Kristaps Porzingis shines defensively in Summer League debut for Knicks

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LAS VEGAS — When the Knicks selected Kristaps Porzingis with the fourth overall pick in this summer’s NBA Draft, the fans in attendance were extremely vocal in voicing their displeasure.

Their trepidation was somewhat understandable, if only because the casual fan isn’t usually well-versed in the talents of international prospects, and with the disastrous 2013 trade for Andrea Bargnani fresh in their minds, the fans in New York felt justified in letting the boos rain down.

But things were different on Saturday in Las Vegas, where Porzingis donned a Knicks jersey for the very first time. The fans at the Thomas and Mack Center were generous with their praise, cheering Porzingis at every turn during a performance that saw him finish with 12 points, three rebounds and two blocked shots in a little over of 18 minutes of action.

“Finally they saw me play out there, so hopefully now some of those booing fans are now cheering for me out there,” Porzingis said.

The play of Porzingis in his debut confirmed any preconceived notions fans may have had, on either the positive or negative side of the spectrum. For those that believed his frame was too slight, they saw him get pushed around. For those that liked his ability to absorb contact and get to the free throw line, they saw him get there seven times.

But it was his effort on the defense end of the floor which impressed Knicks head coach Derek Fisher the most.

“I think defensively he has the potential to be really special,” Fisher said. “There were some things that he recognized and made adjustments on and supported his teammates in switching out on smaller players, using his length to protect the basket. I thought on the defensive end he impacted the game in a major way.”

Porzingis showed almost immediately that any potential label of him being soft would simply be a flat-out lie. He looked to create contact, both on perimeter screens and on post-up opportunities inside, often times against bigger and bulkier guys.

“He’s aggressive,” Fisher said. “He doesn’t look overpowering, but he plays a strong game. He’s not afraid to go in there and mix it up.”

“I tried to play aggressive,” Porzingis said. “I knew the guys were going to be physical. I tried to play the same way. I got to the free throw line, missed one free throw — gotta make them all, but I think I was pretty aggressive.

“As you can see out there, I’m fighting with the guys although they’re 15 pounds heavier than me, even more. I try to go out there and play as hard as I can, and I don’t have a problem with contact.”

The fans who may have wanted to see more than 18 minutes from Porzingis will get that eventually. He had been dealing with a hip issue, and even though he says it’s completely fine now, the team is obviously going to proceed with caution.

“Coach told me I wasn’t going to play a lot,” Porzingis said. “He told me 18 minutes. I knew I wasn’t going to play a whole lot, just because they wouldn’t want me to go 30 minutes or whatever. It’s step by step, and I just wanted to be me when I go out there, play hard, and play 100 percent.”

When he was out there, he played with a high level of activity, and showed a great awareness for his position on the floor that allowed him to consistently be in the right place to challenge his opponents’ shots.

“I still have trouble calling the defense on the screens and stuff,” Porzingis said. “I try to remember the calls. I’m still having trouble with that. But I try to be as aggressive as I can and help my teammates.”

Porzingis struggled to gain post position at times, due to a 7’1″ frame that appears to be extremely slight on the surface. It’s something he already plans on improving, but he’s taking a wait-and-see approach as far as exactly how much.

“I’ve got to get stronger,” Porzingis said. “I’ve just got to see. Ten pounds, 15 pounds, maybe 0, maybe 30. I’ve just got to see how I feel at 240, 250. Just little by little, putting on the weight, seeing if I have the same quickness, same athleticism, seeing if I can move the same. I’ve just got to see how I feel.”

The fans are already feeling a more positive vibe where Porzingis is concerned, as evidenced by the many cheers that echoed throughout the arena anytime his aggressive level of activity achieved a positive result.

“That’s the opposite of what I heard on draft night,” Porzingis said. “So it was nice to hear some cheers out there.”

“Tired” Jimmy Butler sits out All-Star Game at his own request

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LOS ANGELES — Jimmy Butler leads the NBA in minutes played per game at 37.3. He’s ninth in the league in total minutes played and played 77:35 minutes in the two games leading up to All-Star Weekend.

Butler was tired and asked Mike D’Antoni to give him some rest. Butler did not play in Sunday’s All-Star Game, at his own request.

“Rest,” Butler said when asked why he didn’t play. “I have to rest. I have to rest my body up. This Timberwolves season is very, very important to me. I’ve got to make sure I’m ready to roll when I get back there.”

“He was tired and he just felt like his legs weren’t there,” Team Stephen head coach Mike D’Antoni. “He didn’t practice yesterday or play today. You have to respect that. He plays hard. Sometimes your body just needs a rest.”

Butler is having the kind of season that has him in the discussion for a place on the MVP ballot. He’s averaging 22.4 points per game with a very efficient true shooting percentage of 59.3, plus he’s playing strong defense. He and Karl-Anthony Towns have led the Timberwolves to a 36-25 record that has them as the current four seed in the West, poised to break an 11-year playoff drought for the franchise.

Still thankful, LeBron James breaks Michael Jordan’s record for years between All-Star MVPs

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Los Angeles – When LeBron James became the youngest-ever NBA All-Star MVP in 2006, he said during the trophy presentation: “I’d like to thank the fans for voting me in as a starter.”

Twelve years later, he sounds similar, maybe just a little more thoughtful: “It’s always been my fans who voted me in. For 14 straight years, my fans have voted me in as an All-Star starter, and it’s been up to me to go out and let them know and show them, listen, I appreciate that, and here’s what I’m going to give to you every time you vote me in.”

He plays similarly, too.

LeBron again won All-Star MVP, leading his team to a 148-145 victory Sunday. He finished with 29 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.

“Every night I step on the floor, I have to lead my guys or prove to myself that I’m still able to play at a high level,” said LeBron, 33. “I feel great.”

The 12-year gap between LeBron’s first and last All-Star MVP – he also won in 2008 – is the longest in NBA history. It tops the 10 years between Michael Jordan’s first (1988) and last (1998).

Here’s the difference between the first and last All-Star MVP for every multi-time winner:

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Players’ effort in this exhibition game comes and goes, but LeBron appeared invigorated .

When LeBron’s team trailed by 15 in the second quarter, he checked in and quickly led it back into the lead. When his team fell behind by 13 midway through the fourth quarter, he again led a spirited comeback. He hit the go-ahead bucket.

Despite playing a game-high 31 minutes, his intensity lasted all the way through the final buzzer.

His coach, the Raptors’ Dwane Casey, said he asked LeBron whether to foul or defend on the final possession while up three. LeBron said defend.

“If he says that, or any great players say that, you want to go with them because it was their idea, their belief, and he had it,” Casey said. “…He got the guys jacked up and juiced up as far as wanting to get a stop.”

LeBron and Kevin Durant swarmed Stephen Curry, who couldn’t shoot and could barely pass. Curry’s team didn’t even get a shot off:

“As you can hear in my voice, that tells how competitive it was,” LeBron said scratchily.

Again, his message echoed 2006: “We’re competitors, and our competitive nature kicked in and said let’s get some defensive stops.”

A lot will get made about the format change, and it might have mattered.

But maybe LeBron is just uniquely capable of dominating and embracing of this stage all these years later.

Defense? Dramatic finish? Team LeBron wins All-Star Game that’s worth watching

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LOS ANGELES — The NBA gambled its new format — with captains picking teams playground style — would produce an All-Star Game where the players showed some pride, played hard, and the showcase again would become something that resembled basketball (unlike last season).

It worked.

For proof guys were invested this time around, check out how Team LeBron responded to winning with a defensive stop, taking away Team Stephen’s attempt to get a clean look at a game-tying three in the closing seconds.

The THRILL of #NBAAllStar VICTORY!

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“It had a real game feel to it,” LeBron James said.

Team LeBron beat Team Stephen 148-145. LeBron was named MVP with 29 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists. He also hit the game-tying and go-ahead shot that got the win.

“I played with (LeBron) a few times,” Kyrie Irving said of the play and pass that set up that LeBron game-winner. “I cut back door, (Russell Westbrook) was driving, I saw the opportunity. I saw, before even Russ even passed to me, LeBron was going to circle to the rim, and he’s one of the best finishers at the rim.”

Most importantly, this was an All-Star Game with some defense — it had 81 fewer points than the layup line game last year, and the fewest points in five years. It also proved to be the closest game in six years.

“We wanted to kind of change the narrative of the All-Star Game being a joke,” Kevin Durant said. “Today we wanted to make it a real basketball game.”

There was more defense than last year from the start of the game — for example, LeBron blocked an alley-oop pass in the first quarter. Of course, “better than last year” was not a high bar to clear, but there was some effort to not just have a layup line. Most of the time.

Also to start the game, Anthony Davis came out wearing the “0” jersey of injured teammate DeMarcus Cousins (he switched back to his own #23 before the first half was over).

On the night, Team LeBron got 19 points out of Kevin Durant, 16 from Paul George, and 14 from Andre Drummond. Team Stephen was led by 21 from both DeMar DeRozan and Damian Lillard, and 19 points and eight rebounds from Joel Embiid in his first All-Star Game.

The fantastic ending made up for what was a laughable opening skit/national anthem before tip-off that did something very rare — it unified NBA Twitter. It was awful.

Now all anybody is talking about is the game itself. And that’s what the NBA wanted.

LeBron James hits go-ahead shot in All-Star win (video)

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LOS ANGELES – LeBron James‘ team trailed by 13 midway through the fourth quarter of the All-Star game, but he led a competitive comeback.

This shot put his team up 146-145 over Stephen Curry‘s team, and Team LeBron held on for a 148-145 win:

Great penetration by Russell Westbrook, and he and Kyrie Irving moved the ball well. LeBron made it count.