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.