Three Stars of the Night: Unlikely heroes edition

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Most nights, we have the game’s biggest stars lighting up the scoreboard while leading their teams to victory. That wasn’t the case on Monday, as the leading scorers on the winning side of things were largely unheralded players.

Third Star: Kosta Koufos (Game-high and career-high 22 points, 10 rebounds in win over Suns)

Koufos isn’t known for his offense, but after a 13-point first quarter in Phoenix, it seemed more than likely he’d have a shot at a career night — especially against a Suns team playing Hamed Haddadi as its only true center.

Nuggets coach George Karl was quick to say “no” when (jokingly) asked if he’d consider featuring Koufos offensively in the future, and Koufos himself couldn’t have been more joyless in the locker room afterward about his scoring output, giving answers to reporters about team and winning above all else while refusing to crack a single smile.

Second Star: Spencer Hawes (24 points, 10 rebounds, 7 assists in win over Nets)

Yeah, I don’t know how this happens, either. But apparently Hawes took it to the Nets all night long, and lead a Sixers team that had lost five straight — most recently to the dismal Orlando Magic — to a win over the four-seed in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

First Star: Tiago Splitter (Team-high 21 points on 9-11 shooting, 10 rebounds in win over Thunder)

In a battle of the top two teams in the Western Conference, the Spurs made sure it wasn’t much of a contest at all. A bad Russell Westbrook game plus a typically stellar balanced attack from San Antonio had the Spurs up by as many as 18 after trailing by 13 early, and Splitter’s presence inside, along with his team’s overall defensive effort on OKC, were huge reasons why.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.

Marc Gasol: If Grizzlies don’t share my goal of continued growth, we might have to revisit things

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The Grizzlies’ Grit & Grind era has ended.

Zach Randolph signed with the Kings, and Tony Allen appears likely to leave Memphis, too. The Grizzlies are prioritizing younger/cheaper players like Ben McLemore and Tyreke Evans.

Marc Gasol via Ala Carta, as translated by HoopsHype:

I’m very ambitious and I’ve wanted Memphis to be a great franchise. We’ve grown a lot the last 6-7 years, but we have to keep growing. If this is not lined up, maybe we may have to revisit things.

Gasol has been loyal to Memphis, and his first wish is probably winning there. But Giannis Antetokounmpo put it well: Teams must also do right by their players. Gasol is 32 and doesn’t have much time in his prime left. I see why rebuilding wouldn’t interest him.

But what will he do about it if the Grizzlies don’t prioritize the present? They made their push last summer with a max contract for Chandler Parsons, but because Parsons can’t stay healthy, that deal only inhibits team growth.

Gasol is locked up for two more years before a player option. He doesn’t have much leverage. This is part of the reason LeBron James keeps signing short-term contracts. Gasol doesn’t have the same ability to steer his team in his desired direction

On the potentially bright side, rebuilding teams often don’t have much use for 32-year-olds guaranteed more than $72 million over the following three years. If the fit devolves, Memphis becomes more likely to trade him.

Celtics to retire Paul Pierce’s number after Cavaliers game in February

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The Celtics already said they’d retire Paul Pierce’s No. 34.

Now, we know when.

Celtics release:

The Boston Celtics announced today that they will retire Paul Pierce’s No. 34 after a mid-season game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday, Feb. 11

After? That’s apparently in response to a new rule that penalizes teams not ready to play after a 15-minute halftime. These ceremonies can drag on, and nobody wants to cut Pierce short. I wonder whether this will start a trend of number retirements coming after games.