LeBron James leads NBA in All-Star voting, ties Michael Jordan’s record

LeBron James with fans at 2020 NBA All-Star - Practice & Media Day
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LeBron James missed the All-Star game as a rookie in 2004.

Starter-choosing fans voted him fourth at Eastern Conference guard – yes, guard – behind Allen Iverson, Tracy McGrady and Jason Kidd. East coaches chose Kidd, Baron Davis, Paul Pierce and Michael Redd as reserve guards. Asked about hypothetically going as an injury replacement (that was never needed), LeBron disapproved.

“I wasn’t part of the ones that they picked at first, so I wouldn’t even like to be a part of the team if somebody didn’t go,” LeBron said. “I’m an only child and I never want to be picked second. I don’t come second.”

LeBron has frequently been picked first since.

Fans have voted him an All-Star starter the other 18 years of his career – half the time, including this year, with more votes than anyone else. LeBron ties Michael Jordan for most years leading the NBA in All-Star voting, nine.

That’s more than twice as often as anyone else. Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter and Julius Erving each led the league in fan voting four times.

LeBron has led the NBA in All-Star voting six straight seasons, a streak that covers the five years of All-Star drafts. The other captain is again Nets forward Kevin Durant, who led the East in fan votes but will miss the All-Star game due to injury for the second straight year. (LeBron’s injury sounds less serious.)

The 2022 NBA All-Star starters:

Eastern Conference

Western Conference

All-Star selections, not starts, get remembered. Which puts the microscope on Wiggins. He’s the only starter who might not have made the game as a reserve.

By the time the Warriors acquired him from the Timberwolves two years ago, the former No. 1 pick and Rookie of the Year on a max contact was considered a massive disappointment. Golden State coach Steve Kerr said Wiggins could thrive with the Warriors because “we’re not asking him to be a star.”

Well, Wiggins became a star anyway in Golden State by handling his duties in a smaller role and picking the right year to shine.

The Western Conference frontcourt race was wide open with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George injured. Wiggins finished third at the position in fan voting, which counts double the other categories. Media and players both ranked Warriors forward Draymond Green and Jazz center Rudy Gobert ahead of Wiggins. The media had Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns ahead, too.

With Wiggins in, everyone who was seriously in the running to start will likely make the All-Star game regardless.

Bulls guard Zach LaVine and Nets guard James Harden will probably get named reserves by Eastern Conference coaches. Ditto Mavericks guard Luka Doncic, Warriors forward Draymond Green, Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns and Jazz center Rudy Gobert by Western Conference coaches.

Suns guards Chris Paul and Devin Booker and Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell are also approaching lock status as reserves.

That’d fill the West roster before even getting to challengers like Spurs guard Dejounte Murray, Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Lakers big Anthony Davis, Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram, Suns center Deandre Ayton, Mavericks big Kristaps Porzingis, Timberwolves forward Anthony Edwards, Grizzlies wing Desmond Bane and Clippers wing Paul George (who more likely would have been picked if not injured). Some of those players had better cases than Wiggins.

Durant’s injury opens the door for an extra East reserve – helpful, considering the conference’s depth of viable selections.

Beyond LaVine and Harden, Heat wing Jimmy Butler is closest to a lock as a reserve. But that should have been the case last year, and Butler wasn’t selected.

Most of the East’s top reserve candidates are guards: LaVine, Harden, Bucks’ Jrue Holiday, Raptors’ Fred VanVleet, Celtics’ Jaylen Brown, Cavaliers’ Darius Garland and Hornets’ LaMelo Ball. The pool is so deep, the Wizards’ Bradley Beal and Heat’s Kyle Lowry are barely even mentioned, though they could draw a little consideration. Unless coaches skew the league’s position designations – very possible – or other injuries open more slots, just five of those guards can make it (and it would have been only four if Durant didn’t get hurt).

The bar is lower in the frontcourt with three spots for Butler, Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, Cavaliers center Jarrett Allen, Pacers big Domantas Sabonis, Bucks forward Khris Middleton, Hawks big John Collins, Heat big Bam Adebayo, Hornets forward Miles Bridges or Hawks center Clint Capela. Unless any guards who can be considered forwards and take a frontcourt spot.

Who should make it as reserves in both conferences? We covered that here.

The reserves will be announced next Thursday (Feb. 3). Then, the All-Star draft will be held the following Thursday (Feb. 10).

LeBron – whose team has won all four All-Star games with captain-picked rosters – will again have the No. 1 pick in the All-Star draft as the overall fan-vote leader. He has said fans voting him into the game has motivated him to compete harder in the exhibition (last year excepted).

Still going strong, LeBron first led the NBA in All-Star voting in 2007. He narrowly topped Yao Ming, who was right in the middle of his NBA career and is already in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

“That’s something I’ve never dreamed of,” LeBron said  of his fan-voting title at the time. “I’ve always wanted to be an All-Star, but being the leading vote-getter over guys like Vince Carter, Shaquille O’Neal, Dwyane Wade and Allen Iverson, you never think that’s going to happen. Just getting the opportunity to be the leading vote-getter is kind of unbelievable.”

All these years later, it’s no longer so unbelievable.

It has become the norm.

LeBron James passes Magic Johnson for sixth all-time in assists

Los Angeles Lakers v Milwaukee Bucks
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Magic Johnson is one of the greatest, most creative passers the game has ever seen.

Friday night, LeBron James passed Magic for sixth all-time in assists in the NBA. For LeBron, doing that in a Lakers’ jersey like Magic wore was special.

It happened with 8:41 remaining left in the game, LeBron found Anthony Davis for a 3-pointer on the right wing.

LeBron finished the night with 11 assists and 28 points, which along with a monster 44-point night from Anthony Davis led the Lakers to an impressive win over the Bucks in Milwaukee.

 

 

 

Jimmy Butler returns, hits clutch shots to lift Heat past Celtics

Miami Heat v Boston Celtics
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BOSTON (AP) — Bam Adebayo scored 28 points, Tyler Herro had 26 and the Miami Heat completed a split of two games in Boston, beating the Celtics 120-116 on Friday night after Jaylen Brown banked in a long 3-pointer to force overtime.

Heat leading scorer Jimmy Butler returned to the lineup and had 25 points in 36 minutes after missing the previous seven games with a sore right knee. He added 15 rebounds.

“Obviously having JB back is big time for us,” Herro said. “He helps us in so many different ways.”

Kyle Lowry chipped in with 20 points before fouling out in OT for the Heat, who sent Boston to just its second loss in 16 games.

“My team welcomed me back and let me do what I do,” Butler said. “It was a big `W’ for the team.”

Brown sent the game to overtime by banking in his long 3 with 1.7 seconds to play in regulation. He finished with 37 points.

“It felt good coming off my hand,” Brown said. “I know we wanted to get a shot up off the rim as fast as possible, just in case we missed we could get a rebound, a tip out.”

The Celtics had won 10 straight at TD Garden.

Boston star Jayson Tatum scored just 14 points on a cold shooting night, going 5 of 18 from the floor, including 0 of 7 on 3-point attempts. He had 49 points in the Celtics’ 134-121 victory on Wednesday night.

“That’s the biggest thing about the league; you’re not going to stop anybody from just scoring,” Adebayo said. “I feel like (we’re) making him take tough shots every time we play him and living with the result.”

Butler hit a clutch jumper over Al Horford, making it 110-107 with 5.1 seconds left in regulation before Brown took a pass near midcourt, dribbled to his right and nailed his shot.

In OT, the teams were tied twice before Butler nailed a foul-line jumper over Horford with 1:45 left, but Brown hit two free throws to tie it.

Adebayo nailed two free throws and, after Tatum misfired on a 3, Butler hit a jumper to seal it.

“Jimmy made two tough, tough baskets,” Brown said. “That’s just a credit to his work and his skill and his development. He gets going in games like this; on the road in a hostile environment. … Tonight, two shots that in our defensive scheme we could live with, but Jimmy a big-time player made both of them.”

Unlike Wednesday, when shots were open more and both teams were making them effectively (each shot over 50%), defense was tighter and it resembled more of the postseason matchup last season between the pair that went seven games before Boston captured the Eastern Conference title.

Anthony Davis scores 44, outduels Antetokounmpo (40) leading Lakers past Bucks

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Anthony Davis and LeBron James tore apart the NBA’s top-rated defense and gave Los Angeles Lakers coach Darvin Ham a triumphant return to Milwaukee.

Davis scored a season-high 44 points and James passed Magic Johnson on the NBA’s career assists list Friday night in the Lakers’ thrilling 133-129 victory over the Bucks.

It marked Ham’s first game in Milwaukee since taking over as Lakers coach after working as an assistant on Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer’s staff from 2018-22.

Ham and Budenholzer shared a big hug before the game.

“It was a beautiful night,” said Ham, who also played for the Bucks from 1999-2002.

It also was quite a night for Davis, a Green Bay Packers fan who delivered his big performance with Aaron Rodgers in the stands. Davis spoke with the Packers’ four-time MVP quarterback before and after the game.

“I saw him before the game and he said, `I need 30 tonight,”‘ Davis said. “I just saw him and he said, `I only said 30, not 40.’ It’s always good for him to come out and watch the Lakers play.”

James made a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 3:22 left and finished with 28 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds. He upped his career assist total to 10,144 and moved into sixth place, ahead of Johnson’s 10,133.

“It means a lot, obviously,” James said. “The way Magic approached the game, it was very infectious. His teammates loved playing with him because of the joy he played with and the ability to pass the ball and get other guys involved. He was always excited about seeing his teammates be great. I always admired that in him. What’s even more humbling and super duper cool is the fact that I’m doing it in a Laker uniform and knowing how much Magic means to the Laker franchise.”

The Lakers had the highest point total and field-goal percentage (.536) the Bucks had allowed all season. Milwaukee entered Friday with the NBA’s top defensive rating.

“It was too easy, too easy, too easy,” Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “They were living in the paint. That’s not who we are.”

Los Angeles withstood a 40-point performance from Antetokounmpo, who also had seven rebounds and five assists.

The Lakers also spoiled the 2022-23 debut of Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton, who had 17 points and seven assists in his return from offseason wrist surgery.

Milwaukee missed two potential tying 3-pointers in the final 20 seconds.

After Davis missed a fadeaway jumper, the Bucks called a timeout with 21.4 seconds left and then found an open Grayson Allen, whose 3-point attempt went off the side of the rim.

The Lakers’ Russell Westbrook missed two free throws with 13.3 seconds remaining, but Jrue Holiday couldn’t connect on a 3-pointer with just over five seconds left. Davis made a clinching free throw with 4.5 seconds left.

“Grayson got a good look,” Budenholzer said. “Good execution. Good screening. We’ll live with that shot all the time. And Jrue, similar. We got the kick ahead, playing against a defense that’s not set. Jrue, kind of a good rhythm shot for him. It was contested, but Jrue was 6 of 12 tonight (from 3-point range). He was feeling it.”

Holiday had 28 points for the Bucks, and Bobby Portis added 15 points and 10 rebounds. Westbrook had 15 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds for the Lakers.

Hawks’ Collins out weeks with sprained ankle, Hunter also at least a week

Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers
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ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Hawks will be without both of their starting forwards for at least the next three games.

John Collins will miss at least the next two weeks with a sprained left ankle and De'Andre Hunter will be sidelined for at least one week with a right hip flexor strain, the Hawks said Thursday.

Both departed with injuries during Wednesday night’s win over Orlando. Hunter played only seven minutes and Collins was hurt after a dunk that didn’t count at the halftime buzzer.

Hunter is third on the Hawks in scoring at 14.9 points per game, and Collins is fourth at 12.3 points.

Hunter, a fourth-year player out of Virginia, has yet to play a full season because of various injuries.