Morning shootaround — Jan. 30


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kobe aiming for September return | Report: Howard could miss ‘extended time’ | Report: Vaughn on thin ice in Orlando | Shaw blasts Nuggets’ effort

No. 1: Kobe targeting September return; Kupchak still back Bryant — The torn rotator cuff in Kobe Bryant’s right should was officially surgically repaired on Wednesday. With that out of the way, most are wondering when (or if) he’ll be back on the court for the L.A. Lakers. According to a report from ESPN.com, Bryant is aiming to play again in September and, per Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times, Bryant still has the full support of GM Mitch Kupchack.

Here’s ESPN.com’s report on Bryant’s shoulder:

Kobe Bryant addressed his expectations a day after shoulder surgery Thursday night in a brief interview with ESPN, saying he planned on being ready to play come September for the Los Angeles Lakers’ training camp.

“Yeah, that’s the plan,” Bryant said.

Bryant said his rehab over the next couple of months will involve “a lot of patience.”

“Sore, but it’s OK,”  Bryant said of his shoulder.

Bryant said media opinion on whether he should return for a 20th season or retire wouldn’t affect his decision.

“I don’t really listen much to what people have to say to be honest with you,” Bryant said.

Bryant was back at the Staples Center for a brief visit with former teammate Pau Gasol before the Lakers faced the Chicago Bulls.

The former teammates spoke privately before Bryant left. Bryant said he wasn’t feeling well enough, 31 hours after the operation, to go on the court.

Bryant is expected to need nine months to recover from his third straight season-ending injury, a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder suffered last week that he had surgically repaired Wednesday.

If Bryant meets that timetable, he could return to basketball shortly before the start of the 2015-16 season, the final year of his contract with the Lakers.

Bryant, who will be 37 this summer, is the NBA’s highest-paid player at $23.5 million this season. He is under contract for $25 million next year.

And here’s Bresnahan on Kupchack talking about the Lakers’ future with Kobe and beyond:

Kobe Bryant was all smiles when he talked about his $48.5-million contract extension in November 2013, saying he would “run through a wall” for the Lakers to prove they were right and everybody who doubted them was wrong.

But were they right?

It’s a simple question that goes directly to the center of a struggling franchise and its rapidly aging megastar.

“One hundred percent. We have no regrets at all,” Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak said Thursday.

Why?

“Because he’s worth every penny of it.”

Kupchak acknowledged that the Lakers, who ended a nine-game losing streak Thursday and are foundering with a 13-34 record, would need a talent upgrade next season. The catch: They have room for only one maximum-salaried player.

“To me, a big part of Kobe’s contribution next year is if we can improve this team during the off-season,” Kupchak said.

“Our coaches and players have been instructed to win games. Maybe I used the wrong word. I don’t have to ‘instruct’ the players to win games and try to win games. I don’t have to instruct [Coach] Byron [Scott]. That’s why they’re here.”

One player Kupchak expected to return next season was Bryant. It would be his 20th, all with the Lakers.

“I don’t think he’s retiring,” Kupchak said. “I spoke to him [Thursday] morning. The doctor’s prognosis was released yesterday and [Bryant] said he was looking forward to training camp. That’s what we expect.”


VIDEO: Mitch Kupchack addresses Kobe Bryant’s comeback trail and more

***

 

Report: Howard could miss extended time

VIDEO: The Inside guys talk about West All-Star snubs

Having a string of eight consecutive All-Star Game appearances snapped was the least of Dwight Howard’s concerns.

The Rockets center, who has already missed 14 games this season, could miss “extended time,” according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard will get a second opinion on his injured right knee and could miss extended time, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

As the Rockets embarked on a two-game Eastern Conference trip to Boston and Detroit on Thursday, Howard traveled elsewhere to get further evaluation on his swollen knee, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Rockets announced late Wednesday night that Howard has an edema — build-up of fluid –in his knee. He was sidelined for 11 games earlier this season with a strain in the same knee.

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey and head athletic trainer Keith Jones both ruled out a microfracture to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.

Howard is averaging 16.3 points and 11 rebounds this season, but was not voted by the fans as a starter and not added to the Western Conference team reserves by the coaches. With Kobe Bryant of the Lakers out for the season following rotator cuff surgery, Howard could be added as a substitute, but the current injury now makes that less likely.

The latest scenario just makes us wonder what James Harden can do next to improve stating his case for MVP? Even without Howard, Harden has been spectacular, leading the NBA in scoring at 27.7 points per game and was added to the West All-Star team himself by the coaches after the fans gave their sentimental backing to Bryant.

Harden’s play has enabled the Rockets (32-14) to remain in a three-way tie with the Trail Blazers and Clippers for the No. 3 playoff seed in the West.

Playing without their big man, the Rockets have posted a 10-4 record this season, but another lengthy loss of Howard could eventually take its toll in the tightly-packed race.

Wade hopes to return from hamstring injury in 2-3 weeks


VIDEO: Wade selected as All-Star reserve for East

Dwyane Wade received the good news that he was selected to his 11th NBA All-Star team on Thursday, but the question now is whether he’ll be able to play in it.

The Heat guard, who left Tuesday night’s game against the Bucks with a hamstring injury, is likely on the shelf for at least two to three weeks.

From Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald:

Calling a sudden news conference Thursday at AmericanAirlines Arena, Wade told reporters, “I won’t be seeing y’all for a little while, so take a good look at this face.”

The Heat shooting guard strained his right hamstring in Tuesday night’s loss to Milwaukee, and he said the best-case scenario for his return would be two to three weeks. That means Wade would miss the All-Star Game (he was selected as a reserve Thursday) and also miss Miami’s road game against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Feb. 11.

“You can’t put a time on it,” Wade said. “You can’t look at the hamstring and say you’re going to be out this amount of games. Like many muscle strains, you’ve got to go day by day.”

This is Wade’s third leg injury of the season. He strained his left hamstring Nov. 12 against Indiana and missed seven games. He then tweaked the back of his left leg again Jan. 13 against the Lakers and missed two games. He has missed 10 of the Heat’s 45 games this season. Wade missed 28 games last season due to various injuries.

“Where this thing has me frustrated and where I stand I have no idea,” Wade said. “It’s just the second day of a pulled hamstring.”

The loss of Wade for an extended period of time will make the Heat’s precarious hold on a playoff spot even more shaky. At 20-25, Miami is currently the No. 7 seed in the East.

Wade and teammate Chris Bosh became the first set of teammates to make five straight All-Star teams together since Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant with the Lakers.

If Wade cannot play, it will open the door for the Hawks’ Kyle Korver or the Bucks’ Brandon Knight to be named as All-Star replacements.

Harden, trio of Hawks and first-timer Thompson highlight All-Star reserves


VIDEO: Trio of Hawks headline All-Star reserves for East

HANG TIME BIG CITY — The 2015 All-Star Game will definitely have star power.

Boldfaced names like Chris Bosh, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and Russell Westbrook headline the list of players selected by coaches to be reserves for the 64th All-Star Game, which will take place Sunday, February 15, and televised exclusively on TNT.

NBA All-Star 2015The list of players chosen for the game seems to suggest that the coaches voting for the reserves valued familiarity — 11 of the 14 have previous All-Star experience. Meanwhile, a team that prides itself on succeeding without stars also made a mark. The Atlanta Hawks ended up having a trio of players — Al Horford, Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague — named reserves for the Eastern Conference team, which will be helmed by Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer. But while the Hawks are 38-8 and hold a commanding seven-game lead over the rest of the conference, this apparently wasn’t enough to secure a spot for Atlanta’s fourth All-Star candidate, shooting guard Kyle Korver.

Still, the Hawks lead all teams with three players in the All-Star Game. Chicago, Cleveland, Golden State, the Clippers, Miami and Oklahoma City all had two players each. The last time the Hawks had three players in an All-Star Game was 35 years ago, when they sent John Drew, Eddie Johnson and Dan Roundfield.

While the willing can argue around most of the selections, it’s worth remembering that the All-Star reserves were selected by opposing coaches. So those who made the cut were probably chosen as some vague combination of mutual respect, lifetime achievement and time spent worrying about playing against them.

Perhaps the most surprising selection was in the Western Conference, where coaches chose Oklahoma City’s Durant. Although Durant was last season’s MVP and a “star” by any definition, he has played in less than half of Oklahoma City’s 46 games this season, while averaging 25.6 points in those games he has played.

The 64th NBA All-Star Game will be exclusively televised on TNT live from New York City’s iconic Madison Square Garden on Sunday, February 15, 2015.

Eastern Conference

Chris Bosh, Heat — With LeBron James gone, Bosh has assumed a larger role, averaging 21.3 points his highest total since the 2009-10 season, and posting a 28.7 usage rate, tying his career high. This is Bosh’s 10th consecutive All-Star Game.

Jimmy Butler, Bulls — Made himself into a genuine offensive threat for Chicago to go along with his already terrific defense. Averaging a career-high 20.1 points. This is his first All-Star Game.

Al Horford, Hawks — While Horford’s numbers are nothing spectacular — 15.3 points and 6.8 rebounds — his return from two pectoral injuries has anchored the Hawks’ interior and provided a paint presence. This will be Horford’s third All-Star Game, following selections in 2010 and ’11.

Kyrie Irving, Cavaliers — After being voted as a starter for last year’s All-Star Game, Irving messed around and won the game’s MVP award with 31 points and 14 assists. This season he’s struggled to be comfortable alongside LeBron James and Kevin Love, although last night’s 55-point explosion would seem to suggest he’s found his way.

Paul Millsap, Hawks — Maybe the best post player in the Eastern Conference. After making last year’s All-Star Game, his first, Millsap has added 3-point range this season and frequently bails out the Hawks at the end of shot clocks when Atlanta’s pace-and-space offense breaks down.

Jeff Teague, Hawks — The straw that stirs the drink for the Hawks. In his sixth season, has developed into an elite point guard with a complete game, and has managed to find the consistency he lacked earlier in his career. Averaging 17 points and 7.5 assists, both career highs.

Dwyane Wade, Heat — A 10-time All-Star, Wade has played in 35 of Miami’s 45 games, averaging 21.4 points and 5.4 assists, and has the highest PER (22.55) of any shooting guard in the Eastern Conference. Wade’s availability for the All-Star Game may be in question after injuring his right hamstring on Tuesday.

The Lowdown — Things are a bit more cut-and-dried in the Eastern Conference than the West. Korver stands out by his absence, apparently a victim of his teammates’ success. It’s hard to justify omitting a player with the highest 3-point shooting percentage in the history of the NBA, but it’s equally difficult to defend giving four of the Eastern Conference’s roster slots to players from one team. Milwaukee’s Brandon Knight has also drawn acclaim as the Bucks have bounced back from last year’s disastrous season and are in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Orlando center Nikola Vucevic is averaging a double-double, 19.5 points and 11.2 rebounds, and despite his team’s 15-33 record, an argument can be made for his inclusion.


VIDEO: First-timer Thompson headlines All-Star reserves for West

Western Conference

LaMarcus Aldridge, Trail Blazers — Portland’s big man is averaging a career-high 23.6 points as he attempts to play through a torn thumb ligament. This will be his fourth consecutive All-Star Game.

Tim Duncan, Spurs — The Big Fundamental’s numbers aren’t eye-popping, at least not for him — 14.7 points, 10.1 rebounds. But Duncan is a 14-time All-Star and has been the most consistent player during the first half of the season for the reigning NBA champions. Hard to leave the 38-year-old home in what may be one of his final campaigns.

Kevin Durant, Thunder — A five-time All-Star, when healthy Durant is arguably the best player in the NBA. The issue this season has been health, as Durant has nursed a broken foot and a sprained toe, missing 25 of Oklahoma City’s 46 games this season.

James Harden, Rockets — A no-brainer for the coaches, and the player most likely to get the injured Kobe Bryant‘s starting spot, although that choice ultimately belongs to Western Conference coach Steve Kerr. Harden is currently leading the NBA in scoring at 27.3 points and, with the Rockets rolling at 32-14, a legitimate MVP candidate.

Chris Paul, Clippers — CP3 has long been one of the best all-around point guards in the NBA, as evidenced by seven All-Star appearances in nine seasons. Paul leads the league in assist-to-turnover ratio and has the Clippers firmly in the Western Conference playoff race.

Klay Thompson, Warriors — Thompson is perhaps the best two-way guard in the league, and has teamed with Curry to make the Warriors the best team in the NBA this season. Thompson is averaging a career-high 23 points, and his 52-point game last week probably didn’t hurt his case. This will be his All-Star debut.

Russell Westbrook, Thunder — Westbrook is one of the most dynamic players in the NBA, and after a few injury-plagued seasons (and a broken hand earlier this year) has bounced back to lead the Thunder while Durant has been out. Westbrook is averaging a career-high 25.2 points this season for the 23-23 Thunder.

The Lowdown — Unlike in the East, the competitive Western Conference provides more opportunities for debate. (Also, it’s worth noting that with Kobe Bryant out, NBA commissioner Adam Silver will be adding at least one player to the roster.) With Paul and Westbrook on the team, a few deserving point guards find themselves looking in from the outside. Last year, Portland’s Damian Lillard made his first All-Star Game, but despite averaging a career-high 21.8 points, didn’t make the cut this season. Memphis point guard Mike Conley has directed the Grizzlies to a 33-12 record, behind only Golden State in the West. And in Phoenix, Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe could each make a case for a New York visit. Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki has made a dozen All-Star Games, but will be staying home this year, along with his teammate Monta Ellis. And Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins has had a big season, averaging 23.8 points and 12.3 rebounds, both career highs. Great numbers, but apparently not good enough in the Western Conference.

One Stat, One Play: Big Spain at the Elbow


VIDEO: One Stat, One Play: Big Spain at the Elbow

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Marc Gasol was the Defensive Player of the Year two seasons ago. The Memphis Grizzlies are one of two teams that has ranked in the top 10 in defensive efficiency each of the last four seasons, and Gasol has been their anchor on that end of the floor.

But Gasol has also seen an increase in his usage rate each of the last few years. And this year, he leads the Grizzlies in that category.

The ball is more often in Mike Conley‘s hands (he ranks in the top 10 in time of possession), who leads the Grizz in time of possession, but the play is more often ending with Gasol, working out of both the low post and high post. He has become as critical to the Memphis offense as he is to the D.

According to SportVU, Gasol ranks fourth (behind Al Jefferson, Pau Gasol and Nikola Vucevic) in the league with 395 post-ups. And he leads the league with 601 elbow touches and 49 assists from those elbow touches.

20150129_elbow

The Grizz have fallen off big defensively this season. But with Gasol leading the team in usage rate, they rank in the top 10 in offensive efficiency for just the second time in franchise history.

The video above is the latest installment “One Stat, One Play,” featuring at a play where Gasol acts as a release valve at the elbow and registers one of those 49 elbow-touch assists.

The Grizzlies host the Denver Nuggets in the first game of TNT’s doubleheader (8 p.m. ET) on Thursday.

Report: Relationship between Bulls, Thibodeau ‘beyond repair’


VIDEO: Tom Thibodeau tries to fire up his team during a game against Sacramento

One of the more fascinating coach-management relationships lives on in Chicago, where Tom Thibodeau is either a valuable commodity or expendable as Tim Floyd, depending on which way the wind is blowing that day in the executive office. And if you know Chicago, that wind can get pretty blustery pretty quickly.

At least, that’s our impression, anyway. Anytime the subject is Thibodeau and the front office, the signals are always mixed and nobody’s willing to set the record straight.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune reports that the relationship between Thibodeau and the Bulls is “beyond repair”:

Several times over the years, Tom Thibodeau has reminded all how Tim Duncan averaged nearly 40 minutes in his first six seasons with the Spurs. He did it again Tuesday night before the Bulls’ overtime victory over the Warriors.

Thibodeau routinely has made reference to how Phil Jackson rarely took Michael Jordan or Scottie Pippen off the court during the Bulls dynasty. He also did that again in one of his next breaths after his Duncan point.

The Bulls coach has hammered home the theme of needing full participation in practice to build chemistry and continuity from the first day in training camp, when management and the medical staff placed restrictions on players.

But Thibodeau never had done so in such all-encompassing fashion as he did before and after one of the Bulls’ most important victories of the season. And he certainly hadn’t done so since ESPN broadcaster Jeff Van Gundy accused Bulls management of undermining Thibodeau, pulling back the curtain anew on that frayed relationship.

“The more you practice, the better you practice, the better you’re going to play,” Thibodeau said after the stirring victory. “That’s time-tested, age-old, however else you want to describe it. That’s what you gotta do if you want to win.”

That Thibodeau said this the night before he merely had a film session and players worked out individually — no official practice serving as his nod to the Bulls’ three-games-in-four-nights schedule — should remind all that a coach can’t spend two-plus decades in the NBA without knowing how to pace a team.

But it also underscored how, despite last week’s team meeting instead of a practice, Thibodeau isn’t going to change, even while the speculation about his long-term future with the Bulls continues. Despite the two seasons left on the four-year extension Thibodeau took several months to sign in the 2012-13 season, several league sources believe Thibodeau’s relationship with management is beyond repair.

And while there are no plans to replace Thibodeau during the season, a mutual parting of the ways after this season wouldn’t surprise many league personnel familiar with the deteriorating dynamic.

Additionally, in a Q&A with Sam Amick of USA Today, Thibodeau stands up for his practices as a coach, which some may consider hard-charging and stubborn:

Yet as Thibodeau made clear, he’s not the least bit concerned with those who keep questioning his hard-driving ways. He’ll charge on, unapologetic and – as always – unshaken.

“You want to be a championship team, there’s a price to pay,” Thibodeau declares. “And that’s what you have to do. There’s no shortcuts. You can’t shortcut your way to success … I’m going to give everything I have each and every day, and I have no regrets.”

Q: What about the idea that no one in the league pushes their players quite like you do? Do you even agree with that premise that has essentially become like gospel?

A: “No. Listen, I’ve been around a long time. There are so many different ways to pace your team. Like everyone, (outsiders) look at minutes but they don’t know what’s going on in practice. They don’t know how much contact you have (in practice). They don’t know what your philosophy is in terms of days off. Is (practice) after back to backs? Is first day of a road trip? Is (practice) a day off after never more than three consecutive days? Whatever it might be, there’s a lot that goes into it. But you also – if you’re looking at performance and how you can get the best out of people – there’s a reason why teams have success over a long period of time. You have to have core values. What do you believe in? Do you believe in hard work? Do you believe in discipline? Do you believe in conditioning? Because those are the things I know that do work.

“So I’m not surprised if the play is up and down and it’s been sporadic in terms of – can you practice or not practice? No, practice is important. The regular season is important. Your meetings are important. Your walk-through is important. Everything is important. You want to be a championship team, there’s a price to pay. And that’s what you have to do. There’s no shortcuts. You can’t shortcut your way to success.”

Then, on Thursday afternoon, GM Gar Forman responded to the chatter thusly:

On the surface, Thibs should be a keeper. His teams win and the Bulls thrive even with injury roadblocks. The players, from what we gather, respect his attention to detail and his devotion. And with all due respect to the Atlanta Hawks, the general vibe has Chicago as the odds-on favorite to emerge from the East this summer.

But man, ever since he got the job, there have been more whispers than you hear in Sunday church.

It usually begins with anonymous sources, or “word has it” or “the feeling from inside the organization” or “the talk among those in the coaching fraternity” or even more blatantly, “Jeff Van Gundy‘s strong opinion. Whether real or imagined (and maybe both are true), there are forces between Thibs and the front office, meaning Foreman and John Paxson  the GM and VP, respectively — which are destined to grease Thibs’ exit this summer if not shortly after.

When he took the job in 2010, it was considered a coup by Chicago. Thibbs was the long-time assistant who was the brains behind the Boston Celtics’ defense, an assistant so respected for his defense that Boston paid handsomely to keep him around. Then-coach Doc Rivers even allowed him to call plays from the bench. Thibs followed Vinny Del Negro in Chicago (who was once physically threatened by Paxson during a disagreement), so Thibs had to be an upgrade all around, right?

Yes, he was. The Bulls improved by 21 wins (yes, it was Derrick Rose‘s MVP season, but still) and ever since have constantly ranked high defensively. Chicago loved the gravelly-voiced coach whose style seemed to fit Chicago: gruff yet fair, hard-working and fiercely competitive. He was the new Mike Ditka.

This is even better: Rose has missed pretty much two full seasons since, and is still rounding into form. Joakim Noah has been in and out of the lineup for two years himself … and the Bulls kept winning. Thibs did his best job the last two years when, without Rose, the Bulls stayed competitive in the playoffs against healthier and better teams.

The fraying began, however, almost immediately. Management forced Thibodeau to fire his right hand man, Ron Adams, two years ago and Thibbs has steamed about it ever since. Foreman has never given a reason publicly about the move, which has only fueled all the speculation between Foreman and Thibbs, who took his sweet time signing a contract extension, perhaps as a silent protest.

Now, suddenly, word is (there’s that clause again) that the front office is unhappy with the minutes Thibbs is giving to certain players, is worried about the Bulls’ defense and is beginning to tell Thibodeau how to tweak his rotation.

And then came the Van Gundy hurricane.

During a recent telecast, Van Gundy, without prompting, began throwing verbal haymakers at the Bulls’ front office. He was essentially calling them out for making it tough on Thibs. (Thibs was once an assistant under Van Gundy in New York.)

The only problem I had was Van Gundy spoke in generalities. If he was so upset, and claimed to have inside info, why didn’t he speak in specifics? If he was so sure Thibbs is being roughed up internally, why not call out Foreman, Paxson or even owner Jerry Reinsdorf and say exactly what was happening? It’s not that Van Gundy doesn’t know. Why did Van Gundy just blame the media, which he accused of being in the back pocket of Bulls management?

Once again the Bulls are in the hunt for a conference title despite injuries. Their offense has always been so-so under Thibbs, and the defensive intensity has waned a bit. But come spring, it’s very likely the road to the title will go through the United Center.

If it doesn’t, does that mean the Bulls will give Thibs the heave? If so, they’d better have a good replacement. Or maybe, with two more years left on his contract, they’ll give Thibs permission to speak with other teams and ask for compensation.

 

Kyrie won’t be solo for much longer


VIDEO: Cavs.com relives Kyrie Irving’s 55-point game

Lost in the Kyrie Irving double-nickel game was this little tidbit of a question: LeBron James won’t be out for long, will he?

There were two major events Wednesday night: Irving dropped 55 points on the Blazers and the Cavs won without LeBron. The first one was insane enough, especially since Irving was playing against Damian Lillard (actually, he went through the entire Portland team). The second one was also pretty stunning, because the Cavs had lost 8 of 9 this season without LeBron.

But, breathe easy, Cleveland. Kyrie won’t need to go for 55 every night in the near future.

An X-ray on James’ right wrist shows a sprain and the Cavs are just being cautious at the moment. There’s no rush to bring him back on the court.

“To the best of my knowledge, there’s no serious damage,” said Cavaliers coach David Blatt. “If it takes 48 hours, great. And if it takes longer than that, that’s what it’s going to be. We’re not looking at anything long-term.”

Chances are fairly good James won’t play in the Cavs’ next game, which is Friday against the Kings (7:30 p.m. ET, League Pass). Get this: Cleveland’s season has flipped so suddenly that the Cavs, now on an eight-game winning streak, can afford to rest stars against inferior teams. What a difference a month makes.

The only pressing issue is the continued struggles of Kevin Love. In a sense, he was missing, too, against the Blazers, shooting just 3-for-15. Over the last two games Love is 6-for-26, and the East coaches are fully expected to hand him another setback tonight by keeping him off the All-Star squad.

How many of you, before the season, had Love missing the All-Star Game?

 

 

 

 

All-Star reserves to be announced tonight on TNT


VIDEO: The Inside the NBA crew picks their East All-Star reserves

HANG TIME BIG CITY — For the Atlanta Hawks and the 2015 NBA All-Star Game, it’s not a question of if a Hawk will make it, but rather, how many of them will be there?

TNT will exclusively televise the announcement of the 2015 NBA All-Star reserves tonight during a special one-hour edition of “TNT NBA Tip-Off presented by AutoTrader.com” at 7 p.m. ET.

The Hawks lead the Eastern Conference by 7 games with a 38-8 record, but had no players finish among the Eastern Conference leaders in fan voting. Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer has already been tapped to coach the East, and with the League’s coaches choosing his reserves, the New York-hosted All-Star Game could have a distinctly Southern flavor. A couple of Hawks are in contention for roster room, like former All-Stars Paul Millsap and Al Horford, as well as guards Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver. The last time the Hawks had more than two All-Stars was in 1980, when they sent John Drew, Eddie Johnson and Dan Roundfield.

If four Hawks make the roster, which Eastern Conference players will be squeezed out? Chicago’s Jimmy Butler is probably as close to a lock as there is in the East. The Bulls shooting guard, who was named Eastern Conference player of the month for November, is averaging a career-high 20.1 points per game while leading the NBA in minutes per game, at 39.5 a night.

Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving finished fourth among Eastern guards in fan voting, after winning the All-Star Game MVP last season, but with his 55-point effort last night against Portland, Irving seemed to send a message that he belongs in this season’s game. Miami’s Dwyane Wade was among voting leaders in early returns before being passed late for a starting spot by Toronto’s Kyle Lowry. Wade, who is averaging 21.4 ppg this season, has made 10 consecutive All-Star Games. Wade has missed 10 of Miami’s games this season, and a hamstring injury may affect his availability for the All-Star Game.

In the frontcourt for the East, the coaches have some tough choices to make. Kevin Love was a starter last season in the Western Conference, but the move to Cleveland to take a supporting role has dropped his ppg from 26.1 a season ago to 17.1 as a Cavalier. Miami’s Chris Bosh has made nine consecutive All-Star appearances, and his chances this season should be bolstered by his 21.3 ppg average, his highest rate since 2009-10 when he was a member of the Toronto Raptors.

Orlando center Nikola Vucevic has put up terrific numbers — 19.5 ppg and 11.2 rpg — but for a team that is 15-33 and near the bottom of the conference. Detroit’s Greg Monroe is averaging a double-double — 15.2 ppg and 10.3 rpg — for the first time in his career and has been an integral part of the Pistons turning things around midway through the season.

Houston’s James Harden merits serious MVP consideration, and should headline the Western Conference reserves. The only question involving Harden, who leads the NBA at 27.3 ppg, is if he will be selected by Western Conference coach Steve Kerr to replace the injured Kobe Bryant in the starting lineup. Kerr’s choice is complicated by the stellar first half of Golden State shooting guard Klay Thompson, who staked his claim to an All-Star (and possible starting) spot last week with a 52-point night against Sacramento.

Also out West, will the coaches select Oklahoma City star (and reigning NBA MVP) Kevin Durant? He has battled injuries and played in just 21 of Oklahoma City’s 46 games this season, but he’s been terrific (25.6 ppg) when he has played. Likewise, teammate Russell Westbrook, a three-time former All-Star, is among the league leaders in points (25.2 ppg) and steals (2.3 spg), but has missed 14 games.

Besides Westbrook, there are several point guards who have built strong cases for their inclusion. Memphis’ Mike Conley has never been an All-Star, but his Grizzlies have had a sparkling first half of the season and, at 33-12, are No. 2 in the Western Conference. Portland’s Damian Lillard made his first All-Star Game a year ago, and this year has improved his numbers across the board, averaging 21.8 ppg and 6.2 apg. And don’t forget about Clippers guard Chris Paul. The sheen may have worn off Lob City, but the seven-time All-Star is still averaging 17.5 ppg and 9.7 apg for a 32-14 Los Angeles squad.

In the frontcourt, Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins is averaging 23.8 ppg and 12.3 rpg, both career highs. He’s also shown emotional growth, collecting just four technical fouls this season after totaling 16 last season.He also played a key role in Team USA’s gold-winning performance at the FIBA Basketball World Cup. Despite a torn ligament in his thumb, Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge has postponed surgery and is averaging a double-double for the Blazers. Or, could coaches reward Golden State forward Draymond Green, perhaps their most versatile player and a key cog in the Warriors’ early run?

Finally, might 38-year-old San Antonio Spurs big man Tim Duncan make his 15th All-Star appearance? Duncan, who last played in the 2013 All-Star Game, is currently averaging 14.7 ppg and 10.1 rpg for the defending-champion Spurs, who are in sixth place in the West.

The 64th NBA All-Star Game will be exclusively televised on TNT live from New York City’s iconic Madison Square Garden on Sunday, February 15, 2015.


VIDEO: The Inside the NBA crew picks their West All-Star reserves

Morning shootaround — Jan. 29


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Irving shines vs. Blazers | Pelicans’ Davis needs MRI on groin | Gasol: Nice to have ‘security and comfort’ in Chicago | Harden gets Parsons’ midseason MVP vote

No. 1: Irving praises teammates after his breakout game — Kyrie Irving can seemingly do no wrong on the court lately. Last night, if you somehow missed it, he dropped 55 points on the Portland Trail Blazers. That tally includes 11 3-pointers, the last of which was the game-sealing shot in the final minute. Yet after his big game — which came while fellow Cavs teammate LeBron James rested — Irving was more interested in talking about his teammates than his own performance. That, coupled with his step-up performance last night, is part of what is making Irving a budding leader for Cleveland. Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group has more:

To put his outing in perspective: He outscored the rest of his team, his 55 points were the second most points scored by a Cavalier (James’ 56 points at Toronto on 3/20/05), those were the most points scored inside The Q, it was the most points scored by any player this season, he nailed a career and franchise record 11 threes, he attempted a franchise record 19 three-pointers and he was 10-of-10 from the charity stripe.

That translates to 93 points in the last two games for the offensive assassin.

If it wasn’t for Irving’s superhuman accomplishments, there’s no way the Cavaliers would have managed to be in the ball game.

His help was scarce, to say the least. The rest of the Cavaliers shot an abysmal 17-of-49 from the field, producing 44 points.

The third member of the Big Three, Kevin Love, went three-for-15 and clanked his last 11 shots.

Despite his prodigious feat, Irving didn’t want to talk about himself. It was his night, but all he wanted to do was compliment his teammates.

“Our bigs are doing a great job of just coming in and screening in transition,” he said. “[They’re] being open and being willing screeners every single time down. It just makes my job a lot easier to come down and make an easy decision to either pull up or attack the rim or drop off to our bigs.”

With 27 seconds remaining in the game and the scored tied at 94, head coach David Blatt called a timeout and drew up a play for his point guard. Irving got the ball and was being guarded by Nicolas Batum, a 6-8 long defender.

Irving ran some time off the clock and then he dribbled towards the wing and Batum backpedaled too far, leaving just enough space for Irving to get up a three that splashed through the net to put the Cavaliers up three with six seconds left.

The arena erupted. It was pure pandemonium.

“I’m gracious that the shot went in and had the confidence of my teammates and coaching staff to go out there and make a big-time shot,” a humbled Irving said.

On the next possession Damian Lillard got off a perfectly designed three-pointer out of a timeout, but it came up short. Blatt said he hasn’t seen anything like it before.

“A player who has that kind of game and that kind of point total? No,” Blatt said. “First time ever. I said that to my coaches after. I’ve seen some great performances now. I’ve seen a lot of great performances, but something quite like that? No. I have not see and I’ve been coaching a long time.”


VIDEO: Relive all 11 of Kyrie Irving’s 3-pointers against the Blazers

***

 

Scoot over Klay, Kyrie wants in on this …


VIDEO: Kyrie Irving couldn’t let Klay Thompson have all the fun

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson dropped jaws with his spectacular scoring showcase over the weekend, his NBA-record 37-point quarter will not soon be forgotten.

Thompson will have to share the spotlight now, though. Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving made sure of it with a jaw-dropping showcase of his own (sans LeBron James, who sat out with a sore wrist), scoring a NBA season-high and career-high 55 points, including the pull-up 3-point dagger to sink the Portland Trail Blazers in a 99-94 win. That’s right, he scored 55 of the Cavaliers’ 99 points in making sure their win-streak stretched to eight games.

He also matched Thompson’s 11 made 3-pointers and collected the first 50-point game by a Cavalier since LeBron did it on March 13, 2009 … during his first stint with the franchise.

Kyrie also missed the Cavaliers’ franchise-record by a point (LeBron scored 56 on March 20, 2005) and recorded the most points in a Cleveland home game in franchise history.

Toss in his 38 points in Detroit Tuesday night and Kyrie’s 93 points are the most scored over a two day span since Kobe Bryant scored 110 (60 on March 22, 2007 and 50 on March 23, 2007).

As if that’s not enough, Kyrie also became the fifth youngest player (at 22 years, 311 days) in the last 50 seasons to score 55 points or more. And that list includes Brandon Jennings, LeBron and Rick Barry (who did it twice: once in 1965 and again in 1966).

We’re packing a season’s worth of wicked offensive performances into one spectacular, jaw-dropping week!


VIDEO: Kyrie Irving nailed 11 3-pointers in the win over Portland