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)
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
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
Tobias Harris (right) and Kris Humphries (left) are two players who found themselves on new teams after last week’s trade deadline (Keith Allison/Flickr).
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Following the interview with Doug Branson earlier in the week, Aaron and Loren continue the discussion about the surging Charlotte Hornets who have outperformed expectations and won nine of their last 12 games. They further discuss how the team has shown such a drastic increase in both 3-point attempts and percentage, but also look into the factors that have led to them having the largest disparity between home and road winning percentages among projected playoff teams.
In the second segment, the co-hosts look into some of the biggest deals that went down before last week’s trade deadline. All of the big names stayed put, but smaller moves like Channing Frye to Cleveland and Jeff Green to the Clippers could have an impact on how the rest of the season and the playoffs play out for those teams. (Editor’s note: we discuss a trade sending Donatas Motiejunas to the Detroit Pistons. Since recording, that trade has been voided because of the Motiejunas’ back issues mentioned in the episode.)
Music: “Who Likes to Party” by Kevin MacLeod
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The crew interviews Doug Branson, host of Hive Talk Live, on the state of the upstart Charlotte Hornets. He expounds on the various factors that have led the team to overachieve this campaign after self-destructing near the end of last season. Chief among these are the play of Charlotte’s most valuable players, Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum, the invaluable contributions of glue guy Marvin Williams, remarkable bench play and the team’s 3-point shooting makeover.
1:40 – 2:30 on Courtney Lee replacing the unstable P.J. Hairston: “Courtney Lee provides a consistency at the starting wing position that the Hornets did not have with P.J. Hairston…There certainly were issues ever since he (Hairston) has been here with staying in shape, with having a professional attitude, with consistency on the court in terms of his 3-point shooting and defense…(He) was a situational starter in there to guard the other team’s best wing to basically give Nic Batum a chance to play well offensively in the fourth quarter.”
3:35 – 4:25 on how ready the Hornets management is to win: “Let there be no doubt: the Hornets are definitely in win-now mode. They were in that mode last season, and they were just hit with injury after to injury to key guy after key guy. We’ve seen the sequel to that movie this season, but, fortunately, Kemba Walker has been able to stay healthy…The goal has always been to win a playoff series. That’s step one, because the Hornets haven’t won a playoff series since the early 2000s…You can’t attract the free agents you need to take the next step (otherwise).”
(Jose Garcia/Creative Commons)
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On the debut of OTNB’s three banter segments (the A-A-Ron Block, LLC Incorporated and the J-Spot), the co-hosts react to the Warriors-Clippers media beef and opine on Jamal Crawford’s fit with the Clippers’ retooled roster. Later, the panel praises Elfrid Payton’s dynamic young game, as it includes Orlando as a potential surprise team this season. The Stifle Tower, Rudy Gobert, gets some serious love on the show, and the merits of Sam Hinkie’s radical approach to team-building are debated. Finally, if you were going to cheat on your favorite NBA team, with which squad would it be? Loren and Aaron provide interesting answers.
Introduction by Jonathan Santiago