Sunday NBA Insider: No longer the centers of attention at All-Star games

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 18, 2014 - 6:51 PM

Sorry, Pek. Fans don’t have to vote for centers for the All-Star Game anymore.

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Dwight Howard hasn’t been bothered by the change in All-Star voting. Despite not having to vote for centers anymore, fans have made Howard the No. 2 vote-getter going into the final week.

Photo: David J. Phillip • Associated Press,

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Before last season, the NBA announced it had amended its All-Star Game balloting procedures by eliminating the center position from consideration, which now allows voters to select three “frontcourt” players rather than two forwards and a center to start the game for each conference instead.

At the time, it was done to keep pace with a changing game in which more and more teams played with smaller lineups while the big man who once dominated the game playing with his back to the basket continues to disappear.

Or does he?

Wednesday’s meeting at Target Center showed there’s still a place in this game for the center when Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic and Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins pushed each other around all night in a battle of brutes.

There might not be a place for either in the starting lineup when West plays East next month because voters worldwide choosing on every social-media platform imaginable overwhelmingly prefer Houston’s Dwight Howard. Fans apparently haven’t noticed that both Cousins and Pekovic at times have been dominant. Coaches no longer have to include a center when they pick reserves, either.

“I don’t know how that’s going to go,” Wolves coach Rick Adelman said, “but they’re both having great years.”

Howard was second among all West “frontcourt” players — behind Oklahoma City small forward Kevin Durant and just ahead of Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin — in the last batch of balloting results released last week before voting ends Monday.

Starters will be announced Thursday starting at 6 p.m. on TNT before its weekly doubleheader. Coaches’ picks for reserves will be announced Jan. 30.

Wolves star Kevin Love is fourth in the latest fan balloting, 17,000 votes behind Griffin for that final starting spot and 26,000 behind Howard. For the second consecutive year, Howard likely will represent centers everywhere even if fans and coaches aren’t required to do so and even if he once again might not be deserving. Wolves fans have one more day to vote Love into the game by voting via text, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or at nba.com/asb.(end new)

Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant leads the West’s “backcourt” voting and he has barely played all year.

Western Conference coaches still can vote in Cousins, Pekovic or the L.A. Clippers DeAndre Jordan, even though the center category has been eliminated.

“Somebody recently made the statement, too, that All-Stars should only come from teams above .500,” Sacramento coach Mike Malone said. “The only problem with that is in the Eastern Conference, the All-Stars would only be comprised from four teams.”

Malone believes his guy should play in New Orleans, even if his team’s 14-24 record seldom gets a player chosen by coaches for the game. Cousins has rewarded the Kings’ faith of a four-year, $62 million contract extension last summer by growing up and putting up monstrous statistics nearly worthy of all that money.

Intimidated by Pekovic’s physicality in previous seasons, Cousins outplayed him Wednesday, using his strength to keep Pekovic away from the basket better than any opposing center this season.

Wolves coach Rick Adelman said he believes Pekovic’s All-Star time could come, just not this season for a guy who hasn’t cracked the fans’ top 15 frontcourt voting. He said it usually takes players two or three years of playing at that level to establish All-Star credibility with coaches.

“I don’t really think about it a few years ago,” said Pekovic, who once had little reason to think about all All-Star procedures. “Now it’s hard. It’s their [fans and coaches]decision. Nobody can change it. Of course, the dream of every player is to play for All- Star. I’m a real man. I know what my limits are and everything. I’m with my team. All- Star, I can’t really say. Help my team, I can do this.”

NBA Short Takes

Bruise Brothers … and Tattoo Twins

Timberwolves star Kevin Love joked in conversation with fans on the team’s Twitter account Tuesday that he’s going with Nikola Pekovic soon to get a tattoo.

Not true, but big Pek is willing. “I will pay for it,” he said. “I will drive him.”

Pekovic has tattoos nearly everywhere, including a bed of skulls and a fierce warrior.

What might suit Love?

“A flower right here,” Pekovic said, turning and cupping his hands around his lower back just above his belt line.

Giving his team a big thumbs up

Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks took his team to the movies at halftime of Thursday’s game at Houston.

He made sure his players watched each and every one of the 12 three-pointers the Rockets made in a first half when they scored 73 points. In the second half, they didn’t make a single three and scored just 19 points, setting the largest scoring differential between halves in NBA history and recording the second-fewest points in a second half in league history.

“I’ve never seen anything like that,” Brooks told reporters after a 104-92 comeback victory. “That’s inspiring.”

Parting words

Sacramento first-year coach Mike Malone, when asked if Pekovic might be one of the few centers in the NBA who can match his DeMarcus Cousins for strength: “Not ‘might,’ he does,’’ Malone said. ‘‘I would take the ‘might’ out of it. Pekovic looks like the guy from the Superman movie.”

Wolves Week Ahead

Tuesday: 8 p.m. at Utah (FSN)

Friday: 9:30 p.m. at Golden State (FSN)

Saturday: 9 p.m. at Portland (NBA TV)

Player to watch:

Trey Burke, Utah

The guy the Wolves could have drafted and kept with the ninth pick in last summer’s draft — they didn’t because they had no need at point guard — was the Western Conference’s Rookie of the Month for December. He’s the first Jazz rookie to win that award since Karl Malone in 1985.

Voices

"It almost takes an act of Congress to go out and foul somebody."

Wolves coach Rick Adelman, lamenting his team’s lack of toughness defensively.

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