67RIEFNS No. 21: Kyrie Irving’s bonkers All-Star voting

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The NBA is full of talent, personality and suspense. During the offseason, It’s easy to forget how wonderful the league can be. So, I’ve assembled 67 Reasons I’m Excited For Next Season (67RIEFNS). They’ll be presented in no particular order.

Will you vote for Kyrie Irving as an All-Star starter?

Are you a big Cavaliers fan? Do you hate the Cavaliers?

Think about those last two questions before deciding on the first.

Irving signed a contract extension with the “Derrick Rose rule” trigger. The Rose rule allows players with four or five years of experience to earn more money if they achieve one of the following within their first four seasons:

  • Named to the All-NBA first, second or third team twice
  • Voted an All-Star starter twice
  • Won MVP

Irving, entering his fourth season, has never made an All-NBA team, so that mode of qualifying is out. MVP seems far-fetched.

But the Cleveland point guard started last year’s All-Star game, so doing so again is – by far – his best shot at qualifying.

Last year, Irving finished a comfortable second in Eastern conference guard voting:

1. Dwyane Wade (929,542)

2. Kyrie Irving (860,221)

3. John Wall (393,129)

4. Derrick Rose (359,546)

5. Ray Allen (250,909)

6. Rajon Rondo (174,654)

With LeBron James and Kevin Love joining him in Cleveland, there will be more attention than ever on Irving. That he won the vote so easily last year on a dreadful team is encouraging for him.

But if Rose and Rondo are healthy, they’re threats to overtake Irving. Rondo started with Wade in 2013, and Rose did in 2011 and 2012. Even Wall, who advanced further in the playoffs last season than Rose and Rondo, could push for votes.

The stakes are reasonably high for Irving. Here’s what Irving would earn – based on the NBA’s projected 2015-16 salary cap – if he triggers the Rose rule (gold) and if he doesn’t (wine):

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That’s a difference of $1,550,241 in year one and $8,913,889 over the five-year extension – all based on fan vote.

Three players have triggered the Rose rule, but unless he wins MVP, Irving could be the first to do so only through a popularity contest.

Rose won MVP. Paul George made two All-NBA third teams. Blake Griffin qualified by starting an All-Star Game in his fourth season, but later that year, he also made a second All-NBA team.

So, fans have a lot of power here – power that could greatly impact not only Irving, but the Cavaliers and the rest of the NBA.

With the salary cap set to skyrocket under the new national-TV contracts, there’s speculation Cleveland could have enough cap space to sign a fourth star outright in 2016. Every extra dollar Irving makes limits the Cavaliers’ ability to upgrade.

Considering Cleveland is the championship favorite and will likely hold that title for several years to come, the trickle-down effects could be immense. Beating LeBron, Love and Irving will be hard enough. Defeating that trio and a fourth star sounds downright impossible.

When the ballots come out, conflicts of interest will occur everywhere.

Would the Cavaliers campaign against their own player in All-Star voting? I’d be shocked.

Would they not campaign as hard for Irving as they would otherwise? I could see that. Some organizations don’t campaign on principle, which would give Cleveland some cover. Plus, this isn’t a franchise known for its respect of players.

How about Cavaliers fans? Do they vote for their own guy or do they try to preserve the team’s future cap flexibility?

And fans of other teams? Western Conference fans should stuff the ballot for Irving, doing their small part to open the championship window for franchises outside Cleveland. But fans of other Eastern Conference teams face a dilemma similar to Cavaliers fans: Their own guy or Irving?

There will be some unusual incentives in play. In the end, I expect Irving to start. There will just be too much attention on the Cavaliers, and he was already so popular.

But the potential for hijinks is definitely high.

Toughest player to defend in NBA? Jonathan Isaac votes for James Harden

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Orlando’s Jonathan Isaac is turning heads this season. He has turned into the defensive backbone of the Magic, a long, switchable player who can protect the rim and make plays out on the perimeter.

In the past week, coach Steve Clifford asked Isaac to match up with Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, and LeBron James. So who was the toughest to guard? (Via Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.)

Harden dropped 54 on Orlando to lead Houston to the win. It was his second game in a row with 50+ points and hitting 10 threes.

Nobody should be arguing with Isaac here. For one thing, he’s the guy who had to guard them all this week, his opinion is informed. Harden has six points while Isaac was matched up on him Friday night, but the Rockets scored 14 others. Harden did most of his damage when Evan Fournierwas on him, scoring 18. (Via NBA.com matchup data.)

One could make the case that Antetokounmpo and LeBron contribute more on the defensive end and that makes them more valuable (a debate that will come up again at end-of-season awards time), but as a pure scorer there is nobody like Harden. Ever. He has ridiculous shooting range and the best stepback in the league, he’s physically strong and finishes through contact on drives, and he has turned drawing fouls into an art form. Defending James Harden is next to impossible (and incredibly frustrating for those tasked with it).

Houston has built its entire offense around Harden, and they are contenders because of it.

 

Kevin Knox with an high-flying putback dunk… into his own basket (VIDEO)

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Give the Knicks credit, they have won two games in a row for the first time this season after knocking off the Kings. The return of Elfrid Payton at point guard — meaning they don’t have to play rookie R.J. Barrett out of position in that role — has given New York some floor balance and they look much better.

But there are still moments.

Such as this one from Kevin Knox, with the putback dunk — into his own net.

Mike Breen wanted to credit Buddy Hield there, and to be fair, Hield did come flying in and force the action. But that was Knox. (Hield got the bucket in the official scorebook).

Well, at least Knox is contributing something here.

Watch James Harden drop 54 to lead Houston past Orlando

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — James Harden found his 3-point shooting touch — again.

Harden scored 54 points, matching the team record of 10 3-pointers he set in Houston’s last game in the Rockets’ 130-107 victory over the Orlando Magic on Friday night.

“I just want to win,” Harden said simply. “Whatever it takes.”

Harden scored 50 or more for the fifth time this season and the fourth time in his last seven games. The rest of the NBA has combined for only five such games this season.

Harden was 10 of 15 from long range and 19 of 31 overall from the field. He also had a seven assists, five rebounds and two steals in 36 minutes, receiving a loud ovation from the Orlando crowd when he headed to the bench in the final minutes.

“I feel like we lost against just him tonight,” Magic guard Evan Fournier said. “He’s the MVP for a reason. We talked about in pregame that he’ll take shots, and we’ll just live with the results. He did not miss tonight, period.”

Harden set the Houston record for 3-pointers with 10 in 18 attempts Wednesday night in a 55-point game in a victory at Cleveland.

“When he’s shooting over the top like that, I don’t know what you can do,” Orlando coach Steve Clifford said.

Russell Westbrook added 23 points for Houston. The Rockets were 22 of 39 from 3-point range, setting a record for the most 3-pointers by any Magic opponent in franchise history.

“We just shot the ball extremely well,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “When James is like that, it’s hard for anybody to really beat us … no matter what kind of defense you’re going to throw, we’ve got guys.”

The Rockets pulled away in the second quarter, with Harden scoring 18 points, including Houston’s last 11 for a 59-49 lead.

Fournier led Orlando with 27 points. Aaron Gordon added 21. The Magic have lost three straight after winning four in a row.

Paul George, Kawhi Leonard combine for 88 points in Clippers win

David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images
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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — It’s hard to stop Paul George. It’s hard to stop Kawhi Leonard. It’s really hard to stop both at the same time.

George and Leonard showed what the Los Angeles Clippers had in mind when they teamed up the superstar duo Friday night. George scored 46 points, Kawhi Leonard had 42 and the Clippers held on to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 124-117 for their fourth consecutive victory.

“It’s special, two guys offensively,” George said. “The thing about it is, we’re dishing, finding each other, feeding each other. And then when we have moments to be aggressive, we’re looking to get aggressive, attack, look for our shots. It’s great when both guys can get it going”

Leonard and George became the first set of teammates in Clippers’ history to each score 40 points. It was the 21st time in NBA history it has happened. The last time it was done, it also involved George. He and Russell Westbrook did it for Oklahoma City last season.

Leonard and George’s previous high this season came Dec. 1, when they combined for 65 points against Washington.

“It’s great that we can have somebody else out there to help scoring the ball, making the game easier for myself,” Leonard said. “We’re still trying to build our chemistry out there.”

Karl-Anthony Towns had 39 points and 12 rebounds for Minnesota, which lost its seventh in a row. Towns had 14 points, including a 4-point play, in a 22-6 fourth-quarter run that trimmed a 21-point Los Angeles lead to five.

Andrew Wiggins added 34 points for the Timberwolves. His basket with 1:04 left cut the Clippers’ lead to 119-115. Minnesota didn’t get closer than four the rest of the way.

“Disappointed from the loss, but we fought back,” Wiggins said. “We were down big. Dug ourselves a hole. We fought back though. We went out swinging.”

Leonard and George set the tone early, combining to score the first 23 points for a Clippers team playing without Lou Williams, who sat out with a calf injury. In his absence, George and Leonard accounted for 54 of Los Angeles’ 65 first-half points. They became the first duo to each score 35 or more points through the first three quarters of a game in the past 20 seasons, according to ESPN Stats and Info.

Leonard made a career-high 19 free throws. He was 19 for 19 from the line.

“That was great,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “We knew without Lou tonight, every play was basically for those two guys. And they came up big.”

The Timberwolves took a 51-50 lead in the second quarter with a 15-2 run, capped by a Towns 3-pointer. Leonard responded with seven consecutive points to give the Clippers the lead for good.

George started the third quarter with a 7-0 run of his own. He scored 16 in the third, when Los Angeles took control by outscoring Minnesota 37-23.

“Forty-six and forty-two, they make it very tough on you,” Minnesota coach Ryan Saunders said.

Leonard’s 31 first-half points set a career high for points in a half. He tied a career high for points in a first quarter with 16.

“We got into our spots early, made shots,” Leonard said. “Paul carried us in that second half.”

Montrezl Harrell scored 18 points for the Clippers. Jeff Teague scored 22 for the Timberwolves.