Posts Tagged ‘Scottie Pippen’

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 143) Featuring Zach Gilford And ‘Are You Kidding Me?’

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — There are reportedly eight different teams expressing interest in the services of Cleveland Cavaliers’ cast off big man Andrew Bynum, eight teams that believe Bynum is a valuable enough piece that they are willing to ignore his track record of not playing up to his immense potential when healthy.

Like everything else where Bynum is concerned, there are passionate opinions on both sides of the argument and we made sure to touch on those on Episode 143 of the Hang Time Podcast now that the Luol Deng-Bynum trade has been finalized. Bynum’s gone, much to the delight of our guest, Friday Night Lights and Devil’s Due star Zach Gilford, whose Bulls roots run deep (from growing up watching Michael Jordan dazzle the world and win titles all the way down to the Scottie Pippen his buddy tattooed on him at 13).

Hall of Famer Reggie Miller and the NBA’s former Dean of Discipline, Stu Jackson, also make their 2014 debut on “Are You Kidding Me?” Miller and Jackson

You get all that and more on Episode 143 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring Zach Gilford.

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.

LeBron: On His Way To G.O.A.T.?

Editor’s note: As the NBA embarks this week on a new season, Miami Heat superstar LeBron James stands as the league’s most iconic figure. In today’s final installment in our three-part series on James and his place in the league, we weigh in on where James stands in the greatest-of-all-time argument.

In Part One, we looked at the people who have helped shape James into an international marketing force and a difference-maker for at-risk kids in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. And in Part Two, we examined how James’ on-court game has changed since he burst onto the scene straight out of high school in 2003, and how his early failures shaped the player he is today. 


VIDEO: The LeBron Series — G.O.A.T?

Perhaps it would all be different if LeBron James had not come to our doorstep prepackaged and hermetically sealed, all but tied up with a pretty ribbon and bow.

The Chosen One.

We generally like to pick our own heroes and villains, so as the media hype machine began to serve him up when he was still a teenager too young to drive to school at St. Vincent-St. Mary’s in Akron, Ohio, it was only natural that some would instinctively turn up their noses as if he were a heaping serving of broccoli.

Wilt Chamberlain was an overwhelming, almost indescribable giant. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was towering, majestic and aloof. Oscar Robertson was angry and unshakable. Magic Johnson wore an endearing, embracing smile that could light up a thousand nights. Larry Bird was a good ol‘ boy caricature come to life. Michael Jordan was transcendent as a competitor and a cultural icon.

Yet now, almost despite all that hype, the argument — joining so many others that seem to constantly swirl around him — can be made that James is indeed on track to go down as the best of them all.

Just the mere suggestion that he could one day soon lay claim to the label of Greatest of All Time — G.O.A.T., as it’s known in the vernacular — will bring baas of protest from the anti-LeBron crowd. They’ll call him a preener, a whiner, a shrinker, a choker, a deserter, a pretender, a poseur.

And yet the resume James has compiled in his first decade in the NBA has not only lived up to the advance billing, it’s exceeded it.

Consider that if he were to fulfill the expectations of most of the experts and be voted the league’s Most Valuable Player again in 2013-14, James would join Chamberlain, Bill Russell and Bird on the short list of three-in-a-row MVP winners. If the Heat play for the championship again next June and he is named MVP of The Finals, he would equal a feat only achieved before by Jordan (twice) and Shaquille O’Neal.

And if James were to claim his third straight regular season MVP, third straight championship and third straight Finals MVP, it would be a first in NBA history.

“He has four MVPs already, before he’s 30,” said long-time foe and close friend Jermaine O’Neal. “He has a lot of confidence and I think the sky’s still the limit as long as that same drive is still there. And I think it will be. I don’t see why it wouldn’t be. Sometimes, after the first MVP or whatever the achievements are, people tend to cut the motor down a little bit. But I was talking to people and they said he’s better than he was last year. Pretty difficult to be.”

A desire to get better



VIDEO: LeBron goes global with visit to China

That drive, to constantly put down every outside challenge and thrive on the fires from within, forged Jordan’s reputation as the ultimate big game warrior, practice scrapper, teammate-fighter and I’ll-gamble-on-anything competitor. Jordan would let rivals see the perspiration on that gleaming shaved head, but he’d never shed a drop of sweat from worry or doubt.

James is different. He’ll sit in front of his locker or behind a post-game microphone and admit that he fell short and pledge to do better.

Jordan entered the league as a tongue-wagging, gravity-defying, splay-legged phenom that played with the frisky abandon of a colt that leapt the corral fence. He gave us Air Jordan and taught us to fly while he played basketball in the movies with Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. He sold sneakers, burgers and sports drinks. Everybody wanted to be like Mike.

James’ arrival was more of an orchestrated corporate sales pitch, pushing a man-child built like a locomotive that barreled down the tracks on the strength of a $100-million endorsement deal with Nike. It seemed a boardroom-drawn image. His game, early on, seemed more manufactured muscle than magic. No one could be King James.

Yet LeBronmania delivered in both form and function. Immediately. He became only the third rookie in NBA history — behind Robertson and Jordan — to average more than 20 points, five rebounds and five assists.

“I thought he’d be OK. I thought he’d have a little bit of a learning curve,” said former NBA forward and current Chicago Bulls assistant coach Ed Pinckney. “But I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone come in with that much hoopla and perform the way he did.

“Magic and Bird, similar. But they were older. Not a high school kid. He came in and hit the ground running.

“I asked Earl Monroe pretty much the same question. And he said, ‘There was a time when a high school kid coming into the NBA, physically, could just not play. Maybe he’d have a good game or two, but not sustain it.’ Where was the rookie wall [for James], all of that? He just busted right through it.’ This was Earl Monroe saying it.

“For an 18- or 19-year-old kid coming in to the league and performing the way he did, on a nightly basis with all the pressure of handling a team, I think he handled it great and he continues to.”

James’ offensive repertoire keeps expanding, and his four MVP awards in the past five seasons are matched only by Russell (1961-65). Another championship this season would give him three by the age of 29. Jordan won his third at 30.

Tuning out the noise

James has been delivering at such a high level, under such intense scrutiny so consistently and for so long,  that many are expecting a fall. Surely, The Decision to jump from Cleveland to Miami and all that came with it still resonate for many who will never let go of the grudge. He is reminded of it every day in a social media world of instant and constant criticism, where every missed shot and misplay is bitterly dissected. That did not exist for Jordan.

Another debate may still rage — mostly out of Los Angeles — but the truth is, James has clearly surpassed Kobe Bryant as the best player in the game today.

“Nobody with a brain would even begin to argue that,” said one league executive.

James’ Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 31.6 last season was more than three whole points better than runner-up Kevin Durant (28.3) and was the second-highest single season ever behind 31.7 by Jordan in 1987-88.

In the annual NBA.com poll of the league’s general managers, James was an 89.7 percent choice as the single player they would sign for their team and a 66.7 percent pick as the player that forces opposing coaches to make the most adjustments. He was voted most athletic and most dangerous in the open floor.

Still, James’ game has its flaws, at least according to some. In an ESPN the Magazine poll of 26 anonymous players, Jordan was named by 88 percent as the man they’d want taking the final shot with the game on the line. Bryant received 12 percent. James didn’t receive a single vote.

James, though, is universally regarded as more of a natural playmaker than those two, more able to draw defenses to him and more willing to make the pass to a teammate for a better shot.  Former coach Jeff Van Gundy told ESPN:

“When I think of a closer, it’s a guy who can beat you with the pass or the shot. I’d take LeBron James to close it for me.”

New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham recently told Dan Patrick in a radio interview: “If there’s any player in the NBA who could come and be a complete superstar in the NFL, it’s LeBron. He would be the man.”

Jordan vs. James

If Jordan is considered the G.O.A.T. now, James can’t be far behind. The career stat lines of Jordan and James are strikingly similar. And James is only 28, perhaps just entering the meat of his career.

A young LeBron James meets Michael Jordan in 2003

A young LeBron James meets Michael Jordan in 2003
(David Liam Kyle/NBAE)

James has averaged 27.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, 6.9 assists, shot 49 percent from the field and 40.6 percent on 3-pointers for his career.  Jordan’s numbers were 28.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 49.7 from the field and 32.7 on 3s. Jordan was a lockdown perimeter defender in his day and James is an elite defender at four positions. James is bigger, stronger, much more of a brute force than Jordan, but still can soar with a jaw-dropping 40-inch vertical leap. Jordan was the long, rangy, sinewy embodiment of the ultimate basketball player. James is an athletic anomaly, a virtual tank with the speed of a motorcycle.

As much as the anti-LeBron crowd will protest, it is probably already down to just a three-man debate. And, if you set aside Chamberlain’s gargantuan feats in terms of sheer numbers and records set from a long ago era as too far off the charts to even compare, it comes down to James and Jordan.

Jordan clearly has the edge in the ability to simply pile up points, get buckets when they’re needed. But the analytics crowd will tell you that today’s game is about being able to do more than score. James is the better passer, rebounder, has deeper range and can defend more places on the court.

Jordan dragged his teammates along to championships with the sheer force of his talent and his will. James plays a style that actually makes his teammates better.

On the all-time list of PER, Jordan sits at No. 1 with a career 27.91 rating. James is second at 27.65 and closing.

Want more numbers? How about the Cavaliers winning three out of every four games (61-21) with James in 2009-10 and then losing three of every four (19-63) the next year without him. That’s having an impact.

For all the credit he gets raising his performance for the Heat in back-to-back title drives over the past two seasons, it may have been James lifting an otherwise anemic Cavs roster onto his shoulders and carrying them to the 2007 NBA Finals that was most Herculean.

“Jordan was never able to do anything like that with those Bulls teams before [Scottie] Pippen arrived,” said an NBA general manager.

“I would have to say Bryant and Jordan had that same ability to defend from the perimeter spots, score and make plays from that position, but they never put up the assist numbers that he has,” said Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle. “He’s more of a hybrid-type guy and you don’t normally think of all-time great players as being hybrid-type players. The truth is he’s Magic Johnson, but much faster and much more dynamic athletically. Really all that’s left to be determined is how many championships he’s going to win. That’s an honest assessment.”


VIDEO:
Would LeBron James have been a star in the NBA of the 1990s?

The measure of the G.O.A.T.

If it’s the counting of the rings that matters, then James still trails Jordan’s six and Bryant’s five. But again, he is only 28. At that age Jordan had just one.

And, really, should that be the measure anyway?

“When anybody says you measure guys by rings, that’s a crock of [bleep],” said Robert Horry, who won seven with the Rockets, Lakers and Spurs. “That’s like saying I’m better than Karl Malone, I’m better than Charles Barkley or Patrick Ewing. We all know that ain’t true. You can’t go by that. You can’t measure guys by their rings. It’s just ignorant. Having said that, I don’t exactly think LeBron’s done collecting them yet.”

After settling in comfortably in Miami over the past two years, embracing more of the role of alpha dog and learning to enjoy the responsibility and reap the rewards, it is not hard to envision a more relaxed, more confident James climbing higher.

“The story is how far LeBron has come in the last two years on every level,” said TNT analyst and former Jordan teammate Steve Kerr. “Where he was three years ago with The Decision, his play in the Finals against Dallas, the way he handled the post-game interview after Game 6 and the comments he made? He was really at a low point.

“What he has done the last two years is remarkable. He handles himself with grace and class. He’s elevated his game. He is now a champion, he carries himself like one. I think it’s fantastic to see the resilience, particularly in modern society with what he faces. I love what LeBron has done and I have a ton of respect for him. He’s on his way.”

Perhaps closer already to the top than so many think, or will admit.


VIDEO:
LeBron James’ top 10 plays from 2012-13

Jordan’s First Retirement, 20 Years Ago, Hit NBA Hardest

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It was 20 years ago today, Michael Jordan said he wouldn’t play…

Hmm, nothing very lyrical about that. More like Sgt. Peppers Broken Hearts Club Band.

As anniversaries go, this one may have lost some oomph after two decades because, sooner rather than later, it lost its exclusivity. Jordan, the consensus pick as the greatest NBA player of all time, eventually would make that same statement again, and then again. But when he dropped the news on the sports world and the American culture on Oct. 6, 1993, that he was retiring from the Chicago Bulls at age 30, no more pebble-grained worlds to conquer, as far as any of us knew, he meant it.

That was it. One and done.

“I didn’t understand it,” Hakeem Olajuwon said a few days ago, looking back across time. Olajuwon, the Houston Rockets’ Hall of Fame center, and Jordan were born 27 days apart. They famously entered the NBA in the same 1984 draft. When Jordan stepped away, it was Olajuwon’s Rockets that stepped up to win consecutive championships. As the 1993-94 season approached, the two stars were in their primes, nine seasons into their treks to Springfield, Mass.

“It was more of a drastic decision,” Olajuwon said, “where I couldn’t imagine that he was comfortable to walk away for life. So I was surprised.”

Jason Kidd was a 20-year-old sophomore at Cal, one more college basketball season away from being drafted into the suddenly Michael Jordan-less league.

“As a guy you looked up to and wanted to be like, here he retires,” said Kidd, also Hall-bound and now the Brooklyn Nets’ rookie head coach. “Now you’re saying ‘The best has left the game,’ and you’ll never get to guard him or play with him. That was disappointing.”

Jordan’s decision to quit the NBA after capturing three consecutive championships with the Bulls from 1991 to 1993, earning three MVP awards and three Finals MVP trophies and winning seven scoring titles was harder to absorb and believe than it was, upon reflection, to understand. He had lived life, for most of his pro career anyway, at a fever pitch, with nonstop basketball commitments, the pressures and obligations of being the game’s most dominant player, the Olympics and other offseason endeavors, and the time and commercial demands generated by his unprecedented rise as a marketing icon and corporate pitchman.

Added to that, in barely a month after the Bulls’ ’93 title, was the loss of his father James Jordan, murdered in a roadside robbery. Then there was the ongoing speculation about Jordan’s golf and casino-style gambling habits, and his alleged association with unsavory characters who might have dragged down not just the player’s integrity but the league’s.

(more…)

LeBron, Part 2: Difference Is The Rings

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HANG TIME, Texas — There’s no reason to think the Boys and Girls Club of Greenwich has been reserved for a certain night in July 2014. Or that Jim Gray is waiting in the wings fixing his makeup.

There is a reason why The Decision, Part Deux should come with far less Hollywood frippery — though no less high anxiety — than the original.

Deux of them, actually.

When LeBron James announced that he was taking his talents to South Beach on July 8, 2010, he was still, in so many different ways, a young man full of questions and doubt.

Now he is a two-time champion and those rings on his fingers are the answers and the validation that should be able to shut down any of the peripheral noise.

James is, of course, the biggest star who’ll be able to become a free agent next summer, leading a pack that will include Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony, as well as his Heat teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. And while the four-time MVP says that his first inclination is to continue hanging out and chasing titles in Miami, James admitted to ESPN’s Chris Broussard that nothing is certain.

“I have absolutely no idea,” James recently told ESPN.com. “I would love to spend the rest of my career in Miami with this great team and great organization as we continue to compete for championships. That’s ideal. But we don’t know what may happen from now to the end of the season. That’s the nature of the business. It’s the nature of not knowing what tomorrow brings.

“I mean, as a kid, I never thought the Bulls would break up. Never. If you’d of told me as a kid that [Michael] Jordan and [Scottie] Pippen wouldn’t play together for the rest of their lives, I’d have looked at you crazy. And Phil Jackson wouldn’t be the coach? I’d have looked at you crazy. But sometimes the nature of the business doesn’t allow things to happen like you would want them to. But we’ll see.”

The question then becomes whether LeBronmania 2 can grow into the Melodrama and Dwightmare scenarios that nearly consumed Anthony and Dwight Howard and even himself over the past several years?

On the surface, the difference is age and maturity. But the truth is that it’s those championships that set him apart. Before he jumped to the Heat, it was insecurity that drove James to fuel the gossip mill. While he had the numbers and the individual accolades, he could never be sure of himself as a champion until he’d done it. The past two seasons have seen him raise his game and his teammates onto his back and lift the cloud of self-doubt.

Now when James looks ahead to the next chapter, it will only be about setting higher goals and where he wants to chase them:

Miami – If Wade can get through another long playoff run reasonably healthy, the Heat will have to be consider the odds-on favorites to keep James. Wade would still be a quite capable second banana. Assuming that Bosh won’t give up the $42 million left on his contract to become a free agent, it could be time for team president Pat Riley to make the kind of deal that infuses the roster with younger, deeper talent that could make James’ task less Herculean.

Cleveland — If Kyrie Irving continues on track to becoming a perennial All-Star point guard, if No. 1 draft pick Anthony Bennett lives up to his billing, if coach Mike Brown’s return puts the bite back into the Cavaliers’ defense, it would not be so very, very far-fetched for LeBron to return. It would be the biggest sports homecoming ever. He would still be in his prime and could heal so many of the old scars left behind.

L.A. Lakers — If King James is really looking to put the ultimate jewel in his crown, what could be a more lofty goal than to pick up the NBA’s most glamorous franchise and put it back on track? Having won MVPs in Cleveland and championships in Miami, he could even get an extra special kick out of being the one who “helps” teammate Kobe get his sixth championship ring to tie Jordan.

But those are all fantasies for next summer and, as he told Broussard, he can avoid fanning the flames of the rumor mill:

“I owe it to myself, I owe it my teammates and I owe it to the Miami Heat to stay focused,” he said. “As a leader, I’m not even going to let that side of the business get me unfocused on what I’m trying to do and that’s trying to win another championship.

“I’m going to try to [stop the discussion about free agency], but you always have reporters who are going to always bring it up. They’re going to change the question and make it sound like something else. But it will get to a point, if I continue to hear it, where I will say, ‘Hey guys, I’ve answered the question and out of respect, let’s talk about this after the season.’ ”

This time there doesn’t have to be a prime time TV show. It doesn’t have to be so crazy, so out of control.

For two reasons, both on LeBron’s fingers.

It’s Time To Warm Up To The Heat

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So of all the suggestions for breaking up the Big Three of the Heat, you have to hand it to the parade route planner for being the most decisive, though derivative.

But LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh survived the attempted recreation of the giraffe-in-the-convertible scene from The Hangover Part III and now we’re left with a summer of the NBA’s most-asked question:

What’s wrong with the Heat?

After all, it’s been nearly a week since they won a game.

Never mind that it’s the offseason. Facts and rationality never seem to enter the discussion when the topic is Miami basketball.

To twist an old saying: If it’s not the Heat, it’s the stupidity.

Remember, it was only days ago when everything that Pat Riley had built inside American Airlines Arena hung in the balance.

What if either Manu Ginobili or Kawhi Leonard had made one more free throw in the final 28 seconds of Game 6?

Then Ray Allen’s back-away 3-pointer from the corner doesn’t mean a thing. Then Game 7 isn’t even played. Then Big Three get deep-sixed.

Really? Because of one free throw?

No less an accomplished playoff veteran than Magic Johnson was telling listeners on a conference call prior to Game 7: “I think we may see the end of this Big Three. I think that things will change, no matter what happens. Things have to change with that team, because everybody has caught up to them now.”

Everybody?

So how come there weren’t parades in San Antonio or Indianapolis or Memphis or New York or Oklahoma City or Los Angeles this week?

Anybody?

You can talk the talk about the Heat from now until Opening Night next season when another banner drops from the rafters and another set of gaudy rings is handed out. But until somebody can walk the walk and take Miami down at crunch time, it’s all just blather.

It seems that the most consistent criticism of the Heat has two lines of attack:

– They don’t win every game.

– I don’t like LeBron.

Of the latter, if it stems from the silly made-for-TV show on ESPN, it was three years ago and it’s time to get over it. Adam Sandler made Grown Ups that year, so it might not have been the worst decision of 2010.

If the complaint is a lack of victories, it might be time to put new batteries in the calculator.

In the three years since Miami’s Big Three have been playing together, they have a combined 170-60 (.739) record in the regular season. That means they win three out of every four times they step onto the court. They won 27 consecutive games from Feb. 3 through Mar. 25 of this season, the second-longest streak in NBA history. They have made three straight trips to the NBA Finals, winning the last two.

Yes, there was that humbling defeat by the Mavericks in 2011, the first season that James, Wade and Bosh were wearing the same uniforms and trying to figure things out. Perhaps keep in mind that in the first season Michael Jordan played with Scottie Pippen (1988), the Bulls were knocked out of the playoffs in the second round and didn’t even reach The Finals until year four.

Magic wants to blow up the Heat “no matter what happens,” even though they went back-to-back. What about when the Lakers followed up their 1980 title in his rookie year by getting knocked out in the first round of the playoffs by a Houston team with 40-42 record? After winning in 1982, his Lakers were swept in The Finals by Philly in 1983. The Lakers dynasty did not repeat until 1987 and ’88. The Larry Bird-Robert Parish-Kevin McHale Celtics never won two in a row. Tim Duncan’s Spurs have won four championships, but none consecutively.

This is a bar that was set impossibly high for the Heat from the start and is constantly being raised.

There are, in fact, very few areas in which the Heat haven’t delivered as hyped and promised, not the least of which has been making every stop in 28 other NBA arenas an event and every chapter of their three straight playoff marches must-see-TV.

Can anyone truthfully continue to hang LeBron with the old charge that he blinks in the spotlight? The times that the Heat have faced elimination in the last two playoffs, they are 5-0 and James has averages of 35.4 points, 11.4 rebounds and 5.2 assists. Remember his 3-pointer that preceded Allen’s 3?

The 31-year-old Wade has been written off like a bad debt over the past two years, but summons up big performances just when it looks like he is slipping over the edge.

Bosh will always be the third, lesser jewel in the chain, but he has made the biggest adjustment to make it all work and did get the critical rebound and make the pass to Allen in the corner.

Coach Erik Spoelstra has made the climb with them, rising from youthful caretaker to battle-tested leader who pushes the right buttons with the lineups and navigates the always roiling waters of great expectation. There are no more gaps in his pedigree.

Any one of the Big Three can bolt next summer, according to their contracts and then everything changes. That’s a whole year away.

For now, this is a team precisely as Riley dared envision it three summers ago — bold, entertaining, accomplished.

So what’s wrong with the Heat?

Only that we haven’t seen them play in nearly a week and are already missing them.

Malone Has MJ, Magic Out Of His Top Five



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MIAMI – Karl Malone is no stranger to controversy.

He courted plenty of it during his Hall of Fame career with the Utah Jazz.

But his revisionist history in regards to his top five players of all-time, shared on The Dan Patrick Show,” is sure to stir things up a bit. Malone left both Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson off of his fave five in favor of Oscar Robertson and his Jazz running mate John Stockton, respectively. Malone had Wilt Chamberlain at center on his top five along with LeBron James at power forward and Scottie Pippen at small forward.

That’s bold stuff, considering Jordan and Magic were the greatest winners and players of Malone’s era. Pippen played alongside Jordan, making Malone’s snub of MJ even more of a head-scratcher.

“I’m gonna shock the world. I have to put Scottie Pippen at the 3,” Malone told Patrick. “Scottie Pippen led the [Bulls] in every statistical category when he was there without Jordan.”

I can’t come up with a top five of all-time that doesn’t start with MJ and Magic. So for Malone to craft his without either one of them is extremely troubling for me. Obviously, it’s just his opinion. But Malone doesn’t talk for shock value. He must truly believe what he says when excludes two players universally regarded as the best at their positions in the history of the game off of his list.

Come on, Mailman, you don’t really believe the words that came out of your mouth … do you?

UPDATE: In an interview with ESPN’s ‘Carmen & Jurko’ show in Chicago, Malone recanted his statements about Jordan on the interview and via Twitter, where he tweeted the following:

It’s Rarely Easy To Repeat, Heat

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DALLAS — NBA playoff history is loaded with ambitious underdogs against steely defending champions. We’re seeing it now in the Eastern Conference finals as the upstart Indiana Pacers push the reigning champion Miami Heat to the limit. Game 6 in that series, with the Heat leading 3-2 after beating Indiana Thursday night, is Saturday night in Indianapolis (8:30 ET, TNT).

LeBron James (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

LeBron James (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

Indiana is not only up against a great team. It’s up against great odds. Historically speaking, when a best-of-7 series has been tied 2-2, the winner of Game 5 has won the series 83 percent of the time.

Still, nothing will come easy for Miami. Over the past 33 seasons, only nine teams have claimed the championship. (The Heat have done it twice.) Only four teams (the Lakers, Bulls, Rockets and Pistons) have won back-to-back titles. And a Miami repeat would give the Heat a chance to do what only two other teams have done: pull off a threepeat. (Michael Jordan’s Bulls did it twice; the Shaquille O’Neal-Kobe Bryant Lakers were the other ones.)

Indiana has had only one trip to the NBA Finals, 13 years ago, when the Pacers lost to the Lakers in six games in L.A.’s first leg of its threepeat. These Pacers have had their chances. In fact, they might look back on  Game 1 in Miami, when LeBron James beat them with a spin-drive to the left that beat the buzzer, as the game that cost them a second chance at The Finals.

Ominous, too, was the Heat’s 90-79 win Thursday night in Miami. The Pacers led 44-40 at halftime even after a handful of missed shots at the rim and a spate of turnovers. But James, after delivering a fiery speech to his huddled teammates, dominated the third quarter and carried Miami to the pivotal Game 5 victory.

The good news for the Pacers? Half the teams that lost Game 5 after being tied at 2-2 gave themselves a chance for a Game 7 by winning Game 6.

Here’s a look at the teams that have successfully defended their title since 1980 and the toughest challenges they faced: (more…)

Durant Doesn’t Deserve A Pass, Only Time





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Kevin Durant is not getting a pass around here. No excuses, no pardon, exoneration or any other escape hatch for the Oklahoma City Thunder’s failures in these NBA playoffs.

There will be no handouts for Durant or any other superstar who falls down on the big stage. Durant should be held to the same standard all of his contemporaries, past and present, have been held to in the annals of this game. You either win it all or you go home with nothing. It’s a fair trade-off and one that all superstars sign off on when they play.

That said, the rush to judge Durant after he struggled against the Memphis Grizzlies without Russell Westbrook is overcooked dramatically. The Thunder’s 3-6 postseason mark without Westbrook, who saw a torn meniscus in his knee end his season in the first round against Houston, says more about Westbrook’s value to his team than it does about Durant’s inability to lift them up on his own.

This notion that a lone superstar of any ilk will lead his team to a championship is a longstanding myth that needs to be debunked. It almost never happens. Not at the NBA level. Not in the past 40 years or so. The only exceptions to that statement might be the Hakeem Olajuwon-led Houston Rockets of 1993-94 and the Dirk Nowitzki-led Dallas Mavericks of 2010.

Magic Johnson didn’t do it alone. Larry Bird didn’t do it alone. Isiah Thomas didn’t do it alone. Michael Jordan didn’t do it alone. Shaquille O’Neal didn’t do it alone. Tim Duncan didn’t do it alone. And the list goes on.

Kobe Bryant had help (in the form of Pau Gasol and others) after serving as Shaq’s superstar partner and LeBron James tried to break the mold in Cleveland, only to find out that he needed Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami to seal the deal.

Contrary to Twitter wisdom, there is no shame in recognizing and realizing that reality. This need for someone to blame when things go wrong isn’t a new phenomenon. But it’s taken on epic proportions in the social media age. That’s why it’s fine to point out Durant’s breakdowns against the Grizzlies without absolving him of all responsibility.

He struggled mightily against a complete team that might not have a superstar of his caliber on its roster but is stronger collectively — something especially true when Durant’s superstar partner is out of commission. Jordan knows that better than anyone, having failed repeatedly against the Bad Boys Pistons before he and Scottie Pippen were able to finally stare down that demon.

Trials and tribulation are generally a prerequisite for NBA championship contention. The Grizzlies served that up aplenty in their conference semifinal conquest. Durant was met with defender after defender. He was the focal point of a Grizzlies defensive attack for which he and the Thunder had no counter-punch.

But that doesn’t mean you write Durant off now, not after all that he’s accomplished before his 25th birthday.

It’s not like he laid down for the Grizzlies anyway. He played 46 minutes a night in the series, averaged 29 points, 10.4 rebounds, 6.6 assists and 1.2 blocks, all done — save for Kevin Martin‘s Game 1 outburst — without any consistent supporting cast assistance. And basically every game went down to the wire. Durant, Westbrook and James Harden barely survived a seven-game series with these Grizzlies a couple of years ago, so there is no shame in falling to them under these circumstances.

To his credit, Durant stood up and accepted all of the blame. He didn’t shirk his responsibility as the Thunder’s leader. And with his track record and work ethic, you know his rigorous offseason routine will be fueled by this most recent failure.

His sudden crowd of detractors will, of course, label him and suggest that he just doesn’t have the fire or mean streak to be a champion because he chose to view this latest setback like the adult that he is. No, it’s not the end of his world. He doesn’t view the entire season as a complete waste of time, like Kobe claims he does when his season ends without confetti and a championship parade.

Save the drama, folks. You don’t have to give Durant a pass … he doesn’t want one and doesn’t deserve one.

Just give him the time to right whatever went wrong.

If he’s half the superstar you thought he was before this postseason, you won’t be disappointed.

History: Fear The Streaking Clippers

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HANG TIME, Texas — It might be time to change the name of Lob City to Titletown or Bannerburgh.

Either way the streaking Clippers are on the verge of moving into a rather exclusive neighborhood that merits quite serious attention. It’s a ritzy place that comes with lots of shiny gold hardware.

When Chris Paul and his pals won back-to-back games over the Jazz to run it up to 17 consecutive wins, they squeezed into a tie for the ninth-longest single-season streak in NBA history.

With one more win tonight at Denver — No. 18 — the Clippers would take another step toward forcing themselves into the conversation as honest-to-goodness contenders.

Of course, the 1971-72 Lakers top the list with their all-time record 33-game win streak that many consider to be unbreakable. But of the eight teams currently ahead of the Clippers, five of them went on that same season to win the NBA championship and two others advanced to the conference finals. Only the 2007-08 Rockets failed to get out of the first round of the playoffs.

1971-72 L.A. Lakers
Streak: 33

Coach: Bill Sharman
Stars: Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, Gail Goodrich

Start: Nov. 5, 1971 (110-106 over Bullets)

End: Jan. 7, 1972 (120-104 to Bucks)

Record: 69-13

Playoff result: Won NBA championship

2007-08 Houston Rockets

Streak: 22 games
Coach: Rick Adelman
Stars: Tracy McGrady, Yao Ming

Start: Jan. 29, 2008 (111-107 over Warriors)

End: March 18, 2008 (94-74 to Boston Celtics)

Record: 55-27

Playoff result: Lost in first round

1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks

Streak: 20
Coach: Larry Costello
Stars: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson

Start: Feb. 6, 1971 (111-105 over Warriors)

End: March 8, 1971 (110-103 in OT to Bulls)

Record: 66-16

Playoff result: Won NBA championship

1999-2000 L.A. Lakers

Streak: 19
Coach: Phil Jackson
Stars: Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal

Start: Feb. 4, 2000 (113-67 over Jazz)

End: March 13, 2000 (109-102 to Wizards)

Record: 67-15

Playoff result: Won NBA championship

2008-09 Boston Celtics
Streak: 19

Coach: Doc Rivers
Stars: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen

Start: Nov. 15, 2008 (102-97 over Bucks)

End: Dec. 25, 2008 (92-83 to Lakers)

Record: 62-20

Playoff result: Lost in conference semifinals

1969-70 N.Y. Knicks
Streak: 18

Coach: Red Holzman
Stars: Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, Dave DeBusschere, Bill Bradley

Start: Oct. 24, 1969 (116-92 over Pistons)

End: Nov. 29, 1969 (110-98 to Pistons)

Record: 60-22

Playoff result: Won NBA championship

1981-82 Boston Celtics

Streak: 18
Coach: Bill Fitch
Stars: Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish

Start: Feb. 24, 1982 (132-90 over Jazz)

End: March 28, 1982 (116-98 to 76ers)

Record: 63-19

Playoff result: Lost in conference finals

1995-96 Chicago Bulls

Streak 18
Coach: Phil Jackson
Stars: Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman

Start: Dec. 29, 1995 (120-93 over Pacers)

End: Feb. 4, 1996 (105-99 to Nuggets)

Record: 72-10

Playoff result: Won title

2012-13 L.A. Clippers
Streak: 17
Coach: Vinny Del Negro
Stars: Chris Paul, Blake Griffin
Start: Nov. 28, 2012 (101-95 over Timberwolves)
End: ???

* 20 consecutive wins by 2011-12 San Antonio Spurs was split between 10 regular season and 10 playoffs and thereby does not qualify officially.

A Six-pack Under The All-Star Radar



HANG TIME, Texas
— All-Star.

It’s a word that explodes rather than rolls off the tongue. It’s the gaudy label that usually gets attached to the players who crackle, pop and send sparks flying like an electricity transformer that’s been struck by lightning.

But what of the players who spend their long careers quietly humming through the power lines and rarely getting noticed?

The patron saint of the overlooked is Eddie Johnson, who played 17 seasons with the Kings, Suns, Sonics, Hornets, Pacers and Rockets, 1,199 games and scored more points (19,202) than any player in NBA history without once being selected to play in the All-Star Game. He still ranks in the top 50 all-time scorers in the league, ahead of Hall of Famers Gail Goodrich and Scottie Pippen.

Sitting at Johnson’s right hand is Derek Harper, who played 16 seasons with the Mavericks, Knicks, Magic and Lakers and retired in 1999 ranking 11th on the all-time steals and 17th in career assists and never got a single chance to take an All-Star bow.

So with a nod of appreciation for their efforts and in honor of Johnson and Harper, it’s time to take a look at a six-pack of current players who have been flying under the radar and might be due some All-Star love before they’re gone:

Jamal Crawford, Clippers, 13th season — All those years of playing for bad teams in Chicago, New York, Golden State and Portland with the only two playoff seasons of his career mixed in with the Hawks has built up and often well-deserved reputation as a mad gunner who’ll take any shots as soon as he’s in the building. But consider those teams, consider that he was often cast in exactly that role to provide big points off the bench. Now he’s in a perfect place in reserve with the best-in-the-NBA Clippers and is having the time of his career.

Al Jefferson, Jazz, 9th season — He’s learned to use those big hands to become a very good passer out of double-teams, but his strength is still as a low post scorer from the left block. His scoring average is down a bit over the past few seasons because he doesn’t have to carry so much of the load with an influx of talent. Nothing at all fancy about the way he plays, but shows up every game to put in an honest night’s work and produces. Playing the bulk of your career in Minnesota and Utah will never help anybody’s profile. He has deserved his due.

Kevin Martin, Thunder, 9th season – How foolish now does anyone feel who wondered if this guy would be able to step into the hole left by James Harden’s departure in Oklahoma City? There’s no beard and he doesn’t have the explosiveness, but having already proven over a seven-year span in Sacramento and Houston that he could carry an offense, now he fits like a hand inside a custom-sown glove with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. He’s shooting a career-best-by-far 45.5 percent on 3s, 93 percent on free throws and, most important, has not caused OKC to miss a beat.

Andre Miller, Nuggets, 14th season — How does a guard you’d never want taking a shot with your life on the line keep moving ahead in his second decade in the league? But using his slick veterans moves to get to the rim himself or to use his amazing passing skills to get up his teammates for layups or dunks. Either way the result is usually an easy finish. In every one of his seasons there have always been other point guards who were faster and quicker and could fill up the basket more. But a guy with his smarts and productivity should have taken one All-Star bow by now.

Josh Smith, Hawks, 9th season – Because he’s still only 27, because he can still make your jaw drop from either a stupendous or stupid shot, the NBA world has managed to turn right by Smith. That’s despite his putting together a career stat line — soon to be 10,000 points, 5,000 rebounds, 2,000 assists and 1,000 blocked shots — that will rank him among the all-time greats. There are signs that he’s finally learning and other times when his shot selection still makes you cringe. If there is a current player who can eclipse Eddie Johnson as the best to never play in a single All-Star Game, it’s J-Smoove. But at 27, maybe there’s still plenty of time.

Anderson Varejao, Cavs, 9th season – For the early part of his career he was merely the one-trick pony who threw himself around like a bucking bronco just let out of the chute. But now Varejao is leading the league in rebounding at 14.4 per game, also averaging a career-high 14.1 points and therefore is tied for fourth place in double-doubles with 16 in his first 25 games. While the big question around the league is whether a would-be contender will be able to pry him away from the rebuilding Cavs, the other is if Cleveland’s place near the bottom of the standings will cost Varejao his earned recognition as an All-Star?