Posts Tagged ‘Shaquille O’Neal’

Heat seek to join ‘three-peat’ history

Three-peat.

It is a familiar part of the lexicon now, one used to distinguish the greatest of our sports champions.

A term coined by Byron Scott in 1988 and trade-marked by Pat Riley, it slides across the tongue as smooth as a scoop of ice cream and defines a dynasty as readily as a crown atop a monarch’s head.

But there is nothing at all easy about the three-peat.

When LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the rest of the Heat take the court Thursday night, they’ll be attempting to become only the sixth team in NBA history to go back-to-back-to-back as champs.

Here’s a look at Fab Five:

Minneapolis Lakers (1952-54)

“Geo Mikan vs. Knicks.” That was the message on the marquee outside Madison Square Garden on Dec. 14, 1949. It succinctly said everything that you needed to know about George Mikan, the man who was the NBA’s first superstar. In an Associated Press poll, the 6-foot-10 center was voted the greatest basketball player of the first half of the 20th century and he was later named as one of the 50 Greatest Players in league history. Mikan was such a dominant individual force that the goaltending rule was introduced to limit his defensive effectiveness and the lane was widened from six to 12 feet to keep him farther from the basket on offense.

However, Mikan still flourished and when he was teamed up with Vern Mikkelsen, Jim Pollard and Slater Martin, his Lakers rolled to three consecutive championships. The Lakers beat the Knicks for their first title in a series that was notable for neither team being able to play on its home court. Minneapolis’ Municipal Auditorium was already booked and the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was at the Garden. With Mikan double-teamed, Mikkelsen carried the Lakers offense to a 3-3 split of the first six games and then in the only true home game of the series, the Lakers won 82-65 to claim the crown. The Lakers came back to beat the Knicks again the following year 4-1 and the made it three in a row with a 4-3 defeat of the Syracuse Nationals in 1954.


VIDEO: George Mikan and the Minneapolis Lakers dominate the early NBA (more…)

24 – Second thoughts — May 31


VIDEO: Ginobili steps up in crunch time for the Spurs

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Next man up.

The Spurs Way.

Sheer basketball beauty.

Explain it any way you can. But know this, the San Antonio Spurs were clearly meant for this, for this moment and for this rematch they have earned against the Miami Heat in The Finals — starting Thursday night in San Antonio.

You don’t go on the road for a close-out Game 6 against the MVP (Kevin Durant) and the force of nature (Russell Westbrook), lose your superstar point guard (Tony Parker) at halftime to ankle soreness and be anything but destined for The Finals.

Ultimately it was the ageless wonder that is Tim Duncan (aka The Big Fundamental, aka Old Man Riverwalk, aka Timmay, aka … you get the point) who went right at Serge Ibaka in overtime for the game-clinching baskets.

He had tons of help. Boris Diaw, Kawhi Leonard, Manu Ginobili and others chipped in to send this crew back to The Finals in back-to-back years for the first time in the #SpursWay era.

Heat-Spurs Round II is on … history in the making!

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Let’s do it again San Antonio and Miami … see you Thursday!

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They call it the #SpursWay my friend!

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24 – Second thoughts — May 27


VIDEO: Serge Ibaka was feeling just fine in Game 4 against the San Antonio Spurs

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Time travel is real.

Don’t believe it? Just look at how much damage Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and the Oklahoma City Thunder did to the San Antonio Spurs in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals. They partied like it was … Game 4 of the 2012 Western Conference finals.

What looked to be a whitewash a few days ago is suddenly a series. The Spurs were up 2-0 and in complete control with Ibaka supposedly done for the postseason with that calf strain. Two games later and the momentum has shifted in an entirely different direction with Ibaka, the ultimate rim protector, back in the mix.

Now we have to wait 48 hours to see the next twist and turn in this series. The Thunder reeled off four straight in 2012 to advance to The Finals and face the Miami Heat.

Could we be headed for a repeat performance?

If these two have anything to say about it …

The #WCF are even 2-2 as the @okcthunder defeat the @officialspurs 105-92.

A photo posted by NBA (@nba) on

… you never know!

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#RelentlessRussWest joins Michael Jordan in that elite playoff category … the 40-10-5 club!

https://twitter.com/SportsVentz/status/471494336581234689

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The two true #forcesofnature in these playoffs …

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Small market powers rule NBA final four

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Fans from five NBA cities, four of them medium or small markets, form a flash mob to support their squads

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — New York … who needs you?

Los Angeles … maybe next time.

Chicago and Houston … not since Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon, respectively.

The NBA playoffs thrive no matter which cities are represented. But with this year’s final four, we’re going to have something of a small-market extravaganza come Finals time.

San Antonio is perhaps the most successful small-market team ever.

With San Antonio up 2-0 on the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers tied at 1 heading into this weekend’s Game 3 matchups, the only thing we know for sure is that the 2014 NBA champion will hail from outside of Nielsen’s Top 10 media markets. (The Heat rank highest of the remaining teams at 16th, while Indianapolis comes in at 26th, San Antonio 36th and Oklahoma City 41st.)

The biggest headlines off the court are being generated by the teams ranking at the top of the Nielsen list. Phil Jackson and the Knicks are still looking for a coach in New York, the No. 1 media market. Kobe Bryant and the Lakers are doing the same in Los Angeles (No. 2). And that’s not to mention the Clippers and the Donald Sterling affair, which has engulfed Dallas (No. 5) Mavericks owner Mark Cuban as well.

On the court, however, the small(er) markets continue to dominate the landscape, to the delight of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who touted the game’s “renaissance” in all places, big, small and in between, before Tuesday’s NBA Draft lottery. The three best regular-season records in the league this season belonged to the Spurs (62 wins), Thunder (59) and Pacers (56).

The Heat, winners of 54 games during the regular season, have won the last two Larry O’Brien trophies and are attempting to complete a coveted three-peat. They beat the Spurs in The Finals last season and the Thunder the year before that. The Pacers, who fell to the Heat in seven games in the 2013 East finals, are looking to crash that three-team party this season and plant their own flag in this small-market surge.

If that’s not medium-to-small-market domination, someone needs to tell the rest of us what is. (more…)

Wild series testing mettle of its stars

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Game 6 preview — Thunder look to close out Clippers in wild series

OKLAHOMA CITY — Truth is the regular-season MVP rarely winds up holding the only trophy that matters when all is said and done.

LeBron James’ conversion of consecutive MVPs into back-to-back NBA championships (and two NBA Finals MVPs) is the outlier. Since the turn of the century only two other MVPs have turned the title trick — Tim Duncan  in 2003 and Shaquille O’Neal in 2000. Kobe Bryant in 2008 and Allen Iverson in 2001 are the only other MVPs to even get their teams into the Finals.

Perhaps that’s why when Russell Westbrook stepped to the free throw line with 6.4 seconds left in the pivotal Game 5 Tuesday night with a chance to give Oklahoma City the lead if he could make all three attempts, the 2013-14 MVP Kevin Durant couldn’t watch.

In football, players on the sidelines will look away, cover their eyes or turn around during a last-second field goal. Baseball players in the dugout will bury their faces in their caps.

Durant did all he could think to do. He headed all the way to the other end of the floor and plopped down in the corner of the court, knees raised, his long arms draped across them, his back facing Westbrook. The Thunder point guard sank one, two three free throws, Durant knowing by the roar of the crowd, for a 105-104 lead that would stand and give OKC a 3-2 lead as the series shifts back to Los Angeles for Thursday night’s Game 6 (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Had Westbrook not capped an individually brilliant night of 38 points and six assists with those three free throws, had he not made the steal of the series only 10 seconds earlier, swiping the ball from Clippers point guard Chris Paul, typically as secure as a Brinks truck, the MVP would find himself, just as he did in the first round down 3-2 to Memphis, one loss from elimination and a summer of scrutiny.

Durant unraveled under defensive pressure in OKC’s Game 4 collapse and it carried over into Game 5. He was having the worst shooting performance of his 66-game playoff career, just 3-for-17 with the clock ticking under four minutes to go and the Clippers’ lead back up to 13 at 101-88.

“Yes, that was definitely frustrating,” Durant said. “I was missing some shots I felt good about, but that’s how the game goes from time to time. I just try to stick with it though and come through for my team.”

“I just tell him great players can have a bad shooting night, but have a great three minutes and be the superstar they are,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “And that’s what he had, three big baskets down the stretch and made big plays defensively. I thought he hung in there. There are some times when he may think nothing was going to happen right for him, but he hung in there.”

Durant hit two massive 3-pointers in the final 3:23 and scored eight of his 27 points during the Thunder’s 17-3 finishing kick.

And now it’s Paul’s turn to regroup after a five-turnover, late-game fade or face, for really the first time in his nine-year career, questions why he can’t seal the deal. Paul is almost universally recognized throughout the league as the game’s best point guard (although Stephen Curry beat him out in fan voting as the All-Star starter), yet this is only Paul’s third venture into the second round and he has never advanced to a conference final.

But unlike James before he won his first of two championships with Miami in 2012, or Dwight Howard or Carmelo Anthony or even now Durant and Westbrook, Paul has mostly eluded the scrutiny, his good-natured personality off the floor and point-god status on it steering him clear of postseason criticism.

If the Clippers fail to advance this time with their best, and healthiest, team in Paul’s three seasons, plus led by pedigreed coach Doc Rivers, Paul’s free pass will likely now include an expiration date.

The playoffs are where reputations are cemented and legacies born. This series, wild and unpredictable, has tested the mettle of two emotional teams that finished 1-2 during the regular season in technical fouls.

Westbrook, the Thunder’s highly charged point guard, who arguably absorbs more criticism than any player still in the playoffs, stands at the top of that list and, in the process, is beginning to redefine his reputation away from a reckless, IQ-challenged point guard.

He has elevated his game, blowing away his All-Star worthy regular-season numbers and giving OKC a facilitator when it needs him to be (8.2 per game against the Clippers), a relentless scorer when it needs him to be (29.6 ppg), a defensive force and the best rebounding guard in the postseason, averaging 8.4 a game.

Who figured Westbrook to be shooting 52.6 percent overall and 40.9 percent from beyond the arc in this series while Durant is a far more pedestrian 45.9 percent and 32.3 percent?

In the first two rounds, Westbrook has three triple-doubles in 12 games. No other player has one. He has four 30-point games. He has five games of double-digit rebounds and four games of double-digit assists, plus two more with eight in each.

“One thing I love about Russell, he competes every single night and he plays for his team every single night,” Brooks said. “He doesn’t get involved in all the things that are said about him, and why should he? You can’t win over everybody. As long as you can win over your teammates, that’s the respect that every player wants.”


VIDEO: Thunder rally late to stun Clippers in Game 5

Morning Shootaround — May 6



VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played May 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Game belongs to CP3 | LeBron focused on title, not MVP | Wall and Beal lead young Wizards past Pacers | Spurs look to their bench for boost | Hibbert’s teammates fed up, need more from All-Star big man

No. 1: CP3 answers the bell, silences his critics in opener —  Silence. That’s what Chris Paul did to his critics in Game 1 of the Los Angeles Clippers’ conference semifinal in Oklahoma City Monday night. Folks who questioned whether or not he was ready to play through whatever pain he’s experienced with a sore hamstring and aching thumb found out early, and often, that he was not going to be denied. And a determined Paul, with all that he has been through recently,  is still a force to be reckoned with in these playoffs. Bill Plaschke of the The Los Angeles Times explains:

Chris Paul entered this postseason famous for a ring he doesn’t have, a city he doesn’t own, and a television commercial featuring a twin brother who doesn’t exist.

Maybe that’s why, on a wind-stopping Monday night in Oklahoma City, he spent three hours shouting, “Enough.”

Enough of the talk that he’s too injured and weary to lead the Clippers to NBA greatness, as the smallest starter ducked his head and shouldered them to a stunning 122-105 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder in the opener of their second-round series.

Enough of the idea that his sore hamstring and thumb limit him offensively, as he missed just two of 14 shots and just one of nine three-point attempts, scoring 32 points in the best pure shooting postseason game of his career.

Enough of the talk that he’s too slow defensively, as he led a swarming Clippers defense that deadened the dazzling Thunder offense into 18 turnovers, resulting in 23 points.

Enough, enough, enough of the idea that Donald Sterling has anything to do with this anymore.

Paul’s role as president of the players’ union meant he was especially stressed during the Sterling-stained opening series. He led the players in their jersey protest while wearing black socks and sleeves. Until the final quarter of Game 7 against the Golden State Warriors, he struggled throughout the series with his strength and focus, and even admitted that he was one of several Clippers who fell asleep during Sunday night’s film session here.

A day later, biting through the Thunder and its roaring college-type crowd as if they were his dangling mouthpiece, Paul made it clear that everything was different.

“Maybe with all that stuff that happened, winning that series allowed him to breathe a little bit,” said Clippers Coach Doc Rivers afterward.

Paul showed up in a white sleeve and white socks. He took his first shot midway through the first quarter. It was a three-point attempt. He swished. He missed his next shot moments later. He didn’t miss again until there were barely five minutes left in the third quarter. During that time, he hit jumpers against seven different Thunder defenders, and ended any last Thunder gasp early in the third quarter with a tumbling three-pointer from the corner with Russell Westbrook in his face.

“That’s what I do. That’s what I do. [Pause] That’s a lie,” said Paul with a laugh when asked about his treys. “This one will definitely go down in the history books for me. Don’t count on it for Game 2, I’ll tell you that.”

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Blazers, Stotts plan to stick to Hack-a-Howard strategy

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Dwight Howard talks after the Rockets’ practice on Monday

HOUSTON — This being the NBA playoffs, there were pre-game fireworks, flames roaring up almost to the ceiling and canned music cranked to absurd levels.

But by far the loudest sounds to come out of the Rockets’ 122-120 overtime loss to the Blazers in Game 1 were: Clank! Clank! Clank! Clank!

Yup, Dwight Howard shooting free throws.

His team down by nine points with 4 1/2 minutes left in regulation time, Blazers coach Terry Stotts needed a dramatic shift and there are few things fraught with more raw thrills than the sight of the eight-time All-Star at the foul line in the fourth quarter.

So one of the key subplots to watch as the series continues will be Stotts’ willingness to intentionally hack Howard and he says he won’t be shy.

“If I think it’s in our best interest to do it, we will,” he said. “I had no qualms about using it going into the game, and I feel the same way now.”

Stotts instructed his team to intentionally foul Howard on three consecutive possessions. Howard made the first two free throws to the howling delight of the Toyota Center throng. But then he missed four in a row as Portland went on a 7-0 run that turned around the game and could ultimately turn the series.

Howard was a 54.7 percent foul shooter during the regular season and made 26 of 40 (65 percent) in four games against the Blazers. He managed just 9 of 17 in Game 1.

“That changed (the game) somewhat,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said of the strategy. “We missed some free throws. They came just pushing it down and we didn’t defend…then we were kind of back on our heels. They pushed it up on us.”

More important, the Blazers pushed the Rockets over the edge.

Ten years into his career, free-throw woes remain an old, familiar tale with Howard.

The Spurs’ Gregg Popovich, just named Coach of the Year for the third time, has often said he hates the “Hack-a-________” tactic and would be in favor of eliminating it with a rule change. But even Popovich readily employs it to help his team.

Stotts is not so dismissive and refuses to buy into the notion that fouling Howard (or any other inept foul shooter) somehow taints the game.

“I was thinking about this because I was kinda anticipating the question,” Stotts said. “There were over 1200 NBA games played this season. How many times was it used in over 1200 games? Ten or 20 times in over 1200 games, 48-minute games?

“So to change the rule for something that isn’t used that very much? I think it adds excitement to the game, to be honest. When he made his first two, the crowd erupted. It adds interest. It adds interest whether we’re going to foul him or not. It adds interest whether he’s going to make them or not.”

Howard at the foul line in the fourth quarter is like seeing a member of the Wallenda family on a tightrope, with so much hanging in the balance.

From Wilt Chamberlain to Shaquille O’Neal to Howard to any player who has ever stood there with his knees knocking, arm wobbling and tossing up bricks with a game on the line, it has always been a silly debate.

How is hacking Howard any different than intentionally walking Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera? And in the case of baseball, Cabrera doesn’t even get a chance to swing the bat. All Howard has to do is learn to make his free throws and everybody will leave him alone.

The fact is there are prime time players and those who say they are.

Watch Howard at the end of a Rockets’ practice. He’ll stand there and calmly stroke them in eight, nine, 10 in a row without a flinch.

Now watch him the next time the Blazers, or anybody else, puts him on the spot.

“I think it adds a little drama,” said Stotts with a grin.

The loudest noise in the room: Clank!

Sometimes you can hear a win drop.


VIDEO: Shaquille O’Neal and the Inside the NBA guys discuss the ‘Hack-a-Howard’ strategy

MVP only half the battle for Durant

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Kevin Durant has more than just the MVP trophy on his mind this year

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Kevin Durant really was tired of being No. 2, finishing second, being a groomsman and never the … you get where this is going.

When the Oklahoma City Thunder star declared earlier this season that he was tired of leading a life filled with being second best, dating as far back to his prep days to Draft night and all the way through his first six seasons in the NBA, he meant every word.

Once the ballots come in for the KIA MVP Award, Durant should finally be able to shed that No. 2 label. He’s already achieved as much in our eyes, topping reigning back-to-back and four-time MVP LeBron James and the rest of a star-studded field for the No. 1 spot on the KIA Race to the MVP Ladder.

Durant has already claimed his fourth scoring title in just seven NBA seasons. But has he played his way into that intergalactic category with some of the other universal superstars — James, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade, Tony Parker and Kevin Garnett rank among the active MVP or Finals MVPs still in business today?

Could be. He certainly has all of the credentials necessary for inclusion … well, everything but the official word that he is the most valuable player in the NBA. And even that might not be enough validation for Durant, who holds himself to a championship standard.

NBA TV research ace Kevin Cottrell agrees that Durant has only finished half the battle, provided he walks off with KIA MVP honors. Oh yes, there’s definitely more to be done this season …

Spoiler alert: Kevin Durant will win his first ever Most Valuable Player award.

Durant is average career highs in points (32.0) and assists (5.5) while shooting 50.5% from the field. K.D. winning the award may come as no surprise but the odds of him doing so in route to winning a title may shock you.

Since the inception of the MVP award (1955-56), the hardware has been handed out 57 times. There have been 36 players to win the award however only seven first time MVP winners went on to win a title in the same season.

​Surely Durant can make it eight but it’s been 20 years since we’ve last seen it done. The 1993-94 award went to Houston Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon after which he led them to their first of two NBA titles. According to Elias Sports Bureau, the other six players to join Olajuwon in this feat are no doubt Hall-of-Famers (as seen below) but there are many other legends that didn’t make the cut.

First Time MVPs to win a title in same season
56-57–Bob Cousy (Celtics)
69-70–Willis Reed (Knicks)
70-71–Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (as Lew Alcindor)- Bucks
83-84–Larry Bird (Celtics)
86-87–Magic Johnson (Lakers)
99-00–Shaquille O’Neal (Lakers)
93-94–Hakeem Olajuwon (Rockets)

​Keep in mind 5-time MVP Michael Jordan was occupied with batting cages when Olajuwon won in 1994. As for Durant, former MVPs Tim Duncan and LeBron James still stands in his way.

Consider this, despite the greatness of Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Julius Erving, Jordan, Duncan and James, none of those luminaries were able to win a title the same year they captured their first MVP award.

​There’s so much energy exerted throughout an 82-game season, one can only imagine how tough it would be for a player to win the MVP award for the first time and have enough left for the post season. The edge for Durant may be his 2012 Finals appearance, which resulted in disappointment and ultimately the fuel needed to elevate his game to another level.

​Let me be the first to congratulate Durant and lead the applause on becoming the 37th different player to be named League MVP. It truly is an honor.

So prepare for your twitter mentions to hit a new high.

However, if @KDtrey5 can find a way to become the eighth player to win his first MVP award and a title in the same season, his mentions will far surpass social media.

#All-TimeGreats


VIDEO: Kevin Durant has put up fantasty-like numbers all season for the Thunder

Defy the odds … the Spurs way?

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Spurs just keep on chugging along, 14 straight and counting …

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Trying to identify the specific reasons for the San Antonio Spurs’ sustained excellence for the better part of the past two decades requires vision clear enough to notice that living legend of a big man sitting quietly in whatever corner of the locker room he occupies on a given night.

Yes, Tim Duncan was, is and remains the secret to the Spurs’ success formula. You have to start with superstars in the NBA. Toss in a Hall of Fame coach (Gregg Popovich), a couple more superstar players (in their own right) and a steady cast of young and veteran role players willing to sacrifice for the greater good and it’s not hard to fathom a well-run franchise putting together years and years of quality, championship-caliber production.

No one, not even the Los Angeles Lakers, have been as consistently good (and some folks would insist “great”) as the Spurs have been during the Duncan era. And yet, they have never been to The Finals in back-to-back years. Might this be the year that the Spurs defy those odds?

I say why not? This has been a strange season all around, what with the Eastern Conference depression in the standings and musical chairs being played by contenders by the supposed contenders all year-long. My sparring partner on almost every debatable topic, NBA TV research ace Kevin Cottrell, has his own theory and weighs in on the Spurs and the “Spurs’ Way” …

Since Tim Duncan was introduced to the NBA (1997-98), the San Antonio Spurs have compiled a 959-439 record (68.6%), best in the league over that span. It should come as no surprise that Monday night the Spurs extended the Philadelphia 76ers franchise worst losing record to 25 games. If the defending Western Conference Champs can continue their winning ways, they too will establish a franchise first, reaching the NBA Finals in consecutive seasons.

​At 54-16, the Spurs have eclipsed the 50-win plateau for the 15th consecutive season, but their current 14-game win streak is the longest in the Duncan era. Coincidence? Possibly, but the difference between this season and the previous four following a finals appearance was the painful defeat the Spurs suffered last June. As a result, there seems to be a “3-M” plan put in place: Motivation, Maintenance and Man Power. As shown below, the Spurs are really good following a Finals appearance. But the Game 7 loss may serve as added motivation separating this season from others.

Season Following Finals​Longest Winning Streak
​1999-2000​ — 7
​2003-2004​ — 13
​2005-2006​ — 9
​2007-2008​ ​ — 11
​2013-2014​ — 14 (and counting)

​It’s commonplace to turn on a Spurs game and identify a San Antonio reserve being placed in the starting lineup due to their internal maintenance plan. Many teams implore this practice to monitor the health and recovery of star players battling injuries, the Spurs are simply keeping players fresh for a deep postseason run. Regardless of the opponent or venue, when Popovich decides to rest one of his future Hall-of-Famers, the next man is expected to step in and perform at a high level.


VIDEO: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich talks after his team’s 14th straight win

The youngest of the team’s “Big 3″, Tony Parker, leads the Spurs in minutes per game with a mere 30.3 minutes. Parker’s average is the fewest by any player in the NBA to lead his team in minutes. Last season many believed Manu Ginobili‘s proverbial tank ran low during the Finals, but as the table reads that shouldn’t be an issue this time around.

Spurs Minute-Men (mpg)
Tony Parker ​(30.3)
Tim Duncan ​(29.4)
Kawhi Leonard ​(29.1)
Marco Belinelli ​(25.1)
Boris Diaw ​ (25.1)
Danny Green ​ (24.2)
Manu Ginobili ​ (23.0)

​Another striking difference for this Spurs team is that they are hunters following a Finals appearance as opposed to being the hunted. The league has been controlled by the Miami Heat since LeBron James‘s big decision and with the last two titles comfortably resting in South Florida. In short, the Heatles are still the leagues measuring stick.

Since the All-star break, though, San Antonio has been a team on a mission, boasting a 16-1 record and winning their last 14 games by an average of 15.7 points. Again that’s a sign of motivation because the Spurs are not only defeating the Sixers of the NBA world, but they’ve defeated the Clippers and Heat in the midst of this historic win streak. The credit can’t be placed solely on a maintenance plan and motivation but the added man power supplied by their front office.

The Spurs most notable addition being Marco Belinelli (2014 Three-Point Contest Winner) who’s currently fourth in the league in 3-point percentage (43.8 %). Along with Belinelli, the Spurs second unit is loaded with Jeff Ayres who’s added quality depth in the front court along with Patty Mills that has scored in bunches throughout the year in Parker’s absence. Even NBA journeyman Austin Daye has shown flashes leading the team with 22 point (6-for-10 from deep) against the 76ers Monday night.

​The Spurs are on pace to surpass their win total (58) from last season. Yet, they won’t garner the national attention due to their 15 consecutive 50-win seasons. Some complain about their style of play, others claim they’re getting old but in the end they find a way to win games. Go ahead, call it boring, black and white or even the “Spurs way” but after coming up short in Miami during last year’s Finals, San Antonio seems motivated to be called NBA Champions for a fifth time.

All that said, I maintain the one other underlying factor working in the Spurs’ favor for back-to-back trips to The Finals is that they weren’t expected to get their last season. Before Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook went down with that knee injury against the Houston Rockets, that was the crew picked by most pundits to win the West.

The Spurs making the 2013 Finals was a surprise, to most folks, and the Spurs don’t do surprises.

There is no guarantee they make it this time around. There are no guarantees for the Spurs, Heat, Thunder, Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Clippers or anyone else deemed a contender at this stage of the season. But of all of the teams of that ilk, the Spurs are the only ones heading into the playoffs that actually look the part of a true champion on a nightly basis.

That alone leads me to believe that they just might have a chance to defy the odds … doing it the Spurs Way!


VIDEO: Tim Duncan waxes on the Spurs and their streak

Throwing down wouldn’t be manning up despite pounding on Clippers’ Griffin

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Starters talk about the physical play on and from Blake Griffin

Blake Griffin doesn’t need my advice. Fact is, the way he has played this season for the Clippers, both with and without Chris Paul, he doesn’t need much more than the essential advice his new coach, Doc Rivers, gave him when he encouraged Griffin to rotate 180 degrees and face the basket, rather than backing down into the low post. That transformation has been responsible for the Clippers’ rise as a contender and vaulted Griffin into MVP discussions (for the Nos. 3-5 ballot slots, anyway).

But there has been an incessant chorus over the past two months – and this is my nomination for the NBA’s 2013-14 Damn Foolishness Award – that Griffin needs to go medieval on some of his opponents’ rear ends.

Pray that it does not happen.

Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and ESPN columnist Michael Wilbon all have encouraged Griffin to varying degrees to man up, square off and throw down the next time he gets a cheap-shot or abused physically in a game. That’s right, they’re advocating fisticuffs. Going hockey goon on his own behalf allegedly is the only way Griffin can put a stop to the occasional takedowns and extracurricular skirmishes that somehow, despite his monster season, are said to be retarding his growth.

Malone, who cut a chiseled figure not unlike Griffin during his 19-year Hall of Fame career primarily for the Utah Jazz, shifted that conversation into high gear last month while sitting in on an ESPN game broadcast. Said Malone: “First thing I’d do [is say], ‘Blake, the next time one guy cheap shots you, just lose your mind. I would pay your fine. Lose your mind, run roughshod.”

Sounds like a new-millennium version of Sheriff Andy Taylor giving Opie the bully talk, right? Don’t let him take your milk money, son, give him the ol’ knuckle sandwich. Except that those knuckles hang bare at the ends of long, rippling arms, on a guy who stands 6-foot-10 and 250 pounds.

Black eyes are one thing. Major reconstructive surgery and maybe even manslaughter are quite different.

There’s a romanticizing that goes on when former NBA players look back on their days in the trenches, on the abuse they dealt and endured and on the reputations some of them crafted as enforcers. Maurice Lucas often gets regarded as the league’s unofficial undisputed champion of mean, owing both to some legit skirmishes (Artis Gilmore, Darryl Dawkins) and Luke’s withering glare.

But anyone who remembers or has seen the footage of Kermit Washington‘s fist driving violently into Rudy Tomjanovich’s face in December 1977 still can feel in his or her gut the sickening aftershocks of The Punch. The Malice at The Palace melee in November 2004 between the Pacers and the Pistons remains a sore point and image problem for the league, a decade later.

And that wacky videotape of Barkley and O’Neal going WWE on each other under the basket – a staple of the “Inside the NBA” studio banter – would be rated NC-17 and aired far less often if Shaq’s big ol’ paw actually had smashed flush into the Chuckster’s mug.

Chuck might look a little more like Cher right now, too.

No ring, no gloves? No skates, no helmets? Then no way. Goading Griffin into mayhem – Wilbon likened it on his “PTI” show to a pitcher whizzing a fastball high and tight near someone’s ear hole – is reckless because the romanticism of how those moments have gone for some old-schoolers neglects the physics of how badly the next bout might actually go.

Griffin – who addressed his wise reluctance to muscle up on those who initiate the cheap stuff, in a post by our Jeff Caplan coming out of All-Star weekend – could wind up seriously hurting someone or getting hurt himself. Malone says he’ll pay his fine, but would The Mailman be willing to serve Griffin’s time (and pay his salary) if he got hit with a 5- or 10-game suspension? How ’bout if things got really ugly and the Clippers star wound up in jail?

Or worse still (gulp) ended an opponent’s career? Flailing some elbows or sneaking in rabbit punches (a Malone favorite) aren’t likely to achieve the desired effect of sending a league-wide message to “Back the bleep off Blake!” Yet balling up and throwing fists the size of canned hams could escalate it into something ugly and irreversible. No, Griffin’s best tactic is the one he’s been deploying: Bang away within the rules, bristle at any undue rough treatment so the referees are on notice, then laugh all the way to the free-throw line.

Griffin is not soft. He has nothing to prove in that area. And he, the Clippers and the NBA have plenty to lose if he heeds irresponsible advice.

Damn Foolishness, I tell ya. You got a nominee for this NBA season? Have at it in the comments below.