Four days before the All-Star Game returns to Orlando 20 years after his unforgettable MVP performance there, Hall of Famer Magic Johnson was asked Wednesday generally about the impressive state of point guards these days and specifically about rookies Ricky Rubio and Kyrie Irving.
Irving, the first pick in last year's NBA draft, has led Cleveland to a 13-17 start with his speed and scoring. His 18.6 points per game leads all rookies and he's shooting 43.6 percent from three-point range.
Rubio -- drafted fifth in 2009, but new to the NBA this season -- is second in the league in steals (2.36) and leads all rookies in assists (8.6) a game. Irving is a distant second at 4.9 and minutes played (34.9) and averages 11.5 a game.
One of the two is going to be Rookie of the Year.
Johnson picks Irving.
"He's the Rookie of the Year," Johnson said. "He's doing it all. He's so explosive. The difference is, everybody game-plans for Kyrie and he still dominates. He's still good. They don't game plan for Ricky. They game-plan for [Kevin] Love."
Johnson participated Wednesday in a conference call promoting the March 11 debut of an ESPN film documenting his 1991 announcement that he had contracted the HIV virus and the April 11 Broadway debut of "Magic/Bird."
Nikola Pekovic started at center Wednesday, two nights after he left Monday's game at Denver in the second quarter because of a sprained ankle. Pekovic promptly missed his first seven shots vs. the Jazz.
On Tuesday, the NBA chose Utah's Derrick Favors and bypassed Pekovic when they needed an injury replacement for San Antonio's Tiago Splitter in Friday's All-Star Rising Stars Challenge.
"That's surprised me, Pek's been pretty good," Wolves coach Rick Adelman said. "You don't know the reasoning. They don't tell anybody why they do things. I think he definitely deserves to be there."
Take a break
Rubio, Love and Derrick Williams leave Thursday for Orlando and All-Star weekend while their coaches and teammates scatter for some much-needed rest.
Nobody could use it more than Love, the league's leader in minutes played, who sat at his locker after Wednesday's 100-98 victory looking as if he had just gone 20 rounds and lost every one.
"Exhausted," said Love, who added he also wasn't feeling well. "I thought I was going to die in the first quarter. Yes, I need a break."
Williams is treating his preparation for Saturday's All-Star dunk contest like it's a matter of national security. The No. 2 overall pick in last year's draft said he has four dunks ready from which he will choose three, but when asked for details, he said, "I can't say."
Asked if he will employ a prop -- a cupcake, sports car, circus animals? -- he said, "I can't tell."
He did say he continues to talk daily with Rubio about incorporating Rubio's passing talents but added that no decision has been made on that.
Williams and Rubio visited with Special Olympian Anthony Nunn from Maple Grove on the court before Wednesday's game. Nunn's Osseo Maple Grove Athletic Association team won a silver medal at the 2010 Special Olympics National Games.
Nunn is one of 12 Special Olympians who will play with Williams, Kevin Durant and Kemba Walker, as well as former NBA stars and current WNBA players in a game Sunday before that night's All-Star Game in Orlando.