No more Mr. Nice Guy: Kevin Durant’s new role as NBA villain



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LAS VEGAS — The family vacation was planned months in advance. As soon as free agency was over, DeAndre Jordan was heading to a resort in Jamaica where — theoretically — he would put his phone in airplane mode, surround himself with family and friends, and all the noise would stop.

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That was the plan, anyway.

If you followed NBA free agency in the slightest last July, you know what actually happened. Three days after committing to the Dallas Mavericks Jerseys, Jordan had a stunning change of heart and returned to the Los Angeles Clippers Jerseys.

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In the time it took to fill out a customs form on the flight to Jamaica, Jordan became a villain in Dallas, an accidental hero in Los Angeles and the butt of jokes on late-night talk shows, social media and sports talk radio.

He tried to keep his phone off, but there was no escaping the fallout.

One day as he was sitting on the beach, he got a text from Kevin Durant. They’d been close since high school when Durant tried to persuade Jordan to attend the University of Texas with him. Jordan instead chose Texas A&M, so they drifted apart for a few years. Eventually they reconnected during summer workouts. And in the past few years, they’d grown much closer. So close, in fact, that the Mavericks hoped landing Jordan in free agency would give them an edge in the Durant sweepstakes the following summer.

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DeAndre Jordan, left, knows a thing or two about handling life as an NBA villain. Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Durant said his message to Jordan was simple: “I just let him know, ‘Man, whatever you do. You’ve got people that love you.'”

It was the kind of thing you say to a friend to let him know you can’t make things better for him, but you’re still in his corner.

“I feel like the people who talked to me afterwards are my real friends,” Jordan said this week, after a training session with Team USA cheap jerseys. “The people who stopped texting me afterwards, the ones who said stuff like ‘we’re family and all that’ while I was deciding, that wasn’t real. I realize it was only a basketball decision for them.

“You find out who is really on your side. And Kevin was like, ‘Man, you can’t worry about what other people think. You’ve got to worry about you and what makes you happy.'”

Fast-forward a year and Durant is the one who spent his summer in the middle of a free-agency squall and made a stunning decision that brought withering criticism from fans, peers and media critics.

No, he didn’t commit to one team and then renege a few days later. But after eight years of telling the fans in Oklahoma City that he loved them and wanted to retire there, his departure for the Golden State Warriors Jerseys came as a cruel shock.

Had he misled them all those years? Did he fall out of love? Or was his love never that pure to begin with?

Durant felt all of it. If he’s being honest, knowing how much he was about to hurt the fans in Oklahoma City was one of the things that nearly held him back from following his gut and signing with the Warriors. For 48 hours after picking the Warriors, he said he stayed inside the house he’d rented in the Hamptons while receiving free-agent pitches wholesale jerseys from the Warriors, Celtics, Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Heat.

“I didn’t leave my bed, because I was like, ‘Man, if I walk outside somebody might just try to hit me with their car or say anything negative to me,'” Durant said. “I just stayed in and tried to process it all. … It felt different.”

Very different.

“He played his heart out for that team. If they can’t respect that, if other players can’t respect it, that’s their decision.”

DeAndre Jordan, on Kevin Durant leaving Oklahoma City

Durant hasn’t been the boyish, backpack-wearing homegrown superstar most people first came to know him as for a while now. First he went through the “KD is not nice” phase where he was like a child star trying to break out of a wholesome, prepubescent box by releasing a song about being naughty (See: Selena Gomez, Britney Spears, Justin Bieber).

Then he started copping an occasional attitude at the media for perceived slights to him, his teammates or any player in the NBA who he thought was getting unfair treatment.

But there was always something about Durant’s defiance that felt a little forced. Like he was just pushing boundaries or asserting his independence from the nice-guy image that had gone way too far and escaped reality a long time ago.

He is nice. He’s just not the saint people projected him to be.

For example: Last fall he turned down a half-dozen requests for an ESPN The Magazine story. He’d decided to stay silent until he could explain his feelings about free agency on The Players’ Tribune. Fine. Totally his prerogative. He believed in the Tribune’s business model and message of player empowerment. I can respect that. But when we saw each other at Thunder media day, he came over to explain himself in person.

How many NBA superstars do that? Most tell an agent or publicist to deliver their bad news and never address it personally. And yet because we’d always had a good professional relationship, Durant felt compelled to explain himself in person. It was an incredibly self-aware, sensitive thing to do.

Editor’s PicksWhy Kevin Durant stayed in bed after choosing to leave OKC

At Team USA camp in Las Vegas, new Golden State Warriors Jerseys star Kevin Durant talked about his initial reaction of staying in bed for a few days and finally facing his decision.

Which star will take a back seat in the Warriors’ Big Four?

With four-time scoring champ Kevin Durant in the mix, Golden State’s incumbent stars are in for reduced roles. Which Warrior is equipped to handle the biggest sacrifice?

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That’s just a small example without much consequence. So how in the world was he going to handle breaking the hearts of a city that loved him? Of going from hero to villain? Of being criticized by Hall of Famers like Reggie Miller and Charles Barkley for taking an easier path to a championship?

This week in Las Vegas has been Durant’s first taste of life as a heartbreaker, and it appears he’s only allowing himself to feel it in doses.

The full weight of the fallout is too much to process all at once.

“I just try to be the man in the arena,” Durant said. “It’s easy for the critics on the outside to tell you what to do or what decisions to make, but they weren’t just out here with me, putting in work.

“I can’t really worry about the outside noise. I have to go to work. The work don’t stop. The love of the game doesn’t fade. Everything stays the same no matter where I play.”

This has become one of Durant’s refrains. A self-affirmation of sorts.

Some players would get off on being disliked — whether the sentiment is real or just a projection — and use it as motivation. But that’s not Durant’s nature.

“Guys like Kobe [Bryant] thrive on it,” said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, a longtime Team USA assistant. “I don’t think Kevin will thrive on it. But I do think he will immerse himself into the [Warriors] team.”

Another key difference?

“When you come into town as the villain like Kobe, everybody’s focused on him because he was the best player. But when Golden State comes in, they’re not going to just focus on one guy,” Boeheim said.

That was clearly part of the appeal to joining the Warriors. After years of being the face of his franchise, with the hopes and dreams of a city all on his shoulders, Durant was drawn to the idea of being just one of the guys.

That’s part of what he said he’s always loved about Team USA and what helped him this week as he adjusts to this new reality.

This uncomfortable period may be good for Durant in the end. Making a decision he knew would be unpopular? Maybe that’s the personal evolution and growth he needs. Maybe it won’t be. In hindsight, Jordan said that he’s found the entire process to be clarifying.

“It definitely makes you tougher,” Jordan said. “I still joke around like a little kid, but I don’t get as mad as I used to about things, I don’t let stuff affect me like I used to, because I’ve gone through that crap.”

He hopes it’ll be that way for Durant as well.

“When I found out he was going to the Warriors, I texted him, ‘Man, I’m happy for you. This is going to be big. I can’t wait to kick y’all’s ass,'” Jordan said.

“I’m happy for him. He gave those guys [in Oklahoma City] nine great years of MVP-level basketball, a Finals appearance. He played his heart out for that team. If they can’t respect that, if other players can’t respect it, that’s their decision. At the end of the day, he’s happy and that’s the only person he has to satisfy.”

Durant was sitting one seat away from Jordan as they each spoke after practice on the third day of Team USA training camp. There was plenty of room on either side of them. But the two old friends seemed more comfortable crowding each other’s personal space.

If things were destined to be uncomfortable going forward, they had might as well lean on each other.

Cavs bounce back after LeBron rebuke

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Los Angeles (AFP) – LeBron James scored 25 points as the Cleveland Cavaliers Jerseys bounced back from their shock defeat to the Memphis Grizzlies Jerseys with a 120-111 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday.

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James had been scathing in his assessment of the Cavaliers’ readiness for the play-offs after Monday’s upset loss to Memphis, warning that his team were a long way from postseason form.

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However the Cavs made sure there was no repeat defeat against Sacramento, who remain in the lower reaches of the Western Conference with a lot of ground to make up if they are to force their way into the play-offs.

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Kyrie Irving top scored for the Cavaliers, while James also finished with 11 rebounds and six assists to go with his 25-point haul.

The key moment came when Kevin Love drained a crucial three-pointer late in the fourth quarter before drawing a foul.

Love converted the four-point play to give Cleveland wholesale jerseys a seven-point lead with 1:32 left that they never looked like relinquishing as they held on to win and improve their record to 45-18. View gallery Oklahoma City Thunder Jerseys overcame the absence of Dion Waiters (L) after the tragic death of his brother …

Tristan Thompson also chipped in with 18 points and 15 rebounds as Cleveland went 2 1/2 games clear of the Toronto Raptors Jerseys at the head of the Eastern Conference.

– Quiet Curry night –

In Oakland meanwhile, Stephen Curry had a relatively low-scoring night cheap basketball jerseys but still managed to produce some game-changing long-range magic with team-mate Klay Thompson to help the Golden State Warriors pull clear of the Utah Jazz Jerseys in a 115-94 victory — their 46th consecutive home win.

Curry, who finished with 12 points, and Thompson (23 points) both produced three-pointers in the final 58 seconds of the second quarter which helped the Warriors take cheap nba jerseys a stranglehold on the contest.

Utah had remained firmly in the hunt heading towards half-time with the Warriors — who are now 56-6 — holding a slender 43-41 lead. View gallery The Thunder looked to their linchpins Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant (L) to provide leadership a …

But Curry connected with a three-pointer from halfway and Thompson sank another basket from 29 feet which suddenly put the Warriors eight points clear.

Oklahoma City Thunder Jerseys meanwhile overcame the absence of Dion Waiters after the tragic death of his brother to romp past the Los Angeles Clippers with a 120-108 victory.

Waiters’ 21-year-old sibling Demetrius Pinckney was found dead in Philadelphia on Tuesday night in what is being investigated by police as a homicide.

It was the latest dark turn to the Thunder’s season after assistant coach Monty Williams’ wife was killed in a car crash last month.

Part owner Aubrey McClendon also lost his life in a car accident on March 2. On Wednesday the Thunder looked to their linchpins Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant to provide leadership and both stars duly delivered.

Westbrook finished with 25 points, 20 assists and 11 rebounds to complete his 11th triple double of the season.

Durant meanwhile scored 30 and piled up 12 rebounds for the Thunder, his fourth straight game of scoring at least 30 points and 10 rebounds.

The victory was sweet revenge for the Thunder, who last week had squandered a 17-point lead in a defeat against the Clippers.

“We knew we could beat this team,” Durant said. “We knew a week ago we threw it cheap basketball jerseys away. We got great shots and we defended as well (tonight),” Durant said.

“This team is really good at getting back into the game, but we gave them that last game. Tonight we took it.”BasketballSports & RecreationCleveland Cavaliers JerseysLeBron JamesStephen CurryMemphis Grizzlies JerseysSacramento KingsTristan ThompsonGolden State Warriors

Nowitzki doubt for Mavericks in next NBA playoff game

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Los cheap youth basketball jerseys Angeles (AFP) – Dirk Nowitzki faces a battle to be fit for the Dallas Mavericks Jerseys when they face the Oklahoma City Thunder Jerseys on Thursday in a crucial Game Three of their best-of-seven playoff series.

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Nowitzki played a key role for the cheap youth basketball jerseys Mavs on Monday when they bounced back from being thrashed in Game One to snatch an 85-84 win to level the series at one apiece.

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However, Nowitzki underwent a scan Tuesday which revealed a bruised bone in his right knee, leaving him touch and go for Thursday’s third game wholesale jerseys.

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“Dirk suffered a bruised right knee on the play very early in the game when he slid and fell,” coach Rick Carlisle told reporters. “This thing with Dirk now, we hope this is not something that’s going to cost him to miss any time.”

Nowitzki’s absence would be another blow for the Mavs, who are already facing doubts around point guard J.J. Barea (groin) and forward David Lee (foot).

Point guard Deron Williams (hernia) is also “uncertain going forward,” according to Carlisle, despite playing in Game Two.

Williams, who took pain-killing medicine to help him play in Game Two, said he is hopeful he can feature on Thursday.

“I’ve got three days now to try to get treatment and do what I can do to get it back ready to go again,” Williams told reporters.Sports & RecreationBasketballDirk NowitzkiDallas Mavericks JerseysOklahoma City Thunder Jerseys

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

Five players who have a solid shot at joining 80-point club

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The NBA boasts the best collection of basketball talent the world has to offer with supreme athletes, elite defenders and high flyers marking each team. But there’s nothing like watching a professional scorer enter the proverbial zone.

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On Wednesday night, Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry put on a scoring clinic, starting with a 25-point first quarter against the Washington Wizards Jerseys. To say Curry entered the zone would be an understatement. Steph made 9 of his first 10 field goals, including 7 of 8 from 3-point range. By halftime he had 35 points and the Twitter-verse wondered just how many points he would score. 50? 60? 70?

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Curry Explodes for 51 Points

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Stephen Curry was cookin’ on Wednesday night, scoring 51 points on 11-for-16 from 3-point land.

After the first period, the reigning Kia MVP was on pace to reach 100 but no one really thought it was obtainable. After all, he’s sat out 14 4th quarters this season. Curry would finish halfway to the century mark — 51 points, thanks to an 11-for-16 effort from 3-point land. Steph can score 50 points at any moment, but can he or anyone else flirt with 81?

It’s been 54 years since Warriors legend Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points and 10 seasons since Los Angeles Lakers Jerseys guard Kobe Bryant scored 81. Neither Wilt nor Kobe were prolific 3-point shooters, but they both shared the mentality that the next shot was guaranteed to fall.

“Scoring 100 points is a lot,” Chamberlain once said. “But … I maybe could have scored 140 if they had played straight-up basketball!”

Kobe’s 81 Point Night

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of Kobe Bryant’s 81 point game on January 22nd, here’s a look back at that night and what some players around the League had to say about his performance

The thought of one player scoring 100 points is insane, let alone 80. In fact, Chamberlain possessed the ability to score at will and only surpassed the 80-point threshold once in his entire career. Out of the thousands of players to play in the NBA’s lifetime, only five players have scored 70-plus points in a single game. That list does not include three of the top four scorers in NBA history: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone and Michael Jordan.

Most Points Scored in a Single Game

Player Points scored Year

Wilt Chamberlain 100 1962

Kobe Bryant 81 2006

Wilt Chamberlain 78 1961

Wilt Chamberlain 73 1962

Wilt Chamberlain 73 1962

David Thompson 73 1979

Just last month, Bryant was asked about reliving his historic 81-point performance and, like Chamberlain, he felt he “should have had 90 points or more.” If Bryant thinks 90 is possible, then 81 should be within reason.

Clearly it would take a young player with a true scorer’s mentality. Wilt was 25 years old when he scored 100 and Kobe was 27 throwback nba jerseys cheap when he poured in 81. The player that scores 80 has to be a volume shooter that can get to the free throw line often. He must possess the ability to create his own shot as well as 3-point shooting range.

Using this criteria, many players may fit the mold but five All-Stars — Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Klay Thompson and DeMarcus Cousins — immediately come to mind. These are the top four scorers in the league who have a total of 13 career 50-point games. Three of the five players (Curry, Harden and Cousins) are responsible for four of the six 50-point games this season. So who’s the most likely candidate for an 80-point game?

The Obvious Picks

Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors): A list that involves scoring can’t be constructed without the “Baby-Faced Assassin.” Curry leads the league in scoring (29.8 ppg), has amassed four career 50+ point games and is the only player with multiple games with 11 3-pointers made. The 2015 Foot Locker Three-Point Champion has been on a tear this season (232 3-pointers through 47 games). He’s the first player to make 200 3-pointers prior to the All-Star break.

Curry Hits 11 3-Pointers

Relive every 3-pointer from Stephen Curry’s incredible night.

While he may be an obvious selection, it’s highly unlikely he’ll reach 81 or more points. The most free throw attempts Curry has in a single game is 14. He’s averaging 5.5 free throw attempts per game this season, a career high.

One would need at least 20 points on free throws to have a realistic shot at 80. Curry knocked down 11 threes on Wednesday and still fell 30 points shy of Kobe’s mark.

Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder Jerseys): At first glance, Durant was the favorite to score 80. Standing nearly 7 feet tall, Durant can score with ease from anywhere on the court. He has the ball-handling to blow by defenders and the range and scoring arsenal to create jump shots for himself from anywhere.

Durant Scores 54

Durant poured in 54 points in an incredibly efficient performance, helping Oklahoma City beat Golden State 127-121.

Like Curry, Durant’s career high is 54 points and he, too, has four career 50-point games. But what sets the two apart is Durant’s career high 26 free throw attempts.

During the 2012-13 season, Kevin recorded his first 50-40-90 season. A true testament to a player’s shooting ability when they average 50 percent shooting from the field, 40 percent shooting on 3-pointers and 80 percent shooting from the line. With his size and range, there’s no limit to what he can put up on the scoreboard.

But, as long as he shares the load with Russell Westbrook, 80 points appears to be out of reach.

The Longshots

Klay Thompson (Golden State Warriors): Thompson is bigger and taller (6-foot-7, 215 pounds) than Curry (6-foot-3, 190) and, some would argue, has a better shooting form than Curry, too. Klay has one career 50-point game — a 52-pointer (where he went for 37 points in a quarter) last season against the Kings. In that magical outburst, Thompson made all 13 of his field goal attempts, nine of which were 3-pointers.

Thompson Dominates Kings

Highlights from Klay Thompson as he hits 13 of 13 shots with 9 triples to notch a NBA record 37 points in the third quarter.

Problem is he only attempted two free throws that period. Thompson’s career high is 12 free throw attempts in a single game. While he may have the height advantage and shooting motion over Curry, he doesn’t get the wealth of touches these players get on a nightly basis. Thompson may have a 60-point effort in his future, but 80 doesn’t seem likely.

DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento Kings Jerseys): “Boogie” is the lone big man to make the list. He has a 56-point game under his belt, which he recorded this season and is tops in 2015-16. An 80-point game would appear to favor a center since most teams play small and offensive rebounds are at a premium. Cousins appears to be developing into an offensive savant game by game. He’s made 45 3-pointers this season after making 11 total in his first five seasons.

Cousins Scores 56 vs. Hornets

DeMarcus Cousins scores a new career-high 56 points and grabs 12 rebounds versus the Hornets.

He boasts a 73 percent career free throw shooting mark and has five career games with 20 or more free throw attempts. All of this makes 80 a possibility, but, unfortunately for Cousins, the NBA is no longer a big man’s game.

The Choice is …

James Harden (Houston Rockets Jerseys): Prior to “The Beard” arriving in Houston, many wondered if he throwback nba jerseys cheap could be a team’s leading scorer. Those questions were quickly answered. In just his second game as a Rocket, he tallied 45 points with an impressive 17 free throw attempts.

Rockets vs. Hawks

James Harden explodes for a career-high 45 points in the big win over the Hawks.

Harden has three career games with 50-plus points and nine games with 20 or more free-throw attempts.

(If you haven’t caught on by now, free throw attempts are key.)

In Bryant’s 81-point game, he went 18-for-20 on free throws and made just seven 3-pointers. Ever since he got to Houston, Harden has mastered the art of drawing the foul. Proof? He has led the league in free throw attempts three times (including this season).

With no true number two scoring threat, Harden is the type of player that can go for 60 or more points and many would shrug at his performance. Along with his ability to cash in at the line, Harden utilizes the 3-pointer as well as anyone (he’s third in the NBA with 140 3-pointers). According to NBA.com/Stats, Harden ranks in the top 15 with 9.3 drives per game. He’s shooting 48.8 percent on those drives and getting to the free throw line nearly four times a game off drives alone. When he’s fouled on penetration plays, he’s making 86.6 percent of his free throws. As a result, Harden scores 75 percent of the time when he drives to the basket.

All those factors mark a player who has the skills to one day deliver an 80-point game. Trending

Thunder serve notice with 38-point smackdown of Mavs

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OKLAHOMA CITY — Dirk Nowitzki caught the ball on the left block, leaned back into the defender, using his body to try to get a sense of the defensive positioning, faked a turn toward the middle and then spun baseline. Nowitzki rose up and flicked a shot impossibly high into the air, which dropped down and … rimmed out. This time, the same fadeaway we’ve seen Dirk drain countless times just would not go down.

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Not that it would have mattered much: That particular miss by the Dallas Mavericks Jerseys forward, with 11:41 remaining in the third quarter, meant the Oklahoma City Thunder Jerseys retained the whopping 59-33 margin they had at halftime. They would go on to build upon it, at one point taking a 44-point lead before eventually winning 108-70.

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And while Dallas did suffer some bad luck on the offensive end — “They got some good looks that just did not go down,” said OKC coach Billy Donovan — don’t completely discount the defensive effort turned in by the Thunder to start their series against the Mavericks.

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If there were any questions about the Thunder finding their groove in this postseason, OKC answered them with the quickness on Saturday night, scoring the game’s first nine points and never looking back. After one quarter, the Thunder held a 26-11 lead, which was doubly disappointing to Nowitzki, who noted the Mavericks were focused on coming out and competing from the start.

“We know they’re a very good first-quarter team, and we addressed that and wanted to keep the margin small,” Nowitzki said. “We came out and missed a couple shots and had a couple of turnovers, so obviously we got to have a better start to the game. That usually sets us up to be in the game and compete in the game later. We obviously got to address first quarters, which has been an issue for us all season.”

You got to set the tone. Against a good offensive team, we did a great job defensively for 48 minutes, which was great.

– Russell Westbrook on the Thunder’s defensive play

The thing is, it wasn’t just a first-quarter show — it was peak Thunder all night, with Russell Westbrook sprinting downhill and generating pace, Kevin Durant stepping into transition jumpers and drawing fouls on rip moves, Serge Ibaka bothering shots and knocking down 3-pointers, and Enes Kanter providing a double-double off the bench.

While offense has never been a problem for the Thunder, this season their defense has not been elite, as they finished the regular season 12th in defensive rating. But the Thunder held the Mavs to a franchise-low postseason point total, interrupted passing lanes and managed to prevent the Mavs from establishing any flow. OKC finished with 56 rebounds to Dallas’ 23.

“The three days leading up to this game, our guys worked hard to get ready to play,” said Donovan. “It’s only one game, and I think you can get caught up in the emotion of a win or a loss, but you’ve got to try to move forward tomorrow and make some corrections, and get better and improve.”

The Thunder’s stars played abbreviated minutes, saving their legs once the game was out of reach. Still, Durant finished with 23 points, five rebounds and five assists, while Westbrook had 24 points, 11 assists and five boards. Westbrook also posted a plus-39 rating, in 29 minutes of cheap nba throwback jerseys play.

The Thunder may have finished the regular season with 55 wins, but they were metaphorical miles behind the Warriors and Spurs. But on the opening day of the postseason, the Thunder served notice that they can still reach an exclusive level, and sometimes it comes on the defensive end.

“You got to set the tone,” said Westbrook. “Against a good offensive team, we did a great job defensively for 48 minutes, which was great.”

Lang Whitaker has covered the NBA since 1998. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.

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

Thunder bounce back to regain control of series

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DALLAS — Welcome to the Appetizer First Round, where the whales of the NBA are spending this time snacking on lesser teams and doing their best to rest up and stay healthy for the next round, when the games take on a greater sense of desperation.

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Those who call themselves NBA title contenders are looking the part here in the early going, leaving little room for suspense as they sprinted to commanding leads in their first two games. These blowouts may not make for compelling television, but the half-dozen heavyweights could care less, and even though they won’t admit it, it gives them license to look beyond the minions currently standing in their way.

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That’s how the Oklahoma City Thunder Jerseys should view the Mavericks, who rank among the weakest playoff teams in terms of personnel, but OKC swallowed a grapefruit in Game 2 and arrived in Dallas all square Thursday. That means this series, which had “broom” written all over it, will drag OKC at least to a fifth game. What an inconvenience.

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Durant Dominant In Game 3

Kevin Durant drops an impressive 34 points in the Thunder’s Game 3 win over Dallas.

That’s the realistic goal for the Cleveland Cavaliers Jerseys, the Los Angeles Clippers Jerseys, the San Antonio Spurs Jerseys and the Golden State Warriors Jerseys, to keep this first round to an extreme minimum, and they’ve done their part so far. They know the road to the NBA Finals will suddenly get very slippery; why waste energy before then? It’s a memo that OKC, a member of the Club Elite, failed to get somehow.

At least the Thunder not-so-gently reminded the Mavericks, once again, that this series can be a mismatch by winning 131-102 Thursday to take a 2-1 series lead. In a face-saving gesture, Kevin Durant rallied from missing 26 shots by scoring 34 points in 37 minutes. Russell Westbrook had 26 points and 15 assists. Enes Kanter 鈥?why isn’t he playing more? 鈥?had 21 points and eight rebounds in 21 minutes. Game 3 never felt or looked compelling, and OKC issued another blowout, their second. They’ve won a pair of games by 38 points and now 29, which strongly suggests the Mavericks are merely in the way, a pile of leaves sitting before the blower.

“Their talent is a significant problem,” admitted Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle.

Well, of course.

The Mavericks won Game 2 by a point and only because Durant was historically inaccurate and Steven Adams’ game-winning shot was late by a nanosecond. And even then, it shouldn’t have come down to that for OKC, given the condition of the Mavericks. Chandler Parsons is out for the series. Deron Williams, also injured, might be finished as well. Every important player in the rotation is past his prime, and that includes Dirk Nowitzki. The proud future Hall of Famer who’s unable to carry this team deep into the summer, as he did five years ago. In this sense, the Mavericks have plenty in common with the teams currently staring at the Spurs, Warriors and to an extent, Clippers in the first round.

Westbrook’s Double-Double vs. Mavs

Russell Westbrook goes off for 26 points and 15 assists as the Thunder take Game 3 in Dallas.

Just look at why the first round is lacking sparks: Memphis is suiting up any healthy body it can find, even if that search takes the Grizzlies to the local YMCA, and therefore they don’t stand much of a chance against the Spurs. The depressing Rockets are ready to be disassembled, that’s how out of sync and discombobulated they are. The overachieving Blazers are trying (and failing) to move forward with a pair of guards who’ve lost their jumper.

And you know what? The Mavericks are probably the lesser of the four, at least on paper anyway. Thunder coach Billy Donovan tried to be PC with a Dallas team that took lumps in two games and stole its only win by saying: “We know coming in here it’s going to be a hard fought physical game.”

If the remaining games cheap throwback nba jerseys in this series are “hard fought” as he predicts, then that says the Thunder might not be ready to win an NBA title.

Durant scored 16 of his points in the game’s first 13 minutes and forcefully put his Game 2 misery behind him. He admitted the last two days felt more like two weeks.

“Now I know how fighters feel when they lose the fight and they know the rematch is coming, but a year later.”

Still, he explained why he doesn’t plunge into deep depression over a rare poor outing: “When I go out there and play well, I don’t throw a party for myself. I approach the game the same way, no matter what.”

Game 3 had a few skirmishes involving Raymond Felton, Adams, Andre Roberson and J.J. Barea. At least the pre-game dance routine featuring Westbrook and Cameron Payne went on without a hitch or a photobomb by Charlie Villanueva. Sensing the obvious talent difference between them and the Thunder, and perhaps feeling that this series is getting out of hand, the Mavericks did what desperate teams often do and turned physical. At this point, the only way the Thunder can come undone is by losing their cool.

Tempers Flare In Dallas

Steven Adams and Raymond Felton get tangled up and two technical fouls are called.

Noting that Dallas used “a lot of gamesmanship,” Donovan said: “I thought our guys did a good job of keeping their composure.”

There’s a game on Saturday in Dallas and, unfortunately for the Thunder, another in OKC. It would be in the Thunder’s best interest to keep their foot on the pedal and their fingers around the throats and press their way to a quick and efficient resolution of the first round. That’s what great teams do — they don’t mess around with lesser teams and waste precious energy. In this case, a series win would put OKC in a cage match against the Spurs late next week.

“We do a good job of coming in and do what we do,” said Westbrook.

Well, yes. For the most part. With one noticeable exception in this series. As much as the Thunder would like to clean out the Mavericks, and are poised to do so, they can’t use a broom.

Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.

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

Clippers’ Crawford named Kia NBA Sixth Man of Year

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NEW YORK — The Los Angeles Clippers’ Jamal Crawford is the winner of the 2015-16 Kia NBA Sixth Man Award for his contributions in a reserve role, the NBA announced today. He becomes the first player to earn the honor three times. The 36-year-old Crawford also breaks his own record, set two years ago, as the oldest winner.

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Crawford amassed 51 first-place votes and 341 total points from a panel of 130 sportswriters and broadcasters throughout the United States and Canada. The Golden State Warriors’ Andre Iguodala finished second with 288 points (33 first-place votes), and the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Enes Kanter was third with 182 points (19 first-place votes).

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Players were awarded five points for each first-place vote, three points for each second-place vote and one point for each third-place vote. To be eligible for the award, players had to have come off the bench in more games than they started.

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Crawford came off the bench in 74 of his 79 appearances and averaged 14.2 points and 2.3 assists in 26.9 minutes in all games, helping the Clippers (53-29) post their fourth straight 50-win season. He recorded 33 games with 15 or more points off the bench, third most in the NBA behind the Denver Nuggets’ Will Barton (38) and the New Orleans Pelicans’ Ryan Anderson (36). As a starter, Crawford scored at least 30 points in four of five games. Crawford also ranked second in the NBA in free throw percentage (90.4).

A 16-year veteran, Crawford previously won the Kia NBA Sixth Man Award in 2009-2010 with the Atlanta Hawks Jerseys and in 2013-14 with the Clippers. When Crawford was honored for the first time as a Clipper, he joined Kevin McHale, Ricky Pierce and Detlef Schrempf as the only two-time winners. Crawford is the cheap custom basketball jerseys only player to win the award with multiple teams.

2015-16 KIA NBA SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR RESULTS

Player | Team | 1st place (5 pts) | 2nd place (3 pts) | 3rd place (1 pt) | Total Points

Jamal Crawford | L.A. Clippers | 51 | 23 | 17 | 341

Andre Iguodala | Golden State Warriors | 33 | 35 | 18 | 288

Enes Kanter | Oklahoma City Thunder | 19 | 20 | 27 | 182

Will Barton | Denver Nuggets | 15 | 21 | 20 | 158

Evan Turner | Boston Celtics Jerseys | 3 | 7 | 10 | 46

Ryan Anderson | New Orleans Pelicans | 4 | 6 | 5 | 43

Jeremy Lin | Charlotte Hornets Jerseys | 1 | 6 | 7 | 30

Ed Davis | Portland Trail Blazers | 1 | 5 | 1 | 21

Dennis Schröder | Atlanta Hawks Jerseys | 1 | 2 | 6 | 17

Tristan Thompson | Cleveland Cavaliers Jerseys | 2 | 0 | 6 | 16

Shaun Livingston | Golden State Warriors | 0 | 1 | 4 | 7

J.J. Barea | Dallas Mavericks | 0 | 1 | 2 | 5

Boris Diaw | San Antonio Spurs | 0 | 1 | 2 | 5

cheap custom basketball jerseys Zach LaVine | Minnesota Timberwolves | 0 | 1 | 1 | 4

Darren Collison | Sacramento Kings | 0 | 1 | 0 | 3

Allen Crabbe | Portland Trail Blazers | 0 | 0 | 1 | 1

Jrue Holiday | New Orleans Pelicans | 0 | 0 | 1 | 1

Patrick Patterson | Toronto Raptors Jerseys | 0 | 0 | 1 | 1

Mirza Teletovic | Phoenix Suns | 0 | 0 | 1 | 1 Trending

As usual, Clippers’ Crawford a steady source of reserve power

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It was during a casual conversation last summer after a pro-am game in Seattle, his hometown, when Jamal Crawford listed his goals for the upcoming season. A championship, obviously. He doesn’t have one of those.

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And then, the Kia NBA Sixth Man Award. Obviously. Even though he has a pair of those already.

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“You think I’ll have a chance?” he asked. “Again?”

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Crawford asked the question, not because he didn’t think he could bring the goods to win the award — at age 36 he’s still whip-sharp with the jumper — but whether voters might be biased. After all, they may develop Crawford fatigue and search for a fresh face.

Clippers vs. Hawks

Jamal Crawford scores 21 points, DeAndre Jordan adds 13 with 19 boards and the Clippers stave off the Hawks, nba jerseys cheap authentic 85-83.

It appears Crawford’s fears might have been unfounded, because once again he’s a strong contender (and at the very least in the conversation) for an award that might need to be named after him someday. That’s because no one who comes to mind when you think of a super sub — Kevin McHale, Manu Ginobili, Vinnie Johnson — has won it three times. This season, though, Crawford is our pick to win the Kia NBA Sixth Man Award.

“I have such great respect for the award, which obviously means a lot for me,” Crawford said. “I don’t take it for granted. I think by being a sixth man, it shows how selfless you are as a player. The first time I was asked to come off the bench, I said `fine, I’ll do whatever it takes to help the team.’ And then I just embraced to role and the pressure that comes with contributing the minute you check into a game.”

Crawford won the award in 2009-10 with the Atlanta Hawks Jerseys and in 2013-14 with the Los Angeles Clippers, and both times his scoring average was higher than it is today. But in terms of importance to his team, maybe 2015-16 rates higher.

Four-Point Play

Jamal Crawford hits the three while getting fouled for the four-point opportunity.

When the Clippers lost Blake Griffin on Dec. 25, Crawford was one of the main reasons they didn’t crumble. Crawford did his part to fill Griffin’s production on offense, upping his scoring average in January (15.6 points) and February (19.5 points) while the Clippers weathered Griffin’s absence. He also leads the team in 4th-quarter points (341).

“I feel comfortable in those situations,” Crawford said. “I’m a sixth man but I can have a starter’s mentality when it comes to taking on a bigger role or an important shot.”

Crawford scored 15 or more points off the bench 26 times since Griffin was lost on Dec. 25, the most of anyone in the NBA during that span. He dropped 32 on OKC on March 31 and became the 30th player in NBA history to score that many at age 36.

Jamal Crawford Drops 32

See highlights from Jamal Crawford’s 32 point performance against the Thunder.

He remains deadly with the crossover dribble, a one-on-one specialist who’s willing and able to get off a shot anywhere on the floor. Crawford can be streaky, but even then he’s dangerous because the defense must show respect at all times. He’s the rare shooter who doesn’t run from the ball after a few misses. He’s shooting 90.4 percent on free throws this season, making him the player you don’t want to foul. And, on occasions, he can perform when pressed into point guard duty.

The value of Crawford was amplified in early April when he took a short-handed team (no Griffin, Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan or JJ Redick) and scored 30 points, including the game-winning 3-pointer with :00.2 seconds left in overtime, against a Utah Jazz Jerseys team fighting for its playoff life.

Crawford Game Winner

Jamal Crawford hits the game winning 3-pointer in overtime.

It got the attention of a now-healthy Griffin, who missed that game vs. Utah.

Here are some others who deserve mention, however:

Enes Kanter, Oklahoma City Thunder Jerseys — There aren’t many more offensively-blessed big men in basketball than Kanter, who brings soft hands, a feathery touch and a tap dancer’s footwork in the post. He ranks 20th in the NBA in points per 36 minutes (21.8) and proved to be a reliable rebounder as well. Defensive limitations doomed him to a life as a sixth man, although his role could change in the postseason.

Will Barton, Denver Nuggets Jerseys — A breakout season happened because Barton exercised better shot selection, which in turn made him more efficient. But it wasn’t just scoring that put Barton in elite sixth man company. For someone so slender, Barton’s 5.9 rebounds per game was an unexpected bonus.

Evan Turner, Boston Celtics Jerseys — What a strange journey for the former No. 2 pick in the 2010 Draft, to go from disappointment in Philadelphia to flourishing in Boston. Turner isn’t your typical sixth man, because scoring off the bench isn’t always what he brings. Taking advantage of his multiple skill set, Turner has given the Celtics a boost with passing, rebounding and contributions from the swing positions.

Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors — His contributions haven’t been box score friendly this season, and that’s hardly a reflection of the value Iguodala has continued to give the defending champs. Defense, decision making and leadership bailed out Iggy in what was otherwise a mild season in terms of raw stats.

Dennis Schroder, Atlanta Hawks Jerseys — He’s eighth among point guards in assists per 36 minutes and in a season where starter Jeff Teague has struggled, Schroder gave the Hawks a needed lift. His decision making remains a work in progress (he’s third on the team in turnovers), but growth has been apparent. And the Hawks value his fearlessness and desire to take big shots, which is rare among young sixth men.

Darren Collison, Sacramento Kings — He’s the embodiment of a change-of-pace point guard, and after four previous NBA stops as a part-time starter, Collison has perhaps found a home in Sacramento. He has never shot better in his career (48.6 percent), recently went 14 straight games with double-digit points. All season long, he proved to be an effective backup to Rajon Rondo, the league assist leader. With Rondo facing free agency, Collison could return to the starting lineup next season.

***

Editor’s note: As the 2015-16 season winds down, NBA.com’s writers give their picks for the various end-of-season awards.

Below is our schedule of stories:

April 5: Executive of the Year

April 7: Coach of the Year

April 11: Kia Most Improved Player

April 12: Kia Sixth Man of the Year

April 13: Kia Rookie of the Year

April 14: Kia Defensive Player of the Year

April 15: Kia MVP

***

Lang Whitaker has covered the NBA since 1998. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.

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

Rookie big men netting solid returns on their vast potential

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The regular season is barely a week past the All-Star break, not close to done, and yet the discussion is mid-April closed.

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The rookie big men of 2015-16 who were expected at the start of the season to be unusually good, in a way a crop of newly arrived centers and power forwards haven’t been for years, have been that good. So good, in fact, that it’s impossible to imagine anything happening in the final 30 percent of the regular season to change that opinion.

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It’s late February, and it’s over.

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The point could be made that the bigs have actually exceeded collective expectations because the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns, while projected by most front offices to eventually become the best player in the Draft, has had a far greater immediate impact than imagined. General managers picked him to finish second for Kia Rookie of the Year, behind Jahlil Okafor of the Philadelphia 76ers, and yet here is Towns threatening to turn the race into a runaway.

Only one non-point guard or wing has won the award in the last seven years, Blake Griffin in 2010-11. The top three finishers when ballots are submitted in April could be cheap nba basketball jerseys a center (Towns), a power forward (Kristaps Porzingis) and a center (Okafor). Indiana Pacers power forward Myles Turner, meanwhile, has been one of the best rookies since the calendar turned to 2016. Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic has earned a spot among the best newcomers despite little preseason buzz because he was drafted in 2014, and as the No. 41 pick at that.

Four months into the season, everything — and nothing — has changed. The rookies have stepped far into their new world by the latest position-by-position breakdown, although with difficulty in some cases, and the bigs have collectively performed at a high level. As expected.

Point guards

NBA Rooks: D’Angelo Russell

As All-Star Weekend approaches, BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge participant D’Angelo Russell of the Lakers talks about the learning curve of a rookie point guard.

1. D’Angelo Russell, Los Angeles Lakers

2. Cameron Payne, Oklahoma City Thunder

3. Emmanuel Mudiay, Denver Nuggets

4. T.J. McConnell, Philadelphia 76ers

5. Jerian Grant, New York Knicks

Preseason ranking: Mudiay, Russell, Grant, Payne, Delon Wright.

Jan. 1 ranking: Russell, McConnell, Mudiay, Raul Neto, Grant.

Summary: Although still one of the weaker positions of the first-year class, with only Russell in the top 10 of the latest Rookie Ladder, point guard has improved greatly in the last month with Payne and Mudiay playing much better. With Russell in the midst of his best month, shooting well and taking care of the ball better than any time in the first half of the season, and with McConnell continuing to offer solid play under the radar in Philly, there is suddenly decent depth. Not enough that it’s a tough cut to leave someone off the first five, but definitely forward progress.

Shooting guards

Devin Booker Finds His Shot

Check out rookie Devin Booker getting acclimated to the NBA 3-point line this season!

1. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns

2. Jonathon Simmons, San Antonio Spurs

3. Mario Hezonja, Orlando Magic Jerseys

4. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Brooklyn Nets

5. Lamar Patterson, Atlanta Hawks Jerseys

Preseason ranking: Hezonja, Booker, Rashad Vaughn, Norman Powell, Pat Connaughton.

Jan. 1 ranking: Hollis-Jefferson Booker, Hezonja, Patterson, R.J. Hunter.

Summary: Hollis-Jefferson was the easy leader in the first in-season progress report, and then he got hurt. Booker is the clear call in the update just after the All-Star break, and now he is slumping. Shooting guard is every bit the soft spot it was at the start of the season. It may not turn out that way when the Draft class as a whole is re-evaluated in three or five years — Hezonja could still develop into a star, Hollis-Jefferson could still become a steal as the No. 23 pick, Booker could have a long career tormenting defenses from the 3-point line — but 2015-16 has been an undeniably a slow start for this position. It helps, a lot, that Simmons has turned into a tremendous success story by going from an NBA D-League open tryout to getting about 14 minutes a game for the second-best team in the league. Hollis-Jefferson’s healthy return from an ankle injury would be another plus.

Small forwards

NBA Rooks: Justise Winslow

10th overall pick Justise Winslow takes stock of his season so far, including how he’s benefitted from his relationships with Dwyane Wade and Head Coach Erik Spoelstra.

1. Justise Winslow, Miami Heat Jerseys

2. Stanley Johnson, Detroit Pistons

3. Kelly Oubre, Washington Wizards Jerseys

4. Justin Anderson, Dallas Mavericks

5. Anthony Brown, Los Angeles Lakers

Preseason ranking: Johnson, Winslow, Anderson, Oubre, Hollis-Jefferson.

Jan. 1 ranking: Winslow, Johnson, Oubre, Simmons, Anderson.

Summary: This could turn out to be the start of years of the Winslow-Johnson comparison — small forwards who will get real minutes at other positions, one-and-done college players, potential physical forces on defense, each needing to prove they can make shots, and off the board about the same time in June 2015. (Johnson went No. 8 and Winslow went No. 10.) They have been 1-2 from the beginning, in some order, and will finish the season that way barring a surprise. Oubre, with some of the similar background as the No. 15 selection, has had some encouraging moments and could join the conversation in later years. For now, though, only playing about 11 minutes a game means a significant gap from the lead pack.

Power forwards

Inside Stuff: Towns and Porzingis at All-Star

Inside Stuff goes behind the scenes with Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis as the rookies experience their first All-Star Weekend.

1. Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks

2. Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers

3. Bobby Portis, Chicago Bulls

4. Larry Nance Jr., Los Angeles Lakers

5. Frank Kaminsky, Charlotte Hornets Jerseys

Preseason ranking: Porzingis, Turner, Willie Cauley-Stein, Kaminsky, Portis.

Jan. 1 ranking: Porzingis, Kaminsky, Nemanja Bjelica, Nance, Richaun Holmes.

Summary: A clear top two, then a bit of a drop to No. 3, then a big drop. But there has been enough production in that third group for the close call of four players with a case for the final two spots — Nance Jr., Kaminsky, Holmes and Lyles. Each has contributed and each has shown the ability to handle prominent roles, Lyles and Kaminsky for potential playoff teams. That’s good depth for a position that has offered pleasant surprises all along, especially with Holmes, Nance and Bjeclia coming from far back of the pack to rank among the best power forwards.

Centers

Kia Awards: Karl-Anthony Towns

Timberwolves rookie Karl-Anthony Towns is averaging 22.2 points and 12.4 rebounds per game in February.

1. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves

2. Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia 76ers

3. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

4. Willie Cauley-Stein, Sacramento Kings

5. Boban Marjanovich, San Antonio Spurs

Preseason ranking: Okafor, Towns, Jokic, Walter Tavares, Joshua Smith.

Jan. 1 ranking: Towns, Okafor, Jokic, Cauley-Stein, Marjanovich.

Summary: There is no better sign of the strength of the position than Cauley-Stein, a starter having a good season as the first installment to what should be a long career, as the fourth-best center. While Towns took control of the top spot early, for the entire Rookie of the Year race as well as the position breakdowns, the next three have been far more than afterthoughts. All four were in the top 10 of the Rookie Ladder as recently as Feb. 10, just before the All-Star break, and all four could be there at the end amid the possibility of a Cauley-Stein return. Offense will generate most of the attention, especially with Towns and Okafor plus the massive potential there for Porzingis, but there is a lot of defense on this list.

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

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