Three Things to Know: All-Star snubs are mostly first replacements this season

Cleveland Cavaliers v Detroit Pistons
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Three Things 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 going that make the NBA great.

1) These All-Star snubs are mostly first replacements this season

In a season knocked sideways with COVID absences and injuries, why would we expect the All-Star Game to be any different? There will be plenty of injury replacements — we know of two for sure already.

Thursday was time for the All-Star Game reserves to be announced. The fans voted and picked the starters, NBA coaches get the tougher job of naming the reserves — which always leads to some deserving players getting snubbed. Here is the list of All-Star reserves from each conference:

WEST
Chris Paul
Luka Doncic
Devin Booker
Donovan Mitchell
Rudy Gobert
Karl-Anthony Towns
Draymond Green

EAST
Jimmy Butler
Darius Garland
James Harden
Zach LaVine
Khris Middleton
Jayson Tatum
Fred VanVleet

First, congrats to Garland and VanVleet, who earned their first All-Star appearances.

There are snubs, but this season a number of those snubs (at least two, and that number will grow) will be in Cleveland anyway. Commissioner Adam Silver picks the replacements — and he traditionally names the player with the most fan votes not chosen as a reserve.

The biggest snubs? I’d start with Jarrett Allen of the Cavaliers — but he very likely will be playing in the game anyway because the Nets’ Kevin Durant (All-Star starter and team captain) already said he is out due to the sprained knee that has sidelined him (and sent the Nets to six straight losses). Allen has the most fan votes of any East frontcourt player not selected by the coaches.

Next on my snub list are Jrue Holiday of the Bucks and LaMelo Ball of the Hornets. Holiday could be watching the game with his family from the warmth and comfort of his home unless one of the East guards has an unfortunate injury in the next couple of weeks. Ball is in the Rising Stars game so he will be in Cleveland anyway, which means he could get the call up if there is an injury.

Out West, the biggest snubs are Dejounte Murray of the Spurs and Anthony Davis of the Lakers (who has played at an All-Star level and still disappointed Lakers fans, an impressive double). Davis could well be in Cleveland anyway, as Green has said his back/calf issue will keep him out of the game (he said on TNT he’s feeling no pain and doing much better, the Warriors are just taking it slow). Davis got the most votes of any West frontcourt player not in the game (well, technically, Paul George did, but he’s injured as well).

What would be interesting is if a second West frontcourt player bows out (LeBron James is due back to the Lakers soon, but he might be a player to watch). If Silver follows the fan voting, the next player in line would be Carmelo Anthony, but he is far less deserving of a spot than Deandre Ayton of the Suns or Brandon Ingram of the Pelicans. Where would Silver go with that call?

Other legit snubs: Miles Bridges of the Hornets, Jaylen Brown of the Celtics, Pascal Siakam of the Raptors, Bradley Beal of the Wizards, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of the Thunder and Desmond Bane of the Grizzlies.

2) Shorthanded Lakers fall to more shorthanded Clippers, which says plenty

The Lakers were without LeBron James, and we know what that does to this team. Still, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook were there and combined for more than 72 minutes and 47 points.

The Clippers remain without Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, yet Tyronn Lue’s team scraps, fights, and finds ways to win games. They have an identity. They are gritty.

Those gritty Clippers beat the Lakers because, in the final seconds, Reggie Jackson skipped past Russell Westbrook, spun around Austin Reaves, and hit the game-winning layup (the Clippers had Serge Ibaka and Marcus Morris on the court, which pulled Davis away from the basket leaving no real rim protection). Davis got his chance at revenge, but his game-winner rimmed out.

The Clippers’ front office built a balanced, deep roster to go around their stars, and even with their big names out, this team is 27-27 and looks like a play-in team.

Deep is not the word anyone would use for the Lakers — their depth is scattered across teams in Chicago and Washington — and they sit 25-28 despite all the star power. That’s not about coaching (although Lue, the guy that turned down the Lakers’ lowball offer a few years back, is doing a fantastic job); it’s about roster building.

3) Trae Young drops 43 on Suns to end their 11-game win streak

The Suns second-longest winning streak this season — which is insane when you think about it — came to an end at the hands of one Trae Young, who continues his ascent up the NBA’s list of stars. He dropped 43 on them.

The Hawks are hot of late, having won 8-of-9. While they dug themselves too big a hole to get out of the play-in games in the deep East (they would have to make up four games and leapfrog four teams, which is highly unlikely), they are the perfect example of the squad that the teams atop the East don’t want to see in the first round.

Highlight of the night: Anthony Edwards makes media wait while he orders McDonald’s

At age 20, Anthony Edwards is still in the “I can eat whatever I want and it doesn’t impact my body/play” phase of life.

Following Minnesota’s 128-117 win over Detroit on Thursday, Edwards walked into the media interview room but then made everyone wait while he placed an order at McDonald’s on the app so he could pick it up after he left the arena.

For the record, Edwards said he’s a McChicken man.

I love Edwards. He’s authentic. I’m not sure the Timberwolves’ nutritionist feels the same way.

Last night’s scores:

Minnesota 128, Detroit 117
Miami 112, San Antonio 95
Atlanta 124, Phoenix 115
Toronto 127, Chicago 120
Golden State 126, Sacramento 114
LA Clippers 111, LA Lakers 110

Khris Middleton reportedly set to return to Bucks Friday vs. Lakers

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The Milwaukee Bucks are about to get better. Likely a lot better.

Which should worry the rest of the league because the Bucks have looked like one of the two best teams in the Association this season: A 15-5 record with the best defense in the NBA and an MVP and Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Now they are about to get Khris Middleton back.

Middleton — the Bucks Olympian and All-Star forward — is set to make his season debut Friday night against the Lakers, reports Adrian Wojnarowski at ESPN. Middleton had been recovering from wrist surgery.

Middleton averaged 20.1 points and 5.4 rebounds and assists per game last season. More importantly in Milwaukee, Middleton is the hub of the Bucks’ halfcourt offense — he is the ball handler in the pick-and-roll at the end of games, asked to create for himself and others in the clutch (with Antetokounmpo working off the ball and sometimes setting picks). Without him so far this season, the Bucks’ halfcourt offense has struggled, ranked 21st in the NBA this season in points per possession (via Cleaning the Glass). Overall the Bucks have a middle-of-the-pack offense because of it.

That is about to change.

While Mike Budenholzer will ease him back into the rotation as he gets his wind back, having Middleton back makes the Bucks much more dangerous. Which is bad news for the rest of the NBA.

Three things to know: It’s Killian Hayes, not Doncic, who comes up with big shots in OT

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Three Things 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) It’s Killian Hayes, not Doncic, who comes up with big shots in OT

The Detroit Pistons had a two-part plan down the stretch and in overtime against Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks.

First, aggressively trap Doncic out high on every pick-and-roll, make him give up the ball and dare any other Maverick to beat you.

Second, put the ball in Killian Hayes’ hands and turn him loose.

The result was Hayes hitting two clutch 3-pointers in the final 1:15 of overtime to lift the Pistons to a big 131-125 win at home over the Mavericks.

“They were switching me into a one-on-one matchup, so I knew I could get a shot off,” Hayes said via the Associated Press. “The first one felt good and the second one felt even better.”

Bojan Bogdanovic scored 30 to lead Detroit.

A frustrated Jason Kidd after the game rightfully questioned his team’s defense — Detroit, without Cade Cunningham, put up a 126 offensive rating for the night.

However, this loss speaks to the larger issue with the Mavericks.

Luka Doncic finished the night with 35 points on 50% shooting with 10 assists, but he had just seven points and two assists in the fourth quarter and overtime as the Pistons focused on getting the ball out of his hands (Doncic had the same number of points in the fourth and OT as the Pistons’ Marvin Bailey III). Nobody else on the Mavs consistently made the Pistons pay. The lack of secondary shot creation is a real issue, and while it’s nice to see Kemba Walker back in the league it’s a big ask for him to change that dynamic. The Mavericks beat the Warriors the other night, but it took a 41-point triple-double from Doncic, and that’s what it will take a lot of nights.

Doncic is playing at an MVP level this season, and against Detroit he consistently made the right basketball play in the face of double teams. But the load the Mavericks are asking of him is going to wear Doncic down over the course of the season, and it will cost the team games. The man needs some help (and it may not come until next season).

2) Bucks Khris Middleton expected to make return Friday night vs. Lakers

The Milwaukee Bucks have looked like one of the two best teams in the Association this season, compiling a 15-5 record with the best defense in the league behind an MVP and Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Giannis Antetokounmpo.

And now they are about to get a lot better.

Khris Middleton — the Bucks Olympian and All-Star forward — is set to make his season debut Friday night against the Lakers. He has missed training camp and the start of the season following wrist surgery.

Middleton averaged 20.1 points and 5.4 rebounds and assists per game last season. More importantly, he is the hub of the Bucks’ halfcourt offense, the guy with the ball in his hands to create for others in the clutch (with Antetokounmpo working off the ball and sometimes setting picks). Milwaukee’s halfcourt offense has struggled without him, they are ranked 21st in the NBA this season in points per possession in the halfcourt (via Cleaning the Glass). It has held the Bucks’ overall offense back this season.

While Mike Budenholzer will ease him back into the rotation as he gets his wind back, just having Middleton back makes the Bucks that much better. Which is bad news for the rest of the league.

3) Celtics extend Al Horford for two seasons beyond this one

Al Horford, age 36, is going to stick around in the NBA for a couple more seasons.

Horford and the Celtics reached a deal on a two-year, $20 million extension (which kicks in next season).

This is a pay cut for Horford — who will make $26.5 million this season, the final year of a four-year, $109 million deal he signed in Philadelphia — but it’s a fair deal for both sides. This puts Horford closer to league-average money, which lines up with his value on the court at this point. Horford gets a couple more guaranteed years in the league, Boston gets a quality rotation player locked up, but at a low enough figure that if Father Time starts to win the race they will be okay.

Horford has had to play a more prominent role to start the season in Boston with Robert Williams still out following knee surgery. He is averaging  10.9 points and 6.3 rebounds a game, shooting 55.5% overall and 48.8% from 3-point range. Eventually, Joe Mazzulla needs to get the old man a little rest, but until the Celtics starting center returns he has little choice but to lean into Horford.

Celtics lock-up Al Horford with two-year, $20 million extension

Washington Wizards v Boston Celtics
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Brad Stevens has locked up the core of this Celtics team — the one that reached the Finals last season and has the best record in the NBA to start this one — through the summer of 2025.

They did that with a two-year, $20 million extension (that kicks in next season). The story was broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and later confirmed by the Celtics.

Horford, 36, is making $26.5 million this season, the final year of a four-year, $109 million deal he signed in Philadelphia. While he never fit well as a stretch four next to Joel Embiid, he has worked well as a role player in Boston’s front line. The Celtics have locked him up at a deal closer to the league average and about his value now, at an average of $10 million a season (both years are fully guaranteed). It’s a fair deal for both sides, and a low enough number that if Father Time starts to win the race it doesn’t hurt Boston much.

With Robert Williams still out following knee surgery, Horford has seen his minutes increase to start this season but he has handled it well, averaging  10.9 points and 6.3 rebounds a game, shooting 55.5% overall and 48.8% from 3-point range. Joe Mazzulla will likely try to get Horford some rest down the line when he can, but for now he’s leaning on the veteran.

And the team has rewarded him.

Donovan says Lonzo Ball’s recovery has ‘been really slow’

Milwaukee Bucks v Chicago Bulls
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Watching the finger-pointing and heated moments between Bulls’ defenders on Wednesday night as Devin Booker carved them up to the tune of 51 points, one thought was how much they miss Lonzo Ball‘s defense at the point of attack.

Ball had a second surgery on his knee back in September and the team said he would be out at “least a few months.” It’s coming up on a few months, so Donovan gave an update on Ball and his recovery, and the news was not good for Bulls’ fans. Via Rob Schaefer at NBC Sports Chicago:

“It’s been really slow,” Donovan said when asked about Ball’s rehab. “I’m just being honest.”

Donovan added Ball has not necessarily suffered a setback. The Bulls knew this would be an arduous process. But he also noted that Ball is “not even close” to being cleared for contact or on-court work.

Ball had his first knee surgery in January and the expectation was he would be back and 100% by the playoffs. However, Ball’s knee didn’t respond well, and he was eventually ruled out for the season. Things didn’t improve over the summer, which led to the second surgery. How much do they miss him? The Bulls were 22-13 with him last season, and he averaged 13.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 5.1 assists, a game. However, it was his defense that was most crucial.

There is no timeline for his return. Which is not good news for Chicago.