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

Warriors’ Matt Barnes on facing Kings: ‘I’m trying to kill ’em’

AP Photo/Darren Abate
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The Kings were very good to Matt Barnes.

They signed him to a two-year contract worth more than $12.5 million when it seemed he wouldn’t come close to that on the market. Then they waived him, allowing him to receive all his salary and escape basketball hell for the Warriors, who make him much happier.

Yet, he’s going into tonight’s Golden State-Sacramento game with an edge.

Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle (hat tip: CSN Bay Area):

Matt Barnes holding a grudge? Why, I never.

Surging Heat have playoffs in sight after dreadful start

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MIAMI (AP) — They have won 24 times in their last 31 games. They put together the NBA’s longest winning streak this season, a 13-game run that was beyond surprising. They are on the cusp of doing something never accomplished in NBA history.

This Miami Heat comeback tale has been an epic one.

And now comes the toughest part – finishing the job.

None of the other 125 teams in NBA history who started 11-30 or worse made the NBA playoffs. The Heat, with 10 games left on their regular-season schedule, are in position to change that. They held the second-worst record in the league in mid-January, are tied with San Antonio for the best record since, and hold a one-game lead over Chicago and Detroit for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot entering Friday’s games.

“These guys want this so bad,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra – a reluctant coach of the year candidate who cringes when players lobby on his behalf – said Thursday after a loss to the Toronto Raptors. “They want this opportunity to be in the playoffs. We’ve fought, scratched, done everything we possibly can to put ourselves into a position to fight for it.”

More fighting and scratching awaits.

Of Miami’s final 10 games, a stretch that starts Sunday in Boston, eight are against teams still battling for either a playoff spot or playoff positioning. The only two exceptions are a home-and-home next week with New York, which earlier this season was seven games ahead of the Heat in the standings and now are eight games behind Miami (35-37).

“We’ve dug ourselves out of a deep ditch,” Heat center and NBA rebounding leader Hassan Whiteside said.

True, but they’re not on firm playoff footing yet.

Under normal circumstances, Whiteside almost certainly would not have played Thursday. He needed 13 stitches to repair a cut in his right (shooting) hand on Tuesday, and a similar injury two years ago left him sidelined for three games.

Not only did he start Thursday, he led the Heat with 16 points and 14 rebounds. Afterward, he had icepacks strapped to both of his knees, covered his right hand in a clear plastic bag so the stitches wouldn’t get wet in the shower, and had his newly sprained left ankle wrapped.

“He’s a tough dude,” Heat point guard Goran Dragic said.

He hasn’t been the only one.

Factoring in that Chris Bosh‘s on-court tenure with the Heat was declared over when he failed a physical in September, Miami has had at least two players unavailable to play in every game this season because of health reasons. Since Jan. 1, it’s been at least three every game – and often more.

A huge blow came last week when shooting guard Dion Waiters sprained his left ankle. He’s at three missed games and counting, and the Heat offense has struggled since.

“This is that time of the year,” Spoelstra said. “Everybody is feeling it, so this is the mental toughness we have to get to.”

The Heat have no practice Friday, though most players will be in the training room for treatments. Practice resumes Saturday, preceding the flight to Boston. And then Sunday, the 10-game sprint to the finish begins.

“I want our guys to enjoy this,” Spoelstra said. “I don’t feel that we’re putting any undue pressure, but everybody will feel like when they lose that the world is collapsing. This playoff race is still going on. And I think we need a day to get away from it, to decompress and to get back to work on Saturday.”

Remember when Shaq started practice naked? His former Lakers teammates do

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The Lakers are unveiling a statue for Shaquille O’Neal tonight, a perfect opportunity for his former teammates to share their favorite Shaq stories.

Mark Medina of The Orange County Register:

“We had a rule you can’t be late to the center huddle,” said Lakers coach Luke Walton, who played with O’Neal as a rookie in 2003-04. “He got here where he didn’t have time to get his clothes on. So he made sure he was on time in the center circle.”

“I’m just scarred by the one where he ran out into the middle of the court naked before practice,” said former Lakers forward Rick Fox, who played with O’Neal from 1997 to 2004. “I can’t get that image out of my mind.”

“Shaq walked onto the court, put his hands up and said ‘I’m ready to practice,’ said Lakers assistant coach Mark Madsen, who was O’Neal’s teammate from 2000 to 2003. “He had not one inch of clothing on. So he was there in all of his glory.”

“He would start running around looking for guys to hug. Everybody was trying to get out of the way,” mused former Lakers guard Derek Fisher, who played with O’Neal from 1996 to 2004. “That’s’ why when I hit that shot in San Antonio in 2004, that’s why we were so good at sprinting off of the court.”

As much as he toed the line with his wardrobe choices before practice started, O’Neal always practiced with his actual uniform. Fox expressed the views of many saying he’s “not guarding him, not doubling down in the post and digging for the ball” sans uniform. As Madsen mused, “that would’ve been the day I would’ve submitted my resignation papers.”

Want to criticize Shaq for not setting a better tone of punctuality? It’s a fair argument, and you might have had Kobe Bryant on your side.

But Shaq keeping the Lakers loose was instrumental in their high-pressure pursuit of championships. Don’t discount that contribution to their three titles with him.

Florida State’s Jonathan Isaac, probable top-10 pick, declares for NBA draft

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Jonathan Isaac explored bursting through a loophole to declare for the 2016 NBA draft straight out of high school.

Instead, he went to Florida State. Now, he’ll enter the 2017 draft.

Isaac:

If he doesn’t hire an agent, Isaac can maintain college eligibility, but this message seems pretty final. Expect Isaac to remain in the draft, and expect him to go in the top 10.

What I like most about the 6-foot-11 forward: Despite being so lanky, he was an elite defensive rebounder. That shows an underlying technical proficiency and physicality that should serve him well.

And then there are the drool-inducing flashes – his ability to go up and get alley-oops above the rim and a sweet-looking jumper.

He’s still a work in progress, and he deferred a lot at Florida State. But he’s just 19, and he has the tools to do more. I’d love to get him on my team as he learns to assert himself.