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NBA Teams Take A Break For The All-Star Game


There have actually been some sports going on in the world that don't require a triple axel or a backside air 1080 - although sometimes it seems like Lebron James nails both on the basketball court. James and his NBA brethren have been hard at work during the Winter Olympics, but now they're taking their annual break for the All-Star game.

We thought it would be a good time to check in on the league, which has a new commissioner and possibly a new Most Valuable Player. NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us to do just that. Good morning.


MONTAGNE: How about starting with bullet points about the season this far?

GOLDMAN: OK. So the Eastern Conference currently is less awful than it's been. For a time Indiana and Miami were only teams with winning records. Now there are a whopping four teams with records of .500 or better. The Western Conference, as it has been for several years, is crazy deep. Oklahoma City and San Antonio are at the top. Right behind are Houston, the L.A. Clippers, Portland.

The West has nine teams with winning records, and you've got a lot of great point guards in the West, which makes for really entertaining back and forth basketball. Now, just highlighting one game, in the Clippers' win over Portland a couple of nights ago, there were an NBA record 40 lead changes. It was great.

MONTAGNE: Well, and Lebron James, Tom, has won the Most Valuable Player award the last two seasons, but there appears to be a new front-runner. Tell us about the first half of this season for Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant.

GOLDMAN: He has launched himself into stratosphere. With point guard Russell Westbrook out with an injured knee, Durant has put the Thunder on his back and off they've gone. With last night's come from behind win over the Lakers, OKC is 43-12. That's the best record in the NBA. Durant scored 43 in that game. He recently had a streak of 12 straight games of scoring 30 or more.

Tuesday he scored 36 against Portland in a Thunder win and the Blazer's head coach still said his defenders did a good job defending Durant.

MONTAGNE: OK. Are there any other players you're keeping an eye on this season?

GOLDMAN: Well, yeah. Interesting couple of stories. Tristan Thompson, a Cleveland forward, is in the midst of a fascinating basketball experiment. Over the summer he made the highly unusual move of changing his dominant shooting hand from left to right. And, you know, that's the kind of thing you do when you're a kid, not as a 22-year-old pro.

Now, his free throw shooting has improved a few percentage points. His field goal percentage is down a tad, and it'll be interesting to follow, and if it pays off, whether it inspires other bad shooting pros to switch. Also, it's going to be interesting to follow the Lakers' Steve Nash, which we can do on film now. Nash is one of the greatest point guards ever. He's 40 now, he's struggling with a balky back and fighting the hardest decision a pro athlete has to make - when to stop.

And he's filming the whole process. So we can watch in real time. And we don't know the ending.

MONTAGNE: Well, let's talk about that new NBA commissioner. David Stern is gone, Adam Silver is in. A new commissioner for the first time in 30 years? That's a big change.

GOLDMAN: It is, yeah. And Silver inherits a league in very good shape. According to Sports Illustrated, in Stern's three decades league revenues jumped from 165 million to 5.5 billion. And Stern also oversaw the explosion of the global popularity of the NBA. So Silver doesn't need to promote huge change. Personality-wise he's described as a good cop to Stern's bad.

Those who know Silver say he's very smart and funny. In fact, one of his close friends, the executive producer of "Family Guy," reportedly suggested years ago that Silver join him as a comedy writer. Silver said no and the early consensus is the NBA will be better off for that decision.

MONTAGNE: Tom, thanks very much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman.

This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.