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Dane Carbaugh: Blazers Approaching “Make-It or Break-It Offseason”

Allen Crabbe was the recipient of a generous contract from the Blazers last summer, but Dane Carbaugh suggests a trade could be in his future (Keith Allison/Flickr).

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The Portland Trail Blazers’ prospects of advancing look grim, but the future is fairly bright, according to NBC Sports Pro Basketball Talk’s Dane Carbaugh, who also runs the popular YouTube channel Dane Not Dan, where he breaks down the NBA in video form. Compared to the previous season, the relative strength of the 2016-17 Western Conference relegated the Blazers to the No. 8 seed where they had the misfortune of drawing the otherworldly Warriors in an all-but-impossible first-round series. With Golden State up 2-0 and prized trade acquisition Jusuf Nurkic nursing a leg injury, much of the conversation’s focus turns to how the Blazers can best solidify their roster and improve defensive performance. Importantly, Dane also explores the strengths and challenges that come with the Damian Lillard-C.J. McCollum backcourt pairing. Blazing hot excerpts can be found below:

3:26-4:14 While the typical Blazers fan would love to see Jusuf Nurkic grace the court against the Warriors, Dane advocates for a more cautious approach:

“The Nurkic trade, I think, really re-solidified his [GM Neil Olshey’s] position; the same thing for [head coach] Terry Stotts. So nobody’s going into this playoff series thinking, ‘We need to win a series or win a game, even, to save someone’s job.’ No one’s going to get fired because of that. And on the flip side, you have the guy that they believe is going to be the third guy for this team for years to come, and so I don’t see a reason to risk him [worsening his injury] in any way, shape or form. He’s got a non-displaced fracture in his leg, and he’s a 7-foot tall, 280-pound man, and it’s the Portland Trail Blazers; maybe just let him rest. So it’s possible he comes back for Game 3. If he comes back at all, that is the game he’s going to do it in. If they’re down 3-0, there’s no reason for him to play in Game 4, so it would have to be Game 3. I don’t think he should come back at all.”

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Jovan Buha: Clippers “Much Closer to (Dominant) Team From Beginning of Season”

This postseason, Blake Griffin and the Clippers are fighting to stay relevant when it comes to discussion of the NBA’s elite (Keith Allison/Creative Commons).

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On this playoff edition, ESPN’s Jovan Buha joins us to help preview the Los Angeles Clippers-Utah Jazz matchup, an opening-round series that pits the league’s No. 4 offense against the No. 3 defense. The series comes at a pivotal time for the Clippers, who year after year have failed to meet high postseason expectations and will likely see three of their stars enter unrestricted free agency in the offseason. Do the Clippers have a fatal flaw, or have they merely not yet gotten over the hump? Jovan ponders that very question and much, much more. Sample some clip(per)s below:

9:25 – 10:10: Jovan discusses the legitimacy of the Clippers-as-chokers narrative and whether it affects the team: 

“It’s much easier to say a team choked than provide the context of it. With that said, there really is no other way to frame the Thunder series or the Rockets series. Both series, the Clippers should have won, or the Thunder series at least should have gone to seven. I do think the Clippers choked in both instances, but I don’t think that necessarily is their identity, and I don’t think necessarily they should be judged that way…I do think that the media narrative has gotten to them a little bit, and I do know that a lot of these guys pay attention to the media more than they let on, and it does seem to bother them more than they admit.” Continue reading

Clippers Sail into Third, Hawks Rise Eight Spots (Power Rankings: April 12, 2017 Edition)

Seemingly recovered from injury, Chris Paul is playing at a high level as he chases his first championship ring (Verse Photography/Creative Commons).

We’ve reached the final day in a historic NBA season packed with nearly unprecedented statistical seasons by some players, monstrous single-game outbursts by others and a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs for almost all of the teams in the league. On Wednesday’s final 14-game slate, six playoff seeds are still yet to be determined: 1, 2, 7 and 8 in the East and 4 and 5 in the West. Thirteen teams have already been eliminated from further contention, and the rest hope that their fortunes will be on the rise. This will be the final edition of our power rankings this season, but as a reminder, you can chart how every team has fared in our rankings over the course of the season with the interactive graph atop the Power Rankings landing page.

Biggest Jumps: Atlanta Hawks (+8), Minnesota Timberwolves (+6), Los Angeles Lakers (+6)

Biggest Falls: Philadelphia 76ers (-7), Denver Nuggets (-6), Dallas Mavericks (-5) Continue reading

Salman Ali: Rockets Enjoying “Perfect Synergy” Throughout Organization

Now with a singular focus on basketball, James Harden is recording an MVP-caliber season, leading the Houston Rockets to the third-best record in the NBA (Keith Allison/Flickr).

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The Rockets embody one of the best storylines of the 2016-17 season. After badly underwhelming a year ago, the front office adeptly moved around pieces, Mike D’Antoni was brought in to lead the team and James Harden has taken his game to unparalleled heights. As a result, Houston enjoys the league’s third-best record. Salman Ali, Managing Editor for Red Nation Hoops and host of the podcast with the same name, visits to discuss all those topics and more including how various role players are thriving and what Houston’s chances are against the rest of the Western Conference’s elite teams. Before the episode blasts off and we journey through the cosmos, you may prepare by scanning some of the highlights below:

0:50-1:26: From Salman’s perspective, just in time for the postseason, Harden is looking more like himself as he recovers from his wrist injury:

“I think the Rockets did a good job at sandwiching that rest day to where he’d get a full five days of rest. And let’s be real, that was a rest day. It was listed as a flu, but we kind of know it was because he didn’t want to sit and the Rockets had to say it was a flu day, so I think they did a good job of finding ways to sit him. His shooting stroke looks good. He’s getting to the rim, and he’s not tentative when he gets there, which is a problem that he had last week. And he’s not grimacing after shots, which was a big issue. Through the TV, you could just see that that wrist was bothering him, and now it looks a lot better.”

7:08-8:17: Even before the season, our guest began to notice that Harden was training his focus on the Houston Rockets to an extent he never had before. The adjustment has benefitted the team immensely:

“He seems really invested. Obviously, the bigger, high profile thing that Harden did this year is he signed that big extension to stay with the Rockets. To me, that showed a huge commitment to the franchise that may not have been there last season. Let’s be frank. He did not try as hard as he could have last year, and I think that reflected in how poor the Rockets played…he’s treating basketball as his job as opposed to something he’s doing on the side. That’s a really, really important distinction to make. Calvin Watkins of ESPN sat down with Travis Scott. He’s actually a local Houston rapper. He was talking about his opinion of James Harden, and he basically says, ‘James Harden doesn’t even want to go out with me anymore. All he does is he wants to stay inside and play basketball.'”
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Andy Liu Actually Believes the “Warriors Are Underrated”

Stephen Curry has gotten the Golden State Warriors back on track, and there’s now only one player in the NBA that Andy Liu is concerned about on their road to a championship: LeBron James  (Erik Drost/Flickr).

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Our favorite Golden State Warriors guest, Andy Liu of Warriors World, is back for a record fourth episode to discuss his team with us. After a brief stumble during which they lost five of seven games when Kevin Durant went down with injury, the Warriors look like they’ve righted the ship. They’re currently on a nine-game win streak, including four convincing wins against teams that will make the playoffs in the Western Conference: the Thunder, Grizzlies, Rockets and Spurs. Andy explains how a team that has by far the best Net Rating in the NBA, the best Offensive Rating and the second-best Defensive Rating, could possibly even be underrated heading into the playoffs. Check out these golden excerpts from the episode:

7:22-8:09: Andy explains why he never bought into overreaction that the Warriors were collapsing during the team’s recent slump:

“Kevin Durant had just gone down, and these guys were really shook up about it, and they had to adjust. In that adjustment period, Steph couldn’t hit a shot, the worst slump of his entire career. Klay was going through a slump as well. Draymond Green hadn’t shot the ball well all year and still isn’t. So they had a lot of issues on that end. They ended up going 2-5, and they played eight games in 13 nights. Since then, they’ve been great. They’ve also played a ton of trash teams. And the scheduling is going to get better from here. They’ve got six of seven at home to end the season…If there was a Finals game today, [Durant] would be playing, but he’ll be back in a week and a half or two weeks, so the team is fine again. That’s why I was never too worried about it.”

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Dame, C.J. and Nurkic Propel Portland Toward Playoffs (Power Rankings: March 29, 2017 Edition)

With brilliant play since the All-Star break and a little help from his friends, Damian Lillard has led the Trail Blazers into sole possession of the Western Conference’s eighth seed (James Schumacher/Flickr).

With fewer than 10 games remaining on each team’s regular-season schedule, valuable playoff seeding is still up for grabs all over the NBA standings. Some teams, like the Celtics, Blazers and Raptors, look like they’re hitting their stride at just the right moment, building momentum that they hope will continue through the playoffs. Others, like the Hawks and Cavaliers, are just hoping that they can stop the bleeding before it’s too late. As always, the result is much debate and movement in the penultimate regular-season edition of our power rankings.

Biggest Jumps: Portland Trail Blazers (+8), Toronto Raptors (+5), Denver Nuggets (+5), New Orleans Pelicans (+5)

Biggest Falls: Minnesota Timberwolves (-14), Detroit Pistons (-9), Atlanta Hawks (-7)

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Andrew Lynch: Suns’ “Season Has Been a Complete Lost Cause”

The best season of Eric Bledsoe’s career was cut short due to lingering issues with his left knee (Keith Allison/Creative Commons).

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Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight and Tyson Chandler have already been shut down for the remainder of the Phoenix Suns’ season, but Fox Sports Senior NBA Writer Andrew Lynch isn’t convinced full-on tanking is in the team’s best interest. Andrew’s appearance comes fresh off 20-year-old Devin Booker’s history-making 70-point output in a loss to the Celtics Friday night. He contextualizes Booker’s rare night and breaks down many other integral Suns issues, such as Eric Bledsoe’s projected NBA future, the disappointing Alex Len, rookie Marquese Chriss’ potential and Phoenix’s approach to this June’s draft.

2:31-2:57: “In this season, Suns fans needed something like that, I think. And it’s just perfectly fitting – I tweeted this last night – that it came in a loss. All of my favorite Suns memories are in losses. I know people want to maybe belittle the achievement a little because he was taking so many shots, because they were fouling, because they were calling timeouts…70 points is 70 points in an NBA game. Period.”

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Rest for the Weary in Today’s NBA

LeBron James and Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers both did not play during a recent national TV game against the Clippers, prompting a memo by Commissioner Silver about the issue. (Erik Drost/Flickr)

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Resting healthy starters is not exactly a new phenomenon, as LeBron James recently pointed out; heck, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has been doing it for more than a decade. However, there hasn’t been a time in NBA history where the practice has stirred up such a high level of controversy and discontent. The panel aims to explore the issue from the perspectives of the commissioner, NBA coaches, current and former players and, of course, the fans. Be sure to get your rest in advance of the stretch run (we won’t blame you for taking care of yourself), but don’t sleep on this episode. Just don’t do it.

Music: “Who Likes to Party” by Kevin MacLeod

Blake Murphy: “Raptors Will Be Measured By What They Do Against Cleveland”

Blake Murphy interviews second-year Raptors guard Delon Wright.

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O Canada! Our home and native land! Blake Murphy, who writes about the Raptors for ESPN TrueHoop’s Raptors Republic and The Athletic among other sites, joins the podcast to share his knowledge on team topics such as how trade deadline acquisitions Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker enhance lineup flexibility and the irony of Jonas Valanciunas’ situation in that the better he plays seemingly the less chance he has of sticking around next season. Among other salient team-centric subjects, Murphy addresses how Kyle Lowry could have better handled his controversial wrist injury. Unfortunately, this episode does not come with universal healthcare, but here are some soothing excerpts to help alleviate those pains of yours. Plus, preexisting conditions do not preclude you from enjoying:

4:21-5:09 on Serge Ibaka’s fit with the Raptors:

“He’s had a nice positive impact. The 3-point shooting, he’s knocking down 40 percent of his shots on 4.5 looks per game. The best thing for the Raptors is that most of them have been above the break. Normally the Raptors get a lot of corner shooting, especially from their power forward position, but as Ibaka has played some center, he’s given them a nice pop threat, which is a different wrinkle for guys like DeRozan, and when he’s back, Lowry to use. The Raptors defense has been much much better since the trade deadline. They’re seventh in the NBA in Defensive Rating over the last 10 games. That’s not all owing to Ibaka, but he’s been a nice rim-protecting presence…Ibaka’s seeing a lot of time at center and in close games they’re closing with Ibaka [there].”

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Bulls, Grizzlies Slide as Minny’s Momentum Continues (Power Rankings: March 15, 2017 Edition)

Jimmy Butler and the Chicago Bulls halted their five-game losing streak by defeating Charlotte Monday night (Jacob Gaertner/Creative Commons).

A particularly tumultuous period sees the Warriors and Cavaliers dropping to their lowest positions of the season. Meanwhile, every other team has moved up or down at least one spot except for the Clippers and Hawks, who remained at No. 8 and 12, respectively. A handful of sub-.500 squads are recognized for their strong recent play, as the Grizzlies and Bulls are punished for their sluggish performances over the past two weeks. One final fun fact: Last edition, Chicago came in at No. 15, a full 10 spots ahead of the Hornets. This time around, Chicago clings to a single-spot lead over Charlotte after edging the Hornets Monday night.

Biggest Jumps: Milwaukee Bucks (+6), Minnesota Timberwolves (+5), Washington Wizards (+4)

Biggest Falls: Chicago Bulls (-6), Memphis Grizzlies (-5), Dallas Mavericks (-4), Indiana Pacers (-4), Toronto Raptors, (-4) Continue reading

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