Oklahoma City Thunder v Golden State Warriors

PBT’s NBA Mid-Season Awards: All hail Kevin Durant


It’s the halfway point of the NBA season. To me having a serious discussion about end of season awards before this point is like discussing the 2016 presidential election today — it’s all speculation and wishful thinking.

Now we have enough games to have a body of evidence and a discussion. So here are my picks for all the awards, as things stand at the midway point of the season. I’ll give you my top five for MVP and three for everything else — including team to beat for the NBA title.

1. Kevin Durant
2. LeBron James
3. Chris Paul
4. Carmelo Anthony
5. Kobe Bryant

To me this is a two man race with a gap to the No. 3 spot. Kevin Durant and LeBron James are the two best basketball players walking the face of the earth and both are having monster seasons — LeBron is averaging 26.5 points per game on 55 percent shooting, plus 7.1 assists and 6.9 rebounds a game, with a PER of 30.3. Durant is at 29.6 points a game on 52 percent shooting with 7.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game with a PER of 29.2. It’s tight.

What puts Durant on top for me is he is leading his team to more consistent play — the Heat appear bored and coasting to wins some nights, the Thunder seem to bring it every night. In the playoffs when the Heat are focused the outcome may be different, but this is a regular season award and I think Durant is getting more out of his team — James Harden was traded, he had to take on more playmaking load and the Thunder are better than last year. So he gets the big award for now.

Rookie of the Year
1. Damian Lillard
2. Anthony Davis
3. Andre Drummond

This is not the runaway some fans think it is — Lillard is putting up 18.3 points and 6.6 assists per game and has taken charge of the Trail Blazers offense, but his defense is not good and his PER of 16.6 reflects some inefficiency in his game. He’s been fantastic, he’s the clear leader halfway home, but there are other good rookies, too.

Anthony Davis is not getting noticed because: 1) He’s on the Hornets and they only make news because they are about to be the Pelicans; 2) He has an unconventional offensive game — he doesn’t have a go-to offensive move, he doesn’t rack up a lot of highlights. What he does is space the floor well, play efficiently, defend well and he’s great on the roll or cutting off the ball. He’s going to be very special soon.

And my god Lawrence Frank, why are you playing so much Jason Maxiell and not so much Andre Drummond? You’re not making the playoffs, develop your young star. Drummond has the best PER among rookies at 22.9.

Sixth Man of the Year
1. Jamal Crawford
2. Jarrett Jack
3. J.R. Smith

This race is still really wide open for me. J.R. Smith puts up big numbers at times but he’s a little too streaky and inefficient for my taste. Jarrett Jack is right there because not only does he come in and anchor the second unit for the Warriors, he is a guy they trust with the ball in his hands at the end of games. He’s got the best PER of the group at 17. But he’s getting outscored pretty heavily by the other two, averaging 12.5 points a game.

Jamal Crawford’s flashy game — he finally practiced dribbling last summer! — fit with the Clippers “new Showtime” style, but the key is he is second on the team in scoring (16.6 points a game) and he leads the best bench unit in the NBA. He has been streaky and inefficient as well, but has had better results.

Defensive Player of the Year
1. Joakim Noah
2. Marc Gasol
3. Chris Paul

This is a tough and deep category — notice I don’t have any Pacers on here and they have the best defense in the land. Paul George easily could be on this list. Chris Paul makes it because he is leading the league in steals (2.6 a game) which is key to a pressure Clippers defense designed to set up fast breaks and highlight alley-oops to Blake Griffin. The Clippers have been good defensively and Paul leads them on that end, too. Marc Gasol is second because… have you watched him or Memphis? He just owns the paint and makes smart reads.

But the top spot goes to the Energizer Bunny that is Joakim Noah — the Bulls are a playoff team without MVP Derrick Rose because Noah has anchored their defense and brings it every night. Tom Thibodeau rightfully gets a lot of credit for what the Bulls do defensively, but it doesn’t work without Noah, who plays the role Kevin Garnett did in the scheme in Boston just as well.

Coach of the Year
1. Mark Jackson
2. Frank Vogel
3. Mike Woodson

Right or wrong, this award generally goes to the coach who exceeded expectations with his team. Woodson has gotten more out of the Knicks and got them to jell in a way Mike D’Antoni simply could not. Frank Vogel has the Pacers playing the best defense in the NBA by being smart and playing to their strengths. The Pacers have been without Danny Granger all season, have watched Roy Hibbert slump all season, and are still right there in the East and getting better.

But the award goes to Mark Jackson. And I’ll take my crow cooked medium rare — I thought this was a bad hire, taking the inexperienced coach out of the broadcast booth and it would backfire. But the fact is once he got a healthy team Jackson’s skill is getting guys to buy in and believe in the system and with that he has the Warriors impressing everyone (they beat the Thunder and Clippers in the last few days). Most importantly, Jackson got them playing good team defense, and that was a huge change.

Teams Most Likely to Win NBA Title This Season
1. Thunder
2. Heat
3. Clippers

When the Heat and Thunder were playing last year, I was saying not to be surprised if we saw that same finals three out of the next five years. It looks as if we might get a rematch this June. The Thunder are better — Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are both 24, they are still at the point in their careers where their games make big strides each year. After their first Olympic experience, both came back better playmakers and that helped because when James Harden was traded the Thunder needed them to fill that gap. They did. Throw in the improved Serge Ibaka and good production from Kevin Martin and the Thunder are the team to beat in the West. The one team that can do it — the Clippers. Vinny Del Negro may run simple sets, but when you have Chris Paul letting him make decisions and improvise is smart coaching. Most importantly for the Clippers, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan have learned how to defend as a unit on the back line (most of the time) and when the Clippers defend they are hard to beat. They are also much deeper now.

The Heat are coasting to the best record in the East. You only see their pressure defense and full intensity for a quarter here or a half there — but when you do you wonder if anyone can beat them when they are focused. And as we head into the playoffs they will get focused.

(Note: There are no picks for Most Improved Player because I can’t stand the award in concept and how it is usually handed out to a guy who just got more minutes because his coach finally woke up.)

Report: Hornets sign head coach Steve Clifford to three-year extension

Steve Clifford
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With the Hornets fighting for one of the last playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, head coach Steve Clifford’s future with the team has been a mystery hanging over their heads. Clifford, in his third year with the team, was set to become a free agent after this season. Not anymore. Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer reports that the Hornets have signed Clifford to a contract extension that will keep him in town through the 2018-19 season:

The Charlotte Hornets and coach Steve Clifford have come to an agreement on a multi-year extension, the Observer has learned.

The deal includes a three-year guarantee that would keep Clifford in his current role through the 2018-19 season.

In Clifford’s first year with the Hornets (then the Bobcats) in 2013-14, they made the playoffs for just the second time in franchise history. This season, they’re off to an 8-6 start despite losing Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to a season-ending shoulder injury during the preseason.
With several teams potentially having openings this summer, it was smart of the Hornets to keep Clifford off the market.

Griffin, Jordan each score 18, Clippers beat Nuggets 111-94

Blake Griffin
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DENVER (AP) Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan each scored 18 points and the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Denver Nuggets 111-94 on Tuesday night to snap a three-game losing streak.

Jordan finished with 11 rebounds and four blocks, while Griffin had 10 rebounds. Chris Paul had 15 points and 10 assists to give the Clippers (7-7) three players with double-doubles.

The Clippers, who hadn’t been under .500 this far into a season under Doc Rivers, made eight 3-pointers after coming into the game at 31.3 percent.

The Clippers hit their first four shots from deep, missed their next seven but found the stroke again when Jamal Crawford hit a halfcourt shot to give them an 83-72 lead at the end of the third.

Danilo Gallinari led Denver with 20 points and had a career-high 18 rebounds.

Crawford scored the Clippers’ first seven points of the fourth quarter to push the lead to 90-76. He finished with 15 points.

Denver started fouling Jordan, and the center was just 7 of 16 from the line in the fourth, but Denver couldn’t hit enough shots to close the gap.

His dunk on a lob from Paul gave the Clippers a 110-93 lead.

Griffin was struggling from the field until he hit a 3-pointer to beat the shot clock midway through the third. He hit two more shots and fed Jordan for a dunk to give the Clippers a 73-62 lead.

Rookie Nikola Jokic had 16 points and Gary Harris scored 14 for the Nuggets, who have lost four straight and fell to 3-5 at home.


Clippers: J.J. Redick had 16 points. … Griffin reached double digits in rebounds for the first time in seven games. He averaged 6.5 boards in his previous six games. … The Clippers were outrebounded for the 12th time in 14 games. They are 5-7 when that happens.

Nuggets: All of Gallinari’s rebounds came on the defensive end. … F Kenneth Faried missed his second straight game with a sprained left ankle. With C Joffrey Lauvergne (low back strain) also out, the Nuggets were down to 11 players. … Mike Miller made a rare first-half appearance and gave the Nuggets a jolt with two 3-pointers in seven minutes off the bench. He finished with nine points.


Clippers: Host Utah on Wednesday night.

Nuggets: Host San Antonio on Friday night.

George scores 40, Pacers make 19 3s to beat Wizards 123-106

Paul George
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WASHINGTON (AP) Paul George scored a season-high 40 points and made seven 3-pointers, part of a franchise-record 19 by the Indiana Pacers in a 123-106 victory over the Washington Wizards on Tuesday night.

C.J. Miles added 32 points, his most since joining the Pacers before the start of last season, as Indiana won for the ninth time in 11 games.

Miles was 8 of 9 from beyond the arc, and George also missed only once from deep.

The Pacers finished 73.1 percent (19 of 26) from 3-point range, crushing their previous season high of 44.4 percent (12 of 27).

Gary Neal scored 23 points off the bench for the Wizards, whose three-game winning streak was snapped.

Bradley Beal added 20 points and John Wall scored 18 for Washington, which has lost five of its six games when it allows more than 110 points.

Even with George and Miles combining to shoot a perfect 9 of 9 beyond the arc before halftime, the Wizards remained close for much of the first half and even led for stretches of the second quarter.

But the Pacers failed to cool down and eventually pulled away.

Miles finally missed his first 3-point attempt midway through the third. He answered with his seventh and longest of the game to beat the shot clock and make it 81-74.

George’s turnaround jumper later in the quarter pushed it to 86-77, and then his pull-up 3 from the left wing made it 91-81, the first double-digit lead for either team.

Chase Budinger‘s running jumper pushed it to 99-86 early in the fourth, and the Wizards never got closer than 10 after that.


The Pacers nearly matched last season’s New Orleans Pelicans, who made 15 of 20 3-point attempts in a game in November, 2014. That’s the highest 3-point team percentage in the last five seasons with at least 20 attempts, according to STATS.


Pacers: G George Hill scored 14 points in 32 minutes in his return after missing three games with an upper respiratory infection. . Indiana’s stretch of six consecutive 3s made to start the game ended when Hill’s 28-footer at the first-quarter buzzer rimmed out . With Hill’s return, Indiana’s most-used starting five improved to 5-2.

Wizards: None of Washington’s starters began the second quarter. The Wizards’ second group outscored the Pacers 16-10 to take a 47-43 lead before Beal returned with 6:15 left in the half. . C Nene (sore calf) scored 11 points in 23 minutes after missing practice on Monday. . Wall sat even longer during the second before re-entering with 3:41 left in the half.


Pacers: Host Chicago on Friday.

Wizards: Visit Charlotte on Wednesday night.

Five Takeaways from NBA Tuesday: Warriors are a tremendous machine

Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes
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Watching Golden State Tuesday night, I was reminded of the call when Secretariat easily won the Belmont Stakes to take the triple crown, almost lapping the field: “He is moving like a tremendous machine! Secretariat by twelve, Secretariat by fourteen lengths on the turn! Sham is dropping back… But Secretariat is all alone! He’s out there almost a sixteenth of a mile away from the rest of the horses! Secretariat is in a position that seems impossible to catch. He’s into the stretch. Secretariat leads this field by 18 lengths… They’re in the stretch. Secretariat has opened a 22 length lead! He is going to be the Triple Crown winner! Here comes Secretariat to the wire. An unbelievable, an amazing performance!”

1) The Warriors are not unbeatable, just nobody has figured out how to do it yet. The Golden State Warriors will eventually lose this season. If I had to bet, it will come on their upcoming seven-game road trip (which includes some back-to-backs), but it will happen. Eventually.

That doesn’t diminish what they did Tuesday night, destroying the Lakers to become the first team in NBA history to go 16-0 to start the season. Which is insane. They are playing at a level a notch higher than anyone else in the league right now and their cruising speed can crush teams like the Lakers. LeBron James talked Tuesday about trying to savor the greats of the game — that is good advice. We need to step back sometimes and soak in the moment when we witness greatness. And make no mistake, right now the Warriors are great. Nobody has an answer for their small-ball lineup, nobody can slow the Stephen Curry/Draymond Green pick-and-roll. Whatever happens this season — start like this and don’t win a ring and people will only talk about the latter —  right now the Warriors are simply a joy to watch. They play such a smart game. Seeing high IQ players working in unison is a joy for any true fan of the game.

And if you want to bring up them pushing the 72-win Bulls go right ahead — they likely will not get there, but nothing is out of play now. (The 1994 Rockets that started 15-0 lost a game then won seven more, they were 22-1, and yet didn’t even win 60 games. Things happen.). Forget Tuesday’s Laker game, L.A. is a dumpster fire. The Warriors are on an unprecedented streak, playing ridiculous offense behind Curry and their small-ball lineup, plus still having a top-5 defense. Savor this while you can.

2) Paul George drops 40 on Wizards. The Wizards say they want to play small and fast, but mostly they just play small. The Pacers showed them how to do it right on Tuesday night. Indiana hit 19 threes (a franchise record) and shot 73 percent from beyond the arc. It was a good night to be a Pacers’ fan. And it was a good night to be Paul George, who dropped 40 points on 14-of-19 shooting, and 7-of-8 from three. He could always shoot, but I don’t recall him having this kind of confidence in his shot before. He has a Curry-like belief in his shot right now. The Wizards had no answer. We’ve said before George is back, but here is a video reminder.

3) Dikembe Mutombo’s No. 55 retired in Atlanta. One of the game’s great defensive players and one of Atlanta’s fan favorites — the finger wag will do that — had his number retired in Atlanta on Tuesday night. It was well deserved.

4) Blake Griffin hits three pointer alley-oop. Sure, he knew this was going in all the way. Let’s see him recreate that in a practice. (The Clippers beat the Nuggets, by the way.)

5) Griffin and Nuggets’ coach Mike Malone had some not-so-kind words for each other. If you can read lips, well, then this is NSFW. Griffin and Nuggets coach Mike Malone exchanged a few unpleasantries during the Clippers win Tuesday night.