Three Stars of the Night: Big stars earn the stars on Sunday

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We at PBT love the underdogs, the little guys, the players who make the contributions you don’t as quickly notice. But the NBA’s biggest stars are stars for a reason. And Sunday it was some of the NBA’s biggest names showing you why they get paid the big bucks.

Third Star: Kevin Martin, 28 points on 11 shots.

We have a Kevin Martin sighting in Oklahoma City — for the first time this season he found a groove and looked comfortable on the court. Especially in the first half, when he got 22 of his points. He was 6-of-8 from beyond the arc.

The last of Martin’s points came with just over four minutes left in the game, cutting the Thunder deficit to the Hawks to two, 91-89. Then Martin didn’t touch the ball the rest of the way — Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook played catch on the strong side while Martin stood ignored just a skip pass away. And the Hawks won. Still, Martin seems to have found some level of comfort in OKC.

Second Star: Carmelo Anthony, 27 points on 18 shots, 5 rebounds

I don’t want to say Carmelo Anthony should play the four all season but… did you see him against the Sixers? This was arguably as complete a game as he is played since he came to New York, a game where he contributed at both ends. On offense he just seemed to always make the right play — passing out of doubles, driving when guys pressured him and when they backed off he took the jumper. It was a thing of beauty. And if you want to see what I mean by him playing an all-around game, here you go.

First Star: Dwight Howard, 28 points and 7 rebounds.

Now that’s the Howard Lakers fans expected to see. The Lakers seemed to simplify their offense, Kobe Bryant directed it and the result was the Lakers pounded the ball inside to Dwight Howard as much as they could. Howard got his 28 points on 12-of-14 shooting, he was much more crisp with his rotations and movement on the defensive end as well.

In case you think he’s hurting and the big problem in L.A., Howard has averaged 23.3 points per game on 68.8 percent shooting, plus 9.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game this season. Wait until he gets healthy.

Josh Jackson’s first pitch is… just a bit outside

Associated Press
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Josh Jackson is not going Bo Jackson on us and playing baseball in the offseason.

The highly-rated forward out of Kansas who was the No. 4 pick of the Phoenix Suns was invited to throw out the first pitch before Friday night’s Diamondbacks game.

To quote Bob Uecker, he was just a bit outside. He tried the corner and missed.

Lonzo Ball was able to make his first pitch, ergo, he will turn out to be a much better NBA player. Obviously, these skills correlate.

Report: Re-signing Nerlens Noel Mavericks’ top off-season priority

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This is a Mark Cuban owned team, you don’t think the Mavericks are going to make a serious run at a free agent come July 1? Pelicans’ point guard Jrue Holiday has long been known to be a target, but there will be others.

But keeping their new core together, including restricted free agent Nerlens Noel, is the top priority, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

Rumors like this are out there in part from Dallas to hope to chill the market for Noel. While he could be a defensive force who provides some scoring around the rim, with Noel’s injury history they may be able to get him at less than max money — because if he’s at the max the Mavericks are flirting with the luxury tax (and Cuban isn’t going to want to pay the tax for a borderline playoff team at best).

What Dallas fears is what Brooklyn did last season to Allen Crabbe in Portland and Tyler Johnson in Miami — some team to come in with a max or near-max offer sheet that drives up the price. Dallas will match, they will keep the young core together, it just gets more expensive.

Next season in Dallas will be a deserved big farewell to Dirk Nowitzki. He will be the focus, but behind him Dallas will try to be building for the future. They made the trade deadline move to make sure Noel is a part of that, the only question now is how much it costs them.

Magic Johnson on drafting Lonzo Ball: “what I needed was a leader”

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Nobody, not even his critics with the Lakers, question that D'Angelo Russell had talent. What they questioned from the start was his work ethic and maturity. I was told by sources with the team he often was the last one to team meetings, often one of the first out of the gym, and the whole Nick Young thing spoke to the maturity question. Byron Scott took a lot of heat as Lakers’ coach for benching him, and Scott’s communication skills were lacking, but he had reasons. Russell also just 21 and maybe he finds his way, but the Lakers weren’t willing to wait anymore.

Which is why the Lakers were willing to move him to Brooklyn in the Brook Lopez trade, and why the Lakers went after Lonzo Ball in the draft, Magic Johnson said, via Baxter Holmes of ESPN.

Is Lonzo Ball a leader? Only time will tell, he has the potential.

Will players want to play with him? Yes, if the passing skills he showed in college transfer to the NBA. If guys know they will get the rock if they run/cut, then they will do just that. It’s some simple B. F. Skinner stuff here — if players are rewarded they will keep doing it. Get them the rock in transition and they will get out there every time.

Ball has flaws in his game, there are certainly questions about his defense, and how that awkward shot translates remains to be seen (it goes in but his time to get it off will decrease at the NBA level)? Will he be a scoring threat in the half-court? He’s got work to do. But answer those questions and the Lakers may have the key piece to help anchor a franchise he’s been looking for.

Sacramento Kings waive guard Arron Afflalo

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) The Sacramento Kings have waived guard Arron Afflalo one year after signing him as a free agent.

The Kings cut ties with Afflalo on Friday before his entire $12.5 million contract for 2017-18 would become guaranteed. Afflalo will get $1.5 million instead.

Afflalo averaged 8.4 points and 2 rebounds in 61 games this past season for Sacramento. He has averaged 11.3 points per game in his 10-year career.