HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Steve Kerr understands the importance of every shot, every possession and every games this time of year. You don’t win five championships in your 15-year career and not comprehend the significance of each and every step you take in the middle of May.
That’s why the sweet-shooting TNT analyst was a must-get for Episode 117 of the Hang Time Podcast. With the conference semifinals winding down and the conference finals looming, a sobering dose of perspective was needed here at headquarters. We needed someone to provide a little context and perspective to what LeBron James and the Miami Heat are going through right now, what Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors are dealing with right now and what it all means in the grand scheme of things.
Things are fluid for so many of the teams still alive in the playoffs, not to mention the teams whose seasons have finished and are searching for coaches and eventually players to help them get to the point where they are still play in mid-May. Kerr breaks it all down, and more, including his assessment that Heat star Dwyane Wade is no longer an “everyday superstar” but an “every other day superstar.”
We thought Kerr’s presence might defuse the normal mid-week volcano that is Rick Fox, whose “Get Off My Lawn” rant of the week includes his debunking of the NBA’s great point guard myth (as he describes it only the way he can).
In Rick’s estimation, we might have seen the last of the point guards to win MVP in the The Finals when Spurs point guard Tony Parker did in 2007. He’ll could very well be the last of his kind, according to Rick, to find his way into the company of elite players at his position like Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas and Chauncey Billups, the only PGs other than Parker since 1980 to claim that hardware.
(Sorry Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving and the rest of you, Rick says don’t bother.)
You get all of that and a whole lot more on Episode 117 of the Hang Time Podcast …
Famous Knicks-slayer and Hall of Famer Reggie Miller will serve as the analyst for the game, joining play-by-play man Kevin Harlan and reporter Rachel Nichols some 18 years, to the day, of Miller’s unforgettable Game 1 Eastern Conference semifinal showing against the Knicks.
You might remember that one, the game that saw Miller score eight points in 8.9 seconds to beat the Knicks. I bet Spike Lee, a regular at Knicks games then and now, remembers.
The Knicks are already down a game in this series with the Pacers. They looked listless in Sunday’s Game 1 loss, when the Pacers outworked them, per Knicks’ star Carmelo Anthony. This is the sixth playoff series between the two franchises, but the first for the Pacers without Miller in uniform.
They’ve split the previous matches evenly. The Knicks beat the Pacers in four games in the first round in 1993, in seven games in the conference finals in 1994 (Miller’s 25 points in the fourth quarter of the Pacers’ Game 5 win and taunting of Lee set the rivalry on fire) and in six games in the conference finals in 1999. The Pacers beat the Knicks in seven games in the semifinals in 1995, in five games in the semifinals in 1998 and in six games in the conference finals in 2000.
A trip to The Finals is not on the line this time. But another chapter in this storied rivalry will be written either way. Having Miller around tonight to analyze and witness the affair is just the sort of drama you might expect from this series and, especially, TNT.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Few players divide the room the way Carmelo Anthony does.
To some, the New York Knicks’ superstar is a scoring marvel to behold in a league that has always cherished guys who could put the ball in the hole at a record pace. Yet to others, Anthony is an elite scorer but little else and needs to expand the boundaries of his game if he wants to be mentioned in the same breath as friends and contemporaries like LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant.
But if he was a better rebounder, set-up man and finally “won the big one” then we wouldn’t have anything to debate on Episode 111 of the Hang Time Podcast, where we also debate and discuss the Brittney Griner to the NBA (instead of WNBA … she’s all for it, by the way) drama, the Mike Rice-Rutgers basketball flap, Shaquille O’Neal‘s retirement ceremony, our Final Four picks (GO BLUE!) and a whole lot more.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Maybe you weren’t listening when Kobe Bryant vowed that the Los Angeles Lakers would not only make the playoffs, but make some noise when they get there.
Bryant was in full Black Mamba mode Sunday night at Staples Center, carving up and then finishing off the Atlanta Hawks late with big play after big play to help the Lakers reach the .500 mark (30-30), the first time they’ve been there since Dec. 28, in a 99-98 win.
And truth be told, no team will be under more pressure over the next few weeks than the Lakers, who play 10 of their next 14 games on the road (starting with Tuesday night’s tilt in Oklahoma City on TNT).
But Kobe, who high-fived Hollywood star Jeremy Piven after that retro dunk over Smith, remains the most confident man in the room.
“I have plenty left but you guys are free to criticize and say I don’t,” he told reporters after the game. “Go right ahead.”
He said his mission was simple. “I just wanted to attack. Take the game right to them. Be aggressive, be physical.”
The Hawks tried to guard with Smith and other bigs and it backfired when it mattered most. ”They switched with the bigs and when they stay home with the shooters,” Kobe said, “it’s my job to cook ‘em”
Did he ever. He went into his vault in the fourth quarter, particularly down the stretch, going right at Smith, Al Horford and anyone else in his path for the game-winning plays.
“That’s pretty incredible,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “I don’t know where he’s getting his young legs from. But the last three or four possessions he just went to the rim and made some incredible shots. The last three or four minutes was all him.”
Smith probably has no idea where Kobe’s lift came from either. But he’ll be forced to relive being on the wrong end of that dunk for a while, as it will no doubt be added to Bryant’s season and career highlight reel.
“He’s been doing it for a long time, so you have to respect what he brings to the table,” Smith told reporters after the game. “He’s an assassin. He wants that moment. But from a defensive standpoint, I love taking a challenge like that and try to step up and try to make it tough for him. It was kind of like a tug-of-war match. We were going back and forth, and they made one more play than we did to win the game. I live for moments like this.”
The best line of the night, however, came from Kobe himself. And it had to do with his new nickname (“Vino” … which is Italian for wine) that connects to his roots and his game, which is seemingly getting better with age.
“I was in my coffin a few years ago … Vino is out of the barrel.”
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – A healthy civil discourse and creative storytelling are staples of our operation here at the Hang Time Podcast. We make it a point to do as much of both on a weekly basis, whether there are live microphones involved or not.
Solving mysteries, however, is a little something new. And we tackle two huge head-scratchers on Episode 103 of the Hang Time Podcast, featuring special guests Kevin Harlan of TNT and Brent Barry of NBA TV.
Harlan was in New Orleans working as a radio play-by-play man for the Super Bowl and there were rumblings (we blamed it on Reggie Miller and Steve Kerr, but the truth is yet another mystery for someone to solve) when the lights went out in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Barry, an old friend of the program and a longtime HT Fave, did his best to help us solve the mystery that is Dwight Howard, whose playing days with Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and the rest of the Los Angeles Lakers haven’t come closet to anyone’s expectations from a group that was expected to contend for a championship this season.
These, are just two of the many issues discussed on Episode 103 of the Hang Time Podcast, a must-listen if you’re interested all in finally getting some answers to those nagging questions that have been bothering you.
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Is it just the dog days of a long season? Are the Thunder bored? Or are the Oklahoma City boys spending too much time together at the frat house?
We’ve been seeing some odd behavior lately from the reigning Western Conference champs. Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka have sniped at each other on the court, more than once, of late. And in Thursday’s 106-89 win over the Memphis Grizzlies, Russell Westbrook absolutely blew his top.
OK, so maybe Westbrook going all hot-head isn’t all that odd. But, he added a new twist when he stormed off the bench during the game to seek refuge and cool off in an arena tunnel. Getting things started was Westbrook barking at teammate Thabo Sefolosha, then putting up a shot so wild that coach Scott Brooks had to pull his All-Star point guard with just under eight minutes to go in the third quarter.
After a brief sitdown next to assistant coach Maurice Cheeks, Westbrook stood up, flipped a chair out of his way and marched off the floor.
At the time, he was having a tremendous game, too. The Thunder were leading 65-44 and Westbrook had 19 points on 8-for-13 shooting. When he left, Memphis went on a 20-10 run. When Westbrook returned to start the fourth quarter it was if nothing happened. He continued his strong play and helped the Thunder increase their lead.
He finished with 21 points, nine rebounds and six assists.
Afterward, TNT’s Craig Sager caught up with Westbrook in the Thunder locker room for a brief exchange.
Sager: What got you so upset?
Westbrook: Nothing, just a little miscommunication.
Sager: Between you and Thabo?
Westbrook: Nah. Just miscommunication.
Sager: At times do you think you need to control your temper more?
Westbrook: I control it like a man, like I did.
Sager: What’s that mean?
Westbrook: (doesn’t answer)
Sager: Put it behind you and go ahead and win?
Westbrook: If that’s what you say, bro.
Perhaps Oklahoman columnist Barry Tramel puts it best:
And maybe the basketball world will be better off if we accept what Westbrook is. Part hot hand, part hothead. Uncorrallable, not just by NBA opponents, but by Thunder brass.
“There’s no question he was frustrated with himself,” Brooks said. “Russell’s an emotional guy … not trying to downplay that. He has to be able to control his frustration. But that’s part of it.”
Exactly. Westbrook’s wild emotions are part of it. Maybe those wild emotions help make him who he is. Which is a ballplayer so good, he can wipe out the NBA’s best of the West the way Peter Pan took care of Captain Hook.
Only this type of disruptive behavior has been going on for years now, dating back to Game 2 of the 2011 Western Conference finals when Brooks benched Westbrook for the entire fourth quarter at Dallas and played Eric Maynor instead.
At some point, Brooks and his staff have to gain some control over Westbrook and his temper, or it will rear its ugly head during the postseason for a team that now has just one goal: NBA championship.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The centennial edition of The Hang Time Podcast was bound to be our biggest and best effort to date.
It had to be, given the star-studded guest list headlined by TNT’s Emmy Award-winning crew from The Inside set, masters Shaquille O’Neal, Kenny Smith and the Hall of Famer, Charles Barkley. With an opening assist from the great Ernie Johnson and a visit from the longtime radio voice of the Atlanta Hawks, Steve Holman, who was celebrating his 2,000 consecutive broadcast, we made sure to celebrate 100 right here at headquarters.
Dozens of current and former NBA players, current stars and living legends, have made appearances on the show in the first 100 episodes. We’ve talked to a little bit of everybody, from comedian extraordinaire Charlie Murphy to NBA Commissioner David Stern, Hollywood up-and-comer Genesis Rodriguez to comedic wiz Chelsea Peretti.
About the only guys we hadn’t spoken to yet were Shaq, Kenny and Charles … until now!
Listen in on Episode 100 of the Hang Time Podcast and party with us while we keep it 100!
(Big ups to Vince Thomas of The Shadow League, our former super producer Micah Hart for hatching the podcast with me from the start and the NBA TV and NBA Digital brain trust of Rusty Mintz, Tony Lamb, Steve “The Boss Man” Quintana, John Donovan, Kevin McCormack, Beau Estes our former internTori Carmenfor helping nurse the show from its infancy into the full-blown ball of hoops chaos that we’ve grown into.)
LOS ANGELES – Lob City sells tickets. But defense wins championships.
That’s the way the basketball purists are approaching the Los Angeles Clippers, the hottest and “best” team in basketball as we speed toward the end of the year the Mayans said would be the end of for us all.
It seems fitting that the Clippers, of all franchises, would be in this position. They’ve never had the best record in the league this late in the season. And they’re fighting a legacy of futility that makes it tough for guys like TNT’s Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith to truly believe in what they’re seeing out of a team that has won a franchise-record 15 straight games.
But what would your reaction be to the news that the Clippers — even with all of the alley-oop action we’ve enjoyed from Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan – are as much of a defensive powerhouse right now as they are entertaining and athletic?
The fact is, the Clippers are the second-best defensive team in the league behind Indiana and rank as the most improved defensive team in basketball, ahead of Golden State, Minnesota and Indiana.
Top five defenses, 2012-13
DefRtg = Points allowed per
If you’re not interested in the metrics, give them the eyeball test that Celtics coach Doc Rivers did before, during and after the Clippers put the smackdown on his team Thursday night on TNT. It’s hard to dismiss the Clippers when they are up in the grill of a team that built its foundation on defense, the bedrock that led to a championship during their spectacular run of the past five seasons.
“Last year, I think they showed up and they just thought their talent and their offense was [going to win for them],” Rivers said. “But this year their defense has been fantastic. I mean, we’re all talking about their offense, but they’re playing just terrific defense. And they have balance now. They’re fifth in the league in scoring, fifth in defense. That’s a balanced basketball team and that makes you really good.”
Still, the Clippers are fighting to dispel any notion that this is just a momentary run and that they are the Clippers of yore, when they were a team that quite frankly could not be counted on to do things the way they’re doing them now that Paul is a part of the organization.
“They have a terrific team,” Rivers said. “Every year is a new year, but they’re good. They’re talented and they play together. They all accept their roles. They’re actually a fun team to watch play, other than the dunks. They’re just a fun team to watch play the game.”
Barkley questioned whether the Clippers could keep this up — playing at their fevered and physical pitch and also playing every man in uniform and getting contributions from them all — when the games slow down in the playoffs. It’s a fair question that won’t be answered until April and May, depending on how deep the Clippers play into the postseason.
And it’s not realistic to believe that Matt Barnes will stretch his current streak of nine straight games of scoring double figures off the bench or that Jamal Crawford, Lamar Odom, Ronny Turiaf and Eric Bledsoe will continue to provide the starters an opportunity to rest in the fourth quarter of every game.
But don’t tell that to Paul.
“I’ve probably sat out more fourth quarters this year than all my previous seven seasons,” he said. “People talk about how me and Blake’s numbers are down. Well, we don’t play many fourth quarters. And I think it just says a lot about our team and how everything is balanced.”
Balanced in every way. Their production from up and down the roster is at the heart of not only this 15-game streak but also their league-best 23-6 record (the Thunder are 22-6).
Most improved DefRtg
Just as impressive, though, is the focus the Clippers bring every night. And it’s opponent specific. They had to battle a team built similarly to theirs in the Denver Nuggets on Christmas and beat them into submission over the course of four quarters. The Celtics brought a different level of animosity to the Staples Center and the Clippers responded in kind.
“[The Celtics] played very intense, they played aggressive, they played physical,” Griffin said. “And I thought we did a good job of matching that.”
Perhaps best of all is that the Clippers don’t seem nearly as preoccupied with their current streak as others. Their focus is on the developing the chemistry and cohesion needed for finishing the marathon in style.
“I don’t really care about it,” Jordan said of the streak. “We’re just playing, we’re rolling. Everybody’s clicking and we’re starting to gel even more. We still have some guys out. Hopefully when they come back we’ll still be able to keep things going.”
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – You’ve been watching every move, every crossover, every dunk and every second of every game you can since the start of this NBA season.
And you still have questions …
Are the New York Knicks for real?
Is Carmelo Anthony finally ready to take his place alongside LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant among the league’s truly elite (winners with numbers to boot)?
Are the Los Angeles Lakers really going to continue to stink up the place the way they have so far?
Are we really going to overlook the Spurs again as they compile the most impressive body of work in the league for what seems like the umpteenth straight year?
Was TNT’s Charles Barkley right about Dwyane Wade aging before our very eyes and slowing down to the point that he’s a shadow of the dominant force he’s been for so many years?
And was James right to tell Charles to just “shut up?”
Are the Golden State Warriors ready for prime time, for real, this time? (Rookie Draymond Greensays yes!)
What about the Los Angeles Clippers, the Memphis Grizzlies and the Atlanta Hawks … do they maintain these lofty positions in the standings three, four or five months from now, when the regular season rubber meets the playoff road?
And the list goes on and on.
But that’s what we’re here for, to marry these questions with some answers, as well as a few notes, quotes and other observations on Episode 96 of the Hang Time Podcast. What better time to debate and discuss the league’s current state of affairs than the quarter pole of this marathon seasonwith your hosts Sekou Smith, Lang Whitaker and Rick Fox?
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The way TNT’s Charles Barkley has talked about Dwyane Wade‘s game slipping lately, you have to wonder if he’s still in the Miami Heat star’s fave five.
LeBron James, on the other hand, doesn’t appear to be interested in biting his tongue where Barkley or any of Wade’s other critics are concerned. He aimed right at Barkley after the Heat’s win over the Atlanta Hawks Monday night, suggesting that Barkley quiet down after Wade’s back-to-back stellar efforts, which included what was arguably Wade’s best game of the season (he made 11 of 13 shots from the field and finished with 26 points, four rebounds and four assists in 34 ultra-efficient minutes).
“It means Charles Barkley needs to shut up,” James said. “I mean, the man [Wade] is shooting 80 percent from the floor the last couple of games. That’s like, crazy, right? That’s why he is who he is. Unbelievable.”
LeBron’s math is correct as Wade is right at 80 percent (20-for-25) over his last two games and 56.4 percent over his last five games (an rise over his season average of 50.6 percent). We’ll probably have to wait until Thursday night for Barkley’s rebuttal. But his comments that lit the flame didn’t seem terribly over the top at the time, minutes after the Heat had absorbed a nasty 20-point home beating at the hands of the New York Knicks (minus an injured Carmelo Anthony).
Barkley said out loud what a lot of other people have been thinking watching the man formerly known as “Flash” struggle to regain his form after offseason knee surgery.
“He’s starting to lose his athletic ability,” Barkley said. “He’s not the same guy. I got a look at him in person. He doesn’t explode anymore and he’s shooting a lot of fadeaway jumpers.”
Barkley’s initial verbal volley came a week earlier, the night the Heat had to survive the San Antonio Spurs’ second unit at home for a 105-100 win after Gregg Popovich gave his big guns a night off and a flight home (earning the Spurs a $250,000 fine), when he dropped this nugget on the Inside The NBA set:
“The toughest thing for Dwyane Wade is understanding that he’s starting to lose his talent and now he has to learn how to play below the basket,” said Barkley, who worked as a color analyst on site in Miami during the broadcast. “The toughest thing when you’re a great player or very athletic, when you can’t jump over a building anymore, you have to learn how to play.”
Barkley makes some good points. Wade isn’t the player he once was, but who would be after all the years he spent not as “Flash” but “Crash,” sacrificing life and limb to carry the Heat in good times and bad?
LeBron’s point is also well taken. He’s coming to the defense of his friend and teammate, a guy he’s toiled alongside the past two-plus seasons and tasted the agony of defeat as well as championship glory.
Wade, all class in his reaction and response to all of this drama, has chosen to simply keep grinding away and stay out of the back and forth with Barkley.