Lance Stephenson leads list of three biggest All-Star Game snubs from each conference

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There are only 12 All-Star Game roster slots per conference, and there are more than 12 deserving players.

Somebody is going to be left off — we like to call it a snub, but most of the time it’s more like splitting hairs between good players. You pull on of these guys off the coach’s list of All-Star Game reserves to get your guy on and the fans of the player yanked will cry snub. And the circle of life continues.

Still, it’s a little frustrating this year because the coaches chose to play it safe and go with veterans like Tony Parker, Dirk Nowitzki and Joe Johnson over exciting young players. I had hoped the coaches would be more daring and less conservative. But alas…

Here are the three biggest snubs from each conference

EASTERN CONFERENCE

• Lance Stephenson, Indiana Pacers. He is the guy who does a lot of shot creation for the team with the best record in the NBA — coach Frank Vogel told Pro it wasn’t his plan coming into the season to have Stephenson playing this big a roll in the offense, but his play demanded it.

“I wanted to expand his role,” Vogel said of Stephenson this week. “What I envisioned was getting him out early, bringing him back to play with the bench unit and running offense through him. That sort of expanded when he started producing with the starting unit. So obviously, we’re a balanced team and we’re going to go to the hot hand so to speak, or to whoever is making the most efficient plays. With the second unit that’s who we’re going with, but a lot of times with the first unit he’s been great too.”

Stephenson averages 14.2 points a game, 7.1 rebounds and 5.7 assists a game. He has a true shooting percentage of 56.3 percent (a few percentage points above the league average). The argument against him is he is just a cog in the Pacers’ system, he could be the fourth or fifth offensive option at times. And that he could be more efficient. Maybe. But for an exhibition game — and for rewarding the best first half players — I’d rather have Stephenson on the court instead of Joe Johnson.

• Arron Afflalo, Orlando Magic. This was one of those splitting hairs decision compared with DeMar DeRozan of the Raptors (who made the team). Afflalo is the guy the other team schemes to stop on one of the weakest rosters in the league — he has a usage rate of 23.8, the highest of his career. And he’s scoring 20 points a game (also a career high) while having a true shooting percentage of 58.6 percent. He’s not a nice player putting up good numbers because he has to on a bad team, he’s a very good player putting up efficient numbers despite defenses gearing up for him.

(Yes, you could make a case that Kyle Lowry is more deserving than Afflalo. I’m not going to, but you could.)

• Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons. This is a tough one because I want to see the young players but the veterans who made the Eastern Conference frontcourt — Chris Bosh, Joakim Noah and Roy Hibbert — are all deserving. And I love the addition of Paul Millsap, who ha balled so hard for the Hawks this season. Drummond is averaging 12.6 points a game on 60 percent shooting (he should get more touches, but this is the Pistons) and 12.7 rebounds a game.

WESTERN CONFERNECE

• Goran Dragic (Phoenix Suns)/Mike Conley (Memphis Grizzlies). I am combining these two because while both deserve to go both may get to — Kobe Bryant is out for sure due to his knee injury, and Chris Paul may be out due to his shoulder injury. These two guys should be the replacements. (The league office and Commissioner Adam Silver get to make the call on who is selected as a replacement.)

Dragic is averaging 19.7 points and 6.1 assists a game to lead the offense of the biggest surprise team in the NBA this season. It was thought when Eric Bledsoe went down the Suns would fall apart, but Dragic has stepped up and been an All-Star level player.

Mike Conley quietly orchestrates the Memphis offense and is scoring 18.2 points a game, dishes 6.3 assists a game, is shooting 37.3 percent from three to help them space the floor, plus is one of the best defensive point guards in the game.

• DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings. This is the kind of exciting big man I’d like to see in the All-Star Game — he is averaging 22.6 points and 11.6 rebounds a game and at age 23 you can make a case he’s been the best center in the West this season. Yes, he makes some bad decisions still, at other times still battles bouts of laziness, but he is maturing and he is a force.

• Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans. He is averaging 20.4 points on 51.9 percent shooting and he grabs 10.4 rebounds a game, plus he leads the NBA in blocked shots at 3.3 a game — and he has 21 blocks combined in the last two games he played. He can score a variety of ways and, most importantly for this kind of exhibition game, he is the best transition big in the NBA right now. And he’s the hometown guy for this All-Star Game. I really wanted Davis to make the cut.

After Ricky Rubio’s triple-double, Russell Westbrook promises to “shut that s*** off”

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Ricky Rubio outplayed Russell Westbrook Saturday night in Utah and now the Jazz are up 2-1 in that series.

Rubio did his damage from the midrange — he was 5-of-5 between the key and the arc — on his way to 26 points, to go with 11 rebounds and 10 assists. All series the Thunder have dared Rubio to shoot and to beat them, Saturday he did. It was a stark contrast to Westbrook’s 14 points on 17 shots Saturday with eight turnovers.

When asked about Rubio’s big night postgame, Westbrook was looking ahead to Game 4 and using a little NSFW language (hat tip to Ben Golliver of SI, who loves him some playoff podium video).

There you have it, a personal guarantee.

Rubio struggled some in Game 1, taking 18 shots and mostly the ones the Thunder wanted him to. However, after that he has been better at getting to his spots and taking the shots in rhythm, and it’s worked — he’s averaging 20.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 8 assists per game this series. OKC has been focused on making life difficult for rookie Donovan Mitchell (with limited success) and it’s freed up Rubio to make plays.

More than just slowing the Spanish point guard, Westbrook and the Thunder need to figure out how to get their offense back on track against a Jazz defense that was best in the NBA once Gobert got healthy last season. Oklahoma City lost Game 2 when their big three — Westbrook, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony — went 0-of-15 in the fourth quarter. In Game 3, OKC averaged 100 points per 100 possessions (well below their season average of 110.2) and Westbrook shot 29.4 percent. Do that again in Game 4 and it will not matter what Rubio shoots, what matters is the Thunder could be looking at a 3-1 deficit. The Thunder need to even this series before it heads back to Oklahoma City.

Gregg Popovich will not coach Game 4 following death of his wife, Erin

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San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will not be on the sidelines again for Game 4 Sunday following the death of his wife, Erin, to a lengthy illness.

Ettore Messina will again coach the Spurs.

Popovich also missed Game 3. His San Antonio Spurs are down 3-0 to the Golden State Warriors in the first-round matchup. None of that matters compared to the loss of a woman he loved and was married to for four decades.

Erin Popovich’s passing has cast a pall over the series, especially with Warriors coach Steve Kerr being very close to the Popovichs dating back to his playing days with the Spurs.

The reaction and sadness about Erin’s passing has reached well beyond this series.

Our thoughts are with the Popovich family in this difficult time.

Anthony Davis’ 47 points, Pelicans sweep Trail Blazers out of playoffs

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Anthony Davis scored 33 of his franchise playoff-record 47 points in the second half, and the New Orleans Pelicans completed a first-round playoff sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers with a 131-123 victory on Saturday.

Jrue Holiday capped his 41-point performance with an 18-foot pull-up jumper that gave the Pelicans a six-point lead with 40 seconds left.

Rajon Rondo added 16 assists, and Davis also had 11 rebounds and three blocks for New Orleans, which is moving on to the second round of the playoffs for only the second time since the NBA returned to the city 16 seasons ago.

C.J. McCollum scored 38 for the Trail Blazers, who responded to a blowout loss in Game 3 by keeping Game 4 close until the final minute. Al-Farouq Aminu scored 27, Damian Lillard added 18 points and Jusuf Nurkic had 18 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out.

Lillard’s difficult driving layup had just tied the game at 60 when the Pelicans briefly pulled away, going on an 11-2 run capped by Davis’ 3.

Soon after, Nikola Mirotic added step-back 3. Davis, who scored 19 in the third quarter, then added a layup while falling down after a hard foul by Aminu, after which Davis flexed both biceps while still sitting on the court.

Holiday’s transition 3 made it 87-72, prompting Portland to call timeout while Holiday walked slowly toward mid-court, nodding and smiling wide as he soaked in the crowd’s adulation.

New Orleans led by 13 to start the fourth quarter, but Portland refused to wilt, opening the period on a 15-4 run that included Nurkic’s hook shot, 20-foot jumper and dunk. McCollum’s transition layup made it 104-102 with nearly nine minutes to play.

Portland got as close as a single point on Aminu’s layup with 5:08 to go, but Davis responded with 12 points over the final 4:56, starting with a layup as he was fouled and a 3-pointer. Holiday scored six points during the final 2:52, starting with his 3-pointer. The pair combined for all but one of New Orleans’ points during that pivotal stretch.

Leading up to Game 4, Lillard spoke of the need for the Blazers to ramp up their intensity and physicality. From the tip, it looked as though they’d done so.

In stark contrast to Game 3, when New Orleans led by 18 in the first quarter, this game was tight and testy.

Anthony and Ed Davis received double technical fouls after bumping one another following one of Anthony Davis’ dunks – and that was just the beginning.

McCollum was called for a flagrant foul when he stormed into the lane behind E'Twaun Moore and grabbed the Pelicans guard by the shoulders to thwart a driving layup attempt. Moore then shoved McCollum and was assessed a technical foul.

And in the final seconds of the half, double technicals were assessed to Rondo and Portland center Zach Collins after Rondo lowered his forehead into Collins’ chest and Collins shoved back.

When halftime arrived, New Orleans led 58-56.

 

 

Twins Marcus, Markieff Morris each fined by league for separate instances

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Twins Marcus and Markieff Morris have a special bond, one that includes doing so much together on the basketball court — playing at the same high school, the same AAU team, then going to college together at Kansas, and even playing together in the NBA for a while together with the Suns (they are now on separate teams).

That includes them both getting fined Saturday by the NBA for recent actions during the playoffs.

Washington’s Markieff Morris picked up a $25,000 fine for “attempting to escalate an altercation and pushing a game official,” the league announced. Here is the play in question, just minutes into Game 3.

Toronto’s OG Anunoby draws a foul knocking Morris to the ground, but Morris starts the incident with an elbow to Anunoby’s back, and he does push referee Kenny Mauer. Considering all that, a $25,000 fine is not that severe.

His twin Marcus Morris picked up a $15,000 for “public criticism of the officiating,” which he certainly did following the Celtics’ Game 3 loss to the Bucks. Here are his comments, and they are NSFW.

That $15,000 fine is pretty much the going rate for ripping the referees after the game.

Markieff outdid his brother on this one… if you consider getting the larger fine the “win.”