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Basketball  

Analysis: It may be time to re-think NBA All-Star voting

It’s reasonable to think Chet Holmgren will be an NBA All-Star one day. He was a highly recruited high school player whose one year at Gonzaga was stellar enough for Oklahoma City to make him the No. 2 pick in last year’s draft. He's an obvious talent, an enormous talent.

And it’s terrible that Holmgren got hurt last summer and will miss the entirety of this season.

But evidently, his rehab has been going extremely well — since four NBA players say he should start next month’s All-Star Game.

That’s right. When NBA players were asked in recent weeks who should start their All-Star Game in Salt Lake City on Feb. 19, four of them said that Holmgren should, even though he has yet to make his NBA debut.

So, congratulations to everyone involved. It's a new record: 330 different NBA players got a vote — either from themselves or their peers — saying they should be an All-Star starter. That's 20 more than the number of players who got votes in 2021.

Keep in mind only 10 people will start the All-Star Game. There might be, at the most, 20 legitimate candidates for those starting nods. OK, let's say it's 30 players, even. That's 300 less than the number of people who received votes.

That means a ton of votes were wasted, unserious, a joke.

This all started seven years ago, after almost 800,000 people stuffed the ballot boxes and nearly made Zaza Pachulia an All-Star starter. So the NBA changed the rules, going to a weighted formula — 50% is determined by fan votes, 25% by media votes, 25% by player votes.

The fans pretty much got who they wanted, as should always be the case. LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, Nikola Jokic and Jayson Tatum were the top seven fan vote-getters; they all were announced as starters when the list was revealed Thursday night. So did No. 9 Kyrie Irving, No. 10 Donovan Mitchell and No. 12 Zion Williamson.

No. 7 Joel Embiid didn’t make the cut, nor did No. 11 Anthony Davis.

Player votes were a big reason why Davis wasn’t a starter. Only 30 players voted for Davis among Western Conference frontcourt players, while 80 voted for Williamson. That made the difference.

But many of the 375 ballots returned by players were puzzling.

Chicago’s Lonzo Ball got four votes. Miami’s Omer Yurtseven got three votes. Jae Crowder, who is still a member of the Phoenix Suns in name only, got two votes. Denver’s Collin Gillespie and Portland’s Ibou Badji each got one vote.

Here's what they all have in common: Like Holmgren, none has played this season.

There were other interesting — a polite way of saying odd, in this case — trends within the data. Only Jokic (58.7%), Antetokounmpo (58.7%) and James (51.5%) appeared on more than half of the All-Star ballots cast by NBA players this year.

The Phoenix Suns were hoping that guard Devin Booker would get consideration as a starter. He wasn't close, probably in large part because he's missed some time this season with injury.

“We know and the league knows and the players know," Phoenix coach Monty Williams said. “He’s the best (shooting) guard in the game and one of the best players in the game."

Perhaps the players don't know: Only 8.5% said Booker should be a starter.

Milwaukee's Grayson Allen got four votes, which is one more than reigning NBA defensive player of the year Marcus Smart of Boston received. Yes, Allen has been a contributor to what the Bucks have done so far this year. He's had his moments. He's hit big shots. But it's not a fine line between solid player and All-Star starter — it's more like a crater.

There certainly could be a year where the irresponsible voting really costs somebody a spot. It won't be this year. Certainly, arguments could be made for other players — Embiid, Domantas Sabonis, Ja Morant, Lauri Markkanen, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — as candidates to start.

They'll all probably be All-Stars anyway.

The coaches will now decide the reserves; the votes for the starters no longer count for anything. Only the coaches' ballots count toward the last seven All-Stars selected from each conference. And if someone has to bow out of the game because of injury, Commissioner Adam Silver chooses a replacement.

But hopefully, there will soon come a time when the players take the voting more seriously. If not, maybe the NBA needs to consider taking their vote away.

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Tim Reynolds is a national basketball writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at treynolds(at)ap.org

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AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/nba and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports



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Clippers extend win streak to 4 with 138-100 rout of Spurs

LOS ANGELES (AP) — If anyone needed any proof of how confident Paul George and the Los Angeles Clippers are feeling, it came late in the second quarter of their game against the San Antonio Spurs.

George stole the ball from Zach Collins after a bad pass by Stanley Johnson, dribbled down the court and threw down a windmill dunk to give the Clippers a 20-point advantage.

The dunk was part of a 35-point night by George as the Clippers extended their winning streak to a season-high four games with a 138-100 rout on Thursday night.

“My body has been feeling pretty good, and I have been working a ton to stay healthy and keep it that way,” said George, who is averaging 22.4 points after he missed five games earlier this month due to right hamstring soreness. “Everything is kind of falling into place at this point. We're healthy and starting to figure out our rotations.”

It was the fifth time this season George has had at least 35 points. He was 14 of 19 from the field, including 5 of 8 from beyond the arc as the Clippers posted their largest winning margin since 2021. It was the 11th time since 2013 they have won a game by at least 38 points.

Kawhi Leonard added 27 points and was 10 of 16 from the field.

“We just have to continue to keep building. We’re trending upwards, but we still got a long ways to go, but I like where we’re at right now.,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said.

Keldon Johnson scored 19 points for San Antonio, while Isaiah Roby had 14 and Keita Bates-Diop 13. The Spurs have dropped nine of their last 10 and 12 of their 14.

“We played hard. Got our butts kicked. Hopefully learned some things. Go home and start up again,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, whose postgame remarks went just 15 seconds.

It was the fifth time this season San Antonio has lost a game by 35 or more points.

The Clippers have won seven of their past nine against the Spurs and swept the four-game season series for the first time since 1996-97.

Los Angeles, which shot 58.4% from the field and made 18 3-pointers, led the entire game. It had a double-digit lead for the final 38 minutes and was up 41-25 at the end of the first quarter.

“When they're hitting shots like they were tonight and active on defense, that's what makes them special,” said Bates-Diop about George and Leonard.

ROAD WOES

San Antonio lost for the 18th time in 23 road games and has dropped 10 straight away from home. It is the fifth time in franchise history the Spurs have dropped at least 10 straight road games in a season. Their in-season longest road losing streak is 12 set during the 1985-86 season.

The Spurs' overall away losing mark is 22 games, which started in the 1988-89 season and extended to the following campaign.

TIP-INS

Spurs: Fell to 1-8 in the second game of a back-to-back. ... Rookie Jeremy Sochan did not play after sustaining a quad injury during the fourth quarter Wednesday.

Clippers: Luke Kennard returned to the lineup and had five points in 17 minutes. Kennard has missed 20 games this season due to a right calf injury. ... Marcus Morris Sr. did not play due to a rib contusion. ... Norman Powell had 15 points off the bench and Robert Covington added 13. ... Leonard made two 3-pointers to reach 900 for his career.

UP NEXT

Spurs: Return home to face the Phoenix Suns on Saturday.

Clippers: Begin a six-game road trip on Saturday against the Atlanta Hawks.

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AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/nba and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports



Dinwiddie scores 36, Mavs top Suns 99-95 after Doncic hurt

PHOENIX (AP) — Luka Doncic's early injury on Thursday night gave the Dallas Mavericks a very valid reason to lose on the road.

Instead, Spencer Dinwiddie responded to the adversity with a season-high 36 points, Dorian Finney-Smith added 18 points and 12 rebounds, and the Mavs held on for a 99-95 victory over the Phoenix Suns.

“It's just an all-around great team effort,” Finney-Smith said. “Once we found out (Luka) was out, we just stepped up.”

Dinwiddie's hot shooting helped the Mavs thrive without Doncic, who limped to the locker room early in the first quarter with a sprained left ankle and didn't return. The veteran guard shot 10 of 18 from the field, including 5 of 6 on 3-pointers. He also made 11 free throws.

The 29-year-old didn't shy from taking the lead scoring role after Doncic went down. It was the first game the Mavs won this season when Doncic was injured.

“It's just a shift in mindset in understanding the volume's going to come and I've got to be more aggressive,” Dinwiddie said.

The Mavs led the entire second half but Suns guard Chris Paul made a layup with 19.7 seconds left to cut the deficit to 96-95. The Mavs were able to close it out when Dwight Powell got fouled after grabbing an offensive rebound and sank his two free throws.

“It was the whole group defensively,” Mavs coach Jason Kidd said. “To hold a team like Phoenix under 100 points is a big deal. The guys in that locker room should be proud.”

Dinwiddie made tough shots all night, including a long 3-pointer with a few seconds left in the third quarter to give the Mavs a 76-69 lead going into the fourth. He banked in another 3 with 3:32 left that put them up 95-86.

Cam Johnson and Paul led the Suns with 22 points apiece. Deandre Ayton scored 19 points and grabbed 20 rebounds, but made just 6 of 20 shots. Paul added 10 assists.

“I thought we were a bit happy on the farm to be honest with you,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “We did not bring the same juice, energy and focus we had been bringing.”

The Mavs pushed to a 54-48 halftime lead. Dinwiddie led all scorers with 20 points before the break while Johnson had 13 for the Suns.

The Mavericks snapped a six-game losing streak against the Suns in the regular season, though they beat Phoenix in the Western Conference semifinals in seven games in last year's playoffs.

Phoenix had its four-game winning streak snapped.

“Tonight was a battle even though Luka went out,” Ayton said. “I hope he is OK, but those dudes put up a fight man. We were supposed to take advantage of this.”

DONCIC HURT

Doncic played just three minutes before limping to the locker room during a timeout. The 23-year-old, who was voted an All-Star for the fourth straight season earlier Thursday, came into the game averaging 33.8 points, 9.1 rebounds and 8.6 assists.

He was trying to make a move close to the basket against Johnson, but stepped on Mikal Bridges’ foot before passing the ball and limping away. Kidd called for a timeout and the 6-foot-7 guard slowly made his way to the locker room.

Kidd said Doncic was in “good spirits” after the game.

“He looked good, he looked fine,” Kidd said. “But we'll see how he feels as we go forward.”

TIP-INS

Mavericks: F Maxi Kleber (hamstring) and F Christian Wood (thumb) were out.

Suns: Guards Devin Booker (groin), Cameron Payne (foot) and Landry Shamet (foot) were out. ... Hosted their 52nd straight sellout. ... Williams used 13 players.

UP NEXT

Mavericks: Travel to Utah on Saturday.

Suns: Travel to San Antonio on Saturday.

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AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports





Rebuilding Raptors Uprising GC fleshes out roster via NBA 2K League draft

Raptors Uprising GC fleshed out its esports roster in the NBA 2K League draft Thursday, the latest moves in an off-season of roster change prompted by a disappointing 2022.

Toronto traded up to pick shooting guard Anthony (Gazulli) Gonzalez 10th overall and then took lockdown defender Muhammad (Haam) Scott 13th.

The rebuilding Raptors chose point guard Jamaal (Mooch) Gill in the second round (26th overall) and power forward Bryson (Putback) Fleming, formerly of Hawks Talon GC, in the third (45th).

Undrafted last year, Gonzalez said he has worked hard to elevate his game.

"I feel just blessed and amazed right now," said Gonzalez. "I've been working at this for, honestly a few years trying to get into the league. Throughout all the trials and tribulations, it's finally happened and I'm just ready to come and get to work."

Hawks Talon GC, which won the draft lottery in October, selected 18-year-old shooting guard Mark (Glizzy) Smith with the first overall pick at the New York City draft. The Atlanta team finished last season with a 20-18 record

"I'm ready to change a franchise," said Smith.

Nets GC took point guard Tariq (Greens) Reed second with Lakers Gaming opting for Ryan (Spam) Harris third. Point guard Claude (Claude) Knight went fourth to Blazer5 Gaming and point guard Dylan (Greenlight) Sanderson fifth to Pacers Gaming.

Artreyo (Dimez) Boyd, a former Raptors Uprising player, went 13th to Kings Guard Gaming. Jaden (Naynosss) Bhopal of Duncan, B.C., was taken by Warriors Gaming in the second round (36th overall). 

In a draft-night deal, the Raptors acquired the 10th and 45th selections from Hornets Venom GT in exchange for the 15th and 25th selections.

NBA 2K League teams field five-player rosters during the season. Toronto, which brought in 23-year-old Roy Krishnan as its new head coach in November, came into the draft with Waseem (Ball Like Seem) Talbot and four picks. 

Toronto got Talbot and the 13th pick in a trade Tuesday that sent former league MVP Kenneth (Kenny Got Work) Hailey, the Raptors' first-ever draft pick and the face of the franchise, and the 36th pick to Mexico's DUX Infinitos. Hailey was subsequently flipped to Warriors Gaming in a draft-night deal.

Seventy-seven players who competed in the 2022 season were retained by their teams in the off-season and expansion NBL Oz Gaming started its roster by picking up Harry (RealHvsn) Spierings in the NBA 2K League Australian Invitational. That left 47 roster spots to be filled during the three-round draft.

More than 200 players were draft-eligible, including non-retained league players, top talent from elsewhere in the NBA 2K community and players who worked their way through a qualifying process involving more than 101,000 gamers from 126 countries.

Scott was delighted to be taken by Toronto, saying Talbot is a good friend and that he has heard good things about how the Raptors treat their players.

"I'm ready to get to work and I'm ready to earn some money," he said of joining a league that boasted US$2.5 million in prize money last year.

Raptors Uprising had its best season in 2020 when it went 16-0 during the regular season and won two tournaments. It had a 28-1 record in all competitions that year. But that one loss was costly — in the semifinals to eventual champion Wizards District Gaming.

The Toronto team has not been able to match that success since.

The league changed formats in 2022, switching from a regular season and playoffs to a "tournament-centric season" structure. Toronto was the only team not to win any prize money last year.

Raptors Uprising made three trades in November and December, acquiring draft picks while shipping out Xavier (Type) Vescovi and Xavier (Big Saint) St. John, the two other players it retained after the 2022 season.

Emmanuel (FantaSZN) Gosman and Tyer (Plondo) Lay were left unprotected for the November expansion draft to stock NBL Oz Gaming.

The NBA 2K League, a joint venture between the NBA and Take-Two Interactive, is the first official esports league operated by a U.S. pro sports league. It started play in 2018 with 17 teams, each affiliated with an NBA franchise.

Since then, the league has expanded to 25 teams, 22 of which are affiliated with NBA clubs. The non-NBA-affiliated teams are Mexico's DUX Infinitos, Gen. G Tigers of Shanghai and expansion NBL Oz Gaming, which represents Australia and the National Basketball League.

Teams compete in both three-versus-three and five-versus-five game play with Pistons GT (3v3) and Bucks Gaming (5v5) the reigning champions.

Knicks Gaming won the 2018 league title following by T-Wolves Gaming (2019) and Wizards District Gaming (2021 and '22).

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Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2023.



Randle, Brunson help Knicks edge Celtics 120-117 in OT

BOSTON (AP) — Julius Randle had 37 points and nine rebounds, and hit the free throws that gave the New York Knicks the lead for good in a 120-117 overtime victory over the Boston Celtics on Thursday night.

Jalen Brunson added 29 points, seven assists and a game-ending blocked shot for New York, which has won two straight. Immanuel Quickley finished with 17 points and five rebounds.

Boston’s Jaylen Brown had a chance to put the Celtics ahead with 7.6 seconds remaining, but misfired on two free throws, forcing the Celtics to foul.

Jayson Tatum, who was voted an All-Star game starter for the third consecutive season prior to tip-off, finished with 35 points and 14 rebounds. Brown added 22 points and nine rebounds for Boston, which has lost three straight for just the second time this season.

MAVERICKS 99, SUNS 95

PHOENIX (AP) — Spencer Dinwiddie scored a season-high 36 points, Dorian Finney-Smith added 18 points and 12 rebounds, and Dallas beat Phoenix despite losing All-Star guard Luka Doncic to a sprained ankle early in the game.

Dinwiddie’s hot shooting helped the Mavs thrive without Doncic, who limped to the locker room early in the first quarter and didn’t return. The veteran guard shot 10 of 18 from the field, including 5 of 6 on 3-pointers. He also made 11 free throws.

The Mavs led the entire second half but Suns guard Chris Paul made a layup with 19.7 seconds left to cut the deficit to 96-95. The Mavs were able to close it out by making their free throws in the final seconds.

Cam Johnson and Chris Paul led the Suns with 22 points apiece. Deandre Ayton scored 19 points and grabbed 20 rebounds, but made just 6 of 20 shots. Paul added 10 assists.

PISTONS 130, NETS 122

NEW YORK (AP) — Saddiq Bey scored 25 points and Detroit won in Brooklyn for the first time in nearly five years.

Alec Burks added 20 for the Pistons, who snapped a four-game losing streak and were playing for the first time since giving up 150 points in a loss to Milwaukee on Monday.

They took advantage of a short-handed Nets team playing the second night of a back-to-back to win at Barclays Center for the first time since April 1, 2018, ending a six-game skid. They had lost seven in a row overall to the Nets.

Kyrie Irving scored 40 points for the Nets, tying his career high and the Nets NBA record with five straight games of 30 or more. Nic Claxton added a career-best 27 and Edmond Sumner had 24.

CLIPPERS 138, SPURS 100

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Paul George scored 35 points, Kawhi Leonard added 27 and Los Angeles extended its winning streak to a season-high four games with a rout of reeling San Antonio.

It was the fifth time this season George has had at least 35 points. He is averaging 22.4 points after he missed five games earlier this month due to right hamstring soreness.

George was 14 of 19 from the field, including 5 of 8 from beyond the arc as the Clippers posted their largest winning margin since 2021. It was only the 11th time they have won a game by at least 38 points.

Keldon Johnson scored 19 points for San Antonio, while Isaiah Roby scored 14 and Keita Bates-Diop 13. The Spurs have dropped nine of their last 10 and 12 of their 14.

CAVALIERS 113, ROCKETS 95

HOUSTON (AP) — Darius Garland scored 26 points and Evan Mobley added 21 as Cleveland routed short-handed Houston despite missing Donovan Mitchell.

Garland, the fifth overall pick in the 2019 draft who turned 23 on Thursday, also had nine assists and four rebounds for the Cavs.

Mitchell sat out for the fourth time in five games with a groin strain. He returned Tuesday night after missing three games, but aggravated it near the end of that game to keep him out Thursday. Mitchell, who ranks ninth in the NBA by averaging 28.3 points a game, was voted a starter in next month’s NBA All-Star Game.

Tari Eason had 18 points and 11 rebounds to lead Houston. The Rockets were without Eric Gordon, Jae’Sean Tate and Kevin Porter Jr. as they lost their second straight since snapping a 13-game skid Monday night.

HORNETS 111, BULLS 96

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Terry Rozier scored 28 points, Mason Plumlee added 21 points and 12 rebounds and Charlotte defeated Chicago.

Gordon Hayward added 17 points, and LaMelo Ball returned from a three-game absence due to a sprained ankle and wrist injury and chipped in with 15 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists to overcome a horrible 2-for-15 shooting performance from the field.

DeMar DeRozan had 28 points for the Bulls, while Zach LaVine finished with 18 points and nine rebounds, but was quiet in the second half. Patrick Williams had 15 points, but Chicago’s three-game win streak came to an end.

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AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/nba and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports



Mavericks All-Star Doncic leaves game with ankle injury

PHOENIX (AP) — Luka Doncic left the Dallas Mavericks' game against the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night with a sprained left ankle.

The Mavericks said he would not return to the game.

Doncic played just three minutes before limping to the locker room during a timeout. The 23-year-old, who was voted an All-Star for the fourth straight season earlier Thursday, came into the game averaging 33.8 points, 9.1 rebounds and 8.6 assists.

Doncic was trying to make a move close to the basket against Phoenix's Cam Johnson, but stepped on Mikal Bridges' foot before passing the ball and limping away. He grabbed at his lower left leg before Dallas coach Jason Kidd called for a timeout.

The Suns and Mavericks both had a 25-24 record coming into the game.

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AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports



Randle scores 37, Knicks rally to beat Celtics 120-117 in OT

BOSTON (AP) — The Knicks are a young team that's still learning how to string together victories.

They're hoping to bottle several lessons from their latest outing.

Julius Randle had 37 points and nine rebounds, and hit the free throws that gave New York the lead for good in a 120-117 overtime win over the East-leading Boston Celtics on Thursday night.

Jalen Brunson added 29 points, seven assists and a game-ending blocked shot for the Knicks, who have won two straight. RJ Barrett had 19 points and Immanuel Quickley finished with 17 points and five rebounds.

"We held our own," Barrett said. “We played together and we played hard. We got the good result.”

Boston’s Jaylen Brown had a chance to put the Celtics ahead with 7.6 seconds remaining, but misfired on two free throws, forcing the Celtics to foul.

“Just got to be better,” Brown said. “Tonight was just a rough game and I’m a better basketball player than I played today. Those two free throws embodied the whole game for me.”

Jayson Tatum, who was voted an All-Star game starter for the third consecutive season prior to tip-off, finished with 35 points and 14 rebounds. Brown added 22 points and nine rebounds for Boston, which has lost three straight for just the second time this season.

New York led by 13 in the fourth quarter but scored just four points in the final 5:26 of regulation to help the Celtics send the game to OT.

Randle said he never saw panic in his teammates' eyes during the Celtics' comeback.

“Just poise,” he said. “We've been in those type of situations all year. So I feel like we're getting more and more comfortable in those situations.”

Boston scored the first five points of the extra frame. New York responded by scoring the next six, taking a 116-115 lead on Barrett’s 3-pointer from the wing.

“I didn't have a good shooting night, but I was ready to take that shot,” Barrett said. “I feel like we're getting more comfortable in those situations.”

Brown nudged the Celtics back in front with a driving layup out of a timeout with 24 seconds remaining. Randle’s two free throws then put New York back in front for good at 118-117.

Boston had a final chance to tie but Brunson blocked Malcolm Brogdon's 3-point try.

Tatum hit his first five shots of the night. He struggled in the second and third quarters but had 11 in the fourth quarter to lead Boston’s rally.

The Celtics struggled to find an offensive flow throughout, shooting 41% with 13 turnovers.

FRANTIC FINISH

The Knicks outscored the Celtics 33-25 in the third quarter and took a six-point edge into the fourth.

The lead grew to 102-89 on a pair of free throws by Miles McBride with just over seven minutes to play. The Celtics charged back and had a chance to win it regulation, but Tatum missed a 19-footer and Robert Williams had his follow shot blocked as time expired.

TIP-INS

Knicks: Randle had a driving, one-handed dunk over Tatum late in the third that was part of a 14-5 run to put New York in front 87-78. . … Outscored the Celtics 48-42 in the paint. … Evan Fournier missed his second straight game (personal reasons).

Celtics: Dropped to 18-6 at home, with three of those defeats coming in overtime. ... Marcus Smart sat for the third straight game with a sprained right ankle. Interim coach Joe Mazzulla said he is wearing a special sock to help reduce swelling. He remains day-to-day. … Boston hit 7 of their first 9 attempts from the field and led by as many as 15 points in the first quarter. They finished the period by hitting 5 of their final 18 shots and held a 60-58 halftime lead. … Tuesday marked the Celtics’ 6,000th regular-season game.

UP NEXT

Knicks: Visit Nets on Saturday.

Celtics: Host Lakers on Saturday.

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AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports



Garland scores 26 as Cavaliers race past Rockets 113-95

HOUSTON (AP) — Darius Garland scored 26 points and Evan Mobley added 21 as the Cleveland Cavaliers routed the short-handed Houston Rockets 113-95 Thursday night despite missing Donovan Mitchell.

Garland, the fifth overall pick in the 2019 draft who turned 23 on Thursday, also had nine assists and four rebounds for the Cavs.

“Darius has continued to grow,” Cleveland coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “This is a place where we’ve seen him grow the most is understanding the moment, understanding each game and how it’s different and what it takes from him to be a tone-setter.”

The Cavaliers led by 26 at halftime after scoring 74 points in the first two periods. The Rockets cut it to 22 on a basket by rookie Jabari Smith Jr. with 9 1/2 minutes left in the third. But Cleveland scored the next 10 points, with 3s by Garland and Dean Wade, to extend the lead to 89-57 midway through the quarter.

“Everything has been that hunt for consistency,” Bickerstaff said. “We’ve had leads before and we get a little lax and loose with the ball and things like that. But I thought they had the right approach for the majority of the game tonight.”

The Rockets ended the quarter with an 11-3 run, with five points from rookie TyTy Washington, but they still trailed 97-74 entering the fourth.

Tari Eason opened the fourth with a tip-in shot for the Rockets before Garland and Cedi Osman made consecutive 3-pointers to push Cleveland’s advantage to 103-76.

The Cavaliers scored five straight points, capped by a 3 from Wade, to make it 111-89 with about 3 1/2 minutes left, and Cleveland's starters sat down after that.

Mitchell sat out for the fourth time in five games with a groin strain. He returned Tuesday night after missing three games, but aggravated it near the end of that game to keep him out Thursday. Mitchell, who ranks ninth in the NBA by averaging 28.3 points a game, was named a starter for the Eastern Conference in next month’s NBA All-Star Game.

Eason had 18 points and 11 rebounds to lead Houston. The Rockets were without Eric Gordon, Jae’Sean Tate and Kevin Porter Jr. as they lost their second straight since snapping a 13-game skid Monday night.

The Rockets, who have the NBA’s worst record at 11-38, committed 22 turnovers and made just five of 21 3-pointers. Jalen Green, the second overall pick in the 2021 draft, was 2 of 9 for six points after scoring a career-high 42 points in Houston’s win over Minnesota on Monday.

“They're one of the best defensive teams in the league, so the fact that they forced 22 turnovers wasn't super surprising since going in knowing we didn’t have three of our main guys who handle the basketball," Silas said.

TIP-INS

Cavaliers: Kevin Love sat out with back spasms. … Wade scored 15 off the bench. ... Jarrett Allen had 14 points and 10 rebounds.

Rockets: Gordon missed the game with right knee soreness. … Tate was out as part of injury management after returning from an ankle sprain. … Porter missed his eighth straight game with a bruised left foot.

ALL-STAR MITCHELL

In the wake of Mitchell's selection as an All-Star game starter, Bickerstaff raved about how he's approached his job in his first season in Cleveland after an off-season trade from Utah.

“I think it’s the respect piece and just a compliment to the job that he’s done,” Bickerstaff said. “To be able to come into a completely new environment and quite possibly have the best year so far in his career says a lot about him.”

UP NEXT

Cavaliers: Visit Oklahoma City on Friday night.

Rockets: Visit Detroit on Saturday night.

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AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports



Pistons beat Nets, first win in Brooklyn in almost 5 years

NEW YORK (AP) — Saddiq Bey scored 25 points and the Detroit Pistons won in Brooklyn for the first time in nearly five years, beating the Nets 130-122 on Thursday night.

Alec Burks added 20 for the Pistons, who snapped a four-game losing streak. They were playing for the first time since giving up 150 points in a loss to Milwaukee on Monday, when they were down 49-24 after one quarter.

“We just knew we had to start off better than that and just play better throughout the four quarters,” said Bey, who added nine rebounds. “So I think we were very eager just to nip that one in the bud and just keep going.”

The Pistons took advantage of a short-handed Nets team playing the second night of a back-to-back to win at Barclays Center for the first time since April 1, 2018, ending a six-game skid. They had lost seven in a row overall to the Nets.

Kyrie Irving scored 40 points for the Nets, tying his career high and the Nets NBA record with five straight games of 30 or more. Nic Claxton added a career-best 27 and Edmond Sumner had 24.

But the Nets, who lost 137-133 in Philadelphia on Wednesday, ran out of gas in the second half, falling into a hole by allowing the Pistons to score 43 points on 65% shooting in the third quarter.

“They have a tendency to come out in the third quarter and try to win that. We came out and we were flat,” Irving said. “When you do that and you are reacting to everything, every possession, it makes it difficult.”

The Nets lost Ben Simmons to left knee soreness in the period after he played 20 scoreless minutes.

The Pistons closed well in the third, pushing a five-point lead with 2 1/2 minutes to play into a 101-90 advantage headed to the fourth. Bey scored 15 points on 6-for-7 shooting in the period.

“We had a big third quarter,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said. “The third quarter was at one time our nemesis coming out of the locker room. I think we’re graduating, we’re growing into being a competitive team out of the locker room.”

Irving tried to rally the Nets but the Pistons never let them get too close. He also scored 30 or more points in five straight games in March 2019 with the Celtics, and joined Kevin Durant, Stephon Marbury and John Williamson as the only Nets players to do it since the franchise joined the NBA.

Jalen Duren scored 17 points and Jaden Ivey and Killian Hayes each had 16 for the Pistons, who led 30-27 after one. The Nets inched ahead 59-58 at the half.

TIP-INS

Pistons: Isaiah Stewart returned after missing Monday's game with a sore left shoulder and had 11 points. ... Bojan Bogdanovic was held to 11 points on 4-for-15 shooting after scoring 20 or more in a career-best 10 straight games.

Nets: Seth Curry sat out with right knee soreness after scoring 32 points Wednesday, his best as a Net. ... The Nets returned home from a five-game trip and began a stretch where they play eight of nine at home. The Nets, who entered with a league-low 20 home games, leave New York just one more time in their 11 remaining games before the All-Star break, with one of their two road games at the Knicks.

ALL-STARS

With Durant and Irving selected, the Nets were the only team with two All-Star starters. They are the only Nets to be selected to start multiple NBA All-Star games, and Durant joined Jason Kidd (2002-04) and Vince Carter (2005-07) as the only ones to be selected to three in a row.

UP NEXT

Pistons: Host Houston on Saturday.

Nets: Host New York on Saturday.

___

AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/nba and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports



Rozier, Plumlee lead Hornets past Bulls 111-96

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Terry Rozier scored 28 points, Mason Plumlee added yet another strong performance with 21 points and 12 rebounds and the Charlotte Hornets defeated the Chicago Bulls 111-96 on Thursday night.

Gordon Hayward scored 17 points, and LaMelo Ball returned from a three-game absence due to a sprained ankle and wrist injury and chipped in with 15 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists to overcome a horrible 2-for-15 shooting night.

Plumlee, meanwhile, was 9 of 9 from the field, continuing a remarkable run in which he is averaging 17.5 points and 11.2 rebounds over the last 14 games while shooting a 75.8% (94 of 124) from the field.

Hornets coach Steve Clifford said the biggest difference is Plumlee's game this season is he's more confident in his free throw shooting and is attacking the basket more aggressively, trying to draw contact instead of avoiding it.

Plumlee shot 39.2% from the free throw line last year and eventually changed from shooting right-handed to left-handed.

He's shooting 66.6% from the line this year with his left hand.

“He has such good instincts, he’s faking and creating contact versus the film I watched last year, he wasn’t going into contact as much," Clifford said. "... He’s taking the ball hard to the basket, and he feels good about his free throw shooting. To be able to do what he’s done (switching shooting hands), I’m not sure many people can do that. He was in here all summer doing it, so he’s got confidence.”

Plumlee is even shooting his jump shots left-handed, although he doesn't attempt many.

But he buried a 14-footer with 1:30 left in the game to put Charlotte up by 12, screaming excitedly at the Hornets' bench prompting his teammates to jump out of their seats and wave towels.

“He works on it every day, so it’s about time he took one,” joked Rozier.

Said Plumlee: “Just felt good. Low clock, stepping into it. It felt good."

DeMar DeRozan had 28 points for the Bulls, while Zach LaVine finished with 18 points and nine rebounds, but was quiet in the second half. Patrick Williams had 15 points, but Chicago’s three-game win streak came to an end.

The Bulls built a 55-47 lead at halftime behind a balanced attack while holding the Hornets to 39.5% shooting the first half.

But the Hornets battled back to tie the game at 71 late in the third quarter behind Rozier, who tied a franchise record with five third quarter steals while turning the momentum with six straight points.

Charlotte began to pull away in the fourth quarter, building a 97-88 lead behind a 3-pointer from Ball and a driving layup by Plumlee. Ball and Plumlee combined for 18 points in the fourth.

The Hornets had lost seven of their last nine games, but played an inspired second half, particularly on defense. They limited to the Bulls to 5-of-24 shooting from the field and outscored Chicago 34-17.

“There are going to be those nights where we didn’t shoot the ball well at all from the 3, we just didn’t,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. “We have got to find just more desperation. We have got to become more desperate, and I think there are times where we are just not desperate enough and that is what it is going to take.”

VROOM VROOM

NASCAR drivers Bubba Wallace, Kurt Busch and Tyler Reddick took in the game from courtside as the part of “crossover night.” All three drive for the 23XI NASCAR team co-owned by Hornets owner Michael Jordan and driver Denny Hamlin.

TIP INS

Bulls: Only received 11 points from their bench.

Hornets: Outrebounded the Bulls 52-43.

UP NEXT

Bulls: At Orlando on Saturday.

Hornets: Host Miami on Sunday.

___

AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports



LeBron, Giannis chosen as captains for NBA All-Star Game

LeBron James is closing in on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s NBA career scoring record. And now, he has caught Abdul-Jabbar on another page of the All-Star record book.

James was announced Thursday as an NBA All-Star for the 19th time, the Los Angeles Lakers’ star tying Abdul-Jabbar for the most selections in league history. James — the leading overall vote-getter — will be the captain of one of the teams for the Feb. 19 All-Star Game in Salt Lake City, while Eastern Conference voting leader Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks will captain the other side.

This is the sixth year the NBA has used the captain format for the All-Star Game; James has been a captain every time and has never lost, taking a 5-0 record into this year. Antetokounmpo is a captain for the third time, after also earning that right in 2019 and 2020.

James and Antetokounmpo will pick their teams shortly before the game in Salt Lake City, a newly announced twist and a departure from past years in which the captains picked a week or two in advance of All-Star weekend.

The other eight starters they’ll be choosing from, barring any changes because of injury beforehand, are: Denver's two-time reigning NBA MVP Nikola Jokic, NBA scoring leader Luka Doncic of Dallas, Golden State's Stephen Curry, Boston's Jayson Tatum, Brooklyn teammates Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, Cleveland's Donovan Mitchell and New Orleans' Zion Williamson.

“I’m definitely blessed and humbled to be a part of this,” Mitchell said during the televised starters’ announcement on TNT. “To be a part of my fourth All-Star and now to be a starter, I couldn’t be happier.”

The big intrigue was the third East frontcourt spot, where Philadelphia's Joel Embiid — No. 2 in the NBA's scoring race entering Thursday at 33.4 points per game — was the odd man out after Antetokounmpo, Durant and Tatum were the top three in the balloting.

Starters — three frontcourt players and two guards from each conference — were selected by a combination of three different votes: fan balloting counted for 50%, media balloting was worth 25% and voting by the NBA's players made up the final 25%.

The reserves, which are chosen by votes from the league’s coaches, will be announced Feb. 2. Among the players certain to merit strong consideration: Portland's Damian Lillard, Oklahoma City's Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Boston's Jaylen Brown and Miami's Bam Adebayo.

James is 157 points away from Abdul-Jabbar’s career scoring total of 38,387 points. At his current average of 29.9 points per game, James will need just over five games to break the record – and, if he doesn’t miss any games in the interim, would be on pace to pass Abdul-Jabbar in a Feb. 7 home game against Oklahoma City.

And that means the All-Star weekend, if James passes the record beforehand, could be a celebration of his breaking a record that Abdul-Jabbar has held for nearly 40 years.

“Calculating out when it might happen, it seems at this point it’s likely to happen before our All-Star break,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said last week in Paris. “If it were to happen before our All-Star break, it seems like the All-Star Game this year, which is in Salt Lake City, may be the perfect opportunity to honor him.”

James is now tied with Abdul-Jabbar for most All-Star selections, and if James plays in Salt Lake City he will become the first player in NBA history to actually appear in 19 All-Star games. Abdul-Jabbar was selected to the 1973 game but did not play.

That’ll be just another entry on a long list of All-Star records for James. He’s the first player to be selected to 19 consecutive All-Star games — until Thursday, he shared that record with 18-time-selection Kobe Bryant, the Lakers legend who died Jan. 26, 2020, exactly three years to the date from Thursday.

If he actually starts, it’ll be James’ 19th time doing so, four more anyone else in league history; Bryant made 15 starts. The 19 starts in a row extends another All-Star record; Bob Cousy has the second-longest such streak, having started 13 straight.

James also is the career All-Star leader in minutes, points, field goals made and field goals attempted.

___

AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports



Warriors' Green, others sacrifice minutes to boost backups

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Draymond Green dribbles the ball up court and takes charge of Golden State’s backups, directing two-way teammate Anthony Lamb on the wing, dishing the ball to Donte DiVincenzo or finding Jonathan Kuminga down low.

The move Warriors coach Steve Kerr made with Green in November to boost the defending champions’ then-struggling second unit has worked out well, especially considering those players have been needed in a big way due to injuries over the past month.

Green, who continues to play significant time with the reserves, is regularly praised by coaches around the league for his willingness to sacrifice his starter minutes to help the overall balance, something other stars are also doing around the NBA.

“It’s the modeling part for those guys that’s very helpful for them in their game,” said Rockets coach Stephen Silas, who called Green “one of the most cerebral players in our league who has a voice that those guys will listen to."

In Dallas, Luka Doncic is relied upon to play key stretches with each unit. With Nets star Kevin Durant sidelined by a knee injury, Kyrie Irving is also spending more of his minutes with the Brooklyn backups as coach Jacque Vaughn is forced to get more creative with his lineups.

"Some nights we’re going to put points on the board very easily, guys are feeling good," Irving said of adjusting without Durant, “and some nights we’re going to have to really rely on our poise, really rely on our defensive pressure, and let that lead us to wins."

Rick Carlisle recalls fondly how former Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki also used to play with the backups. And when Carlisle played, the now-Pacers coach always cherished the minutes Hall of Famer Bill Walton played with him and the Boston backups.

Hawks coach Nate McMillan took on that role at times, too. McMillan used to play key stretches with the youngsters — and the stars -- in Seattle, taking great pride in making the others shine, “because that was the strength of my game.” Gary Payton would move to the wing and McMillan might run the point on the floor with Hersey Hawkins, Sam Perkins and Detlef Schrempf.

“I was the guy that would come in and really be that coach out on the floor,” McMillan recalled. “I was that guy who was initiating and making sure that we set up. Very similar to Draymond, I wasn’t providing a lot of scoring but the defense was going to be there, moving the ball, getting the ball to those shooters, all of that."

Those versatile players mean so much, to both the starters and the backups, for their ability to make everyone on the roster better. The Warriors are counting on the experience gained by the young players now making them a far better team come playoff time in April and May.

To this day, Carlisle treasures the time he spent on the court with Walton.

“When I was a young player we traded for Bill Walton when I was in Boston and I was a hell of a lot better player when I was on the floor with Bill Walton,” Carlisle said. “I wasn’t very good but now when you’ve got a chance to be on the floor with a Hall-of-Fame-type player like that who has major impact on defense and offense, it’s going to change you.”

Green gets that. He wants to be part of helping his teammates build a better NBA future by serving as an on-court guide. He has the championship pedigree.

“It’s definitely very important and I think guys do appreciate it. Ultimately, you have to understand a guy’s situation and how they fare in their minutes. How the team fares in their minutes can determine their future, so for me I take it very seriously, because how that group turns out is very important,” Green said.

"So I just view it from a different standpoint of life. I honestly view those minutes even more important than my starter minutes because those guys aren’t just set in what their careers are going to be."

These rotations don't work everywhere. Depth is a key part of the success if you ask Hornets coach Steve Clifford — not to mention the ability to adapt on the fly over the course of a long season with all the ups and downs and tough travel days.

“To have long playoff runs like that you’ve got to be versatile and flexible in your lineups. I think also part of it has to do with what kind of team you have and what kind of depth you have,” Clifford said. "You have to have good players, like really good players off the bench, if you can play with only one starter. Usually it’s more veteran that way, when you’re playing a lot of younger guys usually you’re going to have to have a couple starters out there when they’re in the game.”

Warriors assistant Jama Mahlalela credits Green for doing whatever is needed for the betterment of the team.

It's not a chore for the 11th-year veteran Green.

“The way I look at it is you can help impact someone’s life,” he said, “and I take that seriously.”

___

AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports



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