Three Stars of the Night: Curry, Smith make their All-Star cases

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It’s actually too late, the coaches have already voted and we will find out who the NBA All-Star Game reserves are Thursday evening. But two guys on the bubble made statements and showed why they should be in. Oh, and LeBron had a triple double.

Third Star: Stephen Curry (31 points, 7 assists)

The Warriors have now beaten the Clippers and the Thunder in one week — you have any other questions about if they are for real? Stephen Curry leads Golden State and it showed Wednesday night — yes, he put up numbers but this was a night where maybe the best three point shooter in the NBA was off his game (3-of-14 from beyond the arc) yet he still found ways to contribute. The best sign of that was how, after missing a late three that would have sealed the Warriors win, Curry’s help defense did seal the game — when two teammates doubled Kevin Durant Curry slid down, stole the pass intended for Kendrick Perkins and and that was it. Well, he was fouled and hit some free throws and that sealed it, but you get the point. Curry is doing it all. Just like an All-Star would.

Second Star: LeBron James (31 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists)

LeBron kind of summed up the Heat on this night — the numbers are impressive and he was key to the win, but it wasn’t as impressive as it sounds. As a team the Heat’s defense was sloppy. With LeBron there was a pass to nobody (save the guy in the first row) in the final minute of regulation that could have really hurt the Heat. He followed that up with a hero-ball missed jumper as time expired that was not him attacking or running a play but settling. Of course, there are only a couple players where we would nit-pick what someone did wrong on the night they had a triple-double, but such are the standards for LeBron James now.

First Star: Josh Smith (30 points, 13 rebounds 8 assists)

Al Horford was out and the Hawks needed a lift — and up stepped Josh Smith. He showed up ready to play and had 10 points in the first quarter to help spark the Hawks to a lead they would never surrender. This was a night where Smith was not settling for jumpers (only 10 of his 24 shots came from outside the paint) and when he is aggressive good things usually happen.

It may be too late for Smith’s All-Star hopes, but it’s not to late for games like this to boost his trade value. In the last year of his contract, entering his peak at age 27, capable of games like this one, Smith is going to draw trade interest. We’ll see what the Hawks do with that, but Smith can be a beast when he attacks. And he was attacking against the Bobcats.

Joel Embiid upgrades himself from 69% to 81%: ‘Shoutout to Jalen Rose’

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A story in three parts:

1. After posting 46-15-7-7 in a win over the Lakers, frequently injured 76ers center Joe Embiid declared himself to be 69%:

2. ESPN analyst Jalen Rose called that joke “unprofessional:”

3. Embiid upgraded his status to 81% with a “shoutout to Jalen Rose:”

In case you didn’t get the joke.

Celtics’ Kyrie Irving: “It was a nice streak. But it was time to come to an end.”

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The Celtics established themselves as one of the NBA’s elite teams, a contender for the Eastern Conference title, during their 16-game win streak.

However, that hot streak to start the season will matter as much as Thanksgiving leftovers in the back of the refrigerator in April by the time the playoffs roll around. This is a team that still has work to do.

Which is what Kyrie Irving was getting at in this post-loss quote from Friday night, via Israel Gutierrez of ESPN.

“There’s still a lot to accomplish going forward,” Irving said. “It was a nice streak. But it was time to come to an end.”

This team still needs to get better and more consistent. The Celtics had to come from behind in the fourth quarter in eight of the 16 wins, and while the team defense was impressive the offense still can be hit and miss. Al Horford and Kyrie Irving play well off each other, but this is still the 20th ranked offense in the NBA. They are taking more long midrange jumpers than most coaches want, but the bigger challenge is they have not been finishing around the basket.

Titles are not won in November. Irving gets that. Jayson Tatum will hit the rookie wall at some point (they all do) and he needs to prove he can break through. Al Horford is playing maybe the best ball of his career and needs to keep it up. The Celtics need to keep their defensive focus (the fundamentals are there to have a top five defense). I could go on but you get the point, and so does Irving — there is a lot of work for this team to do.

Boston is off to a fantastic start, but it’s just that.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich: I’ve never seen injury like Kawhi Leonard’s

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Gregg Popovich is a basketball lifer.

He’s the NBA’s most experienced active head coach. Before that, he was the Spurs’ general manager. Before that, he was an NBA assistant. Before that, he was a college head coach and assistant. Before that, he was a college player. Before that, he was a youth player.

The San Antonio coach has seen everything.

Except the right quadriceps tendinopathy suffered by Kawhi Leonard, whom Popovich said more than a week would return “sooner rather than later.” Yet, Leonard still hasn’t played this season.

Popovich, via Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

“Never, never,” Popovich said when asked whether he has seen such a condition hampering one of his players. “What’s really strange is that [point guard] Tony [Parker] has the same injury, but even worse. They had to go operate on his quad tendon and put it back together or whatever they did to it. So to have two guys, that’s pretty incredible. I had never seen it before those guys.”

“I keep saying sooner rather than later,” Popovich said jokingly. “It’s kind of like being a politician. It’s all baloney, doesn’t mean anything.”

The 26-year-old Leonard is one of the NBA’s biggest on-court stars. He might be the league’s best defender, and he has built himself into an offensive force. The Spurs (11-7) have fared fine without him so far, but they’ll need him to accomplish their main goals – this year and beyond.

Hopefully, Leonard’s health is better than it sounds here, because Popovich’s answer sure isn’t encouraging.

Tim Hardaway Jr. calls fallen ref safe rather than defend shot (video)

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The Knicks went on a 28-0 run.

They earned the right to showboat late in their win over the Raptors last night.

Tim Hardaway Jr. called a ref, who slipped on the baseline, safe rather than contest Serge Ibaka‘s 3-pointer. Perfection!