2014 Taco Bell Skills Challenge

Lillard repeats as Skills Challenge champion, partnered with Trey Burke

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NEW ORLEANS — Damian Lillard’s busy All-Star Saturday night started out pretty darn well — with a repeat win.

Lillard will be in all three major events on the evening and first out of the gate he and Trey Burke teamed up to win the NBA All-Star Saturday Skills Challenge — by just one tenth of a second over the all-rookie team of Michael Carter-Williams and Victor Oladipo. Lillard was the defending champion in this event.

The event was changed up this year. First it became a tandem of players trying to work through the challenges passing off the ball in between, not an individual event (part of the NBA’s effort to make All-Star Saturday more of an East vs. West event). Plus, the challenges themselves were changed — gone was the bounce pass station, for example.

Didn’t matter to Lillard.

Lillard and Burke advanced to the final by first beating a team of Oklahoma City’s Reggie Jackson (who lollygagged through the course) and Phoenix’s Goran Dragic. In their first run Burke and Lillard’s time of 40.6 was the best of any tandem all night.

Carter-Williams and Oladipo (your two Rookie of the Year leaders) advanced by knocking off a team of Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan and Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo. We at PBT are big Antetokounmpo fans but this is not an event in the raw rookie’s wheelhouse — he missed on the chest pass and knocking down a top of the key jumper.

In the final showdown, Carter-Williams and Oladipo both missed on the chest pass and struggled with the jumper.

It seemed like something Lillard and Burke could beat as both were just quicker with the ball in this event, but a couple missed shots made it go right down to the wire.

“I started to hear the crowd and you continue to glance up and looked up at the clock and I knew it was close,” Burke said, adding he thought it was going to be a tie.

Still it’s a win is a win, and Lillard is your repeat Skills Challenge winner.

Spurs to give Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili Friday night off in Denver

Manu Ginobili, Harrison Barnes, Tim Duncan
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The Spurs are 12-3 and comfortably in second place in the West, they have the best defense in the NBA allowing just 93.8 points per 100 possessions, and they have a top-10 offense to go with it.

So, time to start making sure guys are rested.

That is the first night of a back-to-back, with former Spurs’ assistant coach Mike Budenholzer and his Atlanta Hawks coming to San Antonio on Saturday. Popovich is saving his two veterans for that game.

Duncan and Ginobili have looked like they found the fountain of youth this season. Duncan is taking on less of the offense but has been very efficient in those moments. Ginobili has the impact he did a few years back in his bench role.

What Gregg Popovich cares about is them playing like that come the postseason. So they will rest on Friday.

Brandon Armstrong impersonates Ray Allen (video)

2014 NBA Finals - Game Five
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Ray Allen is retired-ish, but he’ll always be running through screens – in our mind and in this video.

Celtics draft pick Marcus Thornton gets beer dumped on head during Australian game (video)

Marcus Thornton, Will Cherry

The Celtics drafted Marcus Thornton with No. 45 pick in the 2015 NBA draft. That essentially entitled him to the required tender – a one-year contract offer, surely unguaranteed at the minimum.

Thornton rejected that, which is almost always a mistake.

Rejecting the tender is a favor to the drafting team, which gets to keep the player’s exclusive rights for a year. If Thornton tries to join the NBA now, he’s stuck negotiating with only the Celtics.

By accepting the tender, the player typically gets one of two outcomes. He either plays on that contract and draws an NBA salary or he gets waived. But even getting waived is better than rejecting the tender, because at least the player becomes a free agent and can negotiate with any team.

Players who reject the tender go to another league and play for less money. In Thornton’s case, that mean Australia.

How’s that going?

(Almost) never reject the required tender as a second-round pick.

Byron Scott says they just have to get Kobe Bryant better looks

Kobe Bryant, Joe Johnson, Byron Scott

Kobe Bryant is averaging 15.2 points a game at age 37. It’s just taking him 16.4 shots per game to get there. After his 1-of-14 shooting performance against the Warriors the other night — with too much isolation and too many plays run just for him — there has been a lot of talk about his shot. With reason, this is his shot chart so far this season.

Kobe shotchart season

So what do the Lakers’ do? Get Kobe to shoot less and get the ball in the hands of the young stars they supposed to be developing more? Nah.

They just need to get Kobe better looks, Scott told the Los Angeles Times.

“I know his mentality is that he can still play in this league,” Scott said. “And we feel the same way….

“Obviously he’s struggling right now with his shot, and I think everybody can see that,” Scott said. “So it’s trying to get him in better position to be able to have an opportunity to knock those shots down on a consistent basis. That’s No. 1.

“I don’t know if it’s his legs. I don’t think so. Again, our conversations are pretty blunt. … He tells me when he is tired and he tells me when he’s not tired. And the last few days, he said he feels great. So, I don’t think it’s a matter of him being tired or his legs being tired. I think it’s a matter of his timing being a little off.”

Yes, how could it be his legs? It’s not like he’s a 37-year-old with more than 55,000 NBA minutes played, and coming off an Achilles rupture and major knee surgery.

Honestly, I hope the Lakers and Kobe find a balance soon, because they have become just hard to watch. And I don’t want Kobe to go out this way.