Roy Hibbert, Chris Paul

Top 5 guys I want to take final shot in these playoffs

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I’m not a fan of trying to describe who is clutch in the NBA and who isn’t. Because defining clutch is impossible — any measure we put on it will miss the mark. We all kind of subscribe to the Justice Potter Steward “I know it when I see it” definition and even then we can’t agree — some of the guys with the best clutch shooting reputation miss a lot of shots at the end of games.

But this is the playoffs — when the NBA’s best face off against one another. Invariably, the games will come down to a final shot, a final possession. And there are guys you trust taking that shot. There just are. We say we want teams to “just run a play” in that situation, but as Rockets general manager Daryl Morey described recently it’s not that simple — with 8 seconds left if the play doesn’t work you can’t reset, you need a guy who can improvise and create for himself.

So, in the final seconds of a tight playoff game — who do I want taking control of and taking the final shot on my last possession? Here are my top five.

5. Kevin Durant (Thunder). He is one of the game’s great scorers, but he settles too much in the clutch — he’s taken 10 3-pointers (making two) in the final 30 seconds of a game when the Thunder were ahead or behind by two points this season, but he’s gotten to the free-throw line just eight times. He can create his own shot and is one of the great scorers in the game, but the Thunder can get too isolation heavy and the result is he is 7-for-21 in those final 30 seconds of a close game. He needs to attack more.

4. Kobe Bryant (Lakers). He’s on top of most lists, he’s the peoples’ champion. And no doubt he has and can hit big shots. But he misses more than he makes these days — in the final 30 seconds of a game where the Lakers are up or down two points or less, Kobe is 5-of-17 (29.4 percent) this season. But that is a little misleading — he also has gotten to the free-throw line 13 times (knocking down 11), a valuable and underrated skill. Also, he has two advantages. One, he can create his own look and if you send the double-team he can find the open guy (sometimes). Second, he is so, so confident — you want that, although it can lead to bad shots he is sure will fall.

3. Paul Millsap/Al Jefferson (Jazz). OK, it’s cheating to choose two guys, but the Jazz’s front line is a combined 11-of-23 in the final 30 seconds of a game when the Jazz are ahead or behind by two points this season, plus they have gotten to the free-throw line six times and hit all of them. Here is the big kicker — they have six offensive boards this season in that same small time set. With the game on the line, they are the best front line in the NBA and that is something I want in my corner.

2. Derrick Rose (Bulls). You have to send the double-team at him and he may still just make you look bad because he is that quick. He is shooting 5-of-9 in the final 30 seconds of a game where the Bulls are up or down two points this season, and he can get to the line. He doesn’t have any assists, but in the playoffs I don’t think he’d fear a kick-out to Kyle Korver or a dump-off to Carlos Boozer, even if both of those options make Bulls fans groan.

1. Chris Paul (Clippers). There is just nobody I trust to make the right play more — it may be attack and shoot, it may be find the open man, it may be draw the contact. Paul is 7-of-15 shooting and has gotten to the free-throw line 14 times in the final 30 seconds of a game where the Clippers are up or down two points or less. You can’t leave Blake Griffin or D’Andre Jordan alone on the baseline or on the roll after the pick because you know the lob will come if you do, but Paul is crafty and can get his shot or draw you into the foul. And make it all look effortless.

One shot, I want the ball in CP3’s hands.

Mike Conley does not crush Knicks free agent dreams, says everything on table

Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley (11) gestures after making a 3-point basket in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
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When you talk about the most underrated players in the NBA, especially with the casual fan, Mike Conley is at the top of the list. The Grizzlies’ point guard has played at an All-Star level for a few seasons now but hasn’t gotten the recognition, in part because it’s Memphis and in part because the West is stacked with quality point guards.

The New York Knicks desperately need an upgrade at the point.

Which has led to the latest fantasy of seemingly every Knick fan (and talking head in the city) — the free agent Conley coming to New York this summer. When asked about it Friday before the Grizzlies and Knicks squared off, Conley didn’t kill the rumors (which in New York is like throwing gasoline on them). Here are his quotes, via Ian Begley of ESPN.

“I think everything will be on the table when that time comes,” Conley said Friday morning after the Grizzlies’ shootaround at Madison Square Garden. “I haven’t committed to anything…

“They’ve got talent, obviously,” he said. “I think [Kristaps] Porzingis surprised a lot of people. He’s going to be very, very good in this league. He already is pretty good. But he’s going to grow each year, and they already have one of the best small forward in Melo [Carmelo Anthony]. They’ve got a young team, so they’ve got a lot of room to improve.”

The smart money is on Conley staying in Memphis, the only NBA team he has ever played for. Conley was very active last summer in recruiting Marc Gasol to remain in Memphis, and has said it would be very difficult to leave him. Plus the Grizzlies can offer more money — one more guaranteed year plus larger raises.

The Knicks will need to lose some salary before July 1 just to offer Conley a max, which likely starts around $24 million (depends on the final salary cap number). What the Knicks can offer is a larger stage for his brand and the chance to bring that brand out of the shade of Gasol and Zach Randolph.

Conley — who is averaging 14.6 points and 6.1 assists per game, is shooting 35 percent from three, is good on the pick-and-roll, plus is one of the best defensive point guards in the game — will have plenty of other suitors as well. He’s one of the best players on the free agent market this summer.

NBA GM: Warriors ‘leaders in the clubhouse’ for Kevin Durant

Oklahoma City Thunder Kevin Durant, left, drives the ball against Golden State Warriors' Draymond Green (23) and Andre Iguodala (9) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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Kevin Durant to the Warriors is having a moment, but even the most recent and most credible report linking the Thunder star to Golden State contained an important caveat:

Make no mistake: Durant isn’t close to gone in Oklahoma City – no decision, no leaning, sources said

Nobody has credibly reported Durant is leaning toward leaving the Thunder. The issue at hand is where Durant would go IF he leaves Oklahoma City.

Except one NBA general manager has gone a step further.

Vincent Goodwill of CSN Chicago:

General managers know a lot of things we don’t, but like anyone, they can also be prone to repeating gossip and hearsay. Does this general manager have inside info, or is he just participating the echo chamber? Impossible to say, but the possibility of the former raises the level of intrigue.

Of course, the Warriors can’t be the leaders in the clubhouse, because they’re not in the clubhouse. Free agency doesn’t begin until July. Nobody has made their final pitch, not even the Thunder.

It’s fun to make bold predictions now, and this general manager has a chance of looking genius. But sometimes the desire for that designation causes people to get ahead of themselves.

Report: Clippers quickly rebuffed interest after Nuggets called about Blake Griffin

Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) gets tied up near the basket by Denver Nuggets forward J.J. Hickson (7) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, April 13, 2015, in Los Angeles. The Clippers won 110-103. (Michael Goulding/The Orange County Register via AP)   MAGS OUT; LOS ANGELES TIMES OUT
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Here was my gut feel on a report that the Clippers had talked to the Nuggets about trading Blake Griffin to Denver:

1. Nuggets calling Clippers about Griffin

2. Clippers saying they’re not interested

3. Nuggets leaking the fact that Griffin trade talks happened with the Clippers – technically true! – to excite their fan base and potential free agents considering whether or not to take Denver seriously

Dan Woike of The Orange County Register:

https://twitter.com/DanWoikeSports/status/695691007053070336

Woike is the more reliable source of information here. I believe that’s all this was.

The Clippers probably shouldn’t sell low on Griffin now. But if the Nuggets made a truly reasonable offer based on Griffin’s peak value – and I doubt they did – it also wouldn’t hurt to consider it.

LeBron James wants to leave Hack-a-Shaq rules as they are

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) drives on Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (0) in the second half of an NBA basketball game in Auburn Hills, Mich., Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015.  (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
AP Photo/Paul Sancya
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NBA commissioner Adam Silver said he increasingly believes the league should change its Hack-a-Shaq rules this offseason.

LeBron James – who has the commissioner’s ear on a number of issues – disagreed.

LeBron, via Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com:

“I don’t really see a problem with it,” James said at shootaround Friday in preparation for the Celtics. “At the end of the day, it’s a strategy of the game and whatever it takes to win. If that’s a part of the game, and you have a guy that is a bad free-throw shooter and you put him on the line, that’s a part of strategy.”

“That’s no different from a guy that can’t shoot well from the outside and you try to make him shoot bad from outside, or if a guy is turnover-prone and you put pressure on him. It’s all part of strategy. It’s no different,” he said.

There is a difference – a big one.

Hacking someone takes no basketball skill.

I could intentionally foul DeAndre Jordan or Andre Drummond. I could not keep a bad NBA outside shooter from getting into the paint. I could not force a turnover-prone NBA player into coughing up the ball.

There’s nothing wrong with exploiting an opponent’s weakness, but with the exception of hacking, that takes ability of your own.

Hacking is an outlier strategy, and as a result, it deserves special treatment in the rulebook.