PBT Extra: PBT does its own Rising Stars Challenge draft; plus Wednesday’s recaps

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The NBA announced the field for the Rising Stars Challenge, but the teams won’t be selected until next week. A sucker for any opportunity to hold a mock draft, I enlisted Kurt into holding our own.

We followed the same positional rules whoever picks the teams on TNT next Thursday – the general managers have yet to be announced – will follow. Within each of our first seven picks, we must each pick three backcourt players (B) and three frontcourt players (F), with flex players (X) counting for either requirement.

The real drafters won’t pick the final four players, who will be randomly assigned to teams so nobody gets the indignity of being the last choice. That’s probably the right move for the NBA, but we’re not quite as concerned with sparing feelings. So, we draft our full teams.

I won the coin toss to pick first, so here we go.

1. Team Feldman: Anthony Davis (F, New Orleans)

Davis is definitely the best first- or  second-year player in the league. The only consideration I gave to someone else here was Damian Lillard, because I still would have been guaranteed Davis or Andre Drummond at No 3.

2. Team Helin: Damian Lillard (B, Portland)

These kinds of no-D exhibitions are won by the best guards, so I’ll take the best guard thank you very much. I then tell my coach to wear him out before the actual All-Star Game.

3. Team Feldman: Andre Drummond (F, Detroit)

Easiest pick of the draft. The top three are head and shoulders ahead of everyone else, the only first- or second-year players with a chance of making the big-boy All-Star game.

4. Team Helin: Bradley Beal (B, Washington)

Now that I’ve got a point guard, let’s give him a shooter to go next to him. You can have all the big men you want Dan, my team will just rain threes over the top of them.

5. Team Feldman: Terrence Jones (F, Houston)

Remember when there was question which forward position would fit Jones best in the NBA? Jones has settled in at power forward, but he’s also developed 3-point range, so he’ll be playing small forward for my team.

6. Team Helin: Steven Adams (F, Oklahoma City)

Yes he is a quality big and I need some size in the lineup. More importantly, I need the karma of the entire nation of New Zealand pulling for my team.

7. Team Feldman: Michael Carter-Williams (B, Philadelphia)

I’m thrilled Carter-Williams slipped this far, because his speed and athleticism will be huge in this game. He’s just the playmaker I need to get Davis and Drummond going.

8. Team Helin: Giannis Antetokounmpo (X, Milwaukee)

We’re going to run and we’re going to turn the Greek Freak loose (honestly, he is my sleeper game MVP candidate, at the least he should have a crazy dunk in this game).

9. Team Feldman: Trey Burke (B, Utah)

Looks like I’ll be compensating for missing the game’s best point guard by starting two point guards. Their ability initiate the offense from both sides of the floor will help feed Davis and Drummond inside.

10. Team Helin: Jared Sullinger (F, Boston)

Just crash the offensive glass Jared, I’m asking nothing else of you. Nobody wants to do the dirty work this game, you get inside and the glass will be yours.

11. Team Feldman: Jonas Valanciunas (F, Toronto)

I don’t really need Valanciunas, but because Drummond can sometimes get fatigued in bigger roles, Valanciunas provides nice depth. Plus, this keeps one of the league’s more underrated bigs off Kurt’s team.

12. Team Helin: Victor Oladipo (B, Orlando)

Yes, he was a mess to start the season, but in his last five games he’s averaged 17.2 points a game and is shooting 42.9 percent from three in that time. He’s figured it out, just in time for my purposes.

13. Team Feldman: Harrison Barnes (X, Golden State)

Needing a backcourt-qualifying player to fulfill the requirement, I’ll happily snag Barnes, who’s the best (only) true small forward in the game. That position is a real weak spot for the league’s youngest players. He might even start for me with Jones coming off the bench.

14. Team Helin: Tim Hardaway, Jr. (X, New York)

I know which way the league is trending so yes, I’ll take another athletic guard who can run the floor and knock down the three. Plus, I just want to see the joy on his face of not being coached by Mike Woodson for a game.

15. Team Feldman: Mason Plumlee (F, Brooklyn)

I really wanted the sharpshooting Hardaway, who would have given my team a much-needed floor spacer. Instead, I’ll just take the best player available, even if he’ll likely get buried on my bench.

16. Team Helin: Kelly Olynyk (F, Boston)

He’s been up and down this season (he is a rookie) but he runs the court well and can finish some putbacks off Lillard’s PUJITs.

17. Team Feldman: Pero Antic (F, Atlanta)

This is a bit of a strategic pick. Antic is out with an injury that could keep him sidelined through the All-Star break. If he can’t play, I’ll happily take one of the many players snubbed for this game who would have gone much higher in the draft – John Henson or Miles Plumlee, or, if I have to replace a rookie with a rookie, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or Ben McLemore.

18. Team Helin: Dion Waiters (B, Cleveland)

What does it say about a guy that can shoot the rock — 37 percent from three this season — that he went dead last in a this draft, for an exhibition that should play to his strengths? I just hope he doesn’t ruin the chemistry on my imaginary team and cost me the imaginary game.

Here are the final rosters:

Team Feldman

  • F: Andre Drummond (Detroit)
  • F: Anthony Davis (New Orleans)
  • F: Terrence Jones (Houston)
  • B: Trey Burke (Utah)
  • B: Michael Carter-Williams (Philadelphia)
  • X: Harrison Barnes (Golden State)
  • F: Jonas Valanciunas (Toronto)
  • F: Mason Plumlee (Brooklyn)
  • F: Pero Antic (Atlanta)

Team Helin

  • F: Steven Adams (Oklahoma City)
  • F: Jared Sullinger (Boston)
  • X: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee)
  • B: Bradley Beal (Washington)
  • F: Damian Lillard (Portland)
  • B: Victor Oladipo (Orlando)
  • X: Tim Hardaway, Jr. (New York)
  • F: Kelly Olynyk (Boston)
  • B: Dion Waiters (Cleveland)

Which squad would win?

-Dan Feldman

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Raptors 98, Magic 83: Kyle Lowry continued his assault on coaches voting for All-Star reserves with his second consecutive performance where he scored at least 30 points. It was 33 and 11 assists in this one, in a game that was essentially decided in the first 12 minutes. Toronto got out to a double-digit lead in the first quarter, and won the rest of the game by just two points in what was an even contest over the final three periods. Nik Vucevic led the Magic with 16 points and 10 rebounds in the losing effort. — Brett Pollakoff

Sixers 95, Celtics 94: No tanking here, as this game between two lottery teams in the East came down to the final possession. Evan Turner hit the game-winner as the buzzer sounded, a tough shot through contact that gave the Sixers the victory. Five Sixers finished in double figures, while Jared Sullinger did the heavy lifting for Boston, finishing with 24 points (on 9-of-25 shooting) to go along with 17 rebounds. — BP

Suns 126, Bucks 117: A win is a win, obviously, but the Suns have evolved to the point where they’re a solid playoff contender in the Western Conference. That means that a Bucks team that’s one of the league’s worst shouldn’t be allowed to score 117 points, but the victory will stand and Jeff Hornacek will be able to use it as a teaching tool moving forward. Goran Dragic continued his strong play that may have him in line for a spot on the All-Star squad with 30 points on just 13 shots, to go along with six assists. — BP

Timberwolves 88, Pelicans 77: Anthony Davis didn’t play in this one after suffering a dislocated finger in his last outing, and the result was a complete implosion on the part of the Pelicans. New Orleans couldn’t reach even 20 points in three of the game’s four periods, and while Minnesota didn’t exactly light it up offensively, a low-scoring affair like this one meant that Kevin Love’s often hollow numbers carried much more value than usual. Love led all scorers with 30 points, to go along with 14 rebounds and five assists. — BP

Pistons – Hawks: POSTPONED, due to severe weather in the Atlanta area. The game will be rescheduled at a later date. — BP

Thunder 112, Heat 95: Miami raced out to an 18-point first quarter lead, but when the Oklahoma City bench came in and the team went small everything changed — the Thunder got easy baskets in transition, Jeremy Lamb was knocking down threes and their defense improved. The big surprise was that Scott Brooks stuck with what works and didn’t stay loyal to Kendrick Perkins (who Brooks has stuck with as a starter despite what both the numbers and the eye test tell everyone) and benched him for the second half to starter Perry Jones. The result was another Thunder run, 9-0 right at the start of the second half, and the game was over. Mostly it was over because Kevin Durant caught fire on his way to 33 points (that makes 12 straight over 30). We broke the game down in more detail here. –Kurt Helin

Rockets 117, Mavericks 115: Dallas had their chances in this one, they had shaved that 12-point fourth quarter lead down to two then Jose Calderon — who is shooting 45 percent from three this season — got two looks at a game winner from beyond the arc and missed both. This was an up-tempo shootout which favors Houston and the Rockets got 26 from Chandler Parsons, 21 points from Dwight Howard and 18 from Jeremy Lin. Dirk Nowitzki dropped 38 in a losing effort but simply could not lift the team over the hump. –KH

Bobcats 101, Nuggets 98: From the start the Bobcats were getting the ball into Al Jefferson and letting him go to work on J.J. Hickson — and the Nuggets left Hickson largely on an island. They didn’t double much at all. The result was an early 20-5 Bobcats run. Timofey Mozgov came in and he didn’t fare much better, by the end Jefferson continued his hot play of late with 35 points. Denver came back to take a small lead again — thanks to 33 from Randy Foye — and the fourth quarter was tight, but Charlotte got 11 points from Jefferson in the fourth and had a late 8-2 run to get the win. –KH

Bulls 96, Spurs 86: It was a game of big sweeping runs for the better part of three quarters, both teams led for a while, but the Bulls started to pull away with a 14-3 late third quarter run then Kirk Hinrich’s 11 points in the fourth held off the depleted Spurs. San Antonio also had an uncharacteristic 19 turnovers against the stout Bulls defense. Joakim Noah (10 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists, four blocked shots) and Carlos Boozer (16 points, 12 rebounds) led the Bulls. –KH

Grizzlies 99, Kings 89: In a battle of the point guards Mike Conley owned the second half and was able to lift his Memphis team to the win. Conley had 20 of his 27 points in the second half plus had 10 assists, while the Kings’ Isaiah Thomas finished with 24 points and 5 assists. This is five straight losses for the Kings who did get Rudy Gay back in the lineup (23 points) but that wasn’t enough — the Kings’ defense couldn’t slow Memphis, which shot 54.7 percent on the night. –KH

Clippers 110, Wizards 103: The Clippers were aggressive — Blake Griffin had 29 points on 20 shots and took 15 of those in the paint (hitting 10), plus the Clippers as a team got to the free throw line 42 times as they attacked inside. Those free throws include an effort late in the game, with the Clippers up three, to intentionally foul DeAndre Jordan (hack-the-DJ, which has a nice Smiths ring to it) but he drained all four of his free throws. In between Bradley Beal, an 80 percent free throw shooter, missed both of his. Jamal Crawford had 21 for the Clippers, J.J. Redick 20. Beal led the Wizards with 20. –KH

Close-knit Pacers’ bond gets tested with season on the line

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) The Indiana Pacers have been winning together, losing together and fighting together all season.

Now they need to demonstrate their resilience once more as they try to save their season by rebounding from an emotional loss to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“Nobody thought we’d be in this situation,” Victor Oladipo said, referring to the playoffs. “It’s important for us to stick together now because we’ve seen where it can go, where it can take us and it’s great.”

The immediate problem is recent history doesn’t bode well for the underdog Pacers, who trail 3-2 with Game 5 set for Friday in Indianapolis.

Cleveland swept Indiana in the first round last year, winning four games by a record low 16 total points. James has won 10 straight close-out games and has never lost a first-round series. Indiana, meanwhile, is trying to reach the conference semifinals for the first time since 2014.

But the Pacers don’t care about stats, projections or conventional wisdom – as they’ve proven repeatedly this season.

Following last summer’s Paul George trade, Indiana seemed bound for the draft lottery. Instead, general manager Kevin Pritchard cobbled together a rare combination of proven, often overlooked veterans, emerging stars, good shooters and willing defenders.

It turned out to be a perfect fit.

Indiana won 48 games, six more than it did with George last season, and is a win away from forcing the three-time defending Eastern Conference champs into a decisive seventh game.

Cleveland has learned one lesson the hard way: The fifth-seeded Pacers won’t go away. They won 12 times after facing double-digit deficits and eight times after trailing by 15 or more during the regular season.

So perhaps it should come as no surprise Indiana has erased double-digit deficits in four straight game and wound up taking the lead or having a chance to win late in all four in this series.

“That team does not quit,” James said, moments after his buzzer-beating 3-pointer gave Cleveland a 98-95 win to salvage a win Wednesday after Pacers wiped out a 12-point second half to deficit to tie the score in the final minute.

Playing hard until the final buzzer has become the norm for these Pacers.

And they’re savoring every precious second, too.

Nate McMillan recently called this one of the most enjoyable seasons he’s had as a head coach because he knows what he’ll get every day – energy from Oladipo and Lance Stephenson, steadiness from Darren Collison and Corey Joseph, leadership from Thaddeus Young and Bojan Bogdanovic and an eagerness to develop from Myles Turner and other young players.

With each player embracing their role, the Pacers have formed a cohesive bond.

Six players actually approached Pritchard before the trade deadline and pleaded with the GM not to make any moves because they wanted to close out this season together. Pritchard said it a first for him, and kept the team intact.

“It kind of is like a college team bond,” said Young, one of the six players who approached Pritchard. “Typically you have a lot of NBA teams that don’t bond as well as you do in college when you’re living with each other and you’re around each other all the time. You know in the NBA, you spend time with your family, things like that.

“This team we all hang out together, we go to dinner together on the road. We do everything together.”

The difference has shown.

After enduring an early and sometimes uneven learning curve early this season, the Pacers finally got in sync in early January and played better than anyone, perhaps even McMillan or Pritchard could have anticipated.

From Jan. 6 through the end of the regular season, they went 29-15 and allowed 101.3 points per game and didn’t lose more than two in a row.

They moved up three spots in the Eastern Conference postseason pecking order and headed into their latest round against James having won three of the four regular-season matchups. The Pacers even routed the Cavs on their home court in Game 1.

Since then, though, the series has been all-out slugfest and James has gotten the knockout blow in three times.

Now, with their season on the line, the Pacers need to provide a unified front one more time Friday night just to keep this season alive.

They’re ready.

“Sure, we’ve still got something to prove. No one believes we can beat Cleveland,” Bogdanovic said. “It’s about trust in what we’ve got in each other.”

More AP NBA coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Report: J.B. Bickerstaff agrees to three-year deal to coach Memphis Grizzlies

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We heard rumblings that the Memphis Grizzlies were looking to remove the interim distinction from J.B. Bickerstaff’s title and make him acting head coach. Now, the team has made their move.

According to a report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Memphis agreed to a three-year deal with Bickerstaff on Thursday, making him the new head coach of the team.

Bickerstaff, 39, was previously the associate head coach of the Grizzlies under David Fizdale. Fizdale was fired in November, and Bickerstaff took over as interim head coach.

This has been a long time coming for Bickerstaff, who was a longtime assistant coach in Charlotte, Minnesota, and Houston. Bickerstaff took over the Rockets job in 2015 when the team fired head coach Kevin McHale.

The task ahead of Bickerstaff will not be easy. Next season he will get Mike Conley back from injury, but the roster is still in the process of being rebuilt and Marc Gasol, 33, seems like constant trade bait. The Western Conference is tough, but finally Bickerstaff gets his shot at the big job on a permanent basis.

Enes Kanter helps pardon Thunder fans who left playoff game early (VIDEO)

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Enes Kanter may be leaning toward opting in to his $18 million player option with the New York Knicks this summer (I would) but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t still have love for fans in Oklahoma City.

In a video posted to social media on Thursday, Oklahoma City mayor David Holt and Kanter appeared together to give pardons to the Thunder fans who left early during the team’s Game 5 win over the Utah Jazz on Wednesday.

Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony staved off elimination with their win against Utah, giving the Jazz a 3-2 series lead as they head back to Salt Lake City on Friday night.

Kanter, who played for the Thunder from 2015-2017, says he is still friendly with many of the players on the Oklahoma City roster. Kanter also played for the Jazz for the first three-and-a-half years of his career.

Via Twitter:

I personally don’t understand leaving a game early. Your car is trapped underground or is parked six miles away on some back alley, you’re not leaving any game quickly. The train is going to be jam packed and will sit at the stadium station for like 28 more minutes after you board, no matter when you board.

Don’t leave games early, folks. Try to haggle with the people working the concession stands to give you another soft pretzel for free. Get your money’s worth.

Giannis Antetokounmpo slashes Celtics, forces Game 7 in Boston

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The Milwaukee Bucks needed a big game from Giannis Antetokounmpo on Thursday night. Boy, did they get it.

After a disappointing in Game 5 in Boston, Antetokounmpo was fearsome in his return to the Bradley Center for Game 6. The Bucks were able to keep their defensive intensity up, and we got the game most of us expected from Antetokounmpo in a return to his home court: complete domination on the biggest stage.

The game started out much the way we’ve seen in this series — sort of kooky. It was another low-scoring affair as the first half closed with Milwaukee leading, 49-38. The Celtics couldn’t get things rolling offensively, and were saved by baskets in the paint in the first quarter. Boston scored just 15 points in the second period, saving themselves with makes from beyond the 3-point line.

The real story of the game came in the second half. Antetokounmpo would not let up from the gas, scoring both as the Bucks center and on the break. Milwaukee’s franchise player matched up against Al Horford all night long, and the battle between the two was intense. Both seemed to want to muscle each other, and for different stretches they both got the better of each other.

Boston battled back, eventually tying the game at 61-61 with 4:21 to go in the third. The Celtics’ charge was led by Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Horford, all three of whom allowed Boston to make up a 14-point deficit. Boston played carefully, allowing their young wings to do the work. Despite not having a fastbreak point until late in the third, they also didn’t have their first turnover of the second half until there was little more than three minutes to go in the same quarter. Antetokounmpo, who couldn’t let Boston’s run continue after the tie, turned on the jets to close the quarter and Milwaukee entered the fourth period with a 9-point lead they would never cede.

The fourth quarter was much of the same, with the matchup between Antetokounmpo, Horford, and Horford’s backup in Aron Baynes. Several times, Antetokounmpo ran full speed after starting with the ball on the opposite free-throw line, going right at either Horford or Baynes. But the Bucks star wasn’t completely selfish. He managed to stave off tunnel vision, at times finding teammates on his spins to the bucket.

A lot of talk was made about Antetokounmpo’s poor performance in Game 5, a career playoff-low of 16 points on just 10 field goal attempts. The Greek Freak made sure that didn’t happen again, finishing the game with 31 points on 13-of-23 shooting, adding 14 rebounds, four assists, and two steals.

Malcolm Brogdon and Khris Middleton were amped up as well. Both finished with 16 points, and as a team the Bucks scored 25 points on the break, with 50 points coming from the painted area, topping Boston in both regards.

For the Celtics, Tatum led the way with 22 points on six-of-14 shooting, adding three rebounds and three assists. Terry Rozier continued his playoff emergence, scoring 18 points while nabbing seven rebounds and dishing out five assists. Boston shot just 27.8 percent from the 3-point line.

Game 7 now heads back to Massachusetts, where we will see if Antetokounmpo can keep his foot to the floor and drive the Bucks past the second-seeded Celtics on Saturday.