BBVA Rising Stars Challenge

The bizarre dichotomy of the NBA All-Star Game

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Sunday night, 24 players will amble into the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida. Many of them will be hungover, sleep-deprived, or both from a night of partying at all the hot spots during the biggest nightlife year for the NBA universe. They will casually go through the media requirements, slowly get dressed, do some casual shooting, talk with a lot of friends and acquaintances.

They will play a game, of sorts. There will be no defense. There will be very little effort. There will be some ooh and ahh moments, a few dunks, some neat passes, and a general giggly sort of feel to the day. It will be presented with lots of flash and pageantry and have no effect on anything, nor should it. It shouldn’t decide homecourt advantage in the Finals, it shouldn’t impact playoff seedings, it’s an exhibition and should mean absolutely nothing.

Those players were elected to play in the game either by fan vote, the same fan vote which routinely ignores any and all evidence to who has been good or not good throughout the season and is primarily decided based on either the presence of an overwhelming voting block (in the case of Yao Ming), or the player’s station as a member of one of the big three teams (Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls), or by coaches’ decision, which is often done using impact from assistants or video editors and which can often be attributed to recognition of a lifetime event or influence from what they “should do.”

To sum up, today’s NBA All-Star Game is a completely meaningless exhibition in which you will barely remember anything outside of who wins MVP and who was on roster, and was constructed using completely meaningless, bogus, and largely flawed methods of election. Saying the All-Star game is stupid isn’t really a stretch, even if it’s a bit much for something that’s just supposed to be fun for fans. Fun things can be meaningless, like cartoons for your four-year-old or appletinis (say hey, LBJ).  There’s no harm in that. This is not advocacy for eliminating the All-Star Game. The Game is a tradition, a nice PR tool for the league, and a fun experience, if exhausting and boring for players after about their third time.

No, what this is is a study in contrasts. Because while this game is constructed nearly without meaning, entirely arbitrarily, its relevance expands beyond this day, this season, this year and into a much greater context. That’s the real dichotomy of the All-Star Game. It’s both meaningless and crucial.

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When evaluating the resumes of players listed for the Hall of Fame, the criteria is complex, but it’s like any other resume. When you list your resume to an employer, are you able to encapsulate on a 1-2 page document why that job you were at less than six months didn’t work out? Can you describe the thriving success you experienced at the position you were at for four years without a promotion? Can you give context to why one award granted meant a lot and was well-earned while the other was simply the result of your relationship with the awarding board? No. You just fill in the lines. I can do X, I have done X,  I want to do X. That’s it.

The All-Star resumes are no different. Stats, a specific anecdote, perhaps, championships most importantly, and then there’s that which is most often the first thing listed.

X-Time NBA All-Star.

That line holds relevance in history. When we debate the relative merits of a player for inclusion in the Hall (and don’t get me wrong, we can say a lot of the same things about the Hall of Fame that we say about the All-Star Game; in fact, the Hall is probably a bigger disaster than a game which is voted for online), that measure is used to distinguish. Being a six-time NBA All-Star? That’s more than a half-decade of being one of the elite players in the NBA!

Some six-time All-Stars in the Hall of Fame: Tiny Archibald, Adrian Dantley, Joe Dumars, Artis Gilmore, Tommy Heinsohn, Jack Twyman.

Pretty impressive, right? Some active six-time All-Stars: Chris Bosh, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Joe Johnson.

Joe Johnson is a six-time All-Star.

(Note: I’m one of the few people left on the planet who doesn’t punish Johnson for his contract relative to his performance. The Hawks have made the playoffs each year since 2008, haven’t been an abject embarrassment in them outside of the Bucks series which they won, and gave Atlanta a run. Johnson, for all his moderate efficiency, is a huge part of that and is constantly underrated for his defensive work. My point is more about how we look at things now versus how we will look at things later.)

When we look back at Johnson’s career, the contextual stuff about the disgust over his selection or the mockery of his production relative to his contract will get lost. Someone’s going to be perusing Basketball-Reference in ten year who has never seen Joe Johnson play a second of basketball, look at his per-game stats during his peak, look at that six-time All-Star streak, find the YouTube of his work in the Boston series 2008, and think of him as a pretty great player, when currently, he may be the most derided All-Star selected, and Chris Bosh is on the team for crying out loud (again, I don’t have an issue with Bosh, he’s actually been great this year, but for the most part people hate him).

My point is, this stuff matters.

Going to the All-Star game means nothing, but it means more than the All-NBA teams, which receive so much less scrutiny and criticism. Being an All-Star means something to your career. It puts you into that level. When people in non-NBA contexts introduce you, they introduce you as “NBA All-Star.” It’s a designation that represents being something greater, not just currently, but within the massive flow of players that ebb in and out of the league. Stars rise and die in weeks in this league (take heed, Jeremy Lin), and these players selected are above. Paul Pierce is a nine-time All-Star. Nine. He’s probably going to wind up with a decade of All-Star appearances.

Jermaine O’Neal is a footnote in the NBA, and he’s pretty much only mentioned in reference to how slow he is or his injury issues.

The guy is a six-time All-Star!

And there are certainly debates about the quality of stars in the league relative to these eras. But they’re only mentioned in relatively recent context. We ignore how many fewer teams there were in 1980 and before, when some of the biggest legends exist. And no, no one’s going to be talking about Joe Johnson or Jermaine O’Neal as all-time greats, but there is a fondness that develops as a man’s career passes, a remembrance of when he was best that comes to overshadow the fading years of age. The same will happen with Jason Kidd, with Kevin Garnett, the same has already happened with Gary Payton.

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So today is a day for lazy skip passes, a few off-the-backboard alley-oops. Kobe will shoot a lot and if he’s feeling it will score a lot and make everyone shake their head, grin and go “Oh, Kobe.” LeBron may have one of those days… you know what, no, James has never taken this event seriously, probably never will. Blake Griffin will do some stuff. But none of it means anything, and the process of their respective assemblies is obviously flawed, subjective, invalid and largely a joke. But the fact that they are there (or in Joe Johnson’s case, there in spirit) does resonate. It does reflect something about their position in the context of this game, of sports, of culture.

Having been an All-Star means something, even if being one doesn’t.

Karl-Anthony Towns, Timberwolves battle back to top Hornets 125-120 in OT

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins, left, looks to pass around Charlotte Hornets center Cody Zeller in the second half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016. Minnesota won 125-120. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)
Associated Press
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Perhaps this was the type of win the talented and young Minnesota Timberwolves needed to get on a roll.

Andrew Wiggins scored 29 points, Karl-Anthony Towns added 27 points and 15 rebounds, and the Timberwolves showed late-game poise by erasing a 10-point, fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Southeast Division-leading Charlotte Hornets 125-120 in overtime on Saturday night.

“The more close games you’re in and the more you win, the better you get,” Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Repetition builds habits. When you see things happen in a game, it slows everything down.”

Zack LaVine added 17 points and Ricky Rubio had nine points and 12 assists for the Timberwolves, who snapped a four-game losing streak and avoided being swept by the Hornets for the third straight season.

“We came back and really made some really winning plays down the stretch,” LaVine said. “That’s what happens when you keep fighting. We’ve been fighting the last four or five games and been in those positions but we got over that hump. It feels good. Now we need to keep it going.”

Towns, a dominant force on the glass all night, had six points in overtime, including a backbreaking follow off a missed shot with 21 seconds left to put the Timberwolves up by six. Towns sealed the victory with two free throws with 3.9 seconds remaining.

Charlotte appeared on its way to its fourth win in five games, leading 104-97 with less than one minute to play.

But Minnesota battled back to tie the game in regulation with LaVine, Rubio and Wiggins all hitting 3-pointers in the final 39 seconds. Wiggins’ pull-up from 31 feet in transition with 8.9 seconds tied the game at 106.

The Hornets had a chance to win the game at the end of regulation, but Kemba Walker missed everything on a step-back 18-footer at the buzzer.

“There were a lot of mistakes on the defensive end and we gave up some big baskets,” Walker said. “We missed some rotations and we have to be better down the stretch.”

Walker led Charlotte with 22 points and eight assists. Frank Kaminsky had 21 points and Nic Batum had 15 points and 12 assists.

TIP-INS:

Timberwolves: Wiggins and Towns were a combined 22 of 42 from the field. … Blocked 10 shots.

Hornets: The Hornets have given up an average of 16.5 points per game in the first quarter in the last two games, compared to a season average of 27.1 points. … Cody Zeller had four blocks.

STRONG OT START

The Timberwolves took advantage of the momentum they had built at the end of regulation, opening overtime with a 7-0 run.

“You know, it always looks better when the ball is going in,” Thibodeau said. “When we’re getting the right shots and sharing the ball, everything looks a lot better. Obviously, playing from a lead is important and we haven’t been doing that.”

NOT PHYSICAL ENOUGH

Hornets coach Steve Clifford said he was “especially disappointed” with this loss because the team had emphasized getting its defense set and physicality in terms of blocking out.

“They crushed us with the block outs in the fourth quarter,” Clifford said. “They had at least four that might have led to nine points. That can’t happen. It’s been discussed and we’ve watched it and the reality is we either going to become a more physical group or we’re not going to win – at least not every night.”

TOWNS PASSES GARNETT

Towns established a new Timberwolves record with his 27th straight game with at least one blocked shot. He had two blocks against the Hornets.

 

Harrison Barnes, Wesley Matthews power Mavericks past Bulls 107-82

Dallas Mavericks forward Harrison Barnes, right, is defended by Chicago Bulls forward Jimmy Butler (21) during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Dallas, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Associated Press
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DALLAS (AP) Wesley Matthews has taken greater responsibility with Dirk Nowitzki out of the Dallas Mavericks’ lineup much of this season.

Matthews scored 20 of his 26 points in the second half of Dallas’ 107-82 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Saturday night.

“Matthews was the star of the game, obviously,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “He is our leader right now with Dirk out. He really sets the tone for us in the locker room and on the floor. He is just the vocal guy.”

Matthews has accepted the expanded role as Nowitzki has been limited to five games by a strained right Achilles tendon.

“I feel like that’s one of the reasons why they brought me over here (from Portland). Through this rough patch, injuries and everything, everybody had to mold together. It’s almost like we had to restructure ourselves. I think everybody has embraced that.”

Harrison Barnes scored 17 of his 22 points in the first half to help Dallas improve to 4-15.

Chicago was coming off a 111-105 victory over defending champion Cleveland on Friday night.

Jimmy Butler led Chicago with 26 points.

“I don’t think anybody played well tonight,” Butler said. “We didn’t play with energy on either end of the floor.”

Barnes powered the Mavericks to a 17-point first-quarter lead with eight points.

“They came out and threw the first punch and kept throwing, and we could just never recover from that,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We did expend a lot of energy (Friday) night.”

Dwight Powell (17) and rookie Dorian Finney-Smith (11) had career highs in scoring, and Deron Williams had a season-high 15 assists with only one turnover.

“The biggest thing was we were even (43-43) on the boards,” Carlisle said. Andrew Bogut had a game-high 11 rebounds, and Powell grabbed eight.

Neither team scored in the first 2:15, but Dallas went on a 7-0 run over the next 1:20. The Mavericks led 23-6 with 3:17 left. The quarter ended with Dallas leading 29-18. Bogut had six points and eight rebounds.

Chicago pulled within six points three times in the second quarter, but Dallas finished the first half with a 57-45 lead. In the third quarter, Matthews had 14 points, and the Maverick led by as many as 21 points.

TIP-INS

Bulls: C Robin Lopez has a career-high 11 straight games with 10 or more points. He scored 15 against Dallas. … F Jimmy Butler has reached 20 points in 17 of 19 games. He scored on a drive with 1:00 left in the third quarter, but was charged with a technical foul for arguing that he had been fouled.

Mavericks: G Wesley Matthews made 7 of 11 3-point attempts. … C Andrew Bogut fouled out, but had 11 rebounds and a season-high eight points. … The Mavericks’ 29 first-quarter points were a season high. … Their largest margin of victory before Saturday was 12 points.

WADE RESTS

Bulls G Dwyane Wade missed his second game this season, both to rest. He stayed in Chicago after Friday’s win over Cleveland. Their flight landed in the DFW Metroplex at 2:30 a.m. for the second game in a stretch of four games in five days. Nikola Mirotic started in Wade’s place and was scoreless in 13 minutes played.

NOWITZKI “INDEFINITE”

The Mavericks said that they no longer will keep a timetable for when F Dirk Nowitzki (strained right Achilles tendon) would play. Instead, his return will be listed as “indefinite.” He has played in only five games this season.

“We said I’m still a few games away, but luck can change, so I just have to go day by day,” Nowitzki said.

“At this stage in my career, I don’t move well anyways, so if I’m out there at like 80, 90 percent, I don’t think I’m a big help, so I want to make sure my body’s responding the right way and we’ll go from there.”

 

Bucks win fourth straight with 112-103 victory over Brooklyn

Milwaukee Bucks' Matthew Dellavedova drives past Isaiah Whitehead during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Bucks coach Jason Kidd wondered if his young team could rebound from a third-quarter lull.

Milwaukee’s kids did just that, winning their fourth straight game despite letting a 16-point third-quarter lead slip away.

Matthew Dellavedova scored 12 of his season-high 18 points in the fourth quarter, helping the Bucks hold off the Brooklyn Nets 112-103 on Saturday.

“I thought it got a little sloppy,” Kidd said. “I wanted to see if they were going to figure it out. I wasn’t going to call timeout. I wanted to see if they were going to talk themselves through it because that’s what good teams do.”

Milwaukee led 62-46 after a layup by Tony Snell with 8:11 left in the third, but Brooklyn closed the quarter on a 26-13 run to get within 75-72. Consecutive 3-pointers by Joe Harris gave the Nets an 82-81 lead with 10:00 to play.

Sean Kilpatrick scored 13 of his 19 points in the third quarter, when he went 8 for 8 from the foul line.

“It definitely wasn’t anything the coach did,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “It was all the players playing well. We didn’t change anything and kept with our rotations. The guys came out with focus.”

With the game tied at 94, Milwaukee began a 9-1 run to lead 103-95 with 1:43 remaining.

“We had a chance in the third quarter to break the game wide open, and we didn’t take it,” Dellavedova said. “They came back and played well. We then did a good job of pulling away.”

John Henson led Milwaukee with 20 points and added seven rebounds, Giannis Antetokounmpo had 16 points and 10 rebounds, Jabari Parker added 15 points, Greg Monroe scored 13 points and Snell chipped in 10 points.

“They were just finding me,” Henson said. “I was open. (Antetokounmpo and Parker) are huge threats coming down the lane and off a pick-and-roll, so it is my job to finish for them and take a little heat off of them.”

Bojan Bogdanovic led Brooklyn with 24 points. Brook Lopez had 13 points but was just 3 for 17 from the field and 0 for 10 in the first half.

“I just wasn’t good enough,” Lopez said. “I made a lot of turnovers. I missed a lot of shots that I need to make. I think I let us down on both ends of the floor.”

TIP-INS

Nets: Forward Trevor Booker missed the game due to an illness. Anthony Bennett started in his place and had seven points and a career-high 14 rebounds. … Lopez grabbed four rebounds to tie Derrick Coleman for second place on the Nets career list with 3,690.

Bucks: Milwaukee is 10-0 after leading at halftime and 8-0 when leading after three quarters. … The Bucks scored 62 points in the paint. … Antetokounmpo tied his career high with five blocked shots.

FAMILIAR FOES

Milwaukee and Brooklyn were playing for the second time in three days after the Bucks beat the Nets 111-93 on Thursday night.

The Bucks will face the same team in consecutive games four more times this season, including home-and-homes later this month with the Bulls, Cavaliers and Wizards.

 

One more look back: Top 10 clutch shots of season to this point

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The opening weeks of the season have seen some dramatic finishes — and for a Saturday night, why not watch a compilation of them? What else were you going to do? You’ve got 3:30 to sit through these.

Who got the top spot? Marc Gasol? Damian Lillard? Al Horford? John Henson? If we told you it would just destroy the surprise.