HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers are a must-watch down the stretch of this season, for reasons that were ridiculously obvious during a historic (for Bryant) Wednesday night in Portland.
Bryant played the entire game, scored a season-high 47 points and finished with an unprecedented stat line as the Lakers rallied from an early 10-point deficit to beat the Trail Blazers 113-106 and move a full game ahead of the idle Utah Jazz for the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference playoff chase with just three games to play.
The Lakers have won four out of five to continue their season-defining playoff stand, a charge led by the wicked Bryant, who torched the Blazers with 47 points, eight rebounds, five assists, four blocks and three steals — filling the box score in a way that no player before him has. (He also outdueled Portland Rookie of the Year favorite Damian Lillard, who was spectacular himself with 38 points and nine assists.)
Whether the Lakers make the playoffs or not, Kobe is going to make sure their final three games are played with an intensity and at a pace that is playoff-worthy. That’s just who he is and has been his entire NBA career. There have been times when his individual drive and focus have been detrimental to his team (early in his career for sure and again later, when he and Shaquille O’Neal battled for control of the team). There’s no Phil Jackson around this time to balance the scales.
All that said, there is no player I’d rather watch under these extreme circumstances. The Lakers’ season goes into the category as one of the greatest crimes against the game if a crew with Kobe, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash doesn’t find its way into the postseason.
Would it have been nice to see the same sense of urgency in December that we all saw last night? Of course. In or out the postseason, a CSI crew will be needed to comb through the scattered wreckage of the Lakers’ regular season. There’s no way it was supposed to go down the way it has.
Kobe’s fingerprints will be all over the wreckage, along with those of Howard, Gasol, Nash, Jim Buss, Mitch Kupchak and just about anyone else inside the organization you want to throw in the mix.
“It’s bittersweet,” Pau Gasol said when asked about Bryant’s dominating performance against the Blazers, in which he played all 48 minutes in a non-overtime road game for the first time in his career. “Because, I think it’s spectacular and it’s very impressive and it’s remarkable to be able to play 48 minutes and score 47 points. That’s incredible. On the other hand, I’m a player that likes to see a little bit more ball movement and better balance. I’ve always been [like that]. That’s just how I perceive this game.
“But again, he was incredible tonight. He scored a tremendous amount of points that I never scored in my life. So, like I said, it was very impressive and it’s not something that you do every night, of course.”
It wouldn’t be necessary every night if the Lakers had worked these issues out earlier in the season. They’ve been riding this roller coaster since training camp, with established veterans trying to sort out their roles — first under Mike Brown and since those first five games under Mike D’Antoni. (more…)
If Thursday’s NBA trade deadline was a movie, the audience would have walked out in the middle from boredom. This freeze came straight from the script that is the league’s new collective bargaining agreement — with its harsher luxury tax penalties and diminished roster flexibility for tax offenders — it put the clamps on a stunningly uneventful deadline day.
The big names were on the opening credits: Josh Smith, Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Eric Gordon, Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis.
Yet, when the curtain closed at 3 p.m. ET, Orlando Magic sharpshooter J.J. Redick stole the show as the lone player of significance to switch teams. The Milwaukee Bucks acquired the career 39.8 percent 3-point shooter in a six-player deal that involved five other relatively anonymous NBA names.
Only one potential blockbuster deal percolated, but ultimately died on the vine with the Atlanta Hawks going the distance in an attempt to strike a deal with the Bucks for Smith before pulling back. One reason so few big deals were discussed was simply because there wasn’t much talent realistically in play, a point that goes beyond any ramifications of the CBA.
The CBA that took effect in December 2011, and begins to smack tax-paying teams with stiffer fines next season, has clearly put franchises on the defensive. Teams that were once willing to add salary to consummate a deal no longer are. Teams that once didn’t think twice about sweetening a deal with a first-round pick, suddenly guard them with their lives.
“Cap room and draft picks, which are usually the currency of how these [big] deals get done, were at a huge premium and are something that everyone wants to have,” said Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who steered the most active club at the deadline with a couple of lower-tier deals.
There’s really no greater example of the effect of these changes than the Dallas Mavericks and their braintrust, owner Mark Cuban and president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson. Chronic and strategic over-spenders and tax payers under the old CBA, Cuban, who took on salary in deadline deals for Jason Kidd in 2008 and Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson in 2010, analyzed the new rules and reversed field last year.
He dismantled the 2011 championship team, choosing to covet cap space and the roster flexibility granted to teams that remain under the tax threshold, as well as newfound valuing of first-round draft picks as low-priced labor and trade assets.
It’s a strategy that no longer has the Mavs on speed dial of teams looking to make a deal and dump salary.
“It’s definitely a factor,” Nelson said of the CBA’s chilling effect Thursday after the deadline expired. “There’s no question that folks have their eye on the inevitable, and there’s no question that people are getting their collective houses in order.
“There’s some teams that see that on the horizon and act early, and other teams that will procrastinate and pay a dear price. But I think we’re right in the middle of that. It’s not brand-new news and so, yeah, I think you’re going to see a lot of teams try to correct themselves financially.”
The so-called “repeater” tax really has teams scared. Several clubs tried to deal away lost-cost players to avoid the repeater tax, which will whack franchises with an additional fine if they go over the tax line in three of four seasons. Golden State was successful in this venture. Chicago was not and will pay a luxury tax for the first time since its implementation.
This “repeater” penalty deterred teams from making deals that would have pushed payroll even slightly over the tax line, deals they might have normally green-lighted in the old days. So, is this the way of the future under the current rules?
“I can’t predict the future,” Morey said, “but I think the trend is more this way.”
Rockets: Morey’s stockpiling of assets the last couple years has been questioned, but he’s turned it into quite a haul starting with James Harden prior to the start of the season. The day before the deadline, Morey acquired the No. 5 overall pick, Thomas Robinson, from Sacramento. Morey’s dealing didn’t damage an abundance of cap space next summer that will be used to pursue a top free agent such as Dwight Howard and Josh Smith.
Bucks: GM John Hammond didn’t get his big fish in Smith, but he pulled off the deal for Redick, who should really help a club that’s been skidding down the East standings and needs a boost. Hammond held onto Jennings and Ellis and will have room to maneuver in the summer to add more pieces.
Thunder: GM Sam Presti continues to make shrewd moves. The acquisition of Ronnie Brewer from the New York Knicks for a second-round pick gives OKC another strong perimeter defender to help Thabo Sefolosha.
Celtics:Jordan Crawford might not be Jamal Crawford, but he can score in bunches and Boston was desperate to bolster its injury-ravaged guard backcourt. Boston fans are the winners here, too, with the team’s heart and soul, Garnett and Pierce, staying put.
Mavericks: Sure, on the surface, picking up 3-point specialist Anthony Morrow for defensive-minded guard Dahntay Jones doesn’t sound like much. But then SheridanHoops.com reminded us of this Dwight Howard interview in Russia when he named Morrow as one of a handful of players he’d like to have as a teammate.
Blazers: The team with the leanest bench in the NBA finally got some help in a minor deal that netted OKC guard Eric Maynor, who lost his job early on to Reggie Jackson. Maynor will help Rookie of the Year frontrunner Damian Lillard reduce his 38.5 mpg workload.
Hawks: They didn’t get the deal done to ship out Smith and now it seems they will lose him for nothing in free agency. On one level, however, it’s hard to say that this is a definitive loss. They’ll keep Smith (who might or might not come away from this experience deflated) for the rest of the season, and, with any luck, try to keep him while recruiting friend and fellow Atlantan Howard next summer. If GM Danny Ferry wasn’t pleased with the deals presented, it doesn’t always pay to take something, anything just because in the end you could be left with nothing. If Smith leaves, the Hawks will take the cap space and look to spin it in their favor.
Magic: They deal away a useful player and one they drafted in Redick and hand over his Bird Rights to the Bucks. There was no guarantee that Redick would re-sign with Orlando, but he at least had said the door was open to a return. The Magic’s Josh McRoberts to Charlotte deal for Hakim Warrick is a head-scratcher.
Knicks: They didn’t upgrade at any position and gave away a solid defender in Brewer, who was starting for the club during their hot start out of the gates, but had slipped out of the rotation. New York did use the roster vacancy to sign veteran power forward Kenyon Martin.
Nets: They failed to land another high-priced player in Smith and failed to unload one of their own, Kris Humphries.
Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.
The one recap to watch: The kind of stat work that LeBron James is putting in of late is nothing short of amazing — to both NBA fans and to his contemporaries, too (see below). That’s one game you have to watch again just to soak in all the ways James is dominating the field during his run. But once you’re done with that, we’ll direct your attention to the Nuggets-Raptors game, which was solid in its own right. Neither team had a real solid grip on this one until the final seconds, when Rudy Gay nailed a baseline jumper over Corey Brewer to salt away the victory. Don’t look now, but Toronto is 4-2 in its Gay era and is 6 1/2 games behind Milwaukee for No. 8 in the East.
LeBron’s stats run amazes ‘Melo – LeBron James has been simply dominant of late, scoring 30-plus points in his last six games while shooting 71.7 percent during that stretch. His fellow Olympic teammate, Carmelo Anthony of the Knicks, has been nothing short of wowed by James’ run, writes Jared Zwerling of ESPNNewYork.com. Apparently, Anthony is keeping tabs on what LeBron does each night:
“That’s crazy,” Melo said after the New York Knicks practiced on Tuesday. “What he’s doing right now is unbelievable. I mean, he’s scoring 30-something, 40 points in 11 shots, 10 for 12 and things like that. He’s on an incredible run right now.”
How has James been doing it? Primarily inside. In his five games before Tuesday, he was shooting a blistering 84.1 percent (37 for 44) from inside 10 feet, where 44 of his 77 shots have come. From 10 feet or beyond, he’s shooting 54.5 percent (18-for-33).
Melo said that when the opportunity presents itself, he tries to watch his buddies around the league, notably James, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade, to see how they’re performing.
“I don’t really watch too much TV, but when my friends are playing, I want to see what they’re doing, I want to see their games,” Anthony said. “Most of the time, they’re playing when we’re playing, so it’s kind of hard to watch. But when there are games like (this past) Sunday, when there are a lot of games on at one time, of course we’re watching.”
So what does Anthony think about James’ MVP chances?
“It’s early. It’s the All-Star break right now,” he said. “He’s definitely playing like a Most Valuable Player, so we’ll see what happens.”
Anthony himself is in the MVP conversation. His Knicks have the second-best record in the Eastern Conference (32-17) — behind the Heat (34-14) — and he’s averaging a career-high 29.0 points per game. He scored 20 or more points in 31 straight games and has two 45-point outings. He’s also single-handedly carried the team a couple of times down the stretch, such as Feb. 8 against the Minnesota Timberwolves when he put up 12 points in the fourth quarter en route to a game-high 36 points.
Anthony and James will team up Sunday in Houston for the Eastern Conference All-Star team.
Nuggets’ Randolph shines in opportunity — It wasn’t all that long ago that Anthony Randolph was viewed as a player destined for stardom in the NBA. He’s shown moments of on-court promise from his rookie days with Golden State to his time spent with the Knicks and Timberwolves. But Randolph can never seem to lock down consistent playing time and has yet to deliver on the stardom so many saw in him as a rookie. He’s getting minimal time in Denver this season, too, but stepped up pretty big last night in the Nuggets’ loss to the Raptors, writes Benjamin Hochman of the Denver Post:
The forgotten Nugget. That’s what Anthony Randolph had seemed to be. He had played 122 minutes all season. But in Tuesday’s game, with four key players out, Randolph played 27. And there he was at the foul line with 42.6 seconds left and his team down one. On the road.
He made them both.
Yes, Denver lost 109-108 at Toronto, but Randolph’s efforts were valiant — 16 points, seven boards, a game-high three steals and a team-high plus-10.
“Anthony was the surprise,” coach George Karl said. “He played a game I thought we could win with him playing.”
The 6-foot-11 forward was on the court in crunch time. Yes, he made some mistakes. His defense was shaky at times. But he made a positive impact.
“We’ve seen it in practice all year, and today he got a chance to show it,” teammate Ty Lawson said. “He’s just versatile. … He can handle the ball, rebound, and does all the little things. (With injuries), there’s a lot of minutes out there, and he’s definitely hungry to get some. He can be a big-time player with an opportunity.”
Indeed, numerous Nuggets are questionable for Wednesday’s game at Brooklyn.
As for Randolph’s explosion, Kenneth Faried can relate. The second-year forward seldom played a season ago until Nene got hurt. “The Manimal” came to be. No, I don’t expect Randolph to have a Faried-like impact, but for Karl, it’s all about who he’s comfortable throwing out there, and Randolph gave the coach some confidence going forward.
Asked about his teammate, Faried said: “He wanted to come out and prove he could play, and he did that tonight. He just has to get more selective with some of his shots, (I say) respectfully. Coming from a teammate, I know how Coach is. As a guy who didn’t play (and then) started playing, he’s just got to come out with energy and enthusiasm and pick his spots sometimes.”
Westbrook, Thunder show their frustration after loss – After storming off the court during a win over the Grizzlies a dozen days ago, Russell Westbrook drew some flak for both that action as well as his postgame interview with TNT’s Craig Sager. Famously, when Sager asked Westbrook a question he didn’t like, Westbrook responded with an “If that’s what you say, bruh,” that made its rounds on the internet as much as his on-court actions did. Westbrook was at it again after last night’s blowout loss in Salt Lake City to the Jazz which snapped OKC’s four-game win streak. The Oklahoman’s Darnell Mayberry has plenty of juicy tidbits to share (see video here):
The postgame locker room was more lively than anything in the last eleven minutes of the 109-94 loss the Thunder took on the chin. Scott Brooks was brutally honest. Russell Westbrook lost his patience with the media. And Kevin Durant even tried to not be nice. It was all part of a strange night inside Energy Solutions Arena, where the Thunder’s four-game winning streak came to a sudden stop and the recent road woes reared their ugly head once again.
Westbrook simply walked off. The temperamental team captain got fed up with a reporter’s question and suddenly turned his back and ended the interview before walking away. The exchange was as follows. “Russell, did you guys lose this game, or did the Jazz win this one?” Westbrook: “Whaaaaat? Bro, what are you talking about, man? I’m out man. Y’all n***** trippin’.”
Westbrook’s sound bite was good for a quick laugh and easily makes his top three all-time interview quotes. But what was sad about the exchange is that everyone on the team, players and staffers included, simply supported him. They came to his defense even after he lost his patience, snapped on a reporter, prematurely ended an interview and used offensive language. It’s one of the reasons Westbrook will always be Westbrook. Nobody seems to hold him accountable, on the court or in front of the cameras. A pretty generic question, one that players get asked all the time in every sport, caused him to erupt. But by now, that behavior is just what you expect out of Westbrook.
Westbrook’s top three sound bites:
“No more questions for you, bro.”
“Whaaaaat? Bro, what are you talking about, man? I’m out man.”
“If that’s what you say, bruh.”
Durant picked up his 10th technical foul of the season tonight. It was pretty petty. But whatever. It happened with 6:06 left to play. Durant delivered a (sort of) hard foul on Alec Burks as he raced down the left sideline. It was enough to send Alec Burks “flying” into the first row of baseline seats. Durant received a flagrant 1 foul for the play and got hit with a technical for pushing Carroll when he walked in his direction and spouted off a few words. A light shoving match ensued and Durant and DeMarre Carroll picked up double technicals.
Durant moved into a tie for second place with his technical fouls, two behind leader DeMarcus Cousins. It puts KD six away from an automatic one-game suspension and prompted me to ask Durant if he will now be more mindful of his growing temper in the final 30 games. “I’m just going to keep being me,” Durant said. “I don’t give a damn. I’m going to just keep being me.”
Ex-Laker Fox questions Howard’s commitment — NBA TV analyst and Hang Time podcast regular Rick Fox, who, oh yeah, also was a key part of the Lakers’ three-peat teams of the early 2000s, had some harsh criticism for big man Dwight Howard on the radio. According to Janis Carr of the Orange County Register, Fox took to the airwaves to not only question Howard’s dedication to the Lakers, but also whether or not Howard wants to win a title or not:
The Lakers were back in town for about 24 hours after their two-week Grammy trip before their season was interrupted again by more negative comments, this time by former Laker Rick Fox.
Fox is the latest to single out Dwight Howard for much of the Lakers’ troubles. During a radio interview, he not only questioned Howard’s long-term commitment to the Lakers, but also the center’s dedication to winning.
“I would like to see more of the actions that tell me that winning is the most important thing to him, and him being a Laker and I don’t get that yet. I haven’t gotten that,” Fox said.
“Maybe in another city he could fool people with that, but unfortunately being in Los Angeles, you have got a legacy of great players who have shown the city what it looks like, what commitment looks like, what championship play looks like, what championship talk looks like.”
Fox said Howard feels entitled and wants to be the No. 1 option in the offense, much like it was when he was in Orlando.
“At the end of the day, he’s had teams where he has been No. 1 for a number of years and it’s led him to exactly what he has — which is no championships,” Fox said.
“He’s in a situation with guys who have won championships, who are pointing out to him that the way you are behaving is not championship behavior. Therefore you can either get in line and we can successfully accomplish something as a group, or try to prove the point that your way might be better.”
Lillard keeps getting the job done — Blazers rookie Damian Lillard is the odds-on favorite to take home the Kia Rookie of the Year Award and games like the one he had last night in Miami only bolster his overall case. Lillard struggled through a 1-for-16 night in Portland’s last game, a loss to Orlando, but as he’s done all season, rebounded from that performance with a solid night. He put up 33 points and was 10-for-18 from the field as the Blazers gave the Heat all they could handle before folding down the stretch. The Oregonian’s Jason Quick has more on the bounce-back performance of Portland’s burgeoning star:
After the worst shooting night of his career Sunday in Orlando – when he made 1-of-16 shots – the Trail Blazers rookie sensation on Tuesday stifled any discussion, any drama, any doubts about his rookie legacy. He made 10 shots. And 10 free throws. And scored 33 points against the defending NBA champion Miami Heat.
In other words, he did exactly what everyone in this organization expected.
“I wasn’t worried,’’ LaMarcus Aldridge said while pulling on his socks, which were no doubt bored off his feet. “He doesn’t lack any confidence. I knew he would come back tonight. When his first two or three went in, I was like, ‘He’s back.’’’
Where’s the fun in that, Kid?
How about some juicy shooting slump? Some defense you can’t figure out? Some chink in your armor? Something to get the locals riled up and talking.
No? All we get is this same steely demeanor? This composure befitting of a veteran? The same steady stare, which makes it impossible to determine whether you are having a good game or bad game? Whether the Blazers are winning or losing?
Surely there has to be a time, when the cameras aren’t around, and the doors are closed when you have lost it. When you have broken down. Gotten angry. Lost your composure. Tell us you are human. Tell us you are not unflappable. Tell us when the last time it happened.
“I really can’t remember,’’ Lillard said after taking time to think about it. “It was probably at my little sister or something. Of course you have little arguments with people about sports, and stuff, but I can’t remember I was legitimately upset or angry at somebody.’’
“I don’t know what you want me to say,’’ Lillard said, a hint of a smile emerging. “I’m not putting on a show. This is me. This is me all the time. I probably laugh a little more when you guys aren’t around, but that’s about it. J.J. (Hickson) here is always asking me what I’m laughing about.’’
Well, none of your rookie colleagues are laughing with you. You have never allowed there to be a Rookie of the Year discussion. Never. Not since that brilliant 23-point, 11-assist debut against the Lakers. How about inviting Bradley Beal to the table by having a bad week? Allow Andre Drummond to get some publicity. And why don’t you allow that poor Kia representative visit another city – perhaps New Orleans and Anthony Davis – to present the Rookie of the Month trophy?
This excellence of yours has become so … so … normal.
There has been no chance to poke holes in your game. No chance to analyze what teams are doing to stop you. And don’t you know you are supposed to be rattled by a bad shooting night? Doubt yourself? Show at least a hint of fear?
“After a game like the game in Orlando, I couldn’t wait to play again,’’ Lillard said. “I let that game go on the plane the night we left Orlando. Everything was normal. It’s not like I could go back and shoot those shots over again. All I could do was get to the gym the next day.’’
ICYMI of the night: Just when Timofey Mozgov thought it was safe to get some minutes again in the Denver frontcourt, DeMar DeRozan takes some of the wind out if his sails …:
HANG TIME, Texas — The last time James White and Gerald Green were in a slam dunk contest together, they practically blew the roof off with a 2010 Russian Cup performance that’s become a YouTube cult classic.
The Pacers’ 6-foot-8 Green won the event in 2007 at Las Vegas when he leaped over a table to dunk in the final round to beat out Dwight Howard and finished runner-up to Howard in 2008 despite a crowd-pleasing first-round dunk where he blew out the candle on a cupcake that was sitting on the back of the rim.
State Farm All-Star Saturday Night, an all-inclusive skills showcase, will take place on Feb. 16 at the Toyota Center in Houston and will be televised live by TNT at 8 p.m. ET.
Two of the league’s long-range shooters — Stephen Curry of the Warriors and Steve Novak of the Knicks — will lead opposing teams in the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest. Curry’s West teammates will be Ryan Anderson of the Hornets and Matt Bonner of the Spurs. Joining Novak on the East team will be Kyrie Irving of the Cavaliers and Paul George of the Pacers.
It’s worth noting that Novak will be returning to the Toyota Center court where he broke into the NBA with the Rockets in 2006, while the league’s top 3-point percentage shooter — Kyle Korver of the Hawks — will not take part. But Anderson has the most 3-pointers this season.
The Taco Bell Skills Challenge will have Texans Tony Parker of the Spurs and Jeremy Lin of the Rockets joining forces with Trail Blazers rookie Damian Lillard for the West against the Hawks’ Jeff Teague, the Sixers’ Jrue Holiday and the Bucks Brandon Jennings.
The Sears Shooting Stars Competition, which features NBA players, WNBA players and NBA legends, will have James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Tina Thompson, Maya Moore, Robert Horry and Sam Cassell of the West taking on an East team of Brook Lopez, Chris Bosh, Swin Cash, Tamika Catchings, Dominique Wilkins and Muggsy Bogues.
As part of the new format, points earned by each conference throughout the four All-Star Skills Competitions will determine the conference that earns the title of 2013 State Farm All-Star Saturday Night champion. Dwyane Wade of the Heat will serve as the East team captain and the Clippers’ Chris Paul will lead the West.
In addition, NBA Cares and State Farm will make a joint donation of $500,000 as part of the event, with $350,000 going to the winning conference’s charities and $150,000 to the runner-up conference’s charities. All of the charities will be selected by the conference captains, the NBA, and State Farm.
In drafting players for Team Chuck and Team Shaq in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal went in opposite directions with their top picks. Shaq built his foundation on the high-scoring backcourt of Irving and Lillard, while Barkley went for big men in Anthony Davis and Faried.
Also on TNT tonight — before the big Los Angeles Lakers-Boston Celtics game — Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal will draft the teams for the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, a game between some of the NBA’s best rookies and sophomores that will be held on Friday night of All-Star weekend (Feb. 15 onTNT, at 9 ET).
Steve Aschburner: This is easy. I take Kyrie Irving with my No. 1 pick because he’s the best player on the board. I take Kenneth Faried No. 2 because he has only one gear — he can only play with a high-revving motor, which puts him way ahead of anyone else in an exhibition like this. Plus, I like “sophomores,” who don’t want to lose to the newbies. But that said, I take Damian Lillard with my No. 3 pick because this will be his chance to make a Rookie of the Year statement on a huge stage. Two point guards? Bah! I remember the havoc caused by AllenIverson and StephonMarbury down the stretch in the 2001 All-Star Game.
Anthony Davis, by Noah Graham/NBAE/via Getty
Fran Blinebury: 1.) Kyrie Irving — All-Star games are all about scoring points and nobody here can do that better than Irving, who’s already good enough to also be playing in the main event on Sunday. 2.) Anthony Davis — The No. 1 pick in the Draft has trailed Damian Lillard from opening night in the Rookie of the Year race in an up-and-down season. But he’s got all the tools to the foundation player for the Hornicans/Pelinets and can use this chance to strut his stuff at both ends of the floor. 3.) Chandler Parsons — Never miss an opportunity to suck up to the hometown crowd in an All-Star Game. And he’s the kind of excitable guy who could rise to the occasion.
Jeff Caplan: Kyrie Irving: Look around, the NBA is the League of the Point Guard right now and this kid is phenomenal, already an All-Star in just his second season. I know I’m not alone with this pick (Damian Lillard is a solid choice, but I think a distant second right now) because Irving is so dynamic with the ball and is a scoring machine. Get him some offensive help and his assists will go up. I love that he’s deadly from 3-point range (41.2 percent) and is an excellent free-throw shooter (86.2 percent in first two seasons). Anthony Davis: To go with a top-notch PG, you need a big man that can get the job done on both ends of the floor. As the 6-foot-10, 220-pound Davis matures, he’ll be a double-double machine. He’s shooting 53 percent from the floor, 72 percent from the free-throw line and he’s averaging 1.8 blocks a game, a number that will surely rise as well. It’s been a relatively quiet season for Davis after a ton of hype as the No. 1 pick, but this kid is going to be really good for a really long time. Kawhi Leonard: Now you need a solid wing to go with the point guard and center and I can’t think of a more well-rounded player than Leonard. He plays the game the right way, which is why he’s fit like a glove in San Antonio. He’s going to give you excellent defense on every possession and his offensive game is really nice, too. His numbers (9.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg) would be more impressive on a team that wasn’t loaded with offensive weapons. Still, what’s tremendous about this kid is he can put it on the floor, shoot the mid-range jumper and, hugely important, he he can really pop the 3-pointer — he’s shooting it at a nearly 40 percent clip — while shooting 48.4 percent overall.
Scott Howard-Cooper: 1. Kyrie Irving. Because he’s not just one of the top young players in the league. Irving is on his way to being a star in any age group. 2. Anthony Davis. Interior defense, rebounding, the ability to handle pressure or accept a complementary role, plus an underrated offensive game. 3. Klay Thompson. If I have Irving and Davis, I next want someone who will make defenses pay from the perimeter. I thought hard about going with Bradley Beal off his breakthrough shooting in January, and because I was a Beal guy to begin with, but the injury and Thompson’s longer track record swayed me to Golden State.
John Schuhmann: My first pick is Kyrie Irving and I don’t have to give you a reason. My second pick is Andre Drummond for his size and athleticism. He can finish at the rim offensively, protect it defensively and run the floor with my franchise point guard. And my third pick isKawhi Leonard for both perimeter defense and shooting. I think he’d be the best complement to the other two.
Sekou Smith: Kyrie Irving is an easy No. 1 pick in a game like this, given the nature of the game and the fact that he’s the best player available. But we’re trying to build a team here and that means I need balance, which makes Kenneth Faried my no-brainer choice for pick No. 2. There other guys who are true centers in this game, but none of them operate with a motor that can match what Faried brings to the party. If Kyrie needs someone to run the floor or fill the lane, Faried will be there. Rebounds, defense and pure energy in its rawest form is what you get from “The Manimal.” My third and final pick is Klay Thompson, the best pure shooter in the game. He can just line up and pick his spots and wait for the dish from Kyrie and see if he can’t break the 3-point shooting mark for this game.
DALLAS – Portland Trail Blazers forward Nicolas Batum is clearly battling pain in his ailing right wrist.
It has recently hampered the all-around solid play he’s delivered this season to a Blazers team that lacks depth and desperately needs his versatility to remain in playoff contention. He’s averaging just 9.8 ppg since he hurt his wrist going for a dunk during a Jan. 19 practice, and in the three games since an MRI revealed no structural damage, the forward has averaged just 7.0 ppg and he’s taken just 18 total shots.
“It doesn’t always really bother me, but today it was really painful. I was really scared about every contact.”
Tonight, the Blazers, who at 25-23 are one game back of Houston for the eighth and final playoff spot, play at Dallas (8:30 ET, League Pass).
“I’ll use him the same way as we usually do and if the ball swings to him and he doesn’t feel comfortable shooting, he can still make plays off the dribble,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said of Batum after the team’s Tuesday practice in Dallas. “It’s just a matter of time before it starts feeling better, but he needs to be productive in other ways and that’s as much as he can do. I may or may not run the same type of things for him, but he still needs to do what he can do.”
Batum, 24, has delivered on his big payday during the offseason. Portland matched Minnesota’s four-year offer sheet and signed Batum to a deal worth more than $43 million. He’s increased his production in several areas to career highs. His scoring average (15.7 ppg) is up nearly two points a game and his assists have risen from 1.4 last season to 4.9 this season, second behind rookie point guard Damian Lillard. His 6.1 rpg are up 1.5 over last season and he’s also averaging career highs in steals (1.4) and blocks (1.8).
Illustrating just how thin the Blazers’ bench is, Batum is on the high end (38.8 mpg) among three Blazers, including Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge, who average more than 38 minutes. Going without their third-leading scorer and most versatile player for any extended period of time would diminish Portland’s playoffs hopes.
For now, Batum is expected to continue to play, and Stotts will look for small contributions from others to pick up the slack.
“I think everybody has to do a little bit more,” Stotts said. “I don’t think one guy has to do a lot more, just everybody has to do a little bit more.”
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Only the Portland Trail Blazers’ Rookie of the Year frontrunner Damian Lillard has started as many games in his first season as Golden State Warriors rookie forward Harrison Barnes.
The No. 7 overall pick out of North Carolina has proved invaluable to the Warriors’ surge this season considering they’ve been without injured swingman Brandon Rush and until just a few nights ago, Andrew Bogut.
“Coach has done a great job of setting a standard of what we need to come in and do every single day, playing hard and we have a lot of guys that want to win,” Barnes said last week during a phone interview with NBA.com. “Guys like David Lee, Steph Curry, veteran guys that really want to win and that filters down to everybody else.”
After Barnes put up 12 points, four rebounds and five assists in 39 minutes during Thursday’s 100-97 win over the Dallas Mavericks, Golden State improved to 29-17, just one-half game behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the coveted No. 4 spot in the West standings. Two nights earlier, Barnes threw down a massive, right-hand jam on Raptors center Aaron Gray as part of a 14-point, five-rebound night.
So why does it seem like the 6-foot-8, 210-pound Barnes has been buried under the rookie hype machine during the first half of the season?
“I think I’ve been playing pretty well,” Barnes said. “I’m starting on a team that is fifth in the West, so there’s really no complaints.”
In two weeks, the nation will get a better look at the incredibly athletic, intrinsically low-key Barnes as he’ll participate in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge that kicks off All-Star Weekend in Houston.
The 2012 rookie crop is turning out to be pretty stout. While Lillard, the No. 6 overall pick, is having an absolutely mammoth season as Portland’s starting point guard and is a major reason why the Blazers remain in playoff contention this late into the season, Barnes is showing to have been a deft pick by the Warriors.
Barnes, 20, has provided athleticism and tough, physical play on both ends while instantly being inserted into the starting lineup with Curry, Klay Thompson and Lee. Barnes ranks in the top 10 among the rookie class in most key statistical categories. Against Dallas on Thursday, he posted up O.J. Mayo, spun around him and got to the rim and buried a pretty turnaround jumper over Vince Carter.
(Of course, Carter taught Harrison a rookie lesson at the end of the first half when Carter faked an injury in the corner. Barnes left him alone and Carter broke to the basket wide open and got the pass for a dunk. Lesson learned.)
Barnes is averaging 9.0 ppg (seventh among rookies), 4.3 rpg (eighth) and 25.5 mpg (ninth). His 3-point percentage (35.9) ranks fifth, his overall shooting percentage (43.1) is 11th and he ranks eighth in made free throws (71).
The Warriors look to keep getting better when Phoenix visits Saturday night. Then it’s a tough, four-game road trip through Houston, Oklahoma City, Memphis and Dallas.
“We’re going to continue to stay humble and continue to play with that edge,” Barnes said. “We never want to get complacent, never want to just be happy with where are. We’re going to continue to work every single day continue to get better.”
While James Harden of the hometown Rockets will be in the lineup to serve as unofficial host for the 2013 NBA All-Star Game in Houston, evidently the voters — fans and coaches — haven’t received the memo that the NBA is making a big splash in Brooklyn this season.
Harden, who was traded from Oklahoma City four days before the season opener and made a splash by scoring 37 and 45 points in his first two games, will make his All-Star debut in his brand new home town.
Yet despite their being the hottest team in the league with nine wins in the last 10 games and currently holding down the No. 3 spot in the Eastern Conference, the Nets were shut out when the reserves were announced for the 2013 NBA All-Star Game Thursday night.
A poll of the league’s head coaches added seven players to each team.
Chris Bosh joined teammates LeBron James and Dwayne Wade on the East team, making the defending NBA champion Heat the only team with three players that will take part in the 62nd All-Star Game, which will be played at Houston’s Toyota Center on Feb. 17 (TNT, 8:30p.m. ET).
In the Western Conference, the Spurs’ old reliable twosome of Tim Duncan and Tony Parker were voted in for their 14th and fifth times, respectively, while the vote split up potential duos from other teams.
– Chris Bosh, Heat — If they were the Three Tenors, LeBron James would be Pavarotti, Dwyane Wade would be Domingo and Chris Bosh will always be “that other guy.” Numbers aren’t flashy, but he sacrifices his game to make it all work. | Highlights
Tyson Chandler, Knicks — He averages a double-double of 12.1 points-10.9 rebounds, leads the league in shooting (.674) and defends the rim as if he were a hungry fat man protecting the last cheeseburger on the planet. Justice is done. | Highlights
Luol Deng, Bulls – Coaches love the lunch pail players, the guys who show up for work every night. He leads the NBA in minutes, is his team’s top scorer and top defender in a season when the Bulls are surviving without Derrick Rose. | Highlights
Paul George, Pacers — He’s not just keeping the seat warm for Danny Granger, but playing like the Pacers’ MVP. With six double-doubles in the last two-plus weeks, he closed fast and has led Indiana’s surge after a slow start. | Highlights
Jrue Holiday, Sixers – In a season when Philly fans search for rare and exotic sightings of Bigfoot and Andrew Bynum, the dynamic guard is the reason to go to the games. He’s the only player in league averaging 19 points and nine assists. | Highlights
Kyrie Irving, Cavaliers — Look past the Cavs’ 11-32 record at these more pleasant numbers: 20.7 points, 5.7 assists, 39.9 3FG%, 20.7 PER. And the kid is only 20. Are the coaches already buttering him up for free agency? | Highlights
Joakim Noah, Bulls — The numbers say it all — 12.2 points, 10.9 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 2.1 blocks, 1.3 steals per game. The hyperactive one is having the finest season of his career and symbolizes coach Tom Thibodeau’s driven attitude. | Highlights
The lowdown:The pair of Bulls on the frontline probably squeezed Nets center Brook Lopez out of a spot. Deron Williams would have been everyone’s preseason pick, but struggling with his shot didn’t help. Maybe coaches also didn’t like his griping that led to his coach, Avery Johnson, getting fired. You could have made a case for Boston’s leading scorer Paul Pierce, but with Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo already voted in by the fans, it’s unlikely the coaches wanted to reward the 8th-seeded Celtics with a third man. Do you really see a group of coaches warming up to J.R. Smith? Brandon Jennings of the Bucks and Greg Monroe of the Pistons are just too far under the radar.
LaMarcus Aldridge, Trail Blazers — The plan was to build Blazers into a playoff team next summer. But on a roster with less depth than a wading pool, L.A. scores (20.6), rebounds (8.6) and keeps them as a surprise club in the mix this season. | Highlights
Tim Duncan, Spurs — Oh, so you foolishly left him out of the All-Star Game for the first time last season? Well, the 36-year-old geezer responds by turning back the clock and turning up the heat to keep the Spurs as a real threat in the West. | Highlights
James Harden, Rockets – A bit ironic that The Beard’s first All-Star honor comes just when he’s shot 28-97 (.289) in his last five games. But he’s shown he can carry the mantle of the top dog and will represent the home team in Houston. | Highlights
David Lee, Warriors — Statistically, a no-brainer as the top PF in the West — 19.6 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists. His biggest challenge was probably splitting votes with teammate Stephen Curry on a Warriors team that has truly surprised. | Highlights
Tony Parker, Spurs – Coach Gregg Popovich keeps ratcheting up the pressure on him every season by raising the bar of great expectation and Parker goes right on clearing it. Seems the coaches understand just how hard that is to do. | Highlights
Zach Randolph, Grizzlies – You could make an argument for teammate Marc Gasol anchoring the defense. But flip the light switch every night and there’s Z-Bo with 16.1 points and 11.6 rebounds, which add up to a league-leading 27 double-doubles. | Highlights
Russell Westbrook, Thunder – The most polarizing player in the NBA has struggled all season with his shot, but ranks in the top five in steals and the top six in assists while churning away with fellow All-Star Kevin Durant to build OKC’s league-best record. | Highlights
The lowdown: As difficult as it was to pare down the list, imagine how much harder things might have been if Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol and Kevin Love were healthy/up to par. In many cases in the West, it became an intramural competition with Lee beating out Curry, Randolph elbowing Marc Gasol aside and Aldridge getting the nod over rookie Damian Lillard. The surging Nuggets were overlooked, maybe because they’re too well-balanced. The Clippers’ turbo-charger off the bench, Jamal Crawford, was also snubbed. But if anybody’s got a reason to complain here, it’s Curry. a
Chris Paul was voted an All-Star starter for the Western Conference and Jeremy Lin, after being in contention based on early returns in the NBA’s annual popularity contest, was not. Order has been restored.
That means the West opening lineup went according to what would have been easy preseason predictions — Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin and Dwight Howard in the frontcourt, Kobe Bryant and Paul at guard — and that means the coach’s vote on the reserves won’t have to use a roster spot to right a wrong at the level of Lin ahead of CP3.
It will be down to the usual hard choices to fill out the roster. This year, that could mean picking between teammates (Stephen Curry or David Lee in Golden State), between teammates at the same position (Memphis reps Zach Randolph or Marc Gasol for the frontcourt), and whether the newest test for a rookie (Damian Lillard) will be patience.
There are always cases to be made. But here are the seven most-deserving selections for the West All-Star bench. (For Steve Aschburner‘s look at the East, click here.)
There are several names. Russell Westbrook. James Harden. Tony Parker. Curry. Lillard. Jamal Crawford. There just isn’t much room for debate for the two picks.
Harden is fourth in the league in scoring at 26.3 ppg and the leader of the sudden recovery in Houston, the host city. Westbrook is top five in assists and steals.
My picks: Westbrook and Harden.
Now we’re talking debate. (And now we’re also talking a little strange to have a year without Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol or Kevin Love.)
Randolph (16.4 ppg, 11.6 rpg) and Lee (19.7 ppg, 10.9 rpg) are double-double power forwards for teams in or pushing for the top half of the playoff race. Gasol (13.2 ppg and 7.4 rpg) and Serge Ibaka (14 ppg, 8.3 rpg) can’t keep up statistically, but defense is a major reason their teams are winning at a brisk pace. Tim Duncan, usually a popular pick for coaches in years he is not voted a starter by fans, is at 17.1 ppg and 9.6 rpg in just 30.1 minutes. LaMarcus Aldridge (20.6 ppg, 8.6 rpg) has helped push the Trail Blazers into playoff contention ahead of schedule. Denver’s Kenneth Faried (12.3 ppg, 10.0 rpg) and Utah’s Al Jefferson (17.4 ppg, 9.8 rpg) may get support.
My picks: Randolph, Duncan and Lee. Randolph likely breezes in. It would be a surprise if Duncan does not make it to Houston, either this way or via the wild card, but it will be interesting to see if Duncan and Parker split votes among coaches around the West for San Antonio representation. The Spurs could get both and deserve both, but some voters may prefer to get more teams involved rather than have two subs from the same team. Lee could be a close call to make it.
THE WILD CARDS
Two players chosen by coaches regardless of position. Some voters may be weighing the other picks — starters and their previous selections by position — and some may simply go for most deserving and not care if the roster is guard-heavy. But everyone mentioned above but not added specifically as frontcourt or guard will be a candidate here.
My picks: Parker and Curry. Parker for sure. If some coaches are debating whether to pick one from Golden State’s Lee-Curry option, Curry deserves a slight edge. The position breakdown could make that moot, though.
DALLAS — Jeremy Lin didn’t hesitate with an honest answer when asked if he feels like an All-Star.
“Uh, no,” he said softly after another choppy performance Wednesday night as the Houston Rockets lost for a fifth consecutive time, unable to claw all the way back from 15 points down despite several chances late to go ahead.
Lin nearly redeemed a poorly played game with a 14-point fourth quarter, but he missed one of his two free throw attempts on two critical trips to the free-throw line in the final two minutes. A badly executed pass in the paint with Houston down three with 14.9 seconds to go for his fourth turnover essentially sealed a 105-100 victory for the suddenly surging Dallas Mavericks, who have won four in a row.
“If I could hit a free throw,” said Lin, who was 6-for-10 from the stripe, “it’d be nice.”
It’s been that kind of season for Lin with the Rockets, who also happen to be the host for the Feb. 17 All-Star Game at Toyota Center. While it’s James Harden – unable to salvage his own brutal shooting night with an aggressive fourth quarter that ended with two failed drives to the rim — who can make a strong case for consideration to be an All-Star starter (although he doesn’t have the fan votes), it is Lin who is being afforded the possibility.
If enough Linsanity fans on at least two continents stuffed the All-Star ballot boxes in the final weeks of fan voting that ended on Monday night, the ex-New York Knicks player and the first American-born NBA player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent could be an All-Star starter for the West while bumping MVP candidate Chris Paul to the bench.
Starters for both conferences will be announced Thursday night (7 p.m. ET, TNT). At last count two weeks ago, Lin was in third place among West guards, well behind Kobe Bryant, but only about 46,000 votes behind the Clippers‘ sensational Paul. CP3 is averaging 16.8 points and ranks second in the league in assists and first in steals, while pacing his team to a 30-9 record.
“That’s the furthest thing from my mind, to be honest, being on a five-game losing streak,” Lin said after finishing with 19 points and four assists, numbers that blurred a five-point night on 2-for-9 shooting through three quarters. “I don’t even care right now, I’m just trying to get a win.”
The Rockets dropped to 21-19 after racing to a season-best seven games over .500 on January 8. They have a deficient defense, but a team-oriented, jet-pack offense that has challenged West-leading Oklahoma City all season as the league’s top-scoring outfit.
Lately, the offense has sputtered and Lin, averaging 12.3 ppg and 6.3 apg this season — and shooting an abysmal 27.6 percent from beyond the arc — hasn’t matched any of those numbers during the skid.
If Lin sneaks past Paul as a starter, the West coaches who pick the seven reserves will have CP3 at the top of their lists. But a deserving guard among a slew of them producing at an All-Star caliber — from Harden to Russell Westbrook to Tony Parker to Jamal Crawford to Stephen Curry to even rookie Damian Lillard – will unfairly be left off the 12-man roster.
Such is the risk of a fan vote, and especially one that draws from an international fan base.
“I would say I’m doing OK,” Lin said. “But I know I’m capable of more, I know I’m better than what I’ve shown throughout the first half of the season.”
Hardly the tone of an All-Star.
Which is why Lin never hesitated with an honest answer to the question.