Posts Tagged ‘Orlando Magic’

2016 Trade Deadline live blog

From NBA.com staff reports

One of the busiest days in terms of NBA roster chatter and speculation is here: trade deadline day. As we close in on the 3 p.m. ET deadline for all NBA teams to make trades, we’ll keep you in the know about any rumblings and reported deals as they happen. While you’re keeping up, don’t forget to check out our Trade Tracker and other 2016 Trade Deadline coverage.

Live blog — Part II | Live blog — Part III

UPDATE, 10:14 a.m. ET — Gasol/Kings chatter

A Wednesday-night report had the Sacramento Kings “pushing hard” to get Pau Gasol from the Chicago Bulls. Sam Amick has an update…

UPDATE, 10:05 a.m. ET — Celtics holding strong

No team has the ability to trade for a star more than the Boston Celtics. Al Horford and Dwight Howard are two impact players on the market, but both could be free agents this summer. Horford is on an expiring contract and Howard has a player option for next season that he could decline.

UPDATE, 9:48 a.m. ET — Suns forwards on the market

Could Mirza Teletovic reunite with head coach Jason Kidd? From ESPN’s Marc Stein

Among the many things Phoenix is discussing today, sources say, is dealing Mirza Teletovic to Milwaukee. But the Bucks’ largest trade exception is agonizingly too small ($5.2 million) to absorb Teletovic’s $5.5 million salary, so any deal would have to involve players from both teams.

Teletovic is on an expiring contract and the Bucks don’t have much of a shot at the playoffs, so it’s hard to see much motivation for Milwaukee to get a deal done there.

UPDATE, 9:09 a.m. ET — The buyout list

Once the deadline passes, some players with expiring contracts could get waived by non-contenders so that they could sign with teams heading to the playoffs.

In order to be eligible for the playoffs, a player would have to be waived by March 1 (and doesn’t necessarily have to sign until the last day of the regular season).

UPDATE, 8:49 a.m. ET — Lawson may be done in Houston

When the Rockets play in Phoenix on Friday, Ty Lawson might not be with them, whether they’ve traded him or not.

Lawson played less than nine minutes in the Rockets’ last game before the All-Star break and has shot a career-low 39 percent this season.

UPDATE, 7:58 a.m. ET — Teams interested in Knicks’ prospect

New York doesn’t have many assets with which to trade, but according to Orazio Cauchi of Sportando.net, former 2015 Draft pick Guillermo “Willy” Hernangomez is drawing some interest.

UPDATE, 7:37 a.m. ET — Rockets turned down one Dwight deal

Frank Isola of the New York Daily News reported this morning that the Houston Rockets are working hard to trade Dwight Howard. The Charlotte Hornets offered up Al Jefferson and Spencer Hawes for Howard, Isola reports, but that deal was dismissed.

UPDATE, 6:51 a.m. ET — New overnight (and what you might have missed)


VIDEO: David Aldridge breaks down the Cavs’ trade chatter

Kings pushing hard to acquire Bulls’ Gasol — The Sacramento Kings find themselves on the perimeter of the Western Conference playoff picture, a manageable 4 1/2 games behind the Utah Jazz for No. 8. Trade talks have swirled around some members of the team (Ben McLemore, Kosta Koufos, Rudy Gay and others), but it seems they are potentially eyeing a massive deal with the Chicago Bulls. The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Chris Mannix report the Kings are trying to pry All-Star big man Pau Gasol from Chicago in a deal that would send he and Tony Snell to Sacramento for Koufos, McLemore and an adjustment on the 2016 first-round pick the Kings owe the Bulls.

Adding on to this, K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune confirms Gasol is indeed available, but the Bulls want “a rotation player who can make an immediate impact and a first-round pick”. Additionally, Snell and forward Taj Gibson are also on the market as the Bulls’ front office is trying to determine how to manage the futures of Gasol (who will likely opt out this summer and become an unrestricted free agent) and injured center Joakim Noah (also a free agent this summer). Gibson, for his part, would be surprised at being dealt, Johnson reports. “I would be surprised, but I understand that it’s a part of the business,” he said. “An offer could be made and things could be shaken up. It doesn’t mean they don’t like you or don’t appreciate you. It’s just that it’s a business. I totally understand it. I’ve been in (rumors) my whole career.”

Report: Jazz, Rockets discuss guard swap — If the season ended today, the Utah Jazz would be in the playoffs for the first time in four seasons. However, point guard play has been an issue for Utah all season long and according to Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune, the Jazz are looking to send point guard Trey Burke to the No. 9 team in the Western Conference, the Houston Rockets, for troubled point guard Ty Lawson. Burke is the Jazz’s fifth-leading scorer this season and has played his entire career with Utah. He was an All-Rookie first team pick in 2013-14 but has become more of a backup since then, playing behind rookie Raul Neto this season.

Howard, Lawson tune out trade chatter — Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard was mentioned in a possible trades with the Charlotte Hornets and has been in and out of trade rumors all season long. Point guard Ty Lawson found himself tied into a potential deal last night with the Utah Jazz. Yet neither player is sweating what happens next, writes Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. Said Howard: “You always put it out of your mind. There’s always going to be rumors. People are always going to say stuff. At the end of the day, none of that stuff matters.”

Cavs reportedly offer Varejao to Magic for Frye — If nothing else this season, the Cleveland Cavaliers have made it clear this season that it’s championship-or-bust time in Ohio. That being said, it’s not surprising to see Cleveland in the mix for several trades today, including a deal that would send Anderson Varejao back to the team that originally drafted him. According to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, the Cavs approached the Orlando Magic — who selected Varejao with the 30th pick in the 2004 Draft — for sharp-shooting big man Channing Frye. However, the likelihood of Orlando accepting the deal is in question, reports Sam Amick of USA Today Sports.

Love, Shumpert likely staying put with Cavaliers — As much as Cleveland is in win-now mode, though, it isn’t about to part with two key starters as the season winds down. Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal reports that Kevin Love and Iman Shumpert are expected to be with the team after the deadline (and Anderson Varejao may not get moved either). But even if the big names on this roster are staying put, don’t be surprised if smaller contracts/names on the roster — those of Richard Jefferson, Mo Williams and Jared Cunningham — are used in a possible deal.

Report: Celtics willing to part with Nets’ pick … for right priceKevin Love has been on the wish list. So, have Blake Griffin, Al Horford and other marquee big men. The Boston Celtics have plenty of assets with which to swing a trade — the foremost being the Brooklyn Nets’ No. 1 pick in the 2016 Draft. Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald writes that the Celtics would be willing to trade away that sought-after pick for the right suitor, but they wouldn’t deal the pick in a trade for Griffin or Horford.

Thunder unlikely to make deal, but may mine buyouts — Oklahoma City is in a comfortable position in the Western Conference as the post-All-Star break portion of the schedule approaches. Yet should they be thinking about a trade as today’s deadline — and star Kevin Durant‘s offseason free agency — draws closer? Royce Young of ESPN.com digs into that issue and posits that the Thunder would be better off seeing who if a useful veteran (like Joe Johnson or Kevin Martin) is bought out at the trade deadline and perhaps swinging for them instead of a big-time trade.

Kupchack doesn’t expect Lakers to be busy today — The Los Angeles Lakers have a lot of potential talent on their roster in the form of Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo Russell. The Lakers are still waiting to see what all that potential becomes and, as such, are not expected to be involved in trades today, writes Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News. General manager Mitch Kupchak said as much in his address to the media yesterday and while the team has veterans on expiring deals (Roy Hibbert, Ryan Kelly, Metta World Peace) and others on somewhat reasonable contracts (Brandon Bass, Lou Williams), interest around them has been nil.

 

 

Trade deadline rumblings — Feb. 17

We’re a day away from the NBA trade deadline and already we’ve seen two deals take place this week — the Detroit Pistons sending Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova to the Orlando Magic for Tobias Harris and the Charlotte Hornets, Miami Heat and Memphis Grizzlies hooking up on a trade that basically sent Courtney Lee to Charlotte.

As we close in on trade deadline day, we’ll keep track of the latest social media rumblings about deals right here, so check back often!

UPDATE, 2:25 a.m. — Jazz ready to ship Burke for Lawson

ESPN.com’s Marc Stein weighed in late Wednesday night that the Jazz and Rockets are nearing agreement on a deal that would send Ty Lawson to Utah in exchange for Trey Burke.

Of course, they Rockets are also still trying to move their big piece:

UPDATE, 12:15 a.m. — Gasol wants to stay put, but Sacramento pushing hard

The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski weighed in with further details on Pau Gasol’s future late Wednesday night, reporting that the Spanish legend has “significant interest” in staying put with the Bulls. That hasn’t deterred the Kings from lodging a firm offer.

Bulls general manager Gar Forman has been discussing trades on several fronts involving Gasol, although some teams interested in Gasol worry that his love for Chicago could cloud his motivation in fully committing to a short-term stay for the rest of the season, league sources said. Gasol, 35, plans to decline the player option on the $7.7 million owed to him in 2016-17, but has significant interest in signing a new deal to remain with the Bulls, league sources said.

The Bulls have discussed deals with multiple NBA teams on Gasol, but one discussion lingered on Tuesday, league sources told The Vertical’s Wojnarowski and Chris Mannix: Gasol and Tony Snell to the Sacramento Kings for Kosta Koufos, Ben McLemore and a lowering of the lottery protections on the 2016 first-round pick that Sacramento owes the Bulls.

UPDATE, 11:20 p.m. — Clippers like Anderson, but do they have enough assets? 

The Los Angeles TimesBen Bolch added the Clippers to the Ryan Anderson Sweepstakes late Wednesday. But as he notes, Doc Rivers probably doesn’t have the assets necessary to convince the Pelicans to part with their sharpshooting forward.

The Clippers had expressed interest in New Orleans Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson and Orlando Magic forward Channing Frye leading up to the deadline to move players at noon PST on Thursday, according to an executive close to the situation who was not authorized to discuss possible trades publicly.

It wasn’t clear whether the Clippers could construct a package that would entice the Pelicans to have interest in a deal. The Clippers do not have a first-round draft pick they can trade before their 2019 selection and appear reluctant to part with any of their core players.

Perennial All-Star Blake Griffin, the target of recent trade speculation, is apparently staying put, according to Bolch. One player who might be leaving? Lance Stephenson, whose stock has plummeted dramatically since his breakout 2013-14 season with the Indiana Pacers. Still only 25 years old, he’s averaging just 4.7 points per game this season.

UPDATE, 8:30 p.m. — Do Hawks hold the key to this year’s deadline? 

At 31-24, the Hawks have been good but not great, as was the case last season when they won 60 games and reached the Eastern Conference Finals. Speculation is high that they’re willing to move a high-value piece or two — specifically Al Horford and/or Jeff Teague — to recapture their 2014-15 form. Indeed, the Hawks are apparently so involved in trade talks that The Vertical’s Chris Mannix reports they’re holding up progress for the rest of the league.

Also, Mannix followed up reports from earlier in the day to corroborate that the Bulls are “motivated” to move All-Star power forward/center Pau Gasol.

UPDATE, 8:15 p.m. — Can Celtics finally land Love? 

With an abundance of assets at his disposal, Celtics GM Danny Ainge has made repeated runs at three-time All-Star Kevin Love in the past. Details are sparse, but he’s apparently making yet another one, according to CSN New England’s A. Sherrod Blakely, with a potential three-team deal that would deliver Love to Boston.

The deal is still “very fragile” at this point, but it does provide Boston the best shot it has had in landing a player the Celtics have coveted for some time now. Boston has spent a significant amount of time in recent weeks trying to convince the Cavs to part ways with Love, only to be rebuffed. The Celtics have pursued bringing a third team into the mix as a way of sweetening the deal to Cleveland’s liking.

Blakely cites New Orleans as the most likely third party with stretch four Ryan Anderson, whose shooting skills the Cavaliers covet (see below).

UPDATE, 7 p.m. — Rockets aggressively shopping Howard, Lawson; Jazz make Burke available

Desperate for a jump start, the hugely disappointing Rockets — currently ninth and out of the playoffs in the West at 27-28 — are looking to unload Dwight Howard and Ty Lawson according to ESPN’s Marc Stein. One of their targets for Lawson is Utah’s Trey Burke, who has shown signs of improvement in his third season with the Jazz.

UPDATE, 4:40 p.m. — Cavaliers remain active, eye Pelicans’ Anderson

It’s no secret that the Cavaliers hope to add some talent before Thursday’s deadline. And that help could come in the form of sharpshooter Ryan Anderson, according to Frank Isola of the New York Daily News and Marc Spears of Yahoo!

UPDATE, 3:48 p.m. — Martin hopes Wolves reward him for professionalism

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Kevin Martin hopes to land on a winning team after two-plus seasons with the young Timberwovles, per Marc Spears of Yahoo!

UPDATE, 2:47 p.m. — Vogel: Hill not being shopped

Indiana Pacers point guard George Hill was in some trade talk the last few weeks, but according to coach Frank Vogel, he’s not being shopped.

UPDATE, 2:36 p.m. — Millsap’s moment of levity

The Atlanta Hawks have had some of their star players — such as Jeff Teague and Al Horford — in trade rumors the last few weeks. Hawks All-Star forward Paul Millsap provides a good simile about how players take trade chatter.

UPDATE, 2:07 p.m. — Report: Conley not on block

The Memphis Grizzlies traded one guard yesterday (Courtney Lee) but don’t seem to be in a big hurry to deal star point guard (and free agent to-be) Mike Conley, per Marc Stein of ESPN.com.

UPDATE, 1:35 p.m. — Some clarity on Gasol chatter?

Vincent Goodwill of CSNChicago.com and ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst say Bulls are open to trading Pau Gasol but doubt they are shopping him.

UPDATE, 1:12 p.m. — Report: Bulls ‘aggressively shopping’ Gasol

The Chicago Bulls entered the All-Star break on a skid, having lost four in a row and nine of their last 12 games. A trade wouldn’t be a total surprise, but dealing away their All-Star big man Pau Gasol might be. The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski has more on that and other trade rumors:

The Chicago Bulls are aggressively shopping All-Star forward Pau Gasol, league sources told The Vertical.

Gasol, 35, can opt out of his contract this summer and become an unrestricted free agent, and Bulls general manager Gar Forman seems determined to move him before Thursday’s trade deadline with the hope of bringing back value.

Gasol is expected to decline the player option on the $7.4 million owed him in 2016-17.

UPDATE, 12:46 p.m. — Pistons may still be seeking deals

As mentioned above, the Detroit Pistons pulled off a trade yesterday that netted it forward Tobias Harris. But it seems GM Jeff Bower may not quite be done dealing, per Matt Shepard of WDFN in Detroit:

Pistons General Manager Jeff Bower told Matt Shepard of WDFN in Detroit that his team was still actively looking at deals and would go all the way up to the deadline if necessary after obtaining Tobias Harris from the Orlando Magic yesterday.

“We’d like to find one more move. The Harris trade makes us a higher-level team now and in the future,” Bower said.

The trade involving Harris makes the Pistons a little thin at point guard, however Bower said that would not be the only position the team looks for a talent upgrade

“We’re still looking at every position, but Stan [Van Gundy] has great confidence in Steve Blake at the point guard position.”

UPDATE, 12:39 p.m. — The great guard swap of 2015

If you forgot, last season’s trade deadline was marked by a lot of point guards getting swapped all over the NBA map. SI.com’s Jake Fischer has a great read on what it was like for the players involved.

UPDATE, 12:29 p.m. — Utah may hold tight at deadline

The Jazz have seen their name bandied about in trade talks, but as it their wont, they’ve been tight-lipped about any possible deals. Or, as one writer sees it, there may end up being no deals in Utah at all.

UPDATE, 12:18 p.m. — Best trades since 2000?

Fun little read at lunch time on the best deadline deals since 2000.

And if you missed it, our Fran Blinebury looked back at the 10 best deadline deals ever.

UPDATE, 12:05 p.m. — Report: Monroe staying put in Milwaukee

The Milwaukee Bucks stunned many in the offseason when they added big man Greg Monroe to a squad that reached the 2015 playoffs. The team itself has surprised this season as it has failed to live up to expectations, fueling questions about the roster and, to an extent, Monroe’s place in Wisconsin.

According to Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today Sports, Monroe — who had been the topic of trade speculation — won’t be going anywhere:

Milwaukee Bucks forward Greg Monroe won’t be dealt before Thursday’s trade deadline, according to two people with direct knowledge of the situation.

Teams have placed calls to the Bucks to see if they can acquire Monroe, who is in his first year with the team. But those conversations didn’t advance, and one person said with emphasis there is zero chance Monroe is traded.

Monroe signed a three-year, $50 million contract with Milwaukee during free agency and is averaging 16.7 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists for the 23-32 Bucks, who have lost six consecutive games.

UPDATE, Noon ET — Pelicans’ Holiday essentially untouchable

Injuries made a mess of the New Orleans Pelicans’ season, but of late they’ve gotten banged up in the backcourt with Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon both out for the season. Those woes are likely what will keep oft-injured point guard Jrue Holiday out of any potential deals …

UPDATE, Noon ET — Report: Magic won’t break up young core

The Orlando Magic may be interested in some smaller moves, but don’t expect them to part with Victor Oladipo, Nikola Vucevic or Elfrid Payton before tomorrow’s deadline …

UPDATE, 9:14 a.m. — Magic, Clippers talking trade

Our David Aldridge reports if the Magic pick up Lance Stephenson in a swap for Channing Frye with the Clippers, Stephenson won’t be in Orlando long …

 

 

Morning shootaround — Feb. 17


VIDEO: Breaking down Tuesday’s three-team trade

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Clippers, Magic talking deal | Report: Wizards pursuing Anderson | Report: Rockets, Hornets had Howard trade talks | Prokhorov pens open letter | Report: Nets offer GM job to MarksFuture unclear for Bucks’ Carter-Williams | Griffin apologizes publicly for incident

No. 1: Report: Magic, Clippers talking deal; Wizards pursuing Anderson — We’re a day away from the trade deadline, which means talk is bubbling up everywhere and anywhere. How much of what is discussed vs. what happens in reality remains an unknown, but the latest from overnight is that several teams are knee-deep in trade discussions. The targets du jour include Channing Frye, Lance Stephenson, Kevin Martin and Ryan Anderson. The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski gets us started with the latest from Orlando and some other outposts:

The Los Angeles Clippers are pushing closer on a deal to acquire Orlando Magic forward Channing Frye but want to finish exploring a larger trade scenario before finalizing an agreement, league sources told The Vertical.

Frye is enthusiastic about the chance to join the Clippers, league sources said. Nevertheless, Cleveland also has been discussing a deal for Frye, and could still be aggressive in pursuing him prior to completion of a Clippers trade.

The Clippers need to include Lance Stephenson‘s contract into the package for Frye, and told the Magic they need until Wednesday to finish pursuing what it is a long-shot larger deal, league sources said. As part of the deal for Frye, the Clippers would include Stephenson, C.J. Wilcox and a future second-round pick, league sources said.

The New Orleans Pelicans are pushing hard to find a trade for forward Ryan Anderson, whom they expect to lose in summer free agency, league sources said.

Teams trading for Anderson believe he’ll command a starting salary of $16 million-$18 million a season in free agency.

New Orleans and Detroit had serious talks on an Anderson deal in the past few days, sources said, but the Pistons ultimately reached an agreement with Orlando on a trade for Tobias Harris on Tuesday.

The issue for the Pistons – and several teams around the league interested in Anderson – remains this: How much will it cost to re-sign Anderson this summer in free agency? With Harris, the Pistons have cost-certainty on the three-years, $48 million on his deal through the 2018-’19 season.

Minnesota hasn’t been actively searching for a trade for point guard Ricky Rubio this week, but that is likely to change this summer, league sources told The Vertical.

Minnesota may start canvassing the market for a better shooting point guard to pair with young stars Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins. One NBA coach who has long been enamored with Rubio, league sources said: Milwaukee’s Jason Kidd. The New York Knicks’ desire to find a point guard could lead them to Rubio, too.

Minnesota has wanted to move guard Kevin Martin, but a deal is unlikely unless he’s willing to forgo the $7 million player option on the final year of his contract in 2016-2017, league sources said. That is unlikely, given that Martin would be hard-pressed to recoup that money on the market.

BasketballInsiders.com’s Steve Kyler reports the Washington Wizards may also be hot on the trail of Ryan Anderson:

If the Clippers cannot consummate a deal with the Pelicans for Ryan Anderson, expect the Washington Wizards to return to the front of the line for Anderson in trade. The Wizards have made several passes at New Orleans on Anderson but are unwilling to include draft picks in their offer.

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(more…)

In a sea of trade madness, a deal that works for all sides

HANGTIME HEADQUARTERSBrandon Jennings and Scott Skiles reunited?

It seems a bit strange after all of these years and the rumored head-knocking that went on between the younger Jennings when he played under Skiles for the Milwaukee Bucks. But it makes sense now with Jennings coming back from injury in search of a starter’s role and Skiles in need of a steady, veteran hand at point guard as he tries to push the Orlando Magic to the next level.

The Pistons, who are set at point guard with Reggie Jackson, will send Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova to Orlando for Tobias Harris, which was first reported by Michael Scotto of Sheridan Hoops. In a sea of trade madness that always accompanies Thursday’s trade deadline, this is a deal that appears to work for all involved.

In Harris the Pistons get the versatile young big man who can work on both ends. The Magic get a capable role player in Ilyasova and a seasoned floor leader in Jennings, both with experience playing under Skiles from their time in Milwaukee.

Jennings said all of the right things as he returned from missing nearly a year after rupturing his Achilles last January. He’s averaging a career-low 6.8 points in the final season of his current deal in a limited role, one that should expand dramatically in Orlando.

What this means for second-year Magic point guard Elfrid Payton is unclear. He’s had his struggles but is certainly not a lost cause this early in his career. If nothing else, Jennings provides some insurance for the remainder of this season and possibly into the future, depending on how things progress the rest of this season.

With Jackson clearly the future at the position in Detroit, the career reset could be exactly what Jennings needs. The chance to showcase himself in Detroit would have been difficult with limited minutes, while the situation in Orlando is wide open.

Morning shootaround — Feb. 14


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from All-Star Saturday Night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LaVine, Gordon wow in Dunk Contest | Hack-A-Gone? | Splash Brother vs. Splash Brother | Horford embraces uncertain future

No. 1:  LaVine, Gordon wow in Dunk Contest For years, the Verizon Slam Dunk was All-Star Weekend’s marquee event. The electricity surrounding the event may have waned in recent years. But last season, Timberwolves rookie Zach LaVine gave it a jolt of excitement, notching his first win. And Saturday night in Toronto, a couple of 20 year olds, LaVine and Magic forward Aaron Gordon, took turns making jaws drop, posting alternating perfect scores in the contest’s final round until LaVine was ultimately able to grab the win in arguably the greatest dunk contest in All-Star Weekend history. And as Lang Whitaker writes, with the contest on the line, LaVine went to the free-throw line

High expectations? No problem.

After bringing the Dunk Contest back to prominence one year ago with a series of electrifying dunks, Minnesota’s Zach LaVine picked up where he left off, with help from Orlando’s Aaron Gordon.

And with the Verizon Slam Dunk on the line, Zach LaVine went to the free throw line. Well, almost.

With a through-the-legs dunk from just inside the charity stripes, Zach LaVine earned his fifth score of 50 on the night, making him the 2016 NBA dunk champ. The 20-year-old LaVine became the first back-to-back winner since Nate Robinson in 2009 and 2010.

Going against Magic forward Aaron Gordon in the contest finals, LaVine and Gordon got locked into a heavyweight bout where they traded incredible body blows. After the contest, LaVine said, “We should share the trophy, because [Gordon] did some stuff I’ve never seen before.”

To begin the final round, Gordon completed a dunk with an unbelievable degree of difficulty, snatching the ball from Orlando Magic mascot Stuff — who was spinning on a hoverboard — and throwing down a twisting dunk. This earned a 50. LaVine countered by throwing himself an alley-oop and floating through the air for a one-handed finish, earning another 50.

Gordon then again used Stuff, this time clearing the mascot with his rear end while passing the ball below for a lefty finish. That earned another 50, putting the pressure on LaVine.

LaVine responded coolly, with a windmill from just inside the free throw line, for another 50. This marked the first time in Dunk Contest history the final round saw four scores of 50.

They didn’t stop. In the first dunk-off, Gordon enlisted teammate Elfrid Payton to throw an alley-oop off the side of the backboard. Gordon caught the ball and completed a reverse dunk while flying through the air. 50. LaVine responded by throwing an alley-oop to himself from the baseline, catching the ball and passing it through his legs for a reverse dunk. This earned another 50.

On the second dunk-off, Gordon ran along the baseline and did a two-handed double-pump reverse reminiscent of Dominique Wilkins. Gordon scored a 47. To win it, LaVine went back to the free throw line.

***

No. 2: Hack-A-Gone? A Q&A with the Commissioner of the NBA has become a staple of All-Star Saturday Night, and last night Adam Silver faced the assembled media to address several topics. As Steve Aschburner writes, among the many topics addressed, one change Silver is clearly looking to implement is an end to the Hack-A- intentional fouling that has become en vogue around the NBA lately …

If the Hack-A-Whomever strategy currently raising such a ruckus in some NBA precincts is actually something you like, take solace: It’s going to be with us, extending the real time of games, disrupting any sense of flow and showcasing a whole lot of bricked free throws, at least through the end of the 2016 playoffs.

If, though, you believe in the tactic as a coach’s best friend — something to encourage bad foul shooters to improve, lest they look silly and cost their teams victories — those guys had better get in the gym soon and practice their form, release and follow-through fast.

Change almost certainly is coming, based on NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s comments Saturday in the annual state-of-the-league All-Star news conference.

Silver, addressing and fielding questions from reporters before the skills, slam dunk and 3-point shooting contests at Air Canada Centre, reiterated what he has said on several recent occasion. “I’m beginning to feel that a change needs to be made,” Silver said, citing conversations he has had with broadcast partners, sentiment expressed in fan data and feedback from players, GMs and owners.

As for coaches, Silver said “Clearly our coaches who are smart and using very complex analytics believe it is benefiting them.”

But changing the rules wouldn’t be pursued to make life tougher on the league’s coaches, any more than it would be done to let the most frequent targets of the tactic — notoriously poor free-throw shooters such as DeAndre Jordan (.423 free-throw percentage), Andre Drummond (.351), Dwight Howard (.532) and a handful of others — off the hook. It would be a decision driven more by the NBA product as entertainment, not merely athletic competition.

Silver did share that, when the league’s competition committee discussed the strategy last summer, it sought data from an additional season before making a recommendation. That data so far? “We’re seeing the Hack-a-Shaq strategy used at roughly a five-and-a-half-times greater rate than it was used last season,” the commissioner reported.

That’s a lot of standing around, stoppages in play and, for folks viewing from the stands or on TV at home, a procession of finely tuned, multi-millionaire athletes failing at one of basketball’s fundamental skills. That’s not a good look for anyone involved.

Interestingly, Silver said that there is no consensus among the practice’s critics what remedy should be pursued. Treat the entire game like the final two minutes, when fouls away from the play equal one free throw and retained possession? Come up with something more stringent to snuff even the temptation to hack a targeted player intentionally?

Silver said he would want to have a specific alternative to propose. And even then, that sort of change would need the approval of two-thirds of the league’s members (20 of the 30 teams).

“So we’re nowhere near that point where we’re even starting to count heads,” Silver said. This summer would be the soonest, he indicated.

***

No. 3: Splash Brother vs. Splash Brother It was no big surprise last season in Brooklyn when Stephen Curry managed to win the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest; after all, he was midway through an MVP season and establishing himself as one of the greatest shooters in NBA history. Last night in Toronto, when it came time for Curry to defend his title, he posted a fine performance, making the final round, until his Splash Brother and Warriors backcourt ‘mate Klay Thompson was able to get hot and edge Curry. As Sekou Smith writes, if there was any questions left about the league’s best-shooting backcourt, those doubts were officially laid to rest night

For the second straight year, one of the Golden State Warriors’ Splash Brothers walked off the All-Star Saturday night stage as the champion of the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest.

But it wasn’t defending champion and NBA three-point king Stephen Curry. This time it was teammate Klay Thompson taking home top honors in a competition that, by the final round, looked like something the Warriors might do at the end of every practice.

It marks the first time in Three-Point Contest history that different players from the same team have won it in consecutive seasons.

“Back-to-back years for Splash Brothers, it’s pretty cool,” Thompson said.

Thompson saved his best for last, finishing with 27 points in the final round to conquer one of the deepest fields in the history of the competition, a group that includes some of the best long-range shooters in the game today and perhaps ever.

“He definitely shot well tonight,” Curry said. “I still think I can hold my own in the competition, but the way that he finished off that second round was amazing. So trust me, the pressure of knowing what number he had to hit and making five out of five was fun to watch.”

Curry collected 23 points in his final round, but was on his feet cheering with the rest of the contestants as Thompson drained shot after shot on his final rack. Phoenix Suns rookie Devin Booker, the youngest player in the league, finished third after netting 16 points in the final round.

***

No. 4: Horford embraces uncertain future All-Star Weekend is traditionally something of a swap shop for trade rumors, and with his contract expiring this summer, All-Star Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford hasn’t been immune from hearing his name. But considering the trade rumors and that he was swimming in the Caribbean when he got the last-minute call to get to Toronto, stat, as Sam Amick writes, Horford says he’s thrilled to be in Toronto and taking everything day by day

It’s no secret that the Hawks have been exploring trade options that include Horford, but that doesn’t mean the four-time All-Star’s days in Atlanta are necessarily done. The relationship between the player and the team that drafted him third overall in 2007 remains strong, with nine seasons of history between them and a dynamic between Horford and president of basketball operations/coach Mike Budenholzer that could still lead to him re-signing this summer. And yes, it should be noted, the Hawks are well aware that retaining a talent like Horford in today’s NBA will come with an enormous price tag not only because of his talents but because the league’s salary cap is about to spike from $70 million to $89 million next season (and $108 million in 2017-18). He would earn approximately $25 in his first season.

But the 31-24 Hawks, like any team that isn’t playing to its anticipated level, must consider all options this time of year. They are also known to be engaging in trade discussions relating to point guard Jeff Teague, who is less of a flight risk than Horford because he has one year left on his contract ($8 million). The New York Knicks and Utah Jazz, to name a few, could be serious suitors for Teague in the coming days.

The Boston Celtics are widely believed to be a potential fit as a Horford trade partner, but the real level of interest from general manager Danny Ainge remains to be seen in the coming days. And while Horford continues to speak positively about the city and his situation, there’s an inherent uncertainty to this process that always acts as the driving force.

“I’m very happy in Atlanta,” Horford said when asked if the Hawks had reason to be concerned that he might leave. “I’ve said it repeatedly. I love the city. My family, we all live in Atlanta, we stay there in the offseason, so my focus is just to keep playing and taking it day by day and, right now, it’s to enjoy this weekend. … Just taking it day by day. That’s the only thing I can do. We really can’t worry about three or four months from now.”

Especially when a welcome All-Star berth comes your way.

While Horford wasn’t selected to the team initially, he was given the nod on Friday when Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh unexpectedly pulled out because of a calf strain. Horford was vacationing with his family near Cancun, Mexico, when he got the call.

“I had my phone off (and) I was in the water,” said Horford, who is averaging 15.3 points and 6.9 rebounds this season. “I was doing my morning swim out there, and I got the call (around 9:30 am).

“I’m so excited to be here, man. Words don’t describe it. Being here in this city, in Toronto. I remember last year looking at it, and I was like, ‘It’s going to be in Toronto, I would love to be a part of that,’ because, you know, the fans here are so lively and just being around these guys and it happens to be Kobe’s last All-Star. It’s kind of a big deal, and for me to be a part of this I’m very grateful.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Carmelo Anthony says he’s not getting tradedKarl-Anthony Towns struck a blow for bigs in the Skills Challenge … If you haven’t heard, it’s really, really cold in Toronto this weekend … The Indiana Pacers are eyeing a future All-Star Weekend bidJimmer Fredette was named MVP of the D-League All-Star GameKevin Hart tied Draymond Green in their own three-point shootout.

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.

 

Analytics Art: Wall, Bazemore, Vucevic among worst shooters of week

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

The NBA announced is 2016 All-Star reserves on Thursday, unveiling who the league’s coaches deemed most deserving of the midseason honor.

Typically speaking, those voted to be All-Stars are the most well-rounded players in the league — but even the best of the best are not immune to shooting slumps. This week, one player bound for the 2016 All-Star Game was mired in a big enough cold spell to be pegged among the worst shooters.

With the aid of interactive visualizations from PointAfter, we’ll take a look at three players (guard, wing and forward/center) who need to put their poor performances behind them.

Note: Statistics in this article cover games between Jan. 22-28.

Guard: John Wall, Washington Wizards

John Wall was named an Eastern Conference reserve and has been the Washington Wizards’ alpha dog all season long. The Wizards have struggled to win games with consistency, but Wall has a team-high 19.9 PER, is tied for fifth in the league in steals (2.07 per game) and is tied for second in assists (9.8 per game).

It was a good week for Wall in that he earned a third consecutive All-Star nod, but his shooting stroke completely deserted him, too.

Wall went 3-for-11 (0-for-3 on 3-pointers) on Monday, then combined to make just 11 of 34 shots on Tuesday and Thursday (32.4 percent).

Add it all up, and he finished the week shooting 31.1 percent and 23.1 percent on 3-pointers. The Wizards were 0-3 during that span with losses against the Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors and Denver Nuggets.

Wing: Kent Bazemore, Atlanta Hawks

After a magical 2014-15 season spent flirting with the first ever 50-50-90 campaign, Kyle Korver has careened to earth in 2015-16. His struggles have necessitated teammates stepping up their game — chiefly, Kent Bazemore.

Bazemore has been stellar while playing a bigger role, shooting 46.2 percent overall and 41.3 percent on 3-pointers, the latter of the two figures ranking him tied for 18th in the league in 3-point accuracy. But Bazemore (and, consequently, the Hawks) experienced a rough week.

Atlanta went 1-3, with one loss coming at the hands of the lowly Phoenix Suns. Bazemore shot 7-for-16 against the Suns (43.8 percent), which was his best showing of the week.

From there, the 26-year-old swingman shot 34.3 percent overall (and 25 percent from 3-point range). Consider this a blip on the radar, because Bazemore has otherwise had a solid January.

Power Forward/Center: Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic

A career 51 percent shooter, Nikola Vucevic has been floundering in January. After shooting 55.4 percent in December, he’s shooting 44.2 percent in 2016. He’s getting shots, but they simply are not falling.

Vucevic went 6-for-17 last Friday, 8-for-17 on Monday and 7-for-19 on Tuesday. That’s 39.6 percent for the week — truly unheard of for a guy Vucevic’s size.

After a career-best season in 2014-15, Orlando’s center is merely trying to find his rhythm again. Perhaps the upcoming All-Star break will give him a chance to clear his head and remember exactly how good he can be.

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.

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 26


VIDEO: Top plays from Christmas Day games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors beat Cavs, believe they can play even better | James wants clarity from Cavaliers | Rockets leave coal for Spurs | Kobe surprised at huge lead in early All-Star voting

No. 1: Warriors beat Cavs, believe they can play even better You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone, even the most rabid Warriors fan, who truly thinks the Warriors have underperformed this season. After all, after last night’s 89-83 win against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the highly anticipated NBA Finals rematch, the Warriors moved to a ridiculous 28-1 on the season, which included a 24-game winning streak. That is, it’s hard to find criticism unless you talk to the actual Warriors players themselves, as our Scott Howard-Cooper did, where you find that the Warriors believe despite all the W’s, they aren’t playing all that great and still have room to grow

“Look,” center Andrew Bogut said, “we haven’t played great the last 10 games. That’s something that we’ve addressed in this locker room.”

“I don’t think we’ve played well,” power forward Draymond Green said. “Even tonight. We did some good things, but I still don’t think we’ve played well.”

“I’m really impressed with our defense the last two games,” interim coach Luke Walton said. “Before that, our defense was struggling.”

Help is on the way, if only the Warriors can hold it together another couple weeks and avoid the all-out panic that will come if they slump all the way to, say, 75-win pace and only break the single-season record by three games as opposed to the current tracking to 79 victories. Good news is on the horizon for a change.

Coach Steve Kerr, out since the early days of training camp while recovering from the effects of two back surgeries in the offseason, is nearing a return. He stepped in for an ill Walton to run practice Tuesday, the interim to the interim, watched the Cleveland game from the coaches’ office in Oracle and plans to accompany the team on the Dallas-Houston back-to-back that begins Wednesday while Walton continues to lead. While the Warriors continue to avoid targeting a return date, the increased activity raises the possibility Kerr could be back as soon as Jan. 2 against the Nuggets in Oakland.

Forward Harrison Barnes, out the last 12 games with a sprained left ankle, was in some of the scrimmage Tuesday and Thursday participated in three-on-three drills with the team. Being listed as doubtful for Friday showed there was at least the thought he could play against the Cavaliers, so Monday against the Kings at Oracle or the two games in Texas are all possibilities.

The next week or two, depending on the actual return dates and how long Barnes will need to work back into game shape, could become an eventful time in the season of a defending champion, and that just doesn’t happen very often in early-January. Golden State will be whole again, assuming no one else gets hurt in the meantime, with Barnes an important piece as the starting small forward and also one of the triggers to the successful small-ball lineup when he moves to power forward.

It would have been impossible on opening night to imagine the Warriors would stand at 28-1 under any circumstances, let alone 28-1 with a coach younger than several players around the league and stepping in with two previous seasons as an assistant, with a concussion costing Bogut six games and Barnes’ absence. Now imagine the Warriors at 28-1 and thinking they will start to play better in the future.

“Maybe a little bit,” Bogut said.

Maybe more than a little bit.

“There’s part of it that [makes me mad] and there’s part of it that makes me very, very happy,” Green said. “I think we’ve got a lot of improving to do, and we will.”

Mad because the Warriors are not happy with how they have played lately. The happy: “Because what are we? Twenty-eight and one? You’re 28-1 and you’re not near playing well, that’s exciting. We know we know how to get to that point and we know we’ll reach that point. And when we do, I think that’s trouble because if we’re 28-1 and we’re not playing well, imagine where we are. That’s why it excites me.

***

No. 2: James wants clarity from Cavaliers Meanwhile, the Warriors’ vanquished Christmas Day foe, the Cleveland Cavaliers, drop to 19-8. That’s still good enough for the lead in the Eastern Conference, but with the Cavs getting more players back from injury and healthy, including Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert, the Cavs have more options available than ever before. And after the loss to the Warriors, as Cleveland.com’s Joe Vardon writes, LeBron James would like to see the Cavs discover a rhythm going forward

After the Cavs lost 89-83 to the defending champion Warriors on Golden State’s home court, where it’s now won 32 in a row during the regular season, dating back to last year, James repeatedly mentioned the lack of continuity the Cavs had on the court and suggested that at least some of it had to do with David Blatt‘s rotation.

“It’s going to take some time to get back into rhythm, and all of us, not just the players, but everyone, to get back in rhythm,” James said.

The lineups and the newness need some context, and what James said about them was nothing like the cool attitude he directed toward Blatt at times last season.

In fact, James didn’t name his coach specifically on Friday, but the bottom line was James called for Blatt and his staff to gain perhaps a clearer sense of who they want to play, and when, now that the entire team is healthy.

“For us to have a full unit, we’ve got to practice, we’ve got to play some games where we know what we want to do, what lineups we want to play out there,” James said.

“It’s an adjustment period, it’s not just going to happen – you plug a guy in there, plug two guys in there and it automatically happens,” he continued. “It’s going to be an adjustment period, but we’ll be fine. We’ll be fine toward February and March.”

This was just the second game this season that the Cavs had all 15 players available, due to season-long injuries to Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert.

That’s not Blatt’s fault, but, it was the head coach who placed James, Shumpert, J.R. Smith, Matthew Dellavedova, and Tristan Thompson on the court to start the fourth quarter. It was the first time all season they’d all been on the court at the same time.

When Irving and Kevin Love subbed in for James and Smith with 10:06 left in the quarter, the Cavs still had a lineup that had never played together. Those are just two examples.

Richard Jefferson did not play at all against the Warriors. Mo Williams logged 4:39, and James Jones, a favorite of James, played just 1:34.

James led the Cavs with 25 points and contributed nine rebounds, but shot 10-of-26 and was a brutal 4-of-9 from the foul line. He took the blame for that, saying “I wasn’t very good, inefficient, and it trickled down to everybody else.”

The Cavs’ 83 points, 31.6 percent shooting from the field and 16.7 percent shooting from 3-point range were season lows. Irving (13 points) shot 4-of-15 and Love (10 points, 18 rebounds) was 5-of-16. Cleveland assisted on just 12-of-30 baskets.

“For the first time, for a long period of time we had some different lineups out there,” James explained, talking about the woes on offense. “And against a championship team like this, it’s kind of hard to do that on the fly. We’re not making no excuses, we still got to be a lot better, still got to move the ball, got to share the ball, get it moving from side to side, but offensively we were all out of rhythm.

“You credit to their defense, for sure, and then the lack of detail.”

***

No. 3: Rockets leave coal for Spurs While the Warriors have romped through the NBA this season, the San Antonio Spurs have quietly put in work as well, and entered yesterday’s Christmas game against the Houston Rockets with a sparkling 25-5 record. Their opponent, the Houston Rockets, have struggled to find an identity, firing a coach (Kevin McHale) and getting inconsistent play from their superstars, James Harden and Dwight Howard. But on a big stage yesterday, the Rockets turned to their defense to grind out an 88-84 win over the Spurs, and as our Fran Blinebury writes, Houston got a present from their veteran reserve guard, Jason Terry

Jason Terry is long past the days of being the shiny new toy. He has stockings that have hung from chimneys far longer than some of his teammates have hung around the planet.

So even after the Rockets had spent most of the night standing toe-to-toe and going push-to-shove with the Spurs, there came a time to seal the deal and the closer had to come out of the attic.

It wasn’t just Terry’s nine points and three steals in the last 10½ minutes of the bone-jarring 88-84 victory Friday night at the Toyota Center. It was the way he did everything. Like he owned the place.

Ever since the shocking 5-10 start to the season that got coach Kevin McHale fired, the Rockets have been trying to convince everybody, including themselves, that they’re really a very good team, capable of getting back again to the Western Conference finals.

Trouble is, since the opening tip back in October, every time the Rockets have put another stake in the ground with a signature win over the Thunder, at Dallas or sweeping a pair of duels from the Clippers, they have also put a stake or a half dozen into their own foot. A combined 0-5 record against the lowly Nuggets and Nets. A whipping in Sacramento. A comeback that came up just short in Orlando.

You don’t get to call yourself a real contender until you stop pretending to show up consistently and take the job seriously every night. Dwight Howard and James Harden talk the talk.

“The Jet” puts his arms out at his sides and takes flight on the wings of drive and emotion that have carried him into a 17th NBA season.

“That’s what I’ve prided myself on, being ready, always stepping up to the moment,” Terry said. “In big moments like tonight when my team needed me most, I want to show up and be effective.”

He buried a big 3-pointer. He hit a mid-range jumper from the wing. He stepped into the San Antonio passing lanes to snatch away three balls to get the Rockets headed in the other direction.

But now, more than being the fire-starter in a big holiday event — the first time the Rockets hosted a home Christmas Day game since moving to Houston in 1971 — Terry’s task and bigger challenge will be to instill a sense of every day urgency that goes from the locker room out onto the court. Even in too many of their wins this season, the Rockets have started games lazily and had to come scrambling back from double-digit holes. Which is why this latest so-called statement win lifts their record back to just 16-15.

Harden’s pair of fourth-quarter 3-pointers were big and it’s good to know that you’ve got that arrow in your quiver, but it can’t be enough to think he’ll be able to bail you out game after game with offensive heroics. And it was Terry’s spark that ignited the flame.

Terry had been inserted into the starting lineup for the first four games after J.B. Bickerstaff took over the team. But as the team kept struggling, the interim coach began to shuffle his guards like a casino dealer until finally he turned Terry back face up in this one. In fact, the veteran has played less than 15 minutes in 11 games this season and also has six DNPs, including the previous game, which the Rockets lost at Orlando. That’s now likely to change.

“I just feel like we need him on the floor,” Bickerstaff said. “There’s times where he needs the rest, obviously. But big moments in big games, he’s one of the guys that I trust the most. I trust not only that he’ll do the right thing, but I trust that he’ll perform and then I trust that he’ll carry his teammates in a positive direction.

“You can’t speak enough about him. He’s a class guy. He’s a winner. He’s a champion. He’s a leader. He’ll sacrifice, whatever it takes to win. That’s what he does. That’s who he is. Every since I’ve known him he’s been that way.”

***

No. 4: Kobe surprised at huge lead in early All-Star voting The first 2016 All-Star voting results are in, and while there are still several more rounds to go, at least for now, Kobe Bryant has a huge lead over everyone else in the NBA, including Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. Considering Kobe’s global appeal and previously announced retirement plans, it shouldn’t come a complete surprise that fans want to see him on the NBA’s big stage one final time. But as ESPN’s Baxter Holmes writes, the numbers apparently shocked at least one person: Kobe Bryant.

Bryant has 719,235 votes — well ahead of Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry (510,202), the next-highest vote-getter, and more than twice as many as Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James (357,937).

After the Lakers’ 94-84, Christmas night loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, Bryant said he was more than a little surprised he had such a wide lead.

“Listen, I was making a little coffee run this morning, got some gas and decided to just go on Instagram and peruse,” he said, “and [I] saw the damn votes, and I was like, ‘What the hell?’ Shocked doesn’t do it justice.”

He added, “It’s exciting. What can I say? Just thankful.”

The 2016 NBA All-Star Game, to be held in Toronto, would be Bryant’s last, as he has announced his plans to retire after this season, his 20th in the NBA. His 17 All-Star selections are second all-time behind former Lakers star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who had 19. Bryant, 37, is the leading scorer in NBA All-Star history (280 points).

This year marks the first time that the 6-foot-6 Bryant is being listed as a member of the frontcourt in All-Star voting. In previous years, he has been listed as a guard. The second-highest vote-getter among Western Conference frontcourt players is Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant (349,473).

Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before Friday’s game that Bryant deserves a spot on the All-Star team.

“A lot of people disagree with me on that. That’s fine. I have my opinion. I think Kobe should be on the All-Star team,” Rivers said. “I don’t care if he’s a starter of if they figure out a 13th spot for him. [With] what he’s done in his career, he should be on the All-Star team, and I don’t see any debate in that. You can have one, but I’m not hearing it.”

But what if someone else were left off, such as one of Rivers’ players?

“It would be awful, but Kobe should be on the All-Star team,” Rivers said. “I think they should have a special exception and put 13 guys on if that’s the case if he wasn’t in one of the top 12 as far as voting or whatever. But I just believe he should be on it. Magic [Johnson] was on, Michael [Jordan] was on with the Wizards. I think certain guys earn that right, and unfortunately for other guys who can’t make it, they have to earn that right too.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Chicago Bulls may have turned a corner with their win over the Oklahoma City Thunder yesterday … Steph Curry doesn’t think he’s “hurting” basketball, regardless of what his former coach Mark Jackson says … Chris Bosh punctuated Miami’s win over New Orleans yesterday by talking trash to Anthony Davis down the stretchEvan Fournier has broken out of his slump in Orlando … You can ask him questions, but doesn’t have to answer them …

Breaking down the parity in the East


VIDEO: Jeremy Lin’s 35 points lead the Hornets over the Raptors in overtime

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Cleveland Cavaliers’ win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday put the Eastern Conference back over .500 (76-75) in games against the West. While the West has only six teams with winning records, the East has 10.

Only 2 1/2 games separate the second place Bulls from the 10th place Celtics in the standings. Teams Nos. 2-10 in the East all have 14, 15 or 16 wins.

That makes for a lot of good matchups between teams fighting for playoff position. And there are three of them on League Pass Friday night: Hawks-Celtics (7:30 ET), Raptors-Heat (8 ET) and Pistons-Bulls (8 ET).

Beyond the Cavs, no team has distinguished itself as a favorite to win a round or two in the playoffs. They all have reasons to believe in them and reasons to doubt them. Here’s a rundown of Teams 2-10 in the East…

20151218_east_2-10_over

Atlanta (15-12) has the experience. It was the No. 1 seed last season and is one of only two teams within the group that won a playoff series earlier this year. But the Hawks are 7-10 since Nov. 13 and have played the easiest schedule among these nine teams.
More vs. the group this month: 12/18 @ BOS, 12/20 @ ORL, 12/23 vs. DET, 12/28 @ IND

Boston (14-12) has a top-five defense, has a point differential of a team that’s actually 17-9, and has played the toughest schedule among these nine teams. But they’ve actually played the worst defense (by a wide margin) in games played within the group. They allowed the Pistons, a bottom-10 offensive team, to score 119 points on Wednesday.
More vs. the group this month: 12/18 vs. ATL, 12/23 @ CHA, 12/26 @ DET

Charlotte (15-10) ranks in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, but has played five more home games than road games. It’s also fair to wonder if Kemba Walker will continue to shoot as well as he has, having been the league’s worst shooter over the first four seasons of his career.
More vs. the group this month: 12/23 vs. BOS

Chicago (15-8) has the best record, but the seventh-best NetRtg (point differential per 100 possessions) among these nine teams. Ten of their 15 wins have come by six points or less, and they’ve been outscored by 41 points in their eight games against the other eight teams on this list, having lost three straight within the group.
More vs. the group this month: 12/18 vs. DET, 12/28 vs. TOR, 12/30 vs. IND

Detroit (15-12) is 5-2 within the group after Wednesday’s win over the Celtics, but five of those seven games have been at home. Overall, the Pistons have been 9.3 points per 100 possessions better at home than on the road. Only Milwaukee (12.3) has a bigger differential.
More vs. the group this month: 12/18 @ CHI, 12/22 @ MIA, 12/23 @ ATL, 12/26 vs. BOS

Indiana (15-9) is a top-10 team on both ends of the floor, is 8-3 (6-0 at home) in games played within the group, and has a point differential of a team with a 17-7 record, which would have them tied with the Cavs for first place in the conference. The Pacers certainly have the best resume of the teams on this list. But their starting lineup has been pretty bad, especially defensively.
More vs. the group this month: 12/28 vs. ATL, 12/30 @ CHI

Miami (15-9) ranks third in defensive efficiency and has the talent to be a top-10 offense if it gets its starting lineup on the same page. But the Heat have played a home-heavy schedule thus far and are 3-6 (1-4 on the road after Monday’s win in Atlanta) in games played within this group.
More vs. the group this month: 12/18 vs. TOR, 12/22 vs. DET, 12/26 @ ORL,

Orlando (14-11) is another team with a top-10 defense and has won its last five games against non-Cavs East opponents. But the Magic have the ninth-best NetRtg in the East and have played the fewest games within this group.
More vs. the group this month: 12/20 vs. ATL, 12/26 vs. MIA

Toronto (16-11) is one of only two teams (Chicago is the other) with three wins over the four best teams in the league (Cleveland, Golden State, Oklahoma City and San Antonio), getting last week’s win over the Spurs without two starters. But the Raptors’ offense has been rather anemic in its seven games within this group.
More vs. the group this month: 12/18 @ MIA, 12/28 @ CHI

20151218_east_2-10

Three of these teams will have home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs and at least two of them aren’t going to even make the postseason. Maybe at some point between now and April 13, it will get easier to distinguish the contenders from the pretenders.

Blogtable: Who is the first-quarter Coach of the Year?

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: Are Cavs a lock in loaded East? | What makes Curry a great shooter? | Quarter-point Coach of the Year?



VIDEOLuke Walton explains early season success of Warriors

> Who’s your early, first-quarter-of-the-season pick for Coach of the Year? Why?

David Aldridge, NBA.com: I love what Scott Skiles has done so far in Orlando with a very young team. They’re not only playing very good defense, they’ve been good on offense. And bringing Victor Oladipo off the bench required expending a lot of capital — but so far, it’s working.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Gotta be Golden State’s Luke Walton. What he’s done is as remarkable as NASCAR’s Kyle Busch flipping the keys of his No. 18 car to a parking valet, only to have the kid veer onto the asphalt of the Talladega Superspeedway and lap the field in the Winn-Dixie 300. Besides, Walton officially has a 0-0 record, which would add a great, bizarre, historical asterisk — if, that is, first-quarter hardware actually existed.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Luke Walton.  I assume you’ve seen the standings.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comHow can it not be Luke Walton? I get that he was handed a championship roster with a proven system in place, and that the Warriors have yet to see a tough part of the schedule, but the guy has handled an unusual situation as well as anyone could have expected. He has maneuvered around injuries to Andrew Bogut and Harrison Barnes, and has faced the pressure of replacing the successful and well-liked Steve Kerr without flinching. Two other names: Steve Clifford and Rick Carlisle. There’s a reason the Hornets and Mavericks, respectively, didn’t fall apart even when their plans did.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comIn any year, if your team began the season on a 23-game win streak, then you’d be pretty much a slam dunk to win the award. Therefore, with all due respect to Steve Kerr, shouldn’t this be Luke Walton’s to lose? The only catch is if Kerr’s health improves and he returns to the bench before long. Can we have co-winners of the award, with the two finalists from the same team?

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThe Coach of the Quarter is certainly Luke Walton. Now, if Steve Kerr returns in January or February and damages Walton’s full-season candidacy, two coaches who have put themselves in good position with what we’ve seen so far are Steve Clifford and Frank Vogel. Expectations for both the Hornets and Pacers were relatively low, and they’re two of just five teams that rank in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency through Tuesday. Both guys have done a fantastic job of reinventing their team’s offense while staying strong on defense.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Since Luke Walton doesn’t officially own any of these wins the Warriors have piled up, he’ll have to be excused from this competition. There are a host of coaches in the Eastern Conference who have done fine jobs in the early going, but I’m going with Rick Carlisle in Dallas. Once again he’s shown an ability to take whatever group he has and squeeze the best out of them. The Mavericks whiffed on DeAndre Jordan and grabbed Zaza Pachulia as a replacement to hold down the center position and Zaza has been nothing short of fantastic for Carlisle and the Mavericks. Carlisle always seems to find a way. Guiding the the Mavericks into the top four in the Western Conference standings behind the Warriors, Spurs and Thunder at this point in the season is a reflection of the masterful job he’s done.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com How can there be any choice other than Luke Walton? It’s as simple as could be: He could not have done any better.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Come on, Luke Walton! 23-0! To quote a recent birthday boy and former NBA owner (Mr. Shawn Carter to you), What more can I say?