Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett were named among the finalists to be considered for induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2020.

Bryant died aged 41 in a helicopter crash alongside his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others in California last month.

The Los Angeles Lakers great, an 18-time All-Star and five-time champion, was one of four first-time finalists named on Friday.

Duncan, the former San Antonio Spurs star with 15 All-Star appearances and five championships, and Garnett – another NBA great – are also finalists.

A four-time Olympic gold medallist with the United States, Tamika Catchings is the other first-time finalist.

Kim Mulkey, Barbara Stevens, Eddie Sutton and Rudy Tomjanovich are previous finalists also up for consideration again.

"When the nominees for the Class of 2020 were announced in December, we knew this class had the potential of being one of the most historic of all time," Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame chairman Jerry Colangelo said in a statement.

"The untimely passing of Kobe Bryant has left us in a state of reflective mourning and we're proud to honour his legacy while also recognising seven other individuals who have meant so much to our game.

"We congratulate our finalists and those who have supported them on their journeys, and we look forward to revealing the Class of 2020 at the Final Four in Atlanta."

The announcement will take place on April 4.

Luka Doncic has described Zion Williamson as "a different beast", the like of which the NBA has never seen before.

Williamson, the first overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, had back-to-back 30-point games for the New Orleans Pelicans prior to the All-Star Game in Chicago this weekend.

The teenager has scored at least 20 points in eight of his first 10 NBA appearances - with five-time MVP Michael Jordan the last rookie to achieve such a feat - and is averaging 22.1 points after returning from a knee injury that delayed the start of his much-anticipated debut season.

Doncic will face Williamson in the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday when Team World face Team USA and the Slovenian has been highly impressed by the Pels forward's adaptation to the NBA.

"You can see he's a beast," Doncic told reporters.

"What's he played - 10 games? He's averaging like 25 [points].

"He's a different beast. I don't think we've seen a player like him. He's going to be an amazing player."

Should Williamson continue to put up huge numbers, he could succeed Doncic in winning the Rookie of the Year award.

The Dallas Mavericks star has enjoyed a fine sophomore season too, averaging 28.9 points, 9.5 rebounds and 8.7 assists.

Along with reigning MVP and Greece international Giannis Antetokounmpo and Serbian center Nikola Jokic, Doncic is one of several international players currently starring in the NBA.

"There's a lot of international players that are really good," Doncic added.

"That's what it shows in this All-Star [Weekend] - there's a lot of international players.

"The world can see that we can play basketball too."

Zion Williamson has expressed an interest in representing the United States at an Olympics, having been left off the country's preliminary roster for the Tokyo Games.

The USA, who have won gold at the last three Olympics, announced their 44-man list for the 2020 Games earlier this week, with LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Kawhi Leonard among the star names included.

However, there is no place for 19-year-old rookie sensation Williamson, while other impressive youngsters like Trae Young and Ja Morant have also been overlooked.

New Orleans Pelicans forward Williamson has poured in at least 20 points in eight of his first 10 NBA games - a feat last achieved by the great Michael Jordan when he was a rookie - and the teenager revealed he is keen to play for USA down the line.

"That is something I would definitely want to do in the future," he told reporters.

"I think there's nothing better than representing your country."

Williamson was speaking ahead of the NBA's All-Star weekend, when he will represent Team USA in the Rising Stars Challenge.

Memphis Grizzlies point guard Morant, the current Rookie of the Year forerunner, and the Atlanta Hawks' sophomore Young are also on a team that will face a world side that has Luka Doncic and RJ Barrett on its roster.

"It's an honour to be here in my first year, despite being 10 games in," added Williamson, who missed the first three months of the season due to a knee injury.

The first overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft was also asked which of the game's greats he tries to emulate when he was on the court.

"I don't try to emulate any of them. I just try to bring my own style to the game," he replied.

"I watched a lot of [Michael] Jordan, [Larry] Bird and Magic [Johnson] clips."

Doc Rivers is concerned Paul George could face another spell on the sidelines after suffering a recurrence of a hamstring injury during the Los Angeles Clippers' defeat to the Boston Celtics.

George did not emerge for the second half of a 141-133 double-overtime loss at TD Garden on Thursday.

The guard missed 10 NBA matches last month with a hamstring problem and Clippers head coach Rivers fears he may be without the guard again after the All-Star break.

"He just told me that he felt his hamstring again," said Rivers. "He said it wasn't bad. I said, 'You shouldn't have told me that'.

"I don't think he wanted to come out. But once you tell me your hamstring, you feel anything, we have an All-Star break coming up, it's a no-brainer for us."

Asked if he was worried about the injury, Rivers replied: "Yeah, I am. I'm a little concerned about that one because that's the second time now, maybe third.

"Listen, I don't know what to do, but I know rest you have to do and we'll see."

Rivers is hoping for a change of fortune with injuries for the remainder of the season, with the Clippers (37-18) well poised in third place in the Western Conference.

"We had a first half of the season where we basically had more starting line-ups than probably anybody in the league. Our record is pretty solid." Rivers added.

"We've got to get healthy. That's going to be the key for us. And then we've got to play multiple games in a row as a group so we can kind of get some continuity.

"But other than that, I love our spirit, I love how we are. We're good."

The Boston Celtics prevailed 141-133 against the Los Angeles Clippers after double overtime prior to the NBA All-Star break, while the Oklahoma City Thunder also won.

In the final two games before the All-Star Weekend in Chicago, the Celtics and Thunder both celebrated victories on Thursday.

Jayson Tatum, who will play for Team Giannis in Sunday's All-Star Game, led the Celtics with a game-high 39 points and nine rebounds against the Clippers in Boston.

Trailing the Celtics 114-111, Clippers recruit Marcus Morris Sr. made a three-pointer with 46.8 seconds remaining in regulation to send the game to overtime.

Clippers guard Landry Shamet then nailed a shot from beyond the arc to level proceedings at 127-apiece as double OT beckoned at TD Garden.

But led by Tatum, Gordon Hayward (21 points, 13 rebounds), Marcus Smart (31 points) and Kemba Walker (19 points), the Celtics finished strong to outscore the Clippers 14-6.

Lou Williams had 35 points for the Clippers, while Kawhi Leonard finished with 28 points and 11 rebounds on the road.

It was a tough night for the Clippers, who lost star Paul George to a strained left hamstring in the first half – the same injury that forced him to miss 10 games in January.

Meanwhile, the Thunder overcame Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans 123-118.

Williamson posted 32 points, but the Thunder still won courtesy of Danilo Gallinari's 29 points and Chris Paul's double-double of 14 points and 12 assists.

 

The NBA fined Paul George $35,000 after the Los Angeles Clippers star criticised officials in Tuesday's defeat to the Philadelphia 76ers.

George claimed the Clippers fell victim to some "home-court cooking" following a 110-103 loss to the 76ers in Philadelphia.

The six-time All-Star – who was just three of 15 from the field and one of four from three-point range for 11 points – felt the Clippers were up against it in more ways than one, with the visiting side penalised for eight more personal fouls than the 76ers.

And the NBA sanctioned George for his comments on Thursday, the league saying the fine "also reflects his multiple prior violations of the rule prohibiting public criticism of the officiating.''

In his first season with the Clippers since arriving from the Oklahoma City Thunder, George is averaging 22.3 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game.

Devin Booker has earned his first selection to the NBA All-Star Game after Damian Lillard was ruled out with a groin strain.

In-form Portland Trail Blazers star Lillard suffered the injury in his team's 111-104 defeat to the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday.

Lillard still tallied 20 points and 10 assists in 37 minutes, but his 2020 All-Star absence was soon confirmed.

Commissioner Adam Silver named Phoenix Suns guard Booker to the Western Conference's Team LeBron as Lillard's replacement for Sunday.

Booker, in his fifth season, is averaging 26.4 points, 6.3 assists and 4.2 rebounds this season.

The 23-year-old is also to take Lillard's place among eight NBA stars taking part in the Three-Point Contest, having won the event in record-breaking fashion in 2018.

LeBron James insists the Los Angeles Lakers are not thinking about locking down the top seed in the Western Conference after taking a four-game lead over the Denver Nuggets.

The Lakers claimed a 120-116 overtime victory against the Nuggets at Pepsi Center on Wednesday, with James putting up 32 points, 14 assists and 12 rebounds to send his team into the All-Star break on the back of an important triumph.

While he would relish having home-court advantage in a first postseason with the Los Angeles franchise, the 16-time All-Star claims there has been no discussion about their potential seeding within the team.

"We don't talk about it. At the end of the day I think every Western Conference team that will make the playoffs can win on someone else's floor," said James.

"For us, we would love to play in front of our home fans as much as we can. We love being there with our Laker faithful.

"But at the end of the day, you go out and play each and every game like it's its own game. You can't worry about what could happen the following day. You can only live in the present."

He added: "We are where we need to be. We'll come back off the break and get ready for the final stretch of the regular season.

"You don't put too much into it. You understand you played some good basketball along the way, played some not good basketball. But you want to continue to get better and continue to trust the process.

"We look forward to when we get back, getting back on the floor and see how far we'll continue to grow."

The Lakers have not made the playoffs since the 2012-13 season and James thought the win over the Nuggets provided a taster of what is to come.

"Every opportunity we get to play in a close game against a tough opponent, it's a learning experience for all of us," he said.

"It prepares us for a postseason game where it's going to be back and forth, back and forth. I thought tonight was a playoff atmosphere, the teams being number one and number two in the Western Conference, jockeying for position."

The Toronto Raptors were like "walking zombies" as their 15-game winning streak came to an end against the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday, according to Kyle Lowry.

Reigning NBA champions the Raptors' 101-91 loss at Barclays Center was their first defeat since January 12, having been on a run that has seen them surge up to second in the Eastern Conference with a 40-15 record.

Toronto scored just 40 points in the first half and trailed by 12 at the break, failing to reduce the deficit to single figures across the rest of the game.

Lowry had 12 points on 4-of-13 shooting, with the team's field goal percentage of 38 their lowest since before the streak started.

"They played well, we didn't play too well. They stuck with their coverages, their game plan, their schemes," said Lowry.

"We were walking zombies. We didn't play well tonight, simple as that. We missed shots, we weren't aggressive. And give them credit, they played their butts off and they beat us. It's only one game."

Head coach Nick Nurse was proud of how his team have performed this season after Kawhi Leonard left in free agency.

He hopes they can launch another deep run in the playoffs when Marc Gasol and Normal Powell return from injuries.

"I think when you look at it in totality, sitting where we are now, I think we're extremely pleased to get to this point," said Nurse. "The good news is I think we'll get Gasol back after the break, Norman Powell is pretty close as well.

"I think our team really battled with a couple of key guys missing. I think we've had a healthy team for two games this season, so we've done a nice job of plugging in and picking up. In the big scheme of things, you look at the overall and where you're sitting, you've got to be pleased with that."

The Raptors head into the All-Star break six and a half games back from the Milwaukee Bucks (46-8) at the top of the East.

Asked if the Bucks are catchable, Nurse said: "I don't know if they are or not and I don't think we've got them in our sights. We want to try to finish as high as we can.

"We've got some growth to do and we need to do it for sure if we want to make a run at [the championship] again."

Damian Lillard has been ruled out of the NBA All-Star Game after suffering a groin injury in the Portland Trail Blazers' defeat to the Memphis Grizzlies.

The 29-year-old was due to be part of Team LeBron, yet the five-time All-Star will instead take a watching brief on Sunday night - insisting he will be at the game in Chicago, but as a spectator.

Lillard announced his unavailability after scoring 20 points for Portland in their 111-104 setback against the Grizzlies.

He said: "That's something you look forward to, those festivities and having fun. But my health is first, and I knew right away. I'll still be there and be a part of it, but I'm not going to play."

His injury occurred in the fourth quarter, in an awkward landing.

"When it happened, I just felt it," said Lillard.

"I knew I pulled it, it made no sense to be out there for the last few minutes of the game and risk trying to play through it and making it worse.

"But I walked off the court just fine even though it was like, a little bit painful. I came in and it was strong when they were making me go against resistance and stuff like that.

"It was strong, wasn't like, weak and I couldn't do stuff. That was all I needed to know."

Lillard said he hoped his place would go to a worthy substitute, naming the Phoenix Suns' Devin Booker as a possible candidate.

He is set for an MRI scan on Thursday to determine the seriousness of the injury, which also rules him out of the three-point contest in the All-Star break.

It remains to be seen whether he is available for the Blazers' next outing, a February 21 home game against the New Orleans Pelicans.

The Toronto Raptors and their 15-game winning streak was snapped by the Brooklyn Nets, while the NBA-leading Milwaukee Bucks lost without reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Toronto carried a franchise-record run into Wednesday's contest but the defending champions went down 101-91 at the Nets midweek.

It was the Raptors' first defeat since falling to the San Antonio Spurs on January 12.

Kyle Lowry's triple-double of 12 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds were not enough for the Raptors, while Serge Ibaka top scored with 28 points on the road.

Caris LeVert led the Nets by scoring 20 points and Jarrett Allen contributed 10 points and 13 rebounds.

The Bucks, meanwhile, were beaten by the Indiana Pacers 118-111 in the absence of star Antetokounmpo.

Antetokounmpo missed his second successive game following the birth of his son and the Pacers took advantage, snapping a season-worst six-game losing streak.

Malcolm Brogdon posted 17 points and matched a career-high with 13 assists for the Pacers in Indianapolis, where T.J. Warren stole the show with 35 points.

Donte DiVincenzo was the pick of the Milwaukee players after scoring 19 points off the bench.

 

LeBron lifts Lakers, Doncic dazzles

LeBron James and Anthony Davis put on a show. James posted a triple-double (32 points, 14 assists and 12 rebounds) and Davis registered 33 points and 10 assists as the Los Angeles Lakers outlasted the Denver Nuggets 120-116 in overtime. They became the first Lakers team-mates with at least 30 points and 10 rebounds in the same game since Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol in 2008.

Luka Doncic was at it again, putting up 33 points and 12 rebounds to help the Dallas Mavericks beat the Sacramento Kings 130-111.

The streaking Utah Jazz defeated the Miami Heat 116-101 thanks to Donovan Mitchell's 26 points and a Rudy Gobert double-double of 16 points and 20 rebounds.

 

Carmelo and Osman struggle

Carmelo Anthony has shown he is far from a spent force after being picked up by the Portland Trail Blazers in November. However, the 10-time All-Star had a rough night in the 111-104 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. While collecting 15 rebounds, Anthony was just one of 15 from the floor for five points in 36 minutes. The veteran also missed all four of his three-point attempts.

The Cleveland Cavaliers topped fellow strugglers the Atlanta Hawks 127-105, but Cedi Osman had a game to forget. Osman made just one of 10 shots from the field, while he was one of seven from beyond the arc for three points.

 

LeBron almost breaks the rim!

James has provided countless highlights over the course of his illustrious career and the three-time NBA champion produced another, this time a ferocious dunk.

 

Wednesday's results

Cleveland Cavaliers 127-105 Atlanta Hawks
Orlando Magic 116-112 Detroit Pistons (OT)
Washington Wizards 114-96 New York Knicks
Indiana Pacers 118-111 Milwaukee Bucks
Brooklyn Nets 101-91 Toronto Raptors
Memphis Grizzlies 111-104 Portland Trail Blazers
Charlotte Hornets 115-108 Minnesota Timberwolves
Dallas Mavericks 130-111 Sacramento Kings
Utah Jazz 116-101 Miami Heat
Phoenix Suns 112-106 Golden State Warriors
Los Angeles Lakers 120-116 Denver Nuggets (OT)

 

Clippers at Celtics

The two final games before the All-Star Weekend take place on Thursday. The Los Angeles Clippers (37-17) travel to the Boston Celtics (37-16), with both teams coming off losses. The Oklahoma City Thunder and New Orleans Pelicans are also in action.

Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo missed his second consecutive game following the birth of his son.

Antetokounmpo sat out Monday's 123-111 win over the Sacramento Kings and the reigning NBA MVP was again absent for Wednesday's clash against the Indiana Pacers.

The NBA-leading Bucks (46-7) are eyeing their 15th victory in 16 games prior to the All-Star break in Chicago.

Antetokounmpo will captain Team Giannis against a roster selected by LeBron James in the All-Star Game this weekend.

The 25-year-old 'Greek Freak' is averaging 30.0 points, 13.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game this season.

James Harden believes his partnership with Russell Westbrook can be "pretty scary" after they became only the second team-mates this season to score at least 35 points each in the same game.

The two combined for 78 points as the Rockets recorded a 116-105 home win over the Boston Celtics on Tuesday that ended their opponents' run of seven straight victories.

Harden scored 42, including seven three-pointers, with Westbrook adding 36 as they followed Los Angeles Clippers duo Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to become the second NBA team-mates to achieve the feat in 2019-20.

Leonard and George did it in a December game against the Minnesota Timberwolves but this was the first time it had happened in Rockets team history, per the Elias Sports Bureau.

Harden and Westbrook's exploits helped the Rockets bounce back from two consecutive defeats to move to 34-20, good for fifth in the Western Conference.

"It's pretty scary," Harden said, per ESPN, of his and Westbrook's potential.

Westbrook is relishing having an open floor to attack due to Harden and Houston's other three-point threats. The Rockets are playing with a small-ball lineup having traded center Clint Capela.

He added: "It's tough to guard, especially when I'm attacking and making plays and being able to do what I need to do to be effective.

"We made a big change, and we've got to get adjusted to that with Clint gone. So we're just kind of getting acclimated to that. I think we've got it moving in the right direction.

"We can be pretty successful. We've just got to find ways to continue to be effective, efficient and make the right plays."

Westbrook also had 10 rebounds and five assists, while Harden had eight rebounds and seven assists.

Coach Mike D'Antoni is keen to utilise the strengths of his two All-Stars.

"For Russell, [the spacing created by small lineups] is really advantageous, and it will be for James, too," said D'Antoni.

"It makes them really hard to guard and it's helping both of them. It opens up the floor. Both of them are great drivers and great finishers and it should trickle down to everybody else, too."

Celtics coach Brad Stevens knew he had been up against elite competition, adding: "Harden was great and Westbrook was great. Those guys are two of the best in the world and they showed it again."

Zion Williamson conceded he had surprised himself with a magnificent 31-point performance in the New Orleans Pelicans' win over the Portland Trail Blazers.

The Pelicans made it three straight wins as they claimed a 138-117 victory that saw the rookie sensation add nine rebounds and five assists in just 28 minutes on the court.

Williamson missed Saturday's win over the Indiana Pacers with a sprained ankle but marked his return in style on Tuesday.

In only his ninth career game, having missed more than 13 weeks after meniscus surgery earlier in the season, the 19-year-old went over 30 points for the first time.

He has now scored 20 or more points seven times, with Grant Hill and Shaquille O'Neal the only NBA players to have achieved that inside their first 10 games.

After his impressive outing, Williamson expressed surprise over his rapid progress.

"I expect to make an impact but I don't expect to do nothing like this," a thrilled Williamson said, per ESPN.

"I just kind of look to come in, just kind of fit in, just not try to mess up, but my team-mates and coaches are always pushing me.

"I do hold myself to high expectations, but I think it's just finding the line between reality and dreams. If my team-mates find me, they find me. If not, just got to make another play, get the rebound and just play defense."

Asked about the process of finding the right spots on the court and improving his decision making, Williamson added: "I think it is kind of happening.

"People are trying to find their own way. I feel like my game is so unique I'll be able to adjust to it on the fly. 

"At the end of the day, I'm 19. I have a lot of room for growing. I will mess up. I'm not perfect – I'm just going to learn from them."

Team-mate Lonzo Ball believes there is still so much more to come from Williamson.

"I mean, he's only going to get better," said the former Los Angeles Lakers point guard.

"He's 19 and came in midseason. I feel like he's still not in the shape he can be in. It's kind of scary thinking about what he can do in the future, but we'll take 31 points every night."

New Orleans improved to 23-31 and sit 11th in the Western Conference.

Much of the focus at the All-Star Game will be on the headline event and the Slam Dunk Contest, but the Rising Stars Challenge also offers great intrigue.

Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, Luka Doncic and Trae Young will all be involved as Team USA take on Team World.

With the early success that quartet have enjoyed in their fledgling careers, the Rising Stars Challenge should serve as further compelling evidence the future of the NBA is in good hands.

Here we guide you through what to watch for when the league's brightest talents do battle.

 

ZION & JA TEAM UP

Williamson and Morant appear poised to contest a fascinating rivalry over the course of their careers, but on Friday they will be on the same side.

Number one overall pick Williamson, sidelined for much of the year with a knee injury, and Rookie of the Year favourite Morant went head-to-head two weeks ago and offered a glimpse into the future as Zion's New Orleans Pelicans beat the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Rising Stars Challenge will provide a window into how the pair's talents complement each other, which could potentially be crucial for future USA Olympic coaches.

With Morant set for a prestigious honour and Williamson having recorded two double-doubles in eight games, Team World will have a hard time slowing them down.

 

DONCIC DOUBLES UP

Likely to finish high in the MVP voting, Doncic will - along with Young - double up at All-Star weekend.

The Dallas Mavericks guard will contest the All-Star Game as well as the Rising Stars Challenge, having been picked as a starter for Team LeBron.

With the odds in favour of Team USA winning the Rising Stars Challenge, Doncic's best chance of success in Chicago should be in the headline event.


UNDER-THE-RADAR STARS

While Williamson, Morant and Doncic will claim most of the attention among the rising stars, there are several less heralded players with the chance to snatch some of the limelight.

Jaren Jackson Jr. and Canadian Brandon Clarke will face off having played an instrumental role in the Grizzlies' rise to playoff contention.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander should be crucial to Team World's hopes, his development unhindered by a trade from the Los Angeles Clippers to the upstart Oklahoma City Thunder.

Eric Paschall's opportunities to shine on a national stage have been limited thanks to the demise of the Golden State Warriors this season, but the forward will have the chance to prove he is the Dubs' latest second-round gem.

 

YOUNG TRIBUTE TO KOBE

Proceedings at the United Center are set to be dominated by tributes to Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna, who were killed in a helicopter crash last month.

In the wake of their tragic passing, an emotional Young - having been mentored by Bryant - scored 45 points in the Atlanta Hawks' win over the Washington Wizards.

With two games on his agenda, Young will have ample opportunity to honour his idol by delivering on the court in his first appearance at the weekend as an All-Star.

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