CHARLOTTE –Mike Conley arrived about 15 minutes late to his press conference this morning. He said arena personnel initially didn’t allow him in, forcing him to go around until someone let him through.
It’s the story of his career and getting to All-Star.
“Just going to make me go around in circles until one day letting me in, right?” Conley said.
The Grizzlies point guard is widely recognized as the best active player never to be an All-Star. But Conley – who will compete in the Skills Challenge tonight – is back at All-Star Weekend for the first time since his rookie year, when he played in the 2008 Rookie Challenge.
Back then, Conley was still hyped as the No. 4 pick in the 2007 draft. He figured the Rookie Challenge would be just the start of many trips to All-Star Weekend. But he didn’t progress in his second season enough to get picked for even the sophomore team in the Rookie Challenge.
“It was tough,” Conley said. “The first year you get invited, you feel like you’re doing good things. The second year, you don’t get invited, and it’s frustrating.”
“But stuff like that helped drive you a little bit, helped give you that motivation to put yourself out there again and hopefully one day you’ll be coming back as an All-Star.”
Time is running out.
Conley will be in his 13th season next year. Nobody has ever made their first All-Star game that late in their career. Kyle Korver (2015 Hawks), Tyson Chandler (2013 Knicks) and Vlade Divac (2001 Kings) first became All-Stars in their 12th seasons.
So, Conley made his way to Charlotte for the Skills Challenge this year. He fondly recalls his dad – Mike Conley Sr., an Olympic gold-medal triple jumper – taking him to events as a kid and getting pictures with him and famous people. Conley said he has already gotten pictures this weekend of his children with Fabolous, Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul.
The vacation also timed up well for Conley, who was subject of numerous rumors before last week’s trade deadline. Memphis traded Marc Gasol to the Raptors but kept Conley.
“I just needed a break from all the hoopla and trade rumors and trade talks, and just get away, get my family out here, try to have fun with these guys and experience something other than reading Twitter and Instagram about where I’m going to be at next, “Conley said.
Conley called All-Star Weekend “a big party” and said he particularly appreciated the camaraderie with fellow players. Even in a crowd of stars, Conley stands out.
“The players really respect me and every one of them, like, ‘Man, I can’t believe you haven’t been an All-Star. You should be one. You should have been one this year,'” Conley said. “It’s the same thing over and over. But it’s cool to know they at least recognize it.”
Is there something special about being known as the best player in the game who hasn’t been an All-Star?
“I’d rather have just been an All-Star,” Conley said.
Luka Doncic had more points, rebounds and assists than Warriors in first quarter
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) Kawhi Leonard, Paul George’s first game together is both sloppy and shows moments of real promise. This was what the Clippers had been waiting for since July, what they had paid a steep price to make a reality and change the course of a franchise.
Paul George and Kawhi Leonard shared an NBA court for the first time and it was…
A bit awkward, like a blind first date. Credit Boston’s active defense for some of that — it’s not a fluke Boston has the seventh-best defense in the league this season and forced 23 turnovers on the night — but through the muck there were moments of real promise. Like the first play of the game, when the Celtics trapped Leonard off an Ivica Zubac pick, Leonard fed Zubac, who quickly found Leonard for a three.
For much of the game, things were not as smooth with those two on the court together — as should be expected. George missed the first 11 games of the season following double shoulder surgery this offseason. Once he returned, Leonard was out three games with a bruised knee. The pair had literally one practice together, and in the full-contact scrimmage to end that day they were on opposing sides.
This marriage going to take time. The Clippers didn’t even explore a Leonard/George pick-and-roll in this game, but you know that’s coming. As Doc Rivers put it postgame:
“We were kind of trying not to get in each other’s way at times, you could feel that…
“We need a lot of work, you can see that… part of that was we were trying to get the ball to guys instead of trying to score.”
With the game on the line in overtime against one of the NBA’s better and hotter teams in Boston, two things that make the Clippers so dangerous were evident.
One is the defense — George and Leonard each made big defensive plays late, including Leonard blocking Marcus Smart’s attempt at a game-winner.
All game long the Clippers length and defense gave Boston — which came into the game with the league’s fourth-best offense — trouble.
Second is Leonard and George have a good team around them — Patrick Beverley was the best Clipper on the floor Wednesday night and the team gave him the game ball afterward. He was intense on defense (as always), had 14 points and 16 boards, and with the Celtics making the choice to trap and double on offense guys were open, and it was Beverley who made Boston pay with the overtime dagger to seal a 107-104 win.
The Clippers, for all their star power, look a lot like Beverley. This is a scrappy, hard-working team with guys who play their roles and bring intensity. Even their stars are that way — George and Leonard are not anointed No. 1 picks where everyone saw their stardom coming, they are lunch pail guys who had talent but came out of smaller colleges and had to work hard to get where they are. Nothing was handed to them, they had to grind it out.
This is why pairing Leonard and George was always going to take a little time to make work. They were always going to have to figure it out.
But when they do…. you can already see why the rest of the league should be worried.
2) Another night, another ridiculous Luka Doncic triple-double. This feels like a nightly thing, and I’m fast running out of ways to praise Luka Doncic, his play, and to remind everyone that he’s just 20 years old and in his second NBA season.
Age doesn’t matter, he’s been so good he’s injected himself into the way-too-early MVP conversation. His latest feat Friday night was a 35-point, 11 assists, 10 rebound triple-double against the hapless Warriors — this time he did it in just 25 minutes on the court.
Doncic scored more points in the first quarter than the Warriors (22-16) and also had more rebounds and assists than the Warriors team. The last guy to do that to any NBA team was Allen Iverson.
Doncic is now averaging a triple-double over his last 10 games: 31.9 points, 11.4 rebounds, and 10.5 assists in that stretch. Here’s the list of other NBA players to average a 30+ point triple-double for 10 games or more: Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Oscar Robertson. That’s it.
Doncic is special, has willed the Mavericks to a 9-5 record, and has them looking like a playoff team in the West. Lifting up your team to the next level is what MVPs do, and so far in Dallas it’s what Doncic has done.
3) Do you believe in miracles… YES! Ben Simmons hits his first NBA three. That headline may overstate the excitement around Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons on Wednesday. But not by that much. Sixers fans — and coach Brett Brown — has had to wait three seasons, 193 games, and 18 attempts from three clank off the rim, if they hit anything at all. (Those numbers include his playoff stats.) It finally happened:
Ben Simmons has made his first NBA three.
We’ve all seen the videos of Simmons knocking down threes in an empty gym, but that’s the NBA equivalent of dunking on an 8-foot rim at the local elementary school. Not the same thing.
This was Simmons’ first attempt at a three all season — that’s the real concern. To create floor spacing Philly wants and needs, Simmons needs to be much more willing to uncork this shot — he’s got to take a bunch and make enough of them before teams respect him from deep.
This is at least a start. And it feels like a miracle.
There’s a mural in L.A. of Alex Caruso dunking over Harden, Leonard, Doncic
It’s hard to overstate how popular Alex Caruso is in Los Angeles. Seriously. This isn’t just cult status popular, when he enters the game off the bench Staples Center explodes in cheers like LeBron James just fed Anthony Davis for an alley-oop.
This is legit, it’s on the side of SportieLA, a clothing/apparel store on Melrose Ave. in the trendy heart of Los Angeles. Artist Gustavo Zermeño Jr. has done murals in the past for LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and other Los Angeles sports icons such as Vin Scully.
This one plays off a huge Caruso dunk from earlier this month when Dallas’ Maxi Kleber was the victim.
It’s good to be Alex Caruso in Los Angeles right now.
Kawhi Leonard just destroyed Boston’s Daniel Theis on dunk
After the game, Leonard was asked about the dunk and he responded in about the most Kawhi way possible.
Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard goes full monotone to describe blow-by-blow his poster dunk on Daniel Theis and game-sealing block: “What do you want me to say? Patrick threw me the ball, I took two dribbles into the paint and tried to jump high and dunk the basketball.” pic.twitter.com/tKkwC7REmZ