Just a few hours before Blake Griffin wins the Dunk Contest on Feb. 19, a bunch of guys who want their NBA shot will get a turn in the spotlight. Sort of.
The D-League All-Star game is part of the All-Star weekend festivities and is taking place next door to Staples Center at the NBA All-Star Jam Session. The Jam session is the official fan event attached to the All-Star Game (there are all sorts of unofficial ones at nightclubs across Los Angeles, but those are a little different and involve expensive vodkas).
Serious NBA fans will recognize a lot of the names on the D-League All-Star roster — most of these guys were drafted and have had a cup of coffee at least in the NBA. If you don’t know them, learn them because these are the guys most likely to get call ups to the NBA in the coming months.
Selected to the D-League All-Star East tea, were Chris Johnson (Dakota Wizards), Ivan Johnson and Garrett Temple (Erie BayHawks), Walker Russell Jr. (Fort Wayne Mad Ants), Othyus Jeffers, Courtney Sims and Curtis Stinson (Iowa Energy), DeShawn Sims (Maine Red Claws), Patrick Ewing Jr. and Dexter Pittman (Sioux Falls Skyforce). Chosen to the D-League All-Star West team were Marcus Cousin (Austin Toros), Trey Johnson (Bakersfield Jam), Shane Edwards (New Mexico Thunderbirds), Jeff Adrien and Mustafa Shakur (Rio Grande Valley Vipers), Joe Alexander and Sean Williams (Texas Legends), Larry Owens and Zabian Dowdell (Tulsa 66ers) and Orien Greene (Utah Flash).
Not sure this exhibition will have that much more defense than the actual NBA All-Star Game the next day. Well, if it has any defense it will have more than the NBA game. So we can root for that.
The game starts at 5 p.m. Eastern and can be seen on NBA TV.
Marc Gasol heads ball into basket after drawing foul (video)
What’s still up in the air is Bryant’s participation in one last Olympics. Bryant has been in consideration to make Team USA this summer at the games in Rio de Janeiro, and USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo tells ESPN.com’s Marc Stein that he hasn’t ruled that out yet:
USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo tells https://t.co/EXInXOMads that Kobe Bryant remains in contention for Team USA spot for Rio 2016
Kobe was asked about this at his post-game press conference Sunday and said it was not a goal, but if it was offered he’d consider it.
“I’d be honored if that was there, it would be fantastic to be around that group and spend kind of the last journey with them,” Bryant said. “That being said, it’s not something that I’m obsessing over.”
‘When Bryant made it known that he wanted to play in Rio, he made it clear to Colangelo and Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski that he wanted to earn a spot, not be given one as a lifetime achievement award. Watching him so far this season, it’s almost impossible to imagine him making the roster on merit.
But nobody should begrudge him if he wanted to extend the farewell tour just a little bit longer.
Five Takeaways from NBA Sunday: Kobe Bryant makes it official, shows why it’s time
It’s time. If you’ve watched Kobe play at all the past couple years, you could see it was time. But it took a while for Kobe to realize that. His announcement that he would step down after the season became the story of the night in the NBA Sunday. By far.
1) Kobe Bryant makes it official, he is going to walk away from the game after this season. Kobe Bryant’s body has been telling him for a while it was time to hang it up, but Kobe is as fierce and stubborn a competitor as the league has ever seen and he wasn’t going to listen. The man who willed himself to be one of the game’s greats was going to will away 37 years, 55,000 NBA minutes, and the effects of a torn Achilles and blown out knee.
“I’ve known for a while. I’ve always said if anything changes, I’ll change my mind. The problem for me, you can’t make a decision like this based on outside circumstances. It has to be an internal decision. Finally, I just had to accept it, I don’t want to go through this anymore. And I’m okay with that….
“I honestly feel really good about it. I really do. I’m at peace with it… I’ve worked so hard and I continue to work really hard even though I played like s—, I’ve worked really, really hard not to play like crap and I do everything I possibly can. And I feel good about that.”
Laker GM Mitch Kupchak was honest about the Laker organization needing to rebuild and that being tough on Bryant.
“Well, we didn’t make it any easier on him with the team we have on the court — and that’s not to say that they’re not a talented group of players, but they’re certainly young and unaccomplished. And at an advanced age, I think we witnessed it’s difficult to play this game, and I think he’s struggled at a tempo and a pace that I think younger players (prefer).”
2) Then Sunday night Kobe shot 4-of-20 and showed why it was time for him to step down. His game against the Pacers Sunday summed up where Kobe is right now with his game. He was struggling from the field against a good Pacers’ defense, shooting 2-of-15, yet Byron Scott kept him out there, so Kobe kept gunning.
Then suddenly for a flash it was vintage Kobe — he hit two late three-pointers that made it a game and brought the Lakers within two points of the Pacers late.
Then vintage suddenly looked old. With the chance to tie the game and Staples Center on its feet willing the storybook ending, Kobe popped out off a down screen, caught the inbounded ball, curled around the top of the arc and…. air balled it. Pacers win. Kobe finished the night with 13 points on 4-of-20 shooting, bringing him to shooting 30.5 percent for the season.
3) Meanwhile, Paul George remains a beast, showed it against Lakers. The Pacers’ star was nothing short of brilliant wearing the Hickory High throwback uniform against the Lakers. He was pressuring on defense and had a couple steals (and disrupted more plays), plus poured in 39 points on 21 shots.
4) The Sixers lost, falling to 0-18, setting up a “showdown” with the Lakers on Tuesday. This has happened a few times lately: The Philadelphia 76ers hustle, scrap, play hard and are in a game, only to get crushed late in the game because when the other team cranks up the defensive pressure and gets serious the Sixers are overmatched. It happened again Sunday, the Sixers led by three going into the fourth quarter against the Grizzlies, but Memphis won the fourth 28-17 and the game 92-84.
That drops the Sixers to 0-18 on the season, tying the NBA record for the worst start ever. It also sets up a showdown on Tuesday night — the Lakers come to town. A “showdown” game. These are the two worst teams in the NBA, and the Lakers don’t have the talent (or comfort with their style of play) to crank it up and just out-talent the Sixers late, so this could be a real game — and a real shot for Philly.
“I didn’t think he brought much energy to the Milwaukee game, and I didn’t think he brought much energy tonight. Why that is, I don’t know. But we need a lot more from him than we got tonight.”
I get the idea of calling out your star in the media to both motivate him and light a fire under the rest of the team. It’s a solid tactic. But I’ll add in some ways it seemed a more mature performance from Drummond. A couple of seasons ago, when he got frustrated as he did early in this one, he would have hung his head and mentally checked out of the game, he fought through it to put up numbers Sunday. That’s a start.