All-Star host Cavaliers getting chance to strut their stuff


CLEVELAND (AP) The NBA All-Star Game’s hosts aren’t just welcoming guests or showing off their renovated home arena this weekend.

Surprisingly, there are Cavaliers on the roster.

After an unexpected rise in the standings, the Cavs, who reached the break fourth in the Eastern Conference, will be represented in Sunday’s game by a pair of first-time All-Stars: guard Darius Garland and center Jarrett Allen.

It’s the first time Cleveland has had two All-Star selections since 2018, when LeBron James and Kevin Love played in Los Angeles – James was named MVP – and the Cavs made their fourth straight trip to the Finals.

Reserves for Team LeBron, Garland and Allen could get a chance to combine on one of those pick-and-rolls that have confounded opponents. Cleveland won 60 total games over the past three seasons but the young Cavs are positioned to make the playoffs for the first time since James left four years ago.

Cleveland fans have embraced the selfless group of twentysomethings, who have connected on and off the floor.

”We’ve just got a whole group of young, new guys,” said Cavs second-year forward Isaac Okoro, who will play in the Rising Stars with rookie Evan Mobley. ”We’re just hungry. We’ve got that grit, that toughness and we’re ready to show the league.”

For Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff, the selections of Garland and Allen. who is replacing an injured James Harden, signals more than his team’s rebirth. It’s a chance to reward two players for hard work.

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”The All-Star Game being in your city is a big deal,” he said. ”The NBA throwing its biggest party here in Cleveland is a big deal. I try to separate the two because I believe these moments are about those individual guys and their accomplishments. And, we should highlight them in these moments, and not take away from that.”

Cleveland will also be represented in Saturday’s Skills Challenge as Garland, Mobley and Allen will form Team Cavs and compete against Team Antetokounmpos (Giannis, Alex and Thanasis) and Team Rooks (Toronto’s Scottie Barnes, Detroit’s Cade Cunningham and Oklahoma City’s Josh Giddey).

OLD SCHOOLERS

Along with showcasing the NBA’s current stars, the All-Star weekend gives former players a chance to reconnect and reminisce.

The National Basketball Retired Players Association held a welcoming party in a ballroom at the Renaissance Hotel, where players could be fitted for golf clubs, socialize, grab a bite to eat and catch up with old friends.

Sam Perkins, a first-round pick in 1984 and 18-year veteran forward, worked his way around the room.

”There’s a lot of history in this small place,” Perkins said. ”We’re not being chased by paparazzi or anything, but it’s important to us because we get to see each other. We’ve done the same things at different times. We each are somewhat legendary and when I see these guys I think of them as legends.”

The gathering was also an opportunity for players to pitch any products their endorsing.

Dikembe Mutombo, best known as a shot blocker during his career, promoted his coffee brand, which includes flavors like Deke’s House Blend and Ethiopian Excellence.

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BIGGER STAGE

Historically Black colleges and universities are getting national exposure this weekend in Cleveland – and in New Orleans.

On Saturday, Morgan State will play Howard in the inaugural HBCU Classic, giving those institutions greater exposure and platform that can help recruiting and potentially lead to more HBCU players making it to the league.

Hours later in the Big Easy, top football players from the HBCU ranks will kickoff the Legacy Bowl, a new level of exposure to NFL scouts and executives.

”It’s phenomenal,” said Clippers forward Robert Covington, the league’s only current HBCU alum of Black colleges getting a slice of the NBA spotlight. ”It gives kids a chance to really come out and put up their skills and focus. There’s a lot of times that HBCU’s don’t get that recognition.”

Covington played at Tennessee State and knows first-hand there are plenty of HBCU players capable of making the NBA jump.

”I played with a lot of talented players that didn’t get the right opportunities because people think that we don’t play against no one,” he said. ”That’s what they said to me coming out that I didn’t play any good against anyone or the top-tier major players. I used that as motivation.

”Kids have a chip on their shoulder. So that’s what it’s all about, just having a chip and just trying to do it.”

SNOW DAY

The Winter Olympics had nothing on Cleveland.

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Upon arrival, the All-Stars were greeted with a furious blast of February’s frigid weather. No, it’s not Miami.

An ice storm turned to snow showers, dumping a fresh few inches of powder on the city’s downtown area. The weather impacted some travel plans as Barnes and Raptors teammate Precious Achiuwa didn’t make it in time for the Rising Stars’ media availability or practice.

The weather had Charlotte point guard LaMelo Ball, a first-time All-Star, re-evaluating his goals for the weekend.

”Stay safe, stay out the cold and don’t get sick,” he said.

CROSSOVER STAR

Another of Cleveland’s high-profile athletes swapped his cleats for sneakers on Friday.

Browns All-Pro defensive end Myles Garrett showed he’s got game with several dunks while scoring 13 points and grabbing eight rebounds in the All-Star Celebrity Game at Wolstein Center.

Garrett also delivered a windmill dunk after the final buzzer to thrill the crowd.

Peloton instructor Alex Toussaint took home MVP honors as Team Walton (coached by 75th Anniversary Team member Bill Walton) defeated Team Nique (coached by another 75th team member, Dominique Wilkins) 65-51 win.

AP Sports Writer Joe Reedy in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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