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Atlanta Hawks The NBA Surprise Of The Year

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The National Basketball Association season is more than half over. In just a couple of months, the playoffs will be underway. That's the real season, of course. So far no deflated ball controversy, the game's greatest player is great again and unfamiliar teams are winning games - lots of games. So joining me to catch up on what you might've missed the past couple of months is David Aldridge of nba.com and TNT Sports.

Welcome to the program.

DAVID ALDRIDGE: Well, thank you for having me.

SIEGEL: The feel-good story of the off-season was the glorious homecoming of LeBron James to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team he left ingloriously a few years earlier. But, most of the season was anything but feel-good for LeBron and the Cavaliers. How do things stand now?

ALDRIDGE: Well, they're playing better. They had a very long winning streak that just ended last week, but they are playing a lot better and part of that is because LeBron is healthy. He had some back problems, he had a knee problem. And they shut him down for two weeks earlier in the season. He's much better now - much more active, much like his old self. And then they acquired a player named Timofey Mozgov. He's given them a lot of rebounding and defense. And they get two players from New York - J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert, who both have fit in very nicely with them and they're going to help them a lot.

SIEGEL: So, while not in first place, at least the Cavaliers look like a team that's going to be in the playoffs.

ALDRIDGE: Absolutely. They made a big move up, so they're not in first now, but by the end of the season it's a possibility.

SIEGEL: To go anywhere, they have to go through the Atlanta Hawks - surprisingly successful team this season.

ALDRIDGE: This is the surprise of the year in the NBA. They won 19 straight games. You know, just an incredible run by playing team basketball. There really is no superstar on the team, but they have a lot of really good players. Their coach Mike Budenholzer is a former longtime assistant in San Antonio and the Spurs certainly won a championship last year playing that same way, and they have re-created that in Atlanta and have been sensational. And they do not miss when they shoot.

SIEGEL: Meanwhile, the Golden State Warriors have also surprised lots and lots of people by dominating the Western Conference - 41 and nine is the record. That's a great record. They also have a great superstar, too.

ALDRIDGE: Some would say two. Steph Curry, certainly, but Klay Thompson is having a remarkably good season so far. He had an incredible game a few weeks ago where he scored 37 points in one quarter. (Laughter). But they certainly have the best backcourt in basketball. And Steve Kerr, who is in his first year after working with us at TNT for many years, he has done an incredible job.

SIEGEL: You mentioned San Antonio a moment ago, still coached by Gregg Popovich. Have you had lots of good, long interviews with Gregg Popovich - famously terse, unresponsive?

ALDRIDGE: (Laughter). Many off-camera, but not many on-camera, no. (Laughter).

SIEGEL: Should they be counted out?

ALDRIDGE: Oh, gosh, no. No, no, no, no. They're starting to play very well. They're in the middle of what they call their rodeo trip, which is, they're on the road for almost a month because there's a rodeo - a very important rodeo in San Antonio that lasts a good part of a month there. And that is when they start to make their move, traditionally. They've done it for many years and they're starting to do it this year.

SIEGEL: The NBA All-Star game is this weekend in New York and I'm sure that Commissioner Adam Silver would love for people to talk about anything but the quality of basketball in New York these days, the Knicks being abysmal.

ALDRIDGE: Yes.

SIEGEL: It's been a year since he took over from David Stern as commissioner. How's he doing?

ALDRIDGE: Well, he's had a pretty good first year. Coming right off the bat, I mean, the whole controversy with Donald Sterling, a lot of people around the league thought well, this is going to take years. Donald Sterling is famous for being litigious...

SIEGEL: He's the owner of the Clippers.

ALDRIDGE: ...Former owner of the Clippers - he's going to have the thing tied up in lawsuits forever and ever and ever, they're never going to be able to get him out. And within six months, he was out. And that was a testament to how quickly and swiftly Adam Silver moved on it and impressed not only the players, but I think also the owners because this was something that could've affected all of them.

SIEGEL: David Aldridge, thanks a lot for talking with us.

ALDRIDGE: Thank you.

SIEGEL: David Aldridge of nba.com and TNT Sports. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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