LOS ANGELES – For most of this season, the Boston Celtics and the Golden State Warriors stood atop teir respective conferences record-wise.
And yet here we are at the All-Star break with neither the Celtics or Warriors able to boast having the best record in the East and West, respectively.
The Toronto Raptors (41-16) have a two-game lead over Boston in the East while the Rockets (44-13) have won 10 straight and now have a half-game lead over the Warriors.
Although Toronto has been among the top teams in the East most of this season, there has been little talk about them being on the short list of title contenders.
“At the end of the day, people have their own opinions,” said Raptors All-Star guard Kyle Lowry. “We've got to go out there and do our job. At the end of the day, we're going to go out there, play basketball and not worry about anybody else.”
A big factor in their success has been winning at home. They enter the break with a league-best 24-4 record at home.
So the importance of the top spot in the East and the home court advantage that comes with it, is critical to their postseason fate.
As for Houston, the Rockets have also put a high premium on finishing with the best overall record in the West.
“It's important,” said Rockets All-Star James Harden. “That's why we're going to take it one game at a time and try to be the best we can be.”
GSW'S GREEN ON THE CELTICS: ‘THEY’LL BE FINE’
While the Celtics naysayers are lining up now that the team has lost four of their last five games and are no longer tops in the East record-wise, there’s at least one prominent player in the NBA – Golden State’s Draymond Green – who still has a great amount of confidence in the Celtics.
“I mean, they're a very good team,” he said. “They're young, this is their first year together. Obviously, Kyrie (Irving) is one of the few guys, if not the only guy, with championship experience. So, it takes a little experience to kind of figure things out.”
He points out how the level of expectations changed after Gordon Hayward’s ankle injury in the opener, and how they exceeded those modified expectations most of this season.
“Now all of a sudden everyone is gunning for you, and that takes some adjusting to,” Green said. “So, I think they're just adjusting to it, but they'll be fine. Everyone hits that rough patch in the season. I think it's just that's what they're going through right now.”
DONOVAN MITCHELL TURNING HEADS
Even before he wowed fans by winning the Verizon Slam Dunk competition, Utah’s Donovan Mitchell was the talk of All-Star weekend.
“I think a lot of people are talking about him because you didn't expect that to happen,” said Washington’s John Wall. “Nobody expected Gordon Hayward to leave (for Boston), and then he (Mitchell) went into a situation to lead right away, and he's been showing it every game.”
Portland’s Damian Lillard admits he’s a fan of Mitchell’s game.
“I think obviously every draft pick that comes into the league has talent, a lot of confidence, usually,” Lillard said. “But it's different when they're able to perform, not only from starting in the league, but to be able to do it consistently all the way up to this break we've had. We've played at least 60 games, and he's still going strong and getting better. Not just individually, but their team has won 10 or 11 games straight. So I think that says a lot about the type of player he is.”
Houston’s James Harden added, “He's in attack mode all times. He doesn't shy away from anything. Once you have that mindset as a young rookie, that will ride you out for your whole career. He doesn't shy away. Big game, steps up, makes big shot, and he leads the team.”
An All-Star weekend wouldn’t be complete without a few “where did that come from” questions.
Here’s a small sampling.
With the winter Olympics in full swing now, Golden State’s Klay Thompson was asked who would he put together on a bobsled team.
“Oh, probably, you need speed, so I would put John Wall, Russell Westbrook, and those are just purely fast, and Giannis Antetokounmpo,” Thompson said. “That's a good team right there.”
LeBron James said he plans to do a remake of the movie, “House Party.” Toronto’s Kyle Lowry was asked if he could remake or star in a ‘90s sitcom or movie, what would he do?
"Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," Lowry said.
And the character he would play?
“For sure, Geoffrey (the butler). He was the funniest guy to me.”
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC WELL REPRESENTED BY HORFORD, TOWNS
Al Horford is used to being the Domincan Republic’s lone all-star this weekend. But now Horford has company with Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns being named to his first all-star team.
“It's huge. For the Dominican Republic, we have two All-Stars,” Towns said. “I don't think many people, when they look at the Dominican Republic, they think about basketball talent. They're always thinking about baseball and Albert Pujols and Robinson Cano, whatever the case may be. They never think about the basketball side. The Dominican Republic has been doing an amazing job bringing up its talent and giving them the right resources so they may have a chance to be in the NBA.
Towns added, “I'm just very fortunate that me and Al could be that kind of inspiration for these kids to understand that. No matter what the circumstances, especially in the Dominican Republic, are for them, they can achieve their dreams if they just put their mind, soul and their will into every single day.”
WALL OK WITH WIZARDS PLAY IN HIS ABSENCE
Since undergoing left knee surgery, the Wizards have won seven of nine games in his absence. One of the two losses was an overtime thriller to the Boston Celtics.
“Oh, they've been playing great,” Wall said. “Everybody expects me to be mad or upset. That's what you're supposed to do when somebody goes down. The next man is supposed to step up. So I'm happy for them. Tomas (Satoransky) has been great for us. Everybody's been playing well. Brad (Beal) has been leading the team. It makes my job easy so I don't feel like I have pressure to come back. The way these guys are playing like they are, it makes my job easier.”