All-Star 2014: The Standouts

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First, the obvious: The NBA All-Star Game is different from a normal basketball game. Apathy often reigns supreme, especially on defense, in this yearly exhibition, and there’s a premium on flashy play instead of solid, efficient basketball. For some players, it’s a dream format, while it’s less than ideal for others. In short, how a player does in an All-Star game can have very little correlation with how good he is relative to his All-Star peers in the games that actually count. With those caveats in mind, let’s highlight some of this year’s All-Star performances (I’m not going to be able to get to everybody — that doesn’t mean they played poorly, or even average, but I do have some space considerations):

Eastern Conference: 

Kyrie Irving: Winning a new trophy on All-Star Weekend is becoming a tradition for Irving. His rookie year, he was named the MVP of the Rising Stars challenge. Last season, he won the 3-point shootout. This year, the 21-year old point guard took home the MVP trophy, and it was well-deserved. Irving finished with an eye-popping 31 points and 14 assists on 14-17 shooting, and he sank 3 of his 6 3-point attempts. He also spearheaded the East’s comeback from an 18-point deficit, as he scored 15 points and dished four assists in the final quarter alone.

Irving’s shot was on point, he jelled with his teammates nicely and set them up with some beautiful passes, he used his handle to make some absolutely disgusting highlight-reel forays to the rim, and he converted when he got in the paint. Irving has shown that he has the talent to hang with the best players in the league, especially when he has the spacing that comes from playing with the best players in the world on offense and facing players that aren’t all that interested in defense. Now we just have to see if Irving can carry this over into the regular season and turn Cleveland’s four-game winning streak into their first playoff appearance since the LeBron era.

Carmelo Anthony: Carmelo might have the best combination of size, range, and a lightning-quick release this side of Kevin Durant. For all his imperfections as a player, there’s not much the defense can do when his shot is falling. He’s shown that in prior All-Star games, as well as in international competition, and he showed it again on Sunday night. Carmelo finished with 30 points on 10-18 shots, and set a new All-Star game record by draining eight three-pointers.

LeBron James: The NBA’s best all-around player may have been in the mood for a duel with Kevin Durant, who as of this writing is the prohibitive favorite to take LeBron’s MVP trophy from him at the end of this season, but his outside shot wasn’t on board with that plan, as he missed all seven of his attempts from deep. However, he is still LeBron James, so he set up his teammates with some nice assists and provided some jaw-dropping dunks, including a switch-handed windmill alley-oop in the opening quarter to get the building going early and a coast-to-coast power dunk after some fancy ballhandling.

He formed instant chemistry with his teammates, setting them up with looks on pick-and-rolls and cutting to make himself available after they had gotten past the player “guarding” them. Even when James isn’t hitting on all cylinders with his shot, it’s hard to take your eyes off of him in a format like this.

John Wall and Joakim Noah: Neither player finished with huge numbers, but they brought actual energy on both ends of the floor, which was a huge part of the East’s comeback. Wall did a great job of pushing the ball and had a few huge dunks, but more importantly, he stayed active in the passing lanes and actually put pressure on the West’s offense, which was getting everything they cared to get through most of the first three quarters. Likewise, Noah brought some toughness on the boards to the East, who were beaten 19-9 on the offensive boards over the course of the game, and actually had some nice chemistry on the pick-and-roll with his rival LeBron James on offense. Noah isn’t the kind of player you’d think would thrive in an All-Star environment, but I doubt the East would have won the game without his play and mindset on Sunday night.

Western Conference:

Blake Griffin: Blake’s plan coming into Sunday was as follows —

1) Get ball

2) Dunk ball

3) Repeat

The East had no answer for this strategy, possibly because they did not consider the “keep Blake Griffin from getting near the basket with nobody around him” option. Blake finished with 38 points, which tied him for the game-high, and he came only four points short of Wilt Chamberlain’s All-Star game scoring record. He made an All-Star record 19 field goals, and only needed 23 field goal attempts, in no small part because nearly all of his made baskets were of the dunk variety. (After the game, when asked if he was worried of being pigeonholed as just a dunker, Griffin jokingly replied “Yeah, I’m terrified of that.”)

Kevin Durant: It’s been KD’s year so far, and Durant clearly wanted to keep that going with a statement performance in the All-Star game. He was looking to fill it up from the opening tip, firing from absolutely everywhere, and he finished with 38 points of his own, with some of those coming on 3s directly in the face of a one LeBron James. Unfortunately for Durant, his shot wasn’t as good as it normally is, and he only made six of his 17 three-point attempts, which isn’t a horrible percentage, but a few more made 3s would likely have given the West the win and Durant both the MVP trophy and the scoring record. Even still, with Kobe Bryant not playing due to injury, it was fun to see Durant accepting the role of the West’s undisputed alpha dog with relish.

Steph Curry: The planet’s best shooter actually struggled with his shot this weekend — he failed to advance to the finals of the 3-point shootout on Saturday, and he only made 2 of his 11 tries from deep on Sunday. Still, Curry showed off his skills as a ballhandler and a passer — he had 11 dimes, with many of them being gorgeous alley-oops, and his behind-the-back-between-the-legs move to get into the lane for a scoop shot was one of the highlights of the night.

Anthony Davis: Davis had 10 points on 5-6 shooting, and finished off some beautiful alley-oops, but only got 9 and a half minutes of playing time. I know Davis was an injury replacement but still — Coach Brooks, let the hometown favorite show his stuff!

All-Star Performers:

Absolutely fantastic across the board. The pregame concert got everybody pumped up, the in-arena organist (Sir Foster, who normally plays for the Atlanta Hawks), became an immediate twitter sensation thanks to his renditions of a gigantic catalog of songs, and the halftime show was absolutely unbelievable. New Orleans legend Trombone Shorty did a great job leading the festivities, Gary Clark Jr. did a great job of bringing the blues, the impossibly dynamic Janelle Monae once again proved why she’s one of the must-see live performers working today, and Earth, Wind, and Fire brought the funk. The arena was absolutely buzzing well after they were done — the performers threatened to steal the show from the game itself. Great job, New Orleans, and thanks for another great All-Star Weekend. In a year, it’s off to New York for All-Star 2015.

Kevin Durant on relationship with Draymond Green: ‘Don’t ask me about that again’ (video)

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After their heated argument, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green are on the same page in at least one regard: They won’t answer questions about each other.

At least Green explained himself before shutting down follow-up questions. Durant wouldn’t address it at all. He was terse.

Really healthy situation Golden State has going.

Of course, the Warriors also have a ridiculous amount of talent. That will help them win, feel good about themselves and get past this.

But until Golden State starts winning, this isn’t going away.

Three Things to Know: Warriors won’t escape Draymond Green-Kevin Durant questions by getting throttled by Rockets

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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) The Warriors still have problems. Deep-seeded, dynasty-ruining problems? Not sure. But problems, nonetheless.

Draymond Green and Kevin Durant talked with each other. Green explained himself publicly. Durant wouldn’t address it in the slightest.

But a 107-86 loss to the Rockets leaves it difficult to feel good about the star forwards moving on productively from their heated argument.

This could be as simple as Stephen Curry being injured. Even before Green and Durant sparred, people were learning just how important the point guard is to Golden State.

And the Rockets are no easy out. They’re 3-1 since excising Carmelo Anthony, whom even Houston now acknowledges is done there, with three straight double-digit wins over Pacers, Nuggets and Warriors.

Still, it’ll be impossible to look beyond the Green-Durant dynamic until Golden State wins like it did before. In Green’s first game back from suspension, that didn’t come close to happening.

2) The Clippers are winning. That’s important beyond even underlying factors like how they’re playing.

L.A. has won three straight – beating the Bucks in overtime, Warriors in overtime and Spurs 116-111 last night. Against quality competition like that, racking up victories is crucial. Even if the Clippers stumble or have injury issues later, those three wins could be vital come playoff-seeding time.

At 9-5, the Clippers are tied for fourth in the Western Conference. But that’s just two games ahead of 12th. There’s no separation early in the West race, and there might not be margin for error all season.

Other teams will come around – like San Antonio. In a 1-5 stretch, the Spurs have been outscored by 61 without Rudy Gay and have outscored opponents by 24 with him. He was +14 in 25 minutes last night. As he gets healthier, San Antonio should improve.

But the Clippers don’t need to wait on anything. They’re deep and play hard. Lou Williams hits big shots. They’re ready to win right now.

3) The Nuggets avoided complete doom and gloom. After a 9-1 start, Denver had lost four straight. Jamal Murray violated team rules, and Nuggets coach Michael Malone pulled him from the starting lineup. But Denver still cruised to a feel-good 138-93 win over the Hawks.

Monte Morris started and played steadily. Murray was good off the bench. It probably didn’t matter much. The Nuggets likely would have beaten Atlanta with an injured Isaiah Thomas at point guard.

But Denver – especially star Nikola Jokic – still seems like a team that can get too down on itself when things aren’t going well. Momentum snowballs, even when it starts against the Hawks.

Draymond Green reportedly told Kevin Durant: ‘We don’t need you. We won without you. Leave’

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Draymond Green got into an argument with Kevin Durant so feisty, it caused a Warriors player to predict Durant will now leave Golden State in free agency next summer.

Just what did Green say?

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Green called Durant a “bitch” multiple times, sources said. In a summarized version, sources said Green shouted, “You’re a bitch and you know you’re a bitch.” The rhetoric, sources said, continued even when Kerr attempted to direct the team’s attention to his whiteboard.

Green blurted to Durant something along the lines of, “We don’t need you. We won without you. Leave,” sources said.

Wow. That’s pretty darned harsh. And if Durant walked away say saying “That’s why I’m out“… wow.

This would explain why Green’s teammates supported his suspension. He clearly went too far, as even he expected a fine. But this was quite the way to carry on.

When Green and Durant bickered last year in a similar, though less heated, incident, it was claimed Green was using “reverse psychology” to motivate Durant. I was never convinced whether that was accurate or cooked up after the fact to cover for Green’s misbehavior. Will we hear a similar explanation this time?

Scottie Pippen says Durant-Draymond beef could derail Warriors championship hopes (VIDEO)

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Scottie Pippen is a six-time NBA champion, and has played with some of the biggest personalities to ever grace the league. Charles Barkley, Dennis Rodman, Rasheed Wallace, and Michael Jordan just to name a few. As such, Pippen has some relevant insight into the superstar battle royale that’s happening right now between members of the Golden State Warriors.

On ESPN’s “The Jump” on Thursday, Pippen compared the situation between Draymond Green and Kevin Durant to his time with the Chicago Bulls. In particular, Pippen pointed out that both he and Jordan had issues with Dennis Rodman when he arrived in Chicago from the San Antonio Spurs to start the 1995-96 season.

Pippen also levied a pretty heavy take that not many have leapt to just yet, saying he felt the divide between Durant and Green could destabilize the Warriors enough to cost them this year’s NBA championship.

Via ESPN:

I didn’t like Dennis Rodman. I didn’t like Dennis when he came to the team, Michael [Jordan] didn’t like him, but we existed on the basketball court because we respected what Dennis did on the court and we knew the value that he brought to the game for us. But in this situation, where you’re talking about your teammates, that’s out of character for players. As a team, we bond. We lock hands, and no one is allowed in that circle.

As a player, we knew that this was coming I mean for pretty much the whole 90s our championship run was built on what players wanted. We went against management [a] numerous amount of times. But when it came to play, and we got in between the lines, we played for each other, we played for the city of Chicago. And I think this is one of them situations the players gotta look beyond any situation. This is not one of those situations where they can look ahead. They have to work out their own internal affairs, and right now this could cost them a championship. If KD don’t feel comfortable playing with Draymond, who do you walk away from?

I’m not sure if I am ready to go that far just yet, just because the Warriors have so much firepower when everyone is healthy it’s not clear who would step up and dethrone them even if Durant and Green remain icy toward each other.

The NBA as a league is astute at marketing players individually and putting forth the stories about how well guys get along. It’s also adept at hiding which players actively hate each other, especially when those guys are on the same roster.

Green and Durant have spoken, and although we don’t know if they will ever be friendly again, at this point we have to just watch what happens between the two stars.

More important is the health of the Warriors, and we are seeing just how much they need Stephen Curry now that he is out with a hamstring injury. Golden State has already lost to the Los Angeles Clippers and played a tight game against the Atlanta Hawks at home at Oracle in Curry’s absence.