HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Steve Kerr understands the importance of every shot, every possession and every games this time of year. You don’t win five championships in your 15-year career and not comprehend the significance of each and every step you take in the middle of May.
That’s why the sweet-shooting TNT analyst was a must-get for Episode 117 of the Hang Time Podcast. With the conference semifinals winding down and the conference finals looming, a sobering dose of perspective was needed here at headquarters. We needed someone to provide a little context and perspective to what LeBron James and the Miami Heat are going through right now, what Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors are dealing with right now and what it all means in the grand scheme of things.
Things are fluid for so many of the teams still alive in the playoffs, not to mention the teams whose seasons have finished and are searching for coaches and eventually players to help them get to the point where they are still play in mid-May. Kerr breaks it all down, and more, including his assessment that Heat star Dwyane Wade is no longer an “everyday superstar” but an “every other day superstar.”
We thought Kerr’s presence might defuse the normal mid-week volcano that is Rick Fox, whose “Get Off My Lawn” rant of the week includes his debunking of the NBA’s great point guard myth (as he describes it only the way he can).
In Rick’s estimation, we might have seen the last of the point guards to win MVP in the The Finals when Spurs point guard Tony Parker did in 2007. He’ll could very well be the last of his kind, according to Rick, to find his way into the company of elite players at his position like Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas and Chauncey Billups, the only PGs other than Parker since 1980 to claim that hardware.
(Sorry Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving and the rest of you, Rick says don’t bother.)
You get all of that and a whole lot more on Episode 117 of the Hang Time Podcast …
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The New York Knicks got the win.
Let’s just get that part of the business out of the way right now.
Tyson Chandler had a monster night, grabbing a career-high 28 rebounds, and Carmelo Anthony came up with the daggers when the home team needed them late, finishing with a team-high 35 points. J.R. Smith was fabulous as well, scoring 26 as well.
But make no mistake, Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden belonged to one man and one man only. Golden State Warriors guard Steph Curry dropped an NBA season-high 54 points on the Knicks, guaranteeing Mike Woodson and his coaching staff didn’t get a good night’s sleep.
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Only the Portland Trail Blazers’ Rookie of the Year frontrunner Damian Lillard has started as many games in his first season as Golden State Warriors rookie forward Harrison Barnes.
The No. 7 overall pick out of North Carolina has proved invaluable to the Warriors’ surge this season considering they’ve been without injured swingman Brandon Rush and until just a few nights ago, Andrew Bogut.
“Coach has done a great job of setting a standard of what we need to come in and do every single day, playing hard and we have a lot of guys that want to win,” Barnes said last week during a phone interview with NBA.com. “Guys like David Lee, Steph Curry, veteran guys that really want to win and that filters down to everybody else.”
After Barnes put up 12 points, four rebounds and five assists in 39 minutes during Thursday’s 100-97 win over the Dallas Mavericks, Golden State improved to 29-17, just one-half game behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the coveted No. 4 spot in the West standings. Two nights earlier, Barnes threw down a massive, right-hand jam on Raptors center Aaron Gray as part of a 14-point, five-rebound night.
So why does it seem like the 6-foot-8, 210-pound Barnes has been buried under the rookie hype machine during the first half of the season?
“I think I’ve been playing pretty well,” Barnes said. “I’m starting on a team that is fifth in the West, so there’s really no complaints.”
In two weeks, the nation will get a better look at the incredibly athletic, intrinsically low-key Barnes as he’ll participate in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge that kicks off All-Star Weekend in Houston.
The 2012 rookie crop is turning out to be pretty stout. While Lillard, the No. 6 overall pick, is having an absolutely mammoth season as Portland’s starting point guard and is a major reason why the Blazers remain in playoff contention this late into the season, Barnes is showing to have been a deft pick by the Warriors.
Barnes, 20, has provided athleticism and tough, physical play on both ends while instantly being inserted into the starting lineup with Curry, Klay Thompson and Lee. Barnes ranks in the top 10 among the rookie class in most key statistical categories. Against Dallas on Thursday, he posted up O.J. Mayo, spun around him and got to the rim and buried a pretty turnaround jumper over Vince Carter.
(Of course, Carter taught Harrison a rookie lesson at the end of the first half when Carter faked an injury in the corner. Barnes left him alone and Carter broke to the basket wide open and got the pass for a dunk. Lesson learned.)
Barnes is averaging 9.0 ppg (seventh among rookies), 4.3 rpg (eighth) and 25.5 mpg (ninth). His 3-point percentage (35.9) ranks fifth, his overall shooting percentage (43.1) is 11th and he ranks eighth in made free throws (71).
The Warriors look to keep getting better when Phoenix visits Saturday night. Then it’s a tough, four-game road trip through Houston, Oklahoma City, Memphis and Dallas.
“We’re going to continue to stay humble and continue to play with that edge,” Barnes said. “We never want to get complacent, never want to just be happy with where are. We’re going to continue to work every single day continue to get better.”
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Golden State fans can’t miss what they’ve never had.
That’s exactly the situation the Warriors are in with Andrew Bogut, the 7-footer who was supposed to help transform them but has not been able to because of surgically reconstructed right ankle.
When the Warriors traded Monta Ellis to get Bogut, they moved the face of the franchise (whether you liked him in that role or not) for a former No. 1 overall Draft pick who was supposed to provide the low-post presence they lacked. Instead, Bogut has been missing in action because of the complications with that ankle. He has missed nine straight games and isn’t expected back anytime soon, according to the Contra Costa Times:
“It’s still sore and it’s just not right yet,” Bogut said Tuesday. “When I try to train for extended periods, it just doesn’t respond well. Until I can get through a week’s worth of full practices, I’m back to where I am now.”
Which is rehabbing on the treadmill and exercise bike, doing some very light running and some touch shooting. None of the aggressive stuff he is known for. He can’t practice yet, let alone play, and if this sounds like a novel going bad, you can’t be blamed for your pessimism.
Bogut says he’ll be out there when it’s right, and the Warriors aren’t pressuring him. But it’s reasonable to wonder: After what the club went through with Stephen Curry last season, will it ever be right enough this year for Bogut to make a significant impact?
If that sounds familiar, it’s the same question folks in Philadelphia are asking about their supposed 7-foot savior, Andrew Bynum, who hasn’t played a second this season due to his knee issues. While Bogut at least appears to be an option sometime in the reasonably near future, say before Christmas, Bynum’s prospects are not as clearly defined.
The impact on their respective teams, however, remains the same. To the credit of both the Warriors and Sixers, they’ve managed just fine without their marquee big men.
The Warriors are 8-6 and tied with Los Angeles Clippers for first in the Pacific Division. The Sixers, meanwhile, have won two straight and at 9-6 are in the thick of things in the ultra-competitive Atlantic Division, behind two of the hottest teams (Brooklyn and New York) in the league.
Surviving through the first month of the season without a low-post anchor is one thing, doing it over the course of the next five months … well, that’s another story.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – It’s still a bit strange seeing him in purple and gold.
We know, we know, get over it already.
But just like it’s taking Steve Nash time to transition into his role as the Los Angeles Lakers’ starting point guard, it’s taking a little time for us to figure out exactly how this grand experiment is going to work.
Without the benefit of seeing Dwight Howard out there with them, and with Kobe Bryant in limited doses during the preseason, imaginations to tend to run a bit wild with the possibilities.
A preseason loss to the Warriors where we don’t see enough of the Lakers’ core group together for long stretches makes it hard to make a true evaluation of what they are working with. Everyone knows what sort of potential is there. Waiting to see it, though, has to be a bit nerve-wracking for Lakers fans.
It’s tough for the rest of us, hoops voyeurs who are just curious to see this what the league’s big top circus will look like when it comes to our respective towns.
There were, however, positive signs. Folks who observe the Lakers’ every move saw traces of the powerhouse that could be, of the cohesiveness we all know is needed if the Lakers are to compete at the championship level expected:
Mark Medina of The Los Angeles Times – Results don’t matter in preseason games. So don’t suddenly demand the Lakers should blow up their roster after losing to Golden State without center Andrew Bogut and shooting guard Stephen Curry. But when the Lakers played with their starters in the first half, they showed that their chemistry looks strong. Steve Nash (five points, three assists) looked unbelievable throwing a cross-court no-look pass to Kobe Bryant, who then connected with Pau Gasol on an alley oop play. Nash also broke some ankles by shaking Jarrett Jack with a crossover that nearly made him fall before nailing an open three-pointer.
The Lakers also ran the revamped offense that includes elements of the Princeton system with fluidity. Rarely did the Lakers ever go into isolation sets. Each player appeared intent on following Steve Nash’s lead (five points, three assists) and finding the open player for a shot. Kobe Bryant, who posted 10 points on two of seven shooting and three assists, appeared intent on facilitating. The Lakers set strong screens and actually played off of them.
They routinely covered for each other on defense. The floor spacing gave plenty of room for Metta World Peace to operate outside and score 10 points on three-of-six shooting. It’s fair to say that this reflects how much calmer and easier it’s been for the Lakers to absorb Brown’s teaching concepts with more time and a solidified roster. As a result, the Lakers look a lot more exciting and fluid on offense than last year’s disaster.
The two names you need to lock in on are Mike Brown and Metta World Peace. As important Kobe, Nash, Howard and Gasol are, the two guys who could very well hold the key to this season for the Lakers are the coach and the wild card personality on the roster.
Mark Jackson didn’t declare a winner in the Presidential election Wednesday. He shared no thoughts on the Dow Jones index soaring beyond 15,000 or cratering down to four figures. He wasn’t drawn into a debate with any leftover Mayans about the world ending Dec. 21 vs. some specific date a bit later.
But mostly, the Golden State Warriors coach was careful in a session with Bay Area NBA reporters not to predict a playoff berth for his basketball team. A year ago, Jackson didn’t show such restraint, arriving as a rookie coach and assuring fans that the postseason was a gimme.
“No, I’m not going to say it,” the Warriors coach told the media folks, including Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News. “Not because I don’t believe it, but ultimately there comes a point where, enough of the talking, go out and do it.”
Ten different coaches have managed just one Warriors playoff berth since the start of the 1994-95 season. That came in 2007, when Don Nelson’s No. 8 seeded team upset Dallas in the first round before losing to Utah in the West semis. Golden State had missed the playoffs for 12 years till then, and is up to five years in its current drought.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Faith and passion are things Golden State Warriors fans have always possessed in surplus. And they’ll be tested in both categories this season as they hold their collective breath when training camp begins and they finally see exactly what their team will look like in the flesh.
There is so much to like on paper, with offensive firepower in nearly every direction.
Steph Curry is reportedly healthy and healed, ready to get back on the court and resume his rise. Youngsters like Klay Thompson and rookie Harrison Barnes have extremely high ceilings. David Lee and his non-stop motor is always ready to go. And veteran role players like Jarrett Jack, Richard Jefferson, Carl Landry, Andris Biedrins and Brandon Rush will provide the quality depth coach Mark Jackson needs to deliver on the promise for the future the franchise is selling.
That leaves one glaring question mark for the Warriors, one that only Andrew Bogut‘s body can answer.
If he’s ready this season, whenever he returns to action from the ankle injury that has sidelined him for the past eight months, the Warriors could be ready to take the next step. If not, well … Warriors fans know the refrain better than most.
Bogut knows that this is a pivotal year in his career, too. A fresh start after an up and down seven-season stretch in Milwaukee. When healthy, he was among the best big men in the league and a true defensive anchor for a playoff-caliber team. But Bogut has played in all 82 games just once in his career, way back in his rookie season.
Q: Do you have a sense about how this team is going to play?
-BOGUT: It’s hard right now. But obviously we’re going to be a scoring team. We have some flat-out scorers on our team–Steph and Klay and Harrison Barnes is a scorer, too. He can be very aggressive. David Lee and myself. The list goes on. Richard Jefferson as well.
I think our focus isn’t going to be offense so much in training camp. That’s what we’re focused on in these drills we’re doing in the preseason, there’s a lot of defensive focus.
That’s been a weakness here not just last season but for a number of years–the defense wasn’t a priority. So we’re trying to change that.
We know you’re not going to win many games and even if you do, you’re not going to win many playoff series scoring 110 points a game. That’s just not going to happen.
The math and the numbers and the stats say if you can grind down teams, keep them under 100, generally you’ve got a good chance to win.
-Q: How much of that is on you?
-BOGUT: A lot of it, yeah. Definitely a lot of it. I can be the vocal point in the paint, can see the whole floor and talk and communicate, block shots, take charges.
But the other thing we struggled with last year, when we did get stops, we didn’t get the rebound. I think we were the second-worst defensive rebounding team in the league. So it doesn’t make sense to work hard, get the stop and then Dwight Howard gets a tip-in. It kind of demoralizes the whole feel.
So that’s on me and David Lee to make sure we get those defensive rebounds.
-Q: You bring up Howard. What’d you think when Dwight and [Steve] Nash end up in LA?
ORLANDO – Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry suffered a right foot injury against the Suns during last night’s game and will not be attending All-Star Weekend festivities here, per his agent Lance Young.
Young, via email, said the injury was to a tendon in Curry’s foot, and “nothing with his ankle.” But he said that it would prevent Curry making the trip here, where he was scheduled to defend his title in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge.
Rather than making the trip, Young said Curry would rest and rehab his injury this weekend. He’s already missed nine games this season with an ankle injury.
Curry missed a layup with 2:29 remaining in the first quarter and landed awkwardly. He went to the locker room and tried to come back just before halftime, but was unable to return to the game.
Stephen Curry sat dejected in front of his locker Wednesday night, shirtless and with his right foot soaking in a tub of ice water. The unhappy look on his face wasn’t a product of the game’s result — a 106-104 victory for his Warriors over the Suns in Phoenix. It was due to the fact that he was bitten by the injury bug once again.
… “It’s just something different,” Curry said with a bit of disbelief, while trying to describe the injury afterward. “They haven’t figured out if it’s my tendon or my plantar fascia yet, but it’s on the other side so it’s not my ankle, which is good.”
… “I tried to make a cut, but it didn’t respond they way I thought it would,” Curry said. “Coach made the decision in the second half just to let it rest.”
Warriors head coach Mark Jackson said that he didn’t see the need to force the issue.
“I’m not an expert, but the right thing to do was to shut it down and make sure that he takes advantage of the rest that we have moving forward, and get the proper treatment or whatever the doctors say,” he said.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Go to sleep if you want to. Just don’t be angry when you wake up and everything you knew to be true about the Chris Paul sweepstakes has changed.
With the list of teams in pursuit of the superstar point guard changing literally by the hour, no rumor is safe. And whatever you read yesterday, no matter how intriguing it might have been, probably can’t compare to the latest.
The other contenders, the Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics, are all chest-deep in the chase as well, per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports. And the potential packages being prepared by said teams are rather intriguing:
The Clippers would have to include 23-year-old restricted free-agent center DeAndre Jordan in a package to get Paul, along with forward Al-Farouq Aminu, guard Eric Bledsoe and the 2012 first-round pick they acquired from the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Clippers are more attractive to Paul than the Warriors or Boston Celtics, because of the chance to be paired with Griffin and Gordon. Golden State has been aggressive in its pursuit of Chandler independent of Paul, but the Warriors don’t have as appealing a supporting cast for Paul. The Warriors’ offer for Paul is centered around Stephen Curry and rookie guard Klay Thompson.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Six months seems like a long time to wait for a loved one to return. But when we saw the Christmas Day lineup of NBA games that the schedule making powers-that-be whipped up for us, it melted any lingering animosity we might have had about the 149-day lockout.
By the time you are finished opening gifts, sipping a little coffee and smacking on that cinnamon roll on Christmas morning, you’ll be able to dive into another pile of gifts from the NBA. The blockbuster, five-game lineup (the rest of the schedule comes next week) includes some of the league’s top teams and top stars on a day-long showcase that starts with a special Christmas morning episode of GameTime on NBA TV, followed by an episode of Inside The NBA on TNT that leads into the action.
Boston Celtics at New York Knicks, Noon ET, TNT
Keep An Eye On: Might this wind up being a battle between the Celtics’ Big 3+1 against the Knicks’ Gotham City remix of the Big 3, including the much-discussed Chris Paul joining Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire?
Either way, we’re tuning in for this continuation of the playoff matchup that the Celtics won going away last season. And with all of the principles, whoever they might be, well rested and eager to kick off the season the right way, there’s no way this game is anything other than a colossal battle of wills. It’s the perfect way to kick off the big day.
Miami Heat at Dallas Mavericks, 2:30 p.m. ET, ABC
Keep An Eye On: One can only imagine what sort of splendid banner raising/ring/whatever-else-it-might-be ceremony Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has planned for opening day in Dallas. Having the same Heat team they vanquished in The Finals on the other side of the floor for the festivities is a brilliant move by the schedule makers, who guaranteed that this rivalry gets an immediate dose of energy by pitting these two contenders against each other from the start.
There was plenty of hostility between the two sides by the time The Finals ended. It’s been a long offseason, but surely Dirk Nowitzki hasn’t forgotten about how LeBron James and Dwyane Wade clowned him about being sick during the series. And James must remember all of the heat he took for his struggles throughout the fourth quarters in The Finals. And you know Mavericks sharpshooter Jason Terry can’t wait to get another crack at the Heat.
Rest assured, whoever suits up will understand the intensity expected when that ball goes in the air. We can’t wait.
Chicago Bulls at Los Angeles Lakers, 5 p.m. ET, ABC
Keep An Eye On: In this era of superstars collaborating to win titles, it will be refreshing to watch the two guys who refuse to recruit their peers to come play with them square off at Staples Center. Kobe Bryant‘s Lakers, still smarting from being smashed by the Mavericks in the playoffs last season, will show us what they’ll look like in the Mike Brown era. Meanwhile, Derrick Rose still seems a bit salty with himself for his playoff performance against the Heat, struggles that no doubt influenced and inspired his offseason workouts.
Speaking of Brown, there isn’t another coach in any sport at any level under more scrutiny than the man who has to replace Phil Jackson on the Lakers’ bench. Brown’s task will be toughened by the fact that the Lakers have to figure out how to reinvent themselves without the security of the triangle offense they used to fuel their rise. Brown will have his hands full with Metta World Peace (the former Ron Artest) while also trying to rebuild Pau Gasol‘s confidence after his playoff struggles last season.
(Remember, the Lakers will play the first five games of this season without Andrew Bynum, who will serve his suspension for that elbow shot to the ribs of Barea during the playoffs last year.)
The Bulls offer their own set of intriguing subplots, having to show that Tom Thibodeau‘s first season (in which he was named Coach of the Year) was no fluke. The Bulls had plenty of skeptics last season as they went about the business of recording the best record in the league. They won’t have that luxury this season. Playing with a target on their chests every night will test their mettle.
Orlando Magic at Oklahoma City Thunder, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
Keep An Eye On: On paper the Magic and Thunder would appear to be teams headed in opposite directions. Kevin Durant spent his summer cementing his position as, arguably, basketball’s most beloved young star and the leader of a Thunder team that ground its way to the Western Conference finals last season. The Magic, on the other hand, were bounced from the conference semifinals by the Hawks, sparking more rumors that Dwight Howard is ready to bolt.
Howard joins both Chris Paul and Deron Williams as the players most coveted by others, the ones most likely to join a superfriends group resembling what we’ve seen in Boston and Miami in recent seasons. The Knicks and Nets battled for Carmelo Anthony last season and could do the same again for the attention of Howard, who has given no indication as to what he plans to do beyond starting training camp with the Magic.
Strangely, the one story we figured to be most prominent regarding the Thunder seemed to fade during the lockout. All-Star and All-NBA point guard Russell Westbrook was under heavy fire from outsiders for his roller coaster performance during the playoffs, sparking debates about whether the Thunder should seek to replace him with someone else. It was a suggestion that sounds as preposterous to us now as it did during the Western Conference finals. We’re expecting big things from Westbrook this season. Opening night is as good a time as any to get started.
Los Angeles Clippers at Golden State Warriors, 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Keep An Eye On: Like so many of our nights last season, Christmas will end with a heavy dose of Blake Griffin doing what he does best, making monster highlights. Unfortunately, new Warriors coach Mark Jackson will be on the wrong side of some of those calls he used to make as an ESPN analyst. Because we’re pretty sure Griffin will do a few things to make someone say, “Mama there goes that man” on Christmas night.
The Clippers sit atop the preseason HT rankings for the surprise team in the league this year. With Griffin and Eric Gordon coming into their own last season and the franchise finally showing some true signs of progress on the floor, much is expected of Vinny Del Negro‘s crew this season. How the Clippers handle these heightened expectations makes for must-see-viewing.
We’re also intrigued to see what Jackson will do as a coach. After hearing him analyze for so long, it’s going to be interesting to see what he brings on the bench. Will he make Monta Ellis and Steph Curry even more dangerous as a backcourt duo? Warriors fans have to be banking on it, as that is their only hope to climb up the food chain in the Western Conference. A lot is riding on the Jackson-Ellis-Curry dynamic to help reignite the franchise in Oakland. This will be our first taste.