Author: Kurt Helin

Celtics' Jordan Mickey dunks the ball during a friendly basketball match between Real Madrid and Boston Celtics at the Barclaycard Centre sport arena in Madrid, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015. Celtics won 111-96. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
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Jordan Mickey, Jimmer Fredette headline D-League All-Star Game in Toronto

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Ask scouts who the best player in the D-League is this season, and quickly you hear about Celtics’ rookie Jordan Mickey. He was one of the most impressive players at Summer League, which is why Boston inked him to a four-year deal (the first two years guaranteed). With a crowded frontcourt Boston sent Mickey to the D-League, where he has averaged 17.1 points and 10.4 rebounds a game while playing strong defense.

Which is why he’s going to be in Toronto as an All-Star.

The NBA started a D-League All-Star Game the afternoon of All-Star Saturday, and Mickey is one of the headliners. So is Jimmer Fredette, who has played most of this season for the Westchester Knicks. The D-League’s leading scorers — Elliott Williams  (29.7 PPG), Sean Kilpatrick 27.1 ppg, and Erick Green (26.7 ppg) — will be there as well.

In total, 16 players currently under an NBA contract or who have played in the NBA will take part. The game tips off tips off at 2 p.m. Eastern Saturday, Feb. 13, will air live on NBA TV.

Here are the rosters for the game.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Keith Appling (Erie)
Lorenzo Brown (Grand Rapids)
Rakeem Christmas (Fort Wayne)
Jimmer Fredette (Westchester)
Tre Kelley (Sioux Falls)
Sean Kilpatrick (Delaware)
DeAndre Liggins (Sioux Falls)
Jordan McRae (Delaware)
Jordan Mickey (Maine)
Ronald Roberts Jr. (Raptors)
Alex Stepheson (Iowa)
Jarnell Stokes (Sioux Falls)

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Brandon Ashley (Texas)
Jeff Ayres (Idaho)
Vander Blue (Los Angeles)
Will Cummings (Rio Grande Valley)
Micheal Eric (Texas)
Erick Green (Reno)
Justin Harper (Los Angeles)
Vincent Hunter (Reno)
Orlando Johnson (Austin)
Xavier Munford (Bakersfield)
Raphiael Putney (Rio Grande Valley)
Elliot Williams (Santa Cruz)

Charlotte’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist cleared to play Friday vs. Portland

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Solomon Hill
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Charlotte just got a lot more dangerous.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist — a key starting wing who has been out all season with a torn right labrum that required surgery — has been cleared to play by team doctors. He will make his season debut Friday night against Portland, coming off the bench, the team announced.

MKG averaged 10.9 points and 7.6 rebounds per game last season, and, more importantly, was the team’s best defender — the Hornets were 7.8 points per 100 possessions better defensively when he was on the court.

This season Marvin Williams has started all 46 Hornets games in his place, averaging 9.6 points per game, adding a little punch shooting 35.7 percent from three, and the Hornets are +1.8 per 100 possessions when he is on the court. But Kidd-Gilchrist is an upgrade.

After a stumbling earlier this month and falling out of the playoffs in the East, Charlotte has won four of six and are now the nine seed, two games back of Indiana for the final playoff spot in the East. With Nicolas Batum and MKG together on the wing, maybe the Hornets can sustain that run and get back into the postseason.

Are Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler figuring out how to play together?

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 28: Derrick Rose #1 and Jimmy Butler #21 of the Chicago Bulls chat during the game against the Los Angeles Lakers on January 28, 2016 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
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LOS ANGELES — For at least one night, they looked like one of the more formidable backcourt combinations in the NBA.

Thursday night in Los Angeles Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler looked comfortable together — they played 19 minutes together and the Bulls were +18. Early in the game Butler pushed the pace in transition and found Rose for a bucket, in the third quarter Rose returned the favor.

After years of rumored tension (which they deny), are Rose and Butler starting to figure out how to play together?

“We were talking about that before the game, actually,” Butler said. “We were laughing about it, saying the more games we got under our belt, the more comfortable each other’s going to be. It’s crazy because I love playing with him. He’s super aggressive. He’s taking some great shots, and that’s what we need. So, as long as I follow his lead on that style of play, we’re going to be really good.”

“You can tell by the way they’re talking to each other, they’re communicating when they’re on the bench together,” Bulls’ coach Fred Holberg said, agreeing with the idea they are figuring things out. “They got a couple lobs in transition tonight. I thought they screened for each other well and played off each other beautifully. When those guys are out there playing with that attack mentality, we’re a pretty good team.”

The tandem did look good running a 1-2 pick-and-roll Thursday. Of course, doing it against the Lakers is one thing, the numbers suggest that Rose and Butler still have a long way to go to find that kind of success against better defenses.

In the Bulls last 10 games, Butler and Rose were on the court together 216 minutes, and the Bulls were outscored 12.8 points per 100 possessions in that time. That’s a step back from December, when over the course of 14 games together the Bulls were +3.1 per 100 possessions when they were paired. They are still not consistent together.

They are still not consistent together. Things just look better against the Lakers “defense.” How will they look in their next game against the Clippers in the same building?

The challenge is balance — Rose is used to having the ball in his hands, but Butler needs more time as a playmaker.

“He did everything for us tonight,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said of Butler as a playmaker. “In that first quarter he got three steals in a row, which led to three baskets, that was huge for us. We’re putting the ball in his hands a lot, not just in isolation situations, but we’re also putting him in a lot of ball screens, he’s just making the right play and the right read, and he’s continuing to get better in that role.”

The Bulls still have time to figure out how these two fit within Hoiberg’s system. If so, they become far more dangerous. If not, at the end of the day Butler is the guy with the just-signed max contract and the guy who is the future of the franchise. Rose may need to prove he can work with Butler, or the Bulls may have decisions to make.

Report: Kristaps Porzingis wouldn’t meet with Sixers before draft

New York Knicks' Kristaps Porzingis reacts after scoring during the first half of the NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers, Monday, Jan. 18, 2016 in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
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This isn’t new news, we had heard before that Kristaps Porzingis didn’t want to land with the Philadelphia 76ers — heck, nobody did — so they couldn’t get a meeting with him before last June’s draft. This frost from agents is part of the reason GM Sam Hinkie was benched. The Sixers spun this as not being interested because Porzingis was more of a long-term project than their eventual pick at  No. 3 Jahlil Okafor. There’s probably a little truth to that, too. But they never got a foot in the door with Porzingis.

As part of the launch of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports, Adrian Wojnarowski detailed how the Sixers tried to get a meeting with Porzingis and were shot down.

(Porzingis’ agent Andy) Miller didn’t make it easy for Philadelphia to draft Porzingis at No. 3. The Sixers wouldn’t be afforded Porzingis’ physical, nor get a private workout, nor even a face-to-face meeting. After most of the pro day executives cleared out of the gym in Vegas in mid-June, 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie lingered to meet with Miller. Hinkie stopped him in the lobby area and asked Miller about a chance to sit down and visit with Porzingis.

“You said that I would get a meeting with him here,” Hinkie told Miller.

“I said, ‘I’d try,’ and it’s not going to work out, Sam,” Miller responded.

An awkward silence lingered, the GM and agent, standing and staring. The Porzingis camp wanted no part of the Sixers’ situation at No 3. Miller couldn’t stop Philadelphia from drafting Porzingis, but he could limit the information they had to make a decision. And did. No physical. No meeting. No workout. The Sixers passed on Porzingis on draft night, clearing the way for the Knicks to select him.

That has worked out better than the Knicks had hoped — they know they had a player with great potential in the 7’3″ Latvian, but nobody expected him to play this well as a rookie. He’s performing better as an NBA starter than he did in the Spanish ABC league last season — his game has grown by leaps and bounds. Which portends well for the future in New York.

In New York Phil Jackson got a workout and an interview with Porzingis, plus a dinner. He got all the information he could want. (So did the Lakers, but they thought Porzingis too much of a project and chose D'Angelo Russell instead.) It still was a roll of the dice for New York — one that drew boos from Knicks fans at the draft — but it turned out to be a roll where Jackson hit the number. Now there is real hope in New York for the first time in a while.

DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis to be big men in All-Star Skills compeition

DeMarcus Cousins, Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams
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You remember the All-Star Saturday skills competition, one of the better things on Saturday while we wait around for Zach LaVine to own the Dunk Contest. It’s a handful of guards dribbling around cutout defenders, passing to targets, and making a few shots.

This year, they are going to let the big men come and play.

A few reports have some bigs joining the event, and DeMarcus Cousins all but confirmed it.

This should liven things up; Anthony Davis and Draymond Green are skilled, plus there are other bigs in that mold. I like the idea, although it raises an interesting question. You can’t expect Cousins to be as fast dribbling end-to-end as John Wall or even Chris Paul, so are they going to modify the competition for bigs?

The good news out of All-Star Saturday is twofold: First, no more Shooting Stars competition (the one with WNBA stars and NBA alumni shooting from half court, the one Chris Bosh‘s team always won). Second, no Sting.