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Posts Tagged ‘Kyle Lowry’

Analytics Art: Lowry, Wiggins and Dirk among week’s worst shooters


VIDEO: Kyle Lowry is a nominee for Kia Player of the Month for March

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

As the calendar flips to April and practical jokers execute their best (read: worst) pranks, the NBA landscape heads to the home stretch before playoffs roll around. For the most part, seeding has already been set. But for the tighter races in the Eastern Conference and toward the bottom of the Western Conference playoff picture, now is not the time for players to slump.

And yet, two players on this iteration of the week’s coldest shooters are suiting up for teams either guaranteed to reach the postseason or fighting for a spot to get there. The team at PointAfter, part of the Graphiq network, will break down three of the week’s worst shooters using interactive data visualizations.

Note: Statistics in this article cover games from March 25-31.

 

Guard: Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors 

Kyle Lowry is posting the best season of his career.

Toronto’s bulldog point guard is shooting a career-best 38.6 percent from 3-point territory this season to go with a career-high 21.5 points per game. His numbers over the last week, however, have been far from the norm.

The 30-year-old veteran played four games over the past seven days, shooting a combined 23.1 percent from the field. Let’s just say that making less than one in four shots is not good. Add in the fact that Lowry went 7-of-30 from beyond the arc (including a ghastly 0-of-8 showing against the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday), and this was, without question, the worst shooting week of Lowry’s season.

Raptors fans better hope the team’s best player snaps back to form soon, or there’s a good chance Toronto will get bounced in the first round of the playoffs for the third straight year.

 

Wing: Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves

Though former No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins scores points in bulk, he still needs to improve some holes in his game before he can be considered an All-Star-caliber player. Despite his size (6-foot-8), the 21 year old averages only 3.6 rebounds (a full rebound below his rookie average) and has a rebounding percentage of just six percent.

He also dishes out two assists per contest, so his volume scoring is really the one true saving grace at this point of his career. Of course, he’s shooting just 29.2 percent from beyond the arc this season and sputtered through a lackluster week.

Aside from a 32-point outburst against the Phoenix Suns on Monday — in which Wiggins did most of his damage at the free-throw line, going 17-of-21 — Wiggins shot 31.4 percent from the field. His performances throughout the month of March were otherwise stellar, though, so consider the latest hiccup just the normal ups and downs of a young player.

 

Forward/Center: Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks

What future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki has been doing as a 37 year old this season is nothing short of remarkable. According to Basketball Reference, the 7-foot German would become the third player in NBA history to average at least 18 points and six rebounds with a true shooting percentage of 55 percent or better after turning 37. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did it twice, and Karl Malone did so once.

Of course, when you consider that Dirk has shot 305 3-pointers this season, and the other guys shot eight 3s combined in their three such seasons, Nowitzki’s campaign has to be deemed the most impressive.

But even Nowitzki is human, and it showed over the past week. After sitting out the March 25 loss against the Golden State Warriors, Nowitzki shot 6-of-15 against the Kings, 4-of-17 against the Nuggets and 5-of-23 against the Knicks in three games.

Somehow, the Mavs managed to escape with a 2-1 record despite Nowitzki’s shooting slump to keep their playoff hopes alive.

This article was originally published on PointAfter, a partner of NBA.com.

Ben Leibowitz 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 PlayersNBA Historical Teams and dozens of other topics.

Blogtable: Another early playoff exit for Toronto?

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: Another early exit for Raptors? | NBA’s best backup point guard is …? |
Impact of Griffin’s return?



VIDEOThe Starters discuss the Raptors as the playoffs near

> Toronto’s push for the top seed in the East seems to have run out of steam. Should Raptors fans be worried about another early exit this postseason?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Define “early.” If you mean before the conference finals, heck yes, they should be worried. The Raptors are respected, to be sure, but I don’t think any of the potential Top 3 seeds in the Eastern Conference (Boston, Miami, Atlanta, Charlotte) would be terrified by not having home court against Toronto in a semifinal series. The Raptors are a combined 9-3 against that quartet going into Wednesday’s game with the Hawks (7:30 ET, NBA TV), but they were 4-0 in the regular season against the Washington Wizards in 2014-15, and we know where that got them. But: at least Paul Pierce is safely in the Western Conference now, and can’t torment Toronto for a third straight postseason. And: the Raptors have two lockdown units, featuring Bismack Biyombo, Patrick Patterson, Terrence Ross and Cory Joseph  with either Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan as the fifth wheel. They rank third (with Lowry) and fourth (with DeRozan) in the league in defensive rating among five-man rotations that have logged 200 or more minutes this season. But can that group get a big bucket against a top-shelf defense that takes either Lowry or DeRozan away?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Worried is too strong a word, in addition to being a complete waste of time that accomplishes nothing. The bottom on the Eastern Conference isn’t exactly a minefield of first-round terror, so while there is pressure on Toronto not to exit early again (as it did against Brooklyn and Washington the past two postseasons), there also ought to be confidence and optimism. The Raptors’ baby steps have gotten them to this point, where they can take a significant stride by winning a playoff series for only the second time in the franchise’s two decades. Nothing, however, is guaranteed — even against Indiana or Detroit — and until the Raptors do it, they’ll be doubted. So rather than worry, Toronto fans should hope for the best while preparing for the worst.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: There’s every reason to think the Raptors have what it takes to get out of the first round this year. But until it actually happens, there’s every reason to worry. Nobody has more to prove in the first round this season than Toronto and the core of the lineup going forward.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: No more than any other fan group with high hopes should be worried about an early exit. If the Raptors win three in a row or four out of five, we’ll be back to “Should the Cavaliers be worried about the Raptors?” Toronto has a lot of reason to remain encouraged. Let’s see how the Raptors are doing in another five or seven games, see who they’re playing in the first round, and maybe then start to sweat. But not now.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comIn the first round, the Raptors are likely to see either Detroit or Indiana, two teams with severe performance mood swings. So, Toronto is likely safe this year. I’d be more worried about the semifinals. Both the Hawks and Heat are hotter teams at the moment and the Raptors would have their hands full against either, even with home court advantage. If the Raptors don’t put up a fight this spring, it’ll be a failure if only because of the quick exits the last two years. Would coach Dwane Casey survive another such disaster?

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Raptors fans should be worried right up until the moment their team finishes that fourth win in their first-round series this season. And I would say the same for any fan base that has endured back-to-back first round exits with their team as the higher seed. I like the Raptors’ chances much better this season. But like most, I need to see them advance before pondering what’s to come for this bunch. And for the record: I have no problem with a fan base worrying themselves into a state of panic until their team breaks through.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThey’re going to worry, because Indiana is one of the NBA’s best defensive teams, and Detroit is loaded with firepower. But the Raptors are fully deserving of their No. 2 seed: Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Dwane Casey have invested three years in building something together, and they’re not going to fall short this time. Their commitment to one another transcends the matchups. They’ve earned the right to reach the semifinals — and maybe the conference finals.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I’ve always believed in setting reasonable goals. The Raptors haven’t made it out of the first round of the NBA playoffs since 2002. Yes, they’ve been terrific this season, but I don’t know that anyone should be expecting a trip to the NBA Finals so quickly. To me, advancing to the Eastern Conference semis is a reasonable (and do-able) goal for the Raptors. And if they go further? That’s the cherry on top. And for what it’s worth, I don’t think Raptors fans have anything to worry about, at least when it comes to escaping round one.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 232) Featuring Jerry Stackhouse

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — While the Cleveland Cavaliers spend their days trying to figure out who they are, and perhaps better yet who LeBron James wants them to be, the Toronto Raptors are quietly giving chase for that No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference standings.

Their grind has been steady and a bit under the radar, since the basketball world’s focus has been locked on the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs for months now. But the Raptors seem bent on crashing the party. All-Stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are trying to make sure of it.

They have someone with loads of experience at their disposal in Toronto assistant coach Jerry Stackhouse, an 18-year veteran who has seen and done it all, having spent most of his life immersed in the game.

If anyone can aid Lowry and DeRozan in their quest to join the league’s elite, it’s a no-nonsense veteran like Stackhouse, who never shied away from a challenge during his playing career.

Stackhouse joins us on Episode 232 of The Hang Time Podcast to talk Raptors, his life and times in basketball and so much more.

On a more somber note we say goodbye to friend of the show and hip-hop legend Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor, who passed away Tuesday from complications of diabetes. Phife, a lyrical genius and noted hoops head, joined us on the bus during the Hang Time Road Trip 2 in October in Oakland. His work with A Tribe Called Quest is timeless and he will missed by many.

We also want to send our prayers up for our colleague and friend Craig Sager of TNT, who is once again battling acute myeloid leukemia, an aggressive form of cancer. #SagerStrong

Check out all that and more on Episode 232 of The Hang Time Podcast featuring Jerry Stackhouse.

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.

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VIDEO: Our main man Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest joined us on the bus on The Hang Time Road Trip 2 in Oakland

Morning shootaround — March 23


VIDEO: Highlights from Tuesday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Westbrook keeps rolling along | No timetable yet on Griffin’s return | Howard says Rockets can win 2016 title | Raptors closing in on team history

No. 1: Westbrook racks up another triple-double — Entering this season, Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook had 19 career triple-doubles. After collecting his third straight triple-double last night in a win against the Houston Rockets (21 points, 13 rebounds, 15 assists), Westbrook has 15 this season alone. That would give anyone reason to brag, but Westbrook remains as humble and driven as ever, something his teammates never fail to notice. Royce Young of ESPN.com has more on Westbrook’s triple-double run and its affect on OKC:

He doesn’t like talking much about himself or the things he has done, making it a point to redirect the conversation toward his teammates or about the big picture of winning the game. It’s what most professional athletes are programmed to do, redistributing praise and letting one’s play speak for itself.

But Westbrook just seems downright uncomfortable any time he gets asked about historical context or some supersized statline. That’s unfortunate, because he’s doing things at a rate that keeps the ESPN Stats & Info Twitter timeline at a steady flow.

For instance: He just put up his 15th triple-double — 21 points, 13 rebounds and 15 assists in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 111-107 win over the Houston Rockets — that put him in the company of one Michael Jordan for the second most in a season in the last 30 years. Magic Johnson had 17 in 1988-89, and with 11 games left, it almost seems probable Westbrook will jump that number with the way he’s stacking them up (six in his last nine games). That’s pretty crazy, right?

Westbrook somehow seems to stat-pad in the most selfless way possible, effectively by consuming as much of the game as he possibly can when he’s on the floor. He doesn’t go after the numbers; the numbers just come to him.

“Yeah, that’s good, man,” Kevin Durant said of Westbrook’s 15 triple-doubles. (An aside: Durant said in a decidedly ho-hum kind of way, which says a lot about how routine Westbrook has made these nights). “One thing about Russell is he doesn’t really play for that stuff. That’s not really important to us. For him, of course it’s cool to have that many triple-doubles, but it’s about winning at the end of the day.”

And here’s the thing: That’s what the Thunder do when he gets them. With Tuesday’s effort, Westbrook and the Thunder made it 15-for-15 — 15 triple-doubles, 15 wins. If the Thunder want to reach the level of the Golden State Warriors, the answer to getting there apparently is pretty simple: Westbrook just has to get a triple-double every game — or at least 73 of them, maybe.

“Nah, man,” Westbrook said, laughing. “Just play, man. Just play my game. The game will tell you what to do. Like I said all season, if it’s scoring, then I’ll score, if it’s rebounding, that’s what it is, passing, whatever it is. The game will tell you what to do, and that’s what I try to do.”

It seems as if there’s something to that, though; 15-0 is hard to ignore. Just statistical happenstance, or is something working in those games?

“I’m not sure, man,” Westbrook said. “I think just trying to find the right way to play. All those games are big games for us, because we came out with a win.”

The narrative with Westbrook once upon a time was that he shot too much, but it was never out of a ball-hogging selfishness. It was more about survival instinct and a lack of overall trust. But with more well-rounded offensive weapons playing around him now — such as Enes Kanter, namely — he has turned into the league’s best creator.

He has entirely bought in — which is the most important part. There were fears about his coachability under a new regime, moving away from Scott Brooks’ more liberal “Let Russ Be Russ” philosophy into coach Billy Donovan‘s slightly more democratic approach. All Westbrook talks about is winning, and as he has matured appears to understand and believe in the process it takes to do that. For example: The Thunder are 19-1 this season when he shoots 15 or fewer times. They’re 30-12 when he records 10 or more assists. Like the triple-doubles to wins and losses, they’re possibly just arbitrary stats that connect some dots — or maybe the combination to unlock the full potential of the Thunder.

To see Westbrook grow into the kind of player who has gone from one of the most polarizing and debated players in the league to one who now has 12 games of 15 or more assists has been a remarkable evolution. To see a player who has put up 15 triple-doubles with still 11 games to go — well, even Westbrook is shocked by that.

“Never, man. Never,” he said when asked if he ever expected that. “I’m just blessed to be able to play the game I love and have an opportunity to play with such great guys. My teammates do a great job of helping me out and I just go out and try and compete at a high level every night.”


VIDEO: Westbrook talks with Inside the NBA after his monster game

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Morning shootaround — March 14


VIDEO: Highlights from Sunday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cousins, Kings at odds againCavs all business in L.A. | Gap between Thunder and elite growsRaptors want Lowry handling ball more at crunch time | Iggy-less Warriors face test

No. 1: Cousins, Kings at odds as season winds down — Tensions between All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins and the team and front office with the Sacramento Kings have been a constant topic of discussion during Cousins’ six-season tenure there. As has been the case with Cousins throughout his time in Sacramento, he continues to deliver solid numbers on a pure stats basis — and last night was no different as he had a game-high 31 points to go along with 10 rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks in a home loss to the Utah Jazz. Afterward, writes Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee, Cousins didn’t hide his frustration with the team and his coach, George Karl, saying he was the one who suspended him last week:

There’s no hiding DeMarcus Cousins’ frustration.

The season that was supposed to be different from his first five, the season in which he had a real chance to make the playoffs, is unraveling just like the others.

(more…)

Morning shootaround – March 12


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Damian Lillard says don’t compare me to StephDavis copes with tough season for New Orleans | Heat still in a holding pattern over Bosh | Raptors have a duo in the front court, too

No. 1: Damian Lillard says don’t compare me to Steph Let’s be fair to Warriors coach Steve Kerr. He said he voted for Damian Lillard to make the All-Star team (Lillard didn’t). But when Kerr said, off-hand, that Lillard reminded him of Steph Curry after Lillard torched the Warriors last month in a Blazers’ win, it didn’t sit well with Lillard. The teams played again Friday night but Lillard had his say prior to the game and spoke with Joe Freeman of the Oregonian:

It was intended to be a compliment.

But it was perceived as a slight.

After Damian Lillard torched the Golden State Warriors for a career-high 51 points and the Trail Blazers beat the unbeatable by 32 points, Steve Kerr was asked about Lillard’s remarkable individual performance.

“He looked like Steph Curry out there,” the Warriors’ coach said, following the Blazers’ 137-105 victory in the first game after the All-Star break.

Nine days later, after Lillard scored 33 points in a 111-102 victory over the Indiana Pacers, an Indiana-area reporter asked the Blazers’ All-Star point guard if he was trying to impersonate Curry when he punished the Pacers for 20 first-quarter points.

“I don’t impersonate anybody, man,” Lillard replied to the question, clearly annoyed. “I was being Damian Lillard.”

Lillard has been one of the NBA’s best players since the All-Star break, averaging 33.5 points, 5.3 assists and 3.8 rebounds over 11 games. He’s scored at least 50 points twice, at least 40 points three times and at least 30 points eight times. He’s shooting 48 percent from the field, including 42 percent from three-point range, and the Blazers (34-31) have amassed a 7-4 record, surprisingly remaining in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race.

But along the way, instead of celebrating the individuality of Lillard, some have branded him Curry Light. They see an athletic point guard with a propensity for hitting deep three-pointers, making clutch fourth quarter shots and showcasing slick handles. They see a player with a small-school background and ties to Oakland. And they can’t help but see the reigning MVP.

Well, that can’t help but make Lillard feel disrespected.

“I respect Steph Curry,” Lillard said Thursday. “Because what he’s doing is amazing. But I’m my own man. So don’t come to me and say I’m impersonating him. You telling me I’m impersonating somebody by doing well at my job is disrespectful.”

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No. 2: Davis copes with tough season in New Orleans Raise your hand if you thought Anthony Davis would have this kind of season in New Orleans. He started slowly and didn’t get the fan vote to start the All-Star Game. Also, the Pelicans struggled despite being healthier than in the past. Finally, it doesn’t appear they’re headed to the playoffs. Davis is wrapping up a decent season personally, and recently had a sit-down with Justin Verrier of ESPN:

That’s the scary part: When you have the 11th-best season ever, how far does up go? The Pelicans clocked in at third in Zach Lowe’s preseason League Pass rankings with a simple explanation: “Anthony Davis is limitless.”

It hasn’t exactly been a ski lift to his summit since, with the Pelicans’ injury woes and adaptation to just his second NBA head coach pushing Davis one step back before any leap toward the league’s top pound-for-pound player. But with nights like Wednesday, or the 59 points and 20 rebounds he piled on the Pistons two weeks ago, that ascension doesn’t feel so far away anymore.

In the meantime, Davis has welcomed some of the spoils of his newfound stardom. He’s fast becoming the guy you’ll see over and over again during commercial breaks of national NBA games. He’s diving headfirst into first-person media. He will also make a guest spot in the latest “Barbershop” movie, set in his hometown of Chicago, poking fun at the eyebrow that seems to be his meal ticket in that realm.

“Yeah, just embracing it,” he said. “The opportunity doesn’t come around a lot for guys. When I get the opportunities I try to embrace them and have fun with it. It’s all gonna go by so fast. Everybody tells me, ‘Your career goes by fast. Just like that — snap of a finger.’ So any time I get a chance to do anything, whether it’s a movie, commercial, appearance, whatever, I try to have fun and enjoy as much as possible.”

Unlike his lofty basketball pursuits, about which he has rarely if ever demurred, Davis is a bit more conservative when it comes to these sorts of roles.

“Nah. I mean … of course, people know who I am. But I don’t feel like I’m a celebrity,” he said. “I don’t look at myself like that. Of course when you go out and people ask you for your autographs or pictures, it kind of puts in perspective how, I’ll say how big of a name you are. But I don’t go anywhere like, ‘I want front-row seats.’ That’s not me. … I don’t really look at myself like that.

“[The movie] came to me. Or, my agency. But that’s because it was in Chicago, it has ties with Chicago and all that, so I think that was a big factor. But, even still. Being in a movie is pretty fun. I guess I don’t really see myself in that light. I guess because I’m so laid back and chill. If I was more outgoing or … Hollywood, I guess. I don’t know. [Laughs.] That’s not me. I’m just real chill.”

After all, he is 23.

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No. 3: Heat still in a holding pattern over Bosh There’s no need to rush anything, given the circumstances and history. So nobody’s putting any sort of urgency in Miami as it pertains to Chris Bosh. His health is still a concern and a mystery to those outside of the organization as he continues to weigh whether to return this season, and if so, when. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, other than saying Bosh is in the team’s thoughts, remains relatively mum. Here’s Michael Wallace of ESPN.com:

In his most extensive comments on Bosh since the Heat’s leading scorer has been out, Spoelstra said that the 13-year veteran will work out with the team when it returns from its current three-game road trip.

“We love Chris, and he’s in a great place right now,” Spoelstra said after the Heat’s morning workout at the United Center in Chicago before Friday’s game against the Bulls. “He’s working out right now in Miami. When we get back, we’ll be able to do some workouts with him. But more than anything else, he’s in a good place mentally. We don’t have a timetable or anything like that. We’re just happy he’s healthy.”

Spoelstra’s comments came a day after Bosh released a statement through his public relations firm that said he does not have deep vein thrombosis — or blood clots in his leg. In the statement, Bosh also said he is working with the Heat to explore precautionary treatment options and “taking every necessary step” to make sure he remains free of the condition moving forward. Bosh’s statement did not disclose his specific condition.

“I have been working out, training with the team, watching film of the games, walking through plays and have attended home games despite not being visible to the public,” Bosh said in the statement released Thursday. “I remain positive that I will be able to return this season.” Bosh, 31, was in the midst of his best season in six years with the Heat when he was held out of the All-Star Game last month for what the team initially indicated was a calf strain. Multiple league sources confirmed Bosh’s condition was more serious than the strain, but team officials have declined to provide specific details.

This is the second time in as many years that Bosh’s season has been interrupted by a health scare. Last season, Bosh missed Miami’s final 30 games to treat a blood clot that had traveled from his calf to his lung and led to his dealing with severe pain and being hospitalized for several days.

Heat forward Luol Deng said he’s hopeful Bosh will be able to rejoin the team on the court this season. Bosh leads the team with an average of 19.1 points a game, and his 81 made 3-pointers this season are already the most he’s had in any season of his career.

“Chris has been working out; he’s been following guys and talking about what we can do better as a team,” Deng said Friday. “He’s all-in even though he’s not playing right now and not traveling with the team. For us, it just shows us who he is. Even though he would love to be playing and be part of what’s going on right now, he’s doing all he can to let us know he’s still invested.”

According to league sources, Bosh still has medical hurdles to clear before he’s allowed rejoin teammates on the court for any extensive basketball work. Team executives also declined comment Friday when asked about Bosh’s treatment status.

It also remains unclear whether Bosh’s personal medical advisers are in total agreement with the Heat’s and NBA’s medical team regarding all aspects of his health status and clearance required to play. For now, Spoelstra said both Bosh and his teammates are encouraged by his progress in recent weeks. The Heat (37-27) are fourth in the Eastern Conference standings with 18 regular-season games left and have won eight of 11 games since losing Bosh at the All-Star break.

“He’s been able to do individual workouts with the coaching staff, but it’s not about that or a timetable right now,” Spoelstra reiterated. “We’re just happy he’s around and he’s healthy. His spirits are good. We love him, and I love his spirit in being around the team.”

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No. 4: Raptors have a front court duo, too The success of the Raptors is dictated mainly by a pair of backcourt guards who made the All-Star team and cause hell for the other team. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are having solid seasons, but the difference in the Raptors, and maybe the factor that could carry them over the top, is Bismack Biyombo and Jonas Valanciunas and how well the big men are working together and complementing each other. Here’s Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun:

Head coach Dwane Casey would also tell you that his team would not be in this position without the top centre combination in Raptors history, starter Jonas Valanciunas and defensive stopper Bismack Biyombo.

Valanciunas, the fifth pick of the 2011 draft, is playing the best basketball of his career. His scoring and efficiency are up and so is his rebounding and all-around defence. He has scored at least 10 points in a personal-best 16 consecutive contests.

Biyombo has been the ying to the Lithuanian’s yang, emerging as one of the best defensive players in the league after signing a bargain-basement deal with the Raptors last summer.

Biyombo was selected only two picks after Valanciunas in 2011, but strangely, the Charlotte Hornets elected to part ways with the 23-year-old, thinking his progress had plateaued.

To Toronto’s pleasant surprise, that line of thinking was way off. While Biyombo has gotten better offensively, most notably, in his ability to catch the ball, shoot free throws and go up faster, he has made the most strides at the other end.

“He’s much more than I expected,” Casey admitted after a Raptors practice on Friday.

“I didn’t know that he would have that much impact on our defence. He’s a huge addition for our team, gives us an air of toughness, physicality … I can’t think of how many games he’s won for us with his defence. His energy, his spirit,” Casey said.

By all accounts, the scrimmages between the team’s top two pivots have been great theatre and both believe they are benefiting from competing against each other in practice and by watching each other play during games.

“Yeah, you see someone doing something good, you want to learn and be better,” Valanciunas said. “He’s motivating me every day to work hard and go in the right direction.”

That goes both ways.

“It has been great because we’ve got to push each other,” Biyombo told the Toronto Sun.

“At the end of the day, JV and I both knows that if us as bigs, we can play different, at a high level, the team is going to be special and it’s going to be a team that challenges a lot of people.

“It’s an excitement, a challenge, but at the same time, it’s a learning process for both of us.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: A tough season for Philly’s Jahlil Okafor is officially over after the first-round pick was shut down to rapid a torn meniscus. Okafor’s surgery was deemed “minor” by the Sixers … Marc Gasol might be recovered enough to play for Spain in the Rio Games, or maybe not. It’s still iffy … Would the NBA dare even think about expansion? NBA commissioner Adam Silver gave his thoughts … Former Chicago Bulls star Scottie Pippen is OK with those Kawhi Leonard comparisons … Phil Jackson is still big on Carmelo Anthony and so can folks please stop with those trade rumors? … Remember when the injury-plagued Grizzlies were forced to play a journeyman guard named Eddie Gill for 48 minutes? Didn’t think so.

Morning shootaround — March 5


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Time for Tyronn Lue and the Cavs to make a leap forward | Ricky Rubio’s days numbered in Minny? | Did the Heat come looking for Lance?

No. 1: Time for Tyronn Lue and the Cavs to make a leap forward — The Cleveland Cavaliers are still the class of the Eastern Conference but their hold doesn’t seem so vice-grip-like anymore. It’s not that the Raptors have overtaken Cleveland in the standings, but Toronto is close. And besides, in the big picture, the Cavs must compare themselves with the best of the West, if as expected Cleveland returns to the NBA Finals. Such is the life when you have LeBron James and the goal is title-or-bust. The problem is the Cavs still haven’t taken off since the coaching change to Tyronn Lue. ESPN.com‘s Dave McMenamin says the Cavs better get busy:

Lue has had precious little time to go on anything but instincts since taking over for the fired David Blatt as head coach of the Cavaliers some five weeks ago.

Not only was roaming the sidelines as a head coach new to him, but here he was doing it in the middle of the season without the benefit of a training camp or a coaching staff of his choosing. The team he was taking over needed someone to corral a collection of headstrong superstars in order to succeed, all the while adhering to a championship-or-bust decree. Simple, right?

Lue’s overall record of 12-6 is nothing to be ashamed of, but when you take over for a guy who went 30-11 to start the season, anything less than exemplary is a failure. Lue was reminded of that last week when the Cavs lost three out of four and it felt like the walls were caving in on Cleveland — at least from the outside looking in.

There was daily drama from questions about how much LeBron James has left in the tank after a deplorable performance in a loss to Detroit, to criticism directed at Kyrie Irving in a shoddy defensive showing against Toronto, to a condemnation of the entire team when they were walked all over in Washington.

There were also trade rumors about Kevin Love leading up to the trade deadline, a report detailing Irving’s discontent and his superstar, James, jetting down to Miami for a couple of days this week to get away from it all when the team had off.

There’s good reason the bags under Lue’s brown eyes are more noticeable these days. A split screen of Lue today next to a photo of him back in January when Blatt was at the helm and he was simply the highest paid assistant coach in all of basketball would show accelerated aging — as if someone placed a “U.S. presidential term” filter on his face on Instagram.

Yet he was able to rationalize each challenge.

Love and Irving? They’re still in uniform and won’t be going anywhere between now and June, which is all Lue is focused on anyway. The Raptors loss? “I was pleased about leading 46 minutes of the game and two of our Big Three not playing particularly well offensively,” Lue said.

The Wizards letdown? “LeBron [was] not playing, so I didn’t have any issue with it at all.”

***

No. 2:Ricky Rubio’s days numbered in Minny? — There have been rumors swirling for some time in Minnesota about Ricky Rubio. On the surface, it’s a bit of a surprise; Rubio is a very good passer who sees the floor and finds teammates, and his defense isn’t terrible (though not solid). He’s also young and still growing. That said, there are some in the organization, apparently some very influential voices, who feel the Wolves would be better off with a new point guard next season. Rubio’s name surfaced during the trade deadline (Kris Middleton of the Bucks was mentioned) but nothing was done. Here’s Zach Lowe of ESPN.com on the subject of Rubio and where he stands (or not):

After some initial talks, the Wolves told the Bucks they would swap Ricky Rubio for Middelton, and when the Bucks declined, the Wolves even discussed the possibility of tossing in a protected 2016 first-round pick, per league sources familiar with the matter. Other outlets have reported of the Bucks’ interest in Rubio — Bucks head coach Jason Kidd seems to have a thing for rangy point guards with busted jumpers — but they never seriously entertained trading Middleton, sources say.

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker were never on the block, leaving the Bucks with only one real counter: a point guard challenge trade of Michael Carter-Williams for Rubio. The Wolves obviously weren’t doing that, and discussions died, sources say.

The theoretical Rubio-Middleton swap, and that the Bucks now see Middleton as the more valuable player, lands smack at the intersection of several on- and off-court trends executives are still trying to grasp. Going all-in for Middleton makes a ton of sense given the skyrocketing salary cap that will warp the NBA’s financial landscape in the next two years. He’s just 24, thriving in the first year of a five-year, $70 million contract with a declining year-over-year salary after 2016-17. Almost every deal signed last summer, under the current $70 million cap, will look like a bargain in two years — especially those attached to younger two-way players like Middleton just entering their primes.

We all focus on the next superstar that might become available via trade: DeMarcus Cousins, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, or whichever name flutters into the news cycle this week. One or two of those guys might even get traded in the next year. But most don’t, and when one becomes available, the Celtics and a couple of other teams are in position to outbid almost anyone.

Given that reality, I wondered before the season if a team might use its best trade ammo to chase a younger guy who had just signed a new contract. The two names I mentioned: Middleton and Tobias Harris. It took shockingly little ammo for the Detroit Pistons to snare Harris, but the Wolves appear to have been thinking along these lines in pursuing Middleton. It’s a bold gambit, and probably a smart one: leverage Milwaukee’s disappointing season and its well-known affinity for Rubio, still a starry name, into the sort of all-around wing shooter every smart team craves in the modern NBA.

Minnesota is in desperate need of shooting on the wing, especially since dealing Rubio would probably have required Zach LaVine to shift back to point guard and pretend he understands what in the hell he’s supposed to do. Andrew Wiggins is shooting 26 percent from deep, and passes up open shots. Tayshaun Prince has made four 3s all season, and Shabazz Muhammad, the Wolves’ other non-Wiggins option at small forward, is only a threat on short corner 3s. LaVine has a nice stroke, but he’s better off the ball, and prone to nutty off-the-bounce chucks when he controls it. Karl-Anthony Towns is already a plus shooter at center, and he’ll eventually shoot more 3s. The identity of Towns’ long-term front-court partner is a mystery, especially with Gorgui Dieng a year from free agency, and the answer will be key in determining the look and feel of Minnesota’s roster going forward.

***

No. 3: Did the Heat come looking for Lance? — Not sure what to make of Danny Granger‘s claim that his teammate on the Pacers, Lance Stephenson, was hunted down by a few Heat players following his infamous treatment of LeBron James. For one, Granger said Chris Andersen was one of the players who came looking for Stephenson after Game 3 of the East semifinals five years ago, but Birman hadn’t joined the Heat yet. Anyway, here’s Adam Wells of Bleacher Report, recapping the interview Granger’s recollection:

“They were protecting LeBron. They thought Lance had done something disrespectful to him,” Granger said.

Granger said that security prevented the Heat players from entering Indiana’s locker room, and the situation did not escalate.

According to Granger, the incident occurred after Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Stephenson was captured on camera making a choking sign after James missed a free throw following a technical foul called against Granger during that game.

The Heat lost the game, 94-75, but they went on to win the series in six games en route to winning the NBA championship.

The rivalry between Stephenson and James continued as the Pacers and Heat met in the playoffs in each of the next two seasons. The most infamous moment occurred in Game 5 of the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals, as Stephenson’s ear-blowing incident produced hundreds of memes that still follow him around.

If Stephenson was trying to play mind games with the four-time NBA MVP, it didn’t work. James’ Heat got the best of Stephenson’s Pacers in all three playoff matchups.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The plan in Houston is to bring Michael Beasley along slowly, but aren’t they running out of time? … Hornets assistant coach Patrick Ewing has some decent stories to tell about his boss, Michael Jordan … Memphis has begun the inevitable youth movement, which is refreshing, especially with Marc Gasol done for the year … You might have heard that Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are pretty good together … The sale of a portion of the Wolves has hit a snagJeff Van Gundy has some things to say about his brother and as you might imagine, they’re very kind things.

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.

 

Morning shootaround — Feb. 27


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Johnson heading to Miami | They the North | Rivers wants replay challenge system | Cuban suggests deeper 3-point line

No. 1: Johnson heading to Miami The Miami Heat are in the mix to finish in the top half of the Eastern Conference’s playoff teams, but for the most part sat out the trade deadline, not making any major moves. Instead, it appears they managed to pick up a seven-time All-Star yesterday without having to move any assets: After accepting a buyout from the Brooklyn Nets, Joe Johnson will be signing with the Miami Heat, according to multiple reports. As Ethan Skolnick writes in the Miami Herald, Johnson’s relationships with Miami’s players probably had a lot to do with his decision

Dwyane Wade made it clear. If his contemporary and friend Joe Johnson accepted a buyout from the Brooklyn Nets, Wade would be “blowing up his phone” to recruit him to Miami.

Johnson, after initial resistance, did take that buyout.

It appears that Wade got his man.

According to several league sources, Johnson, a seven-time All-Star, has chosen to join the Heat after he is expected to clears waivers Saturday night. Johnson was pursued by nearly all of the NBA’s top contenders, including LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, with James even saying “he knows we want him” while speaking to reporters at Friday’s Cavaliers shootaround in Toronto.

But, according to sources, Cleveland, with its crowded backcourt and wing rotation, wasn’t one of the finalists. Johnson narrowed his choices to Miami, Oklahoma City and Atlanta due to the possibility of greater playing time, and the chance to prove worthy of another contract this season, even after earning nearly $200 million in his career.

Also helping Miami? His relationships with many of the Heat players. That started with Wade, with whom he became close when they were U.S. teammates in the 2008 Olympics.

While Johnson isn’t quite what he was — and got off to a terrible start with the broken Nets in the 2015 portion of the 2015-16 schedule — he has played extremely well since New Year’s, averaging 13.4 points and 4.4 assists and shooting 46 percent from three-point range. Miami is last in the league, shooting 32.1 percent from three-point range, and its two most reliable three-point shooters, Chris Bosh and Tyler Johnson, might both be out for the season, Bosh with a blood clot and Johnson with a surgically-repaired shoulder.

Joe Johnson has had an odd career arc, going from underrated to overpaid to somewhat underrated again. He was the player the Heat most feared in the 2014 Eastern Conference semifinals, because of his ability to post up, catch-and-shoot, play isolation and made critical plays down the stretch.

The question wasn’t whether the Heat would be interested. It was whether Miami could make it work, while also meeting another aim — staying under the luxury tax, to avoid being classified as a “repeater” team, and dealing with the punitive tax multipliers.

To stay under the tax, when it was roughly $218,000 from the line, Miami would have needed Johnson to wait to start a new Heat contract for at least another 10 days. But, with the Johnson commitment, the team began exploring options that would allow him to come sooner, and still stay under the tax. That could include waiving a current player, such as injured point guard Beno Udrih, but it would only help if another team claimed him. Miami has also explored adding outside shooter Marcus Thornton, whom it nearly signed this summer, signing Gerald Green instead; Thornton was recently traded from Houston to Detroit but, after that trade was negated by the league, was waived by the Rockets.

There was no official update on Bosh on Friday, and he didn’t speak to the media at the team’s annual gala Thursday night. But teammates are proceeding as if he won’t return this season. But now, if he doesn’t, Miami appears to have an opportunity to remain highly competitive in the Eastern Conference, with a lineup of either Amar’e Stoudemire or Hassan Whiteside at center, Luol Deng (coming off four straight double-doubles) at power forward, and either Johnson or Justise Winslow at small forward, with Wade and Goran Dragic in the backcourt. Johnson, who is 6-foot-7, could also play some power forward in smaller lineups, or some shooting guard, occasionally pairing with Wade in the backcourt.

***

No. 2: They the North The Toronto Raptors entered this season with high expectations, fueled by last season’s 49-win team and the addition of free agent DeMarre Carroll. Yet even with Carroll missing most of the season with injuries, the Raptors have met those expectations, and entered last night’s game against the Eastern Conference champ Cleveland Cavaliers looking to make a statement. They didn’t disappoint, as Kyle Lowry was up to the challenge, scoring a career-high 43 and leading the Raptors to a come-from-behind 99-97 win. As ESPN’s Brian Windhorst writes, it was a much-needed win for the Raptors, who still have plenty to prove

Trying to play it cool in the wake of one of the greatest moments of his career, Kyle Lowry went straight Bill Belichick.

“We’re moving on to Detroit,” Lowry said with a straight face, in reference to the Raptors’ next game, after his Toronto Raptors upended the Cleveland Cavaliers 99-97 after a furious fourth-quarter comeback Friday night. “It’s just a win.”

The Raptors do not have a storied history or much of an inventory of unforgettable moments outside the Vince Carter early years file. As such, it was not much of a stretch to say Lowry’s 43 points, a career high, against the Cavs rank as one of the greatest shows in team history.

Lowry’s stepback jumper over Matthew Dellavedova with 3.8 seconds left, the winning points, was unequivocally one of the best moments of Lowry’s career. It was his first game winner since he tipped one in at the buzzer when he was at Villanova. It was a moment to celebrate under any circumstances. If Lowry did so, though, it was in private.

“I will maybe enjoy it for a few minutes,” Lowry said.

Here is why.

There isn’t a day or so that goes by in which the Raptors don’t remind themselves of the past two seasons. Their first-round playoff exits, despite home-court advantage, hang over them like a cloud, amplified by the two Atlantic Division banners hanging above their bench that can feel like a needless, pointless taunt.

As masterful as Lowry was Friday — his relentless attacking and aggression wore the Cavs’ defenders out — it only briefly covered up the sting of his wilting a year ago. He refuses to let the way his body betrayed him with back and leg injuries be driven from his mind. Lowry was almost helpless in his team’s four-game sweep by the Washington Wizards last year. Injuries or no, it is a black stain on his record that doesn’t easily come off.

That’s what inspired him to report to this season in tremendous shape, and it is what won’t allow him to accept February success as anything but that.

“I know this sounds boring, and you’re going to get tired of hearing it,” Lowry said. “But we have to just focus on the process. We’ve been here before.”

Lowry has twice taken down the Cavs this season. Back in November, he scored six points and had two assists in the final five minutes of a quality win. In this one, with DeMar DeRozan and Cory Joseph battling illness and DeMarre Carroll recovering from knee surgery, the Raptors appeared to be toast without Lowry. They were almost toast anyway; the Cavs held the lead for most of the first 44 minutes.

For the Cavs, it was infuriating to watch, with Lowry getting to the line 15 times and thoroughly outplaying Kyrie Irving, who had just 10 points and one assist.

“We’ve got to get somebody who can guard him,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said.

***

No. 3: Rivers wants replay challenge system The Los Angeles Clippers have developed a reputation as a team unafraid to let referees know when the disagree with a call. But Clips coach Doc Rivers has an idea that might simplify the appeals process. As Marc Spears writes for Yahoo, Rivers is in favor of an NFL-style replay challenge system

While the NBA has instant replay, it currently doesn’t allow coaches to challenge a ruling on a play. Rivers said the NBA has discussed the subject of a coach’s challenge during competition committee meetings in recent years, but it has not come close to being approved. NFL coaches are allowed two challenges per game before the snap of the ball at any time before the two-minute warning of each half or overtime period.

“I would throw it out [a challenge flag] with both hands like a shot. That’s why I couldn’t shoot,” Rivers said Friday morning during the Clippers’ shootaround for the Sacramento Kings game. “It’s a tough one to me. It’s not like officials are trying to make mistakes, but they do at the end of the games.”

A controversial call during the Clippers’ 87-81 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday sparked Rivers’ call for a challenge system.

With 30.4 seconds left and the Clippers down 85-81, Los Angeles forward Jeff Green was called for an offensive foul on a made basket after driving into defender Danilo Gallinari. The NBA admitted on its “NBA Officiating Last Two Minute Report” on Thursday that the referee made a mistake on the offensive foul call on Green. Green potentially could have had a made basket with a free throw. Rivers described it as a “horrible call, which the league acknowledged.”

“I’ve been pushing for a [challenge] flag for a year now,” Rivers said. “We should have a challenge flag. That is the third time this year [against the Clippers] that [the NBA] has come back and said it was a bad call. It doesn’t do anything for us.”

One of the games Rivers noted was a 100-99 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Dec. 21 that he said included three missed calls late in the contest. The Clippers (37-20) are in fourth place in the Western Conference standings and 3 ½ games behind the third-place Thunder (41-17).

“The league has done a great job of transparency and that has been phenomenal,” Rivers told Yahoo Sports. “But the problem with it is you don’t get anything from it if you’re the [losing] team. … The one thing I keep saying and make the point of is the refs are trying to make it right, too. It’s not like we’re mad at refs. We just want to get it right.”

***

No. 4: Cuban suggests deeper 3-point line Shooting a 3-pointer used to be something of a novel concept around the NBA, a high-risk, high-reward chance at a bonus point on a field goal attempt. But these days some teams (e.g. the Warriors) throw up threes like they’re layups, and as ESPN’s Tim McMahon writes, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban wonders if perhaps moving back the 3-point line would open up the floor even more …

Mark Cuban has a suggestion to reintroduce the midrange shot to the NBA game: Move back the 3-point arc.

“It’s getting too close,” the Dallas Mavericks owner said Friday night of the 3-point arc, which is 23 feet, 9 inches at the crest and 22 feet in the corners, where there is no room to move it back. “Guys are shooting a foot behind it anyways. … That’s something we should look at. It’s worth looking at.

“I don’t think the number of shots would decline, but I think it would reward skill and open up the court some more. So guys would still take [3-point] shots if it’s seven inches back or whatever, but at the same time, it opens up the court for more drives, more midrange game.”

The midrange jumper has become an endangered species of sorts, while NBA players are firing 3-pointers at record rates. The single-season record for 3s is 55,137; according to ESPN Stats & Information, teams are on pace to hit 58,477 this season.

Cuban thinks moving back the 3-point arc is an idea the NBA should consider, not to discourage the deep ball, but to improve the spacing of the game.

“I think it’d open it up more so guys with different skill sets could play,” Cuban said. “It would open up play for more drives. Guys with midrange games would be rewarded and that would stay in the game. There would be more diversity of offensive action in the game.

“You’d see a little bit of decline in the 3. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing that we shoot so many 3s, but it’s worth it in the D-League to see what happens [with a deeper 3-point line].”

Cuban quickly dismissed a question about whether the NBA would benefit from adding a 4-point line, perhaps 30 feet from the basket.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Jerry Colangelo says it’s too soon to come to any conclusions about the 76ers … Is Gregg Popovich mellowing? … Dwight Howard has parted ways with his longtime agent Dan FeganTiago Splitter had successful hip surgery … Vince Carter’s eponymous restaurant is closing

Warriors Trio Headlines ‘Big’ All-Star Saturday Night

VIDEO: The Inside the NBA crew gives analysis.

NEW YORK CITY — All-Star Saturday night is going to be big. Literally.

Tonight’s announcement of the participants for All-Star Saturday night revealed a lot of familiar names and faces, but also a couple of intriguing players taking part in contests they haven’t been involved with in previous years. And while the Golden State Warriors have been nearly unstoppable on the court this season, on Saturday, Feb. 13, in Toronto’s Air Canada Centre (8 p.m. ET, TNT), the Warriors’ big three will attempt to bring home several different kinds of hardware.

NBA All-Star 2016The evening will open with the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, which will be radically different this season. Last year, the event was populated entirely by point guards, with Houston’s Patrick Beverley winning over Brandon Knight. This season, Beverley is slated to return and compete against several guards, such as Portland’s CJ McCollum, Boston’s Isaiah Thomas and Jordan Clarkson from the Lakers.

But the twist here is that they will be in a field that includes several big men, including Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins and rookie Karl-Anthony Towns. It will also be interesting to see what kind of performance we get from New Orleans’ multi-talented center Anthony Davis, who played guard throughout high school before a growth spurt moved him to the post. And the leading contender among the big men participating must be Golden State’s Draymond Green, who currently leads the League in triple-doubles with 10.

VIDEO: Wolves’ Zach LaVine will defend his title.

We can also safely assume that the evening will close with a bang. Last year’s Verizon Slam Dunk was one of the most electrifying contests in years, as then-Minnesota rookie Zach LaVine completed a series of athletic jams. LaVine will return this season, and be challenged by a field that includes Denver guard Will Barton, who has had something of a breakout campaign in this his fourth NBA season.

LaVine and Barton will be joined by two big men, in a contest where big men have traditionally struggled to score highly. Second year Orlando forward Aaron Gordon has had plenty of athletic dunks in his short NBA career, and Detroit center Andre Drummond has also shown plenty of bounce and skill around the basket, as the NBA’s leading rebounder this season.

In between these events will be the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest, which in a league increasingly reliant on the three-point shot, is rapidly becoming the evening’s signature event. While last year’s three-point contest was recognized as having one of the sweetest-shooting fields in the history of the event, this year’s event appears to be equally star-studded:

VIDEO: Steph Curry will bring his sharp shooting to Foot Locker Three-Point Contest

Stephen Curry – Curry won last year’s event, then went on to win the NBA’s MVP award and an NBA title. Leads the NBA this season in three pointers made (232) by a wide margin (77 more than his Golden State teammate Klay Thompson).

James Harden – The Houston guard finished just behind Curry in last season’s MVP voting, and the Rockets have gotten off to a slow start this season. Still, Harden is third this season in total three-pointers made (140).

Klay Thompson – The other Splash Brother has a chance to outshine Curry. Thompson is making 43-percent of his three-point attempts this season.

Khris Middleton – The Bucks swingman is averaging a career-best two made three-pointers per game, and knocking them in at 41-percent clip.

Kyle Lowry – The Raptors guard will surely enjoy a home court advantage. Lowry is averaging a career-high 2.8 threes per game, and making them at a career-best 39 percent success rate.

JJ Redick – Clippers guard Reddick has always been known as a sharp-shooter, but this season has been his masterpiece. In 45 games for Los Angeles, Redick has made 120 threes, converting at a league-best 48-percent clip.

Chris Bosh – Why just have big men in the other two Saturday night contests? To be fair, the power forward Bosh has made himself into a good three-point shooter, and he’s relied on his long-range shot more than ever this season. Consider this: During Bosh’s first nine NBA seasons, he attempted a combined 228 threes; This season he’s attempted 213 threes in Miami’s first 50 games.

Devin Booker – Booker is the youngest contestant (he’s 19 years old) in the three-point shootout, but he’s already proven he’s one of the NBA’s best shooters, connecting on threes for the Phoenix Suns at a 42-percent rate this season.

State Farm NBA All-Star Saturday Night will be televised live exclusively on TNT on Saturday, Feb. 13, from the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Canada.

 


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