Goran Dragic

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Three reasons to be excited about NBA All-Star Weekend

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Usually, this spot is our three things to know from the night before in the NBA, but for one day we’re changing our focus onto something to look forward to — three things to be excited about for the All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles.

1. Dunks and threes — All-Star Saturday night is better than the big game itself. We all know this is true, can we just admit it. Sure, the actual All-Star Game on Sunday has all the biggest names (of non-injured players) in one place, but it’s not basketball. Not in any sense we recognize. It’s an exhibition played with less defensive effort than the average pickup game at the Y. We get to see dunks and slick passes, but it feels hollow.

All-Star Saturday, on the other hand, is genuinely competitive. Light-hearted, skills competitions only, but at least genuinely competitive. It’s way more entertaining.

This year’s three-point shooting competition is stacked: Eric Gordon, Klay Thompson, Bradley Beal, Paul George, Kyle Lowry, Devin Booker, Wayne Ellington, and Tobias Harris. Thompson is the obvious favorite, and I’d put my money on Beal, but the thing is any one of these guys could walk away with the big prize. They can all shoot the rock.

Then comes the skills competition, where bigs like Joel Embiid, Al Horford, and Andre Drummond go up against little guards such as Spencer Dinwiddie and Lou Williams — the evolution of the game is on full display.

Then there’s the highlight of the night, the dunk contest — every year I get my hopes up (and most years those hopes get dashed). This one has serious potential. Three guards with mad hops — Victor Oladipo, Dennis Smith Jr., and Donovan Mitchell — and then Larry Nance Jr., who has had a couple of the best in-game dunks of the past two seasons (plus his dad won the Dunk Contest). This should be high-flying and intense.

It will be the best show of the weekend… well, outside the Kendrick Lamar performance across the street. It’s all the stuff around the big game that makes the weekend work.

2. Joel Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns, Giannis Antetokounmpo — the NBA’s youth are taking over. The NBA’s old-guard — LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, etc. — will be in Los Angeles and will have the cameras of the world (and plenty of eyeballs focused on them).

But this All-Star Game is about the future — it’s already here and taking over the All-Star Game.

Sunday we will see All-Star first-timers Joel Embiid and Karl-Anthony Towns, Victor Oladipo, Bradley Beal and Goran Dragic. Then there are second-timers such Andre Drummond and Giannis Antetokounmpo. It’s putting the best and brightest of the next generation out there on the big stage. Joel Embiid on this stage? He’s going to say/Tweet something that will have us talking all weekend. Even if the game and the Dunk Contest fall flat, Embiid alone will be worth the price of admission.

And that’s just the Sunday game — the Rising Stars game on Friday has Ben Simmons, Lauri Markkanen, Jamal Murray, Jayson Tatum, not to mention Smith Jr., Mitchell, and more. Sure, the Rising Stars game has less defense played than the All-Star Game — heck, the stationary defender cutouts used in Saturday’s Skills Competition may play better defense than we see in this game — but there is a raw energy in the USA vs. The World Rising Stars game that is just fun to watch.

3. The new All-Star Game format… it’s got to make the game better. Right? The last couple of years the All-Star Game has been such a dud in terms of effort, defense, and entertainment that the Chris Paul and the players’ union sat down with Adam Silver and the league office to figure out how to make it suck less. They decided to shake up the format.

No East vs. West. It’s Team LeBron versus Team Stephen Curry with teams those guys drafted (unfortunately behind closed doors, but the NBA will hopefully get that part right in the future). The draft already led to some drama — LeBron picking Kyrie Irving to be on his team, plus the reuniting of Durant and Westbrook on a team. James Harden throwing lobs to Joel Embiid. Antetokounmpo driving and dishing to Towns. There is so much potential with this format.

I doubt the addition of the increased payout to the winners ($100,000 per player) is going to motivate them much, and the winning team getting to donate more to charity is a nice touch but likely not doing too much. Rather, the hope is that pride — wanting to play for the guy that drafted you, against teammates and friends — will motivate the players. The dream is that will bring some level of effort and caring lacking in recent years.

We’ll see. I’m not sold. But it certainly can’t be worse.

Kyle Lowry hits ridiculous buzzer-beater three at half against Heat (VIDEO)

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Dwyane Wade may be back, and the Heat were wearing their Miami Vice look uniforms, but it was the Raptors that won by three at home on Tuesday night, 115-112.

No one shot or play is ever the difference in a 48-minute game, but if you’re looking for three unexpected points for the Raptors, check out Kyle Lowry‘s buzzer-beater three to end the first half. It’s ridiculous.

DeRozan brings the ball up looking for his own shot, but he finds his shot well contested from a range that would make Stephen Curry blush, so in the air he changes his mind and dumps it off to Lowry, who has to just throw it up over Goran Dragic, who is there with a good contest of his own.

Nothing but net.

Lowry was 4-of-8 from three on his way to 22 points in the Toronto win.

If things stay the way they are, this would be your first-round 1 vs. 8 matchup in the East.

Frustrated Ben Simmons on not being All-Star: ‘My stats don’t lie’

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On the night of the All-Star Game player draft — done behind closed doors for no good reason — we all praised LeBron James for drafting such an impressive team. Turns out being on Team LeBron was like the Sports Illustrated curse as four have gone down with injuries and will miss the game in Los Angeles Feb. 18: DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall, Kristaps Porzingis, and Kevin Love.

Three of those guys are from the Eastern Conference, and three times when NBA Commissioner Adam Silver named a replacement it wasn’t Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons. For Wall it was Andre Drummond, for Love it was Goran Dragic, and for Porzingis it was Kemba Walker who got the call.

Ben Simmons is pissed he’s not on that list.

Slow your roll rookie. First, if you want to be pissed at someone, be pissed at the NBA coaches — Silver consistently has filled an injured space with the next highest vote-getter on the coaches’ ballot (the NBA coaches pick the reserves in each league).

Second, in the latest case of picking Kemba Walker over Simmons, the coaches got it right.

Simmons is averaging 16.6 points on a 54.1 true shooting percentage, 7.8 rebounds, and 7.2 assists per game this season, which are impressive numbers (and might win him Rookie of the Year). Kemba Walker is averaging 22.9 points on 56.1 true shooting percentage, plus 5.8 assists per game. Simmons team has won more games and is in the playoffs (Walker and the Hornets will miss that dance). Simmons started the season hot but had some cool spells, where Walker has stepped up his game as the season went along. Maybe more importantly, Walker has been more efficient — he has a better PER (20.9 to 18.3), better win shares numbers, better value over replacement player numbers, better real plus-minus, and just about any other advanced stat you want.

Here’s the real difference: Simmons is not the best player on his team (Joel Embiid), as opposed to Charlotte where it’s Kemba Walker vs. the world. The Hornets second-best playmaker is probably Nicolas Batum, and he’s not a great playmaker. When Walker sits for Charlotte, they are 17.6 points per 100 possessions worse (when he’s on the court the Hornets have the numbers of a solid playoff team, when he sits they are one of the worst teams in the NBA). When Simmons plays, the Sixers are +4 points per 100.

Simmons has been impressive this year, but Walker has been better. He deserves the spot.

Now, if you want to argue Simmons should have been picked over Goran Dragic, I’m listening. But again, take it up with the coaches.

Kemba Walker replaces Kristaps Porzingis in All-Star game

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Kristaps PorzingisACL tear stinks.

It stinks for him. It stinks for the Knicks. It stinks for the NBA.

But a silver lining: Kemba Walker is getting his (deserved) All-Star berth. And Andre Drummond, who has developed so much as a playmaker this season, is getting another stage.

NBA release:

Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker has been named by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to replace injured New York Knicks forward/center Kristaps Porzingis on Team LeBron in the 2018 NBA All-Star Game

In addition, 2018 NBA All-Star Andre Drummond of the Detroit Pistons will replace Porzingis in the … Skills Challenge

Silver chooses All-Star injury replacements, and the commissioner has previously just deferred to the next player up in the coaches’ reserve vote. But unlike with Paul George, Drummond and Goran Dragic, the NBA’s release did not say Walker “received the most voting points from NBA head coaches” among players from his conference who weren’t already selected. Cue the Ben Simmons conspiracy theories.

Walker was the right choice, though. The biggest knock against him – the Hornets’ dismal 23-30 record – is undercut by how darn well Charlotte plays with him on the floor. He shouldn’t be punished for the Hornets falling apart during his brief rests.

Cavaliers: Kevin Love avoids surgery, still out two months with broken hand

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Cavaliers forward Kevin Love will miss two months with a broken left hand, but he does not need surgery.

Love broke the fifth metacarpal Tuesday night in the first quarter of a loss at Detroit. Following consultation at New York’s Hospital for Special Surgery, the team’s medical staff decided Love can recover without an operation.

Love’s injury is yet another obstacle for the Cavs, who went 6-8 during a bumpy January that included several blowout losses and some finger-pointing between teammates.

The five-time All-Star is averaging 17.9 points and 9.4 rebounds in his fourth season with Cleveland.

With Love out, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue started forward Jae Crowder on Wednesday against Miami. Last week, Lue moved Crowder into the second unit and started Tristan Thompson at center with Love moving back to power forward.

Love has been replaced on the All-Star team by Heat guard Goran Dragic.