NBA Playoffs 2021: Teams, Matchups and Predictions | BetUS Unfiltered w/Gary Payton & Craig Hodges

May 20, 2021

Join the BetUS Unfiltered Crew in today’s show as they talk about the 2021 NBA Playoffs teams, matchups and their predictions. The Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers and New York Knicks are all in the playoffs but how far can they go? Plus, two-time NBA Champion with the Chicago Bulls, Craig Hodges joins the show and talks about his career.

BetUS Unfiltered Episode 30:
0:00 Hall of Fame Weekend
3:00 Craig Hodges joins the Show
14:20 NBA Playoffs
25:13 Brooklyn Nets’ Big Three
30:58 Philly Flying Under the Radar
37:43 How Far Can the Knicks Go?
45:35 Gary’s Fit With the Glove

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Audio Podcast

PODCAST TRANSCRIPTION

Dawn Lupul:
Welcome to Unfiltered, brought to you by BetUS, America’s favorite sports book where you bet, you win, and your ass gets paid. Look who is with me fresh from Hall of Fame induction weekend. Mr. Gary Payton. He’s the best. Defensive genius. He’s a championship winner. He’s an all star. He’s a Hall of Famer. He is everything. Gary, you’re everything to me. I appreciate you.

Gary Payton:
Thank you Dawn. And you’re everything to me too and it’s always a pleasure every Wednesday to get on here with you. Always.

Dawn Lupul:
I’m excited about today. We’ve got a lot going on. Of course, the NBA playoffs. We’re going to get in depth. We’re going to talk about the Nets, we’re going to talk about the 76ers, we’re going to talk about the Knicks, we’re going to talk about all that. But let’s touch on the Hall of Fame because that just happened. You were there. What was it like and what were your favorite moments of the whole ceremony?

Gary Payton:
Well Dawn, I go every year now ever since I’ve been inducted in 2013. This year was a little different. This was a class that didn’t get it because of the COVID had came out, with Kobe, Duncan, Garnett. Them guys. Rudy Tomjanovich and them type of people. So it was really, really, really a good weekend. Because these guys were very proud. The Hall of Fame opened up a building. They gave Kobe his own building in the Hall of Fame if you guys seen that. And that was pretty good. So it was a good thing to have that and I’m just happy to be a part of it.

Dawn Lupul:
Okay. What was your favorite moment? I mean, some of the speeches looked amazing.

Gary Payton:
Well Dawn, being there was my favorite moment. Just being around all of them all the time. Sitting down at dinner getting to talk to Dr. J. Seeing Charles and them. Charles and them, TNT’s group, they got inducted as the best broadcasting group. They got inducted into the Hall of Fame. So them kind of situations. I mean, the whole day. Ever since I got there from Thursday all the way to Sunday when we announced the 2021 class. It was just a great moment for all of that. Just to be a part of that and get in there and having chills. Even me, going into the Hall of Fame and seeing the new Hall of Fame opened up and they see my big locker there with me on the inside of the big old locker with my big profile up, the tennis shoes that I wore when I was young and doing like that and the stuff that my father had donated to them to put into my locker. So that was a great moment for myself.

Dawn Lupul:
That’s cool. That sounds super special. We’ve got something really special coming up. As per usual, we have star studded guests here on Unfiltered and joining us is none other than Mr. Craig Hodges. He’s an NBA championship winner times two with the Chicago Bulls. He played with the likes of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. But it is his stance on inequality and injustice that will linger as a lasting memory for forever I think. Craig, it is an honor to have you here on Unfiltered with me and GP.

Craig Hodges:
Oh, sister, once again, like I said, I appreciate the invite and GP one of the main men as far as I’m concerned and as far as the way he played the game the way it’s supposed to be played. And once again, just thank God for the opportunity to come across the airwaves and talk to the people.

Dawn Lupul:
I’m excited for this. You were in the NBA of course for 10 seasons. One of only two players with Larry Bird to win three consecutive three point contests. What’d you call him last week, GP? He’s the shooter.

Gary Payton:
He’s a rifleman. Him and Chuck Persons, they called the rifleman. They called Chuck the rifleman, but he was a rifleman before all of that. Craig was the man who could give you buckets in a minute and shoot that thing. So yeah, you remember I said it last week that, hey, Craig is the one.

Craig Hodges:
You know-

Dawn Lupul:
What did … Go ahead Craig.

Craig Hodges:
[crosstalk 00:04:19] for me to get those type of kudos is cool for me. The way we played the game back in the day it was all about going hard at one another and at the same time it was that level of respect that never changed. And just for me it’s one of those things that to have had the chance to play what I consider the golden era of basketball when you had the likes of … I got a chance to play against Kareem. Bill Walton was my teammate. And then to have a chance to play with MJ and Scottie and the likes, it was a great opportunity for me and especially in my hometown of Chicago. So it was one of those things that as a child I was constant Bulls fan. It was always wait till next year with the Bulls, the Cubs, and the White Sox. And when we were finally able to win one for the city it was a great opportunity for us and I was just blessed to be a part of it.

Dawn Lupul:
And Chicago since then has actually done pretty well in terms of baseball too.

Craig Hodges:
Oh yeah.

Dawn Lupul:
You guys were both kind of … Gary, you were just sort of starting out when Craig was right at the very end of his career. But you did have the chance to play against the Bulls. The Sonics played against the Bulls in ’91 a couple of times. Do you remember anything? You were a rook. I mean, do you remember meeting up with Craig at all, Gary?

Craig Hodges:
Let me say something before Gary go into his.

Dawn Lupul:
Okay.

Craig Hodges:
And that’s this. What’s so wild about the league is that there are certain things that I put on … It’s part imagery, it’s part commercialism, it’s part we want to have something to make it more of a competitive situation. I don’t know if Gary … Gary probably knew it, but it was a thing that Gary is the defensive stopper and MJ is the unstoppable. So even prior to the game MJ had you peeped out on the schedule. You know how it goes. He was like, “Yeah, that young brother up there in Seattle, I can’t wait to see him.” And that’s funny that it comes to that point from your perspective of what you saw as a rookie when I’m sitting over there as a vet knowing how MJ was.

Gary Payton:
And that’s great. And Craig is telling you the truth because I used to look on my schedule and say when we playing Chicago? You know what I’m saying? It’s two times we playing Chicago. Because I was looking forward to playing Mike. I told everybody … We had a lot of interviews in the last week and we were going back on all the stuff that was said and I’m like, look, it was just a competitive thing. I looked forward to playing them because they were the best in the east and we were considered the best in the west. So we wanted the meeting. We’re only going to play them two times a year when we go there and they come here. And then if we had to play them like in ’96, we’ll play them in the finals and get a chance to try to play them seven games. But like I said, I know Craig was … I knew Mike. I know Mike. He was ready waiting for me. He wanted for me and I was talking crazy and he was talking crazy and we waiting for each other to come.

Craig Hodges:
It would be funny to me when I would be on the court and I see you two guys going at it. It reminded me of practice because in practice I had to guard MJ and I would guard him the same way you did. Get up underneath him, try to catch him off guard, try to always play the element of surprise with him because once he got the ball it was almost over.

Gary Payton:
Yeah. And you know that. And that’s the way it is. That’s why with a person like him you got to try to prevent him from getting the basketball and make him uncomfortable. Because if he gets in a rhythm, he’s going to kill you. So that’s what I tried to do. I just tried to give him different looks. You knew you couldn’t stop him. You just had to slow him down. And you couldn’t never stop him. You could slow him down a little bit and make him take tough shots and get tired. And that was my whole philosophy, just to try to get him tired.

Craig Hodges:
And Gary is one of those players … There’s certain players who you knew … And me playing against Gary as an opponent, you knew certain players were going to get their average. You know what I’m saying? And it’s a certain way in the game where you have to try to make them … If you could stop them two points under their average, you did a great job. If you could contain them two points over their average, you did a decent job. But when they run away and get eight to 10 points above their average, now you’ve compromised our defense. And those are those Hall of Fame type players, Gary being one of them, that they deserve to be there because they did the job over and over. And you can look at it and say, “Oh man, as a hooper I can go out and score 20 points a night in the league.” But the grind of the actual business of it and the actual training of it and the total concentration and energy that goes into being a 20 point scorer and then to play both sides of the ball the way Gary did, it was something that he really deserves to be and getting the accolades that he’s getting.

Dawn Lupul:
Obviously Craig, you played with MJ and of course, Gary, you played against MJ. Who is the MJ today? If we look past Lebron, is there somebody that you pinpoint and say this is a guy that elevates constantly? Is there a comparison or … Gary, I see you shaking your head.

Gary Payton:
I don’t compare players. There’ll never be another Michael Jordan. So we’re not going to do that. You know I don’t like doing that, Dawn.

Dawn Lupul:
I do.

Gary Payton:
Because we don’t have them type of basketball players in the NBA. Lebron is being himself. He can compel his self to be at that top level. The KDs and stuff like that. But we’re never going to have another Michael Jordan. That’s never going to happen. It’s like we’re never going to have another Magic. We’re not going to have another Kareem. We’ll never have players like that. But it is that they have their own era. And I think Lebron has taken over this era. Him and Kobe took over this era. Kobe was before him and then when he retired that was Kobe’s era and now this is Lebron’s era. So we’ll just say that. Because it’ll never be another Michael Jordan, Bird, Wilt. It’ll never be nobody like that again.

Craig Hodges:
And that’s the thing when I hear people talk about the goat, I always tell people the greatest of all time is Muhammad Ali. And that’s where it came from and to me he’s the greatest of all time. And when we talk about basketball, we talk about numbers, I always talk about Bill Russel and the way he was able to win. It’s a blanket almost, a fabric of culture that every generation lends itself to the next generation of player. And when you talk about Elgin Baylor, you talk about Connie Hawkins, you talk about Doc, you have that fabric and players play to what they saw and what was cool to them and able to blend into their games. I’m sure Gary, being from the Bay area, he saw the guards that were on Golden State and saw the guards that were on LA and was able to take a little bit from what he saw and go into it. Same thing for me being in Chicago. I was able to watch Jerry Sloan and Norm Van Lier and how hard they played the game and the physicality that came along with it.

Craig Hodges:
So when you look at the era of the way the game is played, I think … Right now I’m doing a comparative study on how the game generationally is played by the music that is played alongside of it.

Dawn Lupul:
Cool.

Craig Hodges:
And we played with the smoothness of the ’60s music with Marvin Gaye and Stevie and then it kind of filtered into the Grover Washington and that type of thing. And we played at that pace. And now if you watch the rhythm of the game today, it’s played at a rap hard beat type pace where it’s a different rhythm to the game. And for me it’s fun to watch because, like Gary said, every generation’s playing it the way it’s played. But for me, I would love to see what it would be like to take one of the teams from the ’80s and put them against one of these teams that are winning now where all of the game is played outside of the paint. There’s no interior passes to me where people are cutting off and moving without the basketball. It’s more dribble weaves and screen and rolls where I would have loved to play in this period of time. All you got to do is be able to dribble a little bit and shoot.

Gary Payton:
Yeah, you would have dominated. They thinking Steph is shooting the ball. Let me tell you, Dawn, if Craig and Dale Ellis and all of them dudes played in this time, man, I’m telling you … They think that this stuff is something else and about shooting. You let them get a little air, a little breathing room, I’m telling you, everybody [inaudible 00:13:15]. The kids be saying, “Oh, y’all were too old.” I was like, “We was 21 sometime too. You remember that, right? So you got to understand that we were athletic too.” If Craig would have got any kind of looks like they getting looks now one on one with big men, he would have ate them alive. I’m telling you.

Craig Hodges:
And see, the funny part to me is how when you look at it … And I’m saying, okay, I saw Steph have like 13, 14 threes in a game and I was like okay, the way we played the game back in the day, if you didn’t make one out of the first two you took, you weren’t going to get anymore. And it was a practicality about the game where now it’s more about the analytics of it. And the more I can shoot threes and possibly make 30% to 40%, that’s cool. And to me it looks like the game is one where we want a three or a dunk. Anything between is not cool. It’s not sexy enough for the game.

Dawn Lupul:
We’ll get into the playoffs too and discuss that. So exactly what you guys are just talking about. I looked at some stats. We all know that offense is up. Defense has kind of taken a little bit of a backseat to the way they’re doing things. To put it in perspective, last season Dallas had the greatest offensive season in modern record. They were getting 116.7 points per 100 possessions. So here’s your analytics. That’s now eighth. That was the best since ’73, ’74. That record from last year by Dallas is now eighth because seven teams have passed that this year. Is defense going to show up again in the playoffs? We know that the officiating changes a little bit in the playoffs. The refs call things a little bit looser so things can maybe get a little bit more defensive. What do you think Gary? Do we see more defense coming up?

Gary Payton:
I’m going to be honest Dawn, I don’t think so. I don’t think it’s going to be like that because this game now is revolving around these kids. These kids play a lot of this PlayStation and they want these players to play like PlayStation. That’s why Steph is so popular because he plays the game for real like it’s PlayStation. And they like that. They want to see threes. This is their game now. And Craig can testify to this. When we were playing, our big man was our key and that was our weapon. If we dump it in there to Shaq and the dude turn his head and try to double down Shaq and Craig move and they lose Craig, we’re in trouble because that’s a bucket. Because if Shaq kicks it to Craig that’s a bucket. Because he’s going to knock it down. But nowadays, it’s working so much because that’s all these kids are talking about. “Man, did you see him? He’s two dribbles over half court and it’s all money.” And Damian Lillard and Steph Curry are the keys to this because them two guys shoot the basketball like that.

Gary Payton:
But in my day I had a couple. But these two right now are deadly. I don’t care what you say, if they shoot it, it’s like a layup to them. And it happens like that and that’s the way it is. And I don’t think defense is going to come until the conference finals and the finals. Until people want to buckle down and say, “We got to stop somebody.”

Craig Hodges:
Yeah. And I totally agree. And to me, Gary you made a great point. When this whole COVID thing happened and I saw what was going on down in the bubble, for me, it looked like it was a video game. The only thing now with this whole new paradigm going on, to me, the league is almost transiting to artificial intelligence. You know what I’m saying? That you’re looking at the game in such a way, there’s really no fans in the stands but I’m seeing across the bottom of the screen the betting line. So now, to me, the game is going to video games and gambling as opposed to what’s really going on on the court as far as the actual playing of the game. Like Gary said, the main fan base is video game age probably. So that’s what’s happening now. Old heads like me … Like for instance, it’s hard for me to even watch the NBA right now. I haven’t watched a whole game probably in the last year and a half, literally. Because I wasn’t watching anything in the bubble because I didn’t feel like we should have been down there playing anyway with the world in the wilds that it was in at the time.

Craig Hodges:
And now it’s almost whatever we can make out of this thing coming out of it is what we’re going to make of it. And as much commercial possibilities that we can have and potential we got to seek that out. Like the whole NFT deal. The NFTs within the NBA has been outrageous and that’s something that that’s telling us where we’re going with this thing.

Dawn Lupul:
Yeah, the world has changed. GP, how do you defend against pull up three pointers because that’s something that’s been a big thing and obviously a guy like yourself would have had some kind of strategy, but that’s a record because it’s been one of the toughest place to defend. Being made at a record pace of 34%, the pull up threes. Because that’s kind of the way the league is going now, right?

Gary Payton:
Yeah, that’s what it is. I’m telling you Dawn, in our day, if we stole the basketball and it was a three on one and we pulled up for a three, our coach is going to go crazy if we don’t hit it and make us sit down. We’re trying to get a bucket. We’re running lanes. You don’t see people run lanes no more. You see people veer out and go straight to the three point line on a three on one. It’s three on one so one person can guard everybody. And next thing you know he kicking it and it’s a three. So the only people I’m talking about that if I was playing in this game and we could play the way we play, only persons that I would stop doing that is Damian Lillard, Tatum, and Curry. I would press them up all the way. I wouldn’t even back up off of them. Because I know if they go over the half court line, one or two dribbles they pulling up. So stay locked on them because they’re going to have to get picks to do that. And then if I would have got picked I would have been killing my big man. I would have been wanting to whoop his head in. You know what I’m saying?

Gary Payton:
Tell me what’s going on. Other than that, all the other guys are just playing the way this era is. They’re just pulling up just because they can. You know what I’m saying? Them other three, that’s a for sure bucket. The other ones, they’re just pulling up and they’re just saying we hope we make it. And they live by that because their coaches are letting them do it.

Craig Hodges:
I don’t know how legal or illegal zones is but I played for Don Nelson and zone was illegal during that day but we played zone the whole time when I was in Milwaukee. So for me, I would count three people at the top and just make them get inside the three point line. Y’all ain’t going to shoot nothing but inner … Y’all are going to shoot mid range J’s all night because nothing’s coming off the three point line. And I’m switching everything out there, switching high, and staying with it. But it’s funny that when you look at the way the league is going … And Gary knows that when something works everybody steals it. But you can steal something and your personnel isn’t necessarily game for what you’re trying to fit into your program, ala Golden State and everybody trying to shoot threes off of that. But right now, from a defensive end … Defense wins championships so down the stretch when the last two teams, like Gary say, get to it, everybody knows that you can’t continue to score the numbers like … And you look at a team like Utah with Stockton and Malone. It’s only so many ways you can run screen and roll. And then when it comes down to this championship thing, you can’t win it without defense. And interior defense and rebounding wins championships.

Dawn Lupul:
So we might see things change. It’s funny GP, you mentioned Jason Tatum. He scored 50 for the Celtics to win. We’re doing this on Wednesday. So to win and to take seventh place, he scored 50. That’s a lot of points.

Gary Payton:
Well Dawn, this young kid, I had him when he was in high school when he was at the Nike Elite. And I took him to the Bahamas. I had the Traes. I had all of these guys. And Tatum had got hurt and he was the number one player in high school. And I seen him and I said, “This kid got something to him.” I surprised for him scoring the basketball because he can shoot that thing too. He can shoot it wherever he wants. He can get to the bucket. He can do a lot of good things with his game. I like his game because he’s all around. He doesn’t settle. He’ll take escape dribble, mid range, he’ll shoot the three, he’ll go to the bucket and finish. So I like him. Especially when Brown went down. He took it upon his self because he doesn’t have that other scorer to score 20 for you, so he knows he’s got to put them on his back. And with Stephenson, they talking about is he on the hot seat and all this stuff. Disappointing. They’re 36-36. Now they win the seventh seed and now they’re going to play the second seed now.

Gary Payton:
So they’re okay. I think they might not get past the playoff now, but they’ve done what they had to do. They won their way into the playoffs. Now let’s see what happens in seven games. Because you don’t know what can happen in seven games. You got to play somebody in a seven game series, first one to four go on. So anything can happen. Anything can happen. And I like their chances, man. Especially if Kemba Walker and Kenny Smart start to play. They’re going to be okay. I think they got a nice little crew that they can beat somebody in the east. The Phillys, the Milwaukees. All them guys can get had. So I’m just saying it’s a wide open. This is the first year I’ve ever seen wide open where I can not say I got a favorite. Because I think anybody can win the championship this year. Everybody talking about Brooklyn. I’m not really favorite with them. I think all of these teams can get beat at any given time.

Craig Hodges:
And for me it’s one of those things that the three point shot is played so much in the construct of this game that oftentimes if those shots aren’t going down, a whole different mindset happens on the squad in that it can start to set in for one game, two game, a half. And everybody knows that it’s all about momentum and it can be a momentum gainer or it can be a momentum buster. And when I look at what Jason Tatum has done, for me it’s one of those things where I saw him talk to Kobe. When I was in LA with the Lakers I saw how much he was in Kobe’s ear and how much Kobe was giving him info as far as becoming, I think more than anything, more aggressive in your concentration and focus, man. And that’s the thing, those players who have that extra gear, that extra … It’s something. All of us want to be the best at what we do, but it’s certain guys that have a certain something about them that you can’t put your finger on and those are the ones like Jason Tatum, Cole, Lebron who have God given talent but they have a extra gear that wants to be the best that they can possibly be and that best oftentimes is the best in the world.

Dawn Lupul:
And GP. GP too. Which takes us nicely into our next segment. So obviously Kemba scored 29 so with Boston, they need to … Now they have to play the Nets. So let’s move on to the Nets’ big three. And Craig, this is a great thing to talk about.

Craig Hodges:
Can I say something?

Dawn Lupul:
Yeah, go ahead. Sure.

Craig Hodges:
One of the things that I saw with … And Gary spoke of it earlier. Guards win championships because they are the leading component in as far as that’s the first line. And my grandad told me something when I was growing up. He said, “Your point guard is like your natural resource.” And those two guards that they have, Kemba and Smart, if they’re able to knuckle down and not take … One thing I say about a lot of young guys, especially guards, they often take the game personal. And you don’t have to take it personal. You have to stay within your game plan. And I think sometimes brother Smart, he can get loose around the edges in as far as wanting to go back at somebody as opposed to stay within our game plan. And that team, I feel, can play defense on any team in the league, especially from the backcourt end.

Dawn Lupul:
The playoff match ups this year are going to be fun. The Celtics and Brooklyn and the big three. And that was talked about. It was a busy offseason and then during the season, just a lot was going on now that they’ve … Brooklyn of course, teaming up the big three, KD, Kyrie, and The Beard. They’ve only played 10 games together. And Craig, you kind of touched on this a little bit. You played with MJ. He was the guy.

Craig Hodges:
He played with me.

Dawn Lupul:
He played with you. Yeah, exactly. But one guy can’t win a basketball team. You have to have … And you just talked about the guards and you talked about Kemba and Smart. That supporting cast is so important. Who of the big three in Brooklyn, and GP too, of Kyrie, KD, and Harden, who’s the most important? And I have kind of a stat on that is Brooklyn wins when James is in and they struggle when Harden’s been out. But they’ve only played 10 games together.

Craig Hodges:
That’s going to be interesting for me because continuity going into the playoffs means so much. And if those guys only played 10 games together, when you have guys that are that potent of players, oftentimes when you get in the last two minutes of a quarter or a half and when you need buckets, who do you actually go to? And who’s hot at the time? Do we miss him because I feel like I got a bucket coming in me? And that’s one of the things that I wonder about James Harden winning a championship. Not hating on his game, but the way that he plays in as far as getting the ball on the dribble and the like, can it be times when you put it down one time too many when someone was open, whether it be a KD or whether it be on of your role players. But I think they have enough to do it, but once again it’s the continuity and the chemistry. How quick can that chemistry come together where they all can be as potent as they possibly can be throughout the playoffs?

Gary Payton:
And then me Dawn, I do it like this. What Craig just said. No disrespect with Harden, but we have seen it when he was with Houston. He cannot win a championship by his self. I think that Golden State showed that too when he came to their thing. You remember Golden State won a championship and then they lost to Lebron and them the next year. And then they came and got KD and then it became easy. The reason was is that KD is a bigger player. He’s a bigger player that could shoot over you. He can shoot the ball. He can do a lot of things. When you put the ball down in somebody hands like that and then you got superstars around you that they come and double him and he kick it and they can shoot it and score, it’s a lot easier. Instead of Harden pound, pound, pound and then people focus on you, try to trap you and do things but you don’t have that weapon that can kill you on that side.

Gary Payton:
So I think if Brooklyn gets to doing what they have to do when the big three plays together, they have to go in to KD and make him be the focal point. And then Kyrie and Harden become them guys who if he kick it and it’s one on one on the backside with anybody by they self, they’re not going to guard either one of them. Neither one of them.

Craig Hodges:
It’s over.

Gary Payton:
And it’s over. So you’ve got to understand that and I think that’s what they’re going to have to do. I think they can’t go, “All right, it’s your turn for two minutes. Let’s play this way.”

Craig Hodges:
Exactly.

Gary Payton:
I can’t see that. Because then you have people sitting around waiting and looking and then, like Craig said, them balls do not go in all the time. What if you start struggling? And then all of a sudden teams start getting their confidence and playing defense they start going down there scoring and you get down 10 to 15 and trying to come back. It doesn’t work in the playoffs that way. You have to have a main, go to guy. And I think Kevin Durant is that go to guy that you’ve got to have problems with him. And if they get that in their head and make that happen, they’ll win a championship. But if they don’t and try to say, “Okay Kyrie, you take over for five and let me sit over here. All right Harden, you take over for five and I’m going to sit over here. KD, you get your five.” That ain’t going to work. That’s not going to work. I’m telling you, not with no 10 games playing together. These dudes are not going to be like that. And I think they’re going to have to figure that out.

Craig Hodges:
Yes.

Dawn Lupul:
It’s going to be something to watch because a lot of people, like you said, they’re counting on the Nets being a team that’s going to go a long way. But chemistry has to count for a lot. And we can transition now, actually, into talking a little bit about Philly because, again, Craig you mentioned you can rely on the threes but all of a sudden the threes dry up and you find out that you don’t have a whole lot else going on for you and that’s a bit of a knock against Philly. They’re playing extremely good defense. They were rated second in defense behind the Lakers. And it was all dependent on them holding the other team to not too many points because the big knock against them is can they score enough? That might be a problem.

Craig Hodges:
Well for me, one of the things that … And Gary can tell you, coaching has a lot to do with confidence. And Doc Rivers is a coach who’s been there and Doc understands that we have to be playing defense if we’re going to be anywhere close to winning. So we can keep things together defensively until we try to figure this offensive thing out. And hopefully … My big thing with Philly is that, once again, if you can get Joel Embiid on the block for an entire series, what would that look like? What would it look like for him to be on that block, both ends of the court, that I’m not leaving the painted area and just dominate one time just to … But for me, we can get caught into the model and the cycle of which we play in. And when I see him pick and pop to a three pointer, it kind of gases me because I think of a Bill Cartwright picking and popping to a three or Shaq picking and popping to a three when if you roll down the paint you’re basically unstoppable.

Dawn Lupul:
What do you think GP? What about Philly and Embiid?

Gary Payton:
Like what Craig said, I been wanting to see Embiid just stay on the block and dominate. Can’t nobody stop him. It’s not a big man’s game no more. They want to pick and pop and shoot threes, man, and try to put the ball on the floor. Then what happens is teams start to focus. Let him put it on the floor, let me get in front of him, take charges, and next thing you know he’s foul trouble.

Craig Hodges:
There you go.

Gary Payton:
Now he’s on the bench. Now if you put him down there from day one and he dominates the game and don’t get stopped, think about it. If they don’t score down on the other end and he continues to pound them and score, it’s going to become a problem. They’re going to have to adjust. And if he can do that and be that way … But he’s not that player because he’s going to fade out, he’s going to take fade away jump shots from mid range. He has to get into that and work into that. But if he was like a Shaquille O’Neal, a Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon, it’d be hard to stop him in this era right now because nobody can guard him right now like that. The joker from Denver shows you when he gets in there and all the slow moves he has and all the passing skills, can’t nobody stop him when he fundamentally kills them.

Gary Payton:
So I think with the Sixers, the two keys to them is Simmons and Thybulle. Because they’re two big guards who can play defense. And when they disrupt and Simmons disrupts the way he does and gets steals on the top and they get easy layups, that game will then start to say, “Okay, that’s where I can score more points and I can keep it up.” They just can’t get far behind. They can’t get into that game where they shooting threes and try to do that and then they get down 10 to 15. Because they’re not going to come back. They got to play defense from day one, get steals, stay right in that area where they’re only up six, seven, eight and then they’re only down six or five. Then they can strike. But they have to play defense all around and then Tobias Harris has become a player. He has to become a player. You got Curry’s brother over there, Seth. Green is over there. They can do it if they play defense and lock down.

Dawn Lupul:
Okay. Well, that sounds like a winning formula. I’m sure that Doc Rivers … I mean, if anyone can do it … And they were excited about how Embiid came into camp. He came into camp in shape. He seems to want it. He had some issues this year with injury and he’s a big man, when he goes down he’s not meaning to. He falls a lot. But he falls intentionally, right? I mean, he’s protecting that big seven foot frame. Let’s talk about Brooklyn then. Because they’re kind of a feel good story for the year. I mean, Brooklyn’s been … It’s been a bit of the tire fire of the league for a long time. It’s a big market. They haven’t had a very good team. Not a lot to cheer for in Brooklyn. But then all of a sudden here they come. They’re playing unbelievably well. Craig, how far could a team like that go? It’s a feel good story. Thibodeau came in. He’s worked them hard. They’ve responded. At this time of year … You guys both played. You played in playoffs. What does your body feel like after … And the season’s a little shorter than normal, but what does your body feel like and can you continue to play as hard as Thibodeau’s been asking the Knicks to do?

Craig Hodges:
And I think that’s the biggest thing is the mental approach. And I look at the Lakers. You look back at the Lakers when Pat Riley was the coach and how hard he drove them during playoff season. So I think it’s a mental approach that has to be … It’s personal from team to team in how teams gather to what the game plan is and elevate to it. So I think Thibodeau has always been a defensive minded cat. And when he was here in Chicago my thing was you needed some offense to go along with that. But I think with what they have, they have Kevin Durant who’s been there before and understands how to win. And that’s a big part of it. To have no doubt that you can do it. And I think they have a big three core players and to me right now, a player that I’m really supporting and behind a lot is Kyrie Irving because I like his positions that he’s taken off the court but at the same time I understand how critical the game is to your life, but also how much you love to play it. But there’s other things that mean a lot more than basketball and having a chance to win a championship I think it could help him promote the other stuff that he’s doing.

Craig Hodges:
And likewise with Harding who’s, I’m sure, hungry to win.

Dawn Lupul:
Yeah.

Craig Hodges:
So it’s that time.

Dawn Lupul:
It’s the other New York team. And then with the Knicks you’ve got … Gary, what have you seen from Julius Randle? He has upped his game this year. He’s leading in points, assists, usage, everything. Can he continue to stay fresh as we move through the playoffs?

Gary Payton:
Absolutely. This season has been cut, Dawn. They played 72 games, man. And you got to understand Dawn, they only practice for two hours and then they’re complaining. You can’t have them on the floor more than two hours. They’re all having load management. It ain’t about are they tired. No, they ain’t tired. It ain’t nothing to be tired about. You know what I’m saying? Shoot, what they going to be tired about? And I think Julius Randle, he has shown what the kid down in … Ingram, down in New Orleans. He left the Lakers. It wasn’t a team that you needed to be with. Both of them guys were with the Lakers and it wasn’t the team that fit them. Because Kobe was there, then you had Lebron there. They done went to their new teams and now excelled of what they should do. Randle has had a big coming out year. A big coming out year. Making big buckets. Scoring 50 here. Bringing the Knicks back into the fold of what people been missing. [inaudible 00:38:59]. You see Spike, he always complaining. I know he’s mad that he can’t be up in there on that sideline going crazy when the Knicks are the fourth seed. The fourth seed. You know what I’m saying?

Dawn Lupul:
Yeah.

Gary Payton:
So you know it’s a big thing and I think Randle has did what he’s supposed to do. He’s showed people what kind of basketball player he was coming out of Kentucky. It took time but he went to the right program. And especially with Thibodeau coming in there. Everybody said Thibodeau was a hard coach with all the younger guys. He’s old school. But I like it. I like it because he’s teaches. He teaches players how to play. And when you teach a team and then go get your old school veteran coming out of Chicago in Derrick Rose, who is now coming back to being like his old self like he has never been hurt or anything and playing the way he’s playing. Randle is a all league guy this year. I think he should be on that third team or whatever. I think he need to be on that because he’s done that. He has improved a Knicks team and become the leader and that’s what they need. I think this Knicks team is going in the right direction. They made a good change of everything. They cleared house, brought new people in there, and let these people do their job.

Gary Payton:
We haven’t been hearing about the owner. We haven’t been hearing about none of that. We just been hearing about nothing about these guys just playing basketball and look what happened. They’re the fourth seed. They’re in the playoffs. And they’re trying to do something.

Craig Hodges:
I think for me, to watch Julius Randle is to see those type of players who you see come into the league and they have potential but when you see the work habits and the work ethic that goes into it coming off the injury that he had in LA and then being able to get himself together and come back and now be a lead of a team in such a way, it’s cool for me. I love to see it. And he seems to be a humble cat from afar.

Dawn Lupul:
He definitely does.

Gary Payton:
Yeah, he is.

Dawn Lupul:
He’s going and doing his thing. And Gary, you’ll like this. Under Thibodeau New York has held opponents under 100 points in 24 games this season and they lead the NBA in points allowed per game at 104.7. The last time they did that was in 2000-2001 when the team won 48 games. And strangely enough, Thibodeau was an assistant coach on their staff at that time. He’s made a huge difference.

Gary Payton:
A big difference Dawn. And that’s what I’m saying. And Craig can attest to this. Defense wins. Especially with good guards. If you’ve got good guards playing defense on the top of the floor and doing the things you can, it makes the game a lot easier. When you’ve got a coach that’s defensive minded and you can take out the superstar or disrupt a offense on another team that is going very well and that’s what they’re known for and you can hold them and make them accountable. When possessions become more valuable in the playoffs, the referees start making different calls. They don’t give all the superstars all the calls. They let you play. So now it’s a big deal and Thibodeau has installed this into his team now. If we play this way, we’re going to stay in games and we’re going to beat people. And if they get to a time when it’s one minute or two minutes to go and it’s 88-87 and possessions become … And you know you’re only going to get about three more or four more possessions. And if you make the possessions, if you stop somebody three times and you score three, that’s a big difference.

Gary Payton:
And you’ve got to know that. And I think Thibodeau knows that and he’s installed it in these young kids and they have bit into it. And if they get into a game and a situation and you in there, like I said, with two minutes to go and they only got four more possessions and they stop you three times, they have a good chance of winning that basketball game. I’m guaranteeing you that.

Craig Hodges:
That’s right.

Dawn Lupul:
Soon to be coach Gary Payton. And of course, Craig, you have done a lot of coaching. We just have a few minutes left here. I just want to touch again on the things that you’ve done. For people who don’t know, get Craig’s book. It’s called Long Shot: The Triumphs and Struggles of an NBA Freedom Fighter. You played in the NBA. Things went south when you needed to speak your peace. You were the Colin Kaepernick long before there was a Colin Kaepernick. You delivered a handwritten eight page letter to then President George Bush when the Bulls visited the White House. These things were important to you. It was the whole time of the Rodney King … The police. All of that. The riots. And you took your position and you made a stance. It cost you your career, but I believe you don’t have any regrets.

Craig Hodges:
Yeah. And the biggest part of it is for me is to know that you’re standing on the shoulders … Like Kareem’s book where he says standing on the shoulders of giants. That we’re standing on a history of people that we didn’t know who sacrificed so that we might be able to make the salaries that we make. My mom, freedom fighter in the ’60s. And for me growing up in a household like that it wasn’t anything new.

Craig Hodges:
Uh oh.

Dawn Lupul:
That’s okay. You’re good. We can hear you. Keep going.

Craig Hodges:
Okay. It wasn’t anything new to me. It was just a matter of perspective. I was part of the struggle as a young boy going on doors with flyers and that type of stuff. It was fun to us because we were out of school because of boycotts and stuff like that. And then having a chance to play basketball and get a scholarship to go to Long Beach State and study African American studies under some of the brightest minds in academia, it was a blessing. And then to have Tex Winter at the same time. So I had a support base throughout my life and career that that was a blessing where it was both … My aunts were teachers so I was able to read and write before I even went to school. So it was one of those things that academics were always foremost. And like now, I love to read and research and write. So it was one of those things that we wrote letters to everybody growing up. To our mayors, to our congress people. So when we had the chance to go to the White House I didn’t want to not get that opportunity to speak on behalf of those who gave me an opportunity to be what I had become as a man.

Gary Payton:
Could I say something Dawn?

Dawn Lupul:
Always.

Gary Payton:
And it’s like this. If we look at Craig, he was a Kaepernick in our time. And before his time. That’s why it’s changing. Things are changing now. It’s changing now. And I wish that Craig could have made that happen earlier. Then we wouldn’t have had to be going through what we’re going through now. When Craig did his stand and Mahmoud, the former Chris Jackson, made their stand for the rights that they wanted to do was big for them. And it should have been big for all of us to let somebody speak for what they wanted to be spoken for. As we hear Craig right now, how intelligent he speaks, how he does things, how he approaches people with his self and things like that. I have admired Craig for so long and he knows this. Because of what he has stood for and how he has presented his self in front of people. Not looking like a fool or not looking like nothing like that, but looking like a strong black man out there who is doing it the way we supposed to do it and have our kids and other younger people follow that. And that’s what we need to have.

Gary Payton:
So now as this world changes and Craig’s still out there doing the same thing, we need a lot more people like him to do this. And we’re happy that now people are starting to acknowledge this. And we have to continue to do it because we’re not going to keep stopping because a lot of things are not going to stop. But we have to keep doing it because the world is changing and now they’re trying to now acknowledge that and we have to take it further than that.

Craig Hodges:
That’s right. Appreciate you brother, for sure.

Dawn Lupul:
Appreciate you.

Gary Payton:
No problem.

Dawn Lupul:
That fits like a glove. Gary, very well said. Long Shot: The Triumphs and Struggles of an NBA Freedom Fighter. Get ahold of it. It is worth the read. Craig Hodges, thank you so much for joining us. I appreciate you.

Craig Hodges:
Appreciate y’all.

Dawn Lupul:
Gary Payton, I appreciate you.

Gary Payton:
Thanks Craig.

Dawn Lupul:
Each and every week.

Craig Hodges:
[crosstalk 00:47:42].

Dawn Lupul:
Thanks for joining us here on Unfiltered, brought to you by BetUS, America’s favorite sports book. You bet, you win, your ass gets paid.

Gary Payton:
Your ass gets paid.

Dawn Lupul:
Enjoy the playoffs. We’ll see you next week.

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