Posts Tagged ‘Sekou Smith’

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 203) Super Team Redux

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Maybe one superstar, one healthy, game-changing true superstar is all you need.

That one transcendent star might be just enough to get you into the building to compete for the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Or at least that is the story they are telling today in Cleveland, where LeBron James has guided the Cavaliers back to The Finals for the first time since 2007.

He didn’t promise this when he returned home last summer, at least not right away. But the Cavaliers are here now, awaiting either the Golden State Warriors or the Houston Rockets in The Finals next week.

And since we have a few days to ponder it, what does this feat for LeBron say about today’s NBA and what it takes to scale the mountain?

An hobbled Kyrie Irving and an injured Kevin Love should have been a recipe for disaster in the conference semifinals against Chicago. That was not the case. LeBron rendered that point moot with stellar work night after night and did the same against the Atlanta Hawks in the conference finals sweep. Can he do it again? We shall see.

In the meantime, let’s talk about the theory of a Super Team and whether or not that’s what you need to compete for it all, to win it all. Recent history is split on that (LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were 2-2 in the big series).

History says there are no guarantees for Super Teams, as our very own Rick Fox would know, having witnessed a Super Team meltdown of his own with the Los Angeles Lakers’ monster squad of Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone and Gary Payton — the one coached by the Zen Master himself, Phil Jackson. The same star-studded crew that fell to the ultimate team, the 2004 champion Detroit Pistons.

Mix it up with us on Episode 203 of The Hang Time Podcast: Super Team Redux …

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: LeBron James leads the Cleveland Cavaliers past the Atlanta Hawks and into The Finals for the first time since 2007

Blogtable: Your view on Matthew Dellavedova?

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: Can LeBron pass MJ? | Your view on Dellavedova | Recruiting target for Celtics?



VIDEOIs Matthew Dellavedova scrappy, dirty or somewhere in-between?

> Cleveland’s Matthew Dellavedova is: A) a dirty player; B) a scrappy player; C) somewhere in-between.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’ll take C. Dellavedova doesn’t go out intending to hurt opponents, but he does play recklessly in a way that can jeopardize other players’ well-being. His leg clamp on Taj Gibson‘s leg in the East semifinals showed Dellavedova is no innocent – he knows how to be sneaky and get under foes’ skin – and his repeated involvement in incidents and mishaps is no coincidence. That said, a lot of too-cool players in this league would be well-served if they brought as much energy and assertiveness to their games.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Somewhere in between, though I would come down more on the dirty play side who is hiding behind LeBron’s skirt.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: A scrappy player. The pattern is troubling and has me leaning toward a dirty player, more than I would have imagined before. But I think dirty is about intent, and I don’t think Delly has been trying to hurt anyone. He has seemed more out of control, attaching himself to Al Horford like that, but not intentionally injuring opponents.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and call him scrappy, but his grace period is over with one more questionable collision with a player. I wonder: LeBron was so vociferous in his defense of Delly, but suppose it was LeBron and not Al Horford who got hit? Or LeBron and not Kyle Korver? Or LeBron and not Taj Gibson? What would LeBron say then?

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Somewhere in between. He plays hard, values every possession, and makes the most of what he’s got. When you do that and you’re not as coordinated as the average NBA player, you’re going to get under the skin of your opponent.  He’s First Team All-Irritant.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Can I go with D, all of the above? Seriously, Delly doesn’t deserve the nefarious tag of being “dirty.” That’s a loaded statement and doesn’t mean the same thing it did in the NBA of old. That used to be a badge of honor. It has a totally different meaning in the can’t-touch-him defensive era that we live in now. All that said, there is a certain brand of justice for guys who play the way Dellavedova does, and it’s called a screen that loosens your Chiclets. You return fire for his “hustle” play with a pick that rattles his skull. And if LeBron James or anyone else wants to cry foul, remind them that whoever set the screen is just hustling and playing hard and doing whatever it takes, within the rules, to help his team win.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: He isn’t dirty. Just about any retired NBA player over the age of 40 would tell you so: I’m betting that (1) they would respect him for seeking contact and diving for 50-50 balls, and (2) they would complain about a culture that condemns those plays as dirty.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I hesitate to call him “dirty,” because that means we aren’t judging his actions but his intent, and nobody out there can read his mind, no matter how much they yell on Twitter. So without tagging him as “dirty,” I will say this: When a network is able to put together a package of clips on any given topic — like, in this case, some questionable plays — there’s probably some meat on that bone. Dellavedova is the kind of guy you love to have on your team and hate to play against. And as long as he’s playing alongside LeBron James, he’s got at least one high-powered advocate making a case for him.

Blogtable: Can LeBron pass Jordan?

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: Can LeBron pass MJ? | Your view on Dellavedova | Recruiting target for Celtics?



VIDEOCan LeBron James one day surpass Michael Jordan as greatest of all time?

> A couple of LeBron James’ teammates believe “The King” might soon surpass Michael Jordan as the greatest of all time. Is this crazy talk, or do they have a legit argument?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Legit argument, or at least getting there. LeBron clearly is lacking in the championships category, and if Golden State (presumably the West’s rep) validates its remarkable season with a championship, he’ll be 2-4 in the Finals vs. Jordan’s 6-0. But that’s just one measure for Greatest Of All Time status. James’ combination of size, speed, power and finesse is unprecedented in NBA history, making him as unique in his way as Jordan was as the high-scoring, ultra-competitor. We need to let James wrap up his resume and then compare the two. A couple more rings for James and his continued climb up the stats lists will make this a perfect topic for barrooms and man caves.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: It’s not crazy at all. If you’re measuring only by championships won, LeBron has a long way to go. But if your eyes are open, then the discussion is on. But only for second place. Wilt Chamberlain is the greatest player of all time and it’s not even close.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: It’s not crazy talk, but it’s also not anything we need to worry about now. LeBron has to play at this level for at least a couple more years, and he has to win big, before the conversation gets real. That part is not fair in the debate, that teammates will help determine his place in history because the number of championships are part of the analysis. Jordan had Hall of Famers in his supporting cast — Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman — and an all-time great for a coach, Phil Jackson. No such luxury for James.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I can’t classify it as crazy talk or a legit argument. Only time will tell. He won’t have Jordan’s batting average in the NBA Finals (6-0 for MJ) but he’s still in his prime and, if he adds a few more titles, then let the conversation begin. But now? Too early. People are in such a rush to replace legends. And some of those people never saw those legends play.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I don’t know about “soon,” but I think it’s fair to have the discussion and everything depends on the lens through which you’re looking at them. LeBron isn’t close to Jordan’s six titles, but championships are won by teams, not individuals. And LeBron’s talent (size, athleticism, skill set) is obviously something we’ve never seen before.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’m going to go ahead and forgive LeBron’s teammates for being too young to comprehend what we all saw of Michael Jordan in his prime (i.e. everything prior to his Washington Wizards days). For they know not of what they speak. This is absolutely crazy talk. And that’s not a knock on LeBron, just an ode to MJ and the Greatest Of All Time that he was, is and will always be. The bar is so unbelievably high, that it’s really unfair to keep trying to squeeze LeBron or anyone else into that mold. We tried it endlessly with Kobe Bryant, another all-time great player in his own right, to no avail. And I’m sure folks will continue to do it with LeBron. LeBron’s great in his own right and will have a rightful place on the NBA’s Mount Rushmore when the time comes. But passing up MJ as the greatest of all time … forget about it.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comLeBron may already be the most talented player ever. But “the greatest of all time” is a title that must be earned by winning. Maybe LeBron will earn it. To say that LeBron is already within reach of someone who has won three times more championships? That is simply disrespectful to Michael Jordan.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: LeBron is the greatest player of his generation, and probably the best player since Michael Jordan. But for LeBron to be considered the greatest of all-time, well, I’m just not sure that’s possible. In purely a basketball sense, those in James’ camp have an interesting argument, as LeBron is physically able to do things on the court Jordan could never do. But part of what made Jordan so special was that he was in large part solely responsible for globalizing basketball and the NBA, taking the NBA from being a minor league to making people around the world say, “I love this game.” Jordan also authored the blueprint for going from an athlete to being a business man and marketing mogul, something nobody else has done as well ever since.

Blogtable: Recruiting target for Celtics?

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: Can LeBron pass MJ? | Your view on Dellavedova | Recruiting target for Celtics?



VIDEOIsaiah Thomas’ highlights from his season in Boston

> Boston’s Isaiah Thomas says he wants to be the free-agent recruiter for the Celtics. To whom should he make his first call, and what should he emphasize in his pitch?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Kevin Love. I’m not sure Thomas has any “in” with the Cavs’ power forward but if he does, he needs to work it. Love might be persuaded to make a change, based on this awkward postseason experience – Cleveland thriving despite his absence – and the way Tristan Thompson has solidified his standing with LeBron James, the team and the fans. What’s to like in Boston? A coach (Brad Stevens) who rapidly has earned respect around the league. A solid roster in need of a couple stars. A winning tradition for a fan base that keeps management’s feet to the fire to stay competitive. And the opportunity to play with, not against, Kelly Olynyk, who can arm-bar all the league’s other power forwards besides Love.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: DeMarre Carroll is a two-way player who would help Celtics at both ends of the floor while fitting in as a veteran presences in Boston.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comHe makes the obligatory runs at Jimmy Butler, DeAndre Jordan and Kevin Love, but the first real call, the call that has a chance of mattering, to Tobias Harris. Harris has a long future ahead at small forward, making him a good fit in Boston. The others on the phone list will be getting max offers from their current teams and, they will all note, teams that are far ahead in the standings and have championship credentials. Harris could get more money, a bigger role and more wins from the Celtics. In return, one of the underrated players of the league will make them better.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I’m not understanding how Thomas can be a recruiter. No offense to the guy, who has carved himself a nice niche in the league, but he’s not a franchise player and therefore probably lacks the clout to sweet-talk LaMarcus Aldridge or Kevin Love or any other difference-maker. Anyway, the person who should pick up the phone is Danny Ainge. It’s his plan. 

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The Celtics need shooting and rim protection. There are lots of centers on the market, and maybe they can steal Danny Green or Marco Belinelli from a Spurs team that has its initial free agency efforts focused elsewhere? Brad Stevens has built himself as a great coach, so the recruiting efforts could start there. This is a young team that, with the right additions, could make a decent jump in the standings next season.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I hope Isaiah has unlimited minutes on his phone plan, because his first call should be the first of many. If he’s looking for blue-collar guys that will fit into the culture coach Brad Stevens is crafting, his first call should be to Hawks swingman DeMarre Carroll. The “Junk Yard Dog” would be a great fit on that Celtics team. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett saw it a few years ago and suggested the same thing to Danny Ainge, before Carroll showed us what kind of player he is. I know the Celtics think they need big-dollar superstars to get back to where they were with the Big 3, but this is not the summer to play that game. Instead, it is time for Boston stockpile the right pieces to get it to that next level. The Hawks, of course, will want to keep their star free agents (Paul Millsap and Carroll). But I’d make them choose which one they’re willing to pay to keep.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Michael Jordan, the greatest of all players, has never recruited a top-flight free agent. Larry Bird, the only man to be awarded as the best player, coach and executive in NBA history, has never recruited a top-flight free agent. The Celtics, who are the winningest franchise in the history of basketball, have never recruited a top-flight free agent. All I can say to Isaiah Thomas is good luck with his recruiting.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: “Hey, Kevin Love? Hey man, it’s Isaiah Thomas. No, the other one. Right, the Boston one. No, no, wait, wait, don’t hang up! OK, first, just know that whole thing with Kelly was an accident. He was trying to keep you from getting the ball and he honestly wasn’t trying to hurt you. Just like Dellavedova — he’s not dirty, he just plays hard. That said, we need you in Boston next season. You can be a third wheel in Cleveland and stand in the corner and shoot threes, or come here and play the way you’re used to playing. Brad Stevens is great, people here will love you, and Tommy Heinsohn will give you so many Tommy points you won’t believe it. So what do you say, interested?”

Blogtable: Advice for Doc Rivers?

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: Who wins it all (and why)? | Advice for Doc Rivers? | Lottery team that must get it right?



VIDEOAssessing the state of the Clippers after their ouster

> Your nameplate says Doc Rivers, President of Basketball Operations, L.A. Clippers. So tell me Mr. Rivers, what needs to happen this summer for your team to advance past the conference semifinals next season?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: First of all, remember it’s only a nickname, so my prescribed remedies aren’t Hippocratically approved. I already blew the “Do no harm” thing when I signed Spencer Hawes to that four-year deal last summer when I could have had Paul Pierce. Anyway, as much as I like Matt Barnes and J.J. Redick, I know they ought to be coming off the bench rather than starting – maybe then our backups wouldn’t look quite as motley. But we’re capped out with DeAndre Jordan about to get his max deal this summer, so I’ll need to sweet-talk some free agents to consider us on exceptions or minimum contracts, and that’s a hard way to plug two of the skill positions. Hawes? Hey, he’s low mileage, clean, a stretch-four willing and able to help (OK, ya got me. That is my early version of a Craigslist ad, because I’ve got to move him). As for Chris Paul, get out the bubble wrap; no way he’s playing 82 next season, when we need him at his healthiest in May.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: First, I’ve got to convince DeAndre Jordan to take our max contract offer and stick around and I’ve got to beat the bushes somewhere, somehow to get somebody to provide some offense at small forward. I really can’t afford to have my starter (Matt Barnes) go scoreless there in a Game 7.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I’m seriously out of answers. I think I have to do something bold, but what? I don’t want to trade Chris Paul. I don’t want to trade Blake Griffin. And I don’t think I will do either. I don’t want to let DeAndre Jordan go in free agency. But something has to be done. Playoff meltdowns two years in a row is a screaming sign something is wrong and needs to be addressed, because this wasn’t about the disappointing bench or anything that requires tinkering. This is about an inability to come through in the clutch. My leaders, my best players, have let me down.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The Clippers just need another crack at it. I know that sounds so routine and so simple, but that’s it, really. They’re a 50-win team in a tough conference that needs a break or two along the way, just like three or four other contenders in the West. They can’t make wholesale changes even if they wanted to. Doc needs to find some cheap talent the way the Rockets did with Josh Smith and Corey Brewer and what they got with Jason Terry  a role player with experience who can add punch off the bench.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I need Steve Ballmer to tell me focus on coaching and hire somebody else to manage the roster. That person then needs to re-sign DeAndre Jordan and find some way to undo the damage I’ve done to our bench, because we need help in the backcourt and up front. If there’s a chance of getting two or three rotation players (who can shoot and defend) for Blake Griffin, we should explore that. We can still have a top-five offense with shooting around Paul/Jordan pick-and-rolls, and we we need to have more than six players that can be trusted to keep a lead.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The first thing we have to do is take care of DeAndre Jordan. Get him signed and then lock him in the gym until his free throws roll off his fingertips like butter. He has to improve that part of his game if he’s going to be worth the $109 million deal he’s due to sign this summer. Then, I’m taking the carving knife to this roster and finding better supporting players to make sure we don’t stall out again in the conference semifinals. We ran out of gas physically and emotionally, which tells me we need a different breed of player to fill out the starting lineup and the playing rotation. There are upgrades needed all over the roster and they will be made this summer.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: I’m recognizing, as I’m sure he does, that organizations win. It’s not just a matter of shoring up the bench. There was no way a franchise known for years as the worst in pro sports could instantly become NBA champion. You need everybody along the chain to be pulling in the same direction, and it starts with Rivers in his relatively new role of leadership. The way he responds to the disappointment can show the way forward.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogIt is so tempting to sit there and say the Clippers need to make major changes, in the afterglow of getting ushered out in the second round of the playoffs and half of California making “they’re still the Clippers jokes.” But I honestly don’t think the Clips were that far away. If the regular season ends differently, for instance, and the Clippers don’t have to play the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the postseason, I’m guessing things would have gone differently against the Rockets. So I think you keep DeAndre, teach him how to shoot free throws, let Blake continue to develop, and maybe swap out Hedo Turkoglu for a more useful body, and then just see how things shake out next season.

Blogtable: Lottery team that must get it right at the 2015 Draft?

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: Who wins it all (and why)? | Advice for Doc Rivers? | Lottery team that must get it right?



VIDEORelive the 2015 Draft lottery

> Which lottery team is under the most pressure to nail it on Draft night?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com No reason to scan the list or break a sweat on this one. It’s Minnesota. Whoever they pick – Jahlil Okafor or Karl-Anthony Towns – has to be a hit, a star, eventually an All-Star. This franchise can’t afford a Michael Olowokandi, Kwame Brown, Greg Oden or Anthony Bennett at No. 1, not after waiting the entire 27-season history of the franchise for the right to select first in the Draft, not after a playoff drought dating back to 2004. And whichever of the two the Timberwolves select, he needs to be as good or better than the guy they don’t, because second-guesses have piled up higher than snow drifts at Target Center through the years. After having only two No. 1 picks even play for the franchise (Joe Smith and Olowokandi) Minnesota will have the top guys from the past three drafts — Bennett (2013), Andrew Wiggins (2014) and this year’s choice — on its roster come October. Time to howl for the right reasons, Wolves.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com The Lakers. Nobody really wants to see Kobe Bryant‘s head literally explode from another losing season.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com Like it’s possible to pick one. I could barely narrow it down to half the lottery. The Timberwolves have to nail it because picking No. 1 comes with a scrutiny that will never go away. The Lakers have to nail it because they have so little to build on heading to the future. The Knicks have to nail it because they have even less than the Lakers. The Kings have to nail it because it’s the first big decision for Vlade Divac as head of basketball operations. The Pistons have to nail it because it’s time to make a move up the East standings. The Hornets have to nail it because this season was a step backward and must be fixed. Against that backdrop, the 76ers already have a future even without knowing how the 2015 pick develops. Talk about strange.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comUh, is this a trick question? After getting squeezed out of the top three, and out of the Big Man Sweepstakes, the Knicks need to make this one count if only to justify such a stinky season. At No. 4 there’s really not much of a decision to make. Just take whomever’s left over between D’Angelo Russell and Emmanuel Mudiay, because the Sixers at No. 3 will take one of them. Phil Jackson doesn’t need to overthink it unless he gets a sweet trade offer. Then it gets dicey.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThe Lakers have Julius Randle and, at the No. 2 pick, the easiest choice in the Draft. The Knicks don’t have any serious talent under the age of 30 on their roster, and, at No. 4, might have a difficult decision. It seems like Emmanuel Mudiay could be the best player available when they draft, but it’s not clear that he’d be a good fit for the triangle offense. This is the first top-five pick the Knicks have had in 29 years and Phil Jackson‘s record as team president doesn’t look so hot right now. That’s some pressure.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Los Angeles Lakers are off the hook with that No. 2 pick. You simply sit there and let the stud big man the Minnesota Timberwolves pass up fall into your lap. So that leaves the New York Knicks at No. 4 with all of the pressure on Draft night. They’ll have their pick of talented players but not necessarily any transcendent talent. The Knicks don’t have the luxury of just selecting the best available basketball talent at No. 4. They need to identify the one player who projects as both a true difference-maker and one who can come in and pay immediate dividends alongside whatever free-agent haul Phil Jackson is able to round up. But finding a role player at No. 4 won’t do it. The Knicks need to find a future star, an All-Star even, with this lottery pick.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: It’s the Lakers, because they’re used to winning, they expect to win again, and they absolutely need a transformational player to emerge from this pick. The other teams at the top of the lottery are not faced with such high expectations.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I can’t believe we’re here again, but right now, the answer to this question is the Knicks. They’re rebuilding, sure, but they’ve traded away some good assets — Tyson Chandler, Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith — and haven’t really gotten much in return. They needed a home run in this Draft, with two potential franchise centers available, and now it looks as though they won’t get either one. Who can they get at the four spot? There are potentially terrific selections available, but the stakes are much higher. Considering this is their only first-round pick in the next two years, they need to get this right.

Blogtable: Who wins it all (and why)?

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: Who wins it all (and why)? | Advice for Doc Rivers? | Lottery team that must get it right?



VIDEOThe Starters make their picks for the West finals winner

> The _________ will be hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy next month. And here’s why.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Boy, this is going to be a controversial pick: the Golden State Warriors. They’ve been the best team at both ends all season, they continue as that in the postseason. They have the MVP in Steph Curry, they have the versatility, they have the depth. They have the greatest home-court advantage in the league and they’ll get any Game 7s on that court. I’ll stop here, because we’re going to be at risk of redundancy as the rest of our crew weighs in.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The Warriors. They have been the best team in the league from opening night till now and a relentless sense of purpose and who they are. They also passed a big test in the conference semifinals when the Grizzlies put them in a 2-1 hole and they came back to win three straight. The Western Conference finals promises to go the distance to seven, but home court makes the difference and this is a tougher test than anything that comes from the East.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Warriors. Why? The usual reasons. They score and defend. They have the best home-court advantage still going. The versatility of mixing lineups. And no one is better equipped to withstand four to seven games of LeBron James if it comes to that (which I think it will). Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson, with Andrew Bogut waiting inside. Golden State of the first six or seven games of the playoffs was vulnerable. Golden State since then, playing with much better focus, will be very tough to beat four times.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The Warriors. They seem incapable of playing two bad games in a row, and of course it takes four to beat them. The other three remaining teams are all hopelessly flawed, at least more than the Warriors. Their balance on offense and their rotation quickness on defense seems just too much for anyone in the field. And as you know, the Warriors win titles every 40 years.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Golden State Warriors. Quite simply, they’ve been the league’s best team all season long, by a pretty wide margin. They had the No. 1 defense and the No. 2 offense (best remaining of the four teams). They have multiple defenders who can take on tough assignments and they move the ball well enough to take advantage of defenses that try to take their first option(s) away. They have home-court advantage, a 44-3 record at Oracle Arena, and, as we’ve seen multiple times already in this postseason, an ability to erase big deficits pretty quickly.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Golden State Warriors will be hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy next month. They’re the best team in basketball, on both ends of the floor, and have been for so long now that I cannot remember who held that distinction before they did. The Warriors have the balance, depth, star power and a coach with a wealth of championship experience steering the ship. The MVP, Stephen Curry, has plenty of help and the Warriors have home court advantage on their side throughout the remainder of the playoffs. That’s always a solid recipe for hoisting a title.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Warriors are in charge, though the Cavs have two things going for them: They’re suddenly playing lockdown defense, and LeBron has the championship experience that Steph Curry has yet to earn. Is that enough to make up for the front-line absences of Kevin Love and Anderson Varejao? Probably not.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: The Golden State Warriors will be hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy next month. Playing against the Warriors is like trying to run uphill while waist-deep in water. They have too much depth, too much talent, and as soon as they get ahead of you, they press down on the gas. We should also mention that at this point, the Warriors seem to know that they’re good. They’re playing with the confidence of a champion, which is something no coach can teach.

The Cavs-Hawks style referendum


VIDEO: Can the Hawks’ team-first approach defeat the Cavaliers’ star-first approach?

ATLANTA — Much will be made of the contrast in styles between the combatants in the Eastern Conference finals.

The ultimate superstar in LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers versus the ultimate team in the Atlanta Hawks and arguably the best starting unit in basketball this season. It sounds good and lends itself to the underlying drama every playoff series of this magnitude requires.

Whether or not there is any actual validity to that theory, however, remains to be seen.

We’ll know better after Game 1 tonight at Philips Arena (8:30 ET, TNT), when we get our first look at these two teams and their styles that have led them to the brink of fighting for a championship. There is no need in rehashing the particulars of how these teams have arrived here. The Cavaliers rely heavily on LeBron to trigger all things, on both ends of the floor. He is at the center of everything they do, the same as he’s always been on whatever team he’s played on, dating back to his biddy ball days in his native Akron.

The Hawks — their four All-Stars (Al Horford, Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver) and playoff MVP (DeMarre Carroll) — are focused around that five-man unit that has excelled all season long. When they needed to surge past Brooklyn in the first round, they took turns playing hero. Same goes for the way they handled things in the conference semifinals when they needed to squeeze past Washington.

While the Hawks’ main focus will be on LeBron and Kyrie Irving, the Cavaliers know that they won’t have the luxury of locking into any single player in an effort to slow the Hawks down.

“For us defensively, we have to be in tune,” LeBron told reporters in Cleveland after practice earlier this week. “First of all, the most important thing is the ball and the ball is going to start in Jeff Teague’s hands and then from that point on to Kyle Korver to DeMarre Carroll to Al Horford to Paul Millsap on to the guys that come in after them.”

Cleveland’s role player have stepped up, particularly J.R. Smith, Iman ShumpertTristan Thompson and Matthew Dellavadova, but they still won’t draw the focus of the Hawks the way LeBron and Kyrie will. The Hawks don’t change who and what they are based on the opponent, choosing instead to stick to the principles on both ends of the floor that produced their franchise-record 60-win season and breakthrough to the conference finals.

So even if there are some who are trying create the narrative that this series is a referendum on which style of play will prevail, the Hawks aren’t necessarily interested in playing that game. This isn’t a battle between the pace-and-space style and the hero ball style that has ruled the roost for years.

“Hero, that word,” Korver said. “It is unique. There’s only so many elite, elite superstars. The rest of us have to figure out how to win. So this is how we do it. And we feel like it’s a good way to play, a fun way to play. And a fun game to watch. This is who we are and we’ve all kind of taken turns taking and making shots at the end and it’s probably going to continue to be that way. The last series it felt like every game was down to the wire and different guys made different plays in different games. Gonna be the same thing this time around.”

Even if they don’t want to dive in on the narrative, Korver is well aware that the trial of this style versus that style will rage on.

“It feels like it’s been on trial for a while, huh?” he said. “Feels like we get asked this question a lot. Obviously, the fire keeps burning brighter. And that’s okay. That’s what we play for. We’re not here trying to sell the world that this is better than hero ball or whatever. This is just who we are and how we have to play and it gives us our best chance to win. And we’re just trying to do it the best that we can.”

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 202) featuring Charles Barkley

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Charles Barkley is not afraid to admit when he’s wrong.

He just can’t remember the last time he was actually wrong about something.

Like many of us, though, he couldn’t have predicted the Final Four field facing off for the right to play for the NBA title, well at least not three of the four teams.

LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers making the Eastern Conference finals is by no means a surprise. But their opponent, the Atlanta Hawks, and the two teams in the Western Conference, the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets, weren’t on everyone’s preseason list to make it this far. Those slots were supposed to be reserved for the blue bloods, the franchises used to working this late in a season, not these upstarts from around the league.

Stephen Curry and James Harden, the top two finishers in the voting for the KIA MVP award and now the combatants at the center of the Western Conference finals, had other ideas.

So did Al Horford and those three other All-Stars the Hawks will deploy against James and his crew in the Eastern Conference finals. The revolution will be televised this year and who better to analyze it all than the biggest star of TNT’s Inside the NBA crew, who joins us on Episode 202 of The Hang Time Podcast Featuring Charles Barkley.

Dive in to see who we all think comes out on the other side of a heated Final Four round of the NBA Playoffs on Episode 202 of The Hang Time Podcast Featuring Charles Barkley …

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: Think you are clowning Chuck? Keep dreaming!

Horford savors Hawks’ breakthrough


VIDEO: Al Horford played hero for the Hawks in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals

ATLANTA — Al Horford never put a timetable on it.

He wasn’t thinking that far ahead when the Hawks made him the third pick in the 2007 NBA Draft and he went from two-time college champion to starting center for a struggling outfit in Atlanta, where he knew enough to know that there would be no Final Fours and contending for titles right away.

Fast forward eight years and Horford and the Hawks are in the Eastern Conference finals with the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage, facing off against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers for the right to go to The Finals. To say this ride has been something of a roller coaster would be an understatement of epic proportions. And not just this stunning season, one that began with no one outside of the Hawks’ most die-hard of supporters believing this sort of dream season was possible, but the entire trip from the moment he arrived to now, the moment when he and the Hawks have truly arrived.

“I think you acknowledge it,” Horford said of the Hawks’ breakthrough to the conference final round for the first time in the franchise’s Atlanta history. “But then you move on and realize that is more work to be done. That’s what I did after Game 6 in Washington. It was like, ‘man, that’s good but we still want more and we are still looking forward to the next round.'”

The compressed schedule for mountain climbing in college makes it much easier to get caught up in the moment at that level. Superstar players spend one, maybe two and rarely three seasons on campus before departing for the adventure that is professional basketball. Horford did not enter Florida as a guaranteed pro, a surefire one-and-done prospect headed for the top of the Draft. His journey was different.

And he knew that from the start. That’s what made winning back-to-back titles with the Gators so great. Same goes for a NBA career that began with him being selected behind Greg Oden and Kevin Durant eight years ago. The road to back to respectability for the Hawks has been an arduous one. The fact that it’s been paved on Horford’s watch, with his blood, sweat and perhaps a tear or two over the years, makes this moment even sweeter than you might imagine.

Once the youngster of the bunch — playing alongside Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Marvin Williams, Josh Childress, Zaza Pachulia, Mike Bibby and others — Horford’s the seasoned veteran now. A three-time All-Star, he’s the one pointing the way for youngsters like Dennis Schroder and Mike Muscala, alongside fellow veterans and All-Stars Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver, Jeff Teague and veteran swingman DeMarre Carroll. 

As much hard work as it takes to grind away this long before reaching the conference finals, it also takes a ton of patience to continue plugging away with all of the distractions, on and off the court, that came up along the way. The cast of characters has changed dramatically and there have been regime changes in the front office and coaching ranks. The one constant has been Horford and his undeniable work ethic and desire to be better this year than he was the year before.

“You’ve got to look at yourself as an individual and it depends on where your goals are,” he said. “I always wanted to be a better player. I always wanted to challenge myself. For me it’s just, I feel like the league is changing quickly and every year I want to make sure I can be better and to put my team into a position to be successful. That’s always my mindset, to make it a point of just getting better and not feeling content with what you have done.”

Horford has found a kindred spirit in Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer, whose arrival before the start of the 2013-14 season ushered in a totally different program than what the Hawks were used to. The emphasis on player development and individual skill building became more than just operational procedure. It became a mission for all involved.

The results are obvious.

The best season in franchise history during the regular season. The breakthrough, finally, to the conference finals. And who know what else looms on the horizon in the next two weeks. There are children growing up in Atlanta who will identify Horford’s time with the Hawks as some of the greatest times in franchise history, from the flash of the Highlight Factory days to this trip to the NBA’s version of the Final Four and the matchup against LeBron, the face of a generation in the NBA.

“When you get to this point, if you want to be one of the best teams, you have to go through the best players and teams,” Horford said. “There are no shortcuts when you get to this stage of the season. We have a huge challenge in front of us, and we obviously don’t know for sure what’s going to happen, but I think this is the way you want to do things.”