Kurt Helin

Russell Westbrook, Isaiah Thomas lead All-Star Game reserves; Joel Embiid left off list

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After the fans/media/players picked the NBA All-Star Game starters, the tough job falls to the coaches: Pick the seven reserves for each side. Hard because each squad has about a dozen deserving guys, and while a few on each side are no brainers it also means some difficult cuts.

Cuts will be taken as snubs and blow up online. Because that is an annual NBA tradition like overhyped Christmas Day games.

Here is who the coaches selected.

WEST reserves:

Guard: Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City)
Guard: Klay Thompson (Golden State)
Frontcourt: DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento)
Frontcourt: Draymond Green (Golden State)
Frontcourt: Marc Gasol (Memphis)
Wild Card: DeAndre Jordan (Los Angeles Clippers)
Wild Card: Gordon Hayward (Utah)

Chris Paul would have been an All-Star except for his injury, that cleared the way for Thompson or Hayward. The Clippers got an All-Star anyway with Jordan, but him over Rudy Gobert may be the biggest snub. There are two first-time All-Stars on that list, Jordan and Hayward.

Biggest snubs: Damian Lillard (Portland), Mike Conley (Memphis), Rudy Gobert (Utah), C.J. McCollum (Portland), LaMarcus Aldridge (San Antonio), Eric Bledsoe (Phoenix), Karl-Anthony Towns (Minnesota)

EAST reserves:

Guard: Isaiah Thomas (Boston)
Guard: John Wall (Washington)
Frontcourt: Paul George (Indiana)
Frontcourt: Paul Millsap (Atlanta)
Frontcourt: Kevin Love (Cleveland)
Wild Card: Kyle Lowry (Toronto)
Wild Card: Kemba Walker (Charlotte)

No Joel Embiid. As I wrote the other day, he is way more fun to watch — and would have been more entertaining in New Orleans for the ASG — than Millsap, but you have to remember who was casting the ballots: Coaches. What do they like to see? Guys who play every day, guys who have paid their dues and improved over their careers, guys with a high hoops IQ, and players with subtlty to their games. That’s Millsap, it’s not Embiid.

If a player in the East backs out of the game due to injury (as usually happens to one spot, someone mildly rolls an ankle and decides to take the game off) look for Embiid to get named a replacement by Adam Silver.

This is the first time since 2004 Dwyane Wade hasn’t been named to the team, and the first time since 2009 Carmelo Anthony missed the cut. The only first-timer on the list was Kemba Walker.

Biggest snubs: Joel Embiid (Philadelphia), Kristaps Porzingis (New York), Andre Drummond (Detroit), Dwight Howard (Atlanta), Hassan Whiteside (Miami).

Just as a reminder, here are the All-Star Game starters (as selected by a combined vote of the fans, players, and select media members).

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Stephen Curry (Golden State)
James Harden (Houston)
Kevin Durant (Golden State)
Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio)
Anthony Davis (New Orleans)

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Kyrie Irving (Cleveland)
DeMar DeRozam (Toronto)
LeBron James (Cleveland)
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee)
Jimmy Butler (Chicago)

Wolves’ Zach LaVine will not dunk at All-Star weekend

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — What was perhaps the best dunk contest in All-Star weekend history will not get a rematch.

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Zach LaVine says he will not return to the event to try to win it for a third straight year. LaVine defended his title in Toronto last season, winning a thrilling duel with Orlando’s Aaron Gordon.

LaVine says he has nothing left to prove and he is more focused on trying to help the Timberwolves make the playoffs. The Wolves started Thursday in 12th place in the Western Conference, but are just 2+ games out of the eighth seed.

Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau says he approves of LaVine’s choice and sees the 21-year-old as much more than just a dunker.

The Timberwolves host Indiana on Thursday night.

Drake to produce, host first NBA Awards Show this June

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The NBA saw the NHL and NFL do it to great success, plus if the NBA’s television partners can make a little money off it all the better.

This year, the NBA’s postseason awards will be handed out June 26 at a first-time NBA Awards show, which you can watch from the comfort of your own home on TNT.

And it will be hosted by Drake, who also will produce the show. You remember Drake as the unofficial host of last year’s Toronto All-Star Game, primarily the designated hugger when the players were introduced. He’s also the Raptors “global ambassador.” Oh, he also has a few fairly successful records, and is good friends with a host of elite NBA players. Who he will probably hug at the awards show.

Drake dropped the knowledge that he would host the show while taking part in the podcast of another friend of his, Kentucky coach John Calipari. We would all kill for Drake’s contacts list. Here’s what Drake said, with a hat tip to SLAM for finding this and transcribing it.

“I’m actually producing and hosting the first annual NBA Awards this year. I get to take the reigns on it.

“The ESPYs let me do great things, and I thank them a lot for that. Usually award shows sometimes are a bit restricted. But they let me do a lot at the ESPYs, so we’ll just expand on that concept.

“I love hosting. I love being in a room full of iconic, legendary people that I look up to and having that pressure of having to make them laugh and enjoy their evening.”

As he noted, Drake hosted the ESPYs in 2014. If you watch the ESPYs, feel free to put in the comments section how he did. He also hosted Saturday Night Live twice, and he’s second behind Timberlake in the best combo host/musical guest rankings of recent years. He’s pretty good there.

We’ll all be watching on the 26th and get to see how much he hesitates before calling out Russell Westbrook or James Harden for MVP.

Three things we learned Wednesday: There is no defense for, or in, Cavaliers recent play

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Wednesday night was a fantastic League Pass night of games — Dion Waiters with his second game-winner for the Heat in a week, James Harden bloodying a guy, the Celtics got an overtime win against the Rockets, another Russell Westbrook triple-double (that’s 23 in 46 games), Portland getting a key win in their playoff hunt, and we’re not going to get to any of that. There were bigger fish in the sea Wednesday. Here are the big takeaways from the night.

1) There is no defense: Cavaliers fall to Kings, dropping sixth in last eight.
The Cavaliers are moving from the “meh, it’s just a midseason slump” to the “do I smell smoke?” phase of their January swoon.

A couple of days after some frank talk from LeBron James about his team needing to step up (and needing some roster help) he went out and posted a triple-double against the Sacramento Kings — 24 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists in 44 minutes. That’s LeBron’s second triple-double in as many nights, the man is leading by example trying to lift up his team.

And the Cavaliers still lost. Sacramento got 28 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists from DeMarcus Cousins — who also made the play to force overtime, where the Kings got the win.

But that play pointed to one of the key reasons the Cavaliers have lost three in a row and six-of-eight — their defense is not sharp. That’s why they blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter (and a five-point one in OT) — they can’t get stops. All season Cleveland’s defense has been outside the top 10, but that was obscured by a great offense (and enough defense when they needed it). However, now that the offense has hit a rough patch (off six points per 100 possessions in the last eight games) the Cavs defense isn’t there to fall back on — in fact, it’s gotten worse. In the last eight games, the Cavs are allowing 110.3 points per 100 possessions, 24th in the NBA at that time.

On that play above, Cleveland tried to trap Darren Collison and left the Kings’ best player in Cousins wide open at the top of the arc, where Collison found him, Tristan Thompson was too slow to recover, and LeBron hesitated to leave Arron Afflalo (who in OT hit a dagger three) to help, so Cousins got all the way to the basket for the key bucket.

The Cavaliers offense will come around, but their defense hasn’t looked like that of a champion consistently all season. They just let Sacramento hang 119 on them, the Pelicans 124 the game before, the Spurs easily and even the Suns in a loss broke into triple digits against the Cavaliers lately. Somehow that has sparked ridiculous Carmelo Anthony trade rumors — because that would really fix the defense *cough* — but James said after the loss the Cavs need to focus on the guys they got.

“We can’t play fantasy basketball. We got who we got and we got to go out and play.”

Midseason swoons and turmoil are not new to this team. Remember they started 19-20 a couple of seasons ago, still made it to the Finals. Last season right about this time David Blatt was fired and Tyronn Lue given the team (the move LeBron wanted), then they went on to win a title. Come June we likely have forgotten this stretch. But only if the Cavaliers fix the defense that right now is not championship level and hasn’t been all season.

Before the game, Cavaliers GM David Griffin threw out an interesting theory to Joe Varden of the Plain Dealer.

“We’re a team that will create an opportunity for ourselves to have to dig out of a hole,” Cavs general manager David Griffin said before the game. “We do it in every single game. It’s just how we are. We’re not good from the front. We’re much better when we’re the hunter.”

It’s hard to be hunters as the champions — every team has you circled on the calendar, every building is sold out, every team is ready to give you their best. LeBron has handled it, it looks like Kyrie Irving has, but as a whole the Cavaliers don’t look like a team that has adjusted to their new reality. In January that has them at 5-7 and stumbling along. The house isn’t on fire yet, but they need to get some water on it fast. And stop counting on someone from the outside to come in and save them — they need to do it with the guys in the room.

2) Not that the Raptors are taking advantage of the Cavs stumbles, Toronto lost its fifth in a row. However, Boston won. Want to talk about teams who are stumbling, the Toronto Raptors offense has decided to take a midseason vacation to Aruba, with Kyle Lowry‘s jumper leading the way, and the Raptors are floundering. In December the Raptors scored 114.6 points per 100 possessions and were battling with Houston and Golden State for the best offense in the NBA. In January they are at 108.6 per 100 and, like the Cavaliers, they don’t have the defense to bail them out. If you want a much more detailed discussion of all things Raptors, check out the latest PBT Podcast with Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun.

Against the Raptors, Marc Gasol put up a career-high 42 to get Memphis the win.

Because of their stumbles, the Raptors remain three back of the slumping Cavaliers — instead, the Raptors need to look behind them. Boston won on Wednesday behind another huge game from Isaiah Thomas (38 points) and the Celtics are now just half a game back of the Raptors (despite Boston having their own issues of late). Atlanta in the four seed is just one game back of Toronto after beating the Bulls. If the Raptors offense doesn’t return from vacation soon, the road to the Eastern Conference Finals could get a lot tougher for them with more road games.

3) Dwyane Wade, Jimmy Butler go off on Bulls effort after team blows 10 point lead with three minutes to go, fall to Hawks. The Bulls just had their worst loss of the season, taking their foot off the gas up 10 with three minutes to go, slacking on defense (plus the Hawks just hit some shots), going 2-of-9 in the final three and having role players miss wide-open looks, and just generally looking bad. The Bulls are back to below .500 (23-24). After the game, Wade unloaded on his team and all but said “this is not why I came home,” via Vincent Goodwill of CSNChicago.com.

“I don’t know what happened, but you continue to be in these kinds of situations and lose games like this, you really don’t care enough,” Wade said. “You don’t care enough. It’s got to mean that much to you to want to win. And it doesn’t. So I don’t know. I don’t know happened. I don’t know how you fix it. It just doesn’t mean enough for guys around here to want to win ball games.

“It pisses me off, but I can’t be frustrated and I can’t care too much for these guys. They got to care for themselves. We got to do better.”

Jimmy Butler echoed that.

“I heard what D-(Wade) was over there saying, yeah,” Butler said. “Mother——- just got to care if we win or lose. At the end of the day, do whatever it takes to help the team win. You play your role to the tee. Be a star in your role, man. That’s how you win in this league, man. You have to embrace what this team, what this organization needs for you to do on either end of the floor. On top of everything else, just play every possession like it’s your last. We don’t play hard all the time. It’s very disappointing whenever we don’t play hard.”

Leadership to change that is going to have to come from Wade and Butler because Fred Hoiberg is not going to go on a Thibodeau-style rant.

Bonus note: The hottest team in the East? How about the Sixers.

The Sixers are 4.5 games out of a playoff spot in the East. There would be four teams to climb over, which is a lot, but the Sixers just won two games in a row without Joel Embiid. Cue Kevin Garnett:

Bucks’ rookie Malcolm Brogdon put Nerlens Noel in a poster (VIDEO)

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If the voting took place today, Malcolm Brogdon might come in second in the Rookie of the Year voting (him or Jamal Murray in Denver, the other would be third). The Bucks’ rookie is seeing his role grow.

And he plays fearlessly. Case in point, a throwdown dunk over the Sixers’ Nerlens Noel Wednesday night.

Philly went on to get the 114-109 win behind 20 points from Gerald Henderson.