NBA releases All-Star ballot, here are my early votes

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You can vote — and not just if you’re a Republican in Iowa.

The NBA opened All-Star Game voting to the fans on Wednesday, so you can pick who will not play any defense in Orlando Feb. 26. Fan voting picks the starters, the coaches for the teams help pick the rest of the squad. You can vote on NBA.com, from your phone or at NBA games.

The list of players is pretty good this year, no glaring oversights. Sorry Heat fans, leaving Mario Chalmers out of the East guard debate is not a serious oversight.

So who to pick? It’s way too early to cast an official ballot, but if I had to right now…

Eastern Conference

Guards: Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade. Deron Williams, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo just miss but should make the team, and throw in Joe Johnson if you really want to. But think about it.

Forwards: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony. I really wanted to make a case for Andre Iguodala, who is playing very well, but ‘Melo has been better. James has been James, he is still the best player walking the planet. If Orlando’s Ryan Anderson keeps playing like this, I want him to make the squad. Amare Stoudemire and Chris Bosh are acceptable here, too.

Center: Dwight Howard. Howard announced as the center in Orlando at the All-Star Game either in a Nets uniform or with trade rumors swirling around him will be the story of that weekend, regardless of what happens. Second best may be Spencer Hawes in Philly, who is playing better than you think. I could live with JaVale McGee.

Western Conference

Guards: Kyle Lowry, Kobe Bryant. We’ll see if he sticks with these numbers, but Lowry has been amazing this season — 15 points and 11 assists per game for the Rockets. Go ahead and vote for Chris Paul if you want, I can live with that. I like Ricky Rubio and Steve Nash, but no. And I voted for Kobe because he might find me and beat me up if I didn’t. Same applies to you.

Forwards: Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge. First, Tim Duncan is still not a forward. Just have to say that every year. This is tough because if you want to vote for Kevin Love, Pau Gasol, Blake Griffin, Rudy Gay, Dirk Nowitzki or a host of others I’m good with that. All deserving. I picked Aldridge because Portland needs the representation, they have been a great surprise this season. You could make an All-Star team of Western Conference forwards that would compete with the rest of the league combined. And they could play Tim Duncan at center.

Center: Andrew Bynum. I could live with Nene here, but Bynum has been a beast so far. For fun I might just start a campaign to get DeMarcus Cousins named to the team, just so another coach has to deal with his ego for a while.

Russell Westbrook has beef with Joel Embiid after hard foul (VIDEO)

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Russell Westbrook is always looking for something — real or imagined — to use as motivational fuel.

He found something real Saturday in Joel Embiid.

With 1:46 left in a close game on national television, Westbrook was off to the races in transition with just Embiid back and the result was a hard foul.

Westbrook was pissed after the game thinking this was not just a hard foul (warning, NSFW language):

Embiid essentially shrugged.

The actual foul was hard but a bit of a fluke. Embiid went up to block the layup/dunk but Westbrook lost his dribble for a second, and the result was an airborne Embiid crashing into Westbrook. Hard. Was there a little bit extra in there? Depends on if you’re on Team Westbrook or Team Embiid.

But the NBA could use more feuds, so bring it on.

The Thunder went on to beat the 76ers on a Paul George game-winner.

Celtics’ Marcus Smart goes after Hawks’ Deandre Bembry, gets ejected

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Marcus Smart will be lucky if all he has to do is write a check to the league office. This is the kind of thing that can lead to a suspension.

Midway through the third quarter in Atlanta Saturday, Boston’s Smart picked up his second technical foul jawing with Atlanta’s DeAndre Bembry before a jump ball. That got him ejected. But it was when it charged back after Bembry rather than leaving the floor that the real trouble started.

Predicting the league office on fines/suspensions is like predicting a roulette table, but that looks like it could cost Smart a game. Smart had picked up his earlier technical arguing calls.

Boston came from behind to win Saturday in Atlanta, with Kyrie Irving leading the way scoring 32.

Bucks to retire jersey Marcus Johnson’s number

via NBA.com
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Marcus Johnson is a Milwaukee legend. He averaged 21 points a game in his seven seasons with the Bucks and is sixth on the all-time franchise list in points (10,980), is its all-time leader in offensive rebounds (1,468), is third in total rebounds (3,923), and made 4,546 during his time in Milwaukee. He is now a color commenter for the team.

Now, the team is going to retire his No. 8.

The ceremony will be March 24, a story broken by the Journal-Sentinel.

Johnson will be the ninth Bucks player to have his number retired and the first since the team’s move to its new home Fiserv Forum.

Current Bucks legend Giannis Antetokounmpo told the Journal-Sentinel he was happy. Antetokounmpo turned to Johnson at points for help with footwork, post moves, and more.

“I’m really happy for him, I think he deserves to have his jersey retired,” Antetokounmpo said. “It’s amazing. He’s just sitting down there like a normal person, but this guy was one of the best players in the league when he was playing. … He’s a legend.”

Johnson won an NCAA national championship at UCLA under the legendary John Wooden before going on to an NBA career that included five All-Star appearances and three All-NBA teams.

Paul George hits game winner, lifts Thunder past 76ers 117-115

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Paul George converted a four-point play with 5.1 seconds left, sending Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder to a wild 117-115 victory over Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday.

George’s clutch shot capped a wild finish that included another memorable exchange with Westbrook and Embiid. Westbrook hit the floor out of bounds under the basket after a foul by Embiid late in the game, and Westbrook fouled out with 14.9 seconds remaining after he got Embiid while shooting a 3-pointer.

Embiid made all three foul shots, tying it at 113, and Jimmy Butler‘s driving layup put Philadelphia in front with 6.9 seconds to go. But George drained a 3 while being fouled by Butler and made the foul shot.

Philadelphia had one last chance, but Butler missed a 3-point attempt in the final seconds. The 76ers have lost 19 in a row to the Thunder.

George finished with 31 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals. Westbrook had 21 points, 10 rebounds and six assists for Oklahoma City, and reserve Dennis Schroder also scored 21 points.

The Thunder had dropped five of six, including a 138-128 overtime loss against the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night.

Embiid, who was a game-time decision because of back tightness, had 31 points, eight rebounds and six assists. JJ Redick scored 22 points for Philadelphia, and Ben Simmons finished with 20 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists.

Oklahoma City led by as many as 16 points in the first quarter, but Philadelphia rallied in the second and trailed 59-56 at the break.