Winderman: NBA awards should not ignore the playoffs

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Thumbnail image for Rondo_Charge.jpgThose ballots, the ones that had to be in no later than the close of the regular season, is it possible we might be able to get them back?

Like every other major sports league, the NBA closes the balloting for its annual awards in advance of the postseason.

Yet, as we’ve already seen over this past month, those first six months of competition aren’t exactly the most meaningful, now that the Mavericks, Cavaliers, Dirk and LeBron are gone.

Yet there is no summoning rewrite.

A few years back, when I asked David Stern about holding off such balloting until the end of the playoffs, his curt response was that the league also has a postseason award, the MVP of the NBA Finals.

But that voting only takes into account the league’s best-of-seven championship series, not the two-month breath of the postseason.

Unlike Major League Baseball, with its month of postseason games after its six months of regular-season play, or even the NFL, with its 16 regular-season games and as few as three postseason wins required for a Super Bowl, the NBA goes six months during the regular season and another two during the postseason.

That essentially is a quarter of the season ignored.

And the need to present the hardware while the playoffs still are in progress doesn’t wash. Baseball hands out its awards well after the World Series, some served up with Thanksgiving dinner, with the NHL holding an awards banquet after the Stanley Cup Finals that draws Idol-like ratings north of the border.

As it is, the NBA has become a master at turning irrelevancy into prime-time programming, as evidenced by this week’s draft lottery. Think about it, we’re talking NBA TV programming throughout July, ESPN having more than baseball highlights to offer in advance of NFL camps.

So what would have changed? Here’s what:

— Kobe Bryant, with his current momentum, easily could have passed LeBron James for Most Valuable Player. Shouldn’t the MVP be remembered for having the greatest impact on the entirety of a season?

— Rajon Rondo certainly would not have been left off the All-NBA teams and might have contended for a first-team spot. Right now, he justifiably can be viewed as the best point guard in the league.

— Doc Rivers would soar in the Coach of the Year balloting. In retrospect, holding back his veterans matched Scott Skiles pushing his underachievers or Scott Brooks barely advancing into the playoffs.

— Lamar Odom would be pushing Jamal Crawford for the Sixth Man Award. What he is accomplishing in reserve is coming with the stakes elevated.

— A case could be made for third-team Pau Gasol moving ahead of second-team Dirk Nowitzki on All-NBA.

No, it is not an equal playing field, with nearly half the league being dropped from the postseason equation.

But what the Celtics currently are proving is that the playoffs are where a season is defined, where reputations truly are delineated.

Unless, of course, it comes to NBA awards.

Then, somehow, a December Cavaliers-Clippers game carries more weight than Lakers-Celtics in June.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich: I’ve never seen injury like Kawhi Leonard’s

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Gregg Popovich is a basketball lifer.

He’s the NBA’s most experienced active head coach. Before that, he was the Spurs’ general manager. Before that, he was an NBA assistant. Before that, he was a college head coach and assistant. Before that, he was a college player. Before that, he was a youth player.

The San Antonio coach has seen everything.

Except the right quadriceps tendinopathy suffered by Kawhi Leonard, whom Popovich said more than a week would return “sooner rather than later.” Yet, Leonard still hasn’t played this season.

Popovich, via Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

“Never, never,” Popovich said when asked whether he has seen such a condition hampering one of his players. “What’s really strange is that [point guard] Tony [Parker] has the same injury, but even worse. They had to go operate on his quad tendon and put it back together or whatever they did to it. So to have two guys, that’s pretty incredible. I had never seen it before those guys.”

“I keep saying sooner rather than later,” Popovich said jokingly. “It’s kind of like being a politician. It’s all baloney, doesn’t mean anything.”

The 26-year-old Leonard is one of the NBA’s biggest on-court stars. He might be the league’s best defender, and he has built himself into an offensive force. The Spurs (11-7) have fared fine without him so far, but they’ll need him to accomplish their main goals – this year and beyond.

Hopefully, Leonard’s health is better than it sounds here, because Popovich’s answer sure isn’t encouraging.

Tim Hardaway Jr. calls fallen ref safe rather than defend shot (video)

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The Knicks went on a 28-0 run.

They earned the right to showboat late in their win over the Raptors last night.

Tim Hardaway Jr. called a ref, who slipped on the baseline, safe rather than contest Serge Ibaka‘s 3-pointer. Perfection!

Luc Mbah a Moute sets modern record at +57 in Rockets’ win over Nuggets

AP Foto/Eric Christian Smith
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Luc Mbah a Moute is a quietly good player.

He’s an effective and versatile defender. Offensively, he shoots 3-pointers well enough to score efficiently and spread the floor. Most of all, the 31-year-old just understands how to play and plays within himself. His teams tend to perform better when he’s on the floor.

That’s an understatement for Wednesday night.

In a 125-95 win, the Rockets outscored the Nuggets by a whopping 57 points in Mbah a Moute’s 26 minutes. That’s the best single-game plus-minus in the Basketball-Reference database, which dates back to the 2000-01 season. It tops Joe Smith’s +52 in a 2001 Timberwolves win over the Bulls, a 53-point game that also produced a +50 for Wally Szczerbiak and +48 for Terrell Brandon.

Mbah a Moute’s traditional stat line was impressive, though not overly so: 13 points on 5-of-5 shooting with four rebounds, four steals and an assist. He played well, contributing to winning in all the small ways he often does, and the Rockets happened to play excellently around him.

Now, Mbah a Moute tops the leaderboard in single-game plus-minus since 2000-01:

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Did Russell Westbrook get mad at Steven Adams for not taking potential triple-double-clinching shot? (video)

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Russell Westbrook chases triple-doubles.

That hardly makes him unique. He’s just close enough to the feat more often than other players, so he chases them more often.

But he still chases them.

Late in the Thunder’s 108-91 win over the Warriors last night, Westbrook was heading toward his final line of 34 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. His teammates shot off his passes on three of Oklahoma City’s final four possessions before he took a seat (including one assist). The exception came when he passed to Steven Adams, who passed rather than shoot – clearly upsetting Westbrook.

Was Westbrook mad because he missed his chance at a triple-double? Maybe.

Was Westbrook mad because Adams passed as the shot clock neared expiration? Maybe.

It could be both!

Watch Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry on Golden State’s bench. They clearly found something funny.