Kurt Helin

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry flashes 1 finger after scoring a three point shot against the Sacramento Kings late in the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016, in Sacramento, Calif.  The Warriors won 128-116.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
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PBT Podcast: MVP, other mid-season awards talk with Dan Feldman

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We can all agree on this: Through the first half of the season, Stephen Curry has been the NBA’s clear MVP. While we’re at it, even most Knicks fans would agree that Karl-Anthony Towns should beat out Kristaps Porzingis for Rookie of the Year.

But some of the other categories — Coach of the Year and Sixth Man of the Year in particular — are far less clear. In this latest PBT podcast Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman break down all the awards from the first half of the NBA season, not just the winners but who is in contention.

Of course, there’s also some discussion of whatever the heck is going on in Brooklyn.

You can listen to the podcast below, you can listen and subscribe via iTunes, download it directly here, or you can check out our new PBT Podcast homepage, which has the most recent episodes available. If you have the Stitcher app, you can listen there as well.

Lakers GM Kupchak backs Byron Scott’s tough-love development style

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Their minutes — and spots in the starting rotation — get jerked around, and usually the young players are left in the dark as to why. The Lakers are an 8-31 team often leaning on veterans late in games as if racking up more wins is the priority. This has led to tension between the coach and the players he is supposed to be grooming to be the next generation.

Lakers’ coach Byron Scott has gone with some tough-love tactics — or just old and outdated if you’re not a fan — in trying to develop Julius Randle, D'Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, and Larry Nance Jr. Scott as told Randle to stop pouting when he’s taken out of games (I thought you’d that a player doesn’t want to be taken out). It’s led to a lot of criticism of Scott and how the Lakers are going about building their future.

But not from the one man who matters, Lakers’ GM Mitch Kupchak. Here is what Kupchak told Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times.

“If you asked our young players, I think there would be a mutual respect, as you might expect maybe between a parent and a child,” Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak told The Times on Sunday before the Lakers lost a slow-speed chase to the Utah Jazz, 86-74.

“In other words, I’m going to love you, I’m going to bring you along, but every now and then, I’ve got to teach you the right way to do things….

“Every coach chooses to bring along young players differently,” Kupchak said. “Some coaches will not play rookies at all. Some will give them more leeway than others. They’re young players and they’re playing big minutes.”

The Lakers are expected to keep Scott as coach through the end of the season, then as Kobe Bryant walks away and turns the page the Lakers likely will do the same with Scott. A new coach will be asked to usher in the next era of Lakers basketball (whatever it may look like). With that in mind, you can’t expect the ultimate company man in Kupchak to undermine a coach that will be around for another four months. At least.

I’ve been quick to criticize Scott for how he’s handled the young Lakers this season, but on the court things are improving.

Scott has trusted the youth in the fourth quarter recently — he let the young Lakers learn on the job in comebacks against Oklahoma City and from 27 down against Sacramento (both rallies ultimately fell short). Playing them at the ends of games is a start. The Lakers need more of this kind of thing, both from Scott and whoever replaces him next summer.

But for now, Scott is the man in Los Angeles, and his GM has his back.

Five Takeaways from NBA Sunday: Damian Lillard scores 17 in final 3:07 to beat OKC

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard shoots over Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Portland, Ore., Sunday, Jan. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer)
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RIP David Bowie. There’s nothing else to say. Here’s what you need to know from a busy Sunday around the Association.

1) Damian Lillard goes off in fourth, Portland beats Oklahoma City. Damian Lillard had a good game up to that point, 14 points on 4-of-12 shooting, nine assists, seven rebounds, but the Thunder were up by eight and seemingly in control of the game. 

Then Lillard went off. He scored 17 points in the final 3:06, including five 3-pointers (all six of his shots were threes). Meanwhile, Kevin Durant didn’t get off a shot, and Russell Westbrook only had one (KD finished with 28 points, Westbrook 25). 

Portland went on a 20-7 run to end the game and got the win 115-110, snapping their three-game losing streak. Lillard finished with 31.

2) Nets owner can’t fire himself, so he fires coach Lionel Hollins and demotes GM Billy King. The Brooklyn Nets were a mess on Saturday and it was hard to think of ways to make it worse short-term. Owner Mikhail Prokhorov found one. He fired coach Lionel Hollins and “reassigned” GM Billy King (whose new duties involve helping find his replacement — if you didn’t trust him with the job, why trust him with helping to replace himself?). Assistant coach Tony Brown takes over as the interim head coach, the GM chair remains vacant (six weeks before the trade deadline). 

Yes, Hollins’ old-school ways were a poor fit for both the current roster and the rebuilding process ahead. And yes, the litany of bad decisions by Billy King mean he was deserving of being let go. But the real blame for the mess that are the Nets right now starts with owner Mikhail Prokhorov. He pushed King to assemble a contender on the fly (so they could open the Barclays Center and compete with the Knicks in the NYC market), but Brooklyn didn’t have a superstar so the plan was destined to fail. The result was lopsided trades for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, among other moves, that stripped the Nets of draft picks and young players. The Nets won one playoff series for all that trouble, are a moribund franchise, and the blame has to start with the owner who set and pushed for the ill-fated direction. The rebuild is going to have to be a slow process because of the lack of picks. I’m not sure John Calipari would want to step into this mess.

3) Kristaps Porzingis is throwing it down, the Knicks are entertaining and winning. The Knicks have become entertaining to watch, and they are racking up wins — two things that before the season we did not expect. Sunday was a perfect example, with Carmelo Anthony scoring 24 but also trusting teammates and dishing out eight assists (the trust of his teammates has grown over recent weeks). Porzingis had 15 points and the dunk of the game. Lance Thomas continued his surprise season with 13 off the bench. The Knicks are a fun team to watch — and their 19 wins this season are two more than they had all of last season. You can see a bright future in New York — and you can see a big time free agent looking at the foundation laid there and thinking “this is where I want to play.”

4) Don’t look now, but the Los Angeles Clippers have won nine in a row. It wasn’t easy or pretty — it took overtime against a Pelicans team playing without Anthony Davis — but the Los Angeles Clippers have won nine in a row. Seven of those with Blake Griffin sidelined. In those nine games, the Clipper offense is scoring 111.2 points per 100 possessions, and they have a net rating of +13 per 100 (second best in that stretch to the Spurs). The Clippers have started to find their groove. Still, this team feels like the Cincinati Bengals to me — they can be as hot as they want in the regular season, it’s getting out of the second round of the playoffs that will be the way they are judged and remembered. But right now, they are as hot as any team in the NBA.

5) Emmanuel Mudiay returns, Nuggets get win. Denver coach Mike Malone didn’t exactly ease Mudiay back into the fold — he played 39 minutes after missing a month. The rookie was understandably rusty (11 points on 15 shots, six assists but four turnovers) but it worked as the Nuggets beat the slumping Hornets 95-92.

It’s good to see Mudiay back on the court because the Nuggets have so many interesting young pieces and we need to see how they all fit together.  Nikola Jokic started at the five for Denver and they ran the offense through him at the elbow (he has six first quarter assists), but behind him they have the young Jusuf Nurkic as well (he is just a physical beast). Both Jokic and Nurkic show promise but also seem rushed (as young players often do) and just need more seasoning. But those two with the growing Mudiay start to form an interesting foundation in Denver for the future.

Trevor Ariza scores 24, Rockets rally to beat Pacers 107-103 in OT

Houston Rockets forward Trevor Ariza (1) scores past New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Dec. 26, 2015, in New Orleans. The Pelicans won 110-108. (AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman)
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HOUSTON (AP) — Trevor Ariza scored a season-high 24 points and Corey Brewer hit the go-ahead 3-pointer in overtime to give the Houston Rockets a 107-103 win over the Indiana Pacers on Sunday night.

The Pacers scored the first six points of overtime before Houston scored the next six to tie it at 99 with about 2 minutes left.

Monta Ellis made two baskets after that to put the Pacers up twice, but each time Houston responded with a 3-pointer. Ariza hit the first one and Brewer made the second to make it 105-103 with 40.9 seconds left.

Ariza added a dunk with 2 seconds left to secure Houston’s third straight victory.

The Rockets trailed by 12 midway through the fourth quarter before rallying to tie it with 17.1 seconds left on a 3 by Ariza. The Pacers had a chance to win in regulation, but Ellis missed a jump shot at the buzzer.

Paul George had just four points in the first half before scoring 14 of his 20 in a 27-point third quarter to help Indiana build a big lead before Houston came back in the fourth.

James Harden had 21 points and Dwight Howard added 21 points and 17 rebounds for his fifth straight double-double in his return after missing Thursday’s game with soreness in his lower back.

The Pacers’ lead was 12 before the Rockets used a 12-1 run to get to 89-88 with about 3 minutes left.

The Pacers had a 13-point lead entering the fourth and were up by 12 after a one-handed dunk by Jordan Hill with about 6 1/2 minutes left.

Indiana led by three at halftime and scored the first five points of the second half to make it 55-48. Houston got a 3-pointer from Patrick Beverley followed by a hook shot from Howard to get within two, but Indiana padded the lead with a 14-6 spurt to make it 69-59.

George made two 3-pointers in that span, and Lavoy Allen and Ian Mahinmi added four points each for the Pacers. The Rockets scored all their points in that stretch on free throws as they went almost 6 minutes without a field goal.

Harden finally ended the drought with a layup with less than 3 minutes left in the third. He made a 3-pointer after a dunk by George to cut the lead to 71-64.

George wasn’t done with his work in the quarter as that dunk was the first of eight straight points he scored to end the period and make it 77-64. The stretch was highlighted by his last points in the third when he made an off-balance jumper as he was fouled by Harden and hit the free throw.

The Pacers trailed by four in the second quarter before using an 11-2 run to take a 50-45 lead just before halftime. Harden hit a 3-pointer just before the quarter ended to cut it to 50-48 at halftime.


Pacers: Indiana had 18 turnovers after committing a season-high 25 in its previous game. … Ellis had a season-high 13 assists.

Rockets: G Ty Lawson served the second of a three-game suspension for driving under the influence last July. … F/C Donatas Motiejunas missed his fourth straight game with back soreness. … C Clint Capela had three steals to give him at least three in two straight games after doing so only twice in his first 35 games this season.


Emmanuel Mudiay returns after missing 14 games with ankle injury

Denver Nuggets guard Emmanuel Mudiay, center, drives the lane for a shot as Charlotte Hornets guard Jeremy Lin, left, and forward Spencer Hawes defend during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Jan. 10, 2016, in Denver. The Nuggets won 95-92. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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DENVER (AP) — Nuggets rookie point guard Emmanuel Mudiay returns to the court Sunday night against Charlotte after missing 14 games with a sprained right ankle.

Just in time, too, as the Nuggets will be without Jameer Nelson after he strained his left hip flexor in a loss at Memphis on Friday. Denver also will be without forward Kenneth Faried, who’s helping out after the birth of his daughter.

Drafted with the seventh overall pick last summer, Mudiay is averaging 10.7 points and 5.7 assists this season. He hasn’t played since Dec. 11 against Minnesota.

Nuggets coach Michael Malone says Mudiay won’t have his playing time closely monitored, even more so with Nelson sidelined. Mudiay’s backup will be Randy Foye, with Will Barton and Danilo Gallinari possibly handling the ball as well.