The Extra Pass: 2013-14 Eastern Conference All-Star reserve picks; plus Thursday’s recaps

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The 2013-14 All-Star game in New Orleans is still 30 days away, but the starters will be announced January 23rd and the reserves will follow on January 30th. There’s only a few days of voting left, and since I’m not good with hashtags or 140 character limits or following directions, I thought I’d put my ballot here instead.

For the sake of this particular exercise, we’ll defer to the last balloting returns for the starting lineup in the Eastern Conference. There’s no use fighting the machine, y’all — we have to roll with the fan vote. Here’s how the last results looked:

East Starters (Fan Vote)

Backcourt: Dwyane Wade, Kyrie Irving

Frontcourt: LeBron James, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony

With those players as the starters (not the worst you’ve done, fans), let’s get to the reserves. In case you’re unfamiliar with the format, the reserves include two backcourt, three frontcourt and two wildcards to fill the 12-man roster.

East Reserves

Backcourt: John Wall and Lance Stephenson

This is a surprisingly loaded position given the general ickyness of the Eastern Confernece.

Wall should be a shoe-in, as he’s averaged career-highs in points (19.7) and steals (2.0) while leading the conference in assists (8.6). It doesn’t hurt that his biggest flaw is finally being covered up a bit, either, as he’s shooting a halfway respectable 32 percent from behind the arc. The Wizards have been truly awful when he’s off the court this year, for what that’s worth. He deserves his first appearance.

Stephenson, meanwhile, has been an absolutely electric playmaker for the Pacers (5.3 assists) and a constant triple-double threat. Considering there are only two elite teams in the conference, it would be awfully tough to ignore Stephenson during his dynamic campaign, even if the reputation hasn’t come with the improved production quite yet. His flashy style of play is perfect for this setting.

Frontcourt: Roy Hibbert, Chris Bosh, Andre Drummond

You could probably just mash the rosters of the Heat and Pacers together and roll the ball out there, right?

Hibbert doesn’t put up big lines every night, but he leads the conference in blocks per game (2.6) and he’s the anchor of the best defensive team we’ve seen in quite some time. It would be a crime if he’s left off because he’s not a big scorer. Very few players make as big of an impact on the game as he does.

Bosh is absurdly consistent — just look at his per 36 minute scoring numbers in his last four seasons in Miami:

2010-11: 18.5 PPG
2011-12: 18.4 PPG
2012-13: 18.1 PPG
2013-14: 18.4 PPG

Point being, not much has changed. He’s solid, if unspectacular, but he’s crucial to everything Miami does. Bosh’s All-Star appearance streak (eight straight going into this year) isn’t going to be interrupted, especially without anyone really knocking down the door for his spot.

Drummond may be the surprise pick of the bunch, but he’s just been so dang productive. The second-year big man leads the league in offensive and total rebounding percentage, he’s first in the East in field goal percentage, third in blocks and behind only James, Anthony and George in PER in the East. It’s early, of course, but he’s more than earned his spot.

Wildcards: Arron Afflalo and Joakim Noah

Afflalo is still my pick for Most Improved Player in the league, even if he’s slowed down a bit as of late due to injury. Orlando’s ineptitude may hurt his chances, but virtually no one scores nearly 21 points per game as efficiently as Afflalo has this season. He’s never been an All-Star before, but with career-highs in nearly every statistical category, this is definitely his best shot.

I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself for leaving Noah off my ballot. Somehow, despite everything, the Bulls still have the second best defense in the league in terms of efficiency, and it’s Noah making that happen. With overall numbers very similar to his All-Star campaign last year, Noah should just squeeze in as a hat-tip to his undying effort, even in a clearly lost season.

Just Missed The Cut

Michael Carter-Williams is facing an uphill battle, as he’s on a bad team and he’s a rookie. Still, 17.6 points, 7 assists, 5.9 rebounds and a conference-leading 2.7 steals a night is no joke. Yes, the pace helps the raw numbers, but the degree of difficulty MCW is facing as a top-option for opponents to key in on in a point guard heavy league should be factored in as well. It’s unlikely he gets named, but he’s played well enough to be a reserve.

It was awfully hard to leave DeMar DeRozan off my ballot, especially since he’s come on so strong as of late with Rudy Gay out of the picture. DeRozan’s raw numbers (20.3 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 3.5 APG) aren’t all that dissimilar to Afflalo’s (20.8 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 3.9 APG), but DeRozan’s true shooting percentage of 51.3 percent can’t touch Afflalo’s 58.6 percent mark. Is Afflalo’s efficiency enough to account for the fact that DeRozan plays for a team with a winning record (!) in the East? Maybe, maybe not. I won’t be too upset either way — it’s a tossup between those two.

A lot of the air went out of the Hawks’ balloon when Al Horford went down for the season, but Paul Millsap is undoubtedly one of the best active players to never be named to an All-Star game. With a career high in points (17.4) and some surprising three-point range added to his already varied arsenal (1.1 3PM, 39.4 percent), Millsap might get some of that same “last man standing” and veteran love that Noah will, even if Drummond is the superior choice statistically.

Al Jefferson deserves some sort of reward for being a part of the 7th ranked defense and keeping the Bobcats in the playoff picture, but it’s probably not an All-Star selection. Watch out though — he’s a big name that opposing coaches plan for heavily, which will at least put him the conversation.

—DJ Foster

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Nets 127, Hawks 110: Joe Johnson put up 26 points in the first half to carry the Nets, then Brooklyn started the second half on an 11-2 run and Bob’s your uncle they had an easy win. Credit Paul Pierce who was making the right pass with the ball in the first half then put up 10 points in the third as the Hawks tried to crack down on Johnson (who also moved the ball well when the defense focused on him). Jeff Teague led the Hawks with 16 points but on 4-of-13 shooting. Basically the Nets dominated the NBA’s annual game in London, which Sir Paul McCartney was at — that’s his second Nets game this season, I hope someone got him a T-shirt.

Pacers 117, Knicks 89: Carmelo Anthony kept the Knicks close for the first quarter with his 18 points (he finished with 28) plus the Knicks did a good job of getting out in transition and getting their shots up before the Pacers set their defense. Then in the second quarter it all changed — the Pacers started attacking rather than settling for jumpers, their made shots let them get back and set their defense, and the Knicks didn’t shoot above 39 percent in any quarter the rest of the way. Plus, Lance Stephenson happened — he had 13 points in the second quarter on his way to 28 in the game

Thunder 104, Rockets 92: Houston put up 73 points, hit 12 threes and seemed to do no wrong in the first half, led by James Harden’s 16. Mostly it worked because of the threes. I’m not sure what team came out of the locker room after the break, but it wasn’t the same one — Houston shot 19.4 percent overall and scored just 19 points. Houston is a roller coaster, where Kevin Durant is a steady rock and poured in 36. Serge Ibaka was key with 21 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks.

—Kurt Helin

Like Shaun Livingston, JaVale McGee perfect fit on Warriors

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — JaVale McGee practices 3-pointers from all around the arch, just in case. He sits with assistant coach Jarron Collins and a laptop to study film, long after practice and his shooting workouts are complete.

The 7-footer’s rugged professional path has landed him at seemingly the perfect stop: in the Bay Area with the NBA’s best.

Just don’t call him a journeyman.

“I’ve never considered myself a journeyman in the first place,” McGee said after a practice this weekend. “Whatever y’all want to call me y’all can call me. The number of teams I’ve been on was in like one year. I’ve been with three teams in two years.”

Yet McGee must not look far to find someone else who has learned to thrive as a well-traveled NBA role player. Just a quick glance a couple of lockers down to where Shaun Livingston dresses at Oracle Arena, defying the odds yet again this season as a regular reserve contributing to another Warriors championship chase, is all it takes.

McGee has never made it this far, an NBA Finals first-timer when Golden State hosts defending champion Cleveland in Game 1 on Thursday night. Livingston never should have made it this far, and here he is back to the final round seeking his second title in three seasons – and 10 years after a devastating injury that could have sidelined him for good. Doctors thought they might have to amputate his left leg.

Fourteen teams between them, over 21 combined seasons. Each has found a great groove in Golden State’s rotation, called upon to take pressure off the big stars while maintaining the highest level.

“We just kind of follow suit, but it’s up to everybody to come in and lock in on the details. It’s the playoffs,” Livingston said. “Obviously the stars help, they get all the headlines deservedly so, but the small things, the details, that’s what we lock in at and that’s how we win ballgames.”

McGee has discovered the ideal place to shine as an alley-oop specialist in a pass-happy offense, and even Stephen Curry admits it’s so easy to target the sure-handed big man perhaps the Warriors do so too often at times.

“We almost get in trouble because we try to do it too much even if it’s not there, because he has the ability to catch it really anywhere around the rim, around the backboard,” Curry acknowledged. “You kind of see it developing when he gets a free lane to the rim, and as a passer in that situation literally feel the most confidence that if I just get it anywhere up there, he’ll go get it, and usually he does.”

With great efficiency, too.

In Game 3 against the Spurs, McGee scored a postseason-best 16 points, all in the first half to get Golden State going as Zaza Pachulia sat out with a bruised heel. He made all seven of his shots in Game 2 of a first-round win against Portland, shooting 18 for 23 in all in the four-game sweep of the Trail Blazers.

“That’s my whole thing, I just try to be efficient out there,” McGee said. “I don’t try to do too much. I just try to do what’s necessary for me in the minutes that I’m out there.”

Livingston has unselfishly dealt with a diminished role, a rotation change late in the season that altered when he’s used, and then a hand injury in the first round of the playoffs.

In February 2007 with the Clippers, Livingston tore three major ligaments in his knee – the anterior cruciate, posterior cruciate and medial collateral as well as his lateral meniscus, then required extensive surgery. Though the injury could have ended his career at age 21, he still believed he would play again. First he had to walk again.

“Shaun, that story isn’t really the same now. He’s become a staple of this franchise, he’s helped us win a title, he’s done some great things here,” Draymond Green said. “For JaVale, it’s still fresh, to where I think it’s a great situation for him. He’s finally been put in a position where he can do what he do. He’s finally come to an organization, a first-class organization, that has embraced him for him and not tried to make him something that he’s not. I think that has been pretty special, just seeing his growth over the course of the year, how he’s been able to thrive. … It’s special to see when you take the path that they’ve taken to get to this moment.”

McGee will have to help keep Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson off the boards. His teammates know he’s up to the task.

“It just speaks to his kind of character and perseverance and work ethic and his belief in himself that when he’s out there on the floor he deserves to be out there on the floor, he belongs and can make an impact,” Curry said. “When he showed up here, he understood the opportunity and he’s taken full advantage of it. It’s great to see.”

 

Cool Hand Lue: Cavs coach keeps NBA champs cool amid chaos

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Moments after the Eastern Conference championship banner was raised by the Cavaliers for the third straight time and the obligatory postgame interviews ended, Tyronn Lue slipped quietly away.

Cleveland’s coach ducked into the shadows, his preferred location.

“I don’t like the attention,” he said.

But Lue, once a journeyman point guard who steered the Cavs to an NBA championship last season, has grown more accepting of his frontman role. He’ll again be at center stage this week as Cleveland meets Golden State in the third installment of their title trilogy.

If the unassuming, easygoing Lue had his preference, the teams would duke it out for the Larry O’Brien Trophy on a playground court in a stifling hot gymnasium, with only a handful of onlookers present. A student of the game, he’s old school with a fresh perspective.

Of the many juicy subplots between the Cavs and Warriors, one that frequently goes overlooked is Lue, the former assistant who has blossomed in no time into one of the league’s brightest young head coaches and a playoff savant.

He’s 28-6 in two postseasons with Cleveland. His players credit Lue’s soothing, steady influence – on and off the floor – as nearly as vital to their success as a clutch Kyrie Irving 3-pointer.

“It’s just his level of calmness no matter what’s going on,” LeBron James said following practice. “He always talks about, at the end of the day, he’s already won in life, so whatever else happens after this is extra credit. And I feel the same way. That’s why I relate to him so much. Lose here, or you win a game here, it’s like, `All right, cool. I’ve already done so much more than anybody ever gave me credit of doing or thought I can do, so there’s no reason to get too high or too low.’

“So it’s the even-keel mentality about our coach and it definitely helps us as players when we’re going out into a war.”

Lue has been preparing for the biggest battle of his basketball career this week.

From the moment he returned home from Boston following the Cavs’ win in Game 5 of the conference finals, Lue has immersed himself in the Warriors, a virtual All-Star team featuring two league MVPs (Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry), a dead-eye shooter (Klay Thompson) and a triple-threat performer (Draymond Green).

Lue’s defensive strategy to this point in the playoffs has been to neutralize the opponents’ top player. The Cavs were able to do that with Indiana’s Paul George, Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan and Boston’s Isaiah Thomas, who aggravated a hip injury in Game 2 and missed the remainder of the series. Cleveland blitzed, double-teamed and did all it could take away the other team’s offensive threat.

Lue was asked if it’s more difficult to identify who that is on Golden State.

“Hell yeah,” he said, his voice rising. “It’s tough.”

There are few weaknesses in these Warriors, the first team to head into the final round 12-0 and winning by an average of 16.3 points per game.

“They have so many weapons,” Lue said, “having four All-Stars and now adding KD to the mix who I’ve always loved as a scorer, just how he scores so easy. They have a lot of options. It’s going to be tough, but we have to lock into what we have to do defensively, and sometimes you can play great defense and it doesn’t work. Steph is making tough shots, Klay is making tough shots and KD is making tough shots. But all you can do is play your defense, stick to your principles and just make it as tough as possible.”

The Cavs know Lue won’t panic.

He stayed cool last spring when Cleveland fought back from a 3-1 deficit to win its first title. Lue made subtle tweaks to his rotation, drew up key inbounds plays, then isolated Irving late in Game 7 on Curry. The Cavs All-Star guard made his now famous go-ahead, step-back 3-pointer.

Pressure intensifies in the postseason, when possessions, turnovers and rebounds are magnified.

As the drama builds, Lue stays composed, setting the tone for his players.

“Throughout the postseason there’s so many different emotions,” James said. “Going high, going low. And if you’re a coach able to just stay even-keeled throughout the whole thing, it relaxes the rest of the group.”

Lue is a stickler for detail, and he won’t cut any corners preparing for another dance with the Warriors. He’ll have the Cavs ready, and they can also count on him to keep them relaxed.

“When you’re prepared and you do the best you can do and you put it out there on the floor, you’ve just got to live with the results,” Lue said. “I’m doing my homework, I’m doing every possible thing to put this team in every situation to win. When you’re doing that, things you go over every day, end-of-game plays and things like that, either they work or they don’t.”

 

Byron Scott: Lakers made me feel ‘betrayed, lied to and deceived’

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Byron Scott lost 77% of his games with the Lakers, alienated their young players and failed to deliver on his big talk about defense.

Yet, Scott said he was blindsided when the Lakers fired him last year.

How did he possibly get the idea he’d return for a third season?

Mark Medina of The Orange County Register:

Scott said he “felt betrayed, lied to and deceived” by former Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak and former executive Jim Buss. Though he had only two guaranteed years on his four-year contract, Scott contends that Kupchak and Jim Buss previously promised him they would exercise the team option for his third year. Scott also believes the Lakers used him to manage Bryant during his final seasons and farewell tour before making the coach a scapegoat for the franchise’s struggles.

“If I asked him to do certain things, Kobe would do it because of his respect for me,” said Scott, who mentored Bryant during his rookie season in 1996-97. “Basically, you just wanted me there to help you guys get through the next two years, so Kobe doesn’t go crazy on you guys. I would be the one that can handle it. They know me. I’m not going to back down. I’m not going to be intimidated by anybody.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if management said something Scott could have reasonably interpreted as a promise to keep him. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Scott heard what he wanted to hear.

The Jim Buss Lakers didn’t always feature the best lines of communication, and Scott was delusional.

Either way, the Lakers did the right thing in firing Scott. If he were hired to manage Kobe Bryant’s final seasons, Kobe retired. There was no more need for Scott, who neither related well to young players nor implemented a winning scheme – pretty much everything beyond handling Kobe.

The strangest part of Scott’s criticism is how it reflects on Kupchak, who has now been accused of both being too dishonest and too honest.

Tony Parker tells French publication he plans to return in January

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Back on May 5, Tony Parker has surgery to repair a ruptured left quadriceps tendon, an injury some thought could be career ending for the 35-year-old point guard.

He plans to be back and is aiming for January, he told the French publication L’Equipe, as transcribed by EuroHoops.net.

“I will play my best basketball when I return in January”, Parker told L’Equipe….

“The first thing that came in when I got injured, was frustration. I was super good and we had the chance to go until the end and get the title,” Parker said.

“The coach’s plan worked like a clock. I was consistent, playing for twenty to twenty-five minutes per game. My series against Memphis was good and I had a good start in the season,” he added.

Paker’s return in January (if he can meet that timeline) will have him coming off the bench, meaning the Spurs will still need a starting point guard and some depth at the position.

No, that doesn’t mean Chris Paul is coming to San Antonio, that was always a long shot as Adrian Wojnarowski noted. It’s not like the Spurs to kick guys like Parker to the curb (Bill Belichick does not run the franchise) nor do the Spurs gut their roster, and that’s what they’d have to do. Beyond that, Paul is president of the players’ union and one of the things he/the union got in the new CBA was to turn the over-36 rule (which restricted how much LeBron could get on his last deal) to the over-38 rule — meaning the Clippers can give 32-year-old Paul one more five-year max deal. You really think he’s walking away from that?

Hopefully, when Parker returns he can give us all glimpses of his old self.