Posts Tagged ‘Shaun Powell’

Blogtable: Favorite memory of 2014-15?

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


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



VIDEOThe Starters reveal their top 10 plays from 2014-15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blogtable: Spurs or Warriors out West?

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


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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Blogtable: Ready for an East upset?

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


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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blogtable: 2015’s biggest surprise and disappointment?

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: Surprise and disappointment? | Under-the-radar free agents? | Your All-Defensive team



VIDEOThese guys might have been the League Pass team of 2014-15

> With one week left, what has been the biggest surprise of this NBA season? And biggest disappointment?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: No way, no how did I expect the Atlanta Hawks’ leap in the standings off of last season’s 38-44. Two of Atlanta’s big offseason moves were trading away Lou Williams and drafting Adreian Payne in the first round, so the help didn’t come from the outside. That’s development, building, bonding. My biggest disappointment: the rubble of Oklahoma City’s 2015 championship aspirations. It’s a bummer for the Thunder, the nasty West bracket is a little less head-spinning and it’s always tricky business propping open a window of contention to accommodate injuries. So often, either the time is right or it’s not, and OKC’s might be passing.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Everybody’s been waiting for the injuries to catch up with the Rockets all season, but James Harden’s MVP-level play hasn’t let them fall and could even produce the No. 2 seed in the West. We knew he was good. His play has been shockingly good. The biggest disappointment has been the long list of injured stars that have unfortunately made for more headlines off the court than on: Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Paul George, Russell Westbrook, Dwight Howard, DeMar DeRozan, Jabari Parker, just to name a few. But for sheer, jaw-dropping, oh-my-God-how-did-that-happen, awfulness, I can’t neglect to mention that huge hole in the ground at 7th Ave, between 31st and 33rd Sts. in Manhattan. Nobody expect that big of a crater from the New York Knicks.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The biggest surprise is easy: John Stockton, fresh off releasing a book, starring in insurance commercials, in costume and everything. Who is this guy? The Knicks will come back to make the playoffs on the last night of the regular season, then win the championship, and it still won’t top Stockton, who worked hard to avoid the spotlight as a player, as the king of all media. (If you’re going to insist on a surprise on the court, it’s anyone blowing away the field in the Western Conference standings. This was supposed to be a tight race, right? The Warriors have turned it into a non-race.) Biggest disappointment: Injuries. They happen every year, only this time fate ganged up on the Thunder, costing OKC the chance for a long playoff run, and on the rookies, costing everyone the chance to see three of the best newcomers for more than a portion of the season.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The Celtics might make the playoffs despite dumping their top two players (Jeff Green, Rajon Rondo) and watching another miss games because of injuries (Jared Sullinger). Yes, the East is so bad that somebody with a losing record was destined to make the playoffs, but still this rates as a surprise to a degree. Disappointing? Lance Stephenson bombing almost immediately in Charlotte and never recovering. I figured if nothing else, he’d be a pain off the court, not on it.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The biggest surprise is the dominance of the Hawks and Warriors in their respective conferences. I had Atlanta eighth among East teams in my preseason Power Rankings and only two GMs picked them to win the Southeast Division. They were, by far, the East’s best team until it was time to ease off the gas pedal, beating a lot of Western Conference contenders along the way. The Warriors were projected higher than the Hawks, but I don’t think anybody saw them registering the best point differential since Steve Kerr was playing for the Bulls. The biggest disappointment is Oklahoma City suffering through a wasted season with Kevin Durant’s ongoing foot issue. The Thunder are a title contender when healthy and while they’re still in the mix for a playoff spot, their season really never got off the ground.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The biggest and most pleasant surprise has been the Atlanta Hawks and their improbable rise from an offseason filled with uncertainty. I don’t think anyone but the most die-hard of Atlanta fans would admit to believing the Hawks would put together the sort of season they have. How they finish the story in the playoffs remains to be seen. But there is no doubt the Hawks achieved the unthinkable finishing atop the Eastern Conference regular season standings. The biggest disappointment, and I don’t think we need to belabor the point, has been the bi-coastal dumpster fires that have consumed the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks this season. I knew they’d struggle mightily. But the Lakers and Knicks have been brutal this season. Just brutal.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Hawks have been the most inspiring team: They may be benefiting from the Spurs’ system, but they’ve been running it without Hall of Fame talent, and if their devotion to teamwork could produce a championship then it would be a huge breakthrough for the NBA. The biggest disappointment has been the physical breakdown of so many players: The Rockets, Clippers, Spurs, Cavaliers, Blazers, Bulls, Thunder, Pelicans, Raptors, Wizards, Bucks, Jazz, Pacers, Heat, Hornets, Pistons, Kings, Lakers, 76ers, Timberwolves and Knicks have all been diminished by meaningful injuries this season.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: You’re baiting me, right? How can I not go with the Atlanta Hawks, the team that was pegged by many to be a playoff team, but nobody, not in their wildest dreams, expected the Hawks to have the season they’re having. As for biggest disappointment, it’s hard to overlook the team right up I-85 from the Hawks, the Charlotte Hornets. I know they’ve had injuries throughout the season, but adding Lance Stephenson seems to have just made that whole situation into a mess.

Blogtable: Your All-Defensive Team …

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: Surprise and disappointment? | Under-the-radar free agents? | Your All-Defensive team



VIDEOAndrew Bogut denies Wesley Johnson’s dunk attempt

> Last week it was the All-Rookie first team. This week, we want to hear your All-Defensive first team.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com:
F Rudy Gobert, Utah

F Andrew Bogut, Golden State
W Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio
W Draymond Green, Golden State
W Tony Allen, Memphis

Just so we’re clear, my terminology for this squad is F for “frontcourt” (good enough for All-Star balloting) and W for “wing.” I’m not getting pinned down by the five traditional position designations when I could have guys who can ball-hawk and rim-protect like these five. I’m not sure what sort of offensive numbers my group could put up but I’ll take my chances on yours scoring fewer.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com:
C Andrew Bogut: 
For all the pretty offensive plays the Warriors make, his defense in the middle is driving championship hopes.
F Tim Duncan: 
Only the players he defends and ties into knots every night want Old Man Riverwalk to retire.
F Kawhi Leonard: Pound for pound, inch for inch, simply the league’s defensive knockout champ.
G Draymond Green: He can cover all five positions like Spandex on Beyonce, so I’m sliding him into the backcourt.
G Tony Allen: Still the the one who puts the grind in the Grind House.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com:
C DeAndre Jordan

F Draymond Green 
F Kawhi Leonard
G Tony Allen
G John Wall

Center is so tough, with Andrew Bogut especially and also Tim Duncan, Rudy Gobert, Andre Drummond, Anthony Davis and Marc Gasol all deserving votes. And probably others I am forgetting. The depth is that good.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com:
C DeAndre Jordan
F Anthony Davis
F Draymond Green
G Tony Allen
G Kawhi Leonard

All of the selections are very good but there wasn’t that solid, no-brainer lockdown guy this season. I also liked Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Nerlens Noel. The most improved defender? James Harden. But he only had one direction to go.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com:
C Rudy Gobert
F Draymond Green
F Kawhi Leonard
G John Wall
G Tony Allen

Allen and the two forwards were easy picks, though it’s tough to leave Tim Duncan and Andre Iguodala off the list. I gave Wall the edge over Chris Paul, because the Wizards are a top-5 defense and they’ve been much better with Wall on the floor. And I gave Gobert the edge over Andrew Bogut because he’s played 500 more minutes.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com:
C Andrew Bogut
F Kawhi Leonard
F Anthony Davis
G John Wall
G Tony Allen

As far as postseason awards go, the first five on the All-Defensive team might be the easiest group to identify. Wall and Allen are no-brainer picks in the backcourt. Leonard and Davis have the forward spots locked down. And Bogut gets the nod at center as the league’s most dominant rim-protector and post defender.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com:
C DeAndre Jordan

F Draymond Green
F Kawhi Leonard
G Tony Allen
G Chris Paul

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog:
C DeAndre Jordan

F Draymond Green
F Anthony Davis
G Chris Paul
G Kawhi Leonard

I’m cheating and putting Kawhi at guard but I really feel like he’s one of the best defenders in the NBA and deserves a spot. This is a big-guy heavy team I’ve assembled, but just try and score on them.

amex1
For more debates, go to #AmexNBA or www.nba.com/homecourtadvantage.

Blogtable: Best under-the-radar free agents this summer?

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: Surprise and disappointment? | Under-the-radar free agents? | Your All-Defensive team



VIDEOKhris Middleton’s play has grown by leaps and bounds this season

> There are some big-name free agents on the market this summer (LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol and DeAndre Jordan to name a few). But give me a few under-the-radar free agents — some not-so-big names — who could make a big splash on a new team?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Greg Monroe is a pretty big name, but he wasn’t mentioned in the question so I’m going with him here. The Pistons’ big man has limped down the stretch (sore knee), but he gambled on himself in seeking unrestricted status and it will pay off big for whoever signs him. He’s an 18-12 guy. Indiana backup point guard Donald Sloan is ready for a bigger role, not a smaller one, after being pressed into service through George Hill‘s absences. And if Washington doesn’t bring back forward Kevin Seraphin, he can bring his energy, wrecking-ball physical play and ability to create some offense to a happy suitor.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comAssuming that Draymond Green is no longer underrated, so I’ll lead with Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton. He’s restricted and the Bucks won’t let him go. DeMarre Carroll was the only member of the Hawks starters not voted to the East All-Star team, but gets it done as a 3-and-D guy and would fit in anywhere. The Blazers will want to keep Robin Lopez around for his presence in the middle and offensive rebounding, but the 7-footer will get plenty attention from around the league.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I’ll give you two shooting guards if you want under-the-radar: Wesley Matthews and Danny Green. I don’t think either are relocating. But if they do, or you want splash on the current/future team, there’s your cannonball. Shooters with range, willing to accept a complementary role without chirping about the lack of opportunities — a lot of teams would love the chance to sign Matthews or Green away.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comI’ll assume Draymond Green is a big name and leave him out of the conversation. Not sure how many restricted free agents will switch teams and potentially leave money on the table in what would be their first big contract. But two come to mind: Khris Middleton and Tobias Harris. Both are young and improving, and had the Bucks refused to trade Harris to Orlando so it could rent J.J. Redick for two months, Milwaukee would be sitting pretty. As for unrestricteds, Lou Williams and Rodney Stuckey could be good value.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Wesley Matthews isn’t too far under the radar, but isn’t a big name either. He’s more than a 3-and-D guy, because you can post him up. Mirza Teletovic gives you great shooting at the four, DeMarre Carroll has proven to be a valuable fifth wheel in Atlanta, and nobody runs the floor as hard and as consistently as Corey Brewer.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: DeMarre Carroll does not get the shine he deserves as the fifth member of the ensemble cast in Atlanta. But he’s turned heads all season with his play and should cash in this summer. He’d fit anywhere with his versatility and ability to guard multiple positions at an elite level. Same goes for Wes Matthews from Portland, Danny Green in San Antonio and Rodney Stuckey in Indiana.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Brandan Wright gave Dallas an efficient 20 minutes off the bench before being traded to Boston. Lou Williams’ scoring, Rodney Stuckey’s toughness and Brandon Bass’ mid-range shooting could help any contender — and all three are capable of filling out starting lineups if necessary.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogLiving in New York City, I hear a lot of talk about which free agents the Knicks could sign, who they could make a splash with, etc. And while sure, there are some big names out there such as the ones you listed, I also think there are some comparative bargains out there. Instead of spending $20-million a year on one guy, why not spread that around between a few players? I mean guys like Tobias Harris, Jimmy Butler, Khris Middleton, Aaron Afflalo or Brandan Wright. Or maybe you make a run at Wesley Matthews as he returns from his Achilles injury. Either way, for smart teams, there are some interesting options available this summer.

Morning shootaround — April 5


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 4

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Streaking Celtics adopt ‘win now’ approach  | Grizzlies in fight for playoff positioning | Blazers must shore up their D | Dirk gives Shaun Livingston a pass for low blow

No. 1: Celtics make convincing playoff push — They very easily could justify missing the playoffs this season and then cashing in on their growing cache of draft picks, but the rebuilding Celtics have evidently decided to go for it. When Marcus Smart dropped a buzzer-beater Saturday night against the Raptors, it only confirmed as much. Boston entered Sunday with the No. 8 spot in the East, a half-game lead over the Heat, and to hear the players and brass, the playoffs are where this young team belongs. It’s a rather refreshing tone considering how much tanking has dominated the conversation in the NBA this season. Zach Lowe of Grantland did a study on the Celtics during this playoff push and here’s some of what he found out:

“The playoff-chasing Celtics of 2015 are a cute feel-good story — and little more. The rebuild is moving faster than expected, with a surprise run at the no. 8 seed in a dreadful conference, but there is a giant chasm separating this plucky, starless group from what it aspires to be.

“The important thing to remember about us,” coach Brad Stevens said in a sit-down with Grantland last week, “is that we have a long, long way to go.”

It says everything about the difficulty of rebuilding that Boston has absolutely nailed Phase 1 and yet has no clear path to 50 wins. Multiple rival executives described Boston’s trading spree of the last two years as “a masterpiece” in rebuilding. Contract timetables, injuries, and other variables made it impossible for Boston to deal its aging stars at peak sell-high times, and yet Danny Ainge still nabbed great value for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Rajon Rondo. The Celtics have as many as six extra first-round picks1 coming and oodles of cap space, they’ve drafted solid players across the first round, and they just acquired a dynamic young point guard — Isaiah Thomas — on the cheap.

But they have no stars and no clear path to getting one outside a major break in free agency or the trade market. The Celtics have made the leap to mediocrity so fast that they may have no easy way out. They’re still not good, but they’re not bad enough to get an early first-round pick — to get a clear shot at a star, in other words. Even if they lose this season’s slap fight for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot, they will likely pick in the late lottery — a range that looks like their draft ceiling for the next few seasons. “That’s a concern for all 30 teams,” Ainge says of being stuck on the treadmill of mediocrity. “It’s the nature of our league. You definitely need good fortune.”

The Celtics discussed holding off on the Thomas deal to deflate their win total, but decided after some debate that they could lose out — or pay a higher price — if they waited until the summer. “Ideally, he might have been someone you pick up in the summer,” Ainge says. “But someone else might trade for him. You might be in a bidding war. You have to move while the iron is hot.”

***

No. 2: Grizzlies in fight for playoff positioning — The most intriguing April drama in the West is about playoff positioning near the top. The Rockets now hold a half-game lead over the Grizzlies for the No. 2 spot, and why is that so important? Well, the No. 2 team will most likely get the Mavericks and avoid the suddenly-smoking Spurs in the first round. Memphis had successfully fended off all threats for the No. 2 spot until now. And while the race is hardly over, the contest between Memphis and Houston will only intensify, especially with Dwight Howard back in the mix for the Rockets (though on a minutes restriction). Here’s Michael Wallace of ESPN on the Grizzlies, who lost a tough game to the Wizards on Saturday:

“I don’t think it’s the toughest division in our league; it’s the toughest division in all major leagues,” Memphis coach Dave Joerger said. “Year in and year out, it’s ridiculous. So for our guys to get rewarded for their hard work, it would be positive.

“It’s what’s important to you. You hear about San Antonio, right? They don’t care about a division title. They don’t care about seeding. Well, we’re not them.”

While it’s all about the end game for the Spurs, who are going for their second straight championship and sixth in the past 16 years, the Grizzlies are still focused on the intermediate steps toward success. Winning an NBA championship remains the top goal for Memphis, but hanging the franchise’s first division banner in the rafters of the 10-year-old FedEx Forum along the way is a major priority.

The last time every team from an NBA division made the playoffs was in the 2005-06 season, when the Pistons, Pacers, Cavaliers, Bulls and Bucks advanced. That’s never happened in the NFL or Major League Baseball, although it’s occurred in two different divisions in the NHL over the past five seasons.

***

No. 3: Blazers must shore up their D or else — If you’re a Blazers fan you, must be thrilled with the way the team has hung in there in the rugged West despite missing Wesley Matthews and an inconsistent season from Damian Lillard and with LaMarcus Aldridge playing through a thumb that’ll require surgery in the offseason. Portland once again is in position to do damage in the playoffs (ask the Rockets, who are still stinging from Lillard’s series winner last spring), but not if they don’t clean up their biggest issue first: defense. Oregonian writer John Canzano, still stung by the Blazers surrendering 126 to the Clippers last week, discusses:

But on the other hand, Chris Kaman was willing to address the biggest issue that coach Terry Stotts whiffed on — atrocious team defense by the Blazers. The biggest problem for Portland if any of this should come to a Clippers-Blazers playoff series.

Decide for yourself which guy had the worse post-game peformance. I’m not up in the air. Kaman settled it when he said, “We scored 122 points. That’s not stopping anybody. And we didn’t stop them either, they had more points (126) than we did. We got hurt on transition and on threes.” He was only saying what everyone could obviously see at Moda Center.

I like Stotts. I championed his hiring. I banged the drum for his contract extension even before the end of last season. I like where he’s headed with this rig, but if he’s unable to get real about the deficiencies of this team and remains in denial, I’m concerned about the short-term prognosis for a team that has fought to this point.

***

No. 4: Dirk gives Shaun Livingston a pass for low blowDirk Nowitzki is usually a cool customer except when threatened with severe physical pain, as anyone else would (see Chris Kaman last week regarding Chris Paul). So at first, he was taken aback when he was whacked in the private area by Shaun Livingston. But when these things happen, you must take into account the history of the offending party. Livingston doesn’t exactly conjure up memories of flagrant assaults. And so, while Mark Cuban wasn’t in a forgiving mood Saturday, Dirk gave Livingston a pass. Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News has some golden quotes from Dirk:

Livingston, trying to defend Nowitzki in the post, was using his right hand to hand-check Nowitzki in the back. Somehow, his hand got in between Nowitzki’s legs and clearly caught Nowitzki in the groin area.

For the rest of the game, the AAC crowd booed Livingston every time he touched the ball and in the fourth quarter, Livingston and coach Rick Carlisle exchanged words briefly after a foul was called on J.J. Barea against Livingston.

Things escalated after the game when owner Mark Cuban talked to Golden State coach Steve Kerr and Livingston, then assistant coach Alvin Gentry, as they left the court.

Nowitzki had this to say about the play, which was reviewed and ended up with Livingston called for a flagrant foul, penalty one.

“Well, I give him the benefit of the doubt because he’s really not that type of player,” Nowitzki said. “He hasn’t been his entire career. I’m not really sure what he was trying to do there, if he was trying to get to the ball through my legs or anything. But like I said, he’s not a dirty player.

“But I really enjoyed his tight grip he got. I really enjoyed that.”

Nowitzki was laughing as he said that last line.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Paul Millsap’s shoulder injury should be defined a bit better today. The Hawks forward suffered the injury Saturday against the Nets and did not return in that game. … Boston’s Evan Turner has joined exclusive company: One of only 5 Celtics with 3 or more triple doubles in a season … All systems go for Paul George in his return tonight.

Blogtable: Your All-Rookie first team …

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: Kerr’s smartest move? | Future for Rondo and Ellis? | Your All-Rookie team



VIDEOWho has the inside track for Rookie of the Year?

> After a slow start (plagued by injuries) this year’s rookie class has shown some real promise late in the season. Name your 2014-15 All-Rookie first team.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com:
C Nerlens Noel
F Nikola Mirotic
F Andrew Wiggins
G Elfrid Payton
G Jordan Clarkson

However, Wiggins, Mirotic, Payton, Noel, Clarkson is pretty much the order of how I’d vote for Rookie of the Year at this point. Wiggins hasn’t been playing for high stakes in Minnesota but he has done well all season and come out of his shell while being forced-fed minutes for a shaky Timberwolves squad. If the soft-spoken Mirotic were as cocky as he is quietly confident, he’d be unbearable, but he has let his game do some serious talking for the past month. Payton is fun to watch, an increasing dynamic player and so vital to Orlando’s rise. I put Noel after Payton mostly because the former had the “redshirt” year to acclimate to the league in all the off-court ways. As for Clarkson, he has seized an opportunity with a team that rarely has them available for young guys like him.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com:
C Nerlens Noel: Worth the wait for Philly.
F Andrew Wiggins: Living up to the hype.
F Nikola Mirotic: Becoming a closer for the Bulls.
G Elfrid Payton: Big hair, bigger game.
G Zach LaVine: Much more than a dunker.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com:
C Nerlens Noel

F Andrew Wiggins
F Nikola Mirotic
G Elfrid Payton
G Jordan Clarkson

Clarkson over Jusuf Nurkic is a tough call for the final spot and could change if you ask again when the season is over. (It could change either way — maybe Nurkic moves back ahead if he recovers from the slump or maybe Clarkson makes it an easy call if he keeps playing this way.) It just happens to work out that the group is almost an actual lineup when the rules say pick the five best regardless of position. The only semi-conflict is Payton and Clarkson both primarily point guards.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com:
C Nerlens Noel
F Andrew Wiggins
F Nikola Mirotic
G Elfrid Payton
G Jordan Clarkson.

I realize Clarkson is mostly a spring sensation but he’s been too impressive to ignore, so I put him ahead of Jusuf Nurkic. Wiggins will win ROY but if the season lasted another month he’d get some serious competition from Noel.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com:
C Nerlens Noel
F Nikola Mirotic
F Andrew Wiggins
G Elfrid Payton
G Bojan Bogdanovic

My top five rookies, in order, though is Mirotic, Noel, Wiggins, Payton and Bogdanovic. The top four guys, in whatever order you want to put them, are pretty simple choices. I picked Bogdanovic (who ranks as one of the league’s most improved shooters since the All-Star break) over Jordan Clarkson because he’s played more minutes for a better team. Mirotic would be my Rookie of the Year, because he’s been an efficient and important player on one of the 10 best teams in the league.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com:
C Nerlens Noel
F Andrew Wiggins
F Nikola Mirotic
G Elfrid Payton
G Zach Lavine

The first five of this year’s rookie class certainly took its time taking shape. But better late than never, and yes, I’m talking to you Nerlens Noel. The Philly big man joins Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine from Minnesota, the neck-bearded wonder Nikola Mirotic from Chicago and Mr. Hairdo himself, Orlando’s Elfrid Payton in my rookie fab five. Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker was an early fave but saw his season cut down by injury, a blow that doused water on the fire of this class from the start, along with the known injury to Philly’s other rookie big man Joel Embiid.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com:
C Nerlens Noel

F Nikola Mirotic
F Andrew Wiggins
G Jordan Clarkson
G Elfrid Payton

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog:
C Nerlens Noel
F Andrew Wiggins
F Nikola Mirotic
G Marcus Smart
G Elfrid Payton

To me, Wiggins is the Kia Rookie of the Year, for the way he’s played all season long and the improvement he’s shown and continues to show. Noel is right there as well, but he hasn’t had as much of an offensive impact as Wiggins. Mirotic and his beard have been terrific, pump-faking their way onto my team. So I guess that’s my front court, and in the backcourt I’ll pair Payton and Smart, who would actually be a pretty dynamic duo.


For more debates, go to #AmexNBA or www.nba.com/homecourtadvantage.

Blogtable: Kerr’s smartest move yet?

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: Kerr’s smartest move? | Future for Rondo and Ellis? | Your All-Rookie team



VIDEOSteve Kerr coaches up the Warriors at Staples Center

> The Warriors have set a franchise record with 61 victories this season. The Knicks have set a franchise record with 60 losses. How smart does Steve Kerr look now, choosing the Warriors over the Knicks? And would he have made much of a difference in New York?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI just so happened to mention that dichotomy to Mr. Kerr at the end of the evening Saturday in Milwaukee, noting the symmetry and the gulch between the two teams. The camera lights had been turned off and he shook his head and muttered, “Brutal.” Anyway, to answer the first question, as smart as Kerr is, he didn’t have to be a Mensa member to ascertain which of those positions packed more potential. The Warriors’ and Knicks’ contrasting trajectories were well-established. So, how much impact did he have on this season’s results? If you credit him outright for 10 of Golden State’s victories — or assume he could have staved off 10 New York defeats with his wiles — that’s still a 50 victories vs. 50 defeats difference. And that still would be “brutal.”

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I don’t think Steve Kerr deserves the Nobel Prize in chemistry for being able to tell the difference a vintage bottle of wine and a barrel of toxic waste. The only way he could have made a significant difference with the hand dealt by the Zen Master would have been to bring reach through a wormhole in time to bring some of his former teammates named Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Tim Duncan.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Does Steve Kerr look smart? Hmmmm. Let me take zero seconds to think it over. Of course he does. Einstein smart. It’s the genius decision of the season, and maybe several seasons. And not just because of how things turned out this season, complete with Kerr coaching the Western Conference All-Stars … in Madison Square Garden. It’s that the Warriors have a huge window of opportunity ahead. Unless Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes decide to retire around this time next year, Golden State will be better than the Knicks the next two full seasons as well. At least two seasons.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I can’t call Kerr a genius for choosing Steph Curry and Klay Thompson over Carmelo Anthony. Had he done otherwise, he would’ve needed his eyes checked. Anyway, Kerr wouldn’t have made a difference in New York — who could with that crew? — and I’m not yet convinced he’s made a difference in Golden State; only the playoffs will tell us if he’s indeed a better fit than Mark Jackson.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: That first question was rhetorical, right? He wouldn’t have made much of a difference in New York, unless Phil Jackson gave him more freedom with the offense than he gave Derek Fisher. The Knicks’ steep learning curve with the triangle offense was a big reason why they got off to a terrible start and eventually (and rightfully) decided to take another step backward. Things would have been better with a more standard (and easier to learn) NBA offense that still promoted the ball movement that Jackson was looking for. Defense is another story, though. While Kerr was handed a top-three defense at Golden State, the Knicks were a bottom-10 defense that got worse with the departure of Tyson Chandler. It’s doubtful that anything could have been done on that end of the floor.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: You didn’t have to be smarter than a 5th grader to figure out that the Warriors’ gig was a much better job opportunity than that … um, challenge in New York. So Kerr choosing the Warriors was a no-brainer really. And unless he has magical powers none of us know about, including the ability to transform role players and journeymen into All Stars, there is nothing else to see here folks. Nothing!

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Kerr would have made no difference. Even with a few more wins, the Knicks would’ve still looked hopeless based entirely on the dearth of their talent in combination with Carmelo Anthony’s injury. Looking ahead, the killer for New York is that so many franchises will have cap space when the new TV money floods the market in 2016 — it’s going to influence the market for the next two summers, making it harder than ever for the Knicks to compete for free agents.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI just emailed Steve and asked if he has any advice for playing the lotto. Because not only did he end up turning down the Knicks, he got a better contract from the Warriors. And sure, it wasn’t a complete surprise this happened — after all, the Warriors were a playoff team last season, while Phil Jackson started stripping down the Knicks and selling them off for parts even before the start of the season. And I don’t know exactly what kind of winter they had in the Bay, but I’m guessing it wasn’t as historically brutal as they one we just endured here in New York City. So if anyone ever has to feel like they made the right choice, Kerr is that man. Now can I get those Powerball digits, Steve?

 

Blogtable: Future for Rondo and Ellis?

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: Kerr’s smartest move? | Future for Rondo and Ellis? | Your All-Rookie team



VIDEORajon Rondo throws a fancy assist to Monta Ellis

> Your nameplate says “Donn Nelson, General Manager Dallas Mavericks.” So tell me Mr. Nelson, will Monta Ellis and Rajon Rondo be in your backcourt again next season?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I don’t like it. Too mercurial. Too imbalanced. Not big enough for the defensive end, despite Rondo’s Boston reputation. An awful lot of money for too players whose consistency (Ellis), durability (Rondo) and temperaments (both) make your team vulnerable to way too many slumps and, considering they’re both veterans, far too much drama.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comConsidering that all we’ve gotten from this combination this season is a battle for a low seed in the West, it doesn’t seem reasonable to give both players big, big raises to do it all again. Considering that desperate teams such as the Lakers and Knicks might be reaching out to a free-agent in Rondo, it’s more likely that we let him go and concentrate on re-signing Ellis.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Rondo will, Ellis won’t. Ellis has had some good moments in Dallas, but I’m not going to reach too deep into the wallet to keep him. Rondo is another matter. Re-signing him was part of the plan when we traded for him. Of course there have been emotional conflicts. It’s Rondo. Big surprise. But tell me where I will find a better point guard. He may not be the Rondo of old, but he can still be a positive.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Unless there are better options, the answer is yes. I’m not thrilled with either player but it’s easy to say “dump them” without having capable replacements. Of the two, I’m not real sold on Rondo. His best years were clearly in Boston when Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were in their prime. His shooting is atrocious, especially for a point guard, and as a free agent this summer there’s no way I’d lock him up long term or even give him big short-term money. The Mavs have the upper hand with Rondo. Point guards are just too plentiful.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comI’ll certainly be more open to re-signing Ellis (if he declines his player option) than Rondo. Rondo killed my league-best offense when he arrived, clashed with my top-five coach, and was overrated in the first place. So I’ll let the Lakers or Knicks give him a new contract, attempt to work him into an above-average offense (something he hasn’t been a part of in five years), and hope he’ll care about defense on a team that was awful defensively this season. And I’m pretty confident that the Lakers or Knicks will make that mistake. My starting lineup has been much better with either Jameer Nelson or Devin Harris opposite Ellis than with Rondo.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: They will not be back together again next season. The fact is, we’re talking about two guys who both need the ball in their hands to be effective. And it’s not that they are not capable of sharing, it’s that they know they won’t have to with free agency looming. Rondo will have options elsewhere, namely alongside Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles, and won’t have to toil in a system that feels restrictive to a free-thinker of his ilk. Monta has shown he can flourish here and should prove to be the better fit long-term.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comIf that’s my name, then I have the authority to ignore your question! I’m going to wait because Ellis and Rondo are big-game players. The Mavs traded for Rondo in particular because of his postseason track record. If Rondo elevates his game in the playoffs, then this discussion changes.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogWell, can you put together a better backcourt? Both of these guys will/could become free agents this summer, and I’m not sure if a Rondo/Ellis backcourt is worth two near-max contracts. And to be honest, looking at their record and performance since adding Rondo, the Rondo/Ellis backcourt hasn’t exactly set the Western Conference on fire. If anything, the Mavs have shown they aren’t afraid to make bold moves. This may be the summer to do exactly that.