• "Verticality" -- a defensive player's ability to extend his body vertically without earning a foul call -- is a nearly impossible element of the game to officiate, with all the challenges of the block/charge distinction folded into a third dimension. Mike Prada of SB Nation reflects on those impossible judgment calls as they relate specifically to Indiana's Roy Hibbert -- the mammoth center for whom that very rule is an integrated part of his defensive reputation:
Over time, that rule has evolved to applying to defending attacking perimeter players. The story goes that Hibbert realized he could no longer take charges and instead needed to use his size appropriately. This gained traction after Hibbert jumped straight up to alter Luol Deng's buzzer beater last December, and it continued to gain steam as the Pacers advanced deep into the playoffs. Now, this is Indiana's trump card against the rest of the league. Hibbert is the LeBron of rim protectors because he has mastered this essential rule.
… The defensive player is allowed to jump straight up and down with his arms extended, but he's not allowed to jump into the driver. He's allowed to absorb contact, but he cannot initiate it. He can be a tall pillar in midair, but as soon as that pillar tilts, it's a foul.
But how do you tell the difference between absorbing and initiating contact? How do you determine whether Hibbert is truly vertical with his arms at the point of contact instead of holding them down? These are difficult judgment calls for officials in the heat of the moment.
• By the way: Your periodic check-in on the Pacers' defense reveals that they currently have the fourth-best defensive mark since 1980.
• Peyton Manning was named Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year, but in a piece for New Republic, Marc Tracy examines the field of alternatives -- including the exceedingly simple and compelling candidacy of LeBron James.
• There are all kinds of fascinating bits to be gleaned from this statistical breakdown of post-timeout performance on both sides of the ball, but my eyes went wide at the 22.5-point negative discrepancy between Houston's typical half-court defense and their coverage coming out of a timeout. The Rockets aren't above being exploited in various ways, but holy hell.
• Milwaukee made it a top-down priority to remain as competitive as possible this season, even as the team traded away Brandon Jennings and J.J. Redick while letting Monta Ellis walk in free agency over the summer. The powers that be in the basketball universe clearly had other plans.
• The Celtic have built an effective defense without a single standout interior defender, a testament to both head coach Brad Stevens and Boston's collective work in covering the gaps. It's worth wondering, though, how the potential acquisition of Omer Asik -- as has been rumored by ESPN.com's Marc Stein -- could bolster Boston's coverage even further, and whether the costs of completing such a deal would be acceptable given Asik's incredible defensive value and minimal offensive game. • If you're not acquainted with The Starters (formerly known as The Basketball Jones), take this opportunity to get familiar.