Posts Tagged ‘Sekou Smith’

LeBron, Cavaliers calm on eve of close-out opportunity against Celtics


VIDEO: Cavaliers playoff rookie Kevin Love is delivering the goods

BOSTON — For a team poised to close out its first round playoff series and move on to a conference semifinal matchup the basketball world has been buzzing about since the summer, the Cleveland Cavaliers don’t appear to be overwhelmed at all by the moment.

There is no added internal pressure on the eve of Sunday afternoon’s Game 4 win-and-move-on opportunity against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden.

In fact, the Cavaliers couldn’t be more calm or measured in their approach.

“It’s no sprint, it’s a marathon,” a totally relaxed LeBron James said Saturday afternoon. “That’s what this postseason is about. And all I’m concerned about is how well we play in this game [Sunday]. We want to play well, we have an opportunity to close out. But it’s not the end of the world and our team is not approaching it that way. We want to play well and we want to play just as hard as we did in the last game and hopefully that results in a win.”

The Chicago Bulls hold a 3-1 lead over the Milwaukee Bucks on the other side of the bracket. But the Cavaliers are not looking beyond Game 4 and what the Celtics are sure to bring to a pressure-packed environment.

“This is a very important game,” LeBron said. “You know the type of pressure the opposing team is under. It’s win or go-home for them. And they’re going to bring everything they have in the tool box to get this victory. For us, we have to stay calm and play our game, do what we’ve been doing over the course of this series, and treat a Game 4 like a Game 1. We want to play well, we want to defend well, we want to get the ball up the floor more and move the ball and share the ball and things will take care of itself.”

The Celtics have tried their best to turn each of these games into grind-it-out slugfests. They’ve played physically and tried their best to rattle the Cavaliers in any way they can.

However, this notion that the Celtics are playing their guts out while the Cavaliers, the more talented and season bunch, are just getting by on talent does not sit well with Cleveland coach David Blatt.

“That’s not fair,” Blatt said. “We’re playing hard. I don’t like that. I do agree that they are playing hard. But we are playing no less hard. And we’re just as committed to the task as they are. It’s not a matter of us just being more talented. That’s just grossly unfair. Our team is making every effort. Our team is engaged. Our team is playing aggressively and maturely. Anyone saying anything other than that is being unfair to our players, and I don’t like it.”

Lebron’s not worried about the narrative playing out elsewhere. Not with the chance to finish the first round business in four games on the line.

“Perception doesn’t matter,” he said. “Doesn’t matter. We go out and work hard and take care of our business just like any other team. Talent doesn’t win basketball games. You have to play hard, you have to execute. We’re in the NBA. Everybody has talent. Everyone’s here for a reason.

“We’re in a position to win our first ever series as a group. For a young team that’s a pretty big deal. We have an opportunity to do that and we just want to take care of business.”

Celtics surprised by Rondo’s finish in Dallas


VIDEO: Charles and Kenny are on board with the Mavericks parting ways with Rajon Rondo

BOSTON — Whatever issues led to Rajon Rondo and Rick Carlisle butting heads in Dallas were somehow avoided in Boston with the Brad Stevens.

Stevens, the Celtics coach, admitted to being a bit surprised that Rondo’s time in Dallas seems to have to come to an ugly finish.

Rondo has been ruled out for the remainder of the team’s postseason run, technically by a “bad back.” But his conflicts with Carlisle have been well documented, the latest coming in the Mavericks’ Game 2 loss to Houston Tuesday, when Rondo was benched in favor of Ray Felton and J.J. Barea.

Rondo was solid in 22 games with Boston this season before he and Dwight Powell were traded to the Mavericks for Jameer Nelson, Jae Crowder, Brandan Wright, a first-round pick, a second-round pick and a trade exception. He averaged 8.3 points and at the time a league-leading 10.8 assists.

“I felt like Rajon had played really well at the start of the year,” Stevens said. “I had coached him during a really tough time for him, simply because last year he was just coming back from that ACL tear and not having any practice, which is really unique, and so it was just a matter of him getting the feel a little bit better. I was around him a lot this summer. I was around him a lot this fall. He had the unfortunate hand break at the start of the season and it put him a little bit behind again. But I thought he played pretty well here, so yeah, I was a little bit surprised.”

Celtics boss Danny Ainge, a longtime Rondo advocate, admitted his surprise at the drama that’s gone down in Dallas in a local radio (98.5 the Sports Hub’s “Toucher & Rich”) show earlier this week:

“I’m very surprised,” Ainge said. “I thought it would be a good fit for the Mavericks and Rajon. I don’t really know what’s going on down there. I read a little bit (Wednesday) and heard some things, but I’m very surprised. I thought it would work out well for both people.”

“I don’t know what’s going on down there,” Ainge said. “Rajon was terrific here with coach (Brad) Stevens. I think they got along. The whole question is, Rondo was good this year for us. He worked really hard in the offseason. I really did think it was going to be a big year for him, and Rajon just hasn’t played as well, for whatever reason, as he hoped and as we had hoped and as the Mavericks had hoped.”

Rondo will be a free agent this summer, so he’ll have the opportunity to start somewhere fresh for the 2015-16 season. But this residue of this tumultuous season will no doubt travel with him, wherever he goes.

That said, Carlisle and the Mavericks stand by the deal.

Carlisle told a Dallas radio station Thursday that it was a risky move, but one worth taking.

“In the case of anything, there is risk, but there are risks worth taking,” Carlisle said Thursday on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM. “That trade was a risk worth taking. We all agreed on that. Now, we’re at a point where, hey, it’s time to move on.”

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 198) Featuring Sam Perkins

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Sam Perkins is a pioneer.

He helped start a movement during his stellar 18-year professional career, expanding his game and his range during his NBA playing days and helping redefine the power forward position. From the low-post grunt work as the man who watches the big(ger) man’s back around the rim to 3-point shooting, floor spacing giant capable of creating space all over the floor is what Perkins took part in during his days with the Los Angeles Lakers.

He said it was a challenge from Byron Scott and Mike Dunleavy (the father, of course, not the son), then the veteran shooting guard and coach, respectively, for the Lakers. They dared him to get in on a shooting contest at practice and the result was Perkins vowing to work his tail off to become a proficient shooter from distance. The unintended consequence was Perkins the Stretch-4.

Big Smooth’s work goes beyond basketball these days. As an ambassador on behalf of the Special Olympic, Perkins is in the midst of preparations for the Special Olympic World Games, which will be hosted by the city of Los Angeles July 25 through August 2. Billed as the largest sports-and-humanitarian event in the world in 2015, and the single biggest event in Los Angeles since the 1984 Olympic Games. Some 7,000 athletes and 3,000 coaches representing 177 countries will be participating, along with 30,000 volunteers and an anticipated 500,000 spectators.

For Perkins, the connection to and participation with the Special Olympics was inspired by the late, great Dean Smith, the coaching icon, humanitarian and activist who schooled Perkins, Michael Jordan, James Worthy, our very own Rick Fox and countless others during their college days at North Carolina and beyond.

In the days, weeks and months leading up to the Special Olympics World Games Perkins will participate in the first-ever Unified Relay Across America, joining others in carrying The Flame of Hope across the country to Los Angeles beginning May 26. Perkins will be running the Dallas leg of the relay June 25. You can go to UnifiedRelay.Org to sign-up.

We talk about life after basketball and the tremendous work still to be done, the playoffs (how the Cleveland crew of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are doing in their first blush as a group), what Perkins appreciates about his time in the postseason cauldron from his own playing days and so much more on Episode 198 of the Hang Time Podcast Featuring Sam Perkins 

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: All-Star swingman Jimmy Bulter is answering any and all questions about how he and the Chicago Bulls will respond in the playoff cauldron

Emotional Budenholzer praises Pop after Coach of the Year win


VIDEO: Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer thanks Gregg Popovich for taking a chance on him

ATLANTA — He did everything he could to keep his emotions from getting the best of him.

Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer is notorious for wanting to do any and everything he can to avoid the spotlight. Guiding his team to a franchise-record 60 wins and the top spot in the Eastern Conference is the worst way to accomplish that goal.

With the eyes of the basketball world on him Tuesday afternoon, Budenholzer stepped to the podium to accept the Red Auerbach Trophy as the NBA’s Coach of the Year for the 2014-15 season, and from the minute he leaned into the microphone he had to fight back the tears. With praise for all of his mentors — most notably his own father, Vince Budenholzer, a legendary high school coach in Arizona, and San Antonio Spurs coach and his longtime boss and friend, Gregg Popovich — Budenholzer had to fight back the tears when speaking about what both men have meant to him throughout a lifetime immersed in the game that he loves.

He thanked his father for instilling in him a passion for the game that Popovich helped him hone as a longtime assistant, first as an intern with the Golden State Warriors and for 18 years after that with the Spurs.

“It seems only appropriate to finish with the real Coach of the Year, Gregg Popovich,” Budenholzer said as he wrapped up his acceptance speech at Philips Arena. “This award has a permanent spot on his desk in San Antonio. He just takes it out every couple of years and shares it around with the rest of us. I might be able to sneak back into his office and put it back down.”

Appropriately enough, it was Popovich, at the urging of the Hawks after they found out Budenholzer had beaten out Golden State’s Steve Kerr and Milwaukee’s Jason Kidd for the top spot this season, who called and informed his former protegé that he’d won the award. Boston’s Brad Stevens was fourth and Popovich fifth.


VIDEO: Popovich explains how he told Budenholzer about the award

“There are some things better kept between Pop and myself,” a smiling Budenholzer said later how Popovich broke the news. “And I’ll go so far as to say … He was nice, really nice, and he assured me that he was not pulling my leg.”

Budenholzer’s surprising resuscitation of the Hawks’ brand after just two seasons has been nothing short of remarkable. A perfect January and a 19-0 stretch overall led to four All-Stars, Budenholzer and his staff coaching the Eastern Conference All-Stars in New York in February. The Hawks’ 60-win season and dominance all season led to Budenholzer posing for pictures with Pop’s trophy.

From a 38-win team and No. 8 seed in the playoffs after his first campaign to their current status as the No. 1 seed is not something anyone forecasted this team in the summer as they were reeling from the drama caused by derogatory comments in emails from part-owner Bruce Levenson and insensitive comments from general manager Danny Ferry that led to Ferry’s indefinite leave of absence.

“There is a certain degree of satisfaction that adds to it,” Budenholzer said. “We feel like this is a group that they believe in what they are doing and we obviously believe in them as players. And we’re trying to build something together. A lot of us were put together, but there were some pretty important people that we joined in Jeff Teague and Al Horford and Kyle Korver and even John (Jenkins). This group has really come together and it does mean something extra.”

Budenholzer praised Ferry, Hawks CEO Steve Koonin, who introduced him Tuesday, ownership and the entire organization for giving him the opportunity. He’s stayed in contact with Ferry, who was not in attendance, and did not shy away from handing out credit where he felt it was deserved.

“He’s been incredibly supportive of me from Day 1,” Budenholzer said of Ferry. “He’s very happy for me and continues to be. So it was good. But it’s been a tough year for everybody and hopefully, everybody has handled it to the best of all of our abilities.”

On a team with balanced scoring and devoid of one individual superstar to garner MVP mention or first-team All-NBA mention, the one individual award the Hawks had the best chance of winning was Coach of the Year.

Horford called it an honor extremely well-deserved, knowing his coach would want nothing to do with the pomp and circumstance that comes along with NBA postseason awards.

“He is the type of person that is all about the team,” Horford said. “So he is not going to want to take any credit for it. But it’s because of him. He really deserves that award, so I’m very, very happy for him. I just think that the whole mindset of working as a team. That goes a long way. One through 15 all the guys here believe in what we’re doing and what he’s preaching.”

Budenholzer’s approach — each man as responsible as the next for not only his own individual improvement, but also the collective improvement of the entire group — is what resonates with his players.

He showed up with the sparkling credentials, but he didn’t get a free pass, particularly from the veterans. Sure, they saw the tremendous gains in player development from veteran guys like Teague, Korver, Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll as well as youngsters like Dennis Schroder and Mike Muscala. Still, there was a connection that had to be made in order for the Hawks to take that next step as a group. And Budenholzer and his staff clearly put in all the necessary work to make that happen, following that Pop/Spurs blueprint as best they could.

“I’ve played for a lot of coaches, so I’ve seen plenty of situations and it wasn’t an instant thing,” Elton Brand said. “We didn’t get the head coach from San Antonio who won all the championships with the Spurs. It still took time. What’s his system about? Do we have the personnel to get it done? We had all the usual questions. And then we had a little success, started winning, made the playoffs and it takes off from there. But he still had to work for it. He had to earn the trust, just like any coach, even one from that background and that Spurs family tree. He didn’t just walk in the door and it was instant. He had to come in and earn everyone’s respect and show us his character. He did that, and that’s what makes this even more special.”

Nets want no part of Horford, Hawks’ injury speculation


VIDEO: Al Horford dislocated his his finger in the fourth quarter of the Hawks’ Game 1 win over the Nets

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Brook Lopez knows better than to step into the mess.

It doesn’t matter whether or not he has to face Hawks All-Star center Al Horford in Game 2 Wednesday night, he can’t win in the speculation-filled hours between then and now.

“You’re trying to trick me right now,” Lopez said Monday afternoon after the Nets finished up practice at Georgia Tech. “I’m not trying to say anything right now. I don’t want him (Horford) to go 10-for-10 on those pop shots. We’re going to play it the same way.”

Horford said Monday that there is still “some question” as to whether or not he’ll able to play with the right pinkie finger he dislocated in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s Game 1 win. He didn’t say he was not going to play or that he definitely would. He finished the final six minutes of Game 1 with the finger taped up. But he was clearly uncomfortable and admitted to as much.

“It’s just sore,” Horford said. “They told me it would more sore today and I’ve just been doing more treatment on it since (Sunday night). I went out and shot some today and it felt good, so I was encouraged by that. Last night it didn’t feel good at all. You just have to get used to it. There is discomfort with it, though.”

Horford’s injury combined with Paul Millsap‘s ineffectiveness in Game 1, he was 2-for-11 from the floor and scored just 6 points in his second game back in uniform after missing five straight with a sprained shoulder, makes the Hawks vulnerable in the post. Lopez had his way with the Hawks in Game 1 with limited opportunities, he took just seven shots but made six to finish with 17 points and a game-high 14 rebounds..

“That’s not our problem,” Nets coach Lionel Hollins said. “That’s [Hawks coach Mike] Budehnolzer‘s problem. All we can be concerned with is who and what we put on the floor.”

Millsap said his shoulder is fine and that he will try to improve his range of motion by maybe not playing with the padded compression sleeve he wore in Game 1.

“We played around with the pad and cut it in areas and tried to do different things to protect it,” Millsap said. “But you know, I might try and go without it the next game and see it how it goes. I guess I just upgraded it to might. I’m trying to balance it out, pain to mobility and I don’t know. We’ll see what happens Wednesday.”

The Nets know better than to believe any doomsday scenarios that will keep the Hawks’ All-Star duo off the floor or in any kind of diminished capacity for Game 2. There is too much at stake for both teams. And Millsap even admitted that he couldn’t see any way that the Hawks aren’t ready to go.

“No, not at all,” Millsap said when asked if the Hawks had health concerns going forward. “With the depth that we have and the injuries, where they are. Al cane back and played. And he’s a tough guy. Myself, I’m a tough guy. With that, we still have depth and guys capable of coming and contributing.”

Horford, Hawks know better than to underestimate Nets on playoff stage


VIDEO: Al Horford talks playoffs on Inside Stuff

ATLANTA — Having been there a time or two themselves, the Atlanta Hawks are well aware of the folly involved with taking the Brooklyn Nets lightly.

The sub-500 record, the uneven season and seemingly indifferent attitude about trying to be an elite team, given the highest payroll in the league, will not be a factor in this No. 1 vs No. 8 first-round playoff series against the Eastern Conference juggernaut Hawks and the slipped-in-through-the-backdoor Nets.

So they know better than most the faulty thinking in assuming they will see the same Nets team they swept 4-0 during the regular season.

“Doesn’t mean a thing,” Hawks All-Star forward Paul Millsap said. “Gotta win four games. And then try and win four more. It’s the playoffs.”

All-Star guard Kyle Korver agreed that Hawks’ regular season dominance over the Nets is meaningless the moment the game tips off this afternoon at Philips Arena.

“It’s hard to win any playoff series, no matter who it is,” he said. “We won some games against them this year. But their team has changed a lot over the course of this year. They had guys who were injured or really out of sync or whatever. And I think if you ask them, they probably feel like they’ve played their best basketball over the last 15 games or so of the regular season. They definitely present some challenges for us. They have great size, they’ve got some guys who have had great careers. They are well coached. We have a ton of respect for them.”

The Nets certainly boast personnel that suggests they should be much higher on the playoff food chain in the Eastern Conference than the 8th and final seed. Joe Johnson, a seven-time All-Star and one of the backbone of the Hawks’ turnaround from lottery outfit to playoff time during his time here, has shined in the postseason crucible before. Deron Williams and Brook Lopez have plenty of postseason experience as well.

Any team with those three players in a rhythm at the same time can be dangerous in a playoff setting.

But the Hawks enter this postseason in a different space, with a confidence that has often been absence during their 8-year run, the longest active streak in the Eastern Conference. Having All-Star center Al Horford healthy and back in the mix for an entire season is a huge boost as well.

The Hawks’ first and last, prior to this season’s mercurial run, playoff trips came with the No. 8 seed and underdog tag their fans have grown accustomed to dealing with in these postseason scenarios. Both times, against the eventual champion Boston Celtics eight years ago and against the Indiana Pacers last season, the series stretched to seven games.

Horford was an integral piece of the that series against the Celtics, shining as a rookie in his first postseason appearance. He watched in designer suits last season, unable to come back from a torn pectoral injury that cost him most of the season.

“It’s not just me,” Horford said. “I still think the most important thing is we have another year together as a team in this system. And we have last year’s experience. I know you cannot replace experience, you cannot take anything or any opposing team for granted. You have to respect the other team for doing what it takes to get here. But I am really excited to come out here and see what I can do to help this team win.”

As excited as he is to see the floor today, the rest of the Hawks are just as anxious (not “nervous,” as DeMarre Carroll was quick to point out) to see him back in the playoff mix as the anchor of this crew on both ends of the floor.

“It’s big, his ability to spread the floor,” said All-Star point guard Jeff Teague. “but it’s also him on the defensive end being the anchor. Him being able to get up and down the floor and run and try to get Brook Lopez to try and keep up with him. We just have to play with a lot of pace. Al’s definitely excited to get back on the floor and to be able to play in front of our great fans again in the playoffs.”

Blogtable: Favorite memory of 2014-15?

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: Spurs or Warriors out West? | Upset-minded East team? | Lasting moment of 2014-15?



VIDEOThe Starters reveal their top 10 plays from 2014-15

> Looking back: What was your favorite moment from the 2014-15 regular season?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comGreat players doing great things is, uh, great. But I most vividly recall a Cinderella afternoon in January when Miami’s Hassan Whiteside hung a rare points-rebounds-blocks triple-double on the Bulls in Chicago. An NBA D-League refugee who’d bounced through Lebanon and China before opening 2014-15 playing pickup at the YMCA in Charlotte, Whiteside, 25, became the sort of story we don’t get much anymore in a league where everything and everybody is thoroughly scouted, analyzed and plumbed for value. The 7-footer wound up starting 32 games for the Heat, averaging 11.8 points, 10.0 rebounds and 2.6 blocks. But as he went for 14-13-12 in less than 25 minutes off Miami’s bench, he seemed as incredulous as us onlookers. “I told my teammates, man, you won’t believe how things work out in life,” Whiteside said. “[I was] at the downtown Y, just chillin’. Workin’ on my game. I couldn’t even get a team to pick up the phone.”

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comMore than one moment, it was 10 magical minutes on Jan. 23. Klay Thompson breaking the NBA record with 37 points in a magnificent third quarter against the Kings. For anybody who has ever shot a ball at a hoop anywhere on the planet, it was the stuff that dreams are made of.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comI’ll go way outside the box: The retirement of Steve Nash. When the obvious happened and Nash made his exit official, the outpouring of appreciation was a special thing. Players, coaches, executives, league brass and the media offered the kind of words that drove home the level of respect he commanded. It reminded everyone, or at least should have, that this was a unique talent and person. Nash didn’t get to go out on his terms, which is disappointing because he earned that opportunity. But when he did retire, he exit was surrounded in appreciation, not sadness.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I’ll give you my runner-up first: When Russell Westbrook, just days after getting a golf ball-sized crater in his face, put on a mask and dropped a 49-16-10 triple double. Yeah it was against the Sixers, but it counts anyway. My choice, though, is when Craig Sager returned from cancer, a moment even more poignant considering his relapse. Godspeed to him.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Seeing Marc and Pau Gasol jump center against each other in the All-Star Game was pretty cool. To have two brothers from another country at the top of this league is a pretty amazing story and the best example of how far the game of basketball has come since the Dream Team ran through Barcelona in 1992. It doesn’t matter where you’re from. If you can play ball, you can play ball.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Tough question when you have a list that could go a few pages, what with a wicked MVP race raging on all season and the unbelievable runs made by the Golden State Warriors, Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers and, most recently, the San Antonio Spurs. But for sheer enjoyment, the day the best from the East (Hawks) and West (Warriors) hooked up at Philips Arena on a Friday a week before All-Star Weekend was my favorite day of regular season basketball in years. From both teams embracing the magnitude of the moment at shootaround early that morning to the entertaining-from-start-to-finish 124-116 win the Hawks earned that night, it was a day that began and ended with a big time feel, perhaps even a preview of what we could see in The Finals between two teams with fan bases starving for a spot on that ultimate stage.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comKyrie Irving’s 57points in Cleveland’s 128-125 OT win at San Antonio last month was the best showing of the year. We’ll be referring back to that spectacular night if those teams reunite in June.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogCan I go with a video clip? How about this moment:

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This happened in January, just as the Hawks were beginning their historic undefeated month. If there was any question that this collection of players was a team that not only believed in each other but was also terrific on the court, this play answered it for me. (Also, shoutout to Mike Muscala with the “stoic googles” celebration.)

NBA-Blogtable-Favorite-Moment-BannerFor more debates, go to #AmexNBA or www.nba.com/homecourtadvantage.

Blogtable: Spurs or Warriors out West?

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: Spurs or Warriors out West? | Upset-minded East team? | Lasting moment of 2014-15?



VIDEOThe Warriors can’t wait for the 2015 playoffs to begin

> The defending champs are red-hot and can lock up the No. 2 seed in the West with a victory tonight at New Orleans. So who’s a better bet to win the West: the Spurs or the Warriors?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI vowed not to count out San Antonio a couple of years ago (or was it back in 2007?). The Spurs know what they’re facing at this time of year, they’ve been there/done this and coach Gregg Popovich has his team rested, prepared and peaking. Two months is a long time to maintain a peak but — aside from the level of competition now — the schedule becomes more geezer-friendly. Golden State has been great fun and I’d welcome watching them for four rounds, but if I have to “bet,” give me the Spurs.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comIt’s certainly hard to pick against the team that’s been the best in the league since opening night. But the one thing the Spurs have never done during that long run is win back-to-back. Now that they are healthy, in rhythm and playing at the top of their game, I’m sticking with the defending champs in what should be a very tasty Western Conference finals. 

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Warriors. Spurs fans shouldn’t whine the choice into “We’re being overlooked again.” San Antonio was my pick at the start of the season to win the West (and lose to Chicago in The Finals.) No one should be surprised that San Antonio is peaking for the playoffs. I just think Golden State has proven it is the best team in the conference. The Dubs win win offense, win with defense, have chemistry and a great home court.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Right now, I like everything about the defending-champion Spurs. They’re surging at the right time, they’re healthy, their role players are dripping confidence and Kawhi Leonard is reborn. Did I leave anything out? Oh, yeah: Tim Duncan and Pop, both championship-tested and approved, are anxious to go back-to-back. The Warriors must navigate through places they’ve never been in the post-season, and I need to see them make it through San Antonio without sprouting a nervous tic.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Golden State. What the Spurs did in last year’s Finals was an incredible display, and they’re heading back toward that level with how they’ve played over the last month. But it’s impossible to ignore that the Warriors have been, by far, the best team in the league all season. They rank No. 1 on defense, No. 2 on offense, and have a point differential (plus-11.4 per 100 possessions) that’s only been topped by three teams — the ’96 Bulls, the ’97 Bulls and the ’08 Celtics – over the last 38 years. No team played the Warriors better than the Spurs in the regular season, but I like the way that Golden State matches up, especially with the ability to shorten their rotation and get Andrew Bogut on the floor more than they did in the regular season.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Spurs have the championship components and experience, so they are the safest best in this scenario, even with all that the Warriors have done this season. Golden State has everything you would ever want from a championship team expect the experience that usually comes with repeated forays deep into the postseason before a breakthrough. They are not a Big 3-era team in that they were created basically overnight. Teams that are grown the way the Warriors have been usually require at least a stumble in the conference finals or The Finals before they learn how to get over the mental and emotional hurdle that leads to a title. There are no other teams, as of this moment, that inspire championship visions for me.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Everyone in the West should view the Spurs as favorites. Golden State has been superior overall this regular season, but the Spurs have been hotter down the stretch and are one missed free throw away from pursuing a third straight championship. The best hope for the Warriors is to view themselves as underdogs in a potential conference final against San Antonio – instead of protecting the No. 1 seed, they should attack as if they have nothing to lose. Because the champs have everything that the Warriors want.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI would love to pick the Warriors, because I feel like everyone has sort of overlooked the Warriors and Hawks because of the way they’ve been able to cost for the last month or so. For instance, now Cleveland seems to be the consensus choice to win the Eastern Conference, even though the Hawks have handled the Cavs pretty well this season. In the West, the zombie Spurs have emerged from the grave and appear to be marching forth, unabated. Normally, I’d side with the Warriors here, with the logic being that they’ve earned the respect over the last 80-odd games. But then, these are the Spurs, the team that reached basketball nirvana in The Finals last year. And just like in the movies, until the zombie is completely snuffed out, I’m not turning my back on them.

 

Blogtable: Ready for an East upset?

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: Spurs or Warriors out West? | Upset-minded East team? | Lasting moment of 2014-15?



VIDEOGeorge Hill lifts the Pacers to a big win over the Wizards

> The Pacers, Celtics and Nets are all battling for the last two seeds in the East. Which of those teams has the best chance to pull off a first-round upset?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Indiana, of the teams you’re offering, has the best chance of a first-round upset – and it’s itty-bitty. I like the Celtics the best of that bunch but there is no way they’re getting past Cleveland in the 2-7 showdown. If Brooklyn gets in, that’s it, they’re done – while they have some big-name players who might ordinarily give Atlanta or potentially anyone else some tough challenges, there’s a lack of spine or fortitude in that team dating back to its Game 7 loss at home to undermanned Chicago that still is an issue, in my view. That leaves Indiana, which couldn’t crack 100 in its double-overtime slog vs. Toronto Wednesday but would have to keep up with Atlanta’s high-octane attack. So yeah, Pacers, itty-bitty.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The Pacers because of their roster loaded with veterans who have been through the playoff wars and because they are capable of playing elite level defense.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The actual answer is “Nobody.” But if I have to pick one, it’s the Pacers. They’re playing well now, the return of Paul George has been an emotional lift as well as an additional scoring punch despite struggling with his shot, coach Frank Vogel on the sideline is always a good thing, and defense, rebounding and playoff experience is a good place to start building an upset scenario.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The easy answer is “none of the above” but if I must choose, then it’s the Pacers. At least their core players know what playoff basketball is about, and there’s the Paul George factor. The basketball gods could repay the Pacers for all they’ve been through with George and take it out on the Hawks, which of course would confirm Atlanta’s status as the choking dog of all sports towns.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: None of them will win more than a game from the Hawks or Cavs, but Indiana is best suited to put a scare in ’em. They’re the best defensive team of the group, so they can keep games ugly and close. They’ve been the best team of the group (in regard to point differential) since the All-Star break and have gotten a boost from the return of Paul George. That being said, I don’t know if they’re even going to be playing this weekend, because they’ll need to win in Memphis on Wednesday to edge out the Nets for the No. 8 seed.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: These teams are doing whatever they can to claw their way into the playoffs and you want to talk about upsets? Actually, the Pacers have the best roster to pull an upset. They’ve got experience and size, decent depth and a star (Paul George, even on limited minutes) capable of going on a tear in a playoff series. They appear spent physically, which is not uncommon this time of year for a team that has been fighting uphill just to stay in the playoff chase. So they’d have to find a way to rest and recharge within the framework of the playoff schedule to even think about pulling off an upset. But again, for teams crawling into the postseason, an upset tends to be more pipe dream than reality.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comLet’s start by acknowledging that the Nets and Pacers won’t be able to run or execute with the Hawks, who went 7-0 against them this year. The Celtics are going to have problems of their own finishing close games against Cleveland, but their small lineup, quickness and ball movement could scare the Cavs for 42 minutes. What coach Brad Stevens has done with young role players over the last two months (23-12) is no fluke: He has been doing for the Celtics what he did for Butler.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: None of them? Honestly, I don’t think any of those teams really have a chance to win a first round series against Atlanta or Boston. But if I had to pick one, which I guess is what you’re saying, I’ll go with the Celtics. Boston has played Atlanta pretty well this season, even beating them once just before the All-Star break. And they beat Cleveland (resting players) twice recently. Adding Isaiah Thomas has given the Celtics another scorer and ballhandler. Is he enough to help the Celtics beat the Hawks or the Cavaliers? That’s a horse of a different color. But what the heck, let’s give them the nod.

Playoff scenarios aplenty in play on final day of 2014-15 season


VIDEO: Celtics coach Brad Stevens and his crew don’t have to sweat out the final night of the season

NEW ORLEANS — It must be nice to be Brad Stevens and the Boston Celtics this morning. Your hard-earned playoff berth, the No. 7 seed, is locked up. You already know you have a date with LeBron James and the No. 2 seed Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs.

The mission, so to speak, is complete, courtesy of a 95-93 win over the Toronto Raptors Tuesday night.

But not everyone slept as soundly the night before the final day of this NBA season.

For plenty of teams on both sides of the conference divide this is the biggest night of the regular season. For teams still fighting to get into the playoffs and jockeying for postseason positioning, it all comes down to these final 48 (or more) minutes.

The constantly changing playoff picture is still a bit fuzzy for much of the field.

For some the math is simple — win and you are in. That’s the scenario the Pelicans are facing here tonight at Smoothie King Center (vs. San Antonio, 8 ET, League Pass). The Pelicans and Oklahoma City Thunder enter tonight 44-37, but New Orleans holds the tie-breaker over OKC. As such, the Pelicans need to at least finish tied with the Thunder record-wise, but a win tonight can secure them the 8th and final spot in the Western Conference.

The Spurs are locked in a fight to the finish for the No. 2 seed in the West behind the No. 1 seed Golden State Warriors, who locked up that top spot weeks ago and have not looked back. Knock off the Pelicans and the Spurs clinch the Southwest Division and secure that No. 2 spot. Lose and they could tumble to the No. 5 or 6 seed.

So much for that maintenance program Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is famous for employing with his veteran stars. There is too much at stake for all of the teams in that 2-through-7 mix.

In the Western Conference, the Warriors (No. 1 seed), Portland Trail Blazers (No. 4, but no home court) and Dallas Mavericks (No. 7) already have their seeds locked in.

In the Eastern Conference, the Atlanta Hawks (1), Cavaliers (2), Washington Wizards (5), Milwaukee Bucks (6) and Celtics (7) are set.

A quick look at what is at stake for teams still caught up in the crosshairs on the final night of the season

Houston (vs. Utah, 8 ET, League Pass): James Harden and the Rockets need a win over an improved Utah Jazz team, plus a loss by the Spurs, to secure the No. 2 seed and the Southwest Division title. The Rockets could finish with 56 wins, third most in franchise history behind the 1993-94 NBA championship team that won 58 games and the 1996-97 team that won 57.

L.A. Clippers (season complete): They’ve handled their business, winning seven straight games to finish the season and 14 of their final 15, only to have to sit and watch tonight to see who they’ll face in the first round. The Clippers can finish as high as No. 2 (if the Rockets and Spurs lose tonight) and no lower than No. 3 and will host their first-round series. Their opponent? It could be Memphis, the Rockets, Spurs or Dallas Mavericks.

Memphis and Indiana (vs. each other, 9:30 ET, ESPN): The Grizzlies face an energized and motivated Pacers team, fresh off of a must-have double overtime win over Washington Tuesday night. While the Grizzlies have a host of complicated scenarios that can move them up to No. 5, the Pacers are playing for their playoff lives. A loss by Brooklyn or a win by Indiana pushes the Pacers in, where they will face the Hawks in a rematch of last season’s first-round matchup (when the Pacers were the No. 1 seed and the Hawks No. 8). A loss by the Pacers plus a Brooklyn win would put an end to Indiana’s season.

Oklahoma City (at Minnesota, 8 ET, League Pass): The Thunder need to knock off Minnesota in their finale and the Spurs to handle their business against the Pelicans to make sure we get at least four more games of Russell Westbrook. (If the Thunder and Pelicans finish the season with 45-37 marks, the Pelicans get in because they won the season series with OKC 3-1.) The Thunder don’t control their own destiny, but that’s not a concern for a team that has been dealt one severe injury blow after another throughout 2014-15. A loss to the Timberwolves (or a Pelicans win) ends their season, literally and figuratively.

Chicago (vs. Atlanta, 8 ET, League Pass): The Bulls are locked in for home-court advantage in the first round and face the Hawks in a game that has ramifications beyond the first round (they are trying to avoid Cleveland in the second round, provided both teams make it through). They need a win over the Hawks to secure the No. 3 seed. A loss sends them to No. 4.

Toronto (vs. Charlotte, 7 ET, ESPN): The Raptors have a clear path. Beat the Hornets and couple that with a Bulls loss to the Hawks and they secure the No. 3 seed. They have home court either way and will try to exploit that much better than they did last season.

Brooklyn (vs. Orlando, 8 ET, League Pass): The Nets need the playoffs in the worst way, but could see their hopes go up in smoke tonight if the Pacers knock off the Grizzlies later in the night. They need to beat Orlando and hope that the Pacers used up all their mojo in that double-OT home win vs. the Wizards Tuesday.

The possibilities are endless tonight, when we close the curtain on a spectacular regular season and prepare for a postseason that should include much more of the same.