Change of the guard in New Orleans

"Not to put a negative spin on it, but some guys who are hurt probably would have been there, which would have made for some real tough calls," said Vogel, who will coach the Eastern Conference team on Sunday. "But these younger guys have emerged as top guys, and they have a chance to draw more attention to what they've done. It's about putting it together on both ends, not just doing what it takes individually. Lift your team up. That's what these guys have done. They've taken the next step; so have their teams."

That has especially been the case for Lillard, whose Blazers entered the All-Star break with a 36-17 record, having already eclipsed their 33 victories from all of last season. Lillard, last season's NBA Rookie of the Year, leads Portland in assists (5.7) and is second in scoring (20.7) this season. The Blazers' 31-10 mark represented the best start in franchise history through the midway point of the season.

Lillard said the biggest difference in his game from last season to now is his focus on the small things, the nuances of running a winning team and keeping everyone engaged. His effectiveness in tandem with fellow All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge led to them becoming the first teammates this season each reach 1,000 points. Last month, Lillard also joined Curry and LeBron James as the first three players this season to reach at least 700 points, 200 assists and 100 rebounds.

The accolades don't end there. Lillard also has made more 3-pointers through his first two seasons than anyone in league history, and the 26 points he scored in the fourth quarter in a Jan. 7 win at Sacramento also set a franchise record for the most points in any quarter.

"Last year, I was just out there playing, trying to find a way to get something done," Lillard said. "This year, I'm more aware of what I need to be out there doing as far as making sure guys stay involved, watching film and dealing with time and situations of the game, what plays I can run, trying to balance out when I can attack and know the situation."

The seasoning process has been similar for Wall, whose Wizards are on pace to make the playoffs for the first time in his four seasons. Consecutive losses in the final seconds this week to Memphis and Houston knocked the Wizards two games below the .500 mark. But Wall hit the break coming off one his best games of the season when he had 19 points and 14 assists without a turnover in Wednesday's loss.

Achieving All-Star status was especially rewarding for Wall, who missed 33 games last season to recover from knee injury. During his absence, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft essentially became a forgotten man during the league's renaissance at the point guard spot. Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Rose and Westbrook had already established themselves before Wall arrived. And Curry, Lillard and Kyrie Irving quickly stepped to the forefront last season as Wall was in his recovery process.

Now ranked among the league's top 20 scorers (19.8) and top five in assists (8.5) and steals (2.0), Wall has established himself as one of the NBA's premier point guards. He has led the Wizards to victories by double-digit margins over the Heat, Thunder and Blazers this season.

Trying to suggest to Wall that there should be an asterisks next to his listing as an All-Star because of someone else's injury is like trying to beat him in a foot race to the rim as he drives in transition.

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...