Kurt Helin

Suns’ Eric Bledsoe is throwing it down hard, Kenneth Faried is too late to stop him (VIDEO)

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Eric Bledsoe is one of the guys who could make a case for being an All-Star Game snub. He had to know he wasn’t going to make it, playing on one of the worst teams in the West makes it far less likely he’d be selected, but he is averaging 21 points and 6.2 assists per game with a PER of 21.6.

And he’s making plays like this.

Coming off a high (and moving screen) from Jared Dudley he’s got a path to the basket and he takes it, getting there with a head of steam. Denver’s Kenneth Faried sees it and tries to get there, but is far too late to do anything but be in the picture.

Denver went on to win the game 127-120 despite a late-game scare when Nikola Jokic went down with a strained hip.

Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic leaves game with injury, Nuggets still beat Suns

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DENVER (AP) — Nikola Jokic is the biggest reason for Denver Nuggets’ rise, so when he went down hard Thursday night there was deep concern.

When the news came back that the 21-year-old center had only a left hip strain there was audible relief.

“I’m glad it wasn’t anything serious,” Darrell Arthur said. “He’s probably going to sit a couple of games so we can get him back. We’re definitely going to miss him out there.”

They were happy Jokic was around for most of the game against Phoenix. The Serb had 29 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists before leaving late in Denver’s 127-120 victory over the Suns.

Jokic went down without contact under the Phoenix basket with 1:47 left. He was on the floor for a while with the entire Nuggets team surrounding him. He finally stood and limped to the locker room as the Nuggets closed out their fifth straight home win.

General manager Tim Connelly and veteran Mike Miller stood outside the exam room, and when Jokic came out with his older brothers he walked to the locker room on his own.

X-rays after the game were negative and he was sitting at his locker with ice on his left hip. The team said he will have an MRI done on Friday morning.

“It’s mixed emotions in the locker room,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “Nikola is truly beloved by all of his teammates. He has no ego, he’s a young kid, he likes to have fun, he’s a little bit goofy, and the guys love him for that. For all the success that he’s having he’s still the same kid, and that’s why everybody cares about him and respects him.”

Danilo Gallinari added 23 points, and Will Barton had 16 for Denver. The Nuggets have won six of eight.

Eric Bledsoe led Phoenix with 28 points, Devin Booker had 24 and T.J. Warren added 21 points and eight rebounds.

Down by nine in the third quarter, Denver closed the period with a 14-5 run to take a 96-92 lead.

The lead changed hands a couple of times, with Bledsoe leading the way for Phoenix with 14 fourth-quarter points. Jokic kept pace with nine points in the period. His last basket, a short jumper in the lane, gave the Nuggets a 125-118 lead.

“They made some plays and we couldn’t get no stops,” Bledsoe said.

The Nuggets hit 21 of 25 free throws in the second half and outscored the Suns 30-14 from the line. Denver also held a 46-28 advantage on the glass.

“Rebounds, minus-18 for the game; minus-18 at the free-throw line,” Phoenix coach Earl Watson said. “Those are numbers you can’t overcome, but we still had a chance to win.”

TIP-INS

Suns: G Dragan Bender was inactive with right ankle soreness. The rookie missed Tuesday’s game against Minnesota as well. … Jared Dudley was back in the lineup after sitting out Tuesday.

Nuggets: G Emmanuel Mudiay sat out his third straight game with lower back soreness. Coach Michael Malone said before the game that he didn’t think Mudiay would miss many more games. … The Nuggets signed F Johnny O’Bryant to a 10-day contract.

MARQUESE TALENT

Watson didn’t need long to decide he wanted Phoenix to get Marquese Chriss last summer in the draft after watching his pre-draft workout.

“The type of things he did athletically above the rim I hadn’t seen done before,” Watson said. “I wanted to shut the workout down after the first 10 minutes. To me it was a no-brainer.”

The 19-year-old Chriss has been solid for the Suns while learning on the job. His demeanor on and off the court reminds Watson of his former teammate, Russell Westbrook.

“Russ had this demeanor off the court of just the nicest person in the world but you get him on the court and you think he can’t be a nice person in real life,” Watson said. “Marquese kind of has that same thing.”

Chriss was in foul trouble Thursday and was held to five points in eight minutes.

 

Paul George leads Pacers over Timberwolves, 109-103

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — On a night when he was picked for his fourth All-Star game, Paul George looked every bit the part.

Karl-Anthony Towns was right there with him, but the young Minnesota Timberwolves star will not be joining George in New Orleans next month.

George scored 32 points after being picked for his fourth All-Star game to lead the Indiana Pacers to a 109-103 victory over the Timberwolves on Thursday night.

“I’ve got to bring it,” George said. “I’ve got to be ready at all times, always got to have the mindset to be aggressive.”

Myles Turner added 23 points, and Jeff Teague had 20 points, 13 assists and eight rebounds to help the Pacers snap a three-game losing streak. Indiana outrebounded Minnesota 44-34 and shot 52 percent.

Towns had 33 points and 10 rebounds, Zach LaVine scored 23 points, and Andrew Wiggins had 21 for Minnesota. But the Timberwolves missed a chance for their first four-game winning streak since 2012.

“It felt like we were a step slow all night,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said.

The Pacers had lost three in a row and four of six since a trip to London snapped a five-game winning streak.

“Ever since we got back from London we haven’t been the same team since before we left,” Teague said. “We had to come out tonight and play with a lot of energy, played hard, and just got to continue to keep going.”

George was named a reserve for the Eastern Conference about an hour before tipoff, and he came out firing with the 21-year-old Wiggins checking him. George hit 3 of 4 3-pointers and got Wiggins to foul him on a 3-pointer with seven minutes to play. Thibodeau picked up a technical foul for arguing the call and George, the leading free throw shooter in the league, made all four foul shots for an 86-81 lead.

Towns hit a pair of 3-pointers to try to jumpstart a Wolves charge and LaVine hit another to cut the deficit to 96-90. But Teague and C.J. Miles each hit 3-pointers late in the shot clock down the stretch to turn back the Wolves.

“We almost pulled it off,” Towns said, “but almost isn’t good enough.”

TIP-INS

Pacers: Indiana is 12-2 this year in games in which they shoot 50 percent. … F Kevin Seraphin was scratched with a sore right knee. Coach Nate McMillan said he tried it in practice on Wednesday and was still sore so they held him out. … The Pacers shot 55.6 percent (10 for 18) from deep.

Timberwolves: Nemanja Bjelica struggled offensively, making just 1 of 6 shots and 1 of 5 3-pointers, many of them open looks. … Minnesota had been one of the best rebounding teams in the league over the last month, but were soundly beaten in that category on Thursday night and were outscored 13-5 in second-chance points. … Towns had his 35th double-double of the season.

ALL-STAR GEORGE

“I think being a reserve is personally special because the coaches are voting you in and have more respect for your game. Obviously, I love being a starter as well, but it’s always a special and a humbling opportunity to be an All-Star in this league.” – George on his selection.

BIG MOMENT

After Wiggins made a layup to pull Minnesota to 106-103 with 15 seconds to play, Teague took the inbounds pass and headed up the sideline. It appeared that he stepped out of bounds, which would have given the Wolves the ball with 12 seconds left. But officials didn’t call it, Teague squirted up the sideline and fed Turner for a dunk to seal it.

“He was out of bounds, so it’s (down) three with a chance to tie,” Thibodeau said. “But we put ourselves in a bad position.”

ROUGH NIGHT

The Towns family had a rough night. Karl-Anthony was left off the All-Star team and his father, Karl, was hit by Wolves mascot Crunch during a stunt in the second quarter. Crunch slides down the stairs on a sled, but he hit Karl Towns’ leg. Big Karl stayed in the game though, watching the second half with an ice pack on his right knee, but needed crutches to leave the arena.

 

Rajon Rondo fires back online at Dwyane Wade’s, Jimmy Butler’s leadership after rant

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Dwyane Wade was frustrated after his team blew a 10-point lead inside three minutes to go to the Hawks Wednesday, wasting a 33-point game from him on the second night of a back-to-back, so he unloaded on his team postgame, 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 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 jumped on that train.

“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… 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.”

Specifically, the veterans were frustrated with Nikola Mirotic and Michael Carter-Williams, according to a report.

But the youngsters on that team have a defender in Rajon Rondo, who castigated Butler and Wade on Instagram.

My vets would never go to the media. They would come to the team. My vets didn't pick and choose when they wanted to bring it. They brought it every time they stepped in the gym whether it was practice or a game. They didn't take days off. My vets didn't care about their numbers. My vets played for the team. When we lost, they wouldn't blame us. They took responsibility and got in the gym. They showed the young guys what it meant to work. Even in Boston when we had the best record in the league, if we lost a game, you could hear a pin drop on the bus. They showed us the seriousness of the game. My vets didn't have an influence on the coaching staff. They couldn't change the plan because it didn't work for them. I played under one of the greatest coaches, and he held everyone accountable. It takes 1-15 to win. When you isolate everyone, you can't win consistently. I may be a lot of things, but I'm not a bad teammate. My goal is to pass what I learned along. The young guys work. They show up. They don't deserve blame. If anything is questionable, it's the leadership.

A post shared by Rajon Rondo (@rajonrondo) on

Damn.

Remember when Rondo called them the “three alphas?” That has gotten a little dog-eat-dog. Shootaround Friday for the Bulls is going to be interesting.

Rondo reportedly has been close to the team’s younger players.

I’m not going to guess at who is right (although some close to the team don’t think Rondo was out of line in concept, it was more how he delivered it; as with nearly everything in life, it’s likely a mixture of both versions). None of that matters, Wade and Butler ultimately win here because they are the team’s two best players. While it’s fair to discuss if the Bulls should bring Wade back if he opts out, Butler is the future. Butler is the cornerstone. What’s more, as Sean Highkin of The Athletic and I discussed on a recent PBT Podcast, guys such as Mirotic, Carter-Williams, and others such as Bobby Portis or Doug McDermott need to prove they are reliable NBA rotation players to stick around in Chicago. Have those players developed enough to be trusted?

As for Rondo, he was already all but gone from Chicago, if not via trade before the deadline he almost certainly will be bought out right after. That’s as much or more about how he hasn’t fit in on the court with this team than his rant here.

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)