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Posts Tagged ‘Kawhi Leonard’

Morning shootaround — March 26


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Dallas capable of 2007 payback? | Rest takes priority for Spurs | Pistons getting cozy at home | Gentry gets ‘confidence’ vote

No. 1: Dallas capable of 2007 payback? — It’s not the ideal way to go about knocking off one of your conference’s elite teams. But if the Dallas Mavericks have to go the underdog route and angle for a first-round upset of the NBA defending champion Golden State Warriors, well, they know such a crazy thing can happen. Back in 2007, it was Golden State in eighth place in the West, ousting a Mavericks team that won 67 games and was hoping for a return trip to the Finals that spring. Dallas played well enough in its loss to the Warriors in Oakland Friday – with star Dirk Nowitzki sitting for rest – to entertain such thoughts, wrote Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas.com:

“They did it to us, so hey, you never know,” said Mavs guard J.J. Barea, a rookie towel-waver on that 2006-07 Dallas team who scored 21 points as a fill-in starter in Friday’s 128-120 loss to the Warriors. “We could do it to them.”

If the playoffs started now, the Mavs would have the opportunity to trump the “We Believe” bunch for the biggest postseason upset in NBA history.

Those Warriors in ’07 had good reason to believe they could beat the Mavs. Golden State swept the season series, including a blowout in the final week when coach Avery Johnson foolishly rested his stars instead of attempting to prevent the Warriors from making the playoffs. It also helped that Golden State had Don Nelson, who knew all the deep secrets about Dirk’s game, scheming to stop his former prodigy.

These Mavs, who have a coach in Rick Carlisle whose schematic sorcery pushed the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs to seven games in the first round a couple of seasons ago, can convince themselves that they can compete with the best team in basketball.

Dallas players point to their Dec. 30 rout of the Warriors without focusing too much on the minor detail that reigning MVP Stephen Curry sat out that game. And the Mavs’ two meetings with the Warriors this month were close well into the fourth quarter.

“We’ve definitely proven we can play with them,” guard Raymond Felton said after scoring 17 points. “We’ve proven we can beat them. … If that happens that we play them in the first round, it’s going to be a battle, that’s for sure.”

There’s no such thing as a moral victory for a team that’s fighting for its playoff life. However, the Mavs hopped on their bus for the drive to Sacramento with their heads held high after somehow making it a one-possession game with a few minutes remaining despite Nowitzki and Deron Williams wearing warmups and watching from the bench, and Chandler Parsons viewing from home hours after undergoing season-ending knee surgery.

“If we’re at full strength, I think we have the firepower to put up a fight,” said center/forward David Lee, sporting the championship ring he received in a pregame ceremony before putting up 12 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists in his Bay Area return.

“They would obviously be the heavy favorites, and they’ll be the heavy favorites against anybody they play not named the San Antonio Spurs.”

One minor problem for the Mavs: They’d have to figure out a way to stop the Splash Brothers, who have combined to average 71.5 points in the Warriors’ two wins over Dallas in the last week.

It’s unclear how much help Dallas owner Mark Cuban might be if the teams clash in the postseason. Cuban, who did not travel to Oakland for Friday’s game, got busy from afar with criticizing the game’s officiating. He put out some strong stuff for the 4.9 million followers of Twitter feed about which he might just hear from league HQ:

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 No. 2: Rest takes priority for Spurs — For many NBA fans, this is Easter Weekend and will be celebrated as such right through Sunday. For the San Antonio Spurs, it’s more like Festivus – as in, “the rest of us.” Rest annually is a priority for the Spurs at this time of the season and rest is what several of the Western Conference powerhouse’s key players were scheduled from what otherwise would have seemed a crucial clash with the Oklahoma City Thunder Saturday:

Granted, in the case of forward Kawhi Leonard, injury is the concern rather than fatigue. Leonard still is nursing a bruised right quadriceps suffered against Miami Wednesday. It kept him out of the Spurs’ game against Memphis Friday, a game from which coach Gregg Popovich withheld Danny Green, Boris Diaw and Patty Mills. Leonard’s sore thigh muscle remains too “tight” to play, but the plan to sit out Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker from Saturday’s ABC prime-time game at OKC and a Grizzlies rematch Monday in Memphis is entirely discretionary. We’ve all been down this road before with the Spurs, per ESPN.com.

That’s a luxury San Antonio can afford, considering the win Friday night locked up no worse than the No. 2 seed for the Western Conference playoffs with 10 games remaining in the regular season. The Spurs can now rest key veterans as the regular season comes to a close, which in turn increases the minutes for inexperienced role players such as Kyle Anderson and Jonathon Simmons, as well as newcomers Andre Miller and Kevin Martin, who could all be called upon during the postseason.

The victory on Friday was San Antonio’s 37th straight at home, which ties the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls for the longest home winning streak to start a season in NBA history

“You just try to do your best,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “You don’t want to decondition them and you don’t want to lose rhythm. But you want to rest.”

LaMarcus Aldridge made that an easier proposition by knocking down 7 of 8 shots in the first quarter on the way to 17 points, the most he has scored in a single quarter all season. Aldridge poured in a total of 32 points, including 21 in the first half, while

Duncan started off the opening half hitting 4-of-5 for eight points. He also recorded five rebounds and five assists before finishing with 12 points and eight rebounds.

Heading into the game, Miller averaged 8.3 minutes in his previous 10 contests, while Martin averaged 10.4 minutes over the same span. The duo contributed 16 and 34 minutes, respectively, versus Memphis and gained a level of comfort in their new surroundings and new teammates that could pay dividends for San Antonio in the postseason.

Duncan called the situation “a good experience game for a lot of different guys, a good execution game for us. A lot of these guys haven’t been in our offense and executed everything perfectly to this point.”

They didn’t execute perfectly against the Grizzlies, either. But that’s inconsequential as the Spurs accomplished their goal of keeping everyone as healthy as possible heading into the playoffs, while providing needed game experience for their role players.
“It’s obviously good for these other guys to get minutes and play in situations where they get used to the guys,” Popovich said. “Kevin just got here. Kyle has … rarely started. It’s all good experience. It can only be good for them.”

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No. 3:  Pistons getting cozy at home — If a man’s home is his castle, as the old saying goes, the Detroit Pistons’ Palace (of Auburn Hills) has been their refuge and salvation in chasing a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. Two-thirds of the way through their franchise-record nine-game homestand, the Pistons are 5-1 and now two games in front of the Chicago Bulls for eighth place in the East standings, thanks to their impressive victory Friday over conference rival Charlotte. Detroit scored 72 points in the first half and survived a considerable late scare from the Hornets. While veteran teams in Chicago and Washington deal with East angst, the young Pistons took another step in their quest to play with the league’s big boys. Here are some details from the Detroit News:

Throughout their up-and-down season, the Pistons have been plagued by stretches of playing to the level of their opponent. In several of their marquee games, the Pistons have come up with an empty effort.

Not this time.

In a critical matchup for their final playoff push, the Pistons played one of their best games of the season, against a team that had dominated them in both meetings this season.

Reggie Jackson said it was as satisfying a win as the Pistons have had this season, especially given the implications.

“Definitely with the way we’ve been punched in the mouth by them twice, especially with the position we’re in, fighting for a playoff spot,” said Jackson, who had 17 points, six rebounds and seven assists. “This is one of the better wins for us, where we felt like we controlled the game. The only thing better would be if we closed out those last few minutes.”

In those last few minutes a 26-point lead with 7:49 remaining shriveled to five with 37.6 seconds left. But the Pistons were able to close it out, with four free throws in the final stretch

That lapse normally might have driven coach Stan Van Gundy berserk, but given the need for wins to solidify a playoff spot, he wasn’t nearly so critical.

“We need to win and move on,” Van Gundy said. “We played 39 great minutes. We really outplayed a very good team for 39 minutes and then their last five guys played really well. Against their best players, we were dominant and it was a great 39 minutes.”

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 21 points and seven rebounds, Marcus Morris 20 points and seven rebounds and Andre Drummond notched his 60th double-double of the season with 18 points and 14 rebounds for the Pistons, who are 5-1 — ensuring a winning record — on their nine-game home stand.

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No. 4: Gentry gets ‘confidence’ vote — When you add up the pieces – 45 defeats against just 26 victories, an emergency room’s worth of injuries and the capriciousness with which NBA head coaches get fired these days – you might reasonably conclude that New Orleans’ Alvin Gentry would be dealing with some job insecurity. But Gentry doesn’t see or feel it, nor should he if we’re to take Pelicans GM Dell Demps at his word. Demps gave Gentry the proverbial vote of confidence Friday for reporters while expressing some for himself, according to ESPN.com:

With Alvin Gentry standing by his side, New Orleans Pelicans general manager Dell Demps dismissed a report indicating friction between the two and emphasized his support for the head coach.

“I just want to say, my confidence in Alvin has not wavered,” Demps said Friday. “The only regret that I have is that our team is not at full strength. And Alvin hasn’t had the opportunity to coach the team at full strength. I think he’s done a fantastic job.”

The Vertical reported earlier Friday in a video on its website that Demps has second-guessed Gentry often this season, including in front of Pelicans players and staff and opposing teams.

But Demps, in his first interview with local media since September, disputed the claim
“I told [Gentry] this last week: I think our guys are playing hard. Last night was a great example of how hard our guys played and competed,” Demps said. “All the credit goes to Alvin and the coaching staff. I think our guys are still getting better, I think guys are showing up and working every day, and they’re buying in.

“I’m thrilled with the system, I’m thrilled with everything that’s happened. And I think it’s irresponsible reporting for someone to come and say something like that. Because it’s totally untrue.”

Coming off a 45-win campaign that saw them earn their first postseason berth since trading Chris Paul, the Pelicans were widely expected to make a leap this season.

But injuries have ravaged the roster. New Orleans, now 12th in the Western Conference with a 26-45 record, has lost 243 games to injury and shut down five players — Anthony Davis (left knee), Tyreke Evans (right knee), Eric Gordon (right finger), Quincy Pondexter (left knee) and Bryce Dejean-Jones (right wrist) — for the rest of the season.

Asked if he has any concerns about his job security as a result of the struggles, Demps said, “I feel great about my job. I come to work every day, and I feel great about it.”

Gentry, in the first year of a four-year contract that he agreed to amid last season’s NBA championship run with the Golden State Warriors, said he expects to be back in New Orleans next season.

“Yeah, I do. I do,” Gentry said. “I don’t have any doubt about that. I’ll be back, and we’ll be much better because we’ll be much healthier.”

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Hard to blame a Splash Brother for some sibling overconfidence these days:

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: D’Angelo Russell’s “ankle touched the ground when I rolled it” but the Lakers are hoping the “crazy pain” he felt is nothing serious for the rookie. … The Houston Rockets are getting effort and production from James Harden that, let’s face it, without which they they can’t survive as a playoff aspirant in the West. … Kevin Durant, who won’t have Kawhi Leonard to worry about on the court Saturday night in OKC, stands by his long-ago opinion and still likes Paul George’s game better than Leonard’s. … David Lee had to wait longer than the rest of them, but he got both his 2015 NBA championship ring and some overdue love from the fans in Oakland Friday. … As the days dwindle down to a precious few…

Blogtable: What did we learn from Warriors-Spurs, Round 2?

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: Lessons learned from Warriors-Spurs, Round 2? | Giannis’ future as a point guard? |
State of Cavs as playoffs near?



VIDEORelive the best moments from last weekend’s Warriors-Spurs game

> Biggest takeaway from Warriors-Spurs Round 2?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Not much, though both teams were outstanding defensively. The Spurs can feel good that they were able to slow the Warriors down for a night, but until they do it against the “Lineup of Death”, there can be no real peace of mind. It will be interesting, though, to see what Golden State’s coverages on LaMarcus Aldridge are going forward.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: The seven-game series we get between these teams this spring, assuming the basketball gods smile on us, won’t necessarily be a pyrotechnics show, all showy and shiny offense. And it still will be good, with plenty of moves and counter-moves, adjustments to adjustments, raw human emotion and all the expected drama. But the Spurs looked determined to have someone other than Stephen Curry beat them, an approach most Golden State opponents either haven’t fully embraced or managed to deploy. Over 100 points or under, this still is what we want, “The Finals” before The Finals.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Much has to be held in reserve considering that Andre Iguodala, Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli did not play for the Warriors. However, writing off the outcome as a “good loss” for the Warriors because they simply didn’t shoot the ball well is a bit naive. The Spurs defense — the way they guarded Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, kept men in their faces, had bigs come out to guard the perimeter — had a lot to do with that poor shooting. In the end, it was simply the latest move in a grand chess match that will only be great fun to watch in the Western Conference finals.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: That Warriors-Spurs in the real Round 3 — the Western Conference finals — would be a great chess match of coaches. We pretty much knew that anyway, along with the fact that it would be a great series in a lot of other ways, but Saturday night in San Antonio was a good reminder of possibilities for lineup maneuvers. I don’t think this regular-season game provided many real takeaways, though, at least beyond the news flash that Stephen Curry is human. Two championship-caliber teams? A terrific San Antonio defense? The Warriors feeling run down? We already knew all that too.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: We know nothing, really, because Andre Iguodala didn’t play. That said, if Tony Parker and Patty Mills can use their quickness to disrupt Steph Curry and LaMarcus Aldridge can effectively be a consistent go-to scorer, then two of the Spurs’ biggest worries are solved. It’s all a chess game right now until they meet in the West finals if we’re all so lucky.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The Spurs’ plan of countering the Warriors with size bore some fruit. San Antonio played through Boris Diaw and LaMarcus Aldridge in the post early and often, slowed down the pace, and racked up 24 second chance points, while also keeping the Warriors from getting out of the break, by beating them up on the boards. Andrew Bogut‘s absence played a part (the Spurs grabbed just one offensive rebound in 17.3 minutes with Bogut on the floor in January), but we saw why the Spurs went the other way last summer while the rest of the league moved toward trying to imitate the champs.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Western Conference finals between the Warriors and Spurs is going to be every bit as intriguing as I suspected it would before their first game of this regular season. Two of the best and most complete teams we’ve seen in recent years battling it out for every single inch, that is the way I like it come playoff time. The past, present and future of the league on display in this one series. And we get to see it in a best-of-seven series with a trip to The Finals on the line … my big takeaway from Spurs-Warriors Round 2 is I can’t wait for Rounds 3 and 4 and the rubber match in the Western Conference finals.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: How hard is it to beat the Warriors? They were finishing a back-to-back, on the road, against an opponent seeking revenge after a 30-point loss, Stephen Curry couldn’t make a shot — and it was still a tight game. The takeaway is that the best any contender can hope for is to give itself a chance by slowing the pace, because Golden State is not going to be routed in a seven-game series. (Also, isn’t it hard to imagine the Spurs winning any series in which they bench Tim Duncan? No matter how much sense it makes tactically, isn’t he their soul?)

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog That the Warriors not only have a margin of error, it’s perhaps slimmer than we realized. I know the Warriors were without 3 of their rotation players, but they’ve been without guys the last few weeks and managed to mostly just roll along. The Spurs felt like they somehow managed to slow the pace while still controlling the tempo, and of course Curry never really got going. Either way, I want to see a fully healthy Golden State team in this match-up before arriving at any conclusions.

Morning shootaround — March 18


VIDEO: Highlights from Thursday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Spurs gearing up for Warriors | Okafor’s surgery delayed | Barnes, Henson get chippy at end of game | Biyombo delivers for Raptors

No. 1: Spurs handle Blazers, start prepping for Warriors — The San Antonio Spurs surged past the Portland Trail Blazers last night en route to a 118-110 win thanks in large part to a 39-point third quarter. The victory marked San Antonio’s 43rd straight at home as a showdown with the NBA-leading Golden State Warriors on Saturday (8:30 p.m. ET, ABC) looms. Michael C. Wright of ESPN.com was on hand in San Antonio last night for the win and reports on how the Spurs are officially gearing up for their big showdown:

It would have been understandable for the Spurs to look past the Portland Trail Blazers, who they trounced 118-110 on Thursday, with an eye toward Saturday’s matchup against the Golden State Warriors. Even in the visiting locker room prior to Thursday’s game, a couple of Trail Blazers dressing for warm-ups figured San Antonio would overlook them in anticipation of the clash against Golden State.

No chance.

Starting with the team’s 109-101 triumph March 10 over the Chicago Bulls, a victory that kicked off its current five-game homestand, and leading into Saturday’s rematch against Golden State, the San Antonio Spurs appear to be as healthy and locked in as the unit has been this season.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich made sure of it, calling back-to-back timeouts with a little more than four minutes remaining and his team up 15 points on Portland.

“Stay focused, stay focused,” said point guard Tony Parker, who finished with 18 points and 16 assists. “Pop’s always been like that. It’s a 48-minute game. He was trying to prepare us for Saturday because, on Saturday, if you rest one minute [Golden State] can go up 15-0 real quick in a minute. That’s why he was like that.”

ESPN’s Basketball Power Index gives the Spurs a 66 percent chance of beating the Warriors, based on a variety of reasons. The Spurs lead the NBA in scoring margin, which historically has been more predictive of future success than a team’s win-loss record. Coming off a full day’s rest, as there’s no practice scheduled for Friday, San Antonio will host a Warriors team fresh off an outing the night before in Dallas. The Spurs are 34-0 this season in the AT&T Center.

LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard, meanwhile, finally have emerged as San Antonio’s top scoring threats. Popovich believes Tim Duncan’s eight-game absence — starting with the Jan. 25 meeting against the Warriors and ending on Feb. 10 — sped up the development of chemistry between Aldridge and Leonard.

They scored 22 points apiece and combined for four blocks against the Trail Blazers.

“[Aldridge] and Kawhi both, I think they were trying to fit in, trying to see where things are, and they’ve gotten to the point where they’re taking over,” Duncan said. “They understand that we’re going to ride them, and that builds their confidence.”

Chemistry also seems to be peaking between Aldridge and Parker over the past several games. Seven of Parker’s assists against the Trail Blazers flew Aldridge’s way.

“Love playing with him,” Parker said of Aldridge. “I know exactly where he’s going to be. It’s funny because even if he hits five shots in a row, they’re still staying with me, and I’m like, ‘Go to LaMarcus. Go guard him.’ They still give him that wide-open shot. He got a lot of shots tonight, and he’s been knocking them down. I feel like L.A. is feeling more comfortable with the system. He’s playing great.”

“It’s going to be a big one. Obviously, they beat us pretty bad in the first one,” Parker said. “So it’s our second time playing them. It’s going to be a good test. The whole stretch these last four games, all of them were great tests for us.

“They’re the defending champs, and they’ve been playing unbelievable this year. We’ve been playing great too. So we get another shot at it.”

Duncan initially tried to take a measured approach in expressing his thoughts about Saturday’s matchup, but excitement ultimately won out.

“We’re going to show up for the game and we’re going to play it. It’s not going to change our season or anything else,” Duncan said. “It’ll be a great matchup for us, two of the best records in the league, and they’re playing exceptionally well. So it’s a good test for us; a playoff type of atmosphere, playoff type of intensity, a good experience for us. But I’ll leave it at that.

“We’re sitting in a great position right now. On top of that, we’re healthy, which is a big part of it. But to have someone like [Golden State] to continue to put the pressure on us, it’s great. It’s great for our focus. It’s great to have games like this. It’ll be a lot of fun, and we’re excited about it.”

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Morning shootaround — March 16


VIDEO: Highlights from Tuesday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Spurs get into playoff mode | Anthony: ‘Phil ain’t coaching no more’Gallinari ‘weeks away’ from return to Nuggets’ lineup

No. 1: Spurs settling into playoff mode — It’s hard to say the season to date has been anything but a success for the San Antonio Spurs. They’ve won 42 straight games at home dating back to last season, lead the NBA in Net Rating (13.5) and, at 57-10, have the league’s second-best record (trailing only the 60-6 Golden State Warriors). Last night, they pulled away from the Los Angeles Clippers in a 108-87 victory that further states the Spurs’ case as a true contender. Michael C. Wright of ESPN.com was on hand and has more on how San Antonio is shifting into its postseason gear:

When San Antonio downed the Los Angeles Clippers 108-87 on Tuesday to capture its 33rd consecutive victory this season at the AT&T Center, the Spurs held a one-point advantage entering the fourth quarter before David West and Patty Mills combined for 15 points to lead an onslaught in which they outscored the visitors 37-17 in the final 12 minutes. That allowed them to post their 20th win by 20 points or more, which ranks as the most in the NBA.

So as the Spurs trend toward postseason form, guard Manu Ginobili still believes there are “so many things” the team needs to improve, which makes film sessions with coach Gregg Popovich interesting to say the least.

“Once you listen to Pop dissecting the video, you think, ‘Wow, we could be really good. I mean, we are making all these mistakes, and we’re the best defensive team in the league,’” Ginobili joked. “I think [in] the playoffs, that determination … sometimes in the 70th game or the 58th, you’re a little relaxed and you have sort of a cushion. So hopefully, when we need those wins, everybody’s gonna be very focused and we can improve a little more. I think overall on this stretch, we’ve been very good.”

San Antonio remains undefeated in its latest stretch, having played three games in six days at home against the Chicago Bulls, Thunder and Clippers. The club closes out the homestand with outings Thursday and Saturday against the Portland Trail Blazers and the Golden State Warriors.

“It’s very important,” Ginobili said. “You always want to test yourself against the best. This week, we’ve had the Thunder, the Clippers, the Blazers, the Warriors too. So it’s a very important week, and we want to do good. You can lose a game. That’s not the point. We want to get better. We want to match up against everybody and see how we react. The first 50 games of the season, we hadn’t been successful against the best teams. So we need these types of wins, and they’re happening.”

Kawhi Leonard’s play ranks as one of the major reasons the Spurs have trailed a total of just 9 minutes, 37 seconds in 396 minutes played in the fourth quarter this season at the AT&T Center.

“It was great,” Popovich said of Leonard’s performance. “Obviously [Leonard’s] length and his ability to guard a number of people, but I think it was a good change up for [Paul] to see something different.”

Added Ginobili: “Now we are used to it. So we are spoiled. Our best offensive player is our best defensive player, too. He’s young. He’s hungry. He’s talented, physically very gifted, and he can do it all. It’s no secret that’s one of the main reasons we have 85 percent wins. He’s been amazing.”

Others seem to have followed suit. Entering the matchup against the Clippers, new addition LaMarcus Aldridge put together seven consecutive outings in which he produced 20 points or more, averaging 25.3 points over that span to go with 10.3 rebounds and 1.43 blocks while hitting 57.5 percent from the field. Aldridge contributed 17 points and six rebounds against the Clippers.

It’s clear the adjustment “process” Aldridge described earlier in the season has finally come to a close, aided by a stretch in late January and early February in which Tim Duncan was forced to miss eight games due to knee soreness. Duncan’s absence accelerated Aldridge’s acclimation.

“It’s a subjective thing, but I think it’s logical to think that may have been a little bit of a catalyst where he realized he had to do some things, and there wasn’t anybody else to defer to as far as bigs are concerned,” Popovich said. “That probably had a little bit to do with it. But it’s also been a process where he’s become more comfortable in the offense; catching it in different places than he was used to. And it was a process for me, too; to give him the ball more in places that he was used to. So a little bit of both. Then, as time went on, his confidence level went up. When he would miss shots, he would realize that we don’t care. We care if you don’t shoot it when you’re open. If you miss them, we don’t care. We can’t control that.”

“Yeah, it’s the big picture and everyone is on the same page with that goal, understanding we’ve got a much bigger picture that we’re looking at, and these are just little examples throughout the way that are good for our development,” Mills said. “This stretch of games is good for us this time of year.”

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Analytics Art: Lowry, Leonard, Faried among week’s best shooters


VIDEO: Kyle Lowry runs wild vs. Cavaliers

By Will Laws, Special to NBA.com

It’s officially March, which means it’s almost crunch time for teams hanging on in the postseason race or simply hoping to improve their playoff seeding.

Two of this week’s three hottest shooters play for teams trying to beat the odds and overtake the overwhelming favorites for home-court advantage in their respective conferences. Though both the Toronto Raptors and San Antonio Spurs will likely both wind up with No. 2 seeds, their stars showed this week that they likely won’t ever concede a defeat.

PointAfter guides you through the most noteworthy shooting performances of the week with interactive visualizations.

Note: All weekly statistics cover games between Feb. 26-March 3.

Guard: Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors

Kyle Lowry only played in two of Toronto’s three games this week, but he certainly earned his day of rest during a road trip against Detroit. Sandwiched around that night off were two of Lowry’s three best scoring totals this season.

The bulldog point guard notched a season-high 43 points on 15-of-20 shooting in a two-point statement win over the Cavaliers at home last Friday. The performance was magnified by the floundering of teammate DeMar DeRozan, who went 1-of-11 from the floor.

Then, Lowry nailed 13-of-20 attempts against Utah in a 104-94 victory that kept the Raptors within two games of Cleveland in the suddenly competitive race for the top seed in the East.

If Toronto is going to clinch the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage for the first time in franchise history, Lowry will have to continue to lead the charge.

Wing: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs

The remarkable emergence of Kawhi Leonard’s 3-point range has easily been the most distinguishable improvement in his game since last season.

After never eclipsing the 38 percent mark in his first four seasons, Leonard is suddenly converting 48 percent of his 3-pointers in 2015-16. That’s good for second place in the NBA among qualified shooters, behind only J.J. Redick.

Leonard bested himself this week by making 10-of-20 shots from downtown in San Antonio’s three wins this week. That includes a dagger against the Pelicans in the final minute that completed the Spurs’ all-too-predictable fourth-quarter comeback over New Orleans on Thursday.

Overall, he sank 57.9 percent of his attempts while averaging 28 points against the Rockets, Pistons and Pelicans. Just another ho-hum week for the league’s most anonymous star, who’s shooting above league-average in all seven of PointAfter’s designated court zones.

Note: You can hover over each shooting zone to see Leonard’s stats compared to the league average.

Forward/Center: Kenneth Faried, Denver Nuggets

Kenneth Faried isn’t exactly known for his offensive potential outside of the post, but he flashed a decent mid-range game this week while cashing 69 percent (20-of-29) of his looks from the floor.

Faried, a notoriously bad free-throw shooter (58.7 percent this season), also managed to connect on 75 percent of those attempts this week. Let’s call this relatively lights-out shooting rate a tiny bright spot in a mostly lost season for Denver.

This story was published by PointAfter, a partner of NBA.com.

Will Laws is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA players, NBA historical teams and dozens of other topics.

 

Blogtable: Is Spurs’ 50-win run or Curry’s shooting more remarkable?

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: Time to move back 3-point line? | More remarkable: Spurs’ run or Curry’s shooting? | Who needs win more in Warriors vs. Thunder?



VIDEOSpurs adapting, thriving with LaMarcus Aldridge

> More remarkable: The Spurs’ streak of 17 consecutive seasons with 50 or more wins? Or Stephen Curry on pace to make about 400 3-pointers this season?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Steph Curry is a product of his environment as much as he’s a revolutionary player – if he had come along 30 years ago, the 3-point shot still would have been more of a gimmick and a catch-up tactic. The Spurs, meanwhile, defy both the odds and contemporary NBA thinking. This is the age of tanking, after all (which the Spurs essentially did to snag Tim Duncan in 1997, when it was more of a gentlemen’s wink-wink). The accepted way to get better is to embrace the roller-coaster of good seasons and bad seasons, with no one wanting to get stuck in the middle. To borrow from another sport, most franchises are like NASCAR teams willing to lose the race in the pits but unwilling to finish in the middle of the pack. The Spurs have eschewed pit stops altogether, refueling and changing tires while they’re out there running hot. That’s remarkable.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comLook, I’m as big a fan of Steph Curry’s talent as anybody. But this isn’t even a question worthy of debate. The Spurs winning 50 games for 17 consecutive seasons is off-the-charts mind-boggling. Don’t forget: one of those 50-win seasons was the “lockout season” with a 66-game schedule. The maintain this level of excellence without a single slip-up for nearly two decades is unprecedented not just in the NBA, but all of pro sports. Check back in the Year 2116 and there might never have been another such run. Then again, check back in 2116 and Tim Duncan might still be playing and the streak will be at 117.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comSpurs. That’s hard to say because Curry has been in another stratosphere and deserves every positive place in history he has claimed, but c’mon. Fifty wins for 17 seasons. Seventeen! That good for that long is an astounding stat even for those of us who have been watching and appreciating as it happens. It must be impossible to imagine for all the people who started to count out San Antonio a decade or so ago.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: This one’s a coin flip, but I’ll go with the Spurs. Their ability to avoid major injury and have a top-10 all-time player on his game for more than a decade might not get repeated for a long time if ever. Steph Curry might break his own record next year.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comOn average, less than nine teams (29 percent of the league) per season win 50 games. Just on randomness, there are 1 in 1.4 billion odds of doing something with a 29 percent probability 17 times in a row. NBA success certainly isn’t random, but 17 straight seasons of 50 wins is five more than any other streak in NBA history. Stephen Curry is doing things we’ve never seen before, but when you take offense, defense, leadership and longevity into account, Tim Duncan has been the best player since Michael Jordan left Chicago, and the Spurs have built a world class organization around him. The Spurs’ sustained success should be lauded as much as what Curry is doing.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: As wicked a season as Steph is having, it’s hard to go against a team, in any sport, putting together the kind of run the Spurs have the past two decades. Think about that for a second — they’ve been elite for the better part of the past two decades … it’s unheard of. As an organization, the Spurs have no peer in the NBA or in professional sports in this hemisphere. Their ability to continuously produce 50-win results is a standard that will be tough for anyone to match anytime soon. If Steph knocks down 400 3-pointers this season and maybe again the next two or three seasons, then we can revisit this conversation.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comCurry is amazing. But the achievement of the Spurs transcends the achievement of any single season, no matter how brilliant Curry has been.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog The most remarkable thing about Steph Curry’s season, to me, is that it isn’t really all that remarkable. Every night he does the unthinkable, to the point where we expect him to make 10 threes in a game or drill 35-footers with the game on the line. It’s a step up from his MVP performance last season, but it isn’t really surprising. The Spurs continued excellence is, to me, just remarkable. Particularly in this era where almost every team has terrific scouting and uses advanced metrics, the Spurs continue to do things differently and better than the rest of the NBA.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 225) Featuring Marc J. Spears

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Is there anyone else?

Anyone else?

Because the Golden State Warriors are ready and willing to do horrible things to you on the basketball court. Just ask the Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls and the San Antonio Spurs, yes the Spurs, who have all felt the wrath of Stephen Curry and the Warriors recently.

If you think you are coming for the Warriors’ crown, you better brace yourself for some wicked resistance from the champs, who shouldn’t have to do anything else to convince the remaining non-believers that luck had nothing to do with their championship run last season.

This is a juggernaut, and potentially one of the NBA’s all-time great teams, provided they finish what they have started this season.

Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports helps us put it all in context on Episode 225 of The Hang Time Podcast, where we examine the Warriors and their monstrous run as well as the fallout in Cleveland from David Blatt‘s firing and Tyronn Lue‘s hiring — the latest drama in the seemingly never-ending saga that is LeBron James and his return to “The Land.”

We give you all that and much more on Episode 225 of The Hang Time Podcast featuring Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports.

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com, Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

***


VIDEO: Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors dominated the San Antonio Spurs

Morning shootaround — Jan. 25


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Jan. 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lue was right pick to replace Blatt | Tony Parker is ready for Steph Curry duty | Kings’ rise fueled by Boogie, Rondo and defense | Raptors on a roll

No. 1: Lue was right pick to replace Blatt — The Cleveland Cavaliers fell flat in Tyronn Lue‘s debut as head coach. But the collective confidence in Lue as David Blatt‘s replacement remains strong after his first weekend on the job, even if he is still searching for his first win as the man in charge. Lue didn’t mince his words about the Cavaliers’ shortcomings after they lost to Chicago Saturday night and his refusal to do anything but shoot everyone straight, LeBron James and the rest of the locker room included, is what makes him the right fit. Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com explains:

As it became apparent to Cavs management over the past month that the team was not responding to Blatt with the coach-player dynamic expected in what was supposed to be a championship culture, Lue was the clear choice as a replacement. Had the team made a coaching change last summer, a league source told ESPN.com, there would have been heavy consideration for Tom Thibodeau. But 41 games into the season, after witnessing Lue continue to straddle the nearly impossible line of being a loyal assistant to Blatt while growing organic connections to the team’s stars, management felt there was no one else more qualified to take the team where it wanted to go.

“Man, he’s a gamer,” said James Jones. “Ty lives and breathes this game.”

Jones is one of six players on the Cavs’ roster with more than 10 years of NBA experience. Lue carved out an 11-year NBA career himself as a journeyman point guard, averaging 8.5 points and 3.1 assists while playing for seven teams.

Jones was the player charged with gathering the players on their off day to the Cavs’ practice facility on Friday to inform them of the coaching decision. Rather than make 14 phone calls to spread the news, Griffin told Jones and knew he would take care of it. “He’s a magician like that,” Griffin said. Within 45 minutes, 13 players reported to Independence, Ohio, to hear about the franchise’s change of fate (one unidentified player did not make it, as he left his phone in his car while he was inside his house).

Lue retired from playing in 2009, so those half dozen Cavs veterans had all competed against him at one time or another. He and Richard Jefferson, in fact, were teammates for a season in Milwaukee.

“He’s extremely detail-oriented,” Jones said. “He can tell you anything and everything about every player he played against. He’s perceptive. And I think that’s why he was able to be successful in all the various situations he was in. Good teams, bad teams, leadership role, major minutes, support [role], as an assistant coach and as an associate head coach. So, I just know that, even when you talk about his personal life, nothing is more important than the game. And that’s what’s so respected about him.”

While Lue was far from a star, never averaging more than 13.5 points in a season, his path was star-crossed. He was teammates with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal with the Los Angeles Lakers and was coached by Phil Jackson. He played alongside Michael Jordan for His Airness’ final two seasons in Washington. He later teamed with the likes of Tracy McGrady, Dirk Nowitzki and Dwight Howard.

He always had an ability to relate to the marquee guys, even when they were on the other side. Maybe it was because they saw Lue across from them — listed generously at 6-foot, 175 pounds — with his passion being really the only thing fueling his place in the league, and it made them want to work harder to get the most out of the physical attributes and skills bestowed upon them.

LeBron James was one of those opponents who couldn’t help but gravitate to Lue. “We’ve been friends since I was 17 years old,” James said.

And Lue’s Forrest Gump-like path through the league the past two decades has given the Cavs faith he’ll be equipped to handle his current challenge in Cleveland.

“There’s nothing that he hasn’t seen,” James said. “He’s played for Phil Jackson, he’s coached with Doc [Rivers], he’s been all over, so he has experience. We put our trust in him now.”

***

No. 2: Tony Parker is ready for Steph Curry duty — It’s the matchup we’ve all been waiting for, the San Antonio Spurs visiting the Golden State Warriors tonight at Oracle Arena (10:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV). It’s also the individual battle Tony Parker can’t wait to dive into, his tilt with the NBA’s reigning MVP and frontrunner for a second straight trophy, Stephen Curry. Parker knows the challenge is daunting, but that’s why he’ll get some assistance, writes Jeff McDonald of the Express News:

At some point in Monday’s ballyhooed matchup at Oracle Arena, Stephen Curry will rise up and launch from somewhere south of Santa Clara, and Parker will be powerless to stop it.

Parker confirmed Sunday what most expected. He will draw the black bean assignment of guarding the NBA’s most lethal scorer. He hopes to have help.

“They won’t leave me (on Curry) by myself,” Parker said after the Spurs’ hour-long practice at the University of San Francisco. “Obviously it takes a whole team to slow him down.”

Parker is enjoying what coach Gregg Popovich calls his best defensive season, but expecting the 33-year-old to be anything more than a speed bump in Curry’s path is asking a big much.

The NBA’s reigning MVP, Curry is averaging a league-leading 30.1 points, shooting 45.1 percent of his 3-pointer and unleashing nearly 20 field goal tries per game.

“He’s the ultimate test,” Parker said. “He’s playing his best basketball. He’s the best player in the league.”

The Spurs, you might have heard, have a pretty decent defender in Kawhi Leonard. Last season’s NBA Defensive Player of the Year said he expects to see a little time on Curry, but mentioned Draymond Green and even 7-foot center Andrew Bogut as potential assignments.

However Popovich opts to defend the Warriors on Monday, expect him to leave a few tricks up his sleeve for future meetings, particularly a potential playoff matchup.

“Pop always has some stuff that he keeps for the playoffs,” Parker said. “(Monday) will be one of those games where maybe you’ll see a little different stuff. Overall, we’re pretty much going to do the same stuff we’ve been doing.”

***

No. 3: Kings’ rise fueled by Boogie, Rondo, defense — The same three things that, according to most pundits, could prove to be the downfall for the Sacramento Kings this season are same things that have fueled their current five-game win streak and rise into the top eight of the Western Conference playoff mix. DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins, Rajon Rondo and their team defense were all considered the Kings’ biggest problem at one point or another earlier this season. But not now, per Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee, not with the Kings looking like they have sprouted playoff legs just in time for the midseason push:

The mood surrounding the Kings has been upbeat lately, and for good reason.

Sacramento has won a season-high five games in a row.

DeMarcus Cousins has been brilliant over that span, averaging 32.6 points and 14.8 rebounds.

But the Kings’ improved defense might be a bigger key to the streak than Cousins’ dominance.

The defense has been bad for much of the season.

The Kings allow the most points per game (107.2) in the NBA and rank 20th in opponents’ field-goal percentage (.454).

During the five-game winning streak, Sacramento has held opponents to 96.4 points per game and 40.1 percent shooting.

No one would call the Kings an elite defensive unit this season, but as long as they progress from the worst in the league, they like their chances most nights.

“We’ve picked it up,” Cousins said. “I still think we could do better, honestly.”

What’s changed? Besides Cousins playing like a superstar, rookie center Willie Cauley-Stein has started the last five games and injected a defensive spark.

That change came after the Kings’ last loss, Jan. 13 against New Orleans, when defensive intensity was lacking most of the night.

“I can give credit to Willie,” Cousins said. “He’s come in and, as a rookie, changed the whole identity of our team. That’s huge, especially for a rookie. So it just shows his impact on this team, and he does so many things for us that don’t show up on paper.”

The Kings have held their last three opponents under 100 points, and perhaps their most impressive win during the streak, a 91-88 victory Thursday over Atlanta, showed they can win when their high-paced offense is not clicking.

Scrappy teams that slowed the Kings’ offense have given them fits for most of the season.

In the Atlanta game, and even in Saturday’s win over Indiana, the Kings made critical stops late, as there appears to be more pride on defense lately.

“Not only Willie, but I feel like everybody’s picked up the defensive identity, and it’s helping us win games right now,” Cousins said. “So we’ve just got to keep going.”

***

No. 4: Raptors on a roll — They haven’t partied like this in Toronto in over a decade. But there is no denying coach Dwane Casey‘s team right now, not after they’ve piled up their best run during his tenure and sit just one game shy of the franchise’s best win streak since they won nine straight in 2002. They’re doing it with a deep roster filled with seasoned pros who all know their roles. Doug Smith of the Toronto Star provides the details:

Most nights it’s one guy or maybe two who have produced while others have struggled and the inconsistency of the Toronto Raptors’ bench has been a thing every now and then, even though the team has survived well enough.

But on a night when four guys have it going at the same time, it’s all fun and good times and easy baskets and stops.

Smiles all around.

Getting 51 points off the bench — the highest production by substitutes this season — the Raptors rolled to an easy 112-94 victory Sunday over the Los Angeles Clippers.

It is Toronto’s eighth win in a row and an impressive thumping of a quality opponent.

The Raptors can equal an all-time franchise high on Tuesday against Washington with a ninth straight win.

And if the team’s four backups — Cory Joseph, Terrence Ross, Patrick Patterson and Bismack Biyombo — play then as they played Sunday, Toronto will be hard to beat.

“I think (Sunday night) was probably one of our best games collectively as a second unit,” Patterson said.

Now settled into a consistent rotation after dealing with a series of injuries that muddled things, a successful routine is developing.

“There’s no uncertainty,” Patterson said. “So you know when you’re coming in, you know when you’re coming out and you know how much effort you can give, you know where your shots are going to come, you know the focus you have to have.

“If there’s uncertainty there’s a lack of energy, a lack of confidence, you tend to get frustrated so now that you know when you’re coming in, when you’re coming out, who you’re going to be in the game with, everyone’s just more comfortable out there.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Four serious candidates have emerged for the Nets’ GM job, including Bryan Colangelo and Danny Ferry … Stephen Curry has his mind on the Spurs for tonight’s clash of NBA titans, but as you might imagine. the Charlotte native had a few other things on his mind Sunday with his Panthers advancing to Super Bowl 50 in nearby Santa Clara … No surprise here, the “young Lakers” are getting schooled by the opposition this seasonSnow Way! Brooklyn stuns Oklahoma City to cap off wild blizzard weekend … Jazz point guard Trey Burke is thriving in a reserve role … The Detroit Pistons are struggling on defense, with deficiencies in both effort and communication

All-Star Starters Announced

VIDEO: Lakers forward Kobe Bryant gained the most votes for the 2016 All-Star Game.

HANG TIME BIG CITYThe 2016 NBA All-Star Game will showcase several players who have battled back from injury to return to All-Star form. It will also likely serve as a farewell to the leading scorer in All-Star Game history, Kobe Bryant.

And if the starting lineups are any indication, NBA fans appear ready to embrace small ball.

Bryant, in his 20th NBA season, announced in November that this will be his final campaign. Though he missed the last two All-Star games with injuries, Lakers guard Bryant led all NBA players in voting this season through the first three voting updates. In each voting update, Golden State’s Stephen Curry, last year’s leading vote-getter, was second behind Bryant. Bryant finished with 1,891,614 votes, ahead of Curry’s 1,604,325.

NBA All-Star 2016After missing significant time last season, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and Paul George have all had terrific first halves to the season, and fans rewarded their excellence with All-Star starting spots. While Durant was the leading vote-getter in 2014, injuries last season relegated him to a reserve role in the All-Star Game. Anthony started last season’s All-Star Game in New York, but had season-ending knee surgery shortly after the game. George missed most of last season recovering from a broken leg. This season, all three have produced at an All-Star pace and have their teams in playoff contention.

Anthony (567,348) edged Chicago’s Pau Gasol (566,988), who started last season, by only 360 votes for the final starting position in the East frontcourt.

For the second year in a row, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry made a late charge into the Eastern Conference starting five. Last year, with help on social media from Canada’s prime minister and hip-hop star Drake, Lowry made up a 100,000 vote deficit in the last two weeks of voting to pass Dwyane Wade for a starting spot. This season, Lowry again received a late endorsement on Instagram from Drake, and Raptors fans voted often via Twitter, helping Lowry (646,441) tally enough votes to leapfrog Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving (580,651) and start in the Eastern Conference backcourt with Wade.

Alongside Bryant and Durant in the Western Conference frontcourt, San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard will make his All-Star debut as a starter. Golden State’s Draymond Green, who leads the NBA in triple-doubles this season with eight, held a 12,000 vote lead over Leonard for the final spot in the Western Conference frontcourt in the most recent voting returns. The Warriors (39-4) and Spurs (36-6) have the two best records in the NBA this season. Dallas center Zaza Pachulia also made a late push, from eighth to fourth in voting for the West’s frontcourt, thanks to a concerted effort to get out the international vote. Pachulia ended up falling just 14,000 votes short of winning a starting spot, finishing ahead of Green.

Green’s absence from the starting lineup also means there are no All-Star starters who regularly play center for their teams. While both Pau and Marc Gasol made the starting lineups last season, James and Durant would seem to be the most likely candidates to start at center for their teams, or at least the tallest starters available.

Besides Green and Irving, several players are noticeable by their absences. In the Western Conference, Houston’s James Harden scored 29 points in last year’s All-Star game and finished second to Curry in regular season MVP voting. Harden finished fifth among Western Conference guards with 430,777 votes, behind Curry, Westbrook, Chris Paul (624,334) and Klay Thompson (555,513). Clippers forward Blake Griffin has been an All-Star in each of his five NBA seasons, and was voted in as a starter last year, but injuries this season have meant he’s played in just 30 games thus far. Anthony Davis was voted a starter a year ago, but an injury-riddled start to the Pelicans’ season likely hampered his chances. Davis finished ninth among Western Conference frontcourt players.

In the East, Washington’s John Wall was voted to start a year ago, but hasn’t been in contention for a starting spot this season in any of the voting updates, as the Wizards have stumbled to a 20-21 start. Wall (368,686) finished sixth among Eastern Conference guards.

The 65th NBA All-Star Game will be exclusively televised on TNT from the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Sunday, Feb. 14.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Frontcourt

LeBron James, Cavaliers — After James took the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals last season, he has led the Eastern Conference in voting this season. An 11-time All-Star, James is shooting a career low 29-percent from the three-point line, but has also averaged 25.1 ppg, 7.2 rpg and 6 apg for the 29-11 Cavs, who are in first place in the Eastern Conference.

Paul George, Pacers — After suffering a compound fracture of his right leg during a USA Basketball scrimmage in the summer of 2014, George missed most of last season, before returning for the final six games. This season, the two-time All-Star George has played in all 42 of Indiana’s games, averaging a career-high 23.7 ppg, along with 4 apg and 7.4 rpg.

Carmelo Anthony, Knicks — Last season, shortly after appearing in his 10th NBA All-Star Game, Anthony had season-ending knee surgery. This season, Anthony is averaging 21.7 ppg in 40 games, and last night passed Larry Bird for 31st place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Anthony has assumed a leadership role for the rebuilding Knicks, who after winning just 17 games a season ago, are currently 22-22 and in contention for a playoff appearance.

Backcourt

Dwyane Wade, Heat — At 34 years old, Wade is a 12-time All-Star. After missing significant chunks of the last few seasons with various injuries, this season Wade has played in 40 of Miami’s 43 games. Wade is averaging 18.1 ppg for the Heat, who are 23-20.

Kyle Lowry — Thank the north. After making his All-Star debut last season and leading the Raptors into the playoffs, Lowry has been even better this season. Through 42 games, the 29-year-old Lowry is averaging a career high 20.9 ppg and 5 rpg, along with 6.5 apg.

WESTERN CONFEERENCE

Frontcourt

Kobe Bryant, Lakers — For the first time in his career, Bryant was listed among frontcourt players, and he ran away with the vote. A 17-time All-Star, this season has turned into an extended farewell tour for Bryant and the Lakers, who are 9-35 so far this season. Bryant is averaging 16.3 ppg in 36 games this campaign.

Kevin Durant, Thunder — Durant missed most of last season after suffering a foot injury, and underwent several foot surgeries. But this season the 27-year-old Durant has returned to form, averaging 26.5 ppg through 37 games for the Thunder, who are 32-12 under first-year coach Billy Donovan.

Kawhi Leonard, Spurs — The San Antonio Spurs have won five titles during the Gregg PopovichTim Duncan era, and while they’ve usually employed an understated form, it’s been hard to overlook them this season, as they’ve racked up a gaudy 36-6 record to start this season. The 24-year-old Leonard has been sensational for the Spurs, averaging a team-high 20.1 ppg as well as playing arguably the best on-ball defense in the NBA.

Backcourt

Stephen Curry, Warriors — Last season’s NBA MVP has been even better this season. A two-time All-Star, Curry has helped the Warriors get off to a 24-0 start while averaging a career-high (and NBA-leading) 29.9 ppg. Remarkably, Curry has done this while playing just 33.9 mpg, while shooting 51 percent from the field, 45 percent behind the three-point line, and 91 percent from the free throw line.

Russell Westbrook, Thunder — Westbrook scored 41 points in last season’s All-Star Game, winning the All-Star Game MVP. This season, the 27-year-old Westbrook has been as dynamic as ever, averaging 24 ppg, 9.8 apg and 7.1 rpg, along with a league-leading 2.5 steals per game.

All-Star starters announced tonight on TNT

HANG TIME BIG CITY — The polls are officially closed, and now it’s just a matter of time before we find out if Kobe Bryant will go out on top.

The 2016 NBA All-Star Game starters will be announced tonight, live on TNT at 7 p.m. ET. In this his final NBA season, Bryant has led the NBA in All-Star voting since initial totals were announced, with 1,533,432 overall votes in the latest returns. Bryant has maintained a consistent lead over last year’s leading vote-getter and MVP, Golden State’s Stephen Curry, and has already surpassed Curry’s league-leading total of 1,513,324 votes from last season.

NBA All-Star 2016Curry (1,206,467) was second overall in the most recent voting returns, and was joined in the potential Western Conference starting five by his Warriors teammate Draymond Green (499,947), who was clinging to a slim lead over San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard (487,626) in the last update. The Warriors, of course, have put together a historic first half of the season, with a 39-4 record through today, while Leonard’s Spurs are right behind them at 36-6.

Another contest worth watching is in the Eastern Conference backcourt. While Miami’s Dwyane Wade (736,732) seems to have a starting spot secured, in the most recent updates his probable backcourt mate was Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving, who had 399,757 votes. Just behind Irving was Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, with 367,472 votes. Last season Lowry overcame a similar deficit in the final days to vault into the starting line-up. With the 2016 All-Star game in Toronto, it will be interesting to see if Raptors fans across Canada were able to marshall sufficient support for Lowry as the clock ticked down.

In the Eastern Conference frontcourt, while LeBron James and Paul George appear to have starting sports secured, the third position may still be up in the air. In the most recent voting returns, New York’s Carmelo Anthony (368,336) passed Detroit’s Andre Drummond (361,307) and was holding a slim lead for the final starting nod.

The starting lineups will be revealed during a special one-hour edition of “NBA Tipoff presented by Autotrader” featuring Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith. The special will air prior to TNT’s exclusive doubleheader featuring the Clippers at the Cavaliers (8 p.m. ET) and the Spurs at the Suns (10:30 p.m. ET).

NBA All-Star 2016 in Toronto will bring together some of the most talented and passionate players in the league’s history for a global celebration of the game. Along with the NBA All-Star Game, the Air Canada Centre will also host the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge on Friday, Feb. 12 and State Farm All-Star Saturday Night on Saturday, Feb. 13. Other events at NBA All-Star 2016 include the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game and the NBA Development League All-Star Game presented by Kumho Tire.


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