Irving, Lillard lead selections for All-Star Rising Stars (rookie/sophomore game)

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Friday night of All-Star weekend is when the NBA likes to show off it’s future All-Stars. Or, at least the guys who seem like they are going to stick around the league for a while.

It’s the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge — what the rest of us still call the rookie/sophomore game. Although for the second year in a row the teams of rookies and sophomores will be mixed together on teams selected by Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley during the TNT pregame show Feb. 7. This morning, PBT’s D.J. Foster and I took our shot at picking the teams.

Wednesday the official list of players came out and it features the big names you expected — Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard and more. Here is the pool of players

Sophomores:
Kyrie Irving (Cleveland Cavaliers)
• Kenneth Faried (Denver Nuggets)
• Brandon Knight (Detroit Pistons)
• Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio Spurs)
• Chandler Parsons (Houston Rockets)
• Klay Thompson (Golden State Warriors)
• Tristan Thompson (Cleveland Cavaliers)
• Nikola Vucevic (Orlando Magic)
• Kemba Walker (Charlotte Bobcats)

Freshmen:
Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers)
• Anthony Davis (New Orleans Hornets)
• Harrison Barnes (Golden State Warriors)
• Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards)
• Andre Drummond (Detroit Pistons)
• Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Charlotte Bobcats)
• Alexey Shved (Minnesota Timberwolves)
• Dion Waiters (Cleveland Cavaliers
• Tyler Zeller (Cleveland Cavaliers)

Each team chosen by Barkley/Shaq will have nine players for a shortened game that traditionally features less defense than the All-Star Game itself and is filled with some ridiculous shots because of it.

Check out the teams D.J. Foster and I picked for our game. It follows this pool pretty closely with a few differences — they do not have Ricky Rubio available, but as he is in his second season we took him (they had Shved in there instead). Rather than Vucevic we had Andrew Nicholson, who Foster likes better. Rather than Tristan Thompson I chose Jared Sullinger, and I also took Isaiah Thomas and had him playing, they went bigger with Zeller.

But this is a good group of athletes and shooters — it should be a fun game come Feb. 15.

Rockets bench hams it up over Andre Roberson missed free throw (video)

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Russell Westbrook might not want to talk about his supporting cast distinctively, but it’s a real issue for the Thunder, who trail the Rockets 3-1 in their first-round series.

Even Andre Roberson, who has impressively defended James Harden, brings a glaring weakness: free throws. Roberson is 2-for-17 from the line in the playoffs, including 2-for-12 in Game 4 yesterday. Houston even repeatedly intentionally fouled him late.

It was agonizing for all but the most partisan Rockets supporters – though even Houston’s bench, while at least implicitly mocking Roberson, appeared put off that he missed yet again.

Isaiah Thomas: ‘Mentally and emotionally, I’m not here’

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
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Isaiah Thomas previously explained his emotions in a statement, but the Celtics guard spoke publicly yesterday for the first time since the death of his sister in a car crash just before the playoffs.

Thomas, via A. Sherrod Blakely of CSN Northeast:

“Mentally and emotionally I’m not here,” Thomas said after Game 4, the first time he has spoken publicly since his sister’s death. “So I just feed off of what the guys give me. They give me a lot of confidence. I can’t do it without those guys. They believe in me. Being here is what makes me sane and makes me feel somewhat normal through these tough times.”

Thomas has played well for Boston, which won twice in Chicago to even its series with the Bulls, 2-2. It’s remarkable considering the heavy emotional burden and extra travel, going to Seattle for his sister’s funeral then joining the Celtics in Chicago.

His teammates have clearly rallied around him, and that surely helps. But I can’t even imagine how he’s simultaneously handling such a tragic family situation and the biggest games of his career.

Kyrie Irving knocks flamingo from Pacers fan’s hands (video)

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Pacers super fan Matt Asen brings his lucky flamingo to each game.

He also annoyed the heck out of Kyrie Irving by trying to hand it, rather than the ball, to the Cavaliers guard.

James Harden reveals he’s playing through ankle injury

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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James Harden didn’t lead the Rockets in scoring in their Game 4 win over the Thunder yesterday.

He didn’t even rank second – or third.

Nene, Eric Gordon and Lou Williams each outscored Harden, who scored 16 points on 5-for-16 shooting, including 0-for-7 on 3-pointers.

What happened to the Houston star?

Calvin Watkins of ESPN:

Houston Rockets star guard James Harden said he has been hobbled by an ankle injury that occurred in Game 3 of this first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Harden made the revelation to ESPN’s Lisa Salters after the Rockets’ 113-109 Game 4 victory on Sunday afternoon.

“It was pretty tough; we don’t make excuses,” Harden said in a news conference when asked about his health. “We just try to go out there and get the job done. You build trust, and trust in your teammates all year long. When there’s moments like this, guys step up and they did tonight. We have another opportunity in a few days to go out there and win on our home court, and we’re going to have to get off to a really good start.”

Many players are grinding through injuries this time of year. Is Harden’s exceptionally bad? There’s no way of telling from the outside.

But he didn’t look quite right in Game 4, and if he’s hobbled, that opens the door slightly wider for Oklahoma City to come back from its 3-1 deficit.