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.

Memphis picks up first win since restart, beats Oklahoma City

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Dillon Brooks scored 22 points, and the Memphis Grizzlies claimed their first win since the restart with a 121-92 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday.

Jonas Valanciunas had 19 points and 11 rebounds and Ja Morant had 19 points and nine assists for the Grizzlies.

Memphis shot 55% and avoided falling into a tie with Portland for eight place in the Western Conference standings. Memphis is one game ahead of Portland, two games ahead of San Antonio, 2.5 ahead of Phoenix, and three games up on New Orleans and Sacramento.

Chris Paul scored 17 points and Luguentz Dort added 16 for the Thunder. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City’s leading scorer this season, finished with 10 points on 3 for 13 shooting.

The Thunder looked nothing like the team that rolled past the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday. Oklahoma City missed a chance to move into a tie with the Houston Rockets for fourth place in the West.

Oklahoma City led by 18 in the first quarter, but the Grizzlies rallied to take the lead in the second. Memphis led by nine in the final seconds of the first half. Danilo Gallinari hit a 3 for the Thunder with 4.6 seconds left, then Paul stole the inbounds pass and hit a corner 3 to cut the Grizzlies’ lead to 63-60 at halftime.

The Grizzlies outscored the Thunder 32-18 in the third quarter to go up 95-78 at the end of the period.

Rumor: Indiana coach Nate McMillan is on hot seat

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Last season, Indiana’s Nate McMillan finished fourth in Coach of the Year voting, taking a team that lost star Victor Oladipo after just 36 games and still got them into the playoffs. McMillan is going to get COY votes again this year for much the same reason — his teams play good defense and overachieve.

Indiana coach Nate McMillan is also on the hot seat.

It’s surprising, and it’s just a rumor, but ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy and Zach Lowe had this conversation on a recent episode of The Lowe Post podcast (hat tip PacersTalk.net).

Van Gundy: “I had two people come up to me since I’ve been here [in the NBA restart bubble] and say, ‘Nate McMillan’s in trouble.’”

Lowe: “It’s been the hottest rumor all season… What you’ve heard in Orlando’s been going around all season…

“Let me be clear: It’s just a rumor. I don’t know if it’s true. When you talk to people around the Pacers, they say, ‘It’s not true’ or ‘Where you’d hear that from?’”

Maybe management wants a more modern offense, the Pacers are bottom eight in both three pointers attempted and pace. Overall, Indiana’s offense is middle of the pack (18th in the league), which is not bad considering it was without Oladipo for most of the season (and he was playing his way into shape when he returned and was not at an All-NBA level).

It’s hard to imagine that the Pacers would make a change this offseason, which will be short and give a new coach less time to ramp up a program. Plus, does owner Herb Simon want to pay two coaches? The finances of the league are helping other coaches keep their jobs.

More than all that, McMillan doesn’t deserve to be fired.

Not that “deserved” has had much to do with NBA coaches keeping their jobs in the past.

 

Phoenix Suns, a perfect 4-0 in the bubble, are growing and thinking playoffs

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The last time Devin Booker walked off the court as a winner in four consecutive games, these were the opponents: Hampton, Cincinnati, West Virginia and Notre Dame.

That is, until now.

Booker and the Phoenix Suns – the team that came to the NBA restart at Walt Disney World with the worst record in the Western Conference and the second-worst record of the 22 teams in the field – are perhaps the best story of the bubble.

They’re 4-0 at Disney, breathing real life into playoff hopes that basically were nonexistent when the season was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic on March 11. It’s the team’s first four-game winning streak since December 2018; Booker missed one of those games, so it’s his first run of four wins in a row since helping Kentucky make its Final Four run in 2015.

“It definitely feels like a tournament, a big AAU tournament, the March Madness tournament,” Phoenix’s Cameron Payne said Friday. “That’s something I never even got a chance to be in, but hey, I’ll take this.”

The Suns started their bubble run with a win over Washington and followed that with victories against three playoff-bound teams – first Dallas, then the Los Angeles Clippers (both of those games being 117-115 finals, the win over the Clippers sealed by a Booker buzzer-beater) and next a 114-99 victory Thursday over Indiana.

A team that had a stretch of four wins in 20 games during November and December, then a run of four wins in 15 games during January and February, got to the bubble and are now 4-for-4.

The Suns are riding a 10-year playoff drought, the second-longest current one in the NBA, but now they’re thinking big and for good reason.

“Well, you know, this is in the fledgling stages, for sure,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “We’ve got a lot more work to do. And there’s a process that we’ve kind of gotten ourselves involved in and we’re going to stick to that. So, fun? I don’t have time to have fun right now. It’s always good to win, but I’m working right now. And I want guys to understand, it’s fun when you win – but then you’ve got to turn the page and get right back to work.”

Williams understands the reality for the Suns right now. They entered Friday 1-1/2 games out of ninth place and the play-in series that will decide the last postseason berth in the West. And while the 4-0 start has been noteworthy, even an 8-0 mark in the seeding games wouldn’t guarantee the Suns a trip to that play-in round.

The Suns play Miami on Saturday, then finish the regular season against Oklahoma City, Philadelphia and Dallas.

“I’ve been in five years now and haven’t had that much success,” Booker said. “But, you know, I’m working hard every day to turn that narrative and change that narrative. We have a good bunch in here to do it. A lot of young players mixed with some veteran presence and it’s a good look for us. So, we’re going to keep our head down, keep working.

“I don’t think anybody here is worried about 4-0. We still have plans and goals for this team to reach and 4-0 wasn’t it.”

Booker is averaging 28 points in the four games. Deandre Ayton, another big piece of the young Suns’ core, is averaging 18.3 points and 9.3 rebounds. There are six players averaging double figures in all, including Payne, who is shooting 53% from 3-point range in his first four games with the Suns.

“We definitely feel good,” Payne said. “We’re not here for no reason.”

Report: NBA players bypassing ‘snitch’ hotline to call Adam Silver directly

NBA commissioner Adam Silver
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No NBA players have been diagnosed with coronavirus in the bubble. And they want to keep it that way. A championship and a lot of money are on the line.

That means preventing players from having close contact with anyone outside the bubble. And, in case someone contracts coronavirus, wearing masks (intact masks) to prevent a wider outbreak.

The NBA set up a hotline – quickly dubbed the “snitch” hotline – for players to report violations.

Chris Haynes of TNT:

Players have been circumventing that process. Sources informed me that multiple players are personally calling commissioner Adam Silver to issue their complaints with things they’re seeing in the bubble.

Adam Silver is accessible to players – particularly the president of the union.

I’m not sure about tattling straight to the top boss when there are other protocols in place. Are hotline calls not resulting in changed behavior?

Either way, it’s important for the NBA to keep players safe – both for their health and the league’s revenue (about half of which goes to players in salary). So, cut Chris Paul anyone calling Silver a break. They’re at least trying to help. And so far, violations inside the bubble have led to reminders, not harsher discipline.