The 2012-2013 All-Breakout Team

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Last season, Jeremy Lin coming out of nowhere (and the ensuing Linsanity) was the perfect headlining story for a crazy, compacted season. Lin was absolutely the breakout star of the year, but we also saw Ersanity (Ersan Ilyasaova) become a thing — at least in Milwaukee, anyway. And Kevin Love’s nightly performances? Just good old-fashioned insanity.

But now it’s time to move on. LeBron got his ring, and a new season with fresh storylines and a new cast of characters awaits us. Which breakout stars will take the league by storm this year? Here’s a look at the 2012-2013 All-Breakout Team:

PG: Jeff Teague, Atlanta Hawks

Where have we seen a player like this before? Blazing speed. Killer floater in the lane. Undersized. Rough as a distributor and distance shooter, but a natural scorer around the rim. That’s right — Jeff Teague is the closest thing we’ve got to the next Tony Parker, and maybe it’s not a coincidence that both players had nearly identical numbers through their first three seasons in every way. With Iso Joe Johnson moved on to Brooklyn, more than ever Atlanta’s offense will revolve around Teague in the pick-and-roll , and he’s got two of the best dance partners you could ask for in Josh Smith and Al Horford. Add in two elite spot-up 3-point shooters to the mix with Anthony Morrow and Kyle Korver, and all of a sudden Teague could be orchestrating one of the league’s most surprising offenses while still putting up big scoring numbers of his own.

SG: Paul George, Indiana Pacers

George is almost too good to be true, isn’t he? It’s like he was created in a factory. Size? George is 6-foot-9 with arms for days. Athleticism? He can jump out of the gym, even when you turn the lights off. Skills? George is so smooth and effortless with the ball that he almost looks aloof before his incredible athleticism just pops up on you, which is eerily reminiscent of another talented big wing, Tracy McGrady. If George can continue his sweet shooting from the outside this season (38.5 percent from deep) and force the action a little more, he could make a potential playoff meeting with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James very, very interesting.

SF: Danilo Gallinari, Denver Nuggets

You’ve probably seen Gallinari’s name on lists like this before, but this is the year it all comes together. The addition of Andre Iguodala (and getting Wilson Chandler back) may scare some away, but Iguodala is a natural distributor who should help free Gallinari for more open looks than he’s seen in previous years. This is also a vote of confidence in George Karl, who will have the Nuggets play at a breakneck pace and may even toss Gallinari at the 4 for extended periods, where he’ll be a foul-drawing machine with his quick first step against slower big men. Already a solid defender and scorer, Gallinari just needs to get his shot dialed in to make the leap to the next level. While the 44 percent clip from behind the arc he posted in his rookie year is probably unreachable, Gallinari may be the Nuggets top outside shooter this season — meaning we’ll see lots of 3-point attempts supplemented by the usual steady diet of trips to the line. There’s no quicker path to a hefty PPG average than that.

PF: Andrea Bargnani, Toronto Raptors

Bargnani came out of the gates smoking hot last year, scoring over 30 points in four of his first 13 contests while — and you might want to sit down for this — putting in solid effort defensively. That’s the thing with Bargnani — his value is always hotly contested, as he routinely gets killed for what he’s not (a passable rebounder or defender) instead of praised for what he is (an incredible shot-creator) just because of his height. While those arguments won’t subside anytime soon, Bargnani is quietly gearing up to finish what he started at the beginning of last year. Fortunately, Toronto has an improved team defense (12th in defensive efficiency last year) and he’ll get lots of help with Jonas Valanciunas next to him, a true big that lives for rim runs and paint protection. Throw in Kyle Lowry, the first player Bargnani has played with who can actually draw in a defense, and the Raptors could be a playoff team. And if that happens? It’s going to be awfully hard to ignore the guy scoring over 20 points per game — shoddy rebounding or not.

C: DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings

Cousins is almost cursed with too much talent — instead of making things easy for himself at the rim, he’ll often attempt a tougher, more skilled move and as a result wind up taking a more difficult shot. With that said, quick feet, soft hands, and great vision aren’t bad things to pack on a 6-foot-11, 270 pound frame, and it’s just a matter of time before Cousins harnesses his wide set of skills to dominate the league. Cousins already does dominate in a few categories — he led the league in offensive rebounds and offensive fouls drawn, which may surprise some people who think he’s just a big, lazy lug. The opposite is true — Cousins plays the game with relentless fire and has rivalries brewing with, oh, just about half of the Western Conference. If he can simply learn to stay out of foul trouble and convert more easy chances at the rim, the “Griffin or Love?” question will suddenly have to include Cousins.

Warriors eliminate Spurs, advance to face Pelicans

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Kevin Durant drained a pull-up 3-pointer reminiscent of his signature NBA Finals shot in the final minute of the third quarter. The Spurs ended the quarter with a flurry and kept coming.

Durant made consecutive mid-range jumpers over Kyle Anderson midway through the fourth quarter. The Spurs called timeout, subbed  Rudy Gay for Anderson and kept coming.

Durant drove past Gay and dunked. The Spurs called another timeout and kept coming.

Each of those Durant shots seemed as if they could be the backbreaker. Credit San Antonio for continuing to play hard.

But without Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs were just overmatched against the superstar small forward in the Warriors’ 4-1 first-round victory – which ended with Golden State’s 99-91 Game 5 win Tuesday.

The Warriors’ next opponent – the Pelicans, who open their second-round series Saturday – could soon learn the feeling.

New Orleans relies on E'Twaun Moore, Darius Miller and Solomon Hill at small forward – not the slate of stoppers that seems ready for Durant. Even on an off night (1-for-8 on 3-pointers, five turnovers), Durant scored 25 in Game 5. He’s a tough cover. But those three Pelicans – Moore (size), Miller (fundamentals) and Hill (speed) – each have major defensive liabilities Durant can exploit.

And Durant will have plenty of help.

Klay Thompson (24 points) appears headed back on track after a clunker in Game 4. Draymond Green (17 points, 19 rebounds and seven assists) looks locked in.

And, of course, Stephen Curry is poised to return sometime against the Pelicans.

The Warriors weren’t very impressive in the San Antonio series. Nor did they need to be. The Spurs were just overmatched, unable to summon nearly enough offense.

But Golden State showed enough focus and reminders of its talent to retain favored status even against better opponents – like New Orleans, which swept the Trail Blazers. Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday lead a surging team.

The Spurs want to get back on that level, and that stars with solving the Leonard dilemma this summer.

Will they offer him a super-max extension? Would he take it? Will they trade him? Will he request a trade?

With questions like that facing San Antonio, by comparison, the Pelicans are stable at small forward.

How do you like “The Process” now? Sixers eliminate Heat, advance to second round

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It felt inevitable.

Not “The Process” from the start. There were some severe downs before the ups.

Not this first playoff series against Miami from the start, because it felt even… until Game 3 when Joel Embiid returned in his mask and tipped the scales.

No, it was Game 5’s result felt inevitable as it unfolded. Not because Philadelphia won the previous game in Miami and could close it out at home. Not because the Sixers have the two biggest talents in the series in Ben Simmons and Embiid.

Rather, Game 5 felt inevitable because the Sixers got better looks all night long. They got them with ball movement, with player movement that created mismatches or clean jumpers. It was tied 46-46 at the half because Philadelphia just missing its good looks while the Heat were struggling with hands in their face all night. Philadelphia shot 38.1 percent in the first half overall and were 2-of-12 from three.

In the third quarter, it all changed.

Philadelphia went on an early 9-0 run, shot 50 percent as a team for the quarter, all while continuing to play defense and get stops. The Sixers won the third 34-20 and held on through Miami rallies in the fourth to take the game comfortably, 104-91.

With the win, Philadelphia wins the series 4-1 and advances to the second round, where they will face either Boston or Milwaukee (Boston leads the series 3-2).

They did it behind 27 from J.J. Redick, who knocked down five threes. Embiid had 19 points and 12 rebounds, Simmons had 14 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists. However, it was the defense that held the Miami to 38.6 percent shooting overall and 16-of-31 from three within eight feet of the basket that won the game for Philly.

This young Sixers team learned lessons in this first round, and maybe the biggest was how to adapt the physicality of the playoffs, and keeping your cool while things don’t go your way.

“I thought we withstood the physicality of the Heat,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “They’re a great organization. They came to mean it, we knew they wouldn’t go away easily, and we had to have that physical element to match.”

They matched that physicality, but what they had was talent that could step up.

They also savored the moment. Midway through the fourth, up comfortably and still knocking down shots, the young Sixers were reveling in the deafening crowd in the Wells Fargo Center. Philadelphia was reveling in success after years of struggling through the process — the players and fans wanted to start that party midway through the fourth.

However, Heat have no chill and no quit in them, they went on a 10-0 in the fourth quarter, not-so-coincidentally after Sixers fans started chanting, “We want Boston!”

But when it mattered the Heat couldn’t get stops — the Sixers talent showed through. Redick hit threes. Embiid owned the paint. Simmons did a little bit of everything.

It was a moment of revelry in Philadelphia. One years in the making — and maybe the first in many years of future celebrations on that court.

Sixers players douse Brett Brown, present him with bell after closing Heat (VIDEO)

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The Philadelphia 76ers are moving on. Let’s just try to process that for a moment.

After beating the Miami Heat on Tuesday night, 104-91, this iteration of the Sixers experienced their first playoff series win together. It was also the first series win for coach Brett Brown as the man in charge of an NBA team.

As such, players gathered in the locker room after the win to hear Brown speak about the win, and about how the team had more to give and to learn as they moved forward together in the playoffs.

When Brown concluded his speech, he tried to hand off the victory bell to JJ Redick. As soon as Redick received it, he bestowed the honor of the bell right back upon Brown.

That’s when teammates showered Brown with whatever they had nearby, and Brown rung the bell.

Man, what a moment.

Marcus Smart returns, helps Celtics win Game 5 over Bucks

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Marcus Smart returned to the Boston Celtics after suffering a thumb injury earlier in the year, and boy was it just in time.

The Celtics guard came off the bench, doing what he does best: attacking opposing guards, grabbing rebounds, and making hustle plays for his squad. Smart thoroughly annoyed the Milwaukee Bucks, and as Giannis Antetokounmpo failed to make a push in the second half (and as Khris Middleton‘s shooting slowly deteriorated) it was Boston who came out with a win in Game 5, 92-87.

Milwaukee’s offense failed to show up early. According to NBA TV, it was the second-lowest halftime total for the Bucks this season, and the away team scored just 37 points at the break. Milwaukee struggled mightily as a team, shooting just 21 percent from 3-point range. Despite the issues, both Antetokounmpo and Middleton had 11 points by half.

Boston’s attack was balanced, with nine players scoring in the first half but none reaching double figures. Smart was effective off the bench, playing 12 minutes in the first half. Smart’s presence was felt elsewhere on the floor as well; in those minutes he racked up two blocks, two rebounds, and two assists.

The Celtics stalled to start the third quarter, at times going several minutes between baskets. The intensity level was still high, particularly during one tussle with 9:33 left in the third. Eric Bledsoe and Terry Rozier got into a bumping match on the baseline away from the ball, resulting in one player getting pushed into an official. Bledsoe earned a Flagrant 1 for his efforts, and Rozier was assessed a technical.

Milwaukee began to battle back on surprising baskets by Shabazz Muhammad. The former Minnesota Timberwolves wing dropped two 3-pointers to help the Bucks make a run at the Celtics all the way into the fourth quarter.

The critical play of the game came with 80 seconds left. With the shot clock winding down, Al Horford was allowed by officials to shoot a long jumper. The refereeing crew didn’t blow the whistle, and Boston took a second possession after a backtip.

Then, with 28 seconds left as the Bucks were trying to steal or foul the Celtics, came the play Boston fans had been waiting for from Smart. At first it appeared Milwaukee had shot at a turnover as they hustled Smart to the floor on a trap. Thinking quickly, Smart leapt on the lost ball, flipped over, and sent a pass to a wide open Horford for the basket, all but sealing the game.

Milwaukee tried to play the foul game in the final minute or so, but weren’t able to come up with a win. Antetokounmpo finished with just 16 points and Middleton with 23. Horford led the Celtics with 22 points, 14 rebounds, and three assists.

Boston now leads the series, 3-2, as they head back to Milwaukee for Game 6 on Thursday.