JON KRAWCZYNSKI, AP Basketball Writer
Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins and Minnesota’s Nikola Pekovic have been two of the most unstoppable offensive forces in the Western Conference in the first half of this season.
The burly centers have imposed their will on overmatched opponents and their success would have made them shoo-ins for the All-Star game in years past.
Not this season. Both big men could have a hard time getting to New Orleans next month.
Last year the NBA stopped requiring fans, and coaches, to vote for a center. The change reflects the waning influence of big men on the game, and opens the door to better accommodate the influx of deserving forwards, especially in the West.
“That doesn’t help the centers in the NBA when they went to a backcourt-frontcourt,” Kings coach Michael Malone said. “I think DeMarcus and the season he’s having is definitely worthy of All-Star consideration. And you look at what Pekovic has been able to do, the guy is the second-best offensive rebounder in the NBA. He scores at a very efficient rate in the post.”
Timberwolves President Flip Saunders said Pekovic deserves to be there.
“Of course that’s the biggest individual thing for every basketball player playing in the NBA,” Pekovic said. “For me, the guys who give me the money, the guys who pay me, if they got that opinion about me, that means I’m doing a great job.”
No centers were voted into the All-Star game, prompting Houston’s Dwight Howard to release a spoof infomercial imploring viewers to “save the center.” Howard and Indiana’s Roy Hibbert likely will be chosen as reserves by the coaches, while Pekovic, Cousins and Detroit’s Andre Drummond are among the other bigs hoping to get a call.
Here are five things to watch this week:
DURANT’S ROLL: With Russell Westbrook out, Kevin Durant has played like the league MVP and put the Oklahoma City Thunder on his back. He’s averaged 38.2 points over the last 10 games, including two 48-point games, a 54-point eruption to beat the Warriors and a triple-double to beat Philadelphia last week.
MELO’S PATIENCE: Carmelo Anthony erupted for a Madison Square Garden record 62 points against the Bobcats on Friday night. It was a brief respite from a miserable season for the New York Knicks. Last week he questioned the effort of his teammates and suddenly staying in New York doesn’t seem like such a slam dunk. This week, Anthony and the Knicks host the Heat.
LEBRON IN THE GARDEN: LeBron James always seems to bring a little something extra when he visits the Garden. After a mini-slump last week, you can bet King James will be ready to put on a show when the Heat come to town on Saturday.
READY TO RUMBLE: The Clippers visit the Warriors on Thursday, reprising a rivalry that has gotten more and more heated with each meeting. They last met on Dec. 26, when the Clippers stormed out fuming and alleging the Warriors baited Blake Griffin into an ejection.
GAY’S ACHILLES: Few players have taken more criticism than over the last two years than Rudy Gay. But he’s been tremendous since being traded to the Kings, including his 41-point night against the Pelicans last week. He injured his left Achilles the next game and the Kings are playing it safe with their swingman.
STAT LINE OF THE WEEK: New York’s Carmelo Anthony. In addition to his 62 points, he had 13 rebounds and was 6 for 11 from 3-point range with no turnovers.
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