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Tag: Eastern Conference (page 1 of 3)

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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Justin Rowan: LeBron James Is “More Comfortable in His Own Skin”

Between injuries to J.R. Smith and Kevin Love and having to incorporate many new pieces, LeBron James and the Cavaliers have had a bumpier road this season than we’re used to seeing (Keith Allison/Flickr).

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Most listeners are aware that LeBron James has consistently guided his teams to NBA Finals appearances (six straight, to be exact), yet this season’s Cavaliers continue to be tested by a number of key injuries that threaten to derail their hopes of repeating as champions. Issues stemming from these injuries have resulted in the team’s recent mediocre play, as Eastern counterparts like the Wizards and Celtics angle for the No. 1 seed currently occupied by Cleveland. Justin Rowan of SB Nation’s Fear the Sword is here to break down those struggles and also illuminate how the Cavaliers can reasonably overcome them. In addition to LeBron James’ MVP case and the importance of the Kyle Korver acquisition, Justin speaks about Larry Sanders rumors, Tristan Thompson’s underrated contributions, J.R. Smith’s outsized role and more.

5:17-5:56: “[Larry Sanders is] definitely going to bring a lot of personality to the team, which can be a good thing. I think they have the right type of culture for that. They also have a history of dealing with players who have suffered with mental illness issues. Delonte West had some public issues with the Cavaliers and has talked recently about how LeBron is still a big part of his life and supporting him and helping him work through that. So having LeBron, who is familiar with having a teammate with those issues and what’s involved there, it could be a supportive situation for him.”

8:46-10:09: “It’s tough because…the extensive pre-game routine that [LeBron James] goes through, which is hours of physical preparation, if he doesn’t play at least 34 minutes, he views it as if he shouldn’t even have played at all. He views it as a waste for the all the preparation he goes through. Continue reading

KL Chouinard: Hawks “Have a Shot Against Cleveland”

KL Chouinard (right) interviewing Hawks SF Thabo Sefolosha.

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The Hawks’ season thus far can reasonably be separated into three segments: (1) a hot start, (2) a brutal 11-game stretch, and, finally, (3) the successful period Atlanta is currently enjoying. Kevin “KL” Chouinard, digital writer for the Atlanta Hawks  and host of the new ATL and 29 podcast, graces the show with his presence, discussing how Atlanta bounced back from its miserable late-November, early-December slump, the process of integrating free-agent addition Dwight Howard, Dennis Schröder’s excellent first season as a starting NBA point guard and how Paul Millsap serves as the glue that keeps the team together. Of course, many other opinions are rendered, including why this season’s Hawks actually stand a chance against the defending champion Cavaliers who swept them one postseason ago in the Eastern Conference semifinals (not to mention the sweep in the 2015 Eastern Conference finals). Below, sample some exhilarating episode excerpts:

5:15-6:06Kevin details the keys to Atlanta’s strong recent defense:

“What’s changed recently, compared to the 1-10 stretch, is they put Thabo Sefolosha in the starting lineup, and he’s really one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA…Millsap (is) playing more minutes with the starters and so that’s a much better defensive unit they’re using to start games. And it’s not perfect, because in opting for more defense, they’ve got less offense.”
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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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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

Ashish Mathur: “Jimmy (Butler) Establishing Himself as (Bulls’) New Alpha”

Jimmy Butler has firmly established himself as an MVP candidate and the leader of the Chicago Bulls. (Jsteperry/Wikimedia Commons)

Jimmy Butler has firmly established himself as an MVP candidate and the leader of the Chicago Bulls. (Jsteperry/Wikimedia Commons)

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Following dramatic offseason changes, the Chicago Bulls have jumped out to a 10-6 start. At 34, future Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade has returned to his hometown. Chicago also brought in former NBA champion Rajon Rondo, among others. Our guest, Ashish Mathur of the Outside Pitch Sports Network, details how Wade and Rondo have added a sense of accountability, what’s behind Jimmy Butler’s routine offensive outbursts and how the Bulls’ lack of depth could ultimately derail their high hopes. Plus, much more is discussed with Mathur, who is cautiously optimistic about 2016-17 given how early it is in the season and the team’s new-look quality. At times, he’s even bullish, but let’s get to the excerpts before any more questionable puns are employed:

1:48-3:04: Mathur begins by pointing out the necessity for the Bulls to trot out a completely different team this season and detailing what key additions Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo have brought: “The roster turnover was needed in every facet. Derrick [Rose] and Joakim [Noah] did a lot for this organization and city, but with Jimmy [Butler] establishing himself as the new alpha on the team, it was time for those two to go. Gar Forman and John Paxson did a pretty good job. Getting Rondo and Wade here was huge, just for the locker room. It was toxic and full of turmoil last year…not able to handle any adversity…it was time for a change. The biggest thing Wade and Rondo add to the team is accountability…First day of training camp, Rondo and Wade were stopping practices telling guys to knock it off and to stop the chit-chat, [because they’re] here to practice.”

3:57-4:58Next, Mathur gushes about Butler’s transformation from defensive specialist to bona fide all-around superstar: “This guy came into the league as a defensive stopper, averaged 2 points per game his first year. He’s got to be one of the hardest working players, especially in the offseason…He got up at 4 in the morning every day and trained. He’s having fun this year. Last year, there was so much dysfunction…Last year was the first [time] Jimmy dealt with adversity in the NBA…He looks so much different. He’s smiling, loves having Wade on the team, and is putting up MVP-type numbers.”

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Jake Fischer: 76ers’ Joel Embiid Is the “Pillar This Team Needed”

Rookie Joel "The Process" Embiid has almost singlehandedly made the Philadelphia 76ers fun to watch again. (@joelembiid/Instagram)

Rookie Joel “The Process” Embiid has almost singlehandedly made the Philadelphia 76ers fun to watch again (Instagram/@joelembiid).

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Four games into the season, the Philadelphia 76ers are again winless, and the franchise hasn’t won a pre-December regular-season game since the 2013-14 season. This time, however, Sixers fans are enjoying the process marveling at Joel “The Process” Embiid rather than commiserating about tanking. Jake Fischer of SB Nation’s Liberty Ballers and SI.com joins the show and raves about Embiid’s impressive debut and transformative potential. Along with 2016 No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons, whose highly anticipated debut will have to wait, last season’s NBA All-Rookie First Team member Jahlil Okafor and rookie Dario Saric, Embiid’s emergence brings optimism back to Philadelphia basketball. Fischer also examines the Sixers’ glut of similar bigs and identifies the likely odd man out. Not since Iverson and Iguodala respectively crossed over opponents and soared through the sky has there been so much unbridled joy and passion around this fan base. Peep the excerpts below:

1:59-2:23: Fischer starts out describing the aforementioned new aura of positivity around the 76ers faithful: “It’s a complete 180 from the last couple years. There’s still the good-hearted humor of ‘Oh, I wonder which new way we’ll find out this team can lose a game tonight,’ but at the same time there’s an optimism now I think that fans truly have thought, at least in these first four games, that the team has a shot at winning every night just because Embiid’s out on the floor.”

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The Hawks’ Tall Task Against the Cavaliers Featuring Lang Whitaker, Jacob Rosen

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Jeff Teague, a possible x-factor for the Hawks in this series, struggled with his shooting in Game 1 against the Cavaliers. (Keith Allison/Wikimedia Commons)

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Although the Hawks put a mighty scare into the Cavaliers after storming all the way back from 18 down, Cleveland ultimately hung on to take the series opener. In a tantalizing rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, our crack guests lead us through this iteration’s nuances. Checking in for the Hawks is Atlanta sports expert and NBA.com writer and podcaster Lang Whitaker. And out of Akron, Ohio, we have Jacob Rosen, who’s an MBA student at the University of Oregon’s Warsaw Sports Marketing Center. Rosen’s also a longtime sports analytics writer for Hardwood ParoxysmNylon Calculus and Waiting for Next Year. Excerpts below:

Lang Whitaker (5:07-5:23): “[Kent] Bazemore’s a little bit more dynamic offensively than DeMarre [Carroll] was last year. There’s that saying ‘The best defense is a good offense.’ I think if you make LeBron work a little bit harder on that end, maybe that helps you in the long run as well.”

LW (5:25-5:45): “[Coach Mike] Budenholzer was trying a lot of different things. He had one lineup where Paul Millsap was playing center, where he went really small. I think he has a little more versatility with [Thabo] Sefolosha being healthy. He can go to these lineups where there’s two or three small forwards in there at the same time.”

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How Hornets Bounce Back Against Heat, Featuring Josh Baumgard & Nick Denning

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Even though his game has seen better days, both guests believe Al Jefferson’s play will be critical for Charlotte (Keith Allison/Creative Commons).

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Coming off a Game 1 shellacking, the Charlotte Hornets could really use a Game 2 upset against the talented Miami Heat, who are clicking on all cylinders. Nick Denning, writer for SB Nation’s At the Hive and managing editor of The Lottery Mafia, discusses, from the Hornets’ perspective, what needs to be done to make it a competitive series. But first, Josh Baumgard of Slice Miami handles the Heat side of things.

Josh Baumgard (4:15-4:34): “I think they’re really gonna come at (Hassan) Whiteside. They know he has a tendency to let his temper flare. I think you’re gonna see next game Jefferson’s gonna pound him. They might even bring (Tyler) Hansbrough in for a little longer, just to kind of be that goon, because we all know he can get under players’ skin.”

JB (5:48-6:13): “I think the Heat are a better team. I think they’ve got more firepower in the playoffs. They’ve got multiple guys who create. And as long as these guys play together, which they have. As long as Dwyane Wade doesn’t try to be the man, which he’s an unselfish guy (who) buys into the team aspect. As long as he tries to not do too much hero ball and they’re moving the ball, that’s the key with them. When they’re moving the ball and they’re playing hard defense, they can pretty much hang with anybody, at least in the Eastern Conference.” Continue reading

Frank Madden: Bucks’ Jabari Parker Is a “Savant Offensively”

After missing most of his rookie season with a foot injury, Jabari Parker is establishing himself in his second season as a core part of Milwaukee's future. (Keith Allison/Flickr)

After missing much of his rookie season with a foot injury, Jabari Parker is establishing himself in his second season as a core part of Milwaukee’s future. (Keith Allison/Flickr)

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Although the Milwaukee Bucks fell well short of expectations this season, Frank Madden, founder and managing editor of SB Nation’s Brew Hoop, explains why the team essentially got what it was looking for with the development of young bucks/Bucks Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Frank provides more insight into the Greek Freak’s “weird athleticism,” Parker’s post-All-Star-break emergence and Greg Monroe’s tenuous fit on the roster. Head coach Jason Kidd’s second season at the helm is also discussed, among other topics. Highlights can be found below:

4:27-4:57 on Antetokounmpo’s recent dominance: 

“In spite of the fact that the last month in many ways has been one of his worst shooting months, it hasn’t mattered. He’s playing at a (high) level and with so much confidence in his ability to get to the rim and make plays for other people and get out in transition and use his size and length and weird athleticism. It’s just so overwhelming to most NBA defenders that it doesn’t matter if you play off him a little bit.”

12:55-13:22 on his overall assessment of the season:

“With the turnaround of Jabari and Giannis,you probably have gotten more or less what you wanted from a development standpoint, which I would argue is the most important thing from this season. But with the expectations coming from last year, there was a lot of hope that this team could certainly at least be a playoff team and maybe be better than that. And obviously for a lot of reasons – I think a lot of it dating to youth and maybe some of the pieces not fitting as well as you’d like.”
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