Kevin Durant, LeBron James

Three Stars of the Night: MVP Candidates shine on Christmas


Christmas Day is a showcase day for the NBA. No NFL. No college bowl games. Just hoops. And as you can imagine any league run by David Stern doing, it put its biggest stars on display on the biggest early season stage. The second opening day, if you will.

The stars on Christmas were the three guys at the front of the MVP race. With apologies to Kobe Bryant, who came in fourth in the stars voting by our committee (of one).

Third Star: LeBron James (29 points, 8 rebounds, 9 assists)

He won the MVP last year and voters seem a little weary of voting for him, but you simply cannot have an MVP conversation without the single best player on the planet in the discussion. He almost put up a triple-double, which he seems to almost do a lot of nights. He showed off the full range of skills, from a couple monster dunks to a no-look pass late. If you think the MVP has to be the single best player in the league, you have to vote for him.

Second Star: Carmelo Anthony (34 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists)

He is doing more than just scoring this year, but when he does score the Knicks take leads. Like when Anthony put up 17 points in the third quarter when the Knicks seemed to take control of the game. He had seven in the fourth but the Lakers focused their defense more on him and his teammates could not make Los Angeles pay for that. Anthony deserves to be in the early MVP conversation, but now it falls on him to stay in the talks.

First star: Kevin Durant (33 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assist)

He didn’t have a huge first-half impact because he was mired in foul trouble, but he had 14 in the fourth quarter when you expect your stars to make plays (although he missed a tough three to tie it with LeBron in his face. He did. He has been the most consistent of the big stars this year and I get the feeling voters are going to give it to him because “it’s his turn.” But it’s more than that, he came back to the NBA off the Olympics a better player and he has led the Thunder to the top spot out West.

Spurs to give Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili Friday night off in Denver

Manu Ginobili, Harrison Barnes, Tim Duncan
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The Spurs are 12-3 and comfortably in second place in the West, they have the best defense in the NBA allowing just 93.8 points per 100 possessions, and they have a top-10 offense to go with it.

So, time to start making sure guys are rested.

That is the first night of a back-to-back, with former Spurs’ assistant coach Mike Budenholzer and his Atlanta Hawks coming to San Antonio on Saturday. Popovich is saving his two veterans for that game.

Duncan and Ginobili have looked like they found the fountain of youth this season. Duncan is taking on less of the offense but has been very efficient in those moments. Ginobili has the impact he did a few years back in his bench role.

What Gregg Popovich cares about is them playing like that come the postseason. So they will rest on Friday.

Brandon Armstrong impersonates Ray Allen (video)

2014 NBA Finals - Game Five
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Ray Allen is retired-ish, but he’ll always be running through screens – in our mind and in this video.

Celtics draft pick Marcus Thornton gets beer dumped on head during Australian game (video)

Marcus Thornton, Will Cherry

The Celtics drafted Marcus Thornton with No. 45 pick in the 2015 NBA draft. That essentially entitled him to the required tender – a one-year contract offer, surely unguaranteed at the minimum.

Thornton rejected that, which is almost always a mistake.

Rejecting the tender is a favor to the drafting team, which gets to keep the player’s exclusive rights for a year. If Thornton tries to join the NBA now, he’s stuck negotiating with only the Celtics.

By accepting the tender, the player typically gets one of two outcomes. He either plays on that contract and draws an NBA salary or he gets waived. But even getting waived is better than rejecting the tender, because at least the player becomes a free agent and can negotiate with any team.

Players who reject the tender go to another league and play for less money. In Thornton’s case, that mean Australia.

How’s that going?

(Almost) never reject the required tender as a second-round pick.

Byron Scott says they just have to get Kobe Bryant better looks

Kobe Bryant, Joe Johnson, Byron Scott

Kobe Bryant is averaging 15.2 points a game at age 37. It’s just taking him 16.4 shots per game to get there. After his 1-of-14 shooting performance against the Warriors the other night — with too much isolation and too many plays run just for him — there has been a lot of talk about his shot. With reason, this is his shot chart so far this season.

Kobe shotchart season

So what do the Lakers’ do? Get Kobe to shoot less and get the ball in the hands of the young stars they supposed to be developing more? Nah.

They just need to get Kobe better looks, Scott told the Los Angeles Times.

“I know his mentality is that he can still play in this league,” Scott said. “And we feel the same way….

“Obviously he’s struggling right now with his shot, and I think everybody can see that,” Scott said. “So it’s trying to get him in better position to be able to have an opportunity to knock those shots down on a consistent basis. That’s No. 1.

“I don’t know if it’s his legs. I don’t think so. Again, our conversations are pretty blunt. … He tells me when he is tired and he tells me when he’s not tired. And the last few days, he said he feels great. So, I don’t think it’s a matter of him being tired or his legs being tired. I think it’s a matter of his timing being a little off.”

Yes, how could it be his legs? It’s not like he’s a 37-year-old with more than 55,000 NBA minutes played, and coming off an Achilles rupture and major knee surgery.

Honestly, I hope the Lakers and Kobe find a balance soon, because they have become just hard to watch. And I don’t want Kobe to go out this way.