News and notes from across the NBA:
Prospective All-Star starters
The NBA released its second set of All-Star returns, with Lakers veteran Kobe Bryant the runaway leader with 1.3 million votes. If the fan voting holds steady through the Jan. 18 deadline, the Western Conference will also be represented by Stephen Curry and Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors, and both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Curry is second to Bryant overall with almost 926,000 votes.
The Eastern Conference would feature LeBron James and Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat, Paul George of the Indiana Pacers and Andre Drummond of the Detroit Pistons. Both Drummond and Green would be first-time All-Stars. Bryant is on track to make his 18th appearance in his 20th and final season.
West All-Star reserves?
The fans select the starters; the league's 30 coaches pick seven reserves for each squad. Assuming the current voting trends hold firm, and the 10 aforementioned players selected play in the NBA's 65th All-Star game, who else should make the trip to Toronto for the Feb. 14 exhibition?
The Clippers deserve two participants in Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio Spurs) should be a lock in the West, along with Anthony Davis (New Orleans Pelicans), James Harden (Houston Rockets) and Klay Thompson (Warriors). Put DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento Kings) in the final spot, though Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers), Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas Mavericks) and Marc Gasol (Memphis Grizzlies) warrant serious consideration.
East All-Star reserves?
The Eastern Conference squad should also include a pair of Toronto Raptors in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. The Chicago Bulls also deserve two with Jimmy Butler and former Lakers forward/center Pau Gasol.
The New York Knicks have begun to resurge with the help of Carmelo Anthony. Veterans Paul Millsap (Atlanta Hawks) and Chris Bosh (Heat) are also both worthy of an All-Star berth. Other candidates include John Wall (Washington Wizards), Kemba Walker (Charlotte Hornets), Reggie Jackson (Pistons) and Hassan Whiteside (Heat). Snubs are inevitable.
Butler with 40 in a half
Whether voted in by fans or coaches to his second All-Star game, Butler has emerged as the best player on the Bulls. Last Sunday, Butler eclipsed Michael Jordan's franchise record of 39 points in a half, scoring 40 through the third and fourth quarters of a 115-113 Chicago win over Toronto. Butler finished with 42 for the game, after scoring just two points in the first half. For the season, the fifth-year guard is averaging 22 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.1 assists a game through Friday.
Nets lose Jack
The struggling Brooklyn Nets were dealt a blow last Saturday when point guard Jarrett Jack suffered a season-ending knee injury. The veteran averaged 12.8 points and 7.4 assists through 32 appearances. The Nets will rely on Shane Larkin, son of former Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin, to replace Jack. The Boston Celtics couldn't be happier — the 14th-place Nets (27th overall) owe their first-round pick in June to the Celtics as part of the 2013 Kevin Garnett/Paul Pierce trade. Meanwhile, Brooklyn will earn no reward for another lost season.
The NBA's waiver deadline passed, locking in all nonguaranteed players for the remainder of the year. A few didn't make the cut. The Grizzlies waived former UCLA Bruin and Clippers center Ryan Hollins. The Utah Jazz waived Elijah Millsap, brother of Hawks All-Star Paul Millsap. Also sent on their way: Bryce Cotton and Cory Jefferson (Phoenix Suns), Kostas Papanikolaou (Denver Nuggets) and Christian Wood (Philadelphia 76ers). Meanwhile, the Lakers decided to keep Metta World Peace ($1.5 million), Tarik Black ($845,059) and Marcelo Huertas ($525,093); the Clippers held onto Luc Mbah a Moute ($1.3 million).
CLEVELAND AT SAN ANTONIO: Thursday at 5 p.m. PST. TV: TNT.
It’s the first meeting this season between these title contenders. LeBron James’ heavy workload has eased up since All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving returned to the lineup three weeks ago after knee surgery; Irving dropped 32 points at Washington on Wednesday, his best game since his return. Meanwhile, Spurs free agent LaMarcus Aldridge has fit into their lineup with ease. But the team’s best player is 24-year-old small forward Kawhi Leonard, who leads them in scoring and is playing so well at both ends of the court that he deserves to make his first All-Star team.
— Barry Stavro
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