It’s the annual NBA Yuletide bonanza with five games broadcast on Christmas Day on BT Sport 1, starting at 5pm with the Washington Wizards @ New York Knicks.

It’s followed by Oklahoma City Thunder @ San Antonio Spurs,  7.30pm, the headline clash between the Cleveland Cavaliers @ Miami Heat at 10pm, LA Lakers @ Chicago Bulls, 1am – finishing up with Golden State Warriors @ LA Clippers at 3.30am

And veteran commentator Hubie Brown looks ahead to the matches in this Q&A.

The Thunder kind of obviously got off to a rocky start and are currently ranked number 10. How far do you think they’ll be able to climb the rest of the season? And as a follow up, is Russell Westbrook really the early MVP consideration? 

HUBIE BROWN:  Well, I’ll answer that one first.  I definitely think he is.  I think he’s right up there with a number of other people.  Everybody is pushing hard out there.  But if you look at what’s happening up there at Portland, they have two good kids.  But as you go around the league, there are any number of people.  How do you pick Curry over someone else with what’s going on at Golden State?  So from that standpoint, he’s definitely in the mix as of right now.

Now, let’s look at what will happen from now until the end. Because the West is so difficult, you have to look at where the teams have played the games that are ahead of you.  It’s only one third of the schedule.  Everybody’s between 25 and 30 games played.  So, to me, it’s how are you doing against the plus .500 teams, because they’re the teams you have to beat.  And unfortunately, in the West you have seven, eight teams that are over .500.

So to make a move, you’re going to have to prove that you can beat the plus .500s.  Now we know that if Durant is healthy at the beginning of the season, everyone predicted San Antonio and Oklahoma City would get to the Western Final, going off of last year of how many games they won.  So if Durant comes back and he is healthy, we all know as you look at it right now, you’re only two games back on the loss side from the 8th spot.  But moving is going to be extremely difficult.

So to me Durant comes back, he’s healthy, you get good, solid production at the two-guard position, and then the bench becomes more consistent in points.  Anything can happen because we know that once you get into a seven game series, you’re going to be extremely difficult to beat, if everyone is healthy.

I’ve got a two-part question about the Bulls: One, do you think Derrick Rose so far has looked like the Derrick Rose of old? How close do you think he is to being himself?  And after this year, do you see the window for a championship closing?  How long do you think the Bulls really have to win it all? 

BROWN:  First, I’d like to say this, the Rose situation, I can’t predict.  We all know he doesn’t have the full explosion that we remember from the MVP year.  That’s not there.  He has a better mid-range game now.  We’re talking now anywhere from 16 to 15 feet because he has the floater and he’s definitely a high percentage guy in those areas.

The key will be – will he have the lift for the 20 to 23 foot shot behind the three-point line?  Will he improve on the low 30 per cent to get to a higher percentage from that area?

Rose: rising fast

Rose: rising slowly back to best

Now I had him a week ago Friday where he had over 30 in that game with Portland and he looked absolutely sensational.  Absolutely sensational.  He did everything.  He had assists.  He broke the defences down.  He got to the basket, and especially in the last six minutes when it was mano a mano with Lillard, with both guys ending up over 30, but they matched one another for six minutes, you saw what we had seen previously when he was healthy.  But since that time period we see now that there are games that he has missed.

So the only people who can really dictate to you are the doctors and the trainers.  As far as Thibodeau, how Thibodeau is handling it, he’s handling it as best as he can possibly handle it and still say that we’re going to win games.

Now to me, you’ve been extremely, extremely lucky in picking up Gasol, Brooks and Mirotic.  These three guys are going to be major, major contributors the rest of the way and at playoff time.  You get better shot blocking.  You get instant play off the dribble with Brooks and a kid who can really score all three areas, and then Mirotic, I think has opened the eyes of many people at 6’10”.  He might be still learning the rotations defensively, which we know Brooks and Gasol are also doing.  But this young guy at 6’10” has the athletic ability, the three-point game, the mid-range game, and then the trailer on the break to be exceptional.

So as far as saying they’re on the downside, I don’t think that.  But the key, once again as we all know is will Rose continue to get better?  And then also be able to give the 36 to 38 minutes once you get to playoff time?

I was wondering about the Knicks specifically. Whatever people’s expectations were, I don’t think anybody thought they’d be 5-25 at this point. I’m wondering first what you see going wrong with the Knicks, however much you’ve seen them and whether anything is salvageable with this current group.  My second question is about Coach Derek Fisher, specifically.  How big of a challenge do you think he has in front of him right now and how well suited do you believe he is to handle this current situation? 

BROWN:  First of all, let’s start with the team.  We’re still waiting for Bargnani to be the starting centre.  That was a major minus.  The fact that Stoudemire is playing the best he’s played in the last couple of years is a plus, but then you have to give him days off, like you did yesterday when they played Toronto.  That is a negative because he is the only post player that you have that can score in the low post, in the painted area, and that is the basis of the triangle.  The triangle works through the post area and then things happen from there.

So the Bargnani and Stoudemire situation were a negative for you from injury standpoint.  Then J.R. Smith, no matter what you say, he must score the ball, but unfortunately he has missed all these games and they have to figure out and be able to get him back, so that the present injury will not come up again the rest of the season.

Now the Shumpert situation is unfortunate.  You cannot lose the potential starting centre and then have the guy who is going to replace him, Dalembert, play less than average basketball for his potential.  Then your only post up guy, Stoudemire is limited because of the injuries and his past physical condition.

Now, will the perimeter people, and by that I mean J.R.  Smith, Shumpert, Hardaway, and then the point guards, will they be able to pick up this stat?  Now just think about this.  The team is 27th in the league in scoring, and we know that that is a major problem.  You say why is that?  Because you don’t get any offensive rebounds and get second shot attempts in the paint where you get fouled.  That is backed up by the fact that the triangle offense with this group of people, minus the guys that are injured, you are 30th in getting to the foul line.  When you get to the foul line, naturally extra points, we understand that, but you get fouls on the frontcourt people and of the opposition, and they don’t get their necessary minutes.  And that is key because go back and look at how many close games they’ve been in.  They’ve been in 10 or 11 close games, and it’s come down to execution in the last five or six minutes and that would have – if they had the execution, if they had the centre play, if they were able to get to the line, things would have been different at this time.

Now, as far as a coach taking over a situation like this, it’s extremely difficult because you were expecting total play of your front court – the four front court guys that you expected to play at the power forward and centre position.  That has not been available for you.  Also the triangle itself, no matter how you talk about it, they are shooting – they’re 20th in the league in shooting.

No. 2, they’re not getting to the foul line.

No. 3, they’re not getting second chance opportunities that, if you are going to shoot a bad percentage, there are plenty of rebounds that you could get to get the second chance opportunities.  Now, is that positioning?  Is that talent?  Is that motivation?  Well, the coaching staff has to teach, and the triangle cannot be effective unless the players get to the spots of the triangle.  And if they don’t get to those spots, you have eight players on one side of the floor sometimes, and sometimes you might only have ten if you drew a line from basket to basket.  These things have got to clean up as they march forward.

Now, this is difficult for a coaching staff because the head coach lacks the experience of being a head coach.  He’s learning on the job how to teach the situation.  Hopefully your assistants can help him.  But then because you’re involved in so many close games this year, the execution from six minutes down makes or breaks coaches.  And we all know that that’s where you win the games in the last six minutes.  And then the coaching staff is challenged to have the right people on the floor, to select the right plays to be played during that time period, and then hopefully come up with something stimulating in the last 30 seconds of games.

That was long winded, I’ll tell you. That was a heck of a question.  You gave me two tough questions.  There is no simple answer here for the situation that you’re in.

I was going to ask you about Fisher, too. I mean, what could he do better? Do you think maybe he should abandon the triangle for now considering they’re 5 25?  I mean, what is your suggestion?  When I spoke to you in May, you said he was the exact player who could make the transition to a coach more than probably any player you could think of, but what’s your advice for him? 

BROWN:  The advice right now comes down from up above, which Phil Jackson is saying that they’re going to stay with the triangle and they’re going to teach the triangle.  So it doesn’t matter what anyone else outside of the organization thinks, it now comes down to the coaching staff adhering to the situation, and then continuing to work on the spacing. You follow them on a daily basis and you know exactly what I’m talking about.  The spacing is not there.

Then the problem comes down to the availability of the talent.  If you don’t have an inside game, then your midrange and your perimeter game has got to shoot a high percentage.  Because of your injuries, J.R. Smith and Shumpert have not been available, and even when they were, you add Hardaway to that, and the midrange game and the three point shooting from these key people has been sporadic.

So consequently, it comes down to the coaching staff being positive on a daily basis, continuing to teach the elements of the triangle, and then forcing better spacing so that you can discourage the double teaming of the few guys that are on the floor that demand the double team — you can take advantage of the double teaming of Anthony when the shot clock is down inside of 6 seconds.  That all comes with positive approach on a daily basis, good lesson plans at practice, good practice sessions so that everybody is working hard to not only understand the triangle, but become better at making adjustments within their own area where they can counter the defence.

Right now what we’re looking for is the playmakers at the point guard position and at the two guard to be able then to expose the defences by countering the defence.  So all of that sounds easy, but is extremely difficult when you have a new coach, a new coaching staff, and then an injured team.  Because when you get to those close games, those 10 or 11 games that you’ve had right now that you could have won in the last five minutes, you have different people available.  A coach has something to do with that because they’re all injured guys, and it forces the chemistry. You’re not ending the game with the same five guys.  You don’t have that blessing.

I have a couple questions about LeBron and the Cavs. The first one, and I know you’re not going to do their game on Thursday, but what do you expect from Miami fans in terms of receptions for James? And what do you expect versus what do you think he deserves? 

BROWN:  I would be stunned if he did not get a standing ovation, and also that it stayed a standing ovation for a while, mainly because of what he accomplished while he was there and how far he took that situation.  Not only the rings, but also the sell-out crowds on a nightly basis, the total excitement of the four seasons.  I mean, three times in The Finals, all right.  And then the fact that the team played so well during those period of times.  It was four times in The Finals, right?

Yes, sir.

BROWN:  So his contribution during that time period of being First Team All NBA, the MVPs, and then also the playoffs and then his total production of world renowned acceptance as being a No. 1 player in the game, I just can’t possibly see that a sports crowd as knowledgeable as Miami would not reciprocate and honour what the guy did for the franchise.

You mentioned that he was sort of world renowned as a No. 1 player. As I’m sure you know, there’s been some discussion about that over the last couple of weeks – LeBron’s numbers, which are relatively where they normally are, I guess now, although they have improved over the last week or two, versus sort of what we’re all seeing from an athletic, explosive standpoint. I’m just curious your thoughts on what you’ve seen from LeBron here through 25 or so games. 

BROWN:  Well, first of all, on my answer before was through his production in Miami, because that’s what you asked me.

Yes, sir.

BROWN:  Okay.  Now if people are second guessing what LeBron James is doing at Cleveland at this moment, I would like to know who are the people that are second guessing the production and whether they have any credibility because you have to understand that there are so many new pieces that are there.  Two of your three pieces are two new people, LeBron and Love, and then Irving had naturally made major contributions on a losing team.

So all of a sudden not only do you have that to contend with, but you have a two-guard situation where you get night in and night out the same performance at the two guard.  Well, LeBron James is making a lot of things happen because of the assists.  If people are trying to challenge LeBron now in regards to what he’s doing point wise, how about the fact he’s in the top six, I do believe, in assists?  So that means he’s ahead of 24 point guards in the league, and I don’t think any of them are scoring 24 or 25 points, and also getting his six rebounds.

So when you step back from LeBron, you have to understand the mentality.  The mentality is to get everybody to play together.  He’ll sacrifice shots and sacrifice production to make other people get involved.  Then defensively he will anchor your defence as your group adheres to the new defensive philosophies.  Let’s face it, the second unit has been extremely questionable up until now of their consistent production.  You could say that’s because we have too many new people and that’s because maybe guys are not accustomed to the new offensive and defensive theories of Coach Blatt.

So all of that will improve as you get to the All-Star Game.  Once the All-Star Game comes, all teams that have good coaching, the production of the team, the chemistry, you’ll start to see in March and in April, and then it will continue to get better as you get into the playoffs.  Also, the production of the star players will get better.  They’ll shoot better percentages because of the recognition of the new areas that they’re being put in, and then defensively the team will get much better because there are a couple of guys there that, let’s face it, they need coaching defence on a daily basis, and then also put them in a five man structure so that they function and they’re not a weak link night in and night out against a plus .500 teams.

When you first got your job at Kentucky, you were 41. What role do you think sort of age and head coaching experience plays? And how did that affect you in your first couple of years?

BROWN:  Well, first of all, I’m coming from an assistant coach with the Milwaukee Bucks, that in ’73 and ’74 had one of the best teams in the league – ’74 Oscar retires and Kareem wins the MVP three out of his first four years in the league, and the only other time he was second to Dave Cowens in ’73.  So in my two years there, I was fortunate to be an assistant.  Back then it was just two coaches, head coach Larry Costello.  I got a doctorate’s degree in offensive basketball, team defensive philosophies and also chemistry, when you consider you had Oscar Robertson at the end of his career playing with all these young guys that were 26 years old and down on our first starting unit.

So I could never have gained more knowledge from a coaching, head coach, or from the players themselves because of the discipline and the incredible practice sessions.  The practice sessions I was coming from nine years of high school, five years in the college ranks, and I said after that first week of double sessions, I had never seen anybody work that hard for that length of time and have that kind of talent.  It was just a tremendous thing for me.

So when I got my opening with the Kentucky Colonels, back then we only had ten players on the team in the ABA.  We had four new players, a new coach, and fortunately as you know we were able to win the championship.  And unfortunately for us they didn’t keep the team together because they sold Dan Issel over the summer to Baltimore that never opened up, and then he was sold from there to Denver.  That’s how he ended up in Denver.  Then Teddy McClain, our outstanding point guard, who was the best defensive guard in the league, was sold to New York for money, also.

But that’s it.  I mean, I think being in Milwaukee helped me tremendously in Kentucky because we took – Stan Albeck was my assistant – we took everything that we ran for Kareem and ran it for Artis Gilmore.  And also the fast break game and a lot of the continuities that we ran in Milwaukee, we ran in Kentucky because we had that type of team.

But then we added the pressing and trapping full court, three quarter court, half court, top of the circle, stuff of that nature that helped the team that we had in Kentucky, especially our second unit.

It sounds like you’d be surprised if LeBron James was booed in Miami on Christmas Day, much like that first game back in Cleveland in 2010.

GB's Luol Deng will face James (NBAE/Getty)

GB’s Luol Deng will face James (NBAE/Getty)

BROWN:  Only because of production.  The only reason he was booed in Cleveland is because they wanted him to stay there.  Unfortunately, Miami became the recipient of this incredible talent, and then he produced and gave them, because he was surrounded by a better cast with Bosh and Wade and the first and second units that they had in Miami during that period of time.

Then he grew.  His game grew.  The championships were there.  The Finals were there.  Then the Olympic Golds were there.  So I just can’t believe – but look, we all know that anything can happen.

A guy pays the amount of money that you pay for a seat today, he can do whatever he wants.  Unfortunately for us, if there is some booing from there, you and I are not the ones who are going to stop the people, neither is anyone else, if that was the reason why they came to the game.

I don’t know.  I can’t answer that.  I would hate to see it because I cherish the memories of what he did as an athlete, his contribution, reaching his maximum potential, and then also creating a chemistry offensively and defensively for that team down there.  Defence, and then he gave them the minutes, and he gave them the minutes in the big games.  That to me is what professional basketball and a player of his calibre is expected to do and he did it.

This is the first time the Clippers get the spotlight on Christmas playing the Golden State Warriors. Just your thoughts about what their chances are this year getting to The Finals coming out of the West. And it seems like Chris Paul and Blake Griffin having been injured in the playoffs and ruined their chances, and it’s been that way the past few seasons.  What do you think it’s going to take for them?  What are the key variables there that you think are going to be the equation to their success this season and getting to The Finals? 

BROWN:  Well, to me, look, they’re 19-8 right now, and they’re not humming at their best level of play as of yet.  I think that as you look at their first unit, their first unit is excellent.  The second unit right now, in my opinion, is not up for par contribution wise, tempo wise, and getting out on the break and getting them the easy points of the previous years that Doc has been there.

So to me, if they are going to be a serious contender when we get to the second round, that means when you get to the second round you have got to beat one of the two best teams to get to your Conference Final, and then once you get to that Conference Final, then naturally you’re playing a team that probably has as much talent as you. They probably have a style of play that offensively you can match.  But now it’s going to come down to the defence.  Can you take care of the defensive board?  Can you keep them to one shot opportunity, and then can you create enough turnovers to get in the open floor to get the easy baskets?  Now that sounds easy, but when you get to that Conference Final and to The Finals, they’re the things that determine who wins.

Then the key is – are your three star scorers healthy?  Are your three star scorers going to be injury free and then can your three top scorers get their yearly average in the same amount of shots against a tougher talent level when you get to that Conference Finals and Finals?  Because everything increases and it becomes slower and it becomes more half court, but you have to prove that your key guys can score.

Chris Paul has been said by some of the talking heads to be one of the best, if not the best, point guards in the league. Do you see it that way? Do you think he’s crushed?  Would you like the ball in his hands at the end of the game for the buzzer beaters? 

BROWN:  With you or I, it really doesn’t matter.  The guy that he’s got to convince that he’s still at the top of his game is Doc Rivers because Doc is excellent coming out of timeouts under pressure, and he always has been, from Orlando to Boston, and now to the Clippers.  He will go to the guy that is hot at the time, but they will run plays that are very deceptive, and then all of a sudden, you’ll see the execution.

Now the final execution comes down to whether the ball goes in the basket or whether you get fouled.

Now to answer your question about where does Chris Paul rank for this season, one of the most difficult things right now is to pick four guards for the Western All-Star team, and more important, can you differentiate between at least 10 to 12 of these point guards that are really having outstanding seasons?  So it isn’t now that it’s a given.  The main thing is – is your player doing what he’s supposed to be doing with the present group of chemistry guys when he’s on the floor with the first group?  And then if he comes back in with the second group and plays with the other four players with that group — are they happy, meaning the coaching staff, with the offensive production?  Is he getting to the line?  Is he shooting a high percentage?  Is he getting the assists?  And most of all, what is happening when he goes head to head defensively against all these incredible point guards that are in the Western Conference?

You touched on the Chicago Bulls a little earlier, but specifically Nikola Mirotic in that game that you were calling against the Trail Blazers. He had himself a pretty nice ballgame. With your experience coaching younger guys and having dealt with younger guys, with Mirotic, he’s 23, but he also played overseas for a while.  Do you think his ability to have success early on here is because of his age or the professional experience he’s had previously?  What’s allowed him to transition so easily? 

BROWN:  I think when you play for Chicago, you’re not going to stay on the floor if you don’t defend, okay?  So always put that first with these young rookies and guys coming to the team.  Because the way that Tibs runs that defence, you can’t have a weak link.  And this young guy is coming and trying to learn all of the offensive efficiencies, and he’s maxing out right there.  He’s proving that he can in the continuities, because of his athleticism, get to all of the spots with the continuity, he can shoot the three.  He can get into the paint.  He can foul.  He can make the foul shots.  Then what I liked that night against Portland was he could handle the middle on the break a number of times where the ball went out to the wing and he was in the middle.

Then he made the right decisions.  Then also as the trailer on the break, he is so dangerous because he can shoot the three on the break.  So when you have a four on three or three on two, he can be a trailer coming behind that and still be effective.  But his minutes.  I noticed he had 28 again the other night.  So he’s doing it, especially if they stay with an eight  or nine man rotation.  Losing McDermott naturally was big, but he was ahead of McDermott.

So to me, his previous experience overseas has given him the confidence to shoot early at this time.  And Tibs told us the other night, the only thing they’re concerned about is he gets to the rotations and he gets to them quicker.  And that will come only with experience and most of all playing time in critical situations.  Because defending with the second unit is different when you move to the first unit and you’re out there with Noah and Gasol, and you might be at that small forward position.  So your assignments change whether you’re a small forward or a power forward in their chemistry defensively.

Would you consider John Wall to be an elite point guard today? Also do you think that Kevin Durant would consider making a return to D.C. if the Thunder can’t get a title in the next two years?

BROWN:  Look, let’s stay with Wall.  Guys like me, we just think about the next game, you know?  To anticipate where Durant is going two years from now, I can’t even think about that.  I’m concerned about Durant playing on Christmas Day.  That’s what I’m concerned about.  And I’m concerned about his health because it’s a joy to watch him play.  He plays with such, how should I say, with such a smoothness and creativity about him at 6’10”, and he might even be bigger than that because I think he’s grown since he’s come in the league.

Durant needs to earn his Spurs (NBAE/Getty)

Durant needs to earn his Spurs (NBAE/Getty)

You just love how he’s improved in every single area of his game.  Whether it’s the three ball, which he always had, the foul shooting and getting to the line, he’s always had, and the injuries now, you want to see him be able to get to the rim and get to the line as we go through the rest of the season.  Let’s hope that he’s not slowed down.  But the improvement in the rebounding, the assists, and then also the creativity on the break has been beautiful to watch.

Now let’s talk about Wall.  I think from last year in the playoffs gave him a great confidence.  Then this year he seems to be playing at a higher level.  By that I mean I don’t judge that by points.  I judge that by the chemistry level, by being a better defender, and better distributor on the break, and taking higher percentage shots and understanding the clock.  All of these things you’re looking for as point guards going from year to year.  You’ll want to see their development.  We know he can finish.  But you want to see the midrange game percentage go up, and you want to see the three point shooting also go up.

See, the thing that I would worry about right now if I were Washington, and when you look at the East, Washington and Toronto are in the same boat; they both have to make up six road games.  They have to make up six road games right now.  So when you say Toronto’s 22-6, Washington 19-7, well, Atlanta only has to make up two road games.  So that to me I always look at when we started this, all right, I like your record.  Have you played the plus .500s?  Where?  At home or away?  And then the most important thing right now is, how many road games do you have to make up or do you have a plus for home games?  So that to me is going to be danger and also a learning experience about Washington, and that will be as they make up those six road games.

I have a question regarding the Cavaliers: Just in terms of their progression from the start of the season until now, do you believe that if they continue on this path of progression that they’ll be ready to compete for a championship come playoff time? If not, what is missing from what they need to be to be a competitor come June? 

BROWN:  I think that we talked of the Cleveland guys earlier, we brought that out.  Right now we know that they are in the middle of a major adjustment period.  They are adjusting to a coaching staff with a different type of discipline than they’ve had before.  They’re also adjusting to a new style of play offensively, as well as defensively.  Now offensively as of right now it’s not a problem because they’re over 100 some odd points a game.  Their problem right now is defensively on a nightly basis.  They’re not going to be a major contender on the Eastern Conference Finals or a championship unless that defence makes a major jump.  By that we mean not just the first unit, but also the second unit.

Then to me, the second unit must become more productive as a unit.  Now we know Thompson’s doing a great job.

Because with Varejao, Love and Thompson, they have offensive production.  They have rebounding.  But the key is the shot blocking, and then anchoring the back of the defence.  It’s going to come down to those three guys, all right, playing those two positions.  Because we know that LeBron is going to be able to hold down the small forward position, and even he can move over to the power forward position, like he did in Miami, all right.  But the key is the fact of the defence.

Now out on the perimeter, that two guard position is still questionable, and from a defensive standpoint and also from production, because you’ve tried a number of people at that position.  Then when you look at the point guard, okay, do you get enough defence out of that point guard and the two guard so that the offense is always inside of your perimeter defence.  That to me, that must improve.

Earlier in the day the news coming out that Josh Smith was released from the Pistons. Do you think there are going to be teams out there that could show interest? And could the Cavs team possibly use the services of a Josh Smith? 

BROWN:  Yeah, you realise, let’s see if someone claims him.  Because if you claim him, he’s making about 13 or 14 million a year for two more years besides this year.  So you have to look at that.  You have to look at the cap.  If you claim him, does that put you over the cap?

Now if he clears waivers, now remember now we’re talking about a guy who is talented but who is just not producing out there in Detroit because he’s shooting 39%.  All right, now we know that he can play small forward.  We know he can play power forward.  We know he’s a good passer.  We know he can handle on the middle of the break, but with him, it always comes down to the consistency factor.

Now will there be teams?  Absolutely.  But will you not claim him and hope that he clears?  Because if he clears waivers, then naturally Detroit is going to have to pay the maximum, and then you could sign him as a free agent, pay him a minimum, and then Detroit would have to make up for the next few years, according to his salary, the next four and a half years.

Now as far as the talent, yes, he’s got a tremendous amount of talent.  But I think a just comment would be has he ever reached his maximum potential?  All right.  That would be questionable according to the different coaches that have coached him in Atlanta and now in Detroit.  But as far as athleticism and what he possesses, he’s got a ton of talent.

The Thunder’s opponent Thursday, the Spurs, haven’t been tearing it apart either, at No. 7. Are you surprised they haven’t come out of the gate stronger?

BROWN:  We always talk about key injuries.  They are 5-7 in their last 12 games.  I did that three overtime game the other night where they lost to Portland.  Where Lillard put on an absolutely incredible show in the fourth quarter and in the overtime because he ended up with 43.

Now, what is the problem?  Well, they have lost a number of close games to sub .500 teams in that 12 game span.  But they have played a number of back to back nights, and the number of games would be 18 in the month of December.  But what is the main problem?  The main problem is Tony Parker has missed the last nine games, and then also Leonard is out with a hand injury, that they’re having difficulty getting him solved from a medical standpoint.  It’s a mystery.  It’s in his palm, and we all know that he is their No. 1 defender, whether he plays a small forward, a two guard or a point guard.  Tony Parker makes their offense go, and we know that.

I don’t know how many guards, point guards in this league could run that offense at that speed that they run it at and do and make the offensive contributions.  Because what a lot of people forget, for the last three years, Tony Parker is the leading scorer of the team.

So I think that they’ve had a difficult assignment with Parker and Leonard out in this 12 game situation here, and then also their idea of resting Duncan and Ginobili in key games.  Because after they play the triple overtime the other night, they went to Dallas the next night and they did not have Parker or Leonard.  They sat out Duncan, Ginobili and how about the fact they sat out Green?  So they sat out five of their key guys, and believe it or not, at the end of three quarters, they were winning by either four or six in Dallas with the rest of the guys on that team.

So you know they’re going to give you their best.  When they put out their best, and the best is available, they’re still the toughest team to beat.


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