Posts Tagged ‘Steve Aschburner’

Blogtable: A surprising champion

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


BLOGTABLE: Memories | One to watch | A surprise champ


A darkhorse? Maybe not, but the Clippers could still be a surprise in June. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

A darkhorse? Maybe not, but the Clippers could still be a surprise in June. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

> Your definition, your choice, your reasoning: Your darkhorse pick to win the NBA title.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comDo the Clippers qualify as a dark horse? I’d argue yes and pick them, because that insta-champion business – last witnessed in Boston in June 2008 – is no simple thing. Doc Rivers might wind up as the link from the last one to the next one if his ability to manage both his roster and the unique challenges of the postseason mesh just so. The Clippers clearly have the talent, both to survive the West and to topple the three-peat-aiming Miami Heat.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: In the past, the Clippers were just Lob City and a bunch of nightly highlight reel dunks.  In his first season as coach, Doc Rivers has given them a sense of purpose and direction.  He’s demanded and gotten more out of Blake Griffin.  He’s gotten DeAndre Jordan to play with confidence and consistency.  Of course, he’s got the best point in the game in Chris Paul running the show.  A healthy J.J. Redick gives them the outside shooting to keep defenses honest and Matt Barnes defends on the wing.  They are deeper than ever with Jamal Crawford again making a run at Sixth Man of the Year and get help from Darren Collison, Jared Dudley, Glen Davis and Danny Granger.  Rivers knows what it takes to run the playoff gauntlet and his ability to inject a new sense of personal responsibility and commitment to the task has these Clippers looking and playing vastly different than the past few years.  They are a dark horse, but one that you wouldn’t mind saddling up for a ride.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Houston. The Rockets are remarkably young, but also remarkably talented. They’ve got the perimeter (James Harden) and the middle (Dwight Howard) covered by All-Stars, plus shooters all around. Omer Asik behind Howard provides 48 minutes of crucial rim protection. They can be their own worst enemy, especially defensively, but put it all together and they can give any opponent nightmares.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I don’t put the Clippers in the darkhorse category, but a lot of other people seem to, so that’s the pick. The Clips certainly aren’t sneaking up on anyone — Blake Griffin, CP3, Lob City, Doc Rivers — but I’ve gotten the question a few times the last couple weeks: Is it possible someone other than the Spurs or Thunder would win the West? Sure it is. The team that was a realistic pick from the start of the season.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’ve wavered back and forth on whether to deem the Thunder a darkhorse or not. But my final answer is the Clippers. Their defense hasn’t really held up against good teams, but their offense is near unstoppable, especially if J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford are healthy.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Can we really call a team with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford and Doc Rivers as coach really be considered a “dark horse?” I hope so, because the Los Angeles Clippers are my pick. They have all of the ingredients — star power, depth, balance, experience, etc. – needed to make their way to the championship round and win it all. We’ll find out of they are tough enough to endure the grind of making it that far. But there is no doubt in my mind that all of the pieces are in place. Blake’s work this season while CP3 was out and the overall improvement to DeAndre Jordan’s game are the two wild cards for the Clippers. They had to come back with those guys having improved their respective games for me to believe in them. And they did exactly what they had to do.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball Blog: My definition of a darkhorse is a team nobody is picking. My choice, well, that’s more complicated. I would have mentioned Golden State, but to me the Andrew Bogut injury might take them out of the running. I’ll throw a team out there: Houston. The Rockets strike me as a team that haven’t hit their stride just yet. They have it all: scoring, a strong interior presence, a tough perimeter defender, depth. Every year, there’s a team that gets hot and goes on a run in the postseason. Perhaps this spring we’ll see the Rockets’ red glare.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: I’ve been saying a lot lately that I think only five teams can win the title (two from the East and three from the West) so my selection probably won’t sound like a dark horse. Anyway, I’m going with the Clippers as the only team outside of the Spurs and Thunder who can win the West and then, challenge for a title. We all know about their credentials offensively and they have two top-10 players, but the aspect of their game that has impressed me the most this season has been their defence, the achilles heel of this team under Vinny Del Negro. Now, with Doc Rivers in charge, they have transformed into a top-10 defensive unit and thus, can challenge for a title.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: I think the Nets really have a chance to hug the Larry O’Brien trophy in June. They were out of contention after a 10-21 start, but Jason Kidd somehow transformed a bunch of great players into a team around January and now they have the momentum, the depth, the experience and the talent to upset both Indiana and Miami and made it to the Finals. They need to be healthy, but they have a chance.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: I guess the Clippers qualify as a dark horse contender. The major favorites have to be Miami, San Antonio and OKC, though not necessarily in that order, right? Indiana, the Clippers and Houston are the dark horses. I pick LA’s representative. Their defense still isn’t all that great, but it’s much better than it was when the season started. They have a coach who has won a ring – one of only four championship-winning coaches still in the tournament – they added key veterans with Finals experience via free agency late in the season, and I feel that Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan have matured enough to absorb the punishment they will take from teams still questioning their toughness, especially Golden State, their opponents in the first round. Plus, it’s time for Chris Paul to take the wheels and lead a team past the second round, even if he has to beat Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to do it.

Blogtable: Fave regular-season moment

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


BLOGTABLE: Memories | One to watch | A surprise champ



VIDEO: Derrick Rose sinks the game-winner to beat the Knicks on Oct. 31, 2013

> A quick look back: Your favorite moment of the 2013-14 regular season.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: My favorite moment came way at the beginning: Derrick Rose’s high-arcing 12-foot game-winner from the right baseline over Tyson Chandler with 5.7 seconds left at United Center in the Bulls’ home opener. There was electricity and anticipation in the air that, alas, lasted only 10 games before the Chicago MVP candidate went down and out — again. Rose had looked good in October, leading Chicago in scoring (20.7 points a game) and hitting 44.4 percent of his 3-pointers, and everything seemed all right until … y’know. I’d also list the moments Greg Oden, Danny Granger and any other injured guy returned to action –- comebacks are a lot more enjoyable to cover than season-ending injury stories — and Shaun Livingston‘s continued ability to thrive in his revived career.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Pick a moment, any moment, in any game when Joakim Noah was hungrily, frantically, feverishly passing, rebounding, scoring, pushing, shoving, diving to the floor, doing anything to help the Bulls win the next possession and the next game in a season that he could easily have let go.  For someone who has covered the league for nearly 40 years, Noah has been pure joy to watch.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I harken to a game I witnessed on the Kevin Durant Experience. Go back to Jan. 22 at Oklahoma City. The Portland Trail Blazers were in town with a 31-10 record. They led 95-90 with 3:45 to go. Looking good. Then Durant went MVP. A driving layup gave him 37 points and cut the deficit to 95-92. A 3-pointer gave him 40 points and tied it at 95. Reggie Jackson and Kendrick Perkins made it 99-95 OKC. Then on consecutive possessions, the first with 48 seconds to play and the second with 26 seconds left, Durant drilled killer 3s from straightaway, giving him 46 points and 11 in the final 3:45. Afterward, the dejected Blazers all but handed Durant the MVP right there and then. “MVP performance,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “He’s the MVP. He’s the MVP,” Blazers forward Nicolas Batum said. “I mean, six years I have been in this league, I have never seen a performance like that. Six years.”

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comSan Antonio’s 19-game winning streak. The consistency, the dependability, the way players who weren’t on the roster the season before stepped up, the tying for the sixth-best run in NBA history while maintaining a tight hold on minutes. It was all so Spurs-like. Oh, and everyone else was counting along more than the San Antonio players and coaches. Also so Spurs-like. Also worth remembering: Doc Rivers’ heartfelt return to Boston, the purple-splashed celebration at the opening night in Sacramento that almost wasn’t, Jerry Sloan’s tribute night in Salt Lake City. I’m sure there are other moments worth remembering that I am just not remembering.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThe reception Paul Pierce got in his first game back in Boston (Jan. 26) was very cool. There are not many guys that have played 15 years in one city, and it was great to how much that connection means to the player, the franchise and the fans. Though Pierce played pretty poorly that night, every player would love to have a moment like that.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: That’s a tough one. We’re talking about an entire 82-game season and countless highlights and jaw-dropping moments. Picking one is nearly impossible. But it’ll be hard for me to shake the memory of TNT’s Charles Barkley walking in on my Hang Time One-On-One interview with Milwaukee Bucks rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo. The rookie’s jaw dropped, literally, and his eyes lit up. It was a totally impromptu moment that none of us caught on video because everyone in the room was so surprised it happened. Barkley told Antetokounmpo he needed to “eat a sandwich” before telling him how much he enjoyed watching the youngest player in the league play. Antetokounmpo was in disbelief for the next 10 minutes. He couldn’t get over his chance meeting with one of his idols. “Charles Barkley is huge,” he said before breaking into a wide smile.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball Blog: How about a look back quickly: Perhaps it’s because it’s still fresh on my mind, but that Memphis/Phoenix game the other night with a postseason trip on the line was incredible. Not only because the stakes were so high — it was essentially win or go home. But it was also because the quality of play was terrific — guys were sinking shot after shot, and it felt like they were almost willing the ball into the basket. If the level of play in the postseason comes anything close to that, should be an amazing postseason.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: My favorite moment of the season is still the shock and amazement of seeing the Philadelphia 76ers win their first three games in a row, especially that season-opening win versus the defending champions Miami Heat that included Michael Carter-Williams’ coming out party. Despite all the losing the young Sixers had to suffer during this season — especially that 26-game streak — “The Hyphen” and his peers can look back at that stretch and draw inspiration for climbing higher next season. Also, I loved that amazing Jeff Green 3-point shot with 0.4 seconds on the clock to beat the Heat in Miami. That was just ridiculous. And my third favorite moment was Carmelo Anthony hanging 62 points on the Bobcats to break the Knicks’ and Madison Square Garden’s scoring records.

Philipp Dornhegge, NBA Deutschland: Is it just me, or does everybody feel that you always miss the games with crazy endings? Therefore I’m super-glad that I did, in fact, watch the two Warriors-Thunder games live in which Andre Iguodala and Russell Westbrook hit game-winners. Intense games, playoff atmosphere, perfect endings.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: I pick an All-Star moment, when Marco Belinelli won the Three-Point Contest. It was an historic moment for Italian basketball, and Marco totally deserved it because he made his way up from an end-of-the-bench guy in his first 2 seasons with the Warriors to one of the key role players in a team that can win the title. Putting my role as editor of NBA Italy aside for a moment, my favorite moment of the season is the second Heat vs. Thunder game. Those first minutes in which LeBron played like a monster are unforgettable.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: OK, I cannot be objective about that. It’s not every day that you see a Greek player featured in the No. 1 of the NBA’s Top-10 highlight reel. So, my favourite moments were Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s coast to coast block-and-dunk against the Cetlics, and when he blocked twice Kevin Durant, forcing KD to call out the rookies’ skills.

One gear: Thibodeau, Bulls continue to grind forward

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

Tom Thibodeau's intensity has set the tone for the one-speed Bulls. (Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images)

Tom Thibodeau’s intensity has set the tone for the one-speed Bulls. (Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images)

CHICAGO – If the Chicago Bulls didn’t exist, NBA commissioner Adam Silver would have to invent them.

As this team rests its star players for a fresh start in the NBA postseason, as that team eyeballs the standings to scale its efforts on a given night to playoff positioning or lottery chances, the Chicago Bulls trudge forward, always forward.

Sometimes they march. Sometimes they plod. Every once in a while, the game flows more freely and you’d swear you saw swooshes on their work boots. But this is a one-direction, one-speed, one-gear team – forward, forever in overdrive – that doesn’t apologize when critics seize on that as a problem at this time of year: The Bulls play so hard all the time, so there’s no “next level” to which they can take their game in the playoffs.

Like that’s a bad thing.

So what if Chicago doesn’t click-clack through the shift gate like some exotic sports coupe flitting about the Riviera? Armored tanks, steamrollers and threshers seem to do fine without dual-clutch 7-speed gearboxes. So do Terminators, a.k.a., Tom Thibodeau.

“We’re not changing,” Thibodeau said after the 108-95 victory over Orlando in the Bulls’ home finale. “We’re trying to win games. … We’re not changing our approach: Every game, analyze what we’re doing well, what we’re doing not as well as we would like, make our corrections, move on to the next one, know the opponent well, keep moving forward. That’s all we can do.”

You could stump a few Chicagoans by asking to identify the source of the following quote: “It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.” Who said that: Michael Biehn‘s character in the original “Terminator?” Or a Bulls player, requesting anonymity, in describing Thibs?

Forward Taj Gibson didn’t take the unnamed route when he went there Monday.

“You guys have been around for a minute now,” Gibson, a top Sixth Man candidate, told reporters. “You guys should know that guy in the other room over there, he’s not going to tell anybody to take any rest. He’s old school. He doesn’t believe in that. He just believes in pushing forward.


VIDEO: The passion of Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau

“Like he said, ‘The finish line is ahead. You’ve got to just run through it. You can’t slow up, you can’t try to trot through. You’ve got to run full speed ahead through it and whatever happens, happens.’ He told us, ‘We want to walk through the fire together as a team, as a unit. Nobody’s going to take that from you. You’ve just got to keep walking through it. Don’t stop for anything.’ “

OK, so there’s no ring collection in the Chicago locker room. Backup center Nazr Mohammed is the only player to have reached The Finals, never mind win the title, and the Bulls’ collection of Larry O’Brien trophies has fit on the same shelf for 16 years now.

But then, Thibodeau and his crew aren’t preachy about their relentless ways – heck, it might scare off some free agents the way tales of Pat Riley‘s taped, full-contact, two-hour “shootarounds” used to. Grinding steadily forward simply is what has worked for Chicago.

There really wasn’t much choice, after the long-anticipated return of MVP candidate Derrick Rose ended just 10 games in. Rose’s second season-ending knee injury and the subsequent trade of All-Star Luol Deng threatened to do more than just slam shut this Bulls edition’s championship window. It had some fans luridly licking their chops over lottery slots. They, of course, were the ones who know nothing about Thibodeau.

The Bulls are 21-8 since the All-Star break and 34-17 since trading Deng in early January. Their defense is a constant, the relentless embodiment of their head coach. And though Chicago ranks ranks 28th in offensive rating (102.7), the Bulls lately have been almost breezy, scoring 100 points or more in five of their past seven.

With Gibson and Joakim Noah developing as scoring options, with shooter Mike Dunleavy moving into a starting spot up front and with D.J. Augustin dusting off his career as Thibodeau’s latest point-guard reclamation project, the offense has hit triple digits 14 times in its 29 post-break games vs. 11 times in the 52 before it.

Their 100-89 loss Sunday in New York snapped a seven-game winning streak, but at least it wasn’t the result of guessing at the Indiana-Miami flip-flopping atop the conference and trying to game the playoff seedings. If anything the Bulls Game 7 everything.

“It’s made us who we are,” guard Kirk Hinrich said after the Magic victory. “That’s just kind of the makeup of this group and the beliefs that [Thibodeau] goes by. Us as players, there’s something to be said about just coming in, preparing. You feel prepared, you’re confident, and that goes a long way.”

Dunleavy occasionally has rolled his eyes at the work-load demands he has faced under Thibodeau. Then again, the 6-foot-9 forward didn’t play on a .500 team in his first 11 NBA seasons, so he’s not complaining.

“Playing with high intensity like we do all year helps,” he said. “I certainly am going to keep the same approach in the playoffs. It’s just another game because I think we prepare for every regular-season game like it’s a playoff game. That’s the way we’ve been doing it, and hopefully we roll right through in terms of smoothness and transition into the postseason.”

Roll? Typically by this time each spring, the Bulls are limping and bleeding. Once the smoke and smell of sulfur from Rose’s latest demise cleared, though, the rest of the roster got and largely has remained healthy. As hard as Thibodeau pushes, they have become true believers in the ol’ “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” ethos.

“We believe in ourselves, we believe in our abilities,” Noah said. “We think we’re going to be a tough out. We’re going to go out there and give them hell.”

Forty-eight minutes of it, sometimes served up that way per man (see Jimmy Butler, 2013 postseason). All in one gear, at one speed.

Hibbert, Hill stymie Pacers’ revival

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

George Hill and Roy Hibbert have struggled with production since the All-Star break. (Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images)

George Hill and Roy Hibbert have struggled to find their way of late. (Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images)

There is a particular reason why the Chicago Bulls have mourned the absence of All-Star point guard Derrick Rose and, in healthier times, felt confident about their chances against the two-time defending champion Miami Heat:

Center and point guard. The two positions where Miami has seemed most vulnerable through its three-Finals, two-titles reign over the NBA. And the two positions where the Bulls, with Rose and Joakim Noah (even before Noah’s blossoming in 2013-14), held distinct match-up advantages.

And then there are the Indiana Pacers, where center Roy Hibbert and point guard George Hill have embodied and driven – in an especially vicious circle these days – their team’s struggle against the Heat specifically and in the season’s stretch drive generally.

Hibbert is the one taking most of the grief, an obvious lightning rod given his stature literally and in Indiana’s preferred scheme of things. He’s a 7-foot-2 center who has come up about 4-foot-11 of late, shrinking at the task of nailing down the East’s top playoff berth.

Over the past 10 games, Hibbert has averaged 9.0 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks while shooting 32.9 percent, all south of his expected numbers. His decline since the All-Star break is nothing short of alarming – from offensive and defensive ratings of 104 and 95 through his first 52 games, to 91 and 106 over the past 27.

And the past week went by almost without so much as a ping from the Pacers’ missing aircraft carrier: A nightmarish nine minutes, scoreless and without rebounds in a blowout loss to Atlanta. A game in street clothes in Milwaukee as part of coach Frank Vogel‘s rattle-whatever-cage-remains decision to sit out his starters. And just five points and one rebound in nearly 34 minutes in the smackdown in Miami, with the Heat taking apparent glee in finally solving their Hibbert headaches.

Hill, the team’s unassertive point guard – and one of the NBA’s few where “playmaker” can be subbed in as a synonym to mix up the phrasings – has been just as disappointing in the Pacers’ desperation to stop their swoon. Averages of 8.3 points and 3.4 assists, while hitting 42.4 percent of his field-goal attempts and 69.2 percent of his free throws.

He, too, has stepped into an open elevator shaft post-All Star break in some of the advanced metrics: true-shooting percentage down from 57.9 to 53.3, and a combo drop in offensive and defensive ratings from 117/98 to 110/112. If those were blood pressure numbers, the Pacers’ title hopes already would be dead.

All of this is a way of pointing out how challenging the Pacers’ matinee game against Oklahoma City (1 p.m. ET, ABC) figures to be Sunday. The gap between NBA Most Valuable Player favorite Kevin Durant and Indiana’s Paul George, a likely fourth- or fifth-place finisher, already is vast enough. But for Hill, matched up with the Thunder’s angry young man at the point, Russell Westbrook, it will be all he can do to hang on defensively, offense – no matter how badly Indiana needs a fix there – be danged.

For Hibbert, facing low-center-of-gravity Kendrick Perkins, relentlessly active Serge Ibaka and fundamentally sound Nick Collison is no way to get his game healthy. Last Sunday against the Hawks, Hibbert made Pero Antic look like Dave Cowens in his prime and had Pacers peeps excusing the (ahem) tough match-up. At Miami Friday, it was old reliable Udonis Haslem staying low, beating Hibbert to his spots and pushing him around to exploit that flamingo-like base the Pacers center seems to set.

Hill, George and the other Indiana players aren’t absolved when Hibbert struggles, either, given their lackadaisical entry passes and tendency seemingly to look away from the big man rather than establish him in the paint. Maybe they’ve grown tired of his soft left-handed hook shots and mid-range jumpers that rattle out, when what they crave is a nasty, rim-attacker who utilizes his greatest asset.

All in all, with the East’s No. 1 seed still remarkably in play, what might have teased at a potential Finals showdown – OKC vs. IND – looks more like a contender facing a calamity.

NBA offers some ref transparency, playoff ‘points of emphasis’

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

Granted, it’s not always satisfying when the NBA issues an officiating verdict the day after a disputed play. Learning 18 hours later that, yes, a foul should have been called on that final missed field-goal attempt in Team A’s 1-point loss doesn’t change the W-L records of the squads involved and rarely calms fans who felt their team got jobbed.

But transparency beats opacity, even after the fact, so the league regularly has tried to review, interpret and explain its many calls and non-calls ASAP. One way to do that now, with the playoffs approaching and stakes and emotions getting ever higher, is through a follow of @NBAOfficial on Twitter. That account will provide updates and clarifications on rules and fouls in the closest thing to real time, while educating some fans on what does or doesn’t constitute an instant-replay “trigger.”

The Twitter feed was one of the reminders Thursday to media folks in the league’s 2014 basketball & referee operations WebEx online meeting. A fleet of NBA executives provided updates and answered questions about the season and looming postseason, including “points of emphasis” that will remain high on referees’ radar as the playoffs unfold.

Participating in the multi-media event: Rod Thorn, president, basketball operations; Mike Bantom, executive vice president, referee operations; Kiki VanDeWeghe, senior vice president, basketball operations; Joe Borgia, vice president, referee operations; and Don Vaden, VP & director of officials.

One thing fans might notice again this spring is a change that was initiated for the 2013 playoffs: Keeping referees together in the same crew to develop familiarity and continuity in their court coverage.

Traditionally, three referees come together pretty much randomly to officiate NBA games, compared to MLB umpires, who work most of the season in set four-man crews.

Vaden said that last spring, the league booked two referees as a tandem for each game, with the third official rotating through. “Ken Mauer and Ed Malloy worked every game together,” Vaden said, offering an example. “We’re more consistent in what we’re doing on the floor when we do that.”

This used to be standard procedure, Thorn recalled. “There was a time way back when crews were kept together,” he said. “There was a time when the same two referees refereed all the games in The Finals.”

In addition to the logical benefits of refs working together, Vaden mentioned some secondary ones off the floor in terms of reviews and communication.

“Keeping the guys together, traveling together, they can review more video of the games,” he said. “They’re easier for me to get a hold of than in the regular season. Even on off-days they’re together in the same hotels, so we can do a review from their last game and give them a preview of the game to come.”

The review process of referee performance has grown more thorough through the years, with a centralized group of eight reviewers in the office in New Jersey handling most of the heavy lifting. Teams also submit feedback, and the league has made it a priority to keep teams, players, coaches, media and fans in the loop with rulings and updated points of emphasis.

The selection process to work in, and advance through, the postseason is rigorous, Bantom said. From the regular-season pool of 62 referees, 32 are identified based on performance criteria to work the first round. That gets cut to 20 for the conference semifinals, 16 for the East and West finals and 12 assigned to The Finals. Guidelines in the playoffs include: no back-to-back games for officials, no more than three games worked in a week and, ideally, not reappearing in a series before Game 6 (loosened to Game 5 in The Finals).

Speaking about the NBA in general in 2013-14, with the transition from David Stern to Adam Silver in the commissioner’s office, VanDeWeghe said: “Our focus has been transparency and inclusion. We want to include more people in our discussions. Improve communications with teams, players, media and fans. We want to share more information and just the processes of what we go through. You can never tell where a great idea comes from, and we’d like to hear from you. This is our game together.”

The POE this postseason will largely be a continuation of those introduced back in October. Among them, Vaden spoke of:

  • Freedom of movement, including illegal screens.
  • Traveling calls, especially on the perimeter.
  • Point-of-contact plays, before, during and after shot attempts. “We have clarified the rule for teams, that if it affects the natural follow-through, even though the ball was released, we would penalize the defender,” Vaden said. “Hits on the elbow, we’ve gotten better at.”
  • Push or pull plays, physically redirecting an opponent.
  • Delay-of-game calls for handling the ball after it passes through the net. Said Vaden: “Everybody complained, but after about a month of the season, everybody’s running from the ball. The players have done a great job in adapting to this.”
  • Verticality. “It’s easy for us to call ‘A’ to ‘B’ movement,” Vaden said, referring to a defender who goes up in the air but not quite straight up. “As the season went on, we saw more of the defender turning in the air and [confronting the ball handler] with his side.” That’s a defensive foul too. But a scorer who wards off the defender with an arm, leads with a knee or elbow or even “displaces” the man so he cannot rebound can wind up with an offensive foul.

Borgia reminded participants that the NBA’s system of points and suspensions for flagrant fouls and technical fouls resets for the playoffs. The trigger numbers in the postseason are four points for flagrants, seven for technicals.

Several execs weighed in on “hand on the ball” interpretations, which came up again Tuesday on the final play of the Brooklyn-Miami game. That’s when LeBron James went up for what could have been a game-winning dunk, only to have the ball knocked loose – and his hand or wrist smacked, James complained – by Nets forward Mason Plumlee.

Plumlee was credited with a game-saving block and the league’s brass supported that call.

“Frame by frame, you can see that Plumlee got his hand on the ball before there was any contact hand-to-hand,” Thorn said. “That was basically LeBron’s hand coming forward and interlocking with Plumlee. A very, very close play. Very, very difficult to see. I think the refs did a great job in ascertaining what they did.”

Borgia attempted to simplify for the online audience what many folks don’t get quite right.

“If they hit a part of my hand or finger that is physically on the ball, that is considered hitting the ball and not a foul,” the referee-turned-supervisor said. “I think there is some misconception out there. … On a jump shot, most of the time the ball is more on your fingertips and not sitting in the palm of your hand. If someone hits the back of the hand, that would be a foul.”

Transparency, see. It might not alter a critic’s opinion of a call but it can aid in the understanding.

Panic button pays off for Pacers

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Copeland’s last-gasp shot lifts Pacers over Bucks

MILWAUKEE – By the end of the night, the players and coaches of the Indiana Pacers could look you in the eye, smile ever so slightly and shrug, “What?”

As if it was the most natural thing in the world to play an NBA game that still mattered – the top seed in the Eastern Conference bracket still TBD – with all five starters healthy but banished to the bench.

But nobody was fooling anybody. This was a risky move, risky on the verge of panic, for coach Frank Vogel to sit down – to rest, en masse – the five guys who have defined the Pacers’ largely successful season. But there they sat: Paul George, David West, Roy Hibbert, Lance Stephenson and George Hill, from beginning to end, mere spectators and cheerleaders Wednesday night at BMO Harris Bradley Center.

After multiple consultations between Vogel and the players, among Vogel and President Larry Bird and the coaches — and a heads-up courtesy call to NBA headquarters in hopes of avoiding any fines — the Indiana coach shortened his bench by whacking his starters. He did, from the rationale he gave, what he should have done in February or March, if only the alleged wear, tear and fatigue from season’s first five months had shown itself before the sixth.

If you asked Vogel in February or March about his starters’ workload, the answer was the same: None of the Pacers was averaging more than a tick beyond 30 minutes a game. They were healthy, young and they could handle it.

Until, that is, they couldn’t. It took five losses in their six most recent games, eight in their last 11, a 20-18 record since Jan. 20 and a 23-point first half against Atlanta on Sunday to push Vogel to the unusual and non-guaranteed homeopathic remedy of enforcing a day off.

That loss at home to the Hawks had been “disturbing,” Vogel said 90 minutes before tipoff Wednesday against the bottom-feeding Bucks. What he was doing was a “dramatic move,” primarily to give the starters a breather but also to rattle the backups’ cage a little.

It could have backfired massively, losing to the team with the league’s worst record, “sacrificing” a winnable game while ceding even more ground to the Miami Heat in the East. But it did not.

By the end of the night, after Chris Copeland‘s drive to the rim with 1.2 seconds left won it, 104-102, after everyone in the Indiana dressing room exhaled and after the Memphis Grizzlies put down Miami 107-102, the Pacers could pinch themselves over this:

1. Indiana, 54-25, .684
2. Miami, 53-25, .679

They were headed to south Florida next, a 2-1 lead in the series already, with a chance Friday (7:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV) to pretty much seal the deal. After so much gnashing of teeth over their tumble – in the standings, yes, but also in confidence, trust and other team qualities – the Pacers were able to act like they knew this outcome was coming all along.


VIDEO: The Pacers discuss their thrilling win in Milwaukee

“We accomplished the purpose,” said George, who spent the game in warm-ups after getting in some conditioning and shooting. “We felt very comfortable with the group we had, that they were going to go out there and get us a win. It wasn’t like we were sacrificing the game. We game-planned. Coach really drilled and worked hard with the unit he put out there.”

The Pacers’ All-Subs put up good numbers against a Milwaukee team down to eight players itself through injuries and the start of Larry Sanders‘ five-game suspension (drug-policy violation). Luis Scola scored a season-high 24 points with nine rebounds, flourishing like he seldom has off Indiana’s bench this season. Same thing with Evan Turner, the trade-deadline acquisition who had to be feeling Philadelphia after logging more than 41 minutes, jacking 18 shots and finishing with 23 points, nine assists and seven boards.

Copeland missed just one of his eight shots, scored 18 and was good for four of the Pacers’ 11 3-pointers. Backup point guard C.J. Watson returned after missing 13 games, and his impact shouldn’t be understated; Indiana is 47-14 when he plays, 7-11 when he doesn’t. The Pacers outshot the Bucks and had 26 assists to 11 turnovers.

“Served the purpose,” said Vogel. “We got the starters the rest that hopefully will help them find their rhythm, and we let our bench guys get extended minutes so they could get comfortable. Evan Turner hasn’t been that comfortable in a Pacers uniform.”

How badly have the starters needed a breather? The math says very: the five Pacers have averaged 2,521 minutes, which might not seem excessive (32.8 per game). But compared to the deftly managed San Antonio Spurs, the difference is considerable. The five Spurs who have played the most have averaged 1,934 minutes. That gap of 587, doled out 30 minutes at a time, is nearly 20 extra games’ worth.

It just could be that the Pacers are more ground down because their key guys haven’t had significant injuries.

“I don’t know if I’ve seen any guys ailing,” Copeland said, “but I know they needed a rest, because it’s a grueling season. A lot of ‘em are playing through a lot of things. You look at David West, he’s playing with Rocky’s glove, y’know? That shows the type of guys we’ve got. Nobody’s complaining about playing with injuries, but trust me – all five who sat out have something going on.”

Hibbert, in a robin’s egg blue sport coat and tan slacks, was officially listed as inactive because someone had to be. The other four watched in game gear but budged only to root, clap and mill around on the fringe of timeout huddles.

“It was a weird feeling, sitting out a game,” Hibbert said. “But I was really happy for those guys. They’ve been working extremely hard the whole season. To see them go out and play, and not have to worry about making mistakes and having the starters come back in, I was really happy for ‘em.”

Hibbert said getting the game off was both a physical and mental health day, and none of them seemed to need it more. The big fella hit some sort of wall Sunday against Atlanta, playing just nine minutes, going scoreless with no rebounds, then languishing on the bench through the second half in some sort of bad body-language funk. He was way more engaged in this one, encouraging the reserves, snarling toward the crowd a few times.

When Indiana visits the Heat on Friday, its starters will have gone five days – more than 120 hours – between games.

“We probably haven’t had that since the season started,” Stephenson said. “Any rest can help us right now.”

Nothing’s guaranteed now, either, except a big dose of irony: The Pacers’ staked out that No. 1 seed as a goal back in training camp so they wouldn’t have to win a big game in Miami come springtime. Now, in order to actually claim it, they have to win a big game in Miami come springtime.

Blogtable: Your All-NBA first team center

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


BLOGTABLE: All-NBA center | Coaches in danger | Playoff team needs new gear



VIDEO: The Starters discuss whether or not Joakim Noah is an All-NBA first team center

> Who’s your pick for first team all-NBA at center? Do you have a dark horse nominee?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Joakim Noah. Noah has been doing everything an NBA coach wants from a center – and more. He leads the Bulls in minutes, rebounds, assists, blocks and free-throw attempts – Dwight Howard leads Houston only in rebounds and blocks – and Noah ranks second on Chicago’s roster in steals. And did you notice “assists” on that list? Noah has been a true “point-center” in Tom Thibodeau‘s offense, picking up where Derrick Rose left off as a playmaker, finding cutters, resetting plays and driving to the rim when needed. He is hitting career highs in PER (20.0) and usage rate (18.6) and he leads all players, not just centers, with a 95.7 defensive rating.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Dwight Howard. He has returned to his old Orlando-type form and has been the most consistent big man in the league. Noah gets some love for being the lead horse that kept the Bulls in the playoff race despite Chicago’s many injuries and trades this season.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Tough, tough call. My top three picks were Dwight Howard, Joakim Noah and Al Jefferson. I eliminated Jefferson first for defensive reasons — he has only 74 blocks and has allowed 53.3 percent shooting at the rim. Through much consternation my first team all-NBA center is … Dwight. His 18.5 ppg on 59 percent shooting, 12.3 rpg and 7.4 net rating put him over the top. The do-it-all Noah has a net rating of 3.8, but a slightly higher PIE than Howard. He doesn’t score as much as Howard, but he runs the offense like a point guard and leads the Bulls in assists at 5.2 — that he only turns it over 2.4 times a game is in itself remarkable. As for a dark horse, is Anthony Davis a center? I love DeMarcus Cousins‘ offensive package, but his defense is more on par with Jefferson. DeAndre Jordan‘s 191 blocks, 13.8 rpg and 67.4 percent shooting make him my dark horse.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Joakim Noah over Dwight Howard, eye test over statistics. Howard has better numbers in most categories and his positive impact in Houston cannot be denied even by the biggest D12 detractors, but Noah will get a lot of votes for third, fourth and fifth place in the MVP balloting. Rightfully so. He has set the tone for a team that continues to win with defense and deserves credit on offense for becoming such a good passer. I guess that makes everyone a dark-horse nominee. DeMarcus Cousins, DeAndre Jordan, Andre Drummond.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Joakim Noah is, by far, the best and most important player on a top 4 seed. He’s the anchor of the Bulls’ second-ranked defense and though their offense stinks, it would be awful without him. Dwight Howard should be the second-team center, and after that, it’s hard to choose between Chris Bosh, Roy Hibbert and Al Jefferson. Bosh is the second-most important player on a team that’s won 53 games, Hibbert has anchored the league’s No. 1 defense, and Jefferson has carried an offense that has improved every month.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’m going with Chicago’s Joakim Noah. I think he’s put together the kind of season (on both ends of the floor) that makes him worthy of a first team all-NBA nod in what’s really a crowded big man field. Plus, when you consider the fact that he’s done it all season without being able to play off of an All-Star and MVP like Derrick Rose, that makes Noah’s effort this season even more remarkable. My dark horse nominee is Charlotte’s Al Jefferson. He’s been the anchor for a turnaround that simply would not have happened if he wasn’t wearing a Charlotte Bobcats uniform.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: I don’t know how dark this horse is, and I haven’t filled out my ballot yet so I might change my mind, but I think Joakim Noah is my choice. Noah, Hibbert and Howard are, in my mind, the best defensive centers in the NBA. And while none of the three have been transcendent offensively, they’ve all been at least coherent. What sets Noah apart, at least to me, is that unlike the others, Noah is the undisputed heart of his team. With all the injuries and trades the Bulls have had this season, Noah has still come to play every night, and he never takes a play off.

Blogtable: The next coach fired is …

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


BLOGTABLE: All-NBA center | Coaches in danger | Playoff team needs new gear



VIDEO: Mike Woodson talks to the media after New York’s loss in Miami on Sunday

> Who will be the first coach to lose his job at season’s end?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’m calling “asterisk,” because this might come down to semantics. John Loyer might be done as Detroit’s main guy but he’s only an interim coach anyway, a place holder till owner Tom Gores makes his next basketball decision. Then there’s Rick Adelman in Minnesota, who is likely to opt-out of his deal for next season and has to exercise that window in his contract in the next few weeks. But that would be by his own hand, not quite “losing” his job. Golden State’s Mark Jackson and Indiana’s Frank Vogel might be in jeopardy, should their teams’ postseason ambitions land with a thud this spring, but that still would require a couple more weeks at least. New York’s Mike Woodson, however, seems like he’s on borrowed time already, his new boss dropping hints about a coming triangle attack and other looming changes. Only Jackson’s tendency to ponder things – and maybe possible replacement Steve Kerr‘s TV contract? – might slow the process.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: John Loyer and Tyrone Corbin. The Pistons need a complete makeover and owner Tom Gores is looking to rid the team of GM Joe Dumars and any remnants from his time in the Motor City. The Jazz gave Corbin a chance to move ahead in new era after the legend Jerry Sloan stepped down after the Deron Williams saga, but Corbin hasn’t produced in Salt Lake City.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Utah’s Ty Corbin by a nose over New York’s Mike Woodson. Or vice-versa.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Rick Adelman, depending on the semantics in Minnesota. Fired, resignation — the change is coming. Maybe the Pistons beat the Timberwolves and remove the interim tag from John Loyer’s title in a bad way.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com:Discounting John Loyer and Rick Adelman for the reasons Asch stated above, it’s most likely going to be Mike Woodson. Not only did his team have the most disappointing season, but it just hired a new head of basketball operations, a move which almost always produces a coaching change. I wouldn’t be surprised if Tyrone Corbin is also on the chopping block. He obviously wasn’t given much talent or experience to work with, but you don’t need a lot of talent to be a decent defensive team and the Jazz have been the worst defensive team in the league.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: One of the inevitable downsides of the end of any NBA season is that a few coaches will get their walking papers the morning after the last game. Detroit’s John Loyer will have that interim tag removed from his title, but not in the way that usually signals good things for an interim coach. Loyer, though, doesn’t deserve to do the coaching plank walk for a team that has underachieved this season. That honor, if you will, belongs to folks higher up the food chain in Detroit.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: Well, the worst teams in the East are Boston, Orlando, Philly and Milwaukee. Only one of those teams isn’t supposed to be in the running — the Bucks. So I guess Larry Drew will be in the crosshairs. In the West, Utah, the Lakers, Sacramento and New Orleans are in the mix. So I suppose Mike D’Antoni will be in the conversation, with or without Rex Chapman‘s tweets. If I had to pick one, though? I guess D’Antoni, although I don’t necessarily think it would be a just maneuver. Too bad Phil Jackson already got a gig.

Blogtable: Finding a new playoff gear

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


BLOGTABLE: All-NBA center | Coaches in danger | Playoff team needs new gear



VIDEO: Bobcats big man Al Jefferson talks about Charlotte’s hopes for a long playoff run

Which playoff-bound teams (give me two or three) will play up to another level in the grind of the playoffs? Who will have trouble playing as well as they are now?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I start with the second question (ever notice how most respondents do?): Phoenix and Washington could suffer most from the just-happy-to-be-there approach, the Suns overachieving their way in (if they get in) and Washington desperate to qualify but with no real postseason experience. Atlanta figures to be a quick out but then, the Hawks haven’t played all that well anyway. Shifting into a better gear? Charlotte’s defense is suited to the playoffs and, if the Bobcats face the sideways Pacers, that could get interesting. Chicago always is a team to avoid, but that’s just the way the Bulls grind all the time, not due to any next level. I’d add Golden State, because their coach will feel urgency and the Warriors’ offense can get so dangerously hot.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The Spurs, Thunder, Heat, Bulls, Clippers will rise. The Pacers, Raptors, Nets, Blazers will drop. Why? It’s pretty self-explanatory. The first five teams look like legit contenders while the latter four are not ready for the grind of the playoffs for one reason or another. In particular, the Pacers look like they’re ready to crater.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com:Oklahoma City has fought through Russell Westbrook‘s situation and injuries to two starters in the final quarter of the season, plus acclimating Caron Butler, so put the Thunder at the top of the list for teams that will play up. It seems weird to put Miami in this category, but the Heat have been coasting. They know what’s at stake starting April 19. Also give me Brooklyn’s vets. On the other side, I expect Dallas, if it gets in, will have trouble reaching another level. And, Toronto, with relatively little playoff experience, could be in for an early disappointment — especially with potential first-round foe Washington expecting Nene‘s return.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Heat will play up to another level. They can read a calendar as well as anyone. All that talk about the fatigue from carrying the trophy overhead for so many years? Ignore it. This will be the playoff Heat. Maybe someone beats Miami, but the Heat aren’t handing anything over. And the Thunder will play up to another level. Westbrook will be playing big minutes and won’t have to worry about back-to-backs, Kendrick Perkins should have his minutes up and Thabo Sefolosha will have been back about a week and a half and in a good rhythm.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’ll always look at defense to answer a question like this. The Warriors have gone through some controversy and have seemingly been treading water around the No. 6 seed for a while, but they’ve been the best defensive team in the Western Conference, with top-flight defenders on the perimeter (Andre Iguodala) and the interior (Andrew Bogut). That’s a formula for playoff success. For the same reasons, Chicago and Charlotte will be tough outs. Oklahoma City has had some defensive issues of late and could be in trouble if they match up with Phoenix, because no team has been more efficient against the Thunder this season.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Brooklyn Nets look like one of those teams you don’t want to tussle with in the playoffs. The same goes for the Portland Trail Blazers and Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference. All three have endured their fair share of troubles at some point this season and yet all three seem to have another gear they can get to in the postseason. I love what the Toronto Raptors are doing right now but I wonder if they’re ready for what coach Dwane Casey knows awaits them in the playoffs. They have put together a fantastic season that should be highlighted by an Atlantic Division crown. What comes after that, however, is the problem. A potential first-round matchup against either Washington or Charlotte could be a rough ride.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: Waaaay back in October I was high on the Clippers and the Nets. And while Rick Fox and Sekou Smith may have made fun of me on the Hang Time Podcast for going all in on those teams, I’ve always felt that these were teams that would improve as the season went along, and I think they both have done exactly that. In the postseason, Chris Paul has always turned things up a notch, and now he has the players around him to be as dangerous as he’s ever been. And we’ve all seen how Brooklyn can handle Miami, so I think they’re in as good a place as they could be.

No scoring title tension for Durant, compared to Iceman vs. Skywalker, ’78

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

Hall of Famers George Gervin (left) and David Thompson staged a tight scoring race in 19XX. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

The scoring race between Hall of Famers George Gervin (left) and David Thompson in 1978 went down to the wire. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

There is no scoring race in the NBA this season. Not anymore. Kevin Durant tucked that thing in his back pocket sometime back in March during his streak of 41 games with 25 points or more. The Oklahoma City MVP favorite averaged 34.8 points over the half-season from Jan. 7 through Sunday, pulling up his season average to 32.0.

That has the rest of the field chasing Secretariat, as ridden by Usain Bolt. Consider the math: Durant could go scoreless in the Thunder’s final five games and he’d still wind up averaging 30.0 points. For nearest-challenger Carmelo Anthony (27.5 ppg) to catch him – Durant’s actual average at that point would be 30.04938272 – Anthony would need to score 309 points in New York’s final four games. That’s an average of 77.3.

LeBron James, currently in third place at 26.9 ppg, would have an extra game. If he played them all. Which he won’t. But the Miami superstar would need to get 385 points in the Heat’s final five games, an average of 77.0, to boost himself past Durant – if Durant plays five games without scoring a single point the rest of the way.

So this scoring race has been over for some time.

But that wasn’t the case 36 years ago today, when George Gervin and David Thompson shot it out in the closest, most stunning race ever for the scoring title.

Imagine Anthony, on the season’s final night, scoring 73 points against Toronto next Wednesday to move ahead of Durant, only to learn later that the OKC star had scored 63 points to wrest back the crown by the narrowest margin ever (0.0695 points).

That’s precisely what Gervin and Thompson did. Only more dramatically, in an epic anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better showdown that played out seven hours and 1,000 miles apart.

Thompson: ‘Superman on steroids’

Thompson, the Denver Nuggets’ 23-year-old wing player, was first up. He woke up in Detroit for a matinee game trailing Gervin in the scoring race by just 0.2 points per game, 26.6 to the Spurs star’s 26.8. There wasn’t much else to play for – Denver already had clinched its division, while Detroit had been eliminated from a playoff spot days earlier. There weren’t many to play for either, with attendance of just 3,482 at Cobo Arena that Sunday afternoon.

Denver Nuggets vs. Milwaukee Bucks

David Thompson (Vernon Biever/NBAE via Getty Images)

Gervin’s San Antonio team was scheduled to face the Jazz in New Orleans that evening. Thompson only knew that, based on their stats at the moment, he trailed “The Iceman” by 16 points in the scoring race (26.56 to Gervin’s 26.77). Nuggets coach Larry Brown apparently knew it, too, as Thompson related in his 2003 book, Skywalker:

“Do you want to go for it today?” Coach Brown asked me before the game. Whether we won or lost, we were still headed for the playoffs. So the coach was willing to let me shoot to my heart’s content to win the NBA scoring title. If I put up astronomical numbers, then Gervin, playing in New Orleans that evening, would be chasing me.

I hit the first eight shots I took, mainly medium-range jumpers from 15 to 18 feet. As the quarter wore on, I also got a few dunks on alley-oops. … Not realizing what had just occurred — it all happened so fast — I was amazed to learn later that I had set an NBA record for most points in a quarter with 32. That beat Wilt Chamberlain’s 1962 mark by one, set in that historic game where Wilt scored 100 points. Equally stunning was my accuracy in that first quarter. I went 13-14 from the field ([Ben] Poquette‘s block being the only shot I missed) and 6-6 from the foul line.

Thompson scored 21 more in the second quarter for 53 by halftime, and everyone in the building – along with some media people in Detroit suddenly scrambling to get there – could do the easy math and anticipate a challenge to Chamberlain’s and the NBA’s most famous record. As Thompson recalled:

You could see it on the Detroit players’ faces – something like, “There’s no way we can let this guy get 100 on us.” A hundred points? Heck, I was just a 6-foot-4 guard with a hot hand. I nailed the first 20 of 21 shots I had taken and was 20-23 at the half. I’d caught fire before, but never anything like this. … My 13 field goals were also a new NBA record, and it still stands to this day. I was definitely in the zone; I felt like Superman on steroids.

Thompson scored 20 more points in the second half, shooting 8 of 15 after the break. He sank 17 of 20 free throws that day, and his 73 points – the third highest total ever – raised his scoring average to 27.15. He and the Nuggets caught a flight back to Denver, and when Thompson got home, he searched on the radio dial for the Spurs-Jazz broadcast. His rival needed 58 points. That game was in the second quarter when Thompson found it, and he didn’t like what he heard.

 ‘The Iceman’ chaseth

Like Thompson, Gervin had entered the NBA the previous season, merging in when the league absorbed four ABA teams (Nuggets, Spurs, Nets and Pacers) before 1976-77. Nicknamed “The Iceman,” the lanky (6-foot-7), laconic swingman from Eastern Michigan was two years older than Thompson and just as lethal with a basketball. He had averaged 22.2 points in his first five seasons but kicked it up in his sixth, pursuing the first of what would be four NBA scoring titles.

But the first wasn’t guaranteed, as Gervin – talking about that day 18 years later, when he and Thompson were announced as Hall of Fame inductees – learned in a rude awakening:

I was asleep in my hotel room when a reporter called and said, ‘Ice, Thompson scored 73.’ I said, ‘Well, that’s it,’ and I hung up and went back to sleep. Down in the lobby later, some of the guys on the Spurs said, ‘Ice, we’re going to help you.’ My guys loved me.

George Gervin (Anthony Neste/NBAE/Getty Images)

George Gervin (Anthony Neste/NBAE/Getty Images)

Gervin shared more details, at least as he recalled them 36 years later, in a recent studio appearance on Sirius XM’s NBA channel (217):

So it was set up for me. Doug Moe was my coach, so anybody know anything about Doug, we was a run-and-gun type franchise anyway. The guys came to me and said, ‘Ice, let’s get it done, man.’

We went out the first quarter, I missed my first six shots. Called timeout. I was saying, ‘Ah, man, that’s a lot of pressure, man.’ Those guys say, ‘You ain’t got to worry about that. Aw, Ice. C’mon, man.’ I was kiddin’ anyway. I wanted to make sure they were still with me.

We started back, I had 20 that quarter and then I ended up gettin’ 33 the second quarter. End up getting 63 in 33 minutes.

Gervin launched 49 shots that night in New Orleans, hitting 23 of them (“I was kind of rushing,” he said of the first six). He, too, shot 17 of 20 from the line. At 58 points, the scoring title was his. With 63, his average shot past Thompson’s to 26.2195 points.

The closest scoring races since then came in 2009-10, when Durant (rounded to 30.1) edged James (29.7) by .4358 ppg, and in 1993-94. That’s the year San Antonio’s David Robinson, trailing Shaquille O’Neal by 0.0467 points on the final day, scored a career-best 71 in a matinee against the Clippers. O’Neal got 32 for Orlando that night against New Jersey. He wound up losing the title by 0.4418 points (29.3456 to Robinson’s 29.7875), with the Big Runner-Up taking some swipes at the Clippers’ dispassionate defense of his San Antonio rival.

O’Neal might have been calmer had he known his NBA history. On the Spurs’ bench that afternoon, egging on The Admiral to chase down that crown: Assistant coach George Gervin.