Posts Tagged ‘Sekou Smith’

Blogtable: What’s up with the Clippers?

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: Clippers soft | Forsooth, this fortnight | LeBron’s move


Is Blake Griffin relying too much on his newfound jumper? (Andrew Bernstein/NBAE)

Is Blake Griffin relying too much on his newfound jumper?
(Andrew Bernstein/NBAE)

> In the never-too-early-to-worry department: What’s up with the Clippers? Missing something? Are they really too soft, do you think?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Maybe the Clippers underestimated all that goes into being Los Angeles’ glamour team. What, they thought the Lakers just showed up, smiled and sprinted all those years, or just let Kobe be Kobe? I’ve talked with a couple of Clippers people and the fact that they still mention last year – the Donald Sterling remarks and how poorly timed that was for a playoff team – suggests they haven’t fully moved on. It’s as if the Clippers still blame Sterling for last spring and feel entitled now that they’ve gotten all their wounds balmed (Ballmer-ed?). Nope, they’re going to have to earn it with way tougher defense and a more orchestrated offense. They’re playing with one eye on the mirror.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Yes, it is too early to go into a full-blown panic. But I have to say that I’ve never bought into the Clippers as elite level championship contenders.  Too soft?  At times.  Too uncommitted to doing the dirty work?  At times.  Too distracted by things like fouls against Blake Griffin or chippiness from the Warriors?  At times.  All in all, they are a collection of individual talent, but less than a sum of their parts.  Sure, we’ll see them in the playoffs again, but not likely for long.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Except that it is too early to worry. Don’t confuse lurching start with overall direction. If this continues through, say, Christmas, then the Clippers have a problem. For now, they have an annoyance. The lack of intensity, showing mostly on defense, won’t last. Doc Rivers is a lot of things for this organization. Motivator is one of them. Plus, it’s a good locker room. Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Chris Paul, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes and others are not too soft.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I wonder if the Clippers already feel the burden of a championship-or-bust season. Yes, it is November, and true, this topic needs to be readdressed in April. Still, the reputations of Chris Paul (mainly) and Blake Griffin and to a lesser extent, Doc Rivers, are riding on this team reaching the Finals. Paul is a superstar who hasn’t won anything, Griffin is supposed to be a franchise player and Rivers makes a ton of money for one reason and one reason only. I look at the Clippers and see mental issues, not talent issues.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Even if Blake Griffin has turned himself into a good mid-range shooter, he shouldn’t turn himself into a high-volume mid-range shooter. He’s one of the best finishers in the league, and he’s hurting his team by shooting too many jumpers. The Clippers can get him out in the open floor and to the basket more often by getting more stops, but those are harder to come by when they’re playing J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford together at the wings. That lineup has played only 59 minutes so far, but their starting lineup with those two guys has been abysmal defensively. So, either Matt Barnes needs to start making shots, Reggie Bullock needs to step up as a two-way rotation wing, or they need to make a trade.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comSomething is missing. The fire. That proverbial chip that is supposed to be permanently implanted in and on the collective shoulder of this team. The air of confidence in each other that should be a part of the equation for an incumbent power with expectations, internal and external. Doc Rivers doesn’t talk the way he has this season to impress us. He’s speaking the truth about his team. Doc is right, they are a bit soft. They don’t play with the edge you’d expect of a team with this many championship components already assembled. Maybe they’ve gotten caught up in the Hollywood aspect of the situation and lost sight of the fact that they’re fighting for respect and a place in the pecking order in a rugged Western Conference that does not suffer impostors. The Clippers have plenty of time to shed this current crustiness. But they don’t have forever.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The rebounding stat is a great truth teller. It reveals discipline, toughness and effort. Anybody can rebound; it’s just about wanting to. As the Clippers improve in those areas, so will their rebounding numbers improve – and with it their chances for contention.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I don’t think they’re soft, I think they’re just still trying to find their footing. Steve Ballmer’s Clippers 2.0 haven’t had the same defensive intensity as last season, and offensively they’ve looked confused and sputtered from time to time. While turning to Jamal Crawford for help in the starting five on the wing should kickstart their offense, I’m not sure how it makes them a better defensive team. Either Matt Barnes needs to get his groove back or Ballmer may have to ready Clippers v. 2.5.

Matt Barnes ( Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Matt Barnes ( Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA.com/Greece: First of all they miss the aggressiveness. A team that wants to make the big step forward has to be more “nasty”, using the term inserted in the NBA life by the one and only Gregg Popovich. I don’t believe that Blake Griffin facing up and shooting the ball from the perimeter is the way to go. They have the depth in the bench, they have the talent and the experience to go all the way. If they get more nasty.

Ole Frerks, NBA.com/Germany: I wouldn’t necessarily say they’re soft, I just think their roster dynamic has taken a hit with Matt Barnes in his shooting funk. He was supposed to be the guy who provides toughness on defense, but if he’s not making open 3s, defenses are able to ignore him and clog the paint against Griffin and Paul. Rivers has answered by inserting Jamal Crawford into their lineup, but he doesn’t defend anybody and makes it tough for the team to survive in that regard. He is also by far the best scorer they have to come off the bench, so inserting him into the starting 5 robs the second unit of their most lethal threat. It’s obviously early, but I think they might need to add a Three-and-D specialist to balance their roster.

Karan Madhok, NBA.com/India: I think that between Doc Rivers, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Jamal Crawford, and new owner Steve Ballmer, the Clippers built unrealistic expectations of their capabilities without actually the body of work to prove that they are indeed capable. This team has never been past the Second Round of the playoffs, remember. But to answer the question in more tangible terms, the Clippers have a major hole in the wing position, with no small forward capable of providing them quality minutes right now. Griffin should get back on track soon but Chris Paul seems to have taken one step past his prime. And yes, I do think that the team as a whole is a bit too soft, lacking the killer instinct to take the jump up from being good to great.

Simon Legg, NBA.com/Australia: There’s a few concerns here on both ends of the floor, but I don’t think these are long-term issues. Offensively, it might sound really simple but they’re just not making shots at the moment. Prior to their win over the Blazers over the weekend, J.J. Redick couldn’t actually buy a three. The crazy thing about the misses is that generally they’ve been wide open looks that they haven’t been able to make. They were 7-for-30 from three against the Oklahoma City Thunder, 12-for-33 against the Los Angeles Lakers and 9-for-31 against the Sacramento Kings. For guys like Redick and Jamal Crawford, those shots will eventually fall but Matt Barnes’ lack of production is concerning. He’s shooting just 31 percent from three and lineups with Barnes in them are really struggling. Defensively, DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin paired well last season and took their defense to a decent level. This season, their defensive rating has slipped to 104.7, good enough for 20th in the league and their rebounding rate has dropped significantly from last season, hovering around 30th in the league. Lineups with Crawford and Redick are not working and their lack of depth at the small forward position is concerning.

Orr Ziv, NBA.com/Israel: The Clippers will be fine. Obviously, they have yet to play 48 minutes of solid basketball, but the offense started clicking against the Spurs. Two of their three losses came against the champs and the red-hot Warriors, which are acceptable losses. If they will continue to take care of the ball (only New Orleans is ahead in terms of assist-to-turnover ratio), I’m sure the record will reflect it soon enough.

Marcelo Nogueira, NBA.com/Argentina: A team is truly great, with the means to fight in the championship, when it concludes the process of stabilizing their game. This process will let them gain trust among each other and feel more powerful. I do not see LA Clippers in trouble now, especially this early in the season. They’re in the process. Perhaps it’s a matter of anxiety because they have a new owner who wants fast success, like he had in the business world.

For more NBA Debates, go to #AmexNBA

Blogtable: Didn’t see that coming

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: Clippers soft | Forsooth, this fortnight | LeBron’s move


> We’re two weeks into the new season. What didn’t you foresee in this opening fortnight that you maybe should have?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I didn’t foresee the Raptors’ fast start but should have, given their early schedule; two victories over ORL, plus PHI, BOS and banged-up OKC means they’re 2-1 in their own weight class. Their next four are at home, too, though visits from Chicago and Memphis might give us a better sense of Toronto’s legitimacy. The roster is deep, Kyle Lowry is playing as if he wants another contract on top of the one he just signed and Dwane Casey is in control of that group, having raised them from li’l lizard hatchlings.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: You mean besides getting a question that includes the word “fortnight?” Well, old chap, I’ll cop to taking a nap on the LeBron-less Heat.  Chris Bosh has played like a member of the royal family and tossed his hat into the early MVP conversation.  Lord Dwyane Wade is healthy and productive. Prince Luol Deng has been a good arranged marriage into the lineup.  Sir Erik Spoelstra continues to prove that he wasn’t just a guy with a good seat on the Miami bench through those four straight trips to The Finals.  He’s had the S.S. Heat thriving and steaming ahead with an efficient offense in spite of what could have been a gaping hole in the hull.  So far, it’s tea and crumpets.

Greivis Vasquez and Kyle Lowry of the Toronto Raptors (Ron Turenne/NBAE)

Greivis Vasquez and Kyle Lowry of the Raptors
(Ron Turenne/NBAE)

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I won’t say the Kings, a big surprise, because anybody who claims 5-3 was realistic at the start of the season is a liar. So I should not have seen that coming. Maybe I should have seen Rajon Rondo from a distance, but did not. Eleven assists and eight rebounds a game is very nice work, whether he’s a Celtic for the long term or raising his trade value.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Well, I certainly didn’t expect OKC to lose Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and for Derrick Rose to pull up lame in the second week. But given the carnage of the last two years, when the league lost a number of stars for long stretches and even entire seasons, I should knock myself upside the head for not seeing this coming (and risk a possible concussion and long recovery, of course).

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I certainly didn’t see the Bucks ranking as the No. 2 defense in the league. Seven of their eight opponents have been below-average offensive teams (and four rank in the bottom six), but the Bucks are supposed to be an opponent that those teams boost their numbers against, not continue to struggle against. I don’t know if anybody could have foreseen this, but Jason Kidd‘s Nets turned their season around with a strong defense last season, and his new team has similar length and versatility on defense. They’re not going to stay in the top five (or even the top 10), but this 4-4 start (and Saturday’s win over the Grizzlies) tells me that they’re going to be a better team than I thought they were. They already have a longer winning streak (two games) than they did all of last season.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Memphis Grizzlies should have been on my mind heading into this season with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph healthy and ready to go and all of their offseason front office drama in the rearview. When your team is built on the bedrock of rugged defense and an adherence to playing the game the gritty and grimy way the Grizzlies play every night, a solid start should be expected, particularly in a Western Conference shaken up by significant injuries (OKC) among the elite. The Grizzlies play in what is easily the toughest division in the league, so their hot start should be kept in context. It’s early. But I should have had them on my mind.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: I should have known that Miami would be off to a better start than Cleveland. The Heat have been able to survive LeBron’s absence because they have everything else going for them: They know who they are and how they’re going to play. The Cavs have yet to figure out any of that. The Cavs are going to have the last laugh, I’m sure of it, but it may not be so easy to get there.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Look, I publicly ate crow about this last week on the Hang Time Podcast, so we might as well warm it up again so I can chow some more. I didn’t expect that Klay Thompson would be this good this season. While I dismissed him as player who was a terrific shooter but subpar in other areas, he’s become one of the most well-rounded guards in the League. Not only can he stroke it from the perimeter, but he’s getting to the basket and getting to the free-throw line (averaging a career-high 6.6 FTA per game, almost triple his previous high). He’s also a strong defender who obviously puts in work on the defensive end. And his development might be enough to carry Golden State into parts unknown in the postseason.

Marcelo Nogueira, NBA.com/Argentina: I just wish there were fewer injuries. I don’t know if it’s a coincidence or if it’s something that’s related to each team’s preseason system, but the disappearance of stars is opening up the road to teams we thought would be struggling to reach high places.

Simon Legg, NBA.com/Australia: I don’t think I expected the Raptors to be this good. They were great post the Rudy Gay trade and I had expectations that they would make the playoffs again. But their start to the season has exceeded expectations. I think we knew the capabilities of their starting group and that Terrence Ross would improve even more this season, but it’s been their new additions to the second unit that have surprised me. James Johnson has given them an edge defensively and Lou Williams has given them a nice offensive blend and he has the ability to heat up. I expected they would hover around the 4-5 range in the East, they’re a legitimate chance to finish top 2 now.

Orr Ziv, NBA.com/Israel: How well the Kings have played. It’s easy to dismiss Sacramento after years of futility, but Mike Malone has done a great job so far in making those guys believe that they can compete. And Boogie Cousins is in my mind the front-runner for Most Improved Player of the year.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA.com/Greece: OK, we expected the Lakers to have a tough beginning, but not this tough. Kobe and Co. are in deep trouble the way they playing right now. They lost Julius Randle, but that’s not their only problem.

Ole Frerks, NBA.com/Germany: Generally speaking, I didn’t anticipate the Team USA guys making that big of a leap this season. Davis, Cousins, Thompson, DeRozan, Curry and Harden all rank among the best players of the young season so far. Guys like Davis, Curry and Harden could also be thrown into the early MVP conversation. And speaking of Cousins: I’m surprised by the nice start the Kings have enjoyed. I anticipated him to provide his usual monster stats, but so far they’ve been competitive in every single game and could even make the playoffs. If they make it, that would be a lot earlier than I would have expected.

Karan Madhok, NBA.com/India: I knew that the Warriors would be better this season than the last, but I honestly didn’t foresee them to be the last undefeated team in the league and sit atop most NBA Power Rankings by the end of the second week. In hindsight, their improvement makes sense: They have already been blessed with the league’s most volatile offensive backcourt between Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, but the real difference-maker has been Andrew Bogut, whose healthy return has helped this squad secure the best defensive rating in the early season. If you’re doing everything right on both ends of the floor, you deserve to be on top.

DidntForeseeBanner

For more NBA Debates, go to #AmexNBA

 

Blogtable: Your move, LeBron

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: Clippers soft | Forsooth, this fortnight | LeBron’s move



VIDEO: LeBron James had a near-triple double in the Cavaliers’ win over New Orleans

> Say you’re LeBron James. How do you help the Cavs figure this out? Take over at point? Take over the scoring load? Sit back and let them make mistakes?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comLeBron James should huddle up with coach David Blatt and declare a second training camp. Now’s the time – the schedule is slack, with a three-day gap before Friday’s game at Boston and then eight of the next nine at home. The Cavs’ first training camp was all about introductions and excitement; now it’s time to practice hard and develop habits, especially defensively. Nothing has gone on with this team that wasn’t expected and there are a bunch of winnable games in those upcoming nine. But the Cavs cannot slip below .500 without triggering a panic and it’s on James to lead the way on the floor – sometimes playing like Magic Johnson, sometimes like MJ – until they get it right. Might want to take Dion Waiters snipe hunting, too.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Really? We’re going here already? Again? How many times do we have to be reminded that the Heat were 8-9 on Nov. 27 in his first season in Miami. That was with a roster built around three veterans at the core.  This is a green lineup with virtually no playoff experience. To quote LeBron: RELAX.  How long until I flip my lid? A year from now. Vegas made the Cavs the betting favorite to win the title this season because the wise guys know better than most how many suckers there are in the world.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: What matters is whether LeBron is asserting himself in some way, even if it doesn’t come through in the stats. If he’s a large presence behind the scene, pushing teammates in the right direction, setting an example of putting the time in to learn the system of a new coach, that’s a way to help the Cavs figure this out. At some point, though, he will need to deliver the same on the court. LeBron James wasn’t signed to fit in. He should not sit back and let teammates make mistakes. He needs to score, and he will. But his passing, rebounding and defense will win games as well. It’s not just the scoring load.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The last thing LeBron needs to do is show any signs of panic or concern. If he does that, then the troops will follow his lead and this could spin out of control in a hurry. Given his status as the best player in the game and the only Cav with any championship clout, LeBron should make demands but not ultimatums, motivate, tell his teammates what the Heat went through initially in 2011, and above all, lead by example.

Kyrie Irving (David Kyle/NBAE)

Kyrie Irving (David Kyle/NBAE)

John Schuhmann, NBA.comI wouldn’t force anything, either on the floor or in the locker room. I wouldn’t put up with guys putting themselves ahead of the team, but I would allow Kyrie Irving to experience the joy of sharing the ball, allow David Blatt to find his NBA coaching legs, and put my trust in teammates who haven’t necessarily earned it right now. If there’s one issue early on, it’s that only eight guys are getting playing time every night. Even when Dion Waiters and Matthew Dellavedova return from injury, this team will need guys like Joe Harris and Brendan Haywood to be ready to contribute. But it’s very early and the results don’t matter right now.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I do what I’ve always done if I’m LeBron, and that’s lead by example. I take over everything, play the point forward spot I revolutionized in Miami and demand that Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and anyone else who missed my last four years in Miami recognizes that I am the difference between The Finals and oblivion. Seriously. What in the world does LeBron have to prove at this point in his career? This notion that he should defer to anyone else on that roster so they’ll be comfortable is preposterous. You either follow LeBron’s lead or get gone. That’s the only way things should work in Cleveland this season.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: You go to your strengths. That means setting up the other guys, directing the defense and filling in the gaps. He knows better than anyone that he cannot carry them. The other guys are going to have to figure it out for themselves and the best he can do is to help them find their way. But if he tries to do their jobs for them, that isn’t going to help anybody.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: LeBron made very clear in “the letter” this summer that the Cavs would have growing pains, and none of us believed him. Why not? Because they have LeBron, of course, along with Kyrie and Kevin Love. But now they’re on a large stage, learning a new offense, new defense, how to play with each other, and how to handle the immense pressure on that stage. But if I’m LeBron, the last thing I do is try and take over right now. If this is going to be a team, let coach Blatt do his thing, and let Kyrie and Love figure things out on their own. Basically, give this thing some time to breathe.

Orr Ziv, NBA.com/Israel: LeBron shouldn’t do anything different than what he has done so far. Just let it play out. It seems that he buys into coach Blatt’s system and as time moves on, those Cavs will get lethal on offense. Remember — they only have five guys returning from last year, and it takes time for all the new pieces to jell, even if those pieces are some of the best players in the world.

Karan Madhok, NBA.com/India: LeBron James is one of the greatest all-around basketball players, with the talent to fill in the blanks for any team he plays for. For the Cavaliers, the biggest ‘blank’ is defense; the team has struggled defensively and even if Coach Blatt irons out their offensive hiccups, the problems on D will remain all year. This is where I feel that LeBron should focus. The Cavs have enough scoring talent; James needs to evolve his game to focus on becoming an elite perimeter defender and lead the charge of the team by getting stops and inspiring his teammates to do the same. Everything else should fall into place.

Simon Legg, NBA.com/Australia: LeBron needs to find the right blend of scoring and distributing. He’s easily the best passer on this team and his court vision is exceptional. Whether it’s passing or shooting, he generally makes the right play, something that Kyrie has struggled with in the past. LeBron has played with the likes of Mo Williams and Mario Chalmers, two point guards who have the ability to play off-the-ball and spot up. With Irving and Kevin Love playing alongside James, those open catch-and-shoot opportunities will be welcomed by LeBron’s supporting cast. He also needs to work off the ball and score accordingly which is where James and Irving need to combine and find the right balance. Something they found in the win against the Pelicans. Wins are always important and they need to pick up early ones, but it’s the chemistry that they need to find on both ends of the floor that will be pivotal if this team is to execute in the playoffs.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA.com/Greece: LeBron playing at point? LeBron scoring more? If you are the best player in the planet, the one that can do it all, there is only one thing that you have to do: play your game, like it’s the Finals. LeBron has to give the message to the league, that these are the new Cavs, that they are contenders. He has to be aggressive, he has to be a leader. And you know leading is not only about scoring, or taking the last shot. Is about giving the example to the teamates that want to cut slack in defense or make more dribbles and less passes.

Ole Frerks, NBA.com/Germany: I’d say wins aren’t that important right now, because the Cavs will make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference anyway. It is far more important for the guys to get to know each other and for David Blatt to figure out how to use his new weapons. Personally, I had figured they would struggle on defense, but their offensive problems have really surprised me, given they have so much passing talent. As for LeBron, I’d assert myself, but I wouldn’t try to take over from Kyrie or anything, because it is too important that Irving maintains his confidence. But I guess there’s nobody who knows better how to handle this situation, because he’s experienced a similar one in his first season with the Heat. That didn’t turn out too bad.

Marcelo Nogueira, NBA.com/Argentina: I see Cleveland as a big truck that hasn’t yet settled its load correctly. And of course this is the case – they haven’t been together long enough. Like any team who wants to succeed, defining the roles will be key.  David Blatt should look into Erik Spoelstra’s mirror – Spoelstra knew how to properly manage the egos of his players and make more than one championship team.

For more NBA Debates, go to #AmexNBA

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 177) Real or Fake?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – You are what your record says you are.

That’s the way I was taught.

But in the NBA it’s just not that simple.

In San Antonio this time every year, the Spurs are whatever Gregg Popovich wants them to be. In Los Angeles, the Lakers are exactly who we thought they were while the Clippers certainly are not.

Cleveland is a work in progress.

But what about this upstart crew in Sacramento?

And Toronto?

Or Chicago, Miami, New York, Portland, Brooklyn and elsewhere?

Houston and Golden State certainly look like they are legitimate.

But doesn’t anyone really know for sure after just seven or eight games for most teams. Toss in all of the injuries in places like Oklahoma City and Indiana, and there is even more early season mystery about this NBA season.

In an effort to solve all of these mysteries we’ve embarked upon a round of real or fake(?) on Episode 177 of The Hang Time Podcast … (where we also say goodbye to a member of the HTP family) …

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,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

LeBron, new big 3 in the zone


VIDEO: LeBron James collects his 38th regular season triple double in a Cavaliers uniform

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The next time LeBron James tells you to “relax” you’d be wise to listen to him.

Whatever issues and growing pains the new Big 3 of James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving are experiencing clearly won’t last forever. In fact, they’ll melt away in the next few days if LeBron can keep this up.

He went off in a 118-111 win over the New Orleans Pelicans, collecting his 38th career triple double (32 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists) in helping the Cavs to their first home win of the season over Anthony Davis and the Pelicans.

The Cavs piled up a season-high 27 assists and James, Love and Irving combined for 86 points, 61 of the Cavs’ 67 points after halftime, and they each scored 20 or more points in the same game for the first time since joining forces.

It took 17 games and nearly two full months for the Miami Big 3 of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to find a groove in the opening stages of the 2010-11 season. The Cleveland crew looks like it might be ahead of that schedule.

Superman’s return(?) lifts Rockets


VIDEO: Dwight Howard goes alley-oop crazy on the Spurs

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — We haven’t seen him in a couple of years, the smiling big guy who wore the cape and leaped over all things.

The dominant Dwight Howard we all grew accustomed to seeing while he starred in Orlando, the one who disappeared two years ago in Los Angeles and struggled a bit adjusting early on in Houston last season, was back on the floor Thursday night in Houston.  Howard crushed the (Tim Duncan-less) San Antonio Spurs, executing a series of alley-oop dunks early against the reigning world champs in the Rockets’ 98-81 demolition job.

Howard finished with 32 points and 16 rebounds and was unstoppable inside. The Rockets are 6-0 with James Harden and Howard leading the way.

Harden was splendid last season, a first-team All-NBA pick on a good team that couldn’t get out of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.

Could Superman’s return lift them up to that next level this season?

I don’t see  why not.

If this is the Howard we’re going to see all season, maybe I need to take another look at the landscape in the West and put the Rockets in their proper position among the elite teams. Originally I saw them as a team capable of chasing that fourth spot behind San Antonio, the Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder.

But early on it’s the undefeated Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors who are leading the pack. The Grizzlies have their own dominant big men in Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. They’d be hard-pressed to look any better than Howard did against the Spurs.

Blogtable: The Grizz, title contenders

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: Harden an MVP? | Are the Grizzlies legit? | Kobe and the Lakers


Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

> Few mention the Grizzlies – the 4-0 Grizzlies – as a true title contender (one of the top, say, three teams in the league). Do you?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Memphis isn’t even one of the top five teams in the NBA in the broad sense, in my view. Cleveland, Chicago, San Antonio, Oklahoma City (when healthy, if ever) and the Clippers are better equipped to handle 82 games-plus-another-25. The Grizzlies’ depth doesn’t seem all that, well, deep. But if they’re relatively healthy at the start of any 7-game series, be it first round or Finals, I give them a terrific chance because they do what they do so darn well: Pound it inside, exploit their bigs’ size and skill advantages, create offense out of defend and prosper with timely shooting. They had the Thunder on the ropes last spring and I expect them to have someone there again in six months. But seven?

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comI just don’t think they score enough points or have an offense that is diversified enough. In today’s NBA, you’ve got to be able to shoot from the outside and the Grizzlies’ perennial search continues.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comNot as a top-three team in the league, no. But I see them as a playoff team, which is more credit than I saw a lot of other people giving Memphis. Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Mike Conley, Tony Allen — that’s not a lottery foundation. The Grizz won 50 games last season with Gasol making 59 appearances and Allen 55. I’m saying postseason again. I’m just not saying true title contender yet.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The Grizzlies once again have the look of a team with a Western Conference Finals ceiling. Nothing about them screams championship, and nothing about them screams collapse. They’re an upper-echelon team that’s too good to falter, too flawed to rise above all others. Their only significant improvement this summer was adding Vince Carter, and not the 2002 Vince Carter. Plenty of teams would kill to do what Memphis has done the last few years, and will probably do again in 2014-15. But championship contender? Memphis would need a few things to go right and a bit of luck.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: No. They have an elite defense, and that’s important. But they haven’t  had an above-average offense since they had Pau Gasol for a full season (2006-07). The addition of Vince Carter, who brings more playmaking than Mike Miller, was a good one. But they still have just one guy in their starting lineup – Mike Conley – who’s made at least 100 threes in a season, and his career high is 106. The lack of shooting gives them an offensive ceiling in the middle of the pack, which keeps them from being a title contender.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Grizzlies don’t need the undefeated record to legitimize their contender status this season. They’re a team that, when healthy, belongs in that conversation of the best of the very best in the Western Conference and the league. We forget they were in the conference finals two years ago under Lionel Hollins. They are a different team under Dave Joerger, perhaps a better team as well now that Mike Conley has matured into an accomplished floor leader, and certainly a dark horse crew capable of grinding its way to the conference finals again. But I think it’s a bit early to toss them into the top three of the entire league.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: I don’t. But I should. They lack a top-10 player but they have three stars (including Mike Conley, who is turning into the Doc Rivers of his day) who can finish each other’s sentences, and their bench looks capable of doing more good than harm. Winning the West is a realistic goal for at least a half-dozen teams, and the Grizzlies deserve to be ranked among them.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I contend that it’s too early to call the Grizzlies contenders, at least when they’re in the same conference as the Spurs, Clippers and the injury-riddled group which wears the same uniforms the Oklahoma City Thunder used to wear. They are 4-0, yes, but they have yet to play a team with a winning record. If they finish this season healthy and without drama on court or off, and if they’re able to develop a bench that works, we can reevaluate their contender status heading into the postseason. But for now, let’s pump the brakes.

For more NBA Debates, go to #AmexNBA

Blogtable: Kobe and the losing Lakers

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: Harden an MVP? | Are the Grizzlies legit? | Kobe and the Lakers


Kobe Bryant is averaging 27.6 points a game (on more than 24 shots each game). The Lakers are 0-5. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Kobe Bryant is averaging 27.6 points a game (on more than 24 shots each game). The Lakers are 0-5.
(Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

> If Kobe stays healthy but the Lakers end up as bad as they look now, how will you look back on Kobe in 2014-15?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: So we’re being asked to make a round-trip on the time machine, flashing forward to see what might be in Lakersland and then offering perspective by traveling backward? Uh, if Kobe stays healthy and the Lakers wind up stinking anyway, my hunch is he will have worn out just about everyone by season’s end with vocal discontent – I can’t see this going down easily for him, no matter how many points and personal achievements he snags. The absence of reliable help will be somewhat on management, somewhat on the force of his personality and his game and somewhat on lousy luck and timing. There won’t be any lasting effect on his legacy, though, if that’s what you’re getting at. Heck, Bryant could seek a trade and have it granted, and as soon as he retires, he’ll forever be considered one of the greatest Lakers ever (right behind Magic Johnson, for me).

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Well, let me dig through the attic for my Magic 8 ball. Or at least untangle my mind from trying to look back on the future.  Is he close to his career average of 25.5 points a game?  Is he shooting above 40 percent?  Is he showing up for all the games? I guess I’ll say Kobe was Kobe — driven, single-minded, stubborn, a tireless workaholic who came back from what could have been a career-ending injury and the reason that most of the fans showed up at Staples Center when the Clippers weren’t playing.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Impossible to say now. It’s very possible he will be the one positive storyline — all-timer comes back from bad run of injuries, adds to his own legacy by proving the doubters wrong again (when people should have learned long ago not to doubt him), plays at a high level at an advanced age. That’s obviously if he stays healthy. But what else is going on around him? Was he a leader in difficult time or overtaken by frustration? Was he feeling forced into trying to do everything by himself or did he have some help from Nick Young (eventually), Carlos Boozer, Jordan Hill and others? It will be about the emotions as much as the production, and it will be about the people around him.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: A healthy Kobe most likely means an All-Star Kobe. Assuming that much, he would regain whatever aura he lost over the last season-and-a-half when injuries and Father Time paid him an unwelcome visit. He’s really the only reason to watch the Lakers and if nothing else, a return to form would be a boost to his already massive ego and could (and should) win him another contract extension, if he wants to play beyond 2015-16.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: As a guy who 1. got paid too much and who 2. shot too much, but who 3. didn’t have much help.  No. 2 is, in part, a result of No. 3, which is, in part, a result of No. 1. And that’s on Lakers’ management, even if other star players aren’t crazy about being Bryant’s teammate. They gave him that contract, they empowered his personality, and they’ve yet to transition into a stage where he’s got a smaller role in more of an ensemble cast. The Lakers are going to finish in the bottom three in the Western Conference, but Bryant will pass Michael Jordan on the all-time scoring list along the way. So we’ll still be able to celebrate his legacy, even if his team is irrelevant.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: It will be exactly what I expected of Kobe and the Lakers if they continue this trend. I expected him to score like a banshee and play his usual intense style, no matter what his supporting cast does. No offense to Jeremy Lin and Carlos Boozer and others, but these Lakers are a far cry from what Kobe’s been used to for the better part of his tenure as the face and soul of this proud franchise. This isn’t on Kobe, though. This is on the Lakers’ front office. They had their chances to do the right things (Phil Jackson instead of Mike D’Antoni is ground zero for this current mess) and didn’t take care of the business. Kobe and Lakers fans are paying for it now.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: He’ll deserve more respect than ever. He has nothing more to prove, and yet he’ll be putting up All-Star numbers for a roster of younger players who can’t keep up with him. I understand the money he’s making, but this will be the story of a guy continuing to do his job and uphold his standards in circumstances that are entirely foreign to him, athletically and competitively.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Valiant? Heroic? Quixotic? The truth is probably somewhere in the middle of all of those. Tuesday night he scored 39 points and took 37 shots and did it because, honestly, who else on that team is going to score 39 points? The Lakers had three other guys in double figures and it still wasn’t enough to beat Phoenix. This is going to be a really long season in Lakerland with or without Kobe, but at least Kobe is out there giving it his best try and making these games somewhat compelling.

For more NBA Debates, go to #AmexNBA

Blogtable: Harden for MVP

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: Harden an MVP? | Are the Grizzlies legit? | Kobe and the Lakers



VIDEO: James Harden erupts for 35 points and nine rebounds in a win over Philadelphia earlier this week

> James Harden has said he’s the best player alive. Houston is undefeated, Harden is a potential scoring champ … is he a possible MVP, too?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comIf James Harden were to win or even get serious voter consideration for MVP, it will be a statement as much about a certain taller teammate. Dwight Howard was supposed to be the man in Orlando, in Los Angeles and, yes, in Houston. So if someone else on his team gets Podoloff-worthy acclaim, folks will have to accept first that Howard’s star has fallen big-time. No matter how many points Harden scores or anything else he does night in, night out, the first level of MVP handicapping is, “How much help did the guy have?”

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: A near triple-double on the night the Rockets went to 5-0 with an impressive win at Miami will certainly have the early drums beating loud, the flavor of the first two weeks.  Harden finished fifth in the voting a year ago, and averaging 25+ points per game will always get you noticed. It’s fair to have him in the conversation. And he’ll stay there because in the absence of Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin, Harden’s offense will be needed even more. But unless he makes a quantum leap on defense — i.e. is interested all season — or the Rockets surprise everyone and run away with the best record in the West, I can’t see him jumping over LeBron James, Chris Paul or maybe even a recovered Kevin Durant.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I could see itas long as both situations hold true. If the Rockets are among the best teams at the end and if Harden is one of he top scorers while getting others involved, a trophy with a beard is not impossible to imagine. It sets up well. He has a high profile and doesn’t have to come from back in the pack, and he has the chance for extra credit if the Rockets do well when most expect a step back following the loss of Chandler Parsons and missing on Chris Bosh.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comFirst: Harden must actually win the scoring championship, and there will be a handful of players with a say in that. Second: The Rockets must actually win 60-something games and make a strong bid for best record in the regular-season, tough to do in the West. Finally: Even if all of the above rings true, should we place little to no weight on playing defense? If so, then Dominique Wilkins is wondering where his MVP trophy is.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comHe’d be a leading candidate for an “Offensive Player of the Year” award if there was one. But if you take both ends of the floor into account, Dwight Howard is just as important a player as Harden for the Rockets. While Harden is a liability on defense, Howard is holding the Rockets together on that end. The two of them are like Chris Paul and Blake Griffin in that they would likely split MVP votes if they were both healthy for the entire season and led their team to a top-three seed.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Seriously? Just because a guy looks into a camera and says something preposterous we don’t have to legitimize it here. He could win the scoring title this season and that still won’t make him the MVP, not on my ballot. My MVP has to impact the game in more than just on facet. He’s an offensive juggernaut, an absolute scoring machine. I’m a huge fan of that part of his game. But he’s deficient on the other end to the point that it takes away from his overall value. The MVP of the league has to be a more complete player than Harden is right now.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: There are so many possible responses that I’m having trouble choosing one. (1) Didn’t they used to say the same thing about Tracy McGrady? (2) What happens in November stays in November. It’s too early to matter. (3) The best players earn their reputations during the playoffs … Let’s go with response (3) for now.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Sure, James Harden is a possible MVP, the same as Patrick Beverly or any other member of the Houston Rockets is a candidate. But let’s be real here: Harden’s defense remains indefensible, and as long as that narrative best explains his game, I find it hard to believe that voters will elect a one-way player into the MVP office. Harden may be an exceedingly great one-way player, but until he stops watching and starts participating on the other end, in my eyes he will not be MVP material.

For more NBA Debates, go to #AmexNBA

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 176) Are You Kidding Me?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – One week.

That’s all it took for the Hall of Famer Reggie Miller and the Dean of Discipline Stu Jackson to dive back into their feisty roles on Are You Kidding Me? … our debate segment on the Hang Time Podcast.

Don’t worry, the crew (Rick, Lang and yours truly) still did our thing on Episode 176 of the Hang Time Podcast. But we made sure to include Reggie and Stu debating LeBron‘s debut Part II in Cleveland and the dumpster fire in Los Angeles that is the Lakers (right now).

We also dive in on the undefeated Heat and Chris Bosh, the undefeated Houston Rockets and Dwight Howard, the M.A.S.H. unit in Oklahoma City headlined by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose‘s tender ankles and so much more on Episode 176 of the Hang Time Podcast.

Dive into Episode 176 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring Reggie Miller and Stu Jackson for more  …

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,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.