrutiny every single night, Butler has shined in his opportunities to contribute, particularly on the defensive side of things. He’s the battled the likes of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony and more than held his own in those matchups. Some young players struggle with a sudden increase in minutes, many of them spent in different roles. But not Butler. The more he’s played the better he’s played, giving Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau yet another rugged contributor on a team filled with them. If Butler continues to score the way he has recently (15.6 ppg on 53 percent shooting in his last five games), he’ll have an even greater impact than expected in the playoffs.
COREY BREWER, SF, DENVER NUGGETS
This Wild Card thing is easy for Brewer. He does it daily for a talented and deep Nuggets team that has thrived all season by unleashing that depth on the opposition. What makes Brewer so effective in this role is his non-stop motor, his activity on both ends of the floor, his ability to shoot it from distance and the fact that he finishes at the rim and in transition. It’s pretty remarkable considering he doesn’t appear to have gained a single pound since middle school (we’re joking here). Brewer averages 12.2 ppg without any plays being called for him … ever. He should have “Wild Card” stitched across the back of his jersey instead of “Brewer.”
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers are a must-watch down the stretch of this season, for reasons that were ridiculously obvious during a historic (for Bryant) Wednesday night in Portland.
Bryant played the entire game, scored a season-high 47 points and finished with an unprecedented stat line as the Lakers rallied from an early 10-point deficit to beat the Trail Blazers 113-106 and move a full game ahead of the idle Utah Jazz for the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference playoff chase with just three games to play.
The Lakers have won four out of five to continue their season-defining playoff stand, a charge led by the wicked Bryant, who torched the Blazers with 47 points, eight rebounds, five assists, four blocks and three steals — filling the box score in a way that no player before him has. (He also outdueled Portland Rookie of the Year favorite Damian Lillard, who was spectacular himself with 38 points and nine assists.)
Whether the Lakers make the playoffs or not, Kobe is going to make sure their final three games are played with an intensity and at a pace that is playoff-worthy. That’s just who he is and has been his entire NBA career. There have been times when his individual drive and focus have been detrimental to his team (early in his career for sure and again later, when he and Shaquille O’Neal battled for control of the team). There’s no Phil Jackson around this time to balance the scales.
All that said, there is no player I’d rather watch under these extreme circumstances. The Lakers’ season goes into the category as one of the greatest crimes against the game if a crew with Kobe, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash doesn’t find its way into the postseason.
Would it have been nice to see the same sense of urgency in December that we all saw last night? Of course. In or out the postseason, a CSI crew will be needed to comb through the scattered wreckage of the Lakers’ regular season. There’s no way it was supposed to go down the way it has.
Kobe’s fingerprints will be all over the wreckage, along with those of Howard, Gasol, Nash, Jim Buss, Mitch Kupchak and just about anyone else inside the organization you want to throw in the mix.
“It’s bittersweet,” Pau Gasol said when asked about Bryant’s dominating performance against the Blazers, in which he played all 48 minutes in a non-overtime road game for the first time in his career. “Because, I think it’s spectacular and it’s very impressive and it’s remarkable to be able to play 48 minutes and score 47 points. That’s incredible. On the other hand, I’m a player that likes to see a little bit more ball movement and better balance. I’ve always been [like that]. That’s just how I perceive this game.
“But again, he was incredible tonight. He scored a tremendous amount of points that I never scored in my life. So, like I said, it was very impressive and it’s not something that you do every night, of course.”
It wouldn’t be necessary every night if the Lakers had worked these issues out earlier in the season. They’ve been riding this roller coaster since training camp, with established veterans trying to sort out their roles — first under Mike Brown and since those first five games under Mike D’Antoni. (more…)
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – That rant Vinny Del Negro unleashed on his team after Saturday night’s blowout loss to the Houston Rockets (sans James Harden) was not an elaborate pre-April Fool’s Day ruse. It was real.
“They played harder than we did,” Del Negro said. “We were terrible. Our effort was terrible, our attitude was terrible, our urgency was terrible. Very disappointed. I didn’t see the fight in us tonight, and we need guys to step up.”
“We’re fighting for a spot, and we come out with that second-half — pretty much the whole game — effort. It was poor.” Del Negro said. “I know it’s the fourth game in five nights, but that’s no excuse. We’ve got plenty of depth. No excuses. I don’t believe in that.”
The vitriol … the disappointment … all of it was real.
With seemingly everything to play for — a top-three seed in the Western Conference playoffs, home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, simple professional pride — the Clippers cannot find the energy to finish the season the way they started (with a bang).
The Clippers have fallen off the mark in the second half of the season, squandering a league-best 32-9 start by stumbling their way to a .500 finish (17-17) with seven games remaining in the season. Chris Paul‘s MVP turn during All-Star weekend might very well serve as the lone highlight for the Clippers during the season’s stretch run if they can’t shake out of their funk.
Deciphering exactly what’s wrong with the Clippers from a schematic standpoint is basically a waste of time. They have certain deficiencies that cannot be cured this season unless both Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan magically locate reliable post moves overnight. That’s not meant as a slight to either of the talented young big men, it’s just a fact.
The Clippers are not capable of playing inside-out for long enough stretches to make other high-level teams uncomfortable. Kicking off a crucial, four-game home stand with a deflating loss to the Pacers is no way to inspire confidence. And when Paul, Jamal Crawford and the rest of the Clippers’ perimeter stars are taking turns struggling as well, it confirms all of the fears we’ve been expressing about this team since their second-half struggles began.
This is code red time for the Clippers. They’ve lost four of their last five games and the finger-pointing (direct and otherwise) has already begun. The effort and energy from the players seems to be lacking, suggesting an underlying issue between the players and the coach that is undefeated in terms of the final results (the coach always has to go).
Del Negro has taken a rather aggressive approach, tinkering with his rotations and even benching starters in an effort to jumpstart his team.
For any of this to be said on a team with some of the best locker room leadership in the league (Paul, Caron Butler, Grant Hill and Chauncey Billups) is a bit startling.
Just as startling is Del Negro’s pointed criticism at his biggest stars, particularly his benching of Paul and Griffin recently, moves that are sure to erode the coach-player dynamic on a team that has always had issues in that regard under Del Negro. This madness is going on with a team that needs just one more win to clinch the franchise’s first 50-win season in history.
This puts the entire operation on alert for the postseason. If the Clippers slide in and then slide out just as quickly, then it’s anyone’s guess as to where the Clippers go from there in the offseason.
Start the playoffs on the road and suffer the fate then that you did during your recent tour through the Southwest Division, a 1-3 plank walk, and whatever is wrong with the Clippers will be someone else’s problem.
HANG TIME PLAYOFF HEADQUARTERS – As both Kevin Durant and LeBron James have reminded us all in the past three days, the NBA playoffs is a platform tailor-made for high drama and superstars willing to add to their lore.
The reigning and three-time NBA scoring champ smashes the competition with a 34-point, 14-rebound, 5-assist performance in a decisive Game 6 in the Western Conference finals, leading his team to a spot in The Finals. This a day before the three-time and reigning MVP follows that up with a historic 45-point, 15-rebounds, 5-assist showing of his own in a road Game 6 win that saved his team’s season and the chance to meet up with the scoring champ and his team in The Finals.
For those of us lucky enough (and old enough) to remember Game 4 of The Finals that year, Magic’s homage to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar‘s signature move never gets old. As heartbreaking as it had to be then and even now, the most dedicated Celtics fans have to admit it’s one of the greatest shots in playoff history.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Do you remember a crazier opening week to the NBA playoffs?
Seriously, from season-ending injuries (Derrick Rose and Iman Shumpert) to wild comebacks (Clippers-Grizzlies Game 1) to buzzer beaters (Kevin Durant in Game 1 over the Mavericks) to the truly bizarre (Amar’e Stoudemire … fire extinguisher-gate) to players (Rajon Rondo) chest-bumping referees we’ve seen a little bit of everything.
You couldn’t have made this stuff up if you tried.
And we can’t get enough, of the drama and the splendid playoff basketball we’ve seen thus far.
OKLAHOMA CITY – Maybe we’re going to see that 2006 NBA Finals rematch after all.
The Dallas Mavericks have a commanding 3-1 lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference finals, thanks to Monday night’s 112-105 overtime thriller. The Miami Heat can join them in the commanding lead department with Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals on tap tonight in Miami and the Heat leading the Chicago Bulls 2-1.
If the Mavericks and Heat do end up doing it all over again, we’ll have plenty of time to dissect that matchup on the next episode of the Hang Time Podcast. But we’ve got something a little different for you this week on Episode 57, what with coaching searches going on in places like Los Angeles, Houston and Indiana and the NBA Draft just a few short weeks away.
Feigen also updated us on Yao Ming‘s status and what’s in store for a Rockets team that finished ninth in the Western Conference this season, just behind the Hang Time Grizzlies for that eighth and final playoff spot.
Howard Cooper schooled on us on who impressed (Enes Kanter‘s name came up) during the Chicago predraft camp as well as names we need to focus on come draft night. But don’t just take our word for it, check out Episode 57 of the Hang Time Podcast for yourself.
LOS ANGELES – Much like those Hang Time Grizzlies, we decided to kick off the conference semifinal round of these NBA playoffs with a bang on the Hang Time Podcast.
That includes appearances from a wise and trusted friend of the program and two debuts that you will now want to miss on Episode 54 (complete with background noise from the beach out here in Southern California, where half of our team is located for the Lakers-Mavericks series. We apologize in advance for the inconvenience).
First up is NBA TV and TNT analyst Chris Webber, a favorite here at the hideout for his candor, keen insight and wealth of experience on all topics basketball and beyond. His take on both the Spurs and Magic will leave no doubt about where he thinks both franchises are headed, now that they have been removed from the playoff picture.
Zach Lowe of SI.com‘s The Point Forward blog joined us to break down Game 1 of the Heat-Celtics, got his take on Zach Randolph and the Grizzlies and we even tricked him into diving back into the Derrick Rose-Dwight Howard MVP debate. It’s not the ideal way to treat a first-time guest, but he was good about it.
We wrapped up with a special Hollywood/Broadway guest in actor Tate Donovan, a rare New Jersey native and lifelong Lakers fan. He gave away his age when he told us that he grew up watching Wilt Chamberlain play for the Lakers. But he has the distinction of living through two of the most celebrated eras in NBA history, having cut his teeth on the Showtime Lakers and then stuck around for the Shaquille O’Neal-Kobe Bryant-Phil Jackson era and now the Bryant-Pau Gasol-Jackson twilight saga.
That’s enough yapping, check out Episode 54 and hear it all for yourself.