NBA releases All-Star ballot, here are my early votes

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You can vote — and not just if you’re a Republican in Iowa.

The NBA opened All-Star Game voting to the fans on Wednesday, so you can pick who will not play any defense in Orlando Feb. 26. Fan voting picks the starters, the coaches for the teams help pick the rest of the squad. You can vote on NBA.com, from your phone or at NBA games.

The list of players is pretty good this year, no glaring oversights. Sorry Heat fans, leaving Mario Chalmers out of the East guard debate is not a serious oversight.

So who to pick? It’s way too early to cast an official ballot, but if I had to right now…

Eastern Conference

Guards: Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade. Deron Williams, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo just miss but should make the team, and throw in Joe Johnson if you really want to. But think about it.

Forwards: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony. I really wanted to make a case for Andre Iguodala, who is playing very well, but ‘Melo has been better. James has been James, he is still the best player walking the planet. If Orlando’s Ryan Anderson keeps playing like this, I want him to make the squad. Amare Stoudemire and Chris Bosh are acceptable here, too.

Center: Dwight Howard. Howard announced as the center in Orlando at the All-Star Game either in a Nets uniform or with trade rumors swirling around him will be the story of that weekend, regardless of what happens. Second best may be Spencer Hawes in Philly, who is playing better than you think. I could live with JaVale McGee.

Western Conference

Guards: Kyle Lowry, Kobe Bryant. We’ll see if he sticks with these numbers, but Lowry has been amazing this season — 15 points and 11 assists per game for the Rockets. Go ahead and vote for Chris Paul if you want, I can live with that. I like Ricky Rubio and Steve Nash, but no. And I voted for Kobe because he might find me and beat me up if I didn’t. Same applies to you.

Forwards: Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge. First, Tim Duncan is still not a forward. Just have to say that every year. This is tough because if you want to vote for Kevin Love, Pau Gasol, Blake Griffin, Rudy Gay, Dirk Nowitzki or a host of others I’m good with that. All deserving. I picked Aldridge because Portland needs the representation, they have been a great surprise this season. You could make an All-Star team of Western Conference forwards that would compete with the rest of the league combined. And they could play Tim Duncan at center.

Center: Andrew Bynum. I could live with Nene here, but Bynum has been a beast so far. For fun I might just start a campaign to get DeMarcus Cousins named to the team, just so another coach has to deal with his ego for a while.

NBA fines Chicago’s Rajon Rondo $25,000 for attempting to trip Jae Crowder (VIDEO)

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Rajon Rondo‘s end-of-season performance may have helped him earn a little extra coin this offseason. He’s certainly going to need it given that the NBA has fined the Chicago Bulls PG $25,000 after he attempted to trip Boston Celtics wing Jae Crowder.

The league released the decision in a statement on Sunday morning.

The incident occured with 31 seconds left in the first quarter of Game 3, a game the Celtics won, 104-87. Rondo was on the bench, and as possession changed Crowder took a wide sweeping angle along the sideline, right in front of Rondo.

Rondo casually stuck his leg out as Crowder passed by, but didn’t seem to make any contact.

Chicago leads the series, 2-1.

Thunder’s Taj Gibson providing scoring help for Westbrook

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Taj Gibson often describes his role for the Thunder as doing whatever the team needs.

For now, scoring is playing a bigger part than usual. The versatile 6-foot-9 power forward has found his way since being traded from Chicago and has emerged one of Oklahoma City’s few consistent offensive weapons alongside Russell Westbrook in the playoffs. He may need to keep it up to give the Thunder a chance of winning the first-round series with Houston – Oklahoma City trails 2-1 heading into Game 4 Sunday at home.

Gibson built a sterling reputation in Chicago, but the Brooklyn, New York native is more concerned with the respect he’s earned since his arrival.

“They see I’m in here late nights, early mornings, just constantly working with my teammates, constantly putting work in,” he said. “The confidence is going to be there because they understand you do the work, but I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help my team.”

Gibson has done a little bit of everything since coming to the Thunder. He has provided experience and versatility to an already stacked frontline that includes emerging young players Steven Adams and Enes Kanter. He also has added toughness, and at times, scoring punch. His athleticism and ability to guard on the perimeter against outside-shooting big men and on switches fills some of the void created when the Thunder traded Serge Ibaka on draft night this past offseason.

“Great vet,” guard Victor Oladipo said. “Great man, first and foremost. Very positive and does what it takes to win. It was a great pickup for us.”

Domantas Sabonis was the starting power forward when Gibson arrived in Oklahoma City, but once he got settled and began to understand coach Billy Donovan’s system, the Thunder improved. Gibson replaced Sabonis for the first time March 9 against San Antonio, and the Thunder went 11-5 with him in the starting lineup. He averaged 9.0 points and 4.5 rebounds in 21 regular-season games for the Thunder.

He is averaging 11 points on 65 percent shooting in the playoffs. He was effective on offense in Game 2, establishing himself early and helping put the Thunder in position to win. Oklahoma City went away from him late, and Houston rallied for the victory.

In Game 3, the Thunder went back to him consistently. a href(equals)’https://apnews.com/dab4b99c496a4450906c11a9c72132d1/Westbrook’s-triple-double-leads-Thunder-past-Rockets-115-113?utm-campaign=SocialFlow&utm-source=Twitter&utm-medium=AP-Sports’He finished with 20 points on 10-for-13 shooting in Oklahoma City’s 115-113 win/a on Friday night.

“Taj is a great post player,” Westbrook said. “He does a great job of getting in great position down low. When we see a matchup that we like we are going to keep going to him. Whether it is a miss or a make, it gives us the opportunity to score the basketball in the paint.”

Gibson did damage inside and out and punished the Rockets with his mid-range jumper.

“It’s no shock to me, just because that mid-range is automatic for him,” Thunder forward Doug McDermott, who also joined the Thunder in the trade with Chicago, said. “He’s tough to guard on that block too.”

Gibson also had a fast start in Game 2, but once the Thunder began to struggle, they went away from him. Gibson knew he didn’t need to change much going into Game 3.

“Just continue to be aggressive,” he said. “I felt like I had good shots in Game 2. Just got to stay with it and play the game as it flows to me.”

On defense, Gibson has been a better option than Kanter and Adams, who have struggled to keep up with the more athletic Rockets. Gibson performed well in all facets in Game 3, and Donovan needs more of that in Game 4.

“I was happy for him last night,” Donovan said Saturday. “I thought he gave us a great lift in both the first and second half. He’s professional, he’s a man, and he’s a reliable guy.”

Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP .

Watch Kawhi Leonard, Mike Conley in epic playoff duel Saturday (VIDEO)

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Kawhi Leonard scored 16 straight points for the Spurs at the end of regulation to give San Antonio the lead and a chance. Then Mike Conley hit a floater in the lane forced overtime.

There Mike Conley hit a floating bank shot that had the Grizzlies up three with :47 seconds left, only to have Leonard answer with a three to tie the game. Marc Gasol would break that tie and get Memphis the series-evening win.

Conley and Leonard traded blows through the clutch parts of Saturday’s epic Game 4 between Memphis and San Antonio. It’s worth checking out the highlights again.

John Wall goes coast-to-coast, behind-the-back for lefty dunk (VIDEO)

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There’s not going to be many plays better than this in the entire playoffs.

There wasn’t a lot for Wizards’ fans to cheer in Game 3, the Hawks took control early and routed Washington, making it a 2-1 series. But there was this, John Wall going coast-to-coast with the ball, going around-the-back and throwing it down left handed.

Wall is just so fast end to end.