Three Stars of the Night: Go big or go home

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A couple Hawks – Al Horford (26 points and 15 rebounds) and Jeff Teague (27 points and 11 rebounds) – played well as Atlanta jockeys for playoff positioning with the Bucks, but we’re less concerned with the bottom half of the Eastern Conference playoff picture than a vintage performance by an all-time great, helping a teammate and a historic streak.

Third Star: Tim Duncan (25 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 blocks)

Duncan hadn’t posted the above numbers since winning his last NBA Finals MVP in 2005, but he’s now done it twice this season. It’s easy to understand how Duncan was one of the game’s best big men at age 28, but how is he still doing it at age 36? He is a marvel.

Second star: Brook Lopez (38 points on 22 shots, 11 rebounds)

Lopez came up big, shooting 11-of-13 in the restricted area, and helped someone who went home. In Deron Williams’ return to his hometown of Dallas, Lopez complemented Williams’ 31-point output by scoring on five of Williams’ six assists.

First star: LeBron James (25 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks)

LeBron had 19 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists, three steals and two blocks – numbers only he, Josh Smith, Blake Griffin and Kevin Durant have posted in a single game this season – in the second half alone against his hometown Cavaliers. And the Heat, who trailed by 21 at halftime, need that big half from James to extend their win streak to 24 games.

Thanks to Heat’s run, a team 11.5 games up for the No. 1 seed cares about playing a team 12.5 games back from the No. 8 seed, and that means LeBron is locked in. That’s a win for anyone who enjoys watching great basketball.

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.

DeMarcus Cousins on Confederate statues: ‘Take all them motherf—ers down’

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DeMarcus Cousins grew up in Alabama, played collegiately at Kentucky and now plays in New Orleans.

So, yeah, the Pelicans star has an opinion on Confederate statues.

Cousins, via TMZ:

“Take all them motherf*ckers down,” Cousins said … “Take ’em all down.”

These statues glorify people because they fought a war against the United States in the name of preserving the racist institution of slavery.

Not whom I want to honor, either.

Kevin Durant: Kyrie Irving-LeBron James situation ‘just a regular NBA problem’

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Kevin Durant knows something about star teammates not always getting along.

So, the Warriors forward is not freaking out about the disconnect between Kyrie Irving and LeBron James and Irving’s subsequent trade request.

Durant, via Chris Haynes of ESPN:

“It’s just a regular NBA problem, right? A lot of teams have gone through this before,” Durant told ESPN. “They’ll figure it out. That’s a great organization, a championship organization. They’ll figure it out.”

“It’s not the end of the world,” Durant said. “Both of those guys won a championship together. They love each other. If Kyrie wants to do something else, that’s on him. I’m sure whatever happens, it’ll work out for the best for both of them. But it’s just a normal NBA problem. It’s just two big stars that it’s happening to.”

Durant is definitely right in the larger sense. Teammates spat and requests trades more often than we realize. Remember, both Irving and the Cavaliers probably prefer this never became public.

But I’m not sure Cleveland will figure this out with the ease Durant suggests. David Griffin, who had proven so adept at putting out these fires, is gone. LeBron’s free agency looms. This could be extremely destructive to the Cavs.

The fact that this “regular NBA problem” became public only intensifies it – and raises it something greater.