Posts Tagged ‘Sekou Smith’

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 218) Featuring Marc J. Spears

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — They could go 82-0.

Haha, kidding … well, sort of.

At this point, it would be foolish to doubt those “lucky” Golden State Warriors, owners of the Larry O’Brien Trophy and as of this moment, the best start to a season in NBA history (16-0, at the expense of Kobe Bryant and the reeling Los Angeles Lakers, and counting). They won’t go undefeated, but it’ll be fun watching them chase whatever destiny awaits them this season. With the reigning KIA MVP Stephen Curry leading an ensemble cast, the Warriors are clearly on a mission this season.

Keep in mind, they are doing all of this with interim head coach, Luke Walton, filling in for Steve Kerr. And they are doing more than just winning games, they are demolishing the competition, in most instances, with a mix of their signature ball-movement, wicked shooting and relentless defensive work. It’s a beautiful thing to see, especially from a franchise that just a few years ago could only dream of this sort of success.

The Warriors went 40 years between titles, starving one of the most faithful fan bases in all of sports for decades. They are making up for lost time. And the good guess here is it won’t take another 40 years for the Warriors to see The Finals again.

Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports, St. Louis born but Bay Area raised and now a Oakland resident, understands what’s going on with the Warriors better than anyone. He joins us to talk Warriors and much more on Episode 218 of The Hang Time Podcast.


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

– 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: The Warriors, on a historic run, come out to play every single night

Blogtable: Thoughts on Budenholzer’s fine?

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: Slowing the Warriors? | On Budenholzer’s fine … | What you’re thankful for this season

VIDEOMike Budenholzer gets ejected from the Hawks’ game in Cleveland

> Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer was fined $25,000 for making contact with an official. Was this punishment too much, not enough, or just right?

Steve Aschburner, Not enough. When the established penalty for physical contact with a referee is suspension – from Gregg Popovich‘s one game for bumping Bob Delaney in 1993 to Jerry Sloan‘s seven games for a run-in with Courtney Kirkland in 2003 – it’s recklessly light to only ding Budenholzer’s paycheck. The Hawks coach might come across like straight-arrow Richie Cunningham from “Happy Days”, but on NBA sidelines he can become a fire-breathing, competitive madman same as his 29 colleagues. Mostly it’s a tough precedent for new NBA top cop Kiki Vandeweghe. What happens when it’s a player next time? Or when another coach does it with a little more force? Physical stuff with refs is a line that can’t be crossed, no matter how incidental or innocent it seems. We all remember Jason Kidd‘s accidental spilled soft drink on the sideline too. Uh huh.

Fran Blinebury, I’d say it was about right. The bump may have been unintentional, but the message has to be sent that no coach can be out on the court protesting to put himself in that position. Bud has apologized to referee Ben Taylor, so you move on.

Scott Howard-Cooper, Not nearly enough if there was an intentional bump, but enough if the contact was incidental. The NBA ruled it incidental. While not touching an official is normally a rule without blurry lines, and understandably so, players and coaches can make unintentional contact. People lose their balance or trip. Coaches do too.

Shaun Powell, The punishment was right, because he made contact, but he only got one technical. As for the big picture, coaches do take liberties with their spot on the floor. Far too often, they take a step or two onto the court to call a play or chastise a ref and are rarely punished. I love the old line by John Wooden: “Show me a coach who feels the need to stand and yell the whole game, and I’ll show you a team that’s not prepared.”

John Schuhmann, NBA.comJust right. Budenholzer has to be accountable for his actions, and there’s too much complaining about officiating in the league. The immediate ejection was the right call, but the bump wasn’t malicious enough that it deserved another game away from the bench.

Sekou Smith, Just right. Perhaps it will remind some of the coaches around the league that all the bellyaching in the world does not change anything and only serves to infuriate the officials, bore the true fans of the game and take away from the beauty of a night at an arena. The whole routine has long been the theater of the absurd, if you ask me. And if it a team (like the Clippers) is not careful, fair or not, they develop an identity as a bunch of whiners. I understand barking at an official now and then. And I know there are times when a coach earns a technical foul for the greater good. But going overboard, even inadvertently, is a waste of time and costs good money.

Ian Thomsen, It was far too little. This should be a no-go, don’t-even-think-about-it area. Referees are right to be concerned by the precedent.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blogThe punishment was just. While I’m sure he would never say so publicly, my guess is that Coach Bud would probably privately concede that the collision was in at least some part born out of frustration. And I understand why: No other team has played as many games as the Hawks thus far. Commissioner Adam Silver may have managed to eliminate a lot of four games in five days stretches across the NBA schedule, but the Hawks have already had one four-in-five and are started their second four-in-five last night. The schedule will even out at some point, sure, but right now, even this early on, the Atlanta Hawks could use a break.

Blogtable: Can anything slow the Warriors?

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: Slowing the Warriors? | On Budenholzer’s fine … | What you’re thankful for this season

VIDEOInside the NBA’s experts weigh in on Golden State’s 16-0 start

> With their historic 16-0 start, the Warriors’ have captivated the basketball world and have become one of the best early season storylines in memory. Guys, can anything slow this team down? And is there a downside to chasing records in November?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comInjuries can slow down any team, so unless we find out the Golden State trainer’s room actually is a cyborg workshop full of Silicon Valley elves, the Warriors are only one (you know who) or two injuries away from the same foibles and vulnerabilities as the other 29 teams. I also think we’re going to see frustrated opponents start to play them with unprecedented physical force as a way of knocking the league’s reigning darlings for a loop, if not off their game entirely. Downside to never taking nights off? I actually hope there isn’t one. The “rest” pendulum was swinging too far already, in my opinion, at the very real risk of making regular-season ticket buyers feel like chumps. I like seeing the champs put it out there every night, regardless of foe or city.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comI think we can safely rule out complacency or the absence of the coach as potential pitfalls. The Warriors are not chasing records, just playing the game with talent, joy and crunch time ferocity that nobody else can match. The only thing that can slow the Warriors down before the playoffs is the big word nobody wants to mention — injury.

Scott Howard-Cooper, There is no downside to chasing records as long as a team does not over-extend itself to get there. And the Warriors are not. They need to dial down the minutes for Stephen Curry, but not by a lot. They’re not going crazy to win the championship of November. Can anyone slow this team down? Of course. There’s still forever to go before the playoffs, the only time that matters for teams at their level, and West challengers will be waiting. Golden State is the favorite of the moment and may have the same role in mid-April, but it’s impossible to imagine an easy road through the postseason.

Shaun Powell, The Warriors are the only contender that hasn’t played against the most formidable force in the NBA: injuries. Every time you mention how they’ve been blessed with great health, the Warriors recoil and take it as a slap to their ego, but it’s true. A significant injury, at this point, is the only thing that can trip them. As for chasing records early, it doesn’t matter, as long as it doesn’t interfere with getting their rest in springtime, should they clinch best-record.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThey’re the best team in the league by a pretty wide margin and they will win at least 65 games. But there will be nights when they don’t have the energy and/or the focus. Heck, they should have lost to Brooklyn last week, but the Nets made a couple of late mental errors and missed a bunny at the buzzer in regulation. There’s no real downside to pushing for a record this early in the season. Most injuries that occur at this point can be recovered from in time for the playoffs, there are 66 more games to be used for rest days, and the champs have already built a three-game cushion in the loss column for home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.

Sekou Smith, They will lose a game … at some point. But as far slowing them down, I don’t know who or what could other than the dreaded injury bug, which always serves as the great equalizer (just check with our friends in Oklahoma City). This is a team on a historic pace and I have no problem with them pushing it to the limit right now. I know there will be people lined up to pick them apart if they don’t finish this season in championship fashion, if they burn out in pursuit of 73 wins or whatever other lofty goals they pursue. But eternal greatness requires a bit of tunnel vision and relentless drive that doesn’t come along often. And to come from where the Warriors were as recently as four years ago is an astonishing rise. Don’t interrupt their groove. Not now!

Ian Thomsen, I’m probably not alone in guessing that the length of the regular season and the threat of injury will be their biggest obstacle. Can they maintain their focus and still peak at the right time months from now? Health will have everything to do with that answer. In the meantime, as they chase the record of the Bulls, ask whether the NBA was less competitive in the 1990s. In those terms I think Curry may have a tougher assignment than was faced by Michael Jordan.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blogTo me, the only thing that can slow down the Warriors is — and I really, really hate to say this out loud — is an injury to one of their key components. Right now they understand their system, the parts that they have, how it all fits together, and they know that if they stick to the system, they can beat anyone. They unlocked the blueprint that works uniquely with this roster, and there’s no downside, no problem, no issues. They are absolutely rolling right now. And it sure is fun to watch.

Blogtable: What are you thankful for at this point in 2015-16?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.

BLOGTABLE: Slowing the Warriors? | On Budenholzer’s fine … | What you’re thankful for this season

VIDEORookie Kristaps Porzingis has given Knicks fans something to be thankful for

> One month into the season, what are you seeing in the NBA that you’re most thankful for?

Steve Aschburner, I’m thankful that Charles Barkley still laughs loudest and longest at his own expense when his studio mates (and the rest of us) poke fun at him. I’m thankful that – in a league that can admirably come together for the likes of Lamar Odom and Flip Saunders – there still are guys like Draymond Green, Matt Barnes and Jimmy Butler who bring the “we don’t like them, they don’t like us” attitude that keeps game night from becoming one big ice-cream social. Mostly I’m thankful for current labor peace and the possibility that NBA commish Adam Silver and union chief Michele Roberts might nail down the next CBA in 2017 without games-lost rancor. Nothing would look sillier than two sides, used to divvying up a Large pizza, sharing an XXL and still fighting over the last piece.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comDo you mean beside the Blogmaster? It’s easy to say I’m thankful for any night that I can turn on my TV and see the beauty, joy and sheer fun of the Warriors. On an individual basis, I’m thankful that we’re getting a chance to see Paul George pick up his career right where he left off prior to breaking his leg. He might be having the best season of his NBA career and that possibility had some serious doubt when crumbled to the floor in Las Vegas.

Scott Howard-Cooper, For long memories, so we can remember the previous Kobe Bryant, the old 76ers and the one and only Flip Saunders, the best memory of all. For the memories the established Warriors and the mostly un-established Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis are creating. For Gregg Popovich’s long-term commitment to stick around the Spurs and USA Basketball. For still having Lamar Odom.

Shaun Powell, Personally? That LeBron James keeps avoiding injury, that Kevin Durant is back on the floor after a brief brush with the trainer’s table and Steph Curry’s ankle issues are far behind him. The game is only as healthy as its stars, and one month into the season, these three are upright. Also, the next generation is off to a decent start with Karl-Anthony Towns, Jahlil Okafor, Kristaps Porzingis, et al.

John Schuhmann, Paul George playing the best basketball of his life. Given what he’s been through, it doesn’t get any better than that. And holy cow, is he killing it.

Sekou Smith, Obviously, the Warriors make tuning into their games a Christmas present every night. But I’m most thankful for the bountiful rookie class. From the big cats, Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor, to the surprising Kristaps Porzingis, Justise Winslow and Stanley Johnson and, really, all over the place, these youngsters have impressed. That’s always a good sign, when the rookie crop comes in and has multiple players making an immediate impact wherever they are. It strengthens the overall talent base of the league and provides some fresh faces and storylines for us to focus on.

Ian Thomsen, For the competition and its ongoing unpredictability. Every season the NBA race becomes more wide open. The Warriors, as good as they are, will be facing many obstacles and threats over the next seven months.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blogI live in New York City, and for the last 15 years I’ve had to watch as the Knicks continually attempted to rebuild on the fly, constantly sacrificing their future to get incrementally better in the moment. Which didn’t work, and it didn’t feel like the turn around really started until Phil Jackson stripped the thing down to its bones and hung onto a lottery pick and drafted young Kristaps Porzingis. Now the “Porzilla” has stormed Gotham, and Knicks fans finally have what looks like a young superstar who can be a long-term pillar of the franchise. For once, it’s sorta nice not to have a turkey on Thanksgiving.

Blogtable: Fallout in Houston after Kevin McHale’s firing

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes 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: Fallout in Houston after firing? | Best comeback story? | Cousins or Karl in Sacramento?

VIDEOKevin Mchale reportedly fired by Houston

> Kevin McHale was fired by the Rockets today. Right move or wrong move? And what does new coach J.B. Bickerstaff need to do to right this Rocket ship?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Unfortunately, the coach is easier to fire than the players. Unless Kevin got real dumb over the summer, he’s the same coach that got Houston to the Western Conference finals last season. It’s the players who aren’t playing up to par. But, that’s the deal for NBA coaches. The wins are because of the players; the losses are their fault. J.B. Bickerstaff can’t make Dwight Howard healthy or shake Harden out of his funk, but maybe he can get some of the younger guys to contribute more.  He’s a big fan of Clint Capela, and maybe we’ll get even more from him than we’ve seen so far.

Steve Aschburner, Wrong move, so wrong that I’m inclined to refer to them henceforth as the “Wrockets.” If management trots out the tired, old “he lost the locker room” justifications, then Houston, it has a problem. I thought McHale and his staff did wonders to steer that crew through injuries to 54 and 56 victories the past two seasons, reaching the West finals last spring. But talent can only take a team so far for so long unless it’s backed up with leadership and character. I don’t see much of either on the roster, at least not coming from self-absorbed big dogs James Harden and Dwight Howard. Maybe the Wrockets will be able to analytics their way out of this mess but I’m skeptical. Good luck to J.B. Bickerstaff, who has earned a shot and now is stuck with this one. Best thing he has working for him? The big lazy move — firing the coach — has been stripped away, shifting any further blame to the team’s performance and alleged stars.

Fran Blinebury, Wrong move, because McHale didn’t suddenly become incompetent in the six months since he took the Rockets to the Western Conference finals. Only move, because it’s what teams do when they can’t hit the reject button on the roster. First things first for J.B. Bickerstaff and that’s to repair the gaping holes in the Rockets’ defense, which has gone from a level near the top of the league to practically scraping bottom. But none of that will help in the long run if he can’t repair dysfunctional, broken relationships at the core of the lineup.

Scott Howard-Cooper, Wrong move. You get where management is coming from — the team looked terrible in the opening weeks, they can’t let another season slip away. But if McHale was the right guy in the playoffs about seven months ago, when Houston beat the Mavericks in five and had a great comeback against the Clippers before losing to the better team in the Western Conference finals, he was the right guy now. The personality of the roster is the problem, not the coach. Bickerstaff will be a new voice, which sometimes helps, but he won’t be able to right that part of the ship.

Shaun Powell, Right or wrong move? As always, it depends. If the Rockets wake up and get right, then fine. If not, they panicked, because just months ago McHale coached them past the Clippers in an epic playoff rally, took them to the West finals and earned a contract extension. He’s suddenly a crummy coach? Well, either J.B. Bickerstaff or Tom Thibodeau, if they hire him, better be right.

John Schuhmann, If this move gets the Rockets to play like they care about whether or not their opponent puts the ball in the basket, then it was the right move. But there was no excuse for not caring in the first place, and I doubt that McHale was to blame in that regard. Last season, the Rockets ranked sixth in defensive efficiency, even with their three-time Defensive Player of the Year playing only 41 games. This season, they rank 29th, and have been terrible whether Dwight Howard is playing or not. He ranks at the bottom of the league in rim protection, in part because his perimeter teammates can’t contain the ball. The film shows too many examples of Rockets defenders playing downright lazy on defense. There are surely other issues, but they can be addressed once the team collectively wakes up and starts playing defense like it matters, which it does.

Sekou Smith, Wrong in so many ways for McHale, but potentially right for the Rockets and Bickerstaff. McHale’s serving as the fall guy after pushing this crew to 110 regular season wins the past two seasons and last season’s wild playoff ride that ended in the Western Conference finals. He lost his powers after 11 games? Ridiculous. The Rockets have much bigger issues that begin and end inside the locker room (hence Tuesday’s players-only meeting). And that’s where J.B. Bickerstaff‘s opportunity comes into play. If he can find a way to inspire James Harden, Dwight Howard and this crew to commit themselves to improving defensively from the bottom of the NBA pile, there is a chance this ends up being the right and best move the Rockets could have made to salvage this season. But right or wrong, 11 games in … we need time before it becomes clear.

Ian Thomsen, There’s not much that any coach can do until the Rockets get the leadership they need on defense from James Harden and Dwight Howard. The Rockets’ two best players should be dominating that end of the court and thereby establishing the highest and most meaningful standard for their teammates. It should be flattering to Harden and Howard that the responsibility to fix this is on them. Maybe a new voice — or the shock of losing McHale — will get the message through to them, which is a shame.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog: If this turns things around and propels the Rockets to the top of the Western Conference, I suppose it will be looked at as the right move. But right now it certainly doesn’t feel like firing the coach who just got a three-year extension and took you to the Western Conference finals is the right move. If Bickerstaff can get them to commit defensively, that’s great, but this isn’t a team built to survive on their defense. To me they should go the other way and commit to their offense … and I’m pretty sure there’s a coach named Mike D’Antoni available out there and known for preaching offense.

Blogtable: Will DeMarcus Cousins or George Karl last longer in Sacramento?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes 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: Fallout in Houston? | Best comeback story? | Cousins or Karl in Sacramento?

VIDEOCharles Barkley voices his opinion on DeMarcus Cousins and the Kings

> DeMarcus Cousins or George Karl? Which one will still be working for the Kings at the end of the season?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: I don’t really want to address this, ’cause so many Kings fans are so sensitive about any notion of getting rid of Cousins (the hate mail is still rolling in on my trade idea to move Boogie to Boston). But if I had to guess, I’d say that Vivek Ranadive sticks with his franchise center rather than the mercurial coach with more than 1,100 coaching victories. Maybe Vlade Divac can calm the waters and get these two to coexist, but he’s rolling that rock up a big, big hill.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI’d like to think that sanity prevails and the answer is both. But since you’ve given us a fork in the road and we have to take it (h/t Lawrence Peter Berra), I choose Cousins. It’s a player’s league and, as I’ve noted before, even if all was copacetic in Sac, the big man will be posting 20-10 games long after George is sipping umbrella drinks on a Maui beach with his pal, Don Nelson. And DMC knows it, which is part of the reason things aren’t copacetic. I don’t think Cousins will spend his whole career with the Kings – a change of scenery is inevitable when a young player is handed as much clout as he has – but I think Karl will beat him out the door in the short term.

Fran Blinebury, Cousins. He’s temperamental. He’s trouble. He’s also 25 and the best young big man in the game, at least until Karl-Anthony Towns gets a year or two under his belt. Besides, coaches usually take the fall and Karl has been on shaky ground with the Kings almost from the moment he arrived. Can we change the timetable on this question to Christmas? Or even Thanksgiving?

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comI’m tempted to say neither. I do think that is possible. But at this rate, with Cousins reminding everyone how good he can be, the Kings are either going to refuse to part with him or set the asking price so high that no one will come close to matching the offer. Any outcome is far from playing out. While firing the coach is always easier than going nuclear with the roster, and therefore Karl is atop the leaderboard for Most Likely to Go, Sacramento does not want to dump him. They were looking for a reason to fire Michael Malone. They’re looking for a reason to keep George.

Shaun Powell, Cousins, because Karl is replaceable. Still … rarely would I ever side with a coach over an All-Star big man but my hunch says the Kings will never flourish as long as their best player is toxic. Look, Cousins has good intentions; he’s competitive, hates to lose and in some ways a perfectionist. But if he hasn’t gotten a grip on his emotions by now … what, should the Kings bide their time until he reaches maturity at age 30?

John Schuhmann, NBA.comI would guess that it would be both, because it would really be embarrassing for the Kings to need to hire another coach before the season is done. But Cousins is still more likely to be around, because giving up on a coach is easier than giving up on a star.

Sekou Smith, Cousins. Talent over everything is the motto of most teams. And Cousins has proved to be as good or better than any other player in the league at his position. That said, Cousins and Karl could find a way to make this work. I truly believe that to be true. But it would take some serious humbling on both sides. There is way too much pride and ego involved right now. Cousins will not be denied this season, though, and the Kings can choose to ride his momentum into the future or make a colossal mistake and side with the tutor over the talent.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThe Kings appear to be showing little interest in supporting Karl. If they go onto fire him, it’s a good bet that they will be casting him as a victim of their own mismanagement. In the meantime they’ve made it clear that Cousins is their priority. But are they bringing out the best in their best young player — or just placating him?

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog: The answer should be DeMarcus Cousins, who is one of the best young players in the NBA, signed to a long-term contract that is affordable, and is exactly the type of building block every team in the NBA should want to construct around. So why would the Kings deal Cousins? The answer, of course, is that the Kings have a recent history of doing things people haven’t anticipated. I’ll just say this: If it came down to choosing between Boogie Cousins and Coach Karl, I know which way I’d choose. Then again, it ain’t my team.

Blogtable: Best comeback story?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes 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: Fallout in Houston? | Best comeback story? | Cousins or Karl in Sacramento?

VIDEOPaul George puts in a monster effort in a loss to the Cavs

> The better comeback story so far this season: Kevin Durant, Paul George or Carmelo Anthony?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: PG13, by a mile. Not belittling KD’s or Melo’s surgeries/injuries, but we all witnessed that horrible night in Vegas in 2014 when Paul George’s leg snapped. It was gruesome. I know he played at the end of last season, but he didn’t look anything like the old, dominant player he’d been. Now he’s rounding back into form (it may or may not be coincidence that the Pacers have effectively ended the PG-at-four experiment, with C.J. Miles now the primary power forward). The Pacers are still playing small, but they got their best player playing where he’s most comfortable and effective. Good coaching, and good adjustments.

Steve Aschburner, Happy for all of them, but Paul George’s level of play has been nothing short of remarkable considering where we all were, emotionally and intellectually, on that August night in Las Vegas in 2014. Whatever, say, a guy like Jay Williams did with a motorcycle and a light pole to end his NBA career, it looked as if George had done against that basket stanchion, splintering his leg in two place. The initial sense was, he’d never play again. And even when the doctors said he would, a lot of us wondered how far back George really would get. Looks now to be all the way and beyond.

Fran Blinebury, They’re all good stories, but I’m gonna go with Paul George here, just because of the horrendous nature and degree of the injury that we all saw replayed dozens of times. He’s returned this season to a team that has been stripped down, rebuilt and is demonstrating that he wants to and can lead. No excuses from George, just results.

Scott Howard-Cooper, Paul George, but because he had farther to come back. He had six appearances last season, after also losing part of summer 2014. That’s a very long road to recovery, compared to Durant playing about a quarter of 2014-15 and Anthony half. On 2015-16 play along, though, it’s KD. He looks like Durant, the greatest compliment of all. Actually, considering that 3-point shot, he looks better in some ways. To look this good this soon is impressive even by his lofty standards.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comPaul George and it isn’t even close. ‘Melo and Durant are coming off injuries but never had their careers threatened by them. George saw his leg break in two. For him to re-elevate himself to a franchise-player level this quickly — or at all — that’s borderline amazing.

John Schuhmann, Paul George, because of the severity of the injury and because of the level that he’s playing at. Seeing Anthony and Durant playing as well as they have isn’t much of a surprise. George is playing better than he ever has before. When George put up 36 against the Heat and 32 against the Cavs earlier this month, it was only the second time in his career that he’d had 30-plus in two straight games. And that was part of an ongoing stretch where he’s averaging 28.9 over the last seven, shooting 51 percent from 3-point range. Anthony is 31 and Durant has already been an MVP. George is 25 and still on the rise.

Sekou Smith, Paul George, by far. He’s resumed the ways that made him one of the league’s most dynamic and intriguing players before he suffered that broken leg that cost him most of last season. He also had the toughest road back, considering the severity of his injury. And he totes a load on both ends that neither Durant nor Anthony does (defensively) for their respective teams. I know Durant is out right now with that sore hamstring, but it’s good to see all of them get back to normal, so to speak.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comHaving suffered the most frightening injury, Paul George has returned to find that his team has been rebuilt — essentially downsized — to suit his talents at both ends. The Pacers are looking like a solid playoff team because George’s comeback as both a go-to scorer and lockdown defender has been spectacular.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blogWell, considering Kevin Durant is out right now, I’m eliminating him from consideration. Which leaves Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. And while George has shown flashes of the elite athleticism that made him such a transcendent player on both ends, it doesn’t seemed to have regularly returned just yet, which is understandable. And while it may seem like I’m choosing Carmelo Anthony by default, I truly think he’s been very impactful this season for the Knicks. Sure, there’s a lot of talk about “The Zinger”, Kristaps Porzingis, and he’s had his moments, but the Knicks will only go as far as Anthony can take them, and when ‘Melo is playing like he’s played thus far this season — taking on double teams, knocking down jumpers, getting to the free throw line, hustling on the defensive end — this Knicks team could very well mess around and make the playoffs.

Pacers rookie Turner to miss 4-6 weeks after thumb surgery

VIDEO: Pacers rookie Myles Turner is expected to miss 4-6 weeks after thumb surgery

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Indiana Pacers rookie Myles Turner is expected to miss six weeks after undergoing surgery to repair a thumb fracture, according to the Pacers.

Turner suffered the injury, a chip fracture in his left thumb, in the first half of the Pacers’ Nov. 11 win against the Boston Celtics. The Pacers announced a day later that Turner would miss at least four weeks, but said he was consulting with their medical staff and had not yet decided on surgery.

Turner, just 19, was off to a solid start to his rookie season, averaging 6.1 points and 2.9 rebounds in 16 minutes per game.

The Pacers and Bulls square off tonight in Chicago (8 ET, League Pass).

Young Jazz still trying to turn corner

VIDEO: Derrick Favors powers Jazz to close road win in Atlanta

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Moral victories will sustain you for only so long in the NBA.

Sooner or later, signs of growth and glimpses of what could be have to backed up with something much more substantial than just the hope of what’s to come.

The Utah Jazz are living that reality these days. They are a team loaded with intriguing young talent, a group still trying to find its way together as they chart a course from the lottery to the playoffs while still working to shore up deficiencies on the roster and in their make up.

They shocked us with their work to finish the 2014-15 season, going 15-9 during the stretch run after the All-Star break, suggesting that this season might bring a true breakout effort from coach Quin Snyder‘s crew with a nucleus of Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and defensive menace Rudy Gobert anchoring the middle of an improved frontline.

But the road has been a bit tougher than expected early on this season, courtesy of a rugged early schedule and the offseason loss of point guard Dante Exum for the season with a torn ACL.

That’s what makes nights like Sunday, when they outlasted the Atlanta Hawks 97-96 at Philips Arena to finally score a road win after three straight losses on a four-game trip, so sweet.

All that potential in action, and with a result to match. It’s all you can ask for when you’re trying to turn a corner. The Jazz sit at 5-5 after their first 10 games with every intention of living up to their own hype.

“I feel like we are ahead of where we were last year,” Hayward said. “We’re in a good place. I know that’s seems like a strange thing to say after you lose three in a row. But two close games and then kind of drained on that last one. But we are moving in the right direction. We just have more experience, another year with [Snyder] and all of the experiences from the tough games we played last year. We’re learning how to win games and trying to figure out where you can succeed in this league.”

Learning how to win games like this one will only help the Jazz in their pursuit of a playoff spot in the Western Conference. Sunday’s win over the Hawks was their first this season in games decided by five points or less (they were 0-3 previously).

They shot a season-high 51 percent (39-for-76), outrebounded the Hawks by seven and Favors, an Atlanta native, led five players in double figures. Gobert recorded his first double-double of the season with 11 points and 11 rebounds, to go along with his three assists, three blocks and two steals as the Jazz finally put together a complete game against an elite opponent.

A little good fortune never hurts, of course. All-Star forward Paul Millsap missed a wide-open 12-footer in the game’s final seconds that would have won the game for the Hawks.

The hard work to get to that point, though, was rooted in the preparation for moments exactly like this one, Favors insists. And that preparation has been years in the making for the most experienced members of this Jazz team, where a 24-year-old, six-year veteran like Favors qualifies as an elder statesman.

“Everybody is more comfortable with the roles and guys are going out there playing with more freedom, without looking over their shoulder every time they make a mistake and worrying about the coach taking you out and crazy stuff like that,” Favors said. “It’s experience, too. This is my sixth year. Gordon’s been here six years. Most everybody else is in their second or third year. There is so much you have to learn. We’ve been through it as individuals. But now we have to go through some things together, as a group. And that’s what makes you stronger.”

This Jazz team still has glaring issues, of course, namely its struggles at point guard. Raul Neto is the starter and Trey Burke, a prized lottery pick two years ago, is the backup and playing well in that role.

But with the game on the line in the final four minutes Sunday, the Jazz worked without either one of them on the floor. It’s a formula they have been using all season, going with Alec Burks, Rodney Hood and Hayward as the primary facilitators with games on the line.

It’s a dangerous way to play in a league where quality point guard play has never been more valuable. And when you’re a team attempting to make the leap from the lottery to the playoffs, it’s a potentially fatal flaw.

The Hawks played without their All-Star point guard Sunday night, Jeff Teague, who sat out with a sprained ankle. And they lost starting small forward and energy man Kent Bazemore when he turned his ankle with 2:20 to play.

But there’s no need to apologize for a little luck, not when every bit of it and every lesson learned along the way will be useful on this journey.

“It was very important. We were very close to winning the first two games of the road trip. We lost each game by a couple of possessions,” Gobert said of what the Jazz took away from these early lumps they’ve endured. “But we were able to win the game tonight. We want to make the playoffs, so we need to put some wins together.”

Playoff talk in November is just that, talk. And no amount of bluster, internal or otherwise, will fuel the Jazz the rest of the way.

“We know it was a trendy thing to talk about us expecting to be a playoff team and a team on the rise or this and that,” Favors said. “But I don’t think you can own any of that until you actually get there. So anybody talking about us turning a corner … we haven’t turned a corner until we make the playoffs.”

Report: Chris Paul out against Suns

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The Los Angeles Clippers will work without their starting backcourt in tonight’s game against the Phoenix Suns on TNT. Both Chris Paul (groin) and J.J. Redick (back) will be out of the lineup against the Suns.

Redick has also been ruled out for Saturday’s game against the Detroit Pistons in Los Angeles after suffering back spasms in Wednesday’s loss in Dallas and not returning to the game after playing just 14 minutes.

Paul has been battling the groin injury, suffered in a loss to the Golden State Warriors last week.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers will have to turn to his backups, Austin Rivers, Pablo Prigioni and Jamal Crawford, to fill in the starting lineup against the Suns.