Let’s actually set criteria for selecting All-Stars

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Has Dwyane Wade or Kyle Lowry had a better season?

Lowry smashes Wade in win shares (6.4 to 3.1) and tops him in Estimated Wins Added (6.5 to 5.7), too. There’s value in staying on the court, and because Wade has been hobbled by knee issues this year, it’s clear Lowry, an impressive and consistent two-way contributor, has produced more.

If you desire, you can dig deeper and examine the question from other angles. It’s a worthy discussion to have.

In three months.

If voting for an All-NBA team based on the season to date, I’d pick Lowry ahead of Wade. But for the 2014 All-Star game? Give me Wade every day of the week.

Before and after the NBA announces its All-Star starters tomorrow, you’ll find numerous smart analyses about whom should be picked to the teams. But few of of those picks will be preceded by an outlined standard for the choices.

The accepted logic is that, after the fans vote for the starters, the coaches should pick the players who’ve had the best season so far. Many will pore over stats, noting why this player or that player has performed better to date.

But I just don’t see much point in debating 40-some-game samples. All-Star appearances have, erroneously, become the historical standard for a player having a top-notch season. But unless the selectors have crystal balls, that’s impossible. All-Star appearances indicate only top-notch half-seasons, and those shouldn’t count for much in the grand scheme.

All-NBA teams are a much better tool for measuring historical greatness, and I wish more would analyze those with the keen eye they turn toward All-Star selections. I understand the playoffs running concurrently interferes, but even a little more attention to All-NBA teams would make us smarter when we look back on the historical record.

That would free the All-Star game to mean something else – as it should.

Meaning of All-Star selections

The All-Star game already has a mixed significance because of the fan vote. Kobe Bryant will almost certainly get one of the Western Conference’s starting guard spots, even though he’s barely played this season and played poorly when he’s been on the court. Allen Iverson and Yao Ming won the fan vote in years they shouldn’t have even made the team.

Debating players’ all-time greatness by All-Star nods already requires weeding out the undeserving selections. It’s not a good standard.

All-Star appearances should exist in a separate spectrum.

Just break down the word: All-Star. All the stars. Keep letting fans pick the stars as they see fit. Then, let the coaches fill in the rest of the roster with the players they see as the biggest remaining stars, the best players who won’t start the game.

The system works as long as we don’t assign too much meaning to which player had a better rebounding rate between November and January.

A litmus test for arguing All-Stars

Here’s the standard I use:

Who’s the best player right now?

That’s intentionally vague, but here’s the thought exercise I use to compare players. Imagine two teams full of average players for their positions – an average starting point guard, an average shooting guard, an average sixth man, etc. These teams are exactly equal. Now, replace one starter on each of the average teams with the players you’re comparing. Whose team wins? That’s the better player.

I don’t consider how good a player’s actual team is. An All-Star berth is an individual, not a team, honor, though a player’s team’s record can indicate how good that player is individually.

I don’t consider fit, either. No player should be punished because he happens not to complement the other All-Stars in a given year. To me, the All-Star game is more about honoring the NBA’s best players than strategically forming a squad. Besides, these teams are so deep and talented, and the rules mandate a certain number of players from each position, that the rosters will work for a single Sunday, at least.

DeMarcus Cousins vs. Tim Duncan and Kyrie Irving vs. Arron Afflalo

Ability matters more than production in the given half-season, though they can be tough to separate.

Parsing DeMarcus Cousins and Tim Duncan illustrates the dilemma. Cousins has had a better season so far, and he’s risen his game while Duncan’s production is slipping. But is Duncan merely preserving his energy for a playoff run, or is he too old to play as well as Cousins has? If the answer is the former, Duncan would be my All-Star choice. The latter, Cousins.

Kyrie Irving and Arron Afflalo provide another example. Irving started the year relatively poorly, and his season-long statistics are still weighed down by those early games. But lately, he’s shown the true player he is – a player that’s better than Afflalo, who has produced consistently between Irving’s extremes. An All-NBA debate between the two would be close, but an All-Star discussion is not. Irving has a clear edge.

What to make of Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Rajon Rondo

Injuries are a little trickier.

Rajon Rondo won’t make my All-Star team, because he’s clearly not playing at an All-Star level as he tries to find his way after such a long layoff.

Chris Paul will, because he’s the best guard in the NBA right now. He probably won’t be healthy by the All-Star game, and if he’s not, he can be replaced on the roster.

Russell Westbrook sits somewhere between. Because his expected return date is later than Paul’s – meaning Westbrook is more likely than Paul to be rusty if he is back in time – Westbrook’s injury costs him more than Paul’s. But Westbrook, at the less-than-perfect health level he’s been this season, is still a top-four guard in the Western Conference.

My picks

Ultimately, it’s up to everyone to set their own criteria for choosing All-Stars. Before making your case, though, consider which lens you believe the selections should be made through. You don’t have to choose the same one I do, but you should make a deliberate choice rather than following the crowd for the sake of doing so.

So what do my All-Star teams look like? Probably not that different than the ones you’ll see elsewhere. Typically, the best players as I define them also play the best during the season’s first half. How well someone has played so far is one of the best indicators of how good he is.

But each when the there is a difference, the latter should trump the former.

Eastern Conference

Starters

G: Kyle Lowry

G: Dwyane Wade

FC: Paul George

FC: LeBron James

FC: Roy Hibbert

Reserves

G: John Wall

G: Kyrie Irving

FC: Carmelo Anthony

FC: Joakim Noah

FC: Andre Drummond

WC: Arron Afflalo

WC: Paul Millsap (Chris Bosh, who totally slipped my mind initially)

Western Conference

Starters

G: Chris Paul*

G: Stephen Curry

FC: Kevin Durant

FC: Kevin Love

FC: LaMarcus Aldridge

Reserves

G: Russell Westbrook*

G: James Harden

FC: Blake Griffin

FC: Dirk Nowitzki

FC: Anthony Davis

WC: Dwight Howard

WC: DeMarcus Cousins

*Damian Lillard and Tony Parker, in that order, would be my injury replacements.

Despite injury scare, LeBron James will be ready to go in Game 7

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It was the kind of injury that has felled many players — think of Rudy Gobert this season. Twice. A player falls into the side of another player’s leg, putting a strain on the ligaments.

That’s what happened in the fourth quarter of Game 6 in Cleveland Friday night, Larry Nance Jr. falls back and LeBron James‘ knee bent in a way it should not.

“After the game, I didn’t know who got me,” LeBron said. “But after the game, Larry asked me if I was I OK, so I’m guessing he was the culprit of it. I just felt someone fall into my leg and my leg kind of went in. I felt some pain throughout my entire right side of my ankle into my leg. I was just hoping for the best, obviously, because I’ve seen so many different injuries, and watching basketball with that type of injury, someone fall into one’s leg standing straight up. Luckily, I was able to finish the game.”

James scored 12 points on 4-of-8 shooting with a couple of dagger threes to secure the win after that scare, but he didn’t seem to have the same lift after that and was seen favoring his leg walking out of the building.

Of course, LeBron will be good to go for Game 7 in Boston Sunday. If Friday night was any indication, he’s not going to be slowed by it at all.

“As soon as I leave here, I’ll start to prepare (for Game 7),” LeBron said from the podium postgame. “I’m going to get in the car and head back to Akron. As soon as I get home, I’ll start my treatment. I’ll do the same all day tomorrow from before we leave to go to Boston, and then once we get into Boston I’ll do that as well. Try to get as much sleep as I can with tonight and with tomorrow and even on Sunday before the game. That’s the best recovery that you can possibly get, is when you’re sleeping. It’ll be around-the-clock treatment, and we’ll see what happens.”

What’s going to happen is a dramatic Game 7 in the Garden, and we know that for Cleveland to have any chance LeBron has to be superhuman. Again.

Warriors facing elimination but undaunted entering Game 6

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HOUSTON (AP) — If the Golden State Warriors are worried as they head into Game 6 of the Western Conference finals on the brink of elimination, they aren’t showing it.

“We have a chance to tie the series at home. That’s a pretty good position to be in,” coach Steve Kerr said. “We’ve got to win two basketball games and we’ve done that an awful lot, so we’re very confident.”

The defending champions trail Houston 3-2 in the best-of-seven series after consecutive wins by the Rockets, capped by Thursday night’s 98-94 victory. Now the series shifts to Oracle Arena, a place where the Warriors have lost just one time in their last 17 playoff games.

Stephen Curry said the Warriors are encouraged despite falling behind in the series because they believe both games could have gone their way and that a few simple corrections will get them back on track.

“We have an opportunity to re-establish ourselves at home, get a big win, keep ourselves alive, and then roll the dice into Game 7,” Curry said. “Not all is lost.”

Houston’s big win in Game 5 was tempered by a hamstring injury to star Chris Paul which will keep him out of Saturday’s game. It’s a major blow for a team which is looking to reach the NBA Finals for the first time in more than two decades.

The Rockets believe they can absorb this loss and don’t seem daunted by the setback, noting that they found ways to win in the regular season in many games where Paul sat out with injuries.

“I don’t have a doubt,” D’Antoni said. “They see the challenge … whether CP’s there or not, it’s a heck of a challenge, and they’re up to it. They’re looking forward to it.”

James Harden, who has struggled offensively in the last two games and went 0 for 11 on 3s in Game 5, rolled his eyes when asked if Paul’s injury puts more pressure on him.

“Pressure for what? It’s Game 6 of the Western Conference finals,” he said. “There is pressure on everybody.”

While that may be true, the onus is on Harden to step up and deliver an MVP-caliber performance if the Rockets hope to close out this series. Harden has had plenty of playoff disappointments in the last few years and embraces the chance to get Houston back into the finals.

“It’s an opportunity that a lot of people never had and probably won’t ever have,” he said. “It’s our job to go out there and have fun with it and do the same thing we’ve been doing. We want to take advantage of it.”

While the Rockets will be down a starter, the Warriors could get one back if Andre Iguodala can return on Saturday. The Warriors have missed the defensive presence of Iguodala who has missed the last two games with a bruised left knee.

Iguodala is listed on the injury report as questionable for Game 6 and Kerr said he didn’t have an update on his condition on Friday. But he did address what it would mean to Golden State if he’s healthy enough to go on Saturday.

“He’s a great player,” Kerr said. “He’s one of our keys, and we’ve missed him the last two games. But we can’t count on it. Injuries happen, and you’ve just got to play with whoever’s out there. So we’re hoping he’s back, and we’ll see what happens.”

Iguodala’s absence has been magnified in this series that has morphed into a defensive slugfest instead of the high-scoring shootout that most expected when it began. The Rockets take great pride in the fact that they’ve limited Golden State to less than 100 points in the last two games and think continuing to play great defense is the only way they’ll advance.

“It’s something we talked about building up all year,” Houston’s P.J. Tucker said. “To see our defense now be as good as it is, we still think it could be a lot better. We watched film, and honestly … we didn’t play great defense last night. Everybody will talk about how good a defense we played, but we really don’t feel like that. So just keep working and trying to get better.”

Kerr said the experience of his team, which is trying to reach the finals for the fourth straight year, will be valuable as the Warriors try and climb out of this hole and force Game 7. He referenced the conference finals in 2016 when they fell behind Oklahoma City 3-1 before winning the next three to take the series.

“We’ve been here before,” Kerr said. “We’ve faced elimination on the road before – this team has – a few years ago. We faced series deficits before. We’ve won all of those series. Our guys have the ultimate confidence that we can get it done this time, too.”

PBT Extra: Pressure falls on James Harden, Rockets’ bench with Chris Paul out

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Chris Paul is out for Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals with a strained hamstring, and that almost certainly will sideline him for Game 7 as well.

That changes the feel of this series.

The Rockets still just have to win one of the next two games to advance to the NBA Finals, and one of those is at home. However, without CP3 a couple of things need to happen. James Harden needs to find his shooting stroke. Gerald Green and the Rockets’ bench needs to step up. And Houston has to keep defending the way they have the last two games.

It’s not going to be easy (especially on the road in Game 6), but the Rockets still have a real opportunity to advance to the NBA Finals.

Watch all of LeBron James’ 46 points in Game 6

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There is going to be a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals Sunday because of LeBron James.

George Hill had a strong game (20 points), Jeff Green and Larry Nance Jr. had their moments, but it was all about LeBron — 46 points, 11 rebounds, and 9 assists in 46 brilliant minutes.

Rather than try to describe his game to you — including the dagger threes late — just watch.

And enjoy. There are still some people out there (mostly on Twitter, it seems) who just want to tear LeBron down for some reason. I pity them. Not just because they are wrong, although they are. Rather, it’s because they are depriving themselves of enjoying one of the greatest players ever to lace them up. LeBron can bully people in the paint, hit step back threes, is as gifted a passer as the game has seen, and just plays a smart, high-IQ game we have got to watch grow over the years. If you can’t enjoy that, you don’t love basketball.