Cavaliers hold off late Pacers rally to win Game 2, take 2-0 series lead



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CLEVELAND — LeBron James said that the Cleveland Cavaliers Jerseys’ meager one-point margin of victory in Game 1 didn’t bother him, so long as the Cavs got the win.

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That said, he saw his team build a big lead again, only for the Pacers to get as close as a two-possession game in Monday’s 117-111 win, which put the Cavs up 2-0 over the Indiana Pacers Jerseys.

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If Pacers superstar Paul George was upset with CJ Miles for taking the potential game-winner from him Saturday, you have to wonder how he felt about Lance Stephenson falling into the foil role Cleveland needed to wake up and play inspired ball, leading to a 19-point Cavaliers lead.

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The Cavs’ masterful third quarter, in which they outscored the Pacers 33-20, really got going when Stephenson was matched with Kevin Love. Cleveland’s All-Star forward took it to Indiana’s wild card.

The third ended with Kyrie Irving tossing in a 3-pointer over Stephenson and jawing at him to punctuate the play he made before heading back to the Cavs’ bench for the quarter break.

When Irving wasn’t scoring on Stephenson, he was unleashing on Jeff Teague much the same way he did each of the last two postseasons when Teague played for the Atlanta Hawks Jerseys.

Irving led all scorers with 37 points. Love was right behind him with 27 points on an exceptionally efficient 6-of-7 shooting and 11 rebounds. James was solid despite a game-high eight turnovers, contributing 25 points cheap jerseys, 10 rebounds and seven assists. James’ teams had previously been 0-3 in the playoffs when he had at least nine turnovers, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

This is the first time that Love, Irving & James have all scored 25 points in the same playoff game. The Cavaliers are now 7-0 when the trio score at least 20 cheap jerseys points each in the postseason.

We’ve got you covered all the way to the Finals with the latest news, schedules, analysis and more. 2017 NBA Playoffs »

• Schedule | BPI odds | Forecast | Vote!
• Winners, losers after opening weekend
• Portis plays game of his life for Bulls
• Isaiah plays through heartbreak
• Beverley leads Rockets in opener
• Beard’s Rockets takes first over Russ
• It’s Dray all day for Warriors’ opener
• “”>LeBron’s all-time top playoff games
• Upsets? Series that could surprise
• Experts’ first-round picks: East | West

Paul George had 32 points to pace Indiana once again, with 14 coming in a 4th quarter that saw the Pacers outscore the Cavs 33-21 and get as close as a four-point deficit with 19.5 seconds left to play.

The Cavs made their move to take charge earlier than they did in Game 1, using an 11-0 run from the end of the first quarter through the start of the second quarter to seemingly grab control. Cleveland went 5-for-8 during the spurt while Indiana was 0-for-4 with two turnovers.

However, it was the Cavs’ turnovers that allowed the Pacers to stick around, cutting a 13-point Cleveland lead down to five. After coughing it up 11 times in Game 1, leading to 19 points for Indiana, the Cavs had 11 turnovers in the first half alone Monday and the Pacers scored 14 points off them. James was the biggest culprit, losing the ball six times to mar an otherwise brilliant 17 points on 7-for-10 shooting, five rebounds and five assists in the first half. Overall, Indiana outscored Cleveland 24-17 on points off turnovers

Iman Shumpert saw his first action of the series starting the second half in place of J.R. Smith, who left the game at halftime with a left hamstring injury. Shumpert quickly made his presence felt, guarding George on one end and hitting a 3 on another to cap a 7-0 run to start the third quarter that put the Cavs back up by 12.

Check out the team site for more game coverage

Check out the team site for more game coverage

Later Shumpert poked the ball away from George and dove to the floor for the loose ball, causing a jump ball to be called. Tristan Thompson approached Shumpert to celebrate his defensive gusto while the guard flexed his biceps to the delight of the crowd wholesale nba jerseys.

The Cavs’ offense was exemplary, shooting 60.3 percent through three quarters and 55.3 percent for the game. Their defense still has some kinks to work out, as the Pacers shot 51.2 percent overall and 8-for-20 (40.0 percent) from 3.

It’s not like the effort wasn’t there on the defensive end. Twice Love set up to take a charge and appeared to have position – first on George and later on Teague – and both times a blocking foul was called on Love. James was called for a technical foul for expressing his displeasure in the second call that went against Love to the refs.

He eventually got one to go his way, drawing a charge on the 6-9, 285-pound Kevin Seraphin in the third quarter – a third quarter that belonged to Love. He scored 10 in the period, including going right at Stephenson in consecutive sequences when being matched with the 6-5 swingman in the post.

Game 3 is Thursday in Indiana.

NBA – Players shocked by All-Star move out of Charlotte



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LAS VEGAS — Under NBA commissioner Adam Silver, the league has been forceful and proactive on social issues that were important to its players like gun violence, the Donald Sterling scandal and controversial police and legal cases with the African-American community.

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But relocating the All-Star Game from Charlotte in reaction to North Carolina’s controversial anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender law is wholly uncharted territory for Silver, the NBA and a major professional sports league.

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This was Silver leading, not just responding to public calls from players and owners.

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If anything, many players seemed genuinely torn on whether moving the All-Star Game because of the controversial bill — which has been colloquially oversimplified as a “bathroom bill” — was worth the disappointment of losing the game for Charlotte.

Indiana Pacers Jerseys forward Paul George told ESPN on Thursday, “I’m huge on keeping your word. I’m not necessarily saying it’s bad for the NBA to move it. Charlotte is a growing city and the Hornets have picked that program up. It’s a shame … we’d take that away from them.”

But Silver felt strongly that the cheap NBA could not allow one of its signature public events to take place in a state where there are now no protections against discrimination for LGBT people at places such as restaurants, hotels or in taxis.

Silver explained during his annual news conference during the NBA Finals that “we as a league want to make sure there is an environment where the LGBT community feels protected down in North Carolina. At the same time, I think the bathroom issue discount nba jerseys, frankly, has become a little bit of a distraction. From the very beginning, that was not the core issue here. It was protection for the LGBT community in terms of economic rights, personal rights, and the bathroom bill became part of it.”

Many players expressed disappointment for Hornets owner Michael Jordan, who had been thrilled when Charlotte was chosen as host of the 2017 All-Star Game. AP Photo/Chuck Burton

Sources told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols that openly gay Golden State Warriors Jerseys president Rick Welts made an impassioned plea to the NBA’s owners at last week’s Board of Governors meeting to explain how discriminatory this particular law was to the LGBT community.

Still, the decision to relocate the game Thursday came as a shock to many NBA players.

Toronto Raptors Jerseys wholesale guard Kyle Lowry learned of the NBA’s decision when he got an alert on his cellphone before Team USA’s practice. “Oh wow, they moved it,” Lowry said, as he held his phone out to show Mavericks forward Harrison Barnes.

Barnes said he felt like it was important to choose the political causes that resonate personally with you, and not to jump into the fray on every controversial issue he was asked about.

“Now that we’re able to speak out on issues, there’s no real standard about what you have to say,” Barnes said. “I think you can talk about whatever is on your mind or in your heart. Other issues you can’t.

“I think you kind of lose some credibility if all of a sudden on social media, you may not know what you’re talking about but you’re just weighing in on everything.” –>

Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony told ESPN that the players “didn’t think it was going to get to this” and that he was disappointed for Hornets owner Michael Jordan and the city of Charlotte because the game was “definitely going to boost everything.”

Anthony, of course, has been one of the most vocal players in trying to raise awareness for the Black Lives Matter movement. In addition to the call to action he posted on Instagram and the speech he, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul and LeBron James made at the ESPYs, Anthony has been organizing a meeting in Los Angeles on Monday to discuss sensitive racial and cultural issues.

Anthony has been warned by advisers that such a public forum could begin with good intentions but end with uncomfortable consequences once people begin speaking freely on emotional, controversial issues. He said Thursday he would press on with the conversation anyway. “I won’t listen to anybody that tells me I shouldn’t do this or shouldn’t do that,” Anthony said.

“Right now, the players and people have a very strong stance on what’s going on and what they believe in,” Anthony said of his activism in response to recent incidents between police officers and African-Americans. “The problem is, people don’t have answers. I think everybody is searching for answers. People are searching for what to do and how to do it. We’re not going to find answers overnight. It’s not going to happen. It’s following through with the message I have out there and continuing that conversation.”

This is the next step now that players have started to venture out from beyond the safety of hashtag activism on social media. And maybe that was the point of Silver’s decision to relocate the game Thursday without knowing he had a full buy-in from his players and owners. Take some time. Think, research, learn, then speak publicly if you feel compelled. Not everyone will agree. Not everyone will like what is said. But this door is wide open now, and there’s probably no closing it.

It’s the risk Silver assumed when he made the decision to relocate the All-Star Game. In the end, he decided to do it anyway, trusting that his players and owners will understand Silver’s decision to wade into social activism and say no to discrimination by pulling the 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte.

Kevin Durant declined comment when first asked by ESPN about the NBA’s decision after Team USA’s practice. He said he needed some time to think about it and study it.

During the next few hours, that’s what he did. One person close to the situation told him about Welts’ personal experiences as a gay man in the NBA. Durant read one of the many articles that have been written on Welts throughout the years.

After a few hours, he composed his thoughts on Twitter.

“I recognize this was a tough decision for the NBA but respect the choice,” Durant wrote. “Discrimination of any kind cannot be allowed.”

Pacers rout Raptors to force Game 7

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — This time, the Indiana Pacers Jerseys buckled down and fought back.

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Reeling from a fourth-quarter collapse followed by a sluggish start, the Pacers turned things around just in time with an 18-0 run to save their season.

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Paul George and George Hill combined for 24 second-half points Friday to help Indiana pull away for a 101-83 victory over the Raptors to force a decisive Game 7 on Sunday in Toronto.

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”We just had a fight in us,” George said. ”As a group, collectively, we knew that this could be the end of our season. We just did a great job of battling.”

And closing it out.

Indiana had trouble all season closing out games and when it blew a seemingly safe 13-point lead in Game 5, the question was how would the Pacers respond?

They answered with one of their best halves all year, closing the third quarter with six straight points after Toronto had cut the deficit to 65-64 and opening the fourth on a 12-0 run.

George led the way. The league’s No. 1 playoff scorer coming into the night had 21 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and nba jersey cheap two steals, going 10 of 10 at the free throw line.

He also had plenty of help. All five Indiana starters scored in double figures, including Myles Turner, who had 15 points, nine rebounds and four blocks. Hill added 12 points.

Coach Frank Vogel couldn’t have concocted a better script heading into Indiana’s biggest game of the season.

”I believe we can play with this team,” he said. ”We have great respect for them. But I really believe we’re hitting our stride at the right time and playing our best basketball of the season when it matters. You just have to continue to believe in who you are.” ”

Now the series and the pressure shifts back to Toronto.

The Raptors haven’t won a postseason series since 2001 and their 15-year drought is longest active streak in the league.

They have never won a best-of-seven series, something they could have done had they not blown a 3-2 lead and lost Game 7 on their home court against Brooklyn in 2014.

And if they had maintained the lead they held for the first 26 1/2 minutes of Game 6, they would already have a ticket to the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Instead, the Pacers’ defense stopped Toronto.

DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joseph each scored 15 points while Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan struggled yet again.

Lowry had 10 points and 10 assists, going 4 of 14 from the field, while DeRozan scored eight points and was 3 of 13.

The All-Star guards know they must perform better in Game 7 – or Toronto could be going home wholesale jerseys.

”The season would be a failure if we don’t get out of the first round and give ourselves a chance to play in the second round,” DeRozan said. ”We understand that.”

GOLD MEDAL

Indiana handed out gold T-shirts to fans at the game and it caused a bit of a stir because the wording on the shirts read: United State of Basketball, We The Gold. It was a twist on Toronto’s motto – We The North. Raptors coach Dwane Casey didn’t seem to mind that Indiana stole the idea. ”I know that they have a great home court. You know you’re in Pacers territory because of all the gold shirts,” he said. ”But what happens between the lines for 48 minutes is what I’m concerned about.”

UPSET CITY?

The Pacers are one win away from becoming the sixth team with the No. 7 seed nba jersey cheap to upset a No. 2 seed since the playoffs expanded in 1984. Of course, history isn’t what the Pacers are talking about. ”They’ll have their fans out in full force and they’re going to be revved up,” Pacers swingman Solomon Hill said. ”It’s just going to be the more desperate team – whoever wants it.”

FREE THROWS

DeRozan has been one of the league’s best at getting to the line, but he struggled again Friday. DeRozan made both of his free throw attempts. He’s been held to no free throws twice, after doing that only once all season. George, in contrast, is 55 of 58 at the line in the series and has already set a franchise record for most free throws made in an NBA playoff series.

TIP-INS

Raptors: The Raptors were outrebounded 23-16 in the second half and wound up getting outrebounded 44-40. … Jonas Valanciunas had 14 points. … Bismack Biyombo grabbed 10 rebounds. … Toronto gave up 20 points on 17 turnovers.

Pacers: Turner blocked four shots, giving him 19 in the series to break Antonio Davis’ previous franchise rookie record in a six-game series. … Indiana started the second half by making five of its first seven shots. … Actor-comedian Mike Epps, who lives in Indy, attended the game. … The Pacers have won four straight elimination games on their home court.Sports & RecreationBasketballIndiana Pacers JerseysTorontoGeorge Hill

In MVP race (and NBA itself), elite point guards dominate

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Chris Paul’s true value to the Los Angeles Clippers has never been more obvious than during these 19 games Blake Griffin has been out of the lineup.

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It should not have taken extenuating circumstance to remind the world just how important it is to have an elite point guard in today’s NBA, but it did.

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“People forget, huh?” said Clippers sixth man extraordinaire Jamal Crawford. “People forget what kind of leader he is, and that he’s been right there at the top of the point guard heap for years. He does whatever is needed that night. He doesn’t predetermine what he’s going to do. He plays aggressive, he’s always unselfish and he does whatever is needed to put us in a winning situation. That’s what the great ones do and they do it consistently, whether there is a spotlight on them or not. That’s what CP is all about.”

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To me, it’s like quarterbacks in the NFL these days. Everybody recognizes the importance of the position.

– Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford, on point guards in the NBA

Paul, who has led the Clippers to a 15-4 mark in Griffin’s absence, is one of the marquee players at what is undoubtedly the NBA’s marquee position. In this age of pace and space, where the “traditional” big man has given way to hybrid point forwards like Draymond Green and Paul George, having an elite point guard has become a must for teams with designs on contending.

It’s safe to say that like big men in a bygone era and shooting guards after that, point guards rule the roost.

“No question about it,” said a veteran Western Conference advance scout. “It’s the first item on nearly every scouting report, even for the teams that are struggling. It starts with the head of the snake in this era, especially with the way teams are playing and all of the high pick-and-roll sets teams are running. This is the deepest and best pool of point guard talent I can remember.”

There are five points guards on this week’s KIA Race to the MVP Ladder, led by reigning MVP Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, who has held down the No. 1 spot since the start of this season.

Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook checks in at No. 4, Paul at No. 6 and we have two newcomers, too: Toronto’s Kyle Lowry at No. 9 and Boston’s Isaiah Thomas at No. 10.

All five are All-Stars, highlighting the quality and depth at the position league wide.

“To me, it’s like quarterbacks in the NFL these days,” Crawford said. “Everybody recognizes the importance of the position. And if you have a Tom Brady Jerseys, a Peyton Manning Jerseys or better yet a Cam Newton Jerseys, your team has a chance to win big. If you don’t have someone of that caliber, it makes it tougher on everyone else. And that’s just reality.”

It starts with the head of the snake in this era, especially with the way teams are playing and all of the high pick-and-roll sets teams are running. This is the deepest and best pool of point guard talent I can remember.

– anonymous Western Conference scout

That reality will be on full display this weekend in Saturday night’s Super Bowl eve showdown between Curry’s Warriors and Westbrook’s Thunder (9 p.m. ET, ESPN), the first matchup between these two teams since Curry snatched the MVP trophy from Durant and the Warriors replaced the Thunder as the new super-team on the block.

The evolution of both players has been nothing short of remarkable. Curry, the league’s leading scorer, is in the midst of turning the basketball world on its head with his cosmic mix of shooting, scoring and playmaking on the runaway best team in the league. Westbrook, meanwhile, is a walking triple-double these days and has redefined his game and silenced all those who doubted his abilities as a facilitator.

“The improvement that Russell Westbrook has made is glaringly different this year,” said TNT’s Kenny Smith. “Because of his ability to rebound and pass the basketball, and get [Enes] Kanter, get [Steven] Adams involved this year, I would say he’s very improved in that area [of getting teammates involved offensively].”

The growth and development at the position league-wide is what’s truly remarkable. And there is nowhere where that is more evident than in Boston, where Thomas has transformed himself from a super sub into an All-Star.

“The right player at just the right time for that team,” Crawford said of his good friend and fellow Seattle-area native. “It doesn’t surprise me at all to see him in the All-Star Game. He’s exactly what you’re looking for in this new generation of point guards. He can do it all.”

The Top 10 in this week’s KIA Race to the MVP Ladder:

1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

Last week’s ranking: No. 1

Curry Goes Off In D.C.

Check out the best from Stephen Curry’s 51 point performance in super slow motion.

Someone in the Silicon Valley needs to fast track a virtual reality device that would allow the rest of us mere mortals to experience nights like Stephen Curry does on a regular basis. A night like he had Wednesday in Washington (51 points, 11-for-16 shooting on 3-pointers, and a little dancing for good measure) has to be on the high end, even for a player who is running away from the pack in the MVP race this season. Curry scored a combined 50 points in the three games before that rout of the Wizards, his lowest three-game total of the season. He made up for that lull in one night.

2. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder

Last week’s ranking: No. 3

Durant’s Game-Winning 3-Pointer

Kevin Durant crosses-up his defender and sticks the deep triple to take a three point lead with .5 seconds remaining in regulation.

Durant and the Thunder are hitting their stride just in time for Saturday night’s Super Bowl eve showdown against the Warriors at Oracle Arena. His 37 points and game winner against Orlando Wednesday highlighted Durant’s recent tear, he’s averaged 33.8 points on 51 percent shooting (44 percent from deep), 9.8 rebounds and 4.4 assists over the past five games. Durant and the Thunder have designs on doing what no other elite team has been able to do cheap nba authentic jerseys this season against the Warriors. We’ll find out Saturday night if they are up to the task.

3. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

Last week’s ranking: No. 4

James Pushes Cavs Past Pacers

LeBron James scores 24 points and adds 12 rebounds as the Cavaliers hold off the Pacers in overtime, 111-106.

The Cavaliers have looked like a completely different team since Tyronn Lue took over for David Blatt, even though LeBron has continued his maestro work (23.8 points on 58 percent shooting, 8.5 assists, 5.3 rebounds in the first week after Blatt) as the catalyst for this crew. He’s helped facilitate the faster pace Lue desires and has made a concerted effort to make sure Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are fully integrated into whatever the Cavaliers are doing. It’s the buy-in Blatt never could get out of this group.

4. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

Last week’s ranking: No. 5

Westbrook’s Triple-Double vs. Magic

Russell Westbrook records a triple-double going for 24 points, 19 rebounds and 14 assists in the victory over the Magic.

Westbrook is putting up a monster fight for Draymond Green’s title of “Mr. Triple-Double” this season. He’s currently working on a stretch of three straight triple-doubles and recorded perhaps an even more impressive milestone with his 24 points, 19 rebounds and 14 assists in the win over the Magic. He joined the uber-elite list of Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Elgin Baylor and Larry Bird as the only players to pile up those numbers in a game. And he’s the first to do it since Bird accomplished that feat (with 28, 19 and 15) on Jan. 3, 1982 against Atlanta. Westbrook is averaging a wicked 22 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds and two steals in his last 10 games and is more than ready for his matchup against Stephen Curry on Saturday night.

5. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs

Last week’s ranking: No. 2

Leonard’s Outstanding January

Spurs’ forward Kawhi Leonard is a nominee for the Kia Western Conference Player of the Month in January.

Leonard has come back to earth a bit recently, averaging 17.5 points on 47 percent shooting in his last 10 games. But the way the Spurs spread the ball around, and as LaMarcus Aldridge gets more and more comfortable, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich doesn’t need to lean on Leonard (or any other single player) to tote too heavy a load. Managing that balance the remainder of the regular season will be one of the Spurs’ biggest challenges. As expected, there’s been no drop off in Leonard’s defensive focus in the days leading up to his first All-Star Game appearance, where his defense will be the last thing anyone cares about in the big game.

6. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

Last week’s ranking: No. 6

Paul Solid vs. Lakers

Chris Paul leads the way for the Clippers with 27 points 7 assists as they defeat the Lakers, 105-93.

The Clippers’ four-game win streak came to an end Wednesday against a Minnesota team that has struggled mightily on the road this season. The loss came in part due to a technical foul from Paul in the final seconds, which apologized for afterward. But he nothing apologize for with the way he’s performed without Blake Griffin in the lineup. The Clippers are 15-4 without Griffin on the strength of some of Paul’s best work. The Clippers need Paul at his best with a four-game road trip between now and All-Star Weekend, an Eastern Conference jaunt that starts tonight in Orlando, runs through Miami (Sunday) and Philadelphia (Monday) and finishes in Boston Feb. 10.

7. Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors

Last week’s ranking: No. 8

Green’s Double-Double At MSG

Draymond Green records 20 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists to lead the Warriors over the Knicks.

Green blamed himself for the Warriors’ tight finish in Philadelphia last Saturday. He said he was selfishly chasing a triple-double that night. He came up short, of course. But rebounded with triple-doubles in his next two outings for his league-leading ninth and 10th, respectively. He finished with 20 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, two blocks and two steals in a win over the Knicks and 12 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds and five blocks in a win over the Wizards. He followed that up with a trip to the White House to celebrate the Warriors’ championship with President Barack Obama. Saturday night’s matchup against the Thunder is the perfect way to cap off a whirlwind week.

8. Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls

Last week’s ranking: No. 7

Butler Delivers In Bulls’ Win

Jimmy Butler scores 26 points with 10 assists, Pau Gasol adds 21 with 12 boards as Chicago takes it 114-91.

The minutes grind Butler has been on all season seems to have finally caught up with the All-Star swingman. Butler missed Wednesday’s win over Sacramento with left knee tendinitis. And he’s listed as questionable for tonight’s game in Denver (9 ET, NBA League Pass). The Bulls, who have had to deal with an avalanche of injury issues in coach Fred Hoiberg’s first season, cannot afford to work for any long stretches without Butler. When you check as many boxes a night as he does, there is no one player capable of replacing him in the lineup for an extended period of time. Butler averaged 22 points, 5 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 1.3 steals in his last four games.

9. Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors

Last week’s ranking: Not ranked

Lowry Gets Better Of Blazers

Kyle Lowry has a big night for Toronto, finishing with 30 points and eight assists as the Raptors defeat the Trail Blazers 110-103.

Lowry and the Raptors have quietly gone about the business of separating themselves from the rest of the pack behind Cleveland in the Eastern Conference standings. After Thursday’s win over the Trail Blazers in Portland (where Lowry survived his eight-turnover night to finish with 30 points, eight assists, six rebounds, two blocks and two steals) the Raptors sit two games behind the Cavaliers for the top spot. And that’s due in large part to the consistent work Lowry and fellow All-Star DeMar DeRozan have done leading the way for coach Dwane Casey’s crew. Disappointing performances in each of the past two postseasons has provided the perfect fuel for Lowry and the Raptors’ fire this season.

10. Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics

Last week’s ranking: Not ranked

Thomas, Celtics Handle Pistons

Isaiah Thomas scores 17 points and dishes out 7 assists as the Celtics defeat the Pistons 102-95.

Don’t look now, but here come Thomas and the Celtics, who have moved into the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference standings. Thomas is a week away from enjoying his first All-Star Weekend as a member of the Eastern Conference team. And his team is surging with him, having won seven of their past 10 games and two straight heading into tonight’s showdown against the Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena (7:30 ET, NBA League Pass). Thomas, who is averaging 19.6 points, 6.7 assists and 3.2 rebounds during that 10-game stretch, will have his hands full with Kyrie Irving and Matthew Dellavedova on the other side tonight. But that’s just the way the Celtics’ catalyst likes it.

Others Receiving Consideration: Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons Jerseys; Paul George, Indiana Pacers Jerseys; James Harden, Houston Rockets; DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors; Paul Millsap, Atlanta

Sekou Smith is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting. Trending

Friday’s showcase lacking in newbies this time around

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Rosters for the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge were announced last week for the game that will be played Friday night in Toronto as part of All-Star weekend, a game designed to spotlight the best young players of the game.

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In other news, it won’t.

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Any opportunity to include the assistant coaches’ votes as part of getting a read on the top rookies in 2015-16 disappeared with the return of the 2015 format of the United States against the World. To fill out ballots, teams had to include four guards, four frontcourt players and two at either spot with a minimum of three rookies and three second-year players. All of that combined to make selections internationally weird.

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Only three rookies made the U.S. squad: Jahlil Okafor, D’Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns mostly because of the number of deserving candidates in their sophomore season rounded out the roster. The World squad, on the other hand, included six newcomers — Mario Hezonja, Nikola Jokic, Emmanuel Mudiay, Raul Neto, Kristaps Porzingis and Trey Lyles as an injury replacement for Nikola Mirotic — even though some would have trouble getting into the conversation for the 15 best rookies. (Nothing personal, Neto.)

The vote became a numbers game and a balancing act, not another layer to be factored in. Maybe guard Russell making the U.S. roster and forward Justise Winslow was something to be put in The Ladder equation, maybe it was a position thing.

The final Ladder heading into the All-Star break, meanwhile:

1. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves

Last week’s ranking: No. 1

Towns Dominates Bulls

Karl-Anthony Towns scores 26 points with 17 rebounds as the Timberwolves surge past the Bulls on Saturday Night.

Towns has started at power forward and back at center, his original position, with Nikola Pekovic sidelined the last four games by a foot injury, but it doesn’t make a difference. The rebounding tear has reached eight consecutive games in double digits, with particularly impressive numbers recently on the offensive boards. Towns is at 12.5 in that stretch and 10.1 overall, No. 10 in the league. Only one Rookie of the Year in the last 10 seasons has averaged double figures, Blake Griffin with 12.1 in 2010-11.

2. Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks Jerseys

Last week’s ranking: No. 2

Dunk of the Night: Kristaps Porzingis

Kristaps Porzingis puts his defender in the spin cycle before soaring to the basket for the slam.

While interim coach Kurt Rambis, himself a former power forward, obviously understands Porzingis’ importance this season and especially to the future of the franchise, a coaching change always means uncertainty for a lot of players on their role and minutes. Porzingis was at 28.2 minutes per game at the time of Derek Fisher’s firing and 31.1. the last four. The No. 4 pick still had yet to recapture the rebounding numbers from November, but remained a presence as a shot blocker, all the way to No. 1 in the class and No. 7 in the league.

3. Jahlil Okafor5, Philadelphia 76ers Jerseys

Last week’s ranking: No. 3

Okafor Shines vs. Nets

Jahlil Okafor scores 22 points and grabs 17 rebounds as the Sixers defeat the Nets 103-98.

The minutes are dropping slightly, though with a steady decline in a very bad trend, and the scoring opportunities are dropping a lot. Okafor has gone from 16.3 shots a game in November to 15.2 in December to 13.0 in January before an encouraging, if slight, change of direction to 13.8 the first four games of February. At 13.8 points this month, and with Towns surging on offense, Okafor is in danger of not holding the top spot for the rookie scoring lead since the early days of the season. He is at 17.0, Towns at 16.7.

4. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

Last week’s ranking: No. 4

Jokic has consistently been contributing three or four assists a game, small input in a lot of cases but noteworthy for centers and especially meaningful during a recent shooting slump. He is tied for seventh in the class as the highest-ranking non-point guard. If the 1.9 per outing holds, he will become just the sixth rookie center in the last 16 years to average at least 1.7 assists, joining the good company of Pau Gasol, DeMarcus Cousins, Andrew Bogut, Marc Gasol and Yao Ming.

5. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns

Last week’s ranking: No. 6

Booker Shows His Court Vision

On the break, Devin Booker throws the behind the back pass to P.J. Tucker for the reverse layup.

It took until just before the All-Star break, but Booker has finally reached the qualifying minimum to be ranked among the league leaders in 3-point shooting. He is 17th, in addition to second among rookies and along with fast-charging Cameron Payne of the Thunder the only first-year player better than 40 percent. That is part of his six straight games with at least 15 points before the streak ended Monday, pushing Booker to 10.6 overall (sixth in the class). Booker didn’t get picked for the Rising Stars game, but will be in Toronto for the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest on Saturday night.

6. Justise Winslow, Miami Heat Jerseys

Last week’s ranking: No. 5

Winslow’s Big Block

Justise Winslow with a wonderful block during the second quarter.

The drop was more the result of Booker’s continued surge than anything Winslow did wrong. If anything, he has been solidifying his standing lately as one of the top rookies with the improved offense that has reached 56.8 percent from the field the last eight appearances, along with the big contribution of 7.9 rebounds in the same time. Winslow does not have a big scoring role with the Heat, but the shooting trend is encouraging as a complement to the defense that has been very good all season.

7. D’Angelo Russell, Los Angeles Lakers

Last week’s ranking: No. 7

Russell Finds Black

D’Angelo Russell finds Tarik Black with the bounce pass for the big-time slam.

Talk about a nice couple weeks. The seal of approval with the Rising Stars vote has been coupled with shooting 44.4 percent the last five games, a small sample size but a positive development for someone at 41.5 percent overall. There have also been better moments as a distributor after a lot of struggles the first half of the season. Russell’s new Ladder problem is that his two closest challengers for the spot are playing well enough to pass the Lakers point guard if the encouraging signs do not continue.

8. Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers Jerseys

Last week’s ranking: No. 8

George, Turner Overpower Lakers

Paul George records 21 points and nine rebounds, Myles Turner adds a double-double as the Pacers defeat the Lakers.

Turner has not yet reached the qualifying minimum — appearing in 70 percent of his team’s games — to be ranked among the league leaders in blocks, but his 1.43 an outing would be 18th. And with appearances in just 30 of Indiana’s 52 contests because of the fractured thumb that cost him most December, that status won’t come for at least a few weeks. Turner will have to be satisfied with rising to third among rookies and being one of the best in the league in the category regardless of experience the last three weeks or so.

9. Stanley Johnson, Detroit Pistons Jerseys

Last week’s ranking: No. 9

Johnson Scores Plus the Foul

Off the miss by Jose Calderon, Brandon Jennings outlets to Stanley Johnson who finishes with the shot off the glass plus the foul.

The player who has spent most of his time at small forward and has the physical tools and tenacity at 19 years old to handle real minutes at power forward in small-ball situations is now the starting shooting guard in place of the injured Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The key development remains Johnson and his continued improvements as a shooter. He is at 45.3 percent and 12.4 points the last 11 games, the first extended contribution on offense after previously making his mark on the other side of the ball. The season-long number, though, is still 39.3 percent.

10. Willie Cauley-Stein, Sacramento Kings

Last week’s ranking: No. 10

Willie Cauley-Stein Oop

Rajon Rondo finds Willie Cauley-Stein for the alley-oop.

The Kings’ latest re-emphasis on defense, this time while telling George Karl to take a few steps backward off the plank, creates more of an opportunity than before for Cauley-Stein. And he had a big role before — 20.5 minutes a game overall but 25.6 the last five. He is fourth among rookies in blocks, sixth in wholesale basketball jerseys rebounding, first in field-goal percentage and defending. Watch the minutes the first couple weeks back from the All-Star break. This is his chance.

Dropped out: none.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting. Trending

Simmons takes humbling path to earn role with Spurs

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He attended two junior colleges, the University of Houston for one season, went undrafted in 2012 and tried the American Basketball League before it folded. After all that, Jonathan Simmons was so not a NBA prospect that a year later, he was among the herd of NBA D-League hopefuls with, let’s face it, no real hope, who spent $150 for the privilege of being told to go away by the Austin Toros (the San Antonio Spurs Jerseys’ D-League affiliate).

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He couldn’t get a Summer League invite. He had to pay a minor-league team to watch him in a workout.

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The small detail is that that Simmons’ agent at the time put up the D-League entry fee, but same difference: Simmons left his home in Houston and drove roughly 175 miles west to Austin in 2013 because he was pretty much out of chances. If he couldn’t stand out in an open tryout where the majority of players, by his estimation, couldn’t dribble or pass and could barely shoot, he knew it was time to think hard about a career change.

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He stood out. Rather than being passed over again, Simmons made the Toros for 2013-14, and again in 2014-15. He was playing a lot, defending and shooting with range.

And then he really stood out.

Simmons — undrafted, overlooked, the guy who had to pay a minor-league team to give him a chance — has become the guy who is being paid by a major-league team this season. Not just any team either — the Spurs, the ultimate in stature.

An NBA rookie after two seasons in the D-League, he’s averaging 14.3 minutes in 51 games, a decent role for a newcomer on a team loaded with veterans and on pace for 69 wins. He is second in the class in defensive rating, seventh in field-goal percentage and first in long shots who paid out.

Simmons looks around the locker room and still can’t believe this is happening — “I do every day,” he said — and yet it is. He bought his way into the gym that day in Austin, but earned his way into NBA minutes.

“I definitely do” appreciate being in the league more than most players, he said.

“It took some perseverance to get here. With that being said it’s like you have no choice but to be humble about it and to appreciate every part of it and not take one minute for granted.”

One of the success stories of the season, for any player regardless of experience and for any team, has come close to being ranked among the top 10 rookies, only to be held back by the lack of a prominent role. Averaging more than 15 minutes just once in a month (January) that included at least 10 appearances has been enough of a hit to so far keep him off The Ladder that is down to the final few installments.

1. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves

Last week’s ranking: No. 1

Towns Leads Wolves To Win

Karl-Anthony Towns scores 27 points and grabs 10 rebounds as the Timberwolves defeat the Wizards 132-129 in double overtime.

We have reached the point where it would be impossible to justify voting for anyone else for Kia Rookie of the Year. The leading contender from the opening month and the clear leader since about midseason has only one remaining challenge: whether he will be the unanimous winner of the award. The finishing kick to make it happen has included 22.3 points, 10.5 rebounds and 58.5-percent shooting in March, on pace to be his best full month for scoring and field-goal percentage.

2. Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks Jerseys

Last week’s ranking: No. 2

Porzingis’ Behind-The-Back Pass

Kristaps Porzingis passes behind his back to find Robin Lopez for the dunk.

He needed to find solid ground on offense, and got some. Porzingis is at 19.3 points, 47.7 percent from the field and 37 percent on 3-pointers the last six games. That span also included three blocks on three occasions and two on another, putting him in good position to hold off Towns for No. 1 in the category among rookies, an accomplishment in a season when two first-year players may finish among the top 10 of the entire league. Porzingis is currently seventh, Towns ninth.

3. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

Last week’s ranking: No. 3

Jokic Finds Faried

Nikola Jokic dishes to Kenneth Faried for the two-handed jam.

Jokic took advantage of the knee injury that ended Jahlil Okafor’s season early to move into third place with 14 double-doubles, behind only Towns and Porzingis, even while averaging a modest 20.9 minutes. The workload has increased to 25.1 minutes in March, mostly because of the defense and rebounding that has reached 8.5 boards this month, including eight, nine, 12, eight, four and 14 the last six appearances. That has moved Jokic to 6.6 overall, fourth in the class with a slight chance of climbing one spot to Okafor’s 7.0 but no real risk of being passed by Myles Turner (5.4). “He’s skilled,” one scout said. “Very skilled.”

4. Justise Winslow, Miami Heat Jerseys

Last week’s ranking: No. 5

Justise’s Strong And-1

On the break, Justise Winslow takes it to the hole, draws the foul and hits the running floater.

He is shooting 47.3 percent on 6.6 attempts per game in March in what will be a third consecutive month of improved shooting, moving Winslow at 43.2 percent overall. It’s far from a big area of impact, but the push toward respectability in that area is an important sign of progress in developing into more than a one-way player capable of helping only on defense. The team in a tight race in the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff pack is sold — the Heat are playing him 30.5 minutes overall in March and nine in the fourth quarter, more than any rookie.

5. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns

Last week’s ranking: No. 8

Booker Shines In Sacramento

Devin Booker leads the Suns scoring 26 points versus the Kings.

He is averaging 22.7 points per game in March even while struggling behind the arc (28.0 percent) after breaking 50 percent in two previous full months. Imagine the scoring numbers with Booker anywhere close to his past play there. As it is, he has at least 26 points in three of the last four games and seven of his last 14. Now to see if it’s enough to halt Towns’ season-long strangle hold on Rookie of the Month in the West.

6. D’Angelo Russell, Los Angeles Lakers

Last week’s ranking: No. 4

Russell’s Fiery Feed

D’angelo Russell fires the bounce pass ahead of the defense to Larry Nance Jr. for the big-time flush.

The January and February that showed why the Lakers took him second have been replaced by the offensive struggles of March that has been too much of a reminder of the slow start the first half of the season. Russell is shooting 40.2 percent this month with only nine more assists (42) than turnovers (33) in 14 games. He is at 34.9 percent the last five games with six assists total and has shot 25 percent or worse in four of the last eight.

7. Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia 76ers Jerseys

Last week’s ranking: No. 6

Towns (18.3 points cheap nba jerseys per game) has pulled away enough to essentially end the possibility that Okafor (17.5) could still finish first in the class in scoring, with no chance that Porzingis (14.3) will catch Okafor for second. By playing 53 games before being sidelined by a knee injury, Okafor fail to reach the qualifying minimum of 62 appearances and will not make the final league-wide scoring rankings. He is currently 33rd.

8. Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers Jerseys

Last week’s ranking: No. 7

Kia Awards: Myles Turner

Myles Turner is a nominee for the Kia Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month.

He is third among rookies in blocks, sixth in rebounding, eighth in shooting and seventh among rookies in scoring. The follow-up to winning Rookie of the Month in the East for February has been a slight struggle, though, with drops from 29.8 to 25.1 in minutes, 51.0 to 41.7 in shooting and 1.8 to 1.4 in blocks. It will be interesting to see whether the minutes continues to decline if the inconsistent production continues as the playoffs near and every outcome has big implications for Indiana’s playoff hopes.

9. Josh Richardson, Miami Heat Jerseys

Last week’s ranking: No. 10

The story keeps getting better. After not playing more than nine games any previous month, after shooting 25 percent in December and 23.5 percent in January, Richardson should be among the contenders for Rookie of the Month for the Eastern Conference. His dream-sequence of a March includes shooting 56.8 percent overall, 63.5 from behind the arc (on 33-for-52 shooting), 29.1 minutes and 12.8 points. Richardson has not only surged to No. 1 in the class in 3-point shooting, his 50.0 for the season leads the pack by a wide margin.

10. Trey Lyles, Utah Jazz

Last week’s ranking: Not ranked

Lyles is on pace for his third consecutive month of 45 percent shooting or better, especially noteworthy because it comes with occasional 3-pointer. The minutes haven’t always been there — 25.1 in January, followed by 10.2 in February and back to 15.8 in March — but the No. 12 pick has shown why many front offices regarded him as such a promising stretch-four prospect. What hasn’t gotten the same attention is that Lyles has also had good moments on defense.

Dropped out: Emmanuel Mudiay (9).

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting. Trending

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