Paul George, Lance Stephenson

Maybe Indiana is figuring out how to win without Granger

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For those of us who came into this season saying the Indiana Pacers were likely the second best team in the East, their ugly 3-6 start didn’t look good at all. Especially if you watched them play and saw an offense that looked as lethargic as you felt right after your third helping of Thanksgiving dinner.

But the Pacers are sort of to the NBA what the Los Angeles Kings were to the NHL last season (you remember that league, right?) — a team better built for the playoffs and one that needed its parts to come together before they could click.

And the Pacers will not have all their pieces until likely February — Danny Granger is out with knee issues. He was key to their offense because, although he is no superstar, he could create shots and be the guy they could dump the ball to late in the clock when other things didn’t work.

But the Pacers are 3-1 in their last four may finally be figuring it out by trying not to get anyone else to be Granger, something pointed out in a fantastic article by Paul Flannery at SB Nation.

Paul George started trying to be Granger and that didn’t really work.

“I really took it upon myself that I had to play well every night,” George said. “I think that’s something that kind of messed me up in the head a little bit because when I had moments to score I was kind of speeding myself up, just the anxiety that I had to knock that shot down.”

David West talked about how the Pacers need to just be themselves, not try to be Granger, if they are going to win.

“I don’t think you have to do that,” West said. “It’s about playing your game, maximizing what you do and we had opportunities down the stretch where guys just made plays.”

It’s all about the offensive end of the floor — the Pacers are actually playing the best defense in the NBA based on points per possession. And like a great defensive team should do, they are grinding the pace down to limit opponent opportunities (25th in pace in the league).

But they still have to score. They need Roy Hibbert to get back to finishing around the rim — he is shooting 37.9 percent this season, down 12 percentage points from last season, in part because the 7’2” center is shooting just 48.9 percent inside the restricted area. (Stats via Hoopdata.)

They also need George to score, but his way. Which he is starting to do — he dropped 37 on the Hornets.

But ultimately here is the thing about Indiana — they will be there in the end in the playoffs. And once in a setting where the pace already slows down, where defense matters more, where being solid at every position matters, they are still going to be a very tough out.

Zach LaVine wins MVP, Kristaps Porzingis puts on show in Rising Stars Challenge

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TORONTO — Canada’s own Andrew Wiggins was the rock star of the night. “An-drew-Wi-gins” chants broke out in the Air Canada Center as Canada’s native son put on a show with 29 points (and a few dunks) leading a World Team comeback against the USA in the Rising Stars Challenge.

“An-drew-Wi-gins” chants broke out in the Air Canada Center as Canada’s native son put on a show with 29 points (and a few huge dunks), sparking a World Team comeback against the USA in the Rising Stars Challenge.

His Minnesota teammate Karl-Anthony Towns was going to have none of that.

“I gotta see Andrew Wiggins for a long time and I want to rub this in,” Towns said.

He got his wish, the USA beat the World Team 157-154.

It was a glorified pickup game for three quarters, and the level of defensive intensity will make Sunday’s All-Star game look like Tom Thibodeau teams are playing. That led to a lot of high scorers.

Zach LaVine — the other teammate of Wiggins and Towns — led the USA with 30 points and was named the game’s MVP, and said he wanted to steal Wiggins’ thunder at home.

“That’s what I was going for,” LaVine said.

Also from the USA, Jordan Clarkson (Lakers) had 25, Devon Booker (Suns) had 23 and was 5-of-8 from three, D'Angelo Russell (Lakers) had 22, and Towns chipped in 18 points and 7 boards.

Knicks sensation Kristaps Porzingis was the second most popular player in the building, and he had 30 for the World team.

“Not great defense, but it’s about having fun, I guess,” Porzingis said. “And I think we had fun out there. In the second half we got more competitive, as both teams wanted to get the win, and we fell a little short.”

Also for the World Emmanuel Mudiay (Nuggets) had 30 points, Wiggins had 29, and Mario Hezonja (Magic) had 19.

The intensity and defense did pick up in the end, although one wouldn’t call it a thing of beauty. What matters is the crowd in the Air Canada Centre enjoyed it, even if their team didn’t win. It’s an exhibition, and they got a show.

Report: Celtics, Cavaliers talking Kevin Love trade; could include Knicks, ‘Melo

Cleveland Cavaliers' Kevin Love holds the ball away from Boston Celtics' Amir Johnson during the second quarter of a NBA basketball game in Boston Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
Associated Press
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The Celtics are looking for an elite player to improve their deep cast of role players. The Cavaliers are looking for depth. And Carmelo Anthony may just be looking to win.

All of that has talks between the Cavaliers and Celtics on a potential Love deal progressing, with the possibility of the Knicks as a third team also in the mix, according to Frank Isola of the New York Daily News.

The Daily News has learned that the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers have discussed a blockbuster trade centered around Kevin Love. There were very preliminary discussions about expanding the deal to include the Knicks and Anthony, who would have to waive his no-trade clause in order to facilitate a deal to the Cavs.

The Knicks would receive draft picks and players in return. One of those players is believed to be Timofey Mozgov, who five years ago was traded by the Knicks to Denver in the Anthony deal.

This is a longshot, but the report has some legs.

It’s not clear how far along these talks are. The trade deadline is Feb. 18 (next Thursday) and conversations tend to move past the theoretical/value judging phase and get real come All-Star Weekend, when many GMs and decision makers are in one place (and nobody can go outside because it is too cold in Toronto). This trade works for the Cavaliers if they get a quality stretch four in return — Kelly Olynyk? — plus some depth and a quality pick. The question for the Cavs is simply how much can they get back — this is a win-now team and Love helps that, so how does a trade make them better?

Would Danny Ainge move the unprotected Brooklyn Nets pick to get Love? Jae Crowder? How much would Boston surrender to get an elite star, especially one under a reasonable, long contract?

Carmelo Anthony wants a ring, if he could end up playing with LeBron and be much closer to it than he is now, he would waive his no-trade clause.

That said, this trade sounds like a longshot. At least at the deadline. Next Summer… who knows?

Watch Kevin Hart be Kevin Hart at the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game

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Kevin Hart has a movie to promote decided to come out of retirement to play in the NBA All-Star Friday Night Celebrity Game.

And, he did what Kevin Hart does.

Well, except win MVP of the game, that went to Win Butler (the Canadian lead singer of Arcade Fire). Butler led Canada to a 74-63 win over Hart and the USA.

Drake to introduce players for All-Star Game Sunday

Drake stands in front of Canada's bench before the Celebrity Game, part of NBA basketball's All-Star weekend, in Toronto on Friday, Feb. 12, 2016. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)
Associated Press
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You knew Canadian hip-hop star Drake was going to be involved directly in the All-Star Game in a way more than just having his back-and-gold OVO owl gear sold at the Air Canada Centre. Now we know how.

Drake will introduce the NBA All-Star players Sunday.

Drake has experience with this, he has introduced the Raptors — for whom he is a “global ambassador” — before.

This works for me. However, just to be clear, Drake is going to be introducing the players and Sting will headline the halftime show Sunday. Because nothing says NBA and millennials like “Fields of Gold.”