The Hippo


Mar 19, 2018








NBA is back at it for the second half


Even though most teams have played at least 55 of their 82 games before the All-Star break — which is about 67 percent of games played — the NBA kicks off what it calls the “second half” of the season tonight. But with Charles Barkley having told all during the break that only four teams have a shot to win the NBA, maybe we should just flip on Alabama spring football. 
I don’t know that I actually disagree with him, but I’m interested to see what lies ahead for various reasons. And here are some of the stories I’ll be keeping my eye on.
One of the teams that can’t win according to Chuck is Oak City, where the Russell Westbrook - Paul George - Carmelo Anthony recipe has had mixed results. After a rugged start, they’re now seven games over .500, but only a game and a half from being out of the playoffs and basically on the same pace Westbrook had them on by himself a year ago.
One of those teams Barkley thinks can win is Cleveland, who appears has rejuvenated after a trade deadline team makeover that sent six guys out of town, including Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder. In came four younger, more athletic, defensive-minded guys, and while they’re only three games in, the early returns have been good with road wins over Atlanta and Oak City and a 22-point beatdown of your Boston Celtics.
The interesting sidebar of Cleveland GM Koby Altman’s being lauded for this dramatic reshaping of his team on the fly is that he inadvertently gave the Lakers the cap space that could be used to steal LeBron James away this summer. Earlier in that week there were stories everywhere that L.A. had put off their quest to get two major free agents until 2019 because they couldn’t clear enough cap space. Then came the opportunity to send the contracts of Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. to Cleveland to let Magic Johnson now make a play for LeBron and Paul George this summer. And it gets worse. True, they got younger and more athletic with two ex-Lakers along with Rodney Hood and George Hill. But if James leaves, they’ll start the rebuild after giving the Lakers their own first-round pick as well as the expiring contracts of Thomas and Channing Frye. Then again, they still have the Nets picks from the Kyrie Irving deal and if the makeover works maybe LeBron stays put. That’s what you call rolling the dice. 
Another one of Sir Charles’ can-win teams is Houston. While I’m not surprised at the insane season James Hardy is having, they’ve been better than I thought. But with Chris Paul a regular first-round casualty and never been of the second round to date, it’s all about what happens in the playoffs that matters. With the Rockets having the best record starting the, ahem, second half, maybe that changes this year. Time will tell. 
If that works out, a Houston-Golden State playoff matchup could be a dandy. Here are my questions for that: (1) Who covers Harden? (2) What’s the over-under for Game 3 — 302? (3) Who will Draymond Green kick in the groin this year?
Incidentally one of Houston’s nice complementary pieces around Hardy and Paul is Clint Capela, who’s a strong inside defender averaging 11 rebounds and 14 points per. He went 25th overall in the 2014 draft, when Danny Ainge let him slide by at 17 to take James Young. To pile on a bit, Gary Harris (19), Denver beast Nikola Jokic (41) and two of those four new Cavs, Hood and Clarkson, were also taken after Young.
Speaking of draft news, it’s more likely by the day the extra Top 5 pick the Celtics got to drop down to 3 last summer will come next year. The Lakers have the eighth-worst record but are trending up, while others like the Kristaps Porzingis-less Knicks are sinking. And after an early spurt, Brooklyn’s also trending down and looking like the Top 5 lottery pick I expected them to be. 
Did Fox News nitwit Laura Ingraham really tell LeBron and Kevin Durant to “shut up and dribble” last week? Really? I’m not sure which is most egregious from the Dartmouth alum: (1) her stunning arrogance to imply no one besides political pundits should speak about policies or actions they don’t like, (2) her ignorance to suggest athletes don’t have the chops to do it, when the likes of Steve Largent, JC Watt, Jim Bunning and Bill Bradley among others have been elected to national office after stellar playing careers, or (3) her off-the-charts hypocrisy given that Curt Schilling, Johnny Damon and Bobby Knight have been welcomed to pontificate at will because they say what Fox/she wants to hear. I’ll be more polite to her and just go “click.”
To those who say what a “hard” job NBA officials have: Please stop. They’re beyond-belief bad. Consider the early January play at Madison Square Garden when Manu Ginobili’s off-the-mark pass accidentally went in the basket and none of the three officials saw it! The Knicks proceeded as if it were a rebound and headed down court, and until Gregg Popovich went nuts all was a-OK with the crew. I get it was a surprise, and that someone watching something off the ball could miss it. But all three, no way. Plus, after reviewing it, they gave Manu two points instead of the three it should have been. Adam Silver, unlike David Stern arrogantly saying there is no problem, please do something about this, would ya!
Danny Ainge did a great job in the Celtics remake, but if trends continue he could finish fourth at best in GM of the Year voting behind Altman, if the Cleveland makeover works, his former assistant Daryl Morey with Houston and leader Masai Ujiri, whose trades to fortify a strong starting five have made the Raptors for real. 
Email Dave Long at 

®2018 Hippo Press. site by wedu