Pacers' Hibbert looks down court during Game 6 of their NBA Eastern Conference Final basketball playoff series against the Heat in Indianapolis

The Extra Pass: Five observations from the East and Monday’s recaps



After a busy Monday night in the NBA, let’s swing around the Eastern Conference for a few observations.

Indiana: If Roy Hibbert keeps getting that “verticality” respect from officials, it’s goodnight, Irene time for all of the other the Defensive Player of the Year candidates. Look at these numbers:

Per 36 minutes on his career: 2.6 blocks, 4.6 fouls.

Per 36 minutes this season: 5.3 blocks, 2.8 fouls.

Should we just go ahead and mail Hibbert the award now?

Orlando: It’s not very often you see a guard breakout in his 7th year, but all of the sudden Arron Afflalo is scoring like a legitimate first option. How? Location, location, location. Give Jacque Vaughn and the Magic coaching staff credit for posting up Afflalo at the elbow relentlessly, a spot where he’s a handful for defenders because of his size and strength.

Afflalo’s early returns of 19.5 points a game and 4.7 assists are career highs by a long margin, and it’s very clear he looks more comfortable with his back to the basket as opposed to having create off the dribble from 25-feet away. This was a nice adjustment for Afflalo, and it’s a good sign for Orlando’s future that they have a coach in place who is capable of maximizing talent through on-court adjustments.

Atlanta: Al Horford developed great chemistry with Josh Smith in their years together in Atlanta, but Paul Millsap’s presence has allowed Horford to operate out of the high post more than ever, and it’s working beautifully so far.

With Millsap chewing up space in the paint and diving hard to the rim, Horford has had plenty space to unfurl that knockdown 15-footer of his time and time again.

Atlanta’s HORNS set with Jeff Teague at the point, Kyle Korver spacing the floor and Millsap and Horford at each elbow is death for defenses, and it’s a big reason why the Hawks have a top-5 offense to start the season.

Toronto: Someone put a stop to the Rudy Gay/DeMar DeRozan madness. Two ball-stoppers who both like to post-up shouldn’t start on the wing together, particularly when your future franchise building block (Jonas Valanciunas) also happens to be a post player.

I get that it was double-overtime and those situations tend to welcome a lot of hero ball, but my goodness, DeRozan and Gay were a combined 17-for-62 from the field. 17-for-62! How long before poor Valanciunas gets sick of sealing off his man deep in the paint, only for Gay to completely ignore him and clank a long contested two instead? A lesser man would have cracked already.

Detroit: Sound the alarms: Josh Smith has shot 35 3-pointers through five games. That puts him on pace to shoot 574 3-pointers this season. That would be the 16th most 3-pointers attempted in NBA history. Smith, mind you, is a 28.4 percent career 3-point shooter.

I like the concept of zigging while the rest of the league is zagging and loading up on size, but using Smith as a floor-spacing small forward doesn’t end well for you, Detroit.

-D.J. Foster



Spurs 109, Sixers 85: The Spurs crushed an opponent for the second time in as many days, although this time they did it without Tim Duncan, who got the night off simply to rest. Much like the game against the Knicks on Sunday, San Antonio didn’t leave anything to chance, pouncing on their opponent early and leading by 18 points at the end of the first quarter, which sucked the life out of the inexperienced team they faced which looked like the proverbial deer in the headlights. The only thing of interest was Gregg Popovich facing his former longtime assistant coach Brett Brown, who is in his first season in Philadelphia. “If you win, you sort of feel bad,” Popovich said. “If you lose, you’re sort of happy for the other guy. Which is also a weird feeling.”

Pacers 95, Grizzlies 79: Indiana improved to a perfect 8-0 on the season after this one, as the starting unit of the Grizzlies simply had no answer offensively for the defense of the Pacers. Memphis managed just 16 points in both the first and third quarters, and along with 23 points and seven rebounds from Paul George and a triple-double effort from Lance Stephenson, the Grizzlies fell to just 3-4 on the season. Roy Hibbert didn’t do much offensively, but was dominant inside on the defensive end in ways that don’t show up in the box score. On the Memphis side, it’s worth wondering if maybe Lionel Hollins wasn’t so easily replaced.

Hawks 103, Bobcats 94: Al Jefferson and head coach Steve Clifford both returned for the Bobcats on monday, but getting outscored 34-18 in the third quarter erased their first half lead and ultimately doomed their chances. Al Horford scored 13 of his 24 points on the night in that fateful period, and Carter Martin finished with 16 points on seven shots in 20 minutes off the bench for the Hawks.

Celtics 120, Magic 105: In the battle of two rebuilding teams, the Celtics simply wanted it more … I guess. This Boston team shouldn’t drop 120 points on anyone, but Avery Bradley, Jordan Crawford, and Kelly Olynyk led seven Celtics players who finished the night in double figures. Then again, Orlando also had seven players in double figures scoring, but their 18 turnovers and the fact that they allowed Boston to shoot 60 percent from the field for the game meant that they were rewarded with the loss.

Bulls 96, Cavaliers 81: This was billed as the first ever matchup between Derrick Rose and Kyrie Irving, but it wasn’t a game that featured either player impacting the final result the way they have proven capable of in the past. Each star point guard finished with 16 points on a low shooting percentage, and the Bulls pulled away late thanks to the positive play of Mike Dunleavy off the bench. Rose sat the last three-plus minutes after appearing to suffer a hamstring injury, but all reports postgame suggested that it was minor and that he should be ready to go for the Bulls’ next game against the Raptors in Toronto on Friday.
Brett Pollakoff

Rockets 110, Raptors 104 (2OT): At the start of this game Dwight Howard was aggressive and got both Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas in quick foul trouble, then took advantage. Howard had 9 points and 6 rebounds in the first quarter and finished with 17 points in the first half. Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan combined to miss 45 shots between them, which is why the Raptors shot 33.3 percent on the night and why the Raptors couldn’t win (Gay did hit the three to send the game). Jeremy Lin, on the other hand, had 31 off the bench for the Rockets on just 17 shots, and nine of those points came in the overtimes when the Rockets needed them most.

Nuggets 100, Jazz 81:  Well, someone had to win. This was a close one through three quarters but in the fourth Andre Miller scored 9 points and was the floor general that picked apart the Jazz defense as Denver went on a 21-5 run and pulled away. Ty Lawson continues to play very well for Denver and had 17. Gordon Hayward had 22 for Utah. Best we not speak of this game again.

Trail Blazers 109, Pistons 103: Not a lot of defense played in this one but that worked out better for Portland, which has a more diverse offense. Damian Lillard had 25 points on 16 shots, while the LaMarcus Aldridge dropped 18 and 12. Robin Lopez even did some work, scoring 17. Detroit got 28 from Brandon Jennings but needed 24 points to get there.

Clippers 109, Timberwolves 107: Not a game for fans of defense, but it was entertaining as both teams tried to push the tempo. The two starts played themselves pretty much to a standstill: Blake Griffin had 25 points, Kevin Love 23 points, although Love had 19 rebounds to Griffin’s 10. Chris Paul had 21 points and 11 assists carving up the Timberwolves, while Nikola Pekovic had 25 points and 10 boards for Minnesota. The Wolves answered every Clipper run until the final play, when down two they had Kevin Martin (30 points) miss, then both Pekovic and Love chances at point blank tip-ins and missed. The Clippers escaped with the win, really.

—Kurt Helin

Nuggets tout "white pride" uniforms

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The Nuggets unveiled an awesome sleek white uniform last year. They called it their “WHITEGOLD” alternate, and it was part of the NBA’s “Pride” series of uniforms.

So far, so good. Denver had a clean new look and another source of revenue from jersey sales.

But, after some hiccups last year, the Nuggets have crossed words rather ham-handedly.

As captured by Daniel C. Lewis of Denver Stiffs, this is how the team’s official website listed the alternate-jersey schedule:

This isn’t a “real” problem. It’s poor wording and looks ridiculous. But it doesn’t actually harm anyone.

The page has since been taken down. My guess is it will return with better phrasing.

51 Questions: Which team will win the East? Make playoffs?

FILE - In this Oct. 30, 2014, file photo, workers finish hanging a mural of Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James on a building in Cleveland. The colossal LeBron James banner is getting a small _ but significant _ upgrade.
The iconic, 10-stories-tall mural is being removed this week and replaced with a new one that includes a gold patch of the Larry O’Brien Trophy on the back of James’ uniform to represent the Cavaliers winning the NBA title last season to end the city’s 52-year championship drought.
The new banner is expected to be installed by Friday, Oct. 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan, File)
Associated Press
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It is the final days of PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. For six weeks we have tackled 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We are entering the prediction portion of the preview season, today the PBT staff is tackling:

Which teams make the playoffs, then who wins the East?

Here are our staff predictions.

Kurt Helin

1. Cavaliers
2. Celtics
3. Raptors
4. Pacers
5. Pistons
6. Wizards
7. Hornets
8. Bulls

Eastern Conference Finals: Cavaliers over Celtics

On the one hand, the East is not that interesting: It’s Cleveland then everyone else. The only question is do they have enough of a championship hangover that Boston or Toronto can catch them in the regular season? That question will be moot in the playoffs, Cleveland is in its own class out East. However, what is interesting is that spots 4 through 12 could go almost any direction — I have the Hawks, Knicks, Bucks, and Magic out of the playoffs, but any of them could make it if their season comes together (the Hawks, in particular, are hard to leave out, but I believe they downgraded at point and center). I’m higher on the Pacers than most, but I wonder about their defense. I think teams 4-12 will all win between 36-46 games, it’s going to be a tight bunch with health and other small factors deciding who is in and who is out.

Dan Feldman

1. Cavaliers
2. Celtics
3. Raptors
4. Pistons
5. Wizards
6. Hawks
7. Hornets
8. Pacers

Eastern Conference Finals: Cavaliers over Celtics

Cleveland is in the top tier on its own, though it’s quite conceivable someone else passes them in the regular season. Boston and Toronto occupy the next group. Then it’s everyone else — including maybe the Bulls, Bucks and maybe even Magic. The difference between homecourt advantage in the first round and missing the playoffs entirely is slim, especially with Reggie Jackson‘s injury destroying my confidence in Detroit as the No. 4 seed.

Dane Carbaugh

1. Cavaliers
2. Celtics
3. Raptors
4. Hornets
5. Bulls
6. Pistons
7. Wizards
8. Hawks

Eastern Conference Finals: Cavaliers vs. Raptors

The real question in the East isn’t about the Cavaliers, but about the two teams projected to finish below them in the Celtics and Raptors. Yes, Toronto has more experience, and they should have a healthy DeMarre Carroll, but losing Bismack Biyombo is big, especially so as Boston added Al Horford. Isaiah Thomas is an All-Star, Brad Stevens looks like a great coach, and I think the Celtics take the No. 2 in the regular season. Then again, I’m also taking the Raptors experience in the playoffs, so maybe I’m hedging.

Report: Timberwolves ask Cavaliers about Iman Shumpert, who could be available in trade

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 26: Iman Shumpert #4 of the Cleveland Cavaliers poses for a portrait during media day at Cleveland Clinic Courts on September 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Timberwolves are looking to trade a point guard or two.

The Cavaliers are looking to trade for a point guard or two.

Could it be a match?

Shumpert seems like Cleveland’s most likely trade bait, and Minnesota – dangling Tyus Jones and maybe soon Ricky Rubio – is apparently interested.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

Keep an eye on Iman Shumpert. Several teams, including Minnesota, have inquired about his availability in the past few weeks and gotten the impression Cleveland is ready to talk, according to several league sources. The Cavs won’t salary-dump Shump for nothing, but given their tax situation, cutting payroll by a few million promises exponential savings.

Shumpert is more valuable than Jones, less valuable than Rubio. Draft picks and/or other players can bridge the gap in any deal, but neither point guard makes much sense in Cleveland. Rubio is too good to back up Kyrie Irving. Jones is not proven enough to be significantly more dependable than Kay Felder.

What could make a lot of sense: A team trades for Rubio, displacing its current point guard, who goes to the Cavs in a three-way trade. With the Kings a known Rubio suitor, Darren Collison could fit in Cleveland – at least after his eight-game suspension. Similar iterations could work with other teams that have a decent point guard but want to upgrade to Rubio.

Report: Tristan Thompson and Khloe Kardashian engaged, getting their own reality show

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 16:  TV personality Khloe Kardashian attends the NBCUniversal 2016 Upfront Presentation on May 16, 2016 in New York, New York.  (Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)
Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

Tristan Thompson is doing his best to ensure the Cavaliers live up to Joakim Noah‘s “Hollywood as hell” billing.

Just as they begin a high-profile title defense behind stars LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, Thompson is bringing even more attention to Cleveland by taking his relationship with Khloe Kardashian to the next level.

Katherine Santana of In Touch:

Now that Khloé Kardashian and Tristan Thompson are engaged, In Touch can exclusively reveal details on the couple’s wedding. Khloé and Tristan are now in the works of getting their own reality show, and are planning to marry in front of the cameras!

Thompson and Kardashian are adults and should be free to live their personal lives as they see fit under the law. I just hope Thompson understands what he’s getting himself into.