Portland Trail Blazers v Phoenix Suns

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

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After selecting the Eastern Conference All-Star reserves on Friday, it’s time to tackle the Western Conference. Once again, we’ll defer to the last ballot returns for our starters, which are decided solely by fan vote. Here’s the projected Western Conference starters:

West Starters (Fan Vote)

Backcourt: Kobe Bryant, Stephen Curry

Frontcourt: Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin

We’ll know if this holds up very soon, as the starters will be named on January 23rd.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the format, the reserve picks include two backcourt players, three frontcourt players and two wildcards to fill the 12-man roster. On to the picks:

West Reserves

Backcourt: Chris Paul and James Harden

Curry was last season’s most notable snub, fans appear to have corrected that oversight by making him a starter over Chris Paul (the two were close in the vote after the last round, although with CP3 out injured it seems unlikely he slides back into the start spot with last minute votes). Paul is an easy and obvious choice here — 19.6 points and 11.2 assists a game, true shooting percentage of 57,8%, PER of 27.4, shooting 35.6 percent from three. Whether he is healthy enough to play remains to be seen, but he should get the nod.

Harden’s stock has gone down a bit since the focus shifted to the flaws in his game (particularly on the defensive end), but he’s still unquestionably one of the league’s most dynamic scorers.  Harden is averaging a 24-5-5 line for the season, and no player who has ever done that has been left off the All-Star team.

Frontcourt: Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tim Duncan

It’s a murderer’s row out West, but Love is averaging 25 points, 13 rebounds and 4 assists a night. No player in NBA history who has averaged those numbers has ever been left off the All-Star team, and Love won’t be the first.

The days of Aldridge being on the cusp of All-Star bids are over. This season he’s averaging career highs in points per game (24.1), rebounds per game (11.3), assists (2.9) and PER (23.2), and even if that wasn’t enough for some reason, Portland’s spectacular first-half pushes him way over the top.

Duncan is having a down year by his lofty standards, but his per 36 minute averages of 18.1 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 3.8 AST and 2.4 BLK are plenty deserving. Duncan is still the best player on one of the conference’s best teams, and no coach is going to snub one of the league’s greatest players ever in what could be his final season.

Wildcards: Dirk Nowitzki, Damian Lillard

You may think Nowitzki is here based on reputation, but his production has been unreal yet again this season. Nowitzki’s points per 36, PER, true shooting percentage, assists and steals are all above his career averages — an incredible feat for a 35-year-old forward. It’s scary, but this first half of the season could be the best shooting performance of Nowtizki’s career. Dallas would be completely lost without him, and it’s hard to see the conference’s coaches leaving him off.

Now here’s the tough one. All of the reserves listed above are plenty deserving, but the last wildcard spot is going to be a free-for-all. It’s incredibly close, but I’m giving the nod to Damian Lillard over the other contenders. Portland deserves plenty of representation, and all of Lillard’s game-winning shots have to be factored in along with his solid per game averages of 21.4 PPG, 5.8 APG and 3.8 RPG.

Just Missed The Cut

Tony Parker is probably Lillard’s toughest competition for the last wildcard spot, and it would be somewhat surprising if the coaches didn’t defer to the veteran when the numbers are so close. While it’s hard to be too upset either way, Lillard has been the more prolific and efficient scorer this season of the two, and he’s had more memorable moments. Ultimately, this might not matter much, as whoever gets left off will almost certainly be an injury replacement for Kobe Bryant.

DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis should both be All-Stars every year for many years to come, but it’s just too tough of a team to crack this year. Cousins is hurt by the quality of his team, as per usual, while Davis has the double-whammy of missed games and a non-playoff team holding him back. If the West’s frontcourt wasn’t so deep and the backcourt wasn’t so banged up, Cousins would have a legitimate argument for the wildcard spot. That’s just not the case, though.

If Russell Westbrook had played in more than just 25 games and wasn’t projected to be out until the All-Star break, he’d be a lock with averages of 21 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds a game. Again, like Cousins and Davis, this may be the last All-Star game Westbrook misses for a long, long time.

D.J. Foster

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Lakers 112, Raptors 106: Nick Young returned after his one-game suspension to lead the Lakers in scoring with 29 points on 13 shots in just over 30 minutes of action, over a Raptors team that had been playing better lately since trading Rudy Gay to the Kings. Young scored 15 of his points over the final 12 minutes, and for Toronto, this game will go down as a missed opportunity — the team led by 19 points in the second quarter before they lost focus and slowly let L.A. back into the game.

Magic 93, Celtics 91: Someone had to win a game between two teams that couldn’t possibly seem less interested in winning, and on Sunday, it was the Magic. Orlando hadn’t yet won in 2014, and the win over the Celtics snapped a 10-game losing streak. Boston, meanwhile, has now lost 11 of 12. Arron Afflalo led the Magic with 20 points, 13 rebounds and six assists.

Thunder 108, Kings 93: Kevin Durant followed up Friday’s 54-point effort with a more subdued but just as deadly 30 points, nine assists, six rebounds, four steals and two blocked shots in 32 minutes of action. OKC led by as many as 24 points in this one, and since it wasn’t much of a game, go read Sam Amick’s piece on DeMarcus Cousins which details how the Kings franchise is stuck with covering for his continued pattern of deplorable behavior.

Spurs 110, Bucks 82: Gregg Popovich told reporters before tip-off that he expected his team to play as if they were facing the defending champion Heat instead of the league’s worst team in the Milwaukee Bucks. The Spurs largely did that, outrebounding their opponent by 18, shooting 56.6 percent from the field, and getting out to a lead of 13 points in the first quarter to remove all doubt as to how this one would turn out as soon as was reasonably possible.

Suns 117, Nuggets 103: The frustrating thing for the Nuggets on this night was the fact that they were beaten by the Suns from top to bottom. Not only did Phoenix’s starters get off to a fast start in scoring 34 first quarter points, but the reserves finished the job by putting 33 on the scoreboard over the game’s final 12 minutes. Four of the Suns’ five starters sat the entire fourth period, while Channing Frye, who led all scorers with 30 points on 12-of-16 shooting, appeared in the fourth for just two and a half minutes.

Drake to introduce players for All-Star Game Sunday

Drake stands in front of Canada's bench before the Celebrity Game, part of NBA basketball's All-Star weekend, in Toronto on Friday, Feb. 12, 2016. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)
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You knew Canadian hip-hop star Drake was going to be involved directly in the All-Star Game in a way more than just having his back-and-gold OVO owl gear sold at the Air Canada Centre. Now we know how.

Drake will introduce the NBA All-Star players Sunday.

Drake has experience with this, he has introduced the Raptors — for whom he is a “global ambassador” — before.

This works for me. However, just to be clear, Drake is going to be introducing the players and Sting will headline the halftime show Sunday. Because nothing says NBA and millennials like “Fields of Gold.”

LeBron James says he’s undecided on 2016 Rio Olympics

US forward LeBron James celebrates after
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TORONTO — LeBron James has played in three Olympics, won two gold medals (and a bronze), and has done his duty representing his country internationally.

But it’s why he might skip this summer’s Rio Olympics that turned heads in the last couple days — he is reportedly pissed that Kobe Bryant will not be making his farewell with another gold on the international stage.

As you might expect, LeBron was asked about that during All-Star media day Friday in Toronto. Also, as you might expect, he dodged the question, saying he doesn’t know what he’s going to do this summer.

“Well, for me, I haven’t quite decided if I’m on the fence of going or not,” LeBron said. “But I’ve always loved representing my country. I’ve been playing in the Olympic games since 2004. So, no, I haven’t made a decision yet.”

My guess is LeBron’s body would love him to take the summer off — he’s played in five straight Finals with an Olympics in that mix — but his brand managers (and Nike) would love to see him play.

With him, the USA will win a gold medal. Without him, the USA will win the gold medal. The Americans are clear and away the best team in the world and only they can beat themselves. LeBron’s leadership can help make sure that happens, but it’s not required.

In the end, LeBron needs to do what’s required to bring a championship “to the ‘Land.” The playoffs, and how he feels after them, will likely determine where LeBron is in early August more than anything else.

Jerry Colangelo: Don’t be surprised if Sixers add more voices, experience to front office

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 7: Jerry Colangelo (R) is introduced as special advisor to managing general partner and chairman of basketball operations for the Philadelphia 76ers by general manager Sam Hinkie (L) and owner Joshua Harris (M) on December 7, 2015 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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TORONTO — Everyone wants to be like the Golden State Warriors. Jerry Colangelo, the Chairman of Basketball Operations for the Philadelphia 76ers, wants his Sixers to be more like the Warriors, too.

Not on the court in style of play (although he’d like all those wins). He means in the front office.

The Warriors front office is a place where a diversity of opinions — from the legendary Jerry West to assistant GM Kirk Lacob, through the analytics team, and on down the line — debate everything with each other and GM Bob Myers. Every idea is welcome, but you need to defend it. Out of those sometimes fierce debates has come an NBA championship roster.

That’s what Colangelo wants to bring to Philadelphia.

“(Golden State) proves the point,” Colangelo said after a ceremony the naming of the Hall of Fame Finalists Friday in Toronto. “If you have the right mix of people you can have a collaborative effort because people respect one another, and usually that comes from people who have had experience, who’ve been around the track. You add all of that to the mix and it could work.”

The Sixers may be looking to add experience and voices, Colangelo admitted, while not saying specifically what that would mean for analytics-driven GM Sam Hinkie’s role.

I think that any time you have an opportunity to enhance your organization, and you bring people in to accomplish that, you consider it. Big time. You really do,” Colangelo said. “And I think in our case we have a very bright young guy in Sam Hinkie, who holds the title of president and GM, and in his space he’s really strong. One could build a case for saying you’d like to have more people added who have experience in other aspects of those jobs. That’s the kind of conversation that’s going on. 

“The first step was me being asked to come in, because of my experience, to maybe help and add to the mix. And the question you’re asking is, ‘is there a need or requirement for someone else?’ Maybe. Probably. That’s all being discussed….

“I’m just saying adding people to the front office. And that’s not demeaning who we have. You want to be strong. If your goal is you want to be in the Finals… you have to take all the steps required to become that. I’d like to hear people say ‘they’ve got the strongest front office in the league.’ That’s a goal. That’s an objective. So it’s going to require more people to make that happen. That’s all.”

This doesn’t mean the Sixers will completely abandon Hinkie’s draft-for-the-future plan — they likely will have three, maybe four, first round picks this season, and multiple ones next season as well. The Sixers aren’t going to just trade those away to become average. That’s not smart. But they have already shown how some experienced, veteran players on the court — Ish Smith, in particular – can lead to significant improvement.

The goal is to do the same with their front office.

That style of management — listening to a diversity of opinions and voices — can certainly work, not just in basketball but in any business. However, at the end of the day, someone has coalesced those voices and have the hammer to make a decision based on those debates.

“If there’s a pecking order, it’s going to start with ownership and it’s going to funnel down,” Colangelo said.

The question is who Sixers owner Joshua Harris gives the hammer to? Colangelo seems to have it now.

Bottom line is expect more changes in the Sixers front office.

“I don’t think we’re where we might be six months from now. I don’t know,” Colangelo said.

C.J. McCollum to replace Chris Bosh in three-point contest

PORTLAND, OR - FEBRUARY 10:  C.J. McCollum #3 of the Portland Trail Blazers shoots against Jason Terry #31 of the Houston Rockets on February 10, 2016 at the Moda Center in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images)
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TORONTO — Portland’s C.J. McCollum was joking with the media Friday when asked who he thought would win the All-Star Saturday three-point contest.

“Not me, since I wasn’t selected for it… I’m really disappointed right now,” McCollum said, then started laughing.

Now McCollum can pick himself — he’s in the competition.

Miami’s Chris Bosh has pulled out of Sunday’s All-Star Game and Saturday’s three-point contest due to a strained calf muscle. Al Horford of Atlanta will replace him in the main event Sunday.

McCollum is in for the three-point contest (he was already in town to compete in the skills competition that evening). McCollum is shooting 39.2 percent from threes this season and has made 125 of them, ninth-most in the league.

But he knows he’s in for stiff competition in the three-point contest with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, J.J. Redick and a host of other sharpshooters.

“No, it’s a tough field,” McCollum said  “You look at JJ [Redick], you look at Steph, two really good shooters. [Redick] jumps really high. I don’t know if he’s going to change his shot. Steph [Curry] has a shot he can use and a quick release. Who else is in it? Bosh, [Khris] Middleton, [James] Harden, Klay [Thompson]. Klay has a good jumper. I think him, Middleton, those guys that don’t jump as high they have a good advantage.”