Bradley Beal

Pacers already running out of time against Wizards

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Frank Vogel called one timeout and then another.

His Indiana Pacers were getting battered by the upstart Washington Wizards, and not even eight minutes in, he was running out of possible solutions.

At that point, the Pacers had twice as many of their shots blocked (six) as had gone through the hoop (three). And that’s when Indiana could even get off a shot. The symmetrically out-of-sync Pacers had five turnovers, each starter with one.

Can an underdog end a series in Game 1? The Wizards, crushing the East’s No. 1 seed, seemed on the verge.

Well, this won’t be that quick a quick knockout. The Pacers eventually got off the mat and even landed a few punch-drunk right hooks late, but that’s about all they did.

The Wizards took Game 1  102-96 Monday, and if they didn’t take the series in one night, they at least positioned themselves as unquestioned favorites.

So this series won’t be easy for Washington? The Wizards hadn’t won a second-round game since 1982. This isn’t supposed to be easy.

Even if it looked that way early.

Washington jumped to an 8-0 lead, fell asleep a bit and then expanded its lead to 16 points. The Pacers led for 15 seconds the entire game, a possession in the second quarter. Otherwise, until the closing minutes, the Wizards cruised with a steady onslaught of quality play:

  • Bradley Beal (25 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and five steals) was the game’s best two-way player.
  • Trevor Ariza made all six of his 3-point attempts to score 22 points
  • Drew Gooden (12 points and 13 rebounds in 18 minutes) was everywhere, especially wherever the ball was headed off the offensive glass.
  • John Wall (13 points, nine assists, one turnover and two blocks) controlled Washington’s offense and played excellent transition defense.
  • Marcin Gortat (12 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks) fortified the middle.
  • Nene (15 points, six rebounds, two assists and two blocks) made solid contributions on both ends.

That’s way too much for Indiana – at least this Indiana – to overcome. The Pacers barely beat the 38-44 Hawks. How are they going to get competitive with Washington?

Due to Roy Hibbert (zero points, zero rebounds, five fouls and two turnovers in 18 minutes) more than anyone, the Pacers’ starting lineup – a mainstay among the NBA’s best over the last two years – has lost its effectiveness. That unit was outscored by eight points in 12 minutes Monday.

Vogel is left mixing and matching whatever starters haven’t self-destructed with C.J. Watson, Luis Scola and Chris Copeland to form cohesive lineups. That scattered approach can work – Indiana went on a late 7-1 run before George Hill made 3-pointers on three of the Pacers’ final four possessions – but it’s tough to win a game, let alone a series, that way.

Especially against the feisty Wizards.

Washington’s ability to win anywhere puts even more pressure on the Pacers. The Wizards opened round one in Chicago and didn’t settle for a single win, coming home with a 2-0 series lead. There’s no reason to believe they can’t do the same in Game 2 Wednesday.

Already possessing four road wins in these playoffs, Washington has shown a resiliency becoming of a conference finalist. In the last eight years, all 21 teams with four road wins in a postseason reached the conference finals.

Lady Gaga? The Wizards might not need to worry.

They didn’t end this series in one. But four? That’s still on the table.

Watch Kristaps Porzingis drop 30 at Rising Stars Challenge (VIDEO)

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TORONTO — Knicks’ fans were in full throat at the Air Canada Centre Friday night. Kristaps Porzingis was the second most popular player in the Rising Stars Challenge (behind Canada’s own Andrew Wiggins).

Porzingis didn’t disappoint, dropping 30 and sparking a World Team comeback against the USA that just fell just short, with the USA winning 157-154.

“Not great defense, but it’s about having fun, I guess” Porzingis said. “And I think we had fun out there. In the second half we got more competitive, as both teams wanted to get the win, and we fell a little short.”

Kobe Bryant basks in All-Star spotlight one final time

Kobe Bryant All-Star
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TORONTO — Kobe Bryant is the center of attention one last time.

To get to his final All-Star Game in his final season in the NBA, Kobe received more fan votes than Stephen Curry or LeBron James or any other player. Now that he’s at the 2016 All-Star Game, more people want a piece of his time. More media were crowded around him on Friday than any other player at the NBA’s equivalent of media day. Even the other All-Stars could count on getting peppered with Kobe questions (to their annoyance at times).

Kobe is at peace with his decision to walk away from the game. This weekend he wants to savor being in the All-Star spotlight one final time.

“I’m happy,” Kobe said. “This is pretty cool. I’m looking around the room and seeing guys that I’m playing with that are tearing the league up that were like four during my first All-Star Game. It’s true. I mean, how many players can say they’ve played 20 years and actually have seen the game go through three, four generations, you know what I mean? It’s not sad at all. I mean, I’m really happy and honored to be here and see this.”

Does that mean Kobe has plans to chase the All-Star MVP one last time?

“Zero…” Kobe said. “But, no, I’m really just enjoying this whole thing, being around these players and talking to them one more time, going out and practicing and enjoying that moment in the game and enjoying that moment. So competitiveness in terms of me trying to establish something or prove something, that’s gone.”

What is Kobe’s best All-Star memory?

“My first one in Cleveland was pretty special because you had all the top 50 players,” Bryant said. “I think in ’98 (it was), it was pretty special too, being in my first All-Star Game and being in the locker room with greats, like [John] Stockton and [Clyde] Drexler and all those guys, that was pretty cool too.”

Kobe has a hectic schedule for his final weekend, but much as he has since he announced his retirement he is trying to soak in and fully enjoy this last go around in the NBA. He understands that the life he has known for two decades is about to change. He hasn’t given much thought to his first day of retirement.

“I’ll probably wake up and have some coffee and go back to sleep,” Bryant said.

I don’t think he understands why you drink coffee, but he’s got all of his retirement to figure that out. For now, he just wants to bask in the spotlight one last time.

Zach LaVine wins MVP, Kristaps Porzingis puts on show in Rising Stars Challenge

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TORONTO — Canada’s own Andrew Wiggins was the rock star of the night. “An-drew-Wi-gins” chants broke out in the Air Canada Center as Canada’s native son put on a show with 29 points (and a few dunks) leading a World Team comeback against the USA in the Rising Stars Challenge.

“An-drew-Wi-gins” chants broke out in the Air Canada Center as Canada’s native son put on a show with 29 points (and a few huge dunks), sparking a World Team comeback against the USA in the Rising Stars Challenge.

His Minnesota teammate Karl-Anthony Towns was going to have none of that.

“I gotta see Andrew Wiggins for a long time and I want to rub this in,” Towns said.

He got his wish, the USA beat the World Team 157-154.

It was a glorified pickup game for three quarters, and the level of defensive intensity will make Sunday’s All-Star game look like Tom Thibodeau teams are playing. That led to a lot of high scorers.

Zach LaVine — the other teammate of Wiggins and Towns — led the USA with 30 points and was named the game’s MVP, and said he wanted to steal Wiggins’ thunder at home.

“That’s what I was going for,” LaVine said.

Also from the USA, Jordan Clarkson (Lakers) had 25, Devon Booker (Suns) had 23 and was 5-of-8 from three, D'Angelo Russell (Lakers) had 22, and Towns chipped in 18 points and 7 boards.

Knicks sensation Kristaps Porzingis was the second most popular player in the building, and he had 30 for the World team.

“Not great defense, but it’s about having fun, I guess,” Porzingis said. “And I think we had fun out there. In the second half we got more competitive, as both teams wanted to get the win, and we fell a little short.”

Also for the World Emmanuel Mudiay (Nuggets) had 30 points, Wiggins had 29, and Mario Hezonja (Magic) had 19.

The intensity and defense did pick up in the end, although one wouldn’t call it a thing of beauty. What matters is the crowd in the Air Canada Centre enjoyed it, even if their team didn’t win. It’s an exhibition, and they got a show.

Report: Celtics, Cavaliers talking Kevin Love trade; could include Knicks, ‘Melo

Cleveland Cavaliers' Kevin Love holds the ball away from Boston Celtics' Amir Johnson during the second quarter of a NBA basketball game in Boston Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
Associated Press
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The Celtics are looking for an elite player to improve their deep cast of role players. The Cavaliers are looking for depth. And Carmelo Anthony may just be looking to win.

All of that has talks between the Cavaliers and Celtics on a potential Love deal progressing, with the possibility of the Knicks as a third team also in the mix, according to Frank Isola of the New York Daily News.

The Daily News has learned that the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers have discussed a blockbuster trade centered around Kevin Love. There were very preliminary discussions about expanding the deal to include the Knicks and Anthony, who would have to waive his no-trade clause in order to facilitate a deal to the Cavs.

The Knicks would receive draft picks and players in return. One of those players is believed to be Timofey Mozgov, who five years ago was traded by the Knicks to Denver in the Anthony deal.

This is a longshot, but the report has some legs.

It’s not clear how far along these talks are. The trade deadline is Feb. 18 (next Thursday) and conversations tend to move past the theoretical/value judging phase and get real come All-Star Weekend, when many GMs and decision makers are in one place (and nobody can go outside because it is too cold in Toronto). This trade works for the Cavaliers if they get a quality stretch four in return — Kelly Olynyk? — plus some depth and a quality pick. The question for the Cavs is simply how much can they get back — this is a win-now team and Love helps that, so how does a trade make them better?

Would Danny Ainge move the unprotected Brooklyn Nets pick to get Love? Jae Crowder? How much would Boston surrender to get an elite star, especially one under a reasonable, long contract?

Carmelo Anthony wants a ring, if he could end up playing with LeBron and be much closer to it than he is now, he would waive his no-trade clause.

That said, this trade sounds like a longshot. At least at the deadline. Next Summer… who knows?