Rockets, Justin Patton Agree To Two-Way Deal

The Rockets will fill their open two-way contract slot by promoting a center from the G League, according to Michael Scotto of HoopsHype, who hears from agent Brian Jungreis that Justin Patton has agreed to a two-way deal with Houston.

Patton, 23, was the 16th overall pick in the 2016 draft, but was limited to just nine NBA games across his first three seasons in the NBA with the Timberwolves, Sixers, and Thunder due in large part to injuries, including broken bones in both feet.

The big man has seen more action at the G League level, appearing in 83 total NBAGL games since 2017/18. He was selected in the first round of this year’s G League draft by the Westchester Knicks and has played in four games for the club, averaging 10.0 PPG, 6.8 RPG, and 1.8 BPG in 21.5 minutes per contest.

The Rockets opened up one of their two-way spots earlier this week when they waived Ray Spalding, who suffered an Achilles injury in just his second game with the club. That was the latest blow to a Houston frontcourt that has had some bad injury luck lately — Christian Wood has been on the shelf with an ankle sprain for two weeks, while a quad issue has sidelined P.J. Tucker for the last two games.

[RELATED: 2020/21 NBA Two-Way Contract Tracker]

It’s possible Patton will see some action in the Rockets’ depleted frontcourt in the short term. Once he officially signs, we should get a better sense of whether Houston intends to keep him with the NBA squad for a little while or if he’ll report to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers before the G League season ends in March.

Lakers’ Davis Out About Four Weeks, Schröder In Protocols

After initially being ruled out at least two or three weeks when he was diagnosed with a right calf strain on Monday, Lakers star Anthony Davis was reevaluated by team doctors on Thursday and has a new recovery timeline, head coach Frank Vogel told reporters last night.

According to Dave McMenamin of ESPN, the Lakers expect that Davis will miss approximately the next four weeks. That estimate includes the time it would take him to ramp up his conditioning once he’s healthy enough to resume workouts.

“We want to try to put this fully behind him and be conservative with it, just to make sure that it’s fully healed before he’s back,” Vogel said of Davis, who has also experienced Achilles tendinosis in his right leg.

The updated timeline ensures that Davis will remain out for the Lakers’ last seven first-half games and won’t be back on the court until at least a week into the second half, which gets underway on March 10. It will also sideline him for the March 7 All-Star Game, opening the door for another Western Conference player to replace him on the roster if he’s named a reserve, which is likely.

The Lakers figure to lean more heavily on the likes of Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, and Marc Gasol during Davis’ absence.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles also had to deal with a hole in its backcourt on Thursday night vs. Brooklyn, as Dennis Schröder was out due to the NBA’s health and safety protocols. Vogel said after the game that he’s not yet sure how much time Schröder will miss as a result of those COVID-19 protocols, per McMenamin (Twitter link).

There have been some instances of players receiving clearance within a day or two if they returned a false positive or inconclusive coronavirus test, or if they were subject to a contact tracing investigation and were determined not to have been a close contact of someone who tested positive for the virus.

However, if the player is determined to have been a close contact of someone who tested positive, he’s generally sidelined for at least a week. If the player registers a confirmed positive test himself, his return timeline is usually at least two weeks or so.

Wesley Matthews replaced Schröder in the Lakers’ starting lineup on Thursday. If Schröder has to sit for a week or two, Matthews, Alex Caruso, and Quinn Cook are among the top candidates to play extra minutes.

Southwest Notes: Tre Jones, Silas, Pelicans, Bane

A seven-game losing streak has seen the Rockets plummet in the Western Conference standings. Houston is currently the No. 13 seed with an 11-17 record, and head coach Stephen Silas is struggling to determine how to break out of the slump, as Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle details. Silas concedes that adjusting to the absence of several key frontcourt contributors has been a big hurdle.

“There’s some sleepless nights for sure,” the Rockets’ coach said. “But internally, my nature is to be positive, No. 1, and to be a problem solver, No. 2. So as each guy goes down or as each challenge arises based on our roster or who we’re playing, it’s just my nature to not make it emotional and concentrate on the problem-solving part of it.”

There’s more out of the Southwest Division:

  • Spurs point guard Tre Jones is impressing during his tenure with San Antonio’s G League affiliate, the Austin Spurs, according to Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News. Jones has appeared in just nine games with San Antonio, but Austin head coach Matt Nielsen lauded the rookie’s court vision. Jones leads the G League with 9.8 assists per game for Austin. “He’s a fantastic reader of basketball when the plays are in front of him,” Nielsen said. “At the same time, he knows how to use his teammates and get them involved.”
  • Pelicans star forwards Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram are continuing to figure out how to collaborate in late-game scenarios, per Scott Kushner of NOLA.com“We’re going to get in the lab, individually and as a team, and prepare for a different outcome,” Williamson said following a recent late-game defeat.
  • Grizzlies rookie shooting guard Desmond Bane, the No. 30 pick out of TCU who currently leads all 2020/21 rookies in three-point shooting accuracy (48.2%), is set to rejoin Memphis for the club’s game against the Pistons tomorrow, following a four-game absence due to personal matters, per Evan Barnes of The Memphis Commercial Appeal.

Southeast Notes: Hawks, Richards, Bacon, Hornets

An exact recovery timeline for new Hawks guard Kris Dunn is unclear following a PRP injection to treat right knee discomfort this week, per Sarah K. Spencer of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Dunn is also still recovering from a December right ankle scope.

Breakout swingman De’Andre Hunter is still on track to return in seven-to-10 weeks following a February 8 right meniscus surgery. The Hawks noted that Hunter has started to partake in “weight-bearing lower limb strength activities, form shooting and ball handling.”

The Hawks also revealed that reserve point guard Rajon Rondo participated in shooting and running drills this week, his latest injury this season being a left ankle sprain incurred last month.

There’s more out of the Southeast Division:

  • The Hornets have sent rookie center Nick Richards back to their G League affiliate, the Greensboro Swarm, according to Quinton Wash of Hornets.com. Richards, the No. 42 selection out of Kentucky in the 2020 draft, has played limited minutes across eight games with the club so far this season.
  • In his first season for the injury-ravaged Magic, swingman Dwayne Bacon has proven his worth both as a starter and a sparkplug off the bench, according to Roy Parry of the Orlando Sentinel“When you’re in a game at such a high level, you’re not going to make every shot, so you’ve just got to stick with it,” Bacon said. “The same intensity, same, just everything, the total ingredients to be a good shooter, you’ve got to do the same thing, each and every time.”
  • After missing out on All-Star inclusion altogether during the 2019/20 season, Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal finds himself an All-Star starter for the first time this year. Fred Katz of The Athletic details Beal’s journey to starter status this season. “I definitely think the snub [last year] has a little bit to do with it,” Beal said. “I wouldn’t say all the way to the point to where I would start, but I think it was just gaining the recognition of last year and then it just carried over to this year and me just constantly working on my game and playing the way I’ve been playing.”

Atlantic Notes: VanVleet, Nets, Drummond, Flynn

In the absence of injured veteran point guard Kyle Lowry, Raptors guard Fred VanVleet has provided Toronto a glimpse of the next era of its core leadership, per Dave Feschuk of The Toronto Star. The 34-year-old Lowry has served as the longtime emotional center driving Toronto. He will be an unrestricted free agent when the season ends. The Raptors have posted an encouraging 16-2 record without Lowry over the past two seasons.

VanVleet has averaged 22.0 PPG and 7.1 APG across 15 Raptors games without Lowry during the 2019/20 and 2020/21 seasons, Feschuk goes on to note.

“Any time a guy goes down, it’s that next-man-up mentality that we have always had around here and something that I have tried to continue to do is just increase my level of play when he’s out,” VanVleet said of adjusting to the absence of his current Raptors backcourt mate. “I thought the entire team just picked it up a notch when he went down and that’s what you like to see.”

There’s more out of the Atlantic Division:

  • A strained left hamstring will continue to sideline Nets All-Star forward Kevin Durant as Brooklyn takes on the Lakers in a TNT bout tonight, according to Brian Lewis of the New York Post. Marc Stein of the New York Times tweets that the other injured Nets All-Star, guard Kyrie Irving, will be returning to action for Brooklyn tonight. Irving missed the Nets’ latest game, a 128-124 thriller against the Suns on Tuesday night, due to a lower back injury.
  • Now that the Cavaliers have established they are officially benching center Andre Drummond ahead of a trade or possible buyout, the Knicks should consider adding the big man to their ranks via trade, argues Marc Berman of the New York Post. Berman notes that New York considered trading for Drummond last season before he was ultimately shipped to Cleveland by the Pistons.
  • The Raptors are recalling rookie point guard Malachi Flynn from their G League affiliate, Raptors 905, per Blake Murphy of The Athletic (via Twitter). Murphy adds that Flynn is available to play for the club tonight (Twitter link) in its current contest against the Bucks.

2021 NBA All-Star Game Starters Revealed

The NBA has revealed its 2021 All-Star Game starters. Here are those names:

Eastern Conference

After missing all of the 2019/20 season while he recovered from a ruptured Achilles tendon, Durant is making his triumphant return to the All-Star Game. In his first appearance as a Brooklyn player, the 11-time All-Star will captain a team, having led the Eastern Conference in fan votes.

[RELATED: Community Shootaround: Eastern All-Stars]

This is the seventh All-Star appearance for Durant’s teammate Irving. Antetokounmpo, the reigning two-time MVP, has just made his fifth All-Star game. A frontrunner for the 2021 MVP award, Embiid is appearing in his fourth such contest. Beal will be making his first All-Star start after playing as a reserve in the 2018 and 2019 All-Star contests. The Wizards are the No. 13 seed in the East.

Western Conference

James, who was the top vote-getter in the Western Conference and the entire NBA with 5,922,554 fan votes, will again be a team captain. He will be suiting up for his 17th All-Star appearance, the third-most ever behind only fellow Laker legends Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (19 appearances) and Kobe Bryant (18). James was previously tied for making the third-most cumulative All-Star contests alongside Hall of Fame Nets and Sixers wing Julius Erving, who was selected into five ABA All-Star games and 11 NBA All-Star games.

Jokic, an early top MVP contender along with James and Embiid, will earn his first All-Star start in his third appearance in the game. Curry will partake in his seventh All-Star contest, while Leonard has just been voted into his fifth All-Star game.

[RELATED: Community Shootaround: Western All-Stars]

Doncic barely edged out Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard to be the second All-Star guard next to Curry among the starters, Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports tweets. Despite extended absences from starters CJ McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic, and Zach Collins, the Blazers boast an 18-10 record, good for the No. 4 seed in the crowded West, largely thanks to Lillard. The Mavericks, meanwhile, are 13-15, the No. 10 seed in the West.

As was the case during the last two years, the top vote-getters of each conference will captain a team, and will be able to draft players from either conference. The “Elam Ending,” which made the conclusion of last year’s game much more entertaining than it had been in recent years, is set to return again this year.

Earlier today, the league officially announced that the 2021 All-Star Game is set to take place at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, as a one-night event on March 7. The evening will also include its three All-Star weekend mainstay events: the Skills Competition, the Three-Point Contest and the Dunk Contest.

A full list of fan voting totals is viewable at this Twitter link, courtesy of Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated. The complete voting breakdown by position and conference, including media and player votes, can be found at the bottom of this press release.

The league will announce the 14 players who will comprise the All-Star reserves on Tuesday, February 22, at 7 p.m. ET, per Omari Sankofa II of the Detroit Free Press (via Twitter).

Norvel Pelle Enters G League Bubble As NBA Teams Circle

Free agent center Norvel Pelle, recently waived by the Nets, is set to enter the Orlando G League “bubble” campus for the Canton Charge, the Cavaliers‘ G League affiliate, per Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News (Twitter link).

After going undrafted in 2013, the 6’10” big man had four separate stints with the Sixers’ G League affiliate in Delaware, first while the club was still known as the 87ers, and most recently after the team had rebranded itself as the Blue Coats. Across 83 games (including 38 starts) for parts of four seasons with the Delaware G League affiliate, Pelle holds averages of 8.7 PPG, 6.0 RPG, and 2.2 BPG, all in just 18.1 MPG. He also logged time overseas, playing in Taiwan, Beirut, and Italy.

Pelle finally made his NBA debut at age 26 last year, averaging 9.7 MPG across 24 NBA games with the Sixers during the 2019/20 season. This season, Pelle inked a deal with Brooklyn after the club traded away center Jarrett Allen and forwards Taurean Prince, Caris LeVert and Rodions Kurucs in the deal that netted them All-Star guard James Harden.

Pelle appeared in three games for Brooklyn before the team cut him to make room for defensive-oriented wing Andre Roberson earlier this week.

Bondy adds that several NBA playoff hopefuls have expressed some interest in Pelle as a candidate to shore up their own frontcourt rotations, including the Rockets and two Atlantic Division rivals to the Nets and Sixers, the Knicks and Raptors.

Pacific Notes: Kings, Metu, Holmes, Wiseman, Coffey

The Kings remain upset about a play in their game on Sunday against Memphis, when Grizzlies center Jonas Valanciunas threw Chimezie Metu to the ground following a dunk. Metu, who is on a two-way contract with Sacramento, fractured his wrist while trying to break his fall and will miss at least the next month.

After dunking, Metu hung on the rim with Valanciunas underneath him and the Grizzlies’ big man responded by grabbing Metu’s legs and throw him to the court. Memphis contends that Metu was trying to show up Valanciunas by hanging over him following the dunk, while the Kings insist the 23-year-old had no place to safely land. Valanciunas was assessed with a technical foul, not a flagrant, a ruling the NBA upheld after reviewing the play, much to the Kings’ displeasure.

“I thought it was a dirty play — still do,” Kings coach Luke Walton said, according to Jason Anderson of The Sacramento Bee. “Watched it a lot since and just disappointed. … He hooked him by the leg and tried to throw him down, so I didn’t understand how that is not, in what today’s NBA is, is not even considered a flagrant foul. I don’t see how that’s a basketball play.”

“There are people who think that was right or (Valanciunas) was in the right by any means, which is also ridiculous,” Kings rookie Tyrese Haliburton said. “It’s hard to understand if you think that, because Mezie has nowhere to go. He can’t land on the ground there and the timing between him being thrown to the ground and the timing of the dunk, there’s not a lot of time there. It’s not like he wrapped his legs around and tried to taunt. We were down 20. He’s not trying to taunt him. He’s trying to stay safe.”

Here’s more from around the Pacific:

  • Asked about his priorities when he reaches free agency this summer, Kings center Richaun Holmes told Michael Scotto of HoopsHype, “I want to be able to take care of my family.” While that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll simply accept the most lucrative offer available, it sounds like Holmes won’t be eager to accept any sort of home-team discount.
  • The Warriors issued a formal update on James Wiseman on Thursday, announcing that they hope he’ll return from his left wrist injury at some point during the team’s four-game road trip that begins Friday in Orlando. While it remains to be seen if he’ll be available on Saturday in Charlotte, that game will represent the first checkpoint in what figures to be an ongoing Wiseman/LaMelo Ball redraft debate, notes Anthony Slater of The Athletic. Golden State picked Wiseman second overall, leaving Ball – the standout rookie so far this season – for the Hornets at No. 3.
  • Amir Coffey hasn’t played much for the Clippers since signing a two-way contract in the summer of 2019, but injuries have cleared the way for him to earn major minutes this week — he has averaged 14.0 PPG on 76.9% shooting in the last two games (29.0 MPG). As Mirjam Swanson of The Orange County Register writes, Reggie Jackson observed that Coffey is “trying not to be sent back down” to the G League bubble once L.A.’s roster gets healthier.

Grand Rapids Drive Expected To Become Nuggets’ G League Affiliate

The Nuggets are expected to finally get a G League affiliate of their own for the 2021/22 season, according to Mike Singer of The Denver Post, who reports that the franchise is on track to enter a partnership with the Grand Rapids Drive. The agreement won’t become official until the end of the season, Singer adds.

Last season, Denver was one of two NBA teams – along with Portland – that didn’t have a G League affiliate of its own, while the Drive, based in Michigan, were affiliated with the Pistons.

The Suns subsequently sold their G League affiliate to the Pistons, who are relocating the Northern Arizona Suns to Detroit and rebranding them as the Motor City Cruise for the ’21/22 campaign. That left the Drive without an NBA partner, freeing them up for the Nuggets. Phoenix and Portland now project to be the only teams without NBAGL affiliates next season.

According to Singer, the Nuggets have attempted for years to set up a G League affiliate, exploring cities like Las Vegas, Seattle, Nashville, San Diego, and Omaha, but have always run into roadblocks.

Partnering with Grand Rapids won’t be geographically convenient – there are no plans for the Drive to relocate to Colorado, per Singer – but it will at least give the Nuggets a place to send and develop their young prospects and two-way players. In recent years, Denver has had to either keep those youngsters with the NBA squad or rely on various other G League teams to play and develop them.

Because the infrastructure and an ownership group is already in place for the Drive, the Nuggets will have a hybrid relationship with the team, assuming control of the basketball operations department after buying in for roughly $9MM, Singer explains.

While those hybrid relationships used to be more common, the Rockets and the Rio Grande Valley Vipers are the only other active one now, according to Singer. Most NBA clubs have bought their own G League franchises or established expansion teams. That’s still an option the Nuggets could pursue eventually, either by trying to buy and relocate the Drive, or by continuing their attempts to set up a more local expansion team.

Friday’s Rockets/Mavericks Game Postponed

Friday’s game in Houston between the Rockets and Mavericks has been postponed, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link). The NBA has issued a press release confirming the news.

This is the second postponement this week that is unrelated to COVID-19 and is instead due to the state of emergency in Texas, caused by severe weather conditions and a lack of power across many areas of the state. The local government has shut down the Rockets’ arena, the Toyota Center, as a result of those conditions.

The Mavericks, who also had their Wednesday game vs. Detroit postponed, aren’t scheduled to resume play until Monday, when they’ll tentatively host the Grizzlies. It’s unclear at this point whether the NBA might attempt to sneak another Mavs road game onto the schedule before then in order to reduce the number of games the team will have to play in the second half.

The Rockets, meanwhile, also have a Saturday home game vs. Indiana on their schedule, but it seems reasonable to assume that contest may be in jeopardy as well. Houston’s home stand would conclude with a game against Chicago on Monday.

This is the NBA’s 32nd postponement of the season. Of those postponements, 29 have been related to the coronavirus, two are due to weather, and one was a deliberate scheduling choice made weeks in advance to accommodate a makeup game.