The starters for the All-Star game will be revealed Jan. 23 live on TNT, but the reserves are voted on by the coaches in each conference and we’ll have to wait at least another week to see how the complete rosters shake out.
Since the fans vote in the starters, most of those positions have been solidified. The reserves are a little but more subjective, but there are a few players who simply can’t be ignored and are locks to make the squad. The rest of the spots, especially in the deeper Western Conference, are going to be more difficult to fill.
If coaches are interested in hearing the case for any particular player, they can look no further than Nicolas Batum, who believes his numbers, along with Portland’s stellar start to the season should be enough to earn him All-Star status.
LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard are virtual locks to be in New Orleans playing on that Sunday. So when asked Saturday night if he feels like he deserves to be an All-Star, the small forward didn’t hesitate to give you his thoughts.
“Yes, of course,” Batum said to CSNNW.com. “If they have to pick one small forward behind K.D. (Kevin Durant), I think it should be me.”
“Because of the numbers that I have and the way I play with this team,” he responded. “I got two triple-doubles and I should have about five or six. And we’re 31-9, maybe the best team in the West so far. I think it’ll be tough to get three All-Stars because Damian and L.A. are going to be in it. And our coach, too. But I deserve consideration.”
The problem for Batum may be that there doesn’t have to be another small forward added to the roster. Partly due to the lack of great centers in the league these days, the NBA went away from positional distinction in the fan voting process, now designating players as either playing frontcourt or backcourt positions.
Batum went on to say that the Blazers should get three players in if they’re at the top of the standings, and while that’s certainly not unprecedented, it’s going to be extremely difficult to justify. Batum is playing well, no question. But unless injuries open up some spots, he’s probably not making the All-Star team this year.
Three Things to Know: Rockets beat Jazz behind Harden’s 47, has Houston turned it around?
Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.
1) Rockets beat Jazz behind James Harden’s 47, is Houston turning it around? It was a “battle” of the two most disappointing teams in the Western Conference — just about every pundit (myself included) projected the Rockets and Jazz to finish second and third in the West in some order. They came into the night 10th and 13th in the West — both out of the playoffs if they started today.
And both needed a win — in the tight Western Conference any game between playoff contenders counts double (and there seems to be a game or three like this every night now).
Houston got the win, 102-97, because MVP James Harden showed up and took over: 47 points, six rebounds, five assists, and five steals.
That’s the second time in four days Harden has been in vintage form, he dropped 50 on the Lakers and frustrated them just days before. Harden is the master and showing the ball and drawing fouls, and he has the best step-back in the game — although this one was more than a gather and step. Harden got away with one.
The Rockets have now won four in a row, are over .500 at 15-14 for the first time since Nov. 23rd. They are just half a game back of the final playoff slot in the West.
Have the Rockets turned it around?
Depends on how you define “turned it around.”
The Rockets offense has been elite and their defense average — which is a big step up, they are still fifth worst in the league on the season — in these four games. Harden has taken over two of them. That recipe, if it continues, should get Houston into the playoffs in the West. In that sense, they have turned it around, they are performing at the level of a playoff team, which is a step up.
But just making the playoffs was never the goal in Houston — this was a team that was ahead of Golden State at halftime of games 6 and 7 of the Western Conference Finals last season and within a step of reaching the Finals (and winning a ring). This season they wanted to take that next step.
The Rockets aren’t at that level yet, and this roster — as currently constructed — cannot get there. Houston was a top-10 defense last season and this roster has not shown it can get near, let alone sustain, that level. Houston’s defensive switching isn’t as smooth as a season ago, and teams are attacking it differently (not just trying to post up Harden or Chris Paul). Houston doesn’t have the personnel on this roster to adapt and thrive against the way the NBA is adjusting, they are thin at the wings, and come the playoffs they are farther away from Golden State, not closer.
Which is why everyone expected them to go harder for a Trevor Ariza trade, not only do they miss him the Rockets need wing help and he’s the best one available. They didn’t. And here we are:
Houston is playing a lot better, but not at the level they had hoped. If you want to call that turning it around, go ahead.
2) Milestones night in Bay Area: Stephen Curry reaches 15,000 points, Kevin Durant passes Larry Bird on the all-time scoring list. For Stephen Curry, it appropriately happened on a deep pull-up three — he passed the 15,000 point mark in his career.
Curry is the fifth Warrior to score 15K all in a Warriors’ uniform, and the other names are all legends and Hall of Famers: Wilt Chamberlain, Rick Barry, Paul Arizin and Chris Mullin. Chamberlain scored the most as a Warrior at 17,783, a number Curry likely passes next season.
With all the attention paid to Curry — still the golden child for Bay Area fans — nobody seemed to notice Kevin Durant passed Hall of Famer Larry Bird for 33rd on the all-time scoring list during the same game. (Durant is 38th if you count ABA scoring in the mix, just for the record.) KD is going to finish way up that list by the time his career ends.
By the way, the Warriors cruised past the Grizzlies 110-93 in the kind of easy win Golden State hasn’t seen enough of this season.
3) Taj Gibson doesn’t need two shoes to play good defense. Credit Tom Thibodeau for coming up with a new way to play defense.
Taj Gibson had the ball in his hands and had gone at the Kings’ Nemanja Bjelica in the post, eventually scoring but losing his shoe. Gibson picked up his shoe and ran back down the court with it in his hands, but Sacramento pushed the ball back up the floor and decided to have Bjelica attack the one shoe/one sock Gibson.
The Phoenix Suns need a ball handling guard to go next to Devin Booker, so when they picked up Austin Rivers as part of the Trevor Ariza trade with Washington it made some sense. Rivers is a below replacement level NBA player (who has been serviceable the past couple of seasons), but that’s an upgrade over what the Suns had.
Except Rivers didn’t want to be part of the rebuild in Phoenix. In an unusual and unexpected move, the Suns have agreed to waive him, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.
After trade with Wizards, Suns agree to part ways with G Austin Rivers, per ESPN sources. Rivers – earning $12.6M in final year of deal – becomes a free agent upon clearing waivers. As a veteran, sides concluded Rivers fits better on an older team that's pursuing playoffs.
It’s an odd move on a few levels. Why didn’t Rivers want to stay in a place the ball would be in his hands more, giving himself a chance to build up his value before free agency next summer? Why didn’t the Suns first try to shop him around and offer to take on another team’s bad/dead contract if they got a pick or other asset? (Rivers can’t be packaged with another player in a trade but he can be moved straight up.)
Finally, how much demand is there among good teams for Rivers, even on a minimum contract?
Rivers, the son of Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers, is in his seventh NBA season. Rivers is averaging 7.2 points per game on 39.2 percent shooting this season.
It’s an odd move. Without Rivers Suns will keep leaning on rookie De'Anthony Melton as a potential future backcourt mate with Booker and hope he develops into something.
Bulls’ Kris Dunn shoves Russell Westbrook, scuffle breaks out (VIDEO)
While moving over in position on the strong side, Westbrook and Dunn made contact, and after the whistle blew for a foul (with the ball handler), Westbrook made a grand gesture of pushing Dunn off him. Dunn responded with an outsized shove. And then it was on.
There’s more stuff to break down here than the Zapruder film.
• Jeremi Grant of the Thunder came in and tried to go at Dunn a little, in front of Westbrook (protect the star).
• Steven Adams calmly makes sure Portis is out of the picture, then walks back over to Lopez and then Adams and Lopez get separated.
• In the end, the officials handed out for technicals: Westbrook, Dunn, Grant, and Lopez.
A few minutes later, Lopez blocked a Grant shot, decided to taunt him, and that got Lopez a second technical and he was tossed (Lopez is a veteran, he has to know the officials are going to call everything tight at that point). Watch Adams pat Lopez on the back as the Bulls’ big man makes the walk to the locker room.
James Harden scores 47, including sinking dagger into Jazz (VIDEO)
Utah and Houston met in a battle of the disappointing early season Western teams — predicted by most to finish 2/3 in the West, they came into the night 10th and 13th — and in the tight West these kinds of games matter.