In This Episode
On This week’s episode of Takeline, host, comedian and newly minted father C.J. Toledano joins Jason Concepcion in his continued coverage of the NBA playoffs. John Hollinger, national NBA writer for The Athletic, joins the podcast to dig into the storylines from the second round of the NBA playoffs so far. Mike Singer, Nuggets beat reporter for the Denver Post, comes on to react to (and passionately defend) Nikola Jokic winning his second consecutive NBA MVP.
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Jason Concepcion: Hello and welcome to Takeline. Another great show for you folks. Today I will be joined by I call him Daddy. I call him. I call him Daddy. He is the very funny C.J. Toledano, who also happens to be host comedian extraordinaire. Together, we are going to talk to John Hollinger, one of the most notable and kind of important basketball voices, I think, in the last couple of decades. We’ll be talking to a Nuggets beat reporter Mike Singer about Nikola Jokic, his second MVP award in a row. But first, C.J. and I are going to be joined by producer Ryan Wallerson to just talk about last night’s NBA games. Let’s start with game four Boston Celtics vs Milwaukee Bucks, Celtics win 116 – 108 series is tied 2-2 Al Horford coming out of the fucking crypt. 35 years old. Carried them for most of the game until Jayson Tatum got his shit together. Dunked on Giannis. He hit him in the face a little bit, but just an unbelievable performance by him. And these last couple of games I thought with, from The Bucks, you really felt even though the Bucks won game three, you really felt Khris Middleton’s absence down the stretch. What did we think of of what do we think of this game and what do we think of Al Horford like the rejuvenation of Al Horford.
C.J. Toledano: God can can we just say I mean, the beginning of this playoffs, people had to be reminded that Al Horford was back on this team. Like people felt like they were in a coma and woke up and he was he had never left and it feels like he’s never left. And you know what, as a Celtics hater.
Jason Concepcion: Yeah, same.
C.J. Toledano: And rooting for the Bucks for this whole postseason. I’m really, really happy to see what Al Horford its like. It’s incredible.
Jason Concepcion: So Giannis dunked on Horford earlier in the game and got attacked for starring him down which I always hate. Let guys stare each other down it’s fucking great. Let him trash. I love it at who doesn’t love it it’s fantastic. But anyway his sister then later tweeted like, Oh, I could tell by the look on his face right there that it was like a switch had flipped. I always love shit like that. And then later Al like praise God for basically, you know, during the post-game was like, you know, it’s all because of him. It’s all because God, I always love stuff like that because it’s like one, the idea that Al would have need he needed that he needed somebody to be like kick sand in his face, like the proverbial 90lb weakling of old to, like, hulk out and get to that level. And then I always love whenever anybody’s like us need to praise God because it’s like God was like, you know what? Fuck, fuck, Giannis and the Bucks today, I don’t I don’t like them. I’m going my guy over. This is what happens in the playoffs, right? Yeah. You always expect it. You always expect the superstars to come through, which is why Jason Tatum struggles with the last couple of games and even this game have been notable, but there’s always going to be that random game where somebody who, Eddie House.
C.J. Toledano: Yeah.
Jason Concepcion: Al Horford. Some guy you didn’t expect, was not on the radar at all, comes through and goes huge. And we’re kind of waiting for that from the Bucks outside of Giannis and they’re going to need that in this home stretch of that playoff series. What do we make of Jason Tatum’s struggles in this series?
Ryan Wallerson: You know, I think that as much praise as we heaped on him for as well as he did in the Nets series, he’s kind of come down to earth. It’s kind of like, oh, so he’s not just top five all the time.
C.J. Toledano: Yeah.
Ryan Wallerson: Oh Okay. We’ve been looking at him struggle obviously with facing a better roster a better overall like superstar in Giannis and the offense and the defense that was on display in the Brooklyn series on the offensive side his shots just aren’t falling like even in this game four people called it a rebound, but 30, 30 points on 24 shots.
Jason Concepcion: Yeah.
Ryan Wallerson: Is still a it’s a tough stat line when you’re looking at it from an efficiency standpoint.
Jason Concepcion: Absolutely. I mean, he came through it he came through in the fourth quarter is when he started to really put it on. But up to that point, he was like four of 21, according to Kirk Goldsberry through game three up until about the third quarter of of Game four at one point, like he was all for ten when Wes Matthews was his primary defender, which is a hey, listen, Wes Matthews is nice. I like Wes Matthews is a solid player. But for a player of Jason Tatum’s caliber, it’s not a thing that we thought would matter. And I think you’re right. Like we’re just kind of seeing a difference in the physicality level. And we’ve watched Jayson Tatum take a leap over these playoffs. And here is another obstacle that he’s going to leap over this kind of like very, very physical, because there’s times watching this series where I’m like, holy shit. Like they’re letting this go and I can’t believe they’re letting it go.
C.J. Toledano: And I think that fans want Jayson Tatum to be this superstar that we’re almost we almost over celebrate his game winners his his biggest. But to be the superstar that everyone is making him out to be, you have to be consistently carrying that team. You can’t have you know, you can have Jaylen. I mean, this is the reason why they’re the number two seed is because they have a Jaylen Brown and now Al Horford being the star of this past game. Like we need to hear Jason Tatum’s name more than we’re hearing it now. And so, yeah, I think that’s what’s going to get to his next level. Can he consistently do this or he can’t just disappear as much as he is in this series.
Jason Concepcion: I say yeah.
Ryan Wallerson: I totally agree but I think that the depth of the Celtics has really been on display. Like we had a game where Jaylen Brown was in foul trouble and didn’t play most of the fourth Jayson Tatum. We’re talking about his struggles, but we’re also talking about a game where Al Horford absolutely went crazy and Marcus Smart contributed 18 points of his own, so that’s 50 points between Horford and Smart. So you’re really seeing the role players pick up the slack for the superstars. And I remember when we had Chris Mannix on a couple of weeks ago to react to Game one of the opening series, and Horford had a great performance in that game as well. And we asked him, is Horford going to be able to sustain this throughout the postseason? Or are the wheels going to fall off at some point to leave Boston kind of exposed and now we’re halfway through the second and Horford still making that noise so Mannix said that he wasn’t worried about him and Horfords making him look good right now.
C.J. Toledano: Yeah. I’ve been watching the games with my 65 year old white father-in-law and he gave the perfect description, on accident, just very naturally. We’re watching the game Al Horford was taking over and he goes “Ha, Horford solid player.” Like he is just his game is so basic and straight up. The wheels can’t fall off when it’s just mid ranges and just being in the right spot so like yeah my I bet on Horford for the rest of you know this this postseason as far as they go.
Jason Concepcion: And to your point about depth, Ryan. Derrick White for the Celtics like in terms of playing defense moving the ball like making the right plays plus 18 only 11 points four rebounds three assists but like just making the right play every time. And I think you contrast that with like some of the supporting staff like Jrue Holiday, he’s counting stats like 16 points, nine assists. That’s great. -23 plus minus and just, you know, five of 22 from the field. And, you know, Grayson Allen has appeared like unplayable at times. It’s just you’re absolutely right Ryan like the depth around Giannis just needs to be we just need more solid play Bobby Portis is like hardly playing Lopez has been solid, but they just need more. They just need more. The self-acceptance is really showing right now. Let’s move on to a Warriors Memphis game for a lot of a lot of talk around this series, a lot of narrative around this series, a lot of acrimony, a lot of toxicity. Golden State eked out the win. 101 98 They didn’t. Golden State didn’t lead until the last 45 seconds of this game. To let you know what a very, very strange game it was, Steve Kerr tested positive for the novel coronavirus COVID 19 and went into health and safety protocols like minutes before the game. Mike Brown, who that day was announced as the new head coach of the Sacramento Kings, then got another promotion to head coach of the Golden State Warriors. And of course, no Ja Morant, who’s a knee injury, kind of vague knee injury with MRI results that are being hidden from the public did not play. And again, Golden State goes on to win a 3-1 series lead. My takeaway from this game is if Dillon Brooks had not been suspended, this series would be fuckin over. Like Dillon Brooks. He, defensively, like this guy is will not let his opponent rest like is such an active, chaotic defender. But this guy put in maybe the worst six minute stretch of basketball. This playoffs down the stretch of the game where it was like triple jab, step drive, kick the ball out of bounds like a three pointer with like early in the shot clock. No extension on his arm. You’re like the weirdest three point form where the ball sails completely over the rim, hits off the other side of the backboard. Just crazy shit from Dillon Brooks. He played 39 fucking minutes and the Warriors take it. I think he was the difference in the game with the way you should give up the fucking game ball. What? What are we think of this game, fellas?
C.J. Toledano: I mean, can more shit happen in a series like, truly, every 5 minutes, something new surfaces. But you’re right, it was like watching Julian Newman play in the NBA with Dillon Brooks. I it’s it’s funny. It’s like, you know, I don’t know if there was a pre-game speech and they were like, we need someone to step up and Dillon Brooks like, thought that was supposed to be him.
Jason Concepcion: Oh it’s me, right?
C.J. Toledano: Yeah.
Jason Concepcion: Yeah. I’m slipping. Okay.
C.J. Toledano: But I mean, I was I was really surprised. I mean, the reason why I think the Grizzlies led most of that game was because, I mean, the Warriors shot horribly. They scored, what, 38 points? Terrible. Klay. Klay is not Klay. He hasn’t been Klay this whole series. So I think all that to only be leading by like what, two or three at the half. So it kind of just like it worked out the way it should have worked out. I thought a masterful Steph Curry ending there. And Draymond on that flop. I’m sure that’s going to be a major part of this conversation, but that flop was it’s the type of flop where I watch it and I learn something new every time on every replay. Truly hilarious, but truly an expert at at the move.
Ryan Wallerson: Nah C.J. you’re so right, man. They, the warriors came out of the gate shooting horribly oh for 15 from three until Otto Porter hits with four and a half minutes before that half.
Jason Concepcion: Again this is there is that thing where you’re just looking for some guy that’s gonna that’s gonna carry you for a stretch and Otto Porter was that guy for this game.
Ryan Wallerson: You know what? When you’re 0 for 15, I’ll let the ballboy carry me if you can get the shot in. But you know, it was funny because watching Memphis lead the game the entire time, I was thinking about the conversation we had at the start of this series, we were like, You know, these games are going to be close, but Golden State is going to win all of the close matchups. You know, that was the blow blowout in reaction to the John Brant injury in Game three. But all the other games have been very closely contested. Memphis was able to eke out a victory in Game two, but Games one and four were kind of those situations where we know Memphis is a good team, but we also know that Memphis is a young team. And, you know, we know exactly where Golden State has been. We know who they are. And they showed that in both of those games. And we said these are going to be close games that Memphis doesn’t win anymore. And I think that it’s played out that way. And I expected gentleman sweep that we called to come to fruition.
Jason Concepcion: After the game. Taylor Jenkins, one of the most curious coaches in the NBA, he was, of course, curious about the play that the Grizzlies allege caused Jameer an injury. Talk about that in a second. But he said that he was curious to see what the last two minute report will say about Draymond Green late contest on Jaren Jackson’s three, which I think I don’t know if it was a shooting foul. I think you could make the argument that it was, all of which is to say, I think the Grizzlies remind me of the early 2000 Kings in that the Kings were trying to unseat the Lakers, the great Kobe Shaq Lakers. Right. And who can forget when Phil Jackson called Sacramento Cowtown and then the Kings fans respond with all the cowbells and they made it one of the loudest arenas ever. But I felt like in retrospect, the Kings got so wrapped up in this narrative of the Lakers or the Kings of the NBA and one of these, like, we’re the underdogs. Nobody, everybody is against us. The entire league is against us, the refs are against us. And we’re just like out here scrapping for anything we could get. Like, you know, and I feel like the Grizzlies got a little bit rattled by curse the cold talk and I think they responded poorly to it. And I think they have gotten a little bit they’re getting a little exposed in terms of their inexperience. And I think they got a little wrapped up in the whole narrative of them being the underdog. Everybody being against them. And everything that has happened after that has kind of not been great. The the the the suggestion that Jordan Poole pulling on Ja’s knee late in Game three is what caused Ja’s knee injury or exacerbated it. Of course, Georgia has a history of right knee injuries, missed a number of games over the course of the regular season with the right knee injury plays in extremely bruising contact Laden style in which he is constantly like knifing towards the rim and taking contact and jumping over. Guys had knocked knees seemingly earlier in the in the game previous to that to the play that Taylor Jenkins references. I just think that like if you’re going to seriously say that Jordan Poole cause that and do it in a like the casual tone of it doesn’t match up. Like if I’m saying this opposing player like tore like on purpose reached down and injured my best player then I’m. Doing it with so much anger. If that’s legit, that I’m not even talking about basketball. I’m like, we need to call the police that this happened that’s hitting me like. And it just is. It feels like they’re trying to answer the gamesmanship of Kerr when he brought the code thing into it, which I didn’t love. I don’t love suggesting that another player that a player tries to injure a player on purpose. I think that basically that never happens. Like Bill Laimbeer aside and maybe Bruce Bowen, I don’t believe that there’s ever been an NBA player that has, on purpose, gone out there trying to hurt people. I think guys just get reckless maybe. They lose their head for a second, but I don’t think anybody who’s ever trying to hurt anybody but like not letting Dillon Brooks talk, like keeping him from the media for as long as they did, I think that made it seem like they had something to hide. Let Dillon just come out and say, hey, it’s unfortunate that happened. And and I’m and I’m saddened that that happened. Go right back at Kerr when he says the coach doesn’t say hey we play hard and I know that Taylor Jenkins did kind of say stuff like that, but like go right back at him and say. You have Draymond Green on your team like like this is just we’re playing hardnosed it got away from Dillon Brooks and that’s unfortunate but the suggestion that we we we do anything untoward is kind of rich coming from a team that employs Draymond Green like go hard at him there but don’t respond in this weird kind of sensitive way where you’re hiding Brooks from the press. And then all of a sudden you’re suggesting that Jordan Poole, like injured Ja Morant on purpose. It just has been this kind of weird flailing response and I feel like it is exposed the Grizzlies a little bit mentally like this is should be a learning experience for them.
C.J. Toledano: Can we just recap the context of if that was this suppose it on purpose attack on Ja Morant’s knee where it’s like they’re leading by. I forget how much they were up.
Jason Concepcion: They were up there killing him at that point.
C.J. Toledano: Yeah they’re killing him at that point. It’s one one early in the series guys. If you’re going to put a hit on Ja Morant, you’re not going to have Jordan Poole do it. You’re going to have some guy, some Russian dude off the bench in the movie version of this all.
Jason Concepcion: Right. right the movie.
C.J. Toledano: And he would, you know, and then expect them to do some like legendary, the drunken master, like five point knee tear eight ligaments. It’s just it’s impossible and unlikely. And yeah, it’s just it was the beginning of that. And then it just started this domino effect of, like you said, the Grizzlies kind of exposing their inexperience to the game of it all, not just on the court. It’s right. Hey, how do you respond in these post-game press conferences when a question of, you know, sort of being baited, they fell for a lot of the bait. Taylor Jenkins. Like Dillon Brooks like no. We’re not gonna have Dillon Brooks respond right away because we’re this hard nosed scrappy team. You know, we’ve been in the media, we’ve been doing everything right. It’s like no guys. Like at the end of the day, just like you didn’t do it on purpose. No one did that. The code it the code is, oh, we don’t hurt people in games. There wasn’t a code established. You just don’t injure people. So I just, you know, the Grizzlies have been just straight up kind of weird and I think it’s them being youngins and somewhat immature and going like, no, this is the strategy. Let’s just you know, we’re we’re this hard, hard nosed team that that does it. We’re not soft. And it’s just at this point, weird.
Jason Concepcion: And furthermore. Dillon Brooks, 39 minutes like. I, I, I guess Taylor Jenkins is saying, like I, I’m supporting my guys. These are, these are the guys that brought us here. Dillon of course, being an important cog in that and what we did and our success, particularly when Ja was out in that stretch that we of winning that we did when Ja was out. But like De’Anthony Melton played 9 minutes. I think Ziaire Williams could have could have done some stuff for them. And you’re talking about guys who are going to bolster you defensively and not make decisions that that make you ask, like, does Dillon Brooks have money on this game going the other way? Like, it just feels like there were there were some buttons and levers that could have been pushed and thrown that didn’t get going. Ryan, you have any thoughts about this?
Ryan Wallerson: When you’re in this position, it’s kind of all hands on deck. And I thought that they definitely could have employed more of their roster to try to get this game, because this was another situation, like I said before, where they were very close to getting this win. This was a winnable game for them. And just to be that far from, you know, the promised land, the proverbial promised land of the night is just when you when you look back at the tape, when you look back at the minutes, when you look back at the rotations, if you didn’t empty the clip to try to get that attainable victory, then I think there’s always going to be a sense of regret there. So when this game is over and that regret already exists, when the series is over, I think they’ll look back and they’ll say no. Outside of that Game three, we weren’t very far away. I think that’s part of the immaturity. I think that’s part of the experience that we always said was going to be really good for Memphis.
Jason Concepcion: I should add that before the game, Dillon Brooks finally spoke to the press. It had been five or six days or something like that and said, you know, it’s paraphrasing now, but like, you know, if I could do it all over again, like, obviously, like, I would not have made that foul. And he feels bad about it. You can, you know, whatever people, you know, obviously Golden State fans are going to have an opinion about like the sincerity of that, but that shouldn’t have happened five days later. Have him meet the Press right away, take the fucking gas out of it, you know, deflate the tension around that. And don’t let Steve Kerr rattle you by by suggesting that you’re a dirty squad, like go back at him. And that is maybe something they’ll do for next time.
Ryan Wallerson: I think the waiting is what gives Golden State fans the right and the leeway to question the you know, the sincerity of it. Because at this point, it seems like someone just pushed him out onto the stage and said, no, you have to say it.
C.J. Toledano: Yeah.
Ryan Wallerson: As opposed to just coming out and doing the right thing.
Jason Concepcion: Yeah, it was just all around weird. Finally, let’s talk about we’re going to talk with Nuggets Beat reporter Mike Singer, of course, about this. But let’s talk about Jokić and his second MVP. Philly fans are mad and that’s their right. They are upset that Joel Embiid did not win an MVP award despite being he would have been my pick for MVP. It’s a different kind of case than the statistical case that you can make for Nikola Jokic but I’ll say this Nikola Jokic His regular season 27 points on 58% shooting, which is crazy, 33% from three point range and 33 minutes, 27 points, 13 rebounds, basically eight assists, steal and a half, one block a game. The advanced stats, as I’m sure everyone has heard, are incredible. But my kind of favorite thing about Jokic’s MVP is that inherent in the case, and I’ve been watching Nuggets fans online do this for days, built into Jokic’s his case is a a criticism of Nuggets players. It’s like man, Jokic is MVP and you know why he’s MVP? Because our fucking team sucks. These guys suck. Fuck these guys that we had. They were, Jeff Green should have retired three years ago. Everybody else terrible. Aaron Gordon, get him off my squad. It’s just really funny to me. Who. Do you agree with Jokic winning his second in a row MVP?
C.J. Toledano: I am bored of this conversation. Now I want to talk about. No, but it is like let’s talk like let’s give this award at the end of the regular season because that is a great reminder to a lot of people this year, the regular season. And the thing is like Embiid deserved it too and they had to dig deep to give this award to Jokic. And I think just the meme, just general reaction is it’s boring to give it to a player two years in a row. We’ve been wanting Embiid to be as good as he is and he was this season with all that drama around him and they are making, we’re watching him, you know, step up in these playoffs and be this Joel Embiid MVP player. And we’re like, I think the big question is, is he going to be this way again? Is he going to continue to grow? And that’s and that’s what we’re all nervous. We’re all nervous that he won’t be and then he won’t get it. And then we’ll talk back on 2022 the year Embiid wasn’t, deserved to be the MVP and we didn’t give it to him.
Jason Concepcion: I got to give it up to Kendrick Perkins because rarely do I have to give it up to Kendrick Perkins. But I thought Kendrick actually had a good point, which is he said today on Swagu & Perk. I don’t know what the criteria for MVP is, but I do know that stories should matter and nobody had a better story than Embiid this season. So the NBA very, very smartly has never defined what MVP means. Right. So every year it is a discussion and a redefinition by various parties about what it means to be the MVP. Right. I think you can make a very obviously the statistical case, the winning case, the the the on player soft courts. Yeah. A case for Jokic is super strong. Like he’s great. You can watch him and you’re like, he’s great. He’s a seven foot Magic Johnson like who’s also like an incredible low post player who’s also like the best passing big man of of all time. For Joel Embiid he is like the difference maker for the Sixers. He is doing it on both ends defensively and offensively. He’s one of the most devastating low post players that we have in the game and more to the point. I just think the stuff that he’s had to deal with with the Ben, the whole Ben Simmons drama with what they’re going to do in terms of with the James Harden drama that comes inherently with adding him to the mix with his own injury struggles. We’re watching him right now play through that kind of like, do you know, post-concussion symptoms, a shattered eye socket and a torn ligament in his thumb and and the history of injuries that he’s had to deal with. And to your point, C.J., it’s like. I just. I worry that we won’t get a chance to give it to them again, truly. Which is why I want to give it to him this year. I thought he was deserving. I thought he had a great story. This is a guy who missed two years of the early part of his professional career with injuries. And I just feel like, are we are we going to have a chance to give it to him again? I don’t know. And that’s why I thought he was my MVP this season.
Ryan Wallerson: And if we don’t, if he ends his career without an MVP after a career of us calling him an MVP caliber player, I think we’re going to regret that, especially when we look back at this back to back, because even if Jokic had been, you know, statistically, numerically superior season, I think the fact that he is already the defending MVP, as you’ve said in different instances before, should take away it should make it harder to win the second one to go back to back. You should be like head and shoulders the best. It shouldn’t there should be no argument. That should be the only way you can win it. Otherwise I think they should divvy it out because different guys deserve it.
Jason Concepcion: And people will say, okay, Jokic’s stats are actually better this year like he had great. You know he was incredible the year before this but he’s actually even better now. To which I would say Russell Westbrook was the year he won it when he averaged a triple double. He was better the second year, he was better the second year. And we didn’t give it to him.
Ryan Wallerson: Precedent, there is a precedent.
Jason Concepcion: You know. So I just think that like all of this changes, it’s all about narrative is a bad word, but I think that it is all about narrative and the argument you make and my argument for Joel Embiid was he is an MVP level player, he is everything to the Philadelphia 70 Sixers. He’s had to deal with the kind of drama that Jokic has never had to deal with over his career, has had to battle his own body over the course of his career in a way that other players just haven’t had to do. And he’s great, great, great and a warrior. And I wish we had. I wish he had won it, that’s all.
C.J. Toledano: Yeah. Well, did you guys see winning time in the finale? Did you guys see this?
Jason Concepcion: Yes. I did see it.
C.J. Toledano: Very factual, accurate, winning time. There’s that scene. No, there’s no spoilers. This happened, but there were you know, Kareem was the MVP of that series. But David Sterling went up to Magic in the hallway and he goes, Hey, man, you play. This is your moment. If we can just make that part of the equation, whose moment is it? And it’s this season was Embiid’s moment. You know, it’s you said narrative is a bad word. Maybe it’s moment it’s like we were talking about Embiid this whole goddamn season and plus the stats that were somewhat close to Jokic. I just think like that’s enough and I think that’s what we just want going forward is to just take account for stats, narrative, all aspects of what is going on in awarding these players. Here’s what’s done in the past. Let’s just do like every season.
Jason Concepcion: Here’s Doc Rivers on Joel Embiid today this morning quote I don’t know if I could have done more than he did this year play without the second best player all year his resume is great I’m not taking anything away from Jokic either because he’s a hell of a player. I do think this whole analytic driven society world is out of control at times with some of the measures they use like watch the dang game and decide is what I’ve always said. But at the end of the day, if Joel had won, which I thought he should have, there would have been criticism that way. If Giannis said one, only one guy could win. Unfortunately, I would say also that the criticism of Jokic as you got to watch the game, I mean you watch Jokic he’s fucking great you know it is there’s this like weird counter-narrative where it’s like, Oh, only if you understand. VORP Can you really can you understand like what Jokic. You watch him and it’s like, oh, that guy’s the nuggets don’t score unless Jokic assists on it or scores himself. Like, Anyway, I thought it should have been Embiid, but here we are. Up next, John Hollinger.
Jason Concepcion: Second round of the NBA playoffs are in full swing and it’s Monday morning. Nikola Jokic has just been announced as the NBA MVP, his second straight MVP in a row. A lot of that discourse has centered on the importance of stats in advanced stats in Nikola Jokic his campaign. And if you want to blame somebody for that. I’ve got no one better than the great John Hollinger, the inventor of PER, one of the great analysts in the history in the modern history of the NBA. John, thank you for joining Takeline. It’s great to have you here. How are you.
John Hollinger: Doing? Great. Thanks for having me on the show.
Jason Concepcion: Super surprising games this weekend. I never in my life dreamed that that Phoenix – Dallas would be 2-2. Same with with Philly – Heat. I never thought that would be a 2-2 series with with the injuries that that Philly was dealing with throughout that series with James Harden’s seeming ongoing decline. What have been the big surprises that you’ve that you’ve seen thus far in the playoffs?
John Hollinger: Yeah, I mean, probably Dallas being 2-2 is probably the biggest one. Just the way those first two games went, especially, it just looked like Phoenix had them completely outclassed. And then they’ve gone to some of this stuff that worked against Rudy Gobert and they’re finding it works against Deandre Ayton to where they put five people around the three point line. It’s just really hard to help from there. So Phoenix’s guards are better defensively than Utah’s were, but it’s still really opens things up for not just Luka but Jalen Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie to get in the paint and create problems. And you almost wonder if they’ve found kind of the new cheat code for the NBA and that a lot more teams are going to be doing this going forward.
Jason Concepcion: You’ve seen people start talking about this, but like at some point, shouldn’t the Suns just say, okay, Luka, go for 60 if you want? I remember like this is how teams used to play the old Nash Suns back during the playoffs. Go for 60 if you want. But we’re going to stay home on all these three point shooters and not let them get off because that is what is killing us. Do you expect Phoenix to do some version of that going forward?
John Hollinger: It’s a little hard. I mean, once once you get a screen for Luka, you have to make a decision, right? And usually with the decision is to have him play a drop. So now you’re in a little more of a rotation situation where other guys can get involved. So it’s it’s an interesting quandary for the Suns. And I personally, I like the idea of letting Luka go for 60 because I think he tends to burn himself out when he scores too much. And in the first half of games, we saw that certainly in game two. So I like that idea from that perspective and I do wonder if the Suns will lean more in that direction as this series goes on. But if you’re doing that, you’re probably asking your bigs to switch on him some, but certainly more than they have. And and that may result in them getting cooked, too.
C.J. Toledano: John, I had a question. So say hypothetically, the Mavs take the series. I think everyone’s everyone was kind of saying, oh, the Mavs are going to lose the series. So what are they got to do this summer? They’ve got to go out and get a center, say they make it past this series. Do you see the Mavs spending big on a center this summer?
John Hollinger: Well, I don’t see them spending big on a center either way because they can’t I mean, they’re kind of locked in to their salary structure. Now, if they they do a trade, you know, they still have that Bertans’ contract clogging up their cap. So if they take that and a future pick and maybe trade for a center, that’s a different discussion. But I do also wonder what type of center they would want, because I think the idea has always been, oh, we’ll get somebody who’s a really great lob threat and we’ll, you know, we’ll pair that guy with Luka or the alternative will get a great pick and pop guy Porzingis and put that guy with Luka and I think the. You know, they’re kind of going back toward the Porzingis model a little bit with how they’re playing. They’re just using Kleber in that role instead. So it is kind of interesting that that they’re tilting back toward just, just playing that, that perimeter model and not really having a rim runner next to look. I mean, Dwight Powell hasn’t been playing that much in either of these two series. So it’s an interesting decision for Dallas. I mean, I will say the other thing is we get all excited when these series are tied 2-2, if you look historically, I mean, it’s usually when the home team wins the first four games of a series, it way more often than not, the team with the better seed ends up advancing.
Jason Concepcion: Well, speaking of that, let’s talk about Philadelphia-Miami, another series that I never thought would have been 2-2. If Joel Embiid is healthy for that entire series, I’m surprised that it’s due to consider he was out. I was surprised that it was 2-2. But a lot of the discussion has to be about James Harden who had a bounce back. I don’t even know if you could, its like calling Jesus coming out of the tomb after the three days a bounce back win for Jesus Christ like on Easter Sunday. He would like it so Harden had a huge bounce back game.
John Hollinger: But this isn’t like Deandre is it’s not Deandre having 30. Right, like come on.
C.J. Toledano: I can’t believer we’re surprised he scored 31.
Jason Concepcion: I know. You know and he said after the game while my shots are falling I think that is I think that’s a good analysis of what happened. Is that like he was, you know, driving past guys with the kind of liquid quickness that he has shown in the past. He was he was hitting some really, really tough, tough stepback threes had had he was so deep in his bag. It was it was really incredible. But what what are you seeing in that series? And is it can we say that James Harden is back? Should we apologize? Should I should I should I sign the apology form that is going around on the Internet for all the people who declare James Harden washed? Must I apologize in written format now.
John Hollinger: He’s like 30% washed. Right? He’s he’s not what he was, but he still can help you win, right? Yeah. So and I mean, the funny thing about that series, it’s just been, it’s been Make or Miss League. Abby Yeah, writ large every single game, the losing team, every single game is like, wow, we were like eight for 43 from three, huh. And meanwhile, like yesterday you had Harden who hit a lot of really difficult threes off the dribble, as you said. And that was a real difference for for Philly. I, I do think Philadelphia can win this series I think Embiid the biggest story the last two games to me is that Embiid is completely snuffed out Bam Adebayo offensive role and so it just put so much pressure on Jimmy Butler to do everything offensively for Miami. So I think that puts Miami in a little bit of a difficult spot. I’m interested to see what happens in in game five when the venue changes again. I I’m really interested by this series now.
C.J. Toledano: Hey, John, do you think this story coming out with your catch this morning, do you think that affects the series at all in an beat or I mean, it beats playing great, but is there going to be a sort of a targeted comeback here?
John Hollinger: Well, this isn’t like Hakeem playing against David Robinson, right? It’s not like I’ll show you Dewayne Dedmon, you know, so I don’t see as much of that. I think Embiid probably I mean I think everyone sort of New York City was going to win and that was going to come in second. So I don’t think this is like some big shock either. So I it’s hard for me to see it tilting things that way but I mean Embiid Embiid has been amazing regardless, right. So yeah, I just think he’s a problem for Miami. And the other thing that makes him a problem is Miami loves to switch and put Bam on the perimeter guy, which once you do that, now you have, you know, Jimmy Butler or Tyler Herro or somebody trying to guard Embiid it’s a so they’ve been they’ve been pretty good about giving enough help to make the entry passes hard but it’s still like you’re in a bad position for rebounding you pick up fouls like there’s just a lot that goes on when you do that.
Jason Concepcion: You mentioned the maker missing this of it Jimmy Butler was everything offensively for the Heat this weekend and and not much else there that with in terms of scoring that wasn’t initiated by him I half expected him to make his entire team like stay after and shoot baskets the way they so often performatively does what he plays poorly, but I think. There’s been a lot of surprised that like, you know, Duncan Robinson, owner of a $90 million contract, hasn’t seen more time considering the dearth of scoring that the Heat are dealing with right now. What do you make of that? And do you expect to see Robinson at some point in this series?
John Hollinger: Yeah, what was crazy is that he didn’t even play in garbage time in game three. When they opened there, they emptied their bench and put in everyone except Robinson. It was like it was like a mafia rub out, right? Like it looks like what’s going on? What’s going on here? You could see in the Atlanta series that they had a problem when they had Robinson and Hero on the floor at the same time that it was just too easy to target one or the other. And if they were going to live with having one bad defending going on the court, it was going to be a hero. That wasn’t as much of an issue when they had Robinson in the starting lineup, but they basically found a better version of Robinson when they got Max Strus. And so he’s he kind of pushed Robinson out of out of that role. I still think there are spots where they could have turned to him like they would go with gay Vincent some. I think Robinson could help him more in in those minutes especially. I mean, we’ll see if Kyle Lowry plays, but if Lowry was on the floor already or or you had other ball handlers on the floor already, usually had either Lowry or Hero in the game. You can have Robinson out there, and I think he might give you more than Vinson would. But either way, I mean, even if even if he was playing, it would be in a diminished capacity. Right. We’re talking like 10 minutes is the eighth guy in the rotation. So. Bigger picture. And I wrote about this for The Athletic a couple of weeks ago, and it was apparent that Victor Oladipo was going to be taking his time. Because that’s the other thing that happened is Oladipo didn’t play all year and now he’s become one of their core guys. Like you said, they’re sitting on this $90 million deal. I think that and Miami’s next to first round picks on draft night becomes what? They’re bait for whatever star they go hunting for.
Jason Concepcion: I have to ask you, as a as a former employee, front office person with the Memphis Grizzlies, what do you make of the of the way. We are talking and that people are talking about that series now with, you know, a number of notable hard fouls, starting with Draymond’s ejection after the Brandon Clarke foul and pulldown, which some people called. I thought it was drastic but not unreasonable to eject to eject him on there. Then, of course, you had the Dillon Brooks foul on Gary Payton the second that sent Gary Payton second on the injured list. And who knows when we will see him again. And then, of course, Ja Morant’s knee injury, which is being framed, you know, by Taylor Jenkins, coach of the Memphis Grizzlies and others, that other voices within the Grizzlies as being directly caused by Jordan Poole pulling on his knee. What do you make of the tenor, the discussions around this series and that play in particular?
John Hollinger: I mean this it’s the playoffs and this, you know, this stuff is fun and everything. But like I made the Jordan Poole play like that was just total suspension fishing to me. Like it was like it was a nothing play. And then I believe it to be fair, like you had warriors people online like, oh, Desmond Bane dove into Poole’s legs. Its like, no, he fell down. Like, what are you talking about? So anyway, it’s and it’s just it we, we get serious like this every year. I mean, this one was unusual because it started out right physical right away. You had those incidents in the first two games, so the temperature was already turned up. And then you have Memphis’s best player potentially not playing in game four now, although they like they still won’t say what’s wrong with his name.
Jason Concepcion: Taylor Jenkins’ quote. Taylor Jenkins’ quote. Yeah, Taylor Jenkins’ quote is, “I think it’s likely that we probably won’t see it.” There’s like multiple adverbs in the sentence. It’s like, not clear.
John Hollinger: But it was. But it was the same thing when he was out at the end of the year, you know, it was just knee soreness and it was like, damn, this thing’s been sore for a while. Like every year. That’s all that’s going on there. So that, that, that whole thing’s been been a little odd, too. So I just think there’s a lot of gamesmanship underlying it that that you, you know, usually see in these playoffs. And it would be unfortunate for Memphis, though, if Morant can’t go because he was here is the one thing like even as they were getting their butts kicked in Game three, Golden State still didn’t have a handle on him at all.
Jason Concepcion: Yeah.
C.J. Toledano: Do you guys feel like fans are really forcing these teams to hate each other when they they just like there’s not a real rivalry. It’s like no one hates each other. They’re just both wildly energetic and scrappy teams.
John Hollinger: Yeah, I think I think that’s accurate. I mean, the the hatred and whatever you want to call it, I think is much more like at the, at the fan level and at the Yeah. You know, and then competitively like these teams are doing what they’re doing just to try to get an advantage. But like I don’t see like there’s not the personal level hate that like well we played the Clippers in 2013 that was that was much more personal let’s put it that way.
Jason Concepcion: Go Google the Chokeslam, the famed zebo chokeslam off for folks at home. We want to get a taste of the the viciousness of that particular series, which is super fun. Do you think it’s easy? If Kurt could go back in time, he would not say the code thing, because I feel like that’s the weather key, whether he thinks that or not. Okay. Yeah, I think that’s the thing that kind of pushed the discourse a little into the overheated side. Like it’s one thing to say that was a reckless play and and one that clearly got away from Dillon Brooks. And we are so saddened for Jeep, who is, you know, been toiling on the fringes of the NBA, now found a home and he’s going to a free agency. This is really devastating for him, yada, yada, yada. But I think to take it into the unwritten rules territory, it feels like that’s as fair or unfair as you think that is. I think that’s the thing that pushed this all over the edge.
John Hollinger: I think it did a little bit because. When people hear that, they think of baseball. I wrote about this in The Athletic today, but they think about like baseball managers, like losing their losing losing their shed over a sacrifice bunt or something like that. No, there’s an unwritten rule about that. You can’t you can’t do that when the score is 8 to 3 in the eighth inning. You know, and and so I thought it it actually he lost his message a little bit when he said the code. Rather than just talking about the the fact that the scariest thing for any basketball players to get hit for behind you have no control over it. You’re going full speed and you’re just going to land violently and hope nothing breaks.
Jason Concepcion: The Memphis Grizzlies record without try this year. 16-2. Quite good. On the other hand, they’re playing a Warriors team that is not going to make mistakes in the way that the the Minnesota Timberwolves made mistakes in that in the first round clash between Memphis and Minnesota that allowed Memphis to win that series, assuming the job is out, which is unclear at this time. What do you see them doing? Where do they go for scoring?
John Hollinger: That’s probably the biggest question. They’ll start Tyus Jones up, they’ll play Melton more, they’ll have Dillon Brooks back. So defensively they’ll probably be more solid. I also wonder if they’re going to bring back Steven Adams for Game four into the starting lineup. I mean, they’re not really getting anything out of Tillman any way. So I think you just have to try to go back and be that be that team you were in the regular season, even if Adams isn’t maybe tailor made defensively for going against Golden State and then if he’s starting, he’s not on the floor when Poole is, who has been their biggest problem does it so he doesn’t have to worry about switching to Poole. They’d have Clarke in the game by then, so I do wonder if they do that. The biggest thing, I mean, not having Ja, you’re going to lose stuff offensively it’s can you get it back at the defensive end right by by playing Jones more playing belt more and and just being more solid at that because that’s Ja’s biggest weakness and that was one of the reasons that they were able to keep their heads above water when when he was out of the lineup is that the defense improved. So with with all of that said, I just don’t know how they’re going to score enough without him. I think that’s going to be a real problem. They’re going to be counting on Brooks who is not had a good playoffs to be the Brooks that was averaging 25 against Utah last year. They need Jaren Jackson to stay hot from three and they need to do this ensemble thing where nine different guys score eight points and they end up with a bunch that way.
Jason Concepcion: If Jaren Jackson stays on the floor, if he can stay on the floor throughout his career, how how good can he be?
John Hollinger: So all defense down at the defensive end, I still think he can get to another level as a three point shooter. I mean, shot in the low thirties this year. But they his footwork is so good for a big guy like he could shoot coming off a pin downs and doing stuff that a lot of guys can’t do. It’s just the actual form with his his arm sometimes takes him astray, but you watch his feet, you’re like, Oh my God. So I saw that there’s stuff he can get to there. Then the other big thing for him is he’s all left off the bounce. And a lot of times when he does a show and go past the first, he doesn’t see the second line of defense and he just trucks the help defender and picks up charging fouls that way. So for him to, I guess, better have better court vision off the dribble when he does put on the floor and have a better right hand would probably be the two biggest things for him offensively. Defensively, I think the sky’s the limit for him. Yeah. Even now he picks up fouls and bunches, but they’re not on defensive plays. He’s not picking them up challenging shots at the rim. He’s picking them up just to get his arm caught on somebody’s on a rebound or a random loose ball or, you know, offensive fouls and just the most random, bizarre ways that have nothing to do with his defensive role.
Jason Concepcion: Chris Paul is 37. He will have a game where he goes 14 to 14 and then he will seemingly go into like a deep energy saving hibernation for a number of games. What? How can how can the Phoenix Suns get more consistent like play out of him? And is what is going on with him like it is has been really been weird to watch him the last several games just kind of not affect the Suns in the way that you’re used to seeing him. What? Any idea like what exactly the Mavs are doing or is it just like this guy’s 37 and he can’t bring it at a super high level game after game.
John Hollinger: The first eight games of the playoffs. So the six games, the New Orleans series in the and the two of the Dallas I think he had one bad game and then the rest of the time he was awesome. So I thought he was having a really a tremendous playoffs up until these last two games and then he hasn’t quite been at that level, which I guess you’d sort of expect him to regress a little. I mean, him fouling out obviously was kind of a surprise in the way he felt out, certainly. But he’s he’s never I mean, Booker is the high volume guy in that team. And Paul has always played kind of the number two role in their offense. And sometimes he steps it up to picks his spots. Sometimes, like you say, I mean, he kind of hibernates for for a half or longer and then dials it up in the fourth quarter. He wasn’t really around for the fourth quarter yesterday, so he could do that. But I just think that’s his tempo and that’s how he plays now and that’s how he manages himself through a game. It just we didn’t we didn’t really get to see the second half Chris Paul yesterday because he had no second. I think he played like 3 minutes total in the second half yesterday.
C.J. Toledano: Well, and just going by like when he was on the rockets, it feels like though like say it is and bounce back from this. There’s a bit of like he feels like he conquered the mountain mid series on some of these things do you think there’s any. Any possibility that that’s a reality. He almost peaks too early.
John Hollinger: Oh, in a in a series. Uh, I’m trying to think. Uh. Man. I don’t know. I mean, he I mean, he peaks pretty late in that New Orleans series, right?
C.J. Toledano: Yeah, that’s true.
John Hollinger: Shop 14 for 14 in the clincher. So I, I don’t know. I mean, is there an element of teams, teams figure out how to scheme him a little better as a series go on. There might be, there might be something to that, but, uh, I, I don’t know. I just, I just thought Phoenix had a tough couple of road games, and I still kind of I still think they’re going to end up winning that series.
Jason Concepcion: Finally, John, for no apparent reason. I have to ask you.
John Hollinger: Okay.
Jason Concepcion: Tyus Jones, Donovan Mitchell, Jalen Brunson. There’s a number of of of young guards currently active in the NBA playoffs that have been linked with with the New York Knicks for various reasons. The Knicks, notably, have been in need of a playmaker for something like 20 plus years. Is there anyone out there that that is worth giving up some of the Knicks young players for and that can move the needle for that team. You know, as a as a ball handler, as a perimeter threat.
John Hollinger: To me, I mean, to me, the the the scenario that makes the most sense is John Wall in a one year deal. Right. Because I mean, the nicks have set themselves up to go big game hunting. Right. To use their.
Jason Concepcion: Unfortunately yes.
John Hollinger: Young players. Yeah. Expiring contracts whatever to be to trade for somebody who is a who is a high wattage star. So to move some of that for somebody who does not move the needle for them in the meantime, I don’t think really makes sense. Now, Donovan Mitchell’s a different story, right? Like, if he if he becomes actually available by trade. Yeah. Then the Knicks should, should go head back up the track and do that. But just take just to get somebody who is 10% better than having John Wall and Immanuel Quickley or Ricky Rubio and Immanuel Quickley. Like I, I have a hard time seeing that really being worth the trouble for them. Like even if they could get a sign and trade with, with Brunson, like they’re, they’re probably giving up enough in that that I’m not really sure it’s worth it for them.
Jason Concepcion: He is John Hollinger, national writer for The Athletic. John, thanks so much for joining Takeline. Enjoy the playoffs.
John Hollinger: Thanks for having the show.
Jason Concepcion: [AD].
Jason Concepcion: It is Monday morning and Denver Nuggets Center Nikola Jokic has officially been announced as the 2021-2022 NBA League MVP, the most valuable player beating out Joel Embiid, Giannis, the other great players in the league to win his second in a row. It was an at times acrimonious debate about who should win all deserving candidates. But Nikola Jokic has done it again for a second straight. And here to talk to us about that is Nuggets Beat writer for The Denver Post, Michael Singer. Mike, thank you for joining us.
Mike Singer: Of course. I appreciate you guys have me. And I would just like to say from the jump, the fact that Joker has won back to back MVP’s, that’s an indictment. That means Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo are not very good players, even though they came in second and third place in the NBA voting for this award.
Jason Concepcion: Thanks a lot, Mike. That’s been Takeline for today. And we’re going to get shut it down right here. And that’s going to be the sound bite for the show.
Mike Singer: Appreciate it. All right. It was it was fun, guys.
Jason Concepcion: So but what do you you know, like a lot of this debate, first of all, what’s your take away from this, his second MVP? And then we can talk about the way the debate about this particular award transpired over the course of the season.
Mike Singer: I think it’s I think it’s a special award for Nikola becomes one of third team players in NBA history to ever win back to back MVP, the fifth center of all time. This is the kind of guy that I mean, this is the 41st pick in the draft. He already did more than anyone ever expected of him in the NBA. And this dude is is now among like the pantheon of NBA legends. I mean, you’ve seen the list. It’s Wilt, it’s Kareem, Bill Russell, MJ, Magic, Steph, Giannis, Steve Nash and now Joker. I don’t think you know, let’s just be honest. I don’t think a lot of people, quote unquote, wanted or expected him to win a back to back MVP. I was just looking at, you know, that NBA-GM survey at the beginning of the year that they do they predict who’s going to win the MVP in the upcoming season. He was not in the top six, according to the NBA games, whose job it is to evaluate this. So this dude just did more with less. I think that’s the reason he won the award he didn’t have. Yeah Michael Porter Jr. No Jamal Murray and yet he dragged this team to 48 wins. You can say all you want and indict him all you want about the playoffs, but sorry. Daryl Morey, until the NBA changes its rules, This is a regular season award.
C.J. Toledano: Well, so okay obviously in your heart, in your mind it’s Jokic but, I would love to hear, say gun to your head, you had to make your case for Embiid to win this award. What’s the hype version that you’re given for Embiid to win this over Jokic this season?
Mike Singer: I think that the best, you know, the best evidence you have for Joel Embiid is that he is more physically imposing and more physically dominant, down low just with his size. His is obviously defensive abilities, his his mobility is obviously more impressive and more significant than Nikola Jokic. I’m saying specifically around the interior, he is a beast, he is tough to deal with. And look, Nikola would say that would be the first person to say that he respects him to the nth degree. They have a relationship off the court and they have a ton of respect for each other. So that would be it. And I see the 40 point 10 rebound games. The most this season. That’s unbelievable. It’s not like he didn’t have to deal with a lot of crap in Philadelphia this year in his own right. So that would be the argument. And they finished higher. They finished with three more wins. So if you’re just doing a head to head comparison, I think you can make the argument that he is the more physically dominant player. From a broad scope of things, and I’ve covered Nikola for four years now, the way that he impacts everything and like you can’t even indict his defense anymore. He is not a defensive target anymore. He you know, he’s among like the top five centers in steals and blocks. You can’t say that he’s this slow footed, plodding center who can’t process a defense like he can play defensively. And, oh, by the way, he kills you on offense at every single level of the game. So like I said from the jump, huge indictment on Joel Embiid. Awful basketball player. The fact that the fact that he is number two or number three, what are you even doing here? Why even, you know, let’s just vote on number one and get past this.
Jason Concepcion: Um a lot of the discourse around Nikola’s MVP candidacy, specifically from the from critics of his candidacy, kind of centered around this idea that, like it’s an advanced stats case. I think Nick Wright was probably the most loud proponent of this particular kind of argument that it was like, Oh, the VORP people, you know, Nikola Jokic is VORP campaign. The implication, of course, being that watch this guy and you will see that he fails the eye test now that whatever you think of the call, his case was patently ridiculous. You watch the guy, you’re like, Wow, this guy is great. But what was did that argument did that bother the team at all? Was did that get any traction in terms of like annoying the Nuggets and like and what do you think of that particular case, the idea that, oh, it’s an advance that case for for Jokic and if you watch the guy you’re just not going to be impressed.
Mike Singer: I think, you know when you use that as your argument, you stake out that case on an island. You got to dig all the way down, you got to plant your flag and make that a thing. And so even if it’s not a thing, which I don’t think it is, because he’s the first dude in NBA history with 2000 points, 1000 rebounds, five assists. I’m not even a math guy. And those are nice round numbers.
Jason Concepcion: You know, the counting stats are really good. Yeah. Like if you just want to do those.
Mike Singer: So so Michael Malone, Nuggets coach is asked what can he do to top that? And he goes, well, shit, he can get 2500 points, he can get 1500 rebounds and a thousand sit like it’s it’s nuts, you know, to say it’s just the calculator MVP. Come on now to drag this team to 48 wins, it was pretty evident how, you know, the lack of depth that they had in that first round series against Golden State, it was painfully obvious. Aaron Gordon supposed to be a number for, you know, either a number four. Number five, he’s not supposed to be a number two. Like I looked it up. There was no Aaron Gordon was the lowest score, number two score in the NBA on any team across the league. He had 15 points a game and yet they got to 48 wins. They say Whatever you want about how much they tested the Golden State Warriors. I don’t know how you can indict what this dude did by, you know, the day in, day out stuff. And you talk about the cumulative stuff. He won MVP last year. He was better this year with less help. In a nutshell analytics I didn’t use any numbers here.
C.J. Toledano: Yeah my your energy on it. I was convinced it was in B before this. So your energy, if he had a slightly less impressive season this year, he would still be in the conversation. But so you truly think this this past season was more impressive than the first time he won MVP?
Mike Singer: Yeah. And you want to know what else is crazy? Everybody thinks he came out of the woodwork three years ago. He finished number four in the MVP race. It’s not that crazy that this dude is doing what he’s doing. This been a slow build. He’s now four time all star back to back MVP is the fact that, you know, the GM didn’t think he was going to be have the potential to to repeat it is a curious thing and I also think that there’s a lot of you know, if you were to give the NBA the NBA itself some truth serum, would they want Nikola Jokic to win again? Probably not, because for marketing reasons, for rivalry reasons, we want to promote a Joel Embiid versus Nikola Jokic. That is fun, that is entertaining. Nikola Jokic Whether he gives a damn about the MVP award or not, he just put on a better performance than he did last year in his inaugural victory. So I think he does it out of out of spite. I think that he’s like, I don’t care, but I’m still going to show you that I’m this good. And that’s kind of how he did it. I don’t know how you indict what he did this year.
Jason Concepcion: You you mentioned the kind of like dearth of help around Nikola Jokic, Aaron Gordon. I loved his comments after the elimination, which I’m paraphrasing now because I’m going off the dome with something like, you know, I’ve just got to make better decisions. You know, seeing how a good team plays makes me realize, you know, how I need to alter my game. And it’s like, man, you’ve been in the league eight years and it’s just wild to be like, Oh, I guess I should like make better plays. Anyway, Porter Jr has dealt with back problems his entire career, going back to college, and that’s the reason his draft stock fell so precipitously. Jamal coming back, you know, off of one of the most, you know, series injuries a player can have in the NBA. Where is the help coming from? And do the Nuggets need to think about even more help for Nikola Jokic? Obviously Gordon’s here, but Porter Junior with that balky back, how much can they count on him? Unclear what Jamal is going to give the team when he comes back, although recent history tells us that that those type of knee injuries are not as serious as they once were in the NBA. Is help coming for Jokic?
Mike Singer: Yeah, the help is on the way. And they took a long picture approach with Jamal Murray not returning this year with Michael Porter Junior not returning. They both flirted with comeback attempts and tried to come back at various times and both kind of rationalize. We have a cap on what we can do this season, given that we’re not fully healthy for this off season and going into next season. If you were to find that quote unquote window of the Nuggets best chances to win a championship, it is this year and next year. And the reason i say that Michael Porter jr is about to start begin a five year contract that they gave to him before they needed to give him and he has his third back surgery in five years. Now, again, I’m not a math guy, but those those are uncomfortable numbers and uncomfortable ratios. When you just committed 145 million, guaranteed 170 million over the life of this five year deal. If you want to maximize and capitalize on Nikola Jokic his prime, which is what Michael Malone said, Tim Conley said at the end of this year, it is these first two years when who knows how long Michael Porter Jr’s back is going to be a reliable a reliable player. How long can you trust that for? And then, Jamal, I think that they they think he’s going to return and be fully healthy. I think so, too. I mean, you know, 15, 16 months off is going to do him a lot of good. I talked to Klay Thompson during the playoffs and he said it was laughable that they would even consider bringing him back, dropping him into a playoff series. That’s just an unfair ask. I think a lot of people would agree with that, too, to force a guy’s hands, so forth. You know, that didn’t happen. I do think the cavalry’s coming. I do think they’re going to be healthy next year. The key and by the way, again, without those two guys, the Nuggets had the sixth best offense in the NBA, the sixth that’s with Aaron Gordon, Will Barton, Monte Morris, who was a backup point guard starting, and 35 year old Jeff Green as your power forward, who was never supposed to be starting at power forward. So all those things he still does it where they need to improve is defensively they’re just they’re not good enough defensively. Aaron Gordon’s really the only plus defender and then you know, with with that triangle of Joker, Jamal and P.J., how much do you trust them defensively and are there upgrades to be made specifically in that starting unit where you can lessen the burden on Joker defensively?
C.J. Toledano: Well, so okay, I want to go back to the MVP award because I do feel like I’ve trashed, I was one of the NBA Twitter guys was like, it should be Embiid. So now I’m trying to I’m trying to redeem myself and let’s sell it. Let’s celebrate the MVP award. But that’s that’s kind of my question, because you followed him as a person as well. And we’ve met his brothers. We’ve seen a little bit glimpses of his off court life. How was Jokic reacting to a back to back MVP? How, you know, how is he going out and celebrate? We’re obviously going to see the official, you know, acceptance of the award. But how does Jokic feel about actually getting this MVP? Does it drive him? Does is it just another, you know, accolade? Like, how is he reacting to this?
Mike Singer: Well, how does he celebrate? I’m pretty sure he. He rides around the horse track at double speed. He’s like, All right, Dreamcatcher. That’s his favorite horse. Let’s go. Let’s go. We got two times. So that’s, I think, the first celebration. You know, I asked him this. I asked him this after game five of the Golden State series when they got eliminated and he goes, probably I will celebrate with some music, with some beer, with my family, with my friends. And he goes, That’s probably how you’re supposed to do it. And I love that he hedges because he’s like, How? I don’t know, like. But the fact is, he does know. I don’t know how he got down last year when he did win it. But this time it’s a lot different because he is back home in Sombor, Serbia among his family and friends and among people where he could just like lay back and chill and do whatever he wants without worrying about being caught on camera, which is all of our losses. And I’m very sad about that. But this like it’s funny because he claims he he will tell you multiple times he’s indifferent to the award. But I don’t really think that he is. I think he’s more indifferent than other players and certainly Embiid has campaigned for it. Last year, Steph Curry, LeBron campaigned for it. Joker will never campaign for it. And the reason why, because I don’t think he wants his legacy tied up in individual awards. He knows that it is intricately connected to how he will be viewed in history. But, you know, coming from where he came from, a team first approach, he doesn’t care about those individual accolades. He said a million times, like, I want to win titles, I want to win a championship. Like, that’s what I care about. And, you know, a month or two into this season, I go, it was pretty obvious he was going to be in the running for MVP again. And I go, Nikola, how excited are you to be a part of this MVP conversation again? And he’s like, Can’t wait, brother. Like he is he cannot handle he doesn’t like the attention. He doesn’t like the spotlight. And I mean, at the core of who he is, he’s super humble. So to have all these accolades poured on him, he’s just that’s not who he is in his nature. And that’s not an indictment either on other people. Other people can lean into the award if they wanted or campaigned for themself. He’s just not going to do that. But again, it just so happens he’s that damn good. Where he forces everybody’s hand in is like, Well, I guess he’s going to win it again.
Jason Concepcion: He is Mike Singer, Nuggets beat writer for The Denver Post. Thanks so much for joining us. Congratulations to Denver. It was really cool. Can’t wait to see the Nuggets back in action next season. Man, thanks for joining us.
Mike Singer: Appreciate it, guys. Thanks a lot.
Jason Concepcion: That’s it for us, folks. Follow and subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. And don’t forget to subscribe to Takeline show on YouTube for exclusive video clips from this episode. Plus my digital series All Caps NBA, which airs every Friday. Check it out. Goodbye. Takeline is a Crooked Media production. The show is produced by Ryan Wallerson and Zuri Irvin. Our executive producers are myself and Sandy Girard. Engineering, editing and sound design by the great Sarah Dubalaska and the folks at Chapter four. And our theme music is produced by Brian Vasquez. Mia Kelman is on the zoom for vibes, and the vibes are fantastic all the time.