Author: Kurt Helin

Charlotte Hornets v Chicago Bulls

Lance Stephenson already flopping like it’s a playoff game (VINE)


Lance Stephenson is a flopper. He’s been fined. More than once.

When Stephenson brought his game to Charlotte this season, he clearly brought the flopping with him, as you can see from this VINE from Sunday night’s game against the Bulls (hat tip Bleacher Report).

There is contact here, Kirk Hinrich bumps Stephenson from behind, but as you see in this video Stephenson hesitates just half a second then embellishes the contact trying to draw the foul.  Hornets fans, you’ll see a fair amount of this during the season.

Five favorites to win NBA 2014-15 MVP

Atlanta Hawks v Cleveland Cavaliers, Game 1

There are always surprises and breakout players in an NBA season and with that it can be hard to make predictions on postseason awards before the season tips off…

But not as much with MVP lately. This has been a two-man race for a few years now — LeBron James and Kevin Durant. They are the two best players on the planet, both are near the peaks of their games. Each has won the award before.

It is likely a two-man race again this season, they are at the top of the list of people to watch, but we’ve got three others who could slip into the discussion and some dark horses out there. Still, smart money probably is on the guy at the top of this list.

1) LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers). When it comes to winning the MVP a player needs two things: Great statistics to show off a great season, and just as importantly a great narrative. Voters for MVP are media members and that’s a group who likes stories. We know LeBron is the best player on the planet and will put up numbers (even though with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving around his raw numbers may dip a little). And now having returned to Cleveland and lifting that team to elite contender status, he has a narrative people love. He has to be considered the favorite to pick up his fifth MVP.

2) Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder). He’d be on top of this list for me had it not been for the foot injury that will have him out at least the first month of the season (considering the type of injury and the Thunder’s history of being cautious with injured stars, expect it to be longer). Also, this year he will have a healthy Russell Westbrook on his team all season, last season with Westbrook out Durant had to take on more of the scoring load and did so while still being very efficient (which really is what won him the award). All that said, he is going to put up big numbers, particularly the second half of the season, and he’s going to be the best player and a legit title contender. He is the guy who got the trophy last year and he’ll get a lot of votes again.

3) Blake Griffin (Los Angeles Clippers). He finished third in the MVP voting last season and again will be at the heart of a contender with the Los Angeles Clippers. If someone tells you “all he can do is dunk” you know that person doesn’t watch a lot of basketball — he has a solid midrange jumper now (with range out to the three point line), is a good passer out of the post and can even score plenty with his back to the basket (even through his footwork can still be sloppy). And yes, he can dunk — if you’re that athletic you should get a lot of shots at the rim. Griffin averaged 24.1 points a game with an impressive .583 true shooting percentage plus had 9.5 rebounds a game, and his numbers could well go up. The one real challenge to Griffin’s candidacy? He may not be the best player on his own team. Griffin and Chris Paul will split votes, and that could hurt both of them. Expect the Clippers PR machine to get behind and push one of them over the other, probably Griffin.

4) Anthony Davis (New Orleans Pelicans). The Brow is entering his third NBA season and this could be a breakout year for him. He averaged 20.8 points a game with a .582 true shooting percentage plus 10 rebounds a game last season and after a summer as a key part of Team USA at the World Cup he is ready to make a leap — by the end of the season he may establish himself as the third best player in the NBA. Also, he’ll be the star of a Pelicans team that is going to surprise a lot of people. All that may not be enough for him to win the award this year, but he’s going to move into the discussion (and probably win one down the line).

5) Derrick Rose (Chicago Bulls). There are a lot of “ifs” with his candidacy. If Rose stays healthy. If he looks close to his old self before the knee injuries. If the Bulls behind him look like a team that can challenge the Cavaliers for the Eastern Conference title. If all those things come together… well, Rose has won this award before. He’s dynamic and entertaining. Every other guy on this list is at least 6’8”, Rose is listed at 6’3” yet slashes his way into the paint and makes plays among the trees in the NBA — it’s something fans can relate to in a way they can’t with taller players. If Rose and the Bulls are back and big stories again, he will be in the MVP conversation.

Dark horse candidates: Chris Paul (Clippers), Stephen Curry (Warriors), James Harden (Rockets), Carmelo Anthony (Knicks).

ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 preview: San Antonio Spurs

2014 NBA Finals - Game Five

Last season: Going to be hard to top that.

Coming into camp with a fire lit under them following an hard-to-swallow loss to Miami in the Finals (remember the Ray Allen three?) they played with a real passion all season. Tim Duncan continued his renaissance (not that his game really ever dipped much). What’s more, their offense really blossomed into something beautiful — they moved the ball, moved off the ball, read defenses and carved them up like a surgeon nightly. San Antonio’s offense was a thing of beauty. It didn’t even matter when the starters were out — remember Tony Parker was injured for the closeout game against the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals and the Spurs won without him. In the Finals it looked like LeBron James would lift the Heat to a Game 1 win, but as the temperatures rose inside the AT&T Center and LeBron cramped up the Spurs took the opener. By Game 3 San Antonio had adjusted to the Miami pressure and took complete control of the series. They got their revenge and a fifth title in the Gregg Popovich/Tim Duncan era.

Signature highlight from last season: So many to choose from, but when you think about top highlights of the Finals rejuvenated Manu Ginobili throwing down on Chris Bosh has to be near the top of the list.

Key player changes: There were none. Nada. The Spurs just won an NBA title (and have been to two-straight Finals) playing some of the prettiest and best team basketball we have seen in decades, why would you tinker with that? Duncan opted in then everyone else got in line, including Boris Diaw and Tony Parker signing extensions (as did Popovich). The only change of note is the addition of Kyle Anderson, the rookie drafted out of UCLA (who will be brought along slowly). There are questions looming about the future, but for this season getting the band back together was always the smart plan.

Actually, the biggest off-season change may have been bringing in Becky Hammon, the first full-time female assistant coach in NBA history.

Keys to the Spurs season:

Can Tim Duncan, Spurs core continue to outrun father time? This has been an annual question for at least six years and the last few the Spurs have had no problem keeping their distance. Part of that is the much-discussed minute management — last season the Spurs had no player that averaged over 30 minutes a game. Everybody gets nights off. But the other key is the Spurs have injected youth and athleticism around the Duncan/Parker/Ginobili core — Kawhi Leonard is on the verge of superstardom, there is Danny Green and Patty Mills along with others to provide that spark.

Will the Spurs be fat and happy after winning a title? This is Popovich’s big concern. Last season, after the sting of a very painful Finals loss, the Spurs were motivated all season. They would put in the extra effort in pracitce, the film room, wherever. Will they still do that after winning a title? I would bet yes, this is a veteran team not a young one. But, as Popovich said, human nature is to let up a little.

How big a contract year will Kawhi Leonard have? Coming off a Finals MVP, Leonard is going to get paid one way or another next year (either he gets a contract extension before Halloween or he becomes a restricted free agent next summer). Nobody thinks the Spurs are letting Leonard go, the only question is money (a lot of Spurs players take a discount to stay, but will Leonard on his first big deal after his rookie contract). Popovich leans on Leonard to cover any position one through four — he drew the LeBron James assignment in the Finals and did as well as one could. Plus, he had three straight 20-point games in the Finals. He is athletic and can finish at the rim and is deadly with the corner three the Spurs thrive on. He is only getting better and this could be a monster season for him as Popovich entrusts him with more and more responsibility.

Why you should watch the Spurs: Forget that they are elite title contenders, you should watch them because they play a selfless, pure, beautiful brand of basketball and they they aren’t going to be around forever doing that.

Prediction: 59-23, they could win more but Popovich will be willing to sacrifice a couple wins to keep guys rested. That will be enough to be one of the top two seeds in the West (likely the top seed) and they will set the bar to win a title. The Spurs are not coming back to the pack, if another team is going to take the title away from them that team is going to have to improve enough to outright beat them. Not sure any team can do that if the Spurs are at their peak.

Lakers’ Ronnie Price sets up Wesley Johnson for huge slam (VIDEO)

Utah Jazz v Los Angeles Lakers
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While a lot of the attention after the Lakers game was on Kobe Bryant (26 points on 7-of-22 shooting… I expect a lot of nights like that from Kobe this season) he did not have the signature highlight from the Lakers preseason win.

That came courtesy Ronnie Price and Wesley Johnson.

Price picks the pocket of Utah guard Ian Clark and is off to the races. Johnson gets out and fills the middle lane and Price hits him with a sweet behind the back pass to set up the dunk over a charging Carrick Felix (I like the play from Felix, he hustled back and tried to make a play on the ball, he didn’t just watch the highlight happen).

We learned this last year with the Lakers — Wesley Johnson is at his best in transition.

Alec Burks burns Kobe Bryant with behind-the-back crossover (VIDEO)

Utah Jazz v Portland Trail Blazers

Sentences I never thought I’d write:

Kobe Bryant reaches, Alec Burks teaches.

Right before this shot Kobe hit a quality jumper right over the top of Burks, so the Jazz guard was looking for a little payback. He got it with this sweet behind-the-back crossover that pretty much broke Kobe’s ankles. Burks had a strong game, scoring 21 points on 14 shots.

Kobe had 26 points on 7-of-22 shooting, plus he made a few other nice plays.