Latest NBA All-Star balloting released; LeBron, Durant leading vote getters

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We warned you this would be the case — there are not many changes in the All-Star Game fan voting as we move through the process. Who you vote for early tends to be who you vote for late.

The fans choose the starters for the annual exhibition game and as of Thursday when the vote totals were released for the second time, there are no changes in who is going to start.

There also was no change in the fact LeBron James and Kevin Durant are leading their respective conferences in votes. Which is as it should be.

The All-Star Game is Feb. 16 in New Orelans and here are the likely starters:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Backcourt: Dwyane Wade (Miami Heat), Kyrie Irving (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Frontcourt: LeBron James (Miami Heat), Paul George (Indiana Pacers), Carmelo Anthony (New York Knicks)

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Backcourt: Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers), Chris Paul (Los Angeles Clippers)
Frontcourt: Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder), Dwight Howard (Houston Rockets), Blake Griffin (Los Angeles Clippers).

As you can see in the vote tallies below, most of these guys are locked in. The only possible change via voting is Kevin Love is just 21,461 votes back of Blake Griffin for the last frontcourt spot in the West. That’s about what the gap was a week ago, nothing much changed. If you don’t think that bothers Love, you didn’t watch him drop 41 points on Blake Griffin and the Clippers last week  (it still wasn’t enough for Minnesota to win the game).

Kobe is a lock to be voted in by fans, he has nearly 200,000 more votes than Chris Paul, who is well ahead of third place Stephen Curry. If Kobe isn’t back from his knee fracture he could surender the spot (likely to Curry, it would be the league’s call). No, Kobe is not going to surrender his spot to Curry either way — a decade ago Vince Carter gave up a spot so Michael Jordan could start his final All-Star Game, but that a very different situation. The league isn’t going to allow it here — if Kobe is healthy enough to play for the Lakers prior to the All-Star Game (as expected) then he will play in New Orleans. The league isn’t letting him out of the obligation.

Here are the vote totals as of Boxing Day:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Frontcourt
1. LeBron James (Mia) 854,105
2. Paul George (Ind) 712,808
3. Carmelo Anthony (NYK) 580,795
4. Roy Hibbert (Ind) 304,829
5. Chris Bosh (Mia) 222,861
6. Kevin Garnett (BKN) 137,520
7. Joakim Noah (Chi) 101,308
8. Andre Drummond (Det) 91,132
9. Jeff Green (Bos) 78,693
10. Tyson Chandler (NYK) 77,496

Backcourt
1. Dwyane Wade (Mia) 565,455
2. Kyrie Irving (Cle) 524,000
3. Derrick Rose (Chi) 299,950
4. John Wall (Was) 210,988
5. Ray Allen (Mia) 143,714
6. Rajon Rondo (Bos) 111,335
7. Deron Williams (BKN) 74,047
8. George Hill (Ind) 66,030
9. Lance Stephenson (Ind) 50,444
10. DeMar DeRozan (Tor) 48,744

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Frontcourt

1. Kevin Durant (OKC) 850,728
2. Dwight Howard (Hou) 408,623
3. Blake Griffin (LAC) 399,357
4. Kevin Love (Min) 377,941
5. Tim Duncan (SA) 312,809
6. LaMarcus Aldridge (Por) 282,613
7. Anthony Davis (NO) 188,589
8. Pau Gasol (LAL) 177,883
9. Andre Iguodala (GS) 145,089
10. Dirk Nowitzki (Dal) 126,025

Backcourt
1. Kobe Bryant (LAL) 723,031
2. Chris Paul (LAC) 533,647
3. Stephen Curry (GS) 481,698
4. Jeremy Lin (Hou) 358,725
5. James Harden (Hou) 270,476
6. Russell Westbrook (OKC) 216,070
7. Tony Parker (SA) 158,329
8. Damian Lillard (Por) 105,880
9. Ricky Rubio (Min) 81,829
10. Steve Nash (LAL) 81,377

76ers: Joel Embiid doubtful for Game 3 against Heat

AP Photo/Chris Szagola
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MIAMI (AP) — Joel Embiid remains listed as doubtful by Philadelphia for Game 3 of the 76ers’ Eastern Conference playoff series at Miami on Thursday night.

Embiid was on the floor with the 76ers for their morning shootaround practice, but coach Brett Brown says there’s no change in the All-Star center’s status.

Embiid has missed Philadelphia’s last 10 games while recovering from a concussion and surgery that repaired a fractural orbital bone around his left eye. He’s no longer in the NBA’s concussion protocol.

He took to social media after the 76ers lost Game 2 of this series to the Heat, saying he’s tired of being “babied.”

Embiid has averaged 22.9 points and 11 rebounds in 63 games for the 76ers during the regular season.

Rumor: Lakers, Kawhi Leonard share mutual interest

Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
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The Spurs seem like they won’t trade Kawhi Leonard.

That won’t stop teams from trying.

There’s a clear disconnect between Leonard and San Antonio. Even the potential of a player as good as Leonard becoming available has teams salivating.

The Clippers are reportedly assembling a trade offer for the L.A. native. Los Angeles’ other team – the Lakers – are also apparently expected to factor prominently.

Sean Deveney of Sporting News:

“I think they go in hard for Leonard once the season is over and once the dust settles in San Antonio,” one executive told Sporting News. “(Leonard) wants to go to LA. There probably won’t be public demands on that, but he has leverage. He is going to be a free agent (in 2019). He’s an LA guy and he can just let teams know he won’t re-sign next year with anyone but the Lakers.”

But make no mistake, the Lakers are the favorite here.

“I would say that’s the most likely thing,” another general manager told Sporting News. “He’s going to be their target any way you look at it, this summer or next summer. There’s not many other ways to explain what’s been going on with that situation other than him trying to get out of San Antonio.”

Of course, every team wants Leonard. He’s an elite two-way player when healthy. But teams will go to differing lengths to pursue him. If the Lakers will “go hard for Leonard,” that means something beyond just desiring him.

Under Magic Johnson, the Lakers have made no secret of their plan to acquire stars. That has largely been centered on 2018 free agents, but with that well drying up, talk has turned to 2019 free agents. If the Lakers can get a top 2019 free agent – Leonard – sooner, why wouldn’t they?

One reason is the cost. Trading with San Antonio would require dealing at least some combination of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma. Signing Leonard outright in 2019 would be simpler.

But a trade is the only surefire way of getting Leonard. If the Lakers don’t trade for him, another team could. With promising young players and cap space, the Lakers have the tools to make an intriguing offer for Leonard.

Or, more likely, the Spurs could keep him. Their relationship isn’t necessarily beyond repair, and they can offer him a super-max contract extension this summer.

They might not offer it. Even if they do, he might not take it. If he doesn’t, he could pledge to re-sign with only certain teams – like the Lakers – and steer trade talks that way. You can see how the thinking develops:

Leonard might be unhappy in San Antonio. He grew up in Southern California. Therefore, he’ll engineer his way to the Lakers?

Maybe, and maybe these anonymous executives know something to that effect. But this mostly sounds lazily speculative.

PBT Extra: Disciplined Celtics highlight bad habits of Milwaukee Bucks

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Giannis Antetokounmpo has been every bit the top five NBA player in the postseason — 32.5 points per game on 63.2 percent shooting, plus with 11 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game.

Yet the Bucks are down 0-2 to Boston.

The Celtics have had a strong series from Al Horford and Terry Rozier, but the real difference is in the discipline this team has shown all season — Boston knows who it is. Clearly, Milwaukee does not. They turn the ball over too much and make too many mistakes.

I get into all of that in this PBT Extra, and I wonder if that’s something the Bucks can really turn around mid-playoffs.

Ettore Messina to coach Spurs in Game 3 following death of Gregg Popovich’s wife

AP Photo/Eric Gay
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Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s wife, Erin, died yesterday.

That sad news was felt throughout the NBA, and it obviously affects San Antonio most closely. That includes for tonight’s Game 3 against the Warriors.

Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News:

Ettore Messina was a longtime head coach in Europe. The Spurs lead assistant also took over for a few regular-season games Popovich missed. So, making – rather than advising – coaching decisions won’t be a brand new challenge to Messina.

But down 2-0 to defending-champion Golden State is a tough place to make an NBA playoff debut.

On the bright side, there will be no pressure. Not only has San Antonio been outclassed the first two games of the series, focus is rightly on the Popovich family. A win would be a pleasant surprise and help Messina – who’s up for the Hornets job – in his pursuit of a head-coaching position. A loss would be quickly forgotten with more important matters at hand.

To that end, hopefully the time away allows Popovich the space he needs to grieve. That matters far more than a basketball game.