Four Celtics but no Love among All-Star Game reserves

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David Stern has some work to do out West.

The coaches’ selections for the seven All-Star Game reserves for each conference came out and the East went pretty much to form. Now David Stern gets to add one player to that list and he has some pretty clear choices.

The Western Conference? That’s hard. You can make a good case for all seven guys the coaches went with — even rookie Blake Griffin — but you can also make a great case for seven more. Stern gets to choose two out West, his regular pick plus someone to replace the injured Yao Ming. But the call is still brutal.

Here are the reserves and who got left out for the Feb. 20 game:

Western Conference reserves:

Pau Gasol (Los Angeles Lakers, forward): Fans should have voted him in as a starter over Carmelo Anthony. But since the game is in L.A., smart money says coach Gregg Popovich makes him the starting center in the West.

Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas Mavericks, forward): No-brainer pick. Averaging 23.2 points per game to lead a good Dallas squad — dude’s a 7-footer shooting 41 percent from three. One of the best scorers in the game.

Tim Duncan (San Antonio Spurs, forward): Is this a lifetime achievement award? Maybe he is scoring less, but the man is the anchor on defense, grabs the rebounds and gets key buckets for the league’s best team. He’s Tim Duncan! You can’t keep him out of the All-Star Game. He could start at center, too.

Blake Griffin (Los Angeles Clippers, forward): Averaging 23 points 12.7 rebounds a game as a rookie, he is more than just dunk highlights. He has maybe the quickest spin move from the post in the game. Suns coach Alvin Gentry said he voted for him because he’s the best athlete in the NBA right now. Plus, it’s a show. You want him there in Los Angeles.

Manu Ginobili (San Antonio Spurs, guard): The best player and leading scorer on the best team in the league. Had to be on the team.

Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City Thunder, guard): When Kevin Durant was off at the start of the season, Westbrook took on more and has all season. Averaging 22.5 points and 8.4 assists per game. He deserves this.

Deron Williams (Utah Jazz, guard): Debate amongst yourselves whether he is the best or second-best or third-best point guard in the game, but he is certainly an All-Star. Must be on the squad.

Guys who got screwed over/Guys Stern to choose from in the West:

• Kevin Love (Minnesota Timberwolves forward) is a double-double machine and the best rebounder in the game. How do you leave off a guy with his numbers?
• LaMarcus Aldridge (Portland Trail Blazers forward) has stepped up for a banged-up team, has been good all season and had a huge game Wednesday night to make his case.
• Zach Randolph (Memphis Grizzlies forward) can get overlooked, but he’s averaging 20 points and 13.2 rebounds a game.
• Lamar Odom (Los Angeles Lakers forward) is having a career year.
• Steve Nash (Phoenix Suns guard), while the team around him has crumbled, Nash continues to play fantastic ball and remains one of the best point guards in the game.
• Monta Ellis (Golden State guard) is one of the best pure scorers in the game, averaging 25.2 points per contest.
• Tony Parker (San Antonio Spurs guard) has taken on more responsibility in the offense for the best team in the league.

Eastern Conference reserves:

Al Horford (Atlanta Hawks, center): He’s averaging 16 points a game and is shooting 57 percent, plus he’s dishing out assists at a career best rate. He’s getting better every season and is clearly the second best center in the East easy. This is his second All-Star game.

Chris Bosh (Miami Heat, forward): Averaging 18.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per game and is more important to the Heat’s success than people realize. Well, until he got injured. (Actually, that may have proved his importance even more.)

Kevin Garnett (Boston Celtics, forward): This is 14 All-Star games in a row, and as soul of the best team in the East he had to be there.

Paul Pierce (Boston Celtics, forward): Scoring 19 points a game to lead the Celtics. He’s still one of the game’s elite forwards.

Ray Allen (Boston Celtics, guard): Prettiest jump shot in the game and this will be All-Star Game No. 10.

Rajon Rondo (Boston Celtics, guard): He’s the reason all those other Celtics look good, averaging 12.5 assists per game to lead the league.

Joe Johnson (Atlanta Hawks, forward): We tend to look past the Hawks, thinking we know what they are. But what they are is good (31-18). Johnson is averaging 20-5-5 to lead them.

Who got screwed in the East:

• Carlos Boozer (Chicago Bulls forward) missed the start of the season because of a hand injury, but he has been scoring as expected and playing the best defense of his career in Chicago.
• Raymond Felton (New York Knicks guard) may get people in the Big Apple saying he deserves it — and he has been good, just not better than any of the people above him.
• Josh Smith (Atlanta Hawks forward), sorry, but I think you only get one Hawk in, and if you wanted to swap him in I wouldn’t complain. But frankly Johnson is the better player.

Report: Hornets’ center Cody Zeller out six weeks following knee surgery

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Charlotte just cannot get over the injury bug this season, and we found out last week it had struck again.

Now we know how severe the damage is, as reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Ouch.

Zeller has been solid off the bench behind Dwight Howard this season, averaging 7.2 points and 5.5 rebounds in just under 20 minutes a night. He plays around the basket, 75 percent of his shots come at the rim, but his efficiency has dipped a little this season and he is shooting just 50 percent inside the restricted area.

The Hornets had to start the season without Nicolas Batum, and Michael Carter-Williams has missed time as well. On top of that, coach Steve Clifford had to take a leave of absence from the team for personal health reasons. Stephen Silas has stepped in to replace him.

Report: LiAngelo, LaMelo Ball have deal to play professionally in Lithuania

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This feels like a publicity stunt. Whatever the under/over is on how long it will last, bet the under.

That said, the two younger brothers of Lonzo Ball — LiAngelo, 18, and LaMelo, 16 — have reached a deal to play for a team in the highest level of the Lithuanian league. The story was broken by Adrian Wojnarowski and Jonathan Givony of ESPN (before the signing became official).

LiAngelo and LaMelo Ball are in serious discussions to sign professional basketball contracts with Lithuanian club Prienu Vytautas, sources told ESPN.

The club plans to decide in the next 24-to-48 hours whether to finalize agreements with the two American teenagers, sources told ESPN.

If signed, the franchise has hopes that the Balls – including their father LaVar — could be a marketing boon for the fledgling franchise, sources told ESPN.

Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports reports the deal is done.

Lithuania is a hoops-mad Baltic country of an estimated 2.9 million people who has three players currently in the NBA — Jonas Valanciunas, Donatas Motiejunas, and Mindaugas Kuzminskas — and has put 11 players in the league total, including Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Arvydas Sabonis, and Sarunas Marciulionis. You might remember the Lithuanian National Team wearing Grateful Dead inspired uniforms and taking the bronze medal in the 1992, 1996, and 2000 Olympics.

This is a country that takes its basketball seriously, and the Balls are a traveling circus and reality show. The Lithuanian league doesn’t have NBA-level players, but they guys they suit up have a real feel for the game and play a disciplined style. This could be a real culture clash, the kind of thing that ends quickly and spectacularly poorly. Here is some insight into the team from FIBA’s Lithuanian hoops writer.

Don’t expect the Ball children to play much, especially not at first.

The pay at this level is reportedly north of $1,500 a month, but that could be higher if the brothers are seen as a draw. With the report of the tight financial squeeze, this is likely a gambit on the coach’s part to boost revenue (in Europe, coaches are the CEOs of the organization, much more akin to the power top college coaches have than an NBA coach).

This is a league where men play and the game is taken seriously, it has produced not only Lithuanian players but Boston Celtics center Aron Baynes played there. This team apparently does not run the (suprisingly standard in Europe) two-a-day practices on non-game days, but their practices are longer and harder than most American versions. There are a lot of quality players — former American college/D-League guys, as well as good Europeans — who would love a shot like this. Who deserve a chance like this. If the younger Ball children do not perform and do not take this seriously, it will turn on them quickly.

LiAngelo Ball had gone to UCLA to play basketball this season, but after being suspended for shoplifting in China, his father LaVar pulled him out of college, designed a “Gelo 3” signature shoe for his son from the Big Baller Brand, and started looking for a professional contract. I’m not sure LiAngelo belongs at this level. As one scout told me last summer, LiAngelo was only at UCLA because Lonzo was a top recruit and LaMelo had a lot of potential. That scout wasn’t sure LiAngelo could stick in Europe.

LaMelo is a generally highly-rated recruit with NBA potential, a guy with crazy shooting range for a high-school Junior and good handles, but scouts had a lot of questions about his defense and most of his game outside of just shooting. LaMelo put up 70 points in an AAU game, but he cherry-picked the entire time, and the sense is there is a lot of that in his game. His father LaVar pulled LaMelo out of Chino Hills High School this season after a new basketball coach said he was going to push his guys to play within a system on both ends. How well LaMelo adapts to a very different culture on and off the court at his age is a big question.

Maybe this works out. Maybe the Ball children are more mature in personality and game than I think, maybe this is the financial boost that Prienu Vytautas needs and it works for them. It’s possible. I just don’t expect it.

Matt Barnes announces retirement from NBA after 15 seasons

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When too many fans think of Matt Barnes, they think of the guy who tried to fight Derek Fisher, the nightclub incident in New York, the guy who was a pest on the court and racked up more than his share of technicals and fines in a 15-year NBA career.

Ask Barnes former teammates about him, and they loved him — off the court and on. He was the quintessential guy you wanted on your team and hated to play against.

Barnes announced Monday on Instagram that his 15-year NBA run was over.

Barnes won an NBA title with the Warriors last season, and he played well for the team after signing in Golden State — Kevin Durant went down with a knee injury and Barnes stepped up his role and play. He earned that ring. However, this season there seemed to be no fit for him in the league.

Barnes was drafted in the second round out of UCLA by the Memphis Grizzlies and went on to play for nine teams during his career. He was the guy teams turned to for a spark off the bench — both because he could shoot the rock and because he played a fiery, emotional game. Barnes finished his career averaging 8.2 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.

I’m going to miss him. While he had a rough exterior and was plenty chippy on the court, off the court he was one of the more thoughtful basketball interviews out there — ask him about the game and he gave smart, calm, intelligent answers, not just clichés. He was active with charities and gave of his time and money, it wasn’t just a tax write off. I wish him the best and know he’ll enjoy life after basketball.

Shaq on free throws: ‘I told Rick Barry I’d rather shoot 0% than shoot underhand’

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Rick Barry famously made 90% of his free throws while shooting underhand.

Shaquille O’Neal infamously shot just 53% on his free throws, inspiring hack-a-Shaq.

Why didn’t Shaq use Barry’s technique?

Shaq, via Emmanuel Ocbazghi, Noah Friedman and Graham Flanagan of Business Insider:

Shaquille O’Neal: Because it’s boring.

Business Insider: But it’s been proven to be somewhat effective.

O’Neal: No, it’s not. It’s not proven. Just ’cause a couple guys did it doesn’t mean anybody can do it.

I told Rick Barry I’d rather shoot 0% than shoot underhand. I’m too cool for that.

O’Neal is somewhat trying to protect his larger-than-life, jokester image. But he’s also speaking to truth.

Barry would have been a good free-throw shooter overhand, too. Shooting underhand wasn’t necessarily going to fix Shaq’s problems at the line. Just because it worked for Barry doesn’t make it a “proven” technique.

Yet, every poor free-throw shooter – from Shaq to Andre Drummond to Andre Roberson – has been pestered about shooting underhand. It might be the right form for some players, but it’s no silver bullet.