Three things to know: Why are All-Star selections always about the snubs?


The NBA season is in full swing, and we will be here each weekday with the NBC Sports daily roundup Three Things to Know — everything you might have missed in the Association, every key moment from the night before in one place.

1) Why are All-Star selections always about the snubs? These are good teams.

Every year it’s the same pattern, and I am as guilty of it as anyone: The list of All-Star Game reserves comes out, and we instantly focus on who didn’t make it. Who got snubbed. We love to argue about sports, and we love to feel our guy was slighted and play the victim. It’s why we argue about who is the 67th best team in the NCAA come March Madness.

There will always be snubs in the NBA because if you try to put together a team like this, there is never a bright and clear line at the end. It’s splitting hairs between good players.

The coaches selected good teams (the starters are a combo fan/media/player vote, but the reserves the coaches select). Personally, I would have gone with a few changes, particularly in the East, but there are no “how did this guy make it?” names on the list. Here are the 2021 All-Star Game reserves, as selected by a vote of the coaches:

Western Conference
Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers)
Chris Paul (Suns)
Paul George (Clippers)
Donovan Mitchell (Jazz)
Rudy Gobert (Jazz)
Zion Williamson (Pelicans)
Anthony Davis (Lakers)

Eastern Conference
James Harden (Nets)
Jaylen Brown (Celtics)
Jayson Tatum (Celtics)
Julius Randle (Knicks)
Zach LaVine (Bulls)
Ben Simmons (76ers)
Nikola Vucevic (Magic)

That will make for quality rosters for the March 7 game in Atlanta (that probably should not be played, but that’s another debate entirely).

There are “snubs” in the sense there are deserving players left off. Always are.

In the West, the obvious one is Devin Booker of the Suns (24.7 points and 4.3 assists a game, shooting 38.1% from three), who got edged out by his teammate CP3. Booker had high-profile support.

I expect Booker will get Anthony Davis’ spot (the Lakers have already announced he would be out past the All-Star Game with a calf strain). Mike Conley of Utah has a legitimate case for making it. Ja Morant of Memphis and De'Aaron Fox in Sacramento just miss the cut.

In the East, Trae Young would have made it in my vote and can rightfully feel snubbed. Young is averaging 26.9 points and 9.5 assists a game, shooting 37.9% from three, and Atlanta’s offense falls apart when he is on the bench. Khris Middleton also should feel slighted.

I’d also make a case for Miami’s Bam Adebayo (and probably Jimmy Butler, but let’s focus on Bam). Adebayo has had a monster first half of the season (19.6 points and 9.5 rebounds a game, plus playing elite defense in the paint), but for me, the argument for him gets to a bigger point (which a lot of people on Twitter hated):

While the current season should be the biggest factor in picking an All-Star, both last season’s playoffs and the simple question “who is the best player?” have to be considered. Making the All-Star team is not an award for playing 30 good games, it’s bigger than that. Adebayo (and Butler) deserve a spot based on that criteria.

Still, I don’t have a problem with the guys the coaches picked. It’s going to be an entertaining All-Star Game.

2) Luka Doncic is not fair

Luka Doncic has fast become one of the most clutch, most dangerous end-of-game players in the NBA.

He hit back-to-back off-the-dribble threes in the final minute to lift Dallas past Boston. Luka drained the game-winner with 0.01 on the clock.

That’s just not fair. The challenge with defending him is you could go Harden/Curry hard trap out high to get the ball out of his hands, but the 6’8” Doncic is a great passer who will see over the top of that trap and find the open guy.

Doncic finished with 31 points, 10 rebounds, and 8 assists for the Mavs. Jaylen Brown had 29 points and what would have been the game-winning lay-up for the Celtics until Doncic did his thing. Jayson Tatum added 28.

3) Cleveland gets game-winning dunk… and where was the defense?

Let’s focus on the positive first: Congrats to Cleveland for dramatically snapping their losing streak.

After Trae Young missed a floater, Cleveland pushed the ball down the court, attacked the rim, and Lamar Stevens made the play of the game.

But if you’re like me, you watched that play and yelled out loud at the television and nobody in particular, “Where was the defensive rotation? Where was the rim protection?”

Atlanta’s Solomon Hill was one of the bigs on the court for the Hawks, but he’s out high chasing Collin Sexton and forcing him to pass. Atlanta’s defense is crossmatched in transition, so Kevin Huerter is on Jarrett Allen and Allen seals him off out of the play. That leaves Danilo Gallinari, who tracked a shooter to the weakside corner, doesn’t recognize the rotation until way too late, and just ends up watching the dunk.

I feel for Lloyd Pierce.

Lakers’ LeBron James says he could need offseason foot surgery


LeBron James wanted back on the court. He saw the glimpses of what this current roster can do when healthy and focused — the same glimpses that have Laker exceptionalism running strong in Los Angeles — and he sees a West without a dominant team. Together those things mean opportunity.

LeBron could have shut it down when he felt something pop in his foot last month, admitting that two doctors told him to get surgery. However, the “LeBron James of foot doctors” told him he could be back this season — and he made that return Sunday. Still, LeBron admitted he could need off-season surgery.

“I don’t know. Right now, I don’t need it, so we’ll see what happens. I’ll probably get another MRI at the end of the season and go from there. But if I end up having to get surgery after the season, you guys won’t know. I don’t talk to you guys in the offseason, and by the time next season starts, I’ll be fine. I’ll be ready to go.”

As for what motivated him to get back on the court this season and not shut it down.

“Now we sitting at a chance to be able to… to hell with the play-in, we actually can be a top-[six] seed. That definitely changed my mindset on me coming back and trying to be a part of this, obviously, so — well, I don’t really want to say changed my mindset, it just enhanced what I was trying to do as far as my workouts, as far as my treatment and everything”

The Lakers sit tied for 9/10 in the West, one game below .500. While LeBron can say, “to hell with the play-in,” his Lakers would need help from the Clippers or Warriors to climb into the top six even though they are only 1.5 games back (time is short for L.A., if the Warriors or Clippers go 4-3 the rest of the way, the Lakers need to go 6-2 over their last eight). Los Angeles also is just a game up on Dallas for the 11 seed, and if the losses pile up they could fall out of the play-in completely.

With LeBron back, missing the play-in is unlikely. But having him back (and eventually a healthy D'Angelo Russell, who was out Sunday with a hip issue) also is no guarantee of wins — the Lakers still need peak Anthony Davis to compete. When he has a solid game of 15 points, nine rebounds and five assists (as he did Sunday), they lose. The Lakers need bubble Davis every night, or even if they make the postseason it will be short-lived.

Dončić dodges suspension, NBA rescinds 16th technical

Dallas Mavericks v Charlotte Hornets
Brock Williams-Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

This was unexpected, especially after crew chief Kevin Scott said after the game last night: “Doncic was assessed a technical foul for his use of profanity directed at the officials in protest to a no-call that was correctly judged in postgame video review.”

The NBA league office reviewed the incident (as it does with all technicals) and rescinded what would have been Luka Doncic’s 16th technical.

That 16th technical would have triggered an automatic one game suspension. With it rescinded, Dončić is clear to play Monday night when the Mavericks take on the Pacers.

Sunday night in Charlotte, Dončić was given a technical when he didn’t get a call on a leaning baseline jumper and said something to the nearby official.

This incident comes days after Dončić was fined $35,000  for making a money gesture towards a referee in frustration after a  Mavericks loss.

Through all this the Mavericks have lost four straight, 7-of-9, and have slid back to 11th in the West, outside even the play-in. Their team is disintegrating and if they don’t pick up some wins fast they have less than two weeks until they are on summer vacation.

MVP showdown off: 76ers to sit Joel Embiid due to calf tightness

Philadelphia 76ers v Phoenix Suns
Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

Recently Joel Embiid said,” ‘If I win MVP, good. If I don’t, it’s fine with me.” Today’s news plays right into that narrative.

Embiid has been playing through calf tightness for a few games now — he only played a half against the Bulls last Wednesday — but still putting up numbers (46 points against the Warriors, 28 and 10 against the Suns). However, there had been some concern in the organization about not pushing things and making sure Embiid is healthy for the playoffs. Which is why they will rest him on Monday night, short-circuiting an MVP-race showdown against Nikola Jokić and the Nuggets. Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN broke the news and John Clarke of NBC Sports Philadelphia has confirmed it.

Embiid did go through part of the 76ers’ shootaround this morning. The decision was made after that point.

Undoubtedly this will spark the load management discussion around the league again, and Embiid is going to take heat for this — but this is a situation where the team’s medical staff made the call, likely over Embiid’s objection.

From the 76ers perspective what matters is having Embiid healthy during the playoffs — they are going nowhere without him — and there is no reason to take undue risks with the team all but locked into the No. 3 seed in the East.

James Harden is still expected to make his return to action Monday from a three-game absence.

But it robs fans — including those who bought tickets in Denver — of one of the great showdowns in the league, and one of the more anticipated games of the season’s final weeks. The NBA has to find a way to balance player health with having their best players on the court for the biggest games. Keep telling fans the regular season doesn’t matter and they will start treating it like that.

Joel Embiid not stressing about MVP: ‘If I win MVP, good. If I don’t, it’s fine with me.’

Philadelphia 76ers v Phoenix Suns
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Joel Embiid is the MVP betting favorite — -160 at our partner PointsBet — heading into Monday’s showdown with the reigning two-time MVP Nikola Jokić (+180 at PointsBet).

Embiid campaigned for the MVP award the past couple of years but came up second to Jokić. This season, Embiid is not stressing about it. Or at least trying not to stress about it. Here is what Embiid told Shams Charania of The Athletic.

What matters — it’s just about winning, winning, winning. I’ve been focused on that. We’ve been doing that. Whatever happens, happens. If I win MVP, good. If I don’t, it’s fine with me.

Why hasn’t Embiid won the MVP? Outside of Jokić also being deserving and the complaints of Antetokounmpo and others that the criteria for the award are constantly changing (which suggests there are criteria for the award, but there are none officially), Embiid thinks it’s because he is not well-liked.

People always thought that I was crazy when I said this — I really believe that I’m not well-liked. And it’s cool with me, that’s fine. I’ll be the bad guy. I like being the a–hole anyway. I like being the underdog. So that’s fine with me. My thing is … when I leave the game, I want to make sure that they say: No one was stopping him offensively and defensively, and he was a monster.

There’s no doubt he will leave the game remembered as one of the great 76ers and a “monster” on both ends when healthy. However, resume matters with legacy and an MVP award helps with that. Just not as much as being the best player on a championship team, something more difficult to pull off because it requires a lot of help (it’s up for debate whether Embiid has the help he needs around him to win it all, and if they can stay healthy enough to make that run).

This season the MVP race is a tight three-way contest between Embiid, Jokić and Giannis Antetokounmpo (+450 at PointsBet). There are legitimate cases to be made for each member of this trio. However, with the Sixers surging (and the Nuggets stumbling a little), things may break his way this season.

Another dominant performance against Jokić with just a couple of weeks left in the season would stick in voters’ minds and help his cause.