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Brad Stevens gets Eastern Conference All-Star coaching job as Celtics beat Lakers 113-107

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BOSTON (AP) Isaiah Thomas isn’t the only Boston Celtics representative in the NBA All-Star Game anymore.

With Toronto’s loss to Orlando earlier Friday night, Brad Stevens was assured his spot as coach of the Eastern Conference and will join Thomas next Sunday in New Orleans.

Meanwhile, Thomas padded his All-Star credentials by scoring 17 of his 38 points in the fourth quarter as the surging Celtics beat the Los Angeles Lakers 113-107.

“(Stevens) should put me in that starting lineup,” Thomas joked. “That’s going to be good.”

It’s the first career All-Star appearance for Stevens, in his fourth season with the Celtics.

“What’s nice about it is there’s no politics and there’s no subjectivity,” Stevens said. “(It’s) what your team has accomplished and that’s a credit to the players in the locker room.”

Al Horford added 11 points, eight rebounds and eight assists as Boston (32-18) won its sixth consecutive game. Thomas logged his 34th straight game with 20 or more points and is six shy of John Havlicek’s franchise-record streak.

Jae Crowder had 18 points, Jaylen Brown added 12 and Terry Rozier scored 10 for the Celtics.

Lou Williams led the Lakers with 21 points. D'Angelo Russell scored 20, Larry Nance Jr. had 18 and Nick Young 17 as Los Angeles (17-36) lost for the fifth time in six games.

“We stopped moving the ball. We stopped trusting each other,” coach Luke Walton said. “Because of it, we don’t make shots, and then our defense gets lazy.”

Thomas scored seven points in the third as the Celtics broke the game open and led by as many as 16. The Lakers cut it to 82-74 after three but couldn’t get the deficit below six.

“They were all making big shots tonight,” Nance said. “Hats off to them.”

Thomas had a chance to become the first player in Celtics history with three straight 40-point games, but said he wasn’t aware of that until afterward.

“I didn’t know about it or I would have taken the last shot,” Thomas said.

Boston opened the game on a 7-0 run before Russell’s 3-pointer put the Lakers up 15-14 with 7:34 left in the first quarter. Rozier’s buzzer-beating 3 drew the Celtics to 30-29 after one. Thomas had 12 points in the period.

Rozier’s floater a minute into the second put the Celtics ahead for good, and Boston stretched its lead to 62-51 at halftime.

The Lakers and Celtics meet again March 3 in Los Angeles.

TIP-INS

Lakers: F Julius Randle was out after playing sparingly in Thursday’s game at Washington as he recovers from pneumonia. Randle missed two games before logging six minutes against the Wizards. “Coming back from pneumonia, it’s not just a normal sickness,” Walton said.

Celtics: G Avery Bradley (sore right Achilles) missed his ninth consecutive game. Bradley felt good after working out and doing some on-court work Friday. “We’re still progressing at a conservative rate,” Stevens said. “We want him feeling 110 percent.” … F Kelly Olynyk played after sitting out Wednesday in Toronto with a sore left shoulder.

TIEBREAKER

Boston and Los Angeles began the night with with 3,252 wins, tied for the most in NBA history. Before their loss, the Lakers held at least a share of the league’s all-time victories mark since 2001. The odds of both teams entering Friday’s game with the same win total was 1 in 8,292.

“I think it’s a unique-enough rivalry that 100 years from now it will probably be tied again,” Stevens said.

MINI MAMBA

Lakers great Kobe Bryant had a knack for late-game dramatics throughout his storied career. Thomas is developing one, too.

Thomas leads the league in fourth-quarter scoring (10.8 points per game), but laughed off the comparison to Bryant, who retired after last season.

“Nah, you can’t put my name with Kobe,” Thomas said. “Maybe 15 years from now hopefully, but I’m not close to him.”

UP NEXT

Lakers: Continue a five-game road trip in New York on Monday.

Celtics: Host the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday in Paul Pierce‘s last regular-season game in Boston.

Jeff Hornacek on Joakim Noah: “We’ve moved on. He’s ready to move on”

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Not that anyone actually thought Joakim Noah would be back with the Knicks this season — not after Noah and coach Jeff Hornacek got into an argument that ended with Noah shoving his coach.

But if anyone thought with Kristaps Porzingis out for the season with a torn ACL the Knicks might turn to Porzingis for a little boost, think again. Via Al Iannazzone at Newsday as the Knicks got back to post All-Star practice.

“There’s really nothing more to say about it, update it. We’ve moved on. He’s ready to move on and maybe have an opportunity somewhere else. That’s really our focus to go play Orlando. We have 23 games left. We’re trying to get our young guys to step it up. That’s kind of old story and all done with as far as I’m concerned.”

The Knicks would love to trade Noah, but he has the most untradable contract in the NBA — two years, $37.8 million left after this season. It would take the Knicks attaching a couple of first-round picks and taking back some dead salary to make it happen. The Knicks may eventually buy him out, but the more likely option is they keep him through the summer (in case he is needed as salary in a trade), and possibly into next season (depending upon how big a discount he would give the team to be bought out and move on).

Trail Blazers hope for another post-All-Star break revival

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Trail Blazers have enjoyed post-All-Star break revivals the past two seasons.

Those late-season rallies will no doubt be an ongoing theme in the congested Western Conference playoff race once Portland resumes play on Friday in Utah.

“I mean, I think that’s in the back of our minds. We know that we’re usually a better team in the second half of the season,” Portland guard Damian Lillard said. “We can’t just go into it saying, `All right, we’re always good at this part of the season.’ I think mentally we have to understand how close of a race it is and that we’ve got to be sharp all the way through.”

Portland is 32-26 at the break, tied for sixth in the West, which is better off than it was last season at the same point.

But the Blazers are one of five teams in the West with 26 losses. The Warriors and Houston Rockets sit comfortably atop the standings with the next eight teams jostling for position.

The Blazers headed into the All-Star Game with a 123-117 victory over Golden State, snapping a seven-game losing streak to the Warriors. Lillard had 44 points, his third straight game with 39 or more and the best scoring stretch of his career. His 133 points over the last three games is the best such run in franchise history.

Afterward, Lillard sounded like he was taking it upon himself to improve the Blazers’ playoff position.

“Each season, it’s always a few teams that fall by the wayside and we’ve just got to make sure we’re not one of them,” he said. “As a leader, I’ve got to be the guy to lead that charge.”

In 2015-16, Portland was 27-27 at the All-Star break after winning eight of nine games going into it. The Blazers finished the regular season 44-38 and in fifth place in the West. They got past the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs before falling to the Warriors in the conference semifinals.

Last season, Portland lost three straight games to go into the break at 23-33. Shortly thereafter, an overtime loss at Detroit put them 11 games under .500.

But in March, Portland caught fire and went 13-3, best in the NBA. Lillard was named the conference’s Player of the Month, averaging 29.1 points, 4.4 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 1.4 steals in 16 games. Terry Stotts was named Coach of the Month.

Center Jusuf Nurkic, who came to Portland in a trade a handful of days before the All-Star break, went on to average 15.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in 20 games with the Blazers. Portland was 14-5 with the 7-footer in the starting lineup.

Portland made the playoffs for the fourth straight season, but fell in the opening round to the Warriors.

This season, Portland is in the thick of the race. Lillard leads the team with 26.1 points per game, sixth in the league, while also averaging 6.6 assists. Backcourt teammate CJ McCollum is averaging 21.7 points, and Nurkic is at 14.1 points and 8.2 rebounds.

Stotts was asked just before the break whether he was happy with the team’s position.

“We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. We’ve got a lot of teams out there fighting for playoff spots,” the coach said. “It’s not about where we are. It’s about where we’re headed.”

 

Karl Malone pranks Anthony Davis in new Redbull video

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Karl Malone still has a few moves left.

Not so much on the court, but the Hall of Famer and one of the greatest power forwards ever was disguised as “Sam the Maintenance Man” where he would disrupt a video shoot by New Orleans Pelicans All-Star Anthony Davis (who thought he was making a basketball video for redbull.com). Malone was decked out in a traditional janitor onesie, a wig of dreadlocks, glasses and extra padding around his gut, and he had fun in his role.

At the end of the clip, you see Malone asking the cameras to cut so he could talk shop with AD on the left block, where Malone was near unstoppable. Check it out.

 

Statement defending self by former Mavs employee makes things sound worse

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In the argument that owner Mark Cuban must have known about the “Animal House” style sexual predatory environment on the business side of the Dallas Mavericks, a statement from a former Mavericks’ employee defending himself is now the best evidence. And it’s pretty damning.

One of the people mentioned directly in the bombshell Sports Illustrated story is former Mavs.com writer Earl K. Sneed. He was involved in a domestic dispute where he beat his then-girlfriend his first season with the Mavericks, then a few months later was arrested — at the Mavericks facility — for assault. He pled guilty to that and went through court-mandated anger management classes. He reportedly had another dispute in 2014 hitting a female co-worker which led to more counseling (this ordered by the team), and as a result of the court issues, he legally was not able to follow the team when it went into Canada to play the Raptors.

Sneed issued this statement to the Dallas Morning News defending himself.

“While both instances described in the report are damning and language used is not accurate, the two relationships described in the report are not something I am proud to have been a part of. I underwent much counseling after both situations, under the direction of [Mavs vice president of human resources] Buddy Pittman, and I feel like I grew from that counseling. I also signed a contract stating that I would not have one-on-one contact or fraternize with female employees after the inaccurately described incident with my female co-worker, who was a live-in girlfriend. I abided by the details of that contract for four years, and received counseling during that period to avoid future instances. I thank Buddy Pittman for helping me to grow during that time, and I thank Mark Cuban for his willingness to help facilitate that growth.”

So let me get this right: Sneed was hauled out of the Mavericks facility in handcuffs, then signed a new contract to stay on employed by the team (for four more years) where he could not do his job if the team went to Canada, and could not “have one-on-one contact or fraternize with female employees” — and Cuban didn’t know about any of this? That strains belief. Sneed’s statement sparked outrage on social media, as it should.

That Sneed stayed employed by the team speaks to the issues in the Mavericks human resources department and the team culture. Both Sneed and the head of HR have been fired in the wake of these stories.

The report says there are no incidents with Cuban, nor any members of the Mavericks basketball team, behaving inappropriately toward women.

Dallas and Cuban have hired an independent investigator to look into the claims and the workplace environment with the Mavericks. When that is done, expect NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to come down hard on the franchise, both to send a message to other franchises (there are rumors the Mavs are not the only one facing issues) and because this all is a big blow to the image of a league that paints itself as progressive.