Report: NBA, players union near deal on All-Star Game, protocols for break

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No matter what De'Aaron Fox thinks of the idea, there will be an NBA All-Star Game on March 7 in Atlanta, complete with a few skills competitions such as the Dunk Contest and Three-Point Contest.

Momentum has been building toward the game happening — in a controlled environment with limited fans — for a while, and the NBA and players union are close to having a deal on it and on protocols for players during the league’s five-day break in March, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association will have a finalized agreement for an All-Star Game on March 7 in Atlanta by next week, according to a league memo shared with teams and obtained by ESPN… The All-Star Game and skill competitions will be held at State Farm Arena, home of the Atlanta Hawks, sources tell ESPN.

Besides the game, players will have to get tested during the break and cannot leave the country.

During the All-Star break, players will be allowed to travel in the United States, including Hawaii, U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, sources tell ESPN. The concern around international travel centers on the possibility that players may not be allowed to re-enter the country as quickly as they wish, or that federal and state regulations on testing and quarantines could leave too much to chance, sources said.

Fan voting for the All-Star starters is underway. NBA fans account for 50% of the All-Star starters vote, with players getting 25% selected media members getting 25%. The coaches select the reserves. This year, it will be an Eastern Conference vs. Western Conference game, not the past couple of seasons’ captan-driven system.

The NBA called off the full-blown All-Star Weekend planned for Indianapolis before the season started. However, the All-Star Game is something that league broadcast partner Turner — the company behind TNT — wants to happen. It’s also a league showcase internationally and important to those broadcasters as well. Considering this entire NBA season is about making as much money as the league can considering the circumstances — while trying to stay healthy — it should have been expected the game would come together.

Reported optimism Towns, Edwards to return to Timberwolves Wednesday

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The Timberwolves could finally get their roster whole this week — just in time for a final postseason push — with the return of both Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards.

That could happen as soon as Wednesday, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Facing the Hawks and their bottom-10 defense could be a soft landing spot to bring Towns and Edwards back.

Towns suffered a strained calf in November that was expected to keep him out for 4-6 weeks. However, he had a setback in January, reports Jon Krawczynski at The Athletic, and it has taken until now to get back. Towns averaged 21.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game this season before the injury, but his efficiency was down (32.8% from 3), and his fit with Rudy Gobert and Edwards was clunky. The trio needed more time to sort everything out, but the injury robbed them of that.

Edwards rolled his ankle last week and it looked much more severe at the time, but he was listed as day-to-day and has bounced back quickly. Edwards is a player who prides himself on playing nightly and pushing through nagging injuries.

https://twitter.com/WolvesRadio/status/1637205927299526656

The return has come at a critical time for the Timberwolves, who sit as the No.8 seed as of this writing (tied for 8-10, officially) in a West where 1.5 games separate the No. 7 and 12 seeds. The Timberwolves need wins and getting their two best offensive players back should be a boost.

However, the fit of this Timberwolves roster — radically overhauled last offseason — was rough in the season’s opening month before Towns was injured. Now the players are being thrown back together for the first time since then. Having a real floor general and pass-first point guard in Mike Conley now should smooth the transition, but the Timberwolves don’t have a lot of season left to work out the kinks, and they need wins now to ensure they make the postseason (ideally as a No.7-8 seed to have an easier path out of the play-in).

Watch Dillon Brooks pick up 18th technical, will get suspended another game

Dallas Mavericks v Memphis Grizzlies
Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images
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Dillon Brooks sat out the Grizzlies’ March 5 loss to the Clippers after reaching 16 technical fouls this season — hit that number and the league gives a player an automatic one-game suspension. After that, with every two more technicals a player earns another suspension.

Brooks had gotten another and was up to 17 heading into a critical game Monday night against Dallas, when he did this:

Brooks will likely be suspended by the league Wednesday against Houston, the game where it appears Ja Morant will return to the court. Don’t look for the Grizzlies to appeal and try to get this technical rescinded, as coach Taylor Jenkins said, via Joe Varden of The Athletic.

“At this point, I don’t think we even try anymore,” Brooks said.

What was Brooks doing? Telling Theo Pinson he was a cheerleader.

Brooks’ rough night included him trying to do a jersey swap with Kyrie Irving after the game, but Irving not accepting Brook’s jersey (Brooks stepped on Irving’s foot during the game, aggravating an injury and had Irving leaving the building in a walking boot). After the game, Brooks admitted he needs to rein things in a little.

“I’ve got to tone it down and get back to my mindfulness practice and find ways to channel it better,” Brooks said.

Brooks needs to do this for the sake of his pocketbook — this is two game checks lost to suspension, and that doesn’t even include the $35,000 fine for shoving a cameraman.

Brooks plays with an edge, it’s part of what makes him effective — he’s the guy that gets under the other team’s skin. However, it’s one thing to walk the line and another to step over it constantly. Brooks needs to do better at knowing where that line is.

The good news for the Grizzlies and Brooks is the technical count gets wiped out for the playoffs and starts over (with suspensions starting at seven).

Three things to Know: Breaking down East playoff race

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Three Things To Know is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Breaking down East playoff race

Unlike the wide-open West, the Eastern Conference has settled into pretty clear tiers in the playoff race. Still, there are some races to follow with just three weeks until the play-in tournament starts. Let’s break it down, and start by looking at the standings.

• No.1 seed: The Milwaukee Bucks have this as long as they don’t trip on the way to the finish line. The Bucks have a 2.5-game lead (three in the loss column) over Boston with 11 games to play, and the Bucks don’t have a particularly difficult schedule. The road to the Finals will go through Milwaukee this season, and maybe more importantly, getting the top seed keeps the Celtics and 76ers on the other side of the bracket.

• No.2-3 seeds: Boston and Philadelphia are in a race for the two-seed and home court in the second round (although the two seed could have the more dangerous first-round matchup if Miami is seventh, more on that later). The 76ers have the toughest remaining schedule in the NBA, another advantage for the Celtics in holding on to the No.2 seed and being home in the second round.

The 76ers slipped to third after their double overtime loss to the Bulls on Monday where the teams combined to shoot 25% from 3. It was not James Harden‘s night (2-of-14 shooting, but with 12 dimes) and when Joel Embiid fouled out in the second overtime the game was all but over.

• No.4-5 seeds: This appears locked in — we are going to have New York vs. Cleveland in the first round. The Cavaliers have the No.4 seed by three games and the easiest schedule in the NBA the rest of the way, they’d completely have to fall apart for the Knicks to get home court in the first round. The gritty Knicks, with Jalen Brunson back in the rotation, have a two-game cushion to hold on to the No.5 seeds, which is an accomplishment in and of itself. Tom Thibodeau deserves credit for getting as much out of this roster as possible — and the Knicks will be a tough first-round out.

• No.6-7 seeds: Brooklyn is clinging to the final playoff spot, but the Heat are just one game back (two in the loss column). There are games one watches the Heat and thinks, “this team is catching the Nets,” like the recent win over Memphis. Then they go out and look flat against the Bulls and it’s hard to picture this team avoiding the play-in. The Nets after the trade deadline are a .500 team, but can the Heat play up to their potential and pass them? Or will Miami keep shooting itself in the foot?

• No. 8-10 seeds: The Hawks, Raptors and Bulls are all within a game of each other and it’s going to be a race to see who gets the eighth seed and has to only win one game to get out of the play-in and into the playoffs. Atlanta has the easiest schedule of the three, but the Bulls have been the hottest team with wins over the Heat and 76ers recently. All three are destined for the play-in unless one collapses, but getting the eighth seed matters.

• No.11-12 seeds: The Wizards and Pacers will need some help — and to help themselves — to get into the play-in. Making up a couple of games with 11 to play is a big ask and it means getting on a run and winning games, and Indiana has the second toughest remaining schedule in the East. fivethirtyeight.com gives the Wizards a 5% chance of making the playoffs, so it’s not impossible, but they need Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis to carry them to a lot of wins the rest of the way, then get a little help from a team above them.

2) Julius Randle puts on a show with 57, it’s not enough against hot-shooting Wolves

This game was a shooting clinic.

The night’s high scorer was the Knicks’ Julius Randle, who finished the game with 57 points, while hitting 8-of-14 from 3, knocking down shots that should have come with extra points for the degree of difficulty. He was impressive.

Then there was the Timberwolves, who were more balanced but equally hot, shooting better than 70% as a team in the first half. They also had Taurean Prince — getting the minutes of the injured Anthony Edwards — who was 8-of-8 on 3-pointers and finished with 35 points.

It was close and dramatic late, but the Timberwolves held on for a 140-134 win. This is a quality win for a Timberwolves team fighting to hand on to a top-eight seed in the West (and an easier path out of the play-in).

3) Warriors win on the road! (It still counts if its Houston)

The Warriors needed a road win, they got a road win. Who cares if it came against the team with the worst record in the West, it counts just the same. Stephen Curry was doing Stephen Curry things on his way to 30 points and the Warriors got the 121-108 win in Houston.

Klay Thompson added 29 for Golden State, which slid above Dallas (losers in Memphis) and into the No.5 seed in the West with the victory. Big showdown is coming Wednesday when the Warriors head to Dallas and face those Mavericks (Luka Dončić could be back for that game).

Watch Julius Randle score 57, Knicks still fall to Timberwolves

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NEW YORK — Julius Randle scored 57 points in one of the greatest nights in Knicks history. The Minnesota Timberwolves had the most sizzling start in the NBA this season.

Even in an era where the scoreboard totals seem to balloon higher all the time, this spectacular display of shooting and scoring felt different.

“It was a movie,” Minnesota’s Taurean Prince said.

The Timberwolves overcame Randle’s performance by riding a sizzling start and a steady finish to beat New York 140-134 on Monday night.

Prince scored a season-high 35 points and went 8 for 8 from 3-point range for the Timberwolves, while Mike Conley added 24 points and 11 assists. His three free throws gave Minnesota the lead for good with 2:17 remaining.

Randle’s final basket, a three-point play with 42 seconds remaining, cut it to 137-134, but he was beaten to a rebound by Kyle Anderson on Minnesota’s next possession, and a cutting Prince scored inside with 10.1 seconds left before Conley made a free throw after Randle was called for a technical foul.

That left Randle kicking himself for not making the defensive play on the night the offenses ruled.

“Jalen (Brunson) got a defensive stop, we’re down three, it’s my job to come up with that rebound, 14 seconds left,” Randle said. “If we do that, we have a chance to win the game – or not win the game, but at least tie the game. So I didn’t get the job done.”

The Timberwolves made more than 70% of their shots in the first half and led by 17, before Randle carried the Knicks back with a franchise-record 26 points in the third quarter.

He finished tied with Richie Guerin behind the only two 60-point games in Knicks history, Carmelo Anthony’s 62 on Jan. 24, 2014, and Bernard King’s 60 on Christmas Day in 1984. But the Knicks had their three-game winning streak snapped.

The All-Star forward threw down a powerful driving dunk in the first quarter but did most of his damage from much farther away. Randle made eight 3-pointers in surpassing his previous career high of 46 points.

The Wolves made their first 10 shots and didn’t cool off much the rest of the game, finishing at 61.4% and snapping a three-game skid despite playing without Anthony Edwards for a second straight game because of a sprained right ankle.

“We’ve got shooters, baby,” center Rudy Gobert said.

Gobert’s basket made the Wolves the first team this season to make its first 10 shots, and Knicks fans loudly cheered when Jaden McDaniels missed Minnesota’s next attempt, nearly seven minutes into the game. The Wolves led 42-32 after one, shooting 16 for 22 (72.7%).

Prince’s 3-pointer made it 70-53 with 4:35 left in the first half, but the Knicks finally put together some stops to cut it to 79-70 at the break.

Then Randle came back and went 9 for 10 in the third, hitting 5 for 6 beyond the arc. He raised his hand to fault himself after the one miss, an ill-advised attempt that missed the rim by a couple feet. But he could hardly be blamed for trying the way almost everything else he threw up was going in.

Finch said Edwards hadn’t done anything besides get treatment thus far, but the Wolves didn’t rule him out until Monday, indicating his injury isn’t as bad as originally feared.

“For sure there’s some relief,” Finch said. “But you know Ant, like Ant always wants to play. He never thinks he’s hurt, so hopefully it is feeling better, which he says it is. But in terms of pain tolerance, range of movement, stability, all those things, I think we’re trying to figure out where that really is with him.”