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

Jazz shut off Thunder in feisty Game 4 win

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Jae Crowder threw an ejection-drawing elbow, and teammate Donovan Mitchell couldn’t contain his grin as he pulled Crowder from the scuffle.

Steven Adams took the elbow in the face, and he didn’t even flinch.

Both the Jazz and Thunder showed their competitiveness in Utah’s chippy 113-96 Game 4 win Monday. The difference: The Jazz delivered the blow. Oklahoma City took it.

Utah has won three straight to take a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. Teams without home-court advantage up 3-1 in a best-of-seven series have won it 89% of the time. Still, those leading teams lose Game 5 on the road 74% of the time. Game 5 of this series is Wednesday in Oklahoma City.

In other words: The Jazz have seized control of the series. They probably won’t close it out in Game 5 – though the way they’re playing, the certainly could.

Mitchell scored 33 points tonight, the first 30-point playoff game by a rookie since Brandon Jennings in 2010 (34 points). Mitchell has already scored 110 points this postseason, the most by a rookie since Harrison Barnes in 2013 (193 points). With Utah increasingly likely to advance, Mitchell has a chance to catch Dwyane Wade (234 points in 2004).

“He’s playing amazing,” Ricky Rubio said of Mitchell. “He doesn’t seem a rookie at all.”

Rubio, the star of Game 3, happily deferred to Mitchell tonight. Russell Westbrook‘s guarantee to shut down Rubio meant little, as Rubio set the tone as a passer. His eight assists don’t do him justice, as he made key passes that led to fouls drawn and other advantage situations for his teammates.

“We play as a team,” Rubio said.

Westbrook, on the other hand, looked out of control. He committed four first-half fouls, and though calls were questions, he also committed five turnovers and shot just 7-for-18. The question isn’t whether Westbrook was reckless. He was. The only debate is just how reckless.

Westbrook’s fervor hardly stood out. In addition to Crowder’s ejection, the game featured six other technical fouls – on Paul George, Quin Snyder, Steven Adams, Joe Ingles, Rudy Gobert and Raymond Felton. And there was even more trash-talking and physicality than whistled.

There just wasn’t nearly enough sustained production from the Thunder.

George (32 points on 9-of-21 shooting with six turnovers) had moments but was far too sloppy. Oklahoma City’s big three shot dreadfully from beyond the arc – Carmelo Anthony (0-for-6), Westbrook (0-for-3) and George (2-for-9).

Utah led by double digits the final 23 minutes. Joe Ingles made as many 3-pointers (5-for-11) as the Thunder combined (5-for-26).

Ingles is an excellent shooter, but the Jazz’s offense hummed and got him open looks. His outside shots are a bellwether – of a Utah team cruising.

Mitt Romney taunts Russell Westbrook after fourth foul

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It’s been a glorious night for Utah Jazz fans.

In Game 4 the Jazz have taken care of the big three of the Thunder in what has been a very physical, chippy game (Jae Crowder even got ejected). Between their team going on big runs and the physical play of the game, the Utah crowd — one already with a reputation for verbal hostility toward opponents — has savored every second of it.

That includes former Massachusetts Governor, presidential candidate, and current Utah Senate candidate Mitt Romney, who reminded Russell Westbrook exactly how many fouls he picked up.

Twitter – which has its own reputation for verbal hostility — was not kind to Romney after this. Of course, he earned it with that outfit.

MVP James Harden, dominant Rockets show up in second half, crush Timberwolves

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We had to wait three-and-a-half games for it.

We had seen James Harden play like an MVP all season. We had seen the Rockets bury threes at a record rate all season. We had seen Houston’s switching defense impress all season (sixth best in the NBA). We had seen Houston rack up 65 wins and make it look easy.

Then we got to the playoffs and the Rockets couldn’t put it all together at once. Harden struggled after Game 1, including going 0-of-7 in the first quarter Monday night. The defense was inconsistent and the threes were not falling. All of it let the Timberwolves hang around in the series — down 2-1 — and the same in Game 4, down just a point at halftime.

Then the Harden and Rockets we all expected showed up.

Houston put up 50 points in the third quarter alone, shooting 61 percent overall and 9-of-13 from three, plus they got to the line 13 times and made every shot. The Rockets opened the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, with almost all of the damage from Harden, who had 22 in the quarter.

The Rockets pulled away and cruised from there to an easy 119-100 win.

“We hit the switch, the switch we’ve been trying to hit since the beginning of the playoffs on both ends of the floor,” Harden said postgame. “It’s pretty scary what we’re capable of when defensively we’re locked in like that, and offensively we got rolling.”

Houston now leads the series 3-1 and can close it out at home in Game 5 Wednesday night.

In the first half this looked nothing like something that would end with a comfortable Rockets win. Houston struggled at the start of Game 4, opening 0-of-5 in the paint, including Harden missing an open layup. As a team, the Rockets started the game 4-of-16 from three, and a lot of those were uncontested looks. The Rockets play a lot of isolation, but even for them the ball seemed to stick in the first half. If not for Trevor Ariza knocking down three from beyond the arc, the Timberwolves might have been able to pull away.

The fact they didn’t was a blown opportunity for the Timberwolves, something they just can’t do in this series. It was a one-point Rockets lead, 50-49, at the half.

Minnesota had some moments on offense in the game, usually when attacking quickly off the Rockets switch. Derrick Rose had some moments and finished the game with 17 points. Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points and 15 rebounds, Jimmy Butler had 19 points on 17 shots.

But that was no match for the Rockets when they flipped the switch.

It was a barrage of threes that we have waited for all season, and it all started with Harden and Chris Paul, they had all of the first 15 points of the second half for Houston. Harden finished with 36 points and hit 5-of-11 from three. CP3 had 25 points and six assists, Eric Gordon finally woke up in this series with 18, and Ariza finished with 15.

Minnesota is a talented team, but they are learning fast what a contender can do — even not at their peak the Rockets had taken two of the first three in the series, and when they did flip the switch it was another level. A level the Timberwolves want to get to, there are just some rough lessons along the road to getting there.

James Harden puts on show to start second half vs. Timberwolves

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James Harden started Game 4 0-of-7 from the floor, including missing a lay-up. It was an extension of Game 3, and it let the Timberwolves hang around for a half despite their own offensive woes.

Then in the second half the MVP Harden showed up.

Houston started the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, and a lot of it was Harden (with a little help from Chris Paul). Harden had 22 points in the third (with 4:30 left in the quarter). After a couple rough games the Timberwolves were going under the pick when Harden had the ball, and suddenly he made them pay.

Or, he was just stepping back.

With all the buckets the Rockets turned a close game into a 25 point lead.