Embiid, Morant, Lillard headline list of All-Star Game reserves

Memphis Grizzlies v Portland Trail Blazers
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
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Joel Embiid was a lock. Few others were.

The fans made their voice heard and selected the five All-Star game starters from each conference. Embiid was the odd man out in the East frontcourt (there was going to be a snub no matter who was left off), and we can debate if Zion Williamson has played enough games to deserve being named a starter, but there were no egregious choices.

The brutal selections are always the last couple of reserves — there are more deserving players than spots — and that choice falls to the league’s coaches, who vote to pick the seven bench players from each conference (three frontcourt players, two guards, and two wildcards).

Here are the 2023 All-Star Game reserves.

WEST

Ja Morant (Memphis Grizzlies)
Domantas Sabonis (Sacramento Kings)
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Oklahoma City Thunder)
Paul George (Los Angeles Clippers)
Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers)
Lauri Markkanen (Utah Jazz)
Jaren Jackson Jr. (Memphis Grizzlies)

West Biggest Snubs: Anthony Davis, Devin Booker, De'Aaron Fox, Anthony Edwards

EAST

Joel Embiid (Philadephia 76ers)
DeMar DeRozan (Chicago Bulls)
Jaylen Brown (Boston Celtics)
Bam Adebayo (Miami Heat)
Jrue Holiday (Milwaukee Bucks)
Julius Randle (New York Knicks)
Tyrese Haliburton (Indiana Pacers)

East Biggest Snubs: Trae Young, James Harden, Jimmy Butler, Pascal Siakam, Jalen Brunson

Here are some thoughts and notes on the selections:

• This is the first All-Star game for Gilgeous-Alexander, Jackson and Haliburton — and they all deserved it.

• For my money, the biggest snub is Pascal Siakam of the Raptors. While the team has disappointed, Siakam has played not just at an All-Star level but at an All-NBA level averaging 24.9 points, 8 rebounds and 6.2 assists a game, plus solid defense. He is a top 15 player in the league, let alone top 24.

• Davis and Booker not making the roster must be solely a matter of games missed for the coaches, because both are deserving.

• Jaren Jackson Jr. making it may be the biggest surprise — he’s an elite defender and solid offensive player, but he also missed the first 14 games of the season and defense-first players have a hard time getting the nod for a fan exhibition. The coaches voting in Adebayo from the Heat over Butler was thinking along the same lines, the coaches appreciate the defense and well-rounded game of the Miami big man.

• The coaches put one Heat player and one Knick on the team, balancing the scales for two teams who could have made a case for two players.

Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks) and LeBron James (Los Angeles Lakers) will be the team captains this season (as voted by the fans), who will select their starters from a pool consisting of Kevin Durant (Brooklyn Nets), Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics), Donovan Mitchell (Cleveland Cavaliers), Kyrie Irving (Brooklyn Nets), Nikola Jokic (Denver Nuggets), Zion Williamson (New Orleans Pelicans), Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors), and Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks).

• In a change to the format this year, James and Antetokounmpo will pick their teams on the court — playground style — just before the All-Star Game. They will choose from a pool of starters, and then the backups from the group of reserves above.

• The Celtics’ Joe Mazzulla will coach Team Giannis, while the Nuggets’ Michael Malone will coach Team LeBron.

• The All-Star Game will take place Feb. 19 in Salt Lake City. The entire weekend of events will be broadcast on TNT.

• As it has been the past few years, teams will play the first three quarters somewhat traditionally (although the winner of each quarter individually raises money for its team charity). Then the clock will be turned off for the fourth quarter and the first team to reach a target score — 24 points (in honor of Kobe) higher than the total of the team leading after three quarters. Meaning simply, if team Giannis leads 100-99 after three quarters, the first team to get to 124 wins.

NBA Power Rankings: 76ers move into top spot with Celtics, Bucks in top three

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The Philadelphia 76ers move into the top spot in the NBC Sports NBA Power Rankings on the back of their statement win over the Nuggets. Boston and Milwaukee make it an all-East top three.

 
Sixers small icon 1. 76ers (32-17, Last week No. 2). P.J. Tucker has taken heat for his lack of scoring this season, but he reminded everyone why he was brought in on Saturday — he was the defensive answer that slowed and befuddled Nikola Jokić in the second half. His play, and Joel Embiid making an MVP statement with 47 points, earned the 76ers a statement win (and a spot on top of this week’s rankings). On another note, never say James Harden doesn’t play defense — here he rushes onto the court to help defend, once he realizes they only have four players and nobody subbed in for him.

 
Celtics small icon 2. Celtics (36-15, LW 3). Joe Mazzulla tried to play it down, but he and his staff being named to coach Team Giannis in the All-Star Game is a big deal and a sign of the impressive work he has done this season (and a reason they may want to take that “interim” tag off his title, although that gets complex with the Ime Udoka suspension). Mazzulla’s Celtics lost three straight — and it should have been four after the no-call on LeBron James — which followed a nine-game win streak. What changed? The offense fell off a cliff, they have a 108 offensive rating over their last five games that would be 26th in the league over that stretch. It isn’t just those five games, the Celtics offense has been down throughout January (19th in the league for the month).

 
Bucks small icon 3. Bucks (34-17, LW 5). Great stat from Justin Kubatko: In beating the Pacers on Friday night, the Bucks became the first team in NBA history to score 80+ points in the first half of consecutive road games. They scored 140+ in those road games as well. That’s just one sign of a hot Milwaukee team that has won 6-of-7 with a top-10 offense and defense in that stretch. Tough tests this week though with the Clippers and Heat, both at the Fiserv Forum.

 
Nuggets small icon 4. Nuggets (35-16, LW 1). Bones Hyland has become one of the hottest names on the trade market — Denver (particularly coach Michael Malone) is ready to move on, and Hyland wants to be somewhere he gets a little more run. Expect a deal to get done in the next week, and what the Nuggets want in return is some defense (they aren’t going to get much for Hyland alone, but they are looking). Denver went 1-2 on its recent road trip and it wasn’t just P.J. Tucker causing them second-half problems — they almost blew a second-half lead against the Pelicans, then got blown out in the second half by the Bucks.

 
Cavaliers small icon 5. Cavaliers (31-22, LW 8). Donovan Mitchell is back, but while he was out Darius Garland has stepped up and ran the offense well, making his All-Star case (it’s not going to be enough in a crowded East, at least not this season). Mitchell is a deserving starter but likely is the lone Cavalier to make it this season (Evan Mobley will play in the Rising Stars Challenge Friday night). The Cavaliers would love to be buyers at the trade deadline and fill that 3&D wing spot, but no long-term answers appear to be out there on the market, meaning Isaac Okoro will continue to get his chance to prove that job should be his.

 
Nets small icon 6. Nets (31-19, LW 6). Brooklyn has gone 4-6 since Kevin Durant went out, with Kyrie Irving carrying the load averaging 31.2 points per game in that stretch, shooting 41.4% from 3 and dishing out 7.1 assists per night. Nic Claxton playing the best basketball of his career of late has helped their cause the last 10, too. Minimal Brooklyn buzz at the trade deadline, not sure they will make a move one way or the other, just wait for KD to get healthy and make their run at the postseason. (Durant said he wants to be back and play in the All-Star Game in two weeks, we’ll see. The smart move might be to hold him out past the ASG and let him get an extra week of rest.)

 
Grizzlies small icon 7. Grizzlies (32-18, LW 4). There is not a lot of talk from sources about the Grizzlies being eager to make a big splash at the deadline, but no team may be better positioned to do so. Memphis has a boatload of picks they can trade, a very movable contract in Danny Green (who made his return this week), and if they could land someone who would spark their half-court offense, it would make a lot of sense. That said, this has been a franchise with a build-from-within mindset and that doesn’t seem likely to suddenly change with a bold move. Memphis dropped all five games on their recent road trip, and how much they miss Steven Adams doing all the little things is painfully obvious (he is out another month or so).

 
Heat small icon 8. Heat (29-23, LW 9). The Heat are looking for a trade at the deadline, ideally help at the four — hello Jae Crowder — or a way to move Kyle Lowry for an upgrade at the point. However, neither option seems likely. Miami has played better and looked more dangerous of late as they start to get healthy, having won 8-of-11, but then they have a loss like the one to Charlotte that makes you understand why Heat fans might be the angriest on Twitter (according to a recent study). Miami has been winning thanks to a couple of All-Star level players in Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, but it’s unlikely the coaches will give the Heat two All-Stars as reserves. The smart money is on Adebayo making the cut, coaches love the way he plays the game, but both are on the bubble.

 
Kings small icon 9. Kings (28-21, LW 7). With the Kings looking every bit the playoff team sitting third in the West, they are active at the trade deadline trying to improve their defense — the thing that would hold them back from winning a round in the postseason. All sorts of rumors about them chasing the 76ers’ Mattise Thybulle, but there are other quality defenders available they might go after. The Kings are 1-1 to start their seven-game road trip, but this is a relatively soft trip (two games against the Rockets, one against the Spurs) and it’s a chance for them to rack up more wins and solidify their spot in the top four in the league.

 
Warriors small icon 10. Warriors (26-24, LW 14). Is this the Warriors run we’ve all been waiting for? They are largely healthy (save Andre Iguodala) and have won 5-of-7, climbing up to fifth in the West as of this writing. Don’t expect an in-season trade to spark the Warriors, it’s generally not been Bob Myers MO anyway, but unless they want to see what they can get for James Wiseman — and sources say the Warriors remain reluctant to part with the former No.2 pick — it’s difficult to see a meaningful move. Golden State has an interesting test against Denver on Thursday, but with the game being the second night of a back-to-back don’t expect peak Warriors.

 
Mavericks small icon 11. Mavericks (27-25, LW 12). The Mavericks have made it clear they are looking for a second star to put next to Luka Dončić, but unless the Raptors change their stance and throw Pascal Siakam into the trade mix, there isn’t that level of star out there. This ranking may be a little high for a team that has gone 4-8 in its last 12, but this team showed real grit getting a win over Phoenix in a game Doncic left early. Plus, they have Dončić, that makes them a threat any given night (ask the Pistons, who are the poster child reminder not to try and piss off Dončić). Starting Saturday in Golden State (on national television), the Mavericks hit the road for six-of-7 games.

 
Knicks small icon 12. Knicks (27-25, LW 10). Will the Knicks have an All-Star? There’s a case for both Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle, but both are on the bubble and it’s highly doubtful both of them get in. One, is more likely (as with the Adebayo and Butler situation in Miami). Remember it’s a vote of the coaches who pick the reserves, and they love the way Butler has shown to be a floor general in New York, that may win him the day. The Knicks are up against a tough schedule this week with the Heat, Clippers and 76ers.

 
Clippers small icon13. Clippers (29-25, LW 17). Los Angeles has won 6-of-7 and climbed to fourth in the West, yet the advanced stat projection systems aren’t sold they can sustain this. For example, fivethirtyeight.com predicts them to be a 44-win team (in a 5-way tie for 4-8 seeds with the Kings, Suns, Mavericks and Warriors). What the Clippers have going against them in the playoff push is the toughest remaining schedule in the league (based on opponent win percentage). The biggest bright spot of late has been the play of Norman Powell who has come off the bench and in January averaged 18.5 points a game shooting 47.8% from 3.

 
Jazz small icon 14. Jazz (26-26, LW 11).They are likely sellers at the trade deadline, but after this summer — particularly the Rudy Gobert trade — teams are cautious doing deals with Danny Ainge. Still, multiple teams are looking at Mike Conley and Malik Beasley, they are the most likely to be traded, with Jordan Clarkson available at the right price as well. Lauri Markkanen is not going to get traded at the deadline, but he is going to make the All-Star team this season, he is all but a lock — and it is well deserved.

 
Suns small icon 15. Suns (27-25, LW 16). Phoenix is going to do something at the trade deadline, at least trading away Jae Crowder, but as time has gone on the package they are going to get back for him has shrunk (other teams see him as a rental at this point). Milwaukee is rumored to be the frontrunner, but the Heat still get mentioned even if there is no way to put that trade together smoothly. The real wild card for the Suns, both at the deadline and into the offseason, is new primary owner Mat Ishbia — are the Suns going to be bigger spenders? What are the limits? What direction does the new owner want to see the team move? Winners of 6-of-7, Friday the Suns head out on a five-game East Coast road trip that includes Boston and Brooklyn.

 
16. Timberwolves (27-26, LW 18). Minnesota has won 5-of-7 to start creeping up the standings in the East, and a lot of that is driven by Anthony Edwards. He is averaging 32 points per game in his last five games, shooting 51.2% from 3 in that stretch, grabbing 6.8 rebounds and dishing out 5.6 assists. He’s got to take care of the ball better — also 4.8 turnovers a game — but you can see what the future looks like in Minnesota. As for Karl-Anthony Towns, he remains out with a strained calf that has sidelined him for two months, and there is no current timetable for his return.

 
Thunder small icon 17. Thunder (24-26, LW 15). Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will unquestionably be named an All-Star reserve on Thursday (there was a good case for him to be named a starter but he wasn’t going to win a popularity contest against Curry and Dončić. His play, along with Josh Giddey and others has the Thunder on the cusp of the postseason (11th in the West as of this writing, one game back of the Pelicans). One thing this OKC push for the playoffs has this going for it: The Thunder have the easiest remaining schedule in the league (based on opponent win percentage).

 
Hawks small icon 18. Hawks (25-26, LW 19). While the Hawks have given lip service to the new front office wanting to keep John Collins, the price asked in return for him has reportedly dropped, a clear sign they actually are ready to move on (as is he), but the remaining three years, $78.2 million on his contract has slowed teams from making the kind of offer the Hawks had hoped for. Still, expect a deal to get done. There are also reports of the Hawks getting calls about Bogdan Bogdanović, who isn’t a great fit with Dejounte Murray and Trae Young in the backcourt, if the plan is to stick with those two then moving on from Bogdanovic makes sense. However, with a new front office heading into its first trade deadline, nobody is quite sure what to expect.

 
Pelicans small icon 19. Pelicans (26-26, LW 13). The Pelicans have dropped nine straight games and have fallen from the ranks of the elite in the West. Injuries to Zion Williamson (still out with a strained hamstring, he was voted an All-Star starter but don’t expect him to play) and Brandon Ingram (back from his foot injury, but he doesn’t look like himself yet) certainly have a big role in the slide. However, so does the lack of defense from New Orleans — opponents are shooting a league-best 75.2% in the restricted area against them (via basketball-reference). Willie Green had this team playing quality defense to start the season, but some shooting luck was involved, and it has caught up with them.

 
Raptors small icon 20. Raptors (23-29, LW 22). Will they or won’t they? The entire trade deadline seems to be hanging in the balance, waiting to see what the Toronto Raptors are going to do. The buzz was the Raptors wanted to see what happened on their current road trip through the West before deciding, they are 2-2 so far with games left against the Jazz, Rockets and Grizzlies. The smart money is on Gary Trent Jr. getting traded, but what about the big three of Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, and Pascal Siakiam? The Raptors may listen to offers for them, but getting them to part with one of those players will take a massive deal.

 
Wizards small icon 21. Wizards (24-26, LW 24).Is this ranking too low? Probably. The Wizards are winners of six in a row, and they are 12-5 over the last five weeks, with a +5.3 net rating in their last 15 games (fourth best in the league. Bradley Beal is still averaging 22 points a game this season (in the 30 he has played), but during this streak it’s become clear Kyle Kuzma and Kristaps Porzingis are more critical to the Wizards’ success right now. Kuzma will want to be paid this summer because of it.

 
Blazers small icon 22. Trail Blazers (24-25, LW 25). Chauncey Billups leans hard into his starting five — Damian Lillard, Anfernee Simons, Josh Hart, Jerami Grant, and Jusuf Nurkic — but it’s been a little above average offensively and a little below average defensively, giving it a +1.4 net rating (via Cleaning the Glass). Don’t expect the Blazers to get much bench help at the trade deadline, while some rumors are swirling it sounds more like the Trail Blazers will ride the roster they have the rest of the way. That means a lot of Damian Lillard, who should be a lock All-Star reserve (and frankly a lock All-NBA player at the end of the season).

 
Lakers small icon 23. Lakers 24-28, LW 23). The Lakers made one trade landing Rui Hachimura and are looking to do more — likely sending out Patrick Beverley — but this would be another minor move, looking for a player who is a better fit but not going to move the needle all that much. The focus for the next week will be less on the trades that do or do not happen and more on LeBron James passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. As it should be, this is a historic moment in the league. However, while all that is going on the Lakers need to start stringing together some wins if they are going to climb up into the playoff picture — they can’t just keep talking about how close they are to the playoffs. Anthony Davis being back in the starting lineup should help.

 
Pacers small icon 24. Pacers (24-28, LW 20). Indiana is 1-9 since Tyrese Haliburton went down injured, a sign of how much he means to this team and why he should unquestionably be an All-Star this year. The Pacers reached a contract extension with Myles Turner that is a good deal for both sides — Turner came out of this with a lot of money and a couple of seasons of security, and the Pacers locked down a shot blocking and defensive force who pairs well with Haliburton (and is on a still tradable contract, if it comes to that). The Pacers have slid down to 10th in the East and need to pick up some wins this week against the Lakers, Kings and Cavaliers.

 
Bulls small icon 25. Bulls (23-27, LW 21). While there was a lot of early buzz about the Bulls’ potential to make some big trade deadline moves, things are quiet now. The market for Nikola Vucevic is not strong, and while teams are calling about Alex Caruso the Bulls don’t want to give him up. Maybe those moves are coming this summer. For now, the Bulls cruise along sitting just outside the play-in in the East, but with some winnable games this week against the Hornets, Trail Blazers and Spurs.

 
Magic small icon 26. Magic 20-31, LW 26). While this team is lottery bound — and more likely to make a big move this offseason rather than now at the deadline — there are real signs of hope. And not just Paolo Banchero (who will play in the All-Star Friday Night Rising Stars challenge), the pairing of Wendell Carter Jr. and the just-back Jonathan Isaac can form a formidable front line. The Magic pulled off an impressive win in Philadelphia to start a four-game road trip (it’s a baseball two-game series against the Sixers, so it is going to be tough to sweep that one).

 
Hornets small icon 27. Hornets (15-37, LW 27). One of the few sellers at the trade deadline, they will trade just about anyone on the roster not named Ball: Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward, Kelly Oubre Jr., Mason Plumlee and P.J. Washington are all available. Good luck finding someone to take on Hayward’s $31.5 million next season, but they can try. Washington may be on this list, but the Hornets like him so it will take a strong offer to pry him free.

 
Pistons small icon 28. Pistons (13-39, LW 28). More and more it looks like they will hold on to Bojan Bogdanovic through the trade deadline. The Pistons have not backed off their demand of an unprotected first to get Bogdanovic (plus matching salary) and teams are unwilling to part with the pick. The Pistons want to make a step forward next season and be part of the play-in, once Cade Cunningham returns healthy, and Bogdanovic would be a good veteran to have with that young core as they take a step forward. All that said, never say never, a Bogdanovic trade could happen.

 
Rockets small icon 29. Rockets (12-38, LW 29). Is this the trade deadline where Eric Gordon finally gets moved? Both he and Kevin Porter Jr. are available and the Rockets are looking for picks or young players back — they are all in on the Wembanyama sweepstakes and are not looking to win it all now. That said, the Rockets did snap their 13-game losing streak with a couple of wins recently (beating the Timberwolves and Pistons). The Rockets have three players — Jabari Smith Jr., Jalen Green and Alperen Sengun — in the All-Star weekend Rising Stars Game.

 
Spurs small icon 30. Spurs (14-37, LW 30). Rookie Jeremy Sochan is one of the rookies headed to Salt Lake City later this month for the All-Star weekend Rising Stars challenge. It’s a just reward for his play. One of the biggest holes in his game had been his free throw shooting, but in mid-December he switched to shooting a funky one-handed motion, and as Kevin O’Connor of the Ringer noted, he’s hitting 75% of his free throws since the change. He’s also started to knock down his 3s. The Spurs may have something here.

Bulls’ Lonzo Ball ‘nowhere near playing,’ could miss entire season

New Orleans Pelicans v Chicago Bulls
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“I’m trying to stay positive, keep my hopes up. I would love to play. I would never count that out.”

Lonzo Ball tried to put an optimistic face on his recovery from a second knee surgery, but he was realistic and put no timetable on a return.

Bulls coach Billy Donovan was more realistic, speaking Saturday before the Bulls took on the Magic. Via Julia Poe of the Chicago Tribune.

“He’s made some progress, but I’d be the first one to tell you he’s nowhere near playing,” Donovan said. “He’s just not. Because he’s not running on a consistent basis. When he can get to that place where he can do that consistently and be able to come back the next day and do it again, do it again and do it again — I think you’ll feel a little bit more optimistic.”

Could Ball be out for the entire season? Donovan again, via K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago:

“My guess would be – there’s not been a specifically set date – my guess would be I think we get through the All-Star Break, I think there would probably be everybody sitting down to talk about length and time of the season, how realistic is it for him to get back, if he could get back what would the minutes look like, is it not worth having him back just because it’s too much?’’ Donovan said. “I think everything, at least in my conversations with medical about him, have always been geared towards helping him get back to playing. Certainly once you get out of the All-Star Break, with the amount of time that’s left, basically you’re at the end of February. You have all of March and not even two weeks in April, so you start to get to that point where I think there will be some conversations of, ‘OK, if he’s still not close to playing, what’s the plan moving forward?’”

Ball has undergone multiple knee surgeries. The first was in January 2022 and the expectation at the time was he would return for the playoffs, but his knee didn’t respond well during rehab. That led to a second knee surgery, and recovery from that is going slowly as well. It leaves the Bulls in a tough spot, they miss his defense and his being a floor general on offense as they have struggled to a 23-26 record this season that sees them sitting as the No. 11 seed in the East.

NBA Power Rankings: Nuggets stay on top, 76ers climb up to second

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Everyone at the top of the board stumbled a little this week (except for Philadelphia), but we’re forgiving Denver for a loss without their MVP, so they stay on top of this week’s NBC Sports NBA Power Rankings.

 
Nuggets small icon 1. Nuggets (34-14, Last week No. 1). Nikola Jokic again has ridiculous on/off numbers — the Nuggets are 20.8 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court — what’s been good news for Denver of late is they have been winning the non-Jokić minutes. That includes recent a recent win over the Pacers. If Denver is going to contend, winning those minutes is something they have to do. It helps that Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. have started to look more and more comfortable in recent weeks, not just healthy but more like their old selves. Tough road trip the Nuggets are on, they have the Bucks on the second night of a back-to-back Wednesday then travel to face Joel Embiid and the 76ers.

 
Sixers small icon 2. 76ers (30-16, LW 4). Their five-game win streak came on the road with every game against the West — including a 21-point comeback on the Kings in a game Joel Embiid and James Harden sat out. Part of what has worked during this win streak is starting De'Anthony Melton, who brings needed defense next to James Harden and boosts the second unit by pushing Tyrese Maxey there (if Maxey comes off the bench consistently the rest of the season, he could get in the mix for a wide-open Sixth Man of the Year race). Two good tests for the hot 76ers coming up, The Nets Wednesday night and the Nuggets on Saturday.

 
Celtics small icon 3. Celtics (35-14, LW 2). Injuries caught up with Boston on Tuesday night: No Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Malcolm Brogdon or Al Horford — and Jayson Tatum is playing through a sore wrist (all that against a good Heat team used to playing without Jimmy Butler). Those absences have meant two consecutive losses for the Celtics, enough to knock them down one peg in these rankings despite the nine-game winning streak before that. During that streak you can see what this team is capable of when healthy — especially defensively when they gave up less than a point per possession when Horford and Robert Williams were on the court together. Boston now has 7-of-8 at home and should get another winning streak going.

 
Grizzlies small icon 4. Grizzlies (31-16, LW 3). Memphis has stumbled of late, losing three in a row on the road — they are now 11-13 away from the FedEx Forum. “Got to look ourselves in the mirror. We gotta want to be better if we got to want change,” Tyus Jones said about the team’s road struggles after a come-from-ahead loss to the Lakers Friday night. “You know, and if we don’t, it’ll be a long road trip for us.” It’s been a long trip (with two more games to go, against the Warriors and Timberwolves). The one bright spot: That loss to the Lakers bothered the Grizzlies — they stewed in it in the locker room, not racing to get out on the town in Los Angeles as many players might — but that also didn’t translate to wins the next couple of nights.

 
Bucks small icon 5. Bucks (30-17, LW 6). Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton were both back in the lineup on Monday night (Middleton off the bench), maybe the Bucks are finally getting healthy and can start to get their offense clicking again (bottom 10 in the league for the season, but eighth in the league over the last seven games, according to Cleaning the Glass). Interesting test against the Nuggets Wednesday, but then a string of winnable games for the Bucks to get their feet under them.

 
Nets small icon 6. Nets (29-17, LW 7). The silver lining to the expected news that Kevin Durant remains out and will not be back for at least a couple more weeks is recent road wins against Golden State and Utah that keeps Brooklyn afloat. The Nets could use more out of Ben Simmons, as coach Jacque Vaughn said recently: We need him to be productive, and that is without the fouls. That is helping us rebound the basketball. That is playing with poise and composure. That is pushing the pace for us.” The Nets have a cross-town showdown with the Knicks on Saturday night.

 
Kings small icon 7. Kings (27-19, LW 8). Domantas Sabonis should be a lock to be an All-Star, but there are two questions about the Kings and the All-Star Game next month. First, should Sabonis start over Zion Williamson or Anthony Davis (it looks like it will be those three for the final starting frontcourt spot in the West)? Second, should De'Aaron Fox also make the team in a West filled with good guards? The Kings keep winning with offense, they have the best offense in the NBA in January by 4.5 points per 100 (125.6 offensive rating). All that scoring continues to cover up a bottom-10 defense for the month. This formula works well in the regular season, but Mike Brown and company will need stops come the playoffs. On Saturday, the Kings head out on the road for seven in a row.

 
Cavaliers small icon 8. Cavaliers (29-20, LW 5). While the trade talk has been about the Cavaliers looking for a three they can trust, Isaac Okoro may be developing into that guy. In his last 10 games he’s not taking a lot of shots (8.8 points per game) but he’s making the ones he takes, shooting 55.6% from 3. Another positive sign for the future of this team was Evan Mobley looking comfortable and dropping 38 against the Bucks. Cleveland is finding the going difficult through a tough part of the schedule — losing the Grizzlies and Warriors but beating the Antetokounmpo-less Bucks. Now they have a couple more on the road.

 
Heat small icon 9. Heat (27-22, LW 12). Could the Miami Heat have two All-Stars? Should they? That question will fall to the coaches (who vote in the All-Star Game reserves). Jimmy Butler has the stats (21.6 points and 6.1 rebounds a game) but he has missed time. Are 34 games enough? Bam Adebayo has been putting up numbers of late (he had 30 against Boston Tuesday) but he’s also an elite defender and is fundamentally sound, the kind of players coaches love. They both could get in, but where does that leave guys like DeMar DeRozan or Julius Randle? The Heat have won 6-of-8 and are finally getting healthy, they have jumped up to the No.6 seed and see this as the time they can start to lock down a place not in the play-in.

 
Knicks small icon 10. Knicks (26-23, LW 9). The Knicks’ defense is not the same without Mitchell Robinson on the court, which is part of what led to a four-game losing streak before a much-needed win against the Cavaliers on Tuesday. When Mitchell is off the court — as he will be for the coming weeks following a thumb injury — the Knicks have a 115.5 defensive rating, which would be 25th in the league throughout the season. This is particularly bad timing for a Knicks team whose next six games are at the Celtics, at the 76ers, (the finally healthy) Lakers, Heat, Clippers, 76ers. The Knicks need to score their way to some wins in that stretch.

 
Jazz small icon 11. Jazz (25-25, LW 15). They stumbled right after Christmas, but the Jazz appear to have found their footing again having won 5-of-7. It helps to have a run of home games during this stretch, but it helps more than Lauri Markkanen has scored 20+ points and grabbed 10+ rebounds in his last five games — he should be an All-Star lock as a reserve. More than that, should Markkanen be in the 3-point contest? When Markkanen had to miss a little time, Jordan Clarkson stepped up with a couple of huge games to get wins as well.

 
Mavericks small icon 12. Mavericks (25-24, LW 11). Dallas has lost 7-of-9 and while the obvious place to point fingers is on the defensive side of the ball — the Mavericks are 27th in the league over those nine games — that’s not the end that is slipping (they are 25th defensively for the season). Rather, the top-five offense led by MVP candidate Luka Doncic has been closer to the league average over those nine games (18th in the NBA) and that is no longer covering up their defensive woes. They miss what Christian Wood brings (broken thumb), but it is more than that. Dallas is reportedly looking for more shot creation at the trade deadline, but in a seller’s market there may not be a deal that helps them. Dallas is on the road in Phoenix and Utah this week, the kind of games they need to win to stay in the top six and avoid the play-in rounds in a tightly compacted West.

 
Pelicans small icon 13. Pelicans (26-22, LW 10). The wheels have been coming off in the Big Easy — can the return of Brandon Ingram put them back on? New Orleans is 3-9 in January as being without Zion Williamson and Ingram caught up with them, plus opponents are knocking down shots they just missed earlier in the season. Things are not getting easier for the Pelicans, who have winnable but not easy games coming up at home against the Timberwolves and Wizards, then they head out on a brutal road trip against the Bucks, Nuggets and Mavericks. Their rough January could start to flip into a rough February as they slip down the standings in a tight West.

 
Warriors small icon 14. Warriors (23-24, LW 13). Getting a good read on these Warriors remains impossible. There are moments, like for three quarters against the Celtics (or for much of Sunday’s game against the Nets) where you see what they can be… and then they blew the leads and lost both games. Then they go to Cleveland, sit all their stars, and get a win. Kerr changed up the starting lineup going small — that’s not the sign of a team in a good place. Until this team strings together a series of wins and starts to flash the good defensive habits that won them a ring, it’s hard to buy in. If you’re looking for a silver lining, Draymond Green may not be an All-Star this year but he is having the kind of season that should get him Defensive Player of the Year votes (likely not enough to win the award, but he’s impressed on that end).

 
Thunder small icon 15. Thunder (23-24, LW 21). This ranking may be too low — the Thunder have won 8-of-11 with a +9.7 net rating over that time (third best in the NBA). A team we thought would be in the tank, especially after the Chet Holmgren injury, has itself in the battle for a postseason berth. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is leading the way and should be a lock All-Star — if it wasn’t for Doncic and Stephen Curry, he should be starting the game in Salt Lake City. With their next win — Wednesday against Atlanta, or in the following days against Cleveland or Golden State — the Thunder will match their win total from last season already. They have improved that much.

 
Suns small icon 16. Suns (25-24, LW 17). Phoenix has won four in a row and it’s not a coincidence that happened as they got healthy — Cameron Johnson came back from knee surgery four games ago and stepped back into the starting five, then Chris Paul got healthy as well (Devin Booker remains out at least another week and maybe longer with a groin strain). Booker has become one of the interesting All-Star cases in the West, he unquestionably has put up enough numbers to make it but he’s missed enough time could someone such as De’Aaron Fox snag his spot as a reserve? That’s up to the league’s coaches.

 
Clippers small icon17. Clippers (26-24, LW 14). The Clippers have won three in a row, including taking a big early lead, giving it up, then finishing off their hall mates at Crypto.com Arena. It feels like a tease until we see Los Angeles keep its stars on the floor and win something like 10-of-12 or so — they need to keep everyone healthy and on the court, start building good habits and prove to us this is for real. No team may be more active at the trade deadline than the Clippers, who are looking high and low — and right at Mike Conley in Utah — for help at the point guard spot (but they won’t give up Terance Mann to do it).

 
18. Timberwolves (24-25, LW 19). The Timberwolves are 8-4 since the calendar flipped to January, with a +2.9 net rating for the month and a top-10 offense. All of that comes without Karl-Anthony Towns, but it’s something for the team to build on. Leading the way for that offense is Anthony Edwards, who has been on a hot streak and can still throw it down with the best of them.

 
Hawks small icon 19. Hawks (24-24, LW 22). Is Trae Young a lock All-Star? It’s hard to say no to a guy averaging 27 points and 9.9 assists a game, but the efficiency numbers are way down with Young this season — 31.4% from 3 and a true shooting percentage a little below the league average — who has not played well with others and lifted his team up this season. He’s not getting voted in as a starter, which means the coaches have to pick him, making him a bubble guy in the East. It looked like Young and Dejounte Murray (and the rest of the Hawks) were starting to figure it out during a recent five-game win streak, then they turned around and dropped back-to-back games. They are a .500 team that does not feel dangerous, and they have six of their next seven on the road.

 
Pacers small icon 20. Pacers (24-25, LW 16). Tyrese Haliburton has made his All-Star (and maybe All-NBA) case by being injured: The Pacers are 1-6 since he went down with knee and elbow injuries, and they have the 29th-ranked offense in the league over that stretch. Now, on top of that, we’ll see how the Pacers deal with trade rumors that will swirl around this team until Feb. 9. The string of losses has seen the Pacers slide to ninth in the East and things do not get easier starting this weekend when they face the Bucks, at the Grizzlies, then host the healthy Lakers and hot Kings.

 
Bulls small icon 21. Bulls (22-25, LW 18). Zach LaVine is not going to make the cut as an All-Star in the East this season, but DeMar DeRozan is going to be on the bugle as the coaches pick the reserves — he’s got the numbers but it’s a crowded field and the Bulls have struggled. The Bulls might struggle less if they played more games in Paris, where Chicago dominated Detroit getting a wire-to-wire win. Chicago has been streaky this season, this is their last 14 games: W-W-L-L-W-W-W-L-L-L-W-W-W-L (that last loss to a Pacers team that had lost nine in a row before the game).

 
Raptors small icon 22. Raptors (21-27, LW 23). For all the trade buzz engulfing this team as we crawl toward the Feb. 9 trade deadline, it seems likely (maybe highly likely) that Gary Trent Jr. ends up the only player on the move out of Canada. Masai Ujiri may make bold moves, but they are more likely to come in June and July than under February pressure. Fred VanVleet‘s play of late — 25.6 points and 6.4 assists per game shooting 44.4% from 3 — will only increase the number of teams calling to see if he is available via trade (or teams trying to poach him this summer).

 
Lakers small icon 23. Lakers 22-26, LW 24). If the Lakers are going to find any groove this season, now is when it needs to happen. Anthony Davis returns after missing 20 games with a stress reaction in his foot — the Lakers went 10-10 thanks to the heroics of LeBron James — and the Lakers will add the just-acquired Rui Hachimura to the rotation. Hachimura brings shooting and some size to the table that the Lakers need — he’s a solid rotation player overall and an upgrade for Darvin Ham‘s rotation — but the return of Davis and his defensive presence is needed more. That’s something the Clippers exposed on Tuesday night. On the bright side, LeBron keeps putting up numbers and will pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the NBA’s all-time scoring record in the first 10 days of February.

 
Wizards small icon 24. Wizards (21-26, LW 25). Trading Hachimura was a signal to Kyle Kuzma that the Wizards intend to re-sign him this summer, and Kuzma played his role and said he loves Washington and his teammates is open to staying there. Unsaid but clear in all this: Washington is not getting a discount. This is Kuzma’s big kick at the can, free agency after a career year, and money will win the day — Washington may ultimately have to overpay to keep him. The bigger short-term concern for the Wizards is Kristaps Porzingis missing a couple of weeks with a sprained ankle. Washington already sits outside the play-in out East, and they have 5-of-6 on the road. The Wizards need to find a way to keep their heads above water, as they did in Dallas.

 
Blazers small icon 25. Trail Blazers (22-25, LW 20). Portland went into this season knowing it had an undersized roster but counting on Jusuf Nurkic and more athleticism on the wings to cover up that fact. It hasn’t. Recent losses to the Nuggets, 76ers and Lakers — where Thomas Bryant scored a career-high 31 — have highlighted that fact. Nurkic has not been the center they needed this season and it is especially evident on defense. A blowout Monday over the Spurs was needed for a Portland team that had lost 8-of-10 coming in. Portland is one of the more active potential buyers at the trade deadline, they are all in with this roster and are looking for help.

 
Magic small icon 26. Magic 18-29, LW 26). It is a great story of perseverance to see Jonathan Isaac back on the court for Orlando. It’s the kind of story that makes sports great. Isaac is no longer the face of the franchise in Orlando — that’s Paolo Banchero — but you don’t have to squint to see how a strong defensive big who can knock down some 3-pointers — he was 2-of-3 in his first game back — and finish at the rim could fit with a playmaker like the No.1 pick. Orlando picked up a couple of nice wins last week over New Orleans and Boston, this week the Pacers, Heat, Bulls and 76ers are on the docket.

 
Hornets small icon 27. Hornets (13-36, LW 29). Charlotte is all in on the Wembanyama sweepstakes and they will be sellers at the trade deadline with Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward and Kelly Oubre Jr. all available. Good luck finding anyone to take on Hayward’s contract, but Rozier has a lot of fans in the front offices of NBA playoff teams, and Oubre Jr. could bring wing depth somewhere as well. Expect to see deals get done. The Hornets have the Bulls and Heat at home this week.

 
Pistons small icon 28. Pistons (12-37, LW 27). The question everyone is asking the Pistons is not “how much did you enjoy Paris?” (Probably a lot… except for the game where the Bulls blew them out.) Rather, it’s “How much longer will Bojan Bogdanovic be a member of the Detroit Pistons?” The sharpshooting wing remains a top target for a number of teams, and the Pistons continue to say the price is a first-round pick (unprotected, although teams are waiting for that price to come down). Expect this to drag out until closer to the Feb. 9 trade deadline.

 
Rockets small icon 29. Rockets (11-36, LW 30). While Jalen Green grabs the highlights with his dunks and athleticism, watch Alperen Sengun closely and you see a guy who can be a cornerstone part of what the Rockets are building. He has a soft touch on his shots around the basket, impressive footwork, is a great passer and, most importantly, is someone the Rockets can run their offense through for stretches. The Rockets snapped their 13-game losing streak with a nice win over the Timberwolves, and face the Wizards, Cavaliers and Pistons this week.

 
Spurs small icon 30. Spurs (14-33, LW 28). Spurs fans, do yourself a favor: Rather than watch your team struggle through this season, head to YouTube and watch “The Ring of the Rowel: San Antonio Spurs Docuseries.” This is a recommendation from NBC’s own Corey Robinson (who has seen some Spurs history up close) as he has nothing but praise for the series and how it chronicles the legendary history of one of the great NBA franchises. It’s worth your time.

Curry, LeBron still tops in NBA jersey sales; Lakers lead team merchandise sale

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The young guard is climbing the ladder — Luka Doncic is fourth, Ja Morant is sixth — but when it comes to the top of the jersey sales leaderboard, it remains the old guard.

The NBA released the top 15 most popular player jerseys sold (on NBA.com) this season, and it’s the old guard that is the current face of the league on top. Here’s the list:

1. Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors)
2. LeBron James (Los Angeles Lakers)
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks)
4. Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks)
5. Kevin Durant (Brooklyn Nets)
6. Ja Morant (Memphis Grizzlies)
7. Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics)
8. Devin Booker (Phoenix Suns)
9. Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers)
10. Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers)
11. Trae Young (Atlanta Hawks)
12. LaMelo Ball (Charlotte Hornets)
13. Anthony Davis (Los Angeles Lakers)
14. Zion Williamson (New Orleans Pelicans)
15. Kyrie Irving (Brooklyn Nets)

Nothing shocking on that list. Sixth is the highest Morant has gotten, and I thought Zion Williamon would be a little higher up, but the fans are leaning into the established stars of the league.

Nothing terribly surprising on the list of the 10 most popular franchises in team merchandise sales:

1. Los Angeles Lakers
2. Golden State Warriors
3. Boston Celtics
4. Milwaukee Bucks
5. Chicago Bulls
6. Philadelphia 76ers
7. Dallas Mavericks
8. Brooklyn Nets
9. Phoenix Suns
10. New York Knicks

Mildly surprising to see the Knicks that low considering this has been a solid season for them, but the biggest fan bases and the teams with the biggest stars near the top of the list.