The Extra Pass: Predictions for All-Star Weekend

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All-Star weekend is upon us. While the rest of the PBT crew gets to eat beignets and earn beads for showing a little skin (that’s how that works, right?), some of us will be stuck at home watching the celebrity game and reevaluating our life choices. Not that I’m bitter or anything. Not at all.

If we’re going to be watching anyway, though, we might as well make some predictions for all the weekend’s festivities. Feel free to leave your own in the comments section so you can probably gloat at a later juncture. Ready? Here we go.

All-Star Celebrity Game, Friday, 7pm ET

Winner: Arne Duncan’s team. I’m not sure what team that is, or who is even on his team, but the Secretary of Education can HOOP. He’s a former professional basketball player in Australia, and he takes this game entirely too seriously. He’s liable to take a charge on Nick Cannon and not even feel bad about it.

MVP: Michael B. Jordan. Duncan is great, no doubt, but Jordan has been rumored to have serious game on the hardwood. That makes sense because his parents, ya know, named him Michael freaking Jordan.

I’m obviously not picking against the man who played Vince Howard in Friday Night Lights, either, as he was one of the most convincing TV or movie quarterbacks ever. What’s the basketball equivalent of a last second 60-yard touchdown run? Mark MBJ down for whatever it is. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose (unless he’s not on Arne Duncan’s team).

Rising Stars Challenge, Friday, 9pm ET

Winner: Team Webber. Damian Lillard is barely going to play in this one, so Team Hill will be relying on Bradley Beal and Dion Waiters to bring up the ball. It doesn’t really matter all that much because no one plays defense anyway, but I’m picturing Waiters taking 40 shots and never passing to poor Jonas Valancuinas (or anyone else), while Jonas has flashbacks to playing with Rudy Gay and finally freaks out. Good for you, Jonas. Let it all out.

I can’t believe I’m picking against Giannis Antetokounmpo right now, but he’s going to get iced out like Isiah Thomas by all the sophomores. I’m pre-angry at Team Hill.

MVP: Anthony Davis. He’ll win even if he shouldn’t because he’s playing in front of the Smoothie King faithful. That said, he’ll probably deserve to be MVP because he’s better at basketball than everyone else in the game, and the crowd will yell at anyone who doesn’t give him the ball enough. I’ve thought about this way too much.

NBA D-League All-Star Game, Saturday, 3pm ET

Winner: One of the teams, probably.

MVP: Pierre Jackson. He’s been absolutely destroying the D-League this year (29.1 points a game!), but the Pelicans haven’t called him up to the NBA because Austin Rivers exists and life isn’t fair. Anyone in New Orleans who wakes up before noon will be in for a real treat watching Jackson do his thing.

Shooting Stars, Saturday, 8:30 pm ET

Winner: Steph Curry, Dell Curry and Becky Hammon. This is a father/son battle against Tim Hardaway Jr. and Sr., but then there are two other teams that don’t have father/son combos. I don’t know, just roll with it.

This is basically picking which team you think can hit halfcourt shots first. It really has very little to do with actual shooting ability, because that would be too much fun. This would be All-Star weekend’s worst event if it weren’t for…

Skills Challenge, Saturday, After Shooting Stars

Winner: No one. The person that created this just said, hey, you know the obstacle course at dog shows? What if we did that, but — wait for it — with basketballs? Someone said yes and now we’ve done it every year since.

At least they changed the format this year and made it teams of two, maybe figuring that two half-hearted performances would add up to one full-hearted performance.

I guess I can make amends for my earlier betrayal and go with team Giannis/DeRozan as the winner here. I’ll be rooting for Goran Dragic to either take this way too seriously and set a course record or lay down and take a protest nap.

Three-Point Contest, Saturday, After Skills Challenge

Winner: Steph Curry. Sorry. I’m just never going to pick against him in any sort of shooting contest. Here’s how I think the field will shake out:

1. Curry – Quick release, probably the scariest “streak” shooter of the bunch.
2. Irving – Returning champ, heavy favorite to emerge out of the Eastern Conference quartet.
3. Lillard – Would be getting more attention for his prolific three-point shooting if it weren’t for Curry.
4. Love – Former winner, has the advantage of a good beard.
5. Belinelli – No Spur has ever won the three-point contest, but this feels like one of those times Wikipedia is being a liar.
6. Beal – Has about one full season of really good three-point shooting on his resume.
7. Afflalo – Amazing from the corners, not so hot from everywhere else.
8. Johnson – A serious threat to run out of time.

Slam Dunk Contest, Saturday, After Three-Point Contest

Winner: Eastern Conference. If this is what it takes to get big names back in the dunk contest, it’s probably worth it to not have guys like Fred Jones bringing home the title.

Out of Paul George, John Wall, Harrison Barnes, Damian Lillard and Ben McLemore, I like Terrence Ross to have the best dunk of the night. He’s the most acrobatic of the group, and there’s always the chance he gives a nod to Vince Carter. Playing on memories always helps in this event.

McLemore is the wildcard who could help the West win, but Barnes is just a little too stiff of an athlete and Lillard might not be able to do some of the crazy dunks we’ve grown accustomed to. So long as Paul George doesn’t go all glow-in-the-dark again, the East should be able to win this.

2013-14 All-Star Game, Sunday, 8pm ET

Winner: Western Conference. It’s been by far the superior conference during the real games, and the East likely being down Dwyane Wade won’t help. The East has a lot of good players that don’t necessarily translate all that well to the All-Star style (Roy Hibbert, Joakim Noah), and the West is far more balanced with scorers like Kevin Durant and Curry in addition to table setters like Chris Paul.

LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony make for a tough tandem, but the West is deeper and more explosive. Here’s guessing the West makes it four straight over the East.

Score: West 144, East 139

MVP: Kevin Durant. We know LeBron and Durant are going to go at it, as the battle for MVP won’t take a break. Here’s giving Durant the slight edge, as he’s more likely to be on the winning team and have the game’s most points. That’s usually enough to win MVP, but either way, this should be good.

Warriors’ reportedly showing no urgency to trade D’Angelo Russell

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It’s been the same story since Golden State did a sign-and-trade with Brooklyn last summer that brought them back D'Angelo Russell on a new max contract.

Around the league, executives with other teams expect the Warriors to trade Russell, questioning how he fits long-term with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Golden State itself, however, has pushed back on the idea it just got Russell to trade him and they want to see if a three-guard rotation can work.

Come Dec. 15, Russell — and most players signed this summer — become eligible to be traded. The Warriors still appear to be in no rush, reports Sean Deveney of Heavy.com.

“If it is something that they’re going to do quickly, like before the end of this month, I wouldn’t say they’re pushing for it,” one general manager said. “Maybe they have a deal in mind, maybe they’re sitting on something and laying low. But I’d be surprised. That’s not how they’d approach it, I’d think. You want to create a market if you are going to trade a player like him, you want to pit teams against each other, drive up the price. You don’t want to lock into one deal. But the market thing, that’s not really happening yet. They’re not pushing the market for him.”

What is the motivation for Golden State to move Russell now, or at the February trade deadline, as opposed to next June around the draft? Or next July? There isn’t, unless some team approaches them with a Godfather offer. This season is a lost cause for the Warriors, and next season they are going to be looking for veterans to help them win now more than rookies to develop.

Russell has averaged 22.3 points a game and played well when healthy, but he has missed half of the Warriors games so far this season due to injury. That’s not exactly boosting Russell’s trade value, another reason to be patient.

Maybe the Russell trade drama ramps up after the season ends, but for now the Warriors continue to play it cool.

People with power within Knicks reportedly “obsessed” with Masai Ujiri

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In the latest sign of dysfunction in New York, Knicks president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry didn’t show their face and talk to the media Saturday about the firing of coach David Fizdale. Instead, they sent interim head coach Mike Miller to a podium, by himself, to talk about the situation. It was awkward. It’s also not how well-run organizations handle things.

Mills and Perry are on the hot seat — and they should be. This 4-19 Knicks season is more on them and how this roster was built than Fizdale (who was not blameless in all this).

There have been rumors owner James Dolan may go after Raptors president Masai Ujiri to take over Knicks, and that is growing into an “obsession” with influential people, reports Ian Begley of SNY.tv.

Will the Knicks have a shot at landing Ujiri? That’s unclear. But once the Knicks started struggling last month, multiple Madison Square Garden people in positions of influence have been ‘obsessed’ with – and ‘enamored’ by – the Raptors executive, per SNY sources.

In order to land Ujiri, it will probably take significant money and full autonomy.

There is no evidence that Ujiri, the man who built Toronto into a champion, would seriously consider leaving the Raptors for the Knicks.

The real key to luring Ujiri to Madison Square Garden is “full autonomy.” No Knicks president has had it. Phil Jackson was told he had it, but he wasn’t able to bring in his people who pushed out some of the entrenched staff. Sources told me that other people considered for team president have asked for the power to clean out the front office and bring in their own guys, only to learn Mills and others would remain in positions of power.

Owner James Dolan has stepped back from involving himself in basketball decisions in recent years, will he take the next step and let someone else fully run his basketball operations side without any pushback or interference internally?

One thing to watch with the Knicks going forward: Do they make any trade deadline deals? (That market really opens up soon, on Dec. 15 players signed this summer can be traded.) If New York does make a trade, is it a short-term boost kind of move designed to get wins now and maybe help save certain executive’s jobs, or are they trades focused on the long-term building of a winner? Since Jackson was in charge, the Knicks have done a good job not trading away their first-round picks, this would be a poor time to change that trend.

 

Myles Turner block, Julius Randle missed free throw with 0.1 left gives Pacers one-point win

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For the Knicks, under interim coach Mike Miller, this was a step forward. New York had been blown out by 37+ points their last two games, and that helped cost David Fizdale his job, but here they were with a chance to send the game to overtime late.

For the Pacers, this is just a win.

But that win came down to the final play — a blocked shot by Myles Turner then a missed Julius Randle free throw with 0.1 on the clock gave Indiana the 104-103 win.

“You get in those games, you’ve got to make another play and we just didn’t make another play,” Miller said, via the Associated Press. “Loved the effort. That was fun.”

A Jeremy Lamb and-1  had the Pacers up by six, 104-98, with 5:17 left. The Pacers would not score again.

What kept the Pacers alive was their defense — the Knicks shot 2-of-15 in the final 5:05 of the game, then with everything on the line Myles Turner came up with the game-saving block on Michell Robinson.

Julius Randle got the offensive rebound and was fouled when he went back up. That sent Randle — the Knicks biggest offseason signing — to the free throw line with 0.1 on the clock and the chance to force overtime. Randle hit the first, but…

There are no moral victories in the NBA, but this feels like one for New York.

For the Pacers, they will just take the win, thank you very much.

 

Russell Westbrook’s third-straight triple-double powers Rockets past Suns

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HOUSTON (AP) — On a night where James Harden‘s shots weren’t falling for three quarters, the Houston Rockets got big performances from those in supporting roles until the star stepped up late to close out the victory.

Harden scored 18 of his 34 points in the fourth quarter and Ben McLemore added 27 points to help the Rockets outlast the Phoenix Suns 115-109 on Saturday night.

Harden had a tough shooting night through three quarters and was 5 of 19 overall and 1 of 10 on 3s with 16 points before getting going in the fourth. The game was tied with about 7 minutes left, and he scored all of Houston’s points in a 13-6 run that made it 102-95.

“That’s how deep we are,” Harden said. “We have a really good team and guys that can make plays and knock down shots. More importantly we were focused on our defense.”

Russell Westbrook had 24 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists for his third straight triple-double and sixth this season. Harden finished 8 of 27, 3 of 17 on 3s and made 15 of 18 free throws.

Devin Booker led the Suns with 35 points after scoring a season-high 44 in an overtime victory at New Orleans on Thursday night.

Phoenix coach Monty Williams was proud of his team for staying in it until the very end.

“We have a mentality that we just don’t give in,” Williams said. “We’re playing young guys that are learning how to play against physical NBA men and that’s part of developing.”

The Suns cut the lead to five twice in the last 90 seconds, but both times Westbrook made a layup to extend the advantage. And the second time he was fouled on the shot and made the free throw to make it 114-106.

The Suns scored seven straight points, capped by a dunk from Kelly Oubre, to tie it at 85 with about 9 minutes left. After a timeout, Harden scored Houston’s first points in about three minutes on a layup to put Houston back on top.

It was tied again before Harden scored five points to give the Rockets a 94-89 lead. He stole the ball from Ty Jerome after that and was fouled by Booker on a drive, with Harden aggressively continuing forward and pushing Booker off the court. Harden later shoved Booker, and they both received technical fouls to the bewilderment of the Suns.

Harden made both free throws to make it seven points in a row and was fouled again after he stole the ball from Mikal Bridges. Harden made one of those free throws to make it 97-89.

“He finds a way to win the game,” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said. “A lot of guys contributed. A lot of guys played well.”