Deserving or not Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade among All-Star starters in early voting returns

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It’s your game fans. The NBA All-Star Game is an exhibition filled with the players you vote to see.

Whether those players deserve the honor based on their performance the first half of the season or not. Sometimes the most deserving guys don’t make the cut while guys hobbling through the season do.

Which brings us to the early returns for this year’s NBA All-Star Game voting. Kobe Bryant — who has played in just two games this season — and Dwyane Wade (who has missed a number of games and is having arguably his worst season since his rookie year) would be starting if the early voting returns hold form.

And know that these first results pretty much always hold form. Maybe there is one change but that’s usually about it.

It’s not who I’d put on my ballot, but here are the starting five through the first round of voting (which opened last month and runs through Jan. 20). Remember that you vote for two backcourt and three frontcourt players, it is not broken out by position anymore:

EASTERN CONFERENCE STARTERS:

Backcourt: Dwyane Wade (Miami Heat), Kyrie Irving (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Frontcourt: LeBron James (Miami Heat), Paul George (Indiana Pacers), Carmelo Anthony (New York Knicks)

As we told you before, that will make LeBron James the defacto center on that team, matched up on Dwight Howard.

Those five likely stand. In the frontcourt those three have a healthy lead over Roy Hibbert who is fourth. In the backcourt Derrick Rose is third but he is injured and out, John Wall is fifth but already a couple hundred thousand votes behind Irving.

WESTERN CONFERENCE STARTERS:

Backcourt: Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers), Chris Paul (Los Angeles Clippers)
Frontcourt: Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder), Dwight Howard (Houston Rockets), Blake Griffin (Los Angeles Clippers).

You had to know even if Kobe didn’t play yet he’d be a top vote getter, and he is second in the West and third overall (LeBron is just ahead of Durant by a couple thousand votes for the top spot). Stephen Curry is third in the West and could make up the ground to catch CP3, but not Kobe.

If we see a switch, don’t be surprised if it is Kevin Love catching Blake Griffin for the third spot on that front line. Love is within 20,000 votes and could make up that ground and start if there is a push for him.

There’s a lot of other things we could pick apart — Steve Nash got more votes than Damian Lillard? — but it’s all kind of moot. Fans vote for the starters, a vote of the coaches around the league picks the reserves.

Voting for the All-Star Game — held Feb. 16 in New Orleans — is open through Jan. 20. Fans can cast their ballot a number of ways: By texting the player’s last name to 6-9-6-2-2 (“MYNBA”); by visiting NBA.com/asb on any wireless device; or by going to nba.com/asb from a desktop or mobile browser.

Here are the top 10 vote getters

Eastern Conference

Frontcourt
1. LeBron James (Mia) 609,336
2. Paul George (Ind) 489,335
3. Carmelo Anthony (NYK) 424,211
4. Roy Hibbert (Ind) 208,369
5. Chris Bosh (Mia) 156,364
6. Kevin Garnett (BKN) 102,825
7. Joakim Noah (Chi) 75,229
8. Jeff Green (Bos) 55,912
9. Luol Deng (Chi) 54,340
10. Tyson Chandler (NYK) 51,738

Backcourt
1. Dwyane Wade (Mia) 396,279
2. Kyrie Irving (Cle) 365,712
3. Derrick Rose (Chi) 272,410
4. John Wall (Was) 124,851
5. Ray Allen (Mia) 99,464
6. Rajon Rondo (Bos) 80,889
7. Deron Williams (BKN) 44,282
8. George Hill (Ind) 42,536
9. Evan Turner (Phi) 33,605
10. Mario Chalmers (Mia) 32,996

Western Conference

Frontcourt:
1. Kevin Durant (OKC) 607,407
2. Dwight Howard (Hou) 295,120
3. Blake Griffin (LAC) 292,925
4. Kevin Love (Min) 275,506
5. Tim Duncan (SA) 217,271
6. Anthony Davis (NO) 149,579
7. Pau Gasol (LAL) 133,199
8. LaMarcus Aldridge (Por) 132,818
9. Andre Iguodala (GS) 109,745
10. Dirk Nowitzki (Dal) 89,093

Backcourt
1. Kobe Bryant (LAL) 501,215
2. Chris Paul (LAC) 393,313
3. Stephen Curry (GS) 327,449
4. Jeremy Lin (Hou) 240,404
5. James Harden (Hou) 198,667
6. Russell Westbrook (OKC) 149,065
7. Tony Parker (SA) 112,423
8. Ricky Rubio (Min) 63,096
9. Steve Nash (LAL) 60,782
10. Damian Lillard (Por) 55,847

Report: Nuggets might consider Bones Hyland trade for defensive help

Denver Nuggets v Milwaukee Bucks
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A year ago, it felt like the Nuggets had found their long-term backup point guard in rookie Bones Hyland, a guy who could be part of the rotation when Jamal Murray returned. Except, in his second season, Hyland hasn’t taken a step forward — although his play has been better and more aggressive in recent weeks — and free agent Bruce Brown has shown he can play some backup one (even if he is more of a combo guard).

That has the Nuggets considering trading Hyland if they can get defensive help, reports Jake Fischer at Yahoo Sports.

After his name was discussed in trade conversations around last June’s NBA Draft, Denver begun gauging the trade value of second-year guard Bones Hyland, sources said…. While Hyland has two years remaining on his rookie deal, in anticipation of Brown’s next payday [Note: He is expected to opt out and test the market], plus Hyland’s upcoming second contract, has the tax-conscious Nuggets considering their options in the backcourt. Occasional clashes between Hyland and head coach Michael Malone’s old-school mentality have also been a factor in Denver’s trade dialogue, sources said.

In exchange for Hyland, the Nuggets have expressed an interest in defensive-minded frontcourt players, sources said, and will search for a player plus a first-round pick.

Brown has played his way to a bigger contract than the $6.8 million player option he has for next season, but the Nuggets are already big spenders and not looking to go deep into the tax (Nikola Jokic’s extension kicks in next season at about $46.9 million a year to start, and both Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. will make north of $33 million next season). It is possible the Nuggets let Brown walk and keep Hyland, still on his rookie contract and set to make $2.3 million next season, partly for financial reasons. Hyland is averaging 12.4 points per game and shooting 38.5% from 3, but he struggles defensively (which is where the clashes with Malone come in).

Denver has a chance to win the West this season and defense is what will decide if that happens — if the Nuggets can land another wing/forward defender, they may jump at it and worry about the backup one spot next summer. However, finding that player in a high-priced seller’s market may prove the biggest challenge — several teams are looking for that same kind of defensive help.

Report: Trail Blazers trying to extend Grant (with no luck), open to trade of Hart, Nurkic

Portland Trail Blazers v San Antonio Spurs
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The Trail Blazers maxed out Damian Lillard last summer and promised to try and build a contender in the West around him. It hasn’t worked out that way, the Trail Blazers are 23-25 and sitting 12th in the West with a bottom-10 defense.

Which has pushed them to be possible sellers at the trade deadline — but not with Jerami Grant, who they are trying to extend, reports Jake Fischer at Yahoo Sports. Grant, however, can get more from Portland as a free agent.

Jerami Grant became eligible for a contract extension with the Trail Blazers earlier this month, and Portland has offered the athletic forward his maximum possible deal of four years, $112 million, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Grant has not accepted the offer, sources said, largely because the Blazers can extend him a larger contract with an additional fifth year once free agency begins June 30.

While Fischer notes that this summer the Trail Blazers could max out Grant (five years, $233 million) he’s not getting that contract either. Maybe the middle ground is in the five-year, $160 million range, but whatever the number is Grant isn’t looking to bolt the Pacific Northwest. Look what he told Jason Quick of The Athletic:

“I definitely like it here; love it here,’’ Grant said. “The guys have been very welcoming, it’s definitely a family environment, everybody is super cool, got good guys on the team, great organization — Joe, Chauncey, everything. I’m definitely enjoying it here…

“I ain’t really plan on leaving,” he said.

Two players who could be leaving — via trade — are Josh Hart and Jusuf Nurkic. They are drawing interest as Portland considers shaking things up, Fischer reports.

Portland has given rival teams the impression that it is open to discussing the majority of its players, particularly Josh Hart and Jusuf Nurkic, sources said, as the franchise remains committed to building a playoff contender around Lillard. Portland has engaged teams with an eye toward size with athleticism, plus wing-shooting defenders, sources said. Hart has become one of the buzzier names among league executives this week, as he’s expected to decline a $12.9 million player option for the 2023-24 season.

Hart is a front-office favorite around the league — at least on his old contract — and is seen as a versatile role player who has become a plus defender, can hit some 3s (33% from deep this season but 37.3% last season), and can put the ball on the floor and finish at the rim. He could fit in a lot of teams’ rotation, there will be interest, but with him on an expiring contract, the offers will not be high.

Nurkic, who signed a four-year $70 million contract last summer, is averaging 14.1 points per game, is shooting 38.5% from 3 and is grabbing 9.7 boards a night. He’s also averaging a career-high 2.6 turnovers a night (one of the culprits of the Blazers’ sometimes sloppy play), and while not a negative defender has not been the kind of anchor the Blazers hoped for this season.

Portland needs to do something. Lillard has returned from injury to play at an All-NBA level — even dropping a 60-spot the other night — but even after all their summer moves this is the same old Portland team with not enough around Lillard to threaten the top teams in the West.

Watch Curry score 35, help Warriors pull away in fourth to beat Raptors

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Stephen Curry had 35 points and 11 assists, and the Golden State Warriors beat the Toronto Raptors 129-117 on Friday night.

The high-scoring affair was close until the Warriors pulled away with a 31-point fourth quarter, securing a sweep in the season series.

“It feels like we took better care of the ball tonight,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said. “When Steph plays like that, the whole game opens up. The whole floor opens up.”

Klay Thompson added 29 points, knocking down six 3-pointers despite beginning the night 0 for 5 from beyond the arc. Though Thompson played in the Warriors’ 126-110 victory in Toronto on Dec. 18, the game Friday was his first time facing the Raptors at home since he tore his ACL in his left knee in the deciding Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals won by Toronto in Oakland.

Kevon Looney returned to the starting lineup and had 12 points and eight boards as six Warriors players scored in double figures.

The Warriors have won consecutive home games after dropping four straight at the Chase Center.

“We’ve been teetering on either side of .500 for a very long time. I’m kind of sick of it at this point,” Curry said. “(We’ve) got to figure out how to keep moving in the right direction and stack wins no matter how we can get ’em.”

Golden State’s bench outscored Toronto’s 39-26, highlighted by 15 points from Jonathan Kuminga. The 20-year-old missed his first three shots from deep before making four straight 3s in the final three minutes of the third quarter, giving the Warriors a 98-94 lead they did not relinquish.

“He just showed another element to his game that some might have doubted,” Thompson said. “To get on the hot streak he did was very impressive, and for that man, the sky’s the limit for his talent.”

Donte DiVincenzo had a career-high 11 assists and the Warriors outscored the Raptors by 24 points in his 33 minutes off the bench.

“We knew what we were coming up against, and we’ve had fairly good success guarding and executing, and tonight we just didn’t do it,” Toronto coach Nick Nurse said. “We missed a lot of communication, we just got beat physically.”

Fred VanVleet had 28 points and 10 assists for the Raptors, who began their season-high, seven-game road trip 1-1. Scottie Barnes had 24 points and Pascal Siakam had 21, while Gary Trent Jr. added 17.

Precious Achiuwa contributed 17 points and 11 rebounds off the bench.

LeBron, Grizzlies, NBA world reacts to death of Tyre Nichols

Memphis Grizzlies v Minnesota Timberwolves
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Hours after the excruciating video of Memphis police fatally beating Tyre Nichols was released, the Memphis Grizzlies chose not to open their locker room and not speak to the media about it — it was too raw, too painful.

“The senseless loss of life for Tyre Nichols has really hit us hard,” Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said pregame in an interview with local broadcast partner Bally Sports (via the Associated Press). “It’s been tough being on the road, not being home. I wish I could extend my arms through this camera right now to the family. They’re going through a lot.”

The Grizzlies weren’t the only ones who felt that way around the NBA, emotions were high around the league Friday (as they were around the nation). Miami, Atlanta, Cleveland, Minnesota and Milwaukee released states echoing what the Grizzlies said.

LeBron James used his platform to make a statement, as he has in the past.

Statements were released from the NBA, WNBA, players, the players union and more.

“This is just crazy,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said unprompted to open his press conference, discussing the video and incident.

Nichols, 29, was pulled over in a traffic stop by Memphis police officers on Jan. 7 and was beaten to death by five officers. The bodycam footage shows Nichols being brutally beaten as he calls out for his mother and is defenseless. Nichols died in the hospital three days later. The five officers involved have been fired and charged with second-degree murder.