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LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo pulling ahead as captains for All-Star draft, which will be televised Feb. 7

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After last year’s debacle, the NBA will televise the All-Star draft. Now, we have a firm date: 7 p.m. Eastern Feb. 7 on TNT.

Don’t expect it to be live. LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo are in line to be captains, and LeBron’s Lakers play the Celtics at 8 p.m. that night. I doubt LeBron will interrupt his pre-game routine for this. He and Antetokounmpo will likely record the draft earlier in the day.

The full fan-voting leaderboards:

Western Conference

Frontcourt

1. LeBron James (LAL) 3,770,807

2. Luka Doncic (DAL) 3,301,825

3. Paul George (OKC) 2,583,342

4. Kevin Durant (GSW) 2,432,134

5. Anthony Davis (NOP) 2,091,770

6. Steven Adams (OKC) 1,483,223

7. Nikola Jokić (DEN) 1,128,766

8. Kyle Kuzma (LAL) 899,237

9. Draymond Green (GSW) 660,276

10. DeMarcus Cousins (GSW) 450,480

Guards

1. Stephen Curry (GSW) 2,979,080

2. Derrick Rose (MIN) 2,712,938

3. James Harden (HOU) 2,315,093

4. Russell Westbrook (OKC) 2,090,432

5. Klay Thompson (GSW) 1,120,675

6. Damian Lillard (POR) 851,125

7. DeMar DeRozan (SAS) 850,415

8. Lonzo Ball (LAL) 764,892

9. Chris Paul (HOU) 419,410

10. Devin Booker (PHO) 405,432

Eastern Conference

Frontcourt

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL) 3,626,909

2. Kawhi Leonard (TOR) 2,882,227

3. Joel Embiid (PHI) 2,292,511

4. Jayson Tatum (BOS) 826,177

5. Jimmy Butler (PHI) 740,778

6. Blake Griffin (DET) 677,472

7. Vince Carter (ATL) 423,795

8. Pascal Siakam (TOR) 338,716

9. Gordon Hayward (BOS) 336,476

10. Al Horford (BOS) 291,722

Guards

1. Kyrie Irving (BOS) 3,187,015

2. Dwyane Wade (MIA) 1,738,043

3. Kemba Walker (CHA) 1,156,040

4. Ben Simmons (PHI) 941,368

5. Victor Oladipo (IND) 778,983

6. Kyle Lowry (TOR) 708,071

7. Zach LaVine (CHI) 440,568

8. Jeremy Lin (ATL) 341,024

9. Goran Dragic (MIA) 335,899

10. Bradley Beal (WAS) 251,170

The standings are taking shape. Not much movement from the previous returns.

The most significant race is between Paul George, Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis in the Western Conference frontcourt.

LeBron is a lock to start. Luka Doncic probably won’t get enough support in other categories of the All-Star starter formula – 50% fans, 25% players, 25% media – to start despite ranking second in the fan vote. That leaves two starting spots for George, Durant and Davis.

George leads Durant by just 151,208 votes for third place in fan voting. I’m not sure how players and media will rank the two. George is having a better season. Durant is the better player. It could come down to which of the two squeaks by the other in the fan vote, which carries added importance of being the tiebreaker.

I doubt Davis – who trails Durant by 340,364 votes and George by 491,572 votes – will rise in the fan-vote rankings. He’ll have to make up ground with players and media. Which he could do.

At least George, Durant and Davis are all shoe-ins to make the All-Star game. In the long run, we won’t really care who started and who came off the bench.

Kyrie Irving calls out Celtics’ young core after ugly loss in Orlando

Associated Press
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Kyrie Irving was unhappy. The Celtics were down two in Orlando with 2.9 seconds left and the ball, time for one final play to win or tie. The play designed by Brad Stephens had Irving starting out near half-court (almost looking like a decoy), he started to make a run to come in and get the ball but Gordon Hayward passed to Jayson Tatum who took an 18-foot fadeaway that missed, and the Celtics lost. Irving didn’t like it at all.

It was Boston’s second loss in a row on this road trip, it dropped them to the fifth seed in the East, and after the game a frustrated Irving vented that the Celtics’ young core doesn’t understand what it takes to win and be a championship team, how to live up to that standard. Via Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston:

“It doesn’t matter who you’re going against. It matters the type of preparation you have, what you’re going out and trying to accomplish. What’s the big picture? What are we doing here? These are things I don’t think some of my teammates have faced of just every single day. It’s not easy to be great.

“So the things you’re doing, that you’ve done your entire career, of being able to coast by in certain situations, and you’ve gotten away with your youth and stuff like that. Being on a championship ball club, you can’t get away with that….

“I was on the oldest team in the league, guys were on, I don’t want to say their last legs, but it’s all or nothing. Their window was closing, so they knew it,” said Irving. “Their joy in what they were doing was coming from a place of ‘This is my last thing that I’m doing before my career is over. I’m trying to win a championship.’ Every single day was built towards that.

“Here, these guys are coming into a window where it’s very big, they have 14 years, 13 years, however many years you wanna say, and you know the emphasis on every day doing it, it doesn’t become important to some young guys until they get later in their career where they have to appreciate their talent more, they have to adjust, or do something.”

Combine this with Marcus Morris shoving Jaylen Brown on the bench during a loss in Miami and it looks like there is a divide growing within the Celtics, with mostly veterans on one side and the young core on the other. How big a divide, how significant a problem remains to be seen.

Some of this was just frustration after a bad loss. How much more it is — or could grow into — should concern Celtics faithful. Is this just about a lack of experience, or is it something more?

This is still just the midpoint of the season, the Celtics are the five seed — disappointing compared to expectations — but with 40 games to get everyone in the locker room pulling the rope the same direction. Stephen can provide some leadership, but it has to come from the leaders in the locker room. Can Irving bring that? Horford?

Irving is right about this, the final steps from elite roster to championship level team are hard, much like the final steps up to the top of Mount Everest. Just getting there is difficult enough, but plenty of people still fall short of the summit, and you can’t underestimate those final steps. The Celtics are discovering how difficult those final steps can be.

Dwyane Wade scores 19, Heat hold off Celtics 115-99

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MIAMI (AP) — Dwyane Wade knew the Boston Celtics would make a run.

He also decided when it should end.

Wade scored eight of his 19 points in a third-quarter spurt that saved Miami from what was starting to look like a freefall, and the Heat went on to defeat the Celtics 115-99 on Thursday night. Miami led by as many as 26 shortly after halftime, then saw the Celtics peel off 16 unanswered points before Wade helped quickly restore order.

“I’ve been on this train with him for a long time,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He has a way of making all of us look a lot better. … Sometimes this league is just about having great players in those important moments, swing moments during the course of a game.”

Josh Richardson scored 18 points for Miami, which set season highs with 18 3-pointers and 33 assists. Derrick Jones Jr. scored 14, and Justise Winslow scored 13 points and added a career-high 11 assists for the Heat.

“We’re trying to move up. We’re trying to continue to get better,” said Wade, who helped the Heat even their record at 20-20. “You want to be able to win some of these games against the top teams.”

Kyrie Irving led all scorers with 22 on 10-for-19 shooting for the Celtics, who scored a season-high 135 points one night earlier in a win over Indiana – but were held under 100 for only the fourth time all season, the first since Nov. 17.

Irving went to the Heat practice court immediately after the game, shooting for about 30 minutes.

“Just good to get some shots up, just release some stress a little bit after a tough loss,” Irving said.

Marcus Smart scored 18.

Jayson Tatum and Marcus Morris each had 17 for the Celtics.

Miami outscored Boston 17-4 in the final 3:07 of the first half and took a 61-43 lead into the break – the largest halftime edge for the Heat since November. And an 11-3 run to start the third pushed the lead out to 72-46, which would seem to indicate that Miami was in complete control.

Looks were deceiving.

Boston scored the next 16 points, with Tatum getting six of them and the Celtics were right back in the game. Wade made a 3-pointer to stop the run, and scored eight points in the final 3:47 of the quarter as the Heat took an 83-72 lead into the final 12 minutes.

Tyler Johnson got a pair of 3s to fall in a 67-second span early in the fourth, and just like that Miami was back up 95-76.

“They really, really shot it and made big ones when we came back in the second half to stymie that,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “But that’s a result of being comfortable all night.”

 

Derrick Rose remains tight with Stephen Curry for top West guard in All-Star voting

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The NBA’s new formula for picking All-Star starters – 50% fans, 25% current players, 25% selected media – has sucked the significance out of the fan vote. When solely the fan vote determined All-Star starters, atypical results in voting returns were huge. But now they’re only a small wrinkle and will likely get ironed out with player and media voting.

So, the biggest takeaway from fan voting should be leaders in each conference. Those players (as long they’re All-Stars) will captain each team. As with the first returns, that’s LeBron James (West) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (East).

But it can still be useful to view the full leaderboards in fan voting. The latest update:

Western Conference

Frontcourt

1. LeBron James (LAL) 2,779,812

2. Luka Doncic (DAL) 2,220,077

3. Paul George (OKC) 1,859,216

4. Kevin Durant (GSW) 1,717,968

5. Anthony Davis (NOP) 1,564,347

6. Steven Adams (OKC) 1,034,014

7. Nikola Jokic (DEN) 740,918

8. Kyle Kuzma (LAL) 584,842

9. Draymond Green (GSW) 411,131

10. DeMarcus Cousins (GSW) 276,849

Guards

1. Stephen Curry (GSW) 2,094,158

2. Derrick Rose (MIN) 1,986,840

3. James Harden (HOU) 1,674,660

4. Russell Westbrook (OKC) 1,494,382

5. Klay Thompson (GSW) 706,960

6. Damian Lillard (POR) 610,839

7. DeMar DeRozan (SAS) 594,012

8. Lonzo Ball (LAL) 529,164

9. Devin Booker (PHO) 310,944

10. Chris Paul (HOU) 306,808

Eastern Conference

Frontcourt

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL) 2,670,816

2. Kawhi Leonard (TOR) 2,092,806

3. Joel Embiid (PHI) 1,710,229

4. Jayson Tatum (BOS) 599,289

5. Jimmy Butler (PHI) 569,354

6. Blake Griffin (DET) 500,072

7. Vince Carter (ATL) 273,719

8. Gordon Hayward (BOS) 237,813

9. Pascal Siakam (TOR) 206,290

10. Al Horford (BOS) 199,474

Guards

1. Kyrie Irving (BOS) 2,381,901

2. Dwyane Wade (MIA) 1,199,789

3. Kemba Walker (CHA) 858,798

4. Ben Simmons (PHI) 695,032

5. Victor Oladipo (IND) 567,893

6. Kyle Lowry (TOR) 488,825

7. Zach LaVine (CHI) 330,504

8. Jeremy Lin (ATL) 200,648

9. Goran Dragic (MIA) 191,541

10. Bradley Beal (WAS) 168,137

Derrick Rose remains very close – just 107,318 votes – from Stephen Curry for first place among Western Conference guards. Curry has slightly expanded his lead from the first returns (95,025 votes), but Rose supporters could be invigorated his high rank wasn’t just a flash in the pan.

Could enough players also vote for Rose to make him an All-Star starter? He’s highly respected among his peers. Maybe he could sneak in with no media votes, which seems like the most likely outcome in that category.

Because votes are combined using rank within each contingent (fans, players, media) and players without votes are given a rank one below the last vote-getter, this could come down to how many Western Conference guards get media votes. For example, if media votes for only Curry, James Harden and Russell Westbrook, Rose would count as fourth place in the media category. If even one media member also each votes for Damian Lillard, Mike Conley and DeMar DeRozan, that’d push Rose to counting as seventh in the media category. That could be the difference between him starting and not.

Overtaking Curry in the fan vote would give Rose more margin for error.

Luka Doncic remains second among Western Conference frontcourt players. But it’s difficult to see his peers or the media also voting for the rookie.

Dwyane Wade is also still second among Eastern Conference guards, and he might get some player votes as a sendoff. Still, it’s tough to see him getting enough media support.

If there’s going to be an unconventional All-Star starter this season, my money is on Rose. That said, he has a narrow needle to thread.

Three Things to Know: Harden gets his 42 but Bucks, Antetokounmpo will take the win

Associated Press
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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) James Harden’s 42 not enough, Milwaukee make a statement with win in Houston. Can you say you did a good job defending a guy who scored 42 points on 30 shots?

Milwaukee can make a good case. Or, at least the Bucks can say they enough to keep the superhuman James Harden from beating them on Wednesday night. Harden got his points, but he also had 9 turnovers to 6 assists, plus after Harden led the charge to get a 15-point Buck lead down to three late, Harden went 0-of-4 in the clutch. Meanwhile, Giannis Antetokounmpo was making plays like this to seal the win.

This was billed as an MVP showdown between Harden and Antetokounmpo, although one January game is not going to decide the award. Harden got his with that 42 and was making plays. But the Greek Freak had 27 points and a career-high 21 boards, playing a more physical and well-rounded game, including strong defense. Antetokounmpo also had five assists, although this is the pass that had everyone talking.

While the Greek Freak gets the headlines, the key to snapping Houston’s 10-game home win streak was Brook Lopez.

Lopez only had 7 points, but he was vital on the defensive end. Bucks defenders — Eric Bledsoe, Malcolm Brogdon, others — slid alongside Harden on his left side when the Beard drove, those defenders trying to funnel him to Lopez, who cut off the drives and used his size to block (4) and alter shots. Harden had 9 turnovers, and Lopez was able to recover well enough to force the normally efficient Clint Capela into a 4-of-16 shooting night (he had help there).

The MVP race was not decided Wednesday (not that it was ever going to be), but the Bucks made a “you better take us seriously” statement on national television.

2) Is Kyle Kuzma the Lakers’ second best player? He drops career-high 41 on Pistons. This season for the Lakers was about seeing who was their second best player and who could step up in big moments. More accurately, the goal was to see which of the young Lakers was ready to be on the big stage and could adapt to playing next to LeBron James.

It hasn’t been Lonzo Ball or Brandon Ingram, not consistently. With LeBron still sidelined with a groin strain, the two guys the Lakers drafted No. 2 and expected to step up were off again, combining to score 15 points on 16 shots.

Kyle Kuzma — a decisive, attacking scorer — has emerged as the second best Laker and the guy who has thrived next to LeBron (at least on offense). Wednesday night he attacked Blake Griffin off the dribble to get to the rim and finish (8-of-8 in the restricted area), knocked down threes from the left wing, and had 41 points to lead the Lakers to a 113-100 win over the Pistons.

Kuzma’s 41 was the most points by a Laker who played fewer than 30 minutes in the shot clock era. Kuzma did all his work in three quarters.

The Lakers have some roster issues to address this offseason, but they know that Kuzma fits as part of their short-term future with LeBron.

3) Celtics rout tired Pacers team and impress doing it. Sometimes the NBA schedule maker provides you a win — five of the six NBA teams on the second night of a back-to-back Wednesday lost by double digits. Count the Pacers among that group.

Indiana is one of the better defensive teams in the league, but on the second night of a back-to-back Wednesday night in Boston they were flat and could not slow an attacking, aggressive Celtics team. “It just looked like we were gassed tonight,” is how Pacers’ coach Nate McMillan put it after the game.

Boston took full advantage scoring a season-high 135 points. It was a balanced attack with seven players in double digits, and the Celtics had their most well-rounded game of the season. Jayson Tatum was putting up the highlights.

It’s a quality win for Boston against one of the other top teams in the East. They should just give an assist to the schedule maker.