Warriors, Wolves, Wizards each get 2 NBA All-Star reserves

NEW YORK (AP) Stephen Curry will be able to stock his All-Star roster with plenty of Golden State teammates.

Klay Thompson and Draymond Green were chosen as reserves Tuesday, giving the defending NBA champions a record-tying four All-Stars for the second straight year.

The Minnesota Timberwolves and Washington Wizards also had two reserves selected, and they will go into the pool of players that Curry and fellow captain LeBron James can draft to comprise the teams for the Feb. 18 game in Los Angeles. Their rosters will be unveiled Thursday, though the selection process won’t be televised.

Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns were chosen from the Western Conference, along with Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, San Antonio’s LaMarcus Aldridge and Portland’s Damian Lillard.

Besides Washington’s John Wall and Bradley Beal, the rest of the Eastern Conference reserves were Boston’s Al Horford, Cleveland’s Kevin Love, New York’s Kristaps Porzingis, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry and Indiana’s Victor Oladipo.

The starters were announced last week. Curry and the Warriors’ Kevin Durant joined Houston’s James Harden and New Orleans’ Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins from the West, while the East players besides James were Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, Boston’s Kyrie Irving, Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid.

James and Curry earned the captain spots by being the leading vote-getters in fan balloting in each conference. They will not have to stick to conference affiliation when drafting their teams.

James will have the first pick after receiving the most total votes. After the starters are chosen, Curry will have the first pick among the reserves.

Beal, Oladipo, Porzingis and Towns were all first-time selections. Every other reserve will be making at least his third All-Star appearance.

The reserves were voted upon by the head coaches in each conference, who had to select two guards, three frontcourt players and two other players regardless of position. They were prohibited for voting for their own players.

Players having strong seasons who didn’t make the cut included Detroit’s Andre Drummond, the NBA’s leading rebounder, Clippers guard Lou Williams, Houston’s Chris Paul and Oklahoma City’s Paul George.

Drama club: Cavaliers hold meeting to vent frustration

Cleveland’s drama club is acting up again.

Frustrated by their recent poor play in a season when their NBA title hopes seem to be slipping away, the Cavaliers held an emotional pre-practice meeting on Monday in hopes of clearing the air.

They’ve lost 10 of 14 and dropped to third in the Eastern Conference behind Boston and Toronto. With an embarrassing defeat to Oklahoma City on national TV still lingering, the Cavs decided it was time to address their troubled state before leaving for Tuesday’s game at San Antonio.

”We aired any grievances we had and we’re going to move forward,” said center Kevin Love, who regretted that the meeting was leaked publicly. ”Hopefully we’ll be better for it, we have been in the past.”

Chaos is nothing new for the Cavaliers, who have had similar blowups in recent years yet managed to overcome any differences and went to the Finals the past three years.

Love has been in the middle of controversy before, and after he missed two days with an illness, it was presumed he was involved in Monday’s discussion.

”Did I feel like a target?” he said at Tuesday’s shootaround. ”I think everybody, most people, were a target. We’re trying to figure this thing out. People hold themselves to a very high standard on this team and we’re a team that can compete at the highest level. So, for us, it’s not about me.

”I’m not going to make it about myself. I’m sure with other guys, it’s the same thing. The biggest thing is moving forward. For me, the thing I’ve always done is kept my mouth shut, I continue to work hard and try to do best for the Cavs. That’s all I can do tonight and moving forward these last 35, 40 games and overall just try to help this team.”

While Love wants to move on from the team’s latest turbulence, there may be some unresolved issues.

When the team arrived at San Antonio’s AT&T Center, Love was the first player off the bus and he walked into the arena by himself wearing headphones and carrying a coffee cup. His teammates trailed in behind him.

Although Love is averaging 18.6 points and 9.4 rebounds, there always seems to be a sense that he should be doing more. He’s been the scapegoat before, so the latest uproar surrounding the team doesn’t surprise him.

”I’m numb to it at this point,” he said. ”We’ve been to three straight Finals. We’ve been able to thrive under a certain amount of chaos at some points. The good thing about us is we’ve got better throughout the course of seasons and we’ve peaked at the right time. We’re hoping that it’s not any different.”

LeBron James refused to address the meeting, saying ”I don’t want to talk about it” three times.

James enters the matchup with the Spurs needing seven points to become the seventh player in league history with 30,000.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue spoke during the meeting, which took place at the team’s training facility in Independence, Ohio.

Lue has decided not to make any changes to his lineup or rotations in hopes that his experienced team – Cleveland has the league’s oldest roster – will figure things out.

Until then, Lue hopes that venting their concerns will help the Cavaliers, who have been blown out three times in the past two weeks.

”We’ve got to do something about it,” he said. ”We’re doing a lot of talking, but we’ve got to play better. We’ve got to execute better offensively, we’ve got to execute better defensively. We’ve got to be better collectively. Everyone has to be better. We’ve been saying that, but we’re taking the necessary steps to do that.”

Love played just three minutes in Saturday’s loss to the Thunder because of an illness. He went home and then missed Sunday’s practice, but Lue dismissed Love’s absence as an issue.

”It’s not about one person, it’s about all of us,” he said. ”If the training staff says Kevin is sick and he’s out, he’s sick and he’s out. I don’t think anybody on our team is a doctor, none of the players, so you can’t speak for what the training staff says. Of course, throughout the course of the season he’s human, everyone is human and there’s going to be other guys that are going to get sick and be down now, too.

”We’ve just got to move forward, move past that and we’ve got to try to get on track as far as winning basketball games.”

Lue thought it was misguided for Love to absorb the brunt of the criticism after his teammates allowed the most points by a Cleveland team since 1972.

”That’s crazy. I mean, if Kevin was out there, we might have given up 170,” he said, laughing. ”We’re being tested right now. That’s when your true character comes out and the character of who you are as a person, as a player.”

NBA Wrap: Boogie hits huge triple-double to down Bulls

DeMarcus Cousins had 44 points, 24 rebounds and 10 assists, Anthony Davis scored 34 points, and the All-Star pair led a 17-point New Orleans comeback in the final five minutes of regulation before the Pelicans pulled out a 132-128 victory over the Chicago Bulls in double overtime Monday night.

Cousins scored seven points in the second overtime on a 3-pointer, a turnaround jumper and two free throws with 8.2 seconds left. He became the first NBA player since Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain in 1968 to have as many as 40 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists in a game.

E’Twaun Moore scored 15 points, including a 3 in the second overtime to help the Pelicans win for the fifth time in six games.

Jerian Grant had 22 points and 13 assists, and Robin Lopez also scored 22 for the Bulls, who appeared well on their way to their fifth victory in six games when they opened the fourth quarter with a 23-5 run to take their largest lead at 104-86.

Khris Middleton scored 35 points and hit two long jumpers in the final minute, while Malcolm Brogdon added 32 points as Milwaukee beat Phoenix 109-105 hours after firing coach Jason Kidd.

Brogdon added a steal with 40 seconds left after the Bucks double-teamed guard Devin Booker in the backcourt. Brogdon lobbed a cross-court pass to Middleton, who hit a jumper from the left corner with 24 seconds left for a 105-100 lead.

T.J. Warren had 23 points for Phoenix, which has lost four of five.

Kidd was fired hours before the game, ending a three-plus season tenure that included two playoff appearances but stretches of inconsistency on both ends of the floor. Other than a 33-win season in 2015-16, the Bucks hovered around .500 under Kidd as a young core of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Brogdon blossomed into top-flight players.

James Harden scored 28 points as Houston overcame a big early deficit to beat Miami 99-90.

Miami led by double digits before halftime, but the game stayed close throughout most of the second half. It was tied with about three minutes left when Harden hit a 3-pointer just before the shot clock expired. That was the start of a 7-2 run that made it 95-90 with 38 seconds left.

James Johnson missed a 3-pointer on the other end, but Miami’s Hassan Whiteside grabbed the rebound. Harden blocked his layup, and Houston added a dunk by Clint Capela with 18 seconds left.

Whiteside led the Heat with 22 points and 13 rebounds. The team was missing Goran Dragic for the second straight game because of a bruised left knee.

Marc Gasol scored 19 points, Tyreke Evans added 18 points and eight assists as the duo led a fourth-quarter rally that lifted Memphis to a 105-101 win over Philadelphia.

Mario Chalmers added 17 points, including a pair of free throws with 6.2 seconds remaining, to help the Grizzlies overcome a 15-point deficit. Myke Henry, signed to a two-way contract with Memphis earlier this month, had 12 points.

Dario Saric led the Sixers with 22 points and added 10 rebounds, and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarott finished with a season-high 20 points. Robert Covington added 18 points and Joel Embiid had 15 points and 14 rebounds.

Harrison Barnes had 20 points and 10 rebounds, rookie Dennis Smith Jr. scored 17 as Dallas finished a season sweep of playoff-contending Washington with a 98-75 victory.

The Mavericks slowed a recent slide that had them headed back to the bottom of the Western Conference, ending their second three-game losing streak since the start of January.

The Mavericks held the high-scoring backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal to 28 percent shooting. Beal scored 18 and Wall had 11 — the only double-digit scorers for the Wizards — as the guards combined to go 8 of 29 from the field.

Dennis Schroder scored 20 points and Taurean Prince added 17 as Atlanta kept up its improving play with a 104-90 victory over Utah.

The Hawks began to pull away late in the third quarter, closing with a 13-3 run for a 74-63 lead that was their largest to that point. Dewayne Dedmon knocked down a 3-pointer, Malcolm Delaney converted a four-point play and Schroder scored off a couple of drives.

Alec Burks came off the bench to lead the Jazz with 17 points. Utah’s starters combined for just 40 points, led by Donovan Mitchell with 13.

Kemba Walker had 26 points and Jeremy Lamb added 18 as Charlotte bounced back from a tough loss to beat Sacramento 112-107.

Nic Batum and Marvin Williams each had 14 points and Dwight Howard added 14 points and 16 rebounds for the Hornets, who have won six of their last nine.

Skai Labissiere had 23 points and Buddy Hield added 18 for the Kings, who have lost eight straight games and 11 of their last 12.

All the scores from Monday’s NBA action:

Charlotte Hornets 112-107 Sacramento Kings
Atlanta Hawks 104-90 Utah Jazz
Memphis Grizzlies 105-101 Philadelphia 76ers
Houston Rockets 99-90 Miami Heat
New Orleans Pelicans 132-128 Chicago Bulls (OT)
Milwaukee Bucks 109-105 Phoenix Suns
Dallas Mavericks 98-75 Washington Wizards
Denver Nuggets 104-101 Portland Trail Blazers
Los Angeles Clippers – Minnesota Timberwolves

Milwaukee Bucks fire coach Jason Kidd

MILWAUKEE (AP) The Milwaukee Bucks have fired coach Jason Kidd following a midseason slide that left the playoff hopeful in eighth place in the Eastern Conference.

Assistant coach Joe Prunty was serving as head coach for Monday night’s game against Phoenix.

It was a surprising end to Kidd’s three-plus season tenure in Milwaukee, when the Bucks made the playoffs twice. Giannis Antetokounmpo turned into an All-Star under his watch. The Bucks were considered an emerging force in the East at the start of the season.

But the Bucks have lost four of five going into Monday and had been prone to defensive lapses especially on the perimeter.

General manager Jon Horst says ”a fresh approach and a change in leadership are needed to continue elevating our talented team towards the next level.”

NBA Wrap: Magic hand Celtics third-straight home loss

Elfrid Payton scored 22 points as the Orlando Magic won for just the third time in their last 20 games, overcoming Kyrie Irving’s 40 points to beat the Boston Celtics 103-95 on Sunday.

Orlando snapped a 14-game losing streak at Boston. The Magic had lost 10 in a row on the road overall since early December.

Irving sat out Boston’s previous game to rest a sore left shoulder. Despite his efforts, the Celtics dropped their season-worst third straight home game.

Evan Fournier added 19 and Aaron Gordon had a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds for the Magic.

Jordan Clarkson had 29 points and 10 assists, Julius Randle added 27 points and 12 rebounds, as Los Angeles beat New York 127-107 for its sixth win in eight games.

Kyle Kuzma added 15 points for the Lakers (17-29), who continued their midseason surge of solid play. Rookie point guard Alex Caruso set career highs with nine points and eight assists, making the most of extensive playing time in the absence of injured Lonzo Ball.

Kristaps Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Michael Beasley scored 17 points apiece for the Knicks, who have lost 12 of 16. New York slipped to 2-2 on its seven-game trip.

The Knicks couldn’t keep up down the stretch with the Lakers, whose up-tempo offence flowed throughout their highest-scoring game in two weeks.

Spencer Dinwiddie’s jumper with 0.9 seconds left lifted Brooklyn to a 101-100 win over Detroit, the Pistons’ fifth straight loss.

After a basket by Andre Drummond put the Pistons ahead with 4.7 seconds left, Dinwiddie took the inbounds pass, drove to 14 feet and drained a jumper against his former teammates.

Caris LeVert split a pair of free throws with 13.7 seconds left, giving the Nets a 99-98 edge.

Langston Galloway misplayed the ensuing inbounds pass, but was able to knock the ball to Drummond. Detroit’s center nearly traveled in a rare drive from outside the 3-point arc, and flipped in a go-ahead shot.

Dinwiddie finished with 22 points. Tobias Harris led the Pistons with 20.

All the scores from Sunday’s NBA action:

Boston Celtics 95-103 Orlando Magic
Los Angeles Lakers 127-107 New York Knicks
Detroit Pistons 100-101 Brooklyn Nets
San Antonio Spurs 86-84 Indiana Pacers

Thunder thump Cavs 148-124, keep LeBron shy of 30,000 points

CLEVELAND (AP) LeBron James couldn’t get to 30,000 career points and he and his Cleveland teammates couldn’t stop Paul George, Russell Westbrook or Carmelo Anthony as the Oklahoma City Thunder thumped the Cavaliers 148-124 on Saturday for their fourth straight win.

Oklahoma City tied the record for the most points scored against Cleveland in a regulation game. Philadelphia scored 148 back in 1972.

George scored 36, Westbrook had 23 and 20 assists and Anthony scored a season-high 29 as the Thunder embarrassed the Eastern Conference champions, whose defensive issues aren’t improving. Cleveland has lost 10 of 14.

James finished with 18 points and is seven shy of becoming the seventh player in NBA history to reach the 30,000-point plateau. His next chance is Tuesday when the Cavs visit San Antonio.

ROCKETS 116, WARRIORS 108

HOUSTON (AP) – Chris Paul scored 33 points and 11 rebounds, James Harden had 22 points and Houston held off Golden State to snap its 14-game road winning streak.

Harden stepped back from Stephen Curry for a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired to make it 114-108 with 1:10 left. Harden then blocked Curry’s 3-point attempt after a timeout, and Paul made two free throws with 28 seconds left.

Golden State lost away from home for the first time since Nov. 22. The Warriors had won seven straight in Houston.

Kevin Durant led Golden State with 26 points, Draymond Green had 21 and Curry added 19 on a night he went 5 of 15 on 3-point attempts.

76ERS 116, BUCKS 94

PHILADELPHIA (AP) – Joel Embiid had 29 points and nine rebounds and Philadelphia pulled away from undermanned Milwaukee for its seventh win in eight games.

Ben Simmons added 16 points and nine assists, and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot added 16 points in a rare start as the Sixers (22-20) moved past Milwaukee (23-22) for sixth place in the Eastern Conference.

Khris Middleton had 23 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists for the Bucks in their second straight loss. They were without top scorer Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was sitting out the first of two games to rest a sore right knee.

Fellow starter Malcolm Brogdon (family matter) also wasn’t available. Tony Snell (15 points) and Sterling Brown (14 points) moved into the lineup, and the Bucks rallied from 16 points down to tie it before fading in the fourth quarter.

TIMBERWOLVES 115, RAPTORS 109

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – Andrew Wiggins scored 29 points and Karl-Anthony Towns had all 22 of his points in the second half as Minnesota rallied from an 11-point first-half deficit to beat Toronto.

Playing without leading scorer Jimmy Butler, the Wolves managed to overcome Towns’ early foul trouble and hot perimeter shooting by the Raptors to snap a two-game skid.

Kyle Lowry led Toronto with a season-high 40 points on 14-for-25 shooting, including 6 of 10 from behind the arc. The Raptors shot 54 percent in the first half, when they led by as many as 11.

JAZZ 125, CLIPPERS 113

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – Donovan Mitchell scored 23 points and Utah close out Los Angeles.

Despite missing starting guard Rodney Hood because of a leg injury, Utah set season bests for points in the first quarter (39) and first half (76). It never trailed while ending the Clippers’ six-game winning streak.

Lou Williams paced the Clippers with 31 points, 10 steals and seven assists, and he helped cut the lead to single digits in the fourth quarter. Blake Griffin added 25 points and eight rebounds.

PELICANS 111, GRIZZLIES 104

NEW ORLEANS (AP) – Jrue Holiday scored 13 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter, DeMarcus Cousins had 24 points and 10 rebounds, and New Orleans beat Memphis.

Anthony Davis had 21 points and 12 rebounds but did not score his first points of the second half until he dunked with 1:15 to go in the game, giving the Pelicans a 108-102 lead.

Darius Miller added 12 points in a reserve role for New Orleans, which never trailed but very nearly blew a 21-point lead.

BULLS 113, HAWKS 97

ATLANTA (AP) – Robin Lopez scored 20 points, Lauri Markkanen added 19 and Chicago easily beat Atlanta.

The Bulls, coming off a seven-point home loss to defending NBA champion Golden State three days ago, have won four of five. They never trailed, taking an 11-pont lead midway through the first quarter on Lopez’s dunk and going up 17 on Markkanen’s dunk in the closing seconds of the first half.

Dennis Schroder scored 18 points and Dewayne Dedmon had 11 for Atlanta, which showed why it’s spent the season at or near the bottom of the NBA standings.

TRAIL BLAZERS 117, MAVERICKS 108

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) – Damian Lillard hit his first nine shots – including seven 3-pointers – en route to 31 points, and Portland beat Dallas.

Lillard shot 10 of 15 from the floor and handed out nine assists. CJ McCollum added 26 points for Portland, which won its third straight game overall and season-best sixth straight at home.

Wesley Matthews led Dallas with 23 points. Dirk Nowitzki and Dennis Smith Jr. scored 21 points each, with Nowitzki reaching a season high.

HEAT 106, HORNETS 105

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – Kelly Olynyk scored 14 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter, including a free throw with 0.2 seconds left, to help Miami erase a five-point deficit in the final 34 seconds and stun Charlotte.

Wayne Ellington had 26 points on six 3-pointers, James Johnson had 22 points and Olynyk was brilliant down the stretch.

Nic Batum scored a season-high 26 points and Kemba Walker had 22 for Charlotte, which had a two-game winning streak snapped.

Irving questionable as Celtics host Magic

BOSTON — The Boston Celtics host the floundering Orlando Magic at TD Garden.

The Magic (13-32) were coming off a big home win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, rallying from 23 points down at Cleveland on Thursday night, only to suffer a last-second defeat.

“I’m disappointed for our guys,” Orlando coach Frank Vogel said. “I felt like they deserved the victory. We didn’t get the breaks down the stretch.”

On the same night, the Celtics, playing without Kyrie Irving, had their worst offensive game of the season and fell to the Philadelphia 76ers on the parquet court.

“We were very sloppy, dribble didn’t take us anywhere, not moving the ball, not getting to spots,” coach Brad Stevens said. “And when Kyrie’s out, you’ve got to be even better at those things.”

Boston guard Marcus Smart called the loss “unacceptable.”

The Celtics won the first two games of the season series with Orlando and has captured six straight over the Magic. More importantly for Sunday, Boston has won 14 straight and 17 of the last 18 against the Magic at TD Garden.

There was no word on whether Irving, who runs the Boston offense, will return for this game, the last before the Celtics head out for a four-game western trip. Irving, however, did practice Saturday, and Stevens said positive things. Irving said he was “ready to go out there and play.”

The Celtics, who have been struggling on the offensive end — even with Irving — this month, added shooting small forward Jarell Eddie to a 10-day contract. Eddie has played in 31 NBA games with the Washington Wizards and Phoenix Suns.

Stevens said Eddie, who had a brief two-day stay with the Celtics three years ago, was added for the trip because of injury and illness (Aron Baynes was out sick Saturday) on his roster.

“Obviously, as we went through this past week, as the flu has gone through our team, Kyrie and his shoulder,” Stevens said, “we wanted to make sure as we get ready to head west that we had a full complement of guys.”

Orlando’s Arron Afflalo will miss the second game of his two-game suspension for throwing a punch at Minnesota’s Nemaja Bjelica.

The loss Thursday night came on a controversial foul call on Shelvin Mack against Isaiah Thomas. The NBA ruled that the call was correct and Thomas hit two free throws with 11.2 seconds left for the winning points.

The Magic’s rebounding problems, which have been worse the past 11 games without the injured Nikola Vucevic, remains a season-long struggle for a struggling team.

“I still think there’s a lot of room for improvement on the defensive glass,” Vogel told the Orlando Sentinel. “We continue to hit the guys over the head with the concept of wiping out crashers (opponents who try to collect offensive rebounds) and making them like an offensive lineman, trying to clear a path for a running back. That’s got to be the goal. We too often watch the ball when we’re under the rim and let the opposing teams get a running jump to the glass. So we’re still improving there.”

 

Bucks’ Antetokounmpo to miss 2 games to rest sore knee

PHILADELPHIA (AP) Milwaukee Bucks leading scorer Giannis Antetokounmpo will miss the next two games to rest a sore right knee.

The Bucks announced Saturday that the All-Star would sit out the game at Philadelphia and Monday’s home game against Phoenix. That will give Antetokounmpo eight days off before his planned return Friday at home against Brooklyn.

Antetokounmpo also missed games on Nov. 22 and Dec. 23 because of the same issue.

The 6-foot-11 forward is the NBA’s second-leading scorer at 28.2 points a game. His average of 37.4 minutes is tops in the league. Antetokounmpo on Thursday was voted an All-Star starter for the second straight year.

The Bucks will be without backup point guard Malcolm Brogdon (personal reasons) against the 76ers.

NBA roundup: Nets end losing streak with Heat win

The Brooklyn Nets ended a five-game losing streak after beating the Miami Heat 101-95.

DeMarre Carroll’s 26 points and another 15 from Spencer Dinwiddie saw the Nets also bring an end to a dire home run against the Heat, where they had lost the previous seven meetings at the Barclays Center.

As well as the win, the Nets were boosted by the return from injury of D’Angelo Russell, who played 14 minutes after missing the previous 32 games following knee surgery.

Kelly Oubre and Bradley Beal each scored 26 points as the Washington Wizards inflicted a fourth successive loss on the Detroit Pistons.

The Wizards scored 76 second half points, in the 122-112 triumph.

The Toronto Raptors continued their stellar home form after Kyle Lowry’s 24 points and DeMar DeRozan’s 21 saw them beat the San Antonio Spurs 86-83.

A career-best 22 points from Dillon Brooks saw the Memphis Grizzlies make it three wins on the spin, as they beat the struggling Sacramento Kings 106-88.

The Phoenix Suns ended a seven-game losing streak against the Denver Nuggets after winning 108-100. Devin Booker was the stand-out for the Suns with 30 points.

A season-high 33 points from Jordan Clarkson saw the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Indiana Pacers 99-86.

The New York Knicks held on in a tense finale for a 117-115 victory over the Utah Jazz.

Thunder’s Paul George doing it all for new team

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Thunder coach Billy Donovan can’t pinpoint the best thing about Paul George.

Oklahoma City’s versatile forward averages just over 20 points per game, leads the league in steals and is third in 3-point goals while shooting 43 percent from beyond the arc.

”I think that’s what makes him the player he is,” Donovan said. ”There’s a lot of players in the league that are great offensive players, but they’re not great defensive players. I think arguably, it would be hard to make a case either way of what end of the floor he’s better on, offense or defense, because he’s that special.”

George believes he’s having an All-Star season in first year with Oklahoma City after being traded from the Indiana Pacers. There have been challenges as he has tried to fit in with superstars Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony and it’s still unclear where he will play next season because of his upcoming free agency

Still, he has remained focused enough to be a top-notch performer. As he has found his way, the Thunder have rallied from an 8-12 start and have gone 17-8 since heading into Saturday’s game at Cleveland.

”He can score it, attack the rim and he defends,” Lakers rookie guard Kyle Kuzma said. ”Anytime you do that, you’re going to be a pretty damn good player.”

George was first team All-Defense in 2014 and second-team in 2013 and 2016, and he was a defensive stopper for Team USA when it won gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics. He says without hesitation that he wants to be Defensive Player of the Year this season and feels he should have won the award in the past.

”I think I have the makeup, I think I have the intangibles,” George told The Associated Press. ”I’m physically capable of doing the things necessary. I thought 2013-14 I thought I was hands down the best perimeter defender on the league and I thought I was overlooked.”

George is averaging a career-best 2.2 steals per game. Having another top-notch perimeter defender in Andre Roberson to share some of the responsibility allows him to gamble more than in the past. He also credits carrying less of the offensive load.

”It gives me more energy, not having to create or generate offense every possession,” George said. ”I can conserve energy that way. It allows me to really ramp up the defense on the other end, which is another reason why I’ve been able to accumulate so many steals. I have the energy, the endurance to keep flying around and keep being productive.”

An example of his all-around play this season was a five-steal performance against the Sacramento Kings. He made just 7 of 17 shots but was a critical factor in Oklahoma City’s win.

He hasn’t always emphasized defense, but he was forced to as a rookie for the Pacers during the 2010-11 season. Frank Vogel took over as coach at midseason and saw enough grit and improvement on that end to insert him into the starting lineup in March. He came of age during the playoff series that season against the Chicago Bulls when he faced league MVP Derrick Rose. George gave up some points, but he battled and helped the Pacers hold Rose to 37 percent shooting in the series.

”My mindset was I knew I was outmatched from a standpoint of staying in front of him,” George said. ”That’s what really got me going in trying to think things through, trying to see what I can do that can disrupt the MVP. I tried to use my length. I tried to make it as hard as possible. I knew he was going to get his 20s, get his 30s, but how can I make it as hard as possible, and how can I wear this guy down? You’re not going to be able to shut down a guy like that at that stage.”

From that point, George embraced the role of defensive stopper while evolving into an all-around offensive player. He was the league’s Most Improved Player in 2013 and made the first of his four All-Star appearances. Last season, he averaged a career-best 23.7 points for the Pacers. Now, he can still create when needed and he has learned to be more of a catch-and-shoot scorer.

”He’s a beast out there,” Kings guard Buddy Hield said. ”He’s great. He can score the ball from three, the mid-range and the post. He’s tough to guard so you have to pick your poison with him, and it’s hard to do.”