Author: Kurt Helin

James Harden

James Harden throws it down hard on Thunder (VIDEO)


James Harden had one of those “you better be putting me near the top of your MVP ballot” games Thursday night against his old friends in OKC — 31 points on 9-of-15 shooting, and he was 6-of-8 from three.

And he can finish at the rim.

Those kind of the defensive breakdowns (you see any help rotations?) marked the entire Thunder game, and Harden took advantage.

PBT Extra: Wizards look good, while what is wrong with Chicago?

Tom Thibodeau

I still think Chicago is the team most likely to come out of the Eastern Conference and make the Finals, but their play the last couple weeks has myself hesitant and Tom Thibodeau foaming at the mouth.

Is this just a mid-season slump for the Bulls, or is there something more serious going on here?

Jenna Corrado and I talk about that in the latest PBT Extra, focused on the Eastern Conference.  About the only seeming sure thing in the East is that the Atlanta Hawks will be good, but we focus today on two other questions:

How serious a threat could the Wizards be?

How much better is Toronto now that DeMar DeRozan is back in the lineup.

Report: Nets still trying to trade Brook Lopez, Heat showing some interest

Atlanta Hawks v Brooklyn Nets

The Nets are on the market, Mikhail Prokhorov is selling. And just like selling a home or car, you’d like a team you are selling to look attractive to potential buyers so you clean it up. In the case of an NBA team, that means dumping your worst contract.

Which is why Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez are available in a trade. They all have oversized contracts the Nets would like off the books.

Lopez is the only one likely to be moved — he has value on the court as a scoring big man and he is owed just one more season after this one (at $16.7 million). Talks are ongoing to move him, reports Ohm Youngmisuk of

I’m not sure why the “space and pace” Heat want to bring on the plodding Lopez. Yes, he would provide them more traditional post scoring, but he doesn’t seem a fit for their system at all.

It will be difficult to make a deal work because of the size of Lopez’ salary. For example, it fits under the rules if the Heat send Luol Deng and Josh McRoberts back, but that wouldn’t really solve the Nets’ “lets get some money off the books” plan.

Still, until the trade deadline in a month this is something to watch. The Nets are trying.

Adam Silver emphasizes yet again that Hawks not leaving Atlanta

Indiana Pacers v Atlanta Hawks - Game Six

With the NBA in London — we’re subjecting them to the Knicks vs. Bucks — comes the annual tradition of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver meeting with the media there and answering questions about if the NBA would expand to Europe.

But in between that there usually are questions we care about — like if the Hawks might be sold to a new owner who would move them? Somewhere like, say, Seattle?

Nope. Not going to happen Silver said, as reported by the Associated Press.

Silver said Wednesday that “I do want to see the Hawks stay in Atlanta, and we’ve made that clear to the market.”

He said “I don’t think it will be a real issue because I would be shocked if they were to sell to a group whose intention it was to even seek to transfer the team out of Atlanta.”

This echoes what was said before.

There are a number of reasons the Hawks will say put. First off, Atlanta is a key market in the South. Second, the NBA is very tight with Turner Broadcasting, which runs NBA TV, broadcasts Thursday showcase games on TNT and more and is headquartered in Atlanta. Finally, there are serious financial issues in trying to move the Hawks — there is a $75 million lease buyout right now plus the owners would have to pay off bonds used to renovate the arena.

So the Hawks are staying in Atlanta. Time to move on from that topic.

Five Things We Learned in NBA Wednesday: The Clippers top six are good. After that….

Los Angeles Clippers v Portland Trail Blazers

If you watch closely every night in the NBA you can learn a little something. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to help with those lessons from another night in the Association. Here’s what you missed while worrying about what too much wealth would do to your soul….

The Clippers’ top six is good enough to beat Portland. Right now, if Doc Rivers wants to win a big game, he has to lean on the top six guys in his rotation and not much else — that’s what happened in the Clippers win against Portland Wednesday. When it was just the Clippers’ starting five — Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan — or when Jamal Crawford subbed in for Redick the Clippers were +13. They won by 6. This trend isn’t new — on the season the Clippers starting five is +15.6 per 48 minutes, sub Crawford in for Redick and it’s +21.7. Once you get past the top six on the Clippers roster it just drops off a cliff. Spencer Hawes looked like a great addition on paper but his shot has gone AWOL. Nobody else is stepping up, and Doc Rivers is busy on the phone lines trying to find depth (Austin Rivers is not the answer) but the Clippers don’t have the kind of assets that will likely net much in return. So it’s the top six and pray for the Clippers, but that was enough as they knocked down their midrange shots and got the win in Portland Wednesday.

It’s not just a Bulls slump, the Wizards are legit. The playoffs are all about match ups and if the Bulls draw the Wizards this postseason they should be concerned. Washington beat Chicago 105-99 Wednesday. It’s because the Wizards have the size and athleticism to match up with the Bulls. Nene is an underrated player and his physical play frustrated Pau Gasol. Nobody was going to slow Derrick Rose in the first half (20 points on 8-of-10 shooting) but John Wall did a good job on him in the second half and scored 10 points in the fourth quarter. Paul Pierce gives Washington more versatility on offense and he had 22 in this one. Remember this, the Wizards have the seventh most efficient defense in the NBA and third in the East. The Wizards are a team that — so long as Nene is healthy the Wizards are going to be a tough out in the East.

After the game, Marcin Gortat had the tweet of the night.

DeMar DeRozan is back. Fear the Raptors. Rust? What rust? DeMar DeRozan returned to the Raptors lineup after missing 21 games and fit in smoothly with 20 points on 9-of-14 shooting in a win over Philly. When the Raptors came out flat to start the third quarter he made the sits so the Raptors did not have a repeat of their come-from-ahead loss to Detroit. Toronto is just a far more dangerous team with DeRozan back.

Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo could develop into something interesting in Orlando. It’s games like Wednesday night, when the Magic beat the Houston Rockets, that you think this backcourt in Orlando really could work out. Payton and Oladipo outplayed Patrick Beverley and James Harden down the stretch. Payton is a terrible jump shooter (and will never be great, maybe someday with a lot of work he could be an average shooter) but he attacks the rim well and shows a real comfort level just running the offense, plus he’s going to be a good defender. Oladipo on the other hand can shoot and more than that just flat-out score — he had 32 points on 12-of-19 shooting (plus six rebounds and assists). The Magic have scored better than 120 in consecutive games now and this is a team that is starting to look like it’s finding an identity.

The Atlanta Hawks won again. Yawn. I’m not sure what we really learned here — that the Hawks are really good? We knew that. That they are better than the Celtics? We knew that, too. But this win makes it 10 in a row for Atlanta and that needs to be recognized. Maybe the most interesting question about them right now is who makes the All-Star team from the Hawks? You can make a case for Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap and Al Horford, but the reality is one, maybe two, make the roster (and they will be voted in by the coaches). Maybe the only sure thing for the Hawks is that Mike Budenholzer will coach the team because the Hawks are going to be on top of the Eastern standings for a little while.