Here’s whats trending in the NBA:
Cousins stars, Kings stumble
Sacramento Kings forward/center DeMarcus Cousins, 25, in his sixth season is playing the best basketball of his career. For the month of January, Cousins is averaging almost 33 points and 13 rebounds a game. Cousins reached a career high Monday with 56 points and on Thursday he was named an All-Star for the second straight season.
Unfortunately for Sacramento, the team remains mediocre. Despite Cousins’ 56 points, they lost in double overtime to the Charlotte Hornets. Sacramento is still in range of the eighth playoff berth in the Western Conference. But the team hasn’t made the postseason since 2006, when they had current Lakers forward Metta World Peace — then known as Ron Artest.
Raptors are soaring
While the Cleveland Cavaliers were busy changing coaches (firing David Blatt, hiring former Lakers guard Tyronn Lue), the Toronto Raptors have quietly emerged as the second-best team in the Eastern Conference. Through Friday, the Raptors had won 10 straight, threatening to overtake the Cavaliers.
Leading the way for the Raptors are All-Stars guards Kyle Lowry and former USC Trojan DeMar DeRozan. While the West can boast the three top overall teams with the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder, the Raptors are neck and neck with the Clippers as the fifth-best team in the standings.
Every vote counts
New Orleans Pelicans forward/center Anthony Davis was selected by coaches as an All-Star reserve in the West, but he wasn’t voted in as a starter by fans. Dallas Mavericks journeyman center Zaza Pachulia earned more votes from fans than Davis, who finished ninth in the West’s frontcourt balloting. Starting an All-Star game is a nice accolade, but for Davis, the snub may cost him millions of dollars.
In July, the Pelicans signed Davis to a five-year, $120-million extension at the league maximum. By the league’s complex rules, if Davis had been voted in as an All-Star starter for the second time in his young career, his new contract would have jumped to $145 million. Now the 22-year-old needs the media to vote him onto his second All-NBA team (first, second or third will suffice) at the end of the season, in order to earn the bump in pay. One more path to that windfall for Davis is earning the NBA’s most valuable player award this season. But with the Pelicans struggling, he won’t be in the running.
Rookie takes over
The Indiana Pacers have experimented for much of the season with Paul George at power forward, with moderate success, but the team has recently shifted their All-Star back to his natural small forward position. On Thursday, the Pacers promoted 6-foot-11 rookie Myles Turner to the starting lineup, where he flourished with 20 points in a win over the Atlanta Hawks. Turner, taken 11th overall in June’s NBA draft out of Texas, barely played through the first few months of the season. Over the last few weeks, he’s been impressive, scoring a career-high 31 points against the Warriors on Jan. 22.
All-Star snubs are inevitable but the most egregious oversight for the Feb. 14 game is Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard — currently sixth in the league in scoring at 24.1 points a game. The Blazerswere supposed to be rebuilding after losing veterans LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez this past summer, but Lillard has kept his team in contention for the final playoff spot in the West. Who should Lillard have supplanted? Aldridge — who is an important member of the San Antonio Spurs, but isn’t shouldering nearly the load Lillard carries in Portland.
McRae’s 61 points
On Tuesday night, 6-foot-5 guard Jordan McRae set an NBA Development League scoring record with 61 points, helping the Delaware 87ers defeat the Canton Charge, 130-123. By Friday, McRae was on an NBA roster — called up by the Phoenix Suns on a 10-day contract. McRae, the 58th pick in the 2014 NBA draft, was cut by the Philadelphia 76ers before the season began. In his NBA debut Friday, McRae scored 12 points with the Suns at Madison Square Garden in a loss to the New York Knicks.
OKLAHOMA CITY AT GOLDEN STATE: Saturday at 6 p.m. TV: ESPN.
Owing to a scheduling quirk, this is the first meeting of the season between these longtime rivals. The Warriors and the Spurs, get the nod from most observers as the two most talented squads in the West. But the Thunder also has aspirations of emerging as the best team in the West come playoff time. This contest is also a showdown between a pair of 27-year-olds who are the last two league most valuable players, Stephen Curry (2015) and Kevin Durant (2014).
— Barry Stavro
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