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Author: Joshua Fischman (page 1 of 2)

Michael Pina: Celtics Should Keep Current Core, Resist Butler Trade

In addition to reigning over the fourth quarter most nights, Isaiah Thomas averaged 32.9 points per game in January, the fourth most prolific scoring month in franchise history (Keith Allison/Creative Commons).

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As Massachusetts readies for another Super Bowl appearance by its Patriots, the Boston Celtics are playing terrific basketball, guided by two-time All-Star Isaiah Thomas, who turned in one of the most prolific scoring months in franchise history this past January. To help us praise IT and get to the bottom of swirling trade rumors and Boston’s defensive woes, Michael Pina is on the scene. Pina, who covers the Celtics for Bleacher Report, hosts The Big Three podcast and writes about the league elsewhere, delivers a frank, spirited analysis of the team. In addition, this wide-ranging discussion hits on how Al Horford is fitting with this squad, how Brad Stevens’ coaching enhances Marcus Smart’s game, what the Celtics see in 20-year-old Jaylen Brown and why the Cavaliers and Tristan Thompson pose very specific problems for the postseason Celtics, among other topics. Oh yeah…the longtime Patriots fan also provides his Super Bowl prediction. Enjoy some excerpts below: 

7:38 – 8:04While Michael acknowledges Isaiah Thomas’ shortcomings on defense, he also highlights the diminutive point guard’s many defensive strengths:

“For all the bad things about Isaiah Thomas’ defense, I think his effort is always there despite the high offensive usage. He’s extremely tough, extremely physical, he does not die on screens, he fights over them, and really makes ball handlers work really hard, and he knows where to be. He gets up into guys, even when teams force switches and he’s up against a much larger player.”

11:47 – 12:13If Boston is able to hold the East’s No. 2 spot through Sunday’s games, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens will be coaching this season’s Eastern Conference All-Star squad:

“He deserves to coach an All-Star team. I think he’s one of the better overall coaches in basketball, let alone someone who’s that young, commands respect from everybody on the team. He’s fair to the players, and they appreciate that. He’s a great communicator. Since he was hired, he’s done a fantastic job of putting guys in positions where they can succeed, not asking too much of his players.” Continue reading

Defense Propels 76ers Nine Spots (Power Rankings: Jan. 20, 2017 Edition)

Coach Brett Brown and his Sixers are finally starting to see results, with wins in seven of their last nine games (TastyPoutine/Creative Commons).

With every team at or beyond the midpoint of its regular-season schedule, it could not be a better time to assess how each squad measures up. Some teams will be celebrating All-Star starter selections just named, while many others are confronting serious injuries. Amid this crazy time, the 76ers jumped nine slots, leaving the league’s cellar thanks to a mighty strong start to 2017. Meanwhile, the Charlotte Hornets, Sacramento Kings and Orlando Magic have experienced the league’s steepest declines in recent weeks.

Biggest Jumps: Philadelphia 76ers (+9), Washington Wizards (+4), Detroit Pistons (+4), Denver Nuggets (+4)

Biggest Falls: Sacramento Kings (-8), Charlotte Hornets (-8), Orlando Magic (-7)
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Jeff Garcia: Kawhi Leonard “Lurking in the Shadows” of MVP Race

Jeff, a longtime Spurs reporter, discusses Gregg Popovich’s dominant, yet under-appreciated, squad in this exhilarating episode.

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Amid all the talk of a potential third straight Cavaliers-Warriors Finals matchup and a statistically historic MVP race between Russell Westbrook and James Harden, the San Antonio Spurs have quietly continued their dominance, on pace for 64 wins in the first season of the post-Tim Duncan era. Jeff Garcia, lead Spurs writer for News 4 San Antonio and Fox 29 San Antonio, as well as the host of the Locked on Spurs podcast, joins us to explain why the Spurs, as always, are perfectly content to stay below the national radar until the playoffs, and how their quiet, humble star, Kawhi Leonard, embodies that mentality. He also takes us through how, in recent years, the team has been able to transition seamlessly from a slow, grinding offense to the faster-paced, efficient one we’re seeing now. Among additional fascinating topics, Jeff tackles impressive backup point guard Patrick Mills’ impending unrestricted free agency. Particularly, will the Spurs pay to keep Mills in town and/or make him the starter over Tony Parker? Read more for our favorite excerpts from Jeff:

3:31-4:35Despite their recent success, the Spurs are perennially ignored by the national media. Jeff explains why and if it matters:

“They just get the job done, and that can get boring at times. It’s like they say: ‘death, taxes, and Spurs’…They’re sitting at 32-9. They are a defensive animal. They’re an offensive animal. But yet, overlooked…Does it really matter? Because as long as this team is jiving at the right point [and] is heading into the postseason on the right foot, has a good rhythm, they’re going to get their national media attention, and hopefully that’s going to come late June when they’re hoisting up another trophy.”

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Dan Feldman: Pistons’ Andre Drummond Is a “Work in Progress”

Feldman calls Drummond the best Piston since Chauncey Billups but recognizes that there are still improvements to be made (Keith Allison/Flickr).

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Last time Dan Feldman of NBC Sports’ Pro Basketball Talk joined the podcast, he detailed the Pistons’ inconsistency. Again, a season later, Feldman breaks down the team’s streakiness and many other salient issues, including Stan Van Gundy’s unique brand of leadership, Reggie Jackson’s improving play, and why star center Andre Drummond can, at times, be so frustrating to watch. Here are some excerpts to get your engine revving:

1:50-1:58: During the recent 3-9 skid: “The entire difference almost was defensively. They went from defending like, give or take, the best team in the league to defending like the worst team in the league.”

7:55-8:27: “One thing that is helping [Tobias Harris] is that when you start the game, the Pistons want to get touches for Reggie Jackson. They want to get Marcus Morris involved. They’re running more plays for KCP. They’re running more plays for Andre Drummond. They’ve got to get all these guys involved… When [Tobias Harris] comes off the bench, it’s his turn to get involved. There’s no ambiguity of, ‘Hey is it my turn or is it somebody else’s turn?’ When he comes in, it’s his turn; he can get going and get into a rhythm. He’s a talented player and a good scorer and when he’s the focal point, that’s something that works for him.”

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Pelicans Fly High, Knicks Knocked Down (Power Rankings: Jan. 6, 2017 Edition)

Former King Isaiah Thomas is excelling in his second season in Beantown, scoring an efficient 27.8 points per game as his Leprechauns rise up the rankings (Chrishmt0423/Creative Commons).

Life is not easy atop our power rankings. After all, the Spurs and Cavaliers each dropped a spot from the previous edition, and both look as dominant as ever. Blame the 3-point-launching Rockets, who have continued their ascent to the top of the league and now rank second. The Pelicans also impressed the panel, moving up seven spots from our previous list. On the other hand, the Knicks disappointed, falling six positions, one for each loss of their current skid.

Biggest Jumps: New Orleans Pelicans (+7), Atlanta Hawks (+4), Boston Celtics (+3), Charlotte Hornets (+3), Chicago Bulls (+3)

Biggest Falls: New York Knicks (-6), Denver Nuggets (-4), Washington Wizards (-4), Memphis Grizzlies (-4), Los Angeles Clippers (-4) Continue reading

Nick Denning: Coach “Steve Clifford Perfect for (Hornets), Knows How to Maximize Their Talent”

This season, Kemba Walker appears poised to make the first All-Star appearance of his career (Keith Allison/Creative Commons).

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The Charlotte Hornets’ reliable core is back this season and performing admirably despite some early-season streakiness. As usual, with a Steve Clifford-led team, the defense is generally stout and the offense is taking care of the ball. Nick Denning, editor for SB Nation’s At the Hive, rejoins the show to discuss Kemba Walker’s brilliance, Nicolas Batum’s multi-faceted game and more broadly why this fundamental, non-flashy team handles its business so well. All that and more on the show, but first some particularly buzz-worthy bites:

3:57-4:15: “100 percent convinced [Hornets head coach Steve Clifford is the right person for the job]. He’s perfect for this team. He’s created an identify for them and one thing that’s becoming pretty clear is that players like to play for him, and we’re not necessarily talking about stars, but a lot of good players like to go play for him just because he knows how to maximize their talent.”

5:01-5:30: “His [Kemba Walker’s] emergence has been really in the last couple of seasons. He’s just never really had the pieces around him to be effective because before it was like they had to rely on him; late shot clock, whatever it was, it’s like you gotta get the ball in his hands or else there’s no chance of scoring. Now, a few more pieces, they’re much better at moving the ball and whatnot, he’s able to do more of the things that he’s good at it, but he’s also improved himself a ton. He’s actually a better player than I thought he would be at this point.” Continue reading

Wizards Cast Spell, Climb 10 Spots (Power Rankings: Dec. 23, 2016 Edition)

23-year-old shooting guard Bradley Beal has nearly equaled his age in points per game, as the Wizards continue their stellar play (Keith Allison/Creative Commons).

While nine teams held the same ranking from our previous edition, six squads rose or dropped at least six spots. Leading the way among most improved from last edition, the Washington Wizards jumped from 22nd to 12th. Thanks to lethal 3-point shooting, the Rockets continued their ascent to fourth even as starting center Clint Capela will be sidelined for the next month at the very least. The Nuggets also impressed the panel, playing extremely well in their first stretch as a completely healthy unit. The returns of Danilo Gallinari and Gary Harris have Denver fans feeling as high as their city’s altitude. The Lakers, however, continue their slide and can no longer use injury as the lone excuse for dropping 11 of their last 12 games. Since our second edition, which was published four weeks ago, the Lakers have dropped from 13th to 27th or seven spots every two weeks.

Biggest Jumps: Washington Wizards (+10), Denver Nuggets (+7), Dallas Mavericks (+6)

Biggest Falls: Los Angeles Lakers (-7), Portland Trail Blazers (-7), Detroit Pistons (-7) Continue reading

Morgan Ragan: Defenders’ Best Strategy Against Cousins? “Get in His Head”

Guest Morgan Ragan does not envision DeMarcus Cousins’ current role as being conducive to future Kings success.

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With a new defensive-minded head coach, the Sacramento Kings are hoping to halt their 10-year playoff drought, but they continue to struggle, especially on the defensive end. However, our guest, Morgan Ragan, host of The Deuce and Mo Podcast, Kings digital contributor and local Sacramento reporter, explains why coach Dave Joerger should be afforded job security unlike many of his Kings predecessors. Other topics covered in the episode include how to guard DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay’s future in Sacramento, the front office’s perpetual draft blunders and what the team needs from the point guard position. Enjoy some selected excerpts from the interview below:

6:55 – 7:23: Ragan starts by asserting that the Kings’ center is better suited for a situation in which he’s no longer the franchise cornerstone: “He gets away with a lot of stuff…because he’s DeMarcus Cousins. He’s the best player on the team. He’s the one producing the most points, the most rebounds. So if he wasn’t that guy and didn’t have that power, he would be even better somewhere else.”

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Can Mavericks Forward Harrison Barnes Become an NBA Star (Featuring Jason Gallagher, Andy Liu)?

Now a member of an injury-ravaged Mavericks squad, Barnes is often expected to carry the bulk of his team's scoring load (Matthew Addie/Creative Commons).

Now a member of an injury-ravaged Mavericks squad, Barnes is often expected to carry the bulk of his team’s scoring load (Matthew Addie/Creative Commons).

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This special Harrison Barnes-themed episode draws upon the perspectives of Dallas Mavericks fan Jason Gallagher, who currently serves as a multimedia editor at The Ringer, as well as Andy Liu of Warriors World, to try to determine Barnes’ ultimate potential in the NBA. After four years with the Golden State Warriors, including the final two that resulted in NBA Finals appearances, the 24-year-old forward signed a four-year max contract with the Dallas Mavericks. While Kevin Durant has taken his starting spot on the league’s most dominant team, Barnes has been tasked with carrying the injury-riddled Mavericks on his shoulders. So far, the individual results have been mixed, while the team has struggled badly. Without further ado, enjoy the show, and check out some excerpts from the episode if you’d like:

Jason Gallagher at 3:57-4:12: “They’re kind of playing in a nothing-to-lose sort of mentality at this point, and so I think that him learning to develop these skills of leading a team without the pressure of having to win games is good for a young player.”

6:17-6:44: “I really like Harrison on defense…and specifically Harrison when he plays the 4 he’s found a lot of success as well, especially on defense, in exploiting bigger players. He’s showing himself to be a versatile guy, and you really have to start thinking that way with Dirk [Nowitzki] on his last legs.” Continue reading

Patrick Fenelon: “There’s Nothing Wrong With (the Timberwolves’) Offense Right Now”

Through seven games, the 21-year-old forward is shooting north of 63 percent from 3-point range (Erik Drost/Creative Commons).

Through seven games, 21-year-old Canadian Andrew Wiggins is shooting north of 63 percent from 3-point range (Erik Drost/Creative Commons).

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The 2-5 Minnesota Timberwolves may be on the cusp of something very promising, but they’re awfully young. Under new head coach and president Tom Thibodeau, that inexperience has likely already contributed to three losses by a combined 10 points. Close losses notwithstanding, the offense, led by Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine and Karl-Anthony Towns, all 21 years old or younger, has been electric, as has the 3-point shooting in particular. Timberwolves expert Patrick Fenelon was gracious enough to join the show to discuss these three phenoms, the prospect of Minnesota improving its team defense, rookie point guard Kris Dunn’s strengths and weaknesses, and a whole lot more. Get teased with some excerpts below:

2:53 – 3:21: Fenelon begins by explaining what has been causing the Timberwolves to blow leads in the third quarter of games: “You wonder if it’s just a weird quirk of youth thinking that they can just sit back and play prevent defense. It’s just a layup line really is what happens in that third quarter. If you look at shot charts, you’ll see that one guy is coming in there and getting layups over and over again. They just stop playing defense. And then turnovers happen.”  Continue reading

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