LeBron James, Stephen Curry leading in early All-Star voting returns

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You really like LeBron James. But we knew that.

You really like Stephen Curry. But we knew that as well.

What is interesting is you have now fallen for Anthony Davis, John Wall and even Pau Gasol in Chicago. And Kevin Durant has some catching up to do.

That’s what we can take away from the first — and somewhat early — returns from the fan voting for the All-Star Game on Feb. 15 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The NBA released the early returns on Christmas Day. Remember that fans get to vote on the starters — two guards and three front court players — for each conference, then the coaches vote for the bench players that round out the rosters.

Here would be the starters if the voting holds:

Eastern Conference: John Wall, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Pau Gasol
Western Conference: Stephen Curry, Kobe Bryant, Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin, Marc Gasol

Here’s the secret about the early voting: There are usually not many changes between this and the starting five in the All-Star Game. Last season saw more than normal, and I think we’ll see a couple this year (hello Kevin Durant) but this is usually a pretty stable indicator.

Some quick thoughts on these returns (you can see more detailed voting return numbers below):

• Being injured left Kevin Durant in an “out of sight, out of mind” state but I expect he will climb the ladder and make it into the starting lineup if he gets healthy.

• Wow, that’s both Gasol brothers starting.

• Not surprisingly LeBron James leads all vote getters early on, however his is less than 30,000 over Stephen Curry of the Warriors. Curry even leads Kobe Bryant. Nobody used to lead Kobe.

• While Chris Paul and James Harden are normally locks, they are well back of Curry and Kobe. Not likely the West starting backcourt changes.

• Raptors fans are getting out and voting this year. Kyle Lowry deserves the support, but you can tell they are voting in numbers when Louis Williams makes the top 10 of guards.

• Will Pau Gasol really be able to hold off Kevin Love for a starting spot out East?

• Voting remains open through Jan. 19. The voting is now all digital — fans can vote on NBA.com; through social media networks including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Sina Weibo and Tencent Microblog; via SMS text, and the NBA Game Time and using the NBA Game Time from Sprint applications.

Here is the top 10 vote getters so far.

Eastern Conference

Frontcourt

1. LeBron James (Cle) 552,967
2. Carmelo Anthony (NYK) 265,170
3. Pau Gasol (Chi) 247,953
4. Chris Bosh (Mia) 208,549
5. Kevin Love (Cle) 169,818
6. Joakim Noah (Chi) 69,994
7. Marcin Gortat (Was) 57,715
8. Jonas Valanciunas (Tor) 52,318
9. Kevin Garnett (BKN) 46,494
10. Al Jefferson (Cha) 43,230

Guards

1. John Wall (Was) 299,209
2. Dwyane Wade (Mia) 265,917
3. Kyrie Irving (Cle) 237,356
4. Kyle Lowry (Tor) 182,896
5. Derrick Rose (Chi) 105,465
6. Jimmy Butler (Chi) 99,984
7. DeMar DeRozan (Tor) 51,946
8. Giannis Antetokounmpo (Mil) 17,512
9. Louis Williams (Tor) 15,329
10. Bradley Beal (Was) 13,911

Western Conference

Frontcourt

1. Anthony Davis (NO) 524,623
2. Blake Griffin (LAC) 307,908
3. Marc Gasol (Mem) 227,554
4. Tim Duncan (SA) 198,649
5. Kevin Durant (OKC) 191,881
6. LaMarcus Aldridge (Por) 152,253
7. DeMarcus Cousins (Sac) 117,003
8. Dwight Howard (Hou) 104,699
9. Dirk Nowitzki (Dal) 100,015
10. Kawhi Leonard (SA) 74,501

Guards

1. Stephen Curry (GS) 549,095
2. Kobe Bryant (LAL) 521,542
3. James Harden (Hou) 336,998
4. Chris Paul (LAC) 257,528
5. Rajon Rondo (Dal) 107,366
6. Klay Thompson (GS) 90,957
7. Russell Westbrook (OKC) 84,686
8. Damian Lillard (Por) 82,884
9. Jeremy Lin (LAL) 77,276
10. Tony Parker (SA) 50,287

Writer recants report that Larry Bird resigned as Pacers president because team didn’t spend enough

Pacers executive Larry Bird
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The report from ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan that Larry Bird resigned as Pacers president because the team didn’t spend enough?

Never mind.

Pacers release:

Statement from Larry Bird

“A published report indicated that I left my position as President of Basketball Operations in 2017 because ownership was not willing to spend “big money” and that it frustrated me enough to step aside. Nothing could be further from the truth. I want everyone to know I left there because it was time for me to move on from the Pacers.

“I had worked with Kevin Pritchard and at that time I felt Kevin was ready to take over and he has proven that. I can’t thank Herb and Mel Simon, along with Pacers Sports & Entertainment, for the opportunities to, at first, coach, and then later move into the front office.”

Statement from ESPN senior writer Jackie MacMullan:

“About three weeks ago during a discussion on the podcast The Hoop Collective, I misspoke when I expressed my opinion regarding the business practices of the Indiana Pacers, and inferred that Larry Bird had been frustrated during his time as team president. It was a careless remark, based solely on my opinion, and therefore should have never been said. Larry Bird never expressed those feelings to me, and I apologize to both Larry and team owner Herb Simon for poor choice of my words.”

I don’t know why the Pacers bothered quoting Bird, who still works for the organization as Advisor to the President of Basketball Operations. MacMullan’s clear recantation says everything necessary (and speaks to her integrity and humility).

It’s good this story got cleared up.

Some things that remain true:

Three Things to Know: Is it time to worry about the Laker offense?

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack — especially with games spread out every day in the bubble — so every weekday during the NBA restart we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) Is it time to worry about the Laker offense?

The Los Angeles Lakers have the worst offense in the bubble.

We’re not just talking about the 86 points on 35.2% shooting in Wednesday’s loss to Chris Paul and the Thunder, although that was a low point.

Four games into the NBA’s restart, the Lakers are scoring less than a point per possession while shooting 39.4% overall and 25.2% from three. Their offense has been worse than the Wizards in Orlando — and how many Wizards starters could you name right now? The Lakers’ starting five — LeBron James, Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Anthony Davis, and JaVale McGee — have a dreadful 74.4 offensive rating though four games (and a -30.1 net rating).

Or, since a picture is worth 1,000 words, take a look at the Lakers’ shot chart in the restart.

That’s a lot of red.

Should Lakers’ fans be worried?

Probably not. This is some small sample size theater with just four games. Coach Frank Vogel has been playing around with the lineup rotations, things haven’t been playoff tight. Plus, after the Lakers beat the Clippers opening night they had the top seed all but sewn up, there hasn’t been real motivation for L.A. to play its best.

More importantly, don’t worry because this team still has LeBron James (although he shot just 42% overall and 27.3% from three over the last four games). They still have Anthony Davis, who has been one of the MVPs of the bubble so far. Those two form the best pick-and-roll combo in the league, and so long as they are on the roster the Lakers have a chance to win it all.

The shooting is a concern — and not a new problem. The Lakers were a below-average shooting team in the season before the shut down (21st in the league on open look three-point percentage). We’ve watched LeBron’s play cover up the flaws in a team and take them to the Finals for years, and it certainly could happen again, but the Lakers shooting — and right now their entire offense — is a concern.

2) Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons leaves game with a knee issue

Non-contact injuries keep fans and coaches up at night, which is why Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons walking off the court with a limp and going straight to the locker room with a knee issue Wednesday was very concerning.

Simmons did not return to the game after that.

The good news is there is reportedly no swelling and the MRI came back clean, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic. Officially, Simmons is day-to-day.

Simmons had eight points on 2-of-10 shooting when he left the court. Through three games of the restart — where he is playing more off the ball as a power forward — he’s averaged 11.7 points and seven rebounds a game.

3) Memphis lost again, now 0-4 and could fall out of the eighth seed

The Grizzlies came to the NBA’s restart in Orlando with a 3.5 game cushion for the eighth seed, all they had to do was hold on to that through eight games. Now, after and 0-4 start, that lead is down to just one game over Portland.

On Wednesday, Memphis couldn’t slow down what had been a previously struggling Utah offense and lost 124-115.

The Grizzlies next four games? The Thunder, Raptors, Celtics, and Bucks. Memphis is going to have to find a couple of wins in there without Jaren Jackson Jr., who is out for the rest of this season with a torn meniscus in his left knee.

Before games started in the bubble, the idea of two teams passing Memphis — meaning the Grizzlies would fall even out of a play-in series for the eighth seed — seemed impossible. Right now, both the Pelicans and Spurs are just two games back, and both have soft schedules the rest of the way.

Memphis wanted to get some playoff experience for their talented young roster during the restart. Well, this is it — every game becomes must-win now for the Grizzlies. They need to be a focused team that finds another gear. For them to hold on and get in a play-in series will require a couple of wins in their last four.

The race for eighth in the West remains the best thing at the NBA restart. On Thursday Portland faces Denver, while New Orleans takes on winless Sacramento.

LeBron James: On behalf of basketball community, we won’t miss Donald Trump’s viewership

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NBA players kneeled for the national anthem.

President Donald Trump called the protest – which is meant to call attention to racism, particularly through police brutality – “disgraceful” and said he stopped watching games.

And in yet another predictable turn in this news cycle, Lakers star LeBron James fired back at Trump.

LeBron:

I really don’t think the basketball community are sad about losing his viewership, him viewing the game.

And that’s all I’ve got to say. I don’t want to – I’m not going to get into a – because I already know where this could go, where it could lead to for tomorrow for me. I’m not going to get into it.

But I think our game is in a beautiful position. And we have fans all over the world. And our fans not only love the way we play the game – we try to give it back to them with our commitment to the game – but also respect what else we try to bring to the game and acknowledge what’s right and what’s wrong.

And I hope everyone – no matter the race, no matter the color, no matter their size – will see what leadership that we have at the top in our country and understand that November is right around the corner. And it’s a big moment for us as Americans. If we continue to talk about we want better, want change, we have an opportunity to do that.

But the game will go on without his eyes on it. I can sit here and speak for all of us that love the game of basketball. We could care less.

LeBron has frequently criticized the president. Trump has also criticized LeBron. That’s how it goes.

In this case (and others), LeBron has the moral high ground. Kneeling during the national anthem is a patriotic act designed to make the United States a better place for all its people to live – something far more noble than saluting a piece of cloth during a song.

However, LeBron is wrong to speak for the entire basketball community. A lot of people love basketball. They don’t all hold the same political views. Some care about remaining in the good graces of the president of the United States, whomever that is. Some even care about the approval of Trump specifically.

Is there a limit on how much you love basketball if you’d stop watching because of a peaceful protest before a game? Obviously. But there’s still room to love basketball and also care about other things.

LeBron doesn’t have to personally dignify people who care both about basketball and Trump. But LeBron shouldn’t try to speak on their behalf, either.

LeBron’s rebuke would have been powerful enough (and more fair) on its own.

 

Jazz forward Joe Ingles joins Grizzlies huddle, drapes arms over Memphis players (video)

Jazz forward Joe Ingles vs. Grizzlies
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Jazz forward Joe Ingles has no boundaries with huddles.

Ingles invaded the Grizzlies huddle today, even putting his arms around – and some weight on – Dillon Brooks and Grayson Allen. Gorgui Dieng appeared to notice the intruder just before the video cut away:

Beyond the hijinks, Ingles also scored 25 points – including 12 in the fourth quarter – to lead Utah to a 124-115 win.