Posts Tagged ‘Steve Aschburner’

Blogtable: How many more MVPs will Stephen Curry win?

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: How many MVPs for Curry? | Best bench in playoffs? | Aldridge’s next move?



VIDEOHow many more MVPs can Stephen Curry win?

> Stephen Curry hoisted the Kia NBA MVP trophy on Monday. He just turned 27, so how many more of these will he collect?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I say one more in sort of an homage to Steve Nash and Steve/Steph’s everywhere. But my hunch is Anthony Davis, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Andrew Wiggins and several others — including LeBron James — say none.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Curry could and likely will continue to perform at this MVP level for another handful of years, but this could well be his only time to hold the trophy. There are just so many other contenders. I don’t think LeBron James is done adding to his collection. A healthy Kevin Durant will return with something to prove. James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul are all solid contenders.  But most of all, we are entering the Era of Anthony Davis and he’s going to fill up a shelf.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Maybe one. That’s not a knock on Curry — he will be at an MVP level for many years. But the field of other realistic possibilities is so deep. Look at who else finished near the top of the 2015 vote. LeBron James is the only one past halftime of his career. Curry’s problem with adding to the collection isn’t Curry. It’s everyone else.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I wouldn’t be surprised if he won another MVP or he doesn’t. It’s just too unpredictable right now, especially with James Harden and Russell Westbrook waiting “their turn” and the ever-imposing presence of LeBron James. Plus, there’s always the issue of health. But hey, if Steve Nash can win a pair, why not Curry?

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It’s certainly possible that he can win one or two more, but if I had to guess, the answer would be zero. Curry is ridiculous and the Warriors will be a great team for at least a few more years, but it was a crowded MVP field this year. LeBron James and Chris Paul each have one or two more MVP-esque years in them (and Paul will be more appreciated by the voters after this postseason). Kevin Durant, James Harden and Russell Westbrook each have a few more great seasons left in them. Kawhi Leonard is only 23 years old and Anthony Davis is only 22. It’s not about Curry, but about how many other options there will be every season.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: He’s got at least one more in him and maybe a third, overall. Curry’s young enough and the Warriors should remain in the elite mix long enough for him to contend for more. There are no guarantees, of course (we would have said the same thing about Derrick Rose after he won his MVP and the same thing about Kevin Durant last season, and neither one of them was in the mix this season). Being in the MVP discussion requires so many moving parts to fall into place in a given season. Curry has all of them on his side now and going forward. Only time will tell.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comSteve Nash won two of them, even though his teammates lacked the defensive mentality of Curry’s Warriors. I’m going to give Curry another MVP – and he could contend for more pending his ability to win championships.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I’ll say two more, and that’s being conservative. Winning an MVP almost requires a perfect storm, and this season everything has been clicking for Curry and the Warriors, from Curry staying healthy to the team around him being championship caliber. It’s almost felt like a downhill trip at times for the Warriors and for Curry’s MVP candidacy. How many more times will the chips all fall perfectly, or at least perfectly enough to make Curry the front-runner in the MVP voting? It requires skill, for sure, but a little luck never hurt anyone, either.

Like the NBA’s age of Jordan, this shapes up as era of LeBron


VIDEO: Highlights of LeBron’s big Game 4 as the Cavs sweep the Celtics

CLEVELAND – For a decade and a half in the NBA, from about the mid-1980s through the end of the millennium, certain teams, coaches and especially players bemoaned their miserable luck at living through the era of Michael Jordan.

From access to individual accolades and scoring titles to capturing NBA championships, life was rougher for the likes of Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Reggie Miller and plenty others because their basketball primes coincided with that man born on Feb. 17, 1963. Short of time travel or one of Jordan’s retirements, it was going to be tough for any of them to go through or even around arguably the game’s GOAT.

Something similar is going on now with a fellow born on Dec. 30, 1984.

That day – just 65 days after Jordan made his NBA debut for the Chicago Bulls – was LeBron James‘ birthdate. And the Cleveland Cavaliers star has a strangehold of sorts on NBA success in this century that might wind up rivaling Jordan’s.

OK, so James only had two rings. But he has played in four consecutive Finals and five in his career. He owns four Most Valuable Player awards and, in the 2015 balloting results released Monday, was the only player from the Eastern Conference who got so much as a fifth-place vote.

The Bulls, in prepping for Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Cavaliers, know of the feeling of being blocked from their greatest goals by James. But others do as well, from those he has blocked from reaching the Finals – Derrick Rose, Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony among them – to others who got there but fell short, such as Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden.

Tom Thibodeau was the Boston Celtics’ assistant coach specializing in defense who game-planned for James successfully in 2008 and 2010. For the past five seasons, he’s been the Bulls head coach whose club got eliminated twice by James’ teams (2011, 2013). He knows this is the age of LeBron James.

“Yeah. It’s a great league and there’s great players, and it never ends,” Thibodeau said before Game 1 Monday at Quicken Loans Arena. “It keeps coming. When I was in Boston, we had a great team and he was chasing us then. Then he changed and obviously everyone was chasing Miami. Then this year, everyone was chasing San Antonio.

“So there’s a lot of great players in the league and he’s certainly right up there at the top. You have to give him a lot of credit. Sometimes it gets lost – he’s gone to The Finals four straight years, not an easy thing to do. Then he accepted the challenge to come back here. So we know how great he is.”

Morning shootaround — May 3


VIDEO: Clippers advance with thrilling Game 7 win over Spurs

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Paul has legacy game | Questions loom over Spurs’ summer | As Wall goes, so go Wizards | Banged-up Conley key for Grizzlies

No. 1: Paul has legacy game — It wasn’t quite a Bill Mazeroski or Joe Carter moment, but it was close. While Chris Paul‘s series-winning bank shot that beat the San Antonio Spurs in Game 7 wasn’t a “walk-off” highlight – to use popular baseball lingo that describes Mazeroski’s and Carter’s World Series-grabbing home runs – it did come with just one second left on the game clock at Staples Center Saturday. That, according to the folks at the Elias Sports Bureau, made it the latest Game 7-winning field goal in NBA history. Paul’s balky left hamstring will crowd out that scrapbook play over the next 24 hours, as his Clippers prepare to face the Rockets in Houston with the possibility he won’t be available, but it’s worth a recap of the career night that forever will be part of Paul’s story, per Dan Woike of the Orange County Register:

After playing the kind of game they’ll talk about when he enters the Hall of Fame one day, Chris Paul went and found older brother C.J.

The two men have been together since Day One of Chris’ NBA career, and Saturday after Paul hit a winner to knock out the San Antonio Spurs at Staples Center, he hobbled over to his friends, his family and his brother. They embraced, and Paul finally exhaled while his brother shook his head in agreement.

“He said, ‘Finally,” C.J. Paul said.

Paul’s winner gave the Clippers a 111-109 win over the Spurs – the league’s defending champions and a team that has knocked him out of the playoffs twice before.

“I’m just glad to see him beat those guys,” C.J. Paul said. “We’ve been in the Western Conference for 10 years, and they’ve dominated for all 10 years really. For us to beat them like this … ohhh.”

Here’s how he did it – with 27 points on 13 shots, six assists, two steals, a block and one hamstring.

Chris Paul limped off the court late in the first quarter, burying his head into his hands before heading back to the locker room.

Paul had played in all 82 games this season for the first time in his career, and here he was, in the year’s biggest contest, wondering if his body had just failed him.

“We do everything we can to prepare for a game. You get your rest, you train, you work out, you eat right, try to take care of your body,” Paul said. “And I was just overcome with emotion because I was frustrated, because I was like, all this time, all season long, and then Game 7 my body is going to let me down.

“That’s what it was all about right there.”

***

No. 2: Questions loom over Spurs’ summer — Pressing Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, the oldest of San Antonio’s veteran core, on their respective future plans might have seemed premature to some, in the immediate wake of their lost back-to-back championship hopes. But that franchise’s aging (or ageless) stars were part of both the storyline and the appeal of the series against the Clippers and Game 7 specifically. Besides, these guys have a way of disappearing for most of the offseason, putting on pressure to grab-and-ask when one can. Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News tackled the look ahead as best he could:

The conventional wisdom has Duncan, who recorded his sixth double-double of the series with 27 points and 11 rebounds, coming back for more given that he continues to play at such a high level even at such an advanced age. The same cannot be said for Ginobili, who had his moments in Game 7 with eight points and seven assists but otherwise struggled in the series after averaging 10.5 points during the regular season, his lowest since his rookie year.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after the game he expects both them and himself to be back for a 14th season together in 2015-16.

“The paycheck’s pretty good,” he joked. … But whatever thought the players have put into retirement were kept largely to themselves during postgame, with neither tipping their hand about their plans.

“It’s too early to think about that,” Duncan said.

Said Ginobili, “(Retirement) could happen, easily. I still don’t know what I want to do, and I don’t want to make big decisions after a disappointment like this. I’ll sit with my family, try to evaluate what happened this year. The Spurs have a decision to make, too. It’s not a topic for right now.”

The Spurs could conceivably reload with the potential of more than $20 million in cap space this summer when the free agent period opens in July. But to reach that threshold, they’d have to bid farewell to both Duncan and Ginobili, who along with Tony Parker have been the foundation of the team since they first joined forces in 2002.

***

No. 3: As Wall goes, so go Wizards — Slotted into a Nos. 4-5 matchup with Toronto in the first round, on the heels of an underwhelming second half to the regular season, the Washington Wizards haven’t grabbed much of the playoff spotlight so far. Sweeping Toronto, impressive as that was, only served to send Washington back to the practice gym while others played more desperate games. But the Wizards’ talent is lurking, and whatever they accomplish will be orchestrated largely by point guard John Wall, who’s ready for his close-up, according to NBA.com contributor Ian Thomsen:

As he turns the corner on a career that is just now coming into focus, Wall is giving his Wizards a transcendent advantage. The recent negatives and traditions of their long-suffering franchise are suddenly not so important as his leadership. What his teammates have seen from their young point guard has led them to believe that their tomorrows will eclipse the yesterdays. Wall’s understanding of his teammates inspires them to believe in him.

“That’s what you go through training camp for,” says Wall, his voice deep and scratchy as if revealing the hard past. “That’s why, when you go on the road, you hang out as a team. You do little things to get the feeling, to know how they are. Some people are going to have certain mood swings and not have good days, and you’ve got to know how to talk to those guys and try to get them out of their slump, and to just lock in for those two or three hours that you’re playing the game.”

Wall’s physical talents are not to be taken for granted. But something else about him is driving and uniting his team. The reason he is fulfilling his own potential is because he is recognizing their potential.

The other bracket in the East is brimming with star power: LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and their depleted Cavaliers are surrounded by Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler. In that series, the leaders are fighting to uphold reputations that have already been established.

The No. 5 Wizards, by contrast, have nothing to defend and everything to gain in their conference semifinal against the No. 1 Hawks. The Wizards are just now realizing how good they can become by playing through Wall. Their future is as unpredictable as his past.

***

No. 4: Banged-up Conley key for Grizzlies — Pretty vs. ugly: OK, that’s probably too reductive. Certainly there’s a lot more that will go into the Golden State-Memphis showdown in the Western Conference semifinals that begin Sunday afternoon in Oakland, but the contrast in styles between the Warriors’ high-flying, long-range offensive attack and the Grizzlies’ oversized mule team down low is as stark as anything we’ve seen or likely will see in the 2015 postseason. Few experts are giving Memphis much of a chance, Michael Wallace of ESPN.com notes, but its prospects perk up considerably if point guard Mike Conley is able to participate from the start. The facial injury he suffered against Portland in Round 1 might intrude, and likely will require a mask, but as soon as Conley is capable of helping his teammates, they’ll happily take him, Wallace writes:

Conley still had significant facial swelling when he attended Wednesday’s series-clinching victory over Portland two days after a surgery in which plates were inserted below and above his left eye. He sustained the injury in a Game 3 victory April 25 in Portland, when he was inadvertently elbowed in the face by Blazers guard C.J. McCollum. Conley has indicated he hopes to return at some point against the Warriors, but his coach and teammates have remained coy — perhaps strategically — about his progress.

Memphis coach Dave Joerger was asked before the team left Memphis if he expected Conley to play.

“I don’t,” Joerger said. “But only because that’s the way I look at the world as a head coach: Expect the worst, and if something better happens, then … You don’t want to go through the doctoral thesis of playoff prep, scouting-wise, without a guy with you. You want to absorb that and get the adjustments being made on the practice court or shootaround court, seeing stuff live. He’s definitely all-in mentally.”

Depending on the teammate questioned, Conley either spent the past two days practicing and on the verge of a return or nowhere to be found. All-Star center Marc Gasol suggested he hadn’t seen Conley and knew nothing about rumors his point guard had been testing protective masks, a step that wasn’t expected until swelling subsided substantially. But then shooting guard Courtney Lee told reporters Conley would be back and the Grizzlies would be facing the Warriors “with a full army” for Game 1.

“We’ll have Mike back,” Lee said. “We feel good about our chances. Just having him back is a boost.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: LeBron James and Cavaliers coach David Blatt would be more surprised if Chicago’s Joakim Noah were not excited about getting Cleveland in the Eastern Conference semifinals. …Before Steve Kerr, before Stephen Curry and definitely before the Golden State Warriors started winning big, they had the NBA’s most loyal, noisy and arguably knowledgeable fans. … Brook Lopez looms literally and figuratively as the biggest of the Brooklyn Nets’ free-agent decisions. … Then there’s Nets guard Deron Williams, whose coach, Lionel Hollins, has downgraded him from any lofty “franchise player” status. Nice of Lionel to catch up to the rest of us on that. … Portland’s multiple free agents will boost the NBA market overall, but they pose challenges for the Blazers. … If the Bulls cut loose Tom Thibodeau, the Orlando Magic will be waiting with a net. The Magic are determined to hire a coach with considerable experience. …

Blogtable: Thoughts On Donovan, OKC

Each week, we 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. Today, it’s a special, one-question-only edition of the blogtable …


VIDEOBilly Donovan’s biggest challenges with Thunder?

> The Thunder have hired Florida’s Billy Donovan to be their next coach. What do you think of this move? And how do you measure success at the end of next season?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’m no fan of college coaches in the NBA, Brad Stevens’ fine work in Boston a praiseworthy exception. For every one like him, there are two or three — Mike Montgomery, Tim Floyd, Lon Kruger — who struggle to make the challenging transition. In college, the coach is king and it’s men bossing around boys. In the NBA, the players rule and largely allow themselves to be coached. The urgency of OKC’s situation makes Donovan a shaky fit too, in my view. Unless Kevin Durant flat-out loves the guy, they have just one season to get back at least to the Western Conference finals – and even that would carry no guarantee that the 2014 MVP wouldn’t land elsewhere in 2016 free agency. Then it could be Russell Westbrook after that. Looks to me like the Thunder are most committed to Donovan (five-year deal) at a level, frankly, they never committed to Scott Brooks.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: It seemed that general manager Sam Presti didn’t think the Thunder were going to take the next step forward with the laid-back style of Scott Brooks. He’s brought in a friend and a more intense personality in Billy Donovan, because he thinks his team needs a spark and next season is critical for the future of the franchise with Kevin Durant about to become a free agent. Success now for OKC is 55-60 and no less than a trip to The Finals. It’s a very high bar and one that might be necessary to hang onto both K.D. and Russell Westbrook.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comHiring someone who has not spent a day in the NBA makes it a risky move when a team is in win-now mode — there will be a transition — but Donovan has the counter: a long track record of success. This is not just any other college coach, and that will help with credibility within the locker room. How do I measure at the end of next season whether the move was a success? If we’re “at the end of next season” one year from now. If the Thunder, health willing, are done at the end of April or the first days of May, their 2015-16 has been a failure. How much of that would fall on the new coach remains to be seen, depending on his adjustment to the next level, but certainly he gets blame if OKC has an early exit. Success is a long playoff run and nothing less.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Billy Donovan is a former NBA player with deep ties to Rick Pitino and other former and current NBA coaches, so in terms of knowing the game and relating to the professional player, he should be fine. Honestly, I think this is pretty close to a home run for the Thunder, at least in terms of splash. On the surface, Donovan gives them a chance and should have a smooth relationship with Kevin Durant; if Durant leaves it probably won’t be because of the coach. The real work will be with Russell Westbrook; will Donovan press Russ to tweak the shoot-first mentality? Bottom line: Donovan needs a rookie season in OKC the way Steve Kerr is having a rookie season in Golden State.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I don’t have a strong opinion either way. I like the idea of bringing in some new blood into the coaching ranks, which has generally worked out well over the last few years. But Donovan is a guy who’s never coached in the NBA, taking over a pretty unique team in terms of its talent, which was already very good on both ends of the floor. So none of us really know how it will work out. But success will be measured by whether or not Kevin Durant re-signs next summer. Asking Donovan to get to The Finals in his first year is a lot. But if he establishes something that convinces Durant to stick around, he’s done his job.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: They had to hire someone with name recognition and a long track record as coach, so in that respect this move would appear to be a positive one. But assuming Donovan will make the same sort of transition like Brad Stevens has made in Boston is a huge mistake. It’s all about the expectations. If Donovan has healthy stars for the 2015-16 season, he’ll be greeted with the same sort of outlandish expectations that awaited David Blatt at the start of training camp in Cleveland this season. If Thunder GM Sam Presti stuck to his ways and hired Donovan without at least giving consideration to the preferences of Kevin Durant and/or Russell Westbrook, this could turn out to be an even more diabolically divisive move. If either one of them walks on Donovan’s watch, Billy D will carry that blame with him, right or wrong, until he leads the Thunder to a title. Presti has a long history of spectacular moves — be it in the Draft, trade market or free agency — but he’s compiling an equally long list of head-scratching moves, too. That’s a cause for concern. It only takes one or two gaffes (James Harden comes to mind) to erode years of confidence from fans. Donovan’s fit has to be perfect for this move to work and I’m just not sure it is. The only measure of success for the Thunder next season is the sort of renaissance turnaround that comes from being a lottery team this summer to being a No. 1 playoff seed this time next year. And that’s just for starters.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: It is a long-term investment. Success will be measured by progress: If Durant and Westbrook believe by this time next year that they’re on track to win championships in partnership with Donovan, then what better way to convince them to re-sign as free agents? The goal is to create an environment that serves their best interests as they enter their prime years – a team built for a long run of contention that they can’t afford to leave.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I’m not really sure what to make of Billy Donovan. To my knowledge he’s known for winning a lot of games and winning national titles, but he’s never been touted as an offensive genius, the kind of coach who can make OKC’s offense a little more liquid than it’s been the last few years. To be honest, I thought Larry Brown would be an inspired coach for a short-term, win-now project. Donovan feels like more of a long-term hire, someone who will build a foundation and be there for years to come. but with Westbrook and Durant staring down free agency just around the bend, I’m just not sure that Donovan is who or what the Thunder needs right now.

Blogtable: No more Hack-A-Shaq?

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: Cavs in trouble? | Next moves for OKC’s next coach? | No more Hack-a-Shaq?



VIDEOShould the hack-a-player rules be changed?

> Lots of chatter recently about the Hack-a-Shaq strategy. Is sending a weak free-throw shooter to the foul line a sound tactic or a tired tactic, and should the league do anything about it?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI suppose the league could extend the time during which fouls off the ball mean two free throws and possession. To be transparent, I haven’t covered one of these in a long time, and sitting through a bad foul shooter’s repeated misses, with all the stoppages of play, is tougher in an arena than watching from home. But free throws are part of the game – Lord knows, that’s about all the media ever gets to see at the end of practice, guys shooting countless free throws – and everyone from the littlest to the biggest players need to perform in those moments. The status quo doesn’t bother me.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I’m fed up, sick and tired of the complaining by so-called professionals who have not been able to become at least proficient in a fundamental part of the game. When Tiago Splitter was a rookie he was a 54 percent free throw shooter and in the 2012 playoffs, the Thunder fouled him intentionally and effectively turned around the Western Conference finals. Splitter’s answer? He went into the gym and worked. Now he shoots free throws at a 70 percent clip and isn’t being hacked all of the time.  If we’re going to change the rules and bail out DeAndre Jordan, Dwight Howard, Josh Smith and every other foul-line rim-bender, I also propose that every player under 6-foot-3 should be allowed to jump on the back of a 7-footer on the opposing team to make a layup or dunk. It’s just not fair that the basket is so high!  Commissioner Adam Silver should stop listening to the brick-laying crybabies and back away from this one. Just make your damn free throws.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: It’s tired, but it is a tactic. It’s the basketball equivalent of walking the No. 8 hitter to get to the pitcher. That’s not fun either, but it’s strategy. Same think with the Haq. I don’t think the league does anything dramatic. Maybe tweaks it, but it’s not like there is a great outcry from coaches and general managers to alter the rule. The drumbeat for change is mostly from the outside.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comI’ve never seen a situation where intentionally fouling a bad free throw shooter absolutely helped a team win a game by itself. Maybe it contributed along the way. I do know the NBA shouldn’t discourage these acts by putting a rule in place. Why create a rule that just affects a half-dozen players, if that? Makes no sense. And a rule would only discourage players from practicing harder. Adam Silver said he hates the way it looks on TV. But that alone isn’t enough to push for change.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: That somebody who gets paid millions of dollars to play basketball can’t make half his free throws seems ridiculous to me, so I have no sympathy for the player and team being hacked. But I also don’t think it’s that great a strategy from the hacking team’s standpoint. While a 0.9 points per possession return (from a 45-percent free throw shooter) is certainly less than the 1.1 return on a typical opponent possession, they will rebound some of those second misses, and their defense being allowed to set up after a free throw will diminish your own offense a bit. The only great time to do it is at the end of the quarter to get a free possession for your own team.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: It’s tired, but when executed properly a very effective tool. I understand the desire of many to legislate the hack-a-whoever out of the game, but I think that’s a total cop out. Put the onus on the players and teams to make sure guys work on and improve their free throw shooting. Guys find ways to gain weight, lose wait, work on their quickness, improve their jump shot, handle, post moves and ability to shoot from distance. Why can’t the same emphasis be placed on free throw shooting? Seriously, it’s 2015 … make the players accountable this time.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Change nothing. This is a self-correcting mechanism. Don’t enable bad free throw shooting – instead allow Hack-a-Shaq to shame players into learning one of the game’s basic skills.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogOh man, I get irrationally angry about this. There’s one thing and one thing only that the NBA should do about this: Nothing. Nothing at all. If DeAndre Jordan or Rajon Rondo or whomever can’t shoot free throws, maybe they should work on their free throws! The idea that we should change some rules to make the game easier for players who have a fundamental weakness really bothers me. Did they change the free throw rules shooting for Wilt Chamberlain? Shaquille O’Neal (for whom this strategy is named)? Why change them now, because it makes the game less fun to watch? To me it’s ridiculous to even consider it. If you want the game to be more visually pleasing, get Jordan in the gym, don’t change the rules.

Blogtable: Are Cavs in trouble?

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: Cavs in trouble? | Next moves for OKC’s next coach? | No more Hack-a-Shaq?



VIDEOThe Cavs are trying not to wallow in the loss of Kevin Love

> After sweeping the Celtics, the Cavs have to field a completely different starting lineup in the next round that won’t include Kevin Love or J.R. Smith. Are the Cavs in trouble?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’d say “challenged” more than “in trouble.” J.R. Smith will be back in two games, and I expect the Cavaliers to do no worse than split those on their home floor in the conference semifinals. Love won’t be back and, sure, Cleveland will miss his floor spacing (that’s a bigger deal vs. Chicago than Milwaukee, as I see it). But the Cavs still have the two best players in the next two rounds at least — LeBron James in his prime and an all-growed-up Kyrie Irving, and their complementary pieces know how to work around them. I assume they’ll be playing 42-44 minutes of course.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comFirst of all, remember that J.R. Smith is lost for two games, not the entire series. I wouldn’t say the Cavs are in water way over their heads, just that it’s deeper, much rougher and full of more things that can bite them. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving will definitely miss Kevin Love’s ability to make 3s, open the floor and make it easier for them to drive to the basket. Assuming the Cavs face the Bulls in the East semifinals — and that might be assuming too much at this point — they have the bigs in Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol and Taj Gibson that can make life difficult. Hello, Tristan Thompson.  If a repentant Smith backs up all of his contrite words and returns for Game 3 with renewed focus and energy, it will be a boost. In the end, I think we see LeBron and Kyrie rise to the occasion and survive in a series that goes the distance. As far as going all the way without Love, well, that might be too much to ask.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Yes, because the degree of difficulty is about to go way up if the Cavs play the Bulls in the next round, as I believe they will. This could all change with one game, of course — if Milwaukee gets another against Chicago, the mood will quickly change to the Bulls being wobbly. But if it is Cleveland-Chicago, it’s a close series with the Cavs at full strength. With the Cavs down two players, it’s a steeper climb. They are hardly done, but they are in more trouble.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Hard to imagine a team with LeBron James being in trouble for an entire series. Will it hurt initially? Yes, of course. Love and Smith were important rotation guys and Smith in particular an important defender. Still, you must consider two factors before throwing dirt on the Cavs: One, they won’t exactly see the 1986 Boston Celtics in the next round. Two, LeBron has a way of covering up for most if not all player losses. I’m still picking the Cavs to win the East, but not having Love will seriously damage their NBA title aspirations.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The loss of both certainly makes them more vulnerable at home – where they’re 22-1 since LeBron James’ hiatus – in the first two games. This has never looked like a championship team, but the loss of a major cog (Love) will hurt them against every opponent, and maybe on defense as much as offense. This team is not very deep and James will need to play more at the four to properly space the floor. Those lineups aren’t as strong defensively as lineups with him at the three. Assuming they get the Bulls in the next round, I’d call that series a toss-up.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Trouble? Sure. But how much? I’m not sure it’s as severe as I originally thought it might be Sunday night in Boston, when I pondered the Cavaliers’ playoff future and whether or not it could end quickly in the conference semifinals. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving played so many nights without Kevin Love in the mix at crunch time that there should be no shock to their systems without him in uniform for the remainder of the playoffs. J.R. Smith, as solid as he’s been since joining the Cavaliers, will be missed but only for the first two games of the conference semifinals. The rest of the Cavaliers should be able to hold it down until then. Love’s absence for the long-term is, of course, troublesome. But not the season-killer it sounds looks like on paper.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: It’s entirely up to Chicago. The absences of Love and Anderson Varejao can be exploited by the Bulls’ big front line — but only if they are upholding their traditional defensive identity. If the Bulls are unable to renew their old form then Cleveland may yet overcome these latest setbacks.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: No, for one simple reason: The Cavs play in the Eastern Conference! Without Kevin Love the Cavs offense will lack some spacing and the stretch four threat he provided, as well as the ability to go small and use Love as almost a stretch five(!), but even without Love, the Cavs have two things going for them: LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. If they end up playing Chicago in the Eastern Conference semifinals, as long as they can total more than 80 points a game they should be in every game. On the other side of the bracket, Washington has looked OK, but I’m not sure Atlanta/Brooklyn is putting the fear of anything in anyone right now.

Blogtable: Thunder coach’s to-do list?

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: Cavs in trouble? | Next moves for OKC’s next coach? | No more Hack-a-Shaq?



VIDEOSir Charles was not a fan of the Thunder firing Scott Brooks

> If you were named coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder, what would be atop your “to-do list” your first day on the job?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’d pull Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook aside immediately after my introductory press conference to thank them. There’s no way a new coach gets hired there without the team’s two stars signing off on it – it probably is a top priority to have them on board, rather than just hold veto power, over Scott Brooks‘ replacement. Then I’d consult with them on their favorite plays, their preferred practice schedule, their desired minutes vs. rest workload and what their favorite meals are to have aboard our chartered flights. Would that be weenie, letting two players dictate so many team decisions? Not if I want to stay employed as coach and fear the leverage Durant and Westbrook wield with their upcoming free-agency decisions. Such is the power dynamic in the NBA these days.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comAfter I’m finished having an All-Star level suck-up session with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, I’m installing an offense that gets more ball movement and relies far less on both of those guys to make hero shots at the end of every shot clock and game.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Find out what Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are doing that same day. Pick up the phone, arrange a video conference, fax, singing telegram — whatever. I find out how their schedules look and how soon we can visit in person. (Which is probably exactly what will happen, with a lot of the Thunder roster, not just the two stars.)

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I take Kevin Durant to dinner and exchange ideas. That’s a no brainer. Next season will be all about keeping him happy and appreciated and in the loop and engaged. If I can successfully sell Durant on my vision and blueprint for winning a title, then I’ve done my part in keeping him in OKC in the summer of 2016.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’d call Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Russell Westbrook and schedule a day to spend with each of them. I’d ask Sam Presti to trade Dion Waiters. I’d try to figure out if free agent Enes Kanter can help me offensively more than he hurts me defensively. And I’d start making calls in an effort to put together a good staff.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’d need an immediate sit down with my two biggest stars, so we can figure out a happy medium for them in terms of how they co-exist now and in the future. It’s not that the rest of the guys don’t matter, but I need to know where the dynamic stands between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and what exactly I’m working with as their coach. It looks one way from a distance, but could be totally different inside that bubble. We all need to be on one accord about who and what we are, in every sense of that phrase, if we’re going to climb back into the thick of things at the top of the standings in the Western Conference and the league. So there’s no sense in wasting any time talking about anything else.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: First of all, I would recognize that Scott Brooks is an excellent coach who probably tried everything I am going to consider. My priority would be to improve their passing game, enabling  the ball to move from side to side in the half court. I would ask Russell Westbrook to make quicker decisions, and also try to help Mitch McGary become a better defender so that he can spend more time in the game – because he could give the Thunder a crucial passer from the high post.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogMaking sure I had a long-term contract? Going to breakfast with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and making sure they were both committed long-term to continuing to build something there?  No matter who they hire, whether it’s Billy Donovan or whomever, all eyes will be on next summer, when Durant can become a free agent, and the incredibly small window there for the new coach to make something happen. Whether or not it’s a real or imagined pressure, it’s pressure nonetheless and something annoying the new coach will have to deal with. And if these aren’t the things the new coach deals with on his first day, the other thing I’d do is I’d sit down and design an offense that made life easier on all the players involved. What better way to get people to stay?

Conley’s return fate waits 48 hours

With political scandals, they say, it’s not the act, it’s the cover-up. With sports injuries, it’s not the surgery, it’s the recovery. And that’s what Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley faces now.

Conley, who had successful facial surgery Monday in Memphis after being inadvertently elbowed by Portland’s C.J. McCollum Saturday in Game 3 of the Grizzlies-Trail Blazers first-round series, now must wait 48 hours for swelling to subside. Only then, reported Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, will Conley and his team be able to assess his prospects for a possible return in these playoffs.

Conley already was scratched from Game 4 in Portland Monday, with the Grizzlies ahead 3-0 in the best-of-seven series. If it continues, Game 5 is scheduled for Wednesday in Memphis, Game 6 Friday in Portland and a possible Game 7 Sunday back in Memphis.

Here is the essence of Wojnarowski’s report, citing league sources:

There are scenarios in which Conley could return in a possible Western Conference semifinal series against the Golden State Warriors, league sources said, but that’s uncertain until the healing process begins, the pain lessens and Conley can be fitted for a mask.

Twitter also provided bits of Conley-related info:

Stepping into the void again for Conley, particularly if backup Beno Udrih continues to be limited with an ankle sprain, could be second-year man Nick Calathes, who finished strong for the Grizzlies in Game 3.

Turnovers give Bucks hope in Game 5


VIDEO: Bulls-Bucks Game 5 preview

CHICAGO – Given the errant manner in which the Chicago Bulls have been throwing the basketball around in their first-round playoff series against Milwaukee, you almost expect to glance at the roster and see: Jay Cutler, point guard.

A city whose sports fans are all too familiar with the NFL Chicago Bears quarterback’s penchant for interceptions and turnovers is braced for more of the same when the Bulls, up 3-1 against the Bucks, try to close out in Game 5 Monday night at United Center.

Through four games, the Bulls have turned over the ball 80 times. That includes the 28 forced and unforced miscues against the Bucks Saturday in Game 4, right up to Chicago’s last possession when Derrick Rose lost the ball to Khris Middleton digging down in a triple-team.

The Bucks had 20 steals Saturday, only the second team in the past 30 years to achieve that in a playoff game (Philadelphia did it against Orlando one night in May 1999). And they had 32 in the first three games.

That’s how Chicago has managed to pull off this unlikely statistical tandem: No. 1 so far in the postseason in team assist percentage (73.2 percent of the Bulls’ field goals have come from assists), No. 16 in assist/turnover ratio (1.30).

Or to frame what’s going on another way, Chicago has outscored Milwaukee in the series so far by 26 points (397-371). But it has been outscored by 33 in points off turnovers (96-63).

Approximately one-quarter (25.8 percent) of the Bucks’ offense has been aided and abetted by the Bulls losing the basketball; the Bulls have only been so gifted on 15.9 percent of their points.

Since Chicago wasn’t this butterfingered during the regular season – an assist/turnover ratio of 1.56 and 14.0 turnovers per game – much of the credit belongs to Milwaukee. The Bucks led the NBA in steals per game (9.6) and opponents’ turnovers (17.4), and they have dialed up their intensity the past 10 days.

“It’s what we’re built on, our defense,” coach Jason Kidd said between Games 4 and 5. “Did we do anything different? No. We were just playing hard and putting ourselves in position to win a game. The last two games we did that. … I wouldn’t say we’re getting a lot of easy points, but we’re getting some points off turnovers, which we need.”

Rose had eight turnovers Saturday, Pau Gasol had five, Jimmy Butler four and Nikola Mirotic three. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said the Bulls have put in sufficient time on the basics, but haven’t done well executing them.

“We talk about fundamentals,” Thibodeau said. “Owning your space, passing with two hands, catching with two hands, tucking the ball, pivoting. And trust the pass. When you look at how they occur, it’s usually too much dancing or one-on-one or risky passes. Hit the first open man. Keep the ball moving. When we do that, we get great shots.”

Milwaukee’s tenacious defense has been a constant in their first season under Kidd and this coaching staff. It’s the less glamorous end of the floor and it doesn’t move the net, but it sure has moved the needle through four games.

“They’re swarming,” Gasol said after Game 4. “They’re doing a good job of putting pressure on us. We’ve got to do a much better job of taking care of the ball, individually and collectively. Twenty-eight turnovers are 28 we gave away. In a two-point game, that’s a big difference.”

 

Morning shootaround — April 26



VIDEO: Highlights from Saturday’s playoff action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Conley injury hex continues, Calathes steps up | No nonsense as Warriors sweep | Bucks graduate to winning | Sixers eyeing Russell in draft?

No. 1: Conley injury hex continues, Calathes steps up — Just when it appeared that Memphis point guard Mike Conley was getting healthier, he gets a whole lot more hurt. Conley had to leave Game 3 between the Grizzlies and Trail Blazers in Portland Saturday after being hit in the face (between the cheekbone and the eye) by an elbow from Blazers guard C.J. McCollum. He was taken to a local medical facility, and though he Tweeted out an encouraging prognosis later, his status for Game 4 and beyond remains uncertain (NBA concussion protocols might mandate a layoff).

With backup point Beno Udrih already out with a sprained ankle, it fell to Grizzlies deep reserve Nick Calathes to finish out Game 3 and keep Memphis in position to sweep. Mike Tokito of The Oregonian reported on Calathes’ stepping into the void:

All Calathes did was to contribute 13 points, six rebounds and four assists while committing no turnovers in 27 minutes of the Grizzlies 115-109 win that extended their series lead to 3-0.

“I thought Nick Calathes came off and gave us a big boost tonight,” Memphis coach Dave Joerger said.

It wasn’t just a one-time feel-good story in the manner of, say, Troy Daniels of Houston in last year’s Blazers playoffs. Calathes could become a key to Memphis wrapping up the series.

Conley left the game with 4:03 left in the third quarter, and Memphis leading 74-64. Calathes played the rest of the game and provided a much-needed steadying influence.
A big key was that he did not hesitate to shoot when Portland left him unguarded, and he made two key three-pointers.

“I’m a shooter, I’m very confident in my shot,” he said. “If they’re going to play off me, I’m going to shoot the ball. And tonight I made them, and Monday I’ll do the same. I’ve been working on my shot with the coaches, and I’m ready.”

The 6-foot-6 Calathes is in his second NBA season and playing in the playoffs for the first time, but he’s no stranger to big games. Calathes was a college standout in two seasons at Florida, then played overseas, in Greece (born in the U.S., he holds dual citizenships because both his parents are Greeks) and Russia. In 2011, he helped Panathinaikos win the EuroLeague championship, and has played in all kinds of high-level international tournaments.

“He’s played in a lot of big games, you can tell – international competitions that he’s played in,” Joerger said. “He’s a very, very solid NBA point guard.”

Calathes would have made his NBA playoff debut last season, except for a bizarre circumstance: He incurred a 20-game NBA suspension for testing positive for Tamoxifen, which is on the league’s banned substance list. The drug is not considered to be performance-enhancing, but rather, a masking agent. Calathes said he took it in an over-the-counter supplement, but whatever the case, he was not able to play in the playoffs, making Saturday’s performance even sweeter.

“It was real nice,” he said. “What happened last year will happen, but for me to be here with these guys, to be out there on the grind and go to battle with them, it’s a great feeling.”

***

No. 2: No nonsense as Warriors sweep — When a team wins 67 games, it doesn’t deal with much adversity over the course of the long NBA season. That means the opportunities to reach down in tough times are limited, leaving questions about what might happen if some team tightens the screw on them in the postseason. That’s why Golden State coach Steve Kerr seemed more satisfied by how the Warriors handled their two road games against New Orleans in sweeping through the first round, rather than the games in Oakland that so often wind up as feel-good affairs. Our own Fran Blinebury was at the Smoothie King Center Saturday to chronicle Golden State’s seriousness of purpose:

These were the Warriors at their hammer-on-the-anvil, bludgeoning best.

The threesome of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and [Draymond] Green combined for 86 points, 21 rebounds and 18 assists while shooting 30 of 53 (.567) from the field and 13 of 21 (.619) on 3-pointers.

The Warriors defense was back to being its smothering, stifling best. Consider this stat: the Pelicans had zero fast break points.

Green and Curry couldn’t have done much more damage setting the tone in the first quarter if they were swinging clubs, filling up the bucket and not letting the Pelicans fill their heads with any more cute notions of pulling off the upset.

And when New Orleans put together a couple of runs to get what was a 24-point lead down to seven on a couple occasions late, Green took a feed from Curry for a tourniquet of a layup and then Thompson buried one more three.

“I’d say we reacted pretty well at the end of Game 3 being down,” Kerr said. “But that was a little different because it was desperation and we just had to let it rip.

“Tonight was more indicative of the feeling of being the favorite. You play a great game. You’re in control and all of a sudden you’re not…Yeah, it was good composure.”

***

No. 3: Bucks graduate to winning — Everyone knew the Milwaukee Bucks, winners of just 15 games in 2013-14, had much to learn about playoff basketball. Everyone figured the Bucks’ young players, such as forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and guard Michael Carter-Williams, would take lumps from the Chicago Bulls in the teams’ first-round series and come back in October better for it. But a group of salty veterans, knocked around in their NBA travels, wanted more than moral victories and, as our Steve Aschburner noted, they got it in a buzzer-beating Game 4 victory over the rival Bulls:

[Bucks coach Jason] Kidd used a small lineup the entire fourth quarter, with forward Khris Middleton accompanied by four bench guys: Jared Dudley, Jerryd Bayless, O.J. Mayo and John Henson. Kidd liked their ball movement offensively, he liked their aggressiveness and mobility defensively. And frankly, he had to like the way they stiffened and executed and demonstrated for some of their fresher teammates who might have been halfway into their Hefty bags [to clean out their lockers at series end].

“This was a mental game,” Dudley said. “A lot of people, you start shipping your cars, planning your vacations. You’re down 3-0… But we’re still young. People don’t even know what to think. Today I think the veterans stepped up and said, ‘Hey, this is how you have to do it.’ “

Milwaukee’s bench — those four guys — scored 47 points of their team’s 90 points, had 13 of their 34 rebounds, passed for 16 of the Bucks’ 25 assists, accounted for seven of their nine 3-pointers, had five of six blocks and seven of the 20 steals.

The bench, for the second straight game, opened up a fat lead for Milwaukee, only to see it squandered by starters. Dudley was running hot at halftime but recalled thinking: “This is perfect to see where we’re at. If we can adjust and make changes [great] — if not, we’ll be home. It’s up to us.”

Dudley also was the Bucks inbound passer on the final buzzer-beating play. After Middleton dug the ball loose from Derrick Rose as the Bulls guard set up for what seemingly would be the last shot of regulation, Kidd called a timeout. That left 1.3 seconds, with the ball advanced, for Milwaukee to run what their coach drew up.

Dudley — whose mother never let him play tackle football, so forget the quarterback references — spotted Bayless behind Rose near the baseline. “I was kind of shocked that Bay’d be behind him,” said the 29-year-old, whose weekend-warrior look obviously is deceiving. “You know what, I made the good pass but Bayless made the play and he scored.”

Bayless’ reverse layup, with Rose going from startled to dejected in an instant, did the carpe diem thing for the Bucks while earning them a little more per-diem to spend in Chicago’s River North night spots.

“A lot of us have been in, I’m not going to say ‘unfavorable’ but we’ve been around,” Bayless said. “We’ve been around the league. O.J. has been on teams, I’ve been on teams, ‘Duds’ has been on teams and John … he’s had ups and downs. These guys and their will to keep fighting every night throughout the 82-game season and now in the playoffs — and try to win — it’s something I’m really happy to be a part of.”

***

No. 4: Sixers eyeing Russell in draft? — The Philadelphia Inquirer quoted an unnamed league executive in its report that the Sixers might be targeting Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell with their lottery pick, a wing player to complement the premium big-man prospects they’ve taken in the past two talent roundups. The Sixers are guaranteed no worse than the No. 6 selection and are hoping to do better than that in the May 19 draft lottery to move into position to pick Russell. Here’s more from the Philly news outlet:

“He’s the guy they want,” the executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Saturday. “That’s the word around the league. You know the Sixers. They won’t come out and say it, but he’s the guy they want.”

The executive called former Kentucky center/power forward Karl-Anthony Towns and Russell the top two draft prospects, ahead of point guard Emmanuel Mudiay and Duke center Jahlil Okafor. Mudiay played this season for the Guangdong Southern Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association.

“Russell has star quality,” he said of the 6-foot-5, 180-pounder.

Russell averaged 19.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 5.0 assists while shooting 41.1 percent on three-pointers last season en route to being named a first-team all-American and Big Ten freshman of the year.

Five Sixers executives, including general manager Sam Hinkie, were on hand when the Louisville native collected 23 points, 11 assists, and 11 rebounds in a 79-60 victory at Rutgers in February.

He made 8 of 13 shots and had one steal and two turnovers in 35 minutes while handling the ball most of the game. A source said the Sixers were impressed by his performance.

It’s not surprising that they would want Russell.

A league scout and the executive say he is more NBA-ready than Mudiay, a 6-6, 205-pounder who struggles shooting from the outside. Mudiay would be a gamble, considering that he played only 12 games in China because of an ankle injury. He averaged 18.0 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists, and 1.6 steals in what some have called a subpar league.

Unless the Sixers are secretly unhappy with Nerlens Noel or Joel Embiid, they don’t need to acquire a center for a third straight draft. In addition, they desperately need a lead guard who can shoot from outside, and Russell can definitely do that.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: After his Blazers got pushed to the brink of elimination, Portland owner Paul Allen took a long, lonely walk Saturday night, as witnessed by The Oregonian‘s Jason Quick. … LaMarcus Aldridge didn’t feel like the next big thing in Portland during his first year there, no matter how Zach Randolph tells the story now. …Milwaukee and Brooklyn have avoided sweeps, now it’s Dallas’ turn. If it can do something to slow a Rockets attack that has put up 359 points in three games. … How ’bout some Kevin Love free-agent speculation from the city where the Cavaliers are playing? … First it was Roy Hibbert and the Pacers. Now the Toronto Raptors have a style question to answer, with big man Jonas Valanciunas‘ fit to be determined. …