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

Kobe has successful shoulder surgery, faces long recovery

VIDEO: Kobe Bryant was voted a starter for the Western Conference All-Star team by fans last week

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The good news for Lakers fans is Kobe Bryant had successful shoulder surgery Wednesday, the Lakers announced. The tougher part to swallow, however, is the potential length of his recovery. Bryant’s recovery could last as long as nine months, which means he might not be cleared for action until after training camp starts for the 2015-16 season, the final year of his current deal with the Lakers.

Any discussion about Bryant not returning from his third major injury in three seasons seems to have dissipated. His road to recovery, though, will be rigorous for a player who will be 37 when he returns. Named an All-Star starter for the 17th time last week, Kobe will have to be replaced on that team, a decision that will be made by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. The Lakers will have to find other ways to compensate for his absence.

They are not in the playoff picture this season, but with cap space and other assets to work with are expected to be a major player on the free-agent market this season.

Wiggins, Carter-Williams headline BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge


VIDEO: USA vs. World in new format for Rising Stars

HANG TIME BIG CITY — The BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge has always served as All-Star Weekend’s showcase for first- and second-year NBA players, using a variety of different formats from rookies versus sophomores to a fantasy draft.

This year, though, it’s us against them. No matter which team you’re rooting for.

This season, the Rising Stars Challenge introduces a new format, with players from the United States going against a team of international players. The rosters were selected by the league’s assistant coaches, with one ballot for each of the NBA’s 30 teams. Both 10-man rosters include four guards, four frontcourt players and two players regardless of position. Each team also features a minimum of three first-year players and three second-year players among its 10 spots.

This year’s edition showcases 10 of the top 15 picks from the 2013 NBA Draft, and all four participants in the 2015 Sprite Slam Dunk. The Minnesota Timberwolves are the most represented team, with four Timberwolves split evenly between the two teams. The Utah Jazz will have three players involved, and the Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers, Minnesota Timberwolves and Orlando Magic each are sending two players.

Team USA is heavy on perimeter and wing players, including Utah’s Trey Burke, Detroit’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Philadelphia’s Michael Carter-Williams, Minnesota’s Zach LaVine and Shabazz Muhammad, and Orlando’s starting backcourt of Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo.

The World Team will be heavy on big men, including Oklahoma City’s Steven Adams, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, Minnesota’s Gorgui Dieng, Utah’s Rudy Gobert, Chicago’s Nikola Mirotic and Boston’s Kelly Olynyk. Canada will be the most represented international country with Olynyk and Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins.

The BBVA Rising Stars Challenge is scheduled for Friday, Feb. 13, at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The head coaches for the 21st BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge will be assistants from the 2015 NBA All-Star Game coaching staffs. Hawks assistant coach Kenny Atkinson will lead the World Team, and Golden State Warriors assistant Alvin Gentry will coach the U.S. Team. The game will be televised live on TNT at 9 p.m. ET.

USA Team
Trey Burke (Utah)
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Detroit)
Michael Carter-Williams (Philadelphia)
Zach LaVine (Minnesota)
Shabazz Muhammad (Minnesota)
Nerlens Noel (Philadelphia)
Victor Oladipo (Orlando)
Elfrid Payton (Orlando)
Mason Plumlee (Brooklyn)
Cody Zeller (Charlotte)

World Team
Steven Adams (Oklahoma City)
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee)
Bojan Bogdanovic (Brooklyn)
Gorgui Dieng (Minnesota)
Dante Exum (Utah)
Rudy Gobert (Utah)
Nikola Mirotic (Chicago)
Kelly Olynyk (Boston)
Dennis Schröder (Atlanta)
Andrew Wiggins (Minnesota)

Durant out Wednesday night against Knicks

HANG TIME BIG CITYKevin Durant will not play in New York City this season … at least, perhaps, not until the All-Star Game. The Oklahoma City Thunder announced Wednesday that Durant will sit out tonight’s game at the New York Knicks as he recovers from a sprained left big toe.

Durant missed the first 17 games of the season, which included the Thunder’s lone game in Brooklyn, while recovering from a broken foot. After being named the NBA’s MVP last season, Durant has played in just 21 of Oklahoma City’s 45 games. Durant is averaging 27.8 points and 7.3 rebounds. The Thunder are 23-22 and currently in tenth place in the Western Conference.

Blogtable: Reflecting on Klay

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Your All-Star reserves | Reflecting on Klay | Bold second-half prediction



VIDEOBrent Barry reflects on watching Klay Thompson’s NBA-record 37-point quarter

> OK, you’ve had several days to reflect on Klay Thompson’s historic 37-point third quarter Friday night. What’s your one takeaway — the one thing that stands out most in your mind — after witnessing that incredible display?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Not to turn this into hockey or baseball, but I’m mostly surprised in the aftermath that Thompson didn’t get knocked down or drawn into a skirmish or otherwise just sent to the foul line to do more of his damage. It reminded me of Kobe Bryant‘s 81-point game and how the Toronto coach, Sam Mitchell, knew that old-school NBA players would have made the Lakers star pay a heftier physical price than just developing tennis elbow from all his shooting. The Kings seemingly did nothing to disrupt the roll Thompson was on, and they got what they deserved.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: That he accomplished something that was beyond the feats of Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant — anyone in history — and made it look as smoooooooth and easy as licking an ice cream cone.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: That it won’t be what will define him. It was some meteor shower on Friday night and the third quarter alone was historic, but it also wasn’t a flash moment for Thompson. He has been very good all season, at an All-Star level whether he gets an invitation to New York in February or not because he is not just a scorer. Watch him win a playoff game by grinding on defense. And he may not have a better quarter — 99 percent of anyone who ever played in the NBA won’t — but Thompson will have other monster shooting games. This is not a guy who got on a hot streak. This is a hot guy.

Klay Thompson's shot chart

Shot chart from Klay Thompson’s historic 3rd quarter

 

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: That he assisted on the Warriors’ only basket in the quarter in which he didn’t score? Well, what I really took away is you could make a case for Thompson being as good a player — definitely better all-around because of his defense — as Steph Curry. And Curry was my midseason pick for MVP. Yes, I realize Thompson doesn’t do this every night — who could go for 37 besides Wilt? But he’s a deadly shooter who manages to square up and face the basket every time, and makes for a tremendous duo with Curry. Last year I laughed when coach Mark Jackson said they’re the best shooting backcourt ever (Jerry West and Gail Goodrich are my pick). Now? I’m starting to believe.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comThe shot chart from Klay Thompson’s 37-point quarter is getting blown up and made into a poster for my office wall. Seriously, how ridiculous was that shooting effort? I’ve been an unabashed supporter of his for a while now. I just like the way he goes about his business and the fact that he’s a two-way cat. He goes as hard on defense as he does on offense. And for a shooter as accomplished as he is, that’s the most remarkable aspect of his game for me. But go back and look at that shot chart one more time and see where he attacked from and how ruthlessly efficient he was. Incredible. Just flat-out incredible.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: He seemed to get the shots off faster and faster as it went along. There was zero caution. He wasn’t looking for sure things and he didn’t care if the thing came to an end. The longer he extended his streak, the bolder he grew.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: A few years ago there was some sort of academic-ish study going around that claimed to debunk the “hot hand” in basketball. Getting “hot” or being “in the zone,” whatever you want to call it, was researched and, supposedly, proven impossible. There may not be a way to explain it, but anyone who’s played basketball will tell you about that one time when that one person just couldn’t miss. Well, I didn’t believe the hot hand fallacy then and I still don’t believe it now. And I’m willing to bet if you ask Klay Thompson or anyone who watched that game, they don’t believe it, either.

Blogtable: Your All-Star reserves are …

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Your All-Star reserves | Reflecting on Klay | Bold second-half prediction



VIDEOInside the NBA’s crew picks their Western Conference All-Star reserves

> All-Star 2015 reserves will be announced tomorrow on TNT. But you get to go first: Select seven reserves for the East, and seven for the West (and remember it’s two guards, three frontcourt players and two others regardless of position).

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com:

East guards: Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague.
East frontcourt: Paul Millsap, Chris Bosh and Al Horford.
East wildcards: Kyle Korver and Kyrie Irving.

The biggest question for me in picking All-Star reserves is, how many Hawks? Would two Atlanta players be too few? Would four be too many? Nah, I don’t think so. That’s the beauty of an ensemble team, much like Detroit a decade ago, and I think there’s room without glaring omissions.

West guards: Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook.
West frontcourt: LaMarcus Aldridge, Tim Duncan and Kevin Durant.
West wildcards: Chris Paul and Klay Thompson. West injury replacement for Kobe Bryant: James Harden.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com:

East guards: Jeff Teague and Jimmy Butler.
East frontcourt: Chris Bosh, Al Horford and Paul Millsap.
East wildcards: Kyrie Irving and Dwyane Wade.

West guards: James Harden and Damian Lillard.
West frontcourt: LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMarcus Cousins and Tim Duncan.
West wildcards: Klay Thompson and Mike Conley.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com:

East guards: Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague.
East frontcourt: Paul Millsap, Chris Bosh and Nikola Vucevic.
East wildcards: Kyle Korver and Kyrie Irving.

Vucevic may not be a popular pick, but his numbers are undeniably good. He shouldn’t take a hit because Orlando has youth and injuries.

West guards: James Harden and Chris Paul.
West frontcourt: LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMarcus Cousins and Tim Duncan.
West wildcards: Damian Lillard and Klay Thompson.

Yeah, I know it’s Kevin Durant. But when the competition is this intense, missing about half the games is a difference maker for best play of the season. Besides, there will be at least one (Kobe Bryant) and maybe two (Aldridge) injury replacements coming. There’s still time for Durant and Westbrook.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com:

East guards: Jeff Teague and Jimmy Butler.
East frontcourt: Paul Millsap, Chris Bosh and Al Horford.
East wildcards: Kyrie Irving and Brandon Knight.

West guards: Klay Thompson and James Harden.
West frontcourt: LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Durant.
West wildcards: Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook.
West injury replacement for Kobe Bryant: James Harden.

Really didn’t sweat too much about these selections. Even though he’s missed a chunk of games, I’m sorry, KD is an All-Star. I’m not going to punish him. Didn’t Magic Johnson make the team when he missed the entire season? OK, then. It’s an All-Star Game and people want to see KD.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com:

East guards: Kyle Korver and Dwyane Wade.
East frontcourt: Chris Bosh, Al Horford and Paul Millsap.
East wildcards: Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague.

West guards: James Harden and Chris Paul.
West frontcourt: LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMarcus Cousins and Tim Duncan.
West wildcards: Damian Lillard and Klay Thompson.
West injury replacement for Kobe Bryant: Russell Westbrook.

The East is pretty cut and dry and I’m keeping Kyrie Irving off the list, because he still doesn’t play both ends of the floor and the Cavs would be terrible without LeBron James. The West is much deeper, but the picks were still fairly simple. My toughest omission was actually Zach Randolph, because 21 games from Kevin Durant isn’t enough for me.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com:

East guards: Kyrie Irving and Jeff Teague.
East frontcourt: Chris Bosh, Al Horford and Paul Millsap.
East wildcards: Jimmy Butler and Marcin Gortat.

West guards: Klay Thompson and James Harden.
West frontcourt: LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMarcus Cousins and Tim Duncan.
West wildcards: Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook.
West injury replacement for Kobe Bryant: Monta Ellis.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com:

East guards: Jeff Teague, Dwyane Wade, Jimmy Butler and Kyle Korver.
East frontcourt: Chris Bosh, Al Horford and Nikola Vucevic.

West guards: James Harden, Chris Paul, Klay Thompson and Mike Conley.
West frontcourt: LaMarcus Aldridge, Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I know some guys have missed chunks of time due to injury, but I want some stars in my All-Star Game, which affects my selections.

East guards: Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague.
East frontcourt: Nikola Vucevic, Al Horford and Paul Millsap.
East wildcards: Dwyane Wade and Kyrie Irving.

West guards: James Harden and Klay Thompson.
West frontcourt: LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Durant and Tim Duncan.
West wildcards: Russell Westbrook and DeMarcus Cousins.

All-Star reserves picksFor more debates, go to #AmexNBA or www.nba.com/homecourtadvantage.

Blogtable: Bold second-half predictions

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Your All-Star reserves | Reflecting on Klay | Bold second-half prediction



VIDEOThe Beat’s crew takes stock of the season so far

> We’re about one week past the halfway point of the season. Still plenty of ball to be played, so give me one bold prediction for the second half (the key word being “bold”).

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: The Clippers will make it out of the West to reach The Finals. And here’s a second bold prediction to bolster the first: They’ll acquire Kevin Garnett from Brooklyn one way or another (buyout by Nets?) to heighten their intensity and tighten their defense. Point guard Chris Paul is acutely aware of his window and his horizon, and he’ll draw out some of the Clippers’ untapped potential. This team will remember, too, how unfairly it got derailed last postseason.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The Thunder do not make the playoffs. Since a seven-game win streak immediately upon Kevin Durant’s return to the lineup, OKC has struggled to find consistency and rhythm in its game. That’s a fatal flaw with little margin for error in a brutal Western Conference race.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Clippers lose in the first round of the playoffs. This is the ultimate in flawed crystal ball-ness because a lot will depend on the matchup, not just L.A. itself. But this is a hurting team, and that comes from someone who picked the Clips to win the West a season ago. They have so many ingredients to be good, even championship good, but the defense has taken a giant step backward and the bench is weak. There is still time to recover — and for me to change the pick once the opening series is set. But there is reason to be concerned.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Bold: OKC won’t make the playoffs. Everyone keeps waiting for the Suns to falter, and yes they’re young and vulnerable to a degree. But even if the Suns do collapse, New Orleans will make it ahead of OKC. And of course, coach Scott Brooks will suffer as a result.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Come April 1, the Boston Celtics will be in the mix for a playoff spot. That might not be very bold considering the state of the bottom half of the Eastern Conference, but it’s bold considering the state of the Celtics (still in tear-down mode). They have the seventh best NetRtg (point differential per 100 possessions) in the East, having played the fourth toughest schedule. But they have a deflated record because they’re 8-16 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes. Still, having gone 3-2 on their trip West (with only Wednesday’s game in Minnesota remaining), they’re just a game in the loss column behind the eighth-place Hornets. They have an easier remaining schedule than Brooklyn, Charlotte or Detroit. And they have a positive point differential (plus-24) in almost 900 minutes with neither Jeff Green nor Rajon Rondo on the floor.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The key word is “bold” which usually translates to “crazy” or at least “preposterous.” I can live with that. So here goes “bold;” Kevin Durant shakes off these toe, foot and ankle injuries and takes his All-Star snub personally and goes on a tear for the ages to claim his second straight MVP trophy, leads the Thunder to a playoff spot and then guides them through the Western Conference playoff chase all the way to The Finals. You said “bold,” right?

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Pacers will make the playoffs — which will be a big surprise, even in the horrid East, considering the injuries and hard times they have endured since last summer.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: The Cleveland Cavaliers will win the Eastern Conference. Right now the Cavs are a dozen losses behind the Hawks for the No. 1 spot in the East, but the bulk of Cleveland’s record belongs to the Cavs of LeBron James before he took that eight-game break. The Cavs are currently riding a seven-game win streak, all of which have been decisive wins. They’ve embraced an uptempo offense, James is playing like the MVP, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving seem more comfortable and new guys like J.R. Smith and Timofey Mozgov clearly fit in well. My bold prediction may fall flat and Cleveland may not be able to catch the one spot in the conference, but it’s clear the Cavs are back.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 28


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 27

NEWS OF THE MORNING

James praises Irving’s play | Pierce laments Kobe’s injury | Aldridge in it for the long haul this season

No. 1: James praises Irving’s play and leadership — Remember way back when the Cleveland Cavaliers were struggling this season and we were all worried about their place in the East hierarchy? Yeah, we can all forget those days now. The Cavs have won seven in a row after last night’s victory in Detroit that was spearheaded by LeBron James‘ 32 points and Kyrie Irving‘s 38. After the game, James had nothing but positives and praise to heap upon his point guard, writes Joe Vardon of the Northeast Ohio Media Group:

James was OK, though, and scored 10 points in the fourth quarter. But just in case, Irving was there for 16 points in the final period.

“He was the great from start to finish, he just kept it going in the fourth quarter,” James said.

And that’s it. That’s the lot of it. There isn’t much more to be said about what transpired Tuesday night. The Cavs didn’t shoot well (37 percent), played great defense, and Irving and James combined for 70 of the team’s 103 points.

But in turning the page to tonight’s game – against Portland at The Q — it’s hard not to be whisked all the way back to Nov. 4 and consider how far Irving has come in James’ eyes since then.

That night, the Blazers beat the Cavs 101-82. James was so frustrated with Irving and Dion Waiters, he basically stood at the wing and watched while Irving and Waiters jacked up shot after shot in a bad loss.

Afterwards, James and Irving had a brief exchange in the locker room, and in a long session with reporters James said the Cavs had to break “bad habits” after four years of losing.

Irving shot 3-of-17 that night.

“Third game of the season, I don’t remember, who did we play?” Irving said with a smirk when he was asked about his personal journey since then. “You mean when everyone made something up? I think that definitely was a turn for us. Yeah, I agree with you.”

Cavaliers coach David Blatt confirmed a few days later that James and Irving did engage in something brief after the Portland game. And it was all too abundantly clear who James was talking about that night when he was talking about “bad habits.”

Anyway, consider what has happened since. Irving, though statistically better in 2012-13 than he is now, is enjoying his most complete season with 21.3 points, 5.2 assists and 1.6 steals on a team full of talent. He’ll find out Thursday if he made the East All-Star team as a reserve.

“We’ve come very, very far. Very, very far,” James said, harkening back to his “bad habits” remark. “That’s part of the reason we’ve kind of turned a corner for our season.”

And what about Irving, specifically, since the Portland game?

“He’s been great, both on the floor and off the floor,” James said. “He’s turning into a leader in his own right, and every day it’s great to see him improve. Winning is a great thing in our league. No substitute for winning, but it’s how you approach it every single day that puts you in position to succeed. It’s not about winning ball games, it’s about winning every day.

“That’s part of the process, and Kyrie has taken that full storm and if we continue to get that from him we’ll be very, very good.”

Since Jan. 16, Irving has matched up defensively with point guards Chris Paul (15 points, 4-of-15 shooting), Derrick Rose (18 points, 5-of-14), Trey Burke (two points, 1-of-10), Kemba Walker (eight points, 3-of-14), Russell Westbrook (22 points, 7-of-26) and D.J Augustin (19 points, 8-of-15).

Only Augustin had an efficient evening against him last night.

Irving is also reveling in distributing the ball. He sounds as though he’s a long way from 3-of-17.

“Everyone’s sharing the ball, everyone’s getting a touch of it, ” Irving said. “I feel we’re at our best when everybody’s in the flow of the game and our trust is out there and the ball is swinging.”


VIDEO: Kyrie Irving discusses his big game against the Pistons

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