West wins in a snoozer

The picture says it all. Shaq and Kobe won co-MVP awards as the West rolled over the East, 146-119.

While jealousies and drama tore Shaq and Kobe apart years ago, there was nothing but love Sunday at U.S. Airways Center. They shared the stage at the end, too, each grabbing his third All-Star Game MVP award. Bryant put this pairing with The Big Legendary in perspective.

“We’re not going to go back to the room and watch Steel Magnolias or something like that, you know what I’m saying, crying, all that stuff,” Bryant cracked. “We had a good time. That’s all.”

Bryant led all scorers with 27 points. LeBron James paced the East with 20. But it was O’Neal, the self-proclaimed “Godfather of the NBA”, who owned the highlight of the night. The third-quarter delight began at the 3-point line in a matchup of one-time Orlando centers.

The Magic’s first All-Star center (O’Neal) passed the ball through the legs of the latest, Dwight Howard, and into the waiting hands of West teammate Chris Paul. O’Neal took the return dish and nearly took the basket down with a two-handed ferocity.

The fun didn’t end there. Two slams later, Shaq decided to do pull-ups on the rim. Working against East backup “center” Rashard Lewis, the dunks kept coming and the West’s lead expanded accordingly. Kobe helped set up a few of O’Neal’s signature scores.

For the record, I thought the duo’s camaraderie was fake. After all, it was only a few months ago that Shaq wanted Kobe to tell him how his a** tastes. Kobe was probably instructed by his PR people to go out of his way to make nice with Shaq, as it would only help his image.

The game itself was competitive for much of the first half, but the West pulled away with a run in the third quarter. It seemed like the starters of the East could keep things tight, but when the Eastern reserves came into the game, passing went out the window and players started jacking up really quick shots. It didn’t help that the East didn’t have another true big man outside of Dwight Howard. One of the reasons Shaq had a big night was due to the fact that Rashard Lewis was covering him when the second units were in. That’s just not going to work.

Joe Johnson might want to forget his All-Star experience. He was 0-4 from the field and failed to score. Doug Collins suggested that it might have something to do with returning to Phoenix, where Johnson once played.

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2009 NBA All-Star reserves have been announced…

…and here they are…

East: Devin Harris, Danny Granger, Jameer Nelson, Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson, Rashard Lewis and Paul Pierce

West: Shaquille O’Neal, Chauncey Billups, Pau Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker, Brandon Roy and David West

When comparing the final rosters to my picks, there were three changes. I didn’t have Allen Iverson on my roster, much less a starter, but he was voted in by the fans. Rashard Lewis replaced Vince Carter, which goes to show that the coaches value team wins more than individual (albeit gaudy) stats. David West replaced Carmelo Anthony, and I think it’s a good call, especially with ‘Melo’s injury. The longer he was out, the better the chances that the coaches would leave him at home. It didn’t help his All-Star stock that Denver has played very well without him.

The only thing that’s really wrong with these rosters is the inclusion of Allen Iverson. There were a host of players in the East — Carter, Tayshaun Prince, Ray Allen, Mo Williams, Rajon Rondo, Caron Butler and Josh Smith — that were more deserving, but there’s no doubt that AI is a very popular player. Unsurprisingly, we can’t really argue with the coaches’ picks. They know what they’re doing.

It’s especially good to see Devin Harris, Danny Granger, Jameer Nelson and Tony Parker get recognized for their fine play this season.

No Love?

The rosters for the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge have been announced and there are a few surprises.

The rookie roster consists of Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, O.J. Mayo, Eric Gordon, Rudy Fernandez, Michael Beasley, Brook Lopez, Greg Oden and Marc Gasol.

The sophomore roster includes Rodney Stuckey, Aaron Brooks, Kevin Durant, Wilson Chandler, Jeff Green, Al Thornton, Luis Scola, Al Horford and Thaddeus Young.

Kevin Love isn’t on the nine-man roster for the Rookie Challenge, and it’s a big, glaring snub. ESPN’s John Hollinger agrees.

For starters, the decision to select Eric Gordon ahead of Kevin Love for the rookies was completely inexcusable.

Don’t get me wrong; Gordon is going to have a fine career, it seems, and in almost any other year he’d be a shoo-in for the team. But he made this squad mainly because the forlorn Clippers have no choice but to play him extensive minutes.

As good as he’s looked, Gordon is the only rookie team member with a Player Efficiency Rating below the league average, while Love has a better PER than every player on the rookie team except Greg Oden. Love leads the league in offensive rebound rate, as I mentioned the other day, but his prodigious work on the boards has gone largely unnoticed because he plays only 23.2 minutes a game, far less than Gordon’s 32.2.

Love’s absence is especially surprising considering how the rookie roster is loaded with four guards (Rose, Westbrook, Mayo, Gordon), one G/F (Fernandez) and only one true forward (Beasley). You’d think that if it were a tossup between Gordon and Love (which it isn’t) that they’d at least want to get another true forward on the roster to balance things out.

Hollinger goes on to rail against the sophomore roster snubs, which included Wilson Chandler over Jamario Moon, Al Thornton over Carl Landry and the worst of all (he says) — Aaron Brooks over Ramon Sessions.

Interestingly, seven of the top 11 picks of the 2007 draft — Mike Conley, Yi Jianlian, Corey Brewer, Brandan Wright, Joakim Noah, Spencer Hawes and Acie Law — did NOT make the sophomore roster. (I counted Greg Oden amongst the four since he made the rookie roster.) Conversely, six of the top 11 picks in the 2008 draft did make the rookie team.

Danny Granger’s effective throwback game

Former NBA player Eddie Johnson wrote a nice piece for HoopsHype about how Danny Granger uses “Old Man Moves” to score easily and efficiently.

Granger is a very good athlete, but someone has gotten in his ear and convinced Granger that playing below the rim will give him a tremendous advantage and save wear and tear on his body while still putting up huge numbers. I watched him a few weeks ago against the Suns and marveled at how he easily scored using a method we called back in the day Old Man Moves.

(Definition: Old Man Moves means a player who is mentally tough and has a smorgasbord of shots that keeps the defense wondering and off balance. He plays below the rim. He takes what the defense gives him. He plays with a level head. He does not waste energy with his dribble. He uses his teammates to get open. He uses a variety of shots to score. He takes big shots and makes them in the fourth quarter. He gets to the free throw line to maintain consistent confidence and he comes to score every night and is relentless).

Granger would drive to the basket and when Shaq and Amare Stoudemire went high in the air to challenge him, he in turn went economical and went low for easy non-spectacular shots. Most players in today’s NBA think poster or mano-a-mano, which is fine if you are LeBron, Kobe, Wade, Amare or Vince Carter. These players can elevate higher than everyone, but Granger somehow realizes his percentage of winning that battle is not in his favor. So he pulls up for the basic 12-foot shot or he shoots a running hook or maybe he uses his off hand. And I have also seen him execute the up and under – very much Old Man Moves.

I am intimately familiar with Old Man Moves, but not by choice. I had decent leaping ability in high school and could dunk with (relative) ease, but after a couple of knee scopes in college and playing on maybe the most unforgiving court in the country at UW-Platteville, I was definitely a below-the-rim kind of a player. (I swear they just laid the wood right on top of concrete. The floor had absolutely no give at all, which made it difficult to elevate.)

But back to Granger, who has increased his scoring by an average of 6.1 points per game in each of his four seasons in the NBA. He was amongst my original picks for the All-Star Game, and I think he’s an easy choice. The Pacers may be 18-28, but their points scored/points allowed differential is only -2.4, so they have been competitive. Granger is 4th in the league in scoring (25.8) and he is 9th in the league in three-point percentage (39.9%) amongst players that take more than five treys per game.

The bottom line is that the Pacers don’t have a lot of firepower, so opponents know that Granger is their main threat. And they still can’t stop him.

Let’s hope the coaches recognize this and put this guy on the All-Star team.

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