NEW ORLEANS — It was a setup. But what a guy to set up.
New Orleans Pelicans center Anthony Davis wanted to win the All-Star Game MVP award in his home city, and his teammates helped him get it. Davis, set up repeatedly by teammates for easy dunks, scored an All-Star Game record 52 points to win the award and lead the West to a 192-182 victory. It was the highest-scoring game in league history.
Davis broke Wilt Chamberlain’s record, which had stood for 55 years, by 10 points. He clearly appreciated his teammates’ effort.
“It was amazing,” the Chicago native said. “That’s what I wanted to do. I stressed that, I think more than enough, to the guys in the locker room that I wanted to get the MVP for this crowd, for this city, and I ended up doing it.”
Davis made 26 of 39 shots, including 0-for-4 from three-point range. His teammates combined for 60 assists in the game. Davis had none.
“Those guys did a great job of just finding me, giving me the basketball. They wanted me to score 50,” Davis said. “Every time, Kawhi [Leonard] was like, ‘Six more points.’ And James [Harden, who had 12 assists] was like, ‘I’m going to pass you the ball.’ Those guys did a great job of allowing me to do this. I want to thank all of them. This definitely means a lot to me.”
Arguably the highlight of the game was a give-and-go from Russell Westbrook to Kevin Durant and back to Westbrook for a dunk in the first half. The two former Thunder teammates, who considered themselves brothers, had a notable falling out after Durant bolted the Thunder for the Warriors in free agency in the offseason.
Their frosty relationship was palpable throughout the weekend. The West players on the bench celebrated the play demonstrably.
“I saw some ice flying,” West coach Steve Kerr said. “There were three or four guys that were kind of leading the charge with laughter and the mocking. I think it was DeAndre [Jordan] and DeMarcus [Cousins]. It was a fun moment.”
Westbrook’s postgame response didn’t exactly indicate a thaw.
“Yeah, he threw a lob. That’s all that happened,” said Westbrook, who scored 41 points for the West. “Just threw a lob. It’s basketball. That’s it.”
All-Star Game needs work
From a competitive standpoint, the game was largely a farce, with neither team playing defense and players on both sides going all-out for entertainment rather than competition. It’s a situation the NBA might have to address.
“Yeah,” Kerr said. “I think in the past at least generally in the fourth quarter guys have picked it up. That’s what I was expecting. It didn’t happen [in this game]. I would like to see it more competitive. I’m not sure how to do it. It’s up to the players, really.
“I think it would be good to possibly incentivize the guys somehow. I don’t know if you can get their charities involved or winner-take-all type thing. But I think it’s possible to play a lot harder without taking a charge.”
The next All-Star Game is Feb. 18, 2018, in Los Angeles, which will host for a record sixth time.
Bulls not on LeBron’s radar
While the Bulls are seventh in the Eastern Conference and have beaten the Cavaliers and Celtics twice and the Spurs once, they are not exactly on everybody’s radar when it comes to the postseason. Here’s LeBron James on the East:
“The East is playing great ball. You’ve got Boston. You’ve got Washington, who’s hit a hot streak. Boston has been consistent all year. You got Atlanta, who’s been playing really good ball.
“You’ve got some other teams — you got Miami, who hit a hot streak and they’re trying to make a push in the playoffs. You’ve got certain teams that are right there — New York, Milwaukee, Charlotte … Detroit. The East has been good all year. I’m just happy to be a part of it. I’ve been part of the East for 14 years. It feels like home.”
Chicago’s own D-League stars
Chicago-area products Abdel Nader (Niles North) of the Maine Red Claws and Alfonzo McKinnie (Marshall) of the Windy City Bulls scored 16 points each in the East’s 105-100 victory over the West in the D-League All-Star Game.
The 6-8, 225-pound Nader, the Celtics’ second-round draft pick (58th overall) out of Iowa State in 2016, is averaging 22.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists in the D-League.
“I think my offensive game is completely NBA ready,” Nader said. “I just need to tone up some things defensively and I’ve had a big improvement in that. That’s one of the things the d-league has helped me with. For the most part, I think I’m ready to go.
The 6-8, 215-pound McKinnie, a tremendous leaper who was undrafted out of Wisconsin-Green Bay in 2015, is averaging 15.1 points and 9.2 rebounds in the D-League. He averaged 8.0 points a game as a senior at Wisconsin-Green Bay in 2014-15.
“I’m pretty sure by playing on stages like this, there’s a lot of different people watching,” McKinnie said. “Me playing how I play and doing it consistently, I think I might have a shot [at the NBA] — if not this year, I think next year or whenever it may be. I just keep the mindset that I’ve got to go hard every day and keep going until I get that opportunity — [with] whichever team it may be.”
Product of Hoiberg
Nader credits former Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg for putting him on an NBA path.
“When I got to Iowa State he really taught me how to think the game. That really changed my career,” Nader said. “that’s why I have ultimate respect for him. He is a great basketball mind. And he’s very professional. And I love the guy. We’re still very close. We stay in contact. I think he’s going to turn it around [with the Bulls].”
Earth to Kyrie Irving
Kyrie Irving said he was trying to make a point when he said the Earth is flat in a recent podcast — an “alternative fact” that sparked a debate at All-Star weekend over just how stupid Kyrie Irving is. Irving seemed to be explaining that he was mocking the media’s penchant for blowing things out of proportion and taking them out of context. If so, his attempt to make that point was awkward at best. Opinions, rumors and personal issues are blown out of proportion and taken out of context. Alternative facts are ridiculed as incorrect and foolhardy.
But NBA commissioner Adam Silver and James — Irving’s Cavs teammate — had fun with it.
“Kyrie and I went to the same college [Duke]. He may have taken some different courses than I did,” Silver, who also attended the University of Chicago, said to laughter at his press conference Saturday at the Smoothie King Center. “But in all seriousness, as he made clear, he was trying to be provocative and I think that was effective. I think it was a larger comment on the sort of so-called fake news debate that’s going on in our society right now in terms of what’s reported, and it led to an interesting discussion.
“But personally, I believe the world is round.”
LeBron: “Kyrie is my little brother. He’s my all-star point guard, superstar point guard. And if he decides he wants to say the earth is flat, then so be it. He’s an interesting guy, man. He believes it.
Durant having a great time
NBA players and coaches are fooling themselves if they think the fractured relationship between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook is not a story. This is a league so founded on brotherhood that players all but man-hug each other after every free throw — yet the animosity between two players who once were close friends and “brothers” as teammates is palpable.
Durant and Westbrook avoided each other during the West team practice. As they prepared for media interviews afterwards, Durant purposely turned away to avoid making eye contact with Westbrook as he passed his former teammate.
Durant generally is not very effusive, but he appeared more sullen than usual this weekend. During his media interview after Saturday’s practice, he was asked if he was enjoying the experience.
“Yeah, I’m an all-star for the eighth time — why wouldn’t I enjoy it?” he said testily. “What you mean? You want me to be jumping up and down and smiling and bouncing off the walls? No — I’ve been here eight times. I know the routine.”
And the winners are …
Rockets guard Eric Gordon beat the Cavaliers’ Kyrie Irving to win the three-point contest. Pacers forward Glenn Robinson III won the slam-dunk contest. The Knicks’ 7-3 Kristaps Porzingis beat the Jazz’ Gordon Hayward to win the skills competition.