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Basketball Daily Dose

Dose: KD Wins MVP in Charlotte

by Raphielle Johnson

Sunday marked the end of All-Star Weekend in Charlotte, with 26 of the game’s best players taking center stage. Team Giannis jumped out to an early lead, but in the third quarter Team LeBron closed the gap and went on to win by the final score of 178-164. Team LeBron had just one turnover in the second half as it rallied, and Kevin Durant of the Golden State Warriors would earn game MVP honors for the second time in his career. Durant scored 31 points, shooting 6-of-9 from three, while also accounting for seven rebounds, two assists, two blocked shots and one steal. Team LeBron shot 35-of-91 from three, with Durant, Damian Lillard and Klay Thompson making six apiece, Kawhi Leonard five and James Harden four. The 35 three-pointers established a new record for the most made by a team in All-Star Game history. 

 

Giannis Antetokoumpo led all scorers with 38 points to go along with seven rebounds, five assists and one steal, shooting 17-of-23 from the field with the majority of his shot attempts being dunks. Team Giannis shot 27-of-77 from three on the night, with Paul George and Khris Middleton making six apiece, Stephen Curry four and Dirk Nowitzki three. Nowitzki, possibly playing in his final All-Star Game, scored nine points in four minutes of action. Below is a look at some of the players involved in Sunday’s exhibition, and how they’re playing for their actual teams ahead of the stretch run. 

 

 

Kevin Durant goes for an efficient 31 points 

 

Warriors forward Kevin Durant became just the sixth player in NBA history to have won at least one regular season MVP, two All-Star Game MVP and two NBA Finals MVP awards, joining, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. Sunday night he shot 10-of-15 from the field (6-of-9 3-pointers) and 5-of-5 from the foul line, serving as the “constant” for a Team LeBron squad that didn’t get going until it trailed by 20 points in the third quarter. While Damian Lillard, Klay Thompson and Bradley Beal provided a much-needed spark in the second half, Durant’s play throughout the night is what earned him the MVP award. In his ten games prior to the All-Star break, KD averaged 25.9 points, 5.5 assists and 5.1 rebounds per, shooting 54.1% from the field, 27.7% from three and 82.8% from the foul line. 

 

He didn’t shoot the ball all that well from three, but he only attempted 4.7 three-pointers per game during this stretch. Durant can get just about any shot he wants, which is why he still shot better than 50% from the field in the ten games before the break. And if he can get back on track from deep, KD could very well make an even stronger case for himself in the MVP conversation as the season winds down.

 

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Giannis Antetokounmpo dazzles above the rim 

 

As noted above the Greek Freak led all scorers with 38 points, with the majority of his points coming by way of the dunk. The fact that he can finish well above the rim is no surprise at all. The next step for Antetokounmpo is to be a player who can at the very least force defenders to respect his perimeter shot. Sunday night he shot 2-of-6 from three, and while he still isn’t a high-volume shooter he’s made some strides. In the ten games prior to the break Antetokounmpo shot 35.5% from three with an average of 1.1 made threes per game. That’s a noticeable improvement, given the fact that he’s shooting just 22.3% from three on the season as a whole. In his last ten Antetokounmpo averaged 30.2 points, 13.2 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.5 blocks per game while shooting 59.1% from the field and 77.2% from the foul line. He’s one of the clear candidates for MVP, due to the combination of individual and team success, as the Bucks entered the break with the East’s best record. 

 

Kyrie Irving’s knee feels good after All-Star Game 

 

Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving played in just four of Boston’s final nine games before the break due to a strained right knee, with his last action coming against the Clippers February 9. He played 25 minutes Sunday, finishing the game with 13 points (6-of-12 FGs), nine rebounds, six assists, one steal, one blocked shot and one three-pointer. More important than the stat line was how Irving felt, and afterward he said that the knee felt fine. In his last nine outings prior to the break, the point guard averaged 27.3 points, 9.0 assists, 5.1 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game with shooting splits of 53.5/46.2/90.5. Boston’s experienced success recently when Irving was on the sideline, winning its last six games without him, but the All-Star point guard is a key figure as the Celtics look to make another deep playoff run. 

 

Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James score 19 points apiece 

 

Outside of Durant, Team LeBron boasted four other players who scored between 18 and 20 points Sunday, with Kawhi Leonard (who played just 19 minutes) and LeBron James scoring 19 points apiece. The two forwards will now rejoin teams that entered the break in far different positions. While the Lakers are in the middle of a fight to simply get into the playoffs, Toronto trails Milwaukee by just one game for the best record in the East. Toronto made a big move at the trade deadline, acquiring Marc Gasol from Memphis in a deal that sent Delon Wright, C.J. Miles and Jonas Valanciunas in the opposite direction, and the team also hit the waiver wire to add guard Jeremy Lin to the roster. The hope is that these moves will help Toronto take the next step in the East, which would be big given the fact that Leonard will be a free agent this summer. A top-5 player in nine-category leagues this season, Leonard is one of the NBA’s best all-around players. Over his last seven outings the versatile forward, who unveiled his new signature shoe this weekend, is averaging 23.4 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.4 steals per game with shooting splits of 42.5%/32.4%/92.5%. 

 

As for James, his absence from the Lakers lineup due to a groin strain is part of what got the team in trouble. Rajon Rondo and Lonzo Ball (who’s still out) also missed time during this stretch, and as a result Luke Walton’s team dropped out of the West’s top eight. Of course the Anthony Davis saga only complicated things, as some players had to deal with the trade rumor mill possibly for the first time in their careers. Since returning to the lineup James is averaging 23.2 points, 11.0 assists, 10.8 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game, shooting 47.3% from the field, 35.1% from three and 65.4% from the foul line. Over the last two weeks he’s been a top-15 player in nine-category leagues, a slight improvement on his status for the entire season (top-20). It will be interesting to see James’ numbers down the stretch, especially if Los Angeles finds itself in the middle of a battle for one of the final playoff spots in the West. 

 

Paul George does a little bit of everything…as usual 

 

Thunder guard Paul George has been outstanding this season, as his play has him in the thick of the MVP discussion. Sunday night he scored 20 points to go along with four assists, three steals and two rebounds in 26 minutes, and he also shot 6-of-12 from beyond the arc. And at least two of George’s six three-pointers were of the same fashion that James Harden has made famous, stepping back on the gather to get the separation needed for a semi-clean look. For the season as a whole PG13 ranks third in nine-category leagues, with only Anthony Davis and the aforementioned Harden ahead of him. Russell Westbrook (17 points, four rebounds, three assists and one steal Sunday) has struggled with his shot this season, but he’s also given George the room he’s needed in order to flourish. Not only has that approach paid off in the standings for Oklahoma City, but it’s also been a factor in George taking yet another step in his development.  

 

Khris Middleton shines among the All-Star debutants 

 

Five players made their All-Star Game debuts Sunday: D’Angelo Russell (Brooklyn), Nikola Jokic (Denver), Khris Middleton (Milwaukee), Nikola Vucevic (Orlando) and Ben Simmons (Philadelphia). And of those five it was Middleton, the first pick of teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo when the reserves were selected, who had the best night. In 22 minutes Middleton, the first G-League alum to appear in an All-Star Game, scored 20 points (7-of-13 FGs) with five rebounds, four assists and six 3-pointers in 22 minutes. Over his last ten games the sixth-year guard is averaging 16.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 4.7 assists per, shooting 45.8% from the field, 39.5% from three and 85.2% from the foul line. While he hasn’t been a top-100 player in nine-category leagues over the last month, he’s ranked within the top-70 for the entire season. 

 

Of the other four debutants only Simmons scored in double figures, as he finished the night with ten points (5-of-5 FGs), seven assists, six rebounds and one steal. Simmons has been a top-80 player in nine-category leagues this season, and he’d likely be ranked higher if he had a consistent jump shot. Jokic, Russell and Vucevic all played 12-13 minutes, with Jokic (nine rebounds) and Russell (three assists) scoring six points and Vucevic (five rebounds, two assists) four. Jokic has been the subject of some MVP chatter and rightfully so, as his play is a big reason why Denver has one of the NBA’s best records despite being hit hard by injuries. He’s been a top-10 player in nine-category leagues this season, averaging 20.4 points, 10.6 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game. 

 

Lillard, Beal and Thompson shoot Team LeBron back into the game

 

LeBron James' decision to load up on shooters when making his reserve picks proved to be the right move in the end, as Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal and Klay Thompson all hit some big three-pointers to help spark the rally. Lillard, who shot just 6-of-17 from three on the night, made three third-quarter threes, and Thompson (6-of-12 3-pointers) also made six shots from beyond the arc. And Beal finished the night 3-of-10 from deep, scoring 11 points in 18 minutes. The fifteen threes made by Lillard (18 points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals), Thompson (20 points, eight rebounds, four assists and one steal) and Beal (11 points, three assists, one rebound and one steal) were three more than Team Giannis' starters made combined. 

 

Over the last two weeks Beal has been the most productive fantasy-wise, as he's ranked safely in the top-10 of nine-category leagues. Since John Wall was lost for the season Beal has had more opportunities to initiate things offensively, and he's been very good in that role. Both Lillard and Thompson are top-20 players, with the slight edge going to Lillard given everything he's asked to do within the Blazers offense. 

 

Anthony Davis (shoulder) plays just five minutes 

 

Pelicans forward Anthony Davis arrived in Charlotte nursing a muscle contusion in his left shoulder, resulting in questions being asked with regards to whether or not he’d be able to play. Davis played a total of five minutes, tallying five points and one rebound. New Orleans, which fired GM Dell Demps just before All-Star weekend, will play both Friday (Indiana) and Saturday (Lakers), and they’re going to have a decision to make regarding Davis’ minutes since he’s already informed the team of his desire to be traded. That won’t be happening now since the trade deadline has passed, but how will New Orleans look to “manage” Davis’ minutes moving forward. Not only will this impact Davis but it will also impact a reserve such as Jahlil Okafor, who’s given the Pelicans really good minutes since the former was lost due to a hand injury. 

 

Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade make positive “final” impressions

 

Dirk Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade were special additions to the All-Star rosters. with commissioner Adam Silver giving both one last hurrah on the midseason stage (thanks to a fan’s email proposing the idea). And both had their moments Sunday night, with Nowitzki making all three of his shot attempts and Wade accounting for seven points, four assists, and two rebounds. The former played just four minutes on the night, but by the time the Mavericks forward returned to the bench he had three 3-pointers and nine points to his credit. Wade, who was able to connect with LeBron James on an alley-oop, played ten minutes. Wade’s on a team that’s part of a race for a playoff spot in the East, while Nowitzki’s on a team that will likely finish the season in the lottery. 

 

While Wade has made his decision regarding retirement that’s not the case for Nowitzki, who will make a decision at season’s end. “Nothing that happened today changed my mind if you’re asking that,” Nowitzki said after the game. “But I want to see how the rest of the season obviously goes. Hopefully I can feel even better than the last few weeks and we’ll see how it goes.” Dallas’ future appears to be in good hands with rookie Luka Doncic leading the way, and Kristaps Porzingis figuring prominently in the team’s plans as well (once he’s back to full strength). 

 

Thursday’s Schedule (all times Eastern) 

 

Phoenix at Cleveland, 7 PM 

Miami at Philadelphia, 7 PM 

Portland at Brooklyn, 7:30 PM 

Boston at Milwaukee, 8 PM 

Sacramento at Golden State, 10:30 PM

Houston at LA Lakers, 10:30 PM 

Raphielle Johnson
Raphielle has been writing about college sports for more than a decade for multiple outlets, including NBC Sports. Focuses have included game recaps, columns, features and recruiting stories. A native of the Northeast, he now calls Pac-12 country home. Raphielle can be followed on Twitter @raphiellej.