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Tag: Eastern Conference (page 1 of 3)

Ian Levy: Oladipo Spearheads Pacers’ Newfound “Kinetic Explosiveness”

Victor Oladipo’s first season with the Pacers has been a smashing success. If he can sustain his superb shooting, guest Ian Levy believes he should be an All-Star (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Wikimedia Commons).


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The Indiana Pacers have bounced back from a subpar start to stand 18-14. In an Eastern Conference crowded with many solid, second-tier teams looking to separate themselves from the pack, Indiana is more than holding its own thanks to an elite offense led by Victor Oladipo. Ian Levy, NBA editor and columnist for FanSided and Editor-in-Chief of The Step Back, helps us break down the team he knows best. We’ll cover Indiana’s captivating comeback ability, the sudden emergence of Oladipo and so much more…Who’s your (Hoosier?) favorite podcast for interview excerpts?

6:42-7:28: “If he [Victor Oladipo] can sustain what he’s doing shooting the basketball, especially on those pull-ups, that sort of locks him into this tier where he’s, I’d say, a clear-cut All-Star [and] one of the best shooting guards in the league. So I think that’s probably the hope for the Pacers rather than him somehow getting better than he is now. He’s given them everything they could ask for. And that aggression and passion is such a different aesthetic than the Pacers have had the past couple years. Even when they were good, back in the Hibbert-David West-George Hill-Paul George-Lance Stephenson [days], back in those days, they didn’t have the same sort of kinetic explosiveness.” Continue reading

Duncan Smith: Drummond’s Game Sees “Complete & Total Shift”

Pistons center Andre Drummond dramatically improved his free-throw shooting in advance of the 2017-18 season, and that’s not all, according to guest Duncan Smith.


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The Detroit Pistons have bounced back from an incredibly disappointing 2016-17 campaign to begin this season 14-8. In the process, Detroit is securing come-from-behind victories with great frequency – half of its wins have occurred in games it trailed by double-digits – the second unit is dominating opposing benches and Andre Drummond is showcasing a vastly expanded offensive repertoire. Duncan Smith, contributor to The Athletic Detroit and Bball Breakdown, operates as our tour guide on this exhilarating exploration of the Motor City’s NBA club. We’ll discover how good the Pistons are and where they can still improve. Duncan’s game was clicking on all cylinders. Some highlights are excerpted below:

6:09-7:03: “I think it’s concerning when your starting lineup can’t get you out to good starts, and you need your bench reserves, led by Ish Smith – everybody loves Ish Smith but he is one of the worst shooters in NBA history. When that’s what you’re relying on for stability, it’s a bit problematic, at the very least…When together, they just aren’t effective…I think that’s it’s going to have to be understood and dealt with before long.”

13:32-14:11: “It’s a complete and total shift. Basically everything that we thought we knew about Andre Drummond has kind of gone out the window. And I think that it really calls into question everything we thought about his ceiling. We don’t really know how good he can be anymore, and that’s really exciting too, because I think we kind of had an idea that maybe he would just be one of the best rebounders ever who also isn’t a huge drag on offense. Continue reading

Eric Nehm: “Giannis Is a Kobe-Level Lunatic”

Giannis Antetokounmpo, 22, ranks second in the NBA in points per game (29.7), notching nearly two-thirds of those from inside the paint (Keith Allison/Creative Commons).

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Since the Milwaukee Bucks took Giannis Antetokounmpo with the 15th pick of the 2013 NBA Draft, he’s shown tremendous growth as a basketball player, both literally and figuratively. This season, he has planted his name firmly within the MVP conversation, even if casual fans still have trouble pronouncing it. To guide us through this episode wholly devoted to the Grecian phenom, we’ve brought on Eric Nehm, Bucks beat writer for ESPN Milwaukee and cohost of the Locked on Bucks podcast. Eric explains how Giannis’ humble upbringing, laser-like focus and basketball obsession have all contributed to his nearly unprecedented development from a lanky, unknown draftee into the all but unstoppable force he is today. Get a sneak peek of our conversation about the Greek Freak this week with these excerpts (time stamps approximate because of tailored advertisements):

10:10-11:20: “There was a part of me that kind of didn’t love it [Giannis’ nickname] at the start, just because I think ‘freak,’ the connotation of freak, there’s something wrong with you, there’s something to be ashamed about. Because I guess at some point I thought he was going to fit into a prototypical kind of archetype of an NBA player. That hasn’t happened. He is a total anomaly, so calling him something not normal? Yeah, that works out…There’s not anyone else really out there like him, so I think ‘Greek Freak’ works and it fits, and it’s ended up being kind of perfect.”

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Sekou Smith (Eastern Conference Preview): Giannis’ Next Challenge? Being Great Every Game

Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo won’t turn 23 until early December, but that hasn’t stopped some from mentioning him as a fringe MVP candidate. Guest Sekou Smith thinks it could happen (Erik Drost/Creative Commons).

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A number of stars, including Paul George, Jimmy Butler and Paul Millsap, no longer play in the East, potentially leaving the conference with ample playoff spots available for the taking. In addition, the reigning Eastern Conference finalists recently swapped star point guards, adding a special flavor to their existing rivalry. Meanwhile, teams like the Raptors, Bucks and Wizards hope their various brands of continuity can vault them to an elite class. To help us sort through it all, Sekou Smith, NBA.com writer and host of the Hang Time podcast, appears for a can’t-miss episode. By all means…sample some Sekou snippets:

4:59-5:35: “[Dwyane Wade]’s been a starter basically his entire career. I think in his career, he’s maybe come off the bench 10, 11 times. To ask him to come in and play a role as a bench guy right now, [considering] the fact that he’s not a great 3-point shooter, that would have been asking a lot for him to come in cold and be effective and make an impact on that team.  I think, as a starter, you give him a chance to not only do what he’s always done as a scorer… but you give him an opportunity to get in a rhythm… and to play off of LeBron at a high level, which you know he can do.”

10:00-10:14: “The team that I like, that’s kind of my wild-card team in the East, is Milwaukee. I think they do have a depth of talent that could put them in a position to challenge for one of those top two or three spots if a bunch of things go right for them.” Continue reading

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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